Friday, April 25, 2008

Thoughts before the NFL Draft

On this eve of the draft, Todd McShay is writing at a pace of three columns a day, so P.T. and I figured we could get up for at least one--no homo. This doesn't seem like a standout year to me, which is part of my argument below. Here's P.T. first, putting Mel Kiper (, Jr.) to shame. Or just kind of responding to shit he said, which is all anyone really does.

P.T.

Last year, I had a semi-comprehensive NFL Draft preview, mostly because the draft was fairly predictable, and there were two Tigers almost definitely going in the top six. I got a few right (P-Willie to the Niners worked out well, Leon Hall to the Bengals... not so much) and a few wrong (Brady Quinn... to the Bucs at four!). I probably spent eight hours on that mock draft, too; ESPN had me motivated for the draft by the middle of April and then sick of it before it even started. This year, however, ESPN seems to have refreshingly reined in their pre-draft coverage a bit. OK, maybe not.


I'll take any opportunity to post a Brady Quinn picture.

But perhaps for that reason, I've been putting off any semblance of a mock draft for weeks now. As fly-by-night rumors begin to settle down and intelligent predictions begin to materialize, I've been meaning to put a few thoughts down before the thing actually happens tomorrow.
  • The Rams will pass on Dorsey at two. The Rams defense-- and their team as a whole-- contains several positions in need of an upgrade. With the selection of Adam Carriker in last year's first round, I don't see St. Louis taking a similar player with the #2 this year-- that would be nearly $13 million a year devoted to their defensive tackles alone. With no guarantee that Scott Linehan's 4-3 defense is going to last, the Rams should probably look elsewhere. With 33-year-old Leonard Little manning the stand-up, pass-rushing DE spot, it's probably time to secure that position's future with Chris Long.
  • The Falcons would be stupid to pass up Dorsey. Atlanta's DTs recorded a combined five sacks last season; Kindal Moorehead only accounted for nineteen solo tackles. The Falcons employ a 4-3 base, which is ideal for Putt's style. Dorsey provides the stability the Falcons so desperately need right now (see Tank's advice).
  • The Raiders are the wild card of the draft. I don't see Al Davis willing to part with a top-four pick; from what I've read, this is his favorite part of owning a team. On one hand, McFadden is the prime candidate to wow the workout hype-craving owner, but Oakland actually fields a respectable RB-by-committee roster of Justin Fargas (who made a semi-leap last season), Dominic Rhodes, LaMont Jordan, and the untapped, previously injured Michael Bush. That actually sounds like a fantasy roster from 2005. Their defense could use upgrades at DT, DE, and LB, so it's hard to predict whether Sedrick Ellis, Vernon Gholston, or Keith Rivers is their guy. Vernon Gholston had an extremely good workout; I like Al Davis to drool just enough over him.

Who's the better villain? And what are the chances that Al Davis has seen a movie in the past forty years and knows who Darth Vader is? On second thought, why am I questioning Al Davis? He probably arranged this meeting to get tips on air-strangling.
  • The Saints will try to get the Chiefs' fifth pick if Ellis is still available. The Chiefs two primary considerations are offensive lineman and defensive end. With Gholston taken, they'd be reaching for both OLs Ryan Clady and Brandon Albert. The Saints would definitely be eyeing Sedrick Ellis at this point, and with the Chiefs' collection of six picks in the first 82, losing the 5th pick to the 10th (where they would surely get one of the aforementioned offensive linemen) would not handcuff them.
  • Otherwise, the Saints will try to land Rivers. With the signings of Jonathan Vilma and Dan Morgan (!), the linebacker position isn't as much of a need as it used to be. However, New Orleans would be reaching for one of the four similarly-talented CBs (McKelvin, Rogers-Cromartie, Jenkins, Talib), one of which would be dropping past 20. If Rivers is taken, they'd consider trading down to the late teens with a team trying to land someone like Rashard Mendenhall.
  • McFadden will go to the Jets. With Matt Ryan still on the board, the Patriots have the ultimate trump card for a team trying to get a franchise quarterback. The Falcons, with their stash of picks, would consider compiling a few to jump ahead of the Ravens. Otherwise, it's a no-brainer that the Ravens will land Matt Ryan if available. The Patriots are going to trade the seventh pick regardless, but having Ryan undrafted helps their situation quite a bit.

1. I guess that's the infamous car Mike Conley, Sr. signed over to McFadden.
2. DMC's going to be able to afford quite a few Cheesy Gordita Crunches after tomorrow.
3. How Arkansas is that parking lot? Thank God I'm from somewhere interesting.

So, there's a pretty good chance that everything I said won't come to fruition. Either way, enjoy one of the more mysterious drafts I can remember. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to keep drinking until ESPNEWS's pre-draft coverage begins at 6 AM.

Tank

The Dolphins signed tackle Jake Long on Wednesday, and it was the smartest thing they could have done. Since 1970, there has only been one other offensive lineman taken first overall, and that was Orlando Pace. Considering that he's a seven-time Pro Bowler and three-time All Pro, that worked out pretty well. In fact, I would argue that any team selecting in the top ten, unless they have a number of glaring needs, should take an offensive lineman.


A name as moribund as Jake Long is screaming for a nickname, so why not American Dragon? Also, what is American about this character above?

For one thing, it's an easy skill to project. I think you could ask John Hannah himself, and he'd tell you that blocking is not that complicated. I'm not trying to trivialize what linemen do, but the fact remains that if you can block people well at a major conference college, you can probably block them well in the pros. Unlike the skill positions--and they're called that for a reason--there's not much of a learning curve for the offensive line.

That major conference point is important. In a way, NFL teams should draft everyone the way they draft offensive linemen. While we're supposed to believe that Joe Flacco was just a late bloomer or that Troy is secretly a hotbed for cornerbacks, Jake Long is from Michigan. All the offensive linemen who are first round prospects are from top twenty-five schools (and Vanderbilt, chili). They have proven themselves against the best opponents, and, other than body-type, what other evidence do you need? Why overthink it? I'm pretty sure half of NFL linemen in the nineties were from Nebraska, and that's probably how it should be.


Not on my radar.

So people with much more insight than me evaluate who the best linemen are, and guess what? All of those quality linemen are gone by the third round. Not only are linemen's skills easy to translate to the pro level, the players with those skills are scarce. ESPN loves selling day two to us by name-checking sixth rounder Tom Brady, but those draft surprises simply aren't there for the offensive line. Take a look at last year's Pro Bowl teams, supposedly the best of the best. Of the eighteen linemen voted onto the team, thirteen of them were taken in the first two rounds. Hell, five of them were top ten picks. What's more, linemen are making a quicker impact in the NFL than they ever have before. For rookie Pro Bowlers Joe Thomas in 2007 and Marcus McNeil in 2006, there was no learning curve at all.

Finally, when a team is picking in the top ten, the financial side of football definitely comes into play. Unfortunately, the top picks of the past few years have guaranteed themselves so much money that teams are more sheepish than eager to go first. Jamarcus Russell secured $60 million for himself before throwing a pass, and we don't know if he'll be the next John Elway or the next Andre Ware. (Or that Aryan-looking dude whose dad pushed him too hard. The list of quarterback busts is long.) The pay-off could be huge, but so is the risk. So why not take one of the more dependable players in the first round if it's becoming such a financial burden? Especially since you would be paying a top offensive lineman big bucks anyway.

Quietly, o-linemen are some of the highest paid players in the league. Did you know that Walter Jones, whom you probably can't pick out of a line-up, had a higher salary last year than LaDainian Tomlinson? If you're taking a guy with the first overall pick, you're hoping that he can grow into one of the top ten players at his position. That's a modest goal. Well if Jake Long ends up playing at that level, $57.5 million over five years is definitely in keeping with what those other guys would make.

The reason the NFL draft has such a magical air is that for one day every team believes it has a chance. They believe they have improved themselves overnight, and that enthusiasm carries over to the fans. And last year, the Browns actually did. The team finished with six more wins in 2007 than they had the year before. Inarguably, this improvement could be attributed to better quarterback play, and unless Derek Anderson was just a Flacco-like late bloomer, you can probably trace that better quarterback play to Joe Thomas, the stud the Browns picked third overall. By taking Jake Long first, there's no reason Miami won't see the exact same turnaround.

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