Oh, how we love draft information this time of year. The collective NFL masses are clamoring for tidbits prior to April 28th and thanks to Jon Gruden, there’s an hour-worth of more information to digest.
This time around, the opinions came from the former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst as well as ESPN Draft producer Jay Rothman. Both discussed everything from draft prospects to draft programming.
The biggest news from the call was Gruden’s praise of Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The former Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach said Newton would be the choice when the Carolina Panthers pick first.
“You can build a very unique offense around him,” Gruden went on to say.
The former coach, who serves as an analyst on “Monday Night Football,” has also developed a niche in the offseason with his “Gruden Camp” segments on ESPN. For the second consecutive year, the Super Bowl winning coach met with top prospects and dissected their game for a 30-minute show.
Gruden recently met with top quarterback prospects Blaine Gabbert of Missouri, Jake Locker of Washington, Ryan Mallett of Arkansas, Andy Dalton of TCU and Newton. He said Newton was most impressive because of charisma and eagerness to learn.
“He showed very good retention in our meetings,” Gruden said. “Newton impressed me the most in that regard.”
But Gruden had plenty of positive things to say about the top players being discussed in this year’s draft. He offered insight into what team’s are doing this time of the year too.
Gruden was of the opinion that the league’s current work stoppage won’t decrease fan interest in the draft. “Fans are excited for football once again… It’s the only method these teams have to improve.”
He thinks the stoppage has increased pre-draft preparation.
“Draft meetings are as thorough as they’ve ever been… much more calculated… Every team will be much more prepared.”
Though he was most outspoken about Newton, Gruden spoke positively about Gabbert, Dalton, Mallett, Locker, Kaepernick and Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
On Gabbert: “He’s a top-10 pick… has a quick, strong arm, prototype size.”
On Dalton: “He can play in any offense. He’s an outstanding, well-versed quarterback who can fit many schemes.”
On Mallett: “He was in a lot of pro-style situations… can draw up protections, blocking schemes and can really hum it.”
On Locker: “He’d be a fun guy to coach – I know that… can be a one-man wrecking crew.”
On Kaepernick: “This guy has a fastball – he can really throw it… An exciting prospect, who might need some time.”
On Ponder: “There’s a lot of upside here… He’s an accurate intermediate passer… Downfield throwing will develop.”
Gruden was later asked about the overall important of pass rush and defensive backs. He reiterated how important both aspects are to the game.
Because the NFL is becoming a passing league where even running backs and tight ends are lining up as receivers, the need for good defensive backs is at an all-time high.
“You need a number of defensive backs to line up with these people. You can never have enough of them,” he said.
Gruden felt equally as passionate about the pass rush’s importance to overall success. He said this year’s defensive line group is the strength of the draft class and listed more than a handful of names that could be chosen in the first round.
Gruden estimated four defensive backs could and seven defensive linemen could be selected in the first round.
However, he wasn’t as keen on the offensive line prospects in this year’s draft, noting that not many are clear-cut left tackle prospects. Gruden said Anthony Castonzo of Boston College stood out as the most polished guy of the group. Gruden estimated that Wisconsin’s Gabe Carimi could play right tackle or move inside to play guard. “He can Carim-you,” Gruden cracked.
On the other side of the line, Gruden was fond of Alabama defensive tackle Marcel Dareus (pictured right) and Auburn defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Gruden said Dareus could play all three line positions in a 3-4 scheme. He thinks Fairley continues to get better and stands out to him as the premier interior pass rusher in the draft.
Gruden was asked to make another comparison on the top wideouts available, Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones. Gruden said Green is his No. 1 receiver because of all-around ability, ball skills and over-the-middle toughness.
“He almost looked double-jointed at times getting in and out of breaks,” Gruden said.
But the coach turned analyst was equally high on Jones’ ability, mainly for his combine performance with a broken foot.
“Jones might not have as pure of hands (as Green) but he can be a force in pro football.”
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