Go on any draft site and you'll read about Tennessee safety Eric Berry. Scouts Inc rank him as the #1 prospect for 2010, Mel Kiper has him at number two on his big board and nearly every mock draft has Berry in the top five picks. As far as I'm concerned, that bandwagon can move through my home town, I'm not getting on.
I've seen him a few times now and voiced concerns. Having just watched the tape from yesterday's Tennessee defeat to Ole Miss, I'm positively determined that he's going to be a huge liability against the run in the NFL. It's one thing seeing him getting positively blown away why Ben Tate (RB, Auburn) and Tim Tebow (QB, Florida), but having watched Dexter McCluster dance around to the tune of 282 yards is quite another. If he's going to struggle against bigger guys, so be it. You can work on that. But McCluster is 5'8" and 165lbs. He's quick, but then isn't Berry supposed to be quick too?
For large parts of the game, Berry was anonymous. The Rebels ran the ball with great success and it restricted the need to test the error prone Jevan Snead too much. I was half expecting Berry to have a big game today, just because Snead is usually good for 2-3 big interceptions. Fair play to Ole Miss for their game plan, it's just a shame the coaching staff didn't protect their quarterback this well earlier in the season.
But when questions were asked of Berry, he whiffed. Here's the big problem - he just doesn't wrap up his tackles. He always (and I mean ALWAYS) goes low to make a tackle. This was no more evident than a third quarter play when McCluster took an option to the right. Berry meets the running back in space and dives at his legs. He completely misses the tackle, rolling onto the floor. It allows McCluster to turn a two-yard loss into a ten yard gain and on the very next play, it's a simple touchdown.
It wasn't the only example of poor tackling by Berry on the afternoon. People rate him so highly because of his playmaking ability. Type 'Eric Berry' into YouTube and you'll find out why people compare him to Ed Reed. Coming into 2009, he had 12 interceptions (three returned for six). But I have to question whether those big plays from the past are clouding judgement today. In three games this year, I've had to watch carefully just to pick up Berry on the field. He has just two interceptions, despite lining up all over the field at cornerback and safety.
If you take away that ability to make big plays, you're left with a pretty average football player. I dread the thought of seeing him against big tight ends in coverage, or the prospect of watching him trying to tackle a NFL running back. This year - without the big TD returns or interceptions - it's hard to work out what all the fuss is about.
I'd be very surprised if he goes as early as some people are predicting in the 2010 draft. It's perhaps important to remember that he's not necessarily a shoe-in to declare, having previously expressed a desire to graduate in dentistry. If you put him on a good defense with bigger guys in the secondary, you can get creative with him and perhaps tap into that playmaker that's been missing this year. However, I just can't imagine a bad team (and they tend to be the ones picking early) will invest top money in Eric Berry.