Our top 20 day-three draft values

I wanted to wait to write this column until the 53-man roster deadline had passed, until teams had used the waiver wire to stock the bottom of their rosters from other team’s castoffs. Now that the dust has settled, we’ll look at some day-three picks we really like. These players represent a combination of value at their selection, contribution right away, and potential down the line. I’ve ranked them by order in which we had them ranked.

20. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami-FL
Buffalo Bills, Round 7, Pick 237
#123 overall, #14 OT

Henderson was an unusual prospect to grade, with worlds of physical talent dragged down by off-field problems and laziness in developing his technique. It was never clear at Miami whether he just needed good coaching or didn’t have the mental attitude, but all indicators are that he’ll start at right tackle for the Bills over second-round pick Cyrus Kouandijo.

19. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
St. Louis Rams, Round 6, Pick 188
#112 overall, #13 CB

Gaines is currently penciled in as one of the Rams’ starting cornerbacks opposite Janoris Jenkins. He had some strong games in the preseason, and while we believed in his abilities as a solid cover corner in various coverages, even we didn’t project a week-one starter.

18. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
New Orleans Saints, Round 5, Pick 169
#105 overall, #7 LB

It should be no surprise that Powell ended up on Rob Ryan’s Saints defense, as his versatility was a highlight on film. Let vix tell you more.

17. Jonathan Newsome, OLB, Ball State
Indianapolis Colts, Round 5, Pick 166
#104 overall, #15 ER

He popped on film, showing occasional flashes of high-level athleticism, but he also played at Ball State. Developmental, but loads of potential here.

16. David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Chicago Bears, Round 6, Pick 183
#103 overall, #7 QB

Fales has a subpar arm, but showed some good skills in read progressions and decision-making. He didn’t post another 70%+ completion percentage in his senior year, but he was accurate enough. If he can develop his arm strength and refine his skills, he could have a solid career in the league.

15. Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State
Green Bay Packers, Round 5, Pick 161
#101 overall, #2 C

Linsley was a late riser on our board, someone whose film turned out to be significantly better than expected. Conveniently enough for us, we’re going to see just how well that translates to the field very soon, thanks to J.C. Tretter’s injury.

14. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky
Tennessee Titans, Round 5, Pick 151
#92 overall, #6 LB

Williamson was a star on the field for the Wildcats, a legitimate three-down linebacker who is strong at shedding blocks and making tackles while also being strong in pass coverage. He held his own for an overmatched Kentucky team, and don’t be surprised if he’s starting in the middle for the Titans soon.

13. Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
Carolina Panthers, Round 4, Pick 128
#87 overall,  #6 S

Safety may be one of the more difficult positions for us to evaluate, as reliable all-22 film that includes full footage of the back end is tough to find. That said, Boston graded out well for us as a versatile safety who can tackle and hit. Given Carolina’s losses at safety in free agency (and the past-their-prime veterans they signed to fill the gaps), Boston could be starting sooner rather than later. At least he’ll have a front seven capable of making his job easy. Let vix take you into more detail.

12. Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
Green Bay Packers, Round 4, Pick 121
#85 overall, #13 ER

Bradford needs some development to reach his potential but he showed high levels of athleticism, mostly as an edge rusher but occasionally in coverage too. He won’t be rushed into action in Green Bay; if he works on his craft and develops his technique and strength, he could be a solid all-around player.

11. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
Seattle Seahawks, Round 4, Pick 123
#81 overall, #14 WR

Norwood was mostly regarded as a deep threat at Alabama, which is a little unfair, as he possesses quite a wide range of receiver skills, as well as good size and speed for the position. He had a camp injury that’s kept him buried on Seattle’s depth chart, but long-term he should be part of their rotation, perhaps even one day starting opposite Paul Richardson on the outside.

10. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
San Francisco 49ers, Round 4, Pick 106
#77 overall,#13 WR

Ellington is a unique player, a speedy little slot receiver with moves, maneuvers, and vision like a running back. He’ll never be a traditional #1, but he’s the kind of guy who can have a role right away, and I hope the 49ers make the most of his skills. Vix can’t say enough good things about him.

9. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Cleveland Browns, Round 4, Pick 127
#75 overall, #10 CB

I had to look up where Lindenwood is, too. Small-school prospects with little to no film against comparable competition are always a gamble, but Desir’s size-speed combo makes him worth it. (Supposedly there’s a tape out there where Desir goes up against John Brown of Pittsburgh St. (KS), Arizona’s third-round selection, but I haven’t been able to locate a copy.)

8. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
Tennessee Titans, Round 4, Pick 112
#67 overall,#8 DL

We may have been overrating the very large men who tend to leave the field during passing downs, as we put a number of defensive tackles higher on our board than where they actually were drafted. That said: Jones stands out a consistent, explosive force up the middle who if nothing else will force teams to keep blockers on him if they don’t want him in their backfields.

7. Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
Detroit Lions, Round 5, Pick 158
#59 overall, #6 DL

Another guy whose level of college competition surely caused NFL teams to be more bearish on him than we were. We saw a guy who, when he wasn’t getting double-teamed, showed great quickness and pad level for his size and ability to rush the passer from a 3-technique. Perhaps Akiem Hicks is a good comparison for possible upside.

6. Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Buffalo Bills, Round 4, Pick 109
#56 overall, #8 CB

Not a prospect with outstanding measurables, but man, can he play. Watch his tape from the Chick-Fil-A bowl against Texas A&M: In a game the Blue Devils eventually lost 52-48 (!), Cockrell was largely left in man coverage against Mike Evans and held him to four catches and no scores.

5. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Pittsburgh Steelers, Round 4, Pick 118
#53 overall,#9 WR

Bryant is a very raw prospect, but he’s a physical specimen. Considering guys with his kind of measurables who are even less developed as prospects go in the second round (Why hello there, latest member of the Carolina Panthers practice squad). It’s always a risk whether or not a guy like this develops, but he has admitted that he didn’t take his game as seriously in the past as he does now, which is a great sign of maturity especially for a young prospect. Even though he was inconsistent in college, he wasn’t so much so that you couldn’t reliably throw to him.

4. David Yankey, G, Stanford
Minnesota Vikings, Round 5, Pick 145
#47 overall,#5 OG

Yankey was a prospect much more highly rated in the public eye until he started sliding close to the draft, winding up in the fifth round. We still liked what we saw: a guard with terrific athleticism and great ability to pull, whose blocking needed some refinement but who should still be a solidly capable starter sooner rather than later. Maybe teams didn’t like that he slid inside in 2013 to make room for top offensive tackle prospect Andrus Peat.

More on David Yankey.

3. Dakota Dozier, G/T, Furman
New York Jets, Round 4, Pick 137
#42 overall,#3 OG / #7 OT

What we liked about Dozier that elevated him over your typical small-school lineman prospect was what we saw in his footwork. He’s still developmental to a degree, naturally, but he has the feet to make us think he could play tackle someday (and has a non-zero chance to become a positive left tackle).

2. Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
Jacksonville Jaguars, Round 5, Pick 144
#34 overall, #1 LB

Smith fell in part because of a positive marijuana test at the Combine. He may have fallen in part because of his size. But for a linebacker prospect, his game speed is incredible, his coverage skills are excellent, and he’s still pretty solid at tackling and run support. C.J. Mosley is the better prospect as a classic every-down middle linebacker, but in a game that’s becoming less about big hits and more about speed and the aerial attack, Smith could be the kind of valuable coverage linebacker that doesn’t come along too often.

Our mystery mountain man of tape, vixticator, breaks him down further.

1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Tennessee Titans, Round 6, Pick 178
#30 overall, #4 QB

vix’s breakdown

For perspective, we had Mettenberger ranked higher than Derek Carr. That was an outlier stance- Carr has much more physical talent overall, and comparing their athleticism would be unfair and mean– but Mettenberger combined a cannon arm with good decision-making and the willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit. He played QB at a high level for LSU last year, and in the preseason showed some flashes he could develop into a throwback QB, a cannon-armed statue. Sadly for Jake Locker fans, I think that development may need to show as soon as next year.

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My favorite over/under bets this year

DISCLAIMER: I may have been a professional gambler, and I may be a non-professional football writer, but those stellar qualifications do not mean you should take my recommendations.

Either way, I’m sure you’d like to read about them. Lines are taken from Bovada. Roughly in decreasing order of confidence.

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Hindsight: NFC North Offseason Grades

With the final edition of this series, we have one of the most exciting divisions in the league; the NFC North. These teams carry some of the most storied rivalries in NFL history, boasting as much glory and heartbreak as any other division in the league. Led by three very good quarterbacks and the best running back in football, these teams are primed for yet another season of mutual disdain.

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Lions Outside Rush: Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster

The Lions have rebounded from a recent history of failure to field a watchable team over the last several seasons. Heck, they even made the playoffs in 2011. Calvin Johnson is perhaps the most exciting player in the game, and the cupboard of roster talent is certainly not empty. However, a 4-12 2013 meant a coaching change: Jim (Schwartz) is dead, long live Jim (Caldwell)!  Being watchable is all well and good, but Detroit fans want to see a Super Bowl contender, or a team good enough to win one with the right breaks, which hasn’t happened in a long time. In this draft, the Lions addressed an assortment of needs– now, as for drafting the best players, I would say they were not as successful, but history cannot be reversed. These are the players we are stuck with, and hey, it isn’t all bad. Right? Let’s all agree to answer yes. And now to Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster.

 

ROUND 2, PICK 40

KYLE VAN NOY, ER/LB, BYU

With the 5th overall pick in last year’s draft. the Detroit Lions selected my absolute favorite player in the 2013 class, defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. I bring him up because Kyle Van Noy was his teammate at BYU. Because of that, we’ll take a brief look at some plays where they played side by side in 2012, along with how Van Noy played without him in 2013. Kyle Van Noy is a player who throughout the process stood out to me as a “jack of all trades.” At BYU, he played essentially every linebacker position in their 3-4 scheme. We’ll see him lined up outside against the offensive tackle as a pass rusher, behind the defensive tackle in a role that’s closer to what I believe he’ll play with the Lions, and even matched up against slot receivers on many passing downs. As is often the case with a “jack of all trades” player, Kyle Van Noy is good to very good at all of these roles and elite at none.

First, let’s look at a handful of plays from 2012, where Van Noy is playing with Ziggy Ansah. Just to get Lions fans salivating, I’ve selected this play first. Van Noy and Ansah are lined up side by side, and from the snap, it’s a race to the quarterback, as both men are essentially unblocked and nearly kill that poor passer. Good game, NFL. (Well, this was against Hawaii, but let’s hope they can repeat it.) Now on the other side of the field, again next to Ansah, Van Noy is unblocked as the quarterback bootlegs to his right, away from him. It doesn’t matter, as Van Noy has the speed to chase him down, and if the ball stays in the playing field, this is a turnover. Last, we have Ansah at nose tackle with Van Noy standing right behind him, and on a perfectly timed blitz, Van Noy shoots the gap opened by the pulling guard and drops the runner for a six-yard loss.

One skill I love with Kyle Van Noy’s game is how well he sees plays developing and how well he reacts to them. There’s no hesitation in, for instance, this play in the red zone (now in 2013 sans Ansah). He sees the toss left, makes a beeline towards Bishop Sankey, and tackles him for a big time loss of yards on 4th-and-1.

I haven’t yet shown him playing in coverage. He’s used more often around the line of scrimmage, but as I said earlier, he does occasionally split out in the slot or behind defensive linemen and drops into coverage. Here’s a play where Van Noy is in the slot and makes a tackle on the receiver where he squares up and doesn’t get out of position versus a faster opponent. What he doesn’t do there is get his hands on and jam the slot receiver as he’s releasing into his route. Failing to jam receivers is a common problem of his play in the slot; it’s something he should be doing and that shouldn’t be difficult to teach, but he almost never does, at least on the plays I looked at over a number of games. When he drops into coverage, he’s almost always “spying” the quarterback, as he does in the play here. Van Noy is playing the quarterback and, on that specific play, is able to read where the throw is heading and tips it in the air.

Kyle Van Noy’s biggest strength is rushing the passer. You can split him out in the slot or in a zone and he’s not going to play badly, necessarily, but certainly you want to make use of his strengths. Van Noy will bring the kind of pressure from the outside that the Lions simply did not have in the absence of Cliff Avril, albeit as a linebacker rather than a defensive end. Van Noy does need to use his hands more often on his engagements; often he’ll rely on his speed to get around the corner, and when he’s met by an offensive tackle, he doesn’t always make use of his hands to help him out. He did in most of these plays I showed, but if you watch several games, you’ll see this is an area he can improve in. In any case, I like the pick and the reunion with Ziggy Ansah. Looking forward to what he can bring to the table.

 

ROUND 4, PICK 136

LARRY WEBSTER, ER, BLOOMSBURG

The selection of Larry Webster in the fourth round by the Lions is a bit more puzzling. Mind you, I don’t have much film on him: there are only two games available on Draft Breakdown, both against the same opponent. So perhaps he looks like Lawrence Taylor in other games (I can dream), but against the great Shippensburg University (who? what? where?), he only flashes here and there. If you look at Webster’s combine performance, the pick starts making more sense; he measured in at 6’6″ and 252 lbs., ran a very speedy 4.58 40, with an incredible 36.5″ vertical. Hey, maybe he can play tight end if Eric Ebron doesn’t work out.

Larry Webster is positively primordial in his development. The first tape I looked at was his 2012 game against Shippensburg. It ain’t pretty. On this play, Webster does ‘beat’ the left tackle inside, but he’s standing straight up, allowing the tackle to simply control his momentum and drive him completely out of the play. Now this does force the quarterback to climb the pocket before making a strike downfield, but I don’t think I’d call it a ‘good’ play from Webster. On the very next play, Webster once again is too tall when he meets the tackle, and this time, he’s also slow as molasses off the snap: just look how far away he is from engaging at the 1:26 mark. Yikes. These two traits of being too tall and too slow are common themes of his play in this game. Not only that, the steps he takes in his pass rush are very short and purposeless, as in this play, where he once again engages incorrectly.

scinece

The above is a frame from the last play. It’s at the point of contact or engagement. The yellow line represents where his weight is distributed. I don’t have a compass on me to measure it, but it doesn’t take a physicist to understand that this is not how you want to engage a blocker. His left foot isn’t even on the ground. Webster meets the blocker with barely any force. A better tackle could plant him into the dirt here. Pancakes for all. For comparison’s sake, watch the speed and efficiency of Barkevious Mingo’s steps in this play against Clemson. Now, yes, he was the #6 overall pick in the draft last year, but he was considered a raw prospect; this is why I used the word “primordial” to describe Webster.

Fortunately, it gets better. In Webster’s 2013 game against Shippensburg, he’s still making similar mistakes, except now we can see flashes of that athleticism and a better grasp of the game. I’ll focus on the positives here. The first thing of note is that in many plays he’s now standing up before the snap, whereas in the game the prior season he played entirely with his hand down. Did you watch the Mingo play earlier? Well, notice on this play how Webster wastes no motion on an inside move and blows by all the blockers, forcing the quarterback to roll to his right and throw a quick pass. At no point in the 2012 game did he show off this kind of burst or fluid motion. Now at least he’s flashing.

On this play, Webster gets a sack. He’s still playing too tall, but at least he’s shooting his hands into the right tackle’s chest, which allows him to toss the tackle aside and bend around the corner for a sack. Will this work in the NFL? No, but it’s an improvement. Right here is a play that will translate to the pros: Webster again explodes off the snap, and he uses his right hand to swat the left tackle’s left shoulder, which gives him the momentum to bend around the edge, allowing him to “dip” under the tackle and nearly get a sack. And here the exact same move does lead to a sack.

If you watch the entire 2013 game, there are more good plays, and yet, he still has more plays where he’s playing too high or he’s slow off the ball. Larry Webster manages to look sluggish and awkward one play and explosive and talented the next. Seeing as he looked in the 2012 game like a player that had essentially no ability, and in the 2013 game he’s flashing an awful lot of ability, the pick starts to make sense as you picture him showing that athleticism more consistently and developing skills to go with it. I’m not going to ask if he was selected too high relative to other athletic pass rushers, because Larry Webster is the one who is on the team. From what I can gather, he seems a ways from being any kind of impact player, but the Detroit Lions did have some success with a similarly athletic, lanky fourth-round project in Devin Taylor last season. Lions fans will be rooting for the same kind of improvement for Webster.

 

CONCLUSION

By picking Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster, the Detroit Lions added some much needed pass rushing talent on the outside. They already have it in spades at defensive tackle. As for the rest of their 2014 draft class, they picked up a big bodied receiving tight end in Eric Ebron. They got younger and bigger at center with Travis Swanson. In the fifth round, they went searching in the Ivy League for standout defensive tackle Caraun Reid. With their final selections, the Lions tried to add some depth at cornerback and receiver. And of course, Detroit went and drafted a kicker with their seventh-rounder. While I’m not so sure the Lions picked the best players available at each turn, they did address major needs for the team.

Offseason GM: NFC North

This is one of my favorite divisions in the NFL, as very few others can boast so many storied rivalries. Three very good QB’s and a fourth team that stays competitive with the best RB in the league. The top three teams are very close together in talent level and make for exciting divisional match ups year in year out. Even if there are no juggernauts here, everyone of these teams can be exciting to watch.

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Fifty Head Coaching Hires Who Would Have Been Worse Than Jim Caldwell

In an attempt to provide some optimism for the many Detroit Lions fans whose visages are currently frozen in WTF-face upon hearing about the hire of Jim Caldwell as head coach, the Zone Reads writing crew brainstormed some potential hires who would have been even worse:

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Why Jim Caldwell?

The Lions just announced the hire of Jim Caldwell as their new head football coach. The hiring immediately caused me to wonder what was going on in the Lions front office for this to happen. It seems like an obviously bad hire to me, but instead of just simply saying that, I decided to look a bit into it and see if the evidence matched my perception.

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