Posted on: December 1, 2011 3:44 pm
Edited on: December 1, 2011 3:44 pm
NFL teams have been impressed thus far with the development of the class of 2011's quarterbacks. Cam Newton has already emerged as one of the league's most exciting players and Andy Dalton has the Bengals in the thick of the playoff hunt. Though wins and big plays have been tougher to come by for Christian Ponder (Vikings) and Blaine Gabbert (Jaguars) thus far, each have shown flashes.
The relative success of his young peers bodes well for the Houston Texans and their rookie quarterback, T.J. Yates.
Yates, graded as a sixth round pick last year by NFLDraftScout.com, was the Texans' 5th round pick (No. 152 overall).
A year earlier, the idea of Yates being drafted at all would have been considered a long shot.
As a junior Yates completed barely 60% of his passes and threw more interceptions (15) than touchdowns on the season (14) despite being surrounded by a lot of NFL talent, including current Cleveland Browns' rookie Greg Little and rising 2012 prospect Dwight Jones, among others.
Yates, however, showed remarkable poise a year later during the scandal that eventually led to year-long suspensions of Little, defensive tackle Marvin Austin and defensive end Robert Quinn, among others.
While everything around him was crumbling, Yates developed into a legitimate pro prospect, completing 66.% of his passes for 3,418 yards and a 19-9 touchdown to interception ratio. For his improvement, Yates was named an honorable mention All-ACC pick and helped lead the Tar Heels to a dramatic double overtime victory over Tennessee in the Music City Bowl.
When Yates entered last Sunday's game against the Jaguars, he did so with the same poise and leadership he'd demonstrated while at UNC. The moment wasn't too big for him -- a testament to the calm he's gained as a three-year starter while at UNC.
Certainly there are other quarterbacks with greater talent. Yates, in fact, will be playing opposite one this week in Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Like Ryan, however, Yates is more than the sum of his parts. While he doesn't have a howizter or great mobility, he's already a savvy enough player to spread the ball out to Houston's playmakers and manage a game.
For the AFC-South leading Texans, that may be all he has to do to help them reach the playoffs.
Posted on: May 10, 2011 2:11 pm
Over the next two weeks I will be highlighting a different position each day in an attempt to Find the Fit -- identifying 2011 prospects who are a particularly good schematic fits for the club that selected him. I'll also highlight one player per position who I believe could struggle in his new NFL role. Too often in the past rookies who have struggled in the NFL have done so because they were simply drafted into schemes that didn't fit their individual strengths.
Defensive end was one of the strengths of the 2011 draft class, but a disproportionate number of them were five technique defenders best suited to holding the point in a 3-4 scheme. There were few classic 4-3 RDEs to be had in 2011, with former North Carolina standout Robert Quinn being the most explosive of the bunch. In many cases, top collegiate defensive ends -- such as Texas A&M's Von Miller, Missouri's Aldon Smith and Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan will be moved to outside linebacker. As such, much of the focus below is on DEs capable of playing immediately in the scheme in which they were drafted, though they may not be used as defensive ends with their NFL teams.
Like my picks on the offensive side of the ball (the quarterbacks , running backs , wide receivers , tight end and offensive line fits), I highlight players taken in the middle and later rounds, as well as 1st and 2nd rounders.
Players are listed alphabetically.
Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints: New Orleans' defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is one of the creative minds in the business, making the versatile Jordan an ideal fit in the Saints' defensive line rotation. Jordan, who emerged as a star at defensive end in the 3-4 while at Cal, proved the ability to be just as disruptive as a 4-3 pass rusher while at the Senior Bowl. At 6-4, 287 pounds, Jordan also has the size and strength to slip inside at defensive tackle in nickel situations.
Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins: The Big Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive end, Kerrigan will be asked to drop to outside linebacker in the Redskins' odd-man front. Kerrigan was widely characterized as strictly a 4-3 defensive end, but some of the clubs I'm closest to who work for 3-4 teams absolutely loved the former Boilermaker's burst and passion as a stand-up OLB. The biggest knock on Kerrigan coming out of Purdue was that he didn't use his hands well enough to keep NFL offensive tackles from latching on to him. The theory went that by moving him further away, he could use his speed to blow past tackles. Playing opposite an established rusher in Brian Orakpo, Kerrigan could prove an immediate impact player from this draft and ultimately quite a steal at No. 16, overall.
Robert Quinn, St. Louis Rams: Like the Saints, the Rams simply got lucky when a top defensive end that fit their system simply fell in their lap. Quinn was rated by many as a top 10 prospect, but with four quarterbacks surprisingly making the Top 12, Auburn's Nick Fairley and Quinn fell to the Detroit Lions and Rams, respectively. With the exception of the Broncos' Miller (who will be asked to move to OLB), Quinn was the most explosive pass rusher in this draft. Playing opposite a strong, stout defender like former No. 2 overall pick Chris Long, Quinn's speed should give the Rams' otherwise aging defensive line some real playmaking potential. Quinn is already being viewed by some as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Jabaal Sheard, Cleveland Browns: Knowing that the Browns desperately needed to get bigger and more productive up front in their transition back to a 4-3 defense, I had Cleveland pegged to take Quinn at No. 6, overall. That may or may not have been the direction they were going to with that pick, but when Atlanta offered them five selections (including their 1st and 4th round picks in 2012) to move down, the rebuilding Browns jumped at the opportunity. In Sheard (taken No. 37 overall), Cleveland got a high-effort pass rusher with an underrated combination of power and burst off the snap. He isn't as explosive as Quinn, but might be a safer pick and could surprise with his immediate production in this scheme.
Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers: While some pointed to quarterback or cornerback as the 49ers' biggest areas of concern, I've maintained that the team desperately needed to address their lack of a consistent pass rush. The 49ers clearly agreed, but I have real reservations about the player they chose to fix their concerns. It isn't that I dislike Smith. Actually, I'm quite high on the former Tiger's upside... I just liked him much more as a 4-3 defensive end rather than as a 3-4 rush linebacker. I didn't see the balance and change-of-direction from Smith that I believe translates into a high degree of success as a 3-4 OLB. Taking into consideration Smith's long, relatively lean frame (6-4, 263 pounds and exceptionally long arms, legs) and age (20), I see Smith getting naturally bigger as spends time in an NFL weight room. Quite frankly, I see Smith growing out of the position and struggling to put up the numbers expected of a player taken so high (No. 7) in the draft.
Posted on: April 26, 2011 10:28 pm
Arizona Cardinals 2010 record: 5-11, fourth place NFC West
2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 5 (1); 38 (2); 69 (3); 103 (4); 136 (5); 171 (6); 184 (7); 249 (7)
Outside linebacker: Last year's starters, Clark Haggans and Joey Porter, will be 34 by the time the season is scheduled to start. Haggans could return, but Porter, whose salary is due to increase to $5.75 million probably is gone. Von Miller would be a nice replacement. With Daryl Washington and O'Brien Schofield, the Cardinals would have three young, promising linebackers. Brooks Reed from the University of Arizona would make sense in the second round. He's bigger and would be a good fit on the left side.
Quarterback: It's the top priority this offseason, but the Cardinals would prefer to address it through free agency or trade. Those options obviously aren't available to them, but they will be at some point, if the 2011 season is to be played. In John Skelton, the Cardinals already have a young quarterback. But there are some intriguing quarterbacks in this draft. Whisenhunt likes smart, tough gym-rat type of guys. Andy Dalton of Texas Christian falls into that category, as does Washington's Jake Locker. Both likely will be gone by the second round, however.
Inside linebacker: Gerald Hayes, the starter for the past five seasons, probably will be released at some point. The Cardinals don't have a big, inside linebacker on the roster, and could use a physical presence. Illinois' Martez Wilson would make sense in the second round. The starting two inside linebackers, Paris Lenon and Daryl Washington, weigh between 230 pounds and 240 pounds.
Guard: The starting guards, Alan Faneca and Deuce Lutui, are not under contract, and there are no young players behind them. Cannon is huge, 6-5, 358, and the Cardinals love to have large, road-grader type guys inside. Cannon has the size to play tackle, too, which is attractive.
First-round focus 5th overall -- The general consensus among league insiders is that the Cardinals would much rather land their next starting quarterback via free agency or trade, rather than invest in a rookie. Despite this notion, Arizona could have a hard time passing up Missouri's Blaine Gabbert -- rated by many as the top quarterback of this class -- if he were available to them at No. 5. With several attractive would-be free agents potentially available, the Cardinals could elect to look at other positions of need, however. Chief among them is pass rusher. The Cardinals feature two aging outside linebackers in Clark Haggans and Joey Porter and could be in prime position to nab the top pass rusher of the draft in Texas A&M outside linebacker Von Miller. The Cardinals kept close eye on the former Aggie throughout the week of practice at the Senior Bowl and could certainly use his speed off the edge. Arizona is so needy at the position that some theorize the club would "reach" for North Carolina's Robert Quinn should Miller already be gone. Perhaps a safer move would be to stick to the best player available strategy. LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson wouldn't fill as big of a need, but could present a big play threat opposite Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Similarly, if Georgia wideout A.J. Green were to still be available, he would provide the Cardinals with a vertical threat to help Larry Fitzgerald. With two receivers of that quality, veteran quarterbacks would likely be lining up at the door to play in Arizona, especially considering that the Cardinals play in the very winnable NFC West division.
Five names on Cardinals' board:
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
WR A.J. Green, Georgia
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Posted on: April 25, 2011 8:00 pm
Carolina Panthers 2010 record: 2-14, fourth place NFC South
2011 draft rundown - Eight total picks (round): 1 (1); 65 (3); 97 (3); 98 (4); 132 (5); 166 (6); 203 (7); 244 (7)
Quarterback: The Panthers finished last passing in 2010, so it doesn't take much to figure out their biggest need this offseason. In fact, even new coach Ron Rivera has come out and said his team's biggest goal is finding a franchise quarterback.
Defensive tackle: The Panthers have an equally pressing need on the other side of the ball at defensive tackle entering this year's NFL draft. Last year, the Panthers rotated Derek Landri, Nick Hayden and Ed Johnson in at the defensive tackle spots. All three might be considered decent role players, but none are exceptional and might not start for many other teams around the league.
Wide receiver: Yes, the Panthers drafted three wide receivers last year, including two in the third round in Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards and one in the sixth in David Gettis. But if the team decides to trade unhappy veteran Steve Smith, which is a possibility, they will need to replenish this position with a top-end talent.
Cornerback: Richard Marshall has said he doesn't think he'll be back and fellow starter Chris Gamble (who is owed $6 million) is coming off a poor season in which he was benched.
First-round focus 1st overall -- The Carolina Panthers are widely expected to select quarterback Cam Newton with the top overall pick, but some believe the team is struggling to come to grips with the thought of investing the first pick on a player with only one season of starting experience at the BCS level. It is easy to understand why the Panthers might be tempted by some of the other players in this draft class. Alabama defensive Marcell Dareus, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green also play positions of need and are widely viewed as considerably safer prospects. North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn could prove a Pro Bowl caliber pass rusher -- something the Panthers could use considering their loss last year of free agent Julius Peppers -- and would be a popular selection given his close regional ties, as well. Ultimately, however, the way to improve in the NFL is to improve at the quarterback position. Considering the relative talent of the other quarterbacks in the NFC South division (Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay), the only way for the Carolina Panthers to realistically get back into contention for the divisional crown, they need improved play at quarterback. Newton is a gamble, but his 51 touchdowns against SEC competition and poise both on and off the field in driving Auburn to the BCS Championship, is the stuff of legend. At this point, it would be an upset if Carolina selected anyone other than Newton with the first pick -- though with no second round selection and holes throughout the roster, they'll be working the phones to the last second in an effort to trade down.
Five names on Panthers' board:
QB Cam Newton, Auburn
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
Posted on: April 25, 2011 7:08 pm
Edited on: April 25, 2011 7:08 pm
Denver Broncos 2010 record: 4-12, fourth place AFC West
2011 draft rundown - Seven total picks (round): 2 (1); 36 (2); 46 (2); 67 (3); 186 (6); 189 (6); 247 (7)
Defensive tackle: Denver tied a franchise-high by allowing 26 rushing touchdowns and the 2,473 yards allowed were second-most ever. The team will switch from a 3-4 back to a 4-3 front under new coach John Fox and after cutting two veterans (Jamal Williams, Justin Bannan) and likely losing two other players in free agency (Marcus Thomas, Ronald Fields), the cupboard is nearly bare. It would be something of an upset if either Alabama's Marcell Dareus or Auburn's Nick Fairley isn't Denver's first-round pick, when all is said and done.
Linebacker: The Broncos are in desperate need of someone to shore up middle linebacker. D.J. Williams has been mentioned as a possibility there but he simply hasn't demonstrated a knack for playing in the kind of traffic that position entails. Williams is best suited for weak-side linebacker. A player such as UCLA's Akeem Ayers, Washington's Mason Foster or Oklahoma's Jeremy Beal would make sense with one of the team's two second-rounders.
Safety: Brian Dawkins missed time last year with a pair of knee problems and is still as fierce and dedicated as ever. But he turns age 38, and free safety Renaldo Hill also is on the wrong side of 30. With little reliable developmental depth behind him, the team needs athletic defenders who can match up on a tight end and have the range to patrol the middle of the field. There has been a revolving door of veterans and fill-in types in Denver for several years without producing long-term, in-house options.
Tight end: Denver traded Tony Scheffler last summer and never found a replacement with sure hands that could stretch the middle of the field. The Broncos have since cut position reception leader Daniel Graham, a team captain, and the Broncos continue to wait for 2009 second-round pick Richard Quinn to emerge as a viable two-way threat. Either Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph, Arkansas D.J. Williams and Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks could hear their name called by Denver at some point draft weekend.
First-round focus 2nd overall -- It is widely assumed that the Denver Broncos will select Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus with the No. 2 overall pick considering their gaping hole at defensive tackle, but with plenty of needs and no picks between No. 119 selections between their third and fourth picks, Denver will be listening to any and all offers to trade down. Dareus would fill a need. The powerful run-plugger has the size and strength to lock down a starting spot inside for a decade, but the team is also thought to have similar grades on LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson, Texas A&M linebacker Von Miller, North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley -- and could nab one of these players a few spots lower in the draft should they be find a willing suitor to trade. The Broncos have done their due diligence on the top quarterbacks of the 2011 class, but league insiders believe they are more satisfied with their current passers than some have suggested and are simply trying to drum up interest in trading down.
Five names on Broncos' board:
DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M
DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina
DT Nick Fairley, Auburn
Posted on: April 22, 2011 10:15 pm
San Francisco 49ers 2010 record: 6-10, third place NFC West
2011 draft rundown 12 total picks (round): 7 (1); 45 (2); 76 (3); 108 (4); 115 (4); 141 (5); 174 (6); 190 (6); 211 (7) 231 (7); 239 (7); 250 (7)
Quarterback: David Carr is the only quarterback under contract and Jim Harbaugh wants to groom a youngster for the future. The 49ers have enough faith in Harbaugh as an evaluator and coach that they may not necessarily use their first-round pick on the position. Harbaugh could wait until the second round for someone like Nevada's Colin Kaepernick or even longer for a sleeper like Delaware's Pat Devlin. The team has offered Alex Smith a one-year contract to return in 2011. But even if that happens, Smith is not yet being viewed as anything but a placeholder quarterback who could start this season while a youngster watches from the sideline. Smith, a laid-back former No. 1 pick who has played an array of offenses, also could be an ideal mentor for a rookie quarterback.
Outside linebacker: The 49ers starters last year, Manny Lawson and Parys Haralson, combined for 6.5 sacks and Lawson is an unrestricted free agent. Vic Fangio wants an aggressive, blitz-happy defense similar to the one that buddy Dom Capers runs in Green Bay. That will require edge rushers who can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks like Clay Matthews does for the Packers. The best option, Von Miller, likely will be off the board. Other possibilities include North Caroliona's Robert Quinn in the first round, North Carolina's Bruce Carter in the second and Fresno State's Chris Carter in the third.
Cornerback: The 49ers finished 24th against the pass last year, and their top cornerback, Nate Clements, might be released due to an unwieldy contract in 2011. Again, Fangio wants to run an aggressive defensive scheme and having cornerbacks who can cover receivers deep is essential. Louisiana State's Patrick Peterson would be a no-brainer selection at pick No. 7 and the team even could nab Nebraska's Prince Amukamara at that spot. Later in the draft, Texas' Aaron Williams or Virginia's Ras-I Dowling are possibilities.
Running back: The 49ers have taken long looks at running backs that will be available in the middle rounds. Their workhorse the last four seasons, Frank Gore, has been injured in each of those years. Furthermore, he is entering the final year of his contract. Backup Anthony Dixon is talented, but the 49ers aren't ready to turn the reins over to him yet. Kansas State's Daniel Thomas, Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, Eastern Washington's Taiwan Jones, Nebraska's Roy Helu and Cal's Shane Vereen have all gotten long looks from the 49ers in recent weeks. Any one of them could wind up a 49er.
First-round focus 7th overall -- Despite their 6-10 record, there is a fair amount of optimism that the 49ers are close to turning around the franchise. The club needs more consistency from the quarterback position, of course, but unless Missouri's Blaine Gabbert slips to them at No. 7, they are likely to wait until the second round (or later) rather than reach for a young passer for Jim Harbaugh to develop. The significantly more likely scenario has the 49ers choosing between a cornerback and a pass rusher in the first round. Both have been positions of need for awhile, as costly free agent Nate Clements has been a relative disappointment and the team has struggled to get any type of consistent outside pass rush despite investing a four top 100 picks in their front seven since 2006, including the No. 22 overall pick that year in former NC State standout Manny Lawson. Should North Carolina's Robert Quinn still be available, he makes a great deal of sense. While North Carolina head coach Butch Davis believes that Quinn is best suited to remain as a RDE in the 4-3 alignment, Quinn has demonstrated the agility to potentially be a star as a rush linebacker in San Francisco's 3-4 defense. Others believe that Missouri pass rusher Aldon Smith has more upside due to his longer arms. There is also the possibility that LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson should fall into San Francisco's lap. While pass rusher is the bigger need and the depth at cornerback is greater this year than outside linebacker, the 49ers might struggle to allow the player many view as the best prospect in the 2011 draft to slip any further. There is some talk that the 49ers would select Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamura over Quinn, as they are believed to have the former Cornhusker rated very closely with Peterson.
Five names on 49ers' board:
QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri
CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
CB Prince Amukamara, Nebraska
OLB Robert Quinn, North Carolina
OLB Aldon Smith, Missouri
Posted on: March 11, 2011 2:27 pm
The natural response to my blog post listing some potential surprise top ten picks earlier this week is to inquire who might be the highly-rated players most likely to drop into the mid-first round?
1. Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers
3. Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara
4. Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert
There is no doubt about Fairley's athleticism; his Combine and pro day workouts showed exceptional footwork for a man his size. But junior college prospects and "one-year wonders" are often considered risky prospects, so teams preferring Alabama's Marcell Dareus as the draft's top defensive tackle or needing a receiver or cornerback may decide to go in those directions rather than taking Fairley in the single digits.
Posted on: March 4, 2011 1:35 pm
We all know by now that Oregon State's Stephen Paea showed record-breaking strength with 49 repetitions of 225 pounds. We also know that Miami cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke was the fastest player in Indianapolis this year, unofficially being recorded at 4.28 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
As teams have had a few days to digest all of the numbers coming out of the Combine, however, one player's workout that is gathering momentum as one of the truly elite is Arizona pass rusher Brooks Reed's .
Consider that Reed, who measured in at 6024 (6'2 and a 1/2) and 263 pounds and worked out with the defensive linemen, was nonetheless faster than most linebackers. His 4.65 second time in the 40-yard dash, in fact, was faster than 18 of the 24 linebackers tested there.
Perhaps his most impressive total came in the most important test for defensive linemen (and, some would say, linebackers) in the ten-yard split. Reed was timed at 1.54 seconds over the first ten yards, demonstrating a degree of explosiveness typically reserved for much smaller men. Reed's 1.54 seconds not only was the fastest of all defensive ends (North Carolina's Robert Quinn was second at 1.61), his split was also faster than some of the more highly touted athletes of the Combine, including Nevada OLB Dontay Moch, Tennessee-Chattanooga CB Buster Skine, Kentucky WR Randall Cobb, Georgia WR AJ Green, Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan, and Texas A&M OLB Von Miller.
Each of these players weighed in at less than 250 pounds and all ran the 40-yard dash faster at 4.48 or faster, but weren't as explosive in their initial start as Reed.
The initial start, is of course, a highly valued trait for pass rushers. Reed was a star defensive end for the Wildcats out of the 4-3 alignment. Teams operating out of the 3-4, however, will be just as impressed. That type of scheme and positional versatility makes Reed one of the more attractive pass rushers in the draft.
Reed is currently NFLDraftScout.com's No. 5 rated outside linebacker and the 49th rated player, overall.