Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Draft buzz, week 4

* Rams at 14. NFL Network eventually got around to covering the Rams’ draft needs, with help from D’Marco Farr. The main, and quite familiar, points:

- Julio Jones would be a no-brainer at 14.
- The Rams are more likely to move down than move up.
- Steve Spagnuolo covets pass rushers, so Aldon Smith’s a logical candidate if they stay at 14 and both top WRs are gone.
- Mark Ingram would make some sense with this pick as well.

Strangely, Corey Liuget wasn’t mentioned by anyone, which is odd. I’m a couple of weeks behind the curve, but at the time this show aired, Liuget was shaping up as one of the last handful of candidates.

That’s OK, though, because after the show signed off with Farr, Mike Lombardi and Steve Wyche pretty much went insane. Lombardi wants the Rams to draft Mike Pouncey. His logic is that the Rams need to add toughness inside and make damn sure to protect Bradford. That would be fine if this were not the first time Mike Pouncey has EVER been mentioned this high in the draft.

Wyche’s “inside contacts” say the Rams’ biggest concern is lack of speed on the defensive edges, and says they should draft AKEEM AYERS. That’s at least ten picks higher than he’s been slotted anywhere, at least on this show. And speed on the edges? Isn’t he the guy who was clocking 4.8s at the Combine?

Why are the Rams the only team these bozos want drafting guys 10-15 slots ahead of where they’re supposed to go?

Buzz and breakdowns by position, as NFL Network got serious after about three weeks of repeating the same crap over and over and actually reviewed a large number of prospects:

* Wide receiver. Look out, world – Julio Jones is out of his walking boot will resume working out. And as a bigger and stronger receiver, a more natural WCO receiver than A.J. Green, Cincinnati or Cleveland could prefer him over Green and make him the first receiver selected.

Greg Little, North Carolina: ran a 4.55. Former RB is a little raw as a route-runner but catches well and is special after the catch. Big guy who can leap and has terrific body control and terrific hands. In excellent shape with ripped physique. Rare athlete. Not afraid to go over the middle. At his size and speed would be best used as a WCO WR. 2nd-round talent; bit of a diva who has some (unspecified) off-the-field questions. Compares to Tampa’s Mike Williams.

Aldrick Robinson, SMU – NFL Net picks up on a guy I noticed at the Combine. 5’9” 184, runs well and has great leaping ability. Fine college production – 14 TDs last year, 20 yard per-catch average. Having been coached by June Jones is a plus.

Cecil Shorts, Mount Union – good route-runner. Understands how to run routes, how to set up the corner and the safety.

* Defensive line. Da’Quan Bowers may have hurt his stock now that he’s been able to participate in a campus workout. He’s not in shape yet and got fatigued during drills. Ran in the high 4.9s and workout results weren’t as good as expected. Questions still abounding about his knee. Should have waited till he was in better shape; now he’s just put doubt in more teams’ minds.

Bowers did get a nice endorsement from UNC head coach Butch Davis, who compared him to Michael Strahan. A great character player, prototype 4-3 DE, strong and physical at the point of attack.

One day after saying Robert Quinn wouldn’t go in the top ten because he lacks explosiveness, Mike Lombardi said he’d be shocked if Quinn DIDN’T go in the top ten. Improved on all his Combine speed drills at his pro day. Unbelievably fast with great agility. Gets to the edge really well. Strong and powerful. Has rare pass rush skills and can play LDE or RDE. Former wrestler who understands leverage. Gets compared to DeMarcus Ware and Dwight Freeney.

One day after proclaiming the first round was TOO HIGH to draft Marvin Austin, with Mike Lombardi ranking him at the BOTTOM OF THE SECOND ROUND, NFL Network projected him to the lower third of the first round. He’s in excellent physical condition despite being suspended last season. In fact, he’s dropped his playing weight to 301. He was a “marvel” during pro day drills and had as good a workout as any d-lineman at the Combine, LIKE I SAID. 3-technique with explosion, quickness and power. Unbelievable point-of-attack player; uses his hands well. Strong and physical with good footwork.

Sam Acho, Texas – projects best as a 3-4 OLB. He’s no Brian Orakpo. Looked pretty good in LB positional drills. Small and will get engulfed by linemen trying to play the run. Can win 1-on-1 in pass rush and will probably be limited to situational pass rushing.

Though accusations have started to float that Nick Fairley takes a lot of plays off, he’s still met with 8 of the first 10 teams in the draft.

Muhammed Wilkerson, Temple – has met with a lot of the playoff teams and will likely go to one of them in the first round. Prototype 5-tech, had excellent Combine but looked out-of-shape at his pro day.

Kenrick Ellis, Hampton – Dominated Texas vs. Nation game. Gigantic with good instincts and good hustle. 3rd-round grade, could go higher. Should have made more plays given his level of competition, though.

* Running backs.

Daniel Thomas, Kansas State – North-south runner, doesn’t have great burst but is good in a short area and can separate. Can catch.

Mikel Leshoure, Illinois – Does everything. Workhorse, has speed and can break tackles. Quick change-of-direction. Said to be threatening Mark Ingram now for #1 RB status. Reminds Charlie Casserly of STEVEN JACKSON, and he compares himself to Jackson in interviews. Steve Wyche seems to believe the Colts could take him in the first round.

* Linebackers.

Akeem Ayers, UCLA – improved on his Combine 40 time with a 4.68 and a 4.71. Long, versatile, can play on or off the line. Can be a nickel rusher or a 4-3 SAM but looks best as a 3-4 OLB. That’s where he’s most natural rushing the QB. Best at pass rush pursuit with his hand in the dirt. Smooth and fluid, but not explosive off the ball. His pass drops have improved a lot since the Combine. Good awareness and quickness. Needs to get stronger. Pro day performance should solidify a late-first round pick.

Mason Foster, Washington – 240-pounder, high motor, can play inside or outside. Pro day 40 time improved to 4.70. Tackling machine with good instincts. Willing hitter. Teams will like his movement and motor and he should be a middle-round pick. Even more impressively, a draft analyst described someone who isn’t white as having a good motor.

Casey Matthews, Oregon – 4th-rated inside linebacker. Smart, good at positioning, but not the athlete his cousin Clay is. Doesn’t have the speed. Will find a place in the NFL because he’s instinctive, a hustler and a leader. Plays tough, plays with attitude, can find the ball. Will contribute on special teams. Injured his shoulder during the bench press at the Combine.

Bruce Carter, North Carolina – Terrific athlete coming off ACL surgery. Stays on the field all three downs, can blitz, rush off the edge, cover slot receivers or cover backs out of the backfield. Super special teams player who can block kicks and make interceptions.

* Secondary. Prince Amukamara will have worked out for most of the top ten teams in the draft before it’s all said and done. He’s also worked out for the Patriots. Hmm, is Hoodie thinking about trading up?

Aaron Williams, Texas – ran 4.2 at Texas pro day but track is so fast you should grade it as a 4.5. Needs to lose about 10 lbs. Did not look sudden in change of direction drills or fluid in his backpedal. Looks a little like a physical, cover-2 corner; looks a lot more like a free safety.

Rahim Moore, UCLA – Great instinctively, but not a physical safety or a great run defender. Natural “center fielder” with great range and hands. Tracks and catches deep balls well. Drilled well at pro day: showed smooth and fluid footwork, smooth hips, good speed and change of direction. INTs dropped way off after his sophomore year. 2nd-3rd round grade.

Jimmy Smith, Colorado – Played a lot of man coverage in college. Has the speed and change-of-direction to press-cover. Can cover a lot of ground and is a willing run tackler.

Brandon Harris, Miami – 5’9”, 190, ran in the low 4.5s. Not a lot of successful small and slow DBs in the NFL. Doesn’t have great ball skills or change of direction, either. Hasn’t earned a first-round grade.

Brandon Burton, Utah – Strong, active CB who ran 4.43 at the Combine. Makes plays in all coverages.

Buster Skrine, Chattanooga – 5’9.5” 186, ran good 40s at Combine, and great short shuttle, in 3.9s. Has great feet, but got beaten deep constantly by Cam Newton and Auburn this year, three times in the first quarter alone. Round 5-6 grade.

Kendrick Burney, North Carolina – short and slow, ran 4.75. May fit with a Tampa-2 defense. Has promise on special teams.

* Tight end. Path to the Draft apparently believes the RAMS are interested in Tennessee TE Luke Stocker. Complete tight end, blocks and catches well. Runs routes well, can pass-block and run-block. Also helps on special teams.

Kyle Rudolph of Notre Dame was compared favorably to Rob Gronkowski. Bet you can’t guess what race he is! Mayock’s always had him going right at the end of the first round.

* Offensive line.

Tyron Smith, USC – Most athletic tackle in the draft. Most natural pass blocker. Has good lateral movement and knee bend. Moves like a tight end. Had superb pro day workout. Moves fluidly. Light on his feet. Big and powerful, explodes out of his stance, strong punch, moves guys when he makes contact. Anchors well. Ran a 4.97 40 and benched 31 times. Has gained 25 pounds since end of football season to get to 310. Played only right tackle at USC but has the technique and finishes blocks like an NFL LT. May not have the footwork for it. CONSTANTLY compared to D’Brickashaw Ferguson by NFL Network analysts. Better prospect than Jason Smith was coming out, as good as Trent Williams last year.

Nate Solder, Colorado – 6’8” height makes it harder for him to bend and block smaller players. Needs to get stronger in lower body. Can play with power if he does, has ideal body for position. Can be all-pro-quality left tackle in a couple of years. Compares to Sebastian Vollmer.

William Rackley, Lehigh – excellent Shrine Game, solid 3rd round pick at guard. Has been visited by 16 offensive line coaches so far.

Ben Ijalana, Villanova – Had double hernia surgery after playing his last five games with the injury, so little question about his toughness. A little short for tackle but makes up for it with exceptionally long arms. Feet are good enough to play on the edge. Grades as a 2nd-rounder if injury situation doesn’t worsen.

* Quarterback. The Vikings have worked out Cam Newton and Christian Ponder.

Ryan Mallett has worked out for Miami and Cincinnati. Mike Lombardi laughably thought there’s a lot of credibility in Arkansas HC Bobby Petrino vouching for him. I shot soda out my nose after that line. Charlie Casserly thinks his ideal spot would be as Buffalo’s 2nd round pick. No pressure and he’d be under a top QB coach. Casserly rates him as the #2 QB, ahead of Newton, but Mallett has to stop putting balls up for grabs.

RamView has Christian Ponder as the #2 QB, though not a first-rounder. Smart, high character, makes good decisions. Deceptively good athlete (more code for: “Caucasian”). Can make plays out of the pocket. Ideal WCO QB who gets the ball out quickly.

Colin Kaepernick worked out for the Whiners. Folks, we do NOT want to see him in our division.

Path to the Draft now freely talks about Jake Locker as a THIRD-round value now. His workout at Washington was successful – he went 39 for 41 – but also reportedly very easy, mostly short passes, not many outside throws, and only two deep balls. Both of those were incomplete, and Locker’s ball placement on the short passes wasn’t even all that great. Playing against air!

The big news, though, is that Mike Mayock has finally said that Carolina “has” to take one of the top 2 QBs with the first overall pick. First time I’ve heard that requirement this year, after it was seemingly slapped on the Rams in February last year. Blaine Gabbert appears to be the consensus #1, but more and more signs point to Carolina taking Cam Newton. Dammit, the Rams do not play the Panthers next season. Wonder if Carolina will take Andrew Luck first overall in 2012. ‘Cause they’ll be picking there again.

* Degenerative arthritis! Mike Lombardi was apparently obsessed with this condition this week. He mentioned it multiple times in discussions about Da’Quan Bowers’ knee, and when he wasn’t doing that, threw out a rumor that there are “unspecified questions” about Mark Ingram’s knee, and that he could also have degenerative arthritis. Look for Lombardi to host this year’s D.A. telethon, probably with Bowers as a guest host. Degenerative arthritis – it’s lurking around every corner!

* Risk assessment. When asked to name the safest picks in the top 10 this year, NFL Network’s analysts picked A.J. Green and Von Miller. RamView would never pick a WR or an undersized DE for that distinction and went with Marcel Dareus. The riskiest picks? No surprises here: Cam Newton and Nick Fairley. RamView nominates Newton.

* Around the league. A possibly-drunken, though lucid, Solomon Wilcots was tabbed by NFL Network to project the first round draft pick for Houston at #11. He listed their top need as secondary, and said Prince Amukamara should be their pick if he’s on the board, with Von Miller as a fallback pick. That’s nice, how about you try somebody who’s NOT going to be picked in the top 10. OK, says Wilcots, how about Baylor NT Phil Taylor, and, WOW, that’s the first time I’ve even heard his name on the show. I don’t think Taylor’s foot injury was well publicized at this time, but that’s still at least 20 slots early, isn’t it? Folks, make sure your draft guru has been licensed and has had all his shots, ok?

A little more qualified to project #12 is Vikings beat writer Judd Zulgad, who seemed to indicate Minnesota’s trying to trade up to take one of the QBs. They really need a long term solution there and really want to take a QB in round 1 or 2. If that doesn’t work out, they’re looking at Aldon Smith at DE or Tyron Smith at OT.

At 13, though every mock draft seems to send Detroit an offensive lineman, beat writer Tom Kowalski says their #1 need is in the defensive back seven. O-line isn’t an acute need for them until maybe 2012. They’d even be happy with Aldon Smith.

* Rumor mill: Vikings HC Leslie Frazier has ruled out bringing Brett Favre back at QB next season. THANK GOD.

In worse news, the league has ordered teams to stop having discussions on trading players. I’ve been trying to deal some of the guys from my office to NFL Network for Stacey Dales, but I guess those talks are off now. (My backup offer for Lindsay Soto still stands, btw.)

After a month of watching Path to the Draft, I’ve heard Mike Mayock describe so many players as late first-round to early second-round picks, I’m just going to call that area of the draft “the Mayock line” or “the Mayock zone” from now on. Kind of like the Mendoza Line. And some weeks, these guys look like they’re going to be lucky to hit better than Mario Mendoza, too.


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