Who’s hot; who’s not

April 7, 2017

We have noted that the run-up to this year’s draft has been unusually quiet; however, that doesn’t mean there isn’t necessarily any movement just beneath the surface. It’s hard not to sense, for example, that Texas Tech QB Patrick Mahomes continues to gain momentum. Indeed, there’s a palpable sense around the league that Mahomes is now the second rayed QB behind North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky and that the gap between the two has closed significantly. For the record, Mahomes was in Cleveland on Friday visiting with the Browns, who actually had worked him out privately earlier this month. Needless to say, Mahomes won’t be the Browns’ conversation about the #1 pick, but he could very well be in the mix at #12. In fact, there is a growing sense that if Cleveland wants Mahomes with their second pick, they may have to move up into the top ten. Meanwhile, there is also the sense around the league that QBs Deshaun Watson of Clemson’s and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer are no longer first-round locks. And Kizer’s former Irish head coach Brian Kelly didn’t do him any favors when he suggested that maybe Kizer would have been better off staying in school for another.

The other hot skill-position guy these days appears to be Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey who has some people around the league talking top ten. Indeed, while it’s hardly definitive, McCaffrey reportedly visited Carolina, which has the 8th pick overall, this week. Of course, the Panthers have already either worked out and/or visited with this year’s other top backs including LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, but McCaffrey, who is a terrific receiver and return guy, brings some elements of his game which few other backs possess. Plus, of all this year’s back, McCaffrey may be the cleanest in that he is a character player without any major off-field concerns, while he has also stayed relatively healthy throughout his career to date.

Meanwhile, no one in the NFL will be totally shocked if either or both Fournette or Cook go a later than expected when the draft finally convenes in just under three weeks. Fournette has that lingering ankle issue that was described as potentially ‘chronic’ during the season, while Cook just hasn’t looked all that quick or explosive in pre-draft workouts, although NFL teams certainly see it on tape. On the other hand, no one will be shocked if both still go in the top ten, but it is a fluid situation that will be interesting to watch on the 27th.

Speaking of fluid situations, one also gets the sense that teams around the NFL are still struggling to slot the top WRs onto their final draft boards as each of Corey Davis of Western Michigan, Washington’s John Ross and Clemson’s Mike Williams all have red flags of sorts. Davis, for example, has not been able to work out at all this spring because of a lingering ankle problem so nobody has a read on his pure footspeed. Then there is the fact that while Davis was uncoverable at times this fall, he didn’t face Power 5 corners every week. Meanwhile, Williams did not run as well as hoped in pre-draft testing. No such problem, of course, for Ross who broke the combine record for the 40 with a blazing time of 4.22, but he’s had two ACLs in the past and currently is sidelined after undergoing shoulder surgery so there are real questions about his durability. Again, no one should be totally shocked if any, or all, of the top WRs last a little bit longer than projected in most mocks.

On the other side of the ball, maybe the hottest player these days is Florida LB Jarrad Davis. He had been considered to be a solid early second round candidate throughout most of the pre-draft process, but his stock has spiked since he turned in a very athletic performance at the Gators’ pro day where he ran under 4.6 seconds in the 40 and had a 38-inch-plus vertical leap. Indeed, maybe the only keeping davis from being a first-round lock at this time are durability concerns as he has missed time in the past with injuries including 4 games this year with an ankle issue that also kept him out of the combine.

There is also a bit of a late-first round buzz growing around Ohio DE Tarell Bashem, the MAC defensive player of the year after he posted 11.5 sacks last fall. Bashem is a rangy 270-pounder with 34-inch-plus arms who ran under 4.7 second in the 40 at the combine with a very quick 1.61 second 10-yard split, the third fastest among defensive linemen in Indianapolis. Along with the athleticism, Bashem also boasts a nice array of pass rush moves; he uses his hands well and can dip his shoulder and turn the corner, plus has that ability to spin, plant and change direction. The word is that Bashem is high on the radar of teams like Atlanta and New Orleans picking late in this year’s opening round.

One other edge-rusher people don’t want to sleep on is Youngstown State DE Derek Rivers. He may be a little undersized at just 248 pounds to fit as a 4-3 DE at the next level, but he has a quick get off and excellent closing speed and should be attractive to 3-4 teams looking for an edge-rushing OLB in the latter part of the second round. Meanwhile, other players who no onbe should be shocked at it the end up in this year’s opening round include Temple G/T Dion Dawkins, Washington FS Budda Baker and Ohio State RB/WR Curtis Samuel.