Upside. It's the most overused word you'll ever read when the NFL Draft approaches. Every single analyst likes to use this term in scouting reports, sometimes even ranking prospects based solely on its definition. How much should upside factor in when comparing two prospects at the same position?
A perfect example of the upside discussion is Greg Robinson. One of the top prospects in the 2014 class, Robinson is constantly lauded as a player with the "most upside" of any offensive tackle, and sometimes of any player in the upcoming draft.
Robinson came out of nowhere in 2013 and made arguably the quickest ascent up draft boards we've ever seen. Go look at prospect rankings prior to last year's college football season. Scouts didn't have Robinson anywhere to be found. Fast forward a few months later, and he was moving into the first round in mock drafts.
Now look at today's rankings. Robinson is widely regarded as the No. 1 offensive tackle available. He made a case for himself as Auburn fought its way to a national championship appearance. There's no questioning Robinson's talent. But are we just forgetting the guy who used to be the top-ranked OT?
Jake Matthews entered 2013 as one of the best players in the nation. Next to Jadeveon Clowney, he was viewed as a top draft pick. Matthews made the move to left tackle and continued to impress throughout his senior year. Yet he's become somewhat of an afterthought in the Falcons draft discussions.
Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News released his top five safest picks for May 8. Matthews is No. 1 on the list.
Matthews is a more talented all-around prospect than either Eric Fisher, last year's first overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs; and the Jacksonville Jaguars' Luke Joeckel, his former Aggies teammate who went No. 2. He's technically sound and doesn't need to rely all on athleticism, a trait of every decade-long left tackle. Matthews may go a few picks after Manziel, but he is scouts' easy choice for the safest pick.
Matthews' lineage should provide some comfort to his potential as well . His father, Bruce, is a Hall of Fame inductee. The Matthews family has ties to Clay Matthews (Sr. and Jr.) and as tight end prospect Troy Niklas.
So, we're left with the upside vs. safe pick decision, if it comes down to these two players. Vaughn McClure sees the Falcons taking one of the top three offensive tackles with their first pick. Taylor Lewan is also mentioned, but the majority of us are hoping for Robinson or Matthews.
If the Falcons take Robinson, they'll get a dominant run blocker, an aggressive newcomer and a potential anchor at left tackle for years to come. As SB Nation's Stephen White notes, Robinson has a lot of "young Larry Allen" in his game.
However, White acknowledges the flaws that come with Robinson. He wasn't asked to do much pass blocking at Auburn, and considering the NFL is more of a passing league today, protecting the quarterback is kind of important.
After watching those five games, I came away concerned about how much did Auburn try to hide Robinson's deficiencies as a pass blocker. Many times, rather than have him block the end man on the line of scrimmage, they would have him block down to help double the defensive tackle. And I'm not just talking about when the opposing defense threatened to blitz ... This is a legitimate cause for concern for any team picking in the top 10 of the draft.
White does point out, though, how ridiculous of an athlete Robinson is, and he "should" adjust to being a pretty good pass blocker.
If the Falcons take Matthews, they add a polished pass blocker, a reliable starter and a lineman who doesn't have that many weaknesses. Going back to White for an evaluation, he sees Matthews as a player who isn't as aggressive as Robinson.
Matthews, though, is content with making a decent block and then laying off the guy once it seems like the play is over. Of course, sometimes the play isn't over and not finishing that block can be the difference between a touchdown and a 2-yard gain.
Where does Matthews have the upper hand, aside from pass protection?
What Matthews has over Robinson is that he was able to maintain contact with the defender after the first couple steps and drive his man even further downfield on a regular basis. You want offensive linemen to have that "sticky" quality to them because running backs in the NFL have such great vision and speed but the holes close so fast; the longer they can hold the block, the more likely the runner will be able to exploit those efforts.
We've talked plenty on this site about the Falcons potentially adding an offensive tackle. When I see fans talk about it on Twitter, Robinson is instantly the first player mentioned. Some people seem even disappointed to think about landing Matthews. That shouldn't be the case at all.
Matthews is ready to start immediately. He is a safe pick by all means. Robinson is more athletically gifted and could become a monster up front if he fixes his technique/gains more experience in pass blocking.
I suppose my issue with the "upside" factor is the possibility it doesn't pan out. When Lamar Holmes was drafted, that's all we heard about. "He has so much upside, he COULD be great!" How is that working out? Yes, it's only been two years, but the Falcons need immediate help, not hope for future dividends.
When you're dealing with two of the best prospects in the draft, you're getting a quality player no matter what. But I'm curious to see what you think. Is it better to go after a player like Robinson, who clearly has the upside in his favor? Or is a proven player in all facets like Matthews, a safer route, the better way to go?