Tuesday, April 5, 2011

KD's Draft Guru Interview

For those that don’t know me, despite being born in and living 23 of my 25 years in Cincinnati, Ohio, and working for their only player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I am not a Bengals fan. I am a Miami Dolphins fan. I have been since Thanksgiving Day 1993 when the Dolphins, sans Dan Marino who was out with an Achilles injury, beat the Cowboys (thank you Leon Lett), in Dallas 16 – 14. Every boy in my 2nd grade class had a Dallas Cowboys Starter jacket – hell, I did too. I got rid of it after that game and I have religiously followed the Dolphins ever since. Needless to say, Miami was 9-2 after that Cowboys game, and promptly loss their last 5 games to miss the playoffs. I suffered through that. Dan Marino’s last game was played on my 15th birthday – a 62-7 loss at the hands of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2nd round of the playoffs that I thought I’d blocked from my memory. I guess not. I made it through the Cam Cameron 1-15 season and joined a Dolphins message board that year. I’m a pretty frequent visitor, and through the forums there, I came to know Alen Dumonjic, a then 18-year old who knew more about football than anyone else I’ve ever met, including me, and my friends would tell you that I myself probably know way too much as it is.

Alen is truly a student of the game and could tell you about the intricacies of Bill Walsh’s West Coast Offense (which was practiced when Walsh was a Bengals assistant, and perfected by some guy named Montana out in San Francisco), to the Air Coryell offense run by Dan Fouts and the Chargers, to the Dolphins “Wildcat” offense, which has been around since the 1940s – known as the Single Wing then - contrary to what ESPN would have you believe. But I digress. One of the things that many of the forum visitors turn to Alen for is his knowledge of the draft. Alen’s been known to frequent the East-West Shrine Bowl practices, and his knowledge never disappoints.

For more on the X’s and O’s of the game, check out his blog – it’s a must read for football junkies – www.footballpressbox.blogspot.com – thank me later.

Alen was kind enough to answer some draft-related questions for us now that the draft is only 22 days away (boy that looming Labor Issue makes it seem further away doesn’t it?). Here’s what he had to say:

TGTS: As someone who follows college football and the draft process very closely, what factors do you often look at when grading your prospects? Is it program pedigree, the player's makeup, 40 times, team interviews, or is it a combination of all things?

AD: First you have your positional analysis. You look at different things for each position obviously but in general, I look for the makeup of the player, I look how he handles the team, how he handles his duties at his position and I look at what scheme or philosophy he comes from and then last of all, I'll look at what he's faced. 

TGTS: This year's draft is somewhat top-heavy with quarterbacks in Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert, both of whom come from more open, spread offenses that are prevalent in college football. Does that make those prospects harder to evaluate than QBs who come from a pro-style offense such as Christian Ponder and Andrew Luck? 

Yes, they are a bit harder to grade because of the offense they come from. Blaine Gabbert comes from a very wide open and simplistic offense that relies on comeback routes and hitches that are tagged onto vertical routes. They really like to spread themselves out and create mismatches by using the receiving threat all over the field. Christian Ponder is viewed as a pro-style quarterback because he worked a lot under center and he comes from an offense that is a lot of 3 and 5 step game with triangle reads; read one side of the field and work it. That's a stepping stone in the development of the quarterback and then from there, you can read the entire field when you get good. Guys like Andrew Luck can do everything. He's really a fantastic quarterback because he sees the field so well and has such great control over the offense.  

TGTS: Obviously many people know some of the big names in the draft, such as Ingram, Newton, Fairley, Peterson, etc. Who are some of your mid-later round prospects that you have your eye on?

AD: Prospects that I have my eye on in the mid to later rounds include quarterback Greg McElroy, quarterback Ben Chappell, running back Delone Carter, running back Jamie Harper, running back Bilal Powell, running back Evan Royster, running back Damien Berry, wide receiver Vincent Brown, wide receiver Ryan Whalen, wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, wide receiver Aldrick Robinson. 

On the defensive side of the ball, nose tackle Sione Fua, linebacker Mark Herzlich, cornerback Davon House, cornerback Brandyn Thompson, cornerback Kendrick Burney, cornerback/safety Marcus GIlchrist, safeties Eric Hagg and Jaiqwuan Jarrett. 

A lot of the guys I list above have some good talent that can be improved upon and made into contributing players. McElroy is well known but Indiana's Ben Chappell has flown under the radar. His decision making is sometimes in question but he sees the field very well. Running back Bilal Powell reminds me of James Starks up in Green Bay as they have the same running style. Wide receivers Vincent Brown, Ryan Whalen and Dane Sanzenbacher are all guys who are the cookie-cutter route runners who understand the game and have good hands. All three work hard and are overachievers. Aldrick Robinson has talent but he needs to continue to work hard. 

Defensively, Sione Fua is somewhat reminiscent of Aubrayo Franklin out in San Francisco. Mark Herzlich is well known and has a lot of talent. How far has he come from his recovery of cancer? How will it affect him at the next level? For a guy who works so hard, you might be tempted to take a chance on him somewhere in round four or five. Cornerback Davon House has flown under the radar because he's out in New Mexico State but he's a quality talent that has a ton of upside. He's durable and is tough. Big fan of his. Brandyn Thompson is somewhat forgotten because he's not all that big but he's got some Asante Samuel qualities in his game. I think he may surprise some people. Burney is a Cover 2 Buc corner; a hard corner who can play nickel and cover the flats. Gilchrist is versatile while Jarrett and Hagg are smart, tough players. 

TGTS: You're the Carolina Panthers...the GM has mandated you draft a defensive player, so who do you take between Marcel Dareus, Patrick Peterson, Von Miller, Nick Fairley, or someone else and why?

AD: I select Marcel Dareus out of Alabama because he's the best player from that group. He's a hard working defensive tackle that has versatility in the way that he can play most positions on the line and he's a damn good player. He's explosive, tough, can play the run and as I said, is versatile. In some ways, he is similar to Richard Seymour but he's not as dominant as Seymour is/was. 

Nick Fairley has too many questions and not enough on his resume for me. Patrick Peterson is a good cornerback that has a lot of natural talent but he needs to work on his technique. He can't forever rely on his natural talents. Von Miller is a very talented player but I think that he needs work as a pass rusher. He's going to be a good player in this league and he will make someone happy but I'd rather have Dareus.

TGTS: Some teams, like the Eagles and Patriots, who have 6 picks in the first 3 rounds, often trade down and/or trade players for future picks. What do you think of this strategy, and does it help or hinder teams like that when you have so many rookies?

AD: I am a big fan of the strategy because I think you need to stick to your board. If the player(s) you don't want are there, move the pick. Teams sometimes end up forcing the selection and are not happy with the outcome. The Patriots have a strict board and a smaller one than other teams. Runs about 90 players and Belichick likes to use the old Jimmy Johnson strategy of picking out guys from the draft that he likes and then if the guy is not there, get rid of the pick. 

I think if you keep the picks, it does hinder your team because you end up being very young. To be successful in the NFL, you need to have a good blend of veterans and younger guys. That way the young guys can learn and are not pressured into the lineup but are still contributors. 

TGTS: We saw the Packers win a Super Bowl with a RB drafted in the 6th round; Arian Foster led the league and rushing and went undrafted, as did LeGarrette Blount. Do you think teams are abandoning taking RBs early because it's an easy position to fix, or is there additional value in drafting someone highly - such as guys like Mark Ingram and Mikel Leshoure figure to be this year?

AD: I think it’s a little bit of both. The running back position is one that has a short career and a lot of the players at that position can be replaced when you have a strong offensive line. Taking a running back high, like Ingram or LeShoure, has value because some of the running backs you take high likely have a trait that separates them from other tailbacks. For example, instincts, the ability to find the cutback lane at a higher rate than others, the ability to hit the homerun. The homerun is not something that's common in the NFL so when you have a guy that can break it every now and then, you consider taking him higher than you would other running backs. Guys like Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson fit that criteria. 

TGTS: Aside from Andrew Luck, give us 5 potential draft prospects you're looking forward to seeing in the 2012 draft.


Seniors only list

1. Ryan Lindley, QB, San Diego St.
2. Ryan Broyles, WR, Oklahoma
3. Jared Crick, DT, Nebraska
4. Tank Carder, LB, TCU
5. Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia
Potential underclassmen

1. Matt Barkley, QB, USC
2. Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
3. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State
4. Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford
5. Josh Robinson, CB, UCF

A big thanks goes out to Alen for helping us with this interview. I’ll have some more about the NFL Draft coming up soon, including my take on the Big 4 QBs in the draft – Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Mallett, Cam Newton, and Christian Ponder (no, Jake Locker is NOT one, sorry Todd McShay), as well as a mock draft coming up towards the weekend.


  1. KD,

    Good insight from Alen! It's understandable why you look to him for valuable information. Seems like he's pretty high on a lot of Big 10 players. With the Big 10 pretty down the last few years in the media's eyes, and reason why he thinks the talent will translate?

  2. I think one thing with the Big 10 that's often overlooked, is that other than the SEC, the style of football that's played in the Big 10 most closely resembles the NFL. While there are some teams that run spread offenses, or versions of them, such as Ohio State, Northwestern, Indiana, Michigan under Rich Rodriguez, there's a lot of power running and play action. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Illinois' running game, lend themselves to produce players that are NFL ready, and most of the defenses are a standard 4-3 under defense, which is pretty common for the NFL.

    Aside from the pure schematic elements, there's a history of Big 10 players having the size and physicality to play the NFL. Looking at some recent first round draft picks:

    Joe Thomas - Browns
    A.J. Hawk - Packers
    Chad Greenway - Vikings
    Jake Long - Dolphins
    Malcolm Jenkins - Saints
    Rashard Mendenhall - Steelers
    Vontae Davis - Dolphins
    Bryan Bulaga - Packers

    You can even go back to guys like Charles Woodson, Steve Hutchinson, Jon Jansen, Jeff Backus, Eddie George, Drew Brees (okay, techinically not 1st round) most of these guys, I'd say pretty much everyone of them aside from Drew Brees, is typically one of the bigger, more physical players at their respective position in the NFL. You'll be hard-pressed to find two better offensive tackles in the league than Jake Long and Joe Thomas, and the drop-off after that is pretty noticeable after that getting to guys like Ryan Clady and Michael Roos after that.

    I think that Big 10 just has an overall lineage of producing big, physical players, who come from systems that are capable of getting their players "NFL-ready" for lack of a better term, than pretty much every conference other than the SEC. Prospects from a Big 10 school might not be the flashy ones, but they're going to be solid pros with solid, lengthy careers.

    Now, in the college game, and from what I read in the media, this style of play doesn't allow the Big 10 as much speed as competing conferences which is why you see a TCU beating Wisconsin or Ohio State losing to Florida and LSU. The college game, offensively, is so speed-driven now with the spread offenses, that teams from the Big 10 just don't see it enough in the regular season to prepare for what they'll face in a bowl game.

    Conversely, most, if not all, of those spread QBs fail or take an inordinant amount of time to get up to speed when they get to the NFL level when everyone has that speed on defense and they're not accustomed to taking 3 and 5 step drops, throwing downfield, turning their back to the defense in play action, etc.