Talkin’ noise and the NFL Draft

Reality television (and to a lesser extent, Web 2.0) have had some interesting sociological effects.  For one thing, I believe that they’ve fundamentally changed the way people communicate and tell stories.  I don’t mean the medium as much as the delivery style.  How many times in the last 10 years has somebody been telling you a story, and it sounds like they’re telling a camera guy on The Amazing Race?  It’s the soundbite era, because people see edited-down soundbites on TV and internalize a thought that that is how people effectively communicate.  It’s actually the way that people can pass vapid thought fragments back and forth on the way to Idiocracy coming true.

Another effect has been to wrongly convince everybody that their opinion is valid, and that it matters.  We’ve moved well past Curtis Jackson of Action News Live at Five asking some dude named Cletus what the tornado sounded like.  I was flipping through Facebook a couple days ago, in the wake of President Obama’s statement about the demise of Osama Bin Laden.  Everybody is now a Middle East expert, including many who likely couldn’t find it on a map, or name four countries there off the top of their heads. 

Trivia Question:  What continent would you say the Middle East is on?  (I’ll share my thoughts later on.)  You have people who are vastly unqualified to comment saying that it doesn’t matter that Bin Laden is dead, because he had time to train others.  That may be true, but I doubt it; it sounded like he’s been holed up in a compound in Abbottabad for six years or so.  You have others spreading a fake Martin Luther King, Jr. peacenik quote, and still others stuck on the Obama-is-a-Muslim nonsense, and expressing surprise that he’d kill “one of his own.”  Democrats wanted to credit Obama, and Republicans were struggling to find a tone that celebrated the success while de-emphasizing the President’s creditability.  (They largely have failed, because it’s just silly; sometimes, politicians in the party you don’t like do good, and this is one of those times if you’re a Republican.)

The point is, everybody has an opinion and available forums in which to share their thoughts, and this has largely resulted in a lot of worthless noise.  NFL Draft season has gotten that way too.  Mel Kiper, Jr. was the visionary at the leading edge of a big-time cottage industry.  He got himself on the then-fledgling ESPN in the early 80s and did a lot to convince the network to see the Draft as the potential entertainment spectacle that it’s become.  The joint success of Kiper and ESPN has led to a flood of others joining the fray, from Todd McShay to Mike Mayock to Nolan Nawrocki, and the proprietors of tens of websites, most of them a combination of bad writing and the steady churn of each other’s unoriginal thoughts.

That informs the fan base, who has Facebook and Twitter and really thinks they know these players.  They KNOW if a player was the right or wrong choice, so you see all about it on Twitter.  Mostly, some fan named 303Joe on Twitter doesn’t get much attention, because he’s a fan with a really basic feel for the players he’s talking about.  The thing is, though, the volume of this stuff is overwhelming. 

I announced last week that Mock Drafts were asinine, and that I wasn’t going to ever be in the business of predicting who went where.  Last weekend’s Draft hammered home that point.  We have a lot of new readers in the last few weeks, and I wanted to provide some flavor for my analysis, which you can see all over last weekend, and which you’ll see in the future, since I’m pretty confident that you’re going to be with us here at IAOFM for the long haul.  Here’s the real deal about me, my analysis, and to what extent you should trust what I say.  If you know me well already, please pardon the brief digression.

1.  I know a lot of football.  I never played or coached at a high level, but I’ve studied the game intently for over 20 years and gleaned knowledge from a huge variety of sources, including books, video, audio recordings, and relationships with coaches and players, both current and former.

2.  I watch a lot of college football, but it’s skewed mainly toward the SEC and Big Ten.  (Reasons: I’m a Florida fan, and I live in Cleveland.)  I miss a lot of PAC-10 games, and I don’t see much of the smaller conferences.

3.  There are no prospects for whom I’ve watched every snap, so I am not doing what a front office is doing.  I’m evaluating based upon feel and limited exposure.  I think that’s better than evaluating from somebody else’s writing, though.  It’s way better than watching YouTube highlights, like Adam Schefter was talking about doing recently.  *Facepalm*  Of course the guy looks good in highlights, Adam - that’s why they call them “highlights.”

4.  On that note - and this extends throughout any commentary I ever provide - I don’t EVER comment on football I haven’t seen with my own eyes.  If I’m going to speak generally about something, I’ll say so - but I never represent myself to have watched any video that I didn’t watch.  (I watch a great deal, though.)

5.  I’m primarily a scheme-based guy.  I know offense the best, especially the passing game, but my defensive knowledge has been strengthened over the last few years by discussing it with others in the website business who have coached or played it, and know it really well. 

6.  Unlike some Broncos websites which try to keep things as humorless as possible (or succeed at doing so without trying), we emphatically DO do humor here at IAOFM.  Sometimes, things make more sense to me as I write them than they do when they’re read, so if you’re ever wondering if I’m joking about something, chances are that I am.  (A lot of my arrogant-sounding stuff, particularly, is part of the long-running Ted Bartlett joke, so I especially want to make sure our new friends get that, and aren’t put off by any of it, thinking I’m just a jerk who’s totally full of myself.  I’m only partially full of myself, in truth.)

So, back to the main point: I was evaluating picks, and I didn’t (and won’t) say that anybody was a terrible pick.  I didn’t (and again, won’t) say that any team had a bad class.  There were picks that I understood and agreed with, and others that I didn’t.  The Chargers picked OLB Jonas Mouton in the second round, and this is what I said:

This is the first player drafted who I've never heard of.  Not much more to say than that.

Again, it’s very possible for me not to know a college football player, just due to the simple fact that I can’t watch every game.  I should know a second-rounder from Michigan, though, because I see a lot of their games - and this dude never jumped out at me.  I wasn’t looking for him, either, because he was on nobody’s list of players to watch.  That ends up working like the idiotic Preseason Top 25s of college sports, but I guess you need some kind of starting point.  Nick Fairley wasn’t on any lists, either, but the first time I saw him, he jumped way out at me, and I took major notice.

I would say that given what I know about the existing teams and the groups of players that they drafted, I thought pretty lowly of San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City’s performances.  I may not know something that they do, but I don’t think any of those teams found a lot of great players.

For Kansas City, I’ve seen a lot of Jonathan Baldwin, and I don’t care for him as a player.  He’s big, but very unphysical, and I think he has below-average fluidity in his routes.  The kind of CBs that he beat in the Big East aren’t going to be in front of him in the NFL.  Rodney Hudson is an undersized zone-scheme-only Center/Guard, who projects to be competent, but no more, in the NFL.  OLB Justin Houston is lazy, and his tools don’t translate to plays on the field.  DE Allen Bailey is a natural Left-side guy in a 4-3, but I doubt his ability to play two gaps, like the Chiefs will ask him to do.  CB Jalil Brown could make a decent nickelback, and that’s good-enough value in the fourth round.  I did like the picks of QB Ricky Stanzi and NT Jerrell Powe where the Chiefs got them, but the other two players are camp guys.

In Oakland’s case, I don’t like Stefen Wisniewski at all.  He played backwards a lot at Penn State because he’s undersized and underpowered, and that’s probably only going to get worse in the NFL.  His uncle Steve was a great player for the Raiders and is now the team's assistant offensive line coach, so this reeks of stupid Al Davis nepotism.  CBs DeMarcus Van Dyke and Chimdi Chekwa were overdrafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, based solely on speed.  Neither has the tape to back it up.  Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Raiders selected more speed with RB Taiwan Jones.  I haven’t seen much of him at Eastern Washington, so he gets some benefit of the doubt.  The only Raiders pick I liked much was OT Joseph Barksdale from LSU, who could be a good RT the way the Raiders like to play.

Finally, San Diego flummoxes me the most.  DT Corey Liuget is a good player, but not really a natural DE or NT in a 3-4 scheme.  Norv Turner apparently wants to play him there, but I think he’s an Under Tackle, all the way.  Mouton was a weird pick, as mentioned, and I thought there were better Safeties than Marcus Gilchrist available when the Chargers drafted at #50 overall.  I didn’t like WR Vincent Brown in the Senior Bowl, and I also didn’t like CB Shareece Wright at USC.  The only Chargers pick that I’d be very excited about is RB Jordan Todman, who can replace Darren Sproles and be a running and receiving threat.  Again, I don’t know everything, but what I do know makes me not like this group.

I think the Broncos had by far the best Draft of the AFC West.  Our boy Pork Chop was surprised to find that the fans thought so too, but I think it’s really clear.  I started down the path of “not everybody is qualified to speak” because I think there’s a lot of that with Von Miller.  There are two major bits of hand-wringing going on about Denver’s class:

  1. Von Miller is really a 3-4 guy, so he’s wasted in a 4-3.
  2. They didn’t take any Defensive Tackles.

The Defensive Tackle thing is a valid point, but I have every expectation that something will be done in free agency to shore that up.  I'd rather the Broncos take a different position if a guy is a better player than a DT who happens to be available.

If you read TJ’s excellent piece yesterday, you have a good feel for the athleticism and diverse skill-set that Miller brings to the table.  I have plans to specifically talk about interesting ways you can use Miller in a 4-3 later this week, but for now, let’s just say that there isn’t definitionally any difference between a 3-4 OLB and a 4-3 OLB.  There isn’t even anything as a monolithic as “a 3-4” and “a 4-3.”  Different teams have different size-speed targets for players and use those players differently.  The New York Giants like big LBs in their 4-3, and they rush with their Sam a lot.  The Colts favor smaller, faster LBs and drop them into coverage frequently.  The Steelers use James Harrison in coverage a lot more than the Cowboys do with DeMarcus Ware.  They play the same position in the same personnel grouping – shouldn’t they be same? 

That’s a key point about personnel groupings.  People think of 4-3 and 3-4 as schemes, and that’s stupid, because they’re not schemes.  They’re simply personnel groupings, like how 11 personnel on offense simply means that 1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WRs are on the field.  4-3 simply means that there are 4 defensive linemen and 3 linebackers on the field.  3-4 simply means that there are three defensive linemen and 4 linebackers.  How you align these players and what they’re asked to do ends up becoming plays, which collectively end up forming the scheme.  Saying that both the Giants and Colts run a 4-3, and making it sound like it's the same thing is just silly, because it's not even close to being the same.

Here's a fun example -  would you say the Ravens are a 4-3 or 3-4 team?  It’s hard to tell, based upon what they do.  I would say that they’re a 4-3 team that uses the position prototypes and many of the DL alignments of a typical 3-4.  The question comes down to whether you think Terrell Suggs is a DE or OLB.  I think he’s more of a DE, but the real question is, who cares?  They line up, hit and make plays, regardless of what you call the personnel grouping.

I don’t want to spoil the upcoming Fat Camp piece about scheming with Miller, but I’m excited about his presence, to say the least.  Blitz-heavy schemes, which I expect the Broncos' defense to utilize, often play a lot of Cover-1 and Cover-3 behind them.  Both require a centerfielder-type Free Safety with range, and that guy clearly wasn’t on the roster a week ago.  I’m sure Rahim Moore was picked to be that guy, and I liked the fourth-round pick of SS Quinton Carter, too.  I think the Broncos got the best two safeties in this class, even if I don’t think that either will probably ever make a Pro Bowl.  I like that it’s a matched pair coming in, meaning a centerfield type and a box type.  If I were Darcel McBath, I’d be working really hard to improve, because he’s the likely odd man out.  Moore, Carter and David Bruton are locks to make the team, Renaldo Hill is likely kept, and it sounds like the team still believes in Brian Dawkins.  McBath’s best hope is that one of those five get hurt, or that Hill’s lack of special teams contribution pushes him off the roster.

At RT I like to see some power, and Ryan Harris hasn’t had enough of it the last couple years; I like the Orlando Franklin pick for that reason.  I think it will allow the Broncos to start running the ball more effectively on the right side.  I also liked the selections of the two TEs Julius Thomas and Virgil Green.  Both are really good athletes, and if one of them can be coached up to be a downfield receiving threat, the offense grows dramatically.  If both can be successful, the position group is in great shape.  For the record, I liked what Richard Quinn did as a blocker last season, and I’m perfectly comfortable with him starting at TE until somebody better beats him out.  Even if Quinn starts, and either Thomas or Green plays some snaps on passing downs, I think that’s a good concept.

I really liked the Jeremy Beal pick in the seventh round.  He didn't have the measurables, but he produced in college, and it's well worth seeing if he can do it in the NFL.  Finally, we have the Linebackers, and I’m pleased with the thinking there, as well.  Nate Irving is a really good football player who didn’t run particularly well at the combine. That is to say that his 4.85-second 40 was a little slower than Rolando McClain’s 4.75 and a little faster than Brandon Spikes’ 4.9 from last year.  McClain was a top-ten pick, Spikes was a mid second-rounder, and both played really well as rookies.  I didn’t see a ton of NC State football last year, but when Bill Parcells had Irving as a high first-rounder on his special, I looked into him, and I was very impressed with what I saw.  The other LB, Mike Mohamed, was a very productive player at California and is expected to be a special teams contributor.

On the topic of special teams, this roster now appears to be loaded with capable and experienced guys in that mix.  If I were counting candidates to play on special teams, I’d include Spencer Larsen, Eric Decker, Virgil Green, Julius Thomas, Richard Quinn, Mario Haggan, Joe Mays, Wesley Woodyard, Von Miller, Mike Mohamed, David Veikune, Perrish Cox, Syd’Quan Thompson, Cassius Vaughn, Quinton Carter, Rahim Moore, David Bruton, Darcel McBath, and Kyle McCarthy.  That’s 19 guys, and probably at least 16 of them make the opening day roster.  Even if you pull a couple starters out of that mix, like Quinn, Miller, and possibly Moore, you’ve still got a ton of athletic guys who can play in your kicking game.  The focus on having these kind of guys on the roster seems to continue from the McDaniels era, and that’s a good thing.

The Broncos didn’t become a Super Bowl team this past weekend, and there’s still some roster moves to come, with free agency not having begun yet.  The team did improve its talent level, though, and I think Denver improved its ability to make plays both offensively and defensively from Week 1 of the 2011 season.  You should be here everyday, but I'm looking at probably Friday afternoon for the Miller Fat Camp Piece.  Till then, have a good week, friends.

Trivia Answer:  It depends on how exactly you define the Middle East, which varies, but the traditional definitions would say that it runs from the northwest corner of Turkey, as far east as Iran, as far south as Yemen, and as far southwest as Egypt.  That makes Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran, and the soon-to-be-recognized Palestine as the 18 nations which are part of the Middle East.  By that definition, or really any other extended one, the Middle East spans Europe, Asia, and Africa.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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