When the mock draft’s are all about the small school sleeper or the All-American from Georgia and not the usual cast of characters featuring LT, Adrian Peterson and Peyton Manning- it’s still all good for fantasy fanatics because we love football in any way shape or form, and the NFL’s annual rookie draft takes a backseat to no one.
Unfortunately, so many of the mock drafts that are out there in the worldwide web regurgitate the same names, over and over again, providing very little insight into what will really shake out in late April.
Consider this article an intervention to provide you with relief from reading about James Laurinaitis and how his father (Animal) made up one half of the infamous Road Warrior tag team championship duo for the 360th time. It was fun the first time I stumbled across that factoid three years ago, when “Little Animal” was beginning his rise to prominence in Columbus. Or the fact that Georgia’s Matthew Stafford will be the number one overall pick. Or that in the dueling offensive tackles category- the Smith that did everything right at the Combine (Jason) has quickly surpassed the Smith that did everything wrong (Andre) in Indianapolis.
The real rubber hits the road in the heart of the Draft, with the players that NFL teams have duly noted as “Risers”, the type of players that the countless Draft websites and their self-proclaimed experts completely miss as they remind us about Mark Sanchez projecting in the 1st round or how Michael Crabtree will be drafted fourth overall by the Seattle Seahawks.
I can’t tell you how many times I have seen wide receiver rankings for this year’s draft, which is an exceptionally talented and deep group, stack the usual suspects Crabtree, Harvin, Heyward-Bey, Britt, etc., and then place wide receiver Kevin Ogletree from Virginia near the bottom of the list and project him as a 6th-7th rounder. That’s just draftnicks being lazy and not doing their homework.
Ogletree had a year of eligibility remaining at Virginia but decided to declare for this year’s Draft after receiving a strong enough projection from the Advisory committee, a move widely met with indifference by the mock draft sites, seemingly because they knew very little about the young man’s career and didn’t bother to do the research.
Here’s what you should know about Kevin Ogletree. In 2006, he caught 52 passes for 582 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore. After tearing his ACL in 2007, he responded forcefully the very next season, with another 50 catch season (53) for 753 yards and five touchdowns in 2008, earning honorable mention All-ACC. Stats that are all the more impressive when you consider the coterie of sub-standard quarterbacks during his years at UVA that rotated in and out of the huddle, struggling to execute Al Groh’s “Medieval Times” offense.
Scouts saw that he jumped out on film, especially when you watch the Wake Forest game from last year which shows Ogletree running past much ballyhooed Demon Deacon DB Alphonso Smith like he was standing still, only to have to put on the brakes to allow the poorly thrown pass to catch up with him in the end zone. It was plays like this and others that rendered reports from NFL teams brandishing a 2nd to 3rd Round grade with upside on the Virginia receiver.
At the Combine, he continued to build momentum, with many teams timing him in the high 4.3s to low 4.4s in the forty yard dash. He also finished in the top 10 for the broad jump (10’2”), fourth in the 3cone (6.67) and first in the 20-yard shuttle (4.08), while also showing well in the receiving drills, highlighted by his successful tracking and catch of a Pat White bomb down the sideline. As he heads into the Virginia Pro Day in mid-March, Ogletree is a strong third round consideration with a possibility of cracking into the latter stages of the second round. And you won’t see that on any other mock draft site but The Huddle. You’re welcome.
Another under-the-radar prospect on the rise is Dan Gronkowski. The tight end from Maryland, who, heading into the Combine was firmly entrenched in the “blocking TE” box with a late-round to priority free agent tag after a Terrapins career that didn’t see a lot of balls thrown his way due to a combination of lackluster QB play and rock stars like Vernon Davis, Darius Heyward-Bey and current NFL TE Joey Haynos demanding the pilll.
Right out of the gate, the 6-6, 255 pound Amherst, NY native hit the ground running in the weigh-in, registering a impressively low body fat count (11%), prompting the other participants waiting in line to nickname him “Leonidas”, for his resemblance to the Spartan king made famous from the hit movie, “300”.
Gronkowski truly capitalized on the time and work he put in at noted Combine Training facility, Perfect Competition in Davie, FL, exceeding expectations in almost every measureable, finishing in the top three of five events for the tight ends: bench press: 26 reps (3rd), 10’2” in the broad jump (3rd ), 3cone: 6.92 (2nd), 20-yard shuttle: 4.26 (2nd), 60-yard shuttle: 11.72 (2nd) and his 4.78 forty (scouts had him in the 4.9 neighborhood prior to Indy) was just outside the top 10.
Getting every ounce of juice from his Combine experience squeeze, Gronkowski has now elevated himself into a solid 5th round projection.
Mike Thomas, wide receiver from the University of Arizona, is another prospect that has taken full advantage of the pre-Draft process and the events that lend themselves to increasing one’s draft stock.
Arguably the shortest player at the Combine (a hair under 5’8”), the Pac 10’s all-time leading receiver has channeled his Little Man’s Syndrome anger productively, vaulting himself into an already-crowded top tier of wide receivers in the 2009 Draft.
Starting his pre-Draft journey at the East-West Shrine game, Thomas dominated the competition there so much so that the Senior Bowl called him up to play in Mobile the very next weekend. Thomas answered the bell once again, standing out against the elite seniors in the country with his strength, quickness, route-running and ability to catch and navigate in traffic, which elicited comparisons to Carolina’s Steve Smith from NFL personnel in attendance.
The Indianapolis Combine became yet another showcase for Thomas to elevate himself further, running an unofficial 4.31 forty (official time was 4.40- good for 5th overall), and placing third in the vertical jump (40.5), tied for 5th in the broad jump with 10’6”, and second overall in the 3cone with a time of 6.65.
Nicknamed “Mr. Fo’Sho’”, Thomas carries the swagger of a 6’4” pass-catcher and has numerous teams giving him a second round grade as we head into March.
Unfortunately, the pre-Draft process can be a fickle beast and there will be just as many players finding themselves in the Fallers category post-Combine, and in need of a big finishing kick at their individual school’s Pro Day’s.
Let’s start with the Penn State early-declarees, defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans. The mistake wasn’t in their decision to leave school early. NFL teams have verified they are both tremendous athletes, with Maybin receiving first-round consideration as early as a few weeks ago and Evans, contrary to several websites who have him as a 6th-7th round pick, being mentioned as a late second, early third possibility.
After Combine showings that fell well short of expectations for both, more so for Evans than Maybin, the error appears to be in how they prepared for the event.
Maybin showed up at the Combine weighing 249 pounds after playing last season around 230 or less. The result was a slow forty (different clocks had him in the 4.8 neighborhood), which is a head-scratcher when you watch his lightning-fast speed on film. He was able to finish in the top ten for the vertical leap, broad jump and the 20-yard shuttle, but the lackluster forty time will hurt his image as a speed-rusher and now he must flip the script at his Pro Day and get down into the 4.6s or better.
Evans is in a deeper hole. The Brooklyn, NY native, who was already fighting a character issue stemming from a marijuana possession charge that ended up not having much teeth, came into Indianapolis at 274 pounds (his playing weight was 262), ran a 5.02 forty yard dash and only did 17 reps in the bench press (USC placekicker David Beuhler did 25 reps). I’m sure being heavier, slower and weaker at the premier event of the NFL Draft process isn’t exactly what Mo had in mind when he made the decision to come out early. Penn State’s Pro Day now stands as Evans’ Draft lifeline to reverse the damage done in Indianapolis.
West Virginia offensive guard Greg Isdaner, another underclassman who declared early, will also be in the unenviable position of betting all of his chips at his Pro Day after a less than stellar showing in Indy that saw the 6’4” 325 pound interior lineman run slow (5.4-5.5 forty) and fail to finish in the top 10 of any of the events. With very few guards drafted each year, the margin for error is as small as the window of opportunity for interior linemen.
Izzy will have an uphill climb the rest of the way, having first to recover from a tweaked back muscle incurred in Indianapolis, and then cram in additional training in the next two weeks before the West Virginia Pro Day.