After spending New Year’s Day camped out in front of the couch, I kept my eyes glued to a few players in each game. Generally, I was very impressed, and there are a lot of prospects that look ready to contribute right away at the next level. A lot of these players are juniors, so while the strength of the 2011 draft class hinges on these players declaring early, the potential for this class is immense. Here are some small scouting reports on a couple of prospects as well as some intriguing matchups that took place.
Brandon Harris, CB, Miami vs. Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame. There is no other way to put it. Michael Floyd – and all of Notre Dame, for that matter – came to play, and Brandon Harris – and all of his teammates – did not. Floyd looked unstoppable, taking advantage of soft coverage and proving he could create separation and run crisp routes. His hands are reliable, and he looked the part of an NFL receiver in the Sun Bowl going against a fellow early-round prospect. He has the size and speed to create mismatches in the NFL, and because he operates in a pro-style offense, his value is much higher than say a Justin Blackmon. He also has the production to match his physical skillset, catching 79 balls for 1,025 yards and 12 scores. In every game but one, he exceeded 58 receiving yards, demonstrating consistency as well. For these reasons, he deserves first round consideration and should be a starter at the next level. He is worth a pick between 15 and 35 overall. Brandon Harris, on the other hand, took poor angles to the ball, demonstrated relatively poor ball skills, and struggled to get off blocks on the perimeter. He is a solid tackler and did not allow receivers to get a lot of separation, showing good cover skills. That combination, paired with his solid measurables, are encouraging, but he is a work in progress and should not be expected to contribute as a rookie. He is more of a project player who has a lot of potential to be a starter down the road. He is a risk-reward pick that should go to a team where he can learn for a season or two before playing a key role in a defense. He should be drafted anywhere between 40 and 70 overall.
Daniel Thomas, RB, Kansas State. Thomas is a workhorse at 228 pounds who has had a very impressive season. His speed and agility won’t blow anybody in the NFL away, but Thomas will be effective in the NFL if placed in the right role. He has found the end zone two times or more an astonishing eight times this season out of thirteen contests. His nose for the endzone will make him a premier goal line and short yardage back in the league. He has the power to push the pile and enough speed to threaten defenses on the edge. However, he lacks a certain explosiveness and “it” factor that franchise backs need at the next level. He reminds me of Toby Gerhart a bit, and he also has a little Thomas Jones in him. He will never be an elite running back, but in the age of running back by committee, Thomas will be a valuable commodity and is worthy of a second round pick.
Delone Carter, RB, Syracuse. I had never heard of Carter before he was mentioned as a mid-round prospect in a pre-game show. He had a very impressive showing against Kansas State, though the holes he had to run through would never be there in the NFL. He showed great explosiveness, and ran with great pad level and confidence. He had an Adrian Peterson attitude that he would make the defender pay for trying to tackle him that NFL scouts will love to see. Another impressive stat is that Carter has never fumbled on any of his 646 carries. He had the speed to gash through the Wildcat defense and the bruising style to wear them down. It would not surprise me to see him as the focal point of an NFL offense down the road. Still, unlike Thomas, Carter is not dominant in any one skill, which is what you would like to see in a very specialized NFL, especially at the running back position. Also, his backup was just as effective as him, which makes you wonder how big of a role the Syracuse offensive line has in Carter’s success. He is worth a selection between 50 and 100 overall.
Mike Pouncey, C, Florida. Against Penn State, Pouncey looked like he had a bright future in the NFL. He showed some of the best agility I’ve ever seen in an offensive lineman. They pulled him around on many outside running plays, and you would see him hugging the sideline, mowing down linebackers and defensive backs while keeping up with his running back. He has had some issues with shotgun snaps, so that coupled with his ability to pull lead me to believe that guard is his natural position. Look for him to be the first guard taken in the draft with a selection late in the first round.
Stefen Wisniewski, G, Penn State. Wisniewski certainly wasn’t a liability for the Nittany Lions, but his play didn’t quite stand out as Pouncey’s had. He was a powerful run blocker, but not dominant. The Gator defensive line, with the exception of perhaps LSU and North Carolina, appears to be the most NFL-ready in college football, but you still want dominance out of an early round offensive line prospect. I expect him to be adequate, but nothing I saw from him would lead me to draft him in the top two rounds. He is a fringe top 100 pick at this point.
Ahmad Black, S, Florida. I didn’t intend to pay attention to Ahmad Black initially, but it was certainly hard not to notice him. His pick six sealed the game, but he was a playmaker throughout the contest. He saved a third down stop by delivering a bone-crushing hit on a Penn State player, losing his helmet in the process. His tackling was consistent throughout the game, and he stripped a Penn State player of the football, though they later ruled his forward progress had been stopped. He was one of those safeties that always seems to be around the ball, and he forced seven turnovers this season alone. Though he’s undersized (5’10”, 190), he is a sure tackler, a hard hitter, and a former cornerback, showing he has elite speed for the position. I am now beginning to believe that Black could be the best safety in this class, and he should be regarded as a second round prospect.
Julio Jones, WR, Alabama. The stat line was not very impressive for Jones, catching only three balls, but he was pulled after it became clear that Michigan State didn’t belong on the same field with ‘Bama. Jones caught his passes at will, and everything about his game his been giving defenders fits. His physicality at 6’4″, 220 is very impressive, and he is a precise route runner. He has very solid hands and can run by defensive backs with his speed. He, unlike other college receivers, does not pad his stats against lesser opponents. The opposite is true. In the three games Alabama lost, Jones tallied 28 grabs for over 400 yards and three scores. Two of those three performances came against all-SEC corners Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Stefon Gilmore (S. Carolina). Jones reminds me of a faster Hakeem Nicks or Anquan Boldin who I believe will make many pro bowls. He is definitely worthy of a top 10 selection.
Marcell Dareus, DL, Alabama. Marcell Dareus, Alabama’s 3-4 defensive end, looked unblockable against Michigan State. He applied pressure on Kirk Cousins all day long and was just too much for one Spartan alone to handle. His power and quickness were just too much to handle, and Dareus is a very, very good defensive line prospect for any scheme. Though Michigan State was rarely in a position to run, Dareus is very stout against the run as well. He does need to polish up some pass rush moves and use his hands better. Still, he is very similar to Ndamukong Suh is style of play and physical skillset. He is not quite as dominant, but is clearly a top 10 pick who will be a force for years to come in the NFL. The battle between he and Nick Fairley for best interior defensive lineman will be very interesting.
Marcus Cannon, OT, TCU vs J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin. These two players did not line up against each other very often, probably because Wisconsin just respected Cannon that much. Most are projecting a move inside to guard for Cannon, who plays left tackle for the Frogs, but I don’t see the need. He was fine in pass protection, and he was only beat once by Watt, resulting in a holding penalty. Cannon was whistled for another false start, but was very impressive overall. For somebody his size (6’6″, 350), he was surprisingly able to get to the second level. He finished blocks and looks like he can be a solid right tackle for somebody. I would like to see him be more of a mauler with such a size advantage, but he’s a second round prospect. JJ Watt was hardly ever blocked by TCU. The Frogs decided to option him, thinking that he would be too much for their tackles to handle. This speaks to the impact Watt has on an offense. He was able to play defensive tackle and rush the passer effectively and made a great play on an option, forcing a pitch and recovering to tackle the running back. He showed the versatility, agility, and power you want to see in a premier defensive line prospect. He can play in any scheme at 6’6″, 290, though I think he will be best as a 4-3 end. He can play 4-3 tackle on passing downs and should be fine as a 3-4 end. He played his best game against Ohio State (#1 nationally at the time), so he shows up against elite competition. Should he declare early, he is the type of defensive lineman who would warrant first round consideration, likely in the 15-45 overall range.
Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin. Carimi did not really impress me. He was solid in pass protection and wasn’t bad in run blocking either, but he didn’t finish a lot of blocks very well, and didn’t operate in space very well. I can’t say if his problem was effort or conditioning or both, but something seemed to be lacking from his game. While Wisconsin’s offensive line played very well as a unit, they ran behind the right side more (Carimi is a left tackle) and Carimi often stood and watched the play after giving his defender an initial pop. He took care of all of his assignments, however, and with a little more polish and motivation, he could be a good right tackle. I think Marcus Cannon outplayed him, though, and I believe Carimi is a second round prospect at the moment.