Tuesday, February 28, 2017

NFL Scouting Combine Preview Part 2

In addition to the Combine starting this week, the NFL handed out compensatory picks for the 2017 NFL Draft. These picks are awarded to teams that lose free agents and are weighted based on the contract that player was awarded. 16 teams were awarded extra picks (not the Cowboys), with the Broncos, Bengals, Browns and Chiefs receiving the most with 4 and the Miami Dolphins getting the highest pick, number 97 overall at the end of the 3rd round. Also different in 2017 is the ability to trade compensatory picks. That makes these picks much more valuable as a commodity.
The final bit of draft news to be settled at the Combine will be a coin flip to determine which team will select 14th and 15th in the first round between the Indianapolis Colts and the Minnesota Vikings (though that pick is owned by the Eagles in the Sam Bradford trade). Normally tie-breakers such as strength of schedule can break ties but not in this case. In fact, the last time a coin flip was needed to determine draft order was 2014 between the Ravens and the Cowboys. Dallas won that toss and selected G Zack Martin with Baltimore drafting LB CJ Mosley. This is actually a fairly critical toss as both Philly and Indy are in need of running backs and could be jockeying for Dalvin Cook at that spot.
Now on to the rest of the preview:

Offensive Lineman

What to watch:

1.       Arm Length
While this might seem trivial to the average football fan, arm length can be a real factor in evaluating linemen. Ever wonder why Dallas doesn’t play Zack Martin at tackle? Probably because of his 32 7/8” arm length. Generally, tackles need arm lengths of 33-34 inches at least to be effective on the outside. Less than that likely relegates said prospect inside to guard. The ability to keep speed rushers at bay is crucial in today’s NFL. Btw, Tyron Smith has 36 3/8” arms.

2.       Bench Press
Obviously OL prospects need to be strong. But just looking at the raw number of reps of 225lbs without context is silly. Players with longer arms must go further in each rep and therefore are unlikely to put up gaudy numbers. However, a balance must be struck between arm length and reps in order to assure functional strength along the offensive line.

3.       Mirror Drill
Perhaps the best on-field drill the OL run is the mirror drill. That is where the prospect must move laterally back and forth and the command of the instructor. This drill shows quickness and flexibility as well as reaction time and technique.

Players to watch:

1.       Antonio Garcia, Troy, OL19
With a very weak class of Offensive Tackles this year, Garcia could really rise and even be a potential late 1st round pick. The 3 prospects above Garcia are Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin (hip injury), Garrett Boles of Utah (overaged) and Cam Robinson of Alabama (maybe only a RT) and each have their weaknesses. If Garcia really shines in Indy, he could easily overtake one or all of these others.

2.       Dion Dawkins, Temple, OL12
Dawkins is another smaller school prospect that has a chance to be in the late 1st-early 2nd round mix with his versatility. After really shining at the Senior Bowl, Dawkins could be an immediate starter at G or T if he measures up to his tape.

Defensive Line

What to watch:
1.       10 yard split
For most defensive lineman, running 40 yards downfield either means something has gone horribly wrong (chasing the ball) or amazingly right (scoring a TD). But neither situation is something a scout should focus on. However, the time recorded in the first 10 yards of that 40, known as the 10 yard split, shows the explosiveness that is very needed by ends and tackle alike. That is the number to watch on the defensive linemen.

2.       3 cone drill
In addition to straight line explosiveness, DL prospects must also show their lateral quickness and knee bend. This is especially true for defensive ends in getting around the edge or for pass rushing OLBs dropping into coverage. The time recorded in the 3 cone drill is a good benchmark for that.

3.       Benchpress
Like the offensive linemen, the DL prospects must show they have the strength to hold at the point of attack. Usually this group puts up the best numbers of any on the bench with defensive tackle prospects. The record at the Combine is still held by Stephen Paea with 49 reps of 225lbs.

Players to watch:

1.       Derek Rivers, Youngstown, DL 41
Rivers really shined at the Senior Bowl and could put himself in the 2nd round with a good combine. With versatility at either 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB Rivers should excel in both strength and speed drills.

2.       Jaleel Johnson, Iowa, DL22
Johnson was also impressive at the Senior Bowl with his play on the field and his interviews as well (including one with the Cowboys). Johnson should really impress at the Combine with his combination of strength, quickness and personality. He too has scheme versatility as a 4-3 DT (1 or 3 technique) or a 3-4 DE. Very similar to Terrell McClain


What to watch:

1.       Backpedal drills
With the linebacker group, the need for coverage skills has become more and more a factor in evaluation. Thus the ability to drop into space and make plays is crucial. Fluid hips, flexibility and explosiveness all are shown in these drills.

2.       60 yard Long Shuttle
The long shuttle drill is a timed run where the player runs up 5 yards, touches the line and runs back to start, then runs 10 yards, touches the line and runs back, then 15 yards, touches the line and runs back covering 60 total yards. This is a drill about short area burst and change of direction. Though not widely reported, this number is very valuable in evaluation linebackers.

3.       20 yard shuttle
In addition to the long shuttle, the 20 yard shuttle is also an interesting barometer for LBs. The player starts facing forward, shuffling to his right 5 yards, back across 10 yards and then back to start. This displays the lateral quickness linebackers need to pursue ball carriers in the run game.

Players to watch:

1.       Jarrad Davis, Florida, LB11
Davis is an athletic freak and should really shine at the Combine. Despite some injury red flags due to his smaller size, Davis could blaze all those concerns away with some speedy times.

2.       TJ Watt, Wisconsin, LB29
The youngest Watt brother, TJ doesn’t possess the size of JJ but was every bit the terror to opposing QBs at Wisconsin. If Watt runs well and can show some aptitude in space as he is likely a 3-4 OLB in the pros, Watt could be a late 1-early 2 level prospect.

Defensive Backs

What to watch:

1.       40 yard dash
Watching the DBs run the 40 is often exciting for even casual fans as they tend to rival the WO group in speed. However, a slower time in the 40 is not as damaging to DBs as it is receivers.

2.       Height
Though it may seem trivial, the height of a defensive back can really help or hurt his stock. DBs must be taller than 5’9 and anything above 6’ is preferred. When matching up with 6’4” wide receivers, giving up too many inches can be a real disadvantage and may relegate some to nickel back status.

3.       Vertical/Broad Jump
Much as with height, DBs must be able to win in jump ball situations and the vertical is a great way to make up for any weaknesses in physical height. In addition, the broad jump is a good measure of explosiveness for tackling in the run game.

Players to watch:

1.       Obi Melifonwu, UConn, DB40
The darling of the Senior Bowl, Melifonwu is 6’4” 219lbs and runs like a free safety, drawing many comparisons to Kam Chancellor. Melifonwu should impress in the 40 and the vertical and could shoot up draft boards this week.

2.       Sidney Jones, Washington, DB28
Jones’s biggest test may come during the weigh-in. With a slight frame, Jones could get knocked back among CBs in a deep field if he isn’t quite 6’ or is less than 170lbs. Even with a ton of great tape, injury concerns may arise on Jones.

Monday, February 27, 2017

NFL Combine Preview Part 1

Every year in the last week of February, the NFL world descends on Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. As 330 prospects are invited to get measured, tested and interviewed, the Combine serves as the biggest job interview for these NFL hopefuls and the last big event for teams before the start of free agency on March 9th. With only 255 picks total in the 2017 NFL Draft, it may be surprising to hear that only 80.8% of draft picks come from the Combine invitees since 2007 (the Cowboys come in just under that average at 77.5%). Nevertheless, the vast majority of these players will get drafted or signed as free agents and therefore are critical to the constructing of a Super Bowl Champion.
In this year’s Combine, a record number of tight end prospects (22) and the fewest number of OL prospects (50) since 2010 have been invited. Here is a look at what to watch with each position group and a few players to keep an eye on:

What to watch for:

1.       Who decides to throw
Very often, the top level prospects decline to throw at the NFL Combine, preferring to display their talents with receivers they are more familiar with at their pro days. However, this year’s crop of QBs is very unproven and declining to throw could turn some teams off (as we saw last year with Connor Cook from Mich St). Just who throws and who doesn’t can sway a team’s decision, even though it seems very trivial.
2.       Interview Process
Unfortunately for draftniks, the biggest part of the process in evaluating QBs, the 15 minute personal interviews, is not televised (yet?) and shrouding in mystery. What a team truly thinks about a particular QB is generally determined in these interviews, though sometimes the nature of a player’s interviews can leak out through rumor.
3.       Mitch Trubisky’s height
As the QB from North Carolina, Mitch Trubisky, is generally considered the #1 QB on the board headed into the Combine, he also has the most to lose potentially. One pitfall rumored thus far is that Trubisky is not all of the 6’3” that he was listed at UNC, but in fact may be closer to 6’ even. While this may seem small to some, the smallest of margins can sometimes separate these players and sway a team away from a particular prospect.

Players to watch:
1.       Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech, QB10
Many GMs are wary of QBs coming from the “Air Raid” system as it has proven a difficult transition to the pro game. Mahomes, with a the measurables, pedigree and upside that will intrigue QB-needy teams, will need to show solid mechanics and full grasp of an NFL offense in interviews to keep his name in 1st round contention.
2.       Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame, QB06
Another QB in the 1st round mix, Kizer needs to really impress with his physical skills to overcome a lot of bad tape from his college days. If he can show good accuracy in drills and run well, Kizer could quell some of the naysayers around his prospects.

Running Backs
What to watch for:

1.       40 times
The RBs are always a fun group when it comes to the 40 yard dash as they tend to have a few standouts. While not an indicator of future NFL success (how often do RBs take the handoff from a sprinter’s stance?!), the 40 does get notice from fans and GMs alike and can play a big part on Combine week.
2.       3 cone drill

Much more important than the 40 time to a running back’s success is his time in the 3 cone drill. This drill measures bend around a corner, short area burst and agility in space. The cones are laid out in an L shape, the runner starting at one cone. He must run up to the 2nd cone, circle and return to the start then turn, going around the second cone to cone #3, circle it and retrace his steps. Though not always reported, this drill is a big factor in the agility of RB evaluation.

3.       Medicals
In addition to on-field drills, measurements and interviews, each player is exposed to a number of medical evaluations by various teams. As running backs are a group most likely to take punishment in the college and pro ranks, their medical checks are highly scrutinized and vital to their draft position. Though this not shared publicly, rumors of a medical red flag can make their way into the mainstream.

Players to watch:
1.       Alvin Kamara, Tennessee, RB16
Kamara has been on many draft boards as the 3rd or 4th best RB in the class despite only 1 year as a starter at Tennessee. Though he has some past character and medical red flags, an extra good showing at the Combine could get him into the late 1st round mix.
2.       Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, RB23
With fellow Sooner RB Joe Mixon barred from participating from the Combine, Perine needs to use this opportunity to distinguish himself to get into the middle of the pack of RBs in this class. His success running and catching the football in drills will be interesting to watch.

Wide Outs
What to watch for:

1.       The Gauntlet
Easily my favorite drill at the Combine, the Gauntlet can make or break a wide receiver. The player start on the out-of-bounds line facing away from the field. On the signal, returns to his right and catches the pass thrown by a QB then quickly spins 180 degrees to catch another pass thrown. The receiver then begins to run down a yard line, catching 3 passes from alternating sides. On the final throw, he catches the pass along the following sideline then turns upfield to run. This drill emphasizes hands catching as well as movement and taking directions.
2.       40 times
Like the running backs, wide receivers draw a lot of attention around the 40 yard dash. While for many positions the 10 yard split (how fast the player runs the first 10 yards) is more critical than the full 40 time, wide outs can demonstrate a “2nd gear” in their full 40 and thus are judged more on that basis.
3.       Vertical jump
Another measurement taken by most players at the Combine is the vertical jump. And while no one cares how high your center can jump, for wide outs this can be a good measurable in showing if a player “plays bigger” than his size in jump ball situations.

Players to watch:
1.       John Ross, Washington, WO42
Despite having a shoulder injury that will require surgery, Ross is choosing to participate in the Combine. Much of this is due to his desire to run the 40 and show his elite speed. If Ross runs a blazing time he will definitely be in the 1st round mix just behind Corey Davis and Mike Williams.
2.       Malachi Dupree, LSU, WO13
Without great QB play at LSU, Dupree only had opportunity to flash his potential on occasion. But at the Combine, Dupree will have a chance to really show what he has and potentially be the 4th or 5th WO off the board.

Tight Ends
What to Watch:

1.       Pass catching drills
This year’s crop of tight ends is heavy on pass catchers versus blockers and watching them run drill should be a treat. Their fluidity to move in space and come up with the ball will be on full display.
2.       Bench Press
Unlike wide outs, however, tight ends are often covered by linebackers or safeties and will be in press coverage or chipped by defensive ends. Functionally strength as measured by reps of 225lbs is as important as catching passes.
3.       Blocking drills
Like the bench press, a tight ends ability to hold up at the point of attack in the run game is also critical to NFL success. Though many in this class might be better in space, their ability to be at least functional blockers must be part of the evaluation.

Players to watch:
1.       Evan Engram, Ole Miss, TE05
Emgram has drawn many comparisons to the Redskins’ Jordan Reed and he will have to live up to that hype at the Combine. Strength, speed and agility will all be measured and look for Engram to be one of the stars of this group.
2.       Jonnu Smith, Florida International, TE18

Smith really put himself on the draft world map at the Senior Bowl in Mobile and will look to keep that momentum going in Indy. As one of the few “all-purpose” tight ends in this class, Smith should excel in both blocking and pass catching drills.

Part 2 of our Combine preview will include the OL, DE, LB and DB spots

The Draft Narrative Show Episode 8

Join Jeff and Darren for their big Scouting Combine Preview including positional breakdowns, what to watch and some potential breakout stars at this year's Combine in Indianapolis! Draft Nerds unite!!!

The Draft Narrative Show Episode 7

Join Jeff and Darren for another look at the 2017 NFL Draft and Off Season. On this episode:
- We look at the start of moves in anticipation of free agency
- We look at Picks 6-10 in the draft and their needs
- We start to talk positional strengths in this year's draft class

The Draft Narrative Show Episode 6

Streamed live on Feb 11, 2017
Join Draft Batman (Jeff Bowers) and his Robin (Darren Boyd) as they talk Top 10 in the draft, the QB carousel this offseason and some risers and fallers early on! Listen LIVE Sat Feb 11th starting at 5:30p

Sunday, February 19, 2017

5 Biggest Question facing the Dallas Cowboys after Romo

As the Cowboys attempt to build a championship team in 2017, there are many very core questions they must answer along the way. The headlines, of course, will all be centered around the quarterback position and the future of Tony Romo. Personally I think they will have to release Romo with a June 1st designation thereby clearing a lot of cap space for the future as I don’t believe he would or could pass a physical for another team in a trade.
However, there are many other questions yet to be answered for this Cowboys team. Here is an in-depth look at the top 5 facing the Cowboys this offseason.

1.       What type of base defense does Marinelli want to run?

One of the most underrated and under-appreciated aspects of successful teams are adapting their scheme for the talent on hand. The Patriots have made a dynasty by this; morphing their defensive philosophies and schemes (4-3, 3-4 hybrid, 3-3-5, zone, press man, etc) based on the players versus trying to make their players fit a scheme. Most coaches in the NFL have the scheme they are most comfortable with and will stick with said scheme even when the talent in place may not be ideal (ex. Jacksonville Jaguars defense under Gus Bradley). That brings us back to the Dallas Cowboys.
Traditionally, Rod Marinelli was brought up in the base 4-3 Tampa 2 defense. That is a primarily zone coverage system designed to opposing teams to take chances into the seams of the zone and creates turnovers with ball awareness and hard hits in the secondary.

 However, due to the nature of today’s pass-happy NFL, Marinelli has evolved into using a base 4-2-5 nickel package for far exceeding 50% of most defensive plays. In addition, last season (with credit of insistence going to LB coach Matt Eberflus) the Cowboys employed much more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. This played much better to the strengths of starting corners Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr, who had shown some struggles in zone coverages, and resulted in banner years for the two pending free agents. And therein is the rub.
With 3/5 of their starting secondary free agents (Claiborne, Carr and S Barry Church) and relatively tight to the cap, the Cowboys must have a clear vision for the future of their secondary and its scheme. Returning CB Orlando Scandrick has shown his versatility in either scheme but rookie Anthony Brown showed some weakness in strict man-to-man and might be better served in more zone packages. In addition, starting FS Byron Jones does have experience at corner from college at UConn but would also be better served in zone packages on the outside. 
So the question is: Should the Cowboys continue to play more man coverage as in 2016 and acquire or retain talent to that end or change back to their tendencies of 2014-15 and play more zone, using pieces in place and supplementing in free agency or the draft. That answer will become apparent based on their moves in free agency prior to the draft on April 27. But if they fail to answer this question internally, it could lead to some mismatched talent and struggles in the season ahead.

2.       What to do about the linebacker spots?

In 2016, getting 16 games from Sean Lee was a Godsend and lead, in large part, to the improved defense last season. Partnered with Lee was a rotating cast of Anthony Hitchens, Justin Durant, Damien Wilson and others that were average at best. In looking ahead to next season, the Cowboys will need to assess and ensure the future at this spot. In last year’s draft, the Cowboys bought a lottery ticket in the 2nd round named Jaylon Smith out of Notre Dame. If fully healthy, Smith would have been a Top 5 pick and is one of the best LBs I’ve ever scouted in 10 years. However, the knee injury suffered in the Fiesta Bowl that resulted in nerve damage can be very slow to heal and has ended many careers before they began.

If Smith can return to health in 2017, he and Sean Lee are easily a top 5 linebacking core in the league and will be a strength of the club. However, if Smith cannot regain his college form and/or Lee is beset by more injuries then the Cowboys will have problems. With limited resources to invest in the position, the progress of Jaylon Smith’s return should be a key factor in the Cowboys offseason model.

3.       Can the pass rush finally be fixed?

Ever since the release of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys have struggled to find a consistent pass rush from their defensive line. Many resources have been spent, from money to draft picks to reputatuion (Greg Hardy), in pursuit of this answer and still it remains an issue. With Randy Gregory gone until Jan of 2018 (at least) due to drug suspension, the Cowboys currently have injured Demarcus Lawrence (off-season back surgery) and Benson Mayowa (pass rush specialist only) as starting DEs, with hybrid DE/DT Tyrone Crawford and David Irving and unproven Charles Tapper and Ryan Davis in reserve. This is likely to be addressed early in the draft, but rookie pass rushers rarely provide more than 8 sacks in their first season and no one in the above group had more than 6. On the interior of the line, 3rd round pick Maliek Collins was a surprise hit, totaling 5 sacks at the 3 technique. But his starting counterpart, Terrell McClain, is a free agent and unlikely to return. With utility DL Jack Crawford also free, Cedric Thornton is the only other returning DT.

The biggest question facing this group is finding the best use of the talent available and then supplementing with priority free agents and draft picks. Are David Irving and Tyrone Crawford better at End, at Tackle or both? Is Lawrence a RDE and can he stay healthy?
In addition to these questions, the end of the Cowboys season and Super Bowl 51 provide another interesting perspective into the mix. Both Dallas and Atlanta subscribe to the current trend of the smaller and faster defenses. And yet both squads wore down in the playoffs and proved the team’s Achilles heel. Will the Cowboys have enough “beef” along the defensive line to hold up against better running teams or sustained attacks?

4.       Does Dak need a complimentary weapon to Dez at WR?

On its face, this question may seem preposterous to the casual fan. An offense that boasts the league’s leading rusher, a future HOF tight end, the 4th highest paid wide receiver currently and loose squirrel of a slot receiver hardly seems in need of help. And yet Dallas finished in the bottom 5 on passes over 20 yards and seemed to bog down at times versus good press defenses. In addition both WRs that started opposite of Dez, Terrance Williams and Bryce Butler, are free agents. But with so much money already invested on the offensive side, can the Cowboys afford to put more assets on that side of the ball?

What is likely to occur is the Cowboys will look at a veteran in free agency that comes with a bargain price tag. This may include retaining Bryce Butler or perhaps someone like Pierre Garcon or Victor Cruz. While this maintains the status quo or perhaps slightly improves it, moves such as these would not address the issues above or help dispel the “book” on how to defend the Cowboys (more on that in question 5). This year’s draft is very rich in #2 wide receivers to be had in rounds 2 and 3 and perhaps should be a higher priority on draft weekend than one would think. Once again, the pursuits in free agency should reveal their intentions starting in March.

5.       How to re-write the book on how to defend the Cowboys?

When a team has success on offense in the NFL, other defensive coordinators begin to study film in order to find out how to stop that offense. This process usually takes around 10-15 games roughly and then takes a team with the talent to implement such a gameplan. I perfect example of this is the 2015 Carolina Panthers, who went 15-1 in the regular season but just started to show flaws in the final weeks of the regular season. Those flaws came in the form of weakness at the OT spots to speedy edge rushers and proved their undoing in Super Bowl 50 by the Broncos. In 2016 having not upgraded their OT position, they faced an onslaught at that same weakness and went 6-10.
The Cowboys in 2016 went 13-3, losing only a meaningless game to the Eagles and both matchups to the Giants. The Giants showed the rest of the league “the book” on how to beat Dallas: Press man coverage on the outside and big bodies at DT in their 4-3 to plug up their zone runs. The other team in the NFL to emulate this strategy was the Minnesota Vikings and they almost beat Dallas as well if not for their complete ineptitude on offense.

This is in no way a slight to the Cowboys as every team in the NFL has their strategic weaknesses and thus “a book” on how to best defeat them. In fact it is a great compliment to the Cowboys to have weaknesses that demand so much from an opposing team’s defense. However, the weakness is still present and one of the key elements to any offseason for an organization should be to identify and address those areas head on.
The first area to address can be at the QB spot where young Dak Prescott must continue to improve his game. Most of his issues lie in consistency of mechanics, especially in vertical throws outside of the hash marks. It is this area that scout’s noted coming from college and what had him slide in the draft last season. But with more coaching and work, this area can improve.
Secondly, the wide receivers (and most importantly Dez) must work harder to beat press coverage. This is an area Dez has struggled with since he was a rookie and why he can be taken out of games by opposing defenses. Further, Beasley’s size also lends him to be manhandled in man coverage and he must be protected with motion or slot positions. Finally the 3rd WR spot could help in this area by finding a burner who stretches defenses vertically and persuades coordinators to not gamble with him versus their #2 or #3 corner.
Finally, the zone blocking scheme of the run game paired with Zeke Elliot must be a bit more versatile at times. When facing a stout gap control front such as the Giants (or what the Packers did in the playoff game), the Cowboys must attack the edges more. That can be accomplished with sweeps, bubble screens, spread option or many other ways. The fallacy that Dallas faced in the playoff game last year was the arrogance of success doing it their way. While good teams don’t change their identity based on the opponent, they also don’t walk in expecting to do the same old thing and win in the postseason.

The Cowboys have a number of needs in this off season including: CB (2), DE, S, WR, DT, TE, OT

How they address these needs in March and April will determine if they are playing in February 2018. Championship components can come in many varied forms, from the 4th round compensatory pick to a bargain free agent signed in August. That is why the NFL is a 365 days a year sport and why America loves it so much. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Mock Draft 1.0

With the champion crowned and the 2016 season officially in the books, the focus of the football world finally turns to the offseason in earnest. The postseason college bowls are done, the Scouting Combine in Indy is 3 weeks away and free agency starts March 9th. So there is no better time (and no fan-friendlier way) to assess where we are in the draft process than a 1st round mock draft. Mock drafts at this stage are more about lining up a team’s primary needs with the talent available as we currently see it. In other words, they aren’t really worth the paper they are printed on. But it is a fun exercise and creates interesting talking points, so here goes!

1.       Cleveland Browns – Myles Garrett, OLB, Texas A&M
In this offseason there are approximately 9 QB needy teams (Cle, SF, Chi, NYJ, Buf, Ari, Wash, Den and Hou), 6 big free agent QBs (Romo, Garoppolo, Cousins, Cutler, Glennon and Tyrod Taylor) and 3-4 QBs to be considered in the 1st round (Trubisky, Kizer, Mahomes and Watson). Therefore each team will have to find their piece of that puzzle. I expect the Browns to attempt to answer their QB questions with later picks and/or free agency and therefore take the best player in this draft, the Aggie edge rusher.

2.       San Francisco 49ers – Mitch Trubisky, QB, UNC
The Niners are also a QB needy team and address this with the most polished yet least experienced QB in this class in Trubisky.

3.       Chicago Bears – Jonathan Allen, DT/DE, Alabama
The Bears could also go QB here but I think will instead be more aggressive in free agency and seek a developmental QB in later rounds. Instead the Bears bolster their DL with the big man from Bama.

4.       Jacksonville Jaguars – Jamal Adams, S/LB, LSU
As the first team somewhat settled at quarterback (maybe?) the Jags will take the best player available and that is the do-everything DB from LSU Adams. With the prospect of free agent SS Cyprien leaving, the Jags can fill that slot and improve upon it with Adams.

5.       Tennessee Titans – Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
The Titans 2 biggest needs are in the secondary and at receiver. With 2 picks in the 1st round, they could address both of those issues. The question is in which order. Even though he will likely be out until summer with injuries, the Titans pull the trigger on the Buckeye centerfielder to sure up their secondary.

6.       New York Jets – Marcus Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
By drafting Christian Hackenberg in the 2nd round last year, the Jets are unlikely to draft a QB high again and will likely pursue Mike Glennon in free agency. Instead the Jets move Revis to FS and draft his replacement in Lattimore.

7.       Los Angeles Chargers – Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
New regimes usually mean new quarterbacks and the Chargers have not only a new regime but also a new city to sell to their fan base. With their best need filler in Hooker off the board, the Chargers go for the splash and draft the reigning champ in college football as the heir apparent to Rivers.

8.       Carolina Panthers – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
The Panthers need someone to take the offensive focus off of Cam and Fournette has shown he is up to the task. With two former SEC big bodies running in opposite directions on a zone read, defenses in the NFC South should be on alert.

9.       Cincinnati Bengals – Soloman Thomas, DE, Stanford
The Bengals seem to covet big end in their 4-3 defense and Thomas is an ideal fit to add punch to their pass rush.

10.   Buffalo Bills – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
The Bills are thrilled to see Williams fall to them at 10 and pair two Clemson WRs (Williams and Watkins) on the outside.

11.   New Orleans Saints – Reuban Foster, LB, Alabama
The Saints were dreadful against the run last year need an enforcer in the middle of their defense. Foster is just the guy they need.

12.   Cleveland Browns – OJ Howard, TE, Alabama
After seeing him up close at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, the Browns get a go-to weapon for their offense in Howard.

13.   Arizona Cardinals – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
With Larry Fitzgerald their best WR at age 37, the Cards must add weapons and get a guy many compare to Antonio Brown in Davis.

14.   Indianapolis Colts – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
The Colts are desperate to add a running attack for Andrew Luck and overlook the many, many red flags on Cook in order to do that.

15.   Philadelphia Eagles – Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
The Eagles secondary got torched last year and must be improved. With all the big WRs gone, the Eagles take the son of Bobby Humphrey and a big physical corner from Alabama.

16.   Baltimore Ravens – Cam Thomas, OT, Alabama
The Ravens took their LT in last year’s draft and take their RT in this one. Thomas is a road grader that can bookend the Ravens OL for a decade.

17.   Washington Redskins – John Ross, WR, Washington
The Redskins have many needs this offseason including DL, LB and S. But also a need is at WR where only Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder are expected to return. The Redskins add even more speed with the Huskies WR.

18.   Tennessee Titans – Teez Tabor, CB, Florida
With all the 1st round WRs gone, the Titans continue to bolster their secondary with the sticky man-cover corner from Florida.

19.   Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
McCaffrey is a versatile RB/WR type and an ideal fit in a Bucs offense in need of playmakers.

20.   Denver Broncos – Ryan Ramczyk, OT, Wisconsin
The offensive line of the Broncos really regressed last season and needs to be rebuilt in their new system. Ramczyk in the best overall OT prospect in this draft but will likely slide based on medicals. If he sees the field in 2017, the Broncos will have gotten a steal.

21.   Detroit Lions – Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
The Lions stay within the state to address their pass rush in Charlton. Paired with Ziggy Ansah, the Lions hope they can finally get consistent pressure on opposing QBs.

22.   Miami Dolphins – David Njoku, TE, Miami
Njoku appeared out of nowhere midway through the season for the Hurricanes and gave scouts flashes of Jimmy Graham. The Dolphins have a big need for weapons around Tannehill and Njoku is just that.

23.   New York Giants – Garrett Boles, OT, Utah
The Giants missed out of Jack Conklin in last year’s draft and their OL was their undoing. Boles was a JUCO transfer into Utah but showed great balance and skill in his brief time there.

24.   Oakland Raiders – Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Cunningham is a tackling machine and the Raiders have a huge void to fill in the middle of their defense. If he gets this far down the board, the Raiders would happily snap him up.

25.   Houston Texans – Pat Mahomes III, QB, Texas Tech
The Texans desperately need a QB but are hamstrung by the Osweiler contract. By drafting Mahomes, they can begin to develop their future at QB for a fixed cost.

26.   Seattle Seahawks – Forrest Lamp, G/T, Western Michigan
The Seahawks OL was a revolving door last season and must be solidified. Lamp has had scouts raving all season and has the position flex that Seattle typically covets.

27.   Kansas City Chiefs – Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
Losing ILB Derrick Johnson late last season really hurt that Chiefs defense and at age 34 he is starting to show his age. Davis from Florida is built for speed and has a great nose for the ball.

28.   Dallas Cowboys – Takkarist McKinley, DE, UCLA
The Cowboys have never minded undersized DEs as long as they can get to the QB. And McKinley can definitely do that, with 10 sacks last season for the Bruins. In fact the only reason he could slide to Dallas are some injury concerns that will need to be vetted at the Combine.

29.   Green Bay Packers – Quincy Wilson, CB, Florida
The Packers secondary was riddled with injuries and was ultimately their Achilles heel. Wilson is a solid corner, though not as flashy as his Florida teammate Tabor. But with good size and technique, he is an instant starter for the Pack.

30.   Pittsburgh Steelers – Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Like the Packers, the Steelers too struggled at the CB spot. Jones is polarizing prospect among scouts, with some in love with his cat-like reflexes and ball skills while others worry about his thin frame and hesitance to get his nose dirty.

31.   Atlanta Falcons – Malik McDowell, DE/DT, Michigan State
The Falcons defense ran out of gas versus the Patriots in Super Bowl LI and need more pass rushers to pair with Vic Beasley. McDowell is versatile and adept both inside and outside in getting to the QB.

32.   New England Patriots – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee

The Champs love to find guys who don’t always have all the measurables but are just good football players. That perfectly describes Barnett, who surpassed Reggie White’s Sack total at Tennessee but probably won’t shine during the “underwear Olympics” at the NFL Combine.

The Draft Narrative Show Episode 5

Join host Jeff and Darren as they discuss Senior Bowl week, some key injuries to top players and Jeff reveals Mock Draft 1.0 exclusively LIVE

Senior Bowl Recap Part 2

The Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL always serves as the unofficial kickoff to the 2017 NFL Draft season. With all but 2 teams through playing and most front office staffs in place, the Senior Bowl is a showcase of some of the top talent in the 2017 draft class. Here is a full recap of the week of practices and the game, divided up into offense and defense.

 Defensive Ends

        Stock Up: Chris Wormley, Michigan
        Stock Down: Keionta Davis , UT-Chattanooga
        Surprise: Tarrell Basham, Ohio

The defensive end group at this year’s Senior Bowl were the best top to bottom in Mobile. In fact the only reason Keionta Davis got the Stock Down designation is because he only held his current evaluation instead of improving upon it. Perhaps no single player helped himself more than Chris Wormley of Michigan and more off the field than on. Reports suggest Wormley aced all of his team interviews and receives raves from the Bears staff. A classic 3-4 DE, Wormley might be in contention for a 1st round pick. Other top DEs Jordan Willis of K State and Dawuane Smoot of Illinois played up to their 1st-2nd round grades as well. The surprise of the group was Ohio DE Tarrell Basham, who rose from an intriguing mid-rounder into a Top 50 player. Basham looks like a 280lbs DE but moves like his 6’3” 259lbs would suggest. The other prospects include Daeshon Hall of A&M and Isaac Rochell of Notre Dame, who were as advertised, and Tanoh Kpassagnon of Villanova, who showed a lot of potential.

Defensive Tackle

        Stock Up: Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
        Stock Down: Tanzel Smart, Tulane
        Surprise: Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte

Last year’s Senior Bowl class at DTs had way more star power than this year, featuring several Day 1 and 2 choices. The 2017 Senior Bowl class of DTs is a solid group but does lack that the star power. A perfect example of that is the prospect that helped himself the most in Mobile was mostly a backup in college, Dalvin Tomlinson of Alabama. Being a backup on the Bama DL is far from a knock, but Tomlinson capitalized on his chance to shine, both as a run stuffer and in the team interviews, making him a solid Day 2 choice. The other, more high profile DTs, including Carlos Watkins of Clemson, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu of USC and Ryan Glasgow of Michigan, all played well and held their grades. The surprise of the week came from Larry Ogunjobi of Charlotte, who is built like a dump truck and was about as immovable. Ogunjobi drew many comparisons to Javon Hargrave of the Steelers in his rise through the draft process from small school to mid-rounds.

Outside linebackers

        Stock Up: Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
        Stock Down: Ryan Anderson, Alabama
        Surprise: Derek Rivers, Youngstown

With both teams featuring a 3-4 defense at the Senior Bowl (Browns and Bears), the Outside Linebacker spot was at a premium and got a lot of exposure. For some that exposure was good, like Vince Biegel of Wisconsin who flew around in the backfield and downfield covering backs and tight ends. For some it was less good, like Ryan Anderson of Alabama who still held up well on the line but really struggled in coverage. The surprise of the week came from Derek Rivers of Youngstown who towered over the competition in both size (6’5” 255lbs) and in drills. Rivers showed both strength and speed on the outside and could be a real steal as a 3-4 OLB in the pros.

Inside linebackers

        Stock Up: Haason Reddick, Temple
        Stock Down: Ben Gedeon, Michigan
        Surprise: Duke Riley, LSU

Perhaps no single player raised his stock more than Haason Reddick of Temple. Though he was a pass rusher primarily in college, Reddick made the transition to stand up ILB seamlessly and also aced his interviews. It is possible Reddick could even make his way into the late 1st or early 2nd round. Also showing promise was Alex Anzalone of Florida, who was starting over much heralded Jarrad Davis before getting injured. Most of the other LBs had their limitations, including small school prospects Connor Harris of Lindenwood and Jordan Herdman of Simon Frasier, who struggled at times with the speed of the competition; or Ben Gedeon of Michigan, Ben Boulware of Clemson and Harvey Langi of BYU that struggled with their own speed in space. The most intriguing prospect of this group was Duke Riley of LSU with his ability to cover. Much like fellow LSU and 2016 Senior Bowl alum Deion Jones last year, Riley could find himself starting very soon.


        Stock Up: Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
        Stock Down: Damontae Kazee, San Diego St
        Surprise: Cameron Sutton, Tennessee

This group of corners all had a very up and down week and opinions varied the most among scouts. High profile guys like Desmond King of Iowa and Jourdan Lewis of Michigan did well but also showed some warts at times. Tre’Davious White of LSU was doing very well but then pulled out of the week with a hamstring pull. Though he actually played more slot cover safety than corner, Cameron Sutton of Tennessee did as good a job as any versus some impressive TEs after coming off an injury plagued senior season. Most of the other corners played to their Day 3 grades with the exception of Rasul Douglas of West Virginia. The 6’2” 203lbs CB struggled at times in press coverage but his size and ball skills will definitely intrigue some team.


        Stock Up: Obi Melifonwu, UConn
        Stock Down: Nate Gerry, Nebraska
        Surprise: Lorenzo Jerome, St Francis (PA)

A couple of safeties caused a lot of buzz among the scouting community at the Senior Bowl: Obi Melifonwu of UConn and John Johnson of Boston College. Melifonwu impressed from the weigh in (6’4” 219lbs) to the field, drawing comparisons to Kam Chancellor. Johnson came in much less heralded but continually impressed on the practice field. Meanwhile, Justin Evans of Texas A&M and Jordan Sterns of OK State also played well for the South squad, though didn’t really improve their stock over its current 2nd and 3rd round grades respectively. The surprise of the group was the same surprise player of last week: Lorenzo Jerome of St Francis (PA). Jerome had 2 INTs in the NFLPA Bowl then followed it up with 2 INTs in the Senior Bowl. Though perhaps not the biggest or fastest guy on the field, that kind of knack for the football displayed by Jerome is so coveted by NFL teams.

Senior Bowl Recap Part 1

The Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL always serves as the unofficial kickoff to the 2017 NFL Draft season. With all but 2 teams through playing and most front office staffs in place, the Senior Bowl is a showcase of some of the top talent in the 2017 draft class. Here is a full recap of the week of practices and the game, divided up into offense and defense.

                Stock Up: CJ Beathard, Iowa
                Stock Down: Nathan Peterman, Pitt
                Surprise: Josh Dobbs, Tennessee

Unlike last year that featured #2 overall pick Carson Wentz and future starters in Dak Prescott and Cody Kessler, the 2017 Senior Bowl class of QBs were fairly underwhelming. The most consistent part of this group was its inconsistency. Top names Davis Webb of Cal and Nathan Peterman of Pitt showed flashes when unharassed in the pocket, but wilted in the face of pressure. Webb is probably the closest to starting talent, answering all the “Jared Goff 2.0” questions confidently and playing well enough to earn the game’s MVP. However, his lack of athleticism and accuracy when forced to move off of his spot was upsetting. Meanwhile, Peterman looked solid versus air but bailed out of the pocket way too often and will need a lot of development in the pros. Josh Dobbs of Tennessee surprised at times with nice speed and touch, but much like his time at Tennessee, it was very hit or miss due to poor mechanics. CJ Beathard might have had the best overall week in Mobile as a QB, showing surprising arm strength and grasp of the offense. Though he may never be more than a backup, Beathard could be a cheap and reliable backup from the first day he is drafted. Antonio Pipkin and Sefo Liufau mill not be drafted.

Running Backs
                Stock Up: Kareem Hunt, Toledo
                Stock Down: Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego St
                Surprise: Matt Dayes, NC State

Most of the running backs in Mobile acquitted themselves quite well First on that list was Kareem Hunt of Toledo. Coming in at 5’11” and 208lbs, Hunt was explosive both running and catching the ball in practice and won Most Outstanding Player in the game for his 15-121 yds performance. Closely behind Hunt came RBs Corey Clement of Wisconsin and Jamaal Williams of BYU. Clement is a one-cut runner with nice vision in the hole and a solid build. Williams is a taller, long-striding runner with comps to Matt Forte. All three of these runners are 2nd-4th round talents that could be solid 1B runners in a tandem. Deveon Smith of Michigan, after a great performance at the Shrine Game, continued to impress scouts with short area burst and dirty yards. Smith and Matt Dayes of NC State are both a tier below the top guys but will be nice complimentary backs. Dayes perhaps had the most splash plays in practice during the week, but ball security issues that already plagued him at NC State also showed up in the game. Donnel Pumphrey weighed in at 5’8” 168lbs and will have to carve out a role as a specialist (ala Darren Sproles) in order to get on the field.

Wide Receivers
                Stock Up: Zay Jones, East Carolina
                Stock Down: Travin Dural, LSU
                Surprise: Chad Williams, Grambling

The Wide Receivers at the Senior Bowl were all pretty solid and most fall into middle round talent. Star of the game and of the practice week, Zay Jones of East Carolina showed good route running and a slipperiness that impressed many scouts. Other standouts for the week included Fred Ross of Miss St (Dak’s former favorite target), Taywan Taylor of W Michigan and much heralded Cooper Kupp of E Washington. All had a knack of getting open despite physical limitations and making tough catches. Chad Williams of Grambling highlight came in some nice sideline catches and a fight with Miami Safety Rayshawn Jenkins that got old-school coaches fired up. Ryan Switzer of UNC and Amara Darboh of Michigan seemed to hold their own and moved neither up nor down. Artavis Scott of Clemson and Josh Reynolds of TX A&M flashed nice speed but struggled versus tight coverage. Travin Dural of LSU started the week well but pulled out of the game due to hamstring and caused many to question his desire. Jalen Robinette of Air Force and Jamari Staples of Louisville struggled throughout the week.

Tight Ends
                Stock Up: OJ Howard, Alabama
                Stock Down: Garrett Everett, So Alabama
                Surprise: Jonnu Smith, Florida Int

Tight Ends at the 2017 Senior Bowl were the real stars of the week. As the best overall prospect coming into the week, OJ Howard lived up to all the hype and more. Howard showed the all around game that will get him drafted no later than the Top 20. Just behind Howard for the week was another SEC alum, Evan Engram of Ole Miss. Though he is much more of a pass catching specialist than Howard, Engram drew many comparisons to Redskins TE Jordan Reed in his ability to stretch the field and get separation. The surprise of the week came from Jonnu Smith of Florida International, both for his pass catching and his better than expected in-line blocking.

Offensive Tackles
                Stock Up: Taylor Moton, W Michigan
                Stock Down: Zach Banner, USC
                Surprise: Julien Davenport, Bucknell

As is usually the case at the Senior Bowl, the offensive tackles have the toughest job and face the most abuse of any group. This year’s standout was G/T prospect Taylor Moton of Western Michigan. Moton has drawn comparisons to Cowboys G Zack Martin and is projected as a first rounder at OG. However, Moton held up well at left and right tackle; showing nice position flex. The other OTs in Mobile did not fare as well. Adam Bisnowaty of Pitt looked better at LG than out at tackle while Conor McDermott of UCLA and Justin Senior of Miss St were up and down all week. The big surprise was Julien Davenport of Bucknell who showed solid technique and work ethic but still very raw versus top talent. Most disappointing was the giant Zach Banner of USC (6’9” 360lbs), who routinely got beat with speed and showed a lack of bend to play inside.

Interior Offensive Line
                Stock Up: Dion Dawkins, Temple
                Stock Down: Dan Feeney, Indiana
                Surprise: Jesseman Dunker, Tenn St

The Interior OL is tough to scout at times as their only real one-on-one exposure comes in pass rush drills that usually don’t favor the offense. However, this group proved pretty solid overall. The star of the week was easily Dion Dawkins of Temple. Coming from the run heavy Temple Owls system, Dawkins spent the week blowing open big holes in the run game and showed nice quickness in mirror drills. Dawkins could be hearing his name as early as Round 2. While no one really hurt themselves, Dan Feeney of Indiana came in with the most hype and just never jumped off the page to me. Feeney looks like a 2nd round guard that will be very solid but maybe not a Pro Bowler. Jessaman Dunker of Tenn St surprised with a mean streak and nice leverage up front. Most of Dunker’s questions come in off-field issues.