Pre-combine draft overview

By | February 15, 2015

The 2015 draft in a word … Last year at this time the words ‘talented’ and ‘awesome’ were being flung about describing the 2014 draft which most observers felt was among the most talented in a generation. Not so much this year, though, in a draft class which certainly has talented players, but far more questions. Indeed, if one had to describe the 2015 draft in one word that word might be ‘flawed.’

It starts, of course, with Florida State QB Jameis Winston, a prototype NFL pocket passer with all the tools who in a perfect world would be the clearcut favorite to be the first player off the board this spring. Winston, though, has so-many off-field character red flags he could hold his own private Mayday parade and may not even be on the board of more than one team around the league. On the other hand, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, the other QB with top 5 potential this year, is as clean a prospect as one will ever grade, but has teams concerned that he’s something of a system QB who faces a stiff learning curve to adapt to the NFL game. Meanwhile, USC DE Leonard Williams, arguably the top-rated non-QB prospect, is a collegiate DE who had all of 7 sacks last year who is being tested as a DT at the combine and whose best fit at the next level may be as a 3-4 5-tech end.

And so it goes: The top RB this year (Todd Gurley of Georgia) tore an ACL in mid-season and may or may not be ready to go when training camps open in August, while the other top-rated RB (Melvin Gordon of Wisconsin) is a dynamic runner, but couldn’t catch a cold. The top WR (Amari Cooper of Alabama) isn’t all that big or fast and led the country in dropped balls last year and is being challenged by another guy (West Virginia’s Kevin White), a one-year wonder who may be even slower. And the receiver who in a normal year would probably be the top-ranked WR (6-5 Dorial Green-Beckham of the Missouri Sooners) spent the 2014 season at Oklahoma but wasn’t eligible after being kicked out of the Missouri program for repeated off-field violations. For good measure, this year’s top TE (Devin Funchess of Michigan) is really a big WR. Upfront, most teams seem to think that the top-rated OT (Iowa’s Brandon Scherff) will make a very good pro OG.

On the other side of the ball, most of the top-rated DEs (Randy Gregory of Nebraska, Missouri’s Shane Ray, Dante Fowler of Florida, Clemson’s Vic Beasley and Bud Dupree of Kentucky) are all considered to be better bets at the next level as 3-4 OLBs, while the top-rated DT (Washington’s Danny Shelton) is an odd-shaped dynamo who isn’t really a NT but also really isn’t a true DT either. Meanwhile, there are teams that seem to think that the top-rated safety (Landon Collins of Alabama) would actually be better suited to play OLB, while there are others teams that want to give the top-rated 4-3 OLB (Washington’s Shaq Thompson) a try at safety and maybe at RB too just to cover every base. And the guy who would normally be the top-rated CB (Marcus Peters of Washington) with the kind of length and athleticism that NFL teams covet in a shut down cover corner, but he made out like a head case last fall when he got himself kicked off the team after getting into repeated disputes with the coaching staff.

What all that means is that there is still likely to be plenty of movement in and out of this year’s top 10-15. Indeed, guys who have the physical potential to move into that range in the final two months or so before the draft include Pittsburgh OT T.J. Clemmings, Oregon 5-tech DE Arik Armstead, DTs Malcom Brown of Texas and Oklahoma’s Jordan Phillips, and and DE/OLBs Nate Orchard of Utah and Virginia’s Eli Harold among others. In fact, Pitt’s Clemmings may be the poster guy for the enigmatic nature of the 2015 draft as he appears to be flirting with a possible top 15 grade despite the fact he was borderline awful at last month’s Senior Bowl. But with few other options at LT, teams reportedly remain enamored with the Clemmings length, athletic feet and overall upside. Meanwhile, other players who appear to be on the rise heading into the combine include WRs Devin Smith of Ohio State, Miami’s Phillip Dorsett and Brett Perriman of Central Florida, Minnesota TE Maxx Williams, Penn State OT Donovan Smith, Washington State 5-tech DE Xavier Cooper, UCLA ILB Eric Kendricks, and CBs Jalen Collins of LSU and Kevin Johnson of Wake Forest.

One other player creating quite a buzz around the league is TCU LB Paul Dawson who will be another prospect really under the microscope this week in Indianapolis. A WR in high school, Dawson morphed into one of the most dynamic backers in the country over the past couple of seasons. While he’s a tad undersized at 6-1, 230, Dawson has sideline-to-sideline playmaking ability with great instincts and range. In 2015, for example, Dawson had 136 tackles and made plays both rushing the passer (5 sacks) and in coverage (4 picks). However, Dawson is yer another player with character issues heading to the combine. There’s a minor drug issue in his past, while Dawson has also admitted to being late for meetings and the like; and there are rumblings that he’s never been a fun guy in the room. As a result, there are reportedly teams that have a late first round grade on Dawson while there are others that have taken him off their board entirely.

However, whatever way one cuts it, the top half of the opening round just isn’t as strong as we have seen in the past few years. Its also a lousy year overall at QB and there’s an almost total dearth of prototype 4-3 DEs. If there’s some consolation for teams desperate for help this coming off-season, though, is that there is some pretty interesting depth this year. In fact, the second-day talent this year doesn’t have to take a back seat to anybody. In particular, there is some real talent at RB this year, as well as at WR; there also some really good depth among the G/T swing prospects this year, while DT looks like it should be the strength on the other side of the ball.