Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Morning After - Day 2 - Awuzie and Lewis

BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 13:  Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans is hit by defensive back Chidobe Awuzie #4 of the Colorado Buffaloes while throwing a pass during the third quarter at Folsom Field on November 13, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. The Trojans defeated the Buffaloes 27-24. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 585852631
/Getty Images
BOULDER, CO - NOVEMBER 13: Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans is hit by defensive back Chidobe Awuzie #4 of the Colorado Buffaloes while throwing a pass during the third quarter at Folsom Field on November 13, 2015 in Boulder, Colorado. The Trojans defeated the Buffaloes 27-24. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) ORG XMIT: 585852631
Editor's note: This story first appeared on on April 29, 2017.

The Cowboys gambled on the 2017 NFL Draft on Thursday that the positions they needed would be plentiful enough to offer them exceptional options late in the second and third rounds on Friday.  I believe the evidence indicates they gambled properly and were rewarded for it.
They were able to grab two of the highly coveted corners -- two of my top 12 corners available -- and were able to solidify their secondary nicely with several rounds remaining in the draft.  Seldom does a weekend go according to plan like this one when you pick near the end of each round, but in the 2017 draft, the Cowboys now only have to hope their evaluations are correct.  Because they were able to pretty much sit and grab the highest available at the positions they choose for the top 3 picks.  In other words, for once, the draft supply matched the Cowboys' demand perfectly.  We speculated that this would be a year where that should happen, but the reality is far more important than prior speculation.  Through 100 picks, the Cowboys have been able to say that most everything has fallen as they had hoped. 
On Day 1, it was Taco Charlton who they snagged -- and I wrote about my issues with that decision as well as their thought process -- but, on Day 2, they have added 2 very interesting corners to the mix in Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie and then Michigan's Jourdan Lewis.
The two have some real similarities in that they are deployed near the line of scrimmage to come on blitzes and make plays behind the line of scrimmage with some corner aggressiveness that is not always seen in these parts.  They also will make plays on the ball and make the secondary a bit of an unpleasant place to be. 
Now, they also have some limitations, so please allow me to go back through my reports on both of them and share my findings with you this morning:
Let's start with Awuzie - pick #60:
He is a "line of scrimmage" corner -- slot guy at times -- who is brought on blitzes and dive bomb run plays or WR screens to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on a regular basis as his 26 plays behind the line in the last 2 seasons would indicate.  He has very nice size and speed with a 40 of 4.43 that plays with aggressiveness that is revved all the way up.  It is clear Colorado wanted their flanks to force action into very tight spaces rather than "off and soft" a lot of times.   There are some games where they seem to blitz him over and over again.  In fact, his deployment and his production both put him in a similar class with Jabrill Peppers as a safety who seems to be playing more of a hybrid near the line, but also has some more slot ability than Peppers has shown.
For a player with these types of skills, you would think he would be a candidate to be a corner on the outside, but that seems like a bit of a projection at this juncture based on the tape I have seen.  I don't know if he can follow a top WR around the field because he wasn't asked to do that.  I also want to know about his ability against double moves and play-action because he is so aggressive it seems he is jumping everything which will make him a target on Sundays if he doesn't clean that up.  Also, if converted to safety at the next level, is he merely in the box?  At barely 200 pounds, I think that can work, but you would love to see someone with a bit more size for durability issues.  
Otherwise, there are so many things to like.  I think Awuzie is the type of player I tend to over-value, because I love a player at his size who plays with reckless abandon and aggressiveness.  He will also be a force on coverage teams, too.  This is a very nice football player.
And on to Lewis, the Cowboys pick at #92:
Lewis played every where and would compete at high levels. He has great hips and footwork that allow him to compensate for less than amazing speed and size. He gets his hands on guys and while he flirts with penalties, he manages to cover guys quite well, including the slot. They blitz him and let him return kicks, too. He is a real football player who understands the game quite well.
The issues are what the Combine brings to light. In a group of corners who have ideal size and measurables, Lewis does not have either. He is one of the smaller corners in this group and he is also one of the slower corners at the top of the draft. He is not a real physical option and he will not have the long speed. That said, he should be a fine slot corner. The questions will be how he is used. You will have to decide if you will ignore his college tape and focus on the combine stats, or if you are willing to trust the tape and label him a fine prospect who understands how to play the game. 
For me, Lewis is a very interesting player. You absolutely recognize how useful he is, but in a group of corners who check more boxes, figuring out where his value is appropriate will be the major question.
In both cases, you had to ask what the appropriate value would be on them.  For Awuzie, there was some talk he would squeeze in to Round 1, but I would have never been comfortable with pick #28 on him.  But, 60?  All day.  And for Lewis, I never thought he might go to the end of Round 3, but again, at #92, this is well worth the gamble.
Now, as you saw in both cases, my first instinct was that they are best in the slot.  You also know that my concerns were entering the offseason that I am not sure the Cowboys have corners who can win on the outside against the beasts of the NFL receiving groups -- who definitely now reside in the NFC East.  Awuzie is big enough, but he hasn't spent much time on an island in those situations -- especially in the red zone.  Lewis was hid from that almost completely in the action I studied.  So, is Byron Jones their best matchup on third and goal from the 4 against Brandon Marshall? 
Also, to complicate matters, you had all sorts of noise last night that Orlando Scandrick was on his way out.  It was a confusing story, that some reported Scandrick was being shopped for a third-rounder.  That alone makes the story ridiculous, because much like Romo for a first-rounder, you aren't getting a third-rounder for Scandrick at this point of his career.  He is a useful player, but with his contract and medical history, he is worth more to Dallas than he is in a trade.  Further, you were already at the critical stages of depth at corner, so the confusing idea of moving your one known commodity and making second-year depth guy Anthony Brown your "dean of corners" seemed insane.
It is tough to fully explain what was going on, especially since Scandrick has been repeatedly unhappy about his money during his career, so I am sort of lost on the origin.  Also, maybe he was being shopped for a third because everyone knows that is above his reasonable value and if someone agreed, you would trade him.  But, for me, I need him here (and I don't need $6 million more in dead money) and that should now be that after Jerry Jones rejected the premise in the press conference on Friday night. 
But, you can see the issues here a bit.  Scandrick's best spot is in the slot.  Lewis' best spot is in the slot.  Awuzie has more flexibility, but his best spot could be in the slot.  And Brown?  Perhaps, again, in the slot. 
Basically, they have 6 corners right now -- if you add in Nolan Carroll and Leon McFadden, and none of them are 6-feet tall.  Some play taller and most have very nice wheels, but my desire to get bigger at that spot likely went away when they passed on Kevin King for Taco Charlton and then decided that Cordrea Tankersley may be tall, but he isn't physical enough for their tastes and opted for Awuzie. 
They clearly aren't worried about it and believe they have things in pretty good shape.  They also valued corners who will make plays on the ball and it sure looks like that is improved.
I want to say it again -- I think they had a fantastic Day 2 and should be commended for reading the draft correctly.  Now, they have very few picks on Day 3, but can turn their attention to "best player available" and consider offense or defense and just round out their roster.
If you add Charlton, Awuzie, and Lewis to Charles Tapper and Jaylon Smith, that is 5 new and talented "rookies" who are joining your defense.  You also added Nolan Carroll and Stephen Paea as free agents.  This 2017 defense has a chance to really be better, despite the exodus of some free agents.
They let their veterans walk and wanted to replace them at the draft.  I think they have taken considerable steps in that interesting direction.
Now, they attempt to finish strong with a big Day 3 where the Cowboys have shown us they are quite opportunistic in the undrafted free agency market, as well.   Names from last year's roster who were never drafted beyond Tony Romo?  Barry Church, Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, Lance Dunbar, Ron Leary, Cole Beasely, Jeff Heath, Kevin Smith, La'el Collins, David Irving (via KC), and Lucky Whitehead.  Only Seattle and Green Bay had more of those players on their roster in the NFC last year.  
So, plenty more work can be accomplished today.

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Morning After - Round 1 - Taco Charlton

On the morning of Day 2, it is best to write down as many thoughts as possible on the events of Day 1 before the bullets start flying again. So much happens on an NFL draft weekend that if you don't write several times before it is over, it will all start to blur in your memory: what happened, when it happened, and why.
The event that will be written in the history books is that the Cowboys stayed put at pick No. 28 and took Taco Charlton, the big defensive end from Michigan. They were able to secure one of the biggest and most menacing defensive ends in the draft, and a guy who certainly looks the part of a real big presence.
They did indicate after the fact that they did not have a first-round grade on him and left someone on the board who did. We believe that is Kevin King (edit, 10:30 a.m.: I now believe that this is not correct. According to sources, the remaining first-rounder was not at a position that fit the needs), the cornerback from Washington, which does make you wonder about following the board, but you can also understand their position that they considered how Round 2 would play out when making their first pick.
This basically means they thought carefully about wanting to get one edge rusher and one defensive back with their two premium picks and tried to reverse engineer things to see what had the best odds of being there at No. 60. They correctly (in my estimation) ran the numbers and found that the defensive ends who had a chance to be special were in much shorter supply than those corners and safeties. This is true every year, as the Lord made many more athletic marvels at 205 pounds than he did at 275. So, if you want one of the big boys, you better get in there when your chance is presented.
Anyone who follows this blog knows I was a bit nonplussed with Charlton as it pertains to finding a guy who would be a routine menace in collapsing the pocket, smashing quarterbacks and sack totals. I don't think he is a right-side defensive end who can duel with NFL left tackles. I don't see the explosion on his tape, nor in his combine workouts, that is required on Sundays. I don't see a high-end sack guy, and I have said that now for two months or so.
But I do see a very useful part to a defensive rotation. There is no doubt he can help them plenty and there is no doubt he has room to grow. There is also no doubt that Rod Marinelli has a real reputation for making George Selvie and David Irving remarkably better players than they were when they arrived. If he can do that with them, I would love to see what he can do with Charlton. Because I think Charlton is only scratching the surface of what he could be. He battles his tail off and has a real size element to him that is rare and potentially special.
I have been asked quite a few times what I would have done at No. 28, and this "Morning After" blog always serves as a historical record, so in 10 years, when Charlton is continuing his Hall of Fame career, you can point to this and have a laugh at me. I would not have taken him, because I don't think he is the edge pass rusher that you so desire. He has a chance, but this isn't about the either/or that he is either a great player or a horrible one. The draft is about getting the best decisions down at the right moment. It is not a deal in absolutes. It is about a series of "A" or "B" decisions and trying to improve your team as much as you possibly can. I will say that I thought they already had his type, in David Irving, and I prefer Irving as present commodities. They must think he can be better or they can play together.
So, let's go back and discuss a few of the other names the Cowboys might have left with, too, and how it all relates back to their big defensive end, Taco Charlton:
ADOREE' JACKSON: Tennessee took him at 18, which matched up with my information from yesterday that indicated the Cowboys were very likely grabbing him if he was on the board. The mood changed over the weeks in the buildup to the draft and it turned from locking in on him to fearing there was no way he would get to them. He was someone they really admired and were not willing to pay a second to go get him, most likely, but really thought he was the best guy who had a chance of getting to them.
CHARLES HARRIS: I am less certain of my information on Harris and the Cowboys' interest level, but he does have a fair amount of supporters at The Star, and he went off the board to Miami at 22, so scratch him off their list.
GAREON CONLEY: Taken at 24 by Oakland, there was growing belief that Dallas really liked him as well and he also might have been the guy if he slid a bit further. For obvious reasons (last year), the Cowboys have plenty of intelligence in Columbus, Ohio, and felt good about his current mess and think he was a real strong corner.
TAKK McKINLEY: This is the very interesting one. Once he got to 26, the hopes started rising because it seemed pretty safe the Seahawks were going with offensive line. Buffalo would take a corner at 27, then you could have McKinley and dance the night away. I have it on pretty good authority that they liked him slightly better than Charlton, but now it doesn't matter. Atlanta dove in front and took the best edge rusher left right off their plate. The Falcons and Seahawks have quite a relationship between Dan Quinn and Pete Carroll and friends, and according to this report, they had this trade in place long before the draft. Atlanta knew it had to jump Dallas, Green Bay and Pittsburgh to get McKinley, and they pulled the trigger by sending pick No. 31 and their third- and seventh-rounders to go get their guy. Hat tip to the always-aggressive Atlanta Falcons.
That is when the Cowboys went on the clock, after Buffalo took Tre'Davious White from LSU, leaving Charlton, T.J. Watt and Kevin King as their principal considerations.
From there, we can put the pieces together pretty easily. They just didn't like Watt's knee history and odd fit in a 4-3 defense. He is a perfect fit with Pittsburgh as a fall-back to McKinley (we guess) and Green Bay apparently locked in on a corner and decided to move back, letting Cleveland move up for its second and fourth-rounders. 
I can't tell you for sure if I would have taken Kevin King or T.J. Watt over Taco Charlton, because I would have taken both.
KEVIN KING: For King, he plays at 6-foot-3 and would be a great weapon at corner to lock up at the goal line with the beasts at wide receiver in this division and conference. He was a first-rounder and at a position of massive need. They are comfortable seeing what pick No. 60 brings them, but I would have looked at the defensive end group and taken my best corner available.
They did not, and they make the decisions around here. Not only that, but they have quite a winning streak in Round 1 going, so we give them the benefit of the doubt to make it work.
I had no problem with Watt, but I also do not know the results of their medical testing, and Jerry pontificated three things about Charlton that stuck out for him:
1. Charlton can play all three downs, and that is very important to them.
2. Charlton can play right defensive end, left defensive end and defensive tackle. I agree that he has positional flexibility and that helps considerably. I am not sure it would decide the pick, but they value it a lot.
3. Charlton has no real medical history of note at all -- McKinley and Watt do.
T.J. WATT: Watt would have a weird fit on first down, but since the Cowboys are in nickel 70-plus percent of the time these days, I don't have a problem with a smaller edge rusher. Especially since the sack leaders every year are guys between 250-265 pounds, not 275-290. Of the top 12 pass rushers last year, how many weighed more than 265? Zero.
Watt does not have flex. He had one spot -- pass-down defensive end -- in this scheme. Not ideal. But, again, he fit the profile of a legit edge rusher.
And yes, Watt has a history of knee injuries. He is healthy now, but I understand the reluctance when you look into 2014 and 2015.
There are seven corners or so who I would feel great about at pick No. 60, and another handful of safeties, too. If they can get one of them, this will look like a very solid draft in terms of staying there and plugging a hole.
I don't know that Charlton fits the ideal profile of what many of us were looking for: A guy who could dip and bend and use speed to power around the edge to threaten the passer, like those 12 sack leaders. He isn't that.
But Charlton is a very solid prospect who I liked at the right price. Just because I liked a few other players more doesn't mean he didn't instantly improve their defensive front.
I think he needs to play stronger. He is large, yet there are plays when it doesn't appear he knows it. But he has room to grow and develop. His profile is close to some amazing big men, but also similar to a bunch of guys who looked like Tarzan and played more like Jane in the NFL. So, time will tell. But there aren't many humans his size with his talent. Now, it is up the Cowboys to make it fit and work.

Here was my write-up on Charlton from February:
POSITIVES: Charlton has size that makes him a focal point of the defense and battles his tail off from the snap on. He bulls through traffic and makes himself at home in the backfield on a regular basis. He comes up big in big games. He has an impressive get-off as well and really has a skill set that offers plenty to like. I really love his traditional skill set in terms of looking how defensive ends always did. He can carry 280 pounds and play a style that will hold up well on the edge in terms of crashing a pocket with brute strength. I really like his compete level and his bull rush. He was getting a lot of clean runs at quarterbacks, which is a credit to Jim Harbaugh's scheme up there.
CONCERNS: The biggest concern about a player like Charlton is simply his short-space quickness and ability to change direction. This is a very fast league with very athletic tackles, and while Charlton is impressive for sure, the reason you may prefer someone with a bit more fluidity to their game is that it seems like they are generally the high-production players on Sundays. He moves well on rails, but if you ask him to circle and change directions quickly, he appears to lack those hips, comparatively speaking. You get a bit concerned when a player is this young and looks that way, because it seldom improves with age in the trenches.
-- There is no question he is a fine prospect, but you have to put the proper value on him.
The Cowboys took him over a first round-graded player on their own board and some corners they really liked. Whether he was a better pick than a solid corner may never be fully determined. They saw their guy and they have made a sizable bet on a sizable man in Taco Charlton because they think the next 28 picks will break right for them. A gamble, for sure. But a reasonable one on the surface.
And now, we see how Day 2 can complement their Day 1 decision-making process.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bag of Footballs - April 24 - Big Board and final draft thoughts

It is here.  Draft week.  
The week that determines so much in this league.  Perhaps not always in Week 1 of Year 1 of a draft, but there is no question the team that finds the players who work for cheap in this week of every year are at a distinct advantage over the competition.  Do it often enough and your roster becomes strong or remains strong for another several years.
Things change very fast in this league, but there is little doubt that the "four-year conveyor belt of talent" is the great equalizer in how teams can rise up and overtake their rivals.  We dispute this when we obsess about the league being QB vs. QB, but those who study the game know that a simplistic view such as that is too basic and just absurd.  The game is won with roster depth and talent that provides strengths and hides weaknesses.  Top heavy rosters get exposed.  As do substandard positions with the starters.   
To fortify the rosters, you need more than one player or one round.  You need to hit and hit again and continue to add 22-year-olds to take over from the 32-year-olds.  Build margins for error and cover for star players who have health issues or salary cap situations that have not been managed well.  
In this space, we value the draft enough to get started the day the regular season expires.  It requires three months of attention, but it is finally here.  A new crop of young players to populate the league and determine the course for the next several seasons.  
So, today's objective is to give you some idea of what I think about the 55 players I have spent a few hours each on and to construct some level of a big board for those who really like those types of things.  
Now, this is possibly the oddest "big board" you will see all day.  This is not a mock draft.  This is not a thorough look at the entire draft.  I did not spend any time on wide receivers, tight ends, or offensive linemen.  None.  There are none of those on my board, yet we know that there will likely be about 10 of those in the first round alone.  So, my 32nd player is probably close to the 45th player in the draft.  I wish my staff was bigger than just me and I didn't try to cover seven sports, but I do.  So, I had time for 11 weeks and five players per week.  So, we did 45 defensive players, five running backs, and five quarterbacks.  
It doesn't make a ton of sense, but it is what will have to suffice for my 2017 NFL draft effort.  
Now, with that said, this is the type of ranking list that people will want for historical purposes.  Any of us who like to evaluate prospects -- even with only a few hours on each player -- like to take stabs in the dark and see if we can pick out any future stars.
So, the following observations are not a mock draft, nor something you should use against me in six months.  Rather, the hope here is to offer some thoughts on how I see this all in 2019 or 2020.  Who are the real players in the NFL from that 2017 draft?  What did you think at the time, Bob?  
Well, here we go:
This category is pretty self explanatory.  These are the 10 players who I think will be the best 10 players in this draft a few years down the road.  This will certainly be amusing to read in 36 months when two of these guys are no longer in football, right?
  1. Myles Garrett - DE - Texas A&M  - He is fantastic and will not disappoint.
  2. Jamal Adams - S - LSU - Just a phenomenal talent.
  3. Solomon Thomas - DT - Stanford - Scheme fit will really help.  3-technique!
  4. Malik Hooker - S - Ohio State - Should be a fun ball hawk.
  5. Jonathan Allen - DT - Alabama - Only slightly less sold on him than Thomas.
  6. Marshon Lattimore - CB - Ohio State - Of all the corners, this is the best one.
  7. Leonard Fournette - RB - LSU - Health makes me nervous, but so much potential.
  8. Derek Barnett - DE - Tennessee - This dude would be the best DE most years.
  9. Joe Mixon - RB - Oklahoma - I know, I know.  But, I think his best is ahead.
  10. Haason Reddick - LB - Temple - His fit will be vital, needs creative defensive coach.
OK, let's keep this party going.
This category is quite subjective, but I try to see what "Draft Twitter" or the famous draft people think and see if I agree or disagree with them.  So, these are the guys -- in no particular order -- I think I like more than your average smart draft guy:
Tra'Davious White - CB - LSU - I have no idea why his hype is so low.  Love his profile.
Jabrill Peppers - S - Michigan - Most controversial prospect in draft (in on-the-field terms).  I love him.  Think he will be a difference-making stud for a while.
Tim Williams - DE - Alabama - This one is a risk, but if you just put on the tape, he looks like 10 sacks a year.  But, there is considerable baggage to consider.  I take that chance for 10 sack upside.
Teez Tabor - CB - Florida - I don't like bad 40-times, either.  But, his tape says he can handle things on the corner.  I believe in his skills.  
Desmond King - DB - Iowa - Again, I am not worried about the 40, I am worried about the football skills and Desmond King is a player.
Sydney Jones - CB - Washington - Yes, I know.  Redshirt year and Achilles projection.  But, he might be my favorite corner in the whole draft.  Hope he recovers.
Chidobe Awuzie - CB - Colorado - A player who seems to offer all sorts of flex and splash ability.
Budda Baker - S - Washington - Geez, a lot of Huskies on this list.  He is so small, but at that size he made such an impact that I will trust it and gamble on him.
Derek Rivers - DE - Youngstown State - He looks like a real edge presence and there is a price to grab him.
Tarrell Basham - DE - Ohio - Yes, it is a projection pick.  But, I love his ability moving forward.
Again, another subjective category, but I am not positive I see what everyone seems to see in this list of 10 names after spending three games on these guys.  Still nice players and all, but I think they must see something I don't totally see.  Again, no particular order here:
Obi Melifonwu - Safety - UConn - I have a code on safeties that they must be more physical than corners.  Despite his size, I don't see that.  
DeShone Kizer - QB - Notre Dame - Maybe I am wrong, but I don't think his CPU moves at the speed required to be a strong decision maker at the NFL level.  His tone isn't helping, either.  
Gareon Conley - CB - Ohio State - No doubt a talent, but I must be missing the first-round ability.
Taco Charlton - DE - Michigan - This one makes me nervous.  But, I think he lacks the athleticism to be elite on Sundays.  
Ryan Anderson - DE - Alabama - He seems to benefit a lot from his environment.  He won't enjoy that benefit at next level.  
Jarrad Davis - LB - Florida - Tremendous college talent that might lack the wheels on Sundays. 
Justin Evans - S - Texas A&M - I wish I thought he could tackle someone.  Might be more of a corner at next level, because he can really play the pass.
Quincy Wilson - CB - Florida - He definitely has use, but he is down my corner rankings several names.
Tyus Bowser - DE - Houston - Again, I like him.  I'm not sure I like him like you guys seem to like him at those prices.
Fabian Moreau - CB - UCLA - The combination of age and health have me pushing him down several spots on my corner rankings.  But, still easily a top 60 player.  
This is simple -- what am I hoping for on Thursday night when the Cowboys are on the clock.  Hypothetically, you would take the highest player available from this list -- assuming Derek Barnett or someone way up there doesn't fall in your lap:
  1. Takk McKinley - DE - UCLA - of all the players in the range, this is the one I am most sold upon being a real stud on the edge.
  2. TJ Watt - DE - Wisconsin - He is down a level and I do not know about his knee situation, but I think he has a very high ceiling.  I would be thrilled with him, too.
  3. Kevin King - CB - Washington - He is ranked higher, but I do take the edge over the corner.  This is my favorite corner that has a chance.
  4. Tra'Davious White - CB - LSU - Again, don't be scared of a corner from LSU.  Claiborne is no more a comp than Pat Peterson.  White can really do it all.
  5. Tyus Bowser - DE - Houston - I like him.  I just would argue that there are too many unknown components if the other 4 are alive.  If they are gone, let's figure out how to use his quality skills.
And last but not least, here are the 55 players as I ranked them over the weekend.  Again, there are no TE, WR, or OL in here at all.  I really heavily weighed the defense in this draft.  Go easy on me.  I just want to hit .330 like Tony Gwynn:

Friday, April 21, 2017


FILE - This Nov. 5, 2016, file photo shows Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes passing the ball during an NCAA college football game in Lubbock, Texas. Dynamic playmaker and athlete, who needs to be reined in a bit. The postseason draft process was good to Mahomes, who could squeeze into the first round.(Brad Tollefson/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal via AP, File)
FILE - This Nov. 5, 2016, file photo shows Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes passing the ball during an NCAA college football game in Lubbock, Texas. Dynamic playmaker and athlete, who needs to be reined in a bit. The postseason draft process was good to Mahomes, who could squeeze into the first round.(Brad Tollefson/Lubbock Avalanche-Journal via AP, File)

Sturm's NFL draft digest - Week 11

Today is the last time we can meet like this on a Friday morning before the 2017 NFL draft and profile some of the prospects who will be chosen. I completed a very non-round number of 55 profiles over 11 weeks and got to as many as time would allow between the Cowboys' final (only) playoff game and the draft. We did our best.

Even though the plan was to get as far as we could on defensive prospects, the past two weeks were about getting some thoughts down on the high-profile running backs (week 10) and quarterbacks (below). History will judge a draft often on what sort of top-caliber QBs it produces, so let's make sure we summarize the 2017 group.
On the surface, it looks pretty sparse. There are guys who arrive at the draft who seem destined to be star QBs for the next 15 years, and to be honest, 2017 isn't one of those. That isn't to say that this draft won't supply the next Manning or Brady, but on the surface, this group is not dripping with marquee qualities.
But hype leading to the draft is not a real important component on what makes a QB. Substance is the only factor, and there appears to be some real chances for substance here. Unlike other players at other positions, we don't have to ask if a QB is a "first-rounder" or not. If he is a QB and he is better than others in the group, then he is going to get pushed up the board. There are many teams in the NFL that are "a QB away from being twice as good," and those teams will always take a shot if a player is the best of the available bunch.
So everyone gets pushed up the board at this position. Are there any first-round QBs in this draft? Not really. Will four go in the first round? Most likely.
And here is why, if you don't take a QB in the top 40 picks, you are essentially down to a 1-in-25 chance of finding a starter. Which is why it is maddening to go on and on about "who is this year's Dak Prescott?" Odds are there isn't one. Not this year. Not next year. If Prescott can repeat what he did in 2016, then he will be in the 3-4 percent of QBs taken after pick No. 40 who turned into anything. If he wins a championship, he will then rise to the 1 percent of QBs who won it all and were missed on draft day in the first 100 picks.
In other words, there isn't a Dak Prescott in this draft, most likely. Or a Russell Wilson. Or a Tom Brady. When those names are continuously brought up, nobody points out that during that stretch, 158 other QBs were taken after pick 40. Of those, the best QB of the entire bunch never got to 50 career wins. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Schaub and Marc Bulger got close. Here is a list of QBs, starting in 2012, who still have a chance to do something. Kirk Cousins is certainly in that mix.
I cut the list off at 28 for room, but there are actually another 19 more, making it 47 QBs taken after pick 40 since 2012. And the collective sum total of all of them pretty much is Russell Wilson, Cousins and Prescott. Otherwise, a bunch of unlikely possibilities.
And that is why, if anyone has a chance at a ceiling higher than your knees, we overdraft him. I highly doubt all five of these guys go in the top 40, but four of them probably will. Not because they will be great, but because they have a chance. And that is how QBs get overdrafted every year.


Patrick Mahomes II

QB - Texas Tech - #5 - Junior
6-foot-2 - 225 - 4.80 speed
Two-year stats: 25 starts - 752 of 1164 for 9,706 yards - 64.6 completion percentage - 77 TD/25 INT - 262 runs for 741 yards - 22 rushing TDs
Mahomes is one of the most interesting prospects in this draft and only needs one team to think he is a potential winning lottery ticket. His ceiling seems quite high.
POSITIVES:  When you watch Patrick Mahomes play football, you are certainly taken with his immense arm and his confidence in his ability to make something out of nothing.  He can throw the ball a mile and on a rope.  He can wiggle out of jams and keep a play alive where he certainly can make magic.  He reminds people of Brett Favre, which seems ridiculous until you see one of his crazy improv plays and hair-trigger decisions that sometimes go well (see concerns, below). He is elusive when he keeps the ball and does a nice job of finding the sticks.  He has irrational confidence in his ability to fire the ball out of trouble to a touchdown.  His deep shots might be his best attribute.  He has very impressive escapability and also can throw the ball off balance and against his body.  He appears to have the full attention of his huddle and his team.   They want to see him lead them.  As tough as can be.  He keeps getting up for more punishment.
CONCERNS:  He thinks every idea is a good idea, which will require a coach that thinks similarly. There are many coaches who want play-making QBs, but do not want the collateral damage of hair-trigger decisions that go the other way.  Mahomes puts the ball in the wrong place pretty often, and this is a concern, not because turnovers are always his fault, but because he generates them by passing up a small gain as he continuously hunts for the bigger gains.   Sometimes, his eye-level drops to try to see pass rushers, which causes him to lose sight of receivers.  And yes, he plays in a Texas Tech program that does not have a play-book, huddle, or structure that makes NFL people comfortable.  He has tools, but will also be seen as quite a project where they attempt to find if he can fit in the complex classroom of the NFL offense.  
Overall, he seems like someone teams hope to harness the downside to pursue the improv genius.

Mitchell Trubisky

QB - North Caroline - #10 - RS Junior
6-2 - 222 - 4.67 speed
Two-year stats: 13 starts - 344 of 493 for 4,273 yards - 69.7 percent - 36 TD/6 INT - 409 yards rushing - 5 rushing TDs
Trubisky burst on to the scene for only one season, but it turned plenty of heads and may put him in the first hour of the draft.
POSITIVES:  For a guy who waited 3 years for his chance, he was pretty polished when he got his chance.  He has good size and movement in the pocket and can roll out and throw on the run with accuracy.  He gets the ball out quick where it needs to go in today's quick RPO offensive structures.  He seems content in marching a team by taking what is given by coverages and seeing the field.  He is calm in intense situations and led his team to late drives on several occasions and in hostile settings.  He can throw off balance with tremendous velocity and can make all of the NFL throws that you wish for.  He seems to be comfortable in the face of blitzes and can make quick reads to get the ball out.
CONCERNS:  The biggest concern is not having just a whole lot to go on before 2016, so you are curious how a guy performs when a book is out on him.  The book is really small at this point and there is a sample size issue in his evaluation.  That said, he threw 446 passes this season and put a nice reel together.  He will sometimes lock on to one guy which can be dangerous.  He will often times neglect his mechanics to throw off balance which certainly doesn't help the ball placement.  His game against Virginia Tech was in the rain and it looked uncomfortable all day throwing the wet ball.  That day included some poor body language which you prefer to not see from your QB.  Like so many prospects, he has almost no under-center snaps.  
Overall, in a season without any top-tier QBs, I can see why many have him listed as QB1 or close to it.  He seems to be able to do what is needed on Sundays.

Deshaun Watson

QB - Clemson - #4 - Junior
6-2 - 221 - 4.66 speed
Past two years: 30 starts - 721 of 1,070 for 8,697 yards - 67.3% - 76TD/30INT - 1,734 yards rushing - 21 rushing TDs
Watson is one who needs no introduction as a player who either did or should have won every award while leading Clemson to two amazing seasons that culminated with the national title.
POSITIVES:  If you have watched any college football in the last two seasons, chances are you have seen Watson play against the best competition and do so very well.  He has beaten everyone and he does so with an ability to make throws all over the field that are difficult to defend and then using his feet with RB type ability on the edge.  He diagnosis blitzes well and throws very nice seam throws and slants.  He can fit the ball in tight spaces and has off-the-charts field general characteristics.  He also seems to have a great head on his shoulders off the field and that scores quite well.  He is calm in big game settings and confident he can beat whatever you throw at him.  He delivers the ball on time and excels at the 2nd phase of the play when you defy the Xs and Os.   He makes you leave a QB spy on him, which helps his coverage reads with fewer defenders available.  
CONCERNS:  He lacks the gun of Mahomes or Trubisky to the outside, and sometimes can get baited by coverages into throwing the ball into harm's way.  He is another high risk QB who is willing to break a few eggs to make an omelette in the sense that he knows he needs to score 35-40 points to win, and it might require a INT or two to get that done.  He loves to use his feet, but like Robert Griffin III, he might not have the frame to handle the beating and already, like Griffin, enters the league with prior ACL history.   He takes chances and risks the ball without the biggest gun in the league, so these are issues that a team will have to accept.  But, it never kept him from dealing with everything college football could throw at him, including Nick Saban's best.
Watson is up on Tier 1 for me with Trubisky and above the others at this point.  

DeShone Kizer

QB - Notre Dame- #14 - RS Sophomore
6-4 - 233 - 4.83 speed
Two-year stats: 23 Starts - 423 of 696 for 5,809 - 60.8 percent - 47 TD/19 INT - 992 rushing yards - 18 rushing TDs
Kizer has all of the potential to be special, but his 2016 regressed enough to make many skeptical.
POSITIVES: There is no question that people are looking for their Cam Newton/Dak Prescott/Jameis Winston type.  In this dual-threat QB world, you want someone who is able to make the throws and able to keep the ball and sturdy enough not to succumb to contact or injury while being able to shrug off a linebacker and still stand tall and make the throw.  On his day, Kizer can do all of these things and look the part.  If you simply took his highlight film of his top moments, you can make the case that Kizer is your #1 pick in the entire draft.  He is so big and strong and on a QB draw looks powerful and able to move the chains.  When he throws, he does not lack for strength and even on the run can make it look easy.  His double moves on a pump and go can make corners look silly.  He moves well and gets out of jams.  He really can do it all.
CONCERNS: After that glowing review, there must be a real question about what the issues with Kizer could be.  The differences between someone like Kizer and Prescott comes down to between the ears for me.  Kizer simply has poor processing in the moment of truth and makes some inexcusable mistakes that cannot be characterized as anything other than carelessness with the football.  Now, let's be clear: every young QB has a tough time deciding on the run when to not even try the throw.  They all can be more careful, while trying to make plays.  But Kizer's panic throws are too much for me.  His accuracy is all over the place, and I just don't trust his decision making.  I realize his ceiling is very high, but I also would suggest his floor is quite low.  He will have to harness this massive issue that is a real deal breaker for me.  If someone can do it, they will have something.  Because on the run, the man is very impressive.  And his arm is strong.  I just don't know that he knows where it is going.
In the end, Kizer has a chance and someone will take it.  I am just not willing to get involved.

Nathan Peterman

QB - Pittsburgh - #4 - RS Senior
6-2 - 226 - 4.82 speed
Peterman is certainly not in the same class of ceiling types as the names above, but many suggest he is the best of the rest.
POSITIVES: He appears to be the only guy in this conversation with a real handle on the play-action game from under center that so many teams desire.  Pitt ran a pro-style offense with him going through the play-action bootleg game that is so often employed (Dallas loves it) and runs it very well.  He knows where his reads are going to be and goes down them like a checklist.  He is very solid and seems like someone you could plug and play to run your offense the way you wish to run it.  He waited his turn and transferred from Tennessee to Pittsburgh to get his chance and then put 2 years of tape up that looked pretty effective.  And before we call him a bus driver, let's also note the jaw-dropping 9.3 yards per attempt.  He makes things look simple, but they still are very productive.  He is a feisty competitor who will compete for you.   He is a graduate who is married, so he is certainly settled down in his personal life.  
CONCERNS: The biggest is pretty easy.  He lacks the big NFL starter's arm.  When he throws deep, he has to put air under it and this allows DBs to close in at that level.  He looks like he is making rather predetermined decisions that certainly limit your ability to take advantage of busts that make themselves available over the course of the play.   Too many of his throws bring defenders into the play and the ball gets tipped.  His margins for error are significantly smaller than the others in this study, so he has to really be sharp to be great on Sundays.  He had some real fumble issues in 2016 with seven.  
Overall, he is likely the first of those you would look at as a candidate to be a long-term backup.  


So, as you can see, we have had better QB crops, but there are still some interesting names to know. At the same time, this also tells us that the NFL is always looking for solutions to the fact that half the league doesn't think they have "their guy." The search continues to find the next one who can hold down the position and compete for postseasons and trophies.
Rare finds, indeed