#1 Overall Pick
Joined: October 13th, 2005, 10:34 am
Draft Prospect story from GBN draft report
2006 PROSPECTS ON THE RISE
by Colin Lindsay; GBN editor and publisher
QBs on the rise? With what appears to be a very mediocre senior QB class this year ? Southern Cal?s Matt Leinart is the only senior QB who is a lock to be an opening round pick this coming April ? the door has been opened for some veteran QB to step up much like Auburn?s Jason Campbell did last year when he came from draft obscurity to be taken 25th overall by Washington. The QB making the biggest move up draft boards around the NFL these days appears to be Jay Cutler of Vanderbilt. At a robust 6-4, 220, Cutler has prototype size for a pro pocket passer; he also a live arm with a quick release, although he doesn?t throw the ball deep all that well. And while no gazelle, Cutler is a pretty good athlete who can move and throw on the run. Pro scouts also like Cutler because he is as tough as they make QBs; indeed, he will hang in the pocket and take a hit; plus, he?s proven to be very durable although he sometimes took a lot of abuse when Vanderbilt played the heavyweights in the SEC. There is still some work to do with Cutler, however; his mechanics are erratic at times and his footwork in the pocket needs refinement. He can also be something of a gambler in that while he?ll take a hit, he will also just throw the ball up for grabs at times. Still, there?s a very good chance some team in need of a development type QB could roll the dice on Cutler as early as the latter part of this year?s opening round.
The best story at QB this draft year, though, may be athletic Barrick Nealy of Texas State, who had his Bobcats within a heartbeat of making this week?s Division 1-AA national final. In fact, the 6-5, 235-pound Nealy has been described as a kind of poor man?s Vince Young, the Texas junior who is generally considered to be the #2 rated QB prospect for the 2006 draft, although Young is sounding more and more like a player who will be returning to Austin for his senior season next fall. Like Young, the athletic Nealy is a terrific runner and improving passer. Indeed, Nealy is a terrific runner either on designed rushing plays or busting out of the pocket. This year, for example, he rushed for over 1,000 yards, punctuated by an explosive 76-yard TD on the first play of the Bobcats? first round playoff win. Nealy also has a cannon of an arm with a quick release; he can, for example, get the ball well downfield with just a simple flick of the wrist. At the same, though, Nealy is still a better athlete than pure passer. His mechanics and footwork are pretty basic and he has only average accuracy. No question, though that Nealy has as much physical talent of any QB in the 2006 draft class including size, athleticism and arm strength and could ultimately grade out among the top 4-5 players at the position this spring.
Pro scouts trooped to North Carolina State this fall to see Wolfpack junior DE Mario Williams, arguably the top defensive prospect for the upcoming draft. While they were checking out Williams, who ultimately lived up to that billing after a slow start to the season, scouts also couldn?t help but notice #91 coming off the other end. Indeed, #91, Manny Lawson, was almost as disruptive as his more heralded teammate this fall as he posted 9.5 sacks (to Williams? 13) and had 9 other tackles for loss. However, while the 6-6, 280-pound Williams is a classic full-sized DE, Lawson is something of a tweener at just 6-4, 245. Lawson, though, brings some special athletic skills to the table. In fact, Lawson doubles as a track athlete where he competes in both the long and triple jumps, as well as the hurdles. Indeed, Lawson has an explosive first step off of the snap; he?s also got long arms which he uses effectively to get leverage once he beats his man to the corner. If Lawson has a weakness its that he lacks strength at the point of attack and sometimes struggles against the run. In the end, Lawson isn?t going to go as high as Williams, but will have more than one team looking at him as this year?s Osi Umenyiora or Demarcus Ware possibly as early as the latter part of this year?s opening round.
Sticking with great athletes out of the ACC, Clemson CB Tye Hill could give the 2006 corner class a real boost. Indeed, while positions like OT and LB look like they could be gold mines at this year?s draft, the whole secondary could be something of a wasteland. The Tigers? Hill, though, at least brings some special speed to the table. Hill, a former ACC champion in both the 60M (indoors) and 100M (outdoors), for example, can downright fly. Indeed, he likely will challenge the 4.3 mark at this winter?s pre-draft workouts. Hill has been very productive on the field, breaking up a remarkable 21 passes in 2004, before picking off 5 this season. And while not overly big at under 5-10 and 180 pounds, Hill will come up and support against the run. Hill, though, is a converted RB who has only been playing Cb for a couple of years so still needs to work on the techniques of the position; right now he just outruns his mistakes, something he won?t necessarily be able to do at the next level. That speed, especially in a weak year at the position, means he won?t have to wait all that long to get a call this coming April.
The rich get richer? One of the storylines of the 2006 draft class has been the outstanding group of OTs who are going to be available at this year?s draft including the likes of D?Brickashaw Ferguson of Virginia, Marcus McNeill of Auburn, Jonathan Scott of Texas and Miami?s Eric Winston, all of whom have top 10-15 physical ability. And the 2006 OT class could get even better if massive Wisconsin junior Joe Thomas opts to leave school early and enter this year?s draft. Thomas, a rangy 6-8, 310 pounder with long arms and excellent feet, is a typical Badger roadgrader blocking for the run, however, he?s even better in pass protection where he is one those proverbial $10 cab fares to get around. Indeed, Thomas is a fine overall athlete who is a national level shot putter with the Badgers? track squad, who also captained his high school basketball team. Thomas has also played both TE and DT with the Badgers; in fact, with the Badgers? defensive front decimated by injuries, Thomas has been working at DT this month in preparation for their bowl game early in January. And just for good measure, Thomas is also an excellent student.
More nuggets from the MAC? The Mid-American Conference has quietly become a more than solid secondary pipeline of talent to the NFL. And that trend should continue this year with some decent senior prospects including QBs Bruce Gradkowski of Toledo, Kent Smith of Central Michigan and Josh Betts of Miami, WRs Greg Jennings of Western Michigan, Martin Nance of Miami, and Domenik Hixon of Akron, DE Justin Parrish of Kent State, LB Terna Nande of Miami and CB Dion Byrum of Ohio. In addition, Bowling Green junior QB Omar Jacobs, is one of the top underclass prospects for the upcoming draft. The MAC has several other less well known juniors, though, who could also impact the 2006 draft should they decide to leave school. Central Michigan DE Dan Bazuin, for example, is an explosive outside pass rusher who was second in D1A in sacks this fall behind Elvis Dumervil of Louisville with 16. Bazuin has decent size at 6-3, 260, excellent quickness and instincts off the edge, and while not big will play the run, although his forte is rushing the passer. For good measure, Bazuin is also an accomplished kick blocker. Meanwhile, in a year of athletic OTs, Northern Illinois junior LT Doug Free could be the most athletic. Free is a tad undersized at just 290 pounds, but some scouts think he runs well enough to project to TE at the next level; Free, though, does have long arms and a bit of a defensive temperament. Free blocks for one of the most productive backs in the country in diminutive NIU junior RB Garrett Wolfe. For the record, the 5-7, 180 pound Wolfe ran for almost 1,600 yards this past season in just 9 games; in fcat, had 3,200 yards and 34 TDs the past couple of seasons. Wolfe is fast enough with reported 4.45 speed, but excels because of Darren Sproles type quickness, acceleration and instincts. Wolfe is also a decent receiver coming out of the backfield. And while smallish, Wolfe has been durable enough at NIU.
Sleeper file? The draft is becoming increasingly the preserve of the D1A schools, however, every year still produces its shares of decent players from the lower ranks of college football. And this year will be no exception. Some of the top prospects from the various lower level divisions that pro scouts will be checking out over the course of the next several months include a couple of very small school QBs in Brett Elliott of Division III Linfield, an athletic 6-3, 210-pounder who completed 70% of his pass attempts this fall for 44 TDs against just 7 interceptions. Elliott, in fact, is the answer to a draft trivia question of sorts in that he was the QB at Utah before Alex Smith, the #1 selected at the 2005 draft; Smith got the job when Elliott was injured. Meanwhile, Carroll College gunslinger Tyler Emmert is another small-college QB who will get some attention this coming winter, although he is undersized at barely 6-0, 200 pounds and may be much better suited for the Canadian game. Meanwhile, DiAA QBs Travis Lulay of Montana State, Richie Williams of Appalachian State, and Erik Meyer of Eastern Washington, who we have mentioned before, remain very much on pro scouts radar, as does 6-1, 260-pound Grambling bomber Bruce Eugene who rebounded nicely this fall from a knee injury that cost him the 2004 campaign.
The strength of the small-school draft class, though, may be at DE where as many as a half a dozens prospects will get consideration from NFL scouts. Included in that group are Jeff Charleston of Idaho State, a 6-4, 255-pounder who had 12 sacks this fall; tweener (6-3, 245) Brent Hawkins of Illinois State; Dave Tollefson of Northwest Missouri State, a 6-4, 270-pounder who had 12.5 sacks this fall; along with Sean Conover (6-4, 270) of Bucknell; Chris Gacong (6-3, 265)of Cal Poly; Charlie Cosgrove (6-2, 265) of St. Cloud State; Brady Fosmark (6-2, 260) of Weber State and Kyle Mitchell (6-2, 260) of Indiana State. Perhaps the most interesting DE prospect, though, is full-sized Grambling DE Jason Hatcher, a 6-5, 285-pounder who tore up the SWAC this fall posting 10.5 sacks and 8 other tackles for loss.
Not to be outdone by their defensive counterparts, there are also some intriguing offensive line prospects in the lower levels including athletic OTs Patrick McCoy (#6-5, 320) of West Texas A&M and Weber State?s Paul McQuistan (6-6, 315) while Grambling?s Jonathan Banks, at 6-7, 360, is just plain big. Meanwhile, top non-D1A OG prospects include 325-pound Kevin Boothe of Cornell and 340-pound Jahri Evans of Bloomsburg State, along with Chad Motte (6-4, 305) of Georgia Southern; Jeff Bolton (6-4, 305) of Montana State and Willie Colon (6-3, 315) of Hofstra.