4 Questions: Late First Round
So today is the day. Finally, after months of big boards, mock draft, anonymous scouts, and everything in between, we’ve finally reached day one of the 2015 NFL Draft. The draft is always fun to watch because it gives fans of every team a renewed sense of optimism that the player their team has just drafted is going to elevate them to the next level.
This is also the first year where we have graded every snap in the FBS, so we have a unique selection of data, and plenty of opinions about every player in the draft. In this edition of 4 Questions, Gordon McGuinness asks four of our analysts questions about each section of Round 1 of the draft.
1. While we aren’t high on many of the consensus top cornerbacks in this draft, we do agree that this section of the draft is where they start to have value. Who would be your first cornerback off the board and where does he fit best?
Michael Mountford: The cornerback class isn’t oustanding at the top, but at some point a team will reach for one given the position’s importance. The first corner I would go after is Marcus Peters because while he could easily struggle for the first couple of years, he has a chance to develop like Jimmy Smith of the Ravens. I would like to see him in Arizona, where he doesn’t have the pressure to be the No. 1 guy early, but has a chance to develop and form a strong tandem with Patrick Peterson down the line.
Matt Claassen: This one is a tough, with not much separating a lot of players, but I would go with Jalen Collins. He has good size and speed and played well last season even though he wasn’t on the field as much as others, allowing an average of 0.72 Yards Per Coverage Snap. He could fit for a number of teams but I would prefer to keep him on the outside, so teams with solid slot options like Dallas and Green Bay would make a lot of sense.
Thomas Maney: We’ll probably see some corners go off the board before they pick, but after losing Darrelle Revis I think New England is a team that could target a corner at the end of Round 1. I like Washington’s Marcus Peters, who has some off-field issues, but graded fairly well in the snaps he played and is a grabby, aggressive corner. A sleeper option I’d also look at is Oregon’s Troy Hill, who had the fifth-highest coverage grade in this class and got his hands on 12 passes.
Mike Renner: Byron Jones has freakish athletic gifts that are hard to ignore. He make lack polish, but even being raw he was still able to produce well at UConn when healthy. Some of the numbers he produced are eye popping, as he allowed just 0.54 Yards Per Coverage Snap, the third-highest mark in this class. I see Pittsburgh, where William Gay was the only corner to see significant time with a positive coverage grade as a good match here.
2. The Carolina Panthers have a huge need at offensive tackle and there will likely be solid players at the position there when they pick, is there any other way it makes sense for them to go?
MM: The Panthers without doubt need offensive tackle more than any other position, but if all the top lineman are off the board they do have other needs to fill. When the Panthers made the playoffs they had a strong front four with depth to match. They still need another edge rusher opposite Charles Johnson. This is a spot where a dropping Shane Ray could make a lot of sense. For all his issues, Ray was a productive pass rusher, with 47 total pressures in 2014.
MC: Newcomers Michael Oher and Jonathan Martin are hardly viable options at either tackle position. The Panthers could also use help at defensive end, and Trey Flowers lead all 4-3 defensive ends with a Pass Rushing Productivity Rating of 14.4, but at some point they need to invest in protecting their biggest investment in Cam Newton. Cedric Ogbuehi could be a good option, despite the likelihood that he isn’t ready for Week 1 of the 2015 season. He has experience playing both tackle spots and he will probably be available longer than he otherwise would be due to that injury.
TM: As is the case with a lot of teams, they could potentially find value at receiver. They drafted Kelvin Benjamin last year but don’t have too much outside of him. At tackle, though, Martin and Oher simply aren’t good enough and I wouldn’t pass on an offensive tackle like Andrus Peat, who had the second highest Pass Blocking Efficiency Rating in this class at 98.3, allowing just nine total pressures all year.
MR: I’m not one to advocate drafting for need but in this case no, the Panthers cannot pass on a left tackle in the first round. Oher would currently be the starting left tackle and, after struggling in the latter stages of his time in Baltimore, he lasted just a season in Tennessee. Tackle is one of the draft’s deepest positions and there should be three or four starting level players by the time the 25th pick rolls around. That number could dwindle to zero by the Panthers’ second-round pick so they really have to address the position in Round 1.
3. This is also the section of the draft where a player like safety Landon Collins has more value. Which team is the best fit for him in the latter stages of round one?
MM: Because Collins isn’t the type deep safety every team coverts, I could see him falling and being a great fit in New England, where he could replace Patrick Chung. The Patriots already have Devin McCourty playing high so this would allow Collins to be an instinctive player and take some gambles instead of having to be a reactive safety. Having Collins and McCourty together it will allow the Patriots to run and disguise their coverage more than they did last year.
MC: I have watched a lot of the safety class and do think that Collins is the top safety in a weak class, but I could almost wait until the early second round on him. I would avoid using him as a single-high safety and he probably best fits as a split-field safety that can also roll down. I don’t think he goes to Dallas, but he would be a good fit in Rod Marinelli’s defensive scheme. If he does get past the first round, Washington would be another team that could use the upgrade at the position.
TM: Pittsburgh. With Polamalu gone, the Steelers have a clear void at safety. Collins lined up deep quite a bit last season, but his skillset probably translates better to playing closer to the line of scrimmage in a more aggressive, downhill role. With 33 defensive stops and the fifth-best Tackling Efficiency ratings in this class, Collins excels against underneath coverage and in run defense.
MR: I think Collins could easily slip past Day 1, but if any team were to bite on the strong safety I think it would be Dallas. Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have been average throughout their careers and a safety might offer the best opportunity at a defensive playmaker this late in the draft. At Alabama, Collins was a good all-around player and had the 10th-best Run Stop Percentage amongst safeties in this draft class at 7.9%.
4. The New Orleans Saints have two selections in the first round, and traded away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills in the offseason, does it make sense to replace them in Round 1, or should they look elsewhere?
MM: The Saints do need help to replace two of their biggest playmakers over the last few years, but that need is diminished because of the quality Drew Brees. Just like all of the top quarterbacks over the past 10 years, Brees is able to elevate the players around him and make replacement players seem to be legitimate talent. And since the defense is lacking significant talent it makes sense to start building talent on that side and allow Brees to make those around him better.
MC: The Saints are an interesting case because they essentially created two more needs for themselves in addition to still having needs all over the defense. I don’t think they should address tight end in the first round because the value doesn’t match up for me, but wide receiver should at least be an option at either pick. My first look would be to the front seven at 13, but if the top guys are gone my next look would be to this deep receiver class. The Saints could still address cornerback at 31 and get a defensive lineman or inside linebacker in the second round.
TM: I’d say the Saints are in position to just take their highest-graded player because almost any position is going to line up with a need – whether at corner, front seven on defense, offensive line, or receiver. If one of the top edge defenders like Beasley or Gregory makes it to No. 13, I think that’s a clear choice for them. Otherwise, receiver makes sense with the number of first-round players in this deep group.
MR: If the Saints can get one of the big three receiver at No. 13, I’d pull the trigger. If not, I’d wait until No. 31 to address that and grab the best defensive player on the board. Jaelen Strong seems like a match made in heaven, especially when you consider that he averaged 4.06 Yards Per Route Run from the slot against teams from the Power 5 conferences.