By Steve Silverman
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Roger Goodell has moved his draft into May, and he will be quite successful at commanding the attention of the sports media with one of the NFL’s most important events.
While the explanation for holding the draft this month is that Radio City Music Hall was not available in late April, it’s more likely that Goodell wanted to run the NFL flag up the pole at a more important (television) time of the year. It’s almost certain the draft will be held in May once again next year.
Goodell will likely hit a home run with his decision to run the draft in May, as NFL fans can’t get enough of an event that has grown in importance over the decades. The proper infusion of new blood into a franchise can drive a team to elite status, or keep it there. Conversely, one or two bad drafts can take a perennial contender and turn it into an ordinary team.
But for all the study that the event gets, it’s difficult to get it right. Picking in the first round should mean that a team is going to add a superstar, but teams fail more often than they succeed in the opening round.
In the words of Marsellus Wallace from “Pulp Fiction,” there are just too many ifs to contemplate.
Teams have to determine a player’s current ability vs. his potential, the type of system he played in college vs. the one he will play in the NFL and the player’s desire to compete. That last factor is a huge one. Every player drafted wants to get an NFL paycheck, but how many are really willing to trade shots with some of the nastiest, toughest and most hardcore athletes in the world?
It’s best to get rid of the ifs. In this piece, we look at five players who are most likely going to be consistent from the start of their careers to the finish. While nobody can project future injuries, these players have the proper mental, physical and emotional makeup to play at a high level. Perhaps they won’t become superstars, but they will help the teams that draft them.
OLB Khalil Mack, Buffalo – There’s every possibility that the Buffalo Bills could draft Mack, who played his college football for the University of Buffalo. Mack is a 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker who runs a 4.59 40. Mack is not a fancy player, but he is a linebacker who will shut down the running game. He has the speed and instincts to get to the outside and make the stop, or he can destroy the running play that is designed to go between the tackles.
That’s his strength. He has some pass-rush ability and he can also do a decent job in coverage, but his signature will be stopping the run. He may not be glorious and dominate the highlight reels at the next level, but he should be the kind of player who provides consistent production on a week-to-week basis.
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State – The name of the game in the secondary is creating big plays with interceptions, deflections and hard-hitting tackles. Gilbert has the ability to excel in all three of these areas. The 6-foot-0, 202-pound defensive back is one of the best all-around athletes in the draft. This ability allows him to run with ease, change directions with great suddenness and then explode on the receiver or ball carrier. Gilbert has the competitive instincts to make one or two game-changing plays on a regular basis.
CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State – He’s one of the three or four most competitive players in this year’s draft. He is hungry to deliver a big hit whenever he can, but he is not reckless. He will not go for the big shot unless he has it. He is dependable when wrapping up. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound Dennard has impressive coverage techniques and will make as many plays on the ball as any defensive back in this draft.
Dennard is going to be able to make plays when the receiver appears to be open. He closes extremely well and will bait quarterbacks into throwing in his direction.
TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina – Any team that has a need for a game-changing tight end needs to give Ebron strong consideration. The 6-foot-4, 252-pound specimen can run downfield and make the big play over the safety, but he can also make the tough possession catch in the middle of the field. Ebron needs to make refinements to his game — such as improving his route running — but he has the physical gifts to be better than the man covering him, and he knows it.
Ebron wants to get better and that means he will put in the time and effort. He has the kind of personality that thrives on competition.
QB Derek Carr, Fresno State – Many scouts, general managers and draft experts rank Carr as the fourth-best quarterback in this draft behind Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater. However, Carr is the best passer of the bunch and that should translate into NFL success. He sees the field well, has great instincts for the game and will throw the deep ball with plenty of zip on it.
He is a very athletic 6-foot-2, 215-pounder who can run a 4.68 40. He uses his quick feet to buy time and he has the patience to give his receivers a chance to get open. He is very steady and mature in his game preparation, and he appears to have the proper mental outlook to be successful in the NFL.
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