The NFL Draft is finally here, and I've run out of time to write up more prospects. I have to say, I wasn't sure exactly how people would react to the way I chose to write my breakdowns. As a matter of fact, I don't know if I've ever been more nervous in my whole life* than the night before my first breakdown posted, the Jadeveon Clowney one.
It wasn't just that Clowney had been taking a lot of heat up to that point and my breakdown was going to say he should, without a doubt, be the top pick in the entire draft. It was also that I was trying to step out of the boundaries of the usual breakdowns that everyone else does.
My reasoning was that even though I played seven years in the NFL and understand all the scout talk pretty well, most of the scouting reports out there couldn't keep my attention. The ones I had read in previous years were always kind of dry, and after awhile because the same jargon made prospect after prospect sound pretty much the same. I mean there's only so many "he's a knee bender five-technique who is stiff in his hips" that one man can take, amirite?
So I endeavored to make my breakdowns more of a conversation. A one-sided conversation (which is just how I like it), but a conversation all the same. I wanted the people who read my breakdowns to come away feeling like they just sat down in my living room and listened to me ruminate on the things I saw as I watched the game tapes (graciously cut up for each player by the guys over at Draft Breakdown). I don't know quite how successful I was at that, but I do appreciate everyone who had nice things to say about the breakdowns in the comments sections, on Twitter and through email.
The final mock draft
The build to the NFL Draft is complete with the first round finally beginning tonight. Matthew Fairburn and Dan Kadar offer up their final first-round predictions.
I also wanted to "make it plain" when explaining the strong points and the weak points of each player. The NFL rules supreme when it comes to fan interest, but it's apparent that fans want to learn more about football and maybe haven't found many people willing to take the time to teach them. As a former player, I want fans to be as knowledgeable as possible when it comes to football because I think that knowledge further enhances the experience of watching a game. Again, I don't know if I accomplished that goal, but I was certainly trying like hell to get it done and will continue to do so.
Lastly, while I also wanted to make the breakdowns entertaining, I also tried to make sure not to over-do it with my criticisms. That's not to say I wasn't honest in my assessments. However, as a former player I know that sometimes those criticisms can come off as being very personal. It's one thing to say a guy is bad at this technique or that technique; it's another thing all together to say he "sucked" or was "terrible." Most of the time those words don't apply to the highest rated players anyway, so there is no need to go overboard just to get a couple more chuckles at the expense of the player. That's just my take on it.
At the end of the day I provided my personal opinion about how I felt these young men played in college and how I would project them to play against grown men at the next level. That said, it's all guess work, educated guess work to be sure, but guess work all the same. There are so many factors that go into whether a player makes it at the next level or busts that have nothing to do with their play in games. There simply is no way to have a crystal ball and be right on every guy. I will say that no matter what faults I found in any of these players' games, I wish all of these young men well and hope they all have long, productive and relatively injury-free careers.
When its all said and done it's not going to matter as much where these guys start as it does where they finish. I was a lowly sixth-round pick who was cut before the end of training camp by the team who drafted him. I was still able to carve out a decent seven-year career, so I have quite a bit of perspective on this. Still, I am sure fans everywhere want to know what kind of player they are getting as these guys' names start coming off the board this weekend, and I hope that I've done a good enough job to give everyone some idea about that.
As I've said in previous columns, I don't necessarily project rounds for a prospect. This is the rare year when we still aren't even sure who will be the first pick a day before the draft. (I suspect Texans owner Bob McNair let the cat out of the bag over the weekend that it will be Clowney, whether his team selects him or another team trades up to get him). How can I possibly be sure that any of these guys will go at a specific point in the first round or any round thereafter?
I can't. Most of the people in this business can't.
What I can do is breakdown how I think they will do in the NFL. I ranked the guys who I did breakdown in the order I believe they measure up, from best to "least best." Here is what my board would look like for the 19 players I was able to get to:
1. Jadeveon Clowney
3. Aaron Donald
5. Khalil Mack
7. Mike Evans
8. Tim Jernigan
9. Zack Martin
10. Kelvin Benjamin
11. Anthony Barr
12. Taylor Lewan
13. Dee Ford
14. Brandin Cooks
15. Ra'Shede Hageman
16. Kony Ealy
17. Louis Nix
18. Marqise Lee
19. Michael Sam
A beautiful corpse
This isn't an indication of who will take these guys or where. It's a ranking of how well I think they will do on the next level. I am confident enough that I don't care all that much where they go in the draft as much as I do how they play for the next ten years or so.
I didn't breakdown any quarterbacks, tight ends, running backs, linebackers, safeties or cornerbacks. There are guys at each of those positions who will push some of these guys down the board. I'm not sure I ever explained why I didn't write about the guys who played those positions. The simple answer is I don't think I could see enough on the TV version of the game tape to give a fair assessment. Too much happens on the back-end that the TV camera doesn't show you unless they happen to do a replay. My policy is that if I can't see it then, I can't competently comment on it.
This was my first foray into doing draft breakdowns, so my hope is that by this time next year I will find a way to get access to all-22 film of the 2015 prospects so I can include those groups as well in my next series. I had as much fun doing these as anything in my brief sports writing career so far. I look forward to doing it all again for y'all next year, only better.