Now that the draft is over, many here at TST have expressed the full range of emotions and reactions regarding the outcome. I, for one, was not immediately pleased with the teams overall selections, but now that I’ve had some time to contemplate what it all means—and soak in a variety of fan/expert reactions/grades—my personal reaction exists as a dichotomy between reality, and possibility.
Reality (Grade C+)
I, like many of you, was befuddled by what transpired in rounds 2-4. Like an earlier post mentioned, this was largely the result of a disparity between what we—as fans—and the FO, wanted/expected. I logged a significant amount of time leading up to the draft here on TST and other sites looking at mock drafts—which I now FIRMLY believe to be useless—and various other projections and player ratings. As such, I was shocked by the draft, as the players who the team drafted were mentioned—if at all—only in passing. They did not fill positions of popularly perceived need--although many wanted a WR, most conceded that what they wanted was a true #1-type WR--, and thus I, at the time, viewed them as wasted picks. “The team has great needs at DT, OLB,OG, and S,” I thought, “and left these positions undrafted in the first 2 days.WTF?!” But while the reality of leaving those “positions” of need undrafted left me bitter, the reality of overall “offensive” needs, as a unit, was comprehensively addressed.
The team was miserable in the red-zone last season. As a result, the FO used picks 2-4 on big, potentially reliable targets. This makes perfect sense. None of the picks were “sexy”, as some like to say, but I believe the selected players, while offering lower ceilings than others, also provide much higher floors. While neither Pettis, nor Salas, project as true #1 WRs, it is hard to argue that neither Brandon Lloyd, Jabbar Gaffney, nor Eddie Royal are true #1 WRs, and yet with an average QB in Kyle Orton slinging the ball to them, they managed to catch their way to a 7th rated passing offense with Josh McDaniels calling the plays. Kendricks (6’3”-247/4.5-40yd/ 38” vertical) has the look of a Dallas Clark (6’3”- 257/4.65-40 yd/37.5” vertical). Add the 3 rookies to Uh-Oh, Clayton, Avery, and Amendola, and I am excited at the possibilities of the passing game.
Rounds 5 and 7 offer some intriguing possibilities as well. Legitimate starting talent can be found in rd 5, yet is rarely found in rd 7, and thus it is important to look at the potential scheme fits and versatility of the drafted players. Ken Flajole is obviously familiar with Thomas Davis. A FS in college, Davis was converted to OLB, where he was coached by Flajole. Jermale Hines—while obviously a bit smaller and not the elite prospect that Davis was—could fill that role, while also competing at S. It is known that Spags does not place as high a value on safety play as many other defensive-minded head coaches, so perhaps he feels as though he already has the personnel at the S position to make the defensive system work. In their post-draft press conference, Devaney mentioned that he envisions the 7th round guys as purely developmental, special teams contributors. “When we get down to this point, you’re usually looking at developmental kind of guys. You’re not looking at these guys to come in and make an immediate impact as starters, so their qualities better include special teams play. That’s how they’re going to earn their stripes as they’re developing as players, so all of these guys are viewed as major contributors on special teams.” There is obvious value in special teams guys—even if the value of special teams will be diminished by new rules—and if one of these players can develop into a regular contributor outside of special teams, I see it as a bonus.
So, considering this—and the drafting of Robert Quinn, who will give Spags the personnel to wreak havoc on O-Lines and QBs on obvious passing downs as well as provide a potentially dominant DE tandem of the future—I am inclined to give the FO a slightly above average grade, as they significantly upgraded the team’s pass-rushing, and now offer Sam some big, reliable targets to throw to all over the field, and particularly in the red-zone. The reason I still cannot see the draft as optimistically as some is because of the reality of the gaping holes left unfilled, namely DT, OG, and OLB. I realize that not every hole was going to be addressed through the draft, but the reality is that Gibson, Grant, and Goldberg are not acceptable as starters. Period. As fans, we saw Goldie and Gibson get steamrolled on their respective sides of the ball, and opposing OCs take advantage of the below-average OLBs time and time again, making the secondary seem worse. If FA does not happen, and they are starting for the team in 2011, the reality is that this draft will end up looking worse. That takes me to the second pole in my dichotomy…
Per the post-draft press conference (copied here from ramsrule.com):
(On if they approach free agency with lists of four-year and six-year free agents, depending on what rules are eventually in place)
(Devaney): “Correct, the UFAs (unrestricted free agents).”
(Spagnuolo): “We’re locked and loaded.”
(On if they’re anxious to fill out the roster by pursuing veteran free agents)
(Spagnuolo): “Yeah, you’d like to be able to do it, but it is what it is.”
(Devaney): “It’ll get done.”
Free agency, while being uncertain at this point, is obviously still a very real possibility. The list of FA possibilities has been explored here on TST, and now, more accurate FA wish lists can be created with the draft in the books. Devaney and Spags, judging by comments, seem to be a believers that FA will happen, and that the roster will get filled with quality FA starters. There are lots of players out there, and if the roster is indeed filled out with a RB—Michael Bush—an OLB—Manny Lawson/Rocky McIntosh—a DT—Barry Cofield—and an OG—Harvey Dahl/Davin Joseph—the draft will look great. The possibility of signing all those players seems unrealistic, but there are secondary options in the FA pool that would, at worst, usurp the current players at those positions and improve overall team play. However, the possibility still exists that these quality FAs will be signed, thereby bolstering the reality above. Get some veteran starters at DT, OLB, OG, and RB, in the mix, and add them to the probably/potentially improved pass rush and passing game, and the NFC West, nay league, had better watch out.
In addition, there are still many UDFAs who have garnered some attention here at TST. Deandre McDaniel, Mark Herzlich, Jeron Johnson, Derrick Locke, Noel Devine, et. al. have all been discussed, and every year some teams find gems. Just last year 2010 UDFAs Legarrete Blount and Sam Shields made obvious contributions to their teams, and in the 3 prior drafts, notable UDFAs Arian Foster, Davone Bess, Mike Tolbert, BenJarvis Green Ellis, Melvin Bullett, and our own Danny Amendola, have all proven to be better than many drafted players.
In the end, the draft class can be judged in and of itself—reality—yet a true understanding of the actual quality cannot yet be achieved, until possibility is realized. Until these rookies take the field and show their stuff, and we know what has happened in rookie and regular FA, everything is pure conjecture. Our knee-jerk reactions are, at this point, based solely on the unknown. As fans, let’s hope that Kroenke empties his pockets and allows the FO to attack FA with fervor, filling the holes that we all know to be obvious, and solidifying the team into a true contender.