5. Brandon Graham, Eagles
Graham is arguably the best rookie pass rusher, which is enough to land him a spot on the list, but he is one dimensional. His lack of skills against the run will hold him back from moving much further up the list.
5. Brandon Graham, Eagles
They reached for Anthony Davis. He just isn’t polished enough to have been selected 11th overall. There’s no denying his potential, but he has yet to show that he can be consistent. That said, San Francisco just might be a perfect place for him. He’s best suited at right tackle, at least early in his career, and that’s likely where he’ll play with the 49ers.
I love the selection of Mike Iupati. He’ll be a starter from day one and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he earned a trip to the Pro Bowl as a rookie. He’s the best interior lineman to enter the draft since I started scouting in 2004.
The issue I have with their two 1st round picks, however, is the fact that they’re showing an awful lot of confidence in Alex Smith by selecting two offensive linemen. Essentially they’re saying: you’ve got your star receiver, you’ve got your star running back, you’ve got your offensive line, now go lead us to the playoffs. If he doesn’t make major strides this year the 49ers will be back to the drawing board sooner rather than later.
The 49ers may have landed one of the top steals of the draft by snagging Taylor Mays in the 2nd round. At some point in the past year Mays became so overrated that I think he’s now actually underrated (if that makes any sense). Yes, he struggles in coverage, but he does a lot of other things very well. He’s a force against the run and he has the athleticism necessary to improve his coverage skills.
Navorro Bowman is a big risk due to his character concerns, but the 49ers look like a good place for players like him to land. Mike Singletary isn’t afraid to put players in their place, and in the 3rd round there’s very little risk involved.
I love the selection of Anthony Dixon in the 6th round. I honestly have no clue why he fell that far. He has impressive size and adequate speed. He actually reminds me of Frank Gore to an extent. He should be given an opportunity to compete with Glen Coffee for the backup job.
Nate Byham was also a great pick. They needed a blocking tight end and Byham can fill that role perfectly.
Kyle Williams, the son of White Sox GM Kenny Williams, is a decent late-round pick. He can potentially help out as a return specialist, but I don’t see him being much of an asset as a receiver.
The one thing missing from this draft was a cornerback, which they didn’t land until the 7th round with Phillip Adams. He’s a decent athlete but he doesn’t look like anything special. He’ll compete for a backup job, but the 49ers really needed to do more to address this need.
I was very surprised at the way the 49ers draft shaped up. They’ve spent the past two drafts building an offense that should be able to compete immediately, but if Alex Smith doesn’t make major strides this season it may be all for nothing. It would be devastating to have spent this much effort rebuilding an offense only to be forced to start over again at quarterback in next year’s draft.
We haven’t seen an offensive guard go in the top 20 picks since the Seahawks selected Steve Hutchinson 17th overall in 2001. That could change this year with Mike Iupati.
Iupati’s size (6’5″, 331 lbs) makes him look like a prototypical mauler. He’s big, physical and plays with a nasty demeanor. He has all the attributes to be a truly dominant run blocker. But what makes him stand out, much like Hutchinson, is his surprising athleticism for an interior lineman.
Many highly-touted guards in recent years, Vince Manuwai and Deuce Lutui for example, end up falling on draft day and failing to play at an elite level in the NFL due to their lack of athleticism. While both Manuwai and Lutui flash the ability to dominate as run blockers, they’re aren’t the complete package.
On the flip side, others such as Ben Grubbs, excel as pass blockers but struggle in the running game. They have the quick feet and strong lower body to hold up against faster pass rushers and bull rushers. However, they lack the brute strength to knock guys backwards on the line of scrimmage.
Every so often a player like Steve Hutchinson or Mike Iupati comes along who appears to be able to put it all together.
At this point, the latest I could envision Iupati going would be at No. 23 to the Packers. They’ve re-signed Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, but still need to upgrade the interior line. Iupati would provide a drastic upgrade over Daryn Colledge/Jason Spitz/T.J. Lang at left guard.
The Bengals are another strong possibility. They’ve let their best lineman from 2009, Bobbie Williams, test the free agent waters. This has opened up a gaping hole on the line, which would currently be filled by Nate Livings, who has bounced on and off the practice squad for much of his career.
Perhaps the most likely land spot is Pittsburgh, which needs an upgrade over Trai Essex. The Steelers are transitioning back into more of a power-running team with Rashard Mendenhall as the starter now, and a powerful run blocker like Iupati is needed.
Here’s a few other options:
13/17. 49ers – Guard isn’t a glaring need, but he would certainly be an upgrade over David Baas.
15. Giants – Their offensive line is getting up their in age and Jerry Reese strongly believes it taking the best available player.
14. Seahawks – Rob Sims may be traded, which would open up an immediate starting spot for Iupati.
11. Broncos – They have other needs, but if they view Iupati as the best available player he would provide their offensive line some much needed stability.
10. Taylor Mays S USC Mays will put on a show, we know that for certain, but will anyone care? We know he’s fast. We know he’s strong. We know he can jump out of the gym. Expectations for Mays’ performance are so high that will be almost impossible to live up to the hype. Even if he does, there are enough skeptics out there that it may not help his stock. Unless Al Davis grabs him in the top 10 that is…
9. Jared Odrick DT Penn State For an interior lineman, Odrick is a chiseled athlete. Unlike most tackles, Odrick isn’t carrying around too much excess weight; he’s 300 pounds of muscle. He should be one of the faster interior linemen in Indy and should also show off some impressive strength. His blend of strength and athleticism make him a perfect fit at defensive end in a 3-4 scheme.
8. Everson Griffen DE USC Griffen is overshadowed by the elite athletes at the defensive end position (Pierre-Paul, Dunlap, Morgan, etc) but he’s no stiff. At 6’3″ and roughly 280 pounds, Griffen could open some eyes if he runs in the 4.6 range in the 40. It’s tough to call anyone from USC “underrated” but Griffen may be just that. He’s more athletic that he gets credit for, and should prove that at the combine.
7. Mike Iupati OG Idaho Iupati may not be the most athletic player in Indy, but his brute strength is sure to catch the eye of scouts. He’s already solidified his place in the 1st round, but his performance on the bench press may further improve his stock. Teams that are looking for a power run blocker will keep a close eye on him all week.
6. Dexter McCluster RB/WR Mississippi
All eyes will be on McCluster when he lines up for the 40-yard dash. He’s expected to run in the 4.3 range, and it could crack the 4.2 barrier. He’ll likely do some drills as a receiver and a running back, giving him ample opportunities to impress teams with his versatility.
5. Aaron Hernandez TE Florida
Hernandez doesn’t have the height of an elite tight end (he’s only 6’2″) but he may be the most athletic player at the position to enter the draft since Vernon Davis. He has the skills of an over-sized receiver and should be one of the standouts at Indy – especially if Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski are unable to work out.
4. Austen Lane DE Murray State
A little-known defensive end from Murray State could be the star of the combine. At 6’6″, 267 pounds he clearly has the size to take his game to the next level. What scouts want to see, however, is how he stacks up athletically with the premiere prospects. With an impressive performance, he could skyrocket up the draft boards.
3. Chad Jones S LSU
In any other year we’d be talking about Jones as the premiere athlete at the safety position. He’s overshadowed by Taylor Mays, but don’t sleep on Jones. He is every bit as physically gifted as Mays and many believe he may be a better all-round football player. If he matches Mays’ workout numbers, Jones could make a run at being the second safety off the board.
2. Jared Veldheer OT Hillsdale
Teams are always looking for a sleeper to step up and show he has the athleticism to play left tackle in the pros. This year Jared Veldheer could be the beneficiary of the NFL’s obsession with left tackles. Much like Sebastian Vollmer climbed from unknown to 2nd-round pick in 2009, Veldheer could do the same with an impressive workout this week.
1. Jason Pierre-Paul DE South Florida
Last year at this time Pierre-Paul hadn’t even set foot on a D-I football field. Now he’s a potential top-10 pick. He’s as raw as the come, but has the pure athleticism to make scouts drool. He should easily rank among the top defensive linemen in every drill at the combine.
Between now and the NFL Draft, we will run a series of articles analyzing each team’s needs using stats provided by ProFootballFocus.com
The most difficult teams to judge in the offseason are the teams that fell short of expectations. You are constantly faced with the issue of weighing this year versus last year, and trying to sort out who can bounce back and who is on the decline. Perhaps no team will have as many such questions to answer this offseason as the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The one question sure to arise in Pittsburgh ‘s front office is the issue of protecting Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was sacked 50 times this season, tied with Aaron Rodgers for the most in the NFL. At first glace, the issue lies with the Steelers tackles. Max Starks ranked second in the league with nine sacks allowed and Willie Colon wasn’t far behind with six of his own.
A closer look, however, reveals that the Steelers interior line may actually be the problem.
Using the data supplied by ProFootballFocus.com, I analyzed the effectiveness of the Steelers offensive line in passing situations. The guys at ProFootballFocus track each offensive lineman’s sacks allowed, hits allowed and pressures allowed. To compare linemen, I added up these totals and divided by the number of passing plays each lineman was involved in to create a stat I labeled “pressure percentage.”
The results churn out a number of the usual suspects at the top of the list. However, you may be surprised at who’s number one. Among offensive tackles involved in at least 250 pass plays, Steelers right tackle Willie Colon led the way with an impressive pressure percentage of 2.5.
Max Starks ranked in the middle of the pack (18th among offensive tackles) with a 5.7 pressure percentage, ahead of such respected linemen as Michael Oher, Michael Roos, Marcus McNeill and Matt Light.
While the Steelers appear to be in good hands at tackle, guard is another story. Chris Kemoeatu ranked a respectable 22 nd amongst guards (3.5 pct) but Trai Essex (6.0 pct) ranked among the worst linemen in the game – regardless of position.
Ramon Foster, who split time with Essex , fell short of the 250 passing plays to qualify for my initial ranking. However, if you lower the qualifications to 150 pass plays Foster ranks as the 9 th worst lineman in the league with a 9.8 pressure percentage. In other words, once every 10 times Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, Foster’s man got to him – an incredibly high percentage for an interior lineman.
From the perspective of the NFL draft, this is an area the Steelers could address in the 1st round with their 18th overall selection. Mike Iupati is the consensus top-rated guard in this year’s draft class and would be a perfect fit in Pittsburgh . The Steelers value run blocking on the interior line, which has led them to such massive linemen as Kemoeatu (344 lbs), Essex (324 lbs) and Foster (325 lbs). In Iupati they can have their dominant run blocker, but also upgrade their pass protection.
Not surprisingly the third day of practice wasn’t all that eventful. As usual, we’ve got a pretty good idea as to what everyone is capable of at this point in time.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the day, in my mind, was Mike Iupati. Yesterday he split time between tackle and guard and he really disappointed at tackle. Today, playing mostly guard, he was dominant once again. At this point in time I’m willing to give him a solid 1st-round grade as a guard. Its disappointing that it doesn’t look like he can play tackle, but he should be an elite guard at the next level.
Another winner was Oregon State QB Sean Canfield. He’s a tough quarterback to judge, but I came away impressed overall. In drills, he looks very mediocre. His arm strength is average at best and he doesn’t always throw the prettiest ball. Once thrown into game situations, however, he steps it up another level. In 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills he looked very good, consistently hitting receivers in stride. He also looked very god throwing the ball on the run. He ran a number of bootlegs and hit Clemson WR Jacoby Ford a couple times.
Sticking with the quarterbacks, Dan LeFevour has made a strong case to be considered the top quarterback at the Senior Bowl. He’s exceeded my expectations and I’ll be adjusting my quarterback rankings soon as a result. At Central Michigan he rarely threw the ball downfield, which made me skeptical about his ability to play at the next level. You’d never know he played in a gimmick offense based on his performance this week though. He has a strong arm and made a number of great deep passes today including a beautiful pass which he dropped over the shoulder of Jacoby Ford.
Speaking of Ford, he had a terrific day. I really expected him to step up as an elite speed receiver this week but he’s been much more than that. In fact, his lack of speed has been a bit disappointing but he looks like the complete package. He runs great routes and I love the way he adjust to the ball while its in the air. He could end up coming off the board as high as the 2nd round.
Another player I was impressed with today was Pittsburgh TE Dorin Dickerson. I have him listed as a FB right now because I didn’t think he had the size to play tight end, but he’s proved me wrong this week. He is undersized, and it shows in his blocking, but he’s looked very good as a receiver. He even stretched the field a few times, hauling in a deep pass from Tony Pike at one point.
One of the players I was most excited to see this week was Miami TE Jimmy Graham. He went to Miami to play basketball but joined the football team this past season. He has elite size (6’8″) but is very, very raw. He’s looked good at times and definitely deserves a shot at the next level. At one point he tossed Florida State LB Dakota Watson to the ground and later hauled in a deep pass from Tim Tebow that was down near his knees.
A few other quick notes:
- Ohio WR Taylor Price looked shaky today, dropping a very easy pass from LeFevour at one point. I expected him to be one of the lesser-known prospects that stepped up but it hasn’t happened.
- Penn State DT Jared Odrick has been consistently getting into the backfield all week. Today he blew through the line of scrimmage and stuff a draw play in the backfield in 11-on-11 drills. He’s slightly undersized but incredibly athletic for an interior lineman. He would be a great fit for the Colts.
- Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson has been better than expected. He throws a very nice deep ball.
- South Carolina LB Eric Norwood has excelled as a pass rusher. He used a nice swim move to get into the backfield today.
- Kentucky CB Trevard Lindley had a rough day. Mississippi WR Shay Hodge blew past his press coverage in 1-on-1s and Lindley fell down trying to catch up. He’s got a lot of work to do to recover the rest of the week.
- I’m really starting to like Florida WR Riley Cooper. He never really got a chance to star in Florida’s offense because they value speed over size, but he’s looked great this week. He’s got great hands and he knows how to use his body to his advantage.
- Alabama CB Javier Arenas has been shaky. The worst part of his day came when Riley Cooper easily used his size to brush past Arenas and shield him from making a play on the ball. I really think Arenas’ lack of size will limit his ability to make an impact in the NFL.
It was an eventful day at the Senior Bowl. A number of players made statements – both good and bad – about their draft stock.
What stood out most to me were the struggles of two small school offensive linemen. Both Mike Iupati and Vladimir Ducasse struggled throughout the day.
Iupati look fairly good when lined up at guard, dominating Purdue DT Mike Neal and Louisiana Tech DT D’Anthony Smith in one-on-one drills. But when he moved out to tackle he really struggled. At one point Cal DT Tyson Alualu bull rushed Iupati and knocked him on his back. Then later in the day in a battle of small-school prospects Arkansas State DE Alex Carrington tossed Iupati to the ground effortlessly. Iupati remains the top guard on my draft board, but he no longer looks like a 1st-round pick in my mind.
Ducasse also struggled and did far more damage to his stock than Iupati. Ducasse didn’t enter with the same hype, but there were those that felt he had a chance to sneak into the 1st round with a strong performance. He certainly has the size for the position, but he’s got a lot of work to do to catch up to the guys who have been playing in the FBS. Ducasse lined up at both guard and tackle and struggled in both positions. His footwork was poor at both positions and he played too upright. Michigan DE Brandon Graham took advantage and breezed past him with minimal effort. After today’s performance he’ll have to work hard to earn even an early 3rd-round grade.
Speaking of Brandon Graham… wow. He looked very impressive today. I don’t think I saw a single lineman get the better of him. There were times when they fought to a stalemate, but Graham was never the loser. He looked great against Ducasse but really stood out against Utah OT Zane Beadles. On consecutive reps he used a simple speed rush and then a spin move to easily get past Beadles. He made a strong case to receive a 1st-round grade.
Alex Carrington was another lineman that looked very good. I already mentioned that he dominated Mike Iupati, but he looked good throughout the day. He’s tall and very athletic and appears to have excellent upper body strength. Its still early – we’ve really only seen him excel in pass rush drills – but he could earn a 2nd-round grade.
A few other quick notes:
- Rutgers CB Devin McCourty struggled when in press coverage today. He just doesn’t seem to have the quick feet or the strength to play near the line of scrimmage. Though he does have the speed to make up mistakes. He also got his hands on a number of passes, showing good leaping ability.
- Cincinnati WR Mardy Gilyard looked very good. In possibly the best matchup of North squad receivers and corners he burned Cal CB Syd’Quan Thompson.
- Speaking of Thompson, he looked good throughout the day. I am very impressed with his physical play. His physical nature will help ease team’s concerns about his lack of size.
- I was impressed with Clemson WR Jacoby Ford throughout the season, but he didn’t stand out at all today. I really expected him to burn some of these cornerbacks with his sprinter’s speed but it just didn’t happen. Although I will say he has very good hands and adjusts to the ball well. He made a great catch on a pass that was tipped by Devin McCourty.
- Ohio State S Kurt Coleman struggled in pass coverage. His stock definitely has taken a blow this week.
- Virginia S/CB Chris Cook has great size and plays very physical when lined up at cornerback, but I was concerned he wouldn’t have the speed for the position. So far, however, it hasn’t been an issue.
- Notre Dame C Eric Olsen had a terrible day. I felt bad for him watching him get pushed around time after time. He simply couldn’t stop anyone’s bull rush. He weighed in at 310 pounds, so he isn’t undersized. He just doesn’t have the strength to compete.
- Fresno State RB Lonyae Miller looked very poor in blocking drills. He’s a big, physical running back and someone with his size needs to be able to block to earn a roster spot at the next level.
- Oregon RB LeGarrett Blount also had issues blocking. Although from watching his feeble attempts it looked as though he hadn’t even been taught how before. When someone looks that bad, sometimes its not such a bad thing cause it gives you hope that it can easily be fixed with some simple coaching.
- Unfortunately I didn’t catch the South squad practice so no Tebow updates today. I’ll have full reports on both squads tomorrow.