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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Around The Draft: Scott Crichton

60 prospects, 60 days, Around the Draft in 60 days (again, I got busy at
80). I'm a couple of days behind, and so I'm grinding out an extra now
and again.

Scott Crichton is a big end in the mold of Charles Johnson (you might
see where I'm going with that, unfortunately). 6'3, 273, and not
incredibly fast (4.84), but with decent closing speed and exceptional
short speed (a top 4.29 shuttle - consider WR Kelvin Benjamin, albeit a
massive receiver, ran a 4.39 short shuttle). I'll get past his speed
soon, but he has a good first step. He's not going to beat you across
the edge all the time, but it's enough that you still have to set wide
around him. He doesn't have that rare body bend that lets him get ideal
leverage on the outside.

He plays with power but I don't know that he has enough moves to make
use of his size yet. With his size and motor, he's the type that should
be able to square up on a tackle and have a range of things to use to
get pressure, but so far, he's just an outside rush guy.

He plays the run well, and depending on who you ask, he'll get down the
line fast; he gets negative marks at times for contain discipline.

A redshirt junior, Crichton started three years, being productive - with
22.5 sacks and 10FF. He's a good-story guy who supposedly had to leave
school to support his family (parents are Western Samoan immigrants; mom
works two jobs, dad works one despite having one leg). Hard worker who
came to school small and worked hard to get bigger.


Obviously, Carolina has Johnson and Greg Hardy. A pick at end supposes
that Carolina either wants to put money into Hardy and eventually phase
out Johnson, or that they don't want to pay Hardy longterm. This pick,
from a need standpoint, is more Charles Johnson - a high-strip player
who needs to get the technique down and use his power, and get the run
stopped as well. If the team dropped Hardy eventually, you'd want a
more athletic, even smaller guy. Demarcus Lawrence type guy. But
Lawrence doesn't have that speed you want in a 250-260 lb guy, and there
are honestly more big ends in this draft's middle.

I don't want Johnson to go - I'd definitely prefer the two sides work
out something if Hardy did stay, to ensure that they can keep that
intact. Both sides giving up just a little (Johnson's on year 4 of 6,
and since he was such a young draftee, he's got a high experience to age
ratio along with productivity). But, if you were to pinpoint a contract
to phase out, it could be Johnson's.

Around The Draft, Phillip Gaines

I'm zipping through a few words on roughly 60 prospects in the two
months leading up to the '14 draft, concentrating on needs while knowing
the team will at least sell the Best Player philosophy, if not always
sticking to it.

Phillip Gaines - 6'0, 190. Gaines isn't a guy I've focused on much, but
here he is, running up the draft boards. He has a legitimately big
league skill set despite playing at small-school Rice (Conference USA).
His 4.38 (apparently as low as 4.31) 40 time belies his athleticism but
he's also very quick in the change of direction drills. He already
shows big-league skill, too. He's low in yards per route run, was only
targeted 40 times last year and only gave up 13 catches.

He has good technique, and fights for the ball in the air. He needs to
do a little better with route recognition, when it comes to going after
the ball - which would give him more shots at picking the ball off, but
he's also the type that isn't going to let you get open much. It
appears he needs to improve on his height in his backpedal and he wasn't
asked to do it much - so he ends up tall and might struggle to get in
some schemes.

Gaines works at tackling, and while he needs to clean up a bit, he's

Gaines is a very intriguing player with good instincts. He looks like,
in the right scheme, a guy who could become a shutdown corner, the type
you would alter your scheme to accomodate. He's got the instinct to
jump a route and the speed to recover.

The concern, reading his past, is staying on the field, with unrelated
injuries that have held him out for chunks of his career (all of '11,
part of '09), but there's nothing that really says he should stay hurt.
He should pack on some weight, too.

I think Gaines is a riser. I'd love to have him in the 2nd, but he's as
intriguing as Jason Verrett and Kyle Fuller with a higher upside than
either.

The need here is obvious, Carolina needs another corner and the
defensive backfield still has no real longterm solution. Yes, the
safeties are signed for two years. Antoine Cason - to me, as good or
better than the other acquisitions, Roman Harper and Thomas Decoud - is
a one year, and there's no real talent to press Melvin White at the
other spot. There's no one to really take the nickel spot that's going
to make a difference on 3rd down. And the truth is, Carolina hasn't
put much talent back there.

I don't see Gaines here - he'll go higher because of his athleticism and
skill set than Carolina would be able to afford to spend. But Carolina
needs to invest a bit here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Around The Draft, Bashaud Breeland

CB Bashaud Breeland is the next in 60 within 60 (etc, etc).

The Clemson underclassman has the generic measurables (5'11, 200), a good vertical and shows athleticism on tape. So far, the concern has been a 4.62 40, which in corners essentially only means closing speed and deep speed.

He has the physicality to throw guys off their routes, which has masked or re-routed the speed concern, but no one's really freaking out about the 4.62.  Breeland hasn't shown it as a weakness.  Could make him fall, but not for the metrics-based crowd.

He's physical, but he plays better against non-physical guys (getting muscled v/s FSU). He's an active, aggressive guy with the ball in the air, and with the ball on the ground - he's a good tackler.  So hopefully the aggressive against aggressive receivers thing can be cleaned up.

He reminds me a lot of Josh Norman, but with better pedigree and the bit of stiffness that goes away with a major school prospect (at least in this case).   Relatedly, I don't know if Norman's biggest issue, freelancing, is necessarily an issue if you consider Breeland was a top performer on a Brent Venables defense.

So, if you can overlook the 4.62, and hope he can cleanly bang with a Vincent Jackson, I think in this case you get a corner who can play the ball, play the run, and can play well blitzing.  I don't have a good feel for him in the slot, the current need, however.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Around The Draft: Marcus Martin

60 prospects in 60 days (around the draft in 60 days - because I procrastinated at 80, I guess).  36 prospects down, by my count. 37 here in a minute, actually, but still.  That puts me at 6 behind, but that's for another day. For today, one.

I've yet to do a center, and while there's no realistic need for me to do a FB or a third-phase specialist like a kicker or snapper, center could be in play with a Best Player Available type approach. Not to unseat Ryan Kalil - being the only guaranteed guy longterm, I feel like they'd do what it takes to keep Ryan.  He'll be an interesting case study in the Dave Gettleman voidable years situation - Kalil's current contract voids in '16, after which he'll be 32.  After '15, his signing bonus proration is gone, that leaves the team with a lower cap hit for '16 and potentially the ability to re-up around the void.

Or not, he could just be toast like the other voidable guys.

At any rate, Martin.  Another USC center.  Carolina held two last year, Kalil and the now-retired Jeff Byers. Martin doesn't fall far off Kalil's mark, as a powerful and athletic interior offensive lineman. He has a mean streak, though it gets too aggressive (attempts to pancake where he could just control, so he sometimes fails).  He does it all well, understands the game.  He has guard experience, which is where he'd have to start out in Carolina and eventually take over for Kalil.

He has to become more technically sound, and he has to beat that knockout punch nonsense out of his game or get better at it.  The need-based reasoning?  Martin fulfills a way to get out of an expensive contract eventually, tightens up a short term weakness (none of the RG are good, and Amini Silatolu at LG is growing an injury history).  Best case scenario?  You end up so good at RG that you can have more of them at tackle.

It's a long shot, and I don't want the team to cycle away Kalil.  But, it's an option.  And in a world where you might be paying Cam Newton $20 million, Luke Kuechly at least $12 million, and same for Greg Hardy, a $10 million center is tough to swallow.   You can keep the strength strong at a cheaper price.

Again, not the way I'd go, but it makes sense.

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.