Previewing the NFL Draft Class
The NFL draft is fast approaching (beginning April 26th) and many pro-football and draft analysts will be shooting rumors in the weeks to come about where different prospects will land. Expect these rumors to grow; with names like Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Saquon Barkley all to allegedly be going to the Browns or Giants, or any team who wants to give over a king's ransom to get these “generational talents”. To be honest, no one actually knows who will be drafted at number 7 (which belongs to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) because nobody knows how the picks will play out and how each team’s interest will change based on the early selections. Therefore, I won’t make a mock draft, but instead I will list the positives and negatives of notable draft prospects.
Josh Rosen, QB UCLA:
Mechanics: He has the best throwing motion in the draft. Rosen has a quick release and throws with a very simple wind up. He doesn’t have a lot of movement in his arms and he generally throws with his feet set, which is vital for any passer in the game.
Low Risk: I would consider him the lowest risk of all the quarterbacks in this draft; his ceiling may not be as high as some of the other quarterbacks, but he possesses all the necessary tools that a quarterback should have, and the team that drafts him will guarantee themselves at least a solid player.
UCLA: Additionally, there is the UCLA factor. This has nothing to do with Rosen’s talent as much as it has to do with mystique or biases. The last time any UCLA quarterback was drafted number one (or in the top few picks of the draft) was Troy Aikman. Aikman turned out to be one of the greatest QBs of all time, as he helped lead the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowls and is in the Hall of Fame. Based on this superstition, people will be inclined to think that Rosen could be another Troy Aikman (he’s probably not).
Shoulder Problems: In his sophomore season (2016), Rosen injured his throwing shoulder and needed to have surgery to recover from it. Injuries are a part of the game, but an injury to the throwing arm is a big red flag. There have been many quarterbacks who went on to become very good quarterbacks following surgery (Drew Brees notably excelled after a major shoulder surgery), but scouts and general managers will definitely be concerned about this injury.
Losing: Rosen wasn’t exactly a winner in college. At UCLA, he went 17-13 as a starter. Even with just an average team around him, a good college quarterback should post a better record than that. Granted, winning isn't a major factor in evaluating quarterbacks, but it will only get harder to win games in the NFL than it is in college, especially if he goes to a roster with little to no help around him like the Browns at number 1 or Giants at 2 (many are projecting him to land in one of those 2 spots). Most quarterbacks that are good and were good in the NFL were winning quarterbacks in college, so this does not fare well for Rosen.
Limited Mobility: Of all the quarterbacks in this draft, he is the least mobile. Rosen does not scramble and he struggles to throw on the run. This isn’t such a big problem as many good quarterbacks in the NFL prefer just sitting in the pocket.
Sam Darnold, QB USC:
Upside: Darnold seems to have the strongest upside of all the quarterbacks in this class. He really looks like he may have the greatest potential to become a star. It has been said that he has the “it” factor and it mainly is his ability to create plays out of thin air (a quality often attributed to the great Brett Favre).
Mobility: A big part of Darnold’s “it” factor is his ability to throw on the move. Not only has he shown that he can scramble out of a sack, but he can also throw while being chased. Darnold’s athleticism can be credited to the multiple positions he played in high school on both sides of the ball, and to having played both baseball and basketball in high school.
Winning: Unlike Rosen, Darnold actually was a winner. USC had a sudden revival in Darnold’s two years at quarterback. The team started 1-3 in his first season, but once they made Darnold the permanent starter they finished the season with a nine-game winning streak. He finished his career 20-6 at USC and while the Trojans generally have had a good roster around him, the rebound to relevancy has to be credited mainly to Darnold.
Consistency: Any way you look at it, Darnold has been very inconsistent. When watching him play you sometimes think you are watching the next great NFL quarterback, then only a few plays later you wonder how he not being benched.
Mechanics: His throwing motion is more of a windup. This can be a strength for his personal way of playing, but generally you want the quarterback's throwing motion to have little movement in the arm and just go straight up with a quick release. However, it may not be such a bad thing for Darnold, because in order to throw deep while on the run you can’t have a simple throwing motion. A good example of this in the NFL is Ben Roethlisberger whose throwing motion is similar to Darnold’s, but many of his passes are deep balls. Of course, this kind of throwing motion does lead to less accuracy, and scouts have noticed this about Darnold.
USC: This is the polar opposite of UCLA. There is no way around it, but USC has given us bust after bust at quarterback. Cody Kessler, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez, John David Booty, Matt Leinart, yikes. The last quarterback that wasn’t a bust from USC was Carson Palmer and there is a legitimate argument to be made that he also was a bust based on the hype he came into the NFL with. it’s very hard to look at Darnold and not think of all the USC quarterbacks that came before him and didn’t work out.
Saquon Barkley, RB Penn State:
Athleticism: Barkley might be the best overall athlete in the draft, and he has shown that he can do it all in every aspect of the sport. Barkley’s draft combine performance might have proved that, as he did more bench presses than offensive lineman Joe Thomas and was faster than wide receiver Desean Jackson (as well as other mind-blowing stats). His versatility is very valuable in today’s game; especially his ability to catch passes both out of the backfield and as a receiver (running backs are being asked to be part of the passing game more than ever).
Nice Moves: Barkley has a unique ability to cut. Every running back has their own way of navigating through defenders. Le'veon Bell uses his patience and vision while Ezekiel Elliott tries to run through the gaps in the line, while Todd Gurley's specialty is hurdling defenders. Saquon Barkley is similar to David Johnson in that he uses a combination of speed and power in his running style. What makes Barkley really dangerous, though, is his ability to cut in a horizontal line. In cutting this way, Barkley can make a defender look silly as the defender can be aligned with him ready to make a tackle and completely whiff.
None…. Ok he does sometimes try to play hero ball where, instead of just taking the quick tackle and playing for another down, he’ll try to make the big play resulting in negative yardage, but that might just be due to the bad offensive line play he had at Penn State. Additionally, he also isn’t a very good pass blocker, but that won’t be such a red flag.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S Alabama:
Versatility: Fitzpatrick has played all of the secondary positions in his career at Alabama, having spent time at cornerback, both safety positions and nickel corner. You name it he’s covered it. The question is what his strongest position is but whoever drafts him can plug him into the position of need. 2 years ago, Jalen Ramsey was the same story, having played both corner and safety at Florida State, but the Jaguars needed a corner so they just developed him there.
Covering the Best: Fitzpatrick has struggled in coverage (mainly outside coverage) against teams number 1 receivers. You can watch Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow beat him on numerous plays in the 2015 National Championship game.
Josh Allen, QB Wyoming:
Intangibles: He’s 6’5 and weighs 223 with a cannon arm. He also is hard to tackle when running because of his size. People are hoping that he will be the next Carson Wentz because he’s got all the tools, but he is a bit raw and from a small school.
Experience on the Run: While there were a lot of issues in his game, he faced more pressure than any other prospect in the draft. Give him a solid offensive line and we may even see more of his upside.
Decision Making: Allen doesn’t have very good decision making while quarterbacking and his accuracy is really bad. He reminds scouts of a Jay Cutler or Deshone Kizer, a guy who has an incredible arm but is very inaccurate and makes bad reads.
Bradley Chubb, DE NC State:
Great Hands: Part of what makes Chubb the best edge defender in this draft is his ability to use his hands and arms to shrug off lineman and harass the quarterback. He has a very good swim technique and is able to immediately jab the lineman to get leverage. If you watch his film you will see the occasional Reggie White-style bull rush where he gets his arm by the lineman’s ribs and just pushes off the lineman, causing him to fall.
Both Ends: Chubb plays both sides of the edge. This helps him and teams that are looking for an edge rusher because they won’t need to teach him how to play the other side of the ball. Often a prospect comes into the draft playing only one position, but the team drafting him already has someone there. Chubb can have an immediate impact because the learning curve will be less for him should that situation arise.
Position: There is a general lack of value from the defensive end position. While edge rushers have been a popular selection for general managers in the draft recently, there has been a major problem with them. Most edge rushers can only affect a few plays a game, and mainly rush the quarterback. Teams that invest in edge rushers don’t usually make their team better since they don’t make a difference in enough plays. Chubb did play the run pretty well in college but it will be interesting to see if he can do the same at the pro level.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB Virginia Tech:
Athleticism/Speed: This middle linebacker out of Virginia Tech is one of most athletic players in this draft. While being 6’5 and 250, he has the speed of some defensive backs. He could be very dangerous in the NFL except…..
Inexperience: Edmunds is very raw. This selection would be an ultimate “trust the process” move in the NFL. He still doesn’t have the instincts and makes poor in-game decisions. There are plays where he looks completely out of place. The team that drafts him will have to hope that they can develop him into the star he promises to be.
Derwin James, S Florida State:
Jack of All Trades: James is quite versatile for defensive schemes. At Florida State, the coaching staff used him in all sorts of schemes. Occasionally, he would be used as a cover 1 safety and play center field on passing games. Other times, James would play middle linebacker and be a QB-spy against mobile quarterbacks. He would also sometimes play as a nickel corner where he would be able to cover tight ends and slot receivers. In today's NFL, finding a guy who can cover tight ends and receivers in the slot is very valuable.
Tackling: He has instincts that can’t be taught and is one of the best tacklers in the draft. At Florida State, he was in on more tackles than anyone else. Derwin was also one of most feared tacklers in college as he was one of the hardest hitting safeties in the game. The ability to strike fear into opposing receivers is what puts safeties like Kam Chancellor and Landon Collins above the rest, and James has the potential to be in that same category.
Technique: James does take poor angles many times. At the college level, his athleticism was able to make up for it, but in the pros that won’t cut it.
Work Ethic: He didn't put in a lot of effort in his junior year, while Florida State had its worst season with James. If he gets drafted to a bad team (and some mock drafts predict that) he may start slacking off if the team starts out poorly.
It’s noteworthy that this draft is stacked mainly at cornerback, offensive line and running back (while Saquon Barkley clearly leads the class there are plenty of other running backs that could be pro-bowlers including Derrius Guice, Ronald Jones, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Akrum Wadley). There isn’t very much depth at middle linebacker or safety, upgrading the value of players like linebackers Edmunds and Roquan Smith or safeties James and Ronnie Harrison. It should be exciting watching the first round of the draft and thinking of all the ways that you could have been a better general manager than your team’s GM. it also should be exciting not watching days 2 or 3 of the draft but still complaining when you find out your team drafted a tight end from a college you’ve never heard of (there is a South Dakota State and Dallas Goedert does come from there).
Ok fine; here's my mock draft (probably will be lucky if I get 4 picks correct)
- Cleveland Browns: Saquon Barkley, RB
- New York Giants: Josh Rosen, QB
- New York Jets: Sam Darnold, QB
- Cleveland Browns: Josh Allen, QB
- Denver Broncos: Bradley Chubb, Edge
- Indianapolis Colts: Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB/S
- Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Derrius Guice, RB
- Chicago Bears: Quenton Nelson, OG
- San Francisco: Derwin James, S
- Oakland Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds, LB
- Miami Dolphins: Denzel Ward, CB
- Buffalo Bills: Baker Mayfield, QB
- Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DT
- Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB
- Arizona Cardinals: Lamar Jackson, QB
- Baltimore Ravens: Calvin Ridley, WR
- Los Angeles Chargers: Roquan Smith, LB
- Seattle Seahawks: Connor Williams, OT
- Dallas Cowboys: Joshua Jackson, CB
- Detroit Lions: Ronald Jones, RB
- Cincinnati Bengals: Harold Landry, Edge
- Buffalo Bills: Billy Price, OG/C
- New England Patriots: Mike McGlinchey, OT
- Carolina Panthers: Ronnie Harrison, S
- Tennessee Titans: Arden Key, Edge
- Atlanta Falcons: Harrison Phillips, DL
- New Orleans Saints: Leighton Vander Esch, LB
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Hughes, CB
- Jacksonville Jaguars: Reshan Evans, LB
- Minnesota Vikings: Josey Jewell, LB
- New England Patriots: Isaiah Oliver, CB
- Philadelphia Eagles: Isaiah Wynn, OG