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NFL Draft Preview QBs, RBs, WRs (1 of 4)
by Brett Berliner (NFL)
Posted on February 2, 2007, 1:34 PM

So, as the NFL Offseason approaches, we start thinking about two things - the draft, and free agency. However, most fans haven't watched enough college football to really start taking a guess at the top prospects, so here we will be presenting some names to watch and hope your favorite team ends up taking.

The 'Projected Range' is taken from information around the web, to compare my ratings to theirs.

Top 5 QBs:

1. Brady Quinn, Notre Dame.

Brady Quinn is the premier quarterback in this draft. He has everything that you want in a QB - leadership, intelligence, decent mobility, arm strength, accuracy.. except poise. Quinn is an odd player - he is intelligent, a good leader and seems poised in all kinds of interviews, but he always always always has the look of a deer in the headlights. I think the biggest thing an NFL QB has to do is make the decision to beat the blitz, and make a team pay for sending players. Quinn hasn't done that on a regular basis, in fact, his decision making under pressure is a little bit bizarre. He also plays his worst in a big game. However, despite all of this, I think that Quinn will eventually be a good NFL QB. He was a little battle damaged because of his first two years getting killed in a bad offense, but if a team picks him, doesn't expect him to be the immediate savior, and lets him sit for a year or two, he will develop into a great NFL QB. If a team picks him, inserts him from day one and expects him to save the franchise, then I don't know if he's got the makeup for that, and all bets are off. He's quite overrated right now, but hey, quarterbacks usually are.

Projected Range: Top 5. My Rating: Top 20 (15-20)

2. Jamarcus Russell, LSU.

While I personally like Quinn a bit better, I think Russell has the higher upside. For one, he's a large, large athletic man that is hard to take down, he's relatively accurate, and he's got incredible arm strength. It just never quite seemed to click with Russell until real late in his career. He was a bizarre decision maker who made all kinds of mistakes for most of his career, but to his credit, he did pull it together late in his career. There are questions about Russell's ability to pick up an offense, but I'm more worried about his decision making. He often seems to take a gunslinger's mentality into every game, which is perfect for some offenses, but he may not be a good fit in every offense. If Russell gets the proper teaching and a few weapons around him (a killer pass catching tight end could be a savior to this guy), he could be a franchise QB, but he is really, really raw and that hurts him overall in my projecting his future.

Projected Range: Top 5. My Rating: Top 20 (15-20)

3. Troy Smith, Ohio State.

Smith is absolutely a polarizing prospect. Just looking at his Senior Bowl reviews, scouts like NFL Network's Mike Maycock were in love he guy, while Mel Kiper was disappointed. I think Smith is an undervalued prospect. Sure, he played terribly in the National Championship Game, and his Senior Bowl was erratic, but he has an arm nearly as strong as Jamarcus Russell's, and he makes quick decisions, throwing accurate passes. He's also very athletic for a QB. He's hurt by his lack of height, but measuring in at 6'0", which is the same height as Drew Brees, was key. Troy has the passing skills to fit in any offense, and is such a relentless study that he could come in and play as early as any QB in the draft. He has a few too many knocks on him (past character, height, college offense) to be considered a 'cant-miss', but he's got the potential to be a Pro Bowl type QB a few years down the line.

Projected Range: Late 2nd-Early 3rd. My Rating: Early-Mid 2nd.

4. Kevin Kolb, Houston.

Kolb is an interesting prospect, because although Houston has a history of pumping system QBs out, he's really the first with a great chance to be a successful NFL quarterback. He has size, underrated mobility, accuracy and arm strength, but the Houston offense doesn't provide NFL scouts with an accurate representation of how the quarterback will perform in a pro style offense (see: Klingler, David). Kolb should be noted for his intelligence and quick decision making, and after workouts, there is a chance he could rise into the second round for a team desperate for a quarterback. He has future starter potential but will need time to settle in, wherever he is headed.

Projected Range: 3rd Round. My Rating: 3rd Round.

5. Trent Edwards, Stanford.

Trent Edwards, to me, despite the fact he played for noted QB guru Walt Harris, and is as intelligent as any quarterback in the draft, is also the furthest away from contributing of the top prospects. Although he has a great arm, he's never shown quick or solid decision making, and his lack of athleticism forces him to be sacked much more than he should. I personally think he has all the tools to do it, but the Cardinal never really gave him the coaching he needed, so he will have to spend some time holding a clipboard. A patient team could see a starter develop out of Edwards, but they shouldn't expect anything just yet.

Projected Range: 3rd Round. My Rating: 4th Round.

Overrated: Jordan Palmer, UTEP.

Palmer is a guy that you'd think would have it all. He's tall, moderately athletic, has a big arm, and is the brother of Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer. Although Palmer steadily improved every year from his poor debut at Texas El-Paso, he never quite seemed to put it all together. In the pocket, Palmer looks indecisive, unsettled and uncomfortable. To me, this is never something you want out of your QB. He has all the ability in the world, but there's a reason his big brother went to USC while he ended up at UTEP.

Sleeper: Isiah Stanback, Washington.

Stanback is a former track star with a rocket arm who never quite settled into playing QB. However, although he needs mechanics and progression work, for a guy with his speed, he doesn't panic into taking off to scramble as much as you'd like. He has an odd poise in the pocket that makes you feel as if you could count on him in a big game. He's got the potential to be, best case, a Vick type player, but he will need a LOT of time on a bench before contributing. However, a team that needs a developmental third quarterback could be blessed if they are patient with this fella.

Top 5 RBs:

1. Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma.

Yeah, I'm well aware of his injury history, but I'm not really sure that I care. That is literally the only knock one can have on Peterson right now. He's as fast as any running back his size has ever been, he's strong and tough, equally capable of busting a sweep for 50 yards as he is taking a dive play and always getting those inches. He is on the level of all the stud backs that have come out in the last 30 years.. Tomlinson, Dickerson, even back to Jim Brown. He has the talent to ahve his name mentioned up there with those greats. Staying healthy is always a concern, but with Peterson, it's the only reason he isn't the consensus number one prospect. His speed, elusiveness, cutting ability and vision are rare, not just for a man his size, but for any NFL player, and he has the ability to carry an offense on his back.

The one knock I've heard lately on Peterson is that he isn't much of a pass catching back - that's not right. Oklahoma hardly throws to their backs, but AP has soft, soft hands and although he may never catch 100 passes in a season, he runs nice routes and won't have problems catching screens and swing passes. Any team passing on Peterson is making a mistake.

Projected Range: 3 - 8. My Rating: #1 Overall Prospect.

2. Marshawn Lynch, California.

Rare that a draft would have two backs of this quality, but this one does. Lynch, in most years, could easily challenge for the level of top back - for example, in 2004, I'd have him right behind Ronnie Brown and ahead of Cadillac Williams and Cedric Benson, coming out of school, and last year, right behind Reggie Bush. This year, I think he has to be considered one of the top prospects. Lynch is a little bit different from Peterson, but he has the same type of potential impact. Where Lynch differs is in his rare cutting ability. He sees lanes and he has the confidence to go after them, something most backs don't have the quickness to do. One thing you see in the NFL that separates the good backs from the rare backs is their ability to make something out of nothing, and Lynch has that ability. He runs lower than AP, and he explodes out of cuts, staying low behind a line before making his move. He has the ability to turn a likely no gain into a 50 yard touchdown with one move. Marshawn also brings excellent hands to the game and is a nice option out of the backfield. Although he could succeed in any offense, besides a power running game, Lynch likely would be an exceptional back in a West Coast offense, or even in an offense like Denver's. His stock could possibly take a hit with sexual assault allegations, but until those are proven or disproven, I will not evaluate him based on that.

Projected Range: 8-15. My Rating: Top 5 prospect.

3. Kenny Irons, Auburn.

Irons would be a definite first round prospect if he was JUST a little bigger. At 5'11" and under 200 pounds, you would expect a high caliber back of that size to be more explosive than Irons, but although fairly speedy, Kenny isn't that type of back, really. He's a tough runner with decent speed and shiftiness, but he isn't Barry Sanders. In reality, if Kenny can pack on 10-15 more pounds and keep his speed, his superb determination, vision and toughness could lead him to be a premiere back. He's very comparable to Thomas Jones coming out of school, who took some time but has developed into a true #1 running back. Although Irons has the ability to contribute some early, he won't be able to shoulder the load just yet in the NFL. A team with a little bit of time and patience should reap the benefits.

Projected Range: Second round. My rating: Late first/early second round.

4. Antonio Pittman, Ohio State.

I know some will call me a homer, and tell me I've overrated Pittman, and that's fine. Honestly, I'm not sure why some people consider this guy a second day prospect. He has speed (4.40 40), size (5'11", 215), vision, agility, strength.. he's not exceptional in any one spot, but he's good-great in all of them. He's not the fastest player in the draft, but he's plenty fast. He's not the biggest back in the draft, but he's solid. He has great vision and makes the right cut over and over again. Perhaps his most underrated asset is his ability in the passing game - Pittman has soft hands and great open field running skills. I compare him to a back like Chester Taylor - everyone will underrate him, both in the draft and in the NFL, but he'll get a solid amount of yards for you every game and produce when needed. After Pro Days and personal workouts I expect Pittman to rise to the cusp of the high second round.

Projected Range: Third round. My rating: Early second round.

5. Tony Hunt, Penn State.

Tony Hunt, simply put, is a beast. He's not even close to being the fastest back in the class, but for a man his size, he has great speed and balance, and certainly can play running back at a high level in the NFL. What Hunt does better than any back in this class is get the tough yardage. He isn't going to explode around the corner and take a sweep to the house, but he does have the vision to follow his blocks and take any play eight, nine, ten yards with most of that coming after contact. He fights through arm tackles and shows a remarkable ability to fall forward and reach for extra yardage. Although Hunt doesn't have the measurables, he does everything right and can be 'the man' in a lot of NFL systems. He'll need to work on his receiving ability and continue to get stronger, but I think Hunt projects to be a #1 back in the NFL for a long time.

Projected Range: Second round. My Rating: Early second round.

Overrated: Michael Bush, Louisville.

My reservations with Bush have little to do with his broken leg (although that doesn't help him any), but more with his size. Don't get me wrong - there's little I love more than a big, strong running back. I go nuts over the tough guys who can eat up yardage chunks at a time and make the other team pay for hitting him, but Bush, despite his 250 size and decent speed, isn't that guy. He's not particularly a downhill runner, as he at times avoids contact and tries moves of backs much smaller than him. He doesn't run as hard as he should, and he doesn't run through players like he should, and that's frustrating. On the other hand, he's a back that's got great size, decent speed and good vision and cutback ability. It's hard to say he doesn't have the ability to be a Bettis - he certainly does, but he has to learn how to use his size better. He's often criticized as being lazy, too, and for a running back that takes hit after hit after hit? That's not a promising sign. I fully acknowledge that Bush could be a late first rounder and that he could develop into a Bettis or a Okoye, but those guys were so much more hard nosed than he is, and that scares me.

Projected Range: Second round. My rating: Early second day.

Sleeper: Chris Henry, Arizona.

Henry is an interesting player - he played in a bad offense at Arizona and has a rep for being lazy, but in terms of athletic ability, he's in the league of Peterson and Lynch. If a team drafts him and handles him just right, he could easily develop into a #1 back in the league, as he has that kind of talent. Of course, to count on a player with his work ethic to be a starter is dangerous, so Henry is the very definition of a boom or bust talent.

Top 5 WRs:

1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech.

Originally my #1 prospect, Johnson has taken a major tumble in recent weeks of study all the way down to #2. It's not that I'm not still fond of him - trust me, I am - but I just think that when two prospects are tied, I lean towards the one that impacts a game more. Johnson is absolutely a game changer, but I'm from the school of thought that a WR, who touches the ball, at most, ten times a game, isn't as big as a running back. Johnson is a can't miss player, though. Every big time WR coming out of college in the last ten years has had questions - Braylon Edwards had hands, Roy Williams, clutch, Charles Rogers, character, Mike Williams, speed and character, I could go on forever. Johnson doesn't have any of that. He's very fast and athletic for a man his size, he's got incredible hands, he blocks and makes tough catches, and of any wide receiver I've seen in the college ranks, he adjusts to poorly thrown balls. Having a terrible QB in Reggie Ball at GT may have helped.

Johnson can play in any offense. West Coast, he has the speed and suddenness to break one at any time. I prefer him in a high powered passing game, though - get him the ball on screens, slants, curls, go routes.. he is such a weapon that to pigeonhole him to deep or short routes. T.O. without the baggage.

Projected Range: Top 5 pick. My rating: #2 overall prospect.

2. Dwayne Jarrett, USC.

DJ is an odd case. At times, fans and scouts (and even myself) have the ability to underrate a player because of a player that came before them in a similar situation. If Jarrett is criticized heavily or underrated, it is likely because of Mike Williams. It's not hard to see why - Williams has been an NFL bust, and he's a wide receiver with even gaudier stats than Jarrett, with similar size, from the same college. Heck, even both of them wore single digit jerseys at USC. Jarrett, however, is a better prospect coming out of school than Williams was. Although Williams had slightly better hands, Jarrett is a better athlete. Although he isn't a burner, he has good top speed and gets there quickly, and has a nice ability to get deep. DJ also explodes nicely out of his cuts (seen better in big games), and uses his body nicely to keep the ball away from DBs. You don't see him pop balls up for INTs, like some receivers have trouble with. I project Jarrett as a solid #1 receiver in the NFL, capable of 80-90 catches, 1000 yards, and 8-9 TDs a season. He may not have the speed to catch a hitch and take it to the house consistently, but he's no Mike Williams, either.

Projected Range: 10-20. My rating: Top 10 prospect.

3. Sidney Rice, South Carolina.

Sidney Rice, if we talk about pure ability, athleticism and talent, could easily rival Calvin Johnson for the #1 WR spot, but just like his teammate of last year, Ko Simpson, who went at least a year too early, he's simply too raw to completely project. On one hand, I think that by the end of last season, Rice had learned a LOT about playing WR, he still really could use another offseason to continue to bulk up and learn the game just a little bit more. However, even being ridiculously raw can't stop Rice from going in the first round. Frankly, guys with his size/speed combination are incredibly rare, so a team picking in the 15-25 range that won't have a chance at either of the top 2 receivers will salivate over Sidney. He reminds me a fair bit of former Florida State receiver Javon Walker, and I think that with how successful Walker is in the NFL, it will help Rice to be drafted higher. However, his spot is completely in flux. By draft day, Rice could easily have passed Jarrett, or he could have dropped out of the top 5 receivers altogether - as much as any prospect in the draft, his workouts are absolutely crucial.

Projected Range: Mid to late first round. My rating: Top 20 prospect.

4. Ted Ginn, Ohio State.

Ginn is maybe one of the few Buckeyes that I'm not as high on as the NFL and scouts seem to be. On one hand, I believe Ginn's speed, in pads, is perhaps the best in the nation. In addition, by the end of the season, he was running routes at a much improved level, and his blocking, especially for a guy his size, is awfully impressive. However, a few things lead me to believe he will never live up to a lofty, potentially top 10, draft status. For one, Ginn has shown an aversion to contact. Obviously, wide receivers never want to have contact when they've got the ball, because it means they are being tackled, but Ginn seems to really shy away from it. He often short arms balls when DBs are near, causing unnecessary drops, and in both the open field and in the return game, he's shown a tentative nature, often choosing to settle for a series of jukes rather than running North/South. It just worries me that college DBs seem to be able to get into his head. However, Ginn is still the most explosive prospect in this year's draft. I think he could eventually be a #1 receiver - I don't pigeonhole him as Alvin Harper, but he's also very raw (only 3 years at WR) and needs to add a little weight. I just think that a guy taken in the top 10, which Ginn very well may after he runs a 3.4 40 (electronic timed) at Ohio State's Pro Day, needs to provide a little more instant impact than Ginn will.

Projected Range: Early - Mid first round. My rating: Late first round.

5. Robert Meachem, Tennessee.

Big fan of Meachem. His production in college was limited in part due to Tennessee's offense (and in specific, their quarterback situation), but he's big, fast, tough, relatively agile and has decent hands. Every time I've had the privilege of watching him play, although I've never been impressed with the Volunteers' offense, I've come away wondering why he isn't a higher prospect. At the same time, his production, until this year, never warranted a rise. Just like Rice and Ginn, Meachem is raw, and for a guy with his size, he at times has trouble beating press coverage, but there's a lot to like about him. One only really needs to look at his game against California, when he absolutely tore up the Golden Bears' secondary on the way to leading the Vols to a blowout win. I think Meachem projects nicely as an eventual #1 WR in the NFL. While I don't believe he'll run his reported 4.4 at the combine, he's in the 4.5 range and that should be plenty of speed to get him taken in the late first round.

Projected Range: Late first round. My rating: Late first round.

Overrated: Johnnie Lee Higgins, UTEP.

Man, I'm just ripping on UTEP today, huh? Geez. I feel kind of bad, because they weren't a horrible team, but I'm tearing down their best players. Let me preface this by saying that I like Higgins. While he's a little bit small, he is fast and has decent hands, and runs decent rounds. He shows the ability to absolutely take over games, tearing apart some of the lesser teams in Division 1A. Although those teams aren't particularly good, that's one way a prospect can answer questions about college competition - by annihilating it. However, in my mind, he's too streaky - not just game by game (where he either EXPLODED or was shut down), but even drive by drive. Higgins disappeared way too much for me to have a lot of love for him. I think his extra two inches that he has on most slot receivers, with the same speed/agility, will gain him a round or two in the draft, but I'm not sure he deserves it - he's in the range of most of the mid-round prospects for recent years (like Willie Reid, Skyler Green and Jerome Mathis). I project him as a solid return man and third wide receiver with #2 potential, but I think there are quite a few solid receivers rated below him that I like better.

Projected Range: Second round. My rating: Early second day.

Sleeper: Aundrae Allison, East Carolina.

Those who know me know that I love love love Allison. Although he lacks the strength to consistently beat press coverage, he has the speed and deceptiveness to find soft spots in any zone to make big play. Decent hands and great deep speed really round him off. He is explosive, quick and sudden and could be the type of receiver, if he can stay healthy, that defies size conventions and becomes a team's go to guy. Aundrae may never be a touchdown machine, simply because he's only around 6'0" tall, but he makes big plays when necessary and has the explosiveness to force teams to pay attention to where he is on the field at all times, or pay the price.

In the next installment, we will examine the tight ends and offensive lineman.

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