With less than a week to go before the 2011 NFL Draft, I've read scouting reports, media accounts, profiles, journals, Twitter conversations and the whole lot. I'm floored by the number of second round picks; there has to be at least 200 ticketed for the second frame of the draft. Even more in the third round. Obviously, pundits and fans build those assessments around optimism and the hopes for translating those talented prospects into team wins this season. But it doesn't always work out that way. Players often fail to translate that potential to results on the field, much less live up to the hype and hope.
Playing around with the SN Big Board yesterday, the big board for last year turned out to be way more interesting. The gulf between what they said then and what happened last season was a mile wide in some cases and less noticeable elsewhere. Using that big board and the associated commentary, I went back and looked at the St. Louis Rams' 2010 NFL Draft picks. How did the prospect versions compare to the NFL versions?
QB Sam Bradford: Whoever put the SN big board together was pretty high on Bradford from the beginning. They saw him as the team's week one starter even before they knew what team would draft him. Here's the most interesting difference from the report to the 2010 NFL season's results:
Consistently reads the defense well, both at the line pre-snap and during the play. Sees the field well from shotgun alignment, goes through progressions quickly and correctly identifies the open man. Must learn to do all these things while dropping back from center to be as effective -- a real challenge and underrated aspect.
Ultimately, Bradford did pretty well taking snaps under center and reading defenses. Yes, the Rams uber-conservative game plan made things easier for him, but the success he had while improvising plays in response to what he saw on the field were some of his best moments and some of the most successful drives the Rams offense put together.
OT Rodger Saffold: SN had Saffold in the 96th spot on their 99-player big board. Not exactly a spot where you'd expect to see the top player drafted in the second round. However, they were one of the few outlets that had his future pegged to the left side in the NFL, when most saw him as a right tackle or even a guard. They pointed to his weakness in in-line run blocking, and that's something we saw throughout the season. Remember those prospect all-star game players who stand out. Sometimes you don't hear much more about them through the draft process, but there they are early in the draft. That was Saffold.
His athleticism, flexibility and technique are evident when he sets up quickly and with good position in pass protection; however, he has to maintain good technique throughout the play.
Saffold wasn't perfect against NFL pass rushers, but he turned out to be a much more effective pass blocker than most projected him to be as a rookie. That speaks well of his ceiling through the years ahead.
CB Jerome Murphy: The SN people were really high on Murphy, ranking him 52nd overall, above Devin McCourty and Kareem Jackson. What's interesting about the scouting report then is how high it grades him man-to-man coverage rather than zone. Adjusting to being a CB at the pro level is already a big jump, but given what they said about his weaknesses in zone coverage it makes some sense why he struggled in the nickel role...and why the talk of moving him to safety is just fan speculation.
WR Mardy Gilyard: A non-factor with the Rams, predictions of his ability to play right away were off the mark. But Gilyard got a late start and injuries further derailed him. The scouting report is incredibly high on his potential, comparing him to DeSean Jackson, though he's more quick than a pure straight line burner.
Gilyard has the explosiveness, playing speed, elusiveness and open-field running ability to make game- changing plays as a receiver and returner. On film he showed excellent hands, plucked the ball and made tough catches. But at the Senior Bowl practices he struggled to catch the ball; he looked uncomfortable, fighting the ball often. This, despite stepping up and shining in the Senior Bowl game as he always did at Cincinnati. Gilyard has first-round talent, but his thin frame and struggles catching the ball at Senior Bowl practices have teams concerned. He likely will slide into the second round.
Based on that, the Rams picking him in the fourth round was a steal, but for it to be a steal it ultimately has to produce something. It'll be interesting to see what Gilyard does when training camp starts this year.