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Overrated/underrated: Setting the record straight on prospects

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

The hype surrounding the 2011 NFL Draft grows by the day, and the mischaracterization by many in the media of some of the draft's top prospects becomes more prevalent.

Some prospects suffer from limited coverage, others are over-projected because of misleading collegiate statistics, or simply faulty scouting. There are dozens of players in this year's draft being woefully overrated and underrated by the masses.

To try to set the record straight, I've spoken to the only true experts in this field -- NFL scouts -- to try and determine the most overrated and underrated players at each position. They aren't claiming that an "overrated" player won't turn out to be a good player, only that he may not be the sure-fire NFL star some pegged him to be. On the flip side, "underrated" prospects, in the opinion of scouts, aren't getting as much public recognition as their talents warrant.


Defensive end

Da'Quan Bowers, Clemson: Bowers is the best all-around defensive end in this draft. To warrant a top pick, a 4-3 defensive end needs to be an explosive pass rusher. Despite leading the country with 15.5 sacks, Bowers lacks the quick-twitch burst off the snap that typically translates to double-digit sacks in the NFL. Without stout defensive tackles running a variety of twists and stunts to free him up in the NFL -- as 2011 defensive tackle prospect Jarvis Jenkins did at Clemson -- I'd be surprised if Bowers ever reaches 10 sacks in a 16-game NFL season.

Jabaal Sheard, Pittsburgh: Sheard isn't a traditional pass-rushing end -- a sudden athlete capable of beating NFL-caliber offensive tackles with speed alone. Sheard has a surprisingly strong bull rush at 6-3, 264 pounds, and has shown consistent improvement throughout his career. Rather than fall apart while facing double teams after "star" Greg Romeus went down because of an injury, Sheard raised his game, earning the Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors with 52 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks and four forced fumbles. Sheard, likely to be taken between picks 20-45, will be more productive as a rookie than at least a few of the more highly touted defensive ends of this draft.

Defensive tackle

Nick Fairley, Auburn: I've said it many times: Fairley might just be the most physically gifted player in this draft. Three-hundred-pound defensive tackles with his quick feet and hands are precisely what scouts are looking for in a three-technique defensive tackle. He might be the second coming of Warren Sapp. And yet, the maturity concerns are very real. Some scouts believe Fairley might "turn off the motor" once checks can be cashed, making him a considerable gamble as a top-10 pick.

Terrell McClain, South Florida: Short, stout and quick, McClain quietly established himself as one of the better "second tier" defensive tackles in this draft with back-to-back impressive showings at the East-West Shrine Game and as an injury replacement to Oregon State's Stephen Paea at the Senior Bowl. Don't be surprised when this Bull is drafted in the second or third round.

Outside linebacker

Justin Houston, Georgia: The fact that Houston keeps popping up in mock drafts is evidence that some scouts are high on him. Yet, everyone with whom I've discussed his pro potential has characterized him as one of the draft's most overrated prospects. Houston lacks strength at the point of attack as a defensive end and isn't quick off the snap as a stand-up rusher (though he is quick from the three-point stance). I wouldn't be surprised at all to see Houston wind up in the first round, but as a classic 'tweener, he'll likely struggle in the NFL.

Mason Foster, Washington: Foster finished second only to Boston College star Luke Kuechly in total (163) and solo tackles (105) in 2010. Some of that production stems from the fact that the Washington Huskies weren't a very good defensive football team, so Foster racked up stops. The film shows that Foster locates the ball quickly, uses his hands well to slip blocks and is a reliable open-field tackler. He won't be drafted until the middle rounds, but Foster will be tough to get off the field once he gets his shot in the NFL.

Inside linebacker

Martez Wilson, Illinois: Wilson competes with Nevada outside linebacker Dontay Moch as this year's most impressive workout warrior linebacker. Wilson struggles locating the football, making him significantly slower on the field than the 6-4, 250-pounder timed at the combine (4.46-second electronic time). This is particularly troublesome for Wilson considering he's played linebacker for three seasons with the Illini, as opposed to Moch, who starred as a defensive end. Wilson might measure like a first-rounder, but his tape says he's closer to a third-round pick.

Quan Sturdivant, North Carolina: Like many of his Tar Heel teammates, Sturdivant did not have the 2010 season he anticipated. With an NCAA investigation and resulting multiple suspensions jarring the program, Sturdivant was unable to help on the field, losing five games to a hamstring pull. But he returned to form upon coming back, racking up tackles (third on the team with 49). He enjoyed a fitting end to his career, intercepting a Tennessee pass on his final play to seal a 30-27 double-overtime Music City Bowl victory. Sturdivant isn't flashy, but he'll prove to be a capable starter early in his career.


Prince Amukamara, Nebraska: Amukamara has proven throughout his career that he has the size, physicality and athleticism to be a first-round pick. Most teams believe that to warrant consideration as a top-10 pick, a cornerback has to have elite ball skills. This is the area of concern for Amukamara, despite the fact that he was a standout running back in high school. Amukamara intercepted only five of the 27 passes he broke up over his career. Oddly, all five interceptions came during his junior season.

Jalil Brown, Colorado: Overshadowed throughout much of his career by teammate Jimmy Smith, Brown's solid build (6-0, 204 pounds), speed and competitiveness make him a quality middle-round prospect. A high-effort player who is aggressive against the run, pass and on special teams, Brown might not enter the NFL with a lot of fanfare, but could develop into a quality starter within a year or two.


FS Rahim Moore, UCLA: Having led the NCAA with 10 interceptions in 2009, Moore probably was planning on leaving school after his junior season. When his production and overall play tailed off considerably in 2010, however, he surprised some scouts by coming out early, anyway. There is no denying Moore's athleticism. His coverage skills stand out in this weak class and are likely enough to get him drafted in the second round -- which could prove the highest selection for any safety.

SS Da'Norris Searcy, North Carolina: Searcy might've been overlooked because of more-hyped teammates, but he led North Carolina in passes broken up (nine) and interceptions (four) despite the fact he was suspended for the first three games. Searcy didn't get the playmaking opportunities at strong safety that others had, yet proved his instincts and open-field tackling skills were NFL-caliber throughout his career and at the Senior Bowl. Searcy could be an immense value if allowed to slip into the second half of the draft.



Blaine Gabbert, Missouri: Gabbert saw his production fall in his junior season and ended his career throwing an interception that was returned by Iowa for the winning points in the Insight Bowl. Scouts like Gabbert. The problem is, no one seems to love him. That shouldn't happen for a player expected to be a top five pick and possibly No. 1 overall.

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: Stanzi -- Gabbert's opponent in the Insight Bowl -- checks in as the most underrated. Stanzi is like a lot of the underrated players on this list: better on tape than he's been in workouts. He has ideal size (6-4, 223 pounds) and has made consistent improvement throughout his career. Stanzi could prove quite the steal in the middle rounds.

Running back

Ryan Williams, Virginia Tech: Williams enjoyed a marvelous 2009 season, but a hamstring kept him sidelined for four games in 2010 and his statistics didn't meet his or scouts expectations. Then he was shorter (5 feet, 9 inches) and slower (electronically timed at 4.64 seconds) than expected at the combine. He's viewed as a second-round pick who could give first-round production. It is also possible that Williams, like Kevin Jones and Lee Suggs before him, could struggle duplicating his collegiate success at the NFL level.

Graig Cooper, Miami (Fla.): Prior to tearing his ACL on Dec. 27, 2009, against Wisconsin in the Champs Sports Bowl, Cooper also was considered a second-round pick. Cooper surprised many with the decision to play last season rather than take a redshirt and clearly was not the same player. However, he improved as the season went, including impressing at the East-West Shrine Game. He demonstrated that his knee was sound at the combine by passing physicals and turning in the fastest time in the 3-cone drill of all running backs who tested (6.66 seconds). Cooper will slip on draft day, but will be considered a steal in time.

Tight end

Kyle Rudolph, Notre Dame: Rudolph has been characterized by some in the media as a clone of Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots star rookie who slipped to the second round because of concerns about the back injury that sidelined him for his entire junior season. Like Gronkowski, Rudolph missed extensive time in his junior season (torn hamstring). Rudolph, however, isn't the same caliber of athlete or all-around football player that Gronkowski is and owes some of his name recognition simply to the fact that statistics and hype were easy to come by when playing under Charlie Weis at Notre Dame.

Rob Housler, Florida Atlantic: This year's relatively weak crop of tight ends is highlighted by several receiver hybrids with limited blocking skills. Unlike some of the basketball converts in this class, Housler's rise to fame is strictly due to his size, production and athleticism. The 6-5, 247-pound Housler's 4.55-second electronically timed 40-yard dash translates onto the field, as does his potential as an in-line blocker considering his 80-inch wingspan and 22 repetitions of 225 pounds. Had Housler earned his second-team all conference honors (39 catches for 629 yards and four TDs) in the Pac-10 or Big Ten rather than the Sun Belt, he wouldn't make it out of the second round.

Wide receiver

Titus Young, Boise State: I hear the comparison of Young to DeSean Jackson and chuckle. They are similar in that both played in the West, are considerably lighter than most NFL receivers and left school with significant off-field concerns. At 5-11, 174 pounds Young was electronically timed at the 2011 combine at 4.49 seconds. At 5-10, 169 pounds Jackson was clocked at 4.35 seconds in 2008. Some have pointed to their return skills. Young was a standout kick returner for Boise State, but his lack of bulk won't allow him to play that position in the NFL and he returned only 11 punts in four seasons with the Broncos. This, of course, is quite a bit different than the six punt return touchdowns Jackson scored for California against better competition.

Greg Salas, Hawaii: Similar to Young's teammate, Austin Pettis, in this role as his size, strength and soft hands will make him a valuable receiver. Those characteristics also aid Salas in the NFL. He struggled with drops at the Senior Bowl, but scouts believe he was trying to make plays before securing the pass, as his tape at Hawaii shows a remarkably sure-handed receiver. There certainly is plenty of tape to prove my point. Salas caught 285 passes for 4,345 yards and 26 touchdowns for Hawaii. Don't be surprised if Salas winds up in the second or third round.

Offensive tackle

Nate Solder, Colorado: Three years from now Solder could wind up being the best offensive tackle selected in this draft. He also could wind up a first-round bust. It is easy to fall in love with Solder's upside, as the 6-8, 319-pounder has extraordinary athleticism. But he lost when facing speed and power at the collegiate level and he'll see much more of both in the NFL.

James Carpenter, Alabama: I'm not a big fan of this year's offensive tackle class. But the best value in the draft could wind up being Carpenter, who I expect to see drafted in the second round. Carpenter signed with Alabama as a juco transfer and was immediately plugged in for former No. 6 overall pick Andre Smith at left tackle and started the rest of his career. Carpenter doesn't have elite athleticism. He might not be able to remain on the left side in the NFL, in fact, but he can come in and win a starting job right now and has the work ethic and physical toughness to start in this league for the next 10 years.

Offensive guard/center

Mike Pouncey, Florida: The unfortunate reality is that Mike is not quite as athletic as his brother Maurkice, a rookie Pro Bowler for the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. Because they are identical twins, the expectation of some is that Mike is going to come into the NFL and enjoy the same type of immediate success. Those unrealistic expectations make Pouncey, a solid player in his own right, a touch overrated.

Maurice Hurt, Florida: There are two significant reasons why Hurt hasn't received more attention. For one, he plays on the same line as Mike Pouncey and two other senior Gator offensive linemen who could get drafted, so credit was tough to come by. Secondly, he has a bad body. Quite frankly, the 6-2 5/8, 318-pounder is round. That said, he has surprisingly long arms for his frame (third among all interior OL tested at the combine), which the tape proves he uses well in pass protection and in the running game. Don't be surprised when Hurt is drafted on the third day of the draft, but he winds up outperforming some prospects taken much earlier.


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