As the college football season winds down and many NFL teams are starting to book tee times, it's only natural that the sports world starts thinking about the NFL Draft. As any Detroit Lions fan will tell you, "There's always next year."
Perhaps, the NFL has figured out something that every other sport has been after: parity. How else can you explain the 2008 Atlanta Falcons? It seems that every year teams shift from top to bottom and then back the next year.
There are only a couple franchises that win year in and year out and even they have the occasional down years.
The key to this parity is the draft. With one good year of drafting, a mediocre team can rise to the top and an awful team can become a playoff contender.
During a conversation heading into last year's draft, I told a friend that I wasn't high on Glenn Dorsey or Vernon Gholston, but I viewed Matt Ryan as the best player available.
I like Jake Long as a college player and an NFL fixture for a decade or more, and don't blame the Dolphins for using the No. 1 overall pick on him. But I don't know why everyone was eager to knock Ryan.
He had the size and strength that teams usually drool over and give away future picks to move up for. He did nothing but compete and win at Boston College with little talent at the skill positions around him. He finished his junior year playing on a broken foot and was the hands down leader of his team.
These are the qualities that I look for in a college prospect. I try not to fall for the workout warriors of the NFL combine. I don't care how fast a guy can run in shorts, and I don't care if he's 6'1" instead of 6'3".
People are too quick to look past the key point, "Can this guy get the job done?" Don't get me wrong, I thought Vince Young would transform the NFL, and that got me nowhere quick.
With that in mind, I've broken down some of the popular names in this year's draft class and how I think they'll fare as a pro. I've taken some liberties with juniors that may be leaving, and even threw in a couple comments about some who have said they will stay for their senior years.
Andre Smith, OT-Alabama
I've been impressed with him every time I've been able to see Alabama. The way the team can run to the left at will is beyond impressive in the SEC that brags about its athletic defensive linemen.
Smith stands 6'4", 330, which may make some teams think twice. The NFL front office types like the 6'6" or 6'7" left tackles, but this guy can flat out play. I'd take him No. 1 overall if I were the Lions.
Tim Tebow, QB-Florida
The early word is he will be back in Gainesville next season, which I believe is the correct move. Tebow is a great college QB, in fact, maybe one of the best. But I'm not sold on his NFL qualifications.
He definitely meets the requirements in terms of leadership and desire, but does he have the arm to be a pocket passer. He won't be able to push around NFL defenders like he does in college, so he may have to turn into a Steve Young type QB that can run when needed and be a weapon.
I think that another year of seasoning in college can only help his arm, and he has a chance to become the biggest college football icon of all time.
Michael Crabtree, WR-Texas Tech
I don't know if anyone doubts his talents or physical tools, but he is the definition of a premier WR. At 6'3", 214 lbs., he has the leaping ability and speed to win any battle for the ball. The ability to run the other routes will be what makes him an NFL great.
He'll catch the slant, the out, and then burn you with a double move or just run the fade and go up and get it. The play at the end of the Texas game just shows you he can't be stopped.
Matthew Stafford, QB-Georgia
I see a lot of reports linking him to the Lions at No. 1 overall. I think that would be a mistake. I don't see him as being the person to put a team on his back and change the franchise. He could be a serviceable QB in the NFL, but I just don't see anything to make me think he will be worthy of a top pick. Georgia was supposed to be loaded and fell off the map by the end of the year.
Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB-Ohio State
It's easy to knock a player for injury problems, but with Beanie's hard-nosed approach, it may be hard for him to shake that label. While he's definitely worth a first-day pick, I don't want to be the one to pull the trigger and take him.
He looked dynamic in so many games early in his career only to limp to the finish line. At the spot he'll likely be chosen in the draft, you want a player you know will be there for years to come.
I don't know if you get that with Beanie. Coming into this season, I would have said he would have an Adrian Peterson type impact, now I'm thinking more like Cedric Benson (hopefully without the off-field issues).
Rey Maualuga, LB-Southern Cal
I think Rey might be the impact player in year one for this draft class. Pete Carroll can coach and he's had linebackers flying over the field the past few seasons. Rey won the Bednarik Award and I think he'll be a quick study in the NFL. Think of what Patrick Willis did for the 49ers.
He's got a little more size than Willis and might be able to keep up in the speed department. If I were building a defense, I can think of a lot worse places to start.
Sam Bradford, QB-Oklahoma
Leave college now!!! This is a weak year for QBs, and Bradford's stock could not be higher. Don't risk an injury. Don't risk being the next Brian Brohm. If you're being talked about as a first half of the first round pick, go. Cash your paycheck and become a pretty good pro in the process.
Colt McCoy, QB-Texas
See above. This changes if anyone else leaves early, but if so many QBs are coming back, be the one to enter the draft.
Knowshon Moreno, RB-Georgia
I think he's the complete package. He's got the size, speed, and competitive edge that should take him a long way. I think he's every bit of the running back Ronnie Brown is and should be taken around the same spot in the draft.
In a decent offense, he can be the piece that completes the puzzle. While I would have liked to see him carry Georgia a little more, I think it was too easy for opponents to stack up against him and take their chances.
Malcom Jenkins, CB-Ohio State
At 6'1", 202 lbs, Jenkins has the size needed to be a premier shutdown corner in the NFL. With more than adequate speed, he'll be starting in year one and a major player by year two.
If he would have come out last year, he would have been a top 15 pick and should fall into that same range this year. He could move up into the top five to eight picks with a fast 40 at the combine.
Sleeper Alert: Shonn Greene, RB-Iowa
While everyone is aware of Greene's season, rushing for 100 yards in every game, few think he'll be a top-caliber pro. With great size to be a between the tackles runner (5'11", 235), he can contribute right away in short yardage and goal-line situations.
He won't break a lot of long runs with 4.54 speed, but he'll get you the yards you need. He was the bright spot on a run-of-the-mill Iowa team, and helped them get to a New Year's Day Bowl.
Deep Sleeper: Todd Boeckman, QB-Ohio State
While I don't see a trend of backup college quarterbacks being drafted, what exactly did Boeckman do to be benched? He led a team that was seriously over-matched, and without their best player, into Southern Cal against a team that has man-handled almost everyone on their schedule.
Boeckman has great size at 6'5" and a huge arm. He ran a spread passing offense in 2007 that was very impressive. In a class that might be short on top prospects, depending on junior decisions, Boeckman may be a late round gem. He can make the read and make the throw.
That's what being a quarterback is all about.