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, University of Arkansas Razorbacks, #15, 6:06.2-238
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
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, University of Pittsburgh Panthers, #82, 6:04.6-230
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
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
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
Weslye Saunders, University of South Carolina Gamecocks, #88, 6:05.1-272
You might be too young to remember the comic strip, "Lil' Abner,"
so you might have to ask your father about these characters associated
with Saunders in this segment. After the year that Saunders had, you
have to wonder if his dealings with the NCAA, lying to school
officials, failure by his agents to file his underclass declaration
papers in a timely manner and foot injury will see what was once a
promising pro career on the horizon come to an end before it ever
The 2010 season was supposed to be a time when Saunders
established himself as one of the elite tight end in the collegiate
game. Mounting off-field issues first led to a suspension by head
coach Steve Spurrier in early January, after the player failed to
appear at the team's initial off-season meeting.
The rising senior, in and out of the coaches' doghouse the past
couple of seasons, also fell behind in workouts, as he considered
entering his name in the 2010 NFL draft. Spurrier told Saunders he was
being suspended until he could get his attitude straightened out and
catch up on what he'd missed. By the end of January, Saunders was back
with the Game-cocks. "We had some issues with him," Spurrier said. "He
had some responsibilities to fulfill and he achieved them all."
The tight end had a stellar 2010 spring camp, but then, the long,
hot summer months got even hotter for Saunders. In mid-July, the NCAA
began its investigation into the player's possible impermissible
dealings with a sports agent, according to sources. An NCAA
investigator was in Columbia to interview Saunders.
The investigation of Saunders was connected to the NCAA's ongoing
probe of North Carolina football players and agent activity. The tight
end from Durham, North Carolina has several friends on UNC's team,
including defensive tackle Marvin Austin, who was at the center of the
North Carolina investigation.
Saunders had little comment when reached by media. Asked if he did
anything wrong, Saunders said, "I can't say anything right now." When
Saunders was asked about the meeting with the NCAA, he told a
reporter, "I'll have to give you a call back" – and hung up. ESPN's
Joe Schad reported that Saunders confirmed the meeting with the NCAA
and said he was friends with Austin, but did not know how much trouble
they are in.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said the tight end told him he
didn't do anything wrong in a trip to an agent's party in Miami.
Spurrier said at the time of the investigation that he didn't know all
the details but that the question is who paid for the trip for
Saunders and other players, including Alabama defensive end Marcell Dareus.
The NCAA also conducted an investigation at Georgia and North
Carolina connected to the same party. In mid-August, the NCAA also
interviewed South Carolina football players about their residency at a
Columbia hotel - an arrangement that apparently ended shortly after
the investigation. At least three players were said to have been
staying at Whitney Hotel in the Shandon area for several months, and
NCAA investigators were trying to determine whether they received a
cheaper rate than what is available to the general public. If so, that
could constitute an extra benefit.
Saunders, who still remained at the center of an NCAA
investigation into potentially illegal contact with an agent, was one
of three known players with rooms at the Whitney. A South Carolina
athletics department official told at least one of the players to move
out of the hotel, according to a source close to the situation.
In late August, Saunders' future at South Carolina started to come
to an end, as he was suspended by Spurrier. At the time of the
suspension, Spurrier said Saunders would be held out indefinitely for
violating team rules—and not for any potential findings from this
summer's continuing NCAA inquiry centered around the tight end. "I
said suspended for violation of team rules. Team rules have nothing to
do with the NCAA," Spurrier said.
There was more, but suffice it to say that Saunders has plenty of
questions to answer.
Compares To: Jerramy Stevens-ex Seattle/Tampa Bay. Like
Stevens, Saunders has a first-round body and athletic ability, but he
has a history of off-field problems that leaves one questioning not
only his maturity, but his character. His questionable attitude also
reflects on the field, as he is known to take several plays off when
he is not involved in the action. While he has the power to dominate
as a blocker, he tends to "go through the motions" when asked to cut
block up field. He seems a little stiff in his turn-&-go after the
catch, lacking the elusiveness needed to gain extra yardage. He does
not get a good push off the snap, as he prefers not to combat, but
rather elude the defenders to get into his routes. Durability is also
a concern, as he lingers with minor ailments.
John Clay, University of Wisconsin Badgers, #32, 6:00.4-230
You have to wonder what is going on in the heads of Wisconsin
running backs in recent years. First, it was Brian Calhoun, followed
by P.J. Hill, and then Clay making the ill-advised decision to bolt
college for the NFL Draft. One look at team rosters at the end of 2010
and neither Calhoun's or Hill's names will be found on any roster.
Clay's numbers took a noticeable drop in 2010, as he had 1,012
yards and 14 touchdowns, but he was coming off a 2009 campaign where
he piled up 1,517 yards and found the end zone 18 times. At age 23,
his time clock for toting the pigskin was a little high for a college
player and with the depth that Wisconsin has at tailback, another
erratic season by Clay was sure to cut into his carries (had 287 in
2009, but just 187 last year).
What really put up "red flags" in regards to Clay was his
less-than-inspiring work ethic, along with his weight issues. He was
"politely" listed at 258 pounds last season, but looked every bit of
280. He showed up at the Combine weighing 230, but then went out and
clocked 4.92 and 4.96 in the 40-yard dash (electronic), the worst for
any running back at the event. He then cited "injuries," complaining
of a right shoulder sprain when declining to lift in the weight room
and said he had a right ankle sprain and could not do the three-cone
drill. Excuses are not what NFL teams want to hear, especially from a
player that will likely end up being a free agent.
Clay is a powerfully built athlete, but tends to dance around the
pile and tries to avoid rather than take on contact. He needs to give
a better effort to anticipate blocks, but is effective at locating the
rush lanes. He has to play with a more consistent effort, as he will
throttle down when not involved in the play. He does not take well to
hard coaching, but tried to improve his work ethic in 2010, hoping to
improve everyone's perceived impression of him. He played through
several nagging injuries as a junior, but even though he is blessed
with impressive ability, he needs to prove that football is important
Clay tries to dance around too much when getting into the second
level, negating some of his initial burst. He does not have the
sustained speed to go long distances, but has the loose hips and
ability to shift gears and redirect in an instant. He gets through the
holes initially with no problem, but can be run down in attempts to
break past the second level.
While he likes to redirect and try to get fancy with his moves,
Clay is better served just taking the ball up the gut rather than
dance around so much. A smart defender will just let him dance around,
smile and whack the tailback down.
Clay has the leg drive to break tackles, but his feet go dead upon
contact. He likes to pick his moments when he will use his strength,
but needs to do it on a consistent basis. He runs with decent forward
body lean, but gets too high on occasion, especially when he needs to
be stronger near the goal line. He is too inconsistent trying to break
arm tackles and this causes him to struggle in attempts to run through
wrap-ups. For some reason, he prefers to be a bounder or finesse back
rather than a straight-ahead power runner.
As a receiver, Clay uses his body too much to absorb the ball in
rather than reach and pluck away from his frame. His short arms cause
him to struggle when trying to get to the pass at its high point and
he looks unnatural with his hands to be relied upon as a third-down
back. He is decent on swings and dump-offs, but does not have the
ability to look the deep throw in over his outside shoulder. Use him
on the pitch-back on the toss or option, but stay away from him
otherwise if you need to move the ball through the air.
Clay doesn't seem to have a taste for blocking. With his weight
room strength, he should be blowing up blitzers on a regular basis. He
has the vision to recognize the bull rush, but makes only passive
attempts to get in the way rather than try to face up. If someone can
get him more motivated, he has the hand strength to sustain better
than he has shown.
Compares To: P.J. Hill-ex New Orleans…Somebody needs to get
a running backs guidance counselor to be employed in Madison, as
several Badgers ball carriers have made horrible mistakes in recent
years by bolting college early for a dream of playing in the NFL. Clay
has had injury and consistency issues and you can time this guy with a
calendar rather than a stopwatch.
'Buyer beware' for offensive skill positions
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