Is it draft weekend yet?
The craziness surrounding the NFL draft is always maddeningly entertaining, but this year the insanity is on steroids.
Players are moving up and down draft boards by entire days—not just a few spots here and there—nearly five months after the games ended. Unknown quarterbacks ignored by the Senior Bowl are now first-round talents. Game film is seemingly useless, and traits dominate, even if they don't produce results.
Or is this all one gigantic smokescreen? We'll find out May 8, but until then, here is your weekly update on all things NFL draft.
Five Up, Five Down
5. OT Donald Hawkins, Texas
Every fan wants to know who the next sleeper prospect is, and I'll point you to Donald Hawkins from Texas. The former JUCO player has unreal athleticism and the ability to play four spots along the offensive line (all but center). He also shut down Oklahoma's pass rush, which later killed Cyrus Kouandjio and the Alabama offensive line. Hawkins needs to get stronger, but his athleticism and upside are well worth a selection later in the draft.
4. CB Jaylen Watkins, Florida
I've been watching the top cornerbacks in the draft this week for the NFL Draft 100 series, and Jaylen Watkins continues to stand out. The brother of wide receiver Sammy Watkins, he has the size, speed and instincts to be a true No. 1 cornerback with some development. The Florida corner could come off the board as early as the second round.
3. CB Jason Verrett, TCU
If Jason Verrett were 5'11" instead of 5'9", he'd be in the running for the No. 2 cornerback spot. Maybe he should be, regardless? Verrett is a physical, fast, attacking cornerback with ball-hawk skills and the tenacity to put a hat on the ball-carrier. He may spend a lot of his time in the slot, but Tyrann Mathieu did as well and was damn near an All-Pro-caliber player in his first season. Verrett is cut from the same cloth and should be a late first-rounder.
2. OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
The 2014 class has some serious talent at outside linebacker, and it's time for Jeremiah Attaochu to enter that conversation. He's a scary-good edge-rusher with big upside and is the type of aggressive, violent rusher for which teams in a 3-4 defense are going crazy. A late first-round pick shouldn't surprise you.
1. DL Dominique Easley, Florida
It's easy to say this now, but were it not for two ACL injuries (to opposite knees), Dominique Easley would be a top-15 talent. Much like Tank Carradine last year, his value will be skewed because of injury, but Easley has incredible ability to penetrate and pressure offenses from the interior. He's a Sheldon Richardson clone when healthy. His stock could fluctuate depending on how teams view his readiness after surgery, but a late first-round grade is in order.
5. RB Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona
The Arizona running back was already steadily moving down my board after a so-so season and very poor athletic showing at the combine. But now that the other running backs in this class have all been viewed, it's tough to see where Carey fits. He's not as fast, strong or explosive as the top backs, and he isn't better than the top 10 players in any one area. He's starting to look more like a late-round value on my board.
4. DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
Those who love Stephon Tuitt can point to a dominant stretch in 2012 in which he easily looked like the best 3-4 defensive end in college. But his most recent season was rife with injuries, ballooning weight and a lack of burst. I was told by a source close to Tuitt that he's back to the 305-pound range after playing at nearly 330 pounds this past season.
3. CB Vic Hampton, South Carolina
Being arrested tops the list of things not to do one month before the draft, but Vic Hampton is in that situation now. Hampton was already wanted for questioning regarding a fight in a New York City club, according to a TMZ report (via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com), but he was arrested this week on a separate matter, per Amanda C. Coyne of GoGamecocks.com (via Goodbread). That's the wrong kind of attention to receive this close to the draft, when a prospect has little time to rehabilitate his stock.
2. WR Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State
Overweight and reportedly out of shape, Kelvin Benjamin has talent, but does he have discipline? He told NFL.com's Goodbread that he's 17 pounds heavier than NFL teams want him and then reportedly pulled out of a workout with a scout because he was too tired, according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com (via Josh Katzowitz of CBS Sports). Benjamin's agent disputed that report, per Brandt (via Pro Football Talk's Michael David Smith)—because what else could he do?—but the bad word is already out there on his client.
1. CB Marcus Roberson, Florida
Film rechecks are a great time to bring back old notes and double-check an opinion on a player with more film available. For Marcus Roberson, that was a bad thing. He's still a solid second-round talent, but he's very timid against the run and handsy in coverage. Given the choice, I'd rather have his teammate, Jaylen Watkins, at cornerback.
The Scout’s Report
— There has been unlimited talk about Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel this offseason, and a well-placed source told me this week to "expect a draft day surprise" when it comes to the Heisman Trophy winner. What that surprise might be, we'll have to wait and see.
— A source with knowledge of the Houston Texans' draft board told me the owner prefers Manziel, with head coach Bill O'Brien favoring defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. The scouts? They're said to want Teddy Bridgewater.
— Similarly, in Cleveland, sources tell me it's ownership and head coach Mike Pettine who want Manziel, with position coaches and scouts preferring wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
— The Green Bay Packers need a wide receiver, and I'm told their current draft board ranks Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham and Cody Latimer in order.
— There is no doubt the Atlanta Falcons would love to get Khalil Mack or Greg Robinson, but I'm told the coaches would be equally happy with Anthony Barr or Jake Matthews and are encouraging general manager Thomas Dimitroff to not trade up in the first round.
— Pitt quarterback Tom Savage is a media darling right now, and I can confirm that several NFL sources love his potential and upside. Savage has a very good chance to be the most overdrafted player in the entire class.
— Some of the biggest news out of the combine was NFL Network's report that Alabama offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio had failed physicals with "several teams," but at Alabama's second pro day on April 8 he was able to work out. I'm also told he won't be asked back to Indianapolis for a medical recheck.
"Dip and Drive"
Cameron Wake does it as well as anyone. Dipping and driving is the move a defender does to drop their inside shoulder when contacted by a blocker on the edge and then drive their legs to turn the corner and attack the quarterback.
In a draft class loaded with exceptional edge players, Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attaochu has been overlooked too often. That's changing, hopefully, as more and more people have time to evaluate his game film. Here's my take on the versatile, athletic pass-rusher.
OLB Jeremiah Attaochu, Georgia Tech
A powerful, explosive player off the edge, Attaochu stands out as a premier pass-rushing prospect. His experience as a defensive end and outside linebacker gives you a glimpse into his ability as an instant starter and also his upside. He has exceptional quickness and flexibility, which allows him to beat blockers into space. He's also an incredibly intelligent player and has big upside as an outside rusher.
Learning to convert speed to power, and vice versa, will be part of the learning curve for Attaochu. He's not super strong in coverage, either, but he does have the athleticism to learn to play in space. Against the run, he can get beat up by blockers if he doesn't win with speed off the snap.
Pro Player Comparison: Corey Lemonier, San Francisco 49ers
The Big Board
When a new mock draft comes out, I'm generally showing what I would do as each team's general manager. But what about a mock draft purely based on what I'm hearing around the league? That's what you're getting this week.
|1||Texans||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|2||Rams||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|3||Jaguars||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|4||Browns||QB Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|5||Raiders||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|6||Falcons||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|7||Bucs||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|8||Vikings||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|9||Bills||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|10||Lions||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|11||Titans||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma St.|
|12||Giants||DT Aaron Donald||Pitt|
|13||Rams||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|14||Bears||DT Ra'Shede Hageman||Minnesota|
|15||Steelers||WR Odell Beckham, Jr.||LSU|
|16||Cowboys||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|17||Ravens||OT Taylor Lewan||Michigan|
|18||Jets||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|19||Dolphins||OT Zack Martin||Notre Dame|
|20||Cardinals||QB Blake Bortles||UCF|
|21||Packers||FS Jimmie Ward||NIU|
|22||Eagles||OLB Dee Ford||Auburn|
|23||Chiefs||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|24||Bengals||CB Kyle Fuller||Virginia Tech|
|25||Chargers||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|26||Browns||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|27||Saints||WR Cody Latimer||Indiana|
|28||Panthers||OT Morgan Moses||Virginia|
|29||Patriots||TE Jace Amaro||Texas Tech|
|30||49ers||CB Bradley Roby||Ohio State|
|31||Broncos||ILB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|32||Seahawks||OT Cyrus Kouandjio||Alabama|
10. Your weekly reminder that, yes, Teddy Bridgewater is still my No. 1 overall player. And why wouldn't he be? When I filed my final Bridgewater evaluation in mid-January, his season was over. Three years of game film were enough for me to evaluate him. Nothing changed based on a poor pro day and rampant media speculation. And if he's not drafted first? No problem. I took similar heat for ranking Alshon Jeffery as the No. 1 wide receiver over Justin Blackmon in the 2012 draft.
9. The extended time before the NFL draft has been a terrible idea through and through, but I've been told the NFL loves the extra time. And of course it does. Two more weeks of draft talk means two more weeks of programming for its in-house network. Don't expect the draft to be in late April again anytime soon.
8. Tajh Boyd (QB, Clemson) has been a forgotten man in the predraft process, but don't be surprised if he's the best of all the quarterbacks drafted on Day 3. Boyd is rough around the edges, but as a former quarterback coach, I would love to have a player like him in my camp.
7. The more we learn about where the quarterbacks are expected to be drafted this year, the less sure I am of the tried and true method of how to evaluate the position. When potential becomes more important than ability, you're reaching. Now, I'm not one to get stuck on production (at all), but drafting the big-armed quarterback over the accurate one is a great way to find yourself fired.
6. On that same note, let's put to rest the idea that because an NFL team does something, it's right. NFL teams drafted Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers, and JaMarcus Russell No. 1 overall. A player being selected first on draft day does not make him the right move.
5. And remember, no one is wrong in April. You could say Jadeveon Clowney will be Bruce Smith or Aaron Maybin right now, and no one should tell you that you're wrong. Just be ready to own that statement later if you turn out to be wrong.
4. Speaking of being wrong—something that happens to me often—it's time to publicly eat my shoe on Tyrann Mathieu. When he was last arrested for the final time before the draft, I wrote him off, only to give him a final grade of early fourth round. Mathieu has been a solid citizen since being drafted, and he emerged as an elite rookie last year. Congrats to Mathieu for being the most recent—but not the last—player to prove me wrong.
3. The first running back off the board? Tre Mason to the Tennessee Titans at pick No. 42. That means two straight years without a back drafted in the first round. The good news for runners is that I do expect at least 10 drafted inside the first three rounds.
2. The deepest position in this draft? Wide receiver, by far, with 15 players inside my top 100. The thinnest? Inside linebacker, with just three in the top 100 and a massive drop-off after that.
1. Three more weeks, draft fans. I'm sure you're as anxious as I am.
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@MattWaldman, NFL draft expert
Matt Waldman tells it like it is, and that's refreshing. He's also put together the absolute best draft resource you can buy: The Rookie Scouting Portfolio. He's also part of the Sammy Watkins fan club, which I appreciate as a charter member myself.
Working and Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
B/R: Is Darren Sharper a Sexual Predator? (Mike Freeman)
SB Nation: Bill Walsh's Offensive Philosophy (video)
B/R: Jordan Tripp: A Mid-Rounder with Starting Potential (Matt Bowen)
MMQB: What Hollywood Got Right with 'Draft Day' Movie (Andrew Brandt)
Monday: NFL Draft 100 series moves on to defensive tackles.
Wednesday: NFL Draft 100 top defensive ends.
Friday: NFL Draft 100 top interior offensive linemen.
Friday: Updated Scouting Notebook