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Defensive Prospects Recap

April 27, 2017

Some of these 1st round cornerbacks will be busts, others will be Pro Bowlers.

  1. Cornerbacks: The cornerback class is an interesting one as it is incredibly deep and has one of the all-time great cornerback prospects headlining it. I don’t want to gush too much on Marshon Lattimore but he has Darrelle Revis type athleticism and has just ridiculous tape. His first INT vs. Oklahoma in their 2016 game shows the rare makeup speed I’m talking about as he was beat on the play and then boom! caught up to the WR and made the pick. It’s rare to see that kind of “extra gear” on any player but at CB it’s especially handy as it will allow him to tempt QBs into throwing towards his guy as he can make them look open. Deion was notorious for that and is the reason why someone who so rarely got thrown too, still ended his career with 53 interceptions. If Lattimore can stay healthy he will be a Top 5 CB in the NFL. Considering those guys (Richard Sherman, Josh Norman, Patrick Peterson) are making $13-15 million a year it makes plenty of sense to take a shot at Lattimore in the top five where he’d be making $6 mil a year (Jalen Ramsey #5 pick last year signed 4 year $23.351 mil contract).  After Lattimore though I think it gets dicey as there are a lot of high upside prospects but all come with red flags that worry me. Some of these 1st rounders (Kevin King, Gareon Conley, Quincy Wilson, Chidobe Awuzie, Marlon Humphrey) will become Pro Bowlers and some will likely be busts or just mediocre starters. I have a better feeling on King and Awuzie than Conley and Humphrey but will admit that I’m not 100% sold or 100% against any of them. What I am sure of though is that the sweet spot in this CB class is in the 2nd and 3rd round. Rarely do you see 3rd round picks become starters at CB as it is a position where athleticism reigns supreme and that athleticism is easy to spot which makes them highly coveted in the first two rounds on draft night. Yet this class is so deep it inevitably will have good starting corners spill into the 3rd round where they will be set up to be steals for some team, years from now. This next wave of corners (Akhello Witherspoon, Sidney Jones-depending on how much his achilles injury affects his stock, Howard Wilson, Damontae Kazee, Jourdan Lewis, Jeremy Cutrer, Teez Tabor, Corn Elder) all intrigue me. A team like the Cowboys that is looking for a number of bodies at the position should consider trading down from the late 1st to pick up an extra pick as the depth of this CB class is rare and should be strategically used.
  2. Safety class reminiscent of an earlier vintage: John Chevis gushed about the safety and called him one of the best players he’d ever coached. Every team in the Top 5 had him in for a visit as the kid had an all around game you rarely saw. He had the size and hitting ability of a linebacker yet the agility and speed of a cornerback. He was sure to become one of the best safeties in the game yet a few teams didn’t even have him as the #1 safety in the draft class. The other safety was smaller and not nearly the force in the run game but watching him make plays on the ball and cover seemingly the entire field from his centerfield spot made you forget his lack of size. His instincts, ball skills and speed were all elite and he was destined to be one of the best ballhawks of his generation. Some might be thinking I’m talking about this year’s draft with Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker but I’m actually talking about the 2010 Draft with Eric Berry and Earl Thomas. The similarities between Adams/Berry and Hooker/Thomas are uncanny but it becomes almost eerie when you compare Berry/Thomas to Adams/Hooker. Berry and Thomas have been two of the 3-5 best safeties in the game the past 7 years and Adams and Hooker look capable of doing the same thing. Other than Garrett, Adams is the safest prospect in this draft as he has an all around game that just doesn’t seem like it makes him susceptible of being anything worse than an above average starter. Hooker on the other hand has a lot of red flags but his 2016 tape is even better than Adams and he has the potential to be the best ballhawk of his generation. I think both are off the board by pick 7 and two teams will have themselves perennial Pro Bowlers just like the Chiefs and Seahawks did 7 years ago.
  3. Linebackers: Everyone has bitched and moaned about this year’s QB class but I think it isn’t that bad, especially at the top as I see Mitch Trubisky being a Top 15 QB 3 years from now. To me the worst positions in this class are OL (OT, OG, C all are weak) and LB. Some of it is as a result of me not being a big fan of Reuben Foster, he’s not just a wildcard off the field but his 0 career INTs and FFs plus his sub 230 lb frame gives a team a lot of on the field red flags to worry about, but some of it is just a draft that has a lot of linebackers that could struggle in coverage (Ryan Anderson, Kendell Beckwith, Connor Harris, Ben Boulware) and there just doesn’t seem to be a lot of top end talent. That’s why Jarrad Davis is starting to get a lot of buzz in the 1st round (I have a mid 2nd round grade on him) and why Zach Cunningham and Reuben Foster will both likely be off the board by the end of Thursday night despite teams having reservations on both players (I love Cunningham and think he’ll be a very productive linebacker but some consider him too weak). Once you get past the top 3 linebackers in Foster/Davis/Cunningham, which is how the consensus grades them, there is a major drop off in talent so I bet some linebacker needy teams will reach a bit and get them knowing they can still get their WR/RB/TE/CB/S in the later rounds of this deep draft.
  4. Defensive Tackle: This tackle class has good depth in it but what really excites me is the top of the board where I have three guys with Top 15 grades. Solomon Thomas has a Top 5 grade on my board as he has superstar written all over him. Some view him as a 4-3 pass rusher but I prefer him inside at DT where his quickness can really shine. After that you have Jonathan Allen who has a little less talent but is arguably more of a sure thing at DT. He’s a bigger and more traditional DT who has elite hands with his game film being very reminiscent of Joey Bosa’s last year. I think I undervalued Bosa’s hand fighting last year and if I was to re-grade the 2016 NFL Draft one year later, it’d be Bosa at #1 Overall on my board ahead of 1st Team All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott, budding shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey and ahead of both potential franchise QBs in Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz. Allen is so strong and has such good hands and technique that he’s borderline impossible to block in certain matchups and can just dominate the interior of an offensive line. I think he’s being a little overlooked right now and could easily become one of the 3-5 best players from this draft. Finally in my Top 3 DTs is my sleeper, DeMarcus Walker. It’s funny that he’s a sleeper in some ways as he was 2nd in the nation in sacks last year with 16 and played for Florida State but I just don’t see his name in the 1st round very often. I love his tape, think his quickness, speed and hand fighting are impressive and feel that he’ll become one of the better interior pass rushers in no time. He’s not as well rounded as Thomas or Allen but has as much, if not more, talent as a pass rusher and could have a number of double digit sack seasons, which at DT is worth its weight in gold. After those three you have Malik McDowell and Montravius Adams as potential pass rushers and then settle in to the rest of the DT class which is predominantly good run stoppers and average to above average starters. Those first three though have Pro Bowl potential so we’ll see who goes after them. With so many DTs getting $7-8 mil a year in free agency this spring (Dontari Poe, Nick Fairley, Bennie Logan, Johnathan Hankins) it seems like analytics has re-emphasized the DT position, after its been overlooked and undervalued for so long.

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