Four questions for this week:
1. Who’s your favorite, non-obvious pick in the draft this year who you actually watched play?
I'm inclined to say Patrick Willis, even though he's generally rated as one of the top linebacker prospects. He's the perfect combination of terrific measureables in terms of speed and strength and great on-field production. The gulf between Willis and the other linebackers in the Draft is significant. If you're a team picking in the top ten (like, say, the Falcons) and you've had problems stopping the run and you're watching the Tampa Two, a defense that puts great pressure on the middle linebacker, take over the NFL, wouldn't you want to take a player who is clearly the best at his position? Willis isn't a lock for the top ten for the sole reason that he played at Ole Miss instead of Ohio State. His college choice is hampering him Draft status, which screams UNDERVALUED!!! to me. Or maybe I'm hearing the voices again and should have that checked out.
Another guy who is undervalued is Michael Bush, who would be the #2 running back in the Draft if not for a broken leg last year. If he had shredded his knee or exploded his Achilles Tendon, then I'd understand his third round grade, but he broke his leg and that's an injury that generally doesn't leave nasty lingering effects, nor is there an elevated risk of the injury happening again. How many 250-pound running backs are floating around with pretty good speed, good vision, and quick feet? That's what I thought.
One other guy floating around who would be a nifty pick in the middle or late rounds is Lorenzo Booker because he's hella fast and will be productive the moment he's placed in an offense not run by a walking, talking poster child for anti-nepotism policies. At a minimum, he should be a good returner. Remember the value the Jets got with Leon Washington? Booker is faster and was a bigger recruit before he was mangled by the Jeff Bowden JumpBallORama.
On a related note, two other guys are underrated because of the coaching they received in college. One is Trent Edwards, who was a big-name quarterback coming out of high school and looked good at times at Stanford before the Walt Harris disaster dragged him down. The other is Steve Breaston, who isn't very good as a receiver, but will be an outstanding return specialist in the NFL once he's playing for coaches who are not paralyzed by risk-aversion and who therefore recognize that it is in fact legal and rational to block punt coverage gunners.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Sidney Rice is going to be taken too low because of the Troy Williamson experience, with NFL types conveniently forgetting that Williamson caught about nine passes in his last year in Columbia while playing in Lou Holtz's offense, whereas Rice played in a sophisticated offense in which he caught 142 passes for 23 touchdowns as a reshirt freshman and sophomore. Call me crazy, but I'd have him as my top receiver in the Draft (other than that guy from the Flats).
2. Who’s your RADIOACTIVE BIOHAZARD DO NOT TOUCH AAAIIIIGGGHHH pick to avoid in this draft?
For the amount of hype he's getting, as well as the money that the Raiders are going to pay him, Jamarcus Russell has to be on this list. I liked him at LSU and this might be the contrarian in me leading me astray, but there are all sorts of signs that he's overrated in his capacity as the top pick in the Draft. First, any quarterback whose weaknesses section leads off with "needs to improve his decision-making process" is a red flag. That's not unlike a porn star whose first weakness is "not very attractive." Russell is exactly the sort of quarterback that scouts fall in love with because of his physical tools and forget that those tools are all secondary to the importance of decision-making and accuracy. Russell's decision-making problems showed up against every good defense he faced. Riddle me this: should the #1 pick in the Draft throw for 5.5 yards per attempt and three picks in his team's biggest game of the year? Should his biggest throw of the year - the winning score at Tennessee - have ended up in the hands of someone other than his intended receiver (and LSU only needed that score because Russell had been a turnover machine all game and kept Tennessee in the game)? And that's before we discuss 2005, when Russell didn't break 100 in QB rating for any game other than his efforts against Appalachian State, North Texas, Mississippi State, and Vandy.
Second, there is a major recency issue going on with Russell because of his performance against Notre Dame, but everyone seems to forget that Notre Dame hasn't had competent defensive backs since, well, since they last won a bowl game? Name me a semi-competent quarterback who hasn't looked good against Notre Dame's secondary in the past two years, and most of those guys didn't have the luxury of throwing to Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis.
Third, Russell has great physical tools, but he's still developing as a passer, so being sent to Oakland will retard his career in a major way. The Raiders would be much better off drafting a finished product like Calvin Johnson or Gaines Adams who won't need functional coaching to develop as a player. To put this in the legal context, if you were starting a firm and knew nothing about how to train a lawyer, you'd much rather take an associate with average intellectual ability and experience in the litigation process over a brilliant Yale grad who has no practical knowledge of how the law works and is noted for a searing analysis of Bruce Ackerman's Constitutional Moments.
I'm also not a fan of Paul Posluzny, mainly because the profile of "white tackling machine from the Big Ten with 'adequate speed'" hasn't exactly been consistent with rip-roaring NFL success. As much has Patrick Willis is underrated because he played at Ole Miss, Posluzny is overrated because he played at Penn State and people think that Shane Conlan is still kicking around.
You would think that I would be excited about Leon Hall being listed as the top corner prospect in the Draft, but he never wowed me in college. If a team is going to spend a top 15 pick on a corner, then shouldn't that corner be described as something other than "solid" and "lacking top-end speed?" Hall had a good 40 time at the combine, but I'm not sold on his acceleration, or maybe I just can't get the images of Dwayne Jarrett running past him in the Rose Bowl out of my head. Some team that is drafting for need instead of talent is going to reach for Hall and regret their decision.
Drew Stanton: Couldn't stay healthy, wildly inconsistent, played almost exclusively out of the shotgun in college...third quarterback taken? Makes perfect sense to me.
3. Who’s your favorite college stud who failed to find success in the pros?
Will Carr. Michigan fans unfortunately remember him for fumbling at the goal line in a revolting 9-3 loss at pre-Tiller Purdue that knocked Michigan out of the running for the Big Ten title, but Carr was a dominating defensive tackle, as evidenced by 128 tackles and 29 tackles for loss in his last two years. (By way of comparison, Alan Branch had 56 tackles and 9 TFLs in the last two years and he's ranked as one of the top two defensive tackles on the board.) I was sure that Carr was going to be the first Michigan DT to do something in the pros, but he went out with a whimper.
4. In the big draft board of life, where were you?
Coming out of Michigan, I was the proverbial player who had put up great numbers for three-and-a-half years before slacking off at the end of his senior year, leading scouts to wonder "how much does he want it?" Also, tendencies to burn roommate's new pots and pans while attempting to cook mashed potatoes or having meltdown in parking lot in Evanston led to concerns about the effects that this player would have on team chemistry.