With the 2014 NFL Draft in the rearview and the next major event in the NFL off-season still a bit ahead of us, the only thing football fans are left to do is digest what transpired over the past few days. There was a lot of back-and-forth on this blog as the picks were rolling in, but those were all knee-jerk reactions. Having had a bit of time to digest the results, watch some more tape, and really consider the nature of the beast, I think now is an appropriate time to begin discussing how Grigson faired in more level-headed way. With that in mind, I'd like to submit my take on the draft, paying special attention to the circumstances under which the Colts entered the draft.
With that said, there are some important issues to be addressed before getting to the actual analysis of the picks. First and foremost, I want to address the idea that it's silly to evaluate or "grade" the draft before the players even play a snap in the NFL. It's important to realize draft graders are not passing judgment on the players; a proper draft assessment is based on a player's relative probability of NFL success given their college performance. If I say a player struggles to shed blocks, I'm not saying that player will continue to struggle, I'm saying that player HAS struggled in the past and thus may be more likely to struggle in the NFL. Second, while college performance is not conclusive of NFL performance, it's silly to act as if these players do not have an established record. This gets to my previous point--while this record should not be used to pass judgement on the players, it can be used to suggest where a player may struggle and therefore have a reduced likelihood of NFL success.
Therefore, even though I provide varying best and worst case scenarios below, the true reality is that the best case scenario for every player is that they become an All-Pro, while the worst case is that they aren't even offered a rookie contract. The best and worst case scenarios I've chosen are based on probabilities; while it's possible for a player who was a college scrub to become the unholy union of Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson, it is exceedingly improbable that will occur. The opposite is also true. So, when you see "at best" or "at worst", keep in mind that I mean "at probable best" and "at probable worst".
Before I go further, If you're one of the people who derive no value from reading this type of analysis because "it's still way too early", and you are unmoved by the fact that I'm not actually passing judgment on the players, just stop reading. You know what this article is going to entail; if you read something you know will annoy you, it's not the author's fault you're annoyed. Please do not take it out on me or those who enjoy reading these types of posts by commenting about how ridiculous the whole affair is and disparaging others' opinions simply because you disagree with them having an opinion in the first place.
Moving on, the second major issue to address is the criterion or criteria by which the draft is assessed. While it's easy to say whether a player projects as a future starter or a practice squad scrub, that isn't a very meaningful analysis without any context. For instance, for a team undergoing a complete rebuild with holes all over the roster, spending two early-round picks on, say, tight ends isn't a problem. However, if that same team is instead on the cusp of making a Super Bowl run and only has one or two needs, those same selections would be insane. Therefore, it's important to keep in mind the circumstances under which the Colts entered this draft. As I see it, there were 4 important circumstances:
1. This team has many holes. While this team does not have the barebones roster it did entering the 2012 Draft, it isn't the nearly complete, on-the-cusp team described above, either. Entering the Draft, this team was talented enough to easily win the division and perhaps win one game in the playoffs. With gaping holes at safety, corner, center, and guard, and moderate sized holes at inside outside linebacker, nose tackle, and running back, and depth-sized holes at receiver and tackle, expecting anything more than one playoff win would be asking too much. The implication for the Draft is that there were very few positions off-limits for Ryan Grigson and company; unless the front office drafted a tight end or quarterback, it'd be filling some kind of need. We can bicker over the relative importance of each need, but given how interdependent each position is, it would be very difficult to pinpoint which area was the most damaging for the Colts.
2. This team has a small window to win a championship. Depleted though the roster is, there is no denying that this team has the foundation for a championship run: Andrew Luck, a stable of talented pass catchers, a few defensive playmakers, and one rolling ball of butcher knives. However, within the next two years, all of these pieces will either see their play decline significantly, retire, or cost far too much to keep the roster together without letting some go. As a result, the Colts have to be in "win now" mode, or they might see several necessary pieces disappear. The Draft implication for this circumstance is perhaps the single most important thing to keep in mind when evaluating Grigson's newest haul: the Colts need people who can play now. While project players are great for a team that is rebuilding or a team that is stacked to the brim, they are not helpful for a team filled with holes that only has two years before its core falls apart.
3. This team only had five picks. This is the most obvious circumstance of them all. While teams like San Francisco and Cleveland each had roughly 73 picks, the Colts brought up the rear with only 5. When considered alongside #2, it's clear that Grigson and co. have to have an above-average hit rate--they absolutely had no picks with which to take flyers.
4. This was a loaded draft. Unlike last year, this draft was brimming with high-caliber talent. Fortunately for the Colts, that means it is theoretically possible for the front office to have that necessary above-average hit rate. It also means that a need not address in the draft may be adequately addressed in undrafted free agency (and at least one need was, as you'll see below). That said, this also means that value is more important this year than in other years. A third round player who falls to the fourth this year is far more valuable than that same player in previous years simply because the baseline talent level is so high. Furthermore, and most importantly, it means that the sixth and seventh rounds matter this year. Unlike most years where you're just trying to find someone who has a shot at making the roster, this year's 6th and 7th rounds could easily produce players who become significant contributors. GMs should not get a pass for taking a flyer this year; the late round picks are just too valuable.
If you either do not agree with these observations or do not agree with assessing the draft in light of them, I'll also include grades based purely on talent relative to available alternatives.
The third major issue has less to do with the actual draft analysis, and more to do with the process itself. Simply put, general managers are not always right. This should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about the draft--it's called a crapshoot for a reason. It makes little sense, then, to brush aside criticism of a draft choice simply by saying "well there's a reason he's the GM and you're just some stupid idiot with a Stampede Blue account" (side note: for the record, I am just some stupid idiot with a Stampede Blue account. Please do not listen to anything I say. In fact, you should probably just stop reading.) While it's true that GMs and their staffs have far more resources at their disposal than the average fan, it is not true that the average fan can't have a legitimate opinion. I, for one, have formed all of my opinions by
pulling them directly out of my ass watching the same kind of tape scouts watch (though probably in much lower resolution. Thanks, YouTube). Furthermore, waiving one's hand and stating that there simply must have been something the GM saw that the draft "grader" did not is called an appeal to authority, and it's a logical fallacy.
Finally, we need to address how players themselves are judged. Nothing frustrates me more than reading a source praise a player for "breathing fire" or disparaging a player for "not playing with a mean streak." These terms are absolutely meaningless. Players should be evaluated based on their strength, speed, agility, technical proficiency, and overall talent. Describing a player's playing style is helpful, but it is not a talent evaluation. I don't care if a linebacker is a "thumper" so long as he can bring down a ball carrier; I don't care if a guard is a "mauler" so long as he can sustain run blocks; I don't care if a safety is a "headhunter" so long as he is great in pursuit; and so on and so forth. With that in mind, the biggest part of a player evaluation ought to be their tape. If a player did not see success in college, he has a reduced change of seeing success in the NFL, and vice versa.
With all of that said, let's turn to the actual evaluation itself.
ROUND 2, PICK #59: JACK MEWHORT, G/OT, OHIO STATE
This pick obviously filled a need, and given the offensive line talent drop off after the second round, it was clearly the correct need to fill. While many people here have expressed their happiness with this pick, I just don't see it. As a tackle in college, he struggled mightily with speed rushers, and seemed lost when run-blocking at the second level. He often struggled to figure out which defender to block and then he failed to sustain those blocks. Further, he seems to take plays off. I saw a few instances where he gave up a sack because he simply gave up on the block--he wasn't beat, the QB still had the ball, he just....sort of gave up. Mewhort dominated inferior competition, but was brutal in games against Clemson and Buffalo (when trying to block Khalil Mack). If the Colts wanted an interior lineman, it would have made much more sense to pick a player like Gabe Jackson (my obvious man crush), Travis Swanson, or Marcus Martin. The benefit of Mewhort is his versatility, but that's a bit of a misnomer. Mewhort has collegiate experience playing tackle and guard, but he only played one year at guard--his freshman year. While some collegiate experience is certainly beneficial, the idea that he offers experience at center is, frankly, absurd: he played center in high school. Regardless, even if he is extremely versatile, I still do not understand this pick because at the very least, the Colts needed a guard capable of starting this year due to the major question marks surrounding Thornton and Thomas. At best, Mewhort develops into a quality tackle who can eventually take over for Gosder Cherilus. At worst, Mewhort performs worse than his college tape and is a liability. Most likely, however, Mewhort becomes an adequate swing tackle. However, as I stated earlier, this draft needed to yield people who could play right now. Those players were on the board, but Grigson passed on them. However, the grade is salvaged a bit by the fact that very, very few offensive linemen are not in some way a liability in their first year. No matter how good Gabe Jackson is, it isn't likely that he would be great in his first year.
Grade based purely on talent relative to alternatives: B
ROUND 3, PICK #90: DONTE MONCRIEF, WR, OLE MISS
Receiver was not a huge need for the Colts, but it will be in 2015, and Moncrief was clearly the best player available at any position. With question marks about Wayne's future and Nicks's near-certain departure (either he's bad and we cut him or he's good and too expensive to resign), receiver will be a major need sooner rather than later. In college, Moncrief produced at a high level despite high-level competition and mediocre-at-best quarterback play. He's big, fast, and incredibly athletic. He isn't without fault, though. He needs to work on his catching technique--he routinely trapped passes against his body, but flashed the ability to snag the ball out of the air using his hands only. He also struggled to get separation from better CBs because he simply tried to run past them. While he has some quality moves and makes good breaks, he needs to improve. Thankfully he'll have the chance to learn from the best. At worst, Moncrief is a slightly-better DHB. At best, he's the Colts' future #1 and will be excellent insurance in case Wayne or Nicks go down again. Most likely he becomes a solid WR1 who won't need to be upgraded.
Grade based purely on talent relative to alternatives: WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO+
ROUND 5, PICK #166: JONATHAN NEWSOME, DE/OLB, BALL STATE
The Colts absolutely had to upgrade the pass rush, so to that end this pick filled a need. However, I'm not sure I understand the choice of player. Newsome has a list of character red flags, and played against some of the weakest competition a prospect could face. While he dominated that competition, he only did so through his speed and agility. I doesn't seem to be particularly strong, and it took him too long to beat blockers if he didn't get a clean release. While that translated to sacks against the likes of Eastern Michigan and Illinois State, it likely won't in the NFL--the NFL's quarterbacks release the ball much, much quicker. People are making a big deal about the fact that Bill Polian compared him to Robert Mathis, but I'm not sure I see it. They are both speed-oriented and both are African American. Beyond that, I don't see the similarities--Newsome isn't as strong and isn't as good in pursuit. I'm not saying he can't become similar to Robert Mathis; he just isn't right now. That said, if he can bulk up and get his head on straight, his speed an agility could turn him into a quality starter. He also has some experience standing up. Of the Colts's final three picks, Newsome clearly has the highest upside and the highest floor. Where I struggle, though, is with the players who were passed over for Newsome. Guys like EJ Gaines and Vinnie Sunseri have higher floors and higher ceilings than Newsome, and they are at positions of immediate need. If the Colts had their hearts set on a pass rusher in the fifth, I'd have preferred to see them take Ron Powell from Florida--drafted just a few spots later. Powell has a similar skill set to Newsome, but he played against infinitely better competition and has much better physical tools. Another alternative (without the injury concerns that Powell has) would have been Devon Kennard from USC. Kennard was less productive that Newsome, but he played against infinitely better competition and is more well rounded. Whereas Newsome relies entirely on speed and agility, Kennard can beat blockers through speed or strength. At best, Newsome becomes an adequate pass rusher who you'd like to upgrade but don't feel any urgency to. At worst, he doesn't finish the season on the roster. Most likely, he sees limited action as a rotational player and is not retained after his rookie contract. There were other guys who have a higher probability of success at the same position as well as positions of greater need. I don't have a problem with Newsome; I have a problem with Newsome instead of those guys.
Grade based purely on talent relative to alternatives: C+
ROUND 6, PICK #203: ANDREW JACKSON, ILB, WESTERN KENTUCKY
Inside linebacker was not an immediately pressing need, but I have no issue with the Colts choosing to draft one--don't forget, I was pounding the table for an ILB in the 2nd round for a very long time. While it's easy to praise Andrew Jackson for being a "thumper", as I said above that isn't a real evaluation. While he does hit hard, the more important takeaway is that he hits fairly well. While he doesn't wrap up the ball carrier, he does take decent angles and squares to the ball carrier well. He also shows tremendous burst pursuing the quarterback when blitzing. However, he has some pretty serious faults. The biggest issue I have against Andrew Jackson is that he
nearly bankrupted the United States and was the architect behind the deaths of thousands of American Indians absolutely cannot cover. Even against the mediocre-at-best competition he faced, he was too slow to cover tight ends, let alone receivers. He's very sluggish in pursuit (which is odd given how quick he is to get after the quarterback) and quits once the play gets behind him. He struggles to pick through blockers, especially when defending runs between the tackles. Further, he has a major character red flag: a burglary arrest. The result is that the Colts drafted a two-down linebacker who is a liability in pass coverage and struggles to defend the run. He may be able to improve, but given that he struggled against middling college competition and regressed during his last year, things do not look very promising. At best he becomes a pre-injury Pat Angerer. At worst he does not make the roster. Most likely he will be stashed on the practice squad and eventually released. As I said above, in a draft this deep, picking a player who has a very small probability of success in the 6th and 7th rounds is unacceptable. Guys like Daniel McCullers, Andre Hal, and Tyler Gaffney were chosen shortly after the Colts made their selection, and each one of them at least played well against high-quality competition--Andrew Jackson was mediocre against middling competition, and it wasn't as if the Colts had to take an inside linebacker due to some pressing need. It's also worth noting here that while he ultimately went undrafted, Christian Jones was still available and is a much, much better prospect. While many really liked this selection, I see it as the second worst one the Colts made.
Grade based purely on talent relative to alternatives: D-
ROUND 7, PICK #232: ULRIK JOHN, OT, GEORGIA STATE
Ulrik John is tall, but surprisingly light both for his height and position. No one seems to know much about him, but I was able to find tape on him against the University of Tennessee. He seems like a traffic cone with legs. He'll get in the way of the pass rusher which itself will buy the quarterback some time, but beyond that he offers very little. He stands up well against bull rushes, and as he adds weight he'll only get batter at it. However, the slightest of speed moves is enough to beat him. There were far better linemen on the board--James Stone and Antonio Richardson come to mind--but even taking a tackle doesn't seem to make much sense given that the Colts took one in the 2nd round. John stands no chance at becoming a successful guard because he's abysmal run-blocking at the second level. I mean really, really bad. At best he becomes an adequate swing tackle who you'd like to upgrade if possible, but won't lose any sleep over. At worst he doesn't survive the first round of cuts. Most likely he'll be stashed on the practice squad for a year and then released. This pick is even more baffling given the wealth of talent that was still available. At the top of the list is Ahmad Dixon, SS/OLB from Baylor who was a first-team All American. He was outstanding against quality competition and filled a major need. His floor is above Ulrick John's ceiling. The same can be said of a number of players who ultimately went undrafted: the aforementioned linemen, Christian Jones, Rashad Reynolds, Kenny Ladler, Silas Redd, and the list goes on. That wouldn't be a problem if Grigson had managed to land any of them in UDFA, but he didn't. Again, while many people will give the Colts a pass because it was the 7th round, in a draft this deep the goal should have been much, much, MUCH higher. There were a number of players still on the board who have infinitely higher probabilities of NFL success (and who fill bigger needs). While Dewey McDonald (the UDFA safety) actually might turn out to be a quality safety, he could have been signed even if Grigson and company had drafted a guy like Ahmad Dixon--especially since Dixon can play SOLB, another area worth upgrading.
Grade based purely on talent relative to alternatives: F
This draft left a few big holes unfilled while filling at least one hole more than once. Though the front office managed to sign some intriguing UDFAs to fill the holes inexplicably left unfilled during the draft, I cannot fathom why they waited until undrafted free agency to do so. They had the chance to find mind-boggling value in the 6th and 7th rounds and completely failed to. Again, I'm not saying these players can't or won't become solid contributors; I'm saying that based on their college tape, they have a significantly reduced likelihood of succeeding. The fact remains that each of Grigson's selections save for Donte Moncrief (WOOOOOOOOOOO) have worse college tape than other options both at the chosen position and at other positions. In a stacked draft where the Colts needed to hit on as many picks as possible by finding players who would be ready to contribute on day one, I just don't believe the front office did very well at all. The only thing salvaging this draft from being a complete disaster is the upside of Mewhort and Moncrief. A smaller but still contributing factor is Newsome's potential, no matter how unlikely it is to be realized.
Overall grade: D
Overall grade based purely on talent relative to alternatives: C+