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April 24, 2011

Roundtable: NFL draft booms and busts

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport. This weekend, we have two roundtables - one Saturday and one today.

TODAY'S QUESTION: The first round of the NFL draft is Thursday, and we have a four-part draft question today. Which offensive player in this draft is a guy you're certain will be a star? Which highly touted offensive prospect is most likely to be a bust? Which defensive player in this draft is a guy you're certain will be a star? And which highly touted defensive prospect is most likely to be a bust?

Olin Buchanan's answer:
Alabama RB Mark Ingram has been compared to former Cowboys star Emmitt Smith for his size, speed and running style. I'm not saying Ingram will end his career as the NFL's leading career rusher, but I'm convinced he's going to be a star. The same goes for LSU CB Patrick Peterson. He's an amazing player who also could be used at safety. On the other side, I'm skeptical about Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. He threw too many interceptions and too often struggled in big games at Missouri. The Big 12 has produced a lot of quarterbacks who put up huge numbers, but how many of those panned out in the NFL? The defensive player that I have the most questions about is Baylor NT Phil Taylor, and not just because he supposedly has a bad foot. He's been called the best nose tackle in the draft, but that didn't help Baylor's run defense, which was weak. And, frankly, he didn't play that well as a junior.

Tom Dienhart's answer:
I think Illinois RB Mikel Leshoure will be a No. 1 running back for some team. Leshoure is a big, thick and strong back who can pound NFL defenses between the tackles and move the chains. He also has a burst to get to the edge of a defense and turn the corner. I just don't see the fuss about Mizzou QB Blaine Gabbert. I know his measurables are impressive. He's big (6 feet 4/230) and fast (4.6 in the 40) with a strong arm. But measurables don't matter at all when it comes to being a great quarterback. Can you read defenses? Can you find secondary receivers? Can you make big plays in crunch time? Are you poised? Are you tough? I just don't recall Gabbert making many big plays, and he didn't take Mizzou to another level. Few scouts seem to think he's great. And that's odd for a guy many feel will be a top-five pick. Finally, the last time we saw him, Gabbert was tossing a pick that was run back for the winning points in an Insight Bowl loss to an Iowa team that Mizzou should have clocked. I am convinced that LSU CB Patrick Peterson will be a stud. Peterson reminds me of Hall of Famer Rod Woodson. Both are big, physical corners with speed to cover one on one and the size to play the run. And each also doubles as a deadly return man. If I had the first pick in the draft, I'd take Peterson. Big, fast shutdown corners who also are elite return men are rare. Finally, I think Auburn DT Nick Fairley could be a bust. I know the guy is talented, but I worry about maturity issues. Will he stay hungry and motivated after he gets a big payday? Fairley essentially has built his pro prospects off of one excellent season. I'd like a bigger body of work to evaluate.

David Fox's answer:
Last season's wide receiver class in college (some stayed in school, some declared early) was one of the deepest classes we've seen at any position in recent years. Georgia's A.J. Green may be the best of all the receivers. A few weeks ago, I said I'd take Alabama DT Marcell Dareus with the top pick. Now, though, I'm going to say someone else will be the "star" defender. I could see someone like LSU's Patrick Peterson, Texas A&M's Von Miller or Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers being the defensive star out of this class because they will have those "wow" moments. As for the busts, I have my doubts about Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. He could have benefited from another year in school, but there's always a premium on quarterbacks. He was 64th nationally in pass efficiency, good for just eighth in the Big 12. He's a fantastic talent, but I'd like to see more from him in college before I'm on the Gabbert bandwagon. On defense, I wonder about DE Cameron Jordan from California. He finished with only 5.5 sacks last season. Granted, he played on a mediocre team and played defensive end in a 3-4, where an outside linebacker was the primary pass rusher. Scouts are touting his versatility, which is great. That could mean he's a fantastic player, but what if he can't find a home?

Mike Huguenin's answer:
I think Georgia WR A.J. Green is going to become an All-Pro quickly. He has the entire package with his size, speed and hands. I also think Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo and Wisconsin OT Gabe Carimi are going to be stars, but I like Green a bit better. Defensively, if Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers' knees hold up, I think he will be a productive pass-rushing force for a decade. But there are rumblings he needs microfracture surgery, and if that indeed is the case, all bets on potential stardom are off. In that scenario, I would pick LSU CB Patrick Peterson as the sure-fire star. Peterson may lack some consistency, but he has the physical gifts to be a shutdown corner for a long time. As for potential busts, I have tons of doubts about Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert. I understand that his size and physical tools make scouts drool, but, frankly, I always thought he was bit of an underachiever at Mizzou. For all the talk about his strong arm, he sure didn't unlimber it at Mizzou, where the offense was more "dink-and-dunk" than "chuck it downfield." I don't think he's anything close to a franchise quarterback. Defensively, I have doubts about a few guys, most notably Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. He was part of what might have been college football's best secondary last season, and I think he benefited from all the talent around him. I'm wary of a so-called shutdown corner who finishes a season with zero picks, which was Amukamara's total last season. He has the needed tools, but I'm not sure he's going to be anything other than a journeyman corner -- a guy who has a long career but never stands out.

Steve Megargee's answer:
I think Georgia WR A.J. Green is pretty close to a sure thing. Georgia's offense played at a much different level last season once Green returned from a four-game suspension. Part of that was because of the growth of first-year starting QB Aaron Murray, but I think Green's arrival was an even bigger factor. I'm not completely sold on any of the quarterbacks in this draft and think they all have bust potential. I may have the most concerns about Missouri's Blaine Gabbert. He may have all the measurables NFL scouts like, but he also ranked just 64th nationally in passing efficiency last season. When I watched Gabbert play at Missouri, I certainly did not think I was seeing a potential top-five overall pick in the draft. I just don't see Gabbert as a potential franchise-changing guy, and that's what you're seeking when you're picking a quarterback as early as Gabbert's likely to get chosen. LSU CB Patrick Peterson strikes me as the defensive player with the most star potential. Peterson won the Jim Thorpe Award as college football's best defensive back last season, and he also was one of the nation's top kick returners. His ability to deliver on defense and special teams makes him a true double threat. North Carolina DE Robert Quinn seems like a bit of a risk as a top-10 pick. Quinn sat out the 2010 season as part of the NCAA investigation into North Carolina, but the rust factor isn't my only concern. As Sports Illustrated's Peter King recently noted, eight of his 11 sacks two seasons ago came against Duke (which went 5-7), Virginia (3-9) and FCS programs Georgia Southern and The Citadel. Quinn might develop into a productive NFL pass rusher, but a closer look at his statistics gives me plenty of doubts.

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