Friday, April 5, 2013
Take 2: First Pac-12 NFL draft pick?
By Ted Miller
Dion Jordan and Star Lotulelei are probably both top-10 selections in the NFL draft. Who will go first?
It appears that the Pac-12 could produce two top-10 selections on Day 1 of the NFL draft on April 25. It's also a bit unusual that both play defense in a conference known for offense.
So who should be picked first: Oregon defensive end/outside linebacker Dion Jordan or Utah nose guard/defensive tackle Star Lotulelei?
Kevin Gemmell: There are two questions I get asked a lot in this business. 1) What's it like working with Ted Miller? 2) How would you build a football team from scratch?
The answer to No. 1 is: It's like being on a cruise ship that stops off weekly at the Isle of Perspicacious Wisdom.
The answer to No. 2: I would start by protecting my quarterback and getting to the other guy's quarterback. And since there are no offensive lineman from the Pac-12 this year that warrants a first-round selection, I'd go with Oregon defensive end/outside linebacker/fleet-footed/long-winged/ Dion Jordan.
At 6-foot-6, 248 pounds he fits the prototypical frame of an NFL speed rusher. And with a recorded 4.60 40 time at the NFL scouting combine, he has skyrocketed up most draft boards. Once considered "simply" a first-round pick, he's almost certain to be a top-10 selection. Probably top five. That would make him the highest drafted Duck since quarterback Joey Harrington went No. 3 in 2002.
Jordan's 2012 wasn't as notable because of a nagging shoulder injury and he missed some time, causing a decrease in his stats compared to some other comparable players in the league. Still he amassed 44 tackles with 10.5 for a loss and five sacks. He recently had surgery, which caused him to miss Oregon's Pro Day. But the once-touted tight end seems built for the NFL and draftniks don't seem to concerned with his shoulder.
He's obviously dangerous as a pass-rusher, but he also was called upon to drop into coverage and take out tight ends and running backs coming out of the backfield. He has a knack for getting to the ball and he also forced three fumbles last season.
If you're looking for just a run-stopper, then Jordan probably isn't your guy. That honor falls to Lotulelei, who is probably the best pure defensive lineman in the 2013 draft class.
But Jordan's versatility is what makes him such an attractive draft prospect. He's a do-all type of player who fits well as a hybrid in any formation -- be it an odd or even front. Having a player who can sack your quarterback one play and then pick off a pass to a tight end on an intermediate drag route the next is invaluable in the NFL -- really, any level for that matter. Jordan is that kind of player.
Jordan and Lotulelei have been going in different directions in most mock drafts, at least until Lotulelei recently received better news about the heart issue that spooked many when it was reported at the NFL combine.
Jordan is a great story and a good prospect. He has all the tools to be a future NFL All-Pro.
But if I were an NFL general manager making this tough decision, I'd pick Lotulelei first, and probably for the opposite reason many would think: durability.
Based on the reports I've read -- and, obviously, I'm no doctor and not privy to any inside information -- Lotulelei's heart won't be an issue holding him back from having a long NFL career. With that in mind, the 6-foot-3, 325 pounder is one of those rare physical specimens who can immediately transform a defense from good to great because he requires two linemen to neutralize him -- and even then there are no guarantees.
Lotulelei is the closest thing to Haloti Ngata in this year's draft. He's slightly smaller and less powerful, but he also is quicker and could even play end in a 3-4 in certain situations.
You put him in the middle of a defense, and he'll give you 10 years and a handful of Pro Bowls.
As for durability, it's one of the most underrated qualities when evaluating players. You might average a sack a game, but if you are only healthy for eight games, you're less valuable than a guy who averages 0.5 sacks per game because of the void you leave when you're watching your backup play.
Unlike Jordan, Lotulelei hasn't missed a game over the past three seasons. Durability, in fact, is one of his notable strengths. Jordan missed action each of the last three seasons, including three games in 2011. In 2012, he often tried to play through pain and didn't last into the second half -- see USC. As Kevin noted, he just had shoulder surgery.
It's possible once NFL trainers get a hold of Jordan, he'll get healthy and stay that way. But his injury issues are a concern.
You could say that Jordan has more upside, particularly in terms of production. But, to me, Lotulelei seems like a sure-thing.