2010 NFL Preview: How Will the Top Ten Draft Selections Perform?
If everyone plays up to their potential, the 2010 NFL Draft may be one for the ages. Former NFL executive Gil Brandt said of QB Sam Bradford: "he put on the best quarterback workout by a draft prospect I've seen since I watched a private workout of Troy Aikman." Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy are two of the best DT prospects in years. Eric Berry has been called the next Ed Reed. But how will these rookies start off? Will Ndamukong Suh post Kevin Williams-like rookie numbers (51 tackles, 10.5 sacks), or will he need more time to develop? One can only guess. And now, without further ado here are my predictions for the 2010 top ten draft selections.
1. Sam Bradford
Expect the top overall pick in the draft to go through some growing pains. On the upside, Bradford is laser accurate and has incredible poise in the pocket, combined with the toughness to take a hit and the feet quick enough to avoid one. His biggest issue, however, is a tendency to hold on to the ball for just a second too long. That’s not going to fly behind the Rams offensive line. Though they managed to open holes for standout running back Steven Jackson, the front five’s pass protection leaves a lot to be desired. The Rams O-line allowed one sack per 12 attempts, ranked 25th in the league. 2nd round pick Roger Saffold was a great value pick and should help solidify the pass protection, but I am still forced to question how much time this unit can give Bradford on passing downs.
A standout receiver core could help mask poor pass protection, but receivers aren’t exactly the Rams strength either. It’s not depth that’s the issue, but the talent at the top end. Donnie Avery led the team last year with 589 yards on 47 receptions, followed by rookie Brandon Gibson with 348 yards. Fourth round pick Mardy Gilyard gives Bradford a receiver who is deadly with a ball in his hands, but has trouble getting it there. Unless someone steps up, Bradford will be without a true number one receiver.
One thing Bradford has going for him is the dominant Steven Jackson. Defenses lining up against the Rams are going to be forced to respect the all-pro Jackson over the unproven passing game, leading to plenty of eight-man fronts for Bradford. This should open some things up down the field, especially with speedster Donnie Avery. More importantly, however, Bradford won’t have to carry this offense. He will not be in a situation where he should, like 2008 first-overall pick Matt Stafford, be force to pass the ball 37.7 times a game. This takes a lot of pressure off of him on 3rd and shorts and red zone situations.
Yards: I don’t expect Bradford to eclipse the 3,000-yard mark, especially with Steven Jackson lining up behind him. 2600 yards
Touchdowns: Once again, Steven Jackson’s presence should limit this category a bit. 11 touchdowns.
Interceptions: Bradford’s confidence in the pocket and ability to evade some of the inevitable pressure should help him protect the football. He also has the accuracy to put the ball right where he wants it. Still, the offensive line situation and lackluster receiver core can’t be ignored. 18 interceptions.
2. Ndamukong Suh
Though its tough to be a rookie DT to excel right off the bat, Suh has all the tools dominate in his rookie season. His power and explosiveness make it difficult to run at him, and his range and ability to make plays outside the tackle box make him a threat when you try and run away from him. Though I expect him to see a fair share of double-teams, the Detroit Lions have quietly built a very solid defensive line, making it difficult for an offense to concentrate too much on one man. Suh should start next to either second year pro Sammie Lee Hill—who is powerful against the run—or Corey Williams—whose return to the 4-3 should bring back the talent he displayed with the Packers. Kyle Vandenbosch, though not elite, still demands respect from an offensive line and often plays well next to elite DTs (i.e. the Vandenbosch—Haynesworth duo in Tennessee). Third year pro Cliff Avril, a decent pass rusher, will line up on the other end of the line. The defensive line play should be one of the brighter spots on the Detroit Lions this year, and Suh’s more than competent fellow linemen should help him avoid too many double teams.
I have no doubt Suh will be dominant against the run, especially with his great range and hand-fighting abilities, but I am hesitant to credit him with a significant number of sacks. With the porous secondary playing behind the front seven, I doubt Suh will have very much time to get to the quarterback. Chris Houston, the number one cornerback for the Lions, earned the name “Chrisp Houston” from his former Atlanta Falcons fans due to his tendency to get burned deep. Houston not the only one in the secondary with a nickname, as C.C. “Can’t Cover” Brown, as dubbed by the New York media, is currently competing with former CFL player Jonathan Hefney for the strong safety position. Rookie CB Amari Spievey, who should start across from Houston, has a high ceiling but is too raw to be a quality starter in his first season. Free Safety Louis Delmas is the only player on this unit who is a quality starter. Ndamukong Suh will certainly create a lot of pressure, but most quarterbacks should be able to get rid of the ball before Suh comes crashing down.
3. Gerald McCoy
The Bucs grabbed the second most dominant defensive tackle—and overall player—in the draft with their pick of Gerald McCoy. With Oklahoma McCoy displayed an uncanny ability to get penetration and wreck havoc in the backfield. His skills as a pro will be put to the test, having to disrupt the likes Drew Brees and Matt Ryan twice a year, and trying to contain Carolina’s double-headed monster of Jonathon Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. McCoy could likely become a cornerstone in reconstructing what was once a dominant Tampa 2 defense. He is the perfect fit for the defense, which, according to Brian Mullen of The Tennessean, calls for not size but for “speed, smarts, and flawless tackling,” along with a “quick defensive line.” McCoy’s got all of the above, with an emphasis on elite quickness.
In addition to McCoy, Tampa Bay brought in DT Brian Price—another quick yet powerful lineman—in the second round in an effort to improve their league-worst run defense. Tampa Bay hopes the McCoy-Price duo can perform like Warren Sapp and Anthony McFarland did earlier in the decade, a situation where each DT made the other look better. I expect Price to be a good compliment to McCoy and he’ll help him excel in 2010 and beyond.
Tampa Bay’s secondary is a very underrated unit, and though they ranked 23rd against the pass in 2009, I think poor play calling by Defensive Coordinator Jim Bates played a large role in that. When Bates was relieved of his duties for the final six weeks, Tampa Bay went from allowing 29.4 points per game to 17.7. Third year corner Aqib Talib teams with declining-yet-effective Ronde Barber to create a solid cornerback duo. Rookie CB Myron Lewis gives the team an escape plan incase 35-year Ronde Barber’s decline turns him into a coverage liability. Tanard Jackson and Sean Jones create a quality safety tandem to play behind the corners. Unlike fellow DT Ndamukong Suh, I think McCoy may actually have a decent amount of time to get to the quarterback.
4. Trent Williams
Though talented, Trent Williams was certainly a reach with Russell Okung still on the board. Williams executes run blocks with aggressive effectiveness. He also shows good pass blocking technique, but he lacks the lateral range and speed to keep up with quick edge rushers. This may be a problem in the NFC East. With the addition of Jammal Brown, expect Williams to play on the right side. Williams struggled a bit as a left tackle in college, but seemed at home on the right side of the line.
Williams should be a very consistent, but not elite, tackle this year. He will probably show a lot of talent as a run blocker, but may struggler against the talented pass rushers of the NFC East.
5. Eric Berry
The only thing that seems to limit this Ed Reed reincarnate is his size, which isn’t even that bad either. Eric Berry is an elite athlete with the instincts to match. He overcomes his relatively small stature with his tenacity against the run and pursuit angles. His range allows him make tackles from anywhere on the field.
Not only is Eric Berry himself an elite talent, the secondary talent around him in 2010 will also be above average. Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr provide a more than competent cornerback tandem. FS Jarrad Page is pretty solid too, but only when healthy.
The biggest limiting factor for Berry will be the Chief’s 31st ranked pass rush. This will affect the play of the entire secondary just as it did in 2009—when it brought this talented group down to a pedestrian 22nd ranked pass defense. However, I still expect Berry to prove that he is a true ball hawk.
6. Russell Okung
Fortunately for them, Seattle managed to pick up the elite Russell Okung without a top-5 selection. Once Walter Jones retired, the left tackle position immediately became Seattle’s biggest need. Though Okung may not have a hall of fame career like his predecessor, he may potentially become one of the league’s best linemen. He has the balance, quick feet, and speed to counter a speed rush, and the power to drive defenders into the ground. Okung will start showing his talent immediately in 2010 and hopefully keep it up for a nice long career.
7. Joe Haden
It isn’t clear whether Joe Haden will be the starter opposite the underrated Eric Wright, or if Sheldon Brown holds that distinction. It depends on how each performs during training camp. Either way, the Browns should have one of the stronger cornerback units in the league. Haden is a ball-hawk with the mechanics and athleticism to develop into a true shutdown corner.
The Browns have a surprisingly effective pass rush, which registered 40 sacks in 2009. Playing behind a unit that consistently pressures the quarterback, Haden’s should be able to take advantage of rushed and inaccurate throws. Such pressure benefits any corner, especially a ball-hawk like Haden.
8. Rolando McClain
With their selection of Rolando McClain, the Raiders made the first of nine surprisingly smart picks. McClain is an outstanding run defender who was Alabama’s most productive defensive player for the past couple of years. He makes incredible reads and sheds blocks well to get to the ball.
Though McClain is a 3-4 ILB moving to 4-3 MLB, his impressive football IQ and natural defensive instincts lead me to believe that the transition, though not seamless, shouldn’t be a huge burden on him. One of few criticisms of McClain was that he was just a product of the system at Alabama, and the massive d-line of the Tide (namely Terrance Cody) was able to keep blockers off of him. However, McClain will be playing in a similar situation in Oakland playing behind the mountainous John Henderson—who at 31 still eats up blockers—and DT-playing-DE Richard Seymour. I expect this to help McClain’s production as a rookie.
Another reason McClain may have a successful rookie season is the production that the averagely talented Kirk Morrison was able to have in Oakland’s system. Morrison was a poor block shedder yet still posted 130+ tackles in his last two seasons as a Raider, good enough for top 6 in the league each season. Expect McClain to have similar or even better numbers and possibly crack the top 5 in tackles at some point during the 2010 season.
9. C.J. Spiller
Buffalo didn’t draft Spiller to be a number one back. Instead, look for more of a three-headed monster type backfield from Buffalo with Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson also splitting carries. Expect Spiller to get the ball on short-medium distance passing downs when he has a chance to break one with the defense playing pass first. He doesn’t have the power to fight on short yardage situations, and tends to dance around too much to be a consistent short yardage back.
Spiller is, however, a deadly receiver out of the backfield. The Bills swiss cheese o-line and sub-par receiver core means Spiller will probably become a very valuable safety outlet in the passing game. In fact, it’s not unlikely that he has nearly as many receiving yards as rushing yards.
Rushing Yards: 650, but expect a relatively high YPC.
Receiving Yards: 400
Touchdowns: 4 rushing, 3 receiving
10. Tyson Alualu
Gene Smith reached quite a bit with this pick. The hard-working Alualu probably would have been available even in the mid-late second round if Jacksonville had traded back (they had no second round selection). Aluala is certainly versatile, he can play either 5-technique in a 3-4 or DT/DE in a 4-3. However, He will probably play DT with the Jaguars. Alualu is a good pass rusher, recording 7.5 sacks for Cal in ’09, and along with Aaron Kampman will be the only decent pass rusher this year for the Jaguars. Alualu can struggle against the run and needs to work on his pursuit skills.
Tyson Alualu’s teammates on the line will be very average. RE Aaron Kampman excelled in the 4-3 with Green Bay until they moved to a 3-4. Now, he is back at his natural 4-3 position. However, he is coming off knee surgery and is on the wrong side of 30. He may not be 100% for the season. On the left end of the line is Derrick Harvey, who is a consistent run defender but lacks pass rushing talent (2 sacks last year in 16 games started). Terrance Knighton impressed as a rookie run defender last year, and certainly deserves a lot of respect from offensive lines.
A very weak secondary won’t help Alualu generate a pass rush. Rashean Mathis is certainly a bright spot, but he has trouble staying healthy for a full year. Derek Cox, though he improved towards the end of 2009, still got burned many times during his rookie year. Reggie Nelson and Gerald Alexander form a very weak safety tandem. If Alualu wants to get to the quarterback, he’ll have to do it quick because many quarterbacks—especially division rivals Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning—will be able to quickly tear this secondary apart.