The term “franchise player” gets thrown around a lot in NFL circles, and especially by the fans.
However, a franchise player is generally deemed as one who is projected to be one of the top at his position for the next 8-10 years.
For the 2011 NFL Draft, analysts say there aren’t many franchise players at the skill positions on offense. In fact, there may be only one or two that figure to project as stars at the next level.
The franchise-player term is mostly used in association with the quarterback position. In this particular draft, however, you might not have one.
Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert and Auburn’s Cam Newton are generally believed to be the only two quarterbacks with first-round grades.
Both signal callers left after their junior seasons, but Gabbert, according to various personnel sources, is more NFL ready.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Gabbert, like Newton, has very good size and possesses solid arm strength. He also moves well and is a classic pocket passer. But the reason why personnel sources said he’s not worthy of being the first pick overall is that he probably could have used another year in college. Gabbert only had two full seasons as a starter.
Because of the way the Missouri offense is structured, Gabbert doesn’t have a lot of experience taking snaps from under center. And because of that, he doesn’t go through read progressions like other quarterbacks who take a majority of snaps from under center.
Newton, like Gabbert, almost certainly will sit during his rookie season. He only started one season at the Division I level. He’ll need to go to a team that is willing to let him sit and learn behind a veteran signal caller for one to two seasons.
But Newton’s upside is tremendous.
He has terrific size (6-6, 250), arm strength and athleticism. He’s capable of making just about any throw. Because of his very limited time under center, however, he’s very raw as a prospect.
Newton rarely took snaps from under center at Auburn and was in a one-read scheme, which means if the first passing option wasn’t open, he would throw the ball away, or, in most cases, run. He had nearly as many rushing attempts (264) as passing attempts (280) last season.
And the character issues associated with him from last season will need to go away. Newton’s learning curve will be steep, but if he’s willing to work hard, he eventually could be worthy of the hype surrounding him.
Alabama’s Mark Ingram is the only true franchise-type running back available in this draft, according to many NFL personnel sources. Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, has drawn comparisons to Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith for his vision and stop-start style of running.
Ingram (5-10, 215) is built low to the ground like Smith. And just like the player whom he has been compared to, Ingram does an outstanding job of setting up his blockers and then running to daylight. Also like Smith, Ingram is underrated as a receiver coming out of the backfield.
After Ingram, who is projected to be picked in the middle of the first round, we might not see another back come off the board until the second round – Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter.
Hunter (5-8, 200) might not be built to be a feature back at the NFL level. He might have to be part of a two-man rotation. However, he averaged nearly 21 carries per game during his senior season.
This position has plenty of depth but is not top heavy in high-end talent.
The only true franchise prospect is Georgia’s A.J. Green.
Green (6-4, 212), who has good size and speed, also has the best pair of hands available in this draft. He is simply the complete package.
Green has overcome a four-game suspension this past season for selling one of his college jerseys to an agent to ascend to the top of every team’s draft board at the position or even for the overall draft.
“He really can do it all,” one veteran NFC talent evaluator said. “You can certainly make a case for him being the top player available (for this draft). I don’t know if you can find a true weakness with him. No receiver this year caught the ball like him, away from his body. And running proper routes seems to be important to him. You see that every time you watch him, he’s very precise.”
While Green is clearly the top prospect available at his position, Alabama’s Julio Jones is a solid second choice.
Jones (6-4, 220) is a little more solidly built than the lanky Green, but he is clearly not as polished. And like Green, he left college after his junior season.
Jones nearly doubled his production last season from the 2009 season, a good sign that he is getting better as a player.
However, personnel sources said Jones projects more to be a No. 2 receiver than No. 1 because he doesn’t have great speed. Because of his physical play, however, he may be able to play in the slot and out wide. He’s projected to go within the top half of the first round.
Pitt’s Jonathan Baldwin and Maryland’s Torrey Smith could be selected in the first round, but neither player projects to be a franchise type of receiver.
The tight end has no franchise-type players available. There might be only one tight end, Notre Dame’s Kyle Randolph, who goes as high as the second round.