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Explaining the draft's inexplicable
The NFL draft certainly provided some incredible shock and awe.
The Falcons give up seemingly their entire draft this year and a chunk next year to trade for, of all things, a receiver?
Jake Locker and Christian Ponder go off the board in the top 12 picks?
Who will start at quarterback in Arizona and San Francisco?
A kicker selected in Round 4?
This past week on SiriusXM NFL Radio, we talked to the men behind the most-talked-about moves in the NFL draft to truly find out the method to the madness.
Let's analyze the moves and give you our takes, SCHEIN 9 style.
1. The Falcons trade all the way up to No. 6 to get Julio Jones
I think Atlanta is managed brilliantly by general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith. But I hated their trade up for a receiver. I thought they needed speed and playmakers on defense. And the percent chance for immediate impact at the receiver position is very low. Think about all of the first-round wide receivers who flame out. I made the comment after the trade that I thought the Falcons had 12-4, while missing the Super Bowl, written all over them for the 2011 season.
We had to talk to Dimitroff, who was gracious and thorough with his time and reasoning, even though we totally disagreed with the move.
Dimitroff was candid enough to admit that the Falcons targeted two positions in the draft: receiver and defensive end. They called teams in the middle of the draft and couldn't find a match. Dimitroff revealed that the final defensive end he really liked was Cameron Jordan, who went off the board at No. 24 to the Saints. Dimitroff said that if they stayed where they were, they would have had to pick an offensive lineman or a tight end and it wouldn't have provided the spark they wanted.
Oh, yeah: They also loved Julio Jones.
Dimitroff spent a lot of valuable time with his old friend Nick Saban, who told Dimitroff, “There is no diva aspect to him, and he will not be affected by being in the NFL.” Dimitroff then added, “I truly believe when you have an impact player that can affect you now and in the future, you go against conventional wisdom. You go get the player.”
As an example, he cited how nobody thought his old boss Scott Pioli would draft a safety with the fifth overall pick last year. The draft experts screamed, “That's too high for that position.” Pioli's move went noted by Dimitroff, who also added, “We knew the compensation would be significant, but when you are talking about a player like this, I am not concerned about a fourth-round pick!”
And Dimitroff says that Jones will make an immediate impact. He urged us not to judge it solely by Jones' catches. In film study, the Falcons saw that coverage was rolled way too much in Roddy White's direction. This, according to Dimitroff, needed to change.
The general manager added that he needs to protect his franchise quarterback with weapons and Tony Gonzalez is getting a bit long in the tooth.
Let's call these all points of clarity from the Falcons. But I am not sure you can bank on a rookie receiver that much. And now, if the Falcons plan to stop the likes of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers in the big moment, Atlanta must address the defensive needs in free agency.
2. The Titans take Jake Locker with the eighth overall pick
The Friday after the first round, Titans coach Mike Munchak didn't flinch when asked if the eighth pick in the draft was too high for Locker. He declared that, “I would've picked Locker first overall.” Wow.
Munchak fell in love with Locker watching him on film the past two years, but really fawned over him when they got to know him at the Senior Bowl, Pro Day and individual workouts and interviews. Munchak loves his ability, but I think he equally cherishes his leadership and commitment. New offensive coordinator Chris Palmer spent a lot of time with Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and Locker, and Palmer came away thinking Locker was pro ready.
Munchak called his low completion percentage “correctable” and stressed his ability to complete passes outside the pocket. In fact, Munchak was energized by the possibility of Locker starting in Week 1 for the Titans. And Munchack will run the ball with Chris Johnson behind the Titans offensive line to ease him into the NFL.
This is a major man crush and the conviction you need to make the pick.
Now, I don't think Locker was the eighth overall best player. I would have picked Nick Fairley and grabbed a quarterback in Round 2. But my take on Locker before the draft was that he can be a starter and a winner. Munchak knows, as a first-year head coach, he is forever tied to Locker and says that's the way he wants it.
3. The Vikings pick Christian Ponder 12th overall
Like Munchak, Leslie Frazier knew the criticism was coming. And like Munchak, he truly didn't give a damn.
In February, Ponder seemed like a solid second-round pick. In April, he became the future — and the present in Minnesota. It's one nobody saw coming.
Minnesota entertained the thought of trading down but didn't find a partner to give equal value and didn't want to lose Ponder.
Both Tennessee and Minnesota had one quarterback on the roster, and it wasn't of starting quality. The Titans had Rusty Smith. Minnesota employed only Joe Webb. Frazier told us, “We needed a franchise quarterback, and we wanted Christian Ponder.” He urged skeptics and critics to go back to 2009, when Ponder was healthy. He gushed about Ponder's charisma, leadership and infectious swagger.
Ponder and Locker will be playing with elite running backs. That will help them. I thought the intelligent thing to do was not to force the issue at quarterback early, address it later in the draft and then again in free agency or via a trade.
Frazier predicts draft-day boos will quickly turn into cheers. I’m skeptical. And he doesn't give a damn.
4. The Cardinals don't take a quarterback in the first round and grab a running back in Round 2.
Ken Whisenhunt and the Cardinals are geniuses. We've been writing and saying for a long time that they would pass on the project, neophyte quarterback with the fifth overall pick and address that position whenever we have an offseason. And like we've been saying, they have targeted Kevin Kolb and plan to trade for the Eagles quarterback. Whisenhunt drafted Patrick Peterson with his first-rounder, and Peterson steps in and makes an immediate impact.
The Cards turned some heads when they plucked a running back, Ryan Williams, in the second round. Whisenhunt told us that Williams had a first-round grade on him. He's a tough, speedy runner with good hands, who would be excellent catching passes from Kolb.
Is the backfield jammed with Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells? Let's be honest: Those cats underachieved last year, and the group needed a jolt. The Cards improved their defense with the best all-around player in the draft and added more sizzle on offense. And wait until they add the perfect quarterback. The Cardinals are building a team that can get back to the playoffs this year.
5. The Niners go with Aldon Smith and want to bring back Alex Smith
I loved the idea of going defense with the seventh overall pick. I was a bit surprised the Niners chose Aldon Smith over J.J. Watt, Robert Quinn or Prince Amukamara.
But what I really liked was picking Colin Kaepernick in the second round as coach Jim Harbaugh's quarterback of the future. Niners general manager Trent Baalke told us that the club was prepared to trade into the first round to take Kaepernick and had to sweat through the night on Thursday and early picks into Round 2.
And Baalke said that the club wants Alex Smith back this year. I’ve been writing all offseason this would happen, and it is the right move. Now, it is up to Smith to decide whether he wants to come back. Sure, Smith hasn't lived up to expectations. But in a short offseason, and with the quarterback of the future on the roster, it makes sense to see whether Smith can finally succeed under Harbaugh's watchful eye. And I predict it will happen.
6. Da'Quan Bowers goes to Tampa Bay in Round 2
Raheem Morris was thrilled to get this incredible talent in the second round. He said: “The risk/reward factor wasn't there in Round 1, especially with Adrian Clayborn there. To get them both? Wow.” Morris said it was way too early to predict Bowers' availability and health for the year. But when you get a player of Bowers' caliber in the second round, what he does this season is a bonus.
7. Houston plucks three first-round-caliber defensive players
The Texans had an eye-popping draft. For a team desperate to improve on defense, for a team making a change to the 3-4 this year under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Texans did a brilliant job.
It's easy and accurate to give them the due accolades for drafting J.J. Watt in the first round. He's a playmaking Energizer bunny. Cornerback Brandon Harris was a strong pick and filled an area of need in Round 2.
But the pick that had normally stoic coach Gary Kubiak buzzing (relatively speaking) when we talked on Monday morning was second-round pass rusher Brooks Reed.
“We had to sweat that one out," Kubiak said. "I couldn't believe he wasn't drafted in the first round. I thought for sure New England was going to take him at the top of Round 2.”
8. The Jets draft a defensive tackle with character issues
Some have criticized the Jets for ignoring character and selling their soul for the Super Bowl. Coach Rex Ryan totally disagrees.
Ryan told us on Wednesday that he asks how every single player will fit into his locker room and practice field. He spent a lot of time with Kenrick Ellis, who was thrown out of South Carolina, suspended for a game by Hampton last year, and has a court date for a pending criminal trial this summer. Ryan says the team is fully confident in Ellis as a player and person.
Oh, by the way, Ellis is a classic nose tackle in the middle of Ryan's defense and the Jets had an early second-round grade on him. He fell until the later stages of Round 3 because of character concerns. Ryan and GM Mike Tannenbaum brilliantly addressed the defensive line, their biggest area of need in the draft with Ellis and first-round stud Muhammad Wilkerson. They now have great depth and talent up front. I think with the Jets' leadership, Ellis was worth the risk in the third round.
9. The Eagles draft a kicker in the fourth round
Philadelphia general manager Howie Roseman told us, “Alex Henery was the highest-rated kicker he's seen coming out of college in the 11 years I've been in Philadelphia.” While such analysts as Trent Dilfer went apoplectic over the pick, in Roseman's eyes, and in coach Andy Reid's eyes, this was a no-brainer. I wouldn't have picked a kicker that high. Roseman said they didn't break a sweat. And as Roseman quipped, “That's not just because coach Reid pumps up the air conditioning in the war room.”
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