Draft King Analysis|
April 24, 2017
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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72 hours out from the start of the 2017 NFL Draft, and it feels like there is less certainty about projected draft plans than at any time since I've been doing this. 2013 was the closest to this, the parallel being the uncertainty about not only which quarterbacks would go early, but what order of them going is most likely. It's a tricky process.
In some ways this is like playing Sudoku on expert level, trying to fill in mostly empty boxes based on incomplete data. But, at least with Sudoku, there aren't any trades.
The 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement did several things, including putting a ceiling on what draft picks can expect to earn at a given spot. Sam Bradford's $50 million guaranteed in his rookie deal with the St. Louis Rams in 2010 remains the rookie high water mark, and likely will hold that title for the foreseeable future.
To point, contrast that with the $18.6 million signing bonus that the Los Angeles Rams gave 2016 #1 overall pick Jared Goff as part of a four-year contract for $27.9 million overall. The era of busts like JaMarcus Russell ($36.4M guaranteed on a six-year, $68 million) cursing a team's cap space for years is over.
It also made it much easier for teams to trade into -- or out of -- the top five spots. This is a good thing for teams with a solid long-term vision. It's not so good for people like me who are trying to project what will happen, though.
As it looks now:
• Every team in the top six of the draft is said to be wanting to trade down, to one degree or another. But any such deal likely won't happen until draft night, as teams wanting a specific player will likely wait to be sure he is on the board before they pull the trigger.
• Cleveland at #1 is said to be split internally between Texas A&M DE/OLB Myles Garrett and North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky. This could be a ploy to see if the 49ers want Trubisky, though the risk of a double-cross (with the 49ers taking Garrett instead) would seem to eliminate that possibility.
Garrett is the top EDGE prospect on every draft board I've seen. He's a pass rusher who looked like a natural out of the box in College Station as a true freshman in 2014 and had a strong three years against top-flight competition. It would surprise me at this point for Cleveland to not take him at #1.
• At #2, the 49ers are an enigma. San Francisco used to have leaks galore, to the point where their interest in DeForest Buckner (DE out of Oregon) last year was anything but a mystery. But the new administration, at least for now, has managed to keep the whispers to a minimum.
There is plenty of "best player available" speculation, and Stanford DL Soloman Thomas seems to fit as well as anyone there in that spot for now, both with his Bay Area ties and the Stanford connection with new general manager John Lynch.
There has been some talk about the 49ers liking Trubisky best of the available QBs, though it's hard to know where the leak begins and the spin ends with that one.
• Chicago at #3 is a team with both management and the coaching staff on the hot seat. The Bears need to win in 2017. If they don't, I anticipate a thorough housecleaning.
It has surprised me to see so many mocks projecting a QB to Chicago at this spot. They gave free agent QB Mike Glennon $18.5 million guaranteed last month, and I would suggest it's Glennon or bust for them at this point.
Between that unspoken reality, and the need for help on defense, it would really surprise me for the Bears to give Trubisky the nod at #3 if he's on the board. They could go with a defensive lineman, but I also like the idea of LSU safety Jamal Adams. Adams would seem to have an edge over Ohio State safety Malik Hooker with Adams being healthy while Hooker is still recovering from a sports hernia and surgery for a torn labrum in his hip.
• I've had LSU RB Leonard Fournette going to Jacksonville at #4 for some time, and he would be a great fit. A top-level running back who had some brilliant performances in his time at Louisiana State, Fournette has been NFL ready since his freshman year of college and would instantly upgrade the Jaguars offense.
• To my fellow NFL Draft analysts: please stop projecting the Titans taking a safety at #5. Tennessee signed former Jags free safety Johnathan Cyprien to a 4-year, $25M deal last month, adding him to a secondary that already has strong safety Kevin Byard (#64 overall pick last year) along with Da'Norris Searcy.
The Titans added to their much-needed secondary overhaul by signing former Pats cornerback Logan Ryan to a 3-year, $30 million deal. But with Jason McCourty being released earlier this month, there is one spot remaining to complete the restocking of the secondary, and a blue chip CB prospect like Ohio State's Marshon Lattimore would certainly fit the bill.
But what if Lattimore is gone at #5 -- or if the Titans are planning to wait until #18 to target a cornerback? They could have their pick of the wide receiver crop. It's not a top-heavy class by any means, but there are some solid prospects (like Clemson's Mike Williams and Western Michigan's Corey Davis) who could possibly go to Tennessee at that spot.
• The Jets hold the #6 pick, but I strongly suspect they will be trading down. If Trubisky slides the chances of that would seem to shoot up, at least provided the Jets aren't actually planning to nab him at that spot.
But with a new administration in place and the jettisoning of several high-priced veteran players, the Jets have the luxury of time to rebuild slowly. And the most effective way to rebuild would seem to be flipping the #6 pick in exchange for multiple selections. Though, as always, that requires a team with motivation to trade up.
• There are similarities for the Chargers at #7 and the Saints at #11. Both teams having aging quarterbacks and would benefit from adding a quality rookie to back up now while prepping for the long-term. But both teams need help in their secondary, though if Jamal Adams and Malik Hooker are both gone in the first six picks, it could be a Los Angeles surprise with the Chargers going QB at #7.
Of course, I write that while having projections of Alabama DL Jonathan Allen at #7 and Alabama TE O.J. Howard at #11 as of this writing, so take that as you will.
• One of the worst-kept secrets of this draft process has been Carolina's interest in Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey at #8. You might even see the Panthers try to trade up to secure him, at least if you believe the whispers. My personal inclination would be to go with Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, but McCaffrey is a special player who can help on everything from pass blocking to screen passes to kick returns.
• Inside linebacker is a need for Cincinnati at #9, though remember this rule: the further you get from the top of the draft, the less likely a team is to match a given selection to a perceived need. But I like Alabama ILB Reuben Foster going here, provided that Foster's "diluted" urine sample at the combine doesn't prove to be too much of a concern. Also a strong possibility: Temple ILB Haason Reddick, who might have been the strongest riser of them off during the off-season.
• Buffalo at #10 would seem to be primed to take a wide receiver, particularly if there aren't any off the board by the time they go on a clock. The Bills might also target a pass rusher. And, if you believe this report, Buffalo might actually be looking to go with Clemson QB Deshaun Watson at this spot.
In short, the Bills should have plenty of options to fit their needs at #10, yet they could trade back for the right offer and still be in a good position.
• Cleveland at #12 would seem to be a stopper for a Trubisky draft night slide. But if the Browns want Trubisky, they almost for sure will need to trade up from this spot to get him.
• Arizona at #13 is in a similar spot with the Chargers (I had to stop myself from writing San Diego there) at #7 and the Saints at #11 with a veteran QB who might not be around in 2018. Currently I have Washington WR John Ross going there, who would seem to be the best fit with the Cardinals with his incredible speed.
• Philadelphia at #14 and Indianapolis at #15 both need help at cornerback, and they could start a mini-run on the position depending on who falls. Ohio State CB Gareon Conley has been a strong riser this off-season, while Alabama CB Marlon Humphrey has stayed in the first-round mix.
• Baltimore at #16 could add a high-end EDGE pass rusher, and I have to temper my enthusiasm for Derek Barnett, who I've known since calling one of his high school games in 2011 and who went on to break Reggie White's career sack record at the University of Tennessee. Barnett could be gone by here -- or he could slip into the 20-29 range.
• If Haason Reddick is still on the board by #17, he would be a great addition to the Redskins. It's rare that an inside linebacker has 22.5 tackles for loss, including 10.5 sacks, in a season, but that's what Reddick did last year for Temple. And, if you haven't noticed by now, there is incredible demand for players who can significantly improve either a team's passing game or a team's passing defense.
• Provided the Titans don't go with a wide receiver at #5, targeting a wideout at #18 would be a savvy move. Jon Robinson has made some great moves (at least in my estimation) since becoming the Titans GM early last year, but the Titans decision could also hinge on how they rank the wideouts in this draft class.
• If Tampa Bay ends up with Dalvin Cook at #19, as I currently project, they will land a player who has drawn comparisons to Thurman Thomas. Funny enough, it was at Raymond James Stadium last fall where I became a believer in Cook, seeing his pure speed in action for Florida State as he outran USF's defensive backs. And that South Florida team was no slouch.
There will be opportunities for RBs later in the draft, but Cook is a special player and would fill a huge need for the Buccaneers.
• This is not a strong draft for offensive linemen, one difference from 2013 compared with 2017. But Denver at #20 could start a run on them, with Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk a strong possibility to be the first offensive lineman off the board. Miami could follow up at #22 with Forrest Lamp, an OT/OG tweener who played tackle at Western Kentucky but projects as a guard in the NFL. Adding him next to Laremy Tunsil (moving from guard to tackle) would make for a solid combo.
• Detroit at #21 is in a great spot, at least in theory, to target a pass rusher. It's entirely possible they could land the aforementioned Derek Barnett, or if he's gone the Lions could target Michigan's Taco Charlton, Auburn's Carl Lawson, or Missouri's Charles Harris.
• At #23, the Giants could go in a variety of directions. My thought at this point is Miami TE David Njoku, though this could also fall into the uncertain best player available category. But if, say, Alabama DL Jonathan Allen free-falls (and I've heard rumors suggesting that), the Giants could go with him as a value pick here.
• As of this writing, the Raiders appear to be working the running back free agent market, to the point where it almost seems like they want that position filled before the draft. And that might be a savvy strategy for Oakland, since at #24 they likely won't have a chance at the top RBs barring a surprise.
For now I have Alabama OL Cam Robinson penciled in for the Raiders. Robinson has slid from very early mocks that had him going in the top ten, and his 2016 arrest didn't help him any. Never mind that the prosecutor didn't press charges and Robinson was never convicted of anything -- perception is reality.
• Houston at #25 has been linked by some with Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes. But there will almost for sure be a learning curve for him in the NFL after playing in a spread offense at Texas Tech, and I tend to be skeptical of purported links between teams drafting this low and a specific player. But that seems as likely as anything for the Texans at this point.
• Projecting what the Seahawks will do is usually an exercise in futility. They're similar to the Patriots in that regard. I did connect on my prediction of Texas A&M OL Germain Ifedi going to Seattle at #26 last year, but that was an anomaly.
Right now I have another offensive lineman penciled in for Seattle at #26 this year, Utah's Garett Bolles. But you could easily sell me on one of the several defensive lineman who will likely be on the board at this point.
• Right now I have the Chiefs projected to take Clemson WR Mike Williams at #27, but Williams staying on the board that long would qualify as a surprise. He's a tremendous talent who would seem to be an ideal addition to a Chiefs team that use a wideout with Williams' size (6'3" 220) to go with Tyreke Evans' ridiculous speed.
• A friend of mine who sometimes knows things strongly suggested to me that Dallas won't take Auburn DE/OLB Carl Lawson at #28. You could see Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers go here, though his diluted Combine piss test might cause him to fall out of first-round consideration.
In a related note, perhaps the NFL piss testing prospects at a time when they need to have maximum hydration isn't the best idea.
• As for the rest: Green Bay at #29 seems to be in position to target a cornerback, and there should be several viable options for the Packers to contemplate at that position. Pittsburgh at #30 could draft a quarterback as a bit of a surprise, as while Ben Roethlisberger is still a top QB, he has taken an inordinate amount of physical punishment. Atlanta at #31 would seem to be well-served to add a top-end pass rusher, and they should have a decent shot at some of the quality DE/OLBs in this draft being on the board there. And finally the Saints at #32, if they don't go DB at #11, would seem to be in position to target a cornerback at the end of round one.