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Since we know all the names that will be available in the 2010 NFL Draft, I decided to debut my second round mock draft as a part of my updated first round mock draft. The second round mock draft started off as a premium article, but it's now FREE, enjoy.
If you’re a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots or Tampa Bay Buccaneers, you will be most interested in the second round, as they’re the only teams with multiple picks in the second frame. The Patriots have three picks (No. 44, 47 and 53), while the Buccaneers (No. 35 and 42) and Chiefs (No. 36 and 50) have two selections.
The infusion of 50 underclassmen in this year’s draft makes the 2010 class one of the deepest and most talented classes in draft history. The draft is strong at many positions, especially on defense. If your favorite team is in need of defensive line, linebacker or secondary help, the ’10 draft is full of talented prospects that can immediately make an impact this year. On the offensive side of the ball, the line is solid at every position, especially at tackle. Ironically, the weakest positions in the draft are quarterback and running back; both positions are top heavy and lack depth for teams looking to address the positions beyond the second round.
With the January 15th deadline approaching tomorrow for underclassmen to declare for the NFL Draft, the landscape for the spring spectacle is starting to form. But there’s still one player I’m watching; even though he said he’s staying at Washington for his senior year, Jake Locker has an opportunity to bypass Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford (shoulder surgery) and Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen (toe surgery), as the No. 1 quarterback and potentially become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft.
It was just a month ago when Locker announced his decision to stay in school for his senior year, and just last week he spoke at length about his decision to remain at Washington. But something doesn’t seem right. It’s nothing that Locker said last week that makes me believe he may be wavering on his decision, because he was truthful and honest in his explanation to return to school. But after reading his transcript from last week and making a few calls, I’ve learned from two sources that Locker may not be 100-percent certain about his decision.
Two weeks ago, I made some calls to a few of my sources and asked around about Locker and his decision to stay in school. Locker had made his announcement prior to Christmas and usually the holiday season is when you’re around family and have some downtime to think. So, since there was no follow up reported on his decision, I decided to ask around. The word I received two weeks ago was that he’s 100-percent satisfied with his decision and that he will return to Washington for his senior year. And last week, he finally spoke to the media at length and came across 100-percent sure of his decision.
However, on Tuesday, I received a call from one of my sources and he said, “Don’t be surprised if Locker pulls a 180 and decides to enter the draft.” When he uttered those words, the immediate response I had was, “Because of Pete Carroll?” You got it.
The arrival of Carroll in Seattle has a chance to be great, but it all starts with Carroll identifying the Seahawks next franchise quarterback. As I reported last weekend, the hiring of Carroll may signal a trade between Arizona and Seattle that will involve former USC standout Matt Leinart. If a trade is worked out between the two teams, Leinart will end up with Carroll; the man he achieved great success under. But it doesn’t rule out the possibility of the Seahawks drafting a younger quarterback that still needs time to develop. The Seahawks have two first round picks this year and drafting Locker would not only satisfy the need for a franchise quarterback, but also keep a local-product at home.
Locker has to be intrigued by the possibility of being drafted by the Seahawks. There are a lot of positives with the Seahawks that favor Locker, besides the fact that he will be able to play in front of his family and friends on a consistent basis. Locker’s head coach at Washington is Steve Sarkisian, who spent four years under Carroll at USC as quarterbacks coach (2001 – 2003; 2005 – 2006) and offensive coordinator (2007 – 2008). Carroll has had great success with quarterbacks at the collegiate level using the offense that Sarkisian ran this past year with Washington; an offense that allowed Locker to generate career highs in completion percentage (58.2), passing yards (2,800) and touchdown passes (21), as well as a career low 11 interceptions.
As the deadline approaches, I’m reminded of these words Locker said last week, “I want to make a decision that I'm not going to regret 30 years from now. I want to make a decision that I'm going to be able to live with because it's a big decision. If you make the wrong one, it will really wear on you.”
I always encourage student athletes to stay in school, not only to improve their craft in an athletic endeavor, but to receive their diploma from the university they attend. But in Locker’s case, this is a special circumstance where in a year - not 30 years – from now, he will regret not taking advantage of it. Locker said last week that he didn’t care about the money and that money wouldn’t drive him to the NFL. But there’s an opportunity for him to end up in a situation with Carroll and the Seahawks that’s just as comfortable as the situation he’s had with Sarkisian and the Huskies.
The clock’s ticking Jake, don’t waste this opportunity.
It’s a position that used to be taken for granted, but the safety position has gone from the forgotten two players defending the last line of defense to playmakers that can mean the difference between wins and losses. And for teams that need playmakers at the safety position, the 2010 draft is shaping up to be the deepest and most talented safety crop in the history of the spring spectacle.
You know it’s a special safety class when for the first time in the history of the draft six underclassmen have declared and one of the six has received No. 1 overall consideration. Tennessee’s Eric Berry is considered a top-two prospect, but since the St. Louis Rams hold the No. 1 pick, it’s unlikely that Berry will become the first safety ever be selected with the top pick. But he has a chance to be the second safety drafted with the No. 2 pick. The Cleveland Browns selected Eric Turner out of UCLA with the 2nd overall selection in the 1991 draft, and the Lions could make Berry the 2nd overall pick this year.
In addition to Berry, the other five safeties that declared early for the NFL are Morgan Burnett (Georgia Tech), Chad Jones (LSU), Reshad Jones (Georgia), Earl Thomas (Texas) and Major Wright (Florida). All six will likely come off the board in the first three rounds of the draft.
The six underclassmen make this class special, and when you add in the senior talent it becomes elite.
The senior safeties are headlined by USC’s Taylor Mays, the most gifted athlete at the position and a sure first round selection. At 6-foot-3, 235 pounds, Mays offers a team at the next level tremendous versatility and an intimidating prowess that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. Other senior safeties that will generate interest in the first three rounds are Nate Allen (South Florida), T.J. Ward (Oregon), Darrell Stuckey (Kansas) and Kam Chancellor (Virginia Tech).
To think that 11 safeties could be selected in the first three rounds of a single draft is unheard of, especially since there’s only been four years this decade (2000, 2007, 2008 and 2009) where more than 11 safeties have been taken in an entire draft.
2010 is a great year to have a need for a safety.
Even though the Under Armour Senior Bowl is presented as the game that hosts the nation’s elite seniors, most years some of the premier talent has declined their invitation to play in the widely attended All-Star game. But this year, maybe the most intriguing player available in the 2010 NFL Draft, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, went against the grain and has decided to participate in the Senior Bowl.
Tebow will play quarterback for the South team and will be under the direction of the Miami Dolphins coaching staff. I’ve learned that a major factor for Tebow playing in the January 31st Senior Bowl is because his agent, Jimmy Sexton, believes that being coached by the Dolphins – the team that resurrected the Wildcat offense in the NFL – will solidify Tebow’s status as a sure first round pick.
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior’s draft stock is soaring right now after his nearly flawless showing at the All-State Sugar Bowl where he completed 88.6-percent of his passes (31-of-35) for 482 yards and three touchdowns. If Tebow is able to run the offense that the Dolphins’ staff installs during the week of the Senior Bowl, and shows not only the ability to go through his progressions and read a defense, but also runs the Wildcat effectively and with sound timing, there’s a strong possibility he will sneak into the top-ten of the draft.
For months, the consensus of many analysts, including myself, is that Tebow’s best chance of being a first round pick is if the Jacksonville Jaguars take him with the 11th overall pick. The Jaguars potential selection of Tebow - even though he’s considered to be one of the best college football players in NCAA history - would be considered a reach and viewed as a marketing ploy to get the dwindling fan base in Jacksonville energized about the team. Currently, the Jaguars are struggling to generate revenue, and if it continues down this path, they’re the favorite franchise to relocate to Los Angeles. But by adding Tebow, the savior of Florida, Jacksonville would increase interest, ticket sales and sell a limitless amount of Tebow jerseys.
Not so fast Jacksonville, there’s another team that’s interested in drafting Tebow in the first round. After speaking with two AFC scouts recently, I’ve learned that the Buffalo Bills are strongly considering Tebow. The Bills own the 9th overall selection in the draft, and while they have a more pressing need for an offensive tackle, Tebow’s name keeps coming up within the organization. The Bills feel that there is enough talent at the OT position that they could wait until the second round to address their need. If they waited until the second frame to draft an OT, players like USC’s Charles Brown, Miami’s Jason Fox, Maryland’s Bruce Campbell and West Virginia’s Selvish Capers will be at the top of their board.
It was just over a month ago that Bills Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly endorsed the idea of Tebow being the team’s top pick in the ’10 draft, “Whether it's Tim Tebow, whether they'll have a shot at him when draft time comes ... you have to look at the top three quarterbacks in the draft and really study them,” Kelly said in an interview with USA Today. “You look for a guy with good character, good leadership ability and good arm strength -- and a guy who doesn't come from California.”
The recent news of the Bills inquiring about the availability of Bill Cowher as their next head coach makes the Tebow interest even more intriguing. If the Bills can pry Cowher away from the CBS studios and back onto the sidelines, there’s no question that Cowher will have say in personnel matters. During the 2004 draft, Cowher played a big role in the selection of Ben Roethlisberger, who I compare favorably to Tebow. They’re both big, athletic quarterbacks that ran spread offenses in college and achieved great success during their tenures. Tebow possesses great character, leadership qualities and the uncanny ability to overcome adversity; he would be a perfect match in Cowher’s no-nonsense approach to coaching.
After firing Jim Mora Jr. on Friday morning, the Seahawks began a heavy courtship of USC head coach Pete Carroll. It’s being reported that the Seahawks and Carroll are close to agreeing on a five-year contract that would pay Carroll an average of $8 million per season; a contract that would undoubtedly shake up the football universe.
The hiring of Carroll would be a bold move for an organization that’s taken a downturn over the last couple of years, and it would show the 12th man in Seattle that the organization is committed to winning. After finishing the 2009 season with a 5 – 11 record, the Seahawks main focus, outside of completing the Carroll deal, will be the 2010 NFL Draft.
If Carroll becomes head coach of the Seahawks, there’s no question that he will have input on the Seahawks draft plan, as he’s recruited some of the top prospects and has faced many of them on the field. Not only do the Seahawks own their own first round pick (6th overall), but they also hold Denver’s first round pick (14th overall), which they acquired during last year’s draft in exchange for their second round pick.
The Seahawks have a lot of needs on offense and defense, the most pressing being: OT, QB, RB and S. Seattle will have an interesting decision to make with the sixth pick, as one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford or Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, may be available. However, if they decide against drafting Bradford or Clausen, and opt for an OT like Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung, a scenario to keep an eye on may deal with the Seahawks trading for Arizona Cardinals QB Matt Leinart, as Matt Hasselbeck’s days in Seattle are numbered.
Reuniting Carroll and Leinart in Seattle has an interesting twist. Leinart has been a major disappointment in Arizona since being drafted in the first round (10th overall) of the 2006 draft. Under Carroll at USC, Leinart was a two-time QB of the Year, a Heisman Trophy Winner and a National Champion. Leinart has failed to display the ability he showcased during his historic run at USC in his four years with the Cardinals, and there’s been mention that the Cardinals are ready to look in another direction for their next franchise quarterback.
If the Cardinals are ready to sever ties with Leinart, there’s no question that Carroll would urge Seattle management to make a move for his once prized pupil. The one stumbling block in a potential deal is that it would be between two division rivals. But in this case, the Cardinals have to believe that the 26-year old Leinart isn’t a major threat to them. A potential deal would benefit both sides; Leinart will have a chance to get his career back on track with the man who brought him up, and the Cardinals would get a salvageable return on their first round investment in Leinart, possibly a second or third round pick in the 2010 draft.
Leinart still has two years remaining on the six-year, $50.8 million deal he signed as a rookie, and is scheduled to earn $2.485 million next season and a whopping $7.36 million in 2011.
There are times when I applaud underclassmen for leaving school early to take advantage of their talents and pursue a career in professional football. And, there are times when I’m left mystified about the decision of some underclassmen. Yesterday was one of those baffling days for me when I heard Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead declared for the NFL Draft.
Once a highly touted recruit for the University of Texas, Snead decided to transfer to Ole Miss following the 2006 season after he failed to beat out fellow freshman Colt McCoy to be the Longhorns starting quarterback. McCoy went on to have a star-studded career with Texas, despite Thursday night’s heartbreaking injury and loss to Alabama, while Snead had to sit out the 2007 season (NCAA rule for D-1 transfers). He then showed great promise in ’08, but completely fell off the map this past year.
At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Snead has prototypical size, a strong arm and the ability to make all the throws at the next level. The problem is that his mechanics are awful, his decision-making and accuracy are questionable, and although he has good mobility, he fails to make plays on the run. Snead has never been a highly accurate quarterback, but the signal caller that scouts witnessed during the ’08 season was confident and played with swagger. He demonstrated the ability to drive the ball downfield and throw in tight spots. He challenged defenses and wasn’t afraid of making mistakes. He just played football and it translated into him completing 56.3-percent of his passes for 2,762 yards, 26 touchdowns and a manageable 13 interceptions.
But this past year, Snead appeared lost, uninterested and a shell of the player he introduced himself as being as a sophomore by completing just 54.4-percent of his passes for 2,632 yards, 20 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. The decision of him declaring for the draft is even more curious after his pathetic display during the AT&T Cotton Bowl; Snead completed 56.5-percent of his passes for 168 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions against Oklahoma State. Even though Ole Miss defeated Oklahoma State, 21 – 7, it was Mr. Rebel himself Dexter McCluster, not Snead, who led the team to victory.
It’s understood that Snead already earned a degree from Ole Miss, which in a small way warrants his decision to enter the draft. But returning to school for the 2010 season would have given him a chance to correct some of the flaws he possesses, most notably his mechanics. Now by declaring, the last instance that scouts have of Snead is the three interceptions he threw on a national stage; not to mention, the uninspired film that he produced this past year.
The 2010 quarterback class isn’t one of the strongest in recent years, and beyond the top five (Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy and Tony Pike), it’s primarily full of developmental prospects that will be selected on their upside. And for Snead, the best he can hope for is a team taking a chance on him in the third round, but in reality, it’s possible he doesn’t come off the board until the fourth round.
It’s always nice to get a win in the National Football League, and a four-game winning streak is usually the fuel to light a playoff fire. But when you’re a team like the Cleveland Browns, a team that was 1 – 11 prior to their four-game winning streak and without any hope of making the playoffs, losing would do more good than winning. And by winning, the Browns have pulled themselves out of the race for Tennessee safety Eric Berry.
The Browns went from potentially having the No. 3 overall pick in April a month ago to owning the 7th overall selection. In essence, for every win the Browns had during the last four weeks of the season, they lost a place in draft positioning. The talent-starved Browns have a lot of needs, and outside a handful of players (Josh Cribbs, Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Jerome Harrison and Eric Wright), everyone on their roster is expendable. With that said, whether they select 3rd or 7th overall, it doesn’t matter, because they need talent. But the impact that Berry would have on the Browns 31st ranked defense that allowed 389.3 YPG and captured just 10 interceptions could have been the turning point for this franchise.
At 5-foot-11, 203-pounds, Berry is a versatile defender who has the playmaking ability and cover skills to be a dynamic force at the next level. A gifted all around player, who can control a game in the secondary, at the line of scrimmage and in the backfield, Berry is unique in the respect that offensive coordinators have to game plan for his every move. He plays with a great degree of suddenness and has the instincts and awareness to make plays all over the field. He’s a solid tackler in space and is an effective blitzer. He diagnoses the action well, possesses good cover skills and has the uncanny ability to track a ball at any location. He plays with a high motor, a mean streak, and amazingly he finds a way to harness his aggression and be disciplined.
During the season, the Browns showed considerable interest in Berry, as they sent Senior Scout Jake Hallum to three Tennessee games to specifically observe the Volunteers playmaking safety. If Cleveland is unable to land Berry, newly hired Browns President Mike Holmgren will have some options with the seventh pick. It’s possible that one of the top two quarterbacks, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford and Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, will available. But, with teams like the St. Louis Rams, Washington Redskins and Seattle Seahawks all selecting before the Browns, the likelihood lessens of either one being on the board. So, if Berry, Bradford and Clausen are off the board, who will Holmgren have to choose from? Here are some options for the Browns at No. 7: Georgia Tech DE Derrick Morgan (if he declares), Alabama LB Rolando McClain, Florida CB Joe Haden, Clemson RB C.J. Spiller and Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant.
You can’t deny the impact that Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh had at the collegiate level. Over the last two years, Suh generated an insane stat line of 161 tackles, 43 for a loss and 19.5 sacks; that line justifies the reasoning for the team that owns the No. 1 overall pick to select Suh. However, the team that owns the No. 1 pick is the St. Louis Rams, and Rams General Manager Billy Devaney understands the intrigue of adding a dominant interior presence.
It was 16 years ago when Devaney witnessed another “can’t miss” player at the defensive tackle position, former Ohio State standout Dan Wilkinson. The man infamously known as “Big Daddy,” Wilkinson had a phenomenal three-year career with the Buckeyes before leaving school a year early to take advantage of his status as the next big thing in the National Football League. The Cincinnati Bengals selected Wilkinson with the first pick in the draft, and it was supposed to be the beginning of the Bengals revival. Unfortunately, the hype surrounding Wilkinson was so huge that even though he lasted 13 years in the league and amassed 54.5 career sacks, he’s still considered one of the all-time No. 1 overall busts.
Leading up to the 1994 NFL Draft, Devaney, who at the time was Director of Player Personnel for the San Diego Chargers said, “Wilkinson could be a once-in-10-years player.” Devaney wasn’t the only scouting executive who shared that opinion in ‘94, former Philadelphia Eagles Vice President of Player Personnel John Wooten raved about Wilkinson and said, “The size, the speed, the strength, the power – it’s scary. The good Lord said, ‘I’m going to do this once [create a player like Wilkinson], then I’m not going to do it anymore’.”
Is it possible, that almost two decades later, Suh could be the Lord’s redemption for Wilkinson? Or is Suh the tease that Wilkinson was and will ultimately fail to live up to the ungodly expectations placed upon him? Devaney’s final words on Wilkinson leading up to the ’94 draft describes Suh on many fronts, and for everyone who believes Suh is destined to be the third consecutive linemen drafted by the Rams with a top-two selection, remember this quote: “Wilkinson is a guy who could dominate a game, but on certain plays you couldn’t find him. But you live with that when a guy has this kind of potential. I expect a frenzy of teams trying to trade up to get a chance at him.”
That’s what Devaney is hoping for; that a team is willing to trade up and select Suh, so St. Louis can move back and select one of the top quarterbacks in the draft, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford or Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen.
Don’t believe the hype.
On a rainy New Years afternoon in Orlando, Florida at the Capital One Bowl, LSU and Penn State dealt with elements that far exceeded a normal football game. Playing on a field that looked like a stampede of Buffalo had just worked its way through, talent evaluators from the Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, San Francisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had to use their imagination and revert back to what they’ve seen all year from the top prospects in this game.
But I’ve learned that one talent evaluator in attendance, Dolphins Director of College Scouting Chris Grier, had his eyes on one player in particular, LSU wide receiver Brandon LaFell.
The Dolphins have a major need for a big, physical receiver on the outside that fits well with their small, speedy receivers: Davone Bess, Ted Ginn and Greg Camarillo. The Dolphins tried to address their need for a big receiver during the 2009 draft when they selected former USC standout Patrick Turner in the third round. But unfortunately, Turner has been inactive all season and hasn’t progressed the way the front office envisioned. However, it appears that the Dolphins found a gem in the fourth round with former Ohio State WR Brian Hartline. Hartline played in every game this year, starting three, and hauled in 31 receptions for and three touchdowns.
There’s a chance that the Dolphins could release Ginn and Turner during the offseason, and if that happens, the need for a wide receiver becomes even more pressing. Currently, the Dolphins hold the 15th pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and if they decide to use that pick on a receiver, names like Dez Bryant (Oklahoma State), Golden Tate (Notre Dame) and Arrelious Benn will be available. But over the years, Dolphins Executive Vice President of Football Operations Bill Parcells has steered away from drafting wide receivers in the first round, and usually falls in love with a defensive player; that defender could be 6-foot-2, 327-pound DT Dan Williams from Tennessee. Williams is the massive playmaker the Dolphins need in the middle of their defensive line.
Back to the possibility of LaFell… If the Dolphins opt to draft a defender like Williams in the first round, the infusion of underclassmen at the receiver position will likely drop LaFell out of the opening frame and into the second round. The Dolphins would own a mid-second round pick, and there’s a strong possibility that LaFell will be available.
At 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, LaFell is a big play threat who possesses a great combination of size and speed. He’s quick off the line, physical with the defender and sells his routes nicely. He’s a smooth receiver that makes everything look effortless and has the athleticism to adjust to any ball thrown his way. He runs well laterally, doesn’t shy away from contact over the middle and has deceptive deep speed to make plays down field. He catches the ball cleanly with his hands, but tends to lose concentration and will drop catchable passes. He’s tough to bring down after the catch, breaks tackles and is elusive in the open field. He’s an outstanding blocker downfield and takes pride in doing the little things that help his team win.
In LSU’s 19 – 17 loss to Penn State, LaFell ended his collegiate career on a positive note individually; he caught five passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. He finished the year with 57 receptions for 792 yards and 11 touchdowns.
There are certain things in football that you can’t teach; size is one of them and explosiveness is another. And sometimes having one of the two attributes is better than none. But while size can be obtained, explosiveness is God given, and Mississippi’s Dexter McCluster is ready to have an impact on the National Football League the same way that Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson has experienced.
Blessed with blazing speed and the ability to make the spectacular happen, Jackson fell into the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft after questions about his size (5-9, 170), work ethic and diva-like attitude took precedence over his obvious game breaking skill set. McCluster has a similar skill set to Jackson, but without the questionable character that Jackson had when he entered the draft. At 5-foot-7, 170 pounds, McCluster is two inches shorter than Jackson, but their lanky frames, tattooed arms and hip-hop swagger are identical.
When you study the two on film, they’re eerily similar, but on film you end up studying their burst and cutback ability more than their actual play at the same position. Jackson primarily lined up at wide receiver at Cal and now with the Eagles. However, with the Eagles, Jackson has found another avenue to be a playmaker, and that’s in the Wildcat formation. McCluster is also utilized in Mississippi’s version of the Wildcat, the “WildRebel.”
McCluster mainly lines up at running back for Ole Miss, but also splits out wide or is used out of the backfield as a receiver. But even though McCluster doesn’t primarily lineup as a receiver, it doesn’t mean he can’t play the position. He possesses tremendous hands, vision and is still developing as a route runner. But in the slot or on swing routes and bubble screens, he’s extremely dangerous and causes fits for defensive coordinators. This season, McCluster hauled in 44 passes for 520 yards and three touchdowns. Most of his production was generated on the ground - he had 181 carries for 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns.
The elusive McCluster’s next step will be in Mobile, Alabama at the Senior Bowl. It’s likely that he will line up at wide receiver during the week of practice, so scouts can see how he competes. The obvious concern with McCluster is his durability, and during his career at Ole Miss, he’s suffered significant shoulder injuries. He’s a tough competitor and there’s no denying his heart and willingness to do whatever’s asked of him. But for him to last at the next level, he can’t be the Mr. Everything that he was in college. His days of being a featured running back are over, and playing wide receiver, taking snaps in the Wildcat and potentially being used as a kick or punt returner, just as Jackson does, is in his future. And if McCluster embraces that role this offseason, he, just like Jackson, will be a second round pick in the spring spectacle.
McCluster is currently Scout.com’s 9th rated wide receiver; 60th rated prospect overall.
When you compare any collegiate athlete to a professional athlete, you’re basing your opinion on personal evaluation, instinct and attributes. And when you compare a collegiate athlete to a future Hall of Fame athlete, there’s obviously a strong comfort level with the observation. Through my film study this year of Florida tight end Aaron Hernandez and from watching Atlanta Falcons future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez over the years, I came to the realization that Hernandez is the mirror image of Gonzalez on the field.
At 6-foot-2, 250 pounds, Hernandez is three inches smaller than Gonzalez, but as far as route running, awareness, hands, strength and versatility, Hernandez possesses the same qualities that Gonzalez did when he left California after his junior season. Gonzalez was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the first round of the 1997 NFL Draft after he had one of the best seasons in NCAA history and caught 92 passes for 982 yards and 23 touchdowns. Hernandez didn’t have a junior campaign quite like Gonzalez had, but he developed into Florida’s go-to-guy and became Tim Tebow’s most reliable receiver. Hernandez finished the 2009 season with 68 receptions for 850 yards and five touchdowns.
It appears that Hernandez is leaning towards entering the draft and submitted paper work to the NFL Draft advisory board last month. I spoke with an AFC scout recently about my Hernandez/Gonzalez comparison, and he said, “Athletically and physically, I can see where you’d compare Hernandez to Gonzalez. He has great hands, quick feet and explodes off the line. Gonzalez was never a great blocker in college or in the NFL, and Hernandez still has a way to go in that department as well. But of all tight ends that I scouted this decade, Hernandez is the closest comparison to Gonzalez – I agree with you.”
In front of scouts from the Dallas Cowboys and Miami Dolphins, Houston quarterback Case Keenum had the worst day of his collegiate career in a game that could have determined his football future. Keenum, a highly-regarded signal caller who posts virtual reality-like numbers in Houston’s spread offense, recorded season lows in completion percentage (58.5%) and passing yards (222) in the Cougars surprising 47 – 20 defeat to Air Force. Not to mention, a career-high six interceptions and just one touchdown pass. Keenum had thrown just nine interceptions and 43 touchdown passes through 13 games this year.
Thursday's Armed Forces Bowl pitted the No. 1 passing offense (450 YPG) in Houston up against the nation's premier passing defense (148.7) in Air Force. It was the first time all season that Keenum faced a top-60 pass defense, and he failed miserably.
Prior to his dismal display in front of a national audience on Thursday, Keenum was rumored to be leaning towards entering the 2010 NFL Draft. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Keenum has good size, excellent pocket presence, the ability to locate an open receiver and deliver an accurate, catchable ball. But as talented as Keenum is, the offense that he stars in allows him to post the incredible statistics that he’s produced over the last two seasons.
Keenum’s attributes and ability are reminiscent of former Hawaii standout and current Redskins third-string quarterback Colt Brennan. Brennan had a sensational junior campaign at Hawaii and considered entering the draft following the season. At that time, Brennan was projected to be a late second, early third round draft pick, and he was expected to take advantage of his success. But in the end, he decided to return to Hawaii for his senior year. Brennan didn’t have the individual success many expected, but Hawaii went undefeated and played in the Sugar Bowl against Georgia; Hawaii lost 41 – 10 and Brennan dropped to the sixth round in the 2008 draft.
Keenum has a huge decision to make after this poor outing. He can hope that team’s throw out the tape from the Armed Forces Bowl and strictly judge him on his other 13 games this season; and roll the dice and enter the draft. Or, he can return for his senior season, just as Brennan did, showcase his skills once again in an offense that allows him to be great and hope to improve his draft stock by a round.
If the draft took place prior to Thursday’s kickoff, Keenum, at best, would have been a late third round pick. But after scouts and personnel directors study the film of his latest performance, it’s in Keenum’s best interest to return to Houston for his senior year and work on his mechanics, arm strength and decision-making.
Keenum has hurt his draft stock more than any other draft-eligible player playing in a bowl game; he was exposed as a system quarterback.
When Oklahoma takes on No. 21 Stanford today in the Brut Sun Bowl, there will be a few NFL teams observing the talent on the field. The Baltimore Ravens will send a scout; the San Francisco 49ers are dispatching their Director of Player Personnel Trent Baalke; and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are sending General Manager Mark Dominik. It’s interesting that Dominik is attending the game and not Director of College Scouting Dennis Hickey, National Scout Jim Abrams or another high-level scouting executive; Dominik’s presence signals a strong interest in a particular player, and that player is Oklahoma defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
The Buccaneers have Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh at the top of their draft board, but I’ve learned that sitting at No. 2 on their board is McCoy. As it currently stands, the Buccaneers hold the No. 3 overall draft pick, while the St. Louis Rams and Detroit Lions own the No. 1 and No. 2 picks respectively. It’s almost certain that Suh will be a top-two draft pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, as will one of the top quarterbacks, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford or Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen, which allows McCoy to land with the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay has some young defensive tackles on their roster, Dre Moore and Roy Miller, and a couple of veterans, Ryan Sims and Chris Hovan, under contract. But not one of the four players mentioned has the playmaking ability that McCoy possesses. Moore has one year remaining on his two-year rookie contract, while Miller, who was the Bucs third round pick in 2009, still has three years remaining on his four-year contract. As for the veterans, Sims just signed a four-year, $8 million contract in 2009 and is due to make just $1 million in 2010. Hovan, on the other hand, has one year remaining on the five-year, $17.5 million contract he signed in 2006. At 31 years old, Hovan has been durable during his time with Tampa, but he’s on the downside of his career and hasn’t been very productive in the trenches.
Dominik understands the urgency to get a playmaker in the trenches, and it’s no surprise that he’s in El Paso, Texas this afternoon to witness the player he covets first-hand.
In addition to McCoy, the Buccaneers will also have an interest in another underclassman, Tennessee safety Eric Berry. The Buccaneers secondary has promise with cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Elbert Mack. But at safety, they could use an upgrade over Sabby Piscitelli, who’s more of a situational defender. Pairing Berry with steady defender Tanard Jackson would give the Bucs a solid, young secondary to build their defense around for many years.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also now follow Chris Steuber on Twitter.