NFL

Sizing up the first-round talents

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Pete Fiutak

Pete Fiutak writes previews, predictions and prognostications for CollegeFootballNews.com.

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It's finally here. The NFL Draft Week starts Thursday night with the first round. Who has the talent go in the top 32?

1. Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska 6-4, 307
It’s almost as if everyone is thinking too hard about this. Suh is the near-perfect tackle prospect with the strength to work on the nose if needed, and the quickness and speed to be a 3-4 end or a one-gap playmaker. An all-timer of a stat-sheet filler for a college defensive tackle, he beat up blockers and blew past the slower ones. The 32 reps and the 4.98 40 at the Combine only tells half the story; he moved like a much smaller player. The only real knock is that it took a while for the light to go on and he could have issues with his weight if he’s not careful, but if he wants it, he’ll be a special anchor for the next decade. The only other question is if he can change up his game a little bit to adjust to the higher level; he’s not going to be stronger than everyone else like he was in college and he’ll have to be a bit sharper technique-wise.
CFN Projection: Top Five Overall

2. Eric Berry, S Tennessee 6-0, 211
An almost perfect free safety prospect, Berry is 4.47 fast, strong (with 19 reps on the bench at the Combine), and with a phenomenal 43-inch vertical leaping ability. As good as the measureables are, the game film is better. An ultra-productive playmaker who was always making things happen, he can do it all with great open-field tackling ability and a ball-hawking attitude when the ball is in the air. Durability could be an issue considering the way he attacks, but if he can stay healthy there’s a chance he could turn out to be the best player in the draft.
CFN Projection: First Round

3. Gerald McCoy, DT Oklahoma 6-4, 295
Extremely quick and unblockable at times, he’s a superior athlete for his size and doesn’t get moved easily. The knock will be his lack of weight room strength after a miserable 23 reps at the Combine, and, compared to Ndamukong Suh, he wasn’t significantly quicker in the drills or more athletic in the workout. However, he’s a high character guy who’s a dream for coaches. He loves football, wants to be the best player possible, and has always played great at the highest of levels. Outside of his bench in Indy, the only other knock is his potential lack of versatility. He’s not a nose and he likely will have to be a tackle in a 4-3 or an end in a 3-4. That’s looking for a problem for a player who’ll be special for a long, long time.
CFN Projection: Top Five Overall

4. Russell Okung, OT Oklahoma State 6-5, 307
Possibly the best prospect in the draft, Okung has excellent size, great feet, and the production to suggest he could be an anchor for the next decade. He has terrific technique, blasts away in the running game, and doesn’t have any one glaring negative. While there are a few little issues here and there, he’s not always consistent with his technique, there’s nothing to be worried about. He’s a special blocker.
CFN Projection: First Round

5. Earl Thomas, FS Texas 5-10, 208
The only question is whether or not he’s big enough. He’s not small, but there’s going to be a concern that he’s really more of a corner trying to play safety, and he might not be a natural on the outside. Everything else is in place with 4.46 speed, phenomenal strength, and more than anything, the instincts. Very smart and very prepared, he’s always in the right position and seems to know what’s going to happen a half step before anyone else. If it wasn’t for Eric Berry, Thomas would be the biggest star among the defensive backs.
CFN Projection: First Round

POLL

  • Who'll have the more productive NFL career?
    • Sam Bradford
    • Jimmy Clausen

6. Jimmy Clausen, QB Notre Dame 6-3, 222 (Jr.)
After arriving in South Bend with much fanfare and tremendous hype (and in a limo), Clausen spent most of his career trying not to get killed behind a porous line. While he broke down from time to time with an elbow injury and a right toe problem, he showed excellent toughness by trying to gut it out. In 2009 he became clutch, leading the team to some key, close wins that kept the season from turning into a disaster early, and he was able to live up to all the pressure and showed that he really was worth all the press. Even though he was tutored by Charlie Weis, he still has mechanical issues (most notably a laboring throwing motion on his deep passes) and he’s not quite as polished as he probably should be. He’ll also have to go out of his way early on to be one of the guys and could rub some people the wrong way with a personality that might not be for every team. The basics are there, but he’s hardly a sure-thing star considering he might not be the type of player the rest of the team will run through a brick wall for.
CFN Projection: First Round, Top 15 Overall

7. Sam Bradford, QB Oklahoma 6-4, 236 (Jr.)
The 2008 Heisman winner has excellent size, a good arm, and smart decision-making ability, but there are major question marks. While he has the pure passing skills to be a No. 1 overall pick type of franchise quarterback, he might have to be in the right system. First, he has to prove he can be consistently effective under center after working mostly in the shotgun for the Sooners. Second, he has to show he can handle a steady pass rush. Playing behind a tremendous line, he got all day to throw. While he didn’t struggle when under pressure, he wasn’t nearly the same passer when he was getting hit. Can he throw to a covered receiver? He didn’t have to do it too often at OU. And third, and the biggest problem, can he take a hit? He was rarely touched in 2008 and crunched his shoulder early in 2009. Average arm strength was a knock before, and his bad shoulder isn’t going to help the cause. As good a college player as he was, he doesn’t have sure-thing, standout NFL skills. If he can stay healthy he’s not going to be a bust, and if he gets time and is allowed to be in the shotgun (and gets time), he could be special. But the concerns are simply too great to take a big risk on him when next year a star quarterback might come far, far cheaper.
CFN Projection: First Round, Top Five Overall

8. Trent Williams, OT Oklahoma 6-5, 315
Already a good prospect before Indianapolis, he blew it up at the Combine running a 4.88 in the 40 and was extremely athletic. In 2008 he was the best all-around blocker on the nation’s best offensive line, and he has all the traits needed for a left tackle. He’s a quick and effective pass blocker, a devastating bulldozer for the ground game, and can succeed on either the left or right side. He needs to get stronger, he only came up with 23 reps on the bench, but he plays stronger. Does he have the make-up to be an anchor? There are questions about his attitude.
CFN Projection: First Round

9. Bryan Bulaga, OT Iowa 6-5, 314 (Jr.)
One of the most technically sound blockers in the draft. He’s big, moves effortlessly, and is young with the upside to still grow into a better, stronger player. He doesn’t just block, he buries, and when a hard yard is needed he comes up with the hit. While he worked out well, on tape he had a few problems with the pure speed rushers. He looks the part and has all the basics, and he could be just scratching the surface. He’ll play somewhere for a long, long time and can move to guard if he struggles at all at left tackle.
CFN Projection: First Round

10. Maurkice Pouncey, C Florida 6-4, 304
With prototype size and good athleticism, he’s by far the best center prospect in the draft. However, he might end up being better served at guard where he can use his nasty run blocking ability and toughness to work well in the right scheme. Extremely quick, smart, and technically sound, he has it all. He’ll make a line his the second he hits the practice field and will be a leader and high-level producer for a decade.
CFN Projection: First Round

11. Dan Williams, DT Tennessee 6-2, 327
Everyone will focus on Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy, and rightly so, but Williams isn’t as far behind prospect-wise as some might think. Very big and very tough, he’s a brick of granite who can sit in the middle of the line and swallow everything up. An ideal two-gap tackle, he’s quick for his size once he gets engaged. He could stand to get stronger after a mediocre 27 lifts at the Combine, and he was a bit of a one-year wonder who only blossomed after Monte Kiffin took over the defense, and he won’t get into the backfield, but he can be a top run stopper for a long time.
CFN Projection: First Round

12. Derrick Morgan, DE Georgia Tech 6-3, 266
The raw skills are there with excellent speed, good quickness, and nice size. With a long frame he could still add at least ten pounds without losing much, and with his strength he could fit in anywhere up front in either a 3-4 or a 4-3. Always the No. 1 focus of every blocking scheme, he still produced at a high level. However, he can be erased at times by top offensive tackles and will disappear for stretches. There are some who might be thinking about moving him to outside linebacker, but that would be a mistake; he’s an end. The key to his career will be adding more to the repertoire as a pass rusher since a lot of the big plays he came up with in college won’t translate; he’s not necessarily a speed rusher at an NFL level. While he might not be a dominant sackmaster, he’ll be a very, very good all-around defender for a long time with the drive to get better. There’s almost no bust factor.
CFN Projection: First Round

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13. Jermaine Gresham, TE Oklahoma 6-5, 261 (Jr.)
The most talented receiving tight end in the draft, Gresham runs and moves like a big wide receiver, is almost uncoverable by linebackers, and has tremendous hands with great route running ability. Not just an H-Back target, he can also block and isn’t afraid to get a little dirty for the running game. The only question mark was an injured knee that cost him the entire 2009 season, but those concerns are gone after looking great at the Combine. He benefitted from a hurry-up offense that was loaded with talent but he’s a tremendous talent with room to get even better.
CFN Projection: First Round

14. Taylor Mays, S USC 6-3, 230 (FS)
A straight-up freak of nature, there hasn’t ever been a safety prospect with this combination of raw skills. From the 6-3, 230-pound size, to the 4.36 40 speed, to the 41-inch vertical, to the 24 reps on the bench, he’s the dream safety who seems too good to be true. Now he has to show he can play. He simply doesn’t make enough big plays considering his raw talent, he doesn’t have a sense for the game, and he’s way too sloppy. Yes, he’s a knockout hitter, but he’s not nearly productive enough on tape -- getting fooled way too easily and making up for it with his athleticism; that’s not going to fly at the next level. And then there’s the attitude. He comes across as aloof and entitled, and he’s not going to be for everyone. But for all the concerns, with his skills he could be a special, transcendent player with the right coaching and the right dedication to doing all the little things right.
CFN Projection: First Round

15. Rolando McClain, ILB Alabama 6-3, 254
A peerless leader with an unquestioned football mind, he’s like a coach on the field. When Nick Saban gushes, that means something. He’s a bit tall for an inside linebacker and he was overrated,  having gotten a great reputation by playing on a high-profile team in a ton of big games, but he should be a long-time high-level pro with great athleticism and tough tackling ability. Can he handle getting blocked on a regular basis? He benefitted from having a huge, talented line in front of him and has to prove he can consistently fight through the trash. But that’s nitpicking. Plug him in and let him go from Day One and enjoy for the next decade.
CFN Projection: First Round

16. Jason Pierre-Paul, DE South Florida 6-5, 270
It could be argued that he’s the biggest X factor in the entire draft. There isn’t a big body of work to go on, he was a JUCO transfer who only did it for one year at USF, but the raw skills are Hall of Fame level even if they don’t match his ability as a football player. Very big with the prototype look, he’s also extremely fluid moving around the short drills at the Combine like a safety and running a solid 4.64. Able to fly off the ball, he has the skills to become an elite pass rusher while also showing the upside to do far more. If he hits the weights hard he could become even better as he has to get his weight room strength up a bit. A major, major risk, there’s mega-disaster potential if he’s taken high and eats up a ton of salary cap dough.
CFN Projection: First Round


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