2013 NFL Draft: Don’t be surprised if…

The NFL draft never unravels the way we expect. In the months leading up to the event, we discuss a multitude of scenarios surrounding our favorite teams and yet, there are always a handful of surprises in the first round.

That said, don’t be surprised if…

…Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel is selected in the first round.
Out of all of the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class, Manuel is the best fit for the read-option (i.e. the NFL’s hottest trend). If a team were to take a chance on a quarterback in the first round, it would for Manuel – not USC’s Matt Barkley, who doesn’t have great arm strength and who is coming off a shoulder injury. While his accuracy and decision making need to improve, Manuel is described as a natural leader with great athleticism, prototypical height and above average arm strength. He’s also been invited to attend Radio City Music Hall, indicating that he’ll be a top 40 selection.

…the two guards aren’t selected in the top 15.
Over the past three months, Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper have drawn rave reviews from scouts and draftniks alike. In fact, Warmack is a popular pick for the Titans at No. 10 in most mocks, and Cooper is often listed in the teens. But not many mocks had Stanford’s David DeCastro falling out of the top 15 last year and he made it all the way to the Steelers at No. 24 overall. The fact is that teams don’t value guards as highly as draftniks do, not even elite prospects like Warmack and Cooper. Since 2004, the average draft position for guards in the first round is pick No. 23.

…Tavon Austin drops out of the top 15.
The NFL is about height, weight and speed. It’s why hundreds of grown men flock to Indianapolis every year to pour over measurements and forty-yard dash numbers for nearly a week. There’s plenty of buzz that Austin could be selected in the top 15, but his lack of size would suggest otherwise. He’s 5’8″ and 174 pounds, which is right at the NFL minimum for wide receiver prospects. Granted, his 4.3 speed and playmaking ability make him a surefire first-rounder, but this notion that he’ll be taken in the top 10 seems absurd. The Rams have the No. 16 selection. If you’re looking for the perfect over/under for Austin’s draft projection, start with that number.

…the Dolphins trade into the top 5.
There’s been talk about Miami trading into the top 10 but why would Jeff Ireland stop there? He was the most active general manager in free agency and he knows his team needs to find a replacement for Jake Long (FA/Rams). Thus, why trade ahead of the Cardinals at No. 7 in efforts to land Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson when he might be able to get into the top 5 and nab an elite left tackle prospect like Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher? The Raiders own the No. 3 overall pick and might make the perfect trade partner seeing as how a) they lack picks due to Hue Jackson’s boneheaded trade for Carson Palmer two years ago and b) they select directly ahead of Philadelphia and Detroit, which also need offensive line help. Ireland has seemingly made aggressive move after aggressive move this offseason in efforts to save his job in Miami. What’s one more on draft night?

…the Jaguars take Geno Smith.
The most popular pick to Jacksonville at No. 2 is Oregon defensive end/linebacker Dion Jordan, which makes sense given the team’s need at pass rusher. But neither David Caldwell nor Gus Bradley drafted Blaine Gabbert, which means there’s no loyalty there. How many times do we see new head coaches and/or general managers take over a team and one of their first moves is to acquire a franchise signal caller? Smith isn’t close to being a top 5 pick but he plays the most coveted position in the NFL and he is the best quarterback prospect in this draft. He could wind up sinking the Jaguars further into NFL oblivion but chances are Caldwell and Bradley are willing to take that chance.

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NFL Quick Hits: Romo, Dumervil and Draft Talk

+ There’s a large contingent that feels as though Jerry Jones has condemned his own team by handing Tony Romo a six-year, $108 million contract extension that includes $55 million guaranteed. And who could blame them? Romo is a competitor and a leader. Outside of missing 10 games in 2010 due to a shoulder injury, he’s durable and has eclipsed 4,000 yards passing in four of his last six seasons. He’s also 1-3 in the postseason and has a nasty habit of saving his worst effort for the most crucial of moments. How could any Dallas fan be okay with rewarding what essentially amounts to mediocrity? But survey the league. There are at least 10 teams that would gladly guarantee Romo $55 million if he could suit up for them. Jones is rolling the dice that Romo will eventually prosper in those moments that have ruined him in the past. He’d rather continue to invest in the undrafted gem that he signed in 2003 instead of starting all over again at the position next year. And maybe he’ll eventually be undone by his unwavering loyalty, but it’s not as if the Cowboys developed any Pro Bowlers in the years between Troy Aikman and Romo. For better or worse, Jones has pushed Romo and a large chunk of his money into the middle of the pot and said, “All in.” We’ll see if the gamble pays off in the upcoming years.

+ Did Elvis Dumervil just pass up his best chance at playing for a championship by not re-signing with the Broncos? Think about that for a moment. It’s not as if he took the money a la Mario Williams and become a hired mercenary for a bad team – the Ravens are the defending champions, after all. But the last franchise to win back-to-back Super Bowls was the Denver Broncos in the late 90s, which proves how difficult it is to repeat in the NFL. Thanks to Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh, Baltimore will continue to compete year in and year out. But if it weren’t for Rahim Moore’s mistake in the Divisional Round last season, the Broncos may have won it all in February. (One could certainly make the argument that they were the best team heading into the playoffs.) With Wes Welker now catching passes from Peyton Manning, the Broncos should be right back in the Super Bowl mix in 2013. While he may never regret the decision to leave the Mile High state (especially when you consider the manner in which things ended in Denver), it would be a bitter pill to swallow if Dumervil was forced to watch his former teammates compete for a title next year. And that may very well happen.

+ Buddy Nix continues to boggle the mind in Buffalo. He had to part ways with Ryan Fitzpatrick a couple of weeks ago because he made the bone-headed decision in 2011 to overpay Fitzpatrick for one month of quality football. But why sign Kevin Kolb to a two-year, $13 million contract? He doesn’t represent a clear upgrade over Fitzpatrick, who also would have been a fit for coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s “K-Gun” offense. Fitzpatrick often displayed poor footwork and mechanics but he was at his best when getting the ball out of his hands quickly and spreading it around to different receivers. Instead of throwing more money at the position, Fitzpatrick could have been the starter until Ryan Nassib or another rookie was ready to take over in 2014. It just doesn’t make sense although hey, we’re also talking about the same guy in Nix who passed up on Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson in the second and third rounds each of the past two years. Not much Nix has done over the past three years has made much sense.

+ The more film I watch on this year’s defensive tackle class, the more I like. Star Lotulelei is versatile in that he can play in multiple defensive fronts, can anchor and also collapse the pocket when rushing. Meanwhile, Florida’s Sharrif Floyd is massive at 6-foot-2 and 297 pounds, but he’s light on his feet and has the ability to be a double-digit sack lineman as a 3-technique tackle. One could easily say the same about Mizzou’s Sheldon Richardson, who is an athletic marvel and a player that spent a lot of time in the opposing team’s backfield last season. When you get past the top three, Ohio State’s Jonathan Hankins was considered the best defensive tackle prospect at the start of the 2012 college football season (until his play fell off the map as the year wore on), and North Carolina’s Sylvester Williams is athletic, strong, and shows burst off the snap. It’s a great year for teams looking for interior pass-rush help.

+ Geno Smith might be the biggest wild card in the first round this year. The Chiefs have expressed interest in him, but chances are they’re planning on drafting Luke Joeckel with the No. 1 pick. The Raiders could take him at No. 3 but they’ve also expressed interest in Matt Flynn, while the logical move for the Bills would be to wait until the second round and nab Doug Marrone’s former Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib. (This after signing Kevin Kolb to a two-year, $13 million contract over the weekend.) If Smith goes in the top 10, my best guess is that it’ll be to Arizona at No. 7. There have been so many smokescreens surrounding the Cardinals over the past few weeks that you would think the entire state of Arizona is on fire. But I’m not buying their interest in Matt Barkley, whose best fit is in a West Coast offense. He simply doesn’t have the arm strength to run Bruce Arians’ offense efficiently, and neither does Carson Palmer (whom the Cardinals have expressed interest in as well). Smith is far from an elite quarterback prospect, but he does have enough arm strength to challenge the seam at the next level. That’s vital in Arians’ system.

+ If Manti Te’o falls out of the first round, it’ll be because of the current value for NFL middle linebackers – not because of his fake girlfriend or one miserable game versus Alabama. Just as he showed in the months leading up to the national title game, he sifts through traffic well, he plays downhill, and he’s an instinctive player. But this is a pass-happy league and if Te’o is going to play middle linebacker in a 4-3, he’s likely to come off the field on third downs. Middle linebackers simply don’t hold as much value as they did 10 years ago, which is why a player like Alec Ogletree may come off the board ahead of Te’o. Ogletree is a knucklehead who ran into off-field issues at Georgia, but he’s also a former safety that can run and cover. Assuming he develops at the pro level, teams won’t have to take him off the field in nickel situations. There’s a lot of value in that attribute, more so than a prospect that is a true thumper in the running game that has his limitations in coverage.

+ With all the talk surrounding Tavon Austin this year, one receiver that should be getting more attention is Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton. He has good size, quickness, and pass-catching ability. He doesn’t drop passes, he’s smooth in and out of routes, and he shows a willingness to block. Unlike Austin, Patton lacks top end speed, doesn’t separate and he didn’t make much of an impact as a return man in college. But he was productive in his two years with the Bulldogs and he has great intangibles. Prior to the 2011 Poinsettia Bowl, he gave a $300 Best Buy gift card (which was one of his bowl gifts) to a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Some team in the second round is going to get a solid player on the field and a high-character person off it.

+ Some team is either going to hit a grand slam with LSU’s Barkevious Mingo or they’re going to strike out looking. I fear there’s no in between. He’s a freak athletically and he could potentially be a headache for opposing teams as a designated pass rusher, but he’s really lean and may not hold up against the run. He also wasn’t overly productive at LSU and arguably wasn’t their best pass rusher, either. (That would be teammate Sam Montgomery.) If he can’t defend the run and he can’t set the edge, will he be worth taking in the first round based on his upside as a pass rusher? Bruce Irvin was, but the Seahawks also used him appropriately (i.e. as a DPR). When Irvin had to start versus the Falcons in the Divisional Round last year because of the injury to Chris Clemons, Atlanta ran right at him because he couldn’t set the edge in run support. Then again, he also finished with eight sacks as a rookie and there are plenty of teams that would kill for similar production. It’ll be interesting to see which ones will be willing to give up a late first-round pick in hopes of acquiring that same kind of output from Mingo.

+ The Dolphins just signed an underrated player in Brent Grimes. Assuming he’s healed from the Achilles injury that robbed him of nearly his entire 2012 season, he’ll upgrade a secondary that was often torched last year. He’s small but he’s technically sound and often the best athlete on the field at any given time. Granted, in signing him to a one-year, $5.5 million contract they overpaid for his services, especially considering he’s coming off the injury. (The cornerback market has also been weak this year.) But Miami got a quality player nonetheless.

RG3 and his speed

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor University looks for a receiver during the team’s NCAA football game against the Washington Huskies at the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, December 29, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jason Whitlock has an interesting take on Robert Griffin III and the impressive 40-time he displayed at the combine.

In my opinion, Griffin’s speed doesn’t enhance his draft stock. It damages it.

I am not a Robert Griffin hater. I love RG3. In all likelihood, he will be my favorite NFL player next season. He could quickly become my favorite active athlete, ahead of Tiger Woods, Ray Lewis and Jeff George (has yet to file his retirement paperwork).

But I’m worried about Griffin. He’s blessed with too many tools. Oftentimes, the greatest athletes are physically limited, which strengthens their focus. Bill Russell could never match Wilt Chamberlain’s size and limitless athleticism. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t the greatest leapers or the quickest on their feet.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are relatively immobile. They play from the pocket because they have no choice. They mastered the art of playing from the pocket because they had no other choice.

NFL games are won most consistently by quarterbacks who play from the pocket. If a quarterback leaves the pocket, he’s going to get hit. If a quarterback gets hit regularly, he’s going to get hurt. If a franchise quarterback gets injured, his team has little chance of winning the Super Bowl.

NFL teams are looking for the next Manning or Brady. Or the next Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. A little mobility is good, especially if the quarterback moves in the pocket in an effort to throw downfield. Rodgers and Big Ben are terrific at moving to throw. Is that how Griffin will use his athleticism?

Or does Griffin have so much speed that he’ll channel Michael Vick?

Whitlock goes on to recount Vick’s early problems as he relied too much on his speed and athleticism. Athletes like Steve Young had to learn how to stay in the pocket.

Whitlock basically sums up the primary reason why Andrew Luck is rated higher than RG3, even as some think RG3 has more upside. It’s a risk/reward analysis. Luck has shown that he can win strictly as a pocket passer, using his athleticism only when needed.

Can RG3 learn to play that way? Of course he can. But just because he has the aptitude and temperament to learn doesn’t guarantee success. Luck isn’t guaranteed success either, but we’ve seen him operate consistently from the pocket, so there’s less risk.

Browns unwilling to part with the No. 22 pick to move up in NFL draft?

Baylor University quarterback Robert Griffin III, smiles during a news conference after winning the Heisman Trophy award in New York December 10, 2011. The Heisman Memorial Trophy is awarded annually to the outstanding college football player of the year. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

When the Cleveland Browns traded the No. 6 overall pick in last year’s NFL draft, they received quite the haul from the Atlanta Falcons (who used that pick to select Alabama wideout Julio Jones). And now the Browns seem unwilling to part with one of the key pieces from that deal in order to move up in this year’s draft.

According to a report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Redskins continue to be the “frontrunner” to acquire the Rams’ No. 2 overall pick. That’s apparently because the Browns are unwilling to part with the No. 22 overall pick, which they acquired from the Falcons last year in the Jones trade. (Cleveland also owns the No. 4 overall pick this year.)

The Redskins are reportedly willing to part with both their 2012 and 2013 first-round picks in order to move up to the No. 2 spot, but don’t want to trade their second-rounder.

A deal with the Dolphins, meanwhile, appears to be “dead in the water” according to the Post-Dispatch. After losing out to St. Louis in the Jeff Fisher sweepstakes, Miami isn’t too eager to make any deals with the Rams. The Seahawks aren’t a realistic trade partner either, as the Rams don’t want to deal with the prospect of facing Robert Griffin III twice a year from here on out.

Thus, it appears as though the Rams’ best two options remain the Browns and the Redskins. And if Washington were willing to part with two first-round picks, it would behoove St. Louis to make a deal with the Skins. But per the above report, Washington’s unwillingness to part with its second-rounder is “unacceptable” to the Rams, so you get the feeling that this storyline will only get more intriguing the closer we get to April’s draft.

2011 NFL Draft NFC Team-by-Team Needs

A couple of months ago I did division-by-division draft needs for every team. But now that we’re a couple of hours away from Roger Goodell taking the stage at Radio City Music Hall, I’ve decided to put together an updated post together on all 32 teams. So below you’ll find team-by-team needs for the NFC, as well as a quick summary for each division. (Click here to check out the AFC.)

NFC East

Washington Redskins Head Coach Mike Shanahan watches his team warm up for the game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland on January 2, 2010. UPI/Roger L. Wollenberg

Cowboys: OT, DE, OG, S, CB
Giants: OT, OLB, ILB
Eagles: OL, LB, CB
Redskins: QB, WR, RB, OL, DE, ILB, CB, S

Quick & Dirty Summary: The Cowboys’ biggest need is arguably safety, although there won’t be a safety worthy of taking at No. 9. If neither of the top corners (Patrick Peterson and Prince Amukamara) fall to them in the first round, it’s possible the ‘Boys will take the top OT on their board…The Giants don’t have a ton of holes to fill (at least not compared to other teams around the league), so they might draft the best player available at No. 19. But they’ll have to re-evaluate their offensive line at some point, which could mean drafting at OT and moving David Diehl inside…The Eagles had the worst red zone defense in the league last year and may look to remedy the situation by adding a cornerback in the first round, or a pass-rushing outside linebacker that can provide pressure off the edge…What don’t the Redskins need? With so many holes to address, it’s no wonder why Mike Shanahan said his team would like to acquire more picks. Quarterback is at the top of the list, but this is a team lacking playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Defensively, there are needs on almost every level.

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