Draft day is here, and it’s time to dispense with the evaluations and make some bold predictions:
• Texas safety Earl Thomas, not Tennessee safety Eric Berry, will be the first defensive back selected. Though Berry received hype throughout the college season as the best safety and possibly the best defensive prospect, his play on the field did not back that up. In many draft rooms, there was a lot of disappointment in his play, which has led to many questions about his ability to become a productive starting safety.
When Thomas declared for the draft, he was not expected to be a top 10 pick or challenge Berry in any way. However, he is a much more consistent, productive player than Berry and is right there with Berry when it comes to natural athleticism. That’s why we expect Thomas to go first. Berry is one of the most overrated players in the draft and has bust written all over him.
• Iowa TE Tony Moeaki did not receive much media attention leading up to the draft. Nevertheless, we have had rated him No. 2 on our tight end list since October — and now the word is getting out that some teams like him as much as we do.
His ability as a blocker and receiver make him the second-best all-around tight end behind Arizona’s Rob Gronkowski. Though Moeaki won’t be a top-20 pick, we are hearing he could be selected between picks 25 to 50, which is much higher than he was expected to go a month ago.
• Although the debate over which of the top offensive tackle prospects — Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung or Oklahoma’s Trent Williams — will be drafted first has been the focus of much attention, the rise of Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga has also been a big story.
However, many people around the league are confused about Bulaga’s ascent because he is not an elite athlete or player. Many have commented that Bulaga’s rise can be traced to his status as a "safe" pick. Don’t be surprised if he ends up sliding on draft day and isn’t the third tackle selected after Okung and Williams.
• Fordham QB John Skelton will be drafted significantly higher than his on-field production warrants, and he will struggle to justify being drafted that high. After seeing Skelton live and observing him on game film, it is clear that he does not consistently see the field well. He also forces throws, and his deliberate throwing style allows defenders to get a good break on his passes.
There is no doubt his physical tools are excellent, which will likely get him drafted in the third or fourth round, but don’t expect him to develop.
• Florida MLB Brandon Spikes, who put up a bad 40 time in offseason testing, will be another example of teams putting too much stock in a player’s workout while ignoring his on-field play and playing speed. We don’t believe Spikes will become a superstar because he lacks top-end speed, but his excellent instincts allow him to constantly make plays between the tackles.
He can be a good middle ‘backer in a 4-3 scheme, but he would be a real standout in a 3-4 scheme like New England’s or Cleveland’s.
• We are Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton‘s biggest supporters, but now it seems people around the NFL agree with us. We are hearing he could be a third- to fifth-round pick, which is amazing considering he was not invited to the Combine and was viewed by many in the league as a non-prospect as recently as January.
Not only are we confident he will be drafted much higher than people expected a few months ago, we believe he can become a productive starting quarterback in the NFL.
• Penn State LB Navorro Bowman will not be a high pick, although some said he would be a first-round pick. Bowman is not viewed as an upper-echelon athlete or player and will likely slide to the third or fourth round.
• Arizona State RB Dimitri Nance is another player who has not received much attention. But we believe once NFL games start, that will change. Many scouts have been expressing to us what we thought all along: Nance will become a good starting running back. Though he will not be a high pick, he should be a fourth- or fifth-rounder.
• Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews will likely be a first-round pick, but you can be sure that Lonyae Miller, who backed up Mathews, will also be drafted. It is uncommon for a backup back to be drafted unless he had at least one big season of production while filling in, but Miller did not have that.
Miller helped himself a lot with a very good week at the Senior Bowl and teams have been impressed evaluating his film. So don’t be shocked when he gets drafted in the fifth or sixth round.
For more than 665 player scouting reports from Russ Lande and his team of former NFL scouts — plus updated Mock Draft, Super 99 rankings and more — go to warroom.sportingnews.com.