Sunday, 4 April 2010

The case for Eric Berry at #6

By Kip Earlywine
Just a quick reminder, since I know some of you guys get me mixed up with Rob. This post is by me, Kip, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the two more senior members of this blog: Rob Staton or Kyle Rota. I myself was also privately against Eric Berry at #6, until just today.

I know some of you are not fans of taking a safety in the top 10. Neither am I (normally). If the Seahawks draft Eric Berry at #6, they will have to award him contract that is bigger than contracts for many of the top safeties in the NFL. Its pretty much the same logic I had with opposing Curry last year- he'd have to be literally the best LB in the NFL just to justify his pay. Eric Berry pretty much falls into the same problem. If he's not a top 5 safety in a few years, that pick is not going to look so hot.

However, after giving it a ton of thought, I've come to realize there is actually pretty compelling case to draft Berry at #6. I'll voice the concerns, and then address them point by point below. This post assumes of course that both Suh/McCoy are gone before #6 and that the Seahawks will not draft a QB due to the Whitehurst trade.


What are the alternatives? The very first thing an intelligent GM must consider when making a draft selection is the opportunity cost. This was my biggest issue with the Curry pick, it was a luxury pick at the cost of Mark Sanchez or Michael Crabtree. Taking Berry will probably mean no Bryan Bulaga, and it could potentially mean no Derrick Morgan. If they want Joe Haden, he probably won't last until #14 either. And then there are the potential "trade down" offers Seattle might receive. Are you willing to give that all up for a safety?

Does Berry fit the scheme? Berry actually has experience in cover 2 zone scheme, having played it in 2009 under Tampa 2 godfather Monte Kiffin of all people. However, this had "mixed results" to say the least. Berry saw his stats plummet in 2009, and the main culprit was being pigeonholed by Kiffin's Tampa 2 zones. I can say without a hint of hyperbole that Berry's ball skills are marvelous, and zone puts a higher emphasis on facing the QB and forcing turnovers than man scheme does.

However, cover 2 also has that nasty little thing called "zones" that players are forced to stay within. When Berry's freedom to roam was restricted, quarterbacks simply avoided passing into his zone. That's a bit of a compliment, but it also shut down Berry's ability to produce turnovers, and it put extra pressure on the weaker zones.

What about Eric Berry's run support? This one is a bit controversial- what you hear will depend on who you ask. I personally think that Berry has issues in run support, but that could change with time (more on this later).

What about the pass rush? In any defense, especially the Tampa 2, you need pressure to generate interceptions. The Seahawks pass rush was poor last season and to this point, has actually subtracted talent this offseason. Will Berry's ball skills even matter if quarterbacks are not passing under duress?

The point of the draft is to get low-cost, young talent... Why sign an unproven amateur to an Ed Reed type contract when you can just sign a proven stud for the same money and no draft pick in free agency?

Do the Seahawks "need" a free safety and shouldn't we address real needs at both #6 and #14? Free safety is not a need. The team only "needs" depth, since (in my opinion) Jordan Babineaux proved himself a decent starter last year, and he's still only 27 years old. So in that sense, Berry qualifies as a luxury pick, much like Aaron Curry last year. Whether or not to go BPA or Need with a high pick is a judgment call that everyone must make themselves.

Addressing the Concerns:

Opportunity Cost? As said before, I think opportunity cost must be considered the #1 factor when deciding whether or not to draft a player. If the Seahawks do not take Berry, who do they take?

Derrick Morgan probably sits atop the list of "need meets BPA," and he's got a solid shot of reaching #14 depending on which direction the Jaguars go. Amazingly, the only other 4-3 team between #6 and #14 is Oakland, and Al Davis is considered pretty unlikely to select Morgan. CJ Spiller may reach #14. Bryan Bulaga and Trent Williams are less likely to reach #14, but you could argue they wouldn't be as good as Charles Brown for Gibbs anyway, and Brown has a 99% chance of being there at #14. Dez Bryant? I'd say at least 50/50 he reaches #14, and he might even fall into the 20's.

Anyway, when you look at the alternatives, almost all of them have a pretty good chance of reaching #14. At the very least, I can guarantee that one of the names above will be there. But you know who won't be there with about 99% probability? Eric Berry. Of all the names Seattle is seriously considering 6th overall, only Eric Berry is a virtual lock to not reach #14. The Seahawks could get Berry and still land a name on the top of their big board at #14. Simply put, there isn't a Michael Crabtree or Mark Sanchez competing with Eric Berry like there was for Curry last year.

Tampa 2 issues? Its not that Berry doesn't fit the scheme, but rather that he almost fits it too well. The zone system is designed to allow defensive backs to watch the quarterback while also playing a looser form of coverage (covering an area instead of a specific player). As far as being avoided, I don't think playing in the Tampa 2 in the pros will hurt Berry quite as much, simply because I don't think pro quarterbacks will be so intimidated by a rookie safety as to avoid passing into his area.

Another consideration is that even if Berry is simply not meant to be a zone safety because of how it restricts him, who knows exactly what form of coverage we'll see next year? The team is keeping Gus Bradley, but it was actually Jim Mora that was in charge of deciding last year's "turnover or bust" defensive style. Pete Carroll considers himself a protege of Monte Kiffin, and of course the team retained Bradley, who not long ago was highly recommended by Kiffin. The Tampa 2 is here to stay, but that doesn't mean the team will run zone 100% of the time or be as strict or as purist as it was under Kiffin in Tennessee last year. So its hard to say how much this could hurt Berry as we don't even truly know what type of job he'll be doing.

Even if the secondary scheme fails Berry, and Carroll is gone in 3 or 4 years, we'd still have Berry under contract, entering his prime seasons, and still have time to match him to a new defensive scheme. Because of all those reasons, I no longer see this as a strike against Berry for the Seahawks.

Run support issues? Like Aaron Curry, Eric Berry has a lot of talent, but sometimes he can be his own worst enemy simply by trying too hard. That's what I saw when I previewed Eric Berry a little while back. His tackling can actually be pretty good sometimes, its the consistency that evades him. I also think he just kills himself with his habit of needlessly dive-tackling. Both his bad habits and his consistency have a solid chance for correction with time and coaching. Even if Berry's run stopping ability doesn't improve all that much, he'd probably still break even with our current free safety, Jordan Babineaux in this regard. So its not like we'd be immediately downgrading the run defense by taking Berry. And of course, not to discount run defense, but free safeties are not typically valued for their run stopping as much as many other defensive positions are.

What about the pass rush? Ok, this one is a legitimate beef. If Eric Berry manages 6 interceptions as a Seahawk in 2010, it will be a much bigger accomplishment than I think most people would realize. On the other hand, I actually like the outlook of our pass rush. Our front 7 is full of talented players nearing or just entering their physical primes. If the Seahawks could find a quick fix somehow at DE like they did with Kerney in 2007, and if Aaron Curry can be coached into an effective pass rusher under Carroll, this pass rush could improve in a very short span of time.

Getting a good/serviceable pass rushing DT and moving Mebane back the 1 is equally as important, but shouldn't be as challenging. Last year's line was decently talent, but used for seemingly the absolute minimum amount of pass rush (Redding at DE, Mebane away from the 1, etc). Just by using the talent correctly and adding a few pieces, it would not shock me if we had an above average pass rush again by 2011 or 2012.

Free agent alternatives?
This was another reason I changed my mind on Eric Berry. While its true that in theory you could use the millions spent on Berry to land another elite safety while saving the pick, the truth is, those top tier safeties almost never hit true free agency while in their primes. Ed Reed? Nope. Troy Polamalu? No sir. Bob Sanders? Even with all the injuries and excuses the Colts could have used- not a chance. You know what a $40 million unrestricted free agent safety looks like? Antrel Rolle. He wasn't really even wanted by his old team, but he still managed a $37 million contract this offseason.

Another thing is that rookie NFL contracts are often inflated with performance clauses, and can be much smaller than they first appear. I recently asked Brian McIntyre of how much he expected last year's #4 pick (Aaron Curry) would make, and he calculated that Curry would likely only make $48 million of his original $60 million rookie contract. The reason being, many of the clauses in rookie contracts are based on extremely difficult benchmarks.

If Eric Berry earns a typical #6 overall contract of about $40 million (the average of the last two was $41m), we can't say for sure how much of that money he'd really see, but we can assume that it would be at least a little bit less than that. So in reality, he'd probably be on a 5/30 or 5/35 type deal. And though that's still a lot for a safety, its not quite as bad as I thought it would be. For potentially less than the cost of Antrel Rolle, suddenly Berry at a #6 overall contract doesn't seem so completely awful.

On drafting for need vs free safety? This is a valid point. With a team that has valid needs at DT, DE, CB, SS, RB, LT, G, WR, and arguably QB, FB, TE and potentially even C, how can the team spend the #6 pick on one of the very few positions it doesn't need?

There is no right or wrong answer on this one, only opinion. Do you believe its best to draft for players when you need them, or to draft rare and special talents when they fall to you in the draft even when you don't? The Seahawks didn't especially need a guard when they drafted Steve Hutchinson and Ricky Watters was still very productive when the team drafted Shaun Alexander, and yet those were probably the two best Seattle draft picks of the last decade.

One last thing to consider is that even if the team does not draft Eric Berry, they will still have to find free safety depth later on, probably in the middle rounds with a prospect like Myron Lewis. That pick could be used instead for Daniel Te'o Nesheim, Tony Washington, Riley Cooper, Joe McKnight or Montario Hardesty. Those options aren't as likely to be stars as Derrick Morgan, Charles Brown, Dez Bryant, or CJ Spiller, but they aren't very far behind if all you want is a capable starter. Would you rather have Eric Berry and Montario Hardesty or CJ Spiller and Myron Lewis? Personally, I'd take the former.

Final thoughts:

In a non-Suh/McCoy draft scenario, I'm not saying that Berry should be the top option at #6, but if I made a big board right now, I'd include Berry on my list. After weighing all the factors, I no longer feel that Berry has enough going against him to wipe him off the list with that first pick. If I was doing the draft right now, I'd probably still take Derrick Morgan, but if the team ends up choosing Eric Berry, I'd be completely understanding of their decision.


Kyle Rota said...

Excellent read, Kip.

However, I have two points of contention.

1.) There seems to be a sort of unstated premise that Berry is unquestioningly a top prospect. I don't believe that this is the case. As many of you know, I have a couple sources, but more importantly my sources each have excellent sources. I specifically asked about Berry a few weeks ago, and was told opinions on Berry range all over the board. There are several teams that don't even have Berry as a first round safety, or even a first round player. Now, I have no doubt Berry will be chosen in the first because for every team that thinks he is a corner or a 2nd-or-later safety, there's a team that thinks he is a top-10 pick. You only need one team to make the pick, after all. But Berry is not this universally-acknowledged top player at a less valuable position. He's a very controversial player who could demand more money than any safety in the league if he is chosen in the top-10. Berry at six is not necessarily BPA, and pretty confidently not value.

2.) This one is just my thoughts, but I'm not sure Berry is even a free safety. I still would like to watch 2 games from his sophomore year to get a better feel, but Tennessee has primarily played him at SS this season (they used him in every role possible, but he probably played more SS than anything else) and I think that is where he could play in the NFL.

It's a strange idea putting a 5'11 guy at SS, but the Colts have done it with Bob Sanders, and when healthy the 5'8 Sanders is very effective. There are two reasons why I think Berry might be better at SS. From the games I've seen, the tackling concerns are a real problem. It is not that Berry cannot tackle, but that he misses quite a few as well. Now, when Berry is playing close to the LOS (as the SS often does, at least moreso than the FS) a missed tackle is annoying, but it may not be a big deal, someone else can clean up the play. However, if Berry is playing 10 yards past the LOS and misses a tackle when a runner has already gotten past the linebackers, you could be looking at a huge gain or at least a footrace. There's often nobody to clean up.

The second reason I think Berry would be better at SS than FS (and I haven't ruled out corner either), is that Cover-2 SS are actually pretty valuable. Any FS worth his salt should be able to play deep half - it's a lot easier than Cover-1, for example, where only the FS has deep zone. Finding strong safeties who are capable of dropping deep is very difficult, which explains why Seattle was willing to pay Deon Grant so much money when everyone knew he was at best an above-average player - he was a guy we thought could handle SS, who we KNEW could handle deep zone coverage.

Of course, asking a 5'11 guy to cover TEs in man coverage (as the SS often has to do when the playcall isn't Cover-2) could be asking for trouble. But Berry has impressed me with his strength, ability to defeat blockers, and ability to play on the ball. He might be able to do that, and we'd take advantages of his deep-coverage strengths while lowering the impact of his inconsistent tackling.

Matthew Baldwin said...

I can't imagine some teams don't have a first round grade on Berry. I'm not doubting the credibility of your sources and it's certainly possible, but it's just hard to imagine.

Berry isn't my first choice at 6, but we need playmakers on both sides of the ball and I could get behind the pick (especially with Grant departing).

Anonymous said...

Kip, I'm just glad you didn't say that Seattle should take Spiller. Thank you.

Kip Earlywine said...

Well, I haven't done honest to goodness scouting on any player in this draft, so everything I'm about to say has to be taken with a grain of salt.

That said, I think its safe to say (IMO) that Berry is the best safety prospect. He's not as steady or as well rounded as Earl Thomas, but Thomas didn't really "wow" me much and with his small size seemed like a Nick Reed type player who dominated college and will look incredible in the preseason but might become ordinary against the big boys in big games.

And Taylor Mays, though he has a ceiling somewhere in the stratosphere, is such a project that I wouldn't put him ahead of Berry either.

With Berry, I see a guy who has incredible instincts, ball skills and quickness. He's the type of DB you dream about in a cover 2. I couldn't help shake the feeling I was watching a future super-star. Now I agree that his run support isn't that great, but its not like he can't tackle. He just lunges and dives too much, which at least in theory should be fixable with enough coaching. Some people (notably the major "draftniks" but also John Morgan of Fieldgulls) are much higher on his run stopping than I am.

Now is Berry "BPA" at #6? I think if you asked Kiper or McShay, and most football fans, they'd probably all say yes. Some scouts will agree and some won't. I even said myself I wouldn't have Berry as my personal BPA (he'd just be on the list). But I think that in terms of public perception, Berry will be considered BPA at the 6th pick.

Kyle, I think you bring up a very interesting point about Berry, Sanders, and the strong safety position. Berry is capable of hard hits and is only 3/8" short of 6 feet tall. I think you also make a good point that Berry's liability as an inconsistent tackler would be different in the SS role.

Kip Earlywine said...

2nd anon, you're welcome. Everyone has their opinions, but I'm not the biggest fan of Spiller at #6 either, even though I really like him.

Austin said...

It seems almost impossible to me that some scouts don't have a first round grade on Berry. I think its another case of a scout outthinking himself which seems to happen a ton in the nfl. If Berry is available at 6 I hope Seattle jumps to the podium to draft him. I don't want an offensive lineman who in a normal year would go late first early 2nd. To me the only other option now that Clausen won't go to Washington at #4 is to grab the bpa and land an elite player. I like Berry,Bryant,Morgan,Spiller. Some of these guys don't fill a huge need but we flat out dont have many all pro type talents and with two picks in the first round we need to land someone with that type of talent. I would understand drafting Bryant at 6 even if we trade for Marshall because he has as good a shot as anyone at being an elite player at his position.

A-R-N-F said...

I would assume a lack of a first round grade on Berry would reflect positional value more so than individual talent.

Anonymous said...

What if they put him at corner? Sounds like a possibility. He might be slightly undersized for safety but just right to play cornerback? The salary for a #6 pick would be more in line with the position also and he might hold up better there as well (the durability concerns)

Steven said...

Kip, great read. I agree that the opportunity cost is far-and-away the most important factor, however I think you could have taken one more step in your analysis. The biggest concern isn't that we may or may not be able to get our top alternative at #14 if we take Berry at #6, it's that now we will only be able to take ONE of those other guys. We're still giving up the opportunity to get a Haden or Morgan or Spiller or whoever, and thus we still need to conclude that Berry is a better option than those players. Maybe he is ... I don't know, I have to say I'm on the fence a bit on that.

In regards to his run support, tackling is only one piece of the pie. My thought is that if he has the instincts and athleticism to get himself in better position to make big plays than most safeties, he could be an average tackler and still be a fairly solid run defender overall. Unfortunetly I haven't watched him play much ... any idea if that is the case with him?

Also, to the previous poster, I don't think you can draft Berry (or any player) in the top 10 under the premise that you want to change his position. If you want a good corner, why not just take Haden? Why gamble?

Kyle Rota said...

Steven - you're right that Berry makes a lot of tackles as well as missing more than you'd like. That's one reason why I like the idea of moving him to SS. He's around the ball enough to make a lot of tackles, and when he misses a tackle at SS someone else can (hopefully) finish the tackle before it turns into a huge play.

ARNF - FWIW, I know that my source, and presumably some other teams, have multiple safeties ahead of Berry. Certainly positional value should be considered (and I always struggle whether or not I should consider it in my reports), but I believe there are performance reasons why Berry is not getting unanimous first round grades. For one, certain teams have rigid height/weight minimums that Berry may or may not make (I only know about defensive line, but New England is absurdly picky in terms of height/weight/arm length), other teams might value consistent run support more than big plays, etc.

Anonymous said...

I like the reasoning that premier safeties do not ever emerge in free agency. We also only have 2 safeties and one of them is basically a practice squad guy. Safety is a true need. I also believe that playmakers make the rest of the defense play better. Just look at Bob Sanders. Indy's defense is not nearly as good when Bob is out even though they have a really good backup in Melvin Bullitt. The same goes for Pittsburgh with Polamalu.

Take Berry!!!


Question do you draft Bradford if he's available at 6th?

Kip Earlywine said...

I would, but he won't be and I don't think Carroll would if given the chance.

Jayce said...

What do people think about this mock?

1a.Eric Berry FS
1b.Charles Brown OT
2.Lamar Houston DT
4a.Jacoby Ford WR or Riley Cooper WR
4b.Mitch Petrus or Mike Johnson OG
5.Daniel Te'o-Nesheim DE
6.LeGarrette Blount or Charles Scott RB