Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Beyond the Heisman

Now that the four finalists for the biggest individual prize in the college game have been named, I thought it would be interesting to break down the pro potential of each of them.

Of course everyone knows with past winners like Eric Crouch and Tommie Frazier that winning the Heisman absolutely does not guarantee success when it's time to get paid to play.

This year however there is next-level talent in each of the finalists, even though one of them (Tim Tebow) can't even declare for the NFL Draft until after next season.

Colt Brennan - QB - Hawaii:

Maybe no player in the country has had his skills scrutinized and his ability to play at the next level doubted by pro scouts more than Hawaii's Colt Brennan. They say he's a "system quarterback" who like many before him could struggle with the complexity of the NFL.

They say his three-quarter, almost sidearm delivery will get him in trouble at the next level where defensive lineman are all big and athletic enough to get their hands in passing lanes.

Some even doubt his character after some poor decisions early in his collegiate career ended his stay at Colorado and landed him in Hawaii alongside fellow castoffs taken in by Warriors head coach June Jones.

That's what "they" see when they look at Brennan and attempt to project him in the NFL.

What I see is a kid who has overcome those bad decisions to lead his team to an undefeated season and a BCS bowl game. A kid who has completed over 70% of his passes despite throwing it over 470 times in each of his three seasons as a starter.

I see an ultra-quick delivery with enough arm strength to make all the throws necessary to play at the next level and an uncanny ability to put his team on his back and carry them to the victory.

At 6-foot-3 and nearly 200 pounds he's plenty big enough to survive in the pro game and has shown surprising quickness when he's forced to run. In fact he reminds me of former Buffalo quarterback, Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, who ran the "K-Gun" offense for the Bills and led them to four straight Super Bowls in the 90's.

Brennan plays with guts, determination and heart and despite the fact that none of us can see it, of all the quarterbacks projected to go in April's NFL Draft I think Brennan has the strongest "it" factor.

In my opinion it would be a mistake for whatever team drafts Brennan to try and change who he is as a quarterback, and that's a guy who has the instinct and nerve to make plays and win football games. I think he deserves to go in the late first round, but inevitably questions about his transition to the pro game will probably land him in the second or third round.

Darren McFadden - RB - Arkansas:

1,197 yards and a 6.5 yard per carry average to go along with 10 touchdowns in just 10 games as an NFL football player. That's what Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson has accomplished since being picked 7th overall by everyone's favorite purple-clad franchise.

And if Arkansas' Darren McFadden is given the type of opportunity that Peterson has I believe he can put up comparable numbers, he's that damn good.

Like Peterson, the biggest knock on McFadden right now is his somewhat upright running style. A style that has led to him taking quite a lot of punishment from SEC defenders hell-bent on slowing down the Razorbacks' one man band.

Unlike Peterson however, McFadden is a natural pass-catcher, who along with his 300 carries and time spent as the Arkansas quarterback found time to catch 21 passes in 2007 for nearly eight yards per reception.

Also unlike the likely rookie of the year, McFadden does not put the ball on the ground. In three years and 764 carries McFadden has lost a grand total of zero fumbles. Peterson has already lost three in what has otherwise been a stellar rookie campaign.

Perhaps McFadden's most impressive trait as a runner is his initial burst through the hole and ability to reach the next level almost immediately, leaving a trail of defensive backs in his wake on his way to 40 rushing touchdowns in his collegiate career.

In short, he's everything a feature-back in the NFL is supposed to be and should have an immediate impact at the professional level. I would be shocked if McFadden is not one of the first two or three players off the board.

Chase Daniel - QB - Missouri:

It's possible, and given the disappointing finish to the Tigers' season likely, that Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel will return for his senior season and opt for the NFL Draft in 2009. If he does decide to turn pro however he would add to an already impressive group of signal callers projected hear their names called in April.

Like fellow Heisman finalist Colt Brennan, the thing that stands out for me with Daniel is his uncanny accuracy. Daniel's stellar 69.7 completion percentage came on an eye-popping 534 pass attempts.

The player most often compared to Daniel is New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees who starred at Purdue and was picked in the second round by the San Diego Chargers.

That comparison is very fair in my opinion as like Brees, Daniel will have to answer questions about his size at barely six feet tall. But like Brees, Daniel has shown the ability in his time at Missouri to make all the necessary throws and guide his team to several impressive wins.

Playing his high school ball at powerhouse Southlake Carroll(TX) High School, Daniel is a winner first and foremost which is something that cannot be overlooked. With teams becoming less and less enamored with quarterbacks who look the part, Daniel could prove to be yet another example of a guy who just needs a chance to show he can perform.

Given the strength of this year's quarterback class, it might be best for Daniel to stick around campus for his senior season. Whenever he comes out however he'll more than likely be a third or fourth round pick for a team with the time and patience to groom an eventual replacement at quarterback.

Tim Tebow - QB - Florida:

They call him Superman and in Gainesville he's reached hero status in just two seasons on campus, so it's no wonder that Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is the leading contender for the Heisman as a true sophomore.

As impressive as his 29 passing and 22 rushing touchdown season was, I think Tebow is just beginning to scratch the surface of what he's capable of. And yes, that means I don't think it's outside the realm of possibility that next year he becomes the first player to go 30/30.

Of course he'll have wait at least one more year before he can take the "S" on his chest to the NFL, and there are plenty of things he needs to work on before he makes that jump.

At this point in his development Tebow reminds me of where Vince Young was in 2004 as a redshirt sophomore, except for the fact that Tebow is far more accurate as a passer than Vince was.

Mostly I look at Tebow and his ability to single-handedly win football games as the biggest similarity between he and Young who was once called, "the greatest quarterback to ever play college football" by Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott.

As a runner Tebow has few equals at the quarterback position. Faster than he is quick, Tebow is just as likely to run over a guy as he is to try and go around him, which opens him up to injury and is definitely something he'll have to tweak at the next level.

As a passer Tebow will have to prove on a more consistent basis that he can make quality reads and find his secondary targets when his primary ones are covered up. He's got a very live arm but is prone to throwing into traffic when things break down.

Should Tebow decide to enter the NFL Draft in 2009 I think he will go in the first round because of his unique blend of size, arm strength and ability to make plays on the move. Plus another year at the collegiate level should help his overall maturity and understanding of the game.

Like Young before him, some team will be enamored by Tebow's skill set and undeniable star power and make him their top draft choice. In my opinion that team will not be disappointed.

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