Draft King Analysis|
April 10, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
Reader feedback is always welcomed here on Draft King. Sound off with your thoughts on Twitter (@LouPickney) or via email at LouPickney@gmail.com.
Some NFL Draft thoughts as we move closer to the start of the 2012 selection process:
-I'm not sure that I buy the talk that another running back besides Alabama RB Trent Richardson will be taken in the first round of this year's draft. There are teams drafting late in round one with running back needs, including the Super Bowl champion Giants, but the value isn't there in my estimation. This is a loaded draft class at running back at a time when running backs have never had less singular value than they have in the current NFL.
If it's going to happen, I would imagine it would be someone like Miami RB Lamar Miller who has elite speed. This isn't to denigrate players like Boise State RB Doug Martin or Virginia Tech RB David Wilson, but there just isn't value at the running back position like there used to be. The game has changed, and moreover most teams demonstrated in free agency that they recognize the importance of a strong passing game and a good passing defense in the modern NFL.
There are running backs who have been productive receivers, like LaDainian Tomlinson was with the 2003 San Diego Chargers, where he had 100 receptions in the regular season. But the reality is that enough free agent and/or late-round selections at running back have become successful in the NFL to challenge the notion that using high draft picks on running backs is a good idea. The game has changed.
-There is a large volume of talent available at defensive tackle in the upcoming draft, to the point where some guys who might be first-round picks in a different class will fall to the second day of the draft in 2012. The two major 3-4 nose tackle candidates, Dontari Poe of Memphis and Alameda Ta'amu of Washington, are being considered interestingly both by 3-4 teams and also some teams using 4-3 schemes. It can happen -- Vince Wilfork found success with the Patriots in their new 4-3 defense last season, and Miami signed its own free agent NT Paul Soliai off the open market despite the team's plan to move to a 4-3 approach in 2012.
At the 4-3 defensive tackle spot, there is elite value to be found with defensive tackles who can pressure the quarterback. Stuffing the run is still important, to be sure. But with the premium that exists for interior defensive linemen who can be effective at collapsing the pocket on passing downs, I suspect that most teams are looking at the position in a different way.
To point, the ascent of Mississippi State DT Fletcher Cox up draft boards is tied in many ways to his strong skill at pressuring opposing quarterbacks. It's not just Cover 2 teams that can gain the most value from pass-rushing DTs (think Warren Sapp on the 2002 Buccaneers) but realistically any team using a 4-3 base can benefit from the approach. If you're bringing four guys and dropping seven into coverage on 3rd and 8 (or whatever the down/distance may be), it stands to reason that the faster they can reach/pressure the quarterback, the more effective they can be.
Again, it all ties back into the rule changes that the NFL put into place that makes it much more difficult for linebackers and defensive backs to shut down opposing passing attacks. With so many penalties that can be called on defenses on passing plays, including defensive holding being five yards but an automatic first down (which actually pre-dates the Roger Goddell era rule-changes), it's imperative for teams to be able to pressure opposing quarterbacks as effectively as possible with their defensive linemen.
-In a related note, the DE/OLB position is key no matter what type of defense you run. When you see DE/OLB on here, know that I mean a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker. There are exceptions and players who might be able to play both defensive tackle and defensive end in a 4-3, though the Tennessee Titans tried that in 2011 by kicking Jason Jones out from DT to DE -- only to see his production fall significantly since he was better suited as an interior lineman in a 4-3 set.
But there is both need and talent at DE/OLB in this draft, with the best of the bunch at the position likely to be South Carolina's Melvin Ingram. ESPN's Rich Cimini reported that the Jets would like to draft Ingram but recognize the long odds of Ingram falling to the Jets at #16. At this time of the year, teams and agents and other interested parties are doing their best to play misdirection games, but I believe this one.
My latest mock that went up earlier today has the Jets selecting Alabama DE/OLB Courtney Upshaw at #16. If the Jets don't trade up (and it would be an expensive move to climb into the top ten), Upshaw and his proven ability as a 3-4 OLB in Alabama's system makes sense to me for the Jets. But it goes back to an important core element: 4-3 DEs and 3-4 OLBs tend to be most valuable when they are effective pass rushers, and that's never been more true than it is in the modern NFL.
It's not a two-man show with Ingram and Upshaw at DE/OLB, to be clear. USC's Nick Perry, North Carolina's Quinton Coples, Illinois' Whitney Mercilus, Marshall's Vinny Curry, Clemson's Andre Branch, and others are all in the mix. I'm very amped about Curry in particular, with my Huntington, WV friends from my WSAZ news producing days all giving rave reviews about him as a player and a person. If there was anything negative about Curry to come out, I imagine I would have heard it by now. If he falls to round two, he could be a huge steal on the second day of the draft.
|Marshall DE/OLB Vinny Curry is a talented pass rusher. (Jeff Griffith - US PRESSWIRE)|
-Cornerbacks are vitally important, though it's interesting how different scouts and teams have varying needs depending on their perception and, in the case of teams, the type of defense they run. Man-to-man shutdown corners are the cream of the crop; if you can neutralize a team's best receiver, you put yourself at a distinct advantage.
Flip back to the 2009 AFC Championship game where the Jets played at the Colts. Indianapolis won the game, but the Jets managed to minimize the damage that #1 receiver Reggie Wayne caused by having him primarily blanketed by superstar CB Darrelle Revis. Luckily for the Colts, having Peyton Manning at QB and capable receivers in Pierre Garçon and Austin Collie proved to be enough, but not every team has a Manning at QB and strong depth at receiver. But the point is clear: a top-tier cornerback can limit the production of an opponent's best receiver is one of the most valuable pieces that any defense can have.
Doubt it? Look at the huge money that several top free agent cornerbacks made last month when free agency began. That didn't happen by chance -- it's clear that almost every NFL team recognizes the change that has happened and has adjusted accordingly.
For those teams that either lost a top corner to free agency or didn't get in on the veteran CB sweepstakes (and the huge guaranteed money that the best of the bunch landed), the draft will likely be where they will go to either shore up their existing cornerback corps or to replace a successful CB with a younger (and less expensive) option.
This is where it gets interesting: where will North Alabama CB Janoris Jenkins end up? I had him making the top 32 in my first round mock for some time now, but after hearing several reports and evaluations about him not making a particularly good impression during interview sessions with NFL teams, my anticipation is that he will end up sliding out of the first round.
During his time at the University of Florida, Jenkins faced elite WR talent. A.J. Green, Julio Jones, etc. and he held his own. But off-the-field problems have hung over his head, to the point where the post-Urban Meyer administration at Florida opted to jettison Jenkins from the program. That sent Jenkins to a popular destination for talented-but-troubled college football players, the University of North Alabama, located by chance in the city where I was born: Florence, Alabama.
There is no doubting Jenkins' talent, and if he had avoided the off-the-field problems and had strong interviews, he could easily be a top ten pick in this draft with his talent level. Shutdown corners are more valuable than ever, and Jenkins fits the bill on that. But the question lingers on how much the off-the-field issues will haunt him, and while I think he will be a steal if he falls even past Tennessee at 20 (and I doubt they take a shot at Jenkins after the Pacman Jones problems), there is no clear destination in line for him in the NFL.