Oklahoma DE Dan Cody is an interesting prospect. I do not believe he is worthy of a top 20 pick, but he has been a very productive player in the Big 12. A relentless pass rusher, Cody uses well above average quickness and explosion off the ball to get to the QB. Over the past two years, he has produced 20 sacks and 34 tackles for loss. Cody has good change of direction and a solid understanding of pursuit angles. He makes plays down the line of scrimmage and seems to be a tough, competitive player. He may not be the most stout run defender, but as a 3-4 OLB; he actually projects well in that area. He will not be the pass cover guy you ever want, but Cody could make for an outstanding 3-4 OLB if he falls to the Chargers' 28th pick.
LSU Center Ben Wilkerson reminds me a great deal of the former Charger standout Courtney Hall. He is an extremely quick center who understands angles. Against 4-3 defenses, he has the ability to get to the MLB. His ability to get to the 2nd level is a serious asset. He is solid in pass protection with an uncanny understanding of blitzes and stunts. He is a technically adept pass blocker with a great punch and his motor is non stop. If not for a torn patella tendon later in the season, I believe he would have been a first round pick. He is not the biggest center in the world, but he may be smarter than any other prospect in the draft at his position. What he lacks in size, he makes up in technique. Ole Miss Center Chris Spencer might bring a better combination of skills to the table, but Wilkerson is a very special talent at the center position in his own right.
A year ago, UCLA CB Matt Ware came out of school as an underclassman. He was projected as a first rounder in the initial evaluation, but as teams started to get more film on him; they started to realize his shortcomings. Despite great size and productivity, he lacked a lot of the skills you look for in the NFL CB. Another PAC 10 standout CB with similar credentials, Oregon State CB Brandon Browner, followed his lead. At almost 6-foot-4, 200+ pounds, Browner was being sold as a first rounder despite not being that fluid as a CB. His change of direction and closing speed is lacking. Though he was productive, it looks like he is dropping. In my opinion, he is a great conversion candidate to FS. He has very good ball skills, is physical, and his coverage skills for a FS are outstanding. Sometimes there is so much critical evaluation of a kid’s shortcomings, that you forget they could be converted to another position.
Arkansas QB/WR Matt Jones is an enigma. He is so athletic; there are times where he looks like a man among boys. You see a lot of spectacular plays in the highlight package, but the game is not about just highlights. Matt Jones, for lack of a better term, is aloof. He seems like a good kid, but there is no sense of urgency in the way Matt Jones plays the game. Maybe his demeanor is just calmer than 99% of other players? Despite the aloof nature, NFL teams find space for athletes like Jones. At 6-foot-6, 237 pounds with sub 4.4 speed, Matt Jones displayed a lot of potential at the Senior Bowl as a WR, especially the ability to shield defenders and adjust to poorly thrown balls. His long stride really was deceptive and he ate up cushion. Some team will take him on the first day, but he is going to be a boom-bust type player and that is no April Fool’s joke.
If Virginia OG Elton Brown were more serious about his conditioning, he could be a top 10 pick. From a talent and production standpoint, Brown was a dominating presence on the Virginia line. He is a huge player who flat out mauls defenders in the running game with uncanny natural strength. He drives and pancakes players much in the same manner as San Diego Chargers OG Toniu Fonoti. While not a premium athlete, he is pretty athletic for his size. He can mirror and does a pretty good job dealing with all types of DT’s. Unfortunately, Brown’s conditioning gets the best of him. He wears down and his technique moves from decent to poor as the game moves on. He also has had some minor injury problems. If a coach can get him to realize what he can bring to the table, he has pro bowl ability as an OG. If not, he is a player who likely will underachieve.
When I look at the college landscape for NFL prospects at the QB position, I sometimes see frustrating underachievers who should do so much more with their physical ability. The late Joel Buschbaum used label these players with the “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane” moniker. For three years, Auburn QB Jason Campbell was the player who epitomized that reference. If you were to draw up what a QB should like, Jason Campbell is that player. He is a tall, well built athlete with a strong arm; but his inconsistency was maddening. For a series, he’d look like a young Warren Moon. His setup would be consistent; he’d show off his great arm and touch. Then, he would follow it up with a series where you wonder if the guy had what it takes to start at the local high school level. That seemed to change with the hiring of former UCLA and Oregon offensive coordinator, Al Borges. Campbell’s mechanics became more consistent and the errant throws occurred less. He worked extremely hard and his leadership ability became more prevalent. Don’t get me wrong, Campbell still has his flaws. He is mechanical and really only excelled in a very QB friendly system. Despite a very strong arm, he is not that accurate with his deep ball either. It remains to be seen where he fits in the draft, but he should be the third QB off the board. With the right QB coach, Jason Campbell has as much, if not more, ability than Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith. His first three years make him a bigger question mark than those two, but Campbell’s talent is undeniable.
USC DE Shaun Cody has always been viewed as an NFL player from his days at Los Altos HS. In many ways, Cody is the player that most fans view as a “perfect fit” for the 3-4 DE. An undersized DT who has been very productive at the college level, Cody uses his quickness off the ball and strength to beat his man. He has been as productive as Marcus Spears, yet Spears seems to be getting more mention as a 3-4 DE. Why? Primarily, because Spears is easier to project to a 3-4 DE position based on the way he was used. Marcus Spears was a two gap DE at LSU. As a two gap DE, you engage the blocker head up and don’t commit to one side at the snap. The system requires more discipline, which hurts your overall production. Cody was a one gap DT. He was not great at disengaging blockers and his primary strength (explosion off the ball to create a mismatch) is not really conducive for the way a 3-4 defense like the Chargers use their DE’s. At 12, Cody is a reach. At 28, he represents a good value. Despite his lack of a “fit”, he is the type of player who has the ability and work ethic to adjust.
Over the last two years, we have seen Vernon Carey and Eric Steinbach transition from OG to OT in the NFL. That is kind of an anomaly. Usually, you see college OT’s converted to OG. This year, Ole Miss OT Marcus Johnson, is the latest in the line of anomalies. Johnson seems to have a lot of the tools you want in an OT. At 6-foot-6, 316-pounds, he has the ideal frame with long arms. He has good overall quickness and does a decent job of sinking his hips. He also seems to be an aggressive player. Despite those positives, he is still rawer than you would want in a 2nd round prospect and really needs time with a pro strength coach. He might not help initially, but he could become a solid right tackle.
Nebraska has a history of putting good interior lineman into the NFL. Will Shields and Toniu Fonoti are two of the best OG’s in the AFC. Earlier in his career, Richie Incognito looked like he was going to join them. From a talent perspective, Incognito has all the skills you look for in an OG. He was one of the best run blockers in the country displaying mobility, strength, leverage, and tenacity. He wasn’t a great pass blocker at OT, but really looked like he had possibilities once he received good coaching. The problem is that Incognito has anger management issues both on and off the field. He was kicked off of Nebraska and was not able to secure a spot at Oregon. If he grows up, this kid could be the modern version of Conrad Dobler. He will probably be a 5th round pick or lower, but his talent is much higher than your traditional 5th rounder.
In many ways, Tennessee LB Kevin Burnett is getting a raw deal. Where he is being listed as a 2nd round pick, I’m curious to why. The incremental difference between Burnett and Texas LB Derrick Johnson is not that big. He has a good frame, is super athletic, and has a great burst to the ball carrier. He is a complete LB who can shed and cover. Like Johnson, he doesn’t have the best instincts, but he is a very intriguing LILB prospect. If available in the 2nd round, he would be an unbelievable steal for the Chargers.
If Hudson Houck would not have gone to Miami, Eastern Washington OT Michael Roos would seem like the perfect selection. After hearing how impressive LSU DE Marcus Spears was during the Senior Bowl, I was pleasantly surprised by how well Roos played against him. From Estonia, Roos has not been playing organized football that long. At the Senior Bowl, he displayed good athleticism, strength, and an impressive frame for an OT. He has good range and balance along with a very nice first step. He uses his long arms and has become a pretty impressive prospect. He will need time, but he would be a great developmental OT behind Roman Oben.
SDSU LB Kirk Morrison had a great career. He dominated the MWC and displayed a good (not great) combination of size, speed, and strength. What differentiates Kirk Morrison from other LB’s in this draft? Kirk has incredible instincts. He rarely takes false steps and is a good form tackler. He does not have the “special” talent you look for in a LB, but he should be a coach’s dream and become a solid starter at the NFL level.
With the number of teams moving to a 3-4, there have been a lot of articles on players who fit the system. While most of the concentration has been on LSU’s Marcus Spears and USC’s Shaun Cody, there is a player flying a little under the radar in Missouri DT/DE C.J. Mosley. At 6-foot-3, 305 pounds, Mosley is an impressive combination of size, strength, quickness, and speed. Ability wise, he is in the class of Spears and Cody. He also appears to be a good effort player. The primary difference is that he hasn’t played much in a two gap system and has a long way to go technique wise. Mosley is a player desperately in need of a good DL coach and might take an extra year to develop, but might be considered a steal a year from now.
Though he was double-teamed more than any premier WR in this draft, South Carolina WR Troy Williamson showed quite a bit this year. He is not as good a prospect as Michigan WR Braylon Edwards or Southern Cal WR Mike Williams, but the difference between the three is not that big. Most scouting reports focus on his 4.3 speed, which is a big reason for his 19.4 yard average, but straight line speed only takes you so far. On intermediate to deep routes, he eats up cushion with his ability to accelerate through his cuts. This skill creates big play opportunities at all time. He is also an ultra competitive player that fights for the ball, adjusts to poorly thrown balls, and puts good effort in his blocking. He isn’t as refined as Oklahoma’s Mark Clayton on the shorter routes, but he is not as dependent as Clayton on those routes to be useful.
I read all the scouting reports on Florida State OT Alex Barron and kind of cringe. More so than any other highly regarded prospect, scouts tend to focus on his negatives. While he is not the most physical run blocker and needs a good pro coach to help him understand blocking angles, this kid has all the tools you look for in an NFL left tackle. He is an unbelievable athlete with phenomenal blocking range. He has great feet and does a good job of mirroring the opposition. He also uses his long arms to keep defenders at bay. In short, Alex Barron has the ability to be a premier pass blocker at the left tackle position. He is as good a run blocker as Robert Gallery last year and the only difference between the two is that Gallery was more polished. If available at 12, I hope the Chargers give him a long look.
Sometimes it is tough to have a Hall of Fame father. Former Bengal standout, Anthony Munoz, might be the best player ever at his position. In some ways, Tennessee OT Michael Munoz, is a chip off the old block. His technique is impeccable. He has good footwork, understands blocking angles, possesses a solid hand punch, and does a nice job of hand placement to maintain his balance. Good coaching has led to good technique. Despite a lot of the positives, Munoz is a position run blocker who can’t stay healthy and doesn’t seem to play well with injuries. In my opinion, he warrants a 2nd round pick, but I think he might be available in the 3rd round.
There was not a more productive pass rusher in college in 2005 than Marshall LB/DE Jonathan Goddard. With 16 sacks, Goddard spent more time in an opponent’s backfield than some RB’s. An extremely underrated player, Goddard has a great first step and does a good job of anticipating the snap count. He’s an instinctive player who gets around OT’s and has good upper body strength. He is shorter than optimal (6’0”) and will need to be converted to LB, but this kid has a lot of the tools you for in a 3-4 OLB. In my opinion, Goddard is one of the most underrated players in the draft. He is a second day pick with first round production and solid measurables except his height.
As a freshman, Michigan CB Marlin Jackson was a dominant player. The rest of his Michigan career did not go as planned. His sophomore year, teams stayed away from him. In order to get him involved, Lloyd Carr moved Jackson to the Safety position as a junior. He struggled with the move and his confidence level seemed to suffer. As a senior year, he was moved back to CB. Teams still stayed away from him, but he can be beaten deep. He lacks great ball awareness and his overall recovery speed isn’t what most pro scouts look for in a CB. Despite those flaws, Jackson is very instinctive in zone or man coverage. He is an outstanding press corner who muscles receivers, plays tight man coverage, and breaks well on the ball. Some compare him to former Michigan standout Ty Law. To me, he reminds me of Quentin Jammer with a little less speed. It will be interesting to see if reports of a broken wrist during his Pro Day on Friday make Jackson fall and turn into a steal.
Every year, there is a player who drops because of health issues. It is hard to project the player, but one possibility is North Carolina State OT Chris Colmer. Walking into his junior year, the highly regarded Colmer was the blindside protector for All American QB Philip Rivers, the number four pick in the 2004 draft. He had come off a sophomore year, displaying efficient pass blocking skills and a good combination of tenacity and strength as a run blocker. Before his junior year, Colmer was diagnosed with Parsonage-Turner syndrome. It basically rendered his left arm useless. He recovered and played at a very high level as a senior. He’s most rightly a right tackle in the NFL, but he could develop into a Chad Clifton type LT if he puts in the work.
I generally hate comparing college players to Hall of Fame players, but Iowa DE Matt Roth reminds me a lot of former Oakland Raider standout Howie Long. A ferocious pass rusher with a good burst off the ball, he simply makes a ton of plays. Roth doesn’t have phenomenal long speed and is a bit undersized, but it does not matter. His burst, quickness, and tenacity make him a tough match up. He plays with outstanding leverage and uses good technique. Despite being constantly double teamed, Roth still beat a lot of good OT’s on his way to 12 sacks and a ton of pressures. The biggest issue with Roth is his temper. He has a history of dumb penalties based on his overaggressive nature.
If you look up the word “snakebit” in the dictionary, Alabama OT Wesley Britt might be pictured. Earlier in his career, Britt looked like he was going to be a top 5 pick. He was tall, angular with good mobility and a tenacious run blocker. His coaches raved about his work ethic. The problem with Britt has been his struggles with injuries. After having an All American caliber season in 2003, he broke his leg against Tennessee. He came back last year, but struggled with a bunch of minor injuries that impacted his mobility. He needs work, but he is a tough kid with a great frame who needs to gain weight. Given some time with a good pro coach, he is a rare 3rd round prospect who could become a very good left tackle.
Last year, Bob Sanders lit up Big 10 receivers on his way to an All American season and a second round selection with the Indianapolis Colts. His unheralded partner, Iowa S Sean Considine, was a productive player overshadowed by a spectacular one. With Sanders gone, Considine took over the leading man role in the Iowa secondary and lived up to the advanced billing. He has the reputation as an instinctive overachiever, a sure tackler, and a team leader. Despite the fact that all those points are true, Considine is an underrated athlete with pretty good measurables. He should make for an outstanding late first-early second day pick. He probably becomes a special team standout who grows on a coaching staff and becomes a solid starting FS eventually.
A highly regarded prep athlete, Michigan S Ernest Shazor took some time to develop at the college level. When he finally got his opportunity, he displayed flashes of brilliance. When he is on, Shazor is the prototypical SS. He is a physical tackler who is more fluid in coverage than some will lead you to believe. That said, Shazor is not that instinctive and makes some big mistakes in coverage from being way too aggressive. In many ways, he is the “anti Bob Sanders” (Colts 2nd round S out of Iowa). If you ignore the Michigan State and Texas game, Shazor is a first round pick. I do not think a GM can ignore those games, because they highlight Shazor’s shortcomings. He is a project who will probably be drafted on the first day based on the flashes of potential rather than his play.
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.