2011 NFL Draft: 15 Players Who Will Fall Short of Expectations
Every year, teams make mistakes in drafting players that either lack the mental aptitude or physical ability to succeed in the NFL. Only one thing is certain when analyzing the 2011 draft class: There will be busts. Several players will be drafted far higher than their talent level or readiness would indicate.
Scouting is far from an exact science, so mistakes are inevitable. Even some of the safest looking picks do not pan out. This slideshow takes a look at 15 players that will likely fail to live up to expectations at the next level.
Marvin Austin, Defensive Tackle, North Carolina
On paper, Marvin Austin appears to be one of the most physically gifted defensive tackles in recent memory. Despite having sat out the entire 2010 season for accepting improper benefits, his stock has managed to rise over the past few months. With rumors linking him to a first-round value, it appears as if his combination of size and athleticism has fooled some teams.
When you turn on tape of the 2009 Tarheels, several players catch your eye more than Austin. His size and athleticism should have made him a dominant player in college, but he was far from that. He is too easily washed out in the run game and lacks suddenness and variety as a pass rusher. There is obviously plenty of upper-body power in the weight room, but his strength on the field does not match workout numbers.
As if disappointing film were not concerning enough for a first-round hopeful, he is reportedly one of this class' most immature players. It may never click for him at the next level if he is unable to grow up fast. Though he is likely to be among the first 50 picks on draft day, I would not start considering him until the fourth round.
Blaine Gabbert, Quarterback, Missouri
Many analysts and NFL evaluators have projected Blaine Gabbert to be selected among the first five picks in next week's draft. While that will likely be the case, it would be hard to justify that pick based on college tape alone. No player in this class has benefited so much from media hype.
I actually like him as a quarterback at the next level, but I highly doubt he receives the grooming time that he desperately needs. He possesses big league size, a quick release, impressive intelligence and terrific mobility.
Some may equate his physical and mental tools to NFL success; however, for every JaMarcus Russell, Ryan Leaf or Vince Young that comes along, there is an Alex Smith, David Carr and Brady Quinn. It is worth adding that Gabbert was not nearly as prolific a college player as any of those listed above.
He will, no doubt, be rushed into early action as a rookie. While there are tools there, he definitely does not appear to be an elite talent on tape. His pocket presence is very shaky and as he is largely a manufactured top prospect, I worry he lacks the mental toughness to overcome adversity early on.
Martez Wilson, Linebacker, Illinois
A handful of players every year are deemed workout warriors at the NFL combine in Indianapolis. Typically, these prospects lack a few key attributes on tape, but inspire hope with tremendous athletic displays. An underachiever in college, Martez Wilson fits the bill in this class.
On film, he appears to be a very linear athlete with tight hips and poor agility. Though he was a highly touted recruit out of high school, Wilson failed to reach lofty expectations for the Illini. His play began to improve this season, but he still lacks the fluidity and instincts of an NFL linebacker.
There is a chance that he will squeeze into the first round of the upcoming draft. He will, however, be much lower on some boards due to a perceived lack of versatility. The big question that must be answered: Where does he fit? If he is not drafted into a simplified role, such as a rush-backer in a 3-4, expect Martez to struggle to hold down a starting spot.
Andy Dalton, Quarterback, TCU
Few players have gained more momentum in the pre-draft process than Andy Dalton. He left Texas Christian on a very high note, as his Horned Frogs bested a much bigger Wisconsin team to win the Rose Bowl. His pro day in early March drew rave reviews from personnel on hand.
Despite having passed every test that has come his way since January, I still feel Andy Dalton leaves a lot to be desired as a prospect. Physically, he is small in stature with a very average arm. He seems to have the intangibles to lead an offense at the next level, but he lacks experience in a pro style offense and is fairly average across the board.
There seems to be a few teams very interested and it would be a surprise if he were not off the board in the top 50 picks. I fear he will be selected to be be a franchise quarterback and will counted on to start right away in the NFL. Most years, Dalton appears to be more of a fourth- or fifth-round prospect.
Muhammed Wilkerson, Defensive End/Tackle, Temple
When Muhammed Wilkerson declared for the NFL draft in January, few fans had actually seen him play. Fast forward to April and he is now one of the trendiest first-round picks in mock drafts. Though he was certainly a very effective player in the Mid-American Conference, he did not dominate like some would have you believe.
While he appears to be a very good athlete for his size, he is still a raw player. His instincts and awareness are still developing on the field. Too often, he plays tall and gets pushed around at the point of attack. He lacks variety and technique in his game. Additionally, he does not play with the power or violence you would like to see from a 300-pounder.
If Wilkerson winds up going in the first round, I expect he will always fall short of expectations at the next level. He appears to be a defensive line twiner that can move up and down the line, but he does not project as an exceptional prospect at any position. Too much of his draft stock appears to be hype right now.
DeMarcus Van Dyke, Cornerback, Miami
DeMarcus Van Dyke has taken advantage of every opportunity he was given since the end of the college football season. After playing at the East-West Shrine Game, he went on to attend the Senior Bowl and blew up the NFL combine. Fans and teams alike had to have been impressed when the 6'1" corner wound up running the fastest 40-yard dash in Indianapolis.
In recent weeks, his draft stock has soared with some mentioning the second or third round as likely landing spots. Unfortunately, when you turn on the tape, Van Dyke fails to inspire. His build is very frail, and he is a liability against big, physical receivers at any level. Though he could conceivably run with anyone downfield, his tackling leaves a lot to be desired.
Ultimately, he grades out as a late rounder on fill. He is very raw both physically and from an instinctual standpoint. While some feel he has long-term potential, there is a good chance he will struggle to earn playing time early. If he is selected anywhere in the first three rounds, it would indicate superficiality. You may never hear his name again after it is called on draft day.
Christian Ponder, Quarterback, Florida State
Never has the demand for a starting quarterback been quite this high entering the NFL draft. The league's labor dilemma has prevented teams from talking trades and exploring veteran options in free agency. Christian Ponder will, no doubt, be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this uncertainty on draft day.
Though he looks, moves and even talks like a pro signal-caller, I fail to see what makes him a superior prospect to 2010 third-round pick Colt McCoy. The intangibles are certainly there, but arm strength and durability are two big concerns. He has now suffered three minor injuries to his throwing arm. Many sell him as a very smart player; however, he made his fair share of bonehead decisions in college, especially under pressure.
There have been whispers of teams interested in landing Ponder with their first-round pick. I cannot say that I see him more than an average starter at best in the NFL. Seeing as he will more than likely be drafted in the top 50 picks, I feel the team that invests in him will be disappointed down the road.
Nick Fairley, Defensive Tackle, Auburn
Few players could have earned the reputation in one year that Nick Fairley was able to. En route to a National Championship, he buried quarterbacks in the ground with a reckless playing style. On sheer talent alone, he would be among the top players in this draft class.
There is quite a bit of concern, however, over his attitude and character. In college, Fairley got by on power, athleticism and ferocity. His conditioning and practice ethic appeared to be quite lax. Some fear he is stuck in a junior college mentality. If he fails to work hard at the next level, he will quickly find his way into his coach's dog house.
Players with his kind of talent simply do not last long on draft day, but it is very much "buyer beware" here. He lacks professionalism at this point and will take some time to get acclimated to football as his paying job. While he certainly has the tools to be a dominant pro, I worry the light may never go on for him.
Aldon Smith, Defensive End, Missouri
Late in the draft process, Aldon Smith has gained momentum as quickly as anyone. Many consider the rangy, athletic end to be worthy of a top-15 selection. I, on the other hand, find him to be one of the most misunderstood players in the class.
After bouncing back from a fractured fibula, the explosiveness just was not there this past season. While his length and speed are impressive, he plays far too tall and struggles to leverage the end. Talk of him standing up and playing linebacker may be a bit far-fetched. Smith is primarily an inside rusher with very violent hands. He must improve his consistency and work on his outside moves.
Though I think he will be a successful pro if brought along well, there are schemes in which I feel he would fall flat on his face. If he were drafted in the first round to play linebacker, I think he would be destined for failure. His best chances come in a 4-3, where he can rotate inside to rush the quarterback on passing downs.
Brooks Reed, Outside Linebacker, Arizona
The hype began building for Brooks Reed shortly after a standout performance in Senior Bowl practices. He went on to flash exceptional athleticism at the NFL combine in February, drawing comparisons to Clay Matthews because of his hair and motor on the field.
Though I was one that helped pioneer his bandwagon, Reed has quickly become over-hyped by many draftniks and analysts. Talk of him in the first round would have been ludicrous shortly following the college football season. While he has speed, some pass-rushing moves and a good motor, he is a bit linear as an athlete and lacks strength at the point of attack.
If selected in the first two rounds, he will likely be counted on to play linebacker at the next level. For that position, he appears very stiff and lacks the explosiveness you would like to see. I worry that he lacks the upside to be a true impact player on defense. He may fit better in a rotational role and on special teams.
Nate Solder, Offensive Tackle, Colorado
Early in the process, many thought of Nate Solder as this class' premier offensive tackle prospect. With rare size and athleticism, he blew up the NFL combine in a way few trench players have ever done. It was the Senior Bowl, however, that helped to expose his flaws to NFL scouts and personnel.
His build resembles that of a tight end more closely than a left tackle. Adding bulk to his frame will be among the most necessary adjustments in transitioning to the pro game. He is far too inconsistent and sloppy technically to warrant a high selection. If rushed into action, Solder will be overpowered and out-leveraged by NFL front seven defenders.
While he does possess some rare traits, teams would be wise to wait until the second round to take a chance on him. There is a good chance that he will always have anchor problems at the next level. Expect him to come off the board late in the first round and never live up to that lofty spot.
Kelvin Sheppard, Linebacker, LSU
On paper, Kelvin Sheppard appears to be one of this class' less appreciated prospects. He certainly has the size, college production, and motor to inspire hope. Additionally, his week at the Senior Bowl went pretty well. Unfortunately, he is not the athlete or football player that numbers would lead you to believe.
He shows some tightness in his hips and projects as a liability in coverage. Sheppard is a very average athlete lacking the instincts to compensate for his lack of speed and quickness. Additionally, he is not very strong and often gets lost in traffic. His inability to shed blockers could hamper his chances to hold down a starting role in the NFL.
The biggest question that must be answered is: Where do you play the guy? He appears to lack the instincts and strength to be an effective middle linebacker in a 4-3. Also, he may lack the speed and hips to play outside. His best fit looks to be inside in a 3-4, but it is still unlikely that he develops into a full-time starter there. He may go as high as the late second round, but grades out more in the fourth- or fifth-round range.
Da'Rel Scott, Running Back, Maryland
This is a name that many will be surprised to see included on this list. Before he blazed a sub 4.35 40-yard dash at the NFL combine, only serious college football fans knew about Da'Rel Scott. At Maryland, he stood out as a back with breakaway speed and game-breaking ability. However, his toughness and durability kept him from entering the upper echelon of college backs.
He appears to be a track guy playing football. The speed is definitely there, but he lacks substance as a running back. His ability to break a game wide open is valued at any level, but playing time may prove hard to come by for Scott as he lacks power and physicality as a runner. The No. 1 obstacle in his way is his own health.
Speculation has been that second and third round are possibilities, but he would be a foolish investment that high. Ultimately, he may be most effective as a kick returner at the next level. I would be very surprised if he was able to hold up to the rigors of an NFL running back. He is more of a fifth-round prospect for me.
Lee Ziemba, Offensive Tackle, Auburn
Few highly decorated college players left as much to be desired on the field as Lee Ziemba. Though he possesses big league size and impressive versatility, he is a marginal NFL prospect. There is a good chance that he will be over-drafted based on experience in the SEC and a blue collar work ethic.
While he may have a few desirable traits, he could never see the field at the next level. His play lacks functional strength and lateral agility. There is not a lot of athleticism to speak of when breaking down Ziemba's game. He is a bit of a waist bender, and the NFL game will prove too fast for him whether he plays tackle or inside at guard.
For a guy that could be considered as early as the third or fourth round, he is underwhelming on tape and lacks the strength or athleticism to even fight for playing time. He grades out as a late-round prospect, but will likely be given his chance much earlier.
Tyler Sash, Strong Safety, Iowa
If there is one guy I feel genuinely sorry to include in this list, it has to be Tyler Sash. He is not a poor prospect and he will work his tail off when he gets to the next level. His inclusion is indicative of the chance that he will be selected too early due to a very weak safety class.
His instincts are top notch and he appears to have enough athleticism to play in the NFL. For a bigger guy, however, he is not much of a thumper in run game. If isolated in coverage against a quicker receiver, Sash will likely appear to be a liability.
Though more of a fourth-round prospect, a lack of talent and depth in this year's safety class could lead to him coming off the board as early as the late second or third round. As a prospect, he is not all too superior to former Hawkeye Sean Considine. Ultimately, he may make more of an impact on special teams than defense.