Picks 17-24 are in! Can a third quarterback break into the first round of the CPGM 2015 NFL Re-draft.
17. San Francisco 49ers (Traded Down) – Shane Ray – The 2015 offseason was a tumultuous one for the San Francisco 49ers. From the front office/Jim Harbaugh debacle to the exodus of talented players (particularly on defense) for any number of reasons including: Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, etc. The 49ers finished 29th in total defense, 29th in sacks (28), 26th in INTs (9) and dead last in fumbles forced (5). This suggests a lack of playmakers on defense. The 49ers’ brass opted for DE Arik Armstead out of Oregon to replace Justin Smith but I wasn’t a fan of the selection. Armstead fits the 5-technique profile but the game has changed (see J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell). San Francisco is banking on his undeniable potential, but I expect my 1st round, 5-technique selection to be a difference maker not simply a space eater. Frankly, Armstead didn’t make enough plays at the collegiate level to warrant a first round pick in my opinion. Shane Ray on the other hand is a disruptive, playmaking talent off the edge to pair with OLB Aaron Lynch, particularly with the imminent departure of yet another key cog in the 49ers defense, Ahmad Brooks, set to take place this offseason. Speed and physicality off the edge, translates to splash plays something the 49ers are in dire need of. Ray’s 4.0 sacks in limited playing time behind Von Miller and Demarcus Ware would have been good for 3rd best among 49ers in 2015.
18. Kansas City Chiefs – Ronald Darby – Even though Marcus Peters grabbed headlines with a series of splash plays a far less heralded cornerback may have been the most consistent of all rookie defensive backs in 2015. Ronald Darby earned a starting role in perhaps the most challenging, blitz happy, man-to-man scheme in the NFL courtesy of Rex Ryan and performed exceedingly well. The ability was evident in college as Darby was named 2012 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year at Florida State and allowed only 41.9% of the passes thrown at him to be completed in 2014. Darby’s combine performance with a 4.38 40-yard dash and a 41.5 vertical leap (both best for his position group)showed his athletic gifts which served him well in his rookie season as he routinely stayed on top of deep routes and battled bigger receivers. More surprising was Darby’s technical proficiency in his rookie season. He played with good discipline, pad level and was rarely out of position. Darby also demonstrated the short memory vital to a defensive back’s success and quieted skeptics regarding his toughness by being a willing and effective open-field tackler totaling 68 tackles (61 solo). There was substantially more “good” than “bad” whether the young defensive back played inside or outside the numbers. Darby finished the 2015 season ranked 5th in passes defended (21) and accounted for two interceptions. Perhaps the only knock on Darby in year 1 and the reason why he “actually” went in the second round is because he doesn’t possess upper echelon ball-skills.
19. Cleveland Browns – Eddie Goldman – The “BIG” defensive tackle outplayed fellow nose guard Danny Shelton for the balance of the 2015 season amassing 22 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 12 starts. The sack total is “eye-popping” for a rookie playing the nose in an odd man front and even more surprising considering that I thought Goldman was more of a 2-down run stuffer, albeit a very good 2-down player. The Browns ranked 30th against the run in 2015; and while it would have taken a lot more than Eddie Goldman to be a “good” run defense considering the team that drafted him didn’t fair much better (the Bears ranked 23rd), Goldman’s conditioning was clearly better than Shelton’s allowing him to play more snaps and make more plays. It’s too soon to say that Shelton is a bust but it would have been nice for the Cleveland faithful to get a little more immediate return from any of their first round picks. Doesn’t matter where it comes from, any pass rush is welcomed. Goldman was the NFL’s sack leader among nose guards in 2015.
20. Philadelphia Eagles – Damarious Randall – The Arizona State safety turned NFL cornerback (it’s usually the other way around) was thrust into action for the Green Bay Packers due to injuries and held his own. However, in this re-draft the talented cover man won’t be on the board when the Packers are on the clock. The Philadelphia Eagles have thrown a ton of money and draft selections at their secondary over the past two seasons (Malcolm Jenkins, Walter Thurmmond III, Byron Maxwell, three 2015 draft selections) but it hasn’t translated into success finishing 31st and 28th against the pass in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It’s worse than you think, the Eagles allowed 30 passing TDs in 2014 and 36 in 2015 with Maxwell’s $25 million in guaranteed money on the books to boot. The Eagles paid Maxwell like a top tier cornerback but he was almost as bad as Brandon Browner, completely over-matched in man-to-man coverage. Randall on the other hand excels in man-to-man coverage, is younger, and doesn’t come with a $63 million price tag. In nine starts Randall amassed 56 tackles, 3 interceptions and 14 passes defended. Considering the egg WR Nelson Agholor laid in his rookie campaign and Maxwell’s abysmal performance the Eagles would have been better served paying Jeremy Maclin and drafting Randall at #20 last offseason. Chip Kelley running off Brandon Boykin didn’t exactly help matters either.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Denzel Perryman – The NFL is a business. That’s the only explanation as to why Denzel Perryman wasn’t inserted into the Chargers starting lineup until Week 11. Donald Butler is a solid player but frankly his price tag had to be the justification for playing him ahead of Perryman particularly on a team that finished 4-12. Perryman was the top inside line baker in this draft class in my opinion and graded out as the best 3-4 ILB in the NFL against the run and 2nd overall once he became a fixture in the starting lineup. The Bengals could have used Perryman’s on-field and locker room presence to solidify the second level of their defense and add some dependable character to an already talented roster. Considering the fact that Vontaze Burfict is a head case and has struggled to stay on the field and Rey Maualuga is overrated Perryman could have been the difference in what resulted in another one-and-done playoff appearance. Perryman actually projects as a better fit in Cincinnati’s 4-3 defense rather than the Chargers 3-4 base. But, when it comes to players with the instincts, toughness, football IQ and striking ability that Denzel possess, the scheme is typically secondary to success. Perryman finished his rookie season with 73 tackles, 2.0 sacks and one forced fumble.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Bud Dupree – The Steelers may be onto something with Bud Dupree. Inconsistency at the collegiate level wasn’t enough to ignore Dupree’s rare athleticism for a man his size (6’4, 269) so Pittsburgh rolled the dice on him in the first round and so will I. As with all rookies a learning curve was expected and I expected a particularly steep learning curve for Dupree. He was clearly lost in training camp and during the preseason. But, he flashed in the season opener against New England (2 tackles, 1.0 sack) and flashed on and off throughout the season in limited snaps finishing with 26 tackles and 4.0 sacks. The Steelers fielded a very young defense (the exception being James Harrison) and a suspect secondary but they improved incrementally over the course of the season. Patience is key in terms of Dupree’s development and ultimately how good the Steelers defense will be. The Steelers have to be encouraged regarding Dupree’s performance considering that their 2013 first round selection Jarvis Jones only has 5.0 sacks over the course of three seasons.
23. Denver Broncos – D.J. Humphries – Humphries didn’t have the trust of Arizona head coach Bruce Arians who prefers to play his veterans but he could have made an impact in Denver. Ultimately, Denver won a championship, but the athleticism and pass blocking potential of Humphries would have served an ailing Peyton Manning well. After losing three starters along the offensive line during the offseason it without question impacted the high-powered offensive juggernaut we had all come to expect. Denver allowed 39 sacks in 2015 compared to just 17 in 2014. The offense lost potency in large part due to Manning’s failing body and below average offensive line play. The Broncos only averaged 22.2 points per game in 2015 compared to a robust 30.1 in 2014. The Broncos have the hardware but Humphries would have helped keep Manning in one piece.
24. Arizona Cardinals – David Johnson – Still no Melvin Gordon!? David Johnson was a revelation and the Cardinals got him in the third round. However, in this re-draft the secret is out and the 31st ranked Arizona Cardinals rushing attack (2014) needed a shot in the arm (no pun intended – Chris Johnson). It was the veteran CJ2K who led the way until he got injured and Andre Ellington was on the mend. David Johnson was making plays despite not being the featured back for most of the season. Whether it was returning kickoffs or spelling Chris Johnson on passing downs David Johnson was making big plays and finding the end-zone. The Northern Iowa product accounted for 1,637 total yards and 13 touchdowns during the regular season and the Cardinals finished 8th in rushing. Arizona averaged almost a full yard more per carry in 2015 versus 2014.