NFC North: 2010 NFL Draft


US PresswireWhich defensive tackle would produce greater gains for the Lions: Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy or Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh?
It's difficult to find a mock draft these days that doesn't pair Detroit with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. And amid the paradox and hedging that defines media draft analysis, it's commonplace to see Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy ranked above Suh as a pure prospect.

(Mock draft evidence here, here and here. Ranking reversal at Scouts Inc., NFL.com, and Pro Football Weekly. ESPN's Mel Kiper is one of the few Suh supporters in both categories.)

"You could flip a coin on these two," Kiper said last week. But with Detroit poised to choose between them with the No. 2 overall pick, the important question is this: Can you? Are McCoy and Suh truly interchangeable prospects? Or will we look back one day and scrutinize the decision the way draft historians have broken down the 1998 choice between quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Ryan Leaf?

To be sure, Suh-McCoy is not nearly as dramatic as Manning-Leaf. Defensive tackles don't impact a game the way quarterbacks do, and Leaf represented an extreme case of draft flameout.

But for the first time in 34 years, we're expecting two defensive tackles to be among the first five picks of an NFL draft. Usually we're discussing whether there are any tackles worthy of that honor, let alone trying to draw distinctions between two.

That dynamic, along with conventional draft history, suggests it would be a folly to be believe both players will have comparable careers. I couldn't find a suitable metric for determining draft success, but I can tell you many NFL personnel men follow a general principle espoused by Chicago general manager Jerry Angelo this week. "Half of the first round won't play to expectations," Angelo said.

Those who fall short of expectations aren't necessarily busts. The high threshold for first-round picks, let alone those taken in the top 5, is hard to meet. Historically speaking, there is a right and wrong -- or, at least, less right -- decision to be made here.

We've had so many discussions about whether the Lions should consider a left tackle at No. 2 overall that I think we've failed to give enough consideration the more likely scenario: Choosing between Suh and McCoy. How should the Lions make that choice?

I don't know if any of us can answer that with certainty using present-day facts. What we can do, however, is offer the parameters the Lions are surely considering in their analysis.

Production

Many scouts will tell you they prefer to have seen a player produce in games rather than assume what they might do in the NFL. By that measure, Suh's production outweighed McCoy's from every measurable vantage point.

Most of you already know the basics: McCoy had 14 sacks in his college career. Suh managed 12 last season. But the charts to your right, compiled by ESPN's Stats & Information, more fully illustrate Suh's tangible production in each player's final college season.

As you can see, Suh managed 88 impact plays -- sacks, tackles for losses, quarterback hurries and deflections/interceptions -- last season to McCoy's 46.5. Suh was also more effective on third downs. It's true that Suh played one additional game, but the ratio is still 2-1 when you consider it from the perspective of impact plays per snap. The same is true when you measure Suh's performance against double teams relative to McCoy.

The numbers alone shouldn't account for a choice between the two, but you would be hard-pressed to find a scout that doesn't place premium value on demonstrated college production. Asked about the statistical discrepancy at the combine, McCoy said his job at Oklahoma was to be a "disruptor" and "make sure [the ball] doesn't get past the line of scrimmage." In that assignment, McCoy implied, it was more important to re-direct the ball carrier than it was to make the tackle itself.

Which brings us to ...

Scheme

Another paradox of the Suh-McCoy debate is that Suh played in a "two-gap" system at Nebraska while McCoy was in a "one-gap" scheme at Oklahoma. For those who don't know what that means: The number corresponds to how many lanes between offensive linemen the defensive lineman is responsible for.

The conventional expectation for a two-gapping defensive tackle is that he will clog the line and allow linebackers to jump in and make a play. A one-gap defensive tackle typically has more freedom to get into the backfield and make a play because he has only one direction to worry about.

If anything, given those parameters, you would have expected McCoy to compile better numbers. But Suh's production advantage means the Lions will have to make schematic projections on both players.

In McCoy's case, they'll have to determine why Suh was more productive in a less aggressive scheme. For Suh, the Lions will have to project if he would be equally as effective as a penetrator as he was in holding up the line of scrimmage and finding the ball.

The Lions, it should be noted, run a scheme closer to Oklahoma's than Nebraska's. They will ask Suh or McCoy to be aggressive and get into the backfield with one-gap responsibility.

Although I doubt he would admit otherwise, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said last month that either player would fit their scheme.

"That's not what those players are," Schwartz said. "That's what they were asked to do. They're very similar in their skill set. I think both of them -- if you took Suh to Oklahoma and McCoy to Nebraska -- I think they'd both excel in the other person's defense. When you are drafting at the top of the draft, you're looking for guys who aren't just a creation of the scheme. You're looking for guys who have multidimensional skills that can do a lot of those different things.

"Both guys are big. They're fast. They have high character and both are productive at a high level of competition. There's a lot to like with both of them."

But with projections required for both players, scheme clues don't help clarify the issue.

Background

There are no obvious red flags for either player, but you consider every background blip when drafting as high as No. 2. Suh's medical report has drawn some scrutiny because of two knee injuries, including a torn meniscus that required him to redshirt his freshman year.

McCoy, meanwhile, produced a disappointing 23 repetitions on the bench press at the scouting combine and hasn't made another attempt to increase that total. Is a low bench-press total a reason to pass over someone in the draft? Not necessarily, but it's certainly worth further investigation to ensure McCoy is entering the NFL with the strength necessary to take on 320-pound guards and centers.

As Schwartz noted, both players have excellent character reputations. If you haven't already, make sure you check out ESPN.com profiles of McCoy and Suh. For what it's worth, McCoy was president of Oklahoma's chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

What to do?

There are no obvious hints of a potential bust from either player, but expectations for a No. 2 pick extend much higher than that. Like any other team in their position, the Lions need dominance -- not just production -- from this pick.

If you're basing it on past performance, Suh would be the choice. If you want to take it deeper, it gets more complicated. And that's where we are now. Nine days. And counting.

video

Clausen's scheme advantage

April, 9, 2010
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In researching this week's post on Minnesota's dilemma at quarterback, I reached out to Steve Muench of Scouts Inc. Steve went over a number of the top draft prospects, and his evaluation of Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen was telling.

"Maybe his top attribute," Muench said, "is that he played in a pro-style offense."

It wasn't so much a shot as it was an acknowledgment that Clausen will enter the NFL with far more experience than some of his contemporaries in operating the type of scheme he must master before getting on the field. That background is becoming increasingly rare as more college teams move to a version of the spread offense.

At Notre Dame, Clausen played in a pseudo-West Coast scheme under former coach Charlie Weis. The Vikings are among many NFL teams that run a similar style.

Teams looking to get a first-round quarterback on the field within a year or two will without question take that background into consideration. Perhaps that's why Clausen's private throwing session, scheduled for Friday in South Bend, Ind., hasn't drawn the attention of some other high-profile quarterbacks. His game tape probably gives a much more accurate depiction of his NFL aptitude, one way or the other.

ESPN's Stats & Information put together some numbers that illustrate the dichotomy of Clausen's background compared to that of some other top prospects. In the chart to your right, you see Clausen's 2009 breakdown in throwing from the shotgun and when he lined up under center.

While more than half of his throws came from the shotgun, the figures are still much more balanced than those of Oklahoma's Sam Bradford, Texas' Colt McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow. Here are the total number of passes each of those quarterbacks threw last season after lining up behind center, according to the same research:

McCoy: 12 (5-for-12, 27 yards)
Bradford: 1 (0-1)
Tebow: 1 (1-1, 16 yards)

It's not as if Bradford, McCoy and Tebow won't be able to make the adjustment to a more traditional dropback passing. But it is a different perspective and takes time to re-acquaint with after a college career in the spread system. That's why the focus of Clausen's throwing session will be to test his healing toe more than it will be to judge his ability to throw NFL-style passes.



Jimmy Clausen will work out for scouts at Notre Dame's pro day
Clausen/McCoyUS PresswireQuarterbacks Jimmy Clausen and Colt McCoy are two options the Vikings could consider to be the long-term replacement for Brett Favre.
I posed the question before FavreWatch II started. We started discussing it prior to the Donovan McNabb trade saga, one that Minnesota ultimately sat out. And now we're approaching, one way or another, the exciting conclusion.

The Vikings have staked their 2010 season on the hope that a 40-year-old quarterback (and new grandfather) will give them one more year at the position. But no matter what Brett Favre decides, the Vikings will still have the same long-term hole at the most important position in sports. Now seems a perfect time to identify their quarterback of the future, give him at least one year's cushion on the bench, and close a 20-year gap in their team-building process.

But when you cross-reference the Vikings' draft position with the list of elite prospects, you have to wonder if a realistic pairing exists. Only two quarterbacks are considered sure-fire first-round material, and both Sam Bradford (Oklahoma) and Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame) should be off the board by the time Minnesota picks at No. 30 overall. That leaves the Vikings to determine whether they should trade up for Clausen or if Colt McCoy (Texas) is worthy of their top pick.

Among media analysts, at least, there is significant debate on the latter issue. ESPN's Mel Kiper ranks McCoy as the No. 21 overall prospect in the draft, while Scouts Inc. gave him a third-round grade. Vikings vice president Rick Spielman attended Texas' pro day, but to my knowledge coach Brad Childress did not. If there were substantive interest there, you would think an offensive-minded head coach who prefers the West Coast scheme would be heavily involved.

To me, it appears the Vikings are caught in no-man's land for this year's quarterback class. They would have to expend dramatic firepower to grab Clausen and McCoy might not be worthy of a No. 1 pick. Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench said McCoy could make sense with the Vikings' second-round pick, the No. 62 overall. But in today's quarterback-obsessed climate, a late-second round pick is hardly considered a likely long-term starter.

Meanwhile, the list behind McCoy -- Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan), Tony Pike (Cincinnati) and Tim Tebow (Florida) -- all have their deficiencies as well.

"It's a bad quarterback class this year as far as the top guys go," Muench said. "Keeping that in mind, they might be better served waiting. ... We think McCoy is great in terms of leadership and presence, but I have my concerns about him ever developing into a starting quarterback on an NFL level. He does not have a very strong arm and he's 6-foot-1. That's an issue when you're talking about pro-style offenses."

Speaking earlier this offseason, Childress said he would prefer long-term certainty at the position. "No question," he said. But Childress also made clear he didn't want to force a decision based on potential future need.

"You don't want a round peg in a square hole," he said, noting the unpredictability of availability at the No. 30 spot.

Spielman didn't sound much more optimistic while speaking to reporters at the scouting combine. Referring to the quarterback class in general, he said: "I don't know if it's as heavy at the top as it has been, but there may be some value as you go down through the rounds."

(Read full post)

Video: On The Clock -- Vikings

March, 17, 2010
3/17/10
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Mike Tirico, Mel Kiper Jr., Trent Dilfer and Chris Mortensen discuss the Vikings' biggest needs in the upcoming NFL draft.

2010 NFL draft order

February, 26, 2010
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Chicago now knows the exact value of the first round pick it gave Denver for Jay Cutler.

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