Author's note: While most of what is express here is my own opinion after watching games at length, some multiple times, I also used Pro Football Weekly's 2011 Draft Preview for greater in-depth player information on things such as attitude, character and injuries.
The draft is a gamble. We all know that, heck we hear it every year. There are no sure things, only safer things, and sometimes players who are drafted late perform like they should have been first round picks, and some top picks may look like Tarzan, but end up playing like Jane.
The following is my assessment of ten players who are all projected to be top fifty picks in the upcoming draft. Teams who draft these players had better have done their homework on them more thoroughly than other players, because these are players who, due to need or being overhyped, could end up being overdrafted. To succinctly explain overdrafting, think of Robert Gallery. He has turned out to be, when healthy, a better than average offensive guard. However, he was projected as a franchise offensive tackle, and was drafted second overall. Had he been taken in, say, the third round, where that type of player is normally taken, it wouldn't be a big deal. For what he turned out to be, he was overdrafted.
Bowers was an underachiever prior to his junior season at Clemson. He has a history of playing down to the level of the competition and of relying solely on his natural ability. He is inconsistent getting off the snap, and needs to add to his limited number of pass rushing moves, as he seems to rely predominantly on speed only. He shows little willingness to sacrifice his body, and stops playing before the whistle blows. He does not seem to have the ability to play in space. His weight has fluctuated, as he was close to three hundred pounds early in his career. The injury to his left knee is worrisome, and he sprained the MCL and PCL in his right knee in his sophomore season.. He has been compared to Andre Wadsworth, the Cardinals third overall pick in 1998, who was bothered by injuries and faded into obscurity. So we are starting off with a one year wonder, who has a bit of an injury history and is an uneven effort guy.
Clayborn may be physically limited, as he has Erb's Palsy in his right arm due to his head and neck being pulled to the side as his shoulders passed through the birth canal. This caused nerve damage to his neck and right side, resulting in weakness and limited use of his right arm. This would limit how he might be utilized, as the deficiency in his shoulder could prevent him from lining up right handed and left handed the way he'd need to do in an odd front. So, the team that drafts him is potentially handcuffing their defensive coordinator with a player who can only be lined up in a certain way. Sure, moving him to the right side in a 4-3 front might mask his physical weakness, but he doesn't have the speed and flexibility you want on the open side, plus he does not project as a prolific sack artist. Clayborn was very much neutralized by larger blockers, having great difficulty disengaging from blocks. Much of his production actually came when he was over a tight end, not an offensive tackle. So, do you draft a player in the top fifty who begins being physically limited, realizing that you are giving your defensive coordinator someone who he may not be able to use in all the schemes he wants to use? That sounds like an iffy proposition at best.
Mallett has a rare, powerful rocket arm, however he has depended too heavily upon just his arm. So what you get is a player whose footwork fundamentals are highly inconsistent, and he makes many of his throws without setting his feet. This makes his streaky and inconsistent in his accuracy. Similar to Brett Favre in that he need to learn when to take something off his fastball. Mallett is more statuesque than even Dan Marino was, and he struggles greatly with his footwork in the pocket, even having difficulty with merely side-stepping and sliding to avoid pressure. This may be the reason his mechanics are inconsistent, as when he moves around, his ball placement and accuracy diminish greatly. Mallett is far too easily rattled by pressure, as evidenced by how flustered he was against Alabama, when he took back-to-back delay of game penalties while looking to the sideline for the play call. Couldn't close the deal on the big stage against Alabama or Ohio State. He doesn't appear to scan the field very well, not looking like he cycles through his progressions. Mallett is immature and not a respected team leader and his character is of concern. Has been associated with drug use. He received a personal foul penalty against Texas A & M for dropping an elbow on an opponent. Mallett did not come across well in Combine interviews. I seem to recall a top fifty type quarterback with a rocket arm who had limited movement and character questions................oh yeah, Ryan Leaf. I know I wouldn't want my GM to go there.
Yeah, I know. Many of you were waiting for me to get to this one. Newton is unquestionably the biggest risk in the entire draft. We all know the myriad number of issues surrounding him. Everyone has heard about the burglary charges stemming from a stolen laptop, the transfer to a juco when he was facing expulsion from Florida for the three incidents of academic cheating, two when he put his name on someone else's paper, one when he purchased a paper online, trying to pass the work off as his own in each case. The questions regarding his accuracy, footwork, and ability to read defenses are shared by many. Then there are the other issues, and boy, are they ever issues. Egotistical, disingenuous, untrustworthy, immature, undependable, fake, selfish, feels a sense of entitlement- those are just a few of the descriptions seen or heard associated with Newton. Suffice it to say that despite his physical talents, of which there are many, the large number of negatives surrounding Newton make him without a doubt the biggest risk-reward player with the greatest bust potential in the draft. Considering how high he's probably going to go, I'd leave the risk to someone else.
In one year of juco ball and two years at Auburn, Fairley has only one year of substantial production. No doubt, it was a tremendous year, but since he wasn't injured, it begs the question of where he was the other two years. Was he learning the skills that resulted in his breakout junior season, is he an underachiever, did he save it for when he knew he was coming out, or did he just not feel like playing up to his ability? These are critical questions to be answered as Fairley is a player who could either make your draft or break your heart. He does tend to play too upright and gives offensive linemen too big a target, as evidenced by his being pancaked by Georgia's Clint Boling. I noticed that if Fairley doesn't win at the snap, he is usually stalled at the line of scrimmage. He's not smart or disciplined in his play, as he tends to freelance, lose gap integrity, or sometimes just lose sight of the ball altogether. He appears to loaf on the backside of plays, rarely giving chase, taps out of games & takes plays off, possibly because he lacks stamina. His dirty play is also of concern, as Fairley likes to take cheap shots and has been flagged for a number of foolish unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. He seems to need to be pushed and isn't a self starter. Some wonder if he will be a guy who stops trying after a big payday. I myself was very high on him after the National Championship game until I went back and watched five of his regular season games. I didn't much like some of what I saw, to be sure. No doubt about it, the one thing Fairley isn't is a safe bet. Very much an all-or-nothing guy, I expect he will either be great or a total bust, with nothing in between.
Father is the late Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. Heyward is a very solid run defender with a good work ethic. Regrettably, that's about where it ends. He appears to be very tight below the waist, and ends up playing upright much of time, resulting in loss of leverage. Not overly athletic, as he moves with a lack of grace, coordination and balance and has a lot of difficulty staying clear of trash, which is a real problem for a defensive lineman. He doesn't have great instincts, has difficulty finding the ball and feeling blocking pressure. This leads to Heyward sometimes effectively blocking himself by either moving right into an oncoming block, or by simply taking himself out of position. He is not an effective pass rusher, is slow off the ball, and doesn't appear to know what he wants to do when trying to rush the passer. He rarely creates pressure and almost never overpowers blockers. For an end, he lacks edge quickness and speed. Was frequently taken out of games by bigger offensive linemen. He also seems to disappear for stretches, and was virtually invisible in the Wisconsin game. Heyward seems to be a guy who will essentially become a run down player only, as he offers little in terms of pass rush. For me, unless I'm talking about a truly rare running back, a Barry Sanders type guy, but one who simply can't catch the ball to save his life, I don't think I want to draft anyone in the top fifty who is basically a two down player.
Father is Steve Jordan, who was a Pro Bowl tight end for Minnesota in the early 90's. Cameron's game is based much more on quickness than power. For a defensive lineman, that needs to translate to a first step that is truly rare, and explosive, spectacular quickness. Unfortunately, Jordan has neither. He is neither sudden or explosive in his take off, can be easily neutralized in tight quarters, and does not disengage consistently or play a big man's game with power. It is imperative that he gets stronger, plays with greater power and improves his anchor strength. He tends to play high and give away leverage, giving offensive linemen a big target. Hesitates and disappears for stretches. Summing it up, Jordan is essentially a finesse player who lacks ferocity and will very likely be washed out by the bigger linemen he will face in the NFL because of it. So, he lacks strength, and does not possess the type of rare explosiveness that could compensate for it. Doesn't sound like a winning combination to me.
The Temple Owls 2010 Media Guide stated that Wilkerson wore number nine. Somehow, I doubt that's him, but since I really couldn't find much of anything else, we'll go with it. My apologies if I am incorrect. For someone who possesses rare size, length, athletic ability, and body control, playing at a mid-major level would seem to be an ideal scenario to be a big fish in a little pond. Yet, Wilkerson, despite having the raw talent to be just that, was infrequently dominant, seeming to play down to the level of the competition. That all by itself is disconcerting. Then, when you combine that with raw instincts and recognition skills, not being a natural football player, low intensity, little functional strength, and a need to learn to play lower so he doesn't give away leverage, what you get is a raw player who has a great deal to improve upon to be a pro, assuming he wants to work at it. Which, unfortunately is the big question. So, if Wilkerson goes as projected in the top fifty, the team that drafts him is getting a totally raw recruit who has the tools to be molded into a solid pro, but may not want to work at it. Sounds like a great plan to me!
Franklin might just be the most physically gifted offensive lineman in the entire draft. He is big, a powerful mauler, and moves his feet well, plus he has the ideal temperament for the offensive line. However, he is very stiff in his lower body, tending to play upright much of the time as a result. Franklin can tend to be late to see and adjust to the blitz. Plays too wide-based sometimes, which results in his hands going outside the target. He has had his weight balloon in the past and needs to be monitored. The biggest concern may be in his mental makeup. He is ornery, which as mentioned is ideal for an offensive lineman. The problem is, he doesn't restrict that to the playing field. He lacks a sense of accountability, and feels like he has arrived. He is selfish, with a sense of entitlement that is not a a desired trait in the trenches, and has a huge ego. He is potentially very difficult to coach, and may have difficulty getting along with his position coach. Ultimately, that could be Franklin's undoing, as he has the tools to improve if he would take to being coached.
Ayers is primarily thought of as a SLB at the next level due to his overall lack of bulk, but did occasionally lineup at DRE in college. Took the majority of his snaps at linbacker the last two seasons, and most of his game film, along with his Combine workout was as a linebacker. Ayers made a number of splash plays, but those served to mask his inconsistancy as a player who has tended to coast on his athletic ability, which is just average. He lacks elite explosion and acceleration, often being a step late to the edge. Does not show burst or closing speed at the top of his rush. Ayers is not physical against the run, and is a sideswipe tackler. He plays with intensity when he wants to, has average instincts and makes too many mental mistakes. Does not play with power and needs to bulk up and get stronger. His Combine workout and Pro Day were average, and a disappointment to most scouts, but the big plays he has made have resulted in his being overhyped, and he may very well end up overdrafted based on his perceived potential.
So there you have it. Ten players who have some fairly significant question marks surrounding them, but are rated as and projected to go in the top fifty in this year's draft. Of course, some of them will answer the bell, respond to coaching at the next level, and become solid, and in some cases maybe great NFL players. Others will undoubtedly fall victim to their own limitations and make the teams that draft them wish they had passed instead. The real winners will be the teams whose GM's and scouts were able to successfully determine which of those players will respond to what it takes to be a successful professional in the NFL. For the other teams, some of whom may take some of these players in the top ten, the failure of selecting the wrong player will result in a draft that may be thought of as a failure, a potential return to the top ten in next year's draft, and unfortunately for some, loss of their job. Such is life in the NFL, when so much is dependent upon a crapshoot known as the NFL draft.
Before I close, yes, I am aware that all I focused on here were the negatives and areas where players needed to improve. This is because it was never my intention to do a full scouting report with all the positives and negatives. I wanted to do an article, not a novel! I also believe that most of you already have knowledge of the majority of these players from reading BR, and know what their skill sets are. But my theme was who has the potential to be overdrafted, and why they might be, so that was where I concentrated my efforts. Now, I'd like to hear from you. Are some of these players ones you were already leery of, or did you feel like they were solid football players who will be an asset in the NFL? Let me know what you think, your opinion is welcome!