Yes, I'm well aware that it is only December 29. Many college bowl games have not yet taken place, top-flight underclassmen still have more than two weeks to declare themselves eligible for the 2010 NFL Draft, and the NFL season has not yet come to a close, even for bad teams like the Buffalo Bills.
Right now, however, the Buffalo Bills simply are not interesting. I suspect that as soon as the team wraps up its 2009 schedule, win or lose, against Indianapolis this coming Sunday, the interest levels will rise. But as we're between holidays at the moment - typically happy times for all involved - I thought I'd spare you (and myself) the horror of talking about the professional football team we cover, at least for a few hours.
Instead, we'll talk about the only thing that has been consistently interesting in these parts over the past decade. Again, I understand that it's still a bit early, and you should understand that what follows is presented to you by football fans, and not scouts. Unless you count the armchair, amateur variety as worthy of your time. The scouting staff here at Buffalo Rumblings has been working diligently behind the scenes to grade many of the top college prospects in the nation - all players that we have seen play with our own two eyes on multiple occasions, mind you - and your first glimpse at the fruits of our labor is after the jump.
Before you get all high and mighty on us about this ranking, you should know four things.
- This list is very much still in process. We're still grading players, since, you know, games are still being played.
- Yes, we have a grading system. A pretty intricate one that factors in everything you believe to be important, which we will discuss in great detail at a later date.
- This list is a consensus average of submitted grades from kaisertown, Der Jaeger and yours truly. If you want to know what our specific Top 10s look like, you'll have to ask.
- All grades are out of 5, much like the high school-to-college recruiting process, except we use fancy decimal points. We have yet to assign round values to grades or prospects, so this ranking is purely on that five-point grade.
Without further ado, here are our ten highest-graded prospects at this point in time. Although we doubt that the rankings will change much during the pre-draft workout and Combine process, we'll label this list as "subject to change."
1. Ndamukong Suh, DL, Nebraska (GRADE: 4.9/5)
The consensus top player available from pretty much anyone who's seen this kid play and possesses half a brain. He's been described frequently as the most desired defensive prospect of the past decade, and while we obviously can't speak to that, it wouldn't be hard to understand why. The guy is simply dominant, game in and game out. Big, powerful, and already in possession of an NFL frame, Suh is a defensive anchor that a championship defense can be built around. He can play virtually any line position, even the nose in a 3-4. I happen to believe that his talents are maximized as an end in a 3-4 scheme - much the way New England utilized Richard Seymour all those years - but that likely won't be universal. Still, nobody else is going to top this list. This kid is the real deal.
2. Gerald McCoy, DT, Oklahoma (GRADE: 4.73/5)
Suh gets all the talk, and deservedly so, but McCoy at times was as dominant as Suh this season. He won't go as high for two reasons - he's not scheme versatile (he's quite clearly a 4-3 tackle, and only a 4-3 tackle), and he doesn't possess the same raw power or game-altering prowess as Suh. But McCoy is a hell of a prospect; he's frequently compared to Tommie Harris because of the Oklahoma tie, but I think McCoy is actually better. As it stands right now, I would do sprints of joy if Buffalo found a way to land this guy on draft day 2010 - provided, of course, Buffalo is still running a 4-3 defense.
3. Eric Berry, S, Tennessee (GRADE: 4.65/5)
When Monte Kiffin left Tampa Bay to coach with his son in Tennessee, Berry became his prize pupil. Kiffin has coached some great defensive backs in his day, including John Lynch and Ronde Barber, as well as Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson. I'll say it right now - Berry is the best DB Kiffin's ever coached. He's been productive on some mediocre Tennessee teams, which is particularly difficult to do in college as a defensive back. He's big, fast, has an incredibly high football IQ, and makes big plays. Very clearly the best defensive back available, and many will say the best defender available behind Suh.
4. Rolando McClain, ILB, Alabama (GRADE: 4.63/5)
If you don't have plans to watch this year's BCS title game (Alabama vs Texas), change your plans just to watch this guy. Given Buffalo's need to shore up its run defense, no matter which scheme they run next year, McClain will be a guy high on many Bills fans' wish lists. Big, extremely athletic and instinctual, McClain has quarterbacked Nick Saban's defense to a dominant season. I, personally, graded McClain as the third-best player available, slightly ahead of Berry. I understand the rule that linebackers slide on draft day, but the exceptions (Patrick Willis, Jerod Mayo) are typically outstanding players. McClain is an outstanding player.
5. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma (GRADE: 4.45/5)
I try to be objective, so I went into the grading process fully aware of the fact that, had he declared a year ago, Bradford might have been the No. 1 overall pick, and also fully aware that the injury concerns about his shoulder are being slightly overblown. Even with that supposed objectivity, I was surprised at how well Bradford's grade turned out when I was done critiquing him - and I gave him the lowest grade of the three scouts. Face it, Bills fans - a good portion of you might have been giddy to draft him a year ago at this time. He's a good football player, and could potentially be a great one. If I've got first pick of the quarterbacks this April, I'm taking Bradford.
6. Dez Bryant, WR, Oklahoma State (GRADE: 4.43/5)
Our grading process puts a great emphasis on athletic prowess - why wouldn't it? - and that's why Bryant gets such a high mark. If this draft class lacks one thing, it's explosive offensive playmakers from all positions. Bryant is the clear-cut leader in game-changing ability from the offensive skill positions in this class; he possess elite measurables and had a great career at OSU. Yes, he comes with a little baggage. Yes, his game lacks a little polish, particularly in the hands and route-running departments. But this is a guy with talent that NFL scouts drool over, and he'll go high because of it. Keep your eye on him, because I wouldn't be surprised to see him end up a BPA-"oh crap, all our high-grade need position guys are gone" pick for Buffalo.
7-T. Jimmy Clausen, QB, Notre Dame (GRADE: 4.38/5)
Everyone loves to hate this guy - almost as much as they love to hate his coach - and without a doubt, Clausen will be the most highly-debated prospect in these parts over the next few months. He already has the lead in that department. So I'll keep this short: we love his production, his background in a pro-style offense, and his arm. We share your concerns, too - on leadership and his raw tools. We just think he's a good player, and well worth the investment for a team with a need for a QB.
7-T. Joe Haden, CB, Florida (GRADE: 4.38/5)
I've seen Haden play a bunch this season, and again, this is a player that surprised me a little with how highly he ranked in our grading system. Understand this about Haden - he did not flash elite playmaking ability in his time at Florida (which has not yet come to an end, by the way). In that light, he has a slight Leodis McKelvin vibe about him, at least to me. But like McKelvin coming out, he possesses that elite athleticism to one day make him a shut-down type corner. Unlike McKelvin, he's been the beneficiary of solid coaching, and should come in a pretty polished prospect. The ball skills are there. I think Haden will end up being a really, really good pro.
I believe the three of us have stated numerous times in various comment sections that this year's offensive tackle class is not an elite one. There's not a blue-chip prospect among the group. The closest players we can find to that elite status are Davis and the next player on the list. I, personally, prefer Davis - I think he's got a better NFL body, similar tools, and a more well-rounded game. Ceiling-wise, he's similar. Many will mention his weight and attitude issues, but we are not talking about Andre Smith here. He's had a great career at Rutgers, and now that he's declared pro, I think he's got an excellent shot at being a Top 10 pick, and perhaps the first tackle off the board.
9-T. Russell Okung, OT, Oklahoma State (GRADE: 4.33/5)
Add Okung to the list of names that Bills fans will bring up most often over the next few months. He might have been a first-round pick had he entered the draft a year ago, and now that he's wrapping up his senior season at OSU, he's been the beneficiary of all the nit-picking that comes with being a top-flight senior prospect. He'll continue to be nit-picked over the next few months, but know this: he was dominant at times over the past two seasons, possesses elite footwork and pass-protection ability, and has as high a ceiling as most players in this draft class. He might have achieved that "elite" assessment from us and others were he a more physical presence at the point of attack - he can get overwhelmed there, and he's not a great run blocker yet. All in all, however, Okung is nearly as good as advertised, and given his hype, a sure-fire Top 15 pick.
In all, I personally believe that there are four blue-chip, can't-miss prospects in this draft class - Suh, McCoy (no, not Colt), Berry and McClain. Suh is a senior; McCoy has already announced his intentions to turn pro; neither Berry nor McClain have yet to officially announce anything, but both are expected to go pro, with Berry more of a sure bet than McClain.
Beyond that, this class appears to be loaded with a lot of solid prospects - far more than in recent seasons - but not so many "elite" prospects. It's a good year to be picking either very high, or in the teens and twenties - that's where the real value picks will be. Of course, Buffalo will be sandwiched somewhere between the Top 5 and the Top 15, which is pretty typical. Still, the way we see it, their odds of picking up a good player are quite high.