Only 32 men per year can call themselves first-round draft picks. That man you see on the left will likely be the first of the 2010 class come this Thursday.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t more than 32 who are “worthy” per se, but for those near the cut it sometimes comes down to the luck of the draw.
Even after all the combine activities, pro days, and private workouts are done and the “grades” are finalized, there are still external personnel factors in play that can move a fringe player either into or out of the top 32.
Based on what they’ve done and where they fit in (and perhaps a little draft-day maneuvering), a few guys who were initially considered second-round prospects inevitably find their way into the bottom of the first round—an honor that’s also accompanied by a lot more money.
While anything can still happen in the final few days leading up to the draft, these five players could likely be the one or ones who find their way into Thursday’s proceedings.
NOTE: All rankings courtesy of NFL Draft Scout and cbssports.com.
CURRENT RANKINGS: No. 33 overall; No. 5 CB
Much of the draft hype surrounding cornerbacks over the last few months has been about either Florida’s Joe Haden or Boise State’s Kyle Wilson, with Rutgers’ Devin McCourty gaining a lot of steam late in the process (and as of now considered a top-25 pick according to one league source).
Beyond them, Alabama’s Kareem Jackson has been considered one of the best (if not the best) of that “second tier” of corners and was initially projected by the NFL Advisory Committee as an early second-round pick.
Jackson (seen above blanketing Jordan Shipley in the BCS National Championship Game) is a smart, physical, ball-hawking corner who is good in both man and zone coverages, and is also willing to get dirty in running situations as well.
His biggest knocks, however, are that he relies on face-guarding a lot and is beaten easily enough on deep routes—two shortcomings that may hamper his position because they could prevent him from being a “No. 1” corner.
However, there are a lot of teams late in the first round that may be looking for corners, which means that four or five could end up going in the first round.
Joe Haden will likely be a top 10-12 pick, and the Texans are all but guaranteed to take a corner at No. 20—meaning Wilson would likely be off the board—so teams drafting in the final third of Round One will be looking at guys like McCourty and Jackson.
Philadelphia may be looking for depth, Baltimore may be looking for a starter, both the Colts and Chargers could look there if there isn’t a player they’re in love with available at a position of higher need, and the Jets worked out Jackson less than two weeks ago.
Cleveland could also be a wildcard, as they worked out McCourty and others just a couple weeks ago (after they acquired Sheldon Brown), so the Browns could move down from No. 7 or up from No. 38 to acquire another defensive back somewhere late in the first.
If more than one of these teams go corner—or only one does but isn’t in love with McCourty—Jackson could make it into the first round.
CURRENT RANKINGS: No. 37 overall; No. 6 CB
If teams don’t think Jackson is the “best of the rest” at corner, then they likely think that title belongs to Patrick Robinson.
The former Seminole has good size at 5’11”, great speed (ran a 4.38 40 at his pro day), and excellent instincts for the ball. He also has long arms, good hands, and great closing/recovery speed, three traits that help him immensely if he gets beat.
Robinson can also help on special teams, as he is a dangerous returner and blocked two kicks while at Florida State.
The knock on him, though, is that he has too much of a cover corner mentality—meaning he is a bit wanderlust in zone coverage and not much of a force in run coverage.
Still, Robinson has impressed a lot of team scouts in the last month or so with his athleticism and overall package of talent.
He likely won’t be any higher than the fourth corner selected, but either a late run at that position or a surprise selection by someone in the top 20 other than Houston could sneak Robinson into the first round.
CURRENT RANKINGS: No. 36 overall; No. 3 QB
There’s nothing negative I can say about Tim Tebow’s game that you haven’t heard before.
If you believe all of what you see and most of what you hear, Tebow can’t play under center, doesn’t have ideal quickness, possesses poor throwing mechanics, and has untested arm strength because he didn’t often throw deep at Florida.
And yet, seemingly inexplicably to those detractors, he’s moving up a lot of teams’ draft boards—and may find himself sneaking into Thursday’s mix.
Tebow himself might not even think that, as he declined an invitation to come to New York for the draft.
But he’s charismatic, has made tremendous strides over the last month or two and has shown that he does have the arm strength to make all of the throws.
All things considered, it’s entirely feasible that a team that uses a more spread-friendly offense (read: Minnesota or Arizona) could take a flyer on Tebow and try to utilize him in more of a “Slash” role in 2010.
He’s also been heavily linked with his hometown team, Jacksonville. Tebow would be a huge reach at No. 10, but the Jags only have six selections and could be looking for more. If they decide he’s too valuable to their franchise (as either a quarterback or a ticket-selling ploy) to pass up, they could try to get their man and more choices by moving down to select Tebow later in the first.
CURRENT RANKINGS: No. 38 overall; No. 6 OT
For months, pundits have been saying that anywhere between five and seven tackles could be taken in the first round—yet none of them (until now) have even seemingly thought of Rodger Saffold as part of that group.
But the 6’5”, 316-pound Saffold, who was considered a mid-round prospect before the 2009 campaign, has made a late surge up many draft boards and has surpassed Maryland’s Bruce Campbell on NFL Draft Scout’s list as well.
Saffold’s surprise run started in workouts for the East-West Shrine Game, where he was dominant against both speed rushers and power linemen. He then had a good combine, putting up board numbers comparable to the likes of Russell Okung and Trent Williams, and showed surprising agility in his pro day drills.
On the field, Saffold is very physical, is a great run blocker (both on the line and in space), and plays hard through the whistle, but needs to work a bit on his balance.
Indiana isn’t a historically great program so they don’t get much love, but Saffold was nearly a four-year starter at left tackle (he took over halfway through his freshman season) and only allowed one sack on 2009.
Saffold is currently the sixth-ranked tackle, but both Campbell and USC’s Charles Brown (No. 7 and No. 5 on that list, respectively) have experience and technique issues—so if there’s a run on tackles early in the round as expected, a team looking for solid depth (say, an Indianapolis or Dallas) could take a very hard look at the former Hoosier in the mid-to-late 20s.
CURRENT RANKINGS: No. 43 overall; No. 5 OLB
Washington was never a full-time starter until 2009, but he led TCU with 109 tackles and was second on the Horned Frogs to likely first-rounder Jerry Hughes with 11.5 tackles for loss.
He has some issues, of course. Most notably, scouts say he runs around blocks too much, has a tendency to over-pursue the ball carrier on running plays, and is more comfortable using his length to tackle ball carriers instead of driving into them.
He also needs to work on his strength; he only put up 17 reps on the bench press at the combine, and he won’t be able to rely solely on length to be an effective tackler in the NFL.
Even though that all sounds like a lot on the negative side, he has one a few big pros—the most prominent of which is his potential versatility.
Washington technically played inside in TCU’s unique defense, but his size (6’3”, 230 lbs.) makes him an ideal candidate to play the weak-side at the NFL level and his coverage skills could help him transition to the strong-side as well.
He also has great speed; his 4.58 40 time was the best of any OLB at the combine, and he also had the top mark in the 10-yard and 20-yard shuttle drills.
Strength can be coached, but speed and work ethic can’t.
Of the four OLB ranked ahead of him, three are truly 3-4 outside rush backers and some teams reportedly have Washington higher on their boards than the fourth, Missouri’s Sean Weatherspoon.
Based on all of his positive factors and the upside he’s shown, Washington could find himself going late in the first to a 4-3 team like New Orleans or Minnesota who has a lot of holes to fill in the front seven.