NFL Draft Notebook: Watch for Underclassmen
NEW YORK — Of the record 73 underclassmen in this year’s NFL draft, nearly two dozen have been projected by at least one analyst as having a chance to go in the first round.
Those players range from Texas A&M offensive tackle Luke Joeckel, who many predict will be the top overall choice by Kansas City on Thursday night, to his teammate, DE Damontre Moore.
Four LSU Tigers with eligibility remaining have been mentioned as possible first-rounders: defensive ends Barkevious Mingo and Sam Montgomery, linebacker Kevin Minter, and safety Eric Reid.
Another three Florida State Seminoles juniors could go in the top 32: DE Bjoern Werner, CB Xavier Rhodes and OT Menelik Watson.
Four members of two-time national champion Alabama, including underclassmen Dee Milliner, rated the top cornerback, and running back Eddie Lacy, have excellent shots at going in the first round. The other two, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker, are seniors.
TOP GUYS: Three schools are tied for the most overall No. 1 picks in the NFL draft: Auburn, Notre Dame and Southern California. None of them figures to come close to the first spot this year, and all three conceivably could be shut out in the opening round.
Auburn’s most recent player leading off the selections was QB Cam Newton by Carolina in 2011. Before Newton, it was LB Aundray Bruce by Atlanta (1988); RB Bo Jackson by Tampa Bay (1986); RB Tucker Frederickson by the New York Giants (1965); and guard Ken Rice by Buffalo in the AFL (1961).
For Notre Dame, it was QB Angelo Bertellis by the Boston Yanks in 1944; QB Frank Dancewicz by the same team two years later; end Leon Hart by Detroit (1950); RB-K Paul Hornung by Green Bay (1957); and DE Walt Patulski by Buffalo (1973).
Southern Cal’s top overall picks began with OT Ron Yary in 1968 by Minnesota, followed by RB O.J. Simpson by Buffalo the next year; RB Ricky Bell by Tampa Bay (1977); WR Keyshawn Johnson by the New York Jets (1996); and QB Carson Palmer by Cincinnati (2003).
SECOND-ROUND VALUE: A study conducted by Worcester Polytechnic Institute says there’s more value for second-round draft picks than first-rounders.
The analysis of the past 13 seasons shows that second-rounders provide 70 percent of the production of first-round picks but at just 40 percent of the salary.
“That’s a significant value and it tells me that general managers should give more value to second- and third-round picks,” said Craig Wills, the head of WPI’s Department of Computer Science.
The study by WPI students Casey Barney, Anthony Caravella, Michael Cullen and Gary Jackson, also concluded that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been the most cost-effective team in the drafting since 2000. The Indianapolis Colts and Green Bay Packers are next, while the St. Louis Rams and Cleveland Browns ranked as least efficient.
As part of the study, WPI researchers developed a football metric called Appearance Score, a weighted combination of games played, games started and recognition as a top player. Highlighting the value of non-first-round picks, two of the top three players in Appearance Score last season were sixth-round draft picks in 2012: Washington running back Alfred Morris and Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh.
Third was Redskins QB Robert Griffin III, who went on to win Offensive Rookie of the Year.
In addition to team rankings, researchers focused on positions, and found that safeties provide the greatest value to teams.
CHARACTER ISSUES: Every general manager and personnel director in the NFL can’t look solely at a player’s on-field achievements. His performances away from the stadium are significant, particularly when there have been problems.
Several players in this draft have had such troubles, including Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and Tennessee Tech receiver Da’Rick Rogers.
“Well, I think they’re 21, 22-year-old kids, so none of them are going to be perfect,” Broncos boss John Elway said. “It comes down to what you feel like and what’s the best package.
“My philosophy has always been as long as that core group in our locker room is strong enough, everyone else is going to have to fall in line. It’s when you have a divided locker room that you have issues with different guys that may have maturity issues or that type of thing down the line. It’s real important for us to have a real good core group of guys in that locker room, which is to say that we look at everybody and evaluate everybody as a player and also their personal character and see where they’d fit in.”
Colts GM Ryan Grigson said his staff considers every possible draftee, then does a thorough evaluation that goes beyond the physical talents.
“We take into account if a guy has mental issues, mental concerns, if those are going to be concerns for us,” Grigson said. “Can we get him the right help and support system that will get him to be where he can function on this team and be a good teammate and a player? So we take all those things into account.”
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