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Draft King Analysis
November 28, 2012
Lou Pickney,

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We've reached the halfway point between the last NFL draft and the next one, that post-Thanksgiving time where the college football slate begins to dry up and fans of NFL teams that have no shot at the playoffs look to the next year with hope. The NFL business model is built on hope, on the magnetic pull toward 8-8 that every team feels. Unless you are an owner/GM hybrid with diminishing skills (e.g. Al Davis in the post-Gruden era), your team can have a legitimate hope of turning things around. And, while free agency plays an important role in the process, the one place that any team with a savvy scouting department and a capable front office can excel is in the draft.

It's a strange thing this year that the quarterback position is more important than ever, a reality that everyone seems to be savvy about by this point, in one of the worst years for quarterback prospects in recent memory. I'm bullish on WVU QB Geno Smith, who has proven to be a very capable and accurate pocket passer who has a chance to do some great things in the NFL. But after him? The drop hits and then falls at a steep decline.

The pre-season favorite to be the top QB drafted in 2013, USC's Matt Barkley, has seen a drop in production despite having two great wide receivers in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. Why? He hasn't had nearly the kind of offensive line protection that he enjoyed in previous years. In 2010, he had Matt Kalil and Tyron Smith as bookend offensive tackles. Both ended up being top ten NFL picks. Even with Smith gone last year, Kalil was a rock who protected Barkley's blind side and allowed him time to make his reads and go through his progressions. He had time in the pocket.

In 2012? With Kalil gone to the Vikings, it's been Khalid Holmes at center and what might as well be paper-mache stuffed into Trojan uniforms at the rest of the spots -- especially left offensive tackle. Not surprisingly, Barkley's star has fallen and he no longer looks like the sure-fire (if not slightly below prototype height) quarterback prospect that he appeared to be this time last year.

The person who should take note of this: Johnny Football, aka Texas A&M redshirt freshman QB sensation Johnny Manziel. He has college football's best offensive tackle in Luke Joeckel on his left side and Jake Matthews (son of NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews) at right tackle, both of whom I'm projecting as first round picks in my latest 2013 NFL Mock Draft as of this writing. Both have remaining eligibility, but if they both split for the NFL after the season, I suspect that Manziel will find things considerably more difficult next season. This isn't a knock of Manziel -- he's great fun to watch play. At least he's already used to scrambling around and making plays (and buying time) with his legs. But it's something to remember, with or without a Heisman Trophy on his mantle.

But to jump back to the topic of NFL-eligible quarterbacks (which Manziel isn't since he's just two years removed from his high school graduating class), I see it as Smith over Barkley over Florida State's E.J. Manuel over Arkansas' Tyler Wilson over the field at this point. I know that Florida made Manuel look subpar this past Saturday, but I like what I have seen from Manuel aside from his games against the Gators... and I think he will be a better QB than many scouts are projecting him to be at this point. We'll see.

Bjoern Werner
Bjoern Werner is a potential top 15 pick in next April's draft. (US PRESSWIRE)
The biggest climber up the draft board has been Texas A&M DE Damontre Moore, a junior who built on an impressive 8 1/2 sacks in 2011 to record 11 1/2 to date in 2012. He has really flourished in A&M's 4-3 defense this season and is just a shade behind Jarvis Jones as far as being an NFL prospect goes. But it's not a lock that Jones will go before Moore if both leave school early for the NFL, and my current projection of both going in the top six of the 2013 NFL Draft could very easily happen. When you can pressure the quarterback in a dominant way, you're going to find success.

Four teams that I would expect would be inclined to draft more for need than for BPA (best player available) are the Colts, the Raiders, the Browns and the Saints. Why? All four are without a second-round pick in the 2013 draft. For example with Oakland, if they lose Richard Seymour to free agency (and they almost for sure will), he will need to be replaced. With so much defensive line talent in this draft, it would seem risky for the Raiders to pass up the choose from draft from most, if not all, of the defensive tackles in the draft. Utah DT Star Lotulelei and Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins certainly fit the bill.

Alternately, Oakland could trade down, acquire another team's second round pick, and feel fairly confident that they could land a quality defensive tackle while moving into position in round two to fill another need... like, say, quarterback. Moreover, as we saw this past April, the new CBA makes it no longer cost prohibitive to trade into or out of the top five of the draft. It used to be its own sub-section of the draft -- deals could be made within it (Vick/Tomlinson 2000 and E. Manning/Rivers 2004 come to mind) but getting in or out was a dicey, if not difficult, proposition.

When I attended the Florida State/USF game in Tampa earlier this season, I made a point to watch the stellar play of CB Xavier Rhodes, who I predict will fall further than he should and be a steal for a team needing cornerback help. Right now I have him going to the Bucs, which would be a serious "What Great Fortune!" moment for them. But in doing so I didn't pay close attention to the defensive player most likely to be drafted first from the Seminoles if he turns pro: German import Bjoern Werner. I was slow to come around on him, but I'm finally on board after watching his gameplay against Florida.

Saying a guy has a motor is a cliche and overused term, but it applies for Werner: the guy simply doesn't take any downs off. He's the opposite of Quinton Coples at North Carolina post-Butch Davis. Most impressive against the Gators was a fake-out move he did to quickly slip past the offensive tackle who was supposed to block him and sack Florida QB Jeff Driskel before he could get rid of the ball. Werner finished the game with 3 1/2 sacks, an impressive performance in a losing effort. It's a shame that his fellow Seminole defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine tore the ACL in his right knee in that game, as both could have ended up as 2013 first-round selections.

One last thing: my projection of Missouri DT Sheldon Richardson to Dallas is an attempt to illustrate the effect that J.J. Watt's monster season for Houston as a 3-4 DE will likely have in the draft. The NFL is a big-time copycat league, to the point where I expect multiple teams running a 3-4 to take a 290-300 pound defensive tackle type who has shown ability to rush the QB in a 4-3 defense and see if he can translate into something similar as a 3-4 defensive end. It may or may not be successful, but don't be surprised if multiple teams running the 3-4 take that approach.


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