Friday, April 20, 2012

Draft Lynchpins?

How predictable is a draft? Does one surprise pick send ripples through the rest of the selections? Does it not make as big a dent as people might expect? Does a draft-day trade also turn the experts' mocks on their head? In an effort to answer this question, I'm going to predict the outcomes given a few of the major wild cards and see what picks shake out. It's ridiculous to try and predict the entire 1st round, so I'll cut it off once the mock possibilities get too broad. Without further discussion, let's dive in:

1. Indianapolis - Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
If you can bet on this pick still, do so.

2. Washington - Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor
Also a sure thing. Washington didn't give up 1st rounders in the next two drafts to not pick a quarterback. The board now has four prospects of "similar quality": Blackmon, Claiborne, Kalil and Richardson. This is where things get interesting. Rumors say the Vikings are considering three players, who should be Kalil, Blackmon and Claiborne, all of whom fit needs. Claiborne probably doesn't represent enough value to go 3rd. Blackmon doesn't fit the profile of a top-3 pick (based on size/speed). Kalil plays the most premium position and is the safest and most likely pick.

3a. Minnesota - Ryan Kalil, OT, USC
However, the Vikings are also rumored to be shopping the pick, which begs the question of who might be a willing partner. To answer this question, we need to peek at who Cleveland might take with the next pick. If the Vikings don't take Kalil, I think Cleveland considers him, but by all accounts the Browns are going for Trent Richardson. The curveball pick is Ryan Tannehill, though I don't think the Browns are going that route. So, a team would have to covet Richardson or maybe Tannehill to trade up. No team with ample ammo to move up to 3rd pick needs a running back that bad, and all have other needs. Going back to the curveball, might the Dolphins trade up to 3? They would probably need to swap 1st rounders and throw in a 2nd and 3rd (leaving them with another 3rd from the Brandon Marshall trade). Jeff Ireland has been the loser of the offseason, and he could see this as a makeup move. It's a horrible idea, but it just might happen:

3b. Miami (from Minnesota) - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
4. Cleveland - Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

As discussed before, Cleveland makes the expected pick of Trent Richardson. Some argue that Blackmon is in play (to give Colt McCoy weapons), but Cleveland has the #22 and #37 picks as well and can use those on playmakers. Richardson is far and away the best back in the draft, he doesn't fumble, he's not a diva: he'll make Browns fans forget about Peyton Hillis's good days.

5. Tampa Bay - Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU
The Bucs got a premier receiver in free agency, have a solid run game, and a promising young quarterback. They will be looking to get better on defense. They spent their last pair of 1st and 2nd picks on their defensive line. Since they run a 4-3, that same line needs to be generating pressure. Linebackers in this configuration don't have this much positional value, nor do safeties. Any other team wanting Claiborne would have to leapfrog the Bucs and again we run into positional value issues mixed with prohibitive draft capital cost. In scenario B, Kalil is still on the board and should be considered as the best player available, but the Bucs also invested heavily in their line this off-season. Claiborne is the pick.

6a. St Louis - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St
6b. St Louis - Ryan Kalil, OT, USC
The Rams sit tight at 6 and land a great player at a position of need. This is the first ripple effect in the draft. In scenario B the Rams have to pull the trigger on Kalil. They have to be honest about the fact that their line did not hold up last season and that Jason Smith isn't reliable enough in either performance or health to move forward with. In scenario A, the Rams get the top weapon for Sam Bradford. If Steve Smith can return to health, this will be a formidable duo. I don't think the Rams would trade down in either case.

7a. Jacksonville - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
7b. Jacksonville - Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St
The Jaguars were top-10 in both passing and rushing defense, so the emphasis should be on offense, right? In scenario B, this plays out and they get a top-tier playmaker for Blaine Gabbert. They can then move Mike Thomas back to the slot and still use a mid-round pick to bolster their crew if they want. In scenario A they get to bolster the pass rush which was that defense's weak point. Could the Jags make an unexpected pick? They could go with Coples instead of Ingram, but that's an essentially equivalent pick. They could reach for Michael Floyd if Blackmon is off the board. The Jags have reached big in the past for a player they liked at a position of need (ex: Tyson Alualu) so this isn't out of the question. Could they be a trade partner? Scenario A leaves some possibilities open. Conventional wisdom says Blaine Gabbert is a bust, so perhaps the Jags go for Tannehill? Or maybe some other team wants Tannehill enough to jump over the Dolphins? Or maybe the Dolphins don't want to risk getting leapfrogged and swap spots with the Jags? I don't see the Jags replacing a project quarterback after one year with another project quarterback, so let's suppose they don't pick Tannehill. This still leaves trade questions open. Rumor has it Kansas City is interested in Tannehill, but this doesn't make sense. Matt Cassell has been up and down, but I just don't see the Chiefs going this route. Since we came to this conclusion, let's assume Miami does too and stays put.

8a. Miami - Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
8b.1. Minnesota - Melvin Ingram, DE, South Carolina
The draft plays out as Miami had hoped and they land their bust of the future. Oops, quarterback of the future. They aren't likely to trade down and risk not getting the player they wanted. Thinking back a few years ago, the Fins passed on Brady Quinn and reached for Ted Ginn, so there's precedent for a reach for Michael Floyd as well. In scenario B, the Vikings are left with either Riley Reiff, a reach for Michael Floyd, or the top defensive line prospect. Though cornerback is a need for them, no remaining prospect projects this high. Reiff is the pick if need factors in strongly, otherwise they should take Ingram to take the pressure off Jared Allen or Fletcher Cox to reload their impressive defensive line. Historically, the Vikings haven't used a 1st rounder on their offensive line in 10 years, their receiving corp isn't horribly bad so I think they bolster their pass rush in an effort to give the rest of their defense some relief. Again, I'm considering Coples and Ingram interchangeable. The Vikings may entertain trade offers, but they probably use this spot to pick a highly rated prospect.

8b.2. Minnesota - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
At this point we see both scenarios with the same 8 teams picking and the same 8 players off the board, so we're back to the same single scenario going forward. I've noted in both picks of Ingram that Coples could be the pick instead. We also see Brockers, Cox and Poe being potentially interchangeable picks. For fun, I'll add the more likely alternate pick as scenario C.

9a.1,b.1.1,b.2.1. Carolina - Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi St. 
The Panthers go with a big run-stuffer in the middle of their defense. Their offense was humming last year, but the defense was giving up too many points and yards. They could also go with a defensive end since they only had one solid pass rusher last year. Carolina is in a great spot to trade, and both Kansas City and Philadelphia should want Luke Kuechly. The Chiefs can trade up for about a 4th, whereas the Eagles have a bonus 2nd from the Kolb trade to play with. The Chiefs are run by Scott Pioli who has history with the Patriots and we usually see them trading down, not up. I think there's a decent chance the Eagles make the Panthers and offer they can't refuse and jump the Chiefs.

9a.2,b.1.2,b.2.2. Philadelphia (from Carolina) - Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College.
10b.2. Buffalo - Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame
10rest. Buffalo - Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Buffalo wins in all cases. Probably they'll get Reiff who fills a desperate need. Their off-season has amped up their defensive line which should help all aspects of their defense. We've absolutely seen them make luxury picks and Floyd would fit that bill, though pairing him with Steve Johnson should elevate the passing game from average to good. Buffalo should not be in the market to trade this pick.

11*.1. Kansas City - Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
11*.2. Kansas City - Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
The Chiefs need help in run support and Kuechly is their ideal guy. If the Eagles jump them and select him, the Chiefs look to land a nose tackle with major upside to replace Kelly Gregg. Poe could be a disruptive player in the Vince Wilfork mold if he pans out, and would form a formidable front line when paired with Tamba Hali and promising Justin Houston. Quality inside linebackers can be found in the 2nd and 3rd round, so getting an impact pick is the goal. The Chiefs should not trade down if Kuechly is on the board (if they do, the Eagles will definitely jump up for him), and Poe becomes enticing as a value pick outside the top 10.

12*.1. Seattle - Dont'a Hightower, LB, Alabama
12*.2. Seattle - Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Pete Carroll likes players with unusual size, and both options fit the bill. Losing David Hawthorne hurts and Hightower could replace him, though again quality middle linebackers can be found in later rounds. Losing Red Bryant during the season clearly affected Seattle's defense. He probably doesn't have many good seasons left in him so finding an impact disruptive defensive tackle could fit the bill. Trade scenarios could crop up to get Michael Floyd here with speculation that the Cardinals might take him at 13. The Jets, Bengals and Chargers could all be interested, though the Chargers and Bengals probably have more pressing needs. The Jets have Burress and Holmes, though both players have had their issues on the team. Trading up would probably cost them their 3rd and they have no 4th, but those picks are hard to turn into meaningful picks anyways. The Jets should really be looking for help at right tackle though and should stay put and take the best available tackle when their turn comes.

The picks start to get too spread out to track well, but this gives us an idea of some scenarios that might unfold. Interestingly, it doesn't seem like Tannehill has the power to seriously alter the draft landscape. Mostly he just has the ability to make the Dolphins panic into overpaying for him. Of course this assumes that he doesn't fall past Miami in any scenario. Interestingly, it seems the biggest ripple may be caused by which team reaches for Floyd first. He could push Tannehill down the board. If Buffalo takes Floyd with Reiff on the board, Reiff becomes an attractive target for the Seahawks and won't fall past Arizona. In such a scenario, Tannehill could slide all the way to the Browns at #25, or beyond.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Combine Losers: Pass Rushers

Great pass rushers are a scarce commodity. All year long their game tape, hype and production piles up, but it can be hard to project dominance to the next level. The scouting combine offers some hints and glimpses, though I would argue that far too many cases of combine-induced stock rises are fraudulent. This year's list of defensive end and outside linebacker candidates' performances weren't spectacular so teams shouldn't be climbing the draft boards to land them. In fact, I would argue that teams should be downright weary of this group.

A past post examined the measurables that almost all future Pro Bowl pass rushers had in common. Let's take a look at this year's top prospects (per Mel Kiper's top 5 at each position)through the same perspective. The following table highlights 40 yard dash, vertical and broad jump results. I've highlighted each value in green, yellow or red to indicate if the value meets guidelines, misses but has precedent for success, or no player with this measurable has become a Pro Bowler, respectively. 10 yard splits were not yet available but are also an important indicator. I'll try to update the table when those become available.

NamePosition40 dashBroad jumpVertical
Quinton CoplesDE4.789'131.5
Melvin IngramDE4.799'134.5
Vinny CurryDE4.989'232
Andre BranchDE4.7010'032.5
Whitney MercilusDE4.689'1032
Coutrney UpshawOLB--- ------
Terrell ManningOLB4.799'632.5
Zach BrownOLB4.509'833.5
Lavonte DavidOLB4.659'1136.5
Bruce IrvinOLB4.5010'333.5
Nick PerryDE4.6410'438.5

In short, most of the top prospects failed the combine. All but two players have at least one measurable that is worse than that of any Pro Bowler in the last decade. Nick Perry from USC is the only prospect with a green light across the board, and he's not in Mel's Top 5 (though other draftniks consider him a fringe 1st rounder). The case is similar for outside linebacker prospects: Demario Davis, Ark St (4.61, 10'4, 38.5) is the only player posting elite measurables in all 3 categories. He is not regarded as a great pro prospect though, so teams should regard him as an athlete who is unlikely to be a good football player.

Interestingly, two highly regarded inside linebackers posted elite scores in all 3 drills: Mychal Kendricks, Cal (4.47, 10'7, 39.5) and Luke Kuechly (4.58, 10'3, 38) are both on par with Von Miller, last year's 2nd overall pick.

Teams looking for an upgrade need to skip Coples (whose poor numbers combined with poor effort on the field paint a bad picture) and Ingram, instead taking a chance on Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus or Bruce Irvin. Upshaw gets an incomplete but is not expected to have good measurables. His lone hope is comparisons to Terrell Suggs (who also didn't test very well), but that seems off-base as Upshaw is more of a pure power player. Teams in the top half of the draft looking for a pass rusher should trade down if possible and use their extra draft ammo to take a chance on players with upside.