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Friday, April 29, 2011

Sportaholic NFL Draft Spectacular

In anticipation to the draft this year, I scanned every so called draft expert’s picks, including Peter King’s on Sports Illustrated, Mike Mayock from, Rich Gosselin of the Dallas morning news and of course Mel Kiper and Todd McShay of ESPN. After witnessing the first round of the draft I can say with confidence these guys are guessing just like the rest of us. Four QBs went in the first round (To Kiper’s credit, he did predict four would go) with your classic over-reaching in the Titans picking Jake Locker at 8 and Minnesota picking Christian Ponder at 12. Jacksonville’s GM Gene Smith made a bold move in trading up for Blaine Gabbert, which officially puts David Garrard on the hot seat. This was an example of the effect of the lockout. The Titans, Vikings, and Jags were directly affected because they couldn’t count on signing a veteran QB like they could in normal years. Now these teams turn to rookie passers to lead or eventually take over their franchises. We all knew the Cam Newton experience would be going to Carolina. The Panthers and GM Marty Hurney are mortgaging their future on the former Auburn star. Now can he lead them to the promise land is another thing.

Another trend this year was the run on pass rushers. 7 of the 32 picks in the first round were used on sack specialists. Another 4 picks were used on defensive tackles, making it 11 picks for defensive linemen in the first round. Teams know that if they can grab an elite pass rusher it can pay big dividends. When you look at teams such as Dallas with Demarcus Ware, Pittsburgh with Lamar Woodley, and Green Bay with Clay Matthews you understand the importance of having a game changing edge rusher who can get to the Qb at any given time. Speaking of pass rushing, how about the Detroit Lions? They had Nick Fairley fall right into their lap. That defensive line now features Fairley, Ndamakong Suh and Kyle Vaden Bosch. That noise you heard last night after the Fairley pick last night was Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler’s jaw dropping. Those guys have to be shaking their heads thinking of what life going to be like when the Lions come to town. The boldest move of the entire draft so far though has to be Atlanta giving up the 27th pick along with its 2nd and 4th round picks of this year’s draft and their 1st and 4th round picks of next year to obtain Alabama’s Julio Jones. A lot of people are questioning this move. The Falcons gave up a lot for the services of Jones but it brings drool to my mouth thinking about an offense that features Roddy White, Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Michael ‘Burner” Turner and Matt Ryan. You are looking at a bona fide explosive offense with those weapons at Ryan’s disposal.

Now for the biggest surprises of the NFL draft and the local perspective of the Titans pick:

Biggest Surprises:

1. Julio Jones to Atlanta: Hands down it has to the Atlanta Falcons. As I stated above, the Falcons paid a steep price for wideout Julio Jones but when you look at the possibilities, how can you not like it? This offense now has top 5 written all over it. Every since Matt Ryan and Roddy White developed into one of the best QB-WR tandems in the league, most people were saying they still needed one more threat on the outside to bring it all together. When I watched Falcons games last year I would always notice the double press coverage used on White. It forced Matt Ryan to find Tony Gonzalez probably more than he liked to over the middle. Jones will free up the opposite side of the field for Atlanta and will open up holes for Turner with his physical blocking. The more I look at this for the Falcons the more I like it.

2. Nick Fairley to Detroit: This pick had to make Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler quiver. Jim Schwartz has always been known for his defensive line schemes since his days here in Tennessee. He now has a potentially devastating assortment of talent with Suh, Fairley and Vaden Bosch. They guys are going to hurt someone this year, mark it down. The physicality and nastiness that Fairley and Suh will bring every game will set the tone for the Lions defense. Both guys are known for their rough borderline dirty playing styles and it should be fun to see how they play off each other.

3. Blaine Gabbert to Jacksonville: Jaguars GM Gene Smith is a man who sticks by what he believes in. He proved that last year by picking Cal’s Tyson Alaulau who turned out to be one of the better rookie defensive ends last year. After countless experts weighed in and called the pick an over reach, Smith never wavered and at no time even worried about what others thought. So I have to trust a man of such conviction as he must have had a hunch about Gabbert, who he moved up to take 10th. It cost the Jags a 2nd round pick but they now have their future franchise QB. Gabbert was predicted all over the board from 3rd to the Bills all the way down to 10th by the Redskins. There is no way he could have thought he would be a Jaguar at the end of the day. I trust Smith knows what he is doing. David Garrard your days are numbered in Jacksonville.

Best 1st round: New Orleans Saints. The Saints grabbed defensive end Cameron Jordan of Cal, who some say was a potential top 15 pick and the Saints got him with the 24th pick (Value, Value, and Value) They followed that up by trading with New England for the 26th pick and landing former Heisman trophy winner Mark Ingram. They now have a dominant in-between the tackles runner that Reggie Bush will never become. But the most intriguing thing about the Bush-Ingram tandem is the endless possibilities. Sean Payton is one the brightest offensive minds in the game. He will incorporate both to the best of their abilities. I envision Ingram softening up the defense with his down-hill running style, only to have Bush take a toss sweep and turn the corner on a stunned defense. Ingram should help bring better balance on offense for the Saints and anytime you give Drew Brees another toy to play with it’s a good thing. Jordan will solidify the defensive line for the Saints who at times last year had problems getting to the QB. It’s just been a great draft so far for Sean Payton and company.

Worst 1st round: Minnesota Vikings. The draft is all about value. Each slot in the draft has a certain expectation of market price at its position. This is what makes the Vikes decision to go with Christian Ponder of Florida State so perplexing. Ponder was thought to be a late 2nd rounder at best in most projections and the Vikes over reached because they reacted the Qb bonanza that was taking place in the early 1st round. There is a lot to like about Ponder who is probably the most pro ready out of all the QBs drafted in the first round. He played in a pro-style offense at Florida State and is one of the most cerebral players in the entire draft. But the value was just not there to justify taking him that high. The number of quality QBs still left in this draft is another thing. Ryan Mallet, Ricky Stanzi , Andy Dalton, and Colin Kapernick all are still on the board. Minnesota has the 43rd pick in the second round which they could have used on one four named Qbs left. For all we know Ponder could have still been there, which makes this pick such a stinker.

Local Perspective: Titans select Jake Locker with the 8th pick. I could have easily placed Tennessee in the worst 1st round slot that is currently filled by Minnesota. For the very same reasons I didn’t like the Vikings pick is the same reasons I don’t like the Titans pick as well. Locker seemed like a reach at 8. The first thing I did when the pick was announced was to go straight to my phone as I received numerous texts, twits and facebook statues asking one simple question. Why Locker? It was projected that he would go in the first round but just not in the top ten. The Titans need defensive help just as much as they need QB and they were staring at a potentially dominant force in Nick Fairley in the face. Now I know a lot of people will say that the Titans need a QB more than anything and that may be true but over reaching for a guy with a career 56% competition rate in college? They could have selected Fairley in the 1st round and had plethora of choices at QB in the 2nd round with the 39th pick.

However, contrary to my beliefs, this is a guy who would have been the number one pick in last year’s draft. He has tremendous upside if the Titans staff can correct his accuracy problems that plagued his draft status this year. He has all the intangibles you look for in a QB. As Jon Gruden said he is as tough as a two-dollar steak and this guy means business when he tucks the ball and takes off running. Todd McShay put it best when speaking of Locker. He stated that his potential ceiling could be as high as Aaron Rodgers and his bottom could be that of Heath Shuler. This is the rub I have with the pick. Why roll the dice on such a high risk high reward player? In the first round you want to absolutely without a doubt make sure you get the best player you can at your position. Most are saying that the Titans have been in love with Locker since the combine but I just question entire front office if that is the case. Even if they were so enamored with Locker, I’m pretty sure they could have traded down and got some more draft picks in return. It’s just so many different ways the Titans could have went with the 8th pick but they seem to know something we don’t about in Locker.

Hopefully Locker is more Aaron Rodgers than he is Heath Shuler because he is now the face of the franchise for the Tennessee Titans for the foreseeable future.

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