Illinois DT Corey Liuget: Legit 1st round pick?
ESPN's Mel Kiper shook up his draft board with his latest mock draft. Most notable difference for the Rams? WR Julio Jones disappeared before the #14 pick rolled around, sending Devaney and company in search of the mythical "BATFAN" -- the best available talent that fits any need. (Hat tip to Roar of the Lions for coining the term.) And Kiper's pick certainly stirs the pot for Rams draft followers:
DT - Corey Liuget, Illinois
Liuget is a Junior, and has not been widely written about as rising stars from the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl, and as such this is the first time he's hit the RamsHerd radar. Digging around, it's fair to say that opinion among NFL scouts is widely mixed on the interior lineman. One thing you can't deny, though, is that Kiper hits a glaring need for the Rams right on the head: the DT shuffle plagued the Rams all year.
Is Liuget a legit candidate to fill this spot? Here is a sampling of what the scouts say.
Shane P Hallam, Draft Countdown: "Liuget is Legit!"
In such a talented D-Line class, Liuget is a player who could get lost in the shuffle behind many top seniors or high profile underclass defensive tackles. However, Liuget is a legit prospect and could push himself into the early round conversation.
Of the scouts I polled, Hallam was easily the most positive on Liuget. Some more thoughts from his scouting report:
Liuget has been nearly unstoppable when penetrating the defensive line, and it has showed up on the stat sheet. He has 4.5 sacks and 12.5 TFL, continuing to put pressure on the quarterback and in the backfield....
He is a great fit in a 3-technique 4-3 system where he will be used as a pass rusher whose goal is to get into the backfield....
He does have times when caught out of position or he uses the wrong technique and falters, but the tools are there...
Assuming Spagnuolo wants to pressure from all four defensive line spots, as is his norm, Liuget sounds like a nice fit. However, he does not sound like the prototypical run-stuffer that lines up over center. Given that the Rams' quantum leap forward in defensive performance this season resulted primarily from improved ability to defend the pass, though, that may not be a concern for the Rams' draft war room.
However, it's far from a slam-dunk among scouts that Liuget belongs in this conversation ... at least not right away. Scott Porter from New Era Scouting rates Liuget 4th among DTs. Fellow New Era scout Matt Miller says: "He would make an impact. Pretty raw, though. Love him as a three tech." However, Erik Galko from Optimum Scouting is significantly more bearish.
In fact, Liuget doesn't even crack the top ten of the current Optimum Scouting DT rankings, with a simple note inscribed: "Should have stayed another year, raw talent." Via tweet, Galko expands: "Think he's a bit of a project, raw talent who doesn't max out as a Top level talent. Lots of good DTs, probably 3rd-4th best 3-tech."
The other players Galko suggests? That would be North Carolina DE/DT Marvin Austin, and Missouri DE Aldon Smith, who was the subject of a long and interesting Twitter debate yesterday between myself and TST's resident draftnik, known to the world as "3k". (In fact, even if Julio Jones was available, 3k would grab Alson Smith ahead of him.)
Before you start shaking your head, 3k was the very first to pencil in Sam Bradford to the Rams last year, weeks ahead of Adam Schefter when the rest of the mediaverse (including myself) had Suh fever. Of course, I still disagree, but it's a fun debate. Bottom line, this #14 pick could go in many different directions, and combine performances are going to shake up these rankings even further.
Addendum: Don't like the Liuget pick? VanRam at TST offers some alternatives.