Consensus is a rare commodity in the NFL scouting community. What might be one talent evaluator's diamond is another's cubic zirconia. Even on the best prospects, there typically are mixed reviews.
Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry could be on his way to becoming that rare prospect who everyone agrees is the best in his class following his astounding performance last month at the NFL Scouting Combine.
That doesn't necessarily mean the Detroit Lions will take Curry No. 1 in the draft, but that he's even in the conversation as an outside linebacker goes to show just how highly he has risen in scouts' eyes.
Only four linebackers have been taken first overall in league history, and only one was an outside linebacker (Aundray Bruce in 1988). No linebacker has been chosen with the top pick since the Atlanta Falcons went with Bruce. A.J. Hawk is the only one to even be selected in the top five since 2001
(No. 5 by the Green Bay Packers in 2006).
It appears highly unlikely at this point that Curry would fall out of the top five. Every NFL.com mock draft has Curry listed in the top five.
Curry has garnered so much respect because of a combination of his excellent senior season that won him the Butkus Award as the nation's top college linebacker and his incredible combine workouts.
NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock has had Curry listed as his top overall prospect for some time.
"He's too strong for tight ends, he's too quick for tackles," Mayock said. "He's the ultimate package."
Fellow NFL Network analyst Steve Mariucci believes Curry is the draft's most versatile linebacker, and Warren Sapp said during the on-air NFL Network broadcast of the linebacker drills: "When you see him, he just jumps out at you. This is his coming-out party."
Running the 40-yard dash in 4.56 seconds, recording a 37-inch vertical and tallying a 10-foot, 4-inch broad jump will prompt those reactions. All three marks were the best of all the linebackers at the combine. Those three drills are prime indicators of a player's explosion and athleticism (see Mayock break down the drills), and Curry was outstanding in all three.
What's more, Curry also nailed his positional workouts. Not that this should be a surprise. Curry was a dominant force at Wake Forest.
"Curry is what I call scheme diverse," Mayock said. "He can play anywhere, anytime. Just put the tape on, and he's a football player."
Such acclaim is a recent development for the late-blooming Curry, who lacked size coming out of high school and was barely recruited. Wake Forest was one of Curry's only Football Bowl Subdivision scholarship offers, and he jumped at the chance to play for the Demon Deacons.
Curry credits the non-believers he confronted coming out of high school for driving him to become the NFL prospect he is today.
"All the doubters are really what motivates you in the weight room, when you got your last set coming up, and somebody just tells you to get it done," Curry said. "You know that you have to get it done because there is some people out there that believe you can't get it done, so you have to prove them wrong.
"To be able to stand up here and speak as the nation's best linebacker is a great feeling."
Using the doubters as motivation is common among the world's best athletes, but it only takes a player so far. At some point, even the most elite must dig further and find another source of desire to separate themselves and reach the top.
For Curry, that extra ambition came from a trying adolescence.
"The situations that I've faced in my life, as far as housing and whether it's provided tomorrow or not, kept me motivated," Curry explained.
Coming home for break after his sophomore year at Wake Forest, Curry expected a normal summer. Instead, he was welcomed by the jarring news that he actually had no home -- his mother had been evicted.
While his teammates regenerated for their next football season, Curry scrambled to find a place to live (he eventually moved in with a friend) and worried that his family life was crumbling around him as his mother and siblings struggled to financially survive.
It would be hard to blame Curry if he was unprepared to play that fall. But rather than let it get him down, Curry used the experience as a motivational tool. He no longer had any choice but to succeed if he wanted to provide for his family.
"To know that any given moment everything could be stripped from you like that," an emotional Curry shared. "That was one of the biggest turning moments in my life where I realized I had to do something."
What Curry did was become one of the nation's best young linebackers. As a redshirt sophomore, he helped the Demon Deacons win their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in 36 years, and he posted a junior campaign in which he tied the NCAA record for interception-return touchdowns by a linebacker with three. As a senior, Curry led Wake Forest with 105 tackles (16 for loss) and three fumble recoveries.
His college coach, Jim Grobe, also had a profound influence -- so much so that Curry dropped his post-playing-career goal of going to law school because he believed he could make a bigger impact in the community as a college coach.
"When I'm done playing football, I want to go back and help young men at a critical point in their lives and help them get through school and be successful players and people," Curry said.
But it appears Curry won't be done playing football for quite some time. Not only does he have the impressive physical skills he showed in college and at the combine, he also possesses the intangibles.
Two of his Wake Forest teammates, defensive backs Alphonso Smith and Chip Vaughn, also attended the combine and gushed when describing Curry. They both said Curry is the best player in the draft, and while it's not surprising his teammates would think that, their reasoning went beyond measurables.
Smith, a potential first-round draft pick, didn't enjoy much of his press conference, in which he was peppered with questions about his diminutive stature. His face immediately lit up, though, when he was asked about Curry.
"A lot of people don't know, but Aaron Curry is probably the smartest football player in this draft," Smith said with a smile. "He understands football. He's a great leader.
"It's kind of hard to explain it. You have to see it really to understand it (his knowledge of the game and leadership)."
Vaughn enthusiastically added that Curry is a, "great, outstanding, character guy, a leader on the football field."
As for Curry himself, he clearly has confidence in his abilities, but he maintains the same humility that comes from being an overlooked player most of his career.
"For so long, I watched all of the other athletes perform, and I always said, 'I want to be like him. I want to be better than him,'" Curry said. "I'm just amazed by the talent that has been out here, and to know that I was out here now, and somebody out in the world is saying, 'Wow.'"
The possibility of going No. 1 overall in the draft has only deepened Curry's reservoir of motivation, making it that much harder if another player expects to pass him between now and April.
"It did motivate me to know that if I put on a good enough show, maybe they (the Lions) may feel like they could build a team around a linebacker," Curry said. "Add me with Ernie Sims, and maybe we could make some big plays."
The next chance for Curry to cement his status as the best player in this year's draft is at his Pro Day on March 23.
Expect more of the same dominance from a player who likes being on top too much to allow himself to fall.