This April's draft has many prospects that I find very intriguing in terms of how they fit teams, schemes and what kind of talent they offer overall.
In comparison to previous drafts, this year's draft has the most players that are specific schematic fits, which is why a lot of what they will be able to achieve at the next level hinges on the team they're drafted by. That can certainly be said for the quarterback position, for example, as it has many varying opinions on the prospects it offers.
However, the quarterbacks are not alone, as there are other positions that also have questions about how successful they can be and where they fit at the next level. The following list includes 10 players that have me intrigued for the reasons mentioned earlier.
Jordan Rodgers, QB, Vanderbilt
Vanderbilt's Jordan Rodgers has drawn a little bit of attention recently from various evaluators, such as ESPN's Todd McShay and NFL.com's Gil Brandt, but he's been on my radar for a few months now. I first studied Rodgers in the summer leading up to this past season and felt that he offered some talent to work with at the next level.
Like his brother Aaron, he is a mobile quarterback and is very confident in his abilities. Unfortunately, that has gotten him in trouble over the course of his career, as he's had issues with decision making and holding the ball too long. In addition to that, he has very poor footwork. However, he has a strong enough arm and has proven to be accurate when throwing with proper footwork.
He's likely a late rounder or undrafted free agent, but he has upside as a No. 2 quarterback.
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
Evaluators have been critical of Tar Heels running back Giovani Bernard's running style but I find little wrong with it.
Bernard is a special running back, showing the ability to break big runs and make defenders miss. He is very agile, has the vision to run on the front-side and the back-side of run plays and shows quality balance. It's tough to find running backs like Bernard. The most recent runner that I've watched that has this kind of ability is former New York Giants ball-carrier Ahmad Bradshaw, who is one of the league's most underrated backs.
It'll be interesting to see if a zone blocking or power running team selects Bernard, as it could imply what the league opinion is on his ability.
If he goes to a power team like the Dallas Cowboys, it may suggest that teams view him as primarily a front-side runner, while being selected by the Miami Dolphins suggests they feel he can run on the front-side and back-side.
Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech
Louisiana Tech's Quinton Patton is my favorite wide receiver in this draft because he can do a little bit of everything. He's not necessarily the most explosive or the fastest receiver but he is tough, has good hands, is an improving route-runner and a leader (or so I've been told).
Patton's had plenty of impressive games, including his dismantling of Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne this past season, and has been named as a very tough competitor by the likes of Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks.
He should be able to translate his skills and mentality to the NFL for a team like the Green Bay Packers, who will likely be looking to add wide receivers. He is also an option for several other teams, such as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
Dallas Thomas, OT, Tennessee
Offensive tackle Dallas Thomas has fallen a bit off the radar since the conclusion of the college football season, but he has the ability to play tackle or guard at the next level.
It's uncertain to say which position and for which team he'll play, but I feel that he is the type of player that can be plugged in a man blocking scheme from the first day. He doesn't have the greatest flexibility but it's good enough, along with his strength and wide base, to play tackle at the next level.
Alex Okafor, DE/OLB, Texas
Texas' Alex Okafor has had quite a career with the Longhorns. He has played defensive tackle, defensive end and outside linebacker. When one studies him, it shows.
He's not the most fluid athlete, but he has strong hands and fine technique. He's primarily a bull-rusher but also does a good job of disengaging from blockers to get his hands up and deflect passes. In that sense, he's instinctive. He's also dropped in coverage, where some have questioned his flexibility but often forget to note his awareness and understanding of his responsibilities.
Overall, I like Okafor's potential as a pass-rusher in the pros, but I wonder how teams view him as a schematic fit.
If he goes to a 4-3 team, he's undoubtedly a strong-side defender, which the same can be said if he goes to a 3-4 team. But how do teams feel about putting him in coverage? The initial reaction is to peg him as a 4-3 end, but few 3-4 outside linebackers drop past the flats when in coverage, which isn't a tall task to ask of Okafor.
Malliciah Goodman, DE, Clemson
I've been adamant about where Clemson defensive Malliciah Goodman fits in the NFL; he's a base closed end in a 4-3 front.
He has abnormally long arms, is strong and offers upside as not only an end but a defensive tackle in sub-packages. Goodman has the ability to slide inside to the three technique alignment in specific packages like Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett.
Moreover, there are questions as to whether Goodman can play in a 3-4 defense, which I think he can do. His combination of length and strength enables him to do that, but he must work harder when playing. He doesn't appear to work hard every down, which is common among college defensive lineman but not all that have that issue pan out. In other words, Goodman has to start working harder.
Michael Buchanan, DE/OLB, Illinois
Was there anyone who had more hype coming into this past college football season and was as disappointing as Illinois' Michael Buchanan? I didn't think so.
Although he had a disappointing end to his college career, Buchanan offers a lot of upside and talent to coaches to work with. He has experience as a 'LEO' (also known as the 'Elephant') in Illinois' scheme, working on the weak-side as an edge rusher as well as standing up in a traditional linebacker alignment in the defense's 3-3-5 sub-package.
He's very raw as a pass-rusher but few have the combination of explosiveness, quickness and balance that he possesses. Buchanan is still one of the players that intrigues me the most in this year's draft, with an eye on him as a weak-side linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
While Michael Buchanan has been disappointing, Purdue's Kawann Short has simply been criticized left and right throughout the season.
Short, a talented and versatile defensive tackle, was criticized for his work ethic on a snap-by-snap basis over the course of the season by many evaluators. Nonetheless, he has immense talent and the versatility to play the one or three technique at the next level.
Which technique he plays will be decided by NFL coaches and I'll be watching intently. Short showed the ability to anchor as a one technique and penetrate into the backfield as a three technique. He's admittedly inconsistent at both but the talent is there to work with. I look forward to seeing where coaches decide to play him and if he wants to play.
Nico Johnson, ILB, Alabama
It's a bit odd to see an Alabama defender fly under the radar or, in some cases, not on the radar at all but that's what has happened to inside linebacker Nico Johnson.
Johnson is widely viewed as a one-dimensional defender, known for dominating the line of scrimmage in run defense and struggling with athleticism in pass coverage. There's no doubt that Johnson is not a fluid athlete, as he lacks flexibility and great range, but one thing that I've learned over the years is that one doesn't necessarily have to be a great athlete to play linebacker in the NFL.
What the player must be is intelligent, aware of his surroundings and fundamentally sound, which Johnson is. I'm unsure which position he'll exactly play in the pros, but it appears that strong-side linebacker seems to be the best fit in a 4-3 defense and inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense.
Sean Porter, OLB, Texas A&M
Texas A&M's Sean Porter is one of the rawest athletes in this year's draft class. He's played downhill as a rusher and in coverage, but he's heavily reliant on his speed and athleticism, which he has plenty of.
However, to become a better player, he has to keep improving on his fundamentals and technique. To his credit, he showed improvement this past season but is still a developmental prospect.
Defenses basing out of the 3-4 front, such as the Kansas City Chiefs, have interestingly shown interest in Porter, who played in the same scheme in college. He would be an inside linebacker for them, perhaps eventually in a similar mold to the Arizona Cardinals' Daryl Washington.
To begin his NFL career, I expect him to be a sub-package defender but if he continues to improve, he could become a three-down player. The question is in which scheme?