Roundtable: The One In Which Poseur, Billy, and Paul Discuss the NFL Draft

I must admit, that I am an absolute NFL draft fanatic. Typically, I participate in random mock drafts on different forums, read up on late round prospects and proclaim them to be superstars (I'm still loving Andre Roberts from Citadel to be a big time player in the NFL, obsess over who my team (Philly - don't slay me) will select, mercilessly crucify them when they go a different direction and then roundly praise them after I read a bit and fall back on the "trust the coaches mantra."

In all seriousness though, for as much as people bash on Mel Kiper and his stupendous hairdo, the man has more or less fathered an industry (Draft Analysis), and believe it or not, he works really hard at what he does. But for me, what I love, is the narrative. As you all know, I'm a recruitnik as well. I love seeing the story come to fruition for some of the top-tiered athletes in the country. It's the inner English major in me. When Patrick Peterson (then Johnson) signed with LSU, I knew immediately that in three years (hell at the Army Bowl he even SAID, "I look forward to my next 3 years at LSU) we'd be seeing his name called as one of the top 10 picks. For others, the story doesn't play out quite as wonderfully (Terrence Toliver, for instance, was a highly rated recruit who will now only be a late-round selection). This is the narrative I love... seeing a player's development and progression... their story. So what better way to celebrate than a little pre-draft analysis from three of your favorite bloggers (Pod Katt is of course, numero uno)?

Paul: Alright, so there's no question that Patrick Peterson will be the first LSU player taken on Thursday, the only real question is how high? Latest rumors circulating seem to be that the Panthers are zeroing in on Cam Newton (for whatever reason)... but there's always potential for the smoke screen... with the Panthers trying to draw interest from other teams in the pick... particularly those who might do something crazy like draft Newton (ahem, Washington Redskins). So two parts, as unbiased as possible, where should Zod go and where will he go?

Billy: I see Patrick Peterson the same way I saw Ndamukong Suh in last year's draft -- the safest choice with the highest floor. Baring injury, he'll be good enough to keep drawing NFL paychecks as a corner or a safety. If he meets his potential you just picked up the best defensive back and return guy on the planet. He is the best player in this draft.

That being said, I totally understand why Carolina will probably take Newton at No. 1 (assuming there's no trades). They play in a quarterback-heavy division, they don't have one, and of all the passers in this class Newton has easily the highest ceiling. Yeah, there are questions, but you can say the same thing about Blaine Gabbert (who has never been an overwhelming player at Missou), Jake Locker (remarkably far from a finished product) or Ryan (Leaf) Mallett. Newton's also clearly the most talented of that group, so if you're going to take one you might as well take him.

There's no way Peterson should fall outside of the top two, but there's a chance he could last as long as some are projecting -- nobody knows what Denver, Buffalo or Cincinnati will do and they all have shown that they are foolish enough to make the classic draft mistake of reaching on need. If he does get beyond four, I expect that you'll see teams like San Francisco and Dallas start trying to trade up. Either way, he won't get out of the top seven.

Poseur:

No cornerback has ever gone #1 in the draft.  I think this is a fair way to look at how the NFL values corners, so I think while a corner may be taken top five, a corner is not a #1 draft pick.  Period.  I think Peterson is in a small group of the very best players in the draft.  Right there with Dareus, Green, Quinn, and Miller.  Depending on team need, I think Peterson should be drafted between picks 3 and 5.  I'm a huge fan of picking lineman, so I have no problem with rating Dareus as the #1 player on the board.  Green's in the same boat as Peterson, the best player at a position that does not, and should not go #1, and there's a nearly as good player at his position (Jones and Amukamara).  Linebackers tend to have more value, so I think Von Miller is the #2 player in the draft.  If it went straight by "deserved", I think the draft would go:
 
1. Dareus
2. Miller
3. Peterson
4. Green
5. Quinn
 
I think those are the five best players in the draft.  But we all know that won't be the top five because NFL front offices will consistently overrate quarterbacks.  The NFL is a passing league, so I understand the pressure on the GM of a bad team to go into the draft looking for a franchise QB.  Everyone wants the next Peyton Manning, turning a moribund Colts franchise into a winner seemingly overnight.  Quarterback is the one position where one player can almost totally transform a team. 
 
So I fully expect teams to reach for Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert.  I'm positive one will go in the top five, and would place even odds at both going top five.  Actually, I rather like Gabbert, even if I don't think he's one of the best five players in the draft.  But if you want an elite quarterback, you have to reach in the draft.  It's the nature of the position, they fly up the draft. 
 
This, of course, pushes every down a few spots, which means that Peterson could be hanging around as late as #7.  The Niners would throw a party if that happened, but I doubt it will.  The Bills will select either Miller or Zod at #3, causing someone to trade up to four to select the leftover player.  The Bengals, from what I've read, would like to trade down and take one of the "other" QB's in the draft.  Or they will take Gabbert.  If they trade down, I think the team trading up will select Zod or Green, depending on whether said team sucks on offense or defense.  So I think Peterson is going to go 4th or 5th, probably 5th.

Paul: Since Peterson is the only 1st round pick of the LSU lot this season, and the first round is typically the most interesting, any thoughts on the way the rest of it will play out?

Poseur: To talk about the draft in general, and not just LSU, I brought up the Bengals QB draft strategy.  The SBNation Mock Draft right now projects six quarterbacks going in the first round, which dovetails nicely with my point about teams reaching for QB's.  What do you think of the QB class?  And the six potential first round QB's, respectively, listed below by their projected draft position?
 
1. Cam Newton
8. Blaine Gabbert
10. Jake Locker

Billy: As first-rounders, they all have their red flags, which of course leads us in to one of the biggest NFL Draft issues period -- the rookie salary structure. As a GM or a coach, missing on a first-round quarterback with $30-50 million in guaranteed money kills your team and costs you your job. You can't afford to be patient with the player if he needs some development, and if you're a really bad team that could mean he gets beaten down in a bad situation. Now, if the new CBA puts in a slotting system similar to the NBA, this situation changes, but as of now I wouldn't take a quarterback high in the draft unless I was 100-percent certain the kid was a franchise player, or I had a quality veteran to sit him behind and a good team already in place (the situation the Green Bay Packers were in when they drafted Aaron Rodgers). I said the same thing last year about Sam Bradford, and while he looks like he's on his way to being a pretty damn good QB, I still think the reasoning holds up. 

Regarding this class, give me Newton, because in the land of the blind the one-eyed-man is king. If you're going to take a quarterback with question marks, he might as well be the most talented one. As with any quarterback with the "athletic" stigma, how successful he can be will ultimately come down to how well he can go through progressions and throw accurately from the pocket. If Carolina feels like they can teach him and he can learn, take him.

With Gabbert, his best season featured a sub-60 completion percentage and his final season featured a whopping 16 passing touchdowns -- I know he fits the profile of what NFL teams are looking for (tall, strong-armed), but shouldn't production matter? That goes double for Jake Locker. I love him as a developmental player, but not as a "you're the man NOW, dog!" pick. Yeah, he played on some really bad teams in Washington, but if we're talking about him as a high draft pick, why would you want him in the same situation on a bad professional team?

The word "developmental" sounds great to me with the other three as well. With Mallett, you have guy with questions about work ethic and a partying lifestyle. Does that really sound like somebody you want to give a huge contract to today? Or the kind you want to have around to see if he can earn it with his talent (and make no mistake, he's definitely got the talent)? Ponder and Dalton remind me of guys like Chad Henne, John Beck and Trent Edwards -- players who went from mid-round "hey we can draft that guy and bring him along slowly" into first or second round picks because teams get desperate. They're experienced players who have played some good football and could, in the right system and with the right supporting cast, could become pretty good one day. But if you're going to take them you should probably have those things already in place, otherwise they'll probably wind up like Henne, Beck and Edwards, all of whom either have been, or will be, replaced by the teams that drafted them.

Paul: This may be a tangent, but as far as I can tell, there are no real indicators to what makes a successful QB. We've seen small school, big school, tall, short, big arm, weak arm, option, pro style, spread, part-time starters et. al. make it. Aaron Rodgers was so highly thought of, he went to JUCO. Tom Brady, well everyone knows that story. Kurt Warner and Warren Moon played in Canada. Brett Favre went to Southern Miss. Donovan McNabb ran an option based offense at Syracuse.

To me, what makes an NFL QB is the drive... the desire. I don't know how you judge it... I don't know how you figure it out... in most cases you probably just guess and hope it turns out (that's what Steve Mariucci said). People knock Cam (I'm talking as a football player here, moral/ethical issues aside) because he played in a run-first option based system with simplistic reads. My question is... why is that his fault? Just because that's what he did, doesn't mean that's all he can do. Does he need a ton of development? Absolutely. But this guy was getting on the field with Tebow at Florida. People forget that. He destroyed JUCO. He destroyed Div. 1. He's been a success at every stop. What I see when I look at him is a guy that will figure it out. Unlike other option QBs, he's neither weak armed, nor does he have a strange method of throwing (Vince Young). He has things to learn, but who doesn't? To me, the only thing standing between himself and greatness... is him. Cam Newton will achieve as much as Cam Newton wants to achieve (and I believe that to be true of every other QB prospect too). I think it's a unique position, impossible to evaluate, and perhaps the one that is largely dependent upon the sheer will of the player (though that's another discussion for another time).

It will be interesting to see how things shake out the rest of the 1st round. I do think Cam will go number 1, and since Denver is already fairly established at pass rusher (and probably transitioning fronts as well), I think Dareus could be their guy. Buffalo is probably salivating at the thought of Von Miller at no. 3, and Miller is a guy who I think along with Peterson could be the most special player in this class. He's a freak athlete... WITH production. The Bengals almost have to go QB with Carson Palmer all but quitting the team, and the Cardinals could use a QB too... but I doubt that's the direction they head... they seem to prefer the Jon Gruden method of picking up has beens. So could Peterson fall to 6, in Cleveland? Definitely. And if he did, imagine that SEC dream team at corner... Haden and Peterson. That's quite the pairing.

There's a few other storylines I'm interested in. A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones. Will someone fall in love with Julio's pure physical freakness, though A.J. has clearly been the better player? Where do guys with character concerns go (Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley)? In recent drafts we've seen some pretty good players tumble due to questions with character... NFL teams seem to be doing better of shying away from that type of person in the top half of the round.

After Round 1, it could be a little while before the next LSU player comes off the board. Unless some team has fallen in love with a guy like Kelvin Sheppard, I fully expect Drake Nevis to be the 2nd LSU player taken. I've seen a few mocks that back up my thoughts on his ideal landing spot as well... Indianapolis. He seems prime for that team. What do you guys think?

Billy: The best thing in Nevis' favor is that he plays a position that is a premium in this year's draft, defensive line. Indianapolis seems like the most logical landing point, because he fits in with the type of tackles they already have. But any other team with some aging starters that could use some depth would work. I could see Nevis doing a great job for a team like Minnesota as a third-down guy giving Pat Williams a blow. You'd have Jared Allen and Kevin Williams drawing all the attention -- perfect for an up-the-field guy like Nevis. Another thing to remember is that LSU used the Cookie Monster in the nose guard position a lot. He wouldn't fit in that position on every down for a 3-4 team, but he'd be a great passing-situation change-up. And that opens him up for teams like the Steelers, Chargers or Patriots.

Poseur: I'll answer my question about QB's first and then get back on the LSU theme.
 
I think this is one of the most underwhelming QB crops I have ever seen.  I think you have three groups: (1) Guys who produced -- Dalton, really; (2) Guys who project -- Locker, Mallett, Ponder; and (3) Guys who both project and produced -- Cam and Gabbert.  Gabbert was one of the top recruits in the country, he's not a system QB, and he completed over 60% of his passes in two years as a starter.  But none of these guys scream NFL star to me.  Some might have a decent NFL career, but I'd be shocked if any become the next Drew Brees. 
 
While I do agree QB is the toughest position to project, and you do need desire to do well, I think there is one skill that all good quarterbacks have: intelligence.  I'll be honest, I thought McNabb was going to be a massive bust.  For godsakes, he was an option QB coming out of Syracuse.  But he succeeded because McNabb is an extremely smart player who not only wanted to suceed, but actually learned the skills he needed in order to do so.  Which means I think the best QB isn't even in the draft: Andrew Luck.  I'm not in on the interviews with these players, but I think that is the #1 factor in evaluating a QB.  It's a position of soft skills, which makes it so hard to evaluate.  But outside of Rouethlisberger, successful NFL QB's recently tend to be responsible guys who just act like team leaders.  That's almost impossible to evaluate.
 
OK, back to LSU.
 
I think Nevis is either going to be a solid pro for a good team, or he's going to be quickly drummed out of a league by a bad team that asks him to be something he's not.  We tend to focus on the player when a draft pick fails, but a lot of times the failure is not one of evaluation, it is one of coaching.  Teams consistently draft guys who don't fit their system and then try and smash him into that round hole, square peg be damned.  I've seen talk of turning Nevis into a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.  Please God, no.  If that happens, he's unlikely to earn a second NFL contract.
 
What makes teams like the Colts great drafters is not their evaluations, it is that they look at what a player CAN do and not what he CAN'T do.  Very few players are do-it-all types, most guys are good in a specific role.  Nevis is one of those players.  He absolutely needs to be in a 4-3 scheme, which the Colts run.  He could play all out, be a disruptive force, and then rotate out.  He's just playing contain for those monster ends the Colts have anyway, they don't need their tackles to play every single down.  That would be a dream assignment for Nevis.  I hate the Colts, like a good Baltimore native, but I'd love for Nevis to find a home there.  It really is a perfect fit. 

Paul: I tend to agree regarding QBs. It's a deep class in terms of number, but not in terms of talent. I don't think anyone denies that Luck will likely be a future NFL superstar... he's got every imaginable great trait. But like I said (sticking to my guns here), he's got to apply himself. Intelligence is definitely a big time thing. Accuracy is typically a trait most great QBs shared, but even a guy like McNabb made a near HoF worthy career with inconsistent accuracy (he was sensational at times, and at other times the feet of a WR were his favorite target).

Regarding Nevis, I'm siding with you Poseur. He's a role-specific guy, and if a team tries to make him into something he's not, he'll likely fail. I think the Colts are ideal for him, but one other team that likes players like him is the Eagles. As an Eagles fan there's a constant gnashing of teeth regarding their lack of "big" "run stopping" DTs. But schematically, for the past decade, they've preferred the disruptors that can wreak havoc up front, which is something Nevis is certainly capable of in spurts.

What about some of the other LSU guys? Kelvin Sheppard was a highly productive player and a tremendous team leader. He seems best fit as an inside thumper in a 3-4 or a MLB in a 4-3 where they don't ask their LBs to play sideline-to-sideline or do deep coverage drops (read: almost anything but the Cover 2). To me, he seems like the prototypical New England Patriot type of player.



Billy: Another note on QB evaluation -- if it were easy, two-thirds of the NFL wouldn't still be looking for one. I agree with you guys on desire, and a lot of times it takes going to the right place.Aaron Rodgers is a great example of that -- he walked into a veteran huddle with a great group of receivers, only instead of being the new guy, he'd actually been on the roster a few years. Another big trait is how you respond to diversity. Vince Young's a great example there. I don't question that he's worked hard to try and be a better pro. He certainly got a lot better as a passer during his time at Texas. But I honestly think he had never been in a position where just working really hard just wasn't enough. You even see this outside of football. Some people just don't know how to fail, and sometimes when they hit a rough patch they just don't know how to cope.

Speaking of guys we didn't think would make it, I was sure Matt Ryan would wind up a bust. He threw 19 interceptions his last year at Boston College, and I was like "if ACC defenses can get that many off of him what's the NFL gonna do?"

Paul: Ryan is a great case of a guy that just didn't have talent surrounding him at the skill positions at Boston College. He threw to a randy group of "who the hell is thats" and I think that certainly affected his production.

Speaking of, another interesting guy that falls into a similar category, though has even more question marks considering he's also a run-based guy... is Colin Kapernick. This is a guy who has all the physical goods... but can he turn himself into a pro?

Billy: I think so, but with guys like him its all about where he winds up. Is it with a team that can sit him on the bench and let him work through (or around) the holes in his game?

On Kelvin Sheppard, I pretty much agree. Ideal 3-4 inside guy, a lot like Bradie James. Might not start early on, but he's a smart player who will work hard, and if you can keep him doing the things he does well (like Poseur said) there's talent to work with.

Poseur:
One of the pieces PodKatt linked to this week shows how little anyone really knows about anything regarding the draft.  The evaluations of Kelvin Sheppard were all over the map, especially in regards to his "instincts", which were either a pro or a con, depending on who you believe.  One site said he has terrible instincts and another listed it as his primary positive. 
 
Kelvin Sheppard is one of those guys, if I were a GM, I'd target.  I'm not a measureables guy.  I don't care about your 40 or your bench press (within reason).  All I care is this simple question: can this guy play football?  Sheppard lacks a lot of high-end measurables, but he's just a guy who can play football.  Bradie James was the same way, slid to the middle rounds, and he's still a productive NFL player. 
 
I don't think Sheppard's going to be an All-Pro.  He likely won't even start for the team that drafts him.  But he's the kind of guy who could have real longterm success in this league.  Because he's a guy who goes out and just plays football.  If an organization can't use a player like Sheppard, it says more about the organization than Sheppard.  He's a high character guy with good skills who plays hard -- any coach worth his paycheck should be able to make him work in whatever scheme they run.
 
I'm nearly positive Zod will be a great pro.  I worry about Nevis.  But, more than any other player, I'm rooting for Sheppard to succeed in the league.  I wish there were more players like him. 

Paul: Any other thoughts on the late rounders?

Poseur: Barksdale, Ridley, and Toliver are all going to slide to the late round for various reasons.  All three will likely be selected, but teams aren't going to be beating down their door.  Which of these three guys do you think is most likely to stick around and make a career for hismelf in the NFL?  Odds are stacked against a late round pick.
 
Honestly, I think it's going to be Joe Barksdale.  He has displayed versatility on the line, playing virtually every position on each side.  He's a decent blocker, even if he lacks that mean streak you like linemen to have.  He has all of the tools, and he's been reasonably productive in his LSU career.  I'd hesitate to call him the rock of our line, but he's been a consistent performer.  He seems like the kind of guy who could have a nice, anonymous career on some line due to his ability to slide all over the line. 
 
Toliver's just been too inconsistent and while I love Ridley and wish him the best, third down backs who don't catch the ball tend to have short careers.  And I don't see a team making him a feature back.

Paul: Barksdale could certainly carve out a Rudy Niswanger type of career for himself due to his versatility. He can't play C like Niswanger, but NFL teams LOVE swing linemen. They are ideal backups.

I said it during the combine piece, and I know everyone in the world disagrees with me, but I'm sticking to my guns. I see very little difference in Stevan Ridley and Mark Ingram as players. I know, I know Ingram had the ballyhooed career and the fabulous Heisman trophy season. Did you know he only played against two top 35 rush defenses that season (Florida and Texas)? Ridley played against seven last year. I've seen people say Ingram's downturn in production this past season is due to being nicked up all year. That probably played a part (though it's just another reason to be concerned about his NFL future), but no consideration is given to increased quality of competition? Other than shredding two porous run defenses in 2010, Ingram performed like an above average back... like a Stevan Ridley. To take it a step further, Ingram doesn't have break away speed, his body doesn't seem to hold weight all that well... and what he's most often recognized for, his short area explosiveness, well, using just about every form of testing we can to quantify such things... Ridley outperformed him.

All that to say, I don't think either will have tremendous NFL careers... but whereas Ingram could be a huge bust if a team takes him in the 1st... Ridley could be a tremendous value if he's taken rounds 5-7. I'm excited to see that one play out.

As far as Toliver goes, other than a bunch of homer LSU fans that want to say he could "be a stud with a good QB" or whatever.. most of that falls back to his lofty recruiting ranking. The reality is, he never lived up to his potential at LSU, and while he has some nice assets (he's big, pretty strong, and has decent speed), he doesn't consistently get separation and doesn't consistently hands catch. That's not going to fly in the NFL.

The only other guy I see having any chance of being drafted is Josh Jasper. Regardless of whether or not he is taken, I think Jasper will have a very nice NFL career.

Billy: I don't really have much more to add, though I think Ingram would be a great first-rounder for the Saints if they can't get one of the quality pass-rushing ends. Both him or Ridley will really depend on who picks them up. And it wouldn't shock me if Ridley grows into a third-down/fullback type, sort of like Larry Centers back in the day. But you can have a long career doing something like that well.




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