In 2011, I watched the NFL Draft in an apartment overlooking downtown Iowa City. I had a few classmates over, including Mark Lindquist, who has since joined Rotoworld’s NFL Draft section. The night began promisingly. A few drinks, a few jokes, a lot of insane Cam Newton Auburn highlights.
Four hours later, Mark, following a series of poor decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the Falcons’ trade up for Julio Jones, was unable to join us at the bar. He wanted Julio to fall to his Rams. I was in better shape, but not by much.
I sat on a rickety wooden chair in the rear of the Deadwood Tavern, mumbling responses while staring resentfully up at the television screen. Another year, another failed Vikings draft. This time, the front office panicked worse than usual. This time, they took Christian Ponder No. 12 overall. The men on ESPN called it a reach.
Across the table, a question about how my “get-together” went. I said that taking Christian Ponder at 12 was not a reach. No, taking Christian Ponder at 12 was sawing off your non-dominant arm and then flinging it at something out of reach with the expectation that the hand will walk it back to you. Kristin and Chelsea just nodded.
There’s nothing worse than the aftermath of Day 1 if your team just set a premium pick on fire. In memory of the immortal Christian Ponder, I present the First-Team All-Overrated Squad. The rules are axiomatic: I expect each of these players to get overdrafted.
This article is the first of a four-piece series. On Wednesday, check back for the Second-Team All-Overrated Squad and (dis)Honorable Mentions. The All-Underrated First-Team will publish next Monday, followed by the Second-Team and Honorable Mentions a week from Wednesday.
All-Overrated First Team
QB- Connor Cook (Michigan State). Do you smell the musty waft of Brady Quinn drifting off Cook? Though we have years of Cook’s game tape, though he has prototypical NFL size, mechanics and arm talent, and though he’s proven capable against top competition, something just feels off. For me, it goes beyond teammates reportedly not caring for him. The bigger issue is Cook’s habit of missing open receivers across the middle or firing interceptions (several would-be picks were dropped by the opposition last year) as though he were aiming for the defender, not the receiver. The strange thing is Cook is quite good throwing deep, when he can stop thinking and just let it rip. This problem manifests mostly in the intermediate range of the field. That’s where skills like processing the defense’s movement, being patient, and quickly checking in on options two, three and four if the first is covered are of the utmost importance. Is the issue here that Cook doesn’t watch enough tape? Is it that he doesn’t have the self-awareness to honestly admit his weaknesses so he can improve upon them? Who could say? We do know that he never eliminated that weakness despite ample opportunities to do so as a long-time starter. In conjunction with his (reported) personality quirks, hard pass. Alexis Chassen of SB Nation made a compelling case recently that Cook is Bo Callahan from Draft Day. The Browns avoided the bust-to-be Callahan in the movie. But this is real life. There’s no Mekhi Phifer. Cleveland is destined to draft Connor Cook.
RB- Derrick Henry (Alabama). Do you have a friend who is engaging when the conversation is on a topic he knows who becomes sullen when it’s not? That’s Derrick Henry as a prospect. It’s not that he can’t be a Pro Bowler. He can. It’s that Henry needs the perfect situation to thrive. If he doesn’t find it, he will be considered a bust through no fault of his own. Henry needs several steps to get to runaway train Beast Mode speeds. He can be erased from a game if the defense penetrates and hits him below the hips before the Clark Kent-in-a-phone-booth steps happen and Henry is running over defensive backs downfield. Alabama always had one of the nation’s best offensive lines when Henry was there, so he didn’t much have to deal with traffic in the backfield. Right now, Henry’s camp is praying that he’s drafted by a downhill team with a great offensive line. Dallas is a dream landing spot. Minnesota would have been if they didn’t have Adrian Peterson. Henry will greatly under-perform his draft slot if taken by a team like the Dolphins, Raiders, Titans or Jaguars. He can’t get outside and he doesn’t provide value as a receiver. He’s a two-down back looking for one of eight-to-10 teams in the league that caters to his style. He has one path to stardom. That path—circumstance—is entirely outside of his control, unlike his inspired decision to pick Alabama as a prep.
Devontae Booker (Utah). I like Booker’s receiving ability, but I think his future NFL team will discover that there’s better options out there to handle the early downs. Booker is old for a prospect, he comes with durability issues and he needs to add some bulk without losing any quickness. Too rich for my blood in the top-100 picks.
WR- Will Fuller (Notre Dame). Of the top prospects, Devin Smith was my least favorite receiver in last year’s class. This year’s Devin Smith, Will Fuller, is my least favorite receiver in this class for the same reasons. Fuller is a true burner, but that’s his only trick. He’s not big, he’s not overly skilled, he’s a body catcher and he’s got small hands. For a receiver likely to go in the first round, that’s not good enough. That said, Fuller is similar to Henry in that he will thrive in the perfect situation. Think of Fuller as Mike Wallace 2.0. Mike Wallace on the Steelers with Big Ben’s cannon? Pro Bowler. Mike Wallace on Miami and Minnesota with Ryan Tannehill and Teddy Bridgewater working the middle? Non-factor.
De’Runnya Wilson (Mississippi State). Wilson ran a 4.85 forty at the Combine, he looked like your dad during the vertical leap portion of testing and he only runs a few routes. He’s very big. That’s about it.
TE- Nick Vannett (Ohio State). Vannett is a sixth offensive linemen, a strong inline blocker with defibrillator paddles for hands both when engaging opponents and when the ball is thrown to him. But if you happen to need that type of tight end, let somebody else take Vannett in Rds. 3 or 4 and pluck up UTSA TE David Morgan, the class’ best blocking TE, in Rd. 6.
T- Le’Raven Clark (Texas Tech). Clark is all dream, no reality. But boy is it a good dream: He has a perfect frame, Stretch Armstrong limbs, gigantic hands and great testing numbers. Clark also has plenty of blindside experience in a pass-happy system. Despite the reps and the tools, though, he still doesn’t look like he knows what he’s doing. “Crosses his feet, has his hands down at his sides, and stays extremely flat towards the line of scrimmage,” Pro Football Focus noted in a scouting report. The site makes an argument about developmental offensive tackles that you should remember: The new CBA has hurt the value of projects because, in allowing quicker free agency, it has ratcheted up the importance of a rookie’s first few years. Clark may spend those mostly on the bench and then blossom for his second team.
Willie Beavers (Western Michigan). I was first alerted to Beavers by NFL Media’s Gil Brandt, a long-time fanboy who’s still dutifully driving the Beavers Bandwagon. (Apologies for that mental image.) Another toolsy blocking prospect, Beavers somehow managed to be one of the FBS’ worst tackles last year. In the MAC, no less. PFF graded him No. 220 as a run blocker, No. 226 as a pass blocker and No. 226 overall. There were 227 tackles graded, leading the site to peg Beavers’ chances of turning into an NFL player “nearly impossible.” Beavers may go on Day 2. The NFL is the best.
G- Vadal Alexander (LSU). A long-time starter at a football powerhouse, the 6-foot-6, 340-pound Alexander will transition from right tackle back to guard—where he spent his sophomore and junior seasons at LSU—in the NFL. That sentence offers a promise Alexander’s NFL career won’t keep. He’s thoroughly miscast as a right tackle. And while it’s true that the move to guard will help, it can only help so much; a run-blocking guard ought to be able to run block, right? An anonymous AFC College Director of Scouting summed up Alexander thusly with NFL.com: "Watch him play and you'll notice that his man is always around the play. You hardly ever see him still blocking his man when the whistle blows because he can't sustain blocks. All the size and power in the world won't matter if you can't keep putting it on the guy across you."
C- Nick Martin (Notre Dame). There’s nothing wrong with Nick Martin. But if I needed a center, I’d figure out a way to get Ryan Kelly in the 20s or I would wait until Day 3. Martin is a second-rounder because his brother Zack is a war daddy and because this center class is thin.
DE- Shawn Oakman (Baylor). In college, Oakman looked like Batman but played like Alfred. Then he got arrested and charged with sexual assault a few weeks before the draft. A breathtaking example of squandered talent, Oakman probably won’t be drafted. Were it not for the arrest, he would have been over-drafted.
Emmanuel Ogbah (Oklahoma State). Earlier this month, former Chicago Bears director of college scouting Greg Gabriel said Ogbah could go in the top-15. That’s 50 slots or so too high. Ogbah was a tremendous collegiate pass rusher, but his technique is terrible. You can’t simply run around tackles to bag NFL sacks. On top of that, Ogbah is impartial on running downs. You can do better with a first-round pick.
DT- A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama). A “wow” collegiate interior defensive lineman whose ragdoll-the-guard game doesn’t translate neatly to the NFL. If he keeps standing upright immediately after the snap, he’ll basically have his brute strength, the best part of his game, erased via the laws of leverage. Recently, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora asked three NFL scouts for the name of a prospect who was better liked in the media than within the NFL. All responded Robinson “fairly quickly and without much hesitation.” Fairly quickly and without much hesitation at the same time? That’s either a redundancy of terms or an indication that the scouts’ non-belief in Robinson is so great that they intuited the overrated question as it was being asked and responded before La Canfora stopped talking. In Robinson’s case, may be the latte
Adolphus Washington (Ohio State). It’s one thing to give effort on some plays and not give effort on others. It’s another thing to get arrested for solicitation right before the Fiesta Bowl and mere months before the NFL Draft. Like the talent. Won’t tolerate the risk on Day 2.
ILB- Antonio Morrison (Florida). If you’re an average college football fan, you may think Morrison is quite promising. Every time you watched the Gators, you’d see him blow up a running back or two or flatten a receiver across the middle. If you’re a Gator fan, you probably see Morrison as a lone wolf kamikaze who muffs routine plays by trying to turn them into clips for his highlight reel. In contrast to his reputation, Morrison is actually a net negative against the run. He finished fifth from the bottom last year among this ILB class in tackling efficiency. Morrison is also brittle. Steer clear.
OLB- Leonard Floyd (Georgia). Floyd has Pro Bowl ability. But only when his pads aren’t on. The 6-foot-6, 244-pounder runs a 4.6 forty and has a 127-inch broad jump. Maybe you heard. SPARQ placed him in the 77th percentile athletically among NFL linebackers (I actually thought Floyd would do even better than that). Despite that athleticism, Floyd managed only 17 sacks over his three seasons, including 4.5 last year. Only 11.5 of his career sacks came against the SEC, and a mere 4.5 of them occurred outside the city limits of Athens. Oh, and he had zero career interceptions, four career passes defensed and was a non-factor in the run game. To recap: Floyd struggles in coverage, is too frail to defend the run, and was never a dominant pass rusher in college. Not the way I want to spend a first-round pick. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Georgia often used Floyd as a 3-4 ILB. So your best case scenario here is that Floyd is Charlize Theron and Jeremy Pruitt is her makeup artist from Monster.
De’Vondre Campbell (Minnesota). Chop two inches off Leonard Floyd, reduce his skills across the board by 10 percent and take away his name recognition and you end up with Campbell.
CB- Eli Apple (Ohio State). Mostly on projection, Apple is going to go in the mid-first round. He’s big and fast and comes out of Urban Meyer’s NFL factory. On the downside, he’s not strong enough to press powerful NFL receivers and he needs a lot of coaching. There were times at Ohio State when he could have made a play on the ball but had no idea where it was until it was inside the receiver’s catch radius. Remember Jason La Canfora’s poll of three scouts asking for overrated prospects? All three said A’Shawn Robinson. Two quickly added Apple.
Zack Sanchez (Oklahoma). The 5-foot-10, 185-pounder isn’t fast enough to mask his deficiencies. Sanchez is a heart attack to watch. He’s as big a gambler as we have in this year’s corner class. That style led to 13 interceptions over the past two seasons, but also led to a series of huge plays for the opposition as Sanchez chased helplessly behind. The measurables and the style of play won’t click in the NFL, and Sanchez is below average against the run.
S- T.J. Green (Clemson). It’s been confusing to watch Green skyrocket onto the Day 2 line over the past few months. A former two-star recruit who started one season in college, Green surprised the draft community when he declared for the draft following a dreadful showing in the National Championship Game. But then he went out and ran a 4.34 forty with a 129-inch broad jump at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds and everybody forgot the rest and shouted over each other that Green was better than teammate Jayon Kearse. Well, he’s not. Not only is Kearse better against the run by a margin, but Kearse, for all the criticism he gets about this aspect of his game, was actually better in coverage than Green was last year.
Keanu Neal (Florida). Neal’s charmed pre-draft ride also had a steep trajectory, carrying him from late Day 2 territory all the way to the Green Room in Chicago for the night of the draft. When he’s taken, probably at the end of the first round, you’re going to be uber-impressed with the highlights ESPN shows you, specifically the TNT Neal packs in those shoulder pads. Not mentioned will be the 16 missed tackles last year. He’s also mediocre in coverage. Better safeties will go after him. Some of you out there will have to talk yourself into Keanu Neal on the night of Day 1. I’m sorry to tell you in advance that Keanu Reeves never played a “Neal” in a movie, a development that would have opened up all sorts of fun punning possibilities. But look on the bright side: Sequels to both John Wick and Bill & Ted are coming. Excellent!