AFC South: NFL draft 2010

I'm not going to lie to you. I misunderstood a Saturday assignment and initially, instead of filling these categories with just one selection for the whole division, I did one per team.

And so, after another run through, I present to you a broader look at the AFC South's drafting.

Houston Texans

Best move: The Colts didn't touch their their return man issues until taking cornerback Ray Fisher in the seventh round. The Titans convinced themselves they can get both receiver and return contributions from Damian Williams and Marc Mariani. But the Texans, already more threatening when fielding kicks and punts, jumped at Trindon Holliday from LSU in the sixth-round. He’s tiny at 5-5 and 169 pounds, but he could earn a few touches on offense and is the sort of special teams player the rest of the AFC South could wind up chasing all over the field.

Riskiest move: A lot of people expected them to take running back Toby Gerhart in the second round, but they made two trades to drop down eight slots and went with Auburn’s Ben Tate instead. Those two will likely be measured against each other for a good while and the Texans really need to have nailed it.

Most surprising move: See earlier post.

File it away: Fourth-rounder Garrett Graham out of Wisconsin and seventh-rounder Dorin Dickerson out of Pitt could be part insurance plan, part plan for 2011 and beyond. Owen Daniels is a world-class pass catcher. But he’s coming off his third ACL tear and is a restricted free agent seeking a big contract. They drafted a blocking tight end last year in Anthony Hill and a receiving tight end in James Casey and still took two in nine picks in this draft.

Indianapolis Colts

Best move: See earlier post.

Riskiest move: Bill Polian didn’t fare real well with two recent second-round picks on the offensive line (Tony Ugoh, Mike Pollak), so he went back to what’s worked better. The Colts took Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon in the fourth round (No. 129), where they’ve landed Ryan Diem and Jake Scott a little deeper in the team’s past. He didn’t register on some other teams’ radar at the same level. Polian said it was a weak tackle group after the top guys.

Most surprising move: Many probably didn’t list tight end as any sort of need considering the team has Dallas Clark, Gijon Robinson, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi on the roster. But Robinson’s not been as consistent a help in run blocking as they need and Santi’s been hurt too much. Enter fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge from Oklahoma, who’s 6-foot-5 and 261 pounds. I love this pick and the thinking behind it.

File it away: Polian opened the door, at least a little, for cornerback Jerraud Powers to be involved in the return games. Polian said a return specialist was a luxury they’re not convinced was necessary and one they won’t lose sleep over missing out on. But are they pushing it asking Peyton Manning to drive the offense so far so often? Fisher might be a big piece in the equation now too.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Best move: I like the trade for Oakland linebacker Kirk Morrison, a tackling machine. He may not be super-sturdy against the run, but with the Jags’ emphasis on defensive tackles he should get some room to work. Morrison has a reputation as a good guy and a good leader, and the Jaguars are trying to fill their locker room with both.

Riskiest move: See earlier post.

Most surprising move: A second defensive tackle in the second round. D’Anthony Smith came on the heels of No. 10 pick Tyson Alualu and last year’s third-rounder Terrance Knighton. Gene Smith is a foundation builder with a deep pool of defensive tackles and the picks meant the Jaguars parted with John Henderson on Monday.

File it away: Gene Smith’s getting hit for not trading down in the first or third round before grabbing Alualu or Smith, but he was a capable trader. He got a fifth-rounder from Oakland recently for failed second-round end Quentin Groves and pulled off a trade with the Raiders for Morrison during the fourth round.

Tennessee Titans

Best move: See earlier post.

Riskiest move: Not taking a corner before the fourth round and 103rd pick. Alterraun Verner sounds like a good prospect, but he’ll be part of a five-person competition for the starting job opposite Cortland Finnegan. There is some safety in numbers. There is a bit more safety in having a clear-cut front runner for such a crucial spot.

Most surprising move: I thought they’d take a quarterback in the middle or late rounds. I didn’t expect it would be Florida Atlantic’s first draftee, Rusty Smith. Mike Heimerdinger will have a chance to develop a guy they’ve characterized as a true pocket passer, and may be lining themselves up with an alternative if Vince Young doesn’t pass the final audition of his rookie contract this season.

File it away: See earlier post.

Second round of calls a smart idea

April, 27, 2010
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While poking around for a little contact on LeGarrette Blount, I came across this very interesting item from Phil Barber.

He said that Mike Singletary makes another round of phone calls after the draft to get a new layer of information on the 49ers picks.
"You expect coaches to speak to the people surrounding potential picks -- coaches, teammates, family members -- before the draft. They call it due diligence. But guess how Singletary spent [Sunday] and [Monday]. Calling those same people to ask what he can do to get his new draft picks, and even undrafted free agents, ready to succeed at the NFL level.

"Singletary made the point that the coaches and moms, etc., have a vested interest in telling you how great a kid is before draft day. After his destination is sealed, that's when they can really help you figure out the athlete's needs and motivations. I talked to the coach for five minutes and wound up with an NFL education."

I’ve never heard of that before, and perhaps others use a similar tactic. I think it’s an excellent idea and I think the people fielding those calls have to be impressed that they are hearing from a head coach in that time frame.

If it's not a part of their routine, other coaches should consider adding it.

Scouts Inc. draft rankings

April, 26, 2010
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We’re not big fans of post draft grades over here, but it is nice to see some structured opinion on how teams did.

Scouts. Inc. and ESPN’s Stats & Information came up with this attempt measuring how teams did, factoring in value based on prospect rankings, needs (to a lesser degree) and trades. Here’s how the formula works.

It’s a highly sensitive file -- so only Insiders can see it all, but you can see the AFC South results here because I am such a maverick. You won’t like them.

  • 19th – Houston
  • 26th –Tennessee
  • 31st -- Colts
  • 32nd -- Jaguars

As you might imagine, that doesn’t leave the division in very good standing compared to the others in the NFL. Here are divisional averages:

  • AFC North – 9.75
  • AFC East – 10.25
  • NFC West – 11.75
  • NFC East – 13.75
  • NFC South – 15.75
  • NFC North – 17
  • AFC West – 24.75
  • AFC South -- 27
Quality reads

Rick Gosselin’s draft recap.

Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders fame breaks down the AFC South drafts.

Chris Harry also sorts through the division.

Houston Texans

Word around the league is that the Texans' draft class is one of the best, says Jerome Solomon.

Some veterans who may not have thought they were fighting for playing time or roster spots were put on notice this weekend, says Richard Justice.

Thoughts on every Texans pick from Lance Zierlein.

Indianapolis Colts

Javarris James, a University of Miami (Fla.) running back nicknamed "Baby J'' by Edgerrin James, was one of several collegiate free agents who agreed to contract terms with the team, writes Mike Chappell.

Bill Polian thought the draft was thin at offensive tackle after the first round, writes John Oehser.

What this draft told Nate Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Vito Stellino looks at Tyson Alualu’s rise up draft boards.

Alualu is going to make Gene Smith famous, writes Vic Ketchman of jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

Bud Adams thinks Jeff Fisher and Mike Reinfeldt know they’ve made some big mistakes, writes Joe Biddle.

Stafon Johnson’s throat injury adds to his motivation, writes Jim Wyatt.

Bruce Matthews’ son, Kevin, is one of the Titans' undrafted rookies.

On congratulatory phone calls

April, 26, 2010
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We’re not going to have verdicts on Jacksonville first-rounder Tyson Alualu or Tennessee fourth-round choice Alterraun Verner.

But each pick helped produce a familiar draft-day phenomenon: the complimentary phone call from the competition.

Never mind that competitive teams don’t flip the off switch in the offseason and spend most of March and April trying to make sure they don’t put out any scent 31 other teams might be able to track.

In the heat of the moment, after losing out on guys they like, other teams picked up the phone to tell the Jaguars and the Titans, “nice pick.”

This from Jaguars director of player personnel Terry McDonough:

"We got calls from Denver and Miami and they were raving about the pick.”

And here’s Titans coach Jeff Fisher on Saturday:

“Just to qualify things, I got a call from a club immediately after we took [Verner] that said congratulations, that was our guy sort of thing. It went well for us.”

Maybe I’m being overly cynical -- but hey, it’s what I do.

I suspect there’s some embellishing going on in cases like this. I suspect it’s part of NFL scouting and coaching draft-day defense mechanism to mention another team being complimentary when you know a pick may be scrutinized a little extra because he's outside the box.

I’d expound on this, but I need to go find the guys that write Shutdown Corner over at Yahoo! and tell them how wonderful I thought their draft work was.

Your chance to grade, predict

April, 25, 2010
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Wanna be heard? SportsNation would love to hear from you.

Grade your team’s draft here.

And predict which first-rounders you think will bust here.
When the draft was over, Jaguars GM Gene Smith discussed the roles and niches he sees for several picks.

Running back Deji Karim will be in the mix for kickoff returns and work initially as a “specialty halfback.”

“A third-down type that can catch the ball and do things, screens, draws, slot receiver, getting the ball in space,” Smith said. “...You have a feature back then you have a companion back which is No. 2, and then you have a specialty halfback which is No. 3, so that’s what he is.” At least at the start. Smith thinks Karim is a little like Darren Sproles.

Jacksonville loves Karim and returner Scotty McGee for their “explosive, playmaking speed,” Smith said.

Well before they got to Karim and McGee in the sixth round, the Jaguars restocked their defensive line.

The Jaguars’ objective wasn’t to go in and get four defensive linemen, but they saw value in them.

Smith spelled out his projections for fifth-rounders Larry Hart and Austen Lane. Kane is more of a left end, while Hart is more of a right end who can work as a designated pass-rusher. That DPR has been difficult to fill for Jacksonville.

“I think this guy is better than all those guys [who’ve failed], myself,” said Smith, who compares Hart to Robert Mathis.
Some thoughts from Colts president Bill Polian on his final three picks in the draft and the Colts’ expectations for late-rounders and free agents.

On seventh-round defensive end Ricardo Mathews: “He is a power defensive end. He can also move inside and rush in the forefront. He is a real physical, hard-nosed tough football player. We like everything about him in that role. We think some of the things we are going to do on defense this year, we’ll have a specialized role for him and we feel really good about it.”

On seventh-round linebacker Kavell Conner: "He is very smart and very tuned in. He can fly around and run and hit guys, which is typical of the kind of linebackers that we like. He is very similar to Clint Session. Very similar."

On seventh-round cornerback Ray Fisher: "He is a kick and punt returner as well as a very good corner. He played obviously at a high level of competition and had a lot of success in the return game. We felt he was a dual-purpose guy, and a guy that could very likely make our team and contribute in a lot of ways as a ‘gunner’ on special teams and things of that nature, in addition to the return game.”

On success with late picks and undrafted rookies: "We, more than anybody, the statistics show we have more second-day draft choices and collegiate free agents who play critical roles for us than any team in the National Football League. In a salary cap environment, which I hope we’ll be going back to in a year, you have to do that. If you have highly paid stars that you keep, which we do, then you have to do that."

The Texans review their draft

April, 25, 2010
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Some post-draft notes from the Texans:

    [+] Enlarge Ben Tate
    John Reed/US PresswireThe Texans used the 58th overall choice on Ben Tate, the highest pick used on a tailback in team history.
  • Ben Tate, chosen 58th overall, was the highest pick in team history used on a running back. The previous high was in 2005 when Houston picked RB Vernand Morency out of Oklahoma State in the third round with the 73rd overall pick. Tate became the sixth running back drafted by the Texans.
  • Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison was asked about Tate’s patience and vision as a runner: “His skills as a runner are good. He was asked to be in a spread formation, which is a little bit different from what we’re going to ask. Most of the tight zones will be similar to him because that’s all you can really do from the spread gun. The wide zones will take a little bit of an adjustment with his running skill I think. With time and working, I think we’ll be in good shape.”
  • Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell, Houston’s third-round draft choice (81st overall), grew up in Galena Park outside of Houston and went to North Shore High School. Mitchell is the 12th Texans draft pick who grew up in Texas and the sixth since head coach Gary Kubiak was hired in 2006. Three players from 2009 had Texas roots: James Casey, Anthony Hill and Brice McCain.
  • Guard Shelley Smith, the first of two sixth-round picks (187th overall), played collegiately at Colorado State. Smith becomes the fifth former Ram on the Texans roster, joining receiver David Anderson, guard Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and defensive end Jesse Nading.
  • Kubiak on seventh-rounder Dorin Dickerson: “He’s got 43 1/2-inch vertical and he runs a 4.5 so he’s got a chance to be a big receiver, and we’re going to line him up behind Andre [Johnson] and he’s going to learn from the best. We’ve got a long way to come with him, but he’s going to be a great project for us.”
  • Kubiak on the health of his tight ends: “Owen [Daniels] will be coming back and he is ahead of schedule from what I understand in his rehab process. He learned how to rehab that injury. I have a lot of confidence that he will be back and will be fine. Anthony Hill had knee surgery as well and Joel Dreessen had a couple of surgeries. We expect those guys to be back, but we also want to continue to get better and when there is an opportunity to improve your football team you figure out a way to get good football players out on the field. That’s our philosophy and that’s why we acquired the players that we have.”
  • Kubiak on plans for Trindon Holliday: “We think we have a returner that can change the field for us. As punt and kick returner we think he could do wonders for our football team. I think we could teach him the back position and certain wide out positions.”
  • GM Rick Smith on filling needs: “I think in a lot of respects we filled some needs. The way I approach the offseason, I don’t think you can always fill every need that you have and I think it’s unrealistic to think that you do. Because a lot of times you make mistakes if you try to reach or do something to fill every need. But I think we were successful at addressing the areas on our football team that we needed to improve and it is up to these guys to go out there and coach them up.”

Tracking undrafted additions

April, 25, 2010
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Curious about the undrafted rookies heading to your team?

Here are two excellent links that maintain running lists for the whole league: NFLDraftBible.com and NEPatriotsDraft.com.

Kiper's grades: Jags the worst

April, 25, 2010
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Mel Kiper’s draft grades are in. Insider

Here's my standard draft grade disclaimer. Yes, grades before a guy sets foot on an NFL practice field are a silly concept. Still, they are what a huge percentage of fans will be looking for Sunday. So here are my notes from Kiper's Insider file.

Texans

He calls first-round corner Kareem Jackson “a predictable, safe pick” and said Ben Tate looks even better as a value at 58 considering Minnesota traded up to take Toby Gerhart at 51. Sixth-rounder Trindon Holliday “could be the next Dante Hall.” Even seventh-rounder Dorin Dickerson “has promise at tight end if he can add strength.” (The Texans are going with him as a wide receiver to start.) “Nothing amazing, but plenty of promise.”

Kiper's grade: B

Titans

No end has the “polish and versatility” of Derrick Morgan and he fills the hole left by Kyle Vanden Bosch. He questions Damian Williams' speed, and while he likes Rennie Curran, he called him “a slight reach” in the third. And “between math whiz Alterraun Verner and Rhodes Scholar Myron Rolle, they'll have the smartest secondary in football if both stick.”

Kiper's grade: C+

Colts

He likes Jerry Hughes but thought Pat Angerer was a reach in Round 2 and “could have been around even at that No. 94 slot where Indy picked Kevin Thomas.” He rates Thomas a risk because of injury history. In general, nothing flashy. “But I'm never going to believe Bill Polian won't prove me wrong on at least one of these guys.”

Kiper's grade: C

Jaguars

Kiper calls GM Gene Smith’s second draft disappointing, starting with the over-valuing of Tyson Alualu at No. 10. “To take a guy you could conceivably get 15 to 25 slots later, you're cheating yourself not just out of sixth- and seventh-round guys, but potentially a late second- or third-rounder. You have to know not just the pick, but the relative value.” Of the Jags' six picks, only Alualu rated in Kiper’s Top 100.

Kiper's grade: D
Jeff Fisher didn’t love the line of questioning, but Marc Mariani had given him up.

The seventh-round receiver said it wasn't a Titans' scout or coach who notified him he'd been drafted by Tennessee, but Brandon Fisher, Jeff’s son, who he played with at Montana.

The Titans brought in safety and returner Tuff Harris as an undrafted free agent from Montana in 2008 and he played a bit that season.

Asked if we might see more of an Auburn presence as his daughter matriculates there, Fisher passed on the question.

Mariani will be in the mix along with second-round receiver Damian Williams and fourth-round cornerback Alterraun Verner.

“I’m not going to loan him a car,” Fisher said of his son’s pal, who he said the Titans scouts liked.

One Titans sidenote: GM Mike Reinfeldt said while a lot of good defenders remained available, “the offense got wiped out.” Still, the Titans headed into undrafted free agency seeking a running back and an interior offensive lineman.

Jags exec: Draft was for D-line

April, 24, 2010
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The Jaguars never planned on doing much offensively in the draft, according to director of player personnel Terry McDonough. That means they are really counting on a couple of last year’s crop of three receivers to blossom.

“I have the same feeling about this draft as I did about last year’s draft after the draft,” he said. “Obviously our defense we needed to get, up front, a lot more athletic, a lot more explosive. It’s no secret that last year we had 14 sacks, which was a league-low in the NFL, and we’re going to try to correct that. We took two very explosive defensive tackles with our first two picks, and then we followed it up with two defensive ends after that…

“Offensively coming into this draft we were pretty much set, maybe there were one or two positions. But defensively we knew up front on the defensive line we needed to get a lot of people that can really run and can get after the quarterback, so we feel like we did that.”

Jacksonville's drafted running back Deji Karim and kick returner Scotty McGee in the sixth round.
After talking about how he wouldn’t devote a pick to a guy who was primarily a returner, Bill Polian spent pick No. 246 at the end of the seventh round on Indiana corner Ray Fisher.

Surely the Colts expect he can play on defense, but he’s got a kick returner background and will certainly get in the mix there.

“I bring a lot of excitement,” Fisher said. “I know I can bring a lot of excitement to Indianapolis. I’m not saying they don’t have great players, but they haven’t had that big, impact kick returner, and I think I can bring that to the team.”

Texans TE heading to receiver

April, 24, 2010
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The Texans have spent four picks on tight ends in the past two drafts.

They got Anthony Hill and James Casey last year, and took two more Sunday -- Garrett Graham in the fourth and Dorin Dickerson in the seventh.

“I’m a versatile H-back,” Dickerson said. “I could line up in different positions. I could line up in the back field and I could line up at tight end. You’ll see me moving around a lot in special teams. Anything the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to do. I’m going to try to compete and win.”

He’s going to line up at wide receiver, Gary Kubiak said later.

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