Texas Longhorns Defensive Player Draft - Fantasy & Reality (6)

Guess who.

As I move through this draft process, I'm finding a common theme in how I value each pick. In this evolving Big XII league, you need guys who can influence the game in several ways. Offenses value RBs who can run the ball, pass block, and catch out of the backfield. Tight ends who are strong in both the passing game and run-blocking are obviously more valuable as well. As an offense you'd hate to have a receiver with great hands but who was a liability as a blocker in the run. You simply become too predictable as an offense when you have to pull together special packages for specific plays catering to specific players.

Defenses must be equally diverse. The more players you can keep on the field when the offense's personnel changes, the better. Although you need enough defensive linemen to rotate guys in for fresh legs, you value a guy who can hold up in the running game and pressure the passer. If a cornerback isn't physical in the running game, teams will find a way to exploit him by using the receiver to crack back and pull a few big guys to mow him over. Hell, when I first moved to linebacker I was strong on passing downs, but played soft as wet toilet paper in the running game. Luckily, that changed over time. But the point here is that teams are always looking for matchup advantages.

With the 6th draft picks I've selected a fantasy player who was one of the most well-rounded athletes on the team and a reality pick who many teams assumed would be a matchup advantage but has proven otherwise.

Fantasy Draft 6th Pick (Position & Player): Safety | Michael Griffin

I'm looking at this pick wondering how in the world he dropped this far. I had to remind myself that I'm making these selections based on need in this conference, position and skillset. But, as far as talent goes, Mike Griffin was right up there with the best of them.

First of all, I absolutely loved the way the way he practiced. He'd be all over the place looking to add value to his game. One moment, you'd see him back catching kickoffs, the next he'd be stealing reps in one-on-ones from cornerbacks, then jumping in tackling drills with linebackers, or working on blocking punts. He's one of the rare guys who showed up every day ready to work his ass off, pushing the coaches to provide him with opportunities to get better.

All of that work translated on the field as he found a way to influence games in every way possible. Mike G showed early on he was a great tackler. The combination of great range and being a very sure tackler enabled him to rack up stats in that department.

You could see it his freshman year when he had 65 tackles (21 on special teams). As a sophomore, he started in the nickel package at safety and led the team in special teams tackles (11) while also blocking a couple punts. In his junior year he exploded with a team-leading 124 tackles and four blocked punts. He found a way to continue adding value to his game and finished his senior year with 126 tackles, 4 INTs, 4 forced fumbles, and 2 punt blocks. He was a player who added weapons to his arsenal every year and we all saw that work pay huge dividends in the 2005 season culminating with a strong National Championship game. His progression continued into 2006 after Michael Huff left campus. He was a great player who led by example in both practice and game and I'm anxious to see if anyone steps up and plays a similar role this year.

Reality Draft 6th Pick (Position & Player): Cornerback | Quandre Diggs

I'm happy to announce that Quandre Diggs is my 6th pick in the reality draft. An undersized freshman, Diggs proved to be consistently reliable as he was tested time and time again throughout the season. With a year under his belt his well-rounded skillset will enable him to have an even greater impact this season in spite of sitting out for a while with a broken arm.

There are so many levels of development most freshmen lack before they even think about touching Coach Akina's defensive backfield. Young DBs tend to think the game is all about being a lockdown 1-on-1 guy. While that's partially true, the techniques and skills it takes to get there usually take much longer to develop. For instance, in man coverage, younger DBs have the tendency to peek back at the QB while in coverage. Regardless of how athletic you are, that will get you beat. Diggs not only has the footwork needed to play man coverage, he has the eye discipline to go along with it. His eyes and feet are always in sync which is rare for young DBs.

Diggs also has a detailed understanding of zone concepts, which is also a rarity in youngsters. He took full advantage of coming in early and learning what his roles are in zone coverage, how to disguise them, and how to be in position to make plays when he was tested. This is generally too much for most DBs who come in the summer and spend limited time with coaches learning. Most young players don't do any work in zone coverage until fall pre-season practices. Diggs early arrival helped him grasp the defense, work on it through the summer of 2011 and make the most of it during the season. I expect him to make even more plays in zone coverage as the team moves into its second year under Manny Diaz (a recurring theme for me) and he learns how to bait QBs into making bad decisions.

Last, but not least, what makes Diggs a special young player is his ability to be physical in the running game and when taking on blocks. He's never shied away from contact and tends to shock WRs when they attempt to block him. Being weak in this area alone will keep you out of Coach Akina's defensive backfield. Diggs, not showing any fear or hesitation since day one, welcomes that side of the game. As Coach Royal said, Dogs that'll bite, will bite you as puppies.

I'm not sure I've ever seen a freshman DB accomplish what Diggs did especially considering the things that weren't in his favor (stature, inexperience, etc.) Have you? With so much emphasis placed on size, strength, and experience at that position, I realize I haven't marveled enough at his talent and what he accomplished last season. As a trustworthy young corner and punt returner, I can't imagine much more impressive he'll be this season. With the uncertainty offensively from opponents (and even our own), we'll definitely need his solid play and sure hands in his sophomore season.

Seventh Draft pick(s) coming soon...

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