Forget the flaws -- these guys will produce
Posted: April 4, 2005
Any team can make a long draft wish list of premium prospects, but that's kind of like asking Santa for a plasma TV, a Waverunner, a luxury SUV, a leather massaging recliner, a Rolex and season tickets in a skybox.
Former Cowboys and Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson took a shrewder approach. After every scout and assistant coach had his say and the draft meetings were over, Johnson identified 10 to 15 players who captured his fancy. Each one might not have been big enough, fast enough or athletic enough. But every one was a producer, and Johnson did what he had to do to get as many of them as he could at specific points in the draft.
The approach enabled Johnson to select players such as offensive tackle Erik Williams in the third round, center Mark Stepnoski in the third, defensive tackle Leon Lett in the seventh, middle linebacker Zach Thomas in the fifth and defensive end Jason Taylor in the third.
Using Johnson's approach as a model, there are 10 playmakers expected to be taken at various stages of the 2005 draft whom I would try to find a way to select.
Early first round: Shawne Merriman, DE/OLB, Maryland. The knock on him is he might not be fluid enough to play linebacker or experienced enough to be an every-down end. He could play anywhere for me -- defensive end, linebacker, safety, tight end. Just get him on the field.
Merriman probably is the most explosive player in the draft. When he collides with an opponent, the opponent always goes backward. He's a shark in shoulder pads. Call me silly, but I like those kind of guys. A lot.
Late first round: Mark Clayton, WR, Oklahoma. At 5-10, 193, he's the size of a typical tax accountant, but with a much more appealing bottom line. Clayton probably is the most complete receiver in the draft. There is nothing he doesn't do well. Clayton is going to make an NFL offense better, and he's going to do it quickly.
Second round: Ciatrick Fason, RB, Florida. Anyone who measures running backs by flash will not hold Fason in high regard. His speed and ability to avoid tacklers are ordinary. But he reads the defense and finds the hole -- as evidenced by his 105.6 rushing yards per game. Another running back from the same school also was said to be too slow. This year, Emmitt Smith retired as the NFL's all-time leading rusher.
Second to third round: Matt McCoy, OLB, San Diego State. The Scouting Combine invited 333 prospects but not McCoy. The bet here is he'll be a better pro than at least 300 of those players. All he does is find the ball quicker than most and punish the person holding it.
Third round: Dan Buenning, G, Wisconsin. What he lacks in athleticism and power he makes up for in instincts, awareness, competitiveness and leadership. Buenning is the kind of guy who raises the bar for the whole team.
Third round: Ray Willis, OT, Florida State. If teammate Alex Barron had Willis' heart, he might be the first pick in the draft. Willis will be physically outmatched at times, but his toughness and focus will win a lot of battles.
Fourth round: Scott Starks, CB, Wisconsin. The abundance of good corners in the draft combined with his lack of size could make him a tremendous value pick. At 5-8, 172, Starks might be too small to play every down, but he could become the best nickel back in the NFL. Outside of size limitations, there is nothing not to like about Starks.
Fourth round: Stefan LeFors, QB, Louisville. This lefthander is undersized and might not be able to throw the ball across an eight-lane highway, but he's one heck of an accurate passer. LeFors led the NCAA by completing 73.5 percent of his passes, which speaks to his feel for the game. In the right situation, he can be a winner in the NFL.
Fifth round: Matt Grootegoed, S, Southern California. Many NFL teams are concerned this 5-11, 211-pound college linebacker won't be a fit at any position in the NFL. With the way Grootegoed makes plays, there would be a spot for him in my lineup any day. Even if he fails at safety, he should be an all-star-caliber performer on special teams.
Sixth round: Taylor Stubblefield, WR, Purdue. No player in NCAA history caught more passes than Stubblefield (309), yet he was not invited to the Combine. He is considered not big enough or fast enough -- a beneficiary of the Purdue system. What Stubblefield has is excellent short-area quickness. That should enable him to separate and find a niche as a slot receiver