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Scout's Eye: Elite talent found in all rounds

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Recent posts by Nolan Nawrocki

Warmack, Cooper scouting reports

Posted April 15, 2013 @ 11:02 a.m.

Elam, Vaccaro scouting reports

Posted April 12, 2013 @ 9:26 a.m.

Milliner, Mathieu scouting reports

Posted April 11, 2013 @ 1:48 p.m.

Te'o, Ogletree scouting reports

Posted April 10, 2013 @ 12:57 p.m.

Lotulelei, Werner scouting reports

Posted April 09, 2013 @ 3:13 p.m.

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Posted Dec. 12, 2011 @ 4:12 a.m. ET
By Nolan Nawrocki

After last season, the 2010 rookie class was being hailed as one of the all-time greats, with Sam Bradford showing signs of becoming the next Tom Brady and Ndamukong Suh looking like the second coming of Mean Joe Greene.

Many others from the class, from Rolando McClain to Maurkice Pouncey, made instant impacts and were regarded as smashing successes, receiving instant award recognition. Enter Year Two and Bradford has looked more like the china doll he was in college; the character concerns about Suh stemming from a hit-and-run accident during his senior year have shown through in other lights; McClain was arrested during a trip home for a family matter and the details surrounding his arrest included disturbing details; and Pouncey, for the second straight season, could struggle to finish the season with a lower leg injury.

It's not that the 2010 draft was bad, despite a first round that is beginning to trend closer toward the infamous 2005 class featuring one of the worst top 10s in draft history. In any given draft, there are always at least 32 first-round-caliber talents who wind up playing at an elite level in the pros. They all just do not get drafted highly, whether it is because of size limitations, durability issues, off-the-field troubles or a host of other potential red flags that make the scouting and evaluation process the art that it is.

In 2010, Rob Gronkowski never played a snap at Arizona because of a back injury, but based on his sophomore tape, he clearly possessed elite traits, with excellent hands, run strength after the catch and the craftiness to uncover. Durability concerns, compounded with worries that he partied too hard, pushed him down to the second round. However, his talent level was too great at the 42nd slot for New England to pass, and the Pats wound up landing a player who graded out as a top-20 talent in the middle of the second round, giving them a mismatch weapon that the rest of the league has yet to figure out how to stop.

Some evaluators graded Texas DT Lamarr Houston more highly than Gerald McCoy, but a DWI charge, concerns about racist tweets and a different personality pushed Houston to the middle of the second round. NaVorro Bowman was placed on probation for a disorderly conduct charge and admitted to drug usage and he wound up sliding all the way to the third round However, in his second season, he has played to the first-round grade that his on-field performance warranted at Penn State.

Many who slide out of the first round prove worthy. Others with first-round athletic traits, such as USC's Everson Griffen, who slid all the way to the fourth round as a classic underachiever with character concerns, and Oklahoma State's Perrish Cox, who was arrested in Denver after a promising start, may never mature enough to find NFL success.

Carolina's Greg Hardy and Detroit's Willie Young graded out highly as pass rushers, but personality disorders left them sitting in the final two rounds, where they proved to be too much value to pass. In every round, the question is not whether elite talent will be available — it's how well teams can manage and develop it.

Tom Brady consistently threw off the mark and appeared rattled by an aggressive Redskins rush. One of the greatest strengths of the Patriots under the leadership of Bill Belichick has been his ability to minimize distractions, tame egos and keep the team focused on collective achievement. That the sideline dispute between Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien following Brady's ill-advised, fourth-quarter, back-of-the-endzone interception was quickly resolved and did not linger into even the next series speaks to the strength of the leadership in New England. Tempers flare on every sideline of every game and increasingly are being picked up on camera, with television producers seeking off-the-field drama that will bring viewers into the game even further. None are better than Belichick at dropping the curtain, keeping issues in house and focusing his team on what matters most.

• When Jim Schwartz coordinated the Titans' defense, he made sure the unit was proud of its toughness, which encouragingly bordered on being dirty. At the center of it was Stephen Tulloch, a feisty linebacker who despite standing 5-foot-10, embodied the grit, tenacity and nastiness that Schwartz sought as its identity. That Tulloch came to Detroit in free agency and Schwartz's hand-picked talent, such as Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, have reputations for agitating blockers and playing dirty, was part of the plan. The blind-side block that Tulloch delivered on Christian Ponder after a Ponder interception is the type of play that defines Detroit's defense. As much as Schwartz may say publicly that it is going to play by the rules, Tulloch's hit, which sent Ponder to the sideline for the rest of the game with a hip injury, serves as a symbol of the way the game is taught in Detroit.

• Critics can say what they want about Tim Tebow's lack of passing talent — his mechanics clearly still need much refinement — but come the fourth quarter, he is sitting in the pocket, reading the defense, making the right decisions and with Brian Urlacher blitzing in his face, delivering the ball in stride. Tebow has propelled the Broncos into the pole position in the AFC West with his clutch, fourth-quarter performances, winning six games in a row and proving that he is a force that needs to be reckoned with. John Elway is still evaluating the position and is not yet ready to anoint the raw, unorthodox lefty as his QB of the future. However, it says here that the Broncos have enough inspiration, determination and confidence at the QB position to begin thinking about how best to support it. If John Fox could get to the Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme at the helm in Carolina, Fox can eventually find a way there with Tebow.

• While Tebow has led the Broncos to six fourth-quarter wins, Cam Newton lost for the sixth time this year in a game when the Panthers led or were tied in the fourth quarter, with Julio Jones showing why the Falcons traded up for his services with a pair of TD catches in the final quarter that demonstrated his strong will after the catch. The drops that plagued him at Alabama could not be shaken early in the game, but he rose to the occasion when he was needed, unlike Newton. Two poor decisions by Newton on consecutive drives in the third quarter led to interceptions. His second pick clearly appeared to frustrate Panthers offensive linemen, who provided a clean pocket but apparently were not playing up to Newton's level, as he said earlier in the week that the rest of the team needs to do.

• As good as Eli Manning has been in the fourth quarter, leading his sixth comeback victory this season, a Giants patchwork offensive line that has been forced to reshuffle the deck was more impressive, holding DeMarcus Ware, the most gifted pass rusher in football, without a sack. The line held up despite some errant snaps from versatile fill-in C Kevin Boothe and a good amount of pressure from one of the quickest defensive fronts in football.

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