Best offensive rookie?


The most versatile offensive player

Jr. By Mel Kiper Jr.

I'm not going to win any awards for originality, but I think it'll be Tavon Austin.

Right now, I project Austin to go midway through the first round. A couple of landing spots could be with Carolina at No. 14 or with St. Louis at No. 16. In both cases, you have teams with a real need to find opportunities for Austin to get the ball. Carolina lacks an obvious threat in the passing game beyond Steve Smith. St. Louis lost their slot receiver when Danny Amendola went to New England.

In either case -- and even if he were to land in a spot such as New York (Jets), Tennessee or Tampa Bay -- Austin is going to get his touches.

One thing people tend to forget about Austin is the diverse manner in which he can be used. I hear him billed as a class slot guy, but he ran the ball 72 times for 643 yards last year. He was actually the second-leading receiver for the Mountaineers in part because he was such a big contributor to the running game. Austin was also the primary kickoff and punt returner for West Virginia and returned one of each for a touchdown last season.

A player he reminds me a little of is C.J. Spiller. That might sound odd because one is a running back, the other a receiver. But they share a trait in that you can't expect to get either the ball countless numbers of times because of their durability questions, but you shouldn't draft either without a plan. There's too much explosiveness there. Buffalo seemed to lack a great plan with Spiller but eventually found one. I don't think any team drafting Austin makes the same mistake.

Mel Kiper has been the premier name in NFL draft prospect evaluations for more than three decades. He started putting out his annual draft guides in 1978 and began contributing to ESPN as an analyst in 1984. For more from Mel, check out his annual draft publications or his ESPN home page. He can also be found on Twitter @MelKiperESPN.

The most NFL-ready prospect

McShay By Todd McShay
Scouts Inc.

Mel went chalk, as usual, so I'm going with a player who won't be a top-20 pick in Wisconsin RB Montee Ball.

Some will wonder why I don't grade Ball higher than the late second or early third round if I think he'll be so effective as a rookie. There are two main reasons.

The biggest long-term concerns with Ball are workload and durability.

He rushed for more than 8,000 yards in high school and had 983 combined carries and receptions in his four years in Madison. Add in the fact that he suffered a head injury in an off-field incident in 2012 and left the UTEP game last season with a head injury and you wonder how long Ball will last at the next level.

There just doesn't seem to be enough tread on his tires to justify spending a first-round pick on him.

However, Ball is the most NFL-ready back in this class. His instincts are outstanding. He showed a great sense for when to plant his foot and get upfield in Wisconsin's zone-blocking scheme, feels creases opening before he sees them and knows when to hit the cutback lane.

And don't judge his pass-catching ability on his stats alone. Ball was limited a bit in that area as a senior to keep him fresh as a runner, but his sophomore and junior tapes show a back who can snatch the ball on the run, make the first defender miss and transition quickly upfield. And while he isn't elite in pass protection, Ball is tough and willing in that area.

Finally, because he grades out as a mid-to-late second-round pick, Ball has a better chance than some other top offensive skill players in this class of ending up on a competitive team.

The Green Bay Packers would be a great landing spot because they run a zone-blocking scheme, and Ball would help provide the running balance the team was missing last season.

Todd McShay is the director of college scouting for Scouts Inc. He has been evaluating prospects for the NFL draft since 1998. Follow McShay on Twitter @McShay13.