The easiest position to take in the NFL is that of Monday morning quarterback.
The days following the NFL draft are a prime example. National and local media berate teams for players they should have drafted instead of those they did. Often, the criticism is because there is more of a familiarity to what the "experts" say. Rarely do any of the talking heads truly put in the time to know the prospects. Instead, sensationalism often occurs to spur ratings or readership.
It's much harder to try and understand exactly why a team does what it does.
With that thought in mind, the Cleveland Browns' draft in 2011 has been met with feelings of excitement to disappointment. The emotional spectrum is never fully met with the ability to reason. Far too often personal attachments get in the way. Let's take the time to try and understand why two particular prospects were selected by the Browns when they were and why they were.
The selection of Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor at No. 21 came after a blockbuster deal occurred between the Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland swapped first round choices. Cleveland dropped 21 slots, only to leap up six slots in another trade with Kansas City to select Taylor.
Cries immediately began regarding comparable defensive line talent still on the board. What is overlooked is how Taylor will be used in the Browns' defensive system. The Browns' general manager, Tom Heckert, was asked at the NFL Combine how a interior defender like Ahytba Rubin would be used in the Browns' new 4-3 defensive scheme. He was specifically asked if Rubin would fit the role of a 3-technique or a 1-technique. Heckert replied that the defense would revolve around a left-right alignment.
That is a crucial revelation.
If the defensive front isn't shifting according to strength, but rather side-to-side, then players like Taylor and Rubin will be asked to serve in both roles most often seen at the professional level. They will both be asked to be strong run stuffing 1-techniques (lined up on the outside shoulder of the center). They will also be asked to penetrate and disrupt as 3-techniques (outside shoulder of the guard). Size, strength and an explosive first-step are all required.
Now looking at the same comparable talent isn't as conducive in the same system. For example, Cal's Cameron Jordan and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward were defensive ends in college that don't carry the same type of weight to be truly effective 1-techniques against the run. They would have been considered pure 3-techniques in a system that requires tackles to perform more than one function.
Taylor and Rubin are rare commodities because of their height-weight-athleticism ratio. Although the argument can be made, there was a similar sized space eater available drafted in the third round by the New York Jets, Kenrick Ellis.
Did the Browns pass on a potential top 10 playmaker to draft a similar talent which could have been chosen later?
Taylor is 6-foot-4, 337 pounds while Ellis is 6-5 346. Certainly a third round selection of Ellis could have filled the same role for which Cleveland envisions for Taylor, right?
Let's go to the film. Below is a what I wrote down while scouting Ellis earlier this season.
"As one watches his play closely, the South Carolina transfer lacks polish.
Everything starts with the stance. Ellis does not start with a good base as his footwork is often spread too far apart. Heal-to-toe is the rule of thumb, but Ellis does not always abide, particularly seen in his first half of play. As a result he does not fire off the ball with the same type of coiled explosion seen from other contemporaries.
The second half, a difference was seen. Coming out of the intermission, a coach must have lit a fire in his belly and corrected some of Ellis' issues. His footwork improved, and he became harder to handle off the snap. A permanent correction is required for Ellis to play to his fullest.
Two other issues were presented.
Ellis does not have violent hands, a requirement for those playing nose tackle. This may push him outside to defensive end in the 3-4 since he does not deliver a strong blow off the snap nor controls even FCS offensive lineman.
Also the defender is not a fluid athlete. He plods as he runs and does not appear to posses much flexibility in his hips and knees. As a result, how many times has one watched a 340-pound man get pushed around and knocked over by inferior talent? Ellis was found on the ground after a few plays.
Ellis has a lot of potential, but he is raw."
Meanwhile, a quick hit from Twitter shows a different look at Taylor.
"Plus, I've been hard on Baylor's Phil Taylor because of abysmal conditioning in 2009. Never came off field and shoots hands as well."
It's those types of things that come into play when teams make the final decision that cannot be overlooked and misunderstood. But Cleveland could have stayed put, not given up a third-round selection, and still landed Taylor.
At this juncture this seems more fiction than fact.
Multiple sources have already been quoted stating multiple teams had high interest in Taylor. ESPN's Michael Smith tweeted that the New Orleans Saints were very interested at their choice at No. 24. SportsIllustrated.com's Tony Pauline reported the Chiefs and the Jets were very high on Taylor. The Chiefs decided to part with their selection for an extra pick from Cleveland. The Jets are well known for their willingness to trade up and procure their favorite prospects. So, the interest was clearly high.
Is it a guarantee Taylor would have been chosen prior to Cleveland selecting 27th overall? No, but it was far from a certainty he would have been available later. It's the type of risk/reward front offices continually weigh during the process.
At No. 59, the Browns took North Carolina wide receiver Greg Little, who was in their back pocket all along. His grade within the walls of Berea was very similar to Georgia's A.J. Green and, particularly, Alabama's Julio Jones. Yet, he would not carry a top 10 overall price tag.
Physically, Little is on par with Jones. Let's set aside the 40-yard dash time for a moment, because if anyone heard "Jones doesn't play as fast as he times" one more time, they might go insane. The rest of Jones' unbelievable workout compared to Little's?
Player A -----------------------Player B
6'3' ------------------------------ 6'3
220 pounds ---------------------231
33 3/4 arms -------------------- 33 1/4
9 3/4 hands ----------------- 9 1/8
17 bench -------------------- 27
38.5 vertical --------------------- 40.5
135. broad ----------------- 129
6.66 3-cone ---------------- 6.8
4.25 20-shuttle ------------ 4.21
11.07 60-shuttle ---------- 11.29
Do you know which prospect is which?
Player A is Julio Jones. Player B is Greg Little.
Clearly, Jones had a much greater collegiate career. With that said, the physical upside of both is tremendous. Little simply came with a discount price.
Similar arguments can be made for the Browns' remaining six draft picks. It merely serves as an example never to take any team transaction at face value. Whether this draft class will propel Cleveland to the promise land will be in question for years, but it has to be fully understood before it is belittled.