The NFL combine is now underway and I can already hear Bucs fans clamoring for GM Mark Dominik to draft Alabama running back Trent Richardson, Oklahoma State wide receiver Justin Blackmon, or Louisiana State cornerback Morris Claiborne. The Bucs currently hold the 5th pick in April’s draft, and it is expected that at least one of these players will be available, assuming Tampa Bay doesn’t trade its pick and Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Baylor’s Robert Griffin III are picked first and second. Picking any one of these players will fill a need for Tampa Bay, but they aren’t the top players Bucs coaches should be targeting.
Meet USC All-American Tackle Matt Kalil. He’s the brother of three-time Pro Bowl center, Ryan Kalil, who plays for the Carolina Panthers. Matt started at left tackle at USC over last year’s top-10 selection Tyron Smith, who had a strong rookie season in Dallas. He was considered the better pass blocker between the two, so he started at left tackle. Standing at 6-6 and weighing in at 306 pounds, Kalil is considered the best tackle in the draft, and I argue that he is the best player too. At the combine, Kalil has really impressed. He’s one of three offensive linemen to break the five second mark in the 40-yard dash (4.99 40-yard dash). He also ran the fastest 10-yard interval among lineman with a 1.70, and he finished among the leaders in the bench press, lifting 225 pounds 30 times. Scouts say that Kalil has quick feet, moves well laterally, is an excellent run blocker, and plays hard, with nasty attitude every play.
There has been talk that Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is the safest pick in the draft. I disagree. He was spectacular in college, but so were Tim Couch, Ryan Leaf, Akili Smith, David Carr and Joey Harrington. They were each locks to succeed in the NFL. Since 1998, 21 quarterbacks have been top-10 draft picks, many of which, first overall. Of the 21, only Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Philip Rivers were selected to at least three Pro Bowls.
Selecting an offensive tackle in the first 10 picks has proved to be the safest course of action over and over again. Since 2000 – picking an offensive tackle in the first 10 picks – there hasn’t been many busts.
2000 – Chris Samuels – drafted 3rd overall – 6-time Pro Bowler
2001 – Leonard Davis – 2nd overall – 3-time Pro Bowler
2002 – Mike Williams – 4th overall – started 55 games in five seasons, but injuries derailed his career; Bryant McKinnie – 7th overall – 1-time Pro Bowler – missed four games in 9 seasons.
2003 – Jordan Gross – 8th overall – 2-time Pro Bowler – started every game.
2004 – Robert Gallery – 2nd overall – No Pro Bowls; could be labeled a bust, but has played better since joining Seattle.
2006 – D’Brickashaw Ferguson – 4th overall – Been selected to last three Pro Bowls.
2007 – Joe Thomas – 3rd overall – 5-time Pro Bowler; has been selected every year in league; might be best in the league right now; Levi Brown – 5th overall – No Pro Bowls, but has started every game last four seasons – horrible pass blocker, but good run blocker.
2008 – Jake Long – 1st overall – 4-time Pro Bowler; also has been selected every year in league.
2009 – Jason Smith – 2nd overall – multiple concussions have plagued his career thus far; Andre Smith – 6th overall – injured for much of first two seasons, but solid season in 2011; Eugene Monroe – 8th overall – should have made Pro Bowl in 2010 – solid player during first three years in league – 12.1 overall rating on Pro Football Focus, which was the 7th highest in the league last season.
2010 – Trent Williams – 4th overall –failed drug tests have limited a promising career, but finished as an above-average pass and run blocker last year, according to Pro Football Focus; Russell Okung – 6th overall – Running back Marshawn Lynch thrived when Okung was healthy, but Okung hasn’t been able to stay healthy for long. Good run blocker, bad pass blocker.
2011 – Tyron Smith – 9th overall – started every game in 2011, future Pro Bowler. Top 5 offensive tackle according to Pro Football Focus – 13.7 overall rating.
Of this list, you can make a case that the players drafted after 2008 haven’t had enough time to be considered bust material yet. Before that, the only bust-worthy players are Mike Williams – because of unfortunate injuries – and Robert Gallery, though he’s played better since leaving Oakland.
Why am I so high on drafting Kalil when draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper have the Minnesota Vikings picking Kalil? Well, it’s simple – I think they’re wrong. The general belief is that the Vikings will draft Kalil with the 3rd pick, but with the lack of wide receiver talent to complement Percy Harvin, and with a lackluster defense last season – especially from their corners – I believe they will fill those needs with either Blackmon or Claiborne.
First off, the Vikings pass coverage was the second-worst in football, according to Pro Football Focus’ rating system (-57.9). Claiborne is the best cover corner in the draft and would immediately start. Additionally, he has experience returning kicks at LSU, so the Vikings could also choose to draft him to replace injury-prone Percy Harvin on kickoffs. Cornerback Cedric Griffin has torn his ACL twice and isn’t the same player. Corners Brandon Burton and Marcus Sherels were thrust into the starting lineup because of injuries to the secondary, and were repeatedly beaten in coverage. Minnesota’s defense recorded just eight interceptions – and only three of those by corners. Claiborne is a ball-hawk and is physical enough to match up against number one wide receivers.
Furthermore, the Vikings badly need a number one wide receiver to match with Percy Harvin. Justin Blackmon can fill that role. He would give quarterback Christian Ponder a solid deep threat to stretch defenses enough to give Harvin space underneath. Greg Camarillo and Devin Aromashodu just don’t fit the bill. Other than Harvin, no Vikings wide receiver had more than 500 yards receiving. Wide out Michael Jenkins finished second on the team with a mere 38 catches. An offense consisting of Blackmon, Harvin and a healthy Adrian Peterson is as scary as they come.
Lastly, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman has gone on record as saying that drafting a left tackle to protect a young quarterback is “an old adage.” Kevin Siefert of ESPN’s NFC North Blog wrote that Spielman doesn’t seem too convinced that taking a left tackle is the best solution for the team. That doesn’t bode well for experts who seem so set on Kalil being the best-fit for Minnesota.
Don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t be upset if the Bucs drafted Richardson, Blackmon or Claiborne. Each would fill a hole and are ‘sexy’ names that may attract season ticket holders. But drafting Kalil would give the Bucs a big boost on the offensive line – the same O-line that couldn’t open up running holes, surrendered 32 sacks, and couldn’t keep pressure off Josh Freeman long enough for him to complete passes longer than 20 yards. The Bucs need to draft Kalil to be left tackle and move Donald Penn to right tackle, thus pushing Jeremy Trueblood – the weakest link on the line – to the bench. Trueblood has been the worst offensive lineman on the Bucs for a couple years now. He’s also allowed more quarterback pressures (50) than any other O-lineman in the league.
If head coach Greg Schiano truly believes in building a firm foundation around Josh Freeman, he would be wise to select Kalil.
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