As we approach the NFL draft, I think we need to look at last year’s draft as something of an anomaly. Not only did we hit on our 1st round pick, we obviously hit on our 2nd round pick, and it looks like we also picked up several other very good players in Peyton Hillis, Josh Barrett, Wesley Woodyard (although not a draft pick), and Spencer Larsen, and have some other players that may prove to be very good in time in K-Lich, Torain, and Powell. Obviously, this is a statistical rarity that will likely not be hit again (although we can always hope). But look at other teams in the league and they also were able to add some quality talent throughout the draft. We had amazing rookie performances not only from Clady and Royal, but also guys like Slayton, Ryan, Flacco, Mayo, Forte, and the list goes on. In fact, I really can’t remember a year since 1983 when we had so many superb rookies come into the league. Looking at the list of likely first rounders, I feel that there may be a lot more disappointment next year in who teams select, in that many will be assuming that based on last year’s bonanza of talent, this year should be similar. Statistically we know that at best, 1st rounders have about a 35% to 40% chance of being somewhat successful in the NFL (that can vary depending on what we feel is success), and that percentage drops dramatically in the following rounds. I won’t go through the iterations here, but I thought we should look at some of the players I think may have bust written on them.
I thought we should probably start with QB, both of the top two rated QB’s coming out (Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez) are juniors. Statistically this generally is a bad sign, as very few junior QB’s have succeeded at the NFL level. In fact, I am having a hard time thinking of many that have done well, at all. Most successful NFL QB’s have at least three years of starting experience and usually four. It is invaluable what an extra season can do for a QB. Now I am not saying that four year QB’s will make it over a three year QB, but generally they have an advantage. Stafford has the “prototypical” profile of a QB, big, strong armed, mobile, but last year he had problems with INT and accuracy working with a very talented Georgia team. Sanchez probably is considered a more accurate passer, but struggles with arm strength and mechanics, some of which can be corrected with coaching, some of which may not.
RB’s I see one guy in Beanie Wells that would make me very nervous. Though he has very good size and speed combo, he has been injury prone and comes from a conference that has a tendency to overwork their RBs. Wells also seems to lack a second gear and may struggle being more than a average RB at the next level that is somewhat injury prone.
WR’s I actually think is probably a fairly safe group even though WR has historically been one of the worst investment ideas in the 1st round. Many may point to Michael Crabtree as being a product of the Mike Leach offense, well Wes Welker was also a product of that offense, and Crabtree is imminently more talented than Welker was coming out of college. There may be some cause for concern due to the injury, but I still think he will be an excellent WR at the next level, although it may take two or three seasons before he truly shines.
OL I see one super bust in the making in Andre Smith. For those of you who haven’t followed, Smith has gone from being a sure fire top five pick and likely the 1st tackle off the board to maybe falling out of the 1st round. SF is making noise that they may take him at 10, but I think that is a smoke screen to see if they can get a team like Philly to jump up and grab him there. Smith may be the most frustrating prospect to evaluate since looking at his game film, he was dominate in the toughest defense conference in the nation, yet looks like an absolute lazy, uninspired, out of shape player on his pro-day and in his combine appearance. Someone will take a shot on him in the 1st round based on the game film, that team will likely regret that choice.
DL – The biggest (no pun intended) enigma in my opinion is BJ Raji. This is a man that obviously has the physical tools to be a dominate NT or DT on the next level, yet his lack of commitment to the program and portions of the game where he disappears makes you question his heart and desire. He will likely be a top 10 pick and maybe even a top 5 due to the need for a NT/DT, but buyer beware. This is a kid who, much like Smith, will likely need someone on him constantly and someone who may well eat themselves out of the league. The other potential bust I see is Tyson Jackson, yes, he physically has the tool set you would like in a five technique, but he has also benefited tremendously from playing with some other very talented DL that took pressure off him. His technique is lacking and he will need a fair amount of time and coaching to develop in he mostly got by being a better athlete than the guy he lined up against in college.
LB- As much as it pains me to say it, I really have to throw Rey Maualuga, Brian Cushing, and Clay Matthews in this group, even though I still think Maualuga will be the best of the bunch and should be who we draft. Maualuga obviously has issues with deep speed and technique, technique can be taught at the next level and I think some of his issues primarily stem from the fact that Rey was surrounded by a tremendous defense that could make up for a sloppy angle or play by Maualuga since you had a guy like Taylor Mayes to clean up the mess. Cushing I have serious doubts about durability and (cough) some links to performance enhancing supplements, in many ways he reminds me of Bill Romonoski but he also reminds me of Mike Mamula, I think he has tremendous athletic drive, yet that drive may burn out the factory quickly. Clay Matthews I think has been getting a tremendous boost from his name, and his USC background. He has looked phenomenal in drills; however, I have serious questions regarding players who only start for one year, is he a one year wonder or is he just starting to reach his potential.
CB – Vonte Davis seems to have that potential of bust written all over him. Physically the most gifted CB coming out this year; however, his brother (Vernon Davis) raises tremendous red flags for me. He has sighted his brother as a big influence in his life, which does not bode well for Vonte. For those of you who don’t remember, Vernon Davis absolutely blew up the combine and looked like superman, his performance shows what relying on combine numbers and a senior bowl performance will do. Vernon Davis skyrocketed up the draft boards and was nabbed by the 49ers and promptly has not even come close to living up to expectations. I think Vonte may have a similar fate.
This obviously is strictly my opinion and by no means do I think all of these players will end up being busts, but I do think they have a higher percentage probability than many of the other likely 1st round choices.