The 6 Players to Watch for in the NFL Draft

With 2010 poised to offer one of the most interesting drafts in the last two decades, you probably already know who to look out for – right? If not, that’s okay. We’ve put together this handy guide so when talk switches from beer to the best defensive tackle in the line-up, you’ll be right at home in the huddle.

This year’s NFL draft boasts one of the most heralded draft classes in recent memory.  With high profile names like Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Ndamukong Suh, this year’s class seems to rival that of 1983. This was a special year for the NFL that ushered in some of the greatest players of all time – John Elway, Dan Marino, Eric Dickerson and Darrell Green just to name a few – but I wouldn’t compare it to the 1983 NFL draft just yet.

By simply comparing the first 40 picks taken in 1983 to the first 40 players projected to go in the 2010 draft, there is a glaring difference in the amount of high profile skill position players available.  Dan Marino was widely considered the 3rd or 4th best quarterback available in 1983, and he wound up being the 6th quarterback taken with the 27th pick overall.  This year’s draft?  Tim Tebow is being considered the 3rd or 4th best quarterback out there, and will most likely be taken between picks 30 and 45.  This is analogous to a company waffling on either hiring the 30th best student at Harvard Business School, or the 30th best student at your local community college.

This year’s NFL draft has an atrocious lack of depth at quarterbacks, defensive backs and wide receivers.  What it does have are quality players at defensive/offensive line and linebackers, and incredible mid-round value picks.  There are probably 50 players in this year’s draft worthy of being taken in the 2nd round, so that means teams will be drafting starters well into the 4th round.  Below, I’ve highlighted three players I know you’ve heard of, and three players who you should know because they’ll be starters the second they put on an NFL jersey.

The Big Three

Sam Bradford – QB (Oklahoma)

I was sold on this guy after he tossed 36 touchdowns his freshman year, setting the NCAA record for touchdown bombs by a freshman.  Really think about that feat – in his first start as a 20 year old kid, he went 21-23, 363 yards and 3 touchdowns…in one half.  What were you doing when you were 20?

I know he’s coming off of a serious shoulder injury, but I did not see any ill effects of that during his recent pro-day.  I streamed his workout live, and his touch on the deep ball and his accuracy on all of his throws have me convinced he’s got the ability to run an NFL offense.  Not to mention his release is quicker than my internet connection – that ball was out of his hand before my screen could refresh – and I have FiOS.

Ndamukong Suh – DT (Nebraska)

“Donkey Kong” is an absolute monster in the middle, and he should have won the Heisman trophy as the most outstanding college player last year.  His game reminds me of Dana Stubblefield from 1993-1997.  I know, I know – Stubblefield’s career was like an egg salad sandwich – the first taste was good, but it always ends up going stale much quicker than you thought.  But don’t forget, ol’ Stubby racked up close to 40 sacks in his first 5 years with the 49ers and held his own against the run.

People knock Suh’s ability to rush the passer compared to the other defensive tackle in this year’s draft – Gerald McCoy.  I want to leave you with these numbers: 19 and 12.  19 is the number of sacks Suh had in his past 2 years, 12 is the number of sacks McCoy had in his past 2 years.  Both played in the Big 12.  Who’s the better pass rusher?

Tim Tebow – QB (Florida)

I don’t even know where to begin with this guy.  His career numbers at Florida dwarf those of any other SEC quarterback I’ve ever witnessed, but then again, it doesn’t say much.  I started creating a list of the greatest statistical careers for SEC quarterbacks, and I realized for every Peyton Manning, there was a Tim Couch.  If you’re on a short list with Rex “stubby fingers” Grossman and Tim “the slouch” Couch, it is not a list that correlates to NFL success.

I just don’t see this guy being a starting NFL quarterback anytime soon.  His accuracy is decent, his arm strength is slightly above average, but I can balance my checkbook in the time it takes him to deliver a pass.  His statistics are a product of Urban Meyer’s single wing/spread offense, the incredible talent he was surrounded with in Florida, and his ability to run the ball – and I highly doubt he’s going to shake n’ bake Ray Lewis or beat DeMarcus Ware from the hash to the sideline.

The Who?

Eric Decker – WR (Minnesota)

A consensus first team all Big 10 selection, I do not understand why this guy isn’t generating more buzz coming into the draft. At 6’3″ and 220 pounds his size is incredible – and I think he is the most pro ready receiver available.  He missed a lot of last season due to torn ligaments in his foot, but he was en route to break all kinds of Minnesota receiving records.

51 catches, 734 yards and 8 touchdowns – these are Anthony Gonzalez’s numbers from his last year in Ohio State (2006).  50 catches, 758 yards and 5 touchdowns – these are Decker’s numbers from his senior year…and did I mention that he missed four games due to injury?  Both played in the Big 10 and both played with trash quarterbacks (although Gonzalez played on a much more talented team), but Gonzalez was a first round pick while Decker is projected to go in the third round.  If Decker isn’t taken by the third, the NFL needs to formally convince me that there is no such thing as a white receiver stigma in the league.

Corey Wootton – DE (Northwestern)

Every year, there is a player like Corey Wootton – an incredible combination of size, speed and strength.  At 6’7″ and 280 pounds, he reminds me of other defensive ends taken recently like Calais Campbell (6’8″, 290 lbs) and Chris Canty (6’7″, 300 lbs).  Campbell and Canty are legitimate NFL starters, and both suffered in the draft due to character and effort issues.  Wootton’s only downside comes from an out of character senior season that can be blamed on a torn ACL he suffered in the 2008 Alamo Bowl.  He turned it on near the end of the season, and he’s got just as much potential as anybody else in the draft.

A neck injury in his early collegiate career forced him to red-shirt and essentially lose a year of football, but the fact he came back to All-America form tells me he’s got all of the intangibles to come back from this knee injury and transition into the NFL.  The one thing I would like to see is improvement in run support, especially if he wants to play in a 3-4 alignment.

Brian Price – DT (UCLA)

You know that short, fat guy at the gym who always surprises you in a pickup basketball game?  Brian Price is that guy to the tenth power.  I don’t care about his 40 time, or what this guy looks like without his shirt on.  What I do care about is his incredible footwork and overall quickness.

If you doubt this man’s talent, check out some film/highlights of UCLA’s games against Tennessee and California this past season – he was a one man wrecking crew compiling 9 tackles and 3 sacks in those two games – and those two programs are not to be taken lightly.  One of the most underrated traits in football scouting is foot and hand speed and Brian Price has both at an elite level.  On top of that, his motor in the trenches tells me he has a true passion for the game.

Because of his size and skill set, Price is widely considered a 4-3 defensive tackle and only a handful of teams value him as a draftable player.  He reminds me a lot of Warren Sapp, and he would fit perfectly into a Tampa 2 alignment as a gap penetrating defensive tackle.  Teams have also tossed around the idea of playing him as a 3-4 end, so look for him to become a hot commodity on the second day of the draft.

Lheep Kim is a writer and entrepreneur in the field of fantasy sports, based in Washington, D.C. His fantasy league expertise coupled with an engineering background allows Lheep to offer a unique perspective on sports based on quantitative and statistical analysis. His goal is to retire by the age of 30 and live a simple log-cabin life in the woods, Walden Pond style (provided he can still get NFL Network, of course).