The NFL is a copycat league.
Following the Seahawks' dominant Super Bowl victory over the Broncos, the media is trying to figure out Seattle's blueprint. Make no mistake about it: NFL teams are doing much of the same as they start planning for free agency and the draft.
Moreover, if the NFL is a copycat league, it's also an evolving one. The entire state of the game can be represented by the chess match between offenses and defenses as both look to find the key to beating the next big thing. Then, in turn, the new facet of the game must be beaten.
Thus, we see some positions and even certain types of each position float to the forefront as the league coalesces around traits it wants and rushes to be the first to collect the top players who fit that profile.
Bigger and More Physical Corners and Safeties
This is, without a doubt, what people think about when they think of the Seahawks.
Richard Sherman (6'3", 195 lbs), Byron Maxwell (6'0", 206), Kam Chancellor (6'3", 235), Earl Thomas (5'10", 202)—that's the "Legion of Boom" that started the Super Bowl. Add in troubled cornerback Brandon Browner (6'3", 221), and it's clear the Seahawks have had a type the past couple of years as they collected defensive backs.
The goal with such big defensive backs is to, at least as a base defense, man up on the outside with a Cover 2 or Cover 3 shell over the top. This allows the pass rush a good two or three seconds to harass the passer by taking away the truly quick passes that have become hallmarks of the NFL thanks to West Coast, Air Raid and spread principles.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and former Seahawks defensive coordinator Gus Bradley have already started going down this road. The Kansas City Chiefs have been trying to add size in the secondary for a year now as well. The Detroit Lions' new defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, has intimated that they will do the same, according to MLive.com's Justin Rogers.
Luckily for these teams and the many more that will be looking for big defensive backs in the draft, this class has a few great ones.
In fact, if one needs any more proof that NFL teams are looking for a specific type of corner, look no further than the Senior Bowl rosters, as former NFL personnel man Phil Savage seemed to be collecting big defensive backs to showcase.
Keith McGill (CB, Utah), Walt Aikens (DB, Liberty), Pierre Desir (CB, Lindenwood) and Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB, Nebraska) were just some of the prospects in attendance who fit the bill.
"Big" is not the all-consuming trait, however. Length is an important factor. Physicality is a prerequisite that not all bigger cornerbacks have. The ability to still run stride for stride is important as well.
Not all teams are going to go for every single big cornerback in the draft. In fact, the luckiest teams might be those which eschew the size concerns and go for talented defensive backs outside of the niche like Jason Verrett (CB, TCU) and LaMarcus Joyner (CB, Florida State).
Prospects to Keep an Eye On: Calvin Pryor (S, Louisville), Justin Gilbert (CB, Oklahoma State), Ed Reynolds (S, Stanford), Pierre Desir (CB, Lindenwood), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB, Nebraska).
Linebackers Who Can Run Sideline to Sideline
This trend has been in effect for at least a season (if not more) and has everything to do with the dominance of the so-called next generation of dual-threat passers in the NFL.
Everything has a trickle-up effect. In college, defenses are not good enough to account for athletes at the quarterback position. The prevalence of read-option running out of the pistol and shotgun spread—combined with Air Raid and spread-passing concepts—has filtered up to the NFL as the best quarterbacks aren't just runners, they're passers who can run.
The traditional 3-4 defensive lineup is built with modified defensive ends rushing with their ears pinned back from a stand-up position. Linear speed is, for the most part, just as treasured as lateral agility, and teams very rarely ask those players to read much of anything.
So, how do you beat the NFL's best pass-rushers? Change the game.
Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been vexed by the San Francisco 49ers and Colin Kaepernick. Much of that has been caused by the inability of the Packers defensive front to get sideline to sideline when Kaepernick isn't locked down in the pocket.
Kaepernick is hardly the only mobile QB in the NFL, and the Packers are hardly the only team that needs to do better when it comes to stopping the new breed of passers.
Pass-rushers aren't going anywhere, but pass-rushers with the lateral agility to do more than just rush the passer are the way a lot of NFL teams will be going for the foreseeable future.
Prospects to Keep an Eye On: Khalil Mack (LB, Buffalo), Anthony Barr (LB, UCLA), C.J. Mosley (LB, Alabama), Shayne Skov (LB, Stanford), Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin), Ryan Shazier (LB, Ohio State).
OK, I know...I know. Quarterbacks are always in vogue.
However, this year could see a whole new level of reaching for passers as the NFL is as quarterback-needy as ever, and this year's class has a lot of guys who look like they're potentially worth reaching for. Last year, EJ Manuel was the first quarterback taken at No. 16. This year, as many as three or four quarterbacks could be off the board by then.
It starts at the top, where I believe Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is the best quarterback in the draft. Frankly, I'm not seeing how people believe it's close. Yes, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel has a Heisman on his shelf and a ton of electric athleticism, but Bridgewater has more arm talent and is a more polished pro-ready quarterback.
Yet, not everyone is as sold on Bridgewater. Former NFL personnel guy Russ Lande wrote for Sports on Earth:
According to trusted sources, the Texans are initially leaning towards taking either Blake Bortles or Johnny Manziel with the top pick. Although Manziel would obviously be the choice of owner Bob McNair, O'Brien is not sold that Manziel possesses the work ethic and intangibles necessary to be the face of a franchise.
If any team passes on Bridgewater (lookin' at you, Houston), it will regret it for a long time.
After Bridgewater, though, it isn't as if the talent cupboard is bare.
Manziel, UCF's Blake Bortles, Fresno State's Derek Carr, Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo and Alabama's AJ McCarron are all passers at least some teams feel could step in and contribute from Day 1.
LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Wyoming's Brett Smith need some work in terms of health for the former and polish for the latter, but both could be good passers down the road.
Depending on who one talks to and believes, there's anywhere between five to eight teams that have a desperate need for a quarterback right now. In this draft class, there's little reason to miss out on one after the first couple of rounds.
Of course, for those teams that already have a franchise quarterback, the upside is that other good players will get pushed down the board. Their picks might go to the highest bidder as QB-needy teams jockey for the player they want.
Prospects to Keep an Eye On: Teddy Bridgewater (Louisville), Johnny Manziel (Texas A&M), Blake Bortles (UCF), Derek Carr (Fresno State), Jimmy Garoppolo (Eastern Illinois).
For more on how the NFL game is cyclical and evolving, check out some articles below from myself and Bleacher Report's Ty Schalter:
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