What has become clear to NFL scouts as the draft draws nearer is this class of prospects is going to separate talent evaluators.
On the one side will be those who select players based on the tape. On the other side will be those who select players based on the athleticism and the workouts and the measurables.
This dynamic always is in play. But it seems to many that there never has there been such a divide between the workout athletes and the producers, especially on the defensive side of the football.
“No question, I’ve never seen a year when teams will be forced to either take the athlete or the player,” one high ranking NFC exec said. “Do you want a ready-made guy with limited upside? Or do you want athleticism and upside? It will depend on each team’s philosophy. It’s what every team is battling with.”
There aren’t many defensive players who have great production and great workout numbers. In many cases, the tape and the workout have sent conflicting messages.
The contrast between Barkevious Mingo and Jarvis Jones is telling. Mingo ran a 4.53 compared to Jones’ 4.92, but Jones had ten more sacks than Mingo last season.
One scout said this about Mingo’s lack of production: “If you get his hands on him, he goes down. He’s overrated. I’d call him good, not great.” But another said this: “He didn’t have the sack production this year, but part of that was the offenses they played against. He played against first round caliber tackles every week and had success.”
And one front office man said this of Jones’ poor workout: “From his stance to the quarterback, he plays at a speed of 4.6. There is no lack of burst.” But this came from another: “We knew he wouldn’t run well. His slowness shows up in foot chases. Everybody bought into the hype.”
There are other pass rushers who will divide NFL teams. Teams that value the workout will love Cornelius Washington, who couldn’t hold Jones’ jock at Georgia but had an incredible workout. Ziggy Ansah will appeal to those who are looking for raw athleticism and potential and are willing to overlook the fact that he had only 4.5 sacks while playing against blockers who mostly were inferior to the blockers he will be seeing in the NFL.
And players such as Tank Carradine, Damontre Moore and Bjoern Werner will be more interesting to teams that want to see playmakers.
Players at other positions who have more impressive tape than workout numbers include Manti Te’o, Johnthan Banks, Kenny Vaccaro and Jonathan Cyprien.
Teams looking for potential and raw talent will go for Zaviar Gooden or Ty Powell.
The wheat will be separated from the chaff in this draft. Both in terms of the prospects and the evaluators.
Dan Pompei covers pro football for the Chicago Tribune at chicagotribune.com.