It happens every year. The team scouts spend every waking minute
evaluating talent, attending games, watching film and checking their
lists twice, sort of like a football Santa Claus. Then, the Combines
roll around, coaches, scouting directors and general managers are out
in full force with stopwatches in hand. The three day “underwear
workout” commences and those out of the scouting loop (coaches and
GMs) become enamored with agility figures and march off en mass to pro
days. There, they continue their little “love fest” with a player’s
athletic ability, but along the way, seem to forget that victories are
generated by production, by consistent performance and NOT how good a
kid looks running 40 yards on the track.
What all of this leads up to is a totally different draft board
than the ones the scouts have prepared. The general manager is the
decision maker and all others are there to offer input. Coaches have
their “guy” they want the GM to take, despite claims from their
scouting department that have spent the better part of the year
finding the “warts” not shown on the player’s professional resume.
With that in mind, here is a look at that one player at each position
who will either make a general manager look like a genius, or have
that guy on the unemployment line a year later.
DA’QUAN BOWERS, University of Clemson Tigers, #93, 6:04.2-277
While many might be surprised to find Bowers as a member of this
squad, there are very strong concerns from NFL teams about the
condition of the defensive end’s right knee after he underwent surgery
to repair his meniscus. Some reports claim that Bowers will eventually
need microfracture surgery and several teams doubt that he will finish
out his rookie contract, citing fears of arthritis settling into the
knee area. While the injury has certainly seen his draft stock drop,
Bowers has also brought up concerns that he might be a “one-year
After registering just four sacks combined over his first two
seasons, some began to question whether the defensive end would ever
reach his potential. Bowers silenced those critics in 2010,
terrorizing opposing backfields on his way to winning the Bronko
Nagurski and Ted Hendricks Awards.
Bowers rededicated himself to football after losing two people
close to him in less than a year. His mentor, former Clemson great
Gaines Adams, passed away in January of 2010 after going into cardiac
arrest. Bowers' father, Dennis, died after suffering a seizure in the
summer before the season.
Bowers entered his junior year with a newfound devotion to the
game. He cleaned up his eating habits and managed to shed 20 pounds in
the offseason, regaining the quickness and athleticism that made him a
nightmare for opposing tackles. The results were spectacular, as the
defensive end led the NCAA in sacks (1.19 spg) and placed second in
tackles for loss (2.00 tpg).
There are times that Bowers struggles to shed (see 2010 battle vs.
Boston College’s Anthony Castonzo and Rich Lapham and vs. South Carolina’s Hutch Eckerson), but will try to work across the block to
the ball. When he is freed up, he shows good pursuit and effort to
make plays. He relies more on leverage to play off blocks, but in
2010, he showed marked improvement in using his hands to guard his
legs vs. the chop block.
Bowers is a good tackler at the line, but will struggle more in
space. He plays with a lot of effort and can pursue. He has improved
his wrap-up tackling technique and makes every effort to arm tackle.
When he gets free in the backfield, he does not miss much in getting
to and taking down the ball carrier.
Overall, Bowers is a good athlete, who looks to be developing
physically, but there are still lingering questions about the
long-term condition of his right knee. His production is just decent
against the run, but much better against the pass. He still needs to
locate the ball better when working down the line, but when he gets
into the backfield, he can zero in on his target. He has improved his
ability to sniff out the play, but struggles vs. the larger blockers
in running situations due to inconsistency in recognizing blocking
Compares To: ERASMUS JAMES-ex Minnesota. It seems like
Bowers is in the “same boat” as James was coming out of college –
fending off serious concerns about the health of his knee. He had a
banner junior campaign, but some question if that was just a “one year
wonder.” He looked lethargic during pro day agility tests and while he
might have been shaking off rust from his surgery, his 40-yard dash
time (4.95) would have ranked 21st among the 24 defensive ends that
attended the NFL Scouting Combine. His overall workout was called
“sluggish” by some scouts and “average” by others, thus eliminating
him from consideration to being the draft’s top pick. He could do a
freefall and drop out of the top ten selections, if whispers coming
from NFL teams hold true.
Nick Fairley, University of Auburn Tigers, #90, 6:04.1-298
No player in this draft carries the “boom or bust” tag more than
Fairley. While he had a banner junior campaign, there are serious
concerns about his dedication and work ethic. There have been reports
of tardiness to meetings, lack of work ethic, especially in the
training room, penchant for getting flagged for flagrant fouls and a
concern, like Bowers, that he might be a one-year wonder.
When some “experts” compare him to Warren Sapp, it borders on the
ridiculous – Sapp performed on every snap and every game throughout
his Miami Hurricanes career and carried that over to a stellar NFL
career. The only similarities between the two was a “liking” for dirty
play, as Fairley was constantly being called for late hits and there
were instances when he has speared ball carriers with his helmet,
banged into their lower legs purposely and pushed off downed players
to lift himself up in 2010. That attitude in training camp could lead
to retaliation by some agitated veteran.
Still, Fairley earned consensus All-American recognition and was
named the Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the year after
placing third in the NCAA in tackles for loss (1.71 tpg) and 12th in
sacks (.82 spg) in 2010. The junior broke Auburn’s single-season
record with 11.5 sacks for minus 74 yards. It was nearly impossible to
keep the defensive tackle out of the backfield, as he posted an
impressive 24.0 tackles for losses totaling 106 yards and 21
Fairley had a profound impact on the Tigers’ front four. Before
his arrival, the Auburn run defense ranked 54th nationally, allowing
138.92 yards per game on the ground in 2008. He played in all 13 games
in 2009 but started just two contests while his team finished a lowly
78th vs. the run (156.08 ypg). He started all 14 games of the 2010
season and emerged as a dominant presence along the Tigers’ front
wall, leading a unit that boasted the NCAA’s ninth-ranked rushing
defense, allowing just 109.07 yards per game.
Compares To: Tommie Harris-ex Chicago. Harris has
unquestioned talent, but he failed to put forth a consistent effort
and his lack of work ethic finally saw him wear out his welcome in
Chicago. Fairley is in the same situation – a talent that could be on
the cusp of greatness, but his flippant attitude towards training,
dirty play and lack of great strength (more natural than weight room)
have teams feeling he might be too big of a risk with an early first
round draft pick.
Martez Wilson, University of Illinois Fighting Illini, #2, 6:03.7-252
It’s not like Wilson will be a total bust, it’s just that he lacks
great field awareness and ball recognition skills, along with the
natural instincts you look for in a middle linebacker, a position
where your starter has to be the smartest player on the field. Wilson
would be much better served playing outside in a 3-4 alignment, where
he can just zero in on the ball carrier, as he does not have a great
feel for shooting gaps or taking the loop around the corner as a pass
There are also concerns about his medical record and there were
off-field issues that have raised a few “red flags” around the league.
Wilson was first suspended for the 2008 season finale vs. Northwestern
for violating team rules. Several weeks later, he was hospitalized and
underwent surgery for stab wounds suffered coming to the defense of a
friend and former Illinois teammate outside a bar in Champaign.
Wilson returned to the field for the 2009 season opener vs.
Missouri, but suffered a herniated disc in his neck that required
surgery, forcing him to sit out the rest of the schedule. Biting at
the “bit” to return to the gridiron, the oft-reckless performer, both
on and off the field, used those troubling times to get what he
described as his “house in order.” He would go on to earn All-Big Ten
Conference first-team honors in 2010, a season that saw him post 112
tackles (47 solos) with four sacks and 11.5 stops for loss.
Compares To: CARLOS POLK-ex San Diego/Dallas. Like Polk,
Wilson’s pass-coverage deficiencies will leave him performing as a
two-down linebacker at the next level. He gives good effort on the
field, but is best served in a 3-4 alignment where he would not have
to handle making calls, as he has just an adequate mental grasp for
those duties. He plays much better in the box than when giving chase,
as he does a good job of keeping his shoulders square and exploding
through the holes. There are just too many holes in his game (mental
aspect, pass coverage) for a team to get excited over him as a middle
linebacker, but he could prove to be an effective strongside inside
linebacker in the 3-4, or on the weak-side playing outside.
Aldon Smith, University of Missouri Tigers, #85, 6:04.2-258
Before any NFL team dares to draft Smith and try to make him an
outside linebacker, there is a word of caution – contact Buffalo and
ask them for their opinion of that mistake made when drafting Aaron Maybin. The junior has good muscle development, but needs further body
tone in his lower frame. He has good arm length with muscular
definition, thick bubble, adequate hamstrings and thighs.
Smith added over 15 pounds to his frame during the 2010 off-season
in order to compete better at defensive end, but outside of rush-end
duties, he may not be suited to play outside linebacker, as I doubt
that he can generate enough foot speed to be effective in long
pursuit. To play linebacker, he has to show better alertness to plays
in front of him. He is best when getting a clear lane off the edge,
but is slow to recognize blocking schemes and will bite on fakes and
When he is able to locate the ball, Smith plays with good
instincts and awareness. His problems arise when he has to work
in-line, as he spends a lot of time trying to disengage and loses
sight of the play. When he finds the ball, there is no hesitation in
his moves to pursue the play.
Compares To: AARON MAYBIN-Buffalo. Maybin appears to be an
all-time bust, failing to show the pass-rushing skills he did during
his “fluke” junior season at Penn State. Smith could use his right
fibula fracture in 2010 as an excuse for his drastic drop-off as a
pass rusher, but he’s strictly a tweener – lacking strength to “man
up” vs. offensive tackles as a defensive end and missing the foot
speed (4.82 in the 40-yard dash), along with great lateral agility
(7.25 three-cone drill and 4.59 20-yard shuttle) to string plays out
as an outside linebacker.
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