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Prospecting for Draft Day "Sleepers"
another great article from former gm and scout, pat kirwan with some names worth keeping an eye on.
(April 1, 2007) -- We now enter the final month of preparation for the NFL draft (April 28-29). For the top players on most draft boards, it's time to discuss the flaws that have shown up.
It seems every player in this draft with a first-round grade (except Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson) has an issue or two of concern. It happens every year, and the deeper teams drill down in the pursuit of all they need to know in order to use a first-round pick, the more they find out.
Is there a point when a team has too much information? As one general manager recently said to me, "If you want to build a case against a player, there's enough out there on just about all of the top 50 players. Then again, there's enough good information to feel good about the same players."
Mention Brady Quinn and you will hear accuracy issues. Then again, he did throw 95 touchdown passes. JaMarcus Russell gets tagged with potential weight issues, but no one denies he can throw all the passes. Joe Thomas is the best offensive tackle in the draft but more than once I have heard he occasionally gives up the inside rush.
Leon Hall is arguably the best corner, but pure playing speed isn't always demonstrated on game tapes. Alan Branch has rare size and is ideal for the 3-4 nose tackle position, but he's now under the microscope for not playing hard every play and some believe he has slipped a few spots in the first round.
With all the movement of veteran running backs this offseason, the running backs in the draft are constantly dealing with damage control. But Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch still have to worry about trades possibly involving Michael Turner or a veteran signing like Corey Dillon before they know their fate.
In the past three days, I heard linebacker Patrick Willis might struggle calling a defense, LaRon Landry doesn't play hard every play, Dwayne Jarrett is too slow, Paul Posluszny will not get any better, Lawrence Timmons plays great on tape but is 6-foot and not 6-2, and the list goes on.
Everyone I mentioned played the college game at its highest level and should be a very good pro. I'm inclined to think the overanalyzing is at full throttle.
DRILLING AT THE BOTTOM
I learned a valuable lesson a long time ago getting ready for the draft. It's important to spend time in the early part of April digging and scratching down at the bottom of the talent pool for late-round draft picks and free-agent types with at least one special quality -- exceptional speed, rare size, an interesting athlete from another sport -- something that catches your eye.
The personnel director should take one scout and turn him loose on the bottom feeders. Close to one whole round in the draft will come from players not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.
Back in the early 1990s, we came across a player named Matt Willig, a backup defensive tackle at USC who was 6-foot-9. He didn't do much on game tapes and tested below our standards for a defensive tackle, but he could bend his knees and was smart to go along with that 6-9. We signed him about 15 minutes after the draft and moved him to offensive tackle. He spent two years training at the new position and ended up playing in the NFL for well over 10 years.
When you decide to work the bottom of the talent pool, I'm talking about players who did not go to the Combine, probably didn't play in any all-star games, and might have little in the area of production. They can be from big schools or they could be from schools no one has ever heard of.
Here's a list of the kind of guys I'm talking about. The young scout needs to head out on a three-week tour, working out a group like this, talking football with them, watching some tapes and aiming to come back to the office a day or two before the draft with a few nuggets. Remember when Steelers scout Dan Rooney Jr. came back with a running back named Willie Parker? Parker never started at North Carolina but he had rare speed.
1. Geoff Pope, CB, Howard University (5-11 5/8, 186 pounds)
Key numbers: 4.29 40-yard dash, 35-inch vertical jump
I talk with Pope every week and a number of teams are starting to send scouts to check out a guy with world-class speed. Colts starting safety Antoine Bethea played at Howard and was drafted in the seventh round last year.
2. Jeff Terrell, QB, Princeton (6-2?, 220 pounds)
Key numbers: 4.74 40-yard dash, 6.83 three-cone drill, 4.15 short shuttle, 35?-inch vertical jump
Remember an Ivy League quarterback named Ryan Fitzpatrick now with the Rams? Well, Terrell was the Ivy League Player of the Year. His movement skills are superior to most of the draftable quarterbacks and I'm certain he has the football intelligence.
3. Usama Young, CB, Kent State (5-11, 196 pounds)
Key numbers: 4.39 40-yard dash, 43-inch vertical jump, 6.65 three-cone drill, 10-11 broad jump, 15 reps on the bench press test
I'll put Young's numbers up against anyone in the draft. I have talked with Young and action is starting to pick up on the Kent State campus.
4. Melvin Bullitt, S, Texas A&M (6-1?, 201 pounds)
Key numbers: 4.48 40-yard dash, 40?-inch vertical jump, 3.97 short shuttle, 10-5 broad jump
I don't know a lot about Bullitt but that 3.97 short shuttle at his size is enough to send that scout to College Station for a workout.
5. Justin Hairston, RB, Central Connecticut State (6-0, 220 pounds)
Key numbers: 4.58 40-yard dash, 4.15 short shuttle, 6.94 three-cone drill, 39-inch vertical jump
Hairston started his career at Rutgers and played well in an all-star game, so it was a surprise he wasn't at the Combine. It's time to go find out why he left Rutgers -- can he catch the ball and what does he know about pass protections?
6. Mark Farbotko, TE, Harvard (6-5 5/8, 244 pounds)
Key numbers: 4.81 40-yard dash, 10-3 broad jump, 36?-inch vertical jump
No one ever thought Eric Johnson was going to jump from Yale to a starter in San Francisco overnight, but he did. Farbotko deserves a closer look.
Melvin Bullitt was an All-Big 12 player as a senior.
Other non-Combine players worth talking about include: West Virginia wide receiver Brandon Myles, Pittsburgh center Joe Villani, Syracuse linebacker Jerry Mackey and Nebraska tight end Matt Herian.
And now, here's my "Matt Willig List" for the 2007 draft. The first reaction from a scout I ran the list by was, "These guys can't play." Perfect, that's what everyone said about Willig, so I know I'm on the right track! The goal is to find one late-round pick/free agent who is worth developing as an offensive lineman.
1. Jason Capizzi, Indiana (Pa.) University (6-9, 324 pounds)
Key numbers: 5.22 40-yard dash, 34-inch arms, 11?-inch hands.
Sounds like a Willig clone, and I sure hope he can bend his ankles and knees.
2. Kyle Zaharias, Georgetown (Ky.) College (6-9, 270 pounds)
Key numbers: 5.06 40-yard dash, 34-inch arms
Zaharias is listed as a tight end, but his size and speed make this another stop in the search for the next Willig.
3. J.P. Bekasiak, Toledo (6-6, 296 pounds)
Key numbers: 5.09 40-yard dash, 32 reps on the bench
You have to take a look at a big, strong guy who can run. Remember, we are willing to dedicate two years on the practice squad for the right player.
4. Brandon Cox, Louisiana-Lafayette (6-6?, 329 pounds)
Key numbers: 5.85 40-yard dash, 5.07 short shuttle
Pretty slow, but his size makes it a stop on the tour.
5. David Shemaria, Bloomsburg (Pa.) Univ. (6-5 5/8, 302 pounds)
Key numbers: 5.28 40-yard dash, 28 reps on the bench
Keep in mind, Jahri Evans came from Bloomsburg before being picked in the fourth round last year by the Saints and starting all 16 games.
It's more important to be right at the top of the draft because of all the money involved, but being right at the bottom of the draft has a chance to make your team much better at a much cheaper price.
Buffalo got 16 starts from sixth-round linebacker Keith Ellison and seventh-round tackle Terrance Pennington last year. The Colts got 14 starts from seventh-round safety Antoine Bethea.
And there is no greater example of digging deep in the draft than Marques Colston, the 252nd player picked who started 12 games and had more Rookie of the Year votes than Reggie Bush. I heard a lot of people say he couldn't play in the NFL.