by NFL Gimpy
I’ll spare everyone the rant I gave last year on draft grades, but there are still plenty of topics related to the draft to discuss. There were several noteworthy trends that show what direction the NFL is headed.
The game of football starts and stops with the QB. When the Bills took EJ Manuel as the top QB, it shocked a lot of people. It forced many people to take another look at Manuel to see what they didn’t see. Basically, the Bills made an “upside” pick. I know Tommy was very low on Manuel and only included him in his top 100 because he knew Manuel would be drafted there. Manuel has superb physical gifts…yet with 10 other NFL draftees from this past season on his team he never dominated. You’d assume a 1st round QB on a team with double digit NFL picks would be a guy whose play screams “NFL QB.” It didn’t.
Manuel has all of the physical tools to be a great QB. He comes off as confident and intelligent in interviews. You see flashes of brilliance on tape but he’s inconsistent at best. The Bills think they can turn him into the next Colin Kaepernick and thankfully Manuel will have a ton of talent around him. The Bills have one of the best 1-2 punches at RB in the NFL, a very good WR in Stevie Johnson, and a solid OL. If Manuel can cut down on the mistakes he made in college (28 INTs in 31 games) and take advantage of his athleticism plus the playmakers around him… it may work. I don’t think it will, but for the sake of long-suffering Bills fans, I hope I’m wrong. Bills vs. Dolphins for the AFC East is must more entertaining than Patriots vs. nobody.
Other than EJ, it’s tough to say any of the QBs had a good weekend. Geno Smith went from a possible top 5 pick to a 2nd round pick. Matt Barkley could have been a top 10 pick if he came out in 2012. He was the #1 overall pick…in the 4th round. Zac Dysert was a mid-round sleeper: 7th round. At best, a few players were drafted in the correct vicinity. Mike Glennon in the 3rd, Landry Jones in the 4th, and Tyler Wilson in the 4th went about when they were reasonably expected to go. I don’t want to call this a bad QB class because you never know who’s going to pan out. Geno Smith could develop a Tom Brady-sized chip on his shoulder and he’s certainly more physically talented than Brady was at this point. Mike Glennon could be the starter for the Bucs in 2014. Matt Barkley may be the QB of the future in Philadelphia if the Eagles don’t rely on their QB to run the ball.
We could easily see 3 or 4 long term starters out of this draft. We could also see none. It’s doubtful we’ll ever witness a 2012 Draft ever again, where we have at least 4 long term starters already inked onto depth charts (Luck, RG3, Tannehill and Wilson) and several others (Weeden, Foles, Osweiler) who could end up there as well. That doesn’t make the 2013 Draft a bad QB draft; it’s just tough to see it differently with the emphasis on the QB position as of late.
What I think NFL teams have realized is that they don’t have to draft premium positions with 1st round picks. Before the rookie wage scale, a player drafted in the top 10 instantly became one of if not the highest paid player at his position. Eric Berry became the highest paid safety in NFL history due to his rookie contract. CJ Spiller, taken 8th overall, got $20.8M guaranteed. To put that into comparison, the contract extension LeSean McCoy received before the 2012 season paid him $20.765M guaranteed. Spiller received more guaranteed money as a rookie than a premier player’s extension 2 years later. As you can see, there’s a reason this system was changed.
Now that a top 10 player isn’t instantly one of the highest paid at his position, teams can spend a high 1st on any offensive or defensive starter. The result: 2 Guards and 4 OTs in the top 11. As I noted in my Draft Preview column, an OG had not gone in the top 10 in 16 years. For two to go it shows a shifting value system in the NFL for 1st round picks. Teams will still have their position preferences, but they aren’t locked into taking a QB, LT, pass rusher, or CB in the top 10. In fact, it’s quite possible none of the top 3 OTs taken will start at LT their first season or two. The Chiefs have Branden Albert at LT right now, the Jags have Eugene Monroe, and the Eagles have Jason Peters. Think about that. In the previous 10 NFL drafts, I could not find a single OT taken in the top 5 who was not drafted as an immediate and long term starter at LT. Jason Smith played RT as a rookie, but they wanted him at LT ASAP. This year we may have 3 who aren’t intended to see LT as a rookie.
Miscellaneous Draft thoughts
-When you take a step back and look at the top teams in the NFL and compare those to below average ones, it’s glaringly obvious via the draft why that is. Just compare what the 49ers and Ravens got compared to the Titans and Cardinals. Compare the players and what they’ll have in the 2014 NFL Draft. Could the Titans and Cardinals end up with better players in the long run? Absolutely, but the value presented strongly favors the Ravens and 49ers.
-The last time a QB didn’t go in the top 10? That would be Chad Pennington in 2000. The last time a RB didn’t go in the 1st round? 1963.
-The Big Ten had as many 1st rounders as C-USA, MAC, Big East, and non-Notre Dame independents: one. It really lends credence to how awful the Big 10 was this past season outside of Ohio State, who was on a bowl ban. (Ed note – And the B10 player was Wisconsin C Travis Frederick, picked 31st, and who many thought should have been a 3rd Rd pick)
-I still can’t believe the Jaguars didn’t draft a QB. They have the worst QB situation in the NFL. They have two guys that no one can see as a future NFL starter and two undrafted rookies who are nowhere close to being ready to start. Teams with far better QB situations like the Eagles, Steelers and Giants took QBs in the 4th round.
-I love that the Packers took Eddie Lacy in the 2nd and Johnathan Franklin in the 4th. They completely revamped their RB position without spending a 1st round pick. What’s odd is that Franklin may get more playing time than Lacy. Franklin may be the back we see in the first half due to his speed and value in a pass heavy offense. I think they drafted Lacy to be a closer. They’ll run Lacy hard in the 3rd and 4th quarters to eat the clock as much as possible when they have a lead. With an inability to run late in games, the Packers were forced to throw the ball a lot in the 4th quarter.
An example: against the Bears late in the season (a game they did win by 8) the Packers could not put the Bears away. In the 4th quarter, the Packers RBs had 7 rushes for 20 yards and 0 first downs from those runs. The Bears got the ball back with 3:47 and 56 seconds left on the clock. The Bears were an above average run D (8th in rushing yards allowed, 14th in yards per carry). If they can get Lacy to simply go 3 yards, 4 yards, 3 yards…they have a 1st down and eat up 2 more minutes off of the clock. That’s something they were consistently unable to do in 2012. It’s not good to give a playoff contender 2 shots at tying the game with less than 4 minutes to go in the game.
As always, follow me on Twitter. I’m almost at 500 followers. I have an email from Tommy this time last year congratulating me on 100. Sorry for the lack of a column last week, life has been a pain in the ass lately.