NFL Draft Prospects Most Likely to Be Drafted Too High
The 2014 NFL draft is only a week away. For draft analysts and many football fans, this time of year is as exciting as the Super Bowl. However, there are two things when it comes to the draft that will send a fan into a rage.
First, if their favorite team passes on “their guy.” We all know how that works. Maybe he went to your favorite college or is just a prospect you got to watch more than others. When your favorite team lets him pass, it is truly a dark day.
However, there is one thing a team can do that is even worse. The reach. No one wants to have his or her team go for a player too early. We watch it every season, as players are drafted far too early for their talent. The reasons for it are varied, and mysterious. Sometimes it is simply a case of a franchise panicking out of need for a particular position. Other times, it is an example of pulling the trigger early for fear of missing out on that player later on.
Regardless of the reason, 2014 is going to be no different. For all the talent in this draft, there are still plenty of players destined to be drafted far too high. That’s not to say every player on this list can’t be a good pro. Well, almost all of them can be good pros. Nevertheless, some of these prospects are on course to be drafted above their individual talent level and ahead of better players.
For some of these prospects, I am going to reference mock drafts by the cbssports.com NFL draft staff as well as ESPN's draft tandem of Mel Kiper Jr., and Todd McShay. You can see the CBS Sports mocks here, and the ESPN ones here and here (subscription required).
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama
It has become clear in recent seasons that the safety position has had resurgence in the NFL. There was a time when safety was simply viewed as the last line of defense. Their primary assignment was if the other nine guys on defense didn’t make the play, it was up to them. Vital, no doubt, by lacking in complexity.
Today’s safety is quite different. Most teams want those two players to be among their top athletes. You have to be big enough to come up and take on blockers, and athletic enough to cover wide receivers. The truly elite at the position are making more and more money, and garnering more of the headlines.
The top safety in this class by most accounts is Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix is accustomed to being discussed as an elite prospect. He was one of the best players coming out of high school, and had tremendous success during his tenure at Alabama.
Looking at the expert mocks, Clinton-Dix falls no further than No. 17 in all seven of the mock drafts. That’s a big number. Looking at the last two drafts, here are the safeties the league has deemed worth a pick that high.
- Eric Berry
- Earl Thomas
- Kenny Vaccaro
Nothing I have seen of Clinton-Dix on film puts him in that group for me. He’s a very capable all-around safety and should be a solid starter in this league for many years. Nevertheless, slotting him this high feels desperate. If a team thinks they are getting the next Earl Thomas with Clinton-Dix they are going to be disappointed. They might be disappointed if they are even hoping for the next Eric Berry.
If a team can get Clinton-Dix in the No. 28-32 range, that would represent excellent value. You get a kid who is a downhill player who can hit. You also get a player who is lacking polish in coverage and instincts. Clinton-Dix left way too many plays on the field due to poor play recognition and poor angles to be considered among the very elite of this draft class.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
There was some reservation about putting North Carolina Eric Ebron on this list. I have little doubt Ebron is going to be a fine NFL tight end. According to the expert mocks, he should be off the board by No. 20. Some even have him in their top-12 picks.
There hasn’t been a tight end drafted that high since Vernon Davis was taken No. 6 overall in 2006. While Ebron is a very good player, the shortcomings of his game, along with the relative talent at tight end in this draft make endorsing him that high tough to swallow.
What’s wrong with Ebron’s game? His hands are worrisome. When you are a big target who is making catches in traffic, it is important to not let the ball get into your body as often as he does. He also lacks a physical element to his game. In the NFL, you can bet teams are going to jam him at the line of scrimmage. He saw very little of that in college, and it could negate some of his speed and quickness.
Overall, this group of tight ends is excellent. Is spending an early first-round pick on Ebron prudent if a player like Texas Tech’s Jace Amaro could be had in the second round? Amaro isn’t the only “other” talented tight end in this draft, but it seems that no one wants to talk about anyone but Ebron.
Some team is going to reach for him, and several other teams will benefit by taking other tight ends later on.
Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
The physical demands of an NFL quarterback continue to evolve. The days of the old school, pocket-passing quarterback are in the rearview mirror. Don’t misunderstand, that doesn’t mean every NFL quarterback needs to be a track star. However, mobility, especially within the pocket, is vital.
And it is this very shortcoming of LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger that makes drafting him in the first three rounds a reach. There are plenty of things to like about Mettenberger’s game. He has an adequate arm, improved mechanics and has shown a great deal of maturity in recent seasons.
None of this alters the fact that drafting Mettenberger in the second round is too soon. He is still recovering from a torn ACL, and his inability to move around in the pocket just sets himself up for hits. An NFL quarterback is a financial investment. If talent is close, there is no reason to draft a statue like Mettenberger over a player who can move and keep themselves healthy.
Now if you want to take Mettenberger in the fourth round and let him get healthy, so be it. But looking at him early is not only desperate, but really doesn’t give the other very good second-tier quarterbacks in this draft their proper due.
Tre Mason, RB, Auburn
There is an inherent risk in drafted a running back early, regardless of talent. The position as a whole has been undervalued, and this group is deep. However, there is a belief that Auburn running back Tre Mason is not only the top running back in this class but could be considered as early as the top of the second round.
Let me channel my inner Michael Irvin when I say, “C’mon man!” Mason is everything you fear in a system running back. His skills are so middling compared to the rest of this group. His production is exaggerated because of the offense he ran at Auburn. When you watch Mason, what you see is a back who lacks vision and creativity.
His quickness is good but not elite. His timed speed is good, but that doesn’t always show up on the field. Some team is going to look at Mason’s stats and highlights from Auburn and reach for him a round or two sooner than his overall body of work suggests he should be taken.
Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
Putting Louisville safety Calvin Pryor on this list is similar to Clinton-Dix being there. It’s all about value. Pryor is a nice football player. However, the notion that he should be included in the first round is baffling.
Pryor’s game is completely inconsistent. On one snap, he’ll break down a play, track a wide receiver perfectly and make a play. The ensuing play, he’s lost and gives up a play he shouldn’t because his fundamentals vanished.
The summary of Pryor’s game is that he is a jack-of-all trades, but master of none. Which is fine. He has all the tools to develop into a respectable starting safety. Media folks have become enamored with his potential and have inflated his draft stock. Whether or not teams have bought into his highlights of not remains to be seen.
Probably the best thing you can say about Pryor is that if he can rein in his bad habits he’ll be a nice starter. But again, comparing Pryor to safeties selected high in previous years—and even the other talent in this draft—he is going to be over drafted.
Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
This is the one name on this list that could turn out to be wrong. Not due to any problems evaluating him. But because Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt could end up falling back to a point more commensurate with his talent.
The difference between Tuitt being overdrafted or not is about 25 picks. That might not seem huge, but if a team wants to roll the dice on a player with great 2012 film and questionable 2013 film it matters.
There isn’t even any certainty as to what position Tuitt will play in the NFL. At 309 pounds, he has likely eaten his way out of a spot as a 3-4 defensive end. At the same time, Tuitt really doesn’t have the requisite pass-rush moves to be a force inside as a 3-technique tackle.
If he does in fact have weight issues, Tuitt’s best bet might be to head to Sizzler and eat his way into a starting spot as a nose tackle.
Cody Latimer, WR, Indiana
How under the radar can a player really be? Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer is the second-fastest-rising prospect in this year’s draft. The question is, why? Latimer has 135 career receptions for 2,042 yards. Nice numbers, but when spaced out over three years, they seem somewhat mundane.
Latimer’s size is impressive. 6’3” and 215 pounds certainly fit the bill in the NFL. However, upon a study of his game, there is nothing so remarkable about him as to warrant first-round discussion—at least not when compared to other receivers in this class.
The argument has been made that Latimer would be even better if not for the quarterback situation at Indiana. I accept the premise, but the same can be said for several other wide receivers in this draft. Sorry, but if your team takes Latimer over a player like USC’s Marqise Lee or Penn State’s Allen Robinson, it has bought into the hype.
Tom Savage, QB, Pittsburgh
King of the overdrafted in this class looks to be Pittsburgh quarterback Tom Savage. If you don’t recognize the name, don’t feel bad. It has only been a few weeks since Savage has been a known commodity in the draft at all.
Nonetheless, can we really say that a 24-year-old quarterback with a 57 percent career completion percentage is a top prospect? You can fire off all the positives you like about Savage, but some things are notoriously difficult to trump. Yes, he has a strong arm, and yes he has terrific size. Nonetheless, Savage would be something beyond an outlier if he becomes a successful NFL quarterback.
I have to believe that all this hype surrounding Savage as a possible second-round pick is somehow falsely generated. The league can’t possibly look at him as a viable first-round pick.
We’re all going to wake up, and the Tom Savage saga will have only just been a bad dream.