NFL Draft primer

Depending on who you talk to, the 2011 NFL season was either the Year of the Quarterback or the Year of the Tight End. The QB is always a high-demand draft position and the recent first-round selections of collegians like Joe Flacco and Christian Ponder prove that. During their final college seasons, none were regarded as a first-rounder but both experienced a meteoric rise based on their impressive showings at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Scouting Combine. The emergence of tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez, and Rob Gronkowski paid immediate dividends for their respective teams and the earliest draftee of that 2010 trio was Gronkowski, picked in the 2nd round by New England. To excel as a tight end in today’s game, a prospect has to possess the speed to race past linebackers and the size to snag passes over opposing safeties. Currently, tight ends like Stanford’s Coby Fleener and Clemson’s Dwayne Allen are rated as the best of a crop that is a few notches below that exceptional 2010 class. But, I am impressed by Louisiana-Lafayette’s Ladarius Green so much that I believe he is the next great athletic TE to make his presence felt on opposing defensive coordinators because he is a game-changing mismatch.

Ladarius was recruited by Louisiana-Lafayette as a 6’3 185 pound receiver. Ranked as a two-star high school recruit, Ladarius transmogrified into a 6’6 237 target and his size is prototypical. A Pensacola, FL native, Ladarius was recognized an All-Sun Belt Conference First Team TE as a junior and senior. Averaged over 18 yards per reception in 2010. Finished his collegiate career with 149 receptions, 2,201 yards and 22 touchdowns. Set a single-game Sun Belt Conference record for Tight Ends with 13 receptions on November 5, 2012 versus Louisiana-Monroe. Was on the John Mackey Award watch list twice and was a semifinalist for the award honoring the nation’s best tight end in 2011. Solidified himself as a playmaker on the national stage with 121 receiving yards and a touchdown against San Diego State in the 2011 R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

I am very excited about Ladarius and his future. His athleticism is superb and he has large hands. Ladarius is able to extend his long arms and can adjust to mediocre passes. Plucks throws that are outside his frame. Shows impressive muscle tone and certainly looks the part. Ladarius gets off the line extremely quickly and is a dangerous deep threat. He shows great instincts, bursts out of cuts and separates in man to man coverage. Exhibits soft hands but sometimes has a nasty habit of one-handing the ball in traffic, which leads to tipped passes and interceptions. The major knock against Ladarius isn’t really a limitation in my mind. It is true that he needs to improve his blocking technique to survive in the running game, but he doesn’t quit and gives solid effort. Success stories though do exist. For example, Tony Gonzalez had the same weakness leading up to the 1997 NFL draft but he worked to improve his run-blocking skills. Ladarius looks amazing as a runner, showing a smooth and long stride in the open field. Productive pass-catcher but is far from a finished product. His 81 ¾ inch wingspan is impressive and ranks favorably with elite pass-rushers like North Carolina’s Quinton Coples.

Character counts in life and in football. Ladarius is a well-spoken young man, polite and humble. No one will ever compare him to Kellen Winslow III (and his infamous “I am a soldier” comment). I anticipate Ladarius’ workout at the upcoming NFL Scouting Combine to be critical in regards to his draft-day position. If he runs in the low 4.5 range in the 40 yard dash, he will vault himself into 2nd round consideration. I believe a team can get more value out of Ladarius in a later round than by using a first-round choice on Fleener or Allen. Ladarius is an intriguing draft prospect because of his large frame, speed, elite athleticism and pass-catching skills. He will probably never be compared to run-blockers at the position like the recently retired Jim Kleinsasser. But in the pass-happy NFL, he won’t have to be.