2019: The mock draft

Sound the Air Raid siren, because the NFL Draft is once again upon us. We won’t have to wait too long for suspense as the Top 5 will be utterly intriguing, starting with the very first pick. In which direction will Arizona go? Perhaps some NFL journalist will break the news before the draft even begins, but, for now, we are left wondering…

Are the Cardinals really so down on Josh Rosen after so little time spent on an atrocious roster? Ultimately, that’s the question. Because while the facile notion that Kyler Murray is a system fit for new coach Kliff Kingsbury’s version of the Air Raid offence is an attractive one, would anyone argue with a straight face that, at his best, Josh Rosen can’t excel in this system? Drafting Murray and trading Rosen for pennies on the dollar is not the kind of move well-run organisations make. Then again, this is the team that botched both the hiring and the firing of Steve Wilkes, so who knows? And should they opt against drafting Murray and go for one of the many defensive front players in the draft (there’s a really good case for them to do so), what does that mean for Murray? Or would they consider trading down? And then who would come up?

Speaking of dealing down, can the 49ers justify not doing so? If they stay at two, they’re probably taking Nick Bosa, Quinnen Williams or Josh Allen. If you combine that with the acquisition of Dee Ford and the presence of Deforrest Buckner, Arik Armstead and Solomon Thomas, that makes five first-round defensive linemen on the roster and three who were drafted in the top 10. I love my pass rushers, but you’d have to question John Lynch’s roster allocation at that point.

And what the hell are the Raiders going to do? This is the team that traded Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper and must now make good on all the draft picks they got in return for gutting the roster. The entire NFL intelligentsia seems to doubt Jon Gruden’s commitment to QB Derek Carr. Would they consider drafting Kyler Murray should the Cards pass on him? If you’re going to draft a Josh Allen, what the hell was the point of trading Mack? The rookie contract? Wasn’t the knowledge of Mack’s stardom worth the money? Oh, what the hell.. Do they trade down? Mystery…

The team just outside the top 5 with the potential to shape the rest of the first round is the Giants. What happens if they don’t take a quarterback at six or, to put it another way, how would that affect the rest of the teams in the market for a quarterback? All fascinating questions with only one certitude: as usual, this is going to be fun.

  1. Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray, QB, Oklahoma: The reasoning for this pick amounts to this: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Too many people have been convinced this is happening for too long, and I don’t see a scenario like last year when we found out mere hours before the draft that the Browns really liked Baker Mayfield. The Browns were taking a quarterback for sure. The Cards are either taking Murray, or they’re drafting another position. If I’m the GM, I’m really fond of Josh Rosen, and I give him the chance to crush it in a pass-happy system. However, I think Kliff Kingsbury got to watch Murray up close last year, opts to press reset again, and starts with last year’s Heisman winner.
  2. San Francisco 49ers: Nick Bosa, DE, Ohio State: So I make the case that the 49ers should trade down, and I believe they should. But here’s the thing: I think they get stuck with the pick. The Jets are believed to be a lock to trade down, and few teams have the draft ammo to come up and get a defensive linemen at two. Solomon Thomas has not provided the pass rushing spark that was expected and, with Bosa, Buckner and Dee Ford, San Fran’s pass rush should be pretty scary.
  3. New York Giants (Trade with Jets): Quinnen Williams, DT, Alabama: Now before you ask, I’m predicting a pick swap between the Jets and Giants, with the Jets getting the 6th pick and the Giants’ second rounder (37). The Giants are gambling that they’re getting the quarterback at 17, and they get a dominant interior player who camps in opposing backfields versus the run and the pass.
  4. Oakland Raiders: Montez Sweat, DE, Mississippi State: Ahead of Josh Allen? AHEAD OF JOSH ALLEN?!?!?!?!?! Hear me out… A few things… First, while people have more and more of a tendency to disregard the difference between 4-3 and 3-4 when it comes to edge rushers, Jon Gruden mentioned, when the team traded Mack, that the move to a 4-3 was among the reasons for the trade. Probably crap, but you know if they’re going to draft a pass rusher (and they will), they’ll look for a fit for the 4-3, and Sweat is more of a natural for a four-man front than Allen. Also, this is exactly the kind of contrarian ranking Mike Mayock consistently carried when he worked for the NFL Network (Rashard Mendenhall over Darren McFadden; McCoy over Suh, the list goes on…). Watch the Raiders stay entertaining. Don’t ever change, guys.
  5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Josh Allen, Edge rusher, Kentucky: This is the perfect pick. With Todd Bowles taking over as defensive coordinator and running a liquid defence fueled by hybrid players, Allen is a franchise pass rusher who fits this kind of scheme diversity like a glove. Allen picks himself for the Bucs. Now, here’s to hoping they spend their second rounder on new uniforms.
  6. New York Jets (Trade with Giants): TJ Hockenson, TE, Iowa: Everybody seems to agree, for good reason, that the Jets need a pass rusher. What they also need is to surround Sam Darnold with help. There isn’t a pass rusher or a wide receiver worth taking here, so the Jets grab Hockenson, who becomes a multi-purpose weapon as both a blocker and a receiver.
  7. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jawaan Taylor, OT, Florida: The Jags continue their road to yet another disappointing season by overdrafting an unrefined, inconsistent lineman who theoretically fills a need at right tackle. Did I mention I want every member of that front office to get canned?
  8. Detroit Lions: Rashan Gary, DL, Michigan: So this is a huge risk because Gary was an underachiever at Michigan, but theoretically, he”s a local guy who adds the speed to rush from the edge on early downs as well as the strength and bulk to kick inside as an interior pass rusher on 3rd and long. IN THEORY, he never has to come off the field. Detroit’s starting DTs are A’Shawn Robinson and Snacks Harrison, and while they are both excellent versus the run, you’re not getting much of a pass rush from either one. Did I mention this is the sort of pick that has been keeping Detroit crappy for ages?
  9. Buffalo Bills: DK Metcalf, WR, Ole Miss: The Bills cook up the neat combination of a quarterback who can throw it really deep but erratically with a receiver who can really get deep but runs routes erratically. This pick is so Buffalo, it’s just too perfect.
  10. Denver Broncos: Devin White, LB, LSU: I know people are talking quarterback here, but I think John Elway made the Joe Flacco trade to push back the need to take a quarterback here. Moreover, John Elway is quite possibly fighting for his job. He must win games and thus can ill afford to spend a top 10 pick on a player who’s likely sitting next season.
  11. Cincinnati Bengals: Dwayne Haskins, QB, Ohio State: How fitting is this? With a new coach comes a renewal at quarterback, and the local product Haskins brings exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bengals: upside. The team can now see what it can get for Andy Dalton, and keep him in the starting lineup if the offers are unsatisfying.
  12. Green Bay Packers: Noah Fant, TE, Iowa: You think the Packers’ new offensive-minded head coach would like for his superstar quarterback to have better weapons? Pass rusher was Green Bay’s other big need, but they took care of that in free agency to be able to grab an offensive player here.
  13. Miami Dolphins: Devin Bush, LB, Michigan: I smell a tankeroo in Miami, which means the Phins will focus on getting the kind of players who will help establish the desired culture for Pats alum HC Brian Flores. Were Bush two inches taller, he’d be a mortal lock as a top 10 pick. This is a steal for Miami.
  14. Tennessee Titans (Trade with Falcons): Brian Burns, Edge Rusher, Florida State: The Titans need an edge rusher opposite Harold Landry now that mainstays Brian Orakpo and Derrick Morgan are gone. Cameron Wake is a solid veteran but could fall off the cliff at any time and isn’t a long-term option even if he doesn’t. Burns has the athletic ability and the move set to give Tennessee what they need here.
  15. Washington Redskins: Daniel Jones, QB, Duke: Some may like Drew Lock more, but Jones is a bit less up-and-down and we have yet to find out just how good he can be behind an offensive line that’s worth a damn. Shame for Alex Smith, really.
  16. Carolina Panthers: Clelin Ferrell, DE, Clemson: With Julius Peppers’ retirement, the Panthers now need a franchise pass rusher. Ferrell, a base end type who fits Carolina’s system, is a logical pick for the Panthers here.
  17. New York Giants (from Cleveland): Drew Lock, QB, Missouri: The Giants need a quarterback, and it makes sense for old-school GM Dave Gettleman to like a tall, big-armed passer like Lock. It’s also a plus that he gets to spend a year adjusting to the pro game behind Eli Manning.
  18. Seattle Seahawks (Trade with Vikings): Ed Oliver, DT, Houston: The Seahawks can’t believe their luck. They get a playmaking 3-technique they badly needed and Oliver’s elite quickness will remind Seahawks’ fans of Michael Bennett.
  19. Atlanta Falcons (Trade with Titans): Greedy Williams, CB, LSU: Atlanta needs cornerback help opposite Desmond Trufant and wins on its gamble that it can get a high-level starter while trading down. Williams, with his length and great speed, is a perfect fit for Atlanta’s defence.
  20. Pittsburgh Steelers: Marquise Brown, WR, Oklahoma: No one can truly replace Antonio Brown, but with the big-mouth big-play receiver gone, what remains is a duo of muscle catchers with running back builds in Juju Smith-Schuster and James Washington. Brown’s speed and field-stretching ability in the slot provides a nice complement to the pass catchers Pittsburgh already has on the roster.
  21. Minnesota Vikings: Jonah Williams, OT, Alabama: The Vikings have guaranteed Kirk Cousins the GDP of a small country, and it would be a shame to see that investment go to waste because the Vikes’ offensive line is a train wreck. They could use upgrades inside or at right tackle, and Williams can help at either one of those spots.
  22. Baltimore Ravens: Jeffery Simmons, DT, Mississippi State: Baltimore probably needs an edge rusher, but there isn’t one worth taking here. Simmons, whose dominance stood out even as he played next to Montez Sweat, fits nicely on the Ravens’ front three. He warrants a higher pick, but falls here because of his February ACL injury.
  23. Houston Texans: Andre Dillard, OT, Washington State: Whether the Texans go for Dillard depends on whether they actually think they can get passable left tackle play from Julien Davenport and/or Matt Kalil. I have my doubts. When your quarterback is Deshaun Watson, you need an athletic pass protector to man his blind side.
  24. Oakland (from Chicago): Irv Smith, TE, Alabama: The Raiders lost Jared Cook in free agency, and Smith is a quality pass catcher whose athleticism makes him an asset to whoever is the long-term quarterback for this team. Why not a wide receiver here? Because you take him at 27. There will be a receiver who belongs in round one at 27. If Smith leaves in the next three picks, the next best tight end doesn’t belong in round one.
  25. Kansas City Chiefs (Trade with Eagles): Johnathan Abrams, SS, Mississippi State: Having just lost Eric Berry, the Chiefs need help in the secondary. They could go corner, but they jump on the chance to take an enforcer safety who can make the Chiefs more physical in the back end.
  26. Indianapolis Colts: Dexter Lawrence, NT, Clemson: The Colts are starting to look pretty loaded and, even though they could go in a number of valid directions here, Margus Hunt is an awkward fit at nose tackle. The Lawrence pick makes a lot of sense in a division where you play four games against big backs Leonard Fournette and Derrick Henry. The new Haloti Ngata, Lawrence helps in that regard.
  27. Oakland (from Dallas): AJ Brown, WR, Ole Miss: To go along with the big play potential of Antonio Brown, the Raiders choose another Brown, AJ, whose big body will allow him to battle for tough yards underneath. Derek Carr is starting to run out of excuses.
  28. Los Angeles Chargers: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson: The Chargers already have a strong pass rushing presence with edge dynamos Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. Now, they add Wilkins, an interior penetrator who makes the Chargers’ defensive line even more fearsome.
  29. Philadelphia Eagles (Trade with Chiefs): Cody Ford, OT, Oklahoma: The Eagles are loaded enough to go for the best available player, and Ford can be groomed as the right tackle of the future, which would in turn allow Lane Johnson to kick over to the left side when Jason Peters finally moves on. A real value pick here for the Eagles.
  30. Green Bay (from New Orleans): Garrett Bradbury, C, North Carolina State: The Packers’ offensive line doesn’t lack grit, but it lacks talent. Bradbury is smart, tough, and talented. When the running game and the pass protection has been pedestrian for so long AND when your quarterback is Aaron Rodgers, Bradbury is a welcome addition.
  31. Los Angeles Rams: Byron Murphy, CB, Washington: With this pick, LA gets the best available player and a potential replacement for Marcus Peters if he continues bleeding big plays.
  32. Jacksonville Jaguars (Trade with Patriots): Nasir Adderley, FS, Delaware: You know the Patriots are trading out of this pick, and the Jags come up to get Adderley because Tashaun Gibson became a cap casualty, yet you need a true centre field at free safety in their defence. The safety calibre dips in quality after Adderley.

2018 First round mock draft

That wonderful time is upon us. In less than 48 hours, the 2018 NFL Draft will commence. I’ll write a little addendum article to the mock draft where I’ll deal with a draft-related issue in depth, but this one is the mock and only the mock. So here we go.

  1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC: There has been buzz surrounding Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield at this spot, but I don’t buy it. I think Darnold is (wrongly) seen as the sure thing in this draft at quarterback, and Cleveland needs a sure thing here. One plus for Darnold: I think his learning curve is being underestimated by scouts, so spending his rookie year behind Tyrod Taylor would help.
  2. New York Giants: Bradley Chubb, Defensive End, North Carolina State: I think the Giants take a mighty long look at both Saquon Barkley and a quarterback here, but then set their mind on Chubb, the draft’s best and most polished pass rusher. Olivier Vernon is a really nice player whom the Giants are paying a king’s ransom, but he’s best suited to being a team’s second best pass rusher, and Chubb’s arrival means this happens. Dealing Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs accentuates the need for this pick, and Chubb is very much worth it.
  3. New York JetsBaker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma: It comes down to one belief on my part: the Jets are going to screw this up. I think Mayfield is a ludicrous pick here. I know he has a “Noo Yaawk” kind of mentality, but I see Mayfield’s athletic skills, whether it’s size, arm strength or mobility, as being just good enough to crush it in college, especially in the Big XII where many programs’ defences are actually an abstract concept, but not in the NFL. Good for the Jets if I’m wrong.
  4. Cleveland BrownsSaquon Barkley, Running Back, Penn State: Even the Browns can’t mess this up. Barkley is the best player in the draft. He’s the latest in the line of spectacular prospects at his position in the last few years at the top of the draft, and the Browns have a need for his dynamic skill. Don’t overthink this, Cleveland! I know you got this… Maybe…
  5. Denver Broncos: Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA: This pick is key, and its fate depends on one question: does Denver still think Paxton Lynch can make it? Sure, he was always going to have a steep learning curve, coming from the bubble screen heaven that is Memphis’ offence, but what’s he shown you in two years? Case Keenum is there, but there’s no way he’s a long-term option (it’s likely he was their backup plan after they whiffed on Kirk Cousins in free agency), and this QB class is too strong at the top to pass on a QB unless you’re just about certain Lynch can pull through. If they still hold out hope for him, the Broncos become a prime candidate to trade down a few spots and let a team desperate for a quarterback grab one here. I don’t see it happening. Not since Aaron Rodgers has a first-round quarterback been given more than two years before being named the starter, but Rodgers was backing up Brett Favre, whereas Lynch couldn’t get on the field despite starter Trevor Simian having a really rough season last year. Hell, even “The Heist” himself, Brock Osweiler, got playing time ahead of Lynch last year! You know what, screw this, I just talked myself into Rosen for Denver. So will John Elway.
  6. Buffalo Bills (trade with Indianapolis): Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming: Every member of the Buffalo top brass would be willing to sell their family into slavery in exchange for a top quarterback at this point. With Allen still on the board, the Bills package their two first rounders to go get him. I think it’s a fairly terrible plan. Unless Kelvin Benjamin shapes up, Buffalo has an underwhelming receiving corps and has dealt Tyrod Taylor to Cleveland just before welcoming the top 4’s least pro-ready quarterback. Allen has obvious tools, but he has significant red flags in his game. So much of a quarterback’s fate is dictated by circumstance and, in this regard, I’m not sure Allen could do much worse than Buffalo.
  7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Safety, Alabama: Here’s what I want to answer: who cares? This offseason, the Bucs decided that going nowhere as a franchise was fun as they retained Dirk Koetter, one of the league’s three worst head coaches, which dooms them to anonymity once again in the otherwise strong NFC South. Still, Fitzpatrick is a tremendous player who fills a huge need and instantly becomes the best player in their secondary.
  8. Miami Dolphins (Trade with Chicago): Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State: In their roster management, the Dolphins are usually the wrong kind of aggressive, although in this case, it pays off. Ward is clearly a steal at this point, and helps bring star power at a position where the team could really use it.
  9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia: There’s no weapon for Jimmy Garoppolo worth selecting here, so the 49ers deal with another problem, namely grabbing a guy who has the ability to either play next to or replace ticking time bomb Reuben Foster. Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is ranked higher than Smith by most draft analysts (which boggles my frickin’ mind), but Smith is more experienced and a proven character guy on a National Championship finalist.
  10. Oakland Raiders: Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech: The Raiders will gladly take Edmunds to help with their lack of athleticism at inside linebacker. Edmunds is very young and, in my opinion, a bit overrated at this point, but his athletic upside is considerable and undeniable, so this makes tons of sense for the Raiders.
  11. Chicago Bears (Trade with Miami)Derwin James, Safety, Florida State: This is a really nice tool for creative DC Vic Fangio to play around with. James is terrific in coverage, physical against the run and can (I kid you not, I’m an FSU fan, I watched him) rush the passer. OK, fine, don’t believe me? Watch him Reggie White the Florida right tackle at 9:53. https://youtu.be/ByWss9Wl9S4?t=9m53s He instantly becomes a mainstay on that Bears defence.
  12. Indianapolis Colts (Trade with Buffalo): Quentin Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame: After trading down, the Colts can’t believe their luck. The best college guard in years drops to them at 12 after they trade down. Andrew Luck is smiling ear-to-ear after this pick, and the Colts’ running game is improved by this pick as well.
  13. Washington Deadskins: Vita Vea, Defensive tackle, Washington: The nose tackle position in Washington is currently being shared by a committee of first-round busts. Vea brings tremendous size and power along with deceptive athleticism to the position. A slam-dunk pick here.
  14. Green Bay Packers: I imagine the war room deliberation in Green Bay might go a little something like this… Packers GM: “So, uh, guys, we’ve got Aaron Rodgers coming out publicly and saying he wasn’t thrilled that we cut Jordy Nelson without talking to him. This could be trouble…” Other Packers’ staffer: “Trouble?! Try a PR shitstorm and a disaster! We’ve got to do something about this…” Packers GM: “We did sign Jimmy Graham. I mean…” Packers staffer: “Tremendous, and I’ve just seen this trailer for this movie called “Suicide Squad.” I think it’s going to be really good! Oh, wait… What year is this again?” Packers GM: “Your sarcasm is getting us nowhere, Bob.” (Sighs) “Well… I find this Calvin Ridley guy is pretty good.” Packers’ staffer: “Agreed. I say we take him.” Packers GM: “Hey, I make the decisions around here! Now, where was I? Right, Calvin Ridley! Everybody good with us taking him?” The entire room nods vigourously. The pick: Calvin Ridley, Wide receiver, Alabama
  15. Baltimore Ravens (Trade with Arizona): Marcus Davenport, Edge Rusher, UTSA: Arizona suckers Baltimore into coming up one spot to secure Davenport under the threat that teams in need of an edge rusher, such as Seattle, might come up because they supposedly like Davenport much better than Harold Landry. Davenport is more of a developmental guy than his draft status suggests, but his physical tools are impressive, and he would get to learn a thing or two from Terrell Suggs before no.55 calls it a career.
  16. Arizona Cardinals (Trade with Baltimore): DJ Moore, Wide receiver, Maryland: I think the media are just starting to get wind of how much teams like Moore, a complete receiver stuck in the anonymous wasteland that is Maryland’s passing attack. His all-around skills are a great addition to a receiving corps whose best asset is still the immortal Larry Fitzgerald. As great as Fitz is, the Cards really need to work on his succession now.
  17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mike McGlinchey, Offensive tackle, Notre Dame: The Chargers did some pretty serious work on their interior offensive line. This time they get an improvement over average-at-best starting right tackle Joe Barksdale. McGlinchey is the antithesis of a flashy pick, but it’s a solid get for the Chargers, and there is no overprotecting an immobile quarterback in his mid-30s like Philip Rivers.
  18. Seattle Seahawks: Mike Hughes, Cornerback, UCF: The Legion of Boom is close to dismantled, and the departure of Richard Sherman leaves a huge void. Hughes won’t talk like Sherman, he probably won’t play like peak-Sherman, but he’ll do well and his physicality fits how Seattle likes their cornerbacks to play.
  19. Dallas Cowboys: Da’Ron Payne, Defensive tackle, Alabama: The Cowboys need a replacement for Dez Bryant, but they like no one enough to draft one here. Therefore, they give their run defence a serious shot in the arm by grabbing Payne, who instantly step into the nose tackle spot on their defensive line.
  20. Detroit Lions: Harold Landry, Defensive end, Boston College: Beyond Ziggy Ansah, the Lions have nothing in terms of pass rush, and even Ansah is a streaky player, which means the Lions of long spells of putting next to no pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Landry fixes that problem, as his technique, motor and consistency are a huge addition for the Lions.
  21. Cincinnati BengalsWill Hernandez, Guard, UTEP: You can almost always count on the Bengals to make the boring move except, in this case, it makes sense. Their interior line was woeful last year, and Hernandez is one of many terrific, physical interior linemen with first-round grades. This is seventh heaven for Marvin Lewis.
  22. Indianapolis Colts (Trade with Buffalo): Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Louisville: Grades seem all over the place on Alexander, and the Colts need cornerback help. Ergo, they grab Alexander to pair up with Malik Hooker and give themselves half a good secondary.
  23. New England Patriots: Josh Jackson, Cornerback, Iowa: After losing Malcolm Butler, the Patriots need help at cornerback, and they take advantage of a draft pool that features several mid teen-late 20s corners. Jackson is a Pats kind of guy, smart and tough. A good fit for the Pats here.
  24. Carolina Panthers: Derrius Guice, Running Back, LSU:  After losing Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers need a power element to their running game to go along with the all-purpose skills of the speedier Christian McCaffrey. Guice fits the bill as a power back with just enough of a burst to be an occasional big-play threat. He’ll remind Panthers’ fans of Stewart, but he’s less injury-prone.
  25. Tennessee Titans: James Daniels, Centre, Iowa: Despite hype from 2016, the interior of Tennessee’s offensive line disappointed last season, and an upgrade could be beneficial. The drafting of Daniels would allow current starting centre Ben Jones to slide into (most likely) Quinton Spain’s left guard spot. Overall, it’s a net win for Tennessee, who will finally ditch that ridiculous expression “exotic smashmouth” in name, but not in playing style.
  26. New York Giants (Trade with Atlanta)Kolton Miller, Offensive tackle, UCLA: The Giants need pass protection in the worst way, and they trade back into the first round, in front of the Patriots, to grab Miller, who fits the physical model established by GM Dave Gettleman in Carolina. Besides, the Giants really, really need a left tackle to replace the slow-footed Ereck Flowers, who’s been getting Eli Manning killed the last few years.
  27. New Orleans Saints: Hayden Hurst, Tight end, South Carolina: The Saints haven’t had their customary production from the tight end position since they traded Jimmy Graham, and now a pretty loaded offence gets another weapon. Drew Brees is a happy man.
  28. Pittsburgh SteelersLeighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State: What happened to Ryan Shazier last season was an absolute shame, and it forces Pittsburgh to shop for an insurance policy in case he can never return or be the player he was if he does. Vander Esch is a big, fast, rangy player who’s a terrific fit to play inside in Pittsburgh’s 3-4.
  29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville: So let’s not kid ourselves and think Blake Bortles, despite his improvement last year, is the answer. This leads the Jags to make one of the draft’s most intriguing picks with the polarizing Jackson, a multidimensional quarterback who will add additional spotlight on the suddenly trendy Jags.
  30. Minnesota Vikings: Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama: This Vikings team is looking pretty loaded, and they add athleticism at the Will linebacker position by replacing incumbent starter Ben Gedeon with Evans, a smart, tough typical Alabama product at the position.
  31. New England Patriots: Connor Williams, Offensive tackle, Texas: With Nate Solder’s departure, the team needs an athletic left tackle to keep Tom Brady upright on the rare occasions when he keeps the ball longer than 1.3 seconds. Williams is not the heaviest player, but he’s a smooth mover who fits what the Pats are looking for.
  32. Philadelphia Eagles: Sony Michel, Running Back, Georgia: The Eagles are so loaded this is a luxury pick, but it gives the Eagles improved depth at the position, which they need, and Michel is the quintessential modern all-purpose back that every team needs in 2018.

NFL Draft: Sending the Bears an email they don’t want to read

Yesterday gave a us a wild first round. This was yet another night that makes me ponder just how stupid it is for us to try to predict trades when we do mock drafts. The ones that end up happening are never the ones we expect and, yesterday, we didn’t have to wait long before the first crazy trade.

Anyone who knows me is well aware that I love picking apart bad drafting and bad free agent signings. Therefore, I along with most of the NFL audience, was taken off guard when the Bears gave up several picks to swap selections with the 49ers in order to draft this guy:

Mitch Trubisky

So, while I still wanted to write some form of recap, I didn’t want to do the standard winners/losers column. So I’m going to keep it short and send the Chicago Bears an email they really don’t want to read

To: Bears GM Ryan Pace and HC John Fox. 

From: Alexandre Turp

Hey guys, far be it from me to add to the shitstorm you’ve been taking from local and national media for giving up all these picks to grab Mitch Trubisky, but I’m afraid I must. So here’s my question: On a scale of one to ‘what-the-fuck-have-we-done,’ how badly are you freaking out that there are, if you really look at it, eerie similarities between your new QB and Blaine Gabbert?

Now, Mr. Pace, I know you’re sitting there thinking, “What the hell?! Trubisky’s gonna be so much better than that stiff!!” Hear me out.

Nobody starts off wanting to draft the kind of quarterback Gabbert has become, but hindsight is 20/20. We only hate this comparison because we now KNOW what Gabbert is at the NFL level. However, I can’t help but find they have several things in common. Physically, all the tools are there. It’s why they were drafted where they were. I liked the arm strength, the apparent ability to fit the ball in tight windows, the surprising mobility.

Also, they both come from spread offences with simple reads that have little to do with all they’ll be asked to do at the NFL level.

Moreover, there is, in the case of each one, something worrisome about their college resumé. Gabbert’s passing statistics were nothing to write home about, despite his playing in an offence that facilitated big numbers, while Trubisky has only started 13 college games.

Finally, their respective situation coming into the league is positively and similarly atrocious. Both desperately need their supposed number 1 receiver to come through. In Gabbert’s case, we already know that he didn’t, as Justin Blackmon chose to prioritize weed over playing football. And… Sorry, what’s that? … What do you mean, ‘Are you still bitter about this?’ Moving on, shall we?

In your case, you let Alshon Jeffery go in free agency. You drafted Kevin White two years ago but, unless he stays healthy and becomes what he supposed to be, you’ll give your new quarterback a supporting cast about as lackluster as the one Gabbert had in Jacksonville. Plus, if White has another season of quality time with your athletic therapists, you’ve now dealt away picks that would’ve been useful when it comes to surrounding Mitchy with some actual talent. At least, your offensive line is a bit better than the one Gabbert had in Jacksonville. Small victories, eh?

In other words, if you toss Trubisky in there after the first time Mike Glennon throws two picks, he won’t know what’s hit him, and you’ll feel the pain of his being a bust just like I’m still feeling each of the million sacks Gabbert took because he was afraid of throwing an interception.

So here I am, once again, making myself the bearer of bad news. I’m sorry about that. If it makes you feel any better, just remember that I’m just a bitter Jacksonville fan who’s trying to recover from the fact that Dalvin Cook, my favourite running back in the draft, the best running back in the draft, might be sitting there at 35 when my Jags pick in the second round, but that I won’t take him because I drafted Leonard Fournette yesterday despite having no O-Line to block for him.

Peace out, guys,

AT

 

NFL Combine: Death of the workout warrior?

Everyone over the age of 10 can still remember at least one. Older NFL fans can still recall the meteoric post-Combine rise of defensive end Mike Mamula. Younger fans were probably old enough to witness the preposterous overdrafting of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey by the Raiders. Jets’ fans still weep as they reminisce the virtual invisibility of edge rusher Vernon Gholston. There have been countless others over the years, but all these draft prospects of yore have in common is that they have earned the unflattering label of the “workout warrior.”

At first, the expression appears to carry a positive connotation. Of course, for an NFL draft prospect, there is nothing intrinsically bad about the ability to run 40 yards in a straight line really quickly; or about the strength to bench press 225 pounds many, many consecutive times; or about looking chiseled out of stone like a Greek God. Several prospects, who’ll turn out to be really good NFL players, will check all those boxes. However, the label isn’t meant for workout beasts who can actually play.

The workout warrior tag is reserved for players whose college resume doesn’t warrant a top pick, but whose workout numbers, at the Combine or at their Pro Day, allow them to be drafted much higher than they should be, and whose lack of actual football skill torpedoes their NFL career once they reach the pros. Bonus points go to workout warriors whose pedestrian college production should have been a red flag for NFL talent evaluators (often how it goes, come to think of it).

The olden days of workout warrior glory

Mike Mamula was the original workout warrior. Originally projected to be drafted in the third round (which would have been consistent with what eventually was his level of play in the NFL) in 1995, the Boston College product decided, along with his agent, to train exclusively to ace the landmark Combine drills, such as the 40, the bench press, the T-Test and the vertical leap. His reasoning made sense: “If that’s what I’m going to be evaluated on, then that’s what I need to prepare for.” Mamula blew scouts away. Carrying a 6-4, 248-pound frame, he ran a 4.58 4o, bench-pressed 225 pounds 28 times, and had a vertical jump of 38,5 inches. The Philadelphia Eagles started a trend of drafting workout wonders, and selected Mamula seventh overall.

Soon after, however, the flaws in the Eagles’ thinking were on full display, and everyone remembered why Mamula was rated as a third-rounder before the combine. He was a highly productive player at Boston College, but he didn’t play as fast as he timed, and he was too far undersized to beat NFL tackles with power. (In those days, he was badly undersized as a defensive end, much worse than he would be now. Tackles were much heavier, and run games revolved mostly around man-blocking, which is, at its very nature, much more physical than the zone schemes that are the norm today.) Unlike many subsequent workout warriors, Mamula didn’t have a disastrous career. He was, by all accounts, a decent rotation defensive end. However, his Combine performance made several people think he was a franchise player at the position, and these same people were absolutely shocked when he failed to live up to expectations. Still, Mamula set a trend that would have fans trying to spot who the next one would be. He can be credited, if nothing else, for making the draft process more fun for draftniks. They justified their existence by unearthing late-round gems, and issuing stern warnings about the next Mamula.

When prepping for the draft as a fan, it was once part of the fun to hear of the unwarranted rise up draft boards of a “Combine star performer,” scream at your television set or at your computer and to have, with the talking head on the screen, a conversation such as this one:

– ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr.: This guy would have been lucky to make it into the first round before the Combine, but when he was in Indy, he checked all the boxes.

– Me: Blah, blah, blah…

– Kiper: He weighed in at 315, he ran 4.87, he had 30 reps at 225 pounds. Now, I’m hearing echoes of him being drafted in the Top 10.

– Me: Wha… What the hell?! Guy’s a stiff!!!

– Kiper: He now has scouts really high on his upside as a pass rusher…

– Me: So how come that “upside” never materialized in college, you dipshit?!

– Kiper: A scout that I talked to said this guy’s build and movement skills reminded him of Warren Sapp.

– Me: Blasphemy! In what universe?! Where did this guy get his crack pipe?! There aren’t enough ‘roids in the galaxy for him to get even a glimpse of Sapp!! Whoever drafts him that high is JUST MENTAL!!

Perhaps my father, my brother and my friend Gab Flewelling will have recognized me losing my cool after hearing “Kipe” sullying the great Warren Sapp’s name by putting it in the same sentence as that of Dewayne Robertson, a Kentucky defensive tackle drafted fourth overall by the Jets in 2003*. (Hmm… Them again… I sense a recurring theme, don’t you?) A year later, after a supremely underwhelming rookie season for the Jets’ second coming of Sapp, we were hearing ESPN’s football reporters, hoping any footage of them praising Robertson had been destroyed, telling us something like this, and prompting the following reaction from me:

– Reporter: Last year, the Jets tried to play Robertson as a three-technique to give him more pass rushing opportunities, but that doesn’t really suit his game. This year, they’ve moved him to a one-technique role, where he can do what he does best, which is soak up double-teams and stuff the run**…

– Me: SO WHO THE HELL IS BEING PAID TO DO THE SCOUTING AROUND THERE?!?! Me and my ZERO years of scouting experience could have told you Robertson is no 3-tech! Don’t you think this is the sort of thing a team would want to find out about BEFORE taking the guy at fourth overall?! Because you can bet that last slice of authentic New York pizza that the Jets never draft him fourth overall in a million years if they think he’s a one-tech! How about just watching the damn film?!

I know it doesn’t look like it, but those days were fun. You just had to look at 40 times to know which player would sucker a team into taking him far too early. You just hoped it wouldn’t be your team. Then, when they did, you hoped you were wrong about the guy. You usually weren’t. Back then, teams would make picks so reprehensibly dumb you’d feel really smart calling them out on it. Except when the Jags picked Matt Jones*** in the first round in 2005. Then I lost my shit.

Robertson selected fourth overall

Where have they gone?

So, a few days ago, “The Ringer NFL Show” hosts Robert Mays and Kevin Clark were having this debate about the significance of the Combine. The strongest stance came from Clark, who argued that there is no such thing as a workout warrior anymore. Teams, he suggested, should pick the guy who destroys Combine workouts because, he says, they’re better off grabbing the guys with upper-echelon athleticism and coaching them up to be competent NFL players.

His opinion is not completely without merit. The true workout warrior flops are indeed much rarer than they used to be. Workout freaks like Adrian Peterson, Calvin Johnson, JJ Watt and Jadaveon Clowney can really play. We do, indeed,see less of the Gholstons, the Robertsons, the Troy Williamsons, the Ashley Lelies, the Donte Stallworths as we did about 15 years ago.

So how did this happen? I can offer three ideas as to why we do not have the overdrafted workout warriors we once had.

The first reason is this: teams have gotten much smarter in how they interpret combine data.  We got a perfect illustration of this just last year. When he arrived at the Combine, Chargers’ defensive end Joey Bosa was considered the 2016 Draft’s premier defensive line prospect. Scouts Inc.’s Todd McShay even had Bosa ranked as the draft’s top prospect. Then, Bosa ran a pedestrian 4.86 40-yard dash. 15 years ago, Bosa’s subpar 40 would probably have sent him spiraling down to the 20s. Instead, because this was 2016, the Chargers didn’t panic. They went back to the tape and likely said to themselves, “who cares about what he ran? We don’t see 4.86 on tape.” Bosa went on to win the Rookie of the Year award and to record 10.5 sacks despite missing significant time. This is a powerful and essential message, and it’s why even the Browns are unlikely to be stupid enough to let themselves be scared off the draft’s top prospect, Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett, if he runs 4.72 instead of 4.55.

So when Clark says tape is more misleading than Combine results because it can mask the fact that a dominant college player might not be athletic enough to play in the NFL, he’s right to point out that this danger exists. This is why the Combine’s physical tests are not a complete waste of time. A cornerback who runs a 4.6 40 probably can’t hang with AJ Green or Julio Jones in man coverage. But whereas Combine results were once the be-all and end-all of player evaluation, despite GMs claim to the contrary, they now serve as a means of confirming what the tape shows about a prospect. This is, by any standard, a much more sensible way to use Combine data.

Thus, is Clark right to suggest that the Workout Warriors as we knew them are a thing of the past? In short, no. The second reason why they seem less numerous than they once were is this: Given that teams do a much better and complete job of figuring out a given prospect’s true abilities, they are far less likely to spend high draft picks on old-school Workout Warriors. Let nobody doubt it: the higher the draft pick, the higher the expectations. Ergo, a high draft choice will always get more chances to justify his draft status than a low-round pick will get to outplay his. If an old-fashioned workout warrior were to be drafted in the third or fourth round, nobody would make much of a fuss about the fact that he can’t play. These are the rounds that recent 40-time dynamos such as Kenyan Drake, Dri Archer, Cardale Jones or Clive Walford (all players whose testing numbers were better than their college careers) now occupy. Different expectations mean a different perspective on a player’s career. Imagine if Dewayne Robertson or Johnathan Sullivan had been drafted in the third round. Most likely, their respective teams don’t try to wedge them into playmaker roles they aren’t suited for, they slowly work their way into being perfectly suitable rotation players, and never do they become the laughing stocks they are now.

This leads me to the third reason: As teams get better at evaluating prospects, agents and college coaches come to realize it. Coaches can now spend three or four years telling players that, if they can’t play, that fancy 40 time will do them very little good. And agents, most of whom send their clients to high-priced training compounds during the Combine preparation period, have started sending them to places where the football skill-to-track technique ratio is more favourable to the former than it would previously have been. This becomes a must when positional drills become as scrutinized as the 40 time. It also has made players better because they spend the better part of three months, if not more, working on skills they’ll actually use beyond the Combine.

It begins

In my opinion, Workout Warriors have not disappeared. Rather, as teams have refined their evaluation methods, these testing freaks who can’t play now get exposed as such before, as opposed to after, they hit the field for the NFL team that drafts them. They are usually drafted lower, and have infinitely less significant expectations placed on them. Yet, the Workout Warriors will never be completely purged. If Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer, who has not in any way shown he’s ready for the NFL, gets drafted in the first round, it’ll be because of his Combine workouts (he’s already said to have impressed new 49ers’ GM John Lynch). If USC’s Adoree Jackson is picked in the first round by a team that thinks it’s getting a true starting cornerback, it’ll happen because his athleticism (read 40 time) was “too much to pass up.” If Miami (FL) tight end David Njoku is picked before Alabama’s OJ Howard, you can bet your last dollar Combine numbers will have something to do with it.

Whatever happens ends up happening, however, it’ll be a blast to watch it unfold, as it always is. Good news, draftniks: our second round of Holidays is upon us. Draft season is here. Enjoy it! I know I will.

 

* That year, Robertson was part of a defensive tackle class that was meant to be one of the greatest in NFL Draft history. The group became something of a disappointment. Robertson, who was a huge bust at fourth overall, was followed off the board two picks later by an even more egregious workout warrior of a defensive tackle, Georgia’s Johnathan Sullivan (6-3, 313 lbs, 33 reps, 4.81 40-yard dash, and just could…not…play… for shit!). Also disappointing were Penn State’s Jimmy Kennedy (bounced around the league as a rotation player after going 12th overall to the Rams), and Miami (FL)’s William Joseph (a mortally inconsistent player who is now in prison for an identity theft tax return fraud scheme). This doesn’t, for a single second, excuse the Jets for taking Robertson and the Saints for (trading up and) taking Sullivan. The Saints could have drafted Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Trufant, whom they desperately needed (yup, even then, they were incompetent in the secondary). Meanwhile, the Jets could have gone for Oklahoma State DT Kevin Williams (ninth overall to the Vikings, and one of the five best DTs of the past 15 years) or for Texas A&M’s Ty Warren (who tormented the Jets while playing for the Patriots). And if pass rush is what they wanted, well, a no-name guy by the name of Terrell Suggs, who had run a pedestrian 4.77 40-time, was picked at #10 by the Ravens (of course). Meanwhile, the Jets decided, three years later, that they needed a franchise pass rusher and picked Vernon Gholston with the sixth selection. But, hey, Suggs ran a bad 40, so what the hell… He’s only going to be a Hall-of-Famer. Sometimes, cheering for the Jets truly is the suckiest gig in all of fandom. Oh, and by the way, since we’re laughing at bad organizations, back in 2003, the Cardinals, who needed a pass rusher in the absolute worst way, traded down from sixth overall where they could have had local guy Suggs (from Arizona State; coming off an NCAA record 24-sack season… Who the hell wants that?!), and wound up picking two workout warriors in edge rusher Calvin Pace (decent career, but not with the Cards) and wide receiver Bryant Johnson (slow as molasses on the field and couldn’t separate, but ran 4.37 at his Pro Day, predictably went back to the whole no-separating deal in the NFL)

** Turns out, Robertson couldn’t even do that in the NFL. 

*** Jones played quarterback at Arkansas, but was a really sporadic thrower who did most of his damage with his legs, so he moved to receiver in the NFL. Ergo, the average fan and the competent team might (rightly) deem it risky to spend a first-round pick on a guy who’s switching positions upon arriving in the league. But, hey, leave it to the Jags to be completely hooked at the sight of 6-6, 242 lbs, a 4.37 in the 40 and ONE crazy one-handed grab during the one-on-ones at the Senior Bowl practices. 

 

Bradley and bowl-skipping backs

Gus Bradley is now the former head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars. I applaud that they gave him as much time as they did. We all saw his sacking coming, but the timing of it was just so weird. After the Jags allowed the Tom Savage-led Houston Texans to pull off a comeback that felt inevitable the entire time, Bradley was basically told he was being let go as he boarded the plane back to Jacksonville. This strikes me as a blatant lack of both professionalism and competence on the part of the Jaguars’ organization.

Surely, Bradley is too smart to be surprised by the news of his firing, but for the team to let him know at that point and to condemn him to a flight home with his players and staff during which every coach on the plane was aware of the news seems cruel. And THAT, Bradley hasn’t deserved.

Say what you will about the team’s incompetence on the field during Bradley’s tenure, and there is indeed much to say about it but, as head coach of the Jags, the man has not behaved unprofessionally one time. In fact, his ability to use his upbeat nature to deflect some of the attention off some of the more disgraceful performances of his players, of which there were several, was always amazing to me.

On that front, firing him with such cruel and impossibly illogical timing is a poor way to repay him.

Meanwhile, we have heard players expressing their unhappiness with Bradley’s firing. Personally, I don’t have a shred of interest in what they have to say, and haven’t since the first Tennessee game. Their collective performance on that day, a Thursday night game at that, a.k.a. the only sniff of prime time they were going to get this year, was such a goddamn disgrace that I remain convinced that’s the day the decision on Bradley was made. I was convinced they were trying to get Bradley fired, so lackluster, inept, incompetent, piss-poor, effort-bereft, cowardly was their showing in that game. Every single one of them got a paycheck for that game. Not a single one of them earned it. Not one. So go on with the public expressions of support for Bradley, lads. Just know that from the outside, your support for your coach on the field – where it matters – was, well, less perceptible.

As for the organization, I fail to see what is gained from firing him now, instead of two weeks from now, on the aptly-named “Black Monday.” It’s not as though they get a jump on hiring anybody of any worth. Who is it the Jags want? Jeff Fisher? Otherwise, you can’t communicate with hot coordinators who are still in the playoff hunt unless you do it through their agent, which you could do on the down-lo with Bradley still coaching the team. So unless they’re going to go after a college coach stupid enough to leave wherever he’s having success to try and reboot this mess of a franchise, you’ve only brought further embarrassment to the franchise by firing yet another coach in a way that looks so profoundly improvised.

But owner Shad Khan and GM David Caldwell need not worry about embarrassing the team’s fans. They’re used to it.


Two star college running backs are skipping their respective team’s bowl games to prepare for the NFL draft. After LSU’s Leonard Fournette indicated that he wasn’t going risk injury to play in what amounts to a glorified exhibition game, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey announced that he would do the same.

And from there on, it was a matter of cuing up the predictable reactions. Most members of the media were supportive of McCaffrey and Fournette, although there were exceptions (see ESPN analyst Danny Kanell as well Kirk Herbstreit). Most former players thought Fournette and McCaffrey were making the wrong decision.

Going back to the media, I fully take their point that last year, Notre Dame linebacker had his draft status crushed by the knee injury he sustained in last year’s Fiesta Bowl, an injury which also cost him his rookie season in the NFL and, on aggregate, anywhere between 17  and $19 million. And no, the insurance policy he took to cover for his injury doesn’t cover the money he would have made as a Top 10 pick.

Skipping a bowl game that won’t lead you to the National Championship to preserve your earning power is the rational thing to do. I get it; I really do. I also hope that their draft stock isn’t affected by this, but I doubt that it will. Several columnists have rightly gone on to say Fournette and McCaffrey’s decision puts the bloated NCAA bowl system on trial, although it will survive, but that’s a topic for another day.

So again, the two RBs’ decision completely makes sense. My only issue is when I hear people suggest that they aren’t worse teammates, or that they aren’t placing themselves above their teammates, for making it.

Sorry, but… yes, they are. Don’t tell me anything about their teammates supporting them. Don’t tell me about the power and earning imbalance between the NCAA and its players. All of it may be true (in the case of the power imbalance, we all know it is), but none of it alters the fact that these two players have chosen to desert their team before their respective seasons are over. There can be no disputing this.

For me, it comes down to principle. Football is a team endeavour. As such, each players is responsible for their teammates’ aspirations, and vice-versa. Fournette and McCaffrey were as valuable to their respective teams as any player in the country. By leaving now, they are forfeiting this responsibility and jeopardizing the aspirations of the teammates they agreed to support by accepting team membership for 2016.

The facile argument according to which they have nothing left to prove seems wobbly at best. How is that any different from before the season? Both players were considered as candidates for the Heisman Trophy last year. By that logic, why wait until bowl season to start the draft preparations? Why come back to their respective schools at all?

For me, it’s about principle. Starting what you finish, being there for your teammates, taking pride in helping them achieve their aspirations of winning a bowl game that most likely means a hell of a lot more to them than it means to us as viewers, and so on… You don’t have to lecture me on the arguments to support McCaffrey and Fournette. I didn’t have anything close to their talent. I couldn’t have aspired to playing in the NFL. I don’t have a young daughter (as Fournette does). I know the bowl game is essentially an exhibition game with perks. I also know principle isn’t going to earn Jaylon Smith the money he lost because of the injury he sustained in the Fiesta Bowl last year, and that the NCAA is fully exploiting these young players.

I just struggle with the two RBs’ decision because it would not have even crossed my mind. You can call it outdated, out-of-whack morality (football people have made themselves guilty of that from time-to-time). You can call it naive. Perhaps all of it is true. I get why they did it, and I understand it “makes sense.” But if I were a teammate of Fournette’s or McCaffrey’s, their decision would be hard for me to accept.

 

 

 

 

 

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