T-Minus 21 Days: The Art of Picking Late
Only two NFL teams have gone more than a decade without selecting in the NFL draft’s top 10: The Steelers (since 2000) and the Ravens (since 2003). And among the handful of teams that consistently draft at the back end of the first round, few do it better than the AFC North rivals. So how do they get it done?
At first glance, both Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and Steelers GM Kevin Colbert appear to be speaking the same language. Newsome likes to riff about hitting doubles rather than swinging for the fences. Said Colbert in a March interview with Forbes: “You can’t go in saying I can be 1-for-3 and be successful. I’m talking a bit in baseball terms. But you want to go 3-for-3 that day.”
Yet a closer examination, and conversations with key players in each front office, shows two disparate first-round philosophies. It all centers around one question: Move up or stay put?
The Steelers rarely trade up. Colbert last moved up in the first when he dealt third- and fourth-rounders to jump from 32nd overall to 25th in the 2006 draft. He was targeting Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes (who went on to be named MVP of Super Bowl XLIII). Before that, Colbert moved up 11 spots (27th to 16th) in ’03, giving up a third and a sixth to choose USC safety Troy Polamalu.
“He was a rare player,” Colbert says. “You wish they were available to you every year, but that’s never the case. We made an uncharacteristic move to get him because we felt like that was the case.
“You have to fight that temptation in every round. You have to stay true to your evaluations. We try to eliminate the word need and use the word want.”
Newsome and his second-in-command, Eric DeCosta, aren’t afraid to use the word need. They’ve moved (up or down) in the first round in five of the last nine drafts. They traded up for Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006, and two years later traded down then back up to land Delaware quarterback Joe Flacco, their franchise QB and the MVP of Super Bowl XLVII. They also moved up to get Ole Miss tackle Michael Oher in ’09. In each case, a player at a cornerstone position of need was selected.
“As we start to get close to our pick, do we have three or four players we really like? Are they comparable in talent?” Ozzie Newsome said in a Wednesday press conference. “If that’s the case, there’s no reason to move up and give up a later pick. There are other times where we need a tackle, or we need a quarterback.”
In fairness, the Steelers more or less stumbled onto their franchise quarterback. After a rare losing season in 2003 they held the 11th pick. Owner Dan Rooney, in his words, “steered the conversation” away from Arkansas offensive tackle Shawn Andrews and towards Miami (Ohio) quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. None of which changes the fact that Colbert sees a trade-worthy prospect every three or four years. The Ravens, on the other hand, project more than one trade-up contingency in every first round, says DeCosta.
DeCosta’s explanation of Baltimore’s frenzied-but-controlled war room: “We try to ascertain league value. How do people see the players? It’s hard to be a really good drafter if you don’t have a sense for how other people see prospects.
“Then about three days before the draft we come out with a detailed script of how we expect guys to come off the board and who are the guys we may want to trade up for. There are guys you will have so highly rated every year that when it comes close to your pick, you start to make calls. You build it so you have a switch where you would consider going up and you have the price you would pay there. It’s a gut thing.”
Hanging out at 17 last year, Newsome and DeCosta were happy to take any of a handful of players on the board. They settled on stud linebacker C.J. Mosley out of Alabama. In three weeks they’ll pick 26th, with needs at pass rusher and wide receiver in a draft with an abundance of both. I see them valuing a number of players at each position and feeling comfortable enough to trade back.
The Steelers pick 22nd with a hole at cornerback; Mike Tomlin has showed up at every pro day that has had a big-time corner on the docket. Just don’t expect Colbert to yield to need: “Oftentimes when you draft for need you overevaluate a given position and make a mistake," he says. "We’ve been true to our board, since I’ve been involved in it anyway.”
Nothing is for certain on draft day, but if history is any indication, you can bank on the Ravens moving around, the Steelers sitting pat, and both teams drafting very, very well.
Five Things You Need To Know About The Draft
1. Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has his individual pro day next Wednesday. He was unable to run at the combine or Indiana’s pro day following January surgery on a broken sesamoid bone in his right foot. I highly recommend Mike Tanier’s piece on Coleman’s gutsy junior season: ‘1,200 Yards of Pain.’
2. Mike Mayock moved Marcus Mariota ahead of Jameis Winston in his QB rankings, and various reports have since suggested the Bucs may not be settled on Winston at No. 1. I’m reminded of Bill Polian’s insightful breakdown of the Andrew Luck vs. RG3 discussions that were happening in Indy before he was fired as general manager. Similar situation, minus the Winston character worries and heaping interception total.
3. Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker visited the Minnesota Vikings, a development that shoveled coal on the Teddy Bridgewater-Parker reunion fire (despite Rick Spielman’s declaration at the combine that a previous relationship between Teddy and a wide receiver would have no bearing on the pick). The last time a first-round QB was paired with a college buddy worked out pretty well.
4. Wednesday’s big news: Washington cornerback Marcus Peters and former Missouri receiver Dorial Green-Beckham have visited Baltimore. As fans lampoon the trouble-weary Ravens, let’s leave Peters out of this given that he has never been arrested and his dismissal from Washington stemmed from in-house conflicts. Now, interest in DGB (once accused of pushing a woman down a flight of stairs) will raise eyebrows, but I doubt Ozzie Newsome would take a chance on a 21-year-old with that kind of history if he wasn’t completely convinced of his reformation. And determining that sort of thing is what visits are for. Should Ray Rice’s crime preclude the team from offering second chances to worthy candidates?
5. Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams, projected as a second-rounder before this week, was arrested for DUI Friday morning, two days after a strong pro day performance. This arrest, paired with his October citation for failing to yield and driving on a suspended license, portends the kind of headache teams have less and less patience for.
Better Know a Prospect
Often overlooked while playing alongside two superstar teammates earlier in his career, Fresno State wide receiver Josh Harper emerged as a star in his own right last season. After QB Derek Carr and WR Davante Adams (2014 second-round picks of Oakland and Green Bay, respectively) departed, some wondered if Harper could replicate the thousand-yard season he produced in 2013. The Stockton, Calif., native and son of former 49ers linebacker Willie Harper responded with 90 catches for 1,097 yards last fall.
The MMQB: Davante and Derek leave. Did you notice a shift in the way defenses approached you?
Harper: I definitely noticed the shift. A lot of teams tried to press me with help over the top, or bracket me. I just continued to run my routes hard and work hard to get open. In that situation I think you have to do more to understand the defense and be able to read it during the game.
The MMQB: What is one thing that every team has asked you about? I'd imagine your 4.64 combine 40 is high on the list.
Harper: That's probably the biggest question about my game. I ran between a 4.46 and a 4.5 on my pro day. Before the combine I think I was focused on putting on weight, and I really didn't feel comfortable. I played at 184 and I had gotten up to 192.
The MMQB: Your father has talked about overcoming drug addiction and the temptations of the NFL. How often does he discuss that with you?
Harper: He’s always talking to me about things to expect on and off the field. He went to the Senior Bowl, got drafted, went to the NFL; all the things I'm doing. He's always lecturing about the temptations of the NFL and I listen to him, and I haven't gotten into any serious trouble off the field. I take his experience very, very seriously.
Quote of the Week
“He threw 18 interceptions on a team that arguably had the best talent in the country… Off the field, regardless of what did or didn’t happen in that alleged rape, he continued a pattern of poor decisions throughout his career. So the bottom line for me is can you trust him… Nobody in their right mind cares what I think. It’s all about Jason Licht and Lovie Smith.”
—NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock on Florida State QB Jameis Winston. In his latest position rankings, Mayock moved Oregon’s Marcus Mariota above Winston, long presumed the No. 1 overall pick of the draft.
For my money, Mayock is the best draft mind not currently employed by an NFL team. Surely, such a high-profile change of heart, coming from a media member this late in the process, will look like an attention grab to savvy fans. But after asking just about every scout I know or have met on the road if they’d touch Winston (much less take him at No. 1 overall), I don’t think Mayock is in the minority.
Stat of the Week
15 missed tackles forced
The guys over at Pro Football Focus are killing it this week as they unveil their extensive study of the 2014 college football season and the draft prospects therein. One piece of analysis jumped out to me: Sam Monson released his wide receiver grades, and West Virginia’s Kevin White isn’t among the top two names.
Alabama’s Amari Cooper tops the list, and Louisville’s DeVante Parker is No. 2. PFF’s signature stat: With just 43 receptions in a season delayed by August foot surgery, Parker slipped 15 tackles, more than all but 16 FBS players (each of whom had the benefit of a full season). There’s a mock draft consensus that Parker, Teddy Bridgewater’s favorite target when the two were at Louisville, will go 11th to the Vikings with Cooper and White already off the board. And yet, White had just one scheduled visit as of Wednesday morning (Tennessee) while Parker is juggling dates with the Vikings, Jaguars, Dolphins, Jets, Titans and Bears, per Ian Rapoport. Part of that can be chalked up to his injury history and incomplete résumé, but it’s possible that draftniks aren’t giving Parker enough credit.
Scorching Hot Take of the Week
The runner-up: Mel Kiper’s big board, which saw UCF wide receiver Breshad Perriman vault from late first round to ninth overall after running in the 4.2’s during his pro day. Overreact much?
(Great pull by the folks over at Field Gulls, who looked at the fastest wide receivers in recent history and their abysmal NFL track records.)
#Ravens bringing DGB in is a slap in the face (no pun intended) to those who believed they were trying to get better on DV issues.
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) April 8, 2015
And now, your Sober Take of the Week:
I get tired of is the silly system/pro style stuff. A look at Chip & Jimbo's QBs show neither tearing it up in NFL pic.twitter.com/vp7nWLkCd4
— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) April 8, 2015
OUR FIRST HOT/SOBER TAKE WINNER! Benjamin, your MMQB t-shirt is in the mail.
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