I’ve written that the outside linebacker/edge player position in this draft is loaded. The same cannot be said for inside linebackers. At this time, I can only see one inside linebacker being drafted in the first round, but the rest of the top five could very well go in the second. One may slip to the third round.
1) Benardrick McKinney – Mississippi State
In my opinion, McKinney is easily the best inside linebacker in this draft and the only one that I see going in the first round.
At 6’4 – 246, McKinney has great size to go along with excellent speed (4.68). At the combine, the only thing that disappointed me was his bench press, where he only did 16 reps, which is poor for his position. On tape, he plays with strength and shows explosive hitting ability. That explosiveness was shown with his 40.5” vertical jump and 10’1” standing long jump.
McKinney is a four year starter and highly productive versus both the run and pass. He has top instincts, is aggressive at the point, and shows he can be a blow up tackler. He is an instinctive linebacker who controls the middle of the field. He should start right away and be very productive as a rookie. He can play in either a 3-4 or 4-3 scheme which increases his value.
2) Stephone Anthony – Clemson
I have always been a big Anthony fan. I wrote him up last year in the NFP, thinking he was going to enter the 2014 draft. I saw nothing on tape from this past season that changed my mind about him.
From a physical viewpoint, he has all the tools. He measured 6’3 – 243 at the combine and ran a very fast 4.57 in the 40. All his drill work was equally impressive with a 37” vertical jump, 10’2” standing long jump, 23 reps of 225 and agility times of 4.03 and 7.07. These were all excellent numbers for a defensive back let alone a linebacker.
On the field, Anthony is instinctive, productive, and tough. He plays tough at the point of attack, can use his hands and shed quickly and takes good angles in pursuit. He is very good in coverage and shows he can play man or zone. He is also very effective when used to blitz.
Like McKinney, Anthony is scheme versatile and can play in any defense. He is also capable of playing Mike or Will in either scheme. While there is a chance he can get drafted at the end of the first round, I feel it is more likely he will go at the top of the second.
3) Paul Dawson – TCU
Going into the Combine, Dawson was looked at by most analysts as the second best ILB in this draft. When he got to Indy, all the wind came out of those sails when he ran a disappointing 4.93 in the 40. Regardless of how good a players tape is, no linebacker who runs a 4.9+ is going in the first round.
Yesterday (March 27th) at the TCU pro day, Dawson was able to improve on his 40. Talking to some scouts who were there, most people had Dawson timed in the 4.80 range. He ran twice and one was in the high 4.7’s and the other on the low 4.8’s.
When you look at how he performed the other drills, he just isn’t a top athlete. His vertical jump was only 28”, his long jump 9’1” and his short shuttle was 4.59. All those numbers are very average to poor for the position.
On tape, Dawson looks much more athletic. He is not a real big guy at 6’0 – 235 but he plays with strength and power. He shows strength at the point, has quick hands to shed, and is very instinctive. He is a big hitter and makes a lot of plays in the tackle box.
On the downside, he doesn’t have great range, has had some character issues and isn’t known to have the best work ethic.
Having average athleticism and not being able to run well, I see Dawson locked into playing in only a 3-4 scheme. The 4-3 clubs look for a much faster player to play Mike. Regardless of how he tested, once the game starts, Dawson can play. Because of that he will get drafted higher than his numbers would indicate. While I have him listed third, it would surprise me if he was the fourth or even fifth inside linebacker to get drafted next month.
It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t like Kendricks on tape. He is a three year starter at UCLA and very productive. He is a top athlete with speed (4.61) and change of direction. He has excellent instincts and is always around the ball and makes plays.
His biggest negative is size. He is not a naturally big guy. At Indy he was 6’0 – 232, but he played most of last year in the high 220’s. He doesn’t have the frame to carry much more than about 235 and that could hurt him some on draft day. There are times when he just gets over powered by offensive linemen.
If he reminds you of anyone as a player, it’s his older brother Mychal who is a starting ILB for Philly. Like his brother, Eric is good at slipping blocks and getting to the play. He is very effective in coverage and as a blitzer.
While Kendricks does have some scheme versatility, I see his best fit as a Will in a 4-3 scheme. From an athletic and instincts viewpoint, he fits that profile much better.
5) Denzel Perryman – Miami
One thing you can’t take away form Denzell Perryman is that he is a very good football player. What he lacks is ideal measurbles. At 5’11 – 236 he is on the small side.
As an athlete, he test out to be average. He runs in the high 4.’7s to low 4.8’s but does play a little faster. He has excellent instincts and anticipation, and that gets him to the ball quickly on a consistent basis. He is better at slipping blocks than taking on and shedding blocks. There are times on tape when you see him get over powered. While he has a number of tackles credited to him, he also misses some. He is more of a hitter than a wrapper.
Perryman is not for everyone. There will be clubs that like him and others will have him off their boards. I see him as a Will in a 4-3 scheme. His instincts and quickness will allow him to perform well at that positon.
I know there are some who feel Perryman is a lock to go in the second round. While I agree that could happen, I feel it’s a stretch and it’s more likely that he goes in the third. It would not surprise me if players such as Kwon Alexander and Shaq Thompson get drafted before Perryman, but for the purpose of this article, I have those two listed as outside linebackers.
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Players are usually eager to enter free agency because of the expectation of a big payday. It doesn’t always work out that way. A market may never develop for a variety of reasons (age, unrealistic contract demands, supply at playing position, etc.). Here’s a look at a few players that haven’t or didn’t fare so well on the open market.
Michael Crabtree (WR): Crabtree took a backseat to 34 year old Anquan Boldin in the San Francisco 49ers’ passing game last season. The 2009 tenth overall pick finished 2014 with 68 receptions, 698 receiving yards and four touchdown catches. The 49ers went in a different direction at wide receiver by signing speedster Torrey Smith to a five-year, $40 million contract (with $22 million in guarantees). It only took Dwayne Bowe a week to find a new home with the Cleveland Browns once the Kansas City Chiefs released him. Bowe got a two-year, $12.5 million containing $9 million fully guaranteed despite three straight disappointing seasons in Kansas City. Crabtree is willing to be patient to find the right situation. He made $4 million in 2014 during the final year of his six year rookie contract. The odds are against him finding a one year deal for more than his 2014 salary.
Terrance Knighton (DT)-Washington Redskins: It was widely assumed Knighton’s affinity for head coach Jack Del Rio would lead him to the Oakland Raiders. Del Rio had Knighton for three years when he was coaching the Jacksonville Jaguars and spent the last two seasons as his defensive coordinator with the Denver Broncos. Continuing to play for Del Rio went out the window after Knighton eliminated the Raiders from consideration because of a “low ball” offer. Knighton was reportedly seeking a multi-year contract averaging $8 million per year. The Raiders signed defensive tackle Dan Williams to a four-year, $25 million deal with $15.2 million fully guaranteed instead. Knighton took a one year deal worth $4 million from the Redskins, which includes $450,000 in weight clauses.
Rolando McClain (ILB): McClain was one of the NFL’s best bargains in 2014 while making $700,000. He was retired and hadn’t played in the NFL since the Oakland Raiders released him in the middle of the 2012 season when the Dallas Cowboys acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens last off-season. McClain was the Cowboys’ best linebacker in 2014 and finished tied for second in the voting for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Other 2014 Cowboys linebackers quickly found deals on the open market. Bruce Carter signed a four-year, $17 million contract (worth up to $20.5 million with salary escalators and incentives) with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Justin Durant received a three-year, $10 million deal (worth a maximum of $13.8 million through incentives) from the Atlanta Falcons. McClain didn’t do himself any favors by running afoul of the league’s substance abuse policy. He is subject to a fine of four week’s salary for failing three drug tests. His next violation will result in a four game suspension.
The Cowboys are interested in bringing him back but have already signed Jasper Brinkley and Andrew Gachkar for middle linebacker depth. Brinkely received a one year deal worth $2.25 million with the Cowboys having an option for a second year at the same amount. Gachkar signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract (worth up to $5.5 million through incentives.).
Ahtyba Rubin-(DT)-Seattle Seahawks: Rubin’s one-year, $2.6 million deal (worth up to $3.1 million with incentives) is a big departure from his last contract. He entered free agency after completing a three-year, $26.5 million contract extension (with $18 million in guarantees) he signed with the Cleveland Browns in 2011. Rubin, who was slowed by a nagging ankle injury in 2014, will provide depth as a part of Seattle’s interior defensive line rotation.
Rahim Moore (S)-Houston Texans: Moore signed a three-year, $12 million deal ($4.5 million fully guaranteed) to fill a void at free safety that’s existed ever since Glover Quin left via free agency two years ago. It’s interesting that the Texans made a bigger commitment to an aging Ed Reed in 2013 than to the 25 year old Moore. Reed received a three-year, $15 million contract containing $5 million fully guaranteed when he was approaching 35 years of age. The future Hall of Famer made $5,050,966 from the Texans for appearing in seven games before being released nine games into the 2013 season. Moore is making $5 million in 2015.
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Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.
As we all know, offensive tackles are always looked at as premium prospects. They are the primary pass protectors on the offensive line. It wasn’t until the last few years that guards were also looked at as premium draft selections. Why? Defensive coordinators, in order to create mismatches, started using better pass rushers inside in the sub packages.
When guards were scouted, run blocking was always the most important specific that was graded. That is no longer the case and because there are better pass rushers inside, the guards have to become better pass protectors. Not only are the top guards drafted higher than they used to be, but once they reach the NFL they are getting paid at a higher rate.
Today we will take a look at two offensive lineman who should go fairly high in next month’s draft. Jake Fisher from Oregon is a left tackle and South Carolina’s A.J. Cann is one of the better guards available.
Jake Fisher – Oregon
During the college season, Fisher wasn’t getting much publicity as a top offensive line prospect. Since the season ended, his value has shot up. I think one of the reasons is that once the coaches got involved in the process, they saw more to Fisher’s game than some scouts did.
At 6’6 – 308 he has idea height with good length (33 ¾” arms). His frame is a bit on the narrow side, and I don’t see him getting bigger than about 315. He has good upper body strength (25 reps of 225), but he doesn’t have the really thick lower body that some coaches want.
As an athlete, he tests out as well as any tackle in this draft. He ran 5.01, had a 32.5” vertical jump and his agilities were 7.25 and 4.33 respectively. He has quick feet and is a natural bender.
When you watch tape, it jumps out that he is very well coached. He has very good snap reaction, keeps his back straight in pass protection, and does an excellent job using his hands. Right now, he is a better pass blocker than a run blocker because of his punch and the way he can mirror opponents. He is light on his feet and reacts quickly to keep good position versus counter moves.
He needs to improve his run blocking. While he has some snap in his hips on contact, his smaller lower body just isn’t as powerful as some of the bigger guys. He gets stalemated at times and isn’t consistent with getting movement. He is good at getting to the second level because of his athleticism and his ability to adjust on the move.
I see his best fit as a left tackle in a zone scheme. He needs to get bigger and stronger, and he will once he gets involved in an NFL weight program. The player he reminds me of from an athletic and size point of view is Lane Johnson who was the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft to the Eagles. While he isn’t as talented as Johnson was he has the same type of game.
It wouldn’t surprise me if Fisher went in the lower part of the first round, but I feel it is more likely that he goes in the early second.
A.J. Cann – South Carolina
Cann has very good guard size. He measures 6’4- 313 at the combine and has the frame to carry 320. While he didn’t work out at Indy, he did lift and did 26 reps which is equivalent to a 407 pound bench press. The South Carolina pro day isn’t until next week, so we will find out more about Cann’s athleticism then.
As a player, Cann is impressive on tape. He is a four year starter at the guard position. In the run game, he gets off the ball quickly and stays low. He shows power on contact and is consistently able to generate movement with run blocks. He uses his hands well while run blocking and takes good angles to the second level. He plays with the athleticism to get out in space and adjust on the move to make a productive block.
In pass protection, he is effective but needs to use his hands better. He can bend and move his feet, but can get lazy with his technique and overextend at times. He also fails to consistently keep his hands inside.
When he pays attention to detail, he shows he can mirror and anchor and does a good job reacting and adjusting to blitzes.
Overall, he has all the natural tools to excel at the guard position in the NFL. He just needs to be more consistent with his technique. While a player can get by on natural talent at the college level, that won’t happen in the NFL. If he doesn’t pay close attention to detail, an experienced defensive lineman will eat him up. This player has talent, and I can see him going in the second or third round.
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Accompanied by the customary media hype, the NFL recently announced the awarding of 32 compensatory draft selections. The determination of the selections to be awarded has evolved into a science. A handful of website and bloggers have “cracked the code” and do an excellent good job of projecting the compensatory selections.
I am not a fan of the current compensatory selection process. It is my view the selections provide minimal recompense for the losses a team suffers during free agency. Either there should be no compensation at all or the compensation should be fair. Instead, the NFL has taken a “something is better than nothing” approach.
Supporters of the current system can cite a list of compensatory selections that have gone on to be successful. In my opinion, this is strictly anecdotal information and there is no reason a compensatory pick should be more or less successful than the rest of the selections that surround them. As will be supported later in article by hard data there is no reason to expect that the compensatory selections will yield more than two or three starters each year.
Is there a better way to do it? I think that maybe there is. This article is intended to encourage discussion of the process without regard to the feasibility of actually pushing through a change. I acknowledge that the NFL and NFLPA have negotiated the matter of compensatory selections so it would not be easy to change. Feasibility will be discussed in the course of the article.
Before getting into that, let us review the process in more detail so that the proposed change is considered in the appropriate context. Compliments of the NFL, here are the players lost and signed by the 14 NFL teams that have been awarded compensatory picks.
The rules governing compensatory picks are impossible to find in writing but the aforementioned cap “scientists” have discerned the most important elements based on historical NFL awards. We do know that the number of picks is limited to 32, with no more than four awarded to any single team. What are the 32 compensatory selections likely to yield? Based on 20 years of history and considering their location in the draft, this year’s compensatory selections can be expected to yield the following:
The value of these selections is further diminished by the fact that the compensatory selections cannot be traded. This means they cannot be used as a throw-in that might facilitate a trade. I am not sure what the trade prohibition is intended to accomplish.
The Chiefs, with four selections between rounds three and six, received the most value in 2015 of any of the NFL teams. History tells us there is less than a 50% chance that the Chiefs’ compensatory picks will yield even one five-year starter. So there should be no illusions that the teams are receiving even moderate value in exchange for their free agent losses.
I would argue that a superior option, and one that does a better job of contributing to league parity, is to adjust a team’s cap through a “luxury tax” based on free agent signings. Let us look at the Chiefs to see how it would work. Here is a summary of free agents lost and signed by the Chiefs, with dollar values representing the 2014 cap for each player as published by overthecap.com.
For each player signed or lost, the contract amount would be multiplied by a percentage (say 17.5%, which is the Major League Baseball luxury tax rate) and the resulting product would be transferred from one team’s next annual cap number to another team. The Chiefs would receive a annual net cap increase of almost $2.4 million. The tax rate could be higher or lower depending on how much parity the league wants to encourage and based on negotiations.
I think there are several reasons why my proposal is better than the current system:
How would the owners, the union (“NFLPA”) and Roger Goodell react to such a proposed change? It is only fair to speculate that, unless it is a sold as “its good for the game” by Czar Roger, both the owners and the NFLPA are likely to be resistant to making a change. I have heard no displeasure voiced against the present system and without a “champion” any change is unlikely.
While there should be no change in overall spending (it is just a matter of the cap dollars changing pockets), the NFLPA may see it as having the potential to restrict player movement due to the luxury tax component. Just by the nature of the bargaining process, the NFLPA would want something in return for making even a neutral change.
It takes the vote of 24 owners to change an NFL rule. Whether that level of commitment is obtainable depends on the balance between teams that are buyers or sellers of free agents. The sellers would not like this change. The current system allows them to pursue free agents without having to surrender anything other than the compensation paid to the player they signed. The proposed process introduces an additional cost of signing free agents. For a team that essentially sits out free agency, I would think they would support this change as it provides value that could be greater and maybe more fair than the current system when free agents are lost. It is hard for me to imagine that 24 positive votes could be garnered.
The bottom line is that, my protestations to the contrary, we are stuck with the present system. There is certainly no discussion I have seen that indicates otherwise.
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As I have written many times in the past, one thing that you can count on in the NFL Draft is that in the first three rounds you will see from 12 to 15 corners selected. It happens just about every year.
Teams almost always have a need at the position, and because there are so few that can actually play well, the corners selected late in the third round are usually a bit over drafted. This year’s class is similar to others in that there aren’t a lot of premium corners, but there are a number of players who, if drafted in the right situation, can contribute.
Two such players are Louisville’s Charles Gaines and Tulane’s Lorenzo Doss.
Charles Gaines – Louisville
The first thing that jumps out about Gaines is that he has only played the corner position for two years. He was previously a wide receiver. Additionally, he is an underclassman entering the draft early. He still had one year of eligibility remaining.
Gaines has adequate corner size. He stands 5’10 – 180, but has a narrow frame. I doubt his growth potential is much more than 185. What helps is that he has such long arms. They measured 31 3/8 at the combine and on a 5’10 guy, that is very good length. It allows him to play taller than his 5’10 height.
Gaines has the athleticism and suddenness required for the position. He ran in the low 4.4’s and showed good jumping ability and change of direction. He has quick feet and loose hips allowing to stay low in his pedal and he can turn quickly. He is very good with his transition, showing no hesitation or extra steps at the top of his pedal.
On tape, he shows he can play press, off, or zone with equal proficiency. He has good instincts and reactions and plays with very good awareness.
Despite his lean frame, Gaines is a tough guy who will hit. He will miss some tackles, but that is due more to a lack of top upper body strength than anything else. He is a very willing hitter and has been a core special teams player at Louisville.
He is a player on the rise and his best football should be in front of him. Currently, I see him as more of a nickel corner, but if he can get a little bigger and stronger, there is no reason he can’t play outside and be an eventual starter.
Lorenzo Doss – Tulane
Doss is a third-year junior entering the draft. He is also a three-year starter for Tulane. He has been a productive player with 82 tackles, 18 pass broken up and 10 interceptions the last two seasons.
Doss has a small frame, measuring 5’10 – 182 at the Combine. He also has short arms for the position (29 ¾). His speed is adequate (4.50), but he has very quick feet and top overall body control. He has a low, quick pedal, and turns well. His transition is as good as any corner in this draft.
In the Tulane defense, they play a lot of off and zone coverage, and Doss is very good in those areas. He is a quick reactor, makes good decisions, and is seldom out of position. Despite his lack of great size, he is a very competitive player.
On the downside, he is confident in his play and will take some chances. Sometimes those chances come back to haunt him. His lack of top end deep speed can also hurt him when playing speed receivers. While he has been credited with a number of tackles, he also misses some because he is more of a hitter than a wrapper.
He is talented, but his small frame can limit him. While he has outstanding ball skills, he can get out-muscled for the ball at times and can have trouble with big receivers. I see his future as a nickel corner, who should be able to play most slot receivers well. He just doesn’t have the natural traits to be sure he can be successful outside.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe