The Human Torch: Devin Smith

If you haven’t watched any tape of Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, then you’re in for a treat. He’s preternaturally gifted when it comes to making catches deep down field. In fact, that’s essentially all he does. He only caught 33 passes as a senior, 12 of which were touchdowns, for an average of 28.2 yards per reception. These numbers are meaningless without context. That’s what the game tape is for, and thanks to Draft Breakdown I’ve been able to watch four of them (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Cincinnati).

In the game against Michigan State, Smith makes two beautiful over-the-shoulder catches. On the first play, he starts off standing on the 35-yard line, runs more or less straight down the field, and makes a rather ridiculous reception around at the 20-yard line. I’ll leave the math to you. That’s a big chunk of yards. The most impressive aspect of this play isn’t the speed, but the way he locates¬† the ball midair and plucks it with both hands over his shoulder at an awkward angle. Later in the game he makes this catch for a touchdown. Just another routine over-the-shoulder 45-yard reception. I feel bad for the Michigan State safeties there. That is a touchdown presnap as long as the ball is on target.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wisconsin fans might want to skip this next section.

  • Touchdown #1 is all about the adjustment to the ball. He locates it in the air when he turns his head, then he gets his body where it needs to be in order to make the catch. He also plays it like a basketball player boxing out his opponent to snare a rebound.
  • Touchdown #2 is similar to his touchdown in the Michigan State game. This time he gets one-on-one coverage from the slot against a safety. Lamb to the slaughter.
  • Touchdown #3 is a leaping two-handed grab. Smith’s location, location, location abilities are otherworldly. He didn’t drop a single deep bomb in any of the games I watched.

Alright, so he can catch deep bombs. Can we move on? If this is what you are asking, get the hell out of here. Two more. First, this play against Illinois. This guy Devin Smith sure can make deep over-the-shoulder touchdown catches. To prove he is, in fact, human, watch this play. He… almost didn’t catch it! Throwing the ball in the general direction of Smith and letting him do the rest is a foolproof plan I’m tellin’ ya.

He can do a bit other than run deep routes. Not a lot, mind you, but I have some evidence that he can. For instance, there’s this play where he finds the right spot to sit against zone coverage and runs in for a touchdown. Here he makes a catch over the middle on what appears to be a post route. On this play he just comes to a screeching halt. Even though the quarterback is looking the other way, you still need to try to get open if the play breaks down. And, at least to me, both this and this are poorly run routes.

In order to stay on the field (or become elite), Smith must get better at running short to intermediate routes. He will come in on multiple receiver packages and force the defense to respect his deep game, which opens up space for teammates. His deep game is special even among NFL players. He knows how to locate, and, more importantly, to adjust his body in order to make difficult catches with the ball flying 40+ yards. Over and over again.

If you’re going to be a one-trick pony as a rookie wide receiver, this is the best trick to have up your sleeve. Smith has excellent hands. In the four games I watched, he dropped one pass, and the degree of difficulty on his catches were very high indeed. At the end of the first round, I wouldn’t hesitate to send in his name if I needed some help outside. Are you telling me you don’t want to see Devin Smith catch bombs from Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson, over the next five or more years? Please.

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The 2015 “No One’s Mocking” Mock

Reading through some of the Zone Reads archives, I discovered a mock draft from 2013 I made with the sole goal of identifying picks no one else was projecting for a team. I thought about that and decided it was a neat intellectual exercise– if you kept to two rules:

  1. The picks have to be a good, justifiable fit. You can’t have Jacksonville taking Jameis Winston #3 a year after taking Blake Bortles #3. Stuff like that. Picks that would genuinely benefit a team, but that no one else has projected.
  2. The picks have to be good value. Jacksonville needs a free safety after missing out on Devin McCourty in free agency, but that doesn’t mean you can draft Gerod Holliman or Cody Prewitt #3 overall.

I enjoyed thinking about the picks and I hope you enjoy reading about them. Onward:

1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
La’el Collins, OT, LSU

The Bucs’ offensive line flatly sucks. They signed Anthony Collins to a big free-agent deal last offseason to play left tackle, and he was such a disaster they cut him this offseason. Replace one Collins with another: Some folks have concern about La’el’s ability to play left tackle in the NFL, but he’s immediately the best offensive lineman on the team. (And despite where others slot him, he’s my #4 overall prospect, so I don’t consider this a reach for our purposes.)

2. Tennessee Titans
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

He’s arguably the biggest-impact EDGE prospect and he is a natural fit as an OLB in a classic 3-4. Good marriage of need and value.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

I know they drafted two receivers in the second round last year (and uncovered an undrafted gem in Allen Hurns). I know they just signed Julius Thomas. I know there’s even hope Justin Blackmon could be reinstated. But I don’t think any of those guys (except Blackmon, and his off-field issues are too likely to get in the way) can be a true #1 the way White can. The Jaguars continue to build around Blake Bortles; if he fails, you can’t say they didn’t support him.

4. Oakland Raiders
Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida

Fowler gives them another edge player to pair with Khalil Mack. Fowler doesn’t have the elite bend around the corner you’d like to see, but he’s strong, fast, and does everything else well. Most likely alignment for Oakland is to continue at a 4-3 with Mack at LB and Fowler at DE, but you can do a lot of creative aligning with those two guys.

5. Washington Potatoes
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

I think the Robert Griffin era is probably over in Washington. (I do think his career can be salvaged, but now his career arc looks more like a Randall Cunningham, having to find redemption as a passer at his next stop.) Jay Gruden wants to do the West Coast Offense thing his way, and Winston is a highly accurate short-to-intermediate passer, among other things.

6. New York Jets
Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska

Most mocks have the Jets taking an offensive player here. But QB/WR are too commonly mocked to the Jets, and they aren’t immediate needs now with the recent additions of Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick (okay, QB is still a need, but that doesn’t mean they’ll draft one). Quentin Coples has been disappointing on the edge, and the Jets need a player who can take advantage of the interior disruption Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson cause.

7. Chicago Bears
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

The new regime isn’t committed to Jay Cutler. He will start in 2015, though, as Mariota needs at least a year to get up to NFL speed. The Bears are bereft of talent in a lot of ways thanks to some draft misses by Phil Emery and (especially) Jerry Angelo, so they might as well start building for the future.

8. Atlanta Falcons
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

Roddy White is 33. Harry Douglas just left for Tennessee. Jacob Tamme is the closest thing they have to a tight end. This receiver crew is one All-World player, a good veteran in decline, and… ??? Cooper answers one of those question marks emphatically.

9. New York Giants
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

“But the Giants are old-school! They build from the trenches!” Sure they do, that’s why they drafted Odell Beckham last year. Rueben Randle just isn’t getting it done as a big outside threat; Parker would fill that role nicely, and also provide the crew some insurance talent-wise in case Victor Cruz can’t return to his old form. Their goal here should be to extend the window they can compete with Eli Manning as their QB.

10. St. Louis Rams
Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Jeff Fisher never met a character concern he didn’t like. Peters is the best cornerback in the draft. Janoris Jenkins had a promising rookie year, but has been inconsistent since then. E.J. Gaines also had a promising rookie year, but he’s a sixth-round pick and would look even better in the nickel role. Some playmaking talent on the back end will help the team make the most of their devastating pass rush.

11. Minnesota Vikings
Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC

It’s not as crazy a fall as it seems: Some draft types have grumbled about Williams’ lack of explosiveness (what makes him impressive is his ability to command double- and even triple-teams despite that). Minnesota has a lot of talent on the edge but could use some up the middle– and what better player to take than another Williams?

12. Cleveland Browns
Landon Collins, S, Alabama

The only safety I could name on their roster was Donte Whitner, and he’s pretty old. I almost mocked another cornerback, but you gotta figure they believe Justin Gilbert will get his head on straight. Adding the guy who is well ahead of most players at his position on the board is… a good start (I think this is a little high for Collins, but I also think he could easily go here).
(edited to add: Okay, as of right now Tashaun Gipson isn’t technically on the roster until he signs his RFA tender, but I still should have mentioned him. He’s a back-end ballhawk type, though, and Collins will fit in nicely at strong safety next to him.)

13. New Orleans Saints
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

One of the recurring problems in the Saints’ defense over the last few years is a complete inability to stop the run. Broderick Bunkley is their only capable run-stuffer, and he’s 31 and can’t play forever. Shelton would enable the team to both run more traditional 3-4 looks and actually stop offenses on early downs.

14. Miami Dolphins
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA

Miami’s game of Linebacker Roulette last offseason didn’t really work out, as both Phillip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbee are now gone. Kendricks is by some accounts the best linebacker in the draft and a true three-down player. The Dolphins now arguably have the best front four in the league: Let’s give them a true playmaker to take advantage.

15. San Francisco 49ers
Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

Obviously inside linebacker has become more of a concern, with Navorro Bowman’s status still uncertain, and the unexpected retirements of Patrick Willis and Chris Borland. But Aldon Smith is still a risk to be suspended at any time, and he’s really their only trascendent pass-rushing talent. Dupree lined up on the other side makes a lot of sense.

16. Houston Texans
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

Arian Foster is 29, which is about 72 in running back years. Their passing game is still nothing to write home about: If they were a band, they’d be called “DeAndre Hopkins and the Castoffs.” This is all part of Bill O’Brien’s plan to win by running 40 times a game until they find a real quarterback.

17. San Diego Chargers
Cameron Erving, C, Florida State

Nick Hardwick, who came into the league with Philip Rivers in 2004 and has been his starting center ever since, finally retired. Erving is projected as a plug-and-play center who could step right in without missing a beat.

18. Kansas City Chiefs
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Offensive line is a need for Kansas City, but I haven’t seen Peat mocked anywhere. He’s more boom-or-bust than other OT prospects, as he more than anyone else in the draft has the feet and reach needed to play left tackle, but probably doesn’t have the kind of functional strength in the run game to succeed elsewhere. Anyway, I’m skeptical Eric Fisher can continue to play left tackle.

19. Cleveland Browns
Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

Armstead is a raw athlete who would fit in as a 3-4 DE here and has the potential to be a wrecking crew if he develops. With the Kruger-Mingo pairing, the Browns don’t need edge guys so much as guys who can penetrate the interior and/or tie up blockers there.

20. Philadelphia Eagles
Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon

Fisher isn’t generally mocked this highly (and everyone has had the idea to mock Oregon players to Chip Kelly), but I saw Cian Fahey’s mock draft earlier this week that listed him at #13. I finally got started with film work on Fisher, and while I’m not so sure about his power, his athleticism and ability to get to the second level are astounding. Kelly loves athletic linemen– think Lane Johnson #4 overall– and Fisher would immediately fill one of the guard spots vacated by the released Todd Herremans or the rumored-to-be-shopped Evan Mathis, with the possibility that some day after Jason Peters is old and gone, Fisher and Johnson can form the bookend of the Eagles’ offensive line.

21. Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa

Scherff is a guy I have some questions about being able to play left tackle, but Cincinnati could use an upgrade anywhere on the line. Maybe he beats out the just-re-signed Clint Boling at guard. With rumors the Bengals will release Andre Smith flying, Scherff could start there right away. If he can play left tackle, Andrew Whitworth is 33 and probably won’t be able to much longer. Anyway, this is a good value pick for the talent and the Bengals like building that way even when the player they take doesn’t fill an immediate need.

22. Pittsburgh Steelers
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

Heath Miller is a reliable red-zone target but he’s old. Antonio Brown is a true #1 do-it-all receiver, and Martavis Bryant is, I believe, going to grow into a tremendous outside player. Williams gives this team one thing they’re currently lacking on offense, a true seam-splitter.

23. Detroit Lions
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

This one’s easy. Detroit lost Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in free agency. Here is a replacement defensive tackle.

24. Arizona Cardinals
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona

Arizona would seem to be set at receiver, but Larry Fitzgerald turns 32 before the season starts, Michael Floyd had a disappointing second year, and John Brown is basically the exact opposite kind of receiver as Strong. I’m not saying Strong can replace Fitzgerald, but he’s a big target with sure hands who uses his size and leaping ability to win difficult, contested catches. Now if only the Cardinals had a quarterback.

25. Carolina Panthers
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

Every mock I’ve seen has the Panthers taking an offensive lineman or a wide receiver. Let’s not overlook that, hey, their secondary is crap, too. We haven’t finished up work on Johnson, but some voices I respect are calling him the best cornerback in the draft. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but the first round is eminently reasonable.

26. Baltimore Ravens
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

Baltimore tends to use those early picks on impact players at major schools. Waynes was arguably the best player on a great defense, and given Baltimore’s health problems at cornerback, he makes perfect sense. On the other hand, Baltimore now becomes the “Live by DPI, Die by DPI” team.

27. Dallas Cowboys
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri

Dorial Green-Beckham has substance abuse concerns. Dallas welcomed Josh Brent back with open arms.

Dorian Green-Beckham reportedly forced his way into a woman’s home and pushed her down a flight of stairs. Dallas just signed Greg Hardy.

I think Jerry Jones is going to remember what happened the last time he took a chance on a big-time receiver talent with character questions. (I also think he’s going to remember that that guy is due something like $15 million a year, very soon.)

28. Denver Broncos
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa

Davis is a prospect whose lack of buzz I don’t understand. He moves very well on the field, both horizontally and vertically; he has a full array of pass-rush moves, and he was frequently in the backfield disrupting plays at Iowa. He’s not quite the same kind of player as the departed Terrance Knighton, but he can add an interior pass rush; guys with Davis’ agility at his size are rare.

29. Indianapolis Colts
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

While it’s not fully clear where Thompson will play, he’s a hyper-athletic playmaker. The Colts could use him as ILB, an OLB, or even a safety on passing downs. The Colts need more playmakers on defense; now they have one more.

30. Green Bay Packers
Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford

An active, aggressive player up front who frequently disrupts plays. I’ve seen him all over the board on various draftnik rankings, but we like him and we think he could help the front seven, and even let B.J. Raji go back to playing a nose tackle.

31. New Orleans Saints (from Seattle)
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

I think this is the perfect landing spot for him. Sean Payton is not only the guy who recognized Drew Brees’ franchise talent when he was a free agent, he’s the guy who recognized Tony Romo’s talent at Eastern Illinois and groomed him into the QB he is today. Hundley has massive talent– enough to keep him a productive winner in 40 starts at UCLA despite iffy offensive support– but he lacks a lot of refinement in the finer points of the game. Here, he’d be on the Aaron Rodgers track: He can sit for at least a year– and more likely two or three– while he refines or even overhauls the parts of his game that need work. When Brees finally moseys on to Elysium, Hundley will be ready to take over, and the Second Payton Era will be underway.

32. New England Patriots
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

This is a bit high for him, in my opinion, because Phillips is a little inconsistent– he’s athletic and flashes some disruptive ability, but too often plays high and is shut down by a single blocker. He’s still young, though, so there’s room to improve, and his size will allow him to start taking some of Vince Wilfork’s snaps.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Disappointments? What picks would you like to see that no one else is talking about?

Scouting Jameis Winston

With the combine behind us, it’s time to start taking a deep look at prospects.¬†Quarterbacks always generate the most chatter, as they usually result in the biggest boom or bust outcomes. Everyone has an opinion on each specific individual, whether or not it is informed. This year, the highest profile quarterback is none other than Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

Continue reading

The Top 42 Prospects, Part 2

Whoa. The last column took long enough that I had to break it off after #23. On top of that, yesterday was a totally bonkers day in the NFL, as free agency officially opened and multiple big trades went down within minutes of one another.

I’ll write up my thoughts on those trades soon, but for now, here is the remainder of the first set of player rankings I promised:

Group V: Late 1st / Early 2nd

24. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
The big man (315 pounds) has a surprisingly impressive combination of burst, moves, and ability to rush the passer upfield. Consistency is a concern, and I’ll have to see more film to decide what I think of him as an every-down player, but the potential for an interior disrupter here is high.

25. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Hundley is one I’m really torn about. My guys like him. Draft Twitter is low on him. I’m not sure how to reconcile the seeming flaws / lack of development in his game, with the fact he managed to post pretty terrific, and steadily improving, numbers in three years as a starter, without much in the way of surrounding talent. 40 college starts with a 67% completion rate is hard to ignore when matched with the kind of arm and athletic talent Hundley has.

26. Henry Anderson, DT/DE, Stanford
Another one I haven’t done much work on, but what work I have done suggests a guy who can be a serious playmaker from the inside as well, at either a 3- or 5-technique. (Other draft experts rate him even higher than this.)

27. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
A three-down playmaker whom certain draft analysts I respect are really high on. We haven’t gotten to much linebacker film yet; I’d like to know more before forming a precise opinion.

28. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami-FL
I’m not so sold on Flowers’ ability to play left tackle; I don’t think he possesses the quickness for that. That said, he is very strong and engages well, generally shutting down rushers when he gets his hands on them. I think he could start at right tackle from day one.

29. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
Don’t have much of an opinion on Brown yet but this is about right given the buzz I’m hearing. Athletic large men never fall too far.

30. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, EDGE, UCLA
Some injury history in his past, but wins with power and speed. Probably most suited as a 4-3 DE. vix wrote an article about him during the season.

31. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
Agholor does everything well– tight routes, very good acceleration and speed, attacks the football well. Really surprised other sites have him as a round 2-3 guy. If he were 3 inches taller he’d be a top-10 pick.

32. Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
Love his athleticism, tons of size and speed. Technique still a little raw, but certainly meets the NFL requirements for the position.

33. Eddie Goldman, NT, Florida State
Another guy I haven’t had a chance to do much work on and I’ve seen all over the boards. I know someone who thinks he’s nothing special. I know someone else who mocked him in the top 5. He’s huge, and even the ability to occupy lots of blockers has value.

34. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
Another aggressive disruptor in the middle. I have to watch more film on him– it’s possible opponents were overly focused on Joey Bosa– but at least one of our writers really likes him.

35. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
Don’t let the Combine times fool you, Dawson is an aggressive, instinctive playmaker whose reaction speed makes up for a lack of track speed.

36. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
Young and ridiculously athletic, Williams still has some refinement to undergo but the raw talent that’s there makes him the best tight end in this draft by far. You’ve probably seen this by now.

37. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Coates’ upside is so high, but his hands are inconsistent. Ordinarily I hate receivers who can’t catch, but I don’t think Coates fits this bill, as he has made a number of difficult, contested catches that suggest the ability to become more consistent is there. With some work on his form, he could become a real terror.

38. Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
As far as we can tell, Smith only does one thing– run vertical routes– but he does it extremely well, with serious football speed and ability to get open, and perhaps even more importantly, he’s got terrific ability to track the ball in the air and fight for it at the catch point.
He could be a top-20 pick if he were a more well-rounded receiver. But just what he can add as a reliable deep threat is enough to rank him here.

39. Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
“Tight end” designation is almost a formality at this point. Honestly, Funchess’ ranking involves a lot of projection: He’s young and has fantastic size. His Combine was a little disappointing, though, and he needs a lot of work. I haven’t done enough film study on him to be confident in my evaluation yet.

40. Cameron Erving, C, Florida State
We didn’t like his offensive tackle film at all, but he may well be the best center in the draft.

41. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
Another guy who’s risen up most draft boards because his Combine numbers made people go look at his film again. Anthony first jumped out to us while watching Vic Beasley’s tape, and studying him closer confirms his playmaking ability and the athleticism he displayed at the Combine as legit.

42. D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
Humphries is young, having just turned 21 in December, and I believe most talk about him as a first-round pick factors in the idea that he has a lot of growth ahead of him. Now, there’s some reason to suspect that’s true: He went from a playing weight of 284 during the season to 307 at the Combine without any seeming loss of agility. I believe ranking him higher than this requires projecting physical growth, and while I was willing to do that to a certain point, I couldn’t combine my projections for him with his film work to rate him a first-rounder. Still a quality prospect worth taking a chance on, though.

Well, that’s where we are for now. We still have a long way to go, so we’re going back to the film room for a little while.

First round of evaluations: Top 42 Prospects

We’re still relatively early in our film-watching process, two months before the draft, but between our work and what we read by other terrific experts in the field (if you want a list, this is a pretty good start), I felt it was time to stoke the fires of reader interest a bit by publishing a rankings list.

Two things about our rankings:

1)If you don’t see a player you like, chances are we simply haven’t watched enough of him to be confident in assigning a grade. In fact, I’m not fully confident in all of these grades, but it’s a solid reflection of who we feel is at the top of the draft right now, based on our current research. (I even thought about assigning each ranking a confidence grade, but that turned out to be more work than I cared for.)

2)The “tiers” I rank players by tend to vary year to year, except at the very top. What I generally mean is that players within a tier are roughly equal overall or close to it; I change tiers when I perceive a drop in quality. So, for example, if I thought there were measurable drops at, say, 25 and 40, that tier would be “Late 1st / Early 2nd.” But if the drops were at 20 and 30, I would call it “Late 1st,” even though the prospects might have the same grade as the other tier. (In this way, the tiers are in part a reflection of the level of talent in a given draft.)

If you’re a quick study, you may have surmised from this paragraph that the reason the list stops at 42 is because that’s where a tier breaks off. You’d be right! Without further ado, the list…

Group 0: Elite Prospects

Last year we had a grouping of “Elite” prospects. Elite prospects are the kinds whose gifts are rare and don’t come around every year, sometimes even less frequently than that. Last year had Jadeveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater (and, arguably, Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins, who were both graded top-5 picks in the end by us). This draft has no one that transcendent, but it does have a lot of talent.

 

Group I: Top-5 Prospects

1. Leonard Williams, DT/DE, USC
While he may not have the top-line explosiveness NFL teams prefer, Williams moves very well for his size and is capable of being very disruptive regardless. Watch USC’s game against Cal to see what kind of a destructive, unblockable force he can be.

2. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
On-field evaluation only. I make no promises as to whether Winston can stay out of legal trouble (or avoid doing awful things off the field, even if he isn’t held legally accountable for them).

Winston is not a perfect prospect by any means, in particular plagued by spurts of incomprehensible decision-making. But he is still a very good QB prospect. Eli Manning is the most common comparison I’ve heard, and it makes sense: Like Manning, Winston combines the talent for the game and the cool head under pressure (Winston’s numbers suggest he actually improves as the game goes on) with the occasional baffling decision that results in an easily-avoided turnover. Eli Manning isn’t an elite talent, but he’s a guy who’s played QB at a roughly Pro Bowl level for 10 years; if you can get that #1 overall, you take it and you’re happy with it.

The mental game of quarterbacking is huge, and to me, Winston seems like a natural fit with strong instincts in that regard. Most of his mistakes are borne from him trying to do too much rather than not being able to do enough; you’re taking a bit of a chance on his decision-making process improving, but that’s true of every QB prospect, and it’s also true that the best QB prospects do improve with time in that regard. (Peyton Manning, after all, threw 28 interceptions as a rookie.)

3. Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
I love White’s game. I’m a sucker for big, strong receivers with sure hands who can win contested catches. (I really enjoyed watching Marc Trestman’s Chicago Bears for that reason– Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery are two of the best at that.) I already had White over Amari Cooper before the Combine, but it was close; when White ran a sub-4.4 40 (and Cooper didn’t) that sealed it for me. If White has the speed to match his ball skills, strength, and size, he could develop into an All-Pro player.

 

Group II: Top-10 Prospects

4. La’el Collins, OT, LSU
I think he’s the most complete tackle in this draft and he can play left tackle at the next level. Great power in the run game, finishes his blocks well. Not a guy who looks like the smoothest or quickest in pass protection– but somehow, he just always manages to stonewall his man. (And I do believe he’s quick enough for the next level.)

5. Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida
Fowler is one of the most well-rounded edge prospects in this draft; he can win with speed around the edge, strength, and a wide range of moves. He’s versatile, capable of lining up all over the formation, and flashes a few “wow” moments on film where he looks like the best player by a good margin. Not great against the run, but that’s a minor point with all he does so well.

I’ve heard talk that Fowler has a low ceiling, but he’s a very young prospect– he won’t even turn 21 until the preseason– and that leads me to believe he still has room to grow. Perhaps he already has his complete array of moves, but it’s possible he gets a little bigger, stronger, or faster as well, and that could make a real difference.

6. Vic Beasley, EDGE, Clemson
Beasley’s 2013 film had us ranking him as a late 1st prospect at best. A wise decision to return to school: Beasley’s tape is not perfect, but the best parts show a dominant burst and natural bend around the corner, easily the best of anyone in this class. He has great awareness as well, often sticking with a play to finish it or chase it down from behind.

The biggest question with Beasley is whether or not the added weight and strength he displayed at the Combine will translate on the field. Has he added functional power? Can he add weight without losing his burst? His Combine numbers seem to say “Yes,” but until we see how it translates on the field, it’s still a question. He still ranks this high because even if the added weight hinders him, he can drop it and get back to being nasty.

7. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota is a a project. He’s got a ton of talent and a great work ethic, but he also hasn’t been asked to do a number of things he’ll have to do to succeed in the NFL. His ceiling could potentially be higher than Winston’s if he learns to do those things, but it’s also possible he ends up being a more talented Alex Smith– which isn’t necessarily a bad player, one you can win with if you have a solid defense and a coach who will tailor the offense to his skills, but when you take a QB high you hope for him to transcend the system, rather than require a system.

 

Group III: Top half of 1st

8. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
My biggest concern with Cooper going into 2014 was his hands, and he seems to have significantly improved in that regard. He does everything well but doesn’t dominate in any one area, which is why I have concerns that he may have a lower ceiling than I’d want from a prospect I drafted this highly. Still, it’s hard to imagine him completely failing.

9. Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska
Gregory’s been highly ranked by most draft outlets, but buyer beware, as this is in large part projection. Gregory has the kind of length and build that could make for a natural rusher around the edge– he tested well at the Combine in terms of speed numbers, too– but he’s still rather light, still needs to learn a fuller array of moves, and wasn’t nearly as productive a pass rusher in college as you’d like to see from a great prospect. He’s athletic and holds up well in the run game, which makes him unlikely to be a bust, but he has a lot to learn to match the ceiling that had others rating him as the top edge prospect.

10. Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky
Dupree is a bit of a project as well, but I already see more from him, both in terms of the tape overall and in growth. (Dupree’s tape later in the season is significantly better than early in the season, an encouraging sign when projecting a prospect’s development.) He’s a shade below the athlete Fowler is, and may not quite have his natural bend or moves, but he’s still strong, he still has very good functional speed (both in burst and in closing), and a high motor. Kentucky used him in coverage more than I thought they should, but I think he can be a wrecking ball in the front seven.

11. DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
There’s a lot to like about Parker: He’s got great size and hands, he’s fast, he goes up for the ball well. Occasionally he doesn’t use his size to the best of his ability, and that’s part of the concern with him, along with a series of injuries in college. Not quite as good as Kevin White, but still clearly a top-three receiver in this class.

12. Shane Ray, EDGE, Missouri
Ray didn’t work out at the Combine, so many sites have moved him even lower than this until his Pro Day. I didn’t want to overreact yet, but this data will be important to projecting his standing among the other edge rushers. Ray has good burst, good closing/chasing speed, but he’s not quite as fast or fluid as Beasley, and I’m not sure yet about how many different ways he can “win” on a pass rush.

 

Group IV: Bottom Half of 1st

13. Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
Shelton played a ton of snaps for Washington last year, and part of the reason teams are projecting him highly is because he can be dominant in a reduced workload. At the same time, that’s why I have him in this group and not the one above it, because I drop him down for not being at his best as an every-down player.

14. Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
Peters certainly has the best tape of any cornerback in this class. As the character concerns surrounding him increasingly seem to be overblown and not a serious issue, the tape comes to the forefront. He didn’t run as fast as Trae Waynes, but the tape still tells the difference. Peters is a true press-man corner with great ball skills and instincts, and is a sure tackler to boot (well, for a cornerback, at least).

15. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
Peat has the best “left tackle body” of anyone in the draft. He’s got length, he’s got the build for the position, and he’s got very quick feet capable of big strides– he can get into his pass set faster, and further back, than anyone else in this draft. The problem is what happens once he’s there: He’s still very inconsistent with his form, with his punch, with staying engaged with blocks. The raw material is too tempting, though, especially as he does show the ability to dominate at times– it’s not a complete projection.

16. Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
I’ve seen other evaluators have concerns about Strong, and I need to take a more full look at his tape, but what I see from him is the stuff that I really like in a receiver and that I think will translate at the next level– great size and leaping ability, terrific hands, attacks the catch point well. His game needs refining, but he does the most important things well already.

17. Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
It’s not entirely clear where Thompson will play on the field– part linebacker, part safety, he’s a player with tremendous speed and instincts but who doesn’t fit into a typical box. A creative defensive coach who knows how to get the most out of unconventional talent will love him.

18. Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
Collins is a versatile all-around safety and the clear best prospect in this draft at the position. Sorry I don’t have much to add beyond that.

19. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Ogbuehi tore his ACL at the Liberty Bowl, but even if he’s not ready in time for the season, he’s another natural left tackle who should be able to play at a high level. He’d be higher if he hadn’t injured his knee, but he’s expected to make a full and clean recovery, and long-term, he’s still worthy of a first-round pick.

20. Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa
Scherff is lowest of this bunch because I have the most concerns about him being able to play outside at the next level. He could be a terrific guard, but I still prioritize the length and athleticism needed to play NFL tackle first.

21. Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Blazing speed is a huge asset for this former track star.  Biggest concern is that his physical style of play might not translate well to the NFL; in other words, he might get flagged for DPI, a lot.

22. Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri / Oklahoma
DGB is crazy talented, but his off-field concerns are going to scare a lot of teams. Marijuana arrests may not be a big deal, but a domestic altercation with a woman is going to have teams thinking hard, especially given the NFL’s increased focus on domestic violence. The fact that he hasn’t been on the field in a year will give teams pause, as well. One guy who could have top-five talent when it’s all said and done, but has so many risks surrounding him right now that it’s difficult to rate him that highly. This seems about right based on talent; not playing a year definitely affects his stock.

23. Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
Speaking of a player who should have gone top-5: Instead, the NCAA’s odious “amateurism” rules suspended him for four games, and he promptly tore an ACL upon return (one wonders if that would have happened had Gurley been allowed to play for the previous month). He’s expected to recover fully, though, and Gurley provides a devastating combination of obvious size and power with a quickness and balance you’d hope to find in a running back 30 pounds lighter, not to mention his vision and patience.

 

OK. I lied about going to 42 today. I’m already at 2500 words. I need a break, but I’ll come back later and post Group V.