It is that time of year again. Mel Kiper, Jr. and all of his imitators and wannabe successors are in full throat. Fanboards for NFL teams all over the country are exploding with comments, analyses, rumors and wishful thinking regarding the impending NFL Draft. Here in Curmudgeon Central, it is time to get out the tattered notes from six months ago and to try to decipher the handwriting on said notes.
The NFL Draft is an annual ritual dedicated to the triumph of imagination over intelligence. Teams routinely ignore performance on the football field in college and are seduced by “workout wonders”; teams routinely ignore sociopathic behaviors on the part of players they want to draft thinking that demonstrated social misfits at the collegiate level will miraculously transform themselves into charismatic and productive team leaders in the NFL. [Memo to NFL GMs: No, they will not!] Moreover, to prove to you conclusively that the NFL Draft is anything but a science where all is predictable, Ray Lewis was 26th pick in the NFL Draft in 1996; 25 players were taken ahead of him that year. [BTW, the #1 overall pick that year was Keyshawn Johnson…]
For new readers, let me explain what you are about to read. I like college football and I watch a lot of college football on TV. During the season, I keep a small notepad next to me as I watch games and I make notes about players that I see who do things that make me think about them as prospects for NFL football – - the next level up. Now in the springtime, I gather up those notes and – assuming I can read them – try to put some perspective on them in terms of the NFL Draft. Think of this as the ramblings of an NFL “Scout” who never leaves his recliner and his TV remote except to get more guacamole dip and to release the beer that has made its way through the Scout’s system. With all due deference to syndicated columnist, Norman Chad, whose alter ego is The Couch Slouch, I am The Couch Scout. Marchons…
Obviously, my comments are biased toward players who went to “big schools” because they are the ones that are on TV most prominently. I never had the chance to see Montana Tech take on Eastern Oregon; there could be a couple of real diamonds in the rough on those squads and I would not recognize them in a line-up with any random WNBA team picture. I do not have a network of people around the country who feed me info and data on players – although a few readers do send me an e-mail about a local “prospect” they think is a good player and I include them here. I do not pretend that this is a comprehensive analysis.
More importantly, I may see a team play only one game and fail to recognize a star player doing anything memorable. Last year, I said that I had seen Ryan Clady’s team play but never bothered to write his name on my notepad – - despite the fact that he was a hot item leading up to the draft. A reader took me to task for that. Nevertheless, all I can say was that in the one game I saw him play, I did not notice that he was an excellent offensive tackle – - a fact that was borne out by his high draft status and his presence on the NFL All-Rookie Team.
Balancing that lack of insight on my part was my observation last year that I was unimpressed by Vernon Gholston. The Jets took him at #6 in the draft and got almost nothing from him in terms of on-field production. Gholston appeared in 15 games and made a total of 13 tackles; he is a disaster in pass coverage; he was a “healthy scratch” from one game last year. Gholston’s favorite number must be ZERO because that is the number of sacks, interceptions, defended passes, forced fumbles and fumbles recovered that he had as a linebacker last year.
Despite all these limitations, you will – based on previous incarnations of this annual feature – find a few names here that will represent lower round draft picks who will make an NFL squad and actually contribute to the teams that are paying them. It is an imperfect thing, but it is a lot more interesting to me than trying to come up with yet one more mock draft…
For fans of individual NFL teams, it is clearly important for your squad to avoid the “fabulous flame-out” draft pick such as a Ryan Leaf or an Akili Smith or a Tony Mandarich. At the same time, they need to avoid the less noticeable but equally debilitating effect that can happen to a team when they spend a high draft pick on someone like KiJana Carter, Heath Shuler, Tim Couch or Peter Warrick.
I will go through this by position and so I will start with the most important position on a football team – - -
As a note of perspective here, let me quote what I said about Matt Ryan last year:
“Matt Ryan is the acclaimed best QB in the draft. My notes say ‘good arm but not great’, ‘accurate passer’, ‘mobility against college defenders will not translate to mobility in NFL’ and ‘not worth paying him QB money high in first round’. Obviously, I differ from the common wisdom here; so be it.”
OK, I was very wrong there. However, before you write me off as an unmitigated dumbass, here is what I had to say about Joe Flacco last year BEFORE the draft:
“I saw Delaware play in two of the Division 1-AA playoff games and was impressed with QB, Joe Flacco. He is not fleet afoot by any means but my notes say he is ‘huge’. Indeed, he is listed as 6’7” tall and he probably looked big by comparison because he was playing in Division I-AA games; but in addition to being physically large, he has a strong and accurate arm. Can he step in and be a starter in Game 1 of the 2008 NFL season? No. Can he be developed into a starter? I think so. Before he went to Delaware, he was at Pitt and left there because the Pitt folks picked someone else to be the starting QB there.”
Now with that all as background for imperfect analysis, the bottom line for quarterbacks in this 2009 draft is that I am truly underwhelmed.
Matthew Stafford (Georgia) is the generally acknowledged “best QB in the draft”. My notes say nothing akin to that. My notes say “throws a lot of wobblers”, “floats the ball on out patterns” and “plays against top defenses but hardly dominates them”. In fact, Stafford did not lead Georgia to any level of glory in the SEC last year so I wonder how he is supposed to dominate NFL defensive opponents… Most assuredly, I would not take him with the first overall pick – - much as the Lions do need a competent QB. We shall see…
Mark Sanchez (USC) is the other top flight QB in this draft. If you are someone tied to historical omens, here is a cautionary note for you. The last USC QB to leave the school with eligibility left on his plate to go to the NFL was Todd Marinovich. If you do not know how that worked out for the Raiders, you really should not be worrying a lot about how the draft can affect an NFL team positively or negatively. My notes on Sanchez say, “looks great on a team where every position on offense dominates the position across the line from it”. Come to think of it, the QB for Montana Tech – whoever that might have been – would look probably have looked good under those same circumstances…
Chase Holbrook (New Mexico State) caused me to make these notes. “Huge QB but not like lumbering hulks such as J-Load” and “accurate passer even if his arm is not as strong as expected from someone that big.” Unless he is a dumb as a stone, he is worth taking in a late round to see if he can be developed into an NFL QB.
Curtis Painter (Purdue) is likely to be taken in the draft because he is from the same school and system that Drew Brees came from – - and the NFL is indeed a copycat league. Purdue has also turned out some less than spectacular NFL QBs over the years [think Mark Herrman] but GMs will tend to ignore that this year. My notes on Painter say he is “big”, “more mobile than it first appears” and “less arm strength than I expected”. If taken, it should be late on the second day; anything above that is a real stretch. Remember, in a big game against Penn State last year, Painter was benched in the midst of that game.
Rudy Carpenter, (Arizona State), Cullen Harper (Clemson) and Pat White (WVU) all had lots of hype and publicity last year. I saw all of them play and my notes boil down to this: “Way overrated…” I suspect if any team takes these guys they will make them the team’s designated highly paid clipboard carrier and visor model.
With regard to wide receivers, NFL GMs probably wish that someone would invent the “Diva-Meter” so they might predict which of the current crop of collegiate WRs might turn into the next iteration of T.O. or Chad Ocho Cinco or Plaxico Burress or … I do not claim to have such a “Diva-Meter”, but I surely did see some WRs who have lots of physical skills…
I liked Jeremy Maclin and Michael Crabtree from their games on TV – - as would most fans. My preference would be for Maclin, but both ought to be good picks in the top 15 of the draft. However, here is a cautionary note. There were loads of big offenses and monstrous passing attacks in the Big 12 last year; might some of that awesomeness be attributed to a lack of great pass defense in that conference? Running patterns against the defense of the Baylor Bears or the Kansas Jayhawks is just a tad different from running pass patterns against the defense of the Chicago Bears or the Baltimore Ravens.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (Maryland) can certainly fly. My notes say that a team taking him in the first round might regret that pick. Here is what I have written down “dropped two passes that hit him on BOTH hands” and “does not block downfield effectively”. I would not take him until the second day of the draft…
My notes say Percy Harvin (Florida) runs good routes, catches well and runs very well after the catch. He is not a large WR, but he is “really fast”. On physical skills, I’d take him high – - but with rumors that he tested positive for recreational drugs at the Combine and that his Wonderlic score was “less than a number in the teens”, he might be disappointing as a first round pick. But oh my, can he ever run…
Derrick Williams (Penn State) is not the fastest WR in the draft this year but he is “football smart” and an “effective blocker on DBs and on LBs”. Taking him late in the second round or in the third round would make sense.
Mohammed Massequoi (Georgia) prompted me to make this note, “tall and good hands”. I also wondered, “is he why Matthew Stafford is so successful as a QB?”
I noted that Taurus Johnson played for USF – - a team known as the Bulls. That could not have been an accident, could it? I made no notes about him as a player – - meaning that I saw nothing to make me think he was likely to succeed at the NFL level. But his name caught my attention…
I had one note on Marcus Everett (UCLA) saying “not real fast but very good hands; good in traffic; take in late rounds.”
I must insert here some info that came to me via an e-mail from a reader in Texas back in December 2008:
“Don’t be surprised if Johnnie Knox (Abilene Christian) gets a lot of notice as a draft pick as a WR and a kick returner next year. He has great speed and great hands. He was limited only by the quality of the quarterback that threw the ball to him … He might be a first round pick; he should be taken before the middle of the third round.”
I do not know Johnnie Knox from Johnnie Be Good, Knox Gelatine or Fort Knox. However, the reader who sent me this has been reading these things for years now and this is the first time he has ever touted a player to me. For what it is worth, I would take a wager that Johnnie Knox will not go in the first round of the draft this year…
I made some notes on Tight Ends. This does not seem to be a year where there are lots of good ones out there.
I have virtually the same notes regarding Brandon Pettigrew and Chase Coffman. Both are very big; neither is ultra-fast; both have good hands catching the ball in traffic; both block well on running plays. That should probably translate into a first day pick for both of these guys…
Dan Gronkowski (Maryland) is an “excellent blocker” on running plays, “good size”, and has “very good hands”. He too could go on the first day.
Travis Beckum (Wisconsin) showed “good speed” and “good hands” but also showed “cannot block a corpse”. In the NFL, tight ends have to be able to block a little bit and he does not look as if he can/will.
The only other tight end from my notes was Bear Pascoe (Fresno State). Obviously, I think he should be drafted by Chicago just based on his name. He is “a very large man” but “not nearly as impressive as a blocker or a pass catcher as one might expect from someone that size.”
I received an e-mail from a long-time reader back in October of last year telling me that there was a tight end due to graduate from the University of New Hampshire that I needed to follow because he had a great name. I agree, Scott Sicko, is a great name for a football player. However, I never did see him play and have not been able to find out a whole lot about him. So, look for him during the draft as a great name to be drafted by a team.
On the offensive line, I tend to group players together because many of the people who play tackle in college wind up at guard in the NFL and centers in college are not necessarily centers in the NFL.
Obviously, when I saw Michael Oher and Jason Smith and Andre Smith, I was very impressed by all three of these players. They all should go in the first round of the draft and it would not surprise me if all of them were gone in the first 15 picks.
Eugene Monroe (UVa) is also very highly regarded. I saw UVa play at least twice last year and I never wrote down Monroe’s name. Maybe he is this year’s Ryan Clady in that he will be a significant starter for an NFL team that I never noticed in his last year in college?
The same situation applies to Eben Britton (Arizona) who could be drafted late in the first round according to some mock drafts. I saw Arizona play but made no notes of Britton one way or the other.
I have almost identical notes about two other offensive linemen in the draft this year, Kraig Urbik (Wisconsin) and Herman Johnson (LSU). Both are “huge men”; if they do not make it in the NFL, they could “sell shade for a living.” Johnson is listed on some of the draft boards at 6’7” and 390 lbs. Both are “strong drive blockers”; both “take up space in pass blocking” and both are “slow”. These are second day picks.
I also liked Philip Loadholt (Oklahoma) and his linemate Duke Robinson. What I noted about both of these players is that both are proficient in pass protection and in run blocking. Robinson particularly “runs well for a big interior lineman”.
I liked AQ Shipley (Penn State) at center for his “excellent pass blocking”.
I liked Alex Mack (Cal) at center for the fact that he is a “really good run blocker – gets downfield to block routinely”.
I liked Dan Voss (Georgia Tech) as an “outstanding run blocker” on a team that ran the ball more times than not.
I liked several running backs – - some of whom are not the “household names” being bandied about as the players who should go early in this draft.
LeShan McCoy (Pitt) is not the biggest running back nor is he the fastest running back I have ever seen. But McCoy “hits the hole immediately” and “hits defenders as hard as they hit him” and “is elusive once he gets to the linebacker level”. If he is durable enough for the NFL, he can be a productive payer there.
“Beanie” Wells (Ohio State) is “big, fast and bruising”, but how does someone that big and that strong get hurt as much as he does? I see that some folks have him going in the first round; I think that is at least one round too high.
Shonn Greene (Iowa) is “probably the best power runner this year” and a very productive running back. I also noted that he is “not fast” and “maybe too slow for the NFL?”
Knowshon Moreno (Georgia) is a “complete back”. He “runs, runs with speed, runs with power and blocks well”. I am not sure he has the hands to play for an NFL team that runs a West Coast offense, but he should be able to play well in the NFL.
Javon Ringer (Michigan State) is a “tough runner” but he is not very big. One other note says, “is he fast enough for a RB in the NFL?” I don’t know…
Will Taufo’ou (Cal) is a monster at fullback as a blocker. If you are an NFL team who had trouble on “third and short situations” last year – - such as the Eagles – - you might want this guy as your lead blocker. My notes say, “might be able to topple an Easter Island statue”.
Jeremiah Johnson (Oregon) is “built like a bowling ball” and he “runs hard and low to the ground”. The draft boards have him listed as 5’9” and 205 lbs. If I had to guess from looking at him on TV, I’d guess 5’7” and 220. He is a mid-round pick.
Andre Brown (NC State) earned this note, “punishing inside runner who can break a tackle and then get another fifteen yards”.
A long time reader of this feature sent me an e-mail telling me that there was another player who went the “Joe Flacco route” – - he left Pitt to go to a small school and demonstrated loads of ability there. The reader was touting Rashad Jennings (Liberty) as a running back who the reader says “will play in the NFL because he can run the ball and he can catch the ball.” I never saw Liberty play; I did see Jennings in one of the “All Star Games” but only noted that he “runs hard”.
Here are the defensive ends that attracted my attention.
Michael Johnson (Georgia Tech) is “tall”, “good speed rusher” and a “punishing sacker”. However, he was “ordinary at best against runs toward his side”; however, he “runs down plays to the opposite side of the field”.
Brian Orakpo (Texas) is “excellent pass rusher” “speed moves and power moves”. He is “nothing more than decent against the run”. Many of the draft gurus say he will be the first DE taken and it will be high in Round 1. He is good, but I do not know if he is that good. I am “old school” with regard to defensive ends; I think they have to play the run well in addition to rushing the passer well. Orakpo’s play against the run would make me leery of taking him high in Round 1.
Aaron Maybin (Penn State) has a “great speed rush on QB” but “is he really big enough to be a DE” in the NFL? If he can add 25 lbs without losing speed, he might be the best one out there.
I must not have been impressed with impressed with Jarius Wynn (Georgia) because my notes say, “gets pushed around three plays out of four”.
I also made this note about Stryker Sulack (Missouri). “You should want to draft a DE named Stryker – - except he doesn’t do a whole lot of that.”
Here are the defensive tackles I made notes on:
BJ Raji (BC) seems to be everyone’s favorite. My notes say he is “a monster” – - and I mean that in a good way.
However, I also liked his running buddy at BC, Ron Brace. My notes say that he “is OK at pass rushing” but “stuffs the run really well.” My notes also say he is “slower than slow”. Look for his name in the mid to late rounds.
Tarrance Taylor was a nose tackle at Michigan and for a team that runs a 3-4 defense – - or one that overshifts the DT over the center frequently – - Taylor could be a good mid-round pick. My notes say “always hustling” and “hard hitter” and “really strong”.
Evidently the announcers must have been really high on Fili Moala (USC) the day I saw USC play because I have two notes that say “what are these guys talking about?” and “must be someone on the production staff’s nephew”. My performance notes say “big”, “not as strong as you’d expect” and “slower than a tree”. He will be drafted because he went to USC, but I would not spend a pick on him until very late on the second day.
Vance Walker (Georgia Tech) “hustles/plays hard every snap” and “controls the inside on run plays”. He’s not much as a pass rusher because he is “slow”. He is probably someone to go on the second day of the draft.
Earl Heyman (Louisville) is “probably too short to be a high round draft pick” even though he “plays hard every play” and gets “good penetration inside on the QB”.
Here are my linebacker notes from last season:
Everyone loves James Laurinaitis (Ohio State). I thought he was OK and marked down “third round?” He hits hard but he “looks awfully slow to me to be effective against the pass in the NFL”. Remember, how everyone also loved Ohio State linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer a few years ago and then he was a high draft pick in the NFL and then …
Aaron Curry (Wake Forest) did not have nearly the hype coming into the season that Laurinaitis had but when I saw Curry I wrote “what can’t he do well?” and “why would anyone want Laurinaitis over this guy?” I also wrote, “top-ten pick”.
I may not have noticed Eugene Monroe during any of the UVa games I watched, but I did make note of Chris Sintim as an outside linebacker. He is “big and agile” and “runs well”. I also said, “strong enough to play the run in the NFL”. He should go on the first day.
Jonathon Casillas (Wisconsin) got a lot of love from the announcing crew when I saw him play. My notes say “too small to play LB in the NFL and too slow to play strong safety”. Now, watch some team trade up to take him in the first round just so I can get a nasty note from a Wisconsin fan telling me how I showed no respect for the Badgers …
Moise Fokou (Maryland) earned this comment, “take this guy if you hate your radio play by play announcer…”
Brian Cushing (USC) is “always around the ball” and “hits very hard”. He looks “fast enough to be good in pass coverage and to blitz from the outside.” I understand he had a significant knee injury earlier in his college career and that may drop him in the draft, but I think this guy is a player.
Rey Maualaga (USC) is a “huge hitter” who tries to “blow up every play and everyone with the ball”. However, I also noted, “not real fast – can he play pass defense in the NFL?” Based on everyone else’s draft boards and mock drafts, he should go in the top of the first round.
Scott McKillop (Pitt) “seems to be in on every tackle” and “is a sure tackler”. He is “big enough to be MLB” and “fast enough to cover TEs – but not RBs”. I have not heard much about this guy but I think he is worth a first day pick.
Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond) stood out in the Division 1-AA championship game. He played DE for Richmond but my note here says “way too small to play DE in the NFL but looks like an OLB to me”. He is a sure tackler with a “high rpm motor”. He “chased down screen passes to the opposite side of the field a couple of times.” Do not be surprised to hear his name on the first day.
Jason Phillips (TCU) earned this comment, “not big and not fast but he must have some Tasmanian Devil DNA in him.” He pursued the ball carrier and/or the QB relentlessly.
A long-time reader of these rants who lives in Nevada sent along a note about University of Nevada’s Joshua Mauga. I have no notes on Mauga, but I do not recall seeing Nevada play last season so it is not as if I watched the team and never saw him do anything noteworthy. For what it is worth, here is the essence of the reader’s note to me:
Mauga weighs 250 lbs and can run well enough to be an outside or an inside linebacker. When he has a coverage assignment, he is usually on his man. He is a sure tackler and a tough guy.
Here are my notes on cornerbacks from last season. If the NFL scouts agree with my assessment, this will be a lean year for prospects at that position.
Oregon State played with their corners in man coverage – and not always with safety help – on an awful lot of plays. That means they got burned a few times, but it also showed that these two guys could cover in a man scheme. Keenan Lewis is the bigger of these two guys but not real fast and Brandon Hughes is the faster of these two guys but not very big. I wrote down “both of these guys should be drafted”.
Sean Smith (Utah) is “very tall” and he “covers well and hits hard”. He might be a CB or a Safety in the NFL. He is worth a first day pick.
Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest) is “short but covers really well”. I also noted that he is “not a sure tackler” and “seems to avoid big contact when runs come to his side.” I would look for him in the mid-rounds.
Jarius Byrd (Oregon) is “big time hitter but not so good in coverage” and perhaps that is because he “seems a bit too slow to play CB in the NFL. If a team thinks they might convert him to safety, he might move up on their draft board; but as a CB, he might lack something they cannot teach – - speed.
Asher Allen (Georgia) is “very fast” and “reacts to the ball well on long passes”. Playing in the SEC means he has seen some good opposition. He will probably go in the mid-rounds.
Vontae Davis (Illinois) sparked this comment, “Good thing he is really fast because he is often way off in coverage and has to use his speed to close on the guy he should have been blanketing.” On the positive side, I made this note, “Could be really good kick returner/punt returner with that speed.”
Malcom Jenkins (Ohio State) seems to be the consensus best CB in the draft. All I wrote down when I saw Ohio State was this, “Good tackler and big hitter. Cover skills?”
A Florida reader sent me this note about Corey Small (Florida Atlantic University). I never saw Corey Small play; I don’t know if he is small or large…
“Here is a sleeper cornerback for the NFL draft. He had ten or more tackles in four games last season and he’s good in coverage too.”
Here are the safeties that did something to merit some note taking on my part.
Clemson was only a mediocre football team last year despite the thought that they might have been a Top 10 team in the preseason rankings. Nonetheless, Clemson had two safeties that looked good to me. Michael Hamlin is “big and tough” and “seems to go looking for contact/good tackler”. Chris Clemons is “quick to the ball” and “covered tight ends in the middle and WRs coming over the middle really well.” I think both of these players will be drafted in the mid-rounds.
Curtis Taylor (LSU) is “tall” “covers receivers well” and is a “sure tackler”. That sounds like someone who should be drafted by an NFL team, no?
David Bruton (Notre Dame) is “big, athletic and fast”. Perhaps that is also why he is “good in coverage”. I also noted that he is a “good tackler” and that he “played on punt coverage team effectively.”
Eric Thatcher (Pitt) was “always around the ball” but also “looked much too short to be a top candidate for an NFL DB”
Special Teams Players:
I do not even pretend to have tried to notice long snappers. I realize that every team has to have them, but I paid them no attention as I watched college football games. My notes are confined to kickers and punters.
Louis Sakoda (Utah) is punter AND a kicker. His punts are high and long; they have plenty of hangtime for the coverage team to exploit. He is an accurate kicker with plenty of range. He will not go in the first round, but maybe late in the third round …?
Graham Gano (Florida State) is also a punter AND a kicker. He does both well and “has good accuracy on long field goal attempts/ down the middle”. Maybe late third round or …?
Justin Brantley (Texas A&M) is a “very large guy for a punter” and he “gets plenty of distance” but he “punts the ball low not high”. If no one drafts him and you need a punter for training camp, I would have his agent’s number on speed dial.
So, there it is. That is the report from The Couch Scout. In a couple of years, we can look back and see if there were any diamonds in the rough here.
And to put a final perspective on all of the scouting and the draft board construction all over the NFL and the ubiquitous coverage of potential draftees, here is a comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:
“Mel Kiper Jr. is now projecting the 223rd pick in the draft will be Farqhuar long-snapper Ned Nebbish, up from an initial projection of 229th based on a recent 4.33 40 while eluding police.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…