This is the time of year -- the final weeks leading up to the NFL Draft -- when hyperbole runs amok, as talent evaluators from far and wide inevitably fall in love with players that haven’t so much as played a down on Sunday.
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Prospect A has a stronger arm than Joe Flacco and quicker feet than Michael Vick. Expect him to start as a rookie and lead his team to the playoffs.
Prospect B ran a faster 40-yard dash than Deion Sanders and did more reps on the bench press than Larry Allen. On top of that, he bull-rushes like the late Reggie White and is a better route runner than Jerry Rice. He’s going to be an All-Pro right out of the gate.
Prospect C tackles ball carriers with the brutality of Dick Butkus and protects the passer with the grace of Jackie Slater. The game of football hasn’t been this overmatched since Jim Brown. Additionally, he bakes an apple pie that will knock your socks offs, plays cello for the London Philharmonic and is a world champion in the United States Log Rolling Association (USLRA). We’re going to bypass his pro career altogether and enshrine him in Canton this summer.
What fans don’t hear very often -- apologies to Pro Football Weekly’s Nolan Nawrocki, who recently wrote a scathing scouting report on Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, proving again that there is no such thing as bad publicity -- is a scout willing to give specific X-and-O rationale on why he doesn’t like a particular "can't miss" prospect.
Well, I found one: Brent Sobleski. And he's not just another Internet draft blogger that popped up on the scene a week ago. Formerly an assistant coach at both the University of Akron and Walsh University, Sobleski also interned at NFL Scouting Services and has been featured at SI.com and ESPN.com. He's now the head scout for DraftInsider.net and a draft analyst for TheOBR.com, Scout.com's site for the Cleveland Browns.
There are three likely first-round picks Sobleski has much further down his draft board for one reason or another. Unlike Nawrocki’s assessment of Newton, which attacked the Heisman Trophy winner’s character much more than his talent, these evaluations are based entirely on film study.
First on this dubious list is Arkansas signal caller Ryan Mallett, who apparently has more to worry about than rumors telling tales of a recreational-drug habit.
“The issue isn't his natural ability as a thrower, but rather his decision-making in crucial situations,” said Sobleski. “He lacks touch, and it was a coaching point for Razorbacks front man Bobby Petrino after his sophomore year, a campaign when Mallett dipped below a 50-percent completion percentage against each of the top defenses he faced.”
While Sobleski saw Mallett improve from an accuracy standpoint as a redshirt junior, more problems were evident Saturday after Saturday.
|“The issue isn't his natural ability as a thrower, but rather his decision-making in crucial situations."|
-- Brent Sobleski on Ryan Mallett
“He stepped it up and finally got over 60 percent as a passer,” he said, “but one more lingering issue persisted: Mallett has a tendency to throw interceptions at crucial times. Everyone saw it rear its ugly head against Alabama and Ohio State, for example. He relies too heavily on the cannon attached to his shoulder and often makes ill-timed mistakes. Quarterbacking is about anticipating passes and throwing receivers open, all while being able to read defenses. Mallett is generally lacking in each category.”
Perhaps no prospect is more prepared for an expensive fall in Round 1 than Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers, but Sobleski previously pushed him down his list for causes unrelated to that troublesome knee.
“While Bowers was being projected to go in the top 10, even No. 1 overall -- and he has that type of ability -- the film never lied,” he said. “He simply disappears far too often in games. I often tell the story of watching two different versions of Bowers this season. When putting on the tape of Clemson vs. Miami in early October, the pass rusher was nowhere to be found. He didn't make a single play of note. Simply put, he didn't even look like a first-round talent.”
Soon thereafter, Bowers appeared to be a no-brainer for Round 1, so did he simply jot down a premature grade after a disappointing performance against the Hurricanes?
“A week later, Bowers put on a clinic against a talented North Carolina squad,” said Sobleski. “He looked so good in that second game, I had to put the Miami tape back on afterward to see if I had missed something. Nope. Bowers did nothing upon my second review. This is the up-and-down type of play one can expect of Bowers. Now, everyone has to factor in the issue with his knee and the fact that he didn't produce until a paycheck was on the line. It's a scary investment for any team, whether it’s in the top 10 or maybe even the top 20.”
There's no justification for giving the thumbs-up only because a player has the right name on the back of his jersey. That means you, Oregon linebacker Casey Matthews. And you, Florida center Mike Pouncey -- especially Pouncey.
“The allure of name recognition tends to overrule pure talent evaluation,” said Sobleski. “Mike simply isn't as talented as his twin brother, [Steelers All-Pro] Maurkice Pouncey. All season, I've had him graded as a late second-round prospect. He is powerful at the point of attack and can uproot defensive linemen, particularly at guard. He struggled this season at center. Pouncey botched too many snaps and struggled with his footwork since he didn't have a natural feel for the position.”
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Mike is considered the best interior lineman available in the draft, and many teams hope he can be half the center Maurkice is, but quite often a jack of all trades is indeed the master of none.
“Versatility is a great thing when a prospect actually shows the ability to do multiple things at a high level,” he said. “Pouncey had his issues at center. He is a guard -- a guard that isn't as quick or explosive off the snap as his brother; a guard that is more natural making immediate contact off the snap instead of trying to get to the second level consistently. He will be a solid guard in the league and I'm sure a hard worker for the team that takes him, but he's not an elite prospect at the position warranting a top-20 selection, as some are currently stating.”
Just to prove he's not an unabashed hater, Sobleski (@brentsobleski on Twitter) is a big fan of three first-round locks: USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, Missouri defensive end Aldon Smith and Purdue defensive end/outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com, a voter for the Heisman Trophy and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America.|