Inside the War Room: Week 16
In this week’s 'Scouting Notes,' we take a look at a Big Ten defensive back who is currently being overrated and one who is being underrated. We also highlight several players who could make an impact on special teams in the NFL. Then, in 'Draft Stock Market,' we talk about how one small-school cornerback has helped his stock with a strong FCS Bowl, and how one top-five prospect might see his draft stock fall if he declares for the draft. We also bring back 'NFL Notes', when we talk about where DeShone Kizer’s best fit in the NFL might be. To finish up this week’s article, we look at 12 players who could see their draft stock rise significantly this offseason.
- A player that I like but think might be a little overrated at the time is Iowa cornerback Desmond King. Despite being named to the Walter Camp All-American team for the second consecutive year and being projected to go in the first round by several NFL Draft sites, including CBS Sports, I project King to be more of a late second or third-round draft pick. One of the main reasons I think he is overrated is that he lacks first-round speed, as I projected him to run around a 4.5 40-yard dash. The other reason why I have a hard time seeing him going in the first round is that he lacks ideal size. Even though Iowa lists him at 5'11", I think he will come in closer to 5'10" at the NFL Combine. With that being said, I do love his ball skills, as he has 13 interceptions in his career and plays the ball extremely well in the air. His fundamentally-sound play is another reason why I think he will be a good second or third-round pick.
- While I think King might be slightly overrated, I think another Big Ten cornerback in Michigan’s Jourdan Lewis is the most underrated senior cornerback. What impresses me so much with Lewis is his ability to play tight coverage, especially when playing man-to-man. He shows excellent quickness and fluid hips in coverage, which allows him to hold up against any player he has gone up against in college. His aggressive play is another asset I like, as he does a great job of making plays on the ball, as he is Michigan’s all-time leader in pass deflections. He is aggressive vs. the run as well, even though he is only 5'11" and 186lbs. If Lewis falls to the end of the second round, look for him to be one of the biggest steals in the draft, as he has the ability to start as a rookie or at least be a nickel cornerback.
- Last week, DeShone Kizer announced he would enter the draft, and he should be one of the most interesting prospects. Part of the reason he is such an intriguing prospect is that he has all the natural skills to play in the NFL, including a strong arm, NFL size and the mobility to be a threat in the pocket. While he has the skill set to be a high first-round draft pick, he does have several concerns which could force him down the draft board, with one of these being only average accuracy, as he makes his receivers adjust to his passes on a regular basis. I also have concerns about his football intelligence, as he has struggled with game management and reads at times during his Notre Dame career.
- I absolutely hate the decision that running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey made to skip their teams' bowl games. While both of these players are extremely talented players who have first-round ability, I don’t like the fact they put themselves above the team. Another reason I don’t like this decision is that it makes me question how competitive and driven they are, as most players you have to fight to keep off the field even when injured, yet these two are healthy enough to play but decided it is in their best interest to leave their team high and dry. Due to the decisions both of these running backs made, I personally have Dalvin Cook rated as the top running back in the 2017 class.
- Even though I hate the decision McCaffrey made, I think he could be a good value pick if he falls to the second round due to his outstanding versatility. As a runner, he shows the explosiveness to take any play the distance, and the patience to wait for his blocks to set up. He shows impressive vision to go with his patience as a runner as well. McCaffrey also has the ability to help in the passing game, evident by him catching 82 passes over the last two seasons. He has proven to be a reliable check-down receiver and a player who can create mismatches downfield. One area I would like to see him improve as a receiver, though, is to catch the ball more with his hands instead of allowing the ball to get to his body. One more area McCaffery could help an NFL team is returning kicks, as he has done this at Stanford for the past three seasons.
- A prospect who is being rated higher by other NFL Draft pundits is Western Kentucky offensive tackle Forrest Lamp, who recently received a second-round draft grade by Mel Kiper Jr. While Lamp plays with good technique, I am not sure if he has the physical skills to earn anything more than a third or fourth-round draft grade. He lacks the footwork to play offensive tackle in the NFL, which will force him to slide inside, which is a concern for me since he lacks outstanding strength. He will need to prove at the Senior Bowl that he has the ability to hold up against NFL-caliber talent at the offensive guard position.
- Two underclassmen who have decided to stay in school are Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Georgia running back Nick Chubb. While Mayfield may be on the small side, he is a player that I think might be being underrated. As a passer, he shows okay arm strength but is one of the more accurate passers in college football. I look for Mayfield to enter the 2017 season with a high Day 3 grade. In my opinion, Chubb made a smart move by returning to Georgia for another season, as he would have been a late-round draft pick in this year’s deep running back class.
- North Carolina wide receiver Mack Hollins will attract scouts' attention with his strong play on special teams. He does an excellent job of covering kicks and has been named a special teams captain for three straight seasons. To go along with his strong special teams ability, Hollins offers intriguing potential at the wide receiver position, as he has great size at 6'4", 210lbs and impressive speed for someone his size. The biggest obstacle Hollins will have to overcome is the broken collarbone he suffered against Miami on October 15, which caused him to miss the rest of the season.
- Speaking of players who could make an impact on special teams, Maryland cornerback William Likely fits this bill as well. Likely finished third in the nation in 2015 in punt return average with 17.7 and also scored two touchdowns. He made an impact on kickoff returns as well when he averaged 22.5 yards on 35 returns. Likely has shown the ability to hold up as a cornerback, although the fact he is only 5'7" will hurt his chance of being a cornerback in the NFL. While he is an impact player, he will probably fall to the late part of the draft for a couple of reasons, including his lack of ideal height and that he is coming off a torn ACL which caused him to miss the majority of the 2016 season. One interesting option for this prospect is to allow him to return kicks and find a way to get his hands on the ball on offense, similar to what the Kansas City Chiefs are doing with Tyreek Hill.
DRAFT STOCK MARKET
Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Allen became the first player in Alabama history to win the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the best defensive player in college football. This season, Allen led the Tide in hurries with 15 and also tied with Tim Williams for second on the team in sacks with 8.5. With his strong senior season, Allen was able to finish second in Alabama history with 26.5 sacks behind only NFL Hall-of-Famer Derrick Thomas. Look for him to be a top-five pick come April.
Daquan Holmes, CB, American International
A player who raised his stock recently at the FCS Bowl is American International cornerback Daquan Holmes, who was named MVP of the game. Holmes has had a productive college career as he set a Northeast-10 Conference record with 20 career interceptions. While the level of competition and speed are question marks with Holmes teams could bring Holmes in as a free agent if he posts solid numbers at an NFL Regional Combine.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner might be the most inspiring story in the 2017 draft, as he missed most of last season with a knee injury and Hodgkin Lymphoma. Despite having to overcome the incredible obstacle of cancer, he was able to rush for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns. Conner also produced in the passing game, as he recorded 20 receptions on the season for an average of 15 yards per reception. When scouting Conner, I am impressed with his explosiveness, especially for a back who comes in at 6'2", 235lbs, and unlike some other bigger backs in the draft, I like how Conner has nice, soft hands in the passing game and is a willing pass blocker. I currently have a second-round grade on Conner.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
Last week, Kupp became the all-time leading receiver in college football with 6,284 yards during his career. He has also accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl, which should help prove that he is not just a small-school prospect who puts up big numbers. While there are numerous things to like about Kupp, such as outstanding hands, route running ability and punt return ability I do have some concerns about his speed and ability to separate vs. NFL-caliber defensive backs
George Kittle, TE, Iowa
Kittle is a player who came into the season with high expectations, as he was rated as the top returning player going into the 2016 season by Pro Football Focus. Unfortunately, Kittle suffered a foot injury on October 15, which caused him to miss two games and see limited action in several others. Despite this, I could see Kittle being a nice Day 3 draft pick, as he shows good hands and is still one of the top blocking tight ends in college football.
Jabrill Peppers, S, Michigan
Peppers is a player that presently carries a top-five draft grade according to numerous draft experts, and while I think he is a high draft pick, I would have a hard time taking him in the in top five for a couple of reasons. One of these is, what position does he play in the NFL? He lacks the size to play linebacker, which is the position he plays at Michigan, and I am not sure how smooth his hips are or how well he can hold up in coverage to play safety. I also would like to see him be more of a playmaker on defense, as he only had one career interception.
Tommy Armstrong, QB, Nebraska
Armstrong may miss the team’s bowl game against Tennessee due to a hamstring injury which has affected him since the November 12 game against Minnesota. Even if he is able to play in the Music City Bowl, he faces a major uphill battle to find a spot in the NFL. He lacks the passing skills, especially accuracy, to play in the NFL and is on the smaller side as well, as he comes in at 6'1". While Armstrong has been a running threat during his time with the Cornhuskers, I don’t see him showing the natural athletic ability to play another position in the NFL either.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
While running back Joe Mixon gets most of the attention when it comes to players with troubled backgrounds, wide receiver Dede Westbrook may even have a worse background, which the Tulsa World does a great job of detailing. Some of the more concerning issues with him involve two incidents he was around with, one being when was accused of throwing the mother of two of his children to the ground. He was involved in another situation with this woman in 2013 when he was accused of punching her in the face and biting her. The article also details some of the issues he has academically and a few other issues that will raise concerns with scouts. With Westbrook's background, lack of size and durability issues, I project him to be a late-round pick.
- Earlier in this article, I gave a scouting report on Kizer and I think the perfect team for him would be the Arizona Cardinals. One of the reasons I think he would be a good fit in Arizona is he would be coached by Bruce Arians, who is one of the better coaches in the NFL when it comes to developing quarterbacks. Another reason I like this fit is that he has the strong arm that is required to succeed in this offense. The last reason I think he would fit with the Cardinals is that he would have at least a year to develop under a veteran quarterback in Carson Palmer.
- A surprise top-10 pick might be Alabama tight end OJ Howard, who could make sense for the Chicago Bears. While the Bears might be picking a little high for Howard if Chicago wins one of their next two games, he would make sense for the team. He would give the team an immediate playmaker and a player who can create mismatches on a regular basis in the passing game. Howard would also be a good fit in Chicago, as he would be one of the better run-blocking tight ends, which is a plus for Chicago as John Fox tries to establish a more dominant running game in the Windy City. If the Bears pass on Howard, he would make sense for the Tennessee Titans, as he would give quarterback Marcus Mariota a great young target in the passing game, something he is currently lacking.
- Last week, the Los Angeles Rams fired coach Jeff Fisher, and whoever takes over as head coach next year will need to improve an offense which currently ranks dead last in the NFL in scoring, averaging only 14.1 points per game. The team has some interesting building blocks already on the offense, including quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley but will need to address its offensive line and find a playmaker receiver to not be one of the worst offenses in 2017. An offensive lineman who would make sense is Dan Feeney of Indiana who could start from Day 1. If the team decides to try and add a wide receiver, they will have to hope a player like JuJu Smith-Schuster or Mike Williams falls out of the first round. On a side note, the team should receive some compensation picks possibly as high as the third round after losing key free agents like Janoris Jenkins last year.
- Pro Football Spot’s Mike Walker wrote an interesting article titled Defensive End Prospect Could Bring a New Dynamic to Cowboys Defense. In it, he details why Missouri defensive end Charles Harris would be ideal for the Cowboys' first-round selection. If you have an interest in the Cowboys, I highly recommend you read it.
The following is a list of players I expect to make significant moves up teams' draft boards before the draft. Some of these players may see their stock increase due to strong all-star performances, while others may see their stock go up due to strong testing numbers.
Davis Webb, QB, California
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
O.J. Howard, TE, Alabama
Jeremy Sprinkle, TE, Arkansas
Vince Biegel, OLB, Wisconsin
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
Keionta Davis, DE, Chattanooga
Julien Davenport, OT, Bucknell
Tanner Vallejo, MLB, Boise State
Collin Bevins, DE, Northwest Missouri State
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado
Karter Schult, DE, UNI