Five rookies that could make an impact from Day 1 in the NFL
Making an impact at a new job is as much about opportunities as it is talent, hard work and dedication. Based on talent, skill set and yes, opportunity, here are five rookies that could make an impact from Day 1 in the NFL.
Tavon Austin, WR, Rams
One year after the Jaguars leapfrogged them for the opportunity to snag Justin Blackmon, the Rams foiled the Jets’ plan to select West Virginia sparkplug Tavon Austin in the first round of the 2013 draft by trading up to No. 8 (one spot ahead of New York). Jeff Fisher doesn’t strike me as someone who would go to great lengths to acquire a player if he didn’t plan to use him right away. Much like Percy Harvin and Randall Cobb, the Rams figure to use Austin as a moveable chess piece in Brian Schottenheimer’s offense. Whether it’s in the slot, the backfield or as a returner, Austin will be heavily utilized this season. And thanks to the different skill sets that guys like Austin, Jared Cook and Chris Givens bring to the table, opponents may have a difficult time matching personal with the Rams’ playmakers this season.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans
Last year it was telling how badly the Texans needed another offensive playmaker, not only in their Divisional Round loss to the Patriots, but four weeks prior when they were beaten badly at home by the Vikings in Week 16. Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 97 yards but failed to rip the top off the defense with one big play, and Minnesota did a great job limiting tight end Owen Daniels to just three catches for 27 yards. While DeVier Posey was targeted six times, he caught just one pass for a miniscule six yards and Matt Schaub was held to under 180 yards passing for only the second time all season. (He was also held to 95 yards against the Bears in Week 10 due to sloppy conditions.) Enter DeAndre Hopkins, Houston’s first-round pick in 2013. Hopkins has drawn comparisons to Roddy White and Rod Smith for his route running ability and ball skills. He doesn’t have elite speed but that won’t limit him from creating separation thanks in large part to his excellent technique. A projected starter from Day 1, he should flourish playing opposite Johnson in Gary Kubiak’s offense. (One could also surmise that he’ll post better production than fellow rookie receivers Robert Woods, Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson based on projected quarterback play alone.)
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Steelers
Bell has already drawn praise from offensive coordinator Todd Haley for his ability to be a three down back and “workhorse” runner, and he figures to play a large roll in the Steelers’ revamped running game because of his pass-catching ability. (He caught 67 passes for 434 yards with one touchdown at Michigan State.) He’s also durable and versatile in that he’s not only a north-south runner, but he has the ability to attack the edge as well. Largely mistaken as a “bruiser” entering the 2013 draft, there’s fluidity to Bell’s game. With no elite competition in Pittsburgh’s backfield, he has an opportunity to post instant production as a rookie.
Barkevious Mingo, DE, Browns
Last year, Les Miles and his coaching staff at LSU asked Mingo to play contain more than he did the season before when he racked up eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss. The new role crippled his production, as his sack number dropped to 4.5 and his tackles for loss fell to 8.5. At 237 pounds, it’s unlikely that Mingo will hold up against the run but the Browns figure to use him like the Seahawks utilized 2012 first-rounder Bruce Irvin last year: As a pass-rushing maven. Mingo is an athletic marvel and if Cleveland turns him loose as a rookie, don’t rule out a six or seven-sack season. (Irvin finished with eight sacks last year after pundits ripped Seattle for taking him in the first round.) Unless he adds weight, Mingo will struggle when opponents run straight at him. But as a DPR, he should turn heads as a rookie.
Matt Elam, S, Ravens
Elam projects as the starting safety opposite Michael Huff in Baltimore’s defense, much like Eric Reid figures to start as a rookie for the 49ers. But Elam has better ball skills and more playmaking ability than Reid, who looks stiff in coverage and isn’t always quick to break on passes. Elam’s short but he hits like a MAC truck and has the versatility to be an interchangeable safety in Dean Pees’ scheme. Don’t rule out a 100-tackle season for the former Florida Gator, who also has the ball skills to snag a few interceptions as well.
+ Many of the offensive linemen taken in the first round also figure to make an immediate impact for their respective teams, but I left out players like Eric Fisher and Luke Joeckel because it’s hard to quantify production for O-linemen.
+ I left off defensive linemen because it’s rare that they make huge impacts as rookies, although Bruce Irvin was the exception to the rule. One of the reasons for their limited production is because they quickly find out that the pass-rushing moves they used in college don’t work against NFL offensive linemen.
+ Some might wonder why I left Jarvis Jones off this list and the reason is simple: Dick LeBeau’s scheme is complicated to learn. It usually takes first timers to the defense a half or even full season to pick up. Players have talked about being lost in their first year but by season two they feel more comfortable. Thus, look for Jones to potentially make an impact in 2014 for the Steelers.
Surely all of these picks will be correct on Thursday night…surely.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
There has been plenty of pre-draft speculation that the Chiefs will select Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher with this pick and maybe they will. But GM John Dorsey will ultimately have the final say and he has a history of taking big school prospects. Whether it’s Joeckel or Fisher, expect the Chiefs to select an offensive tackle first overall.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Dion Jordan is a logical (and popular) pick for the Jaguars because they finished with 20 sacks last season, which is a brutal stat. But the bottom line is that this is a quarterback-driven league and neither David Caldwell nor Gus Bradley were around when the former regime took Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in 2011. Would I take Geno Smith this high? No. But Caldwell and Bradley might set the tone in their first draft by taking who they believe is a franchise signal-caller.
3. Detroit Lions: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (PROJECTED TRADE W/OAKLAND)
Martin Mayhew tried and failed to land top cornerback prospects Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne the past two years, so there’s a possibility the Lions will stay at No. 5 and take Alabama’s Dee Milliner. But following the retirement of Jeff Backus and the departure of Gosder Cherilus (FA/Colts), the Lions can’t pass on addressing their need at left tackle. Fisher has as much upside as any offensive lineman in this draft, which includes Luke Joeckel. With the Jaguars passing on Fisher in this mock, the Lions swap picks with the Raiders to ensure that they land their left tackle of the future.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
The Eagles could go in a variety of ways here, including Oregon’s Dion Jordan or even Florida’s Sharrif Floyd if he’s available. But Jason Peters is coming off an Achilles injury and he’s set to make $10 million in 2014. Johnson is the most athletic offensive tackle in this year’s draft, which makes him a fit for Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense. The Eagles could slide Todd Herremans inside to guard and have Johnson start at right tackle until they’re ready to part ways with Peters.
5. Oakland Raiders: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida (PROJECTED TRADE W/ DETROIT)
The Raiders need more draft picks after Hue Jackson foolishly gave up a ransom to acquire Carson Palmer from Cincinnati two years ago. Thus, they make a logical trade partner for any team looking to move up in the top 10. But whether they trade out of the No. 3 spot or not, Floyd is a solid fit. He gives them the interior defensive line help that they desperately need following the departures of Desmond Bryant and Tommy Kelly.
6. Cleveland Browns: Dion Jordan, DE/OLB, Oregon
Unless the Browns intend to start career backup Christopher Owens opposite Joe Haden in their secondary, then cornerback remains a priority. Outside linebacker isn’t a pressing need for Cleveland but when it comes to a pass-rusher with unlimited upside versus a No. 2 corner, there is no debate for NFL teams. Jordan may not slide out of the top 5 but if he does, the Browns would be hard pressed to pass on the versatile Duck.
7. Arizona Cardinals: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
If Lane Johnson slides to the Cardinals at this spot, then he’s the most logical choice. In D’Anthony Batiste and Bobby Massie, Arizona had the worst offensive tackle tandem in the league last year so upgrading their line should be a priority. But with Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson off the board, the Cardinals could address their need at pass rusher with Mingo, who is an athletic freak. There’s some question whether the svelte Mingo will hold up against the run but for now, Arizona can use him as a designated pass rusher against the likes of Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson.
8. Buffalo Bills: E.J. Manuel, QB, Florida State
Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib has been a popular pick for the Bills either at this spot or in the second round because of his connection to new head coach Doug Marrone. But Manuel is the better overall prospect and he’s the best fit in this year’s draft class to run the read-option (which Marrone plans to utilize in his offense). The Bills could use Kevin Kolb as a bridge player this year and turn the keys to Marrone’s offense over to Manuel next season.
9. New York Jets: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
If the season were to start today, Rex Ryan’s edge rushers would be Garrett McIntyre and Antwan Barnes. Thus, while receiver, running back and quarterback are all holes for the Jets, they can’t head into next season without addressing their need for edge rushers. Ansah is versatile in that he lined up both inside and outside at BYU, and has the ability to stand up as an edge rusher as well.
10. Tennessee Titans: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
Everyone expects the Titans to draft a guard with this pick but after they signed Andy Levitre to a massive free agent deal, defensive end becomes a bigger need. Thus, if Ezekiel Ansah were to fall to this spot, he would be a logical selection. But with all of the top pass-rushers coming off the board in this mock (save for Florida State’s Bjorn Werner), the Titans take the best defensive back available in Milliner. He’s the type of press man corner that Tennessee is seeking and his medical history could scare off teams like Cleveland, which has been a popular landing spot for Milliner in other mocks.
11. San Diego Chargers: Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State
Many draftniks will view this pick as a major reach but I’m willing to bet that Watson’s name will be read by Roger Goodell far sooner than people expect. There’s a team out there that has already fallen in love with his size (6’6″, 320 pounds) and will undoubtedly pull him off the board before he’s projected to go. Is that team the Chargers? Outside of cornerback and linebacker, there is no bigger need in San Diego than offensive tackle, so it’s certainly a possibility.
12. Miami Dolphins: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
I’m making this pick based on the assumption that the Dolphins will acquire OT Branden Albert before the draft. Miami signed Brent Grimes to a one-year deal but he’s coming off an Achilles injury that wiped out most of his 2012 season and there’s an opening that was created when Sean Smith signed with Kansas City. If the Dolphins don’t trade for Albert, then Watson could be the selection at No. 12 and Rhodes could be San Diego’s pick at No. 11.
13. New York Jets: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Tavon Austin and Tyler Eifert are definite possibilities at this pick but the Jets lost LaRon Landry and Yeremiah Bell in free agency and thus, safety is a huge need as well. Rex Ryan has yet to find a long-term solution at safety since taking the New York job in 2009, but the versatile Vaccaro could be the answer.
14. Carolina Panthers: Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
The Panthers have needs at offensive tackle, cornerback and safety, but Richardson is arguably the best player available and would give Carolina’s pass-rush a boost. Playing on the same line as Charles Johnson could do wonders for Richardson, who should be a stud as a three-technique tackle.
15. New Orleans Saints: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Jones is hard to project because you don’t know how many teams have flagged him as a medical risk. (He was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in 2009.) But the condition didn’t hinder him in 2012 and despite his poor showing at his Pro Day in March, he certainly stands out as a playmaker on film. The Saints need to give Rob Ryan more edge rushers and the versatile Jones could be used in a multitude of ways.
16. St. Louis Rams: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia
The Rams have holes at safety, running back, outside linebacker and guard, but adding offensive playmakers continues to be a priority. After signing tight end Jared Cook in free agency, Austin could provide Brian Schottenheimer and the Rams with another mismatch in the slot. (He also fills an immediate need as a returner.) Many pundits don’t believe he’ll fall this far but the NFL is still about height, weight and speed. Austin certainly has speed, but his small frame could cause him to fall further than people expect. If he comes off the board to the Jets No. 13 like many suspect, then Alabama’s Eddie Lacy and Chance Warmack, North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper, and Clemson’s DeAndre Hopkins are all possibilities at this spot.
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
The Steelers could go in a variety of directions here, including pass rusher, guard or safety. But after losing Mike Wallace to the Dolphins via free agency, they need to find another weapon to go along with Antonio Brown in their passing attack. Heath Miller blew out his knee in Week 16 last year, tearing his ACL, MCL and PCL in the process. With the 30-year-old due over $5 million in 2013 and $6 million next season, the Steelers could address an immediate and future need with the selection of Eifert (who can attack the seam as well as line up on the outside and challenge cornerbacks with his size and athleticism).
18. Dallas Cowboys: Eric Reid, S, LSU
The Cowboys have needs along both their lines but Jerry Jones loves to draft skill players in the first round. (Not that offensive and defensive linemen aren’t skill players in the NFL.) Prospect to prospect, I like Florida’s Matt Elam more than I do Reid. But Elam is 5’9″ and 208 pounds, while Reid is 6’2″ and 213 pounds and can run a 4.53 forty. He fills a need for Dallas and quenches Jones’ thirst to add athletic marvels on draft day.
19. New York Giants: Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State
Is there a general manager in the league who values defensive ends more than Jerry Reese? With Osi Umenyiora now in Atlanta and Justin Tuck slowing down, Werner gives the Giants youth and upside at their most coveted position. While he’s shown a tendency to avoid tackling ball carriers, Werner had no issues getting after the quarterback at Florida State and is arguably the most skilled pass-rusher in this year’s draft.
20. Chicago Bears: Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina
Nobody expects Cooper to fall this far but the average slot position for guards over the last 10 years is No. 23. Who thought David DeCastro would fall to the Steelers at pick No. 24 last year? Simply put, guards rarely go as high as everyone thinks they will. Phil Emery is currently paying for past mistakes made by former Chicago GM Jerry Angelo, who missed on former first-round busts Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi. Either Cooper or Alabama’s Chance Warmack would offer an instant upgrade over Lance Louis at right guard.
21. Cincinnati Bengals: D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama
The Bengals could still wind up re-signing Andre Smith after the draft but if they don’t, right tackle becomes a huge need for them. Alec Ogltree or a wide receiver are also options for Cincinnati as well.
22. St. Louis Rams: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Assuming the Rams take a receiver at No. 16, they could go in a variety of ways with this pick, including guard, outside linebacker and safety. That said, I ultimately envision Jeff Fisher and Les Snead taking Lacy off the board here in efforts to fill the void left by Steven Jackson, and then address their need at safety in the second or third round. A combination of Isaiah Pead and Daryl Richardson won’t cut it for a head coach like Fisher, who wants to pound the ball between the tackles. Would I take Lacy here? No. Quality running backs are found in the middle rounds all the time (see Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew, Michael Turner, Jamaal Charles, Stevan Ridley, Frank Gore and Ray Rice). But I don’t get the impression that Fisher is as concerned about the safety position as he is acquiring as many weapons for Sam Bradford as possible.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee
The Vikings did well to sign Greg Jennings in free agency, but they still have a need at receiver following the trade of Percy Harvin to Seattle. Patterson is raw and will need to refine his route-running ability, but he’s also an explosive playmaker when he gets his hands on the ball. If OC Bill Musgrave is creative, he’ll design ways to get Patterson the ball while he learns the nuances of becoming an NFL receiver.
24. Indianapolis Colts: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
The Colts addressed a lot of their defensive needs in free agency, so turning their attention to their offensive line is logical. While they did sign Donald Thomas in free agency, Indy could out-draft Mike McGlynn with the selection of Warmack or fellow guard Jonathan Cooper.
25. Minnesota Vikings: Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame
Te’o could easily slip into the second round because the middle linebacker position just doesn’t hold as much value as it did 10 years ago. It’s a pass-happy league and teams will continue to avoid paying two-down linebackers big money, as well as drafting them high in the first round. But at 23, the Vikings could fill a need with Te’o, who was one of the best defenders in the nation last year despite his lousy performance in the national title game. He could start Week 1 and represents an upgrade over current MLB Marvin Mitchell.
26. Green Bay Packers: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
There’s a good chance that Lotulelei won’t fall this far but the Packers and Steelers always seem to have top prospects fall into their laps on draft day. Last year nobody thought Stanford guard David DeCastro would slip out of the top 15 and he wound up going to Pittsburgh at No. 24. Nick Perry also fell to Green Bay with the No. 28 overall pick last year and Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod wasn’t slated to slip to No. 32 in 2011. Lotulelei wasn’t one of the 23 prospects invited to Radio City Music Hall on Thursday night. And while that might not mean a damn thing, it also could be an indication that draftniks have the Utah defensive tackle rated too high. Either way, I’m calling my shot: Lotulelei falls further than people think on Thursday night.
27. Houston Texans: Justin Hunter, WR, Tennessee
The Texans desperately need a weapon opposite Andre Johnson, which was evident during their postseason run last year. Hunter’s 2012 season was marred by a knee injury but he’s one of the most explosive receivers in this draft and has as much upside as any prospect slated to go in the first round.
28. Denver Broncos: Datone Jones, DE, UCLA
The Broncos might wind up signing a veteran free agent like Dwight Freeney or John Abraham to address their need at defensive end, but even then they still need a long-term replacement for Elvis Dumervil. Jones might not get past the Giants at No. 19 but if he did, the former Bruin could be a steal at this spot. He has an aggressive style and often wins off the edge with strength and power. He’s also versatile enough to play inside in obvious passing situations.
29. New England Patriots: Keenan Allen, WR, Cal
I’m not convinced that Allen will be a first-round pick but he was highly productive at Cal and might be the best route runner in this year’s draft class. New England is always a mystery on draft day thanks to Bill Belichick, but receiver is a need, as is cornerback, defensive end and safety.
30. Atlanta Falcons: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
Plenty of mocks have the Falcons selecting a defensive end at this spot, which makes sense given their need for pass rushers. But they signed Osi Umenyiora in free agency and remain high on undersized pass rusher Kroy Biermann. They also seem to like former mid/late-round picks Jonathan Massaquoi and Cliff Matthews as well. Thus, the bigger need is at corner following the release of Dunta Robinson. Trufant might be off the board at this spot, but if he’s still available, he has the speed, agility and quickness to be a starter from Day 1. He just needs to be more physical, both in coverage and when defending the run. It’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons trade up to get Trufant, or maybe an edge rusher like Bjorn Werner if he falls. (Don’t rule out a defensive tackle such as Sheldon Richardson either.)
31. San Francisco 49ers: Margus Hunt, DE, SMU
When Justin Smith tore his triceps in a late-season game against the Patriots last year, the 49ers’ secondary fell apart. But instead of investing a high draft pick in a cornerback, GM Trent Baalke once again went the bargain-bin route by signing Nnamdi Asomugha to a cheap one-year deal. (Baalke made a similar move a couple of years ago when he signed Carlos Rogers off the scrap heap in early August.) It makes sense that the Niners continue to focus on their front seven, and the versatile Hunt would be a nice fit at this spot.
32. Baltimore Ravens: Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International
Ozzie Newsome signed Michael Huff in free agency, but the addition of Cyprien could make the Ravens’ safeties interchangeable. They need to find a replacement for Ed Reed and while the safety position is deep in this year’s draft, Baltimore can’t wait to land one seeing as how its picking at the bottom of each round. A linebacker such as Manti Te’o or Kevin Minter also makes sense.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
The Chiefs cleared a spot along their offensive line when they released steady veteran Eric Winston back in March. With Branden Albert’s future up in the air, Kansas City could stick Joeckel at right tackle with the idea of moving him to the left side once Albert moves on. Or, if Albert winds up signing a long-term deal, he and Joeckel would make nice bookends along the Chiefs’ offensive line for years to come.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
The Jaguars need pass rushers so Florida’s Sharrif Floyd and Oregon’s Dion Jordan are logical choices at this spot. But they also have a new head coach in Gus Bradley and a new GM in David Caldwell, neither of which drafted former top-10 pick Blaine Gabbert. The Jags could allow Gabbert and Chad Henne to battle in 2013 and then re-evaluate the quarterback position heading into 2014. But chances are Bradley and Caldwell will look to put their stamp on things by handpicking their franchise signal caller with this pick.
3. Miami Dolphins: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan (Projected trade with Raiders)
After signing Mike Wallace, Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler to lucrative free agent deals in March, why wouldn’t Jeff Ireland continue his aggressive approach on draft night? The Raiders are a logical trade partner because of how few selections they have following Hue Jackson’s brutal acquisition of Carson Palmer two years ago. So, Oakland moves down and stockpiles more picks, and Miami uses this selection to replace the departed Jake Long. Fisher can start on the left side while Jonathan Martin stays at right tackle (his more natural position).
4. Philadelphia Eagles: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
Floyd is widely viewed as a three technique defensive tackle, which would make him a poor fit for Philadelphia’s new 3-4 front. But the Eagles did a nice job filling holes in free agency so they’re in position to take the best player available at No. 4, which would be Floyd (at least in this mock). Plus, just because the Eagles will run a 3-4 doesn’t mean they won’t use one-gap principles along their defensive line. While lining up opposite 2012 first-round pick Fletcher Cox, Floyd could be a terror if Philadelphia plays to his strengths. If Floyd is off the board, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, Dion Jordan and Star Lotulelei are fits as well.
5. Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
Martin Mayhew unsuccessfully tried to trade up to obtain Patrick Peterson two years ago and Stephon Gilmore last year, so he could nab Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner with this pick. But the Lions lost Cliff Avril in free agency and released Kyle Vanden Bosch in early February. Thus, look for Mayhew to address the team’s need for pass rushers and wait until the middle rounds to take a corner or an offensive tackle. (Along with Milliner, Eric Fisher would also be a fit at this spot.)
6. Cleveland Browns: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
The Browns showed interest in free agent Brent Grimes before the veteran corner signed a one-year deal with the Dolphins. The Browns could potentially trade back and still fill their need at corner, but why not take the best defensive back in this year’s draft?
7. Arizona Cardinals: Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
Bruce Arians has thrown his support behind his offensive line since becoming the team’s newest head coach, but the bottom line is that the Cardinals had the league’s worst offensive tackle combination last season. Johnson will need to refine his technique but he has plenty of upside and addresses a pressing need for Arizona.
8. Buffalo Bills: Dion Jordan, LB, Oregon
There’s a chance that Jordan won’t fall to this pick but in this mock he’s available and is a fit for the new-look Bills. Jordan can play with his hand in the dirt or stand up and rush the passer as an outside linebacker after playing “drop end” at Oregon. His versatility would be a welcome sign for defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who plans on utilizing hybrid fronts next season.
9. New York Jets: Barkevious Mingo, OLB, LSU
If the season were to start today, Rex Ryan’s edge rushers would be Garrett McIntyre and Antwan Barnes. So while receiver, running back and quarterback are all needs for the Jets, they can’t head into next season without addressing their need for pass rushers. And while there are concerns about whether or not he’ll be able to hold up versus the run because of his svelte frame, Mingo is an athletic freak with untapped potential.
10. Tennessee Titans: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
The consensus is that the Titans will select a guard at this spot, which makes sense given their need at right guard. But the middle of Tennessee’s defensive line hasn’t been a strength since Albert Haynesworth departed for Washington in 2009 and Lotulelei is versatile enough to play multiple positions. Tennessee added three versatile defensive linemen this offseason, which include Ropati Pitoitua, Moise Fokou and Sammie Hill. The Titans’ base is a 4-3 but they could use more 3-4 elements next season, making Lotulelei a nice fit.
1. How about Roger Goodell pouring a big cup of antifreeze on everyone’s fun this past weekend? Due to a rule change that allowed teams to gauge the interest of prospective free agents, football fans hovered around Adam Schefter’s Twitter page thinking that free agency was essentially going to start at Midnight on Saturday morning. But Goodell’s memo to teams earlier that day killed everyone’s buzz. Here’s part of the memo, tweeted by Schefter that night: “Clubs are advised that prior to the beginning of the new League Year it is impermissible for a club to enter into an agreement of any kind, express or implied, oral or written, or promises, undertakings, representations, commitments, inducements, assurances of intent or understandings of any kind concerning the terms or conditions of employment offered to, or to be offered to, any prospective Unrestricted Free Agent for inclusion in a Player Contract after the start of the new League Year.” Deathly afraid of tampering, can you imagine how those conversations went on Friday night between teams and free agents? “Hi Mike Wallace, this is Miami Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland. I just wanted to call and see if you liked the color teal in combination with white and a splash of orange. Yeah, no, I’m not asking you if you want to be a member of the Dolphins. That would be tampering. I’m specifically asking you about color scheme. You do like that color scheme? How about Joe Philbin? Do you like Joe Philbin’s face? Maybe you’d like to see more of Philbin, say, on a daily basis in the fall? Grrrrrrrrreat. Do you also hate purple and the entire state of Minnesota like most reasonable human beings do? Excellent. I’ll see you and your agent at 4:00PM ET on Tuesday then…”
2. People are getting caught up in whether or not the Chiefs should draft Luke Joeckel with the first overall pick when they just placed their franchise tag on Branden Albert. While it would be unprecedented for a team to draft a right tackle with the first overall pick, it doesn’t mean that Kansas City will shy away from arguably the safest prospect in this year’s class. Albert was one of the best pass-blocking offensive tackles in the league last year, but he also missed three games due to a back injury and who knows if the Chiefs will be able to lock him up long term. They could draft Joeckel, play him at right tackle and then re-asses the situation a year from now. If Albert’s back once again becomes an issue or the two sides can’t agree on a long-term deal, then the Chiefs have their left tackle of the future in Joeckel. If they lock Albert up long-term, then at worst they have two book-end tackles for the next six-plus years. Considering defensive coordinators constantly move pass rushers around in effort to create mismatches, that’s not exactly a worst-case scenario. And with no true No. 1 overall talent in this year’s draft, there’s no reason to bypass Joeckel with the top pick just because he could wind up playing right tackle.
3. The best thing for both the Jets and Darrelle Revis is if the cornerback drops off the map and shows up to OTAs healthy and in shape. Owner Woody Johnson isn’t being cheap – he just can’t pay Revis what he wants long-term because his former GM put the team in cap hell by handing out ridiculous contracts to players like Mark Sanchez. And since the Jets can’t afford him, Revis could help himself by not destroying his own trade value. This includes avoiding telling the media that it would be “awesome” to play for the 49ers and reiterating how you want to be the highest paid defensive player in the league. Potential trade partners are already leery about Revis’ knee, parting with premium draft picks, and clearing the necessary cap space to sign him long term. He doesn’t need to provide teams with more reasons to tell the Jets ‘thanks but no thanks.’
4. Percy Harvin’s situation in Minnesota seems combustible, but GM Rick Spielman has wisely suggested that the disgruntled wide receiver isn’t going anywhere. Some fans have opined that Spielman should trade Harvin and then sign a free agent receiver like Mike Wallace or Greg Jennings. But the Vikings are on the rise and thus, parting ways with a playmaker makes little sense. He’s already under contract and the team could potentially line up next year with Harvin, Jennings, Jarius Wright, Adrian Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, as opposed to some combination of Peterson, Rudolph, Jennings, Wright and an unproven rookie. And maybe a veteran like Jennings could have a profound impact on Harvin, who has seemingly alienating himself from coaches and teammates. While the defense and offensive line proved to be underrated, the Vikings made the playoffs last year almost solely riding Peterson’s coattails. Unless the situation is so bad that the team needs to wash its hands completely of Harvin as soon as possible, addition is key – not subtraction.
As the 2013 NFL scouting combine quickly approaches (it’ll kick off this Wednesday and run through the following Tuesday), here are some thoughts and observations on this year’s class.
1. Good luck if you’re a quarterback-desperate team.
It’s a bad year to be a team desperate for a franchise signal caller. Geno Smith is a good athlete but he progressively got worse as the 2012 college season wore on. Matt Barkley is closer to being a third-round prospect than the first overall selection, which is where some pundits had him slated at the start of the college season. Mike Glennon has NFL-caliber arm but was mistake prone at NC State. Ryan Nassib, Tyler Wilson and Zac Dysert are “sleepers,” although none project as first-year starters. One year after Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson burst onto the NFL scene, we might not see a quarterback drafted in the first round this year.
2. It’s a deep OT class but who’s at the top?
Thanks to his combination of height, weight and agility, Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel might be the safest pick in this year’s draft. But is he unquestionably the best offensive tackle prospect in this year’s class? How concerned were defensive ends about losing contain on quarterback Johnny Manziel that they didn’t challenge Joeckel from a pass-rushing standpoint? Considering the Aggies’ offense was predicated on getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand as quickly as possible, did Joeckel benefit from A&M’s system? Now, it’s not like Central Michigan ran a pro-style offense in the MAC. But Eric Fisher has the size (6’7″, 305 pounds), frame (he might be able to add 20 pounds), and arm length (34 inches) to start at left tackle as a rookie. That’s not to suggest that Joeckel can’t, because the steady prospect does project as a first-year starter. But coming off a dominating season and an impressive week at the Senior Bowl, Fisher at least deserves mention as being the top tackle in this year’s draft.
3. Vaccaro is worth a top 10 selection.
The safety position is deep this year but Texas product Kenny Vaccaro is a stud and it would be a crime if he fell past the first 12 teams. He’s a ball-hawking centerfielder that is athletic enough to defend receivers in the slot and also come up in run support. He hits like a 218-pound MAC truck and is clearly the best all-around safety in this year’s class. Eric Reid, Matt Elam and T.J. McDonald are no less intriguing, but Vaccaro is the best of the bunch.
4. Dion Jordan is maddening.
Watch Oregon’s Dion Jordan for 20 minutes and you’ll spend half the time being mesmerized and the other half feeling unsatisfied. He’s far from being a polished product and someone will need to teach him how to bend the arc when rushing the passer. (Too often he’ll burst upfield only to be forced to work his way back to the quarterback, which creates clear passing windows and running lanes for the opposition.) But his length, burst and athleticism make him attractive to teams with creative defensive coordinators. After spending time as a drop end and as an outside linebacker while at Oregon, he has the versatility to play with his hand in the dirt or standing up in a 3-4. He’s raw, but he also might be a perfect fit for the Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Saints or Falcons, teams that run hybrid looks.
5. Have we seen the best that Banks has to offer?
While at Mississippi State, cornerback Jonathan Banks spent a lot of time playing in a cover 3 zone. That allowed him to break on underneath passes and keep plays in front of him. But at 6’1″ and 185 pounds he’s cut from the same mold as players like Antonio Cromartie and Richard Sherman, who excel playing up at the line of scrimmage and using their length to disrupt routes. Behind only Dee Milliner of Alabama, Banks is widely considered one of the top cornerbacks in this year’s draft. But considering he has the ability to play in multiple coverages despite not being asked to in college, we may not have seen the best that he has to offer. He would appear to be a complete corner, one that can play in either a zone or in press man.
6. The best prospect in the draft that won’t go No. 1.
Alabama guard Chance Warmack is arguably the best prospect in this year’s draft but he won’t be selected with the top overall pick. In fact, he might slide out of the top 10 altogether. Guards usually aren’t selected within the first 10 picks because they’re simply not valued that high. Warmack might wind up being the exception, although the odds suggest otherwise. Teams know that they can find starting guards in rounds three through four and despite Warmack being an exceptional prospect, he’s still likely to fall into the teens.
7. How quickly things can change.
Heading into the 2012 college season, Ohio State’s Jonathan Hawkins was hands down the best defensive tackle prospect in the nation. Now he might not even be the third-best prospect at his position. He has the athleticism and power to consistently control the line of scrimmage but he often disappeared during games and his motor ran hot and cold. In September he was chasing down mobile quarterback Zach Maynard (Cal) from the backside, but by November he was merely average on a week-to-week basis. Star Lotulelei, Sharrif Floyd and Sheldon Richardson are more intriguing defensive tackle prospects at this point and speaking of Floyd, it wouldn’t be an upset if he were selected in the top 10. He’s the perfect fit as a three-technique in a 4-3, but he also has experience playing outside in a five-technique. He was one of the more disruptive defensive tackles in the nation last year and is built like a tank.
8. As usual, teams will be playing Russian Roulette when it comes to pass rushers.
Due to his combination of length and burst of the edge, Texas A&M defensive end Damontre Moore gave offensive tackles fits last year. But he’ll need to improve his technique and learn how to use his hands more while rushing the passer at the next level. Meanwhile, Bjoern Werner of Florida State isn’t as scheme versatile as Moore, but he’s quick off the line and uses his hands well to create separation. He’s drawn comparisons to Chris Long, although his motor also ran hot and cold at Florida State. BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah might be the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft, as some pundits believe he has the potential to be the best player in this year’s class while others think he’s overrated. The former track athlete has only played football for three years but his technique has improved nearly every season. If a team shows patience with him, he might become a key starter in three years. But considering teams now expect a quick return on their investment, it’ll be interesting to see if Ansah can develop under pressure. This is a deep class for pass rushers but as usual, finding the right fit will be a risky proposition.
9. Teams might want to wait on a linebacker.
The linebackers projected to go in the first round have some serious baggage. Jarvis Jones is a hell of a pass rusher but is he destined to be a situational player? (He also has durability issues.) LSU’s Barkevious Mingo is a freak athletically but wasn’t a productive player despite his intriguing skill set. One could make the argument that Alabama exposed Manti Te’o in the national championship game and, well, nobody has forgotten about his relationship “issues.” His speed and athleticism not withstanding, Alec Ogletree was suspended in 2012 for violating Georgia’s substance abuse policy and he recently was arrested for DUI. In terms of risk, teams in need of linebacker help might want to wait until the middle rounds where Khaseem Greene, Zaviar Gooden and Nico Johnson could be had.
10. Cordarrelle Patterson is dynamic.
It’s hard not to be a fan of Tennessee wideout Cordarrelle Patterson. For being 6’3″ and 205 pounds he moves like a 5-10 scatback. Tennessee lined him up as a receiver as well as a kick returner, and also gave him the ball on end-arounds. With all due respect to Cal’s Keenan Allen, Patterson is the best receiving prospect in this year’s draft and it’s not even close. It’s not often that you see a receiver that is as dynamic outside the numbers as he is between the hashes, but Patterson has that sort of talent.