2012 NFL Draft: Predicting the Biggest Dud at Every Position
One of the very appealing, intrinsic qualities to the NFL draft every year is that most fans—and disappointingly, a lot of mainstream analysts—attach so much optimism to the majority of prospect selections.
This positivity, the desire to see and project the best-case scenario for a player, is simply a strong natural human inclination, as it tends to pervade the thinking even of many scouts and front office decision-makers—the men paid to be the most discerning with their opinions.
Even in the National Football League, where the draft translation rate is significantly better than Major League Baseball (this is not a scouting comparison between the two sports; it's due much more to the difference in the sports' developmental curves), most drafted players fall short of potential expectations if not fail altogether.
A cursory examination of the top half of the 2009 class illustrates just how perilous the business of prospect prediction can be and how quickly reality can set in.
Following Matthew Stafford No. 1 overall, it can be reasonably argued that after three seasons the second through seventh picks (Jason Smith, Tyson Jackson, Aaron Curry, Mark Sanchez, Andre Smith and Darrius Heyward-Bey) have largely or completely underperformed their slots.
And even Eugene Monroe, the eighth pick, took until 2011 to begin to pay off when he took a huge step forward at left tackle for the Jaguars.
Four defensive players (B.J. Raji at No. 9; Brian Orakpo, 13th; Malcolm Jenkins, 14th; Brian Cushing, 15th) can be considered successes.
But the other quartet to round out the top half of the first stanza that year (Michael Crabtree, 10th; Aaron Maybin, 11th; Knowshon Moreno, 12th; Larry English, 16th) have been unmitigated disasters of varying degree. The San Francisco 49ers are at least recouping certain value from Crabtree as a No. 2-type possession receiver.
Through this lens, I am going to identify which prospect at each position will be the biggest dud based on their respective projected draft ranges.
Quarterback: Ryan Tannehill
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M University
6'4", 220 lbs, Redshirt Senior
Majority Draft Projection
Although still a fractured house, with prominent detractors like Bleacher Report's lead dog Matt Miller and smaller voices such as my own, the growing consensus is that Tannehill is worthy of a top-10 pick (as argued by NFL Network's Charley Casserly). Teams that may consider him are Cleveland at fourth, Miami at eighth or someone trading up into that range.
Tannehill has all the cornerstone attributes traditionally desired in a high-projection quarterback: elite size, great athleticism, good accuracy, a strong arm and he throws well on the move. He also has strong pocket presence and mobility, two crucial traits that combine physical, mental and psychological attributes.
A visible and easily quantifiable objection to Tannehill as a first-round pick, and possibly a very high one at that, is how inexperienced he is at the position.
After playing quarterback in high school and being recruited to Texas A&M at the position, he played roughly two-thirds of his collegiate career as a wide receiver. In fact, 2011 was the only season in which he was exclusively the starter under center.
This data points toward him being more of an upside developmental prospect as opposed to the expected readiness now associated with modern high-pick selections.
This rawness also shows up in his play because, despite his well-reviewed physical gifts, he is light on the cerebral or instinctual aspects of the position. This shortcoming manifests in his decision-making on where to go with the ball (and when) and was especially glaring versus better competition and late in close-scoring games.
If one believes that Tannehill will develop and/or markedly improve in this area, then it could still be argued that he is worthy of first-round consideration. But I think this aspect to QB play is more innate, like pitchability in baseball, and that he will be another highly tooled passer who fails in the NFL.
Running Back: David Wilson
RB, David Wilson, Virginia Tech University
5'10", 205 lbs, Junior
Majority Draft Projection
There is a ton of very understandable back-and-forth in the draftnik community right now, and has been for months, about who the second-rated running back in this class is following Alabama's Trent Richardson.
Often it comes down to which components of a running back's skill set each different evaluator weighs the most or least. Some of these traits include completeness, versatility, speed/quickness for home run ability, vision, cutback instincts or even ideal bulk as a bruising inside runner.
Understanding all of this, Wilson is one of the names bandied about for that No. 2 position, anywhere from the late first round to the middle of the second.
Busting at running back is relative in comparison to other positions due to the nature of the spot being relatively easier from a developmental standpoint. It is also one that is greatly reliant on the players around it.
Talented athletes who stay healthy, hold onto the ball and exhibit some toughness tend to, in the very least, provide some level of adequate production per touch for their team.
The question then becomes about his value based on where he was selected and how other backs from the same class turned out, particularly those projected and chosen in proximity.
While injuries can be random and difficult to predict, my concerns with Wilson stem from his reluctance to run inside earlier in his career as well as ball security.
Although he did improve between the tackles as 2011 wore on, if his natural hesitation there indicates either a lack of toughness or instincts—to not always bounce runs outside, which is largely futile in the NFL—it could be damning.
And in his only campaign as a feature back last year, Wilson fumbled the ball five times. If that is a continued aspect of his play at the next level, it will stunt his use and impact.
In the same area of the 2012 draft, I prefer running back prospects Doug Martin from Boise State University and Chris Polk out of the University of Washington.
Wide Receiver: Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery, WR, University of South Carolina
6'3", 215 lbs, Junior
Majority Draft Projection
In light of March 28's pro day revelations, in which Jeffery posted 40 times in the 4.4-second range (per ESPN's Kevin Weidl), previous calls for him to be a late first/early second may give way to a mid- to late-first residence.
The debate over Alshon Jeffery's body weight and timed speed reached its helium bubble capacity Wednesday morning when, after trimming down to 216 lbs at the combine a month ago, Jeffery checked in at 213 lbs before ripping off two 40 trials in the 4.5 range—the faster results coming in the mid- to high 4.4s.
The con job that is Jeffery's pre-draft stock could not have winded its way any more fortuitously than it has gone. For the three months since the Capital One Bowl, Jeffery has dieted and trained to lose 20 to 25 lbs and shave two-tenths of a second off his 40 time, approximately.
Both of those last two progress counters are my opinion, hence the "approximately" disclaimer, based off what I saw on film during the fall to be a 235- to 240-pound wideout moving with 4.7 speed. Because of these official combine and pro day measurements, all will be forgiven by many draftniks and even some of the NFL teams that want to like Jeffery in the first round.
My enormous reservations—no pun intended—come from the question about his motivation the last three months fueling this physical change. What happens to the work ethic, his new body and speed, and most importantly his on-field prospects once he has cashed the signing bonus and knows a certain amount of his contract is guaranteed?
Jeffery absolutely possesses great talent and some attractive skills for a receiver, namely his height, hands, ability to high-point the ball and make receptions in traffic with bodies on him. But this last point is also the catch.
I have serious questions about whether Jeffery has the foot quickness, agility or suddenness to his frame to consistently create separation at the next level fitting of a projected No. 1 wideout for where he will be drafted.
Tight End, Michael Egnew
Michael Egnew, TE, University of Missouri
6'5", 255 lbs, Senior
After a surprise combine that saw him check in at over 250 lbs with quality athletic markers in the 40-yard dash (4.62), bench press (21 reps), vertical (36 inches) and broad jump (10'11")—he later improved on both jump results at Missouri's pro day—Egnew vaulted back into the mid-round tight end projection, possibly as high as the late second round.
This is a fairly textbook case where a player tests much better than he projects on the field. Egnew is a sure-fire draftable NFL tight end prospect. But I see him more as a day-three guy (Rounds 5 to 7) than his gaudy catch totals and impressive combine results would indicate.
My justification for this is that Egnew simply does not play with the in-line blocking prowess that his size and bench press hint at, nor the speed and explosion from his run and jump metrics. In a succinct term, his play lacks that dynamic quality.
Check out any point in this entire 3:15 collection versus Kansas State; he lines up almost exclusively as a flex receiver, does not deliver any plus or springing blocks and does not make anyone miss after the catch. Useful but not dynamic.
His profile—not an actual player comparison but the disconnect between his likely potential impact and draft market as a tight end—reminds me of Lance Kendricks from Wisconsin a year ago who went 47th overall to the Rams and did not have a very good rookie year.
Offensive Line: Left Tackle Mike Adams
Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State University
6'7", 325 lbs, Senior
Majority Draft Projection
Most dialogues seem to think that Adams' talent and upside as a potential quality left tackle are too high for him to fall out of the first round, and fellow draftnik Jeremy Hyde—whose work I respect—really believes in his NFL future.
Adams looks the part of an athletic, elite left tackle in the NFL; indeed, he played like one at times during a quality college career at Ohio State University. Standing over 6'7" with arms that measure 34 inches and light feet, he possesses rare physical ingredients for the projection.
But those physical traits do not translate consistently enough, especially with his performance against quality speed-rushers that he is seemingly designed to handle—a problem that will only be magnified at the next level.
Making matters worse, he appears to play passively or disinterested at times and has never exhibited the ideal strength and violence desired of a first-round offensive lineman. His effectiveness in run blocking has been more a product of his athleticism and leverage by beating defenders into position at the point of attack.
I want my first-round offensive lineman to represent an immediate upgrade at the position with the reasonable upside of being above average or better throughout his prime. While Adams possesses the possibility for the latter criterion, I view him as more of a day-two developmental project needing at least a year of work, despite having great physical characteristics.
Defensive Line: Tackle Jerel Worthy
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State University
6'2.5", 310 lbs, Redshirt Junior
Majority Draft Projection
Worthy is seen predominantly as a 3-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 alignment somewhere in the range of late first to early second round (per NFL Network's Charles Davis).
Worthy is a massive interior defensive line prospect, who can be difficult to move off the ball but also offers the potential for more upfield penetration than a typical space-eating nose or defensive tackle due to good burst and quickness.
But after watching several games of Worthy on film, it becomes apparent that he all too often doesn't get involved in the play when facing a single block. Part of this is due to coming off the ball high, surrendering the leverage advantage he might otherwise gain with his quality get-off. This allows opponents to control him more easily and even wash him out of a run play.
The main reason for his lesser impact, however, looks to stem from a questionable motor and lack of want-to. Rather than play with a consistently high amount of energy and impact as many snaps as possible, Worthy may be satisfied to flash a few times a game and make or come close to several splash plays.
While it is unheard of for most defensive linemen to play every down at full tilt, and nearly impossible for the bigger men on the interior due to their sheer size, the demands of the position and the limits on conditioning, it is a highly desirable trait for that effort level to be consistently there most of the time during a drive and throughout a game.
I place a lot of emphasis on this motor and sense of urgency from a defensive lineman when evaluating otherwise evenly talented prospects. For a player in Worthy's range, I feel like he falls short in this regard.
Because of this, I see him as more of a rotational player along a defensive line and, as such, he carries more of a mid-round grade from me.
Linebacker: Weak-Side Outside Zach Brown
Zach Brown, 4-3 WLB, University of North Carolina
6’1.5”, 245 lbs, Senior
Majority Draft Projection
Because of an intriguing blend of size and speed on the perimeter that projects as rare in terms of coverage or pass-rush potential, Brown has long been considered a first-round prospect for 2012 with a floor in the early second.
Especially after he bulked up during the pre-draft process and still ripped off impressive combine results in the 40 (4.50), vertical (33 inches) and broad jump (9'8"), Brown is a tempting athletic specimen to consider at his position.
This is further the case because his speed readily shows up on film that shows him flying around the field in coverage and pursuing the football. With the current emphasis on the passing game in the NFL, it is understandable why his profile would gain traction.
But Brown is more athlete than football player at this point, appearing more like a track guy on the gridiron. He plays with the finesse of an undersized cover cornerback in a linebacker's body.
I previously wrote here on Bleacher Report that Brown's soft style of play is perhaps the weakest I have ever observed. It is especially glaring on the defensive side of the ball and from the linebacker position.
While he is well past this point in his football development and professional projection, Brown's mental makeup might be better suited for the offensive side of the ball at a position looking to avoid contact.
This style of play worries me as a limitation because it leaves him with a fairly incomplete quality to his skill set and overall game at linebacker. It appears that he will struggle immensely in the run game, taking on and shedding blocks, because not every run fit can be made by avoiding a blocker.
He is also a poor tackler, often choosing to reach a ball-carrier with his hands and drag him down or wait for help from his teammates than violently explode with his hips and lower body, striking a blow at his target.
While his speed could make him a threat off the edge in getting after the quarterback, he has spent so much time in coverage that his skills and repertoire in this area are rather raw. It also is difficult to consistently win on the edge if the opponent knows that the speed rush is the only trick in his arsenal.
As high as Brown goes in the draft, it will come with the plan of trying to develop and coach up his gifts into a more well-rounded defensive football player because he does possess some unteachable qualities.
I simply question his overall demeanor and aggressiveness for this side of the ball and how much value he will actually have if he tops out as a sub-package cover 'backer and special teams player.
Defensive Back: Corner Janoris Jenkins
Janoris Jenkins, CB, University of North Alabama
5'10", 190 lbs, Senior
Majority Draft Projection
In light of the mounting concerns over Jenkins' character and off-field decisions, his draft market is a cloudier issue right now than any other player in this slideshow.
Some teams, like me, will have him completely off their board for these reasons, but his first-round talent as a cover corner will compel an organization at some point to take a chance on him.
Earlier in the pre-draft process, when some of Jenkins' baggage was widely known public information, I believed he could convince teams his future would remain clean and his draft market would align more closely with his ability as a player only.
My previous outlook appears to have been optimistic, despite Jenkins being incredibly candid about his questionable choices, as additional information has come to light and more teams have dug deeper during the interview and background phases.
After flashing elite potential as a cover corner, both earlier in his career before being dismissed from the University of Florida and again during the Senior Bowl All-Star week, the final nail in the coffin may be that his tape from 2011 is not as strong as anticipated.
In transferring to Division II University of North Alabama, the expectation is that a player like Jenkins would completely dominate. Instead, some circles characterize his performance as lazy, undisciplined or disinterested.
After potentially renewing his first-round draft stock earlier in the offseason, Jenkins is all but guaranteed to fall into the second day due to the summary of questions in tow.
I am now firmly in the camp that has Jenkins off my draft board for character concerns. Not only is the sheer volume of poor choices staggering in terms of drug use and his personal relationships, but to let his focus and play slip during his senior season is worrisome.
I am not sure of the wisdom in trusting this player to start making the right decisions consistently off the field or if he will apply the proper focus, drive and motivation to his professional preparation and training. The media doesn't address it often, but there is a certain level of trust that an organization must have in a player, and teammates with each other, that guys will do what is expected of them.
As always, I look forward to your comments below and you may follow me on Twitter at @JeffRoemer.