Neil's NFL Daily: May 1, 2013
We’ve reached that time of the NFL year when post-draft assessment talk dominates, and a large percentage of the news either involves coaches or general managers giving their views on how certain players will be used, or journalists speculating on the same thing. For my part, I was mildly surprised to see Saints GM Mickey Loomis say getting new safety Kenny Vaccaro snaps would involve moving Malcolm Jenkins into the slot on passing downs. Now, if New Orleans were Pittsburgh I could understand that sentiment, but as I explained yesterday both the incumbents (Jenkins and Roman Harper) leave a lot to be desired — I can’t see Rob Ryan putting up with their missed tackle antics for too long as he has a lot to prove. Anyway let’s return to my draft assessment — teams picking 17 through 24 — and see how the “better than average/borderline playoff teams” fared.
Wednesday, May 1st
The cash-strapped Steelers (once again) did nothing in free agency to plug the leaking ship that is their roster. Their recent drafts have been more sticking plasters than actual repairs, so it remains to be seen if this effort turns the tide. Nine picks were reasonably spread not only across offense (four) and defense (five) but across positional groups too. If Pittsburgh are to have a chance of continuing to compete with Baltimore this class needs to show earlier fruit than previous efforts.
Another team with salary cap issues is the Cowboys, who for most of recent history have underperformed their talent level. However, the superstar players are now beginning to show cracks (when has Demarcus Ware ever looked so “broadly OK”?) and an influx of playmakers is required. So where better to start than a center? I know the offensive line has been problematic, but the real problems have been on the right side with RG Mackenzy Bernadeau and RT Doug “anything but” Free. Ryan Cook performed well in the 800 snaps he played, and Phil Costa played superbly against Baltimore in what turned out to be his only full game.
The Giants use the same strategy year after year and the consistency of message seems to work for the organization. A few low-key free agency moves followed by a propensity to stay at their draft position and make solid choices. They do move around on occasion, but it’s rare and normally involves later-round picks. It was more of the same for Jerry Reese and his guys this year, although they did get a little excitable in the fourth and traded a sixth-rounder to Arizona to move up six spots and grab quarterback Ryan Nassib — that’s borderline impulsive for this team.
The great Bears o-line rebuild continues as Phil Emery added two drafts picks, including first-rounder Kyle Long, to his three free-agency acquisitions. The problem is, while I think this group will be better I don’t think they’ve got value for money in doing so. Jermon Bushrod is a better player than J’Marcus Webb, but not $6.5m a year better. Bushrod now sits between Joe Staley and Michael Roos in APY, and he looks as out of place in that company as Bill Maher doing his stand-up routine at the GOP conference.
So what did the tea leaves in the Bengals draft cup say? With only a fourth-rounder spent at linebacker (Sean Porter) the addition of James Harrison seems to give them confidence in a group that carries some question marks for the starters. The other key message is that 2010 first-rounder Jermaine Gresham’s tenure looks over. By making Tyler Eifert the first tight end selected from what was apparently a strong class, it seems the Bengals have had enough of the frustration of seeing such a naturally gifted athlete underperform to such a massive degree. He was our lowest rated tight end in 2012, and what makes this all the more annoying for me is I usually seem to pull his better games for analysis — I’ve seen him block like a train and catch balls that he shouldn’t get close to, but that unfortunately has been very much the exception rather than the rule.
A heavy emphasis on the secondary was expected and that was what we got — three of seven picks spent to shore up a group on which only Josh Wilson looks completely safe. You can only do so much, however, and a replacement for London Fletcher wasn’t found. Right tackle still looks like a problem area too, but, given how awful people thought the o-line was going to be last year, issues at only one position is nothing.
I’ve been heavily critical of the Vikings performance in the area of pro personnel for some time (the Randy Moss trade and John Carlson pick-up stand out as incredibly poor) but in college scouting, and particularly at the draft, they generally perform very well. Matt Kalil, Harrison Smith, Rhett Ellison and Blair Walsh were all either Pro Bowl or borderline Pro Bowl players from the 2012 class and if this group can mimic them than Rick Spielman has to be considered with Ted Thompson as the top two exponents of the art.
Three first-rounders, and all in key areas of need, speaks volumes for the confidence they have in their ability to make good choices, and it would be great if they could follow that through to free agency.
The offseason really had two overriding goals: do something to keep Andrew Luck on his feet, and find players to fit the 3-4 defense at linebacker. Luck hit the ground more than any other passer by some margin, and having your franchise treated with such disrespect isn’t wise. Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas arrived in free agency and were followed last week by Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes. If the Colts are serious about Luck’s health then replacing RG Mike McGlynn is a priority, as he was personally responsible for four sacks, 10 hits and another 35 hurries — more QB disruptions than any other guard by some margin.
The position is a little similar on defense, in that they better hope first-round OLB Bjoern Werner can start immediately, because if not they have Erik Walden as the man in the frame opposite Robert Mathis. Obviously we could be wrong about Walden, but two years as our lowest ranked OLB suggest he has a lot of scope for improvement.
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