March 9, 2016
All but one of Florida’s draftees (and UDFAs) ended up with nice fits.
Giving out draft grades right after the draft is pretty pointless, when you really think about it. (The traffic they drive ensures that we will never be rid of them. — Andy) On draft days, though we find out destinations, we still don’t know for sure how these players are going to turn out. We’ve seen sure-fire Pro Bowl prospects drafted to great situations fail early on in their carers, and we’ve see questionable draft picks with limited upside turn into great players with long careers. That’s just the nature of the draft. And the NFL.
Football is weird.
Still, I think an exercise more useful than grading a pick is evaluating fit. Where a player goes sometimes does just as much for their careers as when they go.
Nine Florida players were either drafted or immediately signed as undrafted free agents this weekend, with at least one Gator represented in all four phases of draft weekend. Let’s take a look at those players and their new homes, and factor both into their outlooks to make an impact early on.
Vernon Hargreaves, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For many months, Hargreaves had been mocked to the Buccaneers at No. 9, and while his selection to Tampa didn’t come at that spot, it turned out to be a pick many could count as correct in their mock drafts. Though the stars all seemed to align in the pre-draft process for this home-town talent to be a Buccaneer, I actually was a bit surprised when Hargreaves’ name was called. I figured Tampa would go after a pass rusher, and though Joey Bosa did not end up falling, I thought both Shaq Lawson and Noah Spence were worthy and more alluring for the Bucs at that spot — which is funny, because they ended up getting Spence in Round 2 as part of a very intriguing Day 2 of picking.
What Bucs fans are getting with VH3 is the player Gators fans have seen for years: A polished, complete corner who can contribute both at nickel and on the outside in year one. I’m not saying there won’t be a learning curve for him, but unlike most rookies, Hargreaves has the technique and instincts to get on the field in some capacity by Week 1. I think he’ll do just that, and I foresee a long and successful career for him.
Keanu Neal, Atlanta Falcons
Before the draft began I was telling people it wouldn’t surprise me if Neal came off the board before Hargreaves, and if VH3 had ended up not being the Bucs’ first-rounder, that might have been very possible. Regardless of where it came in the draft, Neal to Atlanta is a perfect fit — and Hargreaves could have slipped into the late teens beyond that No. 17 pick the Falcons used on Neal.
KeKe is exactly what the Falcons need as a presence in the box and as a player who can really shut down a play. Earlier this week, we talked about the potential of Neal switching over to free safety. That won’t happen in Atlanta (at least, not yet), and that is for the best for him. Look forward to seeing highlights of Neal absolutely destroying someone at least two or three times this season.
Jonathan Bullard, Chicago Bears
Every year, we have those players who slide in the draft that you never saw coming. There were a couple of those players this year, for me, but none were more annoying than Jon Bullard failing to hear his name called in the first two rounds. Before the draft, I wrote that him being late first round pick to a team like Seattle or Arizona would be a good spot for him, but when those teams came and went, I figured the wait on Friday wouldn’t be long. Instead, we saw defensive tackles like Austin Johnson, Jihad Ward and Adam Gotsis go ahead of him — you can Google that last name, it’s okay.
Bullard’s slide finally ended at pick No. 72 in the third round to the host city, Chicago. He joins No. 9 overall pick and his fellow training partner Leonard Floyd of Georgia in the Bears’ new-look front seven. If the Bears continue to play out of the 3-4, I don’t love the fit for Bullard, because he’ll be asked to play gap control more than really get after the quarterback. However, he’s a talent both at 3-tech and 5-tech, so it’s not like this is a bad fit. I believe Bullard will prove his value.
Antonio Morrison, Indianapolis Colts
Now, this one surprised me. I didn’t expect Antonio Morrison to go in the early stages of Day 3, mostly because I didn’t expect him to get drafted at all. After Morrison failed to report to the NFL Combine due to a hardly reported illness, he took more than five seconds to run the 40 at Florida’s Pro Day, a Brandon Spikes-like performance without the Spikes-like production (or extenuating circumstance of rain) to excuse it. When you add the lower athletic numbers to all the off-the-field questions surrounding him, they didn’t churn out a draftable player for me. But, hey, here we are: I am happy that Antonio got drafted, I’m just surprised he did..
So what can Morrison do for the Colts? I’m going to be a harsher critic than others — clearly, because I didn’t think he would be selected this high — but Morrison is a violent, smack-you-in-the-mouth football player who loves inflicting pain. But when I watch his tape, I don’t think he has the lateral quickness or overall athleticism to put himself in situations to bring pain often enough to see significant playing time. He’s not a guy you can play on special teams because of his limitations; he’s solely a run-stopping middle linebacker.
Again, I could be completely off about his projection, but I don’t see a fit here at all.
Demarcus Robinson, Kansas City Chiefs
Back in January, there were whispers of some scouts thinking Demarcus Robinson was the best receiver in the draft. Those whispers were obviously a little over the top, but D-Rob landed in a great spot and got drafted early in Day 3.
The need for passing weapons in K.C. is no secret. Jeremy Maclin was great last year when healthy, but they need more than just him on the outside. Robinson has every chance to improve on his inconsistencies and make an impact early on in his rookie contract. If he stays focused, he has the talent to become their No. 2 receiver.
Kelvin Taylor, San Francisco 49ers
This one was also a nice surprise. I like this fit for Taylor, not just because the Niners don’t have a solidified long-term plan for their rushing attack, but also because Chip Kelly likes to integrate different styles into the running game.
Kelvin’s athletic numbers aren’t eye-popping, but who he’s compared to will tell you his potential role in the league. I think James White’s pass-catching, sub-package role is the most accurate, while the Ronnie Hillman comparison is probably his ceiling. I like this fit for Taylor.
Alex McCalister, Philadelphia Eagles
McCalister sliding all the way to the seventh round was something that surprised me. With a player that showed off the kind of athleticism he did, both on tape and at the combine, it’s hard to believe a team didn’t take a chance on him sooner.
McCalister’s a role player right now, one whom the Eagles will use in pass rushing situations only. He actually would’ve been more suited to the Eagles roster last year in their 3-4, since defensive coordinator Jim Scwartz said he’s switching the team to a 4-3. This means McCalister is going to have to put his hand in the ground on the line as opposed to coming off the edge in a stand-up linebacker position. That’s not ideal for him, but he should still get some opportunities.
Jake McGee, Carolina Panthers
If you asked me before the draft, I would’ve bet you McGee would be drafted in the sixth or seventh round. But he, and a few other notable tight ends, ended up going undrafted and were forced to settle for UDFA contracts.
McGee will get his chance with the NFC champion Carolina Panthers. I like this spot for him. He’s built in a similar mold to Greg Olsen — no, not, not just because he’s white — but not as good of an athlete as Olsen was coming out of Miami, though Olsen also isn’t that guy anymore. The Panthers aren’t deep at the tight end position, so I expect McGee to make the cut.
Brian Poole, Atlanta Falcons
Being an undrafted free agent has its perks. Though you don’t get to say you were drafted, coming into the league after every team took several looks at you and passed is easy fuel for the fire, and not being attached to any one squad gives you the chance to pick which team you want to go to if the phone rings a few times after that final pick.
Poole gets to join Keanu Neal to play under Dan Quinn’s Falcon defense. Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant have the outside corner roles on lock for Atlanta going into the season — but Poole’s best position isn’t on the outside, anyway. All season, I felt like a broken record begging for Florida to stop taking Poole out of the nickel spot. That’s where he was best in college, that’s where he’ll be best in the NFL, and if he’s going to stick at all, that’s where it will be, I think.