2014 Draft Stock Watch: 8 Players Rising and Falling Down Chiefs' Board
Every year around this time, names rise and fall throughout draft boards like spiders dangling from an overcrowded, meticulously woven web. (If you’re half as arachnophobic as I am, my apologies.) The 2014 draft is no exception, nor are the Kansas City Chiefs.
From late February to mid-March, metrics from the annual combine cemented or liquefied the opinions of scouts, while pro days appease(d) those wanting seconds. Meanwhile, free agency continues to birth voids as quickly as it fills them.
Due to the above facts, a team need in January can conceivably become a team strength by late March and vice versa. Just a few weeks ago, for example, guard doubled as one of the sturdiest positions on the Chiefs roster. Now? The polar opposite.
Composing pre-spring mock drafts is more or less like sniping at moving targets—throwing darts while blindfolded (assuming you’re not Mike Tyson).
But now that the winds of free agency have died down, and the dust has settled from the majority of workouts, Kansas City's draft outlook is considerably clearer.
Combine results provided by NFL.com.
Rising: Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
At 6'2", 221 pounds, Donte Moncrief is a big-bodied receiver who, in most aspects, plays like one. He can out-jump defenders for the occasional acrobatic catch. He fights to shed off would-be tacklers, and judging by film, the Ole Miss standout takes pride in the art of blocking.
What separates Moncrief from the average face in the crowd is his speed. Time and again, he stretches the field while kicking up dust in corners' faces, particularly on skinny posts and go routes. As a result, defenders are often forced to pick the lesser of two evils by grabbing a handful of jersey and risking the potential flag.
Moncrief's average agility is nothing to write home about, and he needs to improve his ball security when hauling in passes amid traffic. But overall, the wideout's pros easily overshadow his cons.
Reason for the Rise
Kansas City has visited with a number of pass-catchers this offseason, and said group has consistently shared one common denominator: They're all vertical threats who, at the beginning of the season, will be no older than 27.
Despite his hulking frame, Moncrief blazed a 4.4 40 time at the combine, tying for No. 3 at his position. Among receivers, his 39.5" vertical also tied for No. 3, while he and Tevin Reese headlined the group with an 11' broad jump.
The soon-to-be draftee brings the same caliber of speed that Donnie Avery offers, only the former comes equipped with a larger frame, better blocking and slightly sharper route running. Furthermore, his wider catch radius allows a greater margin of error for Alex Smith, while his build makes it infinitely easier for clean releases against press-man.
Basically, Moncrief is a faster, more athletic version of Junior Hemingway with slightly less reliable hands.
Falling: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
If you appreciate the art of receiving, odds are that you're a fan of Jarvis Landry.
While much of the pre-draft hype has encircled Odell Beckham Jr., Landry was LSU's most reliable wideout and consistent performer.
Average speed ensures that he'll never be tagged as a burner, but he authors textbook routes with precise footwork, and incredibly fluid breaks within said routes more than compensate for any speed-related handicaps.
Meanwhile, his hands are sticky enough to make Peter Parker file for unemployment.
Simply put, No. 80 is the most fundamentally sound pass-catcher in the 2014 draft.
Reason for the Fall
Landry suffered a pulled hamstring at the combine, resulting in a 4.77 40 time—the slowest of all wide-receiver attendees. In turn, his stock is bound to slip on several draft boards.
That being said, he suited up and participated in every possible game (37) during his three-year stint at LSU.
Landry, at the end of the day, is a projected second-rounder who will flourish in a timing-based system.
Rising: David Yankey, G, Stanford
David Yankey is a 6'6", 316-pound guard who moves like someone 15 to 20 pounds lighter.
His athleticism jumps off the screen, especially when pulling around tackle, and nimble feet allow him to effortlessly slide while shielding against stunts.
He's a dominant run-blocker as well, consistently creating lanes by winning the position battle.
However, Yankey can fall prone to over-committing, giving way to him lowering his head and losing sight of his target—a habit that marred the first half of Eric Fisher's rookie season. Also, while his upper- and lower-body power is unquestioned, he stops driving his feet at times.
Reason for the Rise
Andy Reid has a soft spot for athletic linemen, and two starting-caliber right guards, Geoff Schwartz and Jon Asamoah, just booked one-way flights out of KCI.
Yankey is a rookie who can digest and grasp the offense before opening day, and his skill set doubles as an ideal match for Reid's screen-oriented philosophy.
Falling: Kenny Ladler, FS, Vanderbilt
On tape, Kenny Ladler has always resembled a fifth- to sixth-round talent in my eyes.
He breaks on the ball relatively well, and as long as he has the jump, the Vanderbilt safety routinely steamrolls wideouts, showing a knack for forcing fumbles time and again throughout his collegiate career.
Also, he commonly lined up as a Cover 1 deep safety, which is the type of prospect who Bob Sutton and Co. are searching for.
However, he has an upright backpedal, which hampers his ability to change direction with any semblance of fluidity. Lackluster speed also curtails his ability to cover between the sidelines as the lone safety valve.
In addition, his trend of forcing fumbles doesn't accurately depict his down-to-down physicality, as Ladler regularly shies away from contact (especially when in the crosshairs of bigger blockers) and/or over-pursues.
Reason for the Fall
At the combine, Ladler's 4.7 40-yard dash cemented doubts about his closing speed.
Rising: Jordan Tripp, ILB, Montana
Jordan Tripp is an inside linebacker who, due to unique athleticism, can fill a variety of roles.
He's still raw, regularly assuming the part of playmaker in an attempt to offset the lack of talent surrounding him. That, in turn, occasionally results in him losing gap discipline or back-side responsibility, opening cutback lanes for opposing ball-carriers.
However, with a few years of quality coaching, Tripp has the potential to become a difference-making starter.
While he's not quite as physical, instinctual nor stout as someone like Kiko Alonso—though for Tripp, those three categories are far from cons—his combine results, in every comparable event, trumped those from his peer's pro day (a wrist injury prevented Alonso from performing at the combine).
Tripp can effectively plug lanes, stalk quarterbacks and cover zones. He’s a Day 2 gem waiting to be excavated.
Reason for the Rise
The Chiefs still lack quality depth at linebacker.
Some will argue that Tripp can line up outside and successfully pressure the passer, but offensive tackles in the NFL and Big Sky are two animals who are worlds apart. Tripp doesn’t tote the arm length of a professional edge-rusher.
He does, however, flash the physicality required to play the “Mike” position (strong-side inside linebacker) if need be.
But in a 3-4 defense, Tripp’s skill set is best suited for the role of “Will” (weak-side inside) linebacker—the position that Derrick Johnson currently occupies. As previously mentioned, he’s an effective blitzer and pass defender, and due to fleet-footed lateral agility and straight-line speed, Tripp routinely shines in pursuit.
A year ago, John Dorsey raised local eyebrows with the mid-round selection of Knile Davis, despite the roster hosting (arguably) the league’s most dynamic halfback in Jamaal Charles. By all indications, that gamble looks like it’s bound to pay dividends for years to come.
Don’t be surprised if the Chiefs pluck a future replacement for Johnson, whose contract is set to expire after the 2015 season.
Falling: Stephon Tuitt, DT/DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt embodies the size and overall athleticism to play defensive tackle in a 4-3 or defensive end in a 3-4.
He processes information on the fly and often reacts quicker than his defensive cohorts, rarely offering cutback lanes due to over-pursuing.
Tuitt is also a fairly skillful pass-rusher, regularly showcasing a tried and true swim move that exploits blockers' momentum.
However, throughout much of 2013, he only showed shades of his 2012 dominance, which may or may not stem from offseason surgery for a sports hernia. Plus, the loss of Manti Te'o allowed offenses to devote more attention to him (as well as Louis Nix).
Reason for the Fall
Leading up to free agency, Tyson Jackson's departure was all but inevitable. When given the opportunity, though, backup Allen Bailey looked like a (potentially) serviceable starter.
Because of that, and being that the Chiefs roster had more glaring needs to address at the time, the thought of Kansas City drafting Tuitt was a long shot.
When the team signed Vance Walker, a guaranteed Day 1 starter, that long shot was demoted to a fantasy.
Rising: Jimmie Ward, SS/FS, Northern Illinois
Don't let the "strong safety" designation fool you, Jimmie Ward is a player who can easily slide to free safety in a Cover 1, and his man-coverage skills fit Bob Sutton's defense to a T.
Ward boasts impressive lateral agility and thoroughly understands the game, regularly keeping back-side containment and wrapping up ball-carriers with relative ease.
In the grand scheme of things, particularly in a Cover 1, the above traits are luxuries to a degree, though. The two pivotal attributes are straight-line speed and ball skills, and Northern Illinois' star-studded safety aces both categories.
CBS' Derek Harper notes:
Jimmy Ward appeared over the foot injury that sidelined him from working out at the Scouting Combine last month by running a 40-yard dash timed unofficially in 4.47 seconds by multiple scouts at Northern Illinois' pro day on Friday.
Ward's unofficial 4.47 40 time is noticeably faster than that of Haha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor, both of whom posted a time of 4.58.
In regards to ball skills, Ward's athleticism and hand-eye coordination are more emblematic of a corner than a safety, as he regularly breaks on underneath routes and bats passes with his inside shoulder. He also snags the occasional eye-opening interception.
Reason for the Rise
Personally, I think that the local outcry over Kansas City's "void" at free safety is somewhat overstated (and I emphasize "somewhat").
Sanders Commings, whose rookie season was limited to three snaps due to injury, recorded a quicker 40 time (4.41) at the 2013 combine than any safety did at its 2014 successor. And yet, at 216 pounds, last year's draftee weighs eight pounds heavier than Clinton-Dix and seven pounds more than Pryor.
That being said, in a division that hosts Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers, a secondary can never host too much talent. The more I study and juxtapose the skills of Clinton-Dix, Pryor and Ward, the more I find myself thinking that Northern Illinois' standout is the most well-rounded safety in the 2014 draft.
Regardless of which team lands him, Ward will make his presence felt on Day 1.
Falling: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
The moment Marqise Lee cradles a football, defensive coordinators hold their breath, cross their fingers and frantically urge on the secondary. He's an open-field illusionist whose ankle-snapping agility turns would-be tacklers into ghost hunters.
His technique yields a good but not great route-runner, while his brand of quickness is normally associated with that of smaller receivers, which tends to cause spectators to misjudge Lee's size. However, measuring at 6'0", 192 pounds, he's large enough to beat press coverage on the outside.
No. 9's elusiveness also translates to the slot.
Reason for the Fall
Lee's injury history raises more red flags than Arrowhead's parking lot, and according to Rotoworld's Greg Peshek, he dropped an alarming 12.3 percent of passes last season.
A gang of receivers also outclassed him at the combine in nearly every event that he participated in. CBS' Rob Rang adds:
It was hoped that Lee, NFLDraftScout.com's No. 3 wide receiver and No. 18 overall prospect, would run as the the 6-foot, 192 pounder was clocked at 4.52 seconds in the all-important 40-yard dash in Indianapolis, exhibiting less explosiveness in this drill than he'd shown throughout much of his spectacular career.
From an athletic standpoint, the amount of 2014 wideouts who reside in Lee's neighborhood can be counted on one hand. His underwhelming combine and pro day workouts can, in all likelihood, be attributed to one issue: injury.
Has he contracted a new one that has been swept under the rug? Maybe, but I'm guessing he's just paranoid about re-aggravating the same knee injury that plagued him throughout 2013—a season in which his production drastically declined from the year prior.
All of this isn't to say that the Chiefs won't draft Lee at No. 23. They very well could, and the selection would be easily warranted.
However, due to drops and health concerns, USC's playmaker could feasibly fall into the second round as well—a notion that, on the heels of his 2012 season, would've been laughed out of the room.
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