Blogs

It only takes one

Posted by Darren Urban on April 1, 2011 – 11:02 am

Yesterday, I had a Twitter follower by the name of Mykael C. Wright ask me to explain the confusing aspect of all this drafting-a-quarterback talk.

“Is game film (20%), pro day (30%), & potential (50%) to put #’s on draft grade? I don’t get qb movement NOW.” he wrote.

What everyone should understand about player “movement” in draft speculation is that there really isn’t any “movement.” The lists people refer to are not a team list; as I have mentioned a few times the Cardinals have not even started to put together their draft board (The draft room is on the third floor just a short walk from my desk and is a shortcut to the bathroom; trust me, once that path gets shut down to protect the secrets of the process, I am well aware). The lists are educated speculation from pundits like Mel Kiper or Todd McShay or one of hundreds of mock drafts that come out seemingly more often than ever these days.

Realistically, however, you can’t have movement until you talk to a player. The “lists” before the Scouting combine are based on what has been done on the field but also what scouts have let leak during the college season. In the end, though, scouts only have so much of a say, and in the case of the top quarterbacks, no one really has had a chance to interview them until Indianapolis. Those interviews are crucial to the process, since coaches want to see those guys stand in front of a white board and diagram a play or two and explain how to attack a certain defense (I was fortunate enough to sit in for one quarterback’s interview when I was in Indy; fascinating stuff).

So that’s really the first time teams and coaches can fully understand a QB, and opinions morph. And, as those opinions leak, QBs “move” on the lists. More “movement” might happen again after a pro day or private workouts as these teams further scrutinize a player. The background checks are in full swing, and again, that could reveal something to affect opinion. Don’t underestimate reverse physiology either. Are, for example, Andy Dalton (below) or Christian Ponder that good? Or have Gabbert/Newton/Mallett/Locker taken so many broadsides of criticism that to be not one of those guys alone make you more attractive?

Going back to Mykael’s original question though, I’d think game film is still 50 percent of the thought process. Pro day? Maybe 2 percent from on the field (assuming he was at the combine already). The pro day is more important as to talking to the people (trainers, equipment guys, coaches) that had been around the kid. Potential is a huge part of it too, especially for underclassmen like Newton or Gabbert who don’t have a long résumé. So to is fit to what you want to do, and of course, the personal interviews.

“Movement” is a mirage, in many ways. And remember, it only takes one team to love you. If, for instance, the Panthers take Cam Newton first overall, does it matter if the rest of the NFL wouldn’t risk a first-round pick on him?

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The Top Five

Posted by Darren Urban on March 30, 2011 – 1:54 pm

No, we’re not talking former Cardinals cornerback Robert “Top Five” Tate, who used to put together top five lists all the time — including football lists, which inevitably included himself. Instead, we’re talking about the guys who will be considered for the top five picks in the draft. It sure seems like this is the list:

  • QB Cam Newton
  • QB Blaine Gabbert
  • DT Marcell Dareus
  • WR A.J. Green
  • DE Da’Quan Bowers
  • LB Von Miller
  • CB Patrick Peterson

I don’t include DT Nick Fairley anymore because it doesn’t seem like anyone else is either. It leaves us with seven names, and the all-powerful quarterback situation. In Carolina, my man Darin Gantt believes there are only three legit possibilities for the No. 1 pick, and he has long believed it will end up being Cam Newton. For Denver, the pull has been strong for Dareus, since a) John Fox has always been a guy who likes to build up front; b) the Broncos were so porous and c) they have Elvis Dumervil coming back from injury so Miller might not be as necessary. Although Miller and Peterson have been mentioned (It has to be defense in Denver, right?).

Buffalo could use a QB, but Chan Gailey seems to want defense, so Miller has been a popular possibility for a team that uses the 3-4 and needs a pass rush. If the Cards want Miller, it seems the Bills will be the key. The Bengals figure to go offense, whether a QB or WR. The Cards, who have hinted many times they aren’t necessarily looking QB early, still don’t seem to make sense with a pick like that. Here’s the question, assuming Miller is gone: Could you make Bowers work in your defense? Is Peterson good enough? Do you reach outside the above list of names? By the time we get to the draft, would my list above change?

I wonder what Top Five Tate’s list would look like?


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Mockingly, a vote for Peterson

Posted by Darren Urban on March 28, 2011 – 4:53 pm

I know people love to look at mock drafts but they seem rather silly to me, especially more than a few days out — so much can still change (the Cards, for instance, haven’t even started to build their draft board) and it’s usually an exercise in futility anyway.

That said, it is fun to talk about and debate, and NFL.com has been doing a video mock the past few years, getting someone who covers the team to make a pick for that team and explain some of the reasoning behind it. I did that last week, and now the top eight picks are posted on NFL.com. The way it works is they come to you and let you know what players are gone and you move from there. In this mock, the top four picks before the Cards were on the clock looked like this:

  • Carolina — QB Cam Newton, Auburn
  • Denver — DT Marcell Dareus, Alabama
  • Buffalo — LB Von Miller, Texas A&M
  • Cincinnati — WR A.J. Green, Georgia

Obviously, Miller being off the board takes away a player many link to the Cards right now. It leaves two names that have floated around consistently in QB Blaine Gabbert and CB Patrick Peterson.

In this instance, as you can see in the video, I went with Peterson.

I am not saying I feel sure about such a pick. Peterson is expected to be one of the best, if not the best, players available. As I noted in my explanation, however, there seem to be a lot of parallels to Antrel Rolle that would at least make me hesitate. It’s also possible Gabbert is impressing the Cards when they get a chance to talk to him. Some, at this point, think Gabbert would be impossible for the Cards to pass up. And maybe the need for a pass rusher goes beyond keying on Miller, too.

As has been said many times, the quarterbacks hold the key to the top five. If Newton and Gabbert are both chosen, it looks so much different than if they are not. Realistically, all five teams need a QB — or at least it can be said that none are sure they have their long-term quarterback currently.

In this case, Peterson seems to be an impact player on the defense, which the Cards could use (yes, I do have concerns about a low Wonderlic score; it’s not the end-all, be-all, but it can’t be ignored either). I think impacting the defense is important. Would they go with him over say, Gabbert, if this is how it plays out? I guess we won’t know unless this is how it plays out.

P.S. By the way, just in case anyone wasn’t sure


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Draft “news” and mocks

Posted by Darren Urban on March 24, 2011 – 2:44 pm

As the news of the Cards’ visit with Blaine Gabbert blew up yesterday afternoon, the back-and-forth of Clemson DE Da’Quan Bowers’ knee has erupted and the travel schedule of Cam Newton has been documented, it made me think this column by agent Jack Bechta about the media and the draft.

As someone who has covered the draft and the league for a long time both on the outside as a newspaper reporter and on the semi-inside with this job (believe me, it’s not like I get to know everything just because I’m in the building), much of what Bechta says I understand. Does everyone? I don’t know. It’s a great read though, putting in perspective everything reported upon this time of year. Among the parts that I’d want to highlight:

— The media has very little impact on a team’s draft board. Writes Bechta, “What (the media) don’t have are the important pieces of the puzzle that have a huge impact on what decisions are ultimately made on draft day. The media lacks access to college injury files, Combine physical reports, first hand character reports from college coaches and teammates, and the whispers that come from college trainers and position and strength coaches who usually know more about the players than anyone.”

— Agents leak all this info to “drive up” draft stock (even though we just noted such stock doesn’t rise because of the media): “Agents right now are exaggerating 40 times, the amount of private workouts and visits, along with getting their clients multiple interviews in different markets with hopes of heightening their profile.”

— And finally this walk-off: “It’s been my experience since being in the business that NFL teams give very little clues as to who they will draft.”

I certainly don’t want to end pre-draft speculation — right now, it’s all I have to work with — but it’s not a science. This stuff is more an art, because science implies it can be figured out with facts, and I’m not sure that’s true. Last season, I mocked that the Cards would take Daryl Washington in the first round, because a) I had Dan Williams picked long before their choice even though I knew they’d look at him late in the first round; b) I knew they needed a replacement for Karlos Dansby, who left (and, in hindsight, still did leave, after Kurt Warner retired) the biggest hole of all the departures last offseason; and c) I had all the other top inside linebackers off the board by the time the Cards “picked.” They ended up getting Washington later, but there was obviously coincidence involved.

Take the Gabbert visit. Some wanted to jump on the fact the Bidwills attended the private workout. Not that Michael Bidwill didn’t want to go, but he was the pilot flying his father and the rest of the Cards to and from the owners’ meetings, so if Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves were going to piggyback the workout with the meetings, Bidwill had to be there, right? Doesn’t mean the Cards have locked in on the QB.

Again, everyone will (and should) keep talking about all this stuff. I took part in an NFL.com mock that will be put up Monday (and I will talk about it then). I’ll do a mock first round draft week. The Cards owning the fifth pick (and therefore being in the running for all the top names) and needing a QB only has intensified speculation this year. But there is a reason most mocks are in tatters once you get past pick four or five (OK, maybe seven) every year.

P.S. Here’s a really good blog item by Kent Somers breaking down the “elusive” ability of Beanie Wells, via stats from profootballfocus.com. In a nutshell, Beanie needs better blocking, but he also needs to break/avoid more tackles. But give it a read.


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Cards work out Gabbert

Posted by Darren Urban on March 23, 2011 – 1:06 pm

There has been much talk about who the Cards are going to work out privately leading into the draft. One guy was Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert. On the way back from the league meetings in New Orleans, a group of Cardinals — owner Bill Bidwill, president Michael Bidwill, general manager Rod Graves, coach Ken Whisenhunt and director of player personnel Steve Keim — stopped in Missouri to have dinner with Gabbert Tuesday night and then worked him out this morning.

Does it mean Gabbert’s the guy at No. 5? Of course not. I’d guess this isn’t the only workout planned for the top-echelon players. But clearly, Gabbert is in the mix for consideration.


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The time to consider Gabbert

Posted by Darren Urban on March 17, 2011 – 1:06 pm

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert had his pro day today, a slightly more impactful event than, say, Cam Newton’s because Gabbert didn’t throw at the combine. Reports from the workout say Gabbert generally threw well; ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said scouts are telling him he has good arm strength but not great arm strength. SI’s Don Banks tweeted the consensus he is getting is that Gabbert indeed can be a franchise QB.

The Cards were represented at the Missouri pro day by a scout and offensive coordinator Mike Miller. Some combination of team officials will meet with Gabbert again either next week or soon after.

I’m still not sure that a) the Cards would go QB with their first pick or b) that Gabbert will even be there to be picked. I do think that if the Cards took a quarterback in the first round, they’d be much more likely to go with Gabbert than Newton. There’s just something about everything that swirls around Newton off the field that I think they think Gabbert would be a safer pick.

But again, that doesn’t mean they will go QB. Gabbert means waiting, in all probability, behind a veteran (Yes, coach Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t like to play rookies right away and you can argue that will go for Patrick Peterson or Von Miller or whomever, but remember, the one time Whisenhunt had a top 10 pick here, Levi Brown started from the get-go).

We can argue that Gabbert isn’t as good as, say, Bradford or Stafford, for example, but any player is a crapshoot to a certain extent and that doubles for a quarterback. This time of year, I can’t remember a quarterback not getting picked apart when considered as a very high choice (although am I petty for thinking that wearing a backwards baseball cap while throwing today just seemed a little, I don’t know, unprofessional?).

(And in what might be my first-ever UPDATE off a parenthetical comment, it occurred to me that Gabbert does have long hair. Maybe he had to wear something on his head to keep the hair out of his eyes while throwing. Just trying to provide the benefit of the doubt.)


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Pro days and the case for No. 1 Cam

Posted by Darren Urban on March 8, 2011 – 9:54 am

The Cardinals have a handful of decision-makers — including head coach Ken Whisenhunt — attending Auburn’s pro day today, as colleges begin to host their home-cooking workouts. Obviously Auburn has a pair of potential top five picks in QB Cam Newton and DT Nick Fairley. Arkansas also has it’s pro day today; is it notable Whisenhunt chose to go where Newton is and not Ryan Mallett? Maybe. Maybe he already has seen what he wants to see from Mallett. Maybe the Cards will schedule Mallett for a one-on-one workout. The point is I don’t think you can make assumptions based on today’s choice.

At this point, the general feeling is that Newton and Misouri’s Blaine Gabbert (who, after not throwing at the combine, has his pro day March 17) are the top two QBs available. So to me, choosing to watch Newton over Mallett is logical. Doesn’t mean the Cards will take a quarterback.

Which leads me to this point: So many people are wondering if the Cards will take a QB first. What if Newton and Gabbert are both off the board in the top four picks? It may be a moot point for the Cards in the end.

My friend Darin Gantt, who covers the Panthers, told Bengals.com he thinks (at least on March 8th) that Newton will be the Panthers’ pick after losing out on Andrew Luck. That’d be a surprise. But I also remember about this time last year when everyone was just starting to talk about Sam Bradford going to the Rams No. 1 after he was hurt almost his entire final season in college. Everyone at first didn’t think Bradford would be the pick. Then he was, and it turned out pretty well for St. Louis.

That same top-three mock has Denver taking Von Miller at No. 2 and Alabama DT Marcell Dareus going to Buffalo at No. 3. That’d leave Cincinnati before Arizona. But all four teams in front of the Cardinals could conceivably be looking for a quarterback of the future. Would it really be a stunner to see both Newton and Gabbert off the board that early? I don’t think so.

We will see. In the meantime, the Cards will continue checking out the pro days (general manager Rod Graves is scheduled to attend the pro days of TCU, LSU and Texas A&M over the next six days) and doing due diligence. There can only be four players taken before the Cards go. Someone high-profile is going to be sitting there at 5. Who that is, however, remains vague.


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Interesting day for QBs on the podium

Posted by Darren Urban on February 26, 2011 – 2:22 pm

Two quarterbacks with big questions hovering around them met with the media today. Both had sessions that left a lot of those questions.

Arkansas QB Ryan Mallett was first, with drug use rumors having just recently been  reported. Mallett tried to deflect the questions, insisting he would talk to the various teams about the talk but wasn’t going to talk about it with the media, dismissing them as just rumors. “People can talk about me if they want to but I’m going to play my game,” Mallett said. But the questions didn’t go away, and when one reporter asked a final time that the questions weren’t going to end if Mallett didn’t answer them, Mallett ended the session with a quick thanks before stepping off the podium.

Mallett’s stock has been wildly speculated about, where he will go in the draft. Some thought he could be a high pick. Lately, there seems to be a thought he’ll drop, perhaps to the second round or later. Mallett said the strength of his game is mental, and he’ll have to be mentally strong to maneuver the latest talk.

Then came Auburn QB Cam Newton, who has not only had his own troubled past but recently caught everyone’s attention when he told Sports Illustrated he not only was going to be a football player but also “an entertainer and an icon.” Newton answered the question right away himself, although stunningly pulled out a piece of paper to read it as a prepared statement that football was his No. 1 priority. (He said the statement was misunderstood, and took the blame for that.)

Newton’s arrival stopped the media room — normally there is a buzz of background noise, but almost everyone in the huge room surrounded Newton as he spoke. He looked much more comfortable than Mallett, but was taking the same tack with his past transgressions at the University of Florida. “What I did in the past is in the past,” Newton said. “I’m not going to entertain questions about the past. I’m all about the future.” Newton did come across polished — and overall, better than Mallett in that setting.

Interestingly, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, the other highly rated QB, came off pretty well Friday when he spoke. Of course, the media interviews aren’t what teams are going to look at. It’s the one-on-ones, and I’d expect those — given the millions of dollars at stake — will be a lot tougher to sit through for the players.


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Chatting from a room with a view

Posted by Darren Urban on February 23, 2011 – 4:41 pm

Indianapolis is the anti-Dallas — meaning it’s cold, but no snow. You can see Lucas Oil Stadium from my hotel room (proof below). And speaking of my room, that’s where the computer will be hooked up for tomorrow’s live chat with general manager Rod Graves and director of player personnel Steve Keim (the link is here), which will begin a little after 1 p.m. Arizona time. As you can imagine, time is precious here in Indy, but we will have some combination of 15- or 20-minute chats each or one bigger one for about 30-40 minutes. Obviously we will get to as many questions as we can (and try to be realistic; Don’t bother asking flat out if the Cards will take a QB with the first pick, for instance. They don’t know yet and even if they did, I don’t see it being revealed on a live chat in February).

Before then, I’ll be over at the stadium as the first wave of players, coaches and GMs come through the media area. Because so many athletes train at the Valley’s Athletes Performance, our flight today had a heavy NFL-bent — among those I saw on the plane were Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert, Washington QB Jake Locker and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder, along with Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator Mike Miller and special teams coach Kevin Spencer.

Welcome to Indy 2011.


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To QB and not QB

Posted by Darren Urban on January 12, 2011 – 9:42 am

I made it all the way to January 12.

Obviously, quarterback is going to be a hot topic, probably all offseason. This isn’t the last time I am going to address it on the blog. But it will be the entry I link back to – over and over – whenever someone asks me about one of the popular names floating out there, whether it is a current NFL player or a potential draftee.

So expect to see the URL often in the blog comment section.

I don’t know who is going to play quarterback for the Cardinals in 2011. I don’t know who is going to be on the roster. I don’t think they know right now, and they can’t. The draft isn’t until late-April, and the nitty-gritty talks about who will be available and where they rank on the draft board have yet to occur. Free agency is a little less than two months off, and that’s only if there is no work stoppage. If there is a work stoppage, no free agents can sign anywhere until it is resolved. The same will go for trades involving players.

Those are some of the many reasons I have tried to hold out on talking about potential QBs. I didn’t last very long. So here goes, with the understanding of my limited knowledge of the college guys relegated to watching them on TV here and there:

Kevin Kolb: Might as well start here. If Kolb doesn’t get to start in Philly, he wants to start somewhere else. Ears all over Arizona perked up. But then Andy Reid talked about keeping both Kolb and Michael Vick, and reality sets in. Let’s say the Cards want Kolb (and I don’t know if they do). Forget about working out a trade for a moment. Why would the Eagles deal Kolb? He is under contract for relative peanuts in 2011 ($1.4M) and for now, Michael Vick isn’t under contract at all. Vick might be franchised, or there might not be any tag. Plus Vick got beat up by the end of the season. The Eagles need a backup. Lot of hoops to be jumped before you could ever see Kolb out West (or anywhere besides Philly).

Donovan McNabb: Ahh, my favorite subject. First, he has to be released. If it happens before the lockout, I believe he can be signed. But will that happen? Regardless, I don’t see it here. McNabb will have been let loose by two different teams. His play was less than consistent this year (and yes, I know some people don’t think he had enough weapons). There are questions about his fitness (the Washington stuff earlier this season wasn’t out of the blue), his accuracy and his age. Plus, he’s spent almost his entire career in a West Coast offense that doesn’t exactly mirror the Cards’ offense. I just don’t see it.

Marc Bulger (pictured below): He was a candidate this last offseason and is expected to be one again. He followed Kurt Warner once before. He’ll be available and he’s experienced. These are the plusses. He also hasn’t had a good season since 2006, struggling with less talent in St. Louis and declining skills.

Matt Hasselbeck: Why would the Seahawks let him go now? Or might he have made himself that valuable where they can’t keep him?

Kyle Orton: Has probably proven himself better than many expected. But the reports are the Broncos want a second-round pick for him. I don’t see the Cards doing that, unless they see Orton as a long-term solution (with, for example, Skelton as a backup for now). Would the Cards negotiate a lower pick? I could see that. Again, however, it’s a trade, so until there is a new CBA, Orton is a Bronco and in limbo.

Vince Young: Has skills and has been a winner. Also has reputation for not working hard enough at his craft and has proven he doesn’t handle adversity well. Not a good combination. I don’t see him as a realistic option.

Cam Newton: Was great this past college season – with the operative word being “college.” He was just OK in the national championship game. He’s not Vick, so you can wipe out most of the running part of his game as it translates to the next level. He’s got a ways to go if he is ever going to be a top-flight NFL QB, and I don’t see – right now – how you spend the No. 5 overall pick on him.

Ryan Mallett/Blaine Gabbert: Again, I need to see how these guys sort themselves out during workouts/combine, etc. But right now, hard to tell. Gabbert seems more highly regarded than Mallett, but things can always change as the draft approaches. There are also teams ahead of the Cards who will be looking at QB. I’ll say this: No one left in the draft is Andrew Luck. And the Cards can’t afford to whiff on the No. 5 overall pick.


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