I’ve heard a lot of chatter about the “USC receiver curse” in recent years. how highly-regarded receivers from the school have struggled at the NFL level. With Nelson Agholor being talked about as though he was struggling to adapt, and JuJu Smith-Schuster potentially a high draft selection next year, I decided to do a little research to see if this idea had any merit.
At the end of part 3, I said I’d attempt to address why teams don’t examine their processes more closely, why they don’t try to refine or improve them. I think the answer comes down to how decisions are made in the NFL.
I think the NFL has a corporate culture that incentivizes not making waves and not going off the beaten path.
I’ve made notes throughout the first few parts of this mega-post regarding players who fell in the draft despite their obvious talent, notes that said I would address in part 3.
Well, I apologize. Part 3 ran over 4500 words, so I broke it into two parts as well. This will be a four-part post.
In both previous sections, I highlighted players and factors that I think speak to why the NFL struggles to master the draft. I wanted to delve into those factors in detail, and perhaps more importantly, attempt to answer the question of why this continues to happen. Here’s how I see it, in short: Teams worry about the wrong things and have too many incentives against changing.
I was quite excited for what the Cleveland Browns might do in this year’s draft. I watched a lot more baseball in the 1990s and 2000s, and was well aware of (and paid close attention to) Billy Beane’s work with the Oakland A’s. (I also haven’t forgotten how old-school scouts derided it as nerd nonsense by people who had never played the game and didn’t understand the arcane complexities of their sport. That’ll come up later.)
As someone who believes the NFL, both on a league-wide and on the individual team level, is in many ways run by backward, ossified processes that seem to have all the scientific rigor of bloodletting or the Ptolemaic system, I was intrigued by the thought of a team applying real analysis and big data to their front-office processes. This draft was the first chance to see the new front office in action.
So it turns out I have a lot more to say about this year’s NFL Draft than I thought I did. In my first draft of this article, this was my opening paragraph:
When enough is said before the draft– and I’ve been saying a lot, at least on Twitter if not on the blog– there’s not much to say afterward. Just a collection of observations from me, some about certain teams or their executives, others about general trends:
Well, once I started writing, I couldn’t stop. By the time I got somewhere north of six thousand words, I decided I was going to need to break up my draft posting into multiple entries, to cover the several major topics I intended to cover.
Part 2 will be a deeper look at the Cleveland Browns draft and the idea of analytics in football. Part 3 will be some thoughts on the NFL’s processes as a whole. For part 1, here are some observations I made about a handful of teams’ drafts.
Owners of professional sports teams have a lot of responsibility when it comes to the success of their franchise. They are the ones putting up massive sums of money in an attempt to generate profit, but they also control the direction of personnel hirings. Much can be said about terrible owners in other sports, such as James Dolan of the Knicks, who can’t seem to get over his love affair with Isaiah Thomas. However, Dolan at least supports his team and his city and wants the best for them. Recent events have revealed an NFL owner who does not display this courtesy, in addition to ineptitude.
With the Saints struggling to the finish line in a dismal 2015, and the impending end of the Drew Brees era, I thought about going back and looking at how the team got to this point, what went wrong, and what they could have done differently (and can do differently in the future).
I decided some weeks ago to choose their performance in the draft to examine for this purpose, but only now have had the time to collect the necessary data for this article. Even though Mickey Loomis has been GM of the team since 2002, I decided to start with the arrival of Sean Payton and Drew Brees in 2006, because of Payton’s strong input on the personnel side of the ball. I then decided to review the drafts from that point on through 2014.
The reason I’m not reviewing 2015 is largely because, after the 2014 draft was such an obvious disaster, the team fired longtime Director of College Scouting Rick Reprish, and most of the college scouting department. So far, the improvement has been immediately obvious, with Stephone Anthony and Hau’oli Kikaha already being impact players in the linebacker crew, and Delvin Breaux, Damian Swann, Tyeler Davison, and Bobby Richardson all have contributed to one degree or another, with Breaux and Richardson starting. We haven’t even talked about a number of their other picks yet– Andrus Peat projects to be a long-term starting offensive tackle, and several players who have gone on IR figure to contribute in the future, too. This is easily the best Saints rookie class since the much-ballyhooed class of 2006 (three of which remain on the team today).
In hindsight, comparing the 2015 class to the ones before it makes it pretty clear this move was long overdue. Let’s take a look at the previous classes and see how the team did.
If you saw the 2013 draft that ran a few days ago, you’ll know how this works.
This mock isn’t necessarily tied to that one. It operates on the same rules, though. One thing you’ll find different is that, since we are only into the second year of these players’ careers, I had less hard data on how they would perform in the NFL, and so had to weigh predictions of future performance more heavily.
In order to gear up for draft season, and in some small way make up for the lack of Zone Reads content over the last two months due to various personal and professional obligations, I’ll be publishing some mock drafts and re-drafts in the next few days.
I decided to take a swing a 2013 first, because enough time has passed that I think I have a reasonable picture of player value, and also because it was generally regarded as such a weak class. I thought it would be a fun season to choose.
I didn’t try to do this as a strict ranking; at some point, prospects are close enough together in value where I can’t make any meaningful distinction. In certain cases, I’ve erred on the side of giving teams a player at a position of need, or, even better, a player who actually ended up on the team.
Last note: I eliminated all draft-day trades, but kept all pre-draft ones. (So the Jets have Tampa Bay’s pick from the Darrelle Revis trade, St. Louis has Washington’s pick from the Robert Griffin trade, and Minnesota has Seattle’s pick from the Percy Harvin trade.)
Without further ado…
1. Kansas City Chiefs
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson
One of the few legitimate superstars from this class, Hopkins is a passing game all by himself, one of the four best wide receivers in football right now. He happens to be a great fit for Kansas City, whose passing game was woeful in 2012, and in 2013 would be led by Alex Smith, and whatever part of Dwayne Bowe could still be considered a useful wide receiver.
2. Jacksonville Jaguars
Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri
A pretty easy selection of a guy who has a case for the #1 pick. True interior penetrators are rare and can disrupt an offense by themselves. Richardson’s suspension this year makes him a clear #2 behind Hopkins to me; the risk of missing games is enough to break any tie.
3. Oakland Raiders
Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington
An argument can be made for a number of players here. Since the Raiders chose a cornerback in the first round in real life (albeit after trading down), I mocked them a guy who has arguably developed into one of the league’s shutdown corners.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU
When in doubt, choose the pass rusher. Even though the Eagles took an offensive tackle originally, I simply felt pass-rushing was more important than pass protection. Ansah is seond in the league in sacks right now (11.5 through 11 games) and is arguably playing at an All-Pro level.
5. Detroit Lions
Terron Armstead, OT, Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Armstead had FBS offers coming out of high school, but would only attend a college that allowed him to continue competing in track and field. The athleticism he showed at the Combine has translated to the NFL, as he’s become one of the league’s better left tackles. As Jeff Backus retired in the 2013 offseason, he’s a perfect fit for Detroit, too. (I’d play Riley Reiff at left tackle and Armstead at right tackle in 2013, then flip them.)
6. Cleveland Browns
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
The Browns believed in the importance of a three-down running back who can be fully featured in the run and pass game enough to trade three other picks in order to move from #4 to #3 and draft Trent Richardson one year prior. Now they get the running back they thought they were getting then.
7. Arizona Cardinals
Tyrann Mathieu, CB/S, LSU
Mathieu displayed some of the most incredible instincts I’ve ever seen in college, but slipped in the draft for the nebulous, oversimplifying “character concerns” reason. He’s playing at an All-Pro level this year in Arizona; I am certain they would want to keep him at any cost.
8. Buffalo Bills
Keenan Allen, WR, California
Whether you see this as a move that allows them to avoid trading up for Sammy Watkins the next year and losing their 2015 pick, or as a receiver who complements Watkins well and opens up the possibility of a devastating pass attack, the Buffalo Bills were a team in serious need of offensive help, and Allen brings it. He was having a dominant season before he went down with an injury. (He’d certainly do a lot more for a passing game than E.J. Manuel would.)
9. New York Jets
Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah
Lotulelei fell in the draft because of some medical concerns about a heart condition that were overstated. He’s become one of the better defensive tackles in the league; since the Jets miss out on Sheldon Richardson in this draft, they’re sure to want someone else to fill the position.
10. Tennessee Titans
Kawann Short, DT, Purdue
Short was the Panthers’ second-round pick in 2013, to follow up Lotulelei, but this year he’s arguably played better than his higher-drafted linemate. He would make a devastating pair of penetrators alongside Jurrell Casey.
11. San Diego Chargers
Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma
They wanted a right tackle badly enough to draft D.J. Fluker #11 overall. Now they have a better one.
12. Miami Dolphins
Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame
Eifert would give their offense a dynamic seam and red-zone threat they didn’t have then, and that they arguably don’t have now (but that they hoped they were getting with Jordan Cameron).
13. New York Jets (from Tampa Bay)
Darius Slay, CB, Mississippi State
Having a slight down year, but then, so is everyone in Detroit. Still a guy who can be a legit #1 cornerback.
14. Carolina Panthers
Jamie Collins, OLB, Southern Miss
Collins could fill the outside linebacker spot opposite Thomas Davis (that Shaq Thompson does now), and switch to pass-rusher as needed. A good fit that offers flexibility on defense.
15. New Orleans Saints
Travis Kelce, TE, Cincinnati
An athletic, potentially game-changing tight end? They’ve been able to put those to good use in New Orleans. In this scenario, Kelce is around to take over when Jimmy Graham is traded to the Seahawks– an ideal match.
16. St. Louis Rams
Kyle Long, G/T, Oregon
The Rams are always targeting nasty, physical offensive linemen– occasionally to a ridiculous degree (four linemen in the 2015 draft, and one more in the supplemental draft!)– so why not draft them one who’s actually good?
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas
Vaccaro can play either free or strong safety, and his flexibility will become more valuable once Troy Polamalu is gone.
18. Dallas Cowboys
Travis Frederick, C, Wisconsin
Pretty much the same logic they used to draft him in the real draft.
19. New York Giants
Chance Warmack, G, Alabama
Again, another team in need of an offensive lineman takes one who’s been pretty good (albeit after a somewhat rocky rookie year).
20. Chicago Bears
Larry Warford, G, Kentucky
See above. I put Warmack ahead of Warford because I think his ceiling is ultimately higher, although Warford was better out of the gate.
21. Cincinnati Bengals
Giovani Bernard, RB, North Carolina
We’re reaching the point where above-average starters and good rotation players are the best left on the board, and when in doubt, I mocked a player to the team that drafted him originally if he was roughly at the top of the board.
22. St. Louis Rams (from Washington)
Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia
I’m not sure what kind of year he’s having, but I think he’s essentially the guy they expected him to be when they drafted him. Which is good enough for them to do it again.
23. Minnesota Vikings
Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida
24. Indianapolis Colts
Justin Pugh, G/T, Syracuse
The Colts have constantly struggled to protect Andrew Luck, so adding a guy who can step right in at right tackle is pretty valuable.
25. Minnesota Vikings (from Seattle)
Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State
Yes, I just mocked the Vikings the same two players they drafted in the real draft. I guess that means they did a good job? (We won’t mention Cordarrelle Patterson.)
26. Green Bay Packers
Eric Reid, FS, LSU
They wouldn’t have yet drafted HaHa Clinton-Dix in this case, and Reid has been a pretty solid free safety for San Francisco, as far as I know.
27. Houston Texans
Bennie Logan, DT, LSU
Logan has really come on strong his third year; he’s big enough to play nose tackle for Houston’s 3-4 defense, as well.
28. Denver Broncos
Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama
Despite Lacy’s apparent determination to prove wrong Rod Beck’s maxim that no one ever went on the disabled list with pulled fat, Lacy at his best could be the bellcow Denver was looking for when they selected Montee Ball in the second round that year.
29. New England Patriots
Andre Ellington, RB, Clemson
A pass-catching running back with game-breaking ability is a great fit for the Patriots. Ordinarily such a situational player wouldn’t go so high, but 2013 didn’t have a lot of top-end talent.
30. Atlanta Falcons
D.J. Fluker, G/T, Alabama
It’s a starting offensive lineman! And you know how much we’ve always wanted one of those!
31. San Francisco 49ers
T.J. McDonald, SS, USC
I’ve heard McDonald has had a pretty good year for the Rams. That and the fact that the 49ers drafted a safety in real life is good enough for me.
32. Baltimore Ravens
Ricky Wagner, OT, Iowa
A pretty good starting right tackle is a good get here. The Ravens won’t get the value they did in real life, when they took him in the fifth round, but he’s still capable of being a solid part of their offensive line.
Keep an eye out tomorrow for a 2014 re-draft.
A couple of weeks ago, NFL.com released a list of head-coaching rankings that seemed to be sorted exclusively by career win totals, with little regard as to any aspect of the job of being a head coach, or as to how a particular coach is performing at the present time. That was enough to stir me out of my summer vacation and come up with my own list, based on who I’d want running my team if I was an owner or GM looking to hire.
I even ranked rookie coaches based on my early impressions of them. That will probably prove to be a terrible idea, but since I was able to rationalize those rankings, I don’t really care. (After all, I’d hire some of the unknowns before some of the knowns, so, why not?)
Tier 1: THA GAWD
1. Bill Belichick, New England
With apologies to Bomani Jones and Ta-Nehisi Coates, this seemed like the most accurate description of Bill Belichick. He’s the best gameplanner in NFL history and after a fourth Super Bowl win in six attempts has really left little doubt about his legacy.
Tier 2: Greatness
2. Sean Payton, New Orleans
Payton’s offensive innovations and forward thinking, and recognition of what an asset Drew Brees could be, have spearheaded the Saints’ decade of success. Payton and GM Mickey Loomis have generally done an excellent job of adapting the roster and juggling it to fit the team needs. Given that the push to take the team over the top last year resulted in a 7-9 season, Payton was willing to completely revamp the team’s offensive outlook to stock some talent on defense. We’ll see if it works. Now if only he’d lose the stubborn fourth-down play-calling.
3. Pete Carroll, Seattle
Still remarkable to me that he’s managed to be so successful after two previously failed stops. I don’t think that’s ever happened before. I won’t complain if you want to flip Payton and Carroll.
4. Chip Kelly, Philadelphia
5. Bruce Arians, Arizona
It’s remarkable that it took anyone so long to give Arians a head-coaching shot. I don’t know how he works his wonders, but he surely has for an Arizona team that has won double-digit games for consecutive years. Kelly is putting a lot on the line this year by taking personnel control, but like Arians, he’s led a team that had become moribund to consecutive double-digit wins and a playoff appearance. I have Kelly over Arians because I prize innovation, and what Kelly brings not only to offense but to the sports-science side of the game.
6. John Harbaugh, Baltimore
I don’t know much about Harbaugh, but his track record of keeping the Ravens consistently in contention, along with a Super Bowl win, speaks for itself.
Tier 3: Goodness (and Goodness Upside)
7. Bill O’Brien, Houston
It’s hard to overstate how impressed I was by the Texans’ turnaround after the Keystone Kops show the team devolved to in 2013. Without further information, I’m going to have to give the credit to O’Brien, especially considering he did it without anything worthwhile at QB and without the services of the #1 overall pick, or, for that matter, the services of most of the Texans’ 2013-14 draft classes. (He still should have banged the table to move up for Teddy Bridgewater, though.)
8. Mike Zimmer, Minnesota
The Vikings started 4-7 and won three of their last five, with the two losses each coming on the road and by only two points. I give Zimmer major credit for his leadership and his ability to turn around the defense and develop defenders; he gets high marks for what he’s done with Anthony Barr, and I expect him to prove he can develop other Vikings defensive draftees, like Trae Waynes, Eric Kendricks, Scott Crichton, and Danielle Hunter. On offense, he deserves credit for, if nothing else, trusting in Norv Turner and Teddy Bridgewater.
9. Andy Reid, Kansas City
He’s always been a difficult one for me to project. On the one hand, he seems to be one of the few NFL coaches who can consistently give you a baseline of above-average play. On the other hand, he makes obvious in-game mistakes that give away a lot of equity. I’m reluctant to elevate him over Zimmer or O’Brien, because they haven’t proven they don’t get it when it comes to big in-game decisions, clock management, and the like, while Reid clearly has.
10. Dan Quinn, Atlanta
11. Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Quinn and Bowles are, of course, total guesses, but I like the work they’ve done as coordinators (unlike some coordinators who seem to rise to being head coaches simply based on name or tenure) and the things they’ve said about their approaches to team-building. All I can say is that, based on my current information, I’d take a chance on either of them before the guys below, whose records don’t inspire me as much. (I’m looking to win a title, not go 9-7 every year.)
12. Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati
Like Andy Reid, only less so. (That is not a fat joke.)
Tier 4: Some goodness, not a detriment overall
13. Rex Ryan, Buffalo
Rex Ryan is what he is. To paraphrase Football Perspective’s Chase Stuart, that means you get a guy who’s really good at defense, who fires up and inspires loyalty in his players, but who also can’t put a working offense together to save his life, and whose teams completely fail to show up 2-4 games a year. What’s that worth? Hard to say. If Ryan could ever figure out that good defense and good offense are not mutually exclusive, maybe he would belong higher.
14. Chuck Pagano, Indianapolis
15. Mike McCoy, San Diego
McCoy I regard positively given his rejuvenation of Philip Rivers and his surprise consecutive winning seasons (including a playoff win!), but unlike with, say, Arians or Kelly, I’m much less certain how much credit he gets compared to Rivers. This is also more or less where I stand with Pagano, given that Andrew Luck guarantees a certain level of play every year. (I have heard he’s gotten more out of the defensive talent than could reasonably be expected, but I’m not sure that’s true.)
16. Mike Pettine, Cleveland
17. Gus Bradley, Jacksonville
I like the things Pettine says, I like that he got seven wins out of Cleveland this year, and I liked the job he did with Buffalo’s defense. The jury’s still out on him in a lot of ways, some of which are caused by the inherent dysfunction in the Browns organization.
Bradley, like Quinn, is another guy I like as being good at what he does and inspiring his team’s confidence in his leadership. That said, he’s going to have to show some improvement from consecutive 4-12 seasons. Jacksonville’s roster is getting better; he needs to get the most out of it.
18. Ron Rivera, Carolina
Rivera backed off the Riverboat Ron approach somewhat in 2014, and since it was his major advantage, he’s back in the middle of the pack. One winning season in four years really isn’t that inspiring (even if one of those losing seasons came with a playoff win).
19. Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
In the good, he’s got a significant winning history, including two Super Bowls with the Giants, and seems to maintain a certain floor of play and professionalism. In the bad, he’s 68 years old and the game may be leaving him behind, particularly when it comes to player health and maintenance. (He’s sort of the opposite of Chip Kelly in this regard, which may have something to do with why the Giants lose so many games to injury each year.) Ranks this high on merit, but I’m not sure I’d want him as a new hire at this point.
Tier 5: The Tomlin Line
20. Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh
I can’t figure out if Tomlin is a positive or a negative. On the one hand, the team keeps winning under him. On the other, that could be more due to Ben Roethlisberger and the surrounding talent– first the defense, then when the defense started to falter, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and crew. Tomlin often makes baffling in-game decisions regarding clock management, challenges, fourth downs, and the like. I struggle to pinpoint what he does well, but his teams keep winning. And unlike other coaches where I can find much clearer and more frequent examples of their poor in-game tactics costing them wins and equity, I can’t actually say if Tomlin’s bad decisions are enough to make him a net negative. It’s baffling. And that’s why I called the line of whether or not a coach is a detriment to his team “The Tomlin Line.”
Tier 6: Probably a negative overall
21. John Fox, Chicago
Still an upgrade from Marc Trestman, whose total failure of leadership still leaves me scratching my head. That said, Fox is inexcusably poor at in-game tactics, and his unwillingness to play rookies over less-talented veterans is another strike against him. He’s the guy I’d hire if I wanted a pretty good defense and didn’t have ambitions of going better than 7-9.
22. Mike McCarthy, Green Bay
This ranking is entirely credit for developing Aaron Rodgers. I haven’t figured out anything he’s done that provides value aside from that. His in-game cowardice is astonishing, whether it’s being put to use kicking an extra point down two in the fourth quarter of a must-win game, or in turtling up and blowing a lead in the NFC Championship game despite the world’s best quarterback and every other advantage on his side.
23. Jeff Fisher, St. Louis
His offensive philosophy is 40 years behind the times. I’ve written extensively on this site about his scumbag approach to coaching, which seems to involve cheap shots, after-whistle hits, and other unsportsmanlike attempts to bait the opposing team. He’s basically John Fox if you want players who will also beat people up. (Was anyone surprised that the Rams selected this guy in the supplemental draft?)
24. Gary Kubiak, Denver
I agreed with John Elway’s assessment that John Fox would not be the guy to take them over the hump. However, I think Gary Kubiak is even less suited to the job. He’s an even more incredible in-game coward than Fox, and seems to have even less ability to adjust his offensive philosophy or his gameplan to his opponents. If you want a coach who has one offensive plan to drive for a field goal, and no idea what to do when that plan fails, you hire Gary Kubiak. (I have written even more extensively about him on this site than I have Fisher.)
25. Lovie Smith, Tampa Bay
Well, we’ve disproven the idea that he provides stability and a certain floor of play. How in the hell do you manage to make this team worse than it was under Greg Schiano? I don’t think Smith is creative enough to adapt to the talent on hand or to what is necessary in the modern game.
26. Jason Garrett, Dallas
A 12-4 season moves him out of the basement tier– even with all the offensive talent on hand, Garrett still has to put it all together– but he’s also notoriously conservative in-game; Dez Bryant’s should-have-been-a-catch-by-all-logic wouldn’t have mattered if Garrett wasn’t afraid to put the pedal to the metal in earlier situations to actually try to score points.
27. Jim Caldwell, Detroit
A steady hand who provided an improvement over Jim Schwartz, which suggests that almost anyone would provide an improvement over Jim Schwartz. No coincidence that this tier has all three coaches whose cowardice cost their team NFC playoff games in January 2015.
28. Jim Tomsula, San Francisco
It’s not entirely fair to rank him this much lower than the other rookie head coaches, since I know so little about him. This ranking is entirely about how negatively I view San Francisco’s entire offseason process; apparently, Jed York is less interested in winning than in saving money, and Trent Baalke is less interested in winning than he is in having a coach who won’t make waves and doesn’t command any organizational authority. Tomsula has reasonable equity to be horribly in over his head, based on the circumstances of his hiring.
Tier 7: I would have fired them already
29. Jack Del Rio, Oakland
I would have fired Reggie McKenzie for making this hire. The only special thing Del Rio brought as a coach in his time in Jacksonville was an axe. McKenzie has now demonstrated, in two consecutive offseasons, that after clearing out cap space and getting to sign and hire his guys, that he wants to build a team of mediocre retreads. Last year, it was Matt Schaub, LaMarr Woodley, and Justin Tuck. This year, it’s Del Rio. When this fails, I assume Rich Kotite and Tommy Maddox will get the call next.
30. Joe Philbin, Miami
Any head coach who was so clueless about what was going on with his team that he was unaware of the locker-room bullying that went on with the Dolphins is a failure of a leader. (A head coach who manages to avoid responsibility for these things certainly is.) Any head coach who combines that with fearful in-game decision-making demonstrates a lack of both of the major qualities required of a successful head coach. Stephen Ross clearly likes Philbin a lot, given his insistence on keeping him as coach (an insistence which made it difficult for the team to land a GM). If I were running the Dolphins, I’d have fired Philbin and promoted Bill Lazor yesterday.
31. Ken Whisenhunt, Tennessee
On a 3-25 streak as head coach. Has a bizarre fetish for late-round QBs with big arms and no pocket presence or accuracy (Zach Mettenberger is Dan Marino compared to some of the QBs Whisenhunt tried to make it work with in Arizona). Two winning seasons out of a seven as a head coach, both of those bolstered by a future Hall of Fame quarterback.
I will say that Whisenhunt has more opportunity than anyone else at the bottom to elevate his ranking: If he can successfully develop Marcus Mariota, he can turn the Titans into winners, and he will deserve credit for that. I’m going to make him prove it before I raise him in my own rankings, though. (And this is as good a time as any to mention that I think Ruston Webster has a strong case to be the worst GM in the NFL.)
32. Jay Gruden, Washington
He’s too stubborn and inflexible to design an offense that suits his very talented quarterback. He publicly undermines said quarterback. He deflects responsibility and assigns blame. Nothing I see in Jay Gruden’s performance suggests head-coaching material. I’m shocked Washington managed to get worse at head coach after dismissing Negligent Mike Shanahan.
I don’t have anything new to add to the story of La’el Collins and his murdered ex-girlfriend. It’s a tragedy whether or not he was involved; all indicators seem to say he was not, which adds a layer of unfairness to how Collins was treated in this situation.
What I do want to discuss is the silver lining for Collins: He is now free to sign anywhere as an undrafted free agent, and since he is only required to sign a three-year contract, can begin negotiations on his next deal a year sooner.
With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at some ideal landing spots for Collins, keeping two things in mind:
- I want a spot where he can come in and start from day one. He’s talented enough to do so and this would maximize his earning potential for his next contract, obviously a major concern now that he doesn’t have the guaranteed payday that comes with being a high first-round pick.
- Along that same vein, reports are suggesting that he wants to go somewhere he can play tackle for that reason, and I agree– both that he should and that he’s capable of it.
- By most accounts, Collins would fit better in a gap system than in a zone system. While I can’t be 100% certain on what everyone will run or the degree to which that’s true, I’ll keep it in mind.
All depth charts and mention of starting lineups and rosters use information taken from the terrific work done at ourlads.com.
Tampa Bay had virtually nothing on the offensive line this year (aside from what remains of Logan Mankins), and addressed that problem by drafting Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet. Collins is better than both; I think the line would be more successful with Collins at left tackle and Smith at right. (Much better than the Collins they had there last year, for sure.)
Tampa is installing a youth movement on offense, and protecting Jameis Winston is priority number one. (Winston has reportedly lobbied Collins to sign there.) This would make the line look something like, say, Collins – Mankins – Evan Dietrich-Smith – Marpet – Smith. A vast step up from where they were last year.
Detroit has built a surprisingly strong offensive line with good depth. The one question mark is right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who acquitted himself reasonably well last year but is still nowhere near the talent Collins is. This would solidify Riley Reiff, Collins, and Larry Warford at three of the line spots, while Laken Tomlinson, Travis Swanson, and Manny Ramirez compete for the other two.
I couldn’t name who Oakland’s tackles are, outside of Menelik Watson (and I’m not even sure he’s a starting-caliber player). After looking it up, I realize the starters are Donald Penn and Austin Howard. Good Lord. This team needs Collins.
It becomes a lot easier to kick D.J. Fluker inside to guard if Collins is there to play right tackle. Assuming last year’s third-round pick Chris Watt can play center (as he’s penciled in to do), a line of King Dunlap – Orlando Franklin – Watt – Fluker – Collins is pretty good. Melvin Gordon would like it.
Because, duh. I wish I could remember who wrote it, but I read the other day the best description I can think of Carolina’s line: “Carolina is starting possibly the only two offensive tackles in history who are more famous for something other than being good offensive tackles.”
Rex Ryan met with Collins in Baton Rouge, so the interest is clear. The “maybe” comes from whether or not Collins would get a legitimate chance to start at tackle. The Bills only have three tackles on the roster, and only Cordy Glenn should really be starting in the NFL. (Seantrel Henderson may get there someday; I think Cyrus Kouandijo’s knee is shot.) They’re thick at guard with the signing of Richie Incognito and the drafting of John Miller. (I don’t think Incognito should be back in the league, but even without him, a line of Glenn – Miller – Eric Wood – Cyril Richardson – Collins isn’t bad– or, if Richardson really stinks, kick Glenn inside and make him one of the best guards in the league.)
A very similar situation to Detroit’s: A passable right tackle and a rookie drafted to help solidify the interior line. Collins replacing Jordan Mills would be a solid upgrade.
Brandon Scherff ain’t gonna work at right tackle. Just move him inside already and add Collins. Adding Scherff and Collins to Trent Williams would give this team three legit offensive linemen, instead of one.
The real question here is if the team is ready to move on from Gosder Cherilus. Never a world-beating tackle, Cherilus’ microfracture surgery a few years ago may have ended whatever claims he had at having top-flight tackle skills. Enter Collins to step in and replace him.
Collins could also shore up in the interior line, where the Colts have linemen in quantity but questionable quality, but we’re looking for a spot he can play right tackle (or even left tackle, if the team is weak enough there).
Close but no cigar
With yet another serious knee injury, I think the likelihood that Sam Baker’s career is toast is depressingly high. The current listed starter at right tackle is Ryan Schraeder– “Who?” was my reaction as well. Collins could start at right tackle right away.
Unfortunately, new OC Kyle Shanahan is known for using a zone-blocking scheme, and as long as we’re projecting Collins to be a better fit for a gap-based offense, that precludes him signing here.
Word is that LSU alums Jarvis Landry and Anthony Johnson have been trying to recruit Collins. I’m sure Miami would love to have a tackle of Collins’ caliber as insurance in case Branden Albert’s knee injury is too severe for him to return to his previous level of play. Unfortunately, I doubt Collins is going to want to go anywhere where he’s expected to start at guard (neither Albert nor Ja’Wuan James are kicking inside for him), and even less so that he’ll want to go somewhere he might not start right away.
I think he’s better than anyone they drafted, but they still drafted a bunch of lineman, and they’re going to play them. To be honest, I don’t think Collins should go to a team with as little seeming idea what they’re doing as the Rams (but that’s a story for another column).
I’m sure other teams would be interested in La’el Collins. I thought he was a tremendous prospect, and would likely be an upgrade somewhere on the line for any team. But he’s going to have particular needs when choosing the right fit for him, and I think these teams are best poised to offer him what he wants.
Now, you can view every pick your team made, along with our grade of the player, in one handy spreadsheet.
Don’t lose too much heart if we have a “N/A” grade next to your player. It simply means we didn’t have the chance to evaluate the player properly. Some of those players we’ve heard of; some of them we haven’t. Either way, we didn’t see enough of or hear enough from other experts about them to assign them a grade with any confidence.
Since we try to focus on top prospects first and work our way down, it’s rare we get to watch anyone we grade as “undraftable”, but it does happen. That didn’t happen this year; any “undraftable” drafted players would have been marked as such on the chart.
Some interesting tidbits about the chart and pick value:
- The biggest gap between our ranking of a player we actually graded and his selection spot was St. Louis’ third-round selection of Sean Mannion, our no. 307 player taken with pick no. 89. (Of course, you could argue that Green Bay’s selection of a fifth-round safety at no. 30 represented worse real value, and you’d probably be right.)
- The lowest-ranked player on our board who was still drafted was linebacker Edmond Robinson of Newberry, no. 324 out of 329 graded prospects. (He was taken by Minnesota with pick no. 232.) Runner-up: Deon Simon, The Jets’ new defensive tackle from Northwestern State, no. 320 (selected no. 223).
- The highest-selected player we did not grade was Auburn DT Angelo Blackson, taken no. 100 by Tennessee.
- Pittsburgh arguably had the deepest draft; all eight of their picks were graded in our top 150 prospects. (They did use their second-rounder on a prospect we had a fourth-round grade on, but every other selection represented equal or greater value than the pick itself.)
- The only teams besides Pittsburgh whose draft classes consisted entirely of players we graded were Minnesota (ten selections), Miami (seven), Chicago (six), the New York Jets (six), and San Diego (five).
- Some teams besides Pittsburgh who got consistently good value or got a lot of it late: Tennessee, Atlanta, New Orleans, and Miami.
- Jacksonville had a curious draft: After getting poor value on their first two selections, they got tremendous value on their third-, fifth-, and sixth-round selections (and broke even on their fourth by our rankings).
- Teams who had a similarly curious start to the draft, if not quite the finish Jacksonville did, include Baltimore, and the New York Giants. (Of the first three prospects these teams selected, the third was the one we graded highest.)
- Carolina’s first three picks were all graded between no. 62 and no. 68 on our board.
- St. Louis didn’t use a single selection on a player whose grade was in a tier equal to or better than where they made the selection. (Todd Gurley, the no. 10 selection, was rated no. 13, but he was in the “Mid 1st” tier, and not the “Top 10” tier, of which multiple players were available at the Rams’ selection.)
- Of Oakland’s ten picks, five of them were of prospects we didn’t grade, and only one– tight end Clive Walford– was the best player available at his position when the Raiders selected him.
- Two prospects were drafted at the exact place we had them ranked: Nelson Agholor at no. 20 (Eagles) and Jarvis Harrison at no. 152 (Jets).
Fresh off the griddle so you know they’re piping hot, vix and I have our takes on each pick in this draft.
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
- vix: Winston regressed in his soph season. His flaws on tape (decision making, random mechanical lapses) didn’t get as much attention as his off-field concerns. I’d still take him top 5 because I grade him as a 1st round QB, but give me Mariota all day.
- nath: Obvious pick and the right one in my mind. Winston is an easier evaluation than Mariota, because of the offense he played in, but it’s also the reason it’s easy to see his very high football IQ and innate performance intelligence. Gotta start reading underneath coverages better and leaving the bonehead plays behind, but I feel confident he’ll be a “franchise QB.”
2. Tennessee Titans – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
- vix: I’m a fan of Mettenberger and Mariota. They should start Mett in order to showcase him for teams in ’16, and cash him in for some picks. If Mariota reaches his ceiling, or comes remotely close, he’ll turn this franchise around.
- nath: I’m not as high on Mariota as vix is but I grade him highly enough that you can take him here. He’ll need work; I’m not sure what to make of him with Ken Whisenhunt. He’s not a typical Whisenhunt QB, but then, typical Whisenhunt QBs have mostly been crap.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida
- vix: How do you not select Leonard Williams? Fowler is capable of leaping off the screen on tape, but his lack of production at Florida is worrisome. Looks fantastic in that suit at least!
- nath: He’s a guy who jumps out at first on tape but then you realize he actually isn’t making many big plays. Worried that lack of production + relatively ordinary athleticism could add up to a bust.
4. Oakland Raiders – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
- vix: I would’ve loved to see Williams grow along with Mack. That defense starts looking scary. Except, no. Cooper isn’t as great as his production indicates. Doesn’t dazzle as much as he simply does his job. Unlikely to bust, in any event.
- nath: Should have taken Kevin White. Cooper is pretty maxed out, but I think White has room to improve into a true #1.
5. Washington Potatoes – Brandon Scherff, G, Iowa
- vix: He’s the best guard in the draft. Not tackle. An exceptional run blocker who mauls defenders. Footwork in pass protection is too shaky to play left tackle. He’ll help this line though.
- nath: Safe, solid, dull pick. I would have liked La’el Collins here, although his connection to a recently murdered woman, fairly or not (I lean “not”), has by all accounts made him completely undraftable. Leonard Williams probably a better pick, but damn, their line sucked, so I can’t complain.
6. New York Jets – Leonard Williams, DL, USC
- vix: I am sitting my quarterback when we play the Jets now. Wilkerson, Richardson, AND Williams? Holy hell. What a nightmare D-FENSE. Bowles worked without elite edge rushers at Arizona last year lest ye forgot.
- nath: Perfect situation for Williams; surrounded by two stud linemen, he can wreak the most havoc, and probably allay any concerns he doesn’t have the top-flight athleticism you want in the position.
7. Chicago Bears – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
- vix: Best player available, and fills a giant need. Gotta love when that happens. White is my top receiver in this (really deep) class. His playmaking ability reminds me of Larry Fitzgerald.
- nath: Should have gone sooner. Great pick for this team. White/Jeffery is a terrifying combo.
8. Atlanta Falcons – Vic Beasley, EDGE, Clemson
- vix: Easily the most outstanding pass rusher in the nation. Dan Quinn must be doing backflips. Beasley at LEO will be exciting.
- nath: Love the pick. Hate the team. Boo, screw you, Falcons.
9. New York Giants – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami-FL
- vix: My top left tackle prospect. His game against South Carolina was flawless. Sure, he needs to improve, and some other tapes aren’t so hot, but Flowers has the highest ceiling of any tackle in the draft. I like this pick.
- nath: Count me in the group that doubts Flowers– I don’t think he has the agility or footwork to be an NFL left tackle. He played most of the year with a knee brace, and his kick-step looks like the kick-step of a guy with a bum knee. Second time in three years Giants have chosen a non-LT OL in the first round– between you and me, I don’t think they’re very good at drafting.
10. St. Louis Rams – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
- vix: The best running back since *checks calendar* Jim Brown, y’all. Don’t need no stinkin’ ACL to beast mode all over the NFC West. Right? But seriously, I’m totally on board with selecting Gurley in the top 10. He can be the best runner in the NFL from the first snap he takes.
- nath: Love Gurley’s talent, but why did a team with a perfectly good starting RB (Tre Mason) and so many other problems take him? Jeff Fisher seems to think the rules haven’t changed since 1978, and running 50 times a game + a defense that beats people up (literally) is enough to win games. Here’s to another 7-9 season.
11. Minnesota Vikings – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
- vix: He’s my favorite corner by a comfortable margin. I hate the Vikings for being so good at drafting. Good luck covering Megatron though. Waynes is special.
- nath: Not as high as others on Waynes– DeVante Parker here would have been fantastic. Waynes is very fast but I’m not as sure about his ability to turn, and he played very grabby at MSU which he won’t be able to do in the pros.
12. Cleveland Browns – Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
- vix: Large and in charge. Beefs up run defense. Has some ability to pass rush, but not enough to be scary. I’m not sold that he’s an every down player. He was gassed after a few drills at the Senior Bowl.
- nath: Yeah, I just don’t believe two-down defensive tackles are as valuable in this day and age, but Shelton is, uh, fine, I guess. He moves fairly well for a dude his size, but the comparisons to Ngata or Poe are absurd.
13. New Orleans Saints – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
- vix: Best pass protector at left tackle. He doesn’t get much push in the run game. Must learn to play lower (he’s really, really tall). Saints know how to develop offensive lineman. Peat has plenty of room to improve.
- nath: Love it. Basically my BPA here (as it seems teams weren’t willing to touch Randy Gregory in round 1). Zach Strief is old and better suited to being a swing tackle. Peat will need some coaching but the Saints are great at coaching linemen– he’s the one guy in this draft I think can be a true blindside protector.
14. Miami Dolphins – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
- vix: In related news, Greg Jennings has been released by the Dolphins. Parker plays too soft for my liking. Jarvis Landry can school him in the art of badassery perhaps. This is my only concern, otherwise Parker is damn good. Compliments their receiving group well.
- nath: Love Parker when he’s healthy, love the A.J. Green comps (including the recurring foot problems). Miami had a collection of very good WR2s and 3s. Now they have a 1. Great pick for them.
15. San Diego Chargers (trade with San Francisco) – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
- vix: The Jamaal Charles comparison is dead on. San Diego needed a running back. Gordon is no Gurley, but he’s ridiculously good as well. Watch him break the single game record for rushing against Nebraska if you have time and haven’t seen it yet.
- nath: I think Gordon is overrated, but everyone knew San Diego was taking him. The only funny part is that they traded up for him.
16. Houston Texans – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
- vix: I’m a bit surprised to see Johnson picked this high, but the more I think about it the less I am. His tape is excellent, especially that closing speed. How is Dupree still available?
- nath: Seems fine. Solid. Not sexy. Teams liked him a lot– his film was supposed to be quite good but I never got to watch it. No complaints.
17. San Francisco (via San Diego) – Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
- vix: Raw is an understatement with Armstead. Needs a ton of work. He flashes brilliance here and there, with strong hands. I’ll be shocked if he’s ready to start immediately. Pure upside pick.
- nath: I thought it was funny how many places mocked Armstead to SF consistently, and how mad SF fans were about it. Well, congrats, you got a terribly raw athlete who may or may not develop.
18. Kansas City Chiefs – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
- vix: Physical press corner with some off field issues. Should start right away. Chiefs continue to build on strength. Defense, defense, more defense. Alas, Alex Smith.
- nath: My #1 CB in this draft. Great pick for them. Peters / Gaines / Smith a pretty bad-ass CB trio. Never thought they’d make up for letting Flowers and Carr walk.
19. Cleveland Browns – Cameron Erving, C/G/T, Florida State
- vix: He’s playing guard with Alex Mack, that’s for sure. The Browns are building a wall around Johnny Manziel so he can escape it and get hit anyways. Brilliant.
- nath: So, we can all agree he’s moving to center in 2016, after a year of Alex Mack showing he never really recovered from his injury, right? Another fine pick– unspectacular but solid.
20. Philadelphia Eagles – Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
- vix: I would’ve taken Agholor ahead of Parker. Big fan. I believe he can be a true #1 receiver. Philly was looking weak at the position before today. No longer.
- nath: Like Agholor a lot. Definitely the best receiver available, and receiver is a huge need for Philadelphia. After all the hoopla about Whirlwind Chip and his Trade Tornados, they stay put and make a smart selection.
21. Cincinnati Bengals – Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
- vix: I guess the Bengals aren’t worried about his ACL. Ogbuehi is a ridiculous athlete at tackle, but he isn’t a bully. He will look elite for most of the game and then get destroyed on several plays. Can protect speed better than power.
- nath: I like Ogbuehi enough that I think it’s a good pick. Likely at least one of Andrew Whitworth and Andre Smith will be gone next year. Ogbuehi can recover and then step in as a starter.
22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky
- vix: Mistakes were made selecting Jarvis Jones. Dupree is much better. I’m angry that the Steelers got him one pick before my beloved Lions.
- nath: One of the best values so far, although I understand the concerns about “Athlete who can’t play football.” Still, from the team that picked Jarvis Jones and took Ryan Shazier over C.J. Mosley, this is a positive step.
23. Denver Broncos (trade with Detroit) – Shane Ray, EDGE, Missouri
- vix: Explosive first step, nothing else. He’ll be less dominant in the NFL. Must add a ton of moves to his arsenal. Limited athleticism. Awful combine.
- nath: Let’s get the bright side out of the way: At least on this team Ray won’t have to be the best pass rusher, and he might be more effective as that third or fourth guy. You can probably infer that I don’t think a team should take a third or fourth guy in the first round, let alone trade up for him.
24. Arizona Cardinals – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
- vix: Someone needs to explain the NFL’s love for Humphries. He was abused by none other than the aforementioned Shane Ray. I’m not seeing whatever is there with him.
- nath: I like a couple of guys better, but I think Humphries is athletic enough to justify the selection. Still growing– lots of room to improve.
25. Carolina Panthers – Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
- vix: My face is officially melted. Didn’t expect Shaq to go this high. Carolina is one of the few teams where I can see him shine. They can protect him with a strong defensive line (Shaq is undersized). He’ll be a special teams ace, and play next to one of the greats in Kuechly.
- nath: Wat. I heard the rumors, and it makes sense for a team that got so much out of Thomas Davis, but their offensive line is so dire I would have much preferred one of the remaining tackles (Clemmings or Fisher, most likely).
26. Baltimore Ravens – Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
- vix: Very raw route runner. Perriman is really strong and fast. Knew he would go around here, but not my favorite receiver on the board. His name is Devin Smith.
- nath: Looks like a receiver except for the route-running and catching part. Glad it’s not my team that has to worry about whether or not he can do that stuff. Vix is right; Smith would have been a killer fit here.
27. Dallas Cowboys – Byron Jones, CB, Connecticut
- vix: I wasn’t sold on Jones as a first rounder until I saw his tape against Boise State. It’s an extremely strong game. Still want to see more of him. Worst case scenario: he can jump really far.
- nath: Good athlete, seems like a good player, not quite as high as I had him ranked, but I don’t hate the selection or anything.
28. Detroit Lions (via Denver) – Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
- vix: Well, the Lions sure have a lot of beef inside with Warford, Swanson, and now Tomlinson. Hard to be excited by a Duke guard not named JJ Redick. Wait, Duke has a football team?
- nath: Not sure he stood out enough from the other guards to merit a first-rounder. Still seemed like a quality player; I hear mixed opinions on him, so I’m not as confident in my lower grade. Probably a good choice.
29. Indianapolis Colts – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami-FL
- vix: Hey, this isn’t Devin Smith. I’m a fan of Dorsett too, but not this high. Not a massive blunder given he wouldn’t have been there with their next pick. A reach is still a reach.
- nath: I guess the thinking is “One T.Y. Hilton worked out great; why not two?” But this team already has Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, and Duron Carter. Did they really need a fifth receiver with their first-rounder?
30. Green Bay Packers – Damarious Randall, S, Arizona State
- vix: Laugh out loud. Sorry Packer fans, not sorry. Randall cannot cover, tackle, or, well, he’s just not very good. I’ll leave it at that.
- nath: LOL. I see some impressive statistics on Randall, but when I watch him, I see a guy who takes terrible angles and falls down a lot. Why do teams love him? Why did Green Bay take a bad player with their first-round pick at the same position they took a good player with their first-round pick last year?
31. New Orleans Saints – Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
- vix: Versatile linebacker that can play anywhere in a 4-3, or inside as he will with the Saints 3-4 hybrid. Sniffs out screens really well. Smart, tough player.
- nath: Big fan. Eric Kendricks was my #1 ILB, but his medical has teams scared, and Anthony was my #2. His athleticism shows on the field, and I think he’s a fast, instinctive playmaker. Not quite as high as I graded him but happy to have him on my team.
32. New England Patriots – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
- vix: He’s not a world beater, but Brown is a nice pick at this point. He can play either 5 tech or 3 tech, it fits with the Patriots defensive philosophy.
- nath: I literally have no opinion of Malcom Brown. My grade was a guess based on the opinions of others. But I ranked him 31 overall, and he went 32, so I probably guessed well.
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.
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:
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.
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 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.
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.
We see a similar outcome two plays later.
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).
On the very next play, he swims right around the same guard.
I also want to bring some attention to this play to the right:
and this play to the left:
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.
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.
He ends that drive in a hurry, and for the cherry on top, he blocks the field goal attempt.
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.
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.
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.
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:
A few plays later he whips around the center with a right swim to get pressure up the middle:
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.
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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?
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.