As NFL training camps around the league get underway, it brings us that much closer to the highly-anticipated preseason action, where the league's brightest young stars embrace their first opportunities to prove their mettle and justify the millions of dollars invested in them.
But then there's the other guys, those who hang onto lifelong NFL hopes by the thinnest of threads. As undrafted free agents, the preseason is often their only chance to prove the experts wrong by showing everyone they belong amongst the biggest, strongest, most athletic men in the entire world.
And as we are well aware, experts hate to be proven wrong, so it should come as no surprise that these young, unproven kids will be climbing a slippery mountain in attempts to defy the odds.
I personally scouted over 220 prospects from the 2012 NFL draft class using a unique system which factors in and grades every component that I deem valuable towards predicting a player's potential and value as an NFL athlete.
In order to do this, I numerically graded a series of categories including tape study, college production, character, reputation, injury history and a Dynamic Measurement Ranking (DMR) system, which factors in every testable physical tool a prospect brings to the table.
This system considers everything from a player's height, weight, arm length, 40 time, short shuttle, 3-cone, bench press, vertical jump, long jump and speed-to-weight ratio; it then combines these components into a single DMR grade generalizable for any position. For further explanation on the DMR grade, click here.
With those grades taken into account, these five guys should have more than a fighting chance to make a big splash in the NFL.
Height/Weight: 6'2", 275 lbs
College: Fresno State
Signed With: San Diego Chargers
Tape Analysis Grade: 7.3
College Production Grade: 9.2
Physical Tools Grade (DMR): 5.58
Summary: Harrell is one of those unfortunate cases where teams cannot overlook his stature combined with his marginal athletic ability. This combination is usually the kiss of death for a guy with dreams of being drafted in the NFL. Such was the case for Harrell.
But it's hard to overlook his production in terms of disruptive ability and penetration behind the line of scrimmage. In this area, few interior linemen in the nation had better careers than Harrell. This has to be worth something.
Watching him on tape, you can clearly see Harrell is not going to be an every-down defensive tackle at the next level. He lacks the bulk and anchoring ability to hold the point of attack against the run and can get washed down the line at times.
However, Harrell is at his best when he is exploding off the ball and penetrating through gaps, using his savvy to counter the offensive lineman's leverage and forward lean.
Landing with the San Diego Chargers should give him a great opportunity to succeed as a 3-4 defensive end in base formation, also as an interior rush specialist on passing downs.
I anticipate he will make the 53-man roster after recent success from undersized interior guys such as Karl Klug and Geno Atkins has paved the way for guys of his physical makeup.
Height/Weight: 6'0", 213 lbs
College: San Jose State
Signed With: Denver Broncos
Tape Analysis: 7.8
College Production Grade: 9.6
Physical Tools Grade (DMR): 6.78
Summary: Duke Ihenacho plays effectively in the box and is a physical tackler who shows great instincts for the game. However, he sometimes can be slow to read and react to the offensive line against the run; this does not take away from his desire for contact.
Conversely, Ihenacho shows impressive skills in pass coverage, reading the quarterback and reacting to the throw. He does have a tendency to miss tackles by being caught flat-footed, but underneath some rough edges is a guy with a ton of ability. He has a knack for forcing fumbles and loves to throw his body around.
The Broncos can use a guy like Ihenacho, who flashes a similar playing style to recently retired Bronco Brian Dawkins.
I expect him to compete for significant playing time his first year in the league, which was a concept discussed in a previous article by B/R's Sigmund Bloom. Playing time this early is no easy feat for a guy who goes undrafted, but Ihenacho might be able to pull it off.
Height/Weight: 6'0", 196 lbs
Signed With: San Francisco 49ers
Tape Analysis: 7.6
College Production Grade: 5
Physical Tools Grade (DMR): 7.3
Summary: Chris Owusu is one of the most explosive wideouts in the entire draft class. His lack of production in college is largely due to numerous head injuries. This is the major red flag most teams had on him and why he was considered undraftable.
In this era of football, with so much emphasis being put on head injuries, guys like Owusu are considered too much of a health liability. Just look at the career so far for talented Lions running back Jahvid Best.
Owusu has world-class speed and quickness paired nicely with fantastic vision. This is a guy who, when healthy, can take the top off of a defense as a legitimate deep threat, not to mention his primary value as a kick returner.
The 49ers have been very impressed with Owusu so far. Despite a lot of depth at the receiver position and multiple returner options, I'm willing to bet he finds a spot on the roster after he shows coaches his big-play ability this preseason.
Let's hope Ted Ginn Jr. doesn't unpack his bags just yet. He may be on the move before the summer is out.
Height/Weight: 6'3" ,227 lbs
College: Arizona State
Signed With: Denver Broncos
Tape Analysis Grade: 8.2
College Production Grade: 4.8
Physical Tools Grade (DMR): 5.8
Summary: Gerell Robinson is a very gifted athlete who struggled to produce in the first three years of his college career. But it seemed by the time his senior year came along, he figured things out.
One of the more impressive aspects of his game has to be the way in which he can turn a short pass into a big gain. He does this with crafty moves coupled with unique vision and anticipation. He plays with the type of intensity you look for in a prospect, and he has no fear catching passes across the middle.
Robinson does need to learn how to use his size advantage more when fighting for the ball, though.
Robinson has the size, strength and prototypical frame to be a highly productive NFL wideout. But issues with consistency and the fear that he may be a one-year wonder are likely the main reasons he went undrafted this last April.
The good news is, he may have fallen into the perfect situation with the Denver Broncos. He now has the opportunity to catch passes and learn from one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. In addition, he will be joining a receiving corps that could definitely use some depth and and potential playmakers.
Height/Weight: 6'1", 250 lbs
Signed With: Pittsburgh Steelers
Tape Grade: 7.8
College Production Grade: 8.5
Physical Tools Grade (DMR): 5
Summary: Adrian Robinson struggled this offseason during the pre-draft circus that attempts to measure anything and everything a man possesses that may be useful on a football field.
He really is a good athlete on tape, but two major aspects of his testing really hurt his overall "physical tools grade": He has short arms, and he ran a horrible 3-cone time, which really threw off his dynamic speed scores.
When you watch him on tape, there is a lot to get excited about, though. Not only was Robinson highly productive throughout his college career, racking up 33 tackles for loss and 22.5 sacks, but he showed tremendous awareness and athleticism on tape.
Robinson is a superb tackler with great lateral movement. He utilizes a unique pass-rushing skill that involves getting the offensive lineman out of position by falsifying approach angles.
This is much more complex and effective than a basic stutter-step because it causes the lineman to commit to your path, which ultimately can free up the true path you intend on taking. I have watched many rushers throughout my experiences and studying tape, and I rarely see anyone demonstrate this ability.
With that said, he still is not a complete pass-rusher and has numerous weaknesses. His short arms are bound to be an obstacle in the NFL, and he needs to improve his functional strength.
Robinson also has tapered off his production his last two years after having a stellar sophomore season, tallying 12 sacks. When he was unable to replicate that output, he began to fall off many teams' draft boards.
I really can't think of a better landing spot for Adrian Robinson than Pittsburgh, where he can assimilate to the culture of hard work, sound technique and physical play.
Not to mention, he may find former defensive MVP James Harrison to be a valuable mentor considering they have similar body frames, albeit Harrison is significantly more "swollen" and developed than Robinson.
Keep in mind, Harrison did not enter the league with the body he has today; it was a product of years of hard work and dedication. If Robinson buys into those habits and soaks up all he can from the veterans, we could be looking at a future NFL star.