Here are eight things we gleaned from Round 1 of the NFL Draft, a quirky night of selections that resulted in seven offensive linemen and 10 D-line prospects coming off the board in the first 32 picks:
1. It’s easy to feel indifferent about Eric Fisher (Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jaguars) and Lane Johnson (Eagles) going 1, 2, 4
To clarify, it’s never a bad thing when NFL teams invest heavily in infrastructure picks along the offensive and defensive line. It’s often the smart move to make, no matter how colorless.
But from a non-scout’s perspective, it’s impossible to know if Fisher, Joeckel or Johnson are next in the line of great offensive tackles (Joe Thomas, Jonathan Ogden) … or just highly regarded, but ultimately underwhelming performers who’ll move to a different position, in due time.
And who’s to blame for this meh attitude? The TV networks, of course.
Overall, ESPN and NFL Network have demonstrated commendable passion for the draft, crushing viewers with an endless loop of talking heads and teary-eyed prospect interviews. But let’s face it: The majority of highlights packages are marginal, at best, often putting that prospect in the best possible light.
Yes, I get that Fisher is 6-foot-7 and 306 pounds, but it’s hard to know if he’ll be a great NFL player when a TV network airs two clips of him leaning on defensive tackles from Ball State and Nortern Illinois, respectively. And when they showed Fisher taking on Michigan State last year, the clip featured a conservative encounter with an undersized pass rusher (Marcus Nash).
Where are the Orlando Pace-esque pancake blocks? Where are the extended power plays, with a remorseless tackle pushing a foe 40 yards before tossing him off the field, a la “The Blind Side”?
2. The Falcons must have had a fascinating chicken-and-egg debate in their Flowery Branch offices this week
The intra-cornerback discussion of Desmond Trufant (Atlanta’s first-round pick) and Florida State’s Xavier Rhodes (drafted three slots later) is interesting, considering the pair will be inexorably linked for seasons to come.
But it couldn’t trump the Falcons’ decision to choose cornerback over defensive end — or a pass-rushing linebacker — at No. 22 overall, after trading up eight spots earlier in the day. However, Atlanta only notched 29 sacks last season (28th in NFL), with 10 coming from John Abraham, who was released last month; and all the secondary help in the world means little … if quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Josh Freeman, Russell Wilson, Carson Palmer and Robert Griffin III (2013 opponents) have four or five seconds to operate in the pocket.
But alas, there’s no point in making definitive judgments about a three-hour window of drafting, especially since the Falcons — who must stay competitive with the pass-rushing capabilities of the 49ers, Seahawks and Giants to be serious Super Bowl contenders — have a bevy of picks in Rounds 2, 4, 5 and 7.
3. Kevin Kolb should be breathing a little easier this afternoon
Quarterback stats tend to be over-inflated at the college ranks, given the proliferation of pass-friendly spread offenses and inferior defenses — especially when invoking man coverage.
That’s why it’s a little troubling to see that Florida State’s E.J. Manuel, the Bills’ No. 1 pick (No. 16), posted six games of less than 200 yards passing last season.
Sure, the Seminoles star often played to the score in blowout victories over Murray State, Savannah State, Wake Forest and Maryland. But for two of Florida State’s biggest games in 2012 — a home loss to Florida and ACC-title-game win over Georgia Tech in successive weekends — he combined for 316 yards passing, three TDs (only one passing) and four interceptions.
I’m not knocking Manuel’s physical gifts or developmental upside one bit. But at the same time, there’s no justification for making him for the first and only quarterback off the board in Round 1 … when Buffalo has the ninth pick for Round 2 on Friday.
Plus, I have a hard time believing every person in the Bills’ strategy loop — or even a strong consensus — portends greatness for Manuel (6,058 yards passing, 41 TDs in 2011-12) at the next level. At least not right off the bat.
Manuel’s simply a project for the Bills, no better or worse than the recently acquired Kolb.
4. West Virginia’s Tavon Austin (No. 8 overall pick to the Rams) may be the next incarnation of Percy Harvin. But from an immediate fantasy perspective, the former has little chance of replicating Harvin’s fantasy stats from his rookie season of 2009 — 60 catches, 925 total yards (730 receiving) and six touchdowns. St. Louis just doesn’t have enough offensive cachet to transform Austin into a Year 1 dynamo.
5. I have no doubts that Ziggy Ansah, Detroit’s No. 5 pick from BYU, is an athletic freak with immense potential at defensive end. But it’s hard to spin a guy from Ghana — who had never put on shoulder pads until 2010 — as anything but a developmental project in the trenches. The Lions’ brass, if anything, are a patient bunch.
6. I love Cordarrelle Patterson’s long-term potential with the Vikings, but it won’t necessarily be a smooth transition to the pros — from a route-running perspective. He’s a raw talent with limited experience in tight spaces. Plus, he had six games of three or fewer catches last year — with a Tennessee offense that averaged 37.5 passes per outing.
7. The Bears deserve credit for going the proverbial ‘safe’ route with Oregon guard Kyle Long (son of Hall of Famer Howie Long), at No. 20 overall.
With new head coach Marc Trestman’s QB-centric background, it was a given that Chicago would go offense with the first pick of the Trestman era … but I figured it would be a blue-chip tight end (like Notre Dame’s Tyler Eifert) or receiver (the aforementioned Patterson or Cal’s Keenan Allen) — not a physically impressive, but unpolished O-Line prospect.
8. I’ll be shocked if the Panthers finish outside the top 10 in net rushing yards allowed this season, now that Utah defensive lineman Star Lotulelei (No. 14 overall pick) has joined the team.
His girth (6-foot-2, 311 pounds) and stellar quickness off the ball are potential game-changers for a Carolina defense that surrendered 27 or more points seven times last year.