NFL Draft  


War Room Debates: Comparison shopping in Round 2


The start of the 2010 NFL Draft is less than a week away, and most of the draft boards throughout the league are set.

However, scouts and coaches are still busy conducting mock draft scenarios to determine where some of the players that best fit their respective teams might land.

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In going through these exercises, personnel departments spend countless hours weighing the pros and cons of each prospect, and often compare two or more similarly graded players before settling on their targeted player.

With scouts and coaches across the league grinding the tape to put the finishing touches on their positional rankings, it is a great time to look at some of the intriguing debates that are weighing heavily on their minds.

Benn or Tate?

The wide receiver position is loaded with second-round talent. After Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas, the battle for the third receiver off the board will likely come down to Arrelious Benn of Illinois and Notre Dame's Golden Tate.

In making the comparison between the two dynamic players, it really comes down to a preference in styles. Benn is a big, physical pass catcher with outstanding hands. He is a fearless receiver over the middle of the field, and has a knack for making tough grabs between the hashes. Additionally, he is an excellent runner after the catch, and his ability to run through arm tackles makes him a dangerous threat in the open field. Though he only has seven touchdowns in his career, his limited production was the result of spotty play from the quarterback position, not from Benn's inability to make things happen with the ball in his hands.

When studying Tate's game, it is all about speed and quickness. The former Notre Dame star is an explosive playmaker with sneaky burst and acceleration. Tate excels at running after the catch, and the former high school running back has a knack for creating big plays with the ball in his hands. In addition, he is an outstanding pass catcher who attacks the ball. Though he lacks ideal size (5-foot-10, 199 pounds) for the position, he routinely comes down with jump balls against bigger defenders, and his aggressiveness to the ball reveals his fierce competitiveness. While some would downgrade Tate's skills as a route runner, he has a knack for getting away from coverage, and his skills will only improve with more reps as a pro. Given his unique ability to put the ball in the paint (30 career touchdowns, including 18 total scores in 2009), he is the kind of explosive weapon that creative play callers love to incorporate into the game plan.

As scouts project Tate and Benn as pros, most have suggested the duo is reminiscent of the Panthers' Steve Smith (Tate) and the Ravens' Anquan Boldin (Benn). And making the decision between the two prospects will undoubtedly come down to scheme fit. Tate is ideally suited to play in an offense that features heavy elements of the spread passing game, while Benn is a perfect fit in a West Coast-style system that prefers big, physical receivers with excellent running skills.

Mays or Allen?

The safety position is loaded with talent this year, as the top two players at the position -- Eric Berry and Earl Thomas -- may wind up as top-10 picks. With those prospects bound to come off the board early, the battle to be the third safety off the board comes down to USC's Taylor Mays and South Florida's Nate Allen.

Mays, an impressive physical specimen at 6-3 and nearly 230 pounds, dazzled scouts with his sensational performance at the NFL Scouting Combine. He blazed times in low 4.4s in the 40-yard dash, and ranked among the top performers in the vertical jump, broad jump and bench press. The buzz generated from the performance sent Mays' stock soaring, and sent scouts scurrying to the film room to re-evaluate his on-field performance.

After watching the tape, it is obvious that Mays is an outstanding athlete with exceptional physical attributes. He is a long, rangy player with explosive straight-line speed. Mays shows good instincts and awareness against the run and is quick to fill the alley when in run support. He is a big hitter in the hole, but is an inconsistent tackler. Mays fails to wrap up on his tackles and often falls off after making initial contact. When used as an eighth defender in the box, Mays has the size to function as an extra linebacker, and his impressive athleticism makes him a dangerous threat as a rusher off the edge.

Interestingly, that remarkable athleticism doesn't always stand out when he is left in coverage. Mays routinely takes bad angles from the deep middle, and is often a step late making plays on the ball. Given his impressive physical attributes, his struggles in coverage led to questions about his instincts and awareness. He simply fails to make plays on the ball when given chances, and his five career interceptions (in four seasons as the team's starting free safety) are disappointing based on his outstanding athletic potential.

In studying Allen's game, the South Florida star can best be described as a natural center fielder in the secondary. He is smooth and fluid in his movements, and shows exceptional range from the deep middle. Allen easily gets from the middle of the field to the numbers on deep outside throws. Although Allen ranks as a top athlete, his exceptional instincts and awareness allow him to routinely anticipate plays from the back end. With 10 career interceptions, including five picks in 2009, he shows good ball skills and playmaking ability in coverage.

As a run defender, however, Allen is not a physical or imposing force in the alley. He is not a headhunter at the position, but is an adequate tackler. He consistently gets runners on the ground, but doesn't show a lot of pop or force on contact.

In making a decision regarding which one deserves to be third on the draft boards, scouts have to consider how each player fits within their respective scheme. Mays evokes comparisons to the Cardinals' Adrian Wilson, and will be coveted by teams looking to add a versatile defender with the skills to make an impact as a multifaceted box defender.

Allen, on the other hand, is a deep middle player in the mold of Darren Sharper. Teams looking to add a ball-hawking safety with outstanding range will covet Allen due to his outstanding skills as a playmaker.

Price or Houston?

The defensive tackle position has been lauded as one of the deepest spots in the draft. Scouts expect at least four interior defenders to come off the board in the first round, but it would not surprise many to see a fifth defensive tackle come off the board at the bottom of the round.

Looking at the possible players poised to make a jump into the first stanza, the intriguing battle to shoot up the board could come down to Brian Price of UCLA and Lamarr Houston of Texas. The duo has flown under the radar during the run up to the draft, but both have drawn significant interest from scouts in recent weeks. With the draft capable of taking any number of turns in the early stages, both players could be in play within the draft's top 40 picks.

Price, who earned Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2009, is a disruptive interior defender with outstanding initial quickness. His ability get off the ball is amazing, and routinely results in Price blowing up plays before they are able to unfold. He combines his exceptional quickness with outstanding hand usage, and has the skills to be a superior pass rusher from the "under" tackle position.

As run defender, Price possesses the quickness to slip into the gap when working a blocker's edges, and his solid instincts often lead him to fall into running plays in the backfield. While Price's height (6-1) is less than ideal for a "three-technique," the 303-pounder makes up for the deficiency by playing with an exceptional motor and sense of urgency. He refuses to quit on plays, and the relentless effort routinely leads to solid production. The only other knock associated with Price is his penchant for falling on the ground due to his occasional recklessness inside.

In evaluating Houston, the former high school running back is best described as a nimble athlete with outstanding strength and power. Houston has the ability to out-quick interior blockers at the snap or use his superior strength to maul them at the line of scrimmage. His unique skill set makes him difficult to neutralize when he is used on angle rushes or stunts, and his ability to run down plays from the backside is a trait that is rare for an athlete of his stature.

When pointing out weaknesses in Houston's game, scouts will point to his inability to hold the point consistently against double teams. He can be washed down the line if he is unable to split the block with his exceptional first-step quickness. Though he showed improvement when working against double teams in drills at the Senior Bowl, it occasionally shows up when studying his film from the regular season.

In making the decision between the two hard-working interior players, it will boil down to preference and fit within a scheme. While Price's college production can't be disputed, his height is atypical for the "three-technique" position as a pro. Thus, he may be viewed as a nose tackle on some boards.

Regardless, both players are solid prospects, and they should hear their names called at the bottom of the first or top of the second round.



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