2020 NFL DRAFT REVIEW

While the NFL draft is still fresh in my mind, I have pieced together my review of the event.  As with previous years, I thoroughly enjoyed all three days – watching each individual pick and observing how all of the teams’ draft classes took shape.

I was never completely happy with how I structured past draft reviews, so I decided to try writing this one a little differently this year.  I did not want to go too deep in one go and so have included a summary of the entire first round and then highlighted my favourite things about each of the remaining rounds.  There is also details on my Top 100 results (a new personal best score!).

Following on from my pre-draft position rankings post, which features my analysis on many of the players in more depth, this review is a good way of concluding the entire process from my point of view.  To begin, here is what happened on the much-anticipated first day.

ROUND ONE
Pick Number 1.  Joe Burrow, QB, Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals kicked off the draft by making Joe Burrow their new signal-caller.  Much like last year, when the Arizona Cardinals picked Kyler Murray with the first overall pick, I am not totally convinced this was the best way for the Bengals to go despite the decision not being a surprise.  It certainly does feel like time for a quarterback change in Cincinnati and it will be interesting to see how the franchise uses the off-season to mould the offense to Burrow’s benefit.  If he continues his growth seen during his wonderful final college season, the Bengals have a strong new leader capable of bringing success.
2.  Chase Young, DE, Washington Redskins – The most talented player in the draft was not going to be passed on by the Redskins, who have been building their defensive front nicely for a couple of years.  Young has everything teams look for in a defensive end prospect and appears set to cause problems for offenses right away.  Will be an NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year candidate.
3.  Jeff Okudah, CB, Detroit Lions – Prior to the draft it was mentioned a few times that the Detroit Lions were planning on selecting Okudah.  Trading away number one cornerback Darius Slay was also a huge hint.  As the event approached, Detroit were rumoured to be looking at a variety of positions and seen as a likely trade partner for any quarterback-needy teams wanting to move up to pick number 3.  What they did was stuck at 3, made no deals and took Okudah.  Good work.
4.  Andrew Thomas, OT, New York Giants – I thought that the Giants would prefer Thomas if they were going to choose an offensive tackle.  They couldn’t really go wrong with any of the top three I ranked in the OT class.  This is a sensible move that will create space for the run game and help protect young quarterback Daniel Jones.
5.  Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins – It’s happened!  After what could be at least two years in the making, Miami’s “Tank for Tua” has resulted in the desired outcome.  Even better was that they did not need to trade up to secure him.  This is an exciting pick; I keep repeating how I cannot wait to see Tua Tagovailoa in the NFL.  There were a few stories suggesting the Dolphins front office was considering other players – imagine the reaction from fans in Miami had the team gone in a different direction.  Thankfully, those stories proved to be false and this feels like a great fit.
6.  Justin Herbert, QB, Los Angeles Chargers – With Tagovailoa gone, Justin Herbert fell into the lap of the Los Angeles Chargers.  It is a good all-round situation as the Chargers have a solid team in many areas and proven talent on offense should they want to start Herbert early.  LA added further help with more offensive selections as the draft continued.
7.  Derrick Brown, DT, Carolina Panthers – Brown was being unfairly downgraded by some as the draft approached.  He is well worth a top 7 pick and also fills a need for the Panthers, with all the traits to be a great interior lineman.
8.  Isaiah Simmons, LB, Arizona Cardinals – Simmons is an example of a really talented prospect sliding due to no other reason than how the picks go.  The Cardinals did not resist, and I bet the defensive coaches cannot wait to get to work with the ultra-versatile linebacker.
9.  C.J. Henderson, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars – My initial reaction to this pick was that it was the first reach of the night value-wise, but Henderson does fill a big position of need for the Jaguars.  He was a riser throughout the draft process and talk of a top 10 selection came true as Jacksonville selected him to be their new shutdown cornerback.
10.  Jedrick Wills, OT, Cleveland Browns – The Browns made a great pick here.  Wills is hugely talented, and OT was most probably the teams biggest need.  By lining him up at one end with free agency signing Jack Conklin at the other, suddenly Cleveland have really solidified that offensive line.
11.  Mekhi Becton, OT, New York Jets – For a while I have envisaged Tristan Wirfs in Jets green.  Ah well – right position, wrong player!  Becton is a monster of a man who will add loads of power to the Jets line.  With some refining to his technique, there is so much potential to be realised.
12.  Henry Ruggs III, WR, Las Vegas Raiders – This wide receiver class has been much-hyped for its depth.  I thought that if it fell to the Raiders to take the first of the group, that they would pick Ruggs – they did not disappoint!  The very speedy wideout becomes the first selection in history by a franchise from Las Vegas, while also mirroring the athletic profile of Raiders WR picks of old.
13.  Tristan Wirfs, OT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tampa Bay’s off-season keeps getting better and better!  They made the first trade of the night here to seal the deal too.  Wirfs is an excellent pick to add to an evolving offense.  He is a great all-round blocker and the Buccaneers can try him at both the tackle or guard position.
14.  Javon Kinlaw, DT, San Francisco 49ers – Some good business from San Francisco to trade back just one place and acquire an extra mid-round pick from the Buccaneers.  This was an interesting one.  Having just got rid of Deforest Buckner they immediately replaced him on the D line with Kinlaw.  The 49ers offer just the sort of defense where Kinlaw can produce in his rookie season.
15.  Jerry Jeudy, WR, Denver Broncos – I predicted the Broncos would trade up for a receiver.  As it happened, they did not need to move to get one of the best in the draft.  Selecting Jeudy is up among the best picks of the first round.  Great value and was the start of Denver using the draft to get second-year quarterback Drew Lock all the offense he needs.
16.  A.J. Terrell, CB, Atlanta Falcons – It felt as though cornerbacks were a little over-drafted on day one.  With it being a position of need for so many teams I suppose it was inevitable.  Not that Terrell isn’t a worthy first-rounder as there is a lot to like in his game.  He played well in many big games at Clemson, so the Falcons should feel comfortable about starting him early.
17.  CeeDee Lamb, WR, Dallas Cowboys – Another excellent pick!  The Cowboys went best player available as Lamb slid to them at number 17.  This was the beginning of a strong draft for Dallas, who found talent at good value throughout the three days.  Lamb was WR1 in my rankings and has the skill and playing style to be a hit for the Cowboys.
18.  Austin Jackson, OT, Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins used their second pick of the round to start putting things in place to assist Tua in his work.  This looks a bit early for Jackson, but with the early rush on OTs, the team must have thought they would not be able to wait longer and get more protection for their new quarterback.
19.  Damon Arnette, CB, Las Vegas Raiders – See the first sentence of pick 16!  Arnette’s stock had been rising for some time, but the Raiders selecting him here was one of the surprises of round one.  I have enjoyed watching him for a couple of years, so was happy to see Arnette made a first-rounder.  Still feels a reach, nevertheless.
20.  K’Lavon Chaisson, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars – I’m not sure Chaisson fits the Jacksonville’s current scheme, unless they are thinking of changing to a 3-4 defense.  The next day, in the third round, the Jaguars selected nose tackle DaVon Hamilton, a move that confirmed to me they are considering the scheme change.  In which case, Chaisson will do some good work in that formation at outside linebacker.
21.  Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles – Reagor feels like such an Eagles receiver selection; they have often ignored having the one big target on the outside in favour of fast guys who can make plays after the catch.  I was never as high on Reagor as others, but he is a good fit for Philadelphia’s offense.
22.  Justin Jefferson, WR, Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings had a really good draft and it all started here when they selected Jefferson, who should contribute right away.  The coaches will love his versatility as a receiver – he is reliable wherever you line him up.
23.  Kenneth Murray, LB, Los Angeles Chargers – At this point the New England Patriots chose to trade out of round one.  They did so to the benefit of the Chargers, who took the opportunity to jump back into the first to claim Kenneth Murray.  It was a worthwhile trade as Murray is a top linebacker prospect who will slot nicely into the Chargers defense.
24.  Cesar Ruiz, C, New Orleans Saints – I felt as though the Chargers had traded quickly to get in front of the Saints.  Whether New Orleans were in for Murray or not, Ruiz is still a strong pick.  Just the type of lineman who can block for a veteran quarterback, Ruiz can be moved along the line if needed.
25.  Brandon Aiyuk, WR, San Francisco 49ers – This is the definition of a team trading to “get their guy”.  The 49ers dealt with the Vikings to move up and select Aiyuk, which feels like a bit of a reach.  However, there are some creative offensive minds in San Francisco who reportedly love the sort of player Aiyuk is, so why not make it happen.
26.  Jordan Love, QB, Green Bay Packers – Each year there is a pick that becomes the most controversial of round one.  And it tends to revolve around the quarterback position.  Think Daniel Jones to the Giants last year.  For 2020 this was it – the Packers trading up a few spots to select Jordan Love.  As I wrote in my position rankings, my own gripe with this is that I do not see Love as a first round player anyway.  The problem most have is that Green Bay were the team to pick him; with Aaron Rodgers calling for the front office to draft more offensive weapons, they instead drafted the guy they think can replace Rodgers.  Surely, upsetting your all-pro starting quarterback is not the correct thing to be doing?!
27.  Jordyn Brooks, LB, Seattle Seahawks – Another surprise.  Not that the Seahawks stuck and made a first round pick, but that they probably could have traded back and still got Jordyn Brooks on day two.  It had been mooted that Seattle were one of the teams raising Brooks’ stock.  I love how this franchise sees a draft class so differently to everyone else year after year.
28.  Patrick Queen, LB, Baltimore Ravens – No matter who the general manager is, the Ravens have often made drafting look annoyingly easy for a long time.  Sitting and waiting for Queen to come to them and fill a need with good value was a great start.  I think Queen has a way to go to hit his ceiling, but Baltimore is the perfect place to help him do so.
29.  Isaiah Wilson, OT, Tennessee Titans – Wilson was another late riser.  I’m not sold on the value here even though he fills a need for the Titans’ run-first offense.  He is a prospect that certainly looks pro-ready.  This selection meant that six offensive tackles went in round one – very nice.
30.  Noah Igbinoghene, CB, Miami Dolphins – Having traded back from number 26, Miami still had a third round one selection to make.  They chose to add to their secondary with the athletic Igbinoghene, who has risen throughout the draft process.  I thought he had earned an early day two selection, so I rather liked seeing him sneak into the first.
31.  Jeff Gladney, CB, Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings’ top draft continued as they wrapped up their first day here.  Trade down from 25, fill a need with good value and a scheme-diverse cornerback.  They must have been very happy with how this worked out.
32.  Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs – Edwards-Helaire to the Chiefs was a great way to end the first round.  I like everything about this pick!  He is the best receiving running back in the class, so place him into that high-powered Kansas City offense and it feels as though he will flourish.

ROUND TWO HIGHLIGHTS
With plenty of good picks made here, I found narrowing this down to just a few favourites a bit difficult!
Pick Number 36.  Xavier McKinney, S, New York Giants – The Giants began this draft by filling their two biggest needs, first with Anthony Thomas and then here with Xavier McKinney.  Great work.
38 and 64.  Yetur Gross-Matos, DE and Jeremy Chinn, S, Carolina Panthers – I placed these two together as I really like what the Panthers did in this round.  Gross-Matos and Chinn are strong picks that will improve the defense.  In fact, Carolina chose defensive players with every pick of their draft.
42.  Laviska Shenault Jr, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars – Shenault Jr. is good enough to make plays in any offense.  Injury concerns meant he slid into round two where the Jaguars took advantage.
54.  A.J. Epenesa, DE, Buffalo Bills – The Bills joined the draft by selecting A.J. Epenesa.  A few months ago, he was a possible top 10 pick.  This is a great fit; one of the picks of the round.  The Bills defensive front is going to be scary.
59.  Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets – Mims has been an interesting study throughout this draft process.  At the end of the college season, I thought at best he could go at the bottom of the second round.  After an impressive combine, his stock went up to I expected the top 50, maybe even an outside chance of round one.  He was selected towards the end of round two after all!  Very nice pick by the Jets.
61.  Kristian Fulton, CB, Tennessee Titans – Fulton is a first round talent and this was some fall.  I guess teams were really put off by his red flags from a couple of years ago, or there are some injury concerns we did not hear about.  The Titans got a good one for excellent value.

At the conclusion of round two, I was 64/64 in the Top 100 for the first time since I began doing it.  Things were looking up in terms of a good score!

ROUND THREE HIGHLIGHTS
Pick Number 65.  Logan Wilson, LB, Cincinnati Bengals – I loved seeing Logan Wilson go at the top of the third.  One of my favourite linebackers in the class, he will be a good addition to a Bengals defense in need of some help in the middle.
69.  Damien Lewis, OG, Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks needed to add a big, mean offensive lineman.  Lewis is about as mean a guard in the draft and will help their run-first philosophy.
74.  Zack Baun, LB, New Orleans Saints – The talented and versatile linebacker fell into round three where the Saints got a steal by making him theirs.  One of those picks where value and need come together.
88.  Jordan Elliott, DT, Cleveland Browns – Cleveland had kept selecting some of my favourite players at certain positions at this point.  Wills in round one is a great fit, they took safety Grant Delpit in the second, which I really like, and followed up here by picking Elliott to add to their D line.  He has huge upside.
105.  Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints – The Saints traded up right at the end of round three to select small-schooler Adam Trautman, who becomes the first player from Dayton drafted in 43 years and he will now be catching passes from Drew Brees.

ROUND FOUR HIGHLIGHTS
Pick Number 107.  Akeem Davis-Gaither, LB, Cincinnati Bengals – At the risk of being repetitive, I am going to highlight another Bengals linebacker selection.  After picking Wilson in round three, Cincinnati added the up-tempo Davis-Gaither here and also later picked Markus Bailey at the beginning of the seventh.  That’s a whole new set of high ceiling LBs to play with.
122.  Jacob Eason, QB, Indianapolis Colts – With new signing Philip Rivers possibly only having two more years left in him at the Colts, Eason will be in the classic “sit and learn” role.  Behind the veteran Rivers and the good offensive coaches at Indianapolis, this is a good situation for Eason to be in regarding his development.
132.  Troy Dye, LB, Minnesota Vikings – More excellent value at a position of need for the Vikings.  Dye should fit their defensive scheme nicely – he looks like an NFC North linebacker.
146.  Tyler Biadasz, C, Dallas Cowboys – I never understand why a team will do a deal to let a fierce rival trade up!  The Philadelphia Eagles dealt the final pick of the fourth to the Cowboys, which allowed their divisional challengers to continue their strong draft, as Dallas selected Biadasz.  If his potential hits, this will be one of the steals of the entire draft.

ROUND FIVE HIGHLIGHTS
Pick Number 148.  Alton Robinson, DE, Seattle Seahawks – Robinson is one of my draft sleepers and he landed in a great place as the Seahawks took him near the start of round five.  He will fit right into Seattle’s pass rush rotation.
158.  Bryce Hall, CB, New York Jets – Another one of my favourite players this year.  Bryce Hall’s slide ended here at the Jets.  The health concerns must have been bad, but I still expected him to go on day two.  Headed by their aforementioned first couple of picks, the Jets had a fine draft and value-wise this is the best of the bunch.
164.  Curtis Weaver, DE, Miami Dolphins – I did not rate Weaver as much as some did pre-draft.  Getting selected at number 164 still feels very low.  The Dolphins got a fifth round steal.

ROUND SIX HIGHLIGHTS
Pick Number 181.  Netane Muti, OG, Denver Broncos – More help for young QB Drew Lock!  Denver gave him new targets throughout the draft, with the round one pick of Jeudy added to in the second with another receiver, K.J. Hamler, and they picked tight end Albert Okwuegbunam in round four.  The pick of Muti is designed to keep the quarterback upright.  Muti slipped due to injuries, but his fierce power makes him a worthwhile selection here.  How can Lock fail?!
201.  James Proche, WR, Baltimore Ravens – Proche is a talented receiver and I was looking forward to seeing who selected him.  Getting picked to go and play on the Baltimore offense is an excellent spot for him to realise his potential.

ROUND SEVEN HIGHLIGHTS
Pick Number 217.  Jauan Jennings, WR, San Francisco 49ers – Everybody knew this wide receiver class would make for good selections though each of the rounds.  Jennings is a watchable player – not the most athletic, but reliable as a pass catcher and tough to bring down.  I was happy to see him drafted.
224.  Cole McDonald, QB, Tennessee Titans – Cole McDonald to the Titans, E-I-E-I-O!  Ok, so being selected by the Titans means the syllables do not quite fit the song, but you get the idea!  I have not included McDonald just to make that joke as his physical traits warrant a late pick and the Titans are a good match.
242.  Jonathan Garvin, DE, Green Bay Packers – The Packers’ final selection is probably the selection they made which I like the most.  Garvin is a strong and athletic defender with high ceiling.  The seventh feels like good value.

MY TOP 100
As round three ended, I was able to check my Top 100 list to get my final score.  I had felt as though it was going well and sure enough… 84!  A new personal best!

I like to target 80, which I achieved in 2016.  Beating last year’s 82 was a pleasant surprise and a great result.

The 32 players selected in round one, that I listed at the top, were all in my Top 100.  Below are the remaining players on my list who heard their names called by pick number 100 and got me the score of 84:
Pick Number 33.  Tee Higgins, WR, Cincinnati Bengals; 34.  Michael Pittman Jr, WR, Indianapolis Colts; 35.  D’Andre Swift, RB, Detroit Lions; 36.  Xavier McKinney, S, New York Giants; 37.  Kyle Dugger, S, New England Patriots; 38.  Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Carolina Panthers; 39.  Robert Hunt, OG, Miami Dolphins; 40.  Ross Blacklock, DT, Houston Texans; 41.  Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts; 42.  Laviska Shenault Jr, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars; 43.  Cole Kmet, TE, Chicago Bears; 44.  Grant Delpit, S, Cleveland Browns; 45.  Antoine Winfield Jr, S, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 46.  K.J. Hamler, WR, Denver Broncos; 47.  Marlon Davidson, DT, Atlanta Falcons; 48.  Darrell Taylor, DE, Seattle Seahawks; 49.  Chase Claypool, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers; 50.  Jaylon Johnson, CB, Chicago Bears; 51.  Trevon Diggs, CB, Dallas Cowboys; 52.  Cam Akers, RB, Los Angeles Rams; 53.  Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia Eagles; 54.  A.J. Epenesa, DE, Buffalo Bills; 55.  J.K. Dobbins, RB, Baltimore Ravens; 56.  Raekwon Davis, DT, Miami Dolphins; 57.  Van Jefferson, WR, Los Angeles Rams; 58.  Ezra Cleveland, OT, Minnesota Vikings; 59.  Denzel Mims, WR, New York Jets; 60.  Josh Uche, OLB, New England Patriots; 61.  Kristian Fulton, CB, Tennessee Titans; 62.  A.J. Dillon, RB, Green Bay Packers; 63.  Willie Gay Jr, LB, Kansas City Chiefs; 64.  Jeremy Chinn, S, Carolina Panthers; 65.  Logan Wilson, LB, Cincinnati Bengals; 66.  Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Redskins; 67.  Julian Okwara, OLB, Detroit Lions; 68.  Ashtyn Davis, S, New York Jets; 69.  Damien Lewis, OG, Seattle Seahawks; 71.  Justin Madubuike, DT, Baltimore Ravens; 72.  Josh Jones, OT, Arizona Cardinals; 74.  Zack Baun, LB, New Orleans Saints; 75.  Jonah Jackson, OG, Detroit Lions; 77.  Michael Ojemudia, CB, Denver Broncos; 78.  Matt Hennessy, C, Atlanta Falcons; 81.  Bryan Edwards, WR, Las Vegas Raiders; 82.  Neville Gallimore, DT, Dallas Cowboys; 83.  Lloyd Cushenberry III, C, Denver Broncos; 86.  Zack Moss, RB, Buffalo Bills; 88.  Jordan Elliott, DT, Cleveland Browns; 90.  Jonathan Greenard, DE, Houston Texans; 96.  Lucas Niang, OT, Kansas City Chiefs; 98.  Malik Harrison, LB, Baltimore Ravens; 99.  Matt Peart, OT, New York Giants.

I certainly got lucky with a few players that I personally liked going higher than I expected (Van Jefferson and Michael Ojemudia spring to mind), but the majority of who I was confident on after all the scouting did get picked appropriately.

Day 2 and 3 were the strangest I can remember for a few years in terms of the variation in where I thought guys would be picked.  So many names went much higher or lower than expected, it was really interesting.  Most probably a sign of the current social and professional times.  I always like to look at the players who were in my Top 100 but did not have their names called there in the draft.  Here are my misses:
Pick Number 102.  Alex Highsmith, DE, Pittsburgh Steelers; 105.  Adam Trautman, TE, New Orleans Saints; 110.  Darnay Holmes, CB, New York Giants; 111.  Solomon Kindley, OG, Miami Dolphins; 113.  Troy Pride Jr, CB, Carolina Panthers; 115.  Harrison Bryant, TE, Cleveland Browns; 122.  Jacob Eason, QB, Indianapolis Colts; 127.  K’Von Wallace, S, Philadelphia Eagles; 132.  Troy Dye, LB, Minnesota Vikings; 146.  Tyler Biadasz, Dallas Cowboys; 158.  Bryce Hall, CB, New York Jets; 161.  Tyler Johnson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; 164.  Curtis Weaver, DE, Miami Dolphins; 181.  Netane Muti, OG, Denver Broncos; 187.  Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR, Cleveland Browns; 210.  Prince Tega Wanogho, OT, Philadelphia Eagles.

I like to see which positions I can assess accurately.  Cornerbacks were an issue for some years in terms of the Top 100, then for the last couple of years it seemed I had figured them out.  For 2020, it was back to missing on a few of them again!  I put it down to teams going after the deep WR class earlier than usual.  The value on offensive lineman was another area I misjudged.

Each year I place guys that I do not rate so highly in my Top 100, but they go there due to receiving some media buzz leading up to the draft.  Alex Highsmith (although he was very close at pick 102), Tyler Johnson and Netane Muti were those prospects this year.  As was Donovan Peoples-Jones, who was the most frustrating one – I did not rate him at all.  He was getting buzz as high as round two in some places, so I reluctantly included him.  There is always a prospect I look at and think “should have stuck with my instincts!”, this year Peoples-Jones is definitely that.  Curtis Weaver was by far the highest on my big board to be omitted.  Solomon Kindley and K’Von Wallace were also surprises – I thought each would be made a third rounder.  Prince Tega Wanogho fell a long way due to injury concerns.

A check of The Huddle Report’s annual Top 100 competition to compare showed 84 to be the joint third-highest score this year.  I am very happy with that.

Right now, the NFL’s off-season is in an unprecedented state.  Nobody knows exactly when the teams will get back to some kind of normality and the rookies can begin working for their place on the rosters.  Whenever the season does get going, I look forward to seeing how everyone in this draft class can progress.

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2020 NFL DRAFT POSITION RANKINGS

Welcome to the “J Draft”!

The reason I have been calling this year’s edition the “J Draft” is simply a reference to the number of Christian names beginning with J among the top of most positions.  I won’t make it a constant or over-repetitive theme, just a small oddity of an observation to break things up a little.

Right, let’s get serious and deep into this draft class.

As always with my annual dive (links to my work on past drafts can be found in the “All Posts” menu), when I assess players who are entering the draft, I rank them based on all the notes I make while watching hours of game tape during and after the college football season and also after watching and recording results from the NFL combine.

There are several situations where players could be scouted and graded at more than one position depending on how different teams view their skill-set.  Many of the guys who declared are capable of lining up in more than one place.  For the benefit of these rankings I put players at the position where 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 NFL.

My rankings this year are published as a top 10 at each position, including some of what I see through my evaluating.  Additionally, I chose to add the next handful of prospects on the end so most positions will show my favourite 15 names.  This is not a prediction of the order in which they will be drafted.  The players are ranked by personal preference.

QUARTERBACKS
Overall, this QB class is better than last year’s, most notably right at the top.  There will be some intriguing prospects still available on day three.  And look at all these J’s!

  1. Joe Burrow, LSU – Had to be.  As I was deciding on these rankings, I realised I was trying to find reasons not to have Burrow at number 1, which doesn’t feel like the correct way to go.  This would not have been possible back in September as Burrow would most likely own a round 3-4 draft projection at best, but an incredible National Championship winning season full of record-breaking numbers has propelled Burrow up to being favourite to be selected number 1 overall.  He excels in the leadership and mental aspects of the game – showing great poise and pocket movement to use just a step or two to extend a play.  Accurate thrower who reads defenses very well, I like how he leads receivers to complete a pass.  His lack of arm strength has been much talked about but it’s really not so bad that it will be a problem.  Given his huge rise, is Burrow a one-year wonder?  Going into an NFL draft I would much rather he was progressing than regressing.
  2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama – A healthy Tua Tagovailoa would be at number 1.  I think his ceiling is higher than Burrow’s.  The main issue is the injury record; he comes into the draft recovering from a nasty hip break that ended his collegiate career early and the fragility concerns are not a new thing.  I wonder just how much of an issue this will be for the teams who have been “Tanking for Tua”.  When on the field, Tua is so sharp – everything is pro-quick.  He has very nice body movement and often recognises defensive schemes.  His release is very good and shows off the fact he can make a variety of throws with accuracy.  The most intriguing thing to me about Tua is that he throws left-handed – it’s something that I don’t think has been talked about enough.  Lefties have become so rare at the quarterback position in the NFL as the league has settled into the habit of running offenses designed for right-handers.  Moving certain parts of a pro offense to account for a lefty shouldn’t be too challenging, but it will be new to some.  I’m really looking forward to finding out who gets Tua and how his career pans out.
  3. Justin Herbert, Oregon – I don’t agree with the top 10 hype that Herbert is getting, but if a team really likes his upside there is a good chance he will be taken there.  Physically looks and throws like an NFL quarterback, which means coaches will really want to work with his skill-set.  There was a lack of talent around him last year, but it didn’t stop him from making all sorts of throws and although he could improve how he reads defenses, on film he actually doesn’t make too many bad decisions and try to force plays.  Strength, movement and work rate are all good – backed up by a strong combine and pro day.
  4. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma – By way of Alabama!  Hurts made a name for himself with ‘Bama including taking them to the 2017 National Championship, during which a young Tua Tagovailoa took over to win the title game and the starting job for 2018.  Following a year as a backup (and a notable contribution where the Tide may not have won a spot in 2018’s National Championship without him), Hurts decided to transfer to Oklahoma for his senior year where help from head coach Lincoln Riley has improved him as a passing quarterback.  He has always been a threat as a runner and can scramble smoothly down the field when given the chance.  His best quality is his calm presence, which allows him to play very well from the pocket and to get in rhythm quickly.  I like his arm strength and he threw well at the combine.  If defenses force him to move and take away running lanes, he can’t easily improvise through the air.  Hurts is a dual-threat QB, albeit he’s certainly a better runner than a passer.
  5. Jacob Eason, Washington – One of the bigger guys in this class and plays with a strong arm that fires passes all over the place.  He can throw through tight spaces and has a nice deep ball, conversely his shorter passes can do with a little more touch.  Eason is obviously comfortable using his power, but due to his size he can be rattled if he has to move around so cannot scramble as well as those above.  When he is completing passes and controlling a drive, Eason is watchable with a smooth rhythm to his passes.
  6. Jordan Love, Utah State – I’m much lower on Jordan Love than most.  I don’t agree with his first round buzz at all.  There are some really good highlights, most of which from his 2018 season that was a lot better than 2019.  In that sense he is the opposite of Joe Burrow.  I think Love is too much of a “potential” guy – I have learnt to be cautious of those QBs over the years of working on drafts (thank you, Paxton Lynch!).  Accuracy is good and arm strength is even better.  The big problem in 2019 was the turnovers, which are most likely down to poor decisions due to a lack of recognising the defense.  This can be coached so I understand why he’s seen as a worthwhile project.
  7. Jake Fromm, Georgia – Fromm has good NFL backup written all over him!  It has been well documented that he plays very smart; his best traits are his awareness and ability to read defenses.  Also throws well on short to medium passes.  He is limited physically so his deep throws do not look so good on tape, this also showed up during a poor combine.  I like how Fromm passes outside the numbers towards the sidelines – accuracy is pretty good.
  8. Nate Stanley, Iowa – Somewhat of an “old-school” quarterback due to being a true pocket passer.  I’ve enjoyed watching Stanley take charge and win close games, showing good leadership and toughness.  He plays in a pro-style offense with different sets and is effective as long as he stays behind the line of scrimmage – not great athletically so just like Eason, he struggles when he is forced to move while trying to throw.
  9. Tyler Huntley, Utah – Another good dual-threat quarterback.  He is often moving around on his feet and looking to scramble a bit too much, so decision making can improve.  Huntley’s passing game is very efficient, and I like his throwing motion, although he can’t launch it deep as easily as others on this list.  I thought it was a shame he was not invited to the combine as I suspect he would have performed well and moved up a few boards.
  10. Anthony Gordon, Washington State – Gordon is fun to watch and sneaks into my top 10 despite only one year as a starter.  His body tends to shift all over the place during plays and throws come from a variety of angles, which will need to improve with pro experience.  Taking charge of the all-attack Mike Leach offense at Washington State means he threw a lot.  He looks confident playing at a quick tempo and can get the ball out fast when he sees the right read.  I liked former teammate Gardner Minshew a little more this time last year and there are similarities with Gordon due to them running the same system.
    11.  Cole McDonald, Hawaii; 12.  James Morgan, Florida International; 13.  Steven Montez, Colorado; 14.  Bryce Perkins, Virginia; 15.  Khalil Tate, Arizona.

RUNNING BACKS
There was a clear number 1 in the running back class last year.  This year there is a greater number of guys with first round potential at the top of this list.  It would be even deeper if some notable players hadn’t chosen to stay in school.

  1. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin – Taylor put up outstanding production in college – the only FBS player in history with over 6,000 rushing yards in three seasons (6,174).  His big, physical running style worked perfectly for the Wisconsin offense.  He carried the load throughout his time there and the mileage may be a concern.  Taylor’s got good vision and will hit gaps quickly through the offensive line.  Deceptively fast in a straight line for his build, which showed during his speedy combine performance that he used to remind everyone of his all-round athleticism.  And to confirm that he’s my RB1.
  2. J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State – A smooth and natural runner who can create plays on his own with minimal space to work.  Dobbins rushes with a low centre of gravity, which helps him to change direction and cut upfield easily off one step.  He brings lots of effort and plenty of balance so is hard to bring down.  A good route runner and a reliable target when needed in passing situations.  I like how he takes good angles in the open to gain as much ground as possible.
  3. D’Andre Swift, Georgia – The Georgia Bulldogs keep churning out these solid running backs.  Swift is a powerful RB with good early acceleration and will not shy away from contact.  Was asked to pass block a lot and catches nicely out of the backfield so can be an asset in the passing game.  I thought his form dipped in 2019 and he was not able to make the big plays for his team very often.  As tough as Swift is, there were a few moments last season where he ran into contact and lost opportunities to make the extra yards.  Getting him carries out wide in space is the ideal way to maximise his ability.
  4. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU – Edwards-Helaire has a short and stocky build and runs very tough with a nice style of getting through tackles.  Also has good top speed once he’s got room to run.  He has great balance and side-to-side movement – many of his best highlights show him slaloming away from defenders on the move so footwork and vision are very good.  Solid in pass protection when needed to throw some blocks.  He’s also as good as any back in the class as a receiver and LSU used him on all sorts of routes.
  5. A.J. Dillon, Boston College – “He’s big.  He looks like a fullback!”  Yes, he’s big.  So was his production at BC.  I really like watching A.J. Dillon play.  He rushes so well for his large size and was the focal point of a run-first pro-style offense.  His excellent combine workout was a pleasant surprise and helped me to place him high in my rankings.  Dillon can cut and move at such a good pace that he is more than just a back to use for powering in a straight line – I’m sure many offensive-minded coaches in the NFL would like to get him in their team.
  6. Cam Akers, Florida State – A strong and angry rusher with a nice downhill style.  He was able to be a consistent playmaker on a weak offense and can work both through the line of scrimmage and move out wide into space.  Akers looks like a real workhorse and had no problem carrying the load as Florida State’s primary weapon.  He shows patience with the football in his hands, either behind blockers or as a receiver further down the field.
  7. Michael Warren, Cincinnati – Warren is another tough running back, who loves to be physical and take on tacklers.  He’s wide and quite short so can use his power from a fairly low position, while also possessing the ability to change direction with the speed of a lighter runner.  He’s proved to be very reliable in the Cincinnati backfield when they needed to lean on him.  I like the variety to his game and think, as he’ll likely be a late round pick, he could be a draft steal.
  8. Zack Moss, Utah – I find Moss a difficult evaluation.  He has a good work rate and is not going to shy away from contact.  There is a lack of big-gain runs on tape despite a high volume of carries, which hints at limited vision and awareness.  I like the range in his skill-set, but a poor combine means I can’t place him any higher.  Moss played with an option quarterback so teams will like the examples of his strong blocking and catching.
  9. Eno Benjamin, Arizona State – One of the more slender backs, who relies on burst and acceleration through blocks, Benjamin is nimble on his feet and loves a side-step.  Has a busy style, using movement to make plays due to a lack of outright speed.  He runs very upright, and his vision means he can create extra yardage, with a nice ability to bounce out of tackles.
  10. Anthony McFarland, Maryland – McFarland’s game is all about speed.  He’s a little undersized so give him the room to accelerate and he will do some damage in the open field, a trait he backed up with a fast combine run.  The more physical areas like breaking tackles and understanding how to run with less space is where he needs to improve – he hasn’t had many touches in college so in the right system he will continue to grow.
    11.  Antonio Gibson, Memphis; 12.  Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt; 13.  Lamical Perine, Florida; 14.  DeeJay Dallas, Miami (Fl.); 15.  Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State.

WIDE RECEIVERS
There is so much depth here!  Placing these receivers to where I am happy has been a nightmare.  There will be WRs drafted late or not at all who would have gone higher any other year.  Due to the depth, I’m tagging an extra five names onto my rankings and going with a top 20.

  1. CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma – My favourite wide receiver in this draft is CeeDee Lamb.  His all-round game is excellent.  Put him outside and he’ll make catches one-one-one, using his body to challenge and beat defenders.  There are some examples on film of how well he can shape his body to grab passes that are not spot-on; his catching window is huge.  Has shown strong hands throughout his time in college, and high awareness also shows up on more complicated routes where he is always a danger and can be open and ready for a pass very quickly.  Body size is good too.  He has so few weaknesses – I cannot wait to see Lamb in the NFL.
  2. Jerry Jeudy, Alabama – It feels strange to place a guy like Jeudy below number 1, such is his own quality.  I was a little disappointed with his combine but that shouldn’t be a big problem because he’s a real athlete on tape.  His signature is his exceptional route running – Jeudy’s body movement in stride is excellent so he is able to get open very easily with a natural way of shaping one way then suddenly moving the other.  One thing that concerned me during last season was the number of drops.  Due to his high ability through routes, Jeudy can be lined up right across the offense so he could be the most coveted WR in this class.
  3. Henry Ruggs III, Alabama – Speed!  Ruggs is a super-fast receiver who can beat anybody in two steps if given the opportunity.  With the ball he has a really nice, smooth way of accelerating and making plays happen.  His route running is not as good as Jeudy’s, but the two made Alabama’s passing game very tough to defend.  Ruggs shows good hands when up against pressure; it’s not just a question of getting the ball to Ruggs in the flat and use his speed.  He catches well in traffic but there is room to improve physically.
  4. Justin Jefferson, LSU – Good size receiver with very good hands.  Jefferson is solid in many areas on tape and showed really well at the combine.  He’s another guy who moves well through his routes and can therefore line up in the slot and on the outside.  Good strength both in contested catches and as a run blocker.  He played a major role in one of the most dominant offenses in the history of college football and was a reliable target for Joe Burrow in all types of passing situations.
  5. Denzel Mims, Baylor – Mims is a great example of why the combine is so important.  Following his excellent workout, he was a riser on every big board in the world.  He’s a big receiver who plays big versus contact, while also displaying hands capable of bringing in catches thrown anywhere near him.  Good at going deep; his offense did not give him the variety of routes that some others in the class have run.  Mims can block well too.  At the time of his combine it felt like Mims had pushed himself towards a top 50 pick, since then he has become a potential first rounder.  This rise reminds me of safety Darnell Savage Jr. last year, who was picked in the 20s by the Packers.  Same again for Mims?
  6. Tee Higgins, Clemson – It feels like his stock has taken a dive since skipping the combine to “rest”.  Most likely he was worried about being slow, the numbers from his pro day actually are not that bad.  If Higgins has teams willing to pick him high, it will be all about the tape and production.  He’s got many traits to be a good outside receiver in the NFL – a big body player who works well against close coverage, very difficult to beat to the catch when the ball is up for grabs.  Higgins has shown that if you give him the chance to challenge a defense physically he will be effective.
  7. Laviska Shenault Jr, Colorado – Shenault Jr. can produce in a variety of ways.  He’ll use his big frame to play strong; it’s a real test for defenders to press him through his routes and once he has the ball, he’s tough to bring down.  He’s quick and dangerous with his first steps away from the line of scrimmage – he can get open instantly.  In space he can move with speed too, gaining plenty of yards after the catch.  His draft stock is being held back due to some injury red flags.
  8. K.J. Hamler, Penn State – Reminds me of Marquise Brown in last year’s draft due to his small size/fast speed combination.  I thought Brown was a better player and still marked him down for the lack of statue despite knowing he would attract interest in the modern-day NFL.  For those reasons I’m going to ignore the size concerns with Hamler as his acceleration and playmaking ability should have him picked by the end of round two.  Has shown some toughness in his play and his athleticism makes him so dangerous once he’s moving down the field with the ball.  Should also be an asset in the return game.
  9. Jalen Reagor, TCU – Reagor is another guy with good speed and can create yardage after the catch.  Brings a lot of energy and with the ball in his hands is confident working through defenders.  He can have trouble fighting against contact and his hands are inconsistent when up one-on-one against defensive backs, so he projects as a slot receiver working shorter routes.  Capable of making plays in the right offense but I think his skill-set is rather limited.
  10. Michael Pittman Jr, USC – Tall receiver who likes to compete physically for the ball.  I like how Pittman Jr. can reach out and make catches even with defenders tight on him – he is among the best contested deep threats in this class.  He turns and adjusts to the ball well, even in stride.  Rarely drops passes and isn’t just about being big and strong, showing good athleticism at the combine and when route running.
  11. Van Jefferson, Florida – Has a great pair of hands and will take on anybody in coverage.  Jefferson moves through his routes very well with a nice ability to find a way to get open on time regularly.  Injury scuppered his chances to work out and show his worth at the combine.  An experienced player who is very pro-ready, although his age suggests low ceiling.  If an offense has an already established go-to guy and needs just one more WR to come in and contribute right away, Jefferson will be a great pick.
  12. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State – Aiyuk is an athletic receiver specialising in making yards after the catch.  I think, for his height, he could be better against contact and can be beaten too often by man coverage.  If you give him an opportunity in space, he will break through gaps and extend a play.  Another player who can contribute as a returner.  Recently revealed he had muscle surgery after the combine, which could affect his draft stock.
  13. Chase Claypool, Notre Dame – Claypool was a big combine winner, earning plenty of interest after a great all-round workout.  Notre Dame did a good job of working to his strengths, by sending him on only a few routes and letting him use his speed and large frame to go up and win the catch.  Due to these limited number of routes on film, Claypool is a developing prospect and will need to expand on this area in the pros.  Although he is a bit raw, teams will be interested in his build coupled with the athleticism so hearing his name called on day two is a real possibility.  It has been suggested by some to try him at tight end – I would really enjoy seeing that.
  14. Quintez Cephus, Wisconsin – I like Quintez Cephus and see him as somewhat of a draft sleeper.  At the combine a few notable cornerbacks, including top prospect Jeff Okudah, were quoted as saying Cephus was the toughest WR they had faced.  A real compliment if true and watching his style on tape you can see why any CB would find him a challenge.  He uses his broad physique to bully defenders to win the fight for the football.  Cephus is not all-power; he has nice hands and shape to his routes, able to get in position to complete a variety of catches.
  15. James Proche, SMU – Watching Proche go to work in SMU’s attack-minded offense last season made for some exciting moments and high production.  He clearly has great hands and his highlight reel shows why the team was able to put up so many yards and points.  Proche can find a way to come up with a good catch even in close coverage.  Has issues with movement and did not run the most complicated of routes in college – he would be further up my rankings if he was more athletic.
    16.  Bryan Edwards, South Carolina; 17.  Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan; 18.  Kendrick Rogers Jr, Texas A&M; 19.  Tyler Johnson, Minnesota; 20.  Gabriel Davis, UCF.

TIGHT ENDS
This is a weak tight end class, so I am only doing a top 10 here.  The NFL has seen some good tight end play in recent seasons and there is some variety for teams to look for bargains further into the draft.  Having said it is weak, watch this class now go and produce a handful of pro bowlers!

  1. Cole Kmet, Notre Dame – Looks to me like the most pro-ready tight end in a not so deep group.  Moves well and I like how he can find open space when targeted for a reception.  Kmet’s a big guy, so strength to hold off tackles and block is evident.  Will win a lot of catches using his frame to give him some room against defenders.  He can still grow in all areas – I think the bottom of the second round is the ceiling for where Kmet will be picked, which goes to show how much this tight end class is lacking.
  2. Brycen Hopkins, Purdue – High production at Purdue and watching the tape shows that Hopkins runs a variety of routes and does so with good movement.  He’s athletic too and had a good combine.  Will get open quickly and do damage after the catch with a big, expansive style of running that’s tough for defenders to bring down.  Hopkins’ blocks need some NFL coaching, but I really like his receiving upside.
  3. Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic – Not as athletic as others on this list, but I really like watching Bryant due to his great route running and ability to win catches against man coverage.  He’s a smaller TE who plays bigger as he likes to fight contact and can block well.  There are a few examples on film of Bryant’s ability to get out of tackles and extend plays, so he’s a good option when the offense really needs some yards.
  4. Adam Trautman, Dayton – Small-schooler who had never caught a pass before going to college, and now leaves Dayton as their all-time leader in receptions!  Trautman certainly learnt quick as his hands are very good.  Probably the highest ceiling in the class due to his lack of experience at the position.  Used his size and high catch point very well to go deep and challenge defensive backs in the FCS.  It’s a big step up from there to the NFL but I like the potential.
  5. Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri – Big Albert O is a really physical tight end who uses his size to bring the ball in from high up and impose himself in the passing game.  Nice hands and ran very fast at the combine.  Put that together with his toughness and he could create lots of problems and potential mismatches for defenses up the middle of the field.  He would be higher if he wasn’t so raw as a route runner and blocker.
  6. Thaddeus Moss, LSU – Last year I was quite high on tight end Foster Moreau, who also came out of LSU.  I thought he was blocking far too much as he made plenty of catches when called upon.  I see the same with Moss; LSU obviously focus on making sure their tight ends can block well in the run game.  When Moss is on the receiving end of passes, his hands are really good.  He does need to improve athletically as he doesn’t move at pace.  Also of note – he is the son of all-time great wide receiver Randy Moss, so his catching ability should not be a surprise!
  7. Hunter Bryant, Washington – I am fairly low on Hunter Bryant compared to some boards I have seen.  It seems he is expected to be one of the first tight ends selected, but for one of the guys who looks undersized, his slow combine did not show him well.  As he’s a thinner TE, he can be blocked and jammed away from his routes.  When he does get moving down the field, he can create some separation and has good hands.
  8. Devin Asiasi, UCLA – Asiasi has an all-round skill-set.  He moves, blocks and catches pretty well.  UCLA seem to like fast tight ends and he can really break upfield after the catch.  Asiasi did not run a complicated route tree but is good at finding space over the middle.  As just a one-year starter, I think with further coaching there is still room for him to take it up a level.  Another high ceiling tight end.
  9. Colby Parkinson, Stanford – A tall player even by tight end standards.  Stanford used Parkinson’s height well by throwing contested passes his way that he has a good chance of bringing in with his high catch radius.  Has lined up on either side of the line of scrimmage and moves smoothly through his routes, although there weren’t too many different ones on tape.
  10. Josiah Deguara, Cincinnati – Brings a lot of effort and doesn’t avoid contact in terms of blocking and taking on tacklers with the ball in his hands, although technique needs to improve.  Deguara had a good combine workout and he moves well through his routes.  He was a go-to target for Cincinnati.  Catches well and moves ok but does not have the burst to take on man coverage.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
This is a class with a lot of quality in the early rounds and some good depth for teams willing to wait.  There could be at least five or six of these offensive tackles selected in round one.

  1. Tristan Wirfs, Iowa – Wirfs has been my favourite OT for a while and an athletic combine sealed his place at the top of this list.  He held down the right side of Iowa’s O line and is very well-rounded; excellent movement combined with obvious power, making him so difficult to move once he is set in position.  Can play at either tackle spot on the line and some teams will want to try Wirfs at guard too.
  2. Jedrick Wills, Alabama – Also played exclusively at right tackle (to protect the blindside of lefty Tua Tagovailoa), Wills projects as an immediate NFL starter.  He has great awareness, always in the correct place and set in an instant.  Shows strength and toughness in both pass and run blocking, combined with the technique to be unmoved and will finish blocks quickly when allowed to get on the front foot.
  3. Andrew Thomas, Georgia – This is one of those times where I feel I should be placing a guy higher as Thomas could be the first OT off the board.  Teams will like his experience at left tackle, playing for a Georgia school known for producing gifted offensive linemen.  Leads well in the run game and shows excellent body shape and power – he can shove defenders around with ease.  Thomas can toughen up an offensive line from day one.
  4. Mekhi Becton, Louisville – Becton has lots of really good highlights on tape, using upper body strength and solid hands to push opposing players out of his way.  He’s massive and one of those linemen with some real nasty to him.  Moves very nicely too, which showed up during a great combine workout that got him a lot of attention.  He has not had the length of top-level playing time as those above.
  5. Josh Jones, Houston – He rose up my board when I watched more tape.  Jones is very mobile and at Houston was blocking for a quarterback who often would take off and run.  I think it’s for this reason he is always moving and can be caught out of position, but further coaching in the NFL will help make him more solid.  When Jones does get set, he shows toughness and a good anchor.  Possible first round pick.
  6. Austin Jackson, USC – Jackson lined up at left tackle.  He possesses good technique and is able to get into pass rushers quickly.  There are some good moments on film of him blocking down the field.  Jackson will be one of the youngest entrants in the draft so has a large ceiling that will come with physical growth and experience in the right team as he further develops technically.  A really athletic combine helped his stock.
  7. Lucas Niang, TCU – Another huge man, who is ideally suited to a run-first offense.  Shapes well and clears the way when blocking for his running back.  Pass blocking can improve and should not be a problem if it’s just in his understanding of technique, as positioning and instincts to pick up the rush look good.  When given the opportunity, Niang shows good length from his arms and is a powerful finisher.
  8. Ezra Cleveland, Boise State – Cleveland has also been rising.  I liked his combine – the movement and change of direction drills were excellent.  He does not have the power of the top OTs in this draft, but uses the good body placement and smooth mobility to succeed.  There will be an NFL O line coach wanting to pick Cleveland early to develop so the first round is not out of the question.
  9. Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn – A high ceiling prospect.  He is good when on the front foot but can be “got at” and moved back so could add some extra strength to his game.  I like his highlights as he shows awareness and creates angles to hold space with his blocks – not a guy who is going to simply push people out of the way all the time.  Wanogho’s footwork and speed are good when moving into position to run-block.
  10. Isaiah Wilson, Georgia – Wilson is another big, heavy tackle.  He plays well on that weight and made my top 10 with a good combine.  Also, yet another Georgia prospect so has shown good work on a high calibre offense.  He certainly uses all of his size on the field, really leaning into blocks and has enough mobility to open up gaps at speed.
    11.  Ben Bartch, St. John; 12.  Saahdiq Charles, LSU; 13.  Jack Driscoll, Auburn; 14.  Matt Peart, Connecticut; 15.  Hakeem Adeniji, Kansas.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
When doing my rankings, I like to separate guards and centers instead of having one “interior offensive line” list.  Going with two top 10s of each allows me to look deeper into the draft at these positions.  This is not the most exciting of OG groups.  However, there are guys worth a developmental day two selection.

  1. Jonah Jackson, Ohio State – His movement and reading of the game is really good, with an ability be in place to meet any rush up the middle.  Jackson transferred from Rutgers where he got some experience at center, but I think he projects best as a pass protecting guard at the next level.  He looks technically sound.  I really like how Jackson uses his arms to control opposing players and move them aside.
  2. Damien Lewis, LSU – Lewis is a big and strong guard primarily suited to contributing on a running offense.  He will use loads of power to drive defenders backwards.  Can really maul guys and throw them around once he is accelerating upfield.  Is efficient in pass protection, relying on his size to meet pass rushers and showing good body control.  His performances during Senior Bowl week would have helped his stock.
  3. Logan Stenberg, Kentucky – Stenberg is another really aggressive prospect.  If a team wants bodies moved out of the way at the line of scrimmage, he can do that with ease once his block is locked in.  I really like watching him create gaps head-on at the line – obviously has lots of upper-body strength.  Stenberg is not the most athletic guard, but he’s a real punisher.
  4. Robert Hunt, Louisiana – I’m breaking a rule here.  As I stated near the start of this post, I like to place guys at the position they last played in college.  Hunt began his final year at right tackle, but the season ended early for him through injury.  Before that he was always at guard and that’s where he projects in the NFL, so here he is in these rankings.  Ideal size for a guard and a low centre of gravity, combined with nice loose footwork and movement when pulling.  Good hand placement and a heavy hitter – he loves to finish his blocks and shove guys to the ground.
  5. Solomon Kindley, Georgia – Kindley looks a pro-ready guard on tape.  As mentioned in the OT rankings, showing well on that Georgia O line certainly helps and he has been key for them during the last couple of seasons.  Technically sound in pass protection and quick enough to push down the field in the run game.  Once Kindley is set he shows a very strong anchor and can dominate defenders struggling to find a way passed and away from his blocks.
  6. Ben Bredeson, Michigan – Plenty of experience and has played many games against high-calibre defenses.  Bredeson has a lot of power off his first step; he will instantly force defenders back who are not ready.  He loves to finish his blocks and will cover as much distance as he can when run blocking, sometimes right into the sidelines.  Reads the game well with an ability to pick up defensive linemen challenging up the middle.
  7. Netane Muti, Fresno State – Loads of strength as demonstrated with his powerful combine workout.  Muti also shows good footwork and moves well side-to-side.  I think he can be caught out by inconsistent technique, but based on his core strength the upside is huge.  When playing well, he is hard to get by and can shove defenders aside.  Has not played much for two years due to injuries, which is a concern.
  8. Shane Lemieux, Oregon – Lemieux played a lot of games at Oregon so has seen all kinds of different sets.  He looks better as a run blocker – really good strength and can open up big running lanes.  Body positioning and turning speed needs to improve in pass protection as he can have trouble meeting rushers from the edge.
  9. Michael Onwenu, Michigan – A second big senior from the Michigan offensive line.  Onwenu is not as refined as teammate Bredeson due to his lack of mobility.  He looks slow when on the move, which is due to his large frame.  Has obvious blocking strength and a good anchor when facing oncoming players.  His skills look a good match for a passing offense.
  10. John Simpson, Clemson – Simpson plays with good power on tape, which especially comes from his arms and upper body movement.  He can create space for his running back when charging upfield.  Solid against pass rush with a technique that needs refining, making him more of a developmental prospect for pro coaches.  Good combine shows his athletic potential.

CENTERS
There are some good players near the top of this center group, some will be among the better value selections of day two.  The last couple of centers on my list will be drafted late if at all.

  1. Cesar Ruiz, Michigan – Ruiz is an excellent all-rounder and very likely is the most coveted interior linemen entering the draft.  Has a great blend of power and positional understanding, while also having the body shape and footwork of a guard.  That versatility to play along the line and in different schemes will be very attractive to NFL coaches.  Ruiz continued to rise throughout this process by acing the combine and is now a candidate to be a first round pick.
  2. Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU – I noted way back at the top of theses rankings how well Joe Burrow could take control in the pocket while carving up defenses for LSU.  Cushenberry is the reason that space was there for Burrow to work in as his power and work rate showed him holding his ground very well against any rush up the middle.  He also moves well as a run blocker.  LSU really valued Cushenberry’s leadership qualities – an important trait to take onto the next level.
  3. Matt Hennessy, Temple – Hennessy is a competitive and powerful center, with game film showing him as a load to try and move due to good awareness and a solid anchor.  Moves smoothly with good use of his upper-body to meet oncoming defenders.  By all accounts he was excellent during Senior Bowl practices, which will move his stock up among scouts.  He works and processes quickly, so is often set and ready for incoming pass rushers.
  4. Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin – The story on Biadasz is a concerning regression in 2019.  The previous season he was playing like a future star at center.  His mental game is very strong – football IQ and body positioning have always been good, but where he declined was in his core strength most likely due to surgeries needed at the end of each of the last two years.  If he can get back to solidifying at the point of contact, Biadasz will be a top talent.
  5. Nick Harris, Washington – His measurables are quite small for the center position, so he may need to add some pounds when in the professional ranks.  The lesser weight does mean Harris can move well when asked to pull or block up the field.  Still has enough power in his hits to finish blocks, but could be shifted by the better NFL nose tackles so projects best in zone blocking schemes where he can start on the front foot.
  6. Darryl Williams, Mississippi State – I like that Williams has played at various positions on the offensive line in the tough SEC conference.  He’s a senior and leader of the O line who has seen a lot of reps and brings competitiveness and effort to every drive, with enough strength to give good protection around the pocket. A bit down athletically so the range of ground he can cover at pace suffers.
  7. Jake Hanson, Oregon – Hanson has experienced a variety of schemes in Oregon’s offense.  Brings good awareness and the required communication skills a center needs.  His work rate on drives and blocking strength are both fairly good – he likes to hit hard. Can be moved around when zone blocking so technique likely needs some work.
  8. Keith Ismael, San Diego State – Good mover, which showed at the combine.  Ismael looks best when run blocking and has the versatility plus of playing both center and guard.  Lacks power so may be another who needs to add weight.  Not as solid as those above so will block from odd angles and rely most on his mobility and effort.
  9. Sean Pollard, Clemson – Pollard has played snaps at tackle, guard and most recently a full season at center.  There is some value in that experience.  The senior is a good communicator who can block well in the run game and create some lanes, but plays tall and upright so has trouble getting set when he has to drop back against good pass rush.
  10. Frederick Mauigoa, Washington State – Mauigoa is a strong pass blocker who shows good awareness – able to meet and hold up defensive players coming from different angles.  In the middle of Washington State’s busy and hasty offense, I like how the senior center reacted to the extended plays and led a line that still managed to finish the season well in the sacks allowed column.

DEFENSIVE ENDS/EDGE RUSHERS
This year has produced another deep DE/edge class.  There are a few prospects worthy of first round consideration.  Also, a good run of J names around the middle of this list.

  1. Chase Young, Ohio State – To put it simply: Chase Young is the best prospect in the 2020 NFL draft.  I’d like to know how the Ohio State defensive end coaches operate as in recent years the college has turned into a production line for great talent at the position.  In 2016, Joey Bosa came out of Ohio State and was the best player to enter the draft, then last year was the same story for younger brother Nick Bosa.  Both were taken in the top three picks and both won NFL Defensive Rookie Of The Year.  Now it’s Young’s turn.  He is built to play as a 4-3 defensive end; a wonderful blend of power, speed and technique.  He can both use his hands and bend at speed very well.  Young can beat his man in a variety of ways around the outside or if he’s pushed inside.  Has the awareness to go for the ball, forcing loads of turnovers.  I would love the Bengals to take him at number 1, although it is unlikely.  You know a guy is talented when getting drafted at number 3 would feel like a drop!
  2. A.J. Epenesa, Iowa – It’s trust the tape time!  I have enjoyed watching Epenesa for a couple of years.  A player who uses his considerable power very well – instead of trying to get around you, he will push through you.  I like that nastiness.  The reason it’s “trust the tape” with Epenesa is due to his underwhelming combine.  Scoring modestly on the strength stuff when he’s a power player is a concern.  He was never going to test well athletically because he is big as a DE; in the NFL he could be moved inside in a number of schemes rather than just rushing from the edge.
  3. K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU – Chaisson projects as a really good 3-4 outside linebacker.  So much explosiveness and speed off the edge, with enough football IQ to have an effect against the pass game and the run game.  His ceiling is very high – there is room to improve versus contact around the line of scrimmage, but that immense speed and good body tilt will often get him passed O linemen before they can touch him.  Chases the play relentlessly and loves to tackle.
  4. Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn State – Has good body control and length.  His side-to-side movement is very quick, so he will disrupt anything coming his way out of the backfield.  Gross-Matos has really good burst when attacking blockers and also a lot of technical ability; I especially like how he uses his hands to swat through a block with the timing to do it in stride and not slow himself down.  He has enough size to be tried in a variety of schemes.
  5. Jonathan Greenard, Florida – Another really watchable defensive end.  Greenard transferred from Louisville and was a constant danger to offenses whenever he was on the field throughout 2019, putting up good production at Florida.  Has a quick first step to find the holes and then the strength to get through them.  He became a consistent playmaker and looks NFL-ready, with room to grow.
  6. Julian Okwara, Notre Dame – Strong and quick edge rusher whose skill-set has the makings of a 3-4 OLB in the NFL.  Okwara is another who gives the opposition problems with his speed, possessing great acceleration and bend when challenging O linemen.  He can fight contact and positions well for tackles out in the open.  His college career was unfortunately cut short by a broken leg, which I hope doesn’t affect his stock as there is real upside here.
  7. Terrell Lewis, Alabama – Lewis also looks best suited to outside linebacker.  Despite his good size, he does not line up too much in the trenches, getting into the backfield by hitting gaps from out wide.  He is a good tackler, strong in pursuit and is quick enough to drop back and help break up passes in medium coverage.  There are a few injury red flags with Lewis.
  8. Josh Uche, Michigan – Uche enters the draft as a player who was used rather irregularly at Michigan.  I like him as a “potential” pick and someone who can play in various positions.  He looks a little undersized and therefore plays fast but can blitz very well with good bend and body control.  Uche is raw in places but defensive coaches will see much to work with at the next level.
  9. Jabari Zuniga, Florida – Big, tough defender who can push blockers aside straight from the snap.  Zuniga looks good technically, although he can rely on his power too much, as he does not have a loose frame like others on this list.  Can turn and pursue quarterbacks well once he gets passed a block and up to speed.  Played hard for a few seasons at Florida and he played the experienced role well on their D line.
  10. Alton Robinson, Syracuse – Robinson is a solid defensive end who shows good size and burst.  He has become one of my draft sleepers during the process following a good showing in the Senior Bowl game and an athletic combine, so I’m sticking him in the top 10.  He shapes well and knows how to use his strength but needs to add more variety of moves to get away from blocks.  Led by example at Syracuse – I get the impression that his attitude on the field will not be a problem.
    11.  Curtis Weaver, Boise State; 12.  Bradlee Anae, Utah; 13.  Kenny Willekes, Michigan State; 14.  Jonathan Garvin, Miami (Fl.); 15.  Darrell Taylor, Tennessee.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
2019 was a good draft for defensive tackles.  This class is similar, with a clear number 1 followed by many high ceiling players.  One thing I enjoyed about evaluating DTs this year was the new “around the hoops” drill at the combine.  A good way of testing their turn-at-speed while low to the ground.

  1. Derrick Brown, Auburn – Brown has so much to his game as a defensive tackle.  He hits so hard off the first step and will effortlessly force opposing players out of his way.  Great technique when facing blockers and does not stop until the play is over.  I love watching Brown using his upper body; he can shape into gaps while keeping guys where he wants them with his arms.  Should be an early draft pick and a day one starter.
  2. Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina – During the 2019 season I began to see Kinlaw as a first round talent.  Now some are considering him on a par with Brown.  He’s not quite there but he does have similar traits, with a nice ability to burst through gaps in the O line.  Kinlaw goes power first and can be very disruptive when he decides to go for the backfield.  He can be tried across the D line and will only get better technically.
  3. Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma – Has an all-effort, busy style and clearly a high amount of endurance.  Gallimore turned into a solid playmaker in his final season with Oklahoma and has been a sure riser throughout the draft process.  Much of his power comes from very strong hand placement.  He can play a variety of roles across the defensive line.
  4. Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M – Had impressive production with Texas A&M while lining up in different positions.  Madubuike knows how to use his arms and let his strength beat blocks, doing so from various angles as A&M moved him along their line.  Playing at different spots on the inside will have a number of teams interested.  Overall movement is really good, and he had perhaps the best combine in the class.
  5. Ross Blacklock, TCU – This is looking like a great draft for TCU!  Blacklock has impressive acceleration and follows the football when chasing around blocks.  He will get reps straight away at a team focused on stopping the run.  Needs to improve on his technique in places, but his strength and speed highlights will have him selected in the first two rounds.
  6. Jordan Elliott, Missouri – Time for another “potential” pick!  Much of Elliott’s game is pretty raw – his style up against blocks on tape can look untidy.  What I like is his power – when he gets after a gap, he can be very hard to slow down whether playing the pass or run.  A strong combine helped me place him this high on my list.  Defenses in the NFL can help clean up the mental and technical parts to Elliott and turn him into a pro starter.
  7. Raekwon Davis, Alabama – Davis is a really tall DT and certainly plays very upright with long range.  Another guy who shows good strength but occasionally lacks the moves to get by blockers.  I like that there is room to grow versus the passing game as the physical tools are evident.  Will project best as a run-stopper from anywhere along the defensive front.
  8. Marlon Davidson, Auburn – Auburn’s defensive line was really good last season and not just because of Derrick Brown.  Davidson has good playmaking ability of his own, mainly due to his huge acceleration.  He’s one of those high energy defenders, capable of blasting through any offensive line who isn’t ready for him.  Can get a bit stuck on the inside against blocks so moving him wide on the D line may get the most out of Davidson.
  9. James Lynch, Baylor – Lynch is an aggressive and tough defender who had great production at Baylor.  He shows a lot of energy and willingness to fight through blocks, using plenty of arm strength and movement to do so.  Had some great highlights on film; he can really track down a play coming in his direction.  Backed up a good season with a really athletic combine.
  10. DaVon Hamilton, Ohio State – Looks like a true nose tackle; a huge defender who works powerfully right up the middle of the D line.  Hamilton is a good versus the run and can use his strength to get off blocks quickly to tackle the ball carrier.  Had a good Senior Bowl that could see him picked in round two.
    11.  Rashard Lawrence, LSU; 12.  Leki Fotu, Utah; 13.  Jason Strowbridge, North Carolina; 14.  Larrell Murchison, NC State; 15.  McTelvin Agim, Arkansas.

LINEBACKERS
There are some good linebacker prospects here, with lots of intriguing ones later into the draft.  I tend to do well when ranking linebackers, so if any NFL general managers are reading – grab a pen!

  1. Isaiah Simmons, Clemson – There’s versatility, then there’s Isaiah Simmons!  It’s not unusual for a guy to play a couple of positions on defense, but for a player to have lined up at inside linebacker, outside linebacker, deep coverage linebacker, safety (and probably one or two other spots!) and to play each role at a high level is very rare.  For someone like me who looks at not only what a draft prospect does, but also what they can potentially do elsewhere, Simmons’ skill-set is very cool.  His coverage skills are good – has enough speed to stay with guys going long, as showed at the combine.  Where he excels is staying up as a LB and reading the offense, as Simmons is so rangy, he will move towards any pass or run play and have a shot at making a tackle.  Shows a huge football IQ to contend with the variety of roles, there’s so much here for teams to like.
  2. Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma – Murray has great play recognition and the speed to get into tackles and finish a play very quickly.  He hits hard with nice impact when tackling.  Moves around the field very well.  Such a strong interior linebacker prospect and can be moved outside too.  Murray showed his leadership skills by stepping up and producing when Oklahoma needed him in big conference games.  I like the stories I hear about Murray’s character – if I’m a coach, that’s the kind of player I want in my locker room.
  3. Zack Baun, Wisconsin – There will be many who have Zack Baun placed as an edge rusher.  I’m keeping him at linebacker because of the number of drives in games where he started out, or dropped back into, playing in coverage.  When asked to, he can step up fast and rush the quarterback, but he may need to bulk up if a team wants him consistently rushing at the line of scrimmage.  Place Baun a little wide and away from the trenches as a true linebacker and let him react to when the play comes his way, and he’ll make tackle after tackle.
  4. Patrick Queen, LSU – Can play at different spots, showing high acceleration when attacking around the corner from outside linebacker.  It feels as though I am lower than most on Queen.  When dropping back, he is a bit inconsistent when asked to read routes in his zone, but the signs are that this should improve with more reps.  If a play develops in front of him, he finishes quickly with strong tackling. He’s a little raw due to not playing many games, I usually go for the upside with players, but he needs to add more size and strength to be the first rounder some are suggesting he is.
  5. Troy Dye, Oregon – There is some good versatility to be had with Dye, who I think can play across the linebacker depth chart in different schemes.  He is best when reacting to plays in front of him, strong in coverage and explosive enough to get downhill if he sees plays developing out of the backfield.  I like his leadership qualities; he looks like someone you’d like to have as a teammate.  Dye is not built for blitzing – he will hit open gaps with speed rather than force gaps open himself.
  6. Malik Harrison, Ohio State – Harrison plays big and gets some real power behind his tackles.  Really good mover, as shown with his strong combine results, so he can patrol linebacker zones on the field and take out any play reaching the second level.  He likes to read and react so teams wanting a run-stopping linebacker will take advantage of his skills.  More high floor than high ceiling, making him ready to go straight into the middle of an NFL defense.
  7. Logan Wilson, Wyoming – I really like Logan Wilson!  He’s been one of my sleepers for a while.  Plays well on tape and I was happy to see him back it up with a great combine.  Wilson is solid at OLB, capable of reading the offense and getting to the ball at speed.  Some good highlights in coverage where his athletic ability gets him up into passing lanes like a defensive back.  I also like how he suits the classic linebacker leader role.
  8. Joe Bachie Jr, Michigan State – His relentless all-effort style is contagious.  Bachie is skilled at recognising plays and his very good positioning gets him in place to affect the offense.  Strong against the run – he’ll chase down any ball carrier.  I think he could be good value in the draft for a team looking for extra help at inside linebacker, whatever the formation.
  9. Shaquille Quarterman, Miami (Fl.) – Quarterman is one of those players I feel like I have been watching for many years.  The senior with four seasons of experience is another who appears to lead from the middle of the field and is built to play linebacker.  Reacts well to available gaps when blitzing and can contribute at the line against running backs.
  10. Akeem Davis-Gaither, Appalachian State – There are a few exciting mid-rounder’s that when comparing, I found were difficult to put in order.  Davis-Gaither’s tape is a fun watch.  He’s a slim, athletic linebacker who is not going to win with strength, instead making plays with great burst and body control.  App State liked to use him up at the line as a blitzer and he also looks good stopping the run.  Would be further up big boards if he did more work in coverage.
    11.  Jordyn Brooks, Texas Tech; 12.  Evan Weaver, California; 13.  Willie Gay Jr, Mississippi State; 14.  Davion Taylor, Colorado; 15.  David Woodward, Utah State.

CORNERBACKS
2020 is a deep year for cornerbacks, especially on the first two days.  Last year I had a few guys that projected best as slot corners favoured in my top 10, those seem to be lower this year.

  1. Jeff Okudah, Ohio State – There are very little flaws in Okudah’s skill-set, which has made him the universal CB1.  His body control and movement are effortlessly smooth, even at speed so he’s very tough to beat in close coverage.  When dropping back into his zone there are some great moments on tape of his acceleration and length getting him into passing lanes in an instant.  Throughout last season when you watched Ohio State, Okudah stood out.  He also aced the whole combine process.  There’s a good chance he will be a top 5 pick in the draft.
  2. Kristian Fulton, LSU – Fulton is one of my favourite players in this year’s draft.  He has so much to his game, and I think his ceiling is the greatest in the cornerback class.  Will be solid and physical when covering a receiver one-on-one and has the instinct and technique to break up plays and shut guys down.  Sometimes he looks comfortable giving his man a step, trusting his ability to reach the ball.  There are so many quick throws in the NFL nowadays and teams are looking for cornerbacks like Fulton who can take them away.
  3. C.J. Henderson, Florida – Henderson does his best work in man coverage, using nice lower body movement and footwork to cover routes.  He anticipates a receiver’s movement really nicely so can use his size to stay close and step in when he has to break up passes coming his way.  Henderson’s stock is rising for sure and he looks like a round one prospect.  Had a hugely athletic combine, which shows up on film when his top speed helps him recover back to the ball.
  4. Bryce Hall, Virginia – I’m high on Bryce Hall who I consider a bit of a sleeper, albeit one who should still be selected by the end of round two.  His draft stock took a hit when he suffered a nasty ankle break during his final college season.  He’s a nice watch on the field, where he works best in open space – reading and reacting to plays coming towards him.  Virginia have produced some good secondary players recently and Hall’s awareness and physicality has shown him to be the leader of the group.  His size and zone reading ability means he is versatile enough to be tried at the safety position.
  5. Trevon Diggs, Alabama – Looks big and plays in quite a tall style.  At Alabama, Diggs became the defender tasked with shutting down wide receivers on the outside due to his ability to match his man’s route.  Really likes to use contact in man coverage and can lever his way into the place to be first to the football.  When in zone, he accelerates quickly to close down on routes and is skilled at reaching passing lanes.
  6. Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn – Igbinoghene has been rising up my rankings with the more tape I watch because of his busy and fast approach to defending.  This is a “potential” pick as he has only been playing at corner for two years.  He’s very athletic and shows good acceleration when covering and tackling – looks likely to be a day two selection.  Much of where Igbinoghene is raw is in defensive techniques that are coachable.  Can also contribute as a kick returner.
  7. Jeff Gladney, TCU – More talent from TCU!  Gladney’s hype has been increasing for a while, but I don’t see his rise as steeply as others do.  He can miss a step in coverage and allow receivers to get to the catch first, as he is lighter than other highly regarded CBs in the draft it could just be a physical issue.  When in close, Gladney moves very well, and his toughness shows up when he has to press or tackle.
  8. A.J. Terrell, Clemson – Played at a high level consistently for the last couple of years at Clemson.  Terrell has operated well in different coverages so will have many teams interested.  He’s another that likes to use contact to disrupt wide receivers.  Also, a really good mover and athletic enough to remain in positions to break up passes.  Terrell showed good speed at the combine and his recovery skills are evident on tape.
  9. Damon Arnette, Ohio State – For every Jeff Gladney – a rise I don’t completely get, there’s a Damon Arnette, whose rise I do agree with!  The senior has a nice smooth and deliberate way of getting around the field and shows as a strong tackler.  On tape I see a lot of contact from Arnette; he likes to really get into a receiver when up close and can cover well enough to stay with his man through to the end of the route.  Tracks the ball through the air well and is a tough tackler when he needs to be.
  10. Jaylon Johnson, Utah – Johnson is another corner who enjoys pressing and shoving receivers away from the line when playing one-on-one.  Good ball skills when in position to interrupt a pass.  He shows good awareness and has played in different coverages.  It’s all about strength and range with Johnson as he does not move his frame easily when needing to change direction.
    11.  Michael Ojemudia, Iowa; 12.  Darnay Holmes, UCLA; 13.  Troy Pride Jr, Notre Dame; 14.  Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State; 15.  Harrison Hand, Temple.

SAFETIES
I like this safety class.  There will be a good mix of players available throughout the rounds.  I’m interested to see how many will break into round one.

  1. Grant Delpit, LSU – A true playmaker and leader in the LSU secondary who had a great career there, culminating in a National Championship victory.  Delpit has ideal size and length for the position and the speed and agility to be in place for pass break-ups and turnovers.  Leads by example with how he reads an offense.  When moved forward, he times his rushes into the backfield very well.
  2. Xavier McKinney, Alabama – This is the third year in a row that a ‘Bama safety gets number 2 in my position rankings!  McKinney is a smart player and Alabama let him move forward on the field often, allowing him to make plays on short or intermediate routes.  Some real toughness to his defending – hits hard when he tackles.  I like his versatility and think coordinators will like using McKinney in different spots.
  3. Antoine Winfield Jr, Minnesota – Winfield Jr. is a guy whose stock has been rising throughout the 2019 season and draft process.  He had great production including 7 interceptions, which shows his ability to read the pass and track the ball into his possession.  There’s an aggressive side to Winfield Jr. when it comes to finishing a play.  Smaller size means he projects as a free safety or could even be tried as an extra corner in certain situations.
  4. Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois – A small-schooler!  I have Chinn quite a way up my board.  On film, it’s fun to watch him take over and impose himself on FCS opponents.  He has a great build for the strong safety position, with the skills to also be used in a hybrid linebacker role.  I really like his movement – body shape, even at speed, is very good and he is athletic enough to burst in on plays from anywhere.  Chinn’s athleticism showed during his excellent combine workout, which would have got the attention of many NFL scouts.
  5. Ashtyn Davis, California – I found Davis difficult to grade as he played a variety of roles.  Cal liked to line him up all over the place and have him read and react to offenses.  I wanted to like him more due to his busy style – he’s a quick and athletic safety with the acceleration to cover a lot of ground in zone schemes.  Movement is sharp if asked to follow a receiver’s route.  He is a good tackler in the open field.
  6. K’Von Wallace, Clemson – He’s a tough and competitive safety, who can accelerate hard into tackles.  Wallace is good off his first step, either attacking a pass from deep or coming up to the line – Clemson are a creative team when it comes to bringing extra blitzers.  Shows good awareness when reading passes and closing into the ball from deep.  He’s another who impressed at the combine.  Best suited to zone coverage.
  7. J.R. Reed, Georgia – Reed is a physical player who shows good instincts on the field.  I like his toughness and that he can deliver a hit with a lot of power.  Reed will rely on his smarts rather than outright speed when playing to the football from the secondary and will often move into the right place when tracking deep throws.  Has the competitive nature to come up big in big games.
  8. Kyle Dugger, Lenoir-Rhyne – Another small-schooler!  A good year for them at safety.  Dugger is such a good athlete and gets side-to-side with ease.  The lapses come in technique and processing as he’s playing, which can both be coached.  Like Chinn, Dugger is built to be a strong safety.  I didn’t think he dominated on film against lower-level teams the way Chinn did (these two are sure to be compared throughout this process!) but all the tools are there to be a worthy day two pick.
  9. Terrell Burgess, Utah – Plenty of good Utah Utes in this draft!  Burgess is one of the smaller safeties at the top of this class and plays like it; he isn’t going to smash into you with high physicality.  Good at reading passes in different coverages and can manoeuvre well to affect completions.  Due to his build, quickness and work in coverage, Burgess could work in the NFL at cornerback.
  10. Alohi Gilman, Notre Dame – Gilman has an aggressive style and really goes after ball carriers, whether that’s plays coming towards him in the secondary or if he’s up closer to the line of scrimmage.  He likes to play against the run and does not shy away from working to the backfield or bursting into short areas.  Really competitive and tackles very well.  Shows good awareness in coverage too, with the ability to get to the football to force turnovers.
    11.  Tanner Muse, Clemson; 12.  Julian Blackmon, Utah; 13.  Brandon Jones, Texas; 14.  Antoine Brooks Jr, Maryland; 15.  Geno Stone, Iowa.

The NFL draft is a week away and although the event will be very different this year, it makes it no less exciting to know it is just around the corner.

A large part of my enjoyment of the 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.  I’m sure one thing the teams would not have done is taken note of all the J names.

I hope my work is interesting for both draft fans and draft newbies.  Now that all the scouting, ranking and big boards are complete, I can relax and enjoy the thing!

Bring on the 2020 NFL draft!

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2019 SEASON REVIEW

And this Blog is back up and running!  Super Bowl LIV was a good one, but now I’m beginning to miss NFL Football so decided to write a review of the season.  I did this a few years ago and went team-by-team (the piece still exists!  Read it here!), rating each side from a low one star to a high five stars.  This year I’m keeping the same system and going by Draft order at season’s end, starting with the franchise holding the number 1 pick.

Cincinnati Bengals (2-14) * – The Bengals began with a tight one-point defeat to the Seattle Seahawks, unfortunately that was about as good as it got.  They remained at the bottom of the league all season and did not earn a victory until week 13.  Cincinnati suffered injuries at key areas of the roster, including the loss for the whole year of star wide receiver A.J. Green, who they may now lose permanently to free agency.  At least the team ended 2019 with a divisional win over the Cleveland Browns.  The growing consensus is the number 1 Draft pick will be used to select quarterback Joe Burrow, although I would love to see them take defensive end Chase Young, build the defense some more and give second-year man Ryan Finley a chance at QB.  With Burrow’s impressive final college season, you can understand why he may be so difficult to resist.

Washington Redskins (3-13) * – Dwayne Haskins’ era has started!  Those that read my 2019 Draft coverage will know I was never sold on Haskins – and there’s still lots of work to do.  He had his moments and won a couple of games so there are positives to build on.  A major plus offensively was rookie receiver Terry McLaurin’s strong year.  Chase Young will surely not fall passed them in the Draft; there’s a sense of inevitability that Washington will claim him barring any trade ups.  At a time when the NFC East division has lapsed, the Redskins struggled the most and head coach Jay Gruden did not last more than five games before being fired.  Further issues across the organisation have resulted in several staff changes this off-season, most notably Ron Rivera becoming head coach and Jack Del Rio the new defensive coordinator.

Detroit Lions (3-12-1) * – A tie never fails to make a team’s record look aesthetically unpleasing!  And we would have been saved from it had the Lions not given up a 24-6 4th quarter lead to end 27-27 on the road to the Arizona Cardinals in their season opener.  By week 8 Detroit owned a 3-3-1 record that included some good wins and even in a couple of the losses the team played well (lost by 4 to Kansas City Chiefs and by 1 to Green Bay Packers).  Things were looking up.  Then down injured went running back Kerryon Johnson and, even worse, veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford, both for the rest of the year and the offense couldn’t sustain any form.  In fact, minus Stafford the Lions suffered a nine-game losing streak and were perhaps the worst team in the NFL by the end of the season.

New York Giants (4-12) * * – I came close to giving the Giants just one star; I’m sure many people would do so.  It was a tough season, which cost head coach Pat Shurmur his job and one that will be noted as the last in the career of quarterback Eli Manning.  A couple of plusses about the Giants’ 2019 were the two wins over the Redskins and the amount of contributions made by so many of their rookies (I love a good rookie class!).  Throw in the amount of salary cap space that the Giants now have to further help the rebuild, and the future looks promising.

Miami Dolphins (5-11) * * – At the beginning of the campaign the Dolphins were the choice of most observers to “Tank for Tua”; play for the number 1 Draft pick in order to claim Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.  The way the season has fallen into place they could still be able to draft him from pick number 5.  It appears young QB Josh Rosen is one-and-done in Miami as he was not given a run of games, a bit of a shame as I thought the Dolphins put a good deal together to get Rosen during last year’s Draft.  Pick number 1 did indeed look like it was heading to Miami as the team began 0-7, they then won five of the last nine games and all while suffering awful luck with injuries to some of their best defenders.  The last two games were victories over the Bengals, which must have felt good.  Then on the road to their playoff-bound rivals New England Patriots on the final day, which must have felt even better.

Los Angeles Chargers (5-11) * – Considering the Chargers were one game away from the AFC Conference Championship last year, this was a huge regression for a roster loaded with talent.  LA went 0-6 in an AFC West division they would be expected to challenge in.  Another side who had starters hit by the dreaded injury bug and were also not helped by running back Melvin Gordon’s holdout for a few of the opening games.  Franchise quarterback Philip Rivers played about as problematic a season as I can remember him having and now that he has hit free agency it’s likely his last with the team.

Carolina Panthers (5-11) * * – Let’s stop talking quarterbacks!  Third-year running back Christian McCaffrey had a wonderful season in Carolina that had him MVP worthy.  Over 1,000 yards in both rushing and receiving – great stuff.  Sadly, the rest of the team could not keep up with McCaffrey and the form plummeted; from going 4-2 the Panthers earned only one more win in their schedule.  All-pro middle linebacker Luke Kuechly announced his retirement this off-season, he will be hard to replace.  The poor record has meant changes to the coaching staff with sought after ex-collegiate head coach Matt Rhule the new man in charge.  He has brought Phil Snow with him from Baylor as defensive coordinator and Joe Brady, the man who helped Joe Burrow have an incredible season with LSU, as offensive coordinator.  That’s a nice set of coaches to try and lead a revival.

Arizona Cardinals (5-10-1) * * * – Things are heading in the right direction for the Arizona Cardinals.  They were competitive all year.  Number 1 overall Draft pick Kyler Murray has taken well to the pros and won Offensive Rookie of the Year, leading the team well throughout the season in a difficult NFC West division.  I thought Arizona’s 2019 Draft was very good and there’s a nice mix of youth and established veterans on the roster.  I look forward to seeing what sort of business they do in free agency.

Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10) * * * – The Jaguars were always going to spend 2019 chasing in the AFC South.  Signing a Super Bowl winning quarterback in Nick Foles would have given them hope, having him ruled out for a while with an injury during the very first regular season game would have taken it away.  Except rookie Gardner Minshew proved a capable replacement, so much so that once Foles was healthy there was understandable debate about who should be the starter.  Foles regained the job but is still yet to win a game for Jacksonville, so it will be interesting to see who is QB1 in 2020.  Leonard Fournette had perhaps his best season so far at running back; a good sign for the future.  The team mostly won the games they should have won and lost the games where they were underdogs – three stars.

Cleveland Browns (6-10) * – Since going 0-16 in 2017 I really like the roster the Cleveland Browns have built over the last two years.  So it was strange, following all the promise of their last campaign, to watch them regress this season.  Maybe it was all that pre-season potential that caused Cleveland to be so inconsistent, it felt like the pressure was getting to both the coaches and the players.  No moment encapsulates this more than the incident of star defensive end Myles Garrett’s ejection for striking opposing quarterback Mason Rudolph with his own helmet during a match against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  While it was horrific it was also a bizarre event in that it occurred right at the end of a game the Browns were about to win.  Cleveland lost Garrett for the remaining games due to suspension.  With issues appearing to develop on both sides of the ball, their season was perhaps summed up by losing to the Bengals on the final day.  There are big name players in place at the skill positions on offense; I’d like to see them improve the offensive line either in free agency or early in the Draft.  The Browns are yet another team beginning 2020 with a new set of coaches.  Surely a rebuild won’t need to be so excessive here.

New York Jets (7-9) * * * – Once the New York Jets got rolling they turned in a pretty good season.  Specifically, the second half where the team won six of the last eight with some strong performances.  The slow start hindered their overall record, despite this I thought the Jets were getting underestimated before games; defeating the Oakland Raiders 34-3 and the 16-10 victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers near the end of the year were good examples of this.  The roster feels as though it does not need too many additions to be challenging within the AFC East.  Defense is the strength of the Jets.  They have some good pieces in place on that side, especially safety Jamal Adams who is as good a defensive back there is in the league at the moment.  Due to that strength on D, expect improvements to the offense to be the order of the next few months.

Oakland Raiders (7-9) * * * – From now on we’ll have to get used to the Las Vegas Raiders as the franchise has officially completed its relocation.  I’m not quite ready to do so and as this is a review, I can continue to refer to the OAKLAND Raiders.  It proved to be a rather inconsistent final year in Oakland with form bouncing up and down and the side unable to put together a decent winning streak.  At least it was an improvement on 2018.  I thought the Oakland Raiders had an excellent Draft and the performances from the rookies (I love a good rookie class!) during this season show good signs of potential.  It remains to be seen how quickly it takes for the franchise as a whole to adapt to Vegas.

Indianapolis Colts (7-9) * * – Going from the divisional round of the playoffs to a losing record does not show well.  Looking back at the season and noting the Colts began 5-2 hopes would again have been high, so the rest of 2019 was a bad decline.  From the start they had to regroup when starting quarterback Andrew Luck surprised the sport in the summer by announcing his retirement.  I liked how the team handled the loss of Luck and appeared fairly unphased in giving his former backup Jacoby Brissett the starting role.  Brissett’s play overall does indeed look as though it’s improving and the stats show the same, although perhaps not at the desired rate and I’m sure Indy will be keeping an eye on the quarterback market this off-season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9) * * * – Much like the Raiders, this was not a consistent season for the Buccaneers, but as they also improved on the year before I’ll reluctantly give them three as anything less would be harsh.  Their unsteady season was represented in the play of quarterback Jameis Winston, who lead the NFL with 5,109 passing yards and threw 33 touchdowns.  Strong numbers.  However, he also threw 30 interceptions (easily the most this year) and rarely felt in command of his offense for an entire game.  Winston’s contract is now up this off-season.  You know who else’s is?  Tampa’s outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett who delivered a breakout season with an impressive league-high 19.5 sacks in 2019.  It will be difficult to re-sign them both.  I know which one I’d keep, and I don’t think it’s the one the Bucs are going to keep!

Denver Broncos (7-9) * * * – In 2017 the Broncos went 5-11.  In 2018 they went 6-10.  This year 7-9.  Slow progress.  It is progress nevertheless and Denver has a lot of Draft picks and salary cap room to further improve things in the coming months.  A plus in 2019 was that most of their Draft selections made an impact (I love a good rookie class!).  None more so than rookie quarterback Drew Lock, who was my top quarterback in the last Draft.  He was given the start for the final handful of games and posted a 4-1 record.  Not bad at all.  I cannot wait to see how he continues next season.

Atlanta Falcons (7-9) * * – It should have been a more successful season in Atlanta.  For the quality of the roster, I would not have expected to see them sitting in the 3-9 position that they found themselves in.  Only a four-game winning run at the end saved them from a very bad season and probably saved head coach Dan Quinn’s job.  There were flashes of good performances and they were rarely beaten by a big margin, but just did not find wins until that latter stage.  The team was hit by injuries all over the field so will be better when healthier.  Effort’s need to be made to bolster the defense.

Dallas Cowboys (8-8) * * – Another side that underachieved this season were the Dallas Cowboys.  As touched on earlier, the NFC East took somewhat of a downturn in 2019 and the division was there for the taking, especially for a Dallas team who were winning in the playoffs the year before.  It felt like they blew it in key games during the run-in; a big one was losing 17-9 in week 16 at the Philadelphia Eagles, to whom they would relinquish the division.  Jason Garrett lost the head coach roll and quickly joined the Giants as offensive coordinator, which should add some spice to that rivalry.  I like that the Cowboys appointed Mike McCarthy as the new head coach, I thought he was unfairly dismissed from the Green Bay Packers job in 2018 and is the right sort of coach to take charge in Dallas.  His first task will be to make sure quarterback Dak Prescott signs a new contract.

Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) * * * – It turned into a bit of a rough season for the Steelers, who fell well behind the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.  Losing star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the vast majority of it certainly didn’t help.  He’ll hope to be back to full-strength in 2020.  The disappointment will be in earning an 8-5 record, only to lose each of the last three games and miss out on a playoff place.  The defense looked sharp, helped by the addition of safety Minkah Fitzpatrick in an early-season trade with the Dolphins.  Fitzpatrick became a real playmaker during his first campaign in Pittsburgh.  2019 overall actually was not as bad as it felt for the Steelers, which goes to show how high the standards are at the franchise.

Chicago Bears (8-8) * * – A real backward step for a team that had a 12-4 season last time out.  Chicago seemed to still be suffering the hangover of the agonising playoff loss that halted their 2018 run.  Much of the personnel remained the same but they couldn’t capture the same winning form, especially on offense.  The Green Bay Packers were the only side to beat the Bears within the NFC North division, against the rest of the league they picked up just four wins from a favourable schedule.  It looks like there will be a few defensive players hitting free agency that the Bears would like to keep and help them bounce back from this year.  This group of players will expect to be better in 2020.

Los Angeles Rams (9-7) * * – Yes, that is a team with a positive record getting two stars, such was the fall from reaching a Super Bowl to what turned into a disappointing season for the LA Rams.  Although the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks were both improved this year, the Rams starting as reigning NFC Champs would surely have meant them giving a better defence of the NFC West division than they did.  But they fell short and were not nearly as potent a team as a year ago.  The decision to offload Marcus Peters in favour of trading in Jalen Ramsey at cornerback mid-season was a big move that did not work in their favour as expected.  Albeit Ramsey will soon get the chance to play his first full season in Los Angeles.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7/Wild Card Playoff Round) * * * – As I mentioned when writing about the Cowboys, the Philadelphia Eagles stole the NFC East from their Dallas rivals.  The Eagles were up and down throughout 2019 but managed to win four in a row from week 14 on to grab the division and a playoff spot.  Once there, they were ousted at the first hurdle by the Seattle Seahawks during Wild Card Weekend.  It was a game in which not many seemed to rate Philly’s chances; it felt like this was always going to be as far as the team could possibly go.  There are areas of the depth chart on both sides of the ball the staff will be addressing this off-season, with a few different directions they could go in during the Draft.

Buffalo Bills (10-6/Wild Card Playoff Round) * * * * – We have reached a franchise with four stars.  I really enjoyed watching the Bills play this season.  They are strong in so many areas and have built a mean defense.  Quarterback Josh Allen improved on his rookie year, which will also be hugely encouraging.  Buffalo earned some impressive wins including at the Cowboys during thanksgiving week and victory on the road to the Steelers a couple of games later showed they were to be taken seriously.  It was nice to see a team challenge the New England Patriots for the AFC East, although the Bills could not beat them on the field.  They did come close at New England in what was a divisional showdown in week 16 – the final score: Bills 17-24 Patriots.  In the playoffs, the Bills held a 16-0 lead over the Houston Texans in the 3rd quarter only to let the game get away from them and allow a comeback from the Texans, who won 22-19 in overtime.  Certainly a tough way for Buffalo’s season to end.

New England Patriots (12-4/Wild Card Playoff Round) * * * * – I was close to rating the New England Patriots as a three-star team.  Three-and-a-half?!  No, that feels too little for a team that achieved twelve wins.  The reigning Super Bowl Champions did not get back there, but still had an excellent regular season.  Along the way their record showed 8-0, then 10-2; the Patriots were again well in the mix for trophies.  Boasting the top defense in the NFL, which rarely allowed much to opposing offenses and performed at a very high level.  The solid season from the Bills meant New England did not ease to another divisional title, but they took care of business when they needed to.  All this shows a job well done then, that is, until week 17.  Needing a win to seal a bye-week in the playoffs, the Patriots were upset at home by the Miami Dolphins, who won a close game 27-24 with a late touchdown.  This was a very “un-Patriots” defeat – they do not make these kinds of mistakes and it cost them their bye.  It proved even more costly when they were shocked by the Tennessee Titans during the Wild Card round.  Those final two games are the reasons why I thought about rating them lower as it was such a bad way for the season to end having promised so much.  For the first time in ages, quarterback Tom Brady now appears to be testing free agency as seriously as he ever has.  It’s a great news story and a fun one to analyse, but he won’t leave the Patriots. Or will he?

New Orleans Saints (13-3/Wild Card Playoff Round) * * * * – A really nice season put together by the New Orleans Saints.  With the rest of the NFC South struggling, the Saints took full advantage and spent the whole campaign fighting at the top of the NFC conference.  They missed out on a bye-week and headed into the playoffs as the number 3 seed.  Just as happened to the Patriots on the opposite side of the playoffs, New Orleans were eliminated at home during the Wild Card round by a strong performance from the Minnesota Vikings.  A touchdown drive in overtime gave the Vikings a 26-20 victory.  This was a season of big offensive records in New Orleans, as quarterback Drew Brees surpassed Peyton Manning as the NFL’s all-time passing touchdown leader.  In the game that Brees broke the record, a home game versus the Colts, he was exceptional – completing 29 out of 30 passes on an amazing night.  Wide receiver Michael Thomas also became a record holder with the most catches ever in one NFL season.

Minnesota Vikings (10-6/Divisional Playoff Round) * * * * – Minnesota were noticeably tough throughout 2019.  The team reached the playoffs despite losing the last two games of regular season to their NFC North rivals Packers and Bears.  In fact, the weakened Detroit Lions were the only team the Vikings were able to beat within their division, which is something to improve.  They picked up an upset win on the road to the Saints in the aforementioned Wild Card game and did it the hard way by giving up a 10-point 4th quarter lead to be taken to overtime.  Quarterback Kirk Cousins lead an impressive drive down the field and lobbed up a pass to tight end Kyle Rudolph for the touchdown to send the Vikings to the next round, where they were stopped by the San Francisco 49ers’ dominant defense.  In 2020 this roster should contend for the playoffs once again.

Houston Texans (10-6/Divisional Playoff Round) * * * * – In a competitive AFC South, the Texans retained the division title.  They battled through several close games and got the required ten wins, whilst fighting some issues on defense.  The most significant being the loss in the middle of the season of all-pro defensive end J.J. Watt due to injury, which made for a noticeable drop in Houston’s pass rush.  Watt did return for the playoffs and the overtime victory against the Bills.  It seemed the Texans were upping their game at the right time as they raced into a remarkable 24-0 lead versus the Kansas City Chiefs early in the next round, only for the Chiefs to come roaring back and finish the season for Houston, who just could not keep up with the eventual Super Bowl Champs.

Seattle Seahawks (11-5/Divisional Playoff Round) * * * * – There was a great battle to be the best in the NFC West between the Seahawks and the 49ers.  This was the first year that Seattle had moved on from the entire “Legion Of Boom” secondary group and a few new players in other positions made it feel like somewhat of a rebuilding season, so the team exceeded expectations when they powered to a 10-2 record by week 13.  Due to injuries completely wiping out the running backs from the depth chart, come the post-season Marshawn Lynch returned to play – although he was not the “Beast Mode” of old, it was still great to see.  Another highlight was the excellent season from rookie wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, who fitted into the offense well and looks likely to be a force at the position.  The Seahawks shared a win each in the two games against the 49ers, the second of which on the last day of regular season was a close loss that handed San Francisco the division, with the Seahawks stopped on the goal-line right at the end.  Seattle lost three of their last four games before the playoffs but overcame that stuttering form to beat the Eagles in the Wild Card matchup.  They were undone the following week on the road to the Green Bay Packers, starting slowly and giving themselves too much to do as the Packers held on to win 28-23.  The worst thing about the Hawks losing to Green Bay?  We didn’t get to see Round 3 vs the 49ers!

Baltimore Ravens (14-2/Divisional Playoff Round) * * * * * – A five-star team!  The Baltimore Ravens had a fantastic regular season, possessing fire-power all over the field and getting the best record in the NFL in 2019.  The offense was lead by quarterback Lamar Jackson’s incredible year in which he earned the MVP award, his electric style helping the star QB make plays in the air and on the ground with ease; once he got moving opposing defenses had such a hard time keeping up.  Thanks largely to Jackson, Baltimore set a new NFL record for rushing yards by a team in a season (3,296 yards).  On the defensive side, the Ravens took advantage of the LA Rams wanting rid of cornerback Marcus Peters, he was an instant playmaker and the last piece to complete a stout secondary that included Pro Bowl CB Marlon Humphrey and veteran safety Earl Thomas.  Ultimately, the season resulted in a shock defeat in the playoffs to a resurgent Tennessee Titans.  Given that the Ravens were big favourites it would have been a tough loss to take, but one that shouldn’t detract from how good their overall season was.

Tennessee Titans (9-7/AFC Conference Championship Game) * * * * * – Incredibly, the Titans went 9-7 for the fourth year in a row.  These 9-7 Titans became one of the big stories of the playoffs.  Early in the season head coach Mike Vrabel and his staff took the decision to make a change at the quarterback position.  Following a 16-0 shutout loss on the road to the Broncos that left Tennessee 2-4, starter Marcus Mariota was benched for the rest of the campaign in favour of Ryan Tannehill.  With Tannehill under center the Titans produced a 7-3 run into the post-season, helped largely by running back Derrick Henry having a career best season.  As the number 6 seed, the Titans were playoff underdogs and it was amazing to watch them beat first the Patriots then, more impressively, the Ravens; Tennessee had travelled to two of the toughest places to play in 2019 and won both encounters.  Henry was huge in these games – he was “given the load” throughout both games and put up really big numbers.  It should be noted how the defense also stepped up during the playoffs.  Unfortunately, the AFC title game against the Chiefs proved one step too many – it was still a great season for the Titans.  I hope Marcus Mariota gets some playing time elsewhere as I think he still has a lot to offer a team.  The Titans have decisions to make as Tannehill and Henry are now both out of contract, offensive lineman Jack Conklin is also a free agent.  It will be financially difficult to keep all three, but will be ideal for the Titans to do so.

Green Bay Packers (13-3/NFC Conference Championship Game) * * * * * – It was a big year for the Packers, who improved their efficiency in all areas and got their first winning season for three years.  As a first-time head coach, Matt LaFleur deserves huge credit.  The team regained the NFC North at a time when the rest of the division has been improving, the Packers put together a 6-0 divisional record to earn the number 2 seed in the playoffs.  After the bye week it was the Seattle Seahawks who came to town, Green Bay capitalised on their opponent’s early mistakes and held off a second half fightback to book a place in the NFC Championship.  In that title game the defense quickly became overmatched and allowed the 49ers to run all over them throughout the night and the offense could not do enough to prevent the defeat.  Getting to within one game of a Super Bowl appearance would have hurt, but this Packers team do not need many additions to remain contenders.

San Francisco 49ers (13-3/NFC Conference Champions) * * * * * – This year the San Francisco 49ers went from a 4-12 team to 13-3.  Many knew they would be an improved side, but rising all the way to the top of the NFC was some growth.  So many things fitted into place for them to turn it around and be one of the dominant teams of 2019.  The offense remained consistent, mainly thanks to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo staying healthy all season for the first time in his professional career as a starter.  On defense, cornerback Richard Sherman proved he can still be relied on to make plays and in front of him, the Niners defensive line developed into the most feared in the league.  There were plenty of contributions from the rookie class (I love a good rookie class!) most notably defensive end Nick Bosa, who deservedly won Defensive Rookie of the Year.  Taking care of the Seahawks to clinch the number 1 seed would have given San Francisco a huge boost for the playoffs and it showed as they smashed through the Vikings and Packers.  In Super Bowl LIV with the game tied after the first half, the 49ers D controlled the 3rd quarter and as they moved ahead it felt like the game was turning their way, so the team getting blanketed in the 4th and losing to the Chiefs was a little hard to explain given how the second half had begun.  San Francisco’s Draft will be interesting as after round one, they do not have another pick until the fifth – expect some trading down!

Kansas City Chiefs (12-4/ Super Bowl LIV Champions) * * * * * – “How ‘bout those CHIEEEFS?!”  For the first time in 50 years the Kansas City Chiefs are Super Bowl Champions.  The form was a bit shaky through October and the start of November, yet Kansas City made sure to remain unbeaten in the AFC West and carried a six-game winning streak into the post-season.  Quarterback Patrick Mahomes proved himself to be among the best in the NFL, coming off an MVP season in 2018 and continuing to play brilliantly.  He has some great talent around him on offense and they are such a fun group to watch.  The defense got better and better as the year went on, peaking at the perfect moment when it was playoff time due to some excellent secondary play and a tough, relentless defensive front.  Comebacks were the order of the Chiefs’ playoffs.  They overturned a huge 24-point deficit to win 51-31 against the Texans and ended the Titans fairy tale season when down by 10 points at half time, only for the defense to stop Derrick Henry and help seal a 35-24 win.  Then in the big one, just as the game appeared to be getting away from them, Kansas City scored three unanswered touchdowns in the 4th quarter and claimed the Lombardi Trophy with a 31-20 score line.  This was a good Super Bowl between two teams featuring talent all over the place, therefore the manner in which the Chiefs took over the game and saw it out was impressive.  I enjoyed watching head coach Andy Reid win a Championship as his career deserves it.  His roster is primed to be right up there again in 2020 and should defend the title in a strong manner.

This was an enjoyable season.  Of course, the NFL would hope so in what was their 100th anniversary.  Now all the team building starts in preparation for the race to Super Bowl LV, scheduled to be in Tampa, Florida.  It’s time to get ready for the NFL Draft – less than two months away.  In the meantime, I’ll be getting stuck deep into the class as I tend to do.  What a great time of the year!

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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

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.

2016 NFL DRAFT REVIEW

A few days on from the event and another NFL Draft is complete. As with previous years I really enjoyed it; watching the process of the picks and trades as they happen whilst piecing together each teams Draft class is always interesting.  The NFL showing live and uninterrupted coverage on their website was a welcome addition too.

All of the previews and discussions leading up to the Draft and analysis from the NFL Combine, pro days and workouts helped to increase the anticipation. The players that declared for the Draft and took part in these tests had scouts and coaches dissecting the results and watching individual game film to identify who they wanted.

I was especially interested in these results this year as I watched so much more college Football in 2015 than I ever had before. In past Drafts I have known a fair amount about players and enjoyed viewing highlights, but immersing myself in the entire season and getting a full grasp on the conferences, divisions and teams meant I was familiar with so many of this year’s entrants that it added extra excitement to seeing who would go where and how each round would unfold.

I have always liked analysing players and felt proficient doing so. The knowledge I gained throughout the college season of the majority of talent in this Draft made me take note of as many Combine numbers as possible to see which prospects were helping or hindering their chance to be drafted early.  I used these numbers along with my own judgement from watching games to put the players into order by position.  (I’m sure I may not be evaluating all of these results in the best way possible i.e. which drills are the most important for certain positions…but I was happy enough with my system!)

The players were ranked in this order but not for a mock Draft. Mocks have never appealed to me as they rarely seem to take into account how much can happen throughout the course of a Draft, as occurred about a week before the first night when the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles traded up for the numbers 1 and 2 picks respectively.  I did, however, decide to rank players to put them into a Top 100 list – predicting who the first 100 players selected would be.

Each year, based on the Combine and media hype, I can get an idea for who has a good chance to make the 100.  In other cases it was tougher (like choosing who was best between my 4th, 5th and 6th offensive guard!) and a couple of times deciding between two players could simply go either way.  Having all of these notes available as references on players during the Draft allowed me to follow who was chosen sooner or later than I was expecting.

As the Draft went on it was apparent how many teams were putting together a strong set of picks. In fact, I don’t remember a Draft where so many teams came away looking as though they had done such a good job.  It was interesting seeing which areas of the field most teams were targeting; one thing that surprised me was the number of cornerbacks taken in the first three rounds.

Below are the first 100 picks of the Draft. The first round attracts the majority of the attention and headlines every year and 2016 was no different, so I have included a small amount on each first round pick and thereafter something on any pick I think is worth a mention.

  1. Jared Goff, QB, Los Angeles Rams – The quarterback class this year does not appear to be as strong as recent years, but the Rams made Jared Goff the number 1 pick. Goff looks like the best all-rounder of the QB bunch and it seems a good fit; trading up to number 1 and taking a California kid is a story that matches the scale of the Rams move back to Los Angeles. Goff likes to spread his throws all over the field so the team added some weapons later in the Draft to further help him become the face of the franchise.
  2. Carson Wentz, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – With the Rams selecting Goff, it was left for the Eagles to get Wentz as their new signal caller. I’m not as high on him as most are and it’s a big leap for him to come straight into an NFL offense from small school North Dakota State. The Eagles will need to adapt their offense a little to make it right for him.
  3. Joey Bosa, DE, San Diego Chargers – Joey Bosa was touted as one of the country’s top defensive talents while at Ohio State. Then pre-Draft some reports had him falling a little bit. Then the Chargers made him the top defensive pick after all.  He’s a player I like watching and I can’t wait to see how he fits into San Diego’s defense.
  4. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys were linked with Elliott for a long time and they could not resist his college production. Running behind the strong offensive line Dallas have assembled will help Elliott immensely.
  5. Jalen Ramsey, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars – Jacksonville gets one of the top players in the Draft by selecting Jalen Ramsey. He’s tough, smart and versatile and instantly upgrades the Jags secondary.
  6. Ronnie Stanley, OT, Baltimore Ravens – A pick unanimously seen as solid and safe. The Ravens have some tough defenses to deal with in their division and choosing a brand new OT is a good start to combatting that.
  7. DeForest Buckner, DE, San Francisco 49ers – Buckner is reunited with Chip Kelly who was his coach at Oregon. He is a good player and a powerful tackler who fills a need for the team.
  8. Jack Conklin, OT, Tennessee Titans – After watching him during the season and on tape I like Conklin a lot, he also had a good Combine. Tennessee traded up to get him and continue to build a good young offense.
  9. Leonard Floyd, OLB, Chicago Bears – Floyd’s value rose throughout the Draft process and I always enjoy seeing the Bears take a linebacker so I like the pick.
  10. Eli Apple, CB, New York Giants – The Giants have received some bad press for this selection, maybe as they had others needs to sort out. I like Apple so am probably in the minority in thinking the Giants made a good choice here.
  11. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – I certainly prefer Apple to Hargreaves, who goes to his home town to play for Tampa Bay. This pick feels too high, but as I said earlier, far more cornerbacks went earlier than I was expecting.
  12. Sheldon Rankins, DT, New Orleans Saints – Rankins was my top DT so this looks like a smart selection for the Saints who needs to improve the defensive line.
  13. Laremy Tunsil, OT, Miami Dolphins – If you haven’t heard about Tunsil’s Draft night – strap in! He was projected as a possible number 1 pick for the Titans before they traded that away. When he arrived for the event he was still expected to be in consideration for a top 5 selection.  Then minutes before the Draft began, one of his personal social media accounts was hacked showing a video of him taking drugs, which caused teams to disregard him completely.  He actually didn’t tumble too far as the Dolphins grabbed him to upgrade their offensive line, banking on his off-field problems not affecting his on-field play.
  14. Karl Joseph, S, Oakland Raiders – This feels like a bit of a reach from the Raiders. Joseph is a talented safety when he’s good, but he has had an injured and inconsistent couple of years. The Raiders are putting together a nice defense and based on his potential, Joseph could be another big piece.
  15. Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns – It took longer than I thought to hear the name of a receiver called and I did not think the first would be Coleman’s. He wasn’t even in my top 3 receivers before the Draft – typical Browns!
  16. Taylor Decker, OT, Detroit Lions – I thought the Lions would also go with a receiver here, but they had been linked with Decker so this shouldn’t be a big surprise.
  17. Keanu Neal, S, Atlanta Falcons – I don’t see it with Neal and had him going late in the second round. Perhaps this move shows a lack of depth at safety and the Falcons were not willing to wait a round for him.
  18. Ryan Kelly, C, Indianapolis Colts – Kelly was the best center entering the Draft and the Colts always looked like they were going to take him as added protection for Andrew Luck.
  19. Shaq Lawson, DE, Buffalo Bills – This is a no-brainer for the Bills, who had a great Draft. Lawson was one of the primary reasons Clemson were unbeaten right up to the national championship game and this feels like a really good fit.
  20. Darron Lee, OLB, New York Jets – Lee is a linebacker who plays with real speed and backed that up at the Combine. He could thrive under the Jets coaching staff.
  21. Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans – Fuller is quick across the ground but his hands are a little inconsistent. Houston followed up this pick by taking Braxton Miller in the third round in order to give new quarterback Brock Osweiler as many targets as possible.
  22. Josh Doctson, WR, Washington Redskins – I like this pick, especially as I didn’t see the Redskins going wide receiver here. Washington were another team that had a great Draft and it all began by choosing Doctson.
  23. Laquon Treadwell, WR, Minnesota Vikings – Treadwell was my top receiver in this year’s class and probably fell this far due to a perceived lack of speed. What he can do well is challenge anyone for the catch one-on-one. I’ve enjoyed watching him play for more than two years now and he’ll get the chance to make plays in Minnesota’s offense.
  24. William Jackson, CB, Cincinnati Bengals – Jackson’s stock increased after some fast times at the Combine. The Bengals nabbed him ahead of their arch rivals, who were picking next.
  25. Artie Burns, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers – With Jackson taken from them, Pittsburgh chose Artie Burns with another defensive back pick that feels a bit high. Burns could have been their man all along and he’ll be thrown into a good defensive system.
  26. Paxton Lynch, QB, Denver Broncos – Brilliant! It had been talked about but until Denver traded up to get Lynch I didn’t think it would happen. I really like Lynch, if you judge the quarterbacks on potential alone he is easily the best in the Draft.  Denver is the perfect team for him – good quarterback coaches, the best defense in the league and an offense that will fit him.  It’s a great place for us all to find out if he can realise that huge potential.
  27. Kenny Clark, DT, Green Bay Packers – This is a pick that fills a need for the Packers. It also shows the class depth at defensive tackle as there were still names available at the position I thought would go before Clark.
  28. Joshua Garnett, OG, San Francisco 49ers – I was a little surprised the 49ers traded from the top of the second round to the bottom of the first to take the first guard off the board. Garnett would likely have still been there in round two but if you like the player, then why not go get him?
  29. Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Arizona Cardinals – A scary pick! Nkemdiche has a lot of talent, but off-the-field issues caused him to slide. The Cardinals already have a mean defense and adding Nkemdiche could turn out to be terrific value.
  30. Vernon Butler, DT, Carolina Panthers – Butler is a player who I heard discussed as a high pick more as the Draft approached. It seems the Panthers were aware of the talk too and selected him to play on their defensive line.
  31. Germain Ifedi, OT, Seattle Seahawks – Seattle allowed the Denver Broncos to trade with them for the number 26 pick, so they traded down to the final pick of round one and still got the player I think they wanted here. Ifedi appears to be a strong addition who is versatile enough to play tackle and guard. Just the sort of offensive lineman the coaches like.
  32. Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Cleveland Browns
  33. Kevin Dodd, DE, Tennessee Titans
  34. Jaylon Smith, OLB, Dallas Cowboys – Smith is thought to be as good as any player in this Draft, but a horrible knee injury in the final game of his college career ruined his chances to be taken early. Worrying reports that he may not even be ready to play in 2016 circulated and his Draft stock plummeted. The Cowboys selected him right near the start of round two, which is still earlier than most people predicted.  If Smith returns at a high level this is a huge value pick.
  35. Hunter Henry, TE, San Diego Chargers
  36. Myles Jack, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars – Another quality linebacker who dropped out of round one due to injury concerns was Myles Jack. Since being picked up at this spot by the Jaguars, Jack has stated he is healthy and ready to go. By adding Jack to their first selection, Jalen Ramsey, the Jaguars have acquired two of this year’s best defensive prospects – great drafting!
  37. Chris Jones, DT, Kansas City Chiefs
  38. Xavien Howard, CB, Miami Dolphins
  39. Noah Spence, DE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tampa Bay could also have a steal by taking pass rusher Noah Spence, who was another player that could of gone higher but for the dreaded off-the-field troubles. If the Buccaneers get what they are hoping for from Spence he will be a threat off the edge of their defensive line.
  40. Sterling Shepard, WR, New York Giants
  41. Reggie Ragland, ILB, Buffalo Bills – Ragland is clearly the best interior linebacker in the 2016 Draft. He is yet another defender who fell into the second round due to questions about his health. More than happy to get him here were the Bills – as I mentioned earlier, I really like their Draft this year.
  42. Kamalei Correa, OLB, Baltimore Ravens
  43. Austin Johnson, DT, Tennessee Titans – This is the point at which my top 100 took its first miss, I didn’t expect so many defensive tackles to go early. Johnson fits the Titans system really well.
  44. Jihad Ward, DE, Oakland Raiders
  45. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans – I was really intrigued to see which team would take Henry. The Heisman trophy and national championship winner is a big, strong runner who the Titans will use as a tandem with DeMarco Murray in their backfield. I look forward to seeing if he can do it in the NFL.
  46. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Detroit Lions
  47. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
  48. Jason Spriggs, OT, Green Bay Packers
  49. Jarran Reed, DT, Seattle Seahawks – Based on Reed being one of my top DT’s I think the Seahawks get a really good value pick here that also fills a need in the middle of the defensive line.
  50. Nick Martin, C, Houston Texans
  51. Christian Hackenberg, QB, New York Jets – The Jets quarterback situation is a little uncertain at the moment. Last season’s starter Ryan Fitzpatrick wants a bigger contract and Geno Smith is still there although it seems to have been forgotten how well he played at the end of 2014. Adding Hackenberg to the mix does not feel like a wise decision.
  52. Deion Jones, OLB, Atlanta Falcons
  53. Su’a Cravens, S, Washington Redskins – The Redskins continued their strong Draft by choosing Cravens, a safety who is also big enough to play as a hybrid-type linebacker. The sort of player I assumed coaches would love to get their hands on in the first round.
  54. Mackensie Alexander, CB, Minnesota Vikings
  55. Tyler Boyd, WR, Cincinnati Bengals
  56. Cody Whitehair, OG, Chicago Bears
  57. T.J. Green, S, Indianapolis Colts
  58. Sean Davis, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
  59. Roberto Aguayo, K, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Near the end of round two the Buccaneers traded up for…a kicker! I knew Aguayo would get picked on the second night as he’d been talked about as one of the best kickers to enter a Draft for a number of years.
  60. Cyrus Jones, CB, New England Patriots
  61. Vonn Bell, S, New Orleans Saints
  62. James Bradberry, CB, Carolina Panthers
  63. Adam Gotsis, DT, Denver Broncos
  64. Kevin Byard, S, Tennessee Titans
  65. Carl Nassib, DE, Cleveland Browns
  66. Max Tuerk, C, San Diego Chargers
  67. Maliek Collins, DT, Dallas Cowboys
  68. Will Redmond, CB, San Francisco 49ers
  69. Yannick Ngakoue, OLB, Jacksonville Jaguars
  70. Bronson Kaufusi, DE, Baltimore Ravens
  71. Darian Thompson, S, New York Giants
  72. Jonathan Bullard, DE, Chicago Bears
  73. Kenyan Drake, RB, Miami Dolphins – The Dolphins need another running back but taking Drake here appears to be a bit high considering other names still on the board at the position. He will most likely feature on special teams having proved himself to be a dangerous returner.
  74. KeiVarae Russell, CB, Kansas City Chiefs
  75. Shilique Calhoun, DE, Oakland Raiders
  76. Shon Coleman, OT, Cleveland Browns
  77. Daryl Worley, CB, Carolina Panthers
  78. Joe Thuney, OG, New England Patriots
  79. Isaac Seumalo, OG, Philadelphia Eagles
  80. Adolphus Washington, DT, Buffalo Bills
  81. Austin Hooper, TE, Atlanta Falcons
  82. Le’Raven Clark, OT, Indianapolis Colts
  83. Jordan Jenkins, OLB, New York Jets
  84. Kendall Fuller, CB, Washington Redskins – Kendall is the fourth Fuller brother drafted into the NFL. His name would have been called earlier if not for a knee injury. By adding Fuller to the signing of Josh Norman and picking up Su’a Cravens in the second round, the Redskins have a much improved secondary.
  85. Braxton Miller, WR, Houston Texans
  86. Leonte Carroo, WR, Miami Dolphins
  87. Nick Vigil, ILB, Cincinnati Bengals
  88. Kyler Fackrell, OLB, Green Bay Packers
  89. Javon Hargrave, DT, Pittsburgh Steelers
  90. C.J. Prosise, RB, Seattle Seahawks – I predicted the Seahawks would get Prosise. He’s a strong runner who, as an ex-receiver, can also catch the ball well.
  91. Jacoby Brissett, QB, New England Patriots
  92. Brandon Williams, CB, Arizona Cardinals
  93. Cody Kessler, QB, Cleveland Browns
  94. Nick Vannett, TE, Seattle Seahawks
  95. Graham Glasgow, C, Detroit Lions
  96. Vincent Valentine, DT, New England Patriots
  97. Rees Odhiambo, OG, Seattle Seahawks
  98. Justin Simmons, S, Denver Broncos
  99. Joe Schobert, OLB, Cleveland Browns
  100. Connor Cook, QB, Oakland Raiders – Number 100 is Connor Cook. He won a lot of games at quarterback for Michigan State but questions about his leadership and attitude put some teams off. If those concerns are true, Cook may not like going to Oakland to be a backup to Derek Carr.

As the Draft moved into round four I checked my top 100 list which showed I scored 80. I’m very happy with that, as it was my best score and I would have been pleased to score a bit less.  The result shows that all the time I spent as preparation wasn’t wasted…I think!  The players on my list who were not called in the first 100 picks are below.

101.  Charles Tapper, DE, Dallas Cowboys
102.  Josh Perry, OLB, San Diego Chargers – So close to a couple more with two players on my list going at 101 and 102. Like Tapper a pick before, Perry will add real effort and speed to the defense.
111.  Miles Killebrew, S, Detroit Lions
112.  Malcolm Mitchell, WR, New England Patriots
117.  Pharoh Cooper, WR, Los Angeles Rams
122.  Andrew Billings, DT, Cincinnati Bengals – One of the biggest fallers of the Draft was Andrew Billings. I thought he had a chance to go as early as the first but he slid all the way to the Bengals in round four.
134.  Kenneth Dixon, RB, Baltimore Ravens
135.  Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys – Prescott is my top quarterback in the Draft and will go to Dallas to sit and learn the pro game behind veteran Tony Romo. I hope he gets a chance to play.
136.  Devontae Booker, RB, Denver Broncos
139.  Cardale Jones, QB, Buffalo Bills
142.  Ronald Blair, DE, San Francisco 49ers – I made the decision to put Blair in my top 100 more with my heart than my head. I enjoyed watching him play for small school Appalachian State and was glad to see him drafted.
144.  Connor McGovern, OG, Denver Broncos – The Broncos get a bit of a steal in McGovern who had a really good Combine and should have gone sooner.
150.  Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears
151.  Joe Dahl, OG, Detroit Lions
161.  Christian Westerman, OG, Cincinnati Bengals
171.  Alex Collins, RB, Seattle Seahawks – With the likes of Dixon, Booker and Howard all going late, I really missed on running backs. Add to that Alex Collins, who I really like and was pleasantly surprised to see him taken by the Seahawks after they had selected C.J. Prosise in round three. How many running backs does it take to replace Marshawn Lynch?!
184.  Jerrell Adams, TE, New York Giants
233.  Jalen Mills, S, Philadelphia Eagles
234.  Vadal Alexander, OG, Oakland Raiders
250.  Scooby Wright, ILB, Cleveland Browns – Scooby Wright was an addition to my top 100 because I saw some good highlights on film and decided having Reggie Ragland as the sole interior linebacker was not enough at the position. It turns out that was wrong!

As with all rookie classes, I look forward to seeing how they all develop in the NFL and which players prove themselves at their respective teams. Next for them will be the rookie minicamps and off-season workouts where they will get the chance to earn a spot on the roster.

Even into the final round there were still some good picks being made. I cannot remember being into the whole Draft as much as this one and look forward to next year.

CLEVELAND’S QUARTERBACKING CONUNDRUM

Following another season’s end, NFL teams are currently negotiating their way through an exciting free agency period that has included plenty of interesting and surprising headlines.

One team in particular that has attracted more than its fair share of media attention during this time are the Cleveland Browns.  They have seen players come and go and have signed Hue Jackson as their new head coach, but the majority of focus is centred on one topic – the quarterback situation.

This is the first time that I have written an entry for this blog concentrating entirely on one franchise and it happens to be the Cleveland Browns because their predicament at the quarterback position is nothing new for them. Since 1999 Cleveland has started 24 different names under centre without much success and you will need to trace all the way back through the team’s historical timeline to 1954 to find their last Championship victory.  That’s nothing throughout the Super Bowl era.

A quick look at the decades since that Championship win reveals that, like all offenses, when there is an obvious starter in place it leads to relative success, however, keeping stability at quarterback has become an unfortunate traditional problem for the Browns.  By no means are they the only team to have inconsistencies in a certain area of the field, but the quarterback is the most important position in Football and after another tough season in 2015, this off-season has seen the QB trouble in Cleveland once again magnified.

Recently they were close to turning a positive corner.

After losing the first two games in 2013, injury forced the Browns coaches to give the starting opportunity to Brian Hoyer and he played brilliantly whilst guiding the team to three wins in a row.  I remember thinking “FINALLY!”  It looked like this might be the guy to lead the offense, then the bad luck of the Browns kicked in as it was announced Hoyer had suffered a season-ending injury.  The year ended poorly with just one more win, at least next year the Browns could focus all their attention on working with Hoyer at quarterback…I should have known better.

At the 2014 NFL draft, Cleveland selected Johnny Manziel in the first round. ‘Johnny Football’ was a star quarterback in college and brought a lot of fanfare and distractions with him.  At the time I thought drafting Manziel was a bad move by the Browns and by the end of the season when I wrote a Season Review (which you can find on the right side of this page!) I was even more convinced.  Manziel was often the story despite him not playing and the team, especially Hoyer, did not need that.  Hoyer did start the season and started it playing well, then he began struggling and by the end of the season was cut altogether as the team crumbled.  I’ve always thought Hoyer would not only still be with the Browns but would have continued improving if he did not have to compete with Manziel.

Johnny Manziel’s career has taken a downward spiral over the last year, with reports of his private issues becoming more and more alarming.  Since coach Hue Jackson arrived Manziel has been released too, leaving the Cleveland Browns once again looking at starting afresh at quarterback.

There are options for them out there and just as I began to write this piece Cleveland announced they had signed Robert Griffin III.  RGIII was awesome in his rookie year in 2012 as quarterback for the Washington Redskins, but problems with various injuries lead to the Redskins releasing him this month and the Browns have now picked him up hoping that coach Jackson – as an ex-offensive coach – can find a way to get RGIII back to his best.

Other options that were available to the Browns in free agency included Ryan Fitzpatrick and Colin Kaepernick.  Although I was thinking Fitzpatrick would be the best option as he has played the most recently and won games, RGIII could prove a good signing for Cleveland.  He has experience playing in a very competitive division, which he will need playing for the Browns in a tough AFC North.  The move could also work geographically as in this division RGIII will be up against some strong defenses in cold weather, something else he has already done in his career.

There is also this year’s NFL draft. Due to the gap at the position it seemed inevitable that the Browns would use their 2nd overall pick on a quarterback.  The arrival of Robert Griffin III makes that less certain, although there is a strong argument for the Browns still selecting a quarterback to compete with RGIII.  I think it might be better for Cleveland to stick with RGIII and use the number 2 pick to strengthen the offense in another area to help him; picking another quarterback may not be beneficial.  The strategy of bringing in a young quarterback to ‘sit and learn’ behind one with more experience is a popular one that actually does not always work out.

Further reason to be cautious about the draft is that I don’t believe the 2016 quarterback class is as strong as others in recent years.  The general consensus is that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are the top two talents, though my favourite entering the draft is Paxton Lynch – knowing the Browns, they will probably be going against the majority and favouring him too (Don’t do it Paxton!)

I will be writing an entry previewing this year’s draft in more detail very soon.

Whoever the Cleveland Browns have at quarterback come the beginning of next season I hope it goes well.  It would really shake up the AFC North and if Robert Griffin III becomes a successful acquisition, that will be fun for all as he was an exciting player to watch when he was on form.  Browns fans must wait and see if this is the year the quarterback puzzle is solved.