Continuing with our series in previewing some of the prospects for the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. This week we take a glimpse at the top-five running backs who look to be available come the Spring of 2017.
The RB class contains several talented runners who project very well at the next level. Overall depth in the class will allow teams, in need of a RB, to find starting caliber backs on the drafts third-day. Reminiscent to last year when the Bears drafted Jordan Howard, the league’s second leading rusher, in the fifth-round.
1. Leonard Fournette, LSU
Coming out of high school Leonard Fournette was regarded as the number one prospect in the nation, and was one of the most highly recruited players to ever come out of the state of Louisiana. Throughout his stay in Baton Rouge Fournette did not disappoint as he set LSU’s school rushing record by a freshman (1,034 yards) in 2014, then as a sophomore proceeded to establish the Tigers single-season rushing mark in both yards (1,953) and touchdowns (22).
Fournette has all the makings of a lead back who is capable of spear heading a team’s ground game. He is an explosive runner who demonstrates a natural feel for the position as he can find openings by getting “skinny” and sneaking through and getting into the defenses second level. Fournettes quick-feet and excellent lateral quickness allow him to change direction, string together multiple cuts on a run, and make defenders miss in the open field. He can bounce a run to the outside or simply plant his foot and cut it up field once he sees an opening on the plays backside.
His balance and strength allow him to easily break through arm tackles and become a difficult runner to bring down to the ground once he gets behind his pads and starts lowering his shoulder into defenders, while also demonstrating a violent stiff arm.
What makes Fournette ever so dangerous is that besides the ability to power through a defense, becoming an effective short yardage or goal line runner, he possesses terrific build up speed that once he gets in the open field he has a chance to pull away from defenders, and take it in for a touchdown.
In terms of what still needs to be developed, pass protection would top the list as he needs to be better at helping to protect the QB. Fournette must get better at absorbing the impact from the defender instead of just meeting them at the POC or attempting to stall them with a shoulder block. While as a pass catcher Fournette was limited in the number of passes thrown his way so his route running and overall effectiveness in the passing game is something his NFL coaches will need to develop.
Overall, Fournette’ s combination of size, speed, and power running ability project him developing into a lead back and a bell cow for an offense. He has all the attributes you look for in a true-blue chip NFL runner that you build your team around, and one that can be an impact starter as a rookie next season.
2. Dalvin Cook, Florida State
A five-star high school prospect and top running back in the state of Florida Dalvin Cook put together quite the resume as a Seminole. Cook posted back-to-back All-America Campaigns (unanimous All-American in 2016) as he leaves FSU as the school’s all-time leading rusher surpassing the 20-year record set by Warrick Dunn. He also ranks second all-time in the ACC with 4,464 career rushing yards, and became the only player in conference history to break the 4,000-yard marker in just three seasons.
Cook possesses a well-rounded game posing just as big of a threat as a pass catcher as he is a runner. Whether it’s his quick-feet when he strings together multiple cuts on a single run, or when he easily bounces a run designed to go up the middle to the outside, Cook is an offensive weapon that opposing defenses need to game plan against.
Cook’s balance and quickness allow him to run through arm tackles in the defenses second and third levels once he is past the LOS. He can make defenders miss in the open field and possesses the athletic ability to change directions without needing to slow down. While his vision and instincts help him quickly identify holes opening on the plays backside.
Cook flashes game-breaking ability when he catches a screen pass out of the backfield and runs up the sideline turning on the jets and running by the defense into the end zone for a touchdown. With his speed, Cook is a threat to score every time he touches the ball, whether it is being handed off to him or thrown to him.
While his blocking technique and overall strength need continued development, he is not a total liability in pass protection as he is aware of protection schemes and which defender is his responsibility to pick-up when the defense rushes or blitzes the quarterback.
Where Cook can struggle is in short-yardage situations where he is called on to lower his pad level, take on a defender, and move the sticks.
Overall, when you watch Cook play his ability pops out at you, and there is no doubt that we are watching one of the more exciting players in the country, and a future NFL running back. Cook’s versatility and all-around talents fit perfectly in today’s pass happy NFL game. Flashing game-changing talent as both a runner and pass catcher.
3. Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
As a sophomore in 2015 all Christian McCaffrey did was become the NCAA single-season all-purpose yards’ record holder (3,864) eclipsing the mark which was previously held by Barry Sanders. McCaffrey also became the only FBS player to ever lead his team in rushing, and receiving yardage in the same season. He would be named The AP player of the year and Paul Hornung Award winner leading the NCAA and Pac-12 in rushing with 2,019 yards, while racking up another 1,070 yards on 37 kick-offs returns for a whopping 28.9-yard average per return.
This past season McCaffrey once again led the PAC-12 in rushing with 1,603 yards while playing in only 11 games.
McCaffrey’s athletic ability and big play potential is evident when you watch him play. Whether it’s as a runner, receiver, or returner his ability in space and the threat to score at any time is impressive.
As a runner, McCaffrey displays excellent vision as he can quickly identify a hole and accelerate through the line of scrimmage and into the defenses second and third levels. He plays with patience and demonstrates good instincts as a runner in allowing his blockers time to set up and quickly anticipating an opening or a play developing. With quickness and speed being his calling card, McCaffrey can easily get to the edge and take the corner at full speed and quickly accelerate up field.
As a receiving threat, McCaffrey’s hands are good enough to play wide receiver on a full-time basis. He can line up in the slot and run receiver routes. He can set up defensive backs with head fakes, and create separation at the top of his stem with sharp precise cuts.
While on special teams McCaffrey, for his career, averaged 26.4 yards on kick-off returns helping to consistently set up his offense with very good field position.
The main concern with McCaffrey is his size. At 5’11” and 202-pounds he will not be every down carry the load type of running back. Instead he projects as more of a stretch runner that will threaten the edge of the defense as opposed to a between the tackles type who will keep pounding away inside.
Overall, McCaffrey does not possess the frame that can add that much more weight so expecting him to be a 20-25 carry runner is unrealistic. Where McCaffrey can win is by leveraging his quickness, speed, and playmaking ability in both the running, and passing game along with additional chances on both kick-off and punt return duties. This would allow McCaffrey ample opportunities to get the ball into his hands and to continue making big plays.
4. D’Onta Foreman, Texas
In a draft class deep with talented runners it appears Texas tailback D’Onta Foreman gets lost in the shuffle. However, the reigning Doak Walker Award winner is a talented power runner who in just a one season as a starter led the BIG-12 with 2,028 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns in route to being named a Consensus First Team All-American, becoming the first Longhorn runner to earn that distinction since Ricky Williams back in 1998. He ended his collegiate career by rushing for a school-record, 13 straight 100-yards games.
Foreman is an old-school downhill power runner who is comfortable running it between the tackles and taking on big-bodied defenders at the LOS. He has very good athleticism for a big power back carrying his weight well, demonstrating quick-feet and vision with his jump cut ability in and out of holes along with a knack to see blocking develop at the first and second level of the defense. Foreman is a patient runner who will allow his blockers to get out and set up their blocks, and follow them through the gap. He is good at finishing his runs by lowering his pad level and running through defenders. Demonstrates good balance and leg-strength running through arm tackles, bouncing off and continuing to pick up YAC; also, is a weapon in short-yardage and goal line situations.
Foreman has very good straight line speed, breaking off long TD runs of 74 and 62 yards this past season. Just last week Foreman confirmed his long speed for scouts at Texas Pro Day where he was hand-timed twice running a 4.45 forty.
Some of the concerns in Foreman’s resume starts with his marginal receiving production, where in his three seasons at Texas where he totaled just 13 receptions. He never appeared to be a viable option in the passing game for the Texas coaches. His pass-blocking is also questionable, and is still a work in progress, taking some questionable angles and appearing to still be learning how to block. He also had seven fumbles this past season, losing six of them, which bring into question his ball security.
Overall, Foreman is a big north south runner with good quickness, vision, and strength. He possesses the speed to break-off big chunks of yardage and could be an ideal four-minute back capable of grinding out the clock. Appears to be best suited for a power Gap blocking system where he will make his mark creating tough yards. Limited contributions as a receiver and blocker could lessen his draft stock.
5. Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
A three-year starter and two-time first team Big-12 selection (by the league coaches) Perine leaves Oklahoma as the school’s all-time leading rusher with 4,122 yards despite turning pro after just three seasons. The NCAA single-game rushing record holder (427 yards vs. Kansas in 2014) Perine is fourth in Oklahoma history with 49 rushing TD’s and second with six games of at least 200 rushing yards.
Perine is a powerful compact runner who rarely goes down on first contact, displaying very good balance that allows him to excel at running through contact. Exhibits good play strength and an ability to finish by lowering his pads and punishing tacklers at the end of his runs. At 5’11” and 233-pounds he is deceptively quick for his size as he can quickly plant and cut in seemingly one motion, swiveling his hips, to allude defenders or spring through an opening at the LOS. He does not dance around behind the line, instantly looking to follow his blockers, up into the hole, or use his good run vision to find an outside alley that could develop on the plays backside.
Perine has solid instincts as a runner, anticipates openings, and can feel his way through the trash along the line of scrimmage. He is good at avoiding negative runs, and is rarely ever taken down for a loss. Instead he is always leaning forward and driving his legs to gain positive yards on a play.
Perine is a bit of a short stepper with tightness in his hips – gears to cut, does not open his stride in the open field and can get caught from behind, lacking breakaway speed.
He never really developed as a pass catcher, only 40 receptions in three seasons, as he shared the backfield with Joe Mixon who was much more heavily utilized in the passing game.
Overall, Perine is a big, strong, competitive runner with bruising power to produce tough yards between the tackles. With his vision, balance, and ability to excel in short-yardage situations, bouncing off contact, Perine appears to have the makings of a 15-20 carry between the tackle thumper at the next level. Proving to be a viable option in the passing game, will determine if Perine can develop into a three-down back.
Continuing with our series in previewing some of the prospects for the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. This week we take a glimpse at the top-five quarterbacks who look to be available come the Spring of 2017.
The 2017 QB class is one of the more highly scrutinized position group heading into the draft. Seemingly being knocked for lacking ready-made signal callers who can come in on day one and lead their respective franchise. While the 2017 QB class may not have a plug-n-play franchise signal caller it does have some talented athletes who with time and proper coaching can develop into starting caliber NFL quarterbacks.
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Watson has been one of college football more decorated athletes over the past two seasons having compiled a 32-3 record as a starter. He led Clemson to back-to-back National Championship games, and helped secure the schools second National Championship title in its history with a 35 – 31 victory over Alabama this past January, where he was named the National Championship game most valuable offensive player.
Three-year starter and team captain Watson exudes leadership and confidence at the helm of an offensive unit, and is lauded by coaches and teammates for his work ethic, competitiveness, and overall high football character.
Physically Watson is a good athlete, who possesses solid size. He can extend plays with his feet and escape pressure with the quickness, and foot speed to become a dual-threat out of the backfield.
As a passer, Watson has a quick trigger able to quickly get rid of the football. Possessing good arm-strength capable of making all the necessary throws expected of an NFL QB. Displays solid accuracy on back shoulder throws, end zone fades, and on 50/50 balls, giving his receiver a chance with his ball placement and very good touch on his throws. Has good pocket awareness able feel pressure off the edges and can climb the ladder to buy some time for his receivers to get open. Tough as nails as he plays his best it seems in big games or in critical situations of a ball game illustrated by the fact he had 16 touchdowns thrown, to only two interceptions for his career in the fourth quarter.
While there are certain areas of his game that still need fine tuning, such as not staring down receivers, cleaning up his footwork, and improving his down field accuracy. Not to mention the fact he played in a hybrid-spread offense and must get familiar with huddling, reading defensive coverages pre-snap, and aligning protections Watson is far from a finished product.
However, with 35 starts under his belt, big-time production versus some elite competition, off the charts leadership qualities, Watson has the makings of a starting caliber NFL QB who can help his team win on Sundays.
2. DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
Kizer is one of the more physically gifted quarterbacks in the entire 2017 NFL draft. Possessing prototypical height, size, and athleticism Kizer, who measured in at 6’4” 233-pounds with long arms and big hands, simply looks like a starting NFL QB.
In his second season as the Irish starting QB Kizer had a up and down campaign that saw him struggle with his accuracy, decision making, and overall confidence. For his career in South Bend Kizer made 23 starts throwing for over 5,800 yards with 47 passing touchdowns, and 18 rushing scores.
Besides being a good athlete with height and size Kizer possesses elite arm strength and can make and complete special types of throws. He can fit the ball into tight windows, stretch the defense vertically with the best of them, and place touch on the ball to drop in between the 2nd and 3rd levels of a defense. He has a clean delivery with a quick release. He shows solid awareness, able to buy time in the pocket with his feet. Can also tuck it and run for big yards possessing enough speed to pull away from linebackers in certain conditions. Kizer shows good toughness as he will stand firm in the pocket, take a hit, to deliver the football, and has no qualms lowering his pad level and running over a defender in short-yardage situations or at the goal line.
Parts of his game where he struggled was bird-dogging his receivers waiting for them to come open, and not going through his progression, which in turn resulted with him holding onto the ball too long, with the outcome typically being a sack or a negative play. He was not consistently able to throw receivers open, especially versus better competition, as you would see passes sail on him, bounce off the turf, or not even coming close to the intended target.
There are not many quarterback prospects in this draft that can match Kizer’s physical skillsets however. What he will need is time (to sit and learn behind a veteran) and a good QB coach who can correct some of his issues. When right though, Kizer has a huge ceiling and if placed in the proper situation with proper coaches he can be a big-time NFL quarterback.
3. Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina
A relative unknown prior to the 2016 season Trubisky was just a one-year starter (13 starts) at North Carolina, seeing only limited action as a backup his freshman and sophomore seasons. Having said that Trubisky does leave UNC ranked fifth, in school history, for both career passing touchdowns (41) and passing yards (4,762) demonstrating how productive he was when he was on the field.
Trubisky possesses solid size (6’2” 222-pounds) with solid athletic ability, and quick feet. While he too played in a spread offense there are examples on tape of Trubisky reading the field sideline-to-sideline and going through a progression. His delivery is a compact over-the-top delivery, with a quick-release, and the ability to throw it from different arm angles. While not possessing elite arm-strength he is solid in this area, able to torque his upper-body to get plenty of zip on the ball, capable of making all the throws. What really stands out with him as a QB is the anticipation and accuracy he shows from both the pocket and when asked to throw it on the run. He can throw a receiver open and lead them away from coverage understanding the importance of ball placement.
Having only made 13 starts in his career Trubisky is still a developmental prospect who still needs time to develop a feel for the pocket, refine his footwork and learn to take snaps from under center on a regular basis. He could also stand to show more poise in the pocket against pressure as he would tend to rush his throws and not operate comfortably with bodies by his feet.
While Trubisky had probably the best tape in 2016, among the rest of the QB group, his body of work still leaves many wondering how to project Trubisky as an NFL signal caller.
Although he displays traits you like to see in starting QB’s like size, athletic ability, solid mechanics, accuracy, and anticipation. He is a prospect that many will debate leading up to the draft, and probably continue to after he has been drafted.
4. Davis Webb, California
The 6’5” 229-pound Webb started his career as a Texas Tech Red Raider playing for head coach Kliff Kingsbury. While playing at Texas Tech Webb set seven Big-12 freshman records, and four different school marks, including throwing for at least one touchdown in his first 18 career games. He led the Big-12 in passing yards per game (317.4) and was named the offensive MVP of the Holiday Bowl after leading Texas Tech to a victory over #14 Arizona State by passing for 403 yards and four touchdowns.
After losing the starting job to Patrick Mahomes, after he got injured, Webb decided to transfer to Cal for his senior season. In his lone season at Cal, Davis finished 2nd in the PAC-12 in passing yards, completions, and total touchdowns (43).
Davis possesses the prototypical size, and length along with a strong-arm that can make NFL type throws. He can place the ball on a rope standing on the boundary hash and throw it to the field sideline. He shows surprisingly quick feet and solid ability to extend plays by escaping pressure when the pocket collapses, and on rollouts. Playing in the same spread Cal offense that produced last year’s top pick in Jared Goff, Davis demonstrated his solid mental processing ability by progressing through full-field reads and audibling at the LOS, which is something we rarely saw Goff do. He shows good downfield accuracy with an ability to drop the ball in a bucket, over the top of a defense, and lead his receiver away from coverage to help maximize his YAC ability.
As is the case with most QB’s who come from a predominately spread offense Webb has picked up some bad habits along the way. Such as throwing off his back foot, and sloppy footwork in the pocket which affected his downfield passes as they would either sail over the intended target or simple be nowhere near the receiver. His decision making also suffered a bit as he would rely on his arm to force the ball into heavily covered receivers, and at times throw it to a receiver who was being sandwiched by a corner and high safety.
Unlike some of his spread predecessors though Webb possesses the size, arm-strength, and feel for the passing game that should excite the NFL. He is an intelligent kid who really took to the coaching that Hue Jackson and his staff offered up down at the Senior Bowl, and it showed in the game. With his skillset, it wouldn’t surprise me if Webb finds himself higher on several team’s draft boards than many would have anticipated originally.
5. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Entering the 2016 college football season Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was generally regarded as the second-best college football quarterback behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson at the time, and a prime candidate to be a very high draft pick.
However, after a solid junior season in which he threw for more passing yards (3,250) and touchdowns (27) than he had ever before in his career, Kaaya has seen his draft stock take somewhat of a slow dive even after becoming Miami’s All-Time leading passer with 9,968 yards in just three seasons.
Kaaya’s strength revolve around his height, decision making, pocket presence, and ball placement. Also, working in Kaaya’s favor was playing in a Pro-Style offense last season under head coach Mark Richt. He was asked to take snaps from under center, read the full-field when going through his progression, called out protections and identified the Mike backer at the LOS. All of which is huge in terms of being mentally prepared for what he will see when he gets inside a NFL QB room next season. Physically, Kaaya also possesses a quick release with a solid arm. He drops back and sets up quickly with sound footwork in the pocket. Makes good decisions with the ball, only seven interceptions in over 400 pass attempts, displays good pocket presence able to feel backside pressure and either climb the pocket or maneuver to avoid the rush by sliding his feet to extend the play. He throws a tight catchable spiral knowing when to take pace off the ball, and conversely when he needs to fire it into a tight window. His accuracy and touch along with ball placement on back shoulder throws and corner fades is above average.
Where Kaaya struggles is on throws downfield (20 plus yards) outside the numbers towards a moving target and on out routes as he lacks the elite arm-strength to consistently make those types of throws on time, and on a line. Appearing instead to be more comfortable throwing inside the numbers, on in-cutting routes, to stationary targets. Kaaya has also fallen into some bad habits of not fully striding into his throws, short-arming passes as he prematurely bails to protect himself from taking a big hit. Possessing only adequate foot speed Kaaya is a true pocket passer and won’t threaten the edges of the defense and needs a solid pocket in front of him to operate effectively.
Kaaya seemingly is flying under the radar in terms of pre-draft hype, but as the draft gets closer look for his name to prominently be mentioned among the QB group that teams will be looking to maneuver for on day two of the draft.
1. Cleveland – Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Comment: Browns pass up on a QB to take arguably the best pass rusher in the draft, giving defensive coordinator Gregg Williams a cornerstone defender to build a defense around.
2. San Francisco – Solomon Thomas, DE, Stanford
Comment: In a bit of a surprise GM John Lynch goes to his alma mater to select Thomas, who on tape looks unblock able at times. Thomas displayed both athleticism and versatility and appears capable of playing in any defensive scheme.
3. Chicago – Jamal Adams, SAF, LSU
Comment: The Bears ignore Adams slower than expected 40 times and select the LSU safety third overall. He is a physical safety who will supply an attitude and swagger in the Chicago secondary.
4. Jacksonville – Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Comment: In Tom Coughlin’s first draft back as the football czar in Jacksonville he selects Alabama’s Allen who is a well-coached and scheme versatile defensive lineman. An arthritic condition in his shoulders will be something that will need to be cleared by the Jaguars medical staff during the pre-draft process though.
5. Tennessee – Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State
Comment: Fast athletic cover corner who can come in and be a day one starter for the Titans and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau.
6. NY Jets – Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Comment: With no clear-cut starting QB on the roster currently, and with the recent release of receiver Brandon Marshall looks like the Jets might turn into a ground and pound offense next season. Fournette is a workhorse runner with a combination of instincts, vision, and power to carry an offensive unit.
7. LA Chargers – Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Comment: Williams gives QB Phillip Rivers a weapon on the outside to complement the tight end combo of Gates and Hunter Henry, along with Keenan Allen on the opposite side. Williams possesses good size and strength supplying the Chargers with a playmaker downfield who can go up and high point the ball.
8. Carolina – Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Comment: Barnett will help boost the Panthers pass rush with his ability to provide pressure off the edge utilizing his relentless motor and athleticism.
9. Cincinnati – Reuben Foster, ILB, Alabama
Comment: Despite being sent home from the combine due to a dispute regarding his medical evaluation Foster is one of the better defensive prospects in the draft. He is an instinctive linebacker who projects as a four-down player.
10. Buffalo – DeShaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Comment: With the future of Tyrod Taylor still up in the air currently the Bills and new head coach Sean McDermott commit to making Watson the future face of the franchise.
11. New Orleans – Jabril Peppers, SAF, Michigan
Comment: Looking to shore-up a defensive unit that ranked 27th overall, in total defense, last season the Saints add Peppers to a secondary that no longer has veteran Jairus Byrd at free safety.
12. Cleveland – Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Comment: Using the selection they received from the Eagles in last year’s trade the Browns nab Ohio native Trubisky to hopefully be the answer to their QB problems.
13. Arizona – DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Comment: With Carson Palmer entering what may be his final season the Cardinals select his heir apparent in Kizer. Coach Bruce Arians loves big strong quarterbacks who can get the ball downfield in his offensive system and Kizer fits that description.
14. Philadelphia – John Ross, WR, Washington
Comment: Looking to supply quarterback Carson Wentz with a weapon on offense the Eagles select former Washington Huskie John Ross and his 4.22 speed. Ross, who broke the scouting combine record for the fastest timed forty-yard dash is not just a speed demon playing receiver. He runs good routes and can be lined up in either the slot or on the outside.
15. Indianapolis – Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Comment: Continuing in their pursuit to find a viable corner to play opposite Vontae Davis the Colts nab Sidney Jones who gives them added length and speed at corner.
16. Baltimore – Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan
Comment: With Steve Smith retiring, and 2015 first-round pick Breshard Perriman inconsistent and unproductive wide receiver is a need position for Baltimore. With Corey Davis, they get a big-play receiver with size, and speed who in 2016 ranked in the top-10 in catches (97), receiving yards (1,500) and touchdowns (19).
17. Washington – Malik Hooker, SAF, Ohio State
Comment: Hooker was one of the better ball-hawking safeties in college football last year with seven interceptions (three returned for TD’s). He drops a bit here mainly due to lack of starting experience (one-year starter) and injuries. He is coming off surgeries to repair a sports hernia and a torn labrum. His status as to when he will be able to take the field next season is still currently unknown.
18. Tennessee – Haason Reddick, LB, Temple
Comment: Reddick is one of the draft’s biggest risers since the season ended. He was a hand in the dirt defensive end for the Owls but displayed the ability to play off the LOS as a stand-up linebacker down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. He continued his rise up draft boards at the combine when he ran a 4.52 forty at 237-pounds and jumped a vertical of 36.5 inches.
19. Tampa Bay – Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Comment: The Buccaneers continue surrounding QB Jameis Winston with weapons, as the team-up the former Seminole Cook with veteran Doug Martin giving them a very good one-two punch in the backfield.
20. Denver – O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Comment: Howard is one of the safest picks in the draft as he is a physical freak who can line up inline as a blocker or be split out wide as a receiver. Howard will add a pass-catching threat at TE for the Broncos that has been missing since Julius Thomas left town.
21. Detroit – Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama
Comment: Humphrey is a physical press corner who has the size, speed, and agility to mirror receivers downfield.
22. Miami – Taco Charlton, DE, Michigan
Comment: With Mario Williams no longer in Miami, the Dolphins hope that Charlton’s size (6’6”) and length (34-inch arms) along with intensity will make a formidable combination upfront when teamed with the likes of Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake.
23. NY Giants – Chris Wormley, DT, Michigan
Comment: With the possibility of losing defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to free agency GM Jerry Reese looks to fill the hole with Wormley. The former Wolverine will look to provide both size and versatility along the Giants defensive front.
24. Oakland – Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
Comment: At 6’4” 230-pounds Cunningham’s length, and speed are his two biggest assets. He possesses very good closing burst that allows him to track down ball carriers and become a sideline-to-sideline tackling machine.
25. Houston – Budda Baker, SAF, Washington
Comment: Baker is an undersized safety/nickel defender who draws favorable comparisons to Arizona cardinals Tyrann Mathieu. Baker possesses very good quickness and is fast to diagnose and attack. He can be a roving defender and matchup safety for the Texans and DC Romeo Crennel.
26. Seattle – Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama
Comment: Seahawks look to shore-up an offensive line that needs an infusion of talent. With Robinson, they get a talented athlete who played left tackle at Alabama but will need to switch over to right tackle or move inside to guard in the NFL.
27. Kansas City – Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
Comment: The Chiefs find the perfect replacement for Jamaal Charles with Stanford’s McCaffrey. Like Charles, McCaffrey is a dual-threat back who is equally effective as both runner and pass catcher out of the backfield.
28. Dallas – Jordan Willis, DE, Kansas State
Comment: Willis stock really started to rise during the senior bowl practices and he carried that momentum into Indianapolis this past weekend. Willis ran a 4.53 forty, vertical jumped 39-inches, and posted the fastest 3-cone time (6.85) among the defensive line group. Dallas needs to upgrade their pass rush off the edge, and that is an area Willis can help them get better at.
29. Green Bay – Takk McKinley, EDGE, UCLA
Comment: With both Nick Perry and Julius Peppers UFA’s there is some uncertainty at outside LB for Green Bay. McKinley can certainly help fill that void as he is a relentless pass rusher who plays with a non-stop motor.
30. Pittsburgh – Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
Comment: Missouri’s Charles Harris is another in the long line of edge rushers to come out of the Tigers program. He is an edge defender who during the combine demonstrated surprising agility and athleticism in the linebacker drills. He projects best as a stand-up outside backer whose forte is to get after the quarterback.
31. Atlanta – Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Comment: Moreau really stood out during the East West Shrine game displaying playmaking ability along with quickness and speed. He is a tall corner with a thick build who can press and reroute receivers while also comfortable in off coverage. Moreau will remind coach Quinn of the corners he had in Seattle when he was the Seahawks DC.
32. New England – David Njoku, TE, Miami
Comment: With the expected departure of Martellus Bennett in free agency and with Gronk coming off another injury the Patriots pick the athletic Njoku in hopes of continuing the success they have had with their two tight end sets. While not a finished product Njoku offers tremendous upside as a pass catching TE. His combination of size, speed, and athleticism should provide a comparable replacement, minus the blocking ability, for Bennett.
Continuing with our series in previewing some of the prospects for the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. This week we take a glimpse at the top-five safeties who look to be available come the Spring of 2017.
The 2017 safety class looks to be one of the more talented and deepest position group in recent drafts. Teams with a demand at safety should be able to fulfill their needs with this 2017 draft class. There are liable to be starting caliber NFL safeties still waiting for their names to be called on day three, of this draft, then we have had for quite some time.
1. Jamal Adams, LSU
Adams is a well-built physical safety with good speed and strength that excels at or near the line of scrimmage. A two-year starter and a 2016 first team All-SEC and a second team All-American (as voted on by the AP) Adams was the leader of the Tigers backfield and a team captain. His combination of size and play speed allow him to make plays both in the run game as well as in coverage. He is a solid off-coverage safety who can diagnose and attack downhill with quickness and burst to wrap up and secure the tackle. With his speed, he displays good range with the ability to go from the hash marks to the sideline and provide over-the top help. He can cover a tight end in the slot and will get physical with them at the top of their routes. Adams also brings a swagger and enforcer type mentality to the defensive backfield.
However, there is no doubt that where Adams is most impactful is at the line-of-scrimmage where he is both instinctive and competitive, able to deliver some explosive hits with terrific timing, and anticipation. He is an aggressive run defender able to chase down ball carriers and make plays sideline-to-sideline. Lining him up inside the tackle box is like having an extra linebacker out on defense that the opposing offense must deal with.
While there is some unease in terms of his coverage ability (not a lot of plays on the ball when scouting his film), plus struggles with quick change of direction, as well as too many missed tackles due to his over aggressiveness in pursuit, Adams heads into the draft process as the top-rated safety on many draft boards.
The combination of very good football character, speed, athleticism, and impactful plays will have Adams on the field early as a rookie with the potential to develop into a cornerstone player on defense for any team that selects him.
2. Jabrill Peppers, Michigan
Jabrill peppers is one of the more talked about and scrutinized prospects in the 2017 draft due mainly to questions surrounding a true positional fit for him at the next level. However, the 2016 Big-Ten DPOY and recipient of the Ronnie Lott Impact Trophy is a hybrid player who can be used on all three phases of a football team.
Peppers projects best as a hybrid LB/SS a position that has become more popular in the NFL the past few seasons. As a safety Peppers has shown the ability to press tight ends at the line-of-scrimmage as well as bigger receivers outside the numbers in red zone and goal line situations. As a corner (limited reps in 2015) he displayed quick-feet and hip flexibility to open and run with a receiver in man coverage downfield. He does a good job of getting his hands on them altering their routes, and positioning his body between them and the ball. In off-coverage he uses his very good short-area burst and open-field tackling ability to minimize the yardage on anything caught in front of him. As a run defender, he appears comfortable and instinctive as a in the box strong safety who can quickly locate and chase down ball carriers with his speed. He is willing to come up and set the edge to help funnel runners back inside towards his lineman. As a blitzer Peppers was very effective coming in off the edge or on delays from a linebacker position.
Where Peppers struggles is with downfield coverage as his ball reactions, and awareness leave something to be desired. He has trouble with quick receivers and will at times play slower than his stopwatch numbers may indicate.
While safety will most likely be the position where he sees the most snaps at during his NFL career, Peppers versatility allows a defensive coordinator to disguise coverages and utilize his athleticism in several different ways from multiple positions. Allowing Peppers to line him up and see snaps at all three levels on defense might be the most effective way for him to make an immediate contribution defensively as a rookie.
3. Malik Hooker, Ohio State
In 2016 Hooker was a redshirt sophomore and first-year starter for the Buckeyes. In that one season though Hooker was named a first team All-American and All-Big Ten defender as he led the Big-Ten with seven interceptions, returning three of them for scores – which topped the FBS.
Hooker is a coverage safety who is best suited to play free safety at the NFL level. He possesses a combination of quickness, speed, balance and short-area burst. A good athlete Hooker is very good transitioning and attacking downhill using his speed and change-of-direction. He is effective playing a single-high set or a two-deep zone safety. He is instinctive when playing the pass with range to either side. Hooker can cover receivers in the slot or carry a tight end up the seam. He also demonstrated very good zone cover skills and can key on the QB eyes to jump routes, and use his natural hands to pick-off the ball with a nose to find the end zone.
As a run defender Hooker can get slowed down with play-action or RPO plays causing some hesitation with his reaction times. He can struggle to jolt and shed blockers (needing additional strength), can take some bad angles in pursuit, and doesn’t always arrive under control which led to missed tackles. He also tends to duck and lead with the crown of his helmet coming downhill to tackle a ball carrier which, in the NFL, is a good way to end up seriously injured.
Hookers play-making ability and overall athleticism gives him a shot to be the top-rated safety heading into the draft. However, he currently stands third on this list mainly due to his struggles defending the run, coupled with just one-year starting experience, and his postseason injuries. Hooker, is scheduled to miss the scouting combine as he recovers from a couple of surgeries, one in which repaired a torn labrum while the other a sports hernia. How he recovers from both operations will go a long way in determining how high Hooker will get drafted. However, it is never a good thing, especially for a safety, to enter the NFL having already gone through a major surgery on his shoulder.
4. Budda Baker, Washington
A three-year starter on defense for Washington and a NCAA Consensus All-American in 2016 Budda Baker was one of the more fun prospects to scout. Baker is quite simply a play-maker in the defensive secondary. Whether he was lined up at safety or as a slot corner Baker was all over the field demonstrating innate playmaking ability. He possesses terrific anticipation, timing and zone awareness. Along with lateral quickness, agility, and quick-feet, Baker has excellent balance and body-control. He can mirror and cover receivers (in the slot) off the LOS. Displays instincts and awareness in coverage as he can quickly diagnose and locate the ball. Very smooth in his transition able to plant-and-drive quickly, which when combined with his ability to seamlessly change directions, and open field tackling makes him very effective in zone coverage. Despite a lack of ideal size Baker plays bigger than his measurable might indicate. He is an aggressive tackler and packs a wallop when he hits his opponents. His aggressiveness makes him very good blitzing off the edge as he gets there quick, and makes his presence felt. As a run defender Baker is quick to read and react, displaying no concerns or issues coming downhill and attacking ball carriers. He is a highly intense, aggressive, and competitive football player when asked to defend the run.
The main concern with Baker revolves around his lack of size. Listed at 5’10” Baker looks to be a couple of inches shorter than that. Which makes it hard to envision him as a full-time starting safety. Instead what Baker offers is a strong, hard-hitting physical presence with ideal hip flexibility, speed, and fluidity to be a playmaker from the nickel/slot position. Drawing favorable comparisons to Arizona Cardinals DB Tyrann Mathieu.
5. Marcus Williams, Utah
Even though Marcus Williams was a three-year starter and an All-PAC 12 defender for Utah many may consider him a bit of a sleeper at the safety position. Williams is a rangy safety with length and speed to go along with his fleet feet and lateral agility. His backpedal is smooth and balanced which makes Williams look, at times, like a corner instead of a safety. While in coverage he is quick to read and react, able to zoom around the field playing in a single-high safety set, which allows him to stand out on tape. He possesses good speed and fluidity allowing him to keep pace with receivers and tight ends. Shows good range off the hash, to either side, taking direct angles to the ball. He can break on throws, showing good short-area burst to close. With 11 career interceptions Williams demonstrated quick soft hands, like a receiver, to snatch interceptions.
While a solid downhill defender Williams is a bit high-cut, and will play too tall failing to get low and wrap up the ball carrier’s legs. He was also inconsistent on his downfield ball reactions with his back to the throw preferring to keep everything visible to him.
Overall, Williams is an active, aggressive defensive back who is at his best reacting to plays in front of him. He possesses good size/speed combo coupled with range, and sure-hands that allow him to be a “centerfield” type playmaking safety.
Despite being hated by Patriots fans, the commissioner may have actually helped New England win this and more future Super Bowls.
How did a 39 year-old quarterback outlast a young defense that in the first half was flying to the ball and applying pressure without blitzing? The Patriots had more than twice the offensive plays as the Falcons. The lopsided time of possession difference was even worse than the stats indicated (40:31 vs 23:27) as New England’s 14 more incomplete passes added little clock time but substantial real time on the field. Atlanta defended for an unprecedented 93 plays. Brady passed more times than Matt Ryan even touched the ball. By the fourth quarter, the pass rush seemed to wear itself out and the tight coverage began to trail.
Don’t forget that the offense led by Brady was on the field the same number of plays as the “rise up” young defense. Why did the aging quarterback not seem tired? Brady is dedicated to his training regimen but there may be more to it.
The four-week forced hiatus where he not only missed games but had to be away from the facility and could not practice may have helped the veteran QB and his team in the long run. The Patriots with Brady only playing a 12 game season still ended up with the playoff bye and home field advantage.
The early rest and shortened season may have helped Brady during the playoffs and Super Bowl. He certainly doesn’t need the added reps. Perhaps it played a role in his strong 4th quarter as the Falcons defenders ran out of gas.
Bill Belichick used a boxing analogy at the MVP ceremony this AM saying “the mark of a true champion is winning after getting knocked down.” Staying in fight game analogies, this contest seemed like the famous rope-a-dope fight during the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle”. The young George Foreman came out strong and punched himself out as Muhammad Ali conserved energy and stayed strong to finish the fight in the end.
During my time with the Chargers, LaDainian Tomlinson never played in preseason games. He didn’t suit up his rookie year due to a holdout. The newly announced Hall of Famer played so well his rookie season and became so valuable, the team decided to not mess with success. During his illustrious career, he always sat out preseason games. Perhaps this season will set the new precedent for the Patriots.
Father Time catches up to all of us. Perhaps the shortened season model is something Brady and the Patriots will adopt going forward to combat the effects of age. Inadvertently, the most hated man in New England may have helped the Patriots to their fifth Super Bowl and perhaps extended the career of Brady into winning more.
MMMD 1: Did injury play a role in who ultimately won?
By video, it was clear that Alex Mack would not be 100% even before the news of a broken/chipped fibula. He played surprisingly well but did give up the key sack to Trey Flowers that prevented the Falcons from icing the game with a late field goal.
Julio Jones was also still hampered by his turf toe injury. He made a spectacular catch but had a subpar performance for him with only four catches. Jones is reportedly still undecided on offseason surgery.
The lengthened pre-game and halftime made it harder on both Dwight Freeney and Chris Hogan who were playing through muscle injuries. Freeney recorded a sack but missed a short portion of the game with his calf and undoubtedly was not 100%. Hogan recorded 4 catches with his thigh issues but was not nearly as productive as during the AFC Championship Game.
Dont’a Hightower played through a likely left shoulder labral tear and has been using a harness/brace. He effectively used his left arm to make the pivotal strip sack resulting in the key Falcons fumble.
MMMD 2: Athletic trainers and doctors deserve rings too
The medical staff plays a vital role in not only health and safety, but also in a team’s winning. It is right that they too will be awarded with Super Bowl rings.
There is no better example of medical helping a team win than this year’s Super Bowl. The key play was Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack fumble. Despite a likely labral tear (which will need offseason surgery), he made the game-changing play with his injured arm. Doctors and athletic trainers had him safely on the field with a shoulder harness that provided stability yet did not restrict his motion to prevent reaching Matt Ryan to cause the turnover that launched the Patriots to victory.
This is nothing new for the Patriots ATCs as they have enjoyed many Championships. The head team doctor is a rookie this year, as was the lead physician two years ago when New England last won it all. In my 17+ years in the NFL, my team never even made it to the big game. But trust me, I am very happy for them as I know how much work is put in and how special it is.
MMMD 3: NFLPA agenda
Each year at the union players press conference, there seems to be a main agenda push. This year, the call is for teams to follow the concussion protocols exactly. For years, the mantra has been changing and advancing the head injury rules. Now, the players seem happy with the rules and want them strictly enforced.
Recall only two years ago, there was controversy over a big hit on Julian Edelman. That was the genesis of the medical timeout rule. Last year a second concussion spotter was added. Sideline replay, neutral independent physicians, standardized testing, mandatory rules for going to the locker room are just some of the many changes.
It is noteworthy that no new rules are being requested. Last year the commissioner announced a structure for penalties to teams of fines and/or draft picks for violations. To date, no one has been penalized.
The Dolphins were recently warned over their handling of Matt Moore.. The Chiefs are being investigated now over their handling of Chris Conley. I know Kansas City has a quality medical staff and the head athletic trainer is the current President of the Pro Football Trainers Athletic Society. I do not know the specifics of their care during the Division Round game in question. However, don’t be surprised if penalties are assessed for the first time as that is the push of the NFLPA.
MMMD 4: Pain medication lawsuit
News broke during Super Bowl week that the Falcons were worried about their reliance on painkillers in 2010 and how the team spent nearly three times the league average on narcotics. I am not an attorney and I do not know details about the pending lawsuit but I don’t believe this story is not nearly as explosive as it sounds on the surface. In fact, it is my understanding that some teams, including the Falcons, have been dropped from the legal action (although they could be added back in).
To me, the emails show that Atlanta executives acted as soon as they realized their team used more pain medication than the rest of the league. Medical staff changes were made to make sure this problem didn’t go forward.
The Falcons should be applauded not criticized for their actions. In medicine, there is something called peer review. Any internal criticisms and actions to improve medical care are exempt from attorney discovery. The purpose is to encourage the process of improving patient care and to remove the fear of plaintiff attorney discovery. Here it seems like the Falcons found a problem and then acted to correct it.
MMMD 5: Medical Mike Pereira
As most of you realize, I am not a trained professional writer or full-time media member. I have a “day job” as an orthopedic surgeon. I hope this and my almost two decades of experience as an NFL team physician gives me the unique perspective that you enjoy. Hopefully, I can be as good at analyzing injures as Pereira is at breaking down the rules.
I have written a 1500 word article for over three straight years with a one main and seven subtopic format including through the offseason. Add in watching games, keeping up with news, speaking to other reporters, my SiriusXM sport medical analyst duties and my Real Football Network work. It is almost a 40 hour a week second job..
I enjoyed my time at Radio Row and the game. I especially enjoyed taking the media bus all week long. Every ride provided a nice opportunity to randomly meet a fellow media member that we have been mutually following. I was so surprised and flattered that a few fans recognized me and even asked to have their picture taken with me.
MMMD 6 Mrs. ProFootballDoc
I have to thank my wife as she has been so supportive. She takes the kids every Sunday so I can do football. This past week she was single parent for the week as I attended Radio Row and the Super Bowl. She is eight and a half months pregnant and still managed to take the kids to Disneyland for her birthday. There is NO ONE like her.
I also want to thank my co-stars on the Periscope broadcast, Davis and Dylan. My weekends are free again so more Daddy time on the way.
MMMD 7: ProFootballDoc scorecard
This marks the end of my tally of initial impression right/wrong for this season. There may be adjustments as new information is revealed but any subsequent injuries will not count to this total.
This year concludes with a 95.1% record (203-10) of correct injury predictions. Last year the final record was 94.3% (165-10) and the year before that was 137-11 (92.6%). The number of first impression assessments have gone up slightly as well as the percentage correct. With a three-year track record, I am not sure if I will track it again next year as the concept seems to be proven. Using video and insider medical knowledge is at least 90% accurate.