2012 NFL Draft: Five prospects that the experts can’t seem to agree on

No matter which NFL draft analysts you follow, the consensus pretty much agrees on which prospects in this year’s class belong in the top 5.

But which players are the so-called experts having a hard time agreeing on?

Analysts unanimously concede that Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Kalil, Morris Claiborne and Trent Richardson comprise the top 5 in this year’s draft. Some may rank the prospects in a different order, but those are the five names that you see listed atop the media’s version of a big board. (Justin Blackmon is generally listed as the sixth-best prospect for those scoring at home.)

But the names below are some of the prospects that, for one reason or another, the analysts just can’t seem to agree on.

1. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M
Depending on the analyst, Tannehill lies somewhere between Jay Cutler and whatever JaMarcus Russell ate this morning for breakfast. The overall consensus is that Tannehill is the third best quarterback prospect behind Luck and Griffin, but the majority of analysts can’t agree on whether or not he’s worthy of a top-10 selection. And seeing as how the Dolphins (who own the No. 8 pick) have been the team most linked to Tannehill, his situation has made for an interesting debate over the past few weeks. Dan Pompei of the National Football Post suggested that Tannehill isn’t ready to start at the NFL level because he only played 19 games at quarterback for A&M. NFL Network’s Charley Casserly also said in early April that most teams view Tannehill as a late first-round pick at best. But former Colts GM Bill Polian called Tannehill a “unique talent” who “merits a high pick,” and there have been others who claim he has the skill set to succeed at the next level. We’ll see.

2. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Poe is one of the more polarizing prospects in this year’s draft. Some analysts view him as a top 15 prospect while others don’t even rank him among their first 32 picks. In fact, SI.com’s Peter King recently reported that Poe is drawing the “widest disparity of opinion” among first-round prospects. He has drawn comparisons to both Haloti Ngata (good) and Ryan Sims (bad), with most of the positive comparisons coming after his dazzling combine workout. Analysts can agree that he’s extremely athletic, has excellent size and strength, and has plenty of upside. But he’s not a very good interior pass rusher, he wasn’t productive in college and he may be this year’s poster child for “workout warriors.” The media just can’t get an accurate gauge on where Poe will be selected and at this point, nobody should be surprised if he goes somewhere in the first 15 picks or drops into the second round.

3. Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Hill was largely considered a second-round prospect when he announced that he would forgo his senior season at Georgia Tech back in January. But after he ran an average of 4.32 in the 40-yard dash at this year’s scouting combine, analysts started to suggest he would be taken in the first round. When you consider he’s 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and can run a 4.32 forty, it’s hard to argue with that line of thinking. The problem, of course, is that Hill played in the tripe option offense under Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech and thus, he’ll be behind when he enters the NFL because he’s limited as a route runner. Some believe that Hill isn’t NFL-ready and his rising draft stock is based on his combine workout alone. What’s interesting is that if a team selects Hill in the bottom of the first round, they may get scrutinized but if someone takes him in the second, they would likely be viewed as a team that found value. (Just one more example of why all the pre-draft talk is rather silly. Fun as hell, but silly.)

4. Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina
There’s no question that Coples is a first-round prospect but where in the first round he’ll be selected is certainly up for debate. Many analysts view him as the best defensive end in the draft but there are questions about his motor. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds, people are enamored with his size but he isn’t viewed as an elite pass rusher so you almost have to buy the rumors that he’ll fall into the teens come Thursday night. But yet you look around and some analysts can’t help but put him in the top 10 of their mock drafts.

5. Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama
In the case of Jenkins, the disagreements have been whether or not he’ll be too much of a risk to take in the first round – not whether or not he’s talented. From a talent standpoint, there’s no question that he’s a first-round prospect. But he was kicked off the team at Florida because of multiple drug arrests and an assault charge, and also has four children born to three different women. There was a report that came out a few weeks ago that stated Jenkins admitted at the scouting combine that he continued to smoke pot last year while playing at North Alabama. But he has since denied that claim so it’s hard to know what to believe at this point. What we do know is that it only takes one team to fall in love with Jenkins to make him a first round pick. But given his off-field transgressions, it’ll be interesting to see if some analysts are correct when they think he’ll drop into the second round.

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NFL Scout: Stanford’s Coby Fleener “might be most overrated guy in the draft”

At least one NFL scout is suggesting that Stanford tight end Coby Fleener is overrated, this according to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“He wasn’t even the best tight end on their team,” another scout said. “No. 11 (sophomore Levine Toilolo), that’s the real deal. He might be the most overrated guy in the draft. He’s awful as a blocker. Despite his workout numbers he’s really not a quick-twitch, dynamic-moving guy. He’s a straight-line, build-up player. All these reports about him being an athlete and this and that, they’re assuming that because he ran fast. He’s really just a red-zone, jump-ball player.”

Ah, we must be getting really close to the draft when these types of reports start come out. All of a sudden every prospect is a bust-in-waiting and nobody can play.

In no way am I trashing McGinn’s report. If I had spoken to a NFL scout and that’s what he told me about Fleener, I would print it, too. But a standard NFL scouting staff is made up of three senior-level guys and then a slew of younger scouts trying to move up the ranks by gaining experience on the road. Thus, did McGinn talk to someone with over 20 years of experience or was it some younger scout trying to make a name for himself?

It’s no secret that Fleener isn’t a very physical player and doesn’t block well in the running game. So nobody should be taken aback by what the scout said about the tight end’s inability to block. But in terms of Fleener being “just a red-zone, jump-ball player,” I couldn’t disagree more.

Fleener does a very good job of using his 6-foot-6, 247-pound body when matched one-on-one with defenders. He’s also a natural pass catcher and a very good route runner, which would dispel the notion that he’s just a “jump-ball player.”

Is he the best prospect in this draft? Not by a long shot. But he’s clearly the best tight end and given the pass-happy offenses that teams are running in the NFL, he’s a bona fide late first-round pick. There’s no question a team that employs a creative thinker as an offensive coordinator would absolutely love to draw up plays for a versatile pass-catcher like Fleener.

It wouldn’t surprise me if this particular scout is using the media to sully Fleener’s on-field reputation because his team is thinking about drafting the tight end in the late first or early second. You just can’t trust anything that comes out between now and the draft because teams will say anything in efforts to throw their opponents off.

Is Brandon Weeden a first-round prospect?

Outside of whether or not the Vikings and/or Browns will pull off a surprise in the top 5 and seeing if any team will touch Janoris Jenkins in the first 32 picks, one of the biggest questions heading into the 2012 NFL Draft is whether or not Brandon Weeden is worth a first-round selection.

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Will Janoris Jenkins be worth the risk for one NFL team?

One could make the argument that there’s less intrigue at the top of the draft this year than there is at the bottom.

It would appear as though Andrew Luck will go to the Colts at No. 1 and the Redskins will select Robert Griffin III at No. 2. While the Vikings are reportedly looking at three prospects sitting at No. 3, if they choose Matt Kalil then other pieces could predictable fall into place. (Such as the Browns selecting Trent Richardson at No. 4, the Buccaneers taking Morris Claiborne at No. 5, and the Rams picking Justin Blackmon at No. 6.)

But one of the biggest questions facing teams selecting in the bottom half of the first round is whether or not talented but troubled North Alabama cornerback Janoris Jenkins will be worth the risk.

For those needing a recap, Jenkins was kicked off the team at Florida for two marijuana arrests, an assault charge and a failed drug test. He’s also been given the gift of fatherhood, although four of his children were born to three different women.

The thing is, Jenkins can play. Behind LSU’s Morris Claiborne and Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick, Jenkins is the third best prospect in this year’s draft class. He has average height and weight at 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, but where he excels is in coverage. Once he learns the nuances of the pro game, wideouts will have a tough time creating separation from Jenkins in either man or zone schemes. And while he didn’t face the stiffest competition at North Alabama, he played in plenty of press man and doesn’t shy away from contact when lined up in a receiver’s face.

The NFL is now a passing league and a player like Jenkins is awfully valuable because of the position he plays. But Pacman Jones was just as talented, if not more talented, coming out of West Virginia in 2005 and we’re all aware of his troubles. They might be two different people with two different paths in the NFL, but Jenkins hasn’t been able to shake the comparisons of Jones, who is on his third NFL team because he can’t stay out of trouble. Jenkins may go on to never commit another crime the rest of his life and wind up being a good father and role model. But as of this moment, teams can’t help but look at Jenkins and see Jones starring back at them.

So the question becomes, will Jenkins be worth the risk? To me, the NFL draft is all about value. You don’t draft on need – you stay true to your pre-draft rankings and you take the player at the top of your board. Granted, if two prospects are similar and one of them plays a position of need, then you obviously go with the player that also fills a need for you.

At some point, Jenkins will come to the top of a team’s draft board. That team can’t be sacred about taking him because at that point it becomes more about value and less about risk. Teams determine a prospect’s value based on, among other things, character concerns. Thus, if they stay true to their board, then that’s when it’s appropriate to take a leap of faith and trust that the kid will mature.

Remember, it only takes one team to fall in love with Jenkins – not 32. He’s a first-round talent and that’s where I expect him to inevitably be selected.

RG3 and his speed

Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III of Baylor University looks for a receiver during the team’s NCAA football game against the Washington Huskies at the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas, December 29, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Mitchell (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jason Whitlock has an interesting take on Robert Griffin III and the impressive 40-time he displayed at the combine.

In my opinion, Griffin’s speed doesn’t enhance his draft stock. It damages it.

I am not a Robert Griffin hater. I love RG3. In all likelihood, he will be my favorite NFL player next season. He could quickly become my favorite active athlete, ahead of Tiger Woods, Ray Lewis and Jeff George (has yet to file his retirement paperwork).

But I’m worried about Griffin. He’s blessed with too many tools. Oftentimes, the greatest athletes are physically limited, which strengthens their focus. Bill Russell could never match Wilt Chamberlain’s size and limitless athleticism. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson weren’t the greatest leapers or the quickest on their feet.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are relatively immobile. They play from the pocket because they have no choice. They mastered the art of playing from the pocket because they had no other choice.

NFL games are won most consistently by quarterbacks who play from the pocket. If a quarterback leaves the pocket, he’s going to get hit. If a quarterback gets hit regularly, he’s going to get hurt. If a franchise quarterback gets injured, his team has little chance of winning the Super Bowl.

NFL teams are looking for the next Manning or Brady. Or the next Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. A little mobility is good, especially if the quarterback moves in the pocket in an effort to throw downfield. Rodgers and Big Ben are terrific at moving to throw. Is that how Griffin will use his athleticism?

Or does Griffin have so much speed that he’ll channel Michael Vick?

Whitlock goes on to recount Vick’s early problems as he relied too much on his speed and athleticism. Athletes like Steve Young had to learn how to stay in the pocket.

Whitlock basically sums up the primary reason why Andrew Luck is rated higher than RG3, even as some think RG3 has more upside. It’s a risk/reward analysis. Luck has shown that he can win strictly as a pocket passer, using his athleticism only when needed.

Can RG3 learn to play that way? Of course he can. But just because he has the aptitude and temperament to learn doesn’t guarantee success. Luck isn’t guaranteed success either, but we’ve seen him operate consistently from the pocket, so there’s less risk.

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