NFL Draft  

 

Deep talent pool fuels war room debates as draft day nears

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On the eve of the 2010 NFL Draft, scouts and coaches are still trying to sort out the order at the top of the draft board.

This year's draft class features outstanding talent at several positions, and the depth at those respective positions fuels heated debates among evaluators.

Decision makers must determine which prospects have the most potential to thrive within their systems, and some of their choices will be disputed for years based on the performances of those prospects.

With so much of the first round determined by the winners of these contentious discussions, it is time to take a look at some of the heated debates being waged in war rooms.

1. Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy?

Suh and McCoy are undoubtedly the top ranked defensive tackles in the 2010 NFL Draft class, but scouts are still undecided about which one deserves top billing.

Suh, who won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and finished as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, was the most dominant college football player in the country last season. He led Nebraska's top-ranked defense with 82 tackles, and finished with 23 tackles for loss. Additionally, he tallied 12 sacks and recorded 26 quarterback hurries.

Although those numbers are indicative of his dominance, a glance at the game tape shows a ferocious interior defender with exceptional strength and power. Suh simply overwhelms blockers at the point of attack with his brute strength, and creates disruption by routinely playing on the opponent's side of the line of scrimmage. Suh generates a strong push up the middle, and his ability to bully opponents with his power is a remarkable asset.

In addition to dazzling scouts with his superior strength, Suh possesses rare athleticism for a man of his size. He shows outstanding first step quickness, and flashes an explosive closing burst while chasing down quarterbacks or runners from the backside. Though Suh isn't exceptionally creative with his rush moves, his unique combination of strength, power and athleticism allows him to rack up extraordinary production as a pass rusher.

As for McCoy, he is best described as an athletic interior defender with exceptional physical tools. He is a nimble athlete with an outstanding "get off." His anticipation of the snap count is amazing, and his superior first step quickness allows him to routinely get into the backfield before blockers are barely out of their stances.

Additionally, McCoy uses quickness and athleticism to defeat blockers by working on their edges. His ability to work at angles is showcased in the Sooners' movement-based scheme, and often results in disruptive plays from McCoy. Though he tallied only six sacks on the season, his 15.5 tackles for loss are indicative of the kind of impact that he can make as an interior defender let loose in an attack-style defense.

However, it would be wrong to assume that McCoy's skills aren't suited to thrive in other schemes. The former Oklahoma star also flashes good strength and power at the point of attack. While he doesn't overwhelm blockers with brute force, he is capable of holding the point against double teams, and is stout enough to maintain his leverage against bigger blockers on the interior. Throw in his exceptional hand usage and he would still pose problems as a "two-gap" player in a conventional defensive system.

Suh and McCoy are two of the most dominant defensive tackles to enter the draft in years, but their styles are so drastically different that the debate over which player deserves top billing will come down to preference and fit within a respective scheme.

Teams looking for a stout, power player to man their three-technique position will favor Suh, while advocates of aggressive one-gap schemes will prefer McCoy's skill set.

With the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers poised to add an interior defender to their rosters, the debate is heating up in their respective war rooms, and the decision could have significant impact on the remainder of the first round.

2. Trent Williams or Russell Okung?

The 2010 NFL Draft may see as many as four offensive tackles come off the board within the top ten selections, and many have assumed that Okung would be the first one taken, based on his status as the premier offensive tackle in the draft.

However, the growing buzz in league circles is that Williams is threatening to supplant Okung as the top player at the position on the heels of his strong offseason.

Williams, who logged starts at both offensive tackle spots and center during his career at Oklahoma, is rising up draft boards across the league due to his exceptional athleticism and movement skills. He has dazzled evaluators with his agility in individual workouts, and his impressive performance at the NFL Scouting Combine showcased his outstanding dexterity.

Williams clocked the second fastest 40-yard dash time of all offensive linemen (4.88), and ranked among the top performers in the vertical jump, broad jump and 20-yad short shuttle.

The eye-opening performance raised his profile in the minds of evaluators, and sent them scurrying back to the film room to study Williams' game film.

In looking at his tapes, scouts see an athletic offensive tackle with outstanding footwork and lateral movement skills. Williams slides effortlessly to mirror the movements of swift edge rushers, and he possesses the balance and body control to react to their counters. Additionally, Williams flashes a strong initial punch and is relentless with his hands.

As a run blocker, Williams' superior athleticism allows him to easily climb to the second level on downfield blocks, and he possesses the quickness to seal the edge on outside runs. Throw in the nasty disposition that Williams displays while finishing blocks, and there is a lot to like about his skills and potential as a pro.

However, Williams' detractors will point out that he lacks focus at times, and those lapses of concentration routinely result in blown assignments. Additionally, the reports of questionable work habits have raised some concern about Williams' ability to maximize his potential.

Okung, who logged 47 career starts at left tackle during his four seasons at Oklahoma State, is regarded as the premier player at the position. He is an outstanding technician who displays exceptional balance and body control in his movements. He plays with exceptional hand usage, and flashes a staggering initial punch.

Additionally, Okung shows outstanding instincts and awareness while adjusting to various games and stunts off the edge. He shows a tremendous feel for the position, and his wealth of experience leads to few mental errors that show up on tape.

When looking for a weakness in Okung's game, the biggest area of concern is his run blocking. While Okung does a good job of sustaining his blocks at the point of attack, he fails to consistently finish in a dominant manner. He too often lets defenders wiggle free before the down is complete. In addition, some scouts have suggested that he doesn't look fluid when he pulls or traps in space. While he makes solid contact on his attempts, he doesn't stand out as an impressive athlete when blocking on the move.

Although those sentiments can be regarded as nitpicking, those concerns have opened the door for Williams to make a strong play for the top spot at the position on some boards.

With teams like the Redskins and Seahawks employing zone-based schemes that prefer athletic blockers along the line, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Williams is the top-rated offensive tackle prospect in those rooms.

However, the decision to bypass a premier left tackle prospect in favor of a better athlete could be difficult to explain on draft day.

3. Joe Haden or Kyle Wilson?

The race for the top spot at the cornerback position in the 2010 NFL Draft is shaping up to be a tight one between Florida's Haden and Boise State's Wilson.

Haden, who entered the draft as a junior after a stellar three-year career at Florida, has widely been regarded as the consensus No.1 player at the position throughout the pre-draft process. As a smooth and fluid cover man with outstanding instincts, Haden shows excellent potential as a "lock-down" corner. He routinely blankets receivers in coverage, and has the versatile skill set to excel in man or zone schemes. Haden's superior ball skills and playmaking ability has resulted in eight career interceptions, and he displays an uncanny knack for being around the ball.

In spite of his outstanding talent, Haden's stock has taken a tumble since he reportedly recorded a poor time of 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine. The disappointing time led to questions about his speed and explosiveness for the position, and had many executives expressing reservations about taking him within the top 10.

Although he made amends running in the 4.4s on his pro day, the search for a new No.1 corner commenced and Wilson has benefited as a result.

Not that the former Boise State star isn't worthy of the attention after shining as a corner and return specialist for the Broncos for four seasons.

Wilson, who tallied 11 career interceptions and three punt return scores during his time at Boise State, is regarded as a top-notch cover corner with outstanding skills. He has exceptional speed and quickness, and displays fluid movement skills in space. Although he has the ability to play from "off" in coverage, Wilson is at his best when allowed to press receivers at the line of scrimmage. He has the ability to laterally mirror their movements at the line, and his recovery speed allows him to maintain position down the field.

Additionally, he is aggressive with his hands at the snap, and his surprising strength (recorded 25 bench press reps of 225 pounds at the combine) allows him to re-route receivers early in routes. He impressed scouts with his cover skills and aggressiveness during the Senior Bowl practices, and his stock has been on the rise since that point.

When looking at Wilson's fatal flaw, scouts will cite his size (5-foot-10, 194 pounds) as a concern due to the abundance of "big" receivers (receivers over 6-1) dominating the game today. Evaluators worry about his ability to hold up in jump ball situations against pass catchers adept at posting up smaller defenders.

Interestingly, Haden only enjoys an inch advantage over Wilson, but he isn't perceived as a small corner in league circles.

With both corners possessing the skills and athleticism to fit into any scheme, the deciding factor could come down to performance against elite competition. Haden waged weekly battles against receivers from the highly regarded SEC conference, while Wilson dominated pass catchers from the WAC.

Though a fair share of pros have come from the WAC, there is a perception that the SEC features the best of the best, and Haden's exceptional track record against that level of competition will give him the nod in the minds of evaluators.

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