Sunday, April 29, 2012

Thoughts on MSU and the 2012 NFL Draft

Over three days (well, actually the last two) six former MSU football players heard their name called at the NFL Draft — the most since seven in 2000. Three more have signed as undrafted free agents. (Here is MSU's all-time draft history).

First, a recap:

  • Jerel Worthy - Packers - 2nd round No. 51 overall
  • Kirk Cousins - Redskins - 4th round - No. 102 overall 
  • Keshawn Martin - Texans - 4th round - No. 121 overall
  • Trenton Robinson - 49ers - 6th round - No. 180 overall 
  • B.J. Cunningham - Dolphins - 6th round - No. 183 overall
  • Edwin Baker - Chargers - 7th round - No. 250 overall
  • Todd Anderson - Rams - UFA
  • Garrett Celek - 49ers - UFA
  • Brian Linthicum - Jets - UFA
Second, a look at the numbers: 
  • As mentioned, the six Spartans selected are the most since 2000 (7)
  • The six Spartans tied for the most in the Big Ten with Iowa and Wisconsin
  • The six Spartans tied for fourth among all schools (behind Alabama, Oklahoma and Georgia)
  • MSU is one of eight schools to have a player selected every year since the inception of the common NFL Draft in 1967 (MSU, Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee, Texas and USC)
  • The Big Ten's 41 picks were second among conferences (SEC: 42)
  • Over the last two years, MSU has had a player at every position group other than OL/TE drafted (counting OL and DL as one position group each). h/t KJ

That last stat is telling about the player development over Mark Dantonio's time at MSU. Also, Joel Foreman may have been drafted had he not retired from football due to injuries. As I wrote last week, MSU is one of the top teams in terms of NFL draft picks compared to recruiting class rankings. MSU should improve on that list with all the picks from this year. 

Again, MSU isn't trying to beat Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame on the recruiting path every year, because it can't. Dantonio has molded his program after Wisconsin and Iowa, focusing on recruiting the right players and developing them. And whaddya know? Those three schools led the Big Ten in draft picks this year. 

Five of the six Spartans drafted weren't highly recruited. Worthy, Cousins, Martin and Cunningham were given three stars by Rivals. Trenton Robinson was given two. Only Edwin Baker was highly recruited, given four stars. 

Yes, Alabama dominated with the most players because it gets the best recruits and it wins the most. But 14 of the 32 first-round picks were given three stars or fewer out of high school. You can win games without the best players. I don't want to turn this into another recruiting argument. I've made this point before, and now I'm relating it to the NFL Draft.

Now, let's turn to the players.

Jerel Worthy had a rough birthday on Thursday, watching the first round come and go without his name being called. On Friday, he tweeted that somebody had to pay and that it was adding motivation. He didn't have to wait too long on Friday, being picked by the Packers in the second round. The Packers use a 3-4 defense, so Worthy actually would fit better as a defensive end. The Milwaukee Journal says Worthy could be used in nickel situations, which is ironic, because Worthy was often taken out at defensive tackle in passing situations at MSU. Regardless, I don't question Worthy's work ethic as much as his stamina. He'll get a chance to start for Green Bay.

Kirk Cousins' selection by the Redskins was the most-talked about pick on the final day. Having already traded the kitchen sink to move up and draft Baylor's Robert Griffin III, selecting another quarterback was quite shocking. It was the first time since 1989 a team drafted two quarterbacks in the first four rounds. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan coached the South team in the Senior Bowl, where Cousins impressed on the North team. 

Cousins would have seemed a prefect fit behind a veteran, learning for a few years before possibly getting a shot to start. Now, Cousins will likely compete with Rex Grossman for the backup spot behind Griffin, who will get every chance to succeed in Washington. It's definitely an uphill climb for Cousins. ESPN's Chris Mortensen compared the situation to Atlanta a few years ago, when the Falcons drafted Matt Schaub in the third round despite having the young, athletic Michael Vick. The idea being that Griffin will take a lot of hits, so Cousins would be a solid and groomed backup should Griffin ever go down.

I think Cousins is the newest Avenger.

While ESPN tried to stir up a quarterback controversy, I don't see it. Mel Kiper said the selection of Cousins puts pressure on Griffin to succeed right away. I respectfully disagree. Griffin will be given every opportunity possible. He likely will go through some growing pains, but the Redskins will stick with him. While Cousins' personality is sure to draw a lot of fans and praise, Griffin was actually more beloved for his personality. He'll have plenty of support. All in all, a tough situation for Cousins, but I expect he'll work hard and study hard as a backup and draw the attention of other teams and could get a shot somewhere else, similar to what Brian Hoyer is doing in New England.

As for the other picks, Keshawn Martin can be a Percy Harvin-like player, used to stretch the field in all directions and could get early playing time in the return game. Trenton Robinson drew a lot of praise during the draft process for his effort. He could play cornerback or safety, and he isn't afraid to get his nose dirty, despite his smaller size. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at Robinson's draft day.

B.J. Cunningham in the sixth round seemed like a steal to me. I wouldn't be surprised if he has a solid NFL career as a slot receiver. He doesn't have elite speed to stretch the field vertically, but his hands are superb and he has good strength.

(More MSU player highlights videos from @Pietrang5 here)

When Edwin Baker declared early for the draft, it was a surprise, and it wasn't. He had lost his starting spot to Le'Veon Bell, so how much higher could his stock go? I didn't think he had a chance of getting drafted, but I was wrong. I know he was drafted a few picks away from Mr. Irrelevant, but he still was drafted. Charles Robinson thinks Baker could have helped his stock by staying in school because he would have gotten more carries in an offense that will likely run the ball a lot more, but I guess that's up for debate. 

Todd Anderson, Garrett Celek and Brian Linthicum were all signed as undrafted free agents. Linthicum was a guy who could have been drafted and likely had a lot of teams looking to sign him. He has a good chance to last in the league because of his versatility. Anderson is a beast in the weight room, so he'll have a chance as a fullback.

There is one notable Spartan missing: Keith Nichol. The quarterback-turned-receiver was getting looks at other positions from scouts, but doesn't appear to have signed anywhere. My guess is that he still will have some workouts with teams for another chance. 

It was one of the most-successful drafts in MSU history, and it won't be the last time MSU has a big weekend. MSU continues to bring in talent — some hyped, some not — and develop it. Johnny Adams (three stars) will be one of the top defensive back prospects next year. If Will Gholston (five stars) has the year some are expecting, he could leave MSU early and be a first-round pick. Isaiah Lewis and Max Bullough appear on the road to the NFL whenever they leave. MSU has plenty of other guys that could develop into that position down the road.

This weekend was another step forward in the advancement of Dantonio's program. He stabilized the program on the field, and now his players are reaping the rewards. 

No comments:

Post a Comment