The 2013 NFL Scouting Combine is on the horizon, which means evaluators are working around the clock to finish up detailed scouting reports on NFL hopefuls. These documents not only describe a prospect's background, character and playing ability, but they also include comparisons to thriving pros, painting a vivid picture of a player's game and potential in the minds of general managers and coaches.
As a young scout with the Seattle Seahawks, I was encouraged by future general managers John Schneider, Scot McCloughan and Ted Thompson to monitor the progress of players across the NFL, and use them as a reference point when projecting the potential of prospects. By obtaining a better understanding of how players succeed in the NFL, despite perceived flaws and/or unorthodox games, I gained a better feel for how future pros could thrive in the NFL with similar skill sets.
In the past few days, I have engaged in several interesting conversations with my Tweeps about some of the top prospects in the 2013 class. While giving my opinion on the talent and potential of several NFL hopefuls, I routinely provided a pro comparison as a point of reference. Not surprisingly, the comparison frequently caused a bigger reaction than my overall assessment of a prospect's game and potential.
Here are the 10 notable comparisons that came to mind while I watched fall tape. Feel free to hit me back with your feedback on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
Smith has been described as a "ho-hum" quarterback prospect in some circles, but I see a polished pocket passer with outstanding arm talent and passing skills. Smith displays the capacity to throw the ball accurately to every area of the field with zip, velocity and touch. Additionally, he flashes anticipation and awareness by leading receivers into open areas against tight coverage. Although a lot has been made of Smith's late-season struggles -- he tossed six interceptions over Mountaineers' final seven games after throwing 25 touchdown passes with zero picks in the team's first six games -- the fact that he finished the season with a 42:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio behind a leaky offensive line suggests that the reports of his questionable pocket presence and progression awareness are greatly exaggerated. Now, I'm not suggesting Smith doesn't have flaws that should rate as concerns for prospective teams, but I don't believe his deficiencies are significant enough to keep him from being a productive starter in the NFL.
Bernard surprised some evaluators when he elected to enter the 2013 NFL Draft after a brief (but productive) career at North Carolina. However, I believe Bernard is not only ready for the next level, but he has a game that is ideally suited for the NFL. He is the classic three-down back with the capacity to impact the game as a runner or receiver. He is a slippery, between-the-tackles runner with exceptional vision and stop-start quickness. Although his game is built on quickness rather than speed, Bernard shows the ability to generate home-run plays with the ball in his hands. In the passing game, Bernard is a natural receiver with outstanding hands and receiving skills. Quarterbacks will love to target Bernard on third-and-medium situations on option routes, as he overwhelms linebackers with his quickness and burst in space. Factor in his explosiveness as a returner (see: Bernard's walk-off punt-return TD against N.C. State), and it is hard to find holes in his game, despite diminutive stature.
Mayock's prospect rankings
Woods seemingly became an afterthought in the USC offense after Marqise Lee's emergence as one of the top playmakers in college football. But astute NFL scouts see Woods as a polished receiver with all of the traits to be an effective starter as a pro. He is a gifted pass catcher with exceptional hands and ball skills. Woods snatches the ball out of the air cleanly, rarely flinching while making catches with defenders in close proximity. Additionally, Woods is a deft route runner with an innate feel for setting up defenders with various stems and tempos. He understands how to get open against any coverage -- this quality will make him a favorite of play callers and quarterbacks across the NFL. While some scouts will question Woods' top-end speed, I believe his polished game will eventually make him a Pro Bowler.
Glennon is one of the most hotly debated prospects in the 2013 class. Some scouts love his size and A-plus arm talent, while others are concerned with his limited mobility and decision-making under duress. When I watch Glennon on tape, I'm impressed with his pure passing ability. He spins the ball with tremendous zip and velocity, and shows the capacity to put the ball in the strike zone against tight coverage. Additionally, Glennon is a terrific deep-ball passer adept at dropping the ball down the chute on vertical throws. Now, I'm certainly troubled by his penchant for turning the ball over while under duress (Glennon tossed 17 interceptions in 2013, with three separate games featuring three-plus picks), as well as his limited athleticism. But I think he has the potential to thrive in an offense that prominently features the deep ball. With NFL offensive coordinators willing to adapt their respective systems to the fit the talents of the quarterback, Glennon could enjoy a productive career as a classic drop-back passer.
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Bell is one of the few big backs available in this draft, but he displays a game that is typically associated with scat backs in the NFL. He is a powerful runner between the tackles, but is also effective running off tackle or on the edges. Bell shows deceptive speed in getting to the perimeter, while also displaying better-than-anticipated wiggle and elusiveness in space. He is a rare runner with the ability to run over or around defenders, and NFL coaches will love building game plans around a back capable of handling 20 to 25 carries a game. Additionally, Bell is an impressive receiver out of the backfield with strong hands and ball skills. Although his size restricts some of his effectiveness as a route runner in space, Bell is an effective playmaker in the aerial attack with the potential to impact the game as a three-down player.
NFL comparison: Charles Woodson, Free agent
Vaccaro is the kind of hybrid safety NFL defensive coaches covet. The Texas standout is not only an outstanding hitter and playmaker against the run, but he is a terrific cover man with outstanding man-to-man skills, to boot. He can match up with tight ends and slot receivers in space, while also excelling as a deep-middle player in zone. Most importantly, Vaccaro displays the versatility to align anywhere in the back end, which makes him a valuable commodity as a playmaking safety in the middle of a sub-package. With the NFL quickly shifting to a league governed by the pass, Vaccaro is the prototypical safety needed to diffuse explosive offensive attacks.
Austin is a unique playmaker at the receiver position. Checking in at 5-foot-9 and 174 pounds, Austin lacks the ideal size to be the primary option in the passing game, but displays a combination of speed, quickness and explosiveness that makes him a dangerous weapon in space. The Mountaineers capitalized on his skills by frequently getting him touches on bubble screens and quick routes on the perimeter. Additionally, Austin showed the ability to carry the ball as a running back (72 rushing attempts for 643 yards in 2012, including a remarkable 344-yard effort against Oklahoma), enhancing his value as a potential difference maker on Sundays. Given the fact that playmakers are always valued at a premium in the NFL, Austin is an intriguing prospect for several teams.
Werner only has five years of organized-football experience, but he quickly developed into one of the most dominant players in college football. The former German exchange student is a high-motor pass rusher with exceptional first-step quickness and burst. He overwhelms blockers with his initial quickness, but also shows the capacity to turn speed into power. As a result, Werner routinely made plays off the edge (13 sacks in 2012), emerging as a true difference maker against the pass. As a run defender, Werner is a stout player at the point of attack, showing the strength, power and toughness to set the edge. Although Werner still needs to add some polish to his rugged game, he will enjoy success as a pro due to his persistence and relentlessness.
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Fisher is the most athletic offensive tackle in the draft. He displays exceptional agility and lateral quickness in matchups against finesse rushers, yet also shows the balance and body control to contain power players off the edge. Additionally, Fisher showcases the requisite nastiness to be an effective blocker in the run game. Given Fisher's unique combination of skills and size (6-8, 305), it is easy to see why scouts are buzzing about his potential as a standout left tackle at the next level.
It is uncommon for a defensive tackle to rank as one of the leading tacklers on a productive defense, but that was the case with Richardson at Missouri. He dominates the game with his quickness, athleticism and motor; NFL coaches will love his ability to make plays all over the field against the run or pass. As a pass rusher, Richardson blows past blockers with an explosive first-step and shows a knack for getting skinny in cracks to get to the quarterback. Additionally, Richardson displays excellent hand skills by masterfully winning hand-to-hand combat exchanges in tight quarters. Although Richardson can be engulfed by big bodies in the run game, he continues to produce with his quickness and burst. Most importantly, Richardson hustles and chases all over the field, demonstrating his will to win.