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Ranking DEFENSIVE Position Groups 2017 DRAFT Part 2

Now it’s time to finish up my group rankings as we prepare for the NFL COMBINE this coming week.

ILB Group There is always a bit of disagreement within the scouting community on ILB vs OLB, but not too many would dispute that the best pure LB prospect may be REUBEN FOSTER?alabama. FOSTER reminds me a lot of former ‘Bama ILB MOSLEY, now wit the RAVENS. FOSTER shows the ability to defend effectively against the run and pass, which means he’s more likely to remain on the field for all three downs. FOSTER should be in the first half of Round 1. RAEKWON McMILLAN/Ohio State, who also shows versatility born of his athleticism is the other probable 1st Rounder in this group, tho he will be later in the Round.
I project another 3 ILB to be taken in the Top 100 selections in April. The average number of ILB taken per Draft is 10, with 12 being taken in 2106. I think somewhere in that 10-12 is a realistic range this year.
A perplexing prospect has emerged this year within this position group by the name of ALEX ANZALONE/Florida. ALEX is a nice sized, very athletic defender, who covers the field with speed and a nose for the ball. He shows some pass rush ability as a blitzer and is adequate in mid-field coverage duty. His best spot might be Inside in a 3-4 scheme, at 6’3/240, with a 76 1/4″ wingspan. He was invited to the Senior Bowl and was a standout all week. But he has missed more games in his college career than he has actually started. In the contact sport of football it is very hard to ignore his preponderance of injuries. Who rolls the ice on him, and how high in the Draft may end up becoming an ongoing saga come April.
Group Grade: B

CB Group This should be an exceptional year for teams needing some CB help on their roster. And the variety to choose from is part of the reason. There are big press-cover guys and quick twitch slot cover guys. There are zone defenders who will run step for step with speed receivers. Most of these Corners are willing participants in run support. The cherry on the cupcake is that as a bonus there are numerous CB who are excellent Return Specialists as well.
I expect a half-dozen guys to be taken in Round 1: MARSHON LATTIMORE/Ohio St, SIDNEY JONES/Washington, QUINCY WILSON/Florida, TRA’DAVIOUS WHITE/LSU, MARLON HUMPHREY/Alabama & ADOREE’ JACKSON/USC. HUMPHREY might be taken as a S. I also see as many as 15 CB in the Top 100.
The average number of CB taken in a Draft is 33, with 35 taken last year. I look for the same number this year.
As we head to the Combine I strongly recommend that you keep your eyes and ears open whenever you hear the name of FABIAN MOREAU/UCLA mentioned. He’s a full sized guy @ 6’/204. He bounced back very nicely last season from a nasty knee injury the year prior. He looked excellent in his play in the Shrine venue, and had many wondering why he was not in Mobile as well.Based on pure talent and size he’s very close to being a first rounder. His medical evaluation will be critical, and if that knee checks out OK his speed and quickness numbers will be scrutinized closely. Many think that a healthy MOREAU could run a sub-4.4/40. If he does, put his name down in late Round 1 for a team like the PACKERS.
Group GRADE: A-

S Group This could be the deepest and most talented S group in some time. In this era of pass-happy offensive attacks the S slots have re-emerged in importance for teams looking to stop big plays, down the deep middle of the field. It is also fashionable again to have a S or two who can be effective and impactful for blitzing situations.
I have 4 Safeties slotted for Round 1, which is a high number compared to most years. Right now my four are JAMAL ADMAS/LSU, MALIK HOOKER/Ohio State, OBI MELIFONWU/UConn & JABRILL PEPPERS/Michigan. ADAMS & HOOKER could be Top 12-15 if they post the expected numbers at the Combine. Overall I project about 10 S going in the Top 100.
In a normal year the League drafts 18 S, with 17 going last year. Play the over if your in Vegas in April, as I could see about 20 being drafted this year.
A sure-thing to fall in the Top 100 should be one of the best CB in college football the past 2 seasons in DESMOND KING/Iowa. KING is a real ball hawk as well as a great tackler. Unless he proves otherwise in Indy, the expectation is that he will be a bit slow, and a tad tight in the hips to be considered an elite CB for the pro game. But he could become the next BOB SANDERS/Iowa, who folks in Indy remember fondly for his All-Pro play as a crunching S. IF you like the play of MICAH HYDE for the PACKERS, expect KING to be just a step above in overall ability.
Group GRADE: B+

THat’s a wrap heading into the Combine. There is no doubt that we will see the prospect meter shift a bit based on some players who exceed expectations in Indy, and some who disappoint a bit. It’s always fun if you are tracking the detail of prospect evaluations.

This group of prospects is a bit light on proven skill position stars, but is long on potential and very deep in talent in general. I’d be glad to swap my first rounder for extra picks in Rounds 2-3-4. There may be little to separate prospect 50 from 100, which will make it critical for teams to identify the players who really fit the schemes of their current coaching staffs. It could also precipitate a rash of trades late in Round 1. And remember this is the first year that teams are allowed to trade Compensatory Picks, which were just announced. One more bit of spice to stir into your Draft gumbo.

Cheers

PIGSKIN

RANKING DEFENSIVE Position Groups 2017 DRAFT

Our defensive discussion will start with the big guys up front. For this year’s projection I am going to work with the time honored position groups of DE, DT, ILB, OLB, CB & S. But bear in mind this kind of breakdown is starting to feel more and more outdated with the absolute lust for edge-rushers about to force us to create a whole new position category for them. For now I will place those guys at either DE or OLB depending upon size and style of play, but keep in mind that calling that approach imperfect is putting it mildly, to say the least.

DT Group This will be comprised of guys playing on the Nose in a 3-4 scheme, or at DT in a 4-3 scheme. This is a solid year for the big guys who anchor the defensive front, even though a few of them actually excel in pressuring the pocket. I am only projecting 2 DT for Round 1 at this time: CALEB BRANTLEY/Florida & CARLOS WATKINS/Clemson.
The irony of these two being the only first rounders is that they are contrary in their style of play. BRANTLEY is cat quick, with strong hands that allow him to push past OL and record TFL and/or inside pressure on the pocket. WATKINS is a bit more traditional. He is above average in quickness, but is more of a power rusher. But he is NOT a Nose Tackle.
I see another half dozen DT being worthy of Top 100 selection. In an average year 18 DT are drafted overall, with 20 selected last year. I’m thinking I’d take the under for 2017 if I were a betting man.
Grade C+, some nice talent, but too many of them will play only on early downs, not full-time, thus limiting their value.

DE Group Remember now that this category must include 4-3 DE, as well as 5-technique guys for base 3-4 schemes. For players who I feel will play the majority of their time standing up, with their hand off the ground (which includes 3-4 OLB types) you will find them coming up later as OLB. Have I got you confused yet?
I see a solid 4-5 DE in this year’s prospect group. THe best of all is JONATHAN ALLEN/Alabama as the almost perfect 5-technique, but also capable of sliding inside for pass-rushing situations, and also being able of staying on the field in 2-man DL fronts. That versatility and his athleticism should make him a Top 10 draftee.
ALso likely to be taken in Round 1 are SOLOMON THOMAS/Stanford, CHARLES HARRIS/Missouri, DEREK BARNETT/Tennessee & TACO CHARLTON.Michigan State pretty much in that order. That’s a total of 5 for Round 1, and I would project another 6-7 in the Top 100. The average DE taken per Draft is 21, with 19 last year. Let’s round it off and say 20 this year.
A guy who really intrigues me is DEATRICH WISE/Arkansas. He played in the Shrine Game and had an excellent week’s work there. Physically he is a monster at 6’5/275, with 10 3/8″ hands and 35″ arms, with an 85″ wingspan. He’s a lot of legs, and had trouble staying on the field during his college career. But when he is healthy, as he was all week in St Pete, he can dominate a game for a series or two. At his best he looks a lot like JADEVEON CLOWNEY. How early will someone take a flyer on him? If he tests well at the Combine (which he should) and does well during the interview process, he could be an early Day 3 draftee.
Grade: B, a good just not great group.

OLB Group I’ll jump to this group next since I am pulling out multiple collegiate DE to stand up and play the position, especially in 3-4 base schemes.
Included in that category is the potential top pick on the Draft, MYLES GARRETT/Texas A&M, who I think is a just a bit bigger version of VON MILLER/Broncos, himself a former Aggie. GARRETT battled injuries this season but still impressed overall. He’s long and has a knack for spinning his way into the pocket. Like MILLER, he’s likeLy to learn on the fly and be headed to Pro Bowls in a couple of years.
I would also project the following guys to be first round OLB types: TAK McKINLEY/UCLA, ZACH CUNINGHAM/Vanderbilt, TIM WILLIAMS/Alabama, T.J. WATT/Wisconsin. That would mean 5 guys for Round One. I would also project another 5 OLB in the Top 100. The average Draft class sees 22 per year, with 24 drafted in 2016 as OLB. Unless the scouting community transitions quite a few more DE to stand up, then I might bet the under and place the 2017 Draft as having 20 taken overall.
One of the biggest ground gainers through the all-star process was HAASON REDDICK, who was outstanding in everything he did. The biggest surprise for many was his ability to match-up in coverage with RB & TE all week in Mobile. Two seasons ago he played almost exclusively as a pass rushing DE with his hand in the dirt. The expectation is he will rock the Combine with his athleticism, which tells me he could jump up into Round 2 of the Draft.
Grade C+, a few too many conversions projects here and that makes me a bit nervous.

Cheers for now.
PIGSKIN

Ranking Offensive Position Groups 2017 DRAFT Part 2

Let’s take a look at the remainder of the offensive position groups..

RB GROUP As often happens in the NFL, it appears to me that the importance of the running back positions is back on the uptick. The passing game can be more exciting to fans than a good run game, but depending upon the opponent’s defensive scheme, and the scoreboard, having a run game to balance an offensive attack can be critical to success. Having diversity in your your RB corps is also key to forcing defenses to respect your entire offense.
Thanks to a glut of quality RB a lot of NFL teams should be able to augment their RB stable throughout the 2017 Draft. We actually went through several drafts in recent years where no RB were selected in Round 1. EZEKIEL ELLIOTT showed clearly in 2016 that a stud RB can still have a huge impact on games from week to week. I am thinking that 3 RB clearly appear to be First Rounders heading into the Combine: DALVIN COOK/Florida State, LEONARD FOURNETTE/LSU & CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY/Stanford. The clear beauty of this trio is their different skill sets.
COOK is the best overall, looking an awful lot to me like ELLIOTT from this past season. He’s explosive with the ball in his hands and a threat to score from almost anywhere on the field. He is adept as a receiver and understands how to block in pass-pro.
FOURNETTE, is the more traditional bell-cow power back who runs over and through people, and is able to break big gains because of his balance and straight line speed once he gets his momentum going. But he’ll be coming off the field on 3rd and long because of deficiencies as a receiver. FOURNETTE reminds me a lot of HERSHEL WALKER, and as great as he was, fitting into today’s NFL as the go-to guy would be a challenge even for WALKER.
McCAFFREY is the most versatile weapon in the group. He can run, catch and return kicks. But he will have to be used selectively because his frame is pretty lean overall. He may be good for about 25 total touches per game at the next level. His 40-time will be watched most closely of the three at the Combine. He shows a bit of the LeVEON BELL slide & pick your hole type of running style.
The same kind of skill-set variety can be found throughout the RB group, of which I can easily see 8 of the Top 100, and 25 picks overall being used on RB. Normally 22 RB are drafted each year, 23 being taken last year.
The real Big One this year could be JOE MIXON/Oklahoma. MIXON may be more talented and explosive than my top 3 above. In fact he reminds me a lot of ADRIAN PETERSON coming out of Norman a decade-plus ago. He’s about 6’1/225 and combines the power and explosiveness of an uncommon level. He’s a touchdown waiting to happen whenever he touches the ball. But he won’t even be at the Combine because he cold-cocked a female student as a Frosh at OKlahoma. HC STOOPS suspended MIXON for his entire freshman campaign, but now that a tape has gone viral showing ‘the punch’, some people are screaming for the death penalty for MIXON. Some team will eventually have the courage to draft him, and they may get the steal of the decade on the playing field.
Grade: A, exceptional quality and depth. Something for everyone.

OT GROUP This could be the thinnest and least impressive OT group of the current decade. At least 3 of the Top 10 in this group have pretty much been relegated to consideration at the less glamorous OG slots. Lack of ideal height and/or arm length seems to be the criteria robbing this group of some serious talent. Outstanding college OT LAMP, DAWKINS & MOTON are all being shoved inside in most scouts’ notebooks. As a result I have never seen such limited resumes’ at the top of the OT group. RYAN RAMCZYK/Wisconsin & GARRETT BOLLES/Utah both made their D1 debuts last season. Their potential is solid and both are likely to be starting NFL LT in a couple of seasons, but may not be quite ready to step in immediately.
I see those two and CAM ROBINSON/Alabama as the 3 first round OT this year. CAM has started for 3 years at ‘Bama but is lacking a bit in body flexibility in his overall frame and may need to play on the right side of the line. Noted Draftnik MIKE MAYOCK has CAM sliding inside to OG in his current rankings.
Those 3 look like solid first rounders to me, but we may be into the second half of Round 1 before the first OT is taken. I can also see as many as 7 OT in the Top 100 right now. 23 OT are drafted in an average year, with 22 in 2016. I’d bet that number slips back into the teens for the 2017 Draft, with another couple of those ending up sliding into the Interior at Training Camp.
A real late bloomer, who should sneak into the Top 100 is ANTONIO GARCIA/Troy, who is raw but shows picture book form as he drops into pass pro. But he has some physical limitations that do catch your eye. He was at the Senior Bowl and by weeks end he was catching up to his peers real quickly. But at 6’6, he weighed only 293 lbs., and looks like he needs a lot of time in the weight room. His arms are also a touch under 33″ at a position where scouts fret arm length under 34″. Long range he has starting pro potential, but it’s not a slam dunk.
Grade: C, and that may be a generous grade.

OG/C GROUP The Interior OL is the stepchild of offense in Round 1. But as defensive schemes are developed to put more pressure on the pocket up the middle the importance of interior blocking and athleticism is picking up. Most of the NFL’s premier, mobile QB will admit pressure up the middle is more unsettling than edge rushers. If the QB cannot step up into a stable pocket to buy time then chaos often ensues.
I have 2 OG likely going in Round 1 this year: DAN FEENEY/Indiana, FORREST LAMP/W Kentucky. LAMP is the best athlete, having played very well at LT in a passing offense in college. His shorter arms 31 1/8″ absolutely force the move inside, which automatically makes him an athletic freak for the inside. He could be the next ZACK MARTIN/Cowboys.
FEENEY had a tough luck 2016 season, which included an early season concussion which will be scrutinized heavily at the Combine medical. But he’s a good athlete and a tough guy. He also has some petty nice measurables for an OG. He measured 6’044″ and 306 lbs. at the Senior Bowl weigh-in, with 10″ hands and 34″ arms. Put FEENEY’s numbers back on LAMP and FORREST is probably a Top 12 draftee at LT.
My estimate is that we will see about 7 OG/C taken in the Top 100 come April. The yearly average for the two slots is 20/year, with 19 being taken in 2016. With the glut of OT moving inside I’d say the average looks like a solid projection for 2017.
Keep your eyes peeled on Day 3 for OC/JON TOTH/Kentucky, who impressed at the Senior Bowl. He looked solid all week and he won big time at the weigh-in on Monday in Mobile. He had a nicely proportioned and conditioned body at 6’047″ & 308 lbs. He also had 10″ hands and 33 1/8″arm length, with an 80 1’4″ wingspan.
Grade: B, aided greatly by those short armed OT sliding inside.

That’s it for the Offense folks. Next week I will get to my Defensive overview.

Ranking Offensive Position Groups 2017 Draft

The COMBINE plays a larger role for me with every year that passes, it seems. I want to see more of those underclassmen in action, as well as small school guys. I also like having an idea how fast players are in comparison to their peers, even if it is only in their underwear. But while we wait for the Combine (an extra week later this year), I thought I would give a post-All-Star Game evaluation of the position groups for the 2017 Draft.

Let’s start with the Offense today.

QB GROUP This is likely to be a major disappointment after last year’s record haul of 15 QB drafted, including the top 2 picks in the entire process. Neither of those things is likely to happen this year. Perhaps more under the principle of ‘supply & demand’ economics, as opposed to pure talent/value, we can expect a couple of QB to be taken in Round One, maybe as many as 3. But to be honest if I need a franchise QB added to my team I am making a trade bid for JIMMY GAROPPOLO from the PATRIOTS.
The highest upside guy for me is DeSHONE KIZER from Notre Dame, but he’s almost a reclamation project already because of the mental damage inflicted upon him by BRIAN KELLEY, the Irish Head Coach and noted QB killer. KIZER may need to be de-briefed for a year or two, and the team that drafts him had best have a real QB Whisperer on the staff to tutor him one-on-one. Go back and look at some Notre Dame game film as KIZER stands on the sidelines, gazing into the stands, or perhaps up at Touchdown Jesus if it’s a home game, as KELLEY gets in his face about the last possession. Can you say ‘tuned out’?!
MITCH TRUBISKY, has a resume’ almost as short as CARSON WENTZ did last year at this time. At least his film is against FBS teams. He may indeed be NFL caliber in time, but at best he reminds me a lot of ANDY DALTON, and that is not a Round 1 recommendation. DeSHAUN WATSON has winner & leader written all over him, but he doesn’t usually overwhelm the opposition, and relies on his feet way too much to think he’ll stay healthy long enough at the pro level, ala RG3. How high will PATRICK MAHOMES/Texas Tech go? Likely, Round 2, but it may be several years before he sees the field because he has a lot to learn about running a pro stye Offense after being with HC KINGSBURY and his ‘chuck & duck’ offense.
I’m thinking 6-7 QB will be taken in the first 3 rounds, and maybe about 10-12 overall. 12 is the norm. Kind of on the positive side (I think), there may be 2-3 undrafted QB with just as good a chance to make NFL rosters as any of the Day 3 Draftees.
Group Grade: C, average

WR GROUP The recent benchmark for this position group is the amazing 2014 Draft that featured BECKHAM, LANDRY, BENJAMIN, WATKINS, BRYANT, MATTHEWS and more. This year’s group of wideouts is much more pedestrian than that group. But I have little doubt that once we stir the underclassmen into the mix, there will be a dozen-plus players capable of becoming solid No. 2 & 3 receivers on NFL rosters. I would also expect needy teams to be able to conjure up a first round short list of 3-4 names to plug into Round 1.
For my money MIKE WILLIAMS, COREY DAVIS & JOHN ROSS look like sure things for Round 1. Maybe 12-13 wideouts go in the first 3 Rounds overall. Based on the law of averages I’d expect about 30 players to come from this position group in April. That’s right about average, 31 being the norm.
The good news is that there should be something for just about everyone, when all is said and done. I have no doubt that the Combine will identify some real speed burners (like ROSS). We also have some nice sized possession types, as well as some smaller cat-quick slot guys to choose from.
Do NOT be sleeping on COOPER KUPP/E. Washington. He may be from a small school, but he is a big time player. He was not covered very often during Senior Bowl Week and seemed to have a personal duel going with RASUL DOUGLAS/West Virginia, who is a highly regarded CB. His goal is to run a 4.40-40 in Indy. By doing so he would shake off some scouting community stereotypes, and given his sure hands and great route running moves, could be a solid second rounder.
Group Grade: C+, slightly above average

TE GROUP For those teams who have been moaning about slim pickings at the TE slot the past few years, it is time to rejoice and pick your poison. The quality and depth at TE is the best it has been this decade heading toward the Combine. The only big question mark is how well JAKE BUTT/Michigan recovers from his knee injury incurred at the end of the Wolverines 2016 season. Per-injury I saw BUTT as having WITTEN type pro-potential, and clearly a Top 100 Draftee.
Leaving BUTT out of the equation I still see 3 very likely Round One TE prospects: O.J. HOWARD/Alabama, DAVID NJOKU/Miami, BUCKY HODGES/Virginia Tech. HOWARD is the best all-around, pure TE who can block as well, or better, than he catches. NJOKU, seems to have almost unlimited upside, and HODGES is a WR in a TE’s body.
The most fascinating “hybrid” TE is EVAN ENGRAM/Ole Miss, who at 236 lbs. can chip block a little bit, but cannot be covered by LB or S over the middle. He proved that at the Senior Bowl venue. He’s the next JORDAN REED/Washington, and what NFL team can’t find use for another REED?! On the average 15 TE get drafted per year by the NFL. Last year was a drought year with only 11 drafted. Bet the over in 2017, with more than a few being heavy Rookie contributors in 2017 for their teams.
A real late bloomer, in a monster body is MICHAEL ROBERTS/Toledo. This young man played at both the Shrine & Senior Bowl venues and showed very well at each one. His measurables are simply off the charts. He’s 6’043″ tall and weighs 261 lbs. He also has 11 5’8″ hands that are part of 33 1/4″ long arms. His wingspan is just over 80″! He established himself as a TD maker last season in the MAC. He could be the next TE taken after the top 3, given BUTT’s injury.
Group Grade: B+, well above average.

Next up a look at the RB/FB/OL groups.

PIGKSIN

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