With the ’22 NFL Draft about four months aways, we asked former Titans Director of College Scouting Blake Beddingfield to discuss how NFL teams will use the draft to address the evolving NFL style of play. Friday, Blake will address the strengths and weaknesses, position by position, of the ’22 class in our Friday Wrap. You can register for it here.
Substitution packages — dime and nickel sets, along with packages aimed at defending certain offensive schemes or personnel — are the new trend in NFL defensive football. Reducing substitutions is one reason so many teams (especially on the college level) are playing “tempo” offenses that are designed to get to the snap quickly.
This new philosophy has changed the way NFL teams build their rosters and attack the draft board.
With the emergence of the flex, or “move,” tight end, as well as bigger wide receivers playing in the slot, defenses are countering with sub-package groups. Not long ago, offensive-minded teams had a traditional slot receiver that was effective on short-to-intermediate routes and a “Y” tight end that also worked the middle of the field and the short areas outside the numbers. That’s not the case anymore with slot receivers now able to stretch the middle of the field vertically and tight ends that can work the seams and corners of a defense’s coverage.
With these offensive changes, defenses have had to match. This is why nickel linebackers have become so valuable, and why we’ve moved from mammoth linebackers designed to stop downhill rushers to lighter players who are almost hybrid safeties. Finding this combination has become a draft day priority for most teams.
Outside of pass rushers, always highly valued on draft day, safety has seen an emergence. This is the group that can help equalize those growing offensive trends. This group has size, length, man cover ability and quality players that can start immediately for teams. Teams seeking these key new players are in luck in 2022 as the safety group will have quality players into the early part of Day 3.
For all other positional needs, it’s important to understand how NFL coaching and front office staffs have changed. But first, it’s important to note that the toughest positions to fill in free agency are franchise quarterbacks, left tackle and pass rusher. If you need those positions, you either have to pay a premium on draft day or hope to be able to develop Day 2 and 3 prospects. That’s where the problem lies.
There was a time when the league was geared toward developing players drafted in the middle and later rounds of the draft. However, how much of that development is actually happening in the NFL today? I trace this to today’s hiring practices when you look at assistant coaches, i.e., everyone below the coordinator level.
Are the assistant coaches being hired capable of teaching and developing players at their position? Sometimes, but not always. Some coaches are hired because of their ability to scheme and work on Xs and Os, but long gone are the assistant coaches that had years working on the high school and college levels, where they had to learn how to teach.
Today’s generation of assistant coaches are more often play callers first and “coaches” second. They’re seen as the farm team for tomorrow’s coordinators and head coaches. As the “burn rate” for head coaches gets more intense and head coaches become expendable, the need for new candidates is substantial. It becomes less about who you have developed or coached with success, and more about who you worked for and the success the team has had.
Don’t forget to check out Blake’s take on the strengths and weaknesses of the ’22 draft class in this week’s Friday Wrap (register here). Make sure to keep up with Blake’s writings, radio appearances and other engagements by following him on Twitter.