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Brian Billick's thoughts for March 16
Billick evaluates the top of the line defenders, draft strategy and the Chicago Bears' draft needs.
Cam Jordan will transition well into next level
California defensive lineman Cameron Jordan is an interesting prospect that NFL scouts will not have to anticipate how he will adapt as a 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme. He has been playing that role for four years in Berkeley, and that is rare to find in the college game.
Cameron took advantage of his time at the Senior Bowl. Cameron stood out in the game, and maybe even more importantly during the drills at practice.
He consistently beat the opposition in one-on-one pass rush drills with an array of pass rush moves including swim, rip, spin and bull rush. During the week at the Senior Bowl, Jordan may very well have played his way into a late first round selection.
On tape, Jordan relies on his technique and overall power to control the line of scrimmage. He not only held up blockers, but also made plays of his own even after the departure of Tyson Alualu (last year's surprise draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars).
Like Kerrigan, Jordan is a high energy player that plays with a great motor. He played in 50 of 51 total games at California which will provide consistency through durability for his future team.
Jordan knows what it takes to play in the NFL as his father, Steve Jordan, was a six-time Pro Bowl tight end, whom I had the pleasure of coaching in Minnesota.
Teams will find a place for Purdue's Kerrigan
Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is quickly becoming a hot name in this year's draft, and rightly so. Last year for the Boilermakers, Kerrigan led all FBS players with 26 tackles for loss, second with five forced fumbles and third with 12.5 sacks. Kerrigan was the teams captain and defensive MVP.
At the combine, he measured in at 6'3 7/8 and 267 pounds while doing 31 reps in the bench press and running a 4.71 40-yard dash. With those workout numbers and his production on the field, Kerrigan is poised to become a first round draft pick.
On tape Kerrigan shows a motor that never quits — chasing down plays from behind and hustling through the whistle. That hustle shows up in his secondary rush in which he still gets to the quarterback after initially being held up at the line of scrimmage.
He isn't an elite quick twitch guy, but he consistently plays with great leverage and strength. He understands his assignments and plays within his role on the defense. Kerrigan could improve of his overall flexibility as he does appear to be a little stiff in the hips.
Kerrigan is a natural 4-3 defensive end, but his athletic and playmaking ability has teams considering him as a 3-4 OLB as well. Defensive end makes most sense, but you can always find a place for an intelligent playmaker such as Kerrigan.
Mizzou LB Smith is a high-end prospect
Missouri linebacker Aldon Smith reminds me of John Abraham of the Atlanta Falcons. Right now, he is a hybrid OLB/DE, but I believe he will be better off adding a couple of pounds and becoming a full-time defensive end.
He is a raw talent that is still learning the game, but his 17 sacks in 23 games make him an attractive prospect.
Smith had a more statistically impressive 2009 season with 11.5 sacks and 46 tackles. Smith uses his length in the pass rush game to interrupt passing lanes and hold off lineman trying to get into his chest. He has the agility to keep his feet when opponents attempt to cut block him and shuffles down the line to stay involved in the play.
Even with his 17 career sacks, Smith did not just play a "sick-em" role for Mizzou's defense. He stayed stout in the run game and often took on pulling guards to clog up the hole. He shows good awareness and a feel for where the ball is at all times — which is scary considering he is coming out as redshirt sophomore.
In the game against Oklahoma, Smith displayed his overall athleticism when he intercepted a pass and returned it 58 yards.
With an early run on defensive lineman in this year's draft, look for Smith to go anywhere between 10-20 overall.
Draft strategy changes with uncertain free agency
It is anybody's guess whether free agency will begin, as it usually does, prior to the draft. Or if it will begin after the draft for the first time since NFL free agency has come into existence.
Coaches and general managers hate uncertainty.
Even worse, they hate when their routines are changed and they don’t have history to learn from when making major decisions.
We like to compile stats, spreadsheets, case histories and various lists to determine whether we will fill a void by picking up a free agent or drafting a prospect.
It is the classic what came first: the chicken or the egg. I have spoken with several GM’s and coaches that would prefer for free agency to come after the draft. This way, they can focus more specifically on their needs with the new rookies factored in the overall makeup of the team.
The argument goes like this: What happens if we take someone in free agency, then the ‘best player available’ in the draft plays that same position? Now, we have wasted valuable cap space on duplicating the position. Once that position is filled in free agency and you get to the draft, you convince yourself that the player that fits your remaining need is indeed the 'best player available' when in fact, you have let your previous signing sway your judgment into bypassing a better player because of your need.
Most teams would prefer to keep the system as it has been with free agency before the draft. I had the amazing experience working with Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore, and he is brilliant at filling needs in free agency, then having the discipline to truly stay with the 'best players on the board' draft strategy.
That is how we ended up with Todd Heap after we had signed future Hall-of-Famer Shannon Sharpe. Ozzie said, “It is very comforting to know that I don’t have to go one way or the other in the draft because of need. It allows you to trust your board and just compile the best group of football players you can.”
Bears must acknowledge some areas of interest in draft
The Chicago Bears reclaimed the NFC North and found themselves in the NFC Championship game with a familiar formula: Play good defense and run the ball.
Even though the Bears ranked 30th in the NFL in offense, they cracked the code after the bye week to find the right mix of run and pass behind mercurial quarterback Jay Cutler in Mike Martz’s offense.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice did an incredible job of bait-and-switch with an offensive line that was virtually unchanged from the year before. The Bears have taken four offensive linemen in the first three rounds in the past decade and only Chris Williams, the 14th overall pick in 2008, remains with them.
Sitting at 29, there should be plenty of attractive offensive line choices in April's draft. I look for them to take the best available lineman, regardless of him being a tackle or guard.
Likewise, they have drafted four wide receivers early in the draft over the last ten years, and only one that remains is Earl Bennett, who they got in the third round in 2008.
Pro Bowler return specialist, Devin Hester, has shown flashes of excellence as a wide receiver, but for Cutler's progression, they will add another one either via draft or free agency.
Defensively, the Bears returned to form and have a solid front seven.
With the disappointing play and subsequent release of interior defensive lineman Tommie Harris, the Bears may look to re-enforce this area in a draft that is very deep with defensive line talent.
Their 20th ranked pass defense is going to be tested this year playing Aaron Rodgers twice and Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, Philip Rivers, Matt Cassel and Michael Vick in the out-of-division schedule. So don't be surprised if they look to add depth to their secondary as well.