Despite the lockout and the legal wrangling with the NFLPA over labor laws in the US, the NFL will hold its annual draft this week. While I have gotten very tired of the press releases and the controlled leaks of information from the league and the players association regarding the heinous nature of the opposite side of the negotiating table, I still do have my notes from which to do a draft analysis. For new readers, let me set the stage here.
I like college football; and in the Fall, I watch a lot of college football on TV. As I watch, I try to keep a notepad nearby to make notes about players that I see who might be interesting “at the next level”. Since I also read about college football, I also know who is considered to be a “top prospect” and so I pay particular attention to those players to see if my eyes see what others see in them. Then comes the hard part. I put those notes away for several months and dig them out in April for deciphering as the basis for these analyses.
Last year, I called myself “The Couch Scout” – - as a sort of homage to Norman Chad in his persona as “The Couch Slouch”. That sobriquet says it all; my “scouting” is done from the comfort of my living room – - or perhaps from a seat in The Mirage Sports Book on one weekend – - in the Fall. I do not visit schools; I do not go to practices; I do not talk to coaches; I do not have any organized set of “sources” feeding me information. What you get here is a distillation of the notes I took watching games with my own eyeballs.
Since that is my data source, it leads to two situations that pop-up frequently so I need to address them at the beginning:
My viewing is skewed in favor of the “big schools” because they are the ones most available on national TV. There may be a spectacular player at “Disco Tech” in the “Movin’ and Groovin’ Conference” that I will never get a chance to see unless he plays in the Senior Bowl. Chances are I will not have any opinion on him.
Sometimes, I only get to see a team play one time – - particularly if it is a West Coast team whose games are on at “less convenient viewing times” for me on the East Coast. Even very good players have less than very good showings once in a while and it is possible that I saw a very good player on the worst day in his entire college career. If I never made a note about him because he was mediocre – - or if I watched for him due to his reputation and was unimpressed – - that is what I will report here. I mean no disrespect; it is all that I saw of that player.
So, that is what is about to happen here; I get some right and I get some wrong. What sometimes happens is that you will read about someone here who gets drafted in a late round and winds up making an NFL team and playing well. The reason is that I do not worry about mock drafts for the first round or two; I just look for players that I think can “move up”.
With regard to “mock drafts”, I think that genre has jumped the shark with this fact. Only days after last year’s draft in April 2010, a column was written creating a mock draft for 2011 – - 12 months into the future. There was no way to know what team would be drafting where and with what needs; there was no way to know which underclassman would and/or would not declare for the upcoming draft; there was no way to write anything cogent. Nonetheless, the article was written and you can go and read it here if you wish.
As usual, I will start with the quarterbacks because that is where most of the hype and publicity focuses – - and because there are a lot of NFL teams who need quarterbacking upgrades. Consider these nine teams in alphabetical order:
Arizona: The Cardinals ditched Matt Leinart so that they could keep the trio of Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton. Need I say more?
Carolina: Here is the depth chart:
Brian St. Pierre
Any arguments that this team needs a quarterback…?
Cincinnati: If Carson Palmer is serious that he will not play for the Bengals anymore, the team is in dire straits.
Miami: Chad Henne was supposed to be “the answer”; I thought he would develop last year and become someone on the doorstep of excellence. Instead, Henne threw 19 INTs and only 16 TDs last year despite the Dolphins adding Brandon Marshall as their lead receiver. [Note that as this analysis was in composition, Brandon Marshall spent time in an ICU as a result of stab wounds he received in the course of a domestic dispute…] The Dolphins lost their last three games and turned to Tyler Thigpen at QB for a while. They need QB help…
Minnesota: I really believe we have seen the last of Brett Favre and I am sure we have seen the last of him in Minnesota. The “Tarvaris Jackson Era” also came to a merciful conclusion in the off-season. That leaves Joe Webb, Rhett Bomar and Patrick Ramsey to choose from. See what Arizona had to choose from last year and look at what happened to the Cardinals for a hint at what the Vikings are facing now.
San Francisco: The new Niners coach is Jim Harbaugh a former NFL QB. Maybe he can turn Alex Smith into a real NFL QB. Here is why Smith has been a “disappointment” since being taken as the overall #1 pick six years ago. Since that time, here are the Niners’ starting QBs in addition to Smith while Smith has been on the roster:
JT O’ Sullivan
Seattle: Matt Hasselbeck is getting up there in years and Charlie Whitehurst is the backup who was less-than-mediocre in his starting efforts last year.
Tennessee: Vince Young is gone; Kerry Collins cleared the table at The Last Supper.
Washington: The Shanahans (pére et fils) benched Donovan McNabb to see what Rex Grossman had to offer and it wasn’t all that much. John Beck is the other QB currently on the roster. Need I say more…?
Those teams NEED quarterback help. Added to that list you could easily make the case that these teams can use an upgrade at QB:
I made notes on a large number of QBs during my viewing schedule last year; usually I only have notes on four or five QBs but this year was an anomaly.
According to my notes, I liked Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) best of all. I noted that he “has the size and arm strength” to be a good NFL QB and that he “is accurate with long and short throws”. His “good mobility” will not hurt him at the NFL level and I liked his ability to find secondary receivers. If you read scouting reports, Mallett could be available after several other QBs have gone off the board because there are some concerns about character/off-field issues. It will be interesting to see where he is taken in the draft and by whom.
I liked Cam Newton (Auburn) for his physical gifts. The way he engineered the comeback against Alabama made me note “Auburn is never out of a game with this kid at QB”. The only semi-negative thing I noted about Cam Newton is that he reminds me a lot of Vince Young in terms of his “slow and awkward throwing motion”. Young had some success in the NFL on the field, but both Newton and Young possess anything but a “classic NFL delivery”.
I think Newton is both a “prospect” and a “project”. He has prodigious physical skills but he will need to learn how to play QB in an NFL system because he did next to none of that at Auburn. If he is a top five pick, there will be pressure to play him early on and that might not be pretty until he goes up his learning curve.
I also liked Christian Ponder (FSU). My notes say he has “good vision” and “good accuracy” but I wondered if his arm was “big enough” to be a factor in the NFL.
I had mixed notes on Jake Locker (Washington). I wrote that he was “very athletic and mobile” and that he always “looks downfield when scrambling”. I also wrote that he does not put the ball where the receiver can catch it in stride and “this guy was supposed to be a Top-5 pick if he came out last year – how can that be?”
Regarding Blaine Gabbert (Mizzou), I had two notes:
“Is it him – or is it the offensive system?” Then later on:
“I really think it’s the system.”
Here is what I wrote about Andy Dalton (TCU):
“He could be the steal of the draft if he lasted to the 4th round”
“He’s not real big but I think he is big enough.”
Then there are the negative/dismissive comments I made about these six other QBs, which I will simply summarize here in alphabetical order:
Colin Kaepernick (Nevada): “System QB – not an NFL QB”
Greg McElroy (Alabama): “Can’t throw well enough for the NFL”
Mitch Mustain(USC): “IF he’s drafted it is because he went to USC.”
Ricky Stanzi (Iowa): “Not even as a free agent.”
Tyrod Taylor (Va Tech): “Maybe CFL where he can just run around?”
Adam Weber (Minnesota): “What is the hype about this guy about?”
Next, I will present my “findings” regarding running backs in this year’s draft. Now that I have gathered my notes and sorted them by position, it would seem as if this year’s draft at running back has two impressive players and then a lot of guys who were OK or maybe a tad above average as prospects. Here are the notes on my two “impressive backs”:
I wrote that Mark Ingram (Alabama) is a “stud who can run over people and around people”. He “will go early in the draft”. Only downside is that he is “not blazing fast” and that and he did not do a lot of blocking in the Alabama offense.
I noted that DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) is “very fast” and “very aggressive running with the ball”. I also noted that he “blocks very well on pass plays and on run plays”.
Now for the seemingly interchangeable good but not great comments for other running backs in alphabetical order:
John Clay (Wisconsin): “Big as a horse, fast as a rock.”
Jamie Harper (Clemson): “Big strong runner and SLOW.”
Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State): “Too small to be that slow.”
Evan Royster (Penn State): “Quick but not fast.”
Jordan Todman (UConn): “Tough but small” as a three-down back.
I told you above that I do not have an organization of folks around the country who feed me info on potential draftees. I do, however, get e-mails occasionally during the college football season telling me about players from smaller schools that I probably would never notice and I save them for inclusion in the draft analysis. I got this e-mail from someone who self-identified as a “Rebel football fan for the last 25 years”. Here is the salient portion of his e-mail:
“The [UNLV] Rebels cannot run the ball because the offensive line stinks. But they have a running back that is pretty good and might be real good behind a good line in the NFL. Watch Channing Trotter if you get a chance.”
I did not get a chance to see Channing Trotter. I wonder if he is related to Jeremiah Trotter…?
I only made notes on two fullbacks last year and both notes ended with the same assessment – - “late round pick only”. Here are the two players:
Henry Hynoski (Pitt): He is an “attacking blocker”; he gets to the linebacker rather than having the linebacker get to him for a collision. Also, he is “slow as a potted plant”.
Owen Marecic (Stanford): “All he does is block – - every play and very well” “Picks up blitzers well”. “No … speed … at … all”.
Next, I will move to the tight ends where I made notes about two players:
I noted that Kyle Rudolph (Notre Dame) had “good hands” and “reasonable speed”. I said he was “big enough to play in NFL” and that he was a “good run blocker”. My notes said, “second or third round pick”.
I liked Mike McNeill (Nebraska) for his “excellent hands”. He is “not fast” and is only an “average blocker for someone that big”. My note said, “late round pick”.
Once again, I need to toss in a note I received from a friend who lives in Florida and who went to the University of Florida. He is a Gator fan first and then a fan/follower of teams in other parts of Florida. He knows that I will not get much of an opportunity to see some of the second-tier Florida schools and that I would not go out of my way to see a mediocre-to-bad Florida team. Hence this note to me last September:
“We got a kid here at FAU [Florida Atlantic University] who is a real good tight end that some NFL team will be lucky to get. Rob Housler will catch anything thrown anywhere near him … Watch him if FAU is ever on your TV schedule”
FAU never became a part of my viewing activity; so, I present my friend’s communication here just for consideration.
Wide receivers are almost as big a gamble in the draft as quarterbacks. If you doubt that assertion, ask fans of the Detroit Lions or the Washington Redskins how their top wide receiver selections in the past several years have worked out. Obviously, there is no way to watch a kid play on TV and have any way to assess his level of “diva-ness” or his propensity for “thuggishness”; all I can comment on are physical abilities. Here are my comments on said physical abilities:
I noted that AJ Green (Georgia) has “excellent hands” and “very long arms (can scratch his ankle without bending at the waist?)”. He is also “fast enough” but is also a “feeble blocker”. His 4-game suspension last year may cause him to drop a few spots in the draft, but he is clearly a top-of-the-first-round talent.
I wrote that Julio Jones (Alabama) is “very fast” and “strong and aggressive”. He “blocks well”. With regard to the comment that he is “very fast” consider that he ran 4.39 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine with a broken bone in his foot. Add to the “very fast” comment that he clearly can tolerate pain. Another top-of-the-first-round talent…
I liked two WRs from Boise State. The “bigger one” of the two is Austin Pettis who “catches the ball in traffic” and who “could be a good possession receiver in [the] NFL” because he is “not a speed-burner”. He is probably a late round selection.
The “smaller one” of the two Boise State receivers is Titus Young. I wrote that he is “very small and very fast” and that he “accelerates on routes to get behind defenders well”. The fact that he is small (listed at 5’ 11” and 174 lbs) could scare teams off. He also returned kicks for Boise State so I think he will probably go sometime in the 4th or 5th round.
I wrote that Jock Sanders (West Virginia) is “diminutive” (listed at 5’ 6” and 179 lbs) but that he is “fast and good in the broken field”. Like Titus Young above, he might also do some return duty for an NFL team. He is probably a late round pick…
I wrote that Jon Baldwin (Pitt) is “very big for a WR” but “not very fast”. I saw him make “two sensational catches” but he also “dropped a couple of easy passes”. If he plays in the NFL, he will be a possession receiver and will have to show that he does not drop easy catches. Probably a late round pick…
I wrote that Terrence Tolliver (LSU) has “good speed” and a “long stride” and “fast enough for [the] NFL” However, I also wrote “hands of stone”, “drops balls that hit him on both hands”. His speed will get him drafted – - along with the fact that he played against good competition in the SEC – - but unless he catches the ball better, he will not make it out of training camp.
In perusing college football results back in the Fall, I noticed that WR, Dexter Manley, had led Elizabeth City State to a win with a couple of TD catches. Obviously, I never saw Elizabeth City State on TV, but I wonder if he is an offspring of the Redskins’ former defensive end, Dexter Manley…
When I look at offensive linemen in college, I generally lump them into a single category since many of them move around on the OL once an NFL team gets them into its program. Last year, there were a bunch of top prospects on the OL; this year, I did not see nearly as many potential high-first-round-picks as I did last year. Here are my OL comments:
Marcus Cannon (TCU): “A huge man” (listed at 350 lbs) who is “very strong” and “surprisingly fast”. He was the “go to side” in short yardage situations for TCU. Probably second or third round…
Derek Sherrod (Mississippi St.): “Good pass blocker” and “gets to the outside quickly on sweeps” but “does not get downfield far before back passes him” on run plays. Probably second round…
Stefan Wisniewski (Penn State): “Solid blocker on pass and run plays” and “leads sweeps to either side of the field/ good speed and quickness”. Also, “good pass blocking”. Probably second round…
Mike Pouncey (Florida): He is Maurkice Pouncey’s twin brother. Genetics works; Maurkice played very well for the Steelers last year as a rookie; Mike will play in the NFL too. My notes say he is “big and tough”.
Anthony Castonzo (BC): Screen graphic said he majored in biochemistry and the announcer said that Castonzo hoped to get a PhD in that field. My notes said he is “very big and very quick off the ball on run plays” and that he “blocked well enough on pass plays”. Probably second round … assuming that he did not flunk the Wonderlic.
Jarrel King (S. Carolina): “Big, strong, athletic” and “very good pass blocker” should get scout’s attention. I have read that King has “off-field issues” involving arrests. I do not know the details but those kinds of things can slide players down the draft ladder quickly. On talent alone, King is probably a second round pick…
John Moffitt (Wisconsin): “Quick off the snap on runs” and “good run blocker who often hits 2 defenders on a play”. Could be third round pick…
Justin Boren (Ohio State): Announcers said he transferred from Michigan to Ohio State; that tells me he is a tough guy right there. Indeed, my notes say “aggressive and strong on run blocks” and “solid pass blocker on defensive linemen”. On the negative side I wrote, “not good leading run plays to the outside”. Probably a late round pick…
Alex Linnenkohl (Oregon State): “Good run blocker” and “good pick-up of blitzers” are my notes. He is “not as big as many lineman these days” (screen graphic had him at 291 lbs). Late round pick possibility…
On the defensive side of the ball, I believe that success starts with the defensive line and so I will start with my comments on defensive lineman. Unlike the OL, I will separate comments on defensive tackles and ends because they are far less interchangeable at the NFL level. Here are my defensive tackle comments:
Nick Fairley (Auburn): He can take over a game but “Why does he disappear so much?” is my serious concern with him. When motivated he is “a monster” and someone who “spends a lot of time in the offensive backfield”. Physically, he is a top-of-the-first-round pick but that tendency to disappear would worry me a lot. Albert Haynesworth has great physical skills and he too disappears a lot; I would worry about the potential to add a “latter day Albert Haynesworth” to my team…
Stephen Paea (Oregon State): “Prototypical nose tackle” because he is “very difficult to move around” in the middle of the defense. He is “not fast but quick off the snap”. Probably second or third round pick…
Ollie Ogbu (Penn State): “High motor guy” who “hustles every play” and “plays through to the whistle”. Worth a look after the second round is over…
Jerrell Powe (Mississippi): “NFL nose tackle” because he is “very strong” and “holds his position against double teams”. On the negative side, he is “not fast or athletic – - just strong”. Probably goes in the third round…
Lawrence Guy (Ariz. State): “Very quick off the ball” and “pursues well”. “Probably better in a 4-3 defense”. Probably a later round pick.
Here is another e-mail from a reader regarding a player I did not see. The writer identified himself as a “Temple alum”:
“Temple is going to have a player taken in the first round this year. The last one was Paul Palmer 25 years ago … Muhammad Wilkerson will be drafted in the first round and will be a great DT in the NFL for years”
With regard to defensive ends, I did see Clemson play last year; yet, I made no notes regarding Da’Quan Bowers. Some mock drafts said he might be the first pick overall in this draft; almost all mock drafts have him going in the first round. I saw Clemson play and he did nothing to call my attention to him. Whatever… Here are my notes on defensive ends who caught my attention:
Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue): “Good against the run” and “always hustles” are important qualities for a DE. “Decent pass rush” but that is not his strength. Probably a second round pick…
Steven Friday (Va Tech): “Friday is playing on Saturday now. Probably won’t ever play on Sunday”. [Hey, it was one of my notes so I threw it in here…]
Cameron Heyward (Ohio State): “Very good against the run” and “quick off the ball makes him good pass rusher”. Clearly, he played against good competition and stood out. Could be a first round pick…
Ryan Winterzwyk (Boise State): “Not huge but always hustling” and “sure tackler” are the positive comments. “Not very fast” is not very good when it comes to an NFL DE prospect. Could go late in the draft – - or as an undrafted free agent…
Ugo Chinasa (Ok. State): “Tall and athletic” with “good speed” makes for a potentially top shelf defensive end. But I also noted that he “gives up when play goes away from him”. That is not a good thing. Maybe a late round pick…
I will lump the linebackers together and let the scouts and coaches sort out which guy should be outside or inside in whatever defensive formation the team has on the field.
Von Miller (Texas A&M): Some folks have him as the overall first pick in the draft. I saw Texas A&M only once and had this comment, which has a cautionary message, “excellent at rushing the passer but can he do anything else?” It seemed to me that he just pinned his ears back on every play and ran to the QB; there is more to being a linebacker in the NFL than that.
Jeremiah Hunter (Iowa): He is “always where the ball is or will be” and he “hustles all the time”. The negative side of the coin is that he is “not very big” so he may have trouble against the run at the NFL level. Late round pick…
Sabbath Joseph: (USF): “Playing on the Jewish Sabbath now; probably not going to play on the Christian Sabbath in the future”. [Hey, it was one of my notes so I threw it in here…]
Casey Matthews (Oregon): “Genetics works he can play too”. That comment relates to the fact that Casey Matthews is related to Clay Matthews (his father), Clay Matthews (his brother) and Bruce Matthews (his uncle). The only negative note here is “not real big”. Perhaps in the second or third round…
Ross Homan (Ohio State): “Very good against run plays” and “very sure tackler” are comments that ought to indicate potential to play linebacker in the NFL. Possibly a third or fourth round pick…
Mason Foster (Washington): “Quick”, “agile” and “fundamentally sound tackler/wraps up runner every play” would make him worth a selection. Possibly a second or third round pick…
Kevin Shepard (LSU): “Good speed” and “sure tackler” are good notes to see. Add to that this comment, “very aggressive” and couple all of that with “big man” and you have the makings of an NFL linebacker – - and playing in the SEC means he played against top competition. Maybe he goes in the later part of the first round or in the second round…
Greg Jones (Mich. State): “Good against the run” coupled with “real good in pass coverage” means he should hear his name called during the first or second round of this year’s draft.
I saw three cornerbacks this year who were very impressive – - and several who looked as if they had some potential but lacked an overall game. The three best ones – - in alphabetical order, because I cannot pretend to remember them well enough to put them in a rank order – - were:
Prince Amukamara (Nebraska): He is both “quick” and “fast” and he “closes on the receiver very well”. He is “strong against the run/sure tackler” and he “blew up two screen plays today”. He played in the pass-happy Big 12 so there has to be plenty of game film to show coaches his coverage skills. The importance of cornerback in the NFL is clear; Amukamara should go in the first half of the first round this week…
Patrick Peterson (LSU): “Big, strong and fast” and “sure tackler on runner or pass catcher” says this guy has a future playing in the NFL. He too saw top-shelf competition during his career at LSU. As a bonus, Peterson also returned punts and kicks for LSU and was very good in that phase of the game too. He too should go in the top half of the first round this week…
Jimmy Smith (Colorado): He is “tall and big” and “he will hit you hard”. “Aggressive and fast” is also good news. Like Amukamara above, Smith played in the pass-happy Big 12 so coaches can make their decisions on his physical skills. He will probably go in the first round of the draft and maybe in the top-half of the first round…
Here are some cornerbacks who look as if they might be worth a shot later in the draft than the top three guys above:
Brandyn Thompson (Boise State): He is “not very big” but he “jumps like a basketball player” and he has “good speed”. Here is my concern: “can he match up against big NFL receivers?” Probably a late round pick…
Brandon Burton (Utah): He has “decent speed but excellent closer on receiver after a cut.” His “tackling is OK but nothing better than that.” Probably a fourth or fifth round pick…
DeMarcus Van Dyke (Miami, Fla): Here is the good news: “Very fast and long arms”. Here is the not so good news: “Skinny as a rail, will need to add 20 lbs of muscle not to get hurt in NFL.” [If you remember the Eagles’ former WR, Todd Pinkston, you can picture DeMarcus Van Dyke’s physique…]
Richard Sherman (Stanford): He is “tall, very athletic and can jump”. He is also “a sure tackler”. However, he is “not very fast” and he “seems to bite on double moves”. Probably a late round pick…
As with the linebackers, I will lump the safeties into a single category here. Allow me to reveal a bias here: I am more favorably disposed toward safeties who show coverage skills and sure tackling than I am to safeties who are head-hunters and always going after the “highlight reel hits”. When a safety misses a play, it often yields a TD; I prefer safeties who are steady to ones who are spectacular.
Nate Williams (Washington): He has “good size” and “decent speed”. He “hits hard” and is “strong on run plays”. His “coverage skills are nothing to write home about”. Probably taken in the last round or signed as an undrafted free agent…
Ahmad Black (Florida): He has “reasonable speed” and is”quick and athletic”. He is also “undersized” but “good in coverage”. I think his size will hurt him in the draft and that he will go in the late rounds…
Colin Jones (TCU): He is “faster than most safeties” and “very athletic”. He “hits hard” but his “coverage skills are ordinary”. Probably in the late rounds…
Quinton Carter (Oklahoma): He has “good size” and “adequate speed” and he “covers well”. He “hits hard but he also hits high – in [the] NFL that might give away yards”. Given his skills and where he went to school, he should go in the second or third round…
Dom DiCicco (Pitt): This is a “really big safety” who “plays the run like an extra linebacker”. His “speed is suspect” and his coverage skills are “no better than adequate”. Possibly goes in the final round of the draft…
Jarrard Tarrant (Ga Tech): He “covers very well – looks like he could play CB on this team” and “has good size”. “Average speed” is probably why he did not play CB. He is a “sure tackler”. Probably a third or fourth round pick…
Cheer up folks, the end of this is in sight. I only have notes on three special teams’ players:
Ryan Donahue (Iowa): He is a punter whose kicks are both “long and high.” Probably a final round pick or an undrafted free agent…
Thomas Weber (Arizona St.): He has a “strong leg” and “gets the ball off very quickly”. Announcer said he also did punting for ASU in prior years so he is versatile. Probably a final round pick…
Alex Henery (Nebraska): He was the punter and the placekicker for Nebraska and did a good job in both roles. “Could save a roster spot for an NFL team” was my comment. Probably a final round selection…
For the past two years, I have ended these analyses with the same comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald related to the massive coverage of the draft and scouting reports. I shall do it again this year because it is still ever so relevant:
“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…