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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Around The Draft: EJ Gaines

I'm struggling through a personal loss, so I took a day off on my 60 prospects/60 days thing.

At any rate, we have EJ Gaines.  Missouri CB, a very average 5'10, 190.  A lot of the prospects so far at CB have been the tall, lanky type or the smaller, nickelback type - and outside of the third round duo of McGill/Jean-Baptiste, the average ranking based on the internet suggests that the higher you go, the taller you are.  

Gaines is an average build guy, but still rated lower.  He isn't the tall, lanky corner that fits the outside defender narrative for Carolina. But, he fits the slot corner narrative, and does have the ability and athleticism to fit downfield, where his hips seem to turn well for him from backpedal.  He's played both in press and off-man, so he should be able to handle the slot or outside zone.

He does also fit in another form - he is a good tackler and blitzer, even to go as far as to say that he's the type of guy who can avoid blockers well enough to be a threat to come at the QB.   He's the sort that doesn't turn enough of his ball opportunities into INTs (the prototypical "that's why he plays defense" type of comment), and has to overcome a small injury history.

Carolina needs basically this one piece, based on whether the odd idea of having Charles Godfrey as the nickel pays any dividends (but, even still, they could use this piece).  Gaines could go late 3rd, or 4th, but fits the football player playing corner type player that Ron Rivera has sought.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Best Player, Or Greatest Need?

We've heard over and over again that the Panthers are locked into their
Best Player Available philosophy.

It seems they've prepared for that, excepting offensive tackle - where
they say they could make do with existing resources, somehow. They've
picked up enough inexpensive veteran talent that they can go with,
theoretically, almost any pick.

The team and media outlets use last year's draft as an example of that
philosophy, and so far they've used the same overall ideals in free
agency. Pick up good, but maybe undervalued, bodies to fill holes. So
far, so good.


But is what they're doing really BPA, or is it a ruse? BPA is a good
way of throwing other teams off your trail, too. It would be obvious to
the average observer that the team needs an OT, and a WR, and that it'd
be easy to get directly in front of Carolina to get the one you want.
Since obviously no one has access to Carolina's board at the time of a
pick other than Carolina, you can't say they didn't pick the best
player.

So to start off, I'd like to analyze the 2013 draft under BPA and
non-BPA filters.

1st round - Star Lotulelei, DT - in my mind, this player was both.
Clearly a massive need, Lotulelei was also the best defensive lineman in
the draft (to me, anyway). This is where Carolina got extremely lucky;
if OT Luke Joeckel fell, same thing. I think you have to take that
player (and in my mind, yes, Joeckel was the best OT in the draft; I
don't remember comparing quality between he and Lotulelei but I'd say
both are at the top of the board). But if one of the ends fell? I
don't know if I had confidence in any of the three (Dion Jordan, Ezekiel
Ansah, and Barkevious Mingo went out of order and none of them I really
had ahead of 14). I wouldn't have picked any, but traditional logic
might've made one of them the BPA.

2nd round - Kawann Short, DT - rated near our 44 pick, Short is where
Carolina started arguing BPA. Short was, in my mind (and unless I
missed something significant, traditional internet logic) a good value,
but it's not like there was a mid-first grade on Short. The fit was
good, and given some concerns about motor, adding Short to a DL that
wouldn't ask too much of him would have value. But a lot of that's not
considered in BPA.

*It's hard to argue for other picks. I really liked Larry Warford at
guard, and his 2013 performance bears that out as an ideal pick for
Carolina, where he'd have locked down RG instead of seeing the team go
through a short dozen of them. Robert Alford at CB would've made a
difference, too.

3rd round - forefeited in trade. Would've been a great data point to
add, with Keenan Allen still on the board (oof) and the team's
connections to him; Tyrann Mathieu would've been interesting, though a
fair amount of his success is owed to where he went, too. Warford
would've been ideal, but it's essentially inconceivable to hope that an
already-traded pick would have someone like that fall to it. That sort
of wishing is double-useless.

4th round - Edmund Kugbila, G - it's hard to call this BPA. It's easy
to call it a need, where the team really needed any shot at improving
its OL along with depth. I was hoping for the versatile Barrett Jones
here, though injury could've pushed him down. Warl Watford was a
similar small-school G that was a little more powerful. But, Kugbila
has yet to really show what he can do, so I won't pile on.

5th round - AJ Klein, LB - you can call this BPA, but as much because it
wasn't a need. Klein might've been rated higher than this, but it's
hard to know. I didn't pay any attention to him. Obviously the pick
worked out, but you could argue that the team had two highly paid vet LB
to go around a high first round pick, and paid three more veterans as
depth; Klein's "need" provides cap relief and a future at the position
that isn't year-to-year special teamers. This pick has obviously
worked out, undoubtedly, but it's also a space where you could argue
either BPA or need.

6th round - Kenjon Barner, RB - I don't know. Yes, maybe BPA. But, in a
way, need. Yes, Carolina has tons of RB, but not a quick one, not one
that they'd have return kicks. With Ted Ginn on a one year deal and all
the other returners in the WR logjam, you could argue the team had a
value in that. Ron Rivera valued a scatback type player and has evoked
the Darren Sproles image enough. You could argue need. You could
argue the need by 2014 or 2015 to have a younger, but experienced, RB on
staff to take over for a high contract.

You could also argue, not BPA. Barner comes from a wide open offense,
and you could argue Carolina had been that once. But you knew with Mike
Shula at the helm and a top defense, that it wouldn't be all that open -
BPA doesn't account for offensive fit, or how conservative it is, unless
all that's figured into the draft grade.

There's no doubt that Andre Ellington would've been a smarter choice in
hindsight, and possibly at the time, too. So I can't tell the Panthers
what their board looks like, but it feels like the BPA part fails
because I disagree that Barner was the BPA. Who knows, maybe they'll
switch him to receiver and that will work, but right now he doesn't look
like a player that can run strong on a team that has nothing but power
runners and runs power.





The end result is, like the "Dave Gettleman only drafts Seniors" thing,
it's a limited amount of data points. I'm certain that the Panthers
have to draft a junior or two, that there's no aversion to that ideal,
and that if they haven't already, they'll end up drafting for need at
some point.

Around The Draft: Keith McGill

I'm still struggling through 60 prospects in 60 days, inevitably a few
spots behind target but still grinding it out. Today's 25 to 85 (ish)
prospect is Utah CB Keith McGill. Carolina's suddenly quite short on
Utah alumni after the hole that Steve Smith and Jordan Gross both leave
behind, both holes I believe Carolina has yet to fully address in
various forms. Like Smith, McGill went to Utah via a Los Angles area
JuCo, so he has two years major college experience (and a redshirt).

McGill, of course, can't help you there. But he fits another, obvious
hole, the ongoing issues at cornerback.

McGill's an ideal Ron Rivera cornerback - with good enough speed (4.51),
but exceptional considering the length (6'3, 211) and ranginess that
Rivera (and most everyone really) covets. He uses that size well in
coverage, boxing out and at times baiting the underneath throw. His
hands are just good, and I don't know if he's a true ballhawk, but he's
a tough downfield defender who's natural in coverage. McGill does have
safety experience, playing one of his two years at free safety.

Again, paralleling Smith's situation, there's an injury concern while at
Utah. It's only one issue, but it cost him half of 2011 and all of 2012
with a shoulder injury. Like Smith's collarbone issue, I don't think
it's a concern longterm, but a few outside sources suggest he's gotta
pass physicals/show durability.

I don't know if it's related, but for a safety-sized corner, McGill
doesn't tackle quite as hard or hit as hard as you might hope, and he'll
have to beat blocks better/with more enthusiasm in the pro game.


The parallels to Smith are anecdotal. Ignore them if you want -
they're two completely different players overall, they just went down
the same paths. McGill could use a small amount more of Smith's fire
(if properly used, couldn't we all?) but I think he's an ideal fit in
Carolina. The issue is application. Antoine Cason is an outside
receiver. I can't imagine Melvin White, even though I expect some
upgrade in play going into year two, suddenly becoming less stiff. They
could throw him into the slot, but I don't know. They have Josh Thomas,
but he's somewhat of a step down.

So in the case that McGill is the choice - currently that value is
mid-3rd, give or take, and like the CB I wanted in '12, Trumaine
Johnson, I think that McGill could bubble up to the 2nd-
it's to where it likely upgrades on White, competing at the very least,
but the team would remain deficient at the 3rd CB spot since all three
guys are better suited to the outside role.

Potentially still worth it - the Best Player Available philosophy
doesn't seem to concern itself with what type of corner or receiver
you're in greater need of, anymore than it's worried about whether you
need a corner or receiver more. In the end, long term with Cason being
on a one year deal (I think Carolina will have wished he was on a 2-3
year deal by the end of the year, personally), this type pick still
makes a lot of sense. But with the Seahawks' corners fitting McGill's
profile, copycat teams will probably pluck him early.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Around The Draft: Ha-ha Clinton-Dix

Headlining the 2014 defensive back all-name team is Ha-Ha Clinton Dix,
given name Ha'Sean (not the point, but clearly Louchiez Purifoy and
Darqueze Dennard are on that not-real team too). He's the first truly
ridiculously named player I'll review for my Around The Draft in 60 Days
feature.

While he sounds like part of the famous all-star team on Key & Peele,
Clinton-Dix is an actual player. A top recruit out of Florida, he was a
starter for the National Champion 2012 team in Alabama and again in '13.
The 6'1, 210 lb free safety provides all the necessary ability, and
while he lacks as much top end speed, that's not as critical (4.58 at
combine) when added to his top shuttle times. He has quick change of
direction skill, good instincts and diagnostic ability to get to the
ball and make things happen there.

He comes out of an obviously talented, well coached team. He's used to
having elite talent around him, and he's used to being able to sit back
and diagnose. He's a football player, not just a cover guy. He fills
quickly, and securely, in the run game and hits hard.

He does have the ability to play the slot receiver, and while that's not
necessarily the reason you get him, if you did, you might hold off on a
corner for slot ability. It's rare, but it happens (Mike Minter started
out in the nickel).

That said, I like Calvin Pryor a little more. Both are rated in the
20-30 range by most internet outlets, with Clinton-Dix being more likely
to be rated higher. But Pryor's measurables are a little better, the
aggressiveness and football player mentality are still there, and I feel
like there's a little more potential in coverage ability.

Since Carolina has signed Thomas DeCoud, the need for a high pick at FS
is gone. This would be a Best Player Available type situation and since
possibly both will be there, I don't know that either will be BPA. The
draftnik in me would want a sleeper guy like Lonnie Ballentine of
Memphis to play the project role (at 6'3, 218, Ballentine ran a 4.40 40
and has a ton of size, has the length and ranginess Ron Rivera likes)
but he isn't a very polished or instinctive player. But, in the 5th -
7th, that's what this team needs from a backup standpoint, the current
"need".

They also have to figure out what to do with Charles Godfrey. So, from
a grocery list perspective, Clinton-Dix is not a top choice. If there
were a need, I think Pryor is a bit more explosive.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Around The Draft; Dri Archer

60 prospects, 60 days.

Today's takes a turn with an offensive weapon, tweener, whatever you want to call him.

Dri Archer's a pocket rocket.

I liked Dexter McCluster coming out but I wasn't sure if he'd stay a back (and he didn't).  Then again, I saw the same thing out of another massively fast, thin playmaker - Chris Johnson.  Johnson hit 2000 yards as a back, though I still have no clue how.  His lack of enough power is now evident, but for a few years he was tough to track down.

Archer falls in that mold, and while doing those comparisons may do him a disservice, there's no doubt that he's also much smaller (5'8, I guess, but maybe less - and 173 lbs), that his size at Kent State [it's remarkably distasteful to call him the Kent State Bullet but, I mean, let's face it no one will even get that and it's well before my time] isn't NFL size, and that he'll be better off being taught upfield routes than trying to follow guards twice his size.  He had toughness running in the box, and I'm not going to take rushing the football off the table.  But it feels like WR is his home eventually.

He does have experience moving around - not just at RB, but slot WR, and both return spots.  He's almost unlimited potential, the way Devin Hester was almost worth listing as a returner instead of having a position; he definitely impacts the game enough to get him involved.

I watched the RB workouts at combine, my first year of being able to really watch combine, and Archer stood out in workouts.  Of course he would.  I didn't catch that little man put up 225 x 20 on the bench - a significant amount of weight for his size and an indicator he's not the typical track guy.

Naming a number of NFL vets isn't to call where Archer is talent-wise.  His leading attribute is his speed, he's not as versatile as the above players yet and he's certainly not a young Darren Sproles, either.  Ron Rivera likes that Sproles type guy, the flavor you can't scheme.

The downside?  Now that Carolina has one Sproles in Kenjon Barner, another in Archer seems silly.  And that first Sproles barely played - it's almost an afterthought that there's no reason for him to play in a vanilla scheme that predicates holding the ball as much as it does big plays.  Rob Chudzinski would make something interesting out of these two kids, though he also wasted a fair two years of Deangelo Williams' career on a dizzying array of two-yard shotgun draws over and over and over again on first down, waiting for that one 70 yard changeup every three weeks.

Mike Shula?  I don't know if he has room for this guy as a back.  And if Tiquan Underwood is "the deep guy", does the team need two?  Cam Newton barely gets a deep ball now and again.

So, the question becomes, to a point, is Archer the return man who can turn around a game?  That's a pretty big possibility.   His stop/start ability matched with acceleration you only find in a 4.2 type player, along with the toughness of a larger player in the open field, means he's a guy with this skill set:
*the 4.2 40
*RB toughness and elusiveness
*a punt returner's mentality catching, returning, or rushing the football

I think that's the sort of thing you want returning your punts. That job, of course, is currently open, likely to go to the generic version of Darren Sproles currently employed by Carolina, unless that changes.

Now, a 3rd, or 4th possibly since Al Davis isn't here to draft all the sub 4.3 guys until they're gone, is a lot to give to a team that has Hog Molly needs. And they do.   But best player is best player.  By 3, or 4, if you were to miss that part of Ted Ginn enough to upgrade on that?  Archer might be your man.  What he turns into after, that's hard to say, but by 2015, you're just finding ways to get him on the field.

(those of you young enough, I think I deserve a nod for not writing this full of Archer references - Laaaanaaaa!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Around The Draft: Michael Schofield, Matt Patchan

I'm attempting to knock out 60 prospects in the 60 days before the
draft, out of players that could be picked between the late first and
late third round picks Carolina posesses. I apparently took a weekend
break from these, so I might knock out a few today.

Today's prospects? Michael Schofield, of Michigan, and Matt Patchan,
Boston College. Both are lighter players, and both come in on the late
3rd-mid 4th round, so I'll compare and contrast the two to Carolina's
needs.

Schofield played in the shadow of his high first round teammate, Taylor
Lewan, next to him for a year at LG, and across from him at RT for 26
games. Schofield played some snaps at LT with Lewan hurt, but most of
his time was at RT. His ability to play LT is hard to say - he has the
height/length for it, a wide base, and he seems to have good feet on
tape. But some of the reports I read disagree - they say his feet are
heavy, and that he's better at guard. I would worry, in the wrong
scheme, if he could get leverage at guard with his height.

He has good power, can anchor, so he has that going for him at any
position. He looks aware of rush schemes and doesn't get fooled, so he
has that at any position. he seems to struggle with where he puts his
hands, so he could attract too many holding calls. But, he has the
versatility to be thrown in a lot of places, so if you need depth, he
might be that sort of overachieving lineman that just finds his way on
the field. So far, that's how it's gone for him.



Patchan (6'6, 302) fits the part with tons of athleticism and good
technique. ON the field he's reliable - has good feet, enough
toughness. But he can't stay on the field consistently - he's torn an
ACL, he's torn a pectoral, and he's fractured his wrist, each of which
ended his year. None of them are related, but you have to wonder on
durability.

He did have a good 2013 after transferring to BC from Florida, and he
stayed healthy that year, so he's the sort of guy who's on the upswing
because of it. A top prep prospect, he took six years to fully gain his
potential, and it's more on those five than the last one that's holding
him back. Because of that, he's a guy who could have second round
talent, but is a complete unknown and might end up a 5th rounder if
people get spooked.

The team can use either or both. Both players have their issues, but
could provide good value once their names are called.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Around The Draft: Bruce Ellington, Robert Herron

Today's installment of Around The Draft comes with a pair of similar receivers - Bruce Ellington and Robert Herron.  This pair of diminutive receivers pack a punch for their size, and might get overlooked for it, but both have a significant amount of talent.



Ellington has some Steve Smith in him.  Small (5'9, 297) but plays big, built bigger than his height (wingspan, chest, hands), has plenty of speed, and a little bit of a wildcard.  Ellington didn't have to do everything at South Carolina, he had a limited route tree and had some freedom to freelance, so that's a Ricky Proehl situation.  This offense would give him some room to make some reads, but it also requires a good route runner.  Despite that speed, he doesn't have that extra burst, that top gear so to speak, you hope for from a burner, so he's gotta get those routes better.

Ellington also has just a bit of Julius Peppers in his history - he played basketball, so you have that 'focus' question to whether he'd really improve working on just football, or whether the drive is there to do it.  Have no clue on that one, I'm not going to judge him for being a two sport college star.



Herron (5'9, 193) played for small school Wyoming, but came up big against good competition.  He's tough, a better blocker than Ellington, but shares the open-offense curse of getting a lot of his yards on the drags, screens, and the go.  His routes seem a little better, but again this might be a limited situation. I don't know that he can or can't, he just hasn't been asked to do it.

He advances the ball like a running back, and has experience there; he can provide a RB like burst and elusiveness.  The league really hasn't found a lot of need for a Percy Harvin type player, and it took a while for Brian Schottenheimer to figure out what to do with a far superior Tavon Austin.

Both players have a lack of height, enough speed to make things happen, and their tape has limitations to how it can be applied as a pro.  I like the ideal of either guy in Carolina, but it's to where I don't know if either would make it on the field much.  Neither are great return specialists, and routes being a potential concern, it will be tough to get off the bench if you're not as efficient as a lot of the vets.