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NFL Preseason: 10 High Draft Picks Who Are Still a Year Away

Ray TannockSenior Analyst IAugust 17, 2011

NFL Preseason: 10 High Draft Picks Who Are Still a Year Away

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    The 2011 NFL draft was probably one of the most talented and deep in recent memory. But despite the amount of talent that did come out of this year's draft, there are still several high draft picks that appear to be another year away.

    Some of the players are currently pushed back due to injury, while others are simply in need of some additional seasoning.

    Let's take a quick look at who's who.

Mikel Leshoure: RB

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    Before the season-ending Achilles tendon tear, Leshoure was still playing behind starter Jahvid Best, and looked primed to begin the season as a more-than-capable backup.

    But the injury now sets Leshoure back quite a bit as only one-third of all players ever return from such a devastating injury.

    His age and strength are on his side, but he is already way behind the 8-ball here.

Blaine Gabbert: QB

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    In his first NFL outing Gabbert didn't do all that bad, but it is very clear that the star QB from Missouri isn't ready to take over the helm.

    Gabbert completed just over 50 percent of his passes, but they were all to his first read much like in practice. An NFL starter must be able to go through his progressions.

    Part of the issue will be getting Gabbert used to being a pocket quarterback instead of a quick release shotgun QB he was in Missouri.

    A lot of work to do here.

Martez Wilson: OLB

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    The No. 72 overall pick is showing signs of having a bright future in the NFL, but he is still about a year away from making the impact the Saints envision.

    They feel as if they have the next Scott Fugita in Wilson, but they also wisely re-signed Danny Clark due to his versatility to play all three areas at LB, and his excellent play at strong-side linebacker.

    Wilson will compete for a starter's role, and may even see some playing time in the regular season, but he is still about a year away from emerging.

Christian Ponder: QB

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    Ponder has been doing a ton of work since arriving in Minnesota, and he has dedicated a ton of time with the players and just about anything he was able to get his hands on in regard to practice.

    But he is still just about a year away which tells you just how difficult the transition to the pros can be.

    Against the Titans he primarily played against Tennessee's third stringers, after Joe Webb, but that's par-for-the-course in preseason.

    Ponder will get a better contest against Seattle's second stringers this week.

Colin Kaepernick: QB

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    Coach Harbaugh has been pouring over this kid even saying that he is the most "game-ready" rookie he has ever seen, but all comments should always be accompanied with a grain of salt.

    The 49ers will keep Kaepernick rolling around in the bread crumbs for a while, and allow themselves to deal with the play-out of Alex Smith, but Kaepernick still needs to show more value than just his fantastic mobility in an effort to convince he is truly ready.

    Look for Kaepernick to continue to work on adjusting out of a quick release spread offense, and into a methodical West Coast offense, which takes time—about a year's worth to be exact.

Nate Solder: OT

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    I think this was one of the best draft picks by the Patriots this year, and I can't wait to see Solder as a starter which should happen in 2012.

    The Patriots re-signed Matt Light who is figured to be plugged right back into the "swing" tackle position; a position that takes a bit of time to learn.

    Solder will have to work on his release off the snap, and leverage before being plugged into a full-time basis.

Aldon Smith: OLB

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    Smith has enough talent to warrant a bright career in the NFL, but he will first have to accomplish one of the more difficult things to do even for a veteran player: switch from defensive end to linebacker.

    With that transition also comes the added venture of going from a 4-3 mentality to a true pass-rushing 3-4 mentality.

    The 49ers are liking what they see, and they hope he can be the opening day starter, but as it stands right now, everything is up in the air, and I believe Smith is still a year away from making that transition effectively even if he does wind up starting.

DeMarco Murray: RB

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    The Dallas Cowboys have officially said they don't expect a much larger role for Murray than Felix Jones' role when he was a rookie, which is good for about 35 carries in six games total —DallasCowboys.com.

    The fact of the matter is, after missing OTAs and now most—if not all—of camp due to a hamstring injury, Murray's career in the NFL will begin slower than expected.

    He just isn't ready yet physically, and he doesn't have enough preparation to entertain becoming a starter in 2011.

Torrey Smith: WR

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    The kid got a true taste of the pros a couple of days ago under the lights, and against a terribly good Philly defense, but did little with the opportunity.

    The problem? Smith just isn't ready.

    Smith still hasn't displayed he can make his cuts properly in his routes, is showing less-than-reliable hands and because of this, he will be relegated to a reserve role with the signing of veteran Lee Evans.

    Not an issue at all, though, when you have Anquan Boldin, Joe Flacco and Lee Evans as your mentors.

Randall Cobb: WR

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    When the Packers scooped up Cobb in the second round, I thought it was a great selection given the type of ability Cobb brings to the table.

    But sometimes a player is forced into being a year away from becoming that impact competitor the team envisioned.

    The Packers are absolutely delighted in what Cobb has shown them, but Cobb is still figured fifth at best on the roster, as the Packers want him to take the time to season up just a bit and learn some of the other facets of the receivers in this offense, since it is available for him to do so.

    Cobb eventually figures to be a true slot receiver by next year, but grasping the other areas of the offense can't hurt either.

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