Florida State's DeMarcus Walker was one of the breakout pass-rushers in college football in 2015. He had 10.5 sacks with 15.5 tackles for a loss, five passes batted and 58 tackles on the season. Many expected the junior defensive end to skip his senior year and enter the 2016 NFL Draft. In the passing-driven NFL, edge rushers who can get after the quarterback are always in demand, so Walker had early-round potential. While some were projecting Walker to be a first-round pick, however, league sources were giving Walker second-day grades.
The 6-foot-3, 281-pound Walker is a bit short on length to be a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL. His body type also isn't a great fit to be a 3-4 outside linebacker or defensive end. A similar body type in Florida defensive end/tackle Jonathan Bullard helped push him down to the third round in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Walker decided to return for his senior year, and that could turn out to be a wise decision. If he continues to play on the same level, he won't be labeled a one-year wonder player. If he builds on his junior season, that could cause his grade to be elevated for the 2017 NFL Draft. Some sources felt he would have been a late second- or early third-round pick had he entered the draft, so perhaps his stock will rise as a senior.
In recent years, there was a trend in the NFL to downgrade the safety position. Many safeties, running backs, and non-pass-rushing linebackers were pushed down draft boards as the league trended more towards the passing game. Some safeties were making it into the first round, but many players were slipping to Day 2 who would have been first-rounders if they played a decade or two earlier. In speaking to some team sources, however, they feel that safeties are figuring more into the first round conversation for teams. They point to the Raiders' Karl Joseph and Falcons' Keanu Neal both going in the top 20 of the 2016 NFL Draft. One prospect they believe will follow suit as a top-20 pick is LSU safety Jamal Adams.
Sources say that the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Adams looks like an exciting player with his size and coverage skills. As a sophomore, he had six passes broken up and four interceptions. He has versatile size to cover big receivers or tight ends and tackle in the ground game. Adams had 67 tackles last year and that mirrored his freshman year of 66 stops.
In speaking to some sources from a playoff team that has every reason to believe they will be in the postseason again, they say that Adams is going to be gone by the time they are on the clock. Their early impression is that Adams is on par with Joseph and Neal as a top-20 talent. If Adams has a big junior season, he could be a high first-rounder.
Last fall, many NFL scouts expected Western Michigan wide receiver
Corey Davis to enter the draft, as he had excellent production to
start out his collegiate career. Davis caught 78 passes for 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2014. He had quality
production as a freshman as well (67-941-6). Thus, many around the
league thought he would be entering the 2016 NFL Draft as he
produced a good junior year while playing banged up. Team sources
say they were giving Davis a second-round grade in their reports
before he decided to return for his senior year.
Sources say the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Davis is long and athletic. He
has impressed evaluators with good route-running, hands and
deceptive speed. They also like his toughness and ability to
produce while not being 100 percent. Davis totaled 90 receptions
for 1,436 yards with 12 touchdowns while dealing with injuries.
Team contacts say if Davis produces as a senior like he did the
past two seasons, he is likely to maintain that second-round grade
for the 2017 NFL Draft. Given his consistency up to now, it looks
like Davis has a good shot of being a Friday night selection next
Last year, new Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh engineered a huge improvement for the proud Wolverines program. While Harbaugh and his staff did an excellent job, the emergence of a lot of young talent was a leading catalyst for Michigan's rebirth. In speaking with sources from NFL teams, they say that Michigan is one of the top schools in the preseason scouting lists with a plethora of talent for the NFL. Here is a rundown of some of the Wolverine players scouts are excited to see.
Senior tight end Jake Butt could have been a second-day pick if he entered the 2016 NFL Draft. He probably would have graded out similar to the first tight end selected, San Diego's Hunter Henry, who was taken early in the second round. Butt had 51 receptions for 654 yards with three touchdowns in 2015. The 6-foot-6, 248-pound Butt is a good receiver down the seam who uses his size to his advantage. Butt has looked very good as a receiver and blocker in Harbaugh's pro-style offense. Some team sources are already saying they would love to land Butt on the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Michigan's defense was phenomenal in 2015, and defensive end Chris Wormley was their best defender up front. He recorded 43 tackles with 6.5 sacks and 14.5 tackles for a loss on the year. The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder has versatile size to be an end or tackle in a 4-3 defense. He also is a great fit as a five-technique in a 3-4. If Wormley builds on his 2015 season, he could be a high selection in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Defensive back Jabrill Peppers (6-1, 205) was excellent as a sophomore in 2015, recording 45 tackles with 10 passes broken up. He has some man-coverage skills to go along with athletic upside. Peppers could play safety or maybe be a press-man corner. He also has been a weapon on offense and special teams.
Wide receiver Jehu Chesson had a breakout junior season with 50 receptions for 764 yards with nine touchdowns. He also ran for two scores. Chesson (6-3, 207) has size to him, and so the speed to separate will be the key attribute that scouts will be looking for.
Similar to Cheeson, running back De'Veon Smith didn't do a lot as a freshman or sophomore, but was much more productive as a junior. Smith averaged 4.2 yards per carry for 753 yards with six touchdowns. He had 19 receptions for 159 yards. The 5-foot-11, 228-pound power back finished the year with an impressive performance against Florida and one of the best defenses in college football. Smith could be even better with more experience going into his senior year.
Sources say there are a number of other prospects on the defensive and offensive line that they are eager to see. In recent years, programs like Ohio State, Alabama and Florida State have been the most visited schools by NFL evaluators, but in 2016, Michigan could make that claim.
With the 2016 NFL Draft hours away, here are some rumor mill tidbits I've picked up from speaking with team sources.
The Redskins had to shake up their draft plans after signing Josh Norman last week. From what I hear, the Redskins are now zeroing in on a player from Alabama with cornerback no longer being a need. They have a trio of Crimson Tide standouts who are finalists for their pick. Those players are defensive tackle Jarran Reed, defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson, and center Ryan Kelly. Of the defensive linemen, it sounds like Reed is rated higher, but the team feels Robinson offers more versatility. Kelly would finish off their offensive line and give Washington one of the best young offensive lines in the NFL.
From what I'm hearing, the Jaguars' Plan A in the first round is Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. If Bosa is off the board, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack is the likely Plan B. Even if they land Bosa in the first round, the Jaguars could target more pass rush on Day 2. If Noah Spence gets to their second-round pick, I think the Jaguars will double up on edge rushers to give them a talented young trio including 2015's third-overall pick Dante Fowler Jr. The 2016 draft should be heavy on defensive players for Jacksonville.
A lot of mock drafts have projected the Buffalo Bills to take Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. In speaking with sources, the Bills have ruled out Nkemdiche, and he isn't a finalist for their first-round pick. Buffalo is keying in on a defender for the front seven in the first round. The priority to add more defensive talent will carry over into the second night as well.
I don't have it definitely from sources, but I get the impression the Titans are seriously interested in trading up in the first round. If Laremy Tunsil falls, that could motivate Tennessee to give up some of the second-day picks they acquired in their trade with the Rams.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff and North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz share the same agent from Rep 1 sports. In conversations with NFL teams, they've said some interesting things about their clients. Regarding Goff, they've told teams that he is a laid back California kid and wouldn't be a good fit for the pressure of landing with a team like Cleveland, or one of the New York teams. Thus, Los Angeles is perfect for Goff. They've also told NFL teams that Wentz is better suited to handle a pressurized situation of some teams on the East Coast like Philadelphia, Cleveland, or one of the New York teams.
Some teams in the NFL think that there was serious collusion going on with the Rams and Eagles. Other teams are certain that the Eagles were tipped off by the Rams on whom Los Angeles planned on taking with the first pick. Without that knowledge, Philadelphia wouldn't have made its trade with Cleveland to get up for the second-overall pick. The two teams also did the Sam Bradford-Nick Foles trade last year, so the working relationship is there between the two front offices. Teams think that the Rams-Eagles had some collusion, the NFL's version of insider trading, with information that was withheld from others playing by the rules.
The league is trying to crack down on teams breaking rules as three teams have had draft picks taken from this year for breaking league rules: the Patriots, Falcons, and Chiefs. Don't be surprised if some teams are urging the league to look into what has gone on in the lead-up to the draft regarding the Rams and Eagles with information exchanged relating to their trades to the top of the draft.
All of the attention regarding the Cleveland Browns has been on whether they would take a quarterback with the eighth-overall pick, or if they'd select someone like Ronnie Stanley or Ezekiel Elliott instead. However, in speaking to sources, the Browns and Denver Broncos have been speaking to teams to feel out potential deals to trade up from their picks at 31 (Denver) and 32 (Cleveland). One team that both teams have had discussions with is the Green Bay Packers, who have the 27th-overall selection.
An intriguing bonus for the Browns moving back into the opening round from the initial selection of the second frame is the fifth-year option that comes with rookie contracts of first-round picks. It isn't expensive to move up just a few spots, and that extra season of a cheap rookie contract with a player in their prime years is very valuable, especially if the player is a quarterback. If the Browns pass on a quarterback with the No. 8 selection, don't be surprised if they look to move up from pick 32 to land a young signal caller to compete with Robert Griffin III.
Denver also is in the quarterback market. In speaking to league contacts, they believe the Broncos would draft Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch if he got to them, but many around the league don't think that Lynch will reach the Broncos. Trading up with Green Bay would allow Denver to leap division rival Kansas City (28th pick), who also could consider Lynch.
If the Broncos and Browns trade up, it almost certainly won't happen in advance of the draft like the Rams-Titans and Eagles-Browns trades. These conversations are done now in part to get prepared for making a deal when the teams are on the clock and the targeted player is available.
With a number of other teams being in the quarterback market, including the Jets, Bills, Cowboys, and 49ers, there could be a lot of interest in trades in the middle portion and late in the first round. Teams like the Packers that already have their starting quarterback could be offered some interesting packages to move down.
Now that teams have the results from the Combine medical recheck, we reached out to sources from teams across the league to get feedback on two prospects in particular: Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller. In speaking with sources at a variety of teams, there was an across-the-board consensus of optimism for Fuller and pessimism for Smith.
Fuller missed most of his senior year with a serious knee injury, but the medical recheck said he was progressing and should be ready to play in time for the start of training camp. That was great news and better than many teams expected. Sources say that Fuller is safe to at least be a second-day pick. Some teams still have him in the second or third round in part because he hasn't been able to work out for teams leading up to the draft. Two playoff teams though said they had him as a possible late first. One general manager said that on their final board, Fuller will be in the 24-42 range. Thus, Fuller has a shot at being a Thursday night pick.
Unfortunately, the news was bad for Smith. Sources say they are worried about complications from Smith's torn ACL and MCL, and the prospect that he may need more corrective surgery. Teams love him on and off the field, but they view him as a major injury risk. Multiple teams said they had him as a sixth- or seventh-rounder. A couple of teams said they took him off their draft board after flunking him medically. Two playoff teams said their medical staff was more optimistic that he would return to play in 2017, and they had him as a potential mid-rounder. Smith would be fortunate to be selected on the second-day of the draft. If he does fall to the third day, he is such a talented player that I believe a team will take a chance on him.
With the 2016 NFL Draft less than two weeks away, here some rumor mill tidbits I've picked up from speaking with team sources.
After the trade down from the No. 1 overall pick to the 15th, sources told me the Titans had Michigan State offensive tackle Jack Conklin and Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker as potential targets. Conklin may not get to the pick with offensive line-needy teams picking ahead of the Titans. He could go off the board to the Bears, Saints or Dolphins. If there is another player the Titans like more than Decker available, Tennessee could address their right tackle position later on. Tennessee likes Texas A&M right tackle Germain Ifedi, and he could be in play for their pick at 33. With five second-day choices, they have plenty of ammo to move up into the end of the first for Ifedi if they feel compelled to do so. Sources say that Indiana's Jason Spriggs and Texas Tech's Le'Raven Clark would be options for their third-round picks. However it would be surprising if the Titans didn't draft a tackle like Conklin, Decker, or Ifedi in the first two rounds.
Two defensive tackles who could go quickly on the second day are UCLA's Kenny Clark and Penn State's Austin Johnson. Some playoff teams say they really like Clark and Johnson, but they don't expect them to get to their second-round picks. Don't be surprised if Clark and Johnson go higher than many expect.
Everybody is projecting the Texans to take a wide receiver in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. I strongly believe that Houston's preference is for Notre Dame's Will Fuller. The Texans' backup plan is Baylor's Corey Coleman. After that, TCU's Josh Doctson could be in play. Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell would also be a candidate, but he has a higher chance to be off the board by pick 22.
As we hit on in the last rumormill tidbits entry, the Redskins are said to be in the market to get younger and faster on the defensive line. However, the Redskins could take advantage of a deep defensive line class and address it on Day 2. Sources tell me I should mock the Redskins a cornerback in my final mock draft. I think the corner that I'm likely to go with is Houston's William Jackson. Ohio State's Eli Apple is also in the running, but I think they prefer Jackson. Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller can't be ruled out after the positive news from his medical recheck. Another dark horse for Washington, depending on how the draft falls, is Alabama center Ryan Kelly.
Sources say they expect the Steelers to address their secondary in the early rounds, and that isn't shocking in the least with the problems Pittsburgh's secondary has had in recent years. Pittsburgh sources say they loved Texans cornerback Kevin Johnson last year (selected 16th overall), and if he had gotten to their pick, he likely would have been a Steeler. This year, cornerbacks like Eli Apple and William Jackson have similar skill sets to Johnson, so they could be in play for Pittsburgh's first-round pick.
However, sources also say that the Steelers have strong interest in Florida safety Keanu Neal. He is said to be what Mike Tomlin loves in a safety. Neal won't make it to Pittsburgh's second-round pick, so if they want Neal, they'll have to take him in the first round.
After Lovie Smith's former Bears additions were ineffective last year, safety is in play for Tampa Bay early on the second day. The Bucs appear set with their top three corners for next season with Brent Grimes, Alterraun Verner and Johnthan Banks. Those veterans could man the secondary in 2016, and next year, the Buccaneers could remodel the corner position if they don't play well.
They aren't as strong at safety. From what I'm hearing, the Bucs like Florida safety Keanu Neal more than Ohio State safety Vonn Bell. Bell is limited as a free safety. Most pigeon hole Neal as a strong safety because he played that as a junior. However, during his sophomore year, Marcus Maye landed in Will Muschamp's doghouse for some coverage busts and Neal moved to free safety for most of that year. He did a good job in coverage in that role. Thus, multiple teams have told me they view Neal as having more versatility. He also brings more size to the position than Bell. I think early on Day 2, Neal is a strong candidate to go to the Buccaneers if he makes it to their pick, but Neal could easily go late in the first round.
In January, WalterFootball.com first reported that the Titans wanted to trade down from the No. 1 overall pick. They knew that a team would want the top quarterback and would have to get in front of the Browns to land him. On Thursday morning, Tennessee followed through on that goal and moved down to the 15th-overall choice in a trade with the Rams.
The Titans are now loaded with early-round draft selections to address their various needs on the team. In speaking with sources, the Titans are keeping their options open in the first round, but offensive tackle is a top priority the team hopes to address.
Sources say the Titans are OK with either Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin or Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker. Either one would move to right tackle for Tennessee and form a bookend with 2014 first-round left tackle Taylor Lewan. The Titans have a slight preference for Conklin. Sources say that Conklin is the better player even though he isn't a great athlete. In speaking with Tennessee sources months ago, they said that a team might be able to get away with Conklin or Decker at left tackle, but they would be better players at right tackle in the NFL.
Another possibility could be trading up from 15 for Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley. However, sources say they feel that Stanley lacks some toughness and aggressiveness. Thus, keeping the picks to address other needs could be the route the Titans go.
With six picks in the top 80 selections, the Titans have a ton of flexibility in the 2016 NFL Draft. Right now, sources say offensive tackle is the most likely pick at 15 with Conklin or Decker being the favorites.
Entering the draft process, there were concerns about the knee injuries for UCLA linebacker Myles Jack and Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller. Both players missed almost all of the 2015 season with their respective maladies. Jack received clearance to start playing again, while Fuller has been rehabbing leading up to the draft. In speaking with team sources, however, teams have concerns about both players' injuries impacting their future.
For Jack, team sources say there are health concerns in addition to the knee procedure that he already had. Teams are stuck with a tough decision of whether Jack should undergo more surgery to correct issues with his knee, or wait until he can't play because of the injury. It sounds like the latter is the most likely avenue they will pursue.
Regarding Fuller, sources say they have concerns that his knee is not completely repaired from the procedure he had last year. Teams across the league have told WalterFootball.com that based on Fuller's tape, they had a first-round grade on him entering the draft process, but because the knee injury, most teams are projecting him to the second day. Sources said that if the Combine medical recheck goes well, he should be safe on the second day and likely the second round. Teams are worried about Fuller's status and when he would be able to play in his rookie year.
Overall, the injury concerns are more significant with Fuller. His injury is having an impact on where teams are rating him. While teams have concerns that Jack may have more health issues to come, they don't expect Jack to slide in the draft because of them.
With the 2016 NFL Draft less than a month away, here some NFL Draft rumor mill tidbits I've picked up from speaking with team sources.
The Redskins are said to be in the market to get younger and faster on the defensive line. This certainly is a strong draft to make that happen. In speaking with Redskins sources, two players the team was not gung-ho on were Alabama defensive tackles Jarran Reed and A'Shawn Robinson. There were other defensive lineman they were more excited about, so Reed and Robinson sound unlikely to land in D.C.
Two playoff teams say that Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith is in play for their first-round pick if his medical recheck goes well. If they feel that Smith's going to miss limited time and not suffer long-term effects of his knee injury, Smith will get heavy consideration on Thursday night. They feel that they would land a top-five talent at a massive discount and they have the strong roster to stash him for half a season, or his entire rookie year, with the payoff coming in 2017 of a player they shouldn't have been able to land. Keep an eye on the Chiefs, Packers, Texans, Bengals, and Vikings.
One of the most polarizing players in the draft is Houston cornerback William Jackson. One general manager from a playoff team that is adept at drafting defensive backs told me they had a fifth-round grade on Jackson prior to the Combine. Another team picking early that needs cornerback help said they had Jackson as a third or lower. Two other playoff teams said they saw Jackson as a late first- or second-round pick. One of the reasons for the big divide is the scheme-fit projection. Thus, if Jackson gets initially passed on by the teams that like him, he could be in store to have a slide on draft day.
I asked a few teams if either Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa or if Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner could slide in the top 10. The answers were that Buckner shouldn't be available to the Buccaneers and Giants picking ninth and 10th, respectively. Bosa had that possibility. Part of the difference is teams love Buckner off the field, and Bosa is just OK on the character/intangible grades.
A lot has been made about how the 2016 NFL Draft is very deep along the defensive line. While there is a ton of talent on the inside of the line, there also are edge rushers who could have a number of players go off the board in the first few rounds. One player who has generated some buzz is Boise State outside linebacker Kamalei Correa. Some have projected him to be a late first-round pick and compared Correa to Packers linebacker Clay Matthews. In speaking with multiple team sources, Correa has been getting second-round grades.
The 6-foot-2, 243-pound Correa is an edge defender who will have to get stronger for the NFL. Teams view Correa as fitting best in a 3-4 defense as an edge rusher. One playoff team that is in the market for that position has a second-round grade on Correa. The general manager of that team said he's not real physical. Another team picking high that needs pass-rushing help has him on Day 2, and they feel at his size, he projects more to the second day.
Another 3-4 team picking high in the draft said that Correa is a good player, but not Clay Matthews. They say that Correa plays with energy, but is not as good or relentless as Matthews. They feel he is just okay against the run. They have a second-round grade on Correa as well.
Correa totaled 39 tackles with 11 for a loss, seven sacks and three forced fumbles in 2015. His best season came as a sophomore when he notched 59 tackles, 19 for a loss, two forced fumbles and 12 sacks. The junior's best fit could come as an inside/outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. He had an impressive workout at the Combine.
In terms of a pure cover corner, some teams feel that Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller is the best in the draft. Across the league, teams love his tape from the 2014 season. Some scouts graded Fuller higher than Florida State's Jalen Ramsey and Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III based off that tape. However, Fuller missed almost the entire 2015 season with a knee injury. Sources say that Fuller's medical check at the Combine was not good, and as a result most teams are lowering him to the second day of the 2016 NFL Draft.
Sources said that if the Combine medical recheck goes well, he should be safe in the second round. One teams that is in the cornerback market and picking high in the first round said they had him as a first-rounder, but now view him more as a third. If this medical recheck goes well, the second round is reasonable. Another team picking in the top 10 that needs cornerback help said they had Fuller as a mid-to-late second after the medical.
Three other teams said they had first-round grades on Fuller, but because of the medical, they lowered him to the second. One playoff team said they lowered him to a late first, early second. Prior to that, they had him in the middle of the first.
Thus, there is a consensus around the league that Fuller is more of a second-day pick as it stands now with his medical recheck being critical. If that goes well, Fuller could get back into the first round, but after the Combine exam, it sounds like Fuller is more likely to go on the second day.
One of the players on the bubble between the first and second round is Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard. The Gators standout had a superb senior year, but in a deep defensive line draft some talented players are going to slip to the second round. In speaking with sources at multiple teams, Bullard has been getting second-round grades.
Teams really like Bullard as a player, but scheme fit and size concerns could push him into the second round. Sources from 3-4 teams say Bullard (6-3, 285) lacks the length they like in defensive ends. They think they could get away with Bullard there, but it isn't an ideal fit. Teams that run a 4-3 feel Bullard would be an end on run downs and move inside in passing situations. From a variety of teams, scouts say that being a three technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 could be Bullard's best fit.
With those scheme issues, it leads sources to say that Bullard is a bit of a tweener. Even contacts on the Gators coaching staff said it was a challenge for a time for them to figure out how best to utilize Bullard. Still, sources said he has very good tape and often makes a play that gets them to say, "Wow!"
One thing working in Bullard's favor is teams don't see 31 first-rounders in this draft. Thus, some players with second-round grades are going to be selected on Thursday night. Bullard could be one of those players, but in surveying five teams, they all had a second-round grade on Bullard.
In 2015, Bullard totaled 66 tackles with 17.5 for a loss, 6.5 sacks and two passes batted. He was one of the SEC's best run defenders on the defensive line and demonstrated the ability to rush well from the inside. The year before, Bullard totaled 52 tackles with 8.5 tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and two passes batted while coming on strong late in the season.
Eastern Kentucky edge rusher Noah Spence was a standout pass-rusher at Ohio State before positive tests for the party drug ecstasy led to him being kicked out of the program. At the Senior Bowl, teams interviewed Spence about his issues at Ohio State, and while he wouldn't name names, he said that he wasn't the only Buckeye player who was using ecstasy while partying. In speaking with sources at multiple teams, two of the players that teams suspect for that type of partying are defensive end Joey Bosa and running back Ezekiel Elliott.
To be clear, neither player had a positive drug test for ecstasy or molly (MDMA). However, Bosa was suspended for the opening game of the 2015 season. Ohio State didn't clarify the exact offense for the suspension, but Bosa told teams during the NFL Combine interviews that he was suspended because he refused to take a drug test. That counted as a positive and thus he was automatically slapped with the suspension.
Bosa told teams that he wouldn't take the test because he was going to test positive for adderall. He is said to have ADHD or ADD, so teams wouldn't have held that positive test for adderall against him and they feel he should have just gotten a prescription for the medication. Teams believe that Bosa knew he was going to test positive for worse drugs and that is why he refused to take the test. Bosa wouldn't admit to using ecstasy or molly, but he did admit that he likes to attend raves. He claimed that he likes going to raves for the "music," which teams found to be very questionable. Molly and ecstasy are common drugs used at raves.
At Ohio State, Bosa was a roommate with Ezekiel Elliott. Apparently, their shared place was a party destination, and Bosa told teams that he had to move out and get his own place to get away from all the parties that Elliott had going on. Sources say they suspect that Elliott was also using molly and ecstasy while parting. A number of Elliott's teammates in the Combine interviews told teams that Elliott was a partier, and a unique individual. They said they hung out with him some, but he rubbed some the wrong way. Sources from multiple teams said that Elliott didn't interview well at the Combine, while Bosa had mixed feedback. The skepticism of why he goes to raves and the refusal of the drug test bothered some evaluators.
Lastly, teams said they don't expect these concerns to have an impact on the draft stock of either player. They firmly expect Bosa to go in the top 10 and Elliott to be selected in the top 20. Sources don't believe either is a candidate to slide. Teams in the 20s expect Elliott to be long gone, while sources with the Titans have said that Bosa is still in the running for the No. 1 overall pick to Tennessee, but Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey is the current leader with the Titans (see below).
While teams suspect Bosa and Elliott of using those drugs, they don't have view them as risks like Randy Gregory last year. Teams don't think that Bosa and Elliott are serious candidates to be landing suspensions and testing positive in the NFL. Thus, both should be high draft picks in the 2016 NFL Draft.
In mid-January, sources with the Tennessee Titans said their preference was to trade down from the No. 1 overall pick and target a defensive back like Florida State cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey. If the Titans were stuck at No. 1, the initial favorite was Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil. This week, sources with the Titans have told WalterFootball.com that Ramsey is now the favorite to be the No. 1 pick. They love the Seminoles defensive back on and off the field. To be clear, the pick has not been decided, and Tunsil is still in the running, but sources say that Ramsey is now the leading candidate to be the first-overall selection in the 2016 NFL Draft.
For months, many around the league thought that Tunsil made the most sense. The Titans do have a good young left tackle in Taylor Lewan, who was taken high in the first round in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Tennessee led the NFL in sacks allowed last year, and they have to protect young franchise quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, Titans sources say they may sign a veteran tackle in free agency to go with Lewan. There are some veteran options available in the form of the Bengals' Andre Smith, Raiders' Donald Penn, Seahawks' Russell Okung, and Steelers' Kelvin Beachum. If they sign one of those veterans to a quality contract, that would increase the chances of Ramsey being the first pick.
Sources named Tunsil and Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa as being the other contenders for the top pick. In speaking to scouts, general managers and directors from multiple teams, they said Ramsey was phenomenal in the Combine interviews. The Titans feel that Ramsey was an alpha dog on a team filled with alpha dogs in college, and they say that he is an "awesome kid". Sources say that Tunsil and Bosa did "okay" in the Combine team interview, but they didn't express the same enthusiasm and fervor for either of them that they did for Ramsey. With Ramsey, they compare him to Richard Sherman and Charles Woodson as a corner and safety, respectively.
Staff at the Titans say that it isn't settled yet. Tunsil and Ramsey have their pro days at the end of the month, and of course, the pre-draft visits will be a factor as well. Last year, and the year before in December/January, sources at the Buccaneers and Texans told WalterFootball.com that they had leaders for the No. 1 pick (Jameis Winston, Jadeveon Clowney) and they ended up sticking with those players throughout the lead-up to the draft. In 2013, Kansas City changed late to Eric Fisher, and it appears this year, the Titans are in the midst of a more fluid situation with Ramsey having pulled ahead of Tunsil as the current leader for Tennessee.
Updated March 9, 2016
By Pat Yasinskas - @patyaz33
The Combine is over, and we're into full draft season. The rumors are flying. Here's the latest look at what we're hearing.
Cleveland appears set on going with a quarterback. They like Carson Wentz much better than Jared Goff.
Owner Jerry Jones said Dallas won't take a quarterback at No. 4, and he's serious. We're hearing defensive lineman DeForest Buckner is the player the Cowboys really want.
Tampa Bay likes Eastern Kentucky defensive end Noah Spence as a player. But the Bucs have concerns off the field. Oklahoma State defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah could be the safer choice.
The Saints are hoping Alabama defensive A'Shawn Robinson makes it to No. 12. They need a defensive tackle and are really high on Robinson.
Defensive line is still the priority for Atlanta. But don't rule out wide receiver Laquon Treadwell if he's available. The Falcons need someone else in the passing game to go with Julio Jones.
Many mock drafts have cornerback McKenzie Alexander going to Carolina. But I'm told the Panthers aren't that high on him. Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard could be the alternative.
The buzz about Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg and the Houston Texans is real. Houston coach Bill O'Brien coached Hackenberg in college and is sold on him. O'Brien could probably get Hackenberg in the second round, but don't rule out the first.
After the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine, I reached out to sources across the league from a variety of teams to survey who were the players who did well in the Combine interviews and who were the players who interviewed poorly. An interesting list came together. Also, it is worth noting that beauty is in the eye of the beholder to a degree; some teams said a player didn't do well, while others said the opposite.
Players Who Interviewed Well:
USC outside linebacker Su'A Cravens
Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker
TCU wide receiver Josh Doctson
Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller (multiple teams)
Alabama running back Derrick Henry
Stanford tight end Austin Hooper (multiple teams)
UCLA outside linebacker Myles Jack
Alabama center Ryan Kelly
North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz (multiple teams)
Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey (multiple teams)
Notre Dame cornerback KeiVarae Russell
Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley
Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas
Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil (multiple teams)
Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa
Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd
Cal quarterback Jared Goff (some teams said poor; others said he did well)
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry
Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch
Players Who Interviewed Poorly:
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook
Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott (multiple teams)
Indiana running back Jordan Howard
Ole Miss defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche (multiple teams)
Texas defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway
Teams said that Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil was polite, laid back and confident. They said he is a smart kid who has been coached well. He isn't perfectly clean, but definitely is smart enough to not get in trouble.
A player teams love and said was very good was Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Sources from multiple teams said he is an "awesome kid." Of all the prospects, Ramsey had the most vehement positive feedback.
Ole Miss defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche needed to interview well to offset his off-the-field concerns, but he did a poor job according to multiple teams. As one source said, "[Nkemdiche] acted like a stoner, and that he was too good for everyone." Teams are very down on Nkemdiche and some said they won't consider drafting him in any round.
Multiple teams said that Notre Dame wide receiver Will Fuller is a bright kid and knew his position well from an x's-and-o's standpoint. They feel he can learn to be an inside or outside pro receiver.
As I tweeted during the Combine, the Browns said that North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz was a stud in the interview room. Other teams echoed that. They said he is a bright, smart kid with excellent play recall.
Cal quarterback Jared Goff got mixed reviews. Some teams said he did well and others said he did poorly. Sources said he did have good play recall.
Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook disappointed teams from an x's-and-o's perspective. They felt that with his years of starting experience in a pro-style system, he would have done better, but he had bad recall on plays. He also didn't show good knowledge of coverage, and didn't ease the concerns about him as a teammate.
Sources said that Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg has pretty good recall and knows coverage, and they like his tools. However, they would have liked him to make less excuses about some of the issues he had over the last two seasons.
Teams say Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch is very far behind from an x's-and-o's perspective. Teams like his skill set and athletic upside, and they don't think he's a bad kid. But he hasn't been taught much from a NFL scheme perspective coming from his college spread system. Sources felt that Lynch was behind the other early-round quarterbacks from an x's-and-o's standpoint.
Every year, there are some early-entry players in the NFL Draft who go under the radar with the media despite teams being impressed with them. In speaking with sources at five different teams, Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard would fit that description this year. All five teams had Howard graded in the first three rounds, with some being very bullish about his NFL prospects. No team had Howard lower than an early third-round pick.
One team picking in the top 10 said they have a first-round grade on Howard and project him going late in the first. Another playoff team said they had Howard graded as a high second-round pick. Two other teams said they had Howard on the bubble of the second and third round. Those were the lowest grades on Howard among the five teams. The fifth team saw him as a mid second-round pick.
Sources say they wouldn't be surprised if Howard becomes a hot name at or after the NFL Scouting Combine. The 6-foot-2, 200-pounder has great size, and teams are impressed with his 2015 tape. As a junior, Howard totaled 42 tackles with 10 breakups and five interceptions for the Bears. He isn't a one-year wonder either. In 2014, he had 51 stops with 13 breakups and four interceptions.
Bill Parcells used to say that winning is a great deodorant, and that certainly has been proven true time and again in the NFL. While the Denver Broncos won the ultimate prize of Super Bowl 50, that sweet smell won't mask some of the disgust in Denver. In fact, multiple relationships at the most important position on the team are tenuous entering this offseason. In speaking with sources, they say the Broncos are going to have real changes at the quarterback position in the weeks to come.
Sources say that Broncos general manager John Elway is done with Peyton Manning, and he won't be back with the team next year. The relationship between Manning and Elway has deteriorated over the past season, and Elway is ready to move on. Manning is faced with a decision on retiring, but sources say he won't be returning to Denver if he decides he wants to play next year.
Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler is also entering free agency. Osweiler played in eight games in 2015, completing 62 percent of his passes for 1,967 yards with 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. The fifth-year pro was unhappy about his benching, but Osweiler and the team could agree on a new contract. Sources say that Osweiler wants $12 million per season, while the Broncos want to sign him to a 3-year contract averaging about $10 million per year. While Denver would like him back, sources say that it has to be at a price they are comfortable paying.
Even if Osweiler is re-signed, drafting a quarterback early in the 2016 NFL draft is definitely in play for Denver. The Broncos loved North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz, but know that he won't be getting anywhere near Denver's pick. However, the team also is enamored with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. He is a good fit in Gary Kubiak's offense and sources say that Prescott is in play for the Broncos on the second-day of the draft.
At the Senior Bowl, Prescott really helped himself by impressing teams with intelligence, leadership and overall football character. Sources from multiple teams raved about Prescott's performance in the team interviews. They say he is a fast-rising prospect in the quarterback-needy NFL.
Denver's plan is to address the defensive line in the first round. They love Alabama's Jarran Reed, but he also is very unlikely to make it to pick 31. Still, the 2016 draft is loaded at the defensive line, so there should be some good options available to the Broncos. Even though Denver's first-round pick could go to fortifying its tremendous defense, the changes at quarterback will get all the attention this offseason.
In recent years, there have been a lot of early-entry players going to the NFL when they should have returned to school. One player who fits that criteria this year is LSU offensive tackle Jerald Hawkins, who was the Tigers' left tackle after playing right tackle in the previous seasons. In speaking with multiple evaluators, they are down on Hawkins and have not given him good draft grades.
Sources from multiple teams have said that they graded Hawkins on day three. They say he lacks strength and doesn't have power in his base. He plays with poor leverage, gets fooled and is bulled around, and they think he's a backup-quality player in the NFL. They his best attribute is he has pretty good feet. He also has length, so teams feel there are some tools to work with, which gives him a draftable grade.
A few teams said they had a fourth-round grade on Hawkins. Another said they had him as a fifth- or sixth-rounder who is a developmental backup. Perhaps another year at LSU would have given Hawkins time to get stronger for the NFL. It looks like Hawkins will be in for a long wait come draft weekend.
Over the past two seasons, the NFL Draft has produced some strong classes of wide receivers. This year, the draft isn't as strong at wideout, but that hasn't stopped the media from hyping up Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. It isn't surprising, as Treadwell was a star recruit coming out of high school, and he was a 3-year producer at Ole Miss. There have been lofty comparisons with Treadwell to other elite receiver prospects, but NFL teams aren't grading Treadwell that high. In fact, most of the teams we've spoken to have Treadwell as a late first-rounder, with only one saying they have him as mid first-round pick.
The teams that are grading Treadwell as a late first-rounder say whoever likes him enough to draft him might do so in the middle of the first round. A general manger of a playoff team believes that Treadwell is a little overrated, and he views him as a big, strong, possession receiver in the NFL. Two other teams said they had Treadwell as a late first-rounder. One college scouting director said Treadwell could go in the mid first because this a weak year for receivers and teams will draft out of need at the position.
The reason that teams aren't as high on Treadwell as the hype machine is a lack of speed to separate. They view Treadwell as a big, strong, long, possession receiver with good hands. He routinely uses his size and strength beat defensive backs for 50-50 passes. However, he isn't fast or explosive. He isn't a vertical threat to stretch a defense over the top. If Treadwell had speed, he'd be similar to Julio Jones or A.J. Green and a top 10-pick. Teams say they aren't expecting Treadwell to run fast at the Combine.
The team that has Treadwell graded as a mid first-round pick, and liked him more than others, believes he has some characteristics similar to the Texans' DeAndre Hopkins in the ability to win 50-50 passes. Hopkins was a late first-rounder in the 2013 NFL Draft, but Houston clearly out-scouted the rest of the league, as Hopkins is one of the best players to come out of that draft class.
If the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Treadwell runs well at the Combine, it could help to change some minds and push his draft grade higher. Right now, teams see him in the middle to back half of the picks on Thursday night with a grade of a late first-rounder being held by many teams.
The Tennessee Titans feel that they are in a good position with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. The Titans already have a promising young franchise signal-caller in Marcus Mariota, and there are a lot of quarterback-needy teams picking in the top 20. One of them is the Cleveland Browns at No. 2, so if a team wants to get the top quarterback prospect ahead of Cleveland, they have to move up with Tennessee. Of course, trading down is always easier said than done, so the Titans will be prepared to make a selection with the No. 1 overall pick.
In speaking to sources with Tennessee, the Titans' preference is to trade down in the top 10 and target a defensive back like Florida State cornerback/safety Jalen Ramsey or Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. However, if they can't trade down, sources say the early leader for the No. 1 overall pick is Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil.
Many draft pundits have been projecting Tennessee to take Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. Sources from around the league have felt that Bosa has been overhyped, and contacts with the Titans agree with that belief. Going back to the preseason before his junior year where his sack production fell significantly, the Titans viewed him more as a No. 5-7 overall talent in a good draft class. Also, sources with the Titans feel they don't really need Bosa. They say the strength of the team was the front seven last year. Jurrell Casey, Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo had quality years and the team was very happy with the play of young five-technique defensive end DaQuan Jones. Thus, it doesn't sound like Bosa is a serious candidate to go first overall.
On the other side of the ball, the line play was a different story, as the Titans allowed the most sacks in the NFL. Mariota sustained multiple injuries and ended being shut down late in the year. Left tackle Taylor Lewan wasn't part of the problem and has been a solid player through two seasons. However, protecting Mariota is paramount, so drafting Tunsil and putting Lewan at right tackle could help ensure the durability of their franchise quarterback. Jeremiah Poutasi, who was taken in the third round last year, could be moved inside to guard, and therefore, the Titans' offensive line would have the potential to be upgraded at three positions.
The Titans would love to receive a package of picks in a move down. New general manager Jon Robinson could also take the team in a different direction. Robinson comes from Tampa Bay, and sources with the Bucs have said that Tampa Bay loves Ramsey. Others in the Titans' front office love Ramsey as well.
Right now, Tunsil is the early leader for the Titans if they are stuck at No. 1, but a lot can change in the lead-up to the draft. The team picking first overall could change as well.
One of the happiest stories in college football in recent years has been the successful comeback of Auburn offensive tackle Shon Coleman. In 2011, Coleman underwent treatment for leukemia, and after beating cancer, he returned to the field without any issues the past two seasons. The 6-foot-6, 310-pounder was a productive blocker for the Tigers and he decided to skip his senior year to enter the 2016 NFL Draft. Some media pundits have projected Coleman to go in the first or second round, but the teams we spoke to haven't graded him that high.
When this draft writer added Coleman to the 2016 Offensive Tackle Rankings, I pegged him in the Round 3-5 range. Thus, I was surprised to see some media pundits putting him in the first or second round. I thought maybe they're seeing something I didn't, so I checked with sources on where they were grading Coleman.
A few teams said they had him in the fourth round. They feel that Coleman is limited as a player. He has great size, but is only just an average athlete. He gets movement in the ground game and his run blocking is much better than his pass protection. They don't feel he can play left tackle in the NFL, so they project him as a right tackle.
Another team had a more optimistic view of Coleman, grading him as a late-second, early third-rounder. They feel that Coleman can play tackle or guard in the NFL. However, they think he should not start immediately and needs a year of coaching to get better before he sees the field.
One could make the argument that Coleman should have returned for his senior year, but after what he went through early on in college, it is definitely understandable that he wouldn't take an injury risk by returning. Perhaps he will go late in the second, but even if he's a mid-rounder, Coleman is an inspiration in what he accomplished.
A year ago, Florida State featured a rare quarterback prospect for the NFL in Jameis Winston. This draft writer and some NFL scouts felt Winston was the best quarterback prospect since Andrew Luck and was on a par as a pro-ready signal caller with Luck coming out of college. This year, Florida State has another rare prospect in defensive back Jalen Ramsey.
We caught up with Winston to get his thoughts on Ramsey entering the NFL. It was clear that Winston would love to be reunited with Ramsey. The Buccaneers hold the ninth-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.
"He's good enough that we probably won't even get him," said Winston. "That's just one thing to talk about, his competitiveness, and his mentality to always want to be great. That is something that is going to take him a long way."
Winston went against Ramsey in practice and watched him play both corner and safety for the Seminoles. After going against NFL defensive backs in 2015, Winston didn't feel that Ramsey would be better off at one secondary position in particular.
"He can do anything he wants to do really," said Winston. "He's so talented in some many ways. He can be a lock-down corner for you like a Richard Sherman, or he could be a safety-corner hybrid like Charles Woodson. This guy is very talented and has a lot of ability."
Winston said that he had some fun battles with Ramsey in practice, and if Ramsey goes as high as Winston expects, they could be going head-to-head next fall.
With a tongue-in-cheek tone, Winston said they had some good practice battles against each other, "Absolutely. I had a good pleasure to play against Ronald Darby, P.J. Williams, [Ramsey]. I most likely got the best of them every single time, but they got some wins."
Ramsey was a star as a safety in 2014. He totaled 79 stops, 9.5 tackles for a loss, 12 passes broken up, two interceptions and two forced fumbles on the year. In 2015, Ramsey moved to cornerback and generally was assigned the best receiver on the opposition. Once again, he was a valuable defender for the Seminoles. He totaled 50 tackles with 10 passes broken up on the season.
There have been a lot of names discussed for the general manager openings in Detroit and Tennessee, but one that league sources say should be new general manager for the Lions or Titans is Green Bay Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith. The Packers have maintained a talented roster that has made Green Bay a perennial playoff team. Highsmith has been a critical member in the Packers' front office leading Green Bay to seven straight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship in 2010.
Highsmith has been a part of football greatness since he was a youngster in South Florida. Highsmith, a water boy for the Dolphins during the early 1980s, was close with Don Shula's family and went to high school with Mike Shula. Highsmith was a high school All-American in Miami and starred at the University of Miami before playing for the Oilers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. After his NFL playing days ended, Highsmith was a professional boxer and compiled a 27-1-1 record in his pugilist career.
Executives from around the league say that Highsmith has one of the best eyes for talent in the NFL and has played a massive role in assembling Green Bay's roster. Not only do they say that he has a great gift for discovering talent, but he works tirelessly, and is especially good at scouting quarterbacks. Highsmith has played with and has been a part of teams with great quarterbacks going back to playing with Shula in high school. He was a teammate of Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde in college at the University of Miami. Highsmith played with Warren Moon and Troy Aikman in the NFL, while being part of Brett Favre's tenure in Green Bay and was part of the Green Bay drafting and developing Aaron Rodgers into the best quarterback in the league.
Highsmith has learned under some of the best general managers in the NFL over the past 15 years in Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson, so he's ready to lead a franchise in the general manager position. He also learned from coaching greats in Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, and his father, Walter Highsmith.
Highsmith was hired by then Packers Executive Vice President/General Manager Ron Wolf in 1999 to be a college scout for Green Bay. After serving as an area scout for many years, Highsmith was promoted to his current spot in 2012. Working closely with Thompson has given Highsmith a perfect position to prepare for running a franchise.
Sources say that Highsmith has a tremendous work ethic from his time as a player, professional boxer, and area scout. Given his background he works very well with NFL players and is able to identify with them. With his personal and organizational leadership skills, he can get a franchise working in one direction from the front office into the locker room. Everything he does at Green Bay is about winning as an organization, and sources believe he will build that kind of atmosphere in any team that hires him as their general manager.
Last offseason, the Redskins tried to hire Highsmith away, but they were blocked from doing so by Thompson. League sources from multiple teams feel that Highsmith would be a the perfect higher by either the Lions or Titans.
After a 3-13 season, the Tennessee Titans started down the path of a new regime after moving on from general manager Ruston Webster weeks after firing head coach Ken Whisenhunt. The Titans are one of the most attractive job openings at each position because of the young talent on the Tennessee roster, specifically a young franchise quarterback. The architect for that young talent is Titans director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield, and there is the possibility that Beddingfield will be promoted to the general manager position. Sources in Tennessee say that Beddingfield is a candidate to be the Titans next general manager.
A year ago, many were projecting Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to land with the Browns, Jets, Rams, or Eagles. However, Beddingfield had the Titans locked into their future franchise quarterback early in the process. As a rookie, Mariota exceed expectations as he completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,818 yards with 19 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 12 games. He also ran for 252 yards (7.4 average) and two scores.
Sources say the Titans' record this season is misleading as to the superb job that Beddingfield has done. Aside from Mariota, other recent draft picks have shown a lot of promise. Left tackle Taylor Lewan has played well the past two seasons and rookie wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham came on strong late in his first season. League contacts say that while Beddingfield has gone under the radar, he's an excellent talent evaluator and knows how to build up the talent on a roster.
Beddingfield has been a college and pro scout for 17 years with the Titans. Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim worked his way up in the organization over 15 years before being elevated to the general manager position. The Cardinals had some rough years before Keim took over, but with his work in the front office and Bruce Arians leading the coaching staff, Arizona has produced back-to-back playoff seasons. With a good coaching staff and Beddingfield leading the front office, that looks entirely possible in the wide open AFC South.
A lot of the names being discussed for the Titans, Lions, and Browns have been general-manager retreads who were let go from other teams. There haven't been many general managers in NFL history that had success in their second attempts at leading a franchise. League sources say the both the Lions and Browns should be giving Beddingfield serious consideration for their general manager positions, but Beddingfield is a candidate with the Titans and they may elevate him to succeed Webster to prevent him from landing the same job in Detroit or Cleveland.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com that Arkansas junior running back Alex Collins is likely to declare for the 2016 NFL Draft. The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Collins was the workhorse of the Arkansas ground attack and shouldered the load after teammate Jonathan Williams was lost for the season. Prior to the Liberty Bowl against Kansas State, Collins was interviewing agents in preparation for likely entering the draft.
Prior to playing the Wildcats, Collins has averaged 5.6 yards per carry for 1,392 yards with 17 touchdowns. He also has 13 receptions for 95 yards. The only opponents that held Collins below 100 yards were Alabama, Mississippi State, and Toledo. It marked his third-straight season where Collins ran for 1,100 yards as a sophomore and 1,026 yards as a freshman.
Sources say Collins improved his blocking and receiving as a junior. In speaking with teams, they like Collins and feel that he has second-day potential in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com that Oklahoma State junior defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah plans on skipping his senior season and declaring for the 2016 NFL Draft. Ogbah and his family have been interviewing agents ahead of his Bowl matchup against Ole Miss with star left tackle Laremy Tunsil taking on Ogbah. In speaking with sources at NFL teams, they believe Ogbah will be a first-round pick.
In 2014, Ogbah broke out for the Cowboys with 11 sacks, 49 tackles, 17 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and five passes batted. He had a coming-out party to open the season against Florida State and left tackle Cam Erving, a first-round pick of the Browns in the 2015 NFL Draft. As a junior, Ogbah recorded sacks in all but one game this season. He has 61 tackles, 17.5 for a loss, three forced fumbles and 13 sacks entering his Bowl matchup with Tunsil and Ole Miss.
The 6-foot-4, 275-pounder has a nice skill set with speed and strength. After a fast start to the year, Ogbah cooled some in the second half, so an impressive game against Tunsil could really send a jolt into his draft stock. Sources say that Ogbah and his family are advanced in his agent interview process and he is firm in his plans to skip his senior year and enter the draft.
Over the past two years, two of the most debated and highly publicized young quarterbacks have been Jameis Winston and Christian Hackenberg. Winston won the Heisman Trophy and a National Championship at Florida State while also dealing with some off-the-field scandals before becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At one time, Hackenberg was perceived to be an elite quarterback prospect like Winston, but two rough seasons have Hackenberg projected as a second-day prospect if he declares for the 2016 NFL Draft. Like Winston, there have also been some questions and criticism regarding Hackenberg's character.
One player who can shed insight into both is Winston's current left tackle Donovan Smith. Smith was Hackenberg's blind-side protector in 2014 and 2013. Smith could respond to some media reports that Hackenberg isn't a good teammate and is disliked in the Nittany Lions locker room. We caught with Smith at One Buc Place, and he didn't buy that criticism of his former quarterback.
"That's a lot of he-said, she-said kind of stuff," said Smith. "[Hackenberg] was exactly how you would want a quarterback. He led when he needed to. He picked guys up and stuff like that."
There also has been criticism about Hackenberg's body language that he pouts and didn't have poise on the sideline or in the huddle. We asked Smith if Hackenberg showed composure while going through a rough 2014 season that saw Hackenberg take a pounding.
"Yeah definitely," said Smith. "There was no [finger-pointing from Hackenberg]. It was good."
Between Smith's two seasons protection Hackenberg's blind side, Penn State went from Bill O'Brien to James Franklin as their head coach with each coach running a different offensive scheme. O'Brien ran a pro-style offense while Franklin has run a college read-option system. Hackenberg was the star recruit of O'Brien and had a tremendous freshman season playing for O'Brien. That led to O'Brien taking the head coaching job of the Houston Texans with Penn State hiring James Franklin from Vanderbilt. Smith didn't deny that the coaching change was hard on Hackenberg and himself.
"Nobody likes switching coaches and stuff like that, especially going from Bill O'Brien to James Franklin," said Smith. "Just the fact that [O'Brien] was in the NFL and introduced us to a different way of football. It was kind of tough but we just rolled with it."
This year, Smith has had an impressive rookie season and looks to be the Buccaneers' future left tackle to protect the face of their franchise in Jameis Winston. Winston has improved throughout his rookie campaign and looks capable of being an elite quarterback. Having spent years with Hackenberg and now a season with Winston, Smith answered our questions on how the two quarterbacks compare to each other.
"There is no comparison. They are completely different," said Smith. "Jameis is far past his time. Christian has some learning to do obviously, but Jameis is far past his time. He's been through a whole season and you learn so much being in a NFL locker room and a different group of men, aspects of life, everything."
In reading between the lines, Smith didn't put stock into the criticisms of Hackenberg, as he answered some questions while shaking his head. However he was more passionate and vociferous in praise of Winston. Winston was able to successfully address the character concerns about him in the lead up to the draft. Hackenberg will have that challenge in 2016 or 2017.
Alabama running back Derrick Henry won the Heisman Trophy, and across the nation, it was unanimous that Henry had a tremendous season to carry the Crimson Tide to a SEC Championship and berth in the college football playoff. Henry was a bulldozer who provided the offense for a team that saw its talent get downgraded in the passing offense from last year. Despite Henry's phenomenal year, there is a wide range of where he is talked about going in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Recently, there was an article with one former NFL scout saying he would grade Henry as a fourth-round pick. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel quoted an anonymous NFL scout that had Henry as a definite first-round pick with Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott. Thus, we decided to reach out to sources at multiple teams to see how Henry's draft grades were coming in. There wasn't a consensus, but nobody had him as low as the fourth round.
Two teams said they graded Henry as a late first-round pick. They feel that his combination of power and speed makes him worthy of going on Thursday. They also said that this draft isn't all that strong or talented, thus they feel that Henry's instant impact and game-changing ability will be appealing to playoff teams looking for a player to help get them over the hump. Teams like Arizona, Carolina, and New England were said to be possibilities for Henry, according to sources.
Two other teams said they him as a second-round pick, and one national scout said they had him with a 2/3 grade (late second-round/early third-round).
A lot can change during the lead-up to the draft with the NFL Scouting Combine and pro day workouts. Sources said that Henry's 40 time at the Combine will be very important. If he runs a slow time around 4.60, that is going to add some validity to the doubters. Entering 2016, there is a big range for Henry, and this debate could easily lead up to the day of the draft.
Every year in the NFL draft, there are early-round talents who slide to the late-rounds because of off-the-field issues. This year, one of the prime candidates for that is Florida wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. Sources say that Robinson has a first- or second-round skill set, but despite that physical talent, he is grading out as a sixth- or seventh-rounder because of character concerns. They say that Robinson could even go undrafted.
NFL evaluators and everyone around the Gators program has expected Robinson to skip his senior year in favor of entering the 2016 NFL Draft. Robinson was one of the breakout performers of the SEC in 2014, hauling in 53 passes for 810 yards and seven touchdowns despite playing in a horrible offense with struggling quarterbacks who led to Will Muschamp and his staff getting fired.
Robinson never got into a groove of production for the Gators this season. To conclude the regular season, Robinson was suspended against Florida State in a game where the Gators could have really used an offensive playmaker. It was the fourth contest that he was suspended from in the past three seasons. Entering the Bowl game against Michigan, Robinson has totaled 47 receptions for 505 yards with two touchdowns.
Sources say that Robinson has failed some drug tests at Florida and has received treatment a few times but issues still remain. They say that he needs 24/7 attention in terms of being woken up, going to class and practice, and overall just needs a lot of structure and mentoring. Even with those problems, teams feel that he loves football but needs an environment with guidance in order for Robinson to realize his potential as he lacks life skills.
As a player, teams love Robinson's route-running and ability to get separation. They feel that he has playmaking potential for the next level. Multiple teams say that even with Robinson's impressive skill set, there is just too much baggage. They are grading him as a sixth- or seventh-round pick and see the potential for him to go undrafted. With that being the case, Robinson may want to give strong consideration to returning to Florida for his senior year and improving his draft stock in 2016.
Entering the 2015 season, there was a lot of positive buzz about Florida State junior defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Ramsey was a tremendous playmaker as a starting safety for the Seminoles in 2014. Sources said they felt that Ramsey could be a special safety prospect for the NFL and a potential top-20 pick. Florida State moved Ramsey to corner as a junior, and while he had a quality year, sources at some teams have graded Ramsey as an early second-round pick.
Our sources have told us that the 6-foot-1, 204-pounder showed well as a press man corner and would be a good fit in the Seahawks defensive scheme. However, talent evaluators feel that Ramsey struggles to prevent separation from speed receivers and good route-runners. They felt that tapes against South Florida and Miami among others illustrated that.
Sources have said that teams who mix in off man, zone, along with press man don't feel that Ramsey is a good fit for their scheme, hence the second-round grade. For those teams, he could easily be moved back to safety as a pro.
Teams feel that Ramsey is still likely to be a first-round pick and could go in the middle of the first. They believe that there will be a team that values him that highly even though they don't.
With the end of the college football regular season, teams are amassing scouting reports on college players from their area scouts and draft boards are building into shape based off the action in 2015. Every year, the scouting community has a prime focus on the quarterback position because so many teams are in need of a franchise signal-caller. In speaking with sources from around the league, they say that none of the draft-eligible quarterback prospects are as good as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota were a year ago. However, they see the possibility of potentially four quarterbacks ending up being first-round picks. Those players are Memphis' Paxton Lynch, Cal's Jared Goff, Michigan State's Connor Cook, and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz.
Lynch has been the projected top quarterback by the draft media. A general manager told me that Lynch is the top quarterback prospect according to their team. They feel that he has a big arm, is a good enough athlete, and needs development. As a prospect, they say he is not a top-10 talent, but they believe he will go in the top 10 because there are so many teams in need of a franchise quarterback. In that regard, they feel he is similar to Blake Bortles who went third overall in the 2014 NFL Draft to Jacksonville.
Our sources say that Lynch comes after Goff for the most part. However, we know that one general manager that likes Goff more, and that GM general manager thinks he's the top quarterback prospect. Some area and national scouts are lukewarm on Goff, but he has his fans as well.
Michigan State's Connor Cook is the only one of the group who will play for the national championship, but if one of these highly publicized quarterbacks is going to have a draft-day free fall, it sounds like Cook is the most likely. One general manager in the AFC had this to say about Cook: "I'm not a fan of him because of a lack of accuracy. He locks on to one receiver and lacks good instincts. Has good height, weight, and a quick delivery. Not a leader type, that is a telling thing when his team doesn't vote him a captain." Another general manger in the NFC said that assessment of Cook hit the nail on the head.
There have been drafts where top quarterback prospects have draft day slides like Aaron Rodgers, Brady Quinn, or Johnny Manziel. Cook could be that candidate this year.
Wentz is a wild card. The 6-foot-6, 235-pounder broke his wrist and missed six games. He just returned to practice and is expected to play in the Senior Bowl, barring a setback. Sources say that Wentz is a good player, and they obviously they love his size. The Senior Bowl is going to be huge for his draft stock. A great week could send him skyrocketing up draft boards.
One general manager said that the fact that teams are viewing this group as having possibly four first-rounders is because of the desperation to land quarterbacks more than the players being worthy of their picks. Another general manager said, "Some will go high because of need, but all may be overrated."
There have been many highly touted quarterback prospects who have endured far falls in the NFL Draft. Last year, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Baylor's Bryce Petty were projected by some to be early-round selections, but they ended up dropping to the third day of the draft. At one time, many thought former USC quarterback Matt Barkley would be a top-10 pick, but he also plummeted to the fourth round in 2013. This year, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg could potentially keep that tradition alive. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that their teams have a fourth-round grade on Hackenberg.
Hackenberg was the star recruit for former Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien (current head coach of the Houston Texans) and proved the hype legitimate during an impressive freshman season that saw him named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Hackenberg completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2013. He also ran for four touchdowns. Sources felt that Hackenberg could end up being an elite quarterback prospect, but then his sophomore and junior seasons were huge disappointments and those same sources soured on his pro potential.
Penn State's offensive line was terrible, as Hackenberg took a beating. In 2014, Hackenberg completed 56 percent of his passes in 2014 for 2,677 yards with 12 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This season, Hackenberg was modestly improved, but not enough to redeem the high draft projections. Hackenberg has completed 53 percent of his passes for 2,386 yards and 16 touchdowns with five interceptions entering Penn State's Bowl game this year. Sources feel that Hackenberg's inaccuracy, lack of mobility, and decision-making make him a project at the next level rather than a first-round talent.
A general manager whose team is one of the best at evaluating and developing quarterbacks has a third-round grade on Hackenberg. That general manager believes that he could go in the second round. One team that has a fourth-round grade on Hackenberg believes that the team that likes him enough to draft him will probably do it on the second day of the draft. There are a lot of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, and that demand shouldn't be placated during free agency.
Even though some teams grade Hackenberg on the third day of the draft, that doesn't guarantee he won't be a first-round pick, even. A team that has a fourth-round grade on Hackenberg said they had the same grade on Christian Ponder and E.J. Manuel. That low estimation didn't stop the Vikings and Bills from taking those quarterbacks in the top 20 of their draft classes.
There still is a long way to go in the draft process, but if Hackenberg decides to skip his senior season and enter the 2016 NFL Draft, it sounds like he can be optimistic to go on the second-day of the draft, even though some teams grade him as a fourth-rounder.
In the passing driven NFL teams are always on the look out for defenders that can get after the quarterback. Even with that focus, Maryland outside linebacker Yannick Ngakoue has gone under the radar when it comes to national media attention. However, NFL teams have taken a liking to Ngakoue and sources from multiple teams are grading Ngakoue as second-day pick as his junior year is about to end this Saturday at Rutgers.
Maryland is not bowl eligible so after the Saturday the next time that Ngakoue suits up it will either be in the NFL or for Maryland as a senior. Ngakoue has totaled 37 tackles, 15 for a loss, 13.5 sacks, and one pass break up. He has the second highest sack total in the nation behind only Penn State's Carl Nassib. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound Ngakoue is quick and strong off the edge and sources say that he has some length to him. One source said that his speed to power skills are reminiscent of Chiefs edge rusher Justin Houston when he was at Georgia.
Ngakoue caught my eye in 2014 when he was owning Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff (the fifth-overall pick to the Redskins in the 2015 NFL Draft). Ngakoue was able to beat Scherff with speed and showed the ability to convert speed to power, putting Scherff on roller skates. In other games Ngakoue played well against Michigan State left tackle Jack Conklin and Ohio State left tackle Taylor Decker. He held his own against Stanford's Andrus Peat to end his junior year. In 2014 Ngakoue totaled 37 tackles with 13.5 for a loss, six sacks, and two passes broken up. This year he beat Conklin for a sack and once again has played well against good competition.
One team said they had a third-round grade on Ngakoue. Another said they had him in the second. Evaluators feel that there is the potential for Ngakoue to rise higher if he tests well at the NFL Scouting Combine. Sources say Ngakoue has the natural speed and athleticism to impress. After two good years at Maryland, Ngakoue is in a position of strength if he decides to come out.
In recent years Clemson has featured some high-powered offenses with good NFL talent on both sides of the ball. This year a balanced team with a tough defense has led them to the No.1 ranking in college football. Two of their top defensive prospects for the next level are redshirt sophomore cornerback Mackensie Alexander and junior defensive end Shaq Lawson. There has been speculation that both could enter the 2016 NFL Draft, but in speaking with league sources, neither is grading out as a first-round pick.
Some have projected Alexander to be a first-round pick as a cover corner. The 5-foot-11, 195-pounder has 18 tackles with three passes broken up in 2015. Last year he had 21 tackles and six breakups. Sources say that Alexander is a physical corner, but he is tight and looks more likely to be a player that competes for nickel reps. They view him as more of a mid-rounder.
Lawson has played really well this season with 41 tackles, 17.5 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks. The 6-foot-3, 270-pounder has quickness and strength on the edge. He had an impressive showing going against Notre Dame left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Sources say that they like Lawson as a prospect and he is a smooth athlete that could be a good fit as a base left end in a 4-3 defense. They say that he is not very explosive or twitchy. They grade him out as a second-day prospect.
Of course those grades could go up if Alexander and Lawson return to Clemson to improve before going pro. A number of sources said former Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley probably would have gone in the second round or late first round if he had entered the draft after his junior year. He returned for his senior season and had a big season to end up being a top-10 pick to Atlanta. Right now sources don't view Alexander or Lawson as worthy of going in the first round if they enter the 2016 NFL Draft.
Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun has been a known prospect ever since his sophomore season in 2013 when had a breakout year in the Big 10 with 7.5 sacks. As a junior, Calhoun had a slow start to the year before heating up in the second half. There was talk of him declaring for the draft, but he wisely decided to return to East Lansing for his senior year.
This season, Calhoun has played consistently well for Michigan State, and he has helped his draft stock with NFL teams. Last year, teams thought of him as a mid-second-day pick if he had declared early, and now teams believe that he could end up going in the first round.
Sources told us that they like Calhoun for a 4-3 defense. They say that they like his make-up, character and size. Sources said they would like to see more consistent effort from Calhoun, but the Spartans don't rotate him very much, and Calhoun could be pacing himself to play four quarters.
Some teams are grading Calhoun as an early second-round pick, but say they wouldn't be at all surprised if a team takes him late in the first round. Calhoun has a chance to improve his stock even more with a strong finish to the season and if he performs well at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. Calhoun was wise to return for his senior year and has improved his draft stock significantly this fall.
Heading into some games with top opponents like Ohio State and Michigan, Calhoun has eight sacks, 30 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and a pass batted on the season and is on pace to produce career highs for production.
The most dominant player in college football this year has been LSU running back Leonard Fournette. The power runner is the leader for the Heisman Trophy and has commanded the Tigers to an undefeated record heading into their showdown with Alabama this Saturday. Obviously, Fournette has to have good blocking into order to dominate defenses, and the player who has received the most acclaim on the LSU offensive line is right tackle Vadal Alexander. As a senior, Alexander moved from guard to right tackle and while many in the media project Alexander to be a first-round pick, top evaluators believe that Alexander will have to move to guard in the NFL.
The 6-foot-6, 342-pound Alexander was effective at guard in 2014, playing next to La'el Collins. With Collins moving on to the NFL, right tackle Jerald Hawkins went to the left side, with Alexander moving to the right edge. This season, Alexander has opened a lot of holes for Fournette and generally has been pretty good in pass protection, but there have been plays and games where he looked shaky against speed rushers. Sources say that with his feet, body type, and skill set, they expect a move to guard is going to be necessary. One senior scout told me that he felt that Alexander's weight was an issue that would need to be monitored steadily.
Perhaps Alexander can change that perception in the final stretch of his collegiate career. He certainly will see some good tests of defensive lineman. Alabama's Jonathan Allen has been a dangerous pass rusher this season, for instance. In the penultimate game of the regular season, Alexander will take on Ole Miss, with defensive linemen Robert Nkemdiche and edge rusher Marquis Haynes. To end the season, Alexander will see the Texas A&M dynamic duo of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. If he is lights out the final month of the season, more evaluators will consider him as a potential right tackle, but right now, teams see him as moving to guard in the NFL.
The NFL Draft has not offered a strong class of quarterbacks for teams to find their starters of the future over the past three years. The top quarterbacks in the 2013 (E.J. Manuel) and 2014 (Blake Bortles) classes were taken more out of default than them actually grading out as top signal-callers for the next level. The 2011 and 2012 drafts produced first-rounders and good starters on the second day of the draft like Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and Seattle's Russell Wilson.
Our sources in the NFL are starting to feel optimistic that 2016 could be more like 2011 and 2012 with a quality quarterback class that has depth. They hope that the optimism is realized when the final grades are amassed and there are a number of quarterbacks proving to be worthy of selections in the early rounds.
Among the senior prospects, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has first-round potential, and he isn't the only one whom evaluators are watching. Sources have said that some teams and scouts have taken a liking to North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. There are also scouts who really like North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
Over recent years, the strengths of drafts have come from the early entries skipping eligibility to enter the NFL, and that will be called on for the 2016 NFL Draft to produce a deep quarterback class. Cal quarterback Jared Goff has been hyped by the media all season, and Memphis junior Paxton Lynch has broken out as a pro prospect. Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State's Cardale Jones have had roller-coaster careers, and each could decide they're tired of waiting for things to work out in college and move on to the NFL.
After once being considered a future star, Hackenberg has turned into a love-or-hate prospect with many evaluators. One East Coast area scout told WalterFootball.com that he likes Brissett more than Hackenberg and believes Brissett will end up grading out higher. A strong finish to his junior year is critical for Hackenberg to have first-round hopes.
Another junior quarterback who has caught the eye of NFL evaluators is Kentucky's Patrick Towles. Sources say they really like Towles' (6-5, 240) physical skills for the NFL but are concerned about his anticipation and awareness. Of all the juniors, Towles may be the most likely to return for his senior year.
Even without Towles, this class the potential of seven signal callers grading out in the first three rounds with Cook, Wentz, Brissett, Goff, Lynch, Hackenberg and Jones. That's not including other senior quarterbacks like Stanford's Kevin Hogan or USC's Cody Kessler. With this amount of potential prospects, it gives some teams that are likely to be picking in the middle or late in the first round hope that while they may not get a quarterback in the first round, they will be able to come out of the draft with a quality signal-caller on the second day.
In speaking with sources, they say that at this time none of these players are as good of prospects as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota were last year. So while last April had more high-end talent, this year's class features a lot more depth. With a huge number of teams needing a franchise quarterback, this could be the draft they've been waiting for.
When Alabama lost star linebacker C.J. Mosley to the NFL, many thought that replacements Trey DePriest or Denzel Devall would be the players who would step up to be the headliner of the Crimson Tide defense. However, it was Reggie Ragland that took over in 2014 and has continued his excellent play this season. NFL evaluators are taking notice, and sources from multiple teams have told us that Ragland has turned himself into a coveted prospect.
Sources say that Ragland is not a special athlete, but he's just a really good football player. He has instincts and toughness, and he brings a real physical presence to the middle of the defense. Multiple teams said they felt that when the final draft boards are assembled, Ragland would be deemed worthy of a pick as a first-rounder in the back half. There are a number of teams that have taken a liking to Ragland, and if he stays consistent he could end up being a late first-round pick.
In 2014, his first season as an every down player, Ragland recorded 95 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, three passes broken up, one interception, one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks on the year. The 6-foot-2, 254-pounder was a physical in-the-box run defender who was perfectly suited to defending the running offenses of the SEC.
This year, Ragland has continued to perform well. In seven games he has 59 tackles with three passes breakups, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Ragland has shown versatility as he has rushed off the edge as a defensive end in obvious passing downs while also showing improved coverage skills in pass defense. He performed well against good receiving tight ends from Ole Miss (Evan Engram) and Arkansas (Hunter Henry).
In the early going of the 2016 NFL Draft process, one of the most hyped wide receiver prospects has been Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell. He was a top recruit coming out of high school, and he has been a three-year contributor for the Rebels. Many expect that Treadwell will skip his senior season and enter the 2016 draft, thus NFL teams are already gauging him for the next level. Sources say they like Treadwell as a prospect, but they have speed concerns, and right now, they aren't projecting him to grade out as a high first-rounder.
The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder is put together well with the ability to make contested catches over defensive backs. Treadwell uses his size and strength to out fight defenders for the ball, and he has also displayed good run after the catch skills. However, sources aren't convinced that Treadwell will be able to consistently separate from NFL cornerbacks, especially if he is drawing the No. 1 corner from the opposition.
Treadwell has 35 receptions for 510 yards and three touchdowns this season. He had a good game against Alabama (5-80-1), but really struggled to get separation against Florida and their secondary that is comprised of future NFL starters. Perhaps Treadwell isn't at full speed less than a year after the injury.
In what could be the final stretch of his college career, Treadwell has to show the ability to get separation running his routes. Otherwise Treadwell could be dogged by speed concerns throughout the draft process.
After a disappointing start to the season, the Miami Dolphins became the first team in the NFL to make a change in a key leadership position with the firing of head coach Joe Philbin. It seems very possible that general manager Dennis Hickey could be the next to go, as the Dolphins are in a situation where they need to clean house. The franchise has been missing a proven winning direction for years, and leadership looks necessary.
Less than two years ago, Hickey took the Dolphins general manager position after numerous other candidates turned it down. Sources with Tampa Bay had told WalterFootball.com that new Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith were going to let Hickey go, but prior to that, he fell into the Dolphins position.
Hickey had been leading the Bucs scouting department for a long time, and the lack of talent resulting from his poor drafts played a huge role in the firing of two general managers (Bruce Allen, Mark Dominik) and three head coaches (Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano). Now, a fourth can be added to that list with Philbin. Clearly, Miami needs a new direction in the organization, and it should look to a familiar face in Green Bay Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith.
Highsmith was a water boy for the Dolphins during the early 80s. He was close with Don Shula's family and went to high school with Mike Shula. Highsmith was a high school All-American in Miami and starred at the University of Miami before playing for the Oilers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. After his NFL playing days ended, Highsmith was a professional boxer and compiled a 27-1-1 record in his pugilist career.
Executives from around the league say that Highsmith has one of the best eyes for talent in the NFL and has played a massive role in assembling Green Bay's roster that has yielded a series of playoff appearances and Super Bowl Championship. Not only do they say that he has a great eye for talent, but he works tirelessly, and is especially good at scouting quarterbacks. Highsmith has played with and has been a part of teams with great quarterbacks going back to playing with Shula in high school. He was a teammate of Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde in college at the University of Miami. Highsmith played with Warren Moon and Troy Aikman in the NFL, while being part of Brett Favre's tenure in Green Bay and was part of the Green Bay drafting and developing Aaron Rodgers into the best quarterback in the league.
Highsmith has learned under some of the best general managers in the NFL over the past 15 years in Ron Wolf and Thompson, so he's ready to lead a franchise in the general manager position. He also learned from coaching greats in Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, and his father Walter Highsmith.
Highsmith was hired by then Packers Executive Vice President/General Manager Ron Wolf in 1999 to be a college scout for Green Bay. After serving as an area scout for many years, Highsmith was promoted to his current spot in 2012. Working closely with Thompson has given Highsmith a perfect position to prepare for running a franchise.
Sources say that Highsmith has a tremendous work ethic from his time as a player, professional boxer and area scout. Given his background, he works very well with NFL players and is able to identify with them. With his personal and organizational leadership skills, he can get a franchise working in one direction from the front office into the locker room. That is a huge necessity for the Dolphins franchise that has lacked structure and leadership. Everything he does at Green Bay is about winning as an organization, and sources believe he will build that kind of atmosphere for any team that hires him as their general manager.
Last offseason, the Redskins tried to hire Highsmith away, but they were blocked from doing so by Thompson. Highsmith is expected to be a candidate for other general manager openings, so if the Dolphins want to land Highsmith, they should move quickly to steal a top executive from one of the most successful franchises in the league. Bringing Highsmith back home to Miami would be the first step to resurrecting the once-proud franchise.
Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the most debated prospects in the draft. There's a real divide on how NFL sources viewed Hackenberg entering the season and how fans did. Sources see Hackenberg as a future first-rounder, while a lot of fans felt that Hackenberg had no business in the first round.
The highly recruited Hackenberg was a star as a freshman playing for Bill O'Brien. His sophomore season was ugly as Penn State's offense struggled for a variety of reasons under new head coach James Franklin. As a junior, the roller coaster has continued and that has had an impact on Hackenberg's draft stock. Some teams still see him as a first-rounder, while others don't think he belongs in the first round of the draft.
One general manager from a team that doesn't see Hackenberg as a first-rounder said that he is a statue in the pocket and has just average accuracy. Another issue that rubs some evaluators the wrong way is that Hackenberg reminds some of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in terms of his body language and the way teammates play uninspired around him.
Other teams that view him as a first-rounder see a skill set they like with the 6-foot-4, 234-pounder. They see that he played well with an NFL coach in O'Brien and can see why the situation in Penn State has been frustrating for Hackenberg since O'Brien left for the Texans. In 2013, he was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. One source said the following regarding Hackenberg and the first round:
"With quarterbacks all bets are off and it only takes one team to fall in love. We had a fourth-round grade on Christian Ponder, yet he went in the first. [Blaine] Gabbert was another. We didn't have a first-round grade on E.J. Manuel either. [Blake] Bortles wasn't a top of the draft prospect either. There are so many teams desperate for a quarterback that will be picking in the top 20 I could easily see someone taking him there. There are only so many guys that have that skill set and some coaches will feel they can fix him."
There is no doubt that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and there are a lot of franchises that are desperate to land one. That demand helps elevate Hackenberg, Ohio State's Cardale Jones, Michigan State's Connor Cook, and Cal's Jared Goff. There are so many divided opinions about Hackenberg, that this debate is going to rage on in scouting circles and with fans for many months to come.
Three years ago at this time, there was a buzz building in the scouting community around a little-known offensive lineman at Central Michigan named Eric Fisher. Fast forward to the 2013 NFL Draft, and Fisher was the No. 1 overall pick by the Kansas City Chiefs after a meteoric rise. In speaking with sources in the scouting community, there is a buzz building about Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis.
While scouts aren't saying that he will vault to the top of the draft like Fisher did, Davis could end up grading out on the second day of the draft like another Western Michigan product, Greg Jennings. Davis is said to be banged up, but is still producing as he has 18 receptions for 309 yards with three touchdowns. Last year, Davis was excellent with 78 catches for 1,408 yards and 15 touchdowns. He had quality production as a freshman as well (67-941-6).
Sources say the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Davis is long and athletic. He has impressed evaluators with good route-running, hands and deceptive speed. He also has gotten some good preparation for the NFL with head coach P.J. Fleck. Fleck was a wide receivers coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2012 before taking the head job at Western Michigan.
Davis could return for his senior year, but teams are watching him thinking he could easily be in the 2016 NFL Draft. With his skill set and production, Davis' stock is on the rise with NFL evaluators.
In recent years, it has been hard for running backs to grade out as first-round picks. Even talented young impact runners like the Packers' Eddie Lacy and Bengals' Jeremy Hill fell to the second round because the trend in the pass-driven NFL has gone away from taking running backs in the first round. That streak was broken by Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, and our NFL sources have told us that running backs should make it to Thursday night two years in a row, thanks to Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott was the workhorse of Ohio State's national championship team last year and has picked up where he left off. In two games, Elliott has averaged 5.9 yards per carry for 223 yards and four touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder has a serious burst to the hole, is a strong runner, and happens to be very elusive. Sources say that Elliott is going to grade out as a first-rounder as long as he stays healthy and maintains his terrific level of play. They like his overall skill set and versatility.
With Ohio State fielding a lot of talent on the offensive line, in the receiving corps, and at quarterback, Elliott looks likely to stay consistent with the tear that he has been on.
Check out where I have him in my mock draft.
Texas A&M has been a factory for offensive line talent in the last three NFL drafts with three tackles being selected as top 25 picks. Their top offensive line prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft is right tackle Germain Ifedi, and some pundits have said they think that Ifedi could end up being a first-round pick. Sources, however, told us that they view Ifedi as more of a guard for the NFL.
The 6-foot-5, 320-pounder has been a reliable right tackle for the Aggies. They feel that his strength and athleticism are better fits for moving to the inside.
Sources also feel that Texas A&M offensive linemen haven't been developed to be as physical as necessary in the NFL, so that impacts Ifedi's evaluation. Jacksonville's Luke Joeckel was the second-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, but he has struggled by getting out muscled. Jake Matthews, seventh-overall in 2014, is expected to be better. While Cincinnati's Cedric Ogbuehi, the Bengals first-round pick this year, entered the league needing to get stronger. Because of the up-tempo offense the Aggies run, their offensive line hasn't been coached up to finish off defenders and get physical. Sources say that Ifedi has more nastiness to him than the three recent draft picks, but it still is something he will have to build on for the next level.
Ifedi hasn't been given a round grade yet, but their early estimate is he could end up being a day-two prospect. Sources say it's too early to grade, and cite Laken Tomlinson as an example of the evolving process. Early in 2014, some teams had him on day three. He finished the year strong and had moved up to day two. Most teams had him graded on the second day, but the Lions drafted Tomlinson in the first round.
If Ifedi has a strong 2015 season and changes some minds about staying at right tackle versus moving to guard, that could help his draft grade.
One of the most acclaimed freshman in the country during the 2013 season was Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. He hauled in 14 passes for 269 yards (19.2 average) with two touchdowns. The 6-foot-6, 237-pound Howard flashed a ton of potential to be a NFL receiving tight end with speed and athleticism. Many felt that Howard was just scratching the surface of his potential.
As a sophomore, Howard had a disappointing season with only 17 receptions for 260 yards. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin proved at USC with Robert Woods and Marqise Lee that he settles on one receiver and struggles to call plays for anyone else regardless of their talent or mismatch potential. Last year in Alabama, that receiver was Amari Cooper. Still, sources felt that Howard didn't play up to his potential and didn't receive as much playing time as one would have thought.
NFL scouts we've spoken to say that they like Howard's potential for the next level, but they want him to show improvement as a junior. Sources say that Howard is a sloppy route-runner and needs to improve his blocking, but he is an intriguing athlete who could be a dynamic receiving tight end. They feel that his game is very similar to Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas. After a few years as a backup, Thomas broke out for the Broncos after refining his game.
Sources said that Howard looks like he gained some weight over the offseason and has worked to improve his run blocking. If Howard shows three-down ability while being a better blocker and route-runner, his stock could rise significantly for the 2016 NFL Draft.
The NFL is a quarterback-driven business, and there aren't 32 good starters to fill the need for every team. Thus every year, there are teams that are desperate for a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft. That lack of supply with great demand has led the league to searching far and wide for good quarterback prospects, with some evaluators forcing traits in prospects who just aren't there (see Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder).
One quarterback who hasn't made a good impression on sources heading into his senior year is Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. Sources from a few different teams compared him to Eagles quarterback Tim Tebow, and one high-ranking scout referred to Prescott as, "Tebow 2.0."
It is obvious that there are a lot of similarities between Tebow and Prescott. For starters, Prescott plays under Dan Mullen in the same offense that Tebow did at Florida. Mullen was the Gators' offensive coordinator for Tebow's first three collegiate seasons. Aside from executing the same plays, Prescott (6-2, 230) is built like Tebow, and they both are running quarterbacks. Some sources say that Prescott is a better passer than Tebow was in college, but they still don't regard Prescott as a first-round prospect.
Prescott completed 61 percent of his passes in 2014 for 3,449 yards with 27 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry for 986 yards with 14 scores on the ground. His passing was improved early in the season, but in order to break out of the Tebow comparison, Prescott will have to show huge strides as an accurate pocket passer during his senior year. Right now, sources see Prescott more as a mid-round prospect at best.
Over the past two drafts, the talent at the wide receiver position has been extremely strong. A number of rookies took the league by storm last year, and the 2015 draft class featured six receivers selected in the first round. The 2016 NFL Draft also has the potential to be strong at receiver, however we've learned that two prospects that have impressed NFL evaluators come with some off-the-field concerns. Those players are Auburn's Duke Williams and Florida's Demarcus Robinson.
Of the two players, Williams has real character concerns that have manifested themselves in the form of suspensions. Williams was suspended from Auburn's bowl game and he wasn't allowed to practice this month because of a disciplinary issue. NFL teams say that Williams has character concerns that will need to be vetted before the draft.
The off-the-field concerns with Robinson were said to be minor. The teams we spoke to feel that he comes from a background that was perhaps lacking in structure, and Robinson is in need of guidance to stay on the right track. They say that Robinson loves football and has developed into an excellent route runner despite Florida having major problems at the wide receiver coaching position; it was occupied by coaching interns in two of the last three seasons. Sources feel that Robinson may need some around-the-clock supervision for a time, but he isn't a bad apple by any means.
As players, sources say they both have early-round potential. Neither one is a burner, but they are both tough receivers with quality size. In order to ensure they end up being early-round picks, they will have to ease off-the-field concerns during the 2015 season and in the lead up to the draft.
While NFL evaluators haven't been able to see Florida State's Jalen Ramsey play any games as a junior at cornerback, they've already been to Seminole practices and are gauging how Ramsey is handling his new position. As a sophomore, Ramsey was one of the best safeties in college football and was perhaps the best player on Florida State's defense, which was comprised of tons of NFL talent.
In the wake of Florida State losing starting cornerbacks Ronald Darby and P.J. Williams to the NFL, Ramsey has moved to cornerback. After watching Ramsey in training camp practices, our sources prefer him at safety for the NFL, but that could change over the course of the 2015 season.
As a safety, scouts think that Ramsey is a special athlete and a very good NFL prospect. They say that he is about 6-foot tall but has the arm length of a player who is 6-4 or 6-5. They say that makes him a valuable commodity to matchup against receiving tight ends. Scouts also love his awareness and instincts as a safety with the ability to make big plays in pass coverage or as a blitzer. They like Ramsey's ball skills and ability to tackle. Overall, Ramsey's 2014 tape was very impressive, and they love his potential as a starting safety in the NFL.
In terms of the cornerback position, they feel Ramsay would have an appeal to teams like the Seahawks or teams wanting to copycat Seattle's style of corners. Sources say that at cornerback, Ramsey isn't as rare or as special of an athlete as he is at safety. They will be watching him closely to see how he fares in coverage on receivers, and perhaps then, Ramsey can win over some skeptics.
The secondary was the strength of Florida State's defense in 2014, and the Seminoles are counting on Ramsey to be adequately replace Darby or Williams. The Florida State staff moved offensive lineman Cameron Erving from left tackle to center midway through the season, so Ramsey going back to safety is always a possibility. One shouldn't be surprised if there is a significant amount of NFL teams that prefer him at safety.
Entering the 2015 college football season, one of the most hyped prospects is Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. Some in the media are already rating Bosa as the No. 1 prospect for the 2016 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-6, 275-pounder produced 13.5 sacks and four forced fumbles to help the Buckeyes win the National Championship last season. The media went overboard, giving Bosa a ton of hype and comparing him to Houston Texans' superstar J.J. Watt.
In speaking with a few general managers and scouts, however, we've learned that NFL teams feel that Bosa is a good prospect, but they don't necessarily see him as a No. 1 overall-caliber prospect, and they feel he is more comparable to the Washington Redskins' Ryan Kerrigan.
One scouting director said that in a strong draft year like the 2014 class, Bosa would be a pick in the 5-7 range after rare prospects like Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson, Khalil Mack and Sammy Watkins. In a weaker year like 2015, they say if Bosa would have been able to come out, they believe he would have been the third-overall pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars. They think that Bosa is a better prospect than Dante Fowler, whom the Jaguars took, Leonard Williams (6th overall to the Jets), or Vic Beasley (8th overall to Atlanta). That scouting director said that how highly Bosa gets drafted depends a lot on the other players in the draft and the quarterbacks, especially.
As far as Watt goes, our sources said that isn't a good comparison, as Watt is about 25 pounds heavier and is a different type of player. That scouting director said he sees a lot of Ryan Kerrigan when watching Bosa, as they are both good pass rushers and run-down defenders. Another general manager said that the Kerrigan comparison is very adept, and they see similarities between the two. However, another general manager said as players they are similar, but Kerrigan has been a high-character individual since college, and teams have concerns about Bosa in light of his suspension for the season opener.
One scout said that he didn't see Bosa as a top-of-the-draft talent and brought up how Watt went 11th-overall in 2011, while Kerrigan was the 16th-overall pick. Thus, Bosa enters his junior year as a heavy favorite to be a top-10 pick, but NFL evaluators do not believe he is as elite as the media hype suggests.
The 2015 season is a critical year for Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel to get his career straightened out. After a nightmare rookie campaign, Manziel checked into a rehab facility to start the offseason. After returning to OTAs, Manziel has continued to try and get his career back on track during the vacation time players have before training camp. Sources have told us that Manziel spent a few days of the week of July 20 in Tampa, working with former Raiders and Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden.
Gruden took a liking to Manziel before the 2014 NFL Draft and was effusive in his praise of Manziel. Thus, Gruden is also motivated to help Manziel to get straightened out.
Aside from Manziel, Gruden has worked with other quarterbacks in need of help. Last year, veteran quarterback Josh Freeman was out of the NFL, and he spent time with Gruden. With Freeman, Gruden mostly worked in the film room, and Freeman did some work with other coaches like Terry Shea on throwing mechanics. By the sound of it, Manziel had some combination of that as well with the ESPN Monday Night Football analyst.
While the Browns don't know how Manziel will pan out in the NFL, at least they can be happy that he spent some his final days before training camp working on getting better with a quarterback guru instead of partying like he did before his rookie season.
The Ohio State quarterback competition is the most anticipated story of the 2015 college football preseason. While college football fans are eagerly awaiting a starter to be named, the NFL scouting community is also on the edge of its seat, hoping that their preferred candidate wins the job. That player is junior Cardale Jones.
The NFL wants to see Jones play because it really liked what it saw in the small sample size from the end of last season.
Jones completed 61 percent of his passes for 860 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions. He came up with some clutch passes in crunch time to lead Ohio State in those wins. Adding in that he has a firehose for an arm at 6-foot-5, 250-pounds, the traits are there to get NFL evaluators excited for his potential as a pocket passer. We spoke with college scouts from numerous teams about what they saw in Jones.
Sources from some teams said they did some preliminary work on Jones because he could have declared for the 2015 NFL Draft. They said that from that initial work, there is a lot they really like about Jones. They said that Jones has rare physical talent and ability to do anything an NFL team could ask of their quarterbacks.
One source said that Jones reminds them of a less-mobile and athletic version of Cam Newton. Both are massive quarterbacks who are hard to get down and also possess the power to run over defenders. They also have devastating cannons for right arms. Jones has rare arm strength, and it makes sense why Jones' nickname is "12 gauge." His shotgun can make any throw to any location on the field that the NFL asks of quarterbacks. From the small sample size, Jones showed the ability to function as a pocket passer and distribute the ball downfield.
While Jones isn't a runner like Newton, league contacts say that they like what he can do with his feet. He can pick up yards on the ground when plays break down. He has more quickness and athleticism than one would think. He is tough to bring down in the pocket and when he takes off downfield. His mobility and running only add to how he can hurt defenses.
A few sources said they have questions about Jones' maturity and football I.Q. They hope those concerns will be put to rest by him winning the starting quarterback job and handling that role without any off-the-field issues. Sources did say they've heard that Jones is a good teammate and players gravitate towards him. They believe he has leadership potential.
One scouting director said they like Jones. He described him as, "Big, strong-armed kid, but has enough athletic ability and strength in the pocket. Vertical type passer ... Cardale, is immature as a person, but if he checks out and wins the job, he has a chance to go high. Probably better than [Blake] Bortles if he plays like he did in the last three games."
Bortles was the third-overall pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the 2014 NFL Draft. Sources from two other teams agreed that Jones would be a better prospect than Bortles if he played an entire season like he did in the final three games. Thus, sources from around the league see Jones as a first-round talent with the potential to go high on Thursday night in 2016, and they hope to see him get the opportunity to prove that.
Many around the league were surprised when Doug Marrone opted out of his contract as the head coach of the Buffalo Bills. It was seen as an embarrassing moment for a Bills franchise that hasn't been to the playoffs since the Music City Miracle at the end of the 1999 season. It seemed like an even more head-scratching decision for Marrone, as he ended up taking the Jaguars' vacant position for an offensive line coach. He interviewed for other head coaching positions, but it is a serious step-down for Marrone to not even land an offensive coordinator job.
According to multiple sources, Marrone resigned from the Bills because he believed that he would be named the New York Jets' head coach to replace Rex Ryan, who ironically took Marrone's former position as the Bills' head coach.
Sources say Marrone thought he was a shoe-in for the Jets' job because of a close relationship with new Jets' general manager Mike Maccagnan, dating back to the early 1990s. Marrone was said to want the Jets' job more than the Bills' job because of a more certain organizational direction with stable ownership and a new front office in New York that would have some time to work on the team. He also is from the Bronx and had familiarity with New York's roster from going against the Jets the past two years. When Marrone was passed over by the Jets, he tried unsuccessfully to land the Falcons and Bears' head-coaching positions before taking the job with the Jaguars to avoid being out of the NFL in 2015.
Some league sources think Marrone is aiming for Gus Bradley's job as the Jaguars' head coach and is hoping to be the choice to replace Bradley if there is a change during or after the 2015 season. According to sources, Bradley seems to be on more firm footing in Jacksonville, but needs to show improvement with the Jaguars, though he isn't expected to make a push into the post-season. Thus, it wouldn't be surprising if Marrone is jockeying to land a different head-coaching job next offseason.
After taking Dante Fowler in the first round, the emphasis of the
Jacksonville Jaguars' draft became adding talent around second-year
quarterback Blake Bortles. Jacksonville general manager David
Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley are entering a critical year
in their tenure, with everything riding on Bortles panning out. The
Jaguars drafted two receivers with Bortles in the 2014 draft, but
despite having those young wideouts, sources say the Jaguars came
close to pulling the trigger on Arizona State wide receiver Jaelen
Strong with their third-round pick.
Ultimately, sources said the Jaguars felt that the offensive line
needed more talent and competition. Thus, they took South Carolina
guard A.J. Cann. Former Bronco Zane Beadles was a disappointment
in his first season in Jacksonville, and the front office felt that Cann could
push Beadles. Judging by the sounds of it, Jacksonville had Strong
graded higher than Cann, but after Bortles took a beating in his
first year, the offensive line need won out over taking another
Strong was a major possibility despite the fact that the Jaguars took Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson in the second
round of the 2014 draft. Sources say the team is very excited
about Robinson and envision him being their No. 1 receiver. They
say that the 6-foot-3, 210-pounder Robinson has the chance to be a
special player in the NFL. They also told us that Lee has flashed at
times, but injuries have held him back along with some
homesickness for Los Angeles. Jacksonville also found a steal with
undrafted free agent Allen Hurns who had 51 receptions for 677
yards and six touchdowns as a rookie. Jacksonville envisions that
trio being their top three receivers in 2015.
Jacksonville liked Strong a lot, and it came close to adding him
to its mix. The team would have preferred not to see Strong land
with a division rival as he did with the Texans, but sources say
the Jaguars like how Cann practiced and they feel that their
offense got a lot better this offseason with additions to the
offensive line and running backs, as well as the development of their young
Over the past couple of years, the supplemental draft hasn't offered the NFL much talent. The previous major prospect to be taken in the supplemental draft was Baylor wide receiver Josh Gordon in 2012. Clemson left tackle Isaiah Battle is hoping to change that this year, as he decided to enter this summer's supplemental draft because of the birth of his child this summer. There have been rumors of off-the-field issues concerning Battle, and we did some digging with team sources to find out what round they were projecting Battle to go and how their character evaluations came back on him.
The off-the-field issues will definitely hurt the round value on where teams will draft him. According to sources, Battle had a couple of failed drug tests at Clemson. He had a citation for marijuana this year when it was found on him after being pulled over speeding. League contacts say that Battle also has some anger-management issues, and they don't feel he is all that coachable.
Our sources told us that if Battle happened to be in a normal draft class, and didn't have any character concerns, he would grade out as a third-round pick from his tape. They like Battle's length, athleticism and balance as a pass/blocker. They feel that the 6-7, 290-pounder needs some work, but he has the ability to develop into a starting left tackle in the NFL. Early on, he probably should be developed as a backup and serve as a swing tackle on game days.
In the supplemental draft, teams generally move the grade down a round from that number. Then, the off-the-field issues are factored into the grade, and that will vary by team. From speaking with sources, it sounds like Battle can expect to be selected by a team likely using a fourth- or fifth-round pick.
Many have stated that the Dallas Cowboys came away with three first-round picks from the 2015 NFL Draft. After taking UConn cornerback Byron Jones in the first round, the Cowboys selected Nebraska pass-rusher Randy Gregory in the second frame after he fell out of the first because of off-the-field concerns and a positive drug test. After the draft, Dallas signed a consensus first-rounder in LSU left tackle La'el Collins. Collins went undrafted because he was being interviewed by police regarding a murder investigation.
While the media has given the Cowboys draft a lot of praise, sources we spoke to say they wouldn't agree that the Cowboys came away with three first-rounders. A handful of teams told us that they all had Byron Jones graded as a second-round pick.
One team that took a defensive back in the top 20 said that Jones went in the first round because he was a workout warrior at the Combine and his pro day. They said that his game tape didn't yield a first-round grade from them. Another team that selected a defensive back in the first round told us that they had a high second-round grade on Jones. A few other teams said they had a second-round grade on Jones as well.
While Jones was graded as a second-rounder by many teams, that doesn't necessarily mean that the Cowboys reached on him late in the first round. Teams didn't have a full 32 first-round grades overall, so it was unavoidable that some players with second-round grades were going to go in the first round. According to many teams, Jones was one of those players.
One of the surprise picks of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft was the Detroit Lions' selection of guard Laken Tomlinson. The Lions traded back with the Denver Broncos and acquired another interior lineman in Manny Ramirez to pair with Tomlinson for a revamped interior offensive line. Most projections had Tomlinson going on the second day of the draft, so hearing his name called on Thursday night surprised some organizations. After speaking to sources from teams across the league, we learned that there was some variety in grades for Tomlinson. Some teams saw the Tomlinson pick as a major reach, while others felt that draft slot was appropriate.
One team that was considering interior offensive line help early in the draft they had a third-round grade on Tomlinson. They viewed him as a power right guard. Sources from one of the Lions' divisional rivals said they had a second-round grade on Tomlinson. So to those teams, Tomlinson was a reach in the first round.
Another team that addressed the offensive line in the first round said they had Tomlinson in the 25-35 range on their draft board, and that is in line with where the Lions took him at No. 28. Another franchise that hit the offensive line hard after the first day said they had a second-round grade on Tomlinson and projected him to go in the 25-45 range. So for these two teams, Tomlinson wasn't a real reach and was in line with where they projected him.
The 6-foot-3, 323-pounder could form one of the best young guard tandems in the NFL with Larry Warford. Tomlinson, Ramirez and Warford could make a big difference for the Lions' ground game that struggled in 2014. With second-round pick Ameer Abdullah taking over at running back for Reggie Bush, Detroit looks poised to improve on its rushing attack that was ranked 28th last season.
Some of the picks that received the largest amount of questions and were said to be huge reaches in the 2015 NFL Draft came from the New England Patriots. Sources told us that after the Malcom Brown pick, the Patriots ran out of draftable players before their second selection. That is why New England started to take players that weren't necessarily in the round that most teams graded them.
Sources say that the Patriots only had 15-20 players they viewed as good fits for their team. Obviously, the defending champions have a veteran roster without a lot of needs, and as a result, they only had a small amount of players whom they felt could truly fill a role on game day. Sources said that after the Patriots selected Brown, the remaining players in their draft pool were all gone by the time the team was set to pick at the end of the second round. As a result, league contacts said that caused head coach Bill Belichick to "wing it" from then on, and he took players that he liked the most.
That helps to explain New England's second-round pick of Stanford safety Jordan Richards who had graded out as a day-three pick elsewhere. In the third round, the Patriots took another day-three talent in Oklahoma outside linebacker Geneo Grissom. Sources say that fourth-round picks of defensive end Trey Flowers and guard Tre Jackson were better, but the rest of New England's picks could be hard-pressed to make the roster. The Patriots also selected a long-snapper in the fifth round.
Teams from around the league approach the draft in a different manner. New England had a pool of 15-20 players that quickly evaporated, and as a result, it shouldn't be a surprise if Patriots don't get a whole lot from their 2015 draft class.
Entering the 2015 NFL Draft, one of the popular projections for the Pittsburgh Steelers was having them take a cornerback in the first round. It made sense, as corner has been a need position for years. Many were projecting the Steelers to take Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, but Johnson didn't make to Pittsburgh pick after he was snatched up by the Texans at No. 16. Pittsburgh ended up taking Kentucky outside linebacker Bud Dupree with the 22nd-overall selection to help upgrade their pass rush. While the Steelers didn't take a corner in the first round, it wasn't from a lack of trying. Sources from around the league told us that the Steelers were calling teams to see about a trade, and their target was Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes.
Pittsburgh was calling teams to gauge what it would take to get them to move down. The Steelers weren't willing to give up a huge amount of picks, and Waynes ended up going to the Vikings with the 11th-overall pick. Moving into the top 10 was too costly for the Steelers. Leading up to the draft ,they were calling teams to prepare a potential move, but with Waynes not sliding into the teens, Pittsburgh was never close to accomplishing a trade.
The Steelers ended up selecting Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson in the second round. Sources say that Golson projects as a nickel corner, and they feel that Pittsburgh will still be looking for some starting outside corners next year. The 5-foot-8 Golson doesn't project as a corner who can match up against Cincinnati's A.J. Green (6-4, 207), given Green's height advantage. Fourth-round pick Doran Grant (5-10, 200) could also compete for playing time for the Steelers, but he isn't the tall length corner that the Steelers were targeting in the first round with Waynes (6-0, 186) or Johnson (6-0, 188).
The Steelers have received a lot of praise for landing Dupree at No. 22m as many projected Dupree to go in the top half of the first round. However, Pittsburgh's plan A was moving up to get Waynes.
With the 2015 NFL Draft only hours away, there are rampant rumors running around the league. In reaching out to sources, here are some recent rumors worth mentioning.
Even worse than the timing of Shane Ray's arrest is the off-the-field issue with LSU offensive tackle La'el Collins. He left the draft in Chicago to meet with police in Louisiana regarding the murder investigation of a pregnant woman. We reached out to league sources, and one general manager said they thought Collins wouldn't go in the first round unless this is completely cleared up before the draft starts on Thursday night. He may ultimately be cleared of any involvement, but no team can gamble that their first-round pick could be arrested for murder. Thus, Collins could easily slide in the 2015 NFL Draft.
In the final days leading up to the draft, many have been projecting the Houston Texans to take Nelson Agholor or Breshad Perriman with the 16th-overall pick. The reasoning is understandable, as Houston moved on from franchise great Andre Johnson this offseason, and they need a No. 1 receiver. However, sources say they don't see the Texans taking Agholor or Perriman at pick 16. Those two players would be options if the team moved down, but if Houston remains at 16, Perriman or Agholor won't be in the running for the pick.
In the lead up to the draft, we were the first to report a lot of news about pre-draft visits that were being taken by Clemson edge rusher Vic Beasley. Those same sources had some interesting things to say about Beasley on the eve of the draft.
It doesn't sound like Beasley is in play for the Jaguars with the third-overall pick, like some have projected. Beasley to the Redskins at pick five also sounds unlikely. Sources say that Beasley's most likely landing spots are to the Jets, Bears and Falcons. That trio is selecting 6-8. All three are said to be seriously in play. Beasley's hope is to play for the Falcons, but he thinks his new home could easily be in New York or Chicago.
UConn cornerback Byron Jones wasn't a highly discussed prospect before the Combine when he jumped out of the gym. His amazing vertical and broad jump sent a charge into his draft stock and the workout warrior followed it up by running very fast at his pro day. Sources told us that Jones played well in his college career, but his tape wasn't overwhelming. Specifically, he looks stiff in man coverage. Without the great workouts, they don't think that Jones would be in the discussion for the first-round based on his tape alone. Sources believe that Jones has a good shot of going in the first round and is likely to go in the 30s if he isn't a Thursday night pick.
Last year, the Saints were rumored to be hot for wide receiver Brandin Cooks, trading up in the first round to land him. This year, there are rumors going around that the Saints are after Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson. Corner was a big weakness for New Orleans last year, and most teams expect Johnson to be selected in the early teens.
With the 2015 NFL Draft only hours away, there are rampant rumors running around the league. In reaching out to sources, here are some recent rumors worth mentioning.
There has been a lot of recent buzz regarding Stanford offensive tackle Andrus Peat. We spoke with a team picking in the top five that has Peat as their No. 1-rated offensive lineman. They say that they won't take Peat unless they were to trade down and he was the best player available, but they still rate Peat ahead of Iowa's Brandon Scherff. Scherff has been the consensus top offensive lineman in the draft and viewed as the favorite to be the first one selected. That could still be the case, but there is a lot of buzz about Peat going in the top half of the first round, and he could easily go in the top 10 to the Giants or Rams at picks nine and 10, respectively.
Alabama safety Landon Collins is going to be an interesting player to watch on Thursday night, and maybe even Friday night. Sources from a variety of teams told us that Collins has a wide range of where he could come off the board. We knows some teams picking in the teens that have Collins in consideration for their pick, but if those franchises pass, they think that Collins could really slide. He might go late in the first, but it isn't out of the question that he'll slip out of the first round, according to some sources. Some think he still is most likely to be a late first-rounder. Thus, there is a very wide range for him going from pick 16 into the 30s and approaching 40. Collins could be in store for a great night or a long night.
In terms of getting feedback from general managers for my final mock draft, one interesting recommendation was to have Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson going off the board in picks 9-16. Their team had Johnson rated second behind Michigan State's Trae Waynes. They thought that Waynes would go somewhere in the top 12 and that Johnson will be up next to a team that wants cornerback help. There is a quiet buzz around Johnson in talking with teams. We know other teams picking in the teens that have Johnson in the mix for their selection. He could go higher than many expect on Thursday night.
Oklahoma nose tackle Jordan Phillips has a shot at being a late first-round pick, as there are a number of teams picking in the 20s that could take him. That group includes the Lions, Ravens, Broncos, Packers and Patriots. Sources think that Broncos are a team to keep an eye on. They lost Terrence Knighton in free agency and could use a nose tackle for Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense.
The Packers are also a landing spot for Phillips, as they aren't locked in to B.J. Raji and Letroy Guion. The Patriots need a replacement for Vince Wilfork, and the Ravens have to replace Haloti Ngata. The Lions traded for Ngata to plug the hole filled by Ndamukong Suh, but they need another tackle to make up for the loss of Nick Fairley. Phillips and Florida State nose tackle Eddie Goldman could be in high demand. If Phillips slips out of the first round, he should go quickly in the second.
With the 2015 NFL Draft only days away, there are rampant rumors running around the league. In reaching out to sources, here are some recent rumors worth mentioning.
A player who has really risen in the back portion of the lead up to the draft is Alabama's T.J. Yeldon. There are many teams that are rating him third behind Georgia's Todd Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon. Numerous teams have told us that they view Yeldon as one of three backs who is truly explosive and also presents true three-down ability. Some teams are hoping that Yeldon gets to them in the second round, but they think there is a chance that Yeldon goes late in the first. The Dallas Cowboys are one potential landing spot, but there are other teams picking late in the first that could consider a running back. Teams also think that a team could trade back into the first round from the top of the second for Yeldon. That would add another year to his rookie contract and that could be very valuable given the way running backs age in the NFL.
Sources told us that two teams that could be looking to land Yeldon early in the second round are the Jaguars and the Jets. The Jaguars need a feature running back, and Yeldon is liked in Jacksonville. Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan is said to really like Yeldon and feels he could be an Arian Foster-type runner. Maccagnan came from the Texans and knows that an elite runner can help compensate for weakness at quarterback. Our sources said that it would be surprising if Yeldon got past the Jaguars or Jets at the top of the second round.
Yeldon isn't the only back who is generating buzz about teams trading up for him. Todd Gurley is the star running back of the draft, and in speaking with teams selecting in the middle of the first round, they said they could see a team picking late in the teens or in the early 20s moving up for Gurley. The Chargers are an obvious team to keep an eye on in this regard.
A running back prospect who has the potential to slide is Indiana's Tevin Coleman. Sources say that teams like Coleman as a player but they have some medical concerns about a condition that could impact his stamina. Some teams also aren't sure that he will be able to play in high altitude conditions like Denver. Similar conditions have affected other players like veteran safety Ryan Clark. Coleman is a talented back, but there is a possibility that he slides in day two.
Most projections have the Broncos going with an offensive linemen in the first round. It makes sense, as Denver lost Orlando Franklin in free agency and the line had some weak moments in 2014. They also need a rock-solid offensive line, as the Broncos are entirely dependent on Peyton Manning playing well next season. While offensive line has to be in play, sources say that generally Gary Kubiak preferred to get linemen later. He had the view that good offensive linemen could be found and developed from picks after the first round. In his time with the Texans, Houston only took one offensive lineman in the first round during his 8-year tenure. That player was Duane Brown in 2008.
Sources say that it shouldn't be a foregone conclusion that the Broncos go with an offensive lineman. They say that a defensive lineman or linebacker is also in the discussion for Denver.
With the 2015 NFL Draft only days away, there are rampant rumors running around the league. In reaching out to sources, here are some recent rumors worth mentioning.
Last year, we reported that the Rams were falling in love with Khalil Mack. It was true. The Rams loved Mack, but they felt the position value and the status of their roster dictated that Greg Robinson had to be the pick at No. 2 because they needed a long-term left tackle and already had good edge rushers. This year, there is a similar discussion with St. Louis. Sources say that they like some of the right tackle and offensive line prospects, but the Rams also love wide receiver DeVante Parker. In fact, St. Louis is one of the teams that feels there isn't much of a difference between Parker and West Virginia's Kevin White.
St. Louis really likes Parker, and he is definitely in play for their pick at 10. However, they still might elevate the need of the offensive line, as they have to get some help at right tackle and guard. Sources with the Rams say the four offensive linemen in play for their pick are Iowa's Brandon Scherff, Stanford's Andrus Peat, Miami's Ereck Flowers, and LSU's La'el Collins. The feeling I get is the Rams like Scherff and Peat the most among that group, but you never know for certain this time of year. It sounds like the Rams are in for a bit of a gut-wrenching decision with the 10th pick between Parker and one of those blockers.
Sources say that the Jets are open for business at pick six. General manager Mike Maccagnan loves to have lots of picks at his disposal and New York will be eager to field offers for the sixth pick. New York is hopeful that Amari Cooper or Kevin White will go before they are on the clock. That could create a need for a team to trade up to land the other receiver in front of the Bears.
Many are projecting the Jets to take Clemson edge rusher Vic Beasley if they stay at their pick. Surprisingly, New York did not host Beasley on a pre-draft visit. However, sources say not to read into that. The Jets held private meetings/work outs with Beasley, and they say he is in play for New York in the first round.
If the Jets trade down, the options for their pick are wide and varied. Sources say that Maccagnan is intrigued with Georgia running back Todd Gurley. They also have scouted the offensive tackles hard. Of course, they could draw on the depth of edge rushers and wide receivers. Don't be surprised if Maccagnan is willing to move down about 10 picks for a second-rounder.
One team that almost certainly won't be dealing with Maccagnan to move up is his former team, the Houston Texans. Sources say they have too many needs to give up a second-day pick and go get one of the top receivers to replace Andre Johnson. It sounds like the Texans are dead set on keeping their second- and third-rounder, so moving up appears very unlikely for Houston.
A few months ago, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu was in the running to be the top-ranked corner, but then he suffered a knee injury during bowl practice before Oregon's game against Florida State. It was said to be a torn ACL, but team sources I've spoken to say the knee injury was much worse and was along the lines of Marcus Lattimore or Willis McGahee's rather than a simple ACL tear like the one suffered by Georgia running back Todd Gurley or Texas A&M offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi.
Sources say that Ekpre-Olomu tore more than an ACL and there was a variety of damage done to his knee. At one point, there were some teams' medical staffs that were wondering if lingering effects of the injury would force Ekpre-Olomu to retire before every playing again, like Lattimore. However, recent checks have been more positive and teams feel that Ekpre-Olomu has a shot at playing again.
The injury is significant enough, however, that some teams are putting Ekpre-Olomu in their undrafted prospect group. A contact from one team thinks that Ekpre-Olomu could have a shot at going on day three of the draft like Lattimore did, but their team doesn't have a round grade on Ekpre-Olomu because of the medical report. They have Ekpre-Olomu as an undrafted free agent as well.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com that Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley and defensive end Tavaris Barnes took a pre-draft visit to the Washington Redskins. The Redskins hold the fifth-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, and many have projected them to take a pass-rusher after losing Brian Orakpo in free agency.
Beasley totaled 12 sacks, 33 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles in 2014. He was a pass-rushing terror, including excellent games against Florida State and South Carolina. After playing defensive end in college, Beasley's weight and run defense demand a position change to linebacker in the NFL. He could fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker. The 6-foot-2, 246-pound Beasley also would have the ability to play in a 4-3 scheme as a linebacker and situational defensive end. Redskins defensive coordinator Joe Barry has a history in the Tampa-2 and a 3-4 defense with the Chargers in recent years. Barry could use Beasley in a variety of ways.
Sources say that Barnes (6-3, 275) has a lot of physical talent, and they are hoping to land him on their roster. They feel he is a sleeper pick and was better than Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford, who saw more playing time. As a senior, Barnes had 19 tackles with three sacks, one forced fumble and five tackles for a loss in limited opportunities. Many teams have worked him out privately and shown heavy interest. That list includes San Francisco, Tampa Bay, New England, Arizona, Houston, Seattle, New Orleans, Tennessee, and now the Redskins.
In the Redskins' defense, Barnes could play a base defensive end in 4-3 packages with the ability to play some 3-4 defensive end or outside linebacker.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com that Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley will be taking a pre-draft visit to Jacksonville. The Jaguars are looking for an edge rusher, and Beasley could fit as the LEO linebacker in the Gus Bradley's 4-3 scheme. Many assume that the Jaguars are going to select Florida's Dante Flower Jr. in the first round, but Beasley could be in the running to go to Jacksonville with the third-overall pick.
Beasley totaled 12 sacks, 33 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles in 2014. He was a pass-rushing terror, including excellent games against Florida State and South Carolina. After playing defensive end in college, Beasley's weight and run defense demand a position change to linebacker in the NFL.
The 6-foot-2, 246-pound Beasley also would have the ability to play in a 4-3 scheme as a linebacker and situational defensive end. Sources told us that they feel that Beasley and Missouri's Shane Ray compare to the Seahawks Bruce Irvin. Bradley was the defensive coordinator of the Seahawks when they took Irvin in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The Jaguars addressed the defensive line in free agency by signing Jared Odrick to a big contract along with bringing back veterans Roy Miller, Tyson Alualu and Ziggy Hood. Sen'Derrick Marks played well in 2014, so the Jaguars have veterans on the defensive line and could use a young edge rusher to pair with them. Chris Clemons had eight sacks last season, but he turns 34 later this year.
The disaster of the Trent Richardson trade is still fresh in the minds of Colts fans, but despite that blunder, the Colts are giving consideration to using their 2015 first-round pick on a running back. Indianapolis signed veteran Frank Gore in free agency, but that isn't stopping the Colts from bringing in Georgia running back Todd Gurley on a pre-draft visit, according to sources.
Indianapolis has the 29th-overall pick in the first round, and in order to land Gurley, the Colts will probably have to trade up. Gurley is likely to be chosen in the middle of the first round, so Indianapolis would have to put a big package together in order to land him.
Gurley averaged 7.4 yards per carry in 2014 on his way to 911 yards with nine touchdowns. He also had 12 receptions for 57 yards before tearing his ACL in November against Auburn. The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Gurley is extremely fast, while also being very powerful. For more, check out our Todd Gurley Scouting Report.
Some of the players that take the most pre-draft visits before the NFL draft are those with off-the-field issues. Two first-round talents with concerns that are fitting in that mold are Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory and Washington cornerback Marcus Peters. Both players have the talent to be high first-rounders, but are visiting many teams because of their issues. One of them is the Houston Texans. Sources say that Gregory will visit the Texans before the draft and Peters visited Houston already.
Sources in Gregory's camp are hopeful that he still will go in the first round after the revelation that he failed the Combine drug test for marijuana. Beyond the positive drug test, teams have other concerns with Gregory off the field. They are worried that he could have some hurdles to overcome similar to Brandon Marshall early in his career, or other defenders like Aldon Smith and Daryl Washington.
Numerous teams are interested in meeting with Gregory to update his progress since the Combine and pro day. A general manager of a team picking late in the first round said that Gregory could slide in the 20s and there is the possibility he falls out of the first round. Another general manager thought that Gregory was too talented with too many teams needing a pass-rusher for him to slide out of the first. Gregory's camp wasn't definitive that he would go on Thursday night.
The Texans could consider an outside linebacker like Gregory, as Jadeveon Clowney is coming off a knee injury, Brooks Reed left in free agency, and Whitney Mercilus is entering the final year of his contract.
At cornerback, the Texans have a lot of money tied up in Johnathan Joseph and the recently re-signed Kareem Jackson. However, Joseph is aging and entering the late portion of his contract. Teams always need three cornerbacks, as the passing-driven NFL has defenses playing the nickel the majority of the time. Peters would give the Texans a trio of cornerbacks to help them defend the Colts' potent passing attack.
A few weeks ago, we surveyed five teams and three of them thought that Peters would slip out of the first round after getting kicked off of Washington's team last year. Sources from multiple teams said Peters didn't do all that well interviewing with teams, so the Texans having a shot at Peters in Round 2 could be remote, but possible.
At the very least, Houston is doing its due diligence on two very talented players that have serious question marks off the field.
Many are projecting the Tennessee Titans to select Marcus Mariota with the second-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Even though the Titans have some talented young receivers in Kendall Wright and Justin Hunter, they have been spending a lot of time with the top receiving prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft. Alabama's Amari Cooper, Central Florida's Breshad Perriman, West Virginia's Kevin White and Louisville's DeVante Parker have all had or are taking pre-draft visits to Tennessee. According to sources, Arizona State's Jaelen Strong can be added to the list, as he will take a pre-draft visit to the Titans.
After losing Nate Washington in free agency, Tennessee could use a third receiver. If the Titans draft Strong to join Wright and Hunter, that could give them a dangerous trio with mismatch size and speed. If the Titans trade down, Strong could be in play for Tennessee, but the more likely scenario is that Strong will be in consideration for Tennessee with the 33rd-overall pick to lead off the second round of the draft.
Strong had 82 receptions for 1,165 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. He's a big, physical receiver who surprised many with a 4.44 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.
For months, Walt and I have slotted Georgia running back Todd Gurley to the Texans in our mock drafts (click here for my mock or here for Walt's mock draft.) Many Houston fans have objected to the projection because the team already has an excellent running back in Arian Foster. However, per sources, Gurley will take a pre-draft visit to Houston. Teams are only allowed to host 30 non-local players on pre-draft visits, so the Texans bringing in Gurley is significant.
The Texans selecting Gurley at No. 16 overall makes sense in short-term and long-term planning of the team. Houston is likely to miss out on the top three wide receiver prospects, and there won't be an inside linebacker available worthy of the 16th-overall pick. Running back is a need for Houston, as its offense figures to be dependent on a potent rushing attack as the team enters the season with Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer as its starting quarterback.
Foster turns 29 during training camp and has had durability issues during his career, so adding another elite runner makes sense. Last year, he missed a few games and couldn't finish a few others and that played a significant role in the Texans just missing out on the playoffs despite Houston's weakness at quarterback. With a two-headed monster at running back and one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Texans could have enough around the quarterback to make a run into the playoffs.
If Foster were to go down in the preseason or in Week 2, for example, Houston's season would be in dire straits without another dynamic back to turn to. Gurley could extend the career and effectiveness of Foster by lessening his work load. In a couple of years, Gurley could replace Foster as the sole, primary runner.
Gurley averaged 7.4 yards per carry in 2014 on his way to 911 yards with nine touchdowns. He also made 12 receptions for 57 yards before tearing his ACL in November against Auburn. The 6-foot-1, 222-pound Gurley is extremely fast while also being very powerful. He will be busy in the final weeks before the draft as a number of teams will want to examine his knee and determine how far along he is in his rehab. Sources say that there are optimistic projections of Gurley being ready at the start of training camp, which is a fast recovery from an ACL. At least with Houston, Gurley wouldn't have pressure to come back too quickly with a veteran like Foster in place.
Sources have told us that Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley will be taking a pre-draft visit to Chicago.
The Bears have switched to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and Beasley could fit as an outside linebacker and pass rusher for Chicago. The past few seasons, the once-great Bears' defense has declined and has been a liability compared to a productive offense. Chicago has some outside linebackers for their 3-4 in Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, however Beasley could be their top player available when the Bears are on the clock and it may be too tempting for the Bears to pass on an impact pass rusher like Beasley.
Beasley totaled 12 sacks, 33 tackles, 21.5 tackles for a loss, three passes batted and three forced fumbles in 2014. He was a pass-rushing terror, posting excellent games against Florida State and South Carolina. After playing defensive end in college, Beasley's weight and run defense suggests he is due for a position change in the NFL.
Beasley (6-2, 246) also would have the ability to play in a 4-3 scheme like the kind that Bears' head coach John Fox utilized in Denver and Carolina. In that system, a good fit for Beasley would be in a similar style to Broncos' linebacker Von Miller, who was very productive for Fox.
Last week, we were the first to report that Miami left tackle Ereck Flowers was going to take pre-draft visits to the Buccaneers and Panthers. After Miami's pro day when a lot of executives were there to see Flowers and his teammates work out, more teams scheduled Flowers for pre-draft visits to their facilities. According to sources, those new additions to Flowers' travel schedule include the New York Jets, St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns and Indianapolis Colts.
New York is an interesting fit for Flowers. Left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson turns 32 next season and perhaps the Jets would like an upgrade at right tackle. Starter Breno Giacomini turns 30 next season and is not a big liability, but New York could do better. Sources say the Jets were grading Flowers in the mid-teens but may have moved him up in recent weeks after the Combine and pro day.
The Rams are an interesting match for Flowers with the 10th-overall pick. He could form a lethal duo of bookends with 2014's second-overall pick Greg Robinson. I have the Rams taking Flowers in my latest 2015 mock draft.
The Browns hold first-round picks at 12 and 19. Flowers could come in and start at right tackle. In time, the 20-year-old Flowers could develop into the heir apparent at left tackle when Joe Thomas concludes his great career.
The Colts would probably have to trade up from pick 29 to land Flowers. Sources say the Panthers are very interested in Flowers, who pick at 25. Indianapolis has allowed too many hits and pressures on Andrew Luck, and Flowers would be an upgrade at either tackle position.
A general manager from a playoff team texted me that at the end of the season, they had a first-round grade on Flowers. Last week, he said since then, they have moved him into the top 20 on their draft board. They believe he will go in the top 20 and that they won't have a shot at landing the Hurricane standout. Thus the Colts and Panthers will have to consider moving up if they are compelled to draft Flowers.
Sources say there are other teams that are bringing in Flowers for pre-draft visits, but they are keeping that confidential. Flowers also has had meetings and private workouts for the Saints, Falcons and Chargers, which is where Walt has them going in his 2015 NFL Mock Draft.
Florida State defensive tackle Mario Edwards has a natural combination of size and speed with a NFL pedigree from his father. However, Edwards never produced up to that skill set as a sophomore or junior with a total of 6.5 sacks and 72 tackles over those two seasons. Still, Edwards had a quality 2014 campaign with disruption at the point of attack. Sources at the All-Star games in January opined that his physical talent had him as a potential late first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
However, at the Combine, Edwards checked in at 6-foot-3, 279 pounds. It was believed that Edwards had played in or around 290 pounds in college, and even that weight is undersized for the NFL. It appears that Edwards dropped the weight to run faster at the Combine. and sources say that was a bad idea. While Edwards had a fast 40 at 4.84 seconds, team sources say that Edwards' weight loss caused them to lower his draft grade, as it hurts his fit in the NFL.
At 279 pounds, Edwards doesn't have the weight or the length to have a fit in a 3-4 defense. His weight is too low for a nose tackle, and he isn't tall or long enough to be a five-technique 3-4. That rules out a lot of teams.
The weight limitations also extend to a 4-3. He is too small to play a nose tackle and eat up blockers in the trenches. The sub-290 Edwards' only real fit comes as a three-technique in a 4-3. That limits the number of teams that Edwards could play for, as there aren't a lot of teams running a Tampa 2-type system that is predicated on a fast three-technique. Not all of the other 4-3 defenses that have some flexibility with occasionally inserting a three-technique necessarily have a need for that.
Team sources say that after the weight loss, they lowered Edwards' grade to the late second round. Perhaps Edwards will help himself by checking in heavier at the Florida State pro day and on pre-draft visits in April.
Miami left tackle Ereck Flowers is in the mix to be the first offensive tackle selected in the 2015 NFL Draft. Before the turn of the year, sources from multiple teams told us that Flowers had graded out as a first-round pick and that they could see him going in the top 20. With that being the case, a lot of teams are showing interest in Flowers as the draft approaches.
All four of the NFC South teams are showing significant interest. Sources have told us that Flowers will take pre-draft visits to visit the Buccaneers and Panthers. Carolina offensive line coach John Matsko flew to Miami to work out Flowers and take him to dinner recently. The Falcons are going to Miami for a private workout with Flowers, and the Saints will meet with Flowers before his pro day. The Bucs are coming to Miami to conduct a private workout with Flowers, and he will also go visit the team at One Buc Place.
Among other teams, Flowers will also have upcoming meetings with the Colts, Browns and Chargers in Miami. Flowers was extremely busy at the Combine, as had 28 meetings, and he has met or spoken with 31 teams thus far. Aside from Carolina and Tampa Bay, sources say that Flowers will have other pre-draft visits to NFL facilities. The 6-foot-6, 329-pounder is only 20 years old with a lot of upside to develop. He could hear his name called quickly on the opening night of the 2015 NFL Draft.
Every year in the NFL Draft, there are players who are first-round talents but end up falling because of off-the-field concerns. This year, one of those prospects is Washington cornerback Marcus Peters. He was enjoying a fine senior season before run-ins with the new Huskies' coaching staff led to him getting kicked off the team. Since then, Peters has been trying to convince NFL teams that his attitude issues are a thing of the past and he is worthy of being a first-round pick.
Multiple sources have told us that Peters did not interview well at the Combine and hasn't convinced teams that he truly has changed. There are still plenty of teams that are skeptical and a number of them have ruled Peters out as a prospect.
With that being the case, we surveyed teams to see if they believe that Peters will end up going in the first round of the draft. Two teams believe that a franchise will end up taking Peters in the first round, although they said their team would not draft Peters on Thursday night, and probably would not consider him on the second day, as they are set at the position.
Three teams told us that they believe that Peters will not go in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Two of those three teams could consider a cornerback on Thursday night. They think that Peters is going to slip to the second day of the draft, similarly to other troubled cornerback prospects like the Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu or the Rams' Janoris Jenkins.
It only takes one team to fall in love with the skill set, believe Peters that his problems are a thing of the past, and pull the trigger on him on Thursday night. But among five teams, the majority see him falling to the second day.
Early in the 2014 season, Missouri defensive end Markus Golden's play helped Shane Ray jump start his breakout year. Golden was on fire in September, making a lot of plays in the backfield before an injury robbed him of a lot of the middle portion of the season. Still, Golden recorded 10 sacks, 78 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, two passes batted and three forced fumbles as a senior.
Because of his pass-rushing production, there are some projections of Golden being a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. However, the 6-foot-2, 260-pounder didn't impress at the Senior Bowl, as he made the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. Golden looked more like a tweener and may not have a true position. As a result, teams feel that Golden is more likely to be a mid-rounder.
Sources we've spoken to say that Golden has a shot at sneaking into the late picks in the second round. However, he is more likely to be a third- or fourth-round pick. Other pass-rushers who have been similar that have gone in that range include Alex Okafor (2013) and Carl Bradford (2014). Golden would fit best as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL, as he doesn't have the size to play defensive end in a 4-3 and isn't the athlete to play outside linebacker in a 4-3.
Having said that, the NFL personnel we've spoken to aren't completely down on him. Some believe he'll be a nice value pick if he drops into the fourth round, considering his production at Missouri.
It would be a surprise if Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker made it to the middle of the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Even though Kevin White and Amari Cooper are expected to go before him, Parker is safely assumed to be a top-16 pick with receiver-needy teams like the Raiders, Bears, Vikings, Browns, 49ers, Dolphins and Texans all drafting in the top 16 selections. However, sources say that Parker is more of a second-round talent.
Sources from one team said Parker doesn't really run routes and is more of a downfield linear receiver. Another general manager said, "I don't see any special traits, but he's a good player though." Those teams graded Parker in the second round, but all of them say that he'll go much higher than Round 2.
Breshad Perriman, meanwhile, has gotten a lot of hype and has been mentioned as a potential first-round pick as well. We reached out to sources to see where teams are grading Perriman. They said that they think Perriman will probably end up going in the second round. One team has a third-round grade on Perriman, and they felt the first round was too rich.
Two of the surprise early entries into the 2015 NFL Draft were LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter and outside linebacker Kwon Alexander. Both players were expected to return for their senior years, and NFL evaluators have told us that both early-entrants should have gone back to LSU. Sources from multiple teams have said that Alexander and Hunter are grading out as mid-rounders.
Some pundits have projected Hunter to be an early-round selection, but teams aren't looking him at him there. Multiple teams told us that they have a fifth-round grade on Hunter. One team said they have a third-round grade on him. The 6-foot-5, 252-pounder ran quickly at the Combine, but he didn't produce much in college. Hunter notched only 1.5 sacks in 2014 alongside 73 tackles with 13 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and six passes batted. He will need to add weight to play defensive end in the NFL or he will have to move to outside linebacker.
Alexander was the opposite of Hunter. Multiple teams said they had a third-round grade on Alexander, while one team said it had a fifth-rounder for him. The teams that had the 6-foot-1, 227-pounder on Day 2 like the sideline-to-sideline speed that Alexander displayed in 2014 and at the Combine (4.55-second 40-yard dash). Like Hunter, Alexander could stand to add more muscle to his frame. However, Hunter had more production in his final season of college football with 90 tackles, 7.5 tackles for a loss, one pass broken up, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks.
Every year, underclassmen enter the NFL draft thinking they will be early-round picks and end up being disappointed. According to the NFL teams we spoke to, Alexander and Hunter will be the latest players to follow this trend.
In the Combine rumors from Thursday, Tony Pauline wrote the
following about Texans' edge rusher Jadeveon Clowney pertaining to his recovery from a microfracture surgery:
"I've spoken with a number of people since the Senior Bowl who have openly
said there is serious concern over Jadeveon Clowney's future. A variety of
opinions have come from numerous sources, including those close to the
Texans. I've heard everything from don't expect much from Clowney in 2015
to the belief he may struggle to ever regain full health from the microfracture
surgery. The reasoning for the latter is Clowney underwent the procedure at
an early age."
I spoke to sources inside the Texans' front office about this story, and they do
not feel concerned about Clowney's injury. The Texans
confidently believe that Clowney will recover and be the player he
was expected to be when they draft him. A source told me, "We fully
expect him to return and be an impactful player." At the East�West
Shrine and Senior Bowl, Texans' officials were confident that "JD"
would be fine and end up being a good player.
Houston doesn't mind the hate and doubt that is constantly coming
about Clowney. It has been a source of motivation for him, and they
say that Clowney has been diligent in his rehab. While agents and
other team officials might be whispering doubts, the Texans are
confident that Clowney will come back and make an impact.
I slotted Jadeveon Clowney to the No. 1 pick to the Texans in early December 2013 and didn't change it once. While many thought the team would move away from Clowney, I knew that Houston wanted Clowney.
This year, there is a similar situation with Tampa Bay and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. In mid-January, we wrote that the Buccaneers' initial preference was for Winston. Others, like ESPN's Pat Yasinskas and PewterReport.com have also had reports that Tampa Bay favored Winston over Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. After speaking with sources in Tampa Bay and around the league, we've learned that the Buccaneers' owners, the Glazers, are comfortable with Winston, and they are on board with the Buccaneers drafting him with the first-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Sources say that entering the interview process, the Glazers want Winston. If he doesn't do poorly in the interviews and stays out of trouble leading up to the draft, Winston will be the first pick. The Glazers have a huge desire for a franchise quarterback, and have wanted that asset for years. Some sources say that the Glazers believe that Winston is that caliber of quarterback, and they want him to lead a resurgence in Tampa Bay like he did at Florida State.
Throughout their tenure in owning the team, the Glazers have allowed the football staff to make the moves they felt would improve the team. They haven't been meddlesome owners who have dictated which players to draft or sign to contract extensions. Thus, they will back general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith.
We heard in January that the front office preferred Winston, and the Buccaneers have graded him ahead of other quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford when they came out of Auburn and Georgia respectively. Yasinskas reported that Smith and the coaching staff with new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter also favor Winston.
Judging by the comments of sources in Tampa Bay, at other teams, and in the local media, the organization is coalescing around Winston. Sources say that Winston has an impressive football I.Q., so that part of the interviews should go well for him. If Winston handles himself well and avoids trouble before the draft, he looks bound for Tampa Bay. Ownership is on board with Winston being the leader of the Bucs' ship.
It's not a rare occurrence that a once highly touted quarterback prospect falls past where he's projected to be selected. Last year, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater suffered that fate. The year before, it was Geno Smith and Matt Barkley sliding out of the first day. This trend dates back to other quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers or Brady Quinn, and many are inclined to think it will happen again.
This year, the rumors have started up that a slide could happen to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. However, we have reached out to sources from numerous teams, and they've told us that they don't believe that Mariota will slide. They feel he is very safe in the top 10. All of the teams said that Mariota has graded ahead of Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles, who was the third-overall pick last year, so Mariota should hear his name called quickly on draft day.
The 6-foot-4, 219-pound Mariota has an excellent athletic skill set with a strong arm, rare mobility, athleticism, and speed. Teams love him off the field. They value his work ethic, humility, desire to get better and locker room leadership. Mariota will need some grooming with his pocket passing, ability to work through progressions, presence under center, and accuracy. However, teams feel that he is at a similar level to Carolina's Cam Newton coming out of Auburn. With Mariota's work ethic, they feel he can be taught how to fix those issues like Newton or San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick.
Every team said that Mariota has graded ahead of Bortles. One team picking in the top 10 even said that it wasn't even close. Another team skilled at evaluating quarterbacks echoed those thoughts.
With that being the case, it is hard to see Mariota sliding out of the top 10, considering the number of quarterback needy teams. We reported a month ago that Tampa Bay is inclined to go with Jameis Winston, but Mariota shouldn't last long with Tennessee and the New York Jets needing franchise quarterbacks.
Many high-profile NFL Draft analysts have stated that they view Pittsburgh offensive tackle T.J. Clemmings as a first-round pick, with some projecting him to go in the top half of the first round. Entering the 2014 season, Clemmings wasn't viewed to be an elite prospect but media members got on the bandwagon during his senior year. However, a handful of NFL teams we've spoken to had the same opinion: None of them have a first-round grade on Clemmings. Four out of five put him on the second day, with one team saying they have a fourth-round grade on Clemmings.
Three NFL general managers told us that they have a third-round grade on Clemmings, but they believe that the team that likes him enough to draft him will take him in the second round. Another general manager said he has a day-two grade on him. The team that has a fourth-round grade on Clemmings could consider drafting an offensive tackle late in the first round, but happens to be down on Clemmings.
The 6-foot-4, 307-pounder didn't impress evaluators at the Senior Bowl, as he had some struggles in the pass blocking one-on-ones. He showed that he is raw and is still needing significant development to handle NFL pass-rushers. That is understandable considering Clemmings started out his collegiate career on the defensive line before switching to right tackle as a junior. Teams feel that Clemmings has a skill set to work with, but is too much of a gamble to take with a first-round pick, and they don't feel that he's worthy of that high of a draft grade.
Perhaps there are teams out there that view him as a first-rounder, but there was a real consensus of a second-day grade among the executives we spoke to.
One interesting player in the 2015 NFL Draft is TCU inside linebacker Paul Dawson. The TCU defense came alive to help lead the Horned Frogs to a huge season that nearly secured them a berth in the college football playoff. Dawson came up huge for the defense, as he put up a huge stat line with 128 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles, five passes batted and four interceptions. While Dawson had a big senior year, opinions on him are extremely split among NFL teams, and they are all over the map on where they grade him.
The team that was the highest on Dawson has him as a second-round pick, and the next-highest grade for Dawson is in the third round. A few teams have him as a fourth-round pick and said he could go somewhere on Day 3. Another team said that they've graded Dawson as a sixth- or seventh-round pick.
Dawson is listed at 5-foot-10, 240-pounds, but it wouldn't be surprising if he checks in smaller than that at the NFL Scouting Combine. That could send him to outside linebacker, and some teams don't like his lack of height and length in pass coverage.
Dawson has to hope that the team that views him as a second- or third-round pick is the one that drafts him; otherwise the team that believes he'll slide into Day 3 could be correct.
Sources with the Jacksonville Jaguars say that the team is currently planning on welcoming back wide receiver Justin Blackmon, and they are optimistic about his ability to contribute in 2015.
Team contacts say that Blackmon has successfully completed a treatment program after being suspended for the 2014 season for repeated failed drug tests. Thus far, Blackmon is said to have passed the necessary drug and alcohol tests to get reinstated into the NFL. Sources say that Blackmon has his affairs in order and is very motivated to resurrect his NFL career. Blackmon's goal is to be the Comeback Player of the Year next season.
Getting a healthy and motivated Blackmon could be huge for Jacksonville and make a big difference in the development of second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. Blackmon could combine with Allen Robinson and Marqise Lee to provide Borltes with a trio of receivers to make plays for him. If Blackmon is able to get reinstated, that would allow Jacksonville to focus on improving an overmatched offensive line. Sources with Jacksonville feel optimistic that Blackmon is going to stay out of trouble and is ready to provide an impact for the Jaguars.
One of the most improved teams in the NFL this past season was the Houston Texans. Their seven-win improvement was a team effort with huge contributions coming from the scouting staff as well as the new coaches. One of the assets in the Texans turnaround was a strong front office and scouting staff led by general manager Rick Smith.
Houston's director of college scouting, Mike Maccagnan, was hired away by the New York Jets to be their new general manager. Also, assistant general manager Brian Gaine is a finalist for the Philadelphia Eagles general manager job. Fortunately for the Texans, they have an in-house scouting star to replace Maccagnan in southeast area scout Mike Martin.
Martin is held in high regard and viewed as one of the best college scouts in the league. He was the scout who helped lead the way for the Texans to sign Arian Foster as an undrafted free agent in 2009. He also was part of Houston targeting Duane Brown late in the first round, a long-term left tackle, and a starting cornerback in Kareem Jackson.
In the past two years, the Texans have leaned heavily on Martin in drafting three young talented starters from his territory, including wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, safety D.J. Swearinger, and defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans also depended on Martin for some late-round and undrafted free agent steals last offseason with running back Alfred Blue, fullback Jay Prosch, cornerback A.J. Bouye and cornerback Andre Hal.
Martin has led a Texans scouting staff that also hit on the best defensive player in the NFL in J.J. Watt, and you could make a strong argument that Watt is the best player in the league at any position. Some other good picks they made like Glover Quin and Connor Barwin left the team because of salary-cap limitations. Those moves helped Maccagnan's resume in landing the Jets' general manager position.
With Maccagnan in New York, it would make sense for Martin to be promoted to the director of college scouting before another team swipes Martin away from the Texans. Front-office changes are rampant across the league, and Martin is on the radar. With the opening of their college scouting position, Houston has an opportunity to maintain possession of one of the best talent evaluators in the business and keep Martin to help maintain the rebuilding of the Texans.
Tampa Bay landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has sparked a heavy debate with Buccaneer fans and the media covering the team about which quarterback is the top prospect between Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota. Per our sources with the Buccaneers, the organization currently prefers Winston over Mariota.
Sources say it is early in the process, and things could change in the months to come. Coaches getting involved in draft evaluations can make a big difference in a team's thinking. However, our sources don't view that as likely. They say that as long as Winston interviews well and doesn't get into trouble in the months leading up to the draft, they feel that he will be the top pick in the draft.
I would agree with Tampa Bay's thinking that Winston is the far superior prospect on the field. Off the field, the advantage swings to Mariota, but in speaking with evaluators at other teams, they all feel that Winston is the right pick for the Buccaneers. Sources from the Bucs and multiple teams also agree with my contention that Winston is a better prospect than Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, and Cam Newton, who went first overall in the 2009-2011 drafts.
A lot can change in the spring months leading up to the draft, but entering the pre-combine training, Winston is the favorite to go first overall to Tampa Bay.
Check out my mock draft, where I have Tampa taking Winston No. 1 overall.
Recent reports came out that the Tennessee Titans could look to address a position other than quarterback with the second-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. ESPN's Chris Mortensen stated that Tennessee was content with Zach Mettenberger moving forward as their starting quarterback. Our sources with the Titans said that Mortensen is correct that they are indeed content with Mettenberger, but they will consider a quarterback with the second-overall pick, and Mettenberger's rookie year won't prevent them from taking a signal caller at No. 2.
Sources with Tennessee feel that they have to get the quarterback position right, and they can't pass on a potential franchise quarterback. Overall, the Titans were pleased with Mettenberger in his rookie year and aren't opposed to entering training camp with him as the favorite to be the starter. However, the importance of the position compels Tennessee's front office to take another quarterback if a potential franchise quarterback is there at No. 2. If Mettenberger beats out Mariota/Winston, and Mettenberger becomes a good starter, then Tennessee could have a valuable trade commodity in one of its quarterbacks.
Sources with the Titans say that Mettenberger had a nice rookie year, but couldn't stay healthy, and they believe they have to get the quarterback position right. Thus, Mariota or Winston landing in Tennessee is still very likely.
It can be hard for prospects to stand out when they play at Kentucky. A few years ago, former Kentucky guard Larry Warford (Detroit Lions' third-round pick) didn't receive the hype of other guard prospects like the Titans' Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Cardinals' Jonathan Cooper, but Warford has been a steal for the Lions and should have been drafted sooner. Apparently, teams are learning from Warford, as Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Alvin �Bud' Dupree is being viewed as a potential first-round pick. Multiple teams told us they feel that Dupree could go as high as the middle of the first round and shouldn't fall lower than early in the second round.
One team told us that they view Dupree as a mid to late first-rounder. Another said a late first-round to early second round as to where they viewed the appropriate value for Dupree.
The 6-foot-4, 264-pounder has impressed talent evaluators with his combination of speed, athleticism and strength. Dupree had 74 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, one pass batted, one interception, two forced fumbles and 7.5 sacks in 2014. He was more disruptive than the numbers illustrate. As a junior, Dupree recorded 61 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one pass broken up and seven sacks.
Sources say that production is a concern, but part of the lack of sacks is that Kentucky played eight read-option teams this past season, so Dupree had fewer pass-rush opportunities.
Dupree will get the opportunity to help his draft grade at the Senior Bowl. If he does well in the pass-rushing one-on-ones, that could ease the production concerns and help him to reach the high projection as a mid-first-round pick.
As the Bears and Jets conduct their general manager searches, sources say that one name who should be included is Titans director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield. League contacts say that while Beddingfield has gone under the radar, he's an excellent talent evaluator and knows how to build up talent on a roster.
Sources say the Titans 2-14 record this season is misleading as to the superb job that Beddingfield has done. Beddingfield took over leading the Titans college scouting and setting their draft board in 2012. The previous year, Jake Locker was the Titans' first-round pick, and Beddingfield made it a priority to build a young nucleus on offense to help their young signal-caller.
Tennessee has a talented young offense with left tackle Taylor Lewan, guard Chance Warmack, center Brian Schwenke, wide receiver Kendall Wright, wide receiver Justin Hunter, and running back Bishop Sankey. Assuming the Titans draft either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, the new quarterback will walk into an offense that is ready to grow up around him with early-round talents one the line and at the skill positions. If the Titans don't draft one of those quarterbacks, it's because they believe they got a steal on Day 3 with Zach Mettenberger last year.
Beddingfield has been a college and pro scout for 16 years, as he worked his way up in Tennessee's organization. Many of the names being discussed for the Bears and Jets have been general manager retreads who were let go from other teams. There haven't been many general managers in NFL history who had success in their second attempts at leading a franchise. League sources say the both the Bears and Jets should be giving Beddingfield serious consideration for their general manager positions.
After a disappointing season, the Chicago Bears cleaned house by firing general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman (go here for all of the Black Monday Firing Grades). Once again, Chicago is looking up at rival Green Bay atop the NFC North. The organization will start its search for new leadership, and it would make sense to go to its rivals for a general manager to change things in Chicago.
Packers' senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith is the right-hand man for general manager Ted Thompson. Highsmith helped the Packers to their string of six straight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship in 2010.
Numerous sources we've spoken to around the league believe Highsmith would be a great choice as the Bears' general manager and could engineer a quick turnaround for Chicago. Highsmith knows the Bears well as a division rival and also would give Chicago an intimate knowledge of their top competitor in the NFC North that the Bears must find a way to beat. Highsmith knows the strengths and weaknesses of both Chicago and Green Bay.
Executives from around the league say that Highsmith has a great eye for talent, works tirelessly, and is especially good at scouting quarterbacks. Highsmith has played with and has been a part of teams with great quarterbacks, going back to playing with Mike Shula in high school, as well as Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde in college at the University of Miami. Highsmith played with Warren Moon and Troy Aikman in the NFL, while being part of Brett Favre's tenure in Green Bay, and was part of the Packers drafting and developing Aaron Rodgers. Figuring out what to do with embattled starter Jay Cutler will be a critical decision for the new Bears' general manager, and Highsmith is a perfect candidate to tackle that job.
Highsmith has learned under some of the best general managers in the NFL over the past 15 years in Ron Wolf and Thompson, so he's ready to lead a franchise as the general manager. He also learned from coaching greats in Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, and his father, Walter Highsmith.
As a running back, Highsmith starred at the University of Miami before playing for the Oilers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. After his NFL career, Highsmith was a professional boxer and compiled a 27-1-1 record in his pugilist career. Highsmith was hired by then-Packers Executive Vice President/General Manager Ron Wolf in 1999 to be a college scout for Green Bay. After serving as an area scout for many years, Highsmith was promoted to his current spot in 2012. Working closely with Thompson has given Highsmith a perfect position to prepare for running a franchise.
Sources say that Highsmith has a tremendous work ethic from his time as a player, professional boxer, and area scout. Given his background, he works very well with NFL players and is able to identify with them. With his personal and organizational leadership skills, he can get a franchise working in one direction from the front office into the locker room. Everything he does at Green Bay is about winning as an organization, and sources believe he will build that kind of atmosphere in any team that hires him as its general manager.
Highsmith could also be a candidate for the opening with the New York Jets, so if the Bears want to land Highsmith, they should move quickly to steal a top executive from their biggest division rival.
With the college football regular season finished, NFL teams are able to start ranking players according to their draft grades. One position that has some depth and parity is the interior of the offensive line at guard. Sources with NFL teams say that no guard has received a first-round grade. According to league contacts, the guards who have graded out the highest are Florida State's Josue Matias and Alabama's Arie Kouandjio. Both players have received second-round grades.
Sources say that Kouandjio and Matias have prove to be well-balanced blockers. They both have the size, strength and quickness to be starting left guards in the NFL.
The next tier of guard prospects is comprised of South Carolina's A.J. Cann and Florida State's Tre Jackson. Both have received third-round grades. Previously, sources said that Cann was a poor man's Larry Warford (Lions) or Gabe Jackson (Raiders). Both of those pros were third-round picks, and Cann is smaller than both of them. Some in the media have hyped Cann as a potential first-round pick, but sources with NFL teams say they've given Cann a third-round grade.
After that group, there are some mid-rounders. Duke's Laken Tomlinson has received a mid-round grade, and he'll probably go on Day 3.
Overall, sources say this is a decent guard class, but it lacks a rare talent and doesn't have a player worthy of a first-round pick.
Entering the 2014 season, many considered there to be two top safety prospects in the SEC with Alabama's Landon Collins and Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt. Collins was coming off a quality sophomore season, while Prewitt had a strong 2013 campaign and was a First-Team All-American selection by some media outlets. Prewitt totaled 71 tackles with six interceptions, seven passes broken up and two forced fumbles.
As for this season, Collins excelled and confirmed an early-round draft grade, while Prewitt underwhelmed.
Prewitt had a significant drop-off in production in 2014. Prewitt totaled 60 tackles with two passes broken up and two interceptions. He had some issues in coverage, especially against Auburn, and didn't play physical football. Playing soft as a senior didn't make a good impression on NFL evaluators. He had an occasional big hit, but shied away from some opportunities and gave the impression that he was protecting himself from injury.
Sources say they are unimpressed with Prewitt and have graded him on as a day-three prospect. One team said they were grading him as a late-round pick or priority undrafted free agent.
Perhaps Prewitt can improve his grade with a strong performance in an All-Star game and the NFL Scouting Combine, and it only takes one team to grade him higher and pull the trigger on him. However, it currently looks Prewitt is a candidate to be one of the surprise players to fall in the 2015 NFL Draft.
A year ago in the back half of the 2013 college football season, Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson became a hot draft prospect with a meteoric rise into the top five. Robinson ended up being the second player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, but for a long time, no one was mentioning him along with higher-profile prospects like Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Robinson ended up being picked ahead of both of them.
This year, another tackle prospect is hot with NFL teams but isn't getting a lot media attention from the media or draft pundits. That player is Miami junior left tackle Ereck Flowers. The 6-foot-6, 324-pounder has an excellent combination of size, strength, quickness and athleticism. He has been a physical run blocker for Duke Johnson while being very reliable as a pass protector. Multiple teams told us that Flowers is grading out as a first-round pick if he enters the 2015 NFL Draft.
Sources with one team say that they have given Flowers a top-20 grade. Other teams rate him in the first round as well. They all expect Flowers to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft.
This season, Flowers has had a number of impressive performances including his game against Nebraska when matched up against edge rusher Randy Gregory. Gregory had a couple of nice plays, but the majority of reps against each other went to Flowers. Any NFL team would like that level of play against a top-10 talent like Gregory. Flowers missed a few games with a torn meniscus, but returned to the field in impressive fashion against Florida State.
Flowers hasn't received the attention of tackle prospects like Stanford's Andrus Peat, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, Iowa's Brandon Scherff or LSU's La'el Collins. However, like Robinson a year ago, NFL teams feel Flowers could end up getting drafted ahead of many of those more highly touted players.
Washington's Shaq Thompson was one of the players who received a lot of acclaim this season. The biggest reason for that was that the athletic linebacker took over duties as a running back for the Washington offense for a few weeks. With his contributions on offense and defense generating headlines, some draft pundits projected Thompson to go high in the first round. However, two teams we've spoken to say that they are grading Thompson as a day-two pick.
I've had Thompson listed as a day-two prospect because he hasn't had a season of big production. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Thompson is fast and athletic, but he's never produced a big year. Entering his Bowl game against Oklahoma State, Thompson has 71 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack, four passes broken up, one interception and three forced fumbles. As a tailback, he averaged 7.5 yards per carry for 456 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson is a Will (weak side) linebacker for a 4-3 defense, but isn't as good of a prospect as Lavonte David, who was a second-round pick. After asking a few teams, they felt that Thompson was worthy of a top-100 selection. One scouting director said, "I agree with you, not in Lavonte David category, but will get drafted in the second or third based on athletic ability. Shaq is a 4-3 Will linebacker." We followed up with a general manager of a team that could use Thompson, and is interested in him. He also felt that Thompson was a second- or third-rounder.
Thompson is weighing his options on whether to declare for the draft. It only takes one team to feel that Thompson is a first-rounder and pull the trigger on him on Thursday night, but scouts and personnel men from multiple teams have Thompson as a second-day pick.
Over the past few years, it has been hard for middle linebackers to get into the first round of the NFL Draft. Similar to the running back position, middle linebacker has been downgraded in importance as the league continues on the path of being passing-oriented. As a result, some good college linebackers have fallen to the second day of the draft.
Two players who are on the brink of the first round in the 2015 NFL Draft are Miami's Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State's Bernardrick McKinney. Scouts told us that both are excellent players and future three-down starters in the NFL. They believe that Perryman and McKinney will be late first-round or early second-round picks.
For the second straight year, Perryman has been very impressive in the middle of the Miami defense. Perryman has 102 tackles with 8.5 for a loss, three forced fumbles, two sacks, four passes broken up and one interception in 2014. He is a tough run defender in the tackle box who happens to be a physical presence. Sources say they hear the 6-foot, 242-pounder doesn't time well in the 40-yard dash, but they feel he's a pure football player who has shown the ability to function in pass coverage.
McKinney, meanwhile, was a leader on a Mississippi State defense that had a good season. He had 61 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, three passes broken up and a forced fumble this year. One of those sacks came against Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. McKinney (6-5, 249) is very athletic with the ability to play in pass coverage or rush the passer.
From conversations with sources on NFL teams, one of the 2015 NFL Draft prospects who seems to generate a variance in opinion is LSU left tackle La'el Collins. Some mock drafts have projected Collins to be a high first-round pick, but of the few NFL teams we spoke to, none of them are rating Collins that high. Where they rate Collins and how they view his future position in the NFL comes with different answers from each team.
The team that was the most down on Collins said they view the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder as a guard. However, their problem with playing Collins at guard is that he doesn't bend well and can struggle to create movement up front in the run game. They feel that Collins flashes heavy hands, but is inconsistent. In their opinion, Collins has looked bad this year compared to 2013, and they wonder if an ankle injury he suffered in Week 1 has held him back all season. They grade Collins as a second-round pick and a guard.
Sources from another team that is currently on pace to pick late in the first round and could consider offensive line with their first-round pick said that they view Collins as a right tackle in the NFL. They feel that he has the skill set to block on the edge but needs better technique. They think he could crack the late first, but is more likely to be a second-rounder.
The one area of agreement seems to be that Collins played stronger in 2013. A third team said Collins was much better and more consistent as a junior. They think that Collins could be a very good guard in the NFL and could play as a rookie at guard. They feel with continued improvement he does have the ability to play tackle as a pro.
It could help Collins to attend the Senior Bowl and show that he can handle speed rushers. There already some good pass rushers like Kentucky's Bud Dupree and Utah's Nate Orchard that have accepted Senior Bowl invites. After a season in which Collins disappointed, NFL evaluators and most teams project him moving to right tackle or guard, a big performance in Mobile is exactly what Collins needs to help his argument that he can play left tackle and is worthy of a first-round pick.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com that USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is going to enter the 2015 NFL Draft even though he has suggested he may come back to the Trojans next year in order to beat UCLA.
Williams plans to go pro and already has a favorite landing spot for his NFL home. Williams is considered to be one of the top prospects for the draft and a leading candidate for the No.1 overall pick. Currently, the Oakland Raiders are on track to land the first selection, and through the grapevine, Williams has let the Raiders know that he would love to play for them.
Williams was born in Bakersfield, Calif. and played high school football in Daytona Beach, Fla. Williams grew up a Raiders fan and has let it be known that he would love to play for his boyhood team.
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Williams has some natural strength and is fast with the ability to play all over on the defensive line. He has 71 tackles, six sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, three forced fumbles and three passes batted this year. Williams could stand to get stronger for the NFL, and gets in trouble when he plays too high, but a shoulder injury that required surgery could have impacted his power. Still, Williams is very disruptive and is capable of taking over games.
Williams has the ability to play defensive tackle or end in a 4-3 defense. He also could be an excellent five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Oakland needs a lot of help on their defensive line. Rookie nose tackle Justin Ellis could be one long-term starter, but the Raiders need difference-makers on the front of their defense. Williams rushing from tackle or end could form a nice duo with linebacker Khalil Mack coming from the other side.
If Oakland lands the first pick in the draft, the Raiders will probably look to trade down with a team willing to give a package of draft picks in order to land a top quarterback prospect. With three quarterback-needy teams projected to pick in the top five (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, New York Jets), Oakland shouldn't have to drop down too far. The question will be whether trading down is worth the Raiders possibly missing out on Williams.
We recently learned that Missouri turned Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was likely to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft. He isn't the only Oklahoma product who is leaning that direction. Sources say that junior wide receiver Sterling Shepard and outside linebacker Eric Striker are planning on declaring for the 2015 NFL Draft as well. Their decision could change if they don't like the feedback they get from the NFL Advisory Board, but both are planning on skipping their senior season.
The 5-foot-10, 195-pound missed the last three games with a groin injury, and durability is always a question mark with undersized prospects. For the NFL, Shepard projects as a speedy slot receiver. He could end up grading out as a day-two pick or mid-rounder.
This year, Oklahoma transitioned Striker from playing a typical 3-4 outside linebacker/pass-rusher into an outside linebacker who also drops into pass coverage frequently. He has been more of a 4-3 outside linebacker that splits plays blitzing and dropping into coverage.
Striker (6-0, 220) is a bit of a linebacker-safety tweener, and that hurts his draft grade. Like Shepard, Striker could be a second-day pick or a mid-rounder.
In the pass happy NFL featuring some dangerous receiving tight ends, the safety position is taking on increased importance. The consensus top safety prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft is Alabama's Landon Collins. The Crimson Tide junior is expected to declare for the draft, and scouts are grading Collins for the next draft. While many have stated that Collins is a safety that can do it all, sources with NFL teams feel that Collins is a strong safety prospect and is not a safety who can play the deep end of the field as a free safety.
Sources say that Collins has some limitations in pass coverage. Those could be seen in a few games season, but especially against Ole Miss. He can struggle to play man coverage on tight ends and wide receivers in the deep part of the field. At the next level, he'll need to be protected from those kind of mismatches. They feel that in the NFL he is going to be better playing closer to the line of scrimmage and should excel as the eighth man in the box. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is a physical tackler and a good run defender in the tackle box.
For the purposes of comparison, sources say that Collins game is similar to Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam and Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. The difference is that Collins is bigger a version than both of those players, but he is a comparable player with a similar style of play. Elam was a late first-round pick, while Swearinger went in Round 2. Sources believe that Collins will go ahead of both of them.
Collins has 68 tackles with five passes broken up and three interceptions in 2014. He is grading out as a first-round pick, and teams feel that he is ready to compete quickly in the next level.
Two years ago, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Georgia running back Todd Gurley were freshman superstars who were expected to be the next great running backs in college football. That has been the case for Gurley, despite injuries and a suspension. Yeldon has been a solid contributor for the Crimson Tide, but he hasn't been the dominant runner like Eddie Lacy or Trent Richardson were in their final seasons for Alabama. Still, NFL scouts told us that Yeldon is grading out as a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Statistically, Yeldon isn't having the kind of season that many expected. Yeldon has averaged 5.0 yards per carry for 758 yards with six touchdowns. Yeldon hasn't been as impressive as teammate Derrick Henry, but both have been reliable backs for Alabama, and the Crimson Tide coaches have trusted Yeldon to be their third-down back in pass protection.
Sources say that Yeldon is a smooth runner with quickness, elusiveness and cutting ability. They feel that he runs a little upright, as a result of his height, and needs to improve his ball security. He can improve on those issues at the next level.
NFL teams are hearing that Yeldon is going to declare for the draft, so they are scouting him as if he'll be in the 2015 class. Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are expected to be the first two running backs selected. Yeldon could be in a crowded group of backs that could go in the late first or second-round. That group includes Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Miami's Duke Johnson.
Because of Alabama's rotation at running back and working the ball to wide receiver Amari Cooper, Yeldon should be fresh entering the Combine, and a fast 40 time could help him to be a Thursday night pick.
Dorial Green-Beckham, one of the most physically talented wide receivers who could be in the 2015 NFL Draft class, has been ineligible to play for Oklahoma this season after leaving Mizzou, but that still hasn't stopped NFL teams from preparing for him to be in the draft. Sources told us that Green-Beckham is likely to declare for the draft, meaning he would never end up playing football at Oklahoma.
Green-Beckham had a couple of arrests for marijuana at Missouri. The final straw for him was an incident where he allegedly pushed a woman down some stairs. Because of that, sources say that Green-Beckham is going to need a strong advocate and representative to help him overcome the domestic violence red flag. Violence against women is a hot button issue with NFL teams in the wake of the Ray Rice controversy. Plus, we know that one team, the Houston Texans, had a zero tolerance towards players that had a history of violence with women long before the Rice controversy. That was an order that came down from owner Bob McNair.
That being said, sources say that Green-Beckham has been a model citizen at Oklahoma, and he isn't a bad-character person. They say that he has been a positive presence in the Oklahoma program.
As for his draft hopes, Green-Beckham is probably more likely to be a second-day pick. Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was suspended for his final season of college football for numerous off-the-field issues, and he was selected in the third round. Mathieu was also very undersized, and there aren't questions about Green-Beckham's skill set.
Green-Beckham (6-6, 220) was one of the top recruits in the nation and has often been compared to Cincinnati Bengals stud receiver A.J. Green. Playing for Missouri, Green-Beckham totaled 59 receptions for 883 yards with 12 touchdowns in 2013. He finished the season strongly with impressive performances against Texas A&M (7-93-1) and Auburn (6-144-2) in the SEC Championship Game.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman generated a lot of buzz was at the start of the college football season. The 6-foot-8, 290-pounder opened the year with a huge outing against SMU and looked unblockable. There was a lot of talk about Oakman being a first-round pick, and a potential high one. As the year progressed, however, Oakman's play has tailed off.
We caught up with sources from multiple teams to gauge where they're grading Oakman, and there was a discrepancy. However, they all came back agreeing that they wouldn't take Oakman in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
One team that has drafted really well in recent years feels that while Oakman is overrated, he "doesn't suck." They feel he has upside and is a project similar to Cincinnati Bengals second year defensive end Margus Hunt. Hunt and Oakman are the same size with similar speed and athleticism. They say that Oakman looks the part and has tools, but is very raw. They feel his value is on the second day, perhaps the second round, but off-the-field issues from his time at Penn State could cause him to fall lower.
A general manager of a perennial playoff team was the most pessimistic about Oakman. He felt that Oakman was the most overrated underclassman and was a mid day-three pick.
Another team said that Oakman doesn't play up to his size and looks. They also suggested that he is a project like Hunt because Oakman does possess the size, speed, frame and athletic ability. However, they wouldn't take Oakman high. Oakman has 35 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one pass batted and two forced fumbles. His production is similar to what Hunt did in his final season at SMU.
While some teams obviously really don't like Oakman, others feel he is a quality developmental prospect. Given his skill set, Oakman looks most likely to be a day-two selection.
The University of Washington announced Thursday that cornerback Marcus Peters was kicked off the team. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior was enjoying a strong season that had him as a potential top 20-pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. After being removed from the team, sources have told us that it looks unlikely that Peters could still go in first round.
Our sources said that a lot can change in the months to come, and if Peters cleans up his act while interviewing well with teams, perhaps a team picking late in the first round could take a chance on him. However, it is more likely that Day 2 is the earliest Peters should hope to go. Other cornerbacks with major off-the-field issues like Janoris Jenkins and Tyrann Mathieu were kicked off their teams before entering the draft and ended up going in the second and third round, respectively. Jenkins' situation was a little different in that he played his final season at North Alabama after getting kicked out of Florida.
Peters finished his 2014 season with 23 tackles, five passes broken up and three interceptions. He had an excellent game against Stanford with a pick and good coverage on Cardinal receiver Ty Montgomery. Peters had a solid game versus Jaelen Strong and Arizona State as well. Peters covered Strong better than any other defensive back this season.
The Seattle Times was the first to report Peters' dismissal and stated that Peters had multiple run-ins with the new Huskies coaching staff. He argued with coaches during the game against Colorado and a practice argument on Wednesday was apparently the final straw that pushed Washington to move on from the talented cornerback. Peters was suspended a game earlier in the season after throwing his helmet and gloves from being given a personal foul penalty for head-butting an Eastern Washington wide receiver.
In speaking with NFL evaluators, Peters will have to be accountable and show a change in attitude. Falling to the third day or going undrafted is possible for him.
Prior to last Saturday, there was some media buzz building about Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace being a rising pro prospect for the NFL. The Rebels are one of the upstart teams, and Wallace helped Ole Miss to a huge upset of Alabama. While Wallace has generated some headlines, NFL teams aren't believers, and sources from around the league say they have Wallace as late-rounder or undrafted free agent.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound Wallace has some size to him, but NFL evaluators say that they have questions about his arm strength. They also think his decision-making is lacking, and that he needs to improve his composure. Those issues could be seen in Ole Miss' loss to LSU last week. There could be some teams that differ in their view of Wallace as a pro prospect, but sources from a few teams they think that he's a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.
In his third season, Wallace hasn't had a big season statistically, but is on his way to his best production. He has completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,075 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota have received all the attention and headlines as the top quarterback prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft, however NFL teams believe that there could be a third signal-caller who ends up being a high first-round pick. League sources we spoke to, including one general manager, feel that Michigan State junior quarterback Connor Cook could possibly be a high first-round pick.
Sources say that Cook has a good skill set to be an NFL starter. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Cook plays in a pro-style system and has shown improvement with his ability to function in the pocket while working through his progressions. He has a quality arm and can make all the throws necessary at the next level. He also has underrated mobility. In many games, Cook will make some amazingly accurate throws into extremely tight windows for completions downfield, but also has some inconsistency with his accuracy on the routine passes.
Sources say that Cook needs to improve his footwork, accuracy, passing while under pressure, and overall consistency in order to be a high first-round pick. He has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,868 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
If Cook finishes the season strong and enters the draft, he could be part of an interesting discussion at the top of the draft. Cook has a clean off-the-field profile unlike Winston, and Cook has shown more skills as a pocket passer than Mariota. Some teams could end up preferring Cook to those quarterbacks. Sources say that Cook has the potential to be a high first-rounder, but he hasn't proven it definitively yet.
Every draft class has some positions that are weak on talent. Back in 2013, quarterbacks were especially weak, while guard was very strong. Last year tight end was strong, while center wasn't as talented. League sources have told us that they are very unimpressed with the tight end prospects who are eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Tight end is so weak that currently the favorite player for the position is a conversion, tweener prospect in Michigan's Devin Funchess, who was the Big 10 Tight End of the Year but has since moved to wide receiver. Sources said they are excited about Funchess as a tight end, but that's if he can move back to the position. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder would have to gain some weight to serve as a blocker in the NFL, and his blocking would need a lot of development. It will be interesting to see if Funchess is willing to go back to tight end, or if he wants to remain at receiver.
After Funchess, sources say that Florida State's Nick O'Leary will probably be drafted next. The reliable O'Leary has been a solid receiver for the Seminoles the past few years. League contacts say that O'Leary is a solid player, but not special. They think he's going to be over drafted by a team that has a big need at tight end.
Another tight end who could go on the second day of the draft is Miami's Clive Walford. Sources say they like the size of the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder Walford and feel that he catches the ball well. However, they don't think Walford is all that athletic.
Last year, the tight end class was strong, as five were selected in the top 65 picks and two more went in the third round, including Eric Ebron, who was chosen in the top 10. Sources think the 2015 class probably won't come close to those numbers and are hoping that there are some breakout players in the second half of the college football season.
It was a surprise to see Georgia running back Todd Gurley suspended indefinitely, and it appears his suspension is for an NCAA rules violation related to autographing memorabilia. Gurley has a good reputation off the field, so this suspension came out of nowhere. Sources from multiple NFL teams adamantly told me that this suspension won't hurt Gurley's draft stock.
Sources say that Gurley is just too talented and too good of a kid for teams to hold this suspension against him. They say that off the field, Gurley is a good worker and teammate who loves football. Last year, Texas A&M and future Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was basically suspended half a game for the same thing. NFL teams view this as more NCAA nonsense and a non-issue for Gurley's pro prospects.
The past three years, the 6-foot-1 232-pound back has been destroying teams with his combination of size and speed. Gurley has averaged 8.2 yards for 773 yards with eight touchdowns in 2014. He has 11 receptions for 53 yards. Gurley had huge games against Clemson, Troy, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
After his consistent play over the past three seasons with some dominant games against elite competition, Gurley looks poised to break the mold of teams passing on running backs in the first round. In the 2012 NFL Draft, three running backs were taken on Thursday night, and none were taken in the top 32 in 2013 or 2014. No draft prospect wants a suspension to answer questions about, but sources told us that they don't envision Gurley's suspension impacting his draft stock negatively.
It isn't easy for undersized running backs to go early in the NFL Draft, but one running back who has the potential to change that is Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. We heard from NFL sources, including one general manager, who feels that Abdullah could end up being a second-round pick. Abdullah became Nebraska's all-time leading rusher this season and has impressed NFL evaluators.
Sources say they like Abdullah's versatile skill set. The slashing runner is tough for his size with excellent vision, fast feet, balance, and third-down potential for the NFL. This season, Abdullah (5-9, 195) has averaged 7.3 yards per carry for 833 yards and eight touchdowns. Even though he only has five receptions, Abdullah has shown enough where evaluators feel he'll be a good contributor in the passing offense.
Abdullah could use see his stock continue to rise if he keeps playing well and impresses at the Senior Bowl in the blitz-protection drills. It would be wise for Abdullah to go to Mobile, as his stock could continue to rise with a strong showing there. With his athleticism and speed, Abdullah should perform well at the Combine.
Throughout his collegiate career, Abdullah has stayed durable, and it will be important for him to maintain that this year.
A year ago at this time, there wasn't a lot of buzz that Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was a first-round prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft. Ford came up with some big performances to help vault Auburn into the national championship, and in the process, Ford's stock rose. Clemson defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley has had more draft buzz entering his senior year, and scouts told us they feel that Beasley is a comparable player to Ford.
Last year, some teams had second-round grades on Ford while other teams like the Kansas City Chiefs had Ford graded in the first round. Scouts feel that is where Beasley is ending up; as someone who goes in the back half of the first round or the second round. Of course, where he goes will also depend on the other talent in the draft class that could push Beasley higher or drop him lower. Pass-rushers are always in demand, and Beasley has scheme flexibility to intrigue defensive coordinators.
Scouts say that even though the Beasley is undersized, he is strong for his size, similar to Ford. Both of them have natural edge-rushing skills and are very skilled at finding a way to get to the quarterback. The 6-foot-2 Beasley weighs in the 230, and he'll have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL. He could line up as a defensive end in obvious passing situations.
Scouts say that Ford may have better instincts than Beasley, but Beasley could have more speed and athleticism to be able to play a variety of linebacker positions in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Overall, they are similar players that are being graded in the same range.
Beasley has four sacks, nine tackles, five tackles for a loss in three games so far this season. He had his way with Florida State left tackle Cameron Erving a week ago.
One draft prospect who has gotten a lot of hype recently is South Carolina senior guard A.J. Cann. Some have projected Cann to be the top guard for the 2015 NFL Draft and a potential first-round pick.
We spoke with NFL sources who feel that Cann is being overhyped to a degree. They like Cann and feel he is a quality player, but don't view him as a Thursday night prospect. They have Cann as a second- or third-round selection depending on the rest of the draft class.
Sources said that Cann is a similar style player, but not as good of a prospect as Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford or Oakland Raiders guard Gabe Jackson. Warford and Jackson were both early third-round picks in 2013 and 2014, respectively. League contacts say that Cann's game is similar to Warford and Jackson's in that he is a tough run blocker who can move people at the point of attack. He is strong and physical. However, they say that Cann struggles in space and as a result, he can have issues in pass protection. That could be seen last Saturday against Georgia, as Cann can have problems with interior speed rushers.
Our sources also said that while Cann (6-4, 311) has some size and strength to him, seeing him in person, he looks smaller than Warford (6-3, 330) or Jackson (6-3, 336). Considering Warford and Jackson were both third-round picks, league contacts said their teams probably wouldn't consider Cann until the third round. However, Warford was a steal as a third-round pick for the Lions, and Jackson is already starting for the Raiders, so Cann isn't in bad company when being discussed with those young guards.
A year ago, there wasn't any draft hype about UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, but a great junior season gradually elevated Bortles nationally. His rise continued to make him the consensus top quarterback prospect, and he was the first one selected with the third-overall pick.
NFL sources we've spoken to identified a sleeper prospect who has really impressed them. That would be Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson. Sources say they don't think Grayson will have a meteoric rise like Bortles into the top 15, but they say they could see Grayson grading out in the first few rounds and be this year's Jimmy Garoppolo.
Grayson has definitely impressed NFL talent evaluators, as they feel that he has a quality arm that can make all the throws. He has some mobility to make throws on the run. His character receives good marks, as he is viewed as a good teammate with leadership skills. While Grayson isn't a big quarterback, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is a similar build to Garoppolo. Grayson had a breakout junior season to lead Colorado State to a bowl game with a win over Washington State.
Grayson became the starter as a sophomore in 2012, but a broken collarbone shortened his season. In 2013, he completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,696 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In two games this season, he has completed 44-of-81 passes for 568 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He contributed to Colorado State's season opening win over Colorado, and he followed that up by throwing for 434 yards against Boise State.
Sources say they expect Grayson's stock to rise over his senior year and during the lead up to the 2015 NFL Draft. Grayson is a sleeper quarterback prospect right now, but he may not be a sleeper for much longer.
Last year, Miami running back Duke Johnson was on his way to having a big season of around 1,500 yards before breaking his ankle against Florida State and missing the final five games. The 5-foot-9, 206-pound running back has shown impressive speed and playmaking ability since breaking into the lineup as a freshman. However, some of our NFL sources have told us that they believe Johnson will end up grading out as a third- or fourth-round pick.
Sources say that in order to rise, Johnson will need to improve his contributions in pass blocking and prove that he can stay healthy. Johnson isn't the biggest of backs, so showing that he can play an entire season is important for him. If Johnson can do that, he could make it into the second day of the draft next year if he decides to declare as a junior. If can't stay healthy, Johnson could fall into day three.
In his 2014 debut, Johnson had 90 yards on 20 carries. He also had a long reception that was called back by a penalty. However, Johnson's offensive line and new starting quarterback didn't invoke a lot of confidence that they will get Johnson good running looks this season.
About a week ago, we discussed the view of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston from one NFL general manager's perspective. He felt that Mariota was vastly overrated and Winston was the real deal. We reached out to more sources from around the league and got some differing opinions regarding those quarterback prospects. Some other teams stated that Mariota is not overrated at all, and that they have major concerns about Winston.
A high-ranking scouting director told us that Mariota is not overrated at all and that he's better than Blake Bortles and every quarterback prospect from the 2014 draft. He noted that Mariota is a tough player with athleticism, arm strength and size. Sources from another team said that Mariota will need to be taught how to thrive as a pocket passer, but he is known to be a good kid and hard worker, so they think he can learn it. They said he is in the same boat entering the NFL as Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick were.
Multiple teams said they have serious off-the-field concerns with Winston. As one team put it, "off-the-field issues are real and more than advertised." Other sources said that Winston is liked in the Florida State locker room and viewed as a leader. He is said to work hard and balances his commitments to football and baseball. However, in time away from the athletic facilities, Winston has a habit of getting himself in trouble. Sources from a quarterback-needy team said they are very worried about character concerns with Winston and his maturity off the field.
While there are some differing opinions about Mariota and Winston, there is a consensus about UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Every team said that Hundley is overrated, but has a lot of talent and upside. The other players who had a consensus opinion regarding them were Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Baylor's Bryce Petty. They were at differing ends of the spectrum, as all teams liked Mannion and were down on Petty. Being described as average was the kindest words shared about Petty.
Things will change over the next several months, but entering the 2014 season, there already is a healthy debate about the top quarterback prospects.
We've heard from sources in the NFL scouting community that some of the highly touted quarterback prospects are overrated. Among those categorized like that were Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley. One the other hand, one quarterback prospect who has impressed sources is Oregon State signal-caller Sean Mannion.
The NFL is a pass-happy league that has an endless demand for pocket passers like Mannion. The senior has shown improvement over his three seasons as a starter for Oregon State. He made a big jump as a junior when he completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,662 yards with 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 214-pounder has pocket presence, a good arm and field vision.
There are three things that Mannion must improve for the NFL. They are: accuracy, anticipation and footwork. He had a rough stretch last November that can be attributed to those weaknesses. One skill that Mannion does not possess is running ability. While he doesn't offer a running element, neither do a lot of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
Sources with multiple teams say that of the senior quarterback prospects, they are intrigued with Mannion and eager to see how he performs in his final collegiate season. League contacts made a point to say that Mannion was a good player, while stating that Mariota and Hundley were overrated. With a big year, Mannion could merit first-round consideration.
About a week ago, we caught with an NFL general manager to discuss the 2015 quarterback prospects as they stand going into the 2014 season. Scroll down to read about the GM's view that Marcus Mariota is "vastly overrated" and Jameis Winston is the "real deal." Another quarterback who has received buzz as a potential first-round pick is UCLA's Brett Hundley. The Bruins' junior signal-caller has been a part of a resurgence in the UCLA program since taking over as the starter before the 2012 season.
The general manager told us he felt that Hundley was overrated. He said he hasn't seen Hundley have a defining game against a big opponent. Last year, Hundley struggled versus Stanford, but he played better against Oregon than his numbers indicated, but still tossed two interceptions while completing 13-of-19 passes for 64 yards, as the Ducks blew out the Bruins 42-14. Hundley needs to help his draft stock by showing that he has the ability to put the team on his back and take down an elite opponent.
Many project Hundley to becoming a first-round pick, but that NFL general manager was unconvinced and felt that Hundley was being overrated in these early projections. Perhaps Hundley will change that during is junior season.
Hundley completed 67 percent of his passes in 2013 for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 970 yards (748 net) and 11 scores. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder has a physical skill set and is said to be a hard worker.
The Baylor Bears have become one of the best programs in the Big 12 and have been led by a prolific point machine for an offense. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty enters the 2014 season with a lot of hype as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
However, after speaking with one NFL general manager and some other league sources, they are all down on Petty and don't believe he looks like a potential early-round pick.
One league source said that Petty has received a lot of hype but he isn't very good and doesn't translate well to the NFL. Another league source was more blunt, saying he did not think Petty was good at all. The feedback from league contacts had Petty as a college system quarterback and more of a day-three prospect.
Petty (6-3, 230) is a dual-threat quarterback who completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions. He ran for 339 yards and 14 touchdowns as well.
Over the next few months, there will be many comparisons between Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Both are draft eligible, and most project them as the top two signal-caller prospects for the NFL. Entering the season, the consensus view has them pretty even as top-10 picks.
We recently talked to an NFL general manager of a team who has a franchise quarterback, so he wouldn't draft either Mariota or Winston. That general manager said that Mariota is vastly overrated, and he doesn't view him as an elite quarterback prospect. Winston however, is the "real deal," according to this general manager.
The NFL prizes pocket passing ability above everything else with a quarterback, and that gives Winston an edge over Mariota. Winston is a rare athlete who is a natural passer. His field vision and decision-making were phenomenal in 2013, and that helped him win a national championship and a Heisman. Mariota, meanwhile, is part of a college up-tempo spread offense. He uses his legs to make more plays that won't translate to the NFL. Mariota needs to show improved pocket passing potential according to that general manager.
Of course, the general manger acknowledged that there is a lot that can change in the months to come, as Mariota looks to improve as a junior. Winston will have the challenge of repeating his 2014 success while staying out of trouble. Other sources have expressed they have off-the-field concerns with Winston, and they want to see him show more maturity.
Michigan's Devin Funchess was awarded the Big Ten's tight end of the year award in 2013 after he totaled 49 receptions for 748 yards and six touchdowns. Funchess was a dynamic weapon who presented lots of mismatch problems for defenses. Surprisingly, Michigan decided to move Funchess to wide receiver full-time in 2014.
Physically, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Funchess is a tweener between a tight end and wide receiver. For the NFL, the smart move would have been for Funchess to add weight and fill out his frame to help his blocking ability. At his size, Funchess has an advantage over many NFL defensive backs, but he could struggle to gain separation from cornerbacks. It's much easier for a player like Funchess to get separation running against linebackers and safeties compared to the fastest players on the field.
Receiving tight ends are a rage in the NFL, as they present so many mismatch opportunities. Funchess could have been a potential first-round pick if he stayed at tight end while gaining some weight and improving his blocking. Eric Ebron was a top-10 pick this year, while Tyler Eifert went in the top 25 the year before. Every team wants to find a Jimmy Graham weapon for their offense.
Both Ebron and Eifert needed work as blockers when they entered the draft, thus Funchess could easily have received that same high-round consideration. Now, he looks like just another big receiver who may lack the speed to separate in the NFL. Those players are a dime a dozen and typically get selected in the mid to late rounds. Funchess was more special as a tight end. Don't be surprised if NFL teams move him back to that position in a year or two.
Two years ago, TCU defensive end/outside linebacker Devonte Fields took college football by storm and was one of the best pass-rushers in the nation. We spoke with Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson at the Senior Bowl, and he said that Fields was the best pass-rusher he went against in college. That matchup came when Fields was just a freshman, so there was plenty to get excited about what Fields could evolve into once he gained experience.
Since that freshman season, Fields has gone off the rails. TCU head coach Gary Patterson criticized Fields' performance in spring practice after that season, and Fields was suspended for the 2013 season opener against LSU. He played two games before a season-ending foot injury. The off-the-field issues continued to be a problem for him, as he was arrested for a domestic disturbance with his ex-girlfriend. TCU moved quickly and said that Fields was removed from the team while the legal process played out. In reports, school officials have said if Fields was found guilty, there is no chance they would take him back.
Unsurprisingly, Fields' ex-girlfriend is backing off her story. That opens up the possibility that the charges will be dropped and that Fields will return to football for TCU. The Horned Frogs would certainly like to have the player who broke out with 10 sacks, 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, four passes batted, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2012.
While Fields may not be done with college football, he continues to do damage to his NFL stock. Sources say the character issues with Fields are huge and mounting. One team told us that stemming from their ownership, they won't consider drafting players that have had assault issues with women. That was before the controversy surrounding Ravens' running back Ray Rice.
Like Vontaze Burfict from Arizona State a few years ago, the damage from off-the-field issues could cause a first-round talent like Fields to ultimately go undrafted.
Over the past months since winning the Heisman Trophy and a national championship, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and his family have made claims that they plan on Winston playing two more seasons of college football and another season of baseball for the Seminoles. Despite those claims, many fans and pundits have assumed that Winston would enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
We reached out to NFL teams to see how they plan to approach Winston this fall. Their response was they would scout him as if he'll be entering the 2015 NFL Draft. They will write their scouting reports on him and will wait until the end of the year to include their off-the-field and character assessments. With a prospect like Winston, who could be a high first-rounder, teams would rather be prepared for him to come out than having to start the process months later.
Scouts write reports on high-profile prospects who are viewed as likely to declare. Houston's Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo's Sammy Watkins and Jacksonville's Marqise Lee were treated like they were seniors last year, but the vast majority of players that have eligibility remaining aren't scouted like they're entering the draft. Even with the comments made by him and his family, NFL teams are treating Winston the same as they did with Clowney, Watkins or Lee.
Over the years, many prospects have said publicly they plan on going back to school - until the time comes when they're starring at a big pay day if they declare for the draft. Some recent examples of that are Robert Griffin III and Jace Amaro. Around the NFL, teams are taking the stance entering the season that Winston will be like Griffin and Amaro.
The 2014 NFL Draft was considered one of the strongest classes in years. However, the edge-rusher group was pretty weak overall. Once Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr were selected in the top 10, only one other pass-rusher was selected in the first round, Kansas City's Dee Ford, who was considered to be a reach. One player who probably would have gone in the top 25 had he come out was Clemson's Vic Beasley. Scouts tell WalterFootball.com that Beasley was coming in with a first-round grade before surprisingly deciding to return to school.
Beasley was a tremendous pass-rusher for the Tigers in 2013 with 13 sacks. He also picked up 23 tackles for a loss, 41 tackles, six passes batted, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. After dominating the early part of year, Beasley was clamped down by Florida State as the Seminoles blew out Clemson, but he ended the season in impressive fashion against South Carolina and Ohio State. Beasley had 14 tackles with eight sacks and a forced fumble in 2012.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder will have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL, but he would be a great fit in a Von Miller-style role. The athletic Beasley could also play in a 3-4 defense as an inside and outside linebacker as well.
Many college pass-rushers see a dip in production from extra blocking attention after a big season. That could happen to Beasley, but with his speed and athleticism, he should still make plenty of plays against ACC offensive linemen. If Beasley can stay consistent with his 2013 production, he could easily end up being a high first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Every year, late in the college football seasons, scouts will put
together draft grades on some players who end up returning to
school. Some of them are a result of players who petition the NFL
Advisory Board and end up remaining in the college ranks. Other
times, scouts hear or anticipate that a player is coming out, yet
they end up changing their mind to return.
The 2014 NFL Draft set a record for early entry prospects that
left eligibility on the table to go pro. Many of them made
regrettable decisions in leaving school. One of the few good players
who decided to return to college was Mississippi State inside
linebacker Benardrick McKinney. According to sources,
McKinney received second-round grades and had a lot of believers
in the scouting community.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder was considered to be a three-down middle
linebacker who has the ability to play in pass coverage. Sources
like his size and feel that McKinney has good instincts. McKinney
has upside, and it is possible that he ends up improving on his
draft grade during the 2014 season.
After redshirting in 2011, McKinney made a splash in 2012 and was
a First-Team Freshman All-American by numerous media outlets. He
recorded 102 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and
four passes broken up. As a sophomore McKinney had 70 tackles,
seven tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2013.