With less than two weeks to go before the 2011 NFL draft, prospects at every position are trying to push their stock as high as possible. Unfortunately for some, draft position isn’t just about how good a player you are or could be.
Sometimes a glut of players at one position or a lack of teams looking for a certain kind of player can sink a prospect’s draft position through no fault of his own.
Herein, 10 prospects whose talent may be overshadowed by factors beyond their control when the names are called next weekend.
Measured on his ability and his potential, Danny Watkins is one of the top OG prospects in this draft class. But despite his 6’4”, 310-lb. build and solid performance at Baylor, he has one major question mark that he can’t do anything about.
Watkins, a former firefighter in just his fourth year of organized football, will turn 27 by the time the 2011 season begins. Many teams will see him as a poor long-term investment for that reason alone.
With several teams ready to win now who could use another big body on the offensive line (the Giants, Bears and Steelers might all fit the bill), Watkins could still be a first-round pick. On the other hand, he could drop a full round or two further down based on nothing more than the year on his birth certificate.
In some ways, Randall Cobb landed in the draft in exactly the right year. The success of Dexter McCluster in Kansas City last season showed teams that a hybrid RB/WR like Cobb could be a valuable weapon in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Cobb, his 5’10” build could work against him in a draft in which a number of teams are likely to be in the market for taller receivers.
Even with an 84-catch senior year on his résumé, Cobb may find himself passed over in favor of bigger targets like Miami’s Leonard Hankerson and Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin, purely because he doesn’t offer the same jump-ball potential near the end zone.
Even in the best of circumstances, Daniel Thomas would be coming into this draft with some handicaps. He isn’t a particularly impressive receiver (27 catches last year) and doesn’t have a lot of experience as a blocker.
On top of that, Thomas strained a quad at his pro day before he could improve on an unimpressive 4.60 40 time.
Even with those question marks, though, Thomas’ 1,585 yards and 19 TDs last year would merit a longer look were it not for the paucity of teams in the market for RBs.
With the much-discussed exception of the Dolphins—with their two free-agents-to-be in Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown—tailback just isn’t a priority for most teams in this draft. Lack of demand will push Thomas even further down the draft than would be expected from his skill set alone.
The top safety in the 2011 draft class, hands down, is UCLA’s Rahim Moore. Unfortunately for Moore, that still might not be enough to crack the first round.
While safety is a position of need for a bunch of teams this year (Houston and Detroit, for example), it happens that most of those teams are picking in the top half of the first round, higher than Moore is expected to go.
Later in the first round, when Moore would become a reasonable value pick, few teams are going to be prioritizing the safety position. He could easily fall into the second round purely because that’s where the teams that really need him will be able to get him.
With a few exceptions (see Lewis, Ray), middle linebackers tend to have a lower profile than their blitzing outside counterparts. Still, for every Clay Mathews with a Super Bowl ring, there’s usually an A.J. Hawk who helped him earn it.
Greg Jones followed up his 78-tackle freshman season with three straight 100-tackle campaigns, but despite his nine sacks as a junior, he’s not generally considered a big-play threat.
That perception will combine with his admittedly limited pass-coverage skills to drop him into the draft’s middle rounds, but his nose for the football could make whichever team gets him feel like it lucked out that he was still on the board.
The 2011 draft class is not a good place to be a linebacker for those who didn’t pile up sacks at the college level. The preponderance of edge rushers makes it even tougher than usual for less flashy OLBs to stand out.
Mason Foster did nothing but make plays for the Washington Huskies, but he doesn’t have the raw speed to be an elite pass rusher. He’s likely to turn out as a steal for some team that takes a mid-round flyer on him and gets a well-rounded ‘backer with a motor that never stops.
A full-time starter at both FB and LB at Stanford, Owen Marecic can’t be faulted for lack of dedication. Unfortunately for him, few NFL offenses these days use fullbacks (his better position) as more than an afterthought.
If this were 1991 and fullbacks like Tom Rathman and Maurice Carthon were playing key roles on championship-caliber teams, Marecic would probably merit a second- or third-round selection.
In 2011, though, some team will probably wind up with a fifth- or sixth-round steal on a hard worker and potential special-teams standout who just doesn’t play a position that the NFL values.
Cameron Heyward could be the most NFL-ready DE in this year’s draft class, yet he’s not even a sure-fire first-round pick. Heyward can contribute against the run and the pass and brings more polish than many prospects likely to go ahead of him.
Unfortunately for Heyward, the predominance of hyper-athletic DEs like Justin Houston and Robert Quinn makes his lack of either breathtaking speed or jaw-dropping numbers look tame by comparison.
He may still make the first round, but the depth of this crop of defensive ends is unquestionably going to hurt his final position.
Teams looking for defensive ends are in great shape in the 2011 NFL draft, as there isn’t a deeper position group anywhere in this class. The flip side, though, is that it’s not necessarily a great draft to be a defensive end.
Cameron Jordan is a skilled, hard-working player who plays the run as well as any DE in this draft, but he totaled just 16.5 sacks in 32 starts as a Golden Bear. In a draft loaded with premier pass rushers, Jordan’s relative inability to pressure the quarterback could drop his stock severely.
In the right year, Rodney Hudson could easily have become a first-round pick.
A prototypical OG for a zone-blocking scheme, the undersized but athletic Hudson would have fit perfectly on an Alex Gibbs-coached team like the Terrell Davis Broncos.
Unfortunately for Hudson, the teams that are in the market for help at guard (notably Chicago and Pittsburgh) are more interested in traditional earth-mover types than in agile lead blockers.
Hudson’s lack of size becomes more of a handicap without the optimal scheme to play him in, and his draft position will likely suffer as a result.