As we inch closer to the 2010 NFL Draft, scouts are starting to uncover answers to the hard questions that will ultimately shape what happens when teams are officially on the clock.
Occasionally, scouts discover these answers on their own. Most of the time, however, the answers are derived from a series of debates -- sometimes contentious -- with fellow evaluators.
Using those meaningful debates as a premise, I thought I'd take a look at some questions that are being pitched in various war rooms across the league. Here are the five burning questions for this week:
1. Closest Chris Johnson clone?
Although Clemson's C.J. Spiller naturally comes to mind due to his exceptional speed and explosiveness, Cal's Jahvid Best is the runner who most resembles Titans 2,000-yard rusher Chris Johnson.
Best is a dynamic runner with outstanding speed, quickness and vision. He has the burst and quickness to get to the corner, but also flashes the instincts and cutback ability to attack as a downhill runner. Best's patience to the line of scrimmage is extraordinary for a fast guy, and his burst to the second level makes him a threat to take it the distance at any time.
(While Spiller's track exploits are roundly touted, it should be noted that Best was California's state 100-meter champion as a high school senior with a time of 10.31, and also has recorded a 20.65 in the 200 meters.)
Best was widely considered the best runner in college football last season until a series of concussions derailed his junior season after only nine games. At the time of his injury, he had recorded five 100-yard games and was averaging a robust 6.1 yards per carry. This came on the heels of his sensational sophomore season, when he rushed for 1,580 yards with eight 100-yard games, including four games with 200 or more rushing yards. Not that statistics are an indicator of future success, but Best's outstanding production is noteworthy when considering his big-play ability.
(For comparison's sake, Spiller has tallied 11 100-yard games in his career, but five of those occurred during his freshman season.)
While Spiller is flying up the charts as teams are looking for the next CJ2K, scouts would be wise to take a closer look at Best.
2. Who should Rams take at No. 1?
Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh are outstanding prospects, but the Rams should take quarterback Sam Bradford with the first overall pick.
This is a QB-driven league, and the Rams can never ascend to the ranks of the elite without a legitimate threat at the position. Last season, the NFL had 10 4,000-yard passers, and seven led their teams into the playoffs.
While Suh or McCoy would undoubtedly upgrade the Rams' woeful defense, the presence of a legitimate stud under center will enhance the team's chances of making the playoffs in the near future.
Bradford is viewed as the top player at the position this year and was even viewed by many scouts as the top quarterback in last season's draft before he elected to return for his senior year at Oklahoma. A study of his game tape reveals that he is an extremely accurate passer with the arm strength to make all the necessary throws on the next level. While injuries during his final season have raised some concerns about durability, he has received a strong endorsement from his doctors and appeared to come through the exams at the NFL Scouting Combine unscathed from a medical standpoint.
With reports emerging that he has the "it" factor that franchise quarterbacks must possess, Bradford is just an impressive workout away from putting the pressure on the Rams to take him at No. 1. St. Louis passed on Matt Ryan and Mark Sanchez in recent years, and the franchise can't continue to move forward without a stud QB.
3. Did Haden's 40 time hurt him?
Florida cornerback Joe Haden will likely fall out of the top 10 on draft day, but it will be based on team needs rather than his disappointing 40-yard dash at the combine. Only one team (Cleveland) picking in th top 10 needs help in the secondary. The Browns' desire to shore up their corner and safety situations could lead them to take Tennessee safety Eric Berry, if he is available when Cleveland picks at No. 7.
But whether or not Haden goes in the top 10, he remains the top corner in the draft. He is an outstanding technician with excellent instincts and awareness. His exceptional ability to read routes allows him to get quick jumps on throws, and he is a natural ball hawk with good hands.
Although his disappointing 40-time forced scouts to reevaluate his game to see if his speed was an issue on tape, he played so well against a talented group of receivers in the SEC that his speed shouldn't be questioned by evaluators on draft day.
4. Is Mays' stock on the rise?
USC safety Taylor Mays had a sensational workout that created quite a stir at the combine, but it has done little to change his status on draft boards across the league. He was viewed as an exceptional athlete prior to his workout, so his exceptional results only reaffirmed that belief among scouts.
However, scouts and coaches are all over the board when assessing Mays' potential as a player. While he is viewed as one of the most intriguing prospects in the draft, his disappointing senior year exposed his weaknesses in coverage. As a "big" safety with rare physical dimensions, Mays struggles at times in coverage and isn't a natural ball hawk in the middle of the field.
In addition, Mays' reputation as a big hitter overshadows the fact that he can be a shoddy tackler in the hole and fails to take proper angles in the open field.
There is no denying that Mays is an exceptional athlete with all of the physical tools to be an all-star caliber player. But scouts and coaches are unsure about his ability to transfer his athleticism to the field in the NFL.
5. Why is Pierre-Paul dropping?
South Florida defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul was quickly placed atop the list of available pass rushers when he declared for the draft in January. But after closer examinations, scouts are slowly backing away from their lofty assessments.
Although Pierre-Paul is a freakish athlete with developing rush skills, teams are fearful that he may be a "one-year wonder" with serious bust potential. He is a former junior college transfer with only one season of football at a major college program, and his limited experience in the game has raised concerns in the minds of many evaluators.
Additionally, Pierre-Paul reportedly didn't interview well with some teams at the combine, and questions are mounting about his readiness to handle the spotlight as a potential top pick.
Pierre-Paul's immense talent and athletic potential deservedly make him worthy of first-round consideration, but the emerging red flags will likely lead to a slide on draft day.