Four for Monday: Is Tom Savage really worth a high draft pick?
Is Pitt quarterback Tom Savage worth the recent hype? Also, Chris Johnson lands in the perfect place with the Jets, where Rex Ryan knows how to coax every last drop from aging veterans.
1. Hype surrounding Pitt's Tom Savage: Long before the draft world created a meteoric rise for Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage, Phil Simms said on my radio show that Savage was his dark horse candidate in this draft. As Simms noted, Savage could make all the throws and rarely had solid protection in college. I discussed Simms' opinion of the draftable quarterbacks on April 9, and plan on meeting with Simms this week about Savage and the other quarterbacks in the May 8-10 draft. I just finished up three game tapes on Savage (Old Dominion, Notre Dame and Bowling Green). In those games Savage completed 41 of 66 passes for 471 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions. He also ran 19 times for 17 yards and one touchdown. I feel like I got a pretty good look at the "hot" QB who played at three different colleges.
Old Dominion couldn't stop the run against Pittsburgh and the bootleg game was a natural complement. Savage was mobile enough to threaten, but rarely looked to the deeper receiver. From the 3- and 5-step drop he is accurate and can snap the ball off in a similar fashion to Tom Brady, which was impressive at times. Pittsburgh features the bubble screen and Savage puts the ball in a position for the receiver to run with it.
The Notre Dame game was his most impressive because he had to throw to win, and he delivered. Because of Pitt's offensive line issues, the coaches sprinted Savage out to avoid the rush and he threw a very catchable ball. One criticism that surfaced in most of the games was hitting the shallow crossing route on the upfield shoulder. Occasionally the receivers had to reach back for a ball behind them, which would be a yellow flag for west coast offense coaches.
Savage usually throws a catchable ball and even when he is struggling in a collapsing pocket can get off a solid throw off his back foot. He faced several clutch situations vs. ND and answered the bell. Savage is going to take sacks in the NFL, but his experience behind a mediocre offensive line will serve him well. I like the ball he throws in the short to intermediate range, but he needs more development in the deep game. I would love to see this guy behind Tom Brady for a few years to refine his game. He has the tools to go places in the NFL.
2. Chris Johnson's salary adjustment: As with most aging players, Chris Johnson has hit the salary adjustment part of his career. The former Titans running back basically had his salary cut in half to sign with the the Jets. Some would tell you he has a lot of wear and tear on his 28-year-old body, and I heard one analyst compare the tread on his tires to LaDainian Tomlinson when he joined the Jets. In Johnson's 10 years of college and pro football before coming to the Jets he has touched the ball 2,891 times (289.1 per season) as a runner, receiver and returner. Sounds like a lot until comparing it to when Tomlinson joined the Jets. Tomlinson went to New York as a 31-year-old back with 4,475 touches between his college and pro career, or 1,584 more times than Johnson, when LT started with the Jets (an average of 320 touches a year between college and the NFL).
LT basically had one good year left, and two years later was out of the league. Now Rex Ryan gets Johnson, who may never be the Hall of Fame back LT is, but Ryan could possibly get 3-4 years out of him. Ryan will motivate Johnson, as he's done with other veterans that have come to New York.
3. The draft class of 2011: The first draft class under the new rookie wage rules is up for the fifth-year option of its contracts. I wonder if the NFL ever dreamed the class of 2011 was going to be so good when they bargained for a revised rookie wage scale in the new CBA.
Thirteen of the 32 first-round picks have appeared in the Pro Bowl. Aside from three quarterbacks (Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder) and a few others, it will be a no-brainer to pick up most of the fifth-year options. It's unbelievable how much money teams will save on the first-round talent secured in 2011 and how little up-front money teams have actually spent to lock these players up for five years.
Take J.J. Watt, for instance. He was the 11th pick in the first round and his option isn't based on the average of the top 10 players at his position but the average of the Nos. 4-25 players.
The clubs have really made out. First, they drafted guys like Cam Newton at less than half of what Sam Bradford got the year before. Bradford got $50 million guaranteed and Newton got $22 million. Now Newton gets a transition tag at $13 million, which will be guaranteed sooner rather than later and that adds up to $35 million or $15 million less than Bradford. I expect about 20 of the class of 2011 to get the option for the fifth year renewed.
4. Teams which should consider trading up: The Cowboys need a three technique and they will miss on Aaron Donald if they sit still. My guess is the Cowboys would have to move from No. 16 to, probably, No. 11 or he will be gone. Donald is the key piece to a Rod Marinelli 4-3 defense.
• The Bucs can't expect Clemson's Sammy Watkins, the top WR in this draft, to fall to them at No. 7. It looks like they might have to jump to Jacksonville's spot (No. 3) or be prepared to (hopefully) settle for Texas A&M's Mike Evans.
• If Atlanta wants a left tackle, the Falcons can stay where they are, but if they want a pass rusher like Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, they should jump up.
• If the Chargers (No. 25) want a shot at one of the top two corners, they will have to get up 10 spots, which will require expensive compensation, but if Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard falls below No. 17, they should make the move.
• If the Titans (No. 11) are interested in a corner like Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert, I think they better make a call to the Vikings and see if they are interested in moving down three spots.
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