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by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider

Stanford guard DeCastro has upside, but is he worth a first-round risk?


DeCastro ran a slow 40 time at the combine, but showed off explosive strength. (US Presswire)  
DeCastro ran a slow 40 time at the combine, but showed off explosive strength. (US Presswire)  

The combine evaluations are well under way. Some of the projected first-round picks have impressed and others have raised some questions. There's no doubt Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin have solidified their positions at the top of the draft with outstanding work. But others have created some doubts, at least in the minds of a few.

I am glad I waited until today to investigate this question about Stanford guard David DeCastro because as I boarded my plane to leave the combine, I wound up sitting next to a former Stanford coach who spent three years with DeCastro and knows him very well. Before my flight, I sat down with an NFL head coach, a personnel director and an offensive line coach to discuss the idea of a guard getting drafted in the first round.

There is plenty of speculation that DeCastro is not only the top guard in the draft, but he should be selected in the first round.

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As one personnel director said, "Not so fast when it comes to taking a pure guard in the first round." Consider that no more than four pure guards have been selected in the first round since 2000, and the average spot those were guards taken was in the second half of the round.

DeCastro will be fighting an uphill battle to hold his spot in the top 32. He needs to be clean as a whistle in the weeks of evaluations that are coming up across the league.

DeCastro was born in South Africa before his parents moved to America, and football wasn't really a part of the DeCastro family culture. As the former Stanford coach said, "He really didn't know much about football when we got him and it took a few years for him to even use his hands in pass blocking." When you factor in that information, it is impressive he's even in the conversation for a first-round selection.

DeCastro ran a slow 40 at the combine (5.43) but he did demonstrate explosive skills with his vertical leap, standing broad jump and bench press. I like to add up the three scores; if the score hits 70 or better, you've got an explosive player. DeCastro's three-score total was 72, which is very impressive for an offensive lineman.

For me, it means he can compete in the combat zone. He also came through with the top score for offensive linemen in the three-cone drill (7.3), which indicates he can move, pull and adjust in space. The debate about his physical ability should be won by those who want to draft him in the first round, but the film study might tell a different story, according to one head coach I spoke with about DeCastro. He said for his team to take a guard in the first round instead of a left tackle, he has to be as good as Steve Hutchinson was coming out of Michigan, and I'm not real sure DeCastro is in that conversation.

So I went back and watched more tape on DeCastro. I got a chance to watch the Stanford-Oklahoma State game last night with an offensive line coach. He pointed out three things that would concern me as it relates to a first-round grade.

The film indicated DeCastro is a physical guy who really likes to punish a defender when he gets the chance, but saying that, he gets himself in trouble with his overaggressiveness. DeCastro was on the ground six times during the game, usually from an overaggressive technique, and as the line coach pointed out, "That could wind up being 8-10 times in an NFL game."

I know David is a smart player and understands he must control his tempo and trust his technique. Easier said than done, especially for first-round picks who line up as starters in Week 1.

Secondly, DeCastro tends to play too high in his pass sets at times, and is susceptible to a bull rush that will push him back into the QB. He must be more consistent dropping his weight, bending his ankles and knees, and winning the leverage game.

Third, there was a play when DeCastro set for pass protection and the defender vacated and was uncovered. As he waited for the blitzer, he was fooled by a head fake and went to the ground.

Again, when thinking about a first-round guard, there really can't be these kinds of issues. During some of his drill work at the combine, he slipped to the ground, which my line-coach friend was quick to point out.

The next pressure DeCastro faces -- and maybe the toughest of all -- comes from the fact that guards like Cordy Glenn (Georgia), Brandon Washington (Miami) and Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin) should be solid picks in the second round.

My good friend Gil Brandt and I talked about taking a guard in the first round. As he pointed out, it isn't the guard you are taking but rather the guy you will be passing up at a franchise position like pass rusher or cornerback that makes it tough to take the guard. His point was: The pass rusher or corner you see in the second round might be much worse than the guard you will see in the second round. It's the value of the pick and the big picture that comes into play when considering a player like DeCastro.

Finally, I know David DeCastro is NFL-ready, yet still has room for growth, which makes him an intriguing prospect. I would not fault a team for taking him in the first round but I will not be shocked if he winds up at the top of the second round. Teams like to take tackles in the first round, and if they don't pan out, move them inside to guard like the Raiders did with Robert Gallery.

Pat Kirwan has been around the league since 1972, serving in a variety of roles. He was a scout for the Cardinals and Buccaneers, a coach for the Jets as well as the team's Director of Player Administration where he negotiated contracts and managed the team's salary cap. He is the author of Take Your Eye Off the Ball: How to Watch Football by Knowing Where to Look, and the host of Sirius NFL Radio's Moving the Chains.

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