Michael Crabtree Eager For Shot At Pro Football Payday

January 20, 2009 – Now that the Jan. 15 deadline for underclassmen to declare for the 2009 NFL Draft has passed, it’s time to start looking in earnest at how this year’s draft class stacks up. We thought we’d start by getting some expert insight from the folks over at EA, who will be working feverously to make sure each incoming rookie is evaluated accurately looking towards future installments of the Madden NFL franchise.

Anthony Stevenson, a Senior Product Manager at EA Sports who focuses primarily on the Madden NFL Football franchise was kind enough to field our questions and provide some insight on the underclassmen who declared, or didn’t declare, for this year’s draft. Enjoy!

Which of the players who’ve declared for the 2009 NFL Draft have you most enjoyed watching play on Saturday? Which do you think will enjoy the most immediate success playing on Sunday?

Crabtree heads into the draft as the No. 1 wide receiver on the board.

The answer to the first question has to be Michael Crabtree, the standout wide receiver from Texas Tech. His numbers say it all, but that catch-and-score to beat Texas in the last seconds of the game completely altered the way the BCS shook out. As for who will have the most immediate success, I think Andre Smith, the offensive tackle from Alabama, will become a week 1 starter in the NFL, regardless of who drafts him. He’s 6’5″ and 340lbs. If that’s not a prototypical OT in the NFL, I don’t know what is.

Which underclassmen do you think will regret their decision to return to school rather than declare for this year’s draft?

Stevenson: I think most analysts would agree Sam Bradford has the most to lose by going back to school. He would have probably been the first QB off the board if he declared, but instead he’s going back to Oklahoma to play behind a completely new offensive line. QB’s need time to mature, so I admire his decision to learn more on the field than behind a clip board, but the chance for injury is just too high. Bottom line is, if you are a consensus 1st round pick, you should go…unless you’re a Rhodes Scholar like Myron Rolle.

With Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford both announcing that they’ll return to school next year, who do feel is the best quarterback prospect in this year’s draft?

Stevenson: The 2009 Draft will be very thin at QB with Bradford and McCoy returning to school. Many scouts are high on Matthew Stafford from Georgia, and I’d have to agree. He can make all the throws and really showed what he is capable of in the bowl game against Michigan State. I think Coach Carroll at USC is right though. Mark Sanchez would have improved his game by staying, but like I said, it’s a down year for QB’s, so his stock is probably as high as it can get.

Which running back do you think will have the bigger rookie season next year, Knowshon Moreno or Beanie Wells?

Stevenson: This totally depends on which team drafts them. Clearly, Chris Johnson and Matt Forte have proven that rookie RBs can start in the NFL and be very successful, but they have to be given the opportunity. Based on skills alone, I think Moreno is more athletic and can create holes for himself. I see Wells being a great contributor in a 2-back rotation, which is the trend de jour in the NFL these days.

Did Taylor Mays make the right decision in staying at USC for another year? Can his stock rise any higher?

Stevenson: Honestly, I’m not sure his stock can get any higher. He was probably a middle 1st round pick already, but I guess the lure of playing in SoCal another year is too much to pass up. His father played in the NFL, so I’d have to imagine he had his son’s ear. Either way, as long as he stays healthy, Mays’ physical prowess should continue to shine in the Pac-10, and I’d expect him to be a 1st round lock for the 2010 Draft.

The last six NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year selections (and eight of the last nine) have all been linebackers. Do you see an impact linebacker among this year’s crop of declared underclassmen?

Stevenson: I think the Seniors are actually the cream of the 2009 crop. Aaron Curry from Wake Forest could be the 1st LB selected, and James Laurinaitis from Ohio State will definitely be an impact player his first year in the league, but I like Ray Maualuga from USC. The kid has all the tools and was the lynchpin of the one of the stingiest defenses in the past 10 years. Maualuga’s teammate on the outside, Brian Cushing, isn’t a bad choice either!

Which underclassman defensive lineman do you see as enjoying the best professional career, and what in your mind separates him from the field?

Stevenson: Aaron Maybin from Penn State is the obvious choice of the underclassmen, but I like Sr. defensive end Tyson Jackson’s size from LSU. All 295 lbs of his frame should translate well to the pro game, and I think the skill that sets him apart from other DEs in the draft is his run-stopping ability. In the NFL, if you can stop the run, you will always give your offense a chance to win the game.

Alabama tackle Andre Smith is regarded as one of, if not the, best prospect in this year’s draft class. Is there any reason to believe that he won’t go on to become a Pro Bowl tackle in the NFL?

Andre Smith has all the makings of an All-Pro offensive tackle.

No. ;)

Michael Crabtree put up great numbers this season, but didn’t have big games against elite teams. How high is ceiling? Will he be a difference maker against NFL defenses?

Stevenson: Well, I’d have to say his catch against Texas was about as big as it gets, but wide receivers, no matter how talented in college, are always a tough position to grade out. Just ask the Detroit Lions. Actually, since we’re on the subject, I could see Crabtree following the progression of Lions WR Calvin Johnson. Calvin had a solid, not great, rookie campaign with 48 receptions in 2007, but really took a leap forward in 2008 with 78 receptions, 1300 yards receiving, and 12 TDs. I think Crabtree will contribute as a rookie, but a lot of that depends on where he goes. If he has no run game to support him, or if he ends up with a pedestrian QB, his impact and development could me stifled early on.

If you were calling the shots for the Detroit Lions, who would you select with the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft?

Stevenson: If I was the GM in Detroit, I wouldn’t be thinking #1 at all. I would trade down and try to get two or three guys who could start for me week 1. The Lions have a ton of problems, and taking a shot on a QB in the first round is probably not the best thing for a 0-16 team to do, especially since they don’t know what they have yet in Drew Stanton. They can address a QB in the later rounds (Mike Teel or Hunter Cantwell?) and focus on building the team from the lines out. It might not be the sexy thing to do, but their approach the past 10 years hasn’t been so hot either.

Stevenson: Bonus – Who from this year’s draft class could you see making the cover of a future Madden game?

This is easy. Graham Gano from Florida State. That’s right, a place kicker! Gano was 5/7 from 50+ yards this year, and those two misses were his only two of the season! Kickers in the NFL don’t get enough credit for how many games they win. Is there a more pressure situation than a FG in OT to win a game? Maybe it’s time Madden gives a little love to the kickers….we’ll see.