Targeting Talent: the 2007 NFL Rookie Class

By Scott Fragale

Ask 10 different NFL general managers which members of the 2007 draft class will have the biggest impact in their first season in the league and you’ll likely get 10 different responses.

NFL GMs are really no different than collectors who chase rookie cards in that they both must decide which players’ talent and potential will translate into an worthy investment. Some of those who are chased in both industries are no-brainers, while evaluating others can involve a great deal of research. Either way, it usually takes most investors several years to get a return on their investments in this seemingly endless cycle of talent evaluation.

Tuff Stuff asked several card company experts to help us break down this year’s draft choices, and as expected, we got a wide variety of responses. Keep in mind that it usually takes two to three years to properly qualify a player as a success or a bust, and the following endorsements were made based on the player’s college careers and estimates on how that talent will translate to the next level.

While opinions vary on the members of the 2007 NFL Draft class, most can agree that a small contingent of players are destined for greatness, with Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson leading the way.

At 6-foot-5, 235 lbs., the former Georgia Tech receiver, who also possesses 4.4 speed and an amazing 45-inch vertical, is viewed by most as a can’t-miss NFL star in waiting.

“Calvin Johnson’s size and talent are unmatched by anybody else in the draft. He’s one of those players that only comes along once every couple of years,” Donruss Playoff Marketing/PR Director Scott Prusha said. “He will have an immediate impact in Detroit and if a guy with no catches one year can turn around and lead a team the next, imagine what a guy with his talents can do. Roy Williams might be a Pro Bowler, but it’s time to move over because Johnson is going to be a Hall of Famer.”

While some of Detroit’s recent first-round selections (see Mike Williams and Charlie Rogers) have not exactly panned out, taking Johnson with the No. 2 overall pick in this year’s draft seems to have gotten the thumbs up from everybody.

“Calvin Johnson has unbelievable tools and size for a wide receiver,” Tuff Stuff football pricing analyst Bert Lehman said. “Teaming up with Roy Williams in Detroit should make this a dynamic duo for years to come.”

Much like Johnson was dubbed the best receiver in this year’s draft, Oklahoma back Adrian Peterson was the consensus choice for teams looking for help in the running game.

“His confrontational running style might not be conducive for a lengthy NFL career, but he is a lock for multiple 1,000-yard seasons,” said Upper Deck product manager Steven Judd.

While some feel Peterson will produce quickly and burn out equally as fast, others feel he’s a can’t-miss prospect walking into a perfect situation in Minnesota.

“Splitting the load with Chester Taylor will help keep Peterson fresh, and no team in the NFC North has a great run defense,” Press Pass Product manager Nick Matijevich said.

The Raiders wasted little time in selecting quarterback JaMarcus Russell with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft and it won’t take long before collectors are embracing the strong-armed signal caller either. Owner of the strongest arm of any player to enter the NFL in decades, the 6-6, 263-pound Russell will make an immediate impact in the hobby although it might take more time to make his presence felt in the NFL because of the talent shortage around him in Oakland.

“There have been a lot of strong-armed quarterbacks that never panned out in the NFL. Russell appears to be the real deal, but will be playing on a bad Raiders team,” Lehman said.

Despite slipping into the bottom third of the first round, Cleveland rolled the dice with former Notre Dame standout Brady Quinn and many believe the Browns will be happy they did. Criticized by some because of his arm strength, Brady is perhaps the most NFL ready of any player entering the league. His time in South Bend under the tutelage of Charlie Weiss should have him well prepared to face NFL defensive schemes which should translate into a fine career and a worthy spot among the hobby’s elite.

“Brady was one of the top-ranked players on the board heading into the draft, so when he fell to Cleveland at 22, that made him a sleeper,” Prusha said. “He’s still a top talent and if the Browns can fit the puzzle pieces together (Jamal Lewis, Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr.), Quinn could make a huge impact in the second half of the season.”

Russell, Johnson, Peterson and Quinn are the early leaders as far as generating a buzz among collectors, with Topps Draft Picks & Prospects, Playoff Prestige and Press Pass SE topping the charts early on as far as sets are concerned.

Evaluating the talent entering the league is a tricky proposition no matter what criteria you use, but sometimes it can be as simple as assessing the abilities of those surrounding a player. After posting some impressive numbers during his collegiate career at Cal, running back Marshawn Lynch will likely be targeted by many collectors based solely on the situation he’s entering into.

“He’s my pick for rookie of the year. I personally believe he’s not only the best running back in the 2007 draft, but he’s playing behind a Buffalo line that just paid about $70 million this off season to upgrade its o-line,” Geideman said. “Sure they lost a ton of star players (on defense and McGahee), but they spent money upgrading the line, which is a key reason he’s going to be successful in 2007. Not only that, but Buffalo is a cold-weather team that runs the ball. He has both opportunity, talent and the talent around him. Now, if he only had a quarterback to help deflect attention from getting eight men in the box on every play.”

Although defensive stars usually take a back seat to the offensive standouts early on in the draft and within hobby circles, it didn’t keep GMs from selecting defensive players with 13 of the first 20 picks in this year’s draft.

SAGE president Tom Geideman is one who believes that while defensive stars are usually treated as second-rate citizens in the hobby, there are a select few that can make an impact both on and off the field.

“If someone has the ball Patrick Willis (selected No. 11 overall by San Francisco) will find them and tackle them,” Geideman said. “He’s all over the field and he’ll alter team’s gameplans like Ray Lewis did in his prime.

“Defenders aren’t really collectible players, but Willis’ hustle, instinctive play and strong tackling will get many people in the bay area wearing his uniform in the very near future.”

Linebacker Paul Posluszny (34th overall pick) is another defensive player who is expected to make an immediate impact in his rookie season in Buffalo and in the collecting world.

“Jack Ham referred to him (Posluszny) as the best linebacker ever to play at Penn State,” Judd said. “His success at the college level will translate to the NFL.”

Other players experts are recommending include: Michael Bush (RB, Raiders); Drew Stanton (QB, Lions); Garrett Wolfe (RB, BEars); Anthony Gonzalez (WR, Colts); Brandon Jackson (RB, Packers); Kevin Kolb (QB, Eagles); Dwayne Bowe (WR, Chiefs); Sydney Rice (WR, Vikings); John Beck (QB, Dolphins); Yamon Figurs (WR, Ravens) and Chris Henry (RB, Titans).

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Scott Fragale is the an associate editor for Tuff Stuff magazine and the web editor for tuffstuff.com. He can be reached at scott.fragale@fwpubs.com.

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