NPLB Day 1 Difference Makers: DT
A Bird's eye view of April
A lot can change this far out from the draft itself, but that didn't stop the NPLB analysts from going wild on a draft project I recently gave them. Desperate for post-season analysis, they eagerly jumped at the opportunity to stretch their legs with a little 'round the net information gathering, and the results were overwhelming. After opening the gate of the little corral under the stairs that I keep them in and letting them run free for a bit, they soon returned, loaded down with info. I took one look at the pages and pages of information they dumped on my desk and told them, "Let's narrow this down a bit, shall we?"
I asked them, "What's the verdict on recent first day projections coming into the league and making a difference for their teams in just their first or second years?" Well, this reduced the information load significantly, but it was still intimidating. I pressed the analysts further: "Let's only consider certain positions, at this point. Like positions that seem likely to be targeted by Denver. And lets not worry about looking back too far...2005 would give us essentially two classes to reference, and a third to half-reference." ...xx shuffle, shuffle xx... Ahh, that's better. Several small, manageable piles of data. I herded the NPLB analysts back under the stairs and gave them an extra cookie for their hard work, then sat down to make some sense of their endeavors.
This is not an attempt to grade past draft classes. This is an attempt to reasonably assess the potential of certain prospects to have a decisive impact within their first two years. The following is a look at what some of 2008's top prospects have in common with recent first day prospects and picks at various positions, starting at DT. With any luck, perhaps Denver will be able to land one or more of these "Difference Makers."
A Look at the Best in Class
Each draft year features one or at most two players at any given position who never seem to lose their placement as the top prospect at that position. They may move up and down mock draft boards according to 'team need' formulas, but the rest of the class at their position always move relative to them, never overtaking them. These prospects should be looked at independently for two reasons: One, they tend to be unique players, and two, Denver has not had, nor is expected to have a realistic opportunity to acquire them. Since 2005, these prospects at DT have been:
|2005 Travis Johnson
2006 Broderick Bunkley
2006 Haloti Ngata
2007 Amobi Okoye
2008 Sedrick Ellis
Travis Johnson was considered the best prospect in 2005 going away, and Houston seemed to agree, taking him at #16, a full 12 picks before another DT was selected. Ngata was considered tops in 2006, but leading up to the combine, and then as the draft neared, the quiet, unassuming Bunkley began to move up people's boards. By the time draft day rolled around he had displaced Ngata at the top of most people's lists. That didn't stop the Ravens from taking Ngata at #12, followed two picks later by Bunkley going to the Eagles. Amobi Okoye, formerly a teammate of DOOM's at Louisville, found himself trying to overcome many of the same obstacles that DOOM had to, namely being undersized at his position. Despite this, he actually drew comparisons to the incomparable Reggie White, for "fire and energy'. Indeed. Good enough for the Texans, who selected the 'youngest ever at anything' Okoye 10th overall and six picks ahead of the next closest DT.
Back-to-back-to-back picks spent on D-line HAD to have an impact for the Texans, who also selected DE Mario Williams #1 overall in 2006. But in terms of impact, it was Okoye in 2007 that truly was a great rookie impact, starting every game last year for the Texans and breaking Mario's one year old rookie sack record with 5.5 sacks. Travis Johnson, while solid, has not had the same level of impact with them.
Ngata proved the Raven's right by easily outplaying Bunkley in his rookie year, starting every game and being an every down type of player. The 340 lb. Ngata has become part of a fierce run stopping unit in his second season, as his 63 tackles in 07 can attest to, as well as being known as a run-stuffer, logging 7 tackles for losses. Bunkley, ehh...not so much. After a brief holdout he got one good game in before going on a slide that included demotion into a rotation, deactivation and a fine for missing a team flight, and eventual career jeapordy as he was unable to crack Jim Johnson's starting lineup. Johnson can only shrug when asked about Bunkley. "Eventually, he is going to have to start making plays".
Who's it gonna be?
The NPLB conclusion is that Glenn Dorsey will probably develop along the lines of Broderick Bunkley, without the added drama of a draft surge that carries him uneccesarily to the top of his class, as he is already there. If Ellis is up to the task, he can definitely push Dorsey for top billing in 2008. Unlike Okoye, Dorsey does not seem to show that same level of drive, having declined post-season allstar showings, as well as being generally described as lacking 'definition.' Most scouts stop short of calling him sloppy, but it is certainly a contrast to Okoye who dropped 28 pounds for his senior season in order to increase his stamina. Some will say it is more important to ADD weight to go toe to toe with the big guys at the pro level, but Okoye seemed to understand that it was more important to stay on the field, where you had an opportunity.
Dorsey is no challenger to Ngata for pure size and strength, but does resemble him in his ability to handle and split double teams. However, even at Ngata's size he had a full selection of moves, whereas, like Bunkley, Dorsey relies on his bull rush far too much, and thus has an undefined catalog of additional moves to keep him on the field against different personnel. Johnson and Dorsey share a certain inconsistency through their college careers, though Dorsey's can be directly attributed to knee and back problems, while Johnson's was more a case of distraction. Both players were able to raise their play in challenging situations, but Dorsey will find that much of his success will be attributed to LSU's gang-tackling play, fairly or not. Without a drive to be the best, Dorsey may find himself passed over on draft day, though he should have every opportunity to fare better than Bunkley has to date.
Ellis has a likelihood, in the eyes of the NPLB to develop along the lines of an Amobi Okoye. He shares the same limitations of frame, that must be overcome through desire and work-ethic, both of which he has displayed as his college career has drawn to a close. Unlike Bunkley and Dorsey, he has come into his own with detailed study that has netted him a full range of moves. One difference he has from Okoye, is that Ellis seems to have maxed out his potential for growth, which could keep him a step behind Dorsey as the draft nears. Shares Ngatas ability to locate the ball quickly in traffic, but goes about his business differently, using his hands more than Ngata, and subsequently he was put on the move to take advantage of this in previous schemes.
THE REST OF THE CLASS
The following prospects at DT will be compared to their counterparts in recent drafts in the next installment. Stay Tuned!...