Who's number one? (and who should be)
The discussion has gone back and forth about who is going to be the first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. People in the NFL have been silent in the discussion, even moreso than usual. To date, I haven’t heard one NFL decision maker publically say that any particular player should be the first overall pick. I have been involved in drafts since 1981, and this may be the first time I have ever seen that happen. I honestly feel that it’s because there is no clear cut first pick and as many clubs set their boards, the top three or four players will differ from team to team.
Let's take brief look at the players who have been projected by the media to be the potential top pick and compare them to who I feel should be the top pick.
When we go back to last fall, during the early part of the college football season, the draftnik community all had Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater as the consensus top player. That theory was easily sold because Bridgewater finished the 2012 season very strongly and began the 2013 season equally strong.
While Bridgewater started hot, his game fell off mid-season, and when NFL scouts really started breaking down his game, there was plenty to fault. His anticipation, timing, and accuracy were more average than great. You seldom see Bridgewater throw before a receiver makes his break. You can get away with that in college, but not in the NFL.
Bridgewater was hurt even more by struggles at his pro day. For quarterbacks, those are practiced and scripted affairs designed to show off strengths. When that doesn't happen, it stands out.
Late in the season, the media started pushing Bortles as the potential first overall pick. Let’s be honest, Bortles wasn’t on anyone’s radar until late in the season. ESPN’s Todd McShay in early November anointed Bortles by declaring he was a top five pick. The media soon picked up.
I know ESPN sells McShay as a scout but no one in the NFL feels that way. McShay “gathers” information. One or maybe a few NFL people told McShay that they felt Bortles was the next big thing. Being in the football information business and working for ESPN, McShay went with it, like he should.
Because people in the NFL know that people like McShay get their original information from NFL sources, clubs that hadn’t done much work on Bortles circled back and did work. Why? Because Bortles was an underclassman and, as such, was not scouted like a player in his final year.
Bortles is a good player. He has a chance to be a good NFL player, but he is not and never has been a top five or top ten type player. He needs a lot of development. Like Bridgewater, his anticipation, timing, and accuracy are off. While he may be a legitimate mid-to-late first round pick, the notion that he is number one overall was nothing but media hype. I have talked to a number of NFL decision-makers, and not one has said that. Bortles isn't even close to being a top overall pick in the draft.
If we go back a year and look at who was the favorite to be the first pick in this draft, it was South Carolina defensive end Jadaveon Clowney. Based on how he played in the 2012 season, that is a very fair assessment.
I wrote last August, that Clowney might be the best defensive line prospect in years. His combination of strength, power and athleticism is rare. On any given play in 2012, he could totally dominate anyone on the field. I said that while he wasn’t Lawrence Taylor, he had Lawrence Taylor-type traits. Having worked for the Giants for most of Taylor’s career, I saw first-hand just how dominating Taylor was. I saw some of those same traits in Clowney.
What happened in 2013 is that knowing that he had a strong chance of being selected number one overall, Clowney played to protect himself rather than play all out. What we saw on tape in 2013 was only a shell of the player we saw in 2012. Clowney finished the season with only three sacks. He has the talent to get two or three sacks every game muchless in a season! Let’s face it, he let himself and his team down with his performance in 2013.
When we fast forward to this spring, Clowney’s pro day workout was just as expected -- dominant! We saw the rare athlete that he is. In my mind, all that does is bring up more questions about his performance last season.
I know that Clowney has the talent to be one of the best defensive players ever. The question every GM and Head Coach has to answer in the next 12 days is “what player are we drafting”? The player we saw in 2012 or the player we saw in 2013? If he tanked the 2013 season, who is to say that he isn’t going to tank on his NFL team? There has to be a huge question of trust.
The player who should be number one – Greg Robinson
The more I watch tape, the more I feel that Auburn’s Greg Robinson is the player with the most upside in this draft. I will admit that when you look at just pass protection tape, that both Taylor Lewan and Jake Matthews are better pass blockers today. They won’t be in two years.
Matthews is a fourth-year senior and a four-year starter at Texas A&M. He played right tackle his first three seasons, and was moved to left tackle for the 2013 season. I felt in 2012, Matthews was better as a right tackle than he was in 2013 at left tackle. Part of it may have been it was his first year on the left side, but there were games where he struggled with wide speed and counter moves.
Lewan is a fifth-year senior and a four-year starter at left tackle. He has excellent tape. He can run and pass block and knows how to use his hands. He plays offensive tackle with a defensive lineman’s disposition. In short, he can be nasty. There is no doubt in my mind that both Lewan and Matthews will be excellent NFL tackles.
That brings me to Robinson. Robinson is a third-year sophomore. He was recruited as a guard and moved to tackle his redshirt year. Having red shirted his first year, he has only played two years of college football. Both Lewan and Matthews have two more years of experience!
Part of a scouts job is to look not only at a players performance during the football season, but also look at his natural talent, and project what his ceiling is. Robinson has rare athleticism and talent. He has great natural size at 6050 – 332 with 35” arms. Not only is he huge, he has rare athleticism for such a big man. Robinson weighs 23 pounds more than both Lewan and Matthews. He is stronger and just as athletic. His arm length is more than an inch longer than the other two players.
On tape, he is a powerful run blocker. Not only does he consistently get movement, he often buries his opponent. He can easily get out to the second level and adjust on the move. If asked to pull, he looks like an athletic guard the way he can breakdown and adjust.
Auburn plays in a read-option-type offense, and they work more on run blocking than pass protection. Robinson is still a bit raw as a pass blocker. He has to use his hands better, get and keep position a little better. He has the bend, foot quickness, and agility to be an awesome pass blocker. He just needs experience.
One of the best things about Robinson is excellent football character. He wants to be a great player and will do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. As a player, I see a young and more athletic Orlando Pace. Robinson has the talent to become an all-time great NFL tackle.
When you compare him to Clowney, they both have the talent to be great NFL players. Robinson has the work ethic and character that will help him get to his ceiling. I’m not so sure Clowney does.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe