Evaluators in attendance at Jason Pierre-Paul's workout at South Florida expressed excitement about the raw talent, citing his foot quickness, athletic ability and balance.
"He's the best defensive end in the draft," said one highly placed evaluator in position to strike.
The long-limbed Pierre-Paul was commended for being the first player in line for drills, picking up on instructions and working well through the bags during drills. Evaluators were generally excited about his workout.
PFW polled nearly a third of the league to get a pulse on where Pierre-Paul can be expected to be drafted, and the overwhelming sentiment was that he would fit into the top 15, with seven teams expecting Pierre-Paul to be drafted very early.
That is not to say that he is without sharp critics, however, as a handful of others not only disliked Pierre-Paul's athletic ability, they acknowledged they would not draft him in the first two rounds — the first four rounds, for two of them — and feared he would be a bust.
"He won't be ready," one GM said. "He will be outmanned. He will be lost. He has no football experience and only (13) games of football against a lower level of Division I football (competition). It's not like he lined up against Alabama and Georgia. He is not a pass rusher. He is late off the ball. He does not transition easily. I don't like tall, thin-legged guys that cannot convert speed into power."
Another top executive said: "Why take a chance on reaches in the first round that may never perform? It blows my mind how anyone could interview or put on the film and say, 'Wow.' If there is something we have learned through the years, it is that rushing the passer is not an easy art to teach."
"I know you got issues with a bunch of things non-football-related," a scout said. "I think everyone understands he is a rep player (needing a lot of repetitions). He did not get to school until the week before the season started, so he did not start the first three weeks, when they were not playing any big opponents (Wofford, Western Kentucky and Charleston Southern)."
Well represented at the workout were the New York Giants and the Cincinnati Bengals, with head coach Tom Coughlin and Marvin Lewis both in attendance, increasing speculation in league circles that Osi Umenyiora could be shipped out of town before the end of draft weekend.
Mays losing momentum in draft discussions
Debate continues to swirl about the top of the board at the safety class. Eric Berry and Earl Thomas are closely positioned at the top of most, with the gap being much closer than perception may be, and some NFL evaluators even preferring Thomas to Berry.
A number of other safety prospects have warranted discussion in the first round, with USC's Taylor Mays still fully expected to fit, and players such as Georgia Tech's Morgan Burnett rising off draft boards after an impressive pro-day performance. South Florida's Nate Allen has also received late first- and early second-round grades from evaluators during the course of the fall season.
If Berry and Thomas are selected in the top 12 as anticipated, some executives believe as many as four safeties could fit into the first round the same way they did in 2007, when LaRon Landry (sixth overall), Michael Griffin (19), Reggie Nelson (21) and Brandon Meriweather (24) all landed.
Three is more likely, with Mays fully expected to land somewhere in the first. Physically, he compares to Landry, and his measurables suggest he should be a top-10 pick. The reality is that he fielded a great deal of third- and even fourth-round grades from NFL evaluators this season and has huge bust potential.
"(The big guy) can't move laterally," one very well-trained set of eyes said. "When you see him in man coverage, receivers run right by him. With the way the game is played today, I have no idea where you play him."
Some teams have discussed the idea of projecting him to weak-side linebacker but question whether he has the toughness to play in the box. Others look at the way LaRon Landry performed for the Redskins this season and are only more concerned.
"Landry did not play very well (last) year," a veteran evaluator said. "He kept going for the home-run hit and missing. The spread between his great plays and his bad plays was huge."
The same could be said for Mays. He is big, fast in a straight line, and can create thunder collisions when he has a clean shot. However, the traits that are necessary to survive on the back end in the NFL — cover skills, instincts and secure tackling — are all far too inconsistent with Mays. Questions about his maturity level only compound a high bust factor.
Burnett's football intelligence has been questioned and is expected to keep him out of the first round, despite his clocking in the 4.4s at his pro day, working out better than expected, and some evaluators not seeing a lot of difference between him and Thomas.
Allen disappointed evaluators when he performed agility drills at South Florida's workout but declined to perform the 40-yard dash after having failed to work out at the Combine. His stock also appears to be on the slide.
"Too many plays land at his shoe tops," one evaluator said. "He is not a difference maker. He does not show up consistently in coverage or against the run."
Another evaluator said: "He is a fire chief, not a fireman. He is always looking for everyone else to put out the fire so he does not have to get involved. He made a couple hits in four games, but they were all lined up for him, and they were tackles he had to make."
Nolan Nawrocki will answer selected questions from readers each Tuesday leading up to the draft, beginning April 6. Send your draft-related questions to Nawrocki at ASKquestions@pfwmedia.com.
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