We are closing in on that time of year, my acquaintances. Draft microscope time!!!
I call this time draft microscope time because the actual draft is still two months away and the games are in our rear-view mirror. So the actual work for the draft involves workouts and visits and the Combine and interviews -- things that are meant to put a player under the microscope without him, you know, actually playing football.
And to celebrate today, I bring you Mel Kiper's and Todd McShay's latest mock drafts.
Both of ESPN's draft "experts" published their mock drafts today and at the No. 12 selection where the Dolphins are picking both went in polar opposite directions.
Kiper had the Dolphins picking Tennessee wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson.
McShay had the Dolphins picking Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro.
Interesting that the Dolphins are apparently so deficient in the passing department (on offense and defense) that the "experts" have them needing both a wide receiver for the offense and safety for the defense in the first round.
That should tell you folks that think the Dolphins are close to competing for the AFC East crown how far this team truly is.
At any rate, let me give you some food for thought here.
Neither projection is wrong at this point. Obviously. But both projections will depend on what the Dolphins do in free agency.
If, for example, the Dolphins go into free agency and sign my newly adopted son Mike Wallace (I added him to the Salguero family that already includes RG3 and Tim Tebow), then it becomes very, very unlikely the team invests a first-round pick on a wide receiver. It doesn't make sense when there are needs at cornerback and defensive end and yes, even safety. That would make the Patterson pick unlikely.
One possibility here would be if the club signs a veteran receiver such as Wallace (yippie!) or Greg Jennings (meh) or Dwayne Bowe (boo!) but allows Brian Hartline to leave via free agency. Then the club's need at WR will remain such that it could require first-round impact.
And if, for example, the Dolphins re-sign pending free agent Chris Clemons, who started every game at one safety spot this year, it is less likely the team will then re-invest in the same position at the level of a first-round pick to take Vaccaro. Remember, I have reported that the team has been talking to safety Reshad Jones about a contract extension so that is an obvious signal one safety spot is locked down.
The Dolphins have too many needs to extend Jones, re-sign Clemons (an expense beyond what rookies make and too expensive to have him sit as a backup) and then use a first-round pick on Vaccaro with the expectation he would start with Jones.
That is the strategic look at the situation as it relates to other moves in free agency that neither Kiper nor McShay are considering.
Now, as to the value of each player, there are some serious questions.
First, both Kiper and McShay have their guys going to the Dolphins at No. 12. But on the ESPN "Big Board" that lists players by grade, Kiper has Patterson listed at No. 15 and Vaccaro at No. 17. Yeah, that's what the Dolphins should do: Draft guys at No. 12 that you have valued several slots lower. In my country, that's called a reach.
Second, let's take a look at the players themselves. Both are solid. Both will be playing in the NFL next year. But neither screams, "I'm going to be a star so watch out!"
Vaccaro is said to be a bigtime playmaker. The Dolphins secondary needs this badly because taking the football away or making plays that get the defense off the field is something the Dolphins need more of. But I look at Vaccaro's stats and he had two interceptions last season. He had no forced fumbles. And he had two passes defensed, not counting the bowl game. And he played on a defense that gave up 50 points to Baylor, 63 points to Oklahoma, and 48 points to West Virginia.
I have not watched the guy on tape, but his statistics don't exactly suggest he's the next Ed Reed.
He looks the part. He's 6-3 and 205 pounds. He's billed as fast. And he's got the overall stats. He caught 46 passes for 778 yards and a 16.9 average with five touchdowns last season. It was his only season at Tennessee.
But dig deeper into that last paragraph.
I would be concerned Patterson spent his first two years at a JUCO and then transferred to Tennesee. Why? What's the story on him not getting in to a major college coming out of high school? Why is he jumping to the draft after only one season?
Whatever the answers, the bottom line is Patterson has limited experience against top flight college talent. So that makes me a bit uneasy.
Then there is this: A closer look at Patterson's impressive stats reveals some issues.
Of his 46 catches, Patterson feasted against lesser opponents but was a much more average player against better opponents. He caught only 16 passes against ranked AP teams and his average was only 11.4 yards per catch against those teams -- five yards less than his overall average.
Against the SEC's two best teams -- Georgia and Alabama -- Patterson basically disappeared. He caught two passes for 31 yards against the Bulldogs. He caught one pass for 25 yards against the Crimson Tide.
Meanwhile, he padded his stats with nine catches for 219 yards against Troy. It was the only game all season he went over 100 receiving yards.
That doesn't mean the kid won't play big in big games. That doesn't mean he's not gifted. That doesn't mean he's not a first-round pick.
But it does mean he requires a lot, much, tons of study to make sure he's worthy of a No. 12 pick. That is a big investment. And he's not exactly screaming that he's the next Randy Moss.