As the 2010 NFL Draft rapidly approaches, mock drafts abound. When a move like the McNabb trade happens, prognosticators scatter like cockroaches when the light comes on.
This, on the other hand, is no mock. It is simply my opinion of the best value players by position, and by value I mean what I think they will do in the NFL factored by what their draft position and starting salaries figure to be.
Offense: This year's class features good talent on offense, primarily at line and quarterback.
Quarterback: Tim Tebow, Florida
I know I'm inviting controversy here, but I actually believe that if Tebow falls as far as experts say he might (possibly the third round or later), his performance will surprise football fans around the league. Not only does Tebow have the physical tools to be a running threat—he had the best 10-yard, 20-yard, three-cone, and shuttle times—but his 38 1/2 foot vertical jump gives him an alley-oop style pass option at the goal line.
He's also left handed (dynamic) and has changed his throwing motion to a more NFL-friendly release. Furthermore, even though he (like so many rookie quarterbacks) will probably sit out most of the season, he won't be doing it while collecting first-round dollars.
Honorable mention: Colt McCoy, Tony Pike, Dan LeFevour.
Wide Reciever: Jordan Shipley, Texas
Don't act like you didn't see this one coming. Shipley is the real deal. Not only does he return kicks and punts, but he's quicker than he is fast and catches everything you throw at him. Need more argument? See my previous article here .
Honorable mention: Arellious Benn, Jacoby Ford, Mardy Gilyard.
Tight End: Jimmy Graham, Miami
The jump-ball TE of the draft, Graham has the go-up-and-get-it size that dominates NFL red zones. He's not exactly slow or clumsy, either. Think Tony Gonzalez.
Honorable mention: Dorin Dickerson, Aaron Hernandez, Anthony McCoy.
Offensive Tackle: Bruce Campbell, Maryland
Once projected as a first-rounder, Campbell will likely wiggle down to the middle of the second. That's not a bad place to pick up a tackle who's 6'7", 315 pounds, ran a sub-five 40, and put up 34 repetitions on the big bench. With the correct fine tuning, he could be a force in the NFL.
Honorable mention: Jared Veldheer, Vladimir Ducasse, Russell Okung.
Offensive Guard: Mitch Petrus, Arkansas
Even I expected me to go with Brandon Carter here, but I couldn't ignore Petrus' 45 repetitions on the big bench, which tied the Combine record. Add in the fact that he was initially a 225-pound walk-on tight end who switched to guard, then to fullback, then back to guard.
He missed the 2008 season for academic suspension, but came back for an outstanding 2009. Projected as a third- or fourth-rounder, Petrus has a tremendous upside.
Honorable mention: Brandon Carter, Marshall Newhouse, John Jerry.
Center: Maurkice Pouncey, Florida
Center is the most thankless, unglamorous, and difficult position in football. It's also the player who touches the ball on every offensive play, Wildcat formations included. Like quarterbacks, centers often need seasoning and grooming upon their entrance into the NFL. Unlike most quarterbacks, they can learn on the job by playing a couple years at guard.
Pouncey played center better than any other college player in 2009, and will be a force in the NFL. He'll be worth his dollar, even at first-round pay.
Honorable mention: Eric Olsen, Jeff Byers, Joe Hawley.
Running Back: Ben Tate, Auburn
Tate is a player I believe will actually improve upon his graduation to the NFL. Auburn's O-line was often punked by superior SEC defenses, but I see Tate thriving behind less mismatched NFL trenches. His 4.32 second 40, 40-inch vertical, and 26-rep big bench give him the tools he'll need to succeed in the NFL.
Honorable mention: Jahvid Best, Toby Gerhart, LeGarrette Blount.
Full Back: Clay Harbor, Missouri State
Bruisers are in short supply this year, and Clay is at the top of the rankings as a potential third-rounder. He's big and powerful—what else do you want?
Honorable mention: John Conner, Rendrick Taylor, Manase Tonga.
Defense: This year's defensive class is a cut above the rest. Better than average is not the word to describe it, as tackles and DBs seem to show unprecedented talent. Transitions from college to the NFL often shift DEs to OLB and ILBs to SS. Nevertheless, I'm ranking them from their college positions.
Defensive Tackle: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska
His name means "House of Spears" and he's already a legend in Lincoln, NE. Once slotted as the "undisputed first overall pick," recent mocks have him falling as far as fourth overall. That is a ridiculous place to get a defender who could play nose tackle, defensive tackle, or end. Not only will Suh start immediately, but he will make a big difference on any defense—immediately.
Honorable mention: Terrence Cody, Brandon Deaderick, Tyson Alualu.
Defensive End: Austen Lane, Murray State
Lane has the biggest upside as his 6'6", 275-pound frame seems like it will allow him to continue to grow while maintaining effectiveness. His talent is raw, and Murray State isn't exactly a powerhouse program, but I think good NFL coaching will make him a success.
Honorable mention: Clifton Geathers, C.J. Wilson, George Selvie.
Outside Linebacker: Dekoda Watson, Florida State
Though he may eventually become a strong safety in the NFL, Watson posted impressive numbers at the Combine. His good speed and ridiculous jumping ability could benefit such a transition as well.
Honorable mention: Thaddeus Gibson, Koa Misi, Simoni Lawrence.
Inside Linebacker: Jamar Chaney, Mississippi State
Solid Combine numbers across the board, and he's a fourth-rounder? Yup.
Honorable mention: Pat Angerer, Donald Butler, Phillip Dillard.
Strong Safety: Larry Asante, Nebraska
Although Suh made the headlines, Asante made the plays in the secondary. And as a projected fourth-rounder, he won't command the big man's big bucks.
Honorable mention: Reshad Jones, Darrell Stuckey, Myron Rolle.
Free Safety: Taylor Mays, USC
In a year full of outstanding defensive backs, this guy stands out as a physical freak. His play at USC may have been inconsistent, but give the man some good NFL coaching and watch him light up the field on any given Sunday. He should be a value pick, even as a late first rounder.
Honorable mention: Myron Lewis, Major Wright, Kam Chancellor.
Cornerback: Chris Cook, Virginia
Corner is possibly this year's premier position. Six (yeah, six) players have first round potential here, and Cook is somehow not one of them. His 4.49 40 time and 6'2" height mean he should be able to cover NFL receivers. His puny bench press, however, is a legitimate cause for concern.
Honorable mention: Kevin Thomas, A.J. Jefferson, Kyle Wilson.
Special Teams: You really never think about these guys until you need them. Then they become everything. Cultivating young special teamers is rare and almost always a late-round endeavour. Most will not be drafted.
Kicker: Hunter Lawrence, Texas
He beat Nebraska.
Honorable mention: Leigh Tiffin, Aaron Pettrey.
Punter: P.J. Fitzgerald, Alabama
A National Champion who went 88 punts in a row without a block. His average yardage showed improvement each year, from 34.8, to 36.5, to 37.1.
Honorable mention: Zoltan Mesko, Robert Malone.
Long Snapper: Clint Gresham, TCU
Gresham began his college career at Oklahoma, ended up as the Horned Frogs' short and deep snapper.
Honorable mention: Mike Windt.
That sums it up, and I'd say you could put a decent team together with rookies alone this year—if you had 53 draft picks. The draft is two weeks away now, but as far as I'm concerned, St. Louis is already on the clock.