NFL Draft 1st Round Reflections

I love Todd Gurley, but he should be valued a bit like a quarterback in the 1st round: if you have one, you don’t need one. St. Louis should have looked for help at another position.

Cleveland Browns made up for last year’s draft debacle. Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving could each tip the scales at their positions. To get them at 12th and 19th, respectively, is almost unfathomable.

49ers put themselves in position to re-load. Two extra picks for moving down two slots in the 1st.

Love the #HOUpick and #AZCardinalspick. Waited for best player to fall to them.

Can these teams desperate for pass rush help afford to pass on Randy Gregory? My guess is they regret it.

Quote of the night? My girlfriend: “Did they just say Girlie?”

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Wondering how Manziel projects? Look no further than this rising NFL star.

Johnny Manziel was the proverbial ‘black box’ of this year’s NFL Draft: even seasoned analysts and coaches were compelled to shrug with uncertainty when asked how his seat-of-the-pants style would translate to the NFL. Yes, the chicken-legged gunslinger made SEC defenders look silly for two seasons. But on Sundays? No one was quite sure how to peg Manziel’s projection to the next level.

Watching Manziel execute against professionals for the first time on Saturday, the contents of the black box were revealed. Manziel’s pro game compares to a current NFL quarterback, with some physical limitations built in.

Manziel is a six-foot Colin Kaepernick.

Lets get the obvious differences out of the way. Kaepernick has a much stronger arm, effortlessly zipping the ball downfield on a line. Manziel, by contrast, really needs his legs to do the work on his throws. If Saturday is any reflection, Manziel seems unlikely to gallop gazelle-like through NFL defenses in quite the same way Kaepernick has for nearly two seasons. (Manziel saw less daylight than we’re accustomed to on his scrambles in part because the Browns offense draws more defenders into the box than the Texas A&M spread.)

manziel
kaepernick

But Manziel and Kaepernick have more in common than you think. Both players can make defenders miss with the ball in their hands. Both players are transitioning from a spread offense in college to a pro-style approach, and consequently struggle to progress through their reads. And both players show less accuracy than you would like. Manziel will make some of the same jaw-dropping plays that Kaepernick has made routine; Kaepernick’s struggles will be Manziel’s.

Was “Colin Kaepernick Light” worth the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft? Tough call. Even with their quarterback a regular feature on Sportscenter, the 49ers generally go as far as their defense and smashmouth running game take them. When Josh Gordon gives way to the likes of Miles Austin at the end of training camp, this Browns team may well wish that Brian Hoyer had Kelvin Benjamin to throw to. Or another piece in the secondary. Or help along the offensive line.

But Manziel, for all his limitations, will probably give this team an offensive dimension that it has lacked for so long. He will frustrate with his penchant for bailing from the pocket, and errant balls that fall harmlessly to the turf in August may land in the arms of the first-team defenders Manziel will face during the regular season. But he will also get this team first downs with his legs; he’ll keep plays alive when less athletic QBs might have gone down; and he may eventually command enough attention that his receivers will find a bit more running room across the middle of defenses.

It will be fun to watch Manziel grow as an NFL quarterback. And while his future is unwritten, we do have a bit of a roadmap: a raw, lanky, exceptionally athletic gunslinger that emerged from a spread offense a few years ago. Browns fans can only hope that their team’s fortunes turn the way the 49ers’ did.

The better of the Trent Richardson deal

The more I consider the Trent Richardson trade, the more I like it for the Browns.

Across the League, General Managers and agents are probably yelling at their computers, “Why didn’t you call about my running back?!” You know what Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Reggie Bush, Stevan Ridley, Bernard Pierce, DeAngelo Williams, Mark Ingram, Bryce Brown, and – gulp! – Isaac Redman all have in common? They all averaged more yards per carry and produced more runs over 20 yards than Trent Richardson last year. I wager that all of them could have been had at less than the price paid for Richardson, and some of them were street free agents as recently as this past offseason.

Everyone points out that the Browns desperately want to upgrade the quarterback position. They improved their chances of doing so in the 2014 draft, as many commentators have noted. But, suppose the Chargers’ shaky defense puts them out of contention by Week 8, and Phillip Rivers hits the trading block. The Browns may decide he offers more promise than any of the prospects in the upcoming draft. You know what the Chargers will take for Phillip Rivers? First round picks. You know what makes the Chargers hang up the phone? The name ‘Trent Richardson.’

Richardson is a good back that improves Indy’s playoffs chances. He doesn’t fumble and he stays on the field on third down and he plays through injury. But there were more creative ways for Indy to upgrade their roster, without mortgaging the future. The Browns can exercise some of those options in replacing Richardson.

2013 Draft Grade: Cleveland Browns

I want to think the Cleveland Browns have turned the corner. Since the Holmgren-Schurmer regime was shown the door at the end of 2012, the Browns added some high-profile personnel to the front office (Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi) and coaching staff (Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner). They also lured a handful of pricey — although quality — free agents, headlined by Paul Kruger. It’s tempting to think a new day has dawned in Cleveland.

But Browns fans should (and, being the football-savvy bunch they are, probably will) temper their enthusiasm. Look at that list of names again. Chudzinski and Turner have, of late, guided offenses mostly renowned for their predictability, not innovation. Paul Kruger undeniably adds a pass-rush element to a team sorely lacking the same, but the centerpiece of the defense? This is not the stuff of which champions are built in 2013.

The 2013 Draft, in many ways, mirrored the Browns’ forays into the ranks of unemployed coaches and free agent players. The Browns made some deliberate moves that could improve their fortunes in the long run. But their Draft was also littered with questionable decisions that should make fans wonder whether they will, at any time in the near future, rise above a tough group of AFC North foes.

The Browns apparently couldn’t wait to get their card to the podium with Barkevious Mingo’s name on it. Mingo has talent and, seemingly, a team-first mindset, as sportsthink highlighted in its Top 50. His quick get-off and speed-to-power transition will trouble slow-footed tackles. But Mingo also has limitations. He may struggle to hold a line towards the quarterback, especially facing linemen with a decent punch. And it may be years before Browns fans can bear to face the television when Mingo drops into coverage.

Who would have made a better selection? Let’s put aside the Browns’ problems at quarterback for a moment. Imagine, as you watch Tavon Austin help transform the previously-plodding Rams offense, that he was wearing a Browns uniform instead. Along the defensive line, I would have favored Sheldon Richardson, even if he is an awkward fit for the Browns’ new two-gap front. Both players create more serious match-up problems for the opposition.

Imagine this dude in burnt orange and brown.

Imagine this dude in burnt orange and brown.

Moving on to Day 2, the 2013 team can’t be penalized (if you even want to call drafting their only decent receiver a ‘penalty’) for spending this year’s second rounder in the 2012 Supplemental Draft. Let’s presume that a wash.

The selection of Leon McFadden in the third is a bit of head-scratcher, though. McFadden made a good living contesting every pass his way in the up-and-down Mountain West. But he does not break on the back quickly or flip his hips to run with receivers especially well, and his straight-line speed is limited. He’s also small in stature. Whatever their needs in the defensive backfield, they certainly don’t exceed those at receiver, just for example. The Browns could not afford to take McFadden with players like Keenan Allen and Markus Wheaton on the board. Other players I would have favored over McFadden (at positions of dire need in Cleveland, incidentally), taken later in the third and the fourth, include Corey Lemonier, Alex Okafor, and Ryan Nassib.

The Browns’ best moves came by way of trading out of the Draft, exchanging picks in the fourth and fifth for corresponding selections in next year’s third and fourth rounds, respectively. Banner and Company should get at least a year’s reprieve before their body of work is judged too harshly by ownership, so even the sacrifice in the time value of the picks is probably worth the higher selections. They need players with a chance of competing with other teams’ starting eleven, and you just don’t get many of those from the fourth round on.

(Update: I neglected to address the Davone Bess trade. Good move by the Browns. Although Bess will never take the top off the defense, he will move the sticks on underneath routes. And the Browns acquired his services by essentially swapping late round picks with the Dolphins. You don’t find starters in the fifth round so much more frequently than the seventh. The Browns improved an area of need without rearranging their entire draft strategy.)

I did find the Browns’ late-round picks a bit inspiring, though. Jamoris Slaughter jumps off the tape. He shows really impressive foot-quickness, good play recognition and a lust for hitting. Although he plays much bigger than his size, he lacks the size and developed hand use to play rush linebacker, as Notre Dame sometimes used him. But if he can recover from a torn Achilles, improve his tackling and learn to play zone defense every down, he probably has the talent to play either safety position in today’s NFL. At the least, he will be a nasty special teams player.

Even Armonty Bryant’s highlights leave you wondering if he can make the leap from tossing around 250-pound linemen to repeatedly slamming into the 32 best offensive linemen on the planet. But he has size, some quickness off the snap, and a not-completely-undeveloped set of pass rush moves. The critical factor is that the Browns want him to serve a fairly limited role: occupying two gaps and pressing the pocket from the 3-4 end position. If he can add 25 pounds and retain some of the quickness and hand-use he flashed on tape, he could contribute to their defensive line.

As to Garret Gilkey, he certainly didn’t impress during his cameo at the Senior Bowl. But in the seventh round, he’s worth a flyer.

In many ways, the Browns go into the 2013 season not so far removed from 2012. They have an offense plagued by poor skill-position play and, most likely, uninspired play-calling. They should improve on the other side of the ball, particularly with the additions along the defensive line. With the Steelers in recession and the Ravens rebuilding, the Browns may notch a few more wins. But they need to collect better talent selecting sixth in the Draft to develop into a real contender.

Draft Prospect Watch: Gavin Escobar (SDSU)

The NFL Draft Jingle Blog — even Mel Kuiper’s hair can’t compete with a slogan like that — has really rejuvenated my interest in football, so I’m reviewing another prospect today.  San Diego State University and tight end Gavin Escobar played a home game against BYU in the Poinsettia Bowl last night.  The BYU pass rush disrupted any semblance of an SDSU passing game, limiting Escobar to a solitary catch down the seam for 24 yards.  Fortunately, Escobar has a body of work stretching back three years on which to judge his NFL chances.

I like Escobar.  He has good speed for a tight end, good hands, and good body control while making the tough catches.  While it’s hard to judge “route-running” on the basis of the limited camera angles published online, Escobar’s success with both Ryan Lindley and Dingwell at quarterback, each of whom found Escobar open quite often, suggests that he committed himself to playing well within coach Rocky Long’s system.

A team looking to draft Escobar faces two problems.  First, he is a poor blocker for a big man.  He certainly tries, but he lacks the consistent pad level and pop to make himself an asset in an NFL run game.  This also suggests, by the way, that Escobar will have limited value on special teams, where blocking is paramount.  For Escobar to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster, he will have to excel in the passing game.

But his skills don’t project receiving excellence at the next level. Escobar may be reliable.  He may even present a tough matchup at times, if he can learn to use his body against smaller safeties and his speed against bigger linebackers.  That said, NFL rosters are littered with tight ends who present such challenges, to one degree or another, for a defense.  It’s not clear Escobar warrants spending a high draft pick, especially with h

Gavin Escobar.

Gavin Escobar.

is deficiencies as a blocker.  If you’re looking for a comparator, try a poor man’s Todd Heap.

Escobar, if he leaves school, may represent a value pick in the fourth round.  Teams like Cleveland and Arizona, who have struggled to add a pass-catching tight end to complement their receivers, could even justify taking Escobar in the late third.  An early third round pick or higher would likely be too much to sacrifice.