There are a number of flaws in the NFL scouting system, namely how scouts overvalue workouts in the off-season. Even if a prospect has great game film, he has to impress scouts with his workout numbers and “confirm” his ability in order to be considered a high-round pick. Also, there is no standard way to scout players necessarily. It is not an exact science and a lot of guesswork is used to determine a player’s future, including estimating his potential and his durability. However, scouts make do as best they can and damn it they know a lot about football, so I trust their opinions much more than the everyday observer. Being a poser, I will play the part of an scout and give you my opinions on prospects for the 2010 NFL Draft (do not worry – I have done some studying). This entry will mark the first part of an ongoing series where I rank my Top-5 draft eligible players at each position. I will also provide my most underrated and most overrated prospect at each position.
An appropriate place to start would be the quarterback position, considering it is the most talked about position in football. Let’s add fuel to the fire.
1) Sam Bradford – Oklahoma – 6’4″ 236 lbs
Bradford has been the premier talent at QB in the college ranks the last couple years. The only reason there is a debate between Clausen and him is because of the shoulder surgery that sidelined Bradford for almost the entire 2009 season. From everything that I have heard, Bradford’s shoulder should check out fine. What makes Bradford the best in this draft is his accuracy, arm strength, footwork and ability to read defenses. Some people say that because of the Sooners’ offensive system, Bradford had large windows in which to fit the ball into. But watching him play reveals that his passes are so consistently on target (at all levels) that he can fit the ball anywhere regardless of the window. Bradford’s best attribute, however, is his lightning-quick release. He has a unique way of throwing the ball and he will have to learn to keep the ball above pad-level, but his release is very quick. Bradford has shown the ability to consistently throw the ball accurately downfield as well, and even though his arm strength is not elite, he puts proper touch on deep throws and drives off his backfoot. Another question surrounding Bradford is how will he handle pressure considering how well-protected he was in 08 by a talented o-line. First off, it is not like Bradford never saw pressure and never took a hit. He showed the ability to stand in the pocket and take a hit while still delivering a great throw. His footwork is also superb, sidestepping the rush in the pocket. I believe that as long as his shoulder checks out, Bradford will be a top-five pick in April, and I expect that when it is all said and done, St. Louis will take him number one overall.
2) Jimmy Clausen – Notre Dame – 6’3″ 222 lbs
Clausen moved himself up draft boards maybe more than anyone else this season. One thing that jumps out at you about Clausen is that he knows how to win football games in the fourth quarter. Clausen led Notre Dame to four 4th quarter comebacks and fell short a few other times. You could argue that the loss to USC was really not his fault, however. Another thing that Jimmy has going for him in scouts’ minds is that he now has three years of experience in an NFL offense under Charlie Weis. He has experience turning his back to the defense on play-action and most importantly, he knows how to move around the pocket and displays good footwork when taking snaps under center. This ability is huge in some personnel men’s minds because the learning curve is easier in transitioning from college to the pro ranks. Clausen’s accuracy is excellent and he has flashed the ability to look off the safety with head movement and pump-fakes. While his deep-ball is accurate and thrown with good touch, there are some questions about his ability to consistently complete some deep routes. When going deep, Clausen sinks down and loads up in order to get enough power behind the throw. He will not have as much time in the pocket in the NFL so he needs to shorten that motion. All things considered, Clausen is a first-round prospect who I expect to thrive in the NFL. I don’t see him falling past Cleveland at number 7.
3) Colt McCoy – Texas – 6’1″ 216 lbs
McCoy is an interesting prospect to me. On one hand, you have a proven leader and a guy with a great personality that commands respect in the huddle. McCoy excelled in college under Mack Brown and has above-average accuracy, footwork and football intelligence. On the other hand, you have a guy who occasionally forces bad throws, does not make multiple reads and has only marginal arm strength. McCoy does not have a consistently accurate deep ball down the middle of the field and while he usually makes good deep throws down the sideline, he tends to throw off-balance and the ball sails on him. His play recognition is good and he knows where to go with the football, but he tends to stare down one receiver. McCoy was not asked to make multiple reads in college because the Longhorns’ offense is designed to get receivers into open spaces quickly on underneath routes and crossing patterns. However, Colt has shown the ability to check down to the running back when no one is open downfield. To me, the concerns about how he will transition to the NFL are too risky to take him in the first round. McCoy is a smart kid with a lot of heart, but he will struggle with taking snaps under center and he is a bit of a project. I can see a team taking a chance on him in the early second round because there are multiple teams with questions at the quarterback position.
4) Dan LeFevour – Central Michigan – 6’3″ 224 lbs
LeFevour has flown largely under the radar this season and after watching film of him, I feel like he can be a legitimate starter in the NFL. A big knock on LeFevour is that he played in a shotgun-spread system in college. Scouts wonder whether or not he will be able to successfully transition to a pro-style offense. While I agree with the sentiment that he is a bit of a project, LeFevour shows above-average accuracy and arm strength and 2-3 years down the road, he can develop into a starting QB. LeFevour consistently fits the ball into tight spaces and is especially accurate on intermediate routes between 10-20 yards downfield. The Senior Bowl was also beneficial for LeFevour because he showed scouts he can make adequate use of pump-fakes, head-fakes and shoulder-fakes to look off the safety. His release is somewhat of a three-quarters release, but he gets the ball out quickly and knows how to change arm angles well. I see LeFevour as a late-second round prospect but he will probably be a third-round pick because late-round teams are not looking for QB’s necessarily.
5) Tony Pike – Cincinnati- 6’6″ 223 lbs
Pike is very tall and lanky, and his thinness is a concern for some people because it puts into question his ability to take hits and stay healthy in the NFL. Another concern is that Pike played in a shotgun-heavy offense at Cincinnati. That fact is not as troubling to me as his tendency to stare down his receivers. Pike rarely looks off the safety and this will kill him in the pros. While Pike shows good accuracy on short and intermediate routes, his deep ball is of some concern as it tends to sail on him. Pike does a good job of protecting the ball and makes sound decisions with his throws. However, he does not have the arm strength to thread the ball into many tight spaces. In a weak QB class, I see Pike as a third- or fourth-round prospect that will need some tutoring to develop into an adequate starting QB in the NFL.
Dan LeFevour (Central Michigan) – Not many people are aware of this kid’s talent. Although he may struggle transitioning to a pro-style offense, LeFevour can make all the throws asked of him with good accuracy. A great career at Central Michigan will also help him out; his production has been outstanding.
Tim Tebow (Florida – 6’3″ 236 lbs) - Tebow is without a doubt the most polarizing prospect in this year’s draft class. One thing he has to be given credit for is his intangibles. No one has ever questioned this kid’s personality or what kind of leader he is. Mel Kiper says Tebow has “Number-One Overall” intangibles and he is right. Having said that, Tebow is an enormous project at QB. His arm strength is good and he knows how to maneuver in the pocket. However, his accuracy suffers when he is asked to throw the ball downfield and most passes Tebow was asked to make at Florida were underneath routes. The Gators have so many athletes and playmakers that Tebow simply got them the ball on screens or in space and they made plays. I also seriously question Tebow’s ability to play in a pro-style offense. At the Senior Bowl, he struggled immensely with timing and footwork when asked to take snaps under center. The biggest concern for Tebow going forward is his release. He takes way too long to wind up and throw. He drops the ball all the way down to his hips and essentially windmills the football when winding up. There is no way he can succeed in the NFL by throwing that way because he puts the football at serious risk to get stripped or batted down. Of course, if there is any player that can overcome the doubts and adversity that he is facing, it is Tebow. That said, I believe Tebow is a fourth-round prospect in need of a complete overhaul of his passing mechanics.