Archive for May, 2010

The Cowboys entered April’s draft with needs on both sides of the line of scrimmage.  The expectations were to acquire a player or two which would help the organization take the next step and get deeper into the playoffs.  Speculation was rampant the team would look towards the offensive line in round one.  Yet when highly desired players at other positions fell in rounds one and two, Dallas moved aggressively to grab both prospects.

When Dez Bryant started to free fall in the first round the Cowboys worked the phones then made a trade to acquire the talented pass catcher.  Bryant’s on the field talents are obvious to all.  He’s a game controlling wide out with underrated speed, and a dominant player when on his game.  His off the field issues have been well documented.  In the end Bryant is very much a boom or bust pick; if he hits on all cylinders on the field and matures off of it, Bryant could be the steal of the draft.  Yet if the former Oklahoma State junior continues with an immature attitude towards the small details there will be a lot of shoulda, woulda, coulda’s spoken whenever his name is mentioned.

Sean Lee was a player several teams coveted and when the linebacker was still on the board as round two was nearing the end, the Cowboys again made a move to secure a player they wanted.  Lee is a talented linebacker who blends physical and mental skills as well as a lot of toughness to get the job done. Prior to the knee injury which shelved him for the ’08 season, Lee was graded as a potential top 20 pick by most.  Questions about a separate knee injury surfaced leading up to April’s draft but the Cowboys are confident Lee is fully healthy.  Like their first round pick, Lee is a player with a nice upside but also comes with downside risk, this case in the form of injured knees.

The team again went for value, selecting Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the fourth round.  The small school defensive back is a talented prospect with a great deal of upside.  He’s not nearly as NFL ready as some are making him out to be and Owusu-Ansah is coming off of shoulder surgery which may keep him on the sidelines until July.  At the very least he should be a competent nickel/dime back that can also produce on special teams, something he did well in college.

Sam Young was the choice in round six.  We’ve never been high on Young, who we thought underachieved at Notre Dame, but he was worth a roll of the dice in the late part of the draft.  He has the size and growth potential scouts want in a developmental right tackle.  Young does not possess the strength or killer mentality at this point yet is a guy with a good amount of upside.

Dallas again went with somewhat of an underachiever later in the sixth frame, drafting cornerback Jamar Wall.  The Texas Tech senior flashed skill throughout his college career yet never showed NFL-speed for the position.  Wall struggled with a hamstring injury in the months leading to the draft, which further depressed his draft grade.  He has all the skills necessary to be a quality dime back/special teams player at the next level and we would not be surprised if Wall finds a way onto the active roster.

Sean Lissemore was a bit of a surprise pick in round seven, yet the type of player who has the mentality and work ethic to have a long NFL career.  Lissemore needs to improve his functional football strength yet is a defensive lineman who could be an asset on a roster.

Grade (B-): There are a number of ways to look at this draft.  From a talent point of view one could justifiably hand Dallas a grade of “A” based on the initial three selections plus the potential of the late round picks.  But that would be telling half the story as the players at the top of this collection come with downside risk, as we described.  We feel confident this draft will work out for the franchise.  Bryant is a young kid (as we all were, or are) and his draft day plunge should be an eye opener.  Assuming he has no setbacks, Lee should get stronger and back to prior playing form as time goes by.  This is the ultimate “wait and see” draft.

Representing half of last year’s Super Bowl equation, the Indianapolis Colts were the major story in the NFL through 15 weeks of the regular season, sitting at 14-0 with a legitimate shot at perfection. With home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs locked up, Bill Polian and Jim Caldwell decided to rest their starters over the final two weeks, leading to consecutive losses and a 14-2 record heading into the playoffs.  Losing their chance at a perfect season didn’t stop the Colts from making the Super Bowl, where they were beaten by a more complete Saints squad with one of the few NFL quarterbacks that can be discussed in the same breath as Peyton Manning in Drew Brees. As long as Manning is around the Colts will be in Super Bowl contention, but they didn’t do much to improve their team in the 2010 draft according to TFY’s Chris Tripodi.

Picking 31st overall in the first round, Indianapolis landed TCU defensive lineman Jerry Hughes. Hughes fits the Dwight Freeney-Robert Mathis mold as an undersized defensive end with a quick first step and excellent pass-rushing ability, as seen in his 26.5 sacks over his final two years at TCU. At just 6-1 and 255 pounds, his size is a limiting factor but his strong lower body allows him to explode up the field and keep his leverage to match up against bigger offensive lineman. Hughes also shows impressive quickness, body control and array of inside and outside pass-rush moves to keep lineman off balance.

With Freeney and Mathis aging and Raheem Brock released in the offseason, Hughes makes a lot of sense for the Colts, who have used the league’s top four-man pass rush to hide holes in their defensive backfield for years. Hughes will provide insurance for both Freeney and Mathis and should see lots of action in pass-rushing situations even if both are healthy and effective.

The Colts took another step to improve their defense in round two, drafting Iowa inside linebacker Pat Angerer. Angerer is great against the run, one of the Colts’ major defensive weakness, displaying the instincts and discipline necessary to fill gaps and be a consistent force in the running game. Another player who is slightly undersized at 6-0, 235 pounds, Angerer works hard to shed blocks and has enough speed to get out to the flanks as well. He also shows ability in pass coverage, intercepting 5 passes as a junior, and should fit well in the Colts’ cover 2 while improving their run defense once he takes over for fellow undersized linebacker Gary Brackett in the middle.

Third-round pick Kevin Thomas out of USC is a cornerback with good size (6-0, 192) and speed (4.44) who was a backup before the 2009 season.  Thomas is a good athlete with above-average ball skills, but struggles in route recognition as a result of not starting until his senior season. He also has issues in zone coverage and might struggle to fit in the Colts’ cover 2 scheme. Thomas is far from a finished product and has the potential to play as a nickel and dime back, but Indianapolis’ lack of depth at corner after losing Marlin Jackson might force him onto the field if he’s healthy.  During the first week of May Thomas severely injured his knee during mini-camp and may be lost for the season.

The Colts finally turned to offense with their fourth-round pick, drafting Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon. McClendon has great size at 6-3, 324 pounds and shows strength in the run game, but is limited athletically. He has enough quickness and mobility for an interior lineman and could improve the Colts’ running game if he can break into the lineup.

Oklahoma tight end Brody Eldridge was taken at the end of the fifth round by Indianapolis. He played center and guard for the Sooners last season and is an excellent blocker who could be turned into a lineman. His potential as a tight end is limited to being a blocker in short-yardage and goal-line situations, as he caught just 13 passes for 98 yards at Oklahoma.

Cincinnati defensive tackle Ricardo Mathews should help the Colts depth along the defensive line. While he is undersized at 6-2, 287 pounds, his athleticism allows him to be used as a one-gap lineman or in a three technique. His quick first step and ability in pursuit will give the Colts options to use him in multiple spots along their defensive front.

The Colts took another undersized linebacker with their second seventh-round pick in Clemson’s Kavell Connor. His 4.59 speed allows him to fly around the field and run downfield with tight ends and even receivers. Connor’s size limitations mean he will be best-served as a weakside linebacker at the next level, but he has the upside to develop into a starting-caliber player who fits well in the Colts defensive scheme.

Indianapolis finished their draft with Indiana cornerback Ray Fisher, whose NFL impact depends on his ability to return kicks as well as whether he can add depth to a shallow stable of cornerbacks. His speed and vision allowed him to rack up a 37.4-yard average on kick returns as a senior and should at least improve the Colts below-average kick return game and give Manning shorter fields to work with on offense.

Grade: C- As a result of their Super Bowl run, the Colts were stuck with a low pick and didn’t make any moves to acquire extra picks early in the draft. Hughes and Angerer are the only prospects from this draft that can make a major impact this season or next, when the Colts will be primed to make deep playoff runs. Thomas and Connor are projects that could develop given a few season, but that might be too late for this squad. They did add depth to their front seven, which will need to continue to provide a great pass rush and improve against the run to cover up their inexperience in the secondary. Indianapolis didn’t have much to work in terms of picks in this draft, but they didn’t make great value picks either outside of Hughes, who should contribute immediately.

After an 0-6 start that culminated in a 59-0 thrashing at the hands of the Patriots in the Foxboro snow, all hope seemed lost for the Tennessee Titans, a team with high hopes coming off a 13-3 season in 2008. Former 2006 first-round pick and Rookie of the Year Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins as the Titans starting quarterback and led the team to five consecutive wins to get back into the Wild Card discussion. Tennessee still fell short of the playoffs with an 8-8 record, but their 8-2 finish with Young under center again gives them hope heading into next season. Chris Tripodi breaks down how Tennessee’s draft will help them reach expectations.

Tennessee lost defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse to free agency and were in the market for a top-notch pass-rushing prospect. They were ecstatic when Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan fell to them with the 16th pick in the first round. The top defensive end on the Draft Insider draft board despite being taken behind Brandon Graham and Jason Pierre-Paul, Morgan has a very polished set of pass-rush moves. His size (6-3, 266) and speed (4.77) are not ideal, but he plays with excellent leverage, a quick first step and a good closing burst. Morgan is great at keeping his feet moving while pushing up the field and will be an impact pass rusher once he improves his strength, awareness and block shedding ability, if not right away.

The Titans lost their second-round pick this season in a trade with the Patriots last year that landed them tight end Jared Cook, but got good value with their third-round choice in USC receiver Damian Williams. We had him graded as a first- or second-rounder and his game-breaking ability will play well alongside emerging star Kenny Britt down the line. Williams plays faster than his 4.53 40 time and runs polished routes, exhibiting excellent body control, hands and an willingness to go over the middle and make tough catches in a crowd. His thin build (6-0, 197) will limit his immediate impact but once he adds strength, Williams has the upside of a number-one receiver at the NFL level.

Tennessee drafted Georgia linebacker Ronnie Curran with their second-pick in the third round. Despite being undersized (5-10, 235) Curran has drawn comparisons to former Pro Bowler Dexter Coakley as a linebacker who plays bigger than he’s listed with great explosion. He has great instincts and can always be found around the ball, whether filling the gaps or roaming sideline-to-sideline. Curran is an intelligent, hard-working player who uses his strong hands to keep blockers at bay. He does struggle to separate once blockers get their hands on him but is an excellent fit in the Titans gap defense and could eventually replace the aging David Thornton on the weak side.

After trading LenDale White to the Seahawks on day three, Tennessee used the fourth-round pick they got in return to select UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner. Graded as a second-round pick, Verner has solid instincts, ball skills and the ability to get physical with opposing receivers. He is effective recognizing routes in zone coverage but struggles to stay with receivers down the field and doesn’t recover well when caught out of position. He should add depth to a secondary that was just 31st defending the pass last season and has starting potential if he improves his man-coverage ability.

Safety Robert Johnson finally put everything together in his senior season at Utah after showing flashes of talent. He has the ability to play sideline-to-sideline and is a solid athlete with good discipline, timing, ball skills and a knack for the big hit. His size (6-2, 203) is a negative as is his tendency to over-pursue plays and a lack of acceleration, but Johnson is a solid centerfielder who can contribute in pass defense.

Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith has the natural ability to be an NFL starting quarterback, but he must improve his footwork and wind-up release as well as learn to protect the ball and take fewer chances. Smith is a bit of a gunslinger but if he can refine his game, he has the size (6-4, 231), arm strength and touch to be a starter at the NFL level.

Sixth-round pick Myron Rolle, a safety out of Florida State, is more well-known for his Rhodes Scholar accomplishments off the field than his play on it. His size (6-2, 215) and speed (4.59) translate well to the NFL but he must elevate his level of play, particularly his football instincts, to find a place in the league after eschewing football in 2009 to study at Oxford.

The Titans had two seventh-round picks, taking Montana receiver Marc Mariani and Brown defensive tackle David Howard.

Mariani had an excellent career at Montana and is a complete receiver with good route-running ability, hands and awareness. He lacks the speed to stretch the field and the size to be a dominant possession receiver and his awareness and vision on punt returns may be his ticket to NFL success.

Howard is slightly undersized at 6-3, 290 pounds but his thick lower body allows him to be an anchor in the middle of the defensive line. He fits well in Tennessee’s one-gap scheme and could provide depth along the defensive line.

Grade: C+ Not a bad draft for Tennessee, who filled their biggest need by selecting the best defensive end on the board in Morgan. Not having a second-round pick hurt but they were able to draft a second-round value in Williams, who could prove to be a steal with the 77th pick. The Titans drafted a cornerback and two safeties to add depth and talent to a secondary that was suspect most of last season while finding players in the late rounds that fit well in their system and could have an impact in a few seasons. The Titans got excellent value with their early picks and drafted smart players with solid football instincts and awareness. Four of their nine picks were focused on improving their terrible pass defense from a season ago and that will be a key for Tennessee if this team wants to get back into the playoffs.

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