Clemson's draft picks: How do they fit?

Clemson's draft picks: How do they fit?

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Clemson's draft picks: How do they fit?

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Nine Clemson Tigers were drafted in this year’s NFL draft.  How do the players fit with their new teams?  How did their selection match expectations going into the draft?

 

 

 

Shaq Lawson, 1st Round (19th Overall), Buffalo Bills

Pick

My conventional wisdom mock draft had Lawson going eleventh overall to Chicago, but when the Bears traded up a couple of spots to snag Leonard Floyd, that bumped the former Clemson defensive end down the board. Most prognosticators had him slotted in the 11-20 range—virtually no one thought he would fall beyond that point—so this feels like a solid value play for a team in need of a player like him.

Fit

The Bills loved drafting Clemson players even before Rex Ryan became head coach, and now it seems they have doubled down on those efforts. Ryan and the Buffalo brass continue to try to tap into the culture of the Tigers’ program in trying to establish their own. It’s clear the Bills have prioritized bolstering the front seven, and they started that process with Lawson to come in and immediately give them a presence on the edge. Ideally, he feels like a 4-3 defensive end, but the defensive brain trust in Buffalo—which now included Rex’s brother, Rob, as coordinator—seems to be moving away from a 4-3 to a 3-4 alignment. That means Lawson will be rushing the passer as an OLB a good bit, which he did well in college but may have trouble doing as well in the pros.

Verdict

I like this pick, with the caveat that Lawson feels like a player optimally utilized with his hand on the ground. Rex Ryan’s ability to coax ability out of defensive players will be good for Lawson. On a very good front seven that has gotten better in this draft, he should get plenty of opportunities to shine in one-on-one situations. I see a solid career in his future in Buffalo, especially given the fascination with Clemson products that exists there.

Kevin Dodd, 2nd Round (33rd Overall), Tennessee Titans

Pick

Dodd’s stock seemed to fall slightly in the days leading up to the draft. Once considered a rival to Lawson, he became a borderline first round choice, so this selection seems to be a fair gauge of where scouts felt he might fall. My conventional wisdom mock draft had Dodd going 30th to the Panthers, so it has to be a little disappointing to Carolina fans they chose not to pull the trigger on the defensive end.

Fit

It was odd that Tennessee introduced Dodd as an outside linebacker. He seemed to be better suited for a 4-3 defensive end based upon his body type and his fit as more of a run-stopper than a pass-rusher. It’s conceivable that he could thrive on the weak side of the Titans’ 3-4 defense, but over time, Dodd’s talents will probably be optimally utilized with his hand on the ground. The one-hit wonder tag attached to Dodd’s draft position will make him a player to watch closely next season. However, it’s clear that Tennessee was impressed with the way he closed the season with strong performances in Clemson’s biggest games. This is a clear sign that they believe his trend lines will continue to point up for the foreseeable future, even if some teams saw the potential for a sharp decline.

Verdict

I’m a little wary of Dodd. I know he was projected by some to go in the first round, but the fact that he blew up over such a short span of games is a bit troubling to me. I’m also not super thrilled about his projection as an outside linebacker. Being in a 3-4 could limit his value, but the Titans do seem like a driven organization committed to executing a plan for the future. That bodes well for any guy drafted early.

Mackensie Alexander, 2nd Round (Pick 54), Minnesota Vikings

Pick

There were plenty of reasons why Alexander dropped in this draft. He didn’t exactly put his lack of straight-line speed on display at the combine, but not running the 40-yard dash is basically the same thing. He marches to the beat of his own drum. He never intercepted a pass. Still, given the high level of performance he consistently put on film, getting Alexander at 54 is an absolute steal—possibly the steal of the draft.

Fit

First of all, the Vikings needed help at cornerback. It’s always nice to be a player who fits a direct area of need for a franchise. Second, because of Alexander’s skill set, he can fill a variety of roles. No one needs to be bribed to believe he can contribute at nickel right away. His lack of speed is considered a hindrance outside, but in tight spaces, he can lock down anyone with any set of measurables or talents. That will also allow him to demonstrate his instincts and prove to the Vikings that he can actually catch the ball. Mike Zimmer is a bright defensive mind, so he will put Alexander in positions where he can be immediately successful. I see him working at nickel as a rookie with a chance to grow into a larger role once his coaches see how hard he works and how well he makes up for his deficiencies.

Verdict

There is no doubt Alexander will work tirelessly to be the best cornerback in the NFL. His oddities are more the result of a commitment to individual excellence than anything else. He will need to work on interacting with his teammates inside the locker room, but those issues never actually manifested themselves on the field at Clemson. I think Alexander is a rare breed destined to succeed wherever he is, so the Vikings made a great choice here.

T.J. Green, 2nd Round (57th Overall), Indianapolis Colts

Pick

It’s hard to get a good read on this one. Green has been one of the most volatile players in this draft class. He went from a 5th or 6th round choice when he declared for the draft to a possible 1st round selection following the combine. Given his ceiling and the conversation surrounding him, it doesn’t seem like a stretch that he was taken here, but it feels like individual teams value him more highly than the scouting community does.

Fit

The primary objective for a team drafting Green will be to take advantage of his speed. He ran a 4.34 40-yard dash at the combine, the fastest ever for a player classified as a safety. That turned the heads of scouts and made the former wide receiver seem like a viable option at cornerback for teams looking for a tall, lean option there. Green’s defensive background is exclusively at safety, although he has some film in one-on-one coverage against slot receivers that didn’t dissuade teams from considering the possibility. Green is much better suited as a zone cornerback that can step up against the run than he is in man coverage, which the Colts’ scheme and personnel suggests they could utilize quite often. In the right scheme, being underneath on occasion could actually take away one of his weaknesses—getting lost in downfield coverage.

Verdict

This feels like a team drafting an athlete without a clear picture of what position he’ll play. The Colts will probably play him at cornerback initially to take full advantage of his speed, but Green hasn’t ever played the position—and he wasn’t lighting the world on fire at safety. I was concerned when pundits started talking about him as a potential first round selection because I’m just not sure he’s worth an early pick at either corner or safety. As a Colts fan, I’m mildly intrigued but more concerned about this selection in the second round.

B.J. Goodson, 4th Round (109th Overall), New York Giants

Pick

There were rumblings that Goodson would move up into the middle rounds of the draft after a strong string of interviews during the combine and a reputation—backed up on film—for being a solid, consistent player. That’s not bad for a guy who was assumed to be a borderline selection at best when the process began. That makes this pick very good for both Goodson and the Giants, especially given his inflated current stock.

Fit

The Giants need linebackers as much as anything else in this draft. Goodson fills that need well for a mid-round selection, having established himself as such a player in just one season as a starter at Clemson. He led the Tigers in tackles last season, and perhaps more impressive, he only missed nine tackles over the 15-game season. That’s a ridiculous number, but it speaks to Goodson’s penchant for playing with bad intentions running downhill. New York is entering a new era after Tom Coughlin’s retirement, but many of the same principles should still remain. Goodson is considered too small to man the middle, but he could be a run stuffing outside backer in the Giants’ 4-3 alignment.

Verdict

Goodson is exactly what a team should want from its fourth-round pick—tough, cerebral, experienced, and instinctive. The Giants provide a soft landing spot for the Lamar product and could be exactly the kind of franchise that could tap into his potential effectively. Don’t expect Goodson to blow up and make Pro Bowls, but I wouldn’t rule out being a starter at some point in his career in New York.

D.J. Reader, 5th Round (166th Overall), Houston Texans

Pick

I don’t see any downside for the Texans in making this pick, and this has to be considered a major victory for Reader. After all of the time he missed last season for personal reasons, his stock took a major hit, as he saw projections take him entirely out of the draft. This is a solid pick for the Texans, but it matters more to Reader because of the way his issues have affected perceptions of him as a prospect.

Fit

The Texans may not need Reader right at the moment, but that could change at the drop of a hat. Vince Wilfork will be 35 years old next season, a full career for an interior defensive lineman. If and when he leaves (either the Texans or football in general) Reader could be among the favorites to replace him. When he plays, Reader is thick and strong and has deceptive quickness. He’s a bit of a tweener, so he could either be an undersized nose or a quick presence on the inside over either guard. Frankly, the Texans can use him at any of these places right away. That means he’s fallen into a good place.

Verdict

Six months ago, Reader might have wondered if he would end up on anyone’s roster. Now it seems he has ended up in an advantageous situation in which he can grow into a pretty substantial role if the cards fall in his favor. Reader’s quickness and size combination means teams can be a bit flexible with him as he develops on either end of the spectrum. You can’t help but feel good for a guy who many thought cost himself a chance to do what he’ll ultimately end up doing—playing professional football.

Charone Peake, 7th Round (240th Overall), New York Jets

Pick

This actually seems low for Peake. I had no illusions of grandeur, but it didn’t seem farfetched to think a team might take a chance on him in rounds four or five. Instead, it took almost the entire draft for him to come off of the board. That makes this pick a very good one for a Jets team with its share of historical issues developing a corps of reliable pass-catchers.

Fit

In this pass-first era of the NFL, teams can never have too many receivers. The Jets took Peake as their only wideout during the proceedings, so he will be in a class by himself when training camp opens. The quarterback situation is a bit iffy in New York right now, with Ryan Fitzpatrick unsigned and Christian Hackenberg the lone draftee at the position. The Jets may need to lean on the run next season, and Peake can help with that. It may sound strange, but his best asset is his downfield blocking on run plays. Otherwise, Peake has track speed but a spotty record as a playmaker and struggles to effectively utilize his frame in the vertical passing game. Injury concerns will also need to be closely monitored.

Verdict

Peake is an intriguing player worth taking a flier on late in the draft. Some might see a talent whose world-class speed could be molded into a dependable receiver if injuries don’t interfere. As much as NFL GMs make head-scratching decisions based on physical attributes, it’s a wonder Peake wasn’t gobbled up a couple of rounds earlier. He’s in a decent situation, but staying healthy will ultimately determine his status.

Jayron Kearse, 7th Round (244th Overall), Minnesota Vikings

Pick

Strictly based upon his potential, Kearse is an absolute steal here. Initial projections had him as the top safety prospect in the draft. Those same projections had him inching up toward the front of the second round, with a possible ceiling in the first round. Obviously, for a number of reasons, that didn’t come to fruition. Kearse almost didn’t hear his name called for three whole days, a stunning development for a guy many considered to be a second day lock until the weeks before the draft.

Fit

Kearse’s frame is the most impressive thing about him. At 6’4”, 216 pounds and boasting Gumby-esque arms and freakish athleticism, Kearse has the ability to be an eraser—a guy who atones for the mistakes of others, or even his own. He did some of both in college, which speaks to the primary reason for his precipitous drop: Kearse had a lousy senior season that included reams of bad tape without the big plays to offset those negatives. It seems inconceivable that scouts found out about this after he declared, but that seems to be the driving force behind his drop. Questions about his coachability and his work ethic exist for a reason. There’s a chance his slip as a junior was due to the effects of looking ahead toward the draft. I’m sure the Vikings are banking on that, and they don’t need Kearse to set the world on fire right away. They have guys at safety that can play. Instead, they can dabble and take some chances with Kearse, just to see if he can pan out to their benefit.

Verdict

I actually love this pick at the back of the draft. I probably would have loved it two rounds earlier. Kearse is worth the gamble that he mailed in last season because he had one eye on a big payday. Still, the concerns scouts have about his desire to improve and his plethora of busts on the field could manifest themselves in Minnesota’s locker room, as well. Ultimately, his story should be a lesson to all young players with hopes and dreams.

Zac Brooks, 7th Round (247th Overall), Seattle Seahawks

Pick

Brooks wasn’t really supposed to get drafted at all, so this is a bit of a surprise. Being chosen at all is a big time win for Brooks, who stood to gain a share of the carries in 2014 before an injury derailed his season. Now, he may get that chance in a Seattle backfield with plenty of options but no sure-fire answers heading into 2016.

Fit

Backfields in the professional ranks are all about splitting workloads and dividing shares of carries now. This means teams prioritize their second- and third-best backs much more highly than they did just a few short years ago. Because of this, Brooks has a shot, but it should only be considered a long one. The Seahawks drafted tailbacks in both the third (C.J. Prosise) and fifth (Alex Collins) rounds, and both of those guys are better suited for Seattle’s offense than Brooks. I’ve got a hunch Pete Carroll might give Brooks a look in the slot rather than in the backfield, although the opportunities there aren’t exactly plentiful, either.

Verdict

It’s great to see Brooks’ hard work to recover from injury rewarded. Still, he can’t be considered a favorite to make the Seahawks’ roster. There are simply too many other players who are more talented vying for snaps in the backfield and in the slot. Brooks might ultimately benefit from being in camp and could be collected by another team should his services be denied by the team that took him.

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