Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Diamonds Are Forever

Every year there are the “steals of the draft” or “diamonds in the rough” and this year will be no different. Here is a group of potential diamonds for the upcoming draft. Although they have already proved themselves on the field, they could be a steal depending on where they fall in the draft.

First on the list is Hakeem Nicks, the wide receiver out of North Carolina. Nicks has great hands and showed it at the combine. In the Meineke Car Care Bowl he displayed his skills in a losing effort, making a behind-the-back catch without breaking stride. He won’t be the fastest guy on the field, but he definitely makes up for it by making big plays in clutch situations. His physicality is almost unmatched by any of the other receivers in the draft—with his 6’1” 215 lb frame, he can do some damage to opposing secondaries while never shying away from hits. If a team can nab this former Tar Heel in the second round, they shouldn’t hesitate to pounce.

Next is the extremely versatile Pat White, the quarterback from West Virginia. He probably won’t be a full-time quarterback at the next level. He's very similar to Kordell Stewart, only smaller, and would be able to play at the slot position, return punts, and of course, be a back-up/gimmick quarterback. With the “wildcat” being all the rage this last season, look for White to be utilized heavily in the formation. He had the fastest 40 time at the combine for the quarterbacks group, and will definitely need to use all of that speed at the next level. It should be interesting to see how the team that drafts him will utilize his talent, because he is a talent.

Running back Shonn Greene from Iowa should do very well at the next level. He is a solid 235 lbs. and stands 5’11”. He had 307 rushing attempts in 2008 and averaged 6.1 yards per carry, which is outstanding, especially while playing in the Big Ten conference. His downfall is his speed, which is in the mid 4.5 range, but he makes up for it with his physicality. He likes to initiate contact and is great at lowering his shoulders and driving with his legs. If a team is looking for a hard, downhill runner they need to look no further than Greene. A team that already has a breakaway threat would be wise to plug Greene in as a power runner as part of a one-two punch.

If a team is looking for a playmaker in the secondary, then they may want to take a look at cornerback Mike Mickens out of Cincinnati. He is 6’0” 190 lbs and uses every inch while defending taller receivers. In his career he has accumulated 14 interceptions, three of them going for touchdowns. His team missed him dearly in the FedEx Orange Bowl loss to Virginia Tech and even though he missed four games due to injury, he still had nine passes defended along with four interceptions in 2008. His stock fell as he missed the NFL Scouting Combine because of a knee injury, but he has a chance to redeem himself at his Pro Day on the 19th of March.

Sam Bradford’s favorite target, Juaquin Iglesias, will be a steal for a team that can grab him in the second or third round of the draft. He is 6’0” 204 lbs. but plays much bigger. He has outstanding playmaking ability, great hands, and is an exceptional route runner. With his 40 time only being in the mid 4.5 range, he has learned to gain separation from cornerbacks with crisp cuts and precise route running. He amassed 74 receptions on an Oklahoma team that loved to spread the ball around and when you have a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback throwing you the ball with confidence, what more do you need?

In a two running back system, Jeremiah Johnson was still able to flourish. Even though he only had 168 rushing attempts, he still was able to crack 1,200 yards rushing on the season with a 7.1 yards per carry average. He only ran a 4.62 40 at the combine, but showed quickness and reliable hands out of the backfield. He should be considered a Brian Westbrook type of player—quick, with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make defenders miss. He would be a great pickup for a team that lacks a pass-catching running back.

As the 2009 NFL draft approaches and trades are being made, teams are looking for needs to be filled. These players are just a few of many that could become steals in the '09 draft. Only time will tell where these players end up and what type of impact they will have for their teams in the upcoming season.

Photo Credit: College Press Box (UNC, Iowa), OU Athletics Department