It's not what you think, I swear. When the Jacksonville Jaguars selected Tyson Alualu 10th in the 2010 NFL Draft, "experts" such as Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, and others called the pick a "reach". They all had Alualu anywhere from 20 to 50 on their personal draft boards. The thing is, NFL General Managers do not share value boards with Mel Kiper. They do not rank players in the same manner as Todd McShay. These draft "experts" have the disadvantage of analyzing players simply from film as opposed to having live scouts at the games. They don't have time to comb through every prospect on every team, and sometimes players fall through the cracks.
The main problem I find is that when Mel Kiper ranks a player, he ranks the player based on his fit in whatever scheme he feels the player fits in best. When Gene Smith makes his draft board, he ranks players solely on their ability to fit the Jaguars' scheme; it is irrelevant how well the player fits in Green Bay's scheme, or Pittsburgh's scheme, or Indianapolis' scheme. This can cause some players that draft experts have ranked more highly to slide down Gene's board, and it can cause some players draft experts have ranked lower to rise up Gene's board.
Another thing to take into consideration is that sometimes players are under the radar on purpose. If several NFL General Managers like a player in, say, the top fifteen, but all the draft experts have the player ranked 30th or so, the GMs will try hard not to disclose the fact that they like the player more than the draft experts do. It's all a huge smokescreen. For all people know, Tyson Alualu was a top fifteen player on EVERY team's board and just wasn't that high on Kiper or McShay's boards. We honestly have absolutely no way of knowing apart from taking a look directly at the team's value board, something that will never, ever happen (unless you're a fan of the ).
With that said, let's take a look at some players that teams might have way higher on their own draft boards than draft experts have them on theirs:
Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State
Ponder is one of those quarterbacks that just seems to get it. He can make all the throws necessary to be an NFL quarterback even though he doesn't have a rocket arm. He can read a defense and go through his progressions. He has the ability to step up in the pocket while still looking for open receivers. Injuries in 2010 supposedly dropped him down teams' draft boards, but is that really how it works? I could easily see teams leaving an injured player where he was on their draft board with an asterisk that he only stays if he can prove he's healthy. With his Senior Bowl and Combine workouts, Ponder proved he's healthy. Everything I've seen from Ponder makes me think he's easily a first-round pick and a guy a GM should be willing to "stick his neck out for" (Wes Bunting of National Football Post agrees). I could easily see teams agreeing and picking Ponder in the mid-first round despite what the experts may say.
Highest I could see him going: 10th to Washington
Derek Sherrod, OT, Mississippi State
A lot of players that fit into the "next Tyson Alualu" mold are players that are good at almost everything, but not especially "great" at anything. I would qualify that statement as "not great at anything YET." Though Tyson Alualu wasn't "great" at anything when he was drafted, I don't see why he can't BECOME great at penetrating through the line to get into the backfield. In that same vein, Derek Sherrod is very solid at almost every skill an offensive tackle needs; however, he's not especially great at any of them...yet. Sherrod has good size, relatively quick feet, and was very solid all week at the Senior Bowl. Sherrod wasn't as "sexy" as players like Nate Solder or Tyron Smith, but he seems to definitely have less downside. He seems like the kind of guy that draft experts write off because they don't "pop", but I could easily see Sherrod "popping" to some team based on his consistency and solid all-around skills and being drafted in the middle part of the first round.
Highest I could see him going: 12th to Minnesota
Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State
Another Florida State guy? You bet. Hudson is one of those outstanding college players that for some reason don't garner the attention of the draft experts. He was a four-year starter and team captain for the Seminoles, and was first or second-team All-ACC all four years. In the case of Hudson, the reason experts overlook him is likely due to his size, or lack thereof. Hudson measured in at 6 foot 2 & 3/8 inches and 299 pounds at the Combine, which is small for a guard. He also only had 32 & 1/2 inch arms, which isn't very long. The experts seem to think Hudson may have to end up playing center in the NFL due to his lack of size. What I think teams will see, however, is a consistently outstanding performer on the interior line that they can immediately plug in as a starter without missing a beat. Those kind of players usually tend to go in the first round. I could easily see Rodney Hudson being drafted in the early 20s by a team that appreciates outstanding performance and doesn't care as much about what the scale and measuring tape say.
Highest I could see him going: 17th to New England
Brooks Reed, DE/OLB, Arizona
We've already discussed Reed in-depth in one of the mock draft threads, but suffice to say that he's almost the same weight as pass-rushers like Aldon Smith and Ryan Kerrigan, but has significantly more burst than those players. He also has a relentless motor and is athletic enough to potentially drop into coverage. Why is Reed looked at as a second to third-round pick by a lot of experts? I couldn't honestly tell you. From everything I've seen, this guy shouldn't just be a first-rounder; he should be a HIGH first-rounder. I would be completely okay with the Jaguars picking Reed at 16, but honestly I'm not sure I can guarantee you he'll be available.
Highest I could see him going: 11th to Houston
Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB, Pittsburgh
Another underrated pass-rusher with supposedly below-average size that really isn't as small as people seem to think. Sheard seems like the kind of player that will contribute from day one and get after the passer. Most draft experts have him going no higher than the mid-second round; I could easily see him going in the first.
Highest I could see him going: 20th to Tampa Bay
Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State
Production? Check. Strength? Infinity-check (this guy is insanely strong). Size? Ehhh. That's where teams stop with Paea; his size is that of a 4-3 DT or a 3-4 DE, but his strength is that of a nose tackle. Given his low build (6 foot 1 & 1/4, 303 pounds), Paea seems to have the ideal profile of a nose tackle, but experts usually see nose tackles as 330+ pound fat guys. Paea is a ripped 300-pounder, but given his strength I don't see any reason he couldn't play the position. He also falls under the injury status condition I mentioned in the Ponder write-up; Paea hurt himself at the Senior Bowl, causing him to fall down some experts' boards, but I highly doubt he exhibited the same fall down teams' boards. Some experts have him already going in the first round, but I could not only see that; I could see him going in the EARLY first round.
Highest I could see him going: 7th to San Francisco
Muhammad Wilkerson, DT, Temple
With Terrance Knighton's success in the NFL, draft experts have started paying more attention to Temple, which has helped Wilkerson gain some national recognition. His Combine performance didn't hurt, either; he measured in at 6 foot 4 & 1/8, 315 pounds, very good size for a 4-3 DT or a 3-4 DE. He also ran a 4.96 40-yard dash, which is impressive for a man his size. Wilkerson racked up 23.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks over the past two seasons combined, so his stock isn't just based on his Combine workout. With players like Wilkerson, draft experts seem to want to put them lower, but like to pretend they're "going out on a limb" putting a player like Wilkerson as high as the early second-round on their draft boards, but I not only could see a team liking Wilkerson enough to take him in the first round, I could see a team liking Wilkerson enough to take him in the middle of the first round.
Highest I could see him going: 14th to St. Louis
Mason Foster, OLB, Washington
Yeah, he's smallish for a linebacker (6 foot 1 & 1/4, 245 pounds), and yeah, he's not that fast (4.75 40-yard dash at the Combine), but Mason Foster is one of those guys that just seems like he plays faster than he times. Foster was a 3 & 1/2 year starter and captain for Washington, and he's a natural leader on the field that leads by example. Foster just makes plays; he put up 27.0 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, and 3 interceptions in the past two seasons combined. Foster is the kind of player that teams value more than draft experts. Most experts have him no earlier than the mid to late-second round, but I could see him sliding into the late first round.
Highest I could see him going: 24th to New Orleans
As you can see, being "this year's Tyson Alualu" doesn't even involve the word "reach"; it has everything to do with the way NFL General Managers see players as opposed to the way draft experts see them. My hope is that people will realize that these two viewpoints will NEVER match up and realize that people like Gene Smith, Scott Pioli, Bill Polian, and other really do know better than we do. The best we can do is try to see where they're coming from. This was my attempt to do that. I focused on players that I think could move up in or into the first round, but there are a lot of players that will go in the second and third that experts think belong in the fifth, sixth, or seventh rounds. If you have other players you believe could go well ahead of where the draft experts think they should go, feel free to post them here.