For this mock, I’m going to pretend that our new DC moves us to a 3-4 defense.
I’m not going to dive too deep into numbers, but I could see us extending both Hunter and Cousins to like 3-4 years deals. I’ll use my ballpark numbers (don’t bust my balls Mark. I hate maths) – Cousins gets a 3 years 100M deal with some void years on it, and Hunter gets a 4 year 90M deal, up to 105M with incentives. Those moves and a couple restructures to guys like Thielen, Smith, Kendricks, etc., should leave us with enough cap room for a free agent or two as well as the rookies.
****** SAME DISCLAIMER AS LAST TIME. NOT INTERESTED IN DISCUSSING WHETHER OR NOT WE SHOULD EXTEND COUSINS/ HUNTER. MAIN FOCUS HERE IS THE DRAFT PICKS AND CHANGING TO A 3-4 DEFENSE. PLEASE DISCUSS THAT, NOT COUSINS. WE'RE ALL SICK OF THAT CONVERSATION. THANKS! ******
Free agent priority – find a CB and maybe a C.
Our defense has been overly complicated, stale, and inflexible at times recently, and moving to a 3-4 gives us the ability to maximize our current strengths. Our DT room of Pierce*, Watts, Lynch, and Twyman is much stronger than our DE room of Hunter and a bunch of warm bodies.
Plus, transitioning to a 3-4 lets us put Hunter on a bit of a snap count. We’re making a big investment by extending him, and with his injury history, it makes sense to try and rotate him off the field some more.
Trade Partner: Philadelphia Eagles
Sent: Round 1 Pick 12, Round 7 Pick 231
Received: Round 1 Pick 16, Round 3 Pick 83, Round 5 Pick 165
Eagles rectify their miserable pick in Jalen Reagor by moving up to grab the first wide receiver off the board in Garrett Wilson. Vikings trade back a couple spots but stay ahead of the Chargers, and land another top 100 pick.
16: R1 P16 NT Jordan Davis, Georgia. 6’6, 340 lbs.
I’ve avoided this pick for quite a while. DT is probably one of our strongest position groups, it’s not the highest positional value, and all the other arguments I’ve made against the pick. At the same time, he’s a monster athletically – humans just don’t come in this size all too often, he’s able to completely collapse the pocket if you try to block him 1 on 1, and you aren’t moving him off the ball much, even in double teams. He’s better in space than people give him credit for, and he makes it easier to cut Pierce (hence the asterisk) and save 6M in cap space. A 3-4 defense demands a guy that can take on and defeat double teams. A powerful guy on the interior can cause a lot of problems in the run game that translate to easier situations in the passing game. Look at guys like Fletcher Cox, Akiem Hicks, DJ Reader, Vita Vea, Kenny Clark, etc. They aren’t the pass-rush specialists, but they just do a good job of collapsing the pocket.
Trade Partner: Denver Broncos
Sent: Round 2 Pick 46
Received: Round 2 Pick 58, Round 3 Pick 95
58: R2 P58 Nik Bonitto, Oklahoma. 6’3, 238 lbs.
As part of the transition to the 3-4, we pick up one of the top pass-rushing specialists that just so happens to be best suited for a 3-4 defense. He’s not the strongest or the fastest, but he has some excellent moves to chase down a QB. Probably a little late on him here, as I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go higher. He’s got two seasons in a row with a 90+ pass-rush grade and absolutely brings the heat opposite Hunter. He has the 2nd most QB pressures over the last two season, following only Will Anderson (who is probably the #1 player in next year’s draft). He can take the weak side LB role, and has shown the ability to drop in coverage and spy the QB as well. Bonitto keeps defenses honest and doesn’t allow them to just constantly scheme protection Hunter’s direction.
77: R3 P77 CB Jalen Pitre, Baylor. 6’0, 197 lbs.
Pitre is an instant improvement over Alexander. The Big 12 DPOY is just a ball-seeking missile. He played the slot last year, led the Baylor DBs in tackles, had a 92 PFF run defense grade, and only allowed a passer rating of 61. He has 4 picks over the last two years, and he is a twitchy, physical athlete. He’s a disruptive blitzer and evades blocks well in the run game.
83: R3 P83 DE Josh Paschal, Kentucky. 6’3, 278 lbs.
Another move in the 3-4 piece puzzle, Paschal is a power DE. He posted a 90 PFF grade this year, including a 90 PFF run defense grade. He split his reps almost evenly this year over or outside the tackle. He’s a big man with some absurd burst for 280 pounds. He’s probably one of my favorite guys in the draft, but with the previous 4-3 scheme I didn’t draft him since he’s a bit of a tweener. Guess what? That’s perfect for the new 3-4. Not quite Aaron Donald, but gives off some of the same vibes.
95: R3 P95 OT/OG Tyler Smith, Tulsa. 6’6, 330 lbs.
First pick on the offense, and unsurprisingly, it’s addressing the OL. Tyler Smith is the exact same size as Trey Smith, who was one of my top OL targets last year. He plays with a lot of nastiness to his game, and is very physical at the point of attack. He moves well, and has held up at all levels of competition. He shut down Myjai Sanders from Cincinnati, and Tyreke Smith from OSU. For a red-shirt sophomore, he looks surprisingly pro-ready. I think this is a guy that can come in and potentially challenge for a starting spot this year or next year at guard.
155: R5 P155 CB Mario Goodrich, Clemson. 6’0, 190 lbs.
It’s a me! Mario! Jokes aside, the cornerbacks were Clemson’s silver lining to a disappointing season. Booth gets the majority of the hype, but Goodrich helped Clemson sweep the first team All-ACC for cornerbacks. He’s a solid run defender with excellent coverage ability. He ran a 4.4 40-yard dash in high school, and that speed shows up on tape. His main downside is that he doesn’t play with as much power as you’d like to see and can get knocked back in blocks or by more physical receivers.
165: R6 P165 WR Jaivon Heiligh, Coastal Carolina. 6’2, 200 lbs.
I had to at least grab one skill-position guy on offense. Thielen isn’t getting any younger and I imagine his deal is going to be restructured this offseason to get a little extra cap room. Heiligh is a precise route runner and flashes great hands. He’s not a speed burner, but he’s certainly not slow either. He’s pulled in 1,000 yards receiving for the last 2 years and a total of 17 TDs. He could be a late round small school gold mine.
184: R6 P184 DE/ OLB DeAngelo Malone, Western Kentucky. 6’4, 240 lbs.
Malone is another piece to the 3-4 OLB – probably coming in as a backup/ rotation piece with Bonitto. He has a similar bend and burst to get after a QB or RB from the weak side. He set the career sack record for Western Kentucky this year, finishing his college career with 349 tackles, 60 TFLs, 34 sacks, and 9 FFs. He was a TWO-TIME CUSA Defensive Player of the Year. Absolute definition of small-school standout, and I expect him to put up a solid senior bowl. I think he’ll probably need to improve his ability to drop into coverage, but if I’m building a new 3-4 defense he’s a speed guy I want on the weak side.
192: R6 P192 LB Jack Sanborn, WI. 6’2, 236 lbs.
Sanborn and Chenal are two linebackers you would expect to come out of badger land. Tough, gritty, downhill football. Of the two, Sanborn is the more well-rounded, while Chenal probably goes higher for a team looking for a SAM run/ blitz backer in a 3-4. He probably competes for the second MLB spot next to Kendricks.
And there you have it. Latest installment of the Mock Draft.
The more I look at it, the more I like the idea of moving towards a 3-4 defense. There’s so much extra flexibility. Davis is the primary NT, and then your other 2 down linemen can be a rotation of Tomlinson, Paschal, Watts, Lynch, and Twyman, with the ability to swap in some of our current edge rushers like Willekes, Robinson, Jones, Wonnum inside on 3rd and long situations. Run downs or if we’re behind and need to stop the run? Tomlinson/ Davis/ Watts is one hell of an interior wall. 3rd and long or ahead in the 4th quarter and we know they need to pass? Paschal/ Watts/ Twyman can get after it along with a DE.
I think Hunter plays one of the stand-up OLB on the line of scrimmage and primarily gets to rush the passer like TJ Watt. Instead of using him every down though, give him some rotations out to keep him fresh and healthy. I think part of his injury issues are that he’s a 3-down guy all game long.
We currently are geared towards a 4-3 defense, but Willekes is a RFA after this year, and Wonnum hasn’t shown a whole lot to make us think he’s a significant part of the future. Jones hasn’t really flashed either, so I don’t feel bad about the significant investment at DE in swapping over the defense.
To me, the biggest takeaway from the Divisional round of football (and the Super Bowl last year) is how much the trenches can negate a lot of other weaknesses. The Rams made Brady’s life a nightmare with how they moved people around to exploit matchups. The Titans absolutely destroyed the Cincinnati OL. The Bucs last year dominated the Packers and made Mahomes run for his life.
We need more guys that can get after a QB, and we need more ways to do it.
What do you guys think on moving to a 3-4 defense?