Join Date: Jan 2010
Cudders' 2012 NFL Draft Manifesto
Apologize for the absurd length and chaotic structure of the post, but with the draft just around the corner, I wanted to get some thoughts Iíve had on this class down before Thursday night. Thanks to those that take the time to skim or even read most of it. The bolded sentence is the general topic of that section for indexing purposes. Of course, discussion is much appreciated!
There are eight premier prospects, a dozen or so in that next group, and then a bunch of interchangeable pieces until the mid-to-late second. The top eight (in no order) are Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Matt Kalil, David DeCastro, Fletcher Cox, Luke Kuechly, and Morris Claiborne. I am very confident in each of those playersí ability to consistently perform at a Pro Bowl or better level in the NFL. The next group of a dozen or so prospects, highlighted by Justin Blackmon, is all fairly clumped together in terms of value. After that, I donít see much difference between picks twenty and fifty. Which, in the bottom half of the first round, it isnít uncommon for prospects to fall short of a solid first round grade.
The gap between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III hasnít closed. Luck is the superior prospect. He might not have the jaw-dropping measurables, but heís still special because of his rare mental makeup and so much of projecting quarterbacks to the NFL is predicated on that. In terms of football aptitude, Luck notches top marks in all categories. Heís immersed within his offense, given the freedom to be active pre-snap, calculated through progressions, smart with the football, adaptive to situations, and a proven anticipation passer. His overall field generalship is remarkable considering his age and experience. But Luck combines those traits with the textbook mechanics of an NFL veteran, precise ball placement, and an underrated arm. He has all the attributes of a top-tier quarterback. At worst, heís someone like Matt Ryan, who is someone that is still good enough to win with in this league.
Now, thatís not to discredit Robert Griffin III. In a normal draft cycle, RGIII is the prohibitive favorite to be the first overall pick. Love most of the elements of his game. Obvious arm talent, nice deep ball, impressive ball location, natural touch, makes throws on the run, comfortable ripping it in limited space, strong work ethic, seems to be a smart kid with a level head, and thatís without mentioning his athletic gifts, although heís more of a long-strider that eats up ground than an elusive runner that makes defenders miss.
From fit perspectives, I think both prospects are going to their best destinations. Luck is the more streamlined passer at this point and I have more confidence in him maximizing the mediocre supporting cast. But I love the marriage of Shanahan and RGIII, too. My biggest concern with RGIII was his tendency to drop his eyes and stare at an oncoming rush before reacting. With Shanahan, that concern is alleviated some because he likes to move the pocket around and put pressure on defensive fronts with an assortment of bootlegs. Itís still a bad habit that needs to be cut out of his game, but he is going to an environment that wonít make him a station quarterback and exacerbate the problem. The other issues with RGIII are overblown to me. He canít control what offense his college coaches run. All he can do is execute what is asked of him. His familiarity with intermediate concepts might be underdeveloped, but those routes werenít staples in Baylorís passing game, so itís unrealistic to expect a complete mastery of them.
Tannehillís arm talent and skill set is underappreciated. Itís popular to rip into Tannehill, but Iím a bigger fan than most. Forget where he should be drafted. Sure, in the past, rawer quarterbacks with high upsides like Tannehill might have fallen to the mid-to-late first or later. That NFL is long gone though. The importance of the position has increased even more since then and the new rookie cap has minimized financial risk. If a team wants a quarterback, it needs to be aggressive. Otherwise, it will spend a long time waiting for opportunities to fall in their laps.
That said, Tannehill is a better prospect than Christian Ponder and Blaine Gabbert. His arm talent jumps off the screen when watching him. He pushes the ball downfield and challenges defenses outside the hash marks in college. He shows a rough understanding of throwing with anticipation. He has a natural pocket presence thatís more advanced than RGIII at this stage. He has deceptive athleticism. He needs to do things better, like quicken his progressions and sharpen his post-snap recognition skills, but teams will learn more about him during a thorough vetting process. If he performs well in those interviews and answers some of those questions, he has the potential to be an above average starting quarterback. And those are critical to winning in the modern NFL.
The next tier of quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden, Brock Osweiler, Kirk Cousins) is being graded on a curve. These three are being given generous grades right now to fill the vacuum of quarterbacks valued in the second round range. But, for me, all of them are third-to-fourth round prospects and I wouldnít touch them until then.
Weeden is the best of the bunch and shows some good things, but there are a couple things that cripple his stock. The first is that he crumbles in the face of pressure. No quarterback likes being pressured, but every quarterback must learn to handle it because itís inevitable. He canít. He feels the heat and his decision-making and mechanics melt down. That problem is compounded when considering his age. If he were closer to the normal age range of drafted prospects, the hope is that the issue would be reprogrammed by the time he was twenty-eight and the team could still have a nice window. Weeden will be twenty-nine in October and needs to tinker with a part of his game that is essential for a starting-caliber quarterback. Not impossible, but it caps his career upside and value quite a bit. I like him best in a quick, short, timing-based passing attack where his weakness against the rush will be disguised to a degree.
Osweiler is a mechanical mess from the time he snaps the ball to the time it leaves his hand. His drop back and hitch-step need work. His base tightens and widens at random. His posture deteriorates. His shoulder rolls. His ball is pushed from his elbow. His release point makes him a shorter quarterback than his height would indicate. And, because of his mechanical inconsistencies, heís a largely inaccurate passer with overrated arm strength. He needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and handled with care. If he is afforded the time to do that and improve his pocket presence, then his arm strength will shine and he will become a more accurate passer. His upside is definitely the highest of this bunch though.
Cousins is the least talented of the bunch. To be honest, I donít see much to love when evaluating Cousinsí attributes. I wouldnít touch him until the fourth. And thatís after adjusting for quarterback inflation. His arm strength is average, his ball placement is far from special, and his decision-making isnít as sharp as itís made out to be. Those are all huge concerns. I understand heís competitive, a born leader, tough, etc. He can be all of those things, and those are certainly great intangibles to have, but if he canít throw the ball at a benchmark level, he canít be a starting quarterback in this league. Itís that simple. I think Cousinsí skill set is best suited for success in a West Coast Offense, but I even like him better as a bullpen quarterback in that system.
Ryan Lindley is the best project quarterback available. Part of it has to do with his skill set. Another part of it has to do with the fact that he should be available a full round or two later than the aforementioned prospects. Lindley made a lot of stick throws into tight windows in San Diego St.ís vertical system as a junior and senior. But he also forced the issue far too often and killed drives, or worse, turned the ball over. His gunslinger attitude needs to be reined in some, but he has a lot of the moldable qualities that make him worth selecting if the mental part of his game checks out. With some refinement of his footwork and clear definition in his progressions, he could develop into a legitimate starter down the road.
Despite being an elite prospect, Trent Richardson is still undervalued. Most consider him to be one of two or three elite prospects in this draft. Yet, heís undervalued. Thereís a strong sentiment in the football world that running back just isnít a position that should be selected that high or valued that much. But that isnít true. Elite runners like Trent Richardson are still worth their acquisition cost. Because elite runners like Trent Richardson still change the course of a game. Even in a high-octane, passing league.
Look, the NFL has gravitated toward the passing end of the spectrum over the past decade. Quarterbacks are the lifeblood of their team. Essential components of a championship contender. I get all that. And even agree with it. But the NFL is more complex than that. Each team isnít spotted an elite quarterback, so the less fortunate must find creative solutions to level the playing field.
The common denominator of the most explosive offenses is that theyíre multiple. They donít specialize in strictly one aspect of the game. Theyíre potent in more than one area. Probably not to the same degree, but theyíre still capable of moving the ball and chains in a multitude of ways. Defensive coordinators hate scheming against teams like that because football is a game of percentages and tendencies. The greater versatility an offense possesses, the greater variance in those percentages and tendencies, which is an advantage for the offensive side of the ball There are plenty of methods to achieve multiplicity, but adding an elite running back is absolutely one of the most effective.
As I said earlier, even in a passing-oriented league, running backs still have the potential to change the game. Teams with dynamic runners force defenses to account for their presence. They have a choice to make. They can either try to match up with their base package or they can dedicate another man to the box. Either way, the ability to control and dictate what that eighth defender does is another distinct advantage in the offensive play-callerís arsenal.
Manufacturing a running game, so to speak, is much harder than it sounds on paper. You might be able to piece together an effective ground game Ė one that gets exactly the yardage it is blocked for Ė to complement an outstanding quarterback, but an elite runner is much more valuable than that. He puts extra pressure on a defense. He generates explosive gains. He transcends his offensive linemen and the blocks in front of him. He is special. And that dimension canít just be manufactured.
Richardson adds that dimension to an offense. He has a compact build, low mileage on his tires, raw power, gymnastic balance, underrated short-area explosiveness, panoramic vision, and sneaky home run hitting ability. Thereís some innateness to his blocking and receiving facets, too. He fits the profile of an elite back to a T. And thatís worth a top five pick, passing era or not.
The second tier of running backs behind Richardson is quite fluid. The tier of Lamar Miller, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Chris Polk, Robert Turbin, and Isaiah Pead are so close in value that it is difficult to untangle. Team-to-team preference and specific need will determine where each is drafted. (Sidenote: LaMichael James and Bernard Pierce are often placed in this same tier, but I donít consider them to be the equals of the previous group. Both are too soft for me. I wouldnít touch either until the fourth or fifth round.)
I think Lamar Miller is the most talented runner of the bunch. Heís got good vision, explosive burst, underrated wiggle, and doesnít shrink in the shadow of contact. I love him as a runner in a zone-blocking scheme. I think he could be an absolute monster in that role. His durability and upright running style worry me, but the natural talent is evident if everything checks out medically.
Doug Martin is the best all-around back on the tier. Heís rock solid in all aspects of his game. Heís a tough runner that can handle an NFL workload. Heís got the vision, lateral quickness, and active feet to succeed. Heís a three-down back that contributes as a blocker and receiver. There is a lot to love about Martin and I assume he will be the second back taken based on the fact that there are no glaring issues to teams.
David Wilson and Chris Polk is the toughest separation. To me, both are identical values in their respective roles. Wilson is the more explosive back. Heís a smooth accelerator. His balance and change of direction skills are top-notch. Heís got some surprising fight in his game, too. At worst, I see a good change of pace back with potential to be more. Chris Polk has more workhorse potential and can still be effective in passing situations. With rumors of him cutting to a slimmer, more natural weight, I think his QABS can even improve.
Along the lines of Wilson and Polk, Robert Turbin and Isaiah Pead both bring separate skill sets that hold similar grades. Turbin is a powerful, determined downhill runner with enough wiggle. Pead is a change of pace back with plus suddenness, decisiveness, and some additional value as a return specialist.
Two runners that I like as mid-to-late round sleepers are Bobby Rainey and Tauren Poole. Chris Rainey is the more recognizable name with blazing timed speed and will be drafted higher, but Bobby Rainey is a better football player. Raineyís got a compact build that can withstand the punishment that will be doled out at the next level and his other attributes make him a more complete runner. He finds holes easier, his feet are quicker through traffic, his change of direction skills are comparable, and he finishes runs stronger due to a thicker base. Iím a big fan of the kid. Heís a solid fourth-rounder to me.
When I went into watching Tauren Poole, I was expecting to be unimpressed from what I had heard. Instead, I liked what I saw quite a bit. I see an instinctive runner that can carve out a spot in a backfield and earn some carries for himself in the NFL. He runs with good pad level, get downhill with purpose, and he can even make defenders miss inside the tackle box. A more natural runner than I expected.
Justin Blackmon isnít an elite prospect, but heís still the best out there. While Blackmon was never close to Andre or Calvin Johnson, I think heís suffering from chronic nitpicking at this point. Iíve liked him more than Michael Floyd throughout the entire process and Iím sticking to it. Blackmon is the smoother athlete and a relentless worker that will put in the extra time to hone his craft after grueling practices and in the off-season. Thatís a reliable characteristic. And I donít agree with the popular Anquan Boldin comparison either. That implies heís a grounded receiver and marginalizes other aspects of his skill set. Blackmon plays bigger than his measurables would indicate. Heís got impeccable timing when high-pointing the football, he tracks the ball in the air well, and his body control is impressive. Those attributes expand his catching radius beyond that of a grounded, prototypical possession receiver. Hakeem Nicks is a much closer comparison for Blackmon.
Wide receiver is the deepest position in the draft and itís not even close. I believe there are dozens of receivers that are capable of contributing in this draft class. Itís unusually talented. There will be a cluster of receivers with day two grades that are still available on day three. Since the list is so long, Iíll hit on a few prospects that I like more than the consensus seems to be.
My top five is Blackmon, Floyd, Wright, Hill, and Marvin Jones from Cal. Jones is one of the smoothest receivers in the draft. He runs crisp routes and creates separation with explosion at the top of them. He has strong hands to snatch the ball out of the air. He is a reliable hands-catcher. His ball skills and body control allow him to adjust to poorly thrown balls. He can align as a flanker and in the slot. He has all the tools that coaches and scouts like to see when projecting receivers to the next level and he will be underdrafted.
Along those lines, Joe Adams is an absolute top ten receiver prospect to me. He profiles as a dynamic slot receiver at the next level. Heís familiar with inside routes, having run them extensively at Arkansas. He understands the subtleties of the position. He gears up and down for variance, snaps at the top of his route, and understands how to create separation using more than just his athleticism. Heís a polished product. And heís electric once the ball is in his hands.
One deep sleeper that I like is Junior Hemingway from Michigan. Heís endured some garbage quarterback play throughout his career, but I like how his skill set translates to the NFL. Heís got a large frame. Heís competitive. He finds soft spots in coverage. And heís got plus athleticism for his size.
Two prospects that Iím not as high on are Mohammed Sanu and Chris Givens. Sanu is generally listed as a top ten prospect, but I donít see much explosiveness or upside. Thatís not to imply that he canít be productive. I love his fearlessness and ability to work underneath. I just think heís more Jason Avant than anything. I like other receivers in this draft more than that. And Givens has moved himself into the second round, but heís too inconsistent for my liking. Heís got tantalizing ability. His hands are a serious issue though and I donít think there is much potential for them to get better. Heís a chronic body-catcher because heís got small hands. That canít be changed.
The value of slot receivers and tight ends is at an all-time high. Not long ago, teams heavily favored receivers that could win one-on-one battles on the perimeter and felt that slot receivers were supplemental pieces that could be found later in the draft. A ďnumber oneĒ receiver wasnít just the flagship of a receiving corps, it was a huge part in defining its effectiveness. The ďnumber onesĒ still are at a premium, but as more teams start to manipulate their passing games with specialized personnel and sub-packages, the value of an explosive slot receiver that can give offenses favorable match ups is rising.
The same goes for a tight end. The position has become a true weapon in the modern NFL because itís a nightmare match up for defensive coordinators when theyíre isolated on linebackers or safeties. Theyíre not just outlet receivers anymore. Theyíre coverage-changers.
Matt Kalil is a stud, but the rest of the left tackles are overrated and will be drafted higher than their grade suggests due to their position. Matt Kalil isnít an elite prospect, but heís a top-flight talent and the best left tackle in the draft. Heís got phenomenal feet, long arms, and the tools to develop into an All-Pro blindside protector. Right now, his issues stem from lapses in concentration. There are times he overextends, times he doesnít get low enough, etc. But, overall, heís the most talented of the tackles by far and the only one with a definite first round grade.
Mike Adams is the most talented of the next three, but he was brutally inconsistent during his career as a Buckeye and rarely played up to his ability. Riley Reiff is the safest prospect. Heís a fairly sound technician, heís a pretty good athlete, etc. Heís a better right tackle though. Is that worth such an early pick? I donít think so, especially since I donít see him as a dominant one either. Jonathan Martin is the next option, and I donít love him as a first-rounder either. To me, he is much closer to Roger Saffold as a prospect than, say, Matt Kalil. Heís got tools, but he needs work with a good offensive line coach to reach his upside.
On the other hand, this guard class should produce some big-time performers. The headliner of the class is David DeCastro. And DeCastro is a monster. Thereís not much to pick apart with him. Heís the rare case of being classified as a road-grader and a technician with good athleticism. An immediate plug-and-play.
If the tackle experiment fails with Cordy Glenn, he has obvious potential as a guard. Big-bodied lineman with special athleticism when heís kicked inside. Could develop into a dominant pulling guard. Roughly comparable to Leonard Davis.
I love Midwestern St.ís Amini Silatolu. Maybe too much. The ghost of Larry Allen has created a lot of intrigue for small school guard prospects and Silatolu impressed me quite a bit. The first things that pops out are his nastiness and relentlessness. Heís a whistle-to-whistle blocker. Not the most athletic, but his base is thick and strong and he can really drive.
Kevin Zeitler is a typical Wisconsin guard. Tough as nails, polished, experienced, productive, mean streak, etc. In a normal draft, heíd be talked about much more. Heís still worth a second round pick.
I like Kelechi Osemele as a guard, too. He has the skill set to slide inside and it hides some of the weaknesses that are present on the outside. Heís more of shield blocker.
Even someone like Brandon Brooks has garnered a lot of interest as a high pick.
Separation between the top stable of pass rushers is nonexistent. In terms of even front pass rushers, thereís not much separation at the top. While this class lacks a dynamic prospect, it compensates for it in terms of depth. I donít see a premier pass rusher per se, but there is a group of guys capable of contributing in their own ways.
Quinton Coples is the biggest name of the bunch and his skill set is tantalizing to me. I see him as an ideal base end that can set the edge in the running game with long arms and impressive functional strength. Then kick him inside on passing downs and let him rush from his more natural spot. He isnít explosive, flexible, or quick enough to anchor the weak side though. But, in that versatile role, I like his potential. For the record, I saw the same kind of potential from Jamaal Anderson. Make of that what you will.
Chandler Jones is a similar talent. Heís not an explosive pass rusher that will accumulate a ton of sacks, but heís a decent short-area athlete that can be an elite run stuffer with the potential to develop a better rushing repertoire. Heís got freakish, long arms that make disengaging so much easier because the tackle struggles to even get hands on him.
As for the weak side ends, I think Nick Perry is the most explosive athlete of the trio. His rush moves are a little limited, but heís got the most raw talent to mold. I love Vinny Curryís relentlessness. He really gets after it on the field. With that kind of non-stop motor, Iím encouraged that he can develop some go-to and countermoves as a rusher. Andre Branch has potential, and I like his length and closing speed, but I donít trust him quite as much as the other two. Motor isnít as hot and he isnít as athletic.
Of this tier, I didnít find much to love about Whitney Mercilus. He wasnít sudden. He showed some athleticism, sure, but it was all very linear. He stalls when heís in a phone booth. If heís not lined up in a wide technique where heís got some space to work with, heís marginalized.
My favorite defensive end outside of that group is Malik Jackson. He played inside at Tennessee out of necessity, but I think heís got the skill set to be a very effective strong side defensive end. He is a quick and strong athlete and heís already proven to have some push from an inside rushing position. Needs to play with more consistent pad level, but as a mid-round value, I think he can really contribute in the NFL.
Fletcher Cox is still underrated. Heís on a tier of his own as a defensive tackle. Heís a fluid athlete for his size thatís versatile and scheme-diverse. He has surprising burst and suddenness when he shoots the gaps and still shows the strength to hold the point of attack. To me, heís a slam dunk top ten pick and even more valuable to teams that run a hybrid defense.
Dontari Poeís production is a complete non-issue and shouldnít impact his draft stock. A lot of people write him off because he didnít dominate C-USA. But he didnít dominate C-USA because heís as raw of a specimen in the draft. His rawness is a contributing factor into his stock being where it is. His production is not. Coaches and scouts look for translatable tools. Poe has them all in spades. A super-sized frame. Freakish blend of burst and brute strength. Even shows some suddenness in confined spaces. For a man of his dimensions, those qualities are rare. And those qualities are the reason heíll be drafted so high, production or not.
Mike Martin will outperform his draft position. Heís a projected third round pick, but I see him outperforming that slotting and sticking around in the league for a while. In addition to underrated athleticism, Martin has an impressive, detail-oriented game. As a former wrestler, he maximizes his natural strength by playing with incredible leverage. Coaches will love his nastiness and relentlessness, too. I think he can be adequate in a wide range of schemes. But my favorite fits for him are as a responsible three-technique in a 4-3 or a five-technique in a one-gap 3-4 that attacks and slants a lot.
Luke Kuechly is the best linebacker prospect since LaVar Arrington. Of course, theyíre different types of prospects, but Kuechly is impressive in his own way. I absolutely love his instincts. His head gets him to the ball much faster than the most athletic linebackerís feet ever could, but even Kuechlyís athleticism grades out as superlative. His block shedding is cited as a weakness, but thatís indicative of linebackers as a whole. He canít be downgraded much, if at all, for that. Besides, he does a good job of slipping past blocks and preventing linemen from getting in on him. Heís a scheme-diverse linebacker as well.
Whatís not to love about Miles Burris in the right role? I know heís projected as a mid-to-late round pick, but I have him valued as a solid third-rounder. When Iíve watched him, I see a nice package of skills and itís reflected in his production at San Diego St. For starters, heís a fluid and gifted athlete. Heís got an explosive first-step, elite short-area quickness, and a non-stop motor. Heís versatile and his instincts are quite good, too.
Now, the caveat: Iím not a huge fan of him as an edge rusher in the 3-4. If he gets drafted there, I think heís limited in what he can do. He has real problems shedding blocks in the phone booth. His go-to move as a pass rusher is just bending and running the arc. He has underwhelming bulk and length as a pass rusher. Iím having a difficult time envisioning that particular fit. His athleticism and relentlessness might allow him to stick on a roster, and even become a reliable situational producer, but I donít think itís his ideal fit. If he has to be drafted in the 3-4 though, I think that heís better suited for a sideline-to-sideline role on the inside.
However, I love his run-and-hit skill set if heís put in a 4-3. I think he can be a super productive strong side or weak side linebacker. It minimizes his exposure to block shedding situations, he reads the action in front of him much better when heís disengaged, and I think heís a better blitzer than pure pass rusher. When he just lines up in the two-point stance at the line of scrimmage, linemen can envelop him and erase him because it neutralizes his biggest asset to a degree. But, when heís able to attack an offensive tackle from a position of space, he does a solid job of setting his man up and then countering with quickness. Thatís not as practical as a 3-4 outside linebacker though.
Zach Brown is dripping with athletic talent and potential, but thereís a similar specimen with much better linebacker skills thatís somehow overlooked. His name is Mychal Kendricks. Brown isnít instinctive. His athleticism gets him near the ball, but he doesnít finish well. Heís soft. He submissive. Heís an unreliable tackler. And he plays slower than his eye-popping time.
On the other hand, Mychal Kendricks tested slightly worse than Brown athletically, but he plays faster on the field. His instincts arenít jaw-dropping, but I like them quite a bit for a player that is still transitioning to the middle and think they can improve. Unlike Brown, heís willing to stick his helmet in there and get dirty, too. His potential as a blitzer is much greater as well. And, for his size, he fights blocks better than expected.
The spread of the 3-4 is causing legitimate 4-3 linebacker talent to slip in the draft. This is a trend thatís emerged over the past few drafts as more and more teams adopt the 3-4 defense as their base. Each defense has a specific profile for various their linebacker spots that have different responsibilities. Because 3-4 teams demand bigger size, better block shedders, and more pass rush potential in general, the classic undersized, sideline-to-sideline linebackers that 4-3 teams covet are lasting longer and longer.
Melvin Ingram is the biggest enigma in the 2012 NFL Draft. I could see him becoming the most versatile defender in the NFL or a total flop. For starters, I donít like him as a 4-3 defensive end. He doesnít explode out of his three-point stance. Often times, heís the last lineman off the ball. And his pass rush repertoire on the edge isnít special either. Heís somewhat robotic when pigeonholed into that role.
But, in a 3-4 where heís allowed to be versatile, I love him. In particular, I love him more as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. His athleticism shines more in space. He has the skill set to be a great stack-and-shed linebacker there. He also has good blitz potential against interior offensive linemen from that spot and I would trust him in coverage there, too. I even like his instincts better. Now, I would still give him snaps at outside linebacker, defensive tackle, and some at defensive end. The point is to move him around and make him a defensive weapon. Heís got a unique skill set. Reminiscent of a prime Adalius Thomas.
The ĎBama Ďbackers are a little overrated. Courtney Upshaw and Dontía Hightower were both great college football players, but Iím not sold on aspects of their game. I donít see a special pass rusher when I watch Upshaw. Sure, I see strong hands and good leverage, but I see a pass rusher that lumbers. Heís not fluid or sudden. So I donít love him as the kind of fringe Pro Bowl 3-4 outside linebacker thatís been talked about. Heís not an explosive pass rusher and I donít think heís suited for prolonged coverage exposure. Granted, he fits the trite moniker of a Ďfootball playerí and I think he will find ways to survive at the next level, but I see more solid starter than I do Pro Bowler.
As for Hightower, I often hear how heís a beast downhill linebacker that excels at shedding blocks. Heís got the skill set to do that, sure, but itís not consistent. He has struggled to disengage from blocks more often than itís assumed and I think heís playing too heavy right now. Thereís not much explosiveness to his game. Heís very straight-line. Donít see the pass rush skills that suggest he can spend much time on the outside either.
Even in the Era of the 40-Time, Morris Claiborneís Wonderlic score has managed to secure the spot for most overblown metric. He's still the best defensive back in this class. A bad score on the Wonderlic doesn't change it. In fact, in general, a higher score on the Wonderlic scares off more teams than a low one does for cornerbacks. Cornerback play is more instinctive than it is analytical. When a cornerback prospect does score well, it causes teams to pause and wonder if the player in question is going to overthink things. The thought process being that a cornerback that's thinking isn't reacting and isn't playing to his full speed.
Janoris Jenkins is the best man corner in the draft, but his red flags are justified and should push him down the boards. Itís not just about smoking weed because most prospects have at least experimented with marijuana. Itís about continuing to smoke weed after his NFL career was jeopardized upon his dismissal from Florida. Thatís a legitimate concern to teams. With millions of dollars at stake, he didnít see the need to stop for a few months and keep his nose clean. Fair or not, teams will question whether he can remain on the field for them.
With the value of a slot receiver and tight end at an all-time, the value of versatile safeties is on the rise. As offenses adjust, so must defenses and vice versa. Historically, safeties have typically been viewed as erasers. Theyíre there to cover up and eliminate any mistakes that occur in front of them. Now, with passing games becoming deeper and more multiple, the need for a versatile safety has presented itself. No longer can a safety be safely hidden. Theyíre required to be more responsible in coverage shells now.
The best safety in this class is from Alabama, but it isnít Mark Barron. Itís Dre Kirkpatrick. I think Kirkpatrick has the skill set to be a very solid corner, but he could perform at close to an All-Pro level at free safety. I like his ball skills a ton when the play develops in front of him and he gets a chance to break on the ball. Plus, with the NFL evolving into a pass-centric league, run support isnít as big of a question. Not to mention, I still like his willingness in that regard. Wish he had a little more size, but the skill set is there.
That said, I do have Mark Barron as the best strong safety available and think he will be a mainstay in a secondary for quite some time. His high football intelligence enables him to be the quarterback of the defensive backfield and I think his coverage abilities are somewhat underrated at this point.
George Iloka fits the profile of the Safety of Tomorrow. Iloka is a former cornerback with prototypical safety size and fairly good physical tools. He mostly played deep zone at Boise St., but NFL teams will surely be intrigued with his potential versatility and skill set. I havenít seen much of him, but Iím very intrigued to see where he gets drafted.