Saturday, May 10, 2014
Inside Slant: NFL Draft Day 2 matches
By Kevin Seifert
Day 2 of the NFL draft is a wrap. As we did Thursday night with Day 1, I'd like to dig deeper into a handful of the 68 players selected in the second and third rounds. What matches made sense and which ones need further explanation? Let's take a look.
All data courtesy ESPN Stats & Information:
Last season, Oakland Raiders quarterbacks were under duress on 134 pass attempts, the fourth-highest total in the NFL. Their Total Quarterback Rating on those throws was 13.4, No. 26 in the league.
("Under duress" is defined as any play where a quarterback is forced from the pocket, forced to alter his throwing motion or forced to move within the pocket because of pressure. It also includes plays when the quarterback threw with a defender clear in his line of sight or when he was hit while throwing.)
The Raiders have since signed three new starters to their offensive line and are hoping for better pass protection in 2014 and beyond. They had better get it for quarterback Derek Carr, whom they selected at No. 36 overall.
Last season at Fresno State, Carr completed just 30.9 percent of his passes when under duress, the worst mark of any quarterback prospect in this draft. (For context, consider that Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater had the best at 53.4). Carr's completion percentage when in a protected pocket was 72 percent, and the difference in those figures fueled the perception that Carr lacks poise when under pressure -- a key measuring stick for NFL quarterbacks.
In 2013, the Atlanta Falcons allowed more rushing yards up the middle -- 907 -- than any defense in the NFL. They also sacked opposing quarterbacks or put them under duress on just 22.4 percent of dropbacks, the second-lowest percentage in the league.
So it made sense for them to target Minnesota's hulking defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, the No. 37 overall pick. Hageman is nearly 6 feet 6, weighs 310 pounds and is a beast as an interior lineman. Last season, he broke through for 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and batted down nine passes.
It's true that receiver Marqise Lee had the highest drop percentage in the country last season for USC, failing to secure 8.6 percent of the catchable passes thrown his way. But, overall, Lee was a highly reliable receiver during his career.
His quarterbacks completed 69.7 percent of the throws they targeted him on, connecting for 29 touchdowns and just one interception. Every time a ball was thrown in his direction, the Trojans averaged 10.3 yards gained.
More than anything, the Jacksonville Jaguars needed a receiver they could count on to make the routine catch. Last season, Jaguars quarterbacks had a league-worst 45.4 QBR on passes thrown to receivers. That included an average of 6.8 yards per target. Lee and the Jaguars were a good match at No. 39 overall.
BYU's Kyle Van Noy is a 243-pound pass-rushing linebacker who would seem ideal in a 3-4 defense. He recorded 35 pressures last season (hurries and knockdowns), more than all but four major college linebackers, and has a skill the Detroit Lions value heavily at No. 40 overall.
After all, the Lions had the fifth-lowest percentage of sacks per dropbacks (5.3) in the NFL last season. But the Lions appear set to remain in a 4-3 scheme under new coach Jim Caldwell, and typically the pass-rushers in that scheme play defensive end rather than linebacker.
Can the Lions tweak their scheme to get Van Noy consistent rushes as a 4-3 linebacker? Sure, it happens. Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David recorded seven sacks last season. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told reporters he didn't think the Lions were built to flip between a 4-3 and 3-4, but something will have to break from convention in order to turn Van Noy loose on the quarterback.
At first glance, it might be difficult to understand why the Cincinnati Bengals felt compelled to use a second-round pick on a running back for the second consecutive year. But LSU's Jeremy Hills, taken No. 55 overall, is a strong inside runner on a team that needs to improve in that area.
Last season, Hills averaged 7.9 yards per carry between the tackles, the highest figure in major college football. One in every five such attempts went for at least 10 yards. He also faced at least eight defenders in the box on 96 of 203 rushes last season. In those situations, he averaged 8.0 yards per rush (also a national high) and scored 15 touchdowns.
Neither Giovani Bernard (3.8 yards per carry) nor BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3.5) excelled in that area last season for the Bengals. Hills is a nice stylistic complement to Bernard, who has playmaking ability outside the tackles (4.94 yards per carry last season).