NFL’s Future welcomes back contributor Jeff Risdon to our stage. Jeff is a busy man as he’s heading up detroitlionsdraft.com and plugging away at RealGM.com. It’s always a nice breathe of fresh air to check out Jeff’s insight on all things draft related.
Ask any NFL General Manager about his draft strategy and you are likely to hear several code words. You’ll hear things like “top rated
talent”, “best fit for what we need”, “best value at the slot”, and sometimes even (especially if you asked the late Al Davis) “highest athletic potential”. Most teams throw all those factors into a pot and filter out players with character concerns or injury issues, and they try to make the best soup possible with their seven rounds of picks.
One factor you will never head a GM speak of is “we are thinking of the fans” with their picks. Sure, some will throw an occasional bone to their fans by using a late-round pick on a local collegian or perhaps a prominent name that has unexpectedly fallen to them. Seldom does that strategy work, however, and most GMs pay little attention to what the fans might think. Ones that do consider the sports radio callers and Twitter trolls don’t keep their jobs very long or produce successful teams. But in the 2013 draft, there are a couple of teams that just might have to bow to public pressure and make picks they don’t necessarily want to in order to salvage any fan base left.
First and foremost are the Arizona Cardinals. Their rotating quarterback carousel of flaming ineptitude has spun since Kurt Warner hung up his cleats, and it simply must stop. Previous attempts at drafting (Max Hall, John Skelton, Matt Leinart, Ryan Lindley) have produced nothing but league-wide guffaws, and importing veterans (Kevin Kolb, Derek Anderson) has cost even more with the same result: terribly unacceptable quarterback play. One of the greatest receiving talents of the last several generations, Larry Fitzgerald, is wasting away at the end of his athletic prime. Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd are good complementary weapons, and Rob Housler has some juice as a flexed tight end. Yes, the offensive line is a mess, but rapidly improving rookie Bobby Massie is a keeper at right tackle and the interior guys (when healthy) aren’t bad, plus there is very good depth in this draft to tap later. The defense is inconsistent but loaded with talent at all three levels. This is a team that can win right away with a better quarterback.
Cardinals fans know this. They are so incredibly frustrated and angry that GM Rod Graves and Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt have failed so miserably in solving the quarterback woes. Should both survive–and they might not if 4-0 turns to 4-12–they will have to draft a quarterback with their first pick. If they don’t, the dwindling crop of remaining fans will do far worse than putting “For Sale” signs in their yards. A quarterback might not top their board or be the best player available when the Cardinals pick, but if the team decision makers don’t pull the trigger on Geno Smith or Tyler Wilson or (God forbid!) Mike Glennon with that top 10 pick, they’ll need disguises even in their own homes.
The same is true in Dallas, but the need in Big D is not quarterback but offensive line. Tony Romo has proven beyond a reasonable doubt he is not the problem. The skill position players are good enough to win, and the defense has improved thanks to some solid recent draft picks and choice free agent selections. But the offensive line woes, particularly between the tackles, are really holding the Cowboys back. Tyron Smith is a Pro Bowler on the right side, but he’s playing left tackle at a barely passable level. Doug Free might be a capable swing tackle. They are starting discards from other bad lines at both guards and the center spot; only Mackenzy Bernardeau should be on an active roster.
Go to a Cowboys message board or listen to a Dallas caller to any football radio show, and the screaming twang is demanding O-line help. Jerry Jones, who has perhaps the most sensitive rabbit ears of any owner in any pro sport, certainly hears the plaintive wailing of Dallas sports talk radio excoriating the Cowboys line. And the fans are right on this one; Dallas must prominently address the interior line early in the draft. I doubt elite guard prospect Chance Warmack falls to them in the first round, but they are certainly in the range to pick from a deep tackle class. Taylor Lewan, Eric Fisher, or Jake Matthews (if he declares) could all be options in the first. Fans of America’s Team will fly their star flags upside down if Owner/GM/PR Director/Wanna-Be-Coach Jones opts for a different direction, with the possible exception of defensive line. If Jerry ignores the offensive line with their first two picks, he might want to invest in even more bad plastic surgery to walk the streets of Dallas.
Two other situations where the fans really do know best: the Lions must address safety early (though not in the 1st) and the Chiefs had better have a new quarterback by the time Friday night ends on draft weekend.