We are 31 days away from the 2017 NFL Draft. Despite being so close, the final picture of what the first round looks like is still as muddied as it was a month ago, it’s just muddied in different ways now. We know Myles Garrett is going #1 and we know little else for certainty. However, there are rumors to be heard, tea leaves to be read, and things we can infer. State of Play is a new column from Shane Alexander. This one focuses on rumors and projections a month out. If getting everything right would be landing in the right house, the goal right now is to be turning onto the right street.
It Always Starts with the Quarterback
All NFL Draft discussion begins with the quarterbacks. If you’ve been following this Twitter thread, you know I’ve been doing all the discerning on the subject that I can. Here’s where we are now:
- We know Cleveland is taking Garrett first overall, but we know they’ve got to take quarterback eventually. They have the ammo to work the board to their liking. My guess is they play the field and if they can get their guy at #12 they stay, but won’t be afraid to move up.
- The 49ers enter the draft with the combo of Brian Hoyer / Matt Barkley and it seems that they’re either hoping to land Kirk Cousins now or later, or are content to wait on QB – be that Round 2 or 2018.
- The Bears have Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez, but if Ryan Pace and John Fox want to be in Chicago for the long haul, they need to find a permanent signal caller soon. The third overall pick looks like a spot for them to draft Deshaun Watson and let him battle it out with Glennon, but maybe they wait for someone in later rounds, such as Nate Peterman.
- The Jets are in QB hell, with Josh McCown, Christian Hackenberg, and Bryce Petty each occupying a roster spot. However, Todd Bowles is a sitting duck, and any QB taken sixth would be too. If Bowles is fired after this year, a new regime comes in with a second-year QB that they didn’t choose. NYJ should take the best players available for them in each round and give the ownership reasons to believe they’re building. A QB at #6 is a Band-Aid over a severed arm.
- The Chargers, Saints, and Cardinals have all worked out Patrick Mahomes, and while all three teams should be getting better for 2017, each have to begin to prepare for Rivers, Brees and Palmer’s impending departures. If any of these teams want Mahomes, they may have to consider preemptively getting ahead of Cleveland, who has the most to offer Tennessee or New York. If QB isn’t the pick for them in Round 1, I expect each of them to take a QB over draft weekend.
- Houston and Kansas City are perennial playoff teams with unique situations at QB. If any one of “Big 4” were to fall, both teams would be wise to getting their guy in Round 1, especially the Texans.
I suspect Deshaun Watson is either QB1 or QB3 on draft night. Either the Bears take him at #3 or he falls past Patrick Mahomes. I’m calling my shot and locking Mahomes in as a top 13 pick. Trubisky is either going to be a Cardinal or Texan, if you’re asking me to take a stand. The wildcard has now become DeShone Kizer. I fully suspect a team to trade back up for him if he falls, but if that doesn’t happen, the 49ers at #34 could get the highest ceiling QB in this class one round after selecting a premier position player.
Joe Mixon Round 1 Gaining Steam?
From a pure talent perspective, I think Mixon is the best in this class. What makes him undraftable though is the tape of him hitting a woman in the face two and a half years ago. He’s going to be a clear no-go for several teams and I get that, but for some – who can withstand the PR backlash – he could be a prime target in the first two rounds. While I don’t think he goes night one, the three teams who are best suited to select him are the Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs. If all three pass in Round 1, they have to be the three heaviest favorites in the second round due to needing a workhorse running back, and also having the PR equity built-up from a front office and coaching staff POV – John Elway is widely regarded as one of the most important and successful men in all of football, and is insulated by the fanhood of the Broncos faithful; Reggie McKenzie has become somewhat of a miracle worker in Oakland, turning around a decade of on- and off-field snafus as well as short-coming into one of the premier teams in the NFL; and Andy Reid’s longevity and success in the NFL speaks to itself. He also took Tyreek Hill a year ago and brought him through a rookie season with no hiccups.
On a similar note, it seems off-field red tape and injury concern could push Dalvin Cook into or below Mixon’s territory. New Orleans at pick #32 make a lot of sense if he falls. Past them, Jacksonville, New York, Carolina, and Philadelphia could all be good landing spots for him on day 2, as all either have no true RB1 or will be in the process of replacing theirs over the next two seasons. To have a RB like Cooks that could spell someone with no dropoff in talent or production would be invaluable to a team.
What Do We Do with this Edge Class?
Heading into the NFL Combine, myself and many of my peers wondered if this was the best edge class since 2011, and potentially better. The tape backed up many of those presumptions, and it seemed like the athletic and physical measurements would fall in line.
Tim Williams and Charles Harris were displaced by Derek Rivers and Jordan Willis as the darling athletes in this class. Takk McKinley’s performance was as raw as his tape, and that’s coupled with a labrum injury. Jonathan Allen measured like a defensive end tweener and tested like a solid defensive tackle, on top of his shoulders being flagged for arthritic problems. T.J. Watt went from workhorse mid-rounder to position versatile athletic phenom. Carl Lawson’s performance was impressive until he turned in a sun dial three cone drill. And the list goes on.
So this class isn’t 2011, but what is it? It’s going to be a very, very scheme-specific class. Your and my edge list will look different from all 32 NFL teams. There’s very few “just take him and win with him” types among this group. I wouldn’t be surprised if as many as 11 edges went Round 1 or as few as 4 did. This class is a case study in trusting the tape and personal preference.
Who are the Risers in the Final 31 Days?
Every year there are players that NFL execs get on board with during the final push. Last year it was Eli Apple, Karl Joseph, Keanu Neal, and Artie Burns who rose late and crashed the Round 1 party. The same will assuredly happen this year, so get on board (like it or not) with these five players being in the 1st Round conversation on April 27:
- Jordan Willis, Edge, Kansas State – The production was always there, but the tape was frustrating. Being stonewalled after his first strike, being washed downfield on pass rushes, and over-pursuit fill your viewing. But then the Combine happened and he tested like people thought Tim Williams would, and that changed everything. I don’t think he’s a teens or twenties threat, but Dallas, Atlanta, or New Orleans could all add him to their arsenal along the DL.
- Derek Rivers, Edge, Youngstown State – He’s Edge3 for me, which means a top 15 talent, but to the NFL he’s a “riser” from a small school. Atlanta is the en vogue team to take him, but don’t be surprised if Green Bay or Pittsburgh beat them to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended his career as the second best edge in this class.
- Tyus Bowser, LB, Houston – The edge-turned-off-ball linebacker is a total projection, but when you test like Bowser did at the Combine, you’re going to turn heads in the NFL. He’s a 4-3 SAM which puts him on Detroit, Miami, and Oakland’s radar in the early 20s.
- Davis Webb, QB, Cal – I don’t like it any more than you do, but we know the NFL will make bad decisions at the QB position. Webb is a big, tall, strong-armed player who fits the prototype of what teams want. Arizona trading back from #13 and taking him would be terrible but wouldn’t shock – Houston reaching at #27 wouldn’t shock me either. We may not like it but we’re going to have to live with the possibility that Webb goes top 32, and almost assuredly in Round 1.
- Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan – His Combine was good enough. We know he’s an explosive athlete and exceptional talent. Peppers’s issue is the sample size he has going for him at safety. It’s easier to project someone like Jamal Adams. His projection is so much of a leap of faith. NFL teams want to win. They will talk themselves into players. I believe some team is going to talk themselves into Peppers on day 1, because of his ability to create as a playmaker on special teams and in the secondary, while he develops technique.
The Secret is out…
The secret is out on two defensive backs: Ohio State’s Gareon Conley and NC State’s Josh Jones. Conley tested like a rare prospect in Indianapolis, and Jones was very near to that for a safety. Conley could fill an immediate need for over half of the teams in the first round as an outside or slot corner. His ability to mirror receivers due to his change of direction ability is a special trait. Josh Jones is going to be a day 2 hit for teams that miss out on the top 4-5 in Round 1. He is big-bodied but mobile and has cover skills. Jones won’t last until Day 3, where he started the process being projected.