When I made a commitment to get in real good shape (for me), one of the most invaluable tools was a book my mother-in-law gave me called “Eat This, Not That!” It was chock full of useful tips and substitutions that made me really think about the value of the calories and nutrients in foods. Valuing the difference between Breyer’s and Haagen-Dazs when I want ice cream, or V-8 Fusion vs. V-8 Splash when I want to get my veggie drink on has been invaluable.
These principles of making smart choices amongst the same basic foods have NFL draft applications as well. Sometimes the high-calorie first round picks pack too much extra risk and fillers when compared with later-round prospects that offer very similar satisfaction and potential NFL production without the risk or guilt.
Looking for a 3-technique defensive tackle that has enough quickness to also play on the edge, or as a 5-technique when morphing to an odd front? Instead of drafting Fletcher Cox in the top 10, draft Jaye Howard in the 4th round.
Look at the tale of the tape on these two SEC defensive tackles:
Cox–6’4”, 298 pounds, 4.79 40 time, 10 3/8” broad jump, 4.53 short shuttle, 85 tackles with 21 TFL and 7.5 sacks the last two seasons.
Howard–6’3”, 301 pounds, 4.75 40 time, 9 7/8” broad jump, 4.47 short shuttle, 94 tackles with 20 TFL and 8 sacks the last two seasons.
Remarkably similar physical metrics, remarkably similar results in the same conference. I’m not here to argue that Jaye Howard is as good as Fletcher Cox; game tape reveals Cox to be a more dynamic presence with better on-field explosion and a more consistent motor. But if a coach can keep Howard’s motor revved and he transforms about 5 pounds of fat on his belly into muscle in his shoulders, he’s a very reasonable facsimile. You’re going to pay a huge premium to get Cox, who definitely has better upside but thus far has not produced any better than Howard, who will go three rounds later. For a team like Carolina or Seattle, it’s a value that makes real sense.
Hungry for a big wide receiver with great strength and the ability to seize the ball out of the air with sticky hands? Instead of taking a chance on Alshon Jeffery in the early second round, draft Juron Criner in the middle rounds.
Jeffery could have been a top 10 overall pick if he stayed in shape and didn’t have to deal with a chaotic QB situation at South Carolina. Alas, his 2011 was a huge downer. Still, his almost 6’3”, 220ish pound frame, hands over 10”, and proven ability to win jump balls over all sorts of corners is going to get Jeffery taken in the first half of the second round, if not the bottom of the first. Yet there is significant risk involved.
Instead of biting into that risky biscuit, take Criner later. The Arizona product is also coming off a disappointing 2011 thanks to a simplified quick-hit offense that didn’t allow Criner to do much other than catch quick hits and comebacks, plus an appendectomy and some other health issues which have dogged him. But Criner is bigger with longer hands and a little cleaner off the line than Jeffery. Because of the mitigating circumstances, Criner is probably going to be on the board in the late 4th round. For a team like San Francisco or the Rams, why take a risk on Jeffery in the 30s when you can get the very similar Criner in the 130s?
Got a taste for an offensive tackle that can capably play on the left side but is better geared as an attitudinal run-heavy right tackle? You could spend a mid-first round pick on Iowa’s Riley Reiff and (almost) nobody would criticize you. But you could wait one round and take Cal’s Mitchell Schwartz in the 2nd. Reiff is a little better finding targets in space and at driving his legs while engaged, but Schwartz brings the pedigree of having a brother that is a successful NFL lineman. The difference in both upside and NFL readiness is far less than the gap between when they will be picked. If you’re Buffalo or Arizona and need a plug-and-play starter at tackle, why take Reiff on Thursday when you can come back on Friday night and get essentially the same level of contribution? That’s the way to attack the draft buffet.
Some other excellent substitutions for draft weekend:
Instead of Dontari Poe in the 1st, try Mike Martin in the 3rd. Both are physically outstanding athletes that fit best as one-gap defensive tackles, albeit very different stylistically.
Instead of Chandler Jones in the 1st (?!), take Jacquies Smith in the 6th round. Both are underdeveloped length/speed pass rushing prospects with just enough tantalizing game tape to excite evaluators. Or you could just set a bag of money on fire instead of taking Jones in the first round and expect about the same 3-year return on investment…
Instead of Harrison Smith in the late 1st/early 2nd, try Tony Dye in the 5th/6th round. Smith is a little bigger and comes with a clean bill of health, but both are safeties that love to hit with great closing burst, but struggle when asked to drop into deeper coverage or stay tight with receivers inside.
Instead of watching the festivities on Thursday and Friday on the couch in your parent’s basement or man cave, go out and find a watch party at a local bar. Even better, find a team-sponsored draft party if you live near a NFL city, even if it’s not your team. The draft is best watched in a group setting.
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