Thursday, April 27, 2017

2017 Final Mock Draft!

1. Cleveland
Myles Garrett has been the consensus number 1 pick from the beginning.  Some people question Garrett’s production and whether he has the attitude to be an elite pass rusher.  When you watch him play his athleticism sticks out.  His burst off the snap is electric.
The pick: Myles Garrett, DE Texas A&M  

2. San Francisco
I think the recent buzz on SF considering a QB is them realizing their pick is more valuable if the teams below them think they might take a QB.  Solomon Thomas is the second best non QB player in this class.  He has the potential to anchor their defense for years to come.
The pick: Solomon Thomas, DE Stanford

3. Chicago
The Mike Glennon signing doesn’t guarantee they don’t go quarterback here, I have a hard time believing they don’t try to sure up their secondary.  Malik Hooker is raw, but makes plays on the ball in the air that not many people can make.  I was more impressed with his run defense than I was expecting.  He flew to the ball and attacked ball carriers more like what I expected from Jamal Adams based on the hype.  Hooker’s tackling technique could be improved. Laying a shoulder into guys to tackle them might not work as well in the pros.
The Pick Malik Hooker, S Ohio State 

4. Jacksonville
Not that any of these picks other than Garrett are sure things, but trying to predict this pick is particularly dicey.  When in doubt, go with the best players available.  Injury concerns, inexperience, and their own depth chart scare them off Marshon Lattimore.  The next best guy is O.J. Howard.  Howard is the rare college TE prospect with the athleticism to cause matchup problems and the physicality to block.
The Pick O.J. Howard, TE Alabama

5. Tennessee
That makes it easy on Tennessee.  Marshon Lattimore has hamstring concerns, but he moves different than everyone else.  Lattimore could eventually challenge for CB1 status. Not CB1 on the Titans.  CB1 in the league.
The Pick: Marshon Lattimore, CB Ohio State

6. N.Y. Jets
The Jets are the first team to take the QB plunge.  Wait until next year and try your luck again in a quarterback class that might or might not be better than this year? Or take now what they think is a clutch player with the will to win?  Deshaun Watson doesn’t have the same upside as the other guys in this class, but he has the guts and grit to face the pressure of N.Y.
The Pick: Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson

7. L.A. Chargers
The Jets drew first blood and now the teams that want a QB are on the phones.  L.A. can’t get an offer it likes.  They want to stay and take a tone setter for their defense.  When I heard about Jamal Adams I was expecting a good pass defender and an absolute missile on run defense.  I didn’t quite see that in the games I watched.  He seemed slow to the ball and he often got caught up in trash as he tried to come up in run support.  I would like to drop him down a little lower, but it sounds like his leadership skills are off the charts.  L.A.C won’t want to pass up a plug and play captain for their defense during turbulent times.
 The pick: Jamal Adams, S LSU

8. Carolina
A lot of people have an RB here.  I’m not buying it.  My next thought was speed at WR with John Ross.  I just can’t see Dave Gettleman doing that.  He likes to invest in the big “hog mollies” up front.  They seem fairly set at d-line.  They seem fairly NOT set at O-line.  Garrett Bolles looks like surest OT starter in this class.  All of the other first round type names either look like projects at OT or guard converts.  Bolles is good in pass protection and a beast against the run.
The pick: Garrett Bolles, OT Utah

Here it is!  My annual Bengals pick.  With the 9th pick in the NFL draft we have a trade!  The Bengals relationship with their old pal Hue Jackson comes in handy again.   Bengals trade the 9th pick and the 41st pick for the 12th pick and the 33rd pick.  It helps both teams.  The Browns take matters into their own hands and step up to take their guy.  Beyond QB, they don’t necessarily need specific players, they just need players. Dropping down 9 slots in the second doesn’t really hurt them.  Cincy on the other hand gets their pick of whatever talent falls out of the first round and a valuable trade chip if they decide to move back down.  Anyway, I’ve gone on too long about a fake trade that will never happen.

The Bengals could have rolled with Jonathan Allen here, but if you are looking for pass rush, I don’t know how much Allen actually upgrades what they already have.  They can presumably still get a player they like at 12 and they improve their position in the second round in the process.

TRADE: Cleveland via  CINCINNATI 
The Browns go with Mitchell Trubisky here.  There’s no guarantees if they try to hold out for someone better and cheaper. They’ve constructed a formidable offensive line.  It’s not a bad idea to show some urgency here.
The pick: Mitchell Trubisky, QB North Carolina

10. Buffalo
I don’t know if this pick is going to be Buffalo or not, but someone is going to step into this slot intoxicated with some Mahomes fever.  Will Mahomes polish into a fine diamond or crumble like a lump of coal?  This is a good move.  The potential is too high to worry about price.  Bring him in, tighten up some of his footwork/habits, and reap the rewards.
The pick: Patrick Mahomes, QB Texas Tech

11. New Orleans
The Saints are desperate to upgrade their defense and they stumble into one of the more pro-ready prospects in the class.  Most mock drafts have Allen going higher.  Decent value for the Saints.
The pick: Jonathan Allen, DE Alabama

12. CINCINNATI via Cleveland      
The Bengals missed on Allen, but maybe they can kill two birds with one stone.  Haason Reddick is a college DE that projects as a LB in the pros.  He’s athletic enough to play linebacker, but big enough to rush from the edge.  If the Bengals are going to try to improve the pass rush with their first pick.  This is their best bet.
The pick: Haason Reddick, LB Temple

13. Arizona (Buffalo??)
Call this a tentative trade.  Somebody snags Corey Davis in this slot.  He’s the top WR in this class.  I tried letting him slide down the board a little, but it just didn’t feel right.  Davis hasn’t worked out in the pre-draft process due to injury, but his play proved enough.  If you are ranking the potential for players in this class to make all-pro, I think it would be a mistake not to consider Davis in the top 10 and he has a decent floor as well.
The pick: Corey Davis, WR Western Michigan

14. Philadelphia
The Eagles add another weapon to their free agency hull of targets they added.  Christian McCaffrey has been compared to Brian Westbrook.  He’s a perfect outlet option for Carson Wentz and he’s good enough as a runner to use all 3 downs without limiting the offense.  As long as he stops trying to imitate Le’Veon Bell’s magician-like hesitation moves, he will be a nice addition.
The pick: Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford

15.  Indianapolis
Indy used free agency to bandage up their defense a little bit to give themselves some flexibility here and I think they are going to use every bit of it.  O-line would make more sense if they like the guys left on the board.  This is going to be a little bit of a splash: Dalvin Cook goes to Indy with Leonard Fournette still on the board.  Some have Cook falling for durability and off-field concerns. From what I watched, I have Cook as the best RB in this class.  To me, Cook and Joe Mixon forced the issue a little more on their runs.  They were creators.  McCaffrey and Fournette are more opportunists than creators.  If a defense makes a mistake or leaves a small opening they will make you pay.  Cook and Mixon have a little more ability to make something out of nothing.
The Pick: Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State    

16. Baltimore
The Ravens inject a little talent back in their O-line with a small school OT/G prospect.  I’ve seen Forrest Lamp projected all over the board, but most seem to agree he is solid prospect with a low floor.
The pick: Forrest Lamp, G Western Kentucky

17. Washington
Joe Mixon’s off the field incidents have been well documented.  I don’t want to minimize what he did, but he’s an elite offensive prospect in this class.  People keep saying if teams haven’t taken him off their board, why does it matter what round they pick him? It’s about investment and whether you think he is a risk to relapse.  Washington’s owner insists on keeping a racial slur as his mascot.  I don’t think he cares about the moral/PR side of it.  Does the talent outweigh the risk?  Washington votes yes.
The pick: Joe Mixon, RB Oklahoma

18. Tennessee 
There has been all kinds of smoke around Reuben Foster.  I considered dropping him down further, but I think 15 to 20 is about the range he’ll end up landing.
The pick: Reuben Foster, LB Alabama

19. Tampa Bay
Leonard Founette’s wait finally ends!  Some will take this as knock on Fournette. But I think he’s really good, and placing him in the first round as a RB is an indication of that.  He can punish defenses for their mistakes while simultaneously wearing them down.  Some criticize his receiving abilities.  I liked what I saw from him catching the ball.  He’ll be just fine.  Fournette falls and Tampa rejoices.
The pick:   Leonard Fournette, RB LSU

20. Denver
The Broncos will keep their eyes on Foster if he slips, but instead they stay put and land a versatile TE prospect.  David Njoku’s has great athleticism and has the chance to develop into a great two-way TE which is becoming more and more valuable in the NFL.  Offensives around the league crave the scheme flexibility, and college football isn’t producing enough of these guys to quench their thirst.
The pick: David Njoku, TE Miami

21. Detroit
Derek Barnett is one of these prospects with great college production, but there’s no consensus on where he projects because it’s uncertain if his skills will translate to the NFL.  He reminds me of Shaq Lawson from last year.  Great college player, but probably a mediocre pro.  Barnett wins mostly when he rushes around the edge.  He only could get penetration on an inside move when the blocking scheme messed up. He bends well, but I don’t know if his speed will get him around the edge against better talent.
The pick: Derek Barnett

22. Miami
Marlon Humphrey provides Miami with an opportunity to get tougher at CB.  He’s young, big, and strong.  He needs some help on deep routes, but he is excellent in run support.
The pick: Marlon Humphrey, CB Alabama

23. N.Y. Giants
Wisconsin OT Ryan Ramczyk would likely go higher if not for offseason surgery.  The league is starved for OT talent so I still think he’ll go round 1, but he has more question marks than I’d like with a first round pick.  Maybe he’s a guard?
The pick: Ryan Ramczyk, OT Wisconsin

24. Oakland
As long as the Raiders are owned by a Davis, I think they are obligated to take the fastest player available.  As the fastest player EVER, the Raiders have to go with John Ross right?  If he wasn’t an injury risk Ross would go higher.  He’s a better receiver than most ultra-fast guys.  He flashes small guy hands sometimes.  That’s not necessarily a reason to drop him, just something to keep in mind.
The pick: John Ross, WR Washington

25. Houston
Houston Has O-line needs at multiple positions.  Luckily this draft class has plenty of OT’s that probably should play guard in the NFL.  If you are a glass half full kind of person that means they are versatile!  Cam Robinson can plug a hole at guard or fill in at tackle in a pinch.
The pick: Cam Robinson, OT Alabama

26. Seattle
With the thin OT crop dried up, Seattle turns to CB.  Tre’davious White is an interesting prospect. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say anything bad about him yet he never really seemed to gain much momentum throughout the process. Gareon Conley would probably be in the mix here or earlier.  I’m not really sure what to make of the recent accusations against him.  I just dropped him out of the first round all together.
The pick: Tre’davious White, CB LSU

27. Kansas City
The Chiefs finally wave the white flag on the Alex Smith era.  He’ll still have the reins for a couple of years, but K.C. picks his heir apparent here.  Deshone Kizer has all of the tools to be great.  He has a low floor, but if anyone can get the most out of him it’s Andy Reid.  This could be Donovan McNabb 2.0.  Fittingly, McNabb’s tutor gets to teach Kizer too.
The pick: Deshone Kizer, QB Notre Dame 

28. Dallas
You’ll see a wide variety of opinions about Adoree Jackson.  Some love him.  Some think he’s strictly a return man.  He is electric with the ball in his hands.  Some think he should just play offense.  The answer is somewhere in between.  He is a decent corner and an elite return man.  Dallas will see the upside.
The pick: Adoree Jackson, CB USC

29. Green Bay
Green Bay could keep the CB run going here, but their offense seems a little too reliant on the health of Jordy Nelson. Mike Williams is expected to go higher, but I struggled to find a spot for him.  This might work out better for him anyway. What do you think Aaron Rodgers will do with a player that excels at contested catches?
The pick: Mike Williams, WR Clemson

30. Pittsburgh 
Pittsburgh jumps at the opportunity to draft a name that sounds like Polamalu.  They sprint to the podium for Obi Melifonwu because GM Kevin Colbert is that dumb.  Just kidding. I don’t really think that.  But Pittsburgh has targeted a specific type of athlete the last few years.  Melifonwu and his eye-popping combine numbers certainly qualify as their type.
The pick: Obi Melifonwu, S Connecticut

31. Atlanta
Atlanta didn’t have enough depth on their defensive line last year and it came back to bite them in their Super Bowl collapse.  Malik McDowell falls because of his personality and inconsistency, but he will look awfully nice as a penetrating DT next to space-eating free agency acquisition Dontari Poe.
The pick: Malik McDowell, DT Michigan State

32. New Orleans
There’s quite a bit of defensive talent for the Saints to go after here, but instead they can’t resist taking another toy for Drew Brees to play with.  Evan Engram probably won’t ever line up as an inline tight end, but he will be a matchup nightmare in the slot.
The pick: Evan Engram, TE Ole’ Miss.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bengals Shopping List: 2017

Less than a week until the draft!  What do the Bengals need?  It’s a harder question to answer than most years.  While the Bengals are in transition at multiple positions, they have a plan in place at just about every spot.  As fits with their organizational philosophy, younger players are slated for promotion into roster voids caused by free agency and roster cuts.  I’m not opposed to the strategy, but it makes ranking their biggest weaknesses murky. Basically, they need a player at every position.  Which player do they need the most?  Well, who is more likely to excel Cedric Ogbehoi at LT or Nick Vigil at outside linebacker?  It’s a dirty job, but here’s my crack at it. 

1. Center
Until they move on from Russel Bodine I’ll probably have this penciled in as the team’s weakest position.  He’s a liability in pass protection and the offense is never going to be able to function consistently if they keep allowing a pipeline of pressure up the middle.  It didn’t matter as much when they had high-end guard play next to Bodine, but now their guards consist of Clint Boling trying to bounce back from a down year and some combination of Andre Smith/T.J. Johnson trying to fill the void left by the departure of arguably their third best offensive player.  More than likely center will not be a priority in the first or second rounds of the draft, but keep an eye on names like Ethan Pocic, the unusually tall center from LSU and Jon Toth, the gritty center out of Kentucky, late in day 2 or early in day 3.       

2. Guard
As noted above, they are in transition at guard as well and it’s not clear if the current solutions on the roster are sturdy bandages capable of stopping the bleeding or flimsy Band-Aids destined to allow the Bengals offense to hemorrhage to death as they continuously allow opposing DT’s to sprint straight to the quarterback every passing down.  I like the idea of playing Andre Smith at guard, but I’m still a little skeptical it is going to pan out.  While this year’s OT draft class has been maligned, the interior OL crop is fairly strong and deep.  Forrest Lamp likely won’t fall to them in the second round, but they could look at guys like Dan Feeney (Indiana) and Dorian Johnson (Pittsburgh) on day 2. 

3.   Linebacker
I’m lumping the whole linebacking corps together.  The Bengals couldn’t stop the short to intermediate passing game to save their life.  As a whole, they need to get more athletic in the middle of their unit.  Is promoting Nick Vigil the answer?  Will free agent Kevin Minter pan out?  Can Vontaze Burfict stay healthy?  I’m not confident enough about any of those answers for me to be comfortable with them standing pat with what they’ve got.  Vinnie Rey is a nice backup, but if you’re going to ask him to contribute beyond a fill-in role, you’re just treading water.  Haason Reddick (Temple) might be a player that is elevating onto their radar in the first round.  It will be interesting to see if they like Reuben Foster (Alabama) enough to take him at 9. 

4a. Cornerback
This one hurts.  They have dumped plenty of resources into filling this need, but it is unclear if any of their efforts are sufficient for the upcoming season.  Adam Jones seems hell-bent on scuttling what’s left of his career.  Dre Kirkpatrick hasn’t shown signs that he’s any more than an average player.  Darqueze Denard has yet to develop into a significant contributor and William Jackson has yet to step on the field.  9 probably isn’t the spot to take a CB for them unless Marshon Lattimore falls due to injury concerns.  It’s a deep class though.  They will be able to find help here all the way into day 3.  

4b. Ofensive Tackle    
Same deal on this one.  They’ve allocated plenty of resources but it isn’t clear if it will pay off and it will likely be a disaster in 2017 if it doesn’t.  Pundits will hound all offseason about how the Bengals poor O-line play was the problem in 2016, they lost their two best guys in free agency, and consequently they will be challenging Cleveland for the cellar of the division in 2017.  I’m cautiously optimistic that narrative is ill-conceived, but not confident.   

5a. WR
Brandon Lafell is fine as a poor man’s version of Marvin Jones at WR2.  Tyler Boyd will be decent as a WR2/WR3 upgrade on Mohammed Sanu, but he has a fairly low ceiling.  If this offense is ever really going to hum like it almost did two years ago, they need a little talent boost opposite A.J. Green.  I’m not sure what they have in Cody Core and whether he is a potential solution.   Corey Davis (Western Michigan) hasn’t tested in the pre-draft process due to injury.  I like him, but he might be a little too risky for Cincy at 9.  Mike Williams (Clemson) is too rich for my blood any earlier than the late-teens.  John Ross could be gone at 9, and has his own injury concerns (shoulder and knees).  Fortunately, this WR class has something for everyone in every round.  Day 2 could be a good spot to snag some potential starting WR talent.  Curtis Samuel (Ohio State RB/WR with a 4.31 40 to his name), Zay Jones (set records at East Carolina running bubble screens but he showed at the Senior Bowl he might be more than that), Chris Godwin (Penn St., good WR evaluators that I trust think he’s better than Mike Williams) would be intriguing in round 2 and Carlos Henderson (Louisiana Tech), Taywan Taylor (Western Kentucky), and Juju Smith-Schuster Smith (USC) would be outstanding additions especially if they fall to the early third. Cooper Kupp (Eastern Washington) set records at the FCS level but I’m not sure I like him enough to take him as high as he is going to go.  ArDarius Stewart (Alabama), Josh Reynolds (Texas A&M), Chad Hansen (California)…Ok I’m starting to feel like Mel Kiper just randomly spouting off every player he’s ever heard of.  Here’s the point: the beauty of having A.J. Green is that finding high-end WR2 talent is a lot easier than finding elite WR1 talent.  They don’t need to find Batman, they need to find Robin and if they can land one of these 12 or so guys I’ve mentioned I would be thrilled.  This is the year to do it.  They will develop with Boyd and really be ready to rock when this roster really rebounds in about 1.5 to 2 years.  Their current crop will be ok, otherwise this would rank higher.  Yet, I just typed up half a page on it without breaking a sweat.  If they want to be great, they’ll find a way to sneak WR in some time between rounds 2 and 4.      

5b. TE
Same deal here? I’d be just fine with their current group of Tyler Eifert, Tyler Croft, and C.J. Uzomah, but all three missed time in 2016 due to injury.  Eifert is in a contract year.  Will he be the latest talent to bleed out the door in the first few days of free agency triggering the whole world to scoff at the Bengals’ frugality? O.J. Howard (Alabama) would be a nice insurance policy to that and it would allow them to go to more 2 TE sets essentially solving the WR2 problem at the same time.  Most think this could be the best TE class ever.  Granted a lot of the players project more as receiving only talents, but that wouldn’t necessarily be the worst thing in the world.  There’s more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to bolstering depth for your receiving targets.  David Njoku (Miami) will be gone in the 15 to 25 range, but they will have plenty of other opportunities to add TE depth sprinkled throughout the draft figuratively and literally… Arkansas TE Jeremy Sprinkle could a guy they consider (How about that for a football name?  Not exactly Tank Johnson or Rock Cartwright) 

5C. DE
Most would place DE towards the top of the needs list for the Bengals.  Pass rush pass rush pass rush will be the number 2 item on the canned list of talking points this offseason.  I see it the same as WR2.  It’s not urgent in that if they stand pat for now it won’t sink their 2017 season, but if they want to challenge the top tier teams consistently, they need to get some talent in the pipeline.  Solomon Thomas (Stanford) will be gone quickly.  Johnathan Allen (Alabama) might fall to them at 9.  He would be a nice addition, but I don’t think he has enough upside as a pass rusher to solve their real problem.    Beyond that there is a big jumble as far as the next best edge guys.  I don’t really like Taco Charlton (Michigan), Derek Barnett (Tennessee), and Charles Harris (Missouri) as pro prospects. They are better off trying to snag players like Jordan Willis (Kansas State), Takkarist McKinley (UCLA), Tarell Basham (Ohio), Demarcus Walker (Florida State), or Derek Rivers (Youngstown State) later in the draft.     

6. RB
I don’t know what to make of the incumbent duo, a recovering Giovani Bernard and a struggling Jeremy Hill.  Let’s just say I would have liked to see them keep Rex Burkhead.  They should resist the urge to draft one of the big names early and take a swing on somebody late to add some fresh blood to the mix.
7.  Safety
I don’t know if Shawn Williams is going to plateau as an average player or if he can step up.  There is some safety talent in this class, but the best move is probably to stand pat unless Malik Hooker falls into their laps at 9.  He’s raw, but he could be great.

7. DT
They can hold off here to see what they have in recovering players like Andrew Billings, Brandon Thompson, and Marcus Hardison.

8. QB

Similar strategy at QB.  Use 2017 to evaluate Jeff Driskel.  Only add a player if they decide to trade A.J. McCarron.  

Thursday, April 20, 2017

QB Blitz

The quarterbacks are sliding, the quarterbacks are sliding.  The February and March storylines blared across the internet like an air raid siren warning the world of impending doom.  Now we are a week from the draft and you are starting to hear a little bit different buzz. Maybe the Browns like a quarterback.  Maybe the Texans like one.  So what is it, teams wafting smoke screens from the tops of their facilities or tiny leaks springing as the pressure of the moment mounts each day?    
Probably both.  There is definitely some gamesmanship going on.  On the other hand, this QB class has been undersold all along.  The 49ers and Bears seem serious about not taking a quarterback, but the Jets are just sitting there like a bad poker player dealt pocket aces trying to keep a straight look on his face.   On the surface they are nodding, “Absolutely, this quarterback class is terrible!”  But inside it’s, “We @$$&ing just want Deashaun Watson!  Please don’t take him. Please don’t take him.”
And why wouldn’t they?  He’s like Geno Smith with poise and character (Okay that might be underselling him a little, but we’ll get to that).

And it won’t just be one QB to go early, QB2 and QB3 will come off the board by pick 20 with QB4 not far behind.  I’ll admit, I’m not saying this with 100% confidence, but it’s definitely more likely than the 0 QB’s in the top 20 theory.  But the story here is not that all four QB’s will get taken in the first round, it is that all four QB’s SHOULD get taken in the first round.  Everyone can’t help themselves from ragging on this class.   Guess what, quarterback is still the best way to upgrade your team.  If you don’t have a top 15 guy in the league, you don’t have a chance.    The pundits can't get past the flaws.  Meanwhile, all of the league decision makers are sitting there shifting their eyes back and forth waiting for someone to blink.  Here’s the disconnect: the media, fan bases, and probably some front office members can’t accept that even though a quarterback isn’t a day 1 starter, it doesn’t mean they are a bad prospect.  It is a case by case situation.  Someone like Cam Newton can hop into the league and thrive in trial by fire mode.  Others like David Car get incinerated.  Some guys just need to get a feel for what defensive schemes are doing.  Learn the speed of players. Learn pro offenses until they are second nature.  Iron out some kinks in their mechanics.  Play a few times in the first few years in some spot duty to get their feet wet. THEN they can go take the league by storm.  Everyone gets wrapped around the salary of a top 10 pick.  Who cares?  Some backup quarterbacks make a lot of money these days.  So what if you pay one $10 million?  The rookie salary structure has adjusted to allow it.  The cap is adjusting to allow it.  Draft your guy then develop him until you think he’s ready.  If it is number 1 overall.  So be it.  Talking heads will chortle, “You can’t take a guy that high then sit him on your bench.”  Sorry, weak-minded pundit. That is a garbage take.  Quarterback is different.  You can’t compete without one so stack your roster with as much talent as possible then wait for it to bloom.  You have four to five years before you have to decide.  As a coach or GM you might not be around four or five years, but what are you going to take to your next interview? 

“Well, we cut our nose off despite are face, because it was best for me if we took a player that could provide a quicker, albeit smaller, impact."
“I did the best thing for my team regardless of the consequences to me because it was my job to do that.”
Value, value, value.  No one can stop talking about value.  “First round” value.  “Top ten” value.  It means nothing. Evaluate the players.  Decide who you like. Then draft them as late as you think you think you can get away with. 

So what are the QB’s in this class?  Yes, none of them are surefire day 1 starters, but all of them have above-average starter potential: 

Deshaun Watson, Clemson: 
Maybe Geno Smith isn’t a bad low-end apocalyptic comp, but I would go with rich man’s Teddy Bridgewater or Alex Smith 2.0.  Again, that might not get your motor revved up, but if you are waiting to find Peyton Manning, you are likely going to keep waiting.
Pat Mahomes, Texas Tech: 
Flies-by-the-seat-of-his-pants prospects usually draw the same high-end Brett Favre comp.  Mahomes is no different. It might actually be justified in this case.  What’s the low end comp?  Somewhere between Josh Freeman and Jay Cutler with better character and attitude.  We’re talking boom or bust here, but if there’s a potential upside that will get you Brett Favre, someone is going to take a swing at him in the first round.   And why wouldn’t they? The value in this draft class is relatively flat.  Outside of the top 1 or 2 picks, there really isn’t anyone you could take in the first round that you couldn’t find a reasonably comparable, slightly-downgraded version 30 picks later.  Somebody will talk themselves into Mahomes.
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina:  
Trubisky had the best 2017 of any of these guys, but the fact that he only started one year in college gives everyone pause.  People point to the Stanford bowl game as a negative.  I came out of it fairly impressed.  UNC was driving at the end of the game down 8 points.  Once they got down around the 30 yard line, Trubisky threw 5 straight passes that could have been caught for touchdowns.  The first two were dropped.  The third was caught, but the receiver couldn’t quite keep his balance well enough to get into the end zone.  The fourth was dropped.  UNC scored to get within 2 on the fifth attempt, but lost the game when Trubisky got pummeled on the two point conversion attempt by multiple defensive lineman within a second of snapping the ball.  A lot of people can’t look at him without the ghost of Mark Sanchez floating around in the back of their mind.  I think if you need a quarterback, you have to take a shot on him.     

Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame: 
Big strong armed quarterback that struggles with accuracy at times.  Everyone is scratching their heads because Notre Dame stunk this year.  I see hints of Donovan McNabb.  Andy Reid will too.  There is a little bit of a scary floor to Kizer if you don’t think he will ever be able to process reads quick enough and throw accurately enough to be successful.  Coaches see themselves as sculptors though.  I’d be surprised if he lasts into day 2. 

Are all of these guys going to pan out?  Absolutely not, but at least one of them will.  Yes, they all have flaws, but there is enough starter potential here that all four should go within the first 32 picks. Go ahead NFL, do it.  You’ll get chastised.

“These teams are panicking.  They are pushing these guys up their draft boards.  There is a quarterback tax.  They are overating the position.”  It’s okay.  Don’t listen.  Actually, the talking heads squawking are underrating the position.  Forget about them.  Go for it NFL.  Go get your QB.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Eyes of the Tiger for the 2017 Combine

It's combine time.  Draft boards of draftniks everywhere are settling in just in time to be thrown into total disarray as workout warriors from all over the country prepare to descend upon Indianapolis next week.

It's time to start sizing up this draft class to see who the orange and black might end up with in the first round.  While I would have liked to have seen the 2016 season go better than it did, I have to say it is fun having the Bengals picking in the top 10 again. I miss the days when they stunk every year and the early moments of the draft were that much more riveting.  Not really, but still it's kind of nice.  Alright, here's a Bengals big board of the top 8 candidates for Cincy to select in round 1 (Yes, I realize the Bengals pick 9th, but let's be honest they have no shot at Myles Garrett.  We'll just take him right off the board (..unless they trade up! hmmm, yeah, not hapenning).  The quarterbacks will kind of be the x factor in the top ten.  As of right now we still aren't sure any will get taken ahead of the Bengals pick so we are left with pondering the top 8 guys in consideration.  Here are the names you should pay closest attention to at this week's combine.

1. Solomon Thomas  DE Stanford
Athletic enough to develop into a difference maker at DE, but big enough to move inside on passing downs.  Most popular comparison I've seen thrown around has been Michael Bennett.  The default analysis from "Big Draft" has been the Bengals need pass rush.  Don't mistake this ranking as an endorsement of that analysis.  The Bengals defense needs another all-pro caliber player.  I don't care what position.  As of right now, I'm saying Thomas is the top candidate to fit that bill.  

2. Jamal Adams S LSU
Safety??  Well yes.  Shawn Williams wasn't terrible last year, but if you can keep him as your backup and you can bring in a player like Adams that can make plays against the run and pass and bring high-end football character to the unit then that's what you have to do.

3. Marshon Lattimore CB OSU
Hear me out on this one.  Yes, another corner in the first round would be slightly annoying and it might be a little ill advised considering the depth of this years CB class (I expect guys that can develop into starting-caliber players to potentially last deep into day 2).  Yet, Adam Jones could be in jail by the time the season starts, Dre Kirkpatrick could be wearing a different uniform via free agency, who knows what they have with William Jackson, and Lattimore is the consensus top corner on the board.  If the Bengals front office believes Lattimore is worthy of that kind of evaluation, I say go for it.

4. Malik Hooker S OSU
In fairness, if it weren't for a few injury concerns, Lattimore would be a few spots lower on this list.  Hooker has had multiple surgical repairs since the college season ended including one on his labrum (the one in the hip).  Hyperbole has Hooker as the next Ed Reed.  While I'm not penciling him into the Hall of Fame, he is the kind of center field type safety prospect that would fit perfectly next to George Iolka.  If he were healthy he'd probably bump up to number 2 on the NFL Tinted Orange Bengals big board (trademark pending).  Instead, he'll be a bit of an enigma heading into draft day as no one will likely see him work out before training camps start.  Hooker won't be flashing across your screen this weekend, but don't forget about him come April.

5.  Jonathan Allen DE Alabama
Allen draws a lot of hype for his standout senior season with the Crimson Tide.  I think he's solid, but I'm not sure he upgrades the pass rush as much as you'd expect considering the pedigree.

6. Reuben Foster LB Alabama
Another guy that could be higher if not for medical issues.  Alabama defenders always scare me because they tend to make each other look better than they are and they come into the league beat up.  Shoulder surgery is a little problematic for a linebacker whose calling card has been laying hard hits on opposing ball carriers .  Still, the Cincy linebacking corps needs an athleticism shot in the arm.  If the medicals check out and the DB's and DE's are gone, let it rip.  This is the kind of prospect they  hoped they were getting when they drafted Keith Rivers ninth overall.

7.  O.J. Howard TE Alabama
Here's where things heat up a little bit as the beaten path quickly turns into a jungle.  I'm sure not all teams have the next 20 players graded neck and neck, but I bet if you polled multiple teams you'd get a pretty wide variety on the pecking order.  Howard is an athletic receiving target that can block better than most college TE's.  If they want to restock their receiving options and they don't manage to pull a free agency rabbit out of their rear next week when it comes to regrouping at O-line, loading up on tight ends for a heavy dose of two TE sets might be the way to go.

8.  Mike Williams WR Clemson
I don't think Williams has quite the WR1 potential that a lot people are talking about, but I'm pretty sure he will be a good WR2.  His speed numbers this weekend could decide how far down he slides.

Dark Horse Candidates for the 9th Pick:

Leonard Fournette RB LSU
I don't really like the idea of taking an RB either, but if they think he is talented enough to set the league on fire, it might be a luxury they can afford.

Tim Williams DE/OLB Alabama
Williams specialized as a pass rusher at Alabama.  I go back and forth as to whether that's a positive or a negative.  He has some red flags in his background. I see him mocked anywhere from top 15 to the 3rd round.  They'd be taking a home run swing with this one.

Corey Davis WR Western Michigan
Davis has a lower floor than Williams, but a higher ceiling.  He looks like Terrell Owens.  He tore up the MAC, but he also put up decent numbers against better competition.  Another player with injury issues.  Unfortunately, you won't see him this weekend either.

Other Names to keep an eye on this weekend that will likely only come into play in the event of a trade-down:

Derek Barnett DE Tennessee
High-end college production without the athleticism you'd hope for high in the first round.  We'll see how he looks this weekend.  He could be a candidate to move up this list if he surprises people.  
David Njoku TE Miami
He won't be quite as good of a two-way player out of the gate as Howard.  Not sure if he fits what Cincy would be interested in, but watch how much buzz he generates in Indianapolis.

Forrest Lamp OT/G Western Kentucky
Depending how free agency goes, they might have a big hole to fill at guard.

Takkarist McKinley OLB/DE UCLA
How big is he going to measure?  Does he move well enough to transition to LB? Greasy athlete that can attack the quarterback from the edge.

Taco Charlton DE Michigan
I haven't watched him yet, but the ESPN guys have elevated him into their top 15.

That's it for now.  Enjoy the fireworks in Indy!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Let the Games Begin: NFL 2016 Predictions

The 2016 season has begun!  Time to check in with some predictions for the year.  I didn't meet the Thursday kickoff deadline for this post, but I figured I'd try to at least get my thoughts on record before the Sunday madness kicks off tomorrow.  I could probably ramble on with takes all day, but I'll try to keep this brief.

AFC North:

Pittsburgh     10-6
It feels like it is shaping up as a Murphy's Law season for the Steelers (or maybe that's wishful thinking).  But with Jason Voorhees at quarterback, I'm not sure all of the injuries and suspensions in the world can stop them.  I'm still picking them to win the division.

Baltimore    9-7
On the surface Baltimore looks like a team with too many holes to succeed in 2016.  They have almost no receiving weapons.  Their pass rushers are aging.  Their secondary still looks porous.  Beware, that's what we thought about Carolina last year too.  I'm not predicting a MVP season for Flacco, but the Ravens as a whole should bounce back a little; strong organizations usually do.  While they come up a little short of the division crown, 9-7 feels much better for a franchise not used to picking in the top 10 of the draft.

Cincinnati    9-7
Sorry Bengals fans.  I have our striped crusaders finishing 3rd in the division this year.  However, the drop off isn't necessarily for all of the boiler plate reasons that have constantly been cited all offseason (at least not directly).  I think this team is good.  In fact, when I start trying to rank the 32 teams, I come up with a core of 5 to 8 teams and then the rest of the league is sort of a jumbled mess.  I would argue you could slot the Bengals into the top 5.

Everyone thinks the offense will sputter with the WR free agency defections, the Eifert injury, and most of all the departure of the almighty Hue Jackson.  The offense will be just fine.  Sanu is a fairly average receiver, and Tyler Boyd essentially looks like he is a rich man's version of Sanu. Marvin Jones is good.  He is certainly better than Lafell, and the default analysis seems to be to make the obvious one on one comparison between Jones and Lafell, dismiss Boyd as a rookie, and chalk it up as a red flag for the offense. Meanwhile, if you imagine replacing Jones with Lafell, some sliver of Boyd when he's not needed for slot duties, an increased target load on A.J. Green, some combination of the balance of the receiving corps, and a little heavier dose of Giovani Bernard and all of a sudden you talking about a 10 or 15% downgrade rather than 50%+.

The baseline offense will be fine.  It's the loss of depth that I worry about.  With Jones on the roster, it was much easier to navigate potentials pitfalls throughout the season.  For instance, if Green goes down with a four week injury, it was reasonable to expect they could at least stay afloat and maybe go 2-2 without their best offensive player.  Without Jones, they are more vulnerable.

The Eifert injury isn't ideal, but it seems a little presumptive at this point to extrapolate the negative impact of the injury through the entire year.  If he returns by week 5 and works his way into shape by week 8, it might not be such a bad thing.  

As far as Jackson goes, can we slow down on the Hue Jackson is a play-calling demigod narrative? I was glad when Jackson returned to Cincy for his second coaching stint. He did a lot of great things the past two years, but he wasn't infallible.  I thought sometimes he got too cute with his gameplans and he took a little too long to change course and correct.  I thought he turtled in crunch time a few times.  For instance, they had multiple chances to seize control of the Denver game in the fourth quarter.  Instead of being aggressive and trying to take the win they went conservative.  I think Jackson will do good things in Cleveland, but will the room start to choke on all the smoke he blows three or four years down the road when they finally get that roster turned around?  Can he stop out thinking himself as a play-caller? These are all questions the Bengals would have had to face had he stuck around.  Ken Zampese is an unknown, and everyone tends to fear unknowns.  But there is a chance that Zampese will be an upgrade over Jackson and people aren't putting enough weight on that possibility right now.      

Overall, health is my biggest concern with this team.  I'm a big believer that injuries in this sport are a matter of probability.  Last year, they went half the year or more with almost no starters missing games due to injury.  This year I doubt they'll be so lucky.  Preseason injuries have already taken there toll on the roster.  Will it snowball and sink the season early?  Or will they weather the storm and slowly get a few players back and pick up some momentum in the second half of the season in time for a playoff push?  It could go either way, but the pessimist in me is betting they fight the injury bug all year long.  I think they end up gutting out 9 wins and coming up just short of the playoffs.

Cleveland    6-10
The Browns make some progress.  Their young players load up on experience, they end up with two top-ten picks in the draft (more on that later), and they have some positive momentum going into next year,

AFC South

Tennessee    10-6
Okay, I'm going out on a limb on this one.  There was no shortage of Mike Mularkey jokes throughout the offseason, but I have a feeling Mularkey will have the last laugh.  They rebuilt their WR corps around precise rout runners.  They constructed an intriguing backfield with a promising young offensive line.  Their defense has more talent than people give credit. The Titans come out of nowhere to steal the AFC South.

Houston    9-7
It would be a travesty if Clowney finally has a healthy season and J.J. Watt's body lets him down.  Still, this defense should be good.  The offense has more talent, but offensive line health might stunt their growth.

Indianapolis    8-8
I am pulling for the Andrew Luck bounce back season, but looking at the defense and the offensive line, I don't know if it's in the cards this year.

Jacksonville    7-9
Unfortunately, with the buzz the Jaguars have generated 7-9 will feel like a disappointment.  Hopefully, it is enough progress to keep this front office/coaching regime in tact for one more year.

AFC East

New England   11-5
Tom Brady is out for a quarter of the season,  Gronkowski is already hurt and still no one can imagine anyone challenging the kings of the east for their crown.  I don't really see it either.

Buffalo    8-8
Another team that has had nothing but bad news this summer. Still, I like the vibe of Tyrod Taylor in this offense.  If the Ryan brothers could put together a half decent defense the Bills might actually stand a chance.

N.Y. Jets    6-10
This is admittedly low for the Jets.  There's just something about going back to the Ryan Fitzpatrick well that feels like it is going to backfire.  That and year two of Brandon Marshall is always a horror show.  It's only a matter of time before all we read about is practices missed due to a hip injury.

Miami    3-13
Ryan Tannehill doesn't have it and this defense just doesn't look like it's going to have any teeth this year.  Adam Gase needs to gut the roster and start over.

AFC West

Kansas City    11-5
If the D can hold it together until reinforcements come off the PUP it could be a special year in K.C. I have faith Andy Reid will keep this offense chugging maybe in the form of a career year for Alex Smith?

San Diego    9-7
Is Phillip Rivers finally going to have a year where his offensive line doesn't disintegrate in front of him?  It's that probability thing again.  They are due for a healthy year.  The defense might be better than we think.

Denver    9-7
Trevor Siemian looked okay on Thurs.  He made some mistakes not throwing lob passes or dump offs high enough, but those things will go away with experience.

Oakland    6-10
Everyone's favorite sleeper team comes up a little short of expectations.  I'm not as sold on Derek Carr as most people.  Still, the roster is solid.  I think they're a year away from challenging for the playoffs.

NFC North

Green Bay     11-5
What are the chances Aaron Rodgers has two down years in a row?  This is a "Relax" season.

Detroit    8-8
The Lions will be as inconsistent as their quarterback.  They feel like a team that will slay a giant one week and then lose to a bottom feeder the  next.

Minnesota    8-8
One of the story lines of the season I was looking forward to the most was whether the Teddy Bridgewater argument would be settled.  Who is right Teddy's loyal supporters or his skeptics? Now we may never know.  Zimmer drags this team to 8-8 anyway.

Chicago    7-9
The roster is improved, but neither the offense nor the defense have enough fire power to contend yet.

NFC South

Carolina    11-5
Down year for the Panthers.  Only 11 wins this year.  The defense is still strong and Cam Newton seems indestructible.  They should mop up this division.    

Tampa Bay    10-6
Famous Jameis makes a run at Cam Kool and the Gang, but it's not as close as these records would indicate.  The o-line is a question mark, but the rest of the roster is rounding into form.  Maybe the defense is still a year away from being a good unit, but I like Winston to put on a show.

Atlanta    8-8
If this team is going to be better than this it's going to be because Matt Ryan's dip in play last year was a mirage.  The rest of the pieces are there on offense other than maybe a tight end.  The defense still needs some work.

New Orleans  6-10
Everybody is confident Drew Brees will keep this thing rolling, but I think they'll have some hiccups this year.  The defense couldn't get any worse than last year

NFC East

Washington    10-6
If you know what's going to happen in this division you are a better person than me.  Washington, Dallas, New York.  Draw names out of a hat.  One of them has to have a good year right?

Dallas    8-8
Dak fever is upon us.  He will have his highs and lows, but the defense will let him down.

N.Y. Giants    6-10
Buying a mercenary defense never works.  The offensive line is a little scary.  I drafted Odell Beckham in my fantasy league.  All indicators that things won't go well for the Giants this year.

Philadelphia   2-14
I am excited to see if Carson Wentz can prove the naysayers  wrong.  He should not be attempting to do it in year one.  I am a staunch believer in letting young QB's sit for at least half a year.  Philly might be coughing up the number 1 pick to Cleveland.  

NFC West

Seattle   12-4
The Seahawks feel like the favorites this year.  They're not coming off a crushing Super Bowl loss. They're not coming into the year with key players banged up.  The offensive line is shaky, but somehow it doesn't seem to matter with them.

Arizona   9-7
I'm not sure Carson Palmer has it any more, but the Cardinals sneak a wild card berth.

San Francisco    5-12
I wish Chip Kelly didn't land with a team with such a sub par roster.  The Blaine train derails at some point and Kaepernick suffers a knee contusion from kneeling so much.

Los Angeles    4-12
It feels odd not to pencil in 7-9 here.  Oh who am I kidding?  Change Arizona to 8-8, change San Francisco to 3-13 and tab the Rams for 7 wins.  The universe needs to stay in balance.


New England snags a bye for the 170th year in a row.  K.C.  joins them.
Pittsburgh and Tennessee fall in the wild card round.  New England is one and done after running into a red-hot Phillip Rivers buzz saw.  K.C. makes it an AFC West party in the championship game after taking care of Baltimore.  The Chiefs punch there Super Bowl Ticket as someone finally manages to slow down Rivers.

 Palmer can't shake the playoff demons and gets outdueled by Kirk Cousins.  Cam Kool puts Famous Jameis in his place, but gets chilled in Lambeau the following week.  The Seahawks essentially have a bye into the championship game where Rodgers and company just can't hang with Russell Wilson and the Legion of Boom.

The Super Bowl
It feels lame, but I'm picking the favorite in a landslide.  Seattle slaughters Kansas City 52-17.          





Tuesday, April 26, 2016

2016 NFL Final Mock Draft

It's go time!  Once again, I'm sneaking in under the deadline here.  The predraft trades have taken some of the suspense out of the top ten, but there should still be plenty of excitement.  Here's my take on how Thursday night will unfold.

1. Los Angeles
The Pick: Jared Goff QB California

2. Philadelphia
The Pick: Carson Wentz QB North Dakota State

Not one but two teams paid healthy ransoms for the opportunity to select this year's top two quarterbacks.  As news of the trades broke, opinions quickly polarized into two sides.

    a. There's no price too high for a franchise quarterback.  If they think they found their guy, they're right to pay whatever it takes.
    b. These guys aren't worth top 10 picks. They paid too much.

Both sides are right and both sides are wrong.  The price of 37 first round picks is too high.  One seventh round pick is too low.  There is a line somewhere in between that is just right. On the other hand, quarterback is the one position where teams need to evaluate the players, decide which one they want, and then go after them.  You can try to be patient and let the draft come to you, but more than likely if you aren't aggressive, you will miss out.

Side b. thinks Goff and Wentz aren't worth top 10 picks, let alone worth mortgaging significant draft resources to trade up to take them in the top 10.  To me, the evaluation part of this is a separate discussion.  It is a hard process.  Teams get it wrong every year. Professional analysts get it wrong every year.  Amateurs like myself get it wrong every year.  It isn't hard to find opposing opinions from analysts that you trust on just about every prospect. I'm not going to sit here and say that they are right or wrong for liking these quarterbacks.  That said, consensus seems to be that neither of these players are plug and play starters.  If that's true, I have reservations whether the Rams and Eagles will be able to surround their QB's with enough talent for them to succeed.  Time will tell.

3. San Diego
Current buzz has the Chargers taking DeForest Buckner.  Maybe they're just trying to trigger trade offers from teams in love with Buckner, but if they actually go through with it I think they're making a mistake.  O-line injuries sank their last two seasons.  Sorry, "we just re-signed King Dunlap" isn't a good enough reason to pass on the best OT prospect in years.
The Pick: Laremy Tunsil OT Mississippi

4. Dallas
Neither Myles Jack nor Jalen Ramsey is allowed to fall to the Ravens.  I forbid it!  I would have paid to see what Dallas would have done if a quarterback was still on the board here, but L.A. and Philly had to go get overzealous and now we'll never know.  Negative news is swirling about Jack's knee.  I don't think he falls.
The Pick: Myles Jack, LB UCLA

5. Jacksonville
It seems like the Jaguars have been trying to find a pass rusher for a decade, but all of their draft picks and free agent signings have either gotten injured or have been busts.  Better take the DB here Gus.
The Pick: Jalen Ramsey, DB Florida State

6. Baltimore
Baltimore's D-line just keeps getting bigger and meaner.
The Pick: DeForest Buckner DE Oregon

7.  San Francisco
San Francisco takes a look and decides to trade down when Miami calls.  Miami has been trying for months to add a decent running back.  Now they have their man.
The Pick: Ezekiel Elliot, RB Ohio State

8. Cleveland
I think Cleveland is going to trade down again, but I don't have a strong feeling on the trade partner.  The hottest name on the draft board right now is Georgia OLB Leonard Floyd.  Floyd oozes explosive athleticism on the field, but he is rail thin and from what I saw he has a ways to go before he realizes his potential.  Regardless, NFL teams are drooling over the way Floyd effortlessly darts around the field.  The New Orleans Saints are the lucky winners here.
The Pick: Leonard Floyd OLB Georgia

9. Tampa Bay
Speaking of lucky winners, the Buccaneers stumble into one of the best pass rushers in the class.
The Pick: Joey Bosa DE Ohio State

10. New York Giants
The Giants are reportedly hoping for Floyd, but they settle for an OT that will tie all the pieces of their O-line together.  Jack Conklin is a grinder that should be able to hold down LT and allow the rest of the unit to slide into more natural roles at right tackle and guard.
The Pick: Jack Conklin OT Michigan State

11. Chicago
The Bears are in the market for a pass rusher.  Instead of reaching for a DE, they opt for a penetrating DT that wreaks havoc on the interior.
The Pick: Sheldon Rankins DT Louisville

12. New Orleans
In this scenario, Cleveland moves into this slot.  They are reportedly interested in Paxton Lynch, but before they think QB of the future, they decide to solidify their O-line first.  Luckily for them, Ronnie Stanley has fallen right into their lap.
The Pick: Ronnie Stanley OT Notre Dame

13. Miami
Another traded pick.  This time it's San Francisco on the clock.  Vernon Hargreaves is supposedly tumbling down the draft board into the 20 to 25 range.  I think he falls out of the top 10, but corner needy San Francisco ends his slide.
The Pick: Vernon Hargreaves CB Florida

14. Oakland
Oakland ponders dipping into the deep DT class, but can't resist bolstering their linebacking corps.  Reggie Ragland should stabilize the middle of the field.  There will be big bodies up front to select later.
The Pick: Reggie Ragland LB Alabama

15. Tennessee
The Titans are finally on the clock after trading away the number 1 pick.  They could go a variety of directions here.  D-line makes sense, but there isn't a lot of value here that fits their scheme.  William Jackson has been steadily climbing up the draft board.  Cornerback gets the nod.
The Pick: William Jackson III CB Houston

16. Detroit
Once a strength, free agency has depleted the Lions' D-line.  Most are higher on Shaq Lawson than I am.  He makes a lot of plays, but he doesn't seem to have blistering speed or raw strength and he falls down a lot.  I'm not sure he's not just a really good college player. Still, a lot of analysts will consider this great value.
The Pick:  Shaq Lawson DE Clemson

17. Atlanta
I did a little research on Lawson's running mate, Kevin Dodd.  I actually ended up liking him better than Lawson.  Dodd needs to develop a wider variety of pass rush moves, but he just looks to me like he's a little more heavy-handed than Lawson.  He has more pop.  If they're not careful, Atlanta may someday approach Jaguar-level neediness at defensive end.
The Pick: Kevin Dodd DE Clemson

18. Indianapolis
The Colts need to protect Andrew Luck.  I don't care if they spend all of their picks on o-line. Even if they have to cut a few of them, it would be worth it.
The Pick: Taylor Decker OT Ohio St.

19. Buffalo
Rex Ryan never really had a blistering outside linebacker in New York.  He decides to take a crack at it here. The draft process has been a roller coaster ride for Noah Spence.  The Bills gamble on the character risk.
The Pick: Noah Spence OLB Eastern Kentucky

20. New York Jets
There isn't a good O-line fit for the Jets here so they decide to pump some athleticism into their front seven.
The Pick: Darron Lee LB Ohio St.

21. Washington
If you are a Bengals fan drooling that no receivers are off the board yet, the run starts here.  Corey Coleman is electric.  The Redskins need a backup plan for some juice in their offense if DeSean Jackson can't stay healthy.  Consider Coleman an adequate backup generator.
The Pick: Corey Coleman WR Baylor

22. Houston
Like the Bengals, the Texans don't have much more than stop gaps in place opposite their star wide receiver.  They decide to go with greasy fast speed in a class that is a little light on that commodity.
The Pick: Will Fuller WR Notre Dame

23. Minnesota
The run continues.  The Vikings need to keep funneling talent around Teddy Bridgewater.  Josh Doctson will make for a nice security blanket.
The Pick: Josh Doctson WR TCU

Without further ado, I'll introduce you to the Bengals new WR2: Laquon "Lawman" Treadwell!
As a testament to how wide open this first round is going to be, I'm not sure whether to defend this pick as a stretch that Treadwell will fall this far or a reach that Cincy should wait on WR and draft defense.  Beware, if he's the guy you're really hoping for, he comes in play from about pick 10 on.  I came close to mocking him elsewhere several times (particularly to Cleveland in their trade-down scenario), but in the end the combination of Treadwell's lack of enticing measureables and the lack of WR-needy teams in the middle of the round leads him to slide right down the draft board into a smiling Marvin Lewis's lap.

Treadwell is a beast.  Sure, he ran a slow 40 time, but he gets open with rout running, physicality, and body control.  He will be a red zone threat.  He will thrive on intermediate targets.  He will block tenaciously.  He fits right into the wheelhouse of this offense.

A.J. Green is quick and agile with speed when he needs it: the Jungle Cat.
Tyler Eifert is a movable chess piece that can go any direction at any time: The Queen    
Free-agency hit the WR corps hard, but with the Lawman, the Queen, and the Cat on the prowl, I expect that everything will be okay.

Since I've officially talked this potential outcome up too much, let's talk some alternatives.  This WR class doesn't have a lot of WR1 prospects, but luckily for Cincy it has WR2 prospects stashed in just about every round.  If Doctson or Coleman slip to 24 instead of Treadwell, I'd endorse either one.  Who better to take over for Marvin Jones than the player I've seen comped as a very rich-man's Marvin Jones,  Doctson.  Coleman has big-play ability, but he's more versatile than someone like Will Fuller.  Sterling Sheperd, Leonte Carroo, Tyler Boyd, Daniel Braverman, Michael Thomas; these guys would all make fine targets in later rounds.

If they opt for defense they might be taking another corner, especially if Hargreaves drops as much as is being advertised.  Eli Apple, Mackensie Alexander, and Artie Burns are other corners that might be in their range.  At DL, both Alabama DT's are available in this mock.  Robert Nkemdiche is a wild card.  Chris Jones has a lot of buzz. Vernon Butler and Andrew Billings are big, strong interior guys that could contribute. Sadly, it looks like the odds of a Jaylon Smith full recovery are long enough that the Notre Dame linebacker could fal into day 3. At DE I would be disappointed with Emmanuel Ogbah, but he is a player I could see them taking.  Let's not think about that though.  Just cross your fingers and keep dreaming about the Lawman.
The Pick: Laquon Treadwell WR Mississippi

25. Pittsburgh
The Steelers have last year's second round pick, CB Senquez Golson, coming back after missing all of last year, and they continue to bolster their secondary here with Eli Apple.  Big athletic corners don't grow on trees.
The Pick; Eli Apple CB Ohio St.

26. Seattle
Chris Jones has size and strength, but he can penetrate and disrupt as well.  Seattle will gladly start a DT run.
The Pick: Chris Jones DT Mississippi St.

27. Green Bay
The packers need some beef up front.  Luckily that isn't hard to find in this class.
The Pick: Jarran Reed DT Alabama

28. Kansas City
A'Shawn Robinson will fit in nicely as a 3-4 DE and he has future potential as a pass rusher.
The Pick: A'Shawn Robinson DT Alabama

29. Arizona
Outside pass rushers are a little bit thin in this class.  The Cardinals pick up one of the last few worthy of consideration in round 1.
The Pick: Kamalei Correa OLB Boise State

30. Carolina
If the Panthers want to replace the swag of Josh Norman, look no farther than Mackensie Alexander.
The Pick: Mackensie Alexander CB Clemson

31. Denver
The Broncos begin to rebuild their offensive line with a versatile player that can be slotted into just about any spot.
The Pick: Cody Whitehair OG Kansas St.



Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bengals Big Board: 2016 Bengals Draft Needs

It's draft month.  What do the Bengals need?  Who should they take in the first round?  Here are some names to watch out for at pick 24 at the end of the month.  But first, let's narrow down the list a little.

The Top Ten:
1. Tennessee: Laremy Tunsil OT Ole' Miss.
Usually analysts are hesitant to compare prospects to star players.  When they do, they qualify it with all kinds of disclaimers like they are a commercial for blood pressure medicine.  I heard an interview with Lance Zierlein, a pretty solid draft analyst specifically known for his chops evaluating offensive line talent, where he almost casually referred to Tunsil in the same sentence with Walter Jones (yes, the hall of famer).  There are other players good enough for Tennessee to consider, but taking Tunsil on the heels of Mariota is too juicy to pass up.  I don't care if they've already invested resources at the position

2. Cleveland: Carson Wentz, QB North Dakota State
Cleveland should take a quarterback.  There's some chatter building that they won't at #2.  Denver wins a Super Bowl with Zombie Peyton Manning going three and out 17 straight times (that number is only slightly exaggerated) and people get disillusioned enough to think they can get cute at QB.  Take a DB?  Take a DE? Find your quarterback later?  Beware Cleveland.  It will only add to your legend.

3. San Diego: Jalen Ramsey, DB Florida State
Offensive line would be nice, but there's more value at defense.  Ramsey has been heralded as the best corner and the best safety in the draft.  Some mock him to Tennessee.  3 to 5 is more likely.

4. Dallas: Joey Bosa, DE Ohio State
Jared Allen Retires.  Joey Bosa enters the league.  It feels like the universe is in balance.  Bosa is a two-way defender technically sound enough to contribute against the run and the pass as a rookie.  Just imagine what Rod Marinelli will do with him.

5. Jacksonville: Myles Jack, LB UCLA
Drafting a non-pass rushing linebacker early has become a faux pas.  Yet, the direction the league has gone, defense is now a match-up game as much as anything. The value of elite coverage linebackers is quickly approaching that of rushers.  Elite almost doesn't describe Jack's coverage talent.  Famously, when UCLA played USC in 2014, Jack lined up against Nelson Agholor on more than a few snaps in cover 0 (one on one with no safety help).  Agholor didn't have a catch.

6. Baltimore: Ronnie Stanley, OT Notre Dame
I haven't heard Stanley compared to any HOF'ers, but rumor has it some teams like him as much as Tunsil.

7. San Francisco: Jared Goff QB California
49ers snag their QB of the future who played his college ball closer to San Francisco than the 49ers do.

8. Philadelphia: Vernon Hargreaves CB Florida
I love the move by Philly to trade up from 13 to 8. Consensus has a dropoff in talent after the top 9 or 10 players and they didn't give up much to do it. Hargreaves looked like an elite talent in 2014.  Analysts downgraded his 2015 performance slightly, but he's still a worthy pick here.

9. Tampa Bay: DeForest Buckner DE Oregon
Another 6'7" 290 lb. DE from Oregon.  I can't get Arik Armstead out of my head from last year, but according to most, Buckner is closer to Leonard Williams than Armstead.

10. New York Giants: Jack Conklin OT Michigan State
The Giants have clusterbombed their defensive line need in free agency.  Given their track record that doesn't mean they won't go DL here, but I don't think the value fits.  They have a host of other needs. O-line makes the most sense.

Bengals Big Board: Best of the Rest
Okay, wipe those top ten off the board.  I'm reasonably sure they will all be gone before pick 24.  Throw in Ezekiel Elliot.  He should be gone too.

Beyond that, opinions on remaining players are all over the place.  Obviously they won't all be available at Cincy's pick, but any of them could be.  Here's how I'd rank the next 13 best options for the Bengals.  By my count, they should have a shot at one of these guys.

1. Laquon Treadwell WR Ole' Miss.
2. Josh Doctson WR TCU
Or as autocorrect put it when I typed this up: Lawman Treadwell and Josh Diction.  Doctson isn't quite the precise technican you'd expect in someone named Diction, but Lawman seems to be about the perfect nickname for Treadwell.  Everybody wants a blazing speed receiver, but I prefer these two guys first.  Scouring for fast guys to attack defenses is almost cliche.  Think about Andy Dalton's skill set.  What is more valuable in this offense, someone who can beat a defender 50 yards down the field, or a player that specializes at intermediate routes and making contested catches?  Both of these guys find ways to get open and can go deep on a more limited basis when needed.  Both are great at attacking the ball in the air and either might actually upgade the red zone offense immediately.  Do these two have enough speed to get open in the pros?  Doctson posted adequate numbers at the combine running a 4.5 40 and finishing near the top of the position group in most other tests.  Treadwell finally ran at his pro-day and ran a 4.65 40.  It is a testament to his skill level that despite the slow time, most analysts are still stumping for him to get selected in the top 20.  Both players will be fine.  Treadwell is more polished and his body is more NFL-ready. Doctson feels like a better fit to develop into Robin to Batman A.J. Green. 

3. Corey Coleman WR Baylor
Small, speedy receiver that makes big plays.  His college offense didn't ask him to run many routes, but he should be able to contribute early on shear athleticism in the short and long passing game. 

4. A'Shawn Robinson DT Alabama
Some think Robinson is purely a two-down defender and fringe first rounder.  Others see him as a plus run defender with pass rushing upside sloted in the 10 to 20 range.  If someone like New Orleans takes him, I think they'll be disappointed.  Stick him between Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson and I think maybe you have a difference maker on defense.  The idea is to upgrade the Peko spot on the D-line with someone more athletic that can still defend the run.  Year one they'll be ok.  Year two they have a chance to morph into something special.

5. Darron Lee LB Ohio State
Playmaking LB with unbelievable athleticism. He probably has to play weak side, which means they'd have to move Burfict to the middle.  They've resisted doing that, but increased athleticism on the second level of the defense is sorely needed.  This would be one way to do it. 

6.  Reggie Ragland LB Alabama
Stout MLB with size that flys to the ball.  Coverage skills are a question mark.   Think rich man's Rey Maualuga.  Does Alambama's D-line mask any of Ragland's flaws? 

7.  Robert Nkemdiche DT Ole' Miss.
Classic top-ten talent with no shortage of character concerns.  He will struggle if he's asked to shoulder too much, but surrounded by a talented d-line I think he'll thrive.  It sounds like the off-the-field red flags might even push him into the second round.

8. Jarran Reed DT Alabama
Big stout DT that excels vs. the run, but hasn't really been asked to penetrate.  Another Alabama front seven player.  It always makes me queasy to see so many guys ranked high from the same team playing positions in such a close proximity to each other.  Going against inferior college talent do they make each other look better than they actually are?  The Bengals run defense is a little streaky.  I wouldn't mind upgrading the Peko slot on the starting line and plugging in a space eater to free up everyone else.

9. Andrew Billngs DT Baylor
10. Vernon Butler DT Louisiana Tech
The parade of DT's continues.  There is a line somewhere where the best DT available doesn't have enough immediate upgrade potential to warrant selecting them in the first round.  I'm not sure the line where they'd wait on DT isn't going to be drawn at Reed in which case these two would slide down this list a little. Not to mention, if they pass on DT at 24, there are three or four more that wouldn't be a major dropoff waiting to get selected in round 2.  There will be a run on the position before the Bengals' second round pick, but somebody should be left. 

11. Shaq Lawson DE Clemson
Best 4-3 DE in this class not named Bosa.  Some prefer his teammate, Kevin Dodd.  I have to look a little closer but Dodd seems to try to sprint around the edge on every play.  Lawson has a little more variety to his moves.  DE isn't the biggest need but if they think they can get a future starter at one of the premier positions in the league, it is worth the investment.

12. Eli Apple CB Ohio State
Corner with size who showed great athleticism at the combine.  It feels like the Bengals funnel endless resources this direction but depending how good they feel about Dre Kirkpatrick it might be necessary.

13. Will Fuller WR Notre Dame
Another short fast guy.  At 6', he doen't catch as much flack for being little, but he's only 1" taller and about 10 lbs. lighter than Coleman.  Fuller is a deep threat but that's about it at this point.


***14.*** Jaylon Smith LB Notre Dame
The Notre Dame LB is exactly what the Bengals defense needs: a rangy linebacker that can penetrate and make plays behind the line of scrimmage.  Unfortunately, he tore up his knee in January bad enough that he likely won't be available for 2016 and there's some risk he'll never be the same athlete again.  As many have quipped, if he were healthy he'd be a top 10 pick.  With questions about whether or not there is nerve damage in his knee still unanswered, I don't think anyone in the top 23 can afford to take the risk on him.  The Bengals on the other hand have the flexibility to pull the trigger.  The doctors will have their say.  If there's a decent chance he recovers, I  would slot him somewhere on the 5 to 7 range on this list.  If they are highly confident in a full recovery, I'd bump him up in the 1 to 3 range.
Others in the Mix:
Mackenzie Alexander CB Clemson
Ultra confident bump and run corner. Wasn't tested much in college.

Sheldon Rankins DT Louisville
Probably should be ranked higher, but might be too small to play next to Atkins

Leonard Floyd OLB Georgia
Raw 3-4 OLB.  I'm not sure they want to gamble on him as a 4-3 convert.  Hopefully he gets taken higher and pushes everyone else down.

Kevin Dodd DE Clemson
See Shaq Lawson notes above.

Noah Spence OLB Eastern Kentucky
A better fit than Floyd to convert to a stand up edge rushing LB that can also handle 4-3 duties.  Off the field concerns and disappointing workouts drop him down.

Von Bell S Ohio State
With Reggie Nelson officially moving on, a safety wouldn't be the worst idea in the world.  If they do it in round 1, Bell is their top option.

Ryan Kelly C Alabama
Sorry Russ Bodine.  I am still trying to replace you.

That's it.  I'll try to squeeze a few other posts in predraft, but definitely check back the week of draft day for my final mock.