Friday, May 05, 2017

2017 NFL Draft: First round impressions

So the draft is in the books for another year and it went much as it always did. Some fairly solid lock in picks (at least in terms of where they fell), some crazy moves and some crazy trades. This is why I always advocate moving back in the draft, because inevitably someone does something odd which kicks off a chain reaction that allows good players to slide. No Dalvin Cook in the first round for example? That's crazy.

Myles Garrett went number one overall as expected. I still have question marks about Garrett. He is undeniably a fantastic athlete with tremendous potential, but like with Clowney a while back you have to wonder why that potential never expressed itself with a chain of truly dominant on field performances. I think part of that was down to the way A&M played, often forgoing the all out pass rush in favour of containing mobile quarterbacks, which is a general symptom of defenses in college football having to adjust to the current trends on offense.

When he was allowed to rush one on one around the edge he showed flashes of his remarkable speed, but I personally would want more than flashes to use a first round pick. I'm not saying Garrett is a terrible pick by any means. This is more of a preference thing. With a first round pick I personally would prefer to take someone I was more confident in overall.

With the second pick the Bears gave away quite the collection just to move one spot in order to pick up Mitchell Trubisky. As a 49ers fan I was pleased to see them move back and would have preferred them to keep going further, but it wasn't a bad result in the end taking Solomon Thomas at three, though again I would have preferred someone else (Derek Barnett).

Clearly the Bears have a plan to put Mike Glennon (who I think is an excellent quarterback) into the fray first while Trubisky develops. That's not a bad plan at all. I like Trubisky, but I'm not sure he's the kind of quarterback who forms the centerpiece of your offense in the way a Brady or Rodgers or Brees does. I'm not convinced he's a top ten pick, or even a first rounder. He has some limits with down field passing, but in fairness for a one year starter he was certainly impressive at North Carolina. Bit risky, given his lack of experience, but he has many of the basic tools to be a franchise quarterback. Much depends on how he grows going forward though I'm honestly a little glad the 49ers didn't take him.

Thomas on the other hand gets a thumbs up. Against North Carolina he took over the game, especially towards the end. All season long he proved to be a nightmare in the middle. His athletic ability was backed by solid production in the pressure department and he looks like a positive upgrade to a 49ers defensive line that really struggled at times last year. The only thing that surprised me is how long it took for people to get on board with Thomas as a top ten guy. If nothing else he is going to be immense fun to watch over the coming years I feel.

Leonard Fournette had the misfortune of being the Jaguars pick at 4. I'm not sold on Fournette as a complete back though or with all these comparisons to players like Adrian Peterson. Given how bad the Jaguars offense was last year they're going to need Fournette to pick up the slack and that is going to be a tough ask on an offense that didn't exactly set the world alight in the passing game. Not sure this was really the best pick for Jacksonville and I wait with much amusement for all the "Fournette is garbage" articles and comments that are likely to come if he does anything other than break records on a regular basis.

He'll be fine. Not amazing, but not terrible either. His production (numbers wise) will most likely be above average, but his overall play is unlikely to help the Jaguars win that many more games. The problem is that Fournette is very much a boom and bust runner. Or a feast and famine runner. Or whatever "good and bad" analogy you care to use. The problem is that Fournette doesn't have an especially great feel for finding holes and his lateral cutting ability is nothing special. A lot of his runs are stuffed behind the line of scrimmage or within the first few yards.

The boom part comes when he does get into some space and is able to race up through the gears. At that point his open field speed is very tough to match and frequently ends in a touchdown. That's where most of his yards seem to come from and when coupled with the highlight reel hits as he trucks over defenders I do wonder if this is a case of the legend being bigger than the man.

While the yards will be nice, the lack of consistency coupled with a poor passing offense is what I think might hurt the Jaguars. Busting out 60 yards runs doesn't really help if your team then stalls again. Personally I'm more interested in next year when his LSU team mate Derrius Guice becomes a first rounder himself, before going on to have what I think will be a better NFL career.

Next we have Corey Davis to the Titans at five and this is the stuff dreams are made of. Both for Davis and everyone picking behind the Titans who see top talents still on the board, slowly edging back towards them. The idea that Davis is a superior receiver to Mike Williams baffles me and I can see this pick coming back to haunt the Titans. For a start I think Davis benefited greatly from playing in the MAC where he physically outmatched the majority of the corners he faced, both in terms of size and speed.

At 6'3" he makes a good target man, or at least he would if his speed wasn't seemingly sub-par for an NFL wide out and he didn't drop the ball as often as he does. Western Michigan's approach to covering for this seem to have been to have him run a lot of short patterns, often out of the slot, where MAC defenders couldn't physically challenge him either for the catch or in the tackle afterwards. It's worth noting that when he played better opposition he often virtually disappeared. To me that's not top 5 pick material and it certainly doesn't warrant being taken over Mike Williams.

That's not to say it's all bad for Davis, just that I think some of the lofty expectations are, well, a bit lofty. He almost looks like he'd be better off as a tight end. That's the best way I can describe him. He looked like a flex tight end, just an inch or two shorter than your typical tight end. Looking at his playing frame I'm not sure I'm buying the 209lbs measurement. Either he's cut a bunch of weight off from somewhere or someone is telling porky pies.

Onto the Jets who got Jamal Adams at six which is a really nice pick. I may or may not be a bit of an LSU fan boy when it comes to college football, but Adams is undeniably a very smart, reactive safety who always seems a little bit ahead of the game. Coupled with good physical traits he has all the makings of a difference maker on defense and boy do the Jets need someone like that. The Chargers got Mike Williams at seven who is easily the best receiver in this draft. I still can't get over the fact Davis was taken ahead of him. It makes no sense to me.

The comedy drafting intensified though with the drafting of Christian McCaffrey by the Panthers at number 8. McCaffrey is neither a top ten pick nor a first rounder, not in a sane world. That he went at 8 and Dalvin Cook didn't get drafted at all in the first round is utter, utter madness. This is probably my pick for the biggest bust potential in the draft and is another perfect example of why you should keep going back when you can, because every pick like this improves the chances of a quality player falling into your lap later along with all the extra picks you've acquired.

McCaffrey to me just seems like a fairly standard back. Again, I'm not saying he's terrible, he's ok. But this draft, like virtually every other draft in recent memory, is packed to the rafters with OK running backs. Why you would feel the need to take one in the first round is beyond me, especially when a much, much better running back is sitting there just waiting.

The again, John Ross went at 9 to the Bengals and Patrick Mahomes went at number 10 to the Chiefs. Either could steal the bust crown. I do like Mahomes, but not as a top ten pick or indeed a first rounder. He's a gunslinger and that's something that has always appealed to me in quarterbacks, but the more I watched him the more I was convinced he's far too unpolished for the NFL.

The advantage of gunslingers with cannon arms is that they can make deep throws that others can't, can fit the ball into super tight windows and generally throw more accurately over intermediate distances (10-20 yards from the LOS) because they can focus more on placement than power, as they have power in abundance.

The problem with gunslingers is that they often get far too cocky and routinely over estimate just how tight of a window they can fit the ball in, while also under estimating just how powerful their arm is on those shorter passes. Because their throwing range goes all the way from waddling soft ball to ballistic missile they often have trouble finding that sweet spot between the two.

And while Mahomes does make some great throws, he also makes some really dumb ones. Often his receivers had to bail him out of trouble and you get the feeling watching him that defenses were leaving a lot of picks on the field that an NFL team wouldn't. Throwing the ball as often as he did in a pass heavy offense also significantly helped his numbers, but as games wore on he seemed to become gradually more and more erratic. That screams long term project to me, not first rounder.

Ross is exactly what you'd expect out of a 5'11", 188 lbs guy with a 4.22 forty yard dash. He's quick off the line, breaks fast into his patterns and generally scares people with his speed. He also struggles with contested high balls, has difficulty beating physical corners who play in his face and don't even let him get started, and he already has two bum knees before he's even entered the league.

His career is likely to be a brief but somewhat explosive affair, with some highlight reel worthy races to the endzone, combined with a lot of frustrating games where he gets hemmed in at the line, a lack of run blocking ability, which will probably all end when a safety or linebacker trying to avoid a targeting penalty ends up going in low and popping one of his knees for good. For me that's not what I'd be looking for in a first round pick.

Marshon Lattimore went about where people thought he would, ending at 11 with the Saints. Deshaun Watson went about where people thought he might go, ending at 12 with the Texans, and Haason Reddick wins the combine stock boosting award for the year, coming it at 13 for the Cardinals after initially being thought of as a third round pick by many.

Reddick does have tremendous speed, but again in college that didn't always translate into production. I guess the lure of possibly finding the next Von Miller is too great for some, though the word going around is that the Cardinals intend to convert him to inside linebacker, which to me makes absolutely no sense. Players like Reddick I'm always skeptical of because their whole game tends to revolve around that blinding speed and that's much easier to scheme away than say a player with great technique.

Their progress generally hinges on how well they pick up new techniques such as proper rip and swim skills, developing themselves from speed rushers into more complete players. The speed in and of itself is a big bonus, and it makes mistakes against such a player far more costly as they pounce on the bow wrapped gift of a sack or tackle for loss they've just been given. But if Arizona aren't going to use him as a pass rusher, which is his one really strong point, then I think it's a bit of a crap shoot as to how Reddick will pan out.

Lattimore should be fine, he's a good corner though probably not quite a match for Conley. If off field concerns hadn't been an issue I think Conley might have gone first. Lattimore is fine though. The difference is more one of splitting hairs and I guess the Saints felt he was a better fit. Not sure if another corner is really what the Saints needed, but hey, that's why they're paid to do it for real and I just blog about it.

Watson I think is massively over rated and owes Mike Williams more than a few favours. I see flop. Much of his best work came from lobbing the ball up and hoping Williams would get underneath it and come down with it. Yes he won a national championship, but lots of players have done that and gone on to have decidedly less successful and dramatic careers in the NFL. I just don't see the rounded set of traits in Watson that you'd be looking for in a pro-level quarterback.

Number 14 to the Eagles was my favourite from this draft, Derek Barnett. Barnett is an odd case really. He's probably one of the less athletic players taken in the first round, which makes him the kind of player that scouts hate. How can they sell a pick to a GM without a fast forty time or a high vertical jump? That would mean putting their head on the block and backing a player based on his ability to play and their ability to assess him instead of blaming the coaches if it all goes wrong ("he had amazing athletic traits, those dumb coaches just don't know how to get the best out of him...")

And yet in spite of that lack of eye popping athletic ability (clearly he's a decent athlete to make the NFL, just not elite of the elite) he still somehow makes plays on a consistent basis. That's what I love about Barnett, someone who just finds a way to keep contributing, to keep adding sacks and tackles for loss, no matter the opponent or the situation. He will not stop playing great defensive end play.

For me that's why I would have had him top of the board. If I'm going to use a first round pick on someone then I want to be as sure as I possibly can be about what I'm getting. As the picks go down, that's where the riskier players come into play, but early picks should be about getting as close to a sure fire deal as you can. Barnett represents that for me.

At 15, Malik Hooker went to the Colts. The Colts must have been laughing at the fact a top ten guy dropped into their lap like this. Hooker is an excellent safety with great range over the middle of the field. He'll elevate their secondary immediately and has real potential to be an all star guy in the long term. The Colts are going to be a lot tougher to throw against down the field in 2017.

At 16 the Ravens took Marlon Humphrey. Typical corner; slow to face oncoming runners, quick to lay a hit on runners who have already been wrapped up. Can you tell I don't like corners much? This is probably one of the better examples of the right player on the right team. I got the impression that Humphrey was something of a liability in man coverage and could be picked on routinely if asked to play as a deep cover corner. As a zone corner his speed and quick hip turns will be much more useful. For Humphrey then the Ravens are a perfect fit as their schemes tend to be more blitz with zone orientated as opposed to asking their corners to play a lot of man.

The slide for Jonathan Allen ended at 17 with the Redskins. Dodgy shoulders and all. Overall Allen could prove to be a steal at 17. I'm a little surprised he didn't test as well at the combine as his on field athleticism would seem to suggest he should have, but ultimately it's the field that counts, not the shirts and shorts parade.

The question is where Allen fits in. He was a 3-4 end and should be able to reprise that role in the NFL. He could play as a 4-3 end, but might not have enough speed for that and probably not enough size to be a 4-3 tackle which kind of pigeon holes him a little. In terms of how he looked in pads I don't think there are any questions, as his technique did a lot of the talking. Much hangs on how his arthritic shoulders hold up in the long run.

I have to say I wouldn't exactly be ecstatic about the prospect of drafting a guy with a first round pick that had that kind of medical red flag hanging over him. It conceivably might not affect him seriously for years to come, at which point everyone will be kicking themselves for not taking him. Or, it could become a major problem over the next year, in which case everyone (except the Redskins) will breathe a sigh of relief for having dodged that particular bullet.

Without knowing the specific details that NFL teams do and having gotten the feedback from professional medical personnel that they have it's really impossible to say. The fact he tumbled so far suggests that a lot of people have serious red flags against him. If his shoulders hold up though he'll be a tremendous player.

At number 18 the Titans picked again, taking Adoree Jackson. This surprised me immensely because the pre-draft talk seemed to have Jackson slipping into the second round. Much has been made of his use as a special teams return man, which is probably the most over rated "skill" in all of football, beating out even the moniker "shut down corner" (remember Nnamdi Asomugha?).

Jackson wasn't so much a bad corner at USC, but nothing there made him seem like a first round pick either. He wasn't really able to hold up in man coverage and in zone he was not a great tackler. He's quick, no doubt, but he's really sluggish when he has to flip his hips. That's problematic for a corner. I didn't see anything that made him stand out and shout "draft me".

At 19 the Tampa Bay Buccaneers picked up O.J. Howard, who gets the award this year for the scouts biggest wet dream. 6'6" tall, he lit up the combine with his numbers as was expected. Scouts have been pillorying the Alabama coaching staff because of course if you have a player with those kind of numbers in shirts and shorts then it must be the coaches fault that he's not tearing the opposition apart single handed each week in pads. Absolutely it has nothing to do with the scouts not being able to understand what is happening on the field. No, no, no....

Can you tell - slightly ironically for someone doing draft analysis - that I hate football scouts? Just wait till we get to the scout speak special coming soon (more on that later). What none of the scouts seem to have picked up is that for all the talk about how in the NFL linebackers won't be able to cover Howard etc, linebackers in college seemed to have had no problem doing just that. Granted, with the ball in his hands on short patterns his speed and size makes him difficult to stop, but he never really looks like a major threat in the passing game.

In the run game he can just about stalemate a defender, which is fine in certain systems, but he's really not much of a run blocker. Maybe (maybe) Alabama could have used him more split out from the pack as a wide out, which is what Howard really seems to be as opposed to a proper tight end, but the idea that Howard can be magically turned into this super receiver in the NFL when he couldn't do it in college when he was playing against weaker opponents and surrounded by 5 star talents for team mates is to me a stretch of the imagination.

To me this is a potential disaster waiting to happen. With those athletic attributes they should be able to do something with him, but I don't see him as the break out superstar that a lot of scouts seem to think he is.

At number 20 our first O-lineman of the draft came off the board as the Broncos took Garett Bolles. I'm surprised it took this long for an O-lineman to be taken considering how bad this draft class was across the offensive line positions. You'd think people would be lining up to snatch the few good ones? And Bolles is a good one. Left tackle for Utah, he comfortably handled fellow first rounder Takkarist McKinley when they faced off. Broncos make a nice addition.

At 21 the Lions went with Jarrad Davis, another pick that would have had the other teams counting their blessings. He's quick in a straight line, that's for sure, the trouble is he spends a lot of time standing around looking lost and unsure of what to do. Not especially great in coverage, doesn't make particularly great run reads and isn't really that great of a tackler. I'd have been glad as a GM to see someone else take him in the first round.

Next was Charles Harris at 22 to the Dolphins. Everyone seems to be praising his athletic ability, and he certainly has some, but the reality is the production on the field was lacking and he was a real weak point against the run. Looking at the way he played run plays I would be advising a coach to target him in the run game because he just had no presence. Was a 4-3 end in college but will have to switch to linebacker in the NFL and to me he doesn't have the technique to be much of a danger to anybody.

A surprise at 23 was Evan Engram from Ole Miss being picked up by the Giants. Most pre-draft predictions had him going in the second or third, but this is a nice pick up by the Giants. Just to be clear though, Engram is not a tight end. I'd expect him to be shedding some weight in the offseason and to play as a receiver, possibly out of the slot. He doesn't have the size to be a tight end I don't think.

And it would be a waste of his considerable talents in the passing game to try and force him into a role he's not suited for. Engram is an excellent receiver, quick for his size with solid hands and a knack for finding space (and the end zone). He was head and shoulders the best receiver on his team and should enjoy playing on a Giants team with the other weapons they have in the passing game. One to keep an eye on.

At 24 the Raiders took a punt on Gareon Conley. His off field issues were expected to precipitate a slide much further down the order but the Raiders obviously saw something that was too good to pass up. I like Conley as a corner and I hate corners. The fact that this is a good position fit for the Raiders needs just adds to the value they will get from this pick. Oakland has been drafting smart of late and are slowly working their way towards being contenders I feel.

At 25 the Browns reaffirmed why they'll remain in the doldrums of the NFL for many years to come by drafting Jabril Peppers. This is a horrible pick and might constitute the most over rated player coming into this draft. Patchy moments of excitement at Michigan do not a great player make. He doesn't even have a defined position, largely because he's not good enough at any one spot to hold it down. Poor Browns fans.

At 26 the Falcons went defense with Takkarist McKinley, having traded up to get the spot. This was just the first of many moves by Seattle who had a decent draft, at least in trade terms. As for McKinley? I think he padded his stats a little in college because against the better teams he disappeared. While you can clearly see his speed off the snap, you can also clearly see him getting stuck to his blockers, almost like glue at times. That's not first round material for me as he needs a lot of work.

At 27 the Bills took my favourite corner in this draft, Tre'Davious White. Alright, maybe there's an element of the LSU fan boying in there, but I do genuinely think White is a great talent. Sometimes had problems competing for high balls against the taller receivers he faced, but had excellent speed, agility and a knack for breaking up passes. Like most corners he's not exactly the greatest tackler in the world, but at least he tries. Excellent cover corner who I was hoping would fall to the 49ers. Alas it was not to be.

At 28 the Cowboys took Taco Charlton, who overall I think is a good pick. Big dude and decently quick in pads, but not "elite" for his position. He always seemed to be menacing around the ball in some way or another, largely because he could bully most tackles he came up against. Bit raw as a rusher but you can see him working on new moves, trying new things other than just a straight bull rush. Maybe not as complete as some other players in this draft, but looks like he has a very high ceiling, which is basically what the Cowboys have invested in. I can think of a lot of worse ways to spend a pick.

At 29 the Browns managed to over draft David Njoku. Njoku isn't the tallest tight end but on the field he kind of played taller than he looked if that makes any sense? A red zone target that might help the Browns with their chronic quarterback situation by at least giving them a target man to work with, but not sure he was really first round material.

At 30 the Steelers hoped to tap a certain bloodline by taking T.J. Watt. And hope is probably the right word for Watt. On field he really didn't show that much. If he didn't have the name he would not have come close to the first round. On the plus side he has size and tested well at the combine and has only spent one year as a starter having originally entered Wisconsin's program as a tight end, so there is plenty of room for development. The downside is... he's only spent one year as a starter and as such is very raw.

To me this is really the stuff of later round picks, where unproven future potential is de-risked by a drop down the order. Still, if he was going to land anywhere then to the Steelers is probably the right spot as they're a franchise with a history of patience when it comes to developing young guys. I just don't see that much in Watt right now. He can't really cover in space, he can't really rush the passer, and his athletic traits aren't really that amazing. At this stage I would expect this to be a bust, but time is on Watt's side.

At 31 the 49ers jumped back into the first round - in defiance of any kind of logic - and snapped up linebacker Reuben Foster. Well I say snapped up, which implies he was some sort of desirable leather three piece suite being heavily discounted, but in reality he's more like a modern replica of an old car you once loved, complete with shoddy mass produced build quality.

I sometimes wonder if people just get nostalgic over the good old days when inside linebackers were baby eating monster trucks on legs, to the extent that any time a half decent one comes along who can hit a few people everyone suddenly thinks it's the second coming of Mike Singletary. Which appears to be how a lot of people view Foster. I don't see it myself and as such was less than impressed by this pick, not least because of the trade up.

I just don't see anything in Foster that makes him stand out as special. He frequently takes poor angles to the ball, he's quick but not amazingly so (despite the ridiculous mass of hype about his athletic ability) and he had to cut down to under 230lbs just to achieve that. His coverage skills are nothing to write home about either. Tackling was poor.

So what do you do with someone like this? He's too small to consistently take on blockers in the run game and if you bulk him up he'll lose the one decent trait he has. Even the Foster fans agree that he can't really be a middle linebacker in the NFL, so he'll have to play weak side. A weak side backer that can't tackle, can't support the run, can't cover and is not a pass rusher. Gee whizz, what a steal...

Finally at 32 was Ryan Ramczyk. Pretty good straight ahead run blocker, which shouldn't be a surprise for a Wisconsin product. Problem with being a Wisconsin product is that you don't get much pass rush work and that shows. Ramczyk struggles with moving targets in the run game and against the pass he has a glaring weakness when facing technique rushers who use their hands to get past.

Much has been made of his face offs with the likes of Taco Charlton. Well that's great, except that Charlton was whooping him in the pass game. Ramczyk's saving grace was that Wisconsin generally tended to get the ball out pretty quickly and the admission of their lack of faith in him was evident when they took deeper shots as they would shift a running back or tight end over to help him out, something that all the scouts seem to have conveniently glossed over while effusing about his size etc. 

In his favour is the fact he's only had one year at the very top level. But you'd think all that time spent in high school and college before that would have taught him a thing or two about line play. Presumably he didn't just stand there the whole time. Maybe in time he'll become more cultivated, but I wouldn't hold your breath. Keep in mind that this was the second O-lineman taken off the board. That's this O-line class in a nutshell.

And that's also the end of my first round review. Better late than never so they say. Next up is something that will give you a better over view of how I saw this draft as I attempt to re-draft the 49ers, including trades down but not up. Then after that I want to take a look through some of this years funniest scout speak bullshit, which generally proves to be a bottomless pit of comedy. This year seems to have been no exception.

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