So welcome back 4 Analysts, 4 Questions, you have been missed. That’s right, our founding five (minus one technical guru) are getting together to shoot the breeze and the topic this week is the draft class of 2011.
1. We’ve had some time to evaluate the class now. Which non-first round player has impressed you the most since entering the league?
Neil: He may not be the best non-first rounder from 2011 but K.J. Wright has done an excellent job of coming straight in as a rookie, contributing last year in a two down role and stepping up this year to becoming a guy the Seahawks don’t take off the field. He has shown ability in all facets of the game; as a strong run defender, decent blitzer and solid cover guy but still needs to put it all together at the same time. He does have spells where he doesn’t play as well as he’d like (in fact he’s making his way through a three game patch of that currently) but I believe he’s shown enough already to say that when he does he’ll be one of the top five 4-3 outside linebackers around.
Ben: In the last couple of drafts the Tennessee Titans have shown a flare for grabbing quality defensive tackles low down the draft. The best that they have picked across the two drafts so far is Jurrell Casey who has very quickly turned into one of the best run defending defensive tackles in the league. His size and build (6’1, 300lbs) makes him extremely difficult to move at the point of attack due to his low center of gravity but he is so much more than just a body to occupy blocks. There are few defensive tackles in the league who shed blocks and make tackles quite as well as Casey as evidenced by the fact that he has featured in the top five of our run stop percentage signature stat during both of his first two seasons. With the addition of Mike Martin this season to Casey and Karl Klug from last year’s draft the Titans are building a formidable defensive tackle rotation.
Sam: There aren’t many players period from this draft as good as Richard Sherman is right now, and the Seahawks picked him up in the 5th round. Sherman is a perfect fit for the aggressive coverage employed by the Seahawks and he is able to get physical and match up with even the league’s best and come out on top. The play of Sherman and Brandon Browner might be causing teams to change the way they evaluate big corners, who were previously thought less than ideal for the position. Sherman is currently the 2nd graded corner in coverage this season and has allowed just 21 catches from 41 targets. He has also yet to allow a TD this season.
Khaled: There’s been more than a few late rounds receivers who I’ve taken to a shine too. Randall Cobb is starting to come good, while Denarius Moore offers a new whole new dimension to the Raiders offense. But they guy I’m going for is Torrey Smith, one of the league’s premier deep threats. He already has 258 yards on passes thrown over 10 yards in the air, and he’s someone that constantly makes teams adjust to how dangerous a player he is. He hasn’t always been helped by Joe ‘Flakey’ Flacco, but he’s a difference maker.
2. Conversely which sophomore is seeing a considerable amount of playing time and still looks out of his depth?
Neil: Some would say Greg Little’s 700+ yards, a couple of touchdowns and forcing a league best 17 missed tackles as a rookie is fair return. My view is when you throw in a league leading drop rate of 19% all that goes out of the window. Nothing is more annoying to fans, coaches and quarterbacks alike than when a wide receiver who drops balls – 14 of them against 61 receptions during 2001 in Little’s case. Not to worry you say, he’ll sort it out next year. Another six drops (to go with only 20 receptions) and a rate of 23% says it’s getting worse.
Ben: Replacing an All-Pro caliber tackle is never an easy thing and neither is fitting seamlessly into one of the most efficient units in the entire league. These are two challenges that at present Derek Newton is failing to fulfill in Houston as the seventh round pick struggles to pick up and contribute efficiently to the Texans’ offensive line. Newton is struggling to such an extent that he is now losing playing time to Ryan Harris having been playing 100% of snaps at the start of the season. There are far worse tackles out there in the league than Newton but in terms of his performance level and the player he is replacing (Eric Winston), the difference is clear for all to see.
Sam: I’m still far from impressed by Buffalo’s Aaron Williams. He has improved in year two, but he’s still being beaten on a regular basis and isn’t flashing the same kind of talent as Stephon Gilmore. Williams has allowed 61.5% of targets into his coverage to be complete, and a ridiculous five touchdowns already this year without picking anything off himself. QBs throwing into his coverage have a rating of 128.7 this season and he has been graded positively just once in a game so far, against a Browns team who aren’t exactly blessed with a great passing game.
Khaled: I’m sticking in Baltimore for this one, and with Lardarius Webb going down, it’s something that could show up more. Jimmy Smith didn’t actually look all that bad a rookie in a very limited role. But it with some tape on him, and with him being asked to play more, he’s been badly exposed. Right now he has our third lowest grade of all cornerbacks, assisted by giving up five penalties and allowing 18-of-28 balls into his coverage to be complete for 240 yards. Ravens fans should be worried right now.
3. Which team has got the most out of its 2011 draft class?
Neil: When you pick up one of the best wide receivers in the NFL and a potential franchise QB with your first two selections you pretty much win this on that alone. However, after the Cincinnati Bengals selected A.J. Green with their first selection and Andy Dalton with their second they then threw in our current 10th rated guard (Clint Boling) to boot.
Ben: The Dallas Cowboys haven’t been famed for terribly productive draft classes in the last decade but last year’s draft class is shaping up to be one of the best. Whilst Tyron Smith is struggling a little with penalties in his first season switching to left tackle they are mostly procedural (five false starts) and you would hope could be eradicated in short order as he settles in on the left side. Meanwhile on defense they collected Bruce Carter in the second round who after missing the first half of his rookie season has stepped in with some terrific run defense next to Sean Lee. Oh and to cap it all off they got this running back called DeMarco Murray who has looked quite useful at times over the past two seasons.
Sam: It has to be Tennessee. The Titans have their franchise quarterback in Locker, a new keystone of their defense in Akeem Ayers, and added a lot of talented looking contributors in Jurrell Casey, Colin McCarthy, Karl Klug and Jamie Harper. That is a pretty solid backbone of this year’s team and it all comes from this single draft class. If Locker does turn out to be a legitimate starter then this draft class looks very good.
Khaled: We’ve gone along way into this piece without mentioning our 2011 rookie of the year, but in me choosing the Denver Broncos, that’s all about to change. Of course this class has a big leg up on the competition by having the (at this time) most dominant player from the entire class in it. Von Miller has been nothing short of sensational, and looks to be getting better the more he plays. When you add in a solid starting safety like Rahim Moore, and an underrated right tackle like Orlando Franklin you’ve done your job and then some. The rest of the class is still a little of a work in progress, but they nailed their top three picks.
4. Which team has got the least from its 2011 draft class?
Neil: So far Philadelphia’s 2011 draft class includes our 55th rated guard (Danny Watkins) who is struggling hugely in pass protection, a second round safety who is now a free agent (Jaiquawn Jarrett) a middle linebacker (Casey Matthews) who looked so far out of his depth before he was yanked and a bunch of bench/super market fodder. The only real saving grace/s were Jason Kelce who after a poor first year had seemed to turned things around before his unfortunate injury and a kicker. Yep Alex Henery has proven one of the best things about this class.
Ben: This time last season there would not have been a word of negativity to be heard about the Carolina Panthers’ 2011 Draft class. Cam Newton on his own would rescue everything for that season and every season to come for the Panthers. I’m not going to rag on Newton here, he has disappointed this year yes but there is plenty of blame to be shared around for the Panthers’ drop in performance this season. What remains around him from that 2011 Draft Class though was disappointing both last year and this. Their pair of third round defensive tackles were so disappointing that one (Terrell McClain) has already been cut by the Panthers and the Patriots within two years of him being drafted, and the other (Sione Fua) has been relegated down the depth chart such that he has played less than 100 snaps this season. The Panthers got nothing from their late round picks as well, with only Kealoha Pilares offering any sort of contributions on special teams. This draft class has not made best use of being atop the pick order, made worse by not having the 33rd overall pick after trading it for Armanti Edwards in the 2010 Draft. Those 48 career snaps haven’t really been worth it.
Sam: I’m aiming fire at the Jacksonville Jaguars. This draft class will live or die with Blaine Gabbert, and right now it’s on life support. He is massively improved over his rookie year, but he still looks in over his head and a long way from being a viable NFL quarterback in that offense. Cecil Shorts has flashed talent but has done an awful lot of bad as well, looking as raw as a player from Mount Union would look. Will Rackley had been terrible when he played and neither Chris Prosinski or Rod Isaac have made an impact.
Khaled: They didn’t have a lot of ammunition to work with, but in terms of their draft picks the Miami Dolphins have walked away with the excellent Mike Pouncey and … well that’s it. Clyde Gates is gone, Charles Clay is a head scratcher, Jimmy Wilson is depth and nothing more, while Daniel Thomas is about as frustrating as it gets at the running back position. So yeah they’ve gotten very little out of it. That doesn’t mean in retrospect they had a worse draft day than a team like the Browns. They look to have failed to convert their Atlanta Falcons trade bounty into anything overly meaningful.