In late December, while the NFL’s elite are gearing up for the post-season, the also-rans are already assessing their needs as they look towards the 2009 campaign.
In the 21st century NFL, the Atlanta Falcons and Miami Dolphins are two prime examples of how a team can go from doormat to contender with the help of an instant impact player from the draft.
After the dust settled from the storm that was Michael Vick, Matt Ryan brought stability to the quarterback position for the Falcons, and has them in the playoff hunt with a veteran-like presence that defies his rookie status.
In Miami, Jake Long has been a key cog in the Dolphins’ offensive line, giving free agent acquisition Chad Pennington time to find his receivers.
Aside from showcasing his elite athletic skill, Long has also assumed a leadership role as a result of injuries suffered along the Dolphins' trenches. As a result, the Dolphins are in the thick of the AFC post-season race after posting a forgettable 1-15 record in 2007.
As the scouting departments of the 2008 disappointments look to reload, let’s take a look at the strengths, and the potential weaknesses of some of the weapons available.
Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Georgia, Jr.
6'3", 228 lbs.
Stafford has elite arm strength, capable of making all of the throws necessary in the NFL. While he’s not a threat to run with the football, he is nimble enough to buy time with his feet.
He has experience in a pro-style offense which should help with his adjustment to the NFL. He is the complete package with the intangibles and leadership skills necessary for a franchise quarterback.
He has shown pocket presence that defies his young age. When considering the bottom line in the NFL, winning, Stafford’s record speaks for itself.
Some have questioned Stafford’s decision-making skills, and while his won-loss record is impressive, he has failed to post truly eye-popping statistics. He will eventually morph into a very successful NFL signal-caller, but there will be an adjustment period.
Michael Crabtree, Wide Receiver, Texas Tech, Sophomore
6ft. 4", 214 lbs.
Crabtree shows the body control and size of the 21st-century NFL receiver. A two-time Biletnikoff Award winner who possesses soft hands and the ability to make plays in place, Crabtree will be an instant upgrade to any team’s passing attack.
He can make the tough catches in traffic, and take hits over the middle of the field. Crabtree will have an immediate impact in the NFL, bringing precise route running and all-around play-making ability.
A well-rounded player, it’s difficult to find kinks in Crabtree’s armor. Some say that his lack of blazing speed will make it more difficult for him to get separation against upper-echelon corners, and that his numbers are inflated as a result of Texas Tech’s offensive style.
Michael Oher, Offensive Tackle, Mississippi
6'6", 322 lbs.
Oher had an immediate impact for the Rebels in his freshman year as a guard, and his successful switch to the tackle position shows his versatility, a valuable commodity for a lineman in today’s NFL.
He is a gifted athlete, and possesses the ideal frame for the tackle position, using his long arms to hold opposing defensive linemen at bay in pass blocking.
Oher is rated as one of the top linemen in the country, and will likely go high in the first round. He has the potential to serve as a cornerstone for his new team, manning one of the most important and overlooked positions in football.
There are concerns regarding Oher’s ability to adapt to the responsibilities of an NFL player as a result of a turbulent upbringing. Struggles with his grades have some questioning his ability to absorb an NFL playbook.
As long as he keeps his nose clean and maintains the necessary work ethic, Oher can’t miss.
Chris Wells, Running Back, Ohio State, Junior
6'1", 235 lbs.
Wells has the strength to run over opposing defenders, and wear down Opposing defenses as the game progresses. He hits the hole with aggression, and always falls forward as he keeps his legs pumping.
He shows good cut-back ability for a back of his size. Wells’ presence can open up the passing game in the fourth quarter, as defenses stack the box in order to contend with his punishing style.
Wells’ receiving skills have come into question, and there are concerns regarding his future durability as a result of a nagging ankle injury. Wells is more of a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust style runner as opposed to a home run hitter.
Taylor Mays, Safety, USC, Junior
6'4", 230 lbs.
Mays is a true specimen at the safety position, and brings the aggression to deliver hits reminiscent of Ronnie Lott. A great combination of size and speed, Mays hits like a linebacker while possessing the coverage skills of a cornerback.
His passion is contagious, and his bone-crushing tackles can destroy a receivers’ will. He shows relentless pursuit, running down ball carriers from all areas of the field.
Mays’ aggressiveness can serve as a liability, making his susceptible to play-action. His desire to deliver the knockout blow can backfire, as he fails to wrap up his man. Some say that he would have more interceptions under his belt if he had better hands.
Rey Maualuga, linebacker, USC
6 ft. 2", 260 lbs.
Maualuga reminds many of his namesake in Baltimore with his nastiness and physical style of play. He plays with a mean streak and is an absolute force in the trenches. He plays 110 percent from snap to whistle, and boasts elite lateral speed.
His intensity level is contagious, and he is an absolute force at the point of attack with his size and strength. Maualuga is the type of player that will run down ball carriers that are far beyond the line of scrimmage.
Like Mays, Maualuga’s blind aggression can cost him, as he can overrun plays and get caught out of position. He needs to learn how to play more disciplined football without sacrificing his intensity.
Malcolm Jenkins, Cornerback, Ohio State
6'1", 201 lbs.
Jenkins has all of the necessary traits to become the prototypical "shutdown corner". He is a strong tackler, and will be an asset against the run for any team that selects him. He’s consistent, has ideal size, and has the experience to step into a starting role immediately.
He has a good nose for the football; he always seems to be in the thick of the play. He could easily project as a safety with added size.
Jenkins is an extremely well-rounded player. His confidence level may give him a false sense of security, and while he’s fast, he does not possess the blinding speed that some NFL receivers have, and may be vulnerable deep as a result.
Contact Paul Kotch At PowerAndGlory@Comcast.Net