Thursday, March 19, 2009

NFL Draft scouting breakdown Part I

By Rick Morris

Notwithstanding my byline above, I can't take credit for any of the material here ... OK, with the exception of coming up with the idea.

To briefly explain, the FDH Lounge's sister brand,, will be producing a pro football draft guide again this year as we have for the past several years. Actually, this year, it will be produced in conjunction with our good friends at Sportsology and also Gridiron Evaluations.

The latter enterprise is built around the work of our good buddy The Scout Ken Becks. Ken has long exchanged draft perspectives by phone with FDH Senior Editor Jason Jones. I quickly came to the belief that we should try to capture some of this discussion in the form of chat transcripts and that doing so would be yet another great way to highlight to our readership the work of Ken and Jason -- who are, in my admittedly biased opinion, the top two NFL Draft evaluators in the business today.

They held their first chat today and this one focused on defensive players. It was everything I thought it would be, and believe me, that's saying something. If you love some hardcore NFL Draft discussion, then strap on your drool bib and keep reading.

Now we could start by posting our respective mock drafts and defending it pick by pick...but that would just be tedious. So I'd like to go in a different direction. I'd like to start by stating a series of players we really like, followed by players we really do not like, to help add perspective to why we may say what we are about to say. For now, we'll try to limit it to the first-day players as we see it.

I'll start and say Brian Orakpo, not only because I want my Cleveland Browns to draft him, but also because I think he could be the most dynamic defensive player in this draft if used properly.

Ken, now be gentle...not everyone is ready for the brutal truth yet...that will come with the players we don't like.

When it comes to Orakpo, I do need a bit more evaluation time on him. But he shows good overall athleticism as he showcased at the combine. From what I have seen of him, I am not so sure he will be able to live up to expectations by most. Though I feel he is best suited as a 4-3 DE/ or 3-4 OLB, I have to reserve my enthusiasm on Orakpo ‘til further analysis.

When it comes to a dynamic player on defense for me, my personal sleeper and possible defensive rookie of the year when he enters the league would DE Robert Ayers of Tennessee!

I'll just say that Orakpo is one of a handful of players in this draft that just jumps off the film to me. Not to mention that he is openly regarded by his teammates and his coaching staff as the strongest player to come from Texas in over a decade and maybe two. Most people believe Aaron Curry is the safest pick in this draft. I put Orakpo in that discussion of safest picks...just my opinion.

I know to most, Ayers may not be on their radar since this past year has really only been his only productive year at the collegiate level.

At about 6-3, 275lbs, Ayers shows the athleticism, speed, strength, and burst to make things happen both as a 3-4 or 4-3 DE at the NFL level! His quickness and burst off the edge on his first step is the best in the draft. The intensity he possesses to play through from snap to whistle is unmatched in this year’s draft.

I really like Robert Ayers for all of the same reasons I like Orakpo, just on a different value level. Five years from now, I think we will look back and say "Why did Ayers go so late?" I say that knowing that Ayers is moving up the board. I have seen him as high as the low 20s.

You mentioned his name before the Senior Bowl, but it wasn’t until then that I really perked up after seeing how he played off the line (i.e. from an OLB position).

Some may say he is a bit light in the pants to play an effective 3-4 DE, but he consistently shows the physical toughness & competitive nature to beat most across from him at any level of play! Then, even at 275lbs, he shows the ability to drop back and actually play effective OLB as he was occasionally employed by his collegiate coaching staff.

Well, not only do I feel he is the best DE in this year’s draft, I will go on record as saying he is my highest rated defensive player, period!

That is what I'm talkin' about! Eat that, big haired Four Letter Network Hack.

There you go..........You might not be talking about the guy known for his sterling hair are ya????????

Since we’re talking on the defensive end of the ball, my second-rated defensive end would be LSU's Tyson Jackson.
Here is another versatile DE who can play in either the 3-4 or 4-3 defensive from the end position effectively. What do you think of Jackson, Jason?

Ahh, Tyson Jackson. I always enjoy bringing up names that were on my top prospects by position from a previous year. (I don’t wait for that undeclared fear).

Tyson Jackson in my opinion is the ONLY first day 3-4 specific DE in draft. He's built for it and has the skills for it. I say "specific" because most people believe a 4-3 DE and 3-4 DE are the same thing. They are not. Tyson Jackson is the only real 3-4 DE in the first day.

Yes, I remember you mentioning Jackson some time ago as well, Jason. What is it you like about Jackson?

I will respect your opinion as Jackson being the only 1st day DE in this year’s draft. But I feel Mr. Ayers will have something to say about that.

6-4, 295... in most cases that is a respectable DT in a 4-3. Don’t think of Jackson from LSU 2008, think of LSU 2007. He was integral in allowing the linebackers to do what they were able to do. He was the rarely-mentioned defensive player who did not stack up sacks but caused havoc against the run and helped collapse the pocket...A 3-4 DE.

At DT/NG, I have Boston College BJ Raji as my #1 DT and or NG. Not only is he tough and physical at the point of attack, but his quickness for a man of his girth is exceptional. His unique quickness along with attacking style of play is what separates him from most at either position. He is the ideal 3-4 NG for any NFL team. And with the resurgence of the 3-4 defense that will make his services that much more sought-after!

I live in a prototype world. I like my (speaking of the 3-4) DEs to be 6'3+, 285+, I like my OLBs to be converted DEs, I like my ILBs to be thumpers. I think Ayers as a 3-4 DE would be a waste of talent. Ayers could get 15 sacks as an OLB or 4-3 DE as a rookie.
Raji may be the most intriguing prospect of the first round.

Raji could be the one guy in this draft that teams would consider drafting even if they were not considering a NT that early. It is the classic Best Available vs. Team Need argument.

I dont really know if Raji is Vince Wilfork or Casey Hampton...but I do know that he is the best player at that position in a while. There may only be 1 or 2 teams in the top half of the first round that would really target a NT, but there are about 5 or 6 teams who like him enough to take him in the top 15.

12:31pm Ken
I am in total agreement when it comes to what you look for from DE, OLB, ILB, etc...........but Ayers is another story. But B.J. Raji, no question, is the real deal -- with the skill sets to demand a top 5 overall selection!

Larry English of Northern Illinois may be my top rated OLB in this year’s draft. At about 6-2, 255lbs, he shows the all-around game you look for. He is one of the quicker first-step burst defenders in this year’s draft (along with Robert Ayers) to bring a ton of pressure off the edge versus signal-callers in or out of the pocket. And he shows the strength and snap to whistle consistency to man the edges of a NFL defense.

If he is the next Casey Hampton, for instance, he is worthy of a top 5 pick without question.
Gotta love those snap-to-whistle guys.

I love Larry English, and it is no secret that I have a negative bias toward small school players. Larry English has gone above and beyond my expectations regardless of school or competition

Lawrence Sidbury of Richmond, more and more as time goes on, is starting to shed his sleeper tag. He is one of my sleeper OLBs that you can get on the second day, and depending on the NFL team, he can come right in and give you considerable snaps his rookie year! He is ideal as weakside OLB where he can roam and use his athleticism and speed versus opponents.

The one thing I hate is the Belichick bump. This guy could have won defensive rookie of the year from the second round. Now that Belichick has come out and said how much he likes English, it will be no surprise if English goes as high as 8.
I will admit, I have not given Sidbury the attention that I probably should have by now.

To me, there is no question that Rey Maualuga of USC is the #1 rated ILB, and he should be. The physical toughness he exhibits and dishes out to opposing players is legendary. He is the type of player that can come right in and be the catalyst/leader on that side of the ball.

I will say on paper, he definitely fits the bill. My only question on him is: where does he fit among the hybrids? Is he a good/great value in the second or even the third round? Absolutely! I still put him behind Orakpo, Everette Brown, Michael Johnson, Aaron Maybin, Larry English, Robert Ayers (in no particular order).

Oh, Rey Maua-Maua-Maualuga! He is easily one of my top 5 players...that is top 5 favorite players as opposed to top 5 best players.

This guy won me over when a colleague sent me a link to a YouTube video of Maualuga damn near decapitating a UCLA QB with a legal hit. Especially in a 3-4, it is imperative that you have a thumper. Maualuga is a thumper. The funny thing is the top 2 ILBs in this draft (the second of which is debatable) added together would create a superhero quality ILB.
Maualuga is everything Laurinautis is not and vice versa.

Let’s go the other way and ruffle some Ohio St feathers. Is Malcolm Jenkins indeed the best CB? Is he a shutdown corner? Is he worthy of a top 15 pick? I say, emphatically NO.

Who is it on paper that fits the bill but gives you only one question: where does he fit among the hybrids?


Gotcha. No, Sidbury has to refine his game a bit before he can be considered a top tier prospect. But in a few years, his impact will be felt!

I feel Rey Maualuga is the #1 ILB coming out in this years draft, but the sleeper to look for at the same position is South Carolina's Jasper Brinkley!

Jasper Brinkley?!?!?!?

Some of the ILBs in the top 10 of the prospect breakdowns, I admit are suspect, but I don’t see any ILB outside of Maualuga or Laurinautis being selected in the first 60 picks. After that, I could understand your Brinkley.
I do like him better than Jason Phillips and Darry Beckwith.

No doubt you will hear from Jasper Brinkley before it's over. He suffered an ACL injury that set his collegiate career backwards. But if he’s 6-2, 250lbs, he can bring the wood. But he has to have a clean bill of health!
Mr. Jenkins is not considered a top CB whatsoever in my mind. I have moved him to safety and he is nowhere the top safety either on my board!

Either Darius Butler of Connecticut or early-entry Vontae Davis of Illinois would be my top CB in this year’s draft.

As much as I personally want CBs to be 6'0, 200, more than that I want them to run 4.3...but I don’t think the league is moving in that direction. The future feels more like Dominique Rogers-Cromartie than Antonio Cromartie. Smaller, quicker, but not necessarily faster. Malcolm Jenkins is neither of those things.

Both Dominique & Antonio Cromartie are 4.3 corners. And the league will always look for 4.3 and below 40-time corners, because the league is hung up more on speed that true ball players.

I like Vontae Davis as the undisputed #1 CB; for me the jury is still out on whether it’s Darius Butler or Alphonso Smith at #2. And down the list a little, especially if your team needs a CB but wont take one until the second, I like Macho Harris, D.J. Moore and Mark Parsons (you hear that Rick Morris---an Ohio U player mentioned in the mix!).

In the later rounds of the draft, there is good value at CB with players as Bruce Johnson of Miami, Joe Burnett of Central Florida (also looked at safety), DeAngelo Smith of Cincinnati, Sherrod Martin of Troy, and Morgan Trent of Michigan.

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