The draft is an odd time for a college football fan. Your previous estimates of players are wiped clean by pro scouts, who reduce bodies of work to a cold slate of numbers, isolated game footage, and leaked rumors about bad attitude and positive drug tests.
Scouts have to do this, or at least the measuring and film work because without measurements you're simply guessing instead of guessing with hints of empirical support. They also don't have the luxury college football fans have -- i.e., the freedom to leisurely watch players work in context, and not just in cutups and combine drills.
What questions can the college fan hopefully shed some light on in this year's draft? We're here to help.
Is Tavon Austin that fast? Yes. Tavon Austin is that fast, and not just unilaterally. He breaks tackles, forces bad angles with speed and cuts, and doesn't waste valuable pursuit time blipping around in the backfield. The terror with Austin comes in his constant movement forward even when faking and shimmying. He is also disproportionately strong all around, and that is why doing anything but wrapping up his legs completely is instant death for a defender, or in Oklahoma's case, an entire defense.
Do not watch number one on OU's defense because what is happening to him is a war crime.
Is Knile Davis really that fast? Another yes. Knile Davis is as close as you might get to a Frank Gore scenario in the draft in that he's a.) lost significant time due to injury, b.) played on a team past its organizational prime, and c.) somehow emerged on the other side of all that healthier and in better shape physically than he's been in a while. He also squats 600 pounds, played on a miserable and miserably mismanaged Arkansas team in 2012, and would be the kind of underrated high-ceiling player Bill Belichick would steal from under your nose. (And Bill Belichick has already stolen Knile Davis from under your nose.) One qualifier: he doesn't really make tacklers miss that often.
A player from Notre Dame you should actually consider drafting? They do exist. Tyler Eifert is one of them, albeit one of the pass-catching tight end types, and not your human anvil-type. (For that, just grab a Stanford player. Any of them.) Eifert is another player whose offense by design underutilized him -- he played last year with Everett Golson, a first-year starter, at QB -- and who showed up beautifully during drills. He was also the point guard on his state champion high school basketball team, if you like tangentially relevant evidence of athleticism.
Is Manti Te'o really that slow? Possibly, but the great issue for Te'o is finding his ideal body weight, and then putting him in position to be successful. He's got good play recognition, but struggles to get off blocks, something Alabama exploited to the hilt in the BCS title game and that's going to be hell for a middle linebacker playing anywhere. Te'o was never the kind of player you felt genuine fear watching, and fear seems to be an integral part of the linebacker's overall effect. The linebacker you felt genuine fear watching was Georgia's Jarvis Jones. (Psst: he also got blown off the ball by Alabama's offensive line.)
How on earth is Sheldon Richardson going number one in some mock drafts? Because he fills out the profile of a defensive tackle nicely? Richardson never really stood out as a dominant force along the line, particularly in Mizzou's first year in the SEC when they finished an unremarkable ninth in conference in rushing defense. He does fill out all the numbers a defensive tackle is supposed to have, but watching him play was nothing like watching Star Lotulelei or Sharrif Floyd work. But he's a good quote, and I'm never against good quotes getting more signing bonus money than they should.
Who is that quarterback who's probably not really first-round grade, but is a quarterback and thus could float into the first round? Maaaaaaaaaatt Barkley, the USC quarterback whose swan song of a senior season imploded and finished with him watching Georgia Tech manhandle USC in the Sun Bowl.
You're supposed to not remember things that happen in El Paso, though, and this is where the issue of Barkley's potential gets so difficult to scout. Barkley pressed his senior year as a quarterback and did so with reason: USC's defense hemorrhaged yardage, his offensive line lost serious meaningful playing time to injury, and the Trojans spent a lot of time playing from behind. Barkley, a durable starter, eventually succumbed to all of it and finished the year in a sling.
And this is why talent prospecting at any level burns holes in the stomachs of those responsible for it: some portion of it was Barkley's fault, and some of it clearly wasn't, and that exact percentage will remain a mystery forever. He will interview well, most likely pass the necessary tire-kicking by scouts, and will rise based on the obvious pluses of being a pro-style QB with zero character issues and plenty of starting experience. He will also be a bit short for the position, prone to risky throws, and will have zero escape speed from the pocket at the pro level. He's a bit of a risk, so bet carefully.
P.S. I really liked Matt Barkley as a college player, and suspect he could be average-to-good as a pro, which I swear is not damning with faint praise. (Too much.) He's also the kind of draft pick a conservative organization with little imagination could run to in a hurry.
But what if I'm REALLY into putting it all on red? Hello, Tyler Bray. Tyler Bray spent his offseasons at Tennessee throwing beer bottles into parking lots and jetskiing in a dangerous fashion. He spent his football seasons running for his life and throwing balls downfield that JaMarcus Russell would consider ill-advised. Bray never had anything like real run support or defense at Tennessee, resulting in a spotty but often brilliant career of him trying to throw the Vols into the game single-handedly.
He will make some of the stupidest throws you have ever seen, and some of the most astonishing ones too, and remember neither five seconds later. Think of Bray as the horse in the stall too dangerous to break, and too powerful not to try. Additionally, he might be the person for whom a paycheck instills more discipline than any amount of school spirit could. (Am I saying Tyler Bray might have a mercenary streak? Oh, yes. Yes I am.)