The long awaited first round of the NFL Draft came and went on Thursday evening and things went according to plan through the first half dozen selections for yours truly, but eventually the picks began to head in an unpredictable direction.
Chaos ensued when the San Francisco 49ers went against the grain and selected pass rusher Aldon Smith out of Missouri 7th overall throwing a wrench into most projections. When the Tennessee Titans followed up that pick with an epic reach of their own for Washington quarterback Jake Locker at number 8, all bets were officially off.
That sentiment continued to ring true with another strange pick at 12th overall when the Minnesota Vikings took Christian Ponder of Florida State. Plenty of top talent remained on the board when for the Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams in succession who claimed Auburn’s defensive tackle Nick Fairley and North Carolina defensive end Robert Quinn with back-to-back picks at 13 and 14.
Thoughts of trades had to be rolling through the minds of those present in the Bolts’ war room as the picks continued to come at a furious pace. Prior to the draft, General Manager A.J. Smith gave his thoughts on making trades during the selection process saying: "Bad things can happen to you when you make deals on draft day. On the flip side, something great can come of it. Either way, you open yourself up to criticism, and you're either perceived as smart or stupid. I know that, when I do those deals, I'm making moves in the best interest of this franchise."
Smith would go on to explain just how the process of moving up goes during the days before the draft itself and what type of discussions take place amongst the team’s front office. According to the Bolts’ GM: "The reaction to draft-day deals that people see is not impulsive. We map out scenarios over and over again, especially in the three days leading up to the draft. We have a contingency plan for every occurrence. Based upon pre-draft conversations with other teams and our own evaluations, very rarely are we surprised by anything that happens on draft day. It's comforting to know that when those trade calls come in, a decision has already been made. Everyone has an opinion on what we should do. Fans are excited about what we can do with five picks in the first 89. We as an organization are, too."
After the New England Patriots made a pick in predictably unpredictable Patriots’ fashion taking offensive tackle Nate Solder out of Colorado, the first of those picks was officially on the clock for the Bolts. The table was set for GM Smith to get his five-technique defensive end in Cameron Jordan at 18, but much like the Patriots and their own unpredictable style, the Bolts GM has his own way of thinking.
By taking Illinois defensive tackle Corey Liuget with the 18th overall selection even though Jordan was still available, Smith definitely opened himself up for criticism from the fan base yet again. Most analysts considered Liuget to be a better fit in the 4-3 scheme, but he has great explosion off of the line of scrimmage and really dominates at the point of attack. He also showed the ability to read and diagnose plays while penetrating the line of scrimmage to blow up any potential gains in the backfield.
At 6’2” 298lbs., it’s highly likely the Liuget will find a home opposite Luis Castillo on the Bolts defensive line and take the place of Jacques Cesaire expected to depart via free agency. The Illinois product compiled an impressive résumé during his junior season in 2010 making 63 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks as well as 10 quarterback hurries. The 3-4 scheme rarely creates pressure from the front three linemen, but it’s nice to know that Liuget provides that extra potential in nickel situations.
Heading into this past year for the Illini, Liuget dropped 30 pounds and really became a difference maker defensively. His new nimble physique really shined at the NFL Scouting Combine where according to sources: “One scout said that Liuget had ‘one of the best workouts I've ever seen from a defensive lineman.’ (Liuget) ‘demonstrated great explosiveness, hip flexibility and quick feet’ during the workout that was orchestrated by Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. I'm not sure the kid broke a sweat. He had (Marinelli) working, not the other way around. I'm telling you, it was an impressive workout."
It very well could have been Liuget’s great motor or his versatility that ultimately sold the Bolts on him as the ideal fit for their defense. Former coach Jon Gruden summed up Liuget’s game saying: "I think the thing I like the most about this guy is his finishing. He will stay active and finish every snap. He's good on the move. He can slant and move. I think he's active enough, athletic enough, big enough to play multiple positions."
Time will tell just how this pick pans out for the team three or four years down the line, but getting stronger in the trenches had to be a point of emphasis for the front office in this year’s draft. Liuget is a nice first step toward shoring up an occasionally porous run defense last season and giving new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky a versatile player to mix and match in his chameleon defensive schemes.
Now it’s your turn to weigh in. Did you think the decision to draft Corey Liuget with Cameron Jordan still on the board was a good call or a bad call by A.J. Smith? Do you see Liuget as a 3-4 DE or will he be able to anchor well enough to play on the nose? What type of contributions do you expect to see from the Bolts’ first rounder in his rookie season? Where do you see the Chargers going with their remaining picks in the draft over the next two days? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
Labels: NFL Draft 2011
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