Best First Round Pick
By now, everyone knows where I stand on Eric Berry. In the nine and a half years that I’ve been covering the NFL Draft, Berry was the most gifted defensive player that I’ve scouted. The instincts, awareness and ball skills that he possesses at the safety position are elite, and his ability to transition with receivers will allow him to line up at cornerback in certain situations at the next level. He’s an incredible talent who will immediately become a leader and the face of the Chiefs’ defense. I expect Berry to be a fixture in the Pro Bowl year after year, and when we reevaluate the 2010 draft class three years from now, Berry will be the most accomplished player from this class.
Worst First Round Pick
I don’t want to criticize the Jaguars for taking Tyson Alualu with the 10th pick in the draft, even though it was an obvious panic move, after they realized they couldn’t trade down in the first round. Alualu isn’t a bad player, but he was nowhere near the 10th best player in the draft. He was a top 50 – 60 player. Taking him 10th overall has to be one of the biggest draft blunders since the Philadelphia Eagles took Mike Mamula seventh overall in 1995. Alualu could have a solid career in the NFL, but to take him over the likes of Michigan’s Brandon Graham, South Florida’s Jason Pierre-Paul or Georgia Tech’s Derrick Morgan will only accelerate a potential move to Los Angeles.
First Round Sleeper
Best will likely see action right away with Smith out with a knee injury.
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Jahvid Best, RB, California (drafted by Detroit, 30th overall)
Jahvid Best is hardly a sleeper pick, and there are scouts that graded him equally with Clemson’s C.J. Spiller. But, the reason why I have Best as my first round sleeper is because as talented as he is, not many analysts, including myself, had him going in the first round. When you mention Best’s name, the first thing that comes up is his durability. The concern over whether he can handle a heavy work load at the next level is what pushed him into the second round on many projections. But, the Detroit Lions, who desperately needed a game breaker in the backfield while Kevin Smith recovers from an ACL tear, saw the value in Best and will count on him to be a major contributor this season.
Best Second Round Pick
There’s something about a brash, confident quarterback that I like, but you never want to add more fuel to that type of individual’s fire. And right now, Jimmy Clausen is set to erupt. The consensus No. 2 quarterback in the draft, Clausen’s dramatic fall ended when the Carolina Panthers selected him midway through the second frame. The perception of Clausen is that he’s an arrogant, me-first spoiled athlete who’s been babied since he started throwing a football. But, when you talk to his teammates, all you hear are positive remarks about his leadership qualities and his demeanor off the field; the word his teammates most commonly use in regards to his personality is “misunderstood.” In a league where so many teams are looking for young franchise-type quarterbacks, the willingness of teams to pass on Clausen, because of a perception or his brash-demeanor, is just as risky as if they were to select him. I’d like to caution those 31 teams that passed on Clausen, because he’s in a great situation in Carolina that has a strong offensive line, running game and coaching staff. And that confidence that he exudes on the field will make him one of the league’s most feared assassins.
Worst Second Round Pick
The selection of Mike Neal in the second round was surprising. I understand that the Green Bay Packers preferred a defensive lineman who could play the three-technique, rather than a nose tackle like Alabama’s Terrence Cody, who was selected by the Baltimore Ravens with the ensuing pick. But to take Neal, a player that was considered at best a fourth round pick, in the second frame was a reach. Personally, I would have rather seen the Packers select a prototypical 3-4 defensive end like Arkansas State’s Alex Carrington, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in the third round, 72nd overall.
Second Round Sleeper
When the name T.J. Ward was announced in the second round by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, at first I thought, “Now that’s a reach.” But the more I thought about the selection, the more I liked the Cleveland Browns decision to take him in the second frame. Obviously, Ward has been hampered by injuries during his career, and he even missed five games this past year with an ankle injury. But, when he’s in the lineup, there isn’t another safety in this year’s draft that has his ball skills, instincts, intensity and range. He may lack the ideal stature you look for in a safety, but if he stays healthy, Ward will remind Browns fans of Indianapolis Colts all-world defender Bob Sanders.
Best Third Round Pick
Walton could start at center for the Broncos this season.
J.D. Walton, C, Baylor (drafted by Denver, 80th overall)
After the Broncos released veteran center Casey Wiegmann, it was apparent that they had to draft a young center. There were rumblings that they were considering Florida’s Maurkice Pouncey with the 11th overall selection. But, after they traded down in the first round, their plans changed, as they knew Pouncey wouldn’t be available. So, they turned to the alternative, and selected a player they had rated just below Pouncey on their draft board, Baylor’s J.D. Walton. A three-year starter at Baylor, Walton is the favorite to assume the starting center job from day one and be entrenched there for the next 8 – 12 years. Walton was a steal and fills a crucial position on the Broncos offensive line.
Worst Third Round Pick
I wasn’t as high on Emmanuel Sanders as a lot of people were leading up to the draft. It’s obvious that he has talent, but he comes from an offense that’s supposed to put up virtual reality numbers, and the 98 receptions for 1,339 yards and seven touchdowns he posted this past season were a reflection of the system. Sanders performed and tested well at the East-West Shrine Game and Scouting Combine, but it was surprising to see the Steelers take him over players like Eric Decker (Minnesota), Taylor Price (Ohio) or even Andre Roberts (Citadel). The player that I compare Sanders with, and Steelers fans won’t like this comparison, is Steelers 1999 first round bust Troy Edwards. Sorry for the downer, Pittsburgh.
Third Round Sleeper
The selection of Jimmy Graham wasn’t a priority for the Saints, but what Graham provides the Saints with is a long-term answer to Jeremy Shockey, who will be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season. Graham only played one year of football at Miami, after spending his first three years playing basketball. He has the prototypical frame at 6-foot-6, 260 pounds and possesses natural, soft hands that translate well to him being a big play threat downfield. He’s still a year or two away from developing into a potential starter, but that timeline is perfect for New Orleans, as they can slowly get him involved in the offense.
Best Fourth Round Pick
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Florida (drafted by New England, 113th overall)
When you weed through the selections in the fourth round, Aaron Hernandez pops off the page like no other. I personally had Hernandez as a late first, early second round draft pick, but after testing positive for marijuana on multiple occasions during his time at the University of Florida, teams placed a red-flag by his name. I don’t agree with the drug use, but to allow a talented, pass catching threat like Hernandez to fall to the fourth round over something that more than 40-percent of college students in America do, well, that’s criminal. I understand the concerns in regards to his usage of the drug, but with the proper guidance, which I’m sure he’ll receive from the Patriots, Hernandez will torture the opposition every Sunday for passing on him in the draft.
Worst Fourth Round Pick
Williams has talent, but is a high-risk player.
Mike Williams, WR, Syracuse (drafted by Tampa Bay, 101st overall)
Once a quitter, always a quitter, and whether Mike Williams was drafted in the first round or the seventh round, I would never approve drafting a player that turned his back on his teammates. I know that Williams later said that he didn’t quit, and that there was a “miscommunication” between him and Syracuse Head Coach Doug Marrone, after he was suspended for one game for missing curfew due to an automobile accident. Williams wasn’t injured in the accident, but yet he missed the entre season? Something doesn’t add up. If quitting on his teammates wasn’t bad enough, Williams missed the entire 2008 season, after he was caught cheating on a test. He may be talented, and the Buccaneers only used a fourth round pick on him, but it’s almost certain that Williams will fail at the next level.
Fourth Round Sleeper
Clay Harbor, TE, Missouri State (drafted by Philadelphia, 125th overall)
When you’re drafting in the mid rounds, identifying players that have a chance to be “diamonds in the rough” is a staple for winning franchises. And, a team that usually targets small school players with upside in the mid rounds is the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles had four picks in the fourth round, and the selection of Clay Harbor was their final pick in the fourth frame, but it was also their best. Harbor has good size, great speed, strong hands and is a solid blocker. He brings the complete package to the field, and provides the Eagles with another weapon in their arsenal. He finished the 2009 season with 59 catches for 729 yards and four touchdowns, and greatly improved his blocking as the season progressed. He’s a player that fans will want to keep an eye on.
Best Fifth Round Pick
As far as value and need, the Chargers stole Camaron Thomas in the fifth round. The release of Jamal Williams created a large vacancy in the middle of the Chargers defensive line, and with all of the teams in the NFL that run a 3-4 defense these days, it’s amazing that Thomas was still on the board in the fifth frame. In speaking with scouts, as good as Thomas was this offseason during workouts, his body of work at North Carolina was less than spectacular, which caused him to fall in the draft. Either way, in the fifth round Thomas had great value, and it’s possible that he will begin the year as the team’s starting nose tackle.
Worst Fifth Round Pick
Nate Triplett, OLB, Minnesota (drafted by Minnesota, 167th overall)
I understand the selection of Nate Triplett; he’s a local player that brings a blue collar attitude to the field and will give maximum effort at all times. That’s fine, but I have a problem with this pick, because at best Triplett will be a solid special teams player, where the two players drafted behind him, Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton and TCU OG/OT Marshall Newhouse, could have filled pressing depth issues. Crompton and Newhouse will likely make the Chargers and Packers rosters respectively, while Triplett will have to play over his head to make the Vikings roster as a special teams contributor.
Fifth Round Sleeper
Nolan Carroll was on my All Crystal Baller defensive team and was one of the most intriguing prospects available in this year’s draft. Carroll started his career at Maryland as a wide receiver, but was moved to cornerback prior to the 2007 season. He never started a full year at Maryland and missed the entire 2009 season with a broken leg, but his size, explosiveness and physical nature translate well to being a potential starter at the next level. The Dolphins drafted Vontae Davis and Sean Smith high in last year’s draft, and by adding Carroll this year, Miami has an interesting situation at cornerback that could eventually develop into the best trio in the AFC East.
Best Sixth Round Pick
LeFevour fell to Chicago in the 6th round, but he will learn from an offensive guru in Mike Martz.
Central Michigan Athletics
Dan LeFevour, QB, Central Michigan (drafted by Chicago, 181st overall)
I couldn’t believe that Dan LeFevour lasted until the sixth round; he was my fifth rated quarterback in the entire draft. There are teams that were turned off by his decision to only throw to stationary targets at the Scouting Combine, but that’s not an acceptable reason for him to fall three full rounds in the draft. But, in the end, the Chicago Bears benefited and got great value in LeFevour. He has prototypical size at 6-3 and 230 pounds and possesses the athleticism, leadership qualities and toughness you want out of a young quarterback. With Jay Cutler comfortably placed as the Bears' starter for the foreseeable future, LeFevour will be a pet project for new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Martz is known to be a quarterback whiz, and under his tutelage, LeFevour could develop into a quality NFL starter.
Worst Sixth Round Pick
I was surprised that the Tennessee Titans favored Rusty Smith over the likes of LeFevour, Cincinnati’s Tony Pike and Troy’s Levi Brown. Smith has great size (6-5, 224) and shows toughness in the pocket, but he’s a marginal NFL prospect with limited upside. LeFevour and Pike would have been better options, since they were rated higher, because the Titans depth chart at quarterback is rather thin behind Vince Young. If Young gets injured or has another mental breakdown, the Titans will be forced to turn the reigns over to aging veteran Kerry Collins or journeyman Chris Simms; neither is reliable, and they’re both past their prime.
Sixth Round Sleeper
Deji Karim was one of my favorite under the radar prospects in the draft; he has Brian Westbrook ability. A former JUCO standout, Karim, in his first year as a starter, had a breakout 2009 season for Southern Illinois and had 240 carries for 1,694 yards and 18 touchdowns. He missed the entire 2008 season with a knee injury, but is healthy and ready to showcase his talents at the next level. It will be interesting to see how Karim fits into the Jaguars plans this season. Last year, the Jaguars selected Liberty’s Rashad Jennings in the seventh round, and Karim will likely compete with him as the No. 2 back behind starter Maurice Jones-Drew. He also has great value on special teams.
Best Seventh Round Pick
The seventh round is all about taking advantage of the board and capitalizing on other teams mistakes, as they bypass players who should have been selected higher. And the player that should have been drafted much higher is Kurt Coleman. In a deep safety class, Coleman was the most underrated safety available in this year’s draft. He was extremely productive at Ohio State and finished his senior season with 68 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, a sack and five interceptions. He’s a little undersized, but his ball skills, physical prowess and leadership qualities will be valued with a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, who are still trying to find a replacement for Brian Dawkins. This will sound like a reach, especially since the Eagles drafted Coleman in the seventh round, but he will remind Philadelphia fans of Dawkins and will immediately contribute on special teams.
Worst Seventh Round Pick
There are no bad seventh round selections; teams are basically selecting the undrafted free agents they want to secure, rather than having to compete with other teams for their services.
Seventh Round Sleeper
The son of former All-Pro offensive guard Russ Grimm, Cody, a former walk-on at Virginia Tech, who, despite his size, developed into a quality linebacker and special teams ace. Grimm doesn’t possess great ball or cover skills, but he’s a good athlete and a physical player that will be converted into a safety at the next level. For Grimm to make the Buccaneers roster, he will have to standout on special teams during the preseason and play the same way he did with the Hokies – give maximum effort on every play.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com. You can also now follow Chris Steuber on Twitter.