Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Nickel Package: The All-Satellite Team
By Todd McShay
The top NFL draft prospects in the nation have been broken down in just about every way over the past few months, their strengths and weaknesses talked about at length and possible landing spots at the next level debated endlessly.
With the draft just over a week away, though, it's time to have a little fun and put some big-name prospects into unique categories.
That starts with my annual All-Satellite Team, which is comprised of the prospects who are the best in the nation when playing in space. When these players get the ball in their hands in the open field, they can take your breath away and go the distance on any play.
Tavon Austin's ability to cut without losing momentum is impressive.
Austin's combination of speed and agility is as good as any player I've ever evaluated. His suddenness is unparalleled in the college game, and is in the same category as NFL playmakers like Percy Harvin and DeSean Jackson.
He transitions upfield instantly after the catch, has great peripheral vision and accelerates to top speed in a flash. Austin is also able to maintain top speed though cuts, which makes him even more dangerous after the catch.
All of that allows him to consistently make defenders look silly in space, and once Austin is in the clear he has an extra gear to outrun pursuit. He almost always takes it the distance when he catches daylight.
And in addition to his production as a receiver (288 catches, 3,413 yards, 29 TD), Austin also rushed for more than 1,000 yards in his career, averaged 27.7 yards per kickoff return and 12.7 yards per punt return, and scored four combined return touchdowns.
There are some concerns about Austin's pint-sized frame, but he never missed a single practice in his four years in Morgantown and his rare physical gifts will make him a first-round pick.
Patterson played two seasons at Hutchinson Community college before transferring last season to Tennessee, where he set a school single-season record with 1,858 all-purpose yards.
He has an elite combination of size, fluidity and top-end speed, and while Patterson can occasionally take the top off a defense, his most special trait is the ability to create with the ball in his hands.
He accelerates quickly when getting upfield after the catch and has very good lateral agility for his size. Patterson can stick his foot in the ground and accelerate like a running back, and he absolutely kills pursuit angles.
Patterson is raw in terms of route-running and reading defenses, making him something of a boom-or-bust prospect, but a team that puts together a creative plan to get him the ball as a receiver, runner and returner could hit big later in the first round.
Denard Robinson won't be a quarterback in the NFL, but he has the skills to contribute.
Robinson's physical tools are not in question. He builds speed quickly, and is a quick-twitch athlete who can shake multiple defenders and is tough to corral in space.
However, there are concerns about his ability to transition from quarterback to receiver. Robinson ran plenty of read-option and designed keepers during his career and is very experienced with the ball in his hands (723 career carries, 4,495 yards, 42 rushing TD), but he's not yet natural catching the ball as a receiver or return man.
The good news is he's not resisting a position change like Tim Tebow (1st round, 2010) and Pat White (2nd round, 2009) did in the past. Here's a recent history of conversion QBs:
Sanders is a slot-receiver prospect, but his greatest value right away will likely be as a punt returner. He averaged 11.8 yards per punt return during his career, including three touchdowns.
He didn't run well at the combine (4.58 in the 40), but Sanders is quicker than fast and reaches top speed in a hurry after the catch. He can make defenders miss in space, has above-average balance and is able to run through arm tackles.
Sanders appears faster than his timed speed on tape, but doesn't show elite breakaway speed like Austin and so projects somewhere in the third or fourth round.
Bernard had outstanding production as both a runner (423 carries, 2,481 yards, 25 TD) and a receiver (92 catches, 852 yards, 6 TD) over the past two seasons. He also averaged 16.4 yards on 16 punt returns in 2012, including two scores.
He has super-quick feet, good initial burst and outstanding lateral agility. Bernard can stop and start on a dime, strings together multiple moves and is a slippery runner between the tackles.
If he had better acceleration and top-end speed he would be higher on this list. Bernard isn't the most powerful back and won't break many tackles, but his elusiveness and versatility should make him a Day 2 pick.