Posted: Thursday April 13, 2006 12:41PM; Updated: Friday April 14, 2006 5:01PM
Florida State's Ernie Sims has the athleticism to be a major playmaker in the NFL.
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Ernie Sims, linebacker, Florida State: Sims has risen steadily in first-round projections this offseason, and he's now considered a top 15 pick. The team that gets him will have one of the early favorites for defensive rookie of the year, because Sims will roll up the kind of statistics that garner votes in that particular horse race.
"People love his speed, range and athleticism,'' a longtime personnel man said. "He's going to get you seven or eight tackles a game and make some big plays. That's how Merriman and Tatupu did it last year. They made you notice them by being around the ball so much.''
Said Merriman of Sims: "He's already got an NFL-style game. He gets to the ball and he's a relentless player. To make a play when it's coming right at you is pretty easy. But a guy like him can go sideline to sideline and make plays all over the field. That's what NFL teams want, a guy who gets to the ball.''
Laurence Maroney, running back, Minnesota: First off, our apologies to USC's Reggie Bush, whose impact potential is so obvious it seems redundant to even point it out at this late date. But after Bush goes No. 1 overall to Houston, which first-round running back has the best chance to pay early dividends? Folks I talked to like Maroney, who is thought of as either the third- or fourth-highest-rated ballcarrier in this year's draft.
"I think he's going to be a shocker to a lot of people,'' Merriman said. "I think he'll come out and perform right away. He reminds me a whole lot of Edgerrin James. He's a complete back who can do a little bit of everything and get it done for you.''
One personnel man said he has Maroney ranked only behind Bush in terms of NFL readiness and adds that there are doubters out there when it comes to DeAngelo Williams' and LenDale White's ability to quickly adjust to the mental demands of the pro game.
Mario Williams, defensive end, North Carolina State: A slam-dunk top-four pick in the draft? That's no guarantee of production, as Chicago's Cedric Benson (No. 4 overall) proved once again last year. Still, Williams figures to be the first defensive player taken for good reason. He's got the kind of pass-rushing skills that a team can get something out of right away, even while he continues to work the rough edges off his game.
"Mario Williams is going to be a hell of a football player,'' said a personnel man. "I don't know if he's polished enough, but he's raw enough to get on the field as a rookie, and he's raw enough to make plays in the NFL this season and for a long time after that.''
Save the Julius Peppers comparisons for now. The talent evaluators I talked to don't necessarily buy that one, saying Williams' and Peppers' body types aren't as similar as some believe. But nobody quibbles with the notion that Williams has a skill set that could help him produce double-digit sack totals as a rookie.
"For a while last year, that's all I had to play on, my athleticism and my talent,'' said Merriman, who led all 2005 rookies with 10 sacks. "And that carried me along until I learned my playbook and my assignments better. He's such a physical specimen that he'll make some plays on sheer athleticism.''