Top Risk/Reward Players of 2013

by David Syvertsen

The scouting process is not nearly as complex as some make it out to be.  Watch these guys play, take notes, and grade them.  Cross-examine the evaluations a couple months down the road and you have most of the final grade complete.  However, there are portions of the scouting process that involve more than just flipping the lights and turning on the tape.  There is a lot of risk involved when it comes to a prospect’s decisions off the field, motivation, and health.  Three guys that offer a ton of risk but also huge potential rewards:

Character Risk: Tyrann Mathieu – CB – LSU

The top defensive player in all the land in 2011, Mathieu repeatedly failed drug tests and showed a lack of respect for authority.  That resulted in him being suspended from LSU, missing the entire 2012 season.  He is supposedly ready to strap the helmet back on for good, leaving behind the fun and willing to work.  Saying it is one thing, but the actions will speak louder and that will take time.

The fact is, Mathieu is immature until proven otherwise.  I am aware of that.  Another fact is, Mathieu is a difference maker that can change the performance of an entire defense.  LSU used him all over the field in 2011, and he excelled in that role.  Here are a few of my scouting notes on him: 

Free and easy mover.  Moves as if he were ice skating.  Seamless transition when he is forced to change direction and accelerate.  All out hustle, all the time.  Plays the game harder than anybody.  Willing tackler.  Always trying to strip the ball.  One of the few college prospects that can make the tackle while going for the strip consistently. Tremendous balance.  Allows him to attack the football at the apex of his leap.  Undersized but plays much bigger than what he is listed at.  One of the only players I’ve seen that can run downfield with West Virginia’s Tavon Austin.  Knack for the big play.  High IQ pre and post snap.

While he lacks the ideal size (5’9/180), teams will find a role for Mathieu.  He would not be best suited for a traditional cornerback spot.  He will never be Darelle Revis.  But he is a guy that can be thrown in to the middle of the field like a third safety and/or slot corner.  He will make plays at the next level.

Where do you place him on the draft board?  It will be interesting to see.  Talent wise, Mathieu is a top 10 player.  His issues off the field will downgrade him but if I am a decision maker looking for a spark on defense, round 3 is where I start to consider him.

Medical Risk:  Marcus Lattimore – RB – South Carolina

Lattimore entered his freshman season at South Carolina in 2010 with sky high expectations.  He exceeded them and was well on his way to being the next Adrian Peterson.  Two season ending, surgery needing injuries have taken a sure-thing top 10 pick and thrown him in to the middle of the pack of an average running back class.  He is ready to shock the world with, yet again another Peterson comparison, an eye opening recovery and claims he will be ready to go in 2013.

I put a lot of credence in to the injury history of a running back that is entering the NFL.  In a game that becomes more and more violent each year, running backs are having a harder time staying on the field for an entire season.  Lattimore enters his pro career up against the odds.  Unfortunately for him, that will lead to pessimism among NFL decision makers when it comes to his evaluation.  On the field though, it’s difficult not to fall in love with his gamebreaking ability.

Tall and almost lanky.  Skinny legs, despite weighing in at 220 pounds.  Long limbs.  Will have hard time avoiding hits to the lower half.  Tries hard to keep his pad level down. Can stay low and explosive with top tier balance.  Efficient runner.  Explosive 5-10 yard split.  Locates the hole, reads the defense, and moves north right away.  Falls forward a lot.  Rarely goes down on first, or even second, contact.  Makes the lateral cuts as good as anyone.  Soft hands.  Catches the ball with ease.  Good effort as a blocker. Makes an impact there.  Has runaway speed, but not sure it will translate well enough to NFL.  Takes way too many hits when fighting for that extra yard.  Needs to change that mindset if he wants to last.  Top tier talent, top tier intangibles.  Usually a good combination but the injury woes will only be heightened at the next level.

Coaches, teammates, school officials….they all love Lattimore’s attitude and work ethic.  I think he will ‘wow’ NFL Coaches and General Managers.  Turning the tape on after a conversation with him could lead more than a handful of those decision makers to the notion that he is worth the gamble.

Problem with Lattimore is you cannot deny or overlook the facts.  He has had serious injuries to both of his knees prior to ever playing in an NFL game.  Impressed with his talent or not, that has to severely downrade his upside.  Adrian Peterson’s miraculous recovery was not normal.  Peterson is not normal.  If Lattimore can end up having half the recovery that Peterson did, it would be a big time success.  However selecting him anywhere in the top 4-5 rounds would be a tremendous risk as I think his running style simply isn’t made for the NFL.

Motivation Risk:  Johnathan Hankins – Ohio State

Prior to the start of the 2012 season, defensive tackle Johnathon Hankins was near or at the top of several rankings.  His size (6’3/335) and quickness is hard to find.  But the one thing that scares scouts away when watching a series of his game tapes is the lack of consistent hustle and motivation.  He’s had some weight issues as well and it forces the question, how bad doe she want it?  There is nothing worse than drafting a player that fails to work towards his potential  A player will never enter the league  with enough talent to cruise control his way to a successful career.

This defensive tackle is strong.  Especially at the top.  There are several guys that can play the run, anchor down their gaps, and penetrate.  Hankins is versatile and shows tremendous pass rushing capability.  But without the motor to fight play after play, week after week, his value his diminished.  Talent does not always win in the trenches.  The will to out-hustle the opponent usually does.  Here are a few game notes:

Doesn’t look sexy in pads.  Carries a lot of bad weight.  Lower half doesn’t generate a lot of power.  Really needs to work at refining his body.  Bounces around the line.  Inside and out, left and right.  Can exploit matchups with his combination of light feet and upper body power.  Strong hands and long arms.  Can get off blocks in several different ways.  Closes a 5 yard window with explosion and balance.  Moves faster in lateral pursuit that I expected.  The motor runs hot and cold.  Definitely takes plays off.  May be a sign of poor conditioning.  Is he motivated?  Spends a lot of time with his hands on his hips, breathing hard.   Completely disappears for stretches.  Hurts the team just as much as he helps.

I saw a lot of Ohio State in 2012.  Their prospects as a whole underwhelmed me but none more than Hankins.  If there is one position in football where I want to avoid the low-effort guys, it’s defensive tackle.  Inconsistent play there is hard for a defense to overcome.

Some view Hankins as a top 20 pick.  I label him a round 3-4 guy because his talent is above average, but the attitude isn’t there.  I want specific mindsets in the trenches, he doesn’t have it.  I’d much rather gamble on a kid that likes to smoke marijuana than one with motivational issues.

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