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March 5, 2011

Roundtable: NFL draft rewind

MORE ROUNDTABLES: Feb. 25 | Feb. 18 | Feb. 6 | Feb. 1 | Jan. 31 | Jan. 30 | Jan. 29

Rivals.com football recruiting analysts weigh in on topics in a roundtable format.

Of all the players expected to be taken early in the NFL draft, who surprises you the most based on what you saw of them in high school?

Barry Every: The most amazing story for prospects that left early is Robert Quinn. He had to have surgery on his brain his senior season. No one knew what would happen and there was serious doubt that he would even be active again let alone play football. We even contemplated not ranking him.

Mike Farrell: I'd say Nate Solder from Colorado. He was a huge tight end in high school that most people thought would grow into an offensive tackle, but I don't know if anyone expected him to turn into a first round offensive tackle. Anthony Castonzo is another one out of Boston College. This was a kid who had to do a prep year in high school because he had no offers coming out as a senior and he could end up being one of the top two tackles taken overall.

Adam Gorney: I always thought Robert Quinn was exceptionally talented but I'm a little surprised he's considered a top 10 pick especially since he was suspended for the entire 2010 season with North Carolina being investigated by the NCAA. Rivals.com rated Quinn as the No. 18 strong-side defensive end nationally and No. 10 in the South Carolina state rankings of 2008. He must've done a phenomenal job in workouts and talking to NFL teams to convince many he's worth one of the top picks. Congratulations to him.

Chris Nee: Out of the expected first round picks that I saw during their high school career, none of them really surprise me that they are being discussed that high. I remember watching Da'Quan Bowers dominate at the Under Armour All-America Game. Patrick Peterson, formerly Patrick Johnson, was a dominant force in high school. A.J. Green lived up to being the freak he was considered coming out of high school. I really don't have a single name that I recall seeing as a high school prospect that shocks me to see them projected as a first-rounder.

Keith Niebuhr: I'll go with Florida safety Ahmad Black. Will he be a first- or second-rounder? No. But right now, many have him projected to be one of the first 100 players taken. A corner in high school, Black, I thought, didn't have the speed to be even a decent player in the SEC. But a move to strong safety as a freshman gave his college career a boost. Last fall, he was an All-American. At 5-9 and 185 pounds, he isn't physically impressive. And he isn't incredibly fast either. But Black always - and I stress this word - is around the football. With his instincts, he has overcome some of the flaws I thought he had coming out of high school.

Brian Perroni: I have to admit that I had my doubts about quarterback Christian Ponder when he was coming out of Colleyville (Texas) Heritage. Schools that recruit the area such as Texas, Texas A&M and Oklahoma all passed on him and I questioned why Florida State would come all the way to Texas for the three-star prospect. He more than proved me wrong by becoming a great all-around passer as well as team leader in Tallahassee and he had perhaps the best combine of any quarterback. He was a kid who always worked hard and it appears to have paid off.

And which player did you fully expect to be a high NFL pick after scouting him in high school?

Barry Every: I was able to see Julio Jones on a Thursday night game in Mobile and then DeAndre Brown the following evening in Ocean Springs. Those two were just flat-out physical freaks for receivers. They were both huge with tremendous body control and good speed.

Mike Farrell: Da'Quan Bowers was a no-brainer. He had the size, quickness, agility and motor that you wanted in a defensive line prospect and the combination made him rare. It's why we had him as the No. 2 player in the nation behind everyone's No. 1, Terrelle Pryor, back in 2008. He looked the part of a three-and-out guy.

Adam Gorney: When I saw Patrick Peterson - then Patrick Johnson - at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl it was clear he was a special prospect with NFL written all over him. He has uncanny skills at defensive back and was even so advanced at the time that he shut down pretty much every wide receiver. His ability only got better at LSU. It's no surprise that he'll be one of the first players taken in the draft.

Chris Nee: I fully expected Da'Quan Bowers to be a top draft pick. He was huge with freakish athleticism and an advanced technical ability as a high school senior. Watching him for a week against his peers at the Under Armour All-American Game convinced me he would end up a top-tier NFL player barring injury or other distractions sidelining him.

Keith Niebuhr: Miami cornerback Brandon Harris. I saw him play in person twice in high school and was impressed by his speed and cover abilities each time. I actually was a little disappointed at times with his performance in college. But that's mainly because I had such high expectations for him. The good news for Harris is that I don't believe we've seen his best yet. He's an exceptional athlete who draft gurus say will be gone sometime in the second round.

Brian Perroni: I had no doubts about defensive end Da'Quan Bowers coming out of high school after watching him all week at the first Under Armour All-American game. He was simply unstoppable against some very good defensive lineman. Former NFL coach Jim Hanifan told me he thought Bowers could go to the league right then, saying at the time, "He's just that good and that far along in his development." Bowers only got better at Clemson and now has a shot at being the No. 1 overall pick.

Now that 7-on-7 camps are here, what is one WR vs. DB battle you really would like to watch in person?

Barry Every: I'd like to see Geno Smith against Chris Black. That would pit possibly the corner with the best ball skills versus possibly the top slot receiver in Florida. I'd also like to see Tee Shepard match up against Dorial Green-Beckham. That would be a very physical, tall corner going against the next Julio Jones/A.J. Green clone.

Mike Farrell: I'm not sure if it will happen or not in Florida, but I'd like to see WR Chris Black go against CB Tracy Howard. Both are at or near the top at their positions in the state and will be national recruits. I think it would be a great matchup. I wanted to see WR Stefon Diggs go against CB Ronald Darby at Rutgers but it didn't happen as the teams were in a different group on day one and neither went very far on day two.

Adam Gorney: I've already seen two good ones during workouts when Ishmael Adams went against Bryce Treggs and Darreus Rogers battled Raymond Ford. Throughout the spring I really hope to see Tee Shepard and Shaq Thompson on the defensive side against Jaydon Mickens, Gabriel Marks, Richard Smith, Derrick Woods and Kodi Whitfield on the offensive side. If those players can match up at a 7-on-7 or a NIKE Camp or anywhere else that would be really excited to see who'd win.

Chris Nee: I am really looking forward to watching Angelo Jean-Louis, who is supposed to be playing with the South Florida Blur, going against Tracy Howard, of the South Florida Express. I just think that is a great battle between two top-tier players at their respected positions. Another great battle will be South Florida Express' Avery Johnson against Alabama commitment Eddie Williams.

Keith Niebuhr: One of the better battles in the South that I anticipate happening at some point will be between receiver Latroy Pittman of Citra (Fla.) and Miramar (Fla.) cornerback Tracy Howard. Both players made the Rivals250 watch list. Both are among the top players at their positions in the state. Pittman is a big, strong, physical receiver who is a handful for smaller corners. But Howard, at 6-foot, is only an inch shorter and has some impressive coverage skills. That should make for some exciting action.

Brian Perroni: In the state of Texas, 7-on-7 teams all have to be from the same high school. There is still a ton of talent but you don't always get to see the very best against each other like you do with elite travel teams. I'm not sure if either school will field a team this year but I would love to see Crockett (Texas) receiver Dominique Wheeler go up against Athens (Texas) cornerback Kendall Sanders at the small school state tournament. Those two both have incredible speed and are two of the best at their positions in the country.

Who is the best "veteran" head coach at recruiting?

Barry Every: Jim Tressel seems to do a pretty darn good job. He basically gets who he wants in Ohio, the one Midwest state that is loaded with elite prospects. Proof is in the pudding. Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten for nearly 10 years in recruiting and on the field.

Mike Farrell: There aren't a lot of veterans out there but I'll say Oklahoma's Bob Stoops. He has been consistent year in and year out on the recruiting trail and he is a closer. Georgia's Mark Richt has been similarly consistent except for the way things ended in the class of 2010, which is why I give the nod to Stoops. Some might say Mack Brown and I agree he's a great recruiter. But his best work was done before he got to Texas. Recruiting at Texas is a little easier than at some other places.

Adam Gorney: In many ways, Alabama football sells itself but coach Nick Saban really deserves some credit for resurrecting the program through outstanding recruiting. This year was no different as the Crimson Tide landed the top class. What impressed me most were two things: All three five-star commitments - Cyrus Kouandjio, Hasean Clinton-Dix and Demetrius Hart - are out-of-state players. The other thing was that Saban had success flipping Brent Calloway back to Alabama after he switched to Auburn from the Crimson Tide at the Army game.

Chris Nee: I don't know if he is necessarily the best, but he is up there - Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer. Beamer, along with his staff, does an excellent job of turning over every rock to find talent. The results for the Hokies show the evaluations are solid and consistent.

Keith Niebuhr: To me, it's virtually a tie between Texas' Mack Brown, Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Jim Tressel. My pick of the three might surprise some of you. I'm going with Tressel by a hair. When has this guy not recruited well? Anyone? The Buckeyes aren't always in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings, but they always seem to be in the top 10 of the football polls. Clearly, that's a sign the staff knows how to coach. But the Buckeyes' ability to identify talent while also continually addressing their needs is impressive and, well, uncanny. And they haven't done all of their work in the Midwest either, often venturing to other states to lure top talent. All of this is a direct reflection on the man in the sweater vest.

Brian Perroni: Mack Brown has set the standard. He seems to have it down to a science with the early junior days and Texas is usually almost done with their class by the beginning of the summer each year. Even his wife, "Miss Sally," spends time with both the recruits and their parents and helps to sell the Longhorn program. There could be a case to be made that the Texas evaluations have not always been spot on but, as far as actually recruiting the players, Brown has had the highest rate of his offers eventually committing of any coach out there.



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