With all the general managers, coaches and scouts in attendance for the Senior Bowl, there is a lot of chatter going around. Here are some of the highlights from the rumor mill on Day 2.
There were reports that the New York Jets are all over North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky. When I told this to Jets sources, they rolled their eyes and shook their head. They said that general manager Mike Maccagnan has them work more in depth on early entry players later in the process and not during the fall, so it is way too early to say that for almost any non-senior.
These sources also said that quarterback Christian Hackenberg developed well behind the scenes as a rookie. Citing Jared Goff with the Rams as an example of a quarterback playing before he was prepared, the Jets didn't want to force Hackenberg on the field before he was ready and end up doing damage to him. This analyst wouldn't be surprised if the Jets went the veteran quarterback route to compete and see how their young quarterbacks improve in 2017.
Sources were adamant that the Jets would also take the best player available in the first round. This is the M.O. for general manager Mike Maccagnan. In his first draft with the Jets, he took Leonard Williams despite being strong at his position. Darron Lee fit that trend as well, as many expected Lee to be gone by the time New York was on the clock. In his final draft with Houston as the director of college scouting in 2014, the Texans wisely passed on Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel for Jadeveon Clowney. In the two drafts before that, the Texans landed DeAndre Hopkins and Whitney Mercilus late in the first round. Thus, Maccagnan's track record is clear, and the Jets are going to take the best player available with the sixth-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
There has been some talk about Alabama offensive tackle Cam Robinson being a better fit at guard or right tackle as a pro. Some team sources say they see Robinson as a second-round talent like the Bucs' left tackle Donovan Smith. Others say they see him as a late first-rounder who would be an ideal right tackle. One team said they had Robinson as a top-16 talent and a Russell Okung or Ryan Clady type left tackle.
A source on a fourth team, meanwhile, felt that Robinson was worthy of a top-20 pick, and that he should stay at left tackle. That area scout said that Robinson could be messed up by changing positions. They think he is smart, athletic, and strong. They compared him to the Buffalo Bills' Cordy Glenn, whom many projected to right tackle, but has proven to be a good left tackle after staying at his college position. Robinson will be a subject of debate in draft meetings, but he looks safe as a top-16 pick in a weak class of offensive tackles.
Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson could have participated in the Senior Bowl because he already graduated, but Watson passed on the opportunity. Sources from some quarterback-needy teams said they were disappointed and thought it was a mistake. While Watson has a lot of college tape from the past two seasons, he doesn't have the experience of operating a pro-style offense. The Senior Bowl would have given him a crash course in a pro-style offense with calling plays and using pro-style verbiage.
Some college quarterbacks like Jay Cutler used the Senior Bowl to lock in their first-round standing. Even a spread offense quarterback like Tim Tebow didn't have an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl, but he still ended up being a first-round pick. Last year, Dak Prescott impressed a lot of teams with how he handled the change to the coaching by the Jacksonville Jaguars staff, coming from a spread college system. At the end of the day, this decision won't really be held against Watson, but it was a missed opportunity to impress NFL evaluators.
An interesting prospect to follow during the lead up to the 2017 NFL Draft is Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett. After setting a sack record for the Volunteers, league sources say that Barnett is on the bubble of the top 10. Some scouts have graded Barnett similarly to Clemson edge rusher Shaq Lawson, who was selected with the 19th-overall pick last year. Both are similar build around 6-foot-3, weighing about 270 pounds. Some evaluators really like Barnett and say their only reservation is that he seems to have quiet stretches. He was consistent with his sack production, but there would be games where he was quiet for the first half before dominating in the final two quarters. A strong combine could push Barnett into the top 10, but even if he doesn't impress in Indianapolis, he looks safe in the top 20. Barnett is No. 2 in our 2017 NFL Draft Defensive End Prospect Rankings.
One team to keep an eye on for a landing spot for Barnett is the New Orleans Saints. Some league sources have compared Barnett to Saints defensive end Cam Jordan, and New Orleans could use another edge rusher to go with Jordan. Hau'oli Kikaha is coming off a season-ending injury, and adding another rusher would give the Saints a trio to rotate. Sources with the Saints say their first-round pick might come down to the best available player at edge rusher or cover corner. Our New Orleans Saints Team Needs page is available here.