Thursday, November 6, 2014

What to do With the First Pick

Through ten weeks of the season, you can start to get a good sense of who the worst teams in the league are. Not every team has played the same number of games, but an extra win or loss really isn't going to change the perception of a team at this point. The reward for such failure is a top pick, and as you know the worst team gets the first overall pick. It can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, getting the first pick can elevate your team to knew heights (Andrew Luck, the Manning brothers) while drafting the wrong player can set your team back more than five years (Jamarcus Russell, David Carr). No one wants to go down as one of the biggest busts in history and piss off an entire franchise. Worse yet, no one wants to be the one responsible for drafting a bust. Coaches, general managers, and scouts have the unenviable task of evaluating talent and striking the balance between ability and team need. Sometimes it is incredibly easy for them to make a pick based on need, like when the Panthers took Cam Newton or when the Colts took Andrew Luck. Other times, as was the case last draft with Jadeveon Clowney, a player is too good to pass up despite him not filling a major hole on the roster.

Thanks to the help of Justin, we have collaborated to form a list of the four teams most likely to be drafting first overall, along with who we believe are the elite players in this upcoming draft based on what we've seen so far. They are as follows:

Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver, Alabama Crimson Tide
Andrus Peat, Offensive Tackle, Stanford Cardinal
Jameis Winston, Quarterback, Florida State Seminoles
Landon Collins, Safety, Alabama Crimson Tide
Leonard Williams, Defense End, USC Trojans
Randy Gregory, Outside Linebacker/Defensive End, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Todd Gurley, Running Back, Georgia Bulldogs

Obviously, some of a higher chance of being the first overall pick than others. A receiver hasn't gone first overall since Keyshawn Johnson in 1996; a running back since Ki-Jana Carter the year prior; and a safety has never been selected first. Here are the options for each team. The teams are simply in alphabetical order.

Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)

Derek's Take:
Jacksonville is straight up a bad team, but they are still very young and are going through the trials of trying to learn to play together in a game that is still too fast for them. Surprisingly, since defensive minded coach Gus Bradley came over a few years ago from Seattle, this team has gone offense in the first round of the last two drafts. They have some key pieces in place, so it is time that this team goes with a real defensive game changer that they missed out on when they took Blake Bortles over Khalil Mack. Without question, they should select Randy Gregory out of Nebraska if they fortunate (unfortunate?) enough to have the first pick. Their defense is patched together with aging veterans and young guys no one has ever heard of. Through eight games, the Jaguars have 25 sacks which isn't a terrible total by any means, but no one is consistent at pressuring the quarterback. Bradley's defense has been missing a disruptive edge rusher, and no one would be better than Gregory to line up everywhere and cause havoc. He has a lightning first step that catches even the most seasoned offensive tackles off guard. He is quick to dip his hip and get around the tackle and knows how to finish the play no matter what angle he is given coming around the edge. Gregory is tall and lanky which allows him to get his hands on a lineman and push them around. Despite being 6'6, he weighs only 240 pounds. But his strength is unquestionable at this point and he looks to have the frame to add more mass without sacrificing his speed. His technique as a pass rusher is also very impressive as he has a good swim move and maintains superb balance on spins to get the inside shoulder of the lineman. The next option for Jacksonville would be to take Leonard Williams, another very gifted defensive player. Williams has lined up all over the line for the Trojans, but Sarkisian really likes him coming off of the edge. In an age where versatility is becoming extremely coveted, Williams has the size and strength to play inside but possesses incredible athleticism to rush the passer from the edge. The defensive line for Jacksonville is better off than their linebackers, but a guy like Williams would likely start from day one. The third option for the Jaguars would be to draft Peat to protect Bortles who has been sacked 33 times this year. Poor protection has also led him to rush throws and caused many of his interceptions. Jacksonville recently drafted Luke Joeckel out of Texas A&M two years ago, but he has struggled with injuries and development to become a franchise left tackle. Moving him to the right side and allowing Peat to be the blind side protector would make Bortles's life a lot easier.

Justin's Take:
The one, and maybe only, fun thing about being a Jaguars fan is being able to look towards the draft earlier than most fans because the season is already a wash and it looks like they are locked into a top 4 pick for 2015.  Lets go over some of the needs for this team.  Offensive line.  A pass rusher (which they have been “addressing” for the past decade).  Secondary.  The offensive line is atrocious.  No wonder Blake Bortles has been running for his life the entire time he has been playing, and maybe a reason why the coaching staff wanted to keep him off the field for as long as they could.  A pass rusher is something the fans have craved for years.  Fans rejoiced when the team traded up to draft Derrick Harvey back in 2008, but he turned out to be a massive bust and has since been out of the league for last two seasons.  The secondary is young and sub sequentially has made plenty of mistakes.  I expect Aaron Colvin, rookie corner out of Oklahoma who was a top ranked player prior to his ACL tear, to take that starting job next year.  Free safety is still an issue.  Josh Evans is not a quality starter.  He misses tackles and constantly blows coverages.  This team has roughly $23 million dollars in cap space so I expect them to be very active in free agency again this year.  Obviously, if Jacksonville has the number one overall pick they should trade back and get as many draft picks as possible to upgrade and add depth to every conceivable position.   In my opinion, if this team picks first overall, they take Randy Gregory.  Gregory has jaw dropping speed and a first step burst off the line that is quicker than anybody I can remember coming out of the draft.  The defensive end from Nebraska has lined up all over the field this year, including defensive end, defensive tackle, and has dropped back into coverage as a linebacker.  I can only imagine what ways head coach Gus Bradley could use him in but most likely he would be in that vaunted Leo position that the coach loves so much.  If the Jaguars want their franchise quarterback to succeed, they have to protect him the best they can.  They invested a first round pick in the lackluster Luke Joeckel, who has not exceeded expectations but is still young enough that he can turn into the type of tackle the team had hoped for.  But, if you take a page out of the 49ers playbook and invest a few first round picks into your offensive line, then the once greatest weakness on the team can transform into a unit of strength very quickly.  That is why I believe Andrus Peat from Stanford is a real possibility.  The big, athletic offensive tackle could take the left tackle job from Joeckel and move him to right tackle.  That way, the corners of the offensive line are strong, instead of being a weak point.  Then later in the draft, a center or a guard can be drafted and the revamped offensive line will be ready for anything defenses throw towards them.  Call me crazy but I think Todd Gurley would be an amazing pick for the Jaguars.  Remember when the Minnesota Vikings were contemplating taking Adrian Peterson with the seventh overall pick in the 2007 draft, despite having Chester Taylor who was an adequate running back at the time?  Except for the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Peterson, he has been a fantastic running back.  I have been a big fan of Denard Robinson this year.  He is hitting the holes with incredible speed and has been a pretty durable back but Gurley is one of those once in a decade kind of players that could make this Jaguars offense one to be reckoned with along with taking some of the load off of Bortles’ back.  This could move Robinson to more of a Darren Sproles type position where he can be lined up as a receiver and a third down back who can catch the ball out of the backfield.  Any one of these players would be a huge upgrade over what the team has now and would be gladly welcomed by Bradley and the Jaguars coaching staff.

New York Jets (1-8)

Derek's Take:
The entire Jets front office and roster needs to be nuked from orbit. This team is a fucking disaster and has been since their fluke AFC Championship appearances. A lot of blame gets placed on Rex Ryan, which is fair, but general manager John Idzik who has been responsible for a couple of terrible drafts. This team has a talented defense, but for as good as they play they are crippled considerably by the play of their quarterbacks. Geno Smith is hands down the worst starter in the league and probably won't be in the NFL after this season. I'd eat my shoe if some team actually wanted him to be a back up. With that in mind, it should be pretty obvious who this selection should be. Jameis Winston might have maturity issues, but there is no doubt that he is just a few shades below Andrew Luck in terms of pure quarterbacking skill and potential. He hasn't been as good this year as he was last year during his Heisman winning season, but just oozes with talent that is waiting to be tapped. He has an absolute cannon for an arm but also has great touch, able to put just the right amount on each pass to comfortably get the ball to his target. As was shown last year and has in critical spots this year, his football IQ and ability to see the field is astounding for someone his age. He regularly reads the defense and makes the right throw based on what is to presented to him. His athleticism is also off the charts. He won't scramble quite like Mariota can, but he can move around in the pocket, reset, and fire better than almost anyone I've ever seen. Besides maturity, I think that the biggest knock against him is that he tries to do too much which can get him into trouble. But there is no doubt that he is a tremendous talent that could end up being the next elite quarterback and extinguish the dumpster fire that is the Jets. Should this team wish to continue to roll with Geno Smith, they should continue to give him more weapons and draft Amari Cooper. Percy Harvin is one of the most overrated players in the NFL, and as such Geno needs some more reliable help if he wants to prove that he can be a capable starter. Cooper has been drawing comparisons to all kinds of receivers, but I really can't compare him to any one player. To me, he has the route running and raw speed of Julio Jones while having the body control and high-pointing ability of AJ Green. He could easily have the kind of impact that they had in their rookie years' and only continue to get better. The third option that would make sense would be to take Gregory. The Jets have a fantastic defensive line, but they still lack a disruptive linebacker who can rush the passer. Gregory would make a this front seven an absolute nightmare.

Justin's Take:
The Jets are by far the most dysfunctional team in all of the National Football League.  Fans are hoping that Rex Ryan gets the axe as he has overstayed his welcome and has not lived up to his self proclaimed Super Bowl hype.  This team has pressing needs up and down the roster, but just like with every team aspiring to win more than a few games in the league you need to have a quarterback.  With that said, there are two quarterbacks in this years draft worthy of the number one overall spot.  You know their names, Jameis Winston from Florida State and Marcus Mariota from Oregon.  Winston has everything you want in a quarterback on the field but his off the field issues will makes teams very hesitant to take him early in the first.  According to reports, there are some general managers calling him JaMarcus Russell 2.0.  Winston and Russell are not the same players in the slightest.  Jameis goes through his progressions and reads the defenses very well and according to quarterback guru, George Whitfield, Winston’s football smarts are just as good as Andrew Luck (and he would know considering he trained both players).  He can make every throw and has enough athletic ability to extend the plays and zip the ball down the field with the flick of a wrist.  Jameis would make a lot of sense for the Jets.  The state of quarterback on this team is deplorable.  Geno Smith is not worthy of a starting quarterback position in the league and Michael Vick has glass bones and is way passed his prime.  The main knock on Winston is his maturity so he either needs to mature on his own or he will be forced to mature.  He has the ability to be very good in this league but it is all up to him.  Hypothetically speaking, if Rex were to stay and wanted to stick with Geno for another year then the next best option at number one would be to trade back but we aren’t doing trades, so let’s have some fun with it and plot Amari Cooper at the top spot.  No receiver has gone higher than 2 since Calvin Johnson secured that spot to the Lions back in 2007 (and any team today would have taken Johnson at #1 if given the chance).  Cooper has a chance to be as dangerous as Calvin Johnson as he uncoverable.  He is fast (self proclaimed sub 4.4 forty yard dash), has amazing hands that won’t drop anything, and he moves his body with ease which gives him the ability to run clean and crisp routes.  He constantly beats the SECs best cornerbacks week in and week out.  Cooper would be a great addition to the Jets receiving core with Percy Harvin, Eric Decker, and Jeremy Kerley leading the way, but Amari could be the number one wideout that the Jets have lacked since Wayne Chrebet back in the late 1990s and early 2000s.  Even Geno couldn’t screw it up that badly with a wide receiving core like that.  Option C for the Jets would Randy Gregory.  The defensive end from Nebraska could be an absolute stud at the next level.  His burst off the line is unreal but he offers more than just quickness.  He has an arsenal of moves to get to the quarterback including a bull rush where he uses his incredibly long arms to get inside the offensive lineman’s numbers and throw him back like a rag doll.  Mix that bull rush in with a nice spin and swim move and you have one helluva player.  Gregory is the type of player that defensive coordinators drool over and crave and he will get bigger as he is listed at 240 pounds.  Who the Jets take at number one will be easier to tell once the season is over and a whole new regime comes in but they cannot go wrong with any one of those three players.

Oakland Raiders (0-8)

Derek's Take:
The Raiders are in serious trouble of going defeated this season. Their upcoming schedule is brutal and the team lacks serious talent to be able to keep up with those teams. They have played a lot of close games, but they just don't have enough to overtake teams in close games. The Raiders have holes all over their team, so they could pretty much pick anyone except for a quarterback and make an improvement to their team. Should this team get the first pick, they should attempt to get a trade package with a team desperate to land a quarterback and move down. They likely wouldn't get the same kind of deal the Rams got when Washington traded out for RG3, but they would still get an extra first round pick and some later picks for it. But since they are stuck in this hypothetical position, they should take the best non-quarterback on the board, which is Leonard Williams. Williams is an absolute monster on the defensive line. They struck gold last year taking Khalil Mack to bolster their defensive front, but adding Williams would give them two dynamic pass rushers to harass quarterbacks. In an age where versatility is becoming more and more coveted, Williams offers whoever is the defensive coordinator next year a ton of options. Throughout his years at USC, Williams has lined up both inside and has come off the edge. He has the power to work from the inside but the athleticism and explosiveness to rush from the edge. Oakland has had trouble generating sacks this year (even though Mack has a lot of pressures, he doesn't have a recorded sack) and it is borderline impossible to win this day in age with the game tailored to passing. Should the Raiders want to get some more help for an offense that can look anemic at times, their best bet would be to go with Amari Cooper. As mentioned above, Cooper is a phenomenal receiver on par with Sammy Watkins who was taken fourth overall in the previous draft. Right now, the Raiders top receivers are James Jones and Andre Holmes. Neither of those names are keeping defensive coordinators up at night. Derek Carr has been the best rookie quarterback this year, but he would really flourish with a game breaker like Cooper. If that isn't what the Raiders want to do, they should still upgrade their offense and take Todd Gurley. A running back hasn't been selected first overall in almost twenty years, but this kid is special and would be an immediate upgrade over the corpses of Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden. They have to do something to a rush unit that averages 66 yards a game.

Justin's Take:
The Raiders flat out suck.  They are the perennial black hole of the league where players go for their careers to die, or at least take a vacation (a la Randy Moss).  They did well in their draft last year with picks such as Khalil Mack, Gabe Jackson, and Derek Carr but they fired their head coach in Dennis Allen only a few games into the season.  So what is next for this team?  Does Mark Davis decide to blow the whole front office up again and fire General Manager Reggie McKenzie and interim head coach Tony Sparano?  I think he may.  Especially with their potential move to Los Angeles, the owner may want a brand new start.  The offense, for the most part, does not look that terrible on paper but with a rookie quarterback holding the reigns one has to expect growing pains and mistakes.  The Raiders are in the bottom ranks of 30th and 28th in offensive and defensive efficiency so major changes will have to happen.  So if this team has the first overall pick, and it looks as though they may, there are plenty of directions they could go in.  A big time, flashy defensive end that can get pressure on the quarterback would be ideal when you could match him up with Khalil Mack and have a great cornerstone on defense.  This team currently averages a sack a game (7 sacks in 7 games) and that helps put them in the basement of the league.  Randy Gregory would be a very welcomed addition to a team with a desperate and major need.  As mentioned earlier, its Gregory’s first step off the line that has me in awe but he also has an array of rush moves that is quite ahead of where he should be (considering he was in the JUCO league just two short years ago).  Gregory’s weight (240) could scare some teams from placing him at defensive end.  I call bologna on that.  Gregory is going to get bigger over time.  He is on the smaller side right now because he has not been in a real college weight room for all that long.  But the special thing about the Nebraska defensive end is that he has the ability and fluidity in his hips to open them up and drop back into coverage.  With the right coaching, he could easily succeed as a traditional defensive end in a 4-3 or as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 whom occasionally drops into coverage and has enough relied upon athleticism to make plays.  Lets say the Raiders have enough faith in Justin Tuck and the other defensive ends to make plays, where is the next position of need that they turn to?  Todd fricken Gurley.  Gurley is a one man wrecking crew that can carry the rock 20-25 times a game and still bulldoze people over late in the fourth.  He can also help take the load off of Derek Carr and make the offense into a more balanced offense that cannot be front or back loaded with defenders.  The offensive line is currently ideal for running the ball down people’s throats.  Khalif Barnes, Donald Penn, Gabe Jackson, and Stefen Wisniewski have all played in predominantly run based offenses during their tenures in college or the pros.  Drafting Gurley would also finally allow the Raiders to cut and finally move on from the enigmatic Darren McFadden.  Gurley will be a beast in this league and definitely has an opportunity to go first overall.  You still have to run the ball to win games; it’s as simple as that.  I get this feeling that whoever is coaching this team next year will want to keep Derek Carr and at least give him another year to see what he can do.  That is why I didn’t mock Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota at this spot but I do feel like Leonard Williams has a great shot to end up on this team.  The big defensive end/ tackle for the USC Trojans has been making big time plays for his team since he was a freshman.  He is 6’5” and 290 pounds but he is light enough on his feet that can play the outside end position in a 4-3 or stay inside and play defensive tackle.  He uses his hands extremely well and will still have the strength and ability to overpower offensive tackles in the NFL, just like he did in college.  The scariest thing about Williams is that he will still only be 20 years old by the time his name is called at the NFL draft.  That’s incredible for a man that big and strong and that young. 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-7)

Derek's Take:
I thought Tampa Bay was a team that could surprise and make a run at a Wild Card spot. I know I wasn't alone in this line of thought which I'm glad of because holy shit could I have not been more wrong. I really thought Lovie Smith was going to be able and make something out of this defense which has some talented players but hasn't gotten a lot of production. Both sides of the ball are terrible on this team and they need upgrades at numerous positions. But none is more critical than at quarterback. Mike Glennon has shown some promise, but he was recently benched in favor of Josh McCown who was benched earlier in the season for Glennon. So obviously Smith is not liking what he is seeing from these players. In a division with Drew Brees, Scam Newton, and Matt Ryan, a franchise quarterback is a must. That is why if the Bucs end up with the first overall pick, they need to roll the dice and select Jameis. I've already outlined above why Jameis is such a special talent, and he is one that the Bucs could not afford to pass up on. Tampa has some good offense talent waiting to be properly utilized, and there is now doubt that Jameis could take advantage of it. His favorite target last season at Florida State was Kelvin Benjamin who stands at 6'5. Tampa Bay just drafted two players, receiver Mike Evans and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who are each 6'5 so go along with seasoned veteran Vincent Jackson who is of the same height. Winston would have a field day with those receivers. If the Bucs feel that they need to give Glennon or McCown another season, they should bolster their defensive line with Leonard Williams. The team recently locked up stud defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for the long term, but the rest of the line blows. They have 13 sacks on the season with five coming from McCoy and have no threat from the edge. Williams would be able to come in and bring some explosiveness from the edge or could line up inside to create a formidable tackle duo. Option C for this team would be to take Peat. A left tackle would help whoever is starting be more comfortable in the pocket. The line has already allowed 21 sacks on the year and allow a lot more pressures. Plus, they have only rushed for an average of 90 yards a game. Peat would help bring a road grade mentality to this line.

Justin's Take:
The sad part about Tampa Bay is they have invested money in big time free agents (Evan Dietrich-Smith, Michael Johnson, and Dashon Goldson to name a few) and the team is still horrible.  The defense has a great young core with Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David and with a defensive minded head coach like Lovie Smith, I expect this defense to have a different swagger and look to it next year.  They will be improved, you can bet on that but for now they suck.  Doug Martin looks like a shadow of himself and the one-year wonder may be the next in line to lose his job with Bobby Rainey taking control and Charles Sims potentially living up to the hype that was surrounding him in the preseason.  What the Bucs have to figure out before the end of the season is who their starting quarterback will be moving forward.  Mike Glennon has shown some flashes that make you think he may be the quarterback for the Bucs, but they invested so much money in journeyman Luke McCown that it makes you question if the coaching staff has already moved on from Glennon.  If that is the case, Tampa Bay needs to grab Jameis Winston immediately.  Winston is everything you want on the field and nothing you want off of it.  He does things on the field that makes you crave a quarterback of that caliber but then he does dumb, immature shit that makes you want to smack him and wake him up.  He has the potential to be an amazing quarterback that could turn a team around, like the Bucs, just like Andrew Luck did with the Colts.  But Winston also has the ability to get suspended for multiple games by a no nonsense, no bullshit coach like Lovie Smith.  Winston would match up so incredibly well with the talent at the skill position on that team.  Vincent Jackson is that big time deep threat that Jameis could get motivated and wake him up from the cocoon that he has been in.  Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins are young players that have potential to be something very special in a few years, especially with Winston chucking the rock.  Hypothetically, if the Buccaneers want to stick with McCown and Glennon where do they look to?  Lovie does love his defensive players so I would expect him to take a good long hard look at both Leonard Williams and Randy Gregory.  Williams would pair extremely well with McCoy in the middle of that defense and create a defensive line that would beat any offensive line around.  They would be an unstoppable force that would stuff any running back but still have the ability to get to the quarterback.  The tandem would allow playmakers like Michael Johnson and Lavonte David to make plays all over the field.  Randy Gregory would be great to pair with McCoy and Johnson too.  He would add the speed element to the team to strike fear into opposing quarterbacks and I could only imagine in what ways Lovie would line up Gregory to make sure he has the best chance to sack the quarterback.  After all this is said, I still believe that if the Bucs have a chance to take Winston, DO IT!

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