The NFL draft is where general managers and personnel directors really make their money. One can fill a few roster holes in free agency, but if a team is unsuccessful in the draft they have little to no chance of succeeding long-term. As a result, most teams spare no expense to research the upcoming talent crop in order to identify who will reach their potential and who will not.
Here are my my top 5 guys that I believe will over-perform their draft status and my top 5 guys that may under-perform at the next level.
(These are not in any particular order)
1. OT James Carpenter, Alabama–I do have slight concerns about his work ethic after his weight ballooned at the combine, but there are just too many redeeming qualities to ignore the guy. Physical attributes aside, any guy that can adjust from JUCO one year to starting left tackle on a National Championship, SEC team the next is impressive. The guy just has the look of a franchise left tackle to me and can be had in the second round (some have him going even later than that).
2. CB/FS Ras-I Dowling, Virginia–Dowling was pretty highly-touted heading into this season before his senior year was plagued by injuries. As a result, he’ll probably drop to the mid-second round. However, Dowling is 6-1, has the hands of a receiver, and is one of the most physical corners I’ve ever scouted. He also is just a great guy. His reasoning for coming back to Virginia for his senior year: “Money just buys things. It’s temporary. Love is forever.” His coaches describe him as the ideal guy you’d like your daughter to bring home. Ras-I is a professional that will give you his all. If he can improve his defense of double-moves (he has a tendency to bite on the underneath route), he can be a good player at the next level. I feel he has an even higher ceiling at free safety, where he can drop down and cover, blitz/tackle like a linebacker, and has the ball skills to make plays. If he can stay healthy, watch out.
3. RB Allen Bradford, USC–Bradford has been dogged by injury and circumstance as a Trojan. However, when he has gotten his opportunity to shine, he has. He’s a powerful, downhill runner that has a nasty stiff arm. He’s not overly elusive, but he can sidestep a guy. Allen’s also a team-oriented player, where he didn’t complain about getting reduced touches in the past. I view him as a guy that should become an 1,100-1,200 yard back at the next level.
4. TE Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin–Kendricks was viewed by some scouting services as a 1st-2nd round pick heading into the season. However, now I’ve seen him projected to go somewhere between rounds 3-5. To me, Kendricks has a lot of upside. At the very least, he’ll become a solid starter. He’s a surprisingly physical blocker for a guy with his build. He’s not Mark Bavaro, but he can open up some running lanes. His best asset is his natural receiving ability. He’s built in the mold of the modern tight end with a receiver’s body and soft hands. He should end up becoming a steal.
5. S Mark LeGree, Appalachian State–The small school stud is flying under-the-radar this draft season. He has been a productive ball-hawk, nabbing 20 picks during his career. He has good instincts and diagnoses plays well. He’s a hard-hitter that just takes guys out. He doesn’t have great speed, but it’s serviceable. Besides his level of competition, his biggest obstacle to overcome is his lack of jumping ability. He has other tools to get past that deficiency, but you wish he could elevate a bit more to get the ball at its highest point. The number one thing I look for in small-school guys is that dominate their competition and look like they don’t belong. He most certainly does. I’ve seen him projected to go somewhere in the 5th-7th round.
Honorable Mention: WR Austin Pettis, Boise State
1. DE Da’Quan Bowers, Clemson–Bowers has rare athleticism for a guy of his size, but he has the intangibles of a guy that will end up disappointing at the next level. Coming out of high school, he was the #1 rated recruit. However, he underwhelmed his first two seasons at Clemson, which he attributed to being lazy and cutting corners. Before his junior season, it took his dad and his friend, former Clemson DE Gaines Adams, to tell him that it was time to grow up and reach his potential. He began putting in the time and he exploded last season. I don’t really feel that Bowers loves the game of football. From listening to him talk, it sounds to me he wants to fulfill his dad’s dream of playing in the NFL. He sounds much more passionate about his music (and his ’64 Fender Stratocaster) than sacking QB’s. If he loved it, it wouldn’t have taken him two years and the request of his dad and friend to motivate him to work at improving his game. I feel that Bowers can get by on his athletic ability to the point where he should be a solid starter. However, usually the guys that aren’t passionate about the game can’t put up with the mental and physical toll it takes on players. Compound that with his question mark of a knee, and I have a feeling Bowers won’t live up to his draft status. It’s really unfortunate, because if he really wanted it, he could probably be one of the greats with his God-given ability.
2. OLB Von Miller, Texas A&M–Miller has great speed and pass rushing ability, but I’m not convinced he’ll be a three-down player at the next level. He has all the intangibles and a good work ethic, but I doubt he’ll be able to hold up against the run consistently. There are some plays where he is so quick he can knife into the backfield, but if a blocker gets his mitts on him off the snap, he’ll probably get driven off the ball. I think he probably has a better chance at succeeding in a 4-3 as a weakside LB, than a 3-4 rush backer. He’s a guy you want to root for, but I think he’ll struggle.
3. OT Nate Solder, Colorado–Now, I understand that he is enormously tall and has the feet of a former tight end. However, the guy is so raw and unfinished I can’t believe he’ll go in the 1st round purely on potential. He gets too upright and loses leverage. He doesn’t play with consistent physicality. On some plays, he’ll try to drive his man off the ball and on others he’d rather dance than initiate contact. He has quick feet, but he doesn’t position them where he can be successful consistently. He gets back too quick and allows for defenders to cut across his face, or he struggles to anchor and can get pushed back (which also has to do with getting too upright). He’s the classic boom or bust guy. He has all the physical tools of a big-time left tackle, but he’s yet to put it all together and perform consistently on the field.
4. DE Robert Quinn, North Carolina–What’s this guy have against pass rushers? There really is no bias here, I just feel that a handful of these guys are more athletes than football players. Much like Bowers, Quinn is a physical freak. Unlike Bowers, he has a work ethic to go along with it, which is why I feel there is a chance he can overcome my concerns on him. I don’t view Quinn as a consistent player. He doesn’t get off the snap with the same burst from play to play. He also doesn’t tackle consistently. The former wrestler in him shows up on tape. There are some snaps where he has a clear shot at the QB and, rather than form tackle, he runs behind him and tries to throw him down. On others, he jumps on the QB’s back and sinks him. He can get the job done, but it won’t always be pretty and many of his attempted tackles will whiff at the next level. On some snaps, he’s hustling to the whistle. On others, he’s a spectator. I really, really want to like Quinn. He has great measurables and is an athletic specimen. I just don’t feel he brings it play-in, play-out. I wouldn’t blame a team at all for taking a shot on him early, because he has the potential to be a very good football player. I just know I wouldn’t take that chance.
5. QB Blaine Gabbert, Missouri—I didn’t really want to go there with just about every QB in this class having question marks, but I’ll just get my thoughts on the possible #1 overall pick off my chest. Blaine has the ideal size for a QB. Coming from Missouri, he played in a spread offense with quick/easy reads. He’ll have to make the adjustment to a pro style offense, but that is like many college QB’s. He has the arm strength to make all the throws. Gabbert’s biggest problem at this stage of his development is his pocket presence. He can get antsy with a 3-man rush and panics a bit when his first read is covered. He struggles a bit with deeper throws. He lacks consistent accuracy in that area. His footwork is really raw. He makes easy throws so much more difficult for himself when he throws off balance and starts bouncing away from the rush. He just needs to learn to step up in the pocket more. When he stays in the pocket and delivers, he can make some pretty throws. As a testament to his physical ability, there are some plays when his footwork is terrible, but he still delivers it on the money. He’s a guy that has the physical tools and a lot of upside, but he’s going to go in the Top 5 because of the QB premium in the NFL rather than NFL readiness. Any team taking a chance on him early should hold their breathe.