Monday, April 13, 2009

Feeling the Draft '09: Defensive Backs

It's April 13th already? Looks like I'm going to need to get on the stick with these, since the draft itself is less than two weeks away (Editor's note: OMGOMGOMGOMG) and you're not going to win that "who can find the largest internet cache of ridiculously speculative Broncos-related opinion" wager you made with your barber otherwise.

So, then. Let us examine a few guys from the defensive secondary that the predominantly orange-n-blue denizens of Dove Valley might see as a potential fit.

(If you'd like to read this on a more reputable website, click here.)

1. Rashad Johnson, FS, Alabama. 5'11", 205 lbs

This one almost doesn't fit our notion of looking outside the 8-man box at players you might not be familiar with; Johnson starred at a BCS school, played for one of the most well-known coaches in the game (Nick Saban) and saw plenty of weekend television face-time, even in a big square western state like ours. He has also, according to various internet reports, already visited Bronco headquarters and conducted a private workout for team brass. So it's not like we're climbing too far out on a limb. That said, we've long felt that Johnson, an aggressive ballhawk who came to the Tide as a running back, would be just the tonic an interception-deprived Denver secondary needs. He's a little on the light side, yes--his college playing weight was somewhere about twenty pounds south of what we have listed and he's never going to be great against the run. But recall that Saban is not only one of the best in the nation at coaching up defensive backs (look what his tutelage did for ex-LSU Tiger/current Washington Redskin LaRon Landry, another conversion from offense), he's also incredibly demanding of them, and Johnson was basically a defensive coach on the field for the Tide last year. If Saban believes, so should we.

Projection: 2nd round

2. Coye Francies, CB, San Jose State. 6'0", 185 lbs

Francies had been getting some run as a potential late first-rounder up until about a few months ago. Then he clocked in the 4.7 range at the Combine, and bing, bang, down the imaginary board he falls. Shame, too, because he's got fantastic size for a corner, plays faster than he times and supposedly can bench press more than twice his weight--he put up 225 pounds 24 times in Indianapolis, more than some offensive linemen. He also has experience against BCS competition, because he started his college career at Oregon State...before being dismissed following a charge of illegal weapons possession and thus forced onto the junior college-to-lower conference track. Oops. But hey, this is Colorado. We have concealed carry here.

Projection: 2nd-3d round

3. Sherrod Martin, CB/FS, Troy. 6'1", 198 lbs.

Martin seems to be largely absent from the pre-draft chatter and we simply can't understand why: is it because he went to a small school? Well, seeing as Troy has been steadily pumping talent (DeMarcus Ware, Leodis McKelvin, Osi Umenyiora) into the league over the last few years, that makes no sense. Is it because he doesn't have a position? Well, maybe; Martin's size and athletic ability seem to have various evaluators projecting him as a corner rather than a free safety, the position he played in college. And no one really knows if he can play corner. Possibly because it isn't his position. The propensity of the NFL's smart set to out-think themselves can be baffling. We think that a guy with his fluidity and agility--he blew up the 20-yard short-shuttle drill at the Combine in 3.98 seconds--can be productive playing centerfield in the pros. He will be a 25 year-old rookie, though, which might scare some teams away from wanting to develop him.

Projection: 3d round

4. Nic Harris, SS/OLB, Oklahoma. 6'2", 234 lbs.

The dreaded "tweener" label has been stamped, government-issue style, directly on poor Harris' bio: he lacks, say the scouts, enough speed or range to play safety or the strength and vinegar to play linebacker. So where does that leave him? All we know is, every time Oklahoma was on the tube--which was, as anyone in Big 12 country knows, is always more than plenty--he was around the ball, laying someone out. The strength caveat does have some merit, since he could only put up 225 pounds 15 times at the Combine. And it's true that speed and agility definitely aren't his forte. But won't need to be able to run with receivers if a team keeps him in the box as a strong safety and lets him rip; as for strength, that's why NFL teams employ highly-compensated men without necks. If nothing else, he's got the makings of a great special teams gunner.

Projection: 5th round

5. Donald Washington, CB, Ohio State. 6'0", 197 lbs.

Any bet on Washington is strictly based on upside, because he lost his starting job to Chimdi Chekwa last year following a two-game suspension to start the season and then largely lined up in the nickel. But oh, what upside: the two-time Indiana state long jump champion boasted a Combine-best 45-inch vertical leap and has been described by some observers as having been the best athlete on the team. Considering OSU's stature--Championship game failures aside--that's not small beer. Washington can run with NFL receivers and would be an excellent value on the draft's second day; says here he might end up as some team's starter before long.

Projection: 5th round, but could surprise and go much earlier