Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
I’m a big advocate of the “Eat This, Not That” series of books, which has helped me make better choices in my diet and saved me scads of calories and grams of fat when eating out in restaurants. If you’re not familiar with them, they list comparable food choices and tell you which is better for you. They also have a handy restaurant guide which tells you what to order at places like Subway or The Cheesecake Factory, though anyone who has read the book knows that eating at the Cheesecake Factory is probably not going to lead to anything positive.
The series has practical applications to the NFL Draft as well. Just as with foods, there are prospect substitutions and swaps that can save lots of value. They might not be quite as delectable or visually appealing, but in the long run they will make your team more fit for battle. Here are five healthy choices teams can make in the draft:
Hungry for a dynamic slot receiver with exceptional quickness and big play ability? Instead of drafting Tavon Austin in the top 15, take Ace Sanders in the 4th-5th round. Sanders proved his electrifying agility and knack for making defenders look silly in open space time after time in the SEC, which has significantly better defenses than the Big 12 which Austin exploited. Nobody is as agile as Austin on quick slants or bubble screens, but Sanders showed he can be similarly effective on jet sweeps and deeper drag routes. He is even a more accomplished punt return man. The Gamecock doesn’t have the top-end speed and isn’t quite as herky-jerky in traffic as the Mountaineer, but he makes for a palatable substitute for a much lower cost.
Interested in an active, quick nose interior defensive line anchor? Save yourself some draft calories and pass on Georgia’s John Jenkins in the 2nd round, opting instead for Montori Hughes in the 6th. The loquacious UT-Martin standout isn’t quite as big; Jenkins is somewhere between 350-380 depending on how many dinners the night before, while Hughes is an ice cream sandwich away from 330. Hughes is not as light on his feet as Jenkins or as quick to close on the ball down the line on the ball. What Hughes does offer is better anchor strength inside with the same quick first step. If you can look past his checkered past (he was booted from Tennessee for repeated team suspensions), Hughes offers a similar NFL upside to Jenkins for a lot less draft investment.
Looking for a developmental offensive tackle with incredibly high upside? You could draft Florida State’s Menelik Watson in the second half of the first round or you could wait about 60 picks and select Reid Fragel from Ohio State instead. Watson came to America from Great Britian to play basketball at Marist, and has only played football for two years. His physical potential is outstanding but watching his technique is akin to watching Shaq shoot free throws. Fragel played tight end at Ohio State before bulking up and sliding to tackle as a senior, giving him the same amount of experience at the BCS level as Watson. Like Watson, his technique needs refinement; both got by largely on natural physical ability paired with excellent intensity and aggressiveness. Fragel blew away Watson in agility and speed drills at the Combine and comes from a football background and environment, whereas Watson is a converted hoopster from the land where football means soccer, and he’s three years older than Fragel. This is one of the more obvious swaps a NFL team can make on draft weekend.
Got a craving for a pass rushing defensive end in the middle rounds? Save yourself about 50 draft slots and opt for Mike Catapano from Princeton over Cornelius Washington from Georgia. They are almost exactly the same size; Catapano is 5 pounds heavier at 271 and both stand a little over 6’4”. Washington is rightly hyped as a physical freak, but Catapano actually tested better in agility drills and was reasonably close in bench press reps (36 for Washington to his 33) and vertical jump (39” to 37.5”). As those of us in the draft community who saw Catapano in Shrine Game week and then Washington in Senior Bowl practices the next week can attest, Catapano is a much more active, feisty player. On game tape Catapano is relentlessly trying to attack the ball and efforting very hard to shed blocks, while Washington seemed perfectly content to dance with the blocker and let the offensive player dictate the action. Neither player uses his power very effectively and Washington played in the SEC instead of Catapano’s Ivy League. But for my draft dollar, Catapano is the easy choice.
Have a strong taste for a quarterback from the ACC? Don’t bite on the wax fruit that is EJ Manuel in the top 25, that should be (should be!) a given. But you can also save some draft calories and get a better NFL talent by taking Duke’s Sean Renfree in the 6th or 7th round instead of taking Mike Glennon from NC State in the top 80. These two are actually nothing alike in terms of style or physical ability. Glennon is a tall, lanky, big-armed statue who lacks decisiveness, pocket poise, velocity on shorter throws and consistent fundamentals. Renfree is 4 four inches shorter and doesn’t have nearly the downfield arm strength, but his mechanics are excellent and his ball placement on outside throws is superior. He’s not going to run away from many potential sacks either, and Renfree has less experience playing in big games or as much talent around him. But if you are looking for a quarterback who can start out as a backup and perhaps take over for an aging starter in 2-3 years, you are much better off using that late 2nd round pick on a better weapon or protection for Renfree than you are taking Glennon there and using the 7th round pick to try and help Glennon succeed.