With the first week of pre-season in the books, it’s time for the first Power Rankings of the year. Here’s the bottom half of the league as I see it currently, though these rankings are sure to change as August rolls into September. At this point of the league year it’s tough to find much separation between the 20-25 middle-road teams. Other than the truly elite and truly awful teams, pre-season rankings really amount to how much the author likes each team’s young players, coach and QB. With that said, here is the bottom half of the league from my point of view:
17. Kansas City Chiefs – Put a top QB on the Chiefs and they are arguably an elite team. Their defense was fairly stout down the stretch last season and responded well to new coach Romeo Crennel. There is a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, assuming Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry can return to form after missing last year with injuries. Unlike AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego, Kansas City seems more likely to exceed expectations than to disappoint. If Brian Daboll can get a good season from Cassel (questionable given the track records of both Daboll and Cassel), the Chiefs could see double-digit wins and a division championship. Even if Cassel struggles, they might be able to squeak out 9 or 10 wins if their running game can perform to 2010 levels.
18. Tennessee Titans – The Titans, like the Bills, Chiefs and a few other teams, have a lot of nice pieces but it’s hard to project them to have a ton of success – though history tells us that one or more of the middle tier teams will put it all together and make a good run. Like those other teams, I can’t put them any higher than the middle of the pack due to their QB situation. Jake Locker is the future and probably a better bet than Matt Hasselbeck to lead the team to postseason glory but can he perform at the NFL level? The talent surrounding him is intriguing though it’s easy to be down on both Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt. Their defense has a good amount of talent despite not having many household names and the Titans could be well-balanced enough to make a run at their division if Locker can step up.
19. Buffalo Bills – Their front 7 is certainly talented, despite the horrendous contract given to Mark Anderson. The rest of the team is still lacking high-end talent and they are still led by Ryan Fitzpatrick and Chan Gailey. I don’t think 2012 will be the breakout year that Bills fans are hoping for, though 2nd place in the AFC East and an outside shot at the playoffs could be a possibility.
20. San Diego Chargers – With just about any other coach, the Chargers would have been higher up in my rankings. I just cannot take a Norv Turner coached team seriously. Especially a Norv Turner coached team with its worst talent level in a number of years. The Chargers are razor thin at a number of positions on both sides of the ball and are relying heavily on Ryan Mathews and Antonio Gates to stay healthy. The defense will need the plethora of recent high draft picks (Melvin Ingram, Kendall Reyes, Corey Luiget, Marcus Gilchrist et al) to step up for the Chargers to make a strong playoff run.
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs should be better in 2012 if only because their coaching situation looks to be more stable (if not dramatically improved). It’s no secret that Raheem Morris was in over his head last year and that contributed to the team’s under-performance. They have a ton of young talent – on paper – and signing Vincent Jackson will help their offense quite a bit. Certainly, their skill positions look promising and the OL is solid enough to win. The real questions in Tampa Bay are: can Josh Freeman ever take the next step in his development and can Greg Schiano get his young talent to fulfill their promise?
22. Carolina Panthers – The Panthers offense again be a strong unit, though it’s likely the league will be better prepared for Cam Newton and the Carolina rushing attack. The OL has some question marks and the depth at WR can’t sustain a loss of Steve Smith (nor a decline in his production). That said, they should score a lot of points and be near the top of the league in yards. However, the defense – bad last year – hasn’t been improved enough to make the Panthers legitimate contenders. Adding Luke Kuechly is a nice start to rebuilding the team’s front 7 but there are still too many holes on D. The interior DL and CB spots are thin at best and the team will have to win a lot of shootouts to avoid a losing record.
23. Oakland Raiders – Carson Palmer is the epitome of a league-average QB. The Raiders are the epitome of a league average team talent-wise. Why are they so low in my power rankings? Simply put, I don’t see a lot of places for the Raiders to get unexpected production and chances are good that either Palmer implodes or Darren McFadden gets derailed by his seemingly yearly injury. They’re an 8-8 team (maybe 9-7 given their division) if everything goes right, but the guys they are relying upon have such troubling track records that it’s more likely than not that they underachieve relative to their talent level.
24. Indianapolis Colts – The Colts could be downright awful in 2012. However, their first pre-season game showed enough to think that there is also a chance that Indianapolis could be respectable this year. Forget the Andrew Luck hype and the over-the-top gushing over his first preseason game against an inept St. Louis team. What piqued my interest was the way Chuck Pagano had his defense playing. While the Rams’ OL is putrid, the key players on the Colts’ D look to have adapted to the new 3-4 look and even Jerry Hughes showed some potential as a pure rush linebacker. The young talent on offense is there and a good QB – which Luck seems poised to be right from the start – can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Luck’s biggest challenge will be surviving with a very questionable OL in front of him.
25. Arizona Cardinals – The NFL is a passing league and it’s tough to think of a team with a worse QB situation. Neither John Skelton nor Kevin Kolb seem like good enough passers to keep the Cardinals offense moving and the team’s running game simply isn’t able to compensate for their lack of a quality signal caller. Their defense, both young and promising, should help them stay in games and could keep them from a truly terrible season. Outside of a soft 4 game stretch from weeks 4-7, the Cardinals have a tough schedule. It would be surprising if they won more than 7 games and they have the potential to end up drafting top 5 in 2013.
26. New York Jets – The Jets seem like a team destined for collapse. Their defense has little depth outside of their DE spot and the offense is a mess. They fancy themselves a “ground and pound” offense but Shonn Greene is both mediocre and too soft for the style of offense Rex Ryan likes to employ. The QB situation has been much discussed, but neither Mark Sanchez nor Tim Tebow are good enough to win in the NFL without the defense carrying the team. If the Jets D stays healthy and Stephen Hill can hit the ground running, the Jets can probably hover around .500. But they are one or two injuries away from a 4-12 type of season.
27. Miami Dolphins – Ryan Tannehill looked good in his first pre-season action, but it’s hard to find a team with less talent on offense than Miami. Their WR’s, TE’s and RB’s are all in the bottom third of the league and probably in the bottom 5 at each position. Conversely, their defense is pretty solid and their schedule is somewhat favorable. 8-8 is probably their absolute upside if their defense can steal some games for them.
28. Cleveland Browns – I’m a bit more bullish on Brandon Weeden than many (though his first pre-season game didn’t really do much to inspire) but I’m not at all sold on the rest of the Browns talent on offense. Trent Richardson should help but the rest of the talent on offense is below average. Greg Little was a drop machine last year and supplemental draft pick Josh Gordon is unlikely to make a big impact early on. The defense has lost Chris Gocong from an already-thin LB grouping and Joe Haden is facing a 4 game suspension. It looks like another tough year in Cleveland.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars – Blaine Gabbert has a lot to prove this year after a horrific 2011 season. He has some decent pieces to work with on offense but a shaky OL which wasn’t improved enough in the offseason. The Jaguars D put up decent numbers last year but it is tough to see them repeating a top 10 year on that side of the ball given their tougher schedule and lack of top-end talent. 38th overall pick Andre Branch looks promising and the Jaguars have enough pieces to surprise some people if Gabbert can find his footing as a starting QB in the NFL. Mike Mularkey was a questionable choice as a coach and might not get too many years to turn around the franchise.
30. Washington Redskins – Robert Griffin III will give the Redskins something to watch every week, but the rest of the team needs more talent before the Redskins are ready to compete in the NFC East. They have enough decent players on both sides of the ball to think that they could exceed expectations with some luck. However, a rookie QB with a limited supporting cast can only do so much – especially against one of the league’s toughest schedules. The Redskins probably won’t play as poorly as their final record might suggest.
31. Minnesota Vikings – Barring a phenomenal year from Christian Ponder, it is hard to see how the Vikings can win more than 6 games. While Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson are amongst the game’s best players, the supporting cast is decidedly sub-par. They are riddled with holes on both sides of the ball and unlike many other bad teams from 2011, Minnesota didn’t do much to improve their roster. Matt Kalil should help solidify their line but it’s unlikely that the rest of their draft picks will be enough to get Minnesota out of the division’s cellar.
32. St. Louis Rams – Jeff Fisher will get his guys to play hard and compete, but there is still a significant lack of talent on the roster. The OLB and S spots are in bad shape and the team’s OL is amongst the worst in the league. There are a number of promising young players, but the Rams will lose a lot of games in 2012. They look like a team which will start to build some momentum late in the year as young players start to develop and find their footing in Fisher’s scheme.
This is the 3rd of 8 divisional recaps.
Cincinnati Bengals – Despite having the smallest scouting department in the NFL, the Bengals have done a pretty good job drafting the last few years. 2012 was an important draft for them if they want to build on a successful 2011 campaign and remain as a contender in a tough division. On paper, the Bengals made out extremely well though their draft strategy seemed to be to just draft the #1 player remaining on Mel Kiper’s big board at each selection. Almost every pick represented great value on paper, though trading down in the 1st and passing on David DeCastro (only to see him go to a divisional rival) was questionable. Dre Kirkpatrick fits perfectly with the Bengals scheme and addresses a position of questionable depth. Kevin Zeitler isn’t an exciting prospect but projects as a quality NFL guard. Mohammed Sanu and Brandon Thompson were both guys I felt were overrated as 1st or early 2nd rounders, but in the 3rd round they were nice pickups. Devon Still, Orson Charles and Marvin Jones were also guys who I thought could have gone a round higher than the Bengals picked them. George Iloka probably won’t amount to much but his size and special teams value are enough to give a long look in camp. It will be very interesting to watch this draft class and see how it plays out. One has to think that some of these “big name” prospects who were pre-draft darlings slid for a reason. Even in undrafted free agency, the Bengals stayed true to their strategy of adding well-known prospects, adding mercurial and controversial Vontaze Burfict. Kashif Moore and Julian Miller were both guys I liked as sleepers and could find their way onto the roster.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns got off to what I feel was a bad start, trading up to pick #3 to guarantee Trent Richardson seemed unnecessary. It’s true that the Vikings could have moved the 3rd pick to a team who would have taken the talented RB, but I’m of the belief that no RB is worth taking that early in the draft – especially for a bad team like Cleveland who figures to be a few years away from being serious contenders. Brandon Weeden later in the 1st has drawn a ton of criticism due to his age, but the Browns desperately need to upgrade from Colt McCoy sooner rather than later. If Weeden is a total failure, the Browns will be in a good position to land a top QB prospect next year. The rest of the Browns draft until the 6th round looks suspect. Mitchell Schwartz is a solid prospect but the Browns passed on a lot of good players at bigger positions of need. John Hughes was a downright bizarre selection, showing almost nothing in college to warrant drafting in the top 200 picks. Travis Benjamin doesn’t have the hands or ability to beat press coverage to ever be more than a #3 or #4 WR and isn’t the high-quality weapon the Browns receiving corps has been missing for many years. James-Michael Johnson and Emmanuel Acho were nice value picks and could add depth to the Browns mediocre LB corps. 6th rounder Billy Winn was a guy I liked as early as the upper 2nd round and his slide down the board was one of the more curious storylines during the draft. He could be a real steal, depending on what led to his fall down the board. Brad Smelley is a nice developmental H-Back/FB who is a natural fit for the Browns scheme.
Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers, like the Patriots and a few other perennial contenders, managed to improve themselves without having to try very hard. A team in desperate need of OL help got the best guard prospect in a decade – David DeCastro – to fall into their laps in the 1st round and then managed to snag the overrated but intriguing Mike Adams in the 2nd. Chris Rainey later on could be a nice complement to Rashard Mendenhall and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him take Mewelde Moore’s spot on the roster. I’m not high on Alameda Ta’amu, but in the 4th round he offers a lot of value even if he is never anything more than a reliable backup. Sean Spence was an odd pick, given the Steelers scheme but he could fit as a pass-down LB and special teams ace. Grabbing Marquis Maze and Brandon Lindsey as undrafted players was a coup for Pittsburgh, though both face uphill battles to make the fairly stacked Steelers roster.
Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens, reportedly as a result of losing out to the Patriots on Dont’a Hightower, managed to trade down into the 2nd round and get a guy they had been linked to for awhile – Courtney Upshaw. Like 2010 2nd rounder Sergio Kindle, the Ravens are hoping Upshaw can add some youth to an aging edge-rusher position. With Terrell Suggs possibly out for the year – and Achilles tendon injuries tend to be career-altering – Upshaw will be pressed into duty early and often in Baltimore. Whether or not Upshaw can provide much in the way of a pass rush at the NFL level remains to be seen, but I’m doubtful he can be more than a 4 sack per year kind of guy. Kelechi Osemele could pay dividends as a late 2nd rounder, he certainly had the talent to go higher despite questions about his work ethic. 3rd rounder Bernard Pierce and 5th rounder Asa Jackson were guys I thought were undervalued going into the draft and could be nice steals for Baltimore. Tommy Streeter fell to the 6th round for a reason, and likely won’t make it in the NFL. Gino Gradkowski in the 4th was a headscratcher, one has to wonder what Ozzie Newsome and company see in him. QB John Brantley and DT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen are among the more interesting undrafted players that the Ravens signed – both could make it in the NFL but will need time on a practice squad most likely.
With Matt Flynn signing in Seattle, Robert Griffin III headed to Washington and Peyton Manning seemingly not interested, the Dolphins for the 13th season in a row are left wondering who their next franchise QB will be. In the 12 seasons since Marino retired, the Dolphins have struggled to find a merely average QB, let alone a true cornerstone player. They’ve trotted out a seemingly endless string of veteran retreads (Chad Pennington, Gus Frerotte), has-beens (Daunte Culpepper, Trent Green) and never were’s (Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Sage Rosenfels, Brian Griese). A whopping 16 different QB’s have started for Miami since their Hall of Famer departed after the 1999 season. Take a look at the numbers:
Looking at it another way, take a look at the Dolphins team QB Rating in the last 12 seasons, compared to league average:
Only Chad Pennington in 2008 was significantly above average. Matt Moore, to his credit, did a pretty decent job last year – posting a QB Rating of 84.9, a little better than the 82.5 league average. To that end, Moore was statistically better than Michael Vick, Cam Newton Joe Flacco, Matt Hasselbeck, Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler. The issue for the Dolphins is that Moore at his best doesn’t seem like the type of guy who can take a team deep in the playoffs without a great defense behind him. Of course it’s possible that he is a late bloomer and could continue to improve, but if you’re Miami, do you really want to put your future in the hands of Matt Moore? Probably not.
That said, Moore’s success in 2011 is a good reason to avoid Matt Flynn who is no sure bet to be any better than Moore and is only 10 months younger. That Flynn’s former offensive coordinator and current Dolphins coach Joe Philbin wasn’t willing to make a big play for Flynn (and it seems that Miami’s interest in him was tepid) says a lot about the Dolphins valuation of Moore vs. Flynn. While Flynn might end up the better player, it’s tough to blame Miami for not seeing him as a guy worth $19-24M.
Where the Dolphins do deserve some criticism though is not addressing the QB spot in the draft. They’ve wasted 2nd round picks on Pat White (2009), Chad Henne (2008) and John Beck (2007) and took a late round flier on Josh Heupel (6th round, 2001) but have otherwise ignored the position since Marino left.
Looking ahead, the Dolphins will have to decide whether or not they want to invest a high draft pick in a rookie QB. Ryan Tannehill is raw but has high upside and the Dolphins could easily sit him behind the reasonably competent Moore for a year. However, will Tannehill still be around when the Dolphins are on the clock? It seems likely, but there are still more teams in need of a QB than quality veterans available so it wouldn’t be a shock if someone jumps Miami to take Tannehill or perhaps the Browns pull the trigger at #4. The other option would be Brandon Weeden, but at soon-to-be 29 years old, is he really worth a high investment for a team with a mediocre 28 year old QB at the helm? Certainly not in the 1st round but will Weeden last until Miami’s 2nd round pick? What about 2nd tier guys like Kirk Cousins, Nick Foles or Brock Osweiler? Again, it’s tough to project any of those guys as a long term answer or even a better solution than Moore.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, unless Moore totally bombs they will not be in position for Matt Barkley next year so they might have to get aggressive with how they address the position. Either they will have to secure Tannehill (trading up if necessary) or they will have to be prepared to go hard for Barkley (or another franchise QB type) next year. Of course, if the Dolphins go with Moore + Cousins (or another 2nd/3rd tier QB) they will just be reliving the pattern of the last few years which has gotten them nowhere. At some point they have to make a splash at the position because they won’t hoist the Lombardi trophy without an upgrade from the Matt Moore’s of the world
(Originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
The 2011 NFL season is just about in the books. There are a few loose ends to be tied up – the Giants parade, a few coaching/assistant vacancies, retirements, etc, – but for all intents and purposes we are ready to kick off the 2012 offseason. For many of us (especially those of us reading an NFL-draft themed website) the offseason is nearly (equally?) as exciting as the regular season. The first stop is the NFL Scouting Combine in just over two weeks. While some of us will be watching each and every drill and keeping our eyes and ears open for draft-related rumblings, others will just pay attention to the big daily headlines. Here are some things to watch:
1. The top of the DL class. Unlike in some recent years, there is no consensus Top 5 pick DL on the board. There are two guys – LSU’s Michael Brockers and North Carolina’s Quinton Coples – who have very high upside but question marks. Brockers, a redshirt sophomore, is thought to have elite upside but is very raw. Coples is a bit of an enigma, flashing top-end skills at times and disappearing at other times. In a draft class short on 5-techniques, and a league shifting more and more to 3-4 base schemes, both Coples and Brockers could draw a lot of interest early. It’s possible 4-3 teams take an interest in both guys, Brockers is probably atop the list of 3-techniques in the draft and Coples could play DE in some 4-3 schemes. After those guys, Devon Still, Dontari Poe, and others are looking to jump into the top half of the 1st round.
2. The WR class in general. If there’s a position which has a lot of moving and shaking in terms of draft stock at the combine, it’s the receivers. Can Alshon Jeffery run well and prove some of his naysayers wrong about his athleticism and speed? Can Michael Floyd interview well and show better-than-expected fluidity in drills? Is Kendall Wright really as impressive athletically as a lot of people are starting to think? Moving beyond the top tier of receivers, the Combine could help shape the 2nd tier of WR’s. This draft is loaded with speedy, dynamic playmakers: Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, T.Y. Hilton to name a few. Not to mention some bigger guys who could boost their stock with good 40 times: Juron Criner, Rueben Randle, Mohamed Sanu. This is a class which will be very deep in WR prospects and a superlative Combine showing can theoretically make a WR a lot of money. Conversely, with so many good prospects, a bad combine could cause a WR to slip a lot.
3. The “other” QB’s: Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Nick Foles, Brandon Weeden. Like with the WR’s, there is a bit of a muddle after the first tier of WR’s. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are obviously the #1 and #2 guys. After that, there isn’t much of a consensus on anyone. Seeing how some of these guys do in drills and how they interview will probably cause one or two to shoot up the board and possibly one or two to slide into Day 3 territory.
4. Smaller school guys. Guys like Appalachian State WR Brian Quick, Midwestern State OT Amini Silatolu, Louisiana-Lafayette TE Ladarius Green, Cal Poly DB Asa Jackson and Montana DB Trumaine Johnson are among the lesser known prospects (to many) who the casual draft follower or college football fan might not know about. There are usually one or two such players who see a boost in their stock by performing well in the drills or interview process.
5. Character or injury guys. How does Ryan Broyles’ knee check out? Is Alshon Jeffery’s work ethic bad or just a myth? This portion of the process goes largely unseen until the draft itself when you hear cryptic comments from a so-called expert about how “from what I understand, Player X didn’t do well in the interviews” or “Player Y apparently has some drug issues in his past” or “Player Z’s injury is more worrisome than many thought”. However, as we have seen in the case of Aaron Hernandez (drugs) or Rob Gronkowski (spinal injury), sometimes these red flags can be too highly considered on draft day. We all remember the hoopla about Cam Newton’s comments (“I’m an entertainer and an icon”). Many labeled him a diva or character risk based on those comments and his issues at Auburn. Luckily, Carolina was smart enough to trust their own interview process and make him their franchise QB.
6. Position conversion projects. With the increase of 3-4 teams in the NFL, but no real increase in college, there are more and more teams looking to convert college DT’s to 5-techniques and college DE’s to OLBs. In many cases, teams project these conversions with very little tape to go on. The drills at the combine (and pro days) can go a long way. Guys like Whitney Mercilus, Melvin Ingram, Vinny Curry, Cam Johnson, Andre Branch and the like will need to show well in LB drills to be considered by 3-4 clubs. Some DB drills could also help scouts identify CB’s who could flip to safety (especially important in this weak safety class).
All in all, it should be an interesting kickoff to a 6 month offseason.
(originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
With the college football regular season over, and the NFL season winding down, NFL draft preparations start heating up. While there are still nearly five months until the 1st pick is announced, things will start to move very quickly for prospects and NFL personnel men. For many prospects, Bowl week, All-Star games and the Combine can make or break a prospect’s chances. For some, millions of dollars in guaranteed money are at stake. Here are five guys who need to shine over the next few months.
Brandon Weeden (QB, Oklahoma State) – Weeden is a bit of a polarizing prospect. Few doubt that he is a talented QB whose talents (and positional value) should put him in the top 50-75 prospects in the 2012 class. However, his age (he will be 29 in the 2012 season) will create a lot of debate between now and late April. Some will claim that he is as pro-ready as a prospect can be, and his drafting team can still get a good 5-7 years out of him. Others will say that his age precludes him from consideration in the top 3 or even 4 rounds. I’m not sure how much Weeden can really improve his stock, even with an excellent showing in the Fiesta Bowl (although outshining Andrew Luck in that game could give Weeden a boost). The best thing that can happen to Weeden is for some of the junior QB prospects to return to school. Right now, he is probably sitting between 5-10 on the QB rankings. But if a few of Matt Barkley, Robert Griffin III, E.J. Manuel and Landry Jones don’t declare, Weeden could find himself moving up fairly high in the draft.
Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington) – Ta’amu is the #1 or #2 ranked NT on many boards right now. With more than half the league running a 3-4 scheme, big, strong nosetackles like Ta’amu are in high demand. However, I’m not sold on him being a late 1st-early 2nd round prospect as he’s currently projected. For as strong as Ta’amu is, he gets pushed around too easily at time. He also ends up on the ground far too often for my liking. Both of these problems could stem from having mediocre (for his size) lower body strength. On top of that, he has a tendency to get too upright at times and not maintain a consistent low pad-level. There were games this year where Ta’amu was effectively neutralized by single-team blocking (e.g. his game against USC). Not good for a guy who will be counted on to occupy multiple blockers at the next level. His best asset is his first step quickness off the ball for a guy his size. A good combine showing in the agility drills could get Ta’amu into the late 1st round, which is probably a round higher than I’d consider him.
Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina) – Coming into the 2011 season, Jeffery was widely considered to be a top 10 prospect. While some still have him that high, a bit of luster has come off of the Gamecocks’ star receiver. Watching his performance this year, it’s easy to see a guy with a lot of talent who has some issues with effort and consistency. Too many times Jeffery looked disinterested playing in a run-heavy offense. He – like some of the NFL’s high-talent, questionable-effort guys – tends to run sloppy routes, especially when the ball isn’t coming his way frequently. Throw in questions about his conditioning and weight, and there’s definitely a lot Jeffery needs to prove before he reclaims a spot in the top 10 overall picks. There’s no doubt Jeffery has a lot of talent, but he needs to excel at the combine and show that he is in shape and has enough burst and speed to be worthy of a top pick. He will also have to interview well to soothe concerns about his work ethic and attitude.
Dontari Poe (DT, Memphis) – Poe seems like the type of guy who will shoot up the boards as we move along in the process. His measurables (6’5 350 with decent mobility) are impressive. He has enticing upside and gives you the sense that he hasn’t come close to tapping his full potential. He, like Ta’amu, will draw a lot of interest as a NT due to the prevalence of 3-4 defenses. Poe is a bit taller than you’d like in a NT (only Ted Washington has had a lot of success at 6’5, although several quality NT’s have been 6’4) and struggles to keep his pads low. He will need a lot of coaching before he can be a reliable NFL defender, as his technique is pretty poor. However, his size, length and strength will be too much for some GM’s to resist. Poe can really improve his stock by interviewing well, demonstrating coachability and excelling in the strength tests at the combine.
Zach Brown (OLB, North Carolina) – Let’s face it, it’s a pretty bad year to be in the market for a quality 4-3 OLB. While it’s not typically a high-value position come April (except for the occasional elite prospect like Von Miller), there are usually a number of guys who make for solid late 1st-2nd round prospects. This year, Zach Brown is almost certainly the best of a class which is thin in talent at the top. He has tremendous athleticism for the position and should shine at the scouting combine. His speed and burst will draw some comparisons to Miller as we roll through the winter, but his instincts and power aren’t at the same level as last year’s 2nd overall pick. However, he still projects to be a top 15-20 prospect in the draft and with a solid showing at the Independence Bowl and good workouts, Brown could create a lot of distance between himself and the 2nd tier of OLB prospects and solidify his stock in the top half of round 1.
(originally posted by me at Mocking The Draft)
Most people who follow football know that Tom Brady is one of the all time late round draft steals – selected in the 6th round of the 2000 draft sixteen selections after Spergon Wynn and three spots before Todd Husak. He’s outlasted 10 the 11 other QB’s taken in 2000; only Chris Redman (3rd round) is also still active. More knowledgeable fans might also know that there are a few high-quality NFL QB’s who didn’t get much hype on draft day: Tony Romo (undrafted), Matt Hasselbeck (6th round), Matt Schaub (3rd round) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (7th round). These guys are often used as examples of how great QB’s can be found anywhere in the draft. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. Almost all successful NFL QB’s are found in the top 50 selections of the draft. However, that won’t stop NFL personnel men and general managers from trying to unearth the next Brady or Romo.
Is there a hidden gem to be found in 2012? Well, by now, most NFL draft watchers know the top QB prospects: Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Landry Jones, Ryan Tannehill and Robert Griffin III. As we move into the Bowl season and pre-draft workouts, those five guys will get the bulk of the hype (assuming they declare for the draft) – and deservedly so. However, there are a few other guys that will go later on who could find success in the NFL as starters.
Before taking a look at some of the less known (or less hyped) QB prospects for 2012, it should be noted that the chances for success of any QB taken outside of the top 50 picks are remote. While Brady, Romo, Hasselbeck, Fitzpatrick and Schaub were great finds, they are the only non Top-50 QB’s in the top 20 for passer rating:
As you can see, 9 of the top QB’s by passer rating were top 10 picks with Cutler and Roethlisberger both going 11th overall. It should be noted that of the five aforementioned non-Top 50 QB’s, only Romo and Brady found success with the team that drafted them.
How unlikely is it to find a good QB once you get beyond the middle of the 2nd round? Check out these facts:
QB’s drafted after pick #50 since 1995: 148
# of those who have attempted 1000 or more passes: 15
# who have been/were full time starters for 5+ years: 9
# of undrafted QB’s since 1995 to throw 1000+ passes – 5
# of undrafted QB’s since 1995 to start for 5+ years – 4
It probably goes without saying, but if your favorite team needs a “QB Of The Future” come April, 2012, they should take one early. If they decide to try to get lucky later on, here are four guys who could beat the (daunting) odds and carve out a long-term starting spot in the pros:
Brandon Weeden (Oklahoma State) – Based on talent alone, Weeden could be a top 50 pick in the 2012 draft. Unfortunately, he’s already 28 years old (which makes him a month or so older than Aaron Rodgers). He’s the prototypical pocket passer with the size (6’4 220) that NFL scouts love. His accuracy on short and intermediate routes is excellent, although his deep ball is somewhat lacking compared to the top QB prospects. He plays in a shotgun offense in college, which can make for a tough adjustment for some QB’s. His awareness is above average and while he’s not athletic, he’s got good enough feet to escape the rush moving outside of the picket. In order for Weeden to succeed, he will need to go to a team which can quickly work him into their offense (probably a team that runs an offensive scheme similar to Oklahoma State’s). Over-aged QB prospects have not fared well in the pros (Chris Weinke, John Beck) but Weeden has the tools to overcome the odds if he lands in the right city. I expect Weeden to go somewhere in the Top 100 picks, as too many teams need a QB to let him drop too far. In the right environment, Weeden could be a 5-7 year starter.
Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) – As we run up to the draft, Cousins will get labeled with two of my least favorite (and over used) terms: “game manager” and “has intangibles”. Those types of labels are often applied to guys who get it done in college, but lack an elite attribute (e.g. arm strength, mobility, etc). When I watch Cousins I see a guy who has a well rounded, but definitely flawed, skill set: he’s got good arm strength, his accuracy at times is very good and his mobility – while not especially noteworthy – is good enough to allow him to make the occasional play. He comes from a run heavy team, which has allowed him to develop his playaction ability which is as good as any prospect in this draft. What I don’t like is that he sometimes (too often for a top prospect) seems confused by opposing defenses and has a tendency to lock onto his first read. His mechanics are sloppy and he will need a good QB coach to clean them up if he is to succeed in the pros. It’s tough to predict where Cousins will go – he needs a lot of work but he’s the type of guy which teams tend to fall in love with. I like him as a 3rd rounder but he could sneak into the middle of round, possibly even earlier.
Ryan Lindley (San Diego State) – Lindley will draw a lot of attention at the combine and in his Pro Day due to his excellent arm strength but he’s definitely a raw prospect. While he can get the ball deep, he often gets the ball too deep – overthrowing his targets far too often. His short range accuracy is a bit better although still lacking. His struggles could be partially a result of overcompensating for a bad receiving corps (even more so since Vincent Brown has graduated). In an effort to avoid interceptions, he tries to put the ball where only his receivers can make a play and he lacks the finesse to do so with regularity. His mechanics tend to fall apart completely under pressure and he will need a lot of coaching before getting into an NFL game. That said, he’s got an NFL caliber arm, has shown improvement every year in college and possesses a lot of untapped potential. His rawness will probably drop him down the board a bit and he’ll almost certainly have to wait til the 3rd or 4th round before he gets drafted.
Aaron Corp (Richmond) – A small school sleeper, Corp will probably have to wait until the 6th or 7th round to hear his name called (if he is drafted at all) but there is some reason to think Corp could find a home in the NFL. He does a pretty good job at reading opposing defenses and finding the open man. His arm strength isn’t great, but he’s got enough to succeed in the NFL (especially with the proliferation of the spread offense and short passing game). When he’s able to set his feet in the pocket, his accuracy is very good – he recently set the FCS all time record for single game completion percentage. Unfortunately for Corp, his O-Line is awful which has led to him getting knocked around and chased around a lot. As a result, his accuracy and decision making have been inconsistent at times. He’ll need a few years to develop, but he has some good tools with which to work.