On draft day each year, amid the excitement and bustle, I always find one aspect of scouting to be, well, bittersweet.
Follow along with me a moment.
It is impossible in this business to not develop favorite prospects through the course of a year. Often, I've characterized some of these favorites in an article that we, NFLDraftScout.com, affectionately refer to as Rang's Gang .
The players featured in Rang's Gang aren't supposed to be the best. In fact, the only real rule is that they aren't supposed to be first round prospects. Considering I write each year's article a month or so before the draft, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised that a club feels as highly about the player as I do and my "rule" is broken.
Typically, however, these are mid-round players who have legitimate NFL talent and have demonstrated some intangible (e.g., instincts, determination, physicality, technique, etc.) that caused them to stand out (at least to me) from their peers.
Now the bittersweet part.
Unfortunately, on draft day, I sometimes see these "favorites" placed into tough situations. There are prospects, for example, who I feel are best suited to one scheme but are drafted into another. Or, talented players drafted behind starters in their primes, potentially meaning limited playing time. Or, players, who after interviewing them, I've felt might do best working for a "player-friendly" coach -- and then are drafted into a team with a strict disciplinarian.
Some players are so talented all they need is an opportunity.
Others, toll in relative anonymity until a change in scenery, scheme, coaching staff or a veteran moving on give them a freer lane to NFL success.
Here are 5 players I think find that lane this year.
CB Josh Wilson, Ravens: A second round pick by the Seahawks in 2007, Wilson has started 23 games the past two seasons, demonstrating true playmaking ability on a struggling defense. His lack of height (5-09) made him an immediate tough fit in Pete Carroll's scheme that prefers taller corners, so his trade to the Ravens, however, wasn't shocking. Wilson has returned three of his six INTs the past two years for touchdowns and is the Seahawks' all-time leader in kickoff return average (25.76) with a TD scored his rookie year. His height is obviously an issue -- especially considering the big receivers of the AFC North. Wilson plays bigger than his height due to physicality and pure speed. He was "officially" clocked at 4.39 seconds at the 2007 Combine. Here's the thing. If Wilson was able to make this many plays for the Seahawks' anemic pass rush (more on this later), imagine how much more effective he could be with the Ravens' defense around him.
RB Peyton Hillis, Browns: Characterized by some as little more than a throw-in for the Browns in the trade that made Brady Quinn a Denver Bronco, Hillis, I believe, will emerge as one of the league's best young fullbacks this year. Hillis' overall athleticism and versatility intrigued me back when he played at Arkansas. This guy played fullback, tailback, H-back, tight end and wide receiver in the SEC. Not only that, the 6-2, 250 pounder was the Razorbacks' punt returner at a time when Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were the supposed future NFL stars. In fact, Hillis already has seven touchdowns in only two NFL seasons. Seven not so impressive, you say? Jones has scored six touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys, thus far. McFadden, for the Raiders, has only five.
DE Chris Clemons, Seahawks: Clemons, entering his seventh NFL season, is older than the others on this list. He is an example of a player whose new environment is going to help him tremendously. Clemons, originally an undrafted free agent out of Georgia who signed with the Redskins, has flashed as an outside pass rusher with the Raiders and Eagles. Those two defenses featured other talented pass rushers during Clemons' tenure, limiting his opportunities for production. He was fast off the edge; just not fast enough on teams featuring Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp and Trent Cole. Clemons has had success before. He, opposite Burgess in 2007 with the Raiders, collected 8 sacks. He's never topped four any other year of his career. Unless injured, he should have no problem rejuvenating his career this season with Seattle. Clemons is quicker upfield than anyone else on Seattle's front four. With the noise generated at Qwest Field, Clemons could push his career numbers simply because someone, sometime has to register a pass rush for the Seahawks.
WR Jacoby Jones, Texans: Some of you will claim I'm jumping on the bandwagon with Jones, as it is no secret he's been a preseason star this year for the Texans. In reality, I've been driving the bandwagon (as well as changing the oil and fixing the brakes ) with Jones long before he ever teamed up with Matt Schaub. Jones has been making big plays as the Texans' third wideout, but his production this year could rival most team's No. 2.
QB Kevin Kolb, Eagles: This is what it comes down to for me in regards to Kolb. Sure, it was a risk by Andy Reid to trade Donovan McNabb, but consider this. Mike Holmgren, who was Bill Walsh's QB coach from 1986-1988, knew Matt Hasselbeck could run his offense when he left Brett Favre and Green Bay for Seattle. Andy Reid, Holmgren's QB coach in Green Bay in 1997-1998, obviously feels that it is Kolb's time. That's good enough for me -- (especially when I scouted Kolb in the preseason ). Kolb's poise, accuracy and quick release could make him a quick star in this offense.