EJ Manuel will prove experts wrong in 2013.
Lost in the excitement of the 2013 NFL draft is the reality that only a few of the 254 players selected will become great players. Once drafts are evaluated three years from now, we will wonder how that highly regarded prospect didn’t turn into an All-Pro.
We'll be equally shocked at how a great player slipped through the cracks.
Experts can be wrong about a lot of things. Robert Gallery was a “can’t miss” left tackle; Aaron Curry was a "can't miss" linebacker. Tom Brady is probably the most well-known sixth-round draft pick in history, and a lot of evaluators were wrong about him—including the Patriots.
Experts will be wrong just as much as they are right—it’s a guarantee.
Several NFL players each year prove experts wrong and leave even the brightest talent evaluators with egg on their faces, and there will be no exceptions this year. Players will bust, others will outperform players ranked higher on draft boards, and poor scheme fits will fit their defense just fine.
Here are the NFL rookies guaranteed to prove experts wrong in 2013...and beyond.
The next Ray Lewis?
The vast majority of draft analysts like Arthur Brown, but four NFL teams passed on him to select a different inside linebacker. Manti Te’o, Alec Ogletree, Kiko Alonso and Kevin Minter were all drafted ahead of Brown, which is a huge mistake.
Dozens of teams that could have used an inside linebacker passed on Brown. Not only is Brown better than the four linebackers drafted ahead of him, but he’ll be better than Ray Lewis has been for the last several years.
Thus, the San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals will all regret their draft choices.
What’s the knock on Brown? He’s undersized, but so was Lewis. The other knock on Brown is his maturity, but what 22-year-old guy hasn't made a few immature decisions? Not only that, but three of the four inside linebackers drafted ahead of Brown have off-the-field concerns.
Brown, meanwhile, was a team captain at Kansas State for the last two years.
The other reason Brown will prove the experts wrong is that he can cover. Teams are slow to recognize that a linebacker that is great in coverage will be more valuable going forward. The NFL is systematically killing off the run game with rule changes, and no running backs even went in the first round this year.
Cornellius “Tank” Carradine was a 4-3 defensive end at Florida State, weighs 276 pounds and is a pass-rusher. He was quite naturally pigeonholed as a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL, but that’s not what he will play for the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers run a 3-4 base defense, and for many “experts,” this is a questionable fit. Lance Zierlein of The Sideline View didn’t list Carradine as best suited for the 3-4 defense, and he ranked him ninth overall at defensive end.
I'm not quite as awestruck over Tank Carradine as others are. I think his overall quickness off the snap is solid and he plays with a good motor, but I don't see upper-echelon traits when I watch him. With that said, I think he could have better upside than Sam Montgomery, but maybe a little lower floor.
People also question Carradine’s recovery from a torn ACL, but they are wrong for multiple reasons and he’ll prove it in 2013.
First, the 49ers will attempt to have Carradine play defensive end in their 3-4 defense, according to Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee, and hope he can gain weight. Carradine has a big frame and more than enough athletic ability to handle the extra weight. The 49ers have seen Justin Smith and Ray McDonald add weight after college and become successful NFL players, so it’s not like gaining weight is unprecedented.
Second, Carradine ran a 4.75-second 40-yard dash on April 20, just 135 days post-knee surgery. That’s an Adrian Peterson-like recovery timetable, so there’s no reason to doubt he’ll be ready to go by the start of the season. Carradine would hardly be the first player to recover from a torn ACL and get back to full strength.
Third, experts too easily assume that a 3-4 defensive end can’t be a good pass-rusher, but J.J. Watt proved last season that that’s not true. Watt had 20.5 sacks in 2012 and in many ways is redefining the position: The NFL is shifting to 3-4 defenses that favor penetrating one gap and getting to the quarterback instead of the passive two-gap system.
Carradine can also become a sub-package pass-rusher for the 49ers to use in four-man fronts. The 49ers put their players in position to be successful, and there’s no reason they wouldn’t do that for Carradine. He’ll prove a lot of people wrong, especially the teams that passed over him in the draft.
Yet another player that people will question because of scheme fit is Sheldon Richardson, but most will question it because he was selected by the New York Jets and taken in front of Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd. Aidan Mackie called drafting Richardson a “big mistake,” and he echoes the sentiments of many.
I’m a big fan of Lotulelei, but Richardson has a higher ceiling as an interior pass-rusher than any player in the draft. Not only does Rex Ryan know how to maximize the talent he has on defense, but Richardson will thrive playing on a line with Muhammad Wilkerson and Quinton Coples.
Alen Dumonjic broke down how Richardson fits in Ryan’s defense and came to pretty much the same conclusion:
Despite his great talent, Richardson is still raw and developing. He needs to improve his footwork, hand use and pad level. All three are glaringly raw on tape, which is why he should be brought along only as quickly as he can improve in those areas.
Once he does, Ryan will have the opportunity to use Richardson in multiple ways, including pressure packages that instruct the defensive tackle to drop into coverage as well as using him on the same field with Wilkerson and Coples.
Richardson has a great motor, can rush the quarterback and can even occasionally drop into coverage. With the rise of the passing game in the NFL, teams will use sub-packages as much as they will use a base defense, and that sub-package can include Wilkerson lining up at the 1-technique defensive tackle spot and Richardson at the 3- or 5-technique.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone tweet, say or write that Matt Barkley doesn’t fit Chip Kelly’s offense. For a statement like that to be true, we have to make an assumption that we know Kelly’s offense—we don’t.
We know what offense Kelly ran at Oregon, but we really have no idea what kind of offense he will run in Philadelphia. People assume that because Kelly has Michael Vick and signed Dennis Dixon that he’s going to use a lot of read-option.
That might be true if Vick or Dixon give the Eagles the best chance to win, but Kelly still likes his quarterbacks to throw the ball more than they run it.
If Barkley is the superior quarterback, the offense in place will fit his strengths. One of the things that will dictate Kelly's success will be his ability to put his players in position to succeed. At Oregon, Kelly recruited players who fit what he thought worked against college defenses, and drafting Barkley is no different.
Kelly already had a plan for a non-running quarterback because Nick Foles is on the roster, so it’s not like drafting Barkley means he has to make major alterations to his playbook. Barkley may have some deficiencies as a quarterback, but he’s also probably the most pro-ready quarterback in the draft.
Barkley may not win the starting job, but he’ll do enough in preseason to prove that he’s a fit in Kelly’s offense. To assume that Kelly would draft Barkley and run the Oregon offense is absurd. The very fact that Kelly traded up to get Barkley is a statement to the rest of the league that Kelly’s offense will not be exactly like the Oregon offense.
The assumption right now is that Marcus Lattimore will basically miss his entire rookie year with the 49ers while recovering from a gruesome knee injury. The thought is that with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in San Francisco, Lattimore will not need to be rushed into action.
That makes sense, but things change quickly.
There will come a point that the only thing Lattimore needs to do to test his knee is get back on the field and play. When that point will be is unknown, but the former Gamecock told the Associated Press in February that his goal was to play this fall.
(Lattimore) said well-known sports surgeon James Andrews, part of the team that performed the operation, has told him several times he's going to shock the world with his complete comeback.
In February, Lattimore’s college coach Steve Spurrier told the AP that he had seen a video of the recent draftee doing high-stepping drills and said he’s way ahead of schedule.
Jim Harbaugh isn’t betting against Lattimore either (via Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area), saying, "If he doesn't play this year, then he doesn't play this year. I think if anybody can overcome what he's been through, it's him."
Lattimore told the local media (via CSN Bay Area) that he’s been running straight ahead and doing box jumps. It’s a mistake to bet against Lattimore returning the field this fall, and the 49ers can use the PUP list to extend his timetable.
Running backs get hurt, and Frank Gore will be 30 next season. There are all kinds of scenarios in which the 49ers might need Lattimore, and there’s a very good chance he’ll be ready to go. Lattimore will prove the experts wrong and find a way to contribute in 2013, even if it’s only as a backup.
The experts are saying the Raiders made a risky pick by drafting D.J. Hayden because he ruptured the main vein that carries blood from the lower body back to the heart. It’s a life-threatening injury that is 95 percent fatal, but Hayden survived.
"It's the most unique injury in the history of the draft," said Alonzo Highsmith, a senior personnel executive for the Green Bay Packers (via the Houston Chronicle).
It may be unique, but it’s no longer going to be a problem for Hayden.
Will Carroll’s pre-draft injury report on Hayden says that no doctors are willing to say that there is a major risk of recurrence on record. In other words, it’s a rare injury, and it would be rare if it happened again.
As Mike Mayock noted, Hayden was cleared by every team, and he told the local media that he has been cleared for football. Hayden even said he has taken a punch to the chest from a friend and that the injury is no likelier to occur again than it had been in the first place.
The other thing left for Hayden is to go out there and get hit again. Peter King still thinks the pick is risky and asked in his column: “Can he still have the same physical drive after the last time he was on the field for a football practice, in which he nearly died?”
The injury Hayden sustained is one normally only seen in car accidents. Do people in car accidents lose the nerve to ever get in a car again? I’m sure some people have that problem, but the vast majority of people can overcome it. Once Hayden realizes he can take a hit and he’s fine, all the risk of the pick melts away.
We should just be happy that the former Cougar is alive and applaud the Raiders for not being scared of a one-in-a-million football injury. The pick of Hayden is no more risky than any other draft pick, and he’ll prove it on Sundays as a rookie.
Sharrif Floyd was supposed to go to the Oakland Raiders at No. 3 overall; instead, he fell all the way to No. 23. He was the third defensive tackle selected behind Sheldon Richardson and Star Lotulelei. The Minnesota Vikings were praised for the pick.
Why did Floyd fall? There are three reasons, and each one is absurd. The first is that Floyd has character issues. Wrong. Will Muschamp was his college coach, and he shot down that theory after the draft.
“I was with the young man for two years,” he said (via The Palm Beach Post). “There’s absolutely no character issues. I don’t know where that comes from. People grasp at straws when a guy falls in the NFL draft.”
The second reason is that Floyd didn’t have great college production with just three sacks and only (only?) 13.0 tackles for loss last season. I used this fact myself when trying to justify why I thought Lotulelei and Richardson were superior prospects. I still believe the other two players are superior, but Floyd’s college production is a poor thing to use in the argument.
College production shouldn’t be used for evaluation of a prospect because we don’t always know context. For example, Floyd drew a lot of double-teams in 2012. He was also productive, just like Barkevious Mingo was productive last year. A player’s impact on a game is not always measured in sacks.
The last reason is that Floyd has 31.75-inch arms, which is considered short by NFL standards for the position. Do long arms help a player? Of course they do, but they aren’t essential to playing the position. Geno Atkins has 32-inch arms, and he was the most dominant defensive tackle in the league last year.
Floyd will prove teams and their expert scouts wrong in 2012. Not only will he be a good interior pass-rusher immediately, but he’ll be productive in six games against the porous offensive lines of the NFC North.
Floyd is raw against the run, but it's only a matter of time before he can refine his game.
D.J. Fluker is not going to be a good right tackle in the NFL. The experts almost unanimously said that Fluker was the fourth-best tackle prospect in the draft this year behind Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Lane Johnson, but he’s going to prove them all wrong.
Just based on what we know about the draft, one or two of these guys is going to be a bust. Fluker isn’t going to end up being a good pick for the Chargers unless they play him at guard.
Why is Fluker not going to cut it at tackle? It’s pretty simple: He has very slow and heavy feet.
The offensive tackle has to be able to pass protect, and the Chargers needed to improve in that area to give Philip Rivers a fighting chance in 2013. Fluker simply lacks the foot speed to be even an adequate pass protector in the NFL. Jarvis Jones, who ran a 4.8-second 40-yard dash, routinely ran around Fluker last year.
The line between left and right tackles is increasingly being blurred, and the two best pass-rushers in the AFC West predominantly attacked the right tackle.
Von Miller and Justin Houston both typically rush from off the left end. While Fluker will be able to handle bigger, slower ends thanks to his size and long arms, speed rushers are going to blow right past him.
Chargers EVP of Football Operations John Spanos was on The Mighty 1090 in San Diego and mentioned that Fluker could even be tried at left tackle down the road, which is crazy talk. The man Fluker compares to most favorably is right tackle Phil Loadholt, who has much quicker feet.
The Chargers let their extreme need for a tackle cloud their better judgment, and the other experts fell in love with Fluker’s size, arm length, ability as a run-blocker and the fact that he played at Alabama. Many prospects from Alabama have not been successful in the NFL.
Fluker has a chance at guard, but he’s going to prove everyone wrong who thinks he can be a great right tackle.
The top quarterback taken in the draft wasn’t Geno Smith. It wasn’t Ryan Nassib, it wasn’t Matt Barkley, and it wasn’t Tyler Wilson. The first and only quarterback selected in the first round was EJ (with no periods) Manuel.
There is no doubt that Manuel is a bit of a project quarterback, but the reason he was the first quarterback selected is that has the talent to be a franchise quarterback. Manuel also has the skill set to run any system or any play, including the read-option.
Buddy Nix, Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett clearly have a plan to develop Manuel. He’s now their guy, which means their jobs are on the line if he’s not a success. The Bills also spent considerable resources to put pieces around Manuel, which will make things easier for him.
The Bills found wide receivers in the second (Robert Woods) and third rounds (Marquise Goodwin), and they also managed to sign Da’Rick Rogers as an undrafted free agent.
When you add those receivers with Stevie Johnson and running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson, you have the makings of a pretty explosive offense. Manuel’s selection was panned by most experts, but he’s going to prove them wrong in 2013.
Even Jake Matthews had trouble slowing down Mingo.
Barkevious Mingo was the best pass-rusher in the 2013 NFL draft, but he fell down the board behind the more versatile Dion Jordan and athletic freak Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah.
Mingo was the 29th overall player in Matt Miller’s final rankings, 10th on Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board (subscription required), 10th in CBS.com’s rankings, 10th in Mike Mayock’s Top 100 prospects and ninth on NFL.com. Mingo was lower than Jordan and Ansah on every one of those.
Mingo is going to prove those experts wrong. Ansah is a boom-or-bust pick, but despite his workout numbers, I don’t think he’ll ever be as good at getting the quarterback as Mingo. Jordan may be versatile, but he doesn’t do anything great right now, and that includes getting after the quarterback.
Mingo is the most polished pass-rusher in this class, and he’s also the most explosive coming off the edge. He also has a nonstop motor, which is something you can’t necessarily say about the two pass-rushers who were ranked ahead of him.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport's tweet on April 22 proves that some teams may have had their board right:
Prospects getting picked apart. Barkevious Mingo not so much. Scouting director: "He's so clean. Such upside. When u meet him, you love him"— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) April 23, 2013
When you talk about situation, Mingo could not have asked for a better one. Ray Horton is the defensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and will maximize Mingo’s talent immediately.
Last season at LSU, Mingo was tasked with containing the run. He did it well, but it hurt his sack production. Horton will let Mingo pin his ears back and go after the quarterback more regularly.
Scouts have made the mistake of overvaluing stats, as if they determine if a player will be successful in the NFL. Scouts have also made the mistake of overdrafting potential based on combine athletic testing and versatile players with potential.
Rarely has a scout made a mistake on a player with a great motor and amazing athletic ability who played the best competition in college football and was impressive on tape. My only criticism of Mingo is that he misses too many open-field tackles, but that shouldn't be a problem if he’s always hitting the quarterback in the backfield.
Mingo will have more sacks than Ansah or Jordan and be a better player in 2013 and beyond. The experts got this one wrong; Mingo should have been the first pass-rusher off the board.