The NFL draft, to most football fans is just a little event for their teams to restock the stables with fresh rookie talent, that will end up buried on their team’s depth charts just learning the ropes. Then, within a few years those fans will say: “Hey didn’t we draft that guy a couple of years back?” Not really caring where the talent came from, but just sitting back and enjoying the luxury of their team’s front office doing everything right and loading their teams with quality players. Ah, to be a fan of teams like that…
Well, I have no idea what that’s like because I’m a Detroit Lions fan, scratch that… Detroit Lions MEGA FAN!!! And over the past decade the NFL draft has become Lions fans Super Bowl, mainly because it always seems like we’re picking in the top 5, but also because it’s that time of year where that magical thing starts to creep into our heads, and that thing is called Hope.
Hope that next year will be better; maybe we’ll have a winning record, or even make the play-offs, or maybe even… oh sorry, I got lost in my own fantasy again.
Anyways, over the past decade I have really paid attention to who’s coming out of college that could help my beloved Lions reach the top of the mountain, only to sit by and watch them blow almost all our draft picks.
I always like trying to pick guys that the casual fan hasn’t really seen play, or sometimes even heard of. So without further ado – Here is my list of 11 players you should keep an eye on during this years NFL draft.
Casey Matthews LB (Oregon)
For 2010 Matthews was a 2nd Team All-American, 1st Team All-Pac 10, a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, and lead the Oregon Ducks in tackles for the 2010 season. He also had a very good showing in the National Championship Game and the Senior Bowl. Matthews is a very instinctive, tough linebacker with a high football I.Q., who isn’t quite as athletic as his older brother Clay, but is a very hard-working football player who brings with him the right mentality. Matthews will be most likely taken in the 3rd or 4th round of the draft and will be a very solid starter either on the inside (4-3 or 3-4) or at the strong side (4-3) position during his NFL career.
Mark Herzlich LB (Boston College)
I have two words for this guy, TACKLING MACHINE!! Herzlich has had a very impressive career at Boston College; in 2006 he was named to the Freshman All-American Team. He finished the 2007 season with 97 tackles and led his team in tackles for a loss, which surely got him national recognition for 2008 where he won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, 1st Team All-American, and a Butkus Award Finalist; He also had the most interceptions in the country for a linebacker that year with 6. After his Junior season he was considered a 1st round draft pick if he would’ve entered the NFL draft, but Herzlich decided to stay for his Senior year where, in the off-season, he was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is a rare form of bone cancer. Herzlich had to have surgery on his left leg to remove a tumor from his femur where doctors inserted a metal rod to help repair his leg. After the surgery the doctors told him he would never run again, but after a long rehab and a season off from football Herzlich played his last season at Boston College where he started all 13 games, and finished third on the team with 65 tackles and 50 solo stops. He tied for first on the team with two forced fumbles, and was second on the team with four interceptions. He is the definition of tough, and its players like him that make me and probably most fans love the game of football. It will probably take him another season to get his speed back fully, but he is an extremely instinctive player with good range and good coverage skills, and he heavily relies on his best attribute, which is tackling. Herzlich has a 4th to 6th round grade on him but I hope he goes no later than the 3rd round because this guy deserves it.
Marcus Cannon OT/OG (TCU)
Cannon is an absolute beast; this guy is 6-5 and weighs 358 lbs. He hang cleans 520 lbs. (A record at TCU) and he squats 720 lbs for 2 reps. He will be among the very strongest players in the NFL, not only is he strong, but he is also very athletic (for a guy his size) he ran the 40 in 5.2 sceonds and was very fluid in all of his drills he performed at his Pro Day. Cannon has been dominant as a starter at TCU as a Right Tackle for 2010 Cannon was a three-time All-Mountain West Conference selection, a 3rd Team All-American in 2010, and anchored an offensive line that led TCU to single-season records in touchdowns (70) and points scored (520). Cannon was also instrumental in TCU tying for seventh nationally, allowing just 0.75 sacks per game. Cannon played Right Tackle at TCU but is projected to play either Right Tackle or one of the Guard positions. Cannon is a down right nasty run blocker and was great as a pass blocker at the college level, but a lot of NFL Analysts think that he doesn’t have the footwork to pan out as an elite Tackle at the NFL level (we’ll see). Cannon will most likely go in the 2nd round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he got picked up at the end of the 1st.
Phil Taylor DT/NT (Baylor)
This guy is a load to handle on the inside, and he is a true Nose Tackle at 334 lbs. Taylor was very dominant against the “elite” Big 12 Offensive lines and he consistently beat double teams all season long. He has long arms, a huge frame, and is very strong which allows him to stack and shed his blocks, making him perfect for any 3-4 defenses looking for an anchor at the Nose Tackle position. Taylor earned 2nd Team All-Big 12 for 2010, and had the most tackles by a Baylor interior lineman (62) since Ethan Kelley in 2002. Taylor ran the 40 in 5.18 and has a good amount of pass rush moves and athleticism which will help him at the next level. After the Combine and his Pro Day Taylor is projected to be a late 1st or early 2nd round draft pick this year, especially since there are a lot of teams running a 3-4 defense in today’s NFL.
Colin Kaepernick QB (Nevada)
Kaepernick is possibly the next Ben Roethlisberger. Their style of play is very similar; Kaepernick is 6-5 233 lbs, is very mobile and can throw with strength and accuracy down the field while in the pocket, or on the move. Kaepernick is also the only quarterback in college football history to have passed for over 10,000 yards and rushed for over 4,000 yards in a collegiate career, and also as the only QB to have passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for over 1,000 yards in a single season three times in a career (consecutively).
Kaepernick is the type of Quarterback that on 3rd and long can hit a receiver down field or run for the first down. He doesn’t have blazing speed, but he’s fast enough. His throwing accuracy is inconsistent and he has the instinct to run instead of stay in the pocket in some situations. Kaepernick is most likely a year or 2 away from being ready to start in the NFL, but when he does I think he will be a very good NFL Quarterback. Kaepernick is projected as a 2nd-3rd round draft pick, but I would not be surprised if a team reaches for him late in the 1st round.
Kendall Hunter RB (Oklahoma State)
Hunter had a great Senior Bowl week and some considered him to be the best looking back overall. From his running ability to his blitz pickups, NFL analysts have made comparisons from Thurman Thomas to Maurice Jones-Drew. His stats are not that impressive over his career at Oklahoma State, but Hunter has a great understanding of his position and his assignments. His running ability is solid; he finds his gap and hits it hard while having good vision and cut back ability. Hunter is very impressive in picking up the blitz, at 5-7 200 lbs he is taking on much bigger and stronger players without fear or hesitation. Hunter is projected to go in the middle of the draft, but don’t be shocked if he was picked up in the late 2nd round or early 3rd round.
Brooks Reed DE/OLB (Arizona)
Reed is an explosive player that is versatile enough to play either a Defensive End in a 4-3 alignment, or an Outside Linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. He was named 1st Team All-Pac 10 for his senior year at Arizona. A lot of teams have him at OLB in a 3-4 after his 4.65 40 time at the combine which was faster than 18 of the 24 linebackers there, but he’s still considered a “tweener” and could work as a DE in a 4-3. Reed has a lot of experience with his hand in the dirt starting for 3 years as a DE. He has a very powerful bull rush and a quality speed rush, which he will have to add to at the next level. He has a great work ethic, a high football I.Q. and he is relentless in pursuit. When he arrives to the ball carrier he does so with power and burst. Reed is projected to go in the 2nd or 3rd round due to his skill and versatility.
Jordan Cameron TE (USC)
Cameron has really improved his stock after the Combine and his Pro day. Cameron is an athletic freak and posted great numbers for a player his size. He is 6-5, 250 lbs. and ran the 40 in 4.53 while registering a 37 ½ inch vertical leap. Cameron didn’t put up impressive stats this past season, but he was very versatile for the Trojans. Cameron regularly split out from Tight End to a split receiver position resulting in a matchup problem for opposing defenses. Cameron moves extremely well for a TE, he catches the ball naturally and is very fluid in his route running. He also has the frame to only get bigger. Not to mention he also played for the USC basketball team, and we all know how teams like TE that where also basketball players. Cameron is projected to go anywhere from the 2nd round to the 4th round, but I believe he will be off the board sooner rather than later.
Davon House CB (New Mexico State)
At 6-1, 200 lbs and a 4.35 40 time at his Pro day what’s not to like? Add to that great ball-hawking skills with 11 career interceptions and setting a record at NMS in interception return yardage (319) and you got a solid NFL quality Corner Back. House also has the ability of being a very dangerous return man, which will only make him more valuable to teams in need of such a player. House has the ideal size and athleticism to be a starting CB at the next level, he is also very physical and aggressive in run support which is always a plus. House is projected to be a 2nd to 4th round draft pick and considering the demand for quality CB, I would say he goes late in the 2nd round.
Stefen Wisniewski C/G (Penn State)
I just love Penn State, blue-collar, bring your lunch pail to work type players and that is exactly what Wisniewski is. Wisniewski made his first start during his freshman year at Penn State and has been a staple on the O-line ever since. A 1st Team All-American, Wisniewski is known for not only his toughness but his outstanding technical skills at his position, and extremely high football I.Q. Wisniewski has a ton of experience at both the guard and center positions against top competition throughout his career. He is very instinctive and aware of picking up blitzes, he finishes his blocks, and he is very quick and mobile with a great work ethic. In my opinion he should be the first Center off the board in the draft. Wisniewski is projected to go in the 2nd round.
Mason Foster LB (Washington)
Foster had a monster Senior year for the Huskies finishing the season with 162 tackles. Yeah, you read that right, 162 tackles in 13 games which comes out to 12.58 tackles per game. Take a minute to let it sink in…yeah it’s ridiculous. Anyways, Foster was named a 1st Team All-American his Senior year and named to the All-Pac 10 team his Senior, Junior, and Sophomore year while also being named the Huskies team MVP in 2008. Foster is extremely instinctive and has good coverage skills to go along with his ability to dominate in run defense. This guy is the ideal Linebacker – He’s tough, he’s smart and he can play all 3 LB positions. If I had to pick just one player on this list who I thought was going to be a truly great player in the NFL, I would have to pick Foster. He not only has the experience and the skill, but he also has the right mentality and has a good head on his shoulders. I believe Foster will go in the 2nd round to a team that desperately needs LB help (hint, hint DETROIT LIONS). Anyways aside from wishful thinking Foster has a 2nd to 3rd round grade for this year’s draft.
So that is my list, we’ll just have to watch the draft to see where these guys go. And then, God willing, there will be a season and maybe we’ll see them on the field.