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Offensive Prospects Recap

April 17, 2017
James Madison v North Carolina

Is Mitch a franchise QB or the next Blake Bortles?

  1. The quarterback class is all in the eye of the beholder: Never before have I seen a draft class of quarterbacks that drew such a wide spectrum of opinions on ALL of the prospects. Usually everyone can agree that one or two guys are a top level prospect and then disagree on some of the others but in this draft class you have no agreement on anyone. I’ve read people make the argument that the best QB in this class is Trubisky, Mahomes, Watson or Kizer. I can’t remember ever having four prospects in the running for the #1 QB spot and it’s even stranger as it wouldn’t shock me if any of those four fell out of the first round entirely. I personally think that Trubisky is the real deal and wouldn’t blink if a team took him early (think 49ers at #2, Bears at #3, Jets at #6). The tea leaves read that not being likely so it seems like I’m a bit on my own with my love of Mitchell. Once you get past him you get one guy I love that scares me to death (Patrick Mahomes), one guy I don’t like at all (Kizer) and one guy I think could work out but wouldn’t want to put my job as a GM on the line for (Watson). After that are the developmental guys and I’m really excited about one (Kaaya). Others seem to be interested in Nathan Peterman or Davis Webb as that “next guy” after the Top 4 are taken but it really is based on what attributes you seek in a QB as all of the guys have some warts on them so it’s more about seeking the positive trait(s) you want and taking a chance on a kid. I’ll be curious to see if this QB class turns out more like the 2013 class which was basically a disaster for everyone involved (EJ Manuel, Geno Smith, Mike Glennon, Matt Barkley) or if it’s more like the 2012 class where there were hits and misses in every part of the draft. That class had hits in the first round like Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill along with misses in the opening round with RGIII and Brandon Weeden yet will be more remembered for some surprising hits later in the class with Russell Wilson in the 3rd and Kirk Cousins in the 4th. If I was a GM of a team needing a QB I’d be seeking a way to get my hands on Trubisky in the 1st and would have a backup plan of how to get Brad Kaaya in the 2nd if it didn’t work out. I REALLY like both of those guys and wouldn’t be surprised if either were Top 15 QBs 3 years from now. The 2017 NFL Draft will have a lot of intrigue due to the QBs because no one really knows who is seeking a QB, except the Browns of course, and these “Top 4” could start coming off the board later in the 1st round than normal so there could be playoff caliber teams with established veterans who run into the odd scenario of having their #1 rated QB in the draft available with their mid to late first round choice. It could make for some shocking choices and will definitely make for some interesting discussions in draft war rooms across the league. How comfortable are the Dolphins paying Ryan Tannehill $19.25 mil a year for only above average production? Would the Broncos really not even consider taking their #1 QB choice if he’s available at #20, despite their never ending proclamations that they love Lynch and Siemian? How dysfunctional is the Redskins relationship with Kirk Cousins? Do the Jags really believe in Blake Bortles anymore? How many years do the Cardinals/Steelers/Saints/Giants actually think their QB has left? Are the Chiefs/Bengals fully committed to their QB or do they agree that he’s taken them as far as he ever will? Many of these questions could be answered in surprising fashion in the first 40 choices later this month.
  2. This is an elite class of tight ends: Unlike the QB class, everyone agrees that OJ Howard is an incredible prospect and deserves to be the first TE off the board. The question is where. In the past 12 drafts only twice has a TE been taken before pick #20 (Eric Ebron #10 and Vernon Davis #6). That is almost surely going to happen this year and Howard could go as high as #4 to the Jacksonville Jaguars. A more likely spot is #12 to the Browns or #15 to the Colts. Wherever he goes, I expect multiple Pro Bowls from him but that just begins the TE class which is the best I’ve graded outside of the elite 2010 draft class with Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Jermaine Gresham, Aaron Hernandez, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson. Evan Engram looks like a future star if put in the right system and David Njoku is a sleeper that could become dominant and, outside of Howard, is one of the few true tight ends in this class. If you are okay with undersized “flex” tight ends then you’ll be amazed at how talented and deep this class is. The Colts, Cowboys, Chiefs, Falcons and Bengals all are teams that love to use two tight end sets and will likely take advantage of this TE depth somewhere in the 2nd-4th round range.
  3. Interior offensive linemen: Thinking about skipping this subject and scrolling down in the article? I get it man, these guys are BORING. Yet an interesting thing happened this year in free agency, these boring guys got PAID! It all started with Kevin Zeitler (23rd best offensive lineman last year per PFF, keep in mind this is OT/OG/C so OL not just OG) became the highest paid guard in football at $12 mil a year. That should worry Cowboys fans as Zeitler never made an All-Pro team in his 4 year career and Martin has already made three in his three year career. Also that PFF ranking that had Zeitler the #23 OL, it had Martin the #12 OL so be ready to open your wallets Cowboys or expect to lose Martin. After Zeitler set the market as the highest paid guard others fell in line with above average starters like Ronald Leary and Larry Warford getting $9 mil and $8.5 mil a year respectively. With such dramatic inflation at the guard position, “spreadsheet teams” will naturally look to moneyball the position and will move up guard prospects on their board. That already has begun to happen as from 1998-2012 there were 0 guards drafted in the Top 10. From 2013-2016 there have been 3 (Brandon Scherff, Chance Warmack, Jonathan Cooper). This year there won’t be one in the Top 10 but there are two candidates (Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney) who I have 2nd round grades on that could sneak into the late 1st due to this OG salary inflation. It only makes sense to move them up when above average guards are getting $9 mil a year, Pro Bowlers are getting $12 and All-Pros will soon be making $14 mil while the Seahawks drafted Germain Ifedi to play guard for them with the last pick in the 1st round and he did a good job (when healthy) for only $2.06 mil a year (4 year $8.265 mil). Look for guards to continue to climb draft boards.
  4. The Running Backs: While this class could be remembered for the TEs or even QBs, if a few of the projects surprisingly hit, the class likely will be remembered for the RBs. Part of that is because running backs still are sexy picks, despite the NFL devaluing them, and partially because this is one of the best RB classes I’ve ever graded from top to bottom. The only comparison is the 2008 draft class which featured five first rounders (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson) and just kept going after that with Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith, Jamaal Charles, Peyton Hillis, Justin Forsett, Tashard Choice and Steve Slaton. Thirteen RBs from one draft class that made some kind of impact on the NFL landscape is a pretty amazing feat and likely won’t be repeated by this class but it has the best shot of any I’ve seen this decade. Leonard Fournette gets all of the buzz, and deservedly so as he is the 2nd best RB prospect I’ve ever graded (behind only Ricky WIlliams), yet he’s just the tip of the iceberg. Dalvin Cook is about as safe of a RB prospect as you can find and will be a perennial Pro Bowl candidate, Christian McCaffrey could become the face of the NFL if taken by a team with an innovative offense and high risk/high reward players like Alvin Kamara and Joe Mixon have star potential as well. After that wave of five upper echelon prospects you have lower ceiling players but ones that could easily run up some 1,000 yard seasons of their own. From big backs like James Conner, D’onta Foreman, and Samaje Perine to speedsters like Curtis Samuel and Donnell Pumphrey to just really unique backs like Kareem Hunt and Marlon Mack, both of whom I’m very intrigued at finding out how they fare as they are uber talented yet hard to compare to any current NFL players, this RB class has a type of back for everyone and two or three leftover afterwards. It’s a big reason why former NFL stars Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles are still free agents as teams see all of this talent available in a few weeks at ridiculously discounted prices (rookie wage scale vs. veteran free agent deals) and no team really wants to handcuff themselves to a veteran at this stage. If I were the Raiders I wouldn’t have signed up for the headache that is Marshawn Lynch when they will surely have a stud RB sitting available for them to team up with Derek Carr for the next four years at some point in the first three rounds. Also if I were LeGarrette Blount I’d take whatever deal New England is offering because I know it isn’t a fair deal, considering he led the league in TDs last year with 17, but it will only become less appealing if they take Samaje Perine on Day 3 of the draft. I suspect he’d be just as capable as their short yardage and 4 minute drill back and would be half as expensive. The running backs were already devalued before this draft and will be even more so after this incredibly talented and deep class spreads out over the 32 NFL teams. Now is not a good time to be a veteran running back.
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