Chris Estridge (left) is a good marker who can get up and score some goals, but was he the best fullback on the board? (MLSSoccer.com)
A 22-year-old senior from Indianapolis, Estridge is primarily known for his defensive focus but did get up and score three goals in 22 matches with Indiana last season. He was generally considered a second-round-level talent on most of the draft boards, but not usually this early and not before some of the other options remaining on the board.
Estridge is a touch larger and more slower than the other notable fullback on the draft list, Tyler Polak (who immediately went to the New England Revolution). Both Polak and Estridge are left-footed fullbacks, but while Polak is a native left back who's played some right back, Estridge has flipped between the positions more comfortably. He's been a starter since leaving Wake Forest to join Indiana for the 2010 scholastic season.
I was a big advocate for Polak. With a Generation Adidas contract and all the pedigree, Polak seemed like a steal of a deal for the Whitecaps at twenty-first overall. Neither Polak nor Estridge are blue-chip prospects with a great chance of making it, but at least Polak wouldn't count on our salary cap. Polak had a rough time at the combine but it's not like Estridge was brilliant and, as I've said time and time again, the Combine proves less than nothing. Estridge was a Combine teammate of first-round pick Darren Mattocks; I wonder if Rennie, Ritchie, and Soehn saw something while scouting Mattocks and made a note.
Estridge reeks of a positional pick. A utility fullback, Estridge provides much-needed cover at right back for Young-pyo Lee but is not considered a leading talent. He may have a role to play as a cheap piece of injury cover but, frankly, I'd have preferred the Whitecaps went with either an established professional or a Residency player. I've never seen Estridge play but, based on what I've read, this pick could have been better.
The decision to take Estridge over Polak is one that's going to be analyzed and re-analyzed for years. Polak is, by consensus, a little better and certainly a little more athletic. Estridge is also a full two and a half years older than Polak, turning 23 this coming September. Nobody had Estridge going ahead of Polak, with the apparent exception of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Of course, in the second round, you're allowed to take a bit of a risk. The question is which of these young men will be the better uninteresting depth player. In spite of his high-profile Generation Adidas contract, and the hype that goes with it, I'm hard-pressed to find any blurbs from neutral sources raving about Polak: his only real plus attribute appears to be his speed. This isn't to say that Polak isn't better than Estridge: it's to say that, even if the Whitecaps have chosen wrong, it won't make that much of a difference.
Besides, how many of us have seen Estridge or Polak play? I haven't; like most of you, I rely on what I read and hear. Estridge was a first-team All-American, unlike Polak. Indiana was a good but not dominant team, and Estridge certainly didn't get a bump in his draft position just by being surrounded by more talented players. His defensive teammate Tommy Meyer (19th overall to the Los Angeles Galaxy) is the only other Indiana player to make an impact so far in this draft. Indiana's great strength was that they conceded only 19 goals in 22 games, and Estridge was a big part of that. Estridge is also an intelligent young man who got into college with his brains more than his feet.
At this stage, you draft for depth. I'd have preferred younger, off-salary-cap depth like Polak, but a close examination of his record suggests that Estridge isn't too bad. So long as the Whitecaps give him a fair competition with professionals and Residency players to prove he can hold down his spot, I'll have no complaints.