Wrath of the Draft

Erik Ainge has had his share of defenders and detractors while at Tennessee, but as he embarks on a potential career in the NFL it appears the pros believe he has a lot of cons, and may be reluctant to draft him early.

The latest publication to issue a less than favorable review of Ainge is Pro Football Weekly, which may be the most respected source in the sport. The magazine has been in business for 40 years and is regarded as an insider's trade publication by NFL executives.

In it's 2008 Draft Guide now on newsstands, Ainge was ranked No. 13 among this year's crop of signal callers which was rated a middling C overall. He is projected as a fifth or sixth round pick. Ainge is listed at 6-5.5, 225 pounds and has an estimated 40 time of 5.02. Some other conclusions reached in the evaluation may come as a surprise to Tennessee fans conditioned to believe Ainge was the second coming of Tom Brady.

The following is the PFW scouting report on Ainge in its entirety.

UPSIDE: Good height. Smart and experienced. Studies the game. Can find open receivers and make touch throws. Distributes the ball well within the system. Good career production.

DOWNSIDE: Throws the ball with little power or velocity. Hops around the pocket and tends not to set his feet when he throws or turn his hips into it. Not a well-respected, take-charge leader. Makes poor decisions. Does not handle pressure well. Marginal athlete to sidestep the rush and accuracy suffers on the run. Toughness is questionable — has been dinged up a lot and does not have a high threshold for pain.

THE WAY WE SEE IT: Everything about Ainge's game — his feet, delivery and velocity — seem slow for the pro game, but his experience will still pique interest.

Certainly Ainge will have the final say through the quality of his play from this day forward. The aforementioned Mr. Brady was a sixth round choice by the Patriots in 2000 and had highly placed critics throughout the League. A lot more rides on who you're drafted by than when you are taken. If given a chance to develop Ainge might prove himself capable of being QB 2 for very nice entry level salary. From there it's a matter of making the most of the opportunity.

Clearly if experience is an advantage, Ainge can boast of more big-game PT than virtually any other rookie available in the Draft. Given his history it remains to be seen how well he deals with the intensity and physicality brought to the gridiron by the best football players on the planet, all competing for jobs and money.

It will be interesting to follow because it provides some insight on Phillip Fulmer's success at UT. His first eight years as head coach he had Heath Shuler for two seasons, Peyton Manning for four seasons and Tee Martin for two seasons, including the 1998 national title campaign. Shuler and Manning were rated No. 1 in their respective recruiting classes of 1991 and 1994. Tee Martin was rated No. 4 in the Class of 1996.

Shuler was taken with the third pick in the first round and Manning was taken No. 1 overall in the 1998 Draft. Martin was taken in the fifth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Obviously this trio was outstanding and during their collective starting careers the Vols went 81-11.

The next eight years of Fulmer's tenure were essentially handled by Casey Clausen and Erik Ainge, who were each four-year starters. During that stretch UT was a collectively 71-34 without a single SEC championship or BCS bowl. Clausen was undrafted and Ainge appears to be a late choice, if a choice at all.

Granted there isn't always a correlation between where a quarterback is drafted and how productive he was in college. That's especially true when a school runs an offense, like a wishbone, that has no application in the NFL.

However Tennessee isn't one of those teams. The Vols run a pro-style offense. The type of offense that is a lure to college prospects with NFL talent and ambitions.

The point is if you run a such an offense for eight years without a signal caller capable of making an NFL team, you're beginning with a huge negative because it's harder to attract the supporting cast needed to make it hum. Furthermore, the Vols' offense is built around the QB. The better he is the better it is.

Now if you're a quarterback limited in terms of athleticism and arm strength, you should be especially strong in the area of intangibles. Nothing personal against either Clausen or Ainge, but you have to wonder if west coast kids are cut out to be SEC QBs?

After all Shuler, Manning and Martin where from North Carolina, Louisiana and Alabama. Each had strong intangibles to go with outstanding talent.

Nothing was lost in translation.


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