Pre-Draft Ramblings

Willie Reid

With the Big Day less than two weeks away, Ryan Wilson has more thoughts on prospective Steelers, the fallacy of mock drafts, the return of Willie Reid and even gets all serious in trying to solve the league's image problem.

So, let's just say not everybody was crazy about my First Round for Dummies column where I named my top four players heading into the draft. Apparently -- and I missed the memo -- Patrick Willis is overrated. I'm fine with that assessment; as I've written countless times, I don't watch enough college football to form any real opinions on potential NFL prospects. And while I usually know something about every player that eventually gets drafted, it's based primarily on other peoples' observations. My point: for me, the draft -- and the days and weeks leading up to it -- is kinda like Christmas Day: every pick is a present, and depending on who gave it to you, it has the potential to be really good or really bad.

So when people disagree with me on draft-related issues, I generally tend to listen. And when those with more knowledge than me pimp a player like Michigan middle linebacker David Harris, I'm all ears. I didn't write about it Sunday because I was only looking at potential first-round picks, but I had heard good things about Harris while doing my pre-draft homework ... and yes, "pre-draft homework" is a euphemism for "listening to Mike Mayock." During the NFL Network's Draft Preview show, Mayock shared these nuggets on Harris:

  • Might be the best hitter in the entire linebacking class;
  • Textbook tackler;
  • Has had a tremendous off-season, but on tape all he sees is Harris hitting people and securing tackles;
  • Likes him early in the second round.

And then I came across this in Sunday's Denver Post:

"He's strong, has great fluidity in the hips and is probably the best form tackler of the inside linebackers in this draft," said Mike Mayock, a draft analyst for the NFL Network. "He's a very good, not great inside linebacker who I think would be a nice safe pick for a team picking between 25 and 32 in the first round."

The concern is whether Harris would be ready to play on third down as a rookie. But after posting the fastest 10-yard and 20-yard times among all inside linebackers at the NFL scouting combine, Harris may have convinced the Broncos of his athleticism.

Harris sounds intriguing -- but it also sounds he's not worth the 15th overall pick and won't be around when the Pittsburgh Steelers select again at 46. And I'm sure a lot of people feel the same away about Willis … And Anthony Spencer.

I mention the Purdue defensive end here because of Jim Wexell's column from Monday, and the subsequent news that the Steelers finally brought Spencer in for a visit. I didn't list Spencer as one of my four favorite first-rounders, but honestly, that had a lot to do with him kinda falling off the radar the last month or so. That said, if Roger Goodell called his name as the Steelers' first-round pick, I'd be fine with it. One of the great things about the Internet is the access to information. It's also one of the worst things about the Internet.

Everybody -- and I mean everybody -- has a mock draft. Three or four years ago, you could count the number of "legitimate" mock drafts on one hand. Now, you can spend hours perusing thousands of mock drafts that all have one thing in common: after the first few picks, they're invariably wrong. And there's nothing wrong with that; it is entertainment, after all. But I know -- at least for me -- I'm subconsciously swayed by what I read. Remember last year? Raise your hand if you were convinced Darnell Bing and Ko Simpson probably would be long gone by the time the Steelers finally got around to making their second pick in the draft (remember, Pittsburgh traded out of the second round and had two third-rounders).

Every mock draft I saw had both of these guys being off the board in the second round … and they both ended up as fourth-round picks. And Bing, who ran a slow 40 time at his Pro Day, was moved to linebacker. And remember Penn State cornerback Alan Zemaitis? Most mock draft sites had him as a likely second-rounder and like Bing and Simpson, he lasted until the fourth.

Yeah, I'll be surprised if the Steelers take Spencer at 1.15, but only because I've been conditioned to think that way. But here's something to keep in mind: Mayock said this about Spencer: "The Ravens would love him because of his versatility." That's all I need to know.

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This is great news:
Reid has fully recovered from a foot injury that sidelined him last season and should be able to work his way into the wide receiver rotation, something that will keep him active on game days.
Not only does this solve the Steelers' punt-return problem, it also means I don't have to think things like, "hey, maybe Pittsburgh should think about drafting Ted Ginn because he's a great return guy." Yes, I admit it, I had those thoughts, but they were fleeting. And it's hard to blame me -- did you see the cast of characters the Steelers paraded out for punts last season? Anyway, I welcome Reid's return. He solves a special teams issue and I also hope he can be in the mix for the third or fourth wide receiver job. I know he's raw, but in the five training camp practices I saw, he didn't drop a pass during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills. Now, I have no idea if he can run routes, beat press coverage, or find the soft spots in a zone, but he can catch, and that alone should move him ahead of Cedrick Wilson on the depth chart.

I checked my notes from training camp, and here's what I wrote while watching Reid field punts:

Reid again showed a knack for making players miss and then reaching full speed in a matter of steps. And just so you know, some people think Reid is actually faster than Holmes.
Glad you're back, Willie.

By the way, Mayock rates Ginn as his No. 2 wideout behind Calvin Johnson, but primarily because he is such a great return guy. Mayock admits that Ginn has a long way to go as a pass catcher and cited this interesting statistic: 80 percent of Ginn's routes were either crossing patterns, hitches or go routes. Nothing complicated or nuanced. Basically, he sounds like Willie Reid.

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One of the interesting things to come out of the Pacman Jones/Chris Henry suspensions hasn't really been talked about: Will it reduce undesirable behavior? Whether you agree with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's punishment, it's hard to argue that it didn't open some eyes around the league -- both among players and the agents who represent them. Obviously, some feel the punishment doesn't fit the crime, especially since in Jones' case he has yet to be convicted of anything. I've jokingly described Goodell's policy as "zero tolerance" even though it's more like, "screw up 10 or more times tolerance." But again, should we expect things to get better? First, it might make more sense to ask another question: Is this a widespread NFL problem? That is, outside of Jones, Henry and, say, Tank Johnson, does the league have an issue with off-field incidents?

In social science, the crime deterrence literature puts forth an interesting theory. Essentially, the certainty of a punishment is found to deter crime more than the severity of a punishment. Stated differently, as the probability increases that a person is arrested for committing a crime, the likelihood they actually commit that crime decreases. (Intuitively, this makes sense; if there is 100 percent chance you'll get collared for robbing a bank, bank robberies would be almost non-existent.)

On the other hand, just because an offense carries a particularly stiff penalty, doesn't reduce the chances the crime is actually committed, especially if it's not clear when the punishment will begin.

And the best way to reduce crime, at least according to the criminology literature? The timing of the punishment. Let's say Pacman Jones goes to the club on Friday night, gets in a fight with the bouncer and is arrested. On Saturday morning, Goodell announces that the league will suspend Jones for one game. According to the theory, the swiftness of the punishment is much more important than the severity of the punishment. Even though Jones was only suspended for one game, because it was administered in such a prompt fashion, Mr. Pacman is much less likely to recidivate than if he had been slapped with a 16-game suspension, say, 12 months after the offense in question. (If you're into reading academic papers on this subject, you can have a ball here.)

While I applaud Goodell for taking a stance on all the off-the-field silliness, it's not clear he's done much to actually reduce the problem in the long term. Nevertheless, it's a good start.

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