A lot of NFL scouts say South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is an enigma, an amazing talent with little playing experience. He could be a tease, they say, a boom-or-bust player.
I say he's something else ...
Here's what I think of Pierre-Paul: I predict he will be the best non-quarterback in this draft when it's all said and done.
He is, to borrow a word from an NFL coach's evaluation of him, a freak.
Maybe that's why when he was asked at the scouting combine in February if he was the best pass rusher in the draft, the normally shy Pierre-Paul didn't hesitate to answer.
"I think so, yeah," he said. "I'm going to get to the quarterback no matter what. I'm going to get there."
Watching him on tape is a "wow" experience. He provides plenty of plays that make you mutter the word to yourself.
Like the time against Florida State when he dominated the game, bursting onto the national scene. He had a sack that day, and spent the game in the backfield, but his best play might have come on a running play.
The Seminoles ran a Wildcat play to backup quarterback E.J. Manuel, who took the snap and ran to the right side of the formation. Just as Manuel was about to break free, this blur appeared from behind him to trip him up for a loss of 1.
Another "wow" play came against Miami. He blew by the right tackle with such quickness that the kid had no chance. Pierre-Paul then violently exploded on the quarterback, knocking the ball free for a sack-fumble.
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And to show his true dedication to the game, I bring you a play that came in the second half against Pittsburgh. With South Florida trailing 31-7 in the third quarter, it might have been understandable to see a player dogging it some, especially because by this game his name was on the national radar.
Not this kid. On one running play in the third quarter, the offensive tackle cut down Pierre-Paul. All Pierre-Paul did was crawl on his knees into the backfield and drop the running back for a 2-yard loss.
Wow. Wow. And wow again.
"He has a chance to be like Jevon Kearse," said one NFC personnel director. "I'm talking about the early Kearse at Tennessee. The explosive Kearse."
Some other personnel men have mentioned DeMarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys. Another even did the unthinkable and mentioned Lawrence Taylor.
At 6-6, 265 pounds, he has the closing speed teams crave in a pass-happy league. He runs like a man much smaller, looking as fast as the backs he runs down. The scary thing is some scouts think he can put more weight on his basketball-like frame, playing even bigger with the same speed.
So what's the problem? Pierre-Paul played just one year of major-college football. He is the player who magically appeared on the draft boards of most teams midway through the season.
"I'm out of nowhere," Pierre-Paul said.
He is certainly the Out of Nowhere Man. His path to being a potential top-10 pick is a wild one, a well-traveled odyssey.
Coming out of Deerfield Beach High School in South Florida, he wasn't highly recruited. That's in large part because he only played football his last two years. He was a raw kid who looked more like a basketball player, his top sport until he broke a leg.
Central Florida liked him enough to offer a football scholarship, but he failed the FCAT, the standardized test for Florida students. The scholarship went away.
When I asked Pierre-Paul why he failed, he answered honestly. "I was raised speaking French-Creole as a Haitian," he said. "The English was hard for me. On the reading, I couldn't comprehend the vocabulary."
|Pierre-Paul's freaky athleticism draws Jevon Kearse comparisons. (Getty Images)|
Pierre-Paul paid for a few courses to get eligible last summer and then joined his teammates just before the start of the regular season.
"I arrived two days before two-a-days ended, so I wound up not playing the first three games, but my coach just kind of threw me in there to see what I could do and by the fourth game I started," Pierre-Paul said. "That was the Florida State game, and that was like my breakout game."
He was all over the field as South Florida upset FSU. He had the one sack, three tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble. It was even better on tape. The Out of Nowhere Man was everywhere.
Pierre-Paul finished the season with 6½ sacks, 16 tackles for loss and a spot in the first round. By season's end, he was being doubled on almost every play. The supposed pass-rush star, George Selvie, once considered a potential first-round pick, was suddenly the "other" end for the Bulls.
There is a chance Pierre-Paul could be a top-10 pick in this draft, but some scouts wonder if the small bit of film they have on him makes him a risk. I say it makes him an even better prospect. If he's this good now, what can he be when he gets more coaching and learns the tricks of the trade?
"I'm just god-gifted," Pierre-Paul said. "I have a talent."
That talent is speed, quickness and desire to get to the quarterback. He showed off his athletic ability in a widely popular YouTube video. He won a backflip competition with a teammate by doing 13 consecutive. He said he can do over 20. Watch it. You'll be amazed.
Something else I came to really like after watching him was that he never gives up on plays, chasing down runs from the backside, and he likes contact. Most pass rushers shy away from it. He seems to like taking on traps and doubles.
If this kid isn't a double-digit sack player in two years, I will be shocked. If he isn't a perennial Pro Bowl player for the next 10 years, it will be a big surprise.
Just you wait and see.