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Draft King Analysis
March 7, 2013
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.


With franchise tag day having passed, here's a look at the full list and what their one-year tender will be:

Buffalo: FS Jairus Byrd ($6.916 million)
Chicago: DT Henry Melton ($8.45 million)
Cincinnati: DE Michael Johnson ($11.175 million)
Dallas: DE/OLB Anthony Spencer ($10.627 million)
Denver: OT Ryan Clady ($9.828 million)
Indianapolis: P Pat McAfee ($2.977 million)
Kansas City: OL Branden Albert ($9.828 million)
Miami Dolphins: DT Randy Starks ($8.45 million)

With Dallas moving from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, Spencer will be playing defensive end this fall, but the rule is for what position a franchised player was at in the past season. But, in Spencer's case, being tagged in back-to-back year entitles him to 120% of his 2012 tender, which is why he's north of $10 million for his number. The money is 100% guaranteed the moment a player signs the deal.

All eight teams used the non-exclusive version of the franchise tag. The exclusive version would prevent a player from signing anywhere else, but it offers a one-year tender based on the average of the top five salaries at their position in the upcoming season, not the past season as it is with the non-exclusive tag. But a player who signs elsewhere can either have his deal matched by his parent team or, if they decline, his new team must relinquish two first-round picks. That is a massive amount of compensation, and there's a reason franchised players never end up signing anywhere else. If there's a situation where it appears it might possibly happen, like Drew Brees with New Orleans last year, the exclusive version is usually used. Better safe than sorry with a truly elite player.

These tags (and lack thereof in other places) are all very significant because it sets the stage for free agency while also providing clues about positions that teams are now unlikely to target in the first round or two. And while Cincinnati could still go for a defensive lineman early even after using the tag on Johnson, keeping him on the roster for 2013 keeps that position from becoming more of a need spot.

Up next, later this month, is the start of free agency. That's when the tide comes in and knocks over the sandcastles that the mock draft crowd have been building for months. Team needs change, though what a team does in free agency doesn't always mean they won't target the position in the draft. Just look at Dallas last year for evidence of that: the Cowboys coughed up $25.5M guaranteed to CB Brandon Carr (formerly of the Chiefs) then traded up in the draft to select LSU CB Morris Claiborne (who got a fully-guaranteed $16.5M/four-year deal). But, in general, that sort of thing normally doesn't happen.

Some observations at this point:

-Debate rages on about who the second-best QB prospect is behind West Virginia QB Geno Smith. What pundits think should happen is immaterial; what will determine it is whichever team makes the first move to trade up for a QB or snatch one off the board who falls to them. See: Christian Ponder over Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick.

-My guess is that there will be at least one running back taken in the first round, most likely Alabama's Eddie Lacy, but also possibly Andre Ellington (Clemson) and/or Giovani Bernard (North Carolina). Marcus Lattimore could be a sleeper since he is so talented, and while he's coming off back-to-back season-ending injuries, there are plenty of RBs who have gone through the rejuvenation process and done quite well, from Frank Gore after his injury-riddled time with the Miami Hurricanes to Adrian Peterson's remarkable recovery from a late 2011 ACL tear.

-There isn't a wide receiver who jumps out at me as a sure-fire hit... no A.J. Green or Julio Jones types in this draft. Cordarrelle Peterson (Tennessee) is at the top of most draft boards and could be a top ten pick. Keenan Allen (Cal) is second on most lists, but there are no guarantees there, particularly with a wild card like speedster Tavon Austin (West Virginia) in the mix. Mike Mayock is bullish on Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech) and he could make a late move up boards.

One thing that did jumped out at me from Mayock's post-combine list was the disappearance of Jonathan Banks (Mississippi State) from his top five corner list. This is not to disagree with his analysis -- but it reveals that this year's cornerback class might be deeper than I had initially thought. Plus cornerback is a position where small school guys can break out and become top prospects (e.g. Tennessee State's Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie), and I don't mean situations like Janoris Jenkins from North Alabama by way of Florida. But if Banks slips, he could be an absolute steal in the second round.

And then there's Xavier Rhodes (Florida State), and I have been thrilled to see him ascend CB ranking lists. I've been singing his praises since I saw the difference he made against Michael Floyd in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl... and how Floyd suddenly came alive when Rhodes left the game with an injury. That wasn't a coincidence. When the only knock you have against a guy is that he's too heavy at 210-215 pounds, I say that's not a problem, not if he's going to be asked to jam the likes of Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall at the line. Speculation about Rhodes not having sufficient speed proved to be unfounded when he posted a 4.43 40-yard-dash time at the combine. I'm an analyst first and an evaluator a distant second, but I've been high on Rhodes for some time and feel vindicated about my perception of his skillset.

-I have the distinct feeling that the glut of front seven defensive talent isn't going to separate in any easy-to-list sort of way. It's already incredibly unwieldy to rank talent because of the considerable differences between 4-3 and 3-4 defensive schemes. Plus, even if there was a consensus type pecking order ranking various players even within various alignments, teams have their own way of evaluating talent. If you doubt it, just look at Seattle surprising the experts by taking West Virginia DE/OLB Bruce Irvin at #15 last year. And as always, for my purposes it's never what I think *should* happen but what I think *will* happen that is most important.

-One addendum just under the gun of the deadline: Mike Mayock moved Florida State QB E.J. Manuel to the #2 spot on his QB board today. I'm pleased to see that since, like his teammate Xavier Rhodes, I found Manuel to be a mostly solid quarterback who seemed to be very good at not forcing things when they weren't there. Against USF in the game I saw in person in Tampa last fall, Manuel took what the Bulls gave him, not foolishly throwing into double-coverage or taking unnecessary risks. Accuracy + risk aversion is a good combo for quarterbacks in the modern NFL, and when you throw in Manuel's athleticism he seems to me to be the type of QB who could end up being a solid pro.


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