Ben Muth: Football Outsiders
- Round 1: QB Cam Newton
- Round 2: OT Nate Solder
- Round 3: DE Carlos Dunlap
- Round 4: DE Chris Long
- Round 5: S Eric Berry
- Round 6: G Carl Nicks
- Round 7: CB Sean Smith
- Round 8: G David DeCastro
- Round 9: WR DeSean Jackson
- Round 10: TE Coby Fleener
- Round 11: RB Stevan Ridley
- Round 12: TE Delanie Walker
- Round 13: OLB Karlos Dansby
- Round 14: DT David Carter
- Round 15: G Ryan Wendell
- Round 16: DT Tyson Alualu
- Round 17:
- Round 18:
- Round 19:
- Round 20:
- Round 21:
- Round 22:
Round 1,Pick 8: Cam Newton, Quarterback
First, I thought I had to get a QB this early in round 1. The only way to win in the NFL without a top level QB is to have superior talent everywhere else. Since this draft involves a bunch of smart people drafting on a totally level playing field, I believe there will be little total talent difference among teams. Considering that and the fact that I wouldn’t pick again till 55 overall I was locked into taking a QB.
That left me with 3 real choices. Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick, and Cam Newton. Once Brees was taken (the last absolutely sure thing of the older guys) I knew I wanted to go young. That left me with 3 real options; Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick. Looking at those three, I thought that Cam had the best mix of upside and polish.
Wilson played the best last year, but he came into a system that he ran in college and then was further adapted to fit his strengths perfectly. I think Wilson can get better but his situation can’t and I can’t guarantee that my team will fit Wilson’s skill set so perfectly. I think Cam’s superior physical gifts give me more options when drafting pieces to fit around him.
Kaepernick is as physically gifted as Newton but I don’t think he’s as polished. Like Wilson, Kaepernick came into a very talented team (with the best o-line in football) that adjusted their scheme to fit the QB’s strengths. I guarantee my team will not be as talented as the 2012 49ers so any warts Kaepernick has will be magnified. Keeping that in mind, his bad habits happen to be my biggest QB pet peeves. First, He takes forever getting his team to the line. A lot of that might have to with how wordy the 49ers verbiage can be, but Alex Smith and Andrew Luck didn’t seem to struggle nearly as much in the same system. He also has a terrible habit of bringing his eyes down in the pocket for no reason, particularly when things are going bad (see the second Seattle game). Both those habits can be broken (and Cam also struggles with the latter) but when you’re splitting hairs everything matters.
Round 2, Pick 57: Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle
The biggest advantage of picking in the top 10 in this draft is getting a top flight quarterback. In my explanation for Cam Newton pick I talked about how I chose Newton over WIlson and Kaepernick because I felt if I could improve Newton’s situation he could surpass what the other two have done so far. So with that in mind, I knew I wanted to go offense in the second round and build around my most valuable asset.
My first thought was to get a weapon for Newton to throw to. But the guy I really wanted was Jimmy Graham, and he was long gone by the time my pick came around. I also considered Dez Bryant here but ultimately decided that an immature wide receiver wasn’t the best pairing with a QB who has been accused of being immature as well. Since I wasn’t in love with any of the other TEs or wideouts I decided to focus on protection.
The pick eventually came down to Nate Solder or Ryan Clady. At this point I think Clady is clearly a better pass blocker. But Solder is a well above average pass blocker who is just scratching the surface of his potential in that area. He has long arms, fluid feet, and times his punch really well. If you watch Solder when his pass set is going well it’s as pretty as it gets. The only thing that keeps him from being in the in the Clady, Brown, and Thomas upper echelon is that he isn’t as aggressive and sets too conservatively at times. I’m betting he’ll grow more confident (this was just his first year as a full time starter) and be every bit as good as Clady in pass protection. I say as good because it’s going to be hard for anyone to be a better pass protector than Ryan Clady.
What separated Solder for me is that not only is he a better run blocker than Clady, he’s much more versatile. Clady does a few things well (very good at the second level, can reach defensive ends on outside runs) but struggles with others (below average drive blocker, struggles with stronger d linemen). I think Clady would work best in an outside zone scheme and I’m not sure that’s what I want to run. Solder on the other hand is a great puller, good at the second level, and the Pats had a lot of success running single back power concepts behind him this year. Plus he showed the ability to reach d-ends on stretch plays so I don’t have to rule that style of run game out just yet. I can run anything I want with Solder and that’s the kind of versatility I want in the second round.
Round 3, Pick 89: Carlos Dunlap, Defensive End
Through three rounds I think have you can see a clear pattern on how I’ve drafted my team. All three players I’ve picked will play next year at 25 or younger and all play what are considered premium positions (QB, LT, Pas Rusher). Newton, Solder, and Dunlap have all shown enough in their brief careers that they will help my team be competitive in 2013, but what I’m excited about is the potential that my team has in 2015 when this 3 round core should be entering their primes.
In Dunlap I’m getting someone that came into the league and immediately became one of the most efficient 4-3 pass rushers in the NFL. His sack numbers aren’t there yet, but that’s due to a combination of bad luck and lack of overall snaps (due to injury and Mike Zimmer’s bizarre rotation). If you look at his hits and hurries it’s clear how good he has really been since he first came into the league. When you combine what he’s already done with his frame and overall athleticism he has the potential to be a 15-sack guy and cornerstone of my defense.
Round 4, Pick 103: Chris Long, Defensive End
The defense I envision is one that’s first and foremost focus will be to minimize big plays from the offense. The goal will be to force the offense to march down the field for 10-15 plays at a time, converting multiple third downs, and eventually scoring TDs in a shortened field. With that in mind, I’m only going to be rushing four most of the time. The hope is that the more plays they run, the bigger chance for a drive killing mistake in the form of penalty, sack, or turnover.
A lot of DCs preach forcing turnovers but there’s too much randomness to that for me. So I wanted to focus on forcing sacks and holding penalties. With Carlos Dunlap and Chris Long I have two d-ends that can be double digit sack guys. Long has already done that in each of the last two years. In fact, Long has been a top pass rusher for the past three years and unlike other guys who have seen that level of pass rushing production over that time (I’m thinking guys like Allen, Ware, and Wake) Long is on the right side of 30, turning 28 later this month.
Round 5, Pick 153: Eric Berry, Safety
I knew I wanted to start building my secondary in round 5 and looking at who was available, Berry seemed like a slam dunk. Berry is a player I’ve seen show up in both the running game (he knows where and how to fill) and the passing game (hasn’t shown quite the ball hawkishness he showed at Tennessee but did have 4 picks as a rookie). He was the 5th pick in the draft three years ago so you know that the natural ability is there, but I think some of his production has been overshadowed by his massive contract. Since coming into the league he has had one great year, one wiped away from injury, and a solid year on an awful team. I think his 2012 was particularly impressive considering he was recovering from an ACL tear and not named Adrian Peterson.
Oh, and he is still just 24 and won’t turn 25 until in December.
Round 6, Pick 168: Carl Nicks, Guard
In Carl Nicks I think I’m getting someone who is extremely undervalued because he played about 6 weeks with a bad injury before finally giving in and going on the IR in 2012. In 2011, Nicks was the best interior lineman in the league and maybe the best offensive lineman period. He is a dominating force as both a run and pass blocker who is right in the middle of what should be his prime (he turns 27 in May). I feel the loss of him in free agency hurt New Orleans’ offense much more than people realize and that’s even taking into account the fact that he was replaced by an above average starter in Ben Grubbs. If Nicks can get back to even 75% of the player he was (and he should be able to, it was just a freak toe injury) in 2011 this pick could be a steal.
Round 7, Pick 217: Sean Smith
The Sean Smith pick is exciting because I feel it gives me a lot of options. Smith is a huge corner who’s biggest strength is to press at the LOS. That one strength though allows me to play the three types of coverage that best fit what I want my defense to be. I can play press-man, Cover 3 (like they do in Seattle), or Cover/Tampa 2. All three require corners that are, if nothing else, good at the LOS and Smith is definitely that, but he also has the ability/athleticism to stick to receivers further down the field. Smith’s ability to disrupt the timing of the offense on the outside will make my entire defense better.
Round 8, Pick 233: David DeCastro
David DeCastro was one of two guys, along with Chris Long, that I was absolutely thrilled with when they fell to me. 1 year ago DeCastro was described as can’t miss and the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson. Now, people think he’s either a disappointment or bust based off his rookie season. What happened? Well, he suffered a bad knee injury in the second week of the preseason and rushed back to try and help his team get into the playoffs. Despite tearing up his knee early in the year, he still won a starting job for the final 3 weeks of the season which I think is great testimony to both his toughness and natural ability (and how bad Pittsburgh’s o-line was). His second ever start just happened to be in what was essentially an elimination game, that everyone was watching, where he was lined up against the best 3 technique in the game in Geno Atkins. DeCastro didn’t play well,but I’d say he handled Atkins about as well everyone else that played him in 2012, and most guys were a lot healthier and more seasoned.
On top of that, Kevin Zeitler, the guard picked right after him, had a terrific rookie season for the Bengals. And Kelechi Osemele had a terrific post season for Baltimore once he moved inside to guard. That’s two rookie guards that had better seasons than the best guard prospect since Steve Hutchinson, and they happened to play in the AFC North as well. It became easy to dismiss DeCastro as a product of hype.
Well, I’m not dismissing him. l feel I’m getting a 23 year guard that has shown toughness and played very well in 66% of his games as a rookie. DeCastro is a very polished pass blocker with heavy hands and great balance. He’s a powerful run blocker already, who plays with good pad level and figures to get better with age in the running game. What I’m most excited about is his ability to pull on the Power play. He’s not a graceful puller, but that’s largely irrelevant on Power. All that matters on that particular play, is that he gets to the hole with his shoulders square, drops his hips, and restarts his feet on contact. I saw DeCastro do all that roughly 13 times a game at Stanford.With Nicks and DeCastro I’m able to run Power both ways with a very good lead blocker, but I love my ability to run Power to the left behind a Solder/Nick double team and a Decastro lead block.
Not only can I run Power as a base running play, I can run Cam Newton’s most effective play from college, the Inverted Veer (Smart Football describes it here http://smartfootball.com/run-game/what-is-the-inverted-veer-dash-read). It’s basically a read option play with a Power blocking scheme. I’m not saying the Inverted Veer is going to be my bread and butter, but it’s a great play for some tough situations like third and 3-6 and in the middle redzone from like the 7-15 yard line. If I can run it 2-3 times a game with success it could be a game changer. I drafted Newton over some other good young QBs because of his potential, particularly in the redzone, I need to make sure I can take advantage of his skills. I think the Inverted Veer does exactly that.
In case you can’t tell from the mini-essay I just wrote, I’m really, really excited about this DeCastro pick.
Round 9, Pick 281: DeSean Jackson, Wide Receiver
Player A through age 25 season: 158 Receptions, 2196 Yards, 10 TDs, finished age 25 season on the IR.
Player B through age 25 season: 275 Receptions, 4785 Yards, 23 TDs, Finished Age 25 season on the IR.
Player A is Steve Smith, Player B is DeSean Jackson. I think they’re similar players and Steve Smith turned into a one man wrecking crew in his age 26 season. Jackson has had a much more productive early career, and if he can turn into 80% of the player Smith was during his late twenties he is more than capable of being a true number one receiver. Obviously, Jackson has off-field concerns, but so did Smith, and when it comes down to it there just aren’t any 26 year old WRs left in the draft that can match his talent and production. Plus, I think Cam Newton will be the best throwing quarterback he’s ever played with.
Round 10, Pick 296: Coby Fleener, Tight End
Before the draft started there were a few things I really wanted on my team. A franchise QB, two good edge rushers, guards that could be dominant Power blockers, and a TE that could stretch the field. Obviously those weren’t my only needs and so I deviated from that plan to grab value where I saw it, but those four things were always on my wish list. Fleener simply completes the list as a 6’6″ TE that ran for a 4.5 40 at his Pro Day .
He was an incredibly productive in college player and the first TE picked a year ago. SInce then his stock has seemingly plummeted. Sure he struggled with injuries and general ineffectiveness as a rookie, but I think the scheme he played in had a lot to do with that. Teammate and fellow rookie TE Dwayne Allen was healthier and mnore effective at doing the kind of things Bruce Arians wants from TEs. I imagine Fleener’s stock will rise once again after a year in Pep Hamilton’s offense.
And finally I want to take this time to describe Fleener as a willing blocker and what that means to me. Essentially, he’s not a good blocker, but he tries. And that matters, because no dynamic young TEs are good blockers (except for Gronk and that’s why he may be the best player in the NFL if you don’t weight positional value), and only about handful of them really even work at it (Aaron Hernandez and Rob Housler come to mind as unwilling blockers). Fleener improved a ton as a blocker during his time at Stanford, from when he stepped on campus as a 210 lb WR to when he left as a 250 lb TE. He doesn’t have to be Craig Stevens out there, but if he can get to Jason Witten level effectiveness it’ll be huge.
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