Shallow Thoughts & Nearsighted Observations

Happy Monday.  That is a picture of a happy guy, right there.  If I were Kyle Orton, I'd be happy too.  To go from a talent-poor offensive team like Chicago, with a conservative approach, to a talent-rich offensive team like Denver, with what will almost certainly be an aggressive approach is a really good reason to be happy.  On this Easter Sunday (as I write this,) because Kyle Orton is happy, and Chris Simms is happy, and Josh McDaniels is happy, I feel happy too.  From all of us at the the department of ST&NO, we wish you a Happy Easter (plus one.)  Ready....... BEGIN!!!

1.  I can't quite figure out why, but I feel more disengaged from the upcoming Draft than I think I have ever felt.  That feeling is at odds with the fact that I write for a site which has done a great job covering the Draft, and also that the Broncos have 5 of the first 84 picks.  I need to address the draft, but I don't want to do a full-on mock draft (yet.)  I am thinking about doing a full 7 round mock for next week, because such an endeavor strikes me as a big challenge, and I have never done one before. 

I have decided to try to snap out of this disconnected feeling by sharing some soundbites on a group of 30 players which I have trichotomized.  I am not filtering this analysis through any concept of  Broncos team needs, which has been done ad nauseam, so consider this to be a strategic departure from that approach.

CATEGORY 1 - PLAYERS I LOVE

a.  Sean Smith  CB  Utah  -  There hasn't been an athlete at CB, from a size/speed/fluidity perspective, like Smith since Jason Sehorn.  Sehorn was well on his way to becoming an elite CB until a serious knee injury derailed his career.  Smith is big, strong, physical, quick, and has great ball skills.  I think he has more upside than any single player in this draft, and one draftnik agrees with me

b. Percy Harvin  WR  Florida - For all the knocks you hear about Harvin, the fact remains that he is the biggest threat with the ball in his hands in this Draft class.  This is a player who scored a TD in every game in which he appeared as a Junior.  (He missed the SEC Championship game with an injury.) He was used in a pretty unique way at Florida, where he ran the ball as often as he caught it, and somewhat rarely for a player his size, he's the kind of runner who welcomes contact.  He might have the quickest first step I've ever seen in a football player, and it's no exaggeration to call it comparable to Allen Iverson's.  He can be unstoppable if he's used correctly.

c.  Tyson Jackson DE  LSU  -  Jackson is never going to be a big stats-generator, but he'll be an upper-echelon 5-technique DE in the NFL.  He's big and strong, and he will be able to hold up at the point of attack in the running game.  I saw a lot of him at LSU, and he jumped off the screen as a difference-maker.

d.  Connor Barwin DE/OLB/TE  Cincinnati - A versatile, relentless, and excellent player, at multiple positions.  I doubt that he'll play a lot of TE at the NFL level, but he could be used in goal-line situations like Mike Vrabel has been with the Patriots.  That saves a roster spot.  As a defensive player, he's more talented than Vrabel.  I love a guy who brings it on every play, and Barwin is one of those guys.

e.  Alphonso Smith  CB  Wake Forest  - He's not as tall as you'd like, but he has excellent short-area quickness and recovery speed.  The thing I really love about him is his ball skills, and ability to catch.  I hate a CB who can't catch or even find the ball (I'm looking at you, Karl Paymah.)  Smith is going to do those things in the NFL, and he'll always be among the NFL interception leaders as a #2 CB.

f.   Donald Brown  RB UConn  -  I think Brown is better than Knowshon Moreno, and he will be an upper-tier starting RB in the NFL.  He reminds me of Clinton Portis, with his strong all-around play, and his durability and run strength as a smallish tailback.  He's a tandem back, but he's a 2 to 1 workload tandem back.

g.  Duke Robinson  G  Oklahama -  He blows people off the ball, and is going to make some team very happy in the top half of the second round.  I am not real high on a lot of Oklahoma Sooners, but I love this guy.

h.  Rashad Johnson  FS  Alabama - There is nothing particularly flashy about Johnson, down to his uniform number of  49.  He's just a heady player who always seems to get into the right spot to make plays.  He was the best player on Alabama's defense as a senior.

i.  Cornelius Ingram  TE  Florida - An outstanding all-around athlete who came to Florida as a dual threat QB.  He missed his entire senior season with a knee injury, but will be a big downfield threat in an NFL passing scheme.

j.  Matt Shaughnessy  DE  Wisconsin - A tough, smart, active player, who I always paid special attention when I caught Badgers games on TV.  He is an alumnus of Norwich Free Academy (of Norwich, CT) and so am I, which is the reason for the interest.  Shaughnessy will be a 3rd  or 4th round pick, and will be a good rotation player, particularly on run downs.

CATEGORY 2 - PLAYERS I LIKE

a. Louis Murphy  WR  Florida  - A litle bit of a one-trick pony, but he has good size and speed, and will be an effective deep threat in the NFL.  Murphy is similar to Ashley Lelie, who, you have to admit, would have been a great value as a 3rd round pick, which is where Murphy will likely be drafted.

b. Paul Kruger  DE/OLB  Utah  -  A high-effort, high-ability, low-experience player.  His Mormon mission took him away from the game for two years, and makes him a little bit of a question mark, but I would definitely take him in the second round.  He makes plays on the football field.

c.   Pat White  QB  West Virginia  -  Deserves credit for insisting that he is a QB, and actually delivering a strong evaluation-period performance and proving it.  I think he'll be a backup QB, but a good one, and one who can play in specialty packages (which I refuse to universally call Wildcat, like most of the MSM does.)

d.  Ron Brace  NT  Boston College  -  I like his physicality, size, and effort.  A lot of huge defensive linemen play lazy, but I have always thought that Brace showed a pretty good motor.  The reports that he was impressive in his team interviews at the combine boost his grade with me as well.

e.  Jeremy Maclin  WR  Missouri  -  Maclin is very fast, and is the second-most dynamic player with the ball in his hands, behind only Percy Harvin.  My only reservation about him is that I question his route-running technique, but there is no reason good NFL coaching can't help that.

f.   Brian Cushing  LB  USC  - He's fast, strong, and instinctive, and by nearly all accounts, a good team guy and citizen.  The kind of player who may not make Pro Bowls, but will be a solid building block for a good defense.

g.  Clay Matthews  LB  USC  -  He's a late-bloomer, but I like his relentlessness, speed, ability to sink his hips and rush the QB, and great bloodlines.  Around Cleveland, you still see a late-model Chevy here and there with a Clay Matthews Chevrolet stamp on it.

h.   Eric Wood  C  Louisville  -  Physical in the running game, and can anchor well in pass protection.  If Centers were valued highly enough to go in Round 1, Wood would be taken there.

i.   Josh Freeman QB  Kansas State  -  He has every skill needed to be a good NFL QB, and will remind you of Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco.  He was a three year starter at K-State, and in my opinion, is no less ready to play right away than Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez.

j.  Robert Ayers  DE  Tennessee  -  He has the Freeney-like skill-set needed to play a wide 8-technique in a 40 front, such as the scheme being installed by Jim Bates in Tampa Bay.

CATEGORY 3 - PLAYERS I CAN DO WITHOUT

a.  Rey Maualuga  ILB  USC  - He won't be able to cover at the NFL level, and his well-documented immaturity troubles me.  (It has been reported that Keith Rivers and Brian Cushing were tasked by the coaching staff with baby-sitting him on road trips.)  He will make some big hits in the hole, and take on blocks well, but I have my doubts about him doing anything else very well at the NFL level.  He's the kind of player who makes a big hit here and there, and naturally gets more hype than he deserves, like Roy Williams, the former Dallas Safety, who made a bunch of Pro Bowls undeservedly, and now can't even find a job.

b.  LeSean McCoy  RB  Pittsburgh  -  Not tough inside, doesn't block, and seems to have a bad attitude.  You have to wonder about a guy whose nickname is Shady.  He is a homerun threat, but probably not a consistent carry-to-carry producer in the NFL.

c.  Phil Loadholt  RT  Oklahoma  -  I believe that it's generally smart to stay away from RTOs (Right Tackle Only.)  Loadholt is fat, slow-footed, and reportedly lazy.  I have doubts that he'll amount to much in the NFL.

d.  Juaquin Iglesias  WR  Oklahoma - A product of a good system.  Not big or fast, and has pretty average separation skills.  I think he will disappoint whoever takes him.

e.  Malcolm Jenkins  CB  Ohio State  -  He's too slow to play CB in any scheme except the Tampa-2, and that is a dying scheme in the NFL.  Jenkins only looked as good as he did in college by playing in the slowest BCS conference.  If I knew he could play safety, I'd be fine with taking him, but I am wary about imagining a player's ability to play a position which I've never seen him play before.

f.   Vontae Davis  CB  Illinois  -  This guy is fool's gold, just like his brother Vernon.  He's said to be uncoachable and unmotivated.  If I were the Steelers or the Patriots, I might take him, and take a risk that my established program would make a real player out of Davis, but I don't think I'd take him if I worked for any of the other 30 teams in the NFL.

g.  James Laurinaitis  MLB  Ohio State  -  He has never been as good as his press clippings, and won't be able to take on blocks in the NFL. He'll need to play for a 4-3 team with huge DTs to keep him clean.  There is a decreasing number of teams doing that these days.

h.  Darrius Heyward-Bey  WR  Maryland  -  Here is a guy with all kinds of talent, and a consistent record of underachievement.  He has the best size/speed ratio in this Draft, and really, since Calvin Johnson.  How funny is it that Mike Mayock now believes that the Raiders will take DHB at number 7? 

i.  Graham Harrell  QB  Texas Tech  -  He has a noodle arm, and almost certainly can't play at the NFL level.  Harrell is the second coming of Colt Brennan.

j.  Michael Johnson   DE  Georgia Tech  -  A career underachiever who has great talent, but lacks production on film.  Johnson is tall and pretty blockable for that reason.  If he ever learns how to use his length to his advantage, he'd have something, but for now, there is just a lot of body for and O-Lineman to get his hands on.  Picture Jarvis Moss with much less college productivity.

2.  According to an Easter Sunday Michael Lombardi story on nationalfootballpost.com, the Browns may soon own two more first round picks than they have now.  Lombardi says that the Browns have an offer of a #1 pick on the table for Brady Quinn, with at least two teams interested.  They also can expect to get something more than a #1 for Braylon Edwards, probably from the Giants.  He also says that the Browns love Michael Crabtree at #5, which is very interesting.

The Browns could make those deals, with, say, Detroit giving up #20 for Quinn (and passing on Stafford,) and the Giants giving up #29 for Edwards along with some conditional pick in 2010.  The Browns could take Crabtree at #5, Clay Matthews at #20, and  maybe a Jarron Gilbert at #29.  They still would have #36 and #50 in the second round, and suddenly, the best set of picks to use in remaking their team.  This is the rare opportunity, with a new head coach, where you can blow the whole thing up, and start over, so this bears watching.

3.  I read on PFW recently that the NFL was considering moving the Draft to late February next season, due to a desire to cut college player evaluation costs by shortening the season.  I don't care about their cost issues, really, unless some team wants to hire me to care about them. 

What I do find interesting, though, is the implications that such a change would have on the player acquisition and development cycles.  If you did the Draft in February, and then started the free agency period the first week of March, the whole game would change, for the better in my opinion.  You could use free agency to fill holes, but really commit to building through the draft, which most would say is the best approach.

The most important benefit, though, would be the opportunity to get the rookies into full offseason programs, all minicamps, and all OTAs, before they ever get into their first training camps.  The product on the field would almost certainly be improved.  The idea bears watching in any case.

4.  My seven year old sister Abby was asked at church this morning what she liked best about Easter.  I was not in attendance, but evidently, after some deliberation, she said she liked candy the best.  I couldn't agree with her more.

5.  I agree with Jason Whitlock that the Chiefs should get rid of Larry Johnson, and keep Brian Waters.  Johnson could go to a place like Philadelphia or New Orleans and totally revive his career, but his attitude isn't going to work in Kansas City, under the Pioli/Haley regime.

6.  Zach Thomas is clearly washed up, so his signing by the Chiefs is not big news to me.  They must be hoping that he'll be a good influence on younger players, but the guy doesn't have much left in the tank.

7.  Retired for John Elway.

8.  Has anybody else noticed that ESPN's draft coverage is subpar this year? I think there's been a huge dropoff in the quality, and I wonder if the economic crunch is making them overly cost-conscious.  I may actually watch the Draft on the NFL Network this year, for the first time ever.  Considering I've watched it on ESPN every year since 1991, except for one year (1997) when I was deployed to the Mediterranean Sea, that's saying something.

Come back next Monday, and maybe I will keep my non-commital half-promise about the Shallowest, most Nearsighted full 7 round mock draft in the history of the free world.  You'll only know if you read ST&NO.

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