The NFL Draft is a potpourri of optimism, dreams come true, paydays and new beginnings for fans, players, agents, coaches and General Managers.
It can also be a horrific nightmare.
Like any other act in life, there are some who are better than others at evaluating, scouting and drafting NFL talent. For those who can’t hack it in the big leagues, failed first-round draft picks can cost you a seven-figure paycheck in short order. And can set playoff-starved franchises back years, both competitively and financially.
Yes, the new rookie wage scale has lessened the pressure to hit a home run with every early draft pick in the war room. And constructing a championship-caliber team in the NFL is much more than simply drafting well in the first round. But to keep one of those 32 general manager jobs under The Shield, one has to avoid the word “bust” at all costs.
Just ask the Cleveland Browns, who at one point selected Craig Powell, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, Gerard Warren, William Green and Jeff Faine in six consecutive first rounds (1995, 1999-2003). Those six picks, four of which were top 16 picks, played an average of 3.6 seasons in a Browns uniform and none played more than five years in Cleveland.
The Browns have played in one playoff game since 1995.
While it is impossible to conduct a perfect draft every year, it seems virtually impossible to perform as ineptly as the Browns did over that six-draft span. Yet, each and every year some ridiculously highly paid decision maker sends a card to the commissioner with a name like Tony Mandarich or JaMarcus Russell stamped on it. There is no doubt that technology and the media have honed this inexact science into a much more predictable pastime, but that doesn’t mean that Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t sometimes selected (well) before Jeremy Maclin, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Wallace, Kenny Britt, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree or Austin Collie.
So who is this year’s Vernon Gholston?
Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M (6-4, 221)
Rumored Upside: No. 3, Miami Dolphins
Right now, the worst-case scenario for late-riser Ryan Tannehill appears to be the No. 8 overall pick, which belongs to the Miami Dolphins. And if Miami feels that someone might snake the Texas A&M quarterback prior to the eighth pick, it could easily move up to No. 3 and make it three straight quarterbacks to start.
This would, of course, forever link Andrew Luck, the best quarterback prospect since John Elway, Robert Griffin III, Baylor’s first-ever Heisman Trophy winner, and, wait for it, Ryan Tannehill.
Which one doesn’t belong?
Tannehill is a tremendous athlete. He has a rare combination of size and speed for a quarterback that allowed him to provide solid production as a wide receiver for the Aggies. He left College Station with 112 receptions, 1,596 yards and 10 scores as a pass catcher. Midway through his junior season, however, the now-fired Mike Sherman turned to Tannehill to quarterback his team. His ability to quickly adapt to a new and very difficult position is a credit to his work ethic and athletic ability.
It doesn’t mean he can lead a winning NFL franchise. Or complete key fourth-quarter, third-down passes against the Patriots.
Needless to say, with only 19 starts under his belt, a 12-7 record as a starter and 21 career interceptions, Tannehill is a total project. Luck and Griffin III are as sure-fire as quarterback prospects get and the drop-off to the converted wide receiver is severe.
Scouts and GMs can’t argue the production. He threw for 283 yards per game in those 19 starts and chucked 42 touchdowns strikes. But who did he do it against? The Big 12 had one defense, Texas, ranked in the Top 50 nationally. By comparison, the SEC claimed five of the top eight defenses in the country. The Big 12 didn’t have a single defense rank in the top 30 in scoring defense. By comparison, the SEC had seven in the top 30. All but three Big 12 teams allowed more than 25 points per game last fall.
Certainly, there is some chicken-and-egg factor with those stats. Is it poor defense or great offense in the Big 12? And the SEC traditionally struggles at the quarterback position while the Big 12 is loaded with talent under center. But Seth Doege of Texas Tech had more yards, a better completion percentage, was more efficient and threw fewer interceptions than Tannehill for a much worse team against essentially the exact same schedule.
One of the biggest concerns surrounding the Aggies' signal caller should be his inability to win games in the second half. Certainly, the defense and coaching staff deserves plenty of blame for Texas A&M's horrific second-half performances in 2011, but so does the leader and most important player on the field. Texas A&M led at halftime in 11 of their 13 games last fall and trailed only once all year at the break (Oklahoma). The Aggies had a 17-point halftime lead over Oklahoma State and Arkansas before being outscored 52 to 12 in the second frame. TAMU lost both games. They led by 11 over Missouri and nine over Texas at the half before being outscored by a combined 41 to 12 in the second half in those two losses. And three of those four losses came at home.
Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma all outscored the Aggies in the second half as well. The defense gets its share of the guilt, but a truly great quarterback simply doesn’t allow his team to choke this often in the second half. Not with that much talent around you and not against those lowly defenses.
Miami fans have endured 16 starting quarterbacks since No. 13 stepped aside. Damon Huard, Ray Lucas, Sage Rosenfels, Cleo Lemon, Tyler Thigpen and John Beck are just the tip of the depressing iceberg. Hitching the future of the franchise to Tannehill will only continue the need for Zoloft in South Florida.
This was a 6-10 team a year ago that played much better football in the second half of the season. They could use a safety (Mark Barron), linebacker (Luke Kuechly) or wide receiver (Michael Floyd) as well as more support along the offensive line (Riley Reiff). With the depth of this year’s quarterback class, the Dolphins should pass on Tannehill in the first round. Barron is the safest bet and will make the biggest immediate impact. Or target a wide receiver with the first pick and pull a Cincinnati Bengals and take the quarterback in the second round.
Kirk Cousins, who is eerily similar to Andy Dalton in nearly every way, or Brandon Weeden have just as good a chance to be a starting NFL quarterback as Tannehill. Cousins is a natural leader who wins games and has an NFL frame and strong arm. Weeden’s only negative is his age (28) — which makes him more mature and prepared (and married) than any other NFL rookie passer.
Todd McShay, shockingly, wasn’t crazy at all when he stated that Tannehill is a far superior athlete to USC’s Matt Barkley. He is taller, bigger, faster and more athletic in almost every way.
The trouble is, Barkley is a much better quarterback.
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis (6-3, 346)
Rumored Upside: No. 9 overall, Carolina Panthers
It never fails. Some ripped-up, middle of the road prospect will head to the combine with five career sacks and will leave a projected top 10 pick for all the wrong reasons. This year’s Chris Henry — think Arizona not West Virginia — is Dontari Poe.
What’s not to like? The massive defensive tackle from Memphis looks really, really good in spandex and an E39 T. He tossed up 44 reps on the bench (225 pounds), clocked a sub-5.00 40-time at 346 pounds and showed tremendous agility and foot speed.
Let’s face it, Poe is a stud. When not wearing pads running in a straight line against air.
It doesn’t take a genius to notice his raw athletic ability. But aside from this unrefined talent, Poe brings very little to an NFL roster. At least, not at a first-round price tag.
Just pop in a tape of any Memphis Tigers football game and it won’t take long NOT to notice Poe. Nevermind the fact that the Tigers have produced one of the NCAA’s worst defenses over the last few season — they finished 117th in 2011, 115th in 2010 and 116th in total defense the last three years — Poe hasn’t been productive individually either.
Going up against C-USA linemen, who hardly conjure up images of Matt Kalil, Poe wasn’t even considered one of the top four defensive lineman in his own league last fall. He was voted onto the second-team All-C-USA squad as a junior. He finished tied for 11th in tackles (33), fifth in sacks (1.0) and third in tackles for a loss (8.0) on his own team — a team that went 2-10. He has never had more than 2.0 sacks in a season, which is unacceptable against C-USA competition. He finished his career with 101 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss and 5.0 sacks in 35 career games.
Poe gives inconsistent effort, his technique and fundamentals need a lot of polish and his instincts appear to be average. As a part of a team that went 5-31 during his time on campus, there is little about Poe that indicates he should be taken in the first round other than his 40 time, bench reps, height and weight. Despite popular opinion, however, what takes place between August and December on the field matters more than one weekend in February.
Comparisons to Outland Finalist, consensus All-American and Pac-10 Defensive Player of Year Haloti Ngata are laughable.
Every player in the draft has a break-even point of risk and reward. The big fella from Memphis does have plenty of raw physical upside, and if he was available late in the second round, he would probably be worth the risk.
But not at nine overall.
by Braden Gall
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