Monday, January 23, 2017

NFL Draft Big Board 2.0: It's That Time Again

By Alex Hale, @ThatCLESportGuy

While the Super Bowl is fast approaching, the fanbases who are hoping for their team to turn it around to reach the Super Bowl have once again started focusing on the 2017 NFL Draft.  Throughout the whole College Football season, we’ve watched some of the most talented players in the country showcase their abilities to help their teams win, ultimately ending with the Clemson Tigers beating the Alabama Crimson Tide for the College Football Playoff Championship.  Now with the season over, I think it’s time to see how things have changed from Big Board 1.0 to now Big Board 2.0.  But before we get into Big Board 2.0, let’s go back and see what he had in Big Board 1.0 from the Preseason in August.

Big Board 1.0

10. Christian McCaffery, Stanford
9. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
8. Brad Kaaya, Miami (FL)
7. Juju Smith-Schuster, USC
6. Teez Tablor, Florida
5. Jamal Adams, LSU
4. Malik McDowell, Michigan State
3. Leonard Fournette, LSU
2. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
1. Myles Garrett, Texas A&M

Let’s make a few observations from this now.  Well first off let me apologize for about 50% of this Big Board for being mostly hype.  Highlighted by Brad Kaaya and Juju Smith-Schuster who completely disappointed me this past year, never should’ve warranted consideration.  Looking back Kaaya was all projectable with nothing really to go on to make you think he can get to that point.  Smith-Schuster, I have no idea what happened, I completely whiffed on that one.  Teez Tabor wasn’t even the best CB on his own team, and while I still have hope for Malik McDowell, he really didn’t have the same impact this year as he did last year for Michigan State.

I always feel it’s important to look back at what we’ve said before to reflect in order to learn from any mistakes we might make on prospects to see what we missed in order to find that in another prospect.  Throughout this process I’ve rewritten Big Board 2.0 numerous times after finding out what I missed and finding it in other players.  With that said, we’re going to start with #10 going all the way to my #1 prospect and at the end I’ll reveal, “The Next 10” who didn’t make the Top 10, but are in my Top 20.

10. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson- Now as a passer, Watson isn’t quite ready to be a Franchise QB yet, but it’s Watson’s intangibles that really put him at this position.  The guy is a winner, but more importantly is the kind of player that will work until he reaches his goals, that’s something you just can’t teach.  His poise in the National Championship game against Alabama was part of one of the greatest Championship performances ever.  He was never fazed when down in the game and fought back to take the lead.  But what stood out more was after Alabama scored with around 2 minutes to go in the game, against one of the best defenses we’ve ever seen in College Football to orchestrate a game winning drive, capped off with a TD pass with :01 second left.  He’s going to have to improve with his passing ability as he leaves a lot to be desired in making all the passes necessary to succeed in the NFL.  His decision making also leaves a lot to be desired as he threw 32 INTs in college.  While he’s accurate (67.4% career completion at Clemson), he was in a system that really can rack up numbers for a QB.  He’s going to need a team with a QB guru and a team who will have someone to start in front of him for at least a year as he can be developed.  One thing is for sure, Watson will put in the work to improve himself, his desire to be great cannot be underestimated.

9. QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina- One of my biggest rules when evaluating Quarterbacks is to not overrate the guy who comes out of nowhere.  Trubisky wasn’t even a remote consideration for the Top 10 until this year when he finally assumed the starting job for North Carolina and proceeded to captivate the scouting world in a draft class that is extremely weak at the QB position.  The main argument was he only started for 1 year, but he did make it count throwing for 3748 yards, 30 TDs and 6 INT with a 68% completion percentage.  There is quite a lot to like about Trubisky, he has good size and a strong build, a rocket arm, very good athletic ability, and great poise.  I do have concerns with his mechanics as he has an unorthodox throwing pattern where he likes to have his hips very open.  On top of that his footwork tends to change from light footed to heavy footed when moving in the pocket.  He has a ton of upside and could eventually be a Franchise QB for a team in the NFL, but whoever selects Trubisky must remain patient with his development.

8. ILB Reuben Foster, Alabama- In recent years, Alabama has been churning out ILB prospects and Foster is the newest prospect to come into the draft.  It’s arguable he’s the best ILB prospect to come into the league from Alabama over the past couple of years.  That includes players like CJ Mosley and Reggie Ragland.  Foster is outstanding against the run, but also can play very well in coverage.  But what I’ve noticed recently is his ability to blitz the passer when needed.  He’s without a doubt the most complete LB in this year’s draft and should easily step into any situation and become an impact starter from Day 1.  His explosiveness and reaction ability alone would make him a Top 15 player on my board any day, but the fact that out of college he’s the total package puts him into my Top 10.

7. FS Malik Hooker, Ohio State- After saying he was going to stay at Ohio State, Malik Hooker had a change of mind and declared for this year’s draft.  I’ve never seen a FS with the ball skills that he’s had really since Ed Reed (yes, I went back and watched Ed Reed film from Miami since everyone I’ve seen compares Hooker to Reed).  After seeing them both, I can clearly see why people compare Hooker to Reed.  Much like Reed, Hooker combines solid tackling with quickness to go from one side of the field to the other and elite ball skills to become a FS that you simply can’t match up with.  His instincts are so pure and at the same time at a whole other level compared to everyone else.  He proved that with 3 INT TD returns this past year.  His angles to get to a ball carrier need some work, but that’s correctable and I’d like to see him read routes better.  His weaknesses are very unnoticeable because his strengths are so good they make you forget them.  It would be rare that we could have 2 Top 10 picks be Safeties, but Hooker and Jamal Adams are that gifted.

6. DE/OLB Derek Barnett, Tennessee- Most experts won’t have Barnett this high, but something about him intrigues me.  Barnett isn’t the flashiest pass rusher in this draft, but he’s one of the more pro ready ones.  One thing was certain with Barnett, since the day he arrived at Tennessee, he has consistently gotten to the Quarterback and caused havoc in the backfield.  He broke NFL Hall of Fame DE Reggie White school record in sacks with 33.  On top of that he’s had 52 TFL, only behind Leonard Little’s 53 TFL.  The fact he’s in the same class as a former Pro Bowler in Leonard Little and NFL Hall of Famer Reggie White speaks volumes to me as a consistent performer.  The big question with Barnett is where is he going to play at the next level.  He’s not as explosive as other pass rushers, but he makes up for it with his awareness and strength.  With that said, I think Barnett fits more of the 4-3 DE mold, which would prevent some teams from drafting him.  Barnett isn’t the most athletic DE in this class, but he’s one of the most polished and I still believe has room to grow which easily puts him here for me.

5. RB Leonard Fournette, LSU- Leonard Fournette without question is the most athletically gifted RB to come out of college since Adrian Peterson.  He has elite speed and quickness to go with the prototype size and power he already has.  That would make you think he should be higher, but I’ve gotten an odd feeling since his first game that there’s a flaw and I think I’ve noticed something.  Fournette’s vision in the open field was outstanding, but getting into the open field left me a bit concerned.  He had trouble staying on the field in 2016, only rushing for 843 yards and 8 TDs.  It’s disappointing because he rushed for 1953 yards and 19 TD in 2015 alone.  Maybe it’s still my hangover about being wrong about Trent Richardson years ago, but that mistake taught me field vision is everything for a RB.  I fear Fournette relies on his talents too much and doesn’t rely on his vision and blockers to get him to the open field.  Without question by pure talent alone, he’s in the Top 3 players in this draft, but I fear he’s going to run into problems with his vision at the line to find his opening.

4. S Jamal Adams, LSU- If you loved Tyronn Mathieu, but wished he was bigger, Jamal Adams would be the guy you’re looking for.  Adams is the kind of Safety where I could see him being successful at either FS or SS.  He’s a good tackler and has the instincts of a SS, but yet his coverage skills for FS probably just as good as his traits for a SS.  I hate doing comparisons this early, but he reminds me of Troy Polamalu.  I’ve heard Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller give the comparison of Sean Taylor.  Let’s just put it this way, he’s going to be an elite safety at the NFL level.  The talent, instincts, and most importantly leadership scream to me a franchise defensive playmaker.  And let’s be honest, a Safety at #4…he’s just that good.

3. RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State- If you’re looking for the most polished, NFL ready RB in this year’s draft, Dalvin Cook is clearly the guy.  From learning from the Bill Parcell's philosophy of drafting a productive RB in college, there is no more prolific rusher in Seminoles history.  Dalvin Cook personifies that after 3 years at Florida State breaking Warrick Dunn’s FSU rushing record with 4464 yards rushing over 3 years, averaging 6.5 ypc.  He ran for 38 TDs the past 2 years, and had over 4000 yards from scrimmage the past 2 years as well.  What impressed me the most, especially against a stout Michigan Defense in the Orange Bowl was his acceleration to get to full speed and fly by defenders was outstanding.  I also love the fact that he’s a patient runner and allows his blockers to do the blocking for him, which for a young, extremely gifted RB, it’s fairly common for the RB to rely on his pure talents.  Cook has that Football IQ that can’t be taught that has him above everyone else at his position in this class.  I honestly wouldn’t be stunned if he came into almost any offense with a good line and have an Ezekiel Elliott rookie impact from day one. 

2. DE Jonathan Allen, Alabama- Allen is without question the most powerful pass rusher in this year’s draft and should get consideration from the Browns as the #1 pick.  The question is where does he fit on the field when he transitions to the NFL.  The nice thing about Allen is with the right system, he can play both the 3-4 and 4-3.  Although I see Allen fitting better into a 4-3 system, where he will have the ability to switch from the outside and the next play can play the inside.  He was a menace at Alabama racking up 28 sacks and 44.5 TFL over his 4 years at Alabama.  His explosiveness off the snap to go with his strength make him an easy plug and play guy from day one.  He’s shown the ability to stop the run and rush the passer to probably be the safer bet between himself and Myles Garrett.  The biggest thing he has going for him is how highly Nick Saban speaks of him as a player and leader on and off the field.  To impress someone like Saban to that level speaks volumes to the kind of person he is and the kind of player you’re going to get at the next level.

1. DE/OLB Myles Garrett, Texas A&M- Nothing changes at the top of my Big Board.  In the preseason Myles Garrett was my #1 prospect and I doubted that would change.  Not only did that not change, I’m sold that Garrett is the best prospect in this year’s draft and it’s not even close.  While he didn’t have a major impact in Texas A&M’s bowl game vs. Kansas State, Kansas State ran almost their entire offensive gameplay away from Garrett.  I’m not going to hold that game against Garrett unlike some fans.  The body of work from Garrett speaks for itself (141 tackles, 47 TFL, 31 sacks in 3 years), the kid is a freak of nature (6’5’’ 265).  Much like Allen, Garrett can easily transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4.  Some believe he’ll succeed more in a 4-3, but I think he’s going to do better coming off the edge in a 3-4.  He explosiveness and athletic ability has some thinking he’s another Jadeveon Clowney, but unlike Clowney, he has the drive to not only be the best player and is willing to learn.  His ceiling is possibly becoming the best pass rusher in football.  With the Browns holding the first pick and seeing the success of Emmanuel Ogbah as a rookie, one can imagine the nightmares Ogbah and Garrett will cause for opposing offenses.

The Next 10

11. DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford
12. WR Mike Williams, Clemson
13. WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan
14. CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State
15. CB Sidney Jones, Washington
16. TE OJ Howard, Alabama
17. S Budda Baker, Washington
18. CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
19. CB Adoree Jackson, USC
20. S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan

Just a few quick thoughts on my “Next 10”.  Solomon Thomas probably should be in my Top 10, but I’ve seen only his Bowl game vs. North Carolina, I’m not gonna sucker myself in.  There seems to be a lot of CB depth in this class as evidenced by the 4 CBs in my next 10.  Marshon Lattimore from OSU really stands out as the top guy with his quickness and ability to move on his feet.  I know its controversial to have a TE who really didn’t have the production you look for in college be this high, but every time Alabama called on OJ Howard, he came through.  He’s a great blocker and I think at the next level we’ll be asking ourselves how was he not utilized at Alabama.  For the WRs, it’s really a toss up for me who I like more.  Because of how clutch he was in the National Title game, I’ll give the edge to Mike Williams, but I like Corey Davis’ upside much more.  Lastly with the Safeties, Budda Baker will probably go in Rd 2, and while still a bit early in the process, what I’ve seen on Baker looks like a Top 20 pick.  As for Jabrill Peppers, the #20 ranking is all based on upside.  Peppers has the ball instincts to be an effective SS in the NFL, but with his elite athletic ability, I see him more in the FS mold.  As I’ve said, Peppers reminds me of Seattle SS Earl Thomas, who honestly can play either FS/SS.  Peppers will need work, but the talent is there.

With the Senior Bowl starting, the draft season is starting to shape up.  We will have a Big Board 3.0 in late March after the Combine and seeing how players do in interviews and to let any potential red flags present themselves throughout the process.  This Draft is one of the more unique draft classes I’ve seen because it’s a draft class that brings the NFL landscape to a halt.  There’s a lot of RB depth and teams are noticing once again the importance of consistent RBs.  There are no obvious Franchise QBs, not a lot of O-Line depth, and a WR class that isn’t nearly on par with previous years.  Instead there’s a lot of RBs and a ton of Defense.  This is a class that could almost bring the NFL’s “Passing League” identity back to a more balanced identity between passing and rushing.  This makes me even more interested to see how things shape up throughout the Draft process.

For those wondering, Mock Draft 1.0 will be released immediately following the Combine.  While I’m a fan of Mock Drafts, I think it’s silly to do them in January before the draft process takes effect.  Plus for those new to my NFL Draft articles, I only do 3 Mock Drafts.  One is immediately following the Combine, the second is the beginning of April after the majority of Free Agency has happened so team needs can be more accurately charted, the last is obviously Draft week.  I assure you that these Mock Drafts will be unlike any you’ve seen as let’s say I think sometimes way too outside the box.

The Road to the Draft in Philadelphia, PA is on and all I can say is I’m ready for Draft Season!

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