When the Seattle Seahawks picked West Virginia Mountaineers defensive end Bruce Irvin, mock drafters and draft mockers alike sank their teeth in. Here was the NFL Draft's first official reach, since we're not counting Ryan Tannehill or Dontari Poe, a pair of college under-producers who'd still ranked high in all the pre-draft predictions.
Man the reach stations! Could've picked Irvin in the 3rd round. Pete Carroll has gone completely cheese doodles. Does he even read mock drafts? They're free!
It's a special moment, one we'll look forward to every year and relish once it arrives, usually served up by the Raiders. I'll certainly admit to being surprised, though I didn't really realize Irvin was expected to go in the 3rd round.
Except this particular reach wasn't a reach at all, as word continues to come out that many other teams wanted him (maybe even many many!), including the 49ers, Ravens and Jets, clubs that might be the NFL's best at evaluating defensive front-seven talent, which means Irvin would not have been available in the 3rd round. The mocks were right about a lot of players, but they were wrong about one.
This seems to happen every year. Certain general managers break from the program, which was dictated by people besides general managers, and portions of the public start talking about draft value, as if somebody was told when specific players would be taken. It goes beyond just agreeing or disagreeing with the pick and becomes an argument that teams dared to not read some universal memo.
As if an official market price for each player had been agreed upon beforehand or certain players were stashed in certain time-sensitive slots like an advent calendar of jocks. Assigning a 3rd-round draft value to a player doesn't mean a whole lot if a fourth of the NFL's GMs think he's a first-rounder, even if those GMs are wrong.
It's true that Irvin is a limited player for the time being. He's not great at pass coverage or against the run. He's a risk. Those who thought he wasn't worth it could be proved right. He's pretty much just a quarterback hunter.
But he's really good at quarterback hunting, perhaps football's second most valuable skill. It was especially strange to see college fans calling Irvin a reach, since they tend to judge players more by college production than by Combine numbers or pro-readiness or even form. And as far as ruining offensive plays goes, Irvin had college production.
He was a regular in Big East backfields for two years and amassed something like 38 sacks (one year of Juco stats!) in the last three. Against BCS opponents, Irvin posted 23.5 tackles for loss in two years. He had multiple sacks in five of six games against ranked opponents and three sacks total in two bowl games. At one point, he ran off eight straight games with a tackle for loss. In 2010, he had more sacks than Von Miller, Nick Fairley or Ryan Kerrigan, or Courtney Upshaw and Andre Branch combined. Last year, he topped fellow first-rounders Quinton Coples and Shea McClellin.
And Seattle fans can't help but boggle at his Combine numbers:
At 6'3" and 245 lbs., he has the versatility to play in either a 2-point or 3-point stance off the edge. He is incredibly elusive. His game is not overpowering, but his speed is astonishing. Irvin is regarded as the fastest pass rusher in the draft and his combine numbers prove it. Irvin clocked an official 4.50 second forty-yard dash (he reportedly has run in the low 4.4's before), a 6.70 second three-cone-drill, and had a 33.5" inch vertical jump. All of those tests were the fastest or the highest among other pass rushers and defensive ends.
All that despite barely being coached, or at least that's how he put it:
Quote that probably won't go in new Zona DL coach BillKirelawich's bio from BruceIrvin: "I got 23 sacks in 2 yrs & I've never been coached."— Bruce Feldman (@BFeldmanCBS) April 27, 2012
An overstatement of some sort, of course, but the most intriguing thing about Irvin remains his rawness. Some call it upside! His back story is well-known -- bouncing around Atlanta schools and getting in trouble before putting his head down and making his way to junior college -- but it further illustrates just how little he's been taught. And how few bad habits his next coaches will have to break, if you're an optimist.
He could be another Jason Pierre-Paul, or he could disappear in two years. His transition could go horribly, and a minor post-pro day arrest prolongs popular concerns about his past. But it's funny that this stuff, apparently, bothered analysts so much more than it did multiple especially smart front offices, since it's supposed to be the other way around.
For many teams, a player like Irvin is too much of a project, and that's fine. But analysts and fans alike could do a better job of taking in the NFL Draft if we all got out of the habit of treating mock drafts like scripts. There's value in projection, but only if it adapts on the fly.