The Can't Miss Prospects

Scouting football players on any level is more art than science, and there is not such thing as a can't miss prospect. But there can be certain qualities in a player that make his likelihood for success almost a sure thing. Here is a look at five players who went from blue chip college high school prospects to probable first rounders in April's NFL Draft.

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The business of scouting is the business of trying to predict the future. When in the business of predicting the future, especially a future as wrought with potential pitfalls athletes face, scouts are going to have hits and misses. If there were no variables involved, every top-five pick would be a superstar and there would be no way an undrafted free agent becomes a two-time NFL MVP.

That being said, a combination of elite physical ability, work ethic and character can make the most coveted of high school recruits stay the course to become superstars on the game's highest level. Here is a look at five players who were ranked among the Top 10 high school prospects in the country in 2008 and are likely to be first-round draft picks in April's NFL Draft.

Wide receivers A.J. Green and Julio Jones
Then: No. 2 and No. 1 receivers '08
Now: No. 1 and No. 2 receivers '11

It seems apropos to list Georgia's A.J. Green (6-foot-4, 190 pounds) and Alabama's Julio Jones (6-4, 220) together as the two have been linked since their sophomore year in high school as the South's next great receiver. They were the top members of the great receiver class of 2008. College scouts speak of that receiving class the way pro scouts refer to the quarterback class of 1983.

An attribute more important than size, speed and hands combined is one that has stuck with Green and Jones while setting back several of their classmates: health. Green and Jones have managed to avoid the injury bug that set back the careers of two other can't-miss receivers, Southern Miss' DeAndre Brown and Notre Dame's Michael Floyd

While having similar size, Green and Jones have always played a different game. Green is a lean, graceful receiver who has effortless body control. Like a cat able to always land on its feet, Green can always get two hands on the ball by contorting his body in the air. Generously listed at 190 pounds coming out of high school, Green has become a much stronger player at Georgia, but he was still wiry strong with that same size and grace on the prep level.

Jones was the power forward of the two. A rock-solid 200-plus pounds, Jones had the speed to run past defenders and the power to plow through them. Jones stepped on campus at Alabama capable of pushing around defensive backs. Jones had the skill to play a finesse game but seemed to enjoy the rough-and-tumble aspects of football, which he also displayed while playing defense for his Foley team.

The 2008 rankings concluded with Jones being ranked ahead of Green, because he possessed a similar skill set and he already had the college-ready body. Heading into the NFL Draft, Green is ranked ahead of Jones because he has made up ground in the size and strength departments while possessing more explosion and big-play capability.

The Green and Jones debate, which began in 2005, is likely to continue for another 10 years, as both players possess the physical ability and work ethic to be stars on the next level.

Green High School Highlights:
Jones High School Highlights:

Cornerback Patrick Peterson (6-1, 222) - LSU
Then: No. 1 cornerback '08
Now: No. 1 cornerback '11
Peterson had a safety frame at 6-1 and 193 pounds, but he had the agility of a cornerback. Unafraid of competition, Peterson would travel from camp to camp, combine to combine to challenge the nation's top receivers, a challenge he typically won. 

Peterson didn't give up the ball completely, though, as he became an All-American return man in addition to his work at cornerback for LSU. Peterson filled out his frame in his time at college and is listed at 222 pounds on LSU's roster. He has been a jumbo corner for his entire career, and he always has been physical enough to see time at safety. 

Peterson was the rare skill player who excelled on both sides of the ball but preferred playing defense from the beginning. When it came to picking a No. 1 corner in 2008, there was only one choice. He should be the first corner off the board in 2011, as well.

Peterson High School Highlights:

Defensive end Da'Quan Bowers (6-4, 275) - Clemson
Then: No. 1 defensive end '08
Now: No. 1 defensive end '11

Bowers was a grown man when he arrived on campus at a listed 6-4, 265 pounds. Many high school defensive ends with that size end up at tackle by the time their careers are over, offensive or defensive. Bowers was different. Bowers was what strength and conditioning coaches refer to as a finished product. Of course he had room to improve, but his gains at Clemson weren't going to be meteoric, and they didn't need to be for him to be an elite athlete.

Bowers led Clemson's defensive linemen in tackles as a freshman, but he battled the injury bug as a sophomore before it all came together for him as a junior with 15.5 sacks. His burst off the ball and leverage needed to be harnessed and refined at Clemson, but in high school he was literally a man among boys. He played running back, returned kicks, and he was unblockable at defensive end.

Bowers has few peers athletically, but his passion for the game and desire to win are also unmatched. He was Scout's No. 2 player behind Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and it's likely he won't have to wait beyond the second spot in the draft to hear his name called.

Bowers High School Highlights:

Offensive tackle Tyron Smith (6-5,280) - USC
Then: No. 1 offensive tackle '08
Now: No. 3 offensive tackle '11


Offensive linemen are, by far, the hardest players to project from high school to the NFL. Baylor's Jason Smith was drafted No. 2 overall by the St. Louis Rams in 2009 after having checked in to Baylor at 6-5 and 225 pounds. When the players are introducing themselves on "Monday Night Football," the linemen are the players from schools most people have never watched. Scouts have.

The key questions to be answered when scouting potential offensive linemen are: Does he have the frame to carry enough weight? Can he move his feet? Does he have a mean streak?

In the case of Smith, the answer to all three questions, and many more, was a definitive yes. Smith played defensive end as well as offensive tackle and played at a defensive end's weight of roughly 255 pounds, but he was a natural on the offensive line. His slide step and drop step were effortless and he kept a strong base with his feet underneath him, enabling him to play with natural leverage and strength.

Smith was Scout's No. 1 offensive tackle in the class of 2008, not because where he was at the time, but because of where we thought he could be. Smith was going to need time to gain the size and strength to play at a solid 285 pounds or more. His best days were going to be years three, four and five at USC. He decided to turn pro after his third year, and he's only beginning to scratch the surface of the potential he showed that led him being the No. 1 offensive tackle prospect in 2008.

Smith High School Highlights:

The class of 2008 was a special class in which its top players were so special that a high percentage of them have fulfilled their potential and are moving on to be first-round draft picks. The class of 2009 will be up next year, and USC quarterback Matt Barkley was a player who met this criteria coming up through the prep ranks. With a strong year at USC he could join the ranks of Green, Jones, Peterson, Bowers and Smith as can't-miss prospect who didn't.

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