Draft King Analysis|
February 17, 2015
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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With the start of this year's NFL Combine in Indianapolis just around the corner, things are going to start ramping up ahead of the 2015 NFL Draft. Some thoughts:
• Speculation is growing stronger and stronger that Tampa Bay will draft Florida State QB Jameis Winston at #1 overall. This is hardly locked in place, and any number of things could happen to change this. But the reality is that Winston has what many perceive to be the most NFL-ready talent at the quarterback position, and with the Bucs parting ways earlier this month with Josh McCown, it seems all but certain that they'll take either Winston or Oregon QB Marcus Mariota at the top spot.
• USC DL Leonard Williams and Nebraska DE/OLB Randy Gregory remain in the top five of most mocks out there, and their respective skillset is in high enough of a demand that they could potentially both be off the board by the time Oakland goes on the clock at #4 overall.
But it's not just Williams and Gregory that are drawing top consideration. Missouri DE/OLB Shane Ray and Florida DE/OLB Dante Fowler, Jr. both could end up going in the top ten, or perhaps even the top five for one of them if the Redskins opt to go in that direction with their #5 overall pick.
Ray in particular has seen his stock rise considerably since the beginning of last season. With Kony Ealy and Michael Sam both gone from Mizzou after the 2013 season ended, Ray finally had a chance to shine, and he took full advantage of that opportunity.
Two other DE/OLBs to watch are Kentucky's Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Clemson's Vic Beasley. Both guys went into the 2014 season with high expectations that they both respectively managed to meet. I saw Dupree play in person against Mississippi State and he impressed me there, and I'm admitted a big fan of Beasley, to the point where I have to temper my projection for him to be careful not to place him where I think he should go, but where I think he will go.
Mississippi State DE Preston Smith could also sneak into the end of round one, and if that sounds like an overload of defensive linemen it's because of the tremendous demand for top-level players at the position in the NFL. That's particularly true for defensive linemen with strong pass-rushing skills, which Smith demonstrated last season for the Bulldogs.
• WVU WR Kevin White could end up challenging Alabama WR Amari Cooper in the battle to be the top wideout drafted this year. This column by Ian Wharton breaks down some specifics on how White has managed to improve his game and impress scouts, particularly with his ability to make catches in even tight coverage.
But there are others who prefer Louisville WR DeVante Parker, a wideout with great height at 6'3" and really good hands. Some have questioned his straight-line speed, but that's a concern that he will be able to potentially overcome with a strong showing in Indianapolis.
The real wild card at this position is Dorial Green-Beckham, the former Missouri standout who got into trouble, transferred to Oklahoma for a year of image rehab, and now stands poised to make a big impact in the NFL if he can live up to his potential. 6'5" 225 pound guys with his athleticism and pass-catching skills are very rare, and while off-the-field concerns will carry over into his pro career, there is a very real possibility of him developing into a truly elite-level NFL star. Huge risk/reward there, at least from a public perception standpoint.
• The two-year streak of running backs not being taken in the first round could come to an end with Georgia RB Todd Gurley and/or Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon going in the top 32 spots. It would have been a resounding yes for Gurley had he not suffered an ACL tear, but he could still end up being seen as having enough potential and being special enough to warrant a high pick being used on him.
Ten years ago, three of the top five players drafted were running backs. But with NFL rule changes tilting offenses so strongly toward passing attacks, coupled with the widespread success of late-round or undrafted RBs, using a precious first-round selection on a running back simply doesn't make sense anymore for many teams. But if Gurley does slide out of round one, I wouldn't expect him to be on the board too terribly long in round two.
• At tight end, the player to watch is Minnesota's Maxx Williams, who really shined in the Golden Gophers' loss to Missouri in the Citrus Bowl. Listed at 6'4" 250, he has the size to play the tight end position but also has demonstrated the receiving skill that has become so important for tight ends in the modern NFL. He could potential come off the board before Michigan's Devin Funchess, a TE/WR tweener who also shows great promise for the pro level.
• Iowa OT Brandon Scherff is seen by many as the top offensive line prospect in this year's draft, but there are some concerns about his ability to excel as a left-side offensive tackle. There are some teams that could target him with the intention of moving him to guard. That doesn't normally equate to what teams typically target at the very top of the draft, which could hurt him.
Other top-level offensive line prospects include Stanford OT Andrus Peat, Miami OT Ereck Flowers (whose stock has been on the rise), Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings and LSU OG/OT tweener La'El Collins. With Flowers, his outstanding gameplay after returning from mid-season knee surgery certainly has drawn the attention of pro scouts, and it's entirely possible he could end up being the first offensive lineman off the board in April.
In addition, South Carolina OG A.J. Cann and Florida State center Cameron Erving are two interior offensive linemen who could end up hearing their name called in the first round. And while there is no sure-fire blind side OT lock, there is enough talent among the elites and even the second-level prospects to provide ample opportunity for teams drafting even at the bottom of round one with the chance to come away with a blue-chip offensive lineman.
• On the defensive side of the trenches, Washington NT Danny Shelton is drawing plenty of attention and could end up going in the top ten of the draft. Oregon DT Arik Armstead and Florida State DT Eddie Goldman are likely to be given strong consideration in round one, with Goldman in particular developing over time at FSU to become one of the nation's top college-level defensive tackles in 2014.
Another player who has been moving up draft boards is Oklahoma DT Jordan Phillips. At 6'6" 330 he has NFL-quality size, but there are injury concerns that could cause him to slide in the draft. How he's evaluated at the Combine, particularly from a health standpoint, will be crucial for him to avoid being red-flagged by teams going into the draft.
• 4-3 OLB and ILB is interesting, if not complicated. Washington OLB Shaq Thompson could end up playing safety depending on which team drafts him, as his impressive athleticism and skill-set make him potentially value at a number of spots. The problem with that, of course, is a given team figuring out how he might want to fit into their system. But whichever team gets him will be adding an outstanding defensive player into its system.
Speaking of players with freakish ability, Mississippi State's Benardrick McKinney is a real anomaly -- a 6'5" inside linebacker with QB-crushing blitz skills. I see him as a mid-first round prospect, though others are projecting him lower, some even saying round two. And that could very well happen, in part because of concern about his coverage skills but also because ILB isn't necessarily what a team looks to fill first relative to its needs on defense.
Two other outstanding ILB prospects are UCLA's Eric Kendricks (2014 Butkis Award winner for best college linebacker) and Miami's Denzel Perryman. Both proved to be tackling machines in college, and Perryman really opened some eyes in his practice performance at the Senior Bowl, which unfortunately was cut short due to an abdomen injury.
There will be a point in the draft where they will end up being the best player available on boards, and particularly as the second round starts to move, they could end up being a real bargain relative to their draft position.
• Looking at defensive backs, Alabama SS Landon Collins remains the top guy at the safety position. Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt intrigues me at free safety, particularly with his ability to force turnovers. He's also a solid tackler, and it wouldn't surprise me to see him off the board before the first round comes to a close.
Two others to watch at safety are Fresno State's Derron Smith and Virginia's Anthony Harris.
• Cornerback is an interesting position this year, perhaps with more variance among evaluators than any other position in the draft. Michigan State's Trae Williams is starting to show indications of breaking away from the pack, though others prefer Washington's Marcus Peters. There are concerns about what led to Peters being given the heave-ho from the Huskies mid-season, in particular his conflict with the new coaching staff which inherited him in 2014.
I'm very high on Peters' ability, and it seems that he's taking the high road and saying all of the right things about what happened last year. More than anything, he will need to show skeptical scouts and coaches that he has the ability to co-exist, be professional, and use his elite level skill to the maximum.
Opinions tend to vary wildly, with potential mid-to-late first round whispers regarding Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson, Stanford's Alex Carter, FSU's P.J. Williams, and Miami (OH) corner Quinten Rollins. There could be some separation among the bunch (and others not listed) at the Combine, and rest assured that plenty of teams will be keeping a close eye on their performances in Indianapolis.