Latest Stock Up, Stock Down Update for Notable NFL Draft Prospects
With a few weeks of free agency out of the way and a chunk of pro days done, we are starting to get a sense of who fits where in the draft prospects. A lot of "draft season" is the media catching up with teams, causing us to label some players "risers" and some "fallers."
Though sometimes players will have something which will truly raise or lower their value with teams, a lot of the time, we're just adjusting what we thought and trying not to get taken in by the smoke scouts and teams put out, sometimes in-line with the thoughts of our fellow media members.
So as we go through these players, keep in mind—rising and falling is a relative thing, but perception is everything, and this is how these prospects look right now.
Stock Up: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF
While Teddy Bridgewater is the most pro-ready and best quarterback in this class (opinion: mine), it’s become increasingly more clear that UCF’s Blake Bortles is very likely going to be the first quarterback off the board—and possibly the first player.
Bortles’ decision to throw at the combine went over well, and he followed it up with a very solid pro day performance, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com).
He also seems to have convinced NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, according to Mike Huguenin at NFL.com. Huguenin reports that Mayock said that while Bortles needs some time to develop, “He's potentially a franchise quarterback.”
Overall, there are flaws to all the quarterbacks, but it seems like Bortles is producing the best press and product at the right time.
Now, pro days aren’t everything. Of course (and we’ll talk more about this next slide), we don’t ignore all Bortles’ game film because he had a great pro day. And there is a danger of reacting too much to a pro day as well—paging Mark Sanchez—which admittedly teams will sometimes get caught up in.
That said, there is enough favorable film on Bortles to think that we’re not seeing an illusion. We're seeing that he could be a good starter in the NFL.
Stock Down: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
The other side of the coin would be Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater. By now you’ve heard the world is clearly ending, as Bridgewater left NFL Network’s Mike Mayock saying he had an “average at best” day, as relayed by Darin Gantt of Pro Football Talk.
In an article from Sports Illustrated's Doug Farrar, Bridgewater explains what happened:
I was training down in Florida. It was 80-degree weather, sunny outside, so I was letting the ball spin without the glove and I just felt confident going into the pro day. I trust my training, I’m always confident in my training, so going into competition I trust preparation. So I went back to Louisville and the weather changed, it was a little cold outside, the ball gets a little rough and I still decided to go without the glove.
Let’s take a moment to discuss draft perception versus draft reality.
The perception is that Bridgewater will drop, and if he doesn’t get drafted in the top 10, well, clearly the pro day is what did it.
The reality is that while much of the media world is wringing its hands over Bridgewater not doing well, the majority of the NFL isn’t. Will his poor outing send teams back to the tape? Maybe, since the perception is that pro days are set up for a prospect to look perfect, and he didn’t.
So that will make teams look again to see if they can explain it.
As a side note, this is why I firmly believe a quarterback should throw at the combine. Bridgewater left no margin for error or chance to rebound.
But ultimately, I side with Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller when he wrote in a recent Scouting Notebook that,“Three years of film and his individual workouts are all teams need to see.”
I said it on Twitter last week—I’m not tossing what I saw charting games and watching every snap because he had a bad pro day. Neither will teams that have already largely made their minds up for good or ill.
Again, as I wrote regarding Bortles, some teams might overreact to a good or bad pro day but most teams—make that most well-run teams—will not.
Stock Up: Aaron Murray, QB, Georgia
Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray isn’t one of the top prospects in his draft class, but he’s a name many know from his collegiate career and he’s being mentioned frequently in draft news.
First, NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger mentioned that he believes that Murray will have the best career out of this class of quarterbacks, per NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread.
Of course, Baldinger made sure to point out that Murray isn’t better than Manziel or Bridgewater right now, but he may go to a situation with less pressure to develop quickly, allowing him time to get comfortable at the pro level.
Then, Scouts Inc.’s Kevin Weidl had some very positive things to say about Murray as well (subscription link). Weidl points out that while he lacks ideal measurables and tore the ACL in his right knee last season, he did a great many things to improve. He's improved accuracy and ball placement, as well as gained better composure in what Weidl termed “big moments” such as fourth-quarter comebacks against LSU and Tennessee.
Finally, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's D. Orlando Ledbetter wrote that there were a dozen teams interested in Murray—Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Arizona, Minnesota, New Orleans, St. Louis, Cleveland, Houston, Dallas, Oakland, Tennessee and Kansas City.
I’ve long felt Murray might be a guy who could be a gem worth waiting for if teams were willing to be patient with him and wanted to go another direction early. I’m especially intrigued by franchises such as Jacksonville, Arizona, Minnesota and Cleveland that have what I would call a “caretaker” quarterback to lean on while Murray develops and heals that ACL.
Ledbetter says that teams were impressed that, despite being hurt, he went to the Senior Bowl and combine.
It seems like all this news is pointing to a player “on the rise” heading toward May.
Stock Down: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan
For the most part, teams know far more about a player’s issues than the media does.
Still, a reminder that a player has trouble all over his resume is never a good thing even at this part of the process.
This week, scouts, teams and media were reminded that Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan’s baggage is prodigious, as charges were filed stemming from an incident back on December 1, 2013, as reported by ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein.
Now, this incident isn’t new, and it is well-documented. Teams knew about it and knew he might get charged. They knew he could be facing prosecution, and the results could involve 93 days in jail or a $500 fine.
In terms of results, neither of those things are all that bad.
It might give a team pause, though, if it feels he was more at fault than he feels he was (clearly the police feel something was there), and he’s had at least one other incident which could give a team pause, per Erik Oehler of National Football Post.
Again, most teams have probably already weighed his issues and decided where he sits on their big boards—and whether his issues outweigh his obvious talent.
Stock Up: Derek Carr, QB Fresno State
I have my issues with Derek Carr’s game, but he’s long been talked about as a potential first-round quarterback.
Well, after a reportedly great pro day, which made CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang comment that while he had the Vikings take Carr at No. 8, he “might not be available to them,” clearly, his stock is going up.
Now, as I have written multiple times in this piece, pro days are often overestimated by the media, and this could be one of those situations. After all, a pro day features everything in a player’s favor—well-known receivers, perfect conditions and a controlled atmosphere being just some of them.
However, Carr reportedly was ill, according to the Associated Press (via ESPN.com) and yet managed to complete 56 of 63 passes.
This only fuels the fire for people’s perceptions that he was great on his pro day; it makes great copy if nothing else.
Carr’s biggest question marks are why he struggles against top competition (and if he will at the NFL level) and how he handles pressure.
Neither of those things were answered at his pro day, but it seems as though he did enough to see his stock go up.
Stock Down: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
In the scrum of wide receivers not named Sammy Watkins, it doesn’t take much for a player’s momentum to take a downturn.
Recently, Bleacher Report’s own Matt Miller polled some area scouts as to who the most overrated player in the NFL draft was, and Marqise Lee was the favorite (or least favorite, depending on how you look at it).
Miller added his own two cents in earlier in that article, as he mentioned seeing a lot of drops and not a ton of improvement over the span of Lee’s USC career.
Add to this a report by CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang that Lee’s decision not to run at his pro day was causing speculation that the leg injuries which caused him to miss three games during the season were still an issue. He ran at the combine, but that doesn’t mean he walked away from Indianapolis without issues.
Again, there’s a glut of receivers in the second tier of players this year, so it may not take much to drop Lee a little if teams really think his legs will be a lingering issue.
On the other hand, I’m reminded of Keenan Allen last season, who dropped to the third round in part because of concerns over a knee injury.
I don’t think Lee is as good as Allen (who was my No. 1 receiver last season), but I do wonder if this is another situation of being more concerned than necessary.
Right now I have Lee as the third receiver in my rankings. Normally I don’t adjust my ranking after I finish looking over games. So unless I see his foot fall off (or I end up with a reason to go look at him again), he’ll probably sit there, though I have to admit our next player has grown on me leaps and bounds since the process started.
Stock Up: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
Ever since the combine, analysts have been going back to the Oregon State tape to get another look at wide receiver Brandin Cooks.
As I mentioned earlier, this group of wide receivers is very close after Sammy Watkins, so anyone could catch the fancy of a team and get drafted ahead of someone else.
Cooks followed up his combine performance with a solid route-running and pass-catching pro day which left NFL.com’s Gil Brandt comparing him to Wes Welker—but faster.
And Niners Nation’s David Fucillo relayed some notes from people at Oregon State’s pro day, which reported Cooks’ routes and pass catching were very, very good.
Ultimately, Cooks has shown he has more than just speed—something that is clear watching his games as well.
Stock Down: Marcus Roberson, CB, Florida
Once considered a borderline first-round pick, Florida cornerback Marcus Roberson has slowly tumbled down the draft rankings. After a disappointing combine performance in the 40-yard dash, analysts and scouts were hoping for a better result during Florida’s pro day.
As CBSSports.com’s Rob Rang reported, they didn’t get it.
While conditions certainly played a part both in the 40-yard dash and positional drills, the combine was (of course) run in perfect conditions. You can excuse one for the weather, but you can’t expect teams to give you a pass twice when one effort came without the weather.
As Rang points out, Roberson has some interesting game film, but two lackluster workouts may leave some teams with a few too many questions.
Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him @andrew_garda on Twitter.