Explaining some changes on our Big Board

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brett Hundley #15 and Dorial Green-Beckham #16

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

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

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

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

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=255672&gif=EnviousSentimentalAsp

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

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

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

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

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

Brett Hundley college passing statistics

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

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

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

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

Shaq Thompson as a third-rounder

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

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

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The 2015 “No One’s Mocking” Mock

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

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

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

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

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

2. Tennessee Titans
Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson

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

3. Jacksonville Jaguars
Kevin White, WR, West Virginia

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

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

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

5. Washington Potatoes
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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

6. New York Jets
Randy Gregory, EDGE, Nebraska

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

7. Chicago Bears
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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

8. Atlanta Falcons
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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

9. New York Giants
DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville

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

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

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

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

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

12. Cleveland Browns
Landon Collins, S, Alabama

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

13. New Orleans Saints
Danny Shelton, NT, Washington

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

14. Miami Dolphins
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA

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

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

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

16. Houston Texans
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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

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

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

18. Kansas City Chiefs
Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

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

19. Cleveland Browns
Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon

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

20. Philadelphia Eagles
Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon

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

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

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

22. Pittsburgh Steelers
Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota

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

23. Detroit Lions
Malcom Brown, DT, Texas

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

24. Arizona Cardinals
Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona

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

25. Carolina Panthers
Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest

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

26. Baltimore Ravens
Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

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

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

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

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

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

28. Denver Broncos
Carl Davis, DT, Iowa

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

29. Indianapolis Colts
Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington

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

30. Green Bay Packers
Henry Anderson, DL, Stanford

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

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

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

32. New England Patriots
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma

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

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