Wandra's Terrific 10: NFL draft prospects to look out for

Kevin Wandra's picture

The NFL draft is this weekend, and all 32 teams are furiously sifting through their notes and games tapes while reviewing their extensive, detailed draft boards.

If I were the general manager of an NFL team, I would focus on 10 players, all of whom I’ve listed below. Not all, I feel, are among the top 10 players in the draft, but I’ve seen each play, and they have left a lasting impression on me.

Virginia defensive end Chris Long: Hands down, Long is the safest — and perhaps even the best — player in the draft. No player in the draft plays with more heart and passion for the game of football than Long, whose father is NFL Hall of Fame defensive end Howie Long. He is quite active versus the run and pass, consistently chasing down quarterbacks and ballcarriers.

He is coming off a senior season in which he recorded career highs in sacks (14), tackles for loss (19) and total tackles (79), earning the Ted Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in the nation. Long has the talent to excel as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense and as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He reminds me of two current NFL defensive ends who are known for their all-out play, Seattle’s Patrick Kerney and Green Bay’s Aaron Kampman.

LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey: Dorsey easily is the top defensive tackle in the draft. A Warren Sapp clone, Dorsey is a disruptive force, with the strength, speed and burst to make an instant impact in the NFL. Dorsey’s injury history is a concern — he battled a leg injury in 2006 and a knee injury in 2007 — but he fought through each injury and still wreaked havoc.

Dorsey is short, too — he’s slightly taller than 6 feet — but his lack of height is actually an asset, as it allows him to get underneath an offensive lineman’s shoulder pads, and helps him penetrate through gaps. Dorsey is an ideal fit for a team that seeks a difference-making defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense.

Arkansas running back Darren McFadden: McFadden is, without question, the top offensive prospect in the draft. He has the size, speed and strength to be an elite running back in the NFL. He is similar to Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, who was the 2007 Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. McFadden’s numbers in the SEC, the best conference in college football, stand out; he rushed for at least 1,113 yards and 11 touchdowns, plus he averaged at least 5.7 yards per carry, in three seasons at Arkansas despite receiving considerable attention from opposing defenses.

McFadden has off-the-field baggage, and there are concerns that he runs too upright, which could lead him to absorb too many hits, thus shortening his career. But teams would be hard-pressed to find a more dynamic playmaker in the draft. You read it here first: McFadden will be the 2008 Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan: Ryan is no Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, two future Hall of Famers, but he is a solid quarterback who reminds me of another former Boston College standout, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. Ryan isn’t a special athlete, but he’s an intelligent, natural born leader with good size, adequate arm strength and toughness (he played with a broken foot as a junior). His propensity for throwing interceptions — 29 total in his last two seasons — is a major negative, though some scouts feel Ryan took risks due to the lack of a talented supporting cast.

Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long: Long is a typical Big Ten offensive lineman — big, strong and physical. His versatility is a plus, as well; he played both left and right tackle at Michigan. Perhaps most impressive is that Long allowed only two sacks in 40 games as a starter for Michigan.

Had Long entered the draft last year, he would have been a first-round pick. Some scouts question whether he has the feet to play left tackle. I believe his feet are good enough. He could either be a very good left tackle or an elite right tackle. The Big Ten offensive lineman of the year in 2006 and 2007, Long somewhat reminds me of another former Michigan standout, Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Jon Runyan. No matter which position Long plays, he should instantly upgrade a team’s offensive line and be a reliable starter for at least a decade.

Rutgers running back Ray Rice: Arkansas’ McFadden and Felix Jones, Illinois’ Rashard Mendenhall and Oregon’s Jonathan Stewart are viewed as the top running back prospects in the draft. It’s time to show the overlooked Rice some love. Rice is comparable to Jacksonville Jaguars star Maurice Jones-Drew, a short but well-built running back who is strong, durable and explosive, with a superb burst and vision.

He was extremely productive for Rutgers, a team that was not exactly loaded with talent, rushing for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons, including 2,012 — a school single-season record — his junior season. Keep in mind, opposing teams focused on Rice, and he still put up eye-opening numbers. Rice is the most underrated prospect in the draft. The team that picks him will get an absolute steal.

Miami safety Kenny Phillips: Phillips has the size, speed, athleticism, ball skills and range NFL teams are looking for. Miami is known for producing exceptional safeties: Ed Reed, Sean Taylor, Brandon Meriwhether and Bennie Blades. Phillips is expected to join that list as a standout NFL safety. He should be an instant starter and a strong leader of a team’s defensive backfield.

Georgia Tech linebacker Philip Wheeler: Wheeler is not one of the draft’s biggest linebackers, but he is an instinctive playmaker; Wheeler recorded 14 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in his last two seasons at Georgia Tech. He could immediately contribute as a pass-rushing specialist while he works on getting stronger — strength is one of his weaknesses — and further develops the rest of his skills. He likely will never be a star in the NFL, but he should be a productive linebacker.

LSU fullback Jacob Hester: Hester will never be a star skill-position player in the NFL. Hester should, however, provide a team with versatility — he can play both running back and fullback. Offensively, he has the toughness and instincts to be effective in short-yardage situations. Plus, he is a team-first player with a tremendous work ethic, which coaches love. Hester’s most significant impact, however, will come on special teams, where he could become the next Steve Tasker, a former Buffalo Bill special teams star who belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Utah State guard Shawn Murphy: Like Hester, Murphy isn’t expected to be drafted until Day 2. Murphy is a raw prospect; he started his collegiate career as a defensive end, and played only two seasons as an offensive lineman. His strength, size and versatility — he played both offensive tackle and guard — make him an interesting late-round prospect. If a team is patient with him, Murphy, the son of former Atlanta Braves outfielder Dale Murphy, could become a reliable starter or, at the very least, a competent backup.

Kevin Wandra's blog | login to post comments

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.
Submitted by Diane Court on Fri, 05/02/2008 - 12:24pm.

You are so hot Kevin!

Submitted by Diane Court on Fri, 05/02/2008 - 12:24pm.

You are so hot Kevin!

Submitted by Sick of Fascists on Fri, 05/02/2008 - 1:07pm.


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.