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Brian Billick on AFC West's draft needs

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Brian Billick

Brian Billick served as head coach of the Baltimore Ravens from 1999-2007, winning Super Bowl XXXV. He has also authored books, including More Than A Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL. Follow him on Twitter.

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Billick shares his thoughts on the AFC West's draft needs and the top linebacker prospects.

 

March 11 | March 10 | March 9 | March 8 | March 7

 

March 11

 

Chargers looking for depth in draft

 

If ever a team was the poster child of “statistics lie and liars use statistics”, it’s the San Diego Chargers. Finishing first in the NFL in both offense and defense, the Chargers failed to make the playoffs this past season, finishing with a 9-7 record.

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When a team ranks this high on offense and defense and loses, you usually don’t have to look much past the turnover differential. The Chargers were 23rd in the NFL at minus 6.

Special teams were the main reason for the Chargers shortcoming, particularly early in the season. This means they need more depth at linebacker and in the secondary and that they will build that via the draft.

Most teams say the draft is their lifeblood, but no team has built more exclusively through the draft than the Chargers. Until the recent signing of safety Bob Sanders formerly of Indianapolis, only two of the Chargers starters began their careers elsewhere.

This bodes well for the Chargers who have five picks in the first 90 selections in this years draft; picking up the Jets second-rounder for Antonio Cromartie and the Seahawks third-rounder for quarterback Charlie Whitehurst.

The Chargers top priority is probably an edge rushers as 2009 first-round pick Larry English has been disappointing. An elite pass rusher will allow new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky to get pressure on the quarterback without having to heavily rely on blitzing.

The Chargers are going to be tested with one of the toughest schedules in the league. As I noted earlier, West Coast teams fair poorly when they have to travel east. The Chargers will do that three times as they face Jacksonville, New England and the New York Jets all on the road.

They also have to face the NFC North as their out of conference opponents and you can throw in Baltimore just for good measure.

 

Herzlich could be draft steal

 

By this time, most of you have heard the wonderful story of Mark Herzlich and his tremendous overcoming of cancer.

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What you may not remember is the dominating season he had in 2008 for Boston College. Just listen to this stat line: 110 tackles (13 for loss), three sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, six interceptions, two defensive touchdowns and a partridge in a pear tree.

As you can imagine, Mark shows an ability to read his keys and process his responsibility quickly. Similarly, he reads run and differentiates play-action fakes and regularly puts himself in the right position on the field. From an athletic perspective, he stays balanced and shows great footwork, especially in his pass coverage, ready to break in any direction as the ball is released.

At the NFL Scouting Combine, Herzlich measured in at 6-foot-4, 244 pounds. He competed 29 reps on the bench and ran a 4.96 40-yard dash.

While some may raise concern on his lack of overall speed, I believe that his elite instincts and rare effort more than make up for it. After being considered by many as a top-10 pick after his 2008 season, Mark won’t even be drafted in the first two days this year, but he will give you his full effort on every single play. I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back and consider him to be the steal of the 2011 draft.

 

Be cautious on 'workout warrior'

 

Dontay Moch out of Nevada was one of the “workout warriors” of this year's NFL Scouting Combine. He measured in at 6-foot-1 3/8 and 248 pounds, but what set him apart was his 4.44 40-yard dash and his astonishing 42-inch vertical jump and 10-foot-8 broad jump.

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Those are eye-popping numbers! Those numbers have encouraged NFL scouts, GMs, and talent evaluators to go back and review his tape in further detail.

What they will find is a defensive end turned outside linebacker who holds every Nevada pass-rushing record that is still very raw is his overall technique. He doesn’t show elite change of direction and backed that up at this years East-West game.

I believe he will need to further develop his hip movement and hand punch to take full advantage of his speed rush off the edge. One major concern is how he will hold up in the run game. When matched up against one of this year’s best offensive lineman Anthony Castanzo he struggled mightily.

There is no denying that Dontay Moch is an outstanding athlete, but I would encourage teams not to make the easy mistake of falling in love with his workout numbers. He is a raw talent that will need a lot of positional coaching. Will he be the next Vernon Gholston, or will he be able to translate his athleticism into a productive NFL player?

 

 

March 10

 

Raiders may draft help for secondary

 

Going 8-8 may not seem like a major accomplishment to most, but when you have had seven straight years of double digit losses like the Oakland Raiders, it was a huge step.

Not to mention a 6-0 division record that is definitely something to be proud of.

New head coach Hue Jackson helped elevate the Raiders offense to a top-10 unit and the second-ranked rushing offense in the league. Also 2008 first-round choice running back Darren McFadden (fourth overall) finally lived up to the selection.

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Similarly, Oakland did a nice job in last years draft coming up with three starters in linebacker Rolando McClain, defensive tackle Lamarr Houston and offensive tackle Jared Veldheer.

If the Raiders are going to build on that momentum, they are going to have to do it without a first-round selection. They gave up what became the 17th overall pick in this year's draft to New England for Richard Seymour.

If Nnamdi Asomugha leaves via free agency, as may safety Michael Huff, they may look to shore up the secondary with their second-day picks.

The Raiders have to head east (historically tough for West Coast teams) when they take on the AFC East in 2011, but get a break in playing New England and the Jets at home. They will also have to face both of last year's NFC Championship Game representatives, Green Bay and Chicago.

 

Is playoff reseeding necessary?

 

The NFL competition committee meeting begins this week with the Baltimore Ravens' Ozzie Newsome having been a major part of this process for a decade.

The No. 1 item the committee is looking at is proposing the idea of reseeding the playoffs at the end of each season. Currently the division winner is guaranteed at least a wild-card opening round home game.

Of course, the league’s worst nightmare when this type of seeding began, was what happened this year. A sub .500 team, by way of the Seattle Seahawks out of the anemic NFC West, goes 7-9 and hosts the 11-5 reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. The fact that the Seahawks pulled off the upset and beat the Saints 41-36 diminished the effect, but still the idea of a team that goes 11-5 having to go to a 7-9 team in the first round of the playoffs just doesn’t seem right.

Those who are against reseeding say it will devalue winning a division, but I strongly disagree. The only way a 7-9 team is going to make the playoffs is to win the division, and that should be incentive enough. Some have even proposed that we go a step further and, like the college game, say that a team has to be “bowl eligible”, or in this case at least have an 8-8 record to be allowed into the playoffs.

Is it right that the 10-6 New York Giants or the 10-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team, who beat the Seahawks two weeks before 38-15, be ousted from the playoffs while Seattle not only gets in, but hosts a game?

Secondly, the league has done a nice job of pushing divisional games to the end of the season to enhance the need for teams to play out the entire schedule and not sit players down when they have the division, and a playoff spot, already in hand. By reseeding, you enhance the chances of an already playoff bound team competing to improve their seed. Or better yet, get a home game with a 12-4 record even as a wildcard.

I don’t know that there is a viable economic argument that will surface from the owners to shoot this topic down, and it has been presented before getting as many as 18-20 votes. The league needs 24 votes for this to get enacted and hopefully chairman Rich McKay, who is a proponent of this, can garner enough votes.

 

 

March 9

 

Broncos likely thinking defense for draft

 

The Broncos have the second overall pick in the 2011 draft and have two principals, new president John Elway and second-year general manager Brian Xanders, who have never run a draft so it may be tough to predict what their thinking might be.

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The Broncos have not made a top-10 pick since 1991 when they chose LB Mike Croel out of Nebraska.

Denver was 13th in the NFL in offense in 2010 and have a young and improving core to continue to build around. Certainly the quarterback position is pivotal going forward, but with Kyle Orton and last year's No. 1 pick Tim Tebow, it is unlikely that the Broncos will feel the need to do anything at this position in the first two days of the draft.

That’s good, because the Broncos were last in the league in total defense and points allowed. The Broncos have been bad on defense for a while and are going to have a tough time improving on their 4-12 record until they get better on that side of the ball.

New coach John Fox knows what solid defense looks like coming off a nine-year stint with the Panthers and will likely make rebuilding that side of the ball priority No. 1.

Getting a solid edge pass rusher to complement Elvis Dumervil could be the top priority for the Broncos in a draft heavy in defensive linemen.

In addition to having the No. 2 overall pick the Broncos have four selections among the first 100 players and it would not be a surprise to see all four go to the defensive side of the ball.

Denver will face the AFC East and the NFC North as their out-of-division foes along with games against Cincinnati and Tennessee.

 

Owners don't need to open books

 

It is being reported that one off the sticking points for a new collective bargaining agreement is the players wanting the owners to “open their books.”

I hope this does not become an issue that delays the eventual deal that we all know will get done.

In my opinion this is likely a “throwaway” part of the negotiation, meaning that the players will hold on to it until they need something and will use this as a lever to get what they want. The fact is, they really don’t need for the owners to do this. The NFLPA has all the relevant numbers it needs to determine the fair percentage the players should be getting. Things like stadium revenue, tickets revenue, TV money, player cost and operation costs are all figures that are easily obtainable.

This is more about embarrassing the owners rather than actually obtaining important information. Almost every team is basically a family business. Like most family businesses, expenses and cost of the family are typically run through the business. This is neither illegal nor inappropriate. It is simply the way our tax system requires those with small businesses to operate.

Regardless of the huge sums of money and the public attention, each team in the NFL individually is really nothing more than a small business.

Hopefully, the NFL Players Association will move past this point quickly so we can all get back to the business of football. A deal will get done. That much we know. The question is how much damage will be done to the game and the relationship between the owners and the players along the way.

 

Tar Heels' OLB a good 'value' pick

 

Where will teams look once outside linebackers Von Miller, Justin Houston, and Akeem Ayers have been selected? I think they’ll turn to North Carolina's Bruce Carter. Here is a more in-depth analysis ...

Bruce Carter is a tremendous athlete at 6-foot-1 1/2 and 241 pounds. In high school, Carter played quarterback, running back and safety.

After just six weeks at UNC, he took over as the starting outside linebacker. Unfortunately, because of a late-season knee injury, he was unable to display that athleticism at this year's Combine — it was rumored that he runs a 4.4 when healthy!

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When watching him on the field, Carter shows a short explosive burst and reliable tackling technique. In pass coverage he plays very aggressively, often jumping underneath routes to makes plays on the ball. While he doesn’t have elite instincts, he does a pretty good job of reading his keys and reacting quickly.

He has good feet that allow him to chase plays down and not get caught up in the mess at the line of scrimmage. When evaluating Carter’s career, you will find a steady decline in numbers as teams were able to key and scheme around him (which wasn’t difficult considering half his team was suspended).

Obviously his progress from knee surgery will be a huge factor, but Bruce Carter shows the athleticism and skill set to be a great “value” pick in this year's draft.

 

Don't discount Michigan St. LB

 

Michigan State’s Greg Jones is one of the most productive players in school history after leading the Spartans in tackles four straight years.

Despite his impressive statistics, NFL scouts aren’t overly impressed by his size and strength. He did only 21 reps in the bench press and ran a 4.80 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine.

I will say this, his leadership, work ethic and durability are going to persuade teams to overlook those lackluster combine numbers. Jones will give his future team versatility at linebacker by being able to play him either inside or outside — his college coach suggests that he translates better on the outside in the NFL rather than the middle that he played in college.

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On tape, he shows great instincts and reaction and is rarely caught out of position to make a play on the ball. He has great hip movement in pass coverage and plays well in space. He is a reliable tackler who hustles through the whistle on every play.

I believe that the tape shows he plays a lot faster than the 4.80 40 time suggests. And forget being too small, Greg Jones hasn’t missed a game in the last three years! He adds great immediate depth at all four linebacker positions and will be a great special teams player until he settles into a starting role on the defensive side of the ball. Look for him to go in the late third to fourth round.

 

 

March 8

 

 

Chiefs needs draft help on offense and defense

 

Kansas City returned to relevancy in 2010 with the leagues best rushing attack, improved play at the quarterback and wide receiver positions, and the second fewest give-always in the league.

Few teams got more productivity out of the 2010 draft than did Kansas City. Safety Eric Berry went to the Pro Bowl after being the fifth pick of the draft and Dexter McCluster, Javier Arenas and Jon Asamoah all either started or added solid depth. Tight end Tony Moeaki may have been the best value of this class. As the 93rd player selected, he was second on the team in receptions behind Pro Bowl selection Dwayne Bowe.

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Kansas City has the 21st overall pick and should be looking for value along both sides of the line of scrimmage. Depth along the offensive line might be a high priority and even more so should they suffer some loses to free agency. The Chiefs could also be aided by picks along the defensive line or a solid pass rushing outside linebacker to bookend defensive end Tamba Hali.

Remember, Kansas City used its first overall pick in 2008 and 2009, both top-five selections, in taking defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson respectively.

They will need further production from them and more this season given their out-of-division opponents coming from the NFC North and AFC East along with games versus Pittsburgh and at Indy.

 

Top inside linebacker doesn't disappoint

 

Martez Wilson entered the NFL Scouting Combine as the top rated middle linebacker prospect, and he backed up the hype with his workout.

Checking in at 6-foot-3 3/4, 250 pounds, he ran an eye popping 4.49 40-yard dash. That time was best among all linebackers, both inside and out. That speed is also on display when you watch Wilson’s tape — he easily runs with tight ends and receivers up the seam and plays well in man-to-man pass coverage.

He closes in quickly on the ball carrier and gets from sideline to sideline to make plays all over the field. Wilson uses his length to his advantage and often gets his long arms on ballcarriers even when engaged by a blocker in the hole. With that said, his read-and-react skills will need improvement to take his game to the next level. He often got drawn in on play action and was easily fooled on misdirection plays.

In college, he made up for those false steps with his speed and quickness, but that will be magnified and exposed in the NFL.

Martez Wilson has all the physical attributes to be an impact player in the NFL, and he will continue to improve with better coaching and increased film study. I look for him to be the first inside linebacker selected in the draft, but probably not until the middle of the second round.

 

McCarthy a good prospect from the 'U'

 

Colin McCarthy is another in a long line of NFL prospects coming out of the "U". He played most of his career at Miami as an outside linebacker, but his skill set will translate better in the NFL on the inside.

I had the opportunity to watch him perform at the Senior Bowl and he was surprisingly agile and quick making plays on the defensive side of the ball as well as special teams. During the Senior Bowl, Colin showed great instincts and an aggressive yet under control style of play. He attacks strongly and brings his hips well when making tackles.

He can improve on his backpedal and man technique in pass coverage, but he looks extremely comfortable in zone coverage and always has his head on a swivel. Going into the Combine, it was important for McCarthy to run a good 40-yard dash time and show explosion in the vertical jump. He didn’t disappoint with a 4.65 dash and a 36.5-inch vertical leap.

I believe Colin McCarthy can be an excellent special teams contributor from Day 1, and he will provide solid depth at the linebacker position. He will challenge Quan Sturdivant (North Carolina) to be the second middle linebacker to be selected in the draft — late second-round to third-round prospect.

 

Best wishes to Steve Sabol

 

I was saddened to hear Steve Sabol of NFL Films had been hospitalized over the weekend.

Sabol was in Kansas City attending the 101 Awards, where he was to accept the Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football on behalf of NFL Films, when he became ill.

Steve Sabol has been with NFL Films since 1964, when he began working for his father as a cinematographer. In that time, he has received 27 Emmy Awards for writing, cinematography, editing, directing and producing. His father, Ed, was recently named to the 2011 Class for the Hall of Fame. An honor well deserved.

The Sabol’s are the “keeper of the flame.” The popularity and excitement that has become the NFL is in no small part due to the vision of both Ed and Steve in presenting our game in the most dramatic and artistic way possible.
The wiring of players and coaches that help give fans a closer look at the game, in no small part, are due to the trust the teams, coaches and players have in NFL Films and the Sabol’s. I would not have agreed to have my team do the first ever “Hard Knocks” that have become so popular, if it were done by anyone else besides Steve.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Steve in hopes of a quick recovery.

 

 

 

March 7

 

 

Von Miller impresses

 

Von Miller proved at the NFL Scouting Combine what most already knew — that he should be the top linebacker taken in April’s draft. Miller checked in at 6-foot-2 5/8, 246 pound and ran an official 4.53 40-yard dash — good for second best time of all participating linebackers.

Folks, that is MOVIN for a young man his size!

On tape, Miller shows an explosive pass rush off that edge that has 3-4 teams salivating. As a junior he tallied 17 sacks and even after an ankle injury that hampered the first half of his senior season, he still was a force, totaling 10.5 sacks. He uses a quick, strong hand punch that causes offensive lineman to lose their initial balance and beats them around the corner with speed and great hip flexion.

While the tape is obvious that he can get after the quarterback, he has made it his mission to show NFL scouts he is not just a one trick pony.

Starting at the Senior Bowl and continuing at the Combine, Miller has shown an ability to drop back in coverage and play in space. He was not asked to do that very often in college, but NFL teams would love to have that versatility at their disposal. Finally, Miller will need to improve his ability to hold up at the point of attack. He has a tendency to speed rush hard up field leaving the defense vulnerable to running plays that attack his inside shoulder.

All in all, Von Miller is an explosive player that already had the attention of the 3-4 defenses near the top of the draft, but with his recent workouts, he is making a statement to the 4-3 teams as well. I have heard multiple NFL personnel people compare him to Clay Matthews and even Lawrence Taylor, and those are two names you simply can’t ignore!

 

 

LB Houston could be impact player

 

Justin Houston is another outside linebacker whose pass rush ability has caught the attention of NFL brass. As a senior, Houston registered 10 sacks, and Georgia credited him with 44 quarterback hurries. Similar to Von Miller, Houston was mainly asked to be a force as a pass rusher and therefore rarely dropped back into coverage.

Throughout college, he lined up both as an outside linebacker and defensive end and is a little more reliable against the run compared to the other top 3-4 outside linebacker prospects.

His game tape shows that he plays low and uses his overpowering strength to his advantage. His Combine numbers back that up — 6-foot-2 7/8, 270 pounds, 31 reps on the bench press. Even more attractive at the Combine, at a bulked up 270 lbs (up from 258), he didn’t jeopardize any explosion. He still high jumped 36.5 inches and impressed with a 10-foot-5 broad jump.

As a coach and talent evaluator, we try not to fall in love with a young man based on his workout in tights at the Combine, but coupled with his game tape, Houston should be considered as an immediate impact player. It will be interesting to see how teams compare Houston to UCLA’s Akeem Ayers as the next best outside linebacker behind Miller — if it were up to me, I would go with Houston.

 

Ayers has first-round ability

 

Akeem Ayers is another standout outside linebacker that receives a first-round grade. I don’t believe that both Ayers and Houston will be selected in the first round, but both are definitely capable.

Ayers will give his future team more of the traditional outside linebacker that can attack running lanes, drop back into coverage and occasionally rush the passer off the edge. During his career at UCLA, Ayers has shown his knack for making the big play. In his final two seasons, Ayers personally accounted for six interceptions (two of which he returned for touchdown) and another six forced fumbles.

With that said, he was also prone to play-action and often missed the sure tackle by going for the big hit instead. One reason I have him slipping behind Houston as my third best outside linebacker is because of the relatively disappointing workout he turned in at the Combine.

His 18 reps on the bench press was significantly less than Houston’s 31. Additionally, at 16 pounds lighter, Ayers’ 40-yard dash time of 4.88 was .2 of a second slower than that of Houston’s.

While both of these players are classified as outside backers, they bring a very different skill set respectively. Defensive scheme will be the determining factor when a specific team decides between the two.

Tagged: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Jets, Seahawks, Chargers, Tyson Jackson, Lamarr Houston, Tim Tebow, Jon Asamoah

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