Commentary

3-4 trend could alter draft strategies

Not a ideal fit for 3-4 schemes, Georgia Tech DE Morgan likely to slip

Originally Published: April 19, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

A front-office executive for an NFL team that plays the 4-3 had an interesting question the other day.

"How in the world can [Georgia Tech DE] Derrick Morgan slip out of the top 10?" he asked. "In any other year, he's a top-five pick."

Welcome to the new world of drafting in the 3-4 era. Fifteen teams now use the 3-4 defense as their base defense. Don't underestimate that fact if you see surprises in the first round of this week's draft. There haven't been this many 3-4 teams since the late 1980s.

In 2004, there were only four teams using the 3-4. Most teams had similar ratings on defensive ends or linebackers because they were rated to play in 4-3 schemes.

Remember the surprise last year when the Chiefs, who switched to a 3-4 in 2009, selected Tyson Jackson, a five-technique defensive end, at No. 3? In the 4-3-dominated days, he would have been a mid-first-round selection.

In those 4-3 days, Morgan wouldn't be too far behind Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy in ratings. The reason he could fall out of the top 10 is that seven of the top-13 slots are occupied by teams using the 3-4.

The top three teams use the 4-3, but the Rams are expected to take quarterback Sam Bradford, with Suh going to Detroit and McCoy going to Tampa Bay. After that, Seattle (drafting sixth), Oakland (eighth) and Jacksonville (10th) are the only remaining 4-3 teams in the top 13.

Also, don't be surprised if nose tackles Cam Thomas, Terrence Cody and Linval Joseph slide into the first round. They are the best nose tackles after Dan Williams of Tennessee, and nose tackles are at a premium thanks to the rise of 3-4 schemes.

From the inbox

Q: At the beginning of the Ben Roethlisberger debacle, lots of factors combined to cast doubt (in my mind, at least) on whether a crime had actually been committed down in that bar in Georgia. As more facts come out, it looks more likely every day that he did commit a crime and that the police and district attorney should have charged him with something. What do the Rooneys do? People are talking about a two- to four-game suspension, but doesn't it have to be eight or more, if he is still a Steeler at all?

Ahrens from Coralville, Iowa

A: Roethlisberger is under the "three strikes and you're out" policy, and he has two strikes against him. There might not have been enough evidence to convict him in a court of law, but in the public eye he is guilty of using bad judgment and taking advantage of a horrible situation. It would be hard for the Steelers to reclaim lost signing-bonus money after these two incidents. But a suspension will serve as a warning to him for the next time. The next time, he will suffer the fate of Santonio Holmes. The team will shop Roethlisberger for value and trade or cut him. He gets one more chance. He'd better not blow it.

Q: Somehow, in two years of Josh McDaniels as the head coach and Brian Xanders as GM, the Broncos have traded two of their three best players. Hiring McDaniels now looks questionable at best. Who is to blame for the current Denver situation -- Pat Bowlen for hiring the new regime, or McDaniels and Xanders for forming shaky relationships and making these moves?

Josh in Winston-Salem, N.C.

A: That's why it's so dangerous for fans to get frustrated when good players or good coaches don't come up with Super Bowls every year. We just watched a similar thing happen in Philadelphia with Donovan McNabb. We'll see how that plays out. I'll give McDaniels a chance to try to make it right for the Broncos. No doubt he is a bright young coach. He comes from the Bill Belichick system, so he knows what it takes to win. The thing that bugged me about Mike Shanahan getting fired was that it happened after some of his best drafts. He built an offense that had Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal and Ryan Clady. That's a great young core group. Firing him because of a bad finish in 2008 was wrong. McDaniels found out last season that he had a tougher job than he expected.

Q: The Jets really seem to be positioning themselves for a Super Bowl run, but did they forget about the QB? Mark Sanchez has shown promise, but he makes a lot of mistakes. Do you think they will look for a veteran QB (maybe Jeff Garcia) or just ride it out? I thought they should have gone for McNabb since they are built to win now.

Kyle in Los Angeles

A: Quite the contrary. What I love about what the Jets are doing is how they're treating Sanchez. Each year Sanchez will have a chance to grow and expand his offense. The Jets only asked him to complete 14 passes a game last season. With the additions of Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson, maybe that number will go to 16 or 17 this season. I still contend that Sanchez can evolve into a quarterback on the level of Chad Pennington, and that's not a bad thing. Pennington led the Jets to the playoffs three times. Sanchez has already been there once. The Jets have their new franchise quarterback now. Maybe he won't be elite. But he's sure established himself in his first year as a winner.

Q: Why is the NFL the only team sport that predetermines where the championship game will be held? I think the Pro Bowl would matter more if it was like baseball. AFC vs. NFC, with the winner deciding home-field advantage in the Super Bowl. What is your opinion on this thought?

Matt in Port Charlotte, Fla.

A: Pro football shouldn't follow the same silly path as baseball by trying to make the Pro Bowl something it isn't. The Pro Bowl and the Major League Baseball All-Star game are exhibitions. Trying to make those games meaningful by using the results to affect the championships is simply a dumb idea. Secondly, the NFL will never go to a home-field advantage format because the Super Bowl is an event. The league wants to give fans a special setting, not just some thrown-together event in a hometown city. That works for the other sports because there are seven-game series. In football, it's one game and one game only. Why ruin a Super Bowl by trying to prop up ratings on an all-star game? Doesn't make sense.

Q: John, now that the Dolphins have Brandon Marshall, will they draft WR Dez Bryant at No. 12 if he is there? Seems like a no-brainer to me. A lethal WR tandem for years to come.

Louis in Salem, Mass.

A: No chance of the Dolphins going for Bryant. Without the second-round pick, there is more urgency for the Dolphins coming up with help for the defense. Their target will be nose tackle Dan Williams, but I think there is a great chance they could trade down in the first round and get him in the twenties. Marshall is the "alpha" receiver the Dolphins were seeking. If they don't take a nose tackle, they could go for a pass-rushing linebacker. No sense in getting greedy. Dolphins fans were pressuring Bill Parcells to get a No. 1 receiver. He got a great one in Marshall.

Q: How does the Brandon Marshall trade affect my Giants getting LB Rolando McClain? A lot of mocks had him going to Denver at No. 11. Does the lack of a real No. 1 wide receiver in Denver mean the Giants have a legitimate chance to land him at 15 now?

Matt in Mesa, Ariz.

A: I hate to say it, but I don't see a change. I think the Broncos will wait until the second round to get a receiver. McClain completes the front seven defensive change Josh McDaniels planned for the 3-4. Clearly, the Broncos won't be as talented at receiver without Marshall. They weren't as talented at quarterback without Jay Cutler, but they still finished with the same record as the year before.

Q: Regarding your comment on the proposed trade of Albert Haynesworth to Detroit, I had the same idea. You say it doesn't make sense for the Skins to move up to No. 2 from No. 4. I disagree. If the player they really want is Russell Okung and they believe the Lions will take him, then the Skins could use Haynesworth as bait to move up to No. 2. Getting the second-rounder from Detroit would replace the second-rounder traded for McNabb. The only question in my mind is the money. If the Skins don't ask for cost sharing from Detroit, I think it is a win-win for both teams.

Rick in Vienna, Va.

A: Mike Shanahan won't be coaxed into a trade that isn't necessary. I believe the Redskins will take Okung over Trent Williams, but there are some who believe Shanahan prefers Williams over Okung. It doesn't matter. The Lions will draft Ndamukong Suh with the No. 2 pick. But let's say I'm wrong. The Bucs are going to take Gerald McCoy, so Shanahan will either have Okung or Williams or both to select from. No need to give up a valued asset such as Haynesworth. The only way I see Shanahan giving up Haynesworth is if he can get a first- or second-round pick.

Q: John, it looks like Jammal Brown is going to hold out. Do you see the Saints trading their starting left tackle before or during the draft?

CJ in West Lafayette, Ind.

A: I could see a trade, but I wouldn't guarantee one. There are three left tackles who could possibly satisfy a team that doesn't come up with one in the first round of the draft: Brown, Jared Gaither and Alex Barron. If the Saints are offered a second-rounder, I could see a trade. The problem for the Saints, Ravens and Rams would be if Charles Brown and Rodger Saffold fall into the second round. I'm still figuring that four tackles could go in the top nine. That satisfies the needs of four teams. The Packers still have to come up with a tackle. So do the 49ers. The Cowboys and Bucs could use a left tackle, but I don't see them making a trade. Both teams will try to get one out of the draft.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer