The Superbowl is in the books so the offseason begins in earnest... right now. Everything from here on out will affect a team's draft strategy, so buckle up, hang on and pay attention.
1.) Pass Rushers Rule the World: or at least the football landscape these days. The truly special ones are rare, usually come from the top of the draft and their impact is immense. The Super Bowl showed us in living color that an aggressive pass rush is devastating to even the most accomplished offense. A pair of Missouri alumni had large impacts on both sides of the ball and were not even the most dominant pass rushers in the game (that distinction went to Denver's all-world tandem of DeMarcus Ware and the incomparable Von Miller). I had a lot of people send static my way when I liked Kony Ealy out of Missouri a couple of years back. "He isn't special" they said. That may be true, but combined with some other serious D-line talent on the Panther's defense he racked up 2 sacks and an interception in the biggest game in the football universe. That kind of production changes the outcome of games. The player who followed in Ealy's footsteps at Missouri after he was drafted (Shane Ray) created some impact of his own in the game; literally. He pounded Cam Newton into the ground on a QB hit. Cam got up gingerly after that hit and was not himself for a while (some analysts argued the effect lasted for the whole game). You may remember Ray ended up falling in last year's draft after a positive drug test. The end result is that a team already rich with pass rushers (Ware and Miller), got even richer because they were bold enough to make a strength of their team even stronger. Lesson? You can never have too many good pass rushers and the Bears need more of them.
2.) I mentioned on Twitter this week that it was going to be Cornerback Week in both this column and Draftwatch. Lester's Monday column kicked things off and it gives me the perfect chance to both highlight some players who are hot in the draft process and talk about an important distinction dividing them. There are different types of CB's and very few have complete skills in all areas of their game. Thinking about what kind of corner your team needs is very important when looking at players in the draft. Fans want to see interceptions from corners like they want sacks from pass rushers. It's a highlight play in both cases and I understand it, but CB's in any system have a much larger set of responsibilities than just making picks. Often times players who are ballhawks are not terribly physical in other aspects of the game (supporting the run, opposing uncontested crossing routes, etc.). There are players who do both things well, but they are harder to find. For a much more in-depth breakdown of some of these differences, check out this great article from Joe Marino of draftbreakdown.com. He does a terrific comparison of the exact two players I was thinking of in this draft who highlight different styles of play at the cornerback position (spoiler alert: Hargreaves is more of a ballhawk and Alexander is a physical disruptor who creates less interceptions).
3.) A couple of weeks ago WCG user Marques de Sade made an excellent comment about the nature of draft value versus opportunity cost. His point was that just because a team has a glaring need does not automatically make filling that need a priority for the team's 1st round pick. This is an often overlooked, but critical component of the teambuilding process. An example for the Bears this offseason is their need for a high quality starter at right guard (RG). Many observers, including me, believe an addition to this position is essential for the progress and growth of Chicago's offense. So the Bears should draft an RG in round 1, right? No. Quality guards can be found in free agency and the lower rounds of the draft, just like running backs. However other positions (like the pass rushers I mentioned at the top of this article) are at a premium and will be off the board when guards are still available. So intelligence in balancing needs with availability and value is a paramount skill for successful General Managers to possess. Luckily for Bears fans Ryan Pace seems to have solid understanding of this concept.
4.) Take heart football fans, you are not the only ones fearing trips to the scale after your New Year's resolution. The kickoff of the draft season means weigh-ins begin in earnest and will continue until right before the draft takes place. Some players want more weight and some players need less. Regardless of their desires the scale doesn't care and that will bring an end to the big lie of the college football world: listed player weights and heights. Many players physical dimensions are "generously" listed by their schools. You know the drill: cornerbacks are magically 2-3 inches taller, converted safeties playing linebacker are 30 pounds heavier and nose tackles make their playing weights despite looking like 400 pound bowling balls on Saturdays. Those fantasy numbers start crashing to the ground now and won't stop until draft day. So toss your college programs from this fall and follow along with the real numbers as they come in so you can make informed decisions about draft prospects actual size rather than their fairy-tale ideal.
Player's Lounge- Every week I will look at a player who is trending in the draft process
As it is Cornerback Week in my draft columns I'll take a look at a lesser known player here and leave a higher-ranked prospect for my Draftwatch column on Thursday. Mike (don't call him "Michael") Jordan is a solidly-built corner (6' 3/4", 200 pounds) from tiny Missouri Western State University. His play on the field however, is anything but small. He has an aggressive break on the ball that turned a lot of heads at the East West Shrine game. He uses his size well and is not afraid to mix it up with receivers. His physical gifts combined with his willingness to use them led to 16 interceptions and 42 pass breakups during his college career. It can be argued that his production came against small-school talent, but you can just as easily turn that argument around and say that he produced results in the Shrine Game practices against WR's from schools like Stanford and Illinois. Jordan will be an interesting player to follow in the middle rounds of the draft, especially if he tests well at the Combine (I think he will). Given Vic Fangio's preference for larger, physical CB's, Jordan makes tempting theoretical target at this point.
Reader Question of the Week - I'll pick a question from a reader each week and answer it here. If you have a question you'd like to be considered you can either leave it in the comments section below, or send it to me directly on Twitter (@thedraftsmanFB) with the hashtag #askEJ.
This week's question came from Ken Mitchell (via Twitter) who simply asked: "I would like your thoughts on Kentrell Brothers." Brothers is a redshirt senior linebacker at Missouri who was wildly productive playing against SEC competition. By "wildly productive" I mean he finished the year with 42(!) more tackles than the next closest LB in the SEC. With how crazy everybody is about the overall talent level in the SEC (for very good reason), let that stat sink in for a minute. While it's impossible to argue that he produces results, stats can be misleading in any system. So what else is there to his game when you take a closer look? As always my comments for this section aren't based on fully completed study, but rather a quick basic scan of game tape.
Brothers isn't as tall as some teams would like but he is (confirmed by measurement) over 6' tall, so he's not crazy short. He makes up for some of that by packing a lot of mass onto his frame. At 249 pounds he can definitely deliver a solid strike to opposing ballcarriers, and as his stats indicate he does so fairly often. On tape you see an immensely strong player who is very aware, reads his keys on a play quickly and locates the ball every time. He's adept at taking on blockers and doesn't try to get cute when he does. Brothers is a force against the run. His pursuit is solid and effective. When he reaches the target they usually stop right where they are. He has good balance and fairly quick feet but he is not overly fast. He plays in actively in space (zone coverage) against the pass and is more effective in that role than I thought he'd be. While not fast enough to cover crossing slot receivers he is more than capable against TE's with a good jam off the line.
He has a few weaknesses at first glance:
- Can be locked up by a single blocker when he doesn't initiate contact
- Occasionally takes a poor angle and has trouble recovering due to lack of top speed
- Offers very little as a pass blitzer
If Kentrell slips due to a poor showing at the combine, I would be very interested in the Bears spending a middle round pick on him. He's intelligent, productive and a much better sideline-to-sideline player than I thought he might be; even against the pass. I think he compares very favorably to Chris Borland. As a plus, Brothers does not have Borland's injury history nor is he as weak against the pass as Chris was. Given the chance Kentrell would likely produce at similarly high levels in Vic Fangio's scheme. With Chicago's obvious need for inside linebacking talent passing on Brothers (if he slips) would be a huge mistake.