During the NFL Draft, some players fall each year, for reasons ranging from physical measurables to probable position changes at the next level. Yet, the way these players have consistently led by example on the field of play, they have demonstrated their capability to make an impact in the NFL.
Eventually, some of these players have the potential to be immediate steals for their respective teams, while others will exhibit their value further down the road. They each have their own unique abilities at their respective positions and could, subsequently, cause other teams to regret not choosing them earlier in the draft.
Here are ten top players that could exceed the expectations of their 2009 draft position.
1. OLB Brian Cushing, USC, 6'3", 243
With great speed and size, Cushing has the girth to keep up with bigger, physical tight-ends, and the quickness to run with H-Back types like Chris Cooley. With such great measurables, Cushing has both the ability to line up and rush the passer, but also fly to the football if a quarterback decides to run a running-back screen.
Cushing's coverage ability at such an imposing size would normally land an athlete of his skills in the top 10 of the draft. Yet with injuries plaguing him throughout his college career at USC, and the rumors of steroids still floating, Cushing could see his name falling to the end of the first round and giving some team an outstanding starting outside linebacker for the next 10 years.
2. OT Eben Britton, Arizona, 6'6", 309
One of two players that made my list strictly based on film, Britton has one of the highest football IQs of any player I've seen in the draft. What I immediately noticed about Britton was his initial hand punch, which can allow him to completely dominate opposing players, as does Broncos offensive tackle Ryan Clady.
Although exhaustion may be a problem for some bigger offensive tackles, Britton consistently utilizes his skills on every down.
Despite his amazing balance and awareness Britton seems to have trouble rotating his hips on plays run to the outside. Lacking the athleticism of offensive tackles like Baylor tackle Jason Smith, Britton has some problems when blocking on the run.
Furthermore, this problem also gives him some trouble with speed rushers on the outside. His intelligence and ability to recognize the blitz helps him with this deficiency, but his immediate future might be at right tackle in the NFL.
Two years of tutelage on the right side of an experienced line could allow him to acclimate to the speed of NFL players while still allowing him to be effective. Yet with off-the-field issues being common problems with NFL players, Britton's personality is what truly truly impresses me.
On the field, he maintains a mean streak, going so far to even physically respond to California linebacker Zack Follet after he proceeded to talk trash to Britton during a Cal-Arizona meeting this past season.
Off the field, he focuses on creative writing and has articulately expressed the close relationship he has with his family. Plus being born in New York, Britton will always have a certain je ne sais quoi.
3. WR Brian Robiskie, Ohio State, 6'3", 209
Watching Robiskie at Ohio State, it was evident that his ability to find the end zone is what separates him from other wide receivers that will be drafted this upcoming April. With over 25 touchdowns in his college career, Robiskie provides an unbelievable target for any quarterback.
Being the son of a long-time NFL coach, Robiskie has developed an excellent all-around game. Unlike most receivers with excellent size, Robiskie runs crisp routes and is unafraid to go over the middle of the field.
His hands are made for the NFL and as with most Ohio State wide receivers, finds ways to help his team keep the sticks moving by hustling for first downs.
The only problems with Robiskie may be his overall size and speed in the NFL. With a very thin body and average speed that won't burn cornerbacks in the NFL, no one will ever confuse Robiskie's game with that of Larry Fitzgerald.
Yet as a tough individual with a grind-it-out mentality, Robiskie will give an NFL team, at the very least, a player to look for in the end zone.
4. OLB/DE/TE Connor Barwin, Cincinnati, 6'4", 256
As possibly my wildest "wild card" of the NFL draft, Barwin has the versatility to impact a team from day one. Another extremely intelligent prospect, Barwin is reputed to have an amazing work ethic, which is evident from his on-field play.
As a result of that ethic and his continuous hustle, he has proven very coachable and willing to do whatever it takes for his team to win.
Compared to Mike Vrabel because of his versatility, Barwin knows the intricacies of chasing down ball-carriers, but can also position himself to catch the winning touchdown on the offensive side of the ball.
Although Barwin was a defensive end in college, his size should limit him to an outside linebacker role in the pros. With extreme raw ability and talent, Barwin will have to adjust his somewhat stiff-hips to the coverage responsibilities of his position.
Because of his time spent as a member of the Cincinnati men's basketball team, he should have an advantage in developing positioning and coverage skills needed for his transition to the pros.
Similar to Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil, Barwin has the potential and willingness to be both a steal and future Pro Bowler for a team willing to take a chance on his hustle and skill.
5. OLB Marcus Freeman, Ohio State, 6'1", 239
How another Ohio State player made it onto my list I have no idea. With the ability to play any linebacker position in the 4-3, Freeman offers the versatility to make plays on the ball.
The definition of a "sideline to sideline" linebacker, he has the awareness to make plays that change the entire momentum of a game.
What truly distinguishes Freeman from other linebackers is his coverage ability. When dropping back in coverage, he shows the natural instincts to react quickly and make the textbook tackle.
Besides playing in the shadow of fellow linebacker James Laurinaitis, Freeman's shortcomings come with his lack of size. At barely 6'1", he has troubles shedding blockers once they get a hold of him.
Yet with his quickness, Freeman should be able to elude blockers in the NFL, while starting on special teams for his first year in the pros. Freeman reminds me of recently signed Buccaneer Angelo Crowell, who had 120 tackles only a year ago.
6. S Michael Hamlin, Clemson, 6'2", 214
Possibly the best all-around safety in the draft, Hamlin knows how to both play deep in coverage and attack the line of scrimmage. While making the secure tackle is Hamlin's priority, he's not afraid to go for the big hit.
Either way, he usually maintains complete control and balance, while keeping wide receivers in front of him.
Similar to another Michael, namely, Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin, Hamlin's all-around game will likely keep him from being a major play-maker in coverage. His average speed and cover skills will likely limit him, but he still retains the potential to be an above average safety in the NFL.
A cerebral player of Hamlin's character has a long career for a team looking to build a strong defense around solid leadership.
7. S Rashad Johnson, Alabama, 5'11", 203
Making the big play was, undoubtedly, Johnson's forte at Alabama. A very aggressive safety by nature, Johnson always has his nose around the ball and shows the awareness to find it in the air.
With such diminutive size, Johnson's questions will begin and end with his thin frame and the possible durability issues that come with it.
Although he has very smooth hips and athleticism, Johnson's playmaking ability may eventually lead to significant injuries.
Yet despite his small frame, Johnson always plays bigger than his size indicates and isn't afraid to mix it up at the line of scrimmage, making him an ideal fit for a defense like the Philadelphia Eagles.
8. OG Trevor Canfield, Cincinnati, 6'5", 307
The other half of the tandem that made my list based completely on film, Canfield is consistently one of the nastiest and toughest men on the field. When he goes against the opposition, he is always strong at the point of attack.
As with Britton, I immediately noticed his hand punch, and his ability to maintain balance and position throughout the play. Also like Britton, he lacks the athleticism of many guards when he is forced to pull for running plays.
Without putting on extra weight, Canfield would fit best in a zone-blocking scheme, where he could lock onto defenders and play in a limited area.
9. RB Jeremiah Johnson, Oregon, 5'9", 209
An "all-purpose" back by trade, Johnson has the versatility to play in the NFL as a complimentary receiving back, but also as a returner on special teams. Lacking explosive speed and immense size, Johnson does not have the physical attributes that most NFL teams search for.
Yet despite his lack of game-breaking ability, he runs with great balance and knows how to stay on his feet after contact.
Although Johnson will likely have trouble with pass protection at the beginning of his pro career, his natural hands and what I believe is one of the best stiffarms I saw this year, should allow him to contribute to a team looking for a second or third back willing to work hard as an NFL rookie.
After watching former teammate Jonathan Stewart make the transition so easily in his rookie season, Johnson could eventually find himself a part of his own rotation as a valuable piece of a playoff team.
10. DT Terrance Taylor, Michigan, 6'0", 306
As the only Michigan Wolverine on my list, Taylor has a lot to live up to. Being one of the few Michigan players likely to be drafted this year, Taylor has the responsibility of dedicating himself to representing the maize and blue.
After gaining some of his normal playing weight back, Taylor should be able able to contribute as a very solid nose tackle in the NFL. Being only 6'0" allows Taylor to play close to the ground and use his strength to gain leverage over opposing offensive linemen.
His bulk and strength should allow Taylor to clog the running lanes, but also disrupt the backfield whenever he has an opening.
As mainly a run stopper in the NFL, Taylor will have to keep his weight under control. While watching him at Michigan, it was obvious he wasn't in the best of shape. For Taylor to utilize his strength and push the center into the backfield, he must keep himself in maximal condition.
If he can stay in shape, Taylor will have a very long career and be able to break the "less than fit" image set by former Michigan and current NFL defensive tackles Alan Branch and Gabe Watson.
With so many unknowns and so many immeasurables that must be taken into consideration when drafting players, NFL teams must do their homework in order to maximize their draft picks.
Talent scouts could truly prove their worth if they are able to grab one of these possible steals later than their talent indicates.
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