Former Florida State QB Adrian McPherson has to be the wildcard in the draft. For those of you that do not remember, he was kicked off the team for passing bad checks. There were allegations of gambling, which is a serious concern and must be checked out. If he would have not made the mistake at Florida State, we probably would be talking about a top pick. From a talent perspective, there is little this kid can not do. In many ways, he looks like Randall Cunningham coming out of UNLV. He is a great athlete with a very good arm and a pretty solid understanding of how to use those skills.
Louisiana State’s Marcus Spears is a 6-4, 300 pound DE with good athleticism. A stout run defender who can also rush the passer, Spears is the one player in the draft who is the prototype 3-4 DE position. I thought he was going to leave after his junior year. While he is not the fastest guy, he has all the other measurable skills you look for and he flat out dominated during the National Championship game. He chose to return, but did not improve his overall stock. Despite all the positives, Spears is a little bit of a hit and miss player. He dominated a lot of games, but had a few too many games where he was a non factor. For a player of his skill, that should never happen. He is a top 15 pick. If you consider draft depth at the position, he probably is a strong consideration for the Chargers at 12.
Iowa DT Jonathan Babineaux has been overshadowed by Matt Roth his whole career, but he is a very productive interior lineman. He is a great athlete with good quickness off the ball, good technique, and a player with tremendous recognition. He makes plays down the line and is a good pass rusher. Why is a guy with those skills not more highly regarded? He is too short to be a traditional DE and too small to be a DT. He also has had some injury problems. I am not sure if he is physical enough to two gap and be a 3-4 DE, but he probably is a good risk later in the draft.
Maryland DE/LB Shawne Merriman is this year’s version of the “freak” following the lines of Jevon Kearse and John Abraham. Merriman is a similar athlete with premier size, speed, and strength. He is not as technically adept as Blackstock, but his pass rush talent is undeniable. He has an excellent first step and anticipates the snap well. He also plays with a great deal of intensity. He needs a good coach and does not have that much history in coverage, but he is my favorite to be the Chargers pick if he is available with the 12th pick. The upside potential is simply too good to ignore.
Virginia LB Darryl Blackstock is a productive pass rush specialist (11 sacks, 14 TFL) who really benefited from his years under Al Groh. Blackstock is the most refined pass rusher to come out of college since Leslie O’Neal left Oklahoma State. As a pass rusher, Blackstock has a good burst off the ball, plays with leverage, and uses advanced technique to keep OT’s off of him. He also is a relentless player with straight line speed. Like most premier pass rushers, he is not that effective against the run because he is always moving up the field. For as good as his technique is against the pass, he needs work against the run. He lets OT’s get into his body and he is not as strong at the point of attack as I would like in a LB, but he is much more physical than Texas LB Derrick Johnson.
Last year, Western Michigan hybrid DE/LB Jason Babin used athleticism, productivity, and attitude to push him into the late first round, despite his small college background. Troy DE/LB Demarcus Ware may follow his lead. During the Senior Bowl, Ware held his own against Washington OT Khalif Barnes. This should not be a surprise to anyone who watched him play throughout the year. Ware is a great fit for the Chargers defense. He has a great burst off the ball and tremendous speed around the corner. He is an explosive tackler, a high effort guy, and has been very productive (10 sacks, 18 TFL). He has the upside to be a top sack guy, but he needs a lot of work on his pass rush technique. He sometimes plays too tall and is more of a speed rusher than anything else. I expect him to be a late first-early second round pick.
Kansas State RB Darren Sproles is the shortest NFL prospect to come out in a while, but the kid can flat out play. With phenomenal quickness, great instincts, and an uncanny ability of making people miss; Sproles should find success as a situational running back. At 5’6” 185 pounds, Darren really is a situational RB in the NFL. That said, the guy is more physical than he gets credit for and should make for a very interesting backup RB/returner in the Darren Nelson mold.
Washington OT Khalif Barnes made quite the impression at the Senior Bowl, which isn’t a surprise. The guy is the prototypical LT physically and has a very nasty disposition. In addition, he has a pretty good understanding of blocking angles and a pretty good range. That said, Barnes is still an inconsistent player. He’ll dominate for a quarter and then give up a sack. He’ll dominate for another quarter and then he gives up a tackle for a loss. Not sure what that means, but the guy is more projection than player at this point. So were Richmond Webb (former Miami LT) and Levi Jones (and current Cincinnati LT and helped train Barnes). Both those guys emerged with good coaching. Maybe Barnes can do the same, but the lack of consistency is a concern.
If Cal QB Aaron Rodgers is the first pick in the draft, the 49ers would have made a major reach. I like Aaron. I felt he was a very underrated last year, but he is the winner of the “I was underrated award, but now my skill set is overemphasized.” In my opinion, no QB in this class would rank higher than the top 3 last year (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, and Ben Roethlisberger), however, I am not sold that Rodgers is a better prospect than J.P. Losman. In many ways, I am not sure he is a top 15 pick. He is a well coached QB with terrific footwork and a good release. His mechanics are pretty consistent as well, but the guy is not a premier talent. His decision making in the short area is still questionable as is his overall arm. He is going to benefit from USC’s Matt Leinart and Bowling Green’s Omar Jacobs staying in school.
Texas LB Derrick Johnson is a very interesting player. He is such a good athlete and has one of the most devastating turnover causing maneuvers (the chop) of any player in football. There is a lot to like about Derrick Johnson, but he has his faults as well. The guy is not the most physical football player. He runs around blocks rather than taking them on. He gets blown up by fullbacks more than he should and despite being a lights out hitter; he is not the best tackler around. I feel he can be an impact player at the weak outside LB position, but he is limited to that position.
Statistically, there wasn’t much difference between the Braylon Edwards of 2004 and 2003, but the difference on the field was night and day. Before this year, the Michigan WR was a mercurial talent. Edwards would make some of the most incredible catches you have ever seen, but follow it up with drops which made you wonder what was going on in his head. This year, the level of consistency came and Braylon Edwards became a premier player. Edwards has an uncanny ability to catch the deep ball with a combination of great leaping ability, incredible body control, and a freakish sense of timing. Unlike Plaxico Burress who waits for the ball, Edwards attacks it and comes up with more spectacular catches than anyone in college football. In addition, he has a good sense of zone coverage, doesn’t lose speed out of his cuts, and is a very physical player both blocking and running with the ball. He should be a top five pick.
Every year, there is a player who scouts and fans try to find fault in. LaDainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, and Dwight Freeney come to mind. He is too short. He is not fast enough. Georgia DE David Pollack was the most relentless pass rusher in college football. The three time All American had 12.5 sacks with 17.5 TFL and a mind boggling 41 QB pressures despite being the focus of every offensive scheme. In my opinion, this kid is the spitting image of former Ram/Steeler standout Kevin Greene. In addition, he is the type of player who Marty Schottenheimer and AJ Smith should be very enamored with. His work ethic is legendary and his productivity is top notch. I do not know if he is fit considering where the Chargers are drafting, but the team that gets David Pollack will be very lucky.
Rob Curtis' draft blog will be updated daily with a running tab of the previous entries.