Cian Fahey: Guardian
- Round 1: DE Calais Campbell
- Round 2: DE Justin Smith
- Round 3: CB Leon Hall
- Round 4: RB Doug Martin
- Round 5: DE Julius Peppers
- Round 6: CB Asante Samuel
- Round 7: G/C Stefan Wisniewski
- Round 8: S Kam Chancellor
- Round 9: TE Kyle Rudolph
- Round 10: TE Antonio Gates
- Round 11: CB Champ Bailey
- Round 12: FS Ed Reed
- Round 13: OT Will Svitek
- Round 14: OT/G Kraig Urbik
- Round 15: WR Lance Moore
- Round 16: RB Darren Sproles
- Round 17:
- Round 18:
- Round 19:
- Round 20:
- Round 21:
- Round 22:
Round 1, Pick 9: Calais Campbell, Defensive End
The rules of today’s NFL undoubtedly favor the offense. That, combined with the perceived lack of talent at the quarterback position, has made many people question why I didn’t simply take the best quarterback available. Picking ninth overall, I could have taken a stud signal-caller such as Matt Ryan(who was the other option who I eventually passed on), but instead I decided to go against the grain to choose a defensive player. While you would think today’s rules mean that an elite quarterback is a necessity, the reality is that they mean the opposite. Today’s rules mean that I can get production out of a lesser talent under center. Look at players such as Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Matt Schaub, Joe Flacco, Christian Ponder, Matt Hasselbeck and Tim Tebow as examples of players who have reached the playoffs in the right situation. None of those players are considered elite or players who carry their teams. Even a guy like T.J. Yates could have easily won it all if the right moments had swung his way.
For each writer, this project is about building the best possible team. For Matt, I believe this project was about instigating discussion and bringing the thought-process of fellow writers to the forefront. Because I care more about respecting Matt’s ideal than building the best team possible, I will explain where Campbell fits in my overall draft strategy.
I still believe defense is the most important part of football. Building a very strong defense is a must if you want to win Super Bowls. Both the 49ers and Ravens had excellent defenses this past year. My defense is going to be similar to the 49ers as it’s base will actually be a nickel combination of players. The unit will only start two defensive linemen, but have three cornerbacks on the field. For that reason, I need incredibly gifted players on the defensive line who can shut down the run fighting through double teams and pressure the passer with extra attention. As such, J.J. Watt was naturally my first choice and I hoped to pair him with Calais Campbell in the second round. When Watt was taken, I didn’t want to risk losing Campbell as well Finding that second defensive linemen from a very select group in the second round will be pivotal for my team-building. Surpassed that, I will want a new-age linebacker who can cover tight ends(Daryl Washington is atop my board) and top-end cornerbacks who can play man coverage. Because I will be starting a nickel cornerback, Leon Hall is my top priority as he is by far and away my top-ranked cornerback who can play both inside and outside.
I could have taken Calvin Johnson, but wide receiver is the deepest position in this draft according to my board. I could have taken Rob Gronkowski, but he is way too injury prone for my liking. I could have taken Adrian Peterson, but I don’t feel taking a running-back is prudent at this point regardless of how talented he is. Calais Campbell may not be a big name(or a quarterback) but he perfectly fits what the defense I want to create and will be a pivotal, young part of my franchise.
Round 2, Pick 56: DE Justin Smith
My target in the second round was Haloti Ngata, but Waldman decided to ruin that plan. Two clear choices emerged as the second round was developing. Once Burke chose Joe Staley, the choice was only going to be between a youthful star cornerback or an all-pro veteran defensive lineman. When Brinson took Joe Haden, he made that choice for me.
Smith was one of four defensive linemen I identified at the top of the draft who I wanted. He, JJ Watt, Campbell and Ngata were the best fits for the defensive philosophy I feel best suits today’s NFL. Smith may be 33 years of age, but he was still the most important player on the best defense in the league last year. His presence on the defensive line will improve all of the players around him and he, like Campbell, proved last year that he could effectively shut down the run and provide a pass rush working on a two man defensive line.
By pairing Campbell and Smith together, I have two defenders who must be double-teamed consistently if they are to be contained. Outside of having multiple elite interior offensive linemen, opposing teams will be forced to double team both which will make life very easy for my linebackers.
Campbell and Smith will provide a pass rush and plenty of run support as a tandem. Even though both do their best work in positions that don’t expect production statistically, they have combined for 389 tackles, 39.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, 23 pass deflections and one interception over the past three seasons. Those numbers are nice, but the true mark of an elite player in my opinion is if you make the players around you better. Both Campbell and Smith definitely do that.
Round 3, Pick 88: CB Leon Hall
Having spent most of this past season covering the Cincinnati Bengals, I got to watch who I believe is the best nickel cornerback in the NFL, Leon Hall. Although I wanted to take Lardarius Webb with this pick, hoping his torn ACL would cause him to fall this far, I would still have looked to draft Hall in the fourth round because of their flexibility to play the nickel position in very different, but very effective ways.
Hall will play both inside and outside in my defense. He proved he could be a star in both roles for the Bengals this past season. Hall repeatedly contained the opposition’s best receivers, even when paired against high volume targets such as Victor Cruz. His combination of size, agility, speed and awareness allows him to match up to all different types of receivers, while his run support is above average for someone in his position.
According to ProFootballFocus, Hall was the true definition of a shutdown cornerback last year as he was targeted the least in terms of coverage snaps per target. Of course, that stat alone could be misleading, but Hall played on a high-performing coverage unit all around. Teams weren’t just picking on his teammates.Hall perfectly fits my defense and continues the trend of adding flexible defenders to my team.
Round 4, Pick 104: RB Doug Martin
This was by far my most difficult selection at this point.
I entered the draft expecting not to draft a running-back until the final round or two. The position is simply too deep. However, Doug Martin was clearly my second overall back and I couldn’t pass him up at this stage.
In his rookie season, Martin played behind a line that was missing it’s top two guards for most of the season. In spite of that, he still finished the season with 1,454 yards and averaged 4.6 yards per carry. It’s not Martin’s stats that separate him from the rest of the running back class(sans Peterson), it’s his consistency and all-around ability.
A few things stood out to me watching Martin this past season:
- Rarely ever does Martin leave yards on the field. He understands the design of his blocking and reacts to the defense correctly more than any other back in the league. Running-Backs may not be that valuable, but a back who can compensate for poor blocking carries some weight in this league. Martin definitely does that.
- It is my belief that Martin is the best pass-blocker in the league also. He is rarely caught unaware of incoming defenders and knows when to set his feet to absorb a hit or meet the blitzer to knock him off course away from the quarterback.
- There are many backs in the league who wear down, but only a handful who sustain the same burst of acceleration and performance despite being on the field for essentially every snap. Martin doesn’t slow down in any situation or at any stage of the game.
At the end of the coming regular season, Martin will be 24 years of age. He still has five good seasons ahead of him and I consider him a multi-faceted weapon rather than a running-back. Without a top tier quarterback on the roster, Martin will be a primary playmaker to help the player who inevitably becomes my signal caller.
It may be a relatively high choice, but my next top rated players were guards. In the end, I took the most talented player available.
Round 5, Pick 154: Julius Peppers, Defensive End
I was surprised that Julius Peppers had lasted this long.
It’s understandable why people are passing on him, he is 33 years of age. However, he turned 33 after last season(January) and John Abraham has shown that defensive ends can still produce passed that age. Peppers is more physically gifted than Abraham also, so I am expecting three quality years from him at least.
His recent production was also an issue for me. I have watched a lot of Peppers over the years, but didn’t see a whole lot of him this past season. He graded out well on ProFootballFocus, and although he was only credited with 11.5 sacks, ProFootballFocus(who count half sacks as sacks) list him with 13 which is good enough for third amongst 4-3 defensive ends. Those numbers are made even better when you consider he only ranked 20th amongst his peers in pass rushing snaps.
Peppers the player is phenomenally enticing. He commands and plays through double teams and even though he will play outside linebacker in my scheme, he will essentially be rushing the passer on every snap.
The plan is to use him in the same way the Cowboys have used DeMarcus Ware over the years. With Justin Smith and Calais Campbell pushing the pocket from the inside, offensive lines will be having nightmares.
Round 6, Pick 169: Asante Samuel, Cornerback
The reason I have decided to stick to this defensive setup is because I believe this is the only defensive style that can contain the better offenses in the NFL. With that in mind, I was desperate to land a cornerback at this point for two reasons. Firstly, the depth is thinning and plenty of teams still need to add to the position. Secondly, I will be starting three cornerbacks so will prioritize the positions over other teams.
Samuel wasn’t in my original thinking. However, because the draft fell to me and allowed me to select Julius Peppers in the last round, I’m now confident that my defense will be able to put consistent pressure on opposing team’s quarterbacks no matter who we face. For that reason, Samuel’s ability to pick off passes is a perfect fit.
He will only play on the outside, as Leon Hall is already filling the nickel role to match up to opposing team’s tight ends and slot receivers. I will need to give safety help to Samuel, but that shouldn’t be a problem if I can get one of the remaining cornerbacks on my board and because Leon Hall needs very little help.
As the draft was coming to me, I was hoping for Keenan Lewis to slide all the way into my lap. But just like the Saints stole him away from the Steelers, Zierlein stole him away from me. Instead, I took Samuel who turned 32 after this season and, like Peppers, should have at least three more quality seasons under his belt.
Drafting for need carries a stigma, but I don’t believe this is drafting for need. I’m prioritizing players who will excel in the roles my systems use. With each pick I must balance the value with the remaining depth of players at each position like any other participant in this project, but my approach allows me to concentrate on defense early and often as I have done to this point. Samuel was just another piece of that plan.
Round 7, Pick 216: Stefan Wisniewski, Guard/Center
After focusing much of my draft on defense to this point, it’s time to explain my offensive philosophy.
Chan Gailey was recently fired by the Buffalo Bills for many reasons, but the most significant of which was his trust in Ryan Fitzpatrick to carry his offense. While Gailey overestimated Fitzpatrick’s talent, he did get the most out of him with his scheme. Fitzpatrick’s problems in Buffalo weren’t production based. He threw for at least 3,000 yards in each of the past three seasons and managed 71 touchdowns through the air.
Fitzpatrick failed in Buffalo because of his inability to throw the deep ball and his decision-making(54 interceptions, 23 fumbles). Even though he failed and his head coach was fired, the offensive system that Gailey put in place was masterfully designed.
Gailey’s system ran out of a lot of three wide-receiver sets with one tight end and one back in the backfield with the quarterback in the shotgun. Spreading the field so often made it more difficult for defenses to blitz and Fitzpatrick was urged to make quick decisions to get the ball out of his hands. That, coupled with plenty of screens to both receiver and running-back, alleviated the pressure on the Bills’ offensive tackles and created hesitation in the defense.
Instead of investing heavily in tackles, the primary need in this scheme comes on the interior of the offensive line.The Bills had Andy Levitre, Eric Wood and Kraig Urbik, who combined to give Fitzpatrick a consistent clean pocket. For that reason, finding guards and a center is crucial for me right now. The quarterbacks and receivers I have identified won’t be highly sought after and I should be able to fill those positions much later.
Andy Levitre and Jahri Evans entered the round atop my board. Brinson stole Evans from under my nose, so I moved onto one of the best and most versatile young interior offensive linemen in the NFL, Stefan Wisniewski. His flexibility to be an impressive guard or center affords me some flexibility with my draft-board also as I can take either center or guard to be a starter. Adjusting Wisniewski’s position accordingly.
Round 8, Pick 233: Kam Chancellor, Safety
Entering this round, the top of my board read: 1. David DeCastro 2. Sam Shields 3. Jerod Mayo 4. Greg Jennings. Therefore, after those four players went in the first eight picks before me, I was forced to reassess the situation.
The interior of my offensive line, linebacker, one edge rusher and cornerback were still my priorities, but there was significantly more talent there than at multiple other positions. As such, I went in a different direction.
I wanted a really physical, intimidating safety who could drop into what would essentially be a WLB spot, but also a player who could cover in space. The majority of those guys had gone off the board and there was only one left who I really liked.
Chancellor will be 25 this season and despite already being an impact player, he is still developing his game after only starting the past two seasons. He has the size to be physical with tight ends and has racked up 198 tackles over the past two seasons by carrying a very aggressive attitude. He was clearly the best strong safety left on my board, unless I could have reached back and taken the 2006-2009 version of Troy Polamalu.
Round 9, Pick 280: Kyle Rudolph, Tight End and Round 10, Pick 297: Antonio Gates, Tight End
At this point, I’m trying to let the draft fall to me. I’ve got the key pieces I initially identified so now it’s a matter of identifying the best talent to fit my strategy on either side of the ball. I didn’t expect Kyle Rudolph to last as long as he did, so I immediately snatched him up as Gronkowski-lite. Once I had Rudolph on my roster, Gates immediately became very attractive to me because I knew how difficult it would be to match up to both in coverage.
This isn’t exactly Hernandez and Gronkowski, but the pairing will have a similar impact on offense. Rudolph is one of the best two-way tight ends in the league. His blocking is phenomenal and his production as a receiver is hampered by the Vikings’ offense as a whole. It doesn’t reflect his talent. Gates doesn’t have the same agility or flexibility as Hernandez, but he still commands double teams and is too physically gifted for 99 percent of linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks in the league today.
I’m not sure why Rudolph fell below others taken ahead of him, but Gates definitely fell because of his injury record and age. He has started 28 of the Chargers’ past 32 games and has 14 touchdowns during that time. As soon as Vincent Jackson left, he became the Chargers’ primary threat on offense, save for spurts from Danario Alexander and Malcolm Floyd. Despite playing on such a poor offense, he still performed and produced at a very high level. Gates will be 33 this year, but I think I can get three years from him and already have Rudolph for the long-term.
Having two massive bodies as receivers(even if Gates will play slot receiver a lot and isn’t a noted blocker) should help Doug Martin break off big runs also. Couple that with the benefit of having go to matchups and receivers who can wrestle inaccurate passes away from defensive backs, which could be important with my quarterback, and these two players become staples for an offense I am very excited about.
At the very least, we’ll be an excellent redzone offense and won’t allow any offensive rebounds.
Round 11, Pick 342: Champ Bailey, Cornerback
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