I’ve been largely mum thus far as to the upcoming draft. The lockout and its implications have loomed much larger in my mind, and this site has other writers with far more draft expertise than I. My annual “Big Matt’s NFL draft dos and do not dos” post at the original BMCC wasn’t exactly the most clairvoyant of endeavors. I study the players; I have my rankings. But I’ve also grown to recognize how meaningless they are.
Analyzing and studying the picks after they’re made is what appeals most to me, because that’s when we’re in a position to learn the most about our general manager. This GM in particular reveals as little as possible through words. All we have are his actions. And bargain-basement free agent pickups really don’t tell us much. If we want to learn about Scott Pioli, we must observe how he drafts.
The guy has been a slippery one so far. I thought I had him pegged after the ’09 draft (also known as the “don’t go anywhere” draft). I was wrong. The 2010 draft was a major curveball, and ultimately that ended up being a good thing. A repeat of the ’09 draft would’ve been disastrous.
Nobody knows what Pioli is thinking this time around. I suppose that’s a testament to his discretion, if anything. I’ve been critical of Pioli’s secretive ways, but the draft is one area where his paranoid tendencies could actually come in handy. If nobody knows who we’re picking, so much the better. It actually makes things a little more fun for the fans too, and that’s something I never thought I’d say about anything Pioli has ever done. I have no idea who we’ll pick, and that’s an exciting prospect.
Still, there is one tendency I’ve definitely picked up on. Paddy touched on this a bit yesterday, and I think it bears further discussion. Scott Pioli is not a risk-taker. It’s just not in his nature. He said this himself in an unusually candid moment a year or so ago. It wasn’t big news at the time, but I definitely think its relevant now. Pioli will make what he deems to be the safest pick.
The argument can be made that both of his first round picks were actually fairly risky. Berry was picked higher than any other safety in NFL history, after all. And the Tin Man is far from is sure thing. But that’s looking at things from our perspective, after the fact. We need to look at those picks from Pioli’s point of view before they were made.
We’ll start with Tin Man. Most of us hated that pick at the time, and after two years it certainly doesn’t look like a good one. But what has Pioli repeatedly said they were looking for? Someone who could play the position the way they wanted it played. In a way that’s just GM-speak, I mean he doesn’t elaborate as to what “the way we want it played” entails. So really he can claim Jackson is meeting that goal no matter how poorly he plays. But the important thing here is his goal for the pick. It was a pretty modest one, right? Not looking for sacks, touchdowns, or any kind of big plays. Just a guy who can play the position with the technique you want. Make no mistake, Pioli thought he was playing it safe with the Tin Man. The results haven’t been what we’d like, but that isn’t because our GM was taking wild risks. That pick was anything but.
Eric Berry, to me, was the safest of picks. And I mean that in a strictly positive sense. Safeties aren’t usually drafted high, but they can often come in and play right away. Look no further than our fifth round pick, Kendrick “Louis” Lewis for evidence of that. The guy was picked 136th and was immediately a starting caliber player. That happens all the time with safeties. I suspect this is because a safety’s responsibilities in the NFL are very similar to what they were in college, as opposed to linemen or skill players who are often entering a whole new world.
I digress. The Berry pick was nice-and-easy. Russell Okung would’ve been considerably riskier. Even from a fan reaction standpoint. It was clear Berry was going to make some big plays and be a popular pick. Safeties have every opportunity to do that. Linemen don’t. What if we’d picked picked Okung and he’d given up a few costly sacks? Most fans only see linemen when they mess up. If Pioli wanted to give the fans something to cheer, Berry was the obvious pick.
I’m not saying Pioli considered that, mind you. Not consciously, anyway. But he had to have known how the Jackson pick was viewed. Not just by the fans, but by the media and the rest of the NFL. That pick was pretty universally panned. One thing he could be sure of is that the reaction to Berry would be nothing like that. Yes, it was early, but everyone loved Berry. There was zero chance of Pioli ending up with egg on his face.
Our GM gave us a sizable hint when he admitted to not being a risk taker lo those many moons ago. The question we need to ask ourselves is, which of the players available to us at #21 will be the safest? I hate to say it, but I don’t think that’s Phil Taylor. I’d like to see us take Taylor for a variety of reasons. Double D would jump for joy, Merlin would have a meltdown, and we’d finally have a nose tackle.
It’d be a fun ride, I just don’t think its very likely. Taylor is many things, but unfortunately a safe pick isn’t one of them. Akeem Ayers or Derek Sherrod is much more likely in my opinion. Neither of those guys are exciting picks, but both should be able to come in and improve our team somewhere. At #21, I think that’s all Pioli is looking to do. That and stockpile those precious intangibles. If there was a Mike Vrabel clone in this draft we’d probably trade up to get him.
note: Just for the record, my preference would be for Pioli to pick Taylor because I think it would be by far the most interesting pick. But if I was making the pick myself, I’d take Gabe Carimi. It’s easy to wish for another man to roll the dice, harder to roll those dice yourself.
note, part deux: I’ll be covering the draft Thursday and Friday. I think its hilarious the NFL has issued me press credentials when the team I cover wouldn’t even let me have one of those bricks with my name on it. But regardless, it should be a fun time. I look like a total pervert in my press headshot.