I've often wondered how different the NFL draft would look if it was conducted closer to the conclusion of college football's regular season.
Scouts would have to base their opinions solely off game tape and avoid the influence of the NFL Scouting Combine and pre-draft workouts. While those events are important in the evaluation process, the image of watching top prospects perform in shorts and T-shirts can prompt evaluators to overestimate the pro potential of players who haven't consistently produced at an elite level on tape.
Brooks: Prospect tiers
There are three tiers of top-end prospects: elites, blue chips and red chips. Bucky Brooks breaks down the 2012 class.
Coaches, in particular, are prone to become enamored with prospects after watching them perform in person. Coaches routinely believe they have the ability to unlock a player's untapped potential with proper instruction and scheming, which leads some teams to select guys higher than their value based on tape study.
With the draft only a week away and the scouting community buzzing about the rise of a handful of players on draft boards across the league, here are five prospects who are overrated at this point of the process:
1. Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A&M: Tannehill has become one of the most debated prospects in the scouting community following his ascension up the charts in recent weeks. His supporters see an athletic quarterback with outstanding physical tools and potential, but some scouts harbor concerns about his limited game experience and indecisiveness in the pocket. While the desperation for finding a franchise quarterback routinely boosts the value of prospects with potential, Tannehill's game currently falls short of normal top-10 expectations.
2. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis: After dazzling scouts with his impressive combination of size, strength and athleticism at the combine, Poe has experienced a meteoric rise up the charts in most war rooms. He has been pegged as a candidate to come off the board within the first 10 picks, but his lackluster production on tape should raise concerns about his ability to make an immediate impact as a pro.
3. Stephon Gilmore, CB, South Carolina: Gilmore quietly has vaulted into top-20 consideration after a solid set of workouts during the offseason. Coaches and scouts are enchanted by his size, athleticism and toughness, but Gilmore didn't stand out as an elite cover corner when studying his tape. He lacks the tools and technical savvy to lock down talented receivers in isolated matchups (man coverage), which makes projecting Gilmore as a premier cover corner problematic in my opinion.
4. Doug Martin, RB, Boise State: Martin's stock is rising rapidly following impressive showings at the Senior Bowl and combine. Evaluators envision him blossoming into a productive feature back in a power-based offense, but Martin doesn't display elite traits (speed, quickness and body control) as a runner on tape. While Martin's size and production certainly merit consideration early in the draft, he is a good (but not great) player who lacks the traditional skills associated with elite runners.
5. Shea McClellin, OLB, Boise State: Pass rushers are valued at a premium in the NFL, so prospects flashing the ability to get to the quarterback fly up the charts as the draft approaches. McClellin is not a pure pass rusher with the size and speed to consistently win against big, imposing offensive tackles. His production has been a byproduct of the Broncos' clever defensive scheme, rather than his individual talent. For a team expecting a dominating pass rusher with game-changing skills, McClellin's workmanlike game might not produce the results to match his draft status.