Brian Billick's thoughts for April 5
Billick examines the draft needs of the New England Patriots and New York Jets and looks at wide receivers Leonard Hankerson, Jon Baldwin and Torrey Smith.
New England Patriots | New York Jets | Leonard Hankerson | Jon Baldwin | Torrey Smith
Patriots can make lots of noise at draft
The league may consider renaming this year's draft the New England Patriots Invitational. New England has six picks in the first 100 selections via trades from the Oakland Raiders, Carolina Panthers and Minnesota Vikings.
These could prove a potent combination for the Patriots. Just one year ago, they transformed four picks within the first two rounds into starters by way of Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Jermain Cunninghamm and Brandon Spikes.
The Patriots' first pick is 17th overall and that could present several options at both the offensive line or possibly running back.
Undrafted free agent BenJarvus Green-Ellis was very productive, but Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk could be at the end of their productivity while Danny Woodhead may have been an overachiever.
Defensively the Pats are very young, but got better with every outing. Still, they could add players at defensive end, outside linebacker and probably cornerback.
The 2011 schedule is stacked with the NFC East, Indy and Pittsburgh. They will face the AFC West in their out-of-division schedule.
Jets face tall task
After two straight appearances in the AFC Championship Game, Rex Ryan has promised the fans a Super Bowl championship this year. The New York Jets have a lot of work to do if they are going to fulfill that promise.
The bulk of the wide receiver corps are free agents, last year's second round pick guard Vladimir Ducasse needs to step up, oft-injured nose tackle Kris Jenkins and aging free agent defensive lineman Shaun Ellis may need to be replaced and the talented cornerbacks need need help at safety to fortify the secondary.
The Jets defense was among the top 10 in sacks but had to apply pressure with linebacker and defensive back blitz packages to get it done. This draft is deep in defensive lineman and Ryan has never been one to pass up good D-line talent. The Jets helped themselves this offseason by playing the franchise tag on linebacker David Harris, and finally giving up on 2008 sixth overall draft pick linebacker Vernon Gholston.
The Jets are going to have to make do with the 30th pick in the 1st and 3rd rounds, because they gave up their second-round selection to acquire cornerback Antonio Cromartie from San Diego.
New York will have to make cross-country trips to Oakland and Denver as the AFC West accounts for its out-of-division opponents. The Jets stay closer to home when they take on the NFC East in their out-of-conference schedule and will play Baltimore on the road.
Hankerson more than just big body
Miami Hurricanes wide receiver Leonard Hankerson has been a budding prospect since his 2009 season of 45 receptions for 801 yards and six touchdowns. He followed that up with a senior year in which he broke the single-season records for receptions (72), receiving yards (1,156) and receiving touchdowns (13). Hankerson is a two-year starter for the Hurricanes and a team captain.
On the field, he is surprisingly quick in and out of breaks and catches the football with his hands rather than in his body. He is a big frame target who has a nice long arms to make for a big catch radius for the quarterback to throw into. Additionally, he uses those long arms to get off press coverage by holding the corner off his pads. He wasn't just a one trick pony who caught deep jump balls over and over, he ran routes of the passing tree, very similar to what NFL teams will ask of him.
Hankerson backed up his very productive final year with a stellar performance at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. He quickly became one of the more trusted receivers and was targeted frequently in practice and in the game.
The biggest question mark for Hankerson was his top speed, but he quickly dissolved those doubts by running a 4.43 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine. That was the exact time of Maryland's Torrey Smith, the supposed burner of the draft. In comparison, Hankerson gives an NFL team much more diversity and consistency at the wide receiver position.
Basketball background helps Baldwin
Jon Baldwin is an athletic wide receiver who was a two-year starter for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Baldwin was quite the high school basketball player and was selected to the McDonald'a All America team. I met Jon at the NFL Scouting Combine, and he told me that his high school coach is the one who encouraged him to pursue football at the next level. His coach told him there were "100 other kids in New York City that could do what he does on a basketball court."
You can see those basketball influences in him as a football player. He tracks and adjusts to the ball well in the air and attacks at it's highest point in jump-ball situations. He is a big physical receiver who uses his body to "box out" defenders and shield them from the ball.
Similar to most tall rookie receivers, he will need to learn how to get off press coverage that is more prominent in the NFL game than college. He is a little upright in his stance at the line of scrimmage, exposing a lot of shoulder with gives the corner a big target to jam him out of his route.
Having top-end speed was a huge question mark going into the Combine, but he did run a better than expected 4.5 40-yard dash. That speed combined with his 6-foot-4 3/8 and 228-pound frame will make him an intriguing prospect.
Baldwin is in the discussion as the third best WR prospect in this year's draft class, but some teams think of him as having a "diva" personality. He will continue to address those concerns during visits and individual workouts with teams prior to the draft, and I look for him to be selected in the second round.
Smith needs more than speed
Maryland's Torrey Smith reminds me of another speedy Maryland Terrapin, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and not just because of their college roots. They are both straight-line speedsters who can be explosive playmakers but inconsistently taints their overall ability.
On tape, Smith appears to be a little tight in his routes and struggles maintaining his elite speed in and out of his breaks. Additionally, he shows a lack of flexibility when trying to adjust to poorly thrown balls. On a field stretching "go" route — his best — he seems uncomfortable adjusting to balls thrown over his outside shoulder, losing track of the ball when rolling his head inside out. Also on deeper routes, he has a tendency to attack the ball with just on arm, he will need to reach out with two to consistently bring balls down in the NFL.
I do like how Smith eats up cushion off the snap, but he will need to prove he can snap off a comeback route for the deep threat to be more meaningful. He is better at running by defenders in man coverage, but has shown the awareness to throttle down in zone coverage. After the catch, he is a major threat, as it was very difficult for tacklers to bring him down with just an arm tackle. Once in the open field, there won't be many who can chase him down.
Some talent evaluators have Smith as the third best wide receiver int he draft, but I hesitate to give him such a high grade. His speed with be enticing, but I would encourage teams to look at the full tape before using a first-round pick on him.
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