No, this article is not about how LaMichael James won't succeed in the NFL. On the contrary, most of us who have watched James perform for years believe he will not only get opportunities in his rookie year with the 49'ers, we expect him to get close to 1,000 yards rushing and be a spark in the Niners potent offense.
I'm looking forward to watching LaMike on Sundays this fall, but it got me thinking about current players on the Ducks' roster. Who will succeed in the NFL and who will become an asterisk?
I want to talk about five players—and I want to be perfectly clear that I love each of them and expect them to have banner years for the Ducks in 2012—who will have trouble being successful in the NFL.
I think they will all have a shot at being drafted, but for various reasons, may find the going tough. See if you agree.
While we're on the topic of running backs, the question is: Is Kenjon Barner the next LaMichael James or isn't he?
I expect Barner to have a solid year for the Ducks, perhaps even award-winning. He will emerge from James' shadow, be his own man and have remarkable Saturdays in his sparkling Ducks' uniform.
However, if I am an NFL owner (and I would be if it weren't for that pesky bank account part), I would take a hard look at Barner's durability during his senior campaign. His body and his head may hold up just fine, but any player who has suffered a concussion while in college warrants a second and even third look in my book.
The NFL has a long, mean season and it's not for those players who have suffered important injuries like concussion. Concussion symptoms manifest differently in different players, and Barner appears to have no lingering effects. But I will still hold my breath every time he takes a crushing hit all season.
Aside from the concussion issue, will Barner's size hold him back in the NFL? Most scouts will tell you that size is important in a RB to avoid being broken into pieces by your average NFL lineman. However, they will also concede that there are exceptions—LaMichael James, for instance.
Barner has a lot going for him: speed, receiving ability, vision, blocking prowess and the ability to read blocks as the play unfolds. Question marks for me are can he break tackles like LaMichael, and can he play every down without fumbling.
If Barner proves adept at those two issues, he will have a chance to overcome his drawbacks and make it in the NFL.
This is the time to repeat that I love all these guys and I'm not trying to be negative.
I don't, however, believe that Michael Clay has the necessary size to be successful in the NFL. He clearly has the heart, intelligence and the toughness to succeed, but he's just not big enough at his position.
According to Answers.com, the average NFL linebacker is 6'2", 247 lbs. Clay is listed as 5'11", 219 lbs on the Oregon roster. Colleges have been known to stretch players' height and weight on rosters. I'm not saying the Ducks have done that in Clay's case, but it wouldn't be the first time.
But, but, but, I can hear you saying. I agree with you that Michael Clay is a born leader, an excellent trait in an NFL linebacker. And that he has excellent football IQ, also important at the next level, and that he moves well and is mentally tough.
All true, my friends. But if Clay doesn't grow 2-3 inches and put on 20 pounds of muscle in his senior year, he will have a tougher road in the NFL than taller, heavier linebackers.
It's probably too early to rate a sophomore's chances to succeed in the NFL.
However, just as you would warn your sophomore in high school that the grades he gets now will impact what colleges he can get into, it's not too soon to warn Lyerla that NFL scouts look for the total package.
No one would deny that Lyerla has the size (6'5", 238 lbs) and the raw talent to succeed at the next level. The question is does he have the personal discipline and the character?
I'm just asking the question.
P.S. Don't look for Colt Lyerla wearing No. 32 on September 1; according to the Ducks' roster, that number now belongs to freshman Evan Baylis. Lyerla will wear No. 15 in 2012.
I'm a Scorpio and we tend to hold grudges. I'm mellower now than in my younger years, but, forgive me, I'm still holding a grudge against Alejandro Maldonado for missing that field goal in the USC game.
I know, I know, it's a team sport and one player isn't responsible for winning or losing a game. But you all know—well, except for my beloved USC readers—what would have happened if Maldonado makes that field goal.
Kickers are an odd breed. The truly magnificent ones in today's NFL—like New England's Stephen Gostkowski and New Orleans Saints' John Kasay—have an extra gene. (I know Kasay will be challenged this year by youngster Garrett Hartley, but I would want Kasay as my starting kicker until he's too old to trot onto the field.)
It's the gene that makes them want to be in the game with one second left and everything on the line.
Alejandro Maldonado does not have that gene.
Josh Huff will probably get a chance in the NFL, but I think it will be short-lived.
Why? The trend in NFL wide receivers is length, and Huff is only 5'11".
For that matter, the Oregon trend is towards taller wide receivers. 2012 recruits Chance Allen (6'2") and Dwayne Stanford (6'4") are typical of what is happening in this position nationwide. Coaches seem to want WRs who are taller than the cornerbacks covering them.
Huff has shown the ability to go up and get the ball, and that skill has value that will translate to the next level. But with the current athletic ability at the CB position in the NFL, longer receivers start out with an advantage.
Of the current top receivers in the NFL only Steve Smith of the Carolina Panthers is under 6'0" (he's 5'9") and he's been in the league for 12 years.
Wide receivers under 6'0" will soon be a relic of the past.
We will begin and end with LaMichael James because therein lies the moral of this story. Most NFL scouts and ALL the pundits (including some of our own Bleacher Report draft experts) had James getting drafted in late rounds.
The party line was that James is too small to take the NFL pounding. That remains to be seen. However, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh, whose Stanford team played against James (and got beat), recognized the intangibles that lead to greatness and plucked James in the second round.
LaMichael has the intangibles, and it's entirely possible that the five players I've talked about here have what it takes to get beyond their obvious drawbacks to success in the NFL.
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