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2011 NFL Draft – Rumors, Innuendo, and Propaganda

By: — April 24, 2011 @ 1:38 pm
Filed under: NFL Draft

As the days left to the NFL draft wind down, the misinformation ramps up. While agents and teams dish out propaganda to serve their purposes, the immense popularity of the draft has everyone from well-regarded journalists of major media outlets to internet draftniks jumping on any rumor, if not just creating their own, in the battle for notoriety in what has become a culturally significant media event. This year is further complicated by the lockout. For legal purposes, teams have their employees’ communications locked down, making it more difficult for pundits to get leaks from their usual sources. Readers should be more skeptical than usual of the “sources” of reports this year. While it’s unethical to assert that a player is seriously injured or to fabricate other negative information to help him fall to you in a draft, if you think that doesn’t occur to a significant extent, this year gives you reason to be a conspiracy theorist. Here are the facts I have found and my opinions on the significant questions coming out of the trending rumors, innuendo, and propaganda out there.

The next Frank Abagnale Jr.?

Is Ryan Mallett the Worst Person in the World?
I can’t remember a prospect more maligned by less factual information. Even in the shady game of draft propaganda, where there is this much smoke, there is usually fire. However, as we are just days before the draft, it’s still seemingly impossible to validate any of the most negative stories associated with Mallett. Take the latest one, for example: Brad Biggs of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on National Football Post last week that Mallett missed a meeting with the Carolina Panthers after being “seen out on the town late” following a dinner with team officials that night. Mallett’s agents quickly responded with a complete denial, which the Panthers unequivocally corroborated. Either Mallett is the next Frank Abagnale Jr. and fooling those of us who believe in him, or we’re at the tipping point where the popularity of the NFL draft and the bankruptcy of reliable journalism due to social media make it possible to influence the perception of teams through exerting this much negative information.

Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel did extensive digging into Mallett’s background, and everything else factual I’ve found out about Mallett basically agrees with his findings, so I’ll just direct you to Hyde’s article for a pretty fair and balanced look at Mallett. The conclusion I share is, other than the unsubstantiated drug rumors, Mallett has a few incidents, but no more than a lot of other college kids. It’s definitely nothing significant enough to warrant the tenacity and volume of character concerns being alleged about him. I think talent wins out and Mallett goes in the first round.

Is Tim Tebow Not the QB of the Future in Denver?
One of the maxims of the NFL draft is “new regimes mean new quarterbacks” (which I’ll attribute to Walter Cherepinsky of, who may or may not have coined the phrase but is the first to unfailingly abide by it in his mocks). So this brings us to the parade of quarterback prospects visiting Dove Valley along with some less-than-flattering public comments by the team’s new vice president of football operations, John Elway, about second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. Rumors are running rampant that Tebow is not the quarterback of the future for Elway, nor presumably for new head coach John Fox, and Denver will be selecting a quarterback early in the draft. While the “new regime” principle would seem to apply here, Denver is in a bit of a unique situation. Tebow’s debut last year gave some reason for optimism, even if he was handpicked by the exiled Josh McDaniels, and Kyle Orton is under contract for the season, so the team has the flexibility to spend more time evaluating Tebow while still having a more-than-serviceable starter. Because of that, they could use this draft to address some glaring holes on defense. My opinion is that this is a well-orchestrated smoke screen to encourage one of the teams in love with a top quarterback prospect to trade up for Denver’s second overall pick, or even the 36th pick, which would be early in the expected run on the next tier in the second round.

What is a bit perplexing is that teams are allowed to have only 30 draft-eligible prospects visit their facility prior to the draft, excluding local prospects (defined as anyone who grew up or attended college in the metropolitan area of the team)and the Broncos have had at least five of the top quarterback prospects to Dove Valley—none of which I believe fall under the local exemption. That’s quite an extreme to go to for a misdirection play. However, it would usually be judged as expected due diligence, considering the Broncos have such an early pick. But Elway’s comments on Tebow (which I hope for the sake of their relationship Tebow was in on) helped fuel the rumor mill that the team has done nothing to slow down. Regardless, I don’t think the team is anywhere near giving up on Tebow, even with a new regime.

How Serious Is Da’Quan Bowers’ Knee Problem?
What we know is this: Bowers’ high school coach told the Charlotte Observer that Bowers underwent arthroscopic knee surgery shortly after Clemson’s loss in the Meineke Car Care Bowl on New Year’s Eve. The surgery was for a partially torn meniscus in his right knee that he suffered on a sack against North Carolina State on November 6th. Bowers played through the rest of the season with the injury. Although reported that his productivity tailed off toward the end of the season (i.e. after the injury), it really hadn’t. He had five sacks and an interception in the three games after the injury. However, I did watch him in Clemson’s bowl game and was disappointed by his lack of explosion (he had three solo tackles and three assists in the game, no sacks), so it likely did impair him slightly. But clearly he was having some success playing through it. Note that Bowers missed three games in 2009 for a sprained right knee.

Despite being expected to work out at the Combine, Bowers did not, saying he hadn’t had enough time to prepare after rehabbing his knee. The recovery for this type of surgery is between four and six weeks, and the Combine was held about seven weeks after his surgery. Shortly after the Combine, rumors began that his knee was not healing as well as hoped. He then missed Clemson’s March 10th Pro Day and scheduled an individual workout for April 1st. The reviews were mixed, with most satisfied with his effort. Some of the tests were disappointing, particularly his 40 time, which most had just under 5 seconds. His 9’2” broad jump was also well below the 11+ feet you’d expect. However, the rest of the numbers matched up well against the top defensive end prospects, particularly his sub-7 second three-cone drill, an indicator of explosion. He reportedly performed well in the drills led by Miami pass-rush coach Bryan Cox. The following week it was reported that the Bills’ team doctor had cleared Bowers’ knee during a visit. That weekend, he was back in Indianapolis for an official Combine medical re-check and then the conflicting reports began. Some sources said the knee was in such good condition that he didn’t need further exams; others said he had covered up microfracture surgery in January and the knee showed signs of potential long-term problems. Bowers’ agent wasted no time releasing a statement about the procedure, quoting the surgeon and Dr. James Andrews and confirming the overall health of the knee while emphatically denying any long-term concerns—specifically of an arthritic condition, the likelihood of needing additional surgery, or any degenerative condition. The statement also discussed Bowers’ focus before the Pro Day having been on rehabilitation and not performance and strength improvement, hence explaining some of his disappointing test results. Of course, this position would be expected from an agent, but it normally isn’t broadcast so widely and to this level of specificity, much less directly quoting the surgeon. That seems to lend a bit more credence to the statement and suggests that perhaps some misinformation—unintentional, from poor sources, or otherwise—was dominating the conversation.

Now teams are taking control of the narrative. A couple general managers outside of the top five picks who could be in the market for a defensive end, and hence would stand to gain from Bowers falling and keeping the misinformation out there, are defending the health of his knee. Lions’ general manager Martin Mayhew was reported in the Detroit News as saying that while Bowers was not in “pristine physical condition” after the Lions’ doctors checked him out, which even his agent conceded, they “are not concerned about his health in terms of playing football in the future.” The Browns’ general manager, Tom Heckert, has said his doctors looked at Bowers numerous times and the knee is “going to be all right.”

If this is a serious medical issue, dropping Bowers to the mid-to-late first round isn’t enough. He’d fall to the mid-rounds where teams are willing to take a flyer on a medical risk. My opinion after everything I’ve researched on this is that the long term concerns are likely exaggerated, but you still have a player who is a one-year wonder and tested out with disappointing overall athleticism. Perhaps you can ignore the latter a bit based on his coming off rehab, but it is also all you have to go on. I think 16th to Jacksonville remains the floor for Bowers. And as long he goes in the first round, we can be relatively assured that there aren’t long term concerns about the knee.

How Serious Is Mark Ingram’s Knee Problem?
This hasn’t gotten as much coverage as Bowers, but the bottom line is pretty much the same. NFL Network’s Mike Lombardi has led the charge about unnamed teams allegedly having serious concerns about Ingram’s knee. Dr. James Andrews, among others, have apparently checked in positively on the long-term outlook. While Lombardi has several ties to many teams after a long front office career in the NFL, his longest tenure with one coach was with Bill Belichick for five years when he was in Cleveland. If you are a conspiracy theorist, you may find it interesting that the Patriots are rumored to have serious interest in Ingram, with their first pick landing two picks after the Dolphins, who are widely considered the favorite to select Ingram.

Does TCU O-Lineman Marcus Cannon Have Cancer?
TCU Director of Media Relations Mark Cohen said that rumors of Cannon being diagnosed with cancer were “a false report” and “100 percent inaccurate.” An internet draftnik started a rumor that Cannon had testicular cancer and major media outlets picked up on it.

Which Teams in Need of a QB are Looking at the Draft and Which Will Be Shopping for a Veteran?
The most significant impact of the CBA negotiations on teams so far has been the lack of a free agency period and the ability to trade players before the draft. Usually rosters are fairly sorted by this time of the year, and needs left to address in the draft are defined. Nowhere is this a bigger problem than at the most important position on the roster. Here are my guesses as to the intentions of teams with big question marks at quarterback, now that I’ve eliminated Denver from the conversation in an earlier topic.

  • Carolna – Despite spending two picks on quarterbacks last year, the “new regime” maxim appears to have won out and it would be an upset at this point if they didn’t draft Newton or Gabbert.
  • Buffalo – The team seems to have enough faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick to focus on their glaring needs on defense and at offensive tackle instead of quarterback. However, head coach Chan Gailey is known for his success with athletic quarterbacks, and this draft is stacked with them. Many still think Newton will land in Buffalo if Carolina passes on him. Colin Kaepernick or, if he falls, Jake Locker could still be possibilities at the 33rd pick. While not the same athlete as Kaepernick or Locker, Gailey recruited Christian Ponder while at Georgia Tech, so he could also be an option. I expect Buffalo to pass on a quarterback with their first pick, but they will definitely take at least a developmental prospect at some point.
  • Cincinnati – I could go either way with this one. I do think Carson Palmer is serious about having thrown his last pass for the Bengals, but I think owner Mike Brown is stubborn enough to ignore that and turn this into a mess for everyone. On the other hand, Brown has never been shy about pulling the trigger early on a quarterback. I think we get the answer shortly into the draft (if we don’t know before), as I expect he’ll take Newton or Gabbert with the fourth pick, or not take a quarterback it all. While head coach Marvin Lewis might feel differently, I don’t think Brown wants to plug in a vet. I think he’d rather have Palmer or reboot at the position under a new offensive coordinator.
  • Arizona – It has become popular to mock Gabbert with the fifth pick, especially if Von Miller isn’t there, but this division is winnable with a serviceable vet. And the Cardinals could risk alienating star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, among other veterans who were disgruntled by the house cleaning after their NFC Championship season, with another rudderless year under a young quarterback. I also think head coach Ken Whisenhunt isn’t ready to give up on John Skeleton and Max Hall as developmental prospects. Marc Bulger is the popular name associated with Arizona, but they can’t afford another disaster like Derek Anderson, and there is no guarantee Bulger do much better. If Ryan Mallett is there in the second round, I could see them taking him, which could be the best of both worlds for Whisenhunt. I have a feeling he might see Roethlisbergeresque potential in Mallett, although it’s mildly interesting to note that Whisenhunt chose to go to Auburn over Arkansas when both had their Pro Day the same day.
  • San Francisco – I believe head coach Jim Harbaugh would love to get his hands on Blaine Gabbert with his ideal measurables and pedigree. Other than that, I don’t see him pulling the trigger on a quarterback in the first round. I think he is confident (or arrogant) enough to think he can mold any quarterback into a serviceable option for the short-term, including Alex Smith, and spend the pick elsewhere if the perfect guy isn’t there for him.
  • Tennessee – GM Mike Reinfeldt emerged with the power and is done with Vince Young. New OC Chris Palmer has 20 years of NFL experience and success in developing both young and veteran quarterbacks, so that wouldn’t seem to sway their direction. The two top quarterbacks on the trade market, Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb, are in the NFC. Other than the Titans, most of the demand among those that could be considered playoff contenders, hence possibly more inclined to find a veteran option instead of a rookie, are in the NFC (Arizona, Minnesota, San Francisco, and perhaps Washington—although the McNabb experience seems to indicate Shanahan will go back to a handpicked choice he can mold from day one). So conventional wisdom is that Washington and Philadelphia would prefer to find a trade partner in the Titans instead of with an NFC team. Of course, Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid already gambled and won last year by sending his quarterback to not only another NFC team, but a division rival. However, I don’t know how interested the team is in chasing one of the big name veteran quarterbacks. Their history indicates a preference for building through the draft. I think they will definitely draft a quarterback earlier and look to supplement him with a serviceable veteran. After the Vince Young Experience, we can assume Reinfeldt will put a higher value on leadership and intangibles. While Ryan Mallett and Cam Newton both score well from a leadership perspective, their baggage—no matter how insignificant in reality—could be enough to push the team in another direction. I think they consider Blaine Gabbert or Jake Locker with their eighth pick, or Christian Ponder or Andy Dalton with their second round pick.
  • Washington – The differences are irreconcilable between Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb at this point. Unfortunately for Shanahan, the lockout situation doesn’t allow for a resolution before the draft. The Redskins will be challenged to find a trade partner willing to give much to take on McNabb’s potential $12.75M contract, so Washington will likely end up releasing McNabb. Either way, McNabb will be gone. Rex Grossman was his typical inconsistent self in a limited audition last year, but I can’t picture Shanahan handing him the job for the 2011 season and wasting a year. However, it does give Washington some flexibility to choose more of a developmental option. I also don’t see them being in the market for a veteran option to be the long-term solution, coming off the failure with McNabb. Shanny will want to go back to molding a young, new prospect from scratch. There have been rumors connecting him to almost every top prospect; but recall that when he selected Jay Cutler, he never even met with him, so I’d disregard any rumor attaching Shanahan to a favorite.
  • Minnesota – After bringing Craig Johnson from Tennessee to be their new quarterbacks coach, there was speculation Vince Young could follow him. While that is still a possibility, I think Johnson is looked at as a bridge to a future quarterback that the Vikings could take in this draft, perhaps one of the many athletic choices that Johnson would be a good fit to work with. New OC Bill Musgrave helped develop a rookie quarterback to quick success with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, which could also signal the move of looking to the draft for a solution. However, this team still has the roster of a contender if they bring in a top veteran quarterback, and the rumor mill is loaded with links of Donovan McNabb to the Vikings, which I agree does make a lot of sense. He’ll need to be released or his contract renegotiated, because no one is going to pick up the $10M option he has for being on the roster after the first game plus his $2.5M base. I would rank Minnesota as the favorite for McNabb right now, although they’ll be certain to add at least a developmental prospect later in the draft.

These teams are wildcards in the quarterback scramble. All have serviceable or better options but have been linked with interest in the top prospects and could throw a wrench in the draft plans of the truly quarterback-needy teams.

  • Miami – Bill Parcells is gone and GM Jeff Ireland could be anxious to take the team in a new direction with a new offensive coordinator. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall recently expressed his opinion via Twitter that “Ryan Mallett will be an All-Pro Qb,” so the team’s top receiving threat seems to prefer a change at the helm. Miami has been very active in looking at quarterback prospects, but with no second round pick, they would probably need to blown away by a quarterback to neglect addressing other needs the first two days of the draft. However, I’m still getting the feeling that if the pick isn’t Mark Ingram, it could be Ryan Mallett.
  • Jacksonville – David Garrard has rarely been afforded much job security in Jacksonville. The team seems to be perpetually considering a replacement. Last year, after having thrown for the most TDs (23) and highest completion percentage (64.5) of his career, his season ended early with a tendon disruption and ligament rupture in the middle finger of his throwing hand. GM Gene Smith has given the 33-year-old a public vote of confidence, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Jags take a quarterback early.
  • Seattle – Fans have much less patience for player development than coaches do. Sure, Charlie Whitehurst didn’t look like the long-term solution in his brief audition last year, but the same regime that spent a third-round pick to acquire Whitehurst last year is still in place, and I’d be more upset if I were a Seattle fan if they already have given up on him…What kind of due diligence did they put into that original decision if they already move on? While I previously had been mocking them to select a quarterback in the first round, I’ve now come around to thinking there’s probably very little chance of that happening. I think their interest is a smoke screen to try to get someone to trade up. Trading again for another unproven veteran doesn’t make much sense either, so you can rule out Kevin Kolb. The most logical option for an upgrade, while saving face, would be if an established veteran like Carson Palmer or Donovan McNabb were released and signed by Seattle.
  • Indianapolis – GM Bill Polian usually drafts offense early and often, but he has devoted little energy to finding a mildly respectable backup quarterback. While Peyton Manning has never missed a game in his NFL career, the lack of attention given to the backup spot has been exposed both in the preseason and when Manning sits early in meaningless Week 17 games. Manning is showing no signs of wearing down at 35 and I wouldn’t rule out a Favre-like, mildly venomous, pass-aggressive reaction from him if the Colts added a quarterback early. But I don’t think Polian sweats that eventuality. At some point he needs to think about the future, and it wouldn’t be a total shock if a solid system quarterback like Andy Dalton or Christian Ponder—or even a high upside developmental prospect like Colin Kaepernick—fell to them in the second round and they made the move. Dalton has gained a lot of momentum in being associated with interest from the Colts.

Could Five Quarterbacks go in the First Round?
No. Cam Newton and Blaine Gabbert are locks. Newton will go in the top three and Gabbert will go in the top ten. After that, I think the only two other candidates are Jake Locker and Ryan Mallett. Locker’s accuracy is the one thing that will scare people off from him in the first round, but it only takes one team to be sold on him. As I said earlier, my opinion is that Mallett is the victim of a massive smear campaign, whether intentional or not, and ultimately his talent won’t let him fall far. The absolute floor for both I think is San Francisco with the 45th pick overall, but the night between the first and second rounds should see a trade up near the top of the second if one or both are still on the board.

I’d be surprised if Christian Ponder goes in the first round. He may be the most NFL-ready, but he lacks ideal arm strength and his injury history makes him a bit risky to lock him in as your franchise signal caller. I’ve been shocked at reports that some teams have Colin Kaepernick as the top quarterback on their board. He’s a nice developmental prospect, but he needs plenty of work to get to a point where any team could make him a starter. Andy Dalton was great in college, but I’m not convinced his ceiling isn’t merely as a quality backup at the next level.

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