The business of scouting is the business of trying to predict the future.
When in the business of predicting the future, especially a future as wrought
with potential pitfalls athletes face, scouts are going to have hits and
misses. If there were no variables involved, every top-five pick would be a
superstar and there would be no way an undrafted free agent becomes a two-time NFL
That being said, a combination of elite physical ability, work ethic and
character can make the most coveted of high school recruits stay the course to
become superstars on the game's highest level. Here is a look at five players
who were ranked among the Top
10 high school prospects in the country in 2008 and are likely to be first-round draft picks in April's NFL Draft.
Wide receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones
Then: No. 2 and No. 1 receivers '08
Now: No. 1 and No. 2 receivers '11
It seems apropos to list Georgia's A.J. Green (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) and Alabama's Julio
Jones (6-4, 220) together as the two have been linked since their sophomore year
in high school as the South's next great receiver. They were the top members of the great receiver
class of 2008. College scouts speak of that receiving class the way pro scouts
refer to the quarterback class of 1983.
An attribute more important than size, speed and hands combined is one that has
stuck with Green and Jones while setting back several of their classmates:
health. Green and Jones have managed to avoid the injury bug that set back
the careers of two other can't-miss receivers, Southern Miss' DeAndre Brown
and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd.
While having similar size, Green and Jones have always played a different game.
Green is a lean, graceful receiver who has effortless body control. Like a cat
able to always land on its feet, Green can always get two hands on the ball by
contorting his body in the air. Generously listed at 190 pounds coming out of
high school, Green has become a much stronger player at Georgia, but he was
still wiry strong with that same size and grace on the prep level.
Jones was the power forward of the two. A rock-solid 200-plus pounds, Jones had the
speed to run past defenders and the power to plow through them. Jones stepped on
campus at Alabama capable of pushing around defensive backs. Jones had the skill
to play a finesse game but seemed to enjoy the rough-and-tumble aspects of
football, which he also displayed while playing defense for his Foley team.
The 2008 rankings concluded with Jones being ranked ahead of Green, because he possessed
a similar skill set and he already had the college-ready body. Heading into
the NFL Draft, Green is ranked ahead of Jones because he has made up ground in the
size and strength departments while possessing more explosion and big-play
The Green and Jones debate, which began in 2005, is likely to continue for another
10 years, as both players possess the physical ability and work ethic to be stars
on the next level.
Green High School Highlights: Watch Video
Jones High School Highlights: Watch Video
Cornerback Patrick Peterson (6-1, 222) - LSU
Then: No. 1 cornerback '08
Now: No. 1 cornerback '11
Peterson had a safety frame at 6-1 and 193 pounds, but he had the agility of
a cornerback. Unafraid of competition, Peterson would travel from camp to camp,
combine to combine to challenge the nation's top receivers, a challenge he
Peterson didn't give up the ball completely, though, as he became an
All-American return man in addition to his work at cornerback for LSU. Peterson
filled out his frame in his time at college and is listed at 222 pounds on LSU's
roster. He has been a jumbo corner for his entire career, and he always has been
physical enough to see time at safety.
Peterson was the rare skill player who excelled on both sides of the ball but
preferred playing defense from the beginning. When it came to
picking a No. 1 corner in 2008, there was only one choice. He should be the
first corner off the board in 2011, as well.
Peterson High School Highlights: Watch Video
Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (6-4, 275) - Clemson
Then: No. 1 defensive end '08
Now: No. 1 defensive end '11
Bowers was a grown man when he arrived on campus at a
listed 6-4, 265 pounds. Many high school defensive ends with that size end up at
tackle by the time their careers are over, offensive or defensive. Bowers was
different. Bowers was what strength and conditioning coaches refer to as a
finished product. Of course he had room to improve, but his gains at Clemson
weren't going to be meteoric, and they didn't need to be for him to be an elite
Bowers led Clemson's defensive linemen in tackles as a freshman, but he
battled the injury bug as a sophomore before it all came together for him as a
junior with 15.5 sacks. His burst off the ball and leverage needed to be
harnessed and refined at Clemson, but in high school he was literally a man
among boys. He played running back, returned kicks, and he was unblockable at
Bowers has few peers athletically, but his passion for the game and desire
to win are also unmatched. He was Scout's No. 2 player behind Ohio State
quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and it's likely he won't have to wait beyond the
second spot in the draft to hear his name called.
Bowers High School Highlights: Watch Video
Offensive tackle Tyron Smith (6-5,280) - USC
Then: No. 1 offensive tackle '08
Now: No. 3 offensive tackle '11
Offensive linemen are, by far, the hardest players to project from high school
to the NFL. Baylor's Jason Smith was drafted No. 2 overall by the St. Louis Rams
in 2009 after having checked in to Baylor at 6-5 and 225 pounds. When the
players are introducing themselves on "Monday Night Football," the linemen are the
players from schools most people have never watched. Scouts have.
The key questions to be answered when scouting potential offensive linemen are: Does he have the frame to carry enough weight? Can he move his feet? Does he
have a mean streak?
In the case of Smith, the answer to all three questions, and many
more, was a definitive yes. Smith played defensive end as well as offensive
tackle and played at a defensive end's weight of roughly 255 pounds, but he was
a natural on the offensive line. His slide step and drop step were effortless
and he kept a strong base with his feet underneath him, enabling him to play with
natural leverage and strength.
Smith was Scout's No. 1 offensive tackle in the class of 2008, not because where
he was at the time, but because of where we thought he could be. Smith was going
to need time to gain the size and strength to play at a solid 285 pounds or
more. His best days were going to be years three, four and five at USC. He
decided to turn pro after his third year, and he's only beginning to scratch the
surface of the potential he showed that led him being the No. 1 offensive tackle
prospect in 2008.
Smith High School Highlights: Watch Video
The class of 2008 was a special class in which its top players were so special
that a high percentage of them have fulfilled their potential and are moving on
to be first-round draft picks. The class of 2009 will be up next year, and USC
quarterback Matt Barkley was a player who met this criteria coming up through
the prep ranks. With a strong year at USC he could join the ranks of Green,
Jones, Peterson, Bowers and Smith as can't-miss prospect who didn't.
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