You know that springtime has arrived when the flowers are in bloom, the days are longer than the nights, a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts
of love - and the NFL Draft because Mel Kiper Jr. is giving you position-by-position rankings of college draft prospects on radio and TV 24/7. The
NFL Draft has become an event unto itself - thanks mostly to ESPN coverage - and has even created an argot of its own. Let me give you a couple of
'Fluid hips': Does that mean the guy drank the tap water on a recent visit to Tijuana?
'Plays well in space': Why isn't he applying for the Astronaut program?
'Struggles in space': Good thing he isn't applying to the Astronaut program.
'Stays over his feet': Probably a good idea if he wants to remain upright.
'Lower body explosion': I certainly hope that doesn't mean......
For those who have never read this annual feature before, I need to set the stage. I am not Mel Kiper, Jr. nor do I pretend to be. I don't watch
college football game films; I don't have a bevy of scouts around the country who funnel information to me; I am not in the employ of an NFL team on
the basis of my incredible insight. Here is what I am. I'm a guy who likes to watch a lot of college football and pro football. In the autumn while
I watch college football, I keep a notepad next to my seat in front of the TV. When I see someone who impresses me, I make a note on the pad with a
comment or two and set it aside until this time of year. That's when the really difficult chore happens; I have to decipher my handwriting.
Notice that the basis for this analysis is biased toward big college football programs. I don't get to see many Division II games nor do I get to see
many games from the Western Athletic Conference except for some late night ESPN telecasts. If you are reading this in South Dakota and I didn't
mention Bubba Humongous from Black Hills State in Spearfish, SD as a prospect at defensive tackle, the reason is that I never got to see Bubba - even
in that huge rivalry game with South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City.
I do want to say that a 'Draft Pick of Destiny' could happen on Saturday. Look to see if the KC Chiefs select Leonard Pope (Tight End, Georgia). If
that happens you'd have Leonard Pope and Priest Holmes on the same offensive unit. And when the Chiefs play the Cardinals you could call the game a
You can read a thousand draft analysis publications that claim to be authoritative; I'll stipulate that all of them had more work go into producing
them that what you will read here. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb and make some predictions.
But before getting to the players and the positions, I do have an observation to make about the ACC. If I read some of the draft projection
publications properly, Florida State has three defensive players who are generally thought to be first round picks and a fourth who might be taken
late in the first round but will probably be in the early to middle of the second round. That's impressive. So, how did Florida State finish last
season with an 8-5 record losing four of its last five games? Elsewhere in the league standings, the NC State Wolfpack finished 2005 with a
conference record of 3-5 (only Duke at 0-8 was worse) and an overall record of 7-5. NC State has two defensive players who are projected to go in the
first round (Mario Williams is thought to be the single best defensive player available) and a third defender who might sneak into the late first
round. And with that, they couldn't break even in the conference?
Of course, I liked what I saw from Matt Leinart and Vince Young. I've read where some folks think Vince Young can't play QB in the NFL because of his
quirky throwing motion and his lack of experience as a drop-back QB. That's a stretch. Look, Kyle Boller has a 'classic release' and always played
drop-back QB and it's been more than a couple of years now and the Ravens are still waiting for him to show he can play QB in the NFL. Vince Young is
a tremendous athlete and that alone makes him a project worth undertaking.
Frankly, I am more concerned with Matt Leinart's ability to be a top-shelf QB in the NFL for off-the-field reasons. Matt Leinart seems to be very
enamored with 'celebrity status'; barring a trade, he is going to wind up on a really bad team and that might result in him taking a lot of criticism
instead of being the darling of a fawning media. Given the way he behaved after the Rose Bowl loss to Texas last year - think petulant fifth grader -
he may not be a happy camper on a team that is 3-9 heading into December.
Jay Cutler is the Combine Wunderkind of the year. People are raving about his great arm and how he carried the Vanderbilt football team for the past
couple of years. I don't get that even a little bit. Vandy started last year 4-0; then they lost at home to Middle Tennessee State to begin a five
game losing streak that ended on the final weekend with an upset win over Tennessee. Vandy finished 5-5; and that's supposed to make me stand in awe
of this guy's talent and leadership skills? Maybe I missed how Vandy was a powerhouse in 2004 under his leadership - - or maybe not.
The 'outsider' QB I saw on TV that I thought was worthy of making a note about was Brett Basanez from Northwestern. He is a big kid and has a good
arm; importantly, he can also throw the ball with touch when that is needed. Mobility is not his long suit, but I've seen QBs who are more
statue-like than he.
Of course, I liked Reggie Bush and LenDale White when I saw USC play. Bush will go very early and if White has not poisoned the well with his
lackluster off-season workout program, he will be a first round pick too. I have a note here about Laurence Maroney from Minnesota saying he is a
tough runner who can run inside as well as outside. I think he can be a good NFL back.
I also made a note about Wali Lundy from Virginia that says he always seems to fall forward when he's hit. That's a good sign.
The other running back I bothered to record was Maurice Drew from UCLA who is also a tough runner with speed. I also noted that Drew looks awfully
short but that didn't seem to hinder his play.
I really liked Santonio Holmes from Ohio State. My note here says 'Not real big but he can fly and catches everything that is near him'. That is
sort of what you would tend to want from a wide receiver, no?
Chad Jackson from Florida is a big receiver with good hands. My guess is that he will be a possession receiver and not a home-run threat in the NFL.
But he's worth a close look from NFL teams.
Demetrius Williams from Oregon is a tall wide receiver who plays physically even though he is sort of skinny. Imagine if someone finds a way to put
another 15 pounds of muscle on his bones. Williams played in Oregon's spread offense so his 'numbers' may be inflated a bit so I would definitely not
rely on any college stats from him as much of a basis to make the choice.
I've read that Michael Robinson hopes to make it in the NFL as a wide receiver and not as a QB. That's good because I really don't think he had a
prayer as a QB. It is difficult for a player to switch positions as they enter the NFL, but Robinson is a really good athlete and from all
appearances a hard worker. Maybe you take a shot on him as the second day of the draft wears on.
Vernon Davis from Maryland was really impressive. He is big and fast and can catch the ball and can run after he catches the ball and can block.
Other facets of his game are merely OK. Vernon Davis is a first round pick.
Leonard Pope from Georgia is also a first round pick but I liked Davis better. If the Chiefs are going to take him, they better do it in round 1
because he won't be available in round 2. Pope's strength is his ability to get downfield and catch the ball after he's made the safeties turn and
chase him. The stat sheets say he is 6' 8' tall; I believe that.
Anthony Fasano from Notre Dame 'is a horse' according to my notes and Joe Klopfenstein (Colorado) has this phrase next to his name, 'a VERY large
My notes tell me that Tim Day from Oregon has 'very good hands' but 'needs a foot transplant' because he is slow and slow off the ball.
For the most part, I did not make any distinction among the positions that the guards and tackles play since NFL teams often move people around on the
OL. With the one center on my list, I did make sure that he did have some playing time at the position.
The center on my list is Chris Chester (Oklahoma). My notes say he is a good blocker and that he has enough speed/hustle to get downfield or to the
outside to throw blocks for runners who make it that far.
I have one more note about a center and it shows an inherent problem with trying to analyze draft potential on the basis of random TV games. Greg
Esslinger won the Outland Trophy last year as the best OL in college football. I saw him play for Minnesota on a day when he spent a lot of time
being bowled over by the defensive lineman on his nose; he spent as much time on his heels as a guy who water skis barefooted. So, I made a note not
to draft this guy for any reason - - only he won the Outland Trophy. Let's just say he did have one horrid game. Maybe that's the only one he ever
had - or maybe it is a cautionary tale...
Oh, and since I didn't know that Greg Esslinger was any good as a lineman, I never noted the defensive lineman who was pushing him around that day.
Must have been because the defensive lineman didn't do much of anything after that. Had I known who Esslinger was, I would be able to tell you who
the defensive tackle was.
Obviously, I have a note here about D'Brickashaw Ferguson. I said he doesn't look as big as Orlando Pace looked in college but he does look as
talented. I think Ferguson has to go within the first five picks because somebody on one of those bad teams has to realize that part of the reason
they were bad is that their OL isn't top notch.
I also liked Winston Justice from USC and Marcus McNeil from Auburn. They showed good run blocking ability and more than adequate pass blocking
A longtime reader sent me a note last week in anticipation of this analysis. He is a huge Pitt football fan and he wanted to know if Charles Spencer
from Pitt was on my list. He says Spencer will be a good OL in the NFL because he is 'agile, mobile and hostile'. Sadly, I do not have any mention
of him on my notepad. That means either I didn't see Pitt play last year or when I did see them he was unimpressive. One of the draft services says
Spencer is 6' 5' tall and 351 lbs. That certainly indicates he has the bulk to be an OL. But I'm just passing this info along; I don't know Charles
Spencer from Spencer Tracy or Marks and Spencer.
I do have a note here about USC guard, Fred Matua. It reads 'excellent pulling guard for runs away from his side of the field; fast for his size'.
That would seem to make him worth a look by NFL teams.
One of the NC State defensive stalwarts last year was DT, John McCargo. It's too easy to say he was a load in the middle of the defensive line.
Actually, what impressed me was that he was often the first of the DL to move on the snap of the ball; he must have excellent reflexes.
LSU defensive tackle, Kyle Williams, is 'built low to the road'. He comes hard off the ball; and in the games I saw, he got good pressure on the
passer from the middle of the DL. Lots of folks get hung up on defensive ends who create pass pressure, it really helps if the DTs also push the
interior of the OL backwards a ways so that the QB can't take two full steps up in the pocket and let those DEs just swoop around behind them.
Williams is an 'interior pressure guy'.
The stat sheets say that Oregon DT, Haloti Ngata is 6' 5' tall and 338 lbs. I don't doubt the weight here but he doesn't look nearly that tall to me.
Ngata is disruptive in the middle of the defensive line but it sure looked as if there was a lot of 'tissue other than muscle' under his jersey. I
wonder if he won't need to do a lot of work in the weight room to be as good in the NFL as he was in college... But he was awfully good the day I saw
Broderick Bunkley (Florida State) is a DT who is relentless in pursuit of the play. My notes say, 'always hustling' 'always where the ball is'
'sacrifices his body to take out blockers so LBs can make the play' and 'pressure up the middle'. Obviously, I liked Bunkley a lot.
Mario Williams (NC State) is the consensus top defensive player in the draft. I saw him twice and liked him enough to note that he might be a
dominant NFL pass rusher that teams will have to game-plan to stop. My notes say he was 'adequate against the run' so let's not get carried away and
anoint him as the next coming of Reggie White just yet.
Tamba Hali from Penn State is a pass rushing specialist who should get a lot of playing time in the NFL on long yardage situations. Again, I noted he
was 'OK against the run'.
My notes say there is a defensive end who is really good against the run from Indiana named Victor Adeyanjo. That is everything I know about Victor
I saw lots of linebackers that I liked and AJ Hawk was one I liked more than any of the others. He is relentless in pursuit and plays the run very
well. And he also covers well on passing downs; for a college linebacker, that is not very common.
The other linebacker I liked a whole lot was D'Qwell Jackson from Maryland. He's not real big, but he is very quick off the ball and very athletic.
When you combine that with a lot of hustle and a willingness to hit people hard, you have the makings of a really good linebacker prospect. My only
negative note is that he needs work on his pass coverage.
Dameco Ryans (Alabama) is always where he needs to be to make a play and is a 'really sure tackler'. I also wrote down 'skinny for a linebacker' on
Ernie Sims from Florida State is a big hitter and is quick to the ball. I noted that he looked awfully short out there on the field and now that I
look at the stat sheets, they say he is 5' 11' tall - meaning he may be only 5' 9' tall...
Gerris Wilkinson from Georgia Tech was solid against the run. An onscreen graphic said that he also had played DE at Georgia Tech but he's not nearly
big enough to do that at the NFL level.
Manny Lawson from NC State often lined up as a DE but his future in the NFL is as an outside linebacker. He can pursue running plays and rush the
passer but if he had to take on a steady diet of NFL lineman and fullbacks coming at him on running plays, he'd be on the bench very quickly.
Lots of folks are chatting up Chad Greenway from Iowa as a top-notch linebacker pick for this weekend. I know I saw Iowa play last year because I
have notes on another Iowa player but I have no mention of Greenway on my notepad.
The Iowa linebacker I do have on my notepad is Abdul Hodge and my notes say 'good against run and good coverage guy' and 'aggressive guy who hits
people hard'. That sounds good to me.
Tim Jennings (Georgia) is a very fast cornerback but he is also a very small cornerback. I simply noted that I wondered if he could hold his own with
the much larger receivers in the NFL.
Jonathon Joseph (South Carolina) might lead whatever team drafts him in first names - if that happens to be an important need for any team. Joseph is
also a very fast cornerback based on my note here that says 'Speed!' He's a big hitter and he breaks up passes by timing his jump to the ball very
well. I liked him a lot.
Jimmy Williams (Va Tech) is also a big hitter and a very big man for a cornerback. My question is whether or not he is fast enough to play cornerback
in the NFL.
The same longtime reader who 'marketed' Charles Spencer to me above also says that Pitt had a cornerback who will be an impact player in the NFL next
year. Once again, I have no record of this player. My correspondent says Bernard Lay from Pitt will be a fine NFL cornerback because he is 'big,
athletic and fast'. I report that to everyone here as it came to me; I cannot vouch for this information because I don't know Bernard Lay from
Kenneth Lay or Frito-Lay.
I really liked Donte Whitner (Ohio State) as a safety. He was always where the ball wound up and he is a big hitter for his size. My only concern
would be his size because he is not all that big. But he can play football!
I also liked Michael Huff from Texas as a safety particularly against running plays.
Roman Harper from Alabama is another safety that is always around the ball and a solid hitter. He has good size and good speed too; I 'like him a
Pat Watkins from Florida State very big for a safety but he isn't real fast. I don't think he is nearly big enough to play linebacker in the NFL, but
I'm also not sure he's fast enough to play safety in the NFL. If he actually is fast enough to play safety, he'll probably be a good one because he
is athletic and he hits folks. Obviously, he should go in later rounds to a team willing to take a gamble with a pick.
Punters and Kickers:
This will be brief. I have no kickers mentioned in my notes and I only have one punter there. Ryan Plackmeyer (Wake Forest) found his way onto my
notepad with these remarks, 'LOTS of hang-time' 'this guy is huge he may weigh 250 lbs'. That's it; that's the list.
So, now you have my list of players to watch for on Saturday and Sunday this weekend. That will take some of the pressure off and maybe you can focus
on an important question that I've been pondering for years but I can't come to a conclusion. If you stop listening to Mel Kiper Jr. and his staccato
delivery and you concentrate on his visage, take him back in time to his youth and ponder this:
Did he play Eddie Munster as a child actor?
But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...