Two weeks until the NFL draft and player values are rising and falling at a torrid pace. The line between misinformation and genuine interest is far too fine for the casual fan to discern, but we’re here to try and make sense of it. Below are those players that we feel comfortable listing based on the information available.
Cam Newton, QB
At the top of the draft, one must always be mindful of the smokescreen effect. Teams at the top of the draft have every desire to increase the value of the pick through misinformation, usually by releasing information that leads other teams to believe that a high profile player will be the choice. Cam Newton is this year’s highest profile player. As quarterbacks are highly sought after with the first pick, Newton will be linked with Blaine Gabbert as their careers unfold but Newton will be the first off the board.
Whether Carolina is performing a masterful smokescreen process or not, all appearances are that they are serious about selecting Newton with their first pick. As I’ve mentioned previously, Newton’s dynamic and potential is clearly greater than that of Gabbert. While I may disagree with the choice as it relates to eventual NFL success, selecting a player that has the ball in their hands with every offensive snap is the best opportunity for immediate impact.
I believe the Panthers would be most interested in trading the pick but with so many signal callers slated to be selected in the first two rounds and with each having disparate skills that suggest some level of success at the next level, there is little chance for a draft day deal. Whether the Panthers have indeed soured on the prospects of Jimmy Clausen, or truly believe Newton can be the new face of the franchise, I now expect that Newton will be the pick.
Jake Locker, QB
Where there had been talk of Locker falling to the second round, there is now little belief that Locker will last. Locker’s athleticism and character have become focal points and his value is rising. Accuracy issues that Locker displayed at Washington are believed to be correctable at the NFL level and it’s likely that he’ll be over-drafted by a team such as the Redskins due to the run expected on signal callers expected at the back end of round 1. Locker in a Washington uniform within a Shanahan system is an intriguing prospect.
Christian Ponder, QB
Ponder isn’t a dynamic passer, but he’s intelligent with satisfactory arm strength. Players like Ponder are why deals at the top of the draft won’t be common in 2011. However, look for a flurry of activity between 25 and 50 of which Ponder is likely hear his name called for a team running a west coast system.
Ryan Mallett, QB
2011 has been a disappointing year for Mallett. Dogged by negative assessments of his character, personal commitment, drug use and decision–making, it seemed that Mallett could do no right. Despite NFL-caliber size and arm strength, Mallett has been losing the war of public relations. But make no mistake, the NFL is full of coaches and psychologists that believe they can return a player to the path of ultimate success. Mallett’s tangibles are now drowning out character issues and he, too, will end up being a high 2nd round selection in all likelihood. His arm strength is just too intriguing.
Ryan Williams, RB
The draft stock of Ryan Williams is on the rise. While his 40 time was sufficient to hold his value, his 10-yard split time is the fastest of the group. Showing the ability to hit the hole quickly and show great vision is key to a RB’s NFL success. Most experts don’t seem overly concerned about Williams’ ability to stay healthy and have, instead, just roll tape of his phenomenal sophomore season. Williams is likely to be picked in the first half of the second round.
Mario Fannin, RB
I’ve been hearing more and more buzz about Mario Fannin and the fact that NFL clubs believe he’s a real sleeper. Never with a big role at Auburn, Fannin is a bigger back (5’10 1/2″ and 231 lbs.) but ran a blazing 4.38 40. He’s going to be a last-day selection for a team that is looking for an eventual replacement.
Julio Jones, WR
It’s been said that many teams now have Jones ahead of fellow WR phenom A.J. Green on their draft boards. With a skill set described as resembling a young Terrell Owens and fresh off an extraordinary combine performance, it’s not hard to see why the stock of Jones is rising. Watching tape of Jones doesn’t necessarily mirror many of his combine measurements but there’s no doubting the heart and ability of Jones. He should be a very good NFL receiver in the right system and with the right system. He’s now likely to be taken in the top 10 picks, perhaps as high as #6 (CLE).
Greg Salas, WR
The stock of Salas continues to rise. A receiver with nice size and better than expected speed, Salas isn’t going to hear his name until the the last day of the draft in all likelihood, but is a player to keep track of. Salas reminds me a lot of Greg Jennings.
Mark Ingram, RB
In general, quarterbacks and running backs fall on draft day. In 2011, quarterbacks are of great need but the running back position is being exposed further as a position that is much easier filled via the free agent market or later in the draft, rather than through a high draft selection. In Ingram’s case, the fall could be a precipitous one should the Dolphins not select him with their 15th selection – there simply isn’t a great RB need with the teams that follow until the end of the round. Some have predicted Ingram falling to the 2nd round, a view I don’t share.
Further affecting Ingram’s stock is the increasing discussion of an early arthritic condition that supposedly has caused multiple teams to remove him from their draft boards altogether. Already fighting concerns about being able to carry a NFL workload, rising concerns about the knee could lead to a fall to the late first round.
Jonathan Baldwin, WR
Baldwin’s stock continues to slide. Recent events in the NFL have displayed the difficulty of drafting any player with maturity issues. But maturity issues aside, Baldwin is now seeing his value slide due to concerns about his explosiveness and quickness in routes and with the ball in his hands. In review of his tape, while he does have good in-air ball skills, he has a lot of room for improvement in the crispness and quickness of his breaks and after-the-catch dynamic. He simply isn’t explosive off the line or within his route running.