Missouri Football: Prospects Bright for NFL Draft

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Missouri Football: Prospects Bright for NFL Draft
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With the 2009 college football season now officially a chapter in the history books, it's time we turned our attention to the topics of recruiting and the upcoming NFL draft.

However, the Missouri Tigers already completed the finishing touches on their 2010 recruiting class several weeks ago, finishing with 24 members.

That leaves us with only one option: The NFL draft.

Last season's draft was a landmark event for Gary Pinkel's program, as a Big 12-high six Tigers were selected. A host of others also eventually landed offers from NFL teams as undrafted free agents.

Under NFL rules, to be draft-eligible, players need to be three years removed from high school. As such, seeing that Missouri is one of the nation's youngest teams, laden with an overwhelming number of freshmen and sophomores, this year will no doubt feature fewer Tiger draftees than last.

But that's not to say a fair share of names familiar to MU fans won't be called during the course of draft weekend. And though we're still more than 100 days away from the draft, it's never too early to let the prognostications fly.

Here's a breakdown of several Missouri players hopeful of competing at the next level, as well as how each will reach the NFL: through one of the draft's seven rounds, via an undrafted free agent deal, or not at all.

 

Sean Weatherspoon

At this time last year, following his junior season, Weatherspoon strongly considered leaving school early. However, he decided to return upon receiving an evaluation from the NFL that predicted he would fall somewhere in the second or third round.

A preseason All-American and Butkus Award finalist in 2009, Weatherspoon was widely regarded as one of the nation's top three linebackers. And, for the most part, he played like it, as he worked to improve his draft status while closing out his days as a Tiger.

For the third consecutive year, the Texas native lead Missouri in tackles. He registered 111 to finish his career with 413 total, resulting in his third consecutive seasons of 100 or more tackles.


Perhaps even more, Weatherspoon served as the undisputed vocal and emotional epicenter of the MU defense, seemingly making others around him better because of his unrelenting effort level and leadership abilities.

Weatherspoon will forever be labeled as one of the best—if not the best—linebackers in Missouri history, but his wildly successful college game will need some tinkering if it is to translate at the next level.

Including Alabama's Rolando McClain and Florida's Brandon Spikes , Weatherspoon is as physical a linebacker as you'll find in the draft, and his non-stop motor alone will open the eyes of pro scouts. He's stout against the run, and at a shade below 6'2" and 250 pounds, Weatherspoon has the measureables to not only inflict some punishment, but lessen the physical tolls that accompany the position in the NFL.

That being said, there are some knocks against Weatherspoon, who has been predicted to go as high as 19 overall in some mock drafts.

Some evaluations have cited his lack of ideal speed, and few scouts have confidence he has the feet to play his college position of outside linebacker in the NFL. Because of this, there have been concerns that Weatherspoon may have trouble running ball-carriers down from sideline to sideline and that he may not hold his water in pass coverage downfield.

In my opinion, I wouldn't be surprised if Weatherspoon is the fourth or fifth linebacker taken off the board come draft day, behind McClain, Spikes, and the Penn State duo of Sean Lee and Navarro Bowman . If that becomes the case, Weatherspoon's probably looking at the second or third round, perhaps even the fourth.

In any event, Weatherspoon was wise to return for his senior season at Missouri. He was a dynamic playmaker for the Tigers in 2009, earning All-Big 12 honors for a third time, and was allowed to improve on some of his weaknesses. Still, I don't know if Weatherspoon has enough straight-line and closing speed and overall athleticism to warrant the first-round selection he had in mind when he passed up last year's draft.

Prediction: Pittsburgh Steelers, Round Two, Pick No. 52 overall

 

Danario Alexander

As indicated by his all-world numbers in '09, which included a nation-leading 1,781 yards receiving, Alexander is a special talent. He was by far Missouri's most potent weapon on offense, accounting for almost a third of the Tigers' offensive yards this past season, and he certainly has the potential to make an impact on Sundays.

The 6'5", 215-pound Alexander has the makeup of a prototypical red-zone threat in the NFL, and his deceptive speed in open space is a bonus that won't be overlooked by scouts. Alexander was an extremely dangerous big-play threat, as evidenced by his eight touchdowns of 50 yards or more , and he showed an impressive knack for making defenders miss while creating separation.

At the college level, Alexander was electrifying, but the caliber of talent on NFL defenses may very well expose some of his flaws. First, Alexander needs to add weight badly, particularly to his upper body. Also, there will undoubtedly be concerns about his ability to beat press coverage as well, a scenario he seldom experienced against Big 12 defenses.

When Missouri did face a worthwhile defense from the Big 12, the Tigers struggled; as a result, so did Alexander. Against Nebraska and Texas, two of the nation's faster defenses, Alexander combined for only 12 catches and 117 yards, therefore raising some doubts about his ability to excel against defenders of equal agility and talent.

And then there's the issue of health. Alexander, in addition to a procedure to his wrist, has undergone three surgeries to repair a ligament in his left knee since 2007, resulting in an overshadowing of his production at MU prior to his senior season and questions about his durability, as well as leaving scouts with essentially only one season worth of production with which to evaluate the Tiger receiver.

Alexander is too talented and brings too much of an upside to not get drafted at some point during the draft's first three or four rounds.

When healthy, as he was in 2009, Alexander is a difference-maker. And assuming his knee holds up, with a bit of physical maturation and NFL schooling, he could evolve into a dominant force and terror for defenses for years to come.

Plus, like Weatherspoon, Alexander will have an outstanding chance to upgrade his draft prospects when he plays in the Under Armour Senior Bowl on Jan. 30.

Prediction: Baltimore Ravens, Round Three, Pick No. 89 overall

 

Jaron Baston

Were it not for the presence of Weatherspoon, Baston may very well have been the leader of the Tigers' defense. Not the most talented player, the Blue Springs, Mo., product makes up for his physical limitations with a quiet leadership and the high energy level that all defensive coordinators applaud.

Baston was versatile enough to play both the nose guard and traditional defensive tackle position at MU, but in the NFL, you're one or the other, not both. And it's a stretch to say that Baston has the skill and attributes to even play along the interior of an NFL defensive line.

At 6'1", 305 pounds, Baston isn't nearly tall enough to be considered the average NFL defensive tackle, particularly in a 4-3 scheme, and he lacks the ideal bulk to be labeled as a nose guard in a three-man front.

Additionally, Baston has proven he may not be quick or strong enough to consistently beat guards and centers to cause disruption in the backfield. In 2009, he totaled 25 tackles in 13 games, but only 2.5 were for a loss, including 1.5 sacks. In his defense, Baston saw his fair share of double-teams, but taking on two or three offensive linemen is a regularity in the NFL.

Granted, Baston would benefit greatly from some professional tutelage while being given time to put on weight, but it's unlikely an NFL team will gamble away a valuable pick on him. The senior is essentially a player whose measureables and skills don't fit either position along the interior of the defensive line.

Baston will attempt to state his case for the draft when he competes in the Jan. 23 East-West Shrine Game .

Prediction: May receive invite to workout for NFL team as undrafted rookie free agent

 

Jared Perry

Behind Alexander, Perry was Missouri's most accomplished receiver in 2009, catching 46 balls for 696 yards, despite missing two games with a broken leg. Yet it's debatable that Perry's production was a mere byproduct of the Tigers' wide-open spread scheme, which relies upon quick-hitting screens and other routes that would be categorized as intermediate.

The 6'1", 180-pound Perry is not overly big, physical, or quick, and his injury history, which also includes a shoulder that required surgery, is a cause for some concern. His role in the NFL would most likely be confined to possession receiver.

By no means an elite receiver, Perry has nonetheless shown the ability to be a capable secondary option. His speed is adequate, his hands are more than reliable, and he has shown an ability to make the catch in traffic.

But like his teammate, Perry's pluses may be overlooked somewhat because he hasn't needed to be physical off the snap on a consistent basis.

Prediction: May receive invite to work out for NFL team as undrafted rookie free agent


Brian Coulter

Coulter is an interesting prospect, simply because you could say it's possible he is yet to even tap his potential. On the flip side, however, you could argue he has already reached his pinnacle, which, for all intents and purposes, is nothing to shake a stick at.

Formerly a coveted recruit who had originally committed to play for Florida State , Coulter found himself at MU after going the junior college route once FSU was forced to ditch his scholarship because of NCAA sanctions. Once in Columbia, Coulter failed to live up to the hype that surrounded him, and he ended his days as a Tiger with only five sacks in 25 games from his defensive end position, including just two in nine starts in 2009.

Measured at 6'4", 250 pounds, Coulter falls perfectly into that NFL mold of an outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid, but it's questionable whether he has the skills to pull it off on the field.

It's a good bet Coulter was much too invisible at times during games for the liking of NFL scouts, and though he is relatively sound against the run, he has shown the knack for making big plays—forcing a goal line fumble versus Nevada and then collaborating with Aldon Smith for the late safety against Kansas.

However, his propensity for theatrics won't be able to hide his below-average speed and inability to be a dominant force on the edge of the defense.

Prediction: Undrafted, possibility of receiving invite to NFL minicamp

 

Kurtis Gregory

Typically, guard is one of the harder positions to evaluate, but because Gregory was entrenched in Missouri's spread scheme, he faces the possibility of being written off as product of a specific offensive system.

Right off the bat, scouts will point to the wide splits that accompany MU's spread and the subsequent assumption that Tiger offensive linemen weren't asked to frequently play a physical brand of football at the point of attack. When asked to take on defenders straight-up, Gregory performed well at times, but it was clear against stiffer competition that zone blocking better suited the 6'4", 305-pounder.

Per the Tigers' offensive blocking schemes, which often call for linemen to move in space, Gregory displays quick feet. However, he often is overpowered by more physical defensive tackles, doesn't appear to offer a sufficient amount of upper-body strength, and can struggle at times with his hand placement.

As indicated by his near-perfect grade point average, Gregory is a cerebral player who would have little trouble understanding the complexity of NFL blocking intricacies. But it would be surprising, even in the draft's later rounds, if a team were to take a chance on his status as a bit of a reconstruction job.

Prediction: Undrafted, possibility of receiving invite to NFL minicamp

 

Note: Each players' draft prospects are subject to change depending on performance in postseason all-star games and the NFL Scouting Combine (Feb. 24 - Mar. 2), as well as at Missouri's collection of pro days in March.

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