I love the format of this post: the prospect versus prospect comparison. As a matter of fact, it's the very concept that gave birth to my weekly column Would You Rather.
Originally branded as "Pretty Penny versus Bargain Buy," these columns help me look at two players from the same positions at different round values, and discuss which deal I'd prefer if given the choice on draft weekend. Of course, teams will never know the exact circumstances of their decisions when they're on the clock, but this is the mental bargaining you do with yourself: I'll pass on Kyle Dugger in the second round if I think I can get Jeremy Chinn in the third.
I send out a tweet every week asking for suggestions, so you have a chance to get your prospect head-to-heads answered on the next Would You Rather.
Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray (Round 1) vs. Appalachian State LB Akeem Davis-Gaither (Round 4)
I feel strongly that this scenario should give us Akeem Davis-Gaither. He seems unlikely to fall outside of Day 2, and I don't have Kenneth Murray as a bonafide Round 1 grade on my board, even though I think he goes top 20.
But it’s still important to talk about because of the roles these players are going to fill. At first glance, Murray and Davis-Gaither have markedly different body types. Davis-Gaither is a gangling player on the hoof with only 220-ish pounds packed onto his 6-foot-2 frame. He also has significant stride length that helps him carry players in coverage and attack plays into the boundary. Murray is an inch taller and about 20 pounds heavier. He has excellent density to stymie runners in tight areas or collision blockers en-route to the catch point.
Davis-Gaither needs to get a bit thicker, but I think both Murray and Davis-Gaither can play basically any linebacker role on an odd-front defense. Both have the profiles to be successful on-ball players given their length, strength and rush ability — Davis-Gaither with speed and Murray with power. Both have the speed to be run-and-chase WILLs. With the mass he'll inevitably add in the league, Davis-Gaither will have the strength to be a playside fill defender as a 3-4 MIKE.
In other words: They different body types but could fill similar roles in the league. I still like Davis-Gaither for the value, though.
Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger (Round 2) vs. Southern Illinois S Jeremy Chinn (Round 3)
Not sure you're going to be getting an entire round difference between these two come draft time. Simple question: What does Dugger do demonstrably better than Chinn? Both have crazy size, elite athleticism, wild range, quality ball skills, good tackling ability and are great blitzers. Both have the same uncertainty: rampaged against inferior competition and will require a big leap to survive with NFL-caliber play.
Dugger had the hype coming into the season, but he and Chinn are on essentially the same plane for me, at this point. So I'll take the round discount without hesitating.
Alabama S Xavier McKinney (Round 1) vs. Minnesota S Antoine Winfield Jr. (Round 2)
I think this one is really nicely calibrated to expectations for the draft. Xavier McKinney may sneak into the second round since he’s a safety — a position that historically gets a bit under drafted — and isn't going to have a full athletic profile after pulling his hamstring during his 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. However, mini-Malcolm Jenkinses don't enter the draft every year, and that's what McKinney can offer you: an elite box safety with versatile cover skills.
Antoine Winfield Jr. can't offer you that, which is part of the reason why he doesn't have nearly as strong a first-round profile as McKinney — though it's still within the realm of possibility. Winfield doesn't bring the same size or physicality to the position and, accordingly, isn't a strong candidate for playing in the box. He has admirable physicality and aggressiveness for the position but simply doesn't bring the same strength as a blitzer or fill defender and struggles more against bigger receivers and tight ends.
Both are half-field defenders who lack the ideal loping stride and long range to win from a single-high alignment, though they can win situationally given their vision and instincts. For their roles, taking Winfield at the discount is tempting but I'm unconvinced he's as good of an on-field athlete as he tested. I don't think he plays as fast as McKinney does mentally either.
Am I taking McKinney in the top 15? If so, I think I'd side with Winfield, but once we start getting into the 20s, McKinney's my favored player.
Wisconsin EDGE Zack Baun (Round 1) vs. Michigan EDGE Joshua Uche (Round 2)
This is a pretty solid matchup relative to my board. I have Zack Baun at No. 33 overall and Joshua Uche at No. 61 overall, which is about a round difference. It would be a bit of an overpay for Baun and a bit of an overpay for Uche, assuming he goes in the middle of the round and not the last couple picks. Both fill similar roles: tweener rushers at the NFL level. They are ideal third-down players for teams who want to put five on the line of scrimmage and give Baun or Uche a wide-9 alignment from which to immediately challenge with a speed rush and then win with inside counters.
So this is really just a question of two players who win with similar skillsets. In that neither may truly be a three-down player in Year 1, it's tough to justify spending the Round 1 pick on Baun unless you're certain your defensive structure will give him reps at off-ball SAM and on-ball EDGE early. Tough to say that for a lot of teams. I lean Uche here at the discount.