— A battery of physical, psychological and medical tests will help NFL teams separate college prospects over the next week at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, but evaluators already have a good feel for the April draft.
Their studying and investigating has convinced them this draft is a strong, but lopsided one. If a team’s needs match up with the positions that are well stocked, choices will abound. But if a team needs a running back, for instance, it also will need some luck in picking one. The strength of the draft is on the defensive side of the ball. It wouldn’t be surprising to see in the range of 20 defensive players chosen in the first round — more than 60 percent of the total.
The position with the most to offer is cornerback — which often is a very thin position. One NFC general manager said his team had 28 draftable corners on his board going into the combine — an unheard of number.
Another NFC personnel chief said, “This could be the best group of cornerbacks ever. Teams will be finding corners in the second and third rounds who can start as rookies.”
There isn’t a top of the first round cornerback like Deion Sanders, but there are half dozen with first round ability — Florida’s Joe Haden, Texas’ Earl Thomas, Florida State’s Patrick Robinson, Oklahoma’s Dominique Franks, Boise State’s Kyle Wilson and Alabama’s Kareem Jackson.
The next meatiest position is the defensive line — which often doesn’t offer much for teams to sink their teeth into. As many as seven defensive ends could be first round picks, including Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan, South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul and Texas’ Sergio Kindle, who also is an outside linebacker consideration for 3-4 teams.
The draft is particularly appealing for 4-3 teams in search of defensive tackles. At least a dozen defensive tackles figure to be chosen in the top three rounds, including two — Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska and Gerald McCoy of Oklahoma — who should be gone by the third pick of the draft.
The safety and linebacker offerings aren’t as plentiful as the cornerback and defensive line offerings, but they are decent classes. The safety group is led by Tennessee’s Eric Berry, while Sean Witherspoon of Missouri or Rolando McClain of Alabama figures to be the first linebacker off the board.
On the offensive side, the best position is offensive tackle with six players having a chance to go in the first round, including Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung. The guard and center positions aren’t anywhere near as attractive, as only guard Mike Iupati of Iowa and center Maurkice Pouncey of Florida were considered first round considerations prior to the combine.
The tight end position is decent, but will look a lot more solid if the injured knee of Oklahoma’s Jermaine Gresham checks out OK in Indianapolis.
This group of quarterbacks is pretty thin, with only Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and Jimmy Clausen of Notre Dame expected to be chosen in round one.
The receiver position lacks both top end talent (Oklahoma State’s Dez Bryant is the only sure-fire first rounder prior to the combine) and depth.
The thinnest position of all is running back. In fact, the general manager called this the worst class of running backs he has seen in 10 to 15 years. Only C.J. Spiller of Clemson looks like a first round lock at this point.
Things can change a little over the next week and over the next several weeks, but NFL teams already know where the strengths and weaknesses of the class of 2010 are.
A: The Eagles I’m sure will look like a strong team come July, a definite contender in the NFC. I’d be very, very surprised if Donovan McNabb was not a part of this team in 2010. If the Eagles are going to unload a quarterback, it’s likely going to be Michael Vick. And I would say there probably is a pretty good chance of that happening, assuming there is a market for his services. He might fit in well with a team like the Rams. I would not dismiss the possibility of the Eagles going after Julius Peppers. It would be a somewhat similar acquisition to their signing of Jevon Kearse in 2004. But I would expect there will be plenty of competition for his services. Who the Eagles draft will depend on a lot of things, including how free agency goes. But I would say defensive end is probably a priority, as is the safety position and the offensive line.
A: I have seen stranger things happen. A lot of teams would dismiss T.O. outright because of his “unique” personality. But the Bengals have shown time and time again they are willing to take risks on players who don’t always fit the mold that other teams expect them to fit. And the Bengals certainly could use a dynamic playmaker to go along with Ochocinco. The real issue is how much T.O. has left, or doesn’t have left. In terms of Ochocinco taking a pay cut, that probably would not be necessary for the team to accommodate T.O. And if I were running the Bengals, I’m not sure I would feel good about having T.O. indebted to Ocho for making such a move.
A: Have you seen the list of free-agent quarterbacks? Who would you rather have? If Leinart were a free agent, he easily would be the most sought after of the bunch. It’s true that Leinart has not proven he can play in his four years in the league. But he has not proven he can’t play either. We’re talking about a player who has six starts in three years since his rookie season. Let’s give him a chance.
A: I don’t think it’s strange. He’s Randy Moss. It would be strange to hear Tom Brady talking that way. There is a reason Moss—arguably the most gifted receiver in the history of the NFL—is on his third NFL team and could be on his fourth by next year, right?
A: It depends on what kind of system the league would adopt. But I would think the NFL would go to great lengths to ensure that small market teams, or more importantly, lower revenue teams, are not disadvantaged too greatly. Spreading the wealth and making sure all teams have a chance to be competitive have been building blocks of the NFL. It would be stupid to abandon those principals now.