This week we focus on what every team in the NFL will be looking for come April, dynamic playmakers. With offenses becoming more complex and versatile with each year that passes, the decision makers on draft day are always on the prowl for that extra weapon that makes their arsenal a deep force to be reckoned with.
- I’ve seen Clemson three times this year (Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida State) and I’ve been back and forth on CJ Spiller in regard to his role at the next level. Does he have the strength and balance to break tackles in the NFL as a running back? I don’t see it but that does not mean he will simply be another athlete without a position. Without the hype and more importantly without the top 5 pick status, Spiller can be another Reggie Bush if he gets put in to the right system. He moves well in space and is incredibly dangerous with green in front of him as he can outrun the fastest of defensive backs. Spiller has hands that belong on a wide receiver and the assertiveness with the ball to get moving forward once he is in possession. He is not the every down back kind of guy that runs between the tackles well, but his mere presence on the field will give an offense plenty of options while keeping the opposition aware of where he is.
- This year’s class of wide receivers figures to be a strong one if a few of the top notch juniors decide to leave school early. The one that brings the most big play potential will most likely by Cincinnati’s Mardy Gilyard. He truly is one of the few players in the nation that makes you believe a touchdown is ensuing when he has the ball in his hands. He breaks away from defenders in space with ease, makes himself small to tacklers, and has the late twitch movements that avoid the meat of contact. His value as a return man alone would make him a day one draft selection but when putting that on top of his ability to make plays in the passing game on all three levels as well as his impact on the running game, Gilyard has the potential to be the first receiver taken among this strong group.
- While Dexter McCluster of Ole Miss will not be a first round pick in April, his dynamic playmaking ability is going to be heavily sought after by NFL teams. At just 5’9” – 170 pounds, his lack of size and strength is going to be an issue but he plays bigger than he is and has a balanced tool set that can effectively be used within both offense and special teams. While he is considered a wide receiver on the depth chart, McCluster is counted on as a running back for a good portion of the game. Why? He has outstanding vision with blockers in front of him and makes himself in smaller when running through traffic. If and when he breaks through the trenches, all bets are off as he is very dangerous in space. He won’t ever be a big time deep threat as a receiver, but his quickness and light feet get him open in the short passing game as he is an outstanding route runner.
- The most discussed debate that will surround the draft is and will continue to be the future of Tim Tebow. While the concerns around his ability to be a franchise quarterback are real, there is one thing that I am sure of; he is going to be sought after by every team in the NFL. First round prospect? That remains to be seen but considering all that he can do on the field combined with the best possible set of intangibles a prospect can have, Tebow has a place on an NFL roster. The emergence of the wildcat package only increases his value as he can run with similar power to the Dolphins’ Ricky Williams. If Pat White can make his way in to the 2nd round, Tebow could be a top 40 pick without question.
- Sticking with the Gator theme, Brandon James is a special teams ace that can be put in the backfield, or split out wide to make plays. He is too small at 5’7 – 185 pounds to be an every down back or receiver, but he could boost a team’s screen pass package in a heartbeat. He works well in traffic with blockers in front of him as he can set defenders up to take poor angles once he gets going. On special teams, college opponents have completely stopped punting the football to him, giving the Gators an obvious, effortless advantage in the field position aspect of the game. While he does not offer the offensive potential that Percy Harvin did heading in to the 2009 draft, James is a versatile weapon that can give an playcaller multiple options.
We will discuss, at great length, the top prospects in this draft class in the coming months. However this part of the new bi-weekly draft report is designated for the middle round players that will not ‘wow’ anyone in the grade column, but have impressed me through the scouting process. These are the kind of players that make or break a draft class, not the ones that are drafted in the top 32.
- The Tennessee defense has a few NFL caliber players and Eric Berry is receiving most of the attention, rightfully so. However the four UT games I’ve scouted, defensive tackle Dan Williams (6’3 – 327) has been a steady presence inside that has done it all. The importance of the nose tackle position in the 3-4 scheme, which is becoming the dominant scheme of NFL defenses, is sure to get Williams drafted in the top four rounds. He has staying power against double teams but also moves very in pursuit as he looks very comfortable in space. He has a knack for the football and is consistently in the opposition’s backfield when he has a penetrating role.
- Iowa has been put in the spotlight this season and there are a couple of prospects that figure to be solid contributors at the next level. Right tackle Kyle Calloway (6’7 – 315) certainly has the feet, size, strength, and reach to play out on the edge. His technique is nearly flawless and in a league where pass rushers are plentiful on almost every roster, those guys out on the edge are in high demand. AJ Edds (6’4 – 244) could be a guy that breaks into the top two rounds but if a team can grab him in the middle of the draft, we could be watching a Hunter Hillenmeyer type player. He can do a lot of little things effectively such as match up with a tight end in man coverage all over the field as well as hold up against a tough blocker versus the run. He has light feet and a strong base as well as the football savvy you want in a linebacker with good reading ability. The man in the middle right next to him, Pat Angerer (6’1-235), has elevated his game from undrafted thumper to a legit pro prospect. While his lack of top end speed and range will hurt him in the pre-draft process, he is a tackling machine that will not be passed on for a full seven rounds. He is constantly around the ball and his considered to be one of the most instinctive and intelligent football players in the nation. He’ll find his niche in the league, which could be a Tedy Bruschi type role within a 3-4 defense.
- The USC offense, in particular the ground attack, has been one of the most lethal in college football over the past couple of years. They use a running back by committee system that keeps the opposition honest. While they do have NFL caliber backs, it is the offensive line that has really opened up lanes. Charles Brown (6’5 – 295) has been excelling as the Trojans’ left tackle and he might be the most overlooked blind side protector in this class. He is a natural knee bender with light feet. He explodes out of his stance with fire consistently. He has strong hand placement and solid awareness when it comes to protecting from the inside out. He needs a couple years of NFL weight training before I would be comfortable putting him in the NFL trenches but if that comes along, he could fulfill one of the most vital roles football has to offer.
The final part of this draft report focuses on an underclassman that is expected to forego his senior season and enter the draft a year early. Draft projection at this time of the year can always be tough considering that most if not all juniors have yet to officially declare, however there are some that have a spot in the first round reserved for them.
- Watching the North Carolina defense is a lot of work from the perspective of scouting for the draft. They have a lot of pro players on that unit, but the most impressive might be the emerging cornerback Charles Brown (5’10 – 200). His name is not out there yet as a top notch prospect but the more I watch him, the more I believe he could easily break his way into the top 32 picks of the 2010 draft. He has some of the best ball skills in the nation among cornerbacks and his reaction time has been unparalleled on my national grade sheet so far this season. He diagnoses well and plays the ball like a receiver. While his timed speed can be questioned, he is a blazer with the ball in his hands because of his ability to reach top speed so quickly. That kind if explosion combined with his fluid hips will get him plenty of looks from NFL talent evaluators.