2011 NFL Draft: Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder & the 10 Most Overrated Players
I am not going to pretend that I know exactly which players from this year's NFL draft are going to be future Hall of Famers or Super Bowl Champions.
I also don't know every one of these college gridiron stars that are going to be NFL busts.
Anyone who pretends to know this with 100 percent accuracy is just kidding themselves, kind of like the notion that anyone picked this year's NCAA Final Four correctly.
With all due apologies to a certain network, I am still having trouble believing that one person, never less two people actually called that one. And no I am not buying the concept of dumb luck either.
Still, its fun to predict whether a team or player is going to be successful, especially if you are not a scout, coach, general manager or the player with your job at stake in the professional ranks.
With this in mind, and after careful consideration, I have come up with a bunch of players that I feel are overrated and underrated in this year's draft. This is not to say that all of the overrated players will fail and all of the underrated ones will succeed.
It's all about meeting expectations or not. Think of it as Kansas being the perennial top-five pick in the NFL draft that goes the way of a Ryan Leaf, Charles Rogers or Tony Mandarich. Or think of Butler and VCU as a Tom Brady, Zach Thomas or Marques Colston.
Unfortunately, I think you could label a significant number of players in this year's NFL draft as overrated, so I am going to start with that list first. Besides, I already revealed some "sleepers" in this draft and I believe that in identifying a player as a sleeper you are indicating that the player is clearly underrated.
You can make the argument that many, if not most of the 2011 crop of quarterbacks are overrated because they all have significant flaws in their game and will be over drafted for the most part because of the complete dearth of starting talent in the NFL.
But, who are the most overrated players? Let's take a look.
1. Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
You want to Ponder an important question? (pun intended)
How can the Florida State signal caller who works mostly out of the shotgun, has average arm strength, has endured multiple injuries to his throwing arm and shoulder, stares down his primary receiver, had a significant drop in his completion percentage in 2010 and has never led the Seminoles to an elite season, be considered a borderline first-round pick?
The answer is that if NFL teams really feel this way about Ponder, I want his agent or representation for their tremendous public relations skills. Now.
Look, I understand that Ponder is considered a leader, smart and mature. It doesn't mean he is an NFL starting quarterback.
I have seen several of his games over the last three years and while he can make a good throw, he rarely delivers in the clutch. Keep in mind that in Ponder's best season in 2009, the Seminoles were only 7-6. In 2010, FSU lost two of the three close games that he was involved in and he only threw for over 200 yards three times.
That's a game manager folks, at the college level. When I heard recently that a few teams in the late teens and early 20s might be considering Ponder, I nearly choked on a cookie.
Ponder is a fourth-round value and perhaps best suited to be a backup in the NFL.
2. Muhammad Wilkerson, DT/DE, Temple
Let me be clear. I like Muhammad Wilkerson as a versatile three-technique inside or as a five-technique from the end position.
However, I have a huge problem with Wilkerson being a top-15 pick in this draft, which is where he figures to be selected if you believe several mock projections right now.
He played close to my neck of the woods in Philadelphia and let me tell you that going against the MAC week in and week out is a whole lot different than playing in the NFL.
The inferior level of competition that Wilkerson faced on a consistent basis is a major reason why Wilkerson's stock is much higher than it should be.
Again, if you want to pick Wilkerson late in the first round or early in the second, fine, but a top-15 defensive tackle should be a dominant run-stuffer (he isn't), or have innate pass-rushing skills; he has a marginal first step although he does have very good closing speed.
Wilkerson can be stood up, and he will be at times by nasty offensive lineman who will take advantage of the former Owl's even temperament and raw skills.
3. Blaine Gabbert, QB, Missouri
Really, I am trying to lay off the quarterbacks. Honestly. I swear.
Still, the latest scuttlebutt has both Gabbert and Cam Newton going in the top-five picks overall. I have spent enough time in the past picking on Newton, so what exactly is my beef with Blaine?
When you run the spread, especially out in old Big 12 country, you need to put up some gaudy statistics.
Just ask former Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel. The former Tiger threw for 12,515 yards and 101 touchdowns in essentially a three-year career. In the 2007 and 2008 seasons he threw for over 4,000 yards and more than 30 touchdowns.
Now, let's look at Gabbert. He has thrown for 6,822 yards and just 40 touchdowns, albeit in about two seasons worth of work. Regardless, Gabbert threw for just 16 touchdown passes last year in an offense that is tailored to his ability. Now, remember that Chase Daniel is six feet with lifts in his sneakers and came into the NFL as undrafted free agent.
Go back to the tape of Missouri's bowl loss to Iowa last season. Yes, Gabbert threw for 434 yards, but he only had one touchdown pass and heaved the pigskin 57 times in the game. Yet, his throws weren't progression reads. They were take the snap and fire whether the receiver has completed his route or not.
Gabbert's yards per throw decreased from 8.07 in 2009 to a paltry 6.71 in 2010.
No one is doubting Gabbert's arm, although a 3/4 delivery could be a problem with batted balls. This player is not going to step in during year one or two and have a significant impact.
It is simply inconceivable to me that the Carolina Panthers or any other team could take such a leap of faith to take this talented, but extremely raw kid with the first pick in the draft.
4. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, Pittsburgh
There are a couple of images that I won't forget about Panthers wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin, I have to take you back to November 11th, 2010. Pittsburgh fell to Connecticut in a 30-28 heartbreaker for Panthers' fans.
There was a 37-yard interception return by UConn's Dwayne Gratz because the Tino Sunseri pass was horribly underthrown. What didn't help matters is that Baldwin failed to come back to the pass and become a necessary defender on the underthrown ball.
On another play, Baldwin ran a vertical route and then just quit on the pass when he thought it was thrown too far into the end zone. I am not sure Baldwin would have got the ball but I know that former Pitt and current Arizona Cardinal receiver Larry Fitzgerald would have put up a better effort.
Baldwin had a decent 2010 season number-wise with 53 catches for 822 yards, but he brought in just five touchdowns. When you measure out as a 6-5, 225 pound receiver and you play in the Big East, you have to haul in more touchdowns, especially as the team's primary threat.
When Baldwin declared for the draft, he took the opportunity to bash his former program, coach, and quarterback. While, he is far from the first player to lash out, the timing of his comments couldn't say more about his lack of maturity.
I wouldn't touch Baldwin before the third round and only after some assurances about a change in attitude that has not come yet.
5. Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
I would rarely call a likely middle-range draft pick an overrated player, but I have to in the instance of Casey Matthews.
Point blank, if Casey Matthews' brother wasn't Clay, I doubt the former Oregon Duck gets drafted. That may seem unfair, but sometimes the truth hurts. Personally, I would like to see Matthews succeed.
I like players that are passionate about their craft and are sure tacklers. Those are the positives characteristics of Matthews.
Unfortunately, he doesn't have the hips to turn and run in pass coverage. The blitzes that he benefited from on the collegiate level are not likely to work in the NFL because Matthews is not explosive or strong enough to shed blocks.
Further inflating Matthews' stock is the poor crop of inside linebackers in this draft.
In general, inside linebackers have seen their value diminish in the NFL.
That lack of priority placed on the position has filtered down to a college game that is far more concerned with producing sack machines than it is with turning out players who can drop into coverage, read run or pass and become better overall football players.
6. Aaron Williams, CB, Texas
There is a school of thought that Williams might be the third or fourth cornerback taken in this draft.
Yet, there is also a very legitimate concern that Williams will not be able to work opposite of a team's outside, primary wide receiver, because he is not physical and will get beat on longer routes and double moves. He did not have any interceptions in 2010 and is not known as a playmaker.
Once Williams moved to the outside with the Longhorns, he struggled quite a bit in coverage and there is little reason to believe he'll become more adept at holding up against a bevy of physical NFL receivers at the line of scrimmage.
If Williams is limited to slot work, his value to NFL teams will obviously drop dramatically.
Williams seems to be loaded with too much potential and not enough production to warrant the attention he is getting.
7. Derrek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
This is one player I have to go more by what I saw on Senior Bowl tape rather than his college career, which is not ideal.
If Sherrod locks onto a defender he has the capability of putting him on the ground or out of the play. I saw him manhandle a few defenders in Mobile.
The problem is that while he'll do his job on one play, he gets knocked off balance way too many times for a guy who is a little too top heavy to begin with (Sherrod is 6'6" 312 pounds and while that might seem ideal, it's not for a guy who has a reputation for being overpowered and outquicked at times).
It's also extremely telling that with all the offensive tackles jockeying to be the first one off the board in April's Draft (Carimi, Castonzo, Solder, Smith), that Sherrod has not even entered the conversation and is almost always been seen as a late first-round or early second-round pick.
I think that type of selection would even be too high for this "boom or bust" player.
8. Allen Bailey, DE/DT, Miami
Hurricanes defensive end Allen Bailey certainly looks the part. At a sculpted 6'3" 280 pounds with superior athleticism, he sounds like a can't miss prospect.
Except for the fact that he recorded just 19.0 sacks during his four-year career in South Florida.
Bailey works hard at his craft by most accounts, it's just that he has a complete lack of football instincts and will probably be nothing more than a bull rusher at the next level.
Most scouting services seem to have already downgraded Bailey into the second round (he was initially thought to be a first-round talent).
Personally, I am not sure I would consider Bailey before the lower rounds of this draft because it's not practical to teach a player at the NFL level how to find the ball and read plays. These are skills that are innate in a player and are taught at the most fundamental levels of the sport.
9. Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia
Do you want hear a scathing review of a player?
According to Pro Football Weekly, this what an NFL Scout had to say about the former Bulldog.
"I watched five games on Justin Houston, and I kept waiting for him to make plays, and he did not do anything," he said. "You hear how great he is, but he is oversold in my opinion. I don't see the athletic ability or elite edge speed."
At 6'3" 260 pounds, Houston is perhaps the ultimate tweener and without any one exceptional quality, I have the distinct impression that he might be a player without a true position.
Houston will have the advantage of already making the transition to linebacker at Georgia, if that's where he ultimately ends up in the NFL, but I don't see him as more than a situational pass rusher. If he is moved back to defensive end, NFL teams will run right at a player who has poor recognition skills and a smaller frame.
Perhaps, the most telling indicator on why he might be overrrated is that draft experts believe that he will be drafted late in the first round or early in the second. Yet I haven't heard anyone get behind Houston and say he is going to be a great, dominant player.
10. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
OK, before I get singled for singling out Ingram, let's be clear as to why I put him on this list.
I don't believe you ever take a running back in the draft's first round. Never mind the first 15 picks unless his name is Jim Brown, Eric Dickerson, Gale Sayers, etc. You get the point.
I think Ingram will (durability questions aside) be a very good running back for somebody and may even make a Pro Bowl or two, but an NFL team can't take the risk at this position during this point in the draft.
According to the NFL Players Association, courtesy of Livestrong.com, the average career of a professional running back is 2.57 years (the average length of any player's career is 3.3 years, which seems downright steady employment by comparison).
If Ingram lasts until the later portion of Round 1, my expectations will go way up for him because he'll be seen as a final piece to a team rather than a building block. This means that he won't be counted on to carry a team on his back which is what so often ends the careers of running backs prematurely.
Now consider that Ingram had knee surgery after the 2010 season and has a history of nagging injuries. He clearly doesn't have elite speed, although for a workhorse running back that's not a crucial skill. My concern is that further injuries will reduce his functional football speed to a point where it is a problem.
Finally, I'll do what some other people might be reluctant to do. I'll go on record as saying that Ingram's running mate at Alabam, Trent Richardson, will be a better NFL back than the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner. He has more power, speed and runs more downhill. In short, I think Richardson might be special and I just don't see that in Ingram.
Ingram's vision is lauded as truly extraordinary, and maybe it is (although he sure puts his head down and just smacks into the line quite a few times). Still, there has been ongoing comparison to Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith and I just don't see it.