Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nary a Wieters to be Found

If the NBA has whittled down to its best 28 teams, Mike Cameron is currently on someone’s fantasy team, and you’ve just wikipedia’d “Patriots’ Day” then it must be April and draft season!

Let’s get this out right now: this is the worst draft since ‘Nam. Apart from the offensive tackle depth and some underrated running backs there isn’t a position that jumps out at you. Moreover, I can’t remember a draft with more question marks and fewer superstars.

As always, I can’t provide anything you haven’t read elsewhere apart from a gut feeling, some random insight (did you know Eugene Monroe has a 60 year old brother!) and the knowledge that comes with watching every draft since the age of nine, which pretty much gives me the same expertise as, say, Mel Kiper.

Unlike 2007, last year was an off-year with most TBD. Jeff Otah led a limited number of hits. The biggest misses were Ryan Clady and Chris Johnson. Smurf turf, who knew!? Onto 2009…

Top 5 Offensive Players

1) Jason Smith- from the school that produced Olympic sprinters Michael Johnson, Jeremy Wariner, and Olympic-level tax evader Willie Nelson, comes the best tackle in the draft. Wait, Willie Nelson went to college?! Apparently Willie studied agriculture for one year. Surely a liberal use of “studied” and an even more liberal use of “agriculture”, but even “attended” college is borderline earth-shattering. Willie Nelson: College Student. Anyway, Jason Smith is already really good and still pretty raw. Like Wilson’s boy Jason Peters, he’s a converted tight end with great quickness and mobility (those are different things, allegedly). Like my boy, Willie Nelson, Baylor attendee Smith has room to add bulk and strongly supports farm subsidies. Unlike Willie Nelson, Smith has no obvious off-the-field issues like accidentally smoking Waylon Jennings ashes one cold, dark night with Kris Kristofferson. I’d like to say “I like what I’ve seen from Smith”, but that’d be a lie. In fact, unless you lived in the greater-Dallas area, you’ve never seen Smith dominate live. Dude has never played a game on national television. He’ll become the first top-5 pick in the last 20 years to achieve this feat. Regardless, he was a top-5 pick based on playing ability, has only improved his stock during the combine process, and plays a position that most easily improves the entire offense. He’s the safest offensive player meaning the Lions should be looking at him, Aaron Curry, and no one else. In a related story the Lions have narrowed their search to Matthew Stafford and no one else. Take heart Lions fans, Willie understands.

2) Knowshon Moreno- Onto a player I’ve actually seen in person and countless times on TV. Why Knowshon is a mid-first round pick while Reggie Bush is wealthier than every under 25 year old except LeBron, is beyond me. Knowshon is a game-changing back that fits today’s NFL. A team, like Cleveland, with an aging trotter like Jamal Lewis, should be seriously considering Brother Know at pick 5; instead he’s projected to fall to pick 15 or later. Like Chris Johnson, Felix Jones, and Derrick Ward, Knowshon would be an ideal running back 1a) to run, catch out of the backfield, and help in the return game. The fact that teams in the top 10 are not considering him solely because of need shows you exactly why they’re picking in the top 10. Nevertheless, Knowshon will be a top 20 pick and my early favorite for rookie of the year. Not bad for a kid whose major at Georgia was “Housing”. What are you studying? Housing. Naa, I said studying? Housing. Well screw you then, Knowshon.

3) Eugene Monroe- The next in a long line of great Monroe’s from the Charlottesville-area, Eugene is another very safe, very smart pick. All you need to know: Branden Albert, the Chiefs rookie who had a solid year at LT, did not play the position at UVa when Monroe was healthy. A promising and legitimate NFL left tackle is worse than Monroe. What else is there to know? Oh right, dude has a 60 year old brother, one of Monroe's 15 siblings. Moving on.

4) Michael Crabtree- let’s get one thing straight: Michael Crabtree is not Larry Fitzgerald. No way, no how. That doesn’t mean he’s not good, even great, but to simply take the best wide receiver prospect and say he’s similar to the best current WR is just lazy. A more accurate comp in terms of playing style and physical dimensions is Brandon Marshall, but without the headaches. The question of his speed doesn’t concern me; the same was said of Fitzgerald, nor does the question of his injury risk or the comment that he’s a product of a pass-happy system. Anyone that has watched Texas Tech over the last two years knows how good this guy is. The Texas game last year was the best example. Everyone in the stadium knew dude was getting the ball. Didn’t matter.

5) Andre “Manssiere” Smith- On talent Smith is the best player in this draft. There’s not much question about that. He and Percy Harvin were universally considered the two best players in high school in this class. He started at left tackle in the SEC from Day 1 and started every game of his three-year career prior to his suspension for the 2009 Sugar Bowl. And that’s the rub: his character concerns are so great that some teams have apparently removed him from their draft board. Leonard Little killed a lady in 1998 while driving drunk, won the Superbowl two years later, was arrested again for drunk driving in 2004, and yet remains in the league. Andre Smith: seems lazy + hired an agent while an amateur = Adolf Jeter. I heard a great quote by Manny Acta after the Ryan Zimmerman resigning “We all know you can't win with only a bunch of straight-A students, good Boy Scouts”. Not said, but implied, was “which is why we acquired crazy assed Elijah- text a picture of a gun to the mother of some of his children- Dukes”. You have to balance the crazy, but crazy talented, with strong and positive locker room leaders. It’s tough to roll the dice, but I guess I’d rather roll the dice on an unquestionably talented but troubled player than a boy scout with major on-field weaknesses. That said, if, rather, when Cincinnati takes him, we’ll never know how good he could’ve been. One more thing to mention about ‘Dre: according to official Alabama team website: his full name is Andre D. Smith. Yup, his full name has an initial. Love this kid.

Top 5 Defensive Players

1) Aaron Maybin- (the following is an attempt to remain as objective as possible about a player that is custom made for the draft process and today's league and went to Penn State and is from my hometown.) Simply put: Aaron Maybin is the next Gandhi.

In all seriousness I believe Aaron Maybin can be the next Shawne Merriman, the good and the bad. From his ability to get to the quarterback and constantly disrupt the game to his ability to mysteriously and quickly add 25 pounds of muscle and his propensity for getting injured. Like Merriman, Maybin is the kind of edge rusher that can also drop back in coverage. I’ve heard experts say his closest comparison is T-Sizzle. Like Suggs falling to the Ravens, an ideal situation for Maybin would be a veteran defense with solid linebackers that would allow him to focus on his best attribute - getting to the quarterback (like say, I don’t know, any team in the greater PG county area would be just fine). It’s worth mentioning that one of Maybin’s professors at Penn State was my Uncle Don. For those not lucky enough to have met Uncle Don, picture a theatre-loving, 5-foot nothing, mustached man that would know everything about Aaron Copeland but nothing about Aaron Maybin. Having Uncle Don as a prof doesn’t bode particularly well for young Aaron as Uncle Don’s previous celebrity student was uber bust Courtney Brown. I’m going to ignore this for now, but should Aaron flounder I predict “Uncle Don’s student” will be mentioned alongside 40-time, Wonderlic, and hired Master P as an agent when measuring prospects.

2) Aaron Curry- The NFL is nothing if not a copycat league. So when six straight linebackers are defensive rookie of the year, even the bad teams take notice. With that said, all I’ve heard for three months is how good and how safe Aaron Curry is. While I’m not completely disagreeing I do wonder about his upside. The good: he’s is a sure tackler with great instincts and a non-stop motor. The indifferent: Curry’s a mediocre pass rusher which raises questions about playing in a 3-4. I know I’ve used this space to advocate for the top linebacker (see ROY stat above), and I continue to hold that if you’re going to outlay tens of millions of guaranteed dollars at a minimum make sure you’re drafting an above average starter that plays early. But with Curry I’ve heard that his closest comparable is D.J. Williams. As you google D.J. Williams let me tell you about this year’s Eagle Bank Bowl. Wake played Navy, which literally starts 250 pound offensive linemen. The fifth year senior finished the game with three solo tackles, one for a loss, and one assisted tackle. Now maybe it was an off game and surely an inadequate sample size on which to judge, but to muster four tackles against dudes that are currently trolling for pirates in the Gulf of Aden seems like weak sauce. Now you can do a lot worse than a basement of D.J. Williams, a solid and dependable linebacker that started as a rookie. For instance you could be Andre Smith, whose basement is hiding out in D.J. Williams's basement as the SWAT team moves in. But I’m not putting Curry in the “sure Pro-bowler” category as others have. I think part of the love affair with Curry is his unquestionably high character and the fact that linebackers pay instant returns. Tough to fault that strategy, but at pick 3, don’t you want a superstar? (I’m told by a Chiefs fan that in fact No, they don’t want a superstar, they just want someone (anyone) that can make a tackle and maybe force a turnover every now and again. Then Curry’s your man. He’s sure to have a long and productive NFL career. You could do worse.)

3) B.J. Raji- Six months ago googling “BJ Raji” returned the kind of weird Indian porn you can’t send through the mail, now it returns the best defensive tackle in the draft. Raji dominated the senior bowl, always a good sign, and plays an undervalued position that makes the entire defense better. He’s far and away the best run stopper in the draft and should be considered by all teams in the top 10. If he falls to the Broncos at 12 perhaps we can finally close the Cleveland to Denver “bad DT” pipeline that’s provided false optimism to so many over the past few years?

4) Malcolm Jenkins- All Malcolm Jenkins did was dominate in college at a school that should be known as Cornerback U. Like Shawn Springs, Nate Clements, Chris Gamble, and Antoine Winfield before him Malcolm Jenkins is the next shutdown corner from Ohio State. His speed leaves teams questioning his transition to the league, but Jenkins plays fast and is a great open field tackler that can line-up at safety and corner. In a pass-happy league where good corners now command $60M+ contracts drafting a player that can start early at a cost of $15M over 6 years seems like a smart strategy.

5) Tyson Jackson/ Larry English- I’ve watched enough drafts to know that 5-technique dude named Tyson Jackson from LSU is going to be a good and safe pick; expect a Marcus Spears type career. Larry English strikes me as this year’s small conference DE that has a productive (10+ sack) rookie season. His multiple knee injuries scare me some, but he’s a steal at the back of Round 1.

Other Notables (in no particular order):

Matthew Stafford- I’ve seen nothing to dispute my contention for the last two years that Matthew Stafford is Jay Cutler. Not much else to add that hasn’t been said about the kid: cannon arm, makes questionable decisions, surely a NFL starter that will put up good numbers. So depending what you think about Jay Cutler, that’s what Stafford can be. My ranking, or rather lack thereof, pretty much sums up my feelings toward Cutler. I suppose I generally fall into Kamp Kiper. Jay Cutler: great fantasy QB, but there are at least 8 other QBs I’d rather have on my team. Like Cutler with Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson will prevent Stafford from being a complete bust, but if I were the Lions I’d stop trying to hit a home run and get on base go with a sturdy left tackle.

Brian Orakpo- Fool me once, shame on Vernon Gholston; fool me twice, shame on Vernon Davis; fool me three times shame on Vernon Maxwell.

Mark Sanchez- Sanchez absolutely carved up a good Penn State defense with his accuracy and quick release. As always, it depends on the system, but Sanchez seems a much better fit in today’s NFL than Stafford. In a West Coast offense this kid has superstar potential. His inexperience, he probably needs two years with the clipboard, is the only thing keeping him from the Top 5 above. Sanchez to Seattle makes a ton of sense.

LeSean McCoy- Depending on where he goes, LeSean might be 2nd to Knowshon in my rookie of the year pick. A durable back that carried Pitt’s offense for the last two years and the reason Dave Wandstat still has a job.

Donald Brown- Another under-appreciated back that reminds me a lot of Thomas Jones: a patient runner with adequate speed and a boring name. Seems like a Patriots’ pick to me.

Josh Freeman- The classic “3rd quarterback getting overvalued in a draft with only two legitimate NFL starters”. Scouting report reads: Struggled in bigger games versus faster defenses. So Freeman should do great in “unimportant games versus slower NFL defenses”. Good luck with that, Jets fans.

Jeremy Maclin- Look, I like Ted Ginn too, but at least concede he’s no Top 10 pick.

Brandon Pettigrew- An allegedly “great athlete” that ran 4.85 40 and didn’t catch a TD last season? Best Case: Crumpler Zone, Likely Case: Daniel Graham. Jermaine Gresham was the only first round tight end this past season, but he stayed in school.

James Laurinaitis- Laurinaitis is quite simply wrestling royalty. Dad Joe was Animal from the tag-team The Road Warriors. His uncle John was wrestler “Johnny Ace” and currently works for the WWE. Uncle Marcus was “The Terminator” half of the tag team The Wrecking Crew. Frankly I have no idea what any of that means for James’s future. On the one hand he grew up among muscle-bound professional “athletes”, which seems good in the same way the sons of baseball players are often good pros themselves (except you Prince Fielder and your .200 batting average that I drafted in round 3). On the other hand, perhaps wrestling gives Laurinaitis an easy out should his NFL career not turn out as planned. Maybe pro wrestling is the Barney-Guarding Job of the Laurinaitis family? I’m going with the former. I think Laurinaitis is like many solid productive college LBs that slip to round 2 due to lack of upside and end up being reliably good pros.

Mohamed Massaquoi- So Matthew Stafford is the consensus #1, but the wideout that caught all his laser, rocket, errant passes is a third rounder? Massaquoi is a productive college wideout (nearly 1,000 yards and 8 TDs in 13 games last year) that played in a pro-system with a pro-caliber QB. To me he’s the number 2 or 3 wideout in this draft, not the 10th. I love this guy and would leap at the chance to take him in round 2.

Rhett Bomar- If there’s a late round QB that has NFL starter potential it’s Bomar. As a 6th or 7th round pick he’s a great gamble for a team with an entrenched but older starter (like the Bengals or Colts). I remember watching his as a freshman at OU and thinking he looked the part. Obviously his internship at Bill Tempchin Motors was an egregious error in judgment, but some team willing to roll the dice on him at the end of the draft could get a steal.

Ramses Barden- another small school projected in the 6th round that is more than worth the gamble. While his speed is marginal, a 6'6" wideout with great hands should be able to find a place on an NFL roster. Plaxico Burress, a 6'6" receiver with average speed and an equally preposterous name, enjoyed a great pro career, until this past season’s run-in with himself. Far and away the best Ramses in the draft.

Herman Johnson- Over the years I've made it uncomfortably clear how much I love athletes with baby fat. Well no one exemplifies baby fat like Herman Johnson. Big Herm weighed 15 pounds and 14 ounces at birth, one of the largest babies in Louisiana history. As we say a quick prayer for his poor mother, realize that the 370 pound Herm lost 40 pounds in college. If that's not upside, then what is?

Anyway, that's all that's in me for 2009. May all your teams end up with rangy blue collar players with football intelligence, upside potential and length that play well in space and faster with pads on. May the Redskins defy all the critics and actually improve their line play. And may the wandering Oakland Raiders someday find a home. Can I get an amen???

For those of you watching on Saturday be sure to check out my buddy Thomas's Draft Day Bingo cards. Lots of time was wasted coming up with those beauties.


Thomas Hall said...

This is a glorious preview. Bravo.

Wilson said...

As always, there were many laughs and actually a lot of good information here. I am really looking forward to tomorrow, sorry I can't be at the party

Ryan Smith said...

I know I'm like a week late posting this, but this was splendid. i like this:

"Scouting report reads: Struggled in bigger games versus faster defenses. So Freeman should do great in 'unimportant games versus slower NFL defenses'."

I like it a lot.

Also, as long as we're still alive, Courtney Brown and Big Money Warren will live on. That's comforting.