Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?
23 Apr 2007
Rob Rang is the Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, powered by The Sports XChange. Over the past seven years, Rob's work has been featured on ESPN, FOX, NFL.com, USA Today, CBS Sportsline, and NBC, among others. An annual presence at the three biggest scouting functions, the East-West Shrine Game, Senior Bowl, and Combine, He is a bona fide draft expert whose mock drafts, prospect rankings, and player analysis are recognized by NFL teams, media, and fans alike as among the industry's most reliable. Rob's been a friend for years, and he's who I turn to with draft questions whenever I have them.
Since our thoughts will be turned to the draft above all this week, we thought it'd be a good idea to have a Football Outsiders Q & A with Rob. We sent out a request for questions from readers (those are the first five, from Scott Keeney, Nathan Freedman and Tom Roth), and FO filled in the rest. Rob took it from there during his craziest time of the year, for which we are most grateful. If you'd like to see more of Rob's work, go to NFLDraftScout.com, or view his latest three-round mock draft here.
And now, wothout further ado...
Scott Keeney: Jacob Ford, the undersized DE from Central Arkansas who seems likely to find himself an OLB in a 3-4 defense, put up some good numbers in his pro day. I've never seen Central Arkansas play; what does his film say about him? Any thoughts on how high up the draft he will climb? Given the way the Cowboys reached to get Grambling's Jason Hatcher last year (who showed some promise), I'm thinking (and hoping) they might grab Ford in the fifth this year.
Rang: Ford's burst upfield and lateral agility make him a natural pass rusher. Though he was never used as a linebacker while at Central Arkansas, or previously at the University of Memphis and Holmes Community College (Miss.), Ford was tried at outside linebacker in the Inta Juice North-South All-Star Classic. There, Ford showed enough athleticism to warrant development as a linebacker, particularly one for the 3-4 alignment. He isn't a particularly instinctive player, but has the hip swerve to turn and run in coverage and is a surprisingly effective tackler in space. Ford's athleticism and the lack of linebackers in this class could potentially move him up the board, though the fact that he'll be 24 years old by the time he plays an NFL down likely will keep him from moving into the middle rounds.
Scott Keeney: Another small-school guy, Courtney Brown, a CB out of Cal Poly, put up some eye-popping numbers at his pro-day. He had seven picks in 2005, but only one in 2006 -- apparently his opponents avoided him like a skunk in the road. Is he as good a prospect as he sounds? Did he go up against any big-time I-A WRs? What's the chance he cracks day one?
Rang: You've characterized Brown's 2005 and 2006 seasons well. We view him as a third-fourth round prospect. Unfortunately, he wasn't matched up against any elite competition. The best he faced was San Jose State's James Jones, who beat him for nine catches for 92 yards, including a long of 43. Brown has enough talent and certainly the size and speed combination to warrant a middle-round selection, but he didn't dominate his level of competition as much as his numbers may lead one to believe. Also of concern is the fact that Brown, though nearly 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, lacks aggressiveness in run support.
Scott Keeney: I've watched Boston College guard Josh Beekman play a few times, and he seems to display good footwork and move really well for someone his size. He can block in space pretty well and he can certainly drive-block. Plus, he started three games at center. Yet, judging by the online draftnik horde, it seems like he is being downgraded quite a bit. Some now have him slipping into round four. My understanding is that he did fairly well at the Senior Bowl, but had poor numbers at the Combine. Who cares? Are we looking at this year's Marcus McNeill -- a starting-caliber lineman who drops for all the wrong reasons?
Rang: It isn't so much that Beekman has dropped significantly as it is other linemen have moved in front of him. Let me explain. Entering the year, Beekman was viewed as one of the elite pure interior linemen in the draft. He remains among the best. Unfortunately for him, some talented players with perceived higher upsides have switched positions and are now being ranked ahead of him. Specifically, I would mention former OTs Justin Blalock (Texas) and Arron Sears (Tennessee) and former defensive tackle Andy Alleman. For what its worth, I view Beekman as a quality interior lineman, capable of playing either guard or center at a high level, and a value in the third round.
McNeill dropped because of medical questions. He was diagnosed with stenosis of the back (narrowing of the spine) and some teams viewed him as too much of a risk. This diagnosis, more than the results of any workout, led to his falling to the 50th overall pick of the 2006 draft.
Nathan Freedman: A number of successful college quarterbacks who entered the NFL played in system passing offenses on their college teams, such as all-shotgun offenses, which former Texas QB Vince Young played in, or variations on the spread offense, which first-day draft picks Tim Couch, Drew Brees, and Alex Smith came from. How do NFL scouts decide if a QB who played his college ball in a system passing offense is likely to be a successful QB in the NFL? What are some reasons that scouts have favorable or unfavorable evaluations in this draft of some QBs who played in system offenses, such as Kevin Kolb of Houston or Chris Leak of Florida?
Rang: The exact scenario you describe arises each year. Generally speaking the same characteristics are used to grade all quarterbacks -- namely size, arm strength, accuracy, poise, mobility, etc. Of great importance when rating quarterbacks coming from shotgun-heavy collegiate offenses is a passer's footwork. Some slow-footed passers aren't viewed as likely to be able to handle the transition to a more pro-style offense. Others are viewed as nimble enough that this shouldn't be a problem. Kolb and Leak are each considered athletic enough to handle this transition. A lack of pure arm strength, rather than agility, is a concern that lowers Leak among this year's quarterbacks.
Tom Roth: I'm a Texans fan, and our biggest need is the secondary, with big holes at #2 CB, SS and most of all FS. Safeties can be had later in the draft, but Leon Hall, who seems to be the consensus top CB prospect, strikes me as a real possibility at #10. I know he has great measurables, but from what I hear he was repeatedly burned by the top wide receivers when he faced them in college. Is he a legitimately elite corner prospect, or is he an athlete masquerading as a football player, like his namesake DeAngelo?
Rang: Actually, Leon Hall is precisely the opposite of DeAngelo Hall, in my opinion. DeAngelo Hall is such a spectacular athlete he can often get away with questionable technique and peeks into the backfield. Leon Hall's 4.39 Combine time is manufactured speed. He isn't that fast on the field. He is, however, a good athlete whose success is a result of dedicated film work and standout technique. He'll be beat on occasion (and was beaten badly by Ted Ginn, Jr. and Dwayne Jarrett), but 95 percent of time is able to shut down his side of the field. Scouts I've spoken with agree -- they'll take a seasoned cornerback like Hall who will give up a big play and come back to compete, rather than a cocky athlete who goes to pieces once he's given up a touchdown.
Football Outsiders: Who are the five most overrated players in this year's draft, and why?
Rang: 1. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma: If he remains healthy, Peterson is the most immediate impact player in this draft and a future consistent Pro-Bowler. Over the last two seasons, however, he's missed at least two quarters of action in nearly half of OU's games (11/24) due to injury. Peterson has an upright running style, and I see him, at 6-foot-2, absorbing a lot of hits in the NFL.
2. Ted Ginn, Jr, WR, Ohio State: Ginn is the elite returner in this draft. I believe he is capable of making a Devin Hester-like impact next season as returner. As a receiver, however, I see a player who lacks size, courage over the middle, and is both a sloppy route-runner and an inconsistent pass catcher.
3. Dwayne Jarrett, WR, USC: Maybe Jarrett doesn't belong on this list. I believe he's going to prove to be a solid starting receiver in the NFL, but that's it. Solid. Certainly not spectacular. Not a #1 guy. A possession receiver whose size, leaping ability, and hands make him effective, particularly in short yardage, but if you're looking for a big play threat, look elsewhere.
4. Jamaal Anderson, DE, Arkansas: I could be forced to eat my words on this one, as Anderson has the combination of size and athleticism to develop into a superstar. However, Anderson isn't particularly explosive off the edge, and many of his SEC-leading 13.5 sacks were manufactured by an aggressive and creative Arkansas defense. For his size, Anderson is surprisingly ineffective at the point of attack against the run, as well. He has the tools to develop into a superstar, but Anderson is far from polished.
5. Jarvis Moss, DE, Florida: Quick, tell me how many games Moss started. How many sacks over his career? Based on the number of times you've probably seen Moss listed highly in mock drafts, you might think he was an SEC superstar. In reality, Moss left after his junior season, the only year he started a game, and leaves with a total of 15 sacks. He has the speed off the edge to provide a third down pass rush, but that's it. At only 250 pounds he lacks the bulk and strength to play the run. Moss isn't athletic enough to handle the transition to outside linebacker, either.
Football Outsiders: Who are five projected second-day picks who could surprise?
Rang: 1. John Beck, QB, BYU: Mark my words, Beck is a more successful pro quarterback three years from now than at least half of the passers drafted ahead of him.
2. Kevin Boss, TE, Western Oregon: I am convinced that if Boss had not torn his labrum (left shoulder) halfway through his senior campaign he'd be competing to be the first senior selected at the position.
3. Derek Landri, DT, Notre Dame: In an awfully weak class at defensive tackle, Landri is one of the few capable of mounting any kind of interior pass rush.
4. H.B. Blades, ILB, Pittsburgh: The son of Bennie and nephew of Brian and Al, H.B. Blades may lack his elders' prototype size and athleticism, but he has their instincts and physicality.
5. Sam Olajubutu, OLB, Arkansas: A two-time First Team SEC selection, Olajubutu is going to be drafted somewhere on the second day because he is 5-foot-9, 227 pounds. No point in waiting for a few years ... I'm telling you right now, this kid proves to be among the steals of the 2007 draft.
Football Outsiders: Is the bias against smaller-school players is more or less prevalent than it has been in the past?
Rang: Much less so now that in the past. There simply have been too many examples of "small school" players developing into significant NFL players. The addition of several senior all-star games over the past five years has made it even more unlikely that talented players, regardless of the level of their schooling, can slip through the cracks of today's NFL scouting.
Football Outsiders: If you were fielding a team -- eleven on each side and a return man -- which would you put at each position? Assume that you're "staffing" a 4-3 defense and an offense with two receivers, a tight end, a fullback and a halfback. These are not necessarily the most talented players (i.e., Calvin Johnson), but the ones you have been most impressed by in your observations and would play best together.
Rang: This is one of the questions I'm most often asked. Because of its popularity, I've created a team, affectionately named "Rang's Gang" that you can review at NFLDraftScout.com. You can follow the link here.
Football Outsiders: What is the biggest adjustment for college players coming to the pros? And are there certain college systems of schemes that particularly help or hinder a player at the next level?
Rang: Speed. Everything is faster in the NFL. From the speed of the athletes to the tempo of the game to the overtime rules, everything is faster in the NFL. I'm of the opinion that pro-style offenses and defenses obviously prepare players for the league better than others, but even more importantly, the level of competition is a great developmental tool for prospects. The bigger, stronger, and faster the athletes in college, the more prepared the player will be when competing against the world's best.
Football Outsiders: What is the one most important aspect of a quarterback you must see when evaluating his chances in the NFL?
Rang: Two things, actually: accuracy and poise under pressure. Take arm strength and mobility and make it a sideshow at the circus; they are two of the least important characteristics in my mind when grading pro quarterback prospects.
Football Outsiders: Are there Combine drills you'd like to see abolished (i.e., 40-yard dashes for offensive linemen), or tests you think should be implemented?
Rang: The only aspect about the Combine I'd like to see abolished is the restriction of media into the event. For the first time in league history members of the media were allowed in this year. I see no reason, given the NFL Network's televising of the events, that appropriately credentialed media should not be allowed into the facility.
Football Outsiders: Who is the single most impressive college player you've ever observed?
Rang: Sorry, I couldn't limit myself. I'm going to give you my top five. These are not in any particular order:
Carson Palmer, QB, USC
LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, TCU
Reggie Bush, RB, USC
Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech
Steve Hutchinson, OG, Michigan
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