2011 NFL Draft

Matt Szczur choses MLB over NFL

The Cubs now have one hell of a receiving corps.

As first reported by Tony Pauline of DraftInsider.net, Villanova wide receiver Matt Szczur (pronounced see-zur) has decided to pass up the opportunity to play in the NFL and has signed with the Chicago Cubs – joining former Notre Dame standout Jeff Samardzija. The deal is reportedly worth $1.5M.

Szczur likely would have come off the board within the top 150 picks

Personally, I’m disappointed because Szczur was a fun player to watch and I was very high on him entering this year’s draft process. He still needed to prove himself at the combine, but in my initial rankings I had Szczur as the 10th overall receiver.

Wes Welker comparisons get tossed around too often, but Szczur legitimately had the potential to become that type of player, and perhaps better. He isn’t quite as fast as Welker, but is slightly taller and has a better overall build.

What I loved most about Szczur was how he ran after the catch. With the ball in his hands he turned into a running back, similar to a bigger version of Percy Harvin.

Concerns about his level of competition almost certainly would have limited his draft ceiling to the 2nd round, with the 3rd or 4th round being a more likely destination, but he definitely had the attention of NFL scouts and would have been one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s draft.

In the end, though, the decision may have been about money more than anything else. The Cubs $1.5M offer was likely far more than he would have seen as a rookie in the NFL, and he has the potential to earn that over a much longer career in baseball.

I wish him nothing but the best in the majors, but am definitely disappointed to see him pull his name from the draft.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off

Who will start at QB for the 49ers in 2011?

The only quarterback under contract in San Francisco right now is David Carr.

I think it’s safe to say Carr won’t be Jim Harbaugh’s opening day starter, so how do they plan to address this situation?

If you thought Alex Smith or Troy Smith had a chance to return for 2011, new GM Trent Baalke already shot down that possibility. When asked if the quarterback of the future was already on the roster, Baalke responded by saying “I think it’s obvious that he isn’t at this point.”

The ideal scenario would be to draft someone in the 1st round. But who?

Jim Harbaugh intends to install the west coast offsense, which makes me believe Cam Newton and Jake Locker aren’t options. Their athleticism is certainly intriguing, but neither has demonstrated the consistent accuracy to be a good fit.

Ryan Mallett isn’t a great fit either. He has a rocket arm and struggles with his touch on the shorter passes required in the west coast offense.

That would leave Blaine Gabbert as the only option among the 1st-round quarterbacks. The only probably with that strategy is the fact that Gabbert is the consensus top available quarterback. Both Buffalo and Arizona would need to pass on Gabbert before the 49ers would have a shot at drafting him.

If they determine this isn’t the year to draft a quarterback – at least not in the 1st round – they may turn their attention to the free agent market. Matt Hasselbeck and Seneca Wallace are both free agents with experience in the west coast system. Either one would be an upgrade and could keep the seat warm for whoever Harbaugh tabs as the quarterback of the future.

And if they can’t find a free agent to their liking, perhaps the may be interested in Kevin Kolb. Michael Vick is a free agent, but the Eagles are likely to work out a long-term deal. If that happens, Kolb has already stated that he would like to either be the starter in Philly or be sent elsewhere. With just one year left on his contract, San Francisco may be an excellent place for Kolb to prove himself before hitting the open market in 2012.

The 49ers certainly don’t have a shortage of options. This will be an interesting search to keep tabs on throughout the offseason. Harbaugh – a former quarterback himself – will be heavily involved in the process of finding the 49ers next franchise QB, and there is no doubt he would like to find one sooner rather than later.


Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, 49ers 7 Comments

Money could determine who Panthers take No. 1

Typically by the time the college season wraps up we have a pretty good idea of who the No. 1 pick will be. If not, it’s usually at least narrowed down to two names. This year I believe there are four legitimate options for the Panthers, and I don’t expect them to make a decision until just days before the draft.

I expect the consensus to be that the Panthers should take Da’Quan Bowers. The current poll on our site has Bowers favored with 43 percent of the vote [as of 11am on Jan. 12].

Bowers makes a lot of sense. Charles Johnson stepped up as an effective pass rusher in the absence of Julius Peppers, but Johnson is one dimensional. Bowers is a much more complete lineman, who can be effective on all three downs.

Even if the Panthers want Bowers, however, that doesn’t mean he’ll be the pick.

The Panthers have turned into a cheap organization. They limited their coaching search this offseason to first-timers for that very reason. They’re loyal to their players – perhaps to a fault – but they rarely reach into their pockets to sign big-name free agents.

As a result, the Panthers may be inclined to essentially create a bidding war for the No. 1 pick.

Here’s how it could work. The Panthers may indicate that they’re favoring Bowers, but reach out to Nick Fairley, A.J. Green and Patrick Peterson as well. There’s no guarantee that any of them will come off the board within the top five, so they may be willing to bring down their asking price in order to guarantee themselves a significant contract.

Look at it from Peterson’s perspective: a cornerback has never been chosen higher than 3rd overall – he may be driven to take less money simply to hold that distinction. On top of that, he could easily fall into the second half of the top-10 if he doesn’t go No. 1 overall. He is an elite prospect, but cornerbacks are rarely high on the wish list of teams selecting in the top five. As a result, he may be willing to take money closer to that of the No. 2 or No. 3 pick, simply to guarantee himself a big pay day.

The same can be said for A.J. Green. If the Panthers pass on him he won’t be selected until No. 3 at the earliest (the Broncos don’t need another receiver at No. 2) and could fall to No. 6 to the Browns. By accepting less money than a typical No. 1 pick, he could still guarantee himself more money than if he had fallen to Cleveland.

What makes all of this even more likely is the labor situation. If the NFL is in the midst of a lockout (yes, the draft will still occur in the even of a lockout) the Panthers may be even more motivated to favor a smaller contract over the guy who is truly No. 1 on their draft board. Likewise, the players may be more eager to guarantee themselves as much money as possible knowing that they may not be collecting a paycheck until 2012.

This strategy will take some time to develop, and likely won’t begin to take shape until about 10 days before the draft. It could create for a very interesting week leading up to the draft and could make some Panthers fans very unhappy. Settling for a player simply because he will sign for less won’t be a popular decision, but it may be the right one considering the current state of the NFL.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Panthers 1 Comment

How Kevin Kolb could impact the draft

Every year the NFL draft projections change as free agents sign and players get traded, but nothing changes the landscape of the draft – and the league, for that matter – more than a starting quarterback finding a new home.

This year the man on the move is Kevin Kolb.

Everyone expects the Eagles to either re-sign or franchise Michael Vick, and when that happens Kevin Kolb is likely to demand a trade. Where he winds up could have a ripple effect on the draft.

Here’s a look at a few possibilities:

The Bills own the 3rd pick, but it is entirely possible that they would prefer to avoid taking a quarterback. There are a number of 1st-round options, but no one jumps out as an obvious franchise quarterback. They may be content to trade for Kolb and use that pick on A.J. Green – a move which may actually have a more immediate impact on their rebuilding process. If that happened, it would mean the first quarterback wouldn’t come off the board until the 5th pick at the earliest.

The Cardinals, who own the 5th pick, are another option. I believe Ken Whisenhunt would prefer to fix their quarterback situation with a veteran, rather than with a draft pick. He knows he’s on a short leash, and drafting a quarterback would lead to a full rebuilding process which he likely wouldn’t survive. Adding Kolb would immediately put them back in the playoff picture in the NFC West.

The 49ers are in a good position to land a quarterback in the draft, but there’s no guarantee – especially if they have their heart set on someone in particular. In order to avoid the drama, they may prefer to trade for Kolb. That could cause for someone to fall to the Titans and/or Redskins.

The Titans are in a similar position to the Cardinals. They need a new quarterback, but their coach may not be around to see him develop. As a result, Jeff Fisher may push for the franchise to trade for Kolb or someone else who can help them win immediately. That could allow for someone to fall to the Redskins.

The Redskins don’t seem interested in extending the Donovan McNabb era, but they also aren’t in a position to feel comfortable about landing a quarterback in the draft. Trading for Kolb may be a smart move (if the Eagles could justify another trade within the division). If they trade for Kolb, it would increase the chances that a top quarterback falls out of the top 10, which the Vikings and Dolphins would be absolutely thrilled about.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, 49ers, Bills, Cardinals, Eagles, Redskins, Titans 6 Comments

Is Patrick Peterson worth a top-five pick?

When you own a top-five pick you expect to land a perennial All-Pro, and someone capable of anchoring your team for the better part of the next decade.

For that reason, certain positions are selected in the top five more frequently than others, such as quarterback, offensive tackle and defensive lineman. Those are generally safe positions to draft high, producing a relatively low percentage of busts.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is cornerback.

Since 1990 only eight cornerbacks have been selected in the top five, and only two of those eight were selected to multiple Pro Bowls (Charles Woodson and Terence Newman).

Pro-Football-Reference.com tracks a stat called “Career Approximate Value” it attempts to quantify each player’s career so that players can be compared across positions and across eras. It isn’t perfect, but I think it’s the best way take the bias out of comparisons.

When applying this stat to cornerbacks in each draft class which produced a top-five pick, only Woodson ranked as the top cornerback in his class. Additionally, only Woodson ranked as one of the top five overall players in his class.

Even as the top-rated cornerback, Peterson may not be worth a top-five pick

So how does this apply to Patrick Peterson, who is expected to declare for the draft on Monday?

Personally, I’m a huge fan of Peterson. He has all the physical tools necessary to be an elite cornerback in the NFL… but so did Quentin Jammer, Shawn Springs and Terrell Buckley.

Cornerback is simply a difficult position to play at an elite level over a long period of time. Even a cornerback such as Springs, who had a fine career and appeared in one Pro Bowl, ranked only as the 20th best player in his draft class – behind players selected after him such as Walter Jones (6th overall selection), Tony Gonzalez (13th) and Tarik Glenn (19th).

My theory on cornerbacks is that they are “secondary players” – in other words, their success directly relies on the success of others (the pass rush). Place an elite cornerback on a team with no pass rush, and they suddenly won’t look so dominant anymore.

The “primary players” – quarterbacks and linemen, for example – are essentially in control of their own performance (obviously it’s a team game for everyone, but these positions are more in control than others). And for this reason, “primary players” are safer bets to take in the top five.

So while I think Patrick Peterson has a ton of potential and I won’t hesitate to rank him among the top 10 prospects, I would be very nervous about making him a top five pick. The teams drafting in the top five have far too many other holes to fill to spend a pick on a cornerback, which is essentially a luxury pick.

I think there is an excellent chance that Peterson will be a quality starting cornerback for many years to come, but he probably won’t be a difference maker for a franchise in rebuilding mode.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 2 Comments

A.J. Green enters draft; is he worth a top-10 pick?

Wide receivers are a tricky group of guys to judge.

The raw talent between the elite receivers in a draft class and the next group of players may be greater than any other position. However, raw talent rarely translates into immediate NFL success.

Over the previous 10 drafts there have been 14 receivers selected within the first 10 picks. Of those 14, only five of rank among the top three receivers taken in their draft class [according to the stat "Career Approximate Value" on Pro-Football-Reference.com].

So what makes a receiver actually worth a top-10 pick?

To answer that question, you need to go beyond the stats and look at the player as an individual. The three receivers who ranked at the top of their draft class all have one thing in common – they are three of the most well-respected people in the NFL.

Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson don’t make the highlight reel for their touchdown celebrations or their contract demands. They simply go out and play football. They are among the hardest working players on their team and none have the “diva” attitude that plagues so many elite receivers.

A.J. Green - who officially declared for the draft on Sunday - is the consensus top available receiver, and will likely be a top-10 pick.

So is he worth it?

At this point, I honestly don’t know but the initial indications aren’t good. Green was suspended four games this past year for selling a jersey to an agent. I’m not willing to condemn his draft stock for this alone, but it raises concerns which NFL teams will ask numerous questions about at the combine and in his private workouts.

Talent-wise, Green is on par with any of the elite receiver in the NFL. He will be a 1st-round pick, but how he handles these interviews and how he presents himself as a person – as well as how his Georgia coaches portray him to NFL scouts, coaches and GMs – will determine just how high he is selected.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 2 Comments

Rahim Moore could be one of most coveted prospects in 2011 Draft

UCLA junior safety Rahim Moore has announced that he will enter the draft.

The casual football fan has probably never heard of him, as UCLA hasn’t exactly grabbed national headlines over the past few seasons, but Moore may be the one of the most highly sought after prospects in this year’s draft.

Moore could come off the board as high as No. 11 to the Texans

In a typical year Moore would probably be a late 1st round to mid 2nd-round pick. Due to a lack of talent at safety in this year’s draft class, however, Moore could come off the board in the top 15.

The Texans, who own the 11th pick in the draft, may be his best-case scenario. He likely won’t be the 11th-best player on anyone’s draft board, but he fills a huge need in Houston and there is a significant gap between him and the next best option.

Moore is an ideal fit at free safety, and could supplant Eugene Wilson as the starter in Houston. If they see him as a strong safety, he could replace free agent Bernard Pollard.

Other teams such as the Ravens (looking for Ed Reed’s eventual replacement) and the Colts (insurance behind Bob Sanders) could also target Moore.

Should he slide past Houston, it is possible that one of these teams with a late 1st-round pick will trade up in an effort to land Moore, who may be the only safety with a consensus 1st-round grade.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Colts, Ravens, Texans Comments Off

Luck’s decision raises questions about his dedication to football

I’ll start by saying I fully support Luck’s decision to stay in school. This is a personal decision and probably the biggest one he’s had to make at this point in his life. He has to do whatever makes him feel most comfortable.

Is Luck truly dedicated to football?

That said, when an NFL team does finally decide to pay him millions of dollars, nothing is too personal to be questioned.

To an outsider, Luck’s decision makes little sense. He says that he is committed to earning his degree; that’s fine, but nothing would stop him from returning to Stanford upon the conclusion of his NFL career – or even during offseasons.

By going back to school, he may be costing himself in the ballpark of $40M. A rookie wage scale may not be in place by this April, which means the top pick will get at least $50M. By 2012, a wage scale is almost certain to be in place which will bring to the price tag of the No. 1 pick down well below that figure – probably in the rage of $10-20M guaranteed.

All this adds up to a very confusing decision by Luck. His education vs the NFL was not an either/or choice.

As a result, when he does enter the draft next offseason teams will question him about this decision. They will want to no what led him to stay at Stanford and forgo millions of dollars in guaranteed money – money which he’ll never be able to recoup. They’ll want to know if he is truly dedicate to the game of football, or if his ambitions lie elsewhere.

Maybe these are unfair questions, but they will be asked and he will need to be prepared to further explain his decision.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment

Huge draft implications in Jets/Colts game… for the Chargers

The Chargers are huge Jets fans this weekend.

According to a report by ESPNNewYork reporter Rich Cirimi (via ProFootballTalk) the conditions of the Antonio Cromartie trade state that if the Jets advance past the Wild Card round of the playoffs the Chargers get a 2nd-round pick instead of a 3rd round pick.

That one-round jump is nothing to sneeze at.

With a 1st-round pick and two 2nd-round picks the Chargers would have the ability to be major players on draft day. Their biggest hole is right tackle, and they could easily land a starter with one of those three selections. They could also move up to select the guy the want if they were worried that someone such as Derek Sherrod may not be on the board at No. 18.

Another interesting development could come when a decision is made about Vincent Jackson. The Chargers are not likely to let him walk without getting something in return. So a sign and trade could very well net them yet another 2nd round pick. That may give them the ammunition to move into the top 10 if they wished to make a move for A.J. Green or possibly Julio Jones.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Chargers, Jets 2 Comments

Could the Panthers trade the No. 1 pick?

If Andrew Luck enters the draft as expected, Panthers GM Marty Hurney has an incredible easy job… or so we think.

Obviously no one would fault the Panthers for taking Luck. He is the consensus top available player and arguably the best quarterback prospect to come along since Peyton Manning.

But what if they don’t want Luck?

Passing over Luck isn’t an option – it would be a public relations nightmare which could haunt them for years and ultimately could cost Hurney his job. Trading the pick, however, is a very real possibility.

The Panthers are starving for NFL talent, and aren’t going to get much from this draft. Remember, they inexplicably traded their 2011 2nd-round pick for a 3rd-round pick in last year’s draft which they used on Armanti Edwards. Hurney needs to find a way to add more picks in this year’s draft, and trading the top selection would net him a nice package.

Any trade for Luck would have to look a lot like the Eli Manning trade in 2004. In that deal the Giants gave up their 2004 and 2005 1st round picks (Phillip Rivers and Shawne Merriman) as well as their 2004 3rd-round pick (Nate Kaeding) and 2005 5th-round pick (traded to Tampa Bay).

Considering the fact that the Panthers wouldn’t be getting a franchise quarterback in return such as Rivers, I would expect the price tag for Luck to be even higher. The Bills have the best chance to work out a deal, which I expect would require their 2011 and 2012 1st-round picks, as well as 3rd round pick this year and possibly a 3rd in next year’s draft as well.

Additionally, the Panthers benefit from the fact that multiple teams will be in the bidding to trade up for Luck. The Bills are an obvious option, as well as the Cardinals, 49ers, Titans and Redskins. Anyone outside the top-10 probably doesn’t have the ability to move up, unless they throw in a proven NFL starter as well.

Don’t be fooled by the recent statements that the Panthers intend to draft Luck. All that does is help ensure that Luck enters the draft. In no way does it mean they have actually settled on him. They simply know that they want the option to either take him or trade him – either way, with Luck in the draft the Panthers are big winners.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, 49ers, Bills, Cardinals, Panthers, Redskins, Titans Comments Off