2012 NFL Draft

Why Browns don’t need to trade both 1st round picks to move up for Griffin

The general consensus is that the Cleveland Browns will ultimately win the bidding war for Robert Griffin III due to the fact that they own two 1st round picks, and therefore can offer more than the Redskins or Dolphins. However, the Browns should be able to win the Griffin sweepstakes without parting with the 22nd pick.

For starters, the Browns also own the 37th pick, two spots higher than the Redskins 2nd-round pick. If the Redskins offer their 1st and 2nd round selections, the Browns can out-bid them simply by matching the offer.

On top of that, the Rams may not be interested in dropping all the way to No. 6. By sliding to No. 4, the Redskins are still guaranteed to get either Matt Kalil or Justin Blackmon –  most likely the top two prospects on their draft board. Any GM would be thrilled to land one of their two favorite prospects at No. 4 and pick up an additional second-round pick in the process. So whatever the Redskins offer to sweeten the pot beyond the Browns 1st and 2nd round picks may not be worth it to St. Louis.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Browns, Rams, Redskins 1 Comment

Browns Offseason Priority: Find Some Playmakers

While most Cleveland Browns fans would prefer to blame Colt McCoy for disappointing offensive performance, the fact is no quarterback could have salvaged the Browns offense in 2011.

Could Griffin be the Browns superman?

Aside from rookie Greg Little, who showed some promise, the Browns simply lack the playmakers necessary to consistently put points on the scoreboard. And the issue goes beyond the wide receiver position. While a healthy Peyton Hillis will help (if he’s re-signed) even he isn’t a true playmaker. What the Browns need is someone their opponents need to game plan for, someone who can change the course of the game in a single play.

The easiest solution to this problem would be to add Robert Griffin III. While I believe Colt McCoy can be an effective starter if surrounded by a strong supporting cast, he will never have Griffin’s playmaking ability. McCoy can win with the right teammates, but Griffin has the potential to turn his teammates into winners.

But if Griffin is off the board, hope is not lost. The Browns still own three of the top 37 picks, and could acquire another if they trade down – which would make sense if the lose out in the bidding for Griffin.

If the Browns move back 5-10 slots to the middle of the 1st round they could potentially add Kendall Wright, who would immediately add a new dimension to their offense given his ability to stretch the field.

Then, either at No. 22 or in the 2nd round, the Browns could add another weapon – perhaps a playmaker at running back (Doug Martin or David Wilson) or a pass-catching tight end such as Coby Fleener or Ladarius Green.

The bottom line is this: the Browns have some glaring holes, but also have the ammunition necessary to address their areas of concern. Adding Griffin would help, but all will not be lost if they’re forced to return with Colt McCoy as the starter in 2012.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Browns 1 Comment

Breaking down Tannehill vs Arkansas

Last night I broke down Tannehill vs LSU in the 2011 Sugar Bowl – easily the best defense he faced as a starting quarterback. Tonight I’ll break down his performance against Arkansas. While the Razorbacks don’t compare to LSU, they were the top rated pass defense Tannehill faced in 2011.

Below are my notes on the game, and here is an excel sheet charting each of his dropbacks (excluding designed runs) from the game…

Tannehill picked apart the Razorbacks, but still raised questions

Comeback Routes – Tannehill and Jeff Fuller picked apart the Razorbacks secondary, connecting nine times for 82 yards. However, Tannehill was not pressured consistently (just six times) and each of Fuller’s receptions came on comeback or curl routes (and one drag), which presented Tannehill with a large target and plenty of time to get the ball to his top receiver. There’s no reason to criticize Tannehill for this – he took what the defense gave him – but it also don’t allow us to say anything positive in terms of his NFL potential. His favorite route to throw to was Fuller’s comeback routes, which are relatively rare and far more difficult to complete at the next level. Due to the small hashmarks in the NFL, this is a longer throw and NFL cornerbacks are often playing tighter coverage against such routes – especially when a team continues to go back to the well as A&M did in this game.

Deeper Routes – On a positive note, Tannehill twice connected with Ryan Swope on a hitch-and-go down the sideline and both were beautiful touch passes. On both throws Tannehill dropped the ball into a relatively tight space between defensive backs in zone coverage.  These were easily the two most impressive throws I’ve seen from Tannehill, and throws which were not made against LSU.

Hitting WRs in stride – However, when Tannehill attempted to hit a receiver in stride moving across the field, he showed the same inaccuracy as he did against LSU the previous season. At one point in the red zone in the 1st half, Tannehill throws behind a wide open Swope who was running a drag route toward the sideline. Let’s break down this particular play…

Swope (#25) immediately recognizes that he’s unaccounted for and signals to Tannehill, but as you can see in this frame Tannehill is still focused on Uzoma Nwachukwu who ran a comeback route down to the five yard line.

A few steps later, Tannehill sees Swope and rifles a pass which ultimately ends up sailing behind him. But take a look at the field. You can’t see it from this angle, but there is no one over the top of Swope except the two defensive backs in the opposite corners of the screen. Tannehill has no reason to fire a bullet at Swope, he has a clear path in every direction. No. 8 (in front of Swope) is focused on No. 19 and doesn’t appear to be aware of Swope. No. 9 (bottom left corner) is focused on Nwachukwu, who is standing on the five yard line. Tannehill can lead Swope to the sideline for an easy first down, or attempt to lead Swope toward the end zone with a slightly deeper throw.

Later in the game the same issues arise on similar routes; Tannehill throws wide to a diving Fuller who tips the ball, which is nearly intercepted. And on the final drive of the game, he again throws behind Swope on another drag route. By my count, Tannehill completed just two of five passes to receivers cutting across the middle of the field, or toward the sideline. If he cannot make these throws, that all but eliminates him from playing in a West Coast offense.

Confidence? – Another potential issue this raises – and this is strictly reading between the lines – is that Tannehill may simply lacks the confidence (or his coaching staff lacks confidence in him) to throw to these types of routes. Of his 27 aimed passes (not thrown away, spiked, etc), 22 were targeted at receivers who were essentially standing still (curls, comebacks, screens, etc). These types of passes aren’t always easy, but they’re more about timing than anything else. To Tannehill’s credit, he does have the timing down. However, it appears that Texas A&M’s offensive coaching staff carefully designed a game plan to highlight Tannehill’s strengths and mask his issues with leading receivers across the field.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft Comments Off

Vikings Offseason Priority: Protect Ponder

The Minnesota Vikings took a risk last year by investing a high 1st-round pick in Christian Ponder. And now that they have their franchise quarterback, it’s time to surround him with the talent he needs to succeed.

According to ProFootballFocus.com the Vikings offensive line ranked in the middle of the pack in terms of pass blocking efficiency (16th overall). But while they were acceptable as a group, there are some holes which could be filled.

The most glaring issue on the line is at left tackle, where free agent pickup Charlie Johnson struggled all season. ProFootballFocus ranked Johnson 42nd out of 58 tackles in terms of pass blocking efficiency (93.5%).

The best-case scenario for the Vikings would be land Matt Kalil with the 3rd overall selection. Adding Kalil would allow the Vikings to cut Johnson, who is set to earn $2.95M in each of the next two seasons.

If Kalil is off the board, however, there isn’t an offensive lineman worthy of the 3rd overall selection. However, if Kalil is gone, that means Robert Griffin is still on the board. The  Vikings could potentially trade down with either the Redskins or Dolphins and select Riley Reiff at a more appropriate position in the 1st round, while also adding some much needed draft picks.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Vikings Comments Off

Former NFL QB Tony Banks shares thoughts on Tannehill

I spent a good deal of time last night evaluating Ryan Tannehill and debating his potential on twitter. Shortly after posting a detailed break down of Tannehill’s performance against LSU in the 2011 Sugar Bowl, former quarterback and current Big Ten Network analyst Tony Banks chimed in.

I had stated that Tannehill’s accuracy was fine on simple routes, when his receivers aren’t on the move, but struggles hitting receivers in stride on slants and other crossing patters. That’s when Banks chimed in…

Clearly Banks was joking (sort of) which he explained later, but first went on to dismiss the notion of Tannehill as a 1st round prospect.

The conversation continued, but you get the jist of it from these tweets.

I completely agree with Banks’ blunt assessment that Tannehill “plays catch well” but struggles with the types of throws you need to make in the NFL. Saying he’s never made a 1st-round throw may be a slight exaggeration, but Banks was simply making his point clear – Tannehill was not forced to make the types of throws or decisions at Texas A&M that he will be faced with at the next level.

As the conversation turned from Tannehill, Banks also shared thoughts on Brock Osweiler (likes his potential but concerned with delivery) and his alma maters’ quarterback Kirk Cousins (likes his measurables but says he’s “skiddish” in the pocket”).

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft 1 Comment

In depth look at Tannehill vs LSU

As we inch closer to the draft it’s becoming increasingly clear that Ryan Tannehill is going to be a 1st-round pick.

In January, when I finalized my report on Tannehill, I initially gave him a 3rd round grade and expected, due to the premium put on the position, that he would probably come off the board in the 2nd round. But since his consensus grade seems to be much higher, I wanted to go back and take a closer look.

More specifically, I wanted to see Tannehill in situations most comparable to what he’ll face in the NFL. Unfortunately, due to Texas A&M’s schedule I had to go back to the 2011 Sugar Bowl vs LSU to find a defense worthy to truly testing Tannehill, both in terms of coverage in the secondary and pressure with the front seven.

Here are my notes on what stood out [here is the excel sheet with detailed stats on each time he dropped back to throw]

A close look at the 2011 Sugar Bowl gives up some insight into Tannehill's game

Pocket Presence - The first thing that stands out is Tannehill’s willingness to stand in the pocket. Considering his athleticism and the fact that he was a relatively new starter at this stage in his carer, this is impressive. He isn’t afraid to take a hit, and only runs as a last resort. Tannehill was pressured fairly consistently in this game, and while the pressure did force some bad throws, only once did it force him to take off running.

Issues with certain routes - One concern that is raised by his performance in this game is the type of throws on which he struggles. Texas A&M’s offense is fairly conservative by Big 12 standards and is a close match for what he’ll see in the the NFL. As a result, he’s familiar with the type of reads he’ll need to make at the next level. However, he has a tendency - be it by design or choice, only his coaches could tell us that – to shy away from throwing to a moving target. In this game Tannehill rarely threw across the  middle of the field, favoring hitches and hooks and an occasional quick out. When throwing to a moving target, his accuracy is noticeable shaky and it’s possible he consciously avoids these routes. This is of particular concern to teams running the West Coast offense. If he isn’t capable of hitting receivers in stride on quick slants, then he isn’t going to be able to handle that type of scheme.

Handling Pressure – Perhaps the most serious concern that arises from his performance against LSU is his inability to handle pressure. By my count, Tannehill was pressured 10 times. Two resulted in a sack (one was also a fumble), one pass was batted down and on another he was forced to run. That left six aimed passes, two of which he completed. However, the two completed passes were both dump-offs to the running back either at or behind the line of scrimmage. Of the other four passes, all of which were incomplete, only one was accurate (a nice low throw on the run into tight coverage where only his man could reach it).

Accuracy in pocket – When not pressured, Tannehill looked comfortable in the pocket. However, his accuracy was only marginally better. 19 of his 28 passes were on target – a very average number for a guy considered a potential top pick. He has a tendency, even without any pressure, to throw off his back foot which results in high throws. This is fixable, but it also shows up in his 2011 film, so there is still work to be done.

Deep Accuracy – One final concern that presents itself in this game is his inability to find receivers down field. As I already mentioned has favors short routes, and likes to check down when he doesn’t immediately see something open down the field. When he does take a shot deep (15 yards or beyond) he’s erratic. In this game he completed just 3 of 9 passes deep passes, and only four were on target. Two of his throws sailed out of bounds, another was a good three feet over his receivers head and nearly intercepted, and another bounced a good three yards in front of his receiver.

Final Thoughts – After putting this game under the microscope, I have to stick with my initial evaluation of Tannehill. He clearly looks the part, and has the athleticism and pocket presence to play at the next level. However, he is still developing and has too many holes in his game to warrant a 1st-round pick. I will not be surprised if he does develop into a quality starter, but if I’m taking a quarterback in the 1st round I want to be more confident in his ability to lead my franchise for the next decade than I am with Tannehill.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft Comments Off

Rams Offseason Priority: Get Bradford Some Weapons

The St. Louis Rams have holes all over the place, but one area of concern stands out above the rest: wide receiver.

The midseason acquisition of Brandon Lloyd was a futile attempt to turn the league’s worst receiving corps into something that Sam Bradford could work with. And while Floyd was an upgrade over Mike Sims-Walker, he made little noticeable impact and is now set to become a free agent (and more than likely will take the first chance to sign elsewhere).

That leaves the Rams with Brandon Gibson, Greg Salas (who has excellent hands and should be use more), Austin Pettis and Danario Alexander – not exactly a crew Bradford can get excited about.

So what can the Rams realistically do to improve this group?

Obviously they’ll try to spend some money in free agency, but it can be tough to attract any meaningful veterans to a 2-14 team with a struggling third-year quarterback.

In reality, the Rams will be forced to address this need in the draft, and it could start in the 1st round. Most assume that Justin Blackmon will be high on the Rams wish list, and he is definitely an option. However, Kendall Wright may actually be the better fit for new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offensive scheme.

While Wright is smaller than Blackmon, he is far superior in his ability to stretch the field, a key component in the Schottenheimer scheme. One of the reason’s Schottenheimer’s offense struggled in New York was due to his inability to find the right quarterback-receiver combo to stretch the field – something which he will likely be hoping to develop early in his tenure in St. Louis.

 

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Rams 1 Comment

Could Steelers draft a RB to replace injured Mendenhall?

ESPN is reporting that Pittsburgh Steelers franchise running back Rashard Mendenhall, who torn his ACL in their regular-season finale, could miss the entire 2012 season.

If Mendenhall does sit out the entire year, he will have missed 28 games in five years and will be a 26-year-old injury-prone free agent heading into the 2013 offseason.

While the Steelers could certainly attempt to re-sign Mendenhall at a discount at some point during the course of the next year, a running back with two major injuries in five years isn’t exactly someone you want to build around.

So could this be the end of the road for Mendenhall in Pittsburgh?

Even if they do intend to bring him back for 2013 and beyond, this could be the year to find his long-term replacement. The Steelers obviously need a short-term solution at running back, and they could use an insurance policy behind Mendenhall if he does return [and no, 27-year-old Isaac Redman is not the future].

The best fit for Pittsburgh’s offense in this year’s class is Boise State’s Doug Martin. Like Mendenhall, Martin is short in stature but is a tough, physical, between-the-tackles runner. As an added bonus, Martin would offer the Steelers an upgrade over Mendenhall in terms of his playmaking ability in the passing game.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Steelers Comments Off

Why stamina is crucial for nose tackles

It’s not easy to move around when you weigh 330 pounds. The mere fact that some NFL nose tackles are able to take the field every Sunday is a testament to their incredible conditioning.

But even among these elite athletes, there is a tipping point where production diminishes.

In 2012, there were seven defensive linemen listed at 330 pounds or more who started at least 10 games. In an effort to determine just how valuable stamina was to their performance, I attempted to find their collective tipping point.

Using the snap count information from ProFootballFocus.com and their game-by-game grades, I was able to determine that somewhere around 30 snaps (roughly half of a game), these behemoths tend to see a decline in their production.

Cody is effective, but only when the Ravens limit his snaps.

During games in which these linemen played 30 or fewer snaps, they earned a cumulative grade of +7.6 (in 870 total snaps). In games in which they played more than 30 snaps (3,498 total snaps) they earned a cumulative grade of just 5.6.

If you break those numbers down, the players had a +.0016 grade per snap when playing more than 30 per game, and a +.0087 grade per snap when playing 30 or less. Those numbers may seem small, but that’s 445% increase in production, just by limiting their snaps.

The best example of this is Terrence Cody who, at 360 pounds, has struggled with stamina throughout his career.

When playing over 30 snaps, Cody earned a cumulative grade of +0.8 (253 total snaps). When playing 30 or fewer snaps, his grade was -7.8 (291 total snaps).

So how can we use this information?

I believe there are two valuable takeaways from this study.

First, always have a quality backup on hand. Due to their hybird defense, and the prescence of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens were able to limit Cody’s snaps in 10 of the 18 games (including postseason) in which he played in 2011. This made him an effective weapon on defense, even if he wasn’t capable of being a three-down lineman. On the flip side, the Packers used B.J. Raji an average of 55 snaps per game, which led to him having the lowest overall grade of any of the 330+ linemen.

The second takeaway, however, is that not all nose tackles are created equal. Mount Cody clearly struggled when asked to take on a larger role. However, Sione Pouha – PFF’s highest rated defensive tackle in 2012 – still performed at a high level when playing 30+ snaps. Pouha did see a dramatic decline in production (.089 per snap, down to .042 per snap), however, his 30+ snap grade was still well above average and resulted in a cumulative grade of +23.1 in such games.

In terms of the NFL Draft, teams need to look beyond pure talent at this position, and pay close attention to how stamina effects each player’s performance late in games.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Packers, Ravens, Research 2 Comments

Kendall Wright to the Carolina Panthers?

The Carolina Panthers clearly need to upgrade their receiving corps, but to what lengths will they go to surround Cam Newton with more talent?

Justin Blackmon would be an obvious choice if he were on the board, but it seems unlikely that he would slip past the Rams, Redskins and Jaguars. That leaves the Panthers with two options if they wish to address this need in the 1st round: Kendall Wright and Michael Floyd.

The top 10 may be too early for either, but it would be a risky move to trade down in hopes of landing one later in the 1st round. While No. 8 or 9 may seem early, they could easily both be off the board by No. 15.

So which one could be worth the risk in the top 10?

Conventional wisdom says go with Floyd, the more traditional No. 1 receiver due to his size. Wright is only 5’10″ and there is not a strong track record for receivers under 6’0″ who are selected in the top 10. While Joey Galloway and Terry Glenn achieved some measure of success, Ginn, Warrick, Howard and even Hilliard fell well short of expectations.

But Wright may be different.

In recent years, more teams are making smaller receivers the focal point of their offense. This past season seven receivers listed at under 6’0″ were the leading receiver on their team, including Wes Welker and Carolina’s Steve Smith.

Now one could argue that Wright is too similar to Smith, which would make it difficult to find starring roles for each in the offense. To a certain extent this is true, but Smith turns 33 in May and can’t be relied upon much longer. And who better for Wright to study under than Steve Smith?

Taking Wright in the top 10 definitely goes against the grain, but could prove to be an excellent long-term investment, and one which Cam Newton is sure to appreciate.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2012 NFL Draft, Panthers Comments Off