As the Pro Bowl players are divvied up between honorary captains Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, with guard Kyle Long already assigned to Sanders’ team and Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Tim Jennings and Brandon Marshall to go in Wednesday’s conclusion of the “draft,” a big-picture take on the draft approach of general manager Phil Emery presents itself. Two takes, actually.
Long was considered by some to be a reach at No. 20 in the 2013 first round, “reach” because his on-field resume of five total starts at Oregon did not justify a first-round selection.
Emery sprung a similar if smaller surprise in 2012 when he traded up in the second-round to grab Jeffery, a suspect underachiever at South Carolina who had been an All-SEC receiver as a freshman, first team All-SEC and a Biletnikoff finalist as a sophomore (88 catches, 1,517 yards in 14 games), but then a second-teamer with 49 catches as a junior.
A common thread through Jeffery and Long is that both were drafted in some measure based on their “ceilings,” what their upside looked to Emery and his staff to be.
That contrasts with the “floor” philosophy of former general manager Jerry Angelo and college scouting head Greg Gabriel, an approach with high picks that looked first at what the minimum could reasonably be expected to be. Michael Haynes, Dan Bazuin, Mark Bradley, Chris Williams, Gabe Carimi stand as misses in rounds 1-2 operating from that starting point.
Emery, from the college side of the pro-college sides of the office, theoretically should have more whiffs with the gambler’s approach. But he has two Pro Bowl representatives from the top four picks in two drafts, vs. Angelo/Gabriel with just Tommie Harris and Forte (and Devin Hester if you include returners) from rounds 1-2 in nine drafts.
It doesn’t always work. Shea McClellin, who did have college production and four seasons of exposure, has not done what is expected of a No. 19-overall pick. And Emery admittedly erred in tabbing Brandon Hardin in the 2012 third round, taking a college cornerback coming off a missed season with injuries and projecting him to be an NFL safety. An injury in Hardin’s first preseason effectively truncated that experiment.
But what McClellin and Hardin have in common is a failed attempt to force them into position changes. McClellin is not a hand-on-the-ground pass rusher and that assignment will change this offseason. Hardin, injuries notwithstanding, may never have been an NFL cornerback but he certainly was not a safety.
How this works as Emery trains his aim on defense remains to play out this year. McClellin and Jonathan Bostic, who also was in a position he may not be playing going forward, were not early hits.
With the dire needs on defense, “hits” are a franchise-grade must-have. Whether Emery can find them with the “ceiling” philosophy that’s worked on offense with Jeffery and Long is why he was hired in the first place.