Only 85 days are left between now and the first day of the NFL Draft. In that time span, I plan on creating a multiple part series centered around understanding the NFL draft, before it actually begins. Each will try to break down the NFL Draft as deeply as possible, looking at every possible aspect: I will try to break down patterns, reveal drafting styles, scout players and try to change how we look at the draft in its’ very essence. On top of that, each part will have a Mock Draft specific to the Broncos, and every four will have a mock draft for the entire NFL.
Before I go into this, I do want to clear up one thing: My mock drafts are not there for the purpose of being accurate. If they are, that’s all well and good, but it is not their intention. People skewer mock drafts because many set out with the only goal of being accurate, and very rarely are they. Instead, I just want to simply analyze the draft and use mock drafts as a vehicle to do so. On one final note, I am completely biased towards the Denver Broncos in these examinations.
Now we know that the Broncos will be picking #2 overall when the draft comes this April. That is why in part 1 of this series, I will delve into the top 5 picks of the NFL Draft, focusing on past success rates, (specifically positional).
To measure past success rates, I have labeled every top 5 pick since the 2000 Draft (55 total) with one of three terms: Success, Failure, Wild Card. A success is a player that has lived up to the teams’ expectations, or exceeded them. This player needs to be worthy of the pick used, and should have a great deal of success for the team that drafted him. For example, I defined Michael Vick as a failure despite his success in Philadelphia, because of his dramatic fallout and overall lack of success in Atlanta. A failure is defined as player that feel short of the teams expectations, but that does not mean they are necessarily a “bust”. For instance, Reggie Bush is listed as a failure, but is not a bust. As for wild cards, they are a player that cannot be described as either a success or a failure. This is not necessarily a “to be decided” tag. It means that they have fallen somewhere in between, and calling them either a success or a failure would skew results. Examples of wild cards include: Trent Williams, Matthew Stafford and Darren McFadden.
First, let’s look at the overall success rate of a top 5 pick: There is a 47% success rate for players that go in the top 5, with anywhere between +/- 11% including wild card players. On the other hand there is a 42% failure rate, again +/- 11%. It is important to remember that while these may not vary much from top 10 or top 15 pick success rates, the expectations for lower picks are well… lower. Therefore, a top 5 pick could be considered a failure, but may have a better career than a “successful” first round pick. Going back to Reggie Bush, had he been the tenth to fifteenth overall pick, I probably would have classified him as a success, but because of the high draft pick used, he is a failure.
But I digress…
Those statistics should not be surprising, as we see a slight lean to success, but also a very possible chance of failure over the past 11 years. What is far more telling than this is the information I have acquired about success rates in relation to the position being drafted. So first let’s start by revealing the truth on common misconceptions, with the use of these past success rates.
Very often, we assume that the safest position to draft in the top 5 is the offensive line. And with players like Jake Long and Joe Thomas coming out of the top 5, this perpetuates this stereotype of Tackles and Guards being “safe picks” in the top 5. Here is how this idea has really panned out over the past 11 years: 4 failures in Leonard Davis, Mike Williams, Robert Gallery and Levi Brown; 3 Successes in Chris Samuels, Joe Thomas, Jake Long; 2 Wild Cards in Jason Smith, Trent Williams. This pans out to a 42% +/- 13% Success Rate. In other words, this could be potentially as low as 29% success rate, and only as high as a 55% success rate at best.
The Tackle and Guard position has been labeled an easy transition to the NFL the past few years, due to the immediate success of Jake Long and Joe Thomas. These are anomalies, and should be looked over when taking a Tackle or Guard in the top 5. It is not a safe pick! If you think that you have found your Offensive Linemen of the future after a long scouting process, that’s wonderful. Good for you. But do not latch on to them because they are the “safe pick”. They are anything but that.
In fact, you might be better off waiting until later in the draft to take an Offensive Linemen. There is far less risk, but the same amount of reward that you can find in the top 5 picks (see Ryan Clady, Nick Mangold, Bryant McKinnie, etc). I would recommend trying to trade down to a team that is looking to draft an offensive linemen with their top 5 pick.
Now let’s talk about Defensive Backs. This could be a position that the Broncos could very possibly draft in the top 5 with Prince Amukamara and Patrick Peterson available, who are some of the best Cornerbacks to come out in recent years. I’m a big fan of drafting defensive backs very early in the draft, and here is why:
Of the four defensive backs that were drafted in the span of the last decade, all four of them are classified as successes: In other words, as of late, there has been a 100% success rate. No other position comes even close to Defensive Backs in terms of recent success. That said, they aren’t exactly booming successes, (Quentin Jammer, Terence Newman, Sean Taylor and Eric Berry).
Both Jammer and Newman it could be argued have not lived up to top five pick status, as Jammer has never been a Pro Bowler and Newman has only been to two in his career, but I disagree. Both Jammer and Newman have been consistent players for their teams over the span of 7-8 years and only for the teams that drafted them. As for Sean Taylor, he tragically passed away in 2007, but in his three years with the Redskins, he went All-Pro once and went to Pro Bowls in 2006 and 2007.
If the Broncos decide to draft either Peterson or Amukamara, I would not expect them to play like the next Champ Bailey, but I think both would be solid, sound picks and contribute well to the team. We all know though, you have to take big risks to get big rewards.
Speaking of risks and rewards, how about the Defensive Line?
Drafting defensive linemen in the top 5 amounted only to a 42% success rate, the lowest base rate of any position drafted. So it would be reasonable to not want to go out and draft a defensive linemen with a top 5 pick if you are looking for a sure-fire pick to improve your thing. But drafting a defensive linemen is like drafting a Quarterback on defense: The risk is high, but if you hit the jackpot, things will be looking better on the defensive side of the ball for years to come. On top of that, no one has ever one a Super Bowl without taking risks, and that is why the Broncos should not shy away from taking either Da’Quan Bowers or Nick Fairley with their top pick.
The good thing you have going for you, is almost all of the successful defensive linemen drafted in the top 5 are booming successes. (Justin Smith, Julius Peppers, Mario Williams, etc.) And we all know that John Fox will not shy away from taking that risk as he drafted Julius Peppers when he came to Carolina in 2002. If either Nick Fairley or Da’Quan Bowers is half the player Julius Peppers is, our defensive line should be set for the next few years.
Also-John Fox has only picked in the top 5 once, and has a 100% success rate doing so. Maybe, just maybe he’ll keep up that success rate here in Denver, and we won’t be picking in the top 5 for a very long time.
I have the first three rounds finished, and in a future part of the series will have the entirety of the draft. For now though, it is not very clear what kind of players will be drafted late in the process.
2nd overall pick: Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson. Don’t you wish Andrew Luck came out? I didn’t want him, but imagine the Broncos having a choice between Nick Fairley, Da’Quan Bowers and Patrick Peterson? Now, unless A.J Green from Georgia is chosen by Carolina, the Broncos are going to have to choose between either Da’Quan Bowers and Patrick Peterson or Nick Fairley and Patrick Peterson. For now though, I have the Panthers picking Nick Fairley and leaving the Broncos with either Peterson or Bowers.
Depending on whom you ask, Da’Quan Bowers may be the best player in the entire 2011 NFL Draft. His elite versatility, fantastic upper body strength and penchant for bursting off the line has made him one of the most desired prospects in the entire draft.
Bowers this year led all of college football in sacks and tackles for losses, so there is no doubt that he is productive, and it should be able to transfer to the NFL well. He is extremely athletic, had a great rip/swim move and has the size to put it all together. But there is some technique that he needs to fix. He often doesn’t get good enough leverage but this is a common problem with college prospects and a good coach could easily teach Bowers this.
The reason I expect this choice over Patrick Peterson is that John Fox likes drafting athletic defensive ends. In 2002, Fox drafted Julius Peppers with this same pick, and a few years later traded away a future first round pick to draft Everette Brown in the second round.
As I said earlier, if Da’Quan Bowers becomes half of the player that Julius Peppers became, the Broncos are set for the next few years. Imagine having Bowers and Elvis Dumervil play opposite each other, rushing the Quarterback. We could very well be unstoppable. The Broncos need to address the Defensive Line with this first overall pick and should be happy with either Bowers or Nick Fairley.
36th overall pick: Rahim Moore, S, UCLA. This is a pretty popular pick right now among draftniks and Broncos fans alike. The Broncos are picking towards the beginning of the second round and will probably continue to fix the defensive side of the ball. With them needing help at all three levels, don’t be surprised if they take the best player available route and try to salvage what is left of their defense. Therefore, it is logical that if the best Safety in the entire draft is available when they pick they will not hesitate to pull the trigger on him.
I could probably win my case for him with saying only one thing: He models his game after Ed Reed, and is good at it too. He’s a student of the game and works hard on gameday and in practices beforehand. Moore is your classic ball-hawk Safety. He fights for the ball in the air, has reliable hands and elite hand-eye coordination. I can’t wait to see how high he can jump in the combine, but from what I’ve seen on the field, it could be one of the highest in the class.
Moore’s mechanics are solid for the most part, as he displays a good backpedal and knows how to use his range in zone. He’s your perfect centerfielder. That said, his man coverage needs work, and will probably need some time to work on that when he reaches the NFL. He will also need to work on his tackling mechanics, because he has been unreliable in that department at times.
Brian Dawkins is getting old and it’s not a stretch to say he might not be in Denver next season, but if he is, it should only be on a rotational basis. In fact, I would love to have Dawkins stay simply to tutor Moore.
Our Defensive Backs clearly need help and Dawkins opposite Hill is just not going to cut it at the Safety position. I firmly believe that Safety can be one of the most important positions on the field and if you are not sound there, than everything else falls apart. They are your teams last line of defense and hopefully John Fox recognizes he must address them with this pick.
48th overall pick: Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame. This years’ Tight End class isn’t exactly star-studded and at this point I don’t see any of them being taken in the first round. That said though, there are some good picks to be had in this class, if these players are not overvalued.
My favorite, and the consensus best Tight End in the draft is Kyle Rudolph, a Tight End out of Notre Dame. Rudolph displays exceptional ball skills, with confident albeit aggressive pass catching. He needs to show a better release off of the line of scrimmage but has the athletic capabilities to learn how to do so at the next level. What most impresses me most though is his toughness. He constantly fights for the extra yard and his known among his peers for being a fantastic competitor.
While Tight End definitely isn’t the Broncos biggest need, we don’t have a pass-catching one at all, and John Fox utilizes the pass-catching Tight End far more than Josh McDaniels did. Daniel Graham is aging and if he is on the roster next season, I would be surprised if he was the year after that. Thus, you see the reasoning for drafting Rudolph.
Also, consider yet again positional value: We would be drafting the best Tight End in the entire class with only a mid-second round pick. When ever does a team get to draft the best players at three different positions? It would be incredible. While for the most part I would encourage John Fox to stick with mainly defensive players, if you can get a value like Rudolph this far down the stretch, it would be hard, if not impossible to pass him up.
If not Rudolph, because he may very well not be available, the Broncos will definitely continue to draft on the defensive side of the ball. Greg Jones, an inside linebacker out of Michigan State is also a very legitimate possibility with this pick.
66th overall pick: Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon. Sadly the Broncos do not have a very good chance of acquiring Clay Matthews this off-season, and instead have Robert Ayers. Not that I’m bitter or anything… Even though I wrote that Cushing, Maualuga and Matthews all would be better than Ayers, was right. I’m over that, and it’s partially due to how good Clay Matthews’ brother Casey Matthews is.
Casey and Clay are too different types of players. Clay is a scary pass rushing outside linebacker built for a 3-4 defense. Casey on the other hand is your classic, sound Inside Linebacker built for a 4-3. With the switch to a 4-3 inevitable, I will be excited to see exactly what John Fox does with the Linebacker position. For his first year though, I would encourage keeping players like Mays, Woodyard and of course Williams and rotating them in and out with young mid-round picks.
Casey Matthews should be one of those picks. The first thing that jumps out at you about Casey Matthews is his speed. I mean, it really is ridiculous and is a mismatch for most Tight Ends and even some slower Wide Receivers. While his mechanics in coverage are raw, with the proper coaching, he could be one of the best coverage linebackers in the NFL.
On top of that, he is really instinctual. Maybe it is because he comes from a long line of football players that goes far beyond just his brother Clay and goes back to his father, and his fathers father, and his fathers brothers, etc. He recognizes gaps and then closes them up with his speed and power.
The Broncos need a little bit of raw talent if they really want to improve and should take a chance on Casey Matthews. He’s not your conventional pick, and will partially be overvalued because of the talent of his brother. But you can’t deny there is something intangible about him that I think will make him a good player in the NFL. With the Broncos needing a 4-3 inside Linebacker, he’s a good fit.
THE LITTLE BIG BOARD:
1. A.J Green, WR, Georgia
2. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
3. Da’Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
4. Patrick Peterson, CB, LSU
5. Von Miller, OLB, Texas A&M
6. Prince Amukamara, CB, Nebraska
7. Marcell Dareus, DT, Alabama
8. Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina
9. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
10. Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon St.
11. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama
12. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
13. Anthony Castonzo, OT, Boston College
14. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA
15. Aldon Smith, OLB, Missouri
16. J.J Watt, DE, Wisconsin
17. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn
18. Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
19. Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue
20. Nate Soldier, OT, Colorado
Mike Pouncey, G, Florida
Strengths: Stout at the point of attack … Very athletic … Displays great balance … Is very agile, able to slide laterally … Gets a good push in the run game … Is very aggressive, plays nasty … Has a high football I.Q … Versatile, can play Guard or Center … Can sustain blocks.
Weaknesses: Very unpolished, will need work on technique … Gets poor leverage, inconsistent pad level … Durability concerns … Doesn’t snap well from the shotgun … Doesn’t dominate opponent.
Overview: Mike Pouncey, the brother of Steelers Center Maurkice Pouncey, has all the physical traits and the intangibles you look for in an elite center, but has yet to put it all together. For a team with a good Offensive Line coach and a stable Offensive Line looking for someone to be an eventual replacement, Pouncey is the perfect fit. But if you need a Guard/Center now, I would look elsewhere.
My Grade: 87/100, 2nd to 3rd round pick.
Jalil Brown, CB, Colorado
Strengths: Prototypical size, weight … Has big hands … Has very fluid hips … Quick feet … A hard worker, and a fiery competitor … Jams receivers at the line of scrimmage … Good run supporter … A leader on and off the field.
Weaknesses: Not heralded for his instincts … While a solid tackler, isn’t much of a big hitter … Doesn’t have excellent ball skills … Not too fast, nor explosive … Durability concerns to watch for.
Overview: Jalil Brown has been overshadowed by his teammate Jimmy Smith and that has led to him being an underrated player. That said, if I am a coach this is the exact kind of player I want to have on my team. At the very least he will be a good backup and contribute on special teams, but for a team that plays with lots of press coverage, he could compete for a starting role.
My Grade: 52/100 Mid-Round pick.
Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse
Strengths: Elite lower body strength … Built very compact … Tough runner … Knows how to follow his blockers … Good field vision … Has pretty good foot moves … One of the best bursts to the hole in the class … A productive player.
Weaknesses: Very small for a power runner, may not measure 5’10 … Doesn’t pick up the blitz well … Hasn’t shown breakaway speed … Doesn’t often break tackles … Poor hands … Character concerns.
Overview: Delone Carter did favors for his stock last weekend at the East/West Shrine Game when he powered through defenders and scored a touchdown. Nonetheless, I’m not sold on him just yet. He is a power runner but doesn’t do what power runners traditionally do: power through defenders. Carter has the potential to have a very good career in the NFL, but for coaches looking for a prototypical power back, this isn’t your guy.
My Grade: 60/100
Pat Devlin, a Quarterback out of Delaware had a good chance to shine at the East/West Shrine Game last weekend, but he really failed to do so. He floated far too many passes, looked uncomfortable in the pocket, and displayed poor accuracy. Devlin is an intelligent guy and I wouldn’t bet against him, but I see no signs of him becoming the next Joe Flacco. Expect him to drop to day 3.
When these tidbits were written before the Senior Bowl, I predicted that Nate Soldier would raise his draft status to the number one overall Offensive Lineman. He still hasn’t done that, but he has made big steps in doing so after an awesome Senior Bowl. He was very consistent, and while he proved that he isn’t the most mobile offensive lineman, he was very good.
Jake Locker, a Quarterback out of Washington, was thought of at one time to be a potential first overall pick in the draft. Last weekend at the Senior Bowl, he had a chance to reshape his image and hopefully become the first Quarterback taken again. I didn’t expect him to blow the game out of the water as some suspected, and I was right. Locker was up-and-down like his entire career and had high points as well as low. He may still be drafted in the first round but I wouldn’t draft him until the second if I was in the NFL.