WHO WON THE 2017 NFL DRAFT
OK, I have been waiting and pondering the 2017 Draft for over a month now. I refuse to give grades any longer, and have already proclaimed to you the teams I feel failed to do what they needed to in April. I even declared the winners of the URFA scramble. But I cannot postpone the inevitable forever. I feel like I owe you dear readers/followers the positive side of the coin. Who did the most? Who was the best? Who may have improved their roster the most?
I am pleased to announce that it was the team that needed the most help. It was a team that had the Draft ammunition to help itself. It is the team that didn’t panic or get too cute on Draft weekend? It was the team that should now be about a year away from contending for a Play-Off spot. It was the CLEVELAND BROWNS!!!
The team’s brain trust played around a little bit, “working the Draft” early on after their Pick at 12 was devalued by DA BEARS trading up to get TRUBISKY. But as the saying goes, all is well that ends well. I do think it should be noted that the team may not look all that fortified in September. Many of their top selections do not look ready to me to take the lead out of the starting gate. But the talent is undeniable. We will now find out how strong the Browns coaching staff is at developing and coaching-up quality athletes.
Count me among the folks who think that former Aggie MYLES GARRETT is going to be the next VON MILLER. But that likely means it will be a couple of seasons before he hits his stride and starts going to Pro Bowls. I also think he will have to learn how to keep his motor running 100% of the time. My film study indicates that he does indeed take plays off, especially when the ball goes away from him. Great players cannot do that. And of course he will have to learn how to drop into LB coverage at times.
DAVID NJOKU/TE is as raw as can be, but also super talented. He is EVAN ENGRAM in a full sized NFL body. I’m not sure I agree with cutting GARY BARNIDGE loose right away to make room for NJOKU, but as long as he is accepting coaching then he might as well learn on the field, not on the bench. There is no reason, barring injury, that he cannot be full-sized JORDAN REED/TE effective.
The biggest challenge , again for the coaching staff, may be finding a specific spot for JABRILL PEPPERS in an NFL Defense. The bad news is there is serious question about his ball awareness as a S. But the good news is that traditional defensive positions in the NFL are becoming a thing of the past. PEPPERS is likely best served if the BROWNS, now under the guidance of DC GREGG WILLIAMS, can develop a position for PEPPERS as the Cardinals have tried to do with DEONE BUCANNON as a hybrid in-the-box SS most of the time. Watch this player carefully, but remember “patience” will be key in judging him.
The team got their potential “franchise QB” in Round 2, in the form of another Ohio native, DASHONE KIZER/QB. I said several months ago that I felt KIZER had the best long range potential of all the 2017 Draft QB prospects. Now it is time for HUE JACKSON to prove he is a QB Guru. But it seems that KIZER is not likely to be counted on for much in 2017, out on the grass. This is really solid draft value in Round 2. Look for a dry run at the helm for KIZER late in the season if the team is headed for another 10-Loss season.
The team got some much needed help for their DL group with LARRY OGUNJOBI & CALEB BRANTLEY. It looks even better with BRANTLEY being cleared of charges in a bar fight incident just before the Draft. He’ll be watched closely, but if he stays clean off the field these two players could represent a big boost to the DL rotation for WILLIAMS. Both of these guys lay with explosion and can penetrate the backfield from inside positions.
I am of the opinion that the team may have resolved a revolving door situation at Place Kicker with the addition of ZANE GONZALEZ in Round 7. GONZALEZ was an accurate kicker his entire career for the Sun Devils and managed to increase his range in 2017, hitting 7 of 9 kicks from over 50-yards. His leg appears strong enough to also handle kick-offs. In college 75% of his kick-offs went for touchbacks. NFL teams need that kind of work in their kicking game to win the close games many weekends each Fall.
Many folks are skeptical (to put it mildly) of 5th Round Pick RODERICK JOHNSON/OT/FSU. He has some technique flaws to clean up, and must also learn to give it his all on every down, but the size and athleticism are there. His 36″ arm length makes most OL coaches drool. He started as a Freshman and twice was voted ACC OL of the year. He needs more beef on his long frame, but could be ready in a couple of years to take over for JOE THOMAS, who can’t play forever despite his great career.
I was absolutely flabbergasted that RB/MATTHEW DAYES/NC STATE was not taken until Round 7. He is a hard charging short guy, who can block and catch the ball. He stands just under 5’9″ tall, and yet caught 98 balls for his career. He’s quicker than fast, and should make an excellent compliment to the present RB duo of CROWELL/JOHNSON.
HOWARD WILSON/CB/HOUSTON may have long range stater potential, but an early injury in Rookie mimi-camp may cause this to be a write off year for him. He recorded 15 PBU and 5 INT in 2016 for the Cougars, but has very little starting experience. A year, or partial year on a reserve list, could serve him well in the long run. Also served as a ‘gunner’ on Special Teams coverage units.
This team is on the right track. If they can develop this Rookie group for big time results in 2018, and then parlay another good Draft effort in 2018 they may be able to contend by next season. They should also be able to improve during the 2017 season and be a spoiler come December. Hang in there BROWNS fans, good things may be on the horizon. Now the most pressure has switched on to the coaching staff to develop the talent from the past two really solid drafts.
UNDRAFTED ROOKIE WINNERS
Every year just about every team in the NFL has a Rookie Free Agent or two who makes their 53-man roster. And in addition, about half the Practice Squad roster for most teams is also comprised of Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (URFA). So, especially in the long run, URFA have an even better chance to make an NFL roster after a few seasons of working out with NFL teams. Just to give you an example, the Champion Patriots currently show 39 men on their 90 man roster as being URFA. That group includes noted NFL players MALCOLM BUTLER/CB & CHRIS HOGAN/WR to name two.
So what I am telling you is that the 4th day of the Draft is a key part of rooster building for most NFL teams. Lest we overlook the Day 4 component, I would like to present the 4 teams that I believe added the best overall groups of URFA signed to their rosters.
CHIEFS Ron Wolf/Ted Thompson protege’ JOHN DORSEY works closely with his scouting crew once the regular Draft ends to sign guys to potentially bolster the bottom of his team’s roster. Among their 14 signees this year were 2 guys in my Top 300 rankings. Way up at #175 was S/JORDAN STERNS. If he can make his mark on Special Teams I believe he may have a real shot to make their roster and eventually break into some secondary sub-packages for them. DAMIEN MAMA/OG/C was my #209 ranked prospect. He ran a sun-dial slow 40-time at the Combine, but that may not matter much on the interior OL. At 6’3/330, he may be a road-grader for a team that likes to run the ball, and the clock more than by passing. It may also work heavily to his advantage that he can back-up all 3 interior slots. GEHRIG DIETER/WR was a Special Teams ace and a solid possession receiver as a grad transfer at Alabama, and may have a shot at the bottom of the team’s WR corps doing the same double duty work as a pro. Another Oklahoma State DB, ASHTON LAMPKIN/CB, may also have a chance to stick around as a back-up DB, perhaps on the Practice Squad for this coming season. JAMARI STAPLES/WR was a part of the loaded receiving corps at Louisville. He faces an uphill battle on a pretty deep WR group, but his long striding frame (6’3/195) makes him a solid deep threat.
JAGUARS There can be little debate that new VP of Operations TOM COUGHLIN, has imbedded himself into the roster building process for the JAGS. The team may have hit a HR with their RFA signings, landing 4 players in my Top 253, meaning guys who I felt were draftable. The top prospect signing for me was CARROLL PHILLIPS/ER/LB/Illinois, who I felt played better on a consistent basis than his teammate SMOOT, who the Jags drafted. PHILLIPS showed well at the Senior Bowl where he spent most of his practice time as an OLB. PHILLIPS had 9 sacks as a senior compared to 5 for SMOOT. Also high on my undrafted list was my 195th ranked player AMBA ETTA-TAWO, who caught 94 balls for 14 TD as a senior transfer at Syracuse. That is way too productive to ignore just because he’s not a speedster. AVERY GENNESY/TEXAS A&M was a very highly ranked OT prospect until he was measured at the Shrine venue and came up short, literally. He measured in at under 6’4, with only 33 5/8″ arms. Neither number cries out of OT length at the pro level. He also was out-quicked by multiple DE during practices. But he ought to be able to give it a good run as an OG candidate in Training Camp. EZRA ROBINSON/CB was my 227th ranked player whom they also inked to a deal. Those 4 lead the way, but also watch for JEREMY CUTRER/CB & I’TAVIUS MATHERS/RB to make runs at roster spots.
GIANTS COUGHLIN’s old team in NYC had it’s usual nice haul under GM JERRY REESE and his scouting department. The team has shown nice patience with their URFA players over the years. Their Practice Squad is used as a regular feeder system for their base roster. Their current roster includes 5 players from my 2017 Top 265 players. Topping the list is S/JADAR JOHNSON(202) from Clemson. His Special Teams work may give him a solid chance to actually make their 53-man roster. A higher ranked player for me (176) was OL prospect JESSAMEN DUNKER from Tennessee State. If they can hold on to him for their practice Squad he might have enough natural talent to make their active roster in a year or two. My highest ranked player that they signed is TRAVIS RUDOLPH/WR(161) whose lack of speed concerns NFL talent scouts. But he led his FSU team in catches in multiple seasons. A crowded WR group makes him a serious Practice Squad candidate. CALVIN MUNSON/LB ranked 257th for me and was a very active and productive college player. It’s hard to ignore his 116 tackles last season in college. Another interesting prospect/project may be JARRON JONES/DT(264), who many think is a good long-term candidate to be converted to an OT. I expect the GIANTS to use the new 1-cut roster process to stack their Practice Squad from their Rookie Free Agent class at the end of the pre-season.
PATRIOTS. The world champs have long used URFA to bolster their Training Camp rosters and find a handful of talented guys to nurture into roster players. They were able to sign one of the most sought after URFA in HARVEY LANGI/LB/BYU. LANGI was my #214 ranked prospect, and his agent’s phone reportedly rang off the hook after the Draft ended. He should make a solid multipurpose defender for the PATS. AUSTIN CARR/WR(244) is likely to end up on their Practice Squad with the team having a plethora of WR on their current roster. But more than a few of their current receivers are on the wrong side of 30, Amendola/Edelman/Slater, which means youth will be served in the near future in New England. A couple of DL candidates could emerge as clear pro talents in Training Camp. JOSH AUGUSTA(6’4/347) and ADAM BUTLER look likely to make waves this summer. TE/JACOB HOLLISTER from Wyoming could also create a buzz as the team looks to find a couple of younger TE to develop for depth purposes. I could see well in excess of 50% of the PATS 2017 Practice Squad coming from this URFA group.
As is often the case expect a high quantity of URFA to make rosters and emerge as contributors as he season progresses. Day 4 players, and creative use of Practice Squads to develop many of them, are now a vital part of NFL player development.
2017 DRAFT LOSERS
I don’t give out Draft grades any more, but I am not afraid to single out teams that I feel have outdone themselves in the Draft Process. That can be both on a pro and/or con basis. And today I’d like to mention 3 teams that I feel had highly questionable Draft efforts this year. It will also serve as an early projection of Power Rankings. The three teams below did very little to improve their overall rosters, and therefore their prospects for a winning 2017 season.
Let’s start with DA BEARS whose GM RYAN PACE seemed absolutely giddy on the phone with MITCHELL TRUBISKY after giving up a lot of ammunition to move up 1 Pick to get the guy who he obviously thinks can be their QB for the next decade or so in the Windy City. I do not necessarily think the team gave up too much for their QB of the future, given recent trades to grab top of the Draft prospects like GOFF, RG3, WENTZ and others. But it did feel like a lot when the smoke cleared and one of the League’s bottom feeders had relegated itself to a measly 5 Picks for this year. And given that the team had already signed BUCS back-up QB/MIKE GLENNON to a nice VFA contract, I would have encouraged PACE to wait out the Niners pick at No. 2, and take the chance that TRUBISKY was still available at Pick 3. It also looked like a reach to me that they turned around and drafted small school TE/ADAM SHAHEEN in Round 2. SHAHEEN did indeed dominate at a lower level of college competition, but I am not sure that he is really the next Gronk. Pre-injury S/EDDIE JACKSON looked like a clear Top 100 player, but DA BEARS have a cluster of DB on their roster, after drafting 3 DB in 2016 as well as signing several promising looking DB as URFA. At last count I saw 16 DB on their roster in addition to JACKSON. Their lone addition to their woeful looking OL depth chart was JORDAN MORGAN, like SHAHEEN, a small school guy who will likely have to move from OT to OG as a pro due to lack of length. Overall t seems very strange to me that a massive rebuilding project for DA BEARS currently features a roster with only 17 of its 90 roster slots being filed by Rookies. I count just as many VFA as I do rookies. Their most interesting draftee may end up bring TARIK COHEN/RB/RS, who was labeled he ‘human joy-stick’ by scouts at the NFLPA Game. But at 5’6, 178 lbs. his touches may have to be monitored. carefully lest he be broken before the team finishes the pre-season. IMO perhaps their mostqnteresting URFA may be FREDDIE STEVENSON/FB/FSU. STEVENSON was lightly used at FSU, but is a multi-faceted player who blocks like a man-possessed, has shown nice hands out of the backfield and reminds me a bit of KARLOS WILLIAMS when given the ball in running situations. Also keep eye on yet another smaller school guy in RASHAD COWARD/DT of Old Dominion who is a full-sized man at 6’6, 310 lbs.
Let’s just wrap up DA BEARS 2017 Draft process, and roster rebuilding in general, by saying it seemed a bit curious, and leave it at that for now. Poor JOHN FOX.
One of my favorite sayings, in the world of redundancy, is ‘dejavu, all over again’. And that was the phrase that popped into my mind watching the RAMS pick in the 2017 Draft. The RAMS gave up the farm last year to move up into the No. 1 Pick in the Draft, and then took the wrong QB with that selection. So this year they sat out Thursday Night at the Draft to continue their payment plan for JARED GOFF. But amazingly, once they got going with their Picks in Round 2 it seemed as though GM LES SNEAD, was enacting a do-over of 2016 with the team’s picks. Last year, their picks (after GOFF) were a TE, WR, TE, LB & WR in that order. This year, starting in Round 2 SNEAD selected a TE, WR, SS, WR, LB with his first 5 Picks. Other than the S selection, that is eerily similar to what he did in 2016. Where is the beef LES?! That is two straight drafts without an OL. So how are they doing at protecting their big investment from 2016, JARED GOFF/QB? Don’t even bother snaring that rhetorical question. I might also argue that they need to add a few full-sized interior DL. Does SNEAD know something most of us don’t? By the time the RAMS new stadium complex opens will the NFL already have transitioned to a flag-football format of play where the big uglies are no longer needed? That could be coming, but perhaps not as soon as RAMS front office folks seem to think. The RAMS currently have 8 DT listed on their roster and only 2 of them weigh more than 300 lbs. They show 6 DE, with only VFA MIKE PURCELL being over 300 lbs, and I would call him a DT. This team needs some beef added to it’s Defense, but clearly that is not coming through the Draft any time soon.
The team parted ways with HC JEFF FISHER last fall, eliminating one of the most overrated HC in League history. But looking at a 2017 Draft Class wherein the heaviest player selected by the RAMS weighed 296 lbs, LES SNEAD may be the guy to exit the premises by the end or the 2017 season. I am also not quite sure that the RAMS have a roster building game plan in place that reflects the teams 4-12 record. The roster I printed out last night shows only 21 Rookies on their 90-man roster. I wasn’t aware that the team had so much talent that they brought back so many vets.
If I have the RAMS on my schedule I am getting my game plan started already, which will be to run the ball as much as possible right down the throat of their defense! Good luck RAMS fans. I am not sure this team has a roster plan in place that isn’t further behind schedule than their stadium building time table.
The final team of my terrible three from the 2017 Draft process is the New York JETS! GM MIKE MCCAGNAN may not have realized when the took the JETS job 2 years ago, exactly how badly the REX RYAN years had screwed up the overall roster talent level. My guess is he also didn’t realize how much help he was going to receive in his personnel decisions from Owner WOODY JOHNSON. The saddest part of watching the JETS 2017 Draft for me was the realization that MCCAGNAN has pretty much decided that many of his predecessors’ Picks were mistakes, in addition to some poor VFA signings. First Rounder JAMAL ADAMS looks like a elite player, and 2nd Rounder MARCUS MAYE also looks like an immediate above average starter for the FS slot. But the bad news is that those two guys will likely replace a highly paid VFA (GILCHRIST) and another former 1st Rounder (PRYOR), both brought in just before MCCAGNAN arrived on the scene to fix things. Having to replace a bunch of players at positions that your team thought it had already fixed really cries out of rebuilding, not just upgrading your roster. The team does looks to have helped rebuild the WR group by cutting higher-priced, aging vet BRANDON MARSHALL, and cutting loose always injured DEVIN SMITH. Rookies STEWART & HANSEN should be seeing lots of playing time by mid-season. But the team did nothing to help their OL group (other than VFA BEACHUM), which was thinned out by the releases of GIACOMINI & NICK MANGOLD, who are likely past their prime and too expensive to carry under the current Salary Cap, which MCCAGNAN’s predecessors also left in bad shape. But God help aging VFA QB/JOSH McCOWN when he tries to hang in the pocket, and realizes he doesn’t have one. Given the age of RB/MATT FORTE (31) I do like the selection of ELIJAH McGUIRE/RB in Round 6. In fact, his versatility and pass catching ability should make him a nice piece to succeed FORTE as the JETS No.1 RB option in 2018.
Hate to be the one to break the news to you JETS fans, but it is rebuild time no matter what the company line tells you. And the OL, which got no help in the Draft, is going to be a big frustration to you all season. Look for the JETS to be claiming more than a few waived vets come August, when the new single roster cutdown date will hamper efforts of teams looking too add a few guys during the pre-season. ADAMS & MAYE will give you some reason to cheer, but hardly enough to keep this team out of the AFC East basement.
Hate to ruin eternal optimism early for any fans, but these 3 teams have written off their 2017 seasons for anything beyond positioning themselves for very high Round 1 Picks next year.
More post-Draft thots
Been seeing a lot of nay-saying in post Draft-land. I would like to remind all that with 7-8 Draft Picks per team, on average it is quite unrealistic to expect bad teams to turn it around based on a single Draft effort. The impact last season of ELLIOTT/PRESCOTT was unprecedented in my 50-plus years of watching pro football. Don’t expect that big of a Rookie impact even from the BROWNS this season with BARRETT-PEPPERS-NJOKU all coming aboard in one few swoop. As good as those players are, and are likely to be, their impact is likely to be less than a couple more wins in 2017. The big swing for this BROWNS franchise would likely be getting SAM DARNOLD/QB/USC into the fold next Draft.
Let’s stick with the BROWNS for a minute and try to calculate out what they were able to add to the roster thru the 2017 NFL Draft process. Clearly the 3 aforementioned players will all “start” in some manner for the majority of the season. ZANE GONZALEZ/K (R7) should win the PK job and be an upgrade. If 6th Rounder CALEB BRANTLEY/DT is cleared of legal charges he should certainly be in the 2-deep DL rotation. LARRY OGUNJOBI/DT, Round 3, should also crack that rotation. QB/KIZER & OT/JOHNSON are projects who should be inactive all season, but have long range starting potential. HOWARD WILSON/CB looks to have what it takes to catch on to the NFL game right away, at least in sub-package units. And last, but not least, it is my belief that RB/MATHEW DAYES (R7) could be a very pleasant surprise and get some significant playing time and touches as RB depth. I’d even talk to you about the URFA signings that the team has made since the official end of the Draft, but I don not see much there to be excited about. Only TAYLOR McNAMAR/TE & CHANNING STRIBLING/CB look to be of possible pro timber to me.
The RAIDERS have finally reached the stage of rebuild where significant talent additions at a couple of positions could make a big difference if they can go into the 2017-18 Play-Offs with a healthy QB/DERK CARR. And to my eyes their biggest needs going into the Draft were in their back 7 (or 8) on Defense. Assuming that First Rounder GAREON CONLEY/CB is cleared of his legal issues he could start right away in replacing D.J. HAYDEN. OBI MELIFONWU, in Round 2, could be a large talent upgrade and it would not surprise me if he does not play multiple roles for them. But CB is not one of them. Despite excellent athleticism I am skeptical of him playing on the Corner. But I could see him as a match-up defender who splits time between S and OLB. He’s a productive tackler with the athleticism to handle multiple coverage roles. It may take him a while to absorb all his potential duties, but watch out for his work in the second half of the season. I would also watch carefully for the work of ILB/MARQUEL LEE (R5) who is a solid athlete and a productive player.
It may not be this season, but perhaps in 2018 we might want to pay rapt attention to URFA TE/PHARAOH BROWN, who looked like an all-world player until a horrific knee injury put him out of action several years ago. The rehab has been long, and is still ongoing, but he’s a big target with long arms and big hands, who could make a very dangerous downfield receiving prospect in time. Also watch for WR/ISHMAEL ZAMORA, another URFA from Baylor who has a troubled off-field situation, but fits the old-time RAIDERS tradition of large, athletic receivers (6’3/224). The team did not draft a WR this year, but likes to add WR talent to their roster each year. I would also add that I like the Draft addition of RB/ELIJAH HOOD. With a guy named LYNCH now heading their RB depth chart it could give HOOD the chance to mature and develop while BeastMode does his thing prior to the Vegas relocation.