Draft Tip Sheet: Compensatory picks can pay off big

by | The Sports Xchange/CBSSports.com

Coaches and general managers are happy compensatory selections remained an essential part of the NFL's reworked labor pact with its rank-and-file.

"Through the years, those (compensatory) choices have been valuable," Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome said, after the Ravens were awarded a pair of extra picks, in the fourth (No. 130 overall) and fifth rounds (No. 169), for the 2012 draft. "It's another chance to find a young guy who can help you."

In last year's draft, Newsome unearthed defensive end/linebacker Pernell McPhee with a fifth-round compensatory choice. The former Mississippi State standout didn't start a game for the Ravens, but appeared in all 16 contests, principally as a nickel pass rusher, and registered six sacks.

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The Dallas Cowboys used a seventh-round compensatory choice on Wisconsin offensive lineman Bill Nagy in 2011, and he ended up starting four games. The New York Giants' Jacquian Williams, a linebacker from South Florida who was a sixth-round compensatory selection, started only two games. But Williams collected the second-most tackles (78) among rookie 'backers in the league, led the Giants' special teams units with 14 solo tackles, and forced the fumble that set up Lawrence Tynes' winning field goal in the NFC championship game at San Francisco.

And so, as New England coach Bill Belichick, whose franchise has netted 26 compensatory picks through the years (albeit none in 2012), once noted of the extra choices: "They matter. Always have."

They figure to count again in two weeks, when 15 teams will exercise 32 compensatory choices -- the equivalent of an extra round -- in the 2012 draft.

The NFL awarded the 32 choices recently at its annual meetings in Palm Beach, Fla. And while the yearly meting out of the additional selections didn't command a lot of attention in the wake of the bounty scandal and other league business, the teams that collected additional choices certainly noticed.

Six teams received three or more compensatory selections, with Cleveland, Green Bay and the New York Jets receiving four each. The compensatory windfall pushed the Browns' draft bounty to a league-high 13 choices. The Packers, with a dozen picks, are second.

The breakdown on compensatory choices for the '12 draft: one in the third round, eight in the fourth, three in the fifth, six in the sixth round and 14 in the seventh round. Without their compensatory choices, the Raiders -- who received picks in each of the third, fourth and fifth rounds -- wouldn't have a selection of their own until the fifth round. Think new Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie isn't thrilled with the compensatory program?

And he isn't the only one.

"It's great," said Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert. "We're committed to the draft, and those choices really help."

First doled out in 1994, the compensatory picks have included players such as quarterbacks Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck, recently retired wide receiver Hines Ward, standout New Orleans pass-catcher Marques Colston, and Indianapolis safety Antoine Bethea, among others, to the league.

The 32 choices for 2012 raise to 587 the number of compensatory picks, which are awarded for net losses in free agency, doled out. Baltimore, which has received 33 picks, leads the way. Dallas and Green Bay each have gotten 30 compensatory picks since 1994. Nine teams have received 25 or more.

"I don't know that a lot of people understand the formula," acknowledged Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert. "But you understand every year in free agency when you might be able to get a (compensatory) choice for a guy you've lost ... and it has some role in your planning. You figure it into the big picture, definitely."

It is impossible, of course, to predict which players or teams might benefit from the compensatory selections in 2012.

But for most of their existence, there seems to have been at least one or two compensatory choices annually who make a fairly significant impact for their clubs. The choices don't commence until the end of the third round -- Oakland has the top compensatory pick this year, with the 95th overall slot, at the end of Round Three -- but they are valued chips in a league where the salary cap means acquiring affordable labor at fixed prices, and where even middle-round picks are like gold to personnel directors.

And, as noted, not every compensatory choice is an afterthought. And not all of them turn out to be only role players.

"There are a lot of guys in the league right now who got a chance because they were compensatory picks," Colston said. "They might not have been taken at all, certainly not by the same teams, were it not for the (compensatory) choices. So they've had an impact on teams and individuals."

By rule, compensatory choices cannot be traded. But they are more key to a club's overall draft plans than many fans or pundits might appreciate. They are an element of a franchise's draft blueprint, part of the equation, and the teams that hold them may be able to wheel and deal a bit more than they might have minus the additional draft choices.

"Believe me," said Heckert two weeks ago. "They can make a difference."

Draft notebook

 For the most part, the pre-draft analysis at tackle has focused on the so-called "Big Four" of Matt Kalil (USC), Riley Reiff (Iowa), Jonathan Martin (Stanford) and Michael Adams (Ohio State), with Georgia's Cordy Glenn, who most scouts feel projects better to guard, thrown in as a sort of wild card.

Keep an eye on Mississippi's Bobby Massie, who is jumping up some boards the past two weeks, as a potential late first-round pick.

Right tackles tend to be a bit devalued in the first round, and Massie (6-feet-6 1/8, 316 pounds at the combine) doesn't seem to have the feet to play the left side, but some teams have taken to him, and he merits a strong look now. Word is that Pittsburgh, which has been linked to Adams in a lot of rumors, likes Massie just as much, if not more. Remember, over the last five years, an average of five tackles have been chosen in the first round, including six in the opening round last year. The position has become a priority.

 With a sizzling workout last week, Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd may have thrust himself into the top 10. Certainly into the top 12. Some pundits even feel that Floyd -- whose explosion off the line is deemed exceptional, as is his burst into and out of his cuts -- could be the equal of Oklahoma State Justin Blackmon.

But the ascent of Floyd has also sent league scouts on an extended fact-finding mission about his background, which includes multiple DUI's, and past attitude problems.

"He's one of the most studied guys in the whole draft, in terms of background," an area scout from one interested AFC franchise told The Sports Xchange. "No doubt he's a playmaker. But people want to be extra sure he's not a troublemaker, too."

It appears that Floyd, who has been very popular on the individual visit circuit, has been extremely candid about past indiscretions. But teams are doing a lot of digging beyond his admissions.

 Wake Forest defensive back Josh Bush wasn't invited to any of the postseason all-star games or the combine workouts, but the league-wide trend toward finding guys who can play safety, but possess some cornerback-level cover skills, has helped him a lot in evaluations. Bush likely will be drafted in the middle to late rounds as a free safety, but his sub-4.5 speed, some history at corner in college, and potential for being able to play in the slot and on special teams probably will earn him a paycheck somewhere in the league.

 Talk about a guy on a roller coaster: Wisconsin's Peter Konz has pretty much been the consensus No. 1 center in the draft for most of the evaluation process, but has been in an out of the first round in projections.

The latest: Put the Badgers' standout, the latest solid Wisconsin blocker, back in the opening round. Konz has been very solid in workouts, demonstrated terrific in-line toughness, and also the potential to move to guard for teams that already have very good snappers. On the subject of Wisconsin blockers, guard Kevin Zeitler is back on the rise again. Like Konz, his stock had been up and down, but is climbing solidly again.

 Ryan Miller of Colorado doesn't rate among the elite tackles mentioned above, but he has risen to the point that some teams now regard him as a compelling middle-round choice.

Miller, who started a record 48 games for the Buffs, is an enigma of sorts, since he has short arms and is perhaps too tall (6-feet-6 7/8) to have the kind of leverage to move to guard, a position he played in college at times.

But Miller has some in-line strength, and displays enough nastiness.

Clubs tend to see him as a guy with some upside, with a chance to develop into a starter.

 St. Louis has already bailed out of the second overall choice in the first round, sending it to Washington for a package of draft choices that includes three first-rounders.

No one should be surprised if the Rams, under the direction of a new football regime in coach Jeff Fisher and general manager Les Snead, dangle their second-round selection as well.

The Rams currently hold the top pick in Round Two, and that choice has taken on some added significance now that the second round doesn't kick off until Friday. Teams will have an entire night, after the first round on Thursday, to reset their draft boards, and determine the premier players left after the opening stanza.

That gives clubs plenty of time to decide if there is a player worthy of moving up to grab at the top of the second round.

St. Louis officials have purposely downplayed the significance of owning the top pick in the second round, but want to collect additional choices to hasten the rebuilding, and auctioning off the second-rounder offers a way of doing so.

 Quick kicks: Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox seems to have inched ahead of Dontari Poe of Memphis, Michael Brockers of LSU, and Michigan State's Jerel Worthy among the defensive tackles on a lot of draft boards. Cox appears to be more a 4-3 tackle, but there are a couple 3-4 teams that play their nose tackles in unconventional ways who feel Cox might be a decent fit ... In talking to scouts and personnel people the past week or so, it certainly seems a consensus is forming that quarterback Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M could be the most "overdrafted" player in the first round ... One of the problems with the compensatory pick system cited above is that so many winning teams are rewarded with additional extra picks. But, as a few general managers noted, perennial winning teams often aren't as involved in free agency, sustain a net "loss," and so merit the extra choices. Of the 15 franchises awarded compensatory picks for 2012, six had winning records in 2011, five had losing marks, and four finished at .500 ... Lucas Nix of Pitt, who played both tackle and guard in college, is getting some attention as a possible center project ... Several 3-4 teams in the bottom of the first round have grown fond of Boise State "edge" rusher Shea McClellin ... Talk to scouts about Arizona wide receiver Juron Criner and the feedback is that he may be the best technical route-runner in the pool.

 The last word: "We want as many picks as we can get, because I think the draft is all about luck. The more picks you have, the better chance you have to get lucky." -- Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta


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