NFC East Dream 2017 NFL Draft Fits

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Series Introduction:

A scheme fit is when a player’s traits and abilities line up with a certain coach’s style and scheme. Imagine if every NFL team could draft a player that fit perfectly into their scheme. That would benefit both the teams and the players simultaneously, as general managers and coaches wouldn’t be putting a square peg in a round hole. And players could maximize their value on the field with their abilities each Sunday. Sadly, that doesn’t always happen in the NFL despite countless hours preparing for the NFL Draft. Some players are misused and wind up failing which often results in firings near the top of the organizational ladder.

For that reason alone we thought it would a fun exercise to pair players and teams up with their ideal fit or “dream fit.” The basic concept is to figure out where a player can best succeed in terms of scheme, style, or coaching staff. This is not to be confused with a mock draft, as some fits are not realistic in terms of draft position. In fact, all 32 teams are involved in this despite not every one of them having a 1st round pick.

Here is the soft set of rules we used to outline the project.

Have suggestions or other team fits you’d like to see in the NFL Draft? Let us know on twitter and make sure to tag the @ITPylon account.

Rules (Feel free to break them if you’d like):

  • While it will be similar, this is not intended to be a mock draft, all 32 teams will be represented even though all 32 don’t possess a 1st round pick. Also, each team only gets one player regardless of the # of picks they have
  • Players can be used more than once (but within reason, can’t have everyone taking Myles Garrett)
  • Players also don’t have to be 1st rounders. Know of a 2nd rounder that would be a great fit? Put them in there. (Again, within reason, matching a team up with some random UDFA isn’t very fun)
  • Try to ignore team needs as much as possible and focus solely on who would be a dream fit from a scheme / coaching perspective
  • Lastly, it doesn’t have to be totally realistic. If say, Jamal Adams would be a great fit with a team drafting in the teens, go for it.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Dallas Cowboys – Obi Melifonwu, S, UConn (Joseph Ferraiola)

When deciding the Cowboys “Dream Fit”, I was tempted to pick Myles Garrett because the team has been attempting to acquire a premier pass rusher since letting DeMarcus Ware go in 2014. But that’s no fun, Garrett is a dream fit for every team in the NFL. The next best option I could think of would be Obi Melifonwu. With Dallas having an extremely thin secondary Obi would be a dream fit for Rod Marinelli’s defense. As Shane Alexander told me, Melifonwu is a smorgasbord of a defensive back. He can play strong and free safety in addition to cornerback. He’s better suited to play one of the safety positions, but he could potentially be used as a corner in distinct situations. The Cowboys love position flexibility on their roster that allows them to get creative with their personnel.

In addition to his versatility, Obi would pair well with his old teammate and fellow UConn alum Byron Jones, where they can split time locking down opposing tight ends. A Jones-Melifonwu reunion would create the most athletic safety duo in the NFL, as they had two of the greatest performances ever at the Combine. Obi ran a 4.40 40-yard dash and jumped 11’9” in the broad jump. Jones of course is known for his world record 12’1” broad jump. This is the redemption pick for everyone who imagined a Jones and Jalen Ramsey secondary after last year’s draft. With the NFC East having great receiving groups throughout the division, Dallas will want to have two athletes in the defensive backfield in Jones and Melifonwu defending the pass.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]New York Giants – Takkarist McKinley, EDGE, UCLA (Nick Falato)

I avoided the default answer that everyone who follows football would agree upon. The Achilles heel of the Giants is their offensive line, more specifically the tackle position, but for this exercise I didn’t want to go with the most pressing demand that is obvious, so I avoided a tight end and Bolles, Robinson, and Ramczyk at offensive tackle. Instead, I wanted to be creative and think how can the Giants upgrade one of the best defenses from the prior season? At the end of 2015, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s job was in jeopardy because of a Giants defense that was 30th in points against, while also making Giant fans become accustomed to 4th quarter collapses. With the offseason additions of defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, cornerback Janoris Jenkins ($200 million well spent on those three), and CB Eli Apple, in addition to the emergence of safety Landon Collins, the Giants finished 2nd in points against in 2016. Spags can cook when he has the ingredients. So, why Takk? The great Ernie Accorsi always used to say, “you can never have enough pass rushers” and that rings true for the Giants. DEs Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul saw well over 90% of the defensive snaps when they were healthy, which led to the inevitable injury to JPP. That workload is not sustainable and puts both star DEs (who make up around 15% of the Giants’ allocated cap money in 2017) in a disadvantageous position to stay healthy and fresh come playoff time. Former 2015 third-round pick out of UCLA, Owa Odighizuwa, has shown that he cannot stay healthy and has stepped away from the game, only to return to work-outs, so his future is up in the air. UDFAs like Kerry Wynn and Romeo Okwara have stepped in and played well at times, but depth is needed. The Giants in the original Spags era made passing downs a nightmare for opposing offenses by implementing what Perry Fewell deemed the NASCAR Defense. Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Justin Tuck would wreak havoc on offenses; and when Strahan retired, JPP was brought into the fold and the Giants earned themselves two Super Bowl titles in the process under Spags and Fewell’s defensive tutelage. The NASCAR Defense is predicated on speed, which Takk has plenty of (4.59 40). McKinley is ferocious and has a relentless motor, which is combined with his pure athleticism and long 34 ¾ inch arms. Takk is insanely tough and has played through a torn labrum in his right shoulder, which required surgery after the Combine. McKinley recorded 10 sacks with this shoulder injury and that kind of competitive toughness would have Big Blue fans running out to buy his jersey. Takk’s weaknesses are another reason why I think he would fit in perfectly with the G-Men. McKinley is slightly undersized to play 4-3 end (250 lbs.) and he is incredibly raw with his technique, both mentally and physically. So, how is this good for the Giants? He does not have any pressure to start right away, with Vernon and JPP manning the edges, and he can use his explosive playmaking ability and amazing physical gifts to help the Giants on sub-packages and passing down situations, while eating at the chow hall and hitting the weights to bulk up. He wouldn’t have to step in and be an every-down player right off the bat. He can learn and digest the playbook, while refining his craft and becoming a better football player. He would make for a very unique chess piece in a defense that was one of the strongest units in 2016. We could also see if he is capable of doing the Mathias Kiwanuka and transition into a LB because J.T. Thomas, Keenan Robinson, Jonathan Casillas, and Devon Kennard are all free agents next season. With the uncertainty surrounding Owa and the need for depth, I would be elated as a Giants fan if Takk’s name is called at 23.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Philadelphia Eagles – Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama (Sean Cottrell)

In the wide-9 front that Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz runs, the defensive line is given free reign and set loose to attack and put pressure on the offense. As such, most say that the defensive line is the most important part of the defense. Good linebackers, however, are equally as important to the success of the scheme and are essentially what allows it to work. With the defensive line being set loose on every play, it is up to the linebackers to ensure all the gaps in the front are accounted for appropriately. In addition, with the defensive line rushing upfield, it leaves the linebackers as clean targets for the opposing offensive lineman. For the scheme to be successful, the linebackers in a wide-9 front have to be smart enough to find the ball through traffic but must also be physical enough to take on and defeat blocks. Linebackers who can do both of these things well, and are not a liability in coverage, are very hard to find. Reuben Foster is one of them.

With Jordan Hicks already manning the middle of the defense, the Eagles have their smart, calculated player who will always be in the right position to clean up any mess the defensive line may make. Reuben Foster can do this as well, but what makes him so intriguing for the Eagles is the potential to pair him up with Hicks. If there is one weakness in Foster’s game, it’s that he can be a bit overaggressive at times. If he were to be drafted by Philadelphia, Hicks could be instrumental in Foster’s development, giving Foster the freedom to be himself as he develops into the scheme and adjusts to the level of play in the NFL. In addition, with Hicks at his side, his weakness, if channeled properly, could be turned into a strength in a wide-9 front in which he is often asked to take on and defeat the blocks of bigger, stronger offensive lineman.

[dt_divider style=”thick” /]Washington – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU (Sean Cottrell)

The Washington running game is one of the most diverse attacks in the league. They consistently run a balanced combination of both gap and zone blocking concepts and have focused on improving the offensive line in recent years with great success. While quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrived in recent seasons while surrounded with quality wide receivers, there has been significant turnover in the receiving corps since season’s end and rumors swirling that Cousins may not even be the quarterback in 2018. With questions marks at quarterback and wide receiver, along with the recent struggles on defense for Washington, why not take a page out of the Dallas Cowboys’ game plan and build the team through the running game? As Dallas has shown in recent years, building a team through a strong running game can take immense pressure off of both the quarterback and the defense. In addition, to make such a big investment in the running back position, a team should ensure they are in the best position to capitalize immediately on the impact that player can have. With the recent investment in offensive line and the schematic flexibility in the running game that the Redskins employ, they are in perfect position to align their offense around one of the most talented running backs in this year’s draft.

For Fournette, despite the elite running back status he carries, there are questions about his ability to operate in zone-heavy run scheme, out of the shotgun, or in an offense where he is not the focal point. Fournette is at his best when he is given the ball behind the line of scrimmage with the opportunity to build up a head of steam, hit a pre-defined or clear hole, build up momentum, and get into the second and third levels of a defense. With Washington’s multiple rushing attack, he will be given plenty of predefined holes through their gap concepts. Even when the holes are not predefined, such as on inside zone plays, Washington’s offensive line has the talent to define them pretty quickly giving Fournette the runway that makes him quite possibly the most dangerous man in football. Good luck to defenses across the league trying to stop him behind that offensive line 20 plus times per game.  

This article was inspired by scouting work done for the Inside the Pylon Draft Guide. Order your copy today at ITPdraftguide.com.

Joseph Ferraiola, Nick Falato (@nickfalato on Twitter), and Sean Cottrell (@PhllyDraft) contributed to this piece.

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