NFL Draft 2012: 5 Underachieving Players Who Will Play Like Studs
The NFL draft is like the presidential election. There are a bunch of promising candidates trying to sell themselves as the most attractive person for the job. Some players are able to keep their promises while others prove to be phonies.
In the NFL, the phonies are players who do not perform (on or off the field) as well as expected. Those who fall into this category are known as underachievers. Ways a player can earn the underachiever label is by exhibiting questionable work ethic or having run-ins with the law.
Selecting an underachiever, especially in the first and second rounds, can damage the progression of a franchise (the notorious JaMarcus Russell comes to mind). For this reason, teams tend not to target these players in the draft.
In the earlier rounds, underachievers come with a high risk/reward factor. Even though it may seem as though they are not as good as promised, there is still a chance they will live up to or exceed expectations. These players we call studs.
This slide show will highlight the five biggest underachievers in the first two rounds of the 2012 NFL Draft and argue why they will turn out to be future studs.
Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Alfonzo Dennard declared for the NFL draft following a strong senior season with the Nebraska Cornhuskers. Initially he was projected to be taken in the second half of the first round.
He was assumed to be a shutdown corner with few weaknesse, until he went to the Senior Bowl. During practice, Dennard was consistently burned by average wide receivers. To make things worse, he suffered a hip flexor injury which caused him to drop out of the Senior Bowl mid-week.
Following the Senior Bowl, Dane Brugler from NFLDraftScout.com wrote:
"...he had a very inconsistent week of practice and will need to do some serious damage control at the combine and his pro day in order to secure a draft selection in the top 40 picks... he doesn't have the elite long-speed to make up for a false step. For some teams, Dennard showed this week that he might not be a fit with what they ask their corners to do."
Once his weaknesses were exposed, critics were quick to point out that his collegiate stats were less than stellar for a corner expecting first-round money. He only has four interceptions in four years with Nebraska, all of which were recorded in 2010.
Regardless of a disappointing performance at the Senior Bowl, Dennard will still be a stud at the next level as long as he plays in the right defensive system.
At the Senior Bowl he was told to play off-coverage which limited his ability to show case his physical side.
Dennard excels when asked to play tight coverage. He relies on popping receivers at the line of scrimmage to throw off their timing. His quick feet limits the amount of separation between him and the guy he is marking. In all, he is pest for wide receivers.
While it is true that Dennard does not have the speed necessary to cover deep routes one-on-one, he has the potential to be a shutdown corner within 20 yards. If defensive coordinators let him play to his strengths, he will be taking a few trips to Hawaii.
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State
After an impressive sophomore season, Jerel Worthy was not able to live up the hype in 2011.
He is considered an underachiever because he recorded a career-low 30 total tackles in 2011. The decrease in production has been blamed on his work ethic.
However, the true answer lies in the fact that he was double teamed more often in 2011. For this reason, his defensive assignments changed. Instead of terrorizing the backfield, Worthy focused on occupying blockers to allow his linebackers free access to the ball carrier.
It is not fair to judge Worthy's performance based solely on his individual stats. A better measuring stick would be to look at the efficiency of Michigan State's defense which ranked first in the Big Ten in rushing defense (100.5 yards per game), total defense (277.4 ypg.) and sacks (45).
Worthy will wow NFL teams at the combine with his athleticism and power. His 6'3" 310-pound body makes him versatile enough to play either nose tackle in the 3-4 or defensive tackle in the 4-3 (like he ran in college).
He may not be able to secure a first round selection. However he will outperform all of the defensive tackles selected in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Prior to the 2010 season, Alshon Jeffery was assumed to be the best wide receiver in college.
His 6'4" 220-pound body was too much for defensive backs and made an easy target for his quarterback. Jeffery headed into the 2011 season prepared to back up the hype.
The season started off bad when he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson, Jared Crick and Landry Jones. In the picture, Jeffery looked bigger than Crick who is listed at 6'4" 285 pounds.
Jeffery's stats suffered in 2011 due to inconsistent quarterback play and the loss of star running back Marcus Lattimore to injury. His drop off in production and questionable work ethic has earned him the underachiever label.
NFL Draft guru Mike Mayock does not think Jeffery deserves to be picked in the first round because he is not fast enough for the NFL:
To address questions about his conditioning, Jeffery is reportedly training at the Athlete’s Compound in Tampa, Florida. The Director of Performance predicts that Jeffery will run anywhere between a 4.45 and 4.65 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine.
While he is projected to be a borderline first rounder at the moment, his stock will soar following the combine where he will legitimize himself as the best receiver in the draft.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama
In three seasons at Alabama, Dre Kirkpatrick only had three interceptions (all in 2010). This is not a sexy number for the second ranked cornerback on Mel Kiper's big board.
Despite his lack of interceptions, Kirkpatrick was viewed as a Top 25 pick, but that changed when he was arrested for possession of marijuana this January.
Even though the charges were eventually dropped, the fact that he was careless enough to get himself in such a situation is discouraging. Kirkpatrick should know that with the NFL draft approaching, every move he makes will be under close scrutiny. For this reason, teams are labeling him as an underachiever.
Fortunately for Kirkpatrick, this is his only such incident. It will be especially important that he impresses in his interviews so that he can improve his image.
If teams can look past Kirkpatrick's offseason mistake, they will see a lengthy corner with tons of upside.
At 6'2" and 192 pounds, Kirkpatrick has the size and athleticism that every team desires. He is aggressive against the run and has the ability to bait quarterbacks into bad throws.
But what NFL teams will like most about Kirkpatrick is his ability to compete for jump balls against the NFL's growing number of tall wide receivers.
Kirkpatrick has all the potential to be a stud in the NFL, he just needs to avoid silly inconveniences in the future.
Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State University
In terms of overall ability, Vontaze Burfict is the best middle linebacker in this year's draft. The only thing holding him back is himself.
Burfict, who has complete control over his body, cannot seem to do anything about his head. Since high school, Burfict has been known as a dirty player. USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who played against Burfict in high school, confirmed this when interviewed by Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times:
Burfict is an underachiever because he cannot control his anger. This has resulted in unnecessary unsportsmanlike conduct penalties which are detrimental to his team. The worst part about it is that during his three years with the Sun Devils, his demeanor never improved.
However, Burfict is such a talented player that come draft day, no NFL team will care about his emotional baggage.
Burfict has all the tools necessary to be a legendary player. He is big, athletic, intuitive and is always looking to crush whatever offensive player stands in his way.
Burfict will mature once he is surrounded by no-nonsense veterans in an NFL locker room. It may not be a quick and easy process (I would not be surprised to see him in a training camp scuffle), but it can and will be done.