With the 75th NFL Draft fast approaching, scouting pundits have been churning out their annual mock selections in hopes of providing casual fans with an early look at possible scenarios for draft picks. These “mock drafts,” as they are commonly referred to, are usually far from accurate and can be considered more for entertainment purposes than a tried and true blueprint.
For the uninitiated, the NFL Draft is essentially a yearly recruitment tool, providing professional football franchises with new blood in the form of All-American collegiate prospects.
This year, many analysts feel that the 2010 draft will have significant depth on defense, which bodes particularly well for the New York Giants. Although the 2009 Giants defensive unit may have been merely middling based on their statistics, to the average fan viewing on TV or at the games, they were clearly downright awful on “D.”
The most pressing need for the Giants heading into the draft on April 22 is undoubtedly the middle linebacker position, which lacks talent and depth with the departure of 31-year-old veteran, Antonio Pierce. The team will look to replenish this hole on the roster via the draft, and the only two possible linebacker replacements worth mentioning come in the form of Alabama’s Rolando McClain and Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon.
While several draft experts believe that McClain is the best choice for the Giants at the linebacker position, they are wrong. In actuality, due to his superior speed and coverage skills, vocal leadership, and proven track record, Sean Weatherspoon is the right pick for the New York Giants.
In recent years, the NFL has become an increasingly scheme diverse league. In layman’s terms, this means that there are more teams putting their own spin on popular offensive and defensive systems. For example, there are hybrid variations on 3-4 defenses, the Tampa 2, West Coast offense, etc. So, it goes without saying that for any team, finding a player in the draft that will meld seamlessly with their play-style, whether offensively or defensively, is absolutely paramount.
While Rolando McClain is the best overall linebacker prospect in the draft, he is more suited to a 3-4 defense whereas the Giants run a 4-3. Additionally, it was recently made public that McClain suffers from Crohn’s disease and admitted himself that “Some days I just don’t have it. The thing about Crohn’s with me is the stamina aspect of it. Sometimes you see your body get a little more tired than other days.”
This should raise a red flag for the Giants’ front office and scouting department, and if it hasn’t, McClain’s 4.74 second 40 time sure will. New defensive coordinator Perry Fewell runs a Tampa 2 defense, which is predicated on a middle linebacker who can make plays in coverage and can move quickly sideline to sideline. With that in mind, Sean Weatherspoon would be the better choice, especially due to his past experience playing the weakside linebacker position in college, which requires a tremendous amount of speed and athleticism.
One of the most difficult aspects for any good scout to measure is all of the intangible qualities a college athlete may possess. These qualities typically consist of leadership, toughness, heart, and passion for the game. It is very important for scouts to recognize and diagnose these traits with every draft prospect because at the pro level they can make the difference between an otherwise average player and a truly great one.
While it certainly cannot be proven statistically, Sean Weatherspoon is widely regarded to be an excellent vocal leader who demands accountability and respect from his teammates. When interviewed at the 2010 Senior Bowl, an All-Star game for college athletes, ‘Spoon mentioned, “You’re going to have to step up in front of your teammates and command everyone’s attention in that huddle. I feel like I’m definitely the guy that needs to do that being in that position. It’s just pretty natural to me.”
In stark contrast to ‘Spoon’s boisterous and enthusiastic personality, McClain has preferred to be a quiet leader on and off the field of play. While ordinarily this would never be an issue, it is when a team interested in drafting that player does not have a defensive leader to begin with.
The middle linebacker position is comparatively very similar to the quarterback position on offense, where the player must read opposing defenses or offenses and make sure his teammates are properly lined up for the given play call. If the middle linebacker hasn’t earned the respect of his teammates, it will be very difficult to get them to listen to his barking audibles on game day.
The most important and easiest method of judging any college footballer is to simply watch game tape and review statistics on said player. For Sean Weatherspoon, the one area that definitely isn’t up for debate is his successful college football career as a Mizzou Tiger. Weatherspoon’s career highlights include being named to the All-Big 12 first team three times, becoming a Butkus Award finalist in 2009, and a third-team All American in 2008. While these achievements are nothing to sneeze on, they pale in comparison to the plethora of awards McClain has compiled.
The difference is, Weatherspoon did not have the supporting cast of his Alabama counterpart. For example, McClain’s inconsistent play, largely attributed to his affliction from Crohn’s disease, was masked by the likes of fellow teammates Terrence Cody and Javier Arenas. Alabama has the more well-established and respected football program, which helps them significantly when recruiting. Missouri is not even close to the recruiting prowess of Alabama and ‘Spoon was unquestionably the sole leader and captain of his defense.
In conclusion, the New York Giants really can’t go wrong by selecting either McClain or Weatherspoon, but one is clearly more suited for their team than the other. McClain is the best overall prospect but projects poorly to New York’s 4-3 defense. Weatherspoon does not have the same hype or name recognition as McClain but represents everything the Giants need out of their next “Mike” linebacker, with his speed, vocal leadership, and solid collegiate career.