It’s the post-Bowl season, except for the new Championship game; NFL PLay-Offs are marching forward; most importantly it is now NFL DRAFT season. By this time next week I will be over in St.Petersburg, FL watching SHRINE practices. By Monday the 19th we should have the official NFL list of Declared Underclassmen for the Draft. Then the Senior Bowl rolls around. Mock Drafts will start flying at a break-neck pace once we know the officially eligible underclassmen. Early in February we will learn who has been invited to the Combine in Indy. You get the drift of the Draft season progression. So as I gathered my thoughts and started to prep for the Shrine Week action I thought I would share some observations and opinions about everything NFL Draft, as I see them today.
The declaration that JAMEIS WINSTON has hired an Agent and his father’s tweet that he is going pro, opens a Pandora’s box of issues, off field and on, about his pro potential and Draft slotting. He has more serious off-field baggage than MANZIEL did last year, but he’s also full sized and more mechanically sound than MANZIEL on the field. So though we’ll have lots to discuss and analyze, it’s a horse of a different color when compared to MANZIEL fever last year.
If you read my stuff here, then you know I am a big fan of MARCUS MARIOTA both as a collegian, and as a pro prospect. He’s NO. 1 on my prospect list and I think he’s the best QB to head into the Draft since ANDREW LUCK, who I see as an All-Timer in NFL annals eventually. But given the system MARIOTA has thrived in I would also proclaim that he may not be a smash hit immediately at the pro level. He will have to tweak his game on several levels for the NFL. He’ll need to beef up a bit, learn to hang in the pocket longer, polish up his throwing mechanics and dig deeper into reads and progressions. In essence I think he’ll need 2-3 years before he’s ready to excel as an NFL starting QB. But chances are that he goes at the top of the Draft, and to a team that won’t be able to let him learn on the bench, ala AARON RODGERS under BRETT FAVRE. Let us hope, his being forced into the fire won’t ruin him like it did to a guy named DAVID CARR not that long ago.
The rosters for next week’s Shrine action look very solid. Underclassmen can’t participate, star seniors either skip All-Star games or go to the Senior Bowl the following week. So in expressing those two truths, which we hold to be self-evident (thanks Abe), it means most of the first 3 round players of the 2015 Draft will not be in St. Pete. But for true Draftniks it means we get a chance to look closely at guys who will make up a big part of Draft Saturday and Rounds 4-7. Those slots are important. NFL teams cannot live by Rounds 1-3 and VFA to be successful. They must find a couple eventual starters and key back-ups from this group of 100+ players each year. The Shrine venue has become a big showcase for small school players and this year will be no exception. Names that many of you may not be familiar with yet, will be on display and your learning curve, like theirs, accelerates. Names like JORDAN TAYLOR/WR, CAMERON CLEMMONS/OT, ZACH ZENNER/RB, TYELER DAVISON/DT, XAVIER WILLIAMS/DT, GREG HENDERSON/CB, BOBBY McCAIN/CB, MYCOLE PRUITT/TE, TAYLOR HEINICKE/QB, CAM THOMAS/CB, EDMOND ROBINSON/LB are some of the names I expect to stand out next week once practices start. And there will be more that I have not mentioned that will jump up and get our attention as well.
An earlier post mentioned on the home page today that the new Medal of Honor Bowl will actually kick-off the All-Star games this Saturday. It highlights some names to watch and gives you game information. Based on information available today I would rate the roster talent listed for this game to exceed that shown so far for the NFLPA Game, which seems to lack serious organization and thought right now. Once again, the NFLPA Game activities, with marginal rosters, will be conducted next week in direct competition with the Shrine Game efforts. Why guys? I implore the NFLPA to wise up and play their game after the Senior Bowl. The Shriners are the oldest Star game out there, and they deserve the week to themselves, especially in light of their charitable work for their children’s hospitals, where most of the game proceeds go to. Besides, as the players’ union, under their current leadership, looks to engage in conflict with the NFL at every juncture, I say gird your loins and really go for it. Play your game last, and invite a bunch of the approved/declared underclassmen to participate. That will irk the NFL to no end, since they subscribe to the silly concept that allowing underclassmen to participate in Star games actually serves as an incentive for more players to come out early. Absurd concept that one!
Speaking of underclassmen in the 2015 Draft, lets cover that briefly. Players have until January 15th to officially apply with the NFL for inclusion in the draft process. The League then looks at info to determine eligibility under their guidelines, which means we wait about 48-72 hours before we, the public, get the official list. The NFL has expressed serious concern, along with the NCAA, about the growing number of players who leave school early for the NFL each year. Roughy 100 players came out last year, and I personally expect a few more this year. But before the NCAA protests too loudly about the exodus of players let’s cover a little exploratory ground here. If the NCAA wants their student/athletes to stick around they need to do a few more things for the players, beyond long overdue current moves to provide some actual financial reward to them. How about guaranteeing scholarships more than one year at a time?! Find a way to stop the Coach buying/stealing that goes on every year between major football programs. Coaches can move to the highest bidder, but unpaid players are supposed to stick around. And let’s get down to the real nitty gritty here. Many college athletes are never going to get a college degree, and use it. Many are in school, playing football (and other major sports) merely because hey have to serve an apprenticeship before they can go pro. Stop pretending that the student athlete concept is the foundation of big time, big money football anymore. It isn’t in many cases.
Most of us felt that the 2014 NFL Draft prospect list was the best and deepest talent pool in at least a decade. Numbers would indicate that we overrated the group a bit perhaps. In reality about the same number of NFL Rookies made 2014 rosters as most years this century. I bought into last year’s hype and felt 2015 would logically be a down year. I am officially changing my mind. We don’t have quite the depth/glamour at the top of this Draft, but at many positions the quality and depth is comparable to last year, if not better. When AMARI COOPER/WR/ALABAMA officially joins this WR draft class I will contend that it may be better overall than last year. The RB group, assuming YELDON & BUCK ALLEN hop on board, could be the best and deepest it has been in a decade. I fully expect that this Draft will end the 2-year drought of no First Round RB being taken. The DL looks to have just as much talent as recent years because of young guys throwing their hats into the Draft ring. If you are a Draftnik, I say be exalt because this will be an exciting season.
By the way just a quick word or three, for now, on the upcoming Senior Bowl, where I will be in two weeks. Executive Director PHIL SAVAGE, and his staff, have done a marvelous job tweaking the game the past 2 years and are at it again this year, cutting some fluff and eliminating Monday from the game week schedule. Just as much football, but longer, harder working days. I can’t complain, it saves me 2 nights away from home and two full days of expenses for hotels and meals. I might have to try my first bottles of energy drinks that week to keep up with the new pace though. There are still a few roster announcements to be made and a few changes always occur just as the game approaches, but as of today there have 110 announced roster names. I checked Colin’s most recent GBN Big Board posting and found only the following Top 100, senior prospects NOT scheduled to be in Mobile: BRANDON SCHERFF/OT; VIC BEASLEY/LB; DAANTE PARKER/WR; AJ CANN/OG; ARIE KOUANDJIO/G. That’s it folks. 95 of our Top 100 Prospects said yes to the Senior Bowl. That may be a new record for this century, at the least, and I find it an incredible testimonial to the accepted importance of this venue. As Senior Bowl week starts I expect PHIL will detail us again with players who chose not to come and those absent by injury, some at he last minute.
Just a quick note based on the Pigskin Paul scouting eye test. There has been a lot of talk this past season that ERIK ARMSTEAD/DT/OREGON might be a significant junior prospect to come out of school early. I want to go on record that if he comes out he’s Top 50 or so, but I think his teammate DE/DeFOREST BUCKNER, is more pro ready and may have a bigger impact in the NFL. He’s a big body with pass-rush skills and potential to get even better. BUCKNER might impress enough at the COMBINE that he would jump into Round 1.
Getting back to the QB Prospect talk for a moment, I would hazard a guess that MARIOTA & WINSTON would likely both be Top 10 timber, but after them BRETT HUNDLEY/UCLA is the only guy I think has any chance to crack the Top 32 Picks. BRYCE PETTY is the only other QB I’d project into the first 3 Rounds, though logic and recent history would suggest a couple of desperate teams might reach to fill their QB slot prematurely. It will be slim pickings for teams looking to fill a Franchise QB need. Some teams are going to have dig deep in an effort to mind some diamonds in the rough.