Article: Six burning draft questions up for debate

Discussion in 'Draft Zone' started by HardHittingRoy31, Apr 12, 2007.

  1. HardHittingRoy31

    HardHittingRoy31 New Member

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    When it comes to the NFL draft, there's always plenty to argue about. And there's never a shortage of opinions to go along with the many questions that always seem to come up this time of year.
    How important is the scouting combine? Is it better to have a high pick in the early rounds or multiple picks in later rounds? Is there really such a thing as a safe pick?
    Scout's Inc.'s Todd McShay and Jeremy Green debate these questions and more. We'll leave it up to you to decide who makes more sense.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]DEBATE 1:[/FONT] If you take quarterbacks out of the equation, would you take WR Calvin Johnson or OT Joe Thomas with the No. 1 overall pick?
    McShay: Ordinarily, I would take the elite offensive tackle over the elite wide receiver with the No. 1 pick. But there's nothing ordinary about Johnson's game-breaking pro potential. He possesses freakish natural ability, including a rare combination of size (6-5, 239 pounds), speed (4.39 in the 40) and leaping ability (42½-inch vertical leap). It was obvious Johnson was a man playing among boys in college -- even as a true freshman full-time starter in 2004. In three seasons for the Yellow Jackets, Johnson racked up 2,927 yards and 28 touchdowns on 178 receptions. Just think if he were teamed with a quarterback who could complete 50 percent or more of his passes?

    People can compare him to Terrell Owens and Randy Moss as much as they like, but they're wrong. Johnson is faster than Owens and more physical than Moss -- and he's a better person than both of them combined. In talking to coaches, teammates, agents and even TV producers he has crossed paths with along the way, I have yet to hear a negative remark regarding Johnson's work ethic, personality or character.
    Finally, there's the issue of durability. Johnson has battled minor ankle and hamstring tweaks, but he never missed significant playing time because of an injury in college. Although I regard Thomas as the second-best prospect in the 2007 class, his knee injury as a junior (2006 Capitol One Bowl) scares me a bit.

    Green: There has been a lot of talk that LSU QB JaMarcus Russell will be the No. 1 pick. That Russell is a quarterback enhances his value, but the two best players in the draft are actually Johnson and Thomas. You can hardly go wrong with either player, but you need to look no further than last year's draft to see that Thomas should be selected first.
    I worked for five years with the Cleveland Browns and every season we passed on quality offensive linemen. The lack of solid play up front led to the firings of numerous coaches and front-office executives. History has shown us that every draft is littered with talented players at wide receiver. For instance, Saints sensation Marques Colston was selected in the seventh round last season.

    Look at last year's top offensive linemen. The top two left tackles selected were Virginia's D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Auburn's Marcus McNeill. Both went on to have excellent rookie seasons in San Diego and New York (Jets), respectively. In Thomas, you get a player who will line up and start from day one. He excels in pass protection and the run game. He is a player who can set the tempo for the entire offensive line. He is a player who won't need help protecting the wide edge, which allows your other four linemen to block three down linemen.
    You win championships by being able to control the line of scrimmage, and Thomas is a player who can do that. Although selecting an offensive lineman in the top five is not sexy, you can't win in the NFL if you can't run the ball and protect your quarterback. Whoever selects Thomas will be getting the complete package in that regard.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]DEBATE 2:[/FONT] Would you rather have a high second-round pick or multiple picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds?
    McShay: At first I was really torn on this issue. As a draft guy, my initial instinct is to want multiple picks to find more quality players. Then I did some research and quickly changed my mind.

    First off, there have been some tremendous values in recent years stemming from the first 10 picks of the second round. Here's a look at some from the past few drafts:

    DeMeco Ryans, MLB, Texans (No. 33)
    D'Qwell Jackson, ILB, Browns (No. 34)
    Rocky McIntosh, OLB, Redskins (No. 35)
    Thomas Howard, OLB, Raiders (No. 38)
    Daniel Bullocks, S, Lions (No. 40)
    Deuce Lutui, G, Cardinals (No. 41)
    Danieal Manning, S, Bears (No. 42)

    Brodney Pool, S, Browns (No. 34)
    Reggie Brown, WR, Eagles (No. 35)
    Josh Bullocks, S, Saints (No. 40)
    Michael Roos, OT, Titans (No. 41)

    Karlos Dansby, OLB, Cardinals (No. 33)
    Chris Snee, G, Giants (No. 34)
    Igor Olshansky, DE, Chargers (No. 35)
    Daryl Smith, OLB, Jaguars (No. 39)
    Ben Troupe, TE, Titans (No. 40)
    Tatum Bell, RB, Broncos (No. 41)
    Travis LaBoy, DE, Titans (No. 42)

    The percentage of starters from the second round compared to the following three rounds (3-5) is more substantial than I anticipated, especially at certain positions. For example, there are as many or more starting running backs, wide receivers, offensive tackles, cornerbacks and safeties drafted in Round 2 than there are drafted in Rounds 3, 4 and 5 combined. There also are nearly as many quarterbacks, tight ends and defensive ends. In fact, the only positions where I would opt for additional picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds would be interior offensive and defensive lineman.

    Finally, the only scenario in which a general manager is wise to opt for multiple picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds is when his team is rebuilding. Generally speaking, teams forced to rebuild are in salary-cap purgatory, which makes quantity far more important than quality. Take the Titans, for example. In an effort to overhaul their roster with young talent, they have continually traded down to stockpile extra picks. The result is a team on the rise thanks primarily to the 34 selections in their past three drafts.

    Green: I think every team and situation is a little different, but I believe that in the majority of instances you would clearly want multiple picks over a high second-rounder. What is a high second-round pick? It is usually a player who fell out of the first round for one reason or another. Every year you see projected first-round picks slip to the top of the second round. Those players fell for a reason.

    You will hear the word "value" a lot as we move toward the draft. A team will say, "I would not take him in the first round because of these holes in his game, but he would make a great second-round pick." Well, did his holes disappear because he slipped a round? No, he has the same holes, and those same issues are going to be a problem regardless of the round in which you select him.

    In most instances there will be anywhere from 10 to 15 prospects who are considered blue-chip players. There have been plenty of busts in the top 10-15 picks, but at least in terms of their profiles coming out of college, they are guys with no glaring weaknesses. After the top 15, everyone has holes. The draft is not necessarily about drafting the best player. It is about drafting the best player who fits your system. With multiple picks, you have the opportunity to find more players who fit your system. Football is a team sport. You have to fill a lot of positions, and the only way to do that is with multiple players. Two solid starters, two solid backups and two excellent special-teams players outweigh one excellent player in most instances.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]DEBATE 3:[/FONT] Is too much emphasis put on the combine?

    McShay: Not where it matters. I find it insulting when I hear people mock NFL teams for placing too much stock in the combine. Why would all 32 teams invest that much money and time if the process isn't worthwhile? The answer is they wouldn't.

    Sure, the media coverage has become enormous. One could easily argue it's overblown. Since the infamous Mike Mamula debacle, though, how many true busts have derived from a team overemphasizing a player's combine performance? By my count, not many. In the three-year span between 2001 and 2003 (sticking with the theory that you can't truly evaluate a draft class for at least three years), there are only four players (DB Willie Middlebrooks, WR Ashley Lelie, DE Eddie Freeman and QB Kyle Boller) whom I consider combine busts. That's not significant considering 769 players were selected during those three drafts. Remember, some of the other busts during that period were high draft picks for other reasons. For instance, CB Jamar Fletcher was taken by the Dolphins with the 26th overall pick in 2001, but he didn't even work out at the combine. RB William Green was selected No. 16 overall in 2002 by the Browns, but he ran in the 4.6s in his combine 40-yard dash attempts.

    The workouts and measurements are important for verification purposes. Just like a stockbroker should perform due diligence before investing in the market, NFL teams want the 411 on a prospect before investing big money on a draft pick. For example, it wasn't until this year's combine that Florida State OLB Lawrence Timmons was exposed for being two inches shorter than his listed height of 6-foot-3. It also wasn't until the combine that teams realized Arizona RB Chris Henry is blessed with tremendous overall physical skills. That's not to say Timmons will fall out of the first round or that Henry will skyrocket from relative obscurity into the top 50 picks. However, with that newfound information, NFL teams will revisit a player's game film before tagging him with a final grade during next month's draft meetings.

    The medical and interview portions of the combine are even more beneficial. How else would teams from 32 different cities conduct physicals, MRIs, drug tests and interviews in one place, during a one-week span, on 330 of the top draft prospects?

    When it's all said and done, the combine is the most efficient means to thoroughly verify and gather necessary information on an upcoming draft class. If taking some public heat for the occasional draft-day mistake is the price NFL general managers and scouts have to pay, I think they'd all agree the juice is worth the squeeze.

    Green: Yes, there is entirely way too much emphasis placed on the combine. The combine has no way of determining who is a football player and who is not. All the combine determines is who is a good athlete and who is not. Football is played in pads, while the combine is conducted in shorts and T-shirts. What the combine does is separate the athletes from the nonathletes. However, even that can be deceiving. A good case in point is Jacksonville WR Matt Jones. Jones was a college quarterback who has converted to wide receiver at the NFL level. After performing exceptionally well at the combine, Jones moved into the mid-first round of the 2005 draft. Jones might be athletic and fast in shorts and a T-shirt, but he surely does not play the game fast on the field.

    The other thing that has become a big issue at the combine is the Wonderlic test, which supposedly measures a player's mental capacity and intelligence. The Wonderlic is the most overrated aspect of the combine. Sure, there are occasions where a player's low test score translates into him struggling to grasp football concepts, but most of the time it's not a true barometer. Remember the hoopla surrounding Vince Young's low score? I don't know if anyone ever found out what his actual score was. I do know that he surely did not look like he was struggling to pick up Tennessee's offense last season.

    The combine is the most overhyped aspect of the draft process. Turn on the videotape and find out if a player can play. Does he play hard? Does he play smart? Does he play with heart? Does he make plays? None of those questions will ever be answered at the combine.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]DEBATE 4:[/FONT] All things being equal, do you take a top pass-rushing DE or a shutdown corner?

    McShay: I understand both arguments in this debate, but a stronger case can be made for the pass-rushing defensive end. It all boils down to efficiency. An elite man-to-man cover corner should buy pass-rushers extra time, but it doesn't do much good if the rest of the secondary is Swiss cheese. On the flip side, because there's only one quarterback to rush, all it takes is one great sack artist to improve an entire secondary.
    The Denver Broncos are my case in point. Champ Bailey is arguably the NFL's premier cover corner, yet the Broncos' pass defense ranked 21st last season. Conversely, San Diego's Shawne Merriman (17), Green Bay's Aaron Kampman (15.5), Buffalo's Aaron Schobel (14), Miami's Jason Taylor (13.5), Baltimore's Trevor Pryce (13), Carolina's Julius Peppers (13) and St. Louis' Leonard Little (13) were the seven players who accounted for the NFL's top five sack totals last season. The only one of those seven players whose team did not finish in the top half of the league in pass defense was Kampman -- and the Packers ranked 17th overall.

    Denver has already traded for Dre' Bly this offseason to solidify the cornerback spot opposite Bailey, but that's not going to fix the range issues it has at safety with Nick Ferguson and John Lynch. Using pick No. 21 overall on a pass-rusher such as Jarvis Moss (Florida) or Anthony Spencer (Purdue) should prove to be far more fruitful in the long run.

    Green: This is a tough one, because both have a ton of value. A top pass-rushing defensive end can make the secondary better. However, I would prefer to have a shutdown corner. I look at the Denver Broncos with Champ Bailey. Denver does not have a great pass rush, but its pass rush is clearly better with Bailey on the field. Bailey's presence can make the quarterback hold on to the ball longer and allows Denver to apply pressure.

    Being a top college pass-rusher does not always translate into the same success in the NFL. First and foremost, offensive tackles at the NFL level are so much more developed than at the college level. It took last year's first-round pick, Mario Williams, an entire preseason and half a regular season to figure out that he is not going to be able to simply line up and run around NFL left tackles. Coming out of college, defensive ends must learn to be technicians, and that can take a lot of time or may never happen. Cornerbacks who can line up and play man coverage in college tend to be able to do the same in the NFL. For that reason, corners are more likely to make an immediate impact and less likely to earn the bust label.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]DEBATE 5:[/FONT] Which position is safest to draft in the first round?

    McShay: In recent years, I believe linebacker has remained truest to form. Here's a look at how the first-round linebackers have fared in recent drafts.
    2006: A.J. Hawk (Packers) and Ernie Sims (Lions) led their respective teams in tackles as rookies. Kamerion Wimbley (Browns) finished 12th in the NFL with 11 sacks while transitioning from college end to NFL linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The verdict is still out on Chad Greenway (Vikings), who missed his entire rookie year because of injury. Bobby Carpenter (Cowboys) showed some promise when inserted into the starting lineup late in the season.

    2005: DeMarcus Ware (Cowboys) and Shawne Merriman (Chargers) made successful transitions to the 3-4 outside linebacker spot. They have combined for 47.5 sacks in two seasons, including Merriman's NFL-best 17 sacks in 2006. Thomas Davis (Panthers) has settled in as a starting weakside linebacker and finished second on the team with 92 tackles in 2006. Derrick Johnson (Chiefs) also is a full-time starter who finished with 76 tackles as a sophomore last season.

    2004: Jonathan Vilma (Jets) and D.J. Williams (Broncos), teammates in college at Miami, were the only linebackers selected in the first round of the 2004 draft. Vilma has emerged as one of the league's premier inside linebackers with 392 total tackles in seasons. Williams has averaged 60 tackles as primarily a starter at outside linebacker for the Broncos the past three years.

    That trend bodes well for Patrick Willis (Mississippi), Paul Posluszny (Penn State) and Lawrence Timmons (Florida State) -- the top linebackers in this year's draft. As seen with the likes of Ware, Merriman and Wimbley, it also bodes well for college defensive ends who project as possible 3-4 linebackers in the NFL, such as Jarvis Moss (Florida) and Anthony Spencer (Purdue).

    In addition, NFL teams have a tendency to shy away from linebackers in Round 1. Hence, so many great second-round values at the position in recent years, such as Karlos Dansby (Cardinals) and Daryl Smith (Jaguars) in 2004; Lofa Tatupu (Seahawks) in 2005; and DeMeco Ryans (Texans), Rocky McIntosh (Redskins) and Thomas Howard (Raiders) in 2006.

    Green: When looking at this question, I went back and looked at the draft over the past 10 years. One thing that was pretty clear is that there have been busts at every position throughout the first round. I don't know if there is really one position that is safer than another because it really boils down to players being drafted and fitting into the right systems. It is about a particular player starting his career the right way. That has a lot of bearing on whether a player succeeds or stumbles.

    However, if I had to choose one position, it would be wide receiver. It is one of the few positions where a young player can just go out and play. Of course, there's a huge playbook to learn, but a first-round receiver has a very good chance to flourish right away. A receiver who goes in the first round is going to be a naturally gifted athlete in most instances. That player has a chance from a practice standpoint at least to be able to walk onto the field and show that natural athleticism. A receiver has a chance to be an instant playmaker on offense and can make others around him better, even when he does not have the ball in his hands, because he opens up the field for everyone else.

    There is a risk in taking any player at any time. However, a top-notch receiver has a chance to make an immediate impact if he gets into the right system.

    [FONT=Arial,Helvetica,sans-serif]DEBATE 6:[/FONT] Should coaches be heavily involved in the draft process?

    McShay: Bill Parcells shared his thoughts on the subject on his way out of New England, saying, "If they're going to ask you to cook the meal, they ought to let you buy the groceries." The quote is a priceless, and it makes sense to a certain degree. But here's where I would respectfully nitpick at his argument. So long as the cook provides a detailed grocery list to the front office, why should he waste his valuable time at the grocery store when he can be preparing the ingredients already in his kitchen?

    Coaches don't need to be heavily involved in the scouting process, so long as they are on the same page as the personnel department. The reason Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli work so well together is because Pioli knows exactly what Belichick is looking for in a player -- and Belichick trusts that Pioli and his scouting staff will deliver. Granted, Belichick spends more time than most NFL head coaches when it comes to studying film and conducting individual workouts on college prospects. But the Colts do an equally effective job with head coach Tony Dungy admittedly taking a backseat to Bill Polian (president) and Dom Anile (senior consultant to player personnel) when it comes to personnel decisions.

    The one common denominator among the Colts, Patriots and all other successful organizations is the ability to find parts that fit the whole. By that I mean players with the physical skill sets to fit the offensive and defensive schemes, as well as the mental makeup to thrive within the team's philosophy. The teams that annually draft well are the ones that take the time during the offseason to make sure the scouting staff knows exactly what the coaching staff is looking for in a player. Then it's the general manager's job to teach his scouts how to accurately assess those predetermined qualities.

    It never hurts for a head coach and/or a position coach to work a player out individually. In fact, that one-on-one experience can be helpful from a scouting standpoint because it gives coaches a chance to evaluate a prospect's ability to digest information and make proper adjustments (in drills, on the blackboard, etc.). However, it also can be hazardous when coaches are too influential in setting the draft board.

    Area scouts, college scouting directors and general managers typically spend 15-plus months gathering and processing information on a draft prospect. Coaches, on the other hand, are busy coaching. As a result, coaches usually get their first look at a prospect during the annual scouting combine, which is just two months prior to draft weekend. Generally speaking, that's why I've always felt coaches' input should be a welcomed part of the evaluation process, but it shouldn't trump that of the college scouting department, which typically has a year of more experience on the subject.

    Green: Many of my ex-colleagues might be surprised at my answer, because I worked for the Cleveland Browns during the Butch Davis era, when the coaches were way too heavily involved in the draft process. Nevertheless, I think the head coach and the assistants must have a fair amount of say on draft day. That is not to say I think they should have carte blanche, like Davis did in Cleveland or Nick Saban had in Miami. There has to be some balance. But if you have a coaching staff that knows how to evaluate talent, you should take advantage of it.

    I think it is important for the overall chemistry of the team that the coaches are involved. No GM wants to draft a player whom his coach doesn't like. It happens on occasion, like when the coach and GM are in a struggle for control, but in the long run, such battles put the entire organization at risk. In the same sense, no head coach should want to draft a player his position coach doesn't like. While the head coach might have ultimate authority, it would not be in the best interest of the team to force an assistant to coach a player he does not believe in. Assistant coaches can't have the final word, of course, because if a team drafts poorly and jobs are at stake, the GM and head coach will be at the top of the list. However, there does need to be a very good balance at the top.
    Two teams that have had a ton of success drafting are the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. In Pittsburgh, former coach Bill Cowher had the final say, but he carefully weighed the opinion of GM Kevin Colbert before pulling the trigger. In Baltimore, GM Ozzie Newsome has the final say, but he takes into account how coach Brian Billick feels about each selection. The best process is one in which there is an open dialogue between the coach and GM. For that to happen, the coaching staff must have some say in the draft process.

  2. lspain1

    lspain1 Active Member

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    Very interesting article!!!

    The snippet I left as a quote supports the idea that trading up to get early first day picks pays more dividends than a larger number of later round picks.

    This is particularly true for a team like the Cowboys this season.

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