As the NFL Draft approaches, possible top picks are falling like dominoes. Alabama's Andre Smith did a thorough job of shooting himself in the foot at the Indianapolis Combine.
The monster tackle, who looked like a stone-cold lock for the No. 1 selection only a few months ago, first raised questions with his suspension prior to his team's Sugar Bowl appearance, and further encouraged character issues by refusing to participate at the Combine or answer any sort of inquiry in a straightforward manner.
Meanwhile, QBs Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, both of whom have the measurables and experience in a pro-style offense that NFL teams covet these days, have to be taken with a grain of salt because of their decisions to come out as underclassmen.
Fair or not, many of the quarterbacks who have jumped to the NFL as juniors or below (e.g. Ryan Leaf, Alex Smith) have flopped, while those who play a full college career (Peyton Manning, others) seem to enjoy greater success.
So the competition for the dubious honor of being selected first overall this April by the woebegone Detroit Lions has a new leader. Wake Forest strong-side linebacker Aaron Curry appears, more and more, to be the safest pick in the Draft.
Granted, Curry has not enjoyed the hype of a superstar QB for a powerhouse program like Georgia (Stafford) or USC (Sanchez), or the expectations of a giant like 'Bama's Smith. He is in many ways an unknown quantity compared to these guys.
I thought that I would take this opportunity to learn something about the guy who is now unofficially the clubhouse leader for the first overall pick, having ascended to that status in SI's Mock Draft (written by Don Banks), among others.
Breaking it down into categories:
College Career: Curry won the Butkus Award last year as the nation's top linebacker. Although he could have jumped to the draft early, he returned to Wake Forest for his senior season and put up absolutely sick numbers, including three fumbles recovered and sixteen tackles for loss, better than one a game.
Though there were other future pros on his Wake defense, including corner Alphonso Smith, Curry was the guy that scared the bejezus out of opponents. You can see some examples of his sterling play here and here.
He has demonstrated the ability to play the pass and also to rush the passer and beat offensive linemen off the snap. In short, his Wake game tapes show a guy that is extremely versatile and has the speed and toughness to excel at the next level.
Combine Performance: Going into Indy, Curry was already the top-rated linebacker prospect. Nevertheless, he exceeded expectations, posting the best LB time in the 40-yard dash (around a 4.56), and also putting up top numbers in the jump categories and the 60-yard shuttle.
By all accounts, he is impressive in interviews and has strong character, and avoided an Andre Smith-type slip of any type.
Measurables: Curry stands 6'2" and weighs 254 lbs. NFL.com is comparing him to Tennessee's Keith Bullock. That's pretty flattering for a guy who hasn't yet played a professional snap. If you want to nitpick, he is maybe an inch short and a few pounds light. Neither will affect his stock, nor should they.
Personality: Mike Mayock, draft expert extraordinaire, compares Curry to Atlanta's ROY Matt Ryan in terms of reliability even after a big payday. Curry has a good story - the son of former NFL defensive back Reggie Pinckney, he returned for his senior year of college even though his mother was struggling to make ends meet.
He has stayed out of trouble at school and is intelligent and a leader on the field. Reading his SI.com journal, it is hard to get a really good feel for how Curry really is–he's not a wild card like, say, Deion Sanders or Chad Ocho Cinco, but is that really a bad thing? He seems like a nice guy.
That is definitely not a bad thing for a potential top prospect.
On top of all this, Curry would also fill a need for the Lions. Ernie Sims is a great young linebacker, but Detroit badly needs another guy to pair with him. The Bears have Urlacher and Briggs, the Vikings have EJ Henderson and Chad Greenway, the Pack has Barnett and A.J. Hawk.
By drafting Aaron Curry, the Lions could finally have the guys at the 'backer spots to make a case for top billing in the tough-as-nails NFC North.
In my book, this is the way to go with the No. 1 pick. Curry is no workout warrior, nor is he a college star whose skills don't translate to the big leagues. He is well rounded and a safe bet in the best possible sense of the term.
UPDATE: SI.com has just added a third entry to Curry's journal, where he talks about his experience at the Combine. It's a good read.