The best part about being a sports analyst is making a bold statement and be right. It is the number one thing to point to for bragging rights. It’s what separates the best from the worst. They love to point at a player and label him a bust. Label him a sleeper. Label him a star. The only problem with this is every analyst’s fear. Being wrong.
Any analyst that tells you they’re never wrong is either an idiot or thinks you’re one. I’m wrong all the time. I thought Christian Ponder was going to be good. I thought his athleticism transitioned well to the NFL, and felt the flaws in his arm were manageable. I thought his Leadership, intellect, confidence and competitive nature was going to rally a team around him quickly, no matter who drafted him. I certainly did not expect him to go in the first round, but I rarely put my word on a quarterback coming out of college because they are just too difficult to predict, and I did so with Ponder. Whoops.
I feel comfortable saying that because I can defend myself with bold statements I was right about. For starters, I was calling Blaine Gabbert a bust from day one. In fact, I wasn’t just calling him a bust. I have never been more confident in the failure of any single player in any single sport than I was about Gabbert entering the NFL.
I like to be bold sometimes, other times I like to play it safe. This draft class is very easy to play it safe with. As I wrote just last year, it is one of the strongest draft classes we have seen in a long time. You can throw a dart at the draft board and probably land a great player. I could easily say Jadeveon Clowney is going to be the best player to come out of this draft class and I will probably be right.
Come on. That’s too easy. What I am writing about now is my five favorite players. Five players that I am very confident will be stars in the NFL, but beyond that, I just flat out like them. Last year, I thought Sheldon Richardson was very good, I thought Star Lotulelei was great. But I loved John Jenkins. I just thought he was going to be an outstanding nose tackle and his frame and skill set fit that role perfectly. On top of that, it was bolder to call him one of my favorites.
Five favorites. That’s what I have for you here. Is Clowney going to be a superstar in the NFL? Yeah. He is. But he didn’t stand a chance of making my list. I have to emphasize that because I couldn’t do that to all the top guys. There are still two guys that are locks for the top 5 picks. I like top 5 lists because it leaves room for error, debate, agreement, and it’s just kind of fun. So here it is, in no order whatsoever.
Also, don't forget to check out my three round mock draft!
Sammy Watkins Wide Receiver Clemson
I know, I just ranted about how it was too easy to put Clowney on my list, so it’s pretty hypocritical to have Watkins headlining. But I just can’t bring myself to exclude him. I love to compare prospects to current or former NFL players, but some of my favorite players in sports are those that are difficult to draw comparisons to. Watkins is that type of player. He has the ball skills of Larry Fitzgerald, the quickness of Percy Harvin, and the route running of Wes Welker (yeah, that good). Harvin is probably the closest player comparison anyone can make, but on the field they are such different players. Sammy Watkins is like if Percy Harvin came out of college and actually knew how to play football. Harvin was, and is, a player that relies almost exclusively on his athleticism to make plays. Watkins isn’t the giant target of a receiver that NFL teams all seem to covet in today’s style of play, but he doesn’t need to be. I can promise you no quarterback that ever throws to him will be wishing for another inch or two of height.
Khalil Mack Outside Linebacker Buffalo
When looking at a pass rusher, my favorite attribute is motor, and Khalil Mack’s does not have an off switch. My second favorite attribute is consistency. Mack has not only consistently been great, but he has consistently gotten better. His sophomore to senior year he had 20.5, 21, and 19 tackles for loss, respectively. Those numbers went down ever so slightly his senior year with teams game planning around him exclusively. Not only that, but his tackles in that span went from 65, to 94, to 100. If that wasn’t enough to show he can be an outstanding pass rushing outside linebacker, he added in three interceptions his senior season, including taking two of them back for touchdowns. The “poor competition” critics can’t say anything about Mack either, because he had arguably the best game of his career against Ohio State. Mack is the monster that hides under quarterbacks’ beds. He’s going to torment them for years with his coverage, and haunt their dreams while he chases them down for sacks.
Justin Gilbert Cornerback Oklahoma State
Similar to quarterbacks, star corners are hard to pinpoint. Most of them get used to being the fastest guys on the field, and struggle once they go up against the best of the best. Kyle Wilson is probably the easiest to point at for that explanation. Gilbert had an outstanding sophomore year and was looking at an early entrance to the NFL with a similar season the next year. One of my favorite stats about Gilbert, if you want to know just how good he was: in that season he picked off Ryan Tannehill, Robert Griffin III, and Andrew Luck. His flaws, however, were found the very next year, and he struggled throughout his junior season. Now starts the list of things I love about Justin Gilbert. He made the mature decision to go back to college for his senior season, he corrected his flaws, and became an even better player than he was before. Even after an outstanding senior season, he wasn’t done, as he dominated virtually every measurement, category and drill he found his name listed on. Literally everything that any one scout can look for in a corner pointed at Gilbert. He was one of the taller corners there, had the second longest arms, second highest bench press total, fastest 40 yard dash, showed ball skills like a receiver, backpedalled like a boss and flipped his hips so well it would make Victor Cruz’s salsa coach drool. Patrick Peterson was the best corner prospect I’ve seen in my years of watching prospects, but Gilbert is a very close second. He has the size to shut down big receivers and the speed to nullify the fast guys. He has it all.
Kony Ealy Defensive End Missouri
Ealy and Michael Sam were the best defensive end tandem in college football last year. Sam deserves every bit of praise he has garnered for coming out as gay, and I hope he becomes a great NFL player for the courage he has shown. Ealy, however, is the far superior prospect, as well as one of my favorites. He reminds me a lot of both Justin Tuck and JJ Watt, and has a frame and a skill set which indicates the versatility of playing in either of their roles. He is being rated as a fringe first round pick, but because he can play in both a 3-4, or a 4-3, teams may realize that nobody is exempt from taking him and will snatch him up quick. He doesn’t have one flat outstanding trait, but he is great at almost everything. With a long list of moves and skills, I see him as one of the players from this draft that could have a long and satisfying career.
Jordan Matthews Wide Reciever Vanderbilt
Sammy Watkins is a lot of fun to watch, but Matthews is the only player in this draft that matches him in that aspect. He is the only receiver that is just as NFL ready as Watkins, with hands just as good, route running just as good, is at least an inch taller, and is a better blocker. Matthews is really the only receiver that can match up with Watkins in many categories, but the only thing that holds him back might be what matters most to scouts: his speed. He’s not slow by any means, but he does not have elite separation speed like many of the other receivers in this class do. But as a fan of football, I love all the little things, and that’s why I love watching Matthews play. Oh, and if that’s not enough for you, how about the fact that he’s Jerry Rice’s cousin? Yes. That Jerry Rice. That Jerry Rice who also had questionable speed but great hands and great route running. Catch my drift?