Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Draft buzz, week 3

* Rams roll out the carpet. Three running backs are scheduled to visit Rams Park this week: Alex Green (Hawaii), Stevan Ridley (LSU) and Daniel Thomas (Kansas State). While we fans continue to insist the Rams need to complement Steven Jackson with a small, Darren Sproles-type back, the Rams' front office clearly does not agree with us. They want to add a second big back, another hammer. They tried to draft Shonn Greene a couple of years ago, and again here, are looking at big backs. Just some advice for everybody trying to mock draft out there.

Late word: Mark Ingram is now also scheduled to visit Rams Park, on Thursday April 14th.

Other recent draft prospects to visit Rams Park: interestingly, Cal d-lineman Cameron Jordan, and Lehigh offensive lineman William Rackley. Rackley, by the way, was described by Mike Mayock as a player that should be able to step in and play right away, a third-round prospect. He's a college tackle who will probably move to the inside in the pros. Looked good at the East-West Shrine Game. Mayock ranks Jordan 1-2 with J.J. Watt as the top two 3-4 defensive linemen, so I'm confused that the Rams even had him in for a visit. I assume they believe they can convert him handily to 4-3 full time, but that's a conversion that sure seems to fail a lot, and has certainly hurt the Rams in recent drafts (see: Carriker, Adam).

Let's do some positional drills:

* Wide receiver. The main candidates for third receiver off the board are Torrey Smith and Jonathan Baldwin, with Smith continuing to keep his edge because he’s supposedly more ready for the pros. I’m still not sold. Baldwin has a diva reputation but is a physical freak who caught everything thrown at him at Pittsburgh’s pro day. He should be a deadly receiver outside the numbers.

Charlie Casserly and the Rams agree, negatively, on Miami WR Leonard Hankerson. Casserly called Hankerson a possession receiver who can’t catch. He runs a good 40 but that burst doesn’t show up in games. Struggles to get separation and doesn’t gain much after the catch. OK, I’ll have to fix my board, then. Anybody got a flame-thrower?

Titus Young ran in the low 4.4s at Boise State’s pro day, Austin Pettis in the 4.5s. Both caught well. Young continues to run great routes, showing suddenness in and out of his breaks. Casserly believs Young worked out better than ANY WR at the Combine and mentioned he’s the same size as Roddy White. Pettis catches well with his hands, doesn’t let the ball into his body, and was a potent red zone weapon for the Broncos. Young’s rated to be drafted in the 2nd round, Pettis only the 5th.

NFL Network FINALLY got around to putting out some sleeper pick ideas at WR:

Edmund Gates, Abilene Christian: a favorite of RamView since the Combine. Less raw and higher upside than ACU alumnus Johnny Knox. Vertical threat who ran a 4.35 with a slight groin pull (!). Understands how to get open, has good awareness of where he is on the field. Will never last past the 3rd round with that speed.

Greg Little, North Carolina: would have been a 2nd-round prospect had he not been suspended all season. 6’2” 230, good speed and jumping ability, may have the best hands in the country. One of the smoothest-looking receivers at the Combine. Has a 4th-round value.

Greg Salas, Hawaii: another 4th-round prospect. 6’1” 210, very productive slot receiver in college. Uses body well to create separation and gains good yardage after the catch.

Ricardo Lockette, Fort Hays State: very raw, but big, and can move (ran a 4.37). Mostly a short-pass catcher. Welcome to Cleveland, Ricardo.

Randall (NOT Tex?) Cobb, Kentucky: 2nd-3rd round prospect, excellent at getting separation, runs very well after the catch.

Georgia WR Chris Durham may benefit from the circus atmosphere surrounding A.J. Green. At pro day, he quietly had a very good workout. At 6’5”, he ran in the 4.5s, caught everything and showed great leaping ability. He also played well while Green was suspended last season. Could be a late-round pick.

* Defensive line. DE Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) may be dropping out of the first round. At times, I’m not sure why he was even projected there. His sack production dropped way off his senior year. No one suggests he can come in and be a high-impact end with a lot of sacks. His first step’s not explosive, his edge speed is questionable, there are questions about his motor, and arm/shoulder problems due to a condition he was born with may limit him to right end. He was a 3-4 end at Iowa, too. Good player, but I don’t know why the Rams would have him on their list.

Christian Ballard, a DE/DT tweener, might be the first Hawkeye d-lineman off the board now. He’s a better edge rusher than Clayborn and can come inside. He was killing guards with his pass rush at the Senior Bowl. I’d expect the Rams to be much more likely to draft Ballard than Clayborn.

Aldon Smith, who I wish NFL Network would talk more about, should be able to get up to 280 pounds without losing any speed or explosiveness.

Corey Liuget got a very nice review. Prototypical 3-technique, one-gap penetrator who can get up the field. He’s devastating against the run and pushes the pocket with quickness against the pass. Dammit. There goes my mock draft again. In other words, feel free to pre-order your Liuget Rams jersey, even though Marvin Austin’s said to have repaired his image and had a great Shrine Game and a great Combine.

Allen Bailey (Miami) is a 2nd-3rd round prospect. He has good burst, moves well for his size and has a rocked-up physique. More likely to play as a smaller DE than he is to drop back successfully to linebacker.

Nick Fairley’s continuing to set off bust-o-meters around the gridosphere. His work ethic’s questioned, he may be a one-year wonder, and most of the DTs drafted high this decade didn’t pan out. Tell me about it.

South Florida DT Terrell McClain, on the other hand, is starting to draw positive attention. Both Lovie Smith and Bill Belichick were at his pro day.

* Running backs. Ryan Williams and Mikel Leshoure size up as the next two RBs off the board after Mark Ingram. Williams is a physical, rugged back who runs well between the tackles and turned in a 4.53 at the Combine. He’s short, though, and has battled injuries. Leshoure’s a good receiver who had outstanding production in college.

Other than that, Path to the Draft would much rather talk about Jake Locker than anybody who’s a running back, thank you very much.

* Linebackers. Justin Houston had a fine pro day at Georgia, which was marred by all the scouts having to walk out on A.J. Green’s workout and watch it on closed-circuit TV because the practice QB they had him drill with was from outside the Athens metropolitan area and anybody watching him would have violated the terms of the lockout. Ah, labor issues. As for Houston, he demonstrated plenty of explosiveness in drills, showed great ability turning the corner, and ran a 4.68 40 into the wind. The concern with him is that his workout results have looked a lot better than his play has on tape.

Mayock says North Carolina LB Bruce Carter would have been a top 20 pick this year if he hadn’t blown his knee in November. His ACL recovery is said to be ahead of schedule.

Akeem Ayers could really stand to improve his 40 time at his pro day, though he’s the odd duck whose explosiveness shows on game tape but not in workouts. He works better off the line, and could be a consistent pass rusher as a 3-4 OLB, or play the strong side in a 4-3. He beat Tyron Smith twice for sacks in the USC-UCLA game.

* Secondary. Grades on Miami’s Brandon Harris aren’t exactly consistent. Pro Football Weekly has him as the #3 CB and nearly one of the top ten players. NFL Network says he’s a SECOND OR THIRD ROUNDER. He’s short, he’s not starting material, and he doesn’t have the quickness or change of direction needed to cover the better slot receivers. Fellow Hurricane Demarcus Van Dyke’s getting noticed for that 4.28 at the Combine, but he only weighs in the 160s, and he started only 3 times last year. Had two picks in those games, though.

* Tight end. Scouts like Kyle Rudolph’s chances of contributing right away in the NFL even though he missed most of last season. They say just to worry whether he’s cleared medically. Same boat as Jermaine Gresham, Rob Gronkowski, Heath Miller, etc.

This year’s Fendi Onobuns are Jordan Cameron from USC and Julius Thomas from Portland State. Both played on their college's basketball team. Cameron had only 16 receptions in 2010, but is 6’5” 254, ran in the 4.6s and is a vertical threat. Thomas had 29 catches last year and played physical in the East-West Shrine game. Well, except that one play when Jermale Hines threatened to light him up.

* Offensive line. RamView welcomes Mike Mayock to the Rodney Hudson bandwagon. Mayock says he likes the 2-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Year more the more tape of him he watches. Way ahead of ya, Mayock.

Don’t tell Brian Baldinger, but Path to the Draft was nice to Anthony Costanzo all week, though they repeated his and Nate Solder’s struggles with power rushers. Scouts like his size, feet and positioning; don’t like his strength, explosion or change of direction. He’s still expected to be drafted late in the 1st and play a long time in the league.

Orlando Franklin (Miami) was a mauler at tackle in college but needs to move inside for the pros. He’s tight-hipped and doesn’t move well. Late 2nd round – early 3rd round.

* Around the league. Drafting 20th, the Buccaneers are likeliest to go after defensive ends because their pass rush was still anemic even with Gerald McCoy, says St. Petersburg Times writer Rick Stroud. Stroud becomes the fifth or sixth correspondent to say how good Ryan Kerrigan would be for his team. Kerrigan is clearly this year's Earl Thomas. But Kerrigan would be perfect in Tampa, he's explosive off the edge and forces a lot of turnovers. Heh, that would be perfect in a lot of places. Free agency could wreck the Tampa offensive line, so that's a backup need even as they have re-signing Davin Joseph as their top priority. In the 20-20 hindsight department, Charles Davis makes a hilarious attempt to praise the Bucs front office for their selection of Aqib Talib despite draft-time character red flags. “They did their homework, and they got a great player.” Davis says this about a week before Talib AND HIS MOTHER go on a shooting spree. Hee!

At 19, Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News says the Giants will focus on the offensive line, and on the interior at that. Tom Coughlin wants a center, so Vacchiano recommends Mike Pouncey, who is also quickly becoming this year's Earl Thomas. Though Steve Smith isn't even expected to be able to start running until June, they're not worried about him enough to draft another WR very high. OLB's a possibility, with Mark Ingram a very dark horse should he slip. The Giants are a size/speed drafting team; whoever they draft will be a big player who moves fast.

Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune says the Chargers need, guess what, a pass rusher, and could look at, guess who, Ryan Kerrigan. He's the name that comes up most, as Larry English has been an (expected) bust, with just 5 sacks in two years. The Chargers have five picks the first three rounds and are also certain to use one on a WR. Mayock cautions that Kerrigan's a 4-3 DE and won't fit well into San Diego's 3-4. Huh, that's confusing. Of the recent Purdue DEs to hit the pros, the one who hasn't panned out, Cliff Avril, is the one who plays in a 4-3.

Pete Prisco was called upon for some reason to review the Jagwires' draft needs, and he goes absolutely crazy. He says they should draft CHRISTIAN PONDER at #16. Says Ponder is moving ahead of Cam Newton on some draft boards. An emboldened Mayock says the Jags should pick, of course, Jake Locker. They both agree DE is another need in Jacksonville, so guess whose name comes up. Prisco, with the Neanderthal level of creativity of apparently all draft pundits, compares Ryan Kerrigan favorably to... Aaron Kampmann.

Another writer I don't ever want to see in the Rams' war room is Jeff Darlington of the Miami Herald, who believes TORREY SMITH would be a fine pick for the Dolphins at #15. Or Cam Newton if he drops. Charlie Casserly has to cut in and kind of tap him on the shoulder and remind everyone that Miami's top three RBs are all free agents, so Casserly expects Mark Ingram to be under heavy consideration, even though he doesn't think Ingram is even first-round quality.

So next week, we'll get to see who these nutbars think the Rams should pick at #14, though with my luck, that'll be another team the show decides to skip for no good reason. And if they don't skip the Rams, they're all going to say they should draft Ryan Kerrigan anyway (which may not be the worst idea in the world).

* Kick it deep! Michael Lombardi and I agree AGAIN on something this year, along with Devin Hester: the new rule moving the spot of the kickoff back up to the 35 is going to result in an epidemic of touchbacks. So much so that draft picks and free agents who used to carry extra value because they returned kicks don’t have that value any more. Dexter McCluster never would have been drafted as high as he was under the current rule, which may have dropped a player like Jacquizz Rodgers down a ROUND OR TWO. Darren Sproles and Brad Smith also instantly became a lot less valuable in free agency.

* Rumor mill: The Chargers and Patriots could be working a deal for New England's pick at #28… Carolina HC Ron Rivera says they're evaluating QB and “four other positions” as possible areas to address with the first pick overall... Denver's working out Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick, even though team president John Elway claims he still believes in Tim Tebow… Pat Shurmur says Colt McCoy will be his starter next season. Feel the excitement, Cleveland!... Meanwhile, the Eagles claim they have an offer of a first-round pick for Kevin Kolb. (How can such an offer be legal at this point?)… Jerry Jones claims a couple of teams have asked the Cowboys about trading for their first-round pick, #9 overall… Carson Palmer says he would rather retire than play for the Bengals next year, but Cincinnati says they have no plans to trade him. Um, that would really screw my mock draft. Even if Palmer opts not to return, the Bengals could fill major defensive needs by drafting Patrick Peterson or Nick Fairley… Cam Newton’s going to do private workouts for the Dolphins and the Bills… MARTY SCHOTTENHEIMER has returned to coaching: he’s now the head coach of the UFL’s Virginia Destroyers. You’re not the only one who thinks that’s a pretty dirty team name…

* How to improve Path to the Draft. The more I watch the NFL Network's flagship show for draft coverage, the more I see it is in bad need of “punching up”. They've talked about the SAME PEOPLE for three weeks now. If I have to hear about Jake Locker one more time, I am going to scream. Come on. You people have an HOUR every day. Three weeks in, and you've barely talked about any running backs not named Ingram. Barely any defensive backs at all. 250-plus guys are going to be drafted in a couple of weeks, not 10. Pick up the pace, already! Here's some ideas PTTD could stand to implement:

1 – More player capsules. Take like six minutes a day and do six quick profiles on various position players. They've mentioned about two sleeper possibilities in three weeks. Expand the number of players you talk about already!
2 – Pick a handful of players and track them as they prepare for the draft. Follow them around like HBO does with fighters before its big fights. That would certainly be more interesting than Mike Lombardi telling us no offensive linemen will be drafted in the top 10 for the tenth time.
3 – The show does occasional draft flashbacks, but does them all wrong. Instead of just flashing back to the day Oakland drafted Jamarcus Russell, explain why they got it wrong. Or flash back to when a sleeper player got picked and explain how that team got it right. Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it; so give us at home a chance to learn.
4 – It would be nice to run down the draft needs for ALL the teams. Just saying.
5 – Also, Mayock should be required to apologize on air and offer his resignation for MOCKING Isaac Bruce. Mayock was trying to illustrate the difficulty the lockout is causing for setting up pro days, but stuck his foot in his mouth by noting that at Florida State's pro day, Christian Ponder “had to throw to 40-year-old Isaac Bruce. Are you kidding me?” Listen here, jackass. That 40-year-old is the best route-runner Christian Ponder is going to get to throw to for the rest of his life, and I'm positive the young QB was grateful to get the best out of a bad situation created by the lockout. Let's see, who might a young QB be better off throwing passes to on his pro day? A prospective classmate who might get drafted in the sixth round? An NFL street free agent who's been cut by three teams in two years? Or the FOURTH LEADING WIDE RECEIVER IN NFL HISTORY?

You're a bozo to have mocked one of the classiest players in the history of the game, Mike Mayock. Apologize, or don't expect any warm welcomes from Rams Nation anytime soon.


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