Thursday, June 21, 2007

Making Absurdly "Earl"y Predictions

Here’s a question that is so far down the line that it’s almost ridiculous to mention, but I’m bored at work and we really don’t have anything better to talk about. So I’m going to give you my thoughts on where Earl Bennett end up in the 2008 NFL Draft (assuming he leaves early after this season, which very well might not happen). There is absolutely no way I can accurately predict which pick he’ll go since we have no idea which teams will pick when, but we can at least make a speculation as to which round he ends up in. So I’ll first highlight things that work against Bennett, and finish with things that work for him:

The truth of the matter when you look at Bennett compared to other WRs is that his physical traits are not jaw-dropping. His size and speed are middle of the road when compared to what NFL scouts really crave. Unfortunately I don’t have better benchmarks to use other than his stats from recruiting, so I have to use those, but I’ve also allowed for the fact that he’s probably gained a step or two and probably a couple of inches on his vertical thanks to a college weight training and speed program.

When last tested prior to entering Vanderbilt, Earl ran a 4.51 forty and had a 35 inch vertical. If Earl can get himself down to around a 4.45, then a team would consider picking him high, but probably not in the first round. Earl's 35 inch vertical also would need to be in the 38-40 range, and even then getting picked in the first round would be a long shot. These comparisons are based against the most recent NFL draft class (and granted, this class was deep in receiver talent, where as this coming year should be less so, which plays to Bennett's favor).

Also, at 6'1", Bennett doesn't have ideal size at the position. That's going to be tough to overcome in getting into the first round because he probably will not grow anymore. At his height the NFL is usually looking for someone who can smoke the competition, and while Bennett has speed, he's not a burner. A player of comparable size is Anthony Gonzalez from Ohio State, who went 32nd to the Colts. However, Gonzalez ran a 4.45, was tied for 1st in the 20 yard shuttle at 4.08, and ranked #1 in the three cone shuttle. Not to mention Gonzalez got a lot of notoriety playing for a consensus #1 team for most of the season. To put some perspective on this, Earl ran a 4.5 shuttle as a recruit, and while that has certainly gotten faster, I doubt he’s down to that time.

Now this is not to say he won't have a successful NFL career. On the average, only half of any first round draft class will pan out, if even that. It simply means that Bennett’s physical traits will not help him break into the top 32 picks. Keep in mind also that this is not a bad thing, because it means that he will have a little bit of breathing room to develop at the NFL level, something most first round and even second round picks do not get (because teams generally need them to produce right away).

However, before we condemn Earl to the 3rd or 4th round, let’s look at the things he will have going for him (hopefully) after the upcoming year.

He'll have 3 years of experience against arguably the best defensive backs in the country, and a proven resume of domination despite the fact he draws the focus of most defenses Vandy faces. That is undeniable. Bennett is the first receiver in SEC History to get over 75 receptions in two different seasons. And no one can use the Cutler argument, because he was even better with Nickson than with Cutler.

The NFL is big on drafting SEC players. More than any other conference in the country last year, SEC players were picked across the board, and 10 of the 32 first round picks were from SEC squads (I think I counted correctly). Bennett will get a lot of credit for playing in the SEC.

If Vanderbilt has even a winning season and Bennett has an even better year than last, you can bet he'll garner some attention. Fair or not, being on a winning team makes a big difference. I would argue this is mostly because NFL teams are forced to spend their first round picks on players who are in high-demand. Either through performance at a combine, through their most recent season, or during individual pro-workouts, NFL teams get a feel for which players are going to be craved by others and which players they can steal in later rounds. If you’re a big name receiver in the toughest college football conference in the country, it’s likely that many, many teams are going to want you more than the next guy. The fact that most mid-major players don’t go in the first round provides evidence to this point (the highest player taken was Joe Staley at 28). A reason why publicity plays in so big as well, and this is just a theory for which I have no evidence, is that teams don’t WANT to select you in the first round due to the absurd contracts that first round draft choices get. I think pretty much any NFL GM will say that they’d rather get a steal in the late rounds for lower contracts than a first rounder unless the prospect is absolutely can’t miss (as can’t miss as you can get in an event based around paying lots of money for someone who’s never played professionally). So if you’re in demand because of the national spotlight that can only help your cause. Once again, totally theorized, but if Troy Smith plays well in the national championship, he goes in the third, maybe second round as opposed to the sixth.

This year’s receiver class is not very deep. Early Doucet from LSU will probably turn some heads, Tyrone Prothro will be back at Alabama but concerns will be raised about his leg injury, and you do have some receivers from mid-majors who will put up big numbers (New Mexico St.’s Chris Williams, Rice’s Jarrett Dillard, Hawaii’s Davone Bess), however if Bennett outdoes Doucet and Prothro he could arguably be the #1 receiver in the nation, and that is a very real possibility. That being said, any team that will need a receiver will have to consider taking Bennett because of the demand. I doubt highly that no receiver will get taken in the first round.

So, now that the facts are laid out on the table, let’s go ahead and make our predictions, and let’s make the assumption that he has the break-out year (the even bigger break-out year) that everyone’s expecting and that Vandy goes, let’s say, 7-5. Let’s also give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he has gained a step and set him a 4.47 forty in the combine and give him a 37 inch vertical. That being said, I could see Earl going in the very late first if a team desperately needs a wide receiver. However, I think Earl will likely be a second round steal, which is not necessarily a bad thing. For one the pressure of being a first round draft choice is removed and two, good teams are willing to toss around more trades in order to secure second round steals, which means that Earl could end up on a very good team that can effectively use his skills as opposed to a mediocre crap shoot like say, my Falcons. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed my long diatribe (if you’re still even reading by this point). And like the dude always says, “It’s just like, my opinion, man.”


Anonymous said...

WOW. Just WOW.

Anonymous said...

oh by the way i got kicked off of for good now i think so Vandy Sportsline has my full attention.

Stanimal said...

Are my comments just ridiculous? Am I just way out of line in saying that Bennett will go that high? Speak up, all five of you!

Douglas James said...

No I think 2nd round is a def possibility considering how many of his competitors (sidney rice) came out this year. What about Goff? Can he be a top 15 pick? And is Chris Williams a 2nd or 3rd round pick? I think it is all going to come down to how Vandy does this year (and for Williams how the running game does)

Anonymous said...

I don't know, I just don't see him going in the first round. Then again I can't think of to many WR this year.

Stanimal said...

As I said, if he has a huge year and Vandy wins big, and he tests ok at the combine, I think that he might get enough push to garner a late first round, (this also only accounts for rising seniors, so some juniors who were in the shadows and have big years will also get some attention).

I think that situation is highly unlikely and I see him going in the second round, for the most part. But so much WR talent left that he's got to be in the top 5 in the nation this year.

Tom said...

My money's on Earl returning for his senior and Heisman Trophy winning year.