Wednesday, April 27, 2016

5 Players I Like More Than Most; 5 I Like Less Than Most

Today, my Top 50 prospect rankings dropped, and there we can cuss and discuss my feelings versus so many others out there who are doing the same thing in the buildup to the 2016 NFL draft.

This is something I really enjoy doing. Evaluating 20- and 21-year-olds -- without knowing anything beyond their college football body of work and predicting the future. It is next to impossible, if you think about it. But, it is what we do. I don't know about you, but seeing 20-year-old me and then predicting what I would have going for me in a decade's time would have been hilarious if anyone wanted to waste their time on the venture. But, we make this draft fortune-telling a cottage industry.  
You can't do it (predict his future path) without knowing many important components.  Yet, we still do. We must know: Is this a destination or a stop on the journey? How many players have listed their lifelong dream to get to the NFL.  You see players all the time get here by hard work, but then coast when they arrive because all they wanted was a big stack of money. Now, they have it. It allows them women, possessions, and good times. This is the destination. Others feel like the trip is just beginning. They aspire to being great in the greatest league in the world. But, how do we know one group from the other? If teams could figure this out, it would break the code.
Then, we don't know about the franchises. Are they competent? Are they determined to stay focused on helping these young men find their goals? Or, will the guy who signed off on this pick be fired in 12 months and the new guy will not be interested in the old guy's projects.
Then, we don't know how money changes a person. Or living away from home. Or how his body will develop and hold up.  
In other words, we know nothing (Jon Snow). Or almost nothing. And yet, in my case, from watching between 3-6 games of their final year in college, we try to stack up these guys from most exciting and interesting to least so.  But, given that it is a fun project that will be amusing to read in 5-10 years to see how awful these predictions are, let's double down here. I want to list 5 players that this process has shown me that I like more than most and 5 players who are the opposite.  Keep in mind, I only studied the top 75 prospects or so.  So, there are likely others below (is there a Tom Brady in this draft?), but I only studied the bigger names.  Then, you will really have something to shove in my face in 2021 when it has all gone wrong.
Here we go:

5 Players I Like More Than Most Draft People

California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) puts on a Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl championship hat after winning against the Air Force Falcons at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas on Dec. 29, 2015. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News)
Rose Baca 
California Golden Bears quarterback Jared Goff (16) puts on a Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl championship hat after winning against the Air Force Falcons at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas on Dec. 29, 2015. (Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News)
1. Jared Goff, QB, California
This one is more of a month-old argument when many draft people were saying "there are no top 10 prospects at QB and no franchise QBs in this draft".  I was watching Goff and loved him.  I think he will need some time, but when it is all said and done, I think we are looking at someone really special there.  But, now that the Rams seem to agree with me, I am clearly not out on some island anymore.  
2. Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa plays plays against Northern Illinois.
AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File
Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa plays plays against Northern Illinois.
I am absolutely amazed at how Bosa has been discounted by so many Cowboys people. I actually had a fan tell me he is an average DE. I have seen people drop him out of their top 10 (not a fan). I have seen so many people label him as “not that great”. Again, he is 20 and has dominated at Ohio State. I am convinced that when he is 24, he will be a major force and the team that gets him will have no regrets. We shall see.
3. Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
One of these awesome Defensive Tackles is going to be a star and I am willing to load up my hype train for Butler.  I cannot believe how well a 6'3, 323 man moves and dances around guys.  He is in the backfield and he is a penetrator.  I love all of these traits.  I think he might be unblockable once he figures out the next level.  Love this player.
4.  Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
There are two types of analysts.  Either you like safe safeties or you like destroyers.  I like Karl Joseph a ton and can't wait to see him be a star at the NFL level.  His knee gives me concern, but I really, really believe he is going to be special.  I also know he is going to be fined several times, but I can live with that.  I think he is a 1st rounder.  But, time will tell.
5.  Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
This is the one that I think will make or break this column.  I don't know if he will be a star in the NFL, but this ridiculous and absurd action of throwing him in the bin with all of the other big RBs and all of the other Alabama RBs is ridiculous.  If he plays in Dallas, I can't wait to see how games are killed in the 4th Quarter.  He would be perfect here.  No, he is not Darren Sproles.  And no, Sproles is not Henry.  But, Henry is going to be something great.  Get out of here with those 3rd-4th round grades.
Bonus -  6.  Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma
Sometimes, you trust your eyes.  I am willing to do that with one of the great competitors in college football.  Shepard is the type of guy I would grab in Round 2 and then enjoy him competing his tail off every Sunday for years.  I would take him higher than most and am happy to do so.  

5 Players Most Draft People Like More Than I Do

September 5, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers running back Olamide Zaccheaus (33) runs the ball against the defense of UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack (30) during the first half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-226142
Gary A. Vasquez 
September 5, 2015; Pasadena, CA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers running back Olamide Zaccheaus (33) runs the ball against the defense of UCLA Bruins linebacker Myles Jack (30) during the first half at the Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-226142
1.  Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
This doesn't mean I don't like him.  He is a 1st round pick.  I even have him 8th on my list.  But, many trusted colleagues are calling him the best player in this draft, despite not playing a premium 4 position and despite having health issues and despite playing a spot that retires players early for all the wrong reasons.  I like him.  You like him more.  If he turns into Ray Lewis or Luke Kuechly, you win.  
2.  Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Here is another one. I think Elliott is easily the best RB in this draft. But, I also study the draft from a historical perspective and in the last 10 years, RBs taken high are a big mistake. Unless it is Adrian Peterson. So, we are left with the idea that either Elliott is Adrian Peterson - which seems incredibly unlikely because there are almost never Peterson’s in drafts and the idea that he is the best 2016 RB and should not be over-valued. We have learned that RBs have short career spans, are subject to the quality of their offense, and can be found later in the draft. But, then everyone sees Zeke and loses their minds. I refuse to do so. I wouldn’t take him in the Top 10. Save this clip, too.
3.  Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Once upon a time, there was a finesse linebacker from Ohio State named Bobby Carpenter.  I doubt Darron Lee will bust like that, but if he plans on being a NFL linebacker, I would like to think he plans on hitting somebody at some point.  Unfortunately, I haven't seen much of that in his games played in 2015.  He runs like Shazier but hits nothing like him.  Pass.
4.  CJ Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back C.J. Prosise (20) is pursued by Southern California Trojans cornerback Adoree Jackson (2) and defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. 
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back C.J. Prosise (20) is pursued by Southern California Trojans cornerback Adoree Jackson (2) and defensive end Greg Townsend Jr. 
This one makes me a little nervous to put on paper, because I do see the talent and I do think he has a chance to develop.  But, I also think he looks like a WR trying to play RB right now and has no use for the tough paths between the tackles.  So, while this one makes me pause, I am going to say that anything before Round 4 seems like a stretch for me.  
5.  Braxton Miller, WR, Ohio State
Bob, this appears you don’t like the Buckeyes. 3 guys on this list? Well, keep in mind that I love Bosa, Taylor Decker, Michael Thomas, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell is pretty strong, too. There are just a lot of Buckeyes being debated. But, Miller is another raw, toolsy prospect that I think will be over-drafted and over-rated without a real home at the next level. I am sure in the right situation he might be able to figure something out, but the clock ticks fast at the NFL level and I don’t value him near as much as most as he did not crack my Top 10 Wide Receivers in this draft. I have heard some place him much, much higher.
Bonus - 6. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
For me to buy in to a player, I have to see a natural fit to how he will be used.  This player is exciting and makes some wonderful plays, but I just don't see more than a part-time player who comes in on pass rush downs.  It was evident that Georgia wasn't sure what to do with him, so this will be interesting.  If he does go in Round 1, I will assume some team knows exactly how he fits, but it seems it must be in a 3-4.  I don't see it any other way.

Final Draft Big Board - Top 50

After spending the last 100 days preparing for the NFL draft, here is my final big board . Reminder: I am not one of the 32 NFL general managers nor one of the hundreds of NFL scouts. I am a football nerd with the time and inclination to learn as many of these players as possible (about 75) by watching them play college football extensively and talking to people in the sport who know more than me.
Through that, I have attempted to stack these players in a hypothetical order of where I would draft them if I was general manager of the Dallas Cowboys. That means scheme and fit has been considered from that franchise’s perspective, but it also means that I am thinking as if I was in charge (which, of course, differs from Jerry Jones). So, this is not a mock draft or a prediction of order of picks. Rather, it is a ranking that I hope stands up in five years -- which is invariably ridiculous.
Sturm comment
Jalen Ramsey
Florida State
A difference-maker in the secondary who could be your best option at all five defensive back spots.
Jared Goff
Non-issue for Cowboys, but he is my bet for best to become a legitimate franchise QB in 2020.
Joey Bosa
Ohio State
Somewhere along the way, the masses started suggesting Bosa is not a difference-maker I disagree.
Laremy Tunsil
The player who appears to have the least questions to answer, but ideally plays left tackle.
Vernon Hargreaves
In terms of pure cover skills, he appears to be as good or better as Ramsey on an island.
Carson Wentz
North Dakota State
Possibly pushed up because of position scarcity, but he has impressive traits to consider.
Laquon Treadwell
From the standpoint of ceiling, age and ability, this player looks like a real star.
Myles Jack
Another defensive player with a high ceiling, but with his knee injury he could drop further.
Noah Spence
Eastern Kentucky
Get by the various issues off and the field and against the run, he is superb rushing the passer.
Ezekiel Elliott
Ohio State
No question he is the best RB in draft. The issue is whether he is good or generational. I believe the former.
Sheldon Rankins
Of all the inside defensive players, he could best fit Dallas’ needs at 3-technique.
Shaq Lawson
A talented player who can really step right in and be a starter with versatile skills.
Ronnie Stanley
Notre Dame
A distant second place behind Tunsil on the OL, but still has tools to be very solid.
DeForest Buckner
For me, he is best as a 5-tech in a 3-4 defense. Cowboys may disagree and like him for their 4-3.
Paxton Lynch
Difficult to fully analyze and project, but his top performances are impossible to ignore.
Taylor Decker
Ohio State
This guy is just a sliver behind Stanley for me and may actually develop beyond him. He looks great.
Kevin Dodd
All things equal - which they are not - you might prefer him to Lawson. But age and body of work go to Shaq.
Vernon Butler
Louisiana Tech
A man this size should certainly not be this disruptive. But, he might give Rankins a run for best DT.
Jaylon Smith
Notre Dame
Will likely miss 2016 and his medical evaluations mean everything. But, the tape is incredible before injury.
A’Shawn Robinson
Local defensive tackle who certainly has plenty of traits to be an incredible 1-technique run-stopper.
William Jackson
There is little in this fine combination of speed and size that gives one pause. He looks the part.
Andrew Billings
You could make the case that he should be higher. I see a young Vince Wilfork.
Robert Nkemdiche
There is no reason this player with this much talent should be below the top 10\. He could be great.
Jack Conklin
Michigan State
Another capable tackle who went toe-to-toe with several draftable DL and held his own.
Corey Coleman
So athletic, with plenty competitive edge and productive. Should destroy Baylor stereotypes at position.
Jarran Reed
Honestly, A’Shawn and Jarran are very close to each other. I would consider A’Shawn slightly more freakish.
Eli Apple
Ohio State
Big corner who has a chance to develop a bit more into a strong corner on the edge.
Mackensie Alexander
He is aggressive and confident, but you would like to see more than zero interceptions in college.
Derrick Henry
There is no doubt in my mind that Henry, behind Dallas’ zone OL, would fit like a hand in glove.
Jason Spriggs
There is little not to like, although Spriggs is a bit of a projection here. Underrated but interesting.
Michael Thomas
Ohio State
Seems like an absolute third-down machine who can do many things well.
Josh Doctson
Doctson has a chance to be special, but will his build cause issues getting off the line vs. press?
Kenny Clark
Yet another disruptive DT behind the line of scrimmage. Seems to have some versatility.
Karl Joseph
West Virginia
I admit that his knee evaluation is key, but if he checks out he is the second-best safety in 2016.
Emmanuel Ogbah
Oklahoma State
I believe he can really develop into something \impressive. But, there are many doubters.
Darron Lee
Ohio State
A modern-day linebacker in that runs like a DB, but he is no Ryan Shazier as he doesn’t hit much.
Reggie Ragland
No question he brings plenty of thump. I wonder about his range in a league that requires it.
Vonn Bell
Ohio State
A much safer, more conservative, and less physical version of a safety upgrade. Center field candidate.
Conner Cook
Michigan State
I believe he is the fourth-best QB and has a chance to really prove his critics wrong if fit is right.
Ronald Blair
Appalachian State
After Ogbah, this is the next pass-rusher who can move inside or win on the edge.
Xavien Howard
There is a chance here to land a big and fast corner. But, he really lost deep too much at Baylor.
Jonathan Bullard
He certainly looks like he could be a factor inside, although pass rush skills are limited.
Devontae Booker
Those wanting Elliott in first round should hope to grab Booker later. Will his knee help him fall to early third?
Kenneth Dixon
Louisiana Tech
Ball security is a concern, but competitiveness, ability and versatility are certainly not.
Sterling Shepard
I’m willing to ignore the criticisms and believe my gut that he will be a playmaking force for a decade.
Shilique Calhoun
Michigan State
Is undersized for sure, but can be a game-wrecker around the edge at times. Sacks are premium for sure.
Hunter Henry
The only top tight end up top who will struggle with blocking inline, but should find seam routes delightful.
Will Fuller
Notre Dame
A dangerous deep threat who has proven himself, but with small hands and drops has limitations.
Leonard Floyd
A difficult player to figure out, but he has no natural position besides nickel pass-rusher.
Kamalei Correa
Boise State
Not the best scheme fit, but at No. 50 I think Correa is going to impact the league.