NFL Nation: Draft Watch 2011 schemes themes NFC

Draft Watch: NFC North

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Chicago Bears

As they look for offensive linemen, particularly tackles and even tight ends, the Bears need to make sure those players are quick enough to handle most one-one-one situations that come their way. Offensive coordinator Mike Martz's scheme emphasizes the number of players in pass routes and relatively rarely gives offensive linemen help against the pass rush. Running backs need to have receiving ability, and wide receivers need to have precise route-running skills. Defensively, the Bears' "Tampa-2" scheme puts a premium on active interior linemen who might be on the small side but can use quickness and technique to overpower opponents. Cornerbacks on the bigger side are also sought after so they can be physical with receivers of the line.

Detroit Lions

The Lions are continuing to transition from a former emphasis on smaller defensive players to ones with size. Their starting defensive tackles, for example, now weight 320 (Corey Williams) and 307 pounds (Ndamukong Suh), respectively. Backup Sammie Lee Hill is listed at 329 pounds. That philosophy will no doubt guide their search for outside linebackers and perhaps cornerbacks as well. Lions coach Jim Schwartz likes linebackers who can play multiple positions. Offensively, the Lions run a multiple scheme that puts an emphasis on pass-catching tight ends and multi-purpose running backs.

Green Bay Packers

As a 3-4 team, the Packers have to take special care that their outside linebackers are big enough to play on the line of scrimmage and their defensive ends are stout enough to play inside the tackle. For a 3-4 linebacker, pass rush takes precedent over coverage skills. Many 3-4 NFL linebackers played defensive end in a 4-3 at some point during their college careers. Offensively, the Packers like to zone block, and they look for offensive linemen who can play multiple positions and flip between both sides of the line. If you have trouble catching the ball, you're not going to get on the field much at any skill position -- including tight end and fullback -- in Packers coach Mike McCarthy's system.

Minnesota Vikings

New Vikings coach Leslie Frazier and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave won't finalize their offensive scheme until they find out who their quarterback will be this season and moving forward. Musgrave plans to incorporate aspects of the team's West Coast scheme, but the Vikings won't be shopping for any particular body type or skill set. Vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman has hit big on a number of attempts to draft playmakers in recent years, from running back Adrian Peterson to receiver Sidney Rice to receiver Percy Harvin. Defensively, the Vikings will be looking for safeties who can cover the deep half of the field and for interior linemen who can stuff the run.

Draft Watch: NFC East

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Dallas Cowboys

Although Jerry Jones has been reluctant to use early draft picks on offensive linemen over the past six drafts, the Cowboys have a huge hole at right tackle. The interior of this line also could use an influx of young talent. Dallas loves big, mauling, heavy offensive linemen for its scheme. There isn’t a pure prototypical right tackle, per se, who matches up with Dallas’ formula for offensive linemen given where it selects in Round 1, but I contend that USC’s Tyron Smith might be too good to pass up.

Smith doesn’t fit the typical Dallas mold for linemen, but he has put on a lot of weight during the draft process and his upside is off the charts. The Cowboys obviously have a plethora of talent in the passing game, so adding a high-end athlete -- even for the right side -- would be hard to argue with. But if Dallas passes on the offensive line in the first frame, TCU’s Marcus Cannon, Miami’s Orlando Franklin, Florida’s Marcus Gilbert or Baylor’s Danny Watkins all could fit the mold as potential starting right tackles.

New York Giants

Like Dallas, the Giants have not been using their high draft picks on offensive linemen. Their team is traditionally built in the trenches, and it might be time to go back to that way of thinking on the offensive side of the ball. After a rash of injuries last season and a lot of shuffling, New York’s line now has a lot of options and a lot of pieces that can be fit in different spots among the five starting positions. But left tackle isn’t like any other position up front in that typical left tackles have long, athletic builds and are very light on their feet. These types of players usually do not transition well to right tackle or the inside from a power perspective. But a left tackle is the one puzzle piece that is now missing with the Giants’ line and could be their first-round pick.

Although they need to get stronger, Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo, Mississippi State’s Derek Sherrod and Colorado’s Nate Solder leap out at me as players who should fit this mold on the left side. Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi is more “right tackleish” than Castonzo or Solder. He plays stronger and is more NFL-ready, but his tough-guy mentality would fit right in. Also, although he is not a left tackle prospect, Florida’s Mike Pouncey is New York’s type of lineman. He could be difficult to pass on. It seems like a safe bet that New York will have several options to address this need when it gets on the clock.

Philadelphia Eagles

Like the Giants and Cowboys, the Eagles like rugged offensive linemen. It is a rugged division. But their situation is a little different in that their most pressing need up front is at right tackle, which is quarterback Michael Vick’s blind side. Overall, I think that aspect of left-handed quarterbacks is slightly overblown because the right tackle generally faces lesser pass-rushers than the left tackle. But there is no question that the Eagles are a predominantly passing team. So in this case, finding a right tackle with exceptional pass-blocking skills is a must.

The interior of Philadelphia’s line could use some attention as well, but few superior edge pass protectors are also suited for duty at guard or center. The Eagles might have to add two players to truly fortify their offensive line. The Eagles also have not used many early draft picks lately to select offensive line help. But they did use picks to trade for Jason Peters.

Washington Redskins

Last year the Redskins made the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme. For an odd front to be run properly, an impactful nose tackle is simply a must. After putting far too much faith in the battered Maake Kemoeatu, Washington simply did not have that type of nose tackle. Needless to say, the position is now a problem area, and it could be argued that nose tackle is the very top need on this still-transitioning defense.

But where the Redskins pick in the draft, there isn’t a good fit in terms of value for nose tackles. They could perhaps trade down and select Baylor’s Phil Taylor, who has excellent movement skills for such a massive nose tackle body type. Or maybe the Redskins move up a few spots from where they sit in Round 2 to nab Washington’s Stephen Paea, who is more of a penetrator inside but is very strong. Ole Miss’ Jerrell Powe could be an option a bit later in the draft. But overall, this draft doesn’t match up well with the Redskins’ need at nose tackle. Going the free-agent route might make more sense as a short-term fix.

Draft Watch: NFC South

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Atlanta Falcons

It took general manager Thomas Dimitroff and coach Mike Smith the better part of their first three offseasons to get the personnel they wanted to fit their offense and defense. In last year’s 13-3 season, it became obvious the Falcons are very well designed for their schemes. But the next step is to get this team deep into the postseason, and some more parts could come in this draft.

The buzz words coming out of Smith and Dimitroff are “explosiveness’’ and guys who “play with a sense of urgency." In other words, the Falcons have the all the basics and now they need to add some dynamics. They’re looking for guys who can step up, make big plays and change games. That means they’ll be looking for a strong pass-rusher, a little more speed at outside linebacker, a deep threat at wide receiver and a speedy running back to combine with the powerful Michael Turner.

Carolina Panthers

It’s coach Ron Rivera’s first draft, and you would think that last year’s 2-14 record would be a sign the Panthers simply need to add talent everywhere. But that’s not really the case. The talent on defense isn’t bad, and the scheme isn’t going to be all that different from what former coach John Fox ran.

Even on an offense that was dismal last year, there aren’t widespread needs. The thing that really has held this team back the last couple of years has been horrible quarterback play. Rivera and general manager Marty Hurney have come to realize a franchise quarterback is the one thing that separates this team from the rest of the NFC South. But is Hurney, who teamed with Fox in a confederacy of conservatism the last nine seasons, ready to step outside the box? All indications are that Hurney is seriously considering taking the plunge and drafting either Cam Newton or Blaine Gabbert with the first overall pick.

New Orleans Saints

There was a really fine line between the 2009 Super Bowl team and the one that went 11-5 and lost in the first round of the playoffs last year. There hasn’t been a lot of roster turnover, and last year made it pretty obvious what the Saints need to cross back over that line.

Coach Sean Payton has been pretty blunt about improving the pass rush, and that could come with a defensive end or an outside linebacker -- or both -- early in the draft. Gregg Williams’ defense relies on creating turnovers, and the Saints have to create more pressure for the system to really work. Even with the re-signing of Pierre Thomas and the expected return of Reggie Bush, a lack of consistency in the running game last season means it’s very possible the Saints will look for another running back. Remember, Payton is an offensive coach and the rest of his offense is in pretty good shape.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

It would be easy to point to the pass rush and say all the Buccaneers have to do is take a defensive end at No. 20 and this team automatically will be in the playoffs next season. The Bucs went 10-6 with virtually no pass rush last season, and defensive end is a glaring need.

But it’s not the only need, and the Bucs need to realize that they might have overachieved with the league’s youngest team last season. Some young players may have played way over their heads last season, and the Bucs need to continue to upgrade their overall talent level. The offense clicked last year because Josh Freeman carried it. But the defense hasn’t really hit the level coach Raheem Morris wants just yet. Besides help at defensive end, the Bucs could use more speed and athleticism at linebacker. This is a defense that needs to be much better in the front seven.

Draft Watch: NFC West

March, 24, 2011
3/24/11
12:00
PM ET
NFC Draft Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Each Thursday leading up to the NFL draft (April 28-30), the ESPN.com NFL blog network will take a division-by-division look at key aspects of the draft. Today's topic: schemes and themes.

Arizona Cardinals

Theme: Amping up the pass rush. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton has already guaranteed that the Cardinals will blitz on their first play under his watch. Why would Horton say such a thing? He's looking to establish an aggressive, blitzing mindset similar to what the Pittsburgh Steelers have established under his mentor, Dick LeBeau. To do that, the Cardinals will need to upgrade their pass rush by targeting at least one outside linebacker in the draft -- perhaps even with the fifth overall choice. Von Miller from Texas A&M comes to mind as one option. The team also expects more from youngsters O'Brien Schofield and Will Davis, coach Ken Whisenhunt said from the NFL owners meeting. To ease the transition, Horton will adapt much of the terminology used under former coordinator Bill Davis. Both favor 3-4 schemes.

St. Louis Rams

Scheme: Away from the West Coast offense. Josh McDaniels' hiring as offensive coordinator signals a significant scheme change even though the team has held over most offensive assistants from last season. McDaniels traces his roots to New England. The Rams will be looking to upgrade at wide receiver, where injuries diminished a group that had question marks already. McDaniels' teams have drafted bigger receivers over the years. The diminutive Deion Branch stands out as an exception to the rule. Otherwise, McDaniels' New England and Denver teams have targeted receivers in the draft averaging taller than 6-foot-1. His Broncos drafted three receivers in his two years there. All three were at least 6 feet tall. Two weighed at least 220 pounds. Alabama's Julio Jones, a candidate for the Rams at No. 14 overall, fits the profile at 6-2 and 220.

San Francisco 49ers

Scheme: New coordinators proliferate. Jim Harbaugh turned over both coordinator positions, but the 49ers could still be looking for similar types of players. They are sticking with a 3-4 defense, so that helps. Trent Baalke ran the draft last year and will do so again as general manager this offseason. Even though Harbaugh has emphasized the switch to a West Coast scheme on offense, he wants to play an extremely physical brand of football, just like predecessor Mike Singletary. He wants tight ends and fullbacks to be the face of the offense. At quarterback, Harbaugh believes he can make imperfect quarterbacks play winning football. His former coach at Indianapolis, Lindy Infante, made a career of this. As a result, there's no directive to find a quarterback in the first round, even though the position is obviously one of great need.

Seattle Seahawks

Scheme: New offensive coordinator in place. Darrell Bevell's hiring away from the Minnesota Vikings indicated, on the surface, that the Seahawks might not value mobility as much from their quarterbacks. Coach Pete Carroll said otherwise over breakfast during the recent NFL owners meeting. He said Bevell and new assistant head coach/offensive line Tom Cable "totally believe in the moving of the quarterback as a complement to the running game and play-action passing game." That was likewise a point of emphasis under previous coordinator Jeremy Bates. Cable's hiring means the Seahawks will target bigger interior offensive linemen in the draft, a departure from how former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs approached the position. That brings the coaching and personnel mindsets into better alignment.

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