NFL Draft 2011: 15 Players Who Could Be Fool's Gold

Dean HoldenAnalyst IApril 27, 2011

NFL Draft 2011: 15 Players Who Could Be Fool's Gold

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Cameron Newton #2 of the Auburn Tigers warms up prior to their game against the Oregon Ducks during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    For as much as the NFL draft accompanies great excitement in the football world, it casts a long shadow of doubt and disappointment behind it.

    Teams and their fans are excited to get their hands on their team's next big thing—and for good reason. The draft is the most exciting, most reliable way to build an NFL team.

    As a result, it's also one of the most soul-crushing methods to send your team to the depths of the NFL. It all just depends on how you play it.

    With that in mind, here are 15 players getting drafted this weekend who may not be the saviors their future teams think they are.

15. Ras-I Dowling, CB, Virginia

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    ATLANTA - OCTOBER 09:  Ras-I Dowling #19 of the Virginia Cavaliers against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 9, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Ras-I Dowling almost doesn't make the list because I don't think there's anything really wrong with him.

    Unless he finds his way to the wrong team.

    I have been saying for a long time that Dowling is much too savvy in a zone scheme for him to not become a system cornerback.

    And just so we're clear, "system cornerback" isn't a scathing renouncement. It just means that his particular skill set matches a certain scheme better than others, that's all.

    You wouldn't want to take Clay Matthews to a 4-3 and make him play with his hand in the dirt, would you? Of course not. He might be good, but he wouldn't be as good.

    Same deal with Dowling. He might float in a man cover system and be a decent player. But he could be a stud in a Cover/Tampa 2 system, so why not draft Dowling when you run the scheme that will get the most out of him?

    And why don't you pass on him if you don't?

14. Torrey Smith, WR, Maryland

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    I like Torrey Smith, and I could see him lighting up secondaries for a long time.

    Problem is, the kid needs to learn to catch first.

    Torrey has great size, great speed and good skills on the field. It's just that he's going to be a drop machine until he does some work on it. Presumably, his stone hands are something that can be coached out of him, but that's a risk his new NFL team is going to have to take.

    Whoever it is, good luck with your new edition of Braylon Edwards.

13. Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas

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    NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 04:  Quarterback Ryan Mallett #15 of the Arkansas Razorbacks looks to pass against the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on January 4, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Matthew
    Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

    Nobody doubts Ryan Mallett's ability to throw a football.

    He was one of the sharpest quarterbacks at this year's scouting combine and has a long and productive career at Arkansas.

    But a nice arm isn't all you need to be successful as an NFL quarterback. Quarterbacks need to be smart and effective leaders, more at the NFL level than anywhere else.

    I don't know Mallett personally, so I won't say anything about his intelligence. But I do know there are serious concerns about his character, which is a bigger concern at quarterback than anywhere else.

    Jay Cutler has been taking heat about his demeanor for his entire career but has managed to play through it.

    Jimmy Clausen? Less so. And Clausen is just a jerk with no drug use history.

12. Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA

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    PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 18:  Linebacker Akeem Ayers #10 of the UCLA Bruins in the game with the Houston Cougars at the Rose Bowl on September 18, 2010 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 31-13.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Ayers is another one with all the talent and all the ability but a questionable demeanor.

    For Ayers, it's not a checkered past or his leadership ability, it's his motor and effort. If he kicks those up a notch, he'll be a Pro Bowler.

    If he thinks he'll be able to skate by in the NFL on minimal effort, that's when a team is going to have a problem with him.

11. Jake Locker, QB, Washington

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    SEATTLE - OCTOBER 30:  Quarterback Jake Locker #10 of the Washington Huskies passes against the Stanford Cardinal on October 30, 2010 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    I like to be an advocate for student-athletes to stay in school and finish their degrees.

    It helps to prop up the rickety notion of the "student-athlete" in the first place and serves as a fallback for anyone whose professional career doesn't pan out.

    In the case of Jake Locker, it cost him millions of dollars as his draft stock plummeted in his senior year.

    Or not. Recent rumblings have the Minnesota Vikings or even the Tennessee Titans taking Locker with their first-round pick, which would put the him back in the top 15, where he was projected to be last year.

    That might be a stretch by a team desperate for a quarterback for next season, because I don't think Locker is a first-round talent, at least not with what he has shown us over the last 12 months.

10. Bruce Carter, OLB, North Carolina

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    NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - SEPTEMBER 25: Bruce Carter #54 of the North Carolina Tar Heels intercepts a pass intented for Keith Stroud #15 of the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during the second quarter at Rutgers Stadium on September 25, 2010 in New Brunswick, New Jers
    Andrew Burton/Getty Images

    I hesitate to say this, because I actually really want Bruce Carter to succeed (for my team).

    But Carter is a great linebacker who relied primarily on his outstanding athleticism to make plays. He shredded his knee in December and hasn't been able to work out since.

    Carter was cleared to resume full workouts this week, but that was too late for any teams to bring him in for an official visit before the draft. Sure, Carter has recovered, and that's good.

    But nobody knows if he will have lost a step due to his injury. If he has, he's a much less valuable pick.

9. Casey Matthews, ILB, Oregon

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    GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 10:  Casey Matthews #55 of the Oregon Ducks watches the play against the Auburn Tigers during the Tostitos BCS National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 10, 2011 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C.
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Sometimes a guy gets oversold because of his name.

    Casey Matthews, based on his play at Oregon, should be about a fifth-round pick. Based on his name, he should go in the top 10. Most likely, he falls somewhere in between (most likely the third).

    That's fine, as long as his new NFL team doesn't mind the fact that they're reaching by a couple of rounds for a guy based on his bloodline.

    Granted, nobody thought much of Clay Matthews out of USC, either, and he proved to be one of the best picks of his draft.

    Somebody is going to give the younger brother a shot, and they're going to bank on him exceeding expectations because he has football in his blood.

    But you know who else has football in his blood? Cooper Manning.

8. Justin Houston, DE/OLB, Georgia

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    ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 27:  Justin Houston #42 of the Georgia Bulldogs sacks quarterback Tevin Washington #13 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Sanford Stadium on November 27, 2010 in Athens, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Look, I get that kids in college make mistakes. So Justin Houston getting busted on a marijuana test at is, on the surface, no big deal.

    But he got busted at the combine. Where he knew they were going to test him. Suddenly it's not an issue of a little indiscretion in college but a question of general intelligence and responsibility.

    He gets busted like that in the NFL, and it's a four-game suspension. If he can't lay off for a few weeks when millions of dollars and his professional future are at stake, what makes anyone think he'll clean up after he gets drafted (and has more money)?

7. Tyron Smith, OT, USC

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:   Quarterback Matt Barkley #7 of the USC Trojans throws a pass as Tyron Smith #70 blocks Jesse Feagin #98 of  the Washington State Cougars during the second quarter of the college football game at the Los Angeles Memorial C
    Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

    Tyron Smith is unanimously considered the top left tackle prospect in this year's draft.

    Problem with that is, as you can see from the picture above, Smith is a right tackle. And getting away with an egregious amount of holding.

    I have no doubt that Smith is the top lineman in the draft, but a top-10 pick changing position as soon as he enters the league?

    It may work, but buyer beware.

6. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01:  Mark Ingram #22 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after rushing for a touchdown during the Capitol One Bowl against the Michigan State Spartans at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by M
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    I wasn't a huge fan of Mark Ingram even when he was winning the Heisman Trophy, and I certainly haven't changed my stance on him now that he's an NFL prospect with a potentially arthritic knee.

    An NFL running back has to be one of the most durable players on the football field, and the fact that Ingram could be a health risk out of the gate should be a huge red flag.

    Some compare Ingram to Emmitt Smith (I'm guessing they're from Alabama, though), but if he can't stay healthy, he could be 2011's version of Ryan Mathews.

5. DaQuan Bowers, DE, Clemson

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    AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 18:  Da'Quan Bowers #93 of the Clemson Tigers against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 18, 2010 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Da'Quan Bowers might today be the biggest question mark in football.

    Is he healthy? If so, he's a top five pick.

    Is his knee going to need serious surgery? If so, his entire career might be in jeopardy.

    Of course, there is no reliable report leaning one way or another on the matter. For every one that says Bowers is fine, there's another with "microfracture" all over it.

    Ultimately, we won't know until somebody spends that first-round pick on him, and by then it will be too late. Either that team gets the steal of the draft, or a major bust.

4. Mike Pouncey, OG, Florida

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    NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 01:  Tim Tebow #15 of the Florida Gators hugs teammate Mike Pouncey #55 after scoring a touchdown against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisana Superdome on January 1, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Is Mike Pouncey going to be a good interior lineman in the NFL? Most likely.

    Is he going to be as good as people think? It's questionable.

    Is he slotted so high primarily because there aren't that many great interior linemen in this year's draft, and Pouncey happens to be the best of a weak class? Pretty much.

    Look, I'm not saying Pouncey is going to bust. He'll probably be just fine. But lots of people think that because he's the top guard on the board, he's going to be an instant Pro Bowler (like his brother) and plug in for 10 years with no problems.

    I'm just saying, it might not be that easy.

3. Aldon Smith, DE, Missouri

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    LINCOLN, NE - OCTOBER 30: Quarterback Taylor Martinez #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers tries to slip the grip of defensive end Aldon Smith #85 of the Missouri Tigers during first half action of their game at Memorial Stadium on October 30, 2010 in Lincoln,
    Eric Francis/Getty Images

    There is no doubt that Aldon Smith has a massive amount of upside, and whoever drafts him will be banking on that upside coming to fruition.

    Smith almost certainly left college a year or two too early (as a redshirt sophomore), and as a result, he has a lot of potential under a very raw exterior.

    Any team looking for Smith to contribute in a big way as a rookie is likely to be disappointed, and that's scary for a guy projected by some to be a top-10 pick. The guy hasn't even finished growing yet, and his skills need a lot of coaching.

    That said, he does have an innate ability to get to the quarterback, he's just looking at some growing pains.

    Development is never a sure thing, though. Players expected to develop into greats often never do, and spending a first-round pick on a big ball of potential is a scary thing.

2. Julio Jones, WR, Alabama

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    ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 01: Julio Jones #8 of the Alabama Crimson Tide stiffarms Chris Rucker #29 of  the Michigan State Spartans during the Capitol One Bowl at the Florida Citrus Bowl on January 1, 2011 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Im
    Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

    This one should rile a few of you up, and for good reason. Julio Jones has shown nothing but talent and ability during his career, at the combine, and wherever else he performed.

    But I can't ignore the fact that he has shot up into the top 10 primarily as a result of his combine performance. This is a classic example of people putting too much stock into the combine when perhaps they should just let it be.

    Granted, Jones has been a workout warrior this spring, and it's not like he was a scrub at Alabama. He's worth a first-round pick, no question. But top 10? Competing with A.J. Green? That's classic combine overreaction.

1. Cam Newton, QB, Auburn

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    SAN DIEGO, CA - FEBRUARY 10: 2010 Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Cam Newton of Auburn stretches before his workout routine for the media at Cathedral High School's sports stadium on February 10, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kent Horner/ Ge
    Kent Horner/Getty Images

    This one is so easy, it's almost not fair.

    Has any projected No. 1 overall pick ever been so wrought with controversy and question marks?

    Pay-for-play at Auburn.

    Failing academics at Florida.

    The "entertainer/icon" comments.

    A terrible combine in which he under/overthrew just about everything.

    If you can take that—all of that—and brush it under the rug, then you still are faced with the fact that Newton is a run-first quarterback.

    That's NFL shorthand for "never going to be effective in the postseason/against a top-10 defense."