We here at Crystal Ball Run don't exactly fancy ourselves college football "experts" so much as "addicts." We certainly won't pretend to tell you that we all understand the dark arts of NFL scouting.
Instead, we've enlisted our buddy Eric Galko of Optimum Scouting to answer "Five Burning Questions" about the silly season leading up to those three days in April when NFL fortunes are made and lost.
1. Do you think prospects tend to get a bump in their evaluations based on the conference they played in? For example, does a player coming out of the SEC tend to be graded on a curve?
That's absolutely built in, but in my opinion, good scouts (which most NFL scouts are) focus less on the general talent in the conference, but moreso on the match-ups they face. So while the SEC generally has the most overall talent, the Pac-12 still has outstanding depth in receivers/defensive backs, the Big Ten has great matchups with power rushers vs. offensive linemen, etc. Also, some of the same ideas go for small school prospects.
To just say "well the level of competition is a concern" is not fair and lazy. For example, Brian Quick, one of the top small school prospects in the entire draft faced cornerbacks Ryan Steed of Furman (likely top four rounder) twice, and Janoris Jenkins once, as well as other FBS and decent FCS cornerbacks. I doubt there is an actual "curve" built in for most teams, but playing in bigger, better conferences allows for better "match-ups" to evaluate/improve as a player.
2. How does Andrew Luck stack up with some of the elite quarterback prospects in recent years?
Luck is really special and unique. Per usual in the NFL Draft media process, he's gotten too "hyped" for his own good, and now the "Robert Griffin vs. Andrew Luck" debates begin. But make no mistake, Andrew Luck wins that battle, easily.
To me, he's only one of three quarterbacks I've extensively scouted (didn't include Peyton Manning) and given "elite" grades to (Phillip Rivers and Carson Palmer the others). And to me, he's the most mentally ready quarterback I've ever seen or heard of. Becoming just aware of how defenses are attacking you post-snap is one of the most important attributes for a quarterback, and it's what keeps some guys from ever becoming "elite" quarterbacks.
It'll take Luck a year to get ready for the NFL game, but when he's got some comfortability, he has all the mental abilities to master the game the way we've seen Manning and Brees and Brady do for so many years. One thing to note though: "Special" and "unique" do NOT always equal "Future Hall of Famer." He, nor ANY NFL prospect is a "lock" to be elite. But Luck seems to be the closest to it coming into the league as any quarterback I've ever seen.
3. Give us one guaranteed bust.
It's tough to just give one "bust," because for the most part, a lot depends on which team takes a player, if it's a poor fit and what the culture of the locker room is. I always wonder: What if Jamarcus Russell went pick 31 instead of No. 1? Would he have been a bust with so much less pressure, money and expectation?
Still, two guys I think should be top 20 picks that could bust easily are Mike Adams of Ohio State and Alshon Jeffery of South Carolina. Adams plays far too finesse and seems to be easily set up throughout the game against more power, decisive outside-in rushers. I think he'll really struggle to control 3-4 outside linebackers, and I'm not sure he's physical enough to drive block down field to play the right tackle side in most systems.
Jeffery has not only had work ethic and in-shape concerns, but his play this season showed his lack of consistent separation and ability to use his hands and/or decisive routes to get open down the field. A big receiver with 4.6-4.7 speed and poor separation skills sounds far too much like Mike Williams (Detroit/Seattle) to me.
4. What are the strongest and weakest position groups in this year's class?
The receiver class is the loaded this year – maybe the deepest since I began scouting for the NFL draft. You could make a valid argument for receivers 1-4 to be No. 1, receivers 5-12 are almost interchangeable depending on team fit, and 13-41 are also a near crapshoot. In the last 10 years, the record number of receivers taken in a draft is 37. I would say this year breaks that record. Also, cornerback has some really impressive talents that, again, could fluctuate substantially depending on what system a team runs.
The offensive tackle class is really poor, though, which is really never good for teams needing tackles early in the draft. Only three tackles in this class are worthy of a top 20 pick, though it wouldn't shock me if five are taken in that same area out of teams reaching for a franchise left tackle. After those five likely first rounders, there are only four or five tackles I'd take in the top five rounds, and I'd guess that many more go in that same area out of need. Also, the inside linebacker and strongside linebacker class is really weak this year. Only seven or eight linebackers in this draft that have top five round values can play inside linebacker or strongside linebacker.
5. Why are scouts obsessed with guys' butts?
Always an entertaining question.
This is usually the case for offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers and running backs. For offensive/defensive linemen, having a thick lower half (legs and butt) allows for a stronger base and ability to hold at the point of attack better. Winning that leverage battle is almost the end all, be all for linemen. Having the "lower half" to anchor down and either protect (as a blocker) or plant and drive (as a rusher) is key.
For running backs and linebackers, having a "thick lower half" allows for, similar to linemen, the ability to have power from the lower body and ability to hold ground better through contact. Having this balance and studying through contact is crucial for linebackers trying to drive through the tackle and deliver a pop while keeping good tackling form. It's equally crucial for a running back to drive through the hole and arm tackles, as well as take on contact, keep balance and transfer power from the lower half with balance effectively.
So scouts aren't oddly checking out the prospects in tight pads. Even in the football world, having a good "lower half" is a valued attribute.
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