Draft King Analysis|
April 6, 2017
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com
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All right, ramblers -- let's get ramblin'.
The start of the 2017 NFL Draft is just around the corner. But, with a crop of quarterbacks that is proving very challenging to sort out, trying to gauge what is most likely to happen is proving quite challenging.
In many ways, the QB class of 2017 reminds me of 2013, with no clear standouts and no consensus top prospect. The league by that point had already started tilting strongly in favor of teams with a strong passing offense, but ultimately there were only three quarterbacks to go in the first three rounds in 2013: E.J. Manuel (#17 to Buffalo), Geno Smith (#39 to the Jets), and Mike Glennon (#73 to Tampa Bay).
Opinions vary considerably on the top quarterbacks for 2017. In late February, per Peter King of Sports Illustrated, highly-respected draft evaluator Mike Mayock declared that creating a top five list for the 2017 QB crop was the toughest he ever remembered at any position. And that covers considerable ground.
Ultimately, Mayock gave the nod (as of this writing) to Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer, who at this point he has ahead of Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, North Carolina QB Mitchell Trubisky (who apparently joined The York Foundation at the NFL Combine by going with a longer first name), and Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes, respectively.
But, as Mayock noted to King, that list was not drawn up easily. But Mayock is one of the best evaluators out there, and when he deviates from the "groupthink" of NFL draft analysts, it typically serves as a course correction of sorts.
One thing remains clear: the expectation around the league is that the Cleveland Browns will select Texas A&M DE/OLB Myles Garrett at #1 overall.
The term can't miss is overused, but the fact that Garrett was given a five-star ranking by Scout, Rivals, 247Sports, and ESPN out of high school reveals that he was hardly an under-the-radar prospect. Garrett made an immediate impact for Texas A&M as a true freshman in 2014, and really he was NFL ready long ago.
Beyond that is a bit of a mystery, though I'm quite inclined to believe the 49ers and Bears will both give strong consideration to top-level defensive linemen, especially guys who can play inside, who have elite pass-rushing talent. Could you imagine if Warren Sapp had come along 20 years later? He would have been in incredible demand, even with his terrible behavior (e.g. intentionally spitting chewing tobacco on the floor near reporters during postgame interviews, including some former co-workers of mine at WTSP-TV) and off-the-field baggage.
Most teams seem to have smartened up to the way rule changes made for player safety reasons have changed the game. With added protections given to defenseless receivers, not to mention quarterbacks (like the banning of low hits like the one which cost Tom Brady almost the entire 2008 season), it has become more and more advantageous to have a top-level QB with great accuracy.
My personal favorite QB prospect out of the bunch is Watson, a proven winner at Clemson with a consistently strong completion percentage, hovering just above 67% for each of his three years with the Tigers. His 6'2" height is below the prototype 6'5" level, which I imagine bumps him down a peg on some draft boards.
But if I'm Cleveland on the clock at #12, with Garrett already secured at #1 overall, I'm taking Watson. The Browns, and their long-suffering fans, need a winner -- and Watson proved in his time at Clemson that he is indeed a winner. The list of quarterbacks who have come and gone in Cleveland since the franchise's return to the league in 1999 is lengthy, filled with several unpleasant ghosts of seasons past.
Kizer (6'4" 235) has better physical traits than Watson, with the size and arm strength you would want from a high-level QB prospect. But his decline from a 63% completion rate in 2015 to sub-59% in 2016 is concerning, and there is an expectation in some circles that Kizer will need some time to adjust to NFL-level competition.
Unfortunately for Kizer, teams with high picks that need a QB generally are looking for someone who can help right away. There's a reason the Bears coughed up $18.5 million guaranteed to land the aforementioned Mike Glennon on the free agent market. It's believed that this is a do-or-die season for both Chicago's front office and coaching staff, and drafting a QB who needs time to develop isn't a viable option for staffs that perceive themselves to be under the gun.
I'm in the midst of a mock draft update. The most notable pending negative adjustment that comes to mind is the downgrading of Florida CB Teez Tabor, who posted a 4.75 40-yard dash at Florida's pro day, a number even worse than his disappointing 4.62 time at the NFL Combine.
On the flip side, there are some loud rumblings that Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey will end up being a Top 10 pick in the 2017 Draft. That seems to be code for Carolina targeting him at #8, which reveals either an uncharacteristic major leak out of Charlotte or the perception that McCaffrey simply makes sense there given the Panthers' team needs and the presence of new RB coach Lance Taylor, who served as McCaffrey's position coach over the past three seasons at Stanford.
But, to draw this column around full circle, it should be remembered that there were some who thought Ryan Nassib going to Buffalo in round one of the 2013 draft was a strong possibility due to the Bills having signed away Doug Marrone, his head coach at Syracuse, as their new head coach after the 2012 season.
But instead of going with Nassib, the Bills took E.J. Manuel at #17 overall, and Nassib ended up falling to the Giants in the fourth round. And, ultimately, the 2013 QB class ended up being, at least to this point, an overall bust.
That's not to imply that Carolina won't take McCaffrey at #8 overall this year -- that is a distinct possibility, particularly given Carolina's needs and McCaffrey's versatility. But presuming a coach/player "package deal" type of coordination would seem to be faulty analysis, at least if the past is any guide on that.
And, remember, this is misdirection season. If the Panthers actually want Florida State RB Dalvin Cook, it would be in their best interest for other teams to think they really want McCaffrey instead, lest they end up seeing their top target plucked off the board before they go on the clock.