OK, so, I was planning on recording a nice draft preview special for Forward Progress Radio. Then the school week came and leveled all of my free time. So I'll just be doing a draft review show. But to get everyone ready to go for draft day, I'll share some of my notes about prospects in this draft, my rankings of the guys at the top of each position, and some of the lower guys of interest.
(I'm doing some off-the-top-of-my-head writing along with copy and pasting from notes, so if there's a fragmented sentence here or there, I may have struggled with the basics of the idea of copy and paste)
OFFENSIVE TACKLES (yes, we start with the linemen, the most important players on the field):
1. D'Brickashaw Ferguson (6-6, 305, Virginia): Despite the fact that anywhere from 1-4 players will be taken ahead of him, Ferguson is probably the best prospect in the draft. He has close to the most upside, and he has the least downside by far. He's an elite athlete made for the left tackle spot - one of the best LT prospects in the last decade. He's a dominant pass blocker who finishes his blocks - he's not done until the pass rusher is buried. He's also strong in run blocking but needs to bulk up a bit to excel at run blocking at the NFL level. He also still needs work in the mental game - occasionally gets beaten inside by a player with no business squeezing in there.
2. Winston Justice (6-6, 319, USC)
Justice played right tackle at USC, which made him the blindside protection for the left-handed Matt Leinart. At the pro level, Justice projects well to the left tackle spot for teams run by right-handed QBs. He has tremendous athleticism. He put on a real show at USC's pro day, which led to his stock rising into potentially the first half of round 1. Off-the-field issues led to Justice being suspended for the whole 2004 season. However, he's built up a reputation of having been a so-called model citizen since then, and scouts don't seem overly concerned by it. Justice is still a raw talent who has a bit of a learning curve still ahead of him, but he has the athletic ability that makes teams want to be the one to coach him up.
3. Eric Winston (6-6, 310, Miami)
Winston is an athletic, agile left tackle with great footwork and mobility. He's one of the fastest tackles in the draft, and the couple of guys that are faster don't weigh 310. Winston came to Miami as a tight end and was converted to left tackle, where he became a star fast. But Winston lost the 2004 season to a knee injury and wasn't 100% recovered last year. That's caused his stock to drop to probably an early 2nd round choice. I think, if he has a clean bill of health, Eric Winston potentially belongs above Winston Justice. I think he's a better package right now and I think his quickness is more likely to stay intact as these players get up to 320-330 pounds. But the risk is in assuming that his slight letdown of a senior season was due completely to his knee recovery and not other factors. Such knee tears take up to 2 years to come back 100% from, but the question mark still lingers. In terms of where he is likely to be drafted, Winston is a fantastic value.
4. Daryn Colledge (6-4, 299, Boise State)
This is one of my favorite players of the draft. Colledge is a lean, highly agile and athletic left tackle who hasn't gotten the attention he deserves as a Boise State prospect. Colledge is a technician who is easily the second best pure pass blocker in the draft, after D'Brickashaw Ferguson. If he was 6-6 and 310 pounds, he would be a top-15 pick. However, at 6-4 and 300, teams see him as slightly undersized and wonder how well he can hold up at the NFL level. Some scouts project him as a guard at the NFL level, and no doubt he could excel there. But I believe in him as a left tackle at the next level, particularly if he is drafted to a team that relies on the Denver-style zone blocking schemes. He would be a great fit for Houston at the top of round 2, but if Eric Winston is still on the board, they would have a hard time passing on him. Many mock drafts project Colledge anywhere from the middle of round 2 down into round 3, and anyone that gets him that low is getting away with robbery if you ask me.
5. Jonathan Scott (6-6, 316, Texas)
Here's another solid 1st day tackle prospect. Scott has the side and wingspan scouts like to see out of a guy coming out of college. He's an intelligent player with good physical tools. However, he doesn't seem to have a killer instinct and has not shown himself to be as dominant as he should. He needs work on keeping his base and not reaching at defenders. He lacks polish but scouts like his attitude and intelligence, and seem to feel he'll be coachable and improve at the next level.
6. Ryan O'Callaghan (6-7, 345, Cal)
Here we have our a right tackle, a large pile mover. O'Callaghan is a mauler who swallows defenders whole. He's a dominant run blocker who led the way for one of college football's best rushing attacks. He may be a guard at the NFL level, as he lacks quickness and may struggle against speed rushers. He did play guard for the 2003 season at Cal. So it will be interesting to see what position the team he's drafted by lists him at.
7. Marcus McNeil (6-7, 336, Auburn)
Off the charts athleticism and measurables - a 6'7" guy who can run. Where McNeil comes apart is as a pass protector. He has the agility, but he has very poor technique. He's been labeled a "waist bender" because he does tend to bend forward at the waist and reach at defenders, which is horrible technique that sacrifices all of your leverage and can get you beat. For a big guy, McNeil doesn't play big. He doesn't dominate like he should. Scouts and coaches have opinions all over the chart on McNeil. Some see him as too flawed to take early, while others think they can be the ones to teach McNeil good technique and break all of his old habits. It's definitely true that none of McNeil's flaws are physical, and he deserves to be drafted as a project, but there's a sense that some team is going to come along and draft him too early, thinking that they can make McNeil's turnaround happen very fast. Some boards have him as high as the 4th overall tackle, but I've got him down around #7. I won't be surprised if he's drafted higher though.
Other guys to watch:
Andrew Whitworth (6-7, 334, LSU) and Jeremy Trueblood (6-8, 316, Boston College). Both are good college players who don't quite have the athleticism to play left tackle at the NFL level. Don't be shocked if either guy goes ahead of McNeil or O'Callaghan.
1. Max Jean-Gilles (Gene - Gil-les) (6-3, 355, Georgia)
Easily my #1 guard, though I have seen him slide to #2 or $3 on a lot of boards. Jean-Gilles is a massive body at 355 but he has surprisingly good feet for such a big pile-mover. He shoved around Broderick Bunkley in Senior Bowl 1-on-1 drills like Bunkley was nothing, and Bunkley's one of the best DT prospects in the draft.
His footwork is good but his mobility is limited, he may not be great at getting downfield and taking on linebackers. It's essential that he keep himself in good shape, as his weight needs to not balloon beyond about where he's at.
2. Taitusi 'Deuce' Latui (6-3, 334, USC)
Deuce is another big body that doesn't give defenders anywhere to go. He's a force as a blocker with great strength and plays with excellent leverage. He transfered to USC from Snow Junior College in Utah. He played right tackle as a junior, but moved inside to guard in his senior year. As a guard, Deuce excelled, and he's likely to just get better with more experience on the inside. He's agile and reasonably good on his feet. He could use some work on his technique but he has pretty good technique instinctually, and the rest will come with coaching. His weight and conditioning is a constant concern. Deuce has been compared to Toniu Fonoti, and there's something to that, though Deuce moves better than Fonoti. But as we saw with Fonoti this year, a player like that who lets his weight and conditioning slip can go downhill fast. The team that drafts Deuce will need to be on him to stay in shape.
3. Charles Spencer (6-4, 352, Pitt)
Spencer is a lot like Deuce Latui. While not a junior college transfer, Spencer was a defensive tackle in his first two seasons at college. He moved to the O-line as a junior, where he quickly made a name for himself at guard. He played tackle as a senior but is unquestionably being moved back to guard at the NFL level. Spencer is a massive body who has outstanding mobility for his size. Unlike some of the other big bodies, Spencer has the ability to move and take on linebackers at the 2nd level. With only 2 years experience on the O-line, and only one at guard, however, Spencer is very raw and is perhaps a bit of a project. That said, don't be surprised if he ends up outshining all of the other guards in the long run.
4. Davin Joseph (6-2, 311, Georgia)
A LOT of boards have Davin Joseph as the top guard in the draft. I have him down at #4. Scouts like all of his measurables, his athleticism, his long reach, and his good work ethic. What bothered me was watching him in Senior Bowl practices and seeing him get pushed around by Gabe Watson and Johnathan Lewis. I don't know if he's got the size or strength to hold up at the point of attack against NFL level 1-gap tackles. He played left tackle as a senior and maybe has some adjusting to do to play guard at the NFL level. Everyone loves his attitude and how he works on the field, but I'm not convinced that he can move people off the ball. I wouldn't be surprised to see him go to a zone-blocking team, where he would have a lot of learning to do but would probably find his skill set best suited. This will be an interesting one to watch, with him rated so highly by so many, I'm extremely curious to see who does pull the trigger on Joseph.
Others of note:
Fred Matua (6-2, 306, USC) was outshined at Southern Cal by Deuce Latui, but was a great college player in his own right. His lack of size and the depth of talent around him at SC leave a lot of questions unanswered. He's coming out as a junior and should have stayed for his senior season.
Jason Spitz (6-4, 313, Louisville) is a guy where opinions are all over the board on. I see him ranked anywhere from the #5 to #10 overall guard. He played all three positions on the interior line at college, making him an ideal backup if he doesn't develop into a reliable starter. His physical tools aren't the best, but his strong work ethic and versatility will be what gets him drafted.
Last, there's Rob Sims (6-4, 310, Ohio State). He's another college tackle who will project to guard at the NFL level. He's inexperienced as a guard and he doesn't wow you with his athletic gifts, but teams looking for someone to develop into a dependable starter may find on here in Sims. He may not become well known in the NFL (as if guards ever do anyway) but he has a good career outlook.
Nick Mangold (6-3, 300, Ohio State)
Top center in the draft, with experience in both zone and man-blocking schemes. A bit light - teams like the guy in the middle to be heavier than 300 pounds. Some think he can add more weight but he looks to me like a guy that's close to his limit. He was only 270 pounds as a freshman, and 280 entering his senior year. He's had to bulk up a lot just to get to 300 and I don't know if he can carry much more without losing some of the athleticism that makes him worth drafting. The real question is whether he needs to get much heavier or not. The way he held his ground against a 340 pound Gabe Watson at the Senior Bowl workouts makes me think that his strength and technique will let him hang in there against big defensive tackles. Some call him the best center prospect in years, but I think he would've been the #2 center had Kyle Young chosen to come out as a junior. But that aside, Mangold is a strong center prospect who will go off the board in late round 1 or early round 2.
Other guys to watch:
After Mangold, the center well pretty much dries up. Greg Eslinger (6-3, 292, Minnesota) is the consensus #2 center, and he's even lighter than Mangold. He's a technical blocker who wound the Outland Trophy but will be limited by his lack of size at the NFL level.
Chris Chester (6-3, 303, Oklahoma) is a superb athlete, a former tight end, who moved to interior lineman late and basically didn't play until last year. He's also coming off a knee injury. He's extremely raw but shows ability and athleticism enough to make a team grab him as a project, though some seem to think he can contribute more quickly than others do.
Some other names include big 6-6 318 pound Ryna Cook from New Mexico and 6-3 300 pound Patrick Ross from Boston College. There's a lot of disagreement on how the centers after Mangold stack up, and frankly most of them are projects.
QUARTERBACKS (did you scroll past the linemen and go right to here? If so, you should be ashamed of yourself!)
1 (maybe). Matt Leinart (6-5, 225, USC)
I put Matt Leinart as #1 on my QB board with extreme reluctance. To be sure, Leinart is one of college football's most decorated quarterbacks ever. But great college quarterbacks don't automatically make great NFL quarterbacks. Matt Leinart has a lot of question marks in terms of becoming an NFL quarterback. First, though, the good. Leinart is the most polished QB in the draft, someone who is ready to begin taking on the challenge of the mental game at the next level. He's pretty athletic and he has nice mobility. He's made quite a few clutch throws in his college career. He's a proven leader and has played under such a high profile at USC that the added attention of the NFL probably won't feel much different. He comes from a Pete Carroll pro-style offense and will have as low of an adjustment to make in that area as a QB coming out of college can have.
But there are downsides that people seem eager to ignore. Unlike Carson Palmer, the last USC quarterback to become a star at the next level, Leinart does not have a strong arm. He has good accuracy but he doesn't have the power to stick balls into small spots. He will be limited in how well he throws passes over the middle of the field, because those slow floaters will get intercepted at the next level. Also, those who flaunt Leinart's college resume are quick to ignore how much of it was done by other people. At USC, Leinart had a massive talent advantage over every one of his opponents. And guys like Reggie Bush bailed Leinart out of bad games. Leinart struggled against Notre Dame, with a couple of big throws but was intercepted twice and was TERRIBLE on 3rd down, killing drives left and right. But Reggie Bush ran for 160 yards and 3 TDs. Leinart was completely shut down by Fresno State. But Reggie Bush ran for 294 yards and accounted for 554 of USC's 651 total yards. It was a 50-42 shootout and Bush covered up the fact that Leinart was shooting blanks.
At the pro level, Leinart won't have a team full of guys that are better than all the guys on the other side of the field. He won't have a Reggie Bush that can play a whole game by himself, even Reggie Bush himself won't be able to completely dominate like that in the NFL. I think he will be able to adjust, but people need to step back and realize just how much the other USC stars made Leinart look good.
In the end, what concerns me most are his slow, light throws. The consensus on Leinart's Pro Day passing workout was good, not great. That's the same thing people who saw Leinart's private workout for the Jets are saying. I'm looking for an NFL level arm and I don't see one.
That said, I think there are enough good things in Leinart's corner to still merit a 1st round grade. My problem with Leinart is that I see him as being WAY too high on a lot of draft boards. His lack of a strong arm is something he can overcome and be successful at the NFL level, but it presents a real question mark as to how much upside Leinart has. Can he ever become a Carson Palmer or Peyton Manning without that kind of arm? People want to compare him to Tom Brady but I don't see even that much of an arm in Leinart. Can he build up the extra strength the way Brady did when he got into the NFL? You'd hope so, and it's certainly a possibility. Which is why I'd still be willing to spend a first round pick on him. But a mid first round pick. Not a top 5 pick, maybe not a top 10 pick. I'd like him somewhere in the 8-15 range. But Leinart's not lasting to pick 8, let alone beyond that. He will be taken in the top 5, and I don't think he should be taken that high.
2. Jay Cutler (6-3, 233, Vanderbilt)
Cutler is the real question mark of the round 1 quarterbacks. I wanted very badly to rate him as my #1 quarterback, but a couple of things stopped me. First, though, Cutler has a cannon for an arm. He can be pinpoint and thread the needle in a way no other QB in this draft can. He sets up even under the pressure of the rush and he gets the ball out of his hand quickly. Physically, he is everything you want and more. He even did the bench press at the NFL combine - something most QBs don't do - and out-benched some good linemen and linebacker prospects. But unlike some workout warriors, he is most exciting as a football player.
What's the problem, then? The problem is consistancy. At the Senior Bowl workouts, he threw the ball better than any other QB in any other workout MOST of the time. He struggled with some slight overthrows that turned into INTs though. And during the Senior Bowl game, he went 6-19 with an INT, but wasn't nearly as bad as that sounds. He had 5 great throws that were dropped, as in slap-your-forehead drops. And the INT was somewhat ill-advised of a deep throw, but the receiver gave up on the play and let the corner undercut him for the pick. It probably should have been incomplete, but I think the WR had a play on the ball too. But even still, there's consistancy problems that Cutler shows that give me just enough pause to not make the bold move to put him #1. And I'm questioning that as I type this.
If he's not #1, he's #2 in stone. Cutler's being treated by some like a small school prospect, but Vanderbilt plays in the SEC. We're not talking about Bethune-Cookman or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Cutler played in one of college football's elite conferences (some would say THE elite conference). Cutler had the opposite situation of Matt Leinart - instead of being surrounded with talent overwhelmingly better than the other team's, Cutler was surrounded by much less talent than most of his opponents. Stepping into the NFL will probably be refreshing, not having to deal with the kind of gaps between teams like he had when Vanderbilt played on the same field as LSU. Still, what Leinart has that keeps him just barely above Cutler is the fact that he's so well polished that you know the guy won't be a complete bust. And that's comforting when you're taking a player so high.
3. Vince Young (6-5, 229, Texas)
As someone that cheers for the burnt orange, it pains me to be as down on Vince Young as I am. Let's get one thing out of the way - Vince Young needed to stay at Texas for his senior year. Vince Young has many of the ingrediants for a successful NFL quarterback, but they are still in the process of being put together.
Scouts love what Young brings to the table. He's highly athletic. He's an accurate passer on short throws. He has good enough arm strength for the NFL and throws with nice touch. He is a leader who relishes in taking a team on his back. And given another year in college, he would easily leapfrog Matt Leinart on my draft board. OK, if he DID stay another year, he wouldn't be in the same draft as Leinart, but you know what I mean.
What bothers me is that Young was clearly in the middle of his big upswing at the end of his junior year, and now he will have to try and complete that upswing under the pressure of the NFL spotlight. His head will be swimming in so much just to be able to get on the field and play, that I worry about a possible lack of focus on his continued development in the fundamentals.
Not only is Young the most raw and least polished of the 1st round quarterbacks, but he also faces the most drastic adjustment to the pro game on top of that. Young comes from a spread offense at Texas that allowed him to take snaps out of the shotgun and take off running half the time. In the NFL, he will need to adjust to a pro-style offense, and that's something much further from what he's used to than it is for Cutler or Leinart.
Some scouts want to make a big deal out of his throwing mechanics. Those don't bother me. He has a sort of sidearm delivery that leads to a low release point, but the fact that he's 6-5 helps. The fact that Young is mobile also means he'll be making plenty of throws from outside the pocket and away from tall pass-slapping defensive linemen. That's something Houston has done with David Carr, who has a bit of a low release point too.
4. Brodie Croyle (6-3, 205, Alabama)
Croyle is a solid QB prospect that emerged as the #4 QB thanks to great postseason performances and workouts. Croyle lost his junior season to a knee injury but came back strong and became an NFL level prospect as a senior. He's also coming off shoulder surgery this offseason, and that kind of injury history has teams nervous, especially given his skinny build. On the field, he's a polished passer, if not a spectacular playmaker. He throws the deep out pattern well, with more arm strength than his skinny arms look like they can muster. He has a bit too much air underneath his deep balls for my liking, but he's a great football player and a great leader. He doesn't have the physical tools to make you believe he can be a game-changing star, but he has the skills to hang in the NFL. He looks like a guy who will be more impressive a couple of years from now. No doubt teams will want him to be like Tom Brady, who was a skinny little stick-boy himself before he got into the NFL and packed on some muscle.
Other guys to watch:
I like Bruce Gradkowski (6-2, 222, Toledo). He's a great athlete with a fantastic arm. He had a great junior season and slipped a bit as a senior, in part due to missing some games early to injury. He has awesome mobility and will not hesitate to take off running and takes what defenses give him. He's a bit short for scouts' tastes at 6-2, and he's not someone you want to stick in the game right away. But he is an ideal project player that could come on strong in a couple of years.
Charlie Whitehurst (6-5, 225, Clemson) is physically a 1st round talent, with 1st round skills, but he has major consistancy issues. He looks fantastic one moment and then makes a bad mistake the next. Whitehurst's problems are mental, and may be something he can overcome with good coaching. He's another exciting project QB that will be interesting to watch.
Omar Jacobs (6-4, 232, Bowling Green) was the consensus #4 QB for a while, but failed to impress in post-season workouts. He has a "shot put" throwing motion, and scouts don't think he has the mental game down.
Darrell Hackney (6-0, 239, UAB) would be on a lot more radars if he weren't only 6-foot-flat. He reminds me of Senaca Wallace. He has a REAL live arm and he's quick. You can't say enough good things about how he throws the ball. He's a long-term project and overcoming his size will be a factor, but hey, Mark Brunell's only 6-1 and it's not like he's Doug Flutie.
(rest of offense in next post)