Draft Review: Four More Teams

Today’s draft review looks at Buffalo, Oakland, Tennessee, and Carolina. By sheer coincidence, these writeups are in decreasing order of volume.

Buffalo Bills

I like that they traded down to get their guy– not so far they risked losing him, but enough to recoup some value. The old Bills would have reached. I’m glad they stuck to their guns on the guy they liked, too. I saw this pick chided by people who don’t know better calling it a “reach”. This demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the draft really works along with underestimating the value of a franchise QB.

I like that Doug Marrone said E.J. Manuel’s workout in bad weather really swayed him. We find this easy to forget when discussing statistics, but more than any other sport, NFL games are played in highly variable conditions, and where you play your home games has to have a significant effect on how you build your team. Teams who play in domes often build around speed because a speed advantage is maximized on turf. Similarly, the Bills need a quarterback who can make the throws in the typical Buffalo winter weather. The playoffs take place in January, after all.

The thing I hear most about Manuel is “blank slate”. He’s appealing because he’s done a little bit of everything and hasn’t learned any bad habits which will have to be unlearned. I think he has a real chance to succeed– not that it’ll take much to become the best Bills QB since Jim Kelly.

Quick quiz: The top three career passing leaders for the Bills are Kelly, Joe Ferguson (1973-84), and Jack Kemp (1962-9). Who are the next three? If you guessed Ryan Fitzpatrick, Drew Bledsoe, and Doug Flutie, congratulations! It’s bad news when your best QBs of the last 15 years are all guys who are famous for coming from elsewhere (Harvard, New England, the CFL). In fact, I just realized all three of these guys came from Boston. That’s got to be galling for Bills fans.

I like the Robert Woods pick– I think he’s one of those guys, like DeAndre Hopkins, who can contribute right away. I think his draft stock fell for production reasons that largely weren’t his fault– namely, Matt Barkley’s struggles and the emergence of Marqise Lee.

The more I watched Marquise Goodwin, both on tape and breaking down a play, the more I liked him. I’m becoming convinced his under-use at Texas was perhaps because his track offseasons left him less time to learn the entire playbook, or, simply, could have been a product of Mack Brown’s comically underachieving last few seasons.

I don’t have much of an opinion on Kiko Alonso, but some of our scouts here thought he was a significant reach. I don’t really understand why the team dumped Kelvin Sheppard– he had a promising rookie year in 2011 that saw some regression in 2012, but not nearly enough to swap him for a guy who has been a total failure as an edge rusher in both the 4-3 and 3-4 (Jerry Hughes).

Oakland Raiders

I think commenting on D.J. Hayden as a “reach” is futile. If he becomes a Revis-esque shutdown corner, then the pick is obviously not a reach. The Raiders must have believed in his ability to do so to take him so highly. He was a late riser, but that doesn’t make him a reach, considering the circumstances of his late rise. I’ve seen pundits claim he has medical red flags, which is technically true, but what happened to Hayden was an enormous fluke injury. A severed vena cava just doesn’t happen ordinarily while going through practice, and it’s not likely to recur, although the strongest evidence to that point is “95% of people who incur a severed vena cava die.”

If you believe the vena cava injury is such a fluke as to discount it in future projections of Hayden, then he’s worth the risk. If you think it might occur again, then you can’t draft him at all. There’s no such thing as a “reach” here, because the two sides of opinion on him are so wildly divergent. The Raiders obviously fell into the former category and believed at least one other team did as well.

I like the trade back and the fact that they just kept trying to add solid talent with good growth potential, as they have needs everywhere and are some ways away from being competitive. Tyler Wilson needs a lot of work, but the Raiders got a guy who’s already proven he will keep his composure and keep fighting through adversity (even if it didn’t really help– seriously, how bad must John L. Smith be as a coach?). He may not be enough to warrant passing on a QB next year if the Raiders again find themselves near the top of the draft, but I think he can be a capable NFL QB someday.

Tennessee Titans

The surest sign Jake Locker’s job is on the line: The trade to get Justin Hunter, which gives the team three top-35 picks at wide receiver since 2010. If Kenny Britt plays the full season at full strength (which has so many contingencies as to be a truly glorious “if”), Locker has no excuse for another subpar season.

The surest sign GM Ruston Webster’s job is on the line: The willingness to trade next year’s third-round pick for Hunter. If I were an owner and my GM was on the hot seat, I would veto any attempt to trade future picks. The moral hazard bears repeating: “If this doesn’t work out, I’ll be fired anyway, so I don’t have to deal with the lost pick.”

But Webster’s success is tied to Locker’s, and he’s got to give his quarterback every chance possible to succeed. I think Justin Hunter’s upside is incredible, although he may have to finish rounding back into form after a shaky year at Tennessee– Hunter looked like a guy who wasn’t fully confident in his knee yet.

I mostly like the rest of the prospects the Titans drafted. However, my opinion of Locker is well-expressed and hasn’t changed.

Carolina Panthers

I like the move to double up at defensive tackle. One would have been fine, but the Panthers instantly upgraded one of their weakest units and got good value in doing so. Star Lotulelei was a steal at 14, and I like Kawann Short at 41. Plus, they’re distinct types of DTs: Lotulelei is the all-around force who collapses the pocket and plays the run equally as well; Short is the knife, the upfield penetrator who goes for the big plays in the backfield. Think, maybe, Haloti Ngata and John Randle, respectively.

They didn’t address the defensive backfield or the receiving crew, but I’m a believer that you don’t draft for need: You get the best players possible on days one and two, and on day three you start filling out your roster with high-upside picks or players who can immediately contribute on special teams. In that sense, I like what the Panthers did– their day two consists of a small-school project at guard and a linebacker and running back who will probably play special teams this year but have enough talent to be more valuable down the line.

3 comments on Draft Review: Four More Teams

  1. You’re the only one I’ve seen with this take on E.J. Manuel … and I totally agree. I think he’s the QB prospect who makes most sense for the Bills. Aside from the inclement weather concerns you point out, he makes sense from a risk / reward perspective. Guys like Barkley, Nassib, and Wilson could be effective game manager-types with great defenses and weapons around them. Buffalo is not that team. They need a star. Manuel is a big risk, but at least his upside if he does work out can get you to the next level. What’s Ryan Nassib going to do for them, lead them to a bunch of 9-7 seasons?

    Re: the Hughes / Sheppard swap – Buffalo likes to switch between a 3-4 and a 4-3 every three or four seasons or so, you know, just as they’re getting all the pieces in place to run a front. Sure, they spent $96 MM on Mario Williams last season, but why should a brand new defensive coordinator change his system just because none of his personnel makes any sense in it?

    Like your take on D.J. Hayden, too. I really like what Reggie McKenzie has done in Oakland. If there’s any justice he’ll get a chance to see this rebuild through. He’s still cleaning up his predecessor(s)’ mess – the Raiders are carrying, seriously, $46 MM in dead money this season.

    1. Thanks for the words, Dave. I’m really surprised that analysis of the Manuel pick has been so shallow. But then, most columnists and pundits don’t really do a lot of in-depth research on prospects or make their own evaluations.

      I didn’t realize Oakland was still carrying THAT much dead money. I assume when Al Davis died, Mark Davis and the rest of the braintrust knew this would be a long-term rebuilding project. I’d expect McKenzie to be pretty safe at least through 2014.

      One thing I didn’t mention in the post is the rumor that the Raiders were strongly considering taking Hayden at 3 if they couldn’t trade down. Obviously they think he’ll be a star, in which case, his draft position is more than justifiable.

      1. Most of Oakland’s dead money is guys they just got rid of – Seymour, Palmer, McClain, Kelly, Heyward-Bey – but obviously those guys weren’t going to be part of the next great Raider team. So much cleanup to do there. I’d like to think you’re right regarding McKenzie’s job security, but the natives are getting a bit restless out here, and obviously 2013 isn’t going to see much on the field.

        Cosell, Mayock, and Farrar all had Hayden as their #1 corner, though others had him as a second-rounder. I think your take here is right – either he’s off your board, or you have to totally discount the heart thing. Obviously Oakland did the latter.

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