Every year, there are players who fly up the draft boards after blowing up the combine. Others dominated early in their career before regressing as seniors. Then there are some who were top prospects that never met expectations. The 2012 Draft is no different with multiple players projected to go in the first round based on athletic ability rather than their game tape. I'm not saying all these players will disappoint or be total busts, but based on their current projections, they will be drafted higher than they deserve.
1. Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis: It’s not difficult to see why fans and some scouts are drooling over his potential. There simply aren’t many 6-foot-4, 346-pound human beings who can run sub 4.9. Despite that rare speed and strength (44 reps), his game tape speaks differently. Playing against average competition, Poe managed one sack and 33 tackles as a junior. He doesn’t anchor or fight off blocks like a typical 3-4 nose tackle and wasn’t a disruptor. He has the physical tools to be a dominant playmaker, but he could easily be a bust.
2. Jonathan Martin, LT, Stanford: Playing with the future No. 1 pick can do wonders. For Martin, it’s allowed him to vault into the first round even though he’s not a polished product. The 6-foot-5, 307-pounder was billed as an athletic left tackle prospect, but his combine and pro day workouts didn’t match that. He ran a 5.33 in the forty and put up only 20 reps on the bench. His lack of explosion was evident in his broad jump and vertical leap. For a finesse player, these testing numbers don’t bode well.
3. Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State: Based on pure production, there’s no question Blackmon is the top receiver in the draft. The real question is: Should he go in the top 10? Based on his average size and questionable deep speed, I say no. While Calvin Johnson, Andre Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald were considered elite downfield players with tremendous size and hands, Blackmon isn’t in their class. He’s more Michael Crabtree than any of those other three. I have real questions whether he’ll be more than a very good number two receiver.
4. Michael Brockers, DT, LSU: I’m always leery when a prospect leaves school early with only one year of starting experience. If we’re going strictly by the eyeball test, Brockers is NFL ready. He’s long and strong at 6-foot-5, 322 pounds and played in the SEC, the toughest conference in college football. As a redshirt sophomore, Brockers totaled 54 tackles, including 10 for a loss and a pair of sacks. With his frame, Brockers seems like an ideal 3-4 DE, but his subpar workouts and lack of developed pass rush skills leave much to be desired. Once pegged as the top defensive tackle, I think he’ll slide into the bottom third of the first round.
5. Dont’a Hightower, ILB, Alabama: Much like Rolando McClain, Hightower is another high-profile thumper from the Alabama program. And like his predecessor, Hightower enters the draft with many questions about his instincts, positional fit and play speed at the next level. Measuring in at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds, Hightower impressed by registering a 4.68 forty. However, his pedestrian times in the short shuttle (4.64) and three-cone drill (7.55) raise questions about his agility and ability to go sideline-to-sideline. He would best fit as a 3-4 inside linebacker, but he’s also lined up as a rush end and could possibly project to 3-4 outside linebacker due to his length.
6. Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina: Classic case of “Looks like Tarzan, but plays like Jane.” Blessed with exceptional athletic ability, Brown is the prototypical 4-3 weakside linebacker. He has legitimate 4.4 speed and an impressive frame. However, he has average to below average instincts and doesn’t dish out nor play well against contact. His lack of physicality could expose him as nothing more than an athlete at the next level.
7. Mike Adams, LT, Ohio State: No left tackle prospect is bigger than the 6-foot-7, 323-pounder from Ohio State. But, none of them have more questions than the former five-star prospect. Beyond his suspension, Adams’ play leaves scouts with some questions about his passion, conditioning and strength. His combine performance proved he’s not an elite athlete, and his game tape can be equally good as it is bad. If his head is on right, he can be a very good pass protector. But is he worth a first-round pick?
8. Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State: If he wins with his first step, it’s game over. If not, he’s finished. That’s what you get with Worthy, who entered the season as one of the top interior linemen in the country. However, with the emergence of underclassmen like Brockers, Fletcher Cox and Poe, Worthy and Clemson’s Brandon Thompson have slid down draft boards. The 6-foot-2, 308-pounder ran a 5.08 forty, which is solid for his size, but managed only 28 reps on the bench, a pretty average number for a defensive tackle. His burst makes him an intriguing one-gap penetrator, but his inability to fight off blocks or anchor at the point of attack severely limits his scheme versatility.
9. Bruce Irvin, DE/OLB, West Virginia: Another elite athlete whose game doesn’t match his name. After taking the NCAA by storm in 2010 with 14 sacks, he managed only 8.5 in 2011. Irvin’s biggest problem is he doesn’t project well to any one position. He’s too skinny and linear to be a full-time defensive end, and he lacks the instincts and physicality to stand up as a 3-4 OLB. However, because of his rare speed and quickness, he may be able to carve out a role as a situational rusher.
10. Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina: Don’t let his recent weigh-ins fool you. Jeffery shed a ton of weight to hit the 213-pound mark at the combine, but he played somewhere in the 230-240 range. His tape reveals he’s limited as a route runner, doesn’t have good burst or quickness and his production dropped significantly in 2011. His ability to get up and get the football and his overall size makes him an intriguing guy, but the bust factor is high with the former basketball star. Buyer beware.