Rutgers football, Anthony Davis, and Devin McCourty have quite a bit riding on this week's upcoming NFL Draft. Obviously, the higher both go, the better it looks for both and for the football program, never mind future benefits down the road.. They rake it in with their contracts and signing bonuses, and Coach Schiano and staff gain further increased recruiting credibility. In terms of preparing players for the NFL, Rutgers has not only become an acceptable option; it's a downright good one.
However, it is important to recognize that this idealized scenario may offer the most in terms of immediate benefit, but wouldn't necessarily be the best thing for Davis and McCourty over the course of their careers. Let's consider a few examples from recent memory.
Two years ago, the Detroit Lions loved Ray Rice. Just loved him. Their 7-9 record in 2007 mostly a mirage, the Lions had a number of holes to fill. General Manager Matt Millen being Matt Millen and all, he was determined to address those needs via the draft. Problem being that Millen reached for players to fill needs instead of taking the best players available. The Lions viewed their biggest need as middle linebacker. That would have been fine if Millen's favorite LB prospect, Jerod Mayo, had still been available at their pick, but Mayo had already been snapped up by the New England Patriots at #10.
Millen then uses the seventeenth overall pick to reach for tackle Gosder Cherilus, who was coming off a disappointing senior season, and was more of a late first/early second pick. (Typically, there are a run on linemen every year, and they always go much higher than projected). That leaves the Lions still in want of a linebacker. Even though the Lions loved Ray Rice, they end up reaching again for Jordon Dizon. Dizon had not been expected to go that high at all, but was seen as a good fit for Coach Rod Marinelli's Tampa 2 defense. (Marinelli has since been shown the door along with Millen, and Dizon backed up weakside LB Ernie Sims last year under their new coach Jim Schwartz).
The Baltimore Ravens could not possibly be further on the NFL spectrum from the Lions. Baltimore had the seventh best winning percentage of any franchise over the past decade, while Detroit was dead last. Detroit under Matt Millen reached to fill needs, while Baltimore slavishly sticks to its mantra of picking the best available player. Their success is no accident, not when talented future stars fall into their laps every year owing to the mistakes of teams like the Lions. Year after year, the Ravens feasted on the likes of Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Ben Grubbs, and most recently, Michael Oher.
Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome had the foresight to understand that age and free agency are teams' prime competition in the NFL. The best formula for ensuring and sustaining future success was to treat the draft as an incubator of young, cost-controlled talent. Good teams don't draft for a quick fix; they draft for two or three years down the line, which gives Newsome and his other, most-skilled peers the luxury of sitting back and waiting for a good player to fall into their laps without surrendering much in terms of price.
With this guiding mentality, it's little wonder that the Ravens pounced on Rice ten picks after the Lions foolishly let him through their grasp. It was irrelevant that Willis McGahee and LaRon McClain were already on the roster. Baltimore's scouts had identified Rice as a priority "Red Star" player who simply could not be passed up.
Well, when our personnel teams designates a "Red Star" guy, it means every scout in the room agrees – hands down – that this particular player personifies a "true Raven."
"Guys who get this distinction have a temperament and countenance we want: toughness, high character and intelligence, leadership and competitiveness," DeCosta notes. "We literally put a red star sticker on the player’s card."
Sounds like an apt description of Devin McCourty...
2008 was a very deep year for running backs, so the Lions were able to snag Kevin Smith by trading up to the top of the third round. The thing is, Smith could very well be a more than capable back if able to recover from tearing his ACL last December. However, he's not Rice, and it was never a fair fight to begin with considering the wide disparity in supporting casts.
Rice ended up falling later in the draft, and had to sit for a year behind McGahee before getting a chance to start. However, if you asked him today, Ray is probably pleased as punch that everything ended up playing out in the manner that it did. There's an interest contrast here to Brian Leonard, who came out a year before Rice, and wasted away in two injury-plagued, miserable seasons in St. Louis before resurfacing in Cincinnati in 2009. As painful as it would have been as a Giants fan, Leonard would have been far, far better off had he fallen several picks later to the Philadelphia Eagles. Andy Reid was reportedly enamored with Leonard's versatility in his West Coast Offense, and set to draft Brian with the #57 pick that was eventually used on Victor Abiamiri.
While any comparisons between Anthony Davis and Michael Oher are simplistic, Oher's story from last year could serve as a model for Davis having a successful pro career. Oher could have very well been a bust with many teams, but was fortunate enough to go to a winning franchise like the Baltimore Ravens. Davis has the most potential of any offensive lineman in the draft this year. I'm not sure about some of the knocks out there on Davis such as on his weight (Coach Schiano attributes a brief benching to a summer injury), but it's true that his play can be inconsistent at times. Like Kenny Britt the previous April, Davis is only still 20 years old, and admittedly has some maturing to do.
Having hopefully hammered that point into oblivion, where could the two Scarlet Knight hopefuls land?
Watching Anthony play for the past three years, I'm not comfortable giving a blanket assessment on his future prospects in the NFL. His talent is undeniable, but some of the criticism has real merit. If he goes to a complete basket case like the Oakland Raiders, all bets are off. It's worth singling out the Raiders because of their recent propensity for self-destruction, and the selection order in this year's draft. The first three picks will likely be some combination of Sam Bradford, Ndamukong Suh, and Gerald McCoy. The Redskins at #4 need a tackle, which will likely be Russell Okung.
That means the real intrigue with Davis starts at #5 to Kansas City. Seattle at #6 is a possibility, with Walter Jones nearing the end of the line. (Seattle was very interested in Davis months back, but I haven't heard as much on their front lately.) Then the Raiders come in at #8, and the Bills still a replacement for Jason Peters at #9. WIth NFL teams placing such a premium on linemen, and Davis having successfully atoned for no-showing his Pro Day, he could still sneak into the top 10, and probably won't fall much further.
The way we hear it, three big-bodied blockers can expect to be drafted in the first six picks, with Oklahoma State's Russell Okung, Iowa's Bryan Bulaga and Oklahoma's Trent Williams all expected to hear their names in the top nine. If Anthony Davis should happen to fall past the Bills at No. 9, there is a strong likelihood that teams in need of upgrading their lines could come flying up to scoop up the remaining blocker, whom some teams view as the second-most talented tackle in the draft after Williams from a physical standpoint.
Davis visited Buffalo several weeks back, but most of the speculation about him going in the top ten has centered around Oakland (another visit). The Raiders have a big need at left tackle, and chief decision maker Al Davis famously takes pride in bucking leaguewide consensus, for better or worse, and going his own way. After the Combine, there was immediate media speculation that the Raiders would follow up their Darrius Heyward-Bey pick from last year, and select another underclassman workout warrior from Maryland without much in the way of production in Bruce Campbell.
Trent Williams definitely fits the bill too, with excellent Combine numbers overshadowing his struggles in pass protection at left tackle last fall. Sure sounds like a prototypical Raider pick, and his rise looks confounding in light of all the knocks on Davis over the past several months. While Anthony's athleticism and feet look stellar on film, he struggled at the Combine and then missed the Rutgers Pro Day in March. It's hard to imagine the numbers-obsessed Raiders considering him if a Williams is still on the board.
The Pro Football Weekly trade scenario makes an awful lot of sense. Teams are by no means tied to their initial pick slots. The 2010 NFL Draft is very deep. Second rounders are at a premium, and the revised draft schedule may facilitate more trades. That could mean the best of both worlds for Davis, with an established franchise trading up for a chance at the top line prospect. Alternatively, a bottom dweller could trade down to select him and additional players.
The 49ers need a tackle and have worked out Davis, although the pass protecting specialist is not a great fit with their hole at RT. Cincinnati or Pittsburgh could be wild cards, or even a team like Dallas or San Diego trading up from near the end of the first. As the Baltimore/Oher example shows, perhaps a Giants or Eagles could throw caution to the wind and roll the dice on the best available player with high boom/bust potential.
The worst case scenario is that he follows Oher's lead and plummets all the way down to Green Bay at #23. That wouldn't necessarily be the best choice for Anthony's bank account in the near term, although I'd love to see him on a team like the Packers that could be only a player or two away from the Super Bowl, and are in prime need of his talents.
As far as the other rumored Rutgers first round draftee goes, there's hardly any cause at all for alarm with corner Devin McCourty. According to scout Daniel Jeremiah, "a lot of teams" are in love with Devin. It's easy to see why, with his excellent cover skills, top notch character and intelligence, and brilliant special teams play. The only knocks really out there on him question his relatively low interception total. For what it's worth, he never seemed to be to have Will Allen-type hands of stone, and I don't know enough about scouting to analyze his overall ball skills. Even when McCourty was being projected as more of a second round pick before the Combine, it was easy to foresee his eventual rise up to the first.
Even if you think Devin is more of a #2 corner, he's absolutely one of the safest players in the draft, and unlikely to bust in the worst of situations. There are several other corners like Kyle Wilson grouped closely together following the top prospect in Joe Haden. With teams so dependent on nickel and dime packages to defend against multiple receiver sets, every franchise really needs at least three good corners now.
Those two factors, and the first round selection order this year could very well create a run on the position in the second half of the first round. The Texans need to replace Dunta Robinson, and four likely suitors that have been closely linked to McCourty are the Eagles, Packers, Ravens, Browns, and Vikings. The Jets have interest too, but trading for Antonio Cromartie means they will probably address the position on the second and third day of the draft.
From looking everything over, my guess is that Anthony Davis could sneak into the top 10, and won't fall out of the top 15. Devin McCourty seems like a good fit for the 20-25 range. Ideally though, Davis would be a Packer on Thursday and McCourty a Raven. The money would be better if they went to the Bills and Browns respectively, but both should heed the advice of Kenny Britt here. The "real" money is in the second contract, and that will be far easier to come by if either or both is put into a position to succeed from day one.