Thursday, April 26, 2012

Of Drafts, Conventional Wisdom and Relative Values

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece on why the perceived value of safeties in the NFL Draft needed to change in accordance with the evolution we were seeing in defensive rules and the corresponding shift of offenses towards a greater emphasis on the passing game. Without rehashing the argument completely, it basically went like this: The NFL is more of a passing league now than at any time before in it’s history. With that change, it’s time to re-examine how we value the position of safety in the NFL. Quality safety play is essential to a solid defense in today’s NFL. Moreover, elite safeties are able to impact the game as much (or more) than any defensive position (see: Reed, Ed; Polamalu, Troy) and thus should be highly coveted in the NFL Draft. As the league has became even more of a passing league in the two years since I made this argument, I believe it to be even more valid today than when I first stated it.

The reason I began to think about this argument, and eventually make it in this space is that I wanted my favorite team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, to draft (then) Tennessee safety Eric Berry at #3 instead of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. I did not believe then (and do not now) that Gerald McCoy was as close to being a dominant tackle as most draft experts believed. And I certainly didn’t think he was anything near to Ndamukong Suh’s equal. After two injury filled campaigns, I still do not believe that Gerald McCoy will be a dominant defensive tackle in the mold of Suh or former Buc Warren Sapp. And though he missed most of last year with a torn ACL, I do believe that Eric Berry will soon be among the best and most impactful safeties in the NFL.

Why do I bring all of this up? Because this year there’s another case to be made for going against conventional draft wisdom. Interestingly enough, it goes against draft wisdom that has evolved as the NFL has become the passing league it is today. By now, we all know that running backs are not highly valued in NFL circles. In fact, running backs have become so undervalued that there are many NFL scouts and GMs who say they’d never draft a running back in the first round. I understand this. Most running backs wear down and are out of the league by 30. And that’s the really talented running backs. Further, there are numerous examples of All-Pro running backs being acquired in the 2nd & 3rd rounds and even some later than that. But does that mean that no running back should ever be drafted in the 1st round? What about the top 10? Top 5? Certainly not. There are many examples of running backs who have more than lived up to their high draft positioning. LaDainian Tomlinson (5) transformed a moribund Charger franchise into a contender. Steven Jackson (24) has been the only decent offensive player on the Rams for the better part of a decade. Even second rounders Matt Forte (44) & Maurice Jones-Drew (60) have carried an extremely limited offenses for the bulk of their entire career. Both Adrian Peterson (7) and Chris Johnson (24) have been the offensive centerpieces of playoff contenders. Running backs are valuable. Extremely so. Today’s NFL just requires a keener eye for running back talent and a more detailed examination of the risk/reward consequences of drafting a running back in the first round.


One running back who is certainly worthy of not only first round consideration but also top 5 consideration is Alabama’s Trent Richardson. Richardson is the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. And while he lacks Peterson’s explosiveness, Richardson is far from a plodder. On top of that, I contend that Richardson is a more complete back. Peterson wasn’t a 3 down back upon entry into the NFL (Chester Taylor was Minnesota’s 3rd down back early in Peterson’s career) while Richardson is immediately ready to step in and play in every situation. He excels in pass protection and was Alabama’s leading receiver last year. Additionally, Richardson has shown himself to be more durable than Peterson at the same stage in his career while also having less carries than Peterson at the same stage due to his role as Mark Ingram’s backup as a freshman and sophomore. Simply put, Richardson is as close to a sure thing tailback as you’ll see in the NFL. He’s worth a top 5 pick. He’s even worth trading up into the top 5 to acquire him. And even though I know it’s not going to happen, I’ll be silently, hopelessly wishing for Tampa Bay to move up to #3 and draft Trent Richardson tonight. Even if he’s done by 30, I’ll take 9 years of Trent Richardson as a Buccaneer and be damn happy about it.

Random Notes:



If the Bucs were to draft Richardson instead of Morris Claiborne they’d still be in need of a corner. Lucky for them, the best pure cover corner in the draft played 3 years of college ball less than 2 hours away from their headquarters. I’m speaking of course of Janoris Jenkins. He of the multiple weed arrests and four children (Janoris Jr, Legend, Paris & Janorian) from three different women. Jenkins is a stud. And I’m not just saying that because he was a Gator. Mel Kiper had him rated as a 1st rounder LAST YEAR. He’s that good. Just go back and look at what he did as a junior at Florida when matched up one-on-one with AJ Green and Julio Jones. Two top ten picks at WR last year who scouts had rated higher than either Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd this year. I understand that Jenkins has the always worrisome “character concerns” but he’s too good a player to pass up in the 2nd round if he’s still available and your team needs a corner. Besides, his character concerns stem from his inability to wear condoms and and smoke weed in the privacy of his own home. Are both of these “mistakes” signs of poor decision making? Certainly. Did nearly every member of the G:TB staff make these same mistakes while in college? Yes. Many, many times.



When it comes to the wide receiver class of 2012, its generally accepted that Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd are at the head of the class. They’re the only 1st round prospects in a class that lacks any other elite pass catchers but is said to be especially deep. And even though both Blackmon and Floyd are each considered 1st round prospects most people agree that Blackmon is far and away the best receiver in the class. I am not most people. I actually think that Floyd is the more talented receiver of the two. He’s bigger, times out faster and has produced fantastic numbers in an offense that’s not nearly as wide open as the offense Blackmon played in at Oklahoma State. Add to that the fact that Blackmon had a significantly better QB throwing to him the past two years and you begin to see where I’m coming from. I’m also a bit skeptical of Blackmon’s numbers since he played in the Big 12. A conference which has morphed into the PAC-10 of our youth. You know what I’m talking about: Prolific passing offenses, tons of points and only a passing interest in defense. In fact, I’m beginning to become a little skeptical of all the offensive skill position players from the Big 12. Just look at some of the QBs produced by the Big 12 in recent memory. I mean, are any of us completely sold on Sam Bradford, Josh Freeman or Blaine Gabbert? I didn’t think so. And no, I wasn’t trying to bum you out, Redskins fans. Just saying I think the Big 12 may inflate passing & receiving numbers a tad. Anyway, back to Floyd. Playing with very average QBs in 2010 he put up 79 catches for 1,025 yards and 13 TDs. Not quite on Blackmon’s level but, again, he didn’t have an NFL early round QB prospect throwing to him. Floyd won’t go as high, due in large part to his proclivity for the Irish Taxi but I think the careers of he and Blackmon are worth watching for comparison's sake.

Finally, because it’s getting late and I’m still very lazy are five possible 1st Round prospects I love and five I hate.

Love


Stephon Gilmore (CB: South Carolina) - Good size/speed combo. A starter since day one at South Carolina. Never got into any trouble during college and he fared well against a number of big time receivers during his time in Columbia.


Chandler Jones (DE: Syracuse)- A great athlete with good size who has flown under the radar because Syracuse is awful at football. Has a brother who plays in the NFL and another one you may have heard of. His name is Jon Jones and he’s currently the baddest man in MMA by a wide, wide margin. Good genes in this family.


Courtney Upshaw (DE/LB: Alabama)- He was great off the edge at Alabama. And hes built like a Mack truck. Scouts are said to have doubts about his athleticism but I remember hearing the same things about LaMarr Woodley. In the right system (3-4) I believe Upshaw is a double digit sack producer.


Melvin Ingram (DL: South Carolina) – Apparently Ingram lacks elite burst and has short arms (sounds like TJ). I understand why that might concern scouts but his game film is enough for me. He wreaked havoc on SEC OLines and is a good enough athlete that he scored a 50+ yard TD on a fake punt last year. He’s versatile enough to play DT and even slide out to DE in certain situations. I’m all in on Melvin Ingram.




Dwayne Allen (TE: Clemson) – He was often the best player on a prolific Clemson offense this past year. Which is saying something anytime Sammy Watkins is involved. Tight Ends are impact players in today’s NFL and Allen has all the tools you want in a pass catching TE. He’s not very tall, but either is Aaron Hernandez and he seems to be doing okay.

Hate


Kendall Wright (WR: Baylor) – I did like Wright during the season but then I saw that he showed up to the combine with 16% body fat. Not the work ethic I’d like to see from my 5’11” first round receiver.


Dre Kirkpatrick (CB: Alabama)- He has all the physical tools you’d want in a corner. Elite size and speed. He tackles well and played for Saban (a HUGE plus for a DB) but he doesn’t have elite cover skills and isn’t a ballhawk (just 3 ints in two years as a starter). He’ll be solid but not a #1 CB in my opinion.


Stephen Hill (WR: Georgia Tech) – Hill is a physical specimen who’s stock shot through the roof after he put on a show at the combine. He’s very similar to former Yellow Jacket Demaryius Thomas in that respect. Like Thomas when he was coming out (and still to a certain degree), I have my doubts. Georgia Tech runs a high school offense and as a result Hill’s not an experienced route runner or pass catcher. I’m just not sure he’s anything more than a workout warrior. Certainly not sure enough to spend a first round pick on him.


Ryan Tannehill (QB: Texas A&M) – Extremely inexperienced. Turnover prone in many key second half situations last year for a team that was a horrid in the second half. Oh yeah, that whole “not so sure about Big 12 offensive skill position players” thing applies to him as well. Top 10? No. Fucking. Way.


Lamar Miller (RB: Miami) – He put up impressive numbers the past two years but never felt like a dominant tailback to me. Too often his big rushing numbers resulted from one or two long runs. He’s got a future as part of a two back combo in the NFL but I can’t see him as a primary option. Doesn’t play as big as his size would suggest.

As always, these are nothing more than my opinions. Most of which are formed from long Saturdays spent drinking, gambling and watching college football on my couch. Feel free to disagree with me and/or call me an idiot. That’s fair. This isn’t my NBA Draft Preview, which we all know is 100% right at least 60% of the time.

47 comments:

T.J. said...

There were YouTube clips for this post as well, but they seem to have disappeared. Working on that...

Danimal said...

that's good stuff...

the short arms that belong to tj - is that a literal thing or were you referring to his frugality? or both?

one of our d-bag sportsguys here in town has us taking blackmon...i say there's no shot of him being around. and they won't pick floyd b/c of his dui/underage drankin at nd, you know, cuz gene smith is BIG on the character thing which is why we've got all these fucking great guys who can't fucking play football. if floyd or blackmon were drafted here, i'd actually feel sorry for him. they need to be elsewhere, with a team that that can produce more than 4 30-yard pass plays in a season. gabbert DID get his haircut though, a high-and-tight...so there's that. GO JAGS!

Igor said...

Mark, I always appreciate the previews -- chock full of info that make following the draft (or even just perusing the results) way more interesting.

Being a Redskins fan, at least since 1992, has almost entirely been about getting excited during the offseason, so the acquisiton of RG3 fits perfectly into that. At this point, we have all braced ourselves for an underwhelming on-the-field result, but we get our kicks from speculation and anticipation these days, so draft day is time to get fired up.

Woo. Hoo.

T.J. said...

Pipe down, triathlon boy

Squeaky said...

Crap just posted the request by TR for a WWPJ recap on the last post. So 'flip-back' to read if so inclined.

T.J. said...

you familiar with copy and paste? why don't you give that a shot.

Squeaky said...

Too lazy. But post count. Ah yes.

Squeaky said...

WWPJ show was great. It's towards the end of their tour but I'd recommend seeing them live if you have the chance.

It was a very loud show. The energy level was off the charts. Most bands struggle to capture the sound off their albums or improve it in a live setting but these guys just rocked it out. They managed to do both. Definitely should have had my ear plugs in but left them in the car. (And yes I'm an old man with gradual hearing loss. Way too many shows in my time.) They played for about 75 minutes not bad for a band that only has two albums out.

Two quirky things that are sort of my pet peeves with live shows, Zoltan knows them all too well, are taking long ass breaks between songs tweaking and tuning their shit and super chatty front men/women.

These guys were from the Bob Mould school of rock. They didn't say a word to the audience until 40 minutes into the set. No multiple guitar changes or rows and rows of effects pedals. They just showed up and played. The song 'It's Thunder and It's Lightning' was the last song of the night and just awesome. Here's another clip of the same song from a KEXP show.

I would definitely see them again and recommended if you're into punkish indie rock.

Igor said...

Anybody considering Wilco at Wolf Trap on July 17/18? Presale next Weds, on sale the following Sat.

Also, Music Month continues tonight as I go see bluegrass act Town Mountain a few blocks from my house. Avetts Saturday. Wish you clowns could join me.

Jerry said...

I wish Melvin Ingram had more college ball left in him. I freaking love that guy. I have no opinion on his pro prospects but he was awesome to watch this year.

For an RB to be worth a 1st round pick he's got to be a real difference maker - prime LdT, Peterson, CJ (for that one year). Anybody who's just a "good" RB isn't worth it.

Dave said...

how about the fun factor? i am down on running backs as first round picks because i think they are often replaceable and interchangeable, but they have so much more fun than many of the other positions because they actually get handed the ball and are told "go for it!' that was the only reason i took a season off from soccer, and it was worth it-- and if that's the mentality, then running backs are probably more selfish and egocentric than other positions. could this attitude possibly inflate their value?

Jerry said...

Also, congrats to your Magicians on continuing their death grip on the NBATV playoff broadcasts. Indiana-Orlando with no Dwight. TNT would probably prefer Bones reruns.

Mark said...

The Hawks & Magic totally dominate the NBATV first round playoff broadcasts. Not nearly as dominant in the actual Playoffs.

I agree that a running back needs to be "special" to merit 1st draft status. I believe Richardson is an extremely special prospect.

And many running backs are very interchangable but I don't think that applies to Richardson like it does to Miller, LaMichael James, David Wilson or even Doug Martin. Not sure about running backs having an inflated value due to their outsized egos. That's more wide receiver territory.

Mark said...

Also the first Gator (though I still count Janoris Jenkins as a Gator) drafted will most likely be Chris Rainey. What's weird is I have absolutely no idea where he'll be drafted. Could be late 2nd. Could be in the 5th. Weird.

T.J. said...

Interesting:
http://bit.ly/IUpRPQ

Jerry said...

Liked Rainey a lot the last 2 years as a Gator, but I don't have high hopes for him in the NFL. Just really small and I don't know that the extreme elusiveness is there.

I'd love for the Giants to get LaMichael. Kind of a luxury player, but he could be really useful in the right role.

There's not even a close 2nd for the NBATV series. Maybe Spurs-Jazz. Clips-Grizz doesn't have much tradition, but it should be a really good series.

Mark said...

I don't have high hopes for Rainey either. He's tiny and, I agree, isn't spectacularly elusive. Plus, he's going to have to be a slot receiver and I have doubts about his overall skills for that position.

The Bucs probably won't get Richardson and will instead get a smaller, elusive back to tandem with LeGarrette Blount. I like James the best of he, Miller & Wilson. Though I like Isiah Pead & would be happy with him.

Jerry said...

Plus the hilarity of "Isiah Pead".

Mark said...

That's a really good point.

zman said...

I didn't have time for the nfl draft preview I wanted to write, but it boils down to this: the skins and bills will fuck it up.

Donna said...

I know nothing about this year's or any other for that matter NFL draft...maybe a few names, so I'm seriously asking - is the guy's real name Isiah Pead, spelled like that and everything? Seriously?!

Mark said...

Yes. He's a running back from Cincinnati.

Mark said...

Jags trading up to the Bucs' spot to take Blackmon. Fine by me.

Mark said...

Well hello there, Matt Kalil's sister.

zman said...

HDTV does not help Mel kipers hair.

Danimal said...

Nfl network could save a lot of coin by going with just Eisen and Mayock. Other guys useless.

Mark said...

Michael Floyd: highest drafted Notre Dame player since Rick Mirer in 1993. He can only live up to that legacy. Also: he used the term "bubbleguts".

Mark said...

He can only *hope* to live up to that legacy.

Squeaky said...

Never ever answer a gtalk video request from Paci at 9:30PM when he is traveling in Milan. Some things can't be unseen.

Danimal said...

Missed the bubbleguts comment....

Mark said...

Good times, Danimal. Good times.

Jerry said...

1) Rangers. Yeah.

2) The fantasy basketball championship has come down to Klay Thompson's shooting percentage. He's 0-3 so far. Not good.

Jerry said...

Yes. He made a shot. 1-4. Come on Klay.

Mark said...

I havent updated my fantasy roster since February. I blame my kid.

Jerry said...

You probably would've won it if you paid attention.

Danimal said...

what's up with the label "trex arms?" for i am just a caveman. i ask b/c trex is made in....you guessed it...winchester, one of america's finest communities.

Mark said...

You're probably right, Jerry. Something had to be neglected with this baby selfishly taking up so much of my time and it ended being fantasy basketball. Better that than my drug use.

Mark said...

Also, if Courtney Upshaw doesn't end up making multiple Pro Bowlsvin Baltimore then something went terribly wrong. He's made to be a rush LB in their 3-4.

rob said...

hey guys! what's been going on?

rob said...

and did everyone decide not to make fun of danimal reading trex as decking material rather than a the king of the dinosaurs? was there a meeting on this?

Danimal said...

Welcome back rob. New job has you working again heh?

rob said...

yeah, it's some for real bullshit, danimal

zman said...

The Bills drafted a guy named TJ. This can't be good.

zman said...

With the 69th pick nonetheless.

rob said...

courageous pick of a punter in the third round by the jags. white flag?

Danimal said...

Big Cat country not too pleased with that one. I can't sit here and say that's a good or bad move. I would just like to know why they couldn't go after say the 2nd or 3rd best punter much later. That's all.

Danimal said...

As much as we punt though I guess it is pretty important.