I must admit, that I am an absolute NFL draft fanatic. Typically, I participate in random mock drafts on different forums, read up on late round prospects and proclaim them to be superstars (I'm still loving Andre Roberts from Citadel to be a big time player in the NFL, obsess over who my team (Philly - don't slay me) will select, mercilessly crucify them when they go a different direction and then roundly praise them after I read a bit and fall back on the "trust the coaches mantra."
In all seriousness though, for as much as people bash on Mel Kiper and his stupendous hairdo, the man has more or less fathered an industry (Draft Analysis), and believe it or not, he works really hard at what he does. But for me, what I love, is the narrative. As you all know, I'm a recruitnik as well. I love seeing the story come to fruition for some of the top-tiered athletes in the country. It's the inner English major in me. When Patrick Peterson (then Johnson) signed with LSU, I knew immediately that in three years (hell at the Army Bowl he even SAID, "I look forward to my next 3 years at LSU) we'd be seeing his name called as one of the top 10 picks. For others, the story doesn't play out quite as wonderfully (Terrence Toliver, for instance, was a highly rated recruit who will now only be a late-round selection). This is the narrative I love... seeing a player's development and progression... their story. So what better way to celebrate than a little pre-draft analysis from three of your favorite bloggers (Pod Katt is of course, numero uno)?
Paul: Alright, so there's no question that Patrick Peterson will be the first LSU player taken on Thursday, the only real question is how high? Latest rumors circulating seem to be that the Panthers are zeroing in on Cam Newton (for whatever reason)... but there's always potential for the smoke screen... with the Panthers trying to draw interest from other teams in the pick... particularly those who might do something crazy like draft Newton (ahem, Washington Redskins). So two parts, as unbiased as possible, where should Zod go and where will he go?
Billy: I see Patrick Peterson the same way I saw Ndamukong Suh in last year's draft -- the safest choice with the highest floor. Baring injury, he'll be good enough to keep drawing NFL paychecks as a corner or a safety. If he meets his potential you just picked up the best defensive back and return guy on the planet. He is the best player in this draft.
That being said, I totally understand why Carolina will probably take Newton at No. 1 (assuming there's no trades). They play in a quarterback-heavy division, they don't have one, and of all the passers in this class Newton has easily the highest ceiling. Yeah, there are questions, but you can say the same thing about Blaine Gabbert (who has never been an overwhelming player at Missou), Jake Locker (remarkably far from a finished product) or Ryan (Leaf) Mallett. Newton's also clearly the most talented of that group, so if you're going to take one you might as well take him.
There's no way Peterson should fall outside of the top two, but there's a chance he could last as long as some are projecting -- nobody knows what Denver, Buffalo or Cincinnati will do and they all have shown that they are foolish enough to make the classic draft mistake of reaching on need. If he does get beyond four, I expect that you'll see teams like San Francisco and Dallas start trying to trade up. Either way, he won't get out of the top seven.
Regarding this class, give me Newton, because in the land of the blind the one-eyed-man is king. If you're going to take a quarterback with question marks, he might as well be the most talented one. As with any quarterback with the "athletic" stigma, how successful he can be will ultimately come down to how well he can go through progressions and throw accurately from the pocket. If Carolina feels like they can teach him and he can learn, take him.
With Gabbert, his best season featured a sub-60 completion percentage and his final season featured a whopping 16 passing touchdowns -- I know he fits the profile of what NFL teams are looking for (tall, strong-armed), but shouldn't production matter? That goes double for Jake Locker. I love him as a developmental player, but not as a "you're the man NOW, dog!" pick. Yeah, he played on some really bad teams in Washington, but if we're talking about him as a high draft pick, why would you want him in the same situation on a bad professional team?
The word "developmental" sounds great to me with the other three as well. With Mallett, you have guy with questions about work ethic and a partying lifestyle. Does that really sound like somebody you want to give a huge contract to today? Or the kind you want to have around to see if he can earn it with his talent (and make no mistake, he's definitely got the talent)? Ponder and Dalton remind me of guys like Chad Henne, John Beck and Trent Edwards -- players who went from mid-round "hey we can draft that guy and bring him along slowly" into first or second round picks because teams get desperate. They're experienced players who have played some good football and could, in the right system and with the right supporting cast, could become pretty good one day. But if you're going to take them you should probably have those things already in place, otherwise they'll probably wind up like Henne, Beck and Edwards, all of whom either have been, or will be, replaced by the teams that drafted them.
To me, what makes an NFL QB is the drive... the desire. I don't know how you judge it... I don't know how you figure it out... in most cases you probably just guess and hope it turns out (that's what Steve Mariucci said). People knock Cam (I'm talking as a football player here, moral/ethical issues aside) because he played in a run-first option based system with simplistic reads. My question is... why is that his fault? Just because that's what he did, doesn't mean that's all he can do. Does he need a ton of development? Absolutely. But this guy was getting on the field with Tebow at Florida. People forget that. He destroyed JUCO. He destroyed Div. 1. He's been a success at every stop. What I see when I look at him is a guy that will figure it out. Unlike other option QBs, he's neither weak armed, nor does he have a strange method of throwing (Vince Young). He has things to learn, but who doesn't? To me, the only thing standing between himself and greatness... is him. Cam Newton will achieve as much as Cam Newton wants to achieve (and I believe that to be true of every other QB prospect too). I think it's a unique position, impossible to evaluate, and perhaps the one that is largely dependent upon the sheer will of the player (though that's another discussion for another time).
It will be interesting to see how things shake out the rest of the 1st round. I do think Cam will go number 1, and since Denver is already fairly established at pass rusher (and probably transitioning fronts as well), I think Dareus could be their guy. Buffalo is probably salivating at the thought of Von Miller at no. 3, and Miller is a guy who I think along with Peterson could be the most special player in this class. He's a freak athlete... WITH production. The Bengals almost have to go QB with Carson Palmer all but quitting the team, and the Cardinals could use a QB too... but I doubt that's the direction they head... they seem to prefer the Jon Gruden method of picking up has beens. So could Peterson fall to 6, in Cleveland? Definitely. And if he did, imagine that SEC dream team at corner... Haden and Peterson. That's quite the pairing.
There's a few other storylines I'm interested in. A.J. Green vs. Julio Jones. Will someone fall in love with Julio's pure physical freakness, though A.J. has clearly been the better player? Where do guys with character concerns go (Robert Quinn, Nick Fairley)? In recent drafts we've seen some pretty good players tumble due to questions with character... NFL teams seem to be doing better of shying away from that type of person in the top half of the round.
After Round 1, it could be a little while before the next LSU player comes off the board. Unless some team has fallen in love with a guy like Kelvin Sheppard, I fully expect Drake Nevis to be the 2nd LSU player taken. I've seen a few mocks that back up my thoughts on his ideal landing spot as well... Indianapolis. He seems prime for that team. What do you guys think?
Regarding Nevis, I'm siding with you Poseur. He's a role-specific guy, and if a team tries to make him into something he's not, he'll likely fail. I think the Colts are ideal for him, but one other team that likes players like him is the Eagles. As an Eagles fan there's a constant gnashing of teeth regarding their lack of "big" "run stopping" DTs. But schematically, for the past decade, they've preferred the disruptors that can wreak havoc up front, which is something Nevis is certainly capable of in spurts.
What about some of the other LSU guys? Kelvin Sheppard was a highly productive player and a tremendous team leader. He seems best fit as an inside thumper in a 3-4 or a MLB in a 4-3 where they don't ask their LBs to play sideline-to-sideline or do deep coverage drops (read: almost anything but the Cover 2). To me, he seems like the prototypical New England Patriot type of player.
Speaking of guys we didn't think would make it, I was sure Matt Ryan would wind up a bust. He threw 19 interceptions his last year at Boston College, and I was like "if ACC defenses can get that many off of him what's the NFL gonna do?"
Speaking of, another interesting guy that falls into a similar category, though has even more question marks considering he's also a run-based guy... is Colin Kapernick. This is a guy who has all the physical goods... but can he turn himself into a pro?
On Kelvin Sheppard, I pretty much agree. Ideal 3-4 inside guy, a lot like Bradie James. Might not start early on, but he's a smart player who will work hard, and if you can keep him doing the things he does well (like Poseur said) there's talent to work with.
I said it during the combine piece, and I know everyone in the world disagrees with me, but I'm sticking to my guns. I see very little difference in Stevan Ridley and Mark Ingram as players. I know, I know Ingram had the ballyhooed career and the fabulous Heisman trophy season. Did you know he only played against two top 35 rush defenses that season (Florida and Texas)? Ridley played against seven last year. I've seen people say Ingram's downturn in production this past season is due to being nicked up all year. That probably played a part (though it's just another reason to be concerned about his NFL future), but no consideration is given to increased quality of competition? Other than shredding two porous run defenses in 2010, Ingram performed like an above average back... like a Stevan Ridley. To take it a step further, Ingram doesn't have break away speed, his body doesn't seem to hold weight all that well... and what he's most often recognized for, his short area explosiveness, well, using just about every form of testing we can to quantify such things... Ridley outperformed him.
All that to say, I don't think either will have tremendous NFL careers... but whereas Ingram could be a huge bust if a team takes him in the 1st... Ridley could be a tremendous value if he's taken rounds 5-7. I'm excited to see that one play out.
As far as Toliver goes, other than a bunch of homer LSU fans that want to say he could "be a stud with a good QB" or whatever.. most of that falls back to his lofty recruiting ranking. The reality is, he never lived up to his potential at LSU, and while he has some nice assets (he's big, pretty strong, and has decent speed), he doesn't consistently get separation and doesn't consistently hands catch. That's not going to fly in the NFL.
The only other guy I see having any chance of being drafted is Josh Jasper. Regardless of whether or not he is taken, I think Jasper will have a very nice NFL career.