Every year leading up to the draft, certain prospects seem ticketed for specific teams or to be taken highly due to groupthink, publicity, and name recognition. These predictions may or may not pan out. Usually, they don’t, and that’s what makes the NFL draft so enticing: suspense and unpredictability.
Detailed below are ten players I feel are currently being overrated, overhyped, or overvalued by media members. I’ve done extensive film study on each, and my opinions are not based on statistics, college awards, or conventional wisdom. Presently, I believe these players are receiving too much positive attention in media evaluations and mock drafts.
All 40 times and heights/weights for non-senior prospects are projected.
1. Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon (6-1/215/4.54) - Blackmon has a fair argument to be the first receiver drafted, but the door is more wide open than it appears. He simply isn’t a vertical threat, securing a vast majority of his receptions within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. Blackmon made a living dominating smaller, slower, less physical Big 12 cornerbacks thanks to consistent five- and seven-yard cushions at the snap, allowing quick completions and easy conversions on curl routes. Blackmon's catch radius and ability to adjust his body positioning are major pluses, but he is not an elite prospect in the vein of A.J. Green or Julio Jones. Downfield playmaking ability is a necessity for any receiver worth a top-ten pick. I am not overlooking Blackmon's capacity to use the sideline, or his strength at the catch point, but he is a limited receiver from a skill standpoint and hardly a surefire top-five pick.
2. LSU DT Michael Brockers (6-5/306/4.95) - A handful of draftnik types named Brockers the 2012 class' top defensive tackle as soon as he declared as a redshirt sophomore. I just don't see it. Brockers plays young and raw, meaning he does not effectively use his length to create leverage or separation. Brockers faced constant single blocks as part of a vaunted LSU front, but showed little burst or quickness to beat guards, rather grinding out his limited QB pressures with sheer leg drive. Brockers has a strong lower half to anchor versus the run, but plays high off the snap and fails to use his arms or hands. To invest a top-20 selection on a player whose lone strength is upside, I'd at least want him to "flash" somewhat regularly. Brockers rarely does that.
3. Arizona State ILB Vontaze Burfict (6-2/250/4.67) - Burfict is a physical specimen with great closing speed when stalking running backs. He can end plays with crushing hits. Burfict obviously possesses athleticism and power for the Mike linebacker position, but he is lacking in every other category. Burfict is consistently taken completely out of plays by his own accord, standing still while the play develops and making himself an easy target for linemen to hit at the second level. Even when Burfict does read and react, many times it is to the wrong spot, especially with misdirection. He does not play instinctively. Burfict is forceful, which is great if he's tackling a running back after going unblocked, but he struggles to fight through trash after first contact. One of the nation's top prep recruits in 2009, Burfict's game developed little in three seasons at Arizona State, despite plenty of playing time. Even disregarding his character concerns, I have Burfict rated behind four other inside linebacker prospects.
4. South Carolina WR Alshon Jeffery (6-3/229/4.63) - Simply put, Jeffery cannot separate. This was clear in his bowl game effort against Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard, who repeatedly jammed Jeffery at the line of scrimmage. Dennard completely overmatched Jeffery downfield, as the receiver created no space against Nebraska's physical corner despite the Cornhuskers' tendency to give South Carolina's quarterback more than seven seconds to throw. Jeffery does not use his large frame effectively, either. Plenty of slow receivers make a living converting catches in traffic, but Jeffery loses way too many 50/50 balls for that to be the foundation of his game. Receivers with limited separation skills require confident, accurate quarterbacks willing to take chances in tight windows. 20 teams or more are without that kind of QB. Jeffery is the eighth best receiver in the draft, and a massive risk as a first-round pick.
5. Arizona State QB Brock Osweiler (6-7/240/4.83) - For a tall quarterback, Osweiler is fairly coordinated and stands well in the pocket, only scrambling at appropriate times. All of his problems begin with an unreliable release. Osweiler is 6'7", but his inconsistent release point is equal to a 6'3" passer. Osweiler lacks a consistent motion, even side-arming some throws, which leads to unpredictable accuracy. He rarely leads his receivers in full stride. Just because Osweiler is a big quarterback does not mean he has a big arm; in fact, his velocity is adequate at best. Above all, Osweiler's accuracy and ball placement are some of the worst in this class. The one-year starter should have returned for more seasoning. Osweiler is not worth more than a third-day pick, despite some talk of him cracking the late first. Erratic is an understatement.
6. Illinois DE/OLB Whitney Mercilus (6-3/265/4.68) - The nation's leader with 16 sacks, Mercilus' talent does not equal his production. He lacks a great first step and has minimal explosion off the edge. Mercilus is only adequate in many areas: hand use, length to separate, strength at the point of attack, and athleticism to bend the corner. Many of his sacks started with quick inside moves against heavy-footed linemen, or catching a scrambling QB out of the pocket. I will certainly credit Mercilus for his on-field awareness, as he consistently holds his edge assignment and effectively flows down the line. Mercilus also chases plays to the sideline, exhibiting a persistent style that will attract 3-4 teams. He will benefit from a shallow pass-rushing class.
7. Ohio State OT Mike Adams (6-7/323/5.28) - Despite a massive frame and attractive athleticism, Adams had a maddeningly inconsistent Senior Bowl week that highlighted the same ups and downs he showed at Ohio State. Adams' posture is high off the snap, and he allows far too many defenders' quick inside moves to go untouched during his initial drop step. Even when Adams plants and anchors his lower body effectively, his upper half lacks power to redirect or finish blocks. His repeated offenses are worrisome, as is Adams' medical history (shoulder surgery in '08, knee surgery in '09). I think his lack of quickness and reaction timing will limit him to right tackle, but Adams will probably be over-drafted to protect the blind side.
8. Syracuse DE Chandler Jones (6-5/265/4.78) - In a family that produced MMA Champ Jon Bones Jones and Ravens DE Arthur Jones, Chandler's tape indicates he may have drawn the short straw in terms of his family's athletic gifts. My money is on Jones measuring in with the longest arms at the Combine, and it is the asset he uses with the most success. Jones frequently reaches into passing lanes, showing nice awareness when he cannot get to the quarterback. Unfortunately, that happens quite a bit due to Jones' long first step, which results in a lack of burst off the line. Until Jones is able to immediately use his length to shed the offensive tackle, his upfield momentum will be stoned. Jones does not fare much better against the run, displaying poor technique and often getting hooked. Jones is an uncoordinated-looking prospect and unrefined in his movements. There will be far better options in the top-50 picks.
9. Michigan State DT Jerel Worthy (6-2/310/5.04) - Worthy might look like the draft's top defensive tackle if you evaluate strictly off highlights, but his inconsistent motor shows up over four quarters. Unless Worthy shoots a gap off the snap, he struggles due to high posture and lacks any anchor against the run. He looks to shed quickly in every situation, and a balanced interior offensive lineman with active hands can regularly handle Worthy. He also ends up on the ground far too often, focusing on beating his individual block more than reacting to the play in front of him. I find it hard to believe any team would draft Worthy in the first round. He could be a disruptive rotational tackle, though.
10. Oregon RB LaMichael James (5-9/195/4.42) - James was smart to leave for the pros after his junior season due to a high volume of college carries. He has elite speed, which will immediately help in the return game. But too many of James' big plays on offense involved stretching runs to the sideline or breaking outside, which is significantly harder to do in the NFL. James does not run between the tackles confidently enough to be an NFL featured back. He's also shown his thin frame does not react well to hits. James excels at finding a crease and exhibits pinball-like qualities to pick up yards after contact beyond the line of scrimmage, but after a few hits he tends to abandon his running lane for temporarily open field. James may benefit from the NFL's increased usage of spread-type concepts, but ultimately I think he'll have a Danny Woodhead kind of role and should not be drafted before day three.