You Got Served: It’s getting Drafty in here

Happy Monday, friends.  I was hoping to get Part 7 of my Manning Offense series done while I was in Dallas, but alas, we ended up working three long days, and I didn’t have time.  It’s going to have to wait until after the Draft, because I need to shift to that situation.

How is it possible that the best Broncos site in the world hasn’t done a single bit of mockery?  Have you considered that?  I would say that it’s mostly because we think that it’s a waste of time, and that there’s no shortage of people spending their time doing and updating them.  When it comes down to it, we don’t know what the teams are going to do, and when a good mockery performance is getting six or seven picks out of 32 right, what’s the point?

I do one annual piece of mockery, called the Rational Actor Mock Draft (RAMD), and I’ll be doing that tomorrow.  Expect that to be IAOFM’s only foray into mockery, once again.  The way we see it, it’s better to cover what actually happens on Draft weekend than it is to do 74 mocks between January and April.  As in the past, you’ll want to be here for the best coverage between Thursday and Saturday.

For today, I’m going to give you some thoughts about football, the Draft, and what I think the Broncos should do this week.  Fun times, right?  Ready… BEGIN!!

1.            So, there’s a cottage industry around being a Draftnik that was basically invented by Mel Kiper, and has grown way, way past him.  A consensus narrative gets set more and more each year, which results in this giant pile of conventional wisdom.  The result is that teams can sometimes get spooked into going along with that wisdom, lest they be asked why they reached for Player X.

Teams end up having to try to anonymously influence the narratives around a player, to help make them “rise.”  I think that’s been happening with Fletcher Cox over the last week or so, for example.  There’s strong word that the Rams love him, and may take him with the sixth-overall pick.  This could either be coming from the Rams, in an effort to prepare the commentariat and lessen the allegations of reaching, or from another team like the Jaguars, who want cover for taking Cox over somebody that their fan base may want more.  Hey, he was supposed to go sixth, he fell, we have to take him.  See how that works?

At the same time, teams are fully into their disinformation activities, trying to throw off the media types to their true intentions.  For your average Peter King, being used as a tool just comes naturally, I guess.  That’s why six out of 32 is a good performance, because the teams are intentionally trying to make the media guys be wrong.  Just remember that when you read a mockery that purports to be predictive of what WILL happen.  Better to stick to ones that claim to be about what SHOULD happen. 

/end shameful plug for Tuesday’s RAMD.

2.            Have you heard the one about how the Broncos need a DT really badly?  Or wait…maybe it’s White Boy Day Part Deux, and Ben Garland is going to completely negate the need.  He used to beat the homie Jesus’s earthly representative in sprints, you know!  That shows grit, determination, and some other essential Caucasian qualities, I’m sure.

All absurdity aside, I do believe that DT is a major need for the Broncos, and while stopgapping it again with veterans could possibly be defensible, I’d like to see their first-rounder spent on that position, so that they can have a shot at getting a cornerstone player in a crucial position.  I consider QB, LT, pass rusher, and run-stopping DT to be the only premium positions, and the Broncos are well-set at all the other ones right now.  Here are some thoughts about the DT position:

a.            The top 10 DTs are almost all natural 4-3 guys, which is a supply problem for 3-4 teams and a benefit for 4-3 teams.  That means bargains are going to be available for an even-front team like the Broncos.  Think about college football, and consider how few teams run anything like a Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4.  Alabama is the only one that comes to mind, since Virginia fired Al Groh.

That means that every year, 3-4 NFL teams have to project guys as DEs who have always played in even fronts.  The prototype size is 6-5 and 300 pounds, but even beyond that, the skill set that is needed is an ability to wrestle and maintain leverage while dealing with double teams; can you occupy blockers to free up LBs?

I consider this group of DTs to be very deep, relative to recent years, and here’s my Top 10, in order:

Rank Name College Comment
1 Fletcher Cox Mississippi State 3-technique (3T) penetrator, most dynamic guy at position.
2 Michael Brockers LSU Scheme-indifferent 1T, 3T, or 5T. Young, inexperienced, and high potential.
3 Derek Wolfe Cincinnati High-effort and skilled 3T pass rusher in even front.
4 Dontari Poe Memphis Scheme-indifferent NT – size/speed guy with low production at UM.
5 Kendall Reyes UConn Excellent athlete, high effort. 4-3 3T who will be a long-time solid starter.
6 Devon Still Penn State 3T skills, average motor. I can take or leave him.
7 Jerel Worthy Michigan State Very similar to Still in skills and motor.
8 Billy Winn Boise State Less talented than the top seven, but productive 3T.
9 Brandon Thompson Clemson Best fit is as even-front NT. Good talent vs run.
10 Alameda Ta’amu California Huge odd-front NT, less of a fit in a 4-3.

Those 10 guys are among the top 50 or 55 prospects, in my opinion.  There are a couple more, like Mike Martin of Michigan and Jaye Howard of Florida, who I also really like.  (Martin more for his effort, and Howard more for his talent.)

Among those 12 guys that I just mentioned, I only really consider Brockers, Poe, and Ta’amu to be very good fits in an odd front, and I think that Brockers and Poe fit an even front equally well.  Guys like Wolfe, Still, and Worthy arguably have the size to two-gap, but I don’t think any of them have the functional strength for it, and all of them have pretty short arms for two-gapping, with all being around 33 inches.  This is good for the Broncos, and other even-front teams.

b.            Captain Passion unleashed some typically passionate words about how the depth at DT will cause the Broncos not to take one in the first round this year.  I think his point is stupid, and I hope other teams are thinking that way.  If so, that could help a Brockers get to the Broncos, and they’d be getting one of the 10 best talents in the Draft class at #25.  The only reason I’m not putting Brockers ahead of Cox is because Cox is a better player right now – two years from now, I expect Brockers to eclipse him.  I see a lot of Richard Seymour-like characteristics in Brockers, where Cox is more reminiscent of Kevin Williams.

In any case, perceived depth at a position can tend to create bargains as the Draft goes along, and I expect that it will for the Broncos at DT.

c.             I love Wolfe, and I was kind of mad when Mel Kiper mocked him to the Broncos at #25 recently, because it gives other teams cover to draft him near that neighborhood.  I think that Wolfe is the second-best pure inside pass rusher in this class behind Cox, and that a team like the Broncos, that expects to play with some leads, would be well-served to take a good look at him. 

d.            If Poe fell to #25, I’d seriously think about taking him.  He’s so athletically talented that if you trust your defensive line coach much, you’d have to think that you could get a lot of out of that ability.  I think teams in the top 15 are going to be scared off by his low production, but that he’s also a worthwhile gamble after that point in the Draft.  I look for a team like Chicago to take him, if they’re not choosing between him and Quinton Coples, who I also expect to go lower than expected.

e.            I’d strongly consider going DT-DT in each of the first two rounds, and pairing up a combination of Wolfe and Thompson or Brockers and Winn.  I know some of you RB enthusiasts wouldn’t like it, and that makes me like it even more.  Being very strong on the defensive line is a good way to win Super Bowls.

3.            Here’s a question for you – do you draft for need, or do you take the best player available?  Have you ever thought about that?  Everybody claims that they take the best player available, but only teams with consistently strong rosters can really afford to do so.

I think every team has to ask itself an important question, vis-à-vis need: can we beat the other teams in our division, and if not, why not?  I look at a team like Minnesota, and I see an atrocious secondary in a division that features Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, and Sulking Jay.  This team gave up a 149.3 passer rating to the Broncos' passing jugger-not.   There’s no way the Vikings can compete with the other three teams unless they improve their secondary, and they’d be foolish not to be prioritizing that higher than anything.

The Broncos can beat the other teams in their division, particularly if they shore up their run defense at DT.  The question they should be asking is, Can they beat the other top contenders in the AFC?  Right now, I’d say probably not.  They really need to get better in coverage in the middle of their defense to beat the Patriots.  They need to get better against the run to beat the Texans, and they need to be more physical overall to beat the Ravens.  They could also stand to find one or two more threatening offensive ballcarriers.

Generally, I’d rank their needs like this:

  1. DT, both inside pass rush and run support
     
  2. Inside coverage players
     
  3. Threatening space players/return men
     
  4. Developmental CB, OL, and LB depth

We covered DTs pretty well, but I want to talk about what I mean by inside coverage players.  Offenses have started to leverage the TE very effectively in the passing game, and it causes defenses problems, because you have to constantly decide whether to try to play base or a sub package.  What defenses need, then, are sub-package players who can hold up against a base running game.

Who can cover Aaron Hernandez one-on-one?  Not many players have a prayer, especially since most teams are bracketing Rob Gronkowski.  The Broncos (and all AFC contenders) need to identify specialty players who can be big Nickel types and come in and cover a Hernandez.

One guy who comes to mind is Dre Kirkpatrick, who kind of reminds me of Antrel Rolle.  He’s not quite fast or fluid enough to be an every-down outside CB, but he’s got good size and long arms, and he’s the kind of player who can compete for the ball with bigger men.  Another big CB who could potentially play against TEs is Trumaine Johnson of Montana.  I don’t see a lot of Grizzlies football, but he’s well-regarded as a mid-round pick. 

There are a few LBs who I think can be trained to be good coverage guys, including Zach Brown, Sean Spence, and Kyle Wilber.  It’s hard at that position to find the kind of speed to cover a Hernandez, though.

Among the safeties, my favorite for this specialty job is George Iloka of Boise State.  He has a CB background, and he’s 6-3, 225 pounds with 34.5-inch arms, which are exceptionally long for his height.  I don’t think he’s probably ever going to be a good starting Safety, but he can be an exceptional big nickel guy against TEs. 

This didn’t get a lot of press, but a big part of the Giants beating the Patriots was how well they matched up with the two New England TEs.  They did it by having three above-average Safeties in Kenny Phillips, Antrel Rolle, and Deon Grant. 

In the regular season, Gronkowski had 8-101-1, and Hernandez had 4-35-1 against the Giants.  Good production, but not devastating game-changing production.  In the Super Bowl, Hernandez had 8-67-1, and a banged-up Gronkowski had 2-26.  The Giants kept New England’s most dangerous skill players pretty well in check and went 2-0.

The Broncos are going to need to get the personnel together to do so, as well.  I consider it a much higher priority than drafting a Running Back this weekend.

4.            Finally, I thought I’d give you some small brain droppings about a bunch of players who will be drafted next week.  Enjoy!

a.            The best pure thrower of the football in this Draft is Ryan Tannehill, followed by Ryan Lindley, Brandon Weeden, and Nick Foles, in order.  Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin fall in next. 

b.            Luck is the most refined overall QB, and I’d take him first too if I were Indianapolis.  His floor is Matt Ryan, and his ceiling is Peyton Manning, if he improves his arm strength (and a bunch of other stuff too).

c.             I have some concerns about Griffin as a passer in traffic, and I don’t really love his running ability.  He is more of a track-speed guy than an elusive or powerful runner.  I still think he’s a good prospect, and a terrific scheme-fit for Washington, but he’s not quite Superman.

d.            Minnesota needs CB help in the worst way, and should ignore Matt Kalil and try to trade down.

e.            Kalil isn’t an elite LT prospect, he just passes for one in a weak class.  He projects as a good starter, but he’s not too far above average in terms of arm length, functional strength, run-game power, and ability to play with leverage.  He’s a lot more like a guy you’d like to draft between #10 and #20 than you would between #1 and #10.

f.             I really like Morris Claiborne, but he’s not as good a CB as Janoris Jenkins is.  It’s too bad that Jenkins lists smoking weed and raw-dogging among his favorite hobbies, because I’ve seen him shut down A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Alshon Jeffery.

g.            Speaking of Claiborne, you know who’s a piece of crap?  Mike Florio, that’s who.  He wants everybody to know that he’s superior to all of these football players, and he misses no opportunity to yell “HEY!  DUMB BLACK GUY!  DUMB BLACK GUY!”  I was glad to see that NBC finally got him to change his Turd Watch heading to Police Blotter, but the fact remains that this is a guy who largely built his site on judging and condemning the mistakes of young kids.  PFT is like the Drudge Report, and I don’t look at it; I figure that if he breaks something of actual value, it will get to a more reputable space before very long.

h.            Again on the Claiborne topic, as I said on Twitter, Claiborne has a learning disability that makes him struggle to read words.  He does just fine reading route combinations.  He’s a legit Top 10 pick.

i.              If I were running the Browns, I’d know that Colt McCoy isn’t a legitimate NFL starter.  Actually, they knew that when they drafted him, and have always envisioned him as a quality backup.  I’d be thinking of the 4/22/37 set of picks as a strategic package with which to improve my offense.  The key question is whether the difference between Tannehill and Weeden is greater than the difference between Trent Richardson and Doug Martin/Lamar Miller/David Wilson. 

I think Tannehill has franchise ability, and I like his familiarity with the West Coast offense for the Browns.  I take him at #4, the best receiver available at #22 (think Stephen Hill or Rueben Randle), and one of the three RBs I just mentioned at #37.  I bet at least two of the three will be on the board.

The alternate approach would be to take Richardson at #4, Hill or Randle at #22, and Weeden at #37.  I definitely like the first approach better, though.

j.             Speaking of receivers, you know who’s not much of a fan of Kendall Wright?  This guy.  Wright has limited experience playing against tight man-to-man, and he only benched four reps at 225 pounds, which makes him the weakest guy in the whole Draft.  On top of that, his body fat was 16%, which is ridiculously bad for a receiver.  I think Wright is a lot more of a third-round guy than a first-round guy.  He's certainly no Steve Smith, as I've seen him compared to.  More like Davone Bess.

k.            My favorite front-7 player is Melvin Ingram.  He’s a really position-versatile guy, and he can rush both inside and outside.  I think he has some ability to even play ILB in a 3-4 and be a really dangerous inside blitzer.  He really shows up on film, unlike a lot of guys.

l.              I don’t really like Courtney Upshaw as a first-rounder.  I think he’s a slightly less powerful Robert Ayers, and more of a second-rounder as a 3-4 Sam OLB.

m.           Neither Justin Blackmon or Michael Floyd is a legit #1 receiver to me.  I think they’re both good #2’s in the NFL, and are in the same boat as Kalil, in terms of being inflated due to a non-elite class.

n.            An undervalued WR is Alshon Jeffery from South Carolina.  He’s an excellent traffic catcher, and he reminds me a lot of fellow Gamecock Sidney Rice.  You can get him in the top half of the second round and have a long-term starting #2 receiver who will be a major scoring-area threat.  It’s true that he’s not much of a separator, but Jeffery can really play the ball in the air.

o.            The only offensive lineman besides Kalil who I’d be completely comfortable drafting in the first round is G David DeCastro from Stanford.  He’s going to be outstanding very early on.  Riley Reiff is at best a RT in a pass-heavy scheme, or a LG in more of a running one.  I don’t think he’s a legit LT in the NFL.  Remember, Iowa offensive linemen are always brilliantly coached, and they tend to come into the NFL very close to their ceiling.  Reiff reminds me a good bit of Robert Gallery, particularly in the sense of having below-average arm length for Tackle.  He and Cordy Glenn are borderline first-rounders, and Jonathan Martin is a slam-dunk second-rounder.

p.            I think Quinton Coples is a lazy bum, and I wouldn’t take him in the first round.  When a dude admits going light in games as a Senior because he was afraid of getting hurt, that’s not a guy I want in my building (if I had a building).  What happens when he’s in the last year of his contract?

q.            I like Luke Kuechly a lot as a player, but I wouldn’t take him in the Top 20.  His position is low-value, and it’s diminishing from there.  Say the Chiefs take him – who stays on the field when they go Nickel?  I’d stick with Derrick Johnson, personally.  For the most part a MLB/ILB is only playing around 50% of the defensive snaps, so picking one high in the Draft is kind of foolish.  I hope KC does take him, or better yet, Coples.

r.             If I wanted a 4-3 OLB, I’d be looking at Lavonte David from Nebraska in the early part of the second round.  He really shows up on tape.

s.            A pass rusher I’m warming up to a lot is Chandler Jones from Syracuse.  His brother Arthur plays for the Ravens, and his other brother Jon whipped Rashad Evans Saturday night in a UFC fight, and might be the best MMA fighter in the world, according to people who know a lot more about the sport than me.  Chandler is long and lean, like his brothers, and is an outstanding athlete.  He has some Jason Taylor to him, and I think the Jets will take him if he’s on the board at #16.  He’s the picture of their kind of guy.

t.             I don’t think that Kellen Moore can play in the NFL.  I do think that Russell Wilson can, though.  It all comes down to the ability to drive the ball, and Wilson can do it, while Moore can’t.

u.           The most likely player to be overdrafted is CB Stephon Gilmore of South Carolina.  Somebody told Brandon Spano that the Broncos were trying to figure out how high they’d have to go to get him, but let’s hope that’s not true.  I think the Jaguars are going to take him at #7.

That’s all I have for now, friends.  See you tomorrow, when you’ll be getting RAMD.  It’s getting Drafty in here.

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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