2009, 2010, 2011
Looking for safe draft picks? Check out these future stars
Looking for safe draft picks? Check out these future stars
April 17, 2009
By Rob Rang
Tell Rob your opinion!
While the on-field activity between the pro day season and the NFL Draft crawls to a near standstill, the media and public interest in the prospects only intensifies.
With little workout news to report, rampant speculation regarding failed drug tests, poor practice habits and the inability to play different positions (or in different schemes) occupies too many headlines. It's enough to leave one with the impression that next week's draft lacks any talented, hard-working prospects at all.
Brandon Pettigrew didn't impress in workouts, but his soft hands might make a safe choice. (Getty Images)
• Complete NFL Draft coverage | Reuter: Risky picks
Call me a hopeless optimist, but I believe the reality to be considerably less gloomy than some of my peers. Some of the boom-or-bust prospects in this draft will be, after all, booms.
There are no "sure things" in the inexact science of the NFL Draft. But those less willing to gamble on draft day will keep a close eye on the following eight players who were characterized to me as the "safest" by a menagerie of scouts and front office personnel.
Aaron Curry, OLB, Wake Forest: Though I've listed the safest players alphabetically, it is fitting that Curry tops the list. The Butkus Award winner is characterized by many, including NFLDraftScout.com, as this year's safest pick and the top-rated player overall. His statistics (332 tackles, 45.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions returned for scores) are eye-popping, and his performance at the combine, where he led all linebackers in four of the six categories he tested in, is a testament to his athleticism. In the words of one NFL general manager, Curry is also "off the charts" in terms of his intangibles. A team captain and four-year starter who signed with Wake Forest as a relatively unheralded prep talent, Curry has the work ethic and desire to be great.
Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU: At 6-feet-4 and 295 pounds, Jackson is not the traditional pass-rushing threat teams are looking for at defensive end, but don't expect that to keep him from ultimately being the first defensive lineman drafted. Jackson is one of the few defensive linemen of the 2009 class to have the size and strength necessary to play outside in the 3-4 scheme and could even be moved inside to defensive tackle in the 4-3 alignment. The position versatility and Jackson's three steady years as a starter for the Tigers make him, in one scouting director's estimation, "probably the safest defensive lineman of this draft."
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: So let me get this straight. Jenkins returns for his senior year after the NFL Advisory Committee tells him he'd be an easy first-round choice and quite possibly the first cornerback selected last year. He wins the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back. And then, because he is timed at 4.51 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, now he can't stay at corner in the NFL? Every year there are players who take a tumble down draft boards due to how fast they run or high they jump in shorts and a T-shirt. On the field, however, Jenkins is able to get by with his less than jaw-dropping speed because he plays a physical, instinctive brand of football. Scouts put extra emphasis on how the top prospects perform in the big games, and a scout who attended the Ohio State-Southern California clash last September characterized Jenkins to me as "the best player on the field." Considering the talent on those two rosters, that's saying something.
James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State: Ironically, I list Laurinaitis here despite being less impressed with him than most. He is not the explosive hitter and consistent playmaker many teams prefer at middle linebacker. I'm also not convinced that he has the straight-line speed and agility to excel on the outside. However, I have no reservations that Laurinaitis will at least be a quality starter in the NFL. There isn't a more instinctive, reliable open-field tackler in this draft than Laurinaitis. As the general manager told me, "He doesn't fit every scheme like some of the other guys this year, but you know what you're getting with him." (Laurinaitis) is a smart guy that you can throw the playbook at and know that he's going to be prepared from Game 1."
Alex Mack, C, California: Savvy talent evaluators will tell you that for all of the attention being heaped upon this year's talented offensive tackle class, a trio of centers is actually viewed as the significantly safer group. Oregon's Max Unger or Louisville's Eric Wood could just as easily been identified here. However, Mack is considered by many to be the headliner of the group, and it isn't difficult to understand why. Unlike most conferences, the Pac-10 allows its players to vote for some awards, including the Morris Trophy, given to the conference's top blocker. After each of the past two seasons Pac-10 defensive linemen honored Mack with the award. Only two others have been repeat winners (USC's Roy Foster and Washington's Lincoln Kennedy). Proving that he has brains as well as brawn, Mack also won the 2008 Draddy Award, considered the "Academic Heisman" and carrying a $25,000 post-graduate scholarship. The scouting director said of Mack, "if he's drafted as high as we think he might, he won't need [the Draddy money]."
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: I can't tell you how difficult it is to project Bulldogs quarterback Matthew Stafford as the first pick of the 2009 draft, when so often it was the player he handed the ball off to who was the more impressive player. Moreno, like Jenkins, simply lacks elite speed (4.50 in 40 yards at the combine). However, his lateral agility, quick acceleration and the fiery determination with which he plays the game make him one of this year's surest bets. If the indications I'm getting from NFL teams are correct, Moreno is going to slip out of the top 15 picks. However, I believe he ranks as safe a pick as any player in this draft, including Curry. Said an NFL general manager: "The Ohio State kid [Chris "Beanie" Wells] has the tools, but give me Moreno. He's the best back in this draft."
Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: With the NFL becoming enamored with pass-catching specialists at the position, a traditional tight end like Pettigrew might fall surprisingly far on draft day. Sure, like some of the other top players on this list Pettigrew was disappointingly slow in workouts (4.80 in 40 yards at the combine). I can also sympathize with the general manager who will have to explain to his team's fan base why he invested a first-round pick on a tight end who didn't catch a single touchdown pass his senior season. But considering Pettigrew's soft hands, savvy route running, experience (45 career starts) and, of course, powerful blocking, he rates as arguably the safest pass catcher of the 2009 draft. As for his arrest for public intoxication and battery of a police officer on Jan. 20 last year, a personnel director had this to say: "We looked into it and don't believe it is a true reflection of how the guy is. They [Oklahoma State staff] raved about him [Pettigrew] to our scouts."
Brian Robiskie, WR, Ohio State: If there is a safer pass catcher in the 2009 draft than Pettigrew, it is Robiskie. The son of longtime NFL coach Terry Robiskie (currently Atlanta's wide receiver coach), Brian has been training to be an NFL pass catcher since he could tie his shoes. With the Buckeyes shifting their focus to multi-talented quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Robiskie's senior season wasn't as statistically eye-popping as others, but his career production is nonetheless impressive (127 catches for 1,866 yards and 24 touchdowns). The 6-3, 209-pounder has enough speed to challenge over the top and understands how to create separation from cornerbacks due to his shiftiness, strength and precise routes. And as a scouting director told me as we watched Robiskie at the Senior Bowl practices: "I haven't seen him let a pass into his pads yet. He just snatches everything."
Rob Rang is a Senior Analyst for NFLDraftScout.com, distributed by The Sports Xchange.