For new readers who have joined the parade here in the last 12 months, this is an annual feature. During the Fall, I watch a lot of college football games on TV because I like college football and I am retired. The essence of a “happy retirement” is doing things you like to do. Ergo…
While I am watching the college games, I like to look for players who might make it in the NFL as a means of earning a living. I keep a notepad next to the TV while I am watching and make notes on those players. Now, I gather them together for the purpose of deciphering them and compiling a list of players I saw who should be part of the upcoming NFL Draft.
That tells you what this feature is. Now let me tell you what it is not:
These are my opinions based on my watching games on TV. I do not travel to games; I do not go to watch practices; I do not talk to players or coaches; I am not part of any organized cadre of folks who share information.
This is most definitely NOT a mock draft.
Given that method of “data collection” there are obvious shortcomings to the system here:
1. I live on the East Coast and therefore, it is more convenient for me to watch games played in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Over the course of a season, I see more teams in that part of the country than I do teams in the West.
2. Even though there are tons of college football games on every weekend, I tend to focus on ones involving bigger schools and major conferences. That means there will be lots of players from smaller schools that I will have never seen. Thus, I will have nothing to say about them here – unless –
2a. Several folks have come to realize that I do this sort of thing every year and they know that I will not see small schools often. If they see a player at their school or a school local to their area that they think should be mentioned here, they send me an e-mail and I include it here with the notation that this comes from someone other than me.
3. Since I do not see any team play every game on their schedule – and often see a team only once or twice during a season – I can easily miss an outstanding player who winds up going in the first round of the draft.
What makes sense is to go position by position and for me to try to collate my notes around that. So, let me start with the Quarterbacks and that leads me to demonstrate the limitations of this essay right away.
Carson Wentz (N. Dak. St): When the Rams traded up to acquire the first pick in the draft, Sam Farmer of the LA Times said that they did so to draft Wentz. The very fact that a respected reporter would make such a statement has to mean that some folks in the NFL think Carson Wentz is a really good prospect. Here is my problem; I never saw him play. Wentz’ detractors say he played against inferior competition in college. To those people I would say:
Joe Flacco (Delaware)
Rich Gannon (Delaware)
Steve McNair (Alcorn St.)
Tony Romo (E. Illinois)
Kurt Warner (N. Iowa)
Doug Williams (Grambling) … you get the point.
I do not mean to minimize the importance of top flight college competition, but there are sufficient examples of players “making the jump from Division 1-AA football to the NFL” with significant success in the NFL.
Jared Goff (Cal): My notes say that he is “very accurate” and “hits receivers in stride”. To be sure, the fact that he played in a spread offense made some of those throws a tad easier than ones he will have to make in the NFL, but the tools are there. Reports say he is highly coveted by NFL scouts; I agree he could be a good first round pick.
Paxton Lynch (Memphis): He is big; a screen graphic said he was 6’ 7” and 245 lbs. However, he is also mobile and fast. Importantly my notes say “throws accurately on the run”. That might be an important asset for him at the NFL level. I think he will go in the late first round; if he is still available at the end of the second round, a team will be getting a bargain.
Cardale Jones (Ohio St.): Even after winning the College Football Championship Game two years ago, I was not sold on Jones. He is big and strong and there is no denying his arm strength, but I do not think he delivers the ball quickly or with impact. Here are my notes: “big and strong”, “fast enough on the run”, decent accuracy” “happy feet – seems to want to run rather than throw”. I would take him somewhere in the 4th or 5th round.
Connor Cook (Mich St.): I think he is the latter-day Kirk Cousins. He is not flashy; he has a good enough arm but not a great one; he can move around a bit but he is not a mobile/running QB; he is neither very big nor very slight. What he does is play solid error-free football. Here are my notes: “good accuracy” “very good on sideline passes” “big enough to take hits in NFL”. I think he is a sleeper in this draft; many reports say he will go in the third round. I think he is good value pick if he is still there in the third round.
Christian Hackenberg (Penn St.): Here are my notes: “plenty big enough” “limited mobility” “strong arm but questionable accuracy” “can throw the ball a mile”. I think he is a project for an NFL team but has the physical makeup to be worth the effort. Maybe he goes in the 4th or 5th round…?
Jacoby Brisset (NC St.): Here are my notes: “big and quick” “accurate short passes but misses lots of downfield throws” “ball sailed on him 3 or 4 times today”. Like Hackenberg, I think Brisset is a project for an NFL team but he has the physical makeup to be worth the effort. Maybe he goes in the 4th or 5th round just after – or just before – Christian Hackenberg?
Blake Frohnapfel (UMass): Here is the first of four contributions from a reader via e-mail. The writer is a UMass alum; I note that here in the spirit of full disclosure:
“The NFL likes big QBs (Manning, Roethlisberger, Osweiler) and [Blake] Frohnapfel is 6’6” and 235 lbs. He throws deep better than other QBs in the conference [the MAC] … he is more mobile than 235 lbs ought to be. He is definitely a project for the NFL but I bet a team will sign him as a free agent after the draft.”
Let me move on to the Running Backs; there appear to be more than a couple of capable folks here even though the position of running back in the NFL seems to have been devalued over the past couple of years.
Derrick Henry (Alabama): If he does not make it as a running back for some reason, a team could move him to offensive guard. This man is very large; a screen graphic said he was 247 lbs; I think he is bigger than that. Henry “runs with authority” and “punishes tacklers – who are smaller than him usually”. He is not a breakaway threat at the NFL level, but he is a valuable asset and should go in the first round or the early second round.
Ezekiel Elliot (Ohio St.): If you want a running back a tad faster than Derrick Henry but not nearly as big, then this is your guy. I particularly liked his ability to “change direction and accelerate immediately”. He too will be taken in the first or early second round.
Jordan Howard (Indiana): Dean Wormer told one of the Delts in Animal House that “fat drunk and stupid was no way to go through life”. Well, Howard is “big, strong and fast” and if you are a running back, that is indeed a good way to go through life. He did not get the attention that Elliot got simply because Elliot played on a very good team and Howard played on a mediocre team. But Howard can play and if he drops into the top of the 3rd round, some team will get themselves a bargain.
Alex Collins (Arkansas): “Plays in a pro-style offense that features power running” “good straight ahead runner” “quick enough to an outside hole”. I think he is well-prepared to play in the NFL and should go by the end of the 3rd round.
CJ Prosise (Notre Dame): “Converted to RB due to team injuries” just last year. It sure looked to me like he had been doing this all his life. “Catches the ball well” is another plus. Here is a minus, “needs to get a lot better pass blocking”. I think he is 4th round pick.
Wendell Smallwood (West Virginia): He is not very big but he is quick and shifty when he gets the ball. He “catches well”. Here is my note that says some team needs to spend a pick on him late in the draft, “reminds me of Darren Sproles”.
Soma Vainuku (USC): He is a fullback so there are a bunch of NFL teams that will not even consider him. However, if you need a fullback, this guy is “built low to the road” and “an excellent blocker”. He has “decent speed” but “not gonna break any 60-yard runs in the NFL”. He is listed at 5’11” and 246 lbs. I am not sure he is that tall… He should go in the fourth or fifth round to a team that uses a fullback.
Troymaine Pope (Jacksonville St.): Here is a second information dump via e-mail from a reader. I never saw Jacksonville St play and would not know Troymaine Pope from Alexander Pope, Pope Francis or Helen of Troy. The e-mail came to me after Jax St. hammered Charleston Southern in the Division 1-AA tournament last year.
“I watched [Troymaine Pope] run over, around and through [Charleston] Southern’s defense like it wasn’t there. [Pope] is very fast in the open field and can make tacklers miss with sharp cutting. You won’t see him on TV but I’m sure NFL scouts have already seen him.”
[Aside: For the record, I looked up stats for the Jax St/Charleston Southern game and Troymaine Pope gained 250 yards rushing and scored 3 TDs in that game.]
Next up, let consider the Wide Receivers coming out of college this year.
Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma): “Good speed” and “sharp cuts on pass routes” is a good way to start when talking about Shepard. Then add “soft hands/catches about everything” and you have a good prospect. I think he goes in the late first round.
Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss): He suffered a grotesque leg and ankle injury in 2014 but sure looked like he fully recovered when I saw him in 2015. He is “big and strong” and “fast enough”. He has “long arms and soft hands”. I think he goes in the first round too.
Will Fuller (Notre Dame): I liked his “straightaway speed” and that he “gets open deep”. My concern was “not very big”. I think he could go in the 3rd or 4th round.
Charone Peake (Clemson): “Perfect size and build for NFL” and “willing and able blocker on run plays” says that he should get a shot to play for pay next year. I think he is a 3rd round pick.
De’Runya Wilson (Miss St): He is “very big”. “Screen graphic said he was 6’ 5” and 230 lbs and he looks it”. He “catches the ball well” but he is “not real fast”. Given the size, a team should take a chance on him in the late rounds.
Kenny Lawler (Cal): He “gets open and [Jared] Goff throws him the ball”. Then he catches the ball and Cal moves downfield. Lawler is “big enough” and “catches well” but is “not real fast”. He “could be a good possession receiver” so I guess he goes in the late rounds.
Corey Coleman (Baylor): Coleman was a terror in the Baylor offensive system last year. However, the important words here are “in the Baylor offensive system”. He is fast and he has good hands and he runs decent routes. He is not very big. Some reports have him rated as the top WR coming out of college this year but I have seen far too many Baylor speedsters come to the NFL with little or no impact to take him in the early first round. Here are my notes: “blazing speed” and “shifty runner after a catch”. “Good hands” but “not very big”. He may be a star someday – – or not. If he were still on the board in the 3rd or 4th round, I would take him. But early in the first round …?
Next up should be the Tight Ends. However, as I have collated my notes from last season, I do not have any players identified with the Tight End position. So, this is the simplest section imaginable. Let me move on…
Moving on to the Offensive Linemen, I have a robust list here.
Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss): Lots of folks touted him as the overall #1 pick until the Rams/Titans trade went down. My notes suggest that might be a fair place for him to be taken. Here are three comments: “absolutely dominates on drive blocks” “pass blocking is excellent” “the man is a monster”.
Jack Conklin (Mich St.): I thought he was a “dominant drive blocker” and a “good enough pass blocker”. He seemed “a bit slow” which is not great for leading runs outside. He should go in the first two rounds.
Ronnie Stanley (Notre Dame): He is “quick on his feet” and a “dominant pass blocker”. He too should go in the first two rounds.
Taylor Decker (Ohio State): Looking at my notes, he looks like Jack Conklin’s twin brother: “powerful run blocker” and “OK at pass protection”. Here is another guy who should go in the first two rounds.
Kyle Murphy (Stanford): He “does everything well except block downfield” because he is “not fleet afoot”. He should also go in the first two rounds.
Joshua Garnett (Stanford): He “controls his space” along the line and “opened some nice holes for Christian McCaffrey”. My notes say that I “would take [Kyle]Murphy first but take this guy next”. That means Garnett should go by the end of the second round.
Ryan Kelly (Alabama): He played center for the Crimson Tide and “dominated the interior line play”. Obviously, coming from a Nick Saban coached team he has sound fundamentals. He should go in the second or third round.
Sebastian Tretola (Arkansas): This team loved to run the ball inside and Tretola is “a bulldozer blocking straight ahead”. His pass blocking is “good but not great” and he does not “pick up blitzes well”. He will likely be taken in the later rounds.
Denver Kirkland (Arkansas): He is another “very large man” on the OL for a team that loves power running. He is “not as powerful as [his teammate], Tretola, but I think he is “a better pass blocker”. He will go somewhere near where Tretola goes in the draft.
Vadal Alexander (LSU): “This man is huge” but at the same time “he can lead run plays”. The best thing about him is his “drive blocking on inside runs”. I would guess he is gone by the end of the third round.
Caleb Benenock (UCLA): I liked his “good quickness and agility” and the fact that he was an “effective pass blocker”. He should go in the middle rounds of the draft.
Austin Blythe (Iowa): He was the center on an offensive line that led Iowa to a Top Ten ranking last year. I thought he was “excellent in pass protection”, “quick enough to get a block on the OLB on sweeps” and “agile for such a large man”. I think he can go in the middle rounds this year.
Siaosi Aiono (Utah): Frankly, I do not recall seeing Utah play last year but according to my notes, Aiono is “a fireplug” that can “block and move with agility”. If accurate, those sorts of notes suggest a late round pick.
Moving over to defense, let me start with the Defensive Line. I did not realize as I was making my notes that there would be a very distinctive SEC flavor to my listing – but that is how it turned out.
Before getting to my list, there are plenty of draft reports/analyses that have Sheldon Rankins (Louisville) and Vernon Butler (La Tech) as top-shelf defensive linemen. I did not see La Tech play last year so I have nothing on Butler; I did see Louisville play but have nothing in my notes on Rankins. That does not mean he is not a good prospect; what it means is that I did not make any note of his play in the particular game(s) I saw.
Jarran Reed (Alabama): He is a “run-stuffer” who “is not pushed around even by a double-team”. He can generate “middle pressure against the pass” but he is “no so good on stunts where he goes outside”. I think he is a first round pick.
A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama): He is also a “run-stuffer” who “dominates inside”. I read some pre-draft reports that say Robinson does not play hard all the time and often just mails it in. If that is indeed the case, then any coach who can motivate him to play hard all the time will have a gem on his hand. If what I saw was nonchalant play, I wonder what he would be like if he were driven… I think he also goes in the first round.
Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss): He “generates inside pass pressure all the time” and is fast enough so that he “gets in on run plays to the outside”. I also wrote “natural athlete”. The downside here is that Nkemdiche has had some off-field issues one of which involved the gendarmes and marijuana. Based on football, he should go in the first round. Based on his potential for meatheadedness, …
Joey Bosa (Ohio St.): He was double-teamed about half the time because “he explodes off the snap” and “can push OTs around”. Lots of folks think he will go in the top 5 picks; I would not argue with that.
Shaq Lawson (Clemson): He “plays the run very well” and “can rush the passer inside or outside”. He is a DE and not an OLB because I never saw him have any pass coverage responsibilities. For a team willing to play him at DE only, this is a first round pick.
Kevin Dodd (Clemson): He is “strong and quick” and “gets good pressure on the QB”. Question:
Is he good because teams are focused on double teaming Shaq Lawson on the other side of the formation? I think he goes behind Lawson in the draft – – but not more than one round behind.
DeForest Buckner (Oregon): “Biggest college DE I can recall” and “really long arms” gives you an idea that he has the physical tools to be a DE in the NFL. He “rushes the passer well” and is “strong on runs to his side”. I do not think he can be an OLB because he is “not very fast” so he would probably have difficulty in pass coverage. I think Joey Bosa will be the first DE taken; after that, either Buckner or Shaq Lawson will be the next.
Chris Jones (Miss St.): He is “big and very strong” and “quick in pursuit of outside run plays”. I also noted “hustles on every play”. He looks like a guy to go in the first two rounds somewhere.
Carl Nassib (Penn St.): “Generates pressure on every pass play except when they drop him into coverage”. Another positive note was “hustles every play for the whole play”. This guy is a DE who might be able to convert to an OLB or a pass rush specialist. I think he goes in the 3rd or 4th round.
Chris Mayes (Georgia): A screen graphic said he was 6’ 4” and 335 lbs. My comment was “Is that all?” Mayes is very large and not very mobile. He “does not rush passer well” but “he can be a nose tackle in the NFL”. I see him going in the middle rounds this year.
DJ Reader (Clemson): “Nose-tackle prospect for any 3-4 team in the NFL” gives you an idea what I thought of this guy. He will go in the middle rounds.
Sheldon Day (Notre Dame): He is “built like a bowling ball” and is “really quick for a D-lineman”. He is “not gonna knock down any passes on the inside” but he “will generate pass pressure”. He looks like a middle round pick to me.
Travis Britz (Kansas St.): He “plays the run well” and he has “enough speed to generate pass pressure”. Also, “plenty of hustle”. He is a late round guy…
Next up are the Linebackers. In many years, I have more players on this list than any other position; that is not the case this year.
Let me note that lots of folks think Myles Jack – late of UCLA – is the top linebacker in the draft this year. I did not see him play because he was injured for the entire 2015 season. So with those introductory remarks, here is my list.
Reggie Ragland (Alabama): He played ILB for ‘Bama with two top defensive linemen in front of him. No wonder Alabama’s defense was so good. Ragland has “good size and strength” and “he tackles with authority”. The only negative comment I have is “not a lot of speed” but ILBs usually do not have that. Another first round pick off the Alabama defense here…
Joshua Perry (Ohio St.): He “gives 100% on every play” and is a “sure tackler”. On run plays he “forces everything inside because of his strength”. I would guess he goes in the late first round.
Deion Jones (LSU): He “looks like he should be at safety” but he “is very strong and defeats blocks by bigger offensive players”. His “pass coverage was good” too. He will go somewhere in the second round.
Joe Schobert (Wisconsin): He “plays the run well” and makes “form tackles”. However, he “gets beat in pass coverage situations”. He is probably a 3rd or 4th round pick.
Cassanova McKinzy (Auburn): “Good speed” and “strong against the run” are his calling cards on draft day. I have no notes regarding his pass rushing abilities or his pass coverage abilities. Just a guess, but I’ll put him in the 4th round somewhere.
Blake Martinez (Stanford): “Plays the run very well” is good news for a guy who plays ILB. “Disappears on pass plays” is not good news for any defender aspiring to play in the pass-happy NFL. I think he goes in the late rounds.
DeVondre Campbell (Minnesota): “Athletic” “quick” “good tackler” “lots of hustle” and “decent speed” would tend to describe someone who will go in the top 10 overall. The problem here is that Campbell “plays out of control” and “takes himself out of plays”. He has the physical requisites to be an NFL linebacker but he needs coaching. I think a team that can afford to spend a year developing him as a linebacker will take him in the late rounds.
Next come the Defensive Backs. Because NFL teams like to move secondary players around, I will lump together the CBs and the safeties here.
Mackensie Alexander (Clemson): has a lot of positive reviews from people who track the NFL Draft. I obviously saw Clemson play last year given my notes on other Clemson players but I have nothing on Mackensie Alexander.
Jalen Ramsey (Florida St.): What’s not to like? Ramsey is “big and strong”; he is “fast/covers lots of ground”; he “covers receivers well”; he is “good against the run”. He will go in the Top 10 picks…
Eli Apple (Ohio State): He is “super-fast” and “big for a CB”. He also “plays the run aggressively”. A negative comment was “not a tackler/drags people to the ground”. He will be drafted in the first two rounds this year.
Vonn Bell (Ohio St.): “Solid against the run” and “good pass coverage” are the plus comments. “Not very big” is the minus comment. I think the plus outweighs the minus here and I think he will be taken by the end of the third round.
Jayron Kearse (Clemson): He is “very big and strong” and has “the kind of physique an NFL team likes”. He is listed at 6’4” and 216 lbs. He played safety for Clemson and he “covered lots of ground in the secondary”. I think he too will be taken by the end of the third round.
Xavien Howard (Baylor): “Good size” and “good in man coverage” are strong points here. The weak point is he is “not as fast as other DBs”. I think he will be a mid-round pick.
Jalen Mills (LSU): He is “fast” and “very good in coverage”. He “needs to add strength” to play the run in the NFL. He should go in the third or fourth round.
Trae Elston (Ole Miss): He is a “big hitter” and “strong against the run”. However, he is also “awfully small”. I think he is a late round pick.
Jonathan Jones (Auburn): He is a good news/bad news player. Good news is “top-shelf speed” and “good tight coverage”. Bad news is “awfully small” and “could be overmatched physically” in the NFL. I think a team takes a chance on him in the later rounds.
Richard Leonard (Florida International): This e-mailed assessment comes from a former colleague who has retired to Delray Beach in Florida. Over the years, she has taken exception to my “picking on” FIU’s football program – a charge I deny because I think that in prior years FIU’s football program was severely bad. Nonetheless, here is what she had to say to me:
“[Richard] Leonard returns kicks and punts for the Panthers and he is their best cornerback. He is very fast …he is tough. If he can’t make the NFL at cornerback, he can make it as a special teams’ player.”
My former colleague has ample reason to take umbrage at my previous negativity with regard to the FIU football program. However, all of those disparaging comments are in the past. What she must be really upset with is this sort of commentary from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald just last weekend. Please note as you read this comment that Florida International University is located in Miami, FL and not in WhotheHellcares, Antarctica…
“FIU’s spring football game was canceled by bad weather. No, seriously.”
Now, isn’t that note from my former colleague the perfect segue to the final stage of this NFL Pre-Draft Analysis – the Special Teams Players?
Kaimi Fairburn (UCLA): He is a placekicker. His kicks were “accurate” when I saw him. The note I have here says “kickoffs go into the end zone” which is not all that commonplace for college football these days. Most teams do not draft kickers but someone ought to sign him for a tryout in training camp as a free agent after the draft.
Will Monday (Duke): He is a punter. His punts were “long” with “plenty of hang-time”. I also noted that he had a “pooch-punt 35 yards downed inside the 5 [yardline]”. Once again, teams rarely draft punters but I think he too ought to be signed and given a tryout as a free agent after the draft.
Pokey Harris (Murray State): I will close with the fourth and final e-mail note from a reader whose daughter goes to Murray State or has recently graduated from Murray State.
“[Pokey Harris is] a little guy who returns kicks for the Racers. The program says he weighs 175 lbs but he looks smaller than that … He is definitely not “pokey” and he can change directions at full speed to escape tacklers.”
There you have it. When I watch the NFL Draft – and I will not watch all of it to be sure – I will be looking to see how well my notes match up with the draft boards that NFL teams assemble. I will particularly look to see how well my e-mail correspondents did with their assessments of Blake Frohnapfel, Troymaine Pope, Richard Leonard and Pokey Harris.
Finally, since I used a Greg Cote comment from the Miami Herald above, let me close with another one from him that speaks to something that I consider immensely important with regard to the NFL Draft:
“I can’t wait for the draft … mainly because it puts a merciful end to the endless speculation of national mocks drafts and local flat-out guessing on what Miami might do.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………