“State of the Draft” is going to be a weekly column serving as a catch-all for anything NFL Draft. You can expect information on which prospects I’ve been watching, players I’m high or low on, players who I think might be under the radar, positing on draft philosophy, expanded thoughts on topics in the media or on Twitter that deserve more than 140 character blurbs, mini-mock drafts and big boards, etc. If it’s relevant in the world of the NFL Draft, I’ll be touching on it in these columns. With that being stated, let’s get into the State of the Draft for the week of February 27th – March 5th 2017.
Everything starts with the quarterback
The debate currently is which teams should trade picks or sign quarterbacks instead of taking one of the “Big 4” – Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, or Patrick Mahomes II – in the first round. New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo and Cincinnati’s A.J. McCarron are the two discussed in trades, with Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Dallas’ Tony Romo two veterans who will almost surely be on the market.
I’ve discussed this topic thoroughly on #PylonU two weeks ago, but my sentiments remain the same: Do not overpay for a backup or veteran quarterback as a get-rich-quick scheme instead of investing in one of the “Big 4” quarterbacks, or even Nathan Peterman.
Jeff Feyerer discussed DeShone Kizer this past week on #PylonU and we both agreed that him landing in San Francisco would be the most ideal considering new head coach and general manager Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch received six-year contracts. It appears that Jed York realizes that the 49ers’ situation is one that requires a lot of time. Time is the friend of DeShone Kizer because I believe his ceiling is the highest in this class, but I have reservations about him being able to lead a franchise in year one in the wake of the season he just had under Brian Kelly. Kizer would cost the #2 pick and that’s it, whereas a trade for Garoppolo likely costs more in draft capital, as well as more in terms of a contract. If your roster is depleted and the journey back to the top is steep, what good is it gutting your future of cornerstone players to trade for a quarterback with 1.5 games of experience and who’s in line for a contract almost twice the size of what Kizer’s would be?
Garoppolo and McCarron have real value to a team like the Jets who need to have a strong showing in 2017 to save Todd Bowles’s job. To a team like the Bears, who had a really nice draft in 2016 and were marred with injuries last season, one of these players could be an immediate upgrade. But for teams like Cleveland, San Francisco, and even Jacksonville, there’s no quick fix and overpaying and depleting your assets is counterintuitive to a team-building philosophy.
I like AJ McCarron in context and I like Jimmy Garoppolo even more, but I would be resolved to walk away from the negotiating table with Cincinnati or New England if it came to it. Sacrificing your future on a 26-28-year-old backup isn’t worth it. The only way to change the (arbitrary) market on quarterback costs it to be staunchly opposed to overpaying and drive the cost down. The most that I would pay for McCarron is a 3rd and the most I’d pay for Garoppolo is #25, if Houston wants to add the final piece to a Super Bowl quality roster. Those prices are reasonable and doesn’t cut a team’s proverbial knees out from under them.
Jay Cutler would be a fine addition to the Jets for one season while they find his long-term replacement in this draft or the next. Tony Romo fits into that same category if he lands in Houston or Denver.
The NFL Combine: It’s important.
The NFL Combine starts this weekend in Indianapolis and for all of the things about it that might get caricatured, it is a vitally important part of the draft process. 300+ prospects assembling provides us as independent scouts, but especially NFL teams, the biggest snapshot of who these players are athletically and medically, as well as who they are in stressful interviews. The amount of information passed along over the coming week will avalanche everything before and after this part of the process.
Why is the Combine important? Because data matters. Height, weight, speed, hand size, age, three-cone speed, etc. all vary by position but all have historical backing towards predicting NFL success. Three of my favorite scouts are Ethan Young, Justis Mosqueda and Jim Cobern. You don’t have to agree with every part of their work, but it’s undeniable that these scouts have found correlations and even empirical data that predict how many of these players will translate to the next level.
Just last week I was on the DLF Podcast and broke down how I attacked scouting, and analytics were something I expounded upon the most. A quarterback’s hand size, a defensive end’s three cone drill, a wide receiver’s 40 yard dash time all matter.
Take in as much information as you can from the Combine and find ways for that information to improve the way you scout the NFL Draft.
Prospects I’m watching
- JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC – For a player who doesn’t turn 21 until November of his rookie year, with exceptional college success and impressive physical traits, he’s being heavily underappreciated in this wide receiver class. I expect that to change after his Combine. I don’t expect an all-time performance from him, but it doesn’t have to be. After Corey Davis and Mike Williams, there’s a real battle to who will be WRs 3-5 and JuJu is right there in contention.
- Will Holden, OT/OG, Vanderbilt – Holden showed up late to the Senior Bowl because he was an injury alternate, but he made his presence known during the Thursday practice and in the game. We interviewed Notre Dame’s Isaac Rochell on #PylonU and he said Holden was one of the best players he went up again in Mobile. What makes Holden extremely valuable in this OL class is his position versatility. Post-Combine, him going in Round 3 wouldn’t surprise me.
- Marcus Williams, SAF, Utah – In a class that’s very top heavy at safety, don’t overlook Marcus Williams. With so much sub package played in the NFL today, you need a safety who can physically play downhill and in the slot. Williams shows no fear in the run game and matches that with exceptional range. Watch him shine in Indianapolis and don’t be surprised when he goes in Round 2 of the draft.
Best Draft Matches
Take draft slot and value out of it and consider how exceptional these matches between player and team would be on draft weekend.
Dalvin Cook to Washington: Washington’s defense should take another step forward, and despite potentially losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, the offense should be able to replace them and get better production out of young receivers Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson. All they really need to become a Super Bowl dark horse is a game-changing running back, and that’s where Cook steps in. What he offers running the ball would be enough to warrant the selection, but the most enticing thing to me is how Jay Gruden could use him in the passing game with Jordan Reed working the middle and the receivers stretching vertical, Cook could keep defenses extra honest suspecting the running back could catch out of the backfield on any play.
Christian McCaffrey to Philadelphia: In theory, I think Carson Wentz has the ability to make Philadelphia‘s offense look like the most perfect version of a very effective Chiefs’ offense we’ve seen with Andy Reid and Alex Smith. Instrumental to that is having a back like McCaffrey who is the ultimate player in space, but can also run between the tackles. I’ve often said that McCaffrey’s best style is his omniscience, and my colleague Ted Nguyen wrote a fantastic article highlighting this skill last year. What Wentz had in Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews last season he can have combined with McCaffrey.
Charles Harris to Dallas: Look up Rod Marinelli edge rushers in the dictionary and you’ll see a picture of Harris next to it. For the Cowboys to progress as Super Bowl contenders, they have to solve their defensive end problem, and pairing Harris opposite of Demarcus Lawrence with David Irving gives the ‘Boys premier talents that fit the scheme they want to run. Missouri has produced several defensive ends recently and Harris is the best, in my opinion.