Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

09 Apr 2008

Dolphins Getting Off the Clock?

Yes, it's too early for this to be truly significant, but Bill Parcells and the Miami Dolphins have begun negotiations with the agent for one of the top prospects in the draft. The surprise is that the prospect in question is not Chris Long, not Matt Ryan, not even Vernon Gholston- it's Michigan left tackle Jake Long. Parcells has a track record of favoring defense with his first round picks, and he passed up the chance to take both Orlando Pace and Jonathan Ogden, so there was some question as to how seriously he would consider Long. Should Long go first overall, he should probably send a nice flower arrangement to Joe Thomas.

Posted by: Sean McCormick on 09 Apr 2008

45 comments, Last at 15 Apr 2008, 12:45pm by RickD

Comments

1
by Theo, Netherlands (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:07pm

If trading down is not an option, they're wise to protect Beck. So Long is a wise choise.

2
by bubqr (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:13pm

Jake Long can be a great RT. We'll see if they really want to put him at LT. More than Beck, I think R.Brown is damn happy about that signing. A solid running game is what Beck/Round 2 QB needs. While he'll be handing off the ball, he won't have to look for a decent receiver to throw to.

3
by Trieu (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:19pm

Didn't Parcell's draft Drew Bledsoe first in the '93 draft?

4
by formersd (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 6:53pm

Yes, Parcells took Bledsoe #1 once upon a time...

5
by Andy (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 7:20pm

1. I don't buy all the talk that Jake Long doesn't have the agility and quickness to handle speed rushers and therefore cannot play LT. Joe Thomas has proven to handle speed rushers and Long has better timed speed and quickness than Thomas. Plus, he only gave up 2 sacks as an LT at Michigan.

2. It is a given that Miami needs offensive line help. If they take Jake Long at #1, that frees them up to take the BPA at #32. Inevitably, some top-20 guy slips into the second round. If they already addressed their OL need, they'd be free to take the BPA. Otherwise, they'd be forced to take OL at #32.

3. All that being said, I wouldn't read too much into the negotiations. They're just doing their due diligence and will negotiate with the other top prospects (I assume).

6
by Rocco (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 7:38pm

Okay, the first time I looked at the subject line, I didn't see the word "clock". Let's just leave it at that.

If they think JLong is the answer at one of the tackle spots, it's a good move. I don't like Matt Ryan all that much- poor decision making, too many games this year where he was poor but covered over bad games with one or two "clutch" drives.

7
by MTR (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 8:03pm

Given the money the first pick will get, I think there's something to be said for picking the player who is least likely to turn into a horrible disaster. I think you can make a good case Long is that guy. Even if he doesn't work out at LT he could be moved to RT or even G. In that case you're overpaying him, but at least you still got a competent starter.

8
by Dan G. (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 8:26pm

A key point here is that the Dolphins literally only have one Tackle on the roster who is an actual starting calibur or even solid backup type player, Vernon Carey. They will probably need to draft two Tackles this year or at least pick up a late roster cut after the vets get cut.

Carey is a star-calibur RT but an adequate LT. So, it makes sense, strictly on a need basis to draft the best LT out there so you can actually field an OLine this year.

9
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 9:19pm

A team as generally devoid of talent as the Dolphins has no business thinking about needs for next season. Long is not even close to the best prospect in the class; he got annihilated by Gholston when they faced off. If he is one of several prospects they plan to have talks with, fine. If Parcells wants to mess the bookies around before staking a load of money on the guy they're actually picking, that's immoral but funny. If this really is an early indication of where the team is determined to go, it's a horrible decision. Long is not a good enough pass blocker to justify that kind of investment.

10
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 9:34pm

I may be mistaken but as far as I am aware the biggest knock on Jake Long was that Gholston apparently destroyed him in the Bowl game. What puzzled me when I watched the game was that while Gholston was a monster in that game, almost all of his good work came against the RT not Long. I know he did get a sack against Long, but what I saw seemed more like a mis-communication between the linemen. I may be wrong about that, it is a while since I watched it and it was on bloody late in England (and consequently the odd beverage may have been consumed). What I do know is that there were plenty of running plays where Long picked Gholston up and carried him around the field.

(If any of the above is complete rubbish please don't be too unkind when you rip my post to pieces)

Long may not have perfect footwork, but he has good enough agility and strength that he will be easily good enough in pass protection whilst hurling guys about in the run game. If Miami were to go with Long, he and Carey would make Ronnie Brown a very happy man.

11
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 9:47pm

I have trawled youtube looking for clips of the game and apart from one play all Gholston's highlights are against offensive linemen other than Long. While I am happy to accept that youtube isn't the be all and end all of game film it does mesh with my memories of the game. The only play I can find where Gholston messes with Long seems like a blown assignment by pretty much the whole blocking scheme. FWIW I am not saying Gholston didn't cause havok that day, just that it wasn't all down to Jake Long. That and I don't think I would draft whoever was playing RT for Michigan that day.

Sorry to doulble post.

12
by Ben (not verified) :: Wed, 04/09/2008 - 11:30pm

re 7: Or you get Robert Gallery...

13
by lionsbob (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 12:12am

Long has allowed 2 sacks in his career supposedly: one his freshman year and one his senior year.

Gholston did do most of his damage on the RT not Long. Same thing with Harvey in the Florida game.

14
by jimmo (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 12:37am

re:12, which is what #7 said:

"Even if he doesn’t work out at LT he could be moved to RT or even G. In that case you’re overpaying him, but at least you still got a competent starter."

Gallery looks to be a competent LG in Cable's zone scheme, as the FO line stats show a decent improvement from 06 to 07 (30th to 11th in ALY at left tackle, 28th to 20th at mid-guard, for example).

15
by johonny (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 1:12am

As pointed out the Dolphins must take a OT sometime on the first day. Parcells removed pretty much all his OT during his off season moves while signing no one. I have no idea why mock drafts have ignored the complete void Miami has to their oline. Particularly since it's a void intensionally created by Parcells and left open up to the draft...

16
by Sean McCormick :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 1:38am

As noted elsewhere, the vast majority of Gholston's damage was done on the right side and away from Long. Gholston did get one sack when he beat Long on the snap, but with the exception of that play, Long had no problems with Gholston at all, either this year or last year. (In fact, most of Gholston's sacks seem to have come from moving him around to find the most favorable matchups, often on the right side, which doesn't bode well for him once he's in the NFL and asked to beat NFL-caliber left tackles with any regularity.)

And Long basically used Derrick Harvey for a lawn mower in that bowl game.

17
by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 5:19am

Having seen the title I thought Miami had managed to generate real interest in a trade. Obviously not. :(

18
by BDC (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 7:21am

I for one would not be at all upset if they picked him number one. I mentioned this a while ago (but assumed it wouldn't happen, as no one seemed to even consider that Miami would go OT with the first pick). But they upgrade two spots at the same time.

First, the get a quality LT (presumably anyway). And two, they can move Carey over to RT which is where he really belongs.

I generally advocate BPA for a team in as desperate a situation as Miami. With that said though, if you one or two spots on the team that are reasonably solid, you probably don't want to spend a first overall on those spots.

19
by apocalypse66 (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 7:40am

Re:6 Did you substitute an "r" for the "l" and an "a" for the "o"?
If so, I can understand your confusion considering some of the 'Fins' previous players. (cough...Ricky Williams...cough)

20
by mawbrew (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 8:17am

I guess my memory of the OSU-Michigan game is at odds with some other posters. I wasn't paying any attention to Gholston (didn't know who he was) but I did pay attention to Long since he was so highly rated. I thought Long played very poorly in that game. He was frequently beaten in pass protection (perhaps by Gholston, but As I mentioned previously I wasn't paying attention to the OSU side). And he wasn't getting beat by speed moves. He was simply being bull rushed back into Henne's lap. It didn't result in a bunch of sacks but Henne had to unload the ball much too quickly on almost every throw.

This game may have been atypical for Long but he sure didn't look like a top pick for those 60 minutes.

21
by the original sam (formerly sam!) (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 8:23am

10:

Minor quibble: Long didn't face Gholston in the bowl game, because Michigan played Florida. Long handled the Florida defensive line (including Harvey) pretty well, but that really doesn't say much. The Florida defense was a weak point all around, and the already thin defensive line was absolutely decimated by injury by the end of the season.

22
by Boesy (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 9:03am

Re: 21

Bowl game in question is the Senior Bowl.

23
by Jimmy (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 9:13am

#21,22

It was my mistake because I couldn't remember which two teams played for the Championship (it really isn't a big deal in the UK). I had watched Ohio against Michigan a couple of weeks (I think) before the Bowl season started. Sory for the confusion, college football isn't really my forte.

24
by Cyrus (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 9:27am

Its been reported that they are also in talks with Chris Long, Gholston, Matt Ryan and Dorsey.

Hopefully they set a low price for the #1 pick, because of this shopping around, and some of the rookie contracts come back to reality.

25
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 10:26am

"most of Gholston’s sacks seem to have come from moving him around to find the most favorable matchups, often on the right side, which doesn’t bode well for him once he’s in the NFL and asked to beat NFL-caliber left tackles with any regularity"

If I saw Gholston as an NFL DE, that might worry me, but all my pro-Gholston lobbying is on the assumption that he will be drafted by a 3-4 team as an OLB. He'll be moved around a lot in the pros too, and his combination of speed and power will make him hugely disruptive in the NFL too. He is a very similar prospect to Shawne Merriman. If the Dolphins plan to run a 4-3, they should pick Chris Long, because moves and skill become far more important for a 4-3 DE compared to a 3-4 OLB. In reality, I suspect that the defense they run next year will be determined by the player they pick (unless it's Jake Long, of course). That's why they haven't announced it yet.

26
by bravehoptoad (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 10:51am

So, Mr Shush, where is all this "Gholston annihilated Jake Long" talk coming from?

27
by TED F!@#ING GINN!? (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 11:10am

Re 20:

I'm right there with you. I barely knew who Gholston was before that game, but I was watching Long intensely on almost every single play and I saw some pretty bad, and bone-headed plays.

In fact, knowing the Dolphins' situation last year, I watched Long on almost every play in a few other nationally televised games as well. And I saw the same thing. He may not have given up many sacks (although I think the number the media keeps spouting is skewed by "hometown" scorekeepers), but there were a lot of times where it looked like he was too upright and got pushed back right into Henne. I also remember one boneheaded play where he inexplicably ran right past the DE to block a linebacker. I could not believe it. I figured it had to be some weird blocking scheme issue because it looked ridiculous, but I don't know for sure.

Parcells and company are much better personnel scouts than I'll ever be, and admittedly Long is the first OL I have ever watched on such a consistent basis, but what I saw did not impress me at all.

I'm thinking this is all part of "the negotiate with all the top prospects to get the best deal with the one you want" strategy that some have mentioned.

If they do pick him, then I'll just assume I was wrong. At least I can comfortably do that this year, which means we are already on the way up from last year's debacle.

28
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 11:49am

Ya'll are forgetting that the new coach in Miami is not Parcells, but Sparano. O-line is his forte, so drafting Long doesn't sound all that surprising.

29
by Daniel (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 12:44pm

There were quite a few times during the OSU-Michigan game that Gholston used simple moves to get inside of Long and bull rush his way to the QB. Yeah, he only gave up one sack, but he didn't play particularly well. I would still take him in the first spot simply because great left tackles are harder to find then great pass rushers. There is still some doubts as to how great Long can be, but with no clear cut, must-have player the Dolphins cannot be criticized for gambling on a LT.

30
by TomHat (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 2:06pm

drafting Gholston would sell more jerseys. because his name is freaking awesome.

31
by Dave (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 4:19pm

Miami really needs to use the #1 pick to draft an anchor that they can build the team around. To me, that means either a NT, a LT, or a QB. Having a player like Shawn Merriman is great and all, but how many games has Merriman really taken over and dominated? I would think that Jason Taylor would be enough proof that even a great LB/DE hybrid can't do enough by himself to anchor a team.

32
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 8:39pm

NT? Give me a break. I love a good nose guard as much as the next guy, but when is the last time one was drafted in even the top twenty, or given a big free agent contract? Who's the best nose guard in the league right now? Jamal Williams? Casey Hampton? Pat Williams? Would you trade a #1 pick for any of those guys? Are you really telling me that Reggie White wasn't a player you could have built a franchise around? Or Lawrence Taylor?

My impression from watching that Michigan-OSU game, which I admit was very late at night over here, was that Long was in real trouble on the majority of pass plays. I may have attributed some of those to Gholston when others deserved the credit, but in general I felt Long (who I had previously regarded as the best bet for Miami) was exposed and that Gholston was the man most responsible.

33
by Alex (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 8:39pm

So, Mr Shush, where is all this “Gholston annihilated Jake Long” talk coming from?

You know how the pregame shows/analysis always seem to focus on specific matchups (Team A's RB vs. Team B's LBs, or Team A's WR#1 vs. Team B's CB, etc.)? Well, they probably talked about "Gholston vs. Long" and wondered who would win that matchup. Then, after the game, uninformed reporters and fans looking at the boxscore thought, "wow, Gholston got a lot of sacks! He must've destroyed Long."

As noted elsewhere, the vast majority of Gholston’s damage was done on the right side and away from Long.

True, but Gholston did frequently face double teams on the right side, so it's not like he was just destroying an inferior OT, he was destroying an inferior OT and another blocker.

Also, I'm with #25, Gholston seems pretty similar to Merriman, and I think most 3-4 teams would consider Merriman a good choice at #1 overall, given what we know of him now.

34
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Thu, 04/10/2008 - 10:26pm

16: “most of Gholston’s sacks seem to have come from moving him around to find the most favorable matchups, often on the right side, which doesn’t bode well for him once he’s in the NFL and asked to beat NFL-caliber left tackles with any regularity”

Honestly, that's a terrible criticism. If Gholston had gone against Long all game and gotten one sack against him, that would have been a great game for a pass rusher. A pass-rusher who could get one sack per game started would be the single greatest defensive player in the history of the NFL. Bruce Smith had fewer than one sack per game. Reggie White. Lawrence Taylor. None of those guys averaged more than a sack per game for their career. The only player with that average currently is Shawne Merriman, who has 39.5 sacks in 37 starts.

Gholston got a sack against Long playing less than a full game lined up against him - and the rest of the snaps, he absolutely abused everyone else.

I know you're going to go badger me about how it's a small sample size. But you're the one who decided to make a point based on that small sample size.

Basically, any reasonable measure on these two guys suggests that they should be worth their draft position. They dominate on the football field, they dominate at the combine, and neither one came out an absolute victor in their most recent matchup.

35
by Sean McCormick :: Fri, 04/11/2008 - 9:38am

It is a small sample size, but much of the Gholston love is based on small sample sizes- he only had 37 tackles on the season, and the majority of his sacks were crammed into just a couple of games. If Gholston had played like he did against Michigan in every game (regardless of who he was beating for his sacks), he would have come into the off-season as a consensus top 2-3 selection. As it is, he started off graded as a late first round guy based on his spotty effort and then rose steadily thanks to his measureables.

36
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Fri, 04/11/2008 - 11:22am

I've got news for you:
All DE stats are based on small sample sizes. If you're the greatest pass rusher ever, you'll have about 200 sacks. Jon Kitna gets that many dropbacks in five weeks. There is never a defensive end for whom you have a large sample size.

The allegation that most of his sacks are crammed into a few games is equally absurd. That's also true of every defensive end. Look at the gamelogs for Patrick Kerney, Mario Williams, or Osi Umenyiora.

Sacks are a volatile, flukey stat with a small sample size. Get over it.

37
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Fri, 04/11/2008 - 12:32pm

NT? Give me a break. I love a good nose guard as much as the next guy, but when is the last time one was drafted in even the top twenty, or given a big free agent contract?

I went back as far as 2000. In every single draft, there has been atleast one DT picked in the top 15.

I'd trade a #1 pick for Vince Wilfork/Casey Hampton/Jamal Williams, etc, well before I'd trade a #1 for Reggie Bush or Vince Young, or a ton of other highly hyped players that have been picked extremely high.

A great NT can make a mediocre pass rusher look like a great one, by assuring hes dealing with only one blocker.

38
by Sean McCormick :: Fri, 04/11/2008 - 5:35pm

But when you are going in the top five, you should do more than just rush the passer. The fact that Gholston's stat line looks like this- 14 sacks, 37 tackles- strongly suggests that he doesn't provide very much beyond his pass rush. He's going head-to-head against Chris Long, who also has 14 sacks, but who has 79 tackles to go along with them. Gholston is frequently compared to Merriman, but Merriman, while having only 8.5 sacks his senior season, had somewhere in the neighborhood of 84 tackles. Demarcus Ware had 55 tackles, Mario Williams, who had major motor issues, still had tackles in the fifties, etc, etc.

Any way you look at it, taking a guy in the top five who only had 37 tackles on the season smacks of high risk.

39
by Eric (not verified) :: Fri, 04/11/2008 - 6:25pm

Sacks are a volatile, flukey stat with a small sample size. Get over it.

And HIGHLY dependent on play calling on both sides of the ball.

40
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sat, 04/12/2008 - 3:24pm

"I went back as far as 2000. In every single draft, there has been atleast one DT picked in the top 15."

Nitpick: Travis Johnson, at 16, was the first DT selected in 2005.

More seriously, I was overstating the case (to the point of being, um, wrong) to arbitrarily pick 20 as the cut-off. Haloti Ngata was picked at #12. Casey Hampton was #19. But your response ignores the fact that I was talking about nose tackles - big, space eating DTs - not about defensive tackles in general. Guys like Okoye, or Seymour, or Warren Sapp, who are drafted in large part because of their pass-rushing ability, are not relevant.

Jamal Williams and Casey Hampton both get about $5m a year. Pat Williams is on just over $7m. Jamarcus Russell's contract is for six years, $61m, with $32m guaranteed. The guaranteed money in Russell's contract is more than the total value of any of the contracts under which Hampton and the Williamses currently play. In other words, either the market is massively inefficient and top nose tackles are grossly underpaid, or drafting a NT first overall would be a terrible idea, since even if he was elite he would be getting more money than he was worth.

"But when you are going in the top five, you should do more than just rush the passer."

I don't think you have to, provided you rush the passer really well. Merriman isn't much good at anything else, despite his college tackle numbers, but if there was a do-over of the 2005 draft tomorrow there's no way he'd go lower than #3, and the only reason he might not be #1 is that Ware is also a monster. If Freeney had been drafted first overall, I don't think anyone would consider him a disappointment. Simeon Rice wasn't much cop against the run either. Teams that run either a 3-4 or Tampa-2 base defense can certainly find a use for guys whose only real skill is getting to the quarterback. In the case of a 3-4 OLB, explosive short-area speed is the primary tool by which that end is accomplished.

As for the sacks being crammed into a few games, I remember exactly the same criticism being levelled at Mario Williams two years ago.

For a 3-4 team, Gholston has probably the highest ceiling of any player in this draft, and a decent chance of reaching it.

41
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Sun, 04/13/2008 - 1:10pm

"In other words, either the market is massively inefficient and top nose tackles are grossly underpaid, or drafting a NT first overall would be a terrible idea, since even if he was elite he would be getting more money than he was worth.
"

It very much seems to me to be the first, and not the second.

When's the last time a top tier, reasonably young nose tackle changed teams?

42
by Mr Shush (not verified) :: Sun, 04/13/2008 - 10:27pm

Ok, so I cannot think of a top nose tackle who became at a free agent while reasonably young since Sam Adams, in 2000 (27), 2002 (29) or 2003 (30), depending on how you define "reasonably young".

However, three guys who I presume qualify were traded this offseason - Jenkins, Stroud and Rogers. Each man's former employers received a third round pick plus odds-and-sods (and it's clear Cleveland at least viewed Bodden in that category) in compensation. Jenkins and Rogers signed contracts with average values of roughly $7m a season; Stroud's was closer to $6m. I can't find any real details for Rogers, but Jenkins' cap number is around $6m in 2008 and much lower in both 2009 and 2010 - it's one of the many contracts signed this off-season by teams who apparently are operating on the assumption that 2011 will be an uncapped year, so it's total value does not realistically represent the team's valuation of the player in the current/immediately prior market. Stroud's follows the classic pattern of cap numbers slowly increasing over the life of the contract, starting at around $4.5m.

Ok, so these deals weren't signed on a completely open market, but the players certainly had the opportunity to negotiate with multiple teams, and could have effectively blocked any trade if they weren't happy with the contract.

I just don't believe that any nose tackle (barring hypothetical ROBO-NTs), of any age would be able to sign a deal worth more than $8m a year, at the absolute maximum, in the current market. $8m a year is roughly what I expect the first overall pick in this draft to get. So if a nose tackle drafted first overall turned out to be the best player at his position in the entire NFL, he might possibly represent about market value for his contract. If he is anything less than the very best, he is being overpaid. By contrast, a DE, QB or WR probably only has to be in the top ten at his position for the contract to be worth it.

If you really think it's likely that the entire NFL is just doing a lousy job of assessing the value of these players, then I guess I'm unlikely to convince you, but that seems like a strange position to adopt. If you think the teams know how valuable the players are but are getting away with not paying them up to that value, why do you think that all top NTs have incompetent agents?

Finally, why doesn't DT show up at the level QB, DE and the rest do in the studies that have been done on the effect on team performance of injury to a starter? To take one example, how were the Steelers able to cope so well (-17.6% DVOA, 3rd in the league) when they lost Hampton for ten games in 2004? Hampton was, in my opinion, the best NT in football at that time. If the answer is "because Chris Hoke is really good too", why hasn't some other team traded for him since then? He'd surely come a whole lot cheaper than Jenkins, Stroud or Rogers.

43
by Tom D (not verified) :: Mon, 04/14/2008 - 12:14am

How many "top tier, reasonably young" players of any position reach free agency? Teams try to keep their top tier, young players at all positions, even whether it be nose tackle or punter.

44
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Tue, 04/15/2008 - 9:51am

"#

How many “top tier, reasonably young” players of any position reach free agency? Teams try to keep their top tier, young players at all positions, even whether it be nose tackle or punter."

Well, we've had a lot more CBs reaching the last couple years...

45
by RickD (not verified) :: Tue, 04/15/2008 - 12:45pm

re: 40
Richard Seymour was drafted for his pass-rushing ability? That's not how I remember it.
Seymour has never been a pass-rush specialist a la Warren Sapp. Nor is he a run-stopper like Wilfork. He's been known over the years for excelling at all the possible aspects of DL play, whether at DT or DE.

Last season excepted, of course. His 2007 season wasn't particularly impressive.