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Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; When I was with the Jets, our owner Leon Hess had a saying that he picked up from the first coach he ever hired, the legendary Weeb Ewbank. "The more you can do ..." It was a mantra he always ...

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Old 03-25-2008, 07:04 PM   #1
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Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

When I was with the Jets, our owner Leon Hess had a saying that he picked up from the first coach he ever hired, the legendary Weeb Ewbank. "The more you can do ..." It was a mantra he always preached to his players, coaches, and the team staff, right down to the secretaries. It materialized in my own career in the early 1990's when I was actively participating in Pete Carroll's defensive game plans while maintaining my responsibilities in the personnel department as assistant general manager to Dick Steinberg.

For the players in today's NFL, Weeb's mantra is as true as ever. Despite the trend toward teams using the spread offense more, defensive coaches want to maintain an advantage by staying in their base schemes. That means they need linebackers who can drop into coverage and make plays on the ball, stay with the tight end, shed and tackle against the run, AND get to the quarterback. Defensive linemen with the speed to rush off the edge and size to move inside on passing downs are at a premium. Safeties who can cover and corners who can support the run are always valuable.
While we've already explored the lack of talent at safety in the draft and how the remaining crop of free agents will not fill team needs in the secondary, the answer may lie in this year's group of cornerbacks.

Generally speaking, you will find more corners who can make the move to safety than vice versa. The ability to play on an island in man coverage out on the edge is a tough skill to pick up at the NFL level, especially if you haven't done it before. We more commonly see veteran corners who have lost a step move to safety. They are usually bigger players who can tackle, understand run support and still have the ability to play in deep zone coverage.

This year, the cornerback class has as many as five players who are considered first round talents. Ten or more could come off the board in the first two rounds of the draft. This group features several players who could make the move to safety and give a team some real range and athletic ability in the defensive backfield.

Charles Godfrey is an interesting prospect out of Iowa. Even though he's not shooting up draft boards because of all the elite corners, his versatility has teams on notice. Godfrey is physical with 193 tackles in college and a converted safety to corner. He's a hybrid candidate and teams need those type players to deal with matchup issues offenses create. He appears to lack ideal deep speed to cover faster receivers on deep routes, but turned in a 4.4 forty at the combine. With some added bulk, he could have the skills to make the switch.

Another player to watch is Oklahoma's Reggie Smith is one of the most versatile and coachable players in this draft, according to several sources. At 6-foot-1, 200-pounds he has ideal size to make the switch, and he played strong safety in college for two seasons. He's not afraid to mix it up, but he can also cover. In his only season as a full-time corner, he allowed just 35 percent of the passes thrown his way to be completed in 2007. On top of that, he didn't allow a single touchdown. A player with Smith's size and experience, who can also cover and support the run is an ideal candidate to make the transition to safety.

Although Alabama's Simeon Castille is about the same size as Smith and can hit, some question his strength. He played free safety for the Crimson Tide and is comfortable going down in the box, either in run support or coverage on shorter routes, with the ability to re-route tight ends and backs. His lack of deep speed would make him a bit of a liability out on the corner in the NFL but he could handle shadowing tight ends in space as well as slot receivers and running backs.

Other players like LSU's Chevis Jackson might also be good candidates for a switch to safety early on Day 2 of the draft, though Jackson would have to bulk up a bit to truly fit the bill.

The Tweeners

As I mentioned earlier, defensive backs aren't the only guys who need to be multi-faceted. There are plenty of defensive end/outside linebacker tweeners who are going to have to find a spot on a pro roster.
Teams have talked about moving Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston to linebacker, but despite outstanding athletic ability and great workout numbers, that switch would be a bit of a project. He's not a true "tweener". He's a pass rusher who has enough natural ability to make a move to linebacker feasible.

However, Auburn's Quentin Groves (6-foot-3, 259-pounds) recognized early on that he would fall into the tweener category. Even with great success as a down pass rusher at the college level, he moved to outside linebacker after suffering a foot injury during his senior campaign and tried to learn the position on the fly. The stats were not necessarily there, and as a result his draft stock has fallen in the eyes of some.

I spent time with Groves at the combine and it was clear to me he has the quickness and explosiveness to be an ideal outside linebacker/pass rusher in a 3-4 scheme. He may be the best pure pass rusher in the draft who can fit into a package like the Patriots utilize. Most scouts feel he can excel as a stand up player and is similar in style and ability to DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman.

Purdue's Cliff Avril is another player climbing draft boards in recent weeks and is the Shaun Phillips to Groves' Merriman. An ideal fit as a strong-side linebacker, he has the ability to play in coverage on short routes against tight ends and running backs. He can also explode off the edge as a stand up pass rusher, close on plays in front of him, and has enough speed to string out lateral runs to the sideline. Any team that picks Avril will have to show some patience, but he will be a solid second-round pick. Boilermaker fans who watched him play think of former alum Anthony Spencer.

UCLA defensive end Bruce Davis is the son of the former Raiders offensive tackle with the same name who earned two Super Bowl rings in the 1980's. While he's a high-motor player with a knack for getting to the quarterback, he's undersized to play end in the NFL at 252 pounds. Still, Davis has the build and competitiveness to succeed as a strong-side linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He really could excel inside if he has a big body in front of him to have one-on-one battles with the ball carrier.

Davis is likely an early Day 2 selection, and it looks as though Kentucky's Wesley Woodyard will be right there with him. The SEC's leading tackler over the past two years, Woodyard had the second fastest 40 time (4.51 seconds) amongst the linebackers at the combine, plays with great intensity and has a nose for the ball. He had a great performance at the Senior Bowl, but his lack of size (227-pounds) is a big concern for many teams. Still, with good speed, Woodyard could possibly make the transition to strong safety and be a player who excels inside the tackle box and do enough in coverage, if coached, to find a spot at the next level. At the very least, he could develop into a player you might not have to sub out against three wide receiver packages.

All of these players are athletic, hard working prospects who would be willing to do whatever it takes to get their shot in the NFL. Keep in mind, "The more you can do ..."

Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

Now this is just a few players that can be looked at as tweeners. keep these names in mind and look at a few others I am trying to post in draft review, in the blog section, so we may get an idea of what the heck the saints are thinking about with their picks.

"We may have lost the game, but you'll be hurting tomorrow." Doug Atkins
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Old 03-25-2008, 07:10 PM   #2
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

I rate Groves as top 10 material and I'm also fond of Avril. Either player should be able to strengthen our ability to put pressure on the quarterback. I'd love for us to draft a "tweener" this year... versatility is definitely a plus in my book.
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Old 03-25-2008, 07:45 PM   #3
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

So true Paz. I think a OLB that can play MLB, CB to S, DT to DE, or what ever. A player goes down and you got a player that can step in and play.
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Old 03-26-2008, 06:32 AM   #4
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

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Old 03-26-2008, 08:30 AM   #5
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

Im not a huge Rivers fan, but the fact that he can play all LB positions has me hoping we take him at 10.
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Old 03-26-2008, 08:50 AM   #6
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

Woodyard is my guy. They keep saying he's too under sized (I've heard that before), but he's 3 whole pounds lighter than Vilma. I think he's going to be a great NFL linebacker if for no other reason than he lets D's stay in a base package against 3-wide sets and could match up well against some of the "new-style" TEs like Dallas Clark and Cooley who can line up in the slot.

Groves is a BAMF, too. He could be there in the second, but I worry that he's got a lot to learn to be an OLB in a 4-3. I think the author was right, he's a prototype 3-4 OLB.

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Old 03-26-2008, 09:03 AM   #7
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

Round 7 pick should be Kenny Moore from Wake Forest. Broke Torry Holt's record for most catches in a season. Ran a 4.55 in the combine, and his best assets are his hands and his route running abilities. The guy would make a perfect slot receiver for us, and he's also had huge success at running the ball (he played RB when Wake went to the Orange Bowl two years ago). He's probably the most versatile player in the ACC, having also returned a couple of punts for touchdowns last season.
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Old 03-26-2008, 09:48 AM   #8
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Re: Versatility is a big bonus for prospects

Do any of these guys who can play CB/S measure up to Eric Weddle from last year? He developed into an impact player for the Chargers D, which was certainly one of the best last season.
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