On Monday, Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen and wide receiver Golden Tate made it official: Both will forgo their senior seasons and enter the 2010 NFL Draft. Here’s a breakdown of the two prospects and what their futures look like:
QB Jimmy Clausen: No. 7, 6'3", 223 lbs.
2009 stats: 289-425 passing, 3,722 yards, 68.0 completion percentage, 28 TDs, 4 INTs
What We Like
•Three-year starter at Notre Dame whose play has improved significantly over that span.
•Has been groomed by the likes of former NFL offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and knows how to operate in a pro-style offense.
•Is accurate with the football; showcases the ability to get the ball out of his hands on time and anticipate targets.
•Possesses good balance and footwork from under center, does a nice job recognizing coverages during his pre-snap reads, and can audible his offense out of a play.
•Understands coverages; looks comfortable going through his progressions and being decisive with the football.
•Takes care of the football—threw only four interceptions this season.
•Was able to handle the pressure of being a former five-star recruit; continued to improve and be a productive player.
What We Don’t Like
•His physical stature—doesn’t look nearly as big as his listed height of 6'3", and at times struggles to find throwing lanes in the pocket.
•Possesses only average arm strength—relies on his strong timing and anticipation in the passing game, but when asked to spin the football from one side of the field to the opposite hash mark, his throws float on him. Doesn’t have the arm to be late with a read down the field.
•Needs to do a better job stepping up in the face of pressure and not drifting away from the pocket.
•Is he a guy his teammates will trust and rally around in the fourth quarter? Finished the season with four consecutive losses, all by seven points or less.
•Is he mature enough at this stage to command the respect of his NFL teammates?
With the coaching staff at Notre Dame currently in limbo, and the weak senior quarterback class, entering the draft looks to be the right decision for Clausen. He quickly becomes one of the top quarterback prospects in the draft, and with the need for signal-callers across the NFL, he looks destined to be selected somewhere in the first round.
However, I’d be very cautious about drafting Clausen based on the level of competition he faced this season.
Looking at Notre Dame’s opponents, the best pass defense it played was Purdue, which currently ranks 40th in the country, while also facing Nevada (119th), Washington State (116th), Stanford (105th), Michigan State (103rd), Connecticut (94th), and Washington (90th). That’s far from NFL-caliber.
Plus, his inability to win close games at home and on the road with the cast of talent he had around him sends up red flags for me.
He’s still an accurate passer with a good feel for the passing game and the ability to start in a West Coast-type scheme at the next level. But I think he’s going to need more time to mature physically and mentally to efficiently handle the pressures of the NFL game.
Clausen's playing skills and physical attributes are somewhat deficient, but he should be able to overcome them and contribute to a team. He has the potential to become a starter based on his abilities.
WR Golden Tate: No. 23, 5'11", 195 lbs.
2009 stats: 93 receptions, 1,496 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns
What We Like
•His production has surpassed 1,000 yards receiving each of the past two seasons and was even more productive this year in the absence of fellow starting wideout Michael Floyd.
•Possesses the ability to get up to speed quickly off the line while displaying the body control to snap off routes and remain balanced out of his breaks.
•Exhibits a second gear to his game when asked to track the football down the field and run under the throw.
•Demonstrates good short-area quickness in the open field, has the ability to make a man miss initially, and gets back up to speed quickly after the catch.
•Awareness: Does a great job finding the football down the field and demonstrates the coordination to consistently adjust to the throw and attack the ball.
What We Don’t Like
•Size/strength/power: Can be bullied off the line or down the field when trying to fight his way through contact and separate.
•Isn’t a natural "plucker": Has a tendency to let passes get into his body and will put the ball on the ground. The team drafting him will have to live with his drops.
•Level of competition: Hasn’t been asked to beat/face many NFL-caliber prospects at the college level, and has so far been able to overwhelm opposing defenders with his pure athletic ability. Will need to adjust to NFL corners who aren’t afraid to get up in his face and are just as athletic as he is.
•How much did Notre Dame's coaching situation play into Tate's (and Clausen's) decisions to enter the NFL Draft?
Golden Tate is only one of many talented junior wideouts who will enter the draft, but as of now, he instantly moves up there with the nation’s top senior receivers.
However, as I wrote last Wednesday, with prospects like Dez Bryant, Damian Williams, Arrelious Benn, Dezmon Briscoe, Mike Williams, and Demaryius Thomas all possibly coming out early as well, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Tate get lost somewhere in the middle of the pack on draft day.
I’ve heard the comparisons with DeSean Jackson, Percy Harvin, and even Lee Evans, but honestly, I don’t think Tate is quite the same type of dynamic athlete.
I see him being more of a Mark Clayton-type wideout: possessing the ability to make plays down the field, but with a physical skill set more ideally suited for the slot. Like Clayton, I think Tate will also disappear from games versus physical corners at the next level and have a tendency to drop the ball in traffic.
The team that drafts Tate will likely see him as a potential starting receiver on the outside, but I think he’s going to have a tough time overcoming his lack of size/physicality in order to consistently separate against NFL-caliber corners.
Tate also has the potential to become a starter based on his abilities.
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