Not the draft for immediate help in slowing down the spread

Posted Feb. 29, 2012 @ 2:50 p.m.
Posted By Kevin Fishbain

Robert Griffin III faced the same question that all spread quarterbacks have received over the years about playing out of the shotgun, and the former Baylor signalcaller showed he has a good sense of what is going on in the league these days.

At the Combine, Griffin was asked what he is trying to convince teams.

"That our offense isn't simple, it's not the traditional spread where we're in shotgun all the time, although we are in shotgun a lot. So are Tom Brady and Eli Manning in the Super Bowl, but that's beside the point," he said, to some laughter from the media.

Spread offenses are proliferating in what is now predominantly a passing league. When looking at this year's draft, I think about the Patriots, Packers and Saints of the world. What do those teams have? The league's best quarterbacks, quick receivers who can make plays in the open field and seam-stretching tight ends who pose matchup nightmares.

Obviously, none of those three teams went home with the Lombardi Trophy, but it's not like the Giants won it with smashmouth, ground-and-pound football.

Last year, the Falcons made no secret their desire to improve on offense to keep up with the Packers and Saints with a big move to draft WR Julio Jones. The Jets, Dolphins and Bills may want to use the draft to give their defenses a boost, having to play New England twice a season.

Looking at it from the perspective of arguably the three best teams in the league, this incoming draft class doesn't provide ample options for teams looking to not only keep up with those teams on the scoreboard, but also, and maybe more importantly, slow them down on defense.

Every position factors into running a shotgun, spread attack and slowing it down. You need a good offensive line to protect the quarterback and defenses benefit from linebackers who can be good cover men in the middle of the field. For the purposes of this, though, we will stick to seven positions that are important for running high-powered offenses and defending them, and how they shape up in the upcoming draft:

Running the spread

Quarterback

The Colts and whichever team winds up with the No. 2 pick expect to be on their ways to having a franchise quarterback with Andrew Luck and Griffin. After the top two, though, the QB class is still deep, with Ryan Tannehill, Kirk Cousins, Brandon Weeden and Brock Osweiler being prospects who could be gone after two rounds. It isn't easy to find the future at quarterback, but for teams looking to find the signalcaller that will help put more points on the board, this is a good draft to do it.

Wide receiver

Wes Welker, Greg Jennings and Marques Colston were far from "elite" receivers coming out of college, but the top of this draft does have plenty of talent at the position for teams looking to upgrade. Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all provide good options for teams, and Wright should fit well with a spread attack out of the slot. Teams that need help at wide receiver in order to better spread things out picked a good year to be looking to draft one.

Tight end

This is where it starts to get ugly for the teams that want to emulate what is going on in New England and New Orleans. After seeing Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham combine for 28 touchdown catches, plenty of teams want the next seam stretcher, but there might not be a tight end who goes in the first round. Ladarius Green is an intriguing prospect because he has the speed. Teams will have to continue to kick themselves for missing out on Gronk, Graham, Aaron Hernandez and Jermichael Finley because this draft is weak at tight end.

Stopping the spread

Pass rusher

Having an edge rusher who can get to the quarterback quickly and effectively is the first way to rattle a spread offense and get it out of rhythm. Whether it is from a defensive end or linebacker, teams are consistently looking for a pass-rushing threat, but unfortunately for those teams, there are no Von Millers in this draft. The Bills, who have a huge need at pass rusher, could wind up with the best one in the crop, and they pick 10th overall. There are solid prospects like Courtney Upshaw, Melvin Ingram and Nick Perry, but no lights-out, surefire pass rusher that can help combat the spread from Day One.

Defensive tackles

This is the deepest defensive position in the draft, which is why it is noteworthy for teams looking to stop high-scoring clubs. Teams with formidable interior pass rushers like the Lions and Giants have fared pretty well in that department. Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers and Dontari Poe are options for teams with a need on the interior, and if teams want to follow Detroit's blueprint, it's a good way to rattle the Tom Bradys of the world. By getting penetration up the gut and preventing quarterbacks from stepping up in the pocket, defensive tackles can make a big difference. It's also important to get to the quarterback quickly in these quick-hitting offenses, and the interior linemen can do that.

Cornerbacks

The Steelers, Giants and 49ers had success against the Patriots, Saints and Packers with physical coverage by corners. If opposing cornerbacks can knock a receiver off his route or blanket him, it throws these quick-hitting offenses out of rhythm. The draft has one surefire, first-round corner in LSU's Morris Claiborne, but then there's a drop-off. There is a group of press corners who are second- to third-round players, but teams won't find quick solutions at corner to keep up with the high-octane passing attacks in this draft.

Safeties

Like tight ends, this is not the draft to find the next Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu. Safeties are at an all-time high in terms of priority with teams trying to find players that can match up with the Gronks of the world. Very few teams have two legitimate safeties that are ball hawks who can play centerfield. Mark Barron, Harrison Smith and George Iloka lead the class, with Iloka having intriguing versatility, but none of them has the early read as being a shut-down-type safety. Last year, the first safety went off the board in Round Two. Barron will change that this year, but it's not a whole lot better.

Certainly, teams can find players in other rounds that can develop into key components in an offense and defense, but looking solely at the top prospects in the vacuum of the spread offense, this draft is shallow for teams that are trying to keep up. This tunnel-vision look at positions in the draft also serves as a reminder of how offense-heavy the top of the draft is. Teams are more likely to find players who can be immediate contributors in igniting an offense in the first round than defensive players who can help slow down the Bradys, Rodgers and Brees of the NFL.

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