Once again – unfortunately a few weeks earlier than we would have preferred – it’s Draft Season here at the Nest.
First, our usual disclaimer:
Admittedly, we take a very unscientific approach to our mock drafts. I’m the first to admit that the true draft geeks amongst you, dear readers, would probably be better served getting your information elsewhere (Glenn Clark, for one). These posts are done knowing full well that 1000’s of variables will come into effect between now and the time the Ravens turn in their pick for the first round, and that literally anything can happen. However, that being said, chances are we won’t be appreciably further off on our predictions than any of the other “gurus” out there will turn out to be.
So, if you are just looking for some fun, informal information, we hope you’ll give us a look from time to time as the big April date approaches.
We now know that the Ravens will be picking 26th (in the absence of any trades) in the first round this year. That’s one spot down from last year, when they ended up trading out of the 25th spot anyway.
The way we do things around here this early in the draft season then, is to look at the 26th ranked player on some “big boards” from around the web.
Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Scouts, Inc. has Houston as their #3 ranked OLB currently, behind Von Miller (#9 overall) of Texas A&M, and Akeem Ayers of UCLA (#18) . The junior, listed at 6’3″ 254 lb, started all 13 games for the Bulldogs in 2010 and totaled 67 tackles including a team-leading 18.5 for loss and 10.0 sacks to go along with 44 quarterback pressures, two pass break ups, an INT, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Houston was named the Bulldogs’ Most Valuable Defensive Player, and was a finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and the Butkus Award and a semifinalist for the Bednarik Award. He totaled 20.0 sacks during his three seasons in Athens. (source: http://www.georgiadogs.com/sports/m-footbl/mtt/houston_justin00.html)
The Ravens have swung and missed on the outside linebacker pass-rushing type twice lately. First with Paul Kruger in the 2009 second round; Kruger was largely ineffective for his first 1.75 seasons or so, before showing life down the stretch and into the postseason in 2010. Then there was the Sergio Kindle mess from a year ago. At this point, it’s still largely up in the air whether or not Kindle will ever play a down in the NFL. It is a well-known fact that an area of huge need for this team is more pass rushing help, in the form of a compliment to Terrell Suggs on the other side. You have to wonder, though, if Ozzie & Co. will start to get a bit gun-shy about drafting pass rushers, given their recent string of bad luck. If they’re 100% sold on Houston, he could be a very welcome addition to Charm City. Otherwise, the Ravens may be better off opting for a more established free agent-type.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
Harris is listed as the #3 cornerback on the CBS board, behind Patrick Peterson of LSU (#1 overall) and Prince Amukamara of Nebraska (#7). Another junior, Harris stands 5’10.5″ and weighs in at 193 lbs. CBS has this to say about Harris:
Read & React: Quick to recognize run and does a nice job of coming up in support. Reads the body language of the receiver and is typically in good position to a make a play on the ball due to his instincts and standout athleticism. Rarely out of position, especially when playing man to man. Does a nice job of focusing on his receiver rather than peeking into the backfield, though this leads to fewer interceptions than he’d have if he “cheated” more.
Man Coverage: Better in man to man coverage than zone due to his pure athleticism. Quick feet, loose hips, good balance and outstanding speed to remain in the hip pocket of his opponent. Doesn’t back down from the challenge of playing bigger receivers. Keys on the receiver and gets his head around late. Quick hands to knock passes away, but doesn’t have the time to locate the football, leading to more PBUs than INTs.
Zone Coverage: Improved his overall recognition as a junior, but remains a better man to man corner than zone defender. Good feel for where receivers are around him, but can get flat-footed and savvy QBs can “push” him laterally, opening up holes for receivers to expose. Generally a reliable open-field tackler, but isn’t a punisher.
Closing/Recovery: Possesses outstanding game speed, including a late burst to recover if beaten initially. Can plant and drive downhill on the ball. Good recognition to know when he’s beat and to make the tackle and when he has a chance to break up the pass or go for the interception. Times his collisions well so he doesn’t draw the flag. Times his leaps well to compete for jump passes and shows good hand-eye coordination to slap away the ball as the receiver is attempting to secure it. Doesn’t turn enough PBU’s into interceptions, however, only securing four despite 26 passes defensed over his career.
Run Support: Recognizes run quickly and isn’t afraid to come up in support. Good agility and flashes physicality to break free from receiver blocks. Maintains his containment responsibility and will force the back inside. Isn’t a physical tackler, too often resorting to duck and swipe techniques, but gets the man on the ground.
Tackling: A reliable open-field tackler, but isn’t always pretty doing it. Has a tendency to lead with his shoulder and/or lunge at the defender, resulting in some precarious tackles. Flashes the ability to deliver a pop, but relies too much on arm tackles. Has to do a better job of wrapping up the ballcarrier, though important to note that he did not miss a tackle on the games reviewed. Occasionally asked to blitz off the edge. Times the blitz well, shows good closing speed and the wherewithal to strip the football. Did take a terrible angle on a big play by Notre Dame WR Michael Floyd in the Sun Bowl.
Intangibles: Passionate and accountable. Quoted as saying that he and his classmates (2008 signing class) should dedicate their 2010 season to head coach Randy Shannon and that they were largely to blame for Miami’s inconsistency. (Despite Harris’ words, Shannon was ultimately fired.) Ran track for Miami as a freshman in the 60 meter (indoor), 400 meter (outdoor) and 4×400 meter (both). Good bloodlines. Coached in high school by his father, Tim Harris, USA Today’s National Coach of the Year (2007). His brother, Tim, Jr. was a four-time All-American in track for Miami. Only needs to serve a two-month internship to earn his bachelor’s degree in Business.
Cornerback is another area of (at least, perceived) need for the Ravens. Unfortunately, Harris doesn’t really fit the bill as the kind of big, physical guy Baltimore really needs. The fact that he’s listed at “Five ten and a half” is a red flag to me that he is a bit on the small side. Chris Carr, Josh Wilson, and Fabian Washington are all free agents though, and it seems likely that no more than one of the three will be wearing purple and black in 2011. While Harris may not be the prototypical “shut down” corner, CBS still touts his coverage skills as “among the best available in the 2011 draft.” The fact that he is a University of Miami Hurricane, and would be eager to join fellow ‘Canes Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, only increases the odds that the Ravens would target him in my book. Good cornerbacks are hard to find, and in my estimation Harris would be a solid selection.
That’s it for the first installment of Mock Draft ’11 here at the Nest. We’ll do this at least a few more times though, and try to bring you as many different opinions from the wide world of draft gurus as we can between now and April.