2010 Top 30 Dynasty Fantasy Football Rookies by Nick Scott on 02/10/10 A little bit about my process: I don’t tirelessly watch game film and break down the specifics of every player that I review. I just try to get a sense for the broad strokes. If you can understand how a player moves, you can understand everything that he’s capable of. Some people have suggested that I don’t watch games, but I do. On this list alone I’ve seen Gerhart, Johnson, McKnight, D. Williams, McCoy, Clausen, Tate, and Best play in person. I’ve watched multiple televised games of several players on this list and I’ve sought out highlights whenever possible. I also review scouting reports from good sources. I might not be able to answer specific questions about all of these guys, but I think I have a decent understanding of what they bring to the table. - In general, WRs and RBs carry more value in FF leagues than QBs and TEs. That’s reflected in this list with guys like Gresham, Gronkowski, and Clausen ranked lower than where their NFL draft stock might indicate they should be. Plain and simply, good TEs and QBs are not worth as much in most FF leagues as good WRs and RBs. So even a mediocre WR prospect might be a better gamble than a good TE prospect. This is a pretty promising TE group, but those guys don’t get much love here. - After taking an in-depth look at this class, I’m pretty unimpressed by the talent. There just aren’t many sure things. It reminds me of something Mike Mayock said during the NFL draft coverage last year. There are relatively few productive players who also have elite physical attributes. Once you get past those guys, you’re left to choose from productive players with flawed physical attributes or gifted athletes with spotty production and football skills. This was certainly the case when I was compiling this list. Almost all of the skill position players outside the top 6 have some kind of wart. In general, I tended to favor productive players with modest tools over underachieving specimens. Give me the playmakers. - Comparisons are meant to provide a rough parallel in terms of body type/playing style/talent level. They are not meant to be exact. - UNDERRATED prospects will be in GREEN. OVERRATED prospects will be in RED. FIRST TIER 1. WR Dez Bryant, Oklahoma State Despite missing most of the season because of an excessively harsh suspension from the draconian goons at the NCAA, Bryant’s stock has held steady and maybe even increased (at this point last year there were still some people arguing that he wasn’t the best WR in this draft). Dez is expected to be the first WR drafted in April and it’s easy to see why. He has an exceptional combination of size, mobility, and football skills. Bryant is a rock solid 6’2 215 with a very fluid running stride. He changes directions very well for a bigger WR and has a nice burst. Though not a true burner, Bryant possesses enough speed to make plays downfield and outrun defenders after the catch. He easily translates his immense athletic ability into production on the field, skying for the jump ball over defenders or making the difficult reception away from his body. Instincts are not a problem for Dez. He’s a natural receiver with great body control. There’s not much to dislike about his game. He doesn’t have the pure speed of Andre Johnson and he’ll drop some balls here and there, but he’s a well-built athlete with all of the tools needed to become an above average WR1 in the NFL. I consider him the only can’t-miss skill position prospect in this draft. Comparison: Andre Johnson 2. RB CJ Spiller, Clemson Spiller leaves Clemson as one of the all-time great players in the history of the program. After splitting carries with James Davis for the first three seasons of his career, Spiller took over full-time starter duties as a senior and capitalized by rushing for 1212 yards with another 503 through the air. Spiller’s best attribute is his explosive vertical speed. He has a legitimate third gear and it’s a sight to behold when he starts pulling away from opposing defenders. Give him a seam and he’s gone. He also has quick feet to avoid tacklers in the open field. He’s an excellent return man and he should contribute catching passes out of the backfield. His overall combination of elite athleticism and versatility will earn him a spot in the top 20 picks of the NFL draft, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he will play in the NFL. Spiller is a light back with below average power. Nagging injuries have been a minor problem throughout his career and his impressive big plays obscure the fact that he’s not always an effective runner in tight spaces. The team that drafts him may become frustrated by his inability to consistently make the easy 3-4 yard gains. On the other hand, Spiller could be deadly in a system that gives him wide running lanes to explode through. Spiller is not a conventional featured back and his lack of sheer bulk and power could make him a disappointment in the NFL, but he’s the most athletically gifted RB in this draft and he has the highest upside. The team that drafts him will find ways to get him involved. Comparison: Chris Johnson 3. RB Jonathan Dwyer, Georgia Tech Dwyer has been a consistent performer at Georgia Tech, rushing for exactly 1395 yards each of the past two seasons. He possesses an elite combination of size and straight line speed that should earn him a spot in the draft’s first 40 picks. Dwyer has the second gear to pull away from defenses and the power to lower the hammer and punish would-be tacklers. He has strong thighs and decent leg drive. He has reasonably fluid hips and he can make sharp 45 degree cuts at full speed. My main concern is that despite his ideal listed size of roughly 6’0 235, Dwyer is built slightly long-legged. This is what gives him his exceptional straight line speed, but it also causes him some problems working in tight quarters, where he doesn’t always generate the power you would expect from a back his size. Overall, Dwyer is a quality featured RB prospect who possesses the size/speed combo to be an effective starter in the NFL. Like Ronnie Brown, he may struggle with nagging injuries at the next level, but he’ll be a good player when healthy. Comparison: Ronnie Brown 4. RB Ryan Mathews, Fresno State Mathews departs Fresno State after a breakout season that saw him amass 1808 rushing yards on just 276 carries (6.6 YPC). A gifted athlete with a prototypical combination of size and burst, Mathews should be one of the first backs drafted in April. Mathews is fast enough to outrun defenders and strong enough to bulldoze them. Though not a particularly shifty back in the open field, Mathews shows good footwork and lateral bounce behind the line of scrimmage. He has good vision, instincts, balance, and toughness. He should test very well in combine drills, but he’s a bit stiff in the hips and he has trouble cutting across his body when running full speed. His upright style leads to a lot of punishment and he’s built a little lean despite ideal listed size of 5’11 220. Durability could be a consistent problem for Mathews, who missed five games with a knee injury in 2008 and one game with a concussion in 2009. Overall, Mathews is probably never going to be one of the best backs in the NFL, but he’s a good north-south runner with an excellent combination of size and vertical speed. I think he compares favorably to Packers starter Ryan Grant and I think he will be a productive starter when healthy. Comparison: Ryan Grant 5. WR Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech Most pundits agree that Dez Bryant is the top WR available in the draft, but there’s no clear consensus about who’s number two. Some say Golden Tate. Others might suggest Damian Williams, Brandon LaFell, or Arrelious Benn. Personally, my vote goes to Demaryius Thomas and it’s not even close. Thomas has an elite frame at 6’3 229 pounds. Though not a speed burner, Thomas has a sneaky upfield burst. He averaged a ridiculous 25.1 yards per catch in 2009, topping the 1150 yard mark on just 46 receptions. He runs very well for a bigger WR. He’s very fluid and precise. Some might harp on his lack of pure stopwatch speed, but these concerns are largely unfounded. When you’re 6’3 229 with this kind of strength and coordination, you don’t need great speed to be a productive pro (this is also why the concerns about Crabtree’s 40 time last year were misguided). Thomas is strong enough to overpower defensive backs, explosive enough to sneak behind them downfield, and coordinated enough to win jump balls when well-covered. I think “Bay-Bay” has the overall skill set to become a dominant WR1. I would compare him to a slightly shorter version of Brandon Marshall (who also doesn’t have great stopwatch speed). Like Marshall, Thomas is simply a mismatch for any cornerback assigned to cover him. I think he’s worthy of a first round pick in the NFL draft and I won’t be surprised if his name is called earlier than most “experts” are predicting. The one legitimate knock on his game is that he’ll sometimes leave a pass on the ground. Still, he’s easily one of the top two athletes in this WR class along with Dez Bryant. Comparison: Brandon Marshall 6. RB Jahvid Best, Cal Best was a high school track star who won the California state title in the 100m before moving onto Cal, where he made an immediate impact splitting carries with Justin Forsett as a true freshman before ascending to superstar status in his sophomore season. Best is an explosive athlete with an elite initial burst and great elusiveness. He has the best lateral cuts of any back in this draft. He routinely breaks ankles in the open field and is often too shifty to get a clean hit on. He’s also an excellent receiver who should be able to split out wide and run downfield routes at the next level. Best does not have the elite playing speed of CJ Spiller, but he’s certainly fast enough to be a successful pro. Very few players can catch him from behind and he will likely blaze a 4.3 time at the combine. He has been wildly productive throughout his career, averaging over 7 yards per carry. The main questions about Best center around his diminutive size and spotty durability. Though well-proportioned and athletic, Best is built more like a CB than a RB at just 5’10 195 pounds. He lacks the leg drive to break tackles and is easily brought down by a solid hit. He suffered a torn ligament in his elbow in 2008 and a season-ending concussion in 2009. Best’s thin frame and lack of power may relegate him to a supporting role at the next level, but he has the raw athletic gifts and football talent to make an impact. If a team commits to giving him the ball 20 times per game, he could be dynamite. If not, he should still be an electric committee back. Comparison: Jamaal Charles SECOND TIER 7. QB Sam Bradford, Oklahoma Bradford was nothing short of dominant in his two full seasons at Oklahoma, throwing for 7800 yards and 86 TDs against just 16 INTs with a completion percentage above 68% and a yards per attempt average above 9. He was projected as a top 3 pick before suffering a shoulder injury against BYU that ultimately cost him his season. Despite the added durability concerns, Bradford is a first round prospect who could become a franchise player in the NFL. His best attributes are his pinpoint accuracy, his poise under pressure, and his decision making. You hate to compare any QB prospect to Peyton Manning, but Bradford’s first two seasons in Norman had him on that kind of trajectory. Like Manning, Bradford is not a tremendous athlete. He’s not very mobile. He doesn’t have elite arm strength and he has a slightly unconventional release. He doesn’t have much experience playing under center (he took most of his snaps out of the shotgun) and he played in a friendly system that makes QBs look great. Durability is a question mark after his injury-plagued campaign. Teams would like to see him add weight to endure the rigors of the position. He might not look like an All-Pro in workout shorts, but Bradford seemingly possesses all of the tools needed to become an elite passer at the next level. His accuracy and decision-making are top notch. Assuming that he can stay healthy, he should become an above average pro starter. Comparison: Peyton Manning 8. QB Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame Clausen improved in each of his three seasons as a starter at Notre Dame, finishing 2009 with career highs in every category. Clausen completed 68% of his passes for 3722 yards, 28 TDs, and just 4 INTs. He has rocketed up draft boards to the point where he could be in the discussion for the #1 overall pick. His short range accuracy is considered top notch and his arm strength is more than adequate although his deep balls occasionally flutter. Clausen is a good decision maker who makes good pre-snap reads and moves through his progressions until he finds the open man. He is not known for making bad decisions or forcing balls into coverage, a fact that’s supported by his paltry INT total as a junior. One weakness is that Clausen can be rattled by a good pass rush. He has improved this facet of his game over the past few years, but he will still get happy feet under duress. He’s not short, but he’s probably a couple inches below the ideal height. Overall, Clausen is thought to be a legitimate first round QB prospect with elite short range accuracy and good mental intangibles. Comparison: Drew Brees 9. RB Stafon Johnson, USC Ranked alongside Beanie Wells and Knowshon Moreno as one of the top prep runners in the country back in 2006, Johnson’s college career was hampered by a lack of consistent opportunities. He split time with Joe McKnight and CJ Gable throughout his career before suffering a season-ending throat injury early in his senior season. Johnson made a miracle recovery and was healthy enough to participate in the Senior Bowl. It appears as if his injury won’t have any lasting effects. Johnson is a versatile runner with a sturdy 5’10.5 215 pound frame. His best assets are his vision, instincts, and fluid hips. Johnson lacks flashy speed or explosive quickness, but he sees the field well and can change directions on a dime to exploit creases in the defense. He’s an effective inside runner and he was an excellent goal line specialist at USC. He was reportedly clocked in the 4.4 range at USC’s spring workouts last season, but Johnson will have to answer questions about his burst and explosiveness. He looked slightly sluggish in limited opportunities at the Senior Bowl. Whether or not this was the result of long term faults or short term rust is unknown (Johnson hadn’t played football in over three months). He needs a decent showing at the combine in order to answer any doubts about his athletic ability. Johnson’s modest college career, injury concerns, and bland playing style should drop him deep into the second day of the NFL draft, but he has the versatile skill set to become a pleasant surprise for the team that drafts him. Comparison: Pierre Thomas 10. RB Toby Gerhart, Stanford Gerhart rose to national prominence with a monster 2009 campaign that saw him amass over 1800 rushing yards and 27 TDs. He rushed for 100+ yards eleven times (including two games of 200+ yards) and was never held below 4.2 YPC in any of his games. Gerhart is an old-fashioned north-south runner with tree trunk thighs and lots of power. He routinely bounces off arm tackles and gains yards after contact with his punishing leg drive. He has excellent vision and enough foot quickness and agility to reverse fields behind the line of scrimmage. He has great balance, but he lacks sheer explosiveness and speed. He will not run away from most NFL defenders and he’s not very dangerous in the open field despite having decent footwork. He’s a one-dimensional back whose lack of value as a receiver will turn off some NFL teams. He runs high and takes a lot of punishment. He has already suffered one ACL tear and his physical style could lead to a brief shelf life at the next level. Also, you have to wonder if his power running will be effective against the bigger, faster defenders in the NFL. Gerhart is not the prototypical pro starter, but he’s the most powerful runner available in this draft and his production cannot be ignored. I think his best value will be as a committee back for a team like Tennessee, Houston, or New York Giants. He does not physically resemble Brandon Jacobs, but in a best case scenario he could provide that kind of production. Comparison: Jamal Lewis 11. RB Anthony Dixon, Mississippi State A productive runner who rushed for nearly 4,000 yards over the course of his career at Mississippi State, Dixon figures to be one of the first runners drafted once the “big 4” are off the board. Dixon is impressive physical specimen with a 6’0.6 240 pound frame. He has quick feet for such a big back and he runs with good power due to his size. He has adequate speed. I think he’s capable of stepping in and producing respectable stats as a stopgap starter, but I’m not terribly impressed with his game. He’s not an elusive back despite his decent initial burst and he runs with a hesitant, pitter-patter style around the line of scrimmage. This past season he beat up on creampuffs, but struggled against elite competition (held below 4 YPC against Florida, LSU, and Alabama). He will not break many big plays in the NFL and I don’t see the hip swerve of someone like Stafon Johnson or even Toby Gerhart. Overall, I think Dixon is a decent back and I like his production in a difficult conference, but he doesn’t pop off the screen like an elite prospect. I think he will be a mediocre pro. Comparison: Antowain Smith 12. RB Joe McKnight, USC USC dipped into Louisiana and won a recruiting war against LSU for the services of McKnight, who was touted as the second coming of Reggie Bush out of high school. McKnight never quite lived up to the hype, but still managed to compile a decent career highlighted by a terrific final season that saw him rush for 1014 yards on just 164 carries. McKnight is a slender back with deadly quickness. His stutter steps and juke moves frequently leave defenders grasping at air. He has good speed and decent hands out of the backfield. On the downside, McKnight lacks bulk and power. Prior to this season he was considered a bit of an enigma whose occasional brilliance was marred by inconsistency. He has always split time with a bigger back and you have to wonder whether or not he has the strength, toughness, and durability to be more than a bit player in the NFL. His explosive talents should earn him a role as a third down back at the next level and if things break perfectly he could potentially duplicate the success of fellow scat back Jamaal Charles. Comparison: Leon Washington 13. WR Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati Gilyard entered the season projected as a solid 2nd round NFL draft pick and that’s probably where he’ll go when it’s all said and done. After a sterling career at Cincinnati that saw him log two consecutive 1000+ yard seasons, Gilyard accepted an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl. Despite mixed reviews during practice sessions, Gilyard stepped up on gameday and caught 5 passes for over 100 yards. Gilyard is a rail thin receiver who relies on his explosive initial burst to gain separation from defenders. He’s not a burner, but he’s a fluid runner with a deadly first step. I see shades of Isaac Bruce and Santonio Holmes, though I won’t go so far as to predict that kind of success for Gilyard. He’s a frail WR who may struggle against physical cornerbacks. He has decent thickness in his thighs, but his frame is slender and light overall. I never saw him drop a pass in college, but he got a lot of negative attention at the Senior Bowl because of his inconsistent hands. Gilyard has the bad habit of body catching passes instead of reaching out and snatching them with his hands. This could become a problem in the NFL where he’ll have a harder time gaining comfortable separation. Overall, I think Gilyard projects as a solid WR2 at the next level despite some holes in his game. He’s a fluid, explosive athlete and a playmaker when the lights are on. Keep an eye on his 40 time because his lack of size and strength increases his reliance on speed and quickness. Anything higher than 4.50 will be troublesome. Anything lower than 4.40 will be a pleasant surprise. Gilyard has an excellent work ethic and he’s currently training to get his time down to “prove that I’m not a 4.51 guy.” Comparison: Santonio Holmes 14. WR Damian Williams, USC Williams has been the most reliable offensive threat for the Trojans over the past two seasons, logging 128 catches for almost 1900 yards and 15 scores. He’s a well-rounded WR prospect with decent size and speed. His long legs occasionally cause some problems when he tries to change directions, but in general he seems to have enough burst and quickness to become an adequate route runner. He has long arms and reliable hands. He’s not quite big enough to be a possession WR and not quite fast enough to be a pure deep threat, but his overall package of football skills and athletic gifts is promising enough to make me think he can become a productive WR2 at the next level. Comparison: Jeremy Maclin 15. TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma Gresham produced like a WR in 2008, catching 66 passes for 950 yards and 14 TDs. He could’ve been a first round pick, but decided to come back to school for his senior season and promptly suffered a season-ending injury in his right knee. When healthy, Gresham is a big target who bullies opposing defenders and picks up lots of yards after the catch with his strength. He has a huge frame and soft hands. He’s not a burner, but he runs with good balance. The biggest knock on his game is a lack of sheer explosiveness. I’ve seen him compared to players like Tony Gonzalez and Kellen Winslow, but they’re quite a bit quicker and more athletic. Gresham is more along the lines of Antonio Gates, a big lumbering target whose strength and hands make him difficult to stop. He could have some trouble separating from pro defenders because he’s not going to beat many of them in footraces. On the other hand, it might not matter much because he has the ability to make catches in tight coverage. Most pundits consider him the top TE in the draft and if he’s able to return to 100% from his injuries, he has a good chance to become a quality starter in the NFL. Comparison: Antonio Gates THIRD TIER 16. WR Arrelious Benn, Illinois Benn is one of many enigmas in the WR class. He entered college as an elite national recruit who was expected to eventually become a superstar. He seemed well on his way after a productive sophomore season that saw him net over 1000 yards receiving, but the wheels fell off in 2009 when he caught just 38 balls for 490 yards. On paper Benn is a physical specimen in the same tier as Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas. He’s a sturdy 6’2 220 with a prototypical build for a #1 receiver in the NFL. So what gives? Benn isn’t as impressive on the field as you would expect given his reputation and his physique. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly why he doesn’t pop out to me like some of the other WRs in this class do. I guess the best way to put it is that Benn lacks precision of movement. There’s a loping, lackadaisical quality to his running stride. He might have decent stopwatch speed and athletic measurables, but I get the impression that the sum is less than the total of its parts. In this regard Benn is similar to Roy Williams. Both are underachievers whose gameday impact doesn’t match their alleged upside. Benn will not beat most NFL DBs with his speed or burst and, unlike Bryant and Thomas, he lacks the physical nature and football instincts to consistently win battles for tough catches. If Benn somehow puts all of his athletic gifts together then he could obliterate this ranking and become a perennial 1000+ yard WR in the NFL, but it’s been my experience that most underachievers tend to stay that way. Benn has been a tease and an enigma at Illinois. I expect more of the same on Sundays. Comparison: David Givens 17. WR Brandon LaFell, LSU LaFell has been a solid, but unspectacular player in his college career. After catching 63 passes for 929 yards as a junior, LaFell’s numbers dipped slightly to 57 catches for 792 yards as a senior. Despite never posting the monster statistics of someone like Freddie Barnes or Dez Bryant, LaFell is still considered a potential 1st-2nd round NFL draft pick. His biggest strengths are his height and his sneaky upfield burst. He shows flashes of being a rangy target with enough speed to make plays downfield. However, there are also plenty of reasons to be skeptical of his pro prospects. LaFell has a very thin build with poor strength and mediocre agility. Watching him play, you get the sense that he’s sort of a Michael Jenkins/Michael Clayton redux. All three are tall, thin WRs who lack either the sheer strength or mobility to consistently beat NFL defenders. This might not be a career killer if you have the jump ball skills and hands of someone like Sidney Rice, but I haven’t seen that kind of body control or coordination from LaFell. He’s more like Jenkins: mostly mediocre with the occasional hint of brilliance. My hunch is that he’ll become a mediocre WR2 who toils in obscurity before eventually fading out of the league. At the same time, his height/speed combination is compelling and he’s highly-regarded enough to warrant some consideration. Comparison: Michael Jenkins 18. ATH Dexter McCluster, Mississippi McCluster had a phenomenal year for the Rebels, totaling 1169 rushing yards at 6.5 YPC including a torrid stretch run that saw him top 120+ rushing yards in four of his final five games. He bolstered his stock even further by putting in an excellent week of practice at the Senior Bowl, where his explosive quickness drew raves from onlookers. McCluster is a lightning quick waterbug whose elite burst allows him to elude defenders and make big plays as a RB and WR. Few people doubt his electric talent, but many wonder what his role will be at the next level. He’s acutely undersized for the RB position at just 5’8 165 pounds. Some might compare him to DeSean Jackson, but he’s quite a bit smaller and not as skilled downfield. Others will compare him to Percy Harvin, but McCluster is nearly 30 pounds lighter and not nearly as strong. I don’t think we can view him as a conventional RB or WR. I think he’s a unique utility player whose explosive quickness and versatility will make him a fun chess piece for a creative offensive coordinator who gives him 5-10 touches per game. He can line up in the slot, in the backfield, or split out wide. He’ll never be a back who carries the ball 15 times per game, but his unique skills should command opportunities. I expect him to get quite a few cheap receptions out of the slot and backfield ala Reggie Bush. At the same time, his small stature seemingly places a low cap on his upside. He’s never going to be a team’s #1 back or receiver. He’s more of a role player, like Darren Sproles with less power and more value as a receiver. Comparison: none 19. WR Golden Tate, Notre Dame Tate declared for the draft after a monster junior season that saw him snag 93 receptions for 1496 yards and 15 TDs. He was consistently dominant throughout the year, logging 100+ receiving yards in 9 out of 12 games (including two games of 200+ yards). Tate possesses all of the natural football skills that you look for in a WR. He’s a competitive player who makes tough catches in traffic and picks up lots of yards after the catch with instinctive open field running. On paper Tate seems like a slam dunk for the first round of the NFL draft, but I think he’s one of the most overrated skill position prospects in this draft. The first problem is his size. Tate is listed at 5’11 195 and I suspect that he’s closer to 5’10 or 5’9 . That alone wouldn’t be a problem. There are numerous NFL WRs who have been tremendously productive despite a small stature, but most of those guys are burners who compensate for their lack of size with elite speed and burst (DeSean, SMoss, Smitty, Holmes, Royal, Coles, Evans, Harvin, etc). I don’t think Tate is that explosive. His excellent instincts and football skills allowed him to dominate in college, but what will he do against NFL corners who are faster than him and just as strong? I think he will struggle to consistently gain separation. He doesn’t run very well and lacks a burst off the line of scrimmage. I think he’s very similar to Josh Reed, another converted RB who dominated in college before being exposed as a mediocre athlete at the pro level. I will be keeping a very close eye on Tate’s combine numbers. A fast 40 time and a good showing in the drills would alleviate many of my concerns about his athleticism, but for now I will trust my initial evaluation that he’s an outstanding football player who lacks the sheer explosiveness to translate his production to the next level. Comparison: Josh Reed 20. WR Freddie Barnes, Bowling Green Barnes was a non-entity in NFL draft circles before breaking out in spectacular fashion as a senior, catching 155 passes for 1770 yards and 19 TDs in just 13 games. To put those numbers into perspective, Barnes’ per game averages would equate to 191 catches for 2178 and 23 TDs over a full 16 game season. If that wasn’t enough to convince pro scouts of his value, Barnes accepted an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl and proceeded to destroy every cornerback he faced in practices. Detractors will lump Barnes in with other massively productive collegiate WRs who flamed out quickly in the NFL like Dante Ridgeway and Taylor Stubblefield, but I think he has the skills needed to become an effective possession WR on Sundays. Barnes has a good frame at a sturdy 6’0 210 pounds. He catches the ball extremely well and demonstrates the body control and coordination needed to make difficult catches in a crowd. Though not a burner, Barnes has a quick initial burst to gain separation out of his breaks. The biggest question mark is speed. Barnes doesn’t run very well and may struggle to separate against pro corners. Despite the fact that he’s currently projected as no better than a middle round pick, I think Barnes could become a productive WR2 in the NFL. He reminds me a lot of Jerricho Cotchery, another collegiate superstar who fell in the draft because he lacked ideal speed. Cotchery has become a steady contributor in the NFL and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same outcome from Barnes. Comparison: Jerricho Cotchery 21. WR Andre Roberts, The Citadel Roberts is a short, muscular WR in the mold of Eddie Royal. He has a well-proportioned frame that makes him a fluid runner with good change of direction skills. He also has good body control, hands, and toughness. He showed well for himself against tough competition at the Senior Bowl, drawing modest praise for his solid week of practice. Roberts appears to be a quality football player with enough skills to become an effective pro. On the downside, he’s not a very big target and he might not have the sheer athletic ability needed to succeed in the NFL. He physically resembles Eddie Royal, but Royal is a workout warrior with 4.3 speed and incredible strength. Unless Roberts also possesses the same kind of speed and burst, he might struggle to crack an NFL starting lineup. He’s still an intriguing sleeper pick who could be a nice value in April. He looks like one of the hidden gems in this WR class. Comparison: Eddie Royal 22. TE Aaron Hernandez, Florida Hernandez was one of the breakout stars of Florida’s 2009 team, catching 68 passes for 850 yards and 5 TDs. That was enough motivation to push him into the NFL draft, where he’s expected to be a 2nd round pick. Hernandez has excellent speed for the TE/H-back position. He’s explosive on underneath routes and he has enough juice to threaten the seam. He’s a strong, agile runner in the open field after the catch. He will never be a great blocker because he lacks the necessary strength, but he could flourish as a pass-catching specialist in the NFL. Comparison: Dustin Keller 23. WR Carlton Mitchell, South Florida Mitchell declared for the draft after catching 40 passes for 706 yards and 4 TDs as a junior. Those totals represented career highs in every category for Mitchell, who will be drafted on the basis of his promising physical tools rather than his production. An impressive athlete at 6’4 215 pounds, Mitchell physically resembles Limas Sweed (although I have never seen him make the kind of circus catches that Sweed had a knack for at Texas). He clearly possesses the raw athletic ability to play at the next level. He’s a big target with decent vertical speed and adequate quickness. With another year in college he could’ve been a first round pick, but his lukewarm production makes him a risky proposition that high. Is he an underrated gem or an underachieving tease? I don’t know, but expect his upside to earn him a spot in the 3rd round of the NFL draft. Comparison: Limas Sweed 24. RB Ben Tate, Auburn Auburn has a strong recent history of producing NFL tailbacks and Tate should continue that tradition. After posting respectable numbers in 2007 and 2008, Tate broke out last season with 1362 rushing yards on 263 carries (5.2). Tate is a squatty, compact runner with a good build for the pro game at 5’10.7 214. Tate has good power along with decent hips and footwork. His speed is merely adequate and like Anthony Dixon, he struggled against the good teams on his schedule (poor games against LSU, Georgia, and Alabama). Overall, he doesn’t bring anything special to the table, but he’s a pretty good inside runner who should be a middle round pick in the NFL draft. If he gets an opportunity, he’s capable of decent production. Comparison: Wali Lundy 25. TE Rob Gronkowski, Arizona Big things were expected from Gronkowski after he caught 47 passes for 672 yards in 2008, but a back injury forced him to miss the entire 2009 season. He was expected to be the top TE prospect available next year, but he surprisingly declared for the 2010 draft despite not playing a down this year. At full health, Gronkowski is a big target (6’6” 265) with good ability after the catch and reliable hands. Due to the fact that he only played two seasons of college football, Gronkowski is a bit of a enigma. It’s hard to say whether he’s a potential steal or just another modest Heath Miller type talent, but his upside warrants a look once the promising WRs and RBs are gone. The combine is important for him since he will have to prove that he’s fully recovered from back surgery. He could rise all the way up to the early 2nd round of the NFL draft or fall all the way to the 4th. Comparison: Todd Heap FOURTH TIER 26. WR Shay Hodge, Mississippi A well-built target with decent speed, Hodge stepped up after the graduation of Mike Wallace and caught 70 passes for 1135 yards and 8 TDs as a senior. He flashed good potential at the Senior Bowl practices before suffering a minor injury that held him out of the actual game. I have not had the chance to watch much of him, but I’m intrigued by what I’ve seen so far. Hodge is a fluid athlete with good strength. He has the potential to become a good route runner, but is considered inconsistent in this regard. Some onlookers have questioned his hands, but his production suggests that he’s adequate in this department. He came on particularly strong at the end of the season, topping 70+ yards in his last eight games. Overall, Hodge lacks elite qualities, but projects as a potential WR2 in the NFL. Comparison: Reche Caldwell 27. RB Joique Bell, Wayne State A record-breaking back at the division 3 level, Bell has enough talent to earn a spot somewhere on the second day of the NFL draft. He’s a big back at 5’11 223 with good foot quickness and fluid hips. It’s difficult to evaluate him because his level of competition is so poor, but he didn’t stand out to me at the Senior Bowl and it’s apparent from his highlights that he lacks long speed. Is this another Xavier Omon or Rashad Jennings? Both of those small school stars became sexy sleeper picks before tumbling deep into the NFL draft and (so far) languishing in relative obscurity in the NFL. I suspect that Bell might be destined for the same fate. I like his build and his loose hips, but I don’t think he has great speed or burst. Unless he can put up some staggering numbers at the combine, I think he’s a late round pick destined for a backup role at the next level. Comparison: Xavier Omon 28. RB LeGarrette Blount, Oregon Blount starred at Oregon in 2008 before his infamous punch against Boise State derailed what could have been a monster 2009 season. Instead Blount was suspended for much of the year and lost his starting job to redshirt freshman phenom LaMichael James. Blount is a big back who plays taller than his listed height at 6’0.5 245 pounds. He’s impressive running in a straight line, where his long stride eats up turf in a hurry. Blount is an aggressive runner willing to do the dirty work between the tackles. Though very athletic, Blount is a slasher with poor lateral agility, particularly behind the line of scrimmage. He has a high center of gravity and poor elusiveness, struggling to sink his hips and change directions. He can be effective on a team that opens wide lanes for him to run through, but he will struggle whenever he has to create anything on his own. Overall, he’s an interesting athlete who could have some value to a pro team, but I don’t think his style fits the NFL very well and I’ll be surprised if he becomes more than a gimmick. His character concerns add an additional element of risk. Comparison: LeRon McClain 29. WR Jeremy Williams, Tulane Williams put together a good senior season in 2009, catching 84 passes for 1113 yards and 7 TDs. He followed that up with a solid showing during Senior Bowl practices and another quality performance in the game. Williams is built sturdy with a strong lower body and a fluid running stride. He’s a good route runner with smooth change of direction. He has a nice initial burst. On the downside, there’s nothing really spectacular about his game. He’s not an overpowering WR and he doesn’t have enough sustained speed to run away from NFL defenders. He’s good at everything and great at nothing. My suspicion is that he simply lacks the special qualities needed to become a standout pro. At the same time, he’s a solid player who could be a good WR3 or WR4 at the next level. Bottom line: Good player. Limited upside. Injuries are a bit of a red flag, as I believe he has already had at least one ACL surgery in his career. Comparison: Jason Hill 30. WR Taylor Price, Ohio Price earned an invitation to the Senior Bowl after posting career highs of 56 catches and 784 receiving yards in 2009. He performed reasonably well in practices before disappearing in the game. Like fellow 2009 classmate Jeremy Williams, Price is good at everything without being exceptional in any way. The 6’1 212 pound receiver doesn’t play with the strength his listed size indicates. He’s not a physical receiver who overpowers defensive backs and he doesn’t have the sheer speed to burn people deep. He’s a solid route runner and a competitive player with adequate hands, but I think his ceiling is as a WR2 at the next level. He may never be more than a backup. Comparison: Justin McCareins OTHERS QB Dan LeFevour, Central Michigan - Thought by many to be the best QB at the Senior Bowl. Productive. 2nd-4th round pick. QB Tony Pike, Cincinnati - Good height and production. Decent arm. Lacks consistency and the killer instinct. QB Jarrett Brown, West Virginia - Raw project with intriguing physical tools. 2nd-4th round pick. QB Colt McCoy, Texas - Like his accuracy. Needs to prove that he has the physical tools for the pro game. RB Montario Hardesty, Tennessee - Could be a 3rd round pick. Glen Coffee type, but bigger. Not very impresive overall. RB Lonyae Miller, Fresno State - Didn’t show me much at the Senior Bowl. Late round sleeper. WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas - Has a little bit of Colston in him. Doesn’t run very well though. WR Jordan Shipley, Texas - Nice career, but I don’t see him as more than a WR3 in the NFL. WR Mike Williams, Syracuse - Not special enough to overcome his severe character flaws. WR Emmanuel Sanders, SMU - Burner with great production. Could be another Mike Wallace. WR Antonio Brown, Central Michigan - Deon Butler type with limited pro upside. WR Danario Alexander, Missouri - Tall and coordinated, but not quick or physical. WR Riley Cooper, Florida - Tall and strong, but a stiff runner. WR Eric Decker, Minnesota - Productive and tough. Not much of an athlete. TE Anthony McCoy, USC - Potential starter at the next level. Big frame. Promising hands. Somewhat slow. Inconsistent. Lazy? TE Jimmy Graham, Miami (FL) - Great project. Good size. Runs well. High ceiling. TE Ed Dickson, Oregon - Oversized WR like a less athletic Dustin Keller. Decent pro potential. TE Garrett Graham, Wisconsin - Modest athlete who just gets the job done. Solid backup. Maybe more.