2011 NFL Draft

Greg Romeus is back

Greg Romeus looked like a future 1st-round pick last season. But that was before he underwent back surgery just one game into his senior year.

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 02:  Adam Froman #9 of the Louisville Cardinals is sacked by Greg Romeus #91  of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the Big East Conference game at Papa John

Greg Romeus is getting close to returning from back surgery

With his health in serious jeopardy, Romeus’ stock plummeted. If the draft were held today it would be difficult to justify selecting him before the 3rd round.

There’s good news, however, as Romeus practiced for the first time on Wednesday. Head coach Dave Wannstedt has said he is “day to day.”

When healthy, there’s no question that Romeus is worthy of a 1st or 2nd-round pick. But the key now will be proving that he is healthy. Pitt is preparing for a run at the Big East title and a trip to the BCS. If Romeus can get back to 100% by January it could do wonders for his draft stock. Scouts pay attention to every bowl game, but the BCS is a bigger stage and draws in more viewers. A big performance in a game like that can catch the attention of GMs and head coaches and quickly boost a player’s stock.

However, it can also have the opposite effect, so Romeus should make certain he is 100% before setting foot on the field.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment

Assessing Cam Newton’s pro potential

Cam Newton seems to have found himself in a bit of hot water. A report on ESPN.com is claiming that a man “representing” Newton demanded a six-figure payment for Newton’s services this season. The NCAA is currently investigating the report.

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Cameron Newton  of the Auburn Tigers against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 25, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It's becoming increasingly likely that Newton will take his talents to the NFL this year

No matter what happens to Newton and Auburn, rumors had already swirled around the internet that he intended to enter the 2011 NFL Draft as a junior. The early entry would make sense given Newton’s age – he’ll turn 22 in May – but he is far from a polished quarterback.

Newton reminds me of Vince Young in 2005, who also left a year of eligibility on the table at Texas. That’s quiet a compliment, but should also serve as a warning.

Young was not ready for NFL in 2006. But the Titans played him anyway and his pure athleticism led him to NFL Rookie of the Year honors. Unfortunately that has been the highlight of Young’s five-year career, although he is starting to turn things around this season.

Young’s issues stemmed from his reliance on his feet. Given time to move around, he can make plays, but you don’t always get that time in the NFL. Newton is playing a similar style of football at Auburn.

While Newton is an elite college quarterback, muchof his success has come from running with the football. That simply won’t be an option for him in the NFL. Michael Vick is the only quarterback to consistently have success with that style of football in the NFL. But Vick is six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than Newton, making him significantly more elusive.

The point I’m trying to make is that teams need to be cautious when evaluating Cam Newton this offseason. It will be easy to fall in love with his physical attributes and his potential and give him a top-10 grade. However, whoever drafts Newton should be prepared to wait two or three years before they see that potential turn into consistent performance on the field.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off

NFL Draft Stock Report

AUBURN, AL - OCTOBER 23: Nick Fairley  of the Auburn Tigers sacks quarterback Jordan Jefferson  of the LSU Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Fairley has been arguably the nation's most dominant defensive player this season

Nick Fairley – DT – Auburn
What Cameron Newton is to Auburn’s offense, Fairley is to their defense. He was barely on the radar screen entering the season, and suddenly he looks like a top-10 pick.The junior is a dominant penetrating defensive tackle who compares favorably to Gerald McCoy. I’ve moved him up to No. 5 on my Big Board, and I fully expect him to leave after his junior year.

Cameron Newton – QB – Auburn
Like Fairley, Newton wasn’t even an afterthought in the preseason draft projections. Now it looks like he may be a 1st-round pick and rumors are swirling that he’s likely to leave after this season. He’s far from a polished quarterback, but he is every bit as athletic as Vince Young and definitely has a bright future.

Derrell Johnson-Koulianos – WR – Iowa
The more I see DJK, the more I like him. There’s really nothing remarkable about him, but he is too consistent not to like. He reminds me of Jordan Shipley – not very tall, not real fast, but just knows how to play the position. He looks like a 2nd or 3rd round pick and his stock will definitely get a boost from his kick-return skills.

Adrian Clayborn – DE – Iowa
Clayborn may still be a top-10 pick, but his senior year has been a disappointment. After a dominant junior campaign, which he capped off with a great showing in the Orange Bowl, expectations were high. He’s been good, but hasn’t quite reached level of dominance that we hoped to see. There’s still plenty of time for him to turn things around, but the first two months could have gone better.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off

Have the Bills found their quarterback?

Since the first 2011 mock drafts starting popping up in late April, the Bills have been slotted in at No. 1 in just about each one. And with their 1st-overall selection they take either Jake Locker or Andrew Luck.

But what if they don’t need a quarterback?

Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throws against the New York Jets during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Orchard Park, New York October 3, 2010. REUTERS/Doug Benz (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Fitzpatrick has been impressive since replacing Trent Edwards

Believe me, I understand how crazy this sounds, but Ryan Fitzpatrick is quietly having a very good season. In his first start he completed over 70 percent of his passes and nearly led the Bills to a shocking upset in New England. He’s followed that up with solid performances against the Jets and Jaguars in which he’s thrown five touchdowns and zero interceptions. In three starts – two of which came against solid defenses – he’s tossed seven touchdowns, just two interceptions and is completing over 60 percent of his passes. And he’s doing it with very little talent around him.

Fitzpatrick’s performance has been good enough to earn him the No. 4 spot in our current quarterback ratings.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that Fitzpatrick deserves to return as the Bills starter in 2011 based off his performance in three games. However, it is something to keep an eye on. The Bills have far more holes than just at quarterback, and if they have the opportunity to trade down on draft day it may be the smart decision.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft, Bills 1 Comment

Do UNC suspensions hurt players’ draft stock?

Marvin Austin, Greg Little and Robert Quinn all had their season – and likely their careers – officially come to a close with the ruling that they had been “permanently suspended” from the North Carolina football program.

All three have a future in the NFL, so the only question now is: how does this ruling effect their draft stock?

Simply put, it only hurts their stock if they it.

NFL teams don’t care about eligibility concerns. These players aren’t in trouble with the law and they haven’t done anything that would violate the league’s personal conduct policy.

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 7: Marvin Austin #9 of the North Carolina Tar Heels looks on during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Kenan Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Austin lost an opportunity to improve his draft stock this season

That said, the players need to be prepared to speak openly about their suspensions and be honest about everything they did to violate NCAA rules. Just because teams aren’t concerned with what happened doesn’t mean they won’t ask questions about it. The teams will view it as a chance to see how these guys hold up under pressure. If they conduct themselves in a professional manor, it could actually work in their favor if teams come away impressed with their maturity.

While the suspensions don’t hurt them, they did miss out on an opportunity to improve their stock. Quinn already looks like a top-10 pick, and should be considered a 1st-round lock. However, Austin and Little had a lot more to prove this season.

Austin probably had the most to gain by playing in 2010. He returned for his senior year in hopes of having a Ndamukong Suh-like season, which undoubtedly would have shot him up draft boards. Instead, teams are left with game footage of him from his junior year where he looks good, but somewhat inconsistent. He definitely has the potential of a top-10 pick, but he has never shown that ability on the field over the course of a full season. His suspension means he misses out on that opportunity.

One other aspect of this that teams will be interested in is how the players spent their year away from football. The NFL combine now has increased importance for these three, as they must prove that they maintained their peak physical condition on their own. Once again, this could work in their favor. If a player is self-motivated enough to stay in shape while in college and away from the football field, teams will come away impressed.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment

NFL Draft Stock Watch

Janoris Jenkins – CB – Florida
Jenkins had one of his more difficult tasks this weekend when lined up against LSU’s Terrence Toliver. With a four to five inch height advantage, Toliver beat Jenkins easily on a number of plays. But perhaps the most telling moment of the game came on LSU’s final play when Florida had Jeremy Brown – not Jenkins – was lined up against Toliver, who scored the winning touchdown. I currently have Jenkins in the 1st round of my mock draft, but I’m starting to think he lacks the ability to match up against more physical receivers, making him a better 2nd or 3rd round pick.

Leonard Hankerson – WR – Miami FL
Hankerson has the size and speed to be an elite receiver, but he is far too inconsistent. He routinely drops very catchable balls, and did so a number of times against Florida State on Saturday. He reminds me of Braylon Edwards – he’ll make one spectacular play, and follow it up with a ball that bounces off his hands. At this level drops are caused by nothing more than a lack of focus, and if a player can’t focus in college I don’t trust his ability to focus when he’s earning million of dollars in the NFL.

DeMarcus Love – OT – Arkansas
I continue to waver on who I think is the top tackle in this year’s class, which is probably evidence that this is a very weak class. The more I watch Love, the more he reminds me of Alex Barron. He has elite athleticism and can block anyone when he’s focused. However, he’s caught out of position far too often and gets called for too many penalties. Over the past three games, Love has been called for four penalties (three false starts and one holding). The false start penalties are actually most concerning because they speak to his lack of football intelligence and his focus on the field.

ATHENS, GA - OCTOBER 03: A.J. Green #8 of the Georgia Bulldogs pulls in this touchdown reception against Chris Hawkins #29 of the Louisiana State University Tigers at Sanford Stadium on October 3, 2009 in Athens, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It's safe to call Green a 1st-round lock

A.J. Green – WR – Florida
Green entered the season as my No. 1 wide receiver, but I thought it was a close call between him and Julio Jones. After watching Green’s performance this season, there is no longer any doubt. He is a truly elite prospect, on par with recent top picks such as Dez Bryant and Calvin Johnson.

Da’Quan Bowers – DE – Clemson
Bowers came to Clemson as a highly touted recruit but failed to live up to expectations in his first two years. Now, as a junior, Bowers is starting to show why he was viewed as an elite talent in high school. He has already recorded six sacks, two more than his career total entering this season. He has established himself as a likely 1st-round pick if he chooses to leave school early.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off

Players to watch on Saturday

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - NOVEMBER 29:  Mark Herzlich #94 of the Boston College Eagles tries to get the crowd going in the third quarter against the Maryland Terrapins on November 29, 2008 at Alumni Stadium in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. Boston College defeated Maryland 28-21.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Mark Herzlich has a tough task, facing N.C. State's Russell Wilson today

The most intriguing player to watch this weekend is Boston College’s Mark Herzlich. One of the biggest questions I have about Herzlich is his athleticism. He’s facing N.C. State’s Russell Wilson today, possibly the most athletic quarterback in the ACC. It will be interesting to see how he fares.

I’m also excited to see Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell against Ohio State. Chappell is having an impressive season despite not having much talent around him, but Ohio State will be his toughest test of the season. He’ll be under pressure consistently, and how he holds up will go a long way towards determining his draft stock.

Christian Ponder is another quarterback to watch today. He won’t get tested often in the ACC this year, and facing Miami on the road will be one of his toughest tests. Miami has a talented secondary which could give Ponder trouble.

Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins is another defense player to keep an eye on. Jenkins is Florida’s top cornerback, but LSU’s top receiver Terrence Toliver is five inches taller and far more physical than Jenkins. It will be interesting to see if the Gators assign Jenkins to Toliver. If they don’t, it will be a telling sign about how the coaching staff feels about his ability to face true No. 1 receivers. Jenkins lack of physical play is the biggest knock against him.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off

Did Jake Locker make the wrong decision by returning to school?

Jake Locker has taken a noticeable step backwards this season and it has left many to wonder why he didn’t enter the 2009 NFL Draft. Some members of the media claimed that he was a lock to be the first-overall selection, yet he returned to play another season for the struggling Washington Huskies.

The first thing to remember is, Locker as not guaranteed to go No. 1. In fact, the NFL advisory committee gave him a 2nd-round grade. Just because certain members of the media love his skills does not mean the NFL feels the same way. Quite frankly, I would have been shocked if the Rams selected Locker over Sam Bradford.

But regardless of what could have happened, Locker didn’t leave. So now we have to wonder: was it the right decision?

At the time I applauded Locker for staying in the school. I did not believe he was ready for the NFL. If the Rams had selected him first overall and thrown him into the fire as they have with Bradford, I’m afraid we may have been looking at a Ryan Leaf or Akili Smith-like debacle.

This isn’t just my opinion, however. There are stats to support the theory that Locker was destined for failure – and may still be doomed once he does finally enter the NFL.

From 2002 to 2007 (I cut it off at 2007 to allow each quarterback at least three full seasons) 18 quarterbacks were selected in the 1st round. Of those 18, seven had either a completion percentage below 60 or a yards-per-attempt average below 8.0 in their final collegiate season. Check out the chart to the right to see the names that fall into this not-so-elite group.

Of those seven players I think it’s safe to say that all but Jay Cutler failed to become quality NFL quarterbacks – a bust rate of 85.7 percent

Of the 11 who were both both thresholds, I’ll conservatively call five players busts – a rate of 45.5 (even if you want to say six, the rate is still significantly lower than 85.7)

Now this list shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Meeting both thresholds does not guarantee NFL success – just ask Matt Leinart. But it is clear that players who fail to meet these numbers are at much greater risk of failing to adjust to the speed of the game in the NFL.

Now the Locker apologists will quickly point out that Washington was a terrible football team last year. Surely Locker would put up those numbers if he was surrounded by more talent. Well, Locker’s yards per attempt ranked 63rd in the nation last year, behind other quarterbacks on very mediocre teams such as Thaddeus Lewis (Duke), Tate Forcier (Michigan) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State).

So despite his struggles this year, I do believe Locker made the right call by returning to school. The NFL isn’t a place to be learning the fundamentals of running of offense. If you can’t produce above average statistics at the college level, it is highly unlikely that your numbers will dramatically improve in the NFL. Being surrounded by better players does not make up for the fact that the defense also gets significantly more talented. And a further issue for players like Locker is that they are rarely drafted into winning organizations. If a team drafts a quarterback in the 1st round, it is almost always because they are rebuilding.

Someday Locker may become an Pro Bowler, but I will always stand by my assessment that he is learning more about playing quarterback under Steve Sarkisian than he would by suiting up for a team like the Rams, Browns or Bills this season.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft 1 Comment

Draft prospects to watch on Saturday

DeMarcus Love – OT – Arkansas
Love is emerging as one of the top offensive lineman in this year’s draft class and he’ll have his toughest test of the season on Saturday. He’ll likely be lined up against Marcel Dareus for most of the day. I’m very interested to see how often he’s able to handle Dareus in a one-on-one matchup – or if Arkansas immediately double teams Dareus.

Marcell Dareus – DE/DT – Alabama
This is also a huge game for Dareus, who gets a chance to prove himself against one of the nation’s top tackles. He likely will face double teams throughout most of the game. How he handles those matchups will determine if teams take him seriously as a 3-4 defensive end prospect.

Ryan Mallett – QB – Arkansas
Sticking with the same game, Mallett also has a lot to prove. There’s no denying Mallett’s skills – he has all the physical attributes of an NFL quarterback. But does he have the accuracy and the composure in the pocket necessary to play the NFL game? This will be his best chance in college to prove himself against an elite defense.

Rahim Moore – S- UCLA
The Bruins face Texas, which has struggled on offense this year, and Moore could be a difference maker in this game. If he can force Garrett Gilbert into some mistakes – perhaps pick off a pass himself – the Bruins could hang in this ball game.

Stephen Paea – DT – Oregon State
Paea doesn’t have a particularly difficult assignment, but he does have the eyes of the nation on him as his Beavers take on Boise State. If he’s able to get into the backfield and disrupt Boise’s high-powered offense, scouts will take notice. I believe he has the talent to be a top-10 pick and this is a chance for him to prove he’s worthy of that ranking.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off

NFL Draft Stock Watch

Nate Solder – OT – Colorado
Solder’s stock is in free fall after getting beat like a drum against Cal this past weekend. Solder, who is 6’8″, simply lacked the athleticism to keep pace with Cal’s speed rushers. His footwork was slow and he had trouble staying low enough to get his hands into their bodies. He entered the season as my top-rated offensive tackle – mainly because it’s a pretty weak group – but it’s unlikely he’ll remain in that top spot when I update the list.

Terrence Toliver – WR – LSU
Toliver entered the year as the top senior receiver (not that that title means much considering the mass exodus last year) but he hasn’t been a factor so far this season. He has just six receptions for 47 yards and doesn’t appear to be a big part of LSU’s game plan on offense.

Christian Ponder – QB – Florida State
Potential 1st-round picks rarely have a performance like Ponder’s against Oklahoma. He completed just 39.3 percent of his passes while throwing two interceptions. Oklahoma may have the best defense he’ll face all season, so this game will definitely stick in the mind of scouts.

Daniel Thomas – RB – Kansas State
Thomas is in the mix to be the first running back off the board in this year’s draft, and he’s already making his case. He’s racked up nearly 400 yards on the ground this season, including 234 against a respectable UCLA defense. On 49 attempts against UCLA and Missouri State he’s averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Kendall Hunter – RB – Oklahoma State
Hunter leads all running backs in rushing yards this season (but trails Denard Robinson overall). He rushed for over 250 yards against Washington State and followed it up with 157 against Troy. Safe to say he’ll face some tougher defenses in the Big 12, but it’s still a nice start for Hunter.

Posted on by Ryan McCrystal in 2011 NFL Draft Comments Off