Let the bias begin…
As a Wake Forest grad, I watch a lot of Demon Deacon football. That’s especially true over the last three years because we (I paid that school enough dough to use that pronoun) have actually been good. It’s been a little surreal to see Wake go to three straight bowl games, given that during my college career the football team won six games. (Yes, that’s a total.)
Now, the Deacons have produced one of the best players available in this year’s NFL draft — LB Aaron Curry. Some have called Curry the most complete prospect in this year’s draft. For example, Curry was at the top of Mel Kiper’s March 26 Big Board. Such ratings have put Curry in the discussion for the No. 1 overall pick. But is Curry worth that lofty investment? Time for another outlandish prediction…
Curry is a three-year starter and four-year contributor who was a playmaker at OLB for the Demon Deacons. He won the Butkus Award in ’08 as the country’s best linebacker after recording 105 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and an interception. That followed an ’07 season in which he had 99 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, and 4 picks, three of which he returned for touchdowns. He had 83 tackles as a sophomore starter, including 8.5 tackles for loss. So he’s been productive throughout his career, and he’s gotten better and made more plays as he goes along. He’s a thick, solidly built guy (6-2, 250) who has good speed and instincts. He can play middle linebacker, strong-side backer in the 4-3, and could even play outside ‘backer in the 3-4. He’d be more of a Lamarr Woodley than a DeMarcus Ware in that scenario, but that could still work.
So Curry is versatile enough to play just about anywhere at linebacker, and he’s unlikely to bust out and become dominant at any of those spots. But is that worth the top overall pick? Linebackers who aren’t pure pass rushers usually aren’t worth top 8 draft positions. Keith Rivers (9th) and Jerod Mayo (10th) were the highest such picks last year; Patrick Willis (11th) was the highest in ’07; A.J. Hawk (5th) and Ernie Sims (9th) were the highest in ’06. All of those players have played well, and Willis and Mayo were defensive rookies of the year. Hawk isn’t measurably better than Mayo or Willis, even though he was picked five spots higher. Most players of this ilk seem to fit as great values in the draft starting with the ninth pick or so.
Still, pure linebackers who make their way into the 9 through 12 stratusphere typically pan out. (Remember, we’re omitting pass-rush OLBs like Vernon Gholston or DeMarcus Ware from this discussion.) Curry is a safe pick, and he would be great value on that tier. But those linebackers typically aren’t eye-popping impact players either. They’re more like clean-up guys who make the tackles they should and occasionally make a big play.
And that’s why, to me, Curry isn’t worth the No. 1 overall pick. He’ll be a good player, but he won’t be the kind of impact player that you’re looking for from the top overall pick. He’d be a lot like Russell Maryland, a DT who Jimmy Johnson made the No. 1 overall pick in 1991. Maryland was never a star, but he was a solid player who contributed to Dallas’ standout defenses in their three Super Bowls in that era. Maryland made just one Pro Bowl and never was a top-3 player at his position.
That, to me, will be Curry’s fate as well. He’ll be a very good player in the NFL, but not a great one. And in a year where quarterbacks and left tackles are available at No. 1 overall, that upside simply doesn’t justify the No. 1 overall pick. The Lions need to take either Matthew Stafford, Jason Smith, or Eugene Monroe, and the Rams should take one player out of that group as well. Curry doesn’t make much sense until Kansas City goes on the clock at No. 3. For the Chiefs at 3, the Seahawks at 4, or the Browns at 5, Curry would be a solid if unspectacular pick. He’ll be a good player wherever he goes. He just won’t be quite good enough to make a team forget that it passed on a burgeoning superstar with a top draft pick.