With the draft only weeks away, National Football League teams are deep into the process of evaluating collegiate talent. Some players stand out as blue-chip prospects: surefire early first-round picks. Some players are expected not to make the league at all. Then, there are the typical middle-round talents.
These players will likely be drafted, but their position will depend on teams' reactions to their outwardly mediocre qualities. University of Texas cornerback Aaron Ross is a prototype of this kind of player. With immense talent but raw technique, Ross will be carefully pondered upon before his name is called on Draft Day.
Ross attended the University of Texas. Contributing in a minor fashion as a freshman and sophomore, Ross proved to be a valuable reserve in his junior year as well as a stud starter in his senior campaign. Over his career, Ross amassed 205 tackles and 10 interceptions. While he did not start many games in his career, he did gain the experience of playing at such a high-profile football university. Likely to be undervalued due to inexperience on the field, Ross could be a steal in the latter part of the first day of the 2007 National Football League Draft.
Ross undoubtedly will be a target on Draft Day because of the school that he attended. Prospects from known football schools tend to have greater weight on scouts' draft boards because the quality of the program lends validity to their experience. Ross follows in the footsteps of recent talented Texas defensive backs such as Cedric Griffin, Michael Griffin, Michael Huff, Nathan Vasher and Tarell Brown. Ross did have one full year as a starter at Texas and excelled when he was given the opportunity to have a large amount of playing time. At a time when the NFL is cracking down on deviant behavior, Ross comes through clean and has major appeal in that regard.
Ross has unquestionably astounding athleticism and is easily able to shift his body position and weight while on the run. He has great agility and has no need to reset his body if he notices a seam in the defense while on a kick return. In addition, Ross has explosiveness – something that attracts teams and scouts because they are unable to teach it.
Ross has very good size for a cornerback in the NFL at 6-foot-1, 192 pounds. As well, he has excellent jumping ability and good hands. Ross is fast, being clocked at a 40-yard dash time of 4.50 seconds but having a reputation of playing games at a higher speed. He seems, at times, to pick up speed when in the open field and has the ability to recover well when needed. He plays very physically and is never afraid to make a big hit on an offensive player.
Ross seems to naturally understand his place on the field and seldom is caught off-guard. Ross will likely be able to cover most wide receivers in the NFL because of his size and talent, so he should be valuable on Draft Day as a defensive commodity. In addition, he has superior kick-return ability and could put his elusiveness to good use in the return game for the team that drafts him. His junior season, Ross earned All-Big 12 Conference honorable mention. Ross, as a senior, had 80 tackles and six interceptions, statistics that were enough to win the Jim Thorpe Award, recognizing him as the nation's number one defensive back.
Ross' most glaring weakness is his lack of experience. Not a starter until his senior year, Ross nearly doubled his career totals in tackles and more than doubled his career totals in interceptions during his final season on campus. Given the choice between Ross and another defensive back who started two or three years in college, scouts may look to continuity of success over accolades from one outstanding year and pass up Ross for the more experienced prospect.
In addition, while he is able to make the big hit, Ross could benefit from a summer-long engagement with the weight room. Great size, accompanied by speed, is of high priority to all NFL teams. While he had proven his speed in the heat of the game, Ross has yet to perform a similarly timed sprint. Despite the media's insistence on rendering the combine worthless, front office heads and scouts continue to value its drills as much as or more than game film and personal contact. Ross would very much benefit from a faster 40-yard dash time, because of this reality. He needs to work on his technique, especially his footwork.
Ross is a risk-taker on the field and likely compensates for lack of technique with fortune and athleticism. He tends to give wide receivers large cushions, a habit that may cause him considerable angst once he arrives in the professional league. Once he catches up with the receiver, Ross has a habit of becoming quite physical with him. This technique will have to be altered in the NFL, as contact is only allowed within five yards of the line of scrimmage. He tends to have trouble reading quarterbacks, as he occasionally falls for pump-fakes.
While he does not have character issues with regard to the law, Ross was academically ineligibile in 2002. This may be a red flag for some NFL teams with playbooks of labyrinthine complexity. Ross continually desires to be a benefit to his team, yet he lacks the basic training necessary to be completely efficient on the defensive side of the ball.
Ross is currently expected to be selected on the first day of the draft. When his name comes off the board is slightly more uncertain at this point. Likely, he will be chosen in the second round, but a rise or slip on the draft board is not out of the question. If the New York Jets feel their need at cornerback is too great, they could reach for him during the first round.
Whichever team selects him should not expect to receive a franchise cornerback. Instead, it should be seeking the ever-famous "part" that will inevitably complete its nucleus of players and bring a playoff run.