Day Two in the Books: Some Drafts I Have Opinions On

I thought it would be a waste of both your time and mine to write up reviews about teams’ performance in the draft if I didn’t have an opinion or if my opinion was the same as the consensus. “He took a guy ten spots above where he should have been according to a draft guru’s value board” isn’t a compelling argument. I think it’s time that us writers concede we don’t really know that much about where actual teams rank players. Lots of writers also don’t seem to understand that minute differences in player evaluations can add up to make a player seem like a reach. (For example, Johnny Columnist has Blue Chipper ranked #40; other draft gurus, on average, rank him #35. Then, Team A, who picks at 35, has him ranked #25, but so does Team B, who has the 30th pick, so Team A starts fielding offers to trade up around the 25th pick. The only team willing to trade down is at #22, so they trade up to 22 and take Mr. Chipper.)

Johnny Columnist writes, “What a terrible reach! They took my #40 prospect at 22!”

That seems like a pointless evaluation, because it both ignores the dynamics of a competitive draft and because, let’s face it, how much more valuable are Johnny Columnist’s rankings than a particular team’s as regards its specific needs and the attributes its front office and coaches value in players?

All those caveats aside, that’s a long-winded way of saying I was fine with the 49ers trading up to #18 for Eric Reid.

Here are some teams whose moves were on my mind and why. In fact, since I’m already writing about San Francisco, let’s start with them:

San Francisco 49ers

Draft Picks:

  • 18. Eric Reid, S, LSU
  • 40. Cornellius “Tank” Carradine, DE, Florida St.
  • 55. Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
  • 88. Corey Lemonier, DE/OLB, Auburn

Trades:

  • Traded 1st (31 overall) and 3rd (73) overall to Dallas for their 1st (18).
  • Traded 2nd (34) to Tennessee for their 2nd (40), 7th (216), and a 2014 3rd.
  • Traded 2nd (61) and 6th (173) to Green Bay for their 2nd (55).
  • Traded 3rd (93) and 7th (216) to Green Bay for their 3rd (88),

In general I like the players the 49ers drafted and thought they got good value in Carradine and Lemonier. That’s not why I want to talk about them, though. I was impressed by the way they used their plethora of draft picks to target players they were either particularly high on or saw as the best value available. They only gave up a 3rd round pick to move up for Reid, and since they started the day with two second- and two third-round picks, not to mention even more on day three, they weren’t losing as much in giving up the pick since they don’t really have room to keep that many rookies anyway. Similarly, they traded up in the late 2nd and late 3rd with Green Bay to ensure they got the players they wanted, and it only cost them a 6th- and 7th- round pick this year– players who are unlikely to make the roster of this well-stocked team.

In addition, they traded back from 34 to 40 with Tennessee and got a 3rd-round pick next year as their reward. Turning their excess draft picks into future ones this year is sound.

The 49ers made smart use of their assets these last two days. Deep in the command center of the Patriots’ underground fortress, Bill Belichick is secretly impressed.

Speaking of…

New England Patriots

Draft Picks:

  • 52. Jamie Collins, DE/OLB, Southern Miss
  • 59. Aaron Dobson, WR, Marshall
  • 83. Logan Ryan, CB, Rutgers
  • 91. Duron Harmon, S, Rutgers

Trades

  • Traded 1st (29) to Minnesota for their 2nd (52), 3rd (83), 4th (102), and 7th (229).

The Patriots always amass lots of draft value with their willingness to trade down. They got an absurd amount of value from the Vikings’ move to take Cordarrelle Patterson, but, of course, that’s only half the value. The other half is in how you use it.

I of course can’t say with any certainty, but it seems the Patriots’ board often deviates significantly from media rankings, and while I know I just said those don’t really mean much, at certain positions– wide receiver and defensive back– the Patriots frequently miss.

I’m not sure why their scouting seems to differ on players so much from the consensus. It would be one thing if the Patriots were finding all these gems with those second- and third-round picks by going their own way, but they aren’t, and I wonder if something’s missing in the process. If you’re turning first-round picks into second-round picks you use to take fifth-round talent, something is wrong.

It could all be bad luck. It’s a small sample. But it’s always good to at least consider if the process is the problem.

Terrence Wheatley. Patrick Chung. Darius Butler. Ras-I Dowling. Tavon Wilson. Since 2008, those are the second-round picks the team has used on defensive backs. Wheatley and Butler are long gone. Patrick Chung got demoted and then left this year. Dowling has talent but was viewed as a reach at the top of the 2nd because he couldn’t stay healthy– and he hasn’t. Almost nobody knew anything about Tavon Wilson– and he played at Illinois, so it wasn’t like there was a lack of footage– and he still clearly isn’t ready to start, because the team signed Adrian Wilson. Oh, and they used their third-rounder on yet another safety who came seemingly out of nowhere, Rutgers’ Duron Harmon. I didn’t encounter a single item on Duron Harmon in my research. The last defensive back they took from Rutgers, Devin McCourty, turned out all right, but even he started out as a cornerback before having to move to safety.

Similarly, WR Aaron Dobson, the team’s second second-round pick, was ranked behind several players yet to be selected on most draft boards. He has potential, but so did Brandon Tate and Taylor Price. (Perhaps the problem is somewhere in development?)

Now, it’s not like they always do a bad job in the second round, or they always do a bad job at these positions. (I like the Alfonzo Dennard pick and I think he has the talent to be a decent starter if he keeps his head on straight.) I certainly don’t think bowing to the consensus is a smart idea, unless mediocrity is your goal. But when your own process is seemingly getting worse results than commonly available information would, you’ve got to at least reconsider what you’re doing.

Maybe the Patriots know they’re bad at identifying and/or developing talent at these positions, so they try for as many picks as possible to hit a gem. That’s a fair strategy, I suppose. I doubt they are unaware of their recent misses in the draft.

And yes, I know this ended up being an entry exactly along the lines of the ones I described as useless. I couldn’t help it– the Patriots’ picks were on my mind.

Two teams I take a more personal interest in and was happy to see do well:

Houston Texans

Draft Picks:

  • 27. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
  • 57. D.J. Swearinger, S, South Carolina
  • 89. Brennan Williams, OT, North Carolina
  • 95. Sam Montgomery, DE, LSU

Trades:

  • None.

I like Hopkins a lot. His upside is somewhat limited due to his less-than-overwhelming physical measurables, but I think he’s one of the surest things at WR in this draft, and plays the position really well, in terms of route running, body control, and hands.

D.J. Swearinger I saw all over the place on mock boards, and he wasn’t quite as highly regarded as the top four safeties, but he’s good enough to select here and fits a team need.

I wasn’t sure Brennan Williams would go this high, as he missed the end of 2012 with a shoulder injury, but on talent he certainly merits it– and he’ll be playing right tackle in Houston, just as he did in Carolina.

Sam Montgomery is an interesting case, as character questions have caused him to sink. In addition, he doesn’t possess the kind of explosive athleticism teams seek in the truly elite edge rushers. He’s a larger defensive end and is better at rushing with power and stopping the run, and that’s why I think he’ll fit nicely as a 3-4 DE in Houston’s defense.

New Orleans Saints

Draft Picks:

  • 15. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
  • 75. Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
  • 82. John Jenkins, DT, Georgia

Trades:

  • Traded RB Chris Ivory to Jets for 4th (106).
  • Traded two 4ths (106, 109) to Miami for 3rd (82).

I’ll tell you something: I’m an unabashed Saints fan, and we got the two players I wanted exactly in the third round.

I thought Armstead and Jenkins would both go higher; you can check my most recent mocks to verify that if you’d like. The Saints have worked wonders with small-school offensive linemen in the middle rounds: Jahri Evans from Division II Bloomsburg, Jermon Bushrod from Towson, and hopefully Bushrod’s replacement in Armstead. I like Armstead as a prospect not only for his absurd athleticism, but also because he was a good prospect in high school as well, he just refused to go anywhere that wouldn’t let him also compete in track. Many small-school prospects are late bloomers or have character troubles. Not Armstead. He could be the best of all worlds. Hopefully, the offensive line magic didn’t run out when Aaron Kromer left to become Chicago’s offensive coordinator.

I’m similarly excited about the John Jenkins pick. He’s a 340-pounder who can move! What’s not to love? He may take a little while to develop, but the Saints have the depth on the defensive line to give him time to reach his full potential. I don’t know why teams weren’t more interested in him– he looked good in the film I watched, and guys his size who still have some quickness are hard to find.

I didn’t even mention Kenny Vaccaro. He provides a terrific upgrade to one of the team’s weakest areas last season.

Last, I’ll miss Chris Ivory, but the trade was worth it to get Jenkins, and it’s very likely the Saints can find another undrafted free agent to replace him– they’ve already done it with Pierre Thomas, Ivory, and Travaris Cadet.

This series didn’t cover everyone I thought about, so I hope to return with more analysis, particularly of teams who have done poorly in the draft (and in general) lately that I thought did well this weekend.

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3 thoughts on “Day Two in the Books: Some Drafts I Have Opinions On

  1. You ask why the Pats differ from the consensus rankings: it’s simple. Like the Ravens, they’re one of the few other teams that doesn’t subscribe to The National or BLESTO. I’m guessing most of the draft gurus assemble their initial board from leaked NFS/BLESTO reports, and from the Combine invitees – who are determined by, you guessed it: NFS and BLESTO. So there’s kind of an echo chamber where if the scouts from those orgs don’t like you, you end up off the radar.

    Which doesn’t mean Harmon was a good pick of course; I don’t know. His size and measurables are in line with the other S available at that spot, he was All-Big East twice, and those who have looked at his film (Cosell and Mayock, to name two) liked what they saw, but the hit rate at that point in the draft is pretty lousy to begin with. He was the ninth safety off the board, and how many drafts produce nine good safeties?

    You’re right that the Pats did the same thing with Tavon Wilson last year. The jury’s still out on him, but if you look at the safeties taken behind him, he arguably had the best rookie season. Sebastian Vollmer was another non-Combine guy the Pats “reached” to take in the 2nd-round; he might be the best right tackle in football. But as you note, the Pats have had their share of flops, too. The jury’s definitely still out.

    • Ah, yes. I don’t remember if I wrote about NFS/BLESTO here, or merely mentioned it via the Bill Barnwell column on Ozzie Newsome, but I can’t find fault with them not using it– it definitely would perturb me if my team didn’t even bother to evaluate players specific to their own needs.

      And that’s what makes that point almost futile, ultimately: I just don’t know enough about these players to say if they’re good or bad. I do think it’s telling that the Patriots’ first-round picks have by and large been their best contributors– which seems obvious on the surface, but perhaps also suggests Belichick should stop trading back so much and start looking for impact players in the draft. It seemed to work last year.

      • Obviously we can’t know for sure, but my understanding is that most of the time the Pats trade back, they’re doing so for particular players. Michael Holley wrote about the 2010 draft in War Room. The Pats had Devin McCourty sized up and would have taken him at 24, but Dallas offered a 3rd to move up from 27 to 24. So that was basically a free pick. They could have moved back again, but Belichick knew the Jets were looking CB, and while he was pretty sure they were taking Kyle Wilson (which they did), he didn’t want to chance it.

        I don’t know if that’s true this year, where they traded back so far, but I think there’s a decent chance Jamie Collins was really #1 on their board at 29 and they figured they could get him a round later. At the very least, they didn’t see much of a drop-off between what was available at 29 and what was at 52. They do trade up in the first round (last year, for Wilfork in ’04, for Ty Warren in ’03) when they see a player they like, so I think it’s fair to say they do look for impact players in the draft. One problem is that they’re usually drafting at the end of the first round, and in a weak draft like this one there isn’t much difference between a late-first-rounder and a second-rounder.

        Of course, the best trades have been the “I’ll pay you next Tuesday for a hamburger today” ones where they deal a 3rd for a future second, but the Pats haven’t been able to swing one of those in a couple years.

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