Since most general managers and personnel directors profess to have 80 or 85 percent of their master draft board completed, with many allowing there is only some "tweaking" still to be performed, we're not buying into the popular assumption that there remain some prospects who can make a major "rise" up the ranks in the final three weeks.
That said, note Georgia offensive lineman Clint Boling as one guy who could go off the board earlier than some observers expect. In fact, one AFC team has Boling rated as a possibility to still sneak into the very bottom of the first round, although the second is more likely. Kind of a "tweener" prospect, most teams project Boling as a guard, but still feel he can play some tackle if necessary in the NFL.
"He's got some (warts), and his strength isn't what you want it to be ... but you can't ignore the versatility," said an AFC scout.
OL Clint Boling
Kevin C. Cox/Getty
Boling, who started 50 games for the Bulldogs, might be able to play anywhere but left tackle on the offensive line in the league. That kind of flexibility doesn't always get a guy drafted higher, but it "can't hurt" Boling, the scout agreed.
On the slip side, Boling's former Georgia teammate, Justin Houston, might be hurt a bit by the indecision over whether he is best suited to playing end in a 4-3 front or outside linebacker in a 3-4. There is no denying Houston's explosiveness off the edge and his closing speed on the quarterback. The questions: Is he big enough to hold up at end in a 4-3, and fluid enough for the 3-4 linebacker spot?
The knee-jerk read on Houston is that he should be able to project to the latter. But he has rarely been asked to drop and cover. And even teams like Pittsburgh, noted through the years for turning undersized ends into linebackers, require James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley to shift from primary pass-rush responsibilities to cover once in a while.
Teams that require a quarterback, and there are plenty of them in the league, will pay extra heed to what the Carolina Panthers do with the first pick overall on April 28. The direction the Panthers take with the top choice – and rumors that the club has settled on Cam Newton to the contrary, Carolina personnel folks contend the decision remains among a subset of prospects, and that there are still a handful of possibilities – could determine a lot about how and when some teams will have to react to fill their quarterback needs.
One team that figures to grab a quarterback in the second or third round, for instance, noted to The Sports Xchange this week that, if the Panthers tab a non-quarterback with the first pick, it might signal that Carolina plans to snatch a passer at the top of the third round. The Panthers do not have a second-round pick, having shipped it to New England last year to move up and take wide receiver Armanti Edwards in the third round. And that could precipitate a wild scramble among those clubs that have targeted a quarterback in the second or third stanzas.
"The thinking in some spots will be, 'Well, we've got to get ahead of Carolina (with the first pick in Round Three),' and that might mean having to force your way into the bottom of the first round or reacting in the second to get your guy," said one general manager. "On the other hand, if Carolina takes Newton (first), you could see a little bit of a run (on quarterbacks). Either way, it's probably going to mean that some quarterback with a second-round grade squeezes into the first. Or some guy you might have waited to take in the third round goes (in the second). In a lot of ways, what Carolina does is a big tip-off key."
Amazingly, given the need for quarterbacks in recent seasons, there have been only 21 total passers chosen in the first round of the last 20 drafts. Only twice in that period have more than two quarterbacks gone off the board in the second round, and there was actually a stretch of four years, 2002-2005, when there were zero second-round quarterbacks. It hasn't been a particularly good round for drafting quarterbacks, but that figures to end this year.
There is a notion among some fans that, unless the NFL lockout miraculously ends by the draft and league matters return to some semblance of normalcy by the lottery, the result will be a distinct lack of trades on draft weekend. Recent history, though, suggests otherwise.
In the past five drafts, there have been 150 trades and only 27 deals, involving a total of 34 players, including veterans. The remainder were pick-for-pick(s) deals, and those are permitted in the draft, even under the current lockout guidelines. So there doesn't figure to be a dearth of wheeling and dealing April 28-30.
"I don't see a big dropoff," New England coach Bill Belichick, historically one of the league's most active dealers during the draft, told The Sports Xchange. "I think you'll still see some maneuvering, the way you always do."
Of course, Belichick orchestrated one of the more notable player trades of the past five years, landing wide receiver Randy Moss from Oakland in 2007 for just a fourth-round draft pick. But a lot of the other 26 deals involving players 2006-2010 were fairly forgettable trades. In fact, of the 34 players traded on draft weekend since 2006, more than one-third, 14, in fact, are out of the league entirely.
Last year, there were seven trades involving eight players, and only a couple veterans that changed clubs made a difference. Foremost among them were quarterback Jason Campbell (Washington to Oakland) and kickoff returner Leon Washington (New York Jets to Seattle). But none of the veteran trades could be termed blockbusters. Even if the lockout is lifted, that figures to be the case this year. And if it isn't, well, it probably won't make a lot of difference.
"Very rarely do you see player-for-pick trades during the draft days," Vikings vice president of player personnel Rick Spielman told the Twin Cities-area media this week. "So I think that it will be business as usual."
Len Pasquarelli is a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange. He has covered the NFL for 33 years and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. His NFL coverage earned recognition as the winner of the McCann Award for distinguished reporting in 2008.