NFL Nation: Ezekiel Ansah
DETROIT -- The New York Jets opened the preseason Friday night with a 26-17 loss to the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Despite a killer interception, Mark Sanchez won the night over Geno Smith in the ballyhooed quarterback competition. Smith left in the third quarter after rolling his ankle. It doesn't appear serious, but he can't afford to miss any practice time.
What it means: As it stands now, Sanchez will be the opening-day starter. He gave as many points to the Lions as he produced for the Jets -- 7-7 -- but he showed greater command than Smith, who delivered a non-descript performance in his NFL debut. Smith is doomed if he misses any practice time; it's almost impossible for a rookie to play catch-up in training camp.
Sanchez's night: It was the worst possible start for Sanchez, who threw a pick-six on the Jets' first series. Under pressure on a screen pass, he didn't put enough air under the pass and it was intercepted by rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah, who returned it 14 yards for a touchdown. Sanchez has a maddening tendency to turn a safe pass into a calamity. In fact, he almost had another screen intercepted.
To Sanchez's credit, he responded to the disastrous start, finishing 10-for-13 for 125 yards with a 26-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeff Cumberland. It culminated a seven-play, 80-yard drive, much of which came in the hurry-up. It was typical Sanchez -- some good, some ugly. Some things don't change.
Geno's night: Unlike Sanchez, Smithi didn't make any horrible mistakes, but he also didn't bring any spark to the offense. The former West Virginia star, who got two series behind the starting offensive line, generated only one first down on his first three drives -- a 15-yard pass to Clyde Gates on his first play. Simply put, Smith didn't look ready to take over the team. He finished 6-for-7 for 47 yards. Smith came out on the first series of the third quarter, when he turned his right ankle on an open-field scramble.
Greg McElroy came in and did a nice job against the Lions' third-stringers, going 11-for-19 for 145 yards and an 11-yard TD pass to Zach Rogers.
Big-play tight ends: Dustin Keller is gone, but Cumberland and Kellen Winslow displayed playmaking ability. Winslow made a nice catch-and-run for 24 yards. Cumberland scored his touchdown on a deep seam, showing his ability to get vertical. It's too soon to say the Jets have two weapons at tight end, but it was a good start.
Another injured running back: John Griffin was carted off with a lower-leg injury. It didn't look good. Already down Chris Ivory, Mike Goodson and Joe McKnight, the Jets can't afford another injury in the backfield. Ivory (hamstring) is expected to return Sunday.
New-look defense: The Jets opened with seven new starters in the post-Darrelle Revis era. All things considered, the defense held up fairly well. Most of the starters played most of the first half, an unusually long stint for the first game, and allowed 10 points. Cornerback Darrin Walls, an early substitution for starter Antonio Cromartie, got beat on a 15-yard scoring pass. One player who jumped out was nose tackle Kenrick Ellis, who deflected a pass and held the point of attack. Safety Dawan Landry got beat once in coverage. Keep in mind that Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford played only two series.
The rookies: It was a so-so debut for top pick Dee Milliner, who started at corner in the base defense. He didn't have to cover all-world receiver Calvin Johnson -- Cromartie drew that assignment -- so that made life easier for Milliner. He had a nice pass break-up in the end zone, but he missed an open-field tackle and allowed a 27-yard reception. Milliner gets some slack, though, because he missed a lot of time and has to be rusty. It was a relatively quiet night for defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson.
The Q report: Former first-round pick Quinton Coples, making the transition to outside linebacker, flashed good and bad on his first two plays. He deflected a pass on an outside rush, but he failed to set the edge on an outside run by Reggie Bush. Coples didn't move well in space. This will be an interesting position change.
What's ahead: The Jets return to Cortland for four days of practice. They break camp Thursday and return to Florham Park, where they will prepare for next Saturday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
You'll need an Insider subscription to read the entire evaluation, but below is what I can sneak to you if you don't tell anyone:
Green Bay Packers
Mel's grade: B+
Kiper Jr. snippet: " I love what Green Bay got out of this draft, particularly at two spots -- defensive end and running back."
Seifert comment: The Packers really went after the running back position, drafting two backs -- Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin -- that many teams pegged as feature backs on their own. Franklin also hedges concerns about Lacy's durability. The Packers can feel confident that at least one of them will make an impact on 2013. Defensive end Datone Jones is a different-looking player than what the Packers currently have at the position, and fits into the league's trend toward longer and leaner even for 3-4 ends.
Mel's grade: B
Kiper Jr. snippet: "Hey, they got starters, but they needed to add impact in this draft considering they dealt [Percy] Harvin and had a few pretty big needs."
Seifert comment: A good portion of evaluating this draft will come down to whether receiver Cordarrelle Patterson pans out. The Vikings gave up their chance to draft a starting-caliber middle linebacker, among other things, by trading back up into the first round to draft him. The Harvin trade was a big motivator. Kiper really thought the Vikings needed to get linebacker Manti Te'o; I just thought they needed someone at that position. Seventh-round draft pick Michael Mauti could be a factor if he can recover from a third torn ACL. Regardless, three first-round draft choices give the Vikings a good chance at a high-impact draft.
Mel's grade: B
Kiper Jr. snippet: "The pivot point for how we see this draft in three years will be [Ezekiel] Ansah. If he's great, then it looks good. If he's not, and Dee Milliner thrives with the Jets, fans will wonder."
Seifert comment: It would be disappointing if the Lions didn't get at least two functional starters out of their first three picks. It doesn't matter who is on the field for the first play of the game, but you would like to see Ansah get as many snaps as he can for development purposes. Cornerback Darius Slay should compete with Bill Bentley to start opposite Chris Houston and, at worst, play in nickel situations that comprise more than half of most team's defensive snaps. And third-round guard Larry Warford should push hard for the right guard spot.
Mel's grade: C+
Kiper Jr. snippet: "My issue with [Kyle] Long isn't that he's short on talent -- he's not. I just wasn't in love with the value."
Seifert comment: We'll never know if the Bears would have been better off trading down to grab Long later or waiting until the second round. Kiper Jr. didn't like the decision and thought tight end Tyler Eifert would have been a better choice. I'm stuck here, because we all know how much help the Bears' offensive line needs. Solidifying an interior spot, if that's what Long does, will help quarterback Jay Cutler in a measureable way. That's no different in the big picture than what Eifert could do. We all can agree, however, that the Bears upgraded their linebacker depth significantly with Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene.
Related: For fun, here are Kiper Jr.s NFC North grades for the 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts.
How top-heavy was the 2013 draft in the NFC North? We welcomed more players in the first round (six) than in the second and third rounds combined (four), the result of two big trades.
With the 2013 affair basically in the books, let's take a closer look at its highs and lows. So much happened that we might not get to the relatively rare occurrence of two punters being drafted.
The Green Bay Packers have gone 43 games without a 100-yard rusher, the longest active streak in the NFL by more than twice. Their running backs have combined for 12 rushing touchdowns over the past three seasons, the fewest in the NFL, and their average of 3.8 yards per rush over that span is tied for last in the league.
After years of subordinating this segment of their roster, the Packers reacted aggressively in 2013. They drafted not one but two of the top running backs available. Alabama's Eddie Lacy came in the second round (No. 61 overall), and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin came in the fourth round (No. 125 overall).
The relative flurry came at a time when the rest of the league appeared to have devalued the position. It was the first time in the history of the modern draft that zero running backs were selected in the first round. Perhaps the timing was coincidence, but if general manager Ted Thompson intended to capitalize on depressed prices to load up, it was a brilliant thought.
Thompson and the Packers had been trying to patch together the position ever since Ryan Grant broke his ankle in Week 1 of the 2010 season. It was time to find a more permanent solution, and Lacy and Franklin give them the personnel infusion they needed.
Runner-up: Like the Packers, the Chicago Bears finally attacked an area of need. They used two of their first three selections in what was originally a five-pick draft on high-end linebackers who actually project as starters rather than special-teams contributors. Second-rounder Jonathan Bostic could be the Bears' middle linebacker as early as this season, and fourth-rounder Khaseem Greene was one of the best defensive playmakers in college football last season.
The Minnesota Vikings used four draft picks to move back into the first round and select Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, taking on risk in two forms.
First, Patterson is a boom-or-bust prospect who spent only one year playing at the Division I level. He has the physical tools to be an exceptional player but has more development ahead of him than most first-round picks. Here's how ESPN analyst Todd McShay put it before the draft: "He scares me coming out of Tennessee, but I see the talent. … Patterson, with the ball in his hands, is just freakish, and even though he disappears for 30-40 plays [per game], he'll show up with one or two big plays a game that just kind of blow your mind and leave you wanting more."
At the very least, Patterson will need to be guided through the early part of his career. The Vikings hope to start him off as a kickoff returner and work him into their offense slowly. Expecting him to jump into the starting lineup alongside Greg Jennings for a full 70 plays per game is probably unrealistic.
Second, the trade left the Vikings unable to fill one of their most pressing needs: middle linebacker. Giving up picks in the second and third rounds left them watching as more than a half-dozen middle linebackers were drafted. The Vikings gave up the opportunity to fill that job on a long-term basis by jumping to draft a receiver who generated plenty of divergent viewpoints during the pre-draft evaluation process.
Runner-up: The Detroit Lions used the No. 5 overall pick on a pass-rusher who had 4.5 sacks in his college career. BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah has all the physical tools to be a dominant pass-rusher, but his learning curve is steep and his potential for immediate impact is at least worth questioning.
MOST SURPRISING MOVE
The Bears produced arguably the surprise of the draft by selecting Long at No. 20 overall, a time when even the most polished guards are rarely taken historically. But the Bears were blown away by Long's agility for his 6-foot-6 frame and were willing to overlook a one-season, four-start career at the Division I level.
There is no doubt the Bears needed help on their offensive line, but you could have a spirited philosophical argument over the draft value of a raw, inexperienced guard. Even if the Bears are right about Long -- that his athleticism will make him a long-term starter -- it's fair to question whether they needed to take him in the first round. Did another team covet the draft's third-best guard enough to take him between picks 21 and 50, where the Bears were situated in the second round? One explanation: The Bears, with only five total picks in the draft at that point, thought it would be too difficult to trade up in the second round assuming Long got out of the first. I'm not going to say it was the wrong choice, but it sure was surprising.
FILE IT AWAY
The Lions bolstered their pass defense at the expense of some other positions of need. You can't have it all, and the Lions made some clear decisions.
On the plus side, they used three of their first four choices on Ansah, cornerback Darius Slay and defensive end Devin Taylor. Ansah (6-foot-5 with 35 1/8-inch arms) and Taylor (6-7 with 36-inch arms) will provide incredible length and a new look to the Lions' outside pass rush. Slay, meanwhile, has elite speed (4.36 seconds in the 40-yard dash).
That focus left the Lions less able to surround quarterback Matthew Stafford with additional weapons and protection. The Lions didn't draft an offensive tackle after the departure of both 2012 starters, and they didn't get around to selecting a receiver until grabbing Virginia Tech's Corey Fuller with the third pick of the sixth round (No. 171 overall).
(The Lions did draft guard Larry Warford in the third round.)
From a roster-balance perspective, it made sense for the Lions to focus on pass defense -- long a weakness -- rather than their passing offense. But the Lions still finished the draft with less depth at receiver and offensive tackle than they would have liked. Life is a trade-off, after all.
And so, in the end, the Detroit Lions never got a chance to tell us how they feel about their left tackle situation. When their No. 5 overall pick arrived Thursday night, all three of the 2013 draft's elite left tackles were already off the board in unprecedented fashion.
My understanding is that the Lions worked hard to trade down after Eric Fisher (Kansas City Chiefs), Luke Joeckel (Jacksonville Jaguars) and Lane Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) were all among the top four selections. When no suitable trade arose, the Lions pivoted to Plan B: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, a potentially dominant pass-rusher whose story is one of the most amazing in recent draft history.
Almost unknown in NFL draft circles when the college season began, Ansah recorded a grand total of 4.5 sacks last season at BYU. But he had an eye-popping performance in the Senior Bowl, in front of the Lions' coaching staff, and his raw physical skills left talent evaluators drooling at the NFL scouting combine.
Ultimately, we should have relied on a discussion from earlier this month. Under Mayhew, the Lions haven't shied away from drafting players who don't fit the profile we're expecting. He was most certainly willing to take a big swing in this draft, as in any other.
At 6-foot-5 and 271 pounds, Ansah is built like some of the NFL's top pass-rushers, having drawn favorable comparisons to the New York Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul and the San Francisco 49ers' Aldon Smith. His athletic skills, documented in the Sport Science video we posted recently, are freakish, and it's hard to imagine him getting much attention from opposing offenses who also have to deal with Lions defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.
But Ansah essentially has one year of successful college pass rushing to his name. NFL draft history is littered with freakish athletes who couldn't play football. The truth is we don't know if Ezekiel Ansah can play. ESPN's Mel Kiper, for instance, said Ansah had the most meteoric rise of any player he's evaluated in 35 years of working the draft.
Even if Ansah realizes the potential of his physical skills, will he do it in time to save this edition of the Lions? It's optimistic at least, and a reach at worst, to think Ansah will be ready to make the kind of immediate impact you hope for from a No. 5 overall pick.
I would understand if Lions fans are a little skittish with how things worked out. Riley Reiff, a player seemingly destined to play right guard, will most likely be the Lions' left tackle. Milliner won't arrive to help a long-suffering secondary. Ansah, to be fair, has some work to do before he can help the 2013 team in the way that Johnson or Milliner could have.
For that reason, I give Mayhew much credit. He didn't panic. He didn't take the easiest and safest way out. He went Dave Kingman on the deal. It'll be a home run or a strikeout with the game on the line. Love it.
Earlier: The Ansah scenario picked up steam Thursday morning.
Ziggy Ansah just out-hipstered Russell Westbrook with one TV appearance. 3D glasses, hot in the streets.— Steve Braband (@stevebraband) April 26, 2013
Wait... Ezekiel is wearing "Real 3D glasses" without lenses.— Reid Fragel (@Fragel77) April 26, 2013
If he has a marketing manager, they need to go ahead and try to get a deal with AMC and they 3D glasses department— George Iloka (@OchoDaRebel_8) April 26, 2013
Who gave my boy them 3D glasses world...— Lonnie Clinton Pryor (@Iam_Number24) April 26, 2013
Ansah is going to have to explain those 3D frames! #DETPick— ESPN First Take (@ESPN_FirstTake) April 26, 2013
@espn_nfcnblog Wearing glasses without real lenses has been popular for a while, but using 3-D glasses is just weird.— Ian Turner (@PokeysaurusRex) April 26, 2013
@espn_nfcnblog cheap would be the word I would be using. Most people throw them in the recycle box at the movies on their way out.— Mike Navel47 (@Navel47) April 26, 2013
Will they trade up to take quarterback Geno Smith? Will they trade down with a team looking to move up for an offensive tackle? Could a pass-rusher like Dion Jordan or Ezekiel Ansah fall out of the top five? Or do the Browns take the best cornerback in the draft in Dee Milliner?
Here are the six popular picks for the Browns at No. 6:
Ezekiel Ansah, BYU outside linebacker: Gifted athlete who has potentially high ceiling. His inexperience and lack of durability are concerns.
Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame tight end: One of the fastest risers in this year's draft. The Browns have been connected to him because both coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner love to use the tight end.
Dion Jordan, Oregon outside linebacker: Has been compared to Jason Taylor. Shoulder surgery in February could sideline him for the start of training camp.
Dee Milliner, Alabama cornerback: Doesn't have any noticeable weakness in terms of coverage and run support. But he isn't considered a playmaker.
Barkevious Mingo, LSU outside linebacker: Explosive athlete who plays with power. Like Ansah, he's an unpolished player.
Geno Smith, West Virginia quarterback: Accurate passer with an NFL arm. There are concerns with his small hands and history of fumbling.
If those six weren't enough, there has been speculation that the Browns could take West Virginia wide receiver Tavon Austin, Alabama guard Chance Warmack and North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. Did I leave anyone out?
5. Detroit Lions
Kiper: BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Seifert comment: In both cases, Central Michigan left tackle Eric Fisher and Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson are off the board. McShay has Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel slipping out of the top 10. Both think the Lions would pass on Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner. Ansah seems to be the type of "Dave Kingman" prospect that Lions general manager Martin Mayhew suggested last week he might not consider, but who knows if he was being truthful.
20. Chicago Bears
Kiper: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Seifert comment: Both think the Bears would take Te'o over Georgia's Alec Ogletree. There is no doubt that Ogletree's off-field indiscretions recently are a concern, but there is there is widespread agreement that he is better player than Te'o. If the Bears pass on Ogletree, the guess is they'll take another position rather than draft Te'o.
23/25. Minnesota Vikings
Kiper (23): USC receiver Robert Woods
McShay (23): North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams
Kiper (25): Georgia's Ogletree
McShay (25): Ogletree
Seifert comment: I didn't pick a receiver for the Vikings in this week's #bloggermock, and I wouldn't be surprised at all if they waited until later in the draft to add at that position. Three of their four starting defensive linemen are entering the final year of their contracts. If Ogletree is available at this point, especially with Te'o off the board, the Vikings would have a hard time passing him up.
26. Green Bay Packers
Kiper: UCLA defensive end Datone Jones
McShay: Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh
Seifert comment: The general consensus is the Packers will choose a lineman if they stay in this spot, with defense being a higher priority if all things equal. Unless they take a safety, of course. Or trade out.
Our consensus: In a bit of a reach, Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson would be the choice.
In their final mock drafts of the season, ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both have Johnson going to the Philadelphia Eagles at No. 4 overall. As a result, each mock-drafted Ansah for the Lions at No. 5. Both had them passing on Milliner, and McShay even suggested they would allow Joeckel to fall in order to secure Ansah.
My experience is that public information gets less reliable as the draft approaches. Teams are making final, sometimes-manic attempts to create draft interest and leverage. But at this point, we should at least consider whether the Lions will even have an opportunity to take an elite left tackle in this draft.
Should Ansah be the pick, it would culminate one of the most rapid rises in recent NFL draft history. Here is how Ryan McGee capsulized Ansah's college career in a recent edition of ESPN The Magazine:
When Ezekiel Ansah arrived on the BYU campus in the fall of 2008, the trilingual former soccer player from Ghana had not only never played football, he'd never even seen a game on TV. He was an actuarial science major on academic scholarship. He was also 6'5" and 271 pounds, so he tried out for the Cougars' basketball team. He got cut. So he tried out again in 2009 ... and got cut again. Ansah then walked on to BYU's track team as a sprinter. But all the while, coaches and classmates kept telling him: You should try out for football.
He finally took their advice in 2010. Based on pure athletic ability, he made the team and saw his first game action midway through that season covering kicks. By 2012, Ansah was a starter at defensive end for a Cougars squad that went 8-5, nearly ended Notre Dame's winning streak in October and won the Poinsettia Bowl in December. Now Ansah is expected to become just the 11th Cougar -- and the first since 2000 -- to be selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Everyone has fallen for the affable kid who in three short years has progressed from someone who couldn't identify an end zone to being the best defensive end prospect in the country.
This has been an intriguing half-day of varying scenarios for a Browns team that many had pegged at staying at No. 6 and selecting Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.
Here's a recap of some of the reports, speculation and prediction surrounding the Browns:
- Multiple sources told Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports that the Browns could possibly trade up to the Oakland Raiders' No. 3 spot. Silver believes the Browns are targeting Ansah. To move up six places, the Browns would have to give up most of their remaining picks. Cleveland is already without a second-round pick because it selected wide receiver Josh Gordon last year in the supplemental draft. When asked at the NFL owners meeting last month if the Browns could trade up, owner Jimmy Haslam said, "I think that’s doubtful."
- In their latest mock drafts Wednesday, NFL Network draft analyst and Sports Illustrated's Peter King both have the Browns taking Smith, the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the draft. "There are quarterbacks in this draft that are intriguing," chief executive officer Joe Banner said at last week's pre-draft news conference.
- The Browns are "believed to be enamored" with Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan, according to The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. Cleveland could pair Jordan with Paul Kruger, allowing the team to shop Jabaal Sheard in a trade.
- The Browns are "seriously considering" a trade for Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess, according to The Chicago Sun-Times. It would likely be a middle-round pick for Bess, who caught 61 passes for 778 yards and one touchdown last season.
What would I do if I were the Browns? I would sit at No. 6 to see if Jordan falls. If Jordan is gone, I would try to trade down, especially if San Diego (No. 11) or Miami (No. 12) wants to move up to get an offensive tackle. If there was no viable trade and Jordan is off the board, the logical pick is Milliner despite the concern over the past surgeries (LSU pass-rusher Barkevious Mingo is also reportedly high on the Browns' list). In the end, the Browns need a cornerback and Milliner is the top-rated one.
Below are the players I would up picking for the NFC North and my reasoning in each instance.
My pick: Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson
Final decision: Between Johnson, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah
Process and reasoning: The Lions' true intentions are tough to read at left tackle. When they drafted Riley Reiff at No. 23 overall last year, we all assumed he was the heir apparent at the position. Since the retirement of incumbent Jeff Backus, however, the Lions have emphasized Reiff's versatility and suggested he could play right guard or right tackle. To me, versatility is irrelevant if you have a true long-term answer at left tackle.
It's possible the Lions are deliberately clouding Reiff's future to hide their draft intentions. In the end, I thought the No. 5 pick was a great place to find a blue-chip left tackle and further strengthen the Lions' line by allowing Reiff to start at right guard or right tackle.
Johnson might be the third-best left tackle in the draft, but draft analysts have suggested that's a matter of experience more than aptitude. I had a brief pre-draft trade discussion with AFC East blogger James Walker, who wanted to use the Miami Dolphins' No. 12 overall pick to move up and draft a left tackle. But there was no way Johnson would be available at No. 12, so I needed much more than what Walker was offering (a second-round pick) to pass up getting him.
I know I've pushed the Lions to draft a cornerback like Milliner for years, but finding a left tackle can be even more difficult. I was tempted by Ansah, but decided to gamble that some decent defensive ends would make it to the top of the second round. In this mock, three of Mel Kiper's top five defensive ends would be available after the first: UCLA's Datone Jones, Auburn's Corey Lemonier and Florida State's Tank Carradine.
My pick: Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree
Final decision: There wasn't much debate.
Process and reasoning: I did not expect Ogletree to be available at No. 20 and knew it would be difficult for the Bears to move up. But once he made it past the New Orleans Saints at No. 15, I thought I had a chance. The New York Giants have been speculated as a possible landing spot, but the Giants haven't selected a linebacker in the first round since 1984 (Carl Banks).
I'm still not sure Ogletree will be available at No. 20 in the real draft Thursday night, but in this case -- with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert already off the board -- I couldn't justify passing him up as a long-term replacement for Brian Urlacher.
My picks: North Carolina defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden
Final decision: Between Williams, Hayden, Cal receiver Keenan Allen, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o
Process and reasoning: I really do think that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has genuine interest in Te'o and wants to draft him. In looking back on this mock, I just got too greedy and sneaky for my own good.
I had enough ammunition to move up, but for whom? Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson went way too high (No. 8 to the Buffalo Bills), and West Virginia's Tavon Austin was gone at No. 13. Is Austin worth even an extra second-round pick to the Vikings? I couldn't do it.
Ogletree plays a position of need, but I felt sketchy about giving up extra draft choices for a player with multiple off-field flags in the past year.
So my plan was to grab two really good non-middle linebackers and then cross my fingers that someone, perhaps even Te'o, would be available in the second round, where Spielman could work some trade magic and grab one. It almost worked. Te'o made it to No. 32, where the Baltimore Ravens drafted him just after learning that Rolando McClain had been arrested once again.
Media analysis is split on whether Te'o is significantly better than the next tier of middle linebackers, and most people think the Vikings are most interested in him. So if the Vikings passed, I thought there was a chance he would tumble. In the end, that's why I passed him over even though I'm not sure Spielman will.
As for receiver, I had my eyes on Tennessee's Justin Hunter, but he went one slot ahead at No. 22. So I went with Williams, who could be a long-term replacement for Kevin Williams, and Hayden. I had a small chance to trade down, but the best offer I got to move from No. 25 to the top of the second round at No. 35 was an additional fifth-round pick. Not good enough. The cornerback class drops off after the first round, and Washington's Desmond Trufant was already off the board. In this scenario, the Vikings would be in position to maneuver in the second round for a receiver. Among those who are left is Clemson's DeAndre Hopkins.
My pick: Georgia defensive tackle John Jenkins
Final decision: Between Jenkins, Syracuse offensive lineman Justin Pugh, Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson
Process and reasoning: The honest truth of the matter is that I was just guessing here. Congratulations to the Packers. No one ever knows for sure who a team is going to draft, but this year, no one really has anything more than a guess on the Packers. They appear to be interested in improving their defensive line, at least based on their limited activity in free agency, and Jenkins seemed the best of what was still remaining on the board. I don't mind saying he was even more of a guess than usual.
Bradley comes from Seattle, so it’s easy to presume the Jaguars are going to try to look like the Seahawks, who were a playoff team last year.
“Some of the defensive scheme is there," Bradley said in a news conference Monday. “But I just talked to our defensive coaches. I said more importantly what I want to bring from Seattle is this, we took a look at our personnel and we did personnel placement and tried to get them in the best position to play.
“Remember in Tampa we were a Cover 2 team and then we flipped and went to a single safety middle because of the personnel that we had. I think it’s more bring that mindset to Jacksonville and say look at our personnel and see what we do best. … But there’s going to be some subtle changes to what we did maybe in Seattle based on our personnel.”
That’s an important reminder -- if you’re modeling after a team, it makes far more sense to model a way of thinking than trying to model personnel when the latter could marginalize the best players you inherit.
Two other notes from Bradley’s talk:
- If the Jaguars draft an offensive tackle at the top, Eugene Monroe would remain at left tackle and the new guy would play on the right. In that scenario, what would happen in a year when Monroe nears free agency would be the question mark.
- If Dion Jordan or Ziggy Ansah is the pick for the Jaguars at No. 2, he would function as a Leos -- the hybrid defensive end/ outside linebacker speed-rusher spot.
And an interesting nugget from Caldwell, when he was asked about Ansah and the potential for drafting a guy with his limited football experience: “Yeah, it’s difficult when a player doesn’t have that history of playing, to pick a guy in the first round. It’s not an ideal situation, just like it’s not an ideal situation to take a guy that could potentially be injured. Those are some of the factors that you’re facing in this year’s draft and you face it in every year’s draft. I know there’s been players in the past that have been one-year starters at that level and have produced very well at this level.”
What's the ideal first-round scenario for each team?
Chicago Bears: There are a number of hopeful scenarios for the Bears, but we've got to keep it reasonable. The Bears would no doubt be thrilled if one of the draft's top guards, Alabama's Chance Warmack or North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper, fell to them at No. 20. That doesn't seem likely, however, based on the current thinking of media analysts. Others might like to see Alabama right tackle D.J. Fluker available, but the Bears aren't desperate at the tackle position. The most ideal but reasonable scenario is Georgia middle linebacker Alec Ogletree falling to No. 20 because of off-field issues. Ogletree could be an immediate and long-term replacement for the departed Brian Urlacher, allowing the Bears to use D.J. Williams perhaps at the strong-side position.
Detroit Lions: We've discussed a scenario in which the draft's top two left tackles (Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher), its top cornerback (Alabama's Dee Milliner) and arguably its most intriguing defensive end (BYU's Ezekiel Ansah) are all off the board at No. 5. So if the draft gods are looking kindly upon the Lions, they'll give them a choice of two of those players. There's no telling whom the Lions would pick, but Milliner or either of the left tackles would give them a good shot at having a really good anchor player for the next decade.
Green Bay Packers: I don't know how likely it is, but the Packers would no doubt love to see one of the draft's top defensive tackles make his way to their spot at No. 26 overall. Could that be Missouri's Sheldon Richardson? North Carolina's Sylvester Williams? Both players are natural interior disruptors, although Richardson might be on the smaller side for a 3-4 defense and could fit best as a 4-3 under tackle. There is little doubt that the Packers want to enhance their defensive line in this draft.
Minnesota Vikings: There are plenty of options for a team with two first-round picks, including trading up to get a coveted player or trading back to pile up second-round options. But here's an ideal scenario if the Vikings stay put: They draft a receiver with one pick, perhaps Tennessee's Cordarrelle Patterson or Cal's Keenan Allen, and a cornerback with the other. Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden has gotten a lot of publicity lately, but his value in the first round remains publicly uncertain. The Vikings have need at defensive tackle and middle linebacker as well, but those positions might be more heavily stocked later in the draft.
"That's not going to happen," Mayhew said with a smile Thursday during his annual pre-draft news conference.
Mayhew sounded pretty definitive, and for the moment I tabled conventional wisdom that requires doubt on any authoritatively-stated facts from NFL decision-makers at this time of year. I'm less sure of how seriously to take Mayhew's comments on a topic we discussed earlier this week: Can the Lions afford to take a player at No. 5 overall who might not be ready to make an immediate impact?
Mayhew said at several points that he would expect a pick that high "to come in and play a major role" right away. Then he said:
"At the top I think that's really important. You certainly want guys with that high ceiling, but it's also important to make sure you get that solid player that you're going to have for a long time. It may not be the best place to swing for the fence. You might not want to be Dave Kingman at 5. You might just want to get on base. You know what I mean?"
Kingman, of course, has become the go-to sports analogy for all-or-nothing aggression. (He hit 442 career home runs, struck out 1,816 times and had a lifetime batting average of .236.) If Mayhew is to be believed, he was implying that he will have a cautious appetite for the type of player -- perhaps BYU defensive end Ezekiel Ansah, maybe Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson -- who might need some time to develop his considerable skills and doesn't have the past production to ensure a smooth transition to the NFL.
Of course, the Lions' internal evaluations could be different from those of media draft analysts. They might believe that Ansah and/or Johnson are more polished than media projections suggest. But if the Lions have anyone in that "high ceiling, low development" category, Mayhew seemed to be suggesting he will look elsewhere. Unless it was all a Jedi mind trick. So there's that.
You can peruse the team-by-team results or follow his draft in order.
Rd. 1 (2) OT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M
Rd. 2 (33) QB Matt Barkley, USC
Rd. 3 (64) CB Johnthan Banks, Mississippi St.
Kiper’s analysis: I know this isn't the biggest need on the board, but given where Jacksonville is from a personnel standpoint, if the best player in the draft is available at the No. 2 pick -- and my current left tackle is potentially gone after this year -- I'm taking the guy. This is a franchise that has taken the guy it wants and eschewed great value too many times in recent years, but that's not the case here. Take Joeckel, get better at tackle, do a better job of protecting the QB and whether I stick with Blaine Gabbert or let the next guy take over, I've at least given him a reasonable chance to succeed. That next guy might be the second-round pick.
My thoughts: Kiper has Detroit moving up to No. 1 for cornerback Dee Milliner, which leaves Joeckel available for the Jaguars. The Jaguars need a sure thing, and this is a tackle rated as a sure thing, so I don't think you factor Eugene Monroe into it too much.
Rd. 1 (10) G Jonathan Cooper, North Carolina
Rd. 2 (40) WR Justin Hunter, Tennessee
Rd. 3 (70) DE Alex Okafor, Texas
Rd. 3 (97) DE John Simon, Ohio St.
Kiper’s analysis: The way the board breaks, Cooper becomes the best value at a need spot. With (Ezekiel) Ansah going to Buffalo at No. 8, I look to improve my other guard position. With Cooper and free-agent acquisition Andy Levitre, I could have one of the better guard tandems in the league. Shonn Greene is on the roster because there's going to be more of an emphasis on power running, and Cooper helps accomplish that.
My thoughts: I don’t believe they’d prefer Cooper to Chance Warmack if both are on the board as they are here. Cooper may rate as more athletic, but the Titans got their athletic, pulling guard in Levitre. If they go guard I think they’d like a power tandem in pairing Warmack with right tackle David Stewart. Hunter seems like good value and can help them get past Kenny Britt after his contract runs out. I don’t expect two of the four top picks to be spent on one position as Kiper does here in the third-round at defensive end.
Rd. 1 (24) CB Desmond Trufant, Washington
Rd. 3 (86) OLB Trevardo Williams, Connecticut
Kiper’s analysis: Vontae Davis is a decent starter at CB when he's playing up to his full capability, but Greg Toler is a fringy starter. If the board breaks this way, I'd be getting below average value at outside linebacker and guard right here, and Cordarrelle Patterson and Tavon Austin are off the board. (Also, wide receiver is a need, but not a desperate one.) Where I end up is with Trufant, a cornerback with a diverse skill set. He can work in man or zone and offers defenses some flexibility.
My thoughts: Versatility is good, but ultimately if they have sufficient man corners, the ability of their DBs to play zone shouldn’t matter a great deal in Chuck Pagano’s system. Davis, Toler and Darius Butler are not enough as the top three so if they can land a top corner at No. 24 that will be great. Kiper sees Williams as a guy who can help the pass rush quickly and they need that badly, too.
Rd. 1 (27) OT Menelik Watson, Florida St.
Rd. 2 (57) WR Quinton Patton, Louisiana Tech
Rd. 3 (89) LB Steve Beauharnais, Rutgers
Rd. 3 (95) FB Lonnie Pryor, Florida St.
Kiper’s analysis: The Texans need a right tackle, and Watson's grade fits this draft range for me. He's a great athlete, and could certainly challenge to start early. I know some NFL personnel folks who think he could move inside, but in either instance I'm looking for help up front. This offensive system starts there, and you need a nimble guy for the scheme.
My thoughts: I wouldn’t object to these first three picks, though I do not expect the Texans to go offensive line in the first round. As for Pryor, Kiper says part of the rationale for putting him in Houston is that Greg Jones “isn’t a true fullback.” I respectively disagree with that so long as Jones is healthy.
Two years later, the Lions targeted a running back in the second round a year after drafting one in the first round. At the time, Illinois' Mikel Leshoure seemed a luxury so soon after drafting Cal's Jahvid Best. The same could be said for the 2012 decision to draft Oklahoma receiver Ryan Broyles in the second round at a time when there were several good options available to upgrade their thin secondary.
If nothing else during the tenure of general manager Martin Mayhew, the Lions have demonstrated a thorough commitment to long-term draft philosophy over immediate need. It has given them a talented, if imbalanced, roster and provides a fascinating backdrop for next week's affair.
A 4-12 record in their fourth year under Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz has generated a natural sense of urgency for this year's draft, Mayhew told reporters last month. Schwartz added: "There's nobody that doesn't feel that whether or not you've had success." The Lions' position at No. 5 overall provides a good opportunity to draft an immediate-impact player, or it could bring them a player who fits their long-term needs better but might need seasoning. The chart shows how teams have fared over the past 10 years in that spot.
If the Lions stay true to their approach under Mayhew and Schwartz, they could wind up with a player who isn't immediately ready to help them rebound from last season's debacle. Another disappointing season could prompt Lions ownership to end the tenures of both men.
Could self-preservation alter the Lions' philosophy? Will we see them draft the most NFL-ready defensive end, cornerback or linebacker -- arguably their three biggest positions of need? Or could they take a longer-term approach by drafting at a position where they already have at least an adequate starter -- say, at left tackle -- because the player is, in their view, the most talented at any position still available?
The guess, and frankly the hope, is the Lions won't deviate too far from an approach that has brought them players such as Pettigrew, Broyles, defensive tackle Nick Fairley and others. This discussion could quite possibly be moot, especially if Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner is still available at No. 5, but to me the gray area would be exposed under a scenario in which Milliner is gone.
In that situation, would the Lions draft BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah, a freakish athletic talent who seems a perfect fit for their defense but had just one season as a starter and totaled just 4.5 college sacks? Ansah might not be ready to pass rush against the likes of Matt Kalil and Jermon Bushrod in Week 1, but over time there is a widespread belief he could develop into an elite defensive end in the mold of Jason Pierre-Paul (New York Giants) and Aldon Smith (San Francisco 49ers).
The most intriguing analysis comes at left tackle, where the Lions could almost certainly get by in 2013 and perhaps beyond with Riley Reiff, their first-round pick in 2012. But Reiff is athletic and versatile, and over the long haul, the Lions might well be better off with Reiff at right guard or even right tackle if they could find a better left tackle.
Most draft observers would tell you that Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel and Central Michigan's Eric Fisher would fall into that category. But what if Joeckel and Fisher, along with Milliner, are both off the board at No. 5? I've asked around over the past week and have been surprised by how many people suggested the Lions might and/or should draft Oklahoma's Lane Johnson in that scenario.
Johnson -- as well as Joeckel and Fisher -- would fit the profile of the Lions' recent draft approach. He is talented and well-regarded at a position the Lions don't have an immediate need at. While he hasn't been included in the Joeckel-Fisher debate, Johnson is generally considered a top-10 pick and might not make it past the Arizona Cardinals at No. 7.
His primary drawback is experience, having played quarterback, tight end, defensive end and right tackle before becoming the Sooners' starting left tackle last season. He has every athletic and physical measurement imaginable, from 35 1/4-inch arms to a stunning 4.72-second time in the 40, and ESPN analyst Todd McShay said the comparison between him and Reiff "is not even close in terms of natural ability." McShay said there is a gap between Joeckel/Fisher and Johnson now "but not a big difference between where they should be in a year or two."
McShay: "It all falls in line with a guy who has a chance to be a great player. But you may take some lumps in that first year. Obviously your quarterback is the franchise and that's the guy you have to protect, and he doesn't move well. ... But I do think [Johnson] is talented enough and there is such enormous potential. The ceiling is really high with him."
Can the Lions afford to take a player with "enormous potential" and a "really high" ceiling who has a better chance of making them better in 2014 than 2013? Or, in that scenario, would they need to look toward a more immediately helpful player, perhaps Oregon defensive end Dion Jordan? We're all waiting to see.