Draft King Analysis|
April 5, 2012
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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The 2012 NFL Draft will begin three weeks from tonight. 21 days to go, and most teams seem to have things more or less in place as far as personnel goes.
Some things to keep in mind for the stretch run:
-Most teams have figured out that a strong passing attack and a good pass defense is the key to long-term success in the modern NFL. In free agency, the big guaranteed money went noticeably to two positions: cornerback and wide receiver. Elite defensive ends also cashed in as well, most notably former Texans DE/OLB Mario Williams, who received $50 million guaranteed from Buffalo.
-Some of the moves made in free agency have created at least the perception of positions that a given team might not target in round one. For example, with St. Louis signing former Titans CB Cortland Finnegan to a five-year, $50 million deal ($24 million guaranteed), the impression was created that the Rams wouldn't be like to target LSU CB Morris Claiborne, even after trading back with Washington and moving from #2 to #6.
-Figuring out what Jacksonville will do at the #7 spot is a bit tricky. The Jaguars signed a pair of 2011 breakout players to long-term deals, retaining DE Jeremy Mincey with a four-year, $20 million deal ($9 million guaranteed) and signing former Cowboys WR Laurent Robinson to a five-year, $32.5 million deal ($14 million guaranteed). Neither signing will preclude the Jaguars from selecting a wide receiver or DE/OLB at #7 overall, though both signings at least gives Jacksonville some latitude depending on their internal rankings of the top wide receiver and 4-3 DE prospects.
-The vetting process of potential first-round draft picks is becoming more and more like how political candidates in a presidential campaign are scrutinized and criticized. At times it irritates me greatly. The way that the law in the United States often discriminates against 18-20 year old adults is maddening, but its impact exists whether it's the two arrests by Michael Floyd for "underage drinking" (neo-prohibition for young adults) or the make-believe DUI that Justin Blackmon was slapped with in Texas.
Perhaps the most troubling example of skewed vetting this year involves Alabama CB Dre Kirkpatrick, who saw his draft stock abruptly drop when he was (wrongfully) arrested for marijuana possession in Florida. Prosecutors opted not to press charges since the driver of the car said that the weed was his, but Kirkpatrick hasn't yet fully ascended from the drop he faced after his arrest.
-More than a few scouts and prognosticators are down on LSU DT Michael Brockers, who is a talented athlete but lacks the experience that many of the other top-tier DTs have. As of this writing, four different draft evaluators on CBSsports.com have Brockers going #11, #14, #15, and #18. Perhaps the biggest question mark surrounding Brockers: will he be able to pressure the quarterback on passing downs from an interior line position?
This is a rather deep draft at defensive tackle, and in my estimation there will be defensive tackles who are currently being discussed as first round prospects who will slide to day two of the draft. Take a look:
3-4 Nose Tackle
|Ndamukong Suh has tremendous skill at pressuring the quarterback. (Andrew Weber - US PRESSWIRE)|
Dontari Poe, Memphis (6'3½" 346)
Alameda Ta'amu, Washington (6'2½" 348)
4-3 Defensive Tackle/3-4 Defensive End
Fletcher Cox, Miss. St. (6'4" 300)
Michael Brockers (6'6" 320)
Jerel Worthy, Michigan St. (6'2½" 310)
Kendall Reyes, Connecticut (6'4" 295)
Devon Still, Penn St. (6'5" 300)
Brandon Thompson, Clemson (6'2" 315)
That's eight guys, six of whom (all but Ta'amu and Thompson) are getting some serious run in mock drafts and player projections. All will be given first round consideration by at least some teams. I wouldn't count out Ta'amu going sooner than expected to a 3-4 team needing a true nose tackle, be it toward the bottom of the first round (and there are a ton of teams which run a 3-4 defense that are slated to be drafting in that range) or toward the top of the second round.
What's most interesting to me about the nose tackle position in this draft is that the ability to pressure the QB from the DT position is more important than ever. Again it goes back to the premium that exists in the NFL for players who either help the passing game or the passing defense under the new rules put in for safety reasons. Fletcher Cox is near the top (if not at the top) of 4-3 DTs in no small part because he has shown an ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks on passing downs.
As for 3-4 NT, it's possible for a nose tackle type to play defensive tackle in a 4-3. But, for teams with existing systems and particularly those running 4-3 looks, bringing pressure from the interior defensive line has moved from a nice extra to a very important feature. Not every draft has a defensive tackle with elite pass-rush capabilities like Warren Sapp or Ndamukong Suh possessed coming out of college, but with the rules being how they are now in the NFL, it has become a potential tie-breaker for teams with similar grades on two or more defensive tackles.