Whether it’s a rangy, primary zone corner, a massive mover of men within the defensive interior, or a ball-carrier with wide-zone traits to his game, when it comes down to the nitty gritty of selecting players, scheme fit usually trumps all. There’s a massive difference between athletes and football players, and while the NFL has its healthy share of both littered across each club, if teams are able to mesh a player’s traits with their individual schematic gameplan, it’s a seamless match from the get-go.
Taking a look at the talent pool about to enter the league in this year’s NFL Draft, here are a few of my favorite scheme-specific matches.
NORTH DAKOTA STATE WR CHRISTIAN WATSON – GREEN BAY PACKERS
After trading Davante Adams to Las Vegas, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has quickly seen his wideouts room empty out with little high-end talent remaining. While there are many options for a true top receiver in this class, you’d be hard-pressed to find one with the potential of Watson. One of the most fluid athletes in the class, similarly to Adams, Watson would undoubtedly holster the majority of Rodgers’ targets without a hiccup. A high-flying aerial attack led by the future first-ballot Hall of Famer, Watson’s multiple seasons of work in the frozen tundra of North Dakota should translate nicely to the bitter cold of Green Bay. If he’s on the board come the No. 22 overall pick, I would be surprised if he’s not the pick by General Manager Brian Gutekunst. Size, speed and playmaking ability in the twitched-up frame of Watson doesn’t grow on trees.
CINCINNATI CB SAUCE GARDNER – PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
It’s not that Gardner can’t succeed in man coverage – just watch his film against Alabama – but placing Gardner in Jonathan Gannon’s heavy zone principled defense will allow his length and football intelligence to shine from day one. Working opposite Darius Slay, he’d offer Gannon the ability to constantly create pressure up front without worrying about coverage on the backend. With outstanding ball skills and an alpha mentality to make plays near the line of scrimmage against the run, he’s everything you look for in a top corner and can be a culture changer within the secondary.
SOUTH DAKOTA STATE RB PIERRE STRONG JR – HOUSTON TEXANS
One of the more underappreciated talents in the class, Strong represents his surname to a T, plowing through wimpy tacklers with ideal contact balance and burst to escape past the second level. More importantly, how much can you really expect of Rex Burkhead? While this could also be a spot for a Breece Hall or Isaiah Spiller, Davis Mills will also need an option in the passing game, and with limited options on the outside, inserting Strong could result in a significant allotment of touches to start his career. He’s a late Day 2, early Day 3 sleeper that should have an immediate impact on Sundays, especially for a team like Houston.
N.C. STATE OT IKEM EKWONU – NEW YORK GIANTS
Let. Saquon. Eat.
That should remain the mantra heading into this fall, and while rumors have swirled surrounding a potential trade of the former second overall pick, the question coming out of Penn State towards Barkley’s projection as a Giant has always centered around the push from the front five, and by adding a dominant run blocker like Ekwonu, those issues could begin to dissipate. In what will also prove to be a make or break campaign for Daniel Jones, improving the run game should boost the Giants’ offense at least back to mediocrity – or so you’d like to think. You win within the trenches and Ekwonu is about as sure a thing as they come in the class.