Something that is commonly discussed about the NFL Draft is the idea of "reaching" for a player. I guess the idea is part of why you draft a guy at a certain spot is because he is who you want and he won't likely be available with your next pick. It used to be more about the money, especially in the first round of the draft because of how salaries worked.
Now it is less about money and more about the "value" of the pick as to how the player fits in with the team and whether he would be available later on. The Arizona Cardinals needed help on the offensive line, but did not take a lineman with their first two picks, despite in the third round having Bobby Massie available, who was projected to be drafted as high as the first round. Instead, they took cornerback Jamell Fleming. They ended up being able to draft Massie in the fourth round, giving them more value.
The other teams in the NFC West all made early draft picks that raised eyebrows. The Seattle Seahawls took Bruce Irvin, an exceptional pass rusher from West Virginia. The San Francisco 49ers took receiver A.J. Jenkins at the end of the first round and the St. Louis Rams took receiver Bryan Quick early in the second round. Each of these players was not as highly rated by most draft experts and fans as other players available, yet they selected them.
NFL Films guy Greg Cosell analyzed the film on these players and wrote an interesting piece on NFL.com about the idea of reaching and how we ought to rethink how we approach the idea. He addressed each of the picks in question made by the other NFC West teams.
To start, he all but debunked the idea that Irvin was that much of a reach with his selection. He used the Niners' Aldon Smith as an example. The biggest knock on Irvin is that he is not considered an every down player.
Irvin will likely be on the field close to 60 percent of the plays in an increasingly pass-first league. In the NFL, if you cannot defend the pass, you will not win. Last year, the San Francisco 49ers selected Aldon Smith with the seventh pick in the first round. I watched every 49ers defensive play in 2011. Smith did not play more than 20 snaps in the base 3-4 defense. He was exclusively a sub-package player, playing only in nickel and dime personnel. He had 14 sacks in the regular season, and two more in the playoffs. Was he a poor draft choice because he was not a three-down player? Please, let's think before we react.
When it comes to the Niners' Jenkins, Cosell resorts to film to make his argument:
Those who evaluated Jenkins on film, i.e. NFL teams, saw a complete receiver who ran short, intermediate and vertical routes at Illinois. He was naturally quick and fluid as a route runner, he showed excellent body control and flexibility, and at times he displayed explosive vertical ability. Jenkins was a quick accelerator; he reached top speed in a hurry, especially with free access to the ball.
Remember what team drafted him: the 49ers. This is a team whose offensive foundation features run personnel and run formations. That almost always results in defenses responding with fronts and coverages that require a safety to be involved in run support. Corners, in run-based defensive concepts, rarely play press on the outside. That gives Jenkins the free access mentioned above - a circumstance that will maximize his vertical strengths. One more thing you saw watching Jenkins on film: he played both outside and in the slot, so he has experience in multiple alignments.
When you read that, it seems that he should fit in nicely with the Niners. Granted, he still has to show up and work to prove himself, but the tape apparently shows you things that make the pick seem more palatable.
As for Quick and the Rams, Cosell compares him to Justin Blackmon.
Many will use the small school component of Quick's résumé to suggest he will have a much larger learning curve to adjust to the NFL. Again, another myth tossed around as if it's gospel. Watch any college wide receiver, especially one that played in a spread, and you will see limited routes. Justin Blackmon went to Oklahoma State, and he has no greater route running experience that Quick. They both played in spread offenses. In fact, studying both extensively on film, you can make the argument that Quick, who's significantly bigger than Blackmon, is more naturally athletic. Quick is a very fluid and smooth athlete with excellent lateral quickness and deceptive vertical speed due to stride length. It's not a stretch at all, when you analyze Quick's physical and athletic attributes, to understand why the Rams selected him early. With his size and overall skill set, he has a chance to be the best wide receiver in this draft class. I know some teams saw him that way. Certainly, there are questions, and many variables will factor into the equation, as they do with any receiver entering the NFL, including Blackmon and Jenkins.
His point throughout is that teams aren't generally dumb. They do their homework and sometimes miss -- but it isn't because of lack of studying and preparation.
What was the best part of all this? Cosell never even had to mention the Cardinals because Michael Floyd was a great pick. There was no need to scrutinize it. But in the end it was because he was not considered a reach.
Time will tell whether or not any of these players perform well at the highest level of football.
However, Cosell's premise on not overreacting to picks without getting proper perspective is correct. However, as fans, that is what we do. So, in the end, we will continue to react to strange draft picks, but we just might be prematurely doing so. No biggie. We're allowed to do that as fans. We don't get paid.
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