Saturday, April 10, 2010

NFL Draft Preview Part IIII: Prospects 16-1

The final part of my draft breakdown ranks my top 16 prospects for the draft. I didn't watch hours of coaches' tape to analyze every minute detail about players' skill sets; instead these ranking represent the opinions of a casual fan who watched a bunch of games and noted the players that stood out and had an impact. For those of you who missed Part I, Part II, or Part III feel free to check them out also. Now without further ado...

16. Cornerback Kyle Wilson (Boise State)
Four year starter, routinely held his own when BSU played big-conference opponents, competetive as hell and fantastically athletic and talented. I've had him this high since the end of the 2008 season, but for whatever reason the NFL never realized how good he was until they saw him play at the senior bowl - don't these guys watch BCS bowl games? Wilson can start right away and should become one of the better corners in the league.

15. Defensive End Jerry Hughes (TCU)
He doesn't have the physical tools of some other players but it doesn't matter because Hughes simply wills himself to make plays that more talented players wouldn't make. Look, the best players on the best teams don't reach that point by accident, so the simple fact that Hughes was the whole reason why TCU fielded one of the most dominant defenses in the country should place him in the first round. Remember when everybody said that Dwight Freeney would be overpowered and swallowed up by mammoth offensive tackles in the NFL? I'd say Freeney turned out OK, and I think Hughes is Dwight Freeney 2.0. Who cares if he isn't the world's greatest run defender? His blazing speed, quickness, and effort on the edge will terrorize offensive tackles for the next decade.

14. Offensive Tackle Charles Brown
Other than Russell Okung, Charles Brown was by far the most impressive linemen that I saw play this year. He's as technically sound as they come, and Brown's quickness, footwork, and length are excellent for an offensive tackle. Moreover, contrary to common opinion, Brown has some nastiness against the run and will be terrific in a zone-blocking scheme. Obviously it's nice to find a 325 pound offensive tackle who also happens to have ballerina feet, but obviously that can't always happen, and to downgrade Brown to a second round pick simply because he isn't 300 pounds is absurd. I think that because the league keeps trending towards the passing game, athleticism and pass-protection are becoming exponentially more important, so players like Brown are becoming much more valuable than players like Brian Bulaga because left tackles must be able to contain top pass rushers and keep the quarterback upright. Maybe Charles Brown won't become a legend, but there's no doubt he has the tools of a future pro bowler.

13. Safety Earl Thomas (Texas)
Could he be more physical against the run? Sure. But in this passing era, give me a safety who can cover, play centerfield, and make plays; i'll find other ways to stop the run, because you can't scheme around a defensive backfield that can't cover. Thomas is a highly rangy and athletic safety prospect who will immediately improve a team's pass defense.

12. Wide Receiver Arrelious Benn (Illinois)
Loads of potential. Loads and loads and loads of it - Benn has been compared to Anquan Boldin, and it wouldn't surprise me one bit if he became the best receiver in this class. Benn is big, physical, explosive and athletic (i am tired of hearing that benn doesn't have great speed - watch the games, Benn is a great athlete who routinely creates separation and makes big plays), runs amazing routes, has excellent awareness and toughness, and much like Boldin he also has enough experience at quarterback that he can be an effective weapon on trick plays. His hands are the only concern, and hopefully he can reduce the drops with some proper coaching and practice. Many are down on Benn because he had a down year in 2009, but only a portion of that was Benn's fault. Benn has had to deal with terrible quarterbacking and coaching for 3 years; the Illinis' disastrous year was the culmination of a sinking ship program, and Benn just happened to be stuck in the middle. I definitely think that his first two years were a much better indication of his talent level than this past one. The bottom line is that Benn will be a good, potentially great number receiver because he has such enormous physical talents and skills.

11. Running Back C.J. Spiller (Clemson)
During Spiller's first three years at Clemson I thought he was overrated, always more sizzle than steak. Then a funny thing happened; Spiller started dominating. And he continued doing so until he ran his way into the top 15 picks. Spiller was easily the best running back this year (sorry Mark Ingram, though I still like you're chances in the NFL) and almost singlehandedly turned Clemson into a contender for the ACC conference championship. Spiller lightning fast and quick, absolutely deadly in the open field both as a runner and a return man - just one crease and he's gone. Even if he lacks ideal bulk, Spiller was simply too productive to not project as a future all pro. Now, i'm not sure I would actually take Spiller this high - running back isn't a position of huge value, and in general, success running the ball in the NFL has more to do with the play of the offensive line than the running back (as opposed to college where a great back can carry a team). But based on pure talent Spiller is borderline top-1o material.

10. Wide Receiver Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State)
I think Arrelious Benn has more potential, but at the moment Bryant probably has the best combination of talent and production. Good speed, excellent leaping ability and athleticism, amazing ball skills, and good route running and hands - Bryant is the total package. I've read that some teams have downgraded him due to supposed character flaws. I don't know any of these prospects personally, and perhaps Bryant is an arrogant diva, but I never saw anything to suggest that he has some sort of major attitude issues. If teams are worried about the NCAA suspension then that is absolute bogus- the NCAA is a joke of an organization. Most coaches and athletic directors barely even understand the super-complicated rules. Bryant had an illegal meeting with Deion Sanders (which is against the rules but doesn't harm anybody), panicked, and lied - i don't think that's a serious personal flaw. Obviously it would've been better to tell the truth, but 21-year olds make mistakes, and the lie was more of a result of panic and rashness than of malice. To me the situation isn't an issue. As a player I wouldn't put Bryant on quite the same level as Calvin Johnson or Andre Johnson, because I don't think that Bryant has that kind of out-of-this-world, blazing speed, but he is a good athlete and will be a productive number one receiver at the next level.

9. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen (Notre Dame)
By now you've probably heard millions of people who question Clausen's maturity. Before dealing with that, let me remind you of all his positive qualities as a player: 3 year starter and team captain...Had a flat out amazing junior year in which he had over 37oo passing yards, 28 touchdowns, a 68% completion percentage, and just four interceptions despite playing behind a flat out terrible offensive line and having his top wideout and tight end missing some games...highly intelligent and polished...mastered an incredibly complicated playbook...trained by the guy that tutored Tom Brady (say what you wan't about Charlie Weis as a head coach, but he does know how to coach the quarterback position)...great arm strength: can make all the throws...very good accuracy, always gives receiver best chance to get ball...great technique and footwork...highly competetive leader, made Notre Dame much better than it should have ever been...Doesn't that sound like a top-10 quarterback to you?

As for the supposed "character flaws", I say this to anyone who questions his intangible: get off your high horse and give me a break. All of us make mistakes as 18 year olds; anybody who says he/she didn't make mistakes at that age and din't mature in his/her early 20's is lying. So when I hear people still holding against him the fact that he arrived to notre dame in a stretch limo at age 18 and the fact that he was caught with alchohol at 19, I have to shake my head, because there isn't a single person in this world who hasn't done dumb stuff at that age. Like all of us in our last couple years of college, Clausen has matured, as evidenced by the fact that he was unanimously voted team captain. Perhaps he comes off as slightly abrasive due to his hyper-competetive personality, but that personality allows him to endear himself to teammates and make the team better. To me, Clausen is Phillip Rivers 2.0, down to the unorthodox but effective delivery and fiery personality. In a draft without Sam Bradford I would have no problem with Clausen being the number one pick.

8. Tight End Jermaine Gresham (Oklahoma)
Best tight end in the country until he got injured, and an absolute matchup nightmare. Gresham is very big and strong, yet his explosiveness and down-field speed are insane. Gresham gets separation whenever he wants, and when the ball is in the air he does an amazing job of using his body to shield off defenders and make spectacular catches. As a blocker he could be better, but I think part of it is a result of Oklahoma not emphasizing blocking in its spread offense; Gresham will become a better blocker once he commits to it. Overall i'd say that Gresham is the best tight end prospect since Jeremy Shockey and could take a team's offense to the next level.

7. Cornerback Joe Haden (Florida)
Simply spectacular. Joe Haden will be one of the top five corners in the NFL at some point. Haden has amazing speed, athletecism, and ball skills; he mirrors receivers very well, and based on his coverage ability alone he's a first round pick, but the best part about his game, and what pushes him into the top 10, is his toughness and fearlessness. Few corners with his coverage ability play the run as well as he does, and he's also extremely effective on corner blitzes. Haden has regularly dominated the best wideouts in the country over the last two years; his amazing play in the 2008 and 2009 SEC championship games as well as the National championship against Oklahoma prove Haden's ability to come up big in big moments. Haden is quite simply a true shut down corner - let's leave it at that.

6. Defensive End Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech)
Easily the best defensive end in this draft and one of the better prospects at his position in quite some time. Morgan thoroughly dominated the ACC this season, finshing with 12 sacks and 52 tackles. There are other players who are as effective as a pass rushers (although not too many), but it's very rare to find a pass rusher as dominant as morgan who also plays the run at such a high level. The best part: while Morgan does have great speed and quickness, he doesn't rely simply rely on that to get sacks - he has amazing technique, has a good pass rush repertoire, keeps good pad level, and manages to get the sacks while still being disciplined against the run - he's not like Julius Peppers or Shawne Merriman, guys who play for sacks every play and can get taken advantage of on screens and draws. I'm sick of hearing about how Jason Pierre-Paul will go higher because he has more upside - JPP is a fine player, but Morgan is just something else, and anyone who says he doesn't have great upside simply hasn't seen him play. Morgan is only 20, so he can still get better physically; he has the most explosive first step of anyone that I saw play this year, and overall I think that while he doesn't have the same raw athleticism as JPP, Morgan actually has a better combination of speed and strength. Morgan will be a dominant force at the next level and would certainly be worth a top five pick for a team in desperate need of a defensive end.

5. Offensive Tackle Russell Okung (Oklahoma State)
Best tackle prospect in some time - I think he's even more impressive than Joe Thomas and Jake Long. Athletically Okung is just so gifted, with amazing quickness for a guy his size. Combine that with his perfect technique, and you get an extraordinary pass protector who does an amazing job of keeping low to the ground, mirroring linemen, and ensuring a clean pocket. Moreover, Okung does have excellent upper-body strength, long arms, and a nice edge to him, allowing him to be a good run-blocker that creates holes and seals the edge. I don't see how the lions can pass him up, and if they do then the Redskins will gladly take him. Upper-tier left tackles don't grow on trees, so when an elite prospect comes along he will, and should, be considered a very valuable commodity.

4. Defensive Tackle Gerald McCoy (Oklahoma)
Kevin Williams 2.0. I think McCoy is even better than Glenn Dorsey coming out and expect him to be a dominant player for the next decade or so. McCoy's quickness and agility from the position are amazing, allowing him to get upfield past slower defensive tackles and wreak havoc in defensive backfields. Interior linemen simply can't handle him because he's too explosive, and has decent strength to go along with that quickness. Occasionally he can get washed against the run, but for the most part he is able to make an impact by creating penetration to blow up running plays and force the back to bounce outside. If McCoy can improve his leverage and learn to keep a lower pad level (his only weakness) then he'll instantly improve his new team's defense.

3. Quarterback Sam Bradford (Oklahoma)
If Bradford's shoulder issue is a long-term problem than you can immediately move him much lower. However, by all accounts the shoulder is completely healed, and the fact that he bulked up by 15 pounds should help his future durability; thus, I have Bradford ranked as the top quarterback available for a number of reasons. To me, Bradford is a special quarterback - in fact, based on his accuracy, production, intelligence, and field presence, I think he's the next Peyton Manning. Both have ridiculous pinpoint accuracy and can place the ball anywhere they want. Both have above average arm strength (contrary to public opinion, Bradford has a strong arm and can make all the throws), amazing football IQ and ability to read coverages, competetiveness, and leadership. Bradford even has the same weaknesses that Peyton had coming out of Tennessee - same awkward throwing motion, same skinny physique (although Bradford has seriously bulked up this offseason, and now he looks more like the current Peyton Manning than the 1998 version), and same struggles in big games.

Bradford is by far the best quarterback prospect of this decade; To me most of the criticisms aren't valid; First of all, he certainly did play in a pro-style offense. People assume it was a simple spread because he was in shotgun so much, but that doesn't mean anything considering Drew Brees and Tom Brady are in shotgun 70% of the time. In Oklahoma's offense, they did use 3 and 5 step drops, Bradford did have to make checks, audibles, and progression reads, and he did take snaps under center both years (in fact, one of his strengths is his ability to sell play action - how would he gain that skill if he wasn't taking snaps from center?). As I said before, his arm strength is NOT a problem, as he has demonstrated many times that he can make all the throws. I don't buy the criticism that he can't handle pressure, because he did fine against Florida in the face of heavy pressure from carlos dunlap and jermaine cunningham. Finally, I don't believe that he was simply a product of the talent around him; every great quarterback needs good players. Bradford was the whole reason that Oklahoma's system worked so beautifully; he had to direct the offense, make the reads, and make the throws; it's not like any quarterback can do that. The bottom line is that if you surround Bradford with good talent, he's a special player and will turn your offense into a juggernaut. He undoubtedly would've gone number one last year, and in just about any other year he would be the top-ranked player on my board. However, the next two players are simply all world performers, and quite possibly the two best prospects of the entire decade...

2. Safety Eric Berry (Tennessee)
Flat out phenomenal safety prospect, the best since Sean Taylor in 2004. Berry has amazing range and athleticism, he hits like a load of bricks, and always comes up big at crucial times. Some guys just have otherworldly instincts and have a natural feel for the game, and Berry is in that rare category - the guy simply makes plays at will. There much more I can say, because anyone that has watched him knows that Berry is a rare prospect - his skills and instincts are just so off the charts that I would be shocked if he didn't become a superstar.

1. Defensive Tackle Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)
Edges out Berry for the (meaningless) distinction of being tops on my board. For starters, he's from Portland Oregon. More importantly, he's the most talented prospect to come out this decade. Usually defensive tackles are either good at clogging lanes, occupying blockers, drawing double teams, and stuffing running plays, or they're good at attacking gaps, penetrating the line of scrimmage, collapsing the pocket, and creating pressure. Well, Suh is pretty much a 10 out of 10 at both those things!!! He's unbelievable!!! For those who say that Gerald McCoy is the better pass rusher - did you see the Texas game? Suh made Colt McCoy and Company look like a pop warner offense, gaining 4.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss despite constant double and triple teams - it's the finest game i've ever seen a defender play at any level. Additionally he completely shut down Texas's running game and basically walled off the entire space between the tackles. Perhaps McCoy is the better pass-rusher - but only my an atom's length, which certainly doesn't offset Suh's advantage in terms of strength and physicality against the run. Look, i'm not trying to demean Gerald McCoy, a wonderful player who will create an instant impact and certainly has all-pro potential. I'm just trying to emphasize that Ndumakong Suh is a rare prospect that is clearly the best defensive tackle in this draft and absolute monster.

The biggest misconception about Suh is that he's a one-game wonder and that the Texas game basically created his stock. Anyone who thinks that clearly doesn't watch enough college football to have an informed opinion about draft prospects. The guy was dominating Big 12 offenses every single game - obviously the Texas game was his peak, but he's been playing like a heisman trophy caliber player the day he stepped on campus. The only concern are the knees - he's had two major knee injuries, so some might argue that Gerald McCoy and Eric Berry are "safer" picks. But if Suh checks out medically, then he is clearly the best player in this draft, because his game has no weaknesses, he can play in any scheme, and he has such a amazing technique/skills, intelligence, intensity, strength, athleticism, and toughness.

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