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February 19, 2009

An NFL scout breaks down the 2009 draft class

Rivals.com talked to a director of college scouting for an NFL team. Here are his early position breakdowns on the NFL draft heading into the NFL Scouting Combine, which begins in earnest today in Indianapolis.

INTRO: I try to put most of my weight on what guys do in the fall. The tape doesn't lie. You have the Mike Mamulas and Vernon Gholstons, guys with big biceps who run great, then can't play. The one thing workouts like the combine are good for is you get a view of how athletic they are and how fast they are on a clock. And, hopefully, it matches what you see on tape. If it doesn't, then it causes you to go back and look at tape again.

RUNNING BACKS: I think the juniors really boosted the running backs class. Teams should be able to get a good back through the first three rounds. Look at the underclassmen: [Ohio State's] Beanie Wells, [Pittsburgh's] LeSean McCoy, [Connecticut's] Donald Brown, [Georgia's] Knowshon Moreno, [Wisconsin's] P.J. Hill, [Iowa's] Shonn Greene. That's a pretty strong group. I think there is real value there, and I think you'll be able to get them a little later with a chance to hit on one. I think Wells is the guy who has pushed out in front of everybody. He is the bell cow right now of this group.

QUARTERBACKS: Without the juniors, I don't think there would have been a quarterback class this year. There really aren't any strong seniors. You have the four juniors who came out: [Georgia's Matthew] Stafford and [USC's Mark] Sanchez are above the others, and you have [Ball State's] Nate Davis and [Kansas State's Josh] Freeman. Really, the quarterback class is disappointing. The seniors we expected big things from [Purdue's] Curtis Painter, [Louisville's] Hunter Cantwell, [Clemson's] Cullen Harper those guys fell flat on their face. [Texas Tech's] Graham Harrell is going to be a love-him-or-hate-him guy coming from that system. The guy is extremely accurate. In most draft rooms, the area [scout] guy is going to love him and the national scouts will wonder what is so special about this guy. If [Missouri's] Chase Daniel is drafted, it will be out of courtesy. He is so undersized and his arm isn't that good. I saw him live this fall and in the all-star game, and I wasn't that impressed with him. I think Stafford will be the first quarterback off the board. Heck, I think he'll be the first pick, but there's a long way to the draft from now. Stafford won't work out here, and Sanchez likely won't, either. Harrell isn't working out. He and [Michael] Crabtree are going to work out on Texas Tech's campus. And I don't blame Harrell. Why throw to some guys you never have [thrown to] before? Harrell and Crabtree have timing with each other, know how to get out of cuts. I have a hard time blaming quarterbacks for [wanting a more controlled workout]. I think it's different for receivers or running backs. But a quarterback's stock really can be affected by that combine.

WIDE RECEIVERS: I think Crabtree is the leader of the pack, the guys like [Rutgers'] Kenny Britt, [North Carolina's] Hakeem Nicks, [Maryland's Darrius] Heyward-Bey. I will be shocked if Heyward-Bey doesn't run fast. If he catches the ball, he could really help himself. There are a bunch of big guys this year. [Missouri's Jeremy] Maclin is good and helps himself as a return man. He didn't have a great year as a receiver. I just watched him the other day and expected a lot more than what I saw. He's raw and didn't show a lot of want-to after the catch. But he is a good player with a lot of upside.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The kid from Ole Miss [tackle Michael Oher] is one hell of a player. But he has some issues in the past that teams will need to look into. That book that was written about him just scratched the surface. He is a dominant player, really good. Someone will pick him. I just wonder how important football will be to him and what will motivate him. [Alabama's] Andre Smith is a good player, talented. He will be good. He is just a mammoth guy. The kid from Baylor [Jason Smith], I must be missing something. I don't know, I just don't see it. [Virginia's] Eugene Monroe is a great pass protector but leaves something to be desired as a run blocker. He's probably the best pass blocker in the draft. But in the run, he's just not a gritty, tough guy. He isn't as good as [former Cavs first-round pick] Branden Albert was. There is something amiss for me. If you are going to pick him at No. 9 or 10, I would want someone who is closer to [former Wisconsin star] Joe Thomas than this guy.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B.J. Raji is good and did a good job at the all-star game. And his sidekick at Boston College, Ron Brace, is good. They are big and good, the type of interior linemen the NFL teams like. [Ole Miss'] Peria Jerry is good, but he's more of an undersized 3-4 guy. [Northern Illinois'] Larry English is a good pass rusher. He was an undersized guy. He is a linebacker who ended up at end. Most teams have him as a linebacker. He has a great motor and plays hard. He doesn't have many holes. I also like [Penn State's] Aaron Maybin. He can come off the edge, but I don't know how big he is or how he'll fit in a scheme. [LSU's] Tyson Jackson, to me, is buyer-beware. He is pretty, he is body-beautiful. But he really has a difficult time finding the football and making plays. He just doesn't make any plays. He was a real disappointment to me. [Texas' Brian] Orakpo is a good one. I watched him the other day. He plays on his feet like we would have him do, but I don't think that's his forte. He is better with his hand on the ground.

LINEBACKERS: The linebackers are really strong. USC alone has four or five linebackers who likely will get drafted. [Rey] Maualuga, [Brian] Cushing, [Clay] Matthews and Kaluka Maiava, who will be really good in a 4-3. Then you have [Wake Forest's] Aaron Curry, who to me is the best of them all. I really like the kid. He can play outside, he can play inside, he plays with passion. He won't be limited by scheme. [Ohio State's James] Laurinaitis? You have to give him credit for all the tackles he made. In a 4-3 scheme, I think he'll be pretty good, but I don't know what he would bring to a team that plays a 3-4. He isn't a real take-on guy; he is more of a runner.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: [Ohio State's] Malcolm Jenkins is big. When it is all said and done, with his speed, he may end up being a safety. I think Cary Harris from USC is pretty good. [Oregon's] Patrick Chung is a good safety, a good player who can hit. Another guy I want to watch is [Kevin] Ellison of USC. He is good and big. But he isn't as big as their other safety, [Taylor] Mays. That guy looks like a defensive end. He is enormous. And he didn't come out!

Tom Dienhart is the national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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