RiverSide Chat: DraftZoo.com's Hunter Ansley

Last time we did one of these, I gave you guys one of the more well-known internet Mock Drafters in DraftCountdown's Scott Wright.  Today, like an expert metaphor stretcher that stretches football metaphors to work in the context I want them to in spite of common sense, I'm going to go a little lower on the draft board and give you a sleeper interview: DraftZoo.com's Hunter Ansley.  

I did some chit-chatting with Hunter at the scouting combine and found him to be very down-to-earth, with a soothing southern drawl that is not unlike our own MDC.  Hunter publishes DraftZoo.com, but has written things that have appeared all over the place: Denver newspapers, ESPN the Magazine, and so forth.  If you have a Twitter and are so inclined, you can follow him at @DraftZoo.  Hunter also thinks that Tim Tebow is the best prospect in the NFL draft.  Is that enough to get you to click "Continue reading this post"?  

Rivers McCown: You have Kyle Wilson on virtually even ground with Joe Haden on your draft board, with Haden 8th and Wilson 10th.  What do you think separates the two as prospects?  Does Wilson not playing in a Big Six conference alter your read on him?

Hunter Ansley:  I don't know if I've ever graded two prospects at the same position as closely as Wilson and Haden.  They've both got incredible game film resumes, great recovery speed, good recognition, etc etc.  The fact that I have Wilson slightly below Haden is more of a nod to how good I believe Haden is, not a slight to Wilson.  The competition factors in some, but at the FBS level, football players are football players, in my opinion.  The one thing that slightly separates them in my mind is Wilson's tendency to gamble more often.  Sometimes it pays huge dividends, but he can occasionally get caught out of position due to such an aggressive nature.

RM: A lot of recent talk in Houston has Ryan Mathews as a possibility to be picked at #20.  Do you think this would be an overdraft?  Would Mathews fit the scheme as well as some scouts are saying he would?

HA:  I like Ryan Matthews.  I'm higher on him than some.  But I do think taking him at 20th would be a reach, especially for the Texans.  I think Houston can be successful on the ground with Steve Slaton and Arian Foster.  When you lose a guy like Dunta Robinson, and you play in the same division as Peyton Manning, you have to go secondary in the first round.  There should be a bevy of choices on the board there from Devin McCourty to Kareem Jackson to Earl Thomas.  I just don't think Ryan Matthews is a good enough prospect to be a must-pick when there are holes in the secondary.

RM: Compared to some other draft sites I've seen, you're a little low on the offensive line group as a whole after Russell Okung and Brian Bulaga.  You have both Mike Iupati and Maurkice Pouncey outside of the top 32 players.  Is this a bias against going offensive line (and interior line in particular) in the first round, or are these guys both overvalued in your mind?

HA:  That's a tough call.  I don't value interior linemen very highly, but I think it's important to grade prospects on an individual basis, not solely on what position they play.  The reason I've got Iupati and Pouncey a little lower than some is again not a slight to them, but more of a statement on the talent in this draft.  Both are excellent players, and I have both going in the first round of my latest mock, but I do believe there are 32 better prospects in this class.

RM: After Haden, Wilson, and perhaps Devin McCourty, there seems to be a huge scrum of cornerbacks in the second-third round range.  Which of these are you high on?  Which ones make more sense for a team that plays a little more zone than average?  Which ones should be completely avoided?

HA: That's a great point.  After the consensus top three guys, it gets a little murky. I'd probably throw Kareem Jackson in there as the fourth best guy right now, but I think he's got some competition.  He's got great man coverage skills.  As for zone guys, I'm really high on Amari Spievey out of Iowa.  He carries some off-the-field baggage in a small way (left Iowa to go JUCO before returning), but he is an excellent open-field tackler, and in a zone defense that is a highly underrated trait of successful corners.  He's got good size and strength, and he possesses the awareness needed to play in space.  I think he'll be a great surprise for any team that gets him.

RM: You've named Ben Tate one of your most underrated prospects.  A lot of Texans fans around BRB are clamoring for Montario Hardesty.  Which of these would you prefer if you were running a zone blocking scheme?  Are there any other running backs that should enter the second-fourth round calculus for the Texans?

HA:  I think Hardesty is a great fit for the zone blocking scheme.  When you look at how successful he was last year in that scheme, it's hard to call him anything but a solid prospect there.  I like Tate better overall, but I think that Hardesty fits Houston's scheme a little better.  I have Tate headed to Houston in my latest mock, but that's more of a nod to his ability to burst through the hole and pick up tough yardage without fumbling, which I think Houston could be looking for.  But as an every down back in a zone scheme, I've got to go with Hardesty. Of course, I do think that Tate can succeed in that system as well, but Hardesty is a proven commodity there.

RM: I would say that the plurality of BRB posters think Earl Thomas in the first round is the perfect match of value, need, position, and home state.  Do you believe the notion that he could play some cornerback or slot corner?  Given the Denver-Texans Shanahan roots that I know that you are familiar with, do you think it's actually possible that they would pick a safety in the first round?

HA: I think Earl Thomas would be a great pick, don't get me wrong.  But only if the top three or four corners are off the board.  I just think cornerback is that much more of a need.  As for Thomas playing some corner, I think he could, but I don't want to see it.  I think Thomas is a great centerfielder who possesses excellent ball skills over the top.  When you take him out of that spot, there's going to be a learning curve.  With the current secondary situation in Houston, I don't think they have the luxury of taking a safety and molding him into a corner, which will take some time.  If he's the best available on their board, then by all means take him, he'll be a great safety.  But I don't like the idea of moving him around.

RM: I imagine you get asked this plenty, but here we go again.  You've got Tim Tebow not as a first round pick, not as a top 10 pick, but as the number one overall player on your entire draft board.  This comes with an accompanying article here.  Has Tebow's inability to come through in this year's SEC game changed your mind on him at all?  Have you seen anything in the process so far that would make you question your initial judgement?

HA: I don't see the inability.  I think this is a guy that played in a funny offense that hides deficiencies of a lot of quarterbacks, but I don't see the deficiencies with Tebow.  When you look at the VAST improvements he made from the Senior Bowl to his pro day as far as his release is concerned, I don't know how you can doubt his ability to transition to an NFL offense.  Will it take some time?  Sure, it takes time for ALL rookie quarterbacks.  But this is a guy with zero physical limitations, a stellar track-record, unquestioned work ethic and character, and elite leadership skills.  Sounds like a perfect quarterback to me.  He's going to need some coaching, but he made more reads in Florida's offense than anyone gives him credit for, and I honestly think that the negative views on his pro prospects are more a result of media-saturation than actual weaknesses.  I'm not going to be the guy who doubts him.  He's the best long-term investment in this draft, in my opinion.  Let me know how many people stop reading after this answer..

RM: Other than Tebow, what players do you feel strongly one way or another about in this draft in contrast to conventional wisdom?

HA:  Haha, after Tebow, I think it'd be hard for anyone to measure up, but I'll try.  Jason Pierre-Paul is one of the most overrated players I've ever seen.  Has it been that long since Vernon Gholston was drafted?  This is a guy with unlimited potential, but he had only one season of FBS football, and he wasn't especially productive in that year anyway.  When you factor in that he played across from a great college player in George Selvie, you start to wonder why he wasn't able to do more on the football field.  His combine numbers will get him drafted very early, but this is a small chance of boom with a giant heap of bust.  I wouldn't touch him in the first two rounds.  

On the flip side, I think that people are making a mistake by forgetting about Eric Decker.  If he can get back to 100%, he'll be a steal.  Smart, productive receiver with good size and underrated route-running ability.  He's a much better athlete than he gets credit for.  And I want to mention Keaton Kristick as a late round guy that could really surprise.  He's another player labeled with the "college player, not pro player" stigma that really surprised with his athleticism at the combine, and he plays with an attitude that reminds me a lot of Clay Matthews.

***

I'd like to thank Mr. Ansley for his time, and please give him some love in the comments for responding with such detailed answers, even if he has apparently drunk a little too much of the Dunta Robinson Kool-Aid.  

The more of these I do, the more I get excited about the possibility of Amari Spievey in the second, and the Kyle Wilson answer is a little reassuring to someone who wasn't entirely ready to be happy with him at #20, should he be the pick  It's also refreshing to see someone who thinks Mathews would be a reach at #20.  Your thoughts BRB?  Any other mock draft sites you think I should chase for this series?
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