Saturday, March 23, 2013

Talent, or Upside?

This year's top pass rushers come with a lot of excitement, and a lot of question marks. Using the linebacker smell test guidelines, I've outlined all who are anywhere near a first round grade. Carradine and Jones didn't run in Indy; Jones now has numbers from his pro day while Carradine continues to rehab from a mid-season ACL tear.

Name10y40yVerticalBroad Jump
Ezekiel Ansah1.564.6334.59'10
Cornelius Carradine--------
Bjoern Werner1.684.8331.09'3
Datone Jones1.634.8031.59'4
Damontre Moore1.694.9535.510'2
Margus Hunt1.624.6034.510'1
Jarvis Jones--4.92*30.5*9'3*
Dion Jordan1.574.6032.510'2
Barkevious Mingo1.554.5837.010'8
Khaseem Greene1.674.7130.09'8
Jamie Collins1.564.6441.511'7
Corey Lemonier1.574.6033.09'11
Sam Montgomery--4.8134.59'4
* - values from pro day

The results are almost perfectly split between guys who produce and don't measure, or vice versa.

Werner, both Joneses, Moore and Montgomery all produced at the college level, but measured poorly. Khaseem Greene also measured poorly, didn't produce great stats and is undersized. Moore actually performed similarly to Akeem Ayers, who is now doing a solid job playing linebacker in the Titans' 4-3. None of these guys seems to have the elite measurables that almost all eventual Pro Bowlers share.

Ansah, Mingo and Jordan are considered the top 3 prospects right now. All their measurables agree that they are the ones with true NFL potential, however none had great production. Additionally, Mingo and Jordan each need to gain 20 or more pounds to fill out their frames and compete with NFL blockers. Ansah has a mere 3 years of experience, but the other 2 should have been able to use their physical skills to dominate in college. None had over 5 sacks in their final year. Lemonier isn't rated as high and also has great measurables, but was also limited to 5.5 sacks in 2012 (though he reached 9.5 in 2011, higher than Ansah, Mingo or Jordan ever did). Margus Hunt measured about as well as Ansah and even had 8 sacks his senior year, but isn't shooting as far up the boards.

Perhaps the lone exception is Jamie Collins, who had 10 sacks to go with eye-popping numbers at the combine, though his production was mostly against lower competition.

If I'm a team looking for a pass rusher, I have a real dilemma here. There's no Von Miller in this group. Everyone comes with major question marks. In my mind, there are a ton of great mid-to-late 1st round prospects here. Teams can elect between the solid player who might have a few good years, the boom-or-bust athletic specimen, or the small-conference star.

I don't, based on the numbers, see the reason for Mingo, Jordan and Ansah being top-10 prospects, but Hunt and Lemonier being fringe 1st rounders. Of all these players, only Hunt showed improvement his senior year (unless we count Ansah's introduction to the starting lineup and resulting 4.5 sacks). The other players actually regressed in their final years.

Moore and Montgomery are already free-falling down the boards after being top-10 prospects during the season. Bjoern Werner is now going in the mid-1st in mocks, which seems about right. Jarvis Jones's bad pro day and spinal stenosis add up a giant buyer beware note, and he should be following Moore down the draft tubes.

This year's draft will have a lot of busts, and one or two of our super athletes will become big-time players. And, the fascination with upside will continue.

Friday, March 15, 2013

No Cardinals at Geno Smith's Pro Day

Reports say that the Cardinals (despite having clear quarterback issues) were one of the few teams (along with the Cowboys and Seahawks) not at Geno Smith's pro day. Why wouldn't they go? 3 suggestions have been given:

1. They are genuinely not interested
2. They are throwing up smokescreens, but are interested
3. They simply don't think pro days are a valuable research tool

I think option 3 can be thrown out immediately. When every other team, including teams with top notch quarterbacks, shows up, this doesn't add up. The Cardinals are trying to show disinterest, but why so blatantly? Consider the recent moves in free agency:

a. The Bills cut Ryan Fitzpatrick and have nothing going for them
b. The Jets can't be all that excited about Mark Sanchez and are high enough (and have shown a willingness) to make a move
c. The Vikings may be looking for a new player and just traded Percy Harvin for the 25th pick to go with their 23rd pick

Suppose we're pretty sure the the Bills will take Geno Smith if he's there at 8.

In scenario 1, another team could trade to 7 to get Smith. The Jets just need to package a 4th rounder with their 9th, and the Vikings 23rd and 25th comes out just about equal to the 7th pick in draft capital. The Cardinals would like to trade back if a top offensive tackle is no longer available. It's important others believe the Cardinals will not take Geno, otherwise they would trade higher up and the Cardinals don't get to trade back.

In scenario 2, everything lines up the same, but the Cardinals take Geno Smith. Here it's important everyone thought they wouldn't, otherwise they could trade up past the Cardinals.

If other teams think the Cardinals will take Geno Smith, all trade leverage is lost and there's a good chance someone else will trade up and beat them to Geno if they really wanted him.

Friday, March 8, 2013

2013 Draft Mock 2.0

The combine is over and the players who are likely to be franchised have been tagged. The offseason picture is getting a little clearer! Of course there will still be big moves in the next month (both signing and releases before roster bonuses are due), but that's what Mock 3.0 will encompass. Here I'll try to combine some FA move predictions and mocking of the top 10 picks. The Chiefs are still on the clock. They've had a lot of moves this off-season: new coach, new front office, free agent left tackle.

1a. Kansas City Chiefs - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida
1b. Kansas City Chiefs - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah.
Impact FA moves: Jake Long, OT or Mike Wallace, WR
Lotulelei had some heart irregularity at the combine and didn't get to work. It's a shame, but he didn't need to blow anyone away to remain an elite prospect. Until his heart is deemed actually faulty, I'm working under the assumption that he'll check out. There's a lot of speculation that the Eagles will take Joeckel or Fisher, but franchising Branden Albert suggests otherwise. It's possible they are just renting Albert as insurance for a year with the intention of moving him to the right and drafting their future LT, then getting a new RT in a later round or next year and phasing Albert out. After all, the rookie salaray scale allows teams to replace expensive vets with much cheaper young guys. They could also be hedging their bet and will rework Albert's deal if they don't pick a tackle or pick up Jake Long. Andy Reid has brought in big name linemen in the past (that's how Jason Peters ended up in Philly) and the Chiefs have over $18M in cap space. Lost in all this talk is that Glen Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are both hugely underperforming their contracts and Lotulelei or Floyd are likely giant upgrades at impact positions. History lines up with this as well: Andy Reid used 6 of his 12 1st round picks with the Eagles on his defensive line and only 1 on an offensive tackle. The Chiefs probably stand to gain the most by cutting Jackson and replacing him with Floyd if the salary cap hit can absorb that. Given Tamba Hali and Justin Houston's performance, a pass rusher would just be crowding the roster here. Looking at Mike Wallace doesn't impact this draft choice, though it would give Andy Reid the kind of dynamic playmaker he had in Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson.

2a. Jacksonville Jaguars - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan
2b. Jacksonville Jaguars - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida
Impact FA moves: Cliff Avril, DE
The Jaguars have needs at quarterback and pass rush. There's no passer remotely good enough to take here or even a good bet to beat out Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne. The best 4-3 defensive end on the board is Ezekiel Ansah. He reminds many of Jason Pierre-Paul. While JPP turned out to be a great pick for the Giants, he also dropped into the middle of the 1st round due to being a very raw prospect. Ansah may be even more so... in other words, this pick is too high for him. Picking in the top 5 means a team has to score a blue chip prospect, so the Jaguars do the next best thing for the team and pick up the top rated offensive tackle. They could also be in play for Floyd or Lotulelei to play as a disruptive, penetrating defensive tackle, but given their offensive ineptitude the last few years I feel they have to look at that side of the ball. The Jaguars can throw some of their over $26M available at pass rush, further reducing the likelyhood they go after Ansah or another defensive end.

3a. Oakland Raiders - Sharrif Floyd, DE, Florida
3b. Oakland Raiders - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
3c. Oakland Raiders - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
Impact FA moves: None
The Raiders still need help with their pass rush or more consistency on offense. They have some dynamic skill players and a solid quarterback in Carson Palmer, but have a hard time scoring touchdowns. Joeckel (or Fisher) would definitely help here, but their offense is able to get points (Janikowski helps a lot there). Floyd and Jones both represent dynamic defensive threats. The Raiders can pretty much take any top rated prospect and have made a good pick. They only have about $1M of space under the cap, so it's unlikely they'll make any splashy moves.

4a. Philadelphia Eagles - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
4b. Philadelphia Eagles - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
4c. Philadelphia Eagles - Dion Jordan, DE, Oregon
Impact FA moves: Jake Long, OT or Cliff Avril, DE
The Eagles have over $33M in cap space, so they can afford to throw some money at holes in their roster. It's likely Milliner will last this long in the draft and there aren't any truly elite corners availablein free agency. Getting Jake Long could free them up to take Milliner. Dion Jordan is the wildcard: never underestimate the appeal of the familiar. If Chip Kelly liked Jordan at Oregon, he could be leaning very hard towards taking him. If the Eagles want to reload their roster fast, I think they spend money on an aging Freeney and hope he has maybe 2 decent years left.

5a. Detroit Lions - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama
5b. Detroit Lions - Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
5c. Detroit Lions - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Impact FA moves: None
Well, looks like the Lions are out both defensive ends and will probably need a replacement. Milliner fills a huge need for them and would be a good pick. Ansah could is a risk/reward option here if the reward is very high. Werner fell down draft boards and I think Detroit would love to trade back here, but it's unlikely they'll find any trade partners. None of the quarterbacks should be valued this high, and almost all positions have pairs of players so there's no rush for a team to move up and grab one (Mingo and Jordan likely still on the board, Warmack and Cooper, ...). The only attractive player would be Fisher or Joeckel if they are still available. If one is gone, perhaps the Cardinals make a move, but that's not usually their style. Combine that with Detroit not likely selecting a tackle (and certainly not trading out of this spot if they are planning to do so) and the Browns being set at the position and having impact needs, Arizona can safely wait until 7. Detroit relied too much on Stafford's arm and their one-dimensionality reduced their ability to grind out games and turn their offensive yards into points. Warmack would immediately rejuvenate their running game and should merit some serious consideration here.

6a. Cleveland Browns - Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
6b. Cleveland Browns - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU
6c. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Impact FA moves: Wes Welker, WR or Mike Wallace, WR or Cliff Avril, DE
Last time around we were all thinking Chip Kelly would end up in Cleveland and bring the west coast system with him and increasing the likelyhood Geno Smith would be in play. I no longer think this is a likely scenario. The best bet to improve this team is to focus on offense, and build around the pieces they trust. Trent Richardson is their back of the future, so it's time to give him a line to run behind. Warmack would give that line a big boost. The upside of Mingo and his more natural fit as an outside linebacker might be too tantalizing here. They could also look at Dion Jordan, Jarvis Jones or Sheldon Richardson, but the value doesn't appear to be there anymore. The other interesting scenario is for the Jets to leapfrog Arizona and get their choice of quarterback. I don't think the Cardinals are picking a passer, but the Jets may not want to take that risk. This works out great for the Browns because they can take Warmack or Cooper at 9 as well and pick up about an extra 3rd round pick. The Browns have the most cap space (over $47M!) and could get a splashy playmaker for their passing game or an impact pass rusher for the next few years.

7a. Arizona Cardinals - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M
7b. Arizona Cardinals - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
7c. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Impact FA moves: None
The Cardinals have Levi Brown coming back, but a) he's coming off a serious injury and b) he was never elite. Given the chance to get an elite left tackle prospect, the Cardinals have to pull the trigger. If both Joeckel and Fisher are off the board, they could look to add an impact pass rusher, which would most likely be Jones. Warmack or Cooper is an outside shot in this scenario as well; new Cards' management has said the offensive line is a top priority. If the Jets aren't worried about the Cardinals picking a quarterback, they could trade up to get ahead of Buffalo (who might be regretting the big Ryan Fitzpatrick deal). If both tackles are gone by now, the Cards would do well to accept the offer and pick up an extra 4th rounder.

8a. Buffalo Bills - Alec Ogletree, ILB, Georgia
8b. Minnesota Vikings - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
Impact FA moves: None
Despite their spending spree last year, the Bills are $18M under the cap ... but I don't think there are any elite players they'd be going after. Their weak layer is the linebacking corps, and it's likely they can reload that through the draft. If their favorite of Ogletree or Te'o is gone, they should market the pick to a team desperate for the first shot at a quarterback if the Jets haven't traded up. The Vikings might be in that group, they are one of the few teams left to pick in the round that might make the move. It'd probably cost them their 2nd and next year's 1st, which Buffalo would love to get.

9a. New York Jets - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia
9b. Cleveland Browns - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama
9c. Arizona Cardinals - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia
Impact FA moves: None
While the Jets may fortify some spots in FA and have about $8M of space to do so, I don't think available players line up with their needs. They could take a look at Avril, but no move they make will impact what they do here. If the pick was traded, the trade partner will just take whichever player they wanted is still available. Further trades from this spot are unlikely, again because pairs of players of similar quality are still on the board so teams have no incentive to trade up to grab one until the other is gone.

10a. Tennessee Titans - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina
10b. Tennessee Titans - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Impact FA moves: Cliff Avril, DE
The Titans were good when CJ2k's name was applicable. Putting Cooper into the line should help get him back to form. Jake Locker is a limited passer and needs to be able to lean on a good running game. I don't see the Titans bailing on him just yet, so a player to help them run better should be the pick. They could also look at the defensive side and help both their pass and run defense by choosing a capable safety. Picking up Cliff Avril should help their mediocre pass rush, and with $18M space under the cap they certainly could do it.

Looks like Cliff Avril is one of the lynchpins of this draft. I'm not convinced that all the highly touted pass rush prospects are going to fly off the board, almost all of them have red flags between being raw, undersized or not performing well at the combine. As much as teams go gaga for quarterbacks, I also think teams will be pretty disciplined and focus on the glut of 2nd round options. When so many of them have question marks, it's best not to overspend and realize each pick is basically a lottery ticket.

Free agency is starting now, let's see how that affects our mock draft!