Explaining some changes on our Big Board

This will most likely be the last update on our Big Board before the draft (unless something drastic happens before then– discovering a heretofore unknown prospect, or a major piece of news lowering someone’s stock, for example). As such, I feel fairly comfortable with the final decisions we’ve made. Thus, I’d like to explain the ones that don’t seem to jive with popular opinion, and why we settled on the decisions we did.

We’ll start with what probably stands out the most right now, our edge-rusher rankings…

Dante Fowler at 22, a tier behind Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Preston Smith

This one is simple, though oddly controversial. When evaluating edge players, one of our top priorities is: Can he provide pass rush around the corner? Other skills are secondary to this. (That’s why Vic Beasley is our #1 EDGE and Randy Gregory, despite his rawness and potential to smoke his way out of the league, is our #2. More on this in a second.) While Fowler does many things well, is explosive, versatile, and an effective blitzer, he isn’t really a top-quality pass-rushing prospect. On film, he doesn’t show much ability to get around the corner, with a lack of bend and ability to turn while maintaining speed confirmed by his 7.40 3-cone time. Fowler only had 5.5 sacks in the regular season (before three in his bowl game), and a significant number of those came on blitzes. I think Fowler is a guy whose athleticism doesn’t necessarily translate into production. (While you can say the same thing about Bud Dupree, Dupree’s athleticism is off the charts compared to Fowler’s, and even with a similarly poor 3-cone time, Dupree’s other athletic measurements are still good enough to qualify him as one of Justis Mosqueada’s Force Players.)

And speaking of Force Players, Smith and Odighizuwa both qualify. That shows up on film, too: Odighizuwa has some hip problems, but he does a great job converting strength to power and with his bull rush. Meanwhile, Smith is larger than a traditional edge rusher, but he also projects as someone who can move all across the formation, a la Michael Bennett (the current Seahawk, not the Ohio State prospect), and still be effective.

I don’t think those two are necessarily elite prospects– hence why they’re only #4 and #5 on my edge-rusher board. But their ability to rush the passer makes them worthy first-round picks, certainly compared to an edge player I have significant questions about on that point.

Brett Hundley #15 and Dorial Green-Beckham #16

Here’s something to think about: The number of prospects with the talent to be a top-flight NFL player at his position (or, at least, at the quarterback position, a reliable enough guy to be a long-term starter) are rare. (That’s also why we have Todd Gurley so high despite his ACL tear, though that one seems much less controversial.)

Dorial Green-Beckham hasn’t played football in over a year and has some serious questions surrounding his off-field behavior. Nobody denies this. (The domestic violence is much more troubling than the cannabis, certainly.) At the same time, nobody denies that he has the talent to be the best receiver in the league someday.

I’m not in the position where I can adequately assess how risky Green-Beckham’s off-field problems are going forward. To that end, I can’t gauge how they will affect his status as a prospect beyond some vague sense that I should downgrade him. That said, I also believe if he hadn’t been kicked out of school for the off-field incidents, and if he had played football last season, he’d be the #1 prospect in this draft and would go off the board in the first three selections. This ranking attempts to reflect that level of talent, combined with the questions surrounding any prospect who sat out a year and may have had his development stunted.

Brett Hundley does not have those off-field problems, but he has people asking similar questions about his game. Thing is, many of the criticisms I’ve heard don’t seem to stand up to much scrutiny. I hear Hundley is an inaccurate quarterback who makes predetermined throws, who can’t read defenses, who drops his eyes too readily, who has no pocket presence and takes off running at the first sign of pressure, then I watch plays like the ones I just linked.

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Sure, Hundley needs to do those things more consistently. But if the argument is that he can’t do those things, plays like these dispel that notion.

Hundley certainly needs refinement to be a successful NFL quarterback, but that’s true of every prospect in this draft. Jameis Winston needs to learn to read underneath coverage and to learn what kind of windows he can and cannot make throws into. Marcus Mariota needs to fix his mechanics, develop more consistent accuracy, and learn to adapt his play in the moment (which may not be possible). Hundley can do many things at an extremely high level, he just has to learn to do them more consistently, and un-learn any bad habits he may have picked up at UCLA.

Reports are that the coaching staff didn’t allow him freedom to audible; it’s possible that his penchant for running was developed from having to deal with plays he knew were broken. Watching UCLA’s film, it’s clear Hundley often had to run for the sheer reason that the offensive line could not block for him consistently. It’s also clear that the coaches did not adjust their route combinations as they should have to provide Hundley with more ways to get the ball out quickly.

Take a look at how few other offensive prospects UCLA has for this year’s draft, and how they’re rated. Last year, the only drafted players from UCLA’s offense were Xavier Su’a-Filo and Shaq Evans, neither of whom made any sort of impact this past season (we gave Evans a “7th/PFA” grade last year, but the Jets took him in the fourth round anyway).

It’s possible Hundley’s struggles were due to overcompensating for a lack of surrounding talent and a lack of faith shown by the coaching staff. (If you think that’s a bad sign for Hundley, remember that Jim Mora Jr. got the Atlanta Falcons job and immediately tried to turn Michael Vick into a high-accuracy, short-yardage West Coast pocket passer.) While I don’t believe you can cite statistics readily when discussing college players, I do believe they can tell you more about a prospect than people want to believe, given the right context. Hundley’s numbers over three seasons, 40 starts, in a Power 5 conference, and with not a lot of supporting talent on hand to help him are pretty damn good, even we look at only his passing numbers and ignore his prodigious rushing talent:

Brett Hundley college passing statistics

Hundley went 29-11 in those 40 starts as well; he wasn’t inflating his numbers in garbage time. And not only were those numbers very good, they continued to improve in his time at UCLA. (If the touchdown totals seem low, consider his lack of receiving talent and his 30 rushing touchdowns as mitigating.)

It’s the Cam Newton argument: If one player has the talent to carry your team this far despite a weak supporting cast, he has the talent for the NFL. (Hundley didn’t carry UCLA nearly as far as Newton carried Auburn, but I’m also not arguing he should be taken #1 overall.)

All of our scouts who have watched Hundley in detail agree that he’s being underrated by the consensus at large and is worth a first-round pick on Thursday. We’re not the only ones; Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio has Hundley ahead of Marcus Mariota as his #2 QB, having done extensive work writing about, discussing, and analyzing Hundley. (I must tip my hat to him for turning me on to that collection of plays I linked earlier.)

We think both Dorial Green-Beckham and Brett Hundley have much more potential as players than most of the draft community seems to think.

Shaq Thompson as a third-rounder

Okay, I couldn’t think of anything else too controversial (many of our other discrepancies are because we rank raw, unproven prospects like Arik Armstead and Breshad Perriman lower than they will likely go). Considering where Thompson started the draft process ranked, this seems like a good choice.

I didn’t really know in my heart where I regarded Thompson until our Twitter mock draft, where, despite having him listed in the early-to-mid second round on the Big Board, neither of us could pull the trigger until midway through the third. He scares me a bit; he’s too small for linebacker and not athletic enough for safety. He has good instincts, but I have serious questions about his capacity to find a fit in an NFL defense. A creative coach might be able to make the most of him, but he doesn’t have the kind of blow-you-away athleticism that he would need to justify regarding him highly.

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Zone Reads Twitter Mock

Last night, vix and I mocked the first two rounds of the draft on Twitter, alternating picks. As a bonus for website readers and forum viewers, we did a third round privately.

Here’s the thread with the picks and discussion. Feel free to discuss either here or there.

If you’d like to see the Twitter conversation with the original picks, you can find it here.

The Mountain: Carl Davis

The most consistent thing I hear about Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis is that his tape is inconsistent. Now, I am not calling these draft experts liars; they have more game tapes to watch and more knowledge of the game than myself. I can only go off of what I see, but what I see tells a different story. Draft Breakdown only has two games for Davis from 2014: Nebraska and Indiana. He completely dominates both of these contests. The other chance I had to watch Davis was through NFL Network’s coverage of the Senior Bowl practices. He was named the Most Outstanding Practice Player of the Week by a panel of NFL scouts: Not among defensive lineman; I mean out of every player at the Senior Bowl.

Let’s look at those two games.

Nebraska

We’ll start with a couple of his poorest plays of this game, because they happen right at the beginning. On the first defensive play for Iowa, Davis faces an immediate double team from the center and guard. The guard is able to continue moving Davis away from the point of attack after the center peels off. Nebraska gets a good seven yards on first down behind this block.

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We see a similar outcome two plays later.

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The remainder of this game is essentially a highlight reel with Davis asserting his dominance.

Using a spin move from the inside is generally a bad idea– where can you go with it? It isn’t a play you want a habit of going to, but having it in your repertoire is a good thing. Davis’ spin move here leads to a turnover (and touchdown).

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On the very next play, he swims right around the same guard.

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I also want to bring some attention to this play to the right:

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and this play to the left:

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What do I see on those plays? I see a 320-pound player getting quickly to the outside in both directions.

You hear a lot of talk about ‘stiff hips’ in the draft community. For a guy this big, Davis has remarkable bio-mechanics. Watch how quickly he explodes towards his right on this play and creates a huge lane for his fellow defensive tackle.

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I haven’t even mentioned his strength yet. On this play, he shoves the center four yards behind the line of scrimmage. So much for any cutback lanes.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=RectangularNaughtyGalapagosdove

He ends that drive in a hurry, and for the cherry on top, he blocks the field goal attempt.

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The last two plays I will show you are among his best in the game. First on a run play, he blows the right guard backwards, and reaches his arm out to bring down the runner for a loss.

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Now, on this pass play, all I can think is how rare it is for a man the size of Davis to come bearing down on the quarterback with such closing speed.

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The game continues into overtime. By no means was he finished putting his mark on the game. In fact, I left out a number of quality plays from this one. Watch all of it and you’ll see even more dominance.

Indiana

Carl Davis wastes no time making an impact against Indiana. Here we see him lined up shading the center, but at the snap he gets completely across the right guard with one swim move. That’s crazy. That pressure forces a bad pass:

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A few plays later he whips around the center with a right swim to get pressure up the middle:

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And then on this play, lined up in a 3-technique, he stunts around towards the right tackle, literally smacks him out of the way, and eats the quarterback for lunch.

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That is my favorite play from Davis, no contest.

The center must know he is defeated on this play as soon as the ball is snapped, right? Davis is too strong at the point of attack:

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Now, this game wasn’t perfect, either. I showed Nebraska successfully double-teaming Davis a few times. In this game, Indiana seals Davis off here from a similar pre-snap alignment by effectively trapping him with the guard:

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They botch the play afterwards, of course.

Late in the game, Davis turns his back to the play on 3rd-and-short, and I assign him the blame for these points. A spin move can work occasionally on passing downs. Against the run, there’s no excuse: Do not turn from the play. Davis’ spin move turns his back to the play, and Tevin Coleman runs right past him:

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=255799&gif=CavernousDeterminedDonkey

The Wrap

Based exclusively on what I’ve seen from Carl Davis, he’s the best defensive tackle in this draft class. I watched the Senior Bowl practices with him and Danny Shelton. While Shelton was no slouch himself, it was clear to me that Davis was the more impressive player that week.

Does this mean Davis is a better prospect? Not necessarily. I continue to read and hear about Davis’ inconsistent tape from the draft community. Having not seen anything from 2014 beyond what I have described, I cannot offer any opinion. What I have seen was a mostly dominant interior force who was consistently effective enough for my needs. At minimum, I know he’s capable of playing at a very high level: You don’t accidentally play as well as he did in these two games. I really want to see more of his 2014 tape before the draft.

Team Mock Draft: New Orleans Saints

I thought I’d do a few of these while it occurred to me. I don’t know how many I’ll finish by draft time, but based on our rankings and projections, these are drafts that I think match a team’s needs well with the expected talent available at each position. (I’ve also included some other possible selections for the Day One and Two picks, in case the player I mentioned is already gone or that need has been filled.)

I’ll start with my favorite team, the New Orleans Saints.

Round 1, Pick 13
Bud Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky

I expect Dupree to be the last of the “big four” (I do not count Shane Ray among that group anymore) edge guys available at this point. That makes him a good value here and an obvious selection for a team hurting on defense.

Possible Alternatives: Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska; DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville; Marcus Peters, CB, Washington

Round 1, Pick 31
Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

You can see my reasoning in the previous mock draft I wrote. Hundley would be allowed to sit until he was ready, and in an ideal situation as well. If the Saints don’t think their quarterback of the future is here, though, several potential options remain:

Possible Alternatives: Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA; Nelson Agholor, WR, USC; Owamagbe Odhigizuwa, EDGE, UCLA; Carl Davis, DT, Iowa; Henry Anderson, DE/DT, Stanford

Round 2, Pick 44
Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State

I think Smith’s elite deep game is going to offer the Saints offense a major factor it lacks after the Kenny Stills trade. I think Smith can be even better than Stills as a deep threat; I also think he’ll develop into a well-rounded-enough receiver to justify the pick here. If he’s gone, Sammie Coates and Phillip Dorsett offer alternatives.

Possible Alternatives: Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson; Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State; Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest; Eli Harold, EDGE, Virginia; Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

Round 3, Pick 75
Ali Marpet, G, Hobart

“Athletic small-school lineman” is a prototype that’s worked well for the Saints in the past: Bloomsburg’s Jahri Evans and Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s Terron Armstead currently anchor down crucial positions on the offensive line. Marpet could slide right in to replace the departed Ben Grubbs.

Round 3, Pick 78
Paul Dawson, LB, TCU

An instinctive playmaker on film who isn’t as fast or fluid as you’d like, Dawson slipped down some boards after poor speed times at the Combine. He’d likely be available here, where he’d represent good value.

Possible Alternatives (Picks 75 and 78): Tre McBride, WR, William and Mary; Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State; Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson; Tre Jackson, G, Florida State; Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke; Dayrl Williams, OT, Oklahoma; Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB/S, Oregon; Eric Rowe, CB/S, Utah; Clive Walford, TE, Miami-FL

Round 5, Pick 148
Kenny Bell, WR, Nebraska

A Matt Waldman favorite, Bell compares in many ways to the Saints’ departed 2013 fifth-rounder, Kenny Stills. Similarly, Bell could start off in a limited role in year one before expanding to be a bigger part of the offense. (I’m assuming Marques Colston and Nick Toon don’t stay on the roster past 2015, and the jury is out on late-season pickup Jalen Saunders.)

Round 5, Pick 154
Derrick Lott, DT, Tennessee-Chattanooga

Lott is one of my favorite small-school prospects in this draft, a defensive tackle who crushes film and whose combine measurements stack up to that performance. (A 7.30 three-cone time at 314 pounds is crazy!) The middle of the Saints’ defense has been questionable, despite the resources spent on Akiem Hicks, John Jenkins, and Broderick Bunkley. Lott adds a player who can be an aggressive part of a rotation early on until he’s ready for a bigger role.

In addition to these two players, the Saints may strongly consider a candidate for slot cornerback– Lorenzo Doss, Quandre Diggs, Senquez Golson, Bobby McCain, or Bryce Callahan are all viable options.

Round 6, Pick 186
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State

The Bowling Ball Bulldog has been seriously underrated nationally– I have him as a high fourth-rounder; I project him in the sixth here because that’s closer to where most rankings have him. If the Saints are looking for a thumping clock-killer who breaks every tackle possible, Robinson is a guy who could make moving on from Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson very easy.

Round 7, Pick 230
Alani Fua, LB, BYU

A linebacker whose versatility will be a selling point for Rob Ryan, and whose agility and athleticism will probably allow him to be a valuable special-teams contributor right away.