2019 NFL Mock Draft

usa_today_10283911.0After months of smokescreens and coded language to try landing players at a lower cost, the NFL Draft is finally here. This draft doesn’t appear to have the buzz of past years, but depth is there at key positions to help teams build the core of a roster. Like last year, the first player I mention is who I think the team will select with their pick. The “what I would do” section highlights what players I’d consider if the draft unfolded in this manner.

1. Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray, QB Oklahoma: The Cardinals have an interesting dilemma at number one. Despite trading up to draft Josh Rosen just last year, newly hired head coach Kliff Kingsbury has the chance to land Murray who he’s coveted since the high school recruiting trail. Nick Bosa makes a lot of sense here, but we all know there’s plenty of smoke screens this time of year. Unless the Cardinals are wowed in a trade to move down, it would be a surprise if they don’t take Murray number one.

What I would do- I’m a fan of Rosen, but if you’re going to hire the gourmet chef (Kingsbury) you need to let him chose his ingredients. So Murray would be the pick.

2. San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa, EDGE Ohio State: It’s rare that the best player available can often fit a need, but Bosa could very well meet the criteria. Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen may have garnered some consideration, but this pick makes too much sense.

What I would do- Unless the Jets want to trade up to get a guy the 49ers aren’t interested in (basically the Mitch Trubisky trade two years ago), I’d just stay put and take Bosa.

3. New York Jets: Quinnen Williams, DI Alabama: Considering the picks the Jets had to give up for Sam Darnold last year, a trade down would make sense if possible. If not, they do have some nice options to consider. Williams to many is a top two talent in this draft, and would also give the team insurance if Leonard Williams (in the last year of his rookie deal) leaves in free agency. Josh Allen and Ed Oliver are also likely to get consideration if the Jets stay put.

What I would do- Without a second round pick, I’d try to trade down given the defensive line talent in this draft. If not, I would go with Josh Allen who is seen as a top five prospect, but also fits the bill as an edge rusher which the Jets desperately need.

4. Oakland Raiders: Josh Allen, EDGE Kentucky: Now this is where things get really fun. The Raiders would love if Williams fell (this pick would likely be his absolute floor), but in this mock that seems unlikely. They’ve been linked to Ed Oliver, but Allen given the glaring need of a pass rush makes sense here. With the ammo to trade up, that is certainly an option if they really weren’t sold on Derek Carr or could stay put and take a quarterback. While it huge shock to many, I wouldn’t be surprised if T.J. Hockenson also got consideration.

What I would do- Williams if on the board would be the pick, but Allen’s not a bad consolation prize. If the Giants are considering a QB, I would entertain the idea of trading back two spots where two of a Williams, Allen and Ed Oliver trio would be available.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ed Oliver, DI Houston: Devin White is commonly linked here, but it’s extremely rare that we see an inside linebacker taken with a top five pick. The Buccaneers at this time are cap strapped, so there have been rumors about Gerald McCoy being available for trade. Drafting Oliver would give them McCoy’s heir apparent, and a player with rare physical gifts for the position. If Josh Allen were to fall, he could also be in play with this pick.

What I would do- If the Giants want a QB at six, I’d consider trading down if a team paid the price to jump them. White makes a lot of sense given the team’s linebacker need and so would an edge rusher (maybe Montez Sweat or Rashan Gary?). Assuming a McCoy trade is already being negotiated, Oliver has too much ability to pass up.

6. New York Giants: Daniel Jones, QB Duke: The good news is the Giants got a possible generational talent with the second pick last year. The bad news was, it was at a position that’s extremely expendable and they missed a golden chance to draft Eli Manning’s successor. With two first round picks, the Giants figure to do it this year and Jones is apparently the guy they’re smitten with. If they believe in Jones at pick 17, they might as well pick him here as there’s no telling if he’d be available. Other quarterbacks such as Dwayne Haskins and Drew Lock should be considered here, along with edge rushers such as Rashan Gary or Josh Allen if he falls.

What I would do- Still going quarterback, I would opt for Haskins over Jones assuming both are available.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jawaan Taylor, T Florida: To this point, the Jaguars as a franchise have made 26 first round selections. Five of them have been from the University of Florida. Despite the track record, only one of those picks has amounted to an above average player in team uniform (the criminally underrated Fred Taylor). That pick occurred in the Clinton administration. The Jaguars front office needs a tackle to protect their Nick Foles investment, and tends to double down despite what numbers tell them. Therefore, Taylor seems like the logical piece as Tom Coughlin tries to make football great again. Other top tackles like Jonah Williams, and Andre Dillard could also be considered here. T.J. Hockenson and Ed Oliver (if available) also are names to keep in mind.

What I would do- The idea of drafting Hockenson without a plan is enticing, but tackle makes sense. Jonah Williams is seen by many as the premier lineman in this draft, and with his versatility would be my pick here. However, the idea of drafting Devin White or Devin Bush is extremely enticing as it could give the Jaguars the most athletic linebacker trio we’ve seen to date.

8. Detroit Lions: Jonah Williams, T Alabama: Bob Quinn and the Lions have not been shy saying they’d be willing to trade down for the right price. If they’re unable to find a trade partner, Williams makes sense here. Quinn has put an emphasis on spending resources along the offensive and defensive lines so far in his tenure, and  Williams is viewed by many as the premier offensive lineman in this draft. Combining potential versatility with countless praise for his work ethic/attention to detail only help the cause. If they stay put, an edge rusher such as Brian Burns or a rangy linebacker such as Devin White could also be considered.

What I would do- In an ideal world, the Lions could nab Williams even after trading down a few spots.  If not, there’s nothing wrong with staying put and taking a potential ten year starter. Brian Burns could receive plenty of consideration here to line up opposite Trey Flowers however.

9. Buffalo Bills: T.J. Hockenson, TE Iowa: With this pick you’d assume the Bills will either draft a player who can help Josh Allen’s development or select one of the edge rushers available. With two straight tackles off the board, Hockenson makes sense at this point. Not only would he help upgrade Allen’s supporting cast, but he showed in college he can make a difference as a blocker as well. It’s too early to take a receiver here, so if it’s not Hockenson, the remaining tackles of Taylor, Williams and Andre Dillard will likely be considered. Along with edge rushers such as Rashan Gary and Montez Sweat (pending his the franchise’s medical review).

What I would do- While Hockenson is viewed very highly by the draft community, history shows us it could take some time for tight ends to adjust to the league. I would go with Dillard, but Brian Burns would also receive some consideration here.

10. Denver Broncos: Devin White, LB LSU: Drew Lock would be the ultimate John Elway pick here, but the Broncos have the chance to pair value with need if White is available. Since their Super Bowl run four years ago, linebacker depth has been a problem for the Broncos. White could come in and make an immediate impact in Vic Fangio’s defense, and would be in a great spot having both Von Miller and Bradley Chubb rushing off the edge. Quarterback, offensive line help or Hockenson if available could be in play, but White makes too much sense.

What I would do- If both Devin’s (White or Bush) are available, those would be the two players this pick is between. I mocked White as he’s generally been rated above Bush throughout the process. Ultimately it comes down to who is rated higher on the board, but I don’t think they can go wrong with picking either.

11. Cincinnati Bengals: Devin Bush, LB Michigan: Things can get interesting as it would make sense for the Bengals to go quarterback here. Zac Taylor is an offensive minded coach, and he could take Dwayne Haskins or Drew Lock to have “his guy” at the position. Considering this is his first draft and the Bengals were bit hard by the injury bug in 2018, Taylor might not want to make that commitment just yet. With Vontaze Burfict out of the picture, Bush makes plenty of sense here and would give the Bengals a linebacker who makes plays from sideline to sideline. It wouldn’t be surprising if the team considered an edge rusher here as well.

What I would do- Bush makes a lot of sense, but Haskins would be my pick for the Bengals if available. With Andy Dalton serving as the bridge, the luxury would be there for Haskins to be eased into the league and Taylor’s plans for the offense.

12. Green Bay Packers: Rashan Gary, EDGE Michigan : With two first rounders, the Packers could very well try and trade up from this pick. With players such as Bush and Hockenson off the board, it would make sense for the Packers to take an edge rusher who many viewed as a top ten pick. That could go for either Gary or Sweat at this point. The Packers have brought in quarterbacks to speak with, but that might just be as a smokescreen to start potential trade talks.

What I would do- If Ed Oliver somehow fell here, he would make a ton of sense for the Packers at this point. I’d personally take Brian Burns over the other edge rushers available here if that’s the direction the Packers went in .

13. Miami Dolphins: Dwayne Haskins, QB Ohio State: The Ryan Tannehill era is finally over, and with the Dolphins finally committed to a true rebuild, they have the chance to get their quarterback. Even if their eyes were set on future quarterback classes, the team could use this as an audition year for Haskins to see if he’s the future, or face a situation like the Cardinals this season. As they continue to collect assets, the Dolphins could consider trading down, or a defensive lineman such as Christian Wilkins at this point.

What I would do- If Haskins is here, he’s the pick. Otherwise, I’d try and trade down and add a defensive lineman from this deep class later in the round.

14. Atlanta Falcons: Christian Wilkins, DI Clemson: Between some offensive line holes and needs within the defensive line, it would make sense the Falcons pick a player to bolster their play in the trenches. Wilkins makes sense to line up next to Grady Jarrett (who just signed his franchise tag), and he’s shown some improvements as a pass rusher. The top remaining edge rushers and Andre Dillard should also be in consideration.

What I would do- With this being a deep class along the defensive line, I’d emphasize protecting Matt Ryan. Dillard per PFF consistently graded out as one of the top tackles in pass protection throughout his college career. He’d be my pick at this point.

15. Washington Redskins: Drew Lock, QB Missouri: Unfortunately, with the Alex Smith injury the Redskins are in a bind at quarterback. Despite trading for Case Keenum and having Colt McCoy, it would make sense to have a signal caller with a rookie cap hit and projection in the fold. There are now rumors of the team considering trading up into the top five, but with the potential for 2019 to be ugly, any move involving the 2020 first could be a nightmare. Daniel Jones or Haskins are options if available, but Lock is the one remaining in this scenario. Cornerback or edge rusher are the other likely options if the Redskins opt to stay put and not pick a quarterback.

What I would do- Not thrilled with the remaining options, I would inquire to see what the Cardinals want for Josh Rosen (ideally you’d be giving up a second or third). Then with no cornerbacks selected, you can select whoever’s the highest rated on the board.

16. Carolina Panthers: Andre Dillard, T Washington State: Despite what seems like years of discussion, the Panthers still have struggled to find protection for Cam Newton. At this point, Dillard would represent a great value but an edge rusher could be in play as well.

What I would do- If Dillard is here, he makes too much sense to pass on. Otherwise, I’d consider the available prospects among Brian Burns, Sweat or Christian Wilkins.

17. New York Giants: Brian Burns, EDGE Florida State: The Giants get a pass rusher and a quarterback, just not in the order we’d expect. Burns could go much earlier, so if he got to this point there would be some value. A receiver would make some sense here, but the Giants would be happy getting out of the first round with two players they view as foundational players at key positions.

What I would do- Depending on how the draft unfolds, the Giants might not have selected a quarterback. If they took a pass rusher at six and Haskins somehow makes it here, I’d run the card in. If they have taken a QB, the best available pass rusher on the board should be the guy.

18. Minnesota Vikings: Garrett Bradbury, C North Carolina State: The Vikings offensive line has been an Achilles heel for a few years now, and the chance is there to address it here. Bradbury should be able to come in right away and be plugged in as the Vikings’ starting center. If not Bradbury, odds are the remaining offensive lineman on the board will be heavily considered.

What I would do- Dalton Risner would get some consideration here as a versatile lineman who has potential to play tackle. Some have Bradbury off the board before this point, so he could be a nice mix of value and filling a need if available.

19. Tennessee Titans: D.K. Metcalf, WR Ole Miss: The Titans could really go a bunch of different directions here. Some reports have indicated they’re high on Christian Wilkins if he falls, others have them going with an offensive lineman. Rather than that, I’ll give them the first receiver off the board. Metcalf and Corey Davis would give Marcus Mariota a dangerous receiver duo as he enters the season in yet another new offense. Other wideouts such as Marquise Brown could be considered, and Montez Sweat would also make sense given the Titans need for pass rush off the edge.

What I would do- While having a receiver opposite Davis is huge, this wideout class is deep enough where a first round pick isn’t needed for an impact player. With Sweat still on the board, he would be the pick here.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Byron Murphy, CB Washington: Despite corner being one of football’s premium positions, none have come off the board in this scenario. While the Steelers would love for someone like Devin Bush to fall, going with a corner would make a lot of sense. Murphy is considered to be one of if not the best cornerback in this class, so this would be a great value. An edge rusher could also be in play with this pick.

What I would do- With their choice of the board at corner, I would take whoever the Steelers have a higher grade on. Chances are Murphy, Greedy Williams and Rock Ya-Sin would all be in play at that point.

21. Seattle Seahawks: Montez Sweat, EDGE Mississippi State: With limited picks, the Seahawks would probably love to trade down from here. If they keep it, Sweat who was viewed a few months ago as a top ten pick would be a great get here. After extending Russell Wilson, it’s important the Seahawks get the most out of their cost controlled picks. Sweat offers plenty of upside now that the team decided to trade Frank Clark. Rashan Gary if he manages to fall here could also be considered.

What I would do- Sweat here would be tough to pass up, especially with Clark now off to the Chiefs. The Seahawks could also address the safety position, or choose to do that with their second first rounder.

22. Baltimore Ravens: Clelin Ferrell, EDGE Clemson: Losing Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, the Ravens enter the draft with a need at edge rusher. Ferrell took a step forward rushing the passer in 2018, and with words such as “physical” and “tough” used to describe him, brings traits we’ve come to expect from the Ravens defense. Other edge rushers such as Chase Winovich and receivers could also be considered here.

What I would do- Receiver is a need for the Ravens, but in this deep class they’ll be able to find a talented wideout in the second round. Ferrell appears to be a good fit both on the field and within the team’s culture.

23. Houston Texans: Cody Ford, T/G Oklahoma: Entering their third year with Deshaun Watson at quarterback, the Texans haven’t done much to protect their prized asset.  Ford might not be a tackle at the next level, but at the least he could step in and play along the interior of the line. If not an offensive lineman, a cornerback such as Greedy Williams would be a good fit here.

What I would do- More likely to stick at tackle, Dalton Risner would be my pick here. Greedy Williams and other remaining corners would get serious consideration. Assuming a tackle falls into the 12-15 range, trading up is an option depending on price.

24. Oakland Raiders: Noah Fant, TE Iowa: The Raiders have plenty of ways they could go here, but if Jon Gruden has the final say this will probably be spent on the offensive side of the ball. Fant has the upside to be a dangerous pass catching tight end, and we’ve already seen Gruden utilizes the position within his offense. Addressing the secondary would also make sense with this pick.

What I would do- Due to the learning curve, tight end scares me in the first round. With plenty of defensive backs available I would take the highest rated available with players such as Greedy Williams available.

25. Philadelphia Eagles: Marquise Brown, WR Oklahoma: Receiver isn’t the most pressing need for the Eagles, but it’s better to address it now. Nelson Aghlolor can hit free agency after this year, and while DeSean Jackson’s deep speed appears to be an ageless wonder, you never know if that changes. That’s where the big play threat known as “Hollywood” comes into play. A defensive interior lineman such as Jerry Tillery or Jeffery Simmons could also be considered here.

What I would do- A top ten talent, Jeffery Simmons is an intriguing option here. Although due to an ACL tear suffered during the draft process, this will be a redshirt year. Can the Eagles afford to do that while being “all in” with Carson Wentz at the end of his rookie deal? In this case, I’d opt for Tillery who would give Jim Schwartz yet another threat to work with on the defensive line.

26. Indianapolis Colts: Greedy Williams, CB LSU: The Colts defense showed great improvement last season, but still could improve at cornerback. Projected as a top ten pick early on, Williams would likely be too hard to pass up if he made it here.  The Colts could consider other corners such as Rock Ya-Sin or address the defensive line here.

What I would do- It’s hard to pass up Williams if he got to this point. A safety or defensive lineman such as Jerry Tillery and Jeffrey Simmons would also be considered.

27. Oakland Raiders: Josh Jacobs, RB Alabama: The Raiders could go a bunch of different ways here, but we know Jon Gruden loves to run the ball. Considered the top back in his class, this seems like the range Jacobs would go if he is selected in the first. If not addressed earlier, Secondary help and a tight end such as Noah Fant could also be considered at this point.

What I would do- I personally wouldn’t want to take a running back in the first, so defensive backs such as Deandre Baker, Greey Williams and Darnell Savage would be considered here. Savage is a safety whose received a ton of buzz of late, and could be in play at this point of the draft.

28. Los Angeles Chargers: Rock Ya-Sin, CB Temple: The Chargers have some very talented pieces in the secondary, but could still use a corner opposite Casey Hayward. If Ya-Sin or other top corners aren’t available, they could be in the market for a safety (Nassir Adderley or Abram), or a defensive tackle such as Simmons and Tillery.

What I would do- Adderley’s range and ball skills would make for an fascinating tandem with Derwin James. However, with the premium on cover corners Ya-Sin or a corner such as David Long would be the pick. In terms of scheme fit, Joejuan Williams is another corner to monitor for the Chargers.

29. Seattle Seahawks: Darnell Savage, S Maryland: Even after netting an additional first, the Seahawks could trade down to make-up for not having a second rounder. If they do keep the pick, Savage with his range and versatility would make plenty of sense with Earl Thomas leaving this offseason. An edge rusher if not addressed at pick 21 could also be considered.

What I would do- With Doug Baldwin dealing with injuries of late, I’d look into trading back and finding a way to add a receiver in the second. If forced to stay put, Savage or Nasir Adderley would be the pick having selected a pass rusher in Sweat at 21.

30. Green Bay Packers: Jerry Tillery, DI Notre Dame: If the Packers were truly intrigued by a QB in this draft, this would be a nice time to take them if they were available. Last year the Packers addressed cornerback and receiver throughout the draft. This year, they’d be addressing the defensive line. On talent alone, Tillery shouldn’t fall this far and would be quite the consolation prize for missing on an interior pass rusher earlier on.

What I would do- If available, Tillery would make for a great value here. With so much invested in Aaron Rodgers, I would take Dalton Risner if he does make it this far, but Tillery has the ability to be a steal at this point.

31. Los Angeles Rams: Dalton Risner, T Kansas State: Considering the Rams don’t have a pick between 31 and 94, trading down makes a lot of sense. If they do stay put, Risner could make a lot of sense as he has the versatility to play other positions along the line. If the Rams do trade down into the second, Greg Little could be a tackle they consider. With some older defensive backs, getting younger at safety and corner would also make sense.

What I would do- Trading down and selecting Risner in the early second would be the goal here. If forced to stay, Darnell Savage at safety could contribute early while also being the long-term solution.

32. New England Patriots: Jeffery Simmons, DI Mississippi State: With 12 picks, the Patriots could move up and down the board as they wish. If they stay put, Simmons is a very good investment. A prospect some saw as a potential top five talent, Simmons won’t be able to contribute this year but he will give the Patriots a cheap/valuable asset for the following three (or four if you count the option) years. A receiver could also be in play if the Patriots stay put.

What I would do- Taking Simmons here seems like a typical Patriots move, but I’d lean towards A.J. Brown with this pick. Brown can win outside and in the slot, and has the makings to be a valuable weapon for Tom Brady early on. Darnell Savage’s ability to play safety and cover the slot would make him enticing if he made it here as well.

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2019 Draft Rankings: Wide Receiver

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi StateIn recent years, we’ve seen receivers selected in day two come in and have an instant impact. It wasn’t to the level of Michael Thomas or JuJu Smith-Schuster a few years ago, but players like Courtland Sutton, Dante Pettis, Anthony Miller, Christian Kirk and Michael Gallup, all played big roles despite being second day picks. While this year’s receiver class is deep, there isn’t a clear cut order of how these receivers are ranked.

As a result, we may not see many receivers go in the first round this Thursday. Instead, there could be ten selected on Friday as suddenly there’s some great value available. That also impacts my rankings, as there are players listed I might be higher on than the general consensus, or vice versa.

1. A.J. Brown, Mississippi: With the build of a prototypical outside receiver, and strength to bully smaller corners in the slot, Brown can do a little bit of everything. He has strong hands that let him pluck the ball out of the air, and his experience as an outfielder (drafted by the Padres out of high school) shows when tracking passes thrown his way. He’s also very physical after the catch as per PFF, he’s had 600 plus yards after the catch in each of the past two years.

Brown did have some drops that appeared to be related to a lack of concentration, and also struggled against some of the more athletic corners he faced in college. That is where Brown’s ability to win in the slot comes into play. Facing smaller corners with the ability to create after the catch, he could have an immediate impact there as a pro. Top wideouts lining up in the slot is becoming increasingly common, but Brown has shown that he’s capable of winning on the perimeter if needed.

2. Hakeem Butler, Iowa State: With so many talented wideouts and little separating them, sometimes it comes down to personal preference. Preferring receivers that can go up and pluck the ball out of the air, naturally I’m a fan of the 6’5″ Butler who also possesses nearly 11 inch hands. While his size and athleticism made him a dangerous jump ball candidate, Butler is more than just that. At Iowa State he also lined up in the slot, and was strong after the catch running with physicality at times toying with smaller defensive backs.

Despite the gifts, Butler is still raw compared to some of the other wideouts in this class. Despite his massive hands, there are times he’ll catch with his body and struggled with drops this past year. Butler didn’t run agility drills such as the three cone, so he could face questions similar to D.K. Metcalf about his ability to change direction and cut in and out of breaks. For a patient team, Butler is a pick that could payoff in a huge way. He might not provide the immediate contributions that others in this class will, but the upside is well worth the gamble.

3. Marquise Brown, Oklahoma: There’s pressure entering the NFL for any young player, let alone if your cousin is a Hall of Fame talent at the same position. With Antonio Brown as his cousin, that’s the challenge “Hollywood” Brown faces entering the league. At 5’9″ 166, there will be concerns about Brown’s durability at the next level, but the game breaking ability is apparent. This past year he hauled in 13 passes alone that traveled 20 plus yards, and racked up over 300 yards on post routes alone. On top of that, Brown proved to be effective in the slot as well, and like his cousin uses quick breaks to get in and out of his routes.

Brown was unable to participate in pre-draft workouts or the combine due to needing surgery for the dreaded lisfranc injury. That could limit Brown’s explosiveness early on, but it appears teams aren’t scared off which is a positive. Winning 50/50 balls won’t be his forte, but with so many chances to accelerate in space, how he fares in contested catch situations will be an interesting development. While the foot injury for a player who can be dependent on speed has him lower in my rankings, it speaks to Brown’s ability that many feel he could still be the first wideout off the board.

4. D.K. Metcalf, Mississippi: Before the combine, photos circulated of Metcalf preparing and he had the build of a super hero. The legend only grew from there, as at 6’3″ 228 he ran a 4.33 forty, and had a 40.5 inch vertical. Some instantly started throwing around Calvin Johnson or Julio Jones comparisons, but that’s premature as Metcalf isn’t as complete a player entering the league. The tools are there to completely take the top off of defenses and be a very dangerous redzone threat. On top of that, his strength will help him create separation if pressed at the line of scrimmage. At Ole Miss, his production came through a limited route tree, so with next level coaching that part of his game should improve. PFF’s charting data shows that nearly 72 percent of Metcalf’s yards this past season came from solely go and hitch routes.

Staying on the field has been difficult for Metcalf with multiple season ending injuries, but many of his concerns entering the NFL pertain to route running. That is concerning, but we’ve seen wideouts dominate running a similar route tree (think young Josh Gordon). Metcalf’s early impact could be dependent on where he lands. While one team may want him to become a complete route runner, others will want to emphasize his current strengths. Metcalf has all the potential to become a number one wideout, he just might not take the conventional path to get there.

5. JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Stanford: Despite his production, Arcega-Whiteside hasn’t received a ton of draft buzz until recently. Granted, running a sub 4.5 forty at 6’2″ 225 will do that. Arcega-Whiteside has a basketball background and it shows within his game. He was extremely productive on jump balls where he displayed strong hands, ability to high point the ball and box out smaller defenders. Arcega-Whiteside wasn’t just a jump ball specialist either and was utilized on shorter routes, while also showing some ability to create after the catch.

Despite his mix of speed and strength, some have concerns about Arcega-Whiteside’s ability to create separation against what will be more physical corners. With coaching, that is something that could come with time. While he wasn’t utilized in the slot, Arcega-Whiteside’s ability to box out smaller defenders could make him a valuable weapon there. In a deep receiver class, these rankings will come down to preference, and Whiteside in the right situation has the tools to be a well above average outside receiver.

6. Andy Isabella, Massachusetts: Just by looking at Isabella, you’d assume he’s your typical slot receiver but that couldn’t be further from the truth. With 4.31 speed, Isabella was one of college football’s premier deep threats and played both outside and in the slot. Quick in and out of his breaks, Isabella sells his routes very well and accelerates to his top speed quickly out of his cuts. He has the ability to make defenders miss, and on top of that has experience returning kicks.

The level of competition Isabella played at UMass might scare some. However, that didn’t stop him from catching 15 passes for over 200 yards and two touchdowns against Georgia this past year. To me the biggest concern is that Isabella often hauled in passes with his body, and with smaller hands and arms has a limited catch radius compared to others in this class. Physical corners at the line of scrimmage could also be a tough test initially. More Brandin Cooks than Wes Welker, Isabella in the right offense has the ability to make an immediate impact.

7. Parris Campbell, Ohio State: Campbell makes for an interesting evaluation as the way he was used in college doesn’t highlight the player he could fully become. Possessing track speed and checking in with a 40 inch vertical, you’d suspect Campbell to be an established deep threat. Instead, around 57 percent of his yards came off screens, drag routes or jet sweeps. Campbell is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands with his electrifying combination of speed and ability to break tackles.

Campbell has improved his hands, but route running will be the biggest concern at the next level. Granted, that could improve with coaching or he’s more polished there than his role let on. Mike Thomas doesn’t have a similar game as Campbell, but coming from Ohio State’s offense, he wasn’t able to show all the traits he’s shown in the league. At the least, we know Campbell can be a dangerous option in space out of the slot but there’s potential for more.

8. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State: A physical and competitive receiver with strong hands, the first player that came to mind when watching Harry was Jarvis Landry. Like Landry, Harry was used often in the short passing game as PFF charted 23 of his 73 receptions coming off screen passes. Despite that, Harry won vertically as well with 337 of his yards coming off go routes. His strong hands and timing on jump balls will also help him at the next level.

There are questions about Harry’s ability to separate from corners and downfield speed despite clocking a 4.53 at the combine. Drops also plagued him this year, but those could be concentration related. At the least, Harry has shown ability that indicates he could make a difference as a bigger receiver in the slot who can also create after the catch.

9. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina: While he’s had trouble staying healthy, Samuel has shown promising traits when on the field. Checking in at 5’11” 214, there are times he looks like a running back with the ball in his hands. Samuel averaged a whopping 9.6 yards after the catch per reception in 2018, and he’s willing to go around or through defenders. Not surprisingly, half of Samuel’s receptions came on a combination of screens, slants, and jet sweeps. All of those routes have a lower depth of target, but allow him to get the ball in his hands quickly and create in space. Not surprisingly, Samuel also proved to be a dangerous kick returner at South Carolina.

Like many young wideouts, Samuel could improve his route running but the biggest concern is durability. 2018 was Samuel’s healthiest to date at South Carolina, but part of the injury history could be a result of his physical style of play. He has the makings of an intriguing slot receiver, and it will be interesting to see if the team that drafts him manufactures ways to get him in space.

10. Diontae Johnson, Toledo: With a new quarterback, Johnson and the Toledo offense wasn’t as productive in 2018, but he still showed plenty of next level traits. Despite checking in at 5’10” 183, Johnson is extremely quick at the line of scrimmage to elude press coverage. While he can freelance at times, the signs are there of a crafty route runner that can win at all levels of the field. Johnson also has experience playing in the slot and on special teams where at Toledo he was electrifying in the return game.

Depending on his landing spot, Johnson’s occasional freelancing could limit playing time initially. With his size, contested catches and 50/50 balls could also be an issue. At the least, Johnson is a player who could be a dangerous offensive chess piece with big play potential every time he touches the ball.

11. Riley Ridley, Georgia: The younger brother of Calvin, Ridley didn’t put up the same level of production at the college level, but part of that could be a result of the offense. Per PFF, Ridley was targeted just 109 times through his three years at Georgia. Ridley projects more as a possession receiver at the next level, but his savvy route running will benefit him. He showed a wide catch radius and strong hands along with body control that will help him near the sidelines or on back shoulder throws.

Ridley didn’t show much in terms of yards after the catch, and just three of his receptions this past year came from the slot. A lack of quickness and early acceleration could limit him against longer corners who press at the line of scrimmage. In a deep receiver class, the positives still make Ridley worth consideration at some point in day two as every team will have their preference. Due to the limited college role, there’s a change he’s a more productive pro than college player as well.

12. Miles Boykin, Notre Dame: Boykin this past year was a primary receiver in Notre Dame’s offense for the first time. While that’s a limited sample size, the ability he showed combined with his athletic profile is certainly enticing. Checking in at nearly 6’4″ and 220 pounds, Boykin ran a 4.42 forty, and posted a vertical of 43.5 inches. Those show when watching Boykin as he had numerous leaping catches, and hauled in 11 passes that travelled 20 plus yards (per PFF).  There is also enough ability that suggests he could be dangerous if used in the slot, or running intermediate routes.

Despite his size, Boykin like other young receivers could improve against physical corners. The potential is there for him to bully smaller defenders if he plays with strength, so with the right coaching he could end up making a very early impact. In a deep receiver draft that comes down to preference, don’t be stunned if Boykin’s selected in the second round.

2019 class grade: B+

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2019 Draft Rankings: Running Back

5c2beef13697e.imageFor the first time in what seems like years, we have a running back class without a “best prospect since Adrian Peterson”. Even without that, it would be hard for this group to live up to the last two classes of backs we’ve seen enter the league. Unfortunately for running backs, slowly but surely analytics have become more ingrained in the decision making process. All signs there indicate that having a dominant or transcendent back doesn’t necessarily lead to team success.

We might not see a running back go in round one this year, but that doesn’t mean this group can’t play. There are numerous backs in this class that should be able to contribute immediately, and also take on bigger roles in the future.

1. Josh Jacobs, Alabama: Playing in a deep backfield, Jacobs saw just over 200 rushing attempts in his college career but he certainly made the most of them. While his violent running style is apparent, Jacobs is a patient and decisive runner that rarely goes down on first contact. When called upon, Jacobs has also shown flashes as a receiver. Having played just over 700 snaps for his college career, Jacobs like many young backs could improve in pass protection/blitz pickup. Between his size, traits and limited tread on the tires from college, Jacobs possesses plenty of traits that would indicate he will be an effective feature back at the next level.

2. David Montgomery, Iowa State: Over the past two years, no back in college football made defenders miss more than Montgomery. A patient runner, Montgomery has the build that suggests he should be able to handle 20 plus touches a game. While he wasn’t a huge big play threat, Montgomery’s skills that you can’t teach such as vision and balance constantly led to him creating extra yards. The Iowa State product also showed some ability as a receiver, and experience in pass blocking as well.

Lack of timed speed could lead to concerns about Montgomery as defenders will only be faster at the next level. We’ve seen backs who don’t run the 40 particularly well make an impact at the next level, and considering Montgomery checked in just over 220 pounds it’s not the issue it would be for a smaller back. There is enough there to suggest Montgomery could be a great value in the second round as a reliable back who can play an every down role.

3. Darrell Henderson, Memphis: This past season, Henderson was a big play waiting to happen with over 27 runs of 20-plus yards in 2018 alone. While his big play ability was most notable, he’s a more physical runner than given credit for and in space is difficult to bring down. The Memphis product doesn’t have the 4.2 speed you might expect, but he accelerates and gets to his top speed quickly. Henderson was reliable in the passing game this year as well, hauling in all 23 of his targets and even saw some snaps lining up in the slot.

Memphis deployed a trio of running backs this past season, so it is unknown if Henderson could handle a 300 plus touch workload. Not having to run against heavy boxes could also lead some to over think how the big play ability will translate to the pros. On certain instances, he would also play a little too fast and not wait for holes to develop. At the least, Henderson has the talent to be valuable multi dimensional back in a role where he splits carries.

4. Bryce Love, Stanford: Love’s 2018 season was ended with a torn ACL, but before that he dealt with lingering injury that limited his production. Looking back at his fully healthy 2017 you see a back that looked Jamaal Charles-esque. Love showed top-end speed, to go along with an ability to run between the tackles to go with elusiveness. On top of that, he isn’t afraid to fight for extra yardage and has the potential to be a nice weapon in the passing game.

If guaranteed that version of Love would return, he’d be my top back in the class. Unfortunately, that’s not a certainty and the ACL tear could make him a PUP list stash for the team that drafts him. Love seemed to be more productive within a zone blocking scheme, so going to a system that plays to his strengths would be beneficial. The potential is there for high end production as a lead back or in a timeshare. It’s just up for a team to figure out what point in the draft would taking the chance be worth it.

5. Devin Singletary, Florida Atlantic: Singletary spent just three seasons at FAU, but leaves as the most decorated player in the young program’s history. While his combine measurables would indicate he’s undersized and ran poorly, Singletary’s game isn’t dependent on speed. The man known as “Motor” is a slippery runner who can accelerate and change directions quickly. While his yards and yards per carry dropped in 2018, part of that can be credited to numerous changes on the offensive line and at offensive coordinator. Even checking in at 5’7″ 203, Singletary proved to be durable despite the big workload.

Despite a profile that has the makings of a dangerous pass catching threat, Singletary wasn’t really used in that capacity in college. Drops were an issue when given those chances, so how he adjusts at the next level will be crucial to his development. Without being a true breakaway threat, there could be questions surrounding Singletary’s adjustment from Conference USA to the NFL. Focusing on the positive, the pieces are in place for him to carve out an impact role within a pro offense. The potential is there for more, and Singletary could be one of the better values in this class if he falls to day three.

6. Miles Sanders, Penn State: Given the tough task of being the guy after Saquon Barkley, Sanders filled in admirably this past season. As a result, he leaves Penn State without a lot of tread on his tires and has plenty of desirable traits in his own right. Sanders appears to be a quick decision maker when he hits the hole, and has a nice balance of elusiveness and power in his running. Despite PFF crediting him for dropping two passes this year, he does show some passing game ability as well.

The biggest issue for Sanders would be ball security. In his only season with an expanded role, he had five fumbles which if it carries over would certainly impact his playing time. Despite some impressive athletic measurables, Sanders wasn’t incredibly explosive ripping off chunk plays. Considering the limited playing time, there could be some untapped upside with Sanders that would make him an intriguing day two target.

7. Damien Harris, Alabama: In a crowded Alabama backfield, Harris led the way in terms of touches this past season. It’s easy to see why as he’s dependable, can play all three downs and holds onto the football. He’s a patient runner, and is willing to get physical but doesn’t have a ton of burst or ability to make a defender miss. Harris’ style bodes well for running between the tackles which works in a time where many teams utilize multiple backs. He also demonstrated an ability to contribute in the passing game. With limited wear and tear, Harris is a player that should contribute early on and depending on the situation could see himself become the starter sooner rather than later.

8. Devine Ozigbo, Nebraska: Ozigbo didn’t receive an invite to the combine, but had a noteworthy senior season playing within Scott Frost’s zone blocking scheme. He showed patience as a runner with good balance in traffic which helped him per PFF produce a personal best 4.5 yards after contact per attempt. Ozigbo as a runner also demonstrated some power along with lateral quickness. Despite not being extremely explosive or having the softest hands, Ozibgo showed he can contribute in the passing game. With limited tread on his tires (only one year with 150+ carries), the framework is there to be a nice value for a team that emphasizes a zone blocking scheme.

9. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma: When playing for the Sooners, Anderson demonstrated a skillset with plenty to like. Despite being a bigger back, he can cut without losing speed, runs with patience and has pass catching ability. The problem is Anderson wasn’t on the field a whole lot while at Oklahoma. Anderson had a broken leg end his 2015, broke his vertebra in the spring of 2016 and played just 35 snaps in 2018 before his season ended with a knee injury.

Due to those circumstances, we will almost certainly never see a “fully healthy” version of Anderson on an NFL field. Even before the injuries, Anderson wasn’t extremely explosive and there’s no telling if he’ll be ready for training camp. Yet, there was enough to like from his 2017 season that could make him worth a flier at some point on day three.

10. Benny Snell, Kentucky: Snell isn’t flashy, but there’s something to be said for how productive he was throughout his college career. Kentucky’s all time leading rusher, Snell’s a compact back that can run between the tackles and does a nice job picking up yards after contact. Part of that can be attributed to his balance as there were instances where arm tackles didn’t faze him. He also showed some ability as a pass catching option, but more so for check downs.

Snell isn’t much of a breakaway threat, and questions surround how much burst he has in terms of getting to the second level of defenses. Per PFF, this past year was his best in pass protection so continued improvement there could make up for other deficiencies. A verbal and emotional leader at Kentucky, Snell can handle an every down role, but it might take time before he gets that opportunity.

2019 class grade: C+

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2019 Draft Rankings: Quarterback

usa_today_11765700.0Almost every year it seems the discussion “this isn’t a great quarterback draft” comes up. Despite that, in four of the past five drafts we’ve had three or more quarterbacks selected in the first round. The highest of that group was the five selected last year and four of them went in the top ten. Simply put, a good quarterback on a rookie deal is the most coveted asset in the league.

Because of that, we’ll probably see another three to four go in the first. Despite that, this isn’t a group of guys that will all be ready to play right away. For the most part, this is is class of quarterbacks that could benefit from developmental time upon entering the league. Given teams wanting a quick return on investment, it will be fascinating to see how their development is handled.

1. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma: Entering college as arguably the most decorated Texas high school quarterback ever,  Murray didn’t take a conventional route to get here. Granted, that path is fitting for a player of his unique abilities. Checking in at 5’10” 207 at the combine, Murray’s size and durability to go along with just one full year as a starter could be seen as a risk to some teams. Despite that, he showed all the traits you’d want from your quarterback within the pocket.

Per Pro Football Focus, Murray in 2018 had a passer rating of 138.9 when given less than 2.5 seconds in the pocket. On dropbacks of 2.6 seconds or longer, that figure was 132.4. Pressure didn’t faze him this season either, as Murray per PFF had an adjusted completion percentage (accounting for passes that are dropped, throwaways, etc) of over 76 percent when pressured or facing a blitz. Between his accuracy to all levels of the field, rare improvisational skills, and ability to run (enhanced with RPO’s becoming an offensive staple), Murray would be the consensus first pick if he was an inch and half taller.

For Murray to succeed at the next level, the most important thing will be landing with a team that will adjust to him, rather than the other way around. Even though the Cardinals/Josh Rosen saga could just be a massive smokescreen, Murray playing in Kliff Kingsbury’s wide open offense has the makings of an ideal fit.

2. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State: Assuming he goes in the first round, Haskins will be the first signal caller from the Big Ten to do so in over 20 years. Watching him throw, it’s easy to see why as there are instances where the ball jumps out of his hand. For a quarterback who has made just a season’s worth of starts, he shows a nice job of being able to sense pressure and step up in the pocket. When given a clean pocket this past season, Haskins was fantastic as according to PFF he had an adjusted completion percentage above 80, and a passer rating of 135.4.

With limited mobility, it’s important that whatever team drafts Haskins has the foundation in place to protect him. As we’ve seen with quarterbacks in the past, not only is hard to assess them behind poor offensive lines, but it can rattle their confidence as well. Like many young quarterbacks, Haskins will have to grow in terms of reading NFL coverages. The positive is that he’s already shown flashes of being able to read the whole field and manipulate defenders with his eyes. There isn’t a fantastic track record of signal callers entering the league with so few starts, but Haskins’ has shown enough traits and ability to where he could buck the trend.

3. Drew Lock, Missouri: While Lock’s stats in 2018 weren’t as gaudy as his junior year, he showed improvement in important areas. Lock saw a leap in his completion percentage, but most importantly cut back on turnovers in his senior season. A three and a half year starter in the SEC, Lock also “looks the part”, with the protypical size and arm for the position. There are flashes when watching Lock both positive and negative that can lead to someone scratching their head. On one note, there are plays where he can use his improvisational skills and make a difficult throw only a few NFL quarterbacks would attempt. Unfortunately, there are also plays where he can show inconsistent touch or accuracy on simple throws.

There are times Lock also struggled in terms of identifying or performing against pressure. Per PFF, Lock had a passer rating of 55.7 when under pressure this past year, which ranked 83rd among qualifying college quarterbacks. During his time at Missouri, Lock also had the tendency to struggle against bigger opponents, which could be a cause for concern. The physical ability and flashes Lock has shown would make him an ideal fit for a team willing to let him develop and adjust to the NFL game. Unfortunately due to the premium placed on the position, he may not be afforded that luxury.

4. Will Grier, West Virginia: While a yearlong suspension for taking a performance-enhancing supplement took Grier to West Virginia, he quickly established himself upon taking the field. Few quarterbacks were more effective last season than Grier when given a clean pocket with an adjusted completion percentage of 80, and a passer rating of 132.6 in those scenarios per PFF. Grier doesn’t have the strongest arm, but still proved to be accurate on vertical throws.

A confident player, Grier wasn’t afraid to take chances vertically, so those concerned about his arm will have doubts how that element of his game translates. When pressured, he struggled this past season with his accuracy and posted a passer rating of 59 in those situations. Grier showed an ability to go through his progressions and make pre-snap adjustments so if he can improve under duress, there are signs of a serviceable starter.

5. Brett Rypien, Boise State: Rypien’s physical measurables aren’t going to blow anyone away, but plenty of other elements are in place that could lead to a long NFL career. Playing in 52 collegiate games, Rypien has experience both under center and in shotgun. When under pressure this past year, he didn’t back down as PFF charted him as having a passer rating of 91.7 in those scenarios. Rypien showed he can manipulate defensive backs with his eyes, and has the sense to feel pressure and climb the pocket.

Rypien’s arm strength is a concern to some, and he was most efficient this past year on shorter throws. Throws such as an intermediate out route that worked in college, might not work at the next level against faster defenders if the right touch/velocity isn’t there. Based off his strong football IQ and what he’s shown as a rhythm passer, Rypien could be a very nice fit in an offense similar to what Kyle Shanahan has been running in San Francisco.

6. Daniel Jones, Duke: Despite what the payday might indicate, we’ve seen plenty of quarterbacks with similarities to Jones become victims of the draft process. These are usually the guys who “look the part” but by being taken high when a quarterback on a rookie deal is the league’s most valuable asset, they aren’t all afforded the time they need to develop. That’s what worries me with Jones the most. Between the size, athleticism and a David Cutcliffe cosign, that’s enough for some to view Jones as a first round pick.

There are instances where Jones shows flashes, and he works quickly through progressions which was needed in an offense with plenty of RPO’s. Some of the knocks on him can be partially attributed to his supporting cast as well. PFF charted Duke receivers for dropping 36 of his passes this past year, and in games such as when he went up against Clemson, Jones’ offensive line didn’t give him a chance.

Despite being 6’5″, Jones per PFF had 12 passes batted at the line of scrimmage this past season. The majority of his passes were underneath routes, with just barely 50 percent of his passing yards coming through the air. Despite the ability to create plays with his legs, Jones at times relied on that too much between throwing balls where he should have just taken sacks, and embracing content rather than just sliding out of bounds. Based on what he showed at Duke, Jones looks like he’d be best served as a game manager at the next level. It’s a perfectly fine result, but one that could be viewed as a disappointment for a team that spends a first round pick to get it.

7. Ryan Finley, North Carolina State: Before Brett Rypien took the reins for Boise State, it was Finley who held onto the starting role. Like Rypien, Finley has experience playing under center and in shotgun, and showed the ability to recognize coverages. He throws to all levels of the field with touch, and even when forced to throw on the run can still make accurate throws.With average arm strength, Finley’s ability to make throws through tight windows will be his biggest question mark at the NFL level. His accuracy and football IQ could keep him around the league for a long time, even if it’s as a backup/spot starter.

8. Tyree Jackson, Buffalo: In terms of raw ability, Jackson is the most intriguing developmental quarterback in this class. The size, rocket arm and athleticism are all there, however the biggest thing will be getting those traits to show consistently. Jackson made some “wow” plays, but in between displayed scattershot accuracy and doesn’t put much touch on shorter throws. Not surprisingly, accuracy was an issue when facing blitzes or pressure as well. Ideally the team that selects him is patient, and knows that they might not see any return on their investment for the first year or two.

9. Gardner Minshew, Washington State: Minshew led what was a memorable season for the Washington State program in 2018. Minshew was one of the most prolific passers in the country last year, but now the question is how much of it translates to the NFL? Minshew per PFF is the most accurate quarterback in the draft, but that also comes with 57.1 percent of his passing yards coming after the catch. Within Washington State’s offense, Minshew had to go through his reads and deliver the ball quickly, so the figure makes sense. His size, questions about his arm strength, and how much the scheme benefited him will likely follow at the next level. Minshew’s accuracy and intangibles could make him an appealing backup option for a team in a timing based passing attack.

10. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn: This time last year, Stidham was regarded as a player who would be one of the first quarterbacks off the board in 2019. Unfortunately, he and Auburn’s offense regressed in 2018, but he still has the makings of an intriguing developmental prospect. When things are clicking, Stidham has a clean throwing motion, and can make plays on the run. He’s had experience working with RPO’s and as a result had to make quick decisions.

The main thing that appeared to go wrong for Stidham in 2018 starts up front. As the season wore on, he appeared to start seeing ghosts in the pocket, and in those cases many young quarterbacks drop their eyes when facing it. Per PFF’s charting numbers his accuracy dropped slightly as well. There’s enough here to make Stidham an intriguing option to draft later on or bring into camp.

2019 class grade: C

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Super Bowl 53 Predictions

GettyImages-1091266218_0Just like that, it all comes down to this Sunday. From the time confetti fell down on the Eagles last February, discussion had already started about who would be playing in Super Bowl 53. Now, it’s less than 48 hours away and two teams that were popular contenders preseason are fighting for the title. The Patriots as always, were rightfully a popular pick. After years of struggling to make the playoffs, the Rams emerged last year with then new head coach Sean McVay, and their former top pick Jared Goff. Smartly, the Rams used this window with the young quarterback to go “all in” and try to win instantly.

While the teams were constructed differently, I’m suspecting this to be a closely contested game with offensive fireworks to thrill viewers all over the world. Here is my x-factor for each team followed by my game prediction.

Patriots x-factor: The starting offensive interior linemen: In this case, it’s more than one person for the Patriots. Specifically, it’s three of them. They are the two guards  Joe Thuney, Shaq Mason and center David Andrews. These three players will not only be tasked with protecting Tom Brady, but they’ll have to limit Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh in the process. Donald is arguably the most dominant player in the entire sport, but with the quick developing plays you in a sense can “take him out” of a game.

Per Pro Football Focus, the Patriots trio should be able to negate this strength of the Rams. While the Donald/Suh tandem was destructive rushing quarterbacks, the Patriots line was among the league’s best at limiting interior pass rushers. This “battle in the trenches” will be a fascinating one to watch come Sunday.

Rams x-factor: Cory Littleton, Linebacker: The Patriots like quick developing pass plays, and in many cases, that leads to running backs as the primary target. James White is the Patriots passing down specialist, and has constantly shown he’s not afraid of the big moments. Littleton this season was one of the premier coverage linebackers in football per Pro Football Focus. Assuming the Patriots are passing early and often, Littleton limiting White’s impact would be a huge boost.

Prediction: While the Rams have some key ingredients we’ve seen in beating the Patriots, the Patriots match up well against the Rams’ strengths per Pro Football Focus. Along with defending interior pressure well, the Patriots can bring pressure at a high level. Now is the time to mention that Jared Goff has a drastic efficiency drop off when facing pressure as opposed to a clean pocket. On top of that, the Patriots secondary performs well against three receiver sets (which is the base offense for the Rams). My prediction is Patriots 28 Rams (+2.5) 24

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Championship Sunday Predictions

137acf073a70040b6ec42f2c131b24a6For a lot of fans, the best day of the football season is less than 48 hours away. As fans, we get two games featuring the two best teams each conference has to offer. Last year, the common trend of the finalists was defense. Three of the four teams had premier defenses, and the Patriots had Tom Brady. Brady once again is involved, but this year the teams all have high scoring offenses in common. There were no surprise teams either, as both games are 1 vs 2 seeding matchups.

As we saw in the head coach hiring cycle, the offensive model is something teams will be attempting to duplicate. It was clear many were looking for the next young innovative offensive mind, but how that plays out is unsure. In these games however, you have one of the greatest coaches ever across all sports, two premier offensive minds, and the other appears to be at the forefront of the latest offensive wave. With my preseason Super Bowl pick still on the table, I figured that’s my pick and I’ll stick with it when predicting these games.

Straight up: 4-0, Postseason: 6-2

Against the spread: 2-2, Postseason: 6-2

 

Rams 28 Saints (-3.5) 33: When we last saw these teams face off, it resulted in one of the most exciting games of the regular season. Now a few months later, we have a rematch in the same location. The biggest factors in this one could end up being the Rams defense, and if McVay continues to emphasize the power running game that worked so well last week.

The loss of Sheldon Rankins along the defensive interior hurts the Saints, but they’ve still been one of the league’s premier run stopping teams in various advanced metrics. While C.J. Anderson will continue to get touches, Todd Gurley’s biggest impact could come in the passing game. If the Rams fall behind, some plays to get Gurley in space could pay dividends as despite his recent injury, he looked back to normal last week.

Like they did in the previous meeting, look for Jared Goff to exploit the favorable matchups he’ll have in the slot. Robert Woods runs the majority of his routes there, but Brandin Cooks could run some additional inside just to get away from Marshon Lattimore. In a game against his former team, don’t be surprised if Cooks rises to the occasion. His speed on the fast track of a dome just makes it harder for opposing corners to keep up.

Drew Brees takes his game to another level in the SuperDome, and now faces a Rams defense that’s been shaky against the pass. Like last week, Brees figures to look Michael Thomas’ way early and often. The last time we saw Thomas against the Rams, he was dominant having his way with any corner the Rams threw at him. Aqib Talib was out injured that week, but Thomas will likely play in the slot more to avoid the matchup (as we know they’re willing to test Marcus Peters). Thomas was one of the league’s most productive receivers from the slot in 2018. On top of that, at 6’3″ 212, he’ll have a size advantage over Nickell Robey-Coleman who’s listed at 5’8″ and 180 pounds.

While the Rams did a great job shutting down the Cowboys rushing attack last week, this is a tougher test. The Saints have a healthier interior offensive line, and daring Brees to throw isn’t a wise decision. Both Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram should be involved, but Kamara figures to see more touches as he’s usually on the field more in close games. There should be plenty of offensive fireworks on both sides, but the Saints at home just seem to be too much to handle.

Patriots 27 Chiefs (-3.5) 24: Like the NFC matchup, we saw these teams play earlier in the regular season in a very entertaining game. The Patriots pulled it out late, but the forecast for the game could change drastically. References to an “Arctic Blast” weren’t references to a new Gatorade or Slurpee flavor, but rather a worst case weather scenario for this game. Fortunately that seems unlikely at this moment, but sub-30 degree weather seems likely.

The cold could impact betting lines for the over, but there should still be plenty of offense on display. Now a game from the Super Bowl, Patrick Mahomes has his toughest test to date with Bill Belichick scheming against him, and the Patriots strength being their secondary. While there’s not much a defense can do to limit some of Mahomes’ throws, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots game plan is to keep him in the pocket. Doing so could limit big plays that come from Mahomes’ improvisational skills, forcing the Chiefs to take what they’re given offensively.

That could allow running room for Damien Williams and the now healthy Spencer Ware, if the Patriots sellout to stop the pass. Considering Belichick usually goes out of his way to limit an opposing teams top weapon, it will be fascinating to see who he chooses between Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. With the emphasis Belichick has put on having dominant tight ends in the past, Kelce would be my guess. With his speed, there isn’t much an individual corner can do to stop Tyreek Hill. There’s a chance Hill has a monster game in this matchup.

Despite talking themselves as the underdog, I don’t think there’s anyone out there saying the Patriots can’t actually win the game. Given the Chiefs strengths and weaknesses defensively, an offensive game plan similar to last week’s could work. While the defense has played better at Arrowhead, the Chiefs defense is allowing five yards a carry, and over 50 receiving yards a game to opposing running backs. Once again, this could lead to big workloads for both Sony Michel and James White. Per Pro Football Focus, the Patriots have also had one of the league’s top run blocking grades for the season. On the other hand, the Chiefs team grade in run defense ranks 31st.

Facing a tough pass rush, there’s little doubt Tom Brady will be throwing the ball quickly. This could once again lead to a big game for Julian Edelman, who has a solid matchup against Kendall Fuller who in recent weeks has had some struggles. If we were to see one last signature Rob Gronkowski game (if this is his last season), this could be the place. The Chiefs have allowed more than 65 yards a game to opposing tight ends, and even the threat of Gronkowski running down the seam can great openings for others. Given that my prediction is still alive to go along with their playoff pedigree, the Patriots are my pick here.

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Divisional Round Predictions

355hm6ghwze3bm7kru4bkjijhuLast week’s wildcard round was a fascinating one with three of the four road teams (and underdogs) winning their matchups. Not surprisingly, all four lower seeded teams covered against the spread as well. Unlike last season, only one of the divisional round games serves as a regular season rematch. That game was particularly one sided, but things can change in a month. At the least, this should be a very exciting weekend of playoff football.

Wild card weekend results:

Straight up: 2-2

Against the spread: 4-0

Colts 27 Chiefs (-5.5) 31: Between their performance last week and the Chiefs recent playoff history, the Colts have been a trendy upset pick here. Patrick Mahomes has not played in those losses, and can now create his own playoff narrative. To date Mahomes has performed well against teams that primarily play zone such as the Colts.

In that zone, the Colts have limited passing plays coming off throws of 20 plus yards. That means a tough test for Tyreek Hill, and how he fares could determine the outcome. Travis Kelce has a nice matchup against a Colts defense that’s been susceptible to tight ends, but a complementary pass catcher might have to step up for the Chiefs.

The focal point for the Colts offense in this one could very well be Marlon Mack. To take the crowd out of the game, the Colts with their strong offensive line might want to set the tempo early. Mack is going against a defense allowing nearly five yards a carry, and has seen his snap counts rise of late. With Andrew Luck at the helm this game certainly carries shootout potential, so it could very well come down to which team has the ball last.

Cowboys 21 Rams (-7.5) 24: The Cowboys have the makings of an upset pick as their strengths could lead to a tough matchup for the Rams. As we know, the Cowboys will prioritize running the ball, and getting Ezekiel Elliott touches. The Rams have allowed nearly 4.9 yards a carry, and the gameplan if working keeps Jared Goff and company off the field.

The Cowboys gameplan will ultimately come down to Dak Prescott. Assuming they don’t want a shootout, Prescott will need to make just enough throws to help move the offense. Amari Cooper has noted he’s familiar with the Rams’ outside corners from his time with the Raiders, so how he performs will crucial.

This matchup is interesting for Jared Goff as he’s much better at home, but stats indicate he’s struggled against zone defenses. Against a Cowboy secondary that’s been vulnerable lately, Goff’s performance in his second playoff game could drive the “hot take” machine come Monday. At the least, the return of Todd Gurley will help provide balance to Sean McVay’s offense. Considering how many coaching hires have given off “find the next Sean McVay” vibes, it will be fascinating to see the response after the Rams performance.

Chargers 20 Patriots (-4.5) 26: While he’s easily one of the premier quarterbacks of his era, a win on Sunday could be a “defining” one for Philip Rivers. Unfortunately, his recent starts show that he might be going into a late season tailspin that has become a theme. Given the success the Patriots have had stopping wideouts with similar skillsets to Keenan Allen, Melvin Gordon could be the Chargers focal point offensively. While Gordon goes in banged up to this one, the matchup is promising for Charger backs through the air or ground.

Given the Chargers pass rush, I’m expecting the Patriots to embrace quick hitting pass plays. We’ve seen Tom Brady do this before, moving up the field with 6, 7, 8, yard gains ensuing long drives, and tiring opposing defenses. Given this strategy, James White and Julian Edelman would project to be the biggest beneficiaries. Now healthy, Rex Burkhead could see some work in the passing game as well. It’s not the sexiest way to win, but I’ve seen the Patriots do it too many times to bet against it.

Eagles 24 Saints (-8.5) 28: A few months ago when they last played in the Superdome, the Saints drubbed the Eagles. While the Eagles have still had the injuries to the secondary, the return of Nick Foles has worked its magic again. Not only do they have their Super Bowl swagger back, but the little things just fall into place when he’s under center. While the Bears were a tough test, this one is a whole other animal. Not only do the Saints have the potent offense, a defense that’s come on of late, but one of if not the best homefield advantages is working in their favor.

While they’ve performed admirably given the circumstance, the Eagles secondary is extremely thin at the moment. On paper, this projects very well for Drew Brees and company. The Saints receivers should have advantages on the perimeter, and Alvin Kamara should benefit against a defense allowing nearly 55 receiving yards a game to running backs. Seeing the Eagles reemerge has been a lot of fun, but I’m skeptical of their ability to win a potential shootout in this environment.

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