SI.com At The Draft (cont.)
Foxboro, Mass., 7:58 p.m.
Bill Belichick said earlier today that the Patriots would take the best player on the board, rather than draft for need.
But his first pick (No. 34 overall), Patrick Chung, a 212-pound safety out of Oregon, is definitely a needs pick: the Patriots were desperate for help in the secondary last season, as evidenced by their dreadful 89.8 defensive passer rating and by the fact that they surrendered 27 TD passes last year, more than any team but Arizona. Even lowly Detroit, the worst pass defense in NFL history as measured by defensive passer rating (110.8), held opponents to 25 touchowns through the air. As recently as 2006, Belichick's defense surrendered a miserly 10 TD tosses.
On a team that could easily score 500 points on offense next season, it's only natural that they attack the secondary here in the draft.
East Rutherford, N.J., 7:52 p.m.
Newsflash: The Giants decided to use their first-round pick and, according to GM Jerry Reese, they didn't come close to trading down or up. "We didn't want to compromise the strength of our team by reaching too early in the first round," said Reese. "We knew we'd get a good player at 29." The player they got, UNC's Hakeem Nicks, was one of four players the Giants were considering at the time, according to Reese. And was USC's Rey Maualuga one of those four? "Could have been," Reese said with a smile.
Nicks caught 68 passes for 1,222 yards in 2008 and averaged a whopping 18.0 yards per catch. He had ankle injuries as a freshman and as a sophomore and injured his hamstring at the NFL combine in February. Reese said the weight gain that resulted from that hamstring injury didn't bother the team at all. "He kind of reminds you of an Anquan Boldin body type," said Reese, who had the chance to see Nicks play in person in '08. "Very long arms, big hands, can absorb contact. A lot of things I like about this guy."
While it was a fairly predictable pick, since the Giants released Plaxico Burress and did not re-sign Amani Toomer, the real news outside the Giants war room is the team elected not to trade for a more experienced receiver like Cleveland's Braylon Edwards.
The Giants, who had the 19th best passing attack in the NFL in '08, took Mario Manningham in the second round last year, but the 5-11 receiver from Michigan caught only four passes for 26 yards in seven games. Domenik Hixon (4th season), Steve Smith (3rd season) and Sinorice Moss (4th season) are still around for now and will be asked to make bigger contributions in '09 (the trio combined for 1,323 yards and 112 receptions). Said Reese of Nicks, "We'll throw him in the mix with the rest of the receivers that we have and we'll see how quickly he can come along."
Seattle, 7:37 p.m.
Clay Matthews III might come from a football family with his father, Clay Matthews Jr., and uncle, Bruce Matthews, both playing in the NFL for 19 years, but the thought of him following their footsteps into the NFL seemed like a pipedream five years ago when he came to USC.
Matthews was an unheralded, walk-on that seemingly was on the team because of his last name. He didn't get him much more than garbage time and special teams duty his first couple of seasons. But after two years of toiling in obscurity, he not only earned a scholarship and some playing time but quickly developed into arguably the best linebacker on a team that had three projected first-rounders at that position.
I caught up with Washington defensive coordinator Nick Holt yesterday and he said he believed Matthews was perhaps the most prepared linebacker to make the transition to the NFL. It was Holt, who as USC's defensive coordinator last year put Matthews in a hybrid "Elephant" position, where he would stand in the position of defensive end, instead of getting in a three-point stance, and rush the quarterback. Matthews thrived at the position and quickly moved up everyone's draft board in the process.
"He's come miles since I first saw him," said Holt. "He was undersized and wasn't mature. He was just a late bloomer. He walked on and paid his dues. It's funny that he might be the best linebacker of the bunch now."
Ann Arbor, Mich., 7:25 p.m.
Over the past two months, I've been hearing Todd McShay in my sleep. He's appeared on every ESPN outlet short of ESPN Sri Lanka and the folks in Bristol have hawked his on-air battles with Mel Kiper with the same ferocity Don King promoted the "Thrilla In Manila." Is McShay, ESPN Scouts Inc. director of college scouting since 2006, being groomed to succeed Kiper? The answer is clearly yes. "If he wants to stay here, yeah, I think he can be here for awhile," says Jay Rothman, ESPN's senior coordinating producer. "If he wanted to run a personal department, he could also do it."
A couple of highlights today from McShay:
On Darrius Heyward-Bey: "This has bust written all over it. He does not catch the football consistently. If you're going to draft in the top 10, you better draft a guy that can do it all. Michael Crabtree can do it all. Being obsessed with the 40 times is one of the reasons that Al Davis and the Raiders continue to pick at this spot."
On Percy Harvin: "The biggest boom or bust prospect in the '09 draft but I think the risk was worth it for the Vikings."
On Josh Freeman (earlier in the week): "He is very much unpolished and I question his instincts and recognition skills...He is going to need a lot of work, I would not draft that player between 10 and 17."
ESPN made a late decision to add McShay to the set at Radio City (as opposed to a studio in Bristol). If nothing else, it gives McShay, 32, some experience in front of a live crowd. To get a pulse of how NFL Fans think McShay is doing, click here. That's Twitter Nation's take.
At a Skyline Chili in Lebanon, Ohio, 7:14 p.m.
I'm making a guest appearance at a pit stop during a mad dash between the Ohio State and Cincinnati spring games. Thank goodness SI's corporate rate includes the loss damage waiver, because I nearly ran my rent-a-wreck off Interstate 71 and into a tree when I heard the Raiders drafted Maryland's Darrius Heyward-Bey at No. 7.
If you read my underrated/overrated column, which judged players not on 40 times but on actual on-field production -- you'd know that Heyward-Bey had vastly inferior stats compared to North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, who was just selected at No. 29 by the New York Giants. In many cases, it's tough to compare two players at the same position because they played in different conferences. A receiver from Toledo faced vastly different competition than a receiver from USC. In this case, however, all the variables were controlled. Heyward-Bey and Nicks played in the same conference -- a conference that happened to be the most equal from top to bottom in any of the BCS leagues.
Here are the 2008 numbers:
Heyward-Bey: 42 catches, 609 yards, five TDs, 14.5-yard average
Nicks: 68 catches, 1,222 yards, 12 TDs, 16.9-yard average
It's not really rocket science. If Heyward-Bey can't light up N.C. State, he's not going to light up the Chargers.
Foxboro, Mass., 7:10 p.m.
Apparently, Bill Belichik wasn't lying earlier today when he said there's "less than zero" chance the Patriots would trade up -- conflicting one of the more prevalent pre-draft rumors in New England.
They've now traded down twice. Here are the details of the two trades.
New England traded the No. 23 overall pick for Baltimore's No. 26 and No. 162.
New England then traded the No. 26 for Green Bay's No. 41, No. 73, and No. 83.
The Patriots have traded out of the first round completely, but now have four second-round picks today and four third-round picks tomorrow ... but stay tuned.
New York City, 7:03 p.m.
Before RB Donald Brown was selected No. 27 overall by the Colts, the University of Connecticut football program had never had a player taken on the first day of the draft, let alone in the first round. That is understandable for a program that wasn't even Division I-A until this decade and has slowly but surely become a force in the Big East under coach Randy Edsall, a former Tom Coughlin assistant who has spent time in the NFL as an assistant. The Huskies figured to have four players taken today including Brown, offensive tackle William Beatty, cornerback Darius Butler, and hybrid defensive end Cody Brown.
Not bad for a program that never ranks among the top 25 schools in the country for recruiting according to all of the so-called experts. So if they aren't getting the top prospects yet they have four players good enough to go on the first day of the NFL draft, the question becomes are they just better at indentifying players in high school or more accomplished at developing them once they get on campus? The answer is likely both, considering Beatty's only other option was Division II Shippensburg in Pennsylvania and Butler was a man without a position until he settled in as a defensive back under Edsall's tutelage.
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