Posted on: May 7, 2011 12:28 pm
Over the next two weeks I will be highlighting a different position each day in an attempt to Find the Fit -- identifying 2011 prospects who are a particularly good schematic fits for the club that selected him. I'll also highlight one player per position who I believe could struggle in his new NFL role. Too often in the past rookies who have struggled in the NFL have done so because they were simply drafted into schemes that didn't fit their individual strengths.
The 2011 wide receiver class was a unique one. While all of the attention was understandably heaped upon A.J. Green and Julio Jones, the so-called second tier talent of this group intrigued me. There wasn't a great deal of pure speed available in this class, but the number of elusive returners, tough slot receivers and big, physical possession wideouts made it a underrated strength of the 2011 draft. It will be interesting to see how many of these college stars prove to emerge as true No. 1 targets in the NFL. While I have some reservations about how many will be able to do precisely that, I am confident that a number of them will make immediate and lasting impacts at the pro level.
Earlier this week I broken down the quarterbacks and running back fits.
Dwayne Harris, Dallas Cowboys: Quite frankly, I wasn't as high on the Cowboys' draft as many, but I did love the value of Harris in the sixth round. In Harris, I see the same type of toughness, wiggle and secure hands that I saw in Jordan Shipley and Quan Cosby (now with the Cincinnati Bengals) and Davone Bess (Miami Dolphins) when they starred in college. Considering the talent outside in Miles Austin and Dez Bryant, Harris could slide right into the slot and prove a steal.
Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons: Let's be clear. I thought Atlanta paid too much to acquire Jones. With that said, it is easy to see why they made their aggressive trade, as Jones is the most physically-prepared receiver to make an immediate impact in this draft and is an ideal fit for Atlanta's offense due to his size, strength, and run-blocking. He is not as fast on the field as his 4.34 second time at the Combine might suggest, but at 6-3, 220 pounds, he is tough to bring down in the open field. Considering the other weapons the Falcons possess, he'll rarely see double coverage early in his career, meaning that Jones will often be only one broken tackle away from big plays.
Greg Little, Cleveland Browns: Little and Jones will forever be linked due to the fact that Cleveland used one of the picks they received from the Falcons to select a similarly built (6-3, 231) and skilled wideout 52 picks later than Atlanta selected Jones. Like Jones, Little uses his extraordinary combination of size, strength, underrated speed (4.53) and body control to be effective. A former running back, Little's RAC skills could result in plenty of big plays in Cleveland. He is one of the few wideouts in this class who I believe could ultimately emerge as a true No. 1 target. It will be interesting to compare in a few years to take a look back and see what kind of value the Browns got with Little at No. 59 compared to what the Falcons got out of Jones at No. 7.
Greg Salas, St. Louis Rams: I could have just as easily listed the first wide receiver the Rams selected in 2011 -- former Boise State star Austin Pettis (No. 78 overall) -- as an ideal schematic fit, but with Salas taken 34 spots later, he could ultimately prove the better value. Each are tall, well-built possession receivers whose game is built on precise route-running and soft, reliable hands -- precisely the type of wideouts Sam Bradford so desperately needed last year.
Titus Young, Detroit Lions: Young was hyped by some draft analysts as the No. 3 receiver in this class, but inconsistent route-running, hands, toughness and slim build (5-11, 174) kept him as my No. 7 rated wideout (No. 6 by NFLDraftScout.com). There is no denying, however, that Young fits in well schematically with the Lions, who needed a big play threat opposite Calvin Johnson and to take advantage of Matt Stafford's amazing arm.
Jon Baldwin, Kansas City Chiefs: Considering the success that Scott Pioli had in helping build the Patriots' dynasty as well as the successful renovation of the Chiefs, it might be seen as almost blasphemous to knock one of his first round picks. And yet, here I am doing it. I understand the Chiefs' need to add a secondary receiver to take pressure off of Dwayne Bowe and certainly acknowledge Baldwin's extraordinary combination of size (6-4, 228), speed (4.49), explosiveness (42" vertical jump led all Combine WRs), but quite frankly, on tape Baldwin isn't the sum of his parts. He isn't as physical as his size would suggest, nor as fast as he timed. Baldwin struggled against press coverage in college and will only face more of it in the NFL. He is blessed with a great deal of natural talent and Todd Haley has shown the ability to coax such talent from surly receivers throughout his career. There is no denying, however, that Baldwin was a significant gamble at No. 26 overall.
Posted on: April 29, 2011 3:51 am
Each year plenty of draft picks are panned by us in the draft analysis business and wind up proving (surprise, surprise) that NFL teams know more about their prospects than we do.
Perhaps that will be the case with Kansas City's selection of former Pitt Panther wideout Jon Baldwin with the No. 26 overall selection.
But I believe Baldwin was the most surprising selection of the first round.
It isn't just that I'm lower on Baldwin that most. I certainly acknowledge his unique combination of size, speed, leaping ability and body control. He proved to be a big play threat while with the Panthers and is entering an ideal situation with the Chiefs due to the fact that they already have a legitimate No. 1 target in Dwayne Bowe to take the pressure off of the rookie.
However, despite the fact that the 6-4 (3/8), 228 pound Baldwin has the size to intimidate, he isn't a particularly physical receiver. In fact, when defenders pressed him at the line of scrimmage, he struggled.
It is also important to note that this is the same Baldwin who questioned former Pitt head coach Dave Wannestadt and his offensive staff when he told NFLDraftScout.com's Chris Steuber of his intention to leave the Panthers early for the NFL. (Baldwin later recanted, before re-announcing the decision.)
Given the rarity that Scott Pioli invested a first round pick in a wide receiver previously and these questions about Baldwin's physicality and maturity, I was stunned by the selection -- especially considering the number of highly touted offensive and defensive linemen still available. These positions, of course, were thought to be Kansas City's focus heading up to the draft.
Pioli's track record speaks for itself and Baldwin is a terrifically gifted player. Had you asked me prior to the draft to pinpoint one of the least likely pairings in the first round, however, I just might have picked this combination.
Posted on: February 17, 2011 12:55 pm
Agents and athletic trainers preparing their athletes for the annual Scouting Combine in Indianapolis are generally hesitant to put expectations on prospects prior to their official workout.
That said, each year in the week leading up to the Combine there is a buzz in the scouting community of prospects who are already turning heads in the pre-Combine preparation.
This year three players generating quite a lot of buzz are Pittsburgh wide receiver Jon Baldin , Colorado cornerback Jimmy Smith and New Mexico State cornerback Davon House .
The 6-5, 230 pound Baldwin is reportedly running in the 4.4s and could push the 40" mark in the vertical jump. Results such as this could push Baldin into the first round.
Smith, a 6-2, 205 pound cornerback, has received a lot of national attention in recent weeks as some analysts have finally got around to reviewing his game tape. Graded as a top 40 prospect by NFLDraftScout.com since September, Smith could move into the top 20 if the early reports of his speed are true. Smith, according to sources, has been running in the high 4.3s to low 4.4s. If he runs that well in Indianapolis, Smith will only have to ease scouts' concerns about his off-field behavior to guarantee himself a spot in the draft's opening frame.
Just as many were slow in recognizing Smith's talents, don't be surprised if Davon House is suddenly cast as a draft "riser" if he runs in the high 4.3s to low 4.4s at the Combine, as he's been doing in preparation for the event, according to sources.
House didn't get much national attention playing for the Aggies, but like Smith, he has been highly rated by NFLDraftScout.com all year long. The First-Team All-WAC defender had signed on to play in the Senior Bowl before a recurring ankle injury forced him out of it.
The Combine always reveals some surprises. If these three players work out well, they'll be labeled as surprises by some. NFL scouts and those of us with an ear to the action won't be...
Posted on: February 13, 2011 3:14 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2011 3:17 pm
The workouts get all of the attention and savvy NFL draft followers know that the medical grades are actually the most important part of the Combine.
One critical piece of the Combine pie that gets very little exposure is the player interview process.
In the past, the interviews teams get with players have only earned attention when something bizarre occurs -- like last year when the Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland asked then-Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant about his mother's ... uhhh... profession.
In reality, however, this is an integral part of the Combine.
Teams are attempting to learn through a 15 minute interview if the young man sitting opposite them is one of the rare individuals who will actually work harder after signing a multi-million dollar contract.
When I visited Athletes Performance for an article two years ago on the process high-ranking athletes go through in Combine preparation, everyone there was willing to talk about the revolutionary techniques in exercise, nutrition and rehabilitation. Few, however, talk about the significant coaching that players go through to prepare for interviews.
Based on polling various scouts throughout the league, here are 15 high profile players who have as much riding on their interviews with teams as they do the other more hyped components of the Combine.
Players are listed alphabetically.
Category: NFL Draft
Tags: A.J. Green, Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Baylor, Boise State, Cam Newton, Colorado, Combine, Georgia, Greg Little, Hampton, Jabaal Sheard, Jake Locker, Jimmy Smith, Jon Baldwin, Kenrick Ellis, Marvin Austin, NFL, Nick Fairley, North Carolina, North Carolina, North Carolina, Phil Taylor, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, QB, Robert Quinn, Ryan Mallett, Southern Cal, Titus Young, Tyron Smith, USC, Washington
Posted on: February 9, 2011 8:44 pm
Edited on: February 9, 2011 8:54 pm
Today we released my initial Top 32 "Big Board" as part of NFLDraftScout.com's expanded coverage of the 2011 NFL Draft.
Though I was asked to only list 32 players, I thought it important to list the next 10 prospects who just missed the cut, which, of course, also highlights those who did not make the list.
There are some awfully good football players out there that didn't make my list. The following five are the ones I expect fans will be the most surprised by. This post is designed to explain why those players didn't make my list.
Players are listed alphabetically.
Jon Baldin, WR, Pittsburgh: If the buzz in the scouting community is accurate and Baldwin does dazzle scouts at the Combine with breathtaking speed at 6-5, 230 pounds he'll be moving up a lot of boards. Not mine, though. I don't care how fast he runs in a straight-line, I see a prospect who lacks the flexibility and balance to create explosion out of his breaks and isn't nearly as physical a receiver as his size would indicate either.
Justin Houston, OLB, Georgia: Houston was a dominant force in the SEC this season, earning First-Team honors with 67 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks. He has experience as a 4-3 defensive end and a 3-4 rush linebacker. However, I believe he's a more explosive rusher with his hand in the ground than he is standing up and I haven't seen enough fluidity in his drops to make me believe he's anything more than a one-trick pass rusher. I believe he is one of the more overrated prospects in the draft to this point.
Drake Nevis, DT, LSU: I listed Nevis as a player who missed an opportunity in this recent post-all-star game wrap-up because I really believe he could have made himself some money by going to the Senior Bowl. As I noted in that article, Nevis' ability to collapse the pocket made him the SEC's best defensive lineman not named Nick Fairley. Still, at only 6-1, 285 pounds, he's a rotational player. Not many teams can justify taking a rotational player in the first round, so I think there is a very real possibility he slips out. I'd take him in the second round if I can a 4-3 defense and needed a penetrating three-technique, but not until halfway through the round.
Ryan Williams, RB, Virginia Tech: There is a lot I like about Williams. In fact, there are elements to his game that I believe translate better to the NFL than Illinois' Mikel LeShoure, who I rated as the 33rd best prospect. However, the struggles with durability concern me as Williams is 5-11, 205 pounds. In a class with as much middle round talent at RB as this one, I believe it drops the value of good, but not special backs like Williams.
Martez Wilson, ILB, Illinois: Of the five listed here, Wilson was the closest to making my list. In fact, I currently have him as the 43rd best prospect and a solid 2nd round pick. Like most NFL teams, I struggle with stamping a first round grade on inside linebackers. Wilson is the class of the position, however, and could creep up my board if he works out and interviews well. I believe he has the upside to ultimately be a better player in the NFL than he was in college.
Posted on: January 8, 2011 11:43 am
Edited on: January 8, 2011 12:39 pm
Though the BBVA Compass Bowl may not rival the Cotton or Sugar Bowl in terms of notoriety, there are certainly some future NFL prospects to keep an eye on this morning.
There is plenty of senior talent to watch. Pitt boasts the Big East Defensive Player of the Year in pass rusher Jabaal Sheard and one of the better offensive linemen that no one seems to be talking about in left tackle Jason Pinkston. Kentucky's talent is largely on the offensive side of the football. Senior running back Derrick Locke is a 5-08, 190 dynamo capable of beating teams with his speed and elusiveness as a runner and receiver.
For both teams, however, the greater talent lies with their underclassmen -- the top three of which are reportedly strongly considering making today's bowl game their final collegiate contest.
Pitt WR Jon Baldwin told NFLDraftScout.com's Chris Steuber weeks ago that he was going to go pro . Though he's since retracted his statement, scouts fully expect the 6-5, 230 pound athletic phenom to indeed leave Pitt early for a chance at the NFL. Baldwin hasn't been as spectacular this season (52 catches for 810 yards and 5 TDs) as he was in a breakout 2009 campaign (57-1,111-8) but much of this has to do with the Panthers incorporating a new quarterback (Tino Sunseri) who was unable to develop the same rapport with the playmaking Baldwin as Bill Stull did a year ago.
The more surprising news out of Pitt is that redshirt sophomore Dion Lewis is also considering leaving early. On the one hand, it is difficult to fault Lewis - or any running back, for that matter - for wanting to get paid as soon as possible for the wear and tear they'll absorb running the football, but Lewis, like Baldwin, is coming off a disappointing season.
The 5-08, 195 pound Lewis earned All-American honors as a redshirt freshman in 2009, rushing for an eye-popping 1,799 yards and 17 TDs. This year, however, he found the sledding much tougher, rushing for "only" 956 yards and 12 touchdowns through the regular season. Lewis should be able to run all over a Wildcat defense that ranks 79th in the country, giving up 170.31 yards a game, however, extending his strong finish to the year.
The most exciting prospect to watch in this game is clearly Kentucky wideout Randall Cobb, perhaps the most versatile player in the country. He leads the SEC with 2,192 all-purpose yards and has scored touchdowns in nearly every form imaginable this year -- as a runner, receiver, passer and returner. The 5-11, 190 pound Cobb's versatility is reminiscent of the Jets' Brad Smith and the Steelers' Antwaan Randle El. Should Cobb elect to come out this season, he'd likely get a bit lost in the shuffle of all the prototypical 6-3, 210 pound wideouts likely to be available, but if he slipped into the late second or third round, could prove a huge steal.
As spectacular as Cobb is, however, he faces a tough opponent in this Pittsburgh defense. Former head coach Dave Wannstedt and former defensive coordinator Phil Bennett (serving as interim head coach in this game) have done a great job defensively with this team. The Panthers ranked 9th in the nation in total defense this season.
This game begins at 12:00 pm EST and will be televised on ESPN.
As always, for the very best in NFL draft coverage, the place to go is N FLDraftScout.com.
Posted on: December 8, 2010 11:32 am
Edited on: December 8, 2010 11:34 am
NFLDraftScout.com analyst Chris Steuber is reporting that Pittsburgh junior wide receiver Jon Baldwin will be foregoing his senior season and entering the 2011 NFL draft.
Steuber and Baldwin exchanged text messages shortly after Panthers head coach Dave Wannestadt announced his resignation from the position.
When asked if he'd be returning or going pro, Baldwin responded with "...Heck yeah, I'm leaving. It can only get worse. They had me running a lot of deep routes (this year) and yards were hard to come by. I barely ran intermediate routes; it felt like they were purposely trying to disrupt my draft stock."
While pro teams may have a problem with Baldwin's publicly questioning the motives of Wannestadt, offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and perhaps the talent of quarterback Tino Sunseri, they have to acknowledge Baldwin's unique physical ability.
Baldwin, 6-5 and 230 pounds, is a matchup nightmare. While not explosive, he possesses good build-up speed, excellent body control and good hands.
Baldwin led the Panthers with 52 receptions for 810 yards and 5 touchdowns this season. He averaged a career-low 15.6 yards per reception, down from 19.4 in a breakout sophomore season that saw him catch only five more passes but for 301 more yards and another three scores. Baldwin has caught 127 passes for 2,325 yards and 16 touchdowns over his career for Pitt.
Baldwin is NFLDraftScout.com's sixth-rated junior receiver but could be drafted ahead of any senior prospect at the position -- a testament to his own ability and that of his extraordinary 2012 draft class that includes the likes of Georgia's A.J. Green, Alabama's Julio Jones, and Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles, among others.
Posted on: November 11, 2010 3:55 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2010 3:58 pm
As most football fans know, the slate of Thursday games on NFL Network begins later today with a potential Super Bowl preview between the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons. Each club is riding high at 6-2 and in first place in their respective divisions.
Those fans that don't have NFL Network, however, needn't be wanting for good football on this Veteran's Day holiday. ESPN is offering an key Big East conference matchup between first place Pittsburgh and Connecticut.
Pitt's underclassmen talent at wide receiver (Jon Baldwin ) and running back (Ray Graham, Dion Lewis ) will get much of the media attention, but for scouts the real focus in this game will lie along the Panthers' defensive line.
There is a possibility that reigning Co-Defensive Player of the Year Greg Romeus will make his way back onto the field for the first time since the season opener. The 6-5, 268 pound Romeus entered the season among the nation's top-rated defensive ends and a likely first round prospect, but a back injury and resulting surgery to correct a lower disk problem has kept him sidelined.
In his absence, Pitt has received stellar play from their "other" defensive ends. Scouts knew all about senior Jabaal Sheard , who had played well opposite Romeus in the past and has elevated his play since Romeus went down. Sheard, in fact, has emerged as one of the nation's best pass rushers. He leads the Big East with nine sacks and as Pitt head coach Dave Wannestadt noted recently, his tenacity is one of the characteristics that is boosting Sheard's stock with scouts.
"Jabaal Sheard is having a phenomenal year. You have to really appreciate what he is going through to get to the passer. He just keeps coming and coming. He's rushing the passer as good as any defensive end in the country. "
As I mentioned in a previous post detailing the news of Romeus' impending return , the Panthers don't have to force their star back onto the field early. Junior Brandon Lindsey has done a great job of replacing Romeus (eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss so far).
Pitt's talented defensive line is arguably the biggest reason why the Panthers sit atop the Big East.
Baldwin and, most notably, Lewis, haven't been as dominant this season as perhaps some had expected, but with turnover along the offensive line and at quarterback from last year, it simply has taken them a little while to get rolling. Lewis, who entered the year as the favorite to be the Big East Offensive Player of the Year, has actually been overtaken by the sophomore Graham, himself a future NFL prospect. The Pitt offense has been playing well recently, however.
One bright spot along the Pitt offensive line is left tackle Jason Pinkston , a potential top 75 prospect for the 2011 draft, whose pro future may lie inside at guard.
Connecticut entered the season as a trendy pick to win the Big East and offers some interesting Day Three talent at linebacker and running back. Outside linebacker Lawrence Wilson is the headlining prospect on a senior-laden group in the middle. Junior running back Jordan Todman has emerged as the next big play runner from Randy Edsall's offense. Todman is helped with the blocking by fullback Anthony Sherman , who quietly rates as one of the better all-around senior prospects at the position in the entire country.
As always, those who would like to scout "alongside" me can follow my thoughts on this game (as well as the Ravens-Falcons contest) on Twitter. Follow me there @RobRang.