Sometimes, three isn't greater than one.
There are always surprises in the NFL draft, but the 2018 edition may be the most unpredictable in years. There are a few factors at play here and they will affect who is available to the Redskins in the first round and who they end up drafting there.
One factor is analytics. Not all teams have a big analytics department but all 32 are aware of the trends in the game. One is that teams no longer emphasize establishing the run early in games. Teams pass in the first quarter on about 57 percent of the snaps. That run-pass ratio is about the same as it is during the other three quarters. It’s still a passing league from the opening kickoff until the clock hits 0:00.
So why, then, is Vita Vea, a pure nose tackle who likely will be of limited help against the pass, a possible top-10 pick who the Redskins reportedly would like to take at 13?
The way it looks now, Vea is going to be one of the best available players with a significant drop off to any players associated with the passing game except quarterbacks—wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher, and outside cornerback.
The Redskins might rate Vea as more valuable than other teams because of how weak their rushing defense is. Teams ran at them on 47 percent of first-quarter plays, taking advantage of the weakness. This kept up through all four quarters; teams ran against the Redskins on 46 percent of the plays compared to 42 percent of all plays league-wide. Washington’s vulnerability against the rush may push Vea and probably Da’Ron Payne up on their draft boards even if they are of limited utility in the nickel defense.
Here is one more example of the numbers and talent affecting this draft. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick played a variety of positions in Alabama’s secondary. The consensus opinion is that his best NFL fit is slot corner. Traditionally, that is not a first-round position because it’s has been a role, a part-time position.
But the view is shifting. Offenses take 62.6 percent of their snaps with three or more wide receivers on the field. That number only counts true wide receivers, so you can add a percentage point or two in for when a running back or tight end lines up out wide. As you would expect, a comparable number of defensive snaps (65.3%) are with five or more defensive backs on the field. The Redskins were in line with this. Slot corner Kendall Fuller played nearly 66 percent of the snaps last year.
Since you will utilize your slot corner on nearly two-thirds of your plays, if you can get a good one with the 13th pick you shouldn’t hesitate just because of the old view of the position. When you add in the fact that Fitzpatrick can play safety and outside corner as well the Redskins could well pull the trigger if he’s still there.
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As the Capitals and Penguins prepare to open their second-round series, significant injury news came out of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan informed the media that both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin would not play in Game 1 due to injuries.
Coach Sullivan: “Malkin will make the trip with the team to Washington, Hagelin will not. Neither will play in Game 1."— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 25, 2018
The fact that Hagelin would not be traveling with the team suggests that he will miss Game 2 as well, but that has not been confirmed. That also means that Malkin is at least a possibility for Game 2.
Malkin did not play in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers after getting injured in a collision with Jakub Voracek in Game 5. Hagelin was injured in Game 6 on a big hit from Claude Giroux.
So when the series against Washington begins, Pittsburgh will be playing without two-thirds of its second line.
Malkin made a real push for the Hart Trophy this season with 42 goals and 98 points. He was a major factor in last season's Cup run with 28 points in 26 games and was gearing up for another big postseason with five points in his first five games.
But don't celebrate too much, Caps fans. It is not as if either loss will be crippling to Pittsburgh's offense.
Despite not having Malkin for the entire Game 6 and losing Hagelin midway through the second period, the Penguins still managed to put up eight goals on the Flyers in the series-clinching win.
Still, with scoring depth being such a strength for Pittsburgh, the Capitals need to take advantage. The Penguins will be without one of the best players in the NHL and that makes Game 1 crucial. Washington has gone down 0-2 in each of their past two playoff series including last year against Pittsburgh. They lost that series in seven games. They need to have a better start this year and with no Malkin or Hagelin for Game 1, this may be a must-win for the Caps.
Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated with Phil Kessel on the second line at practice on Wednesday and it is a good bet that is how the second line will remain for Game 1. That way, Pittsburgh can keep its third line of Conor Sheary, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust line together which has been very effective.