Lolley and Pauline one-on-one

I had an opportunity this week to speak with Tony Pauline, one of the draft experts on one of our sister sites,

DL: Tony, first of all, what would you say is the best position in this draft?

TP: For quality, I'd have to say the running backs, because you've got three guys in the top 10 overall in Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Anderson and Cedric Benson. Those are three quality possible stars at running back. For overall depth, I'd have to say cornerback. There will be quality corners available into the third and fourth rounds.

DL: How many corners do you see going in the first round, five, six?

TP: I'd be surprised if it was that many. Obviously you have the three guys at the top, in (Antrell) Rolle, (Pac-Man) Jones and Carlos Rogers. Then after that, Justin Miller may slip into the tail end of the first round. Then, you're looking at (Fabian) Washington and some of the other guys after that in the second round. There will be four for certain taken in the first round, but six would be a stretch.

DL: What about a guy like Marlin Jackson? I see him as a bit of a tweener, too big and slow to play corner, not physical enough to play safety.

TP: I think he can play corner in some systems. The problem with Jackson is that he had off-field problems and his best football was as a sophomore. This season, his play was as erratic as the weather. When you watched him on film, he just didn't play smart football. He misread plays and took bad angles. So there are concerns there.

DL: A lot of Steelers fans have fallen in love with Heath Miller. At one time, he was considered by some to be a top-15 player. Now, I see him slipping in a lot of mock drafts. Is that solely because he's not been able to work out because of the sports hernia?

TP: I think it was a combination of the fact he wasn't able to work out and he was a little overweight at the combine. People look at the tight end position and they think about (Jeremy) Shockey and (Kellen) Winslow Jr. Heath Miller is not that type of tight end. He's a solid tight end, don't get me wrong, but he's not a guy you would build your offense around. I think some people overrated him from the beginning, but I never had him that high. He's a good player, but not on par with the Shockeys and Winslows.

DL: Might he be rated higher than normal because of the way the tight end position has evolved in the NFL?

TP: He does have the ability to create mismatches 25 yards down the field. He's got some speed and he's 25 pounds bigger than most safeties. People look at his productions, especially from his junior season and see a big pass-catching tight end. He's got talent, he's just not going to be a star.

DL: What about the tackle position this season? I know there's Alex Barron at the top, but he's not considered as highly rated as some of the guys who've been at the top of the draft at that position in recent years.

TP: I don't think he's a top-10 player, but that's been his own doing. Barron has great size, skill and potential upside. He could have been a top-5 player. But he was always known as an underachiever in college. Then, he didn't go to the Senior Bowl and didn't work out at the combine. Now, he had a great personal workout and physically he compares to many of the top guys taken at that position in recent years. But he really didn't help himself by not working out more. Look at a guy like Khalif Barnes on the other end of the spectrum. Barnes didn't play as good as he could have last season. But he went to the Senior Bowl and had a great week. Then he had a great combine workout and has gone from a fringe first round guy to a guy who will probably be taken in the first 15 picks.

DL: Other than Barnes, who are some other guys who have really improved their status because of their offseason workouts? I'd rank Shawne Merriman as my guy.

TP: I'd say Ronnie Brown has really done well. He's gone from a guy who was a possible top-10 pick to a guy who will probably be taken second overall. After that, you have Barnes and then probably Merriman. I really think Carlos Rogers is going to surprise a lot of people on draft day with how high he goes. I really think he could be a special player.

DL: What about a guy like Merriman? Is he an end or an outside linebacker?

TP: At 255 or 260 pounds, which is what he was, he could have played linebacker. But he was 270 pounds at his individual workout, so he's likely an end now.

DL: Speaking of the linebacker prospects, one of the guys who intrigues me is DeMarcus Ware.

TP: Ware is a guy that most people don't know much about other than what they've read because they haven't seen him. If you watch him on film, you see that he's a very good athlete and a pretty instinctive player. But at the Senior Bowl, they only had him lining up in a three-point stance all week. Then at the combine, they took him and Merriman and some of the other guys and ran them through a number of linebacker drills, dropping into space and catching the ball. He did pretty well in those drills and showed he can do it. He would be a perfect fit for a 3-4 team and could help out right away as a pass rusher as a rookie while he learns the position. I think he has the possibility of being a devastating player. I have him going as an early second-rounder right now, but it's not out of the realm of possibility for him to sneak into the end of the first round.

DL: Another player who is kind of a guy who could be a first-rounder who will be making a position change is Matt   Jones. What do you think about him?

TP: I think Matt Jones could be one of the best players to come out of this draft. He could go late in the first round, with the Jets or Eagles, who have a late first rounder and then an early second-round pick, could be teams that take a flyer on him. What's going to happen with him is that he'll play slot receiver as a rookie and then he'll bulk up when he gets on an NFL diet and weightlifting program. Right now, he's a undeveloped 240 pounds, but he'll bulk up and eventually move to tight end. Plus, he did some long-snapping at the combine, so you get a guy who can do that for you in addition to possibly doing some option quarterback plays for you.

DL: Kind of like what the Steelers have done with Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El. But those guys were third and second-round picks.

TP: But they didn't run a 4.4 40 at 240 pounds. Had they done that, they would have been first round picks.

DL: What about Vincent Jackson? He's got similar size and speed to Jones, but isn't as highly rated.

TP: Vincent Jackson doesn't play as fast as he times. Even so, he's got decent speed and adequate hands. Like Jones, he'll start as a slot receiver and then move to tight end.

DL: Which quarterback do you have going first? I know last year, you couldn't go wrong taking Eli Manning, even though Ben Roethlisberger outplayed him as a rookie. But there's no Eli Manning in this draft.

TP: I think Aaron Rogers and Alex Smith are similar to Manning and Roethlisberger last year. I rated Roethlisberger just behind Manning, but felt that Roethlisberger had the bigger upside. I think Smith has more upside than Rogers, but you just don't know about the level of play in the Mountain West. Smith is a very smart guy like Roethlisberger, but he didn't play against top talent week in a week out. Rogers is better now, but Smith could be better in the future.

DL: What about Charlie Fry? I've seen him as high as the late first round in some mocks.

TP: No way is Charlie Fry a first rounder. Fry is a nice passer, but I've got him with a mid-to-late second-round grade. He was good at the Senior Bowl, terrible at the combine and had a good pro day. But when you're throwing at your pro day, you're just throwing it with nobody rushing you, you should look good. I question his arm strength.

DL: Ok, thanks Tony. It's been a pleasure as usual.

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