Prototype in the NFL: Darrelle Revis
Best In Class
Best Frame: Byron Jones Best Quickness: Kevin Johnson
Best Run Stopper: Jalen Collins Best Long Speed: Trae Waynes
Best Ball Skills: Marcus Peters Best Instincts: Marcus Peters
Best Hips: Ifo Ekpre-Olumu Best Technician: Trae Waynes
- Marcus Peters Washington 5’11 5/8 197 Jr.
Comparison: Janoris Jenkins as a prospect, Antonio Cromartie on the field
Combine: Peters had a solid Combine with a 4.53 40 which at 6’0 200 is good enough. He also looked fluid and agile for a bigger CB with his shuttle and vertical both being on the higher end. He didn’t wow in any one area but he looked the part of a 1st round big CB.
Strengths: Good game vs. Jaelen Strong in 2014 really looking the part of a lock down corner in that game. He is a father as his girlfriend had a baby last fall so he possibly is becoming more mature. Redshirted in 2011, 2nd team Pac-12 in 2013, started 8 games as a freshman in 2012. He’s a big, strong cornerback that is extremely agile and was born to play press coverage. His ball skills are elite, especially for a big corner, and I see a real ability in him being both a shutdown corner and a playmaker. His one handed INT in the end zone is one of the most impressive plays I’ve seen this season. He is a confident, cocky cornerback who will have the confidence needed to be on an island against elite NFL athletes. On the field he is undoubtedly the best cornerback in the 2015 NFL Draft. His 11 INTs are higher than most other top notch CB prospects and his PBU to INT ratio is very good, again showing his elite ball skills. He is an intelligent player who seems to have some route recognition ability. He is very versatile as he is the best press cover corner in this draft but also is solid in off coverage due to his good instincts and ball skills.
Weaknesses: He was kicked off the team last fall as he never seemed to get along with the new coaching staff (Chris Petersen from Boise State). It came to a crescendo with the new staff but even with the old staff he wasn’t a choir boy as he was suspended the first half of their bowl game in 2013 for breaking team rules and failed a drug test in 2011. He is being mentored by fellow Oakland alum Marshawn Lynch which I view as a negative. He only had 22 starts in his career despite playing regularly as a freshman. He is a hothead and will likely have occasional issues on the sidelines as a pro as I don’t see last year’s events as a one time thing. On the field he lacks great speed, though he does seem to play faster than his 4.53 40 time. He also is extremely cocky, yes I put it as a strength and a weakness, which sometimes causes him to lose sight of the game and get into too many mano y mano type battles. He is inconsistent in his effort in the run game. He did not interview well at the Combine and some teams doubt whether his apologies are sincere.
Overall: Ignore the hype about Waynes Combine performance, temporarily put aside the off the field issues with Peters and just watch the tape. If you do that you will see that Peters is in another class compared to Waynes and should only be dropped below other cornerbacks due to extracurricular issues. On the field Peters is a tall, long armed cornerback with good speed, great quickness, impressive route recognition and elite ball skills. If Peters ran a 4.45 or better I’d be making the case that he was deserving of a Top 5 grade, character issues ignored. He ran a 4.53 instead so he likely is deserving of a Top 10 grade, character issues ignored. Yet this is the new NFL where guys careers can be ruined by making one public mistake (see Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson). It is important to determine whether Peters is a bad kid or he just made a bad mistake. Each team will come up with their own analysis on his issues but I personally think he’s just a hothead who sometimes lets his emotions get the best of him. I do not think he has a drug problem, yes he failed a drug test but it was 4 years ago and there have been none since, and I do not think he is a thug. He seems like a cocky kid who put himself ahead of the team last year and probably is also a bit of an asshole. These are things I could work with as a head coach, especially considering he reminds me of Janoris Jenkins and Antonio Cromartie, two recent Pro Bowl invitees. On the field Peters is the best cornerback in the draft and if a team agrees with me on their assessment of his off the field issues then Peters could go much higher on draft day than the consensus thinks. Top 15 as my #1 CB 4/26/15.
- Trae Waynes Michigan State 6’0 1/8 186 Jr.
Comparison: A rich man’s Aaron Ross
Stats: Big Ten
Combine: He came into the Combine as the #1 CB on most people’s boards and ended any discussion with a blistering 4.31 40. His reps were impressive (19), especially for his weight, and he measured in at over 6’0. His shuttle was terrible (3rd worst among the 54 DBs) which makes sense as he isn’t that quick on tape but otherwise the Combine was perfect in every way for Waynes.
Strengths: He is universally regarded as the #1 CB in the 2015 NFL Draft. 1st Team Big Ten in 2014. He is a legit 6’0 (6’0 1/8) and has long arms. His 4.31 40 is elite let alone for a 6’0 CB and puts him among the all time great prospects in terms of height/40 time combination. He has played press coverage throughout his career and seems to have the best technique in this year’s draft. He gave up only 2 TDs in his final 2 seasons in college and was often ignored for large stretches of the game due to his size, technique and speed.
Weaknesses: He struggled against Antwan Godley and KD Cannon in the bowl game vs. Baylor. He doesn’t play at 4.31 type speed. He doesn’t consistently get his head turned around for the ball which is why he has only 6 career INTs. He dropped a likely pick 6 in the Baylor game as well and really struggled in his final collegiate game. He put up 19 reps on the bench but he plays extremely weak and it has always been an issue I’ve had with him. He plays press and bail coverage rarely ever getting an actual jam on receivers. Sometimes I watch his tape and wonder if he’s a bit of a workout warrior as I just don’t see a CB with 4.31 speed and 19 reps on the bench. He has poor quickness so his 4.39 shuttle isn’t surprising. I do not see Pro Bowls in his future and think he will settle in as a good #2 CB. His Combine performance has elevated him into the Top 10 conversation which would be a mistake as in most years he wouldn’t be the #1 CB.
Overall: Waynes has always looked like a mid to late 1st round cornerback who could start from Day 1 due to his experience in a press coverage defensive scheme at Michigan State. I continue to see that role for him and think he will become a quality #2 CB for a team. What has changed isn’t my opinion on Waynes but is the scouting community’s opinion on him and it all goes back to the 4.31 40 time he ran in February. Adding that to the equation, as well as the fact that Waynes is squeaky clean off the field unlike more talented players like Peters and Collins, has vaulted Waynes into the #1 CB for this draft and created talk that he could go in the Top 10. That would be a mistake as Waynes will never be a lock down corner in the pros and doesn’t play as fast as his 40 time. In fact his Combine wasn’t even that great as his broad jump, shuttle and 3 cone were all below average yet have been ignored due to the media’s fascination with the 40 time. On film Waynes isn’t strong, isn’t quick and seems to have mediocre ball skills. I love his height, long arms and good speed but he isn’t a burner on film and I just don’t see him ever being a Pro Bowler. Peters to me is unequivocally the best corner in this draft and I’m leaving him at #1 despite the off the field issues. Waynes will be a solid corner and could probably start from Day 1 but his upside is limited and I consider him to be highly overrated due to his Combine performance. Top 20 as my #2 CB 4/26/15.
- Kevin Johnson Wake Forest 6’0 1/4 188 Sr.
Combine: His 40 was solid for a CB of his size and it was clearly his worst drill as his vertical, broad, shuttle and 3 cone were all elite. That is one thing I hate about the Combine as Johnson outperformed Waynes in every drill except the 40 and the bench yet everyone acts like Waynes is the far superior athlete due to the media’s infatuation with the 40. It is important but quickness is probably more indicative of a cornerback’s success than speed is and Johnson showed elite quickness and explosion.
Strengths: There are few cornerbacks with Kevin’s combination of height (6’0 ¼) and quickness. A case can be made that he had a better Combine than Trae Waynes’ as there are 6 measurements and he beat Waynes in 4 of them with the shuttle times and 3 cone being HUGE wins. He is versatile as Wake Forest had him play press as well as off coverage. He was avoided most of 2014 due to his high level of play in 2012 and 2013. His height combined with his vertical will make him a perfect defensive tool against the big wideouts in the NFL which are now all in vogue.
Weaknesses: I hate Kevin’s technique. I’d actually argue that he has no technique and gets away with it due to his rare combination of size and quickness. At the next level he will really need to buckle down and learn to play with technique or he will find himself on the bench. He’s by far the oldest of the top cornerbacks as he redshirted and played four full seasons. He is only average in off coverage and really should go to a team that plays man coverage predominantly. He was tossed vs. Louisville for targeting. He sometimes gets a little too involved in the trash talking, taunting aspect of the game (2014 FSU game he did throat slash gesture, stood over players after incompletions, did a borderline targeting hit, and talked to Winston after numerous plays).
Overall: Kevin is a player that I initially wasn’t too interested in yet the more tape I watched the more I appreciated his rare strengths. His combination of height, quickness, ball skills and agility make him a rare package. I think his Combine was largely ignored due to his average 40 time (4.52) but that would be a mistake as I can’t remember the last time I saw a +6’0 cornerback run a sub 4.00 shuttle. It’s a drill that measures quickness and change of direction, two attributes which are incredibly important for a cornerback. Also with his elite height and vertical jump (41 ½) a smart team would have him work exclusively against the team’s bigger wideout which would largely negate his mediocre deep speed. Most people have Waynes ahead of everyone in this CB class yet I have Peters as my #1 and really researched whether Johnson, not Waynes was my #2. In the end he falls slightly behind Waynes but the two are extremely close in grade. Top 20 as my #3 CB 4/26/15.
- Jalen Collins LSU 6’0 1/2 203 Jr.
Comparison: Dee Milliner
Combine: His elite physical traits were on display as he measured in at 6’1 ½ 203 and ran a sub 4.5 40 (4.48). On measurables alone he looks like a Top 10 pick. He also was good in backpedal drill showing impressive agility for his size.
Strengths: Freshman All-SEC in 2012. His size/speed ratio is Top 10 talent level. He’s thick like a safety yet has CB speed and appears to have solid enough hips and quickness too. When motivated he can be an elite run stuffer. He’s one of the most athletic players in this draft and a case could be made that he could become a Pro Bowl corner OR safety.
Weaknesses: He only started 9 games and has off the field issues. He doesn’t have great ball skills as seen by his 3 career picks. He isn’t young, despite coming out early, as he’s been at LSU for 4 seasons. He failed multiple drug tests at LSU. He had a stress fracture in his foot, found at the Combine, and he had surgery on it in March. He might not be available for OTAs. He isn’t always motivated to stop the run. He is raw in his technique and seems to rely on his athleticism.
Overall: Jalen is an elite talent that already appears capable of starting at CB for an NFL team on Day 1. That’s impressive considering he is extremely raw and has only 9 career starts but his size/speed/quickness is so good that only off the field issues could derail him from having a solid NFL career. If he improves on his technique and his ball skills naturally progress as he gets older he has a chance to be an elite, shutdown cornerback. He is recovering from surgery on a stress fracture in his foot and word has leaked that he failed numerous drug tests in college so there are questions that NFL teams will have to sort out but I don’t see him being too dangerous to bring into a locker room. Without the off the field issues he’d get a Top 20 grade so with the drug tests, the stress fracture has no relevance to his final grade, he drops to the late 1st round 4/26/15.
- Byron Jones Connecticut 6’0 5/8 199 Sr.
Comparison: Ras-I Dowling
Stats: Big East
Combine: He and Kevin White probably had the two best Combines in 2015. His vertical of 44 ½ is one of the best I’ve ever graded. His broad jump of 12’3 was the highest mark ever at the Combine. To put that mark in perspective, the Olympics retired the standing broad jump in 1912 and at the time the WORLD RECORD was 11’4 ½! He didn’t just beat a world record but shattered it. Add to that the fact that he also had a sub 4.0 shuttle as a +6’0 CB (something I was bragging about in Kevin Johnson’s profile) as well as the fact that he had ’10 hands which is incredibly rare for a CB and you can make the case it was one of the best Combines EVER for a cornerback.
Strengths: He has Top 5 talent in terms of size, speed, quickness and explosion. His measurables are some of the best on record at his position. He isn’t great with the ball in the air but he is more than solid as evidenced by his 8 career INTs. He has the versatility to be a cornerback or a safety. He ran a 4.36 40 at his Pro Day. He is very good in run support and has +200 career tackles, again evidence that he could move to safety.
Weaknesses: His most natural position appears to be safety. I left him at cornerback because it is the position where he could make the most impact since he doesn’t have great instincts so he’d never be a ballhawking safety. He isn’t balanced and isn’t smooth in his backpedal which concerns me. He had good production but his game film isn’t on par with his historic measurables. He is a tightly built athlete which often doesn’t translate well at the CB position.
Overall: Byron has the highest upside of any DB in this draft class. Unfortunately I’m still unconvinced that his best position is CB, I don’t see all of his historic measurables translating to his on field play and he’s coming off an injury plagued season. There is a lot of homework to be done with Byron as I can see some team making a case that he is the #1 CB in the draft and I can see another team making the case that he’s a workout warrior and not worth consideration until the 3rd round. I like him and have him sneaking into the 1st round in my final analysis but am still a little wary of him. To be honest I think he will be mediocre at CB and eventually move to FS but I agree with the consensus that you have to first let him fail at CB as his upside is so high at that position. A lot of his future success will probably be determined by which team drafts him and what scheme they play him in. Unfortunately I won’t know that before I make my final grade so I will just conclude by saying that Byron has all the talent in the world but is extremely raw and possibly isn’t playing the correct position. I’d love to get him on my team and experiment with him but due to the questions surrounding him I can’t put him any higher than #5 on my CB list as a late 1st rounder 4/26/15.
- PJ Williams Florida State 6’0 194 Jr.
Comparison: Brandon Carr
Strengths: He’s a tall, long CB who is smooth in coverage and is experienced. He played a lot of man coverage in college and regularly worked in practice against NFL caliber wideouts like Kelvin Benjamin and Rashad Greene. He was the defensive MVP of the BCS Championship game in 2013. He’s a smart CB and seems to understand and pick up what a receiver is trying to do on a play. His 74 tackles in 2014 is an impressive number for a cornerback. Teams seemed to avoid him most of the time in 2014.
Weaknesses: He ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine and plays like it as he lacks any type of recovery speed. He seems to have limited upside due to his mediocre athleticism and I don’t see him ever being better than an average starter in the NFL. He only played consistently in college for 2 seasons (rarely played as a freshman, skipped his senior season).
Overall: Williams is a solid prospect at a position that is incredibly difficult to fill so he likely will be drafted earlier than he should. At 6’0 194 he has the size teams covet and he plays like a big corner as he is aggressive in run support and has good press technique. He also is smooth in coverage, a rarity for a 6’0 corner, and seems to understand offensive philosophy and how a team is trying to attack him. I notice some route recognition from him which is quite impressive for a true junior. Unfortunately he ran a 4.57 40 at the Combine and the tape shows this flaw in his game as he can be beat deep and doesn’t have good catch up speed. Due to this lack of speed I see Williams as a guy that has limited upside and I have my doubts that he will ever become more than an average starting cornerback. I see a polished prospect who should be able to start from Day 1 for an NFL team and he should be helpful to have when facing bigger wideouts yet I can’t give Williams a 1st round grade due to his low ceiling. I know cornerbacks are hard to find but I can’t be talked into taking someone in the first round that has no chance of ever making a Pro Bowl. Early 2nd round as my # CB 4/26/15.
- Steven Nelson Oregon State 5’10 1/8 197 Sr. JUCO kid who started two seasons for Oregon State and was very productive in both with 122 tackles, 16 PBUs and 8 INTs. All of those numbers are elite. Second team Pac-12 in 2014. He ran a 4.49 40 but probably doesn’t play that fast. He is an extremely aggressive and physical player with elite ball skills so there is a lot to like about him but he’s barely above 5’10 and doesn’t play as fast as his 40 time. To me he’s a perfect outside corner in a scheme that gives him safety help over the top. In that scheme I could see him start and be an effective player. Outside of that scheme he likely will be forced inside as a slot cornerback which hurts his value tremendously. Nonetheless the kid is strong, feisty and will battle receivers all day long. He probably doesn’t have starter caliber tools but due to his heart I wouldn’t be surprised if he eventually fought his way into a #2 CB role for some team. Late 2nd round as one of the more underrated players in this draft 4/26/15.
- Ronald Darby FSU 5’10 5/8 193 Jr. Good in backpedal drill, very tight in hips so he has quick feet but tight hips. He was a part time player in 2012 and 2013 (22 tackles and 14 tackles respectively) so it’s rather shocking that Darby left school early after only one full season of starting. He ran a great 40 (4.38) and was elite in the explosion drills (41 ½ vert, 10’9 broad) so it helped his cause but I still wonder where he’s going to go in the draft with his limited track record (2 career INTs). He’s an aggressive player that is thickly built and could play safety or cornerback. That versatility, as well as his short stature, has me reminded of Jimmie Ward out of Northern Illinois last year but Ward’s stats for one season were superior to Darby’s 3 seasons. Darby looks like an up and coming player who came out too early but who should still be drafted on the first two days since he projects as a versatile starter that can be an outside CB, inside slot CB or FS depending on the team’s needs. Early 3rd round 4/26/15.
- Doran Grant Ohio State 5’10 ¼ 200 He had a great Combine with a 4.44 40, 21 reps on the bench and looked fluid in the drills. He isn’t explosive though as his vertical and broad were some of the worst among this year’s CB class. I like his tape though and think he’s a borderline starter on the outside and, at worst, a quality slot CB. Early 3rd round 4/26/15.
- Quentin Rollins Miami-OH 5’11 195 Sr. A former basketball player who hadn’t played football since HS but played this past season at CB (PG on the basketball team) and was the MAC defensive player of the year! He has solid length and great quickness but is very raw and didn’t run well (4.57) so he’s a mixed bag. I love his ball skills and toughness on film though so I consider him a worthwhile project type. 3rd round 4/25/15,
- Lorenzo Doss Tulane 5’10 3/8 182 Sr. He is the worst tackling CB in this draft. He has abnormally short arms (29 ¾) for a +5’10 CB. I really am impressed with his film as he has good ball skills and legit NFL speed yet his short arms and complete apathy as a run stuffer worries me. He reminds me a bit of Kayvon Webster who came out a few years ago yet Webster was taller. He had elite production in college with 33 passes defenses and 15 INTs yet was a bit lazy in his technique, didn’t try in the run game and jumped routes too often. He has the talent to start in the NFL if he gets with a good coach and puts in the work but he has quite a few issues that I feel will cause many teams to avoid him. Late 3rd round 4/25/15.
- Julian Wilson Oklahoma #2 6’2 205 Sr. In the 2013 Notre Dame game he had nice INT off deflection despite getting hit. In the 2014 Tulsa game he had a huge hit on a short out in front of him. He had a 100 yd INT return for a TD and had a PBU earlier in the game. He is their #2 CB but looks like a legit prospect in his own right. 4x Academic All Big-12 at OU. He ran a 4.58 40 which isn’t surprising as he doesn’t look that fast on film but I still like him as a long armed (’32 3/8), big framed (6’2 205) CB. It surprises me with how little hype he has going into the draft as it makes me wonder if he will even be drafted. I think he’s a potential starter in a press oriented scheme and think he is severely undervalued. Late 3rd round 4/25/15.
- Senquez Golson Ole Miss 5’8 5/8 176 Sr. Elite ball skills and really knows how to track a ball. Former CF in baseball. Golson is a slot CB who has no chance to start on the outside. As such he has limited value but he should be very capable in his role due to his great ball skills and impressive quickness. Some teams will have him off their board due to his size while others will be targeting him as a poor man’s Tyrann Mathieu so he could go anywhere from the early 3rd-7th round. Late 3rd round 4/25/15.
- Quandre Diggs Texas #6 5’9 1/8 196 Sr. Big 12 Freshman of the Year in 2011. 3rd team Big 12 in 2013. Great in backpedal drill, great in 3 turn drill. He showed elite foot quickness, good hips and good ball skills. Diggs has size issues and his 40 (4.56) wasn’t good for a sub 5’10 CB but I’ve always seen NFL talent in him. He has been maddeningly inconsistent during his time in Austin and never lived up to the hype but he has quick feet, solid ball skills and a noticeable burst on film so I think he could make it as a slot CB. Early 4th round 4/25/15.
- Charles Gaines Louisville 5’9 7/8 180 Jr. He redshirted in 2011, was a WR in 2012 and then played CB in 2013 and 2014. He is an elite athlete and has scored on a kick return, punt return and blocked punt. He had a good Combine with a nice 40 as well as was agile in drills. He’s a big time trash talker and is a media darling with his fun soundbites before and after games. He had a good 40 (4.44) and his nose for the football is known (7 INTs the past two seasons) yet his game film is mediocre as he struggled vs. Georgia in 2014 and doesn’t look fast, quick or big on film. To me he settles in as a mediocre slot corner prospect and therefore isn’t in consideration until Day 3 of the draft. He will likely get drafted early on Day 3 though due to his elite measurables and since there is some upside to his game since he’s only been playing CB for 2 seasons. Early 4th round 4/26/15.
- Ifo Ekpre-Olumu Oregon 5’9 192 Sr. P: 1st team Pac-12 in 2013. Has an NFL look to him with a perfect CB body, has elite ball skills and almost always comes up with an INT when given an opportunity, is tough for a CB and doesn’t mind getting involved in run support. In the 2014 Michigan St. game he had good coverage throughout, had a few impressive punt returns and then had a spectacular diving INT in the 4th Q to help seal the game (7:58 4th). He reminds me in style of Terrance Newman who is still playing in the NFL +10 years after he was drafted. N: Doesn’t have elite height (5’10) or speed (looks like a 4.4 type) Tore his ACL in practice leading up to the bowl game vs. Florida State. Word is that the injury was more serious than a normal ACL tear and he might never play again. Ifo is a prospect that will be evaluated more by a team’s doctor than a team’s scout as he looked like a mid to late 1st rounder before the injury yet his knee injury was so devastating that some think he’ll never play again. I put him as a mid round roll of the dice type. 4th round 4/25/15.
- Kenneth Penny UNLV #17 5’11 175 Sr. In the 2014 Arizona game he had blanket coverage for a PBU on a scramble drill play. P: He has extremely long arms. Considered the best CB on the team. Arizona looked away from him all game. In 2013 he was 2nd in the nation in PBUs (18). I haven’t heard a thing about Penny throughout the draft process and on many CB ranking lists he either isn’t listed or in the free agent level but I saw talent with him and will keep him on my board where I had him. He’s a smaller, undersized CB with great length and ball skills. He has the size to stay outside but ran a 4.57 at his pro day so he might move inside due to that. 5th round 4/25/15.
- Damian Swann Georgia #5 6’0 189 Sr. In the 2013 LSU game he was beat by Odell Beckham a number of times, wasn’t physical at all and played trail coverage regularly, he didn’t impress me but still has NFL size/athleticism. P: He has great structure for a CB with a lean build, good natural strength and long arms. He throws his body around as a blitzer and run stopper. He isn’t a soft corner by any means. N: He isn’t fast on film, he ran a 4.50 40 but doesn’t play like it, he never really improved from his Soph year. Swann at one time had a 3rd round grade on my board but he seems to have flatlined as a prospect. I think he’s a tad underrated considering some view him as a late round/free agent type but I doubt he ever starts in the NFL. 5th round 4/25/15.
- Tevin Mitchel Arkansas 5’11 5/8 183 Sr. He changed from #8 in 2013 to #23 in 2014. In the 2013 Texas A&M game he was beat by Mike Evans for a 49 yd post on 1st play of game, good PBU on fade in end zone. In the 2014 Texas Tech game he had a nice PBU on a slant on back to back plays! For years I kept waiting for Mitchel to break out and become the elite CB I thought he could be. In hindsight maybe I overrated him but I still think he has NFL talent as he is extremely fluid for a guy with his height and length. I’d target him as a late round type or bring him in as a free agent as there is a distinct chance he isn’t drafting. Nonetheless I believe in his talent and consider him a big time sleeper. Early 6th round 4/25/15.
- Ladarius Gunter Miami 6’1 ½ 202 A long armed CB who had a terrible 40 at the Combine. Can he move to FS, can he just be a slower footed press corner ala Bashaud Breeland or is he a tweener who will be a bust? I think it is the later as I saw little on his tape or at the Combine that made me like him except for his height. 6th round 4/25/15.
- Craig Mager Texas State 5’11 ½ 201 Sr. He had a great Combine which probably caused a lot of people to go back and check out his tape. I can be included on that list and I was impressed by how physical he was in the run game and with his overall athleticism. He is a little tight and quite thick for a CB so I think safety might actually be a better fit for him but I left him at CB as that was where he played in college. He’s an interesting mid to late round project type. 6th round 4/25/15.
- D’Joun Smith Florida Atlantic 5’10 187 Sr. He had a good 40 (4.45) and barely made the cutoff at 5’10 to avoid being relegated to the slot but I don’t see much value in Smith. His tape was very mediocre as he didn’t tried but wasn’t very good against the run and never showed any anticipation or awareness in coverage. 7th round due to his 40 time 4/26/15.
Kevin White TCU #25 5’9 183 Sr. In the 2013 LSU game he was picked on but overall he had good coverage and their plan wasn’t successful. I like his tape but a 5’9 CB with 4.63 speed is basically undraftable measurement wise. He’s a scrappy player though and could make a roster as a 5th CB, special teamer type. Free Agent 4/25/15.
Merrill Noel 5’8 177 Wake Forest Sr. He was a Freshman All-American in 2011 due to his nation leading 19 passes defenses, along with 2 INTs yet he’s battled injuries and inconsistent play since then. He has good quickness and ball skills but he ran a 4.54 40 at his pro day (should be discounted to more of a 4.6) and is 5’8 so he’ll be a slot CB who will be lucky to make a roster. Free Agent 4/25/15.
Cleshawn Page Boise State 5’9 178 Sr. In the 2014 Ole Miss game he was extremely physical at the POA on screen passes and 0 routes making numerous big hits. Free Agent 4/25/15.
Randall Evans Kansas St. #15 Sr. In the 2012 West Virginia game he had a nice deflection on pass attempt in his zone with it being INT by LB. Camp invite 4/25/15.
Prototype in the NFL: Adrian Peterson
Best In Class
Best Pure Speed: Melvin Gordon Best Inside Runner: Todd Gurley
Best Pass Blocker: Jay Ajayi Best Open Field Runner: Melvin Gordon
Best Pass Catcher: Duke Johnson Best Vision: TJ Yeldon
Best Burst: Duke Johnson Best Goal Line Runner: Todd Gurley
- Todd Gurley Georgia 6’0 5/8 222 Jr.
Comparison: Adrian Peterson
Combine: He didn’t workout due to the ACL injury.
Strengths: SEC Freshman of the Year in 2012. 2nd Team SEC in 2013. He has an elite burst for a player his size, he’s extremely physical and brings an attitude to a running game, is willing to lower his shoulder and plow through a defender for tough yards, looks to have low 4.5 type speed and occasionally can break the long TD run (75 yd TD vs. Clemson in 2013, 73 yd TD on catch and run vs. Florida in 2013). He looked much faster in 2014 when he had 4 TDs (including a 100 yd KR) on a 13.2 ypc average! His +220 lbs is about as lean as you will find on a RB. He is an efficient runner with a 6.2, 6.0 and 7.4 yard per carry average in 2012-2014 respectively. He has big hands at ’10 (6th out of 36 RBs at Combine) and never had a fumbling problem in his 3 years.
Weaknesses: He’s a bit injury prone and struggled with nagging injuries in 2013 (missed 3 games with a high ankle sprain). That was before he tore his ACL in 2014 and the injury prone label on him as gone from a legitimate concern to a huge red flag. He seems to have issues with cramping and to negate this he is constantly stretching on the sidelines. It might not be an issue but I’ve never seen a RB stretch more than he does and I think it points to an overall issue with his body. After his first two seasons his career high was “only” 166 yards rushing and he never had a monster season (career high was as a freshman with 1,385 yds). He seems to be a bit emotional and has had his share off on field “antics” (head butt and a few seconds later a semi-punch to the head of a circle of defenders vs. South Carolina in 2013).
Overall: From the moment Todd burst onto the scene, as a freshman in 2012, he looked like a future Top 10 selection. His combination of size and speed is really only comparable to one guy that I’ve ever scouted, Adrian Peterson. His style isn’t very similar as Peterson is a more aggressive runner with a high, Eric Dickerson like gait, while Gurley is shiftier, has better vision but is a little less explosive. Nonetheless Gurley gets the coveted comparison as both just are physical freaks for the position and have a ceiling on their potential that is almost historic. Unfortunately, though, the comparison doesn’t end there as both had injury riddled college careers with their freshman seasons being arguably their best. Going into the 2014 season I had the injury prone label on Gurley as he always seemed to be nicked up and at less than 100%. Then he tore his ACL midway through the year and now I’m left wondering what to do with Gurley as on one hand he is the most talented runner I’ve graded in years and on the other hand he seemed to be a bit cursed. Stylistically as a runner he reminds me a bit of Ricky Williams and overall as a prospect he reminds me of Adrian Peterson. Those are two of probably the ten best running backs of the past 20 years, Peterson to me is already one of the 5 best of all time, and shows the ceiling he has but at what point in the draft do you roll the dice on this injury prone potential Hall of Famer? ACLs are notoriously flukey injuries as Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Lewis and numerous other runners tore their ACL in college or pro and went on to have long careers as workhorse type runners so I’m not that worried about his 2014 injury. His continual cramping and ease at being nicked up does worry me though and drops his grade a bit in the end. From 2012-2014 the question was always whether he’d be a Top 5 or Top 10 pick but in the end his injury history forces me to keep him just outside my Top 10. Gurley is an elite, borderline Top 5 type talent who has the potential to be a Hall of Famer when his career is complete. He has the power to run inside, the speed to break the long run, underrated vision and lateral quickness and appears to have good enough hands and speed to be a 3 down back. His only question mark is his injury history and as such, he barely misses a Top 10 grade. Top 15 4/5/15.
- Melvin Gordon Wisconsin 6’0 5/8 215 Jr.
Comparison: Jamaal Charles
Stats: Big Ten
Combine: He had a good 40 for a normal back but he’s a speed back expected to go in the 1st round so I expected a bit better than 4.52. His vertical, broad and reps were all above average and his shuttle was elite at 4.07 showing that quickness and agility which is so evident on tape.
Strengths: He is the most dangerous runner in the open field in this draft. He has Jamaal Charles type of acceleration and has underrated size and strength for a “speed back.” He was the most productive runner in this draft class and is coming off one of the 5 best seasons in NCAA History. He set the record for the most rushing yards in a single game (408 yards-in just 3 quarters!). He has to have a hurdlers background in track as he has the rare ability to leap off either leg and angle his body in a way that avoids low tackles without losing speed. He is the best outside runner in this draft and should “add yards” consistently in this capacity once in the NFL. He was Wisconsin’s workhorse, had +300 carries last season and didn’t wear down. His numbers are probably inflated due to the Big Ten defenses he saw and the system he was in but he did put up good numbers vs. the SEC as well, especially in his last game against Auburn (251 yds, 7.38 ypc, 3 TD).
Weaknesses: Gordon reminds me of Charles yet his 40 wasn’t on the same level as he ran a 4.52 while Charles ran a 4.36. It worries me a bit as Gordon is a homerun hitter type yet 4.52 isn’t cutting it for that role. His game speed appears to be faster than that though so it isn’t a huge concern but something to be aware of. Another small concern is the fact that Montee Ball has been a bust as an NFL player. They are different people, Ball never showed the athleticism Gordon has AND Gordon has been much more productive but it is still worrisome as Ball had two +1800 yard seasons at Wisconsin which will continue to make scouts worry that Gordon is somewhat a product of the system. Gordon is tough and can run inside but he won’t “add yards” to inside runs so a 1 yard run will be a 1 yard run with him. He only has 22 career receptions which is rather low for a speed back who played 3 seasons. Redshirted in 2011 so is a bit older for an underclassman.
Overall: It is rare to see a player remind me of another player as much as Gordon does to Charles. Gordon’s tall/slight build, long strides, impressive speed and underrated toughness all are carbon copies of Charles. Considering Charles has been one of the five best running backs the past half decade it is no surprise that many scouts consider him the #1 RB in this draft. I do not as Gurley has a power on inside runs that Gordon and Charles will never have. I also have slight reservations about Gordon’s 40 time and the system and level of competition he faced with the 52-0 Ohio State drubbing not helping matters. Yet if drafted by a team with an elite offensive line Gordon could put up prolific numbers in the NFL just like he did in college. He would fit best in a zone scheme that traps and pulls their OL so he has space to operate as his outside runs are elite and even a play that is only somewhat blocked can net him 5-6 yards due to his speed, vision and shiftiness. In that area he is an elite talent and one of the best to come into the NFL in a long time yet he still doesn’t surpass Gurley due to the small question marks I have on his collegiate career as well the fact that his upside will never be as great as Todd’s. Mid 1st as a potential Pro Bowl caliber player 4/5/15.
- Duke Johnson Miami 5’9 1/8 207 Jr.
Comparison: A slower David Wilson
Combine: His Combine was surprisingly mediocre as he was average to above average across the board. He did come in comfortably over 200 lbs which was a must in my opinion.
Strengths: 1st team ACC in 2013 and 2014. He has rare burst and has one of the quickest first 3 steps I’ve ever scouted. He gained 20 lbs of muscle and went from 195 (2012) to 215 (2013). He has been a kick returner and has been successful at it with TD returns. He is a weapon as a pass catcher and was prolific in this area in 2014 (38 421). He has great vision and really knows how to setup blocks in the open field.
Weaknesses: He runs upright and doesn’t have good pad level, he rarely breaks tackles and isn’t the most elusive back as his MO is pure speed. By the end of 2013 they were listing him at 195. I’m unsure if that was just not updated or if he actually lost his 20 additional lbs throughout the season. He ran a 4.54 40 which shocked me initially but going back to the tape you can see that he is quicker than fast as he is regularly caught from behind. He almost never gains yards after contact on inside runs and will struggle in that area.
Overall: Everyone is obsessed with two backs in this draft but I consider this a three back draft as Duke Johnson is inferior to Gurley and Gordon but is very much worthy of an early round selection and would be my #1 RB in quite a few drafts of recent years. The thing that sets him apart is his elite burst. He can get from 0-60 about as fast as any RB I’ve ever graded not named De’Anthony Thomas. He has kick return skills, should be tried out as a punt returner due to his quickness and vision, has impressive hands and experience to make him a weapon in the passing game and of course is a prolific runner. There were quite a few elite yardage totals this past year by running backs so his 2014 season isn’t getting the hype it probably deserves as nearly 1,700 yards at nearly 7ypc in the ACC is quite an accomplishment. Add to it his 38 catches for 421 yards and you have a +2,000 total yards player yet everyone seems to be focused in on the Big Ten rushers this year when discussing elite productivity. Johnson isn’t a good inside runner and it will be a hindrance so he might become stuck in a time share situation with a bigger back which will limit his upside but there are few players with a better burst, vision or ability as a receiver than Johnson. Most have him as a Top 5 back but behind a few other guys not named Gurley/Gordon. I think he is the clear cut choice as the #3 RB and is deserving of an early 2nd round pick as he has Pro Bowl potential 4/5/15.
- Tevin Coleman Indiana 5’11 206 Jr. Tied with Abdullah for the smallest hands of any RB at the Combine. Tevin was a human highlight reel in 2014 with 2,036 yards rushing. It seems like all he did was break long runs and the Indiana OL was nothing special so it makes his 7.54 ypc (Gordon had a 7.54 ypc as well in 2014 while facing a very similar schedule and playing behind a much better OL) that much more impressive. Also he ran with a slight break in his foot for more than half the season! The worry I have about Coleman is that he doesn’t seem to have as good of a burst as Gordon, Abdullah or Johnson while having similar size issues. He also runs more upright than any RB in this draft other than Yeldon who outweighs him by +20 lbs. I worry if Coleman will be injury prone at the next level due to this poor pad level. He missed 3 games in 2013 but none in 2014 while getting 270 carries and had elite performances against top notch defenses like Missouri (132 yds 6.95 ypc), Iowa (219 yds 14.6 ypc) and Ohio State (228 yds 8.44 ypc). Coleman is tough to grade as at times I think he might be the sleeper in this RB class and at other times I think he just feasted on some poor Big Ten defenses. He definitely is a boom or bust type runner as he gets a lot of negative or no gain runs but then busts out with a 40-60 yarder. In style he’s a little like Lamar Miller as a finesse runner with similar height (5’11 vs. 5’10 ¾) and weight (206 vs. 212) yet he seems to be a rich man’s version of Miller as Tevin is more agile and a little tougher. In the end I’m a bit confused by Coleman but see enough to think he’ll be another quality starter from this draft class and the #4 RB as a mid 2nd rounder since he has a higher upside than Yeldon and is less risky than Abdullah 4/8/15.
- Ameer Abdullah Nebraska 5’8 ¾ 205 His ’42 ½ vertical and 10’10 broad were both #1 among the 36 RBs but his 4.60 40 was pretty poor considering he’s undersized and is a speed back. He was the Senior Bowl MVP. I like Abdullah’s tape a lot as his burst is impressive and he has underrated strength as an insider runner but he put the ball on the ground more than any other back, by far, and that is a huge red flag to me. Considering his hands (8 5/8) were the smallest at the Combine I have major concerns that the issues will continue at the next level. His productivity though is elite (3 straight +1,000 yard seasons, 2 straight +1,600 yard seasons) and again I really like his tape as he has a little Duke Johnson in him in terms of burst and vision, though Johnson is superior in both categories and doesn’t fumble. He drops due to his red flag but if it is correctable a team will have a legit starter on their hands so he can rightly be classified as a boom/bust type pick. Late 2nd round 4/5/15.
- Jay Ajayi Boise State 5’11 ¾ 221 Jr. A few years ago I had the same argument about Doug Martin that I’m about to give you about Ajayi. “Martin is a guy who can do everything well yet nothing great and should be a good, dependable starter in the NFL for a long time. That being said I don’t see Pro Bowl potential in him and think his ceiling is a bit limited so he settles in as an early 3rd rounder as my #8 RB who was underrated the past two years but is eerily close to now being overrated by many scouts 4/5/12.” I wrote that review 3 years ago to the day and I think I’ve been proven right. Jay is the same kind of back and I think will face the same fate. If you are a fan of Ajayi your logic goes like this, “Jay can do a little of everything. He is the best pass blocking back in this draft. He is one of 2-3 most prolific pass catchers in this draft. He has good size (221), he has strength on inside runs, he breaks tackles, he is consistent (back to back +1,400 yard seasons) and he has shown he can be a work horse (596 carries the past two years).” If you aren’t a fan of Ajayi the logic goes like this, “Jay is good at everything, great at nothing. In today’s NFL where you can draft RBs in the mid to late rounds that are great at one thing it isn’t necessarily worth drafting a back early just because he is a complete back. The era of the 3 down, workhorse back is over and putting Ajayi in a timeshare would negate his one big advantage. His ypc (sub 6.0 each of his two prolific years) was mediocre, the competition he faced was mediocre, his 40 time (4.57) was mediocre, his burst is mediocre. Are you seeing a trend? Draft Ajayi ahead of Duke Johnson or Tevin Coleman and wonder why you have a back with nothing special about him. The Bucs are currently doing the same thing with Doug ‘I have no weaknesses but no strengths’ Martin.” I like Ajayi as a 3 down back with no weaknesses but you don’t draft guys in the 1st or early 2nd round who can’t be elite when handed the ball and I don’t see Ajayi having elite running skills. He settles in a little higher than Doug Martin as he is more athletic. Late 2nd round as my #6 RB 4/5/15.
- TJ Yeldon Alabama 6’0 ¼ 226 Jr. He has a very unique running style as he runs upright but also with good pad level due to running on the toes of his feet which give the impression that he’s always leaning forward and about to fall down. He has great vision and is without a doubt the most patient runner in this draft as he has a real feel for setting up blocks. He is adept at running in between the tackles but has enough speed to run off tackle, though he will not break the long runs in the pros. At one time I had Yeldon on par with Gurley yet that was after a freshman season which saw him have 1,108 yards rushing on 6.33 ypc. Never again did he average +6 ypc and surprisingly that freshman season was only 127 yards away from being his collegiate career high. I agree with the scouts that think he gained weight and lost some explosiveness (he began his career at 216 yet looked sluggish in 2014 in the 230’s and cut weight to 226 for the Combine) yet also think he’s another overrated Alabama prospect. Eddie Lacy has worked out and Mark Ingram has resurrected his career a bit but Trent Richardson was a terrific bust and Ingram still looks to have been a bust as a first rounder. Yeldon just isn’t powerful enough or athletic enough to be considered a sure fire impact back at the next level. At times I’m wowed by his patience, vision and penchant for always falling forward but at other times I see a true athlete come onto the field like Kenyan Drake and instantly see the athleticism that Yeldon is missing. He looks like a potential platoon guy who is the consistent, steady runner to a more flashy Jerick McKinnon, Shane Vereen type. There is the potential that Yeldon was nicked up or played at an improper weight and a team will get a steal but I suspect the freshman Yeldon was simply a mirage and whoever drafts him will get a solid, unspectacular starter. Early 3rd round 4/8/15.
- Mike Davis South Carolina 5’9 1/8 217 Jr. He had a better 2013 than 2014 as he never seemed full healthy or in shape this past year. It affected his overall productivity (201 yd decline YOY) as well as his efficiency (5.83 to 4.93 ypc). That being said I think he could become one of the steals of this year’s draft as the 2015 RB Class is insanely deep, he doesn’t have great athleticism (read: poor Combine performance) and is coming off a bad season. The talent is there though and true scouts will see it as he adds yards on inside runs and his 2013 tape showed underrated speed in the open field. Watch his 2013 Georgia tape and you’ll think he’s a 2nd round back, watch some of his 2014 tape and you’ll think he’s a free agent. He’s a wild card for sure but I see a low end starter or high end #2 RB for an NFL team that can see the big picture. 3rd round as one of the sleepers in this draft 4/5/15.
- David Cobb Minnesota 5’10 7/8 229 Sr. A mixed bag performance at the Combine with a terrible 40 (4.81) but elite explosion drills (’38 vertical and 10’1 broad jump). Cobb is a mix of Marion Barber and Ray Rice as he’s a thickly built, powerful back with very good quickness but poor long speed. His tape is pretty fun to watch after putting on the small backs like Gordon, Abdullah, Johnson and Coleman as he lowers his shoulder and excels at yards after contact. His style should make him a perfect candidate for a time share situation with a smaller, more athletic back and his overall talent level makes this the likely scenario for him as he isn’t all that talented as seen by his 5.17 and 5.07 ypc the past two years and his terrible 40 time of 4.81. There should be a place for him though as a quality #2 RB for some team as their “thunder” to a more talented “lightning.” Late 3rd round 4/8/15.
- Terrence Magee LSU 5’8 213 Sr. He faced intense competition during his time at LSU with Jeremy Hill, Leonard Foursette, Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue yet at times Magee looked like the best back for them. He has great intensity and aggressiveness to his running style as well as a good burst to his small, compact frame which makes me think he will settle in as a quality #2 RB for someone. I really like him and think he’s a sleeper. 4th round 4/5/15.
- Jeremy Langford Michigan State 5’11 5/8 208 Sr. He had the best 40 of any of the 36 RBs at the Combine (4.42) which at 208 lbs is impressive as most times this low are made by sub 200 lb backs. He began his career at CB in 2011 before being switched to RB in 2012. His ypc have been bad to abysmal throughout his career (2.56, 4.87, 5.51) which is an even bigger red flag considering he played in the Big Ten, other RBs like Coleman, Abdullah and Gordon faced the same defenses regularly with much better success, and Langford played with a very competent QB his final two seasons. He’s a work horse runner with 292 and 276 carries the past two seasons but his game tape shows nothing special. I don’t see a 4.4 runner on film and his stats continue the theme of him being “just another guy.” He has elite measurables and a very good frame so a team that is spreadsheet oriented will grade him pretty high but I’m not a fan. He “adds yards” so he’s ahead of the 7th round plodder types (Malcolm Brown, Matt Jones, etc.) but I think he’s severely overhyped. Early 5th round 4/5/15.
- David Johnson Northern Iowa 6’0 5/8 224 Sr. He had one of the best performances of any RB at the Combine which is important since he’s coming from Northern Iowa. He has elite size/speed and will be a well liked by the one cut teams. He is a redshirt senior so he’s an older prospect and might not contribute immediately due to the huge upgrade in talent. He also was used a ton as he had +30 receptions 4 straight seasons and +6,000 total yards for his career so he is an older prospect AND has a lot of tread on the tires, so assume with him that there won’t be a second contract. I really don’t know what to make of him as he is tall, runs with terrible pad level and his game film looks more like a wide receiver’s than a running back’s (he was a WR in HS). Interestingly enough the one guy he does remind me of is the guy he could be playing next to in 2015, Darren McFadden. I’m intrigued by Johnson as a mid round, flier type due to his elite measurables but I am clearly lower on him than most due to how raw he looks. Early 5th round 4/5/15.
- Cameron Artis-Payne Auburn 5’9 ¾ 212 Sr. He was a JUCO kid in 2011-2012. He is a bit of a one year wonder as he was a JUCO kid in 2011-2012 and then only had 610 yards in 2013 before blowing up for 1608 in 2014. His ypc (5.31) is rather poor especially considering the Auburn system has given inflated numbers to many other guys the past few years (Tre Mason, Corey Grant, Nick Marshall). He has good shiftiness and was impressive numbers wise at the Combine but he shows no power when he runs and I just don’t see any potential of him ever becoming a starter. His ceiling looks like an above average change of pace type back. 5th round 4/5/15.
- Kenny Hilliard RB LSU Early 6th round
- Karlos Williams RB FSU 6’0 ¾ 230 Jr. 6th round
- Trey Williams RB Texas A&M Late 6th round
- Marlin Lane RB Tennessee 7th round
- Javorius Allen USC 6’0 5/8 221 Jr. He had a mediocre Combine, he never had a +6.0 ypc season despite playing against some mediocre competition at times in the Pac-12 and I hated his game tape as he showed no burst, often ran backwards resulting in negative runs and looked like a mediocre collegiate back who will bounce around rosters as a #3 RB at best. 7th round and highly overrated 4/5/15.
- Malcolm Brown RB Texas 7th round
- Matt Jones RB Florida Priority Free Agent
- Josh Robinson RB Mississippi St. Priority Free Agent
- Dee Hart RB Colorado St. Free Agent
- Michael Dyer RB Louisville Free Agent
- Corey Grant RB Auburn Free Agent
- John Crockett RB North Dakota St. Camp Invite
- Dominique Brown RB Louisville Camp Invite
With Joe Casey coming in town tomorrow I thought I’d give him a little reading for the flight. I know opening day was this week but I don’t get the baseball itch until at least May so I’m still obsessing about the draft, the Cowboys offseason and everything else NFL related. Below are a few topics that have caught my eye, including my annual ranking of quarterbacks.
Top 32 QBs
- Aaron Rodgers
- Andrew Luck
- Tom Brady
- Drew Brees
- Phillip Rivers
- Tony Romo
- Peyton Manning
- Ben Roethlisberger
- Russell Wilson
- Matthew Stafford
- Matt Ryan
- Cam Newton
- Ryan Tannehill
- Teddy Bridgewater
- Joe Flacco
- Eli Manning
- Carson Palmer
- Jay Cutler
- Alex Smith
- Derek Carr
- Nick Foles
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Colin Kaepernick
- Andy Dalton
- Sam Bradford
- Jake Locker
- Josh McCown
- Geno Smith
- Blake Bortles
- Brian Hoyer
- EJ Manuel
Top 3-I think most people would have this top 3 of Rodgers, Luck and Brady though many would have Brady #1 since he’s coming off a Super Bowl win that recently cemented his status as this generation’s Joe Montana. Rodgers and Luck though have so much more talent than Brady who is far less mobile and has a much weaker arm than either of them. I also would say that Rodgers beats Brady at his own game, accuracy and ability to read a defense. This is the 5th straight year I’ve rated Rodgers as the best QB in the NFL and only Luck’s ascendence will likely prevent me from crowning him a 6th time next year as right now I think the gap between Rodgers and every other QB is rather large.
35 and older-Starting with Brady at #3 and continuing down to Roethlisberger at #8 there is a group of 6 straight QBs that can be argued as elite but who are aging rapidly. Brady just won a Super Bowl, Romo led the NFL in passer rating and Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing yards so everyone wasn’t declining but I saw noticeable drops in play from Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Phillip Rivers, especially in the 2nd half of the season from Manning and Rivers. It will be interesting to see who falls out of this group first and lets in the next wave of stars in Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan and Cam Newton.
Too early?-I think one of the more surprising parts of this list will be how high I rank three young quarterbacks: Ryan Tannehill (#13), Teddy Bridgewater (#14) and Derek Carr (#20). Going into this season I didn’t think much of Tannehill as he’s been the same guy I’ve watched for the past half decade (NFL and college). He has all the talent in the world but just isn’t that accurate or smart and ends up leading a talented team to a mediocre record. Yet he really came into his own this year and I think he will be a starting QB in the NFL for the next decade. That might not sound like a big deal but considering he was almost benched last year I think it is a bigger prediction than it initially sounds. I also really like how they dumped Mike Wallace as it couldn’t have been a worse fit. Tannehill’s biggest weakness, other than his lack of success in the clutch, is his deep ball. He has a strong arm but almost never can get it in the same area code as his receiver so it was obviously a dumb decision to sign Mike Wallace to a huge contract since he only does one thing well, run the 9 route. Bridgewater and Carr are two rookies who impressed me last year as Bridgewater had very solid numbers and was one of the 12 best quarterbacks in the second half of the season based on certain statistics. Carr impressed me as well but more via the eyeball test than any statistics. The Raiders have a mediocre offensive line, the worst wide receiver corp in the NFL and a mediocre run game so I gave him a pass on some of his atrocious games. When scouting him though I saw the quick release, good accuracy and underrated mobility I liked at Fresno State and he appeared to be a better leader than I gave him credit for. I think the Raiders will pair him with Kevin White this May in the draft and he will surprise people with how effective he can be this season.
Overrated-A few of the other surprises on this list might be how low Joe Flacco, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler, Andy Dalton and RGIII are but I consider them overrated. My cut off point is at #17 as to where I would draw the line on what quarterbacks I’d be comfortable with under center.
Starting at #18 with Cutler, Smith, Carr, Foles, etc. I see quarterbacks that you just really can’t win with on a consistent basis unless you have a great supporting cast around them. Smith made it to the playoffs as did Dalton but the Bengals and Chiefs were stacked this year and neither made it out of the first round which sort of proves my point. Replace Smith or Dalton with any of the Top 8 quarterbacks on my list and you can make a case that the Chiefs or Bengals would be Vegas’ favorite for the Super Bowl next year.
Jake Locker-Yes I know he retired but I made this list based on who was the starting QB last year. On a few I had to make a tough call as both Vick and Smith started for the Jets, McCown and Glennon for the Bucs and Orton and Manual for the Bills so I went with who was most relevant and who I consider more talented. I guess I could have switched Locker with Mettenberger but I thought Locker was the superior player so I stuck with the retired guy. In fact I considered him better than 6 teams’ potential starting QB so it did surprise me a bit that he called it quits at only 26 years of age. He probably never would have made my top half of the list but, when healthy, he wasn’t all that bad.
Word got out a month ago about the Philadelphia Eagles bringing in Tim Tebow for a workout. I think it’s an interesting move and one that I would have done myself if I were a GM for an NFL team as his disappearance from the NFL landscape the past two seasons has been rather surprising. Tebow is definitely a lightning rod as some of my friends have called me a Tebow fan while others, including my wife, have called me a Tebow hater. He is a person that few seemingly can judge unbiasedly. My view of him is that he is not and will never be a top 20 quarterback but he is undoubtedly one of the 40 best quarterbacks in the game and with +90 roster spots available to quarterbacks each year (3 quarterbacks on most teams x 32 teams) I see no reason why he should be out of the NFL. I think it is a combination of politics, herd mentality, and cowardice by coaches and general managers. Yes the local fan base might call for Tebow to relieve an unproductive starter but you cannot tell me that Tebow would have been any worse than Ryan Lindley, Blaine Gabbert, Blake Bortles, Brandon Weeden, Logan Thomas, EJ Manuel or even Matt Schaub the past two years. Each of those guys played at some point in the regular season and all of them struggled mightily. I hope he is brought back into the fold for the NFL and I hope that when he does ESPN calms down on their Tebow coverage. He deserves to have another shot at an NFL career.
I could have, should have, blogged about the Cowboys offseason multiple times to this point as I have been shocked at how logical, efficient and conservative they have been this year. Whether it was the 3yr $15 mil deal they gave Doug Free, the Bruce Carter deal (4 yr $20.5 mil) they passed up which will result in them getting a compensatory pick next year or the franchising of Dez Bryant I have been pleasantly surprised at the Cowboys decisions. Everyone talks about Jerry Jones and his poor drafting but I’ve pointed out in previous posts that fans have it wrong as he actually has been one of the best drafting GMs in the league the past half decade. From Dez Bryant to Tyron Smith to Travis Frederick to Zack Martin he’s been drafting almost nothing but Pro Bowlers in the 1st round and has gotten quite a few 2nd and 3rd round selections right lately as well (Sean Lee, Bruce Carter, Terrance Williams, DeMarco Murray, JJ Wilcox, Anthony Hitchens). The real issue with Jerry has been how he falls in love with players and overcompensates them in free agency or prior to free agency. Guys like Gerald Sensabaugh, Ken Hamlin, Marion Barber, Sean Lee, Brandon Carr, Anthony Spencer (franchise tag), etc. all received elite level money despite never playing up to that level. This year he avoided that trend and gave reasonable contracts to solid players like Free and Rolando McClain while filling holes admirably with cheap players like Jasper Brinkley and Corey White. A few years ago I raved about the cheap signing of Justin Durant as I thought they netted a quality starter at a bargain rate and am going to again pound the table, this time for Brinkley. He isn’t a great player but the Cowboys needed depth not a guaranteed starter and they got it for a reasonable price. Now they can go into the draft knowing their top 4 linebackers are set with Sean Lee, Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens as starters and Brinkley as competition and depth. This is abnormally important with this linebacking corp since Lee is injury prone, McClain still can’t be trusted off the field and Hitchens is only going into his 2nd year. Also this gives versatility to the group since Lee, McClain and Hitchens all project more as WLB or MLB and all excel in pass coverage while Brinkley is a MLB or SLB who excels against the run. Considering the team got him for what is really the equivalent of a 1 year $2.5 million deal with a team option for a second year at $4 million, I’d say the Cowboys made a good move.
While small and medium signings like Brinkley, White, Free and McClain all are helpful an offseason is usually won or lost in the eyes of fans by whether or not the team is able to bring in or at least keep their star players. This year I was worried that Jerry Jones’ obsession with his own players would result in him overpaying for Murray as this was probably the best and most coveted Cowboy to hit free agency since Deion Sanders left for the Redskins in 2000. That is both an indictment on earlier Jerry Jones drafting, there were definitely a few lean years in the early 2000s, and Jones’ penchant for throwing gobs of money at every Cowboy with a pulse. Yet for an actual Pro Bowl player and the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year in DeMarco Murray he again showed restraint and allowed the Eagles to overpay for him. Word is that the Cowboys offered a 4 year $24 million deal which is comparable to what I thought he was worth (5yr $30 mil). In the end the Eagles overpaid at 5 years and $42.5 million ($8.5 mil a year) and they will likely pay for it as I don’t see Murray being the kind of elite back that can be the centerpiece of an offense but is more of a complementary player that can excel in the right situation. In my eyes there are 7 elite backs in the NFL, in order:
- Adrian Peterson
- Marshawn Lynch
- Le’Veon Bell
- Jamaal Charles
- LeSean McCoy
- Arian Foster
- Matt Forte
I wouldn’t consider Murray to be close in talent to any of those backs and would probably rank him behind Eddie Lacy and Jeremy Hill as well so needless to say I was not interested in signing him to franchise back type money. Also it is important to view the “climate” before making any long term plans for a franchise. At the time that contract negotiations were taking place with Murray, Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy all appeared to be available via trade. All also would have been a substantial upgrade over Murray so if the Cowboys chose to pay top dollar for a running back they could have added a legit franchise back to their team instead of overpaying for a very good but not elite one.
I didn’t see Murray as a talent worth breaking the bank for yet have different thoughts on Adrian Peterson. Peterson running behind the Cowboys offensive line would be like the Kansas City Chiefs in the early 2000s with Priest Holmes. A 2,000 yard season by Peterson wouldn’t just be within reach, it would be expected as Peterson would come in rested, healthy and pissed off at the world for getting robbed of one of the prime years in his career. Re-signing Murray would have ended any chance of that scenario but the Cowboys also could comfortably not overpay for Murray because they would have a perfect fall back plan in case they can’t snag Peterson. I like to tab each draft as a certain position as it illustrates the strengths of a certain draft class. The 2011 Draft was the year of the pass rusher as that class had Von Miller, Aldon Smith, JJ Watt, Robert Quinn, Ryan Kerrigan and Justin Houston in it. Needless to say that if you were looking for a pass rusher that year you would have been quite comfortable on draft day as you were literally choosing between Pro Bowlers. The 2010 Draft was the year of the tight end with Gronkowski, Graham, Gresham, Pitta and Aaron Hernandez all coming out that year. The 2014 Draft was the year of the wide receiver with Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Brandin Cooks, Marqise Lee, Kelvin Benjamin, Allen Robinson, John Brown and Davante Adams all available. Why does this matter? Because these trends are obvious months in advance of the draft since some positions just naturally become too deep and players with 1st round grades drop to the 2nd, 2nd round grades drop to the 4th, etc. Smart teams look in advance for these surpluses and leave themselves undermanned at these spots so come draft day their needs match the draft’s strengths. Every scout for months now has known that the 2015 NFL Draft will be remembered in future years as the year of the running back as it is probably the deepest running back class I’ve scouted since 2008 when Pro Bowlers weren’t just going in the first round (Jonathan Stewart, Rashad Mendenhall, Chris Johnson) or the second round (Matt Forte, Ray Rice) but in the 3rd round (Jamaal Charles) and the 7th round (Peyton Hillis, Justin Forsett). In all I count 12 running backs drafted that year who were a team’s bell cow runner for at least one season and 8 future Pro Bowl running backs from that draft class alone! The Cowboys were smart to leave the RB position open as they can continue to play hard ball in negotiations with the Vikings for the best running back in the league and if it fails their back up plan will be to take a RB sometime in Rounds 1-3 in a year in which there is bound to be a point when they are on the clock where need matches value. I don’t know if it is Round 1 with Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon, Round 2 with Duke Johnson or Tevin Coleman or Round 3 with TJ Yeldon or Ameer Abdullah but the Cowboys have set themselves up perfectly this offseason and now only have to follow through on their perfectly executed strategy.
Game Theory is the study of strategic decision making. One thing I’ve noticed is how the sports world has a dearth of articles through the prism of game theory. That is quite strange to me as I can’t think of a more consensus driven and follow the crowd type industry than sports, the NFL in particular. I will periodically post these type of articles on my website and will title and image them differently so they stand out.
First up in my game theory crosshairs is the running back position and how the NFL undervalues it. One consistent pattern of game theory is that when everyone is doing business one way you probably should be doing it the opposite. Whether it was in the 80’s when everyone ran the 4-3 defense, in the 90’s when everyone ran West Coast offenses or in the 2000’s when everyone reached for QBs in the Top 10 it was usually better to go rogue than stay with the crowd. Currently the most mainstream viewpoint in the NFL is that the RB position isn’t worth squat. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy are widely regarded as 3 of the 5 best running backs in the world yet all have had rumors surrounding them that their team will force them to take a pay cut. The NFL Draft is no different as 2 of the top 13 players on my board happen to be running backs and most Mock Drafts currently have 1 or both of them available at #27 when my Dallas Cowboys come on the clock. Melvin Gordon is my #1 RB for now but Todd Gurley is close as he has a much higher upside due to his superior size and strength. Gordon reminds me of Jamaal Charles, eerily so actually, while Gurley reminds me of Adrian Peterson not so much in style as in just sheer athleticism for his size at the running back position. Both look like long term stars at the position so it will be interesting to see if either or both crack the first round. It’s an interesting debate as there are a lot of ways to look at it. On one hand you can make the case that a RB should NEVER be drafted in the first round as every year there are plenty of starting caliber running backs going for $2-4 million a year in free agency with Justin Forsett being the most recent example. Few positions in the NFL have as many candidates to fill a team’s starting role as the RB position. Last year 10 of the top 11 rushers were not 1st round picks, the lone exception being Marshawn Lynch. Also there hasn’t been a 1st round pick at the running back position since 2012. This shows that running backs are universally being avoided in the 1st round AND you can fill the position adequately or even impressively in the 2nd round or later. Another defense of this argument is the list of the past 7 running backs taken in the 1st round:
2012: Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson
2011: Mark Ingram
2010: CJ Spiller, Ryan Matthews, Jahvid Best
Not only are almost all of the best running backs in today’s NFL not 1st round picks but almost all of the recent 1st rounders are busts. Two of the seven aren’t even in the NFL anymore (Wilson, Best), three of the seven are free agents (Spiller, Ingram, Matthews) with rumors persisting that their current teams’ won’t even try to keep them and two of the seven (Richardson, Martin) are struggling to just keep their starting job. Arguments like this sure make it seem like a GM should be fired if they spend a 1st round pick on a RB but I will try and explain why there are two sides to the argument and why taking a RB in the 1st round could be a boon for a franchise. First off is the late 1st round contract. The Cowboys are picking at #27. Last year the Cardinals took Deone Bucannon at that spot and gave him a 4 year $7.71 million deal which comes out to approximately $1.9 million a year. In the past two drafts a team in the late first round could have taken any of these backs with their pick:
Hill, Bell and Lacy all were in the Top 7 in the NFL in rushing last year. Hyde was held back due to playing time issues and Bernard is a multidimensional threat that impacts the game in more ways than just running the ball (he has back to back +1,000 yard in rushing and receiving combined so he is still quite impactful). All 5 would be slam dunks as late 1st round picks and their franchise would be saving millions every year by taking this approach. The Cleveland Browns gave a 2 year $6.2 million ($3.1 million per year) contract for Ben Tate last offseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars gave a 3 year $10.5 million ($3.5 million per year) contract to Toby Gerhart last offseason. Both were considered shrewd moves by the consensus as they used the modern day approach for the position and filled their RB need on the cheap so they were able to use cap space and draft choices in other spots. Tate was cut midway through the season and had almost no impact on his team, Gerhart averaged 3.2 ypc and had less than 400 yards rushing on the season. I understand why people look at guys like Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy and Lesean McCoy who were taken in the 2nd round and say that no one should take a RB in the 1st but a team taking a RB in the late 1st guarantees themselves the pick of the litter and these RBs available at that pick are superstars in this league while the players taken at other positions are not. Last year the Cardinals took Bucannon at #27 and he didn’t even start for them for much of the season. You don’t think them drafting Jeremy Hill instead would have changed the course of their season? Andre Ellington got hurt but even before he did he wasn’t putting up good rushing numbers (3.3 ypc on the season). Replace him with Hill and the Cardinals likely win 1-2 more games in 2014 which would have secured for them the #1 seed in the playoffs. Also drafting a RB in the 1st round gets you 4 years at around $2 mil per for an elite talent which allows you to avoid the “retread market” where shot in the dark types like Gerhart and Tate mingle with over the hill types like Willis McGahee, Frank Gore, DeAngelo Williams, Steven Jackson, etc. Look at teams with a Top 10 rusher from last year and you will notice that all 10 of those teams had a winning record in 2014. The NFL is a passing league that is focused around the QB but an elite RB can take immense pressure off of that QB which allows him to perform better. Before Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh had a dysfunctional offense yet this year, with Bell being #2 in the NFL in rushing, Roethlisberger led the NFL in passing. DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing and Romo followed him by leading the NFL in QB Rating since he was allowed to pass in more advantageous positions. Andrew Luck’s team couldn’t run the ball or stop the run and they were blown out in the playoffs because of those two failures. The Seahawks were one play away from winning back to back Super Bowls and both years they were led by an offense centered around a Skittles eating beast of a running back. There are questions about whether Melvin Gordon has enough strength and toughness to be a good inside runner and worth a 1st round pick. There are questions if Todd Gurley will be able to stay healthy for a 16 game season and be worth a 1st round pick. Yet if you can answer either of those two questions affirmatively then you should be rooting for your team to draft that running back in the first round. It will be the first time in 3 years that one was taken that high and numerous analysts and commentators will pan the pick as it has become cool to bash the running back position. Yet for teams drafting in the late 1st round there are few places where you can get better bang for your buck than by going against the trend and drafting an elite running back prospect at that point. The Cardinals at #24, Ravens at #26, Cowboys at #27, Broncos at #28, Colts at #29 and Patriots at #32 would all be wise to re-consider their approach to the position and change course. I doubt they will so it will be fun to re-visit their decision to pass on Todd Gurley and instead take a mediocre tackle, a #3 CB or a 2 down linebacker who makes little impact. All the while they will be grinning like Cheshire cats when some “stupid” team like the Bengals takes another RB “too early.” You know those Bengals right? The ones that have stolen an elite talent in the 2nd round each of the past two years simply because he played running back. You know the team that has made the playoffs 5 of the past 6 years despite having a crappy QB behind center? What do they know.
Updated 2/21/15 (PR is pass rusher not punt returner)
- Jameis Winston QB Florida St. Soph
- Leonard Williams DT USC Jr.
- Joey Bosa PR Ohio State Soph
- Myles Garrett PR Texas A&M Freshman
- Marcus Mariota QB Oregon Jr.
- Landon Collins S Alabama Sr.
- Cam Robinson LT Alabama Freshman
- Laremy Tunsil OT Ole Miss Soph
- Robert Nkemdiche DE Ole Miss Soph
- Kevin White WR West Virginia Jr.
- Andrus Peat OT Stanford Jr.
- Kendall Fuller CB Virginia Tech Soph
- Christian Hackenburg QB Penn St. Soph
- Laquon Treadwell WR Ole Miss Soph
- Randy Gregory PR Nebraska Jr.
- Myles Jack LB UCLA Soph
- Amari Cooper WR Alabama Jr.
- Melvin Gordon RB Wisconsin Jr.
- Danny Shelton DT Washington Sr.
- Vernon Hargreaves III CB Florida Soph
- Dante Fowler Jr. PR Florida Jr.
- Tre’Davious White CB LSU Soph
- Arik Armstread DT Oregon Jr.
- Mario Edwards Jr. DE FSU Jr.
- Todd Gurley RB Georgia Jr.
- Vic Beasley PR Clemson Sr.
- Devante Parker WR Louisville Sr.
- Paul Dawson LB TCU Sr.
- Trae Waynes CB Michigan St. Sr.
- Deion Barnes PR Penn St. Jr.
- Reggie Ragland LB Alabama Jr.
- DT A’Shawn Robinson DT Alabama Freshman
- Brandon Scherff OT Iowa Sr.
- Jaelen Strong WR Arizona St. Sr.
- Nelson Agholar WR USC Jr.
- Marcus Peters CB Washington Jr.
- Cedric Ogbuehi OT Texas A&M Sr.
- TJ Yeldon RB Alabama Jr.
- Ifo Ekpre-Olumu CB Oregon Sr.
- Duke Johnson RB Miami Jr.
- Maxx Williams TE Minnesota Soph
- Jaylon Smith LB Notre Dame Soph
- Brett Hundley QB UCLA Jr.
- PJ Williams CB Florida St. Jr.
- Jordan Lucas CB Penn State Jr.
- Kevin Hogan QB Stanford Jr.
- Karl Joseph S West Virginia Jr.
- Owamagbe Odighizuwa DT UCLA Sr.
- James Connor RB Pittsburgh Soph
- Erik Striker LB OU Jr.
- Speedy Noil WR Texas A&M Freshman
- Eric Kendricks LB UCLA Sr.
- Tyler Johnstone OT Oregon Jr.
- Davonte Fields PR TCU Jr.
- Tyler Boyd WR Pittsburgh Soph
- La’el Collins OT LSU Sr.
- Jamison Crowder WR Duke Sr.
- Bralon Addison WR Oregon Jr.
- Alani Fua PR BYU Sr.
- Ereck Flowers OT Miami Jr.
- Shaq Thompson S Washington Jr.
- Sean Mannion QB Oregon St. Sr.
- Jake Fisher OT Oregon Sr.
- Shilique Calhoun PR Michigan St. Jr.
- Chris Hackett S TCU Jr.
- Tony Conner S Ole Miss Soph
- KD Cannon WR Baylor Freshman
- AJ Tarpley LB Stanford Sr.
- Cody Prewitt S Ole Miss Sr.
- Dorial Green-Beckham WR OU Jr.
- Denzel Perryman LB Miami Sr.
- Malcom Brown DT Texas Jr.
- Clive Walford TE Miami Sr.
- Kei’Varae Russell CB Notre Dame Jr.
- Cameron Irving OT FSU Sr.
- Tevin Mitchell CB Arkansas Sr.
- Sammy Coates WR Auburn Jr.
- Noah Spence PR Ohio State Jr.
- Corey Crawford DE Penn St Sr.
- Henry Anderson DT Stanford Sr.
- Michael Bennett DT Ohio St. Sr.
- Shaq Lawson PR Clemson Soph
- Connor Cook QB Michigan St. Jr.
- Hunter Henry TE Arkansas Soph
- Brendan Langley CB Georgia Soph
- Christian Covington DT Rice Jr.
- Mike Davis RB South Carolina Jr.
- Bryce Petty QB Baylor Sr.
- Atwan Goodley WR Baylor Sr.
- Quandre Diggs CB Texas #28 5’10 192 Sr.
- Kenneth Dixon RB Louisiana Tech Jr.
- Nick O’Leary TE FSU Sr.
- Derron Smith S Fresno State Sr.
- Johnathan Gray RB Texas Jr.
- Andre Monroe DT Maryland Sr.
- Josh Shaw CB USC Sr.
- Denzel Nkemdiche S Ole Miss Jr.
- Kenyon Drake RB Alabama Jr.
- AJ Johnson LB Tennessee Sr.
- Tevin McDonald S Eastern Washington Sr.
Non eligible players included-This can be confusing for some as you might see Joey Bosa at #3 and say, “but he’s not even in the draft this year?” Correct! I still include them on my year end list like this because I think it is helpful to see the strengths and weaknesses of a draft class and especially a specific position. As you can see the top 2 pass rushers on my board (Joey Bosa and Myles Garrett) aren’t draft eligible which gives a better perspective on the next tier talents like Randy Gregory and Dante Fowler who are in this year’s draft. Both should have good careers but neither seem like superstar types and that is more easily seen by including freshman and sophomores. Also I only include the non-eligible players on my beginning and end of season lists so a new list for the 2015 entrants will be added to the website later.
Jameis Winston-So Jameis regains the top spot. He had the top spot at the end of the 2013 season, had a terrible offseason in which he was arrested for stealing crab legs, the rape charge was brought up again in a formal investigation by the school and he screamed obscenities on the FSU campus at a woman yet even all of that only dropped him to the #7 spot in my last rankings in the fall of 2014. He’s just too talented to not deserve a Top 3 pick as he reminds me of a later career Steve McNair after he gained more accuracy yet lost a little speed and athleticism. Both could move and buy extra time in the pocket, both were tall and somewhat thickly built men and both had good arm strength but also the ability to put touch on the ball. I just finished watching the QB portion of the Combine tonight and again am sold on Jameis being a franchise QB. That being said he is still a grade A dumbass and I have no doubt that he will cause some PR nightmare for the NFL franchise he goes to. Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler and Brett Favre have done the same over the years and all of them were still given the chance to put a helmet back on for their franchise so I don’t see it being as big of a problem as some people do. I expect Winston to be taken #1, have a very good rookie season and quickly establish himself as a Top 20 QB. He will have a high interception rate but he’s a winner, a leader and is clutch. There aren’t too many franchise QBs out there so Tampa will accept him, warts and all.
WR Class-There were 3 rookie wideouts last year that had +1,000 yards receiving which was historic. Already there is talk of this being a trend due to improve QB play, the proliferation of the spread offense to the NFL, etc. I don’t buy it. I said that last year’s draft was the best WR class I’ve ever graded and it did not disappoint. I fully expect 3 wideouts (Kevin White, Amari Cooper and DeVante Parker) to have good rookie seasons but wouldn’t be surprised if none of them broke the 1,000 yard mark. It is tough to do and will continue to be seen as a rarity once last year’s WR class recedes from memory. That being said Kevin White intrigues the hell out of me. He reminds me of Julio Jones due to his size/speed combination, his long dreadlocks help the comparison too. I’m less intrigued by Amari who I think was force fed the ball a lot this season. Keep in mind he was a borderline 1st round pick going into this year as his sophomore campaign wasn’t very impressive. He isn’t strong, tall or very tough which makes me think he will be a high grade #2 WR more than a top end #1. He could surprise me but I think he will underwhelm expectations and Lane Kiffin will be exposed as a future red flag for prospects. In 2012 he force fed the ball to Marqise Lee who won the Biletnikoff Award that year (118 catches for 1,721 yards and 14 TDs) and in 2014 he force fed the ball to Amari Cooper who also won the Biletnikoff (124 catches for 1,727 yards and 16 TDs). Do you see any similarity? I do. Cooper will be a very good player and is superior to Lee as a prospect but neither look like #1 wideout material.
Leonard Williams-Tomorrow the DL go through the Combine process and I am excited to see Leonard’s workout. Right now he grades out as the #2 DT I’ve ever graded, only behind Ndamakong Suh who was a once a generation prospect coming out of Nebraska. Williams is that rare prospect who has no holes in his game as he is an elite athlete, fills up the stat sheet, is a leader, has a great motor and has no character issues. I am sold on Winston as a franchise QB otherwise Williams would be an easy choice for the #1 spot on my board. With the QB position getting so much attention there is a good chance that Williams will still be on the board at #3. I suspect the Jaguars would be quite happy with that outcome as Gus Bradley is a defensive minded coach who was the defensive coordinator for the Seahawks previously and is a guy who values hard work and toughness. Leonard has that in spades and he will be a great addition to whatever team he goes to.
Landon Collins-He is the highest rated safety on my board since Eric Berry in 2010. I have a Top 5 grade on him which is higher than most scouts so it will be interesting to see where he ends up but I suspect he will end up as at least a Top 10 selection. The NFL has too many elite tight ends who cause matchup nightmares and not enough versatile safeties that can cover them. Collins is the rare type that can play centerfield, move down to cover a tight end one on one or lay a jaw dropping hit on a ball carrier. He is a physical freak who is just learning how to play the game and I expect multiple Pro Bowls from him. I do wonder though if Mark Barron being a bust as a Top 10 selection a few years ago, and both being Alabama alumni, will affect his draft status.
With 2014 in the books it’s time to take a look ahead to 2015. What better way to start off the New Year than with a set of predictions. It has also been awhile since I posted on the website so my predictions will have additional commentary by it as I catch readers up with what is on my mind. Enjoy the predictions:
Marcus Mariota will be the 1st Overall Pick: It will be interesting to see if he’s the 1st Overall Pick of the Bucs or someone else but I think this kid has too much value to fall even to the #2 spot. I’m sold on him becoming a quality NFL starter due to his height, speed, accuracy and great decision making (his 1.1% INT rate is the greatest in college football history) yet I’m still not sold on him becoming a superstar. I’m sure more than 1 team will be sold on that though so I expect him to either go to the Bucs or go to a team that gives the Bucs an RGIII type haul for the 1st Pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Jameis Winston returns for his junior season and wins his 2nd Heisman: No one believes Winston when he says he wants to return for another season but I do. He gets a lot of grief for being a dumbass, and rightfully so, but the kid is a competitor and I think he wants to end his collegiate career on a high note. He has so many off the field issues for a team to deal with but, purely as a prospect, I think he’s a top level talent. He reads defenses relatively well, has great accuracy and is an emotional leader that teammates seem to rally around. I suspect FSU is again undefeated at the end of the 2015 regular season as Winston joins Archie Griffin as the only two time winners of the Heisman.
Jeremy Hill will be arrested this offseason: I rated him as the #2 RB in last year’s draft because of his elite talent and he’s showing it late in the season yet I was hesitant of the kid’s character and think the success he’s had in his first NFL season will go straight to his head. He won’t kill anyone but he’s my pick to being arrested for a fight outside a club, a DWI or some other lower level offense.
Panthers beat the Cards: I thought this was a somewhat controversial prediction but then I saw that Vegas had the Panthers as 6.5 point favorites. Controversial/playing it safe, however you want to look at it I think that the Panthers are the most underrated team in the tournament. Cam Newton is playing the best football of his career (I was shocked how accurate he was against Atlanta last week) and he finally seems to be healthy enough to be a dual threat again. Their defense is still struggling but they’ve improved the past few weeks and against Ryan Lindley they won’t have to be world beaters to keep them under 20 points. I expect the Panthers to win comfortably.
Cowboys beat Lions: This would have been a blowout if the injury/suspension issues were reversed yet with the Lions getting back Suh and Fairley while the Cowboys will be missing Melton and probably Hitchens the pendulum swings back towards the Lions a bit. I still think the Lions are a very flawed team that had to scrap for wins throughout the season while the Cowboys are the most efficient and balanced offense in the league. It won’t be a blowout but I see the Cowboys winning by low double digits.
Bengals beat the Colts: The Colts look like a team that ran out of gas a few weeks ago while the Bengals look like a different team with Jeremy Hill as their lead back. Andrew Luck is #2 on my MVP ballot (for those who care I have Rodgers #1, Watt #3, Romo #4 and Brady #5-yes it is QB heavy but that is the most important position in football so it should be QB heavy) simply because he has so little talent to work with. Even Luck won’t be able to shift the odds in his favor in this matchup as Hill will get his seemingly standard 150 yards and 2 TDs and Dalton will be mediocre throughout yet it won’t matter. What’s funny is how Dalton will be praised by the announcers as “finally breaking through” despite his poor stats and lack of impact on the game.
Steelers beat Ravens: This is the only game I don’t really have a good sense on but I can’t just avoid it right? The Steelers are a much better team and at home but without LeVeon Bell their talent level gets evened out quickly. Also it’s a rivalry game and this rivalry has been tough to predict over the years. It should come down to the 4th Q.
Seahawks beat the Panthers: Shocker I know, though I do think this game could be closer than most people think.
Cowboys beat the Packers: I love Rodgers but if the weather works out, the Cowboys could go into a blizzardy Lambeau Field with the best offensive line and one of the best running backs in the league. I like Eddie Lacy but the weather would still have to be viewed as a negative with Rodgers/Nelson/Cobb all being hurt by it. I think the Cowboys would overcome Rodgers greatness if there is an Ice Bowl 2.0.
Patriots beat the Steelers: I doubt Bell is back next week so the Patriots would likely blow out the Steelers as Belichick would stick Revis on Antonio Brown and the Steelers would have 2/3rds of their triplets invisible in the game.
Bengals beat the Broncos: Peyton Manning isn’t healthy, Julius Thomas isn’t healthy, the weather in Denver is dropping as we speak, the right side of their offensive line is in shambles, Manning isn’t clutch and oh did I mention it’s the playoffs?
Seahawks beats Cowboys: Yes the Cowboys won there earlier this year but the Seahawks didn’t hit their stride until about 4 weeks ago so I expect a very different outcome the second time around.
Patriots beat Bengals: This game is won easily as the Patriots can shut down any team’s run game due to their triangle of Wilfork at 3-4 NT and Donte Hightower and Jamie Collins at 3-4 ILB. Once the run game is shut down the Bengals will be forced to pass and Dalton won’t be outplaying Brady anytime soon in a Conference Finals.
Seahawks beat Patriots: This was my preseason prediction and I feel more confident than ever about it. I think these are clearly the best two teams in the league with the Packers a distant third (yes I have the Packers losing to the Cowboys but I think the weather will play a large role in how that game plays out as on a neutral field I still have the Packers).
Texas A&M goes 11-2 in 2015: A strange prediction after all of the NFL stuff but I think the signing of John Chavis will result in a major turnaround on defense and Sumlin’s offense was held back by the inexperience of Kyle Allen. Allen will be much better in 2015, he was actually turning into a pretty solid QB by the end of 2014, and they will be one of the most balanced teams in the SEC. They’ll lose to Alabama and one other SEC West team yet win the rest of their games, including their top level bowl matchup.
Charlie Strong will be fired in 2016: Yes I know this is an article for predictions in 2015 but I fully believe that the Longhorns will be 8-4 or worse in 2015 and 2016 which will result in him only getting 3 years and the quick boot out the door. Strong is a poor fit for the Longhorn program which seems to be all about hype, finesse and attitude these days. He wants to build a hard nosed, blue collar program and it just won’t appeal to UT fans. Add to that the fact that Texas A&M, Baylor and TCU are in the midst of historic eras for their programs and Strong to be shown the door after two more mediocre and rather boring seasons. UT fans are not patient and when they realize that they aren’t even relevant then the tipping point will have occurred.
Dylon Mack will re-commit to Texas A&M: A lot of old timers hate how kids commit and de-commit at the drop of a hat but I don’t think Mack is that type of kid. He made it abundantly clear that he was uncomfortable staying with Texas A&M since they still didn’t even have a defensive coordinator. Two weeks later they not only have one but they have arguably the best one in the entire country. He will join Myles Garrett in College Station and they will be the best DL in all of college football.
LeBron will be in the NBA Finals for a 5th straight season: The Cavaliers are a mess right now but LeBron is the best player on the planet and I expect him to mesh enough with Irving and Love enough to lead them to the NBA Finals. He’ll get swept by a much more talented Western Conference team but it’ll be a testament to his talent that he took such a flawed team so far.
Odell Beckham will be the #1 WR in fantasy: I’ve never seen a rookie wide receiver play better than Beckham did as his extrapolated numbers for a full season were ridiculous. I think he will get even better with a full offseason with Manning and he will be the fantasy MVP in 2015, especially considering he likely won’t go till the 2nd round in most drafts.
Fantasy Sleepers: Jimmy Graham, Adrian Peterson, AJ Green, Calvin Johnson, Jordan Cameron, and Brandon Marshall are all studs who had issues last year that weren’t really their fault. I would draft any of them in 2015 as I suspect they will unfairly be downgraded due to their mediocre seasons. I also would look to Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, Eric Decker, Mike Evans, Brandon Lafell and Travis Kelce as sneaky picks that look good on draft day but look great by mid-season. All of those guys mentioned above were starting to bust out by the end of 2014 but just ran out of time so the mass publications will likely keep them underrated going into the new season. Try and add 1 or 2 of these guys in the mid rounds though Hyde and Evans could easily blow up with a few choice words by Matthew Berry and turn into early to mid 2nd round types.
Recently I read that the NFL just broke a record for the highest combined QB Rating through 3 games of the regular season. I wasn’t surprised about this at all as the NFL is on its fourth straight year of an elite draft class of signal callers joining the league and these recent additions have created a historic level of depth at the quarterback position. I’ve been an avid fan of the NFL for a decade and a half and I’ve always been used to the fact that there were more teams than quality quarterbacks. Every year there were 4-8 teams in the NFL that had little to no chance of competing due to their atrocious lack of talent at the quarterback position. With the advent of 7 on 7 camps and leagues in Junior High and High School as well as the prevalence of spread offenses in the college game the NFL has seen a flux of quality talent in recent drafts at the quarterback position. I am of the opinion that the quarterback position is about to become less valuable as a capable starting quarterback will no longer be seen as a scarce resource by NFL franchises and they will stop overpaying for them. An elite quarterback will still be of the utmost value but a mid level quarterback like Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton or Jay Cutler will see their value, ie salary, drop as teams will have an abundance of cheaper options which would result in only a slight reduction in performance.
In just the last three years the NFL saw 12 teams take a quarterback that has been productive enough to be a regular starter for them (Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Andy Dalton, Colin Kaepernick, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III/Kirk Cousins, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Nick Foles, EJ Manuel, Geno Smith and Mike Glennon.) In that 3 year time frame 12 new talented signal callers were added to the NFL as “starter caliber” and by my estimate only 2 left as Vince Young retired and Matt Hasselbeck became a permanent backup with the Colts and will retire at the end of this season.
It’s pretty easy to do the math when it is +12 and -2 to see that the NFL’s long standing deficit of starting quarterbacks is quickly coming to an end. Add in the 2014 NFL Draft which saw four quarterbacks (Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr) taken in the first 36 picks, three of whom took the majority of their team’s snaps this past weekend, and the depth of talent at the QB position could be considered at an all time high. I went through NFL teams depth charts and found that 23 of the 32 teams wouldn’t even consider a QB change which left only 9 teams “potentially” in the hunt for a QB in 2015. Of those teams 3 (Giants, Cardinals, Rams) have veteran quarterbacks that have been productive at times but appear to be on the decline and in need of replacement, 5 have young quarterbacks that the team (Bucs, Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Titans) pretty recently spent a 1st or 2nd round draft pick on yet are still on the fence about and 1 team (Texans) which had nothing but stop gaps in place and would surely be in the market for a quarterback next year. What does this all mean? I think the first thing it means is that the average starting salary for a mid level quarterback will soon be decreasing. Andy Dalton, Alex Smith, Jay Cutler and Colin Kaepernick all got extensions this offseason with many analysts being surprised at how mediocre some of the numbers were. I was not as the difference between Alex Smith and Jake Locker is minimal in my opinion so Smith should be praising his agent that he was given a 4 year $68 million extension after his 89.1 QB Rating in 2013 while Jake Locker will possibly be replaced in 2015 as his 86.7 QB Rating in 2013 wasn’t considered good enough. Last year the Bears ran into this issue when Jay Cutler went down with an injury and Josh McCown took his place as the backup actually played better than the starter. I was intrigued at the possibility that an NFL team would finally bite the bullet and downgrade their QB in exchange for an improved salary cap situation yet in the end the Bears were unwilling to be pioneers and test out this new idea. Instead they rewarded Cutler with a 7 year $126 million extension and watched McCown leave for a measly 2 year $10 million deal from the Bucs. This despite Cutler having a middling career QB Rating of 85.1, being 31 years old which usually begins to lead to a decline in performance from most quarterbacks and the fact that McCown’s 109 QB Rating in 2013 easily trumped Cutler’s 89.2 QB Rating while they played with the exact same supporting cast, coaching staff and offensive scheme. The Bears probably thought long and hard about stiffing Cutler and moving on but took the predictable route and who can blame them as NFL franchises have been making similar decisions for decades now. With the number of quality starting quarterbacks closing in on the important number of 32 I suspect that we won’t be waiting much longer for a similar situation to arise and an NFL franchise to finally make the logical choice of going with a $5 mil a year Chad Henne, Matt Cassel, or Josh McCown type over a $17 mil a year Alex Smith, an $18 mil a year Jay Cutler or a $20.1 mil a year Joe Flacco. The improvement from a low 80’s to a mid to high 80’s QB Rating isn’t worth the 3 to 4 fold increase in salary and with so many cheap and talented quarterbacks coming into the NFL via the draft there is no longer a need to pay these ransoms for mediocre talent. My analysis is controversial as it would necessitate a 180 degree change from where quarterbacks salaries are currently heading but if the next 3 NFL Drafts yield a comparable number of “starting caliber” quarterbacks as the past 3 NFL Drafts have then the quarterback position could soon become similar to the running back position where a few elite talents (Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Arian Foster) make big money but the rest of the starters are on rookie contracts or undermarket secondary deals due to the oversupply of talent on the market. Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck will continue to break the bank but in 3 years the current contracts of the mid level quarterback (Alex Smith, Joe Flacco, Colin Kaepernick, Jay Cutler, Matthew Stafford, Eli Manning) will seem laughable and teams will no longer feel abliged to overpay for these mediocre players. The tipping point I suspect would be when there is an NFL Draft with 3 or more 1st round talents at quarterback but only 1 or 2 teams with a legitimate need. A few of those 1st round talents would drop into Round 2 or even Round 3 and suddenly a team would be faced with the decision of whether to keep their good but expensive starter or draft the young, talented quarterback who comes with a 4 year $2.198 million contract like Russell Wilson did in 2012. That would begin a game of musical chairs at the quarterback position as teams would no longer be scrambling just to make sure they had a quality starter but now would have two or three to choose from and could drive a hard bargain in free agency or wait an extra round in the draft before selecting their signal caller. Since this would be an epochal shift it is difficult to time but I suspect that the groundwork will be laid for this shift in the 2015 NFL Draft with Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Brett Hundley, Kevin Hogan and Connor Cook combining with the 4 quarterbacks of this past draft to put further pressure on the job security of mid level quarterbacks. A few teams would begin the experimentation, possibly an innovator like Chip Kelly would be the first as I could see him not being convinced that Nick Foles was worth $20 mil a year since below average quarterbacks like Mark Sanchez put up video game numbers in his system each preseason, and then a glut of quarterbacks would arise in free agency which would lead to salary declines in mass. Restructurings would break out across the league, the franchise tag would only be used on the elite quarterbacks and each new wave of quarterbacks from the college ranks would be less and less promoted as 1st round talents would now almost always be drafted by teams that already had a capable starter in place. Year long mentorships of young quarterbacks would be in vogue again and quarterbacks being injured for a large stretch of games would no longer result in a team’s season being ruined. The NFL would still be a quarterback driven league but I expect it to soon be one in which there is a plethora of talented quarterbacks and the end result will be an even greater level of parity, something the league will love. Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees have dominated the league for years and many commentators have talked about how much the NFL will miss them when they retire in a few seasons. I suspect the league won’t miss them at all as the quarterback position will be in better shape than ever due partly to quality like Andrew Luck but mainly to quantity as the NFL is about to be overrun with quarterbacks. The league will never be the same.