2019 NFL DRAFT REVIEW

Time to look back at this year’s NFL draft and how it all went from my point of view. I allowed myself a couple of days once the event was over to settle down before going back over the picks round-by-round while my mind was still in “draft mode”.

When preparing this review I wanted to try and incorporate as best as I could my pre-draft position rankings (take a look at them here!), each team’s draft class and my own Top 100 results.  I have chosen to follow a similar style to previous reviews – which is to initially list the first 100 picks, with some detail on each of the players selected in the first round and thereafter only something on any other pick that I feel noteworthy.  This way I feel like it will reduce the risk of me simply repeating my thoughts on each player (what sort of player they are, how their new team will play them etc.) from my position rankings.

Below are the first 100 picks of the 2019 NFL draft.

1.  Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals – Those who have read any of my pre-draft work will know I was against the idea of the Cardinals taking Murray at #1 (and I still am!).  With all the coverage hinting towards it, the move became inevitable and therefore was not a surprise when Murray’s name was indeed called as the opening pick of the draft.  This immediately put Arizona’s quarterback Josh Rosen into the spotlight as it was clear he would not stay with Murray’s arrival.  Rosen was traded to the Miami Dolphins during round two (a nice deal for the Dolphins).  If the new-look Cardinals offense works with Murray the team will be an exciting watch.
2.  Nick Bosa, DE, San Francisco 49ers – With the Cardinals taking Murray, the 49ers would have been very happy to be able to get Bosa – one of the best players in the draft and fills a need.
3.  Quinnen Williams, DT, New York Jets – Another of the top guys in this year’s draft, and the Jets were not going to ignore him. Williams is the type of player who would improve any defensive line and should make an immediate impact.
4.  Clelin Ferrell, DE, Oakland Raiders – The first surprise of the night. A pleasant one for me as I rate Ferrell very highly yet did not expect him to go this early. The Raiders obviously see it too.
5.  Devin White, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – White was the player I wanted the Raiders to go with at #4. Not only because of his talent but I also thought it would have a knock-on effect of making the rest of the first round a bit more unpredictable. A sensible choice for the Buccaneers, who will place White in the middle of their linebacker group.
6.  Daniel Jones, QB, New York Giants – The most divisive and talked-about pick of the entire draft. Possessing THREE first round picks, the Giants decided to go quarterback straight away. I had thought they would look to address the position.  With Drew Lock and Dwayne Haskins available, and also Josh Rosen seemingly an option via a trade with Arizona, the Giants made Daniel Jones their man.  I think the main problem with the pick is that it was made as early as #6 – Jones would surely have still been around for them later in the first or even the start of the second round.  I can see why they like Jones so much as he was coached by the same guys as Eli Manning, who Jones will get the chance to learn from instead of being thrown into a starting role.  I think it will be a good thing for him to have this time to develop.
7.  Josh Allen, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars – I suspect the Jaguars couldn’t get this pick in fast enough! Not necessarily a need but the best player available, Allen will line up best at outside linebacker and can also be moved up to play defensive end.
8.  T. J. Hockenson, TE, Detroit Lions – Hockenson will upgrade the Lions offense in both the passing and running game. I really hope this breaks Detroit’s habit of struggling with tight ends they draft in the first round.
9.  Ed Oliver, DT, Buffalo Bills – A great pick. The Bills were never going to resist Oliver, who has all the tools to make an impression from day one with room to improve as well. You know a player has potential when number 9 feels like a bargain.
10.  Devin Bush, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers – At this point the Steelers became the first team of the night to trade up. In true AFC North style they did so at the expense of divisional rivals the Cincinnati Bengals, who they jumped in front of to nab linebacker Devin Bush. He’ll fit the aggressive tone that Pittsburgh likes from it’s defense.
11.  Jonah Williams, OT, Cincinnati Bengals – Linebacker was a real need for the Bengals so missing out on Bush must have affected their draft board.  They still made a really solid pick by choosing Williams.  He will instantly improve their offensive line.
12.  Rashan Gary, DE, Green Bay Packers – There was talk of Gary dropping come the beginning of the draft so I was happy to see him taken here. I like him as a versatile player with the size to move inside the D line if coaches want him to.
13.  Christian Wilkins, DT, Miami Dolphins – As I mentioned earlier when referring to their trade for Josh Rosen, I liked how the Dolphins went about this draft and it all began with taking Christian Wilkins. He’s a class act with good team ethic and should put up some good production for Miami.
14.  Chris Lindstrom, OG, Atlanta Falcons – I have been high on Lindstrom for a long time so I liked seeing him selected by the Falcons in the middle of the first. I suspect Atlanta could have been in for both Gary and Wilkins had either still been available. This is a move designed to help their run game and protect quarterback Matt Ryan.
15.  Dwayne Haskins, QB, Washington Redskins – Haskins to the Redskins travelled around the NFL rumour mill more and more as the event approached. It will be interesting to see how soon he can challenge to be starting for Washington under center.
16.  Brian Burns, DE, Carolina Panthers – A talent like Burns falling to #16 goes to show how much depth there was in this edge rusher class. The Panthers can use him in a variety of ways on the defensive side of the ball.
17.  Dexter Lawrence, DT, New York Giants – The Giants got this pick as part of the trade prior to the draft that sent Odell Beckham to the Cleveland Browns. They used it to bulk up the middle of their defensive line; in Lawrence they get a guy who works well against running plays with room to improve on his technique.
18.  Garrett Bradbury, C, Minnesota Vikings – I predicted Bradbury as a safe pick for the Vikings. Plenty of experience at center and he can also move across to play guard if required.
19.  Jeffery Simmons, DT, Tennessee Titans – Simmons will not play for a season due to his recent knee injury.  The Titans were not put off and made sure he remained a first rounder – an indication of how highly regarded he is as a prospect.
20.  Noah Fant, TE, Denver Broncos – Nice work here by the Broncos as they traded down ten places and still got a real offensive weapon.  Fant’s strong potential as a target in the passing game will help Denver’s new quarterback group.
21.  Darnell Savage Jr, S, Green Bay Packers – This was another pick that I called correctly!  I had the Packers selecting Savage Jr. at #30 and they traded up and still went with him.  It’s a pick I like a lot as he rose throughout the process all the way into round one.
22.  Andre Dillard, OT, Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles traded up a few places to make a nice addition to the O line. Dillard is a very good pass blocker so Carson Wentz should approve this decision.
23.  Tytus Howard, OT, Houston Texans – The Houston Texans were always going to address their offensive line but this feels like a reach.  At this point it became clear the likes of Jawaan Taylor and Cody Ford were falling badly.  Howard was quite a way down my rankings so seeing him go in the first round was a bit of a shock.
24.  Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders – Jacobs to the Raiders must have been the most nailed on pick this year. Whether it was with #24 or #27 almost everyone had them taking the best running back in the draft.
25.  Marquise Brown, WR, Baltimore Ravens – One of the most dynamic players in the whole draft.  I still did not expect Brown to be selected until day two despite his entertainment value.  It will be interesting to see how the Ravens use him as his lack of size remains a concern.
26.  Montez Sweat, DE, Washington Redskins – Washington traded back into the first round to foil the Raiders and grab Sweat.  He will add some tempo to their pass rush and could prove the trade to be good value.
27.  Johnathan Abram, S, Oakland Raiders – Abram is a real banger of a safety and I was not surprised to see he was one of the first taken at the position despite marking him down in my own rankings for sometimes being over-aggressive.  I can imagine head coach Jon Gruden loving his style.
28.  Jerry Tillery, DT, Los Angeles Chargers – Nice selection here for the Chargers. Tillery fills a need and should contribute early on the D line, especially as a pass rusher from the inside.
29.  L.J. Collier, DE, Seattle Seahawks – As has been a habit in recent years, the Seahawks spent the first night making deals to accumulate more picks in the later rounds. When they did make a move for a player it came at #29 with the addition of Collier – a power-based edge rusher. Exactly what they needed.
30.  DeAndre Baker, CB, New York Giants – I was not surprised to see Baker as the first cornerback picked. He has good length and ability to read plays and was my favourite of the Giants three first round selections.
31. Kaleb McGary, OT, Atlanta Falcons – Atlanta traded up for another go at a first rounder and added a second offensive lineman.  That’s investing a lot across that line.  With McGary going here and the Patriots looking elsewhere it confirmed that Taylor and Ford (two OTs thought of as sure first round picks) slid into day two.
32.  N’Keal Harry, WR, New England Patriots – Harry is drafted into an excellent situation here.  He was the top receiver in my rankings and joining the Patriots offense could help him become a top player.
33.  Byron Murphy, CB, Arizona Cardinals – Putting aside my issues with Kyler Murray, the Cardinals appeared to begin each round with a nice pick and assembled a very good final draft class.  They kicked-off round two by taking a real all-rounder in Murphy, a move that started a run on cornerbacks, with plenty taken throughout the second round.
34.  Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Indianapolis Colts
35.  Jawaan Taylor, OT, Jacksonville Jaguars – Taylor’s drop ended here at the start of the second.  I had him as a potential top 10 pick but it was concerns about one of his knees that caused him to fall to #35 for the Jaguars to get a steal.
36.  Deebo Samuel, WR, San Francisco 49ers
37.  Greg Little, OT, Carolina Panthers
38.  Cody Ford, OT, Buffalo Bills – Another great pick for the Bills.  The reason for Ford’s slide out of the first round is not as clear as Taylor’s.  Buffalo won’t mind as their good draft continued here.
39.  Sean Bunting, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
40.  Trayvon Mullen, CB, Oakland Raiders
41.  Dalton Risner, OT, Denver Broncos
42.  Drew Lock, QB, Denver Broncos – The Broncos also put together a good draft class.  They made a couple of nice moves back-to-back by first taking strong offensive line prospect Dalton Risner, then here they selected Drew Lock to be their quarterback of the future.  General manager John Elway does not have a great record with choosing quarterbacks but I hope this works out as Lock is my favourite QB in this year’s draft.
43.  Jahlani Tavai, LB, Detroit Lions – Each time that I have done a Top 100, my first miss always seems to come in the mid-40s.  2019 was no different as Tavai was the first name not on my list.  Linebacker was probably the position I missed on the most.  I thought Tavai had a poor combine and did not see him as a second round player at all.
44.  Elgton Jenkins, C, Green Bay Packers
45.  Joejuan Williams, CB, New England Patriots
46.  Greedy Williams, CB, Cleveland Browns – Cleveland’s opening pick was a nice move to get Greedy Williams.  There is still room for him to improve so #46 feels about right value-wise.  On paper, at least, the Browns are building a really good team.
47.  Marquise Blair, S, Seattle Seahawks – The second guy not in my Top 100.  You can see why the Seahawks like Blair; a tough, hard-hitting safety who fits how they like to play defense.
48.  Erik McCoy, C, New Orleans Saints
49.  Ben Banogu, OLB, Indianapolis Colts
50.  Irv Smith Jr, TE, Minnesota Vikings
51.  A. J. Brown, WR, Tennessee Titans – Wide receiver was a real need for the Titans so it was a great idea to go with Brown at #51.  They will be able to line him up in a variety of ways and still count on him to make a play.
52.  Drew Sample, TE, Cincinnati Bengals – Tight end appears to be another position I missed on a bit.  Despite that I still feel that Sample going here is very high.
53.  Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
54.  Lonnie Johnson Jr, CB, Houston Texans
55.  Max Scharping, OT, Houston Texans
56.  Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs – Hardman is one of my favourite players in this draft.  I felt like I was higher than most on him pre-draft but the league obviously agreed on his value as he went in round two to the Chiefs, who really like using speedy receivers.
57.  J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
58.  Trysten Hill, DT, Dallas Cowboys – One of my top sleepers, I was still surprised to see Hill picked as high as round two.  I look forward to seeing how the Cowboys play him on their D line.
59.  Parris Campbell, WR, Indianapolis Colts
60.  Nasir Adderley, S, Los Angeles Chargers
61.  Taylor Rapp, S, Los Angeles Rams
62.  Andy Isabella, WR, Arizona Cardinals
63.  Juan Thornhill, S, Kansas City Chiefs
64.  D.K. Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks – As the second round drew to a close the Seahawks traded UP (!) and took D.K. Metcalf.  He was the most discussed WR in the class mainly due to his physique and excellent combine workout.  I felt as though round 2-3 was about right for his value.  His skill-set will suit the Seahawks who have the quarterback in Russell Wilson to send him deep and get him the ball.
65.  Zach Allen, DE, Arizona Cardinals
66.  Diontae Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
67.  Jalen Hurd, WR, San Francisco 49ers
68.  Jachai Polite, DE, New York Jets
69.  Josh Oliver, TE, Jacksonville Jaguars
70.  Darrell Henderson, RB, Los Angeles Rams – I thought the Rams had a very good draft.  My favourite of their selections was Henderson.  I really like him and had heard medical rumours so good to see he wasn’t affected by that.
71.  Dre’Mont Jones, DT, Denver Broncos
72.  Germaine Pratt, LB, Cincinnati Bengals
73.  David Montgomery, RB, Chicago Bears
74.  Devin Singletary, RB, Buffalo Bills
75.  Jace Sternberger, TE, Green Bay Packers
76.  Terry McLaurin, WR, Washington Redskins
77.  Chase Winovich, DE, New England Patriots
78.  Michael Deiter, OG, Miami Dolphins
79.  David Long, CB, Los Angeles Rams
80.  Sione Takitaki, LB, Cleveland Browns
81.  Will Harris, S, Detroit Lions
82.  Nate Davis, OG, Tennessee Titans
83.  Justin Layne, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
84.  Khalen Saunders, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
85.  Jaylon Ferguson, DE, Baltimore Ravens
86.  Kahale Warring, TE, Houston Texans
87.  Damien Harris, RB, New England Patriots
88.  Cody Barton, LB, Seattle Seahawks
89.  Bobby Okereke, LB, Indianapolis Colts
90.  Connor McGovern, OG, Dallas Cowboys
91.  Trey Pipkins, OT, Los Angeles Chargers
92.  Chuma Edoga, OT, New York Jets
93.  Miles Boykin, WR, Baltimore Ravens
94.  Jamel Dean, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
95.  Oshane Ximines, DE, New York Giants
96.  Dawson Knox, TE, Buffalo Bills
97.  Bobby Evans, OT, Los Angeles Rams
98.  Quincy Williams, LB, Jacksonville Jaguars – I really liked this selection as it confused everyone!  Some of us had not done any research on Quincy Williams yet here he was being taken in round three.  It turns out he is the older brother of #3 overall pick Quinnen Williams so the Jaguars have gambled on him as the sibling of one of the best players in the draft.
99.  Mike Edwards, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
100.  Will Grier, QB, Carolina Panthers – #100 was Will Grier.  I liked the pick as I’m a fan of his game and also he sneaked in while being on my Top 100 list!

At this point it was time to check my Top 100.  I wanted to beat my previous best of 80 from 2016.  And I did… 82!  I also bettered some well-known names – Mel Kiper of ESPN (81), the Draft Network (80) and CBS (75) among others.  After a couple of years in the mid-70s, all of the extra time invested this year obviously made a difference.  It certainly felt good to score higher than a few experts!

I like to look at the players who were in my Top 100 but did not have their names called there in the draft.  They are below.

101.  Yodny Cajuste, OT, New England Patriots
103.  Hakeem Butler, WR, Arizona Cardinals – It’s so frustrating to see how close to the 100 some of these players were!  Butler is a real boom or bust kind of receiver who I rated highly but was not amazed that teams didn’t.  Still expected him to go by round three though.
105. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, S, New Orleans Saints – Gardner-Johnson was one of the biggest drops of the draft.  He was my top safety and I thought he had a chance to go in the first round!  It turns out there were character issues that pushed him down – must have been bad to push him this far.
107.  Anthony Nelson, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
108.  Julian Love, CB, New York Giants
114.  Dru Samia, OG, Minnesota Vikings
115.  Christian Miller, OLB, Carolina Panthers
116.  Amani Hooker, S, Tennessee Titans
130.  Drue Tranquill, LB, Los Angeles Chargers
139.  Deionte Thompson, S, Arizona Cardinals
146.  Amani Oruwariye, CB, Detroit Lions – Cornerbacks have been the position I have lost on in past Top 100’s.  I was much better this year but Oruwariye falling to #146 seemed liked a lot, especially as I thought he would go in round two.
153.  Ross Pierschbacher, C, Washington Redskins – I always make the odd decision in the Top 100 with my heart rather than my head.  Pierschbacher has been my top center for a while; I knew the league did not see him in the same light so was not surprised that he did not make it.
155.  Mack Wilson, LB, Cleveland Browns
157. Blake Cashman, LB, New York Jets – Two more picks here showing how I missed on the linebackers.  With Cashman’s dodgy medical record, the fifth round when the Jets took him is probably right.
161.  Charles Omenihu, DE, Houston Texans
168.  D’Andre Walker, OLB, Tennessee Titans
206.  Kelvin Harmon, WR, Washington Redskins – I have not been sure about Harmon throughout the whole draft process but went along with the buzz of his highlights over his slow combine effort.  Should have stuck with my instincts!  Although dropping to #206 seems a bit much so there must be more to it than just concerns about his lack of speed.
Undrafted.  DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Lodge is another player I know I’m higher on than most.  However, I still expected him to be drafted!  Since the draft he has signed a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As I stated in my power rankings post, I have never gone deeper than this year when researching an NFL draft.  For this reason the hundreds of names from the 2019 class will always be of interest to me and I look forward to seeing how they all progress.

Each year I enjoy the whole process of the combine, scouting film and finding where all the good information is coming from.  I want to give a mention to Paul at NFL Draft Line – a fellow British fan of the draft who does such good work he is always in contention for the Huddle Report’s Top 100 competition.  Perhaps I will be able to officially enter the competition myself one day!

It’s finally time to get out of “draft mode” as the NFL moves into the off-season.

I have a facebook page to accompany this blog.  On the page there is regular news and views on all things NFL.  If you are interested and also want to keep up with any future blog posts give it a visit (and a “like”!) here – http://www.facebook.com/Liam66NFL

2019 NFL DRAFT POSITION RANKINGS

It’s THAT time of year again!

The world of the NFL is readying for next week when the NFL draft takes place.  Fans are ready to see which rookies their team decides to welcome onto the roster.

Then there are those of us who become entirely immersed in the whole process.  For a number of years I have been one of those – a big draft fan.  2016 was when I first expanded this interest and took the time to record position rankings and a top 100 list.  Not only did I enjoy it, in terms of evaluating players I did rather well (read my 2016 draft review here!).  Back then my rankings came from watching the college season and a few pages of notes from which I created a top 5 at each position, with the addition of some other players I thought would do well.  I continued like this for the last couple of drafts.

This year my rankings have gotten bigger and more detailed (and therefore, hopefully, even more accurate!).  Hours of game tape has been watched, more notes on players and stats from the combine and pro days have been recorded.  All of this work means that for 2019 I’m publishing these position rankings as a Top 10.

There are a number of situations where players could be scouted and graded at more than one position depending on how different teams view their skill-set. Many guys who have declared are capable of lining up in more than one place – of course that kind of versatility is seen as a strength by many a scout.  For the benefit of these rankings I put players at the positions they were most regularly playing in their final college season, with the knowledge some will likely be drafted to play a different role in the pros.

QUARTERBACKS

  1. Drew Lock, Missouri – Lock has been my top QB for a while. I hoped he would back up how I see him on the field with a good combine performance, which he did.  He’s watchable in that he can do a lot of things well; he has ability to move around during plays if need be and he has good arm strength, while accuracy is not bad either.  The reports that he improved on areas in 2018 despite having to learn a new system sound good, as it is a sign he can process different offensive ideas.
  2. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma – Don’t do it, Arizona!  Almost every rumour and every mock draft now has the Cardinals taking Murray with the first overall pick.  The whole thing has gained so much momentum it feels almost inevitable.  My problem with it is that he hasn’t done enough to help himself post-season.  For one so athletic he sat out the combine (although he did take part in the Oklahoma pro day) and his height and weight measurements appear to be generous to say the least.  It is the slender build and how it will affect his durability in the NFL that is a concern.  Now the good stuff – and the reasons why I still rank him second.  Never mind the lack of size, he’s an explosive player and his tape shows how quick and dangerous he can be at completing plays and creating new ones from nothing.  This is not just with his feet as Murray may have as good an arm as any in the draft – some of his throws are excellent.  I have my doubts especially in terms of number 1 overall, yet wherever he goes I look forward to seeing how Murray adapts to the next level.
  3. Dwayne Haskins, Ohio State – I’m not sure about Dwayne Haskins.  He’s a pocket passer, which is fine as quarterbacks do not need to be moving around all the time but I find his throwing action visually untidy.  When he’s given time in the pocket he can put plays together.  As long as I’ve been following drafts, quarterbacks from Ohio State have tended to not make the jump to the NFL (J.T. Barrett, Cardale Jones, Troy Smith etc.), just to add a strange little problem I’ve had with him throughout the process!  I thought Haskins’ combine was disappointing.  However, I can see a team deciding to build a future offense around him.  Perhaps it’s an indication that this QB class is not great that I still put Haskins here on the list.
  4. Will Grier, West Virginia – I really like Grier, who was number 2 on this list for a while then after watching some more tape I just couldn’t keep him there. He has a strange throwing style but uses it well and I like his deep ball more than most seem to.  His winning attitude is contagious and he produced some great moments in big games last season.
  5. Daniel Jones, Duke – There appears to be a lot of praise coming Jones’ way from around the league.  He looks fairly athletic and moves well, also has a nice release with a good range of passing. I’ve watched tape of him putting drives together that go awry for one or two plays, maybe that’s concentration or a bad read.  I couldn’t put him any higher on the list and a decent combine helped him make my top 5.
  6. Jarrett Stidham, Auburn – Stidham’s form regressed in his final season at Auburn compared to the previous one, but it’s hard to knock him too much as the whole offense struggled last year. I see Stidham as a QB with the talent to make it in the NFL.  He has a reliable and accurate throwing arm – capable of completing the tough throws into tight windows.  Most likely to begin his pro career as a backup, albeit I still think there’s a chance he will get picked before the end of round three.
  7. Ryan Finley, NC State – He has played in some games over the last couple of years that show flashes of being very good.  Throughout this year I felt like he would be sought after once he entered the draft, then I watched some tape and it didn’t quite come together so he just hasn’t been able to kick on in his final season.  Arm strength seems to be the main concern.  Team will see his experience as either something to work with or a minus in terms of a low ceiling.
  8. Brett Rypien, Boise State – I’ve enjoyed watching Rypien play and will be interested to see where he ends up.  I like his throwing motion and he is very accurate.  I had to take his perceived lack of size into account when placing him as it’s something I would grade players (i.e. Kyler Murray) down on at most positions.
  9. Gardner Minshew, Washington State – Here’s another guy I like to watch play. Minshew had high production in leading Washington State through a great 2018 season.  Like Will Grier, Minshew is a winner who will drag the offense along on his own.  He has a short-looking throw (tends to not bring his arm back very far) that is still effective and he scrambles well when he needs to.
  10. Tyree Jackson, Buffalo – Jackson is a big quarterback with a very strong arm and proved at the combine he is also athletic.  All this coming together would have pushed him up a few big boards.  However, he is very raw in all areas and any team interested will need to trust that their offense and quarterback coaches are good enough to mould and improve him if he is to be a success in the NFL.

RUNNING BACKS

  1. Josh Jacobs, Alabama – What’s not to like here?  Jacobs has a bit of everything. He excels when he gets to run in the open field and make guys miss, also using this ability to make plays on kick returns.  He’s strong against tackles too and possesses nice hands.  I like the point that’s been made about his lack of “mileage” as well – the low number of carries at ‘Bama should make for some longevity.  It would be a surprise to many if he wasn’t the first back drafted.
  2. Darrell Henderson, Memphis – I’m a big fan of Henderson.  He has great burst and home run speed, I actually thought he would run faster at the combine but as I was underwhelmed by the running back class as a whole, that was not a problem.  Henderson is elusive enough to get away from tackle and earns plenty of yards after contact.
  3. Damien Harris, Alabama – The second RB out of Alabama has as much quality of his own.  He’s got great vision and capable of making some really nice cuts in tight spaces.  Harris will help his quarterback as a target out of the backfield and in pass protection.  Has got some nice toughness and power so will fit into many pro offenses.
  4. Miles Sanders, Penn State – I took note of Sanders following a strong combine and when I put that together with his tape he was a riser on my board.  Has a quick, nimble way of running while also taking on tackles and getting away from many of them – he’s tougher to bring down than you first think.
  5. David Montgomery, Iowa State – Montgomery moved into my top 5 more recently after I watched some more film.  He runs big and tall with an interesting upright style.  This means he is more of a power runner, yet still has a nice ability to create space.  NFL teams will like his core strength in terms of both carrying the load and as a pass blocker.
  6. Benny Snell, Kentucky – Here’s another strong runner, who is tricky and difficult to tackle.  I liked Snell’s high college production a lot, especially as it came playing in a tough, hard-hitting SEC conference.  Unlike some of the names above, teams may not lean on him so much.  I had him higher until the combine, where he was a bit disappointing.
  7. Mike Weber, Ohio State – I like Mike Weber!  Perhaps I’m higher on him than most primarily due to watching his play at Ohio State then once I saw the high combine performance I moved him onto this list.  Has a really good first step and acceleration on plays and does not shy away from contact.  He’s one I’ll be looking out for as I think someone will get a good all-round back in Weber.
  8. Bryce Love, Stanford – For more than a couple of years I have enjoyed watching Bryce Love run the football.  He had a wonderful 2017 season but has unfortunately been struck with injury problems since then.  Very quick and difficult to stop once you give him some room and he can break tackles well. The injury red flags have lowered his draft stock but if he overcomes them somebody is going to get a steal.
  9. Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M – Williams has a smooth running style that he combines with good speed.  I liked his highlights on tape and can see teams targeting him as a player to give the ball to as often as possible.  He also has good hands so can play well in the receiving game.
  10. Rodney Anderson, Oklahoma – Another runner suffering injury issues.  I had to include him in the list due to his talent when fit. He moves really well and makes great cuts and bursts to make up yardage quickly.  Has a nice way of getting to the outside and instantly turning the corner to head up field.  Just like Bryce Love, he will fall and could turn into a draft bargain.

WIDE RECEIVERS

  1. N’Keal Harry, Arizona State – This is such an interesting WR class!  There’s good talent (although not excellent!) all over the place.  Plenty of guys around the same areas in terms of value, but after going through all the numbers and the tape, N’Keal Harry is my number 1 receiver.  He’s a good height with strong hands and the ability to win the high contested catches.  Also has the moves to make defenders miss and gain yards after the catch on the ground.  In the right offensive scheme there’s room to improve Harry further and turn him into a guy who can dominate on the outside.
  2. Hakeem Butler, Iowa State – I have a high grade on Butler based mainly on his huge upside and potential.  At 6’6” he might be the tallest receiver in the draft – and he plays with that size.  He’s nice and quick through his routes too so along with using his large frame, Butler presents a challenge for defenders.  No doubt some refining is needed but there’s such a high ceiling here I hope he goes somewhere with the right coaches to get the most out of him.
  3. A.J. Brown, Ole Miss – A receiver who can make a variety of plays.  I like how Brown is able to produce in all areas of the field and Ole Miss seemed to use him whenever they really needed to gain yards.  He comes across as a good teammate with good leadership traits that show he could be able to fit easily into a new team.
  4. D.K. Metcalf, Ole Miss – The second-straight Mississippi receiver.  Metcalf’s hype took off following his impressive combine display.  His speed is his weapon as he can really stretch the field.  Has the build to play strong and powerful football too although he can be moved around at times in coverage.  Metcalf is probably favourite to be the first WR taken.  I’d like to see him add some variation to his game.
  5. Mecole Hardman, Georgia – One of my favourite players in this draft!  So much so I’ve put him up in my top 5. Ultra-quick, nice hands and a great route runner, wherever you line up Hardman along the offense he will find a way to give the opposition some problems.  I love his tape and get the impression that with his skill-set he’s a guy who will reach his high ceiling in the NFL.
  6. Deebo Samuel, South Carolina – Samuel is another receiver who shows up well on tape.  He was obviously the go-to guy at South Carolina and produced regularly.  A real playmaker with good yards after catch moments that translated to the return game where he also made big plays.
  7. Parris Campbell, Ohio State – I found Campbell difficult to evaluate.  I’m not completely sure how best to play him.  What is undeniable is his ability to produce in a game, once he’s in space he can do some damage.  I liked how often he would come up with a solid gain in the big matches.  He had an excellent combine that helped me decide to place him here.
  8. Kelvin Harmon, NC State – By contrast Harmon slipped down the list when he did not have a good combine.  There are some good highlights on tape and he has sure hands.  Also good at coming up with a catch one-on-one and so was NC State’s big offensive threat and the main target whenever they went for the end zone.
  9. Marquise Brown, Oklahoma – “Hollywood” Brown is a flashy player.  He has terrific playmaking talent that will attract loads of teams.  Like his quarterback at Oklahoma, Kyler Murray, the questions around Brown centre on his small size and weight.  Also like Murray, Brown did not compete at the combine (although he missed due to injury).  He runs good routes at high speed and once he has the football in his hands will be hard for anyone to catch.  Could turn into a really entertaining pick.
  10. DaMarkus Lodge, Ole Miss – Lodge is the third Ole Miss receiver in the draft.  He’ll be the last of the trio selected but could have as high a ceiling as his two fellow Rebels.  There are some nice highlights, he can make tough catches and has the traits to succeed at the next level.  Also is a great blocker so teams with run-heavy offenses will love having him on the outside.

TIGHT ENDS

  1. T.J. Hockenson, Iowa – The best two tight ends in this class both played at Iowa.  They are interesting to compare as they are different types of players, either could be the first TE to hear their name called on draft night.  I put Hockenson at number 1 as he is more of an all-rounder.  He uses his size well to create space and also is a mean blocker.  Really good hands show him as a reliable target in the pass game.  Hockenson has done a lot with little experience so there is room for him to get even better in the pros.
  2. Noah Fant, Iowa – As I hinted at above, Fant will be the preferred tight end for some this year.  He has huge speed and athleticism for the position and a passing team wanting a deep threat will love using him.  Fant will move quickly down the field and challenge the secondary – will make many catches in traffic too so it won’t be easy to slow him down.
  3. Jace Sternberger, Texas A&M – The more tape I watched of Sternberger the more I enjoyed his game.  He looks quick enough on the ground and more athletic than others below him on my rankings.  I saw him gain plenty of yards after the catch as well.  Also if A&M wanted a play from him one-on-one his hands are very good and will win at the high point more often than not.
  4. Irv Smith Jr, Alabama – What stood out to me about Smith Jr. on tape was the amount of space he was able to find for himself.  He excels in running routes and getting open for catches.  Has enough power to get away from tackles and was good as a blocker in Alabama’s strong run game.
  5. Dawson Knox, Ole Miss – Knox is another tight end who’s good in many areas. He looks like a decent blocker, with nice hands and a key strength is he’s quick.  His speed gets him a lot of yards once he has the ball in his hands.  As he is following the earlier mentioned three receivers from Ole Miss into the NFL, there won’t be much left on the Ole Miss offense next season!
  6. Kaden Smith, Stanford – Smith did not have a good combine so fell down my list a bit.  I like his play so I couldn’t slide him further than here. Not as athletic as some above him he does play big and strong and is affective.  Makes catches in traffic and doesn’t make too many mistakes when the ball is thrown his way.  It will be interesting to see how far the combine will push Smith down.
  7. Foster Moreau, LSU – It seems I’m higher than most on Moreau.  He was certainly under-used at LSU, though he did show well as a blocker in their run game. Has nice catching ability as well when he was targeted on pass plays.  He is reliable and has a high ceiling.
  8. Kahale Warring, San Diego State – Kahale Warring’s stock has been on the rise for a while.  A good, fast route runner and capable of making plays under a lot of attention.  Wins plenty of individual battles as well when asked to.  He’s one of those prospects where it is all about the potential.
  9. Caleb Wilson, UCLA – Here’s another fast tight end.  If Wilson had a bit more to his game I would place him higher as his speed is his primary weapon.  He was a bit too inconsistent with catches on tape and I don’t think he is much of a blocker.  However, if I’m talking up Noah Fant as a deep target then it should be noted Wilson will be best used in the same way.
  10. Dax Raymond, Utah State – I’ve realised there’s a theme here with how I have graded tight ends.  Raymond is yet another who ran well at the combine and shows good acceleration on tape.  He made some nice catches and seemed to relish being Utah State’s number one target and the go-to player when needed to keep a drive moving.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

  1. Jawaan Taylor, Florida – Taylor played at right tackle last year for Florida, I’m sure teams will not worry about drafting him to play on the left.  He has a nice smooth way of moving around in pass protection and gets up the field well when blocking the run.  High-level technique and strength to go with his movement meant he was rarely in trouble on tape.
  2. Jonah Williams, Alabama – The first thing that has come to my mind when thinking of Williams during the whole draft process, is watching him being put on the ground not once, but twice by Clelin Ferrell in the National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson.  There’s the old adage of big players rising in big moments – well that was the opposite.  It’s cruel of me to pinpoint that game, because his all-round game as a tackle is very good.  There’s highlights of him using power and movement really well.  Just like Taylor, when you watch him he looks the part and shouldn’t wait long to be drafted.
  3. Cody Ford, Oklahoma – Ford is another guy who played on the right side.  He was a part of a very strong Oklahoma O line last season and has the versatility thing going for him – teams will see him as both a tackle and a guard.  He’s obviously super-strong and will move defenders around easily if they are not ready.
  4. Andre Dillard, Washington State – I really like Dillard as a pass blocker.  He has very nice movement and positioning, able to move quickly against edge rushers.  He tested well at the combine and had a solid Senior Bowl too.  Could go in the first round.
  5. Dalton Risner, Kansas State – He shows a lot of strength and toughness on tape and often was very difficult to move.  Looks like he turns himself well when protecting his quarterback.  Yet another who played at RT, Risner can pull well across the line when run blocking.
  6. Greg Little, Ole Miss – I had Greg Little higher for a while.  Then I watched more tape and the lack of consistency reported by many became apparent.  I’ve kept him here for the parts that were very good, but there are times when you can see him struggle in games especially in pass protection.
  7. Yodny Cajuste, West Virginia – The thing that jumps out on tape with Cajuste is that he appears to use his arms a lot more than most.  He’ll lead with them and try to shove defenders. Has good strength when protecting his quarterback.  Recently announced surgery on his leg that may affect his draft stock.
  8. Chuma Edoga, USC – Played at RT during the season then was moved to LT for the Senior Bowl.  Edoga shows nice movement and uses core strength and technique to really push guys backwards.  Teams will like the chance to line him up a different spots across the offensive line.
  9. Kaleb McGary, Washington – Despite playing on the outside of the line, McGary plays far better as a run blocker than he does against pass rush.  He can look a bit untidy and off-balance on film.  All of his strongest work is helping his running backs so certainly a run-first offense would be the best place for him.
  10. Tytus Howard, Alabama State – I came to Howard a bit late.  He’s from a small school and started to get some buzz so I checked him out and really liked some of his highlights, but I’m still not so high on his game so settled for him here.  I think there’s some work needed on his overall strength, maybe the inconsistent plays were a technique thing as well.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS

  1. Chris Lindstrom, Boston College – I really like Lindstrom.  He’s the best out-and-out guard in the draft and a key part of Boston College’s strong run-first attack.  They play a quick pro-style offense that should show Lindstrom can contribute in the NFL right away without much adjustment.  As a senior he’s played a lot of football and has been good throughout the whole draft process.
  2. Dru Samia, Oklahoma – Played on the strong right side of the Sooners O line next to Cody Ford.  Samia blocks hard and aggressively shoves defenders back and down to the ground – he’s a great finisher.  If you want your offensive lineman using brute force and battering the opposition, Samia is your man.
  3. Michael Deiter, Wisconsin – Deiter plays with a very tall looking stance, still has a good enough anchor that he isn’t pushed around very much.  Has played at tackle as well as guard and moves fast to pull well across the line when run blocking.
  4. Connor McGovern, Penn State – Was a riser on most boards after a good combine.  McGovern has had playing time at both guard and center.  His technique may need some work as I’ve seen him get moved back more than some of the better prospects in the draft.  Does look difficult to beat though as he positions himself very well.
  5. Phil Haynes, Wake Forest – Phil Haynes might be one of my biggest sleepers in this draft.  So much so that I have him here in my top 5. He performed well at the combine and I like his tape.  Haynes is strong as a run blocker and has good technique.  I also have some inside info (always helps!) that he was praised for his showing at a pre-combine training camp alongside more highly-regarded O linemen.
  6. Ben Powers, Oklahoma – The third good prospect off of the Oklahoma line.  He played on the left where many of Oklahoma’s run plays seemed to be directed and can create gaps. It’s a great name for a guard – Ben Powers.  Unfortunately on some occasion, Ben did not Power!  Defenders can move him back from his stance, although he was still rather effective.
  7. Nate Davis, Charlotte – Davis is coming from a smaller school and will have teams looking at him as a run blocker.  He obviously has a lot of power and makes sure he finishes plays.  Moving him inside works for his skills as he is not a guy to block against pass rushers off the edge.
  8. Beau Benzschawel, Wisconsin – Next to Oklahoma, let’s add Wisconsin as a team featuring good O linemen.  I can see why he’s not rated as highly as teammate Deiter, as he can be moved and sometimes beaten in pass protection.  Benzschawel is best when blocking for the run game so he projects as remaining at guard.
  9. Bunchy Stallings, Kentucky – When I started watching film of Kentucky to scout running back Benny Snell I noticed the gaps opening up for him to run through.  Then I realised the space was mostly created by one guy – Bunchy Stallings.  He’s a big part of Snell’s success on the ground and has some real hit from his first step.  Stallings is a fun watch as he plays with nice balance and is able to block well from different angles.
  10. Alex Bars, Notre Dame – Bars is a player who has been affected by injuries.  When healthy he would probably be higher on many big boards and so could drop and become a steal.  He’s a tall guard and one that looks for contact, playing tough and with plenty of power.  Notre Dame had a pretty successful season in 2018 and before injury cut his year short Bars was a big reason for it.

CENTERS

  1. Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama – A senior who has led the Alabama offensive line for a few years. Pierschbacher is a versatile lineman who I see as a guard that has been playing at center.  He is very strong and uses great technique.  NFL offenses will love trying him at the different positions.  I may be alone in having Pierschbacher as my top center and look forward to seeing where in the draft he gets chosen.
  2. Garrett Bradbury, NC State – Prior to the combine Bradbury was lower on my list then I, like many others, got won over by his workout and moved him up to here, although Pierschbacher did enough himself to stay number 1.  I can see the movement and athleticism on tape, what he does is use that quick technique more than outright power and looks good in both run and pass protection.
  3. Elgton Jenkins, Mississippi State – Jenkins is another center who moves well.  He gets into defenders quickly and is good at creating running lanes.  Plays at a high level in pass blocking too with the ability to read a defense and gets into position fast.  He can move across the line in the pro game.
  4. Erik McCoy, Texas A&M – Here’s a center I’m not as sure on.  McCoy is a little inconsistent on tape and can be moved a bit more than those above him on this list.  Perhaps it’s just down to technique, which can be improved in the NFL.  Has obvious ability and high blocking strength.  Also has performed well against good defenses.
  5. Michael Jordan, Ohio State – There is a bit of a drop now, showing that this year’s class at center is not very deep.  I saw some nice highlights of Jordan but he has some shaky moments during games, he seems to have awkward footwork. He can get up the field quickly when he needs to so best as a run blocker.
  6. Lamont Gaillard, Georgia – Gaillard looks a solid guy with good technique, really leaning into blocks.  On tape he appears very difficult to move. Not so versatile in that he won’t move around much up and down the line.  There are reports that he is a good teammate and leader, which is always a plus.
  7. Jon Baker, Boston College – I was studying my top guard Chris Lindstrom and noted the man next to him was putting in some good work.  Baker was firing off some strong blocks as part of BC’s high-tempo offense.  He’s a good run blocker who moves himself into position well.
  8. Hjalte Froholdt, Arkansas – Froholdt looks a bit raw and seems to have played all over the offensive line.  I liked the tape I saw of him playing center and he could also be drafted as a guard.  He works best as a technical blocker as opposed to being able to use brute strength.
  9. Sam Mustipher, Notre Dame – The last two names on this list will be drafted in the latter stages if at all.  I did like some of Mustipher’s film; he is a little awkward but can move people and turns well.  Next to guard Alex Bars he formed part of a Notre Dame offensive line that had a really good year.
  10. Jesse Burkett, Stanford – Burkett plays a bit straight, although he uses his hands pretty well.  He does have problems with speedy defenders so could have issues with making reads and that technique needs to be lowered and made wider.

DEFENSIVE ENDS/EDGE RUSHERS

  1. Nick Bosa, Ohio State – If you scroll all the way back up to the quarterback group, you’ll be reminded that I am not for the Cardinals taking Kyler Murray with the first pick.  I think Bosa is the player they should be favouring; he is the consensus top defensive end this year.  His 2018 season ended early when he got hurt and decided not to return and focus on the draft, this shouldn’t affect his stock due to his high level of play.  Bosa has size and technique and is still super-fast off the edge.  His use of hands and body shape to beat guys and rush quarterbacks is elite.  This is the player I would take at number 1 overall.
  2. Josh Allen, Kentucky – Allen plays and therefore projects as a 3-4 outside linebacker.  He had huge production at Kentucky relying on his great burst and body control to break up pass plays.  I thought he looked good when asked to drop into coverage too.  Also has a strong motor – Allen has that all-effort way of playing and came up with big plays at big times.
  3. Clelin Ferrell, Clemson – Ferrell contributed to wreaking havoc on Alabama during the National Championship game (see Jonah Williams!) which was an end to a great season for him with the Tigers.  He’s a defensive end and another who does everything well. Lots of power and technique, especially with his hands, helps him get to where he needs to be fast.  My favourite player in the draft to watch at this position.
  4. Rashan Gary, Michigan – I remember Gary as the number 1 recruit when he came out of high school so have always kept an eye on him during his Michigan career.  He’s a super athlete considering his size; in fact teams will like the idea of moving him inside the defensive line.  Has real burst and is a big load to slow down when rushing from the edge.
  5. Brian Burns, Florida State – Burns looks a bit light for the position and he does play with exceptional speed.  Plays quite upright but has enough tilt in his body to get around guys when chasing quarterbacks.  Like Josh Allen I think he’s better suited as a 3-4 OLB.
  6. Montez Sweat, Mississippi State – Some guys get coveted based on their athleticism.  Montez Sweat falls into that category after showing blazing speed during his combine workout.  His on-field play is good as well, has enough technique to get away from his man and deliver some hits.  I just feel the talk of picking Sweat early in the first round is a bit high.
  7. Chase Winovich, Michigan – Looks like a fun teammate and plays in an emotional way – he’ll give everything he has.  Winovich can be moved around by guys more than those above but he is tough and makes nice plays in open space.  I think his best chance of success in the NFL would come from moving out wide as a linebacker.
  8. Anthony Nelson, Iowa – For such a big defender I liked how Nelson moved on film, and then he backed that up by testing well at the combine.  He sheds blocks and finishes plays very well.  Performed for Iowa in various situations against pass and run – there are different ways he could line up as a pro and there’s room for improvement.
  9. Jachai Polite, Florida – The NFL combine has become a process where as long as guys don’t perform too badly in drills and also don’t come across too badly in interviews they should hold their value.  This year nobody hurt their stock more than Polite who not only struggled with the workouts but also rather oddly had a negative public reaction to some of the interviews – that’s not the way to get teams to like you and he consequently fell down big boards everywhere.  However, I couldn’t drop him too far as I like his tape.  He made some nice tackles for Florida and has great burst.  There are bits of his technique that need to be cleaned up with some good coaching – as long as he’ll listen!
  10. Zach Allen, Boston College – There’s such depth in the edge class that filling this last spot was an interesting challenge.  I went with Zach Allen based on his high production and I like his versatility.  Has good body shape when hitting the backfield and plays smart when dropping into coverage, resulting in some interceptions.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

  1. Quinnen Williams, Alabama – Williams is among the best prospects in the entire draft.  He can destroy offensive lines with him power and direct movement.  Has the ability to penetrate quickly while fighting contact – even from double-team blocks.  I will be surprised if he falls passed the first handful of picks.
  2. Christian Wilkins, Clemson – Really watchable player. I love how Wilkins can accelerate and attack through gaps.  Another reason I like him is he’s a team guy – each time Clemson scored a touchdown, Wilkins made sure to be in the end zone to celebrate.  I look forward to seeing where he ends up.
  3. Ed Oliver, Houston – Here’s another defender that just flies at his man, and often beats him too.  Oliver is very talented and there’s a good chance of him picked in the top 10.  Has the right combination of speed, power and body control to disrupt offenses and take over a game.
  4. Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State – Simmons has suffered a ligament injury this off-season.  I hope it does not affect his stock too much as he is easily a first round talent.  He’s a good technician with the tools to attack an offense has hard as anyone on this list not only with raw power but a quick first step.
  5. Dexter Lawrence, Clemson – Moves very well for his size and can shove defenders aside.  He doesn’t do too many things with his arms or move his body much.  He’ll work hard and just use his power to produce right up the middle of the defensive line.
  6. Charles Omenihu, Texas – Omenihu can be used across the D line even out wide where his burst and length get him success.  I like his technique – I’ve seen him more than once use a nice rip move to chase down the opposition.  Also gets good penetration and can quickly hit the backfield.
  7. Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame – Tillery will also move around the line and plays with a lot of power, forcing guys backwards easily at times.  He’s good against the pass and able to get through blocks and after the quarterback.  I get the impression some are higher on Tillery than me but I still think he’ll be picked by the end of the second round.
  8. Dre’Mont Jones, Ohio State – I found Jones inconsistent.  He can look good technically but at other times is blocked onto his back foot and stopped.  During some games he looked strong and showed good enough burst to get through the gaps so there is upside with Jones.
  9. Trysten Hill, UCF – Hill is a really good watch with obvious power and athleticism, which showed up when he produced good combine numbers.  I like his first step – helping him to hit gaps. His technique may need some refining, but he is one of my draft sleepers.
  10. Khalen Saunders, Western Illinois – A small-schooler! Saunders led by example at Western Illinois, winning with good strength and aggression.  Has powerful, strong arms when facing blocks.  Will be fun to see how he translates at the next level.

LINEBACKERS

  1. Devin White, LSU – White excels in closing down and finishing plays.  He had a noticeably positive effect on LSU’s defense, able to read plays and get to the ball quickly.  Tackles well in space and looks the part as a guy who can dominate.  Also comes across as a good teammate.  Looks a consistent player and should be the first LB picked this year.
  2. Devin Bush, Michigan – Like many on the Michigan defense, Bush plays with real heart.  He put up great production during his time there and I enjoyed watching how he likes to hit hard.  He was used in many ways at Michigan, including in coverage where he looked just as good as when he was rushing the backfield.
  3. Mack Wilson, Alabama – Has a nice smooth style and can also show real physicality.  Wilson looks good on tape and covers a lot of ground. Another strong tackler and was often involved on a fine Alabama defense.  Should be a good interior linebacker in the NFL.
  4. Vosean Joseph, Florida – The knock on Joseph seems to be inconsistent plays on tape.  I didn’t see too many that were concerning and that cannot be helped with NFL coaching.  He looks undersized but can still rack up the tackles and hit hard.  I get the sense he won’t be drafted as high as I would take him but I’m backing his high ceiling.
  5. Blake Cashman, Minnesota – Cashman got a lot of attention for his combine workout.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise when you watch his speedy, all-effort approach to the game.  If his style can be honed he will turn into a fine outside linebacker.
  6. Germaine Pratt, NC State – I still haven’t completely clicked with Pratt.  However, as a former safety he plays like someone still learning the linebacker position and in the NFL he should improve further.  He reads the game well and has good anticipation with the ability to close in quickly on ball carriers.
  7. Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame – Another ex-safety who therefore has good speed and coverage skills.  Loads of experience and shows good form when tackling. I like watching Tranquill go for gaps as a pass rusher too – he’ll be sought after as a LB who can make all sorts of plays.
  8. Bobby Okereke, Stanford – I see Okereke as more of a “banger” who gets some real power behind his tackles.  He must have good football understanding as he is often in place to finish well.  Also his pursuit is good and is another who possesses a great motor.
  9. Chase Hansen, Utah – A third linebacker who used to play at safety.  The skills from being in a secondary show on tape when Hansen needs to drop back into coverage; he has a real eye for the ball.  Can miss tackles but hits really well, especially for his perceived lack of size.  The type of player who could go anywhere between rounds 2-6 depending on how the league sees him.
  10. Joe Giles-Harris, Duke – He is a typical lead-from-the-ILB-position sort of player.  I like some of Giles-Harris’ game but he had a poor combine.  On tape he shows real burst and good downhill effort when playing the run.  Not as solid as some above when covering passes.

CORNERBACKS

  1. Byron Murphy, Washington – Murphy has been my top cornerback for a while.  I really like his game as he can do a bit of everything.  He plays smart and is best when dropping back into his coverage – with the ability to switch and move to the ball really well.  Also a good, tough tackler when he needs to be.
  2. DeAndre Baker, Georgia – Georgia were happy to leave Baker out in single coverage.  When watching games you got the sense it was risky to target his side of the field, which is the tone you want your shutdown corner to set.  Not the fastest but is physical enough to affect plays.  I like the way he uses his length to reach into a passing lane and prevent a completion.
  3. Greedy Williams, LSU – I want to like Greedy more, I just have a problem with his inconsistency.  He’s very quick and can cover receivers well but doesn’t appear to dish out the right amount of contact, so sometimes looked a bit shaky when keeping up with a route.  Can play both man and zone coverage and his production during his time with LSU was very good.
  4. Julian Love, Notre Dame – A shorter corner who plays fast when he needs to close in on the ball.  Love can obviously read and react to a play excellently.  Notre Dame were competitive against Clemson in this season’s Cotton Bowl until Love departed injured, at which point the secondary noticeably missed him and the game got away from them.  I see him as the best nickel CB in the draft.
  5. Trayvon Mullen, Clemson – Mullen plays hard and is an excellent tackler.  During the National Championship game against Alabama he showed good intelligence on an interception and then how well he can blitz when he flew into the QB untouched for a sack.  Did not play man coverage regularly at Clemson but teams will like his physical side.
  6. Amani Oruwariye, Penn State – Oruwariye is a big, solid corner who has good recovery skills.  For his size I thought he could be hitting a little harder.  Has some nice highlights that show he has good hands and can be a playmaker.
  7. Rock Ya-Sin, Temple – Another tough player who plays hard one-on-one.  Ya-Sin can keep up well in coverage and will rely on contact more than speed to break up passes.  Has quite a heavy way of moving downfield and I cannot tell if that’s technique or his running style.  Uses all of his size when he tackles.
  8. Justin Layne, Michigan State – I’m not completely sold on Layne’s hype yet.  There are some good highlights and he can improvise and make some nice heads-up plays.  It’s hard to tell which coverage suits him best as he’s still learning rather more than those above him on the list.  It’s funny because I usually go for the prospects that are all about “potential”.  If Layne reaches his he’ll be among the best of this class.
  9. David Long, Michigan – There are a few interesting defenders from Michigan in this draft.  Long plays tall and enjoys contact – there’s a sturdiness to his coverage.  Would have risen up some boards following a great combine.  Another guy whose ideal position would be in the slot.
  10. Michael Jackson, Miami (Fl.) – Jackson is a big corner who plays tough.  I like watching him in press coverage as he won’t get bumped off of routes or let receivers get comfortable.  For his size he moves fairly well and seems to have a good read on the game.

SAFETIES

  1. Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida – The Gators moved him around but he’ll project as a free safety.  Gardner-Johnson is an enforcer type who will try to impose himself on a game as early as possible and knows how to tackle.  Shows good positioning and high football intelligence to read offenses very well.
  2. Deionte Thompson, Alabama – Thompson is the leader of the ‘Bama secondary. He plays tall and can hit with loads of power.  Will sit back and wait for passes to be thrown then quickly move in to break them up or get turnovers – able to make it all the way out to the sidelines if he has to.  Can come up to the line to play strong against the run.
  3. Taylor Rapp, Washington – I’ve enjoyed watching Rapp play at Washington and expected to have him right at the top of my rankings.  Then came the combine where he ran very slow and the NFL will certainly take note of that.  He looks quicker on tape – he closes in quickly on the football and gets plenty of break ups and interceptions.  Blitzes nicely too and has a good build – he’ll bring some bang when he hits guys.
  4. Darnell Savage Jr, Maryland – Here’s a safety who has been rising up most boards.  Savage Jr. is a strong tackler and shows good burst in both man coverage and when he needs to move in on a play in his zone.  Showed really good athleticism at the combine and many will think about moving him to cornerback, which will improve his stock even further.
  5. Nasir Adderley, Delaware – Adderley has probably been the most talked-about small school prospect during this draft process.  The doubt many have is can he transition his solid play into the NFL from the lower-level of the FCS.  There were some good signs during his Senior Bowl performance that wouldn’t have gone unnoticed.  He has got great range and makes sure he’s in the right place to move quickly towards the ball.  Makes all of these reads from deep so will need to get picked by a defense running zone schemes.
  6. Juan Thornhill, Virginia – I’m up and down with Thornhill on tape, although many are quite high on him.  He got some more buzz following a good combine workout.  Does have good highlights but can miss tackles and does not read from deep as well as some higher up this list, when he is close and in position though he’s a real playmaker and will produce turnovers.
  7. Johnathan Abram, Mississippi State – There will be some who have Abram high up on their board, showing there’s pretty good depth in the class.  Will make a lot of tackles in the short game and he’s your guy if you like players who fly into ball carriers at 100mph, but this aggressive style can backfire when he over-commits and misses people completely.  Due to this way of playing there are also durability concerns.
  8. Amani Hooker, Iowa – Hooker is another player who reads the field well and shows good instincts.  Needs to get a bit tougher as he can get beat when playing one-on-one in tight or faced with a runner out in the open.  He has some good moments on film of tracking the ball and getting interceptions.
  9. Mike Edwards, Kentucky – What a good draft year for Kentucky!  Edwards looks like the leader on a good Kentucky secondary.  He’s fun to watch and has good movement – with ability to get into position to stop deep passes.  Also good at coming up to the line and playing against the run.
  10. Ugochukwu Amadi, Oregon – I really like Amadi’s highlights.  He’s the shortest safety in my top 10, yet he plays tough and is a real ball hawk – recognising plays well and getting a lot of turnovers.  Also a good kick returner, which is a plus.  Will best fit into a zone first defense.

A large part of my enjoyment of the NFL draft is following along with my own rankings. They can be hit or miss!  It is interesting to see how I evaluate a player or an entire position class compared to the league, and if I feel one team will like a certain type of prospect that it comes to fruition.

I have never gone deeper in preparation for a draft as much as I have this year. Now that all the scouting has been done, all the notes taken and big board is complete.  I can say regarding the 2019 NFL draft – I’m ready!

I have a facebook page to accompany this blog. On the page there is regular news and views on all things NFL.  If you want to see how I react to the draft or want to keep up with any future blog posts give it a visit (and a “like”!) here – http://www.facebook.com/Liam66NFL

WEMBLEY’S TRIPLE-HEADER

When the NFL announced the “International Series” games bound for London in this year’s schedule, it revealed the games would take place Weeks 6, 7 and 8 of the regular season. Meaning for the first time London hosted three games in three weeks.

The games at Wembley have become such a highlight for UK fans. Rather than write about each one separately, I thought it best to condense them into this one post as with the fixtures coming consecutively, it gave a sense the NFL was here to entertain us non-stop for this whole period of the season.

Seattle Seahawks at Oakland Raiders, 14th October 2018

Wembley was not initially meant to host all three matches but welcomed the NFL early as this game had been due to be played elsewhere. It must have been a difficult trip for two teams travelling all the way from the west coast of America.  Both were in need of a win.

Seattle came into the game with a 2-3 record and were looking to get their season back onto more consistent form. Despite being the designated road team, they certainly had the majority of the crowd behind them.  In fact I do not remember a Wembley game with one side receiving so much support.

The Raiders have managed only one victory all season so far and are really struggling. It could not have helped to arrive in London as the home team and be booed onto the field!  Their fortunes did not improve during the game as offensive weapons Amari Cooper and Marshawn Lynch were both taken out through injury, which really limited their options to move the ball.  By half time they were 17-0 down.

Quarterback Derek Carr was hindered by bad play calling and an offensive line unable to stop a disruptive Seahawks defense that ended the game with six sacks. During the third quarter Carr was sacked twice in two plays, the latter resulted in him fumbling the ball away inside his own 15-yard line.  A series indicative of how dominant the Seahawks looked each time the defense took the field.

On offense the Seahawks also played well. Russell Wilson took charge with some controlled quarterback play on most of the drives.  There was an example of a typically improvised play from him on a nice touchdown throw to David Moore in the second quarter.  They did not have to work too hard to keep the yards and the points tallying up with the defense continually halting Oakland.

The Raiders did get the final score of the game with a field goal, which saved them from being shut out, though they were well beaten 27-3. The primary focus appears to be a complete rebuild of the team in preparation for the franchises move to Las Vegas, which doesn’t really help the Oakland faithful this season.  It’s tough-going for them at the moment.

Tennessee Titans at Los Angeles Chargers, 21st October 2018

The second Wembley fixture pitted together two far more evenly matched teams in better playing conditions and consequently produced a more exciting game.

Both the Titans and Chargers are well in the AFC playoff hunt and I expected a close one. Tennessee’s weakness this season seems to be a dip in form on offense, a shame as I think they have some truly talented players in that group.  Indeed on this occasion they began well; moving the ball and setting up a successful field goal on the first drive of the game.

That was rather outdone though when the Chargers got their turn with the ball. Quarterback Philip Rivers stepped back and threw to Tyrell Williams to run in a 75-yard touchdown with their very first play!  Los Angeles could not get enough possessions to build on this explosive start but did hold a 10-6 lead at half time.  This was mainly due to the defense getting a big interception of Tennessee QB Marcus Mariota just before the break.

The Chargers offense did get on the pitch to begin the third quarter and had the opportunity to build the lead. They took it with another long pass; Rivers throwing a 55-yard touchdown to receiver Mike Williams.  To the credit of the Titans’ defense, as the second half progressed they found a way to be more effective, stopped conceding the big plays and stayed in the game.

Down 20-13, Tennessee came out for their final offensive drive, which really took off after a strong 36-yard run by Dion Lewis. By the final minute they had drove into the end zone and scored, at which point they chose to gamble on a two-point attempt to win rather than level the game by kicking one extra point.  The two-point try failed as Mariota threw an incompletion and the Chargers had held on to win 20-19.

The decision from the Titans coaches to go for two was an interesting and debatable one. I’m sure it was nervy for their fans, but for the neutrals at Wembley it made for a really exciting end to an enjoyable game.

Philadelphia Eagles at Jacksonville Jaguars, 28th October 2018

The last of Wembley’s triple-header featured two sides who have been underachieving this season with 3-4 records. The Jaguars made their annual London appearance against the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles.  Both records show a disappointing season so far for two of the best from last year.  One other downer was London-born running back Jay Ajayi unable to play for Philadelphia due to injury.

Throughout the afternoon it was clear the Eagles had the much better support. Like Seattle, they were meant to be the away team but had the majority of the fans in the stadium on their side.

The two defenses were the strongest units in this match. Jacksonville’s D forcing turnovers in both of the Eagles first two drives.  Both quarterbacks were having to combat these defenses with wounded backfields so the passing game was an important factor.

Leading 6-3, the Jaguars offense had the chance to move further ahead before half time. Quarterback Blake Bortles completed a pass to Keelan Cole, who fumbled away possession and the opportunity was gone.  It was Philadelphia’s turn to notch up a turnover.

Their offense took the initiative and put the first touchdown on the board with a nice 32-yard throw from quarterback Carson Wentz to rookie tight end Dallas Goedert. Handing the Eagles a 10-6 half time advantage.

The game started to heat up in the third period with both quarterbacks throwing touchdowns, although the defenses were quick to get back on top and slow down the offenses momentum. The Jags were able to move into the Eagles red zone twice in the final quarter but both times they had to settle for field goals.

In between those, Wentz threw his third touchdown of the game and the Philadelphia Eagles earned a 24-18 victory. It was an entertaining contest; really back and forth with a must-win feel to it.  The kind the NFL would use to attract any new fans to the sport.  Pretty cool to have the reigning champs in town and leaving with the win.

Having the Eagles fans – and the Seahawks fans two games previous – show up in vast numbers to support their side proves these Wembley games can house a big atmosphere even when it’s a little biased. On the other hand it is also special to walk around the stadium when it’s more even and you get the sense that all 32 teams in the league are represented.

The conversation about London potentially getting a franchise of its own will always be discussed; this month has shown Wembley can handle fixtures week-to-week. I feel as though the chances of it happening are less likely than I did a few years ago. No current team is going to want to move permanently to London any time soon. It is cool getting to see a variety of teams make the journey over, so for now the “International Series” will continue annually as they are.

The latest game was the highest attended at Wembley since the NFL started coming to the UK. As mentioned this may have something to do with a large number of Philly fans descending on the neighbourhood! It shows that interest and backing for these games from the fans will always exist – favourite team or otherwise.  During game time you can feel the crowd getting into the more dramatic moments.  I certainly like having the NFL come to town.

I have a facebook page to accompany this blog. On the page there is regular news and views on all things NFL, so give it a visit (and a “like”!) here – http://www.facebook.com/Liam66NFL

QUARTERBACK CONTESTS

The league’s pre-season is now well under way.  Teams have gone through their training camps and the second set of pre-season games are complete.

At this early stage the emphasis is on the coaches to work all of their players through these games and training practices to put together the best possible roster for the new season.  Players are battling for spots at every position, but much of the focus goes to the competitions at quarterback.  Most teams have a clear idea who their starting quarterback will be at the beginning of the campaign.  For some however, it is a harder decision and I want to look at those teams with the much closer quarterback contests that have recently been going on.

Denver Broncos – Trevor Siemian vs Paxton Lynch

One quarterback contest that needed a resolution this off-season was with the Denver Broncos, who have already announced that Trevor Siemian will be their starter for another year.  Siemian lead the offense last season and has kept the job from the second-year man Paxton Lynch.  I blogged at the time in my review of the 2016 draft (which you can read here!) how much I liked Lynch going to Denver as he was one of my favourite quarterbacks in that draft and I saw it as a good fit, therefore I have been pulling for him to get in the team.  It seems Lynch has not done enough and Siemian’s greater presence and pro experience means he is expected to play come week 1.

Houston Texans – Tom Savage vs Deshaun Watson

At the time of writing this it appears Tom Savage has won the battle to be the main man in Houston.  Savage ended last season in charge of the offense and it was predicted to stay that way, but the Texans selecting Deshaun Watson in the first round of the 2017 draft made things interesting.  Watson had a great college career at Clemson, which culminated in him brilliantly leading the team to the national championship in his final collegiate game.  I would have liked to see the Texans go with the rookie as I think he will be riding some positive momentum from his success at Clemson.  While the jump into the NFL is of course a big one, Watson has looked good at times so far in pre-season, which has probably made the decision as to who starts a little tougher each week for the coaches.

Chicago Bears – Mike Glennon vs Mitchell Trubisky

It has been all change at quarterback for the Bears this pre-season. With Jay Cutler moving on, the team signed Mike Glennon to assume the starting role.  They then traded up to get Mitchell Trubisky in the NFL draft, a move that surprised many and shows that the organisation have faith in Trubisky being their future quarterback.  Glennon certainly seems like the short-term solution and unlike Watson in Houston, I’m not so sure about the Bears throwing Trubisky straight in.  The perception is that he will sit and learn, although he began pre-season with a good performance that must have made a few people in Chicago smile.  Glennon still looks like he will start this season, but Trubisky may already be closing the gap.

Cleveland Browns – Brock Osweiler vs Cody Kessler vs DeShone Kizer

The Browns feel like a side on the up; they appear to be building well all over the field.  However, their quarterback position is slightly unclear, which all started with the signing of Brock Osweiler in a move that they never seemed totally committed to.  Osweiler looked good for the Denver Broncos a couple of seasons ago, then he left for a much larger contract with the Houston Texans.  Unfortunately his one year in Houston did not go well and the team quickly moved him on and this off-season he arrived in Cleveland to challenge the man who last started for them, Cody Kessler.  Then came the draft and DeShone Kizer has been added to the mix, Kizer’s potential is rated very highly by some and he has played well so far in pre-season.  All three have been given game time and it’s a difficult choice, even with the Browns likely wanting to name their starter as soon as possible it may take another week or two of competition to figure it out.  I would go with Osweiler but he needs to up his game for the rest of pre-season to make sure he gets the job.

New York Jets – Josh McCown vs Bryce Petty vs Christian Hackenberg

The Jets are going to struggle this year and offensively it all starts with their quarterbacks.  They brought in Josh McCown during free agency and I think they see him as a guy who can start immediately.  The veteran will be challenged by Bryce Petty who knows the organisation and the coaches a bit better and has looked decent during pre-season.  When you throw youngster Christian Hackenberg into the discussion too there is a three-way fight for the reins of the Jets’ offense.  McCown is the safe pick at the moment as his experience will be needed to help the Jets during a season where they will be the underdogs more often than not.

Two More To Watch

Jay Cutler has been persuaded to come out of retirement and play for the Miami Dolphins. This comes in response to the sorry news of Miami losing Ryan Tannehill for the entire season with a knee injury, which means the team lose the guy certain of being the quarterback for another year.  I expect Cutler to get the nod straight away but he needs a good string of games to begin with, if he starts to struggle the pressure will grow and backup Matt Moore will have cause to step into consideration.

Since drafting Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 the Minnesota Vikings have seen him as the future of the franchise.  To his credit he had improved each year before a nasty injury forced him out of the whole 2016 season, this prompted the Vikings to trade for Sam Bradford, who played well throughout the year and will remain the starter with Bridgewater still questionable into 2017.  Later into this year though, when Bridgewater is healthy, the Vikings will be faced with the dilemma of who to choose, a decision that will be even harder if Bradford continues to perform at a high level.  I admire how Bridgewater had been developing his game and when he’s ready I hope he can get back to playing – it just might be the case that it is away from Minnesota.

The next two weeks will see pre-season come to a close and teams will announce their respective starting quarterbacks.  I’ll be paying attention to the QB’s performances during this time to see who wins out.  It always injects some energy into the league if we get a rookie earning a starting spot, whereas going with a proven player is usually the smarter move; the differences in styles is what makes these in-team contests so interesting.

There will be much to keep an eye on in the build-up to the season and I have a new facebook page to accompany this blog.  On the page there is regular news and views on all things NFL, so give it a visit (and a “like”!) here – www.facebook.com/Liam66NFL/

OFF-SEASON ACTION

Throughout the off-season all the attention is on the teams and players away from the field. Team personnel will currently be busy evaluating all the draft entries that competed at the NFL combine and pro days, but with the draft still a month away the focus has been on free agency.

The NFL free agency period is now calming.  All players who were made available have spent this time finalising negotiations and sorting out where they will be playing in 2017.  It is always entertaining observing where some of the bigger names in free agency end up, in fact some are yet to be signed for the new season.  Teams have decisions to make, if they have a real need to sign a player at a particular position, they could choose to wait a month and target young talent in the draft or go out and get a seasoned pro right now.

Some clubs have a lot more salary cap money to spend than others, these are the ones who will likely be the most active in free agency and do more deals.  Rather than concentrate on each team, I thought I’d review some of free agency by looking at key positions and who made the headline-grabbing signings and trades.

Quarterbacks

Everyone has to find their own star quarterback to lead the offense and to win games.  This year it is perhaps vital for anyone in need of one NOW to find him in free agency, as I do not think much of this year’s draft class!  One or two have the potential to achieve if they are drafted into the right system, but acquiring an already-established quarterback seems like the right way to bring immediate success.  Some of the big stories are still developing but here are a few that have been finalised.

It has been an ongoing story for a long time that the Cleveland Browns need a quarterback – I wrote about the subject in a past blog post (which can be read here!).  On the first day of free agency the Browns traded with the Houston Texans to get QB Brock Osweiler.  The Texans were happy to do this business and send Osweiler (and his LARGE contract) to Cleveland as he failed to play to expectations last year.  It turns out the story hasn’t ended yet, with the Browns likely to use Osweiler to get a deal with someone else and move him on as soon as possible.  Poor old Osweiler has even been quoted as saying he’s heard nothing from the Browns since the trade.  The wait continues to see where he will be come the start of the season.

The state of Cleveland’s quarterback position would all have been avoided if only they had listened to me and kept Brian Hoyer!  During 2013 Hoyer played really well for a number of games but injury curtailed his  season and the Browns decided to move on.  More recently Hoyer has been with the Chicago Bears and I have always rated him because of his time with the Browns, although injury has once again forced him to find a new team: the San Francisco 49ers.  It’s a good move with the 49ers being another team in need of a fresh signal-caller and their new head coach Kyle Shanahan was Hoyer’s offensive coordinator during his time in Cleveland.  This is probably Hoyer’s last chance to have a successful career if he earns the starting job.  Can he win games given the right offense? Yes.  Can he carry that to another level by winning playoff games?  We’ll see.

After allowing Hoyer to leave and releasing long-time number one Jay Cutler, the Bears have given Mike Glennon the opportunity to be their quarterback. The three-year contract given to Glennon shows that Chicago are putting faith in him to lead their improving offense.  Star receiver Alshon Jeffrey has departed so adding one or two new targets for him would help greatly.

Quarterback Geno Smith is moving across New York – from the Jets to the Giants.  I find his career path similar to Hoyer because he dropped off in form despite having loads of potential at one point.  Smith ended 2014 playing really well, but was unable to build on that due to a locker room altercation resulting in him suffering a broken jaw.  He took time to come back from that and never regained his best form, with his time at the Jets ultimately terminated by a knee injury.  With Eli Manning at the Giants it may be tough for Smith to prove himself but I think he can at least be a strong backup.

Wide Receivers

Another market that has gathered interest is the wide receiver position, for the main reason that there was so much movement.

The Philadelphia Eagles strengthened their receiving core by first signing veteran Torrey Smith then adding the top available pass catcher Alshon Jeffrey.  Both have been brought in to improve the team’s passing game and to help young quarterback Carson Wentz, with Jeffrey to be deployed as his number one target.

Like Geno Smith, receiver Brandon Marshall has moved from the Jets to the Giants.  After twelve years in the league, Marshall signed a two-year contract and must see the Giants as his best chance to reach an elusive championship game.  He is still playing at a high level and will be a nice option for the offense who hope he can take some attention away from star player Odell Beckham Jr.  Marshall’s addition should make the Giants offense better.

Desean Jackson has settled on joining the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He will be a great compliment to the Bucs number one receiver Mike Evans and with quarterback Jameis Winston throwing him the ball, this could be a scary signing for opposing defenses.  Jackson is a fast and versatile player and it will be interesting to see how the Tampa coaches use him.

With Jackson departing the Washington Redskins, the team filled the void by acquiring Terrelle Pryor.  Pryor used to be a dual-threat quarterback but once his form and playing chances dipped he converted to wide receiver, producing a breakout year in 2016 with the Browns.  This season with Washington will be crucial as Pryor will use it to prove his worth and show he can have a valuable impact as a receiver.  As Pryor departed, the Browns replaced him with Kenny Britt from the Los Angeles Rams, who themselves brought in WR Robert Woods – just to complete the merry-go-round!

The Oakland Raiders got another weapon by recruiting Cordarrelle Patterson. The former Minnesota Viking never quite reached his potential with the team as a receiver or returner; he just wasn’t consistent enough.  Oakland will hope they can find a way to use the speedy Patterson to the best of his ability in a squad that should be a real playoff challenger in 2017.

Other Notable Signings

Players from all over the NFL’s rosters find new homes at this time of year.  Below are some more signings of note.

Firstly it is worth looking at the business done by the New England Patriots.  The team that have outmanoeuvred the league with multiple on-field successes over a number of years, were the envy of many once again by having one of the biggest salary caps to spend in free agency and used it to make a list of typically smart moves.  They made big trades – getting defensive end Kony Ealy from the Carolina Panthers, wide receiver Brandin Cooks from the New Orleans Saints and tight end Dwayne Allen from the Indianapolis Colts.  They made big free agent signings – suring up the secondary with cornerback Stephon Gilmore (perhaps the best available at the position) and adding depth with defensive lineman Lawrence Guy and running back Rex Burkhead.  They also held on to star linebacker Dont’a Hightower.  Basically, the reigning champs got a lot stronger.

Also getting stronger is the defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars, a unit that already has some exciting players on the depth chart.  Following free agency they now add defensive end Calais Campbell, which will strengthen the defensive line and bring some experience to a young defense.  The Jags took cornerback A.J. Bouye away from divisional rival Houston as well.  Bouye had a breakout year at the right time and got a large contract to come in and give new head coach Doug Marrone some more quality in the secondary.  The Jaguars have had a nice looking defense for a couple of years, maybe these signings will help them realise their collective potential.

Fellow AFC South team the Tennessee Titans improved their secondary by taking safety and former rival Johnathan Cyprien from the Jaguars and cornerback Logan Ryan who won last season’s Super Bowl with the Patriots.  I like both these players and the Titans – like the Jaguars – are building well.  The race within that division could prove very close.

Offensive lineman do not play the most glamourous positions in the NFL, but as the guys whose job it is to protect the quarterback it is crucial for teams to have some real strength in these places.  The Detroit Lions improved their o-line massively by grabbing offensive guard T.J. Lang from divisional rivals the Green Bay Packers and spent big on offensive tackle Ricky Wagner, who was the best available OT during free agency.  These two will really help Detroit protect quarterback Matthew Stafford and to move the ball in the run game.

While the Lions gained big on offensive line, the Cincinnati Bengals lost big. The Bengals saw all-pro OT Andrew Whitworth join the Rams and top OG Kevin Zeitler leave for the Browns.  These departures mean the Bengals now have a real weakness to address, something they may do in the draft.

Defensive tackle Dontari Poe signed for the Atlanta Falcons, which is a good deal for both sides. The Falcons defense is already full of talent and can now fit interior lineman Poe into the mix; as one of the top players at the position this creates another dynamic for one of the best defenses in the league.

Despite helping the Patriots win Super Bowl LI, it always seemed tight end Martellus Bennett was going to move on.  He has landed with the Packers, which could prove a huge signing for Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers as Bennett can be amongst the best at the position and very tough to play against.  A Rodgers-to-Bennett combination certainly feels pretty intimidating.

Leaving the Packers is former starting running back Eddie Lacy.  The big runner had a real dip in 2016 due to weight concerns and he has now been picked up by the Seattle Seahawks, who must be hoping to use Lacy to get their running game back to the tough, power running days of Marshawn Lynch.  Lacy certainly has a similar style and Seattle will know how to use him, so if he can stay in shape this will be a really good pairing.

Players Still Available

Some of the biggest stories from this year’s free agency are yet to be written. There are some big names still on the market, with a lot of focus on the free agent quarterbacks.

Perhaps the most coveted is Tony Romo, who seemed destined to leave the Dallas Cowboys once rookie Dak Prescott took the reins of the offense and had such a good season.  Romo is still a Cowboys player for the next couple of months so the organisation could listen to trade offers but teams will wait until he is available as a free agent.  He could still be productive and his most likely destination is the Texans, who now need a quarterback having got rid of Brock Osweiler.  There is a chance the Denver Broncos are also interested in Romo though it feels very probable he will be playing for Houston next season.  Any team that feels like they need a quarterback from free agency will likely make a run at Romo, as others available include Jay Cutler, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Colin Kaepernick, players who are not as highly regarded and will be signed to provide competition by any new team.

One of the top running backs of the last decade is Adrian Peterson and he is now looking for a new home having been released by the Minnesota Vikings.  He has visited a few teams and left without getting signed, though I don’t expect Peterson to wait much longer as he will upgrade the run game of the team that signs him.

Darrelle Revis has once again moved on from the New York Jets.  The former all-pro cornerback has entered free agency after a second spell with the club and so far news of a deal has been slow.  There is a chance he will stay with the Jets but I expect him to be with a new team in the coming weeks.

Also on the defensive side, the Bengals and Lions have released linebackers Rey Maualuga and Deandre Levy respectively. Both players are now 30-years-old, signalling that both teams are moving on to attract younger talent at the position.

At this time there are players who are still contracted, but rumoured to be available for trade if the right deal comes along. Cornerback Malcolm Butler of the Patriots is one such player, with the New Orleans Saints long reported to be interested.  Talks between the two sides appear to be running on however, with the Saints seemingly hesitating on whatever the Patriots are asking for.

Some intriguing trades could be in the works at the quarterback position.  The Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo is thought to be available for a trade and the Browns are the team believed to be set on him, especially if they are not going to keep Brock Osweiler.  More surprising would be the Redskins trading Kirk Cousins to the 49ers, which has been long rumoured to be a possibility.  The 49ers do need a new QB but the Redskins would surely be weaker without Cousins given how good he has looked recently.

It is always fun to watch players move around and see how the deals done and yet to be done work out. They will also affect how teams approach the NFL draft, which is just a month away.  I will be focusing a lot on the draft while it draws closer as it is one of my favourite parts of the sporting year.

2016 – A SEASON FOR THE OFFENSE

For a number of years the NFL has come to be far more attack minded on offense.

The game at the top level has developed into a passing league and to a degree like no other in its history, so much so that some say it has diminished the importance of the run game.  Personally, I’m not as sure it has diminished as teams still need to run well to be successful and there are some very good running backs in the sport at the moment.

This increase in offensive production has meant a recent rise in the ability of both teams and individuals to rewrite NFL records.  Some of which had stood for decades.  Quarterbacks appear able to drive downfield more often and throwing 300 yards in a game or 4,000 yards in a season has become more normal than I remember when I first became a fan.

Despite these thoughts of admiration for how teams are with the ball, there is one piece of ancient NFL prophecy that still rings true…

Defense Wins Championships.

No matter how awesome it is to watch modern offenses produce the big numbers, defense does indeed win championships.  And in the Super Bowl era these defenses become legendary, like the 1985 Chicago Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens.  In terms of a Super Bowl game; a one-on-one match-up, I prefer to say “A great defense beats a great offense”.

Look no further than two of the most recent Super Bowls to see how true that line is.  At Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seattle Seahawks totally dominated a record-breaking Denver Broncos offense to claim the win.  Then last year at Super Bowl 50 the Broncos came in with the number one ranked defense and won the title by taking apart a strong Carolina Panthers offense, an offense that had looked awesome up to that point.

However, defense does not win championships this year – 2016 was the season of the offense.

Throughout the year it was predominantly offensive units making the highlight reels and pushing their respective teams into the playoffs.  An example is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense rolling over their division; the Dallas Cowboys (with a rookie quarterback and rookie running back) did the same in theirs.  Quarterbacks Derek Carr (who was cruelly injured before the playoffs) with the Oakland Raiders and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers appeared to put their teams on their backs and drag them towards the post-season.

As the great recent defense in Denver didn’t even make the playoffs and the one in Seattle battled injuries, the top two defenses entering the playoffs this year belonged to the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs.  But these dangerous units gave up big plays early in the divisional round and were left chasing games they could not overcome.

The two franchises left to play in Super Bowl LI – the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots – have the two most explosive and well-coached offenses in the league right now.  It is perhaps no coincidence then that these are the sides ready to go head-to-head in the big one.

Both quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan, have had stellar seasons and are the top two names in the MVP race.  They are helped by excellent offensive lines and great receiving weapons; Julio Jones of the Falcons has had a tremendous year and will be one of the main worries for the Patriots defense.

It should also be noted that both defenses ended the year as two of the best.  There will be some great match-ups all over the field and it will probably come down to the old saying of who makes the least mistakes will win, as these offenses will be difficult to stop.  I have never been for making predictions, but this Super Bowl could be an absolute classic.

For all the talent that will be on show in Super Bowl LI and all the offensive triumphs of this season, “Defense Wins Championships” has by no means been devalued.  Be warned: Defenses will come storming back!

As for 2016?  Chalk that one up for the offense.

2016 RETIREMENT CLASS

The NFL is currently in a quiet period. At this time of the year, teams are putting their players through training sessions to finalise the roster and get them fully prepared for the new season.

With no major events to focus on I wanted to write a blog post about the players who announced an end to their career in 2016. This retirement class feels pretty special as it features some true all-time greats and players that I have watched play from the day they entered the league.  A few of these players declared their intention to retire some months ago; I waited until now so I could build a larger class, as I expected more to follow suit during the off-season and that’s exactly what has happened.  At least a couple of other players stated that they were taking a “hiatus” this season as opposed to retirement and are therefore not included here.

The Seattle Seahawks fan in me has decided to mention the players most associated with the Seahawks first, as they mean a bit more to me on a personal level. I hope fans of other teams will allow me to indulge in these guys first!  Not to take anything away from the rest of what is an impressive list.

Marshawn Lynch (running back – Buffalo Bills, Seattle Seahawks)

Marshawn Lynch became one of the top running backs of the last decade. He did so with a mainly old-school style; using his ability to run through and over tacklers instead of around them, thus earning his “Beast Mode” nickname.  Drafted in 2007 by the Bills, Lynch quickly established himself as a player to watch with 1,000-yards rushing in his rookie season and repeated the feat the following year.  Due to injuries and a change in offensive scheme, his production with the Bills declined and by 2010 he was traded to the Seahawks.  I remember feeling really enthusiastic when we traded for him and he exceeded all expectations. A notable highlight that became his signature play was Lynch’s amazing “Beast Quake” run during a playoff game against the New Orleans Saints in his first season with Seattle, breaking NINE tackles on a play that many will never tire of watching.  His career was defined by more brilliant individual plays using not only brute strength, but also his deceptive speed that made him such a watchable player.  The ultimate high point was being a part of the Seahawks’ Super Bowl XLVIII victory, especially as Lynch will forever be seen as one of the primary reasons for that team’s success.  Beast Mode deserves to be in the NFL hall of fame but his reluctance to comply with the NFL in various ways will go against him, I found it interesting to read how similar his numbers stack up compared to hall of famer Earl Campbell (my favourite stat is 4.25 yards-per-carry).  And Lynch achieved everything he did in a pass-heavy era in the NFL.  What is certain is that the NFL will be worse without him.

Matt Hasselbeck (quarterback – Green Bay Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts)

Despite being a late draft pick (sixth round by the Packers), Matt Hasselbeck had a great career. After spending two years backing up legendary quarterback Brett Favre in Green Bay, he followed his former coach Mike Holmgren to Seattle and thrived as the new charge of the offense.  Throughout his ten years with the Seahawks, Hasselbeck was everything a team needs from a top quarterback; he played at the same time as more prominent QBs like Favre, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner, but could produce the same level of play with an ability to read defenses and make big plays at big moments.  He had a knack for producing game-winning drives and is still my favourite ever Seahawks quarterback, at one stage leading the team to five playoff appearances in a row.  One thing Hasselbeck missed out on to go alongside his strong play was a championship; he came close a few times, the closest was losing Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game that has become mostly remembered for bad refereeing calls.  If the game had played out in less controversial style, the outcome may have been different.  No championship glory did not affect Hasselbeck’s popularity in Seattle and his departure disappointed many.  He was reluctantly let go in 2011 and signed by the Titans where his production never really got going, then moved to the Colts in 2013 where last year in his final season, he produced one more impressive sequence of games.  At the age of 40, he replaced injured starter Andrew Luck and lead the Colts to four-straight wins, although by the end of the season the matches were taking their toll a little and the performances faded in a couple of games.  As a Hasselbeck fan, it was fun watching him produce those victories with the Colts.  Of course Matt Hasselbeck was at his best with the Seahawks and his multiple regular season and playoff franchise records show why he is so admired there.

Ricardo Lockette (wide receiver – Seattle Seahawks)

Fans of every team in the NFL will tell you they have players who are underrated by those outside of the franchise. Ricardo Lockette was one such player for the Seahawks, who came into the league undrafted by Seattle in 2011, didn’t make the cut and had spells on the practice squads of the San Francisco 49ers and Chicago Bears before returning to Seattle a couple of years later and was finally given a place as a starter.  Although not one of the more established Seahawks receivers, Lockette produced clutch plays using his excellent speed and deep threat.  He was badly injured in a game against the Dallas Cowboys in 2015 and the incident played a part in his decision to retire, which he does as a Super Bowl winner.

Peyton Manning (quarterback – Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos)

Peyton Manning is simply one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Many of us that followed the NFL while he was active would have heard or taken part in the discussion at one time or another; where do you place Manning on the all-time list?  Top 10…top 5…you could even make a case for putting him up at number 1.  The fact is it’s a near-impossible debate.  What is also true is that Manning put together a legendary career.  He had three strong years at college that earned him the Colts number 1 overall pick in the 1998 draft and quickly took to his new offense, setting a number of rookie records and backed that up with some strong performances on a rebuilding Colts team over the next few years.  By 2003 the Colts had a team that could compete in the playoffs, which they continued to have for the rest of Manning’s tenure in Indianapolis.  At about this point his on-field relationship with favourite target Marvin Harrison had made the two players one of the most feared quarterback-receiver pairings in the league.  Also around this time I began watching more NFL and started to realise what made Manning so impressive: he was running a no-huddle offense, watching and reading the defense as he saw it in front of him there and then and still finding ways to play through them and win games.  In 2011 a serious neck injury ruled Manning out for the entire season and the Colts chose to move on, leaving him to sign for the Broncos where, if anything, his regular season numbers improved and he lead the team into the playoffs in each of his four years in Denver.  Despite playing at a high level, setting many records and receiving five MVP awards, one criticism that has always been thrown at Manning is his Super Bowl record.  With the Colts he won his first – Super Bowl XLI – against the Chicago Bears but lost Super Bowl XLIV to the New Orleans Saints and with the Broncos, lost Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks.  A positive for his overall legacy was being on the winning side of Super Bowl 50 for the Broncos in his final NFL game, levelling out his Super Bowl record.  Manning retired with a catalogue of NFL awards and records, including some awesome ones that are at the very peak of the sport like most career passing yards (71,940), most career touchdown passes (539) and most career wins by a quarterback (200) among others.

Jared Allen (defensive end – Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings, Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers)

Jared Allen is one of my favourite ever players. He seems to be the sort of likeable character you want on your team and had a relentlessly busy style of playing.  Another thing that was always enjoyable was his signature calf roping celebration.  Allen was a formidable defender and specialised in racking up sacks throughout his career, which began with four good years with the Chiefs.  His best work was in Minnesota with the Vikings where he continued to terrorise offensive linemen and rush the quarterback, producing a season in 2011 that ended with him one sack away from breaking the NFL record for most sacks in a regular season.  When Allen joined the Bears in 2014, although he was battling injury and a new defensive system, he still managed a decent season before being traded to the Carolina Panthers the following year.  This Panthers defense was one of the best in the league and the team reached Super Bowl 50 but lost to the Broncos in what was Allen’s only Super Bowl appearance.  During the twelve years he was playing nobody got more sacks than Allen and his production should earn him a place in the hall of fame one day.

Calvin Johnson (wide receiver – Detroit Lions)

Another player who will go down in history as one of the best at his position is Calvin Johnson. Appropriately nicknamed “Megatron”, he became an imposing force at wide receiver with his range of skills; his large six-foot-five-inch height along with great hands and speed for his size meant that when Johnson was in form he was almost unstoppable.  He achieved all of his individual accolades in nine years with the Detroit Lions, a team that struggled for most of that timeframe, and retired with a number of franchise records.  Megatron’s best season came in 2012 when he broke the NFL record for receiving yards in a season with 1,964 yards (an average of 122.75 per-game!).  I grew up thinking the previous record, held by Jerry Rice, was one of the top records in the league and so was astonished when Megatron bettered it so easily – with a game to spare and by more than 100 yards.  It’s a shame his loyalty to the Lions was never rewarded with more success and playoff Football, but Johnson will always be remembered as a real game-changer and game-winner on offense.

Charles Woodson (defensive back – Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers)

Charles Woodson was a fantastic defensive back, playing at both the cornerback and safety positions with a smart and hard-hitting style that shaped his hall of fame career. He was tough and mobile enough to register a high number of sacks and forced fumbles for a DB and also played smart with the ability to read plays, helping him get 65 career interceptions (only four players in history have more).  Woodson began his eighteen years in the NFL as a Raider and was part of the team that lost Super Bowl XXXVII to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  When that spell in Oakland ended after eight seasons he signed for the Green Bay Packers and enjoyed his most successful years, once again reaching the big game as part of a strong defense in 2010 and this time being on the winning side over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, albeit Woodson was injured before half time and missed the rest of the game.  In 2013 Woodson returned to the Oakland Raiders for two more years and announced his retirement towards the end of the 2015 season whilst continuing to make big plays and using his leadership skills to help inspire and improve the team.

Justin Tuck (defensive end – New York Giants, Oakland Raiders)

Justin Tuck evolved into one of those scary good defensive ends, able to rush the quarterback play after play. He was part of two fierce New York Giants defenses that won Super Bowls XLII and XLVI, both wins coming against the New England Patriots.  In the first encounter the Giants were big underdogs as the Patriots had recorded an unbeaten season, but the Giants pass rush helped the defense control the game, with Tuck making a large impact with a couple of sacks.  This kept the score low and the Giants won 17-14.  The rematch four years later played out in similar fashion with Tuck playing another pivotal role in disrupting the New England offense, stopping them scoring any points in the fourth quarter as the Giants edged another close game 21-17.  For his part in those two incredible games I will always associate Tuck with the Giants, though he ended his playing days with two years on the Raiders defense and retired having helped the defensive line unit move up a level.

Logan Mankins (offensive guard – New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)

On the other side of the ball during those two Giants’ championship wins was Logan Mankins. He could not stop the defensive line on either occasion, but throughout his career he was a top guard.  Mankins was drafted as the last pick of the first round in 2005 by the Patriots, in his nine years with the team he was one of the main pillars of protection for Tom Brady and though he was never a Super Bowl winner, he earned plenty of personal accolades.  A career highlight was being a part of the Patriots team that was unbeaten in the 2007 regular season, with the offense breaking a number of records.  That offense was able to move the ball with ease at times, both in the air and on the ground, with Mankins blocks getting the drives moving.  He continued to play at a high standard and receive praise while playing his last two seasons with the Buccaneers.

Heath Miller (tight end – Pittsburgh Steelers)

Drafted just two spots ahead of Mankins in 2005 was tight end Heath Miller. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers and quickly tasted success as the team won Super Bowl XL in his rookie season.  Despite playing in a passing system that has used many talented wide receivers around him, Miller became quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s most dependable target and a fan favourite.  He earned a second Super Bowl ring after the 2008 season when the Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII and reached a third at Super Bowl XLV only to this time be on the losing side to the Packers.  He built a career as a proven playmaker and retired as statistically the greatest tight end in the Steelers history.

Jerod Mayo (linebacker – New England Patriots)

The Patriots have had some great linebackers over the last couple of decades and Jerod Mayo was among the toughest of them. He was recognised for his versatility and as a hard worker, demonstrated by his ability to often be in and around the area of play during games.  Mayo was a top 10 draft pick in 2008 and quickly made an impression on the league; winning defensive rookie of the year and in following years became the leader of the New England defense.  Unfortunately he never played in a victorious Super Bowl, primarily due to injury problems that hampered him in his last three seasons, including missing the Patriots winning Super Bowl XLIX.  These injuries probably played a part in his decision to stop playing.

D’Brickashaw Ferguson (offensive tackle – New York Jets)

“Da Brick” is another player who always seemed to be rather underrated. Perhaps it’s just the curse of playing in the offensive line, a position on the field where players are perennially not given enough appreciation.  He spent his entire career with the New York Jets and was a stalwart of the offense; never missing a game throughout his ten years with the franchise.  The Jets went through some difficult periods during Ferguson’s time there but he was consistently a high-level player for them and always capable of protecting his quarterback against any defense.

Percy Harvin (wide receiver – Minnesota Vikings, Seattle Seahawks, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills)

Percy Harvin leaves the NFL as a player who became a bit of an enigma. He always had bags of talent and showed flashes of being an explosive playmaker throughout his career, which began with him winning rookie of the year in 2009 with the Vikings.  Thereafter his playing time was decreased by injuries in Minnesota and also during his one season with the Seahawks, although by the end of that season Harvin was fit enough to play in Super Bowl XLVIII where he made big plays and returned the kickoff at the start of the second half for a touchdown.  This was one of the most significant scores of the game as the Seahawks went on to win.  Reports of disputes in the locker room with fellow players and coaches lead to Harvin departing from Seattle at the end of the season and he spent the remaining two years of his playing time in the AFC East, first with the Jets and then the Bills.  He failed to regain his best form and announced his retirement once the 2015 season ended having never quite realised his full potential.

Charles Tillman (cornerback – Chicago Bears, Carolina Panthers)

Charles Tillman entered the NFL in 2003 and spent twelve seasons playing in the secondary for the Chicago Bears, a franchise historically known for building tough defenses.  Tillman fitted right in with excellent cover and tackling skills, he is also noted for his high number of forced fumbles.  By 2006 Tillman was one of the leaders on the defense and he had a great season as the Bears reached Super Bowl XLI but lost the game to the Indianapolis Colts.  He spent his final season away from Chicago, playing for the Carolina Panthers but his season finished early due to injury, which meant he missed playing in another championship game as the Panthers reached Super Bowl 50 and lost to the Denver Broncos.  I always enjoyed watching Tillman because of his style and ability to play well for many years.  He was a brilliant defender.

I’m sure there are players who I have missed out and there will most probably be a few more announcing their retirement before the 2016 season gets going. Nevertheless I really like this list of players; you could use them to build a pretty good team!

I was inspired to write this post due to the quality of the players and the storied careers that they had. The 2016 NFL retirement class is a very strong one.