With the 2010 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Before the 2011 scouting combine begins on Feb. 24, we'll be taking a closer look at the 40 draft-eligible players who may be the biggest difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue our series with Mississippi State offensive tackle Derek Sherrod. In 34 starts and 46 games, Sherrod helped the Bulldogs become one of the NCAA's better rushing teams, and he was awarded All-SEC honors in 2009 and 2010. He may have been slightly overshadowed by a stacked class of offensive linemen in this draft class, but he made the most of his opportunity during Senior Bowl week.
"It's been a great learning experience, and I'm just trying to get a bit more versatile," Sherrod told me on the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium after Wednesday practice. "There's no difference, really -- you just flip your technique and flip the plays. That's pretty much it. [Footwork is] the same thing, basically. You have to be quick on your feet and have a good punch on both sides. I just wanted to prove that I could hang with anybody here -- more than just SEC competition, but to be competitive against players from all around the country."
Pros: Does all the little things well in pass protection -- rises up off the snap quickly, keeps a wide base to his kick step, exhibits startling quickness outside, and blocks out edge rushers especially well on the back half of the rush. Gets a good hand-punch on running plays, though he doesn't always strike with ideal power (bulling ends back). However, when he locks in, he's great at pushing defenders out of the way and wrangling them to the ground without holding. Chips quickly and gets to the second level in a hurry -- once he gets there, he has great footwork and targets defenders consistently. You'll see a lot of college tackles skate and lurch around in space, but Sherrod doesn't have that problem.
Cons: Technique makes him look stronger in the lower body than he actually is -- Sherrod could fill out in the lower body a bit and it would help with his base and strength at the NFL level. Pulls and traps decently, but this is where he seems to lose his feet a bit -- while Sherrod is tremendously agile north and south, side-to-side is a different story.
Conclusion: Of all the tackles in the 2011 draft class, Sherrod may be the most consistent on a play-to-play basis -- a trait reflected in his excellent Senior Bowl week, when he transitioned from left to right tackle in practice week without skipping a beat and looked absolutely dominant in the game -- especially when paired on the left side with Baylor guard Danny Watkins. His size (6-foot-6, 312 pounds) has him an inch or two shorter than a lot of this year's tackles, and you see the difference in the way he's able to get under pads. Add in his ability and agility at the second level, and Sherrod will pay dividends as an every-down asset in the pros.
More Shutdown 40
#40 -- Rodney Hudson, OG, Florida State | #39 - Luke Stocker, TE, Tennessee
| #38 - Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor | #37 - Ryan Mallett, QB, Arkansas | #36 -- Leonard Hankerson, WR, Miami | #35 -- Danny Watkins, OL, Baylor | #34 - Stephen Paea, DT, Oregon State | #33 -- Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State | #32 - Mike Pouncey, OL, Florida | #31 - Nate Solder, OT, Colorado | #30 - Kyle Rudolph, TE, Notre Dame | #29 - Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois | #28 - Cameron Heyward, DE, Ohio State | #27 - Akeem Ayers, OLB, UCLA | #26 - Brandon Harris, CB, Miami | #25 - Gabe Carimi, OT, Wisconsin | #24 -- Jake Locker, QB, Washington| #23 -- Jimmy Smith, CB, Colorado| #22 - J.J. Watt, DE, Wisconsin | #21 - Corey Liuget, DT, Illinois