Knowing I cover college football and watch most of the nation's top players annually, people often ask me, "How do you think [Player X] will do in the NFL?"
My answer is: I don't have the foggiest idea.
The NFL draft is a maddening ritual for those of us with a greater affinity for the collegiate brand because the player rankings and evaluations, in many cases, bear little resemblance to said players' performance in college. For instance, while the top of every mock draft right now consists of a former Heisman winner (Sam Bradford) and three consensus All-Americas (Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy andEric Berry), the latter part of the first round includes guys like USC defensive end Everson Griffen, a much-touted recruit but mostly a career underachiever who had a few big games.
There was a time when I would have railed on the NFL types for once again putting combine data ahead of game production, for elevating a largely undecorated college player over any number of more acclaimed players. But here's the thing: I'm often wrong.
Whatever the NFL is looking for, clearly I'm incapable of identifying it. So you will hear no righteous indignation from me over Todd McShay's dire prognosis for Tim Tebow's pro aspirations or bewilderment over the fact some NFL team may draft Jonathan Crompton this weekend (as baffling as that may be to anyone who watched a Tennessee game during the past two years.)
The best I can do is offer my endorsement for a few undervalued college stars who I thoroughly enjoyed watching the past few years. I find it hard to believe these guys wouldn't make some team very happy if selected higher than they're currently projected.
Let's go with one at each position.
Most projections have the sport's all-time winningest quarterback and two-time Heisman finalist going in the second or third round. I can understand why scouts prefer the taller, more prototypically-sized Sam Bradford and Jimmy Clausen (cough, bust, cough), but there's very little discrepancy in terms of McCoy's actual passing ability. The guy can make every throw, he's smart, mobile and incredibly accurate. I've always thought he had a little bit of Peyton Manning in him in regards to his preparation and the way he makes checks at the line. I'm not saying he's going to be a Hall of Famer, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he winds up having a very solid career.
Full profile on McCoy
Mainly because he's a rare, white running back, it took until about halfway through last season for most people outside the Pac-10 to realize Gerhart was more than just a glorified fullback. On the contrary, he's a fast, durable, every-down tailback who ran for 1,871 yards and nearly won the Heisman. It's no surprise, therefore, that he began the draft process facing similar skepticism. But SI.com's Don Banksinterviewed several NFL decision-makers who came to much the same realization the more they saw of him. "I see no fullback,'' said one GM. "I see a running back." Banks' mini-survey found Gerhart to carry a consensus second-round grade. Hopefully one of those interviewed will be confident enough to pull the trigger.
Full profile on Gerhart
I don't know what more the guy could have done to show he's a lethal all-around playmaker in the mold of DeSean Jackson. I still vividly remember a game at Oklahoma his junior year in which Gilyard racked up 365 all-purpose yards against a team that wound up playing for the national championship. Last year he had one highlight after another in the Bearcats' 12-0 regular season, most notably in their BCS-clinching win over Pittsburgh, during which Gilyard broke a 99-yard kickoff return and made a 68-yard touchdown catch. Despite all this, McShay has 15 other receivers ranked ahead of Gilyard, including the likes of Taylor Price (Ohio) and Andre Roberts (The Citadel). I think Gilyard could be a sure-fire No. 2 or 3 receiver and a great return man.
Full profile on Gilyard
There are a lot of very good tight ends in this draft -- Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham; Arizona's Rob Gronkowski -- and presumably, only a handful of teams in the market for one. But there are a lot of reasons to like Dickerson, who at times last season seemed almost as if he'd been cloned.
He was all over the field, catching 49 passes (second to teammate Jonathan Baldwin's 57) and constantly delivering downfield blocks on a long Dion Lewis run or Baldwin breakaway. What I like most is his versatility: At various points in his career, Dickerson also played receiver and linebacker. Unlike a couple other guys I like (Oregon's Ed Dickson and Florida's Aaron Hernandez), Dickerson played in a pro-style offense, meaning he won't face as big an adjustment.
Full profile on Dickerson
A man can admit his weaknesses, and I'll confess I'm not remotely qualified to evaluate offensive linemen. I thought Andre Smith and Robert Gallery were awesome. Here's the full list of tackles, centers and guards.
It's a down year for bookend pass-rushers in this draft, but there's a glut of disruptive defensive tackles, which may explain why Price, a two-time All-Pac-10 honoree, is getting lost in the shuffle. Price was one of the few reasons to watch a UCLA game the past couple of years. He posted a ridiculous 23.5 tackles for loss last season, and that doesn't count all the times you'd see him closing in on a quarterback just as he released. Once you concede that Ndamukong Suh andGerald McCoy are in a whole other stratosphere athletically, I'd argue Price is as good as any of the other guys at his position -- and it's a pretty important position -- which might merit a second-round pick.
Full profile on Price
It's not just his cool name -- the Hawkeyes star also has a motor on him. Remember Iowa's win at Penn State last September? Angerer was all over the field, notching 14 tackles, a 38-yard interception return to set up a touchdown and a forced fumble to snuff out a late Nittany Lions rally attempt. It was like that all season for the Nagurski Award finalist who finished sixth nationally with 145 tackles. Scouts will invariably claim he's undersized (6-foot-1, 235 pounds), but that's kind of an m.o. for Iowa linebackers, and former star Chad Greenway (6-2, 242) is doing just fine. Angerer isn't on Greenway's level, but I'd argue he's not dramatically behind, either.
Full profile on Angerer
Jones is such a gifted athlete (he's a standout baseball player, too), I long assumed he'd be a future high draft pick. So you can imagine my surprise to see he's a projected third-rounder despite excelling as a junior. Jones had 74 tackles, three interceptions, a forced fumble, a blocked kick and a hard-earned 93-yard punt return last season, but two plays in particular stood out to me: This bone-crushing hit to save a touchdown against Arkansas and his goal-line stop to preserve a win against Mississippi State. His coverage skills will need work, but if you get him on the field (perhaps starting out on special teams), he'll make some big-time plays for you.
Full profile on Jones