One of the more intriguing players in this year's draft is Florida State defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine. His intrigue comes from a late-season injury that ended his senior season, a season in which he posted 11 sacks and 13 tackles for loss in just 12 games.
His production and skillset made him a first-round possibility during the 2012 season, but the injury to his ACL in late November and the ensuing rehab has put a giant question mark on what our draft expert, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller (@NFLDraftScout), calls, when healthy, one of his five best players in the draft. That's quite a conundrum for any team looking to draft Carradine and it's a reason many believe Carradine will slide in the first round. Will he slide to No. 30 and the Falcons? A quick look at the Mock Monitor says some big names in draft scouting think so.
While Miller isn't convinced Carradine will be available for the Falcons at No. 30, he likes the player and sees a ton of talent.
"He's an elite pass rusher thanks to his quickness off the ball and the ability to dip his shoulder and get past left tackles," Miller said. "He's so fast and slippery that blockers have trouble getting their hands on his frame, and when they do punch at him he can dip and slide to get under their hands. He'll need to get stronger at the next level and learn to use his hands better to disengage from blockers, but those are coachable skills."
At 6-foot-4 and 276 pounds, Carradine is built like the modern defensive end and that's a plus for him. He transferred to Florida State in 2011 after a stint in junior college, but he wasn't a complete surprise in scouting circles prior to this year. In 2010 at Butler Community College, his 16 sacks led the nation and he followed that up at FSU in '11 with 38 tackles, eight tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks as a reserve. Carradine was slated to back up Brandon Jenkins during his senior season, but Jenkins went down and Carradine stepped up.
Starting opposite Bjorn Werner, another first-round prospect from FSU, Carradine showed the quickness, strength and athleticism NFL scouts crave in DEs but he needed the injury to Jenkins to truly put a stamp on his draft prospects. Miller doesn't hold the fact that he wasn't the starter entering his senior season against him and can think of a number of similar scenarios in the past for pass rushers drafted in the first round.
"It's a legitimate concern that Tank didn't start until Brandon Jenkins was hurt, and at some positions this would be a major red flag, but since Carradine is a defensive end and played in a scheme that heavily rotated players, it's not a major concern for me," Miller said. "When he was on the field he showed elite ability as a pass rusher. There is a long list of recent draft prospects who were situational or rotational pass rusher — like Bruce Irvin — that have panned out in the NFL."
The nickname "Tank" is an impressive one and fitting for a player that is large and moves quicker than he appears. Miller said he learned during a conversation with Carradine at the NFL Combine that the nickname came as a baby when he carried a toy tank around everywhere. The toy was such a part of Carradine that the nickname stuck and while nicknames rarely influence scout's opinions, some can be better than others.
"As long as the nickname isn't something like 'Slacker,' I'm OK with them," Miller said. "It's always fun to see how a guy's peers think of him, and a nickname like 'Tank' is fitting in this case."
The rehab from the injury prevented Carradine from participating at the Senior Bowl or the NFL Combine and some are in the dark about where Carradine really is in his progress back from injury or how much of an impact he'll have this season. Those factors drive his stock down a bit, but he could turn out to be a steal and Miller likes the fit of Carradine with the Falcons.
"Carradine would be an excellent fit as someone brought in to replace John Abraham as the team's athletic rush end coming off the right side of the defense," Miller said. "He's one of the true fits for the team's 4-3 defense."
As private workouts continue for draftees and potential suitors, Carradine could erase some of the concerns about the progress from his injury, but he's too risky for most teams near the top half of the draft. Moving down later in the first round, the risk-reward margin of Carradine could thin out some and a team may luck up with a player whose value is far greater than the number at which he was picked.
Miller sees a Chris Clemons-like player in Carradine, comparing the Seminole's slippery hands and speed off the edge to Seattle's Clemons, an underrated NFL pass rusher. Despite the glowing reviews and the standout game film, questions remain for Carradine. Is he too much of a risk even at No. 30 for the Falcons or would they be wise to take a player whose only downside appears to be a bad-luck injury late in 2012?