Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
I’ve been watching a lot of corners and safeties and compiling notes for scouting reports, but I need a break. Here are ten random observations inspired by game notes, Twitter discourses, and various things I’ve seen and read in papers and around the web.
1. Everyone wants to hype up Oklahoma tackle Lane Johnson, but my notes are not as charitable on the greenhorn tackle. There is no doubt he is athletic, but his technique is rawer and he is more vulnerable to getting beaten than it seems most would like to admit. The tools are there but the toolbox is not yet organized or complete. I noted in three different games, viewed at different times, that he struggles with rushers lined up tight and keeps his outside foot artificially deep, leaving him very vulnerable to having defenders cross his face. He is going in the top 12 but he is not nearly as NFL-ready at left tackle as Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher. Some fan base is going to find that out the hard way, I suspect.
2. I understand that Matt Barkley rubs people the wrong way for one reason or another, but the vitriol towards his skills is overboard. As I wrote back in November, I still believe Barkley can be a NFL start on the caliber of Andy Dalton or Tony Romo (obviously different stylistically). If he was the exact same quarterback and you stripped away the Golden Boy hype and the inherent bias against USC QBs, if Barkley came from Purdue or Syracuse few would doubt he is a top 40 talent.
3. It thrills me to see Houston CB DJ Hayden getting all the accolades now. His near-fatal injury (nicely detailed here by my colleague Justin Higdon) robbed the nation from seeing a player who could have bubbled up into the bottom of the first round with continued strong play. Hayden is every bit of a top 50 overall talent and is a legit playmaking corner with excellent athleticism and lockdown corner potential. I saw the Cougars in person twice in 2011 and his talent was readily evident back then. I just wonder how everyone suddenly figured this out considering he hasn’t played since Halloween week. Where was the pre-injury love?
4. I did a scouting report on NCSU safety Earl Wolff and got barraged with “I love this guy, he’s so underrated” feedback. So I did a little digging and found most draftniks have Wolff pretty much rated very similarly, as a late 3rd-early 5th round talent. I brought him up with a folks from a couple of different teams and didn’t get dramatically different results either, though on the lower end of that spectrum. How can a guy be underrated when everyone feels the same way about him? I certainly didn’t see anything that would convince anyone he belongs higher than what everyone has him slotted or graded. Strange phenomenon, this “underrated” groupthink…
5. Another player getting loads of “I love this guy, he’s so underrated” hype is Sam Houston State CB Dax Swanson. As one of the ringleaders of the initial push to get him more love, I now regret the monster I inadvertently helped to create. I’ve seen SHSU twice in person and watched six of their games the last two years, probably more than anyone else by about four games. I like Swanson a lot but he belongs in the 4th or 5th round. Anyone screaming higher probably hasn’t watched enough (any?) film. Hint: they’re the BearKats, not Bearcats. If you’re going to oversell it at least get the name right!
6. One player I do think is underrated and that I love is South Carolina LB Devonte Holloman. It’s not a popular take but I rate Holloman quite a bit higher than another oversized safety-as-linebacker that will get drafted before him, Khaseem Greene of Rutgers. Greene is a better athlete and his ability to force fumbles is truly exceptional, but Holloman is the better overall football player in my eyes. The second tier of linebackers, of which Holloman is near the top for me and Greene near the bottom, is very rich and deep this year.
7. The more I study the market, the more I really believe we will not see many running backs go in the first two days of the draft. How few? Only Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard are locks to go in the top 75, and I believe Andre Ellington is the only other RB that is guaranteed to hear his name by the end of Friday night. That should not be interpreted as a lack of respect for the running backs in this class but more as a case of oversupply and lack of demand to spend high value picks on running backs. Maybe someone will surprise me and take Mike Gillislee or Johnathan Franklin, or perhaps Marcus Lattimore, in the 3rd rounds, but that is not a given. Look at the contracts that quality free agents like Mike Goodson and Rashard Mendenhall signed for recently. Teams are simply not interested in investing great resources at the running back position at the expense of other spots, be it cap room or draft picks.
8. I’m focused less on the QBs this year than most draftniks. Some of that is a function of the Lions having no need to take a quarterback before the 7th round, though they might surprise some and take one there. But the overkill of analysis from so many irrationally loud voices just repels me. The prevailing wisdom that these quarterbacks have to be either irreproachable or terrible, with such deeply demarcated lines in the opinionated sand, is silly and disingenuous. No, I am not a fan of EJ Manuel or Mike Glennon; I wouldn’t take either before the top of the fifth round. I don’t believe any of these quarterbacks rank among the 15 best players in the draft class either now, or will five years from now either. But I’m not going to devote hours of time and megabytes of repetitive analysis pointing that out or going to war over it. As for how the QBs come off the board, the demand for quarterbacks far exceeds the supply even with Kevin Kolb, Jason Campbell, and (soon!) Matt Flynn finding new teams. It’s the polar opposite of the aforementioned running back situation. Teams are so desperate to find an answer at quarterback that they will risk illogical money and draft value to try and get lucky.
9. One player where I am going to swim against the current is Oregon State wideout Markus Wheaton. Many are lauding the speedy Beaver as a potential first round sleeper and another one of the “he’s way underrated” flavors of the year. I don’t dislike Wheaton but from the first game I watched him this year he reminded me very much of one specific player. I’ve now seen 4 Beavers games from 2012 and also watched Wheaton up close and personal during Senior Bowl week and the comparison has been cemented in my mind. I see Markus Wheaton as a skinnier Taylor Price. There, I said it. Just so I didn’t think I was crazy, I looked up scouting reports on both players and they read remarkably similar: very good vertical speed, able to burst and get separation out of breaks, excellent hand catcher, durable, emerged as leader on team that didn’t throw the ball very well, wastes steps at times, lacks physicality, not good at blocking (Wheaton struggles with technique and strength, Price got apathetic at times). Yep, I still like my initial gut reaction.
10. As far as my own personal preference for what the Lions do with their first pick, I’ll admit I still vacillate between Eric Fisher and Ezekiel Ansah if both are available. At times I get enthralled with the concept of replacing Jeff Backus with someone I have very little doubt will be an above-average left tackle for a decade or longer in the NFL. He can start right away and is an infinitely better option than Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard. The fact he’s a local is a nice bonus too. But other times I’m captivated by what Ansah can become as a pass rusher, and more. I can’t help but think of him as the NFL version of Lebron James in terms of sheer athletic superiority from his peers. Ansah truly is that special of an athletic presence, and he’s already shown his learning curve is quick. But then I picture him lined up on another team, with his sights squared on Matt Stafford, and I would desperately want someone like Fisher in his way. Color me undecided. Still.
Tags: Andre Ellington, Dax Swanson, Devonte Holloman, DJ Hayden, Earl Wolff, Eddie Lacy, Eric Fisher, Ezekiel Ansah, Giovani Bernard, Khaseem Greene, Lane Johnson, Markus Wheaton, Matt Barkley, Taylor Price