With NFL Training Camp here, which rookies do you predict will be breakout players in 2010?
At receiver, I expect an immediate impact from former Syracuse wideout Mike Williams in Tampa. Williams was a top-five prospect at his position based on talent alone, and is already running as the Buccaneers’ first-team split end. His physical game, fearlessness over the middle, and underrated vertical skills are a great match for promising, big-armed quarterback Josh Freeman.
Ryan Mathews gets most of the headlines as this year’s ideally-situated rusher, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Jahvid Best out-produced the 12th overall pick. Best’s situation is arguably better, as he won’t see any eight-man fronts with Detroit’s passing game on the rise. 50-60 receptions are within reach for the former Cal Bear. He’ll be devastating on the Ford Field turf.
Best is my early pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Dez Bryant would’ve gotten the nod before his high ankle sprain, but a slow start for him now is almost inevitable.
On defense, Rolando McClain and Eric Berry would have to be neck-and-neck for the first-year award. I’ll give the nod to McClain. The Raiders are working him extensively with the nickel defense, meaning McClain will be an every-down linebacker right off the bat. He’s a good bet to rank among the league’s ten top tacklers. Oakland’s improvement as a team also can’t hurt.
Cardinals fifth-round pick John Skelton is a project, but really does have some Roethlisberger-like qualities. He’s also in a great situation, as 2010 is Matt Leinart’s make-or-break year in Arizona and Derek Anderson’s confidence is shot. Mike Kafka was hard to love coming out as an unimpressive one-year starter at Northwestern, but drew rave reviews all spring. James Starks, assuming he gets over his hamstring problems, has a chance for significant passing-down snaps in Green Bay this year. Ohio’s Taylor Price has been great on the practice field in Foxborough.
The popular choice is one of the quarterbacks, but Bobby Petrino’s history of making passers much better than they actually are scares me about Ryan Mallett. Jake Locker still hasn’t completed 60 percent of his passes in a college season. I doubt Andrew Luck will leave school early, and think Christian Ponder is overrated. My top player for 2011 is Georgia wideout A.J. Green. Green is coming off a relatively disappointing season, but has Randy Moss-like talent.
College websites help a lot. You can get great background information on players’ injury histories, in addition to statistics, and even forty times and bench press numbers in some cases. You just can’t trust heights and weights. Entering each college season, I put together a five-star notebook full of information on each college team. I update each time I watch a game, a prospect gets hurt, or a player gets suspended. But TiVo has really been a difference-maker. I’m now able to watch multiple games on multiple players, and I think after getting TiVo my projections really improved.
I wouldn’t say I “scout” players — I’m definitely not a scout. I just love football, and believe I have a good idea as to what NFL teams look for from certain players at certain positions. At quarterback, I want to see a guy completing 60-plus percent of his passes and possessing the ability to put zip on 18-25 yard throws. I also want to see a quarterback who is confident in the pocket and willing to take hits. Ideally, he played in a pro-style offense, but they’re getting harder and harder to find.
I feel like I have a good eye for wide receivers. A lot of receivers can put up big numbers in spread offenses, but their talent doesn’t necessarily always stand out on the field. An NFL-caliber college receiver is clearly a man amongst boys at the non-professional level.
Brian Brohm. The Petrino effect really burned me. I realize Ryan Mallett has more physical ability than Brohm, but — again — it’s still a concern. Petrino also coached up guys like Mario Urrutia and Eric Shelton into stars at Louisville, and these guys didn’t do anything at the next level.
I’d say I was early to the dance on Demaryius Thomas. No one had this guy projected as a top pick after the college season, but in January I wrote a Profootballtalk.com article predicting he’d go in the first round. The link for it is here: http://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2010/01/29/is-demaryius-thomas-the-complete-package/. Thomas went on to break his foot during pre-draft workouts a month later, and was still selected in the first round. Had he not suffered the injury, Thomas might’ve went top ten.
I’ve been doing NFL Draft analysis on Rotoworld.com for the last 4-5 years, and this past offseason was given the chance to transfer some of it over to Profootballtalk, mostly in the form of lists and rankings. I feel I’ve gotten better every year at predicting where guys might land in the draft, and hope to continue to improve for the sake of PFT. I really value the opportunity.
Thanks again to Evan for taking the time to talk with us. You can follow him on Twitter at @evansilva.