2010 NFL draft: Who’s overrated, who’s underrated

 We like to think these NFL personnel guys have it all figured out, poring over game tape and statistics and numbers, and finding gems in the annual NFL draft.

Then we’re reminded of JaMarcus Russell. Or Vernon Gholston. Or Charles Rogers. Or, yes, Ryan Leaf.

Look for former Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty to outperform expectations.
Look for former Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty to outperform expectations.

Three years ago, when everyone was gaga over Russell and his freakish physical nature, I tried to point out that one factor superseded all others: Russell was 7-4 as a starter in games against ranked teams, with 13 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in those games.

You and I aren’t breaking down tape, but we can certainly watch players and see that Gholston has one move and doesn’t go hard every play. Or that Russell has a tendency to make bad decisions. Or that a guy with the off-field problems Rogers had at Michigan State eventually would have off-field problems as an NFL player.

The NFL Combine begins later this month, and in the spirit of the most overvalued event in all of sports, here’s my annual overrated/underrated list of draft prospects.

Quarterback

Overrated: Jonathan Crompton, Tennessee. He was lost in all of 2008 and the first month of 2009, yet now is the No. 2 quarterback on Sporting News’ War Room list. Crompton had as many touchdowns as interceptions (nine) prior to this season, and he has never completed better than 58 percent of his passes.
Underrated: Colt McCoy, Texas. The negatives: spent his career in shotgun offense. The positives: can make all the throws, is ridiculously accurate and is a winner.

Running back

Overrated: Jahvid Best. California. I get it — the NFL loves speed. But while Best was a terrific college tailback, he’s 5-9 and weighs less than 200 pounds. He’ll get pinballed weekly in the NFL.
Underrated: Montario Hardesty, Tennessee. He’s a big, bruising back who has developed nice cutback ability. NFL criticism: He’s quick, not fast. Seriously, what in the world does that mean?

Wide receiver

Overrated: Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech. Reason No. 2,145 why the draft isn’t the science they’d like you to believe: McCoy and Tim Tebow and others are knocked for playing in a "system," but Thomas is a top 10 pick despite the fact he ran two routes — curl, go — in Tech’s option offense.
Underrated: Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas. It’s always about speed at this position, when it should be all about getting separation. Briscoe will be a terrific pro because he gets open and is physical after the catch.

Tight end

Overrated: Rob Gronkowski, Arizona. Only in the NFL: Gronkowski, a good guy dealt a bad hand, has a history of back problems and missed all of 2009. Let me say that again: back problems.
Underrated: Ed Dickson, Oregon. He has wide receiver ability at the tight end position but has been criticized for his inability to sustain blocks. Is Dallas Clark the best blocker in the NFL? He sure can catch the ball.

Offensive line

Overrated: Anthony Davis, Rutgers. This is based purely on the NFL’s computer measurables: a workout warrior who fits the mold but doesn’t necessarily show up every play.
Underrated: Mike Johnson, Alabama. He’s a physical, nasty grinder. Too often, the NFL looks for weight room freaks they can "mold" into football players. More times than not, it doesn’t work.

Defensive line

Overrated: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. One season in Division I football resulted in 45 tackles and 6.5 sacks. And he could be the first end taken because he runs a 4.6 40 and has "upside." See the lunacy yet?
Underrated: Linval Joseph, East Carolina. He had a back injury in the spring of 2008 because of excess weight (375 pounds), but instead of gaining more weight from inactivity, he lost 70 pounds. That shows commitment. Game tape, meanwhile, shows a dominating interior lineman.

Linebacker

Overrated: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri. He’s a terrific athlete who ran around and made plays — but never dominated games. Weatherspoon never had to be specifically accounted for. That’s a red flag.

USC's Taylor Mays never developed pass coverage skills.
USC’s Taylor Mays never developed pass coverage skills.

Underrated: Reggie Carter, UCLA. He doesn’t fit the computer mold (he’s barely 6-feet tall) but played at a high level (against the run and pass) for four years in a pro-style league.

Cornerback

Overrated: Patrick Robinson, Florida State. When I watch cornerbacks, I look for two things: break on the ball and the ability to limit yards after the catch. When the NFL watches, it looks for one thing: speed.
Underrated: Kyle Wilson, Boise State. The NFL likes to talk about the ability to chase and closing speed and fluid hips. No one in this draft breaks on the ball better than Wilson.

Safety

Overrated: Taylor Mays, USC. The draft’s elite physical specimen got too caught up in big hits the past two seasons and never developed in pass coverage.
Underrated: Earl Thomas, Texas. Weight (195 pounds) is a big concern, but he hits like a linebacker and does something many better athletes don’t: wraps up on tackles.

Matt Hayes covers college football for Sporting News and is an analyst for the NFL Network. Tune in to Total Access weeknights. E-mail him at mhayes@sportingnews.com.

 We like to think these NFL personnel guys have it all figured out, poring over game tape and statistics and numbers, and finding gems in the annual NFL draft.

Then we’re reminded of JaMarcus Russell. Or Vernon Gholston. Or Charles Rogers. Or, yes, Ryan Leaf.

Look for former Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty to outperform expectations.
Look for former Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty to outperform expectations.

Three years ago, when everyone was gaga over Russell and his freakish physical nature, I tried to point out that one factor superseded all others: Russell was 7-4 as a starter in games against ranked teams, with 13 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in those games.

You and I aren’t breaking down tape, but we can certainly watch players and see that Gholston has one move and doesn’t go hard every play. Or that Russell has a tendency to make bad decisions. Or that a guy with the off-field problems Rogers had at Michigan State eventually would have off-field problems as an NFL player.

The NFL Combine begins later this month, and in the spirit of the most overvalued event in all of sports, here’s my annual overrated/underrated list of draft prospects.

Quarterback

Overrated: Jonathan Crompton, Tennessee. He was lost in all of 2008 and the first month of 2009, yet now is the No. 2 quarterback on Sporting News’ War Room list. Crompton had as many touchdowns as interceptions (nine) prior to this season, and he has never completed better than 58 percent of his passes.
Underrated: Colt McCoy, Texas. The negatives: spent his career in shotgun offense. The positives: can make all the throws, is ridiculously accurate and is a winner.

Running back

Overrated: Jahvid Best. California. I get it — the NFL loves speed. But while Best was a terrific college tailback, he’s 5-9 and weighs less than 200 pounds. He’ll get pinballed weekly in the NFL.
Underrated: Montario Hardesty, Tennessee. He’s a big, bruising back who has developed nice cutback ability. NFL criticism: He’s quick, not fast. Seriously, what in the world does that mean?

Wide receiver

Overrated: Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech. Reason No. 2,145 why the draft isn’t the science they’d like you to believe: McCoy and Tim Tebow and others are knocked for playing in a "system," but Thomas is a top 10 pick despite the fact he ran two routes — curl, go — in Tech’s option offense.
Underrated: Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas. It’s always about speed at this position, when it should be all about getting separation. Briscoe will be a terrific pro because he gets open and is physical after the catch.

Tight end

Overrated: Rob Gronkowski, Arizona. Only in the NFL: Gronkowski, a good guy dealt a bad hand, has a history of back problems and missed all of 2009. Let me say that again: back problems.
Underrated: Ed Dickson, Oregon. He has wide receiver ability at the tight end position but has been criticized for his inability to sustain blocks. Is Dallas Clark the best blocker in the NFL? He sure can catch the ball.

Offensive line

Overrated: Anthony Davis, Rutgers. This is based purely on the NFL’s computer measurables: a workout warrior who fits the mold but doesn’t necessarily show up every play.
Underrated: Mike Johnson, Alabama. He’s a physical, nasty grinder. Too often, the NFL looks for weight room freaks they can "mold" into football players. More times than not, it doesn’t work.

Defensive line

Overrated: Jason Pierre-Paul, South Florida. One season in Division I football resulted in 45 tackles and 6.5 sacks. And he could be the first end taken because he runs a 4.6 40 and has "upside." See the lunacy yet?
Underrated: Linval Joseph, East Carolina. He had a back injury in the spring of 2008 because of excess weight (375 pounds), but instead of gaining more weight from inactivity, he lost 70 pounds. That shows commitment. Game tape, meanwhile, shows a dominating interior lineman.

Linebacker

Overrated: Sean Weatherspoon, Missouri. He’s a terrific athlete who ran around and made plays — but never dominated games. Weatherspoon never had to be specifically accounted for. That’s a red flag.

USC's Taylor Mays never developed pass coverage skills.
USC’s Taylor Mays never developed pass coverage skills.

Underrated: Reggie Carter, UCLA. He doesn’t fit the computer mold (he’s barely 6-feet tall) but played at a high level (against the run and pass) for four years in a pro-style league.

Cornerback

Overrated: Patrick Robinson, Florida State. When I watch cornerbacks, I look for two things: break on the ball and the ability to limit yards after the catch. When the NFL watches, it looks for one thing: speed.
Underrated: Kyle Wilson, Boise State. The NFL likes to talk about the ability to chase and closing speed and fluid hips. No one in this draft breaks on the ball better than Wilson.

Safety

Overrated: Taylor Mays, USC. The draft’s elite physical specimen got too caught up in big hits the past two seasons and never developed in pass coverage.
Underrated: Earl Thomas, Texas. Weight (195 pounds) is a big concern, but he hits like a linebacker and does something many better athletes don’t: wraps up on tackles.

Matt Hayes covers college football for Sporting News and is an analyst for the NFL Network. Tune in to Total Access weeknights. E-mail him at mhayes@sportingnews.com.

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