Draft week Inconvenient Truths: Season for lying
You can follow Charles Robinson on Twitter at @YahooSportsNFL
When the name of former Oklahoma State wideout Dez Bryant was brought up during the Denver Broncos’ pre-draft news conference Friday, coach Josh McDaniels gushed. He defended. He talked openly about the team’s time spent with the receiver, noting that Bryant “had a smile on his face” and “did everything well.”
And like every mid-April sound byte of public affection for an NFL draft prospect, there was little more to do than take it with a grain of salt.
In a month that essentially pays homage to the U.S. intelligence community, most teams spend their time ignoring everything that other franchises say publicly about their draft boards. It’s often the best option to combating a draft pipeline flooded with lying, deceit, propaganda, information poisoning, counter intelligence – and in some past cases, even surveillance.
Indeed, April is a liar’s month in the NFL, which often makes it difficult to determine what is truly set to happen in the draft, which starts Thursday in New York. But in an effort to find some clarity, we asked an assortment of teams to privately share their thoughts on what they believe other franchises are doing – or to deliver honest assessments of players who they aren’t interested in pursuing.
We’ll call it the draft’s week’s 10 Inconvenient Truths … in the NFL’s least truthful month. And we’ll start the truths with Denver’s sudden love affair with Bryant …
1. Bryant isn’t going to Denver at 11
Despite the fact that Denver doesn’t appear to have a No. 1 wideout after dealing Brandon Marshall(notes) to the Miami Dolphins, many teams aren’t buying that the Broncos are locked in on Bryant at 11. McDaniels just seems to be trying too hard to get the buzz out there that Denver has spent a great deal of time with Bryant and really likes him. Other front offices see it as a big façade, particularly considering the organization is rigged to run quiet when it comes to most personnel matters.
Said one AFC personnel man: “When the [Indianapolis Colts] really like a player, they don’t say anything. I bet if you looked, a lot of times they don’t even bring him in. That’s more standard than going out there with [the 11th overall] pick a couple days before the draft and saying how much you like a player and how you spent a lot of time with him. … Denver knows there are teams in front of them that want to trade back, too. Jacksonville is one spot ahead of them, and they would trade back. [McDaniels] would just be opening the doors for someone else who likes [Bryant] to move up. No way they’re drafting Bryant.”
2. The Rams are taking Bradford at No. 1
Unless there is a major move made by a team that covets former Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford – and there is still some buzz that could occur – few teams see the St. Louis Rams passing on Bradford with the No. 1 overall pick. Yes, many personnel men believe St. Louis is a little nervous about some of the flags with Bradford, including his weight fluctuations, his throwing shoulder (which he injured twice last season) and his running of the spread offense in college. But this also comes down to a reality: the Rams have passed on quality quarterbacks in the last two drafts, taking defensive end Chris Long(notes) over Matt Ryan(notes) in 2008 and offensive tackle Jason Smith(notes) over Mark Sanchez(notes) last year. Not taking a quarterback again could be a dagger for general manager Billy Devaney.
As one NFC personnel man said of Devaney: “Can he survive not taking [a top-tier quarterback] three drafts in a row?”
3. The Tebow top-10 talk has been hot air
There isn’t a lot of science in this one. There just isn’t any belief whatsoever that any team in the top 10, including the Jacksonville Jaguars at No. 10, will take former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. There’s simply too much work to be done to develop him, and too much guaranteed money inside the top 10 picks to make Tebow a good risk. Some believe that Jacksonville is trying to move back into the teens to make Tebow a more equitable choice. Ultimately, all of those worries that front offices had about Tebow’s mechanics and ability to be a pocket passer have come back to the surface.
4. Boise State cornerback Kyle Wilson will be the first cornerback drafted
All the public talk has been about Florida’s Joe Haden, but Wilson has the major personnel buzz. Teams love his speed and athleticism, and believe the few kinks in his game can be ironed out with coaching. And unlike Haden, personnel departments think Wilson hasn’t touched his full potential. He had a very good Senior Bowl and raised some eyebrows. And in the interviewing process, he comes off as confident, if not a little feisty. Don’t be shocked if he’s plucked inside the top 10.
5. Okung isn’t a franchise left tackle
Teams like Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung, but he’s not a nasty mauler with great upper body strength. And he’s not consistent. When teams describe him in relation to other offensive tackles, he always comes in a clear notch below the Cleveland Browns’ Joe Thomas(notes), and some think he won’t even be a left tackle in the NFL. Not exactly what you want to hear if you’re drafting in the top five and want a Pro Bowl anchor on the left side.
Said one personnel man, “Okung is the consummate pro and a good soul, but ultimately that guy would be nice around 15 through 19. When you’re talking about the single digits [with Okung], people are concerned about that.”
6. Williams is actually the most highly skilled tackle available
Like Okung, Trent Williams of Oklahoma is not overly nasty, either. But he is extremely athletic, and teams think he could sustain that even if he got into the 320-pound range. He’s got great balance, great feet, good arm length and has at times punished defenders with his hands. Essentially, he’s got a maximum amount of tools and ability to work with to become a true franchise left tackle.
Said an NFC source: “If you’re just looking at skill, and take away all the other stuff, he’s far beyond Okung. [Williams] has much more skill and athleticism. He’s definitely a left tackle and he could also play right.”
7. Griffen sounds a lot like this year’s Gholston
Former USC defensive end Everson Griffen’s skill level is unquestionable. At a rock solid 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds, he moves well, has some explosion and ran a 4.59 40-yard dash at the school’s pro day. He cuts the image of a top-tier 4-3 defensive end. If you just look at his workouts and physique, he looks like a top 10 pick. But there is an extreme hangover from New York Jets defensive end/linebacker and ’08 first-rounder Vernon Gholston(notes), who had some of the same attributes and has flopped on the NFL level. Griffen could be a first-round pick, likely in the 25-32 range, but even that comes with the reservations that he never put it all together in college, maxing out at seven sacks as a junior.
“He should have gone back [for his senior season at USC],” said one NFC coach. “He looks good, but the college production just isn’t there.”
8. The Giants are looking for a running back
It likely won’t happen until beyond the first round, but teams aren’t ruling out the New York Giants pulling a surprise and taking a running back with the 15th overall pick. Word has circulated among several personnel departments that the Giants are looking for a replacement for Brandon Jacobs(notes). It sounds crazy, considering Jacobs just inked an extension before the 2009 season. However, that four-year pact is easily dispensable after 2010, with $13 million in guarantees and $15 million of the overall $25 million coming by the end of the upcoming season. Again, the first round doesn’t make a lot of sense for the Giants considering seemingly more pressing needs on defense, but other teams aren’t ruling it out.
9. Teams in the 7-13 range are trying to move back to 15-23
So far, the bulk of calls seem to be being made by teams sitting at 7-13, trying to move back into the middle and latter reaches of the first round, where there is a lot of value for far less guaranteed money. It differs depending on what team is doing the talking, but there seems to be a general agreement that this is a “four player plus a tackle” top 10. In other words, four guys are surefire top 10 material – Bradford, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska, Gerald McCoy from Oklahoma, and former Tennessee safety Eric Berry – and then each team has its own opinion of an offensive tackle that is worthy, between the combination of Okung, Williams and Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga. After those players, teams seem to agree the talent shelf gets fairly even into the low 20s.
10. Graham is not a 3-4 outside linebacker
The book on former Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham is that he’s certain to go to a 4-3 scheme and play end, and can’t be the next LaMarr Woodley(notes), who came out of Michigan at end and was moved to outside linebacker in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 3-4 alignment. Teams don’t think Graham has the same range and instincts as Woodley and would struggle far more in the passing game. But they like his ability as a 4-3 end, particularly his fairly good balance against the run and pass. But he’s not expected to be the next guy who becomes a star standing up, a la Woodley or the Baltimore Ravens’ Terrell Suggs(notes).
Bonus: The Steelers really, really like Pouncey
The Steelers’ affection for former Florida center Maurkice Pouncey is pretty well out there on the grapevine, so it would be a shock if he didn’t come off the board at their pick. It might take a major slippage for them to pass, sort of like what happened with the San Francisco 49ers last year when they were locked onto offensive tackle Michael Oher(notes) with the No. 10 overall pick, but then had wideout Michael Crabtree(notes) fall into their lap. A lot of teams like Pouncey, and think he could be a Pro Bowl level center for a long time. The glowing assessments remind a lot of Jets center Nick Mangold(notes) when he was coming out of Ohio State.