1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Roderick Johnson
3. Julie’n Davenport
4. Cooper Kupp
5. Forrest Lamp
1. Caleb Brantley
2. Tanoh Kpassagnon
3. Raekwon McMillen
4. Anthony Walker
5. Carl Lawson
1. Patrick Mahomes
2. Roderick Johnson
3. Julie’n Davenport
4. Cooper Kupp
5. Forrest Lamp
1. Caleb Brantley
2. Tanoh Kpassagnon
3. Raekwon McMillen
4. Anthony Walker
5. Carl Lawson
This article’s headline could be fashioned any number of ways, such as: (i) “prospects currently being underrated by media pundits”; (ii) “future pro bowlers most likely to fall in the draft” or (iii) “The Potential Dak Prescott’s Of The 2017 NFL Draft.” All this pokes at the simple fact that the draft scouting (and complimentary media analyst) industry is highly susceptible to group think. Evaluating prospects is an “art” (with plenty of room for input from objective data (i.e. “science”)) premised on subjective assessments of traits and projections of potential. In other words, the scouting process requires collective individuals to rely on their knowledge, training, experience and intuition to competently and confidently forecast the respective value and risk of each available prospect.
This process is inherently unknowable and inexact. Even the best evaluators employing the best methods are liable to “miss” on certain prospects. Rightly or wrongly, misses in an evaluator’s portfolio are excusable (or inexcusable) to varying degrees–depending on industry and media consensus at the time and hindsight. Accordingly, in any such industry, the natural desire to avoid “unacceptable” misses invites inclinations to manage one’s own reputation, succumb to recency bias, and adhere to group-think/affirmation regarding prospects that (for various reasons) present the most unconventional and/or debatable profiles. Such inclinations are liable to become insidious influences that can pervert (otherwise sound) judgements of respective value and risk and spur unreasonable inflations or depressions in comparable draft stocks.
In my opinion, the following offensive and defensive prospects are being underrated by media analysts, generally. In many cases, these players have pro bowl potential but are not regarded as such because of some overriding weakness they think they’ve identified.
1. DeShone Kizer
2. Juju Smith-Schuster
3. Cole Hikutini
4. Curtis Samuel
5. Marlon Mack
6. Adam Shaheen
7. Chad Hansen
8. Ethan Pocic
9. Chris Godwin
10. Zach Banner
1. Jabrill Peppers
2. Zach Cunningham
3. Jarron Jones
4. Damontae Kazee
5. Marcus Williams
6. Ahkello Witherspoon
7. Cam Sutton
8. Desmond King
9. Nazair Jones
10. Deatrich Wise Jr.
|1||Cleveland||Myles Garrett||EDGE||Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco||Mitch Trubisky||QB||UNC|
|6||NY Jets||Deshaun Watson||QB||Clemson|
|7||LA Chargers||Jamal Adams||S||LSU|
|8||Carolina||Dalvin Cook||RB||Florida St|
|10||Buffalo||DeShone Kizer||QB||Notre Dame|
|11||New Orleans||Marshon Lattimore||CB||Ohio St|
|17||Washington||Malik Hooker||S||Ohio St|
|19||Tampa Bay||Corey Davis||WR||Western Michigan|
|23||NY Giants||David Njoku||TE||Miami|
|25||Houston||Malik McDowell||DL||Michigan St|
|26||Seattle||Forrest Lamp||OG||Western Kentucky|
|27||Kansas City||Teez Tabor||CB||Florida|
|29||Green Bay||Gareon Conley||CB||Ohio St|
|32||New England||Bucky Hodges||TE||Virginia Tech|
|34||San Francisco||John Ross||WR||Washington|
|37||LA Rams||Jordan Leggett||TE||Clemson|
|38||LA Chargers||Garrett Bolles||OT||Utah|
|39||NY Jets||Budda Baker||S||Washington|
|40||Carolina||DeMarcus Walker||EDGE||Florida St|
|42||New Orleans||Jordan Willis||EDGE||Kansas St|
|43||Philadelphia||Zay Jones||WR||East Carolina|
|47||Baltimore||Curtis Samuel||WR||Ohio St|
|49||Washington||Jarron Jones||DL||Notre Dame|
|50||Tampa Bay||Christian McCaffrey||RB||Stanford|
|55||NY Giants||D’Onta Foreman||RB||Texas|
|59||Kansas City||Raekwon McMillen||LB||Ohio St|
|61||Green Bay||Ryan Anderson||EDGE||Alabama|
|62||Pittsburgh||Cooper Kupp||WR||Eastern Washington|
|64||New England||Carlos Watkins||DL||Clemson|
|66||San Francisco||Jaleel Johnson||DL||Iowa|
|70||NY Jets||Carl Lawson||EDGE||Auburn|
|71||LA Chargers||Elijah Qualls||DL||Washington|
|72||Carolina||Roderick Johnson||OT||Florida St|
|74||Philadelphia||Marlon Mack||RB||South Florida|
|76||New Orleans||Devonte Fields||EDGE||Louisville|
|80||Minnesota||Taylor Moton||OG||Western Michigan|
|82||Denver||Pat Elfein||OG||Ohio St|
|84||Tampa Bay||Adoree Jackson||CB||USC|
|85||Detroit||Carlos Henderson||WR||LA Tech|
|87||NY Giants||Dawuane Smoot||EDGE||Illinois|
|88||Oakland||Gerald Everett||TE||South Alabama|
|91||Kansas City||Samaje Perine||RB||Oklahoma|
|93||Green Bay||Kareem Hunt||RB||Toledo|
|94||Pittsburgh||Patrick Mahomes||QB||Texas Tech|
|96||New England||Joe Mixon||RB||Oklahoma|
|98||San Francisco||Rasul Douglas||CB||West Virginia|
|101||LA Rams||Ahkello Witherspoon||CB||Colorado|
|102||LA Chargers||Carroll Phillips||EDGE||Illinois|
|106||Chicago||Isaiah Ford||WR||Virginia Tech|
|107||New Orleans||Elijah Lee||LB||Kansas St|
|110||Indianapolis||Justin Evans||S||Texas A&M|
|113||Washington||Chris Godwin||WR||Penn St|
|115||Tampa Bay||Larry Ogunjobi||DL||Charlotte|
|119||Oakland||Damontrae Kazee||CB||San Diego St|
|121||New England||Trey Hendrickson||EDGE|
|122||Kansas City||Nico Siragusa||OG||San Diego St|
|124||Green Bay||Joe Mathis||EDGE||Washington|
|127||New England||Josh Harvey-Clemons||S||Louisville|
|128||NY Giants||Daeshon Hall||EDGE||Texas A&M|
|130||San Francisco||Jeremy McNichols||RB||Boise St|
|133||LA Rams||Danny Isadora||OG||Miami|
|134||NY Jets||Howard Wilson||CB||Houston|
|135||LA Chargers||Antonio Pipkin||QB||Tiffin|
|137||Cincinnati||Avery Gennesy||OG||Texas A&M|
|138||Washington||Josh Reynolds||WR||Texas A&M|
|139||Philadelphia||Garrett Sickels||EDGE||Penn St|
|141||Arizona||Jerod Evans||QB||Virginia Tech|
|142||Minnesota||Tyler Orlosky||C||West Virginia|
|143||Baltimore||Anthony Walker Jr.||LB||Northwestern|
|146||Tampa Bay||Duke Riley||LB||LSU|
|147||New England||Deatrich Wise Jr.||EDGE||Arkansas|
|149||Detroit||Vincent Taylor||DT||Oklahoma St|
|151||NY Giants||Justin Senior||OT||Mississippi St|
|155||Kansas City||Eddie Jackson||S||Alabama|
|157||Green Bay||Isaac Rochell||DL||Notre Dame|
|158||Pittsburgh||Montae Nicholson||S||Michigan St|
|159||Atlanta||Derek Rivers||EDGE||Youngstown St|
|161||Cleveland||Taywan Taylor||WR||Western Kentucky|
|162||San Francisco||Dion Dawkins||OG||Temple|
|165||LA Rams||Tedric Thompson||S||Colorado|
|166||LA Chargers||Travis Rudolph||WR||Florida St|
|167||NY Jets||Channing Stribling||CB||Michigan|
|172||New Orleans||Donnel Pumphrey||RB||San Diego St|
|173||Arizona||Josh Jones||S||NC State|
|176||Minnesota||Marquel Lee||LB||Wake Forrest|
|178||San Francisco||Ejuan Price||EDGE||Pittsburgh|
|180||Tampa Bay||Marquez White||CB||Florida St|
|183||NY Giants||Will Holden||OT||Vanderbilt|
|187||Kansas City||Alex Torgersen||QB||Princeton|
|189||Green Bay||Jonnu Smith||TE||Florida Atlantic|
|190||Pittsburgh||Matthew Dayes||RB||NC State|
|191||Atlanta||John Johnson||S||Boston College|
|193||San Francisco||Josh Carraway||EDGE||TCU|
|194||San Francisco||Nate Andrews||C||Oregon St|
|195||Chicago||Trent Taylor||WR||LA Tech|
|197||LA Rams||Sean Harlow||OG||Oregon St|
|198||NY Jets||Blake Jarwin||TE||Oklahoma St|
|199||LA Chargers||Elijah Hood||RB||UNC|
|203||New Orleans||Stevie Tuikolovatu||DL||USC|
|206||Indianapolis||Nigel Wartman-White||LB||Penn St|
|208||Baltimore||Xavier Woods||S||LA Tech|
|210||Tennessee||Tarean Folston||RB||Notre Dame|
|211||Tampa Bay||Tashawn Bower||EDGE||LSU|
|213||New England||Jeremiah Ledbetter||DL||Arkansas|
|214||Miami||Ukeme Eligwe||LB||Georgia Southern|
|215||NY Giants||Jalen Reeves-Maybin||LB||Tennessee|
|217||Houston||Cooper Rush||QB||Central Michigan|
|218||Seattle||Chad Williams||WR||Grambling St|
|219||Kansas City||Al-Quadin Muhammed||EDGE||Miami|
|221||Green Bay||Kyle Kalis||OG||Michigan|
|224||New England||Jordan Sterns||S||Oklahoma St|
The front office and coaching staff are just starting to take shape. However, enough information is known to begin to project a strategic framework for the 49ers heading into 2017 offseason and beyond. After years of dysfunction in the working relationship between former general manager Trent Baalke and former coaches (most notably, Jim Harbaugh), CEO Jed York has elected to install a new general manager and coach–in John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan, respectively–that offers the hope of a cohesive working relationship and long-term continuity. A team that was considered an NFC West powerhouse and one of the most talented rosters in the NFL as recently as 2013, the precipitation of retirements (Patrick Willis, Justin Smith and Chris Borland) and forced cuts (Aldon Smith), as well as three years of substandard draft yields, has left the 49ers roster as devoid of talent as any team in the league. Even still, given the team’s healthy cap situation, if John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan approach free agency and the draft correctly, there is a clear path to the 49ers regaining their stature as an NFC West powerhouse within 2-3 seasons.
Owner/Chief Executive Officer: Jed York
General Manager: John Lynch
Chief Strategy Officer: Paraag Marathe
Assistant GM: Tom Gamble
VP of Player Personnel: Adam Peters
The front office dynamic will be fluid in the early going. However, the installment of John Lynch as general manager sends a clear message that Jed York is entrusting Kyle Shanahan to run the show, so to speak, in the Santa Clara offices. The driving force in York’s sudden and surprising decision to hire Lynch was, reportedly, due to Kyle Shanahan’s recommendation. In that regard, Lynch didn’t even undergo a formal interview–instead, he reportedly pitched Shanahan, whom Lynch has strong ties to through Kyle’s father Mike Shanahan, on the idea, directly.
On the surface, the decision to hire John Lynch is hard to justify, given that the former pro bowl safety has zero front office experience and was, most recently, serving as a broadcaster for CBS. With that said, there is some measure of logic to Lynch’s hiring. First, York clearly wanted to install a GM that can work in lock step with the head coach and consensus build in the course of making decisions–two aspects to Baalke’s approach that were reportedly lacking. Lynch may or may not prove to be an effective consensus builder, but his working relationship with Kyle Shanahan should be excellent. Second, Lynch’s stature offers a presentability advantage that likely aligns with York’s preferences to approaching the roster’s rebuild (reload). This is pure speculation, but my guess is that York was not interested in installing a GM that favors the Ron Wolff philosophy on roster building–which is to methodically (or as some would read: slowly) build the foundation of the roster through the draft, resign your own homegrown players and largely refrain from expensive free agent signings. In light of embarrassing attendance numbers at many home games since the 49ers moved into their new Santa Clara stadium, its reasonable to assume that York, as the team’s CEO, feels significant pressure to quickly field a team that will convince fans to buy expensive PSLs and regularly attend home games. And if you squint, you can see why Jon Lynch might represent someone that offers advantages in making that happen. With the recent success of John Elway as GM of the Broncos, Lynch offers a similar profile as a legendary former player that brings a ‘championship’ mentality to the organization. In Elways case, the Broncos were quickly elevated from middling team to super bowl contender after he elected to take an aggressive approach to free agency, signing reputable free agents such as Peyton Manning, Emmanuel Sanders, DeMarcus Ware and Aquib Talib. Without a doubt, Elway’s statute as a legendary former player was a valuable commodity in convincing those players that the Broncos offered a contending situation, and York surely hopes that Lynch’s statute provide a similar allure. Accordingly, as long as Lynch proves to be a good consensus builder, his hiring offer can offer strategic advantages. With that said, the 49ers need to ensure that bright minds are working under him.
On that front, the 49ers have, by all accounts, made a solid hire in tapping former Broncos’ college scouting director Adam Peters to become the Vice President of Player Personnel. Given Lynch’s lack of experience as either a scout or executive overseeing the draft, he will undoubtedly lean on Peters’ knowledge and expertise in that area. Beyond Peters, the roles of other high level executives is unclear. Chief Strategy Officer Paraag Marathe’s authority is unclear in light of reports that John Lynch will report to York, only. As well, holdover Assistant GM Tom Gamble’s status with the team is uncertain. Reportedly, Gamble will be given an opportunity to prove his value to the organization through the NFL draft. This implies that, for practical reasons, Gamble will continue to play a central role in draft preparation efforts (which are already in full swing) and his ability to work with Peters’ will determine his fate with the team thereafter. Accordingly, this is a situation to monitor in the future.
Head Coach: Kyle Shanahan (presumed)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt LaFleur?
Defensive Coordinator: ?
With the Atlanta Falcons competing in the the upcoming Super Bowl, the 49ers coaching staff under Kyle Shanahan has yet to take shape. Reportedly, Shanahan will strongly consider Falcons QB coach Matt LaFleur for the OC position. Regardless of who is installed as OC, Shanahan will be the architect, and likely play caller, of the offense. As a coach, Shanahan is widely regarded as a smart and innovative offensive mind capable of adapting his offensive scheme to fit his players’ strengths. Notably, Shanahan is excellent at featuring his top skill-position players, which was a growing criticism of Chip Kelly’s offenses. Accordingly, Shanahan’s offense is likely to feature talented RB Carlos Hyde next season. Whether through draft or free agency, Shanahan will push for the team to acquire the long term solution at QB this offseason. In the unlikely event that the Redskins fail to resign Kirk Cousins, the 49ers will look to pounce, given Shanahan’s prior experience coaching Cousins. More likely however, the 49ers will draft a QB with the number two overall pick, and my money is on Shanahan preferring UNC’s Mitch Trubisky among the available QB prospects.
On defense, the 49ers have been a base 3-4 team for years and have drafted prospects that predominantly fit that scheme. Regardless, the dearth of foundational talent on defense is such that coaches could make a quick transition to a 4-3 base, if they so choose. Unfortunately, there are yet to be reports on who Shanahan will consider for the DC position. However, my guess is that he will favor the hiring of a coach who favors scheme-diverse (multiple) base fronts, if not someone partial to running a 4-3 scheme. GM John Lynch may also provide input on the vision for the defense. Accordingly, its notable that Lynch won a superbowl playing in an aggressive Tampa (cover) 2 scheme that utilized a 4-3 front. Lastly, the prospect of adopting a Seattle-like multiple scheme (a 4-3 scheme that utilizes 3-4 player types) is possible if Shanahan plucks a DC from the falcons staff. Accordingly, that provides some guidance as to projected the types of defensive players the team could target in the draft.
OFFENSIVE STATISTICAL PERFORMANCE:*
|308.1 (31st)||-7.4% (23rd)||-6.5% (22nd)||19.3 (27th)|
|181.9 (32nd)||-8.7% (28th)|
|Run||YPG||DVOA||O-LINE YARDS (Adjusted)|
|126.2 (4th)||0.5% (11th)||3.22 (32nd)|
|Miscellaneous||SACKS||SACK RATE (Adjusted)||INTs||FFs|
|47.0 (29th)||8.4% (30th)||10 (10th)||28 (32nd)|
*(Information sourced from espn.com and footballoutsiders.com)
With the exception of RB Carlos Hyde, the 49ers offense is completely devoid of impact talent, and their offensive performance in 2016 reflected that. The 49ers fielded one of the worst passing attacks, by either standard or advanced metrics. Worse yet, the offensive line was a bottom five team in pass protection and the skill players failed to protect the football (32nd in forced fumbles against). Conversely, the one aspect of the 49ers offense that was effective in 2016 was its rushing attack, ranking 4th best in yards per game and 11th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), per football outsiders. With that said, advanced metrics decidedly attribute the success in the run game to Carlos Hyde, as found the offensive line graded as the 32nd worst unit by adjusted offensive line yards. Accordingly, the offensive statistics convincingly demonstrate that the 49ers need to acquire significant upgrades (or potential upgrades) at quarterback, wide receiver and across the offensive line.
DEFENSIVE STATISTICAL PERFORMANCE:*
|406.4 (32nd)||12.1% (28th)||13.8% (30th)||30.0 (32nd)|
|240.5 (14th)||22.1% (28th)|
|Run||YPG||DVOA||O-LINE YARDS (Adjusted)|
|165.9 (32nd)||3.0% (31st)||4.35% (29th)|
|Miscellaneous||SACKS||SACK RATE (Adjusted)||INTs||FFs|
|33.0 (19th)||5.7% (20th)||10 (23rd)||18 (8th)|
*(Information sourced from espn.com and footballoutsiders.com)
According to DVOA, this defense was a bottom five unit at both stopping the run and defending the pass. In fairness, the 49ers foundation of defensive talent is not nearly as porous as the numbers indicated. The defensive unit was gradually gutted as the season wore on, due to significant injuries to impact players like NaVarro Bowman, Eric Reid, Arik Armstead and Jimmy Ward. Accordingly, assuming those players return to full strength, there are some foundational pieces to build on (more analysis on the individual players below). With that said, its fair to say the numbers suggest that the defense is in need of impactful additions at all three levels of the defense in order to make a return to respectability.
THREE YEAR DRAFT HISTORY:
|2016 NFL DRAFT|
|1(7)||DeForest Buckner||DL||6-7 300||Oregon|
|1(28)||Josh Garnett||OG||6-5 320||Stanford|
|3(68)||Will Redmond||CB||6-0 186||Mississippi St|
|4(133)||Rashard Robinson||CB||6-1 177||LSU|
|5(142)||Ronald Blair||DE||6-3 270||Appalachian St|
|5(145)||John Theus||OT||6-6 305||Georgia|
|5(174)||Fahn Cooper||OT||6-5 306||Mississippi|
|6(207)||Jeff Driskel||QB||6-3 200||LA Tech|
|6(211)||Kelvin Taylor||RB||6-1 200||Florida|
|6(213)||Aaron Burbridge||WR||6-0 208||Michigan St|
|7(249)||Prince Charles Iworah||CB||5-10 193||Western Kentucky|
|2015 NFL DRAFT|
|1(17)||Arik Armstead||DL||6-7 292||Oregon|
|2(46)||Jaquiski Tartt||S||6-1 221||Samford|
|3(79)||Eli Harold||LB||6-3 265||Virginia|
|4(117)||Blake Bell||TE||6-6 252||Oklahoma|
|4(126)||Mike Davis||RB||5-9 217||South Carolina|
|4(132)||DeAndre Smelter||WR||6-2 227||Georgia Tech|
|5(165)||Bradley Pinion||P||6-5 229||Clemson|
|6(190)||Ian Silberman||OT||6-5 295||Boston College|
|7(244)||Trent Brown||OT||6-8 355||Florida|
|7(254)||Rory Anderson||TE||South Carolina|
|2014 NFL DRAFT|
|1(30)||Jimmy Ward||CB||5-11 193||Northern Illinois|
|2(57)||Carlos Hyde||RB||6-0 235||Ohio St|
|3(70)||Marcus Martin||C||6-3 321||USC|
|3(77)||Chris Borland||LB||6-0 235||Wisconsin|
|3(100)||Brandon Thomas||OT||6-3 300||Clemson|
|4(106)||Bruce Ellington||WR||5-9 197||South Carolina|
|4(129)||Dontae Johnson||CB||6-2 200||NC St|
|5(150)||Aaron Lynch||OLB||6-5 270||South Florida|
|5(170)||Keith Reaser||DB||6-0 190||Florida Atlantic|
|7(243)||Kaleb Ramsey||DT||Boston College|
As a general practice, I refrain from analyzing drafts attributable to a former general manager when a new GM is installed. However, in this particular case, the previous draft patterns of the Baalke regime may be instructive because of the number of holdover executives staying on board through the draft, at least. Given the late stage at which GM John Lynch and VP Adam Peters have been installed, there is insufficient time to reengineer draft preparation operations, which are already in full swing, to their liking. Presumably, the incoming front office executives will necessarily rely on holdover executives such as Chief Strategy Officer Marathe and Assistant GM Gamble to direct the ongoing preparation process. Accordingly, since holdovers from the Baalke regime are influencing preparations, it’s instructive to assess that regime’s previous draft history.
In relation to the draft, the primary strength of the Baalke regime was their ability to identify valuable ‘trade down’ opportunities and in an effort to collect additional draft capital. However, in the last three drafts at least, the regime largely failed to successfully identify mid to late round talent, thereby failing to convert the cache of draft picks into a deep and talented roster base. Moreover, even though the regime made some sound selections at the top of the draft, the last three drafts have largely failed to produce star-level talents (although Carlos Hyde and DeForest Buckner may prove otherwise). With that said, the current regime will rely on members of the former regime to successfully maneuver trades and identify talent in this upcoming draft .
THREE YEAR FREE AGENCY OUTLOOK:*
|2017 FREE AGENTS: Projected Cap Space: $81,046,264|
|2018 FREE AGENTS: Projected Cap Space: $107,146,329|
|2019 FREE AGENTS: Projected Cap Space: $139,401,244|
*(Information sourced from overthecap.com)
The 49ers are in a very healthy cap situation over the next three seasons. The team should have no problem resigning any key players from their own roster, such as Carlos Hyde and Eric Reid. Additionally, assuming an aggressive free agent acquisition approach from the get go, the 49ers should have ample cap space left over to make a play for multiple high-end free agents.
POTENTIAL CAP CASUALTIES:*
|Player||Dead Money||Cap Savings|
*(Information sourced from overthecap.com)
In all likelihood, Kaepernick will be cut this offseason. Accordingly, the 49ers cap space could approach $100 million prior to free agency.
C. Kaepernick, B. Gabbert, C. Ponder
The quarterback of the future (or present) is not on this roster, currently. The 49ers will likely expend the second overall pick on a QB in the 2017 draft, most likely UNC’s Mitch Trubisky. There is an outside possibility they target a veteran QB such as Cousins or Romo, if available.
C. Hyde, S.Draughn, D. Harris, M. Davis
Hyde is a borderline star-level running back whose play has been bogged by a talent-deficient supporting cast. At 6-0 235, Hyde is properly classified as a ‘big back.’ However, one would be mistaken to assume that moniker fits in the sense that it implies he’s best suited in a downhill, power-based scheme, like most big backs. Instead, Hyde’s greatest assets are his vision and lateral mobility. Thus, Kyle Shanahan is likely to incorporate a zone blocking scheme into the offense, similar to the one utilized in Atlanta. Accordingly, the front office is likely to target more mobile offensive lineman in the draft and free agency. But regardless of scheme, Hyde will be a focal point of Shanahan’s team moving forward.
Beyond Hyde, Mike Davis is a classic power back, at 5-9 217, that has the potential to develop into a quality backup. However, the 49ers should target a 3rd down (change of pace) back, such as Boise St’s Jeremy McNichols, in order to have a complete toolbox at this position.
Fullback: (None Carried)
The 49ers lack a rostered fullback, currently. That may change as Shanahan has a history of utilizing fullbacks.
J. Kerley, Q. Patton, T. Smith, B. Ellington, D. Smelter, A. Burbridge
This unit is bereft of starting quality talent. Maybe Torrey Smith will be able to reemerge as a consistent deep threat, but his best days are likely behind him. Kerley is a free agent by may be retained as a low cost slot receiver until others can be developed. Patton and Ellington may develop into quality number 3 receivers, but the jury is still out. Smelter was an intriguing prospect coming out of Georgia Tech a few years ago, but he’s never been able to regain form from an injury he sustained his senior season. Burbridge is unlikely to develop into anything particularly useful. Simply put, the 49ers need to acquire new starting receivers heading into 2017. Alshon Jeffrey may be a target in free agency as well as Juju Smith-Schuster in the 2nd round of the draft.
V. McDonald; G. Celek; B. Bell
Vance McDonald signed an in-season extension prior to Baalke’s firing and, thus, will be paid like an impact starting TE, even if the jury is still out whether he is one. Still McDonald has an intriguing athletic profile and could become an effective weapon in a revamped offense.
J. Staley; T. Brown; J. Theus; F. Cooper
Staley, 31, continues to play at a high level at LT. However, the 49ers are in serious need of an upgrade at RT where rookie Trent Brown was below-average. In light of the fact that the 2017 draft class is weak on OT talent, the 49ers are likely to look to upgrade through free agency. If the 49ers do target an OT early, Utah’s Garrett Bolles is a good bet as an athletic plug-and-play option that could immediately upgrade the RT position over Trent Brown. He’s likely to be picked in the late first to early second round area, but there’s a chance he could slip to the third round do to age concerns (he’ll be 25 as a rookie).
A. Tiller; J. Garnett; Z. Beadles; A. Gardner
The 49ers need Josh Garnett to develop next season, after spending a first round draft pick on him in the 2015 draft. Tiller is serviceable. Beadles is a declining player but may still provide adequate depth. Accordingly, the 49ers are unlikely to target OG prospects before day 3 of the draft. If they do, Dorian Johnson would fit the bill as an mobile guard to target around the third or fourth round. With that said, after seeing the impact that adding a high-end interior lineman can have when the Falcons added C Alex Mack last offseason, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shanahan pushed to sign a high-end interior lineman such as Cincinnati free agent guard Kevin Zeitler.
D. Kilgore; M. Martin
At 6-3 308, Kilgore is serviceable and fits the mold of a mobile center in a zone blocking scheme. Martin, a once heralded prospect out of USC, has failed to develop. It’s possible the 49ers target an upgrade at center in the draft (Ethan Pocic?) in round three or later, given that Kilgore will be a free agent after this season. More likely, they stick with Kilgore on a trial-basis this season and look for an upgrade next offseason if he fails to perform.
D. Buckner; A. Armstead; Q. Dial; T. Caradine; R. Blair; M. Purcell
In Buckner and Armstead, the 49ers have two quality defensive line pieces that can fit into either a 3-4 or 4-3 base scheme (in a 4-3, Buckner would likely play strong side defensive end while Armstead would play a 1-gap penetrating DT role). Buckner is an emerging talent with star potential. Armstead needs to continue to develop, but he does have significant potential to develop into a disruptive force. Dial is a serviceable starter, but the 49ers should look to sign or draft a nose tackle that is above-average at stopping the run, as none of the defensive lineman on the roster grade as more than average in that department. Accordingly, DL prospects such as Jarron Jones, Jaleel Johnson, Elijah Qualls and Nazir Jones are quality targets in rounds 2-4.
A. Lynch; E. Harold; A. Brooks; C. Bradford
Whether they play a 3-4 or 4-3 base, the 49ers need to unearth an impact EDGE rusher capable of producing double digit sacks. Lynch, only 23, could develop into that type of edge rusher but the 49ers would be smart to hedge their bets. Lynch should be able to fit as a weak side DE should the 49ers switch to a 4-3 scheme. Coming out of Virginia in the 2015 draft, E. Harold was an interesting speed rusher that bulked up to 265 and produced 3 sacks in his rookie season. Accordingly, he’s an intriguing developmental player as an OLB in a 3-4 who may get lost in the shuffle if the 49ers switch to a 4-3. Ahmad Brooks is a declining player and should not be factored into plans moving forward. This is a deep draft for edge rushers. Thus, the 49ers should be able to pick up another quality developmental piece such as Jordan Willis, Tarrell Basham, Carl Lawson or Devonte Fields in the early to mid rounds.
N. Bowman, G. Hodges; N. Bellore; M. Wilhoite; R. Armstrong
Gerald Hodges is the one free agent that the 49ers might be inclined to retain this offseason, given his quality play in the middle of the defense. Assuming a return to health, Bowman and Hodges could form a quality inside linebacker combo in a 3-4 or a good middle and weak side linebacker combo in a 4-3. Wilhoite and Bellore are free agents and neither are likely to be retained after below-average player this season.
T. Brock; J. Ward; R. Robinson; D. Johnson; K. Reaser; W. Redmond; P. Iworah; M. Cromartie
This group has talent. Brock and Ward are, at worst, serviceable starters, with Ward ideally playing the slot. Moreover, the younger players are capable of developing into serviceable starters, if not more. But this group lacks a true shutdown cornerback who can contain other team’s top receivers. With so many needs, the 49ers are unlikely to invest a high pick on this position. But the CB group in this draft is as deep as its been in years–accordingly, there will be ample opportunity to grab a potential shutdown CB through the 4th round or later.
E. Reid; J. Tartt; A. Bethea
With Reid, Tartt and Bethea all in the fold for at least one more season, this is one of the few position groups that is unlikely to be targeted in the draft. Assuming a full return to health, Reid is on the cusp of emerging as a star-level talent and should be in-line for a big payday next offseason. Tartt is also an emerging talent and Bethea is an established veteran that offers above-average play.
John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan have a lot of work to do to build a talented roster in Santa Clara. However, there is some measure of hope that the 49ers have the cap space and the executives in place to attract high-end free agents to quickly reload the 49ers’ roster. Moreover, the 49ers are in a good position to acquire their franchise quarterback through the draft–and given Shanahan’s reputation with developing quarterbacks, it’s likely to be a wise investment. Expect the 49ers to be aggressive in free agency, perhaps targeting high-end free agents like WR Alshon Jeffrey and OG Kevin Zeitler in order to create favorable conditions for a rookie QB to have success early-on. Overall, as long as Lynch and Shanahan have the right people working under them and do a good job consensus building, there is no reason the 49ers can’t regain its stature as an NFC West powerhouse with the next 2-3 seasons.
This offseason, the Cleveland Browns’ front office enters year two of their rebuild, utilizing a somewhat controversial strategy that employs an analytics-first (“moneyball”) approach to player valuation and acquisition. Last season, the Browns’ front office assembled the least talented roster in the NFL, tallying just one win as a team and ranking in the bottom five in offensive and defensive production. Additionally, the 2016 roster was markedly less talented than the 2015 roster, which amassed three wins and performed better in offensive and defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders. In a sense, he regression in talent was by design. In an effort to maximize cap space and draft capital, the Browns’ front-office cut, traded, or let walk (via free agency) useful veteran players that would have helped the 2016 team but bogged long-term plans. In that regard, the first year of the Browns’ rebuilding “process” was highly successful. Heading into this offseason, the Browns’ will have, by far, the most cap space and draft capital of any team in the NFL. Accordingly, even though the rebuild is still in its infancy, General Manager Sashi Brown and the front office did an excellent job setting the table to build a highly talented and deep roster moving forward. Now it’s time to see if Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta and his team of “stat geeks” can actually build a contending NFL team (spoiler alert: they probably can).
Principal Owner: Jimmy Haslam
General Manager: Sashi Brown
Chief Strategy Officer: Paul DePodesta
Including head coach Hue Jackson, the Browns’ front office dynamic is among the most interesting in the National Football League. Jimmy Haslam, the team’s principal (controlling) owner who sits atop the organizational chart, has demonstrated both a propensity to meddle and lose patience with previous front office regimes during his tenure. Since the Haslam family bought the team in 2012, Jimmy Haslam has hired and and fired two separate organizational regimes–first, the Banner/Lombardi/Chudzinski regime followed by the Scheiner/Farmer/Pettine regime. This raises a specter of concern when Brown/DePodesta regime is employing a long-term rebuilding approach that requires patience and the ability to stomach losing a lot of games in the beginning, a la this past season. Reportedly, after seeking counsel from members of successful NFL organizations, Haslam has gained a better perspective on the value of exercising patience, fostering continuity, and taking a hands off approach in order to let the front office actualize its long term strategy, unabated. Accordingly, despite the team’s performance last season, the primary influencers remain in place (for now). But its fair to say that Haslam is a dormant volcano towering above a rebuilding village, and heads could roll if the on-field product doesn’t demonstrate marked improvement in 2017.
As for Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, there seems to be a clear and effective division of labor between the two front office executives. As the Browns’ general manager, Sashi Browa–a lawyer by trade who previously served as the Browns’ general counsel–primarily handles the salary cap and transactional affairs. Conversely, Paul DePodesta serves as the Browns’ Chief Strategy Officer and is primarily concerned with formulating and implementing player valuation and roster building strategies. For the uninitiated, DePodesta is the former MLB player personnel executive who famously served as GM Billy Beane’s right-hand man in formulating and implementing a successful analytics-first (“moneyball”) approach to building a contending baseball team. The Oakland Athletics’ analytics-first approach proved a superior paradigm that changed the way practically all MLB organizations made player personnel decisions. Now DePodesta hopes to revolutionize the way NFL front offices make player personnel decisions. Extracting tidbits from a 2016 ESPN profile story, DePodesta would like player personnel acquisition decisions to be informed by 60 percent (objective) data, 40 percent (subjective) scouting and intends to “flip [the] burden of proof on all football processes, models and systems.” Without access to their internal analytical tools and data, it may be more difficult to deduce player valuation patterns with this front office than with others. Still, a couple of draft cycles may yield observable player profile and performance preferences that DePodesta and company consistently target–For instance, the Oakland A’s established a pattern of picking college prospects over high school prospects and valuing prospects that produced a high on-base percentage (OBP). At this point, the only clear mandate is to GET BETTER EVERYWHERE.
Lastly, even though HC Hue Jackson has no formal authority in the area of player personnel decisions, it’s common practice that the front office tailors its player acquisition strategy to target players that fit the needs of the coaches’ systems. Based on reports, Hue is a strong personality with a past desire to control player personnel decisions (see history with Raiders in the wake of Al Davis’ passing) who may hold ideologically oppositional viewpoints to Depodesta. Specifically, Jackson is reportedly someone that favors “gut, eye and instinct over data.” While it may be unfair to draw a real-world comparison, one of the dramatized narratives of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball story was the tension between GM Billy Beane and manager (coach) Art Howe over the fact that DePodesta’s statistical approach was driving Beane’s player personnel decisions instead of Howe’s traditionalist preferences. Accordingly, it’ll be interesting to see if similar tension develops between GM Sashi Brown and coach Hue Jackson over DePodesta’s analytics-first approach. With that said, it would be in all parties best interests’ to find common ground and develop a synergistic working relationship because Hue Jackson is a smart and innovative players’ coach. But right now, if the Browns are the NFL reincarnation of the Oakland Athletics, then you’ll excuse me for having a gut feeling that Hue Jackson is playing the fateful role of Art Howe in this future Michael Lewis novel.
Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator: Hue Jackson
Offensive Assistant: Al Saunders
Defensive Coordinator: Gregg Williams
If the Hue and the front-office can avoid a toxic relationship developing over player personnel decisions, there is little doubt that Hue possesses the potential to be a great coach in the NFL. Moreover, the coaching staff heading into 2017 has some reputable assistants in place to improve the team’s play moving forward.
On offense, key strengths to this coaching staff are innovation and adaptability. Hue and Al Saunders are highly creative offensive coaches adept at tailoring the offense to the given personnel–a quality that will serve Hue well in a situation in which he has dubious influence on player personnel decisions. In regards to general offensive principles, a Jackson/Saunders offense strives to be formation diverse and achieve run/pass balance while taking a healthy dose of shots downfield on passing plays. In that regard, a bigger QB with very good arm strength and deep ball accuracy is the likely preference of this staff. Coincidentally, Jackson and company may lobby the Brown’s front office to draft Cal QB Prospect Davis Webb–a 6’5 QB with very good arm strength that won the Senior Bowl MVP while playing for the South team that Jackson and the Browns’ staff coached.
On defense, the Browns recently fired DC Ray Horton (a 3-4 base defense coach) and hired Gregg Williams, who is known for running attacking 4-3 schemes that put heavy pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Accordingly, Williams’ hiring strongly suggests that the Brown’s intend to switch to a 4-3 base. Realistically, this fact should have some influence over which defensive prospects are targeted in the upcoming draft.
OFFENSIVE STATISTICAL ANALYSIS:*
|Overall||311.0 (30th)||-13.8% (29th)||-15.4% (28th)||16.5 (30th)|
|Pass||204.0 (28th)||-12.6% (29th)|
|YPG||DVOA (Run)||Adjusted-Line Yds|
|Run||107.0(19th)||0.0% (13th)||3.46 (28th)|
|Miscellaneous||66 (32nd)||10.6% (32nd)||14 (13th)||19 (26th)|
*These numbers are sourced from espn.com and footballoutsiders.com
On offense, the Browns need to solidify the offensive line, especially in terms of pass protection. In 2016, The Browns’ offensive line gave up a league-high 48 sacks and ranked 31st in adjusted sack rate according to Football Outsiders. Poor protection lead to devastating results, as Cleveland’s bottom-five ranked passing attack had to cycle through four different quarterbacks due to injuries.
As for the run game, Cleveland’s rushing attack showed promise as a component that could develop into a strength. The run unit averaged a healthy 4.7 yards per carry rushing the football and was the 13th best unit by run DVOA. With that said, advanced statistics point to RB Crowell having success despite the team’s run blocking, not because of it. Crowell ranks 7th in Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement (DYAR) and 4th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Replacement. Notably, Crowell also ranks just 29th in Success Rate which suggests, in conjunction with a high DVOA ranking, that Crowell’s gameplay is a tale of long runs interspersed with downs getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Unsurprisingly, Cleveland’s offensive line ranks merely 27th in adjusted line yards. Accordingly, solidifying the offensive line would create the conditions to develop an elite rushing attack and, at the very least, consistency in the passing game. It would also create better conditions to assess whether the young QB (Kessler) and skill position players (Crowell, D. Johnson, C. Coleman, Pryor, etc.) are legitimate foundational pieces.
DEFENSIVE STATISTICAL ANALYSIS:*
|Overall||392.4 (31st)||14.6% (29th)||14.7% (31st)||28.3 (30th)|
|Pass||249.8 (21st)||27.3% (30th)|
|YPG||DVOA (Run)||Adjusted-Line Yds|
|Run||142.7 (31st)||1.2% (27th)||4.49 (31st)|
|Miscellaneous||26.0 (30th)||5.7% (21st)||10 (23rd)||7 (30th)|
*These numbers are sourced from espn.com and footballoutsiders.com.
On defense, the Browns are largely devoid of impact talent at all three levels. As a result, the Browns ranked 32nd in defensive DVOA last season, including bottom-five rankings in both pass and run defense, according to standard and advanced statistics. Moreover, the Browns’ defense failed to generate pressure on the QB (32nd in sacks), create turnovers (29th), and contain top wide receivers (29th) and tight ends (32nd). Anytime you have a unit, offensively or defensively, that is a complete failure in every measurable facet, it’s a good idea to start the rebuilding process by focusing on the unit’s front. Offensive and defensive lineman have a direct impact on the success of every single snap in an NFL game. Accordingly, all needs being equal, the quickest way to improve the unit as a whole is to add superior talent at the positions that create the most impact on a play-to-play basis. In the Browns case, the defensive line needs pass rushing talent. Thankfully for the Browns, the presumptive number 1 prospect in the draft is Myles Garrett, a potential generational edge rushing talent.
THREE YEAR DRAFT HISTORY: (applicable to current regime)
|1(15)||Corey Coleman||WR||5’10 185||Baylor|
|2(32)||Emmanuel Ogbah||DE||6’3 275||Oklahoma St|
|3(65)||Carl Nassib||DE||6’7 275||Penn St|
|3(76)||Shon Coleman||OT||6’6 310||Auburn|
|3(93)||Cody Kessler||QB||6’1 215||USC|
|4(99)||Joe Schobert||OLB||6’1 245||Wisconsin|
|4(114)||Ricardo Louis||WR||6’2 215||Auburn|
|4(129)||Derek Kindred||DS||5’10 210||TCU|
|4(138)||Seth DeValve||TE||6’3 245||Princeton|
|5(154)||Jordan Payton||WR||6’1 209||UCLA|
|5(168)||Spencer Drango||OT||6’6 315||Baylor|
|5(172)||Rishard Higgins||WR||6’1 198||Colorado St|
|5(173)||Trey Caldwell||DB||5’9 185||LA Monroe|
|7(250)||Scooby Wright||LB||6’0 235||Arizona|
2015 DRAFT: (N/A)
2014 DRAFT: (N/A)
Currently, we only have one year of draft results to infer drafting patterns and preferences representative of the Browns’ internal philosophies. Moreover, because neither DePodesta nor Sashi Brown came from other NFL organizations, we have no indirect basis to infer likely patterns and preferences in that regard. However, we can still note a few things that may be trends moving forward. First, when DePodesta worked for the Oakland Athletics, a common practice of the front office was to trade star players for multiple prospect packages, betting on collection providing more overall value than the individual star. Last draft, the Browns trade down twice in the first round, forgoing a opportunity to draft a star QB (Carson Wentz) and star-level talent (e.g. Jack Conklin OT) in order to collect multiple packages of draft picks. We are unlikely to see the Browns’ trade down from the number 1 pick because the need to acquire premium talent and Garrett’s projection as a star-level player at a premium position at the next level. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Browns trade back from their second pick in the first round (12th overall), especially considering the depth of this draft class.
Second, as stated above, when DePodesta worked for the Athletics’ they valued prospects with more seasoning (college prospects to HS prospects). Of course, the big reason for this philosophy was due to the reality that MLB prospects, unlike NFL prospects, have to go through years of minor league development and had a higher risk getting injured and/or failing to develop–Accordingly, college prospects represented a safer investment because they were more developed and, thus, closer to providing value at the big league level. This is inapplicable to the NFL draft where there is no minor league system and prospects must be three years removed from HS to enter. However, the A’s philosophical preference to target college players also had statistical underpinnings that may be helpful to decode the Browns’ current approach. College players statistics were inherently more reliable to evaluate than HS players statistics because of the superior and, more importantly, less varied competitive talent. Everybody playing NCAA D-1 is more or less a D-1 talent, but what constitutes Varsity-level talent at one HS maybe Junior Varsity or Freshman-level talent at another. Accordingly, creating advanced metrics that accurately adjusted for HS competition was much more difficult, if not impossible. Accordingly, the Browns’ 2016 draft selection provides evidence that a variant of this philosophy–to pick among players that demonstrate excellent statistical production against superior competition–may be a driving factor in prospect targets. Of the 14 draft selections, 12 prospects played in Power 5 conferences. Moreover, with the exception of WR Coleman and DE Ogbah, all of the selections were seniors–and in Coleman and Ogbah’s case, both players started since their freshman seasons. Lastly, the draftees, for the most part, put together at least one exceptional statistical season, by standard metrics. For instance, each front-seven defensive player (Ogbah, Nassib, Schobert, S. Wright) drafted had at least one season with more than 15 tackles for loss. Again, its difficult to deduce patterns from a single draft. But its fair to say that there are some signs of developing patterns.
THREE YEAR FREE AGENCY OUTLOOK: (key players)
Projected Cap Space:*
Projected Cap Space:
Projected Cap Space:
|Terrell Pryor (WR)||Joel Bitonio (OG)||Joe Thomas (OT)|
|Jamie Collins (LB)||Christian Kirksey (LB)||B. Boddy-Calhoun(CB)|
|Austin Pasztor (OL)||Ed Reynolds (S)||Gary Barnidge (TE)|
|Stephen Paea (DL)||John Greco (OG)||Duke Johnson (RB)|
|Britton Colquitt (P)||Demario Davis (LB)||Nate Orchard (DE)|
|Isaiah Crowell(RB)(RFA)||Andrew Hawkins (WR)||Xavier Cooper (DT)|
|Josh McCown (QB)||Ibraheim Campbell (S)|
|Cam Johnson(DE)(RFA)||Alvin Bailey (OG)|
*Numbers sourced from overthecap.com
As exhibited above, the Browns are in extremely healthy shape in regards to salary cap space over the next three years. Moreover, even after signing any internal free agents, the Browns will have the cap space to fill multiple starting positions via free agency before the draft. However, regardless of cap space, top free agents may refuse to sign with the Browns until they show signs of being able to compete. Accordingly, the Athletics approach to free agency may prove instructive to the Browns’ approach, at least early on. Because of payroll restrictions, the A’s were rarely in the market for top MLB free agents. Accordingly, they looked for bargains and diamonds in the rough to find free agent starters. The Browns may opt to sign multiple mid and lower tier free agents to front loaded contracts that will allow them to cut the one’s that fail to perform without creating dead cap space. Reggie McKenzie has employed a similar strategy in building the Oakland Raiders, filling the talent and veteran leadership void with productive (but aging) veteran free agents on front-loaded contracts that provides financial flexibility to cut bait when the player declines and/or a young player develops. Accordingly, unlike with some teams, free agency should have relatively little impact on who the Browns target in the draft.
QB Depth: C. Kessler, R. Griffin, J. McCown
In all likelihood, the Browns’ quarterback of the future is not currently on the roster. Griffin, if he returns at all, continues to be major injury risk whose athletic prowess, his competitive advantage, may have already eroded. McCown is a very solid fill-in, but on the wrong side of 35, he’s not the answer to start 2017 or beyond. That leaves Cody Kessler, who showed signs of an ability to develop into a serviceable starting QB, if not more. Kessler is an undersized QB lacking better than average arm strength. But he gets by with solid instincts, field vision, and the ability to make accurate and timely throws. At the very least, Kessler may be the perfect placeholder QB, while the Browns’ front-office builds out the rest of the roster and/or unearths its eventual “franchise” QB.
RB Depth: I. Crowell, D. Johnson, G. Atkinson
In Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson, the Browns have quality young pair of running backs to build around. Crowell, only 24 years old, was the 11th best RB in defense-adjusted yards above replacement, per football outsiders. He was also a mere 42 yards short of a 1000 yard season, averaged a healthy 4.8 yards per carry, and scored 7 touchdowns on the ground. Crowell also was an effective safety valve in the passing game, tallying 40 receptions for 319 yards. With better run blocking in 2017, Crowell is capable of reaching 1500 total yards and 10+ touchdowns, marks that would garner pro bowl consideration. As expected, Duke Johnson offers excellent 3rd down production, tallying 53 catches (on 72 targets) for 514 yards in addition to averaging 4.9 yards on 73 carries. Duke Johnson, 23, will be entering his third season with the Browns and has the talent to challenge Crowell for serious playing time on first and second down. But absent further development, he provides a valuable change of pace back. The 2017 draft class is as talented at the RB position as it has been in years, but with incumbent talent and so many other holes to address, the chances of the Browns drafting another RB with a high draft pick is unlikely.
Wide Receiver/ Tight End:
WR Depth: T. Pryor*, C. Coleman, A. Hawkins, R. Louis, R. Higgins, J. Payton
TE Depth: G. Barnidge, S. DeValve, L. Teller
Terrell Pryor is an unrestricted free agent this offseason and is due to receive a significant payday after the potential he showed in 2016. Accordingly, the Browns need to decide whether Pryor’s 2016 season was a flash in the pan, or whether he was just scratching the surface of his potential. Given Pryor’s, 27, athletic prowess (at 6-4 230 and 4.5 speed), notable work ethic, and production (77 catches for 1007 yards and 4 TDs) while playing with four different QBs in his first extended opportunity, the Browns would be wise to bet on the latter and lock Pryor up to a long-term deal. Coleman, last year’s 15th overall selection, had an up and down season his rookie year. After showing signs of breaking out against the Ravens in week two (5 catches for 104 yards and 2TDs), Coleman broke his hand, missed approximately 6 weeks, and was never able to regain momentum once he returned. Still, Coleman is an explosive young player and deep threat that should form a quality 1-2 combination with Pryor, assuming he is signed. Louis, Higgins and Payton are second year players that offer quality complimentary potential to Pryor and Coleman. Hawkins, the current slot receiver, is a solid option to provide complimentary production until one or more of that trio develops. Accordingly, after the 2016 draft, the Browns are well stocked at wide receiver. With so many draft picks, its conceivable they draft another one in 2017, but its safe to say that the Browns office will be focusing on getting better at other positions. Lastly, it should be noted that, for now, the ultra talented, but indefinitely suspended, Josh Gordon does not figure into the mix.
At TE, Gary Barnidge, 31, is one year removed from producing pro bowl numbers in 2015, which included 79 catches (on 123 targets) for 1023 yards and 9 TDs. Last season, Barnidge predictably regressed, amassing only 55 catches (on 81 targets) for 612 yards and 2TDs. Even with improved QB play, Barnidge is unlikely to replicate his 2015 season–but he should be, at least, a serviceable placeholder until the Browns can find and develop a more dynamic option. DeValve, a converted WR in his second season out of Princeton, showed some flashes of ability to develop into a complimentary pass-catching TE. Still, given the rare quality and depth of talent at the TE position in the 2017 draft, the Browns would be wise to grab their TE of the future.
Tackle Depth: J. Thomas, C. Erving, S. Coleman
Guard Depth: J. Bitonio, J. Greco, S. Drango, A. Pasztor
Center Depth: A. Fabiano, A. Reiter
Assuming a full return to health, Joe Thomas and Joel Bitonio form an elite combination on the left side of the offensive line. However, the rest of the line remains uncertain. At center, the Browns drafted Cam Erving in the first round a couple years ago on the hope that he could develop into a high quality center in the NFL. However, that has yet to happen and he was moved to RT toward the end of season. Accordingly, the Browns have a major hole at the center position moving forward. On the right side, Greco and Pasztor represent serviceable veteran options at RG and RT, respectively. However, the Browns need to find a better long-term option, especially at RT. If Erving doesn’t prove to be that, the Browns have other potential developmental options in Shon Coleman and Spencer Drango. Accordingly, in consideration of the 2017 OL draft prospects, if the Browns want to draft a superior plug and play option at RT, they need to grab Robinson, Ramcyzk or Bolles in the first two rounds. Otherwise, they can probably get by with the current options, hoping for good health and significant development from one of the younger options. However, at center, the Browns need to draft a superior option to Fabiano and could look to draft Ethan Pocic or Pat Elfein somewhere on day two.
DE Depth: E. Ogbah, C. Nassib, C. Johnson, N. Orchard, T. Holmes
In Ogbah and Nassib, the Browns have two young players capable of developing into very good strong side defensive ends in a 4-3 base scheme. In particular, Ogbah, last year’s second round selection, offers immense potential. At the weak side DE position, Nate Orchard has the talent to develop into a serviceable option, but the Browns need focus on acquiring an elite pass rushing option at this position. If drafted number 1 overall by the Browns, EDGE Prospect Myles Garrett will represent an elite plug and play prospect to fill that need.
DT Depth: D. Shelton, S. Paea, J. Meder, X. Cooper
Towards the end of the season, Danny Shelton seemed on the verge of developing into an elite two-gap DT. Accordingly, he’s a nice foundational piece to build on. Beyond that, Paea, Cooper and Meder have shown flashes of serviceability, but the Browns should look for a superior one-gap penetrating DT to pair with Shelton in the 2017 draft.
LB Depth: C. Kirksey, J. Collins, J. Schobert, D. Davis
After acquiring the mid season acquisition of Jamie Collins, the Browns arguably have a very good linebacking core in place, especially if they switch to a 4-3 as expected. Reportedly, the Browns have already come to terms with Jamie Collins on a long-term deal so the assumption is that he will be in the fold in 2017. Collins is a highly versatile and (arguably) elite linebacker, capable of playing outside or inside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3. Even with the addition of Collins, Kirksey looked like the best linebacker on the field at times. I do not believe its hyperbolic to say that he has a chance to develop into a pro bowl caliber talent. Kirksey can play either the middle or weak side in a 4-3 scheme. Schobert is another second year player that has the potential to develop into a quality starting strong side linebacker in a 4-3 defense. Lastly, Demario Davis is a serviceable inside linebacker in either a 3-4 or 4-3. Accordingly, while the Browns are likely to draft depth, their short and long term starting options are, for the most part, in place.
CB Depth: J. Taylor, B. Boddy-Calhoun, J. Haden
The biggest question at CB is whether Haden can regain form as a shutdown cover corner. His declining play the last two seasons suggest otherwise and the Browns may be eager to cut bait this offseason. Beyond Haden, Jamar Taylor, 26, showed signs of developing into a quality starting CB after failing to develop as a first round selection with the Dolphins. Boddy-Calhoun, 24, also demonstrated interesting potential as an undersized slot corner, tallying 3 ints last season. Beyond that, the Browns have significant depth needs and could stand to acquire shutdown CB capable of consistently shutting down opposing team’s number 1 receivers.
S Depth: E. Reynolds, J. Poyer, D. Kindred, I. Campbell
The Browns have four young players capable of developing into serviceable options but lack, in all likelihood, an impact talent. Accordingly, in a deep and talented draft for safeties, the Browns would be well served to invest at least one selection on a safety in the first three rounds.
The table is set for the Browns to build a talented and deep roster. After the 2016 draft, the Browns have plenty of prospects capable of developing into serviceable starters at multiple positions. Now, in the 2017 draft, they need to land elite prospects in order to take the next step in their development towards becoming a contending team.
|1||Myles Garrett||EDGE||Texas A&M||6-5 270|
|2||Jonathan Allen||DL||Alabama||6-3 290|
|3||Dalvin Cook||RB||Florida St||5-11 215|
|4||Jamal Adams||S||LSU||6-0 210|
|5||Marshon Lattimore||CB||Ohio St||6-0 200|
|6||Malik Hooker||S||Ohio St||6-2 210|
|7||Leonard Fournette||RB||LSU||6-1 230|
|8||Rueben Foster||LB||Alabama||6-1 240|
|9||Jabrill Peppers||S||Michigan||6-0 215|
|10||Joe Mixon||RB||Oklahoma||6-1 225|
|11||Mitch Trubisky||QB||UNC||6-3 230|
|12||Tim Williams||EDGE||Alabama||6-4 255|
|13||Soloman Thomas||DL||Stanford||6-2 275|
|14||Mike Williams||WR||Clemson||6-3 225|
|15||Taco Charlton||EDGE||Michigan||6-5 275|
|16||Corey Davis||WR||Western Michigan||6-3 215|
|17||Gareon Conley||CB||Ohio St||6-0 195|
|18||OJ Howard||TE||Alabama||6-6 250|
|19||Takkarist McKinley||EDGE||UCLA||6-3 265|
|20||David Njoku||TE||Miami||6-4 250|
|21||Deshaun Watson||QB||Clemson||6-2 215|
|22||Quincy Wilson||CB||Florida||6-0 210|
|23||Cordrea Tankersley||CB||Clemson||6-0 200|
|24||Zach Cunningham||LB||Vanderbilt||6-3 240|
|25||Malik McDowell||DL||Michigan St||6-5 285|
|26||DeShone Kizer||QB||Notre Dame||6-4 230|
|27||Cam Robinson||OT||Alabama||6-5 325|
|28||Jarron Jones||DT||Notre Dame||6-5 315|
|29||Ryan Ramcyzk||OT||Wisconsin||6-5 315|
|30||Bucky Hodges||TE||Virginia Tech||6-6 245|
|31||John Ross||WR||Washington||5-11 190|
|32||Alvin Kamara||RB||Tennessee||5-10 215|
|33||Derek Barnett||DE||Tennessee||6-3 255|
|34||Tre’Davious White||CB||LSU||6-0 195|
|35||Dan Feeney||OG||Indiana||6-4 310|
|36||Evan Engram||TE||Mississippi||6-3 235|
|37||Juju Smith-Schuster||WR||USC||6-2 220|
|38||Haason Reddick||LB||Temple||6-1 235|
|39||Jordan Leggett||TE||Clemson||6-5 255|
|40||Sidney Jones||CB||Washington||6-0 190|
|41||Antonio Garcia||OT||Troy||6-6 300|
|42||Budda Baker||S||Washington||5-10 195|
|43||Teez Tabor||CB||Florida||6-0 195|
|44||Charles Harris||EDGE||Missouri||6-3 255|
|45||Cole Hikutini||TE||Louisville||6-5 250|
|46||Jarrad Davis||LB||Florida||6-1 240|
|47||Garrett Bolles||OT||Utah||6-5 300|
|48||Zay Jones||WR||Eastern Carolina||6-2 200|
|49||TJ Watt||LB||Wisconsin||6-4 245|
|50||Ryan Anderson||LB||Alabama||6-2 250|
|51||Marlon Mack||RB||South Florida||5-11 205|
|52||Ethan Pocic||C||LSU||6-6 310|
|53||Obi Melifonwu||S||UCONN||6-4 220|
|54||Forrest Lamp||OG||Western Kentucky||6-4 305|
|55||Raekwon McMillen||LB||Ohio St||6-2 240|
|56||D’Onta Foreman||RB||Texas||6-1 240|
|57||Christian McCaffrey||RB||Stanford||5-10 200|
|58||Chad Hansen||WR||CAL||6-1 195|
|59||Marlon Humphrey||CB||Alabama||6-1 205|
|60||Brad Kaaya||QB||Miami||6-4 220|
|61||Curtis Samuel||WR||Ohio St||5-11 200|
|62||Montravius Adams||DT||Auburn||6-3 310|
|63||Marcus Williams||S||Utah||6-0 195|
|64||Jordan Willis||EDGE||Kansas St||6-4 255|
|65||DeMarcus Walker||EDGE||Florida St||6-2 275|
|66||Carlos Watkins||DL||Clemson||6-4 310|
|67||Fabian Monreau||CB||UCLA||6-0 205|
|68||Jaleel Johnson||DL||Iowa||6-3 310|
|69||Jourdan Lewis||CB||Michigan||5-10 190|
|70||Cam Sutton||CB||Tennessee||5-11 185|
|71||Tarrell Basham||EDGE||Ohio||6-4 260|
|72||Damontrae Kazee||CB||San Diego St||5-10 185|
|73||Dede Westbrook||WR||Oklahoma||5-11 175|
|74||Elijah Qualls||DT||Washington||6-1 320|
|75||Cooper Kupp||WR||Eastern Washington||6-1 200|
|76||Kareem Hunt||RB||Toledo||5-10 210|
|77||Gerald Everett||TE||South Alabama||6-3 230|
|78||Tanoh Kpassagnon||DL||Villanova||6-7 280|
|79||Devonte Fields||EDGE||Louisville||6-3 245|
|80||Desmond King||CB||Iowa||5-11 205|
|81||Chris Wormley||DL||Michigan||6-5 295|
|82||Alex Anzalone||LB||Florida||6-3 240|
|83||Rasul Douglas||CB||West Virginia||6-2 200|
|84||Ahkello Witherspoon||CB||Colorado||6-2 195|
|85||Jake Butt||TE||Michigan||6-5 250|
|85||Kevin King||CB||Washington||6-3 195|
|86||Carl Lawson||EDGE||Auburn||6-2 255|
|87||Justin Evans||S||Texas A&M||6-0 195|
|88||Dorian Johnson||OG||Pittsburgh||6-5 300|
|89||Samaje Perine||RB||Oklahoma||5-10 235|
|90||Adoree Jackson||CB||USC||5-11 185|
|91||Larry Ogunjobi||DL||Charlotte||6-2 305|
|92||Pat Elfein||C||Ohio St||6-2 300|
|93||Marcus Maye||S||Florida||5-11 215|
|94||Montae Nicholson||S||Michigan St||6-1 220|
|95||David Sharpe||OT||Florida||6-5 350|
|96||Taylor Moton||OG||Western Michigan||6-5 330|
|97||Isaac Rochell||DL||Notre Dame||6-3 290|
|98||Caleb Brantley||DL||Florida||6-2 300|
|99||Adam Shaheen||TE||Ashland||6-5 275|
|100||Davon Godchaux||DL||LSU||6-4 300|
This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top defensive safeties entering the 2017 NFL Draft. This group consists of traditional free and strong safeties, as well as hybrid CB/S’s (e.g. Green Bay’s Damarious Randall and Micah Hyde and Dallas’ Byron Jones) and hybrid LB/S’s (e.g. Arizona’s Deone Bucannon and Washington’s Su’a Cravens). For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
SAFETY RANKINGS: (+)
1. Jamal Adams (LSU) | 6’0 210 (++)
2. Jabrill Peppers (Michigan) | 6’0 215 (+++)
3. Malik Hooker (Ohio State) | 6’2 205 (++++)
4. Budda Baker (Washington) | 5’10 190 (+++++)
5. Marcus Williams (Utah) | 6’0 195 (++++++)
6. Justin Evans (Texas A&M) | 6’0 200 (+++++++)
7. Obi Melifonwu (Connecticut) | 6’4 215
8. Marcus Maye (Florida) | 5’11 215
9. Montae Nicholson (Michigan State) | 6’1 220
10. Eddie Jackson (Alabama) | 6’0 195
11. Josh Harvey-Clemons (Louisville) | 6’4 230
12. Xavier Woods (LA Tech) | 5’11 220
13. Josh Jones (NC State) | 6’2 215
14. Tedric Thompson (Colorado) | 6’0 205
15. Jadar Johnson (Clemson) | 6’0 210
(+) The safety position has become highly adaptive in modern day NFL schemes. Safeties present arguably the best chess piece for creative defensive coordinators to move around and create exotic defensive looks in hopes of confusing opposing QBs. Accordingly, we are starting to see a trend of increasingly diverse skill sets among incoming safety classes recently. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this particular draft class of safeties is as talented (and diversely talented) as any safety class in recent memory– containing three potential all-pro caliber safety prospects as well as incredible depth.
(++) LSU’s Jamal Adams is arguably the best safety prospect to come out of college since Sean Taylor fifth overall in the 2004 draft (one could argue that Eric Berry was a comparable prospect in the 2010 draft). At 6’0 210, Adams is equal parts physical and rangy– qualities that should allow him to man either (traditional) safety spot and fit in practically any defensive scheme. With that said, Adams best qualities are intelligence, instincts and recognition skills. One play that is seared into my memory is his interception in the first quarter of the 2016 Alabama game. Nothing about the interception seemed remarkable at first brush–if anything it looked like nothing more than an ill-advised throw. But watching the replay, you realize that Adams diagnosed the play design pre-snap (which infers great film preparation), anticipated the passing zone where the primary receiving target would break to (before the WR actually made his break) and then move to that zone to position himself for an easy interception. The play is emblematic of this: Adams is the type of defensive player that beats you before the game even starts, and he also has the pure talent to dominate you during it as well. That’s a rare combination, and it should make Adams a surefire top 10 pick.
(+++) Many people classify Peppers as a linebacker, projecting his best role to be a hybrid LB/S in the mold of Deone Bucannon. While that may be true, I think it criminally understates his athleticism and ability to play a more traditional strong safety or two-deep safety role. Let’s start with what Peppers definitely is: He’s on the short list of best athletes in this draft–demonstrating rare change of direction skills, acceleration and physicality to be a disruptive force in the box (as 15.0 TFLs last season demonstrates). With that said, there is, I believe, an unfounded notion that just because he was asked to play predominately in an in-the-box role in college, Michigan was likely hiding Peppers’ cover deficiencies. To this point, I’ve watched multiple Peppers’ games and I have yet to see any real deficiencies in his ability to cover (this includes the 2016 Ohio State game where he asked to cover a fair amount). What I did see, was a player that has the athletic ability to run man to man with any receiver or tight end and the closing speed to adequately cover in zone assignments. What was clear, was that Peppers is not nearly as instinctual in coverage as he his playing in the box. But a big part of that is preparation and playing experience, and Peppers could be excused if the multitude of roles (LB, S, CB, RB, QB, WR, PR, KR) he was asked to play on a regular basis at Michigan deterred him from engaging in detailed prep for any particular position. I think people are talking themselves out of Peppers as the result of some reductive instinct to not be fooled again in falling in love with the “workout warrior.” Peppers is not that– Peppers has natural instincts, spatial and body intelligence (agility and change of direction skills) that workout warriors who turn into busts commonly lack. All in all, I see a lot of similarity to Troy Polamalu in Peppers’ game and believe he’s a clear top 15 talent in this draft.
(++++) If Adam’s is the idyllic SS prospect and Peppers’ is the idyllic Hybrid LB/S, Ohio State’s Malik Hooker may be the idyllic FS prospect. At 6’2 205, Hooker demonstrates exceptional range and instincts as a deep safety (as evidenced by 7 ints last season). Hooker also demonstrates very good physicality to come up and make a hit when needed. In the end, picking between Adams, Peppers and Hooker may be a matter of scheme fit. But it’s clear that Hooker is in the conversation with Adams and Peppers as the best safety prospect in this draft class.
(+++++) Washington’s Bubba Baker is a hybrid CB/S prospect in the mold of Green Bay’s Micah Hyde. He demonstrates natural instincts and range to man a traditional FS spot, but was highly effective playing man coverage and functioning as a slot CB. Despite being undersized, Baker is demonstrates very good physicality to make plays in the box when asked to. Overall, he’s a solid second round talent.
(++++++) I need to do more work on watching Utah’s Marcus Williams, but everything I’ve seen so far suggests he’s second/third round talent as a pure free safety prospect with very good ball hawking skills (5 ints each of the last two seasons).
(+++++++) Texas A&M’s Justin Evans is an interesting prospect. At 6’0 200, he’s a surprisingly physical tackler, almost to a fault because his inclination to administer a devastating hit leads to missed tackles, on occasion. Evans also demonstrates very good potential in coverage–but again, his overaggressiveness can cause problems. At this point, Evans is a probable third round talent with a chance of sneaking into the second round on draft day. I plan to examine him more closely, but I do like his potential as a player overall.
This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top defensive cornerbacks entering the 2017 NFL Draft. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
DEFENSIVE CORNERBACK: (+)
1. Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State) | 6’0 195 (++)
2. Quincy Wilson (Florida) | 6’1 210 (+++)
3. Gareon Conley (Ohio State) | 6’0 195 (++)
4. Marlon Humphrey (Alabama) | 6’1 205 (++++)
5. Teez Tabor (Florida) | 6’0 190 (+++)
6. Cordrea Tankersley (Clemson) | 6’0 200 (+++++)
7. Desmond King (Iowa) | 5’11 205 (++++++)
8. Sidney Jones (Washington) | 6’0 180 (+++++++)
9. Jourdan Lewis (Michigan) | 5’10 190
10. Tre’Davious White (LSU) | 5’11 190
11. Cam Sutton (Tennessee) | 5’11 190
12. Fabian Moreau (UCLA) | 6’0 205
13. Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado) | 5’11 205
14. Adoree Jackson (USC) | 5’11 185
15. Rasul Douglas (West Virginia) | 6’1 208
16. Ahkello Witherspoon (Colorado) | 6’2 195
17. Kevin King (Washington) | 6’3 192
18. Howard Wilson (Houston) | 6’0 185
19. Marquez White (Florida State) | 6’0 180
20. Corn Elder (Miami) | 5’10 175
(+) This is a very deep class without a clear top 10 talent at the top (at this point). However, there’s a couple prospects in this class that could easily work(out) their way into the top 10 after closer game review and individual workouts.
(++) With all due respect to Florida’s CB duo, Ohio State’s Marston Lattimore and Gareon Conley formed the best CB duo in college football last season. Lattimore, is the tentative #1 prospect in this draft. At 6’0 195 (with room to add bulk), Lattimore exhibits excellent athleticism, hip fluidity, foot speed and anticipation in press man coverage. He’s competitive and shows signs of an advanced feel for baiting QBs (see first INT of Mayfield in Oklahoma game) while demonstrating timing and exceptional closing speed to make up ground when he’s seemingly beat. He’s also a willing run defender and could become very good in this department with added bulk. At this point, the only real mark against Lattimore is inexperience. But he otherwise displays the requisite skill set to develop into a shutdown CB at the next level… Lattimore may project as the better prospect, but Ohio State trusted Conley to consistently shadow the opposing team’s #1. Conley exhibits a comparable skill set to Lattimore but with slightly inferior agility and foot speed. Conley is, however, more physical at this point. Both should be first round picks and Lattimore stands a chance to sneak into the top 10.
(+++) Unlike Ohio State’s duo, Florida’s duo of Quincy Wilson and Teez Tabor are more distinguishable. Wilson played press man and routinely shadowed opposing team’s #1 wide receivers. At 6’1 210, with very good athleticism and ball skills, Wilson has the skill set to develop into a shutdown CB at the next level. If there’s a criticism to Wilson’s game, its that he isn’t as physical as his frame suggests he should be. In the Alabama game, he missed multiple tackles and seemed tentative defending the run, generally. Regardless, Wilson’s a first round talent with an outside shot of landing in the top 10… Tabor was at his best playing off-man coverage, where his exceptional instincts, closing speed and ball skills play up. Tabor will not be a shutdown CB at the next level–while he shows adequate press man skills, he lacks the physicality to play that role consistently against elite receivers. But for the right team and scheme (zone or off-man), he’s a dangerous ball hawk and worthy late first round selection.
(++++) At 6’1 205, Humphrey displays the best physicality among CB prospects in this draft class. Conversely, the main concerns with Humphrey are makeup speed and pure ball skills. At this point, Humphrey projects as a late first to early second round selection.
(+++++) At 6’0 200, Clemson’s Corder Tankersley has the build to move up draft boards post-workouts. I need to watch more but he’s very solid on tape. Preliminary concerns are average hip fluidity and not being as physical as he’s capable of being. But he’s a fringe first round talent that could sneak into the top half of the first with excellent workout numbers (or fall into the second with average numbers).
(++++++) Some have started to project Iowa’s Desmond King as a safety given concerns over body type and deep speed. I personally think these concerns are overblown given that King is otherwise displays the strength and athleticism to be an effective cover corner. Right now, he’s a second round talent that could slip into the third round.
(+++++++) At 6’0 180, Washington’s Sidney Jones is a surprisingly physical press man cover corner. The primary concern with him his lack of bulk. It’s reasonable to assume that his wiry frame will fill out at the next level, but that’s not a given (his frame feels similar to Brent Grimes’ in terms of lacking bone density). I need to do more work on Jones, but early review shows a second round talent.
This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top linebackers entering the 2017 NFL Draft. The group consists of traditional 4-3 linebackers (MLB and OLB) and 3-4 inside linebacker prospects. The group excludes 3-4 outside linebackers (who are included in the defensive edge rusher prospect rankings). For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
1. Rueben Foster (Alabama) | 6’1 240 (+)
2. Zach Cunningham (Vanderbilt) | 6’3 230 (++)
3. Jarrad Davis (Florida) | 6’1 240 (+++)
4. Haason Reddick (Temple) | 6’1 230 (++++)
5. Raekwon McMillen (Ohio State) | 6’2 240 (+++++)
6. Alex Anzalone (Florida) | 6’2 245
7. Kendall Beckwith (LSU) | 6’2 250
8. Marcus Oliver (Indiana) | 6’1 240
9. Duke Riley (LSU) | 6’0 230
10. Marquel Lee (Wake Forest) | 6’3 240
11. Anthony Walker Jr. (Northwestern) | 6’1 235
12. Elijah Lee (Kansas St) | 6’3 220
13. Ukeme Eligwe (Georgia Southern) | 6’2 240
(+) Alabama’s Rueben Foster is a likely top 15 pick in the 2017 Draft. At 6’1 240, he possesses excellent instincts, closing speed, and finishing ability to be a key cog in the middle of practically any scheme at the next level. Foster also demonstrates pass-rushing and coverage abilities to be a true 3-down LB. If there is one (very small) critique, its that he’s not exceptional at taking blockers head on and shedding. But Foster otherwise displays the all-around traits to become one of the top inside linebackers in the NFL.
(++) Cunningham’s instincts– his ability to diagnose the play and get downhill– are the best among the linebackers in this draft class. Moreover, Cunningham possesses exceptional agility and athleticism, and might also display the best pass coverage abilities among this group. At 6’3 230, he has a frame arguably better-suited to play 4-3 OLB, but Cunningham has the type of build that could easily add 10-20 pounds without losing speed or quickness. He also demonstrates a good ability to take on and shed blockers–and that facet to his game could become exceptional with added bulk and power. Accordingly, there are a lot of reasons to believe Cunningham demonstrates the highest upside of all the LB prospects, including Foster. However, one glaring deficiency in Cunningham’s game– which is the thing his stats would suggest he’s best at– is his tackling ability. For all the tackles Cunningham makes, he misses a fair amount too. The observable deficiencies in his tackling approach are: (i) a failure to break down; (ii) tackling ball carriers high; and (iii) over-reliance on arm tackling. These deficiencies seem very coachable, but it could lead to some early growing pains in his development at the next level. Regardless, Cunningham is a worthy mid to late first round prospect and an absolute steal if tackling concerns cause him to slip to round two.
(+++) The best way to describe Florida’s Jarrad Davis is that he’s the quintessential bully at linebacker. He utilizes explosive closing speed and physicality to ensure that every offensive player he comes into contact with regrets the encounter. This is true regardless of whether he’s taking on interior lineman or tackling Derrick Henry one on one. Davis’ range and coverage abilities also give him position and scheme versatility at the next level. With that said, as much as I love Jarrad Davis as a prospect, I have two concerns. The first concern is durability. He possesses a powerful and compact build at 6’1 240. But the sheer wear and tear that he subjects his body to through his brand of play is concerning to his longevity potential. In that vein, Davis had to miss multiple games this season due to different injuries. The second concern is whether he exhibits consistent instincts. When he reads a play correctly, Davis possesses second-to-none ability to blow a play up. But as I’ve watched the top LB prospects play more closely, I’ve noticed greater instances of Davis taking false steps and misdiagnosing plays than the other top LB’s seem to commit. Accordingly, it’s something to note for further review. At the moment, Davis is a consensus late first, early second round draft prospect.
(++++) Anybody who closely follows NFL draft prospects inevitably develops a list of favorite players to watch play– and Temple’s Haason Reddick sits at the top my list. Pound for pound (at 6’1 230), Reddick exhibits the best agility of any prospect at any position in this draft. Along with good instincts, surprisingly powerful take-on abilities, and excellent closing speed, he has a chance to be a very good player at the next level. Reddick’s play demonstrates a lot of similarities to Lawrence Timmons’ play in college at Florida State. Despite being criminally undersized at 6’1 230, both players (Reddick more than Timmons) would often line up at a traditional DE position and were highly effective at rushing the passer and sealing the edge. Although Reddick’s coaches rarely asked him play inside linebacker or cover much, Reddick looked very natural and instinctive in the few times I did see him perform those assignments. Accordingly, while Reddick’s best position might be 4-3 weak side LB, I believe Reddick possesses the requisite attributes and abilities to develop into a high quality 3-4 inside linebacker, like Timmons. Reddick is a second round talent that could very easily slip to the third round in a deep draft such as this.
(+++++) Ohio State’s McMillen is a quality inside LB prospect that demonstrates a solid build, very good instincts and sound tackling abilities. While he’s fairly agile, McMillen’s range (sideline to sideline) and coverage abilities are average at best. Accordingly, I question whether he’s more than a very good two-down LB at the next level. Accordingly, I think he’s more of a second/third round talent than first round talent at this point.
This post covers my preliminary rankings of the top defensive edge rushers entering the 2017 NFL Draft. That group consists of five technique (4-3) ends and seven and nine technique (3-4) outside linebacker prospects. For analysis of the respective rankings of certain prospects, see the corresponding footnotes (+).
DEFENSIVE EDGE: (+)
1. Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) | 6’5 265 (++)
2. Taco Charlton (Michigan) | 6’5 270 (+++)
3. Soloman Thomas (Stanford) | 6’2 275 (++++)
4. Tim Williams (Alabama) | 6’3 250 (+++++)
5. Takkarist McKinley (UCLA) | 6’2 260 (++++++)
6. Derek Barnett (Tennessee) | 6’3 265 (+++++++)
7. Charles Harris (Missouri) | 6’3 255
8. Ryan Anderson (Alabama) | 6’2 250
9. Jordan Willis (Kansas State) | 6’4 255
10. Devonte Fields (Louisville) | 6’3 240
11. DeMarcus Walker (Florida State) | 6’2 275
12. Dawuane Smoot (Illinois) | 6’3 255
13. Carl Lawson (Auburn) | 6’2 253
14. TJ Watt (Wisconsin) | 6’4 240
15. Deatrich Wise Jr. (Arkansas) | 6’5 270
16. Joe Mathis (Washington) | 6’3 250
17. Tarrell Basham (Ohio) | 6’6 250
18. Daeshon Hall (Texas A&M) | 6’5 270
19. Carroll Phillips (Illinois) | 6’3 240
20. Tanoh Kpassagnon (Villanova) | 6’6 285
21. Ejuan Price (Pittsburgh) | 5’11 250
22. Garrett Sickels (Penn St) | 6’4 250
(+) Similar to the interior DL group, this is a very deep class consisting of diverse edge rusher profiles that are better fits for certain team schemes than others. Rightly or wrongly, combine numbers will have a big impact on how teams sort these players.
(++) If you’ve found this blog, chances are you already know that Garrett is the presumptive #1 overall player in this draft class– and I’m inclined to agree given his idyllic frame and rare blend of agility, power and first-step quickness. With that said, there’s room for discussion whether he projects to be the most impactful prospect to come out of this draft class. It’s an inquiry I intend to explore further through head to head prospect breakdowns.
(+++) After relatively modest production his first three seasons, the light seemed to come on for Michigan’s Taco Charlton his senior season (42 tackles, 13.5 TFLs, 10 Sacks, 8 QB hurries). At 6’6 272, Charlton sports an idyllic 4-3 defensive end build and athleticism. Charlton also employed a highly effective spin move, to go along with effective speed and power moves, to suggest a high development upside. Charlton is a surefire first round pick with an outside shot at being selected in the top 10.
(++++) There’s some debate whether Stanford’s Soloman Thomas is more aptly described as an interior defensive lineman, given his style of play. I’m including him among the edge group because I believe he projects best as a strong side, five technique end in a 4-3 scheme at the next level. Nevertheless, Thomas has demonstrable versatility to go along with an impressive blend of motor/competitiveness, power, quickness and technique. Similar to Charlton, he’s a surefire first round selection with an outside shot at being selected in the top 10.
(+++++) Over the past two seasons, Alabama’s Tim Williams has been college football’s most disruptive pass rushing force on a play to play basis. His Junior season, he produced 12.5 TFLs and 10.5 (and 4 QB hurries) sacks despite playing limited snaps. Then, in a full time role his senior season, he became a solid run defender while continuing to put up impressive numbers (16 TFLs, 9.0 sacks, 12 QB hurries). At 6’4 250, with demonstrated upside and coachability, he’s probably the edge rusher most likely to land in the Top 10 picks along with Garrett. Regardless, he’s also a sure fire first round pick.
(++++++) Other than Garrett, UCLA’s McKinley displays arguably the best pure athleticism among the edge defenders in this draft class. In addition to possessing a relentless motor, he demonstrates excellent power and quickness to be a disruptive force at the next level. With that said, there are some aspects of his game that give me pause. First, he is overly reliant on pure athleticism to make plays at this point. He relies almost exclusively on first step quickness and simple bull rushes to generate pressure. Moreover, he may lack functional athleticism to develop a diverse repertoire of moves to counter OTs that can handle his pure athleticism at the next level. Second, and related to functional athleticism, his angular, somewhat stiff, frame makes it more difficult for him, at times, to bend and maintain leverage as he’s turning the corner on speed rushes. This potential limitation could make it easy for NFL OTs to, for instance, employ a strategy of pushing him upfield and out of plays if he lacks the functional athleticism and counter move arsenal to reroute and gain inside leverage. With that said, I’m far from sold he possesses any prohibitive limitations to developing into a menacing edge defender– and his upside is, undeniably, tremendous.
(+++++++) Many people will argue that Barnett is a top 10 talent, and he certainly built a strong case of that when he broke Reggie White’s sack record at Tennessee. There are elements to Barnett’s game that I really like and appreciate–specifically, his impressive combination of hand fighting technique, balance, and ability to bend around tackles to close on QB drop backs. But it’s fair to question whether Barnett offers much upside. He has an average build (at 6’3 265) that seems to carry some unnecessary weight. Also, he lacks the first step quickness that usually separates good and great edge rushers at the next level. Fair or not, Barnett’s forty team will be extremely important because, in a very deep edge rusher class, a poor forty time could drop him out of the first round. However, I do see Barnett as the type of player who could competently play 4-3 DE or 3-4 OLB and, if that’s true, his chances of getting selected in the first round grow immensely. Right now, I see him fitting with multiple teams in the late first round (such as the Falcons and Packers) and, if he runs a surprisingly good forty time, some teams picking in the top portion of round one (the Saints or Colts).