Archive for April, 2009

Breaking Down the Jets Draft: Shonn Greene, Running Back

With two big moves in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Jets showed they were worried about quality not quantity when it cam to draft strategy.

After trading up for Mark Sanchez in round 1, GM Mike Tannenbaum and Head Coach Rex Ryan decided to roll the dice again and bundle most of the rest of their 2009 picks in a bid to grab arguably the top remaining running back left on the board, Iowa Hawkeye Shonn Greene.

With many Jets fans wondering what is so special about Greene, here is my analysis of the newest Gang Green power running back and how he might fit in the new regime’s plans.

Ht: 5-10 (1/2) – Wt 227

Pluses
Greene is an incredibly powerful runner, who can not only show patience in waiting for a hole to develop and the vision to see it happening, but is very tough to bring down for the defense. When they do drag him down, he’ll get you that extra distance more by falling forward. He also gets stronger as the game goes on and doesn’t easily tire out.

Even though he is older than your average rookie (at 24), he actually doesn’t have much wear and tear on those legs. He doesn’t cough the ball up, is a very hard worker and a solid team player.

Minus
While he is a very good inside runner, he has problems getting outside and turning the corner. He’s not terribly fast and he won’t be winning any footraces against most defenders.

There are some doubts about his football IQ and while he shows patience waiting for a play to develop, he sometimes appears indecisive. As he missed some games with shoulder and knee injuries early in his career and has had ankle injuries during his college career.

How It Comes Together
Many feel this pick was a shot across Thomas Jones’ bow to end his holdout, but I don’t know that’s the case. Erik Boland put it best in his Jets Blog on Newsday – even if Jones wasn’t holding out, the guy is 31.

The classic thought on running backs is that 30 is the beginning of the end and while Jones has continued to play well, how much tread does he have left? Boland is right – they needed to get younger at the position and look towards the future.

If Jones holds out, the Jets bring Greene in and run him between the tackles while Leon Washington continues to work the outside. Greene can wear the defense down and then Washington can light them up.

If Jones doesn’t hold out, or if Greene struggles in camp, he can still rotate in on occasion and give Jones a breather throughout the season as he gets his NFL legs.

And when Jones is done, Greene can move into the backfield with a year of experience and get the hard yards.

Either way I think Greene has a very good chance to be the future power back in an offense that will be geared to the power run behind an offensive line that is built to succeed in the arena.

This will also take pressure off Mark Sanchez if he starts this year or Kellen Clemens if Sanchez gets a year holding a clipboard.

The biggest question is whether the Jets bypassed bigger needs with the trade (there were several solid defensive linemen they could have drafted at that spot or later if they didn’t trade up) or if they gave up too much to move up from their position in the third to the top of the round.

Time will tell. What is certain is the fact that the Jets saw an opportunity to jump up and grab at the brass ring not once but twice.

In what is considered an overall weak draft class, they decided that it wasn’t how many picks they had or how many rookies they could throw on the field, but instead the quality of those players and what they could mean for the franchise in the long term.

Shock And Awe: The Winners and Losers for Day 1 of the 2009 NFL Draft

It’s a little bit folly to try and really declare winners and losers for a draft that isn’t even finished, much less a day old. Players haven’t even stepped on a NFL field yet, and some may not pay off for several years to come, forget this season.

Still, by the end of Saturday, it’s a worthwhile endeavor to examine some teams who have ended up looking smart and others….

Well, not so much.

So with the realization in mind that we still don’t know everything – here are the teams who made our jaws drop, though not always for good reasons.

The Shock

Oakland Raiders
Maybe Al Davis and his Raiders will prove us all wrong, but right now their draft can be summed up in an exchange I saw between Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times (where the Raiders once resided) and Raiders beat writer Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee (which is close to Oakland i suppose).

Farmer: Why were the Raiders reaching like that in the second?

Jones: They reach because that’s what they do.

They weren’t going to go offensive tackle, despite the need, because that’s not really the Raiders way.

And I knew they weren’t going to grab Crabtree, whether or not he was the best wide receiver on the board at the time. Crabtree’s lack of timed 40 speed made it impossible because Davis is crazy for speed like the bird in that cereal commercial is coo-coo for cocoa puffs.

But I never thought he would bypass Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin, who had the speed and a more developed game. I’m a little nonplussed.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t wish Heyward-Bey a failed career and he will probably turn out ok. But picking him up at 7, when they could have traded back and picked him later?

That’s just not achieving maximum value.

Worse, the team manages to follow it up with an even bigger reach in choosing Ohio Safety Michael Mitchell, a guy most people didn’t even have ranked in their drafts much less the second round.

Mitchell also may develop into a solid player, but right now he looks like a workout warrior and a huge reach as the third safety off the board behind Patrick Chung of Oregon and Louis Delmas of Western Michigan.

It’s one thing to fall in love with a player. It’s another to waste a pick five rounds early.

The Raiders have five picks on Sunday, two in the fourth round. They can recover, given the tremendous value still on the board, but if they keep picking like this, they might as well throw darts at a list on the wall.

Dallas Cowboys
How can I say it’s a bad draft when they didn’t draft anyone?

Bad enough the Cowboys didn’t have a pick for the first round due to last year’s wheeling and dealing, but they then traded out of the second.

Meanwhile, value continued to tumble by them in the form of solid safeties, wide receivers and defensive ends.

Maybe it’s not bad in the sense the Raiders draft was on Saturday but it’s shocking to watch the usually wheeling Cowboys nuetered and missing out on the value on the board.

Cleveland Browns
The Browns made a big move back when the Jets traded for the fifth pick and Mark Sanchez (more on that in a minute) and were poised to grab some great value all day long.

Instead, they kept moving backwards accumulating more and more picks. And when they did spend them, it’s questionable whether they took the best value on the board.

I can’t argue with the selection of Alex Mack. The center from Cal is a versatile lineman who can work at almost any position along the line. And Brian Robiskie is a polished, fast receiver who runs a solid route tree and will contribute early, especially if Braylon Edwards is traded on day two.

But the Browns can’t rush the passer and need a linebacker or top flight defensive lineman.

I say need because while Mack is a great center, USC linebackers Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga as well as Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitus were on the board still.

Maualuga was in fact still on the board when Robiskie was picked. While offensive line and wide receiver were needs, the pass rush was a bigger one and with several very good linebackers on the board, the Browns chose to fill less important needs.

They also bypassed shoring up their need at cornerback by letting Vontae Davis and Alphonso Smith sneak away as well.

And as much as I think Hawaii defensive end/linebacker convert David Veikune will be a good upside pick, wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was a luxury, especially behind the Robiskie pick.

Massaquoi may become a good possession receiver down the road, but they could have grabbed a corner, safety or even replace Winslow at tight end.

For a team with so many holes who is rebuilding, it seems like they filled few of them with four picks in the first two rounds.

The Browns have four more picks on Sunday – one in the fourth and three in the six. Lots of defensive talent remains on the board and I hope they can recover from a lackluster day one.

The Awe

New York Jets
Jet Nation is a tad split over the selection of USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, especially given the talent that slid out of the first round and through the second. But when you look at the price they paid, it’s more than reasonable for a possible franchise quarterback.

Defensive end Kenyon Coleman, quarterback Brett Ratliff and safety Abram Elam were players who in all likelihood would get cut before camp or in Ratliff’s case, clearly hadn’t impressed the new regime all that much.

Aside from that, adding the second rounder to a swap that spanned twelve spots between first rounders is a marginal price to pay.

The Jets have put themselves in a position where they cannot make many mistakes on day two though. They have four more picks on Sunday spread across four of the five rounds.

As I said with the Browns, there are many value picks to be had but the Jets have to be conservative to a great extent. They already rolled their dice once and that’s as much as they can risk.

Detroit Lions
I will openly admit – and it’s a shock to nobody who has read my work the last few months – that I do not agree with the Stafford pick. It’s not an awful pick – just not one I believe had to happen this year.

Yet, Stafford could develop into a nice franchise quarterback and he is far from awful. While I may not agree with the strategy to rebuild the franchise, it’s a solid pick.

On the surface, Brandon Pettigrew at 20 made me wince as well. But, like Stafford, Pettigrew is considered the top at his position and on top of it, he’s a tremendous blocker.

He’s no offensive tackle but he will be able to stay in and protect Stafford. A pick that is more shrewd than i gave it credit for at first. As Stafford and the oline get better, Pettigrew can release and become more of a pass catching tight end.

Finally, hard hitting cornerback Louis Delmas. Again, top at his position. And Delmas is the type of hard nosed player who could help give this defense a personality – something it greatly lacks.

The Lions are looking to become more physical on the defensive side of the ball and Delmas will bring that in spades. They also need some help in the secondary and this fills that hole.

Three picks. Three players arguably at the top of their class. They may not have filled all their needs but the ones they did fill were given top talent.

With five picks on day two, including the first in round three and another later the same round, the Lions stand to pick up some very good value. They could easily pull someone like Jarron Gilbert or Michael Johnson to help fill the defensive line hole, pick up the top guard on the board in Duke Robinson or even a decent tackle like South Carolina’s Jamon Meredith.

New England Patriots
The rich get richer. And richer. And richer.

How the organization ended up with the same amount of picks they started with, but also an embarrassment of riches in players is beyond me, but that’s how they end up being the great team they are every year.

Four picks in the second and every one a value.

Patrick Chung, second best safety in the class brings some thump to the secondary and will make receivers pay dearly.

Defensive tackle Ron Brace got overlooked a bit with BJ raji getting the love at Boston College, but will stuff the run as good as anyone in the draft class and is likely to take over for Vince Wilfork at the nose tackle.

Darius Butler, one of the top corners in the draft, probably won’t start this coming season but will take over in the aging secondary within the next year or two.

And while Sebastian Vollmer is a project for the offensive line, he will develop into a nice right tackle and used to play tight end, so he has the versatility to move around for trick plays if need be.

And, oh by the way – they have seven more picks. By the end of the draft they may have multiple picks for next years draft as well.

Before I let you go, dear reader, here are a few teams I am on the fence about. Tomorrow could be pivotal for them.

San Francisco 49ers: One pick, but what value. But you better build on Crabtree use your remaining six picks wisely.

Houston Texans: Methodically took care of two key needs with picks of USC LB Clay Matthews and DE Connor Barwin. Six more picks to shore up the corners and get a back to compliment Steve Slaton.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Almost made the Awe list, but as much as I loved watching them grab two very good offensive tackles in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, passing on Crabtree and Maclin and then a host of good defensive line prospects makes me wonder if last season’s Oline injury woes didn’t get in their head too much.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Did you really need to leap up and pay the price you did to move a few spots? Especially since nobody in front of you was likely to grab your choice of Josh Freeman? Six picks on day two and like the Jets you’d beter make them count. Unlike the Jets though, your new franchise quarterback is a far bigger project and has more question marks.

NFL Draft Prospects in 5 minutes or Less: A Look Behind DraftguysTV


Any industry will occasionally see a shake up or development which shapes the way we interact with it for some time.

With the explosion of interest in the NFL Draft, there has also been an equally large explosion of coverage. And aside from the extra coverage from the usual suspects like NFL Network and ESPN, a litany of websites has sprung up around the internet.

Of the many out there, perhaps the most unique is Draftguys.com or more specifically DraftguysTV, their video project. In the two years since DraftguysTV has launched, it has become a useful portion tool for my analysis of many players who might otherwise get overlooked due to a lack of accessible game footage.

But the Draftguys site itself first came to my attention in 2007, when it launched with the usual group of player rankings, mock drafts and player analysis that is prevalent among various websites.

“We loved talking football,’ says Cecil Lammey, who met the other two founders – Sigmund Bloom and Marc Faletti – at Footballguys.com, working on his podcast The Audible. “So we thought, well why don’t we keep it going all off season? And if we were going to keep the talk going The Draft made the most sense to focus on.”

By 2008, Draftguys switched their focus from the usual stuff and moved towards into something fairly unique.

Video profiles shot in person at the three major College All Star games – The Shrine Game, Texas vs The Nation and The Senior Bowl – with player interviews.

The idea of video rather than written profiles seemed a natural one to Faletti. “Web-based video allows me to reach audiences directly,” he told me, “without having to navigate some sort of studio infrastructure that might dilute my product or ideas.”

Being a smaller company also has its advantages. “Like blogging to the newspaper industry, web video offers creators a chance to go uncensored, improve on immediacy compared to big media, and be more nimble,” says Marc. “Our budgets might be lower, but I think we compensate by bringing folks an uncompromised product.”

Aside from the budget, the next biggest hurdle would appear to be getting access to the practices and getting player interviews. But Bloom says that’s really easier to do than you’d think.

“If you’re respected within the community and contact the right people, it’s not that difficult at all. Ask nicely.”

Bloom, along with Lammey, had traveled the All Star circuit before. It was a simple case of just continuing those relationships and expanding them.

“The groundwork had already been laid,’ says Lammey. ‘We just took it to the next level.”

“The Shrine Game and Texas Vs the Nation were extremely forthcoming with permission and access. They have no television deal for their practices, and that made it easy for them to give us a chance to shoot everything,” Faletti said about reaction from the various organizations. “The Senior Bowl has an exclusive deal with NFL Network. While they gave us a chance to shoot the practices, we weren’t allowed to use the footage. They did allow us to use still photos, though and that’s given us a chance to make profiles like Alphonso Smith’s and Peria Jerry’s.”

Once in the door, the challenge became deciding who would be looked at and then shooting it. But even if they come in with a list, flexibility is a key.

“It’s all about the footage. We can come in with preconceived ideas, but we never know who’s going to stand out on film,” Faletti tells me. “Scouting always starts with an open mind, and that’s how we try to approach our footage.”

And sometimes it’s the guys they don’t know who make the biggest impression.

“A guy like Dudley Guice, who we’d never heard of, blew us away from the start and earned himself a profile simply by excelling.”

“We see a ton of great players and make a ton of connections,” Lammey adds. “But you can’t profile everyone.”

Getting the footage can be difficult, knowing when to shoot and who. And sometimes, Bloom tells me, it’s even a little dangerous.

“Sometimes errant passes or players running out of bounds just miss Marc – thankfully most receivers have great body control.”

Occasionally the camera attracts other dangers, like concerned and suspicious looks from scouts.

“Most of the time while we are waiting to talk to players they are talking to team scouts,” continues Bloom, ”who sometimes want to make sure our camera wasn’t recording anything while they are talking.

Even self financed, the Draftguys haven’t skimped. Digital cameras can be had cheaply and it’s not uncommon for college students or aspiring filmmakers to grab a cheap camera and run off a little avant garde film.

Not for Faletti. The Sony EX-1 camcorder he shoots with allows him to not only run the videos in High-Def, as they did in season 1, but gives them incredibly high quality images that can easily be edited in multiple ways.

“I’ve worked with a lot of gear over the years,” Faletti told me, “but that camera’s the best bang for the buck in the history of video. Capturing in 1080P also allows me to crop certain plays when editing in 720P, and when you only use one camera on shoots like these, being able to “zoom in” in post makes a big difference.”

Then Faletti runs the footage through Adobe After Effects and adds music in Final Cut Pro on an

octo-core Mac Pro. The footage is modified a ton, so After Effects is a tool that can allow everything from graphic manipulation to time modification and much more easily than with just Final Cut Pro.

From there, it’s finalized and then heads to the web where arm-chair General Managers can take a look at some of the prospects their favorite teams are examining as well.

“A lot of fans tell us they want a player for their team after seeing the show,” says Bloom, who notes that Florida Atlantic linebacker Frantz Joseph has gotten the most response in this vein this season. Sometimes people will return to a video well after the draft as well. “Draftniks like to use our videos to prove that they were right about someone.”

It isn’t only the hard core Draft fans who took notice of the series.

After a first season where players like defensive tackle Eric Foster (started 11 games for the colts), corners Chevis Jackson (played in 16 games and picked off a pivotal Peyton Manning pass for a 95 yard TD) and Dwight Lowery (started opposite Darrell Revis for the Jets in 10 games) were featured, the media started to line up as well.

With several hundred players to track, it makes sense to Bloom. “Professional media like the ability to get a quick but informative overview of a player.”

Overall, the reaction has continued to be great from both parties.

The series has continued to gain steam this year as well.

“The NFL Network called us to say they enjoyed the show, and major sites like The Sporting News and USA Today have been running our work,” says Faletti of the reaction to season 2. “We have seen beat writers from coast to coast embed our profiles at their papers’ sites, and we’ve seen fan messages boards for almost every pro team and dozens of college teams sending the show around. …right now, we’re the only folks offering a show like that in any medium, and I think that’s why it appeals so much to the media, fans, and draft aficionados.”

After two seasons of the video, the guys aren’t losing any steam. What’s next?

Bloom says he’d like to return to something they did in year one.

“We’re waiting to see if the NFL moves the draft up into February, or if the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl change venues to Tampa before making any decisions, but if the budget allows, we’d love to hit more training facilities.”

Lammey agrees, but thinks the next natural progression is Pro Days. “A camera hitting some of the big ones, checking some of the position drills would be great.”

Before any of that, though, Faletti says there’s one thing they have to take care of first.

“We hope to use the next several months to find support from an advertiser or possibly a large site with whom we could partner. Given what we did on almost no budget, imagine what some real financial backing would allow us to accomplish!”

With the following that DraftguysTV has gathered, it might not be long before we find out.

2009 NFL Draft: Defensive Position Class Grades

Each season a new crop of college athletes take part in the NFL Draft Process, and every year what the overall strengths and depths of the class are will change as often as the needs of the teams doing the drafting.

This year is no exception.

Last time we looked over the offensive talent in the 2009 NFL Draft but we all know defense can make or break a championship team.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the overall talent in the NFL Defensive Draft class of 2009.

PositionDefensive End
High SideBrian Orakpo, Everette Brown, Tyson Jackson
Low SidePierre Walters, Orion Martin
Overall GradeA
Explanation – The Defensive line class – both Tackle and End – is very deep this year. I think the defensive end class is deeper than the tackles and I think you could see between eight and ten going on Day 1 – possibly more than any other position and that includes the ever coveted offensive tackle position. And to my mind, even the low side is chock full of talented guys who have a shot to make an impact. That said, keep two things in mind here. First, even the top guys can be converted to linebacker or tackle depending upon the defensive scheme. That versatility is a good thing but also makes it hard to count on the DE being taken as an actual DE. I love Orakpo like many others, and have been a big believer in Jackson for quite some time, calling him out as a distinct possibility as the Jets’ pick at 17. Now he’s even being talked up as a top 10 pick in many circles I respect. If those two go quickly, guys like Brown, Larry English (Florida State) and Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond) may move up. This is a deep, deep class too. Pierre Walters from Eastern Illinois is all over the team interest lists I did at Draftguys.com and he’s a very productive, smart and versatile guy who could go late and still contribute early. Rulon Davis from Cal is another guy who, with his hard work ethic, high motor and good tackling skills could hang around and contribute as he develops. There are plenty of players who have the talent to get on the field and stay there in this class.

PositionDefensive Tackle
High SideB.J. Raji, Peria Jerry
Low SideRa’Shon Harris, Sammie Lee Hill
Overall GradeB+
Explanation – An excellent overall class, with talent fitting for every round from first to seventh. Excellent ability front to back, plenty of depth. This class could have a tremendous impact for some time to come with the top end able to make plays from Day 1. Raji has been getting a lot of the press but don’t forget his Boston College compatriot, Ron Brace. While Raji is more of the complete package, Brace is quick off the snap, can shoot the gaps and penetrate to collapse the pocket and is outstanding versus the run. Peria Jerry is a name you have been hearing more the last few weeks but has been on my radar for some time, and he’s a good bet to go in round one behind Raji. Another guy I absolutely love and am pretty sure he will go around the turn at ½ is San Jose State’s Jarron Gilbert. He absolutely blew up his Pro Day and several teams are very interested, including the Jets, whose coach Rex Ryan was in attendance. While it’s a good class, it lags behind the Ends in part because it just isn’t quite as deep.

Position - Outside Linebacker
High Side - Aaron Curry, Clay Matthews, Brian Cushing
Low Side - Anthony Felder, Stephen Hodge
Overall Grade - A-
Explanation – Another incredibly deep class on the defensive side of the ball, Aaron Curry leads a strong group of OLBs which once again contains a large contingent of USC Trojans. The group had a good showing at the NFL Combine and shined brightly during their Pro Days and really has become one of the best positions in the Draft. Curry, likely a top three player, is an exceptional player who is the type of guy who can consistently deliver hits while not getting knicked up or missing games. The two USC guys are opposite sides of the same coin – Cushing, a hard working blue collar guy from Jersey, is the safe, consistent pick with lots of experience and probably is closer to a finished project. Matthews, the walk-on with the fantastic bloodlines who worked his way up through the special teams ranks is all upside and raw skill. But both could produce very good numbers in the right offense. Another USC linebacker not getting enough publicity is Kaluka Maiava. Maiava can play sideline to sideline, can play very physical but also drop into coverage effectively and like Matthews, has Special Teams experience. Even players in the back of the pack like Anthony Felder has the potential to contribute early and often. Most people are more familiar with Cal’s other linebacker, Zach Follett, so for many Felder resides in the shadows like Maiava did at USC. But while Felder is a bit smaller than they’d like he’s a very reliable tackler, great range and what’s more, is a very smart player who can learn the things he can’t do. If he can stay healthy, Felder is an example of a late round or street free agent guy who might still be very productive.


Position - Inside Linebacker
High SideRey Maualuga, James Laurinaitis
Low SideWorrell Williams, Antonio Appleby
Overall Grade - C+/B-
Explanation – If there is a weak spot on the defensive side of the draft, it’s the inside linebackers. The top end is very good, but overall the position is thin and riddled with injuries including top prospect Maualuga. Still, Maualuga and Laurinaitis should both go on day one, with El Rey going in all likelihood no later that 16 to the Chargers and Laurinaitis probably hanging around the turn. Watch for rising prospect Frantz Joseph, who has heat after his spectacular performance at his Pro Day. He plays with a nasty streak and is a very football smart guy, though like so many Inside backers, he can be too aggressive. He still has upside to spare. Gerald McGrath is another guy who could go late and be very productive. McGrath, from Southern Miss, is incredibly athletic and while he lacks the bulk, his frame will allow him to add to it and make that up. Still, they are projects and this is a class that is riddled with them, a little too much for my taste.

Position - Cornerback
High Side - Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Alphonso Smith
Low SideRyan Mouton, Cary Harris
Overall Grade - B-
Explanation – Another pretty good class for the defensive side of the ball, this group will consistently throughout the weekend. More than one team may focus on other needs first though, so it could be just Jenkins and perhaps Davis who go by the end of round one. There is a firm middle of the road, guys who could go second through fifth that I think will hold some very good value. A great example of the spectrum are guys like the pair from San Jose State, Coye Francies and Christopher Owens who have quite a bit of upside and have attracted attention from many teams. Both are a bit raw but have tremendous upside. Francies is a very physical, can change directions well and has very good instincts. Owens isn’t big and strong, but is very instinctive and really aggressive despite his lack of size. And there are tons of guys with potential like this across the position.

PositionSafety
High Side - Louis Delmas, William Moore
Low Side - Lendy Holmes, Troy Nolan
Overall Grade - B-
Explanation – There are plenty of safeties (both strong and free) to go throughout the weekend. The top end is good but not great while the lower end isn’t bad but isn’t great either. Plenty will go and plenty will play for many years but I don’t think you’ll see this as a great class for years to come, but that’s not a knock as many of the guys will be productive. Louis Delmas (Western Michigan) is a great example of a safety – tough, physical with great instincts who will play hard against both the pass and the run. Moore, from Missouri, is also a big, tough hitter not afraid of getting messy against the run game as well as pass. As you move to the middle of the pack, you get guys like Chris Clemons from Clemson (not tough or a big hitter but good closing speed and in coverage) or LSU’s Curtis Taylor (great athleticism, good instincts, special teams player but not great against the run and too aggressive). Players like these have the upside to survive in the NFL but have large gaps in their game in my opinion. A team can take them and work with them on Special Teams or rotating in as time goes on and the risk is not as expensive as an earlier pick but neither is the ceiling or floor.

PositionPunter
High Side - Jacob Richardson
Low Side - Justin Brantley
Overall Grade - C
Explanation – While a good punter can make or break a team in the battle for field position, they are not usually in high demand during a draft. This class is fine, as far as any group goes, but they are more likely to find themselves signed after the fact than drafted.

Position - Kicker
High Side - David Buehler
Low Side - Sam Swank
Overall Grade - C+
Explanation – Every once in a great while a kicker comes along who goes early but this group likely does not have a fellow like that. The most intriguing prospect this year seems to be Buehler as teams love his strength and accuracy but are unsure how he will hold up in pressure – something he didn’t feel much at USC. Like the punters, a decent group but not outstanding.

NFL Draft: Positional Class Grades

Each season a new crop of college athletes take part in the NFL Draft Process, and every year what the overall strengths and depths of the class are will change as often as the needs of the teams doing the drafting.

This year is no exception.

In 2008, we saw a class with good overall running back talent, quicker than anticipated impact at the quarterback position and great depth at the defensive spots.

The 2009 class has its own set of advantages and strong spots, but also more than a few positions of questionable depth and talent.

When the layman looks at the Draft, they think in terms of the ‘sexy positions’. The quarterback, the running back, the high profile names on the offense. It’s where many new draftnicks and casual observers get caught up.

But once you’ve spent any time listening to any analyst or scout worth his salt, it turns out that’s not always where the value is in any given year.

This year is no different and while there is some value and depth in those skill positions, once again the most value appears to be in the trenches and on the defensive side of the ball.

Let’s take a look at the overall talent in the NFL Draft class of 2009.

PositionQuarterback
High SideMatthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez
Low SideCurtis Painter, Graham Harrell
Overall GradeC+
Explanation – While I am a big fan of Stafford and Sanchez, I don’t know either would have cracked the top of last year’s class. Still, both athletes have the tools to be worthy of a top pick in 2009. Stafford solidified a high pick slot with an outstanding Pro Day showcasing his accuracy and arm strength while Sanchez will have an opportunity to prove his doubters wrong by showing off his own accuracy and allaying injury concerns on April 1st at USC’s workout. In his own tier behind them is Kansas State quarterback Josh Freeman. I’ll be honest – any other year and Freeman isn’t going in round one. His accuracy issues, streaky nature and occasional lapses in decision making worry me. Still, after Sanchez and Stafford, Freeman is the guy you want, though he’ll take more time to develop than the first two. After that – it’s personal choice. Every quarterback behind them is a big question mark and a project, so it becomes about who teams fall in love with. One team might love Pat White’s versatility, while another may love Sam Houston State QB Rhett Bomar’s huge arm and intangibles. Or a team may wait a bit and snag any number of high upside, long term projects like Fresno State’s Tom Brandstater (good short touch vs shaky deep throws), Alabama’s John Parker Wilson (great intangibles vs lack of size and arm strength) or recently hot prospect Mike Reilly from Central Washington (good short accuracy and touch vs spread offense worries). My choice for dark horse? Rudy Carpenter, Arizona State. Tough, determined and with good accuracy on the West Coast-Style slants and short passes, Carpenter played behind an atrocious offensive line, with no run game and still managed to put up very good numbers. Sure thing? Not at all. But in the right scheme? Could be very successful. But he’s indicative of the class – all upside, all projects. Few sure things. Here is where I think a smart team can make a big future impact with a pick that’s low risk, but potentially high reward. One of these guys in the right system and with patience could turn out to be another Matt Cassel – assuming people remember the patience it took over almost four years to develop him.

PositionRunningback
High SideKnowshon Moreno, Chris Wells, LeSean McCoy
Low SideIan Johnson, Marlon Lucky
Overall GradeB
Explanation – These backs don’t have the marquee value of a Peterson or a McFadden but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any solid backs here. Knowshon Moreno has great instincts and is a big, tough runner with good hands. Chris Wells is a strong runner with good burst, but injury and durability worries. UCONN running back Donald Brown is quick to the hole and had very good vision and can catch the ball well out of the backfield. Behind the big three are a ton of solid, though perhaps unspectacular running backs. It’s not to say that a guy like Pitt’s LeSean McCoy, Liberty’s Rashad Jennings or Andre Brown from North Carolina can’t have a very good and very productive careers. But none of these backs hold the excitement that the top of the line studs usually do. The class has some depth, players with defined roles versus the projects that litter the quarterback class. A guy like Jeremiah Johnson out of Oregon would make an outstanding change of pace back. While he doesn’t have elite speed and has never been a workhorse, he’s shown ability, can play in special teams and has shown good vision and patience. He may never become the bell cow, but he also shouldn’t take three years to develop into a solid player. Or a team can grab a guy like Marlon Lucky from Nebraska, a runner who has a good combination of size and speed, who can run for tough yards but doesn’t have the ability to be an every down back. He can certainly fill in – and quickly – on special teams as well as be the type of back to grind yardage out and get the hard yards. Though he will never be a home run hitter, Lucky could be another guy who can be picked late and yet still contributes early in his career. The running back class is filled with these solid, though perhaps unspectacular, backs. Because of this, a team can lay in the weeds and fill other positions of need, yet still have a shot at a quality back who can contribute in a specific role pretty quickly. While the ceiling isn’t extraordinarily high, the floor for many of these guys is pretty good.

PositionFullback
High SideTony Fiametta
Low SideBrannon Southerland
Overall GradeC-
Explanation – Like with centers and kickers, top shelf fullbacks are few and far between and that’s why guys like Tony Richardson get the dollars he does blocking for backs like LT and Adrian Peterson. You aren’t likely to see any fullbacks go on day one, and maybe just a handful will be drafted over all. In the last nine drafts, the top fullback has been selected in the fourth round four times and the fifth round three times. The top fullback has only been pulled in the third round twice including last year when Jacob Hester went to the Chargers. And while he was the top fullback in the 2008 draft he was also the type of guy San Diego looked at as a potential full time running back. Again, it’s rare for a full blown fullback to go early. While a blocking fullback is worth his weight in gold, it’s easier to convert a running back or sign a fullback off the street. So even the top guys like Syracuse’s Tony Fiametta will be unlikely to go earlier than the middle rounds. This is not to say Fiametta isn’t a capable player. The former Orangeman is a fantastic blocker who works hard and has the versatility coaches love which allows him to block for other backs, catch the ball out of the backfield or even work special teams. It’s that flexibility which will attract teams and players like Fiametta. But many other guys have too many question marks. Georgia’s Brannan Southerland has some real conerns about his ability to stay healthy, Eric Kettani needs to fulfill his Naval service before he can play and lack experience in receiving and special teams so is limited while Jason Cook from Ole Miss is basically a blocker – and that’s all. Once you get past the top one or two players, a team might as well wait and sign these guys after the draft or look for a late round running back, see if they can develop him as a regular RB and if not, move him to fullback. Less fullbacks are being used in College football, and Pro teams are using tight ends and other players to block when necessary. As a result, this class which is thin on depth will likely see few players taken on draft weekend and perhaps even during the rookie free agency signing period.

PositionWide Receiver
High SideMichael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin
Low SideSammie Stroughter, Tiquan Underwood
Overall GradeB+
Explanation – A huge step up from last year and we should see a bunch of receivers pulled in the first round and over the course of the first day. There are some projects, but there are also plenty of very solid top prospects here. You can start with the names we’ve all become familiar with over the last few months. Michael Crabtree with his phenomenal size, body control, reach and outstanding ball skills. Fluid and elusive Jeremy Maclin with his ability to stretch the field and vertical ability. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Kenny Britt, Percy Harvin. All are names you’ve heard about endlessly. But this class differs from the 2008 bunch in more than just the top end players. This class has a full compliment of depth, guys who will be effective early in their career and could have long-term impact. Some, like OSU wideout Brian Robiskie seemingly emerged out of nowhere, lighting up the NFL Scouting Combine with an outstanding 40 and showing more athleticism than expected. He continued to impress at his Pro Day and is poised to get picked somewhere in the second or third rounds. Robiskie’s route running and instincts make him a player who could be ready to contribute immediately and while he may not be the next Calvin Johnson or Randy Moss, he’s a solid player and could be so for a long time to come. Slipping down a few spots to Ramses Barden, from Cal Poly. Barden has the size and strength to dominate defenders, he just needs to use it a little more confidently. And he can get yards after the catch. A little more of a project, but he can still develop into a good wide receiver and an excellent guy to move the chains or red zone target. Other guys who provide the depth on this squad are Washington State’s Brandon Gibson (experience, great hands, good routes, so-so speed, not enough separation), USC’s Patrick Turner off a great Pro Day (great routes, hands and tough attitude but not a great blocker or much of a deep threat), Quon Cosby out of Texas (athletic, quick, great ball skills, but a little older and limited separation) and Dominique Edison from Stephen F. Austin (decent speed, great hands and a good vertical threat, but not too physical nor sudden off the line) all will go second day and could carve out roles as at least #3 receivers. Even guys like the players at the bottom of my list, like Oregon State’s Sammie Stroughter and Rutgers’ Tiquan Underwood could contribute, though it might take a little longer.

PositionTight End
High SideBrandon Pettigrew, Jared Cook
Low SideRyan Purvis, Bear Pascoe
Overall GradeB-
Explanation – There are at least 5 TEs in this class that could be impact players at the next level, but not much depth and overall it won’t dominate the draft. You may never be able to have too many wide receivers or running backs, but you don’t need that many tight ends. Also, the position plays a little different now. You want a tight end who can block AND catch, not one but able to learn the other. Pettigrew is the class of the positional group, he can run, he can block, he can catch – and he’s a tough SOB. The guys behind him are all very athletic – Jared Cook (great speed and quicks, great hands, but little blocking ability), Cornelius Ingram (great ball skills, soft hands, can go vertical, but not tough, inexperienced) and Travis Beckum (great speed, good routes, elusiveness after the catch but not bulky enough, not physical enough and there are durability issues) – but have some question marks. Still, they have the offensive skills to play for some time. The low end like Bear Pascoe (great blocker but very stiff and not fast) and Ryan Purvis (good hands, willing blocker but not fast or explosive) seem to be the flipside – blockers who might develop into full tight ends. The fact you could get production from the late rounds with guys this deep into the class is what makes this class just a bit better than average.

PositionOffensive Tackle
High SideJason Smith, Eugene Monroe, Andre Smith
Low SideGarrett Reynolds, Joel Bell
Overall GradeB+
Explanation – Once again a great crop of OTs and we could see another run on the position in the first round. The game is won in the trenches and there are a lot of fine tackles in the 2009 class, even if it isn’t quite as deep as the 2008 group. Jason Smith, Monroe, Andre Smith and Oher will be gone in the top 15 in all likelihood and you could see guys like Eben Britton out of Arizona and recently hot Phil Loadholt from Oklahoma who could sneak into the first as well. There are other good tackles behind these guys but they could go anywhere from late second to beginning of the third, guys like William Beatty (UCONN), Troy Kropog (Tulane) or Jamon Meredith (South Carolina). All have something they need to work on be it a lack of prototypical size, mobility or a lack pf perfection either in the run or pass portion of the game. But all of them will be productive. As you go further away, the projects grow more shaky but there are so many who could slip in or will get picked up immediately as a street free agent, if a team misses out on one guy, they have the possibility of grabbing a project late and spending less money, yet still seeing production.

PositionGuard
High SideDuke Robinson, Andy Levitre
Low SideRyan Durand, Travis Bright
Overall GradeB-
Explanation – A decent group, but not a ton of depth. You’ll see them go starting in the second, but there aren’t more than a dozen guys who are good bets to go. A bunch of guards will go as rookie free agents, but not much excitement. Most interesting thing I have seen is the contradicting evaluations of Greg Isdaner of West Virginia. Some rankings have him as the second or third guard. But some don’t even have him going on Draft weekend. The top of the class are definitely Oklahoma’s Duke Robinson and Oregon State’s Andy Levitre. But while maybe one slips into the first, guards don’t go early. Overall it’s a decent class but there are not a ton of guards who will go on draft day, especially when some tackles can move over to guard if they don’t work out.

PositionCenter
High SideAlex Mack, Max Unger, Eric Wood
Low SideCecil Newton, Dallas Reynolds
Overall GradeC
Explanation – Top flight Centers are tough to come by, which is why Jeff Saturday just got re-signed by the Colts. You don’t let one go. This class is ok at the top, but there is a significant drop-off after that and if we hit double digits drafted, I’d be surprised. But the top of the class is pretty good. Cal’s Mack is whip-smart and incredibly flexible in what he can play – center, guard, what have you – he not only can do many things, he’s willing to. I have seen him slip a bit in some mocks, with Wood jumping in as the center taken in the first round. The Louisville center isn’t the most powerful guy and finds himself pushed around a little too much for me. But again, a smart guy who is a hard worker.

Enhance your 2009 NFL Draft Experience: A Draft Fan’s Guide


So, we’re scant days away from another NFL Draft and there is only so much room at Radio City Music Hall, travel is expensive and the economy is a bust, so the wife say’s ‘No you can’t spend the weekend in New York City yelling in facepaint and a team jersey.’

Things are tough all over.

But that’s not to say you cannot have a tremendous experience in the comfort of your own home for the 2009 NFL Draft.

Here are a few ways you can maximize your draft pleasure this weekend.

Bring the Party Home

No need to sit at home alone, right? Most things are just more fun in a group and cheering or complaining about a pick is definitely more enjoyable if you just aren’t shouting at the TV and Kiper’s hair. If you’re into the Draft, chances are you’ve been talking about it and know plenty of people interested in at least Saturday’s happenings. Make a party of it.

Heck, invite family. Plenty of significant others might be in need of distraction as well. Maybe having a bouncer for the kids or another TV – far away from the main one – with Top Chef or something on it could help smooth the inevitable early onset of Football-Widow syndrome.

Food and Drink

Whether you’re scoring at home or even if you’re alone, food and drink is paramount to the enjoyment of football. And really, that’s all this is – a very early, very weird football game. The atmosphere, the anticipation, it can be very similar.

And what is a game without great food? For some, that means Cheetos, hot wings, pizza and beer. For others, might be steak on the grill, a couple of Cokes and a tray of Ding Dongs.

Whatever it is, you treat it like Super Bowl Sunday and get the food you will enjoy. Don’t worry about placement because with 10 minutes (7 for the second round) you can easily get up, pop something in the oven, grab a tray of wings or restock the beer in the fridge before the next team goes.

TV Time! or ‘Do I Need to See the Pores in Stafford’s Face?’

Quality of the television is all to taste, but make sure it’s big enough for whoever is coming to your place to see from wherever they choose to sit. Now, don’t bother getting a new TV just for the Draft but make sure the thing works and has a clear picture before you plan to stare at it all day.

High Def or giant screens are not necessary but if you’re going to be watching hour after hour of the same images on the screen, then you want something that will not destroy your eyes. So make sure the image is bearable.

Preparation is the Key

Now, most people know a ton about the sexy positions – quarterback, running back, wide receiver – but not everyone who wants to watch the Draft is going to know offensive linemen, defensive tackles and the odd tight end.

For that matter, not everyone reading this knows too much about the players aside from their name.

If you’re one of those souls, or if you know one (and don’t want to spend the weekend explaining who everyone is) here are a few places I suggest going who will enhance your draft knowledge.

And best of all, many of these are free.

ESPN.com – Unfortunately a bunch of their stuff is marked as Insider (read: not free) but overall it’s a good basic place to go. You can see ScoutInc’s top 35 players, catch snippets of Todd McShay or Mel Kiper’s mocks and various news stories and profiles on players.

Again, a big portion of it is not free, but it’s not a bad place to start your search for info.

NFL.com – It can be a bit hard to navigate, but it’s still a solid source of info. You can roll back through Gil Brandt’s Pro Day logs, check out the latest news feeds, and mock drafts from the Path to the Draft gang.

While their player breakdowns don’t cover as many players as some other sites, but it’s stuff from NFLDraftscout.com and what they cover is pretty thorough. Draftscout’s stuff is also on CBSSportsline.com and will fold into that site completely next season.

To top it all of, they are streaming the draft online for the second year in a row. I’ll touch on the various draft-watching choices in a minute, but if you’re trapped at work, here’s a choice that may save your sanity.

Draftcountdown.com – Scott Wright has been breaking down players for many years and he’s very good at what he does. That’s why Draftcountdown is one of the biggest Draft sites around. I don’t always agree with Scott’s takes, but his logic is solid and his instincts are sharp.

Wright breaks down players by position, team needs, does mock drafts and has a very active forum community.


He’s pretty responsive to readers as well, both in the forum and via chat and email. He’s a guy who watches a tom of tape and puts countless hours into the process. He also has a show on Itunes you can check out.

And you can get a head start on 2010, as he’s already looking ahead.

Draftguys.com/DraftguysTV – The site is only a few years old, and the content (some of which I will admit I have written) isn’t as all consuming as some other sites, but there is some unique content here.


While you can find team interest articles all over, the Team Interest feature at Draftguys is one of the most thorough and when I write it, I also endeavor to add sources. So you know it’s backed by research and can repeat that if you want.

Cecil Lammey’s What If Mock Drafts are fun to read as he has been throwing monkey wrenches into his mock drafts for about a month. If you want to know what would happen if team A traded with team B or Sanchez dropped – well Lammey might have what you want.

But the best part of this site is the Draftguys TV feature. The second season of the video has covered 51 players at about three to five minutes a pop. And while they covered Maualuga and Raji, they also let you know about lesser known (or lesser publicized) guys who could have an impact like Jarron Gilbert from San Jose State or Stephen McGee from Texas. It combines solid analysis with footage culled from practices at Texas vs the Nation, the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl and player interviews.

Draft Daddy.com Flat out the best Draft-related news feed on the planet. Draft Daddy constantly updates stories from all over, covering rumors and analysis from pretty much every newspaper, website and source they can find and it’s all money.

At any given moment, you can find a link to Gil Brandt’s Pro Day column, a Mike Lombardi article on the National Football Post and a news story at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

And you can easily catch up on the most recent news, or look backwards to track how a player climbed out of obscurity.

NFLDraftbible.com – Again, a site that costs a little money for some features and again a site I have worked for. If you haven’t seen my Pro Day articles and want to catch up, they’re in the archives. Players news is fed on the main page and free.

Some player tracking news, player interviews both transcribed and audio and team needs are also there and free so even if you don’t shell out cash this close to the draft, you can get some great info.

Other sites worth a look for research: Draftcountdown.com, SportingNews.com (The Warroom is excellent year round and worth the money), Yahoo.com and many team fan sites and blogs.

Also, many of these sites have work by a writer named Josh Buchanan. If there is a better source of info on small school players, I don’t know who they are. Anything he writes on the subject is well worth your time.

Do You Prefer the Hair or The Company Team?

Now you have your food and party planned, you know your players (or where to log on to find them) the question is, who do you get your live info from?

I myself prefer the NFL network. I used to watch the ESPN coverage but between Berman screaming the pick out like he was guessing before the Commissioner read it out and the tragic amount of talking heads who aren’t worth the air time (Keyshawn Johnson, I am looking at you.) I just can’t do it anymore.

I don’t mind McShay and Kiper, although Kiper is a little too arrogant for his own good. And at times on Day 2, the ESPN coverage is just the two of them and while NFLN is replaying footage from Day 1 and discussing the top three picks yet again, Kiper/McShay is talking about the late picks.

NFLN takes itself more seriously for the most part and has a lot less ridiculous showmanship that ESPN. Last year, they did lapse into a bit of silliness with Adam Shefter ‘breaking news’ that was either not quite news or a little too reminiscent of the Berman ‘look I know the pick’ garbage.

This year you will likely not get any Shefter, which I think is going to be a bit of a detriment. Shefter is embroiled with some sort of contract issue with the NFLN and hasn’t been on the network in at least a month. I don’t expect that to change this weekend and that’s too bad. Shefter has good news sources, even if sometimes he can be a bit much, and I haven’t seen a replacement yet.

I plan on flipping quite a bit myself. Sometimes one thing breaks on ESPN but not NFLN, and sometimes the analysis is better on NFLN.

But you may lack the ability to flip, as many cable providers don’t carry the NFL Network. It could appear at first glance you are trapped.

So what to do if you can’t stand Kiper but have no NFLN?

Well, as mentioned before, NFL.com will be streaming the draft. Also, ESPN Radio will be covering most of the first day and probably parts of the second. I like John Clayton and he’ll be a part of that coverage, and I am sure they’ll have analysis from Kiper and McShay during the show.

Beyond them, you can follow any number of news sources, sites and players via Twitter including some of the sites I listed above.

I myself will be a part of all-day coverage on the Fantasy Sports Channel on BlogTalkRadio.com. Starting at 10am eastern and rolling until midnight, there will be live podcasts, chatroom and plenty of football talk from both a fantasy football and regular fan point of view. You can listen via ITunes radio, the Blogtalk site itself or even on your Iphone.

If you are interested, I’ll be doing my show from 3pm until 5 – covering the news right before the draft and a chunk of round one. I will also have my chatroom open most of the day and will likely be doing a bunch of podcast and radio spots all day, so check my twitterfeed on the day of and I’ll keep you apprised of my appearances and any breaking news I come across during the day.

I am sure there are many fan sites doing chats, keeping people updated via threads in their forums or live blogs.

So while it may appear you don’t have any choice but ESPN, if you aren’t a fan of the broadcast team – I can understand why – you do have other options. Nothing better than watching one feed, but listening to another.

Lord knows I do that many Monday nights.

The NFL Draft has grown in popularity and size over the past years and more and more people await it in anticipation and watch it with rapt attention. Everyone has their own way of doing their Draft watching and by no means is my way the only way.

But if you use this guide as a template, I think you’ll find your experience a solid one.

Up until your team takes that kicker with the first round selection.

At that point, you’re on your own.

Build the Castle, then Find a King to Defend It or Why the Lions Need Jason Smith


I recently finished my first (and at this late date, likely only) two round mock draft over at Draftguys.com and a funny thing happened on the way to the internet.

I didn’t have the Lions taking Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Crazy, I know.

Maybe it’s a reaction to the group think I keep seeing in mock after mock where Stafford has to go to the Lions. I have to admit when the herd runs one way, I tend to take a long look at alternative routes.

But more likely it’s a number of other mitigating factors – hang with me a moment, put the pitchforks down and hear me out.

1) Protection is a must
To paraphrase myself in my mock (how narcissistic is THAT?), you could clone a Serpentor-like mix of the best quarterbacks ever to grace the field, with the biggest arms, most accurate passes and Churchill-like leadership skills and it won’t matter a bit if all the QB does is lay on his back counting clouds and planes.

The Lions offensive line is – if you will excuse the pun – offensive. They flat out don’t protect the quarterback. They allowed 52 sacks last season – thank goodness for the 49ers, since they kept the Lions from being the worst in that category.

How can you utilize Calvin Johnson’s speed and vertical game when you can’t get the ball off? Sure Daunte Culpepper is past his prime as a quarterback. But when you are pressured that often and that consistently? Who can be successful?

2) If You Can’t Block, Then You Can’t Run and You Can’t Pass
Not enough for you? Ok, they’re also barely capable of holding holes open for the running back. Ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards, with a near-tragic 1,332 yards total and a futile 3.8 yards per carry.

If you have no run game, you have no pass game. What about the Cardinals you ask? Well, they have an offensive line that jelled late and have two of the best wide receivers in the game today and a #3 who is better than half the #2s (and a few #1 guys) in the league. In the desert, the line held. The proof? Just 28 sacks against (tied with the Giants) and 4,674 yards through the air. Oh, and the third most TDs through the air.

The Lions should be so lucky. And in the end, a lack of run game was one of the flaws in this Arizona team. They didn’t need to run because they threw the ball so well, but they finally got caught against a team who could stop the air attack (as they were several times last year) and it cost them the Super Bowl.

It’s a glaring hole for the Lions. If they cannot protect the ball carrier, the defense will not respect the run and will just tee off on whoever is the unlucky soul hucking the ball.

3) And Many Miles to go Before I Sleep
Let’s be honest. This team is not the Miami Dolphins – a team with no one superstar or stud piece, but a lot of solid players who could get the job done. The Lions have a superstar in Calvin Johnson, a solid running back in Kevin Smith and… um….. some other guys.

Adding Stafford or Sanchez is not instantly turning this team around. It’s not even the first step. Or third. It might not even be half a step. This team is riddled with holes all over the place.

The Dolphins succeeded last year in part because the pieces they added in the Draft and elsewhere were just enough to get an average team over the hump. Any Miami fan who is honest with themselves know that the team played over its head last year. And any AFC East fan worth his salt knows they were never as bad as the 2007 season made them look. They just didn’t have that far to go to begin with.

The Lions, on the other hand, have much more to do before they can become ‘good’.

And if they draft a QB here – well see points 1 & 2. He may not be around long enough to pay off, or could see his confidence shattered before the team really comes together.

There will be plenty of very good quarterbacks next year – more than there are this year in my opinion. And I’m sorry Lionsfan, but you are primed to be at the top of the heap again next year in the Draft.

Like the title says – build the castle first, then prop up a king to lead you.

And while I do like Stafford and Sanchez, I don’t know if they will survive the beating they would get behind this line, nor be a capable quarterback long term if they have to live through that many sacks and that much pressure. Many good quarterbacks have been chewed up by a porous line.

What about Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco you say? Totally different situations. Ryan was plopped into a rebuilt oline, one that was built to be carried by Michael Turner. Defenses could not just tee off on Ryan, as they were too busy worrying about Turner. And in turn, they couldn’t shut Turner down because Ryan would torch them.

Plop Sanchez and Stafford in a situation like that and I would be much happier with the pick. The Falcons did tons to fix their team before they got Ryan. They had the castle built, had a kick ass moat and a fierce, ball-carrying dragon thrown in for good measure.

Flacco is a weirder situation because he wasn’t brought in to start ASAP. He only played because Troy Smith got tonsillitis and missed the preseason. He also stepped into a decent oline situation and while his receivers weren’t stunning and the run game a bit lackluster, he wasn’t asked to win a bunch of games.

Oh and the Ravens’ D? A little better than the Lions’. He didn’t need to have big games because the team wasn’t allowing many points – just 15.2 a game, third best in the league.

Think Stafford/Sanchez will have the luxury or easing through a season without having to face enormous deficits?

Before you answer, the Lions gave up 32.3 points a game. That would be dead last in the NFL, if you were wondering.

So that’s an awful risk you’re taking, plugging even those two behind a line that’s filled with turnstiles and with a defense that tends to get scored on early and often.

4) Money, Money, Money, MONEY!
I hate to say it, but signability will factor in this pick. How much are you going to spend on Stafford or Sanchez? Ryan had $34.75 million in guaranteed money. They won’t settle for less and will ask for a ton more, since they would be the first pick, not the third like Ryan.

The Dolphins’ first pick, OT Jake Long, cost a mere $30 million in guaranteed money.

Ryan also signed for six years at $72 million while Long is signed for five years at $57.75 million.

It’s going to be expensive, that’s why they are trying to trade out of the pick. It’s also why they won’t be able to. So while it’s sexier to pick the QB, it’s a far safer – and likely cheaper – to go offensive lineman.

Even if the Lions are unmoved by the preceding 1,241 words, they may be moved by the money. Don’t just look at the difference between what Long got and what Ryan got. Remember two other things – we’re talking about a quarterback in the first slot, not the third and a quarterback always gets far more money than a lineman.

In 2007, Jamarcus Russell got a six-year contract worth up to $68 million, with $31.5 million guaranteed. Last year, Ryan – just one year and two slots later – got six years at $72 million with $34.75 million in guaranteed money.

You have to figure if push comes to shove, getting their player at a reasonable price in this economy, may play a huge factor. And Smith will flat out come cheaper.

The one thing I haven’t touched on is Jason Smith (who I think will go ahead of Eugene Monroe out of Virginia). It’s not as if the offensive tackle out of Baylor isn’t very, very good. He is. He’s great in pass protection, is very light on his feet and agile, plays with a flat-out nasty streak and probably hasn’t even fulfilled his potential. I love the guy.

If the Lions take him, he will be a cornerstone for the offensive line – and therefore, that offense – for years to come.

They will have made a good start at building that castle, perhaps adding to it as the Draft progresses.

Then, and only then, should they go find the king to lead them forward.

Hawaii Pro Day Wrap Up

I end my Pro Day trips with a school’s Pro Day that, while not the size of USC’s (scouts and team personnel and as many fans and media) was still a well attended, well run day with several players whom scouts were keenly interested in.

The day, held at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, was attended by about 30 scouts from teams such as Carolina, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Seattle and both New York teams. It was a well attended and well orchestrated day, held in two places, one area for the workout drills and one grass field for positional drills.

We started out in a small meeting room where UH head coach Greg McMackin and Associate head coach Rich Miano showed the scouts some highlight videos featuring the various players who would soon be working out.

This just in – all defensive lineman David Veikune does is make plays.

Veikune was certainly one of the main attractions for scouts on Thursday. While he stood on most of the results of his Scouting Combine performance, he did do the 40 yard dash. He ran a 4.80/4.81 in the 40, with 10 yard and 20 yard splits of 1.64/1.71 and 2.82/2.78 respectively.

Veikune also did position drills of course, and as there is some question just where he will fit in at the Pro level, he drilled as an outside linebacker and worked some coverage as well.

Having played as a defensive end in college, Veikune may have to make the switch to a linebacker, specifically if he ends up in a 3-4 scheme. But honestly, scouts and teams are just going to try to find a way to get this playmaker on the field. He won’t go early, but he will go and already has interest from several teams including the Eagles, Cowboys, Dolphins and Titans.

Another player scouts were itching to see was cornerback Ryan Mouton. Mouton had pulled a hamstring at the Combine and was hoping to make an impression this time out for scouts.

He began his day on a very high note with an outstanding 11 foot broad jump. He chose to stand on his bench and vert from the Combine and got set to run the 40.

I mentioned this in the USC piece I did, but it seems to me I have written about multiple injuries during 40s this year. Maybe they are just leaping out at me this year, but it feels like I am seeing many more.

Why do I bring this up? You guessed it – he pulled up lame in the 40. Mouton said later he felt it at about the 20 yard mark and he was in clear pain when he crossed the finish line. Still, he ran an impressive 40 time (especially considering). Various scouts had him at anywhere from 4.42 to 4.48. I had him timed at 4.46.

And he did that while clearly pulling up in the last leg. I boggle at how he might have timed had it not happened.

The injury looked worse than what it turned out to be, as he sat in the corner of the practice area for some time. Still, he was out for the day. There were more than a few disappointed noises from the scouts and that tells me he was – and likely still is – very much on the radars of several teams. In fact, he already has a meeting with Jacksonville according to the Honolulu Advertiser.

Several other players are worth talking about as well. Defensive lineman Josh Leonard benched a fantastic 41 times, ran a 4.97 in the 40, had a 31 1/2 vertical and looked solid in drills. Another Leonard linebacker Adam Leonard, had a so-so 40 (7.41/7.52) but in part that was due to some bad starts.

As I saw in San Jose State with corner Coye Francies, once to stumble a few times, it can get in your head. Heck, it was such a worry for USC’s Rey Maualuga (who missed drills at the Combine because he pulled a muscle in the 40) that he did the 40 after his position drills.

It certainly affected Adam Leonard and probably contributed to a slower than expected 40 time. But his film and other drills will keep him hopping and he will have the chance to show his stuff at team visits and private workouts I’m sure.

Finally, is it possible to be wowed by a long snapper? Is it right?

Well, it must be because I love what I saw of Jake Ingram.

Ingram was a guy the staff talked about during the film session as a perfectionist and a hard worker. The first guy at practice, the last one to leave.

And you could tell he was a hard worker. Ingram did every drill he could, ran a 4.90/4.86 in the 40, showed a 30 1/2 vert, a 9′9″ broad jump, benched 18 times and ran a 4.59 short shuttle.

And that was before he snapped in positional drills.

I wasn’t the only one impressed as I saw Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons talking to Ingram a ton and a lot of it shop talk. Of course, a snapper has to do more than snap the ball – and certainly teams will take a long look at a guy like Ingram to make sure he can cover and block. Ingram looked good whenever he was asked to do something and he came off as personable and a nose-to-the-grindstone type of guy.

It’s not often I spend much time talking about long snappers, but Ingram had a very solid day.

So ends another Pro Day season and another road trip. It’s been a long few months of travel, but is always worth it. Getting to know the scouts a little, chatting with the players and meeting other press like Stephen Tsai and Leila Wai from the Honolulu Advertiser, Sam Farmer from the LA Times at USC’s Pro Day and the whole Path to the Draft crew as well – all of it always makes even the longest trips a real joy.

Now comes the hard part for me and the scouts – figuring out where everyone goes.

USC Pro Day Wrap-Up

This week I found myself down in Los Angeles, home of the USC Trojans for what is the wrap of the Pro Day season. Yes, I will be at Hawaii’s Pro Day tomorrow, so technically it isn’t a ‘wrap’ but USC’s Pro Timing Day often marks the end of a long month or so of Pro Day workouts, plane flights and take-out food for NFL Scouts. I am curious to see who comes to Hawaii’s Pro Day tomorrow but that’s not what this is about.

I will say one of my favorite things about USC Pro Day is hanging around the Path to the Draft crew. Burmiester, Davis and Mayock are three exceptionally nice guys and very gracious. Always great to talk football with them.

So I’m guessing there is no beating around the bush here – QB Mark Sanchez looked GOOD. He threw for an awfully long time and while there were occasional hiccups, his timing, accuracy and strength was pretty good.

Plus the 80 or so throws he made – hey that’s nothing to sneeze at. Against the wind at times too. The man came to work and didn’t disappoint.

Stafford has a bigger arm, but I don’t really think it’s that big a deal. He threw scripted passes and then took requests from the audience aka the Detroit Lions. But don’t read too much into that – it just means the Lions may still go offensive line (which is, in my opinion, the choice to make) and are doing their homework on Sanchez in case he is there at 20.

I can’t say how likely that is. If Stafford drops to the Jags (a team very interested in Sanchez) then Sanchez drops a bit further and it isn’t outside the realm of sanity that he could end up with the Lions.

I started this year out as hard a critic as anyone on the USC signal caller. As Pac-10 Insider for College Football Insider, I saw a ton of Sanchez and I still say anothe ryear and he could be the top overall pick in 2010.

But the more tape I watch and the more I see of him in things like today – I have to say that he should develop into a very good quarterback. The experiance thing doesn’t bother me all that much. And if he drops to a team where he can sit for a year or two (for example, Jacksonville at 8 – do you sense a theme?), he would avoid some potentially confidence crushing sacks.

Above all this is a guy who is a hard worker and that showed today. He’s not Matt Leinart and he may not be a Carson Palmer. But he is still a very sharp athlete and could go far.

Some say his day was better than Stafford’s but I didn’t see Stafford’s with my own eyes. I did see Sanchez’s though and I liked what I saw.

The USC linebacker corp – or the Triplets as I call them – were also on display today. Matthews, Maualuga and Cushing all had good days.

Brian Cushing is probably the safe pick, though many worry about injuries with him. Still, to me he is the versatile guy who will contribute consistently early on in his career. His ceiling is not as high as the other two, but that’s no knock. Some scouts worry he isn’t a three down linebacker, but I don’t think that’s totally true. He can play in pass coverage and I believe he can continue to add to his game at the Pro level. He could very easily develop into a perennial Pro Bowler.

Cushing looked explosive and quick and made a great catch where he had to extend his body to grab the ball and looked very good doing it. While he was a bit stiff in the hips when turning, he looked very good overall and I walked away impressed with the New Jersey native. Cushing ran about a 4.70 in the one 40 I timed though I saw some scouts with 4.75 and 4.77.

Clay Matthews has had to fight his way through his college career. A walk-on, he eventually became an important part of the USC team, especially on Special Teams. Matthews is still a tad raw, but I think the skies the limit with him.

Matthews looked great in drills, showing good smoothness and fluidity as well as solid ball skills. He too caught the ball nicely in drills and overall had a great workout. He added a 4.57 in the 40 to his day and that’s not too shabby. (I had him quicker but this is where the scouts had him.)

Of course maybe the biggest story next to Sanchez was Rey Maualuga. Maualuga had to skip the position drills at the NFL Scouting Combine when he pulled his hamstring during his initial 40. He didn’t run the 40 today until well after his position drills.

As he told me in an interview (which you can hear on Wednesday’s Thundering Blurb Football Show) that he held off on the 40 because he very much wanted people to see him run the positional workout. Having missed it at the Combine, he realized it was super critical.

While he looked a little stiff at times, I thought he had a very solid workout. He was clearly favoring his hamstring still, and I saw him limp off the field for a while, coming back later to run his 40. That 40, by the way, clocked in at a 4.69, very respectible next to his 4.43 shuttle and 7.22 three-cone. There were some concerns that while rehabbing Maualuga might gain some wieght, which is really all about questions people (mostly media) have about his attitude and work ethic.

Listen, just because the guy moves to the beat of his own drummer doesn’t mean he can’t march. Maualuga can flat out play. Now, in my opinion he’s a guy who will need to adjust in the Pros – go less for the big play and more for the basics during his initial year or so in the league. It will be a few years before teams turn him loose – which is similiar to another standout USC defensive player from way back in the day by the name of Junio Seau.

Seau used to make huge plays at USC – and whiffed on them at times as well. I’m not saying El Rey is Seau, but he could be and if Seau could adjust, so could Maualuga. In the right system (maybe one involving Mike Singletary?) I think he could develop into a monster.

The dude is pretty intimidating, that’s for sure.

A few other notes – cornerback Cary Harris hurt his knee during his first 40 and missed the rest of the workout. Definitely a dissappointing way to go, and not the first time I have seen it at a Pro Day. Just another reason people wonder if the 40 is worth the trouble.

Kevin Ellison looked good in drills and his 4.70 in the 40 was nice. He was much hotter earlier in draft season, but should move a little further up boards with today’s workout.

Another less known, but very solid, linebacker prospect is Kaluka Maiava ran a 4.66 and a 4.7 by my watch and that was with a slight hamstring pull (see what I mean?). Maiava is sitting in the shadow of the Triplets right now, but could become a very good prospect once he gets into the league. I think he could have recieved a lot more publicity and attention if he was elsewhere and not behind Matthews, Cushing and Maualuge. He’s not quite their class, but he’s nothing to sneeze at.

Wide receiver Patrick Turner looked good in his drills as well, and was in synch with Sanchez as well. He made some very nice catches along the sideline and ran very fast in the 40, getting times of 4.60 and 4.58 – the 4.58 a personal best.

Turner won’t go early but is a guy who could put in a good show in camp once he’s drafted on the second day.