Thursday, April 27, 2006

Mel Kiper Is On The Clock


It's that time of year again. Yes folks, the NFL Draft is this weekend. As this is one of my favorite sporting events of the year, it was inevitable that I'd weigh in with some coverage. This may be the only post I make before the culmination of our pre-draft coverage - an in-depth, 3 round Mock Draft. Not what I think will happen, because that's no fun, but how I would draft if I were all of the 32 teams. It may match up closely with how the former would pan out as well, but look for some twists, and lots of trades as well. So in conclusion, this will be by far the nerdiest venture I have undertaken to date for this website.

Before we get to the Mock Draft, here's a primer on some of the stories to watch for this weekend.

It's Mel Kiper Time!
Everyone's favorite draft pundit is back, and will be shrieking and hollering at you through your TV all weekend. My favorite thing about Kiper is how every year he latches on to one prospect who he feels deserves to be a top pick, and criticizes every team that passes on him. This player is normally a Top 10 prospect, but Mel feels that they deserve to go higher. Mike Williams was last year's pet, while my all-time favorite is Trent Dilfer. I still remember Mel screaming about how the Colts would regret not picking him after they took a pass with both of their selections in the Top 5. For the record, the Colts drafted a Hall of Fame Running Back (Marshall Faulk), and a mildly entertaining studio analyst (Trev Alberts). Kiper especially ripped the Alberts selection. Every year, I hope that they'll invite Trev to be part of the draft show and run that clip.

Anyway, I've decided to pull a Mel Kiper and pick a guy to tout for the draft this year. My pick: Michael Huff of Texas. Sure he projects to go in the Top 8, 9th at worst, but even in a deep draft year, how a man who plays Corner, both Safety spots, and has drawn comparisons to Ronnie Lott does not go in the Top 5 is beyond me.

One of These Things Will Not Be Like the Other
Everyone's touting the Quarterbacks at the top of the board - 2004 Heisman Winner Matt Leinart of USC, Rose Bowl hero Vince Young of Texas, and fast-rising Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt. Three different franchises will call these players' names, with the hopes that they will be a building block for the next 10-15 years. Undoubtedly, at least one of them will be disappointed.

Of the 13 Quarterbacks drafted in the top half of the 1st Round between 1993-2000, 4 are definite starters this fall (Bledsoe, Manning, McNabb, Culpepper), one is looking for work (Collins), one is filing a grievance against his team (McNair), and one is a transitional starter at best (Dilfer). Of the 6 who are no longer in the league, only one managed to carve out a long-term career as a backup (Rick Mirer), while the rest of them flamed out within a few years. It's interesting to note that one is now coaching Division II Football, and another one is running for Congress. Out of the 13, only 7 of them ever established themselves as starters.

So while Leinart, Young, and Cutler now hold all the promise in the world, it's a safe guess that at least one of them will never make it as a starter, and will probably be out of the league in 5-7 years. (If it happens to be Leinart who flames out, we can totally see him as a reporter for the E! Network).

If I had to guess, I would say that Leinart is the safest bet (at worst, he'll be a Trent Dilfer-esque game manager), Young has the highest upside (if he can develop as a passer and stay away from injuries), but also the biggest bust potential (if he's not properly coached), while Cutler is this year's Quarterback who's strong performance in practice drills and the combine leads people to believe that he is a good in-game Quarterback. Normally these guys are tutored by Jeff Tedford, but Cutler is not, which makes him an exception to the trend of recent years. Still, whoever drafts him will probably be looking for their next Quarterback of the Future in 3-4 years.

Of course, I'm still surprised that Jake Plummer didn't become the next Joe Montana, so it's entirely possible that I know very little about projecting Quarterbacks at the NFL level.

And for the record, I maintain that if the 49ers had drafted Plummer in the 1997 Draft like I wanted them to, he would have become an All-Pro Quarterback.

Who's Number 1?
There's no drama here, as Reggie Bush is the consensus pick. Well, it's almost a consensus. Skip Bayless thinks that Vince Young should go first, while Michael Smith of ESPN makes a more compelling case for Mario Williams.

Rumor has it that a number of teams have Williams at the top of their board, but I have a tough time believing it. I think this is a case of teams blowing smoke around draft time, which happens all too frequently. Williams will probably be a great player, despite the concerns about his consistency, but Bush projects to be a Marshall Faulk-type player, with even more speed and explosiveness. Anyone who remembers Faulk's heyday with the Rams knows how difficult that is to pass on. As for Young, I'm not nearly as concerned about his mechanics or passing ability as I am about the fact that he seems to be more of a straight-ahead runner, as opposed to an elusive runner (like Michael Vick is). Young could run over college defenders, but I don't know if he can run over NFL defenders. Even if he can, I have a hard time believing that he can stay healthy for 16 games a year while doing so.

If the Texans are going to look at anyone other than Bush, it should be Offensive Tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia. Franchise Left Tackles are hard to come by, and Ferguson projects to be someone who can keep David Carr off the turf for the next 10-15 years.

Who's Trading Up?
Possibilities include:

• The Raiders, if you believe that they are really enamored with Vince Young.
• The Rams or Vikings, to pick Jay Cutler.
• The Buccaneers, to get ahead of Philly and pick Offensive Tackle Winston Justice from USC.
• Anyone looking to get ahead of Denver and Miami (who pick 15th-16th) to pick one of the two Wide Receivers with first round grades - Santonio Holmes of Ohio State and Chad Jackson of Florida. I've heard that the Bucs like Jackson, but none of the teams picking in the late teens or early twenties (Chargers, Chiefs, Patriots) have tipped their hand about moving up.

Who's Trading Down?
• The Ravens, who want to pick up an extra Day One draft choice to replace their third rounder that went to New England.
• The 49ers, if Vernon Davis is gone (and I hope he is).
• The Vikings, if they're set on a Linebacker in the first round, and Chad Greenway and Ernie Sims are off the board.
• The Bears, if they can't add a Linebacker at 26.

The Freak: 2006 Edition
Every year, there are workout warriors who move up the board based on their freakish size/speed/strength that is on display at the combine. This year's winner: Vernon Davis of Maryland.

Davis, a Tight End, is definitely a talented player, and was a promising prospect before the combine. However, after running a 4.38 40 yard dash, he jumped from being a possible Top 10, but most likely Top 15 pick, to a definite Top 10, who could go as high as 4th, but will probably go 6th or 7th, and could reinvent the Tight End position. A little too much hype? I think so.

The Ballplayers
Three players I highlighted in my review of the Senior Bowl were Memphis RB DeAngelo Williams, Miami WR Sinorice Moss, and Penn State DE Tamba Hali. Williams could go as high as 15th to Denver, but is more likely to drop into the 20s, since most of the teams picking in the teens (Arizona, Baltimore, Minnesota) picked up Running Backs in free agency. Moss is still seen as a late first/early second rounder, while Hali - due to perceived physical limitations, has dropped into the first tier of the second round.

Of course, if he could have added another rep or two to his bench press, and shaved one-tenth of a second off of his 40 yard dash, Hali would probably be a lock for the Top 20. Such is life at the draft.

Front Office Wars
Word on the street is that the Front Offices and Coaching Staffs of the Titans and Bills are mired in conflict over which direction to go in with their respective Top 10 picks.

It looks like a given that the Titans will take a Quarterback with the third overall pick, but rumor has it that there is a rift between the Owner and General Manager, who prefer Vince Young, and the Coaching staff, who prefer Matt Leinart. The fact that Leinart's Offensive Coordinator with the Trojans (Norm Chow) is now with the Titans would seem to make him a natural fit. Also, it's entirely possible that the Titans are blowing smoke about their interest in Vince Young, given that he is at least a year or two away from starting, and they seem intent on pushing current starter Steve McNair out the door. Furthermore, given that McNair and Young have trained together, and have a close relationship, it would seem counterintuitive to push VY's mentor out the door if they intended to bring him in.

As for the Bills, octogenarian General Manager Marv Levy is seemingly against the Coaching Staff's two preferred courses of action. If the team stands pat with the 8th pick, it will probably pick a Defensive Tackle. The two top rated players at that position - Haloti Ngata of Oregon, and Broderick Bunkley of Florida State, figure to be available. The Coaches prefer Bunkley, as his speed and athleticism makes him a natural fit for their two-gap defense; of course, Levy is thought to prefer Ngata. The other preferred course of the Coaches is to trade up to have a shot at Ferguson or AJ Hawk; Levy is said to be open to trading down, but not up.

Of course, this could be a lot of hot air coming from the Bills; I would actually not be surprised to see them go in an entirely different direction (Michael Huff, for example). They have a second rounder and two third rounders with which they can address their needs on the Offensive and Defensive Lines.

We Are The 49ers
I would be remiss in not commenting on the moves that my 49ers have made recently. In a swap of recent first round disappointment, they traded Wide Receiver Rashaun Woods to San Diego in exchange for Cornerback Sammy "Yes I Can" Davis. They followed that up by acquiring an additional first round pick from Denver in exchange for their second and third round picks.

It's always discouraging to see your team give up on a first rounder after only two seasons - especially when that player has barely had the opportunity to step onto the field due to injuries. I would feel better about the acquisition of Davis were the 49ers Depth Chart not already jammed with guys who project to be decent Nickel Backs in the NFL. With Mike Rumph moving back to Corner from Free Safety, the Niners now have 4 players who would make passable second string or decent third string Corners (Shawntae Spencer and Walt Harris being the others); we need top-end talent in the worst way.

Which is why I like the move up into the first round. The 49ers have had a surplus of picks in the last few drafts, and have added a lot of bodies at some positions (Corner and the Interior Offensive Line jump to mind). They lack playmakers at most every position though, and the odds of finding an impact player at 22, instead of 37 and/or 68, are that much greater.

With 4 picks in the Top 100, then an additional 6 picks in the last 3 rounds, the Niners should be able to add a couple of players who can contribute right away, then a few projects on the second day. While it will be tempting to address needs (especially Outside Linebacker), an analysis of the Niners roster shows that they are missing talent everywhere. I don't think that drafting for need is bad if you're a contender, or have a young nucleus in place, but the Niners currently have neither. The only spot where they absolutely need to add someone is Outside Linebacker, where - with all due respect to Corey Smith - they have no one on the roster who can step in for Andre Carter and Julian Peterson.

Using The Value Board developed by Scott Wright, here's an example of how the Niners draft could shake down, assuming they stand pat on every pick.

If tomorrow's mock draft happens to shake down similar to this, feel free to call me a homer.

6 - Michael Huff, DB, Texas
22 - Bobby Carpenter, LB, Ohio State
84 - Spencer Havner, LB, UCLA
100 - Devin Aromashodu, WR, Auburn
140 - Paul McQuistan, OT, Weber State
175 - Julian Jenkins, DE, Stanford
192 - Owen Daniels, TE, Wisconsin
213 - Cedric Humes, RB, Virginia Tech
236 - Kedric Golston, DT, Georgia
254 - Quadtrine Hill, FB, Miami-FL

Huff is a top prospect, and would be the impact player they need in the secondary. Carpenter fills a need and is a great value at 22, ditto for Havner at 84. Aromashodu is a bit of a prospect, but has great speed, and can stretch the field, which makes him a great fit for Norv Turner's offense. The rest of the picks are there to provide depth where the team lacks it, though Daniels and Hill could find themselves in key roles from Day 1.

However, this won't happen. The Niners are set on picking Vernon Davis at #6 (unless the Jets or Packers take him at 4 or 5), which concerns me greatly. But the rest of their draft could shake out the way I would like it to.

Bet The Farm On These 5 Guys
You've probably gleaned some of this already, but here are five players going in the first round that I think will be outstanding pros:

• Michael Huff, DB, Texas
• AJ Hawk, LB, Ohio State
• Santonio Holmes, WR, Ohio State
• DeAngelo Williams, RB, Memphis
• Chad Greenway, LB, Iowa

Be Wary Of These 5 Guys
Again, some of this is obvious by now, but here are five players who may turn out to be decent pros, but will not live up to the hype:

• Jay Cutler, QB, Vanderbilt
• Vernon Davis, TE, Maryland
• Haloti Ngata, DT, Oregon
• Chad Jackson, WR, Florida
• Tye Hill, CB, Clemson

Alright! I'm Hooked! Now Where Can I Get More Coverage
The usual places, such as nfl.com and espn.com offer great coverage. For me, ESPN gets the nod over competitors such as The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated because of the contributions of Todd McShay from Scouts Inc. And they have Kiper. Gotta love the Kiper. For the sake of disclosure (and fairness to the latter two sites,) I will mention that I don't subscribe to their premium service, so I may be missing out on some of their better analysis.

Also of use are the complete, round by round draft order, courtesy of nfl.com, and the Draft Pick Value Chart, which teams use when trading up and down the board.

Of the non-corporate entities, Scott Wright's NFL Draft Countdown is by far my favorite site. I also consult Football's Future from time to time.

Wrapping It Up
This projects to be one of the deepest drafts in recent years, and could see a flurry of activity as teams move up and down the board to grab their preferred players. In most years, I think that trading up is preferable (best to hit a home run than gamble on two players with potential), but this year, some of the teams who trade back may end up with the best windfalls a few years down the road. Of course, that assumes that they know what they're doing when they scout players - which is why the 49ers should stand pat.

Look for the three round mock draft tomorrow.

2 Comments:

At 5:20 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I just watched Mel on PTI, and I have to ask: is there better hair in the biz than his? I don't think so.

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

p.s. why do you always capitalize positions?

 

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