'Buyer Beware' for Offensive Skill Positions

Some polarizing prospects can draw extreme reactions from scouts and coaches. Here is one QB and WR, both of which are being highly debated in numerous NFL war rooms.

It happens every year. The team scouts spend every waking minute evaluating talent, attending games, watching film and checking their lists twice, sort of like a football Santa Claus. Then, the Combines roll around, coaches, scouting directors and general managers are out in full force with stopwatches in hand. The three-day "underwear workout" commences, those out of the scouting loop (coaches and GMs) become enamored with agility figures and march off en mass to pro days. There, they continue their little "love fest" with a player's athletic ability, but along the way seem to forget that victories are generated by production, by consistent performance and NOT how good a kid looks running 40 yards on the track.

What all of this leads up to is a totally different draft board than the ones the scouts have prepared. The general manager is the decision maker and all others are there to offer input. Coaches have their "guy" they want the GM to take, despite claims from their scouting department that have spent the better part of the year finding the "warts" not shown on the player's professional resume. With that in mind, here is a look at that one player at each position who will either make a general manager look like a genius, or have that guy on the unemployment line a year later.

Ryan Mallett, Arkansas (6-6, 238)

Perhaps no player in the 2011 draft has been open to as much of a debate as Mallett. There is no questioning his arm strength, but leadership, maturity and play recognition issues make him the riskiest draft pick in this class. He seems very defensive and "beats around the bush" when talking to teams about off-field issues and you have to wonder if he might be a Ryan Leaf-type of player who will fail to take command in the huddle or gain proper respect in the locker room.

Mallett has good academic intelligence, but he is prone for showing too much confidence in his arm strength, making throws into a crowd that should never occur (see 2010 Alabama and LSU and 2009 Mississippi State games). Even with his tall stature and over-the-top release, he will sidearm at times, resulting in 83 of his throws getting deflected the last two seasons. He is a classic drop-back quarterback in the Carson Palmer mold, but must realize he has to make quicker decisions uncorking the ball, thanks to his marginal quickness.

QB Ryan Mallett
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire

He can find and locate his secondary targets and is the type that will put in the extra hours in the film room and practices to improve. He does well in the classroom and his test score indicates he is capable of taking the plays from the board to the field. Still, in 2010, he regressed quite a bit in recognizing defensive schemes (see 2010 Alabama and LSU games).

Possibly due to poor blocking up front, but he spent a considerable amount of his time avoiding the pass rush and the result was a lot of forced passes, causing his interception total to rise from seven in 2009 to 12 in 2010. He does not do a good job of sensing pressure and will get too impatient waiting for his targets to get free when flushed out of the pocket. He locks on to his primary receivers too often and shows marginal awareness to adjust when on the move. He is especially prone to having major "meltdowns" under constant pressure. He has the ideal size to tower over defenders and scan the field, but he has to recognize his outlet receivers better.

When he utilizes the shotgun, he is much more effective at delivering on the hot route. The problems occur when he gets flushed out of the pocket, as he has no athleticism or foot speed to avoid defenders on the move. He has good overhead mechanics, but when he carries the ball low, it greatly slows down his delivery.

Compares To: CARSON PALMER-Cincinnati. There is no question that Mallett's arm strength is on par with that of Baltimore's Joe Flacco. He towers over defenders and has great size, but he's slow footed and with that long stride of his, he's never going to be able to escape pressure with any consistency. Whoever drafts him will need to make sure they have an outstanding offensive line to protect him, as he will never be a threat throwing on the move. While his passing ability is likened to Palmer's, some of his poor decisions and inability to keep his cool under pressure have other evaluators seeing a bit of Derek Anderson (Arizona) in his game.

JONATHAN BALDWIN, Pittsburgh (6-5, 230)

Baldwin has the size and reach that would make even the football gods envious, but he plays much smaller than his size indicates. Often, he is tied up by the smaller cornerbacks and fails to use his hands efficiently to escape the jam, preventing him from getting into his routes quickly. He has large hands and catches away from his framework, but lacks great field awareness and must do a better job of looking the ball in before trying to turn and run with it.

Despite his verified 42-inch vertical jump, more often than not, Baldwin will not high-point the throw and prefers to catch the ball in stride. His drops come when he tries to let the ball into his chest rather than catch it with his fingers. He is a big body-type that can go up and bring the ball down, but the problem comes when he does not time his leaps. For some reason, he will try to jump for the short tosses, rather than extend for the ball (mostly body catches when he does that).

WR Jonathan Baldwin
Brian Spurlock/US Presswire

When he extends for the ball outside the frame, he will catch everything in sight. When he tries to body catch, he will juggle and fight for the ball. The coaches say he has good hands, but if you watch film, you do not see those hands as being soft. Yet, he will come up with the big play. Go figure! Evidence of his inconsistency is the fact that out of 90 passes thrown to him last year that should have been caught, he managed to grab just 51, converting only 8 of 19 third-down throws in the process.

There is a lot of the brash Keyshawn Johnson and the flippant Antonio Bryant attitude in this kid. Simply put, he is not ready for prime time, at least from the maturity level. Trying to field opinions from several former Pitt players before making his decision to come out, he was not "pleased" with their assessment that he could use more schooling and work on his route running skills.

You sometimes have to question Baldwin's competitiveness. He plays hard until the whistle, but will look lackadaisical at times and goes through the motions in practice and needs some structure there. While he will compete for the ball in a crowd, he will struggle vs. a physical press coverage and gets frustrated at times when he can't separate from the speedier cornerbacks. He is a big, strong kid, but he does have a little stiffness in some routes (mostly long).

Baldwin has had some work ethic issues, especially when it comes to training and practices. He needs structure and to be pushed to get the best out of his ability, looking eerily like Antonio Bryant in that regard. He is described as a smart, street-wise kid, but needs to grasp the intricacies of football, as he does not always give consistent effort. He will make a big play, then fail to look for the ball and is surprised at times when the pigskin is right next to his face.

Compares To: DWAYNE JARRETT-ex Carolina. Like Jarrett, Baldwin needs route polishing and lacks an explosive second gear. Yet, he manages to get underneath well, using his size to shield defenders from the ball. He is not the fastest you will find on linear routes, but shows good cutting agility to separate after the catch. He is good at taking a shallow crossing pass into big yardage when he makes a conscious effort to escape rather than try to run over the defender. When he tries to lower his shoulder to run over a defensive back, that is when he gets into trouble, as he doesn't use his natural strength to break tackles. He needs to show that he is maturing off the field and must improve his hand usage, as he will struggle vs. physical press coverage.

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