If you are a big football fan, like me, there are two days every year that fill you with the most hope and optimism about your teams: the NFL Draft and opening weekend. Every season at least one team is able to turn it around and go from worst to first, so no matter what team you root for, you can believe that your team has a chance as well. With that being said, the NFL draft is the definition of an inexact science. Armies of scouts and personnel executives watch hundreds of hours of game film, conduct individual workouts, do in-depth interviews and measure players from the tops of their heads to the tips of their fingers and even with all of that information most of the players drafted will have little to no impact on their teams. But when a team gets a draft right, it can change its fortunes for the next few years. Take the Seahawks for example; last season they were a middling team that had no real identity on either side of the ball. With the first 4 picks of last year’s draft Seattle got an aggressive pass rusher, a tough middle linebacker, a multi-purposes running back and one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the league. Now the Seahawks are positioned to be contending for their division title if not the Super Bowl for the next 4 to 5 years. This is the tale every team wants to tell its fans when the draft starts tonight.
What to watch for:
This year’s draft is light on difference makers at the offensive skill positions so during the first round you will see a lot of teams taking this opportunity to rebuild their offensive and defensive lines. The top two prospects this year are both left tackles; Luke Joeckel from Texas A&M and Eric Fisher from Central Michigan. After that, there will be a number of excellent defensive players available with many of them pass rushers. With the trend toward wide-open high octane offenses, teams need to be able to generate pressure on the quarterback now more than ever, which places a premium on big, athletic DE/OLB hybrids. I rank them in this order:
1. Dion Jordan – Oregon – Tall, rangy and incredibly athletic.
2. Ezekial Ansah – BYU – Fast and powerful but very raw.
3. Barkevious Mingo – LSU – Physical presence with good instincts.
4. Jarvis Jones – Georgia – Playmaker who elevates his game in big moments.
The order in which they are drafted will be dictated by the style of defense that the team selecting them plays. If a team is running a 3-4 then Mingo and Jones will be better suited, while Jordan and Ansah are more prototypical DEs.
There has been a lot of chatter about the fact that the quarterback class this year is underwhelming to say the least. Many draft experts have said that none of the quarterbacks this year are rated high enough to go in the first round, but that is extremely unlikely with teams always reaching too high when they have a need at the quarterback position. My thought is that at least 3 QBs will go in the first round with at least one team trading back into the first round to select one.
1. Geno Smith – WVU – Elite arm strength with questionable decision-making.
2. Ryan Nassib – Syracuse – Smart and accurate, but not very athletic.
3. E.J. Manuel – Florida State – Size and strength, but reckless with the football.
4. Matt Barkley – USC – Great command of an offense, but below average arm.
There may not be a lot of household names in the draft this year, but I think the level of talent through the first two rounds is very high. A team that is smart and judicious with its selections will be able to make some significant improvements to its roster. The teams that are impatient and decide to make flashy picks designed to excite their fan bases will find themselves watching the playoffs from their couches come January. The Ravens, Patriots, Giants, Steelers and Packers are competing for titles every year because they are experts at taking a long term view of the draft and taking the players the team needs not the ones the fans think they want. Teams like the Browns, Raiders, Cowboys and Jaguars are constantly picking style over substance and suffering the consequences. As usual there are a lot of trade rumors, and I get the feeling that because of the type of talent available this year, a few teams are going to be particularly aggressive during the first and second rounds. My eyes will be glued to the set.