Tag Archive: 3-4 Defense


Jarvis Jones has been an impact player at Georgia, but I don't think he will be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL.

Jarvis Jones has been an impact player at Georgia, but I don’t think he will be a dominant pass rusher in the NFL.

Size/Measurables:

Jones doesn’t have ideal measurables for a 4-3 defensive end and is a little light for the 3-4 OLB position. He is listed at 6’3”, 241 pounds but it wouldn’t surprise me if he measured in at 6’2” and 235 pounds or so. He’s not a huge player and he doesn’t look like he has a ton of room on his frame to “bulk up” and get up to 255-260 pounds or so.

Instincts/Recognition:

Jones isn’t elite in this area, but I think he is good enough to play 3-4 OLB or 4-3 OLB at the next level. He seems to diagnose plays pretty well, flows to the ball well and does a good job of setting the edge in the run game. He understands his responsibilities and doesn’t abandon his responsibilities in the run game to roll the dice on rushing the passer. He has been used to spy scrambling quarterbacks during his time at Georgia, and seems to have a good feel for when he needs to keep contain. There are times when he takes too wide of an arc when he attempts an edge rush and the QB escapes through the lane he created, but typically he adjusts and doesn’t make the same mistake over and over again.

Pursuit/Range:

Jones excels in pursuit and has impressive range despite what I perceive as a lack of elite straight line speed for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He has a great motor and consistently gives good effort from the backside whether the play is near him or whether the ball is far away from him. He knows how to flow through trash and has a lot of experience taking on blocks because of playing at the line of scrimmage.

Tackling:

Jones isn’t a great tackler but he is a pretty good tackler. He attempts too many arm tackles for my liking, but seemingly every player I scout these days does. He shows that he can wrap up and he can generate pop on contact. He also has a great knack for forcing fumbles as evidenced by his 9 forced fumbles the past two years (including an incredible seven just this year) and that speaks to the power he can generate when he tackles a ball carrier.

Coverage:

This is one area that I’m not very comfortable with Jones on. He has been such a productive pass rusher the past two years that it’s almost criminal to drop him into coverage, but Georgia did mix that in at times and while I think he is raw in this department I think he can develop if asked to do more of it at the next level. I haven’t gotten to see him make straight drops in coverage, but I think he has the potential to fit at outside linebacker in a 4-3.

Point of Attack:

Jones isn’t elite at the point of attack by any means, but he’s not as much of a liability as I expected him to be. He doesn’t have ideal arm length for a pass rusher and it will hinder him if he’s asked to play 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB in my opinion. He is stronger than I expected him to be and he has shown that he can anchor against bigger, stronger players at the point of attack, but at the same time I’ve seen him blocked effectively by tight ends like Michael Williams and Justice Cunningham. He has shown that he can use the length he has to keep blockers from getting into his chest and he has a pretty good feel for controlling the blocker before he sheds the block to wrap up the ball carrier. He has shown that he can set the edge and consistently shows that he has the strength to walk a defender into the backfield and help disrupt outside running plays even when he doesn’t come free and necessarily make the play. He’s not a dominant run defender by any means, but I don’t think he’s nearly as much of a liability as he is portrayed to be sometimes.

Blitzing/Pass Rush:

This is traditionally considered Jones’ greatest asset, but I’m not as convinced of his pass rushing prowess as some others seem to be. First, his get-off is not as explosive as you would think it was after hearing about how dominant he has been. He rarely fires off the ball using all of his athleticism, though I imagine some of that has to do with him being assignment steady. Still, it prevents him from gaining an instant advantage against blockers he theoretically should be able to beat off the edge if he is as explosive as we were led to believe. Second, I watched 14 games of him before writing this scouting report (it was a mix of games from his redshirt sophomore season and from his junior season this year) and I never once saw him explode off the ball, go with a straight speed rush, execute a shoulder dip and beat the tackle for a clean sack. That concerns me for a number of reasons: First, and most obviously, this signals to me that he can’t win with a simple speed rush in college which means there is no reason to believe he’s going to be able to win with a speed rush at the next level. Second, he seems to be a little stiff and it shows when he tries to bend the edge. Third, it means he has to use his quickness, power and non-stop motor to generate pressure (which he has obviously done quite successfully in college to the tune of 26 sacks the past two seasons). That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially since quickness, and that kind of effort level generally translate pretty well to the NFL. However, at 240 pounds or less, I have questions about how well his power moves will translate to the NFL even though I’ve seen him convert speed to power pretty nicely when bull rushing. He is obviously a good pass rusher, and he has shown that he can slap away the hands of a blocker to gain an advantage when rushing. He has also flashed a spin move (though I’ve never seen him use it en route to getting a sack), but he could still stand to improve his hand usage and develop his swim move. He could also really use a good rip move since he likes to go inside so much. That is where Jones creates almost all of his pressure- beating tackles inside, stunting, and by chasing quarterbacks down after the pocket collapses even when he hasn’t necessarily beaten his man 1 on 1. By adding a powerful rip move he could improve his ability to win by going inside even more. The problem with that is at the next level he’s not going to be able to beat tackles inside nearly as easily if he can’t threaten their outside shoulder with a dynamic speed rush, and that is extremely concerning. Without at least the threat of beating them off the edge any smart tackle will avoid opening their hips up too early and be looking for him to attempt to dart inside or attempt a rip move on their inside shoulder. With those pass rush options taken away (remember, that’s how he generates a lot of his pressure) he won’t be nearly as effective and a lot of people that didn’t study him and realize that he just isn’t an explosive edge rusher will be completely dumbfounded. That’s why I don’t think he’s going to be a stud pass rusher in the NFL, and it’s why I’m not convinced his best position at the next level is outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.

Intangibles:

I have never spoken to Jones so it’s hard to evaluate his character, but from everything I have read he seems like a great kid. First, there is this CBS special focusing on how he overcame his 19 year old brother being murdered outside of a bar on his birthday. Second, there was this article in Sports Illustrated discussing his brother’s tragic death and being diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that causes pressure on the spinal cord. USC was concerned that this could lead to a serious neck injury and wouldn’t clear him to play. He requested and was granted a release from his scholarship and that led him back home to Georgia in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense. It’s hard not to root for a kid like Jones who has been through so much on and off the field and come out a better person for it. I was particularly moved by the last part of the Sports Illustrated article where he discussed opening a rec center in Stewart County in honor of his older brother. He really seems to have his head on straight and that combined with his great motor and effort level on the field makes me think that he won’t be any kind of character risk even after he signs a multi-million dollar contract. The spinal stenosis is going to be heavily scrutinized though. I imagine a number of teams will take him off their board completely because of that medical red flag despite the impressive production he has had in college. That will hurt his draft stock, but it only takes one team and even if that red flag pushes him down draft boards I think that will just be another hurdle that Jones finds a way to overcome on the way to a successful NFL career. I’m no doctor so I can’t make any educated guess about how long of a career he will be able to have, but that will be something that every NFL team inquires about at the combine.

Overall:

I think Jones is a quality NFL prospect, but I don’t think he is going to be a dominant pass rusher at the next level and I have questions about how well he projects to the 3-4 OLB position in the NFL despite his obvious success in that role at Georgia the past two years. This probably won’t be typical of many evaluators, but I think he would be a great 4-3 OLB candidate at the next level, particularly at strong side linebacker (which is ironically where USC was playing him). He has a lot of experience blitzing off the edge, stunting inside and has even been used to spy scrambling quarterbacks so he won’t have issues rushing the passer or spying the passer at the next level. He may not be a dominant run defender for a defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker, but for a 4-3 outside linebacker he has more than enough size, strength and block shedding experience to fill versus the run, set the edge on the outside and make impact plays in the backfield. I am not that comfortable with him in coverage yet, but he has shown flashes of being able to turn and run with receivers and has some experience dropping into short zones. There’s just not a ton of tape available showcasing his ability to drop into coverage, but I believe that he has the athletic ability and the intelligence to do it well if he is coached up. I think the 4-3 OLB position plays to his strengths best- he won’t be hindered by his struggles to win off the edge with a pure speed rush because he will be blitzing instead of being relied upon to generate pressure as a defensive end or 3-4 outside linebacker every snap, his perceived struggles versus the run as a DE/OLB may even be turned into a strength since he has so much experience attacking blocks and shedding them at the line of scrimmage, and he has enough athletic ability to at least give dropping into coverage more a try. Even if he doesn’t excel in coverage the strongside linebacker is often taken off the field in nickel and dime packages where he could put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer if the defensive coordinator wanted to keep him on the field. He’s a good linebacker and a quality kid, so even though I don’t think he’s going to be a dynamic pass rusher I still like him as a prospect. He just has such a knack for making plays through his effort (look at all those forced fumbles, plenty of them are because his motor never stopped running and he caught a player from behind and punched the ball out) and I think NFL teams are going to be impressed with him when they interview him if they can look past his potential medical concerns.

Projection: Top 40-50.

This might seem outlandish, but I don’t think he’s even close to a lock for the top 15 right now and after people start overreacting to his medical condition there will be plenty of people exclaiming that he will fall to the 3rd round or maybe even further if enough NFL teams take him off their draft board. I won’t try to downplay how serious his condition can be because based on what I understand he could be at risk for a serious injury, but I think that a team in the late 1st round will see a kid with a great motor, work ethic and a history of impressive production and either slide down to select him or move up and get him in the 2nd round. I personally think he could be a very good 4-3 strong side linebacker, but I’m sure plenty of NFL teams will assume he will be a quality 3-4 OLB as well. I’m not quite so sure, but it’s hard to ignore all he has produced at the college level.

Advertisements

Scouting Report:

Justin Houston has a lot of potential as a pass rusher, but I think he will need a defensive line coach to light a fire under him to get him to reach his potential.

Positives: Perfect size for a RE in a 4-3 at 6’2” or 6’3” and about 255-260 pounds. He is very athletic and has great explosiveness off the ball, especially when he can get a feel for the snap count. When he gets a great jump off the ball he can beat just about anyone off the edge, and he shows the ability to dip his shoulder to get the edge. He seems to have more than adequate hip flexibility to do this as well. He also flashes the ability to slap away the hands of the tackle as he makes a bee-line around him to the quarterback, which makes him very dangerous. Not only does he threaten off the edge he has also developed the awareness to set the tackle up for the speed rush and then burst back inside and get to the quarterback with an inside move. He has good closing speed to get to the QB and is a reliable tackler both when rushing the QB and when pursuing other ball carriers. He wraps up well, and flashes some good pop as a hitter which helps him forces fumbles occasionally. I have found that he is by far most effective when he has his hand in the dirt as a pass rusher like a 4-3 DE would as he just appears much more explosive off the ball and has a lot more success as a pass rusher. He also does a better job of keeping his pads low to play with good leverage when he comes out of that stance. He flashes the necessary motor to pursue, he did a solid job of this in the Auburn game. Probably because he realized that sacks weren’t going to come easy on Cam Newton. He has been extremely productive in the SEC which you have to take into consideration. He has flashed the ability to use a swim move once or twice a game also.

Negatives: The biggest complaint I have with Houston is his motor. It runs very hot and cold, and more cold than anything else. There are times when he is just jogging in pursuit of ball-carriers and more than once it has cost him a chance at a tackle that would have saved a lot of yardage for his defense or a chance at a sack for him personally. I am not sure why his motor is so inconsistent but it leaves a lot to be desired. I think it might be because he is so athletic that he realizes that if he goes hard on a number of plays that he will be able to make plays when he goes all out. Then he throttles down for other plays, especially against the run. He makes plays in the running game, but not as consistently as he does as a pass rusher. I think he needs to continue to improve his hand usage to help him shed blocks in the running game and as a pass rusher, though he has shown improvement in this area. But the more violent he can get his hands the better off he will be. I am 100% convinced that he would be a vastly better 4-3 RE than he would be a 3-4 OLB. He rarely drops into coverage for Georgia and when he does he does not look comfortable and against Arkansas he got burned on a wheel route and didn’t even realize that his guy was gone until the ball was thrown and he was 15+ yards away for a free touchdown. He is horribly mis-cast in a 3-4. His production this year is not because of his pass rushing when standing up in a 3-4 it is because Georgia faces spread offenses consistently enough that they have to go to nickel packages a lot which means four down lineman for their defense. That is when Houston makes his impact, not when he is standing up or dropping into coverage. However, Houston has almost no secondary pass rush moves. He can speed rush, beat his man to the inside after he sets his man up with the speed rush and then bull rush. Very rarely he will swim move but those moves are few and far between. The fact that he is so effective with such a limited repertoire of pass rush moves makes me wonder just how lethal he could be if someone got in his face and challenged him to go hard on every play and develop secondary pass rush moves. But as of right now his pass rushing is limited, as stupid as that sounds for a player who routinely applied pressure as a pass rusher in the SEC.

Overall: I really like Houston as a prospect and his potential is very high as a RE in a 4-3 in the NFL. His explosiveness and edge speed is pretty rare and he has been a very productive pass rusher the past two years in the SEC. I don’t usually like guys with inconsistent motors like Houston but his potential is high enough that he might be worth the risk for a team that really needs a potentially dominant RE. I think his saving grace might be that he will be worked in on a rotational basis in the NFL for his first couple seasons which will allow him the opportunity to go 100% when he comes in to look to make an impact and make a name for himself. I don’t know him personally obviously and I can’t say this for sure without an interview, but I really think that an in-your-face defensive line coach could motivate him to be a dominant player in the NFL. If he is open to coaching, which it seems like he is considering his development these past two years, then he could very well develop some secondary pass rush moves. I would love to see him improve his swim and club moves, and if he ever works in a spin move that he can use once or twice a game he could be absolutely lethal as a pass rusher. Especially if his hand usage improves as well. Really it comes down to how badly he wants to improve and if he is open to coaching. I believe that a good defensive line coach could motivate him to be a great pass rusher in the NFL though, because he has all the tools and really all he needs is coaching, technique development and someone to light a fire under him and push him to reach his potential. I really hope someone finds a way to motivate him because he could be a very fun pass rusher to watch in the NFL if someone does.

Projection: Top 25-40 picks- I don’t think he will break into the top 20 unless he really impresses in workouts and measurements at the combine and at his pro-day. His motor will probably scare some teams away, as it should. But I think some team in the late first round will take a risk on him, particularly a team with a quality coaching staff that can coach him up, motivate him and develop him.

SKILLS:
1-poor, 2-weak, 3-above average, 4-very good, 5-elite

STRENGTH: 3.0
QUICKNESS: 4.0
PASS RUSH: 4.0
POINT OF ATTACK: 2.5
RECOGNITION: 3.0
MOTOR: 2.0

Hopefully you enjoyed my scouting report! I’m still working through Alabama tape, but I will have stuff up on that eventually as well as some exclusive content from the East/West Shrine Game since I will be there all week! So look out for all of that. Thanks for reading!

–Tom

Last night I got to thinking about this, and I finally wrote down some of my thoughts and it inspired me to write this post up. I know you all would probably rather hear my thoughts on individual prospects, see my rankings or read through my thoughts on recent happenings that pertain to the draft. However, my greatest aspiration in my life as far as my career is concerned is to not only be a general manager of a NFL team, but to ultimately win a Superbowl as the GM of a team. So naturally I have given some thought to what I would do if I ever got a job as a GM, and it inspired me to write this blog post articulating some of the conclusions I have come to at this time. This is mostly focused on player personnel, though I have some thoughts about how to look for a good coach also. But this is going to be long enough without any of those thoughts. Enjoy!

Ron Wolf hoists the Lombardi Trophy with his Head Coach Mike Holmgren

First, you have to consider what schemes you think you want to run so you can hire coaches who shares similar views on how a team should be constructed. Personally I prefer a team that is tough, has a big, strong offensive line and can overpower teams up front. I can’t stand the ZBS because I think it makes it hard to have a lot of success in short yardage situations and on the goal-line, and those are the areas that I want my team to capitalize on. I want one or two receivers who have impressive size, are physical after the catch and attack the ball in the air. They don’t have to be burners, but I’d like them to be able to stretch the field and go up and get the ball. Also, having the kind of toughness that enables them to go across the middle and make a catch in traffic is essential to me. And naturally the QB has to have a quality arm to stretch the field, make accurate passes, etc. However he has to stand tall in the face of pressure and he needs to have the toughness and poise to step into a throw and take a hit. How he reacts in the face of pressure will be incredibly important, plus he has to be a great leader. These quarterbacks are hard to come by, but I am convinced that the best way to prepare your team for a Superbowl is to have a good leader at QB.

On defense I think that I would want to run a 3-4 scheme. I like the options that the scheme gives as far as blitz packages. However I would like to run a base 3-4 with players who are versatile enough to play in a 4-3 in obvious passing situations. That would enable us to take the NT off the field, play the two 3-4 DE’s inside at tackle and the two OLB’s would move to DE to rush the passer. That would give the front line a lot of pass rushing potential, plus we could potentially drop a lot of players back in coverage. But mostly I like the toughness of a 3 man defensive front because each defensive lineman has to be big, strong and smart enough to be responsible for 2 gaps. I’d like each defensive lineman to be able to stand up to a double team because that would make the linebacker’s job easier. I’d like my corners to be able to play man coverage and zone coverage, but being able to play man coverage is more important because the most intricate blitzes in the scheme will leave the corners on an island. Being able to trust them in man coverage will be critical. But if they can play zone effectively it opens a lot of options up as far as zone pressures and overloads.

But first and foremost I would want to build a tough team that can run the ball effectively anywhere on the field, and I’d want to build a team that has a great defense that can go toe to toe with any offense in the NFL and at least slow them down. I have subscribed to the defense wins championships mantra for a long time, and even if your offense is a great unit you need a defense that either creates a lot of turnovers or one that bends but does not break when opposing offenses start to move the ball. I believe stopping the run is the first thing you need to establish before you can have a great defense. Stopping the run makes the opposing offense entirely one dimensional and puts them in a difficult position: Do I continue to attempt to maintain a balance in play-calling even though I know I’m not going to get anything out of the run plays? Or do I abandon the run and become one dimensional and predictable? Neither is a good option for the offense, which gives the defense a significant advantage. Particularly because the team does not have to bite hard on play-action fakes because the run has been stopped so effectively.

I wouldn't have tied the fate of my franchise to Sam Bradford even if God had told me to.

Plus, by dedicating yourself to building a winning defense it means you won’t feel pressured to draft a QB in year one of your regime. This is an extremely common practice, but I think it backfires more often than it usually works. You have to be absolutely sold on the QB you are picking, and usually that means spending a 1st rounder on him. I personally would not have picked any of the QB’s in this draft. I would hate to have the fate of my franchise tied to Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy or anybody else. If I had an established QB already I would have considered taking Tebow just because his intangibles are off the charts and I think his work ethic is too good to discount him as a NFL QB. However, other than potentially picking Tebow I wouldn’t have tied the fate of my franchise to any of those QB’s. Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and possibly Joe Flacco in round 2 are the guys that I would have tied the fate of my franchise to, particularly Ryan and Sanchez. In the upcoming draft I think Jake Locker has a lot of potential, but I need to see more development. I would, however, gladly spend a mid-1st or higher on Christian Ponder at this point. I also think Matt Barkley has franchise QB potential like Ryan and Sanchez did in college.

”]A QB who can win games for you is key in my opinion. Finding a special QB who gives his team a chance to win just by stepping on the field is hard to do because they are so rare. Brett Favre is one, Matt Ryan is one, Tim Tebow could potentially be one but his intangibles have never been in question. I also think that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Matt Barkley fit this bill. Those are the guys that I like as QB’s, guys who are great leaders and to quote Ron Wolf: “Players who give their team the advantage simply from stepping on the field.” Ron Wolf and Thomas Dimitroff are two of my idols when it comes to GM’s that I have allowed to influence me. I also really like Ozzie Newsome, the current GM in Baltimore. They all draft efficiently, fill needs well and really preach depth throughout the team. They also didn’t take over, clean house and bring in “their people.” I think that is a mistake that is far too common in the NFL, but people still continue to get jobs and wipe out everyone because it was a losing organization. But just because someone was employed by a losing organization does not make them a loser themselves. It means they were in a bad situation. You have to take the time to not only evaluate the coaches and scouts, but other staff members and especially the players to see if they are capable of helping you build a winner. If you just fire everyone then you are throwing away potentially valuable resources that could have sped up the rebuilding process, and it’s all because you were too lazy to evaluate their performance during the previous season.

This is one reason that I would love to be brought in during the NFL season so I could see how everyone operated during the season. This way I wouldn’t have to predict how they would operate based off of how they conduct themselves during the offseason. Ron Wolf had this opportunity and made the most of it by evaluating everyone by watching tape, talking to current employees and seeing if they had the guts to tell him what they really thought, not what they thought he wanted to hear. That is exactly how I would run my organization. Namely, I want you to tell me what you think. Stick to your guns, stand up for what you truly believe and sell me on a prospect if you think he is good. If he’s good we could use him, but if we look at tape of him and he’s not as good as advertised then we won’t pick him. Simple as that. I have no tolerance for “Yes Men” who just pat you on the back and tell you that you are right all the time. That makes no sense to me because, to put it simply: You aren’t right all the time. You are human and you will inevitably make mistakes. That is why you have a team working with you so they can work to balance you out and keep mistakes to a minimum. Yes Men don’t limit mistakes, and I actually think they only serve to give you a big ego. And I have always believed that the only thing a big ego is good for is impeding current progress by getting in the way. So no “Yes Men,” they are a waste of time.

Thomas Dimitroff did a great job of keeping a core of stop-gap players intact while "trimming the fat" and bringing in an influx of new talent when he arrived in Atlanta.

After you evaluate your team you should have an idea of how many quality players you have, how many are just average, and how many are below-average. If you can trim the fat and cut players who won’t help turn you into a winner you should do it. Ron Wolf did this when he took over the Packers and Thomas Dimitroff did this same thing when he got to the Falcons. He released fan favorites Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman and just recently he released Keith Brooking as he was no longer serviceable as a WLB. This is the way you must approach these moves. These situations are delicate since they are popular players, but when they are a hindrance to you when you play them you need to cut them unless they will take less money to be a back-up. That rarely happens, so you must cut ties with them in my opinion.

Then you need to look at the key positions and determine which need to be upgraded soonest. For me, QB, LT, NT, OLB, ILB and CB are the most important positions to fill with quality players. Having a great leader at QB and ILB is extremely important in my opinion, as they are the heart and soul of their respective units more often than not. That is why they are so integral to me. You also need a good LT to protect your QB’s blind side from elite speed rushers throughout the NFL. NT is integral for the 3-4 defense that I would want to run. The NT will clog up both A gaps (the gap on either side of the Center) and if he does his job well he will draw a double team and make it difficult for the opposing RB to find anywhere to run up the middle and he should be forced to try to cut-back or bounce the ball outside. Then I want two very good pass rushers at OLB. The more guys you have who can get after the QB the better, but having an OLB who can rush the passer really well is an extremely useful asset. If they can get after the QB standing up and with their hand in the dirt they would be ideal. I want to be deep at this position especially, same with NT and corner.

I personally believe that if the heart of your offense or defense goes down you are likely to be in trouble regardless of the back-up you have for him, but at positions that demand a quality player but not an elite player or leader depth is critical. At those positions the players are replaceable and rotatable. Having a quality back-up at NT means you can keep your starter fresh and not have a significant drop-off should he get injured or if he rotates out. The same can be said at OLB and CB. Like I said, the more OLB’s you have that can get after the QB the better off you will be. You will absorb injuries easier, you will keep your starters fresh and you will have opportunities to create match-up problems if you two or three OLB’s who warrant playing time. And the deeper you are at corner the better because so many teams use three, four or sometimes even five WR sets. If you can match-up with those sets with corners who are capable of playing man or zone coverage your defense will be in a much better position to slow or stop the opposing offense.

”]So, once you evaluate the quality of players in those key positions you can look to sign a potential impact free agent if there is such a player available that would fill a need, would not hinder the development of a young player at the same position and that would help speed up the rebuilding process. Michael Turner was such a player for the Falcons, and Reggie White was such a player for Ron Wolf and the Packers. Then you should look to bring in other veterans who can be stop-gaps at positions of need while you look to the Draft to fill those voids more permanently with a younger, better player. I don’t like rushing rookies into playing time before they are ready, and these veterans who you can usually sign for a reasonable price give the rookies a good mentor and they give them time to adjust instead of forcing them to play immediately.

I would probably focus my efforts to find a stud QB, LT, ILB and NT early in the draft. If there is a QB I am comfortable tying the fate of my franchise to available at my pick or that I could potentially trade up to get then I will go after him and solidify that position for the next decade with a great player and leader. Otherwise I will wait until I am confident enough in a QB in another draft. Rushing into a selection with this position can set your team back three, four or even five years, so I refuse to rush it.

Ray Lewis has been the heart and soul of the Ravens defense for years.

Next I would look for an elite leader and playmaker at ILB. If there is such a player available (such as a player in the Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis mold) then he would certainly warrant an early selection. I think Brandon Spikes was such a player for the Patriots, and I think that the trio of Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo gives the Patriots the best combo of a NT and an ILB in the NFL. Running up the middle of their defense is going to be extraordinarily difficult with those three guys lined up against you. That is what I want for my defense, a team that is extremely tough up the middle and extremely athletic on the outside to rush the passer and defend the pass. But most importantly you need a terrific leader, and Spikes has been called the Tim Tebow of Florida’s defense. That speaks volumes about his leadership capability. Plus he hits extremely hard, has great instincts and is big and strong enough to attack and shed blocks from offensive linemen. If there is a player in that mold available early in the draft, like the 1st or 2nd round, I will make sure I get him if it possible.

Next I have to look at LT and NT. Both are equally important to their respective units in my opinion, so the order in which I acquire one is not important as long as I get a good one. Picking a guy early just to fill a need is not an interest of mine, and I would rather sign a stop-gap guy, draft someone in the mid-rounds and develop them into a potentially solid starter rather than reaching for someone that I don’t think will be able to play early or ever develop into a quality starter.

If I have either filled these four need positions or if there is not a quality player that I think warrants that early of a pick at those positions then I will look to strengthen my offensive and defensive fronts, or to grab a playmaker at RB, WR or a CB or S who can add depth and potentially develop into a starter. More or less, I look for a BPA. When your team is severely lacking in talent the more talent you can stockpile the better. And I have always considered the dilemma of:

Patrick Willis was the BPA for the 49ers at #11 and he has had the vastly superior career to most of the players selected ahead of him.

“Do you pick the best player even if he doesn’t fill a significant need or do you take a lesser player that fills a big need?” I would personally pick the better player nine times out of ten. Settling for a decent or solid player when you could get a good or even great player at a position of relative strength makes little sense to me, especially if your team is hurting for playmakers as the team you are now working to rebuild probably is. Imagine if the Falcons hadn’t picked Matt Ryan, and instead picked Glenn Dorsey because he would have filled a huge need. They would have been lucky to win five games in 2008, instead they went to the playoffs. Imagine if they hadn’t moved up to get Sam Baker, or if they hadn’t drafted Curtis Lofton? Those three players were terrific additions for that team, and they came at three of my key positions that I would seek to upgrade.

After the first year I would ideally have a team with a few quality players and a couple pillars of the team intact from my four key positions. If I have my franchise leaders at QB and ILB then that would be perfect, but that is a hard feat to accomplish. But like I said, you can’t be pressured to draft a QB in the first year of your regime. If you don’t think there is one that can lead you to a Superbowl and win it, don’t pick one. That is exactly how I felt about Sam Bradford this year, and that is why I think he and the Rams are going to be bad for a long time. Mark my words, if Bradford starts from day one he will be a bust and the Rams will regret picking him.

I know this was a long-winded post, but I think that it was good for me to get some of this down on some kind of word-processor and I think it should make for an interesting read. I think my blueprint for building a franchise is pretty solid even though I have no experience making personnel decisions in the NFL yet. Obviously this is just an outline, and you can’t force selections of my four key positions of QB, ILB, LT and NT. If there aren’t good players available in those classes, or if all the good ones are gone when you are picking, you are definitely better off moving on down the list and looking for another position. And if there is a player at another position, particularly one that is a need, that slid and you didn’t think he’d be available and you think he can help you win a Superbowl, go ahead and pick him. I suppose I subscribe to the BPA state of mind, but only to a certain extent. I’m not going to pick three QB’s in a row because I think they can all win me a Superbowl, that makes no sense. I would look for a BPA at another position and ignore the quality QB available early in the draft if I already had one.

So, hopefully you enjoyed reading this. If you have a comment feel free to leave one and I will make sure I respond to it.

Thanks for reading!

— Tom Melton