NFL

Unveiling a New Round of Rookie Comparisons

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Now that we have seen rookies in action at rookie camps, OTAs and mini camps, it’s time for an updated round of rookie comparisons. We put no restrictions on these comparisons — using past and present players, headliners and mid-card talent — in an effort to come up with matches that work best.

After our latest round of observations, here are five comparisons that jump to mind.

Marcus Mariota = Alex Smith

Mariota and Smith are both high draft picks who came from gimmicky college offenses. Their raw skills caused them to be drafted early nonetheless, even though they came with caution tags that read: “Will take time to develop.”

Smith struggled through most of his first six seasons in the league. It wasn’t until Jim Harbaugh arrived in 2011 that Smith started to turn things around and play up the potential the 49ers saw in him when making him the No. 1 overall pick back in 2005.

The Titans are banking on Mariota not taking as long to develop, as he is expected to be under center for Week 1 of his rookie season. Luckily for the Oregon product, the Titans are already under the direction of an excellent offensive coach in Ken Whisenhunt, which should hasten Mariota’s development.

“He’s a real good quarterback,” said Titans receiver Justin Hunter of Maritoa. “I see it in him.”

T.J. Clemmings = Damion McIntosh

Clemmings and McIntosh both began their college careers on the defensive line before making the switch to offensive tackle. As a result of their defensive roots, both players showcased a rare combination of aggression and athleticism.

Clemmings was projected as a first-round pick before the discovery of a stress fracture in his foot caused him to drop to the fourth round. There are some holes in his tape, as well, as his technique is underdeveloped and inconsistent. That being said, he has enough natural ability to be a starting right tackle on Opening Day. With more experience and development, he could move over to the left side of the line.

On the left side is where McIntosh made his money, protecting blindsides in San Diego, Miami, Kansas City and Seattle for a decade. Blessed with light feet to hold up in pass protection and the agility the make blocks on the second level, he was a consistent performer who carved out an impressive if unspectacular career.

Maxx Williams = Niles Paul

Williams is basically an overgrown wide receiver. He spent most of his time at Minnesota moving around the formation as opposed to playing as a traditional inline tight end, which allowed him to create mismatches and use his fantastic speed to beat linebackers and safeties. He has big hands and a wide catch radius, making him an enticing target between the hashes.

Joe Flacco has already been impressed by Williams and fellow rookie TE Nick Boyle.

“They’re a huge outlet for me to be able to drop it to them and let them do their thing,” Flacco said. “Hopefully, they’ll prove to be huge.”

Of course, Williams represents just the latest stage of the tight end revolution, which has seen the position become more about catching passes than blocking linebackers. It is that same revolution that created an opportunity for Paul, who was drafted as a wide receiver in 2011 and moved to tight end the following season.

Paul’s smooth transition proves the difference between tight ends and receivers is not as vast as it used to be. He set a career-high with 507 yards last season and has averaged more than 14 yards per catch since making the switch. The Ravens, who were attracted to Williams because of his similar pass-catching prowess, are counting on their second-round pick to be just as productive during his rookie campaign.

Vince Mayle = Ramses Barden

The Browns deserve to be mentioned in every post-draft analysis piece, because they were the clear-cut winners of the 2015 draft. One of their best value picks was Mayle, who posted monster numbers as part of Mike Leach’s wide-open offense at Washington State.

Critics can discount Mayle’s production as part of a gimmicky scheme, but his 6’2”, 224-pound frame is an inviting target at any level. He lacks speed and suddenness, but he makes up for it by finding soft spots in the defense and exploiting them with smooth, disciplined routes. His ability to catch balls in traffic and win against tight coverage will also serve him well.

Barden, a third-round pick of the Giants in 2009, shared many of those traits. He outmuscled defenders, won 50-50 balls and consistently made himself available to his quarterback. Barden eventually got caught up in a numbers game in New York and saw his career come to a premature end, but he showed glimpses of his promise along the way, including a nine-catch, 138-yard game against the Panthers in 2012.

Hopefully, Mayle will get a chance to show more than just glimpses of his immense ability.

Shaq Thompson = Thomas Davis

This is an admittedly unusual comparison, as Thompson and Davis are now teammates who will compete for time in passing situations. But there is no way to watch tape on Thompson and not be reminded of a young Davis.

Davis actually began his pro career as a strong safety before finding a home in Carolina’s linebacking corps. There are similar questions regarding how Ron Rivera & Co. will deploy Thompson, whose size (6’0”, 228 lbs.) and coverage skills merit consideration at safety.

“One of the things we talk about is position flexibility, whether it’s a guy that plays the right side, the left side, the middle or whether it’s some of the hybrid stuff that we want to do,” Rivera said. “We’ve been waiting to find the right personnel and [Thompson] gives us that.”

In a move that could bode well for Thompson’s future, the first-round pick will get to learn from Davis while slowly working his way into a larger role on defense. In the mean time, Thompson will cut his teeth on special teams, which is the same way Davis began his stellar career.

As far as mentors go, Thompson could not have done any better. Davis, the Walter Payton Man of the Year award winner, is among the most stand-up players in the league today. He is also among the most determined, having overcome three ACL injuries to prolong his career against all odds.

If Thompson can absorb some of that determination, it will help him live up to his lofty draft status.

Want to talk more about these or other rookie comparisons? Join Michael Lombardo for his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.