Every player whose name is called during Thursday night’s first round endured an arduous journey to reach the NFL draft. Each and every one of them is a winner.
Who will turn their franchise around? Help rebuild an organization?
These are the official Bleacher Report pick-by-pick grades for Round 1. They will update constantly throughout Thursday night. Keep checking back. After all, this may be the night when some hardscrabble loser of a team starts its journey toward a shot with the champ.
No. 1 Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Strengths: Athleticism, burst, array of moves, instincts and awareness.
Weaknesses: Some technical flaws.
The best defensive players force opponents to play offense with one hand tied behind their backs.
Deion Sanders took half the field away from opposing quarterbacks. Lawrence Taylor dictated where the opponent’s tight end lined up and forced offensive coordinators to invent a new position (the H-back). Ed Reed erased the deep middle from the playbook.
Watch Myles Garrett against a top offense and you will see the same thing. Opponents run everything to the right side of the field: sprintouts, rollouts, sweeps, swing passes. Anything that’s headed in Garrett’s direction is misdirection. Opponents like UCLA played as if the football field was slanted to one side like a warped pool table.
Garrett was the top prospect in the 2017 draft class before he put up science-fictiony workout results at the combine. Then he became a generational prospect. He has the potential to be a Julius Peppers or Simeon Rice, if not a Bruce Smith.
The only knocks, besides the usual draft prattle about “motor,” are little technical issues. Garrett lowers his head and shoulders into blockers now and then. He gets swallowed by interior linemen if he doesn’t win off the line when he moves inside to 3-tech tackle.
Everything else is cherry, right down to his ability to read screens and reverses and his understanding of his role as a sacrifice defender on blitzes.
Nitpickers and contrarians will point to his “low” 8.5-sack total in 2016 as a possible red flag.
Sanders didn’t record many interceptions in his best seasons.
The great ones beat you before you even get a chance to challenge them.
Give the Browns a little credit. They covet Mitchell Trubisky and may still land him. But they stared into the abyss—every mirror in the Browns organization is an abyss—and chose to make a straightforward choice to select a great player instead of finding a new and creative way of outsmarting themselves. The Browns are going to earn a ton of grades this weekend. Not all of them will be good. But they are off to an encouraging start.
No. 2 Chicago Bears: Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Grant Halverson/Getty Images
I hate this pick for a variety of reasons, starting with the fact that the Bears traded several valuable draft picks to move up one spot.
Two things worry me about Mitchell Trubisky, and neither of them is his low number of NCAA starts. He faced lots of big-time competition in his 13 starts and made plenty of NFL throws. That’s not a huge issue.
Trubisky tends to linger in the pocket when backed up against his own end zone, as he waits for a perfect play when he should be speeding up his process. Trubisky threw to a receiver in his own end zone for a safety once and engages in other dangerous tomfoolery when he should just get rid of the darn ball.
Trubisky also likes to try to escape a clean pocket via the back door, dropping extra far back and looping around his right tackle and the pass-rusher he’s blocking. There have been about 10 quarterbacks in NFL history who could execute this maneuver successfully, and even they all have some 40-sack seasons on their ledgers.
Trubisky’s mistakes are Geno Smith tendencies, which should set off some warnings. More experience should minimize them, but they underscore the fact that Trubisky isn’t some ultra-dependable pocket passer. He’s an athletic playmaker with limited experience like Newton or Tannehill, two quarterbacks who neatly define the range of possibilities for Trubisky.
The Bears had a chance to take their pick of instant-impact defensive players. They selected a developmental quarterback, despite a weak receiving corps. By the time Trubisky develops, if he develops, the men who drafted him may be gone.
Unless his development becomes an excuse to ask for an extra year after another weak 2017 season for the Bears.
No. 3 San Francisco 49ers: Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
Strengths: Hand use, quickness inside, hustle.
Weaknesses: End-tackle tweener.
The new San Francisco 49ers braintrust consists of the guy who misplaced his game plan at Super Bowl opening night and helped blow a 28-3 lead and the former player-turned-television personality with zero personnel experience who was genuinely surprised about how expensive it was to sign a fullback after grossly overpaying for one.
The fact that Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are universally considered to be a massive upgrade over their predecessors tells you all you need to know about what the 49ers have gone through over the last two years.
It also explains why this team needs bodies at every position on the roster. Even after Lynch spent tens of millions of free-agent dollars, a few of them wisely, the 49ers have an expansion-team roster across most of the depth chart. Every Best Available Athlete they can find is their best choice.
Well, so far, so good. The 49ers not only got arguably the second-best player on the board, but several extra quality picks by playing the Bears against whichever other team was angling for Mitchell Trubisky.
You might remember Solomon Thomas from the Sun Bowl, when he looked like Ndamukong Suh and nearly upstaged Trubisky’s national coming-out party.
Thomas is as good as he looked in that game. He’s an exceptional hand-fighter who rarely lets blockers latch on. He has some nasty pass-rush moves from the 3-technique position, including a rip after an inside step that usually leaves him unblocked in the backfield. Thomas can also steer his blocker where he wants to go on stretch runs and is relentless in pursuit.
Thomas is not a traditional edge-rusher, nor is he a Suh or Aaron Donald who should play 50 snaps per game at defensive tackle. It doesn’t take a defensive genius to use him properly, but Robert Saleh should take some pages from the old Steve Spagnuolo playbook and move Thomas around the formation the way Justin Tuck slid around during the Giants’ Super Bowl runs.
Grade: A+ (extra picks factored in)
No. 4 Jacksonville Jaguars: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Strengths: Size, speed, power, vision, patience and cutback ability.
Weaknesses: Durability, experience as a receiver and shotgun rusher.
The Jaguars solved most of their problems in the offseason.
By “solved,” of course, we mean “catapulted boulder-sized heaps of cash in every direction and crossed their fingers.” As usual for the Jaguars.
They assembled yet another mercenary army of some of the biggest names free agency had to offer: A.J. Bouye, Calais Campbell, Branden Albert (who is becoming the Darrelle Revis of overrated left tackles when it comes to cashing in on his reputation), and lots of second-tier stocking-stuffers like Barry Church. Ostensibly leading the charge is Doug Marrone, innovator of the cut-‘n’-run maneuver in Buffalo. But Tom Coughlin will be standing in front of a flag and making Patton speeches, so all will be well, as long as no one chafes under his extreme micromanagement.
Anyway, everything looks rosy for the Jaguars, because it is April, and this team is undefeated over the last decade when it comes to spring optimism. It would be inappropriate to be too harsh on this selection just because everything the Jaguars try to do turns into a fire in a fertilizer factory by August 1.
Leonard Fournette is a huge, powerful, explosive, old-fashioned, I-formation downhill runner in the mold of LaDainian Tomlinson. His biggest weakness is that he is an old-fashioned, I-formation downhill runner in the mold of LaDainian Tomlinson.
Fournette often left the field when LSU switched to its pass-oriented spread formations, which could make it hard for him to adjust to NFL offenses that now use shotgun formations on over 60 percent of snaps. That’s right, folks: We are now seeing collegiate players who played too little spread offense for the NFL. We’re through the looking glass.
Anyway, Fournette has the skill set to be a decent receiver and has a one-cut-and-explode rushing style that can turn shotgun outside-zone handoffs into touchdowns.
The analytics guy in me hates selecting a running back fourth overall. But he’s a need pick and arguably the best player on the board. If Coughlin (and Marrone) plan to go old-school, Fournette is the guy to do it with.
No. 5 Tennessee Titans: Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Strengths: Size, concentration and contested-catch capability.
Weaknesses: Quickness and release, nagging injuries.
A quick look at the Titans predraft receiver depth chart:
- Rishard Matthews. Dolphins castoff, from back in the days when the Dolphins assessed a player’s value solely based upon how much he cost them. A fine No. 3 receiver. The Titans’ No. 1 receiver.
- Tajae Sharpe. Drafted in the fifth round as an obvious small-program, long-range prospect. Was targeted for 83 passes. Caught nearly half of ’em.
- Harry Douglas. The second-least exciting Falcons castoff receiver available.
- Eric Weems. Hello.
- Nate Washington. Just kidding! He’s been gone for a while. But Washington played for the Titans for, like, 70 years, and you probably would not have noticed if I slipped him in.
Even an extreme run-first team like the Titans needs a little more to work with here.
Corey Davis is a quarterback’s best friend who will make tough catches in traffic in the back of the end zone (see: Cotton Bowl), come back for the ball during a scramble and reach or scoop for errant throws. He’s an old-school West Coast offense receiver in an increasingly spread-oriented NFL.
Davis reminds me a little of the Dolphins’ DeVante Parker and could have a Parker-like early career as a matchup-headache third receiver while he quickens his release and tightens his route running. Davis, like Parker, often plays through nagging injuries, something the Titans training department should start focusing on in rookie camp.
I had Mike Williams rated higher than Davis. Otherwise, this is a fine pick.
No. 6 New York Jets: Jamal Adams, S, LSU
Strengths: Size, athleticism, physicality, instincts, experience.
Weaknesses: Some gamble-and-guess, seek-and-destroy tendencies.
The Jets ranked 32nd in the NFL at stopping opponents’ No. 2 receivers last year, according to Football Outsiders. They also ranked 32nd in preventing passes over the middle and 28th in preventing deep passes. On the plus side, they were 16th at preventing passes to running backs, in part because there is no reason to throw to a running back when the No. 2 receiver is wide-open over the middle.
In short, the Jets are in need of massive, sweeping upgrades in the secondary.
Jamal Adams is the best safety in the best safety class in years—a prospect who is Ed Reed-like enough to make comparisons to Reed not sound like gross exaggerations.
The nitpicking knocks in Adams’ game are his tendency to play the receiver instead of the ball, proclivity to sacrifice an interception for a big hit, and a habit of taking some overaggressive bad angles that remove him from open-field plays. Those are easy-to-correct flaws, making Adams one of the safest picks and most immediate upgrades in this draft class.
The television analysts are making a point of Adams’ ability to bring “leadership” to the Jets. Hopefully, the situation in Jets headquarters is not so bad that they need rookies to lead them (as opposed to being good “culture guys” who grow into leaders). But the Jets are the Jets, so you never know.
No. 7 Los Angeles Chargers: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Strengths: Size, hands, after-catch capability.
Weaknesses: Pure speed, ball security.
It can be tricky to figure out what direction the Chargers organization is heading in. For best results, do what the team’s ownership does: Roll a six-sided die and consult the Chargers Random Decision Generator:
Roll 1: Move the organization from one of the most beautiful cities in the world into a rookie league baseball stadium on the outskirts of a city that will barely notice them.
Roll 2: Hire offense-oriented head coach Anthony Lynn while retaining coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, whose system is completely different.
Roll 3: Draft Pro Bowl-caliber pass-rusher to provide immediate help, then haggle over contract language until Thanksgiving.
Roll 4: Overpay for Russell Okung and write a book about it titled “The Curious Case of the Player with No Agent and the Franchise That Negotiates Against Itself.”
Roll 5: Hire LaDainian Tomlinson to help the organization reconnect with a fanbase it just alienated.
Roll 6: Drafting defenders to fit Gus Bradley’s vision is the new drafting defenders to fit John Pagano’s vision!
Oops! Looks like the die rolled off the board, leaving us guessing again.
Mike Williams is best compared to recent successful Clemson receivers such as Sammy Watkins, DeAndre Hopkins and Martavis Bryant. Williams is not as fast as Watkins or as much of an athletic marvel as Bryant. But he has DeAndre Hopkins’ “bad ball” ability (Williams specialized in tracking and retrieving Deshaun Watson’s less-than-pinpoint back-shoulder throws), Watkins’ tackle-breaking skills after a short catch and none of Bryant’s reliability issues. He has a possession receiver’s tools before the catch and can be a rumbling playmaker after the catch.
Williams is a relatively safe pick with low bust potential. He also indicates that Lynn won’t be importing his run-oriented ways from Buffalo. The major quibble: The Chargers have a lot of needs on defense, and there are a lot of great defenders sitting on the board.
No. 8 Carolina Panthers: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Strengths: Speed and quickness, receiving ability, versatility.
Weaknesses: Interior rushing, tackle-breaking.
Christian McCaffrey’s maternal grandfather, Dave Sime, was a silver medalist in the 100-meter dash in the 1960 Olympics and the 29th-round pick of the Detroit Lions in the 1959 draft. His aunt was a tennis star at University of Virginia; his uncle played college basketball at Duke and Vanderbilt. McCaffrey’s mother was a soccer star at Stanford.
McCaffrey’s father, of course, earned two Super Bowl rings as a Broncos receiver and became one of the world’s most recognizable horseradish pitchmen.
McCaffrey ran a 4.48-second 40 at the combine and excelled at both the leaping and agility drills after gaining over 5,000 yards from scrimmage and scoring 33 total touchdowns in three Pac-12 seasons. He is one of the most gifted athletes in this draft class, which should not be surprising, given his pedigree and gridiron success that dates back to the prep level.
The best comparisons for McCaffrey as a runner are Warrick Dunn and (on the high end) Tiki Barber. He’s not some sort of square peg who will shatter between the tackles, nor is he some oversized nifty-shifty Danny Woodhead.
McCaffrey may be what the next generation of superstar NFL running backs will look like. The fact that they look a lot like wide receivers should surprise no one who has watched NFL games over the last 20 years.
McCaffrey essentially fills two needs for the Panthers: a complementary back for Jonathan Stewart and a slot receiver to work underneath for Cam Newton. Also, they need a punt returner with Ted Ginn and Corey Brown gone.
So don’t fret about how to use McCaffrey. Just use him.
No. 9 Cincinnati Bengals: John Ross, WR, Washington
Strengths: Breathtaking speed and quickness, release, deep receiving skills, playmaking ability.
Weaknesses: Size, injuries, occasional pass-dropping sprees.
When John Ross set the unofficial all-time combine land-speed record with a 4.22-second 40 wearing Nike cleats instead of Adidas, he missed out on a promotional opportunity to win his own island. That makes you wonder just what anyone would do with their own island. What is this, a Civilization video game? Was Ross supposed to send a pikeman to clear barbarians, build a monument and mine resources?
Even if the island comes equipped with a resort and such, would Ross be expected to govern it? What if international jewel thieves started coming to Ross Island to “lay low” from Interpol? Would he have to handle extradition hearings during training camp? Owning your own island sounds great until Hyman Roth sets you up and your own brother sells you out to Johnny Ola.
So good for you, John Ross—wear whatever darn kicks you like!
Anyway, long before he broke Chris Johnson’s combine record and pulled a reverse Gilligan, Ross was a DeSean Jackson-like deep threat who mixed pure speed with the ability to get a clean release off the line and separate from defenders in the open field using subtle moves and adjustments. So he’s not just another sprinter.
The downside: Ross is slender and has had some injuries (a spring 2015 ACL tear, shoulder problems last year), and his drops and mistakes come in bunches. Ross dropped several passes against Colorado, for example, including an easy touchdown. He bounced back later in that game with a highlight-worthy touchdown and other big catches. It’s always a roller coaster with these big-play types; Ross just happens to be the fastest roller coaster in the country.
Ross should provide about 90 percent of Odell Beckham Jr.’s production with approximately 50 percent of the hassles. That’s the kind of receiver you would want to be stranded on a desert island with.
I’m as stunned by this offensive run as anyone. Some teams in the teens and 20s are going to get some A-plus defenders. As for the Bengals, they need to reintroduce danger to their attack on both sides of the ball. Defense may have been a higher priority. But Andy Dalton is at his best when his playmakers do most of the work.
No. 10 Kansas City Chiefs: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
Mike Tanier’s Devastatingly Accurate Quarterback Comparison: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Romo!
Patrick Mahomes’ upside is the real Tony Romo. His downside is the internet meme version of Romo from Eagles/Giants message boards of the last decade.
Mahomes is Brett Favre-like in the way the neighborhood teenager throwing rocks from the sidewalk and breaking windows of the old abandoned warehouse is Brett Favre-like: You love the arm but question the judgment.
Just how highly you rate Mahomes depends upon whether you see him throw across his body to a triple-covered receiver in the middle of the field for a 30-yard gain and think: “Dang, this young man has magical playmaking sorcery,” or “if he tries that 20 times in the NFL, he will throw 19 interceptions and the whole organization will get fired.”
Make no mistake about it: If Mahomes were forced to start a full season as a rookie, he would not only throw 25 interceptions but would also endure 50 sacks with his Michael Vick-stuck-in-second-gear approach to pocket discipline.
But the tools are the tools, there is certainly no shortage of courage, and when Mahomes isn’t making things up as he goes along, there are flashes of decision-making brilliance to go along with all of that pure, unrefined talent.
If any coach can settle Mahomes down without taking away his sizzle, it’s Andy Reid. And Reid has a year or so to wait with Alex Smith still playing at…well…an Alex Smith level.
My issue is that the Chiefs have been in playoff also-ran mode for years. They could have traded up and upgraded their defense to get over the top in 2017. Reid’s Eagles tended to get stuck in 10- 11-win ruts. They could swap out quarterbacks and remain in the same rut, because they still have too many needs in other areas.
No. 11 New Orleans Saints: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Strengths: Athleticism, size, technique, pretty much everything.
Weaknesses: Some little issues.
Marshon Lattimore is so good that when you try to scout other players, he upstages them. Several times during draft season, I found myself watching Raekwon McMillan or some receiver facing Ohio State, and I would suddenly have to rewind the tape a little bit. “Holy cow, was that Lattimore? How did he chase down that overthrow? How did he undercut that route? Why am I watching this guy and not just enjoying me some extra Lattimore?”
Instead of listing Lattimore’s many virtues, let’s nitpick. He has NCAA cornerback, play-the-receiver-not the-ball tendencies on contested passes. That takes about three days of training camp to correct, because a cornerback who can get in proper position to hassle the receiver can be taught to turn his head.
Lattimore also gets a little flat-footed off the line of scrimmage at times, and he will reach to grab a receiver releasing inside of him instead of either jamming or turning to chase. That’s usually a focus issue caused by opponents avoiding your side of the field for quarters at a time.
That’s about it for the criticism. Lattimore should grow quickly into a shutdown NFL cornerback.
This was a windfall for the Saints: the best cornerback in the draft, sitting pretty at No. 11. They also have another first-round pick. And Adrian Peterson. Let the good times roll, and let some of their 38-35 losses turn into 35-28 victories!
No. 12 Houston Texans: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Mike Tanier’s Devastatingly Accurate Quarterback Comparison: Somewhere between Andy Bridgecousins and Kirk Daltwater.
Ask a hardcore draftnik about quarterback prospects and you will hear about velocity, ball placement, release platform, dropping from center and the dangers of converting to the NFL from an Air Raid offense.
Ask an offensive coordinator about quarterback prospects and you will hear about reliability, leadership, courage, work habits and the kind of virtues more associated with the perfect bank manager or your niece’s ideal fiance than an NFL player.
The draftniks care about intangibles, of course, though they often back-burner them. And when they wax philosophical about gumption, the coordinators are sometimes just dumbing football down into a morality play for us cabbages who never played the game.
But there is still a disconnect between the priorities. Draftniks worry that the prospect will never learn to reset his feet when he throws away from his body. Coaches worry that he’ll show up for a film session with bloodshot eyes or pee his pants the first time he faces an NFL blitz.
This all brings us back to Deshaun Watson, a solid-but-limited passer who achieved great things in a mostly scripted system. Watson looks like Andy Dalton when executing shotgun play fakes and launching back-shoulder throws toward the zip code of Mike Williams (his version of A.J. Green). He looks like Kirk Cousins when the Clemson pocket is spotless and he can scan the field before delivering the ball to his playmakers.
When the pocket breaks down or Watson starts rushing things, well, that’s when the weird decisions and ugly throws happen.
Draftniks see Dalton-Cousins upside and point to all of the playoff wins Dalton and Cousins have produced (zero), partially because their limitations become their team’s limitations. Coordinators see a guy who has been to two national championship games, understands the media rigmarole, knows about big-game preparations, kept his team in the game under the toughest circumstances, and on and on.
Bill O’Brien likely sees a true prospect who can both lead the team to some 11- 12-win seasons right away in AFC Southlandia (this team regularly wins nine games with bean dip at quarterback, remember) and a chance to prove he is the quarterback guru he was advertised to be when he transformed Tom Brady from a Hall of Famer to a slightly better Hall of Famer.
No 13. Arizona Cardinals: Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
Strengths: Athleticism, versatility, upside.
Weaknesses: Experience at any one position.
Haason Reddick was, by far, the winner of the 2017 predraft season. He generated zero buzz as an oft-injured high school defensive back. (His high school is about a mile from where I live. Trust me: There was zero buzz). He left Temple as your garden-variety mid-major pass-rusher, the kind who gets lots of hosannas from hardcore draftaholics, then gets selected in the fourth round and has a quiet little career.
Then Reddick worked out as an off-the-ball linebacker at the Senior Bowl, dazzling scouts with his instincts and athleticism in coverage. He followed the Senior Bowl with a triumphant week at the combine, running a 4.52-second 40 at 237 pounds and blowing away another set of linebacker drills.
The Cardinals are getting a football player’s football player in Reddick: a smart, physical athlete who can play any role asked of him. And of course, few teams are more creative about coming up with unique roles for defenders than the Cardinals, who need both an upgrade at pass-rusher and an injection of youth in the middle of their defense, not to mention a unique all-purpose player who can fit their 3-2-6 packages.
No. 14 Philadelphia Eagles: Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Strengths: Bull-rushing, outside rushing, first-step burst, pursuit.
Weaknesses: Technique, not being Myles Garrett.
Derek Barnett broke Reggie White’s University of Tennessee sack record with 33 career sacks. According to one school of thought, that makes Barnett, well, perhaps not better than the Minister himself, but certainly better than Garrett.
Folks, teams attempted between 20 and 25 passes per game against the Volunteers in White’s heyday. They attempt about 33 passes per game now. Sacks are a lot easier to come by than they used to be.
And as great as Barnett is, he’s not a generational prospect like Garrett. He’s an excellent all-around pass-rusher who can handle himself against the run and showed occasional ability to drop into coverage without needing a roadmap. He lacks an array of technical moves, however, as well as Garrett’s all-galaxy athleticism and ability to make opponents rewrite their playbooks.
Barnett is a better all-around defender and safer choice than many other big-name edge-rushers on the draft board, like Taco Charlton and Takkarist McKinley. Somewhere between overrating him because of a record and underrating him because he lacks fizzy “upside,” the Eagles got this selection just right.
No, Philly Phaithful: He’s not Reggie White. But there are Mike Mamulas lurking in this draft, and Barnett is not that, either. He’ll fit the system, upgrade the pass rush, and not get pushed around when the Cowboys start running in his direction 40 times per game.
No. 15 Indianapolis Colts: Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
Strengths: Instincts, range, deep-coverage skills, hands.
Weaknesses: Injuries, inexperience.
The Colts defense intercepted just eight passes last year. Imagine playing Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler twice each and only intercepting eight passes in a season. It’s hard to make jokes about the Colts defense, because everything is just soul crushingly sad. The Colts need playmakers just about everywhere; safety is as big a need as any.
Malik Hooker started just one year at Ohio State and played just two years of high school football. Vonn Bell and others kept him on the bench for the Buckeyes, while basketball occupied his time in high school.
The fact that Hooker roams the deep middle like Earl Thomas, diagnosing route combinations and gliding into position to break up passes, is remarkable for such an inexperienced defender. Either Hooker is a savant or a one-year wonder who benefited from playing on a secondary loaded with early-round NFL picks.
I lean toward the “savant,” with the caveat that Hooker is nowhere near as physical as Thomas, and offseason hip and hernia surgeries may set back the start of his NFL career. Hooker may strictly be a deep safety in a league that prefers all-purpose players at the position.
But after Hooker’s first deep interception, Chuck Pagano won’t ask him to play in the box much.
Probably not, anyway. You can never tell with Pagano.
No. 16 Baltimore Ravens: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
Strengths: Physicality, coverage on short routes.
Weaknesses: Pure speed, coverage on deep routes.
Marlon Humphrey is the son of Bobby Humphrey, the superstar Alabama running back who helped the Broncos reach Super Bowl XXIV with a 1,151-yard season, then fumbled in the first quarter of the Super Bowl to help spark a 55-10 49ers rout.
In defense of the senior Humphrey, the 49ers probably would have won 52-13 or something if he hadn’t fumbled.
Marlon Humphrey is the best cornerback in this class within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage. He’s a nasty run defender who also rips wide receiver screens to shreds. He jams receivers well and is smart and rangy in underneath zones.
Trouble arises when Humphrey is forced to cover receivers deep, however. He will bite on fakes, and he sometimes loses position against his man.
Humphrey is a solid player and not a bad selection, but the Ravens sat tight through a run of offensive players who could have helped them, then grabbed one of many very good cornerbacks left on the board when players at other positions are becoming harder to find.
My guess is that Ozzie Newsome saw four or five draftable Alabama players, couldn’t make up his mind, and took the eenie-meenie-miney-mo approach.
Not really. Newsome is a savvy personnel guy. And he knows the Tide program like Nick Saban’s shadow, so he may have passed on some players for very good reasons.
No. 17 Washington Redskins: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Strengths: Zero weaknesses except injury concerns.
Weaknesses: Injury concerns.
Before we go any further, let’s congratulate this organization for getting this far in the draft without firing an important member of the front office, leaking scandalous rumors about an important member of the front office, or sending some counterproductive mixed message to Kirk Cousins. The Redskins have really grown as a franchise in the last 45 minutes or so.
With that out of the way, let’s apply the Standard Alabama Defensive Prospect Checklist to Jonathan Allen.
Huge and athletic? He’s 286 pounds with solid workout numbers. Check and check.
Lots of accolades? He won the Bednarik and Nagurski Awards, given annually to the defender who is most like the guys your grandfather swears are tougher than any human being who walks the Earth today. Check. (Also, grandpa may be on to something).
Well coached and polished? Allen has the hand-fighting skills of your basic ninja and is rarely caught out of position. Check.
So surrounded by NFL-caliber talent that it’s hard to tell how much credit should go to the program rather than the player? Allen shared the front seven with Dalvin Tomlinson, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Rashaan Evans. There is lots of game film that looks more like a stampede than competitive football. Check.
Looks like Allen is just the latest model to roll of the Nick Saban assembly line. He’s probably a two-gap end in Washington’s system. Double-digit-sack seasons may be rare, but Allen will do everything else right and upgrade the whole line.
The knock on Allen is an arthritic condition in his shoulder, which clearly scared a few teams away. But the Washington front office no doubt did its homework.
Come to think of it, the Washington front office is one that you can doubt did its homework. But Allen is a strong value here, assuming the short-term injury concerns are minimal.
No. 18 Tennessee Titans: Adoree’ Jackson, WR, USC
Strengths: Crazy athleticism and return skills.
Weaknesses: A graduate of the Deion Sanders school of Theoretical Tackling.
Adoree’ Jackson is the proverbial threat to score every time he touches the ball, whether he is returning a punt or jumping a route from off coverage and intercepting a pass.
Jackson’s tackling technique consists of lunging at a spot within three yards of the ball-carrier and hoping the breeze knocks him down. Jackson’s footwork can also be a mess. For all of his speed, he can lose steps or flat-out trip over himself in transition.
The Titans ranked 30th in the NFL in passing yards per game last year. Their rate/percentage statistics for pass defense were not all that terrible, but playing in AFC Southlandia automatically levels off some metrics. Four weeks per year against Blake Bortles and Brock Osweiler can make a defense look better than it really is.
The Titans added Logan Ryan and Jonathan Cyprien to the secondary in free agency but jettisoned Jason McCourty, a solid player with a weighty contract. There is now little depth behind Ryan at cornerback, and Ryan is more of a complementary or slot cornerback than a shutdown guy.
Jackson will have immediate value as a return man for the Titans, but he is extremely raw and should start his career as a dime cornerback. His upside is through the rafters, but fans should brace for some bloopers among the highlights. There are safer choices at cornerback on the board right now, and their upside is almost as high as Jackson’s, without the potential downside.
No. 19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers: O.J. Howard, Tight End, Alabama
In honor of what may be the best tight end draft class ever, Bleacher Report proudly presents this field-guide scouting report on O.J. Howard.
Productivity: Forty-five catches for 595 yards and three touchdowns in 2016. That’s pretty great, considering that the Tide aren’t known for featuring the tight end in their passing game.
Athleticism: Scouts describe Howard the way the authors at SquickySuperheroFanfic.com describe Thor.
But can he block? Yes! Howard is a strong, technically sound, experienced in-line blocker.
Other notes: Howard lacks polish as a receiver, but his combination of pure athletic ability and actual blocking usefulness makes him the most exciting tight end prospect since Vernon Davis.
This is a sound pick: good safety valve for Jameis Winston and a potential difference-maker in the running game.
No. 20 Denver Broncos: Garett Bolles, T, Utah
Strengths: Raw power and athleticism.
Weaknesses: He’s a soon-to-be 25-year-old who barely knows what he is doing on the field.
We had to get a picture of Garett Bolles with his baby into these grades: a kid so adorable Philly fans could barely boo him! Someday, Bolles will learn how to hold him. (Linemen don’t carry things well.)
Bolles’ inspirational story makes The Blind Side look like an infomercial for a juicer. He was kicked out of multiple high schools, built up a long teenage rap sheet of drugs and vandalism, and was kicked out of his home in 2011. Bolles’ lacrosse coach took him in, and Bolles slowly put his life back together, went on Mormon mission and worked his way up from Snow College to Utah.
Tremendous. But can Bolles play?
If a 19-year-old produced Bolles’ tape, he’d be projected as a high first-rounder in a future draft. The quickness, power, finish and energy are all there. But Bolles’ technique often boils down to “go hit guy.” He lunges, gets off balance, winds up on the ground, gets out-leveraged, and so forth. At 25 by the start of training camp, he will be a raw project who is older than players drafted two years ago.
It will be an uphill climb, which is nothing new for Bolles.
Menelik Watson and Donald Stephenson are penciled in as the Broncos tackles right now, Neither is an ideal solution, but there are no ideal solutions in this draft class. Bolles is a good upside selection. But if the Broncos really expect help right away at offensive tackle, they did this draft wrong.
No. 21 Detroit Lions: Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
Strengths: Physicality, burst, pursuit.
Weaknesses: Injury concerns, swing-and-whiff tackling.
Jarrad Davis was a late riser on draft boards. A leg injury wiped out a chunk of the 2016 season, while a meniscus tear erased the end of the 2014 campaign, and other aches and pains limited him in 2015. Teams must have liked what they saw in the combine medicals. The tape, scattered though it is, has always been good.
When healthy, Davis is an excellent thumper and gap-shooter. He’ll time a blitz to get to the quarterback or blast through the hole to stuff a run. He makes a lot of tackles in pursuit and gets high marks for read-and-react diagnosis, though he overruns some plays. He gets sucked in too far by play action at times, but his overall coverage skills are solid.
There was scuttlebutt entering Thursday night that the Lions were planning an offense-heavy draft this weekend. That strategy would be, to use some insider football jargon, cuckoo-bananas crazytown.
Davis is neither the pass-rusher nor impact player in the secondary that the Lions really need. But he’s a solid player, and he plays on the correct side of the ball.
No. 22 Miami Dolphins: Charles Harris, Edge, Missouri
Strengths: Initial quickness, pursuit.
Weaknesses: One-dimensional rusher, discipline.
For an edge-rusher, having exceptional first-step quickness is like being a 7-footer in basketball or a pitcher with a 90 mph fastball. It’s the skill that not only gets you in the door but also forgives a bunch of other sins and shortcomings.
Charles Harris explodes off the ball, beating his blocker to the edge on snap after snap. That burst makes him a weapon. Harris also hustles well in pursuit against screens and does a good job sifting down the line on running plays away from him.
Everything else about Harris is average. He doesn’t have many fancy moves, is OK at using his hands, can get pinned on runs in his direction and stymied when he doesn’t win off the line. He lost his cool in the LSU game, committing unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and shoving an opponent after the snap, so his emotions and late-game focus need to be monitored.
But first-step wins mean a lot, and the Dolphins are getting a pass-rusher with a coveted skill that cannot really be taught. Harris corrects several years of bad decisions in the quest for a good complementary rusher to Cameron Wake (drafting Dion Jordan, letting Olivier Vernon walk, signing what was left of Mario Williams). There are stronger pass-rushers on the board, but most of them come with questions. The team knows what it’s getting with Harris.
No. 23 New York Giants: Evan Engram, TE, Ole Miss
In honor of what may be the best tight end draft class ever, Bleacher Report proudly presents this field-guide scouting report on Evan Engram.
Productivity: Caught 162 passes in four seasons as a regular for the Rebels. Eight touchdowns last year.
Athleticism: Engram is built like an action figure and moves like he is gliding along a frictionless surface. He’s an air-hockey puck, only studly.
But can he block? Don’t stand him next to the right tackle and expect him to clean Von Miller’s clock. He’s not as bad at wall-off blocks or in the open field as some scouting reports suggest.
Other notes: Back in 2014, Giants tight end Larry Donnell benched himself in his fantasy football league in favor of Vernon Davis before a Thursday night game. Donnell went on to score three touchdowns, yet lose his fantasy game by 15 points.
The moral of the story is that even Giants tight ends don’t respect Giants tight ends. This is a team that signed Martellus Bennett for a year but decided, “whoa no, he’s just too dynamic for us!” The ultimate Giants tight end has been a player who doesn’t block well, has hands like ankles and runs like Private from Penguins of Madagascar but doesn’t get criticized too heavily because he was an undrafted nobody from nowhere, so what did you expect?
Engram outperformed O.J. Howard in Senior Bowl week practices, looking much more comfortable as a downfield receiver and giving it his all in blocking drills. He’s a Jordan Reed-caliber talent.
Giants fans haven’t seen the likes of him since Jeremy Shockey. Put him in the huddle with Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall, and watch out.
Assuming that Eli Manning is upright long enough to get them the ball.
No. 24 Oakland Raiders: Gareon Conley, CB, Ohio State
Strengths: Size, press coverage, ball skills.
Weaknesses: Run support, off coverage, character concerns.
Gareon Conley appeared destined for the top half of the first round before sexual assault accusations surfaced earlier in the week. A mad scramble for information ensued. Whether this selection indicates innocence, reasonable doubt or simply a delicate balancing act of risk, reward and public relations is best left for others to decide.
Conley can obviously play. He’s a 6’0″ cornerback who allowed just 14 receptions (with four interceptions and seven pass breakups) last year, according to Pro Football Focus. When you realize Conley is the Buckeyes defender opponents wanted to pick on among their loaded secondary, that’s saying something.
The Raiders allowed 61 pass plays of 20-plus yards and 16 pass plays of 40-plus yards, both the highest totals in the NFL. (The Buccaneers also allowed 16 40-plus-yarders.) That’s about four big pass plays and one huge one per week, which puts a heck of a lot of pressure on the offense, no matter how explosive it is.
So: good need pick, great value if Conley didn’t do what he is accused of, cloud looming over the possibility that he did. Draft grades do not represent sociopolitical positions.
No. 25 Cleveland Browns: Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Strengths: Rare athleticism, versatility.
Weaknesses: Experience as a safety, physicality as a linebacker.
Jabrill Peppers is not just a great defender but is also a prospect who was almost tailor-made for predraft speculation. He came equipped with a “where will he play?” storyline that allowed detractors to write him off as a man without a position, while the Archmages of Draftnik Geekery could use him to strut their stuff in jargon-conjuring duels. (“You see Peppers as an invert Cover 2 Mike willbacker and hybrid moneyjoker? Fool! He is really a hook-to-flat heavy penny package Sam edgecorner!”)
Peppers was a staple of riser lists, faller lists, sleeper lists, boom-or-bust lists and the most attention-hungry of this year’s mock drafts. (“The Packers trade up to select Peppers…as a running back! Insert a ‘mind blown’ GIF!”)
This isn’t nuclear fission, folks. Peppers was a safety playing out of position at linebacker for the Wolverines. He looks like a safety and considers himself a safety, albeit one who returns punts (as safeties often do) and runs Wildcat plays (OK, that’s pretty unusual).
Peppers acknowledged at the combine that he was learning his position on the fly last year, which is why he blew some assignments and looked reluctant to throw his body around against offensive tackles on running plays. He knows he has a position to learn, which is the first step to learning a position.
So Peppers will be a return man who plays safety in nickel and dime packages as a rookie, often blitzing off the edge while he learns the finer points of coverage. After a season of experience, he will be an awesome NFL safety, albeit a Gregg Williams safety who blitzes a lot. And returns punts. And hey, a trick offensive play now and then would be fun.
But no jargon or hand-wringing about his position is really necessary.
And if you are wondering about “analytics” or “Moneyball”: It’s all about acquiring unique talent with premium picks. That’s precisely what the Browns have done.
No. 26 Atlanta Falcons: Takkarist McKinley, Edge, UCLA
Strengths: Athleticism, pure speed, power, aggressiveness.
Weaknesses: Injuries, technique.
The Falcons reached the Super Bowl last year despite a defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in most significant categories. Sure, it was a young defense, with players like Deion Jones and Ricardo Allen growing into their roles as the season went on. But the quality of the defense can best be charted as:
- First Half of the Season: As bad as the Saints, though less expensive.
- Second Half of the Season: Well, at least they produce a big play now and then.
- Playoffs: Instead of “no lead is safe,” 25-point leads were relatively safe.
- Super Bowl: 25-point leads are no longer safe.
Even with so many young players projected to improve and Desmond Trufant returning from an injury, the Falcons need a little more of everything on defense: more pass rush, more run stopping, more depth, you name it.
Takkarist McKinley is a jaw-dropping athlete whose hardscrabble background makes you want to hug your kids and never let go: He was abandoned by his mother at an early age, raised by grandparents and cousins, started getting in trouble in tough neighborhoods at an age when most kids are watching Blue’s Clues.
McKinley plays like someone who knows the importance of every snap. He runs like a safety, can get low and anchor as a run defender, has the leaping ability to knock down passes and is like a shark approaching the USS Indianapolis when he penetrates the backfield.
McKinley is coming off shoulder surgery, and while the Bruins lined him up all over the formation, his pass-rush technique is mostly just attack-kill-destroy. But man, what a force he’ll be when he’s healthy and all of the screws are tightened.
This is the kind of move a team needs to make to get better when already at the top of the league. Assume some injury risk. Look for the special talent. Make Tom Brady nervous if you get a rematch.
(Note: McKinley sounded a little unhinged in his post-draft sound bite. Let’s hope he’s the right kind of unhinged.)
No. 27 Buffalo Bills: Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
Strengths: Athleticism, size/long arms, man-coverage skills, playing the ball in the air, experience.
Tre’Davious White is a four-year SEC starter with ideal measurements, great tape, very good combine results and a solid week of practices at the Senior Bowl. He lasted until the 27th pick of the draft. Welcome to the 2017 cornerback class, which may also be the next stage in human evolution!
White would rather get blocked than make a tackle when a running back comes his way and will drift out of position in zone coverage at times. None of that will matter much after the first time he sticks to a go-to receiver on a deep route and clubs the ball away.
White is an excellent player. But let’s bake into the grade: A) That the Bills traded down for extra picks, which is good; and B) their wide receiver corps is one Sammy Watkins injury away from being Conference USA caliber, which is bad.
No. 28 Dallas Cowboys: Taco Charlton, Edge, Michigan
Strengths: Length, torque, athletic potential and upside.
Weaknesses: Run defense, array of moves, consistency off the line.
Scouts and coaches look at Taco Charlton and see a tall, long-armed, athletic pass-rusher who can be sculpted like marble into the ultimate defensive weapon as soon as he: A) Develops a deeper, more refined set of pass-rushing moves; B) figures out how to position himself and use leverage to his advantage in the running game; and C) develops more all-around consistency and a better approach against elite blockers.
I look at Charlton and see the kind of pet-project edge-rusher teams frequently whiff on, a guy whose sack production came when Michigan schemed to free him up against overmatched blockers and a solid athlete who will always get plowed under on running plays or chicken-fight with the left tackle if his first move gets stymied.
Coaches and scouts know more than I do, of course. But I have been watching them draft Barkevious Mingo, Jarvis Jones, Vernon Gholston, Aaron Maybin and Dion Jordan types for a long time, and Charlton makes me really, really nervous.
Anyway, Charlton fills two Cowboys needs: 1) edge-rusher, and 2) player Jerry Jones saw on a Saturday afternoon, liked, and remembered the name of.
No. 29 Cleveland Browns: David Njoku, TE, Miami
In honor of what may be the best tight end draft class ever, Bleacher Report proudly presents this field-guide scouting report on David Njoku.
Productivity: He went for 43-696-8 last year. The eight touchdowns and 16.2 yards per reception are what you want to focus on.
Athleticism: He’s like a slightly shorter Jimmy Graham!
But can he block? He’s like a slightly shorter Jimmy Graham!
Other notes: Njoku (6’4″, 246 lbs) has Graham-like quickness and ability to haul in tough catches in the red zone. He also has Graham-like inexperience (just one season as a starter), concentration-drops easy passes and gets pushed around as a run-blocker. I like Evan Engram more as an overall prospect, but at the 10-yard line, I want Njoku running from the flex position to the corner of the end zone.
The Browns are just sliding all over the board and doing whatever they want, which is fun. But a tight end is a real luxury pick for a team with so many needs. Particularly a prospect who is such an iffy blocker.
No. 30 Pittsburgh Steelers: T.J. Watt, Edge, Wisconsin
Strengths: Hand placement/fighting, pass-rush technique, upside, last name.
Weaknesses: Injury history, experience, high-end athleticism.
Bleacher Report is proud to welcome a special guest analyst for the T.J. Watt selection: your annoying brother-in-law. (Note: He’s a Bengals fan.)
Hah-hah. The Steelers drafted J.J. Watt’s little brother. They think he will be another J.J. Watt. They r so dumb.
No, it’s not like that at all. Watt’s a fine pick at this point in the draft.
‘Duh, we’re the Steelers. Let’s draft all the little brothers. Maybe we can get all the weenie Gronkowskis who stink too.’
That’s completely inaccurate. T.J. Watt is nothing like J.J. Watt. He’s an edge-rushing outside linebacker, for one thing. J.J. Watt is more of a defensive end-tackle hybrid.
‘Look at us, we’re the Steelers. Jordan Rodgers is our quarterback now! He’s Baby Bro Ben! We don’t do our own scouting anymore; we just draft guys with famous names!’
Why don’t you do a little research instead of just trolling? Watt had a tremendous 2016 season after switching over from offense in 2015 and missing 2014 with an injury. He has great technique for an inexperienced defender, hustles well and finds his way to the ball-carrier. This is a very good selection!
LOL u butthurt, bro. If u like the Watts so much why don’t you marry one?
Whatever. No one is expecting another J.J. But T.J. should develop into a quality edge-defender.
(Note: Your brother-in-law, while probably annoying, may not sound like a taunting 14-year-old. Please consider yourself lucky).
The Steelers have not had a lot of luck drafting edge-rushers lately, but they keep drafting them. I think they should have addressed needs elsewhere, but they got a good player, whatever your brother-in-law says.
No. 31 San Francisco 49ers: Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Strengths: Instincts, awareness, football IQ, burst.
Weaknesses: Injuries, off-field concerns.
As Haason Reddick and Jarrad Davis climbed draft charts in the weeks before the draft, Reuben Foster did everything he could to drop, short of going all Florida Man and throwing a gator through the window of a convenience store, or something.
News broke last week that Foster failed a drug test at the combine; Foster claims that a diluted sample caused the failure. According to people who fail drug tests, 0.01 percent of all drug tests are failed because of drug use. But OK, guys fail drug tests at the combine all the time and go on to productive careers.
Foster was already infamous for being sent home from the combine medical exams. The medicals were the most important event of the combine for Foster in the first place, as teams wanted to check out his surgically repaired rotator cuff. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller reported from the combine that Foster’s interviews did not go well, anyway.
Phil Savage, the director of the Senior Bowl and the closest thing you can get to an inside expert on the Alabama program without wiretapping Nick Saban’s office phone, expressed concerns about Foster’s maturity on a conference call last week.
That’s a lot of red flags to slalom through. If the name Rolando McClain hasn’t popped into your head by now, you don’t know Alabama football or high-risk linebackers. Let the record show that McClain alternated between solid and outstanding when he was healthy, focused and not suspended, which was seldom.
Foster has talent to spare, making him worth a high degree of risk. Particularly for a team rebuilding one of the worst run defenses in recent history.
No. 32 New Orleans Saints: Ryan Ramczyk, T, Wisconsin
Strengths: Size, power, athletic tools.
Weaknesses: Balance, handling inside moves, injuries, experience.
Ryan Ramczyk took the scenic route to the NFL. He turned down a scholarship to Pitt, enrolled at D-II Winona State, transferred from there to a technical school without playing a snap, spent a year out of the game, transferred to D-III Wisconsin-Stevens Point for two years, then miraculously resurfaced as the starting left tackle for the Badgers.
NFL teams understandably asked Ramczyk about his passion for the game during combine interviews. “I was 18 years old,” he told reporters at the time. “I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the time. Being out of the game a little bit made me realize what I had given up.”
Fair enough. But his time in the D-III hinterlands is evident on the game tape. Ramczyk is a powerful straight-ahead blocker who can handle most outside rushes. But edge-rushers with an inside move might as well have a VIP pass to Disney World against Ramczyk, who also lunges and gets off balance when blocking for screens or on the second level.
To compound matters, Ramczyk had hip surgery in January.
Ramczyk has potential, but there are lots of questions and plenty of work to be done. The Saints should have used this opportunity to further upgrade their defense. A team in win-now mode can’t afford to do things in half-measures.