Every Saturday during the college football season, we'll have an open thread for readers of Buffalo Rumblings to discuss college football games. The thread is open to any and all collegiate discussions, but the posts themselves will emphasize draft prospects. This is, after all, a Buffalo Bills blog.
Typically, the couch scouts here at Rumblings would occupy the space preceding this week's scouting schedule, but we're giving you a break from our amateur ways to talk with Dan Kadar, lead editor at SB Nation's Mocking The Draft. Dan is busy watching college games until his eyes bleed as he preps for the big push from January to April, yet was very gracious to take a few moments to answer some of my questions about this year's hot prospects.
Galliford: Jake Locker, Ryan Mallett and Christian Ponder have all displayed rather disappointing performances on national television this season. Andrew Luck wasn't great against Notre Dame, but he was efficient, and there's at least a good chance that he looks bad against Oregon this weekend. Do you think any of these guys are blue-chip prospects? Have these poor performances changed any of your perceptions?
Kadar: The quarterback issue this year seems to fluctuate on a weekly basis, so trying to make projections is challenging. With Locker, I think his preseason hype was based completely off potential. I'm willing to admit that's why I rated him so high entering the year (we're re-doing our rankings after this weekend, by the way). It's a dangerous thing to rate someone on potential, and Locker is turning out to be the perfect example. The thought was that in his second year in a pro-style offense, he'd be more proficient as a pocket passer. Instead, he's still showing the same flaws a lot of people thought he'd have corrected.
(Kadar continued) On Mallett and Ponder, it's a little less on the potential and more where their game is right now. With Mallett, I always tell people to watch his footwork and mechanics, and don't pay attention to his stats. Any true evaluator would do the same thing. He plays in an offense that gives him easy looks. Watch how the ball comes out of his hand, though. His footwork is screwy about half the time he throws. And he likes to roll out too much. That's something he won't be able to do in the NFL. Then sometimes he drops his arm on his passes. If you're 6-foot-6, there's no reason to take away your natural height advantage and lower your release point.
I've always said that Ponder is a rhythm quarterback with a low ceiling. He's smart, tough and has good enough athleticism and arm strength. So anything that disrupts that rhythm becomes detrimental to his game. In this case, he's had a bruised triceps on his throwing arm since the Oklahoma game on Sept. 11. The FSU offensive line has been a little iffy this year as well. So both of those have really hampered Ponder.
Luck hasn't been overly dominant this year, but it's clear he's the top quarterback among this group. His technique is consistent and sound. His arm strength is plus. He's shown this year that he's more agile than most thought, but he's also got good poise in the face of a blitz. So to answer your question, in a very long-winded nature, I'd say Luck is the only blue chip guy. There's too much risk with Mallett and Locker, and Ponder is just kind of ordinary.
Galliford: Beyond quarterback, one of the Bills' biggest positions of need is offensive tackle. To my eye, however, there isn't a tackle prospect out there that's worth taking at the top of the first round. Do you perceive this as a "down year" for that position?
Kadar: This is a terrible year for offensive tackles. The best senior tackles are probably Anthony Castonzo (Boston College) and DeMarcus Love (Arkansas). Neither will probably be drafted in the top 15. The last time there wasn't an offensive tackle taken in the first 15 picks was 1982, so that should illustrate how weak the position is this year. Guys like Lee Ziemba (Auburn), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin) and Marcus Cannon (TCU) are big-bodied, second-round right tackle guys. The sad thing is, there really aren't any juniors worth a high pick either. Of course things could, and might, change. But right now, the class looks poor.
Galliford: I've heard phrases like "one of the best players to emerge at his position in years" applied to a few prospects to this point, with wideout A.J. Green and corner Patrick Peterson the most common recipients. How much do you hear this on a yearly basis, and how much stock do you put in it regarding the two players mentioned?
Kadar: It depends who you hear it from on whether or not you should trust it. Some draft sites just like to say stuff like that to get their name out there. However, I said it about Green and I'm sticking with it (unless he looks like absolute dirt this year; after all, he hasn't played this season due to suspension). Last year, Ndamukong Suh was the best defensive tackle prospect ever. This year it's easier to say that about Green than Peterson. Heck, some might think Peterson isn't even the best cornerback prospect THIS year! Really, it depends how you quantify it. If you're talking about Green and Peterson being the best at their position in years, that might only mean since 2007, when Calvin Johnson and Darrelle Revis came out. So, to clarify, I think A.J. Green is the best wide receiver prospect since 2007. That kind of waters down the statement, doesn't it?
Galliford: Cameron Heyward is a very intriguing prospect in that he possesses phenomenal talents, but isn't scheme versatile - he's limited to a five-technique role in the NFL, if you ask me, and he might be able to moonlight as a three-tech on occasion. What do you like about Heyward, and what do you think his peak may be in terms of draft position?
Kadar: Heyward's peak draft position is somewhere in the latter part of the top five. Tyson Jackson proved as much. I had something up a bit ago kind of wondering what Heyward can do as a pro, comparing him to Chris Long. Do I think he'll be drafted high? Yes. Do I want my team to draft him that high? No way. He's not enough of a difference-maker in college and doesn't really project to be one in the pros to be drafted that high. Should a top five pick get you maybe 40-50 tackles a year and five sacks? I don't think so. As a prospect, I like Heyward's power base and decent lateral movement against the run. But in a year where there should be a lot of five techniques, I wouldn't take him super early.
Galliford: I know you're a Browns fan, but pretend just for a moment that the NFL team you love most resides in Buffalo. If you could plunk one college star onto this Bills roster right now, who would it be and why?
Kadar: Yes, I am a Browns fan. However, several years ago I decided (somewhat mathematically) that if the Browns ever leave town again that Buffalo is my team. So given that, I won't have to pretend too much. ANYWAY. To answer the question, I'd say it's Luck. He should be able to do something with that offense and be a good fan draw. Buffalo hasn't had a star rookie quarterback since Jim Kelly. It has to happen at some point.
The 2011 draft is looking like Andrew Luck, a bunch of wide receivers and several good cornerbacks. So if Buffalo came out of next April in the first two rounds with Luck and a wide receiver who drops - because there will be one if all the juniors come out as expected - their offense should be back on the uptick. Will you still need a tackle? Of course. Maybe a later pick could go there and hope it hits good enough like Tampa Bay with Donald Penn or New York with David Diehl. Superstar offensive tackles they're not, but they're solid starters.
Week 5 Preview
There are many more games that will be on TV than are listed here, but if you're in the mood to watch the hot prospects, these are the games you need to check out.
Miami (FL) at Clemson: Noon, ESPN2. Miami's Allen Bailey is a great-looking five-technique that will almost certainly be a first-round pick.
Tennessee at LSU: 3:30, CBS. The aforementioned Patrick Peterson will be on display here, not only as a cornerback, but as one of college football's most dynamic return men.
Wisconsin at Michigan State: 3:30, ABC/ESPN. Get on this one just to watch Gabe Carimi, who, while limited, looks like a really, really solid RT prospect. We need one of those, right?
Texas at Oklahoma: 3:30, ABC. There are a couple of nice pass-rushing prospects here in Sam Acho (Texas) and Jeremy Beal (OU).
Washington at USC: 8:00, ESPN2. Coming off a bye week, Jake Locker is looking for a strong rebound performance against a team he beat a year ago.
Notre Dame at Boston College: 8:00, ABC. Notre Dame's got two of the best receiving threats in the nation in receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Rudolph, in particular, looks like a fabulous NFL prospect.
Florida at Alabama: 8:00, CBS. Two studs are matched up with each other as Florida's Janoris Jenkins gets to cover Alabama's Julio Jones. Keep an eye on Alabama's Marcell Dareus and Don'ta Hightower, as well.
Stanford at Oregon: 8:00, ABC. Huge, huge opportunity for Andrew Luck in what should be the best game of the day.
Penn State at Iowa: 8:00, ESPN. If you love watching good defensive linemen, tune in to see Iowa's Adrian Clayborn.