Sunday, April 4, 2010

NFL Draft Preview Part II: Fringe First Rounders

After discussing the guys that i feel should be in the later rounds, now i'll move on to the guys that I think should be near the top of the draft. In the next two posts I'll rank my top 32 prospects, in reverse order. But before we do, here are the toughest omissions from the list, the guys on the borderline of the first round. At some point I considered all of these guys for my top 32, but ultimately they just missed the cut.

G Maurkice Pouncey (Florida), Mike Iupati (Idaho)
Both will probably go in the first round because they are so athletically gifted for their position, and because it's so hard to find interior linemen of this caliber. Personally I think they're both very raw and have more potential than actual production. Neither will ever play tackle (as some have suggested), but I can understand why teams are intrigued by these players' physicality and athleticism.

Trent Williams
He was good in his first three years at right tackle, and he followed that up with a decidedly average year at left tackle. He will be good in the NFL due to his athleticism and versatility (he can play right tackle, guard, or center), but the production simply hasn't been there to justify a first round grade.

DE Everson Griffen (USC)
Griffen has incredible athleticism for a guy his size - I can count on my right hand the number of 275 lb guys that are fluid enough to actually drop into coverage and stay with backs/tight ends. Griffen will be excellent as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 because he can bull or speed rush tackles and still cover plenty of space. So why isn't he a top 10 pick? Because he's had problems with weight fluctuation and because he was so inconsistent during the season. One week he'll singlehandedly destroy Notre Dame's offense, the next week he'll get thoroughly dominated by Oregon's offensive line.

S Nate Allen (South Florida)
Love him as a prospect. Athletic, good ball skills, competetive, and tough as nails. It's tough to give him a first round grade, because he's rather limited physically. Still he's a 3-year starter who consistently raised his game when his team needed it; to me he was too productive for me not to believe that he'll be at least a solid starter.

LB Sean Weatherspoon (Missouri)
The opposite of Allen. He's got great physical tools, can play the run and the pass effectively, and by all accounts is a great leader and a hard worker. The problem is he rarely, if ever, dominated a big game. I do value the fact that he was a four year starter, but overall there isn't too much evidence to suggest that he'll be a special player.

TE Aaron Hernandez (Florida), Ron Gronkowski (Arizona)
Gronkowski is intriguing because of his great blocking ability, which complements his excellent size, route running, and ball skills. Hernandez is intriguing except for his poor blocking. Both are good receivers, although I'd say Hernandez is more athletic and has better hands. Both are capable of becoming starters. With Hernandez the key is becoming a more willing blocker, because at Florida it was clear that when split out wide he can cause matchup problems due to his speed and fluidity; with gronkowski the key is getting healthy (he certainly would have been in my top 25 if it wasn't for that horrible back injury that forced him to sit out this past season).

DE Ricky Sapp (Clemson)
Very fast off the edge. Obviously his lack of size limits his upside, as some tackles will absolutely swallow him up. But I think that with his explosion off the edge, he can be a valuable outside linebacker in a 3-4. I realize that I probably have him ranked higher than most, because I feel like he was productive enough for me to partially overlook his physical limitations.

DT/DE Tyson Alualu (California)
One of my favorite players in the draft. Most people have him rated around the 4th or 5th round, but I am confident in my assessment that he is worth a second round pick. He plays the run extremely well, and he is an excellent pass rusher for someone of his size and strength. Disruptive, good technique, and great motor. The best part: he actually played a 3-4 in a 3-4 defense in college. Usually teams take 4-3 tackles and try to convert them to defensive ends, but with Alualu there's no guesswork as to whether he can play in a two gap scheme. Of course, he could also probably play in the 4-3 because he is a decent enough pass rusher.

DE/LB Sergio Kindle (Texas)
What?!!!!!!! Kindle not a first rounder?!!!!!!!! Sorry, but i'm not too big on prospects who are soft and have a nasty tendency to disappear for long stretches of games. No way Kindle makes it as a defensive end - he's simply not physical and will get pounded. Kindle may be a 3-4 rush linebacker, although I think he'll struggle when he has to set the edge in run support. To me Kindle is best suited as a conventional outside linebacker in a 4-3 - Kindle is extremely athletic and fluid, so he'd add a lot of speed and coverage range to any defense, and he wouldn't have as many run-stopping responsibilities. In any case, the production simply isn't there to justify a first round pick.

RB Toby Gerhart
On paper gerhart is definitely a first rounder. Tough inside runner, plays with a mean streak, ran roughshod over the pac-10. I've stated before that the Heisman trophy is overrated, but when you play at a non-football factory like Stanford you don't become a finalist by accident. That said, it's hard to put him in the first round - he doesn't quite pass the eye test. A lot of times it seemed like he got yards because he simply played really hard and overpowered inferior defenders. But while he is underrated athletically (i've seen quite a few instances in which he surprised teams by turning the corner on the perimeter), he doesn't exactly wow you, at least not to the point that makes you think he can be a star in the NFL. Bottom line: I absolutely loved watching him college because he plays with such fire in his belly, and while I do think he can be a good backup/complementary back, I don't see him as a starter, which is why I have to put him here.

DT Jared Odrick (Penn State)
By far the toughest omission from the first round. Odrick is an excellent pass rusher and is really disruptive from the 3-technique. He has big, strong hands and great leverage, allowing him to collapse the pocket. Odrick does can be overpowered against the run, but that doesn't happen with alarming frequency, at least not enough to suggest that it'll be a serious issue at the next level. I also think that he is tall and strong enough that he can convert to defensive end for a two-gap team. Overall he plays with great passion, raises his play in big games. He probably will go in the first round, and I certainly wouldn't have a problem with that, I just feel like there are 32 better prospects available, although Odrick is certainly no slouch.