Breakout Player Recap: Quarterback

nfl-week-15-picks-schedule-jameis-winston-marcus-mariotaWith training camp rapidly approaching, this seemed like a good time to recap the players I projected to breakout in 2016. Some predictions worked out better than others, but regardless it is a fun yearly exercise to partake in. I’ll be starting with quarterback where I only picked two players to take their games to the next level in 2016. What I wrote about those quarterbacks at the time can be found here.

Jameis Winston, Buccaneers: Entering 2016, I wrote that Winston had weapons at his disposal, and the Buccaneers figured to be in the playoff mix late in the year with the roster they had assembled. The Buccaneers were in the playoff mix late in the season as their three win increase in 2016 led to a 9-7 finish, which was the first winning season the franchise has had since 2010. Winston was also able to establish some of the weapons I had mentioned this past year as Mike Evans showed he should be a top tier wideout  for years to come, and Cameron Brate at tight end hauled in eight touchdowns to go along with 660 yards. The big question with Winston now is his turnovers.

While his completion percentage rose from his rookie campaign, Winston threw more interceptions in 2016. His 18 thrown were second amongst all quarterbacks. As someone who plays with more of a “gunslinger mentality”, turnovers could always be questioned with Winston in an era where teams seem to be throwing shorter and are more cautious with the ball. Good news for Winston is that help is on the way in terms of weapons who cater to his skill set. DeSean Jackson, who has been a premier deep threat for almost a decade, signed with the Buccaneers this offseason. On top of that, they added two pass catchers in the draft with tight end O.J. Howard in the first round, and the talented receiver Chris Godwin out of Penn State in the third. The Buccaneers are already a trendy pick to make the playoffs in 2017, but the growth of Winston between his second to third year will make the difference.

Hit or miss: Push

Marcus Mariota, Titans: At the end of my Mariota write-up, I mentioned it wouldn’t be surprising if the Titans more than doubled their 2015 win total and where considered one of the league’s up and coming teams entering 2017. Both those things happened, and the Titans actually tripled their 2015 total by going 9-7. Heck, if Mariota didn’t break his leg in the middle of their week 16 game against the Jaguars, there’s a chance the team would’ve been playing for a playoff spot the following week.

Due to playing in 12 games his rookie year, Mariota saw increases in all major categories for 2016. Not only was he more efficient in terms of stats such as adjusted yards per attempt, but he threw one less interception despite throwing 81 more passes, and threw for touchdowns at an above average rate with 26 on 451 pass attempts. Despite the strong stats, Mariota did have some outings this past year that showed there was room to grow. Like Winston, Mariota will have a stronger supporting cast in 2017. Along with signing Eric Decker, the Titans also drafted three pass catchers in Corey Davis, Taywan Taylor and Jonnu Smith this past April. While 2016 may not of been a defining season, I’m chalking this up as a breakout campaign as there were more than enough positives to believe that Mariota will help the Titans take the next step in 2017.

Hit or miss: Hit

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2017 NFL Mock Draft

635767393223622723-garrettAfter months of anticipation, the draft is finally upon us. The hundreds of young men who have prepared for this moment their whole lives will see their dreams come true, and fans will learn what new players they’ll be cheering for. While I haven’t followed the draft as long as some, this is one of the wackier ones I can remember. After the first pick, it seems that anything can happen which is reflected in some of my selections. It’s also worth noting that this mock does not include any trades, so if you see a player falling, he might not actually fall to that point as someone could always trade up. With that said, here is my first and final 2017 mock draft.

1. Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett DE, Texas A&M: When building from the ground up like the Browns are, talent should come first. Teams can try starting with a quarterback, but we’ve seen plenty of times how that can go if the right pieces aren’t in place. Here the Browns get Garrett who is the consensus best player on the board and plays at a premium position. I do believe the rumors involving the Browns and quarterbacks, just not with this pick.

2. San Francisco 49ers: Christian McCaffery RB, Stanford: With no clear top player available after Garrett, this is where the draft gets crazy. Reports in recent weeks have said the 49ers are interested in a quarterback here, but to me that translates to “please trade with us”.  One thing worth noting is that new GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan were signed to six year contracts. A rare length in today’s NFL, this gives them the luxury to stockpile pieces instead of swinging for the fences with a quarterback immediately.

That’s why in a scenario I haven’t seen to this point I have them selecting McCaffery, who would be a great fit and a foundational player in Shanahan’s offense. There are no shortage of options for the 49ers if they don’t go this route. Solomon Thomas has been linked to them for a while and Leonard Fournette has also started gaining steam here. Marshon Lattimore, Jamal Adams, Malik Hooker and Mitchell Trubisky (if they do actually go quarterback) are also play.

3. Chicago Bears: Jamal Adams S, LSU: Despite signing Mike Glennon early on in free agency, the Bears have been reported to be in the quarterback market on draft day. With that said, they are still in need of an impact type player in their secondary and Adams’ ability to play the run and pass would give them that. As far as draft capital goes, this could be too high for some teams to take a safety so a defensive lineman like Solomon Thomas would obviously be in play if available.

4. Jacksonville Jaguars: Solomon Thomas DE, Stanford: The popular pick for the Jaguars in the last month or so has been Leonard Fournette. While I understand their reasoning, that would be a luxury pick for a team that has plenty it can address. The same could also qualify for O.J. Howard who has also been linked to the team in mock drafts. Essentially, the Jaguars are yet another team that would probably like to trade down unless they are all in on a quarterback like Deshaun Watson here.

Considering the success Tom Coughlin has had building teams in the trenches, Thomas would make a lot of sense here. He is a versatile player and would add to a Jaguars pass rush that is still looking to replace Tony Brackens. For that reason, Jonathan Allen (if they trust his medicals) is also a player who could be thought about here.

5. Tennessee Titans: Marshon Lattimore CB, Ohio State: Since Sam Hinkie’s “Process” died for our sins in early 2016, the Titans might have started one of the more effective rebuilds across sports in that time. How did they do it? Simply by hitting on their quarterback pick (while playing on a rookie contract) and not improving that first year. Just like that, the Titans fell into the first pick in 2016 and traded it to the Rams so they could try their spin at the franchise quarterback wheel. Now, after Marcus Mariota’s second season, the Titans are noticeably better but still get to hold the 5th pick in the draft. The beautiful part is, if another team really wants a Mitchell Trubisky or a Deshaun Watson, they can do this all again!

Without projecting trades in my mock, there are a few ways the Titans could go here. O.J. Howard has been linked with the Titans, but would make more sense if they were to trade with a team in the 9-13 range. Same goes for either of the receivers in Mike Williams or Corey Davis (both of which could be available when they’re on the clock again). The Titans do have a pressing need in the secondary particularly at corner and if Lattimore was available here, they’d be getting a corner who is considered the tops in his class.

6. New York Jets: Mitchell Trubisky QB, North Carolina: Like the other teams mentioned, the Jets do have a lot of options where they are. A player with upside and a high floor like Jamal Adams would be very enticing here. Same goes for O.J. Howard who would give them a field stretching tight end the franchise has been lacking. Heck, even Leonard Fournette is a scenario that seems possible. Despite all that, the Jets do need to find their next quarterback to build around and that guy isn’t on the roster.

We could use the “next year’s class should be better” debate, but that always holds until there is one more year of tape available on those players. Trubisky is a player early on in the draft process that was reported to of caught the Jets’ attention, but obviously Watson would be in play here too.

7. Los Angeles Chargers: Malik Hooker S, Ohio State: Before going on to post the worst winning percentage of a head coach in the modern era, Gus Bradley was known for working with Seattle’s “Legion of Boom”. One of the things that made the group so special was the ball hawking ability of Earl Thomas. While he hasn’t been able to work out for teams during the draft process, Hooker has shown some of the same skills on tape.

The only problem with this is it almost seems too obvious, so of course, something will probably happen. In that event, a change of plans could lead to them thinking about pairing Jonathan Allen with Joey Bosa. A really interesting scheme fit would be McCaffery if he does make it to this point, so that should be taken into some consideration.

8. Carolina Panthers: Leonard Fournette RB, LSU: While they will have options, it seems pretty apparent the Panthers are going to take a running back here. This is probably the latest McCaffery would get selected at this point in the process, but of course he is off the board in this particular mock. In that case, Fournette is far from a consolation prize and him paired with Cam Newton might just be the most physically imposing QB/RB tandem of all time. Aside from McCaffery, Solomon Thomas or O.J. Howard would be the main names to keep in mind here.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Derek Barnett DE, Tennessee: Unfortunately for the Bengals, this is not a particularly strong offensive line draft as theirs was decimated with players moving on this offseason. While prospects such as Mike Williams, Corey Davis, O.J. Howard (due to Tyler Eifert’s inability to stay healthy) and even Fournette have been linked to the team, the Bengals pass rush has dropped off quickly. Barnett is a player that many seem high on as some mocks have him going as early as the top five. He would be a step in the right direction to creating the strong defenses they had earlier this decade.

10. Buffalo Bills: Haason Reddick LB, Temple: Depending on how the quarterback board plays out, I could see the Bills moving up or down. While many feel Tyrod Taylor is serviceable, the franchise seems on the fence about him as their starter. For that reason alone, Trubisky or Deshaun Watson have to be in play here. Despite trading up for Sammy Watkins just three years ago, the Bills are still facing a need at receiver so Mike Williams is also a player that will be considered.

Despite that, I have them selecting a player who might be the fastest riser in this draft. Reddick would serve as a defensive chess piece who can play as an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme or rush the passer in a 3-4 defensive scheme. With rookie head coach Sean McDermott’s defensive background, someone with Reddick’s skillset figures to be a very appealing option.

11. New Orleans Saints: Reuben Foster LB, Alabama: Despite the evident talent, Foster’s medical and character red flags have led to a possible slide down draft boards. While 11  might be high, he will still likely be selected within the first round. The Saints just have so many holes around their defense that going off a talent standpoint, he could be their pick. Other possibilities here would include an edge rusher such as Charles Harris, a defensive lineman such as Jonathan Allen or one of the top cornerbacks available.

12. Cleveland Browns: O.J. Howard TE, Alabama: This would be a fantastic scenario for the Browns. Not only would this net them two of the top six or seven players on the board, but they still have plenty of assets if they did want to trade up for a quarterback. Having coached him in the Senior Bowl, the Browns staff is familiar with Howard and he could be a foundational piece for their offense. Obviously I wouldn’t be surprised if the Browns did use this pick to trade up in the event the quarterback they coveted was available.

13. Arizona Cardinals: Patrick Mahomes QB, Texas Tech: With an older coach in Bruce Arians and older quarterback in Carson Palmer, the question is if the Cardinals want to win now, or start building for the future.  If a player like Haason Reddick was available, I think selecting him would be very enticing. However, he’s gone in this mock so they pick their quarterback of the future instead. Mahomes has the tools to succeed in Arians’ vertical offense and with Palmer in place would also have an opportunity to be eased into the NFL. With all the receivers available at this point, the Cardinals could also have an outside option like Mike Williams or John Ross in mind.

14. Philadelphia Eagles: Charles Harris DE, Missouri: While adding more weapons for Carson Wentz in the way of John Ross or Mike WIlliams have been popular, the Eagles still need to address their pass defense. One way to take the pressure off of cornerbacks is with the pass rush and the addition of Harris would be able to bring that. There are also a handful of cornerbacks that could be in consideration here as well.

15. Indianapolis Colts: Takkarist McKinley DE, UCLA: This might be a little high for McKinley, but reports have circulated that the Colts are still looking for another pass rusher despite their free agent spending. This makes sense when you realize their new GM Chris Ballard comes from a Chiefs team that was able to rotate Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dee Ford. if McKinley isn’t the pick here, odds are it will still be spent on the defensive side of the ball. Charles Harris if he makes it to this point or one of the many corners projected for the second half of the first round could be intriguing.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Forrest Lamp OL, Western Kentucky: The Ravens could go a few different ways here as they have been looking for an outside threat like Mike Williams, but could also use a cornerback. However with Ronnie Stanley already in place, the possibility is there for them build a very nice foundation of a young offensive line. While some see Lamp mainly at guard, there are those who think he has the ability to play tackle. Other players to keep an eye out for the Ravens include Reuben Foster and Jabrill Peppers (if they trade down or into day two).

17. Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen DL, Alabama: There is a chance Allen goes much higher, but due to lacking a fit and concerns about his shoulder surgeries this is where the slide comes to an end. While he was dominant at Alabama, there are concerns about how explosive a player he is.  At this point in the first round though, he’s worth the risk. The Redskins could also look adding depth in the secondary or offensive line, but it’s tough to project how a team will draft when they don’t have a GM.

18. Tennessee Titans: Mike Williams WR, Clemson: Just like the Browns with picks one and 12, the Titans having two first round picks works out perfectly. Not only were they able to address a need, but at pick 18 they’re getting who many feel is the best receiver in the draft at a relative value. If they don’t address the secondary earlier on, that could be something the Titans do here. Colorado corner Chidobe Awuzie has been linked with the team in a few reports, so he would be in play here along with a potential addition to the offensive line after letting Chance Warmack leave.

19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: David Njoku TE, Miami (FL): Dalvin Cook was a popular early target here, but due to subpar athletic testing and various concerns injury and character wise, I’m not as optimistic that he’s the pick. While they very well could target a defensive back like Obi Melifonwu here, I think the possibility to add Njoku to a nucleus of Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson could be too much to pass up. Njoku has plenty of athletic ability for the position and would bring mismatch creating ability.

20. Denver Broncos: Ryan Ramczyk T, Wisconsin: Well, the good news is it seems everyone’s pretty certain the Broncos will be addressing their offensive line in the draft. The only question is who do they take? At this point, only Lamp is off the board for offensive linemen so they would have their choice. While it could be someone else like Garett Bolles or Cam Robinson, Ramczyk has the size and athleticism for teams to believe he should be able to start at tackle.

21. Detroit Lions: Obi Melifonwu S, Connecticut: One thing GM Bob Quinn said this offseason is that he wanted to add speed to the Lions defense. By selecting Melifonwu here, they’d be doing that and then some. With outstanding athleticism and rare size for a defensive back, Meifonwu is a player the Lions could lineup all across the field and has the ability to play opposite Darius Slay. Melifonwu would be my personal preference for the team if Hasson Reddick is gone (which is highly likely).  Other ways the Lions could go include addressing their linebacker need with Jarrad Davis or looking  at other secondary options.

22. Miami Dolphins: Jordan Willis DE, Kansas State: Every year it seems we come back to similar needs with the Dolphins. Usually it’s the offensive line, but this year it’s the “you can’t beat the Patriots if you don’t get to the quarterback” need. With Mario Williams disappointing last season, the team has a sudden need in a pass rusher. Willis was a highly productive player at Kansas State and has moved up draft boards by testing very well through the process. Linbackers such as Jarrad Davis or Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham could also be considered here.

23. New York Giants: Garett Bolles T, Utah: At this point it seems the Giants will be going tight end or tackle with this pick. The two top tight ends are off the board in this scenario, so in this case the Giants have their choice of the board. In this instance I have them taking Bolles who reports have said they’re high on. Bolles does have some question marks as he would be a 25 year old rookie and there are some character concerns. Obviously Ryan Ramczyk and Cam Robinson will be some of the other options here.

24. Oakland Raiders: Jarrad Davis LB, Florida: After just acquiring Marshawn Lynch, the chances of the Raiders going with a running back at 24 seem very slim. The weakest part of their roster at this point would probably be linebacker and Davis could fill that need and likely slide in as a starter on day one. Zach Cunningham should also get a lot of consideration here.

25. Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson QB, Clemson:  Somehow in a quarterback crazy market, this worked out very well for the Texans. On a team that is ready to compete everywhere but what could be the toughest position in sports, Watson could very well be their guy. Patrick Mahomes if available could be considered and after falling for Brock Osweiler’s size, Davis Webb might be in play too. Another alternative for the Texans would be to go with a tackle who is still there as their right tackle Derek Newton is coming off of two torn patellar tendons.

26. Seattle Seahawks: Cam Robinson T, Alabama: The Seahawks could go a few different ways with this. In a pretty deep secondary draft, they could address adding more depth or try finding a solution on the offensive line. While I feel Melifonwu would be a fantastic chess piece for them, he’s off the board. That would bring it down in this scenario of picking between a bigger corner (Marlon Humphrey, Kevin King or Chidobe Awuzie)and  the top tackle left on the board. With the Seahawks having shown an ability to add quality corners later in the draft, picking Robinson here makes sense.

27. Kansas City Chiefs: Gareon Conley CB, Ohio State: In the past few days, allegations have come out against Conley that have the potential to be career threatening. With the case unlikely to be resolved by the draft, it will all come down to the research a team has done on Conley. With a need for a corner opposite Marcus Peters and having shown they’ll take chances on players with concerns coming in, the Chiefs make a lot of sense.

Despite being a clear first round talent, Conley does carry a risk of not being drafted at all. Other corners such as Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White or Kevin King could also be options if that’s how it plays out. A quarterback like Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes if either made it here can’t be counted out either.

28. Dallas Cowboys: Adoree’ Jackson CB, USC: One of the best things to come from Ezekiel Elliott’s immediate success is that by milking the clock, it left less time for the Cowboys secondary to get exposed. By selecting Jackson, the Cowboys would be filling a need and doing it in the flashiest fashion possible. That’s truly the Jerry Jones way. Jackson had a decorated career at USC, is extremely dangerous with the ball in his hands and could be gone by this point in the draft. If Jackson isn’t available, I would expect the Cowboys to look at pass rushers such as Taco Charlton, Tyus Bowzer or T.J. Watt while adding secondary depth on day two.

29. Green Bay Packers: Tyus Bowzer LB, Houston: There is a chance I’m selling Bowzer short here and he’ll be long gone at this point. A player who teams think can rush the passer with a hand in the dirt or on the outside, he tested extremely well athletically and still has lots of projection left as a player. While the Packers could use help in their linebacker corps, they’re deep enough where Bowzer can ease his way into things and be more involved as the season continues. T.J. Watt is another name that could be a possibility here along with the various cornerbacks that will be coming off the board.

30. Pittsburgh Steelers: Corey Davis WR, Western Michigan: Early on in the draft, there is a good chance the Steelers will address finding another pass catcher and their secondary. But this right here, is the most Steelers result possible. Davis is viewed by some as the top wideout in this class and as someone who can win at various levels of the field, would make a great compliment to Antonio Brown. Another pass catcher to watch here is Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram.

Engram has the ability to lineup all over the field and paired with Brown and Le’Veon Bell would create plenty of headaches for opposing coordinators. With Ben Roethlisberger pondering retirement each season, DeShone Kizer being selected here wouldn’t stun me either.

31. Atlanta Falcons: Taco Charlton DE, Michigan: If we saw anything from the Falcons defense in the Super Bowl, it’s that they could use some more depth in terms of edge rushers. Once considered a sure top 15 pick, Charlton would prove to be a nice get at this spot. Due to Dan Quinn’s love of speed on the defensive side of the ball, Tyus Bowzer if available is also a real possibility.

32. New Orleans Saints: Kevin King CB, Washington: Like the last six or seven picks, this is one that  could be dealt if a team wanted to trade up and get a quarterback for the fifth year option. Assuming they stay put, the Saints have too many issues in the secondary to not address it with the players available. A big corner with experience at various secondary positions, King makes a lot of sense for the Saints if he is available here. In the event he isn’t, corners such as Marlon Humphrey or Tre’Davious White could be considered with this pick.

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2017 Draft Rankings: Wide Receiver

26_4853885The 2016 receiver class was an interesting one through it’s first year. While four receivers were taken in the first round, only two (Corey Coleman and Will Fuller) saw extended playing time. However, those two along with Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell all missed at least two games whether it was due to injuries or being healthy scratches. The good news is, some of the players had impacts in their initial seasons. Michael Thomas had a monster rookie campaign, Tyreek Hill showed game breaking ability as a receiver and returner, while Sterling Shepard and Tajae Sharpe served as primary starters for their teams.

This receiver class shouldn’t see four players go in the first round, but there is plenty of talent that will be available in day two of the draft. For most, the top few receivers are set just in varying order, but after that it seems to be a matter or personal preference. While some of the recent draft classes have spoiled us with wideout depth, this one could end up turning some heads.

1. Mike Williams, Clemson: Everyone has their personal preference for receivers, and Williams has a lot of the traits I look for in the position. At 6’4″ Williams’ basketball background shows in his play as he will dominate catch points and use his frame to grab a jump ball like it’s a rebound. While he didn’t meet the expectations some had in terms of timed speed, his size and ability to track balls makes Williams a very dangerous deep threat. Despite breaking his neck in 2015, Williams has also shown he will get physical and make catches over the middle in traffic.

At times, Williams will have drops that appear to be due to lapses in concentration. This is a trait that other young wideouts have and it could be worked on over time. The team he goes to could also make an impact in Williams’ production. If he goes to a risk averse quarterback, they might be less likely to just throw a ball up to Williams so he can make a play. The comparison has been made frequently, but there are similarities to him and Alshon Jeffery. Coming out of college Jeffery wasn’t a world beater in terms of timed speed, but he has continued to do very well in terms of hauling in contested passes. Look for Williams to do the same at the next level.

2. Chris Godwin, Penn State: Compared to others, this ranking is probably  a little aggressive but I’m all in on Godwin as a prospect. Checking in at 6’1″ 209, Godwin is able to win at all areas of the field. He was one of the most productive deep threats in all of college football last season, and was also able to win in intermediate areas due to his physicality. Godwin has also shown the ability to adjust to poorly thrown passes and can make some outstanding catches as a result. On top of that, he is also a  willing blocker and tested better than expected at the combine.

Despite that, Godwin has areas to improve. Some feel he can get better in terms of creating separation from defensive backs.  Per Pro Football Focus, he also wasn’t very explosive in the open field either as he forced only nine missed tackles on his 59 receptions last season. Despite those concerns, Godwin has the ability to contribute to a team right away and the upside is there for him to become a big-time player.

3. Corey Davis, Western Michigan: Due to an ankle surgery after his season, Davis has been out of sight and out of mind through the draft process. Despite that he is still one of the top wideouts in this class. For a player just entering the league, Davis is already a strong route runner and can create separation in various ways. He is a hands catcher and very rarely do you see him catching a pass with his body. Davis has also shown the ability to adjust to the ball in the air and with experience lined up all over the field at Western Michigan, could be a very good red zone threat.

While Davis can be dangerous in the open field, to this point he hasn’t shown the ability at this time to create big plays from underneath throws. Even though we never saw his timed speed at the combine, watching his games it seems he might struggle creating separation with straight line speed. Drops were also as issue in 2016 as per Pro Football Focus he dropped 11 passes thrown his way. Davis may not become a top tier number one option, but he has the tools to be a quality starter for years to come.

4. John Ross, Washington: If you’re a believer that speed kills, than Ross is the prospect for you. While his record setting 4.22 forty time at the combine earned him attention, he’s much more than that. Ross can run all types of routes and not surprisingly is incredibly quick in and out of his breaks. His yards after the catch ability is also second to none as defenders can look foolish trying to catch him on any given play. Unlike some speed receivers, Ross also seems very comfortable catching the ball with his hands and for a smaller receiver, he was extremely productive in the redzone. So why is he only my 4th rated wideout?

That all comes down to injury history. In 2014, he tore his MCL and missed all of 2015 with a torn ACL. That he has the ability to run the way he does a little less than two years later speaks to both his commitment in rehabilitation and the advances in modern medicine. While he isn’t small, there are times that Ross can be outmuscled by opposing defensive backs or get thrown off his route. Some might fear selecting Ross due to his past medical history, but his unique skillset gives him a chance to make those teams pay in a big way.

5. Zay Jones, East Carolina: Jones received some buzz around the Senior Bowl and in my opinion, is one of the safer options in this receiver class. Leaving East Carolina as the FBS receptions leader, Jones has experience lined up all over the field  and should be able to contribute immediately. He has strong hands which he uses to catch the ball cleanly and per Pro Football focus dropped just 6 of the 164 catchable balls thrown his way in 2016. Jones is also willing to run into traffic whether it is to catch a pass or run for extra yardage. He is also able to find soft spots in coverage which is a trait that not all young receivers have.

While Jones clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine, he doesn’t appear to have that type of speed in games. Due to that, there will be questions about his burst/explosiveness or if he will be able to create separation from cornerbacks. Those same skills were also ones questioned about players such as Jarvis Landry and Anquan Boldin. Like both of those receivers, Jones will outmuscle defenders to make catches and isn’t afraid of contact. It wouldn’t be surprising if he went on to become one of the more productive wideouts in this class.

6. Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma: Westbrook had some success early on in his 2016 season, but he ended it on an absolute tear and becoming a unanimous All American and won the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver in college football. Like the aforementioned Ross, he has plenty of straight line speed, but can win in plenty of other ways. Westbrook is very quick in and out of breaks and can run a nice assortment of routes. Westbrook was very effective after the catch and showed he can make defenders miss as well. Pro Football Focus noted that he forced 20 missed tackles in 2016. For a smaller receiver (178 pounds), he’s also willing to get physical and limits dropped passes.

While everyone carries weight differently, Westbrook looked rather skinny compared to some of his peers. That alone will raise question marks to some about if he will be able to hold up against NFL defenders. It’s also worth noting that Westbrook didn’t face much physical coverage during his time in Oklahoma, so the verdict isn’t out on how he’d fair against press coverage. While charges were dropped, there are also some character concerns that teams will look into when evaluating Westbrook further.  Due to the question marks, there is a chance Westbrook could fall further in the draft then he should and in that event could provide to be quite the value.

7. Curtis Samuel, Ohio State: Eight years ago, Urban Meyer coached a player in Percy Harvin whose unique talent in the backfield and as a receiver made him a hot commodity among teams.. He flashed both as a running back and a pass catcher at Ohio State with 97 carries and 74 receptions in 2016 alone. Chances are whoever selects Samuel will want to find a definite position and my guess is many will prefer him as a receiver. While still raw at the position, Samuel did show an ability to create some separation and he has the speed to create vertically or on throws underneath.

Of course, due to not playing just one position at Ohio State, Samuel will need to improve at some of the positions finer points like getting jammed at the line. While it will come with more reps, Samuel could also learn how to make more adjustments to poorly thrown balls. Ultimately, Samuel’s NFL projection will be determined by who picks him. If he goes to a creative team that’s willing to let him play in space as a matchup piece, there is a good chance he’ll have an impact quickly. However, if a team expects him to develop into a true outside receiver, it could take a few years before they really start seeing a true return on their investment.

8. Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky: If you’re into receivers who were highly productive in college and come up big when needed, Taylor is one for you. Taylor can win at all levels of the field and proved to be a fantastic deep threat during his time at Western Kentucky. He’s also more than willing to work the middle of the field and showed  signs that he could develop into a plus route runner.

The main downfall for me with Taylor is that he can have inconsistent hands and too often will catch passes with his body. Last season he was charted by Pro Football Focus as having eight dropped passes and that could of been part of the reason. Some will also question if Taylor will be able to adjust given he had a chunk of production from plays like bubble screens as they may not feel that’s translatable. Taylor showed he has the ability to separate from opposing corners during his collegiate career and that alone could lead to a nice NFL career.

9. Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech: In Louisiana Tech’s wide open offense, Henderson put up monster numbers as a player that was a threat to score every time he touched the ball. While he’s known for his agility, Henderson can make some contested catches and his quick feet certainly help him when creating separation.

Playing in the wide open scheme, Henderson still can expand his route tree when he reaches the next level. He also didn’t go up against a ton of physical coverage and often times was clearly the best athlete on the field which could make some question his level of competition. As someone who excels in space, Henderson could be a very dynamic “offensive weapon” or “gadget player” if he goes to a team that uses him correctly.

10. Chad Hansen, California: With only one year as a college starter, Hansen is still more of a raw talent. In that season though he showed a lot that coaches can work with. At 6’2″ 202, Hansen showed well when it came to high pointing throws in his direction and winning contested catches. He does play physically and has after the catch ability on screens when called upon. For his size Hansen also runs well and could be used as a situational deep threat.

One thing Hansen will need to refine as he reaches the pros is continuing to trust his hands. He improved as the year went on in this regard, but sometimes some passes will get to his body. Playing in an air raid offense, there are also concerns about him running a pretty simple route tree so that part of his game could be one needing refinement. Like many college receivers, many have noted Hansen struggled against press corners. With his lack of in game reps before this season, Hansen’s struggles with that might make more sense. For a team with some established wideouts in place, Hansen could make for an interesting developmental pick with the chance to pay off in a big way.

2017 Class Grade: B-

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2017 Draft Rankings: Running Back

dalvin-cook-01-435The 2016 draft class for running backs is one that could be looked back on fondly when it’s all said and done. Ezekiel Elliott bucked the recent trend of running backs not being top five picks and lived up to expectations and then some. Jordan Howard also provided fantastic value in the 5th round for the Bears as he finished second in the league in rushing only behind Elliott. That doesn’t even account for the numerous backs who had impacts with lesser workloads.

Despite all that, this group of running backs figures to be even better. While it features a lot of recognizable college players, it also has plenty of smaller school talent as well. There are also various types of backs who would perform better in certain systems than others. For that reason, with so much talent available it is harder to have a clear cut number one option at the position than some might think.

1. Dalvin Cook, Florida State: While the buzz on him has died down over the past few months, Cook has plenty of traits that look like he is destined for NFL success. Not only can he be effective running from shotgun or in a typical I formation, but he has shown the ability to contribute as a receiver out of the backfield as well. While his combine forty time disappointed, Cook in games has shown he has an extra  gear to run away from defenders. He has plus vision and is able to stop at a moment’s notice to cut up field.

While many have said Cook needs to work on pass protection (as do many young backs), the most troubling aspect would be his fumbling. Per Pro Football Focus, Cook fumbled 14 times in his 763 touches at Florida State. For many NFL teams, that would be an unacceptable rate. There are also some character red flags that teams will surely get to the bottom of when evaluating Cook. Overall though, I feel he is a combination of Jamaal Charles/Chris Johnson and displays the best traits both backs have to offer. That is a skillset that should pay big dividends for Cook and it wouldn’t be surprising if he came in and contributed in a major way to whoever drafts him.

2. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford: With the workhorse running back becoming a lost art in today’s NFL, McCaffrey’s game could be what we see more of as the league continues to evolve. While some have questions regarding if he is an “every down back”, McCaffrey will be able to handle 20 or so touches a game. They just won’t all come from the running game. On top of showing plus vision and balance as a runner, McCaffrey is a matchup nightmare as a receiver whether it’s out of the backfield or the slot. Those 20 touches could be distributed as 13-15 rushes, four or five receptions and then possibly even have him contribute as a punt or kick returner.

The main thing I am worried about with McCaffrey which is a concern of mine with every young running back was his college workload. With all the various ways he can contribute, McCaffrey had around 750 total touches in the last two seasons. There is also a great risk that whatever team drafts him won’t be creative enough to fully utilize his skillset and that could unfairly change how McCaffrey is viewed as a player. If the right team selects him, McCaffrey should be a key cog in that offense for years to come.

3. Leonard Fournette, LSU: Timing can be a strange thing. As Adrian Peterson the predominant running back of his era is on his way out, Fournette who might be the closest prospect we’ve seen to Peterson from a physical standpoint is just beginning. At LSU there were times where he simply looked like a man amongst boys. His violent running style mixed with a blend of power and speed many times led to defenders just flying off as they held on for dear life.  For a big back, Fournette is also nimble and can accelerate quickly to the second level of defenses. So after all that, why isn’t he number one on my rankings?

Oddly enough, Fournette faces some of the same challenges Peterson had throughout his career. Most notably this would involve the very limited body of work catching passes out of the backfield. On some teams, this could lead to him being a two down back if they have another option they trust more in passing situations. Some analysts have also mentioned that Fournette could get too antsy on some of his runs and could afford to show patience waiting for holes to develop. A concern for me is that Fournette also battled an ankle injury most of the 2016 season and those injuries can linger for an extended period. In the right offense that is run oriented and plays to his strengths, the potential is there for Fournette to be an absolute star almost immediately. However in a pass oriented offense, it could prove difficult to live up to the hype that has followed him since his days in high school.

4. Joe Mixon, Oklahoma: Mixon is probably the most polarizing player in this year’s draft.  We’ve seen the NFL take a recent stand on domestic violence and while this has been a dilemma around other prospects, Mixon has the most pedigree of the ones we’ve seen to date. Even with the league’s increased efforts, we’ve seen that if you can play, a team will be willing to take a chance on players involved with incidents of that nature. Well, Mixon can certainly play (which is all my ranking of him will be taking into account).

Checking in 6’1″ 228 pounds at his pro day, Mixon has impressive speed for his size and when needed has shown he can be elusive if need be. He is a patient runner and has also shown burst to accelerate whether it’s turning the corner or entering the second levels of a defense. On top of all that, Mixon proved to be a valuable weapon in the receiving game which increases his likelihood of being a three down back.  There are times where Mixon wasn’t able to create runs for himself like others in this class, and some may hold it against it him that he could be too patient as a runner. Regardless, on ability alone if he makes it to the late second or early third round he could be quite the value for a team. However, despite the concerns over his incident, the buzz is building and it wouldn’t be surprising if Mixon is long off the board by then.

5. Kareem Hunt, Toledo: In a running back class with a lot of big name prospects, Hunt gets lost in the shuffle. The production has always been there, but unfortunately Toledo wasn’t a program that would have its highlights shown on ESPN every Saturday night. Despite that, per Pro Football Focus’ elusive rating, Hunt ranks among the top in this class at evading defenders. Thanks to all of the missed tackles he forces, Hunt also ranked near the top in terms of yards after contact as he shows outstanding balance to stay up on some of his runs. Hunt also answered the call when asked to make a bigger contribution in the passing game this past season.

The main thing going against Hunt would be that the top end burst or speed that some teams look for isn’t there. Also, there will probably be questions on if he will be able to reel off longer runs in the pros due to the lack of speed and the quality of defender increasing at the next level. Despite that, Hunt appears as if he could be very good in a zone-blocking scheme, and could become a nice find for a team who plays to his strengths.

6. Alvin Kamara, Tennessee: While I prefer running backs with limited tread on their tires from college, Kamara’s body of work is a lot shorter than most. In his two seasons at Tennessee, Kamara touched the ball less than 300 total times. When he did get the ball however, the talent was on full display. Right away when watching you can see that Kamara is able to hit his top speed almost immediately. He also showed an ability to create yards in various ways whether it was his speed, allusiveness or power. Another important thing to note is that Kamara also lined up in the slot on many occasions and showed he can be an effective receiver when called upon.

To me the biggest concern for Kamara is partially out of his control. That is how he has dealt with numerous knee injuries throughout his college career. Having transferred from Alabama with a few incidents, questions will be there about his character as well. Also with limited game reps, he will probably need more work than most young backs in terms of pass protection. Overall, the talent is certainly apparent and if he is able to showcase his versatility while staying healthy, Kamara could be a nice value in the second day of the draft.

7. D’Onta Foreman, Texas: Foreman saw his role increase each year at Texas before it culminated in a junior season with 2,028 rushing yards. For a big runner, the first thing that stands out about Foreman is his quick feet for a bigger back. He also shows the ability to constantly fall forward when finishing runs along with the ability to bounce off opposing tackles. This past year at Texas, he also showed he can handle a full workload as he had a whopping 323 carries in just 11 games.

While the extreme workload in his junior year is worrisome to me, Foreman doesn’t have a ton of wear and tear as he wasn’t a full time starter his first two years with the Longhorns. What is more troublesome is that this past year he fumbled seven times (once every 46 carries) which will be unacceptable for many teams. Foreman also lacks experience in the passing game as he caught 13 passes during his college career. Some will also expect Foreman to run with more power as for his size, he is more of a finesse runner. Foreman still has areas he could improve in, but the talent is there to become a productive starter for a team down the line.

8. Jeremy McNichols, Boise State: Forced with having to replace Jay Ajayi after he was drafted by the Dolphins, McNichols stepped in and didn’t look back. He was highly productive during his two years as a starter and contributed in all aspects of the offense. McNichols runs with nice balance and is able to elude traffic  if it gets to him in the backfield. He also seemed to run with a lot of trust in his offensive line as on many occasions he took what they gave him and can run between the tackles. On top of that, McNichols showed that he was more than capable to contribute out of the backfield when called upon.

The questions regarding McNichols at the next level will start with if he will have the burst to reel of big runs. While it obviously isn’t an end all to his prospects, teams would surely like to see that in a back. Fumbling could also be a concern as he fumbled six times in the last two years according to Pro Football Focus. Despite that, McNichols can contribute in various aspects and at the least should make for very good depth and can carry the ball 20 plus times when needed.

9. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: After an outstanding freshman year that included setting the single game NCAA rushing record, Perine sort of got lost in the shuffle sharing carries with Joe Mixon. Despite that, he’s a noteworthy prospect in his own right. A thick and compact runner, Perine runs with power and showed balance in terms keeping his feet moving through contact. He has also shown over the years that he can shoulder a full workload if called upon.

Due to his physical nature, questions will arise regarding how Perine’s running style will translate to the NFL. It is unlikely that he will be able to just bully over defenders at the next level, so Perine showing more elusiveness would be a nice surprise. For a team who already has a shifty change of pace back, Perine could be a welcome addition to bring a bruising running style on early downs.

10. Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State: Despite leaving as one of the most productive college backs of all time, Pumphrey can be lost in the shuffle with this draft class. He has experience running in an I formation and from shotgun while also displaying top notch quickness on cuts and a great ability to change direction. Pumphrey has very good vision and it can help him in multiple levels of the defense to extend runs. For a smaller back, Pumphrey also did very well at eluding tacklers and when needed also showed the ability to contribute as a receiver.

Checking in at 5’8″ 176 pounds, the first thing skeptics will say is that Pumphrey is undersized. While that could hurt him in elements such as pass protection, he would be able to cancel that out with an ability to create mismatches as a receiver. Questions could also arise about the level of competition he faced and running behind a strong offensive line, but that’s out of his control. Due to his slender build, Pumphrey even though he showed capable probably won’t be asked to carry 20 plus times a game. However, don’t be surprised if he sticks around a while as a change of pace back who can show flashes when asked to do more.

2017 class grade: A

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2017 Draft Rankings: Quarterback

ClAL1H5195The 2016 quarterback class even after one year already appears as it will go down as an interesting one. It started off with the Rams and Eagles trading up to picks 1 and 2 to get Jared Goff and Carson Wentz respectively. However as the year unfolded, five other quarterbacks from the class started at least one regular or postseason game as rookies. The crown jewel of them being Dak Prescott who the Cowboys drafted in the fourth round. So once again this has teams going back to the drawing board.

Now teams are left wondering what did they miss regarding Prescott and how can they prevent that from happening again. Drafting quarterbacks will never be an exact science, but it sure doesn’t stop us from trying. Of the prospects in this class, I think one could be a serviceable start right away but this isn’t a crop with a clear cut option at the top, and opinions will certainly vary. With a lot of intriguing developmental prospects, don’t be surprised if teams with older quarterbacks trade back into the first round to select a potential successor.

1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson: Despite not leaving college with a Heisman trophy, Watson accomplished pretty much everything you could ask and then some at Clemson. He left the school having taken it to heights they hadn’t previously seen and left as one of the more decorated collegiate quarterbacks in recent memory. While there is a lot of debate about who the top quarterback is in this class, to me Watson has the highest floor while also carrying a substantial amount of upside.

The first thing I noticed with Watson in the games I watched was how he appeared comfortable in the pocket. In the event of the pocket breaking down, Watson has the ability to extend the play and throw on the run accurately if needed. While there were times his accuracy and touch were inconsistent, he seemed to rise to the occasion in big moments. Even though it’s not his first choice, Watson consistently showed that his ability to create yards as a runner is also something opponents need to account for. Due to similar strengths and questions surrounding him entering the pros, Watson will be compared by some to Marcus Mariota.

Both quarterbacks raised question marks about having a “slender” build for the position and the offenses they operated in. Watson like Mariota, played in a spread offense and wasn’t asked often during his time as a collegiate to go through a full set of reads. Obviously this is a big question as quarterbacks need to be able to read the whole field at the next level. So far the early returns on Mariota have been impressive, and I’m of the belief that Watson will be able to  do the same. While there is no guarantee what range Watson will be drafted in, he should be serviceable if asked to start immediately and with his intangibles/present skillset would make for an excellent developmental prospect for a team with an aging quarterback.

2. Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech: The term “gunslinger” is thrown around often to describing quarterbacks, but Mahomes truly embodies it. With mobility and an abundance of arm strength, there are truly some plays he’ll make that can make your jaw drop. Mahomes was able to fully show off these talents in Texas Tech’s Air Raid offense the past three seasons and statistically, was one of the most prolific passers in college football during that time. To this point, most quarterbacks from that offensive scheme (Jared Goff and Johnny Manziel are two recent examples) face a steep learning curve entering the league.

Unlike a lot of quarterbacks who played in an Air Raid scheme, Mahomes does show the ability to make multiple reads when standing in the pocket. On top of his ability to make every throw asked of him, he has shown the ability to thrive outside of structure whether it’s creating something out of nothing either as a runner or through the air. However, that can be a double edged sword as Mahomes at times showed a tendency to create sack opportunities when they weren’t there by breaking away from a clean pocket. That could also of been a result of Texas Tech’s poor defense as at times Mahomes might of felt he needed to score on every possession.

For those reasons, Mahomes is the biggest enigma in this crop of quarterbacks. If he latches on with the right coaching staff who can help tweak his mechanics/continue to develop footwork and learn the nuances of the NFL, the tools are there for him to be groomed into a top tier option at the position. On the flip side, asked to start as a rookie with a staff lacking creativity and skill position talent (as Goff dealt with last year) could be a recipe for disaster. Based on what I’ve read on Mahomes and his willingness to put the work in, I wouldn’t bet against him. With plenty of boom or bust potential though, selecting him might not be for those faint of heart. Regardless of who is interested in selecting him later this month, all 32 teams will be closely paying attention to how the early part of Mahomes’ career unfolds.

3. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina: If you are opposed to small sample sizes, chances are you might be hesitant on Trubisky at the next level. Prior to 2016 Trubisky had attempted only 125 passes in college. This past season was his first year as a starter and minus a game against Virginia Tech that was played during Hurricane Matthew, he shined.  From watching a few of Trubisky’s games there are a few things that teams could definitely build around. In the pocket, he can improve his awareness but for the most part he seemed comfortable and was willing to stand tall to deliver a strike if needed. Recruited as a dual threat quarterback, Trubisky also has running ability and showed he can make some throws on the move if need be. Even coming out of a spread oriented offense, it seemed he has the ability to read off defenders.

While Trubisky has the arm to make NFL throws, there were instances in the games I watched where he floated the ball in some instances where he would of been better off driving it to his receiver. Playing out of the spread, he also had a lot of run pass options which create space in college, but aren’t consistently viable at the next level. On a few instances, I noticed that Trubisky would drop down his arm slot when throwing the ball. It didn’t impact him in college, but those likely become batted balls at the next level. Like all young quarterbacks, Trubisky will need some time to learn NFL defenses but having only a year worth of starts it’s more crucial in his case. On some instances (his second interception in his bowl game against Stanford) that regard was very noticeable.

If I had to compare Trubisky to a current NFL quarterback it would be Kirk Cousins. The two have similar physical traits and share some of the aspects that could be improved on. Like Cousins, with the right scheme and guys around him, Trubisky could thrive. But like other prospects in this class, it comes down to which teams picks him as some are more patient than others.

 

4. Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee: As we get closer to the draft, Dobbs is a quarterback who seems to be rising late. While his teams at Tennessee didn’t meet the lofty expectations over the past few years, Dobbs did grow as a passer during his senior season. On top of displaying intelligence (how many people could balance being an SEC starting quarterback while majoring in aerospace engineering?), Dobbs improved in many aspects. One of them was as a deep passer where he ranked among the top ten of draft eligible quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage on throws of 21-30 yards, and was in the top five on throws of 40 plus yards.

Dobbs also showed feel in the pocket and with the athleticism to take off and run when need be, also is effective when throwing on the run. On quick hitting throws that deal with timing, Dobbs seems to excel as it lets him get in a rhythm. The main trait I really like about Dobbs is that even after a bad throw, series , half, etc is that he didn’t let that rattle him. This was on display this past year against Florida as he bounced back after a poor first half to rally for a big comeback win.

Those stretches where he does struggle with ball placement or accuracy can obviously be concerning to some. Part of that might be that his passing motion does appear as if it could be refined with some coaching at the next level. While he isn’t someone that will be ready to start right away, Dobbs makes for a very intriguing developmental prospect. Despite key aspects of his game needing to be improved, his combination of physical tools, smarts and mental toughness will be very alluring to teams.

5. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame: Early in the 2016 season, Kizer was projected by many to be the first quarterback off the board in 2017. He was very impressive as a redshirt freshman and was expected to continue his development. Unfortunately for Kizer’s sake that wasn’t the case as some (including his college coach) questioned his decision to leave school and declare for the draft.  When watching Kizer, there are a lot of boxes he checks off for teams.

He has the protypical size and arm that teams look for along with mobility to give him a threat on the ground. If need be, Kizer will stand under pressure and make big throws and he has a nice over the top release as well.  Despite those traits, there are a lot of questions regarding Kizer’s game. While he has moments that show touch on throws, Kizer struggled doing that consistently as on some occasions he drove the ball when it wasn’t necessary. The main question that defines many careers at the quarterback position is if Kizer will improve in terms of keeping his eyes down in the pocket.

That along with a few mental lapses on interceptions to go with some accuracy concerns are the main reasons why some evaluators might of wanted to see Kizer return to Notre Dame. In a class where every team or evaluator will have their personal preference, it is uncertain what range Kizer figures to be drafted in later this month. Like the others before him, the situation will be crucial. If asked to come in right away and be a franchise savior, some of the flaws regarding pocket presence and accuracy would be too much to overcome immediately. For a team with an older quarterback (examples: Cardinals, Giants and Chargers), Kizer could be a very intriguing selection. In that case, he doesn’t have to be the guy right away and would have a few years to get accustomed to the NFL before his number is called.

6. Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh: If you were to of asked me this past October who I thought would be a late riser up draft boards, Peterman would of been my choice. A multi year starter playing in a pro style offense with experience under center usually gets a little more buzz. However, Peterman from a height standpoint isn’t physically overwhelming and doesn’t have a bazooka of an arm, so that could play a part.

On the plus side, Peterman is disciplined in the pocket and shows willingness to go through his reads with an ability to run for some yardage if necessary. While his numbers don’t completely show it, Peterman shows that he has the makings of an accurate passer. He can lead his receiver open or hit them in stride, and was one of the more effective quarterbacks in this class regarding to the intermediate to deep areas of the field.

The biggest question facing  Peterman at the next level will be his arm strength. While it isn’t all a quarterback needs, teams can’t afford to have balls float on intermediate routes and having the ability to zip those throws in to the intended target is obviously preferred. In a class with some high risk/high reward prospects, Peterman appears to be a solid and steady option. He won’t be selected to become a starter day one, but should be able to come in and be at least a backup sooner rather than later. If a team is able to find a way for Peterman to gain arm strength whether it’s through a trainer or mechanical tweaks, don’t be stunned if he becomes a starter down the line.

7. Brad Kaaya, Miami (FL): As a three year starter from a major program, you would figure Kaaya would have more hype around him as the draft approaches. He comes from an offense that ran some pro-style sets and has sound mechanics. On top of that, Kaaya also seems comfortable in the pocket and will stand tall to deliver a throw even with pressure bearing down on him. As you can see in some of his games (his Russell Athletic Bowl vs West Virginia is an example), Kaaya can be a rhythm passer who is highly efficient when timing routes go to plan and the pocket doesn’t break down around him.

Like many young quarterbacks, Kaaya struggled under pressure but there was a very large drop-off in his particular case. Per Pro Football Focus, Kaaya had the third worst adjusted completion percentage when under pressure amongst all draft eligible quarterbacks. This was evident when watching him as under pressure his accuracy was more sporadic. In the intermediate throws (11 to 20 yards past the line of scrimmage), Kaaya also struggled as he completed less than 40% of his throws in that area (per PFF’s adjusted completion percentage that figure turns into 43.3). Some of that could a result of not having incredible arm strength, but on a few rare occasions we have seen a few quarterbacks build that as they enter the league.

Due to his makeup and the experience he does have, Kaaya will surely be selected as a developmental prospect. While it’s hard to improve at figures like throwing under pressure from the sideline, learning the speed and schemes of NFL defenses for a few years shouldn’t hurt. Due to his strengths regarding quick reads and timing routes, he makes for a very intriguing option for teams that run West coast style offenses.

8. Davis Webb, California: Every year it seems we have a quarterback come out of nowhere in February or early March that starts to receive some early round buzz. The one thing those guys have in common is they usually “look the part” meaning they look good throwing the ball in gym shorts. While we don’t know what “it” is when acknowledging the  “it factor”, “the part” almost always ends up being a 6’5″ or taller white prospect. That’s where Webb comes in fitting the bill at 6’5″ 229 pounds.

During his time at Texas Tech, Webb took the reigns as the starter over current Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. He then lost the job to Patrick Mahomes and as a graduate transfer went on to fill the void left by Jared Goff at California. Between those two schools, Webb got plenty of knowledge pertaining to the Air Raid offense and it showed as he is best when passing in rhythm.  He is willing to stand tall in the pocket, has a high release point and also displayed some patience to wait for receivers to get open.

For coming out of an offense that prides itself on efficiency, Webb struggled in terms of accuracy during his tenures with both Texas Tech and California. Beyond ten yards, the accuracy become an even bigger question mark particularly when it came to deep passes. In the instances where I watched Webb, there seemed to be times it was predetermined where the ball was going before the play began as he would lock on to receivers immediately. In terms of raw, physical talent a team will select Webb as a developmental option in day two or early day three. However very few quarterbacks become drastically more accurate at the next level so depending on the spot, it might be tough for Webb to return value that matches or exceeds his draft spot.

9. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss: Almost every year it seems the draft features an SEC quarterback that has a cannon for an arm with a side of character concerns. This year that prospect is Kelly. Kelly started his college career at Clemson  before eventually being released from the program which he followed with a standout year at the JUCO level before two years starting at Ole Miss. Aside from his arm strength, Kelly shows the ability to move both in and out of the pocket and has more touch than one might expect.

Kelly plays with a competitive streak and isn’t one to shy away from contact and gain some extra yards. In a league where the average depth of target continues to shrink, Kelly isn’t afraid to throw it vertically. While some will see that as a breath of fresh air, that can also lead to Kelly trusting his arm too much which can lead to mistakes. Playing in a creative scheme with a lot of shotgun or pistol looks, Kelly like many in this class will have to adjust to handling the ball under center. Due to the history of character concerns, Kelly will likely be removed from a lot of teams boards considering the quarterback is viewed as a leadership position by many. However, all it takes is one team to be enamored with a prospect and from a physical skills standpoint, someone is going to take a chance.

10. C.J. Beathard, Iowa: After an impressive 2015 campaign, Beathard entered 2016 with some draft hype but wasn’t as effective. Despite that, he still possesses some traits that a team could look for in a developmental quarterback. Beathard played in a pro-style offense taking snaps both under center and from shotgun, and has the arm strength to make most throws. At times he also showed the ability to work his way through the pocket and throw his intended receivers open.

While he has arm strength, Beathard has concerns regarding touch that he’ll put on the ball. Questions have also been raised regarding his hesitation to make reads late and accuracy when asked to look outside of his primary option on a given play. Due to his positive traits and experience under center, expect a team to give Beathard a look at some point on day three of the draft.

2017 class grade: B

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The 2007 Draft at ten: Picks 25-32

greg-olsenWe have now reached the final installment of my “The 2007 Draft at ten” series. After going through the first round of this draft, it is certainly an interesting one to look back on as like any draft, it has a little bit of everything. While there are players who ascended to the highest of highs during their times as players, there are also draft busts of epic proportions. This last group of eight was very intriguing to me. Five of the eight players featured were selected to at least one Pro Bowl, with a few even earning some All-Pro accolades. Some of the players mentioned are still active and producing at a high level, but others are evidence of how quickly the lifespan of an NFL career can come to end. The other three installments of this series can be found here.

25. Carolina Panthers: Jon Beason, LB Miami (FL): Entering the draft, Beason appeared to be to next in line to continue the trend of great linebackers from “the U”. The early results were extremely promising. After a rookie campaign that would of taken defensive rookie of the year in most seasons, Beason was the runner up to Patrick Willis. He proved it wasn’t a fluke with the best stretch of his career in 2008-10. In that span, Beason made three Pro Bowls and was a first team All Pro in 2008 while being named to the second team in 2009.

Due to the extremely strong start to his career, the Panthers in 2011 agreed to terms with Beason on a deal to make him the highest paid middle linebacker in league history. Unfortunately, here is where we get to the point that football can be a cruel game. In the first game of the 2011 season, Beason suffered a torn Achilles tendon ending his season before it began. The Panthers in the first round of the 2012 draft then selected a linebacker by the name of Luke Kuechly who early on made it known he was a very special talent at Beason’s position. Beason only played four games in the 2012 season with the Panthers and was traded in the middle of 2013 to the Giants. Beason recorded 93 total tackles in the 12 games he played with the Giants in 2013, and it looked like he could slowly be rounding back into form after his Achilles injury.

That was never fully the case as Beason spent the 2014 preseason and some of the season dealing with a fractured bone in his toe before ultimately needing season ending surgery after only playing in four games. In 2015, Beason only played in five games before being placed on injured reserve. He also needed offseason knee surgery and noted at the time that he might retire if his body didn’t respond to rehab. That’s what ended up happening as Beason retired in February of 2016.

Considering his production and the accolades he earned right away, it’s fair to wonder what Beason could of been if he didn’t have to deal with the injuries he did. There’s also a chance that it drastically could of changed the Panthers franchise as they might not of selected Kuechly if Beason a then perennial Pro Bowler wasn’t coming off of a torn Achilles. While Beason had a very nice nine year run, he serves as another reminder that while football can bring along things like fortune and fame, the wear and tear players deal with can bring that to an end at anytime.

26. Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Spencer, DE Purdue: After a very impressive senior season at Purdue, the Cowboys liked enough of what they saw to select Spencer and initially convert him to outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme. While he started off as a rotational player in his first two seasons, he made a big impact in his first full year as a starter playing well against the run and getting to opposing quarterbacks.

That type of production continued and culminated in a 2012 breakout campaign. In that season, Spencer made his only career Pro Bowl by recording a personal best 11 sacks and continuing as a disruptor in the running game. Unfortunately, the upward trajectory didn’t continue for Spencer. After having the franchise tag put on him for a second year in a row, Spencer’s 2013 season came to a quick halt after it became known he needed microfracture knee surgery.

The Cowboys did bring Spencer back on a one year deal, but it took him a little bit of time to get fully back to form as a situational player. That form was on display as he was key disruptor in the Cowboys playoff victory over the Lions in 2014. In need of defensive line help, the Saints signed Spencer to a one year deal but was placed on injured reserve before the season began. Spencer was not with a team in 2016, so assuming that is the end, he finished up with a very serviceable career as a player who could stop the run and get to the quarterback. For his career, Spencer had 33 career sacks.

27. New Orleans Saints: Robert Meachem, WR Tennessee: Coming off an NFC Championship season, Meachem’s addition looked to make a talented Saints offense even more explosive. At 6’2″ with sub 4.4 speed, he offered yet another big play vertical threat with the ability to play on the outside opposite Marques Colston. Due to a knee procedure, Meachem missed all of his rookie season but got more involved with the Saints offense as time went on.

In 2008, Meachem wasn’t utilized often but was extremely efficient catching 12 of the 20 passes thrown his way for 289 yards (a 24.3 per catch average!) and three touchdowns. He saw a bigger role on the Saints team that won the Super Bowl in 2009 producing his best season as a pro. In that season, Meachem caught 45 of the 64 passes thrown his way for 722 yards and nine touchdowns. While his production game to game was inconsistent, he was clearly developing into the big play threat the team envisioned. The production continued for the 2010 and ’11 seasons before Meachem signed a free agent deal with the Chargers in 2012. In San Diego, Meachem figured to help replace the then recently departed Vincent Jackson, but things didn’t go according to plan. Meachem caught only 14 of the 32 passes thrown his way for 207 yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers released him before the 2013 season began even though he was already guaranteed money and had three years left on his deal.

Meachem then made a return to New Orleans where he played the 2013 and ’14 seasons as a situational deep threat. While he was brought in for a look by the Lions and 2015, along with the Saints this past season, he was unable to catch back on with a team. Meachem was most recently in the news this February for being sentenced to serve 30 days in jail for failing to pay what was reported nearly $400,000 in child support. For his career, Meachem caught 178 passes for 2,914 yards and 27 touchdowns.

28. San Francisco 49ers: Joe Staley, T Central Michigan: When we look back at what started the 49ers run in the earlier part of this decade, the 2007 draft could be a big part of what helped jumpstart the team. Not only did they find a special middle linebacker in Patrick Willis in the first round, but also a cornerstone left tackle in Staley. While he had proven serviceable in pass protection and as a run blocker early in his career, Staley really turned it on in his fifth season. Not coincidentally, that 2011 season was also the first year of that 49ers stretch.

In those five years, Staley proved to be a premier left tackle and was named to the Pro Bowl five straight seasons, while being named second team All-Pro three years in that stretch. Staley still showed in 2016 that he was one of the league’s best in terms of run blocking despite missing three games due to a hamstring injury. While the 49ers could be in for a lengthy rebuild, it’s nice knowing they have stability at one of the most important positions in the game.

29. Baltimore Ravens: Ben Grubbs, G Auburn: Under Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have continuously been one of the best teams at drafting in the league. The selection of Grubbs certainly did not hurt their case. Despite being relatively new to the position coming into the league, Grubbs was able to hold his own as a rookie and continuously got better with time. While he struggled initially as a run blocker, Grubbs improved that part of his game and was named to his first Pro Bowl in 2011.

In March of 2012, Grubbs left the Ravens as a free agent and signed a five year deal with the Saints. Grubbs played three of those years with the Saints and was named to one Pro Bowl in that span. In the 2015 offseason, the Saints faced a cap crunch and decided to trade Grubbs to the Chiefs for a fifth round pick. Unfortunately, seven games into his Chiefs tenure Grubbs suffered a season ending neck injury which led to the Chiefs releasing him in March of 2016. There were reports at that time saying that the injury was likely career ending which would make sense as if healthy, Grubbs was still showing enough to still have teams calling for his services.

Even though Grubbs’ career was cut short, lasting nine years in the NFL and being one of the best at your position during that time is something to take great pride in. In a draft that produced some very good players at the end of the first round, Grubbs may  get lost in the shuffle when looking back on this class, but he should certainly be part of the conversation.

30. San Diego Chargers: Craig Davis, WR LSU: Playing with JaMarcus Russell and starting opposite Dwayne Bowe at LSU, “Buster” Davis showed the ability as a pass catcher and punt returner to make the Chargers select him in the first round. While the talent was there, unfortunately Davis’ body just wouldn’t fully cooperate.

In his rookie season, Davis was used as a reserve but hauled in 20 of the 34 passes thrown his way 188 yards and a touchdown. Over the next two seasons, he played just five games as a groin injury shortened his 2008 season and was often a healthy scratch in 2009. In 2010, Davis was showing some flashes, and caught 21 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Yet again though, the injury bug struck as another groin injury put him on injured reserve.

The Chargers released Davis in 2011 and he attempted to catch on with the Bills in that same year but injuries once again got in the way. For his career,  Davis caught 51 passes for 558 yards and two touchdowns over four seasons. While injuries certainly played a part, fairly or not he is going to be remembered as one of the more underwhelming first round receiver choices in recent memory.

31. Chicago Bears: Greg Olsen, TE Miami (FL): Olsen was the only tight end selected in the first round of this draft and throughout his career has certainly lived up the billing. In the first two years of his Bears career, Olsen played in 30 games starting 11 but was still involved in the offense catching 93 passes for 965 yards and seven touchdowns in that span. Those numbers saw an uptick in 2009 as Olsen had a nice rapport with newly acquired quarterback Jay Cutler. In that season, Olsen caught 60 passes for 612 yards and eight touchdowns.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much else of what Olsen would do with Cutler as the Bears brought in Mike Martz as their offensive coordinator in 2010. With Martz being famous for not having tight ends involved in the passing game, Olsen saw his numbers regress as the targets his way drastically declined and caught 41 passes for 404 yards and five touchdowns. In the 2011 offseason, the Bears traded Olsen to the Panthers for a 2012 third round pick in an effort to give their new franchise quarterback Cam Newton a safety valve in the passing game.

This traded ended up being a huge win for the Panthers as Olsen has not only seen an increase in targets each of his years with the Panthers, but he continues to perform at an extremely high level. In his last three seasons alone, Olsen has been named second team All-Pro twice, and selected to three Pro Bowls. That includes three straight years of over 1,000 yards which even in a pass heavy league is very impressive for a tight end. Entering his age 32 season, Olsen should continue to be a focal point of the Panthers offense in 2017 and beyond.

32. Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Gonzalez, WR Ohio State: Coming off a Super Bowl win, the Colts wanted to add another weapon to Peyton Manning’s arsenal and thought they had it in Gonzalez. The first two years with the Colts went according to plan for Gonzalez and the Colts. In that span, he served as a secondary receiving option behind Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison, but hauled in 99 passes for 1,307 yards and seven touchdowns. Also impressive was that Gonzalez caught over 70 percent of the passes thrown his way in those two years.

Unfortunately, from that point on injuries came into effect and Gonzalez played in only 11 games from 2009 through 2011. After week one of 2009, Gonzalez needed an arthroscopic knee surgery which ended up getting him placed on injured reserve. In 2010, Gonzalez now say himself as fourth on the receiver pecking order as both Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie had emerged in his absence. That season he played just two games catching five passes for 67 yards  as he missed extended time with a high ankle sprain before being placed on injured reserve for a PCL injury. In 2011, Gonzalez played in eight games but only had two passes thrown in his direction.

The Colts informed Gonzalez in the 2012 offseason they would not be bringing him back for his fifth season and ended up getting signed by the Patriots less than a week later. While it seemed like a low risk, high reward option for both sides, the team let Gonzalez go in May of 2012. Many believe this was due to the numerous injuries to his knees sapping his speed and short burst. In another world, Gonzalez probably has a long career as one of the more effective receivers the league. Unfortunately in football stories like this are just the nature of the beast.

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The 2007 Draft at ten: Pick 17-24

ReggieNelsonThis is the third installment of my series “The 2007 Draft at ten” where I have been reviewing the first round selections of one of the first draft classes I really followed through the draft process. This installment has a little bit of everything as it features a Super Bowl champion, multiple players who played (or are still playing) at a Pro Bowl level and then some of your typical draft busts. The two previous installments of this series can be found here.

17. Denver Broncos: Jarvis Moss, DE Florida: At 6’6″ 270 pounds with a 4.7 forty, the Broncos thought they had found a potential star pass rusher in Moss and traded up to select him. Unfortunately, Moss never really found his footing in the league. HIs rookie season was cut short after just six games as a broken shin placed him on injured reserve. In 2008, Moss had his best season playing in 12 games, serving as an effective defender against the run and recording 2.5 sacks.

Leading up to the 2009 season as a result of a scheme change, Moss was asked to move from defensive end to outside linebacker (a position he had never played). Leading up to that season it was reported that Moss considered retirement with the position adjustment possibly playing a role. Moss ended up returning to the team, and was released by the Broncos in the middle of the 2010 season. He was then signed by the Raiders for the rest of that year, and was also signed to a one year deal through 2011. That was the last of Moss’ NFL career although it was reported that the Cowboys gave him a tryout in 2013.

18. Cincinnati Bengals: Leon Hall, CB Michigan: Despite a lack of accolades, Hall has had a very productive NFL career to this point. The Bengals drafted Hall to pair him with Johnathan Joseph who they had selected in the first round just a year before, and it worked out very well. Hall was an immediate contributor to the Bengals secondary and was even named a 2nd team All-Pro in 2009. Even more impressive regarding Hall is that he has continued to be productive despite having not one, but two seasons ending as a result of a torn Achilles tendon (2011 and ’13).

After nine seasons with the Bengals, Hall signed with the Giants in 2016 where he played twelve games at corner. He was one of the league’s better slot corners at the end of his stint with the Bengals, so even entering free agency at 32, Hall should continue to play for at least another few years.

19. Tennessee Titans: Michael Griffin, S Texas: A four year starter at Texas, Griffin came in right away and made an impact for the Titans defense. In 2008 he had his breakout campaign as he recorded seven interceptions and made his first Pro Bowl as a result. Griffin went on to make another Pro Bowl in 2010, and was also named second team All Pro in that same season. After nine seasons with the Titans, they released Griffin in the 2016 offseason.

He went on to sign with the Vikings but was released with an injury settlement before week one. Griffin ended up catching on with the Panthers where he started six games. With over 800 career total tackles, 25 interceptions and ten years in the league, Griffin has had a very nice career to this point. He is currently a free agent, so his 2017 team if he wishes to continue playing has yet to be determined.

20. New York Giants: Aaron Ross, CB Texas: Having won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top collegiate defensive back to go along with sprinters speed, Ross had a lot of things teams look for in a number one corner. His career got off to a great start as he became a starting corner on what’s now a highly memorable Giants defense where he won a Super Bowl as a rookie which gave him both a Super Bowl and national championship ring. In his first two years, Ross was an outside corner who had a combined six interceptions while returning two for touchdowns.

In 2009, he missed the majority of the season and was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. While he played as a slot corner in 2010, Ross had his best year as a pro back on the outside in 2011 as he recorded four interceptions and proved to be viable against the run. That same year he went on to win a second Super Bowl ring with the Giants. When he hit free agency, Ross signed a three year deal with the Jaguars which only lasted a year and he went on to later say was a “nice paid vacation to Florida” to which he did later apologize. After his release, Ross signed back with the Giants in 2013 but his return was short lived as a back injury placed him on injured reserve after week four.

That week four game ended up being the last of Ross’ career. While he signed with the Ravens for 2014, he tore his Achilles during an offseason conditioning test. Ross attempted to catch on with the Browns in 2015 after going through the grueling rehabilitation process, but did not make the final roster. While it surely didn’t end how Ross would of liked, an eight year career with multiple Super Bowl rings is something he could proudly look back on.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars: Reggie Nelson, S Florida: A focal point on Florida’s 2006 national championship defense, Nelson didn’t have to move far for his first NFL home. Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned in Nelson’s first three years in Jacksonville. Too frequently would be play instinctually which is something Peyton Manning would easily exploit in their divisional matchups. It appeared a fresh start would be needed to rejuvenate Nelson’s career after 2009, and he got just that in what now is one of the more lopsided trades in recent memory.

In 2010, Nelson was traded to the Bengals for cornerback David Jones (who played five games with the Jaguars). Under the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, Nelson suddenly became the player many expected him to be out of college and his work in pass coverage drastically improved. In his six years with the Bengals, Nelson racked up 460 total tackles, had 23 career interceptions (including a league high 8 in 2015), forced five fumbles and was named second team All-Pro in 2015.

Last offseason, Nelson was a free agent and took that opportunity to get back together with his former head coach in Jacksonville, Jack Del Rio. The season resulted in Nelson’s second straight Pro Bowl appearance as he recorded five interceptions and provided a stable presence in the secondary for one of the league’s most improved teams. Nelson should continue to be a focal point of the Raiders defense in 2017.

22. Cleveland Browns: Brady Quinn, QB Notre Dame: Once projected to be the top quarterback picked in this draft, Quinn’s draft status started to free fall after Dolphins passed on him at nine. Now one of the more memorable draft slides of all time, it got to the point on draft day where Roger Goodell invited Quinn to leave the green room and stay with him to eliminate the scrutiny of cameras. Quinn’s fall came to an end when the Browns traded up to get the Ohio native and presumed quarterback of the future.

With the emergence of Derek Anderson and a potent Browns offense in 2007, Quinn only attempted 8 passes in his rookie campaign. In 2008, the Browns brought Anderson back resulting in Quinn starting the year as a backup. After a slow start, Quinn was named the starter but that lasted three games before needing season ending surgery.

2009 was the most Quinn played in a season after winning the starting job over Anderson in training camp. However the two rotated out of the starting spot throughout the year, and Quinn played in 10 games (started nine) while throwing for 1,339 yards, 8 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.

In the 2010 offseason, Quinn was traded to the Broncos for a 6th round pick and eventual Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis. Quinn spent two years in Denver, but with Kyle Orton and then Tim Tebow in the fold, he did not take a snap. In 2012, Quinn did get to play 10 games with the Chiefs and started eight of them. One of those games resulted in what was probably his finest day as a pro winning AFC offensive player of the week after going 19 of 23 for 201 yards and two touchdowns in a win over the Panthers. Unfortunately for Quinn, those were the only touchdown passes he threw in Kansas City.

For a few years after that, Quinn had numerous tryouts or was brought into camp for teams to get a look. The Seahawks and Jets gave him a look in 2013, but he ended up signing with the Rams later that year where he was placed on injured reserve. Quinn last got a look from the Dolphins in 2014. Quinn finished his career with 3,043 yards, a completion percentage of 53.8 and threw 12 touchdowns to 17 career interceptions. He is now an analyst for Fox Sports where he works as a color commentator for both college and pro games.

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Dwayne Bowe, WR LSU: Checking in with prototypical measurables for a wideout and college production to go with it, Bowe made tons of sense for a Chiefs team in need of a receivers. Right away he showed the Chiefs what he was capable of as he hauled in 70 passes for 995 yards and six touchdowns setting franchise rookie records in the process. Bowe recorded his first 1,000 yard season in 2008 to go along with seven touchdowns, but in part due to the quarterback carousel going on in Kansas City, Bowe’s tenure there was one of inconsistency.

His apex was a 2010 season in which he hauled in 72 passes for 1,162 yards and a league high 15 touchdowns which was aided by a seven week span where he hauled in a whopping 13 touchdowns. This was the first and last year that Bowe made the Pro Bowl. Despite not having reported injuries, Bowe had his last 1,000 yard season in 2011 at age 27. The Chiefs ended up releasing Bowe in the 2015 offseason.

Bowe then signed a two year deal with the Browns, where many would of assumed he would of taken on number one receiver duties. Instead, he appeared in only seven games catching five of the 13 passes thrown his way for 53 yards. Considering the depth of receiver around the league and that he didn’t play this past season, it’s fair to assume Bowe’s days in the NFL are done after nine years. While 537 catches for 7,208 yards and 44 touchdowns is a very fine career in itself, there is reason to believe that in a different situation his career would of been more decorated.

24. New England Patriots: Brandon Meriweather, S Miami (FL): One of my favorite prospects entering this draft, Meriweather looked to be the next safety from “The U” to go on to become a star at the next level. While he showed flashes early on his career, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Meriweather was a reserve on the famous 16-0 Patriots team as a rookie, but became a starter in 2008 where he showed flashes of his Pro Bowl level talent. That came to fruition over the next two seasons as Meriweather made consecutive Pro Bowls in 2009 and 2010. Entering the last year of his rookie deal in 2011, he was a surprising final cut by the Patriots but as we all know now, even if it’s surprising you have to give Bill Belichick and company the benefit of the doubt. Meriweather ended up signing with the Bears that season where he gained a reputation for his hard hitting ways.

He then signed a two year deal with the Redskins the first of which was ended by a freak injury in pregame warmups where receiver Aldrick Robinson collided with him and resulted in Meriweather tearing his ACL. In 2013, Meriweather once again was under attack for his style of play and exchanged some barbs with Brandon Marshall on the matter through the media. He started the 24 games he played with the Redskins between the 2013-14 seasons. In 2015, Meriweather signed with the Giants where he started 12 games but he did not play during the 2016 season. Now 33, it is likely Meriweather has played his last NFL game. He would finish with over 450 total tackles, 17 interceptions and nine forced fumbles for his career.

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