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Posted Dec. 17, 2009
Cameron Heyward's Ceiling
A player who made my 2010 NFL Draft Big Board debut last week was Ohio State defensive end Cameron Heyward. I've been very impressed with Heyward's play this year and I feel he can be a big impact player at 5-technique on a 3-4 defense (in Lamen's terms I mean a 3-4 defensive end).
Heyward is extremely strong at the point of attack. He has a great NFL body and he maximizes his strength with excellent hand use as he does a good job of extending to manhandle opponents. He does a good job stacking and shedding as well - he can really set the edge.
In terms of a pass rusher, I just don't see it. He lacks a first step and I don't see much speed off the edge. However, this is largely irrelevant in a 3-4 defense on the line. Heyward has been a little inconsistent this year, but he is only an underclassman and is out of position often - he'll be a better pro when he plays 5-technique on a consistent basis.
Remember, LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson was a projected top-20 pick, but ultimately positional value won out and Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli took him at No. 3 overall. Had this not happened, Jackson likely would have fell to No. 9 overall to the Packers or maybe even further (No. 12 Broncos, No. 16 Chargers).
Jackson had 36 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and seven hurries as a senior. Heyward had 42 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, and two hurries last season for the Buckeyes. These stat lines are eerily similar, but like I said, Jackson was a more consistent prospect.
I am very confident Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are a step behind me on Heyward's draft stock. In the preseason, Brandon Spikes, Patrick Robinson and Taylor Mays were lauded as the best prospects at their position and I correctly projected those prospects as being some of the more overrated talents heading into the 2009 season. I think Heyward is just off the radar right now, but once we get into the NFL Draft preseason from January to April things will change.
This is all assuming Heyward enters the 2010 NFL Draft - and I think he will when you consider it is a very weak senior class.
Heyward is currently rated No. 13 overall on my Big Board with a 4-star, solid first-round grade. However, I only currently think he is of value to 3-4 teams. If you put him in a 4-3 scheme, his lack of speed and flexibility off the edge is exposed.
Therefore, let's analyze how high the Buckeye could go in the 2010 NFL Draft, assuming he declares. Let's first list the 3-4 teams that are currently projected to be drafting in the top 20 picks. Let's also add in Buffalo because they might make a coaching change and transition to the 3-4 defense; you just never know. With drafting Aaron Maybin, who can play outside linebacker, this might be a smart move.
Now we have: Cleveland, Kansas City, Buffalo, Denver, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, New York Jets, Baltimore.
Let's eliminate Kansas City and Pittsburgh from this list. The Chiefs aren't spending three straight picks on their defensive line. This is too much money to invest in one position and they need to diversify their personnel investments. Pittsburgh drafted Ziggy Hood out of Missouri last year and it makes no sense to draft the same position two years in a row.
This leaves us with: Cleveland, Buffalo, Denver, San Francisco, New York Jets, Baltimore,
From here we should eliminate Cleveland. They will be picking in the top five and they simply can't afford to draft a 5-technique. This team needs to draft either a quarterback (Clausen/Bradford), offensive tackle (to pair with Joe Thomas), pass rusher (Will they like Derrick Morgan enough?), cornerback (Joe Haden) or Eric Berry. I think Berry, Clausen, and Bradford are the three most likely targets. I just don't feel like Cleveland can spend that pick on Heyward.
Our final teams that could draft Heyward in the currently projected top 20 picks are Buffalo (No. 8), Denver (No. 9), San Francisco (Nos. 11 and 16), New York Jets, (No. 18) and Baltimore (No. 20).
In my opinion, I would say Denver and San Francisco are the two biggest favorites to land Heyward. The Broncos desperately need more young talent on their defensive line and will be looking defense early on if they ink Brandon Marshall. San Francisco will also likely draft defense with both of their picks (or trade up), and since Heyward fits the 3-4 defense perfectly, he must be on their board somewhere high.
As a lasting note, San Francisco will likely target players such as Joe Haden, Taylor Mays, Rolando McClain, Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerry Hughes.
Cameron Heyward has what all the 3-4 teams are looking for up front - height, bulk and power. When he is on, he is absolutely dominant.
It's not a matter of IF Todd McShay and Mel Kiper will start hyping up Cameron Heyward - it's WHEN.