Greg Cosell: 2013 Draft Q&A – Part 2

From the Desk of Greg Cosell, Greg Cosell

Last week, TCIPF shared the first half of our recent Draft conversation with Greg Cosell.  For more of Greg’s thoughts on the 2013 NFL Draft, here’s Part 2 of our Q&A!

Over the past few years, there have been a lot of receivers drafted early within the first round.  However, not all of them have had an immediate impact on their team’s offense.  How does the growing sophistication and specialization of the WR position in the NFL influence college WR’s draft prospects?

I think so much now with WRs entering the NFL becomes a function of the offense the NFL team runs.  Because many teams in college run spreads, those receivers don’t run a lot of routes—they’re open an awful lot just by nature of the offense and the kind of throws that are made in those spread offenses.  I immediately think of Justin Blackmon when he went to the Jacksonville Jaguars—he played in a spread at Oklahoma State.  I watched a ton of Oklahoma State film and there were so many throws where he literally ran a straight line and he was wide open and they just threw him the ball.  It wasn’t even really a route.  Then he gets to Jacksonville where they run a fairly conventional offense and he’s got to learn a lot of things—he’s got to learn how to get off press, he’s got to learn how to read the coverage on the move—something that a lot of these spread college receivers have no idea how to do because they don’t read coverage on the move.  This makes the learning curve a bit steeper. 

If you end up going to an NFL team that uses more spread principles and you’re utilized that way, I think the transition is a little easier.  It really all depends on where you went to college (what kind of offense you played in) and where you transitioned in the NFL:  which team and what kind of offense they run.  If you’re going to be in the NFL as a more traditional X receiver (weak side wide receiver) or a Z receiver (strong side receiver) and you’re going to run the NFL route tree but you haven’t done a lot of that, there’s a learning curve.  It takes time because you’re not running against air—there’re actually defenders on the field.  You have to learn how to read them as well and then run the routes with the proper timing.  The way it works with a NFL passing game is that route depths are tied in and synced up with the depth of the QBs drop so there’re 3-step routes, 5-step routes, 7-step routes…these all have depths that are tied in to the 3-step drop of the QB, the 5-step drop of the QB, and the 7-step drop of the QB.  If you’re not where you’re supposed to be, the QB is not going to throw you the ball.  These are things that receivers have to learn and this takes time.

Between the two top-rated guards, Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper from North Carolina, which would be a better fit into a zone-running scheme?  Why?

I personally really like Jonathan Cooper and think that, since I’ve been watching college tape (7-8 years), he is the most purely athletic offensive guard I’ve seen.  Since zone-running schemes really require offensive linemen to be as close to dancing bears as they can possibly be, I think Jonathan Cooper would fit better.  Zone-running schemes require tremendous synchronization.  All five offensive linemen need to have the same footwork.  They have to look like, as we say, elephants on parade (all the same).  I think Cooper is more purely athletic than Warmack and he’s one of those special guys with his feet—he’s very nimble and that’s normally not a word you use to describe a 305 or 310 lb. man.

Cornerback is arguably the deepest position within this draft.  Which cornerback has impressed you the most and why?

That’s easy for me—the cornerback that has impressed me the most might surprise a lot of people: D.J. Hayden (University of Houston).  There’s a medical concern with him because he had a life-threatening injury that is not normally associated with a football injury.  I believe he’s been medically cleared, but when you have that kind of injury, there’s definitely a concern.  However, I think D.J. Hayden has the most complete skill set of any CB in this draft, including Dee Milliner and Xavier Rhodes.

I don’t believe Hayden will be the first CB taken, but I don’t know where he’d stand if there was no medical concern.  I believe, with his combination of movement, aggressiveness, competitiveness, playing personality, and the fact that he’s a very physical and willing run-support defender, that D.J. Hayden is the most multi-dimensional corner in this draft.

In your opinion, who is the most complete (in terms of run-blocking and pass-catching abilities) tight end in the draft? 

The best tight end in this draft is Tyler Eifert from Notre Dame and I think this speaks to the evolving nature of the TE position.  TE is becoming a far more important position than it’s ever been because of the growth of the passing games.

One of the things we’ve seen in recent years, which is really difficult for defenses, is the growth of what we call “12” personnel: 1 back, 2 TEs, and 2 WRs.  Because you have 2 TEs on the field, normally the defense stays with their base personnel; however, if you have 1 or 2 really good receiving tight ends, like the New England Patriots, it’s very difficult to match up.  You have to make a decision on defense: Do I play with my base personnel and risk getting stuck with some matchups I don’t particularly like in the pass game?  Or do I play with my nickel personnel, take out a linebacker to put in another DB, and risk getting stuck with some undesirable matchups in the run-defense?

I think Tyler Eifert can be a TE you can align outside as a WR because he did that at Notre Dame.  There were numerous times I saw him beat corners on the outside, which is very good for a TE.  While he’s not a great blocker, he’s a good enough blocker to line up on the line of scrimmage.   I think Tyler Eifert is the best TE in this draft and I don’t see why a TE like that shouldn’t be drafted within the top twelve or top fifteen, given the way the NFL game is moving.

What is your take on the recent conversation regarding the devaluation of the running back position in the draft?

Now you’re getting into one of my favorite subjects: value leading up to the draft.  Everybody talks about it.  However, it’s really an abstract concept because we’ve come to accept that there are certain positions that are now not viewed as premium positions.  Therefore, you don’t have to draft that position until later in the draft.

It’s a great conversation, even an academic and intellectual discussion.  Coaches never think that way because they simply want players that can play.  For example, let’s talk running backs: this year there’re Eddie Lacy (Alabama) and Montee Ball (Wisconsin).  I think Eddie Lacy is probably the best back in this draft as far as being a foundation, or feature, back.  However, you’ll hear people saying, “Why draft Lacy in the 1st round when you can draft Jonathan Franklin (UCLA), in the 3rd or 4th round?”  That’s valid except when it’s week six and a coach is in a game; they’re up by two points with six minutes to go and they need to run the ball—now you need a back who can run a ball.  Consequently, that philosophical debate about value doesn’t mean anything to coaches.  If they don’t have a back that can run the ball and they lose a game because of this, that’s a problem.  Value is a great discussion now: it’s a lot of fun, it’s all over Twitter, and people talk about it all the time—for coaches, it has absolutely no meaning whatsoever.

What has stood out to you in watching Geno Smith on tape?

Geno Smith is an intriguing player to watch on tape because he clearly has a NFL arm.   He clearly has very good feet and, on the surface, he has what you look for in an NFL QB and what you believe could be an elite NFL QB.

All of the traits are there—he’s a very smooth looking thrower…until you dig a lot deeper!  His footwork is very poor.  Because it’s not very good, although his arm strength is a positive, there’re times when some of his deeper throws lose a little velocity on the back end; they hang a bit because his feet are not solidly under him and he’s not throwing with great balance.  There are also times when he’s struggled with erratic and inconsistent accuracy.  You can do everything right as a QB but, if you can’t throw the ball where you want to, you’ve got nothing.

The other thing that stood out on film is that there’s a lack of anticipation—he waited on throws.  You can complete those throws in college but those throws do not get completed in the NFL.  There’s a term that I use in regard to Geno Smith and it relates to the lack of anticipation: “slow eyes.”  I think he takes just a beat too long to deliver throws that are there and open.  While there’s much to like about his physical attributes, there’re other things that need to be cleaned up and improved upon.  This is ultimately why I don’t see him as a top five or top ten pick in this year’s draft.

Manti Te’o will be a much-mentioned name on Draft weekend for many reasons.  What did you see of him on tape?  What other linebackers will his career ultimately resemble?

I think Manti Te’o will be a solid NFL player and we’ll stop there.  I think he’s ultimately an inside stacked linebacker who will play in base-personnel packages, not in the sub-packages (nickel or dime).  I think he’s best in a confined area.

If you look back over recent years, there have been a number of linebackers that have been better prospects coming out of college than Manti Te’o.  That’s the only way you can do it because once guys get to the NFL, many things happen so it’s hard at that point to compare.  Looking back, you’ve got James Laurinaitis (Ohio State) who’s been with the Rams for four years; Paul Posluszny (Penn State), a second round pick; Jon Beason (U Miami)…all better prospects coming out than Manti Te’o.  This says nothing of Luke Kuechly and Patrick Willis—Manti Te’o is not even in their class.  I think he’ll end up having a very nice NFL career and he’ll be a solid, good player.  However, I do not think he’ll ever be spoken about as an impact defender.

Make sure to visit the NFL Films Facebook and Twitter pages for the next opportunity to submit questions for Greg. 

Interested in more of what Greg has to say?  Follow him @GregCosell

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