7. By late April, which players do you expect to have risen up and fallen down the board?
RYAN: I have a strong feeling that hype will build late for California Defensive End Cameron Jordan. Despite a strong college career, a dominant showing during the Senior Bowl week, and a very solid NFL Combine, people seem to still be sleeping on him. He is the most versatile front four player in this class, hands down. While playing for the Golden Bears, his defensive scheme changed several times. The result of that change: Jordan gained experience playing both inside and on the end in a 4-3, and 5-Tech in a hybrid 3-4 system. He has experience rushing the passer and stopping the run from a number of defensive spots, making him a viable option for any team looking for front four help. Many fail to realize how physically gifted he is: blessed with excellent size (6’4 1/2 287), long arms, and surprising burst, speed (4.71), and quickness. All that said, I believe he fits best at Left End in a 4-3 where he could set the edge and rush the passer on first and second downs, then move inside to 3-Tech for third down. Though ESPN is not drooling over him quite yet, expect him to generate a lot of buzz by draft day. He looks like a legitimate option for Cleveland at 6, Tennessee at 8, and should not get past Houston at 11.
Determining who will fall on draft day is harder, because so much depends on positional demand and unknown medical examinations. I think Iowa Defensive End Adrian Clayborn might be one that is better off spending the weekend with his family rather than accepting his invitation to New York for April 28. After a dominant season in 2009, he failed to reach lofty expectations for production this past season. He was double-teamed frequently, but overall, did not look like the pass-rushing terror we had seen the year prior. His ability as a true edge rusher is one cause for concern, but the reason I believe he may slip on draft day is due to medical reasons. At birth, Clayborn was diagnosed with Erb’s Palsy, which partially paralyzed his right arm. He battled through this condition in college, eventually gaining a full range of motion. Still, as it is still noticeable in practices and games, medical personnel are still going to take a long look at the arm to determine if it presents any disadvantage. Once hyped as a high first round pick, I expect the Hawkeye to fall out of the first and into the middle of the Second Round.
ROB: Ryan, I really agree with both of your risers and fallers but I’ll pick two other guys to talk talk. A guy that I could see going a lot higher than most people had projected is USC OT Tyron Smith. Smith was only expected to weigh around 290 pounds, but came into the combine at a solid 307 pounds. He had a right meniscus tear that was surgically repaired back in December, so he didn’t work out at the combine. However, he showed off his tremendous measurables. Smith has some of the longest arms in the draft at (36 3/8), huge hands (11 inches) and also benched 225 pounds 29 times. For a guy with such long arms, that’s extremely impressive. I think Smith could go as high as the 9th pick to the Cowboys, even though most don’t even have him rated as their top offensive tackle.??A player that I could see falling possibly until the third day of the draft is Miami (FL) DT Allen Bailey. Bailey was projected by many as a first rounder only a few months ago, and it seems that his stock has taken a free fall. He’s still a phenomenal athlete and demonstrated that at the combine this year (4.85 40-yard dash, 27 bench reps, 36.5 vertical) but he got by on his athleticism in college and it won’t work in the NFL. Because the 2011 draft class has so much depth along the defensive line, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Bailey fall to the 4th round.
8. Which Defensive Tackle do you build your defense around, Auburn’s Nick Fairley or Alabama’s Marcell Dareus?
RYAN: For me, it has to be Marcell Dareus. If the question read “which of the two had a more dominant season a year ago in the SEC?” I would side with Fairley; however, his red flags are what make me so decisive in my answer. I can’t dispute his quickness and explosiveness off the snap, two traits that make him an ideal penetrating 3-Tech in a 4-3 scheme. I also admire his old school temperament and competitiveness on the field. But projecting players to the next level goes further than just college tape. The Auburn product lacks professionalism, intelligence, discipline on the field, and worst of all, his attitude toward conditioning seems extremely lax. Additionally, rumor has it, he may have bombed interviews at the Combine. If there is to be a lockout in 2011, I would remove my First Round grade from him entirely. As it stands, he is a fringe Top 15 player on my board and one of the riskiest prospects in this draft class.
I don’t want to make it seem like Fairley is simply throwing away the top Defensive Tackle spot, because Marcell Dareus is an excellent player in his own right. Though he may not have been quite as disruptive during the 2010 season, the 2009 BCS Championship Defensive MVP was one of the most dominating front four players in college football the past two years. His versatility is one attribute that will make him very attractive early in the draft, as he has shown the capability to function in a 4-3 scheme at both 1-Tech and 3-Tech inside. In a hybrid 3-4 system he would be valued highly on the end at the 5-Tech position. He, like Fairley, is a remarkable athlete for his size. That athleticism was on display in Indianapolis when he ran a sub 5.0 time at 6’3 319. On the field, he shows the capability to anchor, rip, and disrupt the backfield. Though not in the Ndamukong Suh class, his feet are very light for his size and he shows the ability to track down ball carriers and Quarterbacks in pursuit. It would surprise me if, on draft day, Dareus was not off the board in the Top 3 picks.
ROB: Making the case for Nick Fairley as the top defensive tackle in the 2011 NFL Draft right after Auburn’s national championship 2.5 months ago wouldn’t have seemed like that daunting of a task. He was coming off a season where he won the Lombardi Award for the nation’s best lineman or linebacker, and the Championship game MVP award in addition to completely dominating the SEC. However, it seems that after Fairley was put under the giant magnifying lens of the internet draftniks, his character flaws were deemed too much to get past. Fairley didn’t have the grades to attend a D1 school, so he went the JUCO route. Then, after a first year at Auburn where he went relatively unnoticed, Fairley blew up in a lot of ways in 2010. He was criticized for being a dirty player a number of times, and has been accused of taking plays off and lying to NFL Teams during interviews.??Certainly, if an NFL team finds that Fairley was trying to hide some important part of his past from them, that would be reason enough to take him off their board. As a football player, we should re-evaluate his skills and strengths. Fairley is lightning quick off the ball and that’s what enabled him to make so many plays behind the scrimmage in his final year in college. He’s also got quick, strong hands and athletic ability that allows him to bend and get around offensive lineman. He has amazingly long arms (34 3/4 inch) that allow him to get into a lineman’s pads and also showed his great change of direction skills when he ran a 7.14 second 3-cone drill at the combine. Physically and on tape, he’s everything you look for in a top 4-3 penetrating 3-tech.??For me, I believe that it’s too hard for us draftniks without real access to these players to make any assumptions about their character unless we are presented hard evidence. The only real evidence we have that Fairley is a character concern is that he had some downright dirty hits after the whistle. Fairley’s play in 2010 alone was more impressive than Marcell Dareus’, and although I think both will make fine pro’s, I give the edge to Fairley because he’s so disruptive. I definitely agree that Dareus is the safer pick, and is more scheme versatile, but NFL Teams factor Pro potential into their draft decisions and Fairley has Warren Sapp-type potential.