Point No. 1: Golden Tate will be the Percy Harvin of this year's draft
During his final season at Notre Dame, Tate caught 93 passes for 1,496 yards,
rushed for 195 yards on 25 carries, averaged 14.2 yards-per-return on punts and
20.7 yards-per-return on kickoffs. He scored 15 times following a catch, twice
on running plays, and once during a punt return. With his dangerous speed and
ability to make people miss in the open field, he'll undoubtedly be showcasing
his returns ability during his rookie season in the NFL. And he's even a viable
candidate to be the focal-point player in a wildcat scheme.
"It's just my mentality. I don't like to be tackled. I like attempting
to make the impossible, possible," he told me during a recent phone
Tate's not only comfortable wearing many hats for his team, like Harvin, he
relishes the opportunities to be a playmaker in so many different ways.
"During my senior year in high school I watched him when he was at
Florida, and even this year," Tate said when I mentioned Harvin during our
conversation. "That's a guy who is very elusive and can do many
things--reverses, the wildcat, get in the backfield, and he can go out wide. I
honestly think I can do that. I think with the NFL now, it's evolved into more
than receivers just being receivers."
But narrow the scope of the conversation solely to pass-receiving skills, and
the 5-foot-10, 199-pound player will shift the discussion to the Carolina
Panthers' Steve Smith.
"I really respect his game and I really enjoy the way he plays it. He's
a guy built like me--speed is similar, very tough," Tate said. "I'm
not afraid to go across the middle and I'm not afraid to go catch a ball at its
high point. He's a small guy, but he plays like he's 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, going
up to get balls."
While his talent and numbers are enough to make him a solid selection in the
first round of this year's draft, when you add Tate's engaging personality,
confidence and love for the game into the equation, it becomes evident that he
could become the NFL's next Percy Harvin.
"I really enjoy the lights being on--all lights
on me to see if Golden is going to make this play," he said. "There's
no greater feeling than catching a touchdown over a defender and having 80-plus
thousand people cheering you on. I don't think there's anything better than
Point No. 2: The Colts' Antoine Bethea is worth the cost of a first round
tender--and three teams are considering paying that price.
Without a doubt, former Howard University safety Antoine Bethea is one of the
Colts' top draft-day steals in the history of the organization. The former
sixth-round pick emerged as a starter next to Bob Sanders by the end of his
first training camp back in 2006. Since then, Bethea's been selected to the Pro
Bowl twice, made two Super Bowl appearances and has earned a Super Bowl ring.
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
What makes Bethea special is his near-perfect balance of talent against the
run and the pass--and his durability. The Colts' leading tackler over the past
two seasons, Bethea doesn't have the muscle-bulk that Sanders proudly flaunts,
but the 5-foot-11, 203-pound defender has been consistent in his ability to drop
formidable rushers like Maurice Jones-Drew even in the open field. Bethea has
snatched 11 interceptions during regular-season play and another four during the
postseason for the Colts. And he's only missed three games over the past four
Indianapolis placed a first-round tender on Bethea in hopes of discouraging
teams from making an offer to the restricted free agent. But an NFL source has
told me that the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and the Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints are still actively showing interest in paying that price.
Honestly, it makes sense if your team is seriously in need of an upgrade at
the safety position. If you had the option to use a first-round pick on an
unproven college prospect versus a two-time Pro Bowl selection who only has four
years of wear and tear on him, it's a no-brainer.
Point No. 3: Nebraska's Nadamukong Suh isn't a slam-dunk for the No. 1
pick overall in this year's NFL Draft.
Don't get me wrong, the 6-foot-4, 307-pound defensive tackle has the talent,
athleticism, intelligence and maturity to be worthy of that honor. At the the
NFL Combine, I asked him to explain why he believed he should be the top pick in
this year's draft.
"I definitely feel that I laid it all on the line and put everything out
there, and that's what I plan to do," he said. "So if that's the type
of guy you want, why not take me?"
One glance at Suh's numbers from his senior year alone prove his point. He
tallied 85 tackles, 24 tackles for a loss, a dozen sacks, broke up ten pass
attempts, intercepted one pass, forced a fumble and blocked three kicks. And
with the St. Louis Rams currently holding the top overall pick, Nebraska's
iconic defensive lineman appears to be a perfect match to bolster the Rams'
embarrassing pass rush that ranked 30th in the NFL last year.
But an NFL source with close ties to the team's front office told me that
Rams general manager Billy Devaney has a slight concern that Suh plays a bit
high at his position. It hasn't eliminated the talented lineman from the
discussion, but has kept Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy in the mix should the Rams
decide to use the pick on a defensive player. And let's face it, it's no secret
that Marc Bulger's days as a capable starter are over, so the Rams may need to
use that pick on a quarterback such as Oklahoma's Sam Bradford or Notre Dame's
Jimmy Clausen instead.
I've also been told the team's serious interest in Eagles quarterback Michael Vick is jumbling the equation even more. Rather than throwing a rookie behind
the team's inconsistent offensive line, Vick could use his mobility to avoid
negative-yardage plays. But unless the Rams can work out a deal with
Philadelphia--or uncover another viable starter option at quarterback--prior to
draft day, Suh's chances of being the number one pick overall are probably no
better than 35 percent.
Point No. 4: You should be impressed by the feat that Connor Barwin
accomplished during his rookie season.
The Houston Texans defensive end posted 4.5 sacks last year while playing
primarily on passing downs, posting the highest sacks total among all rookie
defensive linemen from last year's draft class. But what makes that
accomplishment even more special is that the seven rookie defensive linemen who
were selected before Barwin collectively logged 4.5 sacks. And the draft's top
two defensive end picks--Kansas City's Tyson Jackson and Buffalo's Aaron Maybin--didn't
have a single sack between the two of them.
In one of my columns last April, I called out Barwin as the most versatile
prospect of the 2009 NFL Draft class. His athleticism allowed him to gain
serious consideration from NFL clubs at three positions--defensive end,
linebacker, and tight end. He had also excelled on special teams at the
University of Cincinnati and was respected for his work ethic in the weight
room. While I saw him as being worthy of a late first-round pick, Barwin didn't
come off the board until the 14th pick of the second round--number 46
overall--by the Houston Texans.
What a bargain.
I called him this week to ask why he thought he was able to get off to such a
fast start during his first year in the league.
"I think it had a lot to do with me getting comfortable as the season
went on. There were some big learning curves that took place early in the season
about how to play the position in the NFL," he said. "The more
comfortable you get, the more confident you get, and the easier it is to
Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, and New
England's Tom Brady all took notice of the 6-foot-4, 256-pound pass rusher last
year as he brought pressure off the edge of the Texans' defensive line.
"I didn't sack him, but I knocked down Brady, and we had a nice little
jawing match afterwards," Barwin said with a laugh. "And it was really
cool to sack Peyton Manning, but I think the one against Carson Palmer was the
most exciting one for me. Being back in Cincinnati with about 75 family and
friends at the stadium watching the game, and with that one being my first NFL
sack, that was really special."
After the Texans wrapped-up their season, Barwin enjoyed roughly a month of
down time before getting right back into his training regimen. He's already
focusing on one of his personal goals for his second NFL season.
"Hopefully I can build on my success from the second half of the season,
compete for a starting job and be a three-down lineman instead of just playing
in passing situations," he said.
Point No. 5: I'm not sure why the Vikings wasted their time meeting
with free agent running back LaDainian Tomlinson.
The visit by the former Chargers running back made for good headlines and
attention, especially when people imagined Tomlinson taking handoffs from Brett Favre. But the move wouldn't have made sense for the Vikings. So the news of
Tomlinson signing a contract with the New York Jets should actually be a
source of relief for Vikings fans.
Signing a player based on feelings of nostalgia rather than actual production
doesn't pay off in the wins column, and it's clear that Tomlinson's best days
are clearly behind him. I say that with a mix of both sadness and respect
because L.T. is one of the players in this league for whom I would stand up and
applaud for his past accomplishments as a player and a person when he walked
into a room.
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
While the 30-year-old rusher still has the heart to succeed and the work
ethic to back it up, his body is telling another story. His rushing average has
declined steadily since the 2006 season when he posted an impressive 5.2 yards
per carry down to a career-low 3.3 last year. To boot, Tomlinson was caught for
a loss in the backfield on nearly ten percent of his runs last year, ranking him
13th worst in the league in that category. Pairing him up with Vikings starter
Adrian Peterson, who was stuffed on nearly 12 percent of his runs--third-worst
in the NFL--would have added more negative plays to the mix for the Vikings
offense. And despite his reputation as a dangerous runner in the open field
after the catch, Tomlinson was targeted an average of just under two times a
game in 2009 and caught just 20 passes for an average gain of 7.7 yards.
The Vikings are in perfect position to groom a top-notch rookie to pair with
Peterson, and they've been sniffing around some of this year's top prospects,
including some of the projected first-round selections. With Peterson due to
receive a $10.7 million base salary in 2011, and in light of his league-leading
six fumbles lost and his percent of runs that result in negative yardage, the
team needs to find a young player who--if necessary--could be the team's
featured back of the future. Peterson's become a high-risk, high-reward running
back who can as easily provide the game-clinching big run or the
stake-in-the-heart mistake that serves up the win on a silver platter to his
opponent. And if he doesn't turn that around during the 2010 season, the
addition of Tomlinson wouldn't have helped the team in the long
As for Tomlinson, while the Vikings could have provided him with a decent
shot at earning the Super Bowl ring that has eluded him during the past nine
years, he wouldn't have been happy being a spectator more often than a player.
By packing his bags for New York instead, he joins another club that was a
single step away from the Super Bowl. And he'll likely see more playing time
while sharing the workload with versatile rookie running back Shonn Greene.
Point No. 6: You should be paying close attention to Georgia Tech's
Jonathan Dwyer as he goes through the NFL Draft process.
Dwyer is already projected as a first-round selection, but what's been
particularly impressive to me is his overall skill set and the teams that are
showing the greatest interest in him.
If you've never seen him in action, his numbers only tell part of the story.
The Atlantic Coast Conference's 2008 Player of the Year rolled up more than
2,700 yards on the ground over the past two seasons. Based on his
three-year collegiate totals, he finished sixth-best in team history in rushing
yards (3,226), fifth-best in all-purpose yards (3,966), and second in touchdowns
scored (36). Despite his very physical running style, he never missed a game at
Georgia Tech. And his consistency at his position is evidenced by his seventeen
100-yard rushing games.
While Dwyer only has 15 career catches on his resume, it's not because he
can't catch the ball.
"We ran the ball 99.1 percent of the time, so I didn't get a lot of
passes. The times I did get the passes I caught pretty much all of them,"
he told me during an interview prior to the NFL Combine. "So while I didn't
get the opportunities, I took full advantage of the ones I had to show that I
could catch the ball."
Watch his tape and you'll see that Dwyer can do it all. I asked him why a
team should use a first-round draft pick on him, and he made a compelling and
"If you're looking for guy who is a complete back, one who can run
inside, outside, pass block, catch the ball out of the backfield, run some
routes in the slot, kick returns, then I'm your guy," he said.
Remember the old adage that you're only as good as the company you keep?
Well, although Dwyer had formal interviews with at least 15 clubs at the
Combine, an NFL source has told me that the ones showing the strongest interest
so far are the Minnesota Vikings, San Diego Chargers, Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, Houston Texans and the Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks could pick Dwyer before any of the others get the chance since
they not only have their own pick at number six, but the Broncos' pick at number
14 as well. Those other teams have picks between the 20th and 30th selections in
the first round.
Point No. 7: Pro scouts and draft prognosticators owe Maurice Jones-Drew
As he entered the 2006 NFL Draft out of UCLA, Jones-Drew's likelihood of
being successful in NFL was heavily scrutinized because of his 5-foot-7,
205-pound frame. Some didn't think he'd be a good short-yardage back who could
"move the pile" when forced to work against NFL defenders. Others
wondered if his body could hold up to a full NFL season of pounding.
Well, during his first full season as the Jacksonville Jaguars' featured back
in 2009, Jones-Drew undoubtedly silenced the final handful of remaining
The Jaguars had so much confidence in his ability to move the chains that
they gave him the ball 40 times on third-and-short situations, putting him in a
tie with the Titans' Chris Johnson for most attempts in that category. But the
big difference between the two talented runners was in the results. While
Johnson posted a respectable 45-percent success rate, Jones-Drew converted a
league-best 65 percent of his chances.
After four seasons, the confident and likeable rusher has only missed one
game, has averaged 4.7 yards per carry during 842 rushing attempts, caught 201
passes, scored 49 rushing touchdowns and five as a receiver.
Oh, and he's also returned 79 kickoffs and 13 punts.
He seems to be holding up just fine.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com.
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