Part of the fun of the 2014 NFL draft is identifying prospects with players fans have come to know. Current players are the typical choices, but what about the Hall of Fame class? While these comparisons are not saying in any way that the prospects are as good as those all-time greats, it will be interesting to see the similarities in physical makeup and mental acuity.
Jadeveon Clowney – DE – Counterpart: Deacon Jones
No man struck fear into offensive tackles like the “Secretary of Defense.” Deacon Jones was the man who revolutionized the pass rush, coining the term “sack” that today is the benchmark of measuring success as a defensive end. Jadeveon Clowney mirrors Deacon almost to a T in terms of height and weight and he also possesses that X-factor Jones had as well: speed. Such a size-speed ratio made Deacon unblockable. Could Clowney be on the same trajectory?
Sammy Watkins – WR – Counterpart: Paul Warfield
There is a considerable 20 lbs difference in terms of weight but Sammy Watkins very much looks like former Browns and Dolphins star receiver Paul Warfield. Aside from his impressive speed on the outside, Warfield made a career out of making every spectacular play look effortless, smooth and almost graceful. Watching Watkins on the field reflects those same traits. He’s so fast but runs with a steady ease and always knows where and when to get his hands up to snag the football.
Greg Robinson – OT – Counterpart: Walter Jones
The massive Auburn tackle seems to ooze potential. He’s massive at 6’5″, 330 lbs but at same time retains a remarkable athleticism that allows him to stay light on his feet. This allows him to be a force in both run blocking and pass protection. That was the quitissential game of Seattle left tackle Walter Jones. Like Robinson he was big but nimble. His primary game was plowing open holes for his running back but whenever Matt Hasselbeck needed to start throwing it was pretty much agreed none of the pressure would be coming from the blindside. Robinson has that same look about him.
Eric Ebron – TE – Counterpart: Kellen Winslow
Every so often a player comes around that seems to defy the laws of physics. Eric Ebron is 6’4″ and weighs 250 lbs yet he runs as fast as a wide receiver. His body control and solid hands allow him cause matchup nightmares for defenses on the field. He even does well as a blocker at times. Nobody thought Kellen Winslow would amount to much in San Diego. That is until Don Coryell got a hold of him. The offensive mastermind soon turned the big but fast tight end into a weapon defenses couldn’t cover regardless of where he lined up. Ebron has the same look. Whether he’s the same kind of competitor is the bigger question.
Johnny Manziel – QB – Counterpart: Fran Tarkenton
All anybody could remember former Giants and Vikings Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton for was his uncanny ability to keep plays alive by scrambling. It drove defenders crazy. Then when he retired people realized how good of a passer he actually was, finishing with the most yards and touchdowns at the time. Johnny Manziel is a very similar kind of player: small but elusive with rare instincts to keep the play alive and then find that receiver down the field for a big play. Yet at the same time he’s becoming better and better from inside the pocket. As with Tarkenton, underestimate him at your own risk.
Teddy Bridgewater – QB – Counterpart: Joe Montana
First of all, nobody is saying Teddy Bridgewater is Joe Montana. However, a more objective look at the two players sees some interesting similarities. They are both the same height at 6’2″ with bodies that look surprisingly thin and frail. Shouting and being fiery don’t seem to computer with their personalities. They are quiet, but also intelligent and fiercely competitive. Montana was known best for his ability to attack defenses less with overwhelming force and more like a chess master, finding the open holes and hitting them with pinpoint precision. Bridgewater plays a similar style. He doesn’t search for the home run, instead picking apart the defense until a big play develops naturally and always making good decisions with the football.
Khalil Mack – OLB – Counterpart: Bobby Bell
There are specific types of players like pass rushers, cover corner and scat running backs. Then there are just plain football players. Guys who can do just about anything they want on the field. Khalil Mack has that kind of athletic ability. He’s a dynamic pass rusher coming out of Buffalo but that overshadows how complete a player he is because he also plays tough against the run and is a major nuisance in coverage. Kansas City Chiefs icon Bobby Bell was the same way. No matter where and when the team put him on the field, he was making a play. Need a sack? Done. Need an interception? Easy. Need a special teams touchdown? Sure, why not? Bell was everywhere and offenses had one choice: accept reality and move on.
Justin Gilbert – CB – Counterpart: Herb Adderly
There are great cornerbacks who excelled at sealing off receivers and making them invisible. Then there are great quarterbacks who went beyond that by taking away the football and turning it into instant offense. Herb Adderly was exactly that for Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. Not only did he blanket receivers, any time a team threw he way he would take the ball the other direction and score. Justin Gilbert is that kind of talent. Not only tall and freakishly athletic, he has great instincts in coverage coupled with overlooked ability as a return man. In other words the second he gets a ball in his hands, he’s a threat to put up six points.
Aaron Donald – DT – Counterpart: John Randle
Being undersized sounds like a death sentence to so many, the 2014 NFL draft included. Regardless of how much the tape shows, scouts can’t get off the fact this guy is too light or that guy is too short. Aaron Donald is the latest example. The Pitt defensive tackle absolutely dominated offensive lines in 2013 with his explosive pass rush ability, often stopping plays in the backfield before they could even develop. Still, he’s constantly hounded by the relentless “Yeah, but” crowd. John Randle can relate. The Minnesota Vikings spark plug needed to literally fake his way onto their roster back in the 90s and it was only after finally getting his chance that he showed bigger is not always better. With explosion and speed he make life hell for quarterbacks, hitting them from any and all directions, talking like a madman the whole way.