Monday, April 30, 2012
Where NFL draft predictions went wrong
By Mike Sando
Months of mocks and related analysis did not adequately prepare us for a half-dozen selections in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft.
NFC West teams made two of those surprise selections: Bruce Irvin to the Seattle Seahawks and A.J. Jenkins to the San Francisco 49ers. I've listed four others in the chart below after consulting with our other seven divisional bloggers.
While it's possible the teams involved made poor decisions in some cases, accounting for the surprise factor, there's no question the rest of us could have done a better job anticipating. I'll set aside the Dallas Cowboys' selection of cornerback Morris Claiborne. We knew Dallas could take a corner, but there was little way we could know the Cowboys would trade into the sixth overall spot to make it happen.
But in breaking down the other surprise selections, we can hopefully avoid making similar mistakes in the future.
Jenkins and New York Giants first-round running back David Wilson fall into this category.
We knew the 49ers could target a receiver early. We figured running back would be a position for the Giants to address. We simply misidentified the players they were most likely to select.
I had projected Kendall Wright to San Francisco in a mock draft several weeks ago, but Tennessee selected him 20th overall, 10 spots before the 49ers selected. Stephen Hill and Rueben Randle, among others, were popular projections.
The knock on Jenkins was that he lacked sufficient physical strength. The 49ers are a very physical team. They have valued physical players. Josh Morgan was a physical wideout the team would have retained if Washington hadn't made an over-the-top contract offer.
In retrospect, however, perhaps we should have more closely considered the receivers San Francisco did sign this offseason. Mario Manningham has never been known as a physical player. Ted Ginn Jr. is not physical at all.
The 49ers now have drafted two wide receivers under coach Jim Harbaugh. Ronald Johnson, a sixth-round pick in 2011, was the one before Jenkins. Lack of physical strength was a knock on Johnson coming out of college.
So far, the 49ers have done a very good job evaluating personnel at just about every position, but receiver has been an exception. Perhaps that changes with Jenkins.
For the Giants, Doug Martin was the running back projected as a first-round candidate somewhat regularly. Tampa Bay drafted Martin at No. 31, one spot ahead of where the Giants were picking. That gave this draft three first-round backs, one more than was typically projected.
Irvin and Chicago Bears first-round defensive end Shea McClellin fall into this category.
We could put Irvin in the mistaken identity category as well because the Seahawks' need for a pass-rusher was well-established. But the projections commonly assumed Seattle would be looking for a more traditional defensive end, one big enough to hold up against the run.
In retrospect, we should have at least mentioned Irvin as a possibility.
Seattle gave run-stuffing defensive end Red Bryant a $35 million contract this offseason. Bryant is going to start and play early downs for the next few seasons. That meant the Seahawks were in the market more for a player in the "Leo" role filled by leading sacker Chris Clemons.
Irvin is that type of player. The other defensive ends commonly associated with Seattle before the draft were not "Leo" types. They would have projected as eventual starters on the other side, where Bryant appears entrenched.
What the Seahawks needed, from their perspective, was a pure pass-rusher to play a situational role similar to the one Aldon Smith played with San Francisco last season. That player, Irvin, would project as the eventual replacement for Clemons, most likely.
Syracuse's Chandler Jones, a common projection for Seattle in the days before the draft, could have fit that profile. Concerns over a toe injury probably hurt his stock.
In Chicago, meanwhile, the Bears' need for a defensive end was no secret. However, most projections seemed to suggest McClellin would make more sense as a 3-4 outside linebacker, perhaps in Green Bay. In retrospect, however, Bears assistant Rod Marinelli does tend to like smaller defensive ends. Perhaps McClellin should have been considered more strongly as a candidate for Chicago.
Positional evaluation error
I'd throw Stanford guard David DeCastro into this category.
The assumption heading into the draft was DeCastro would not be available when the Pittsburgh Steelers selected with the 24th overall choice. As a result, DeCastro wasn't commonly linked to Pittsburgh before the draft.
But as we discussed on the blog a while back, teams had taken only five pure guards among the top 17 overall selections since 1995. Only one had gone higher than 17th since 1998.
Guards have made significant gains in financial compensation over the years. However, teams still value other positions at a much higher level. Guard was a common projection for San Francisco at No. 30, but the 49ers did not select one until the fourth round.
There's a tendency to criticize teams for making decisions we did not see coming.
That is self-serving.
I'd rather take a closer look at the surprises and find out where the rest of us went wrong.