With just two weeks to go until the Houston Texans officially go on the clock to start the 2014 NFL draft, teams throughout the NFL are finalizing their draft boards and going into draft mode. We're doing the same at Bleacher Report as final workouts take place and last-minute film review is wrapped up.
This week's Scouting Notebook will offer a glimpse behind the curtain as I make my final updates to the top-365-player big board and update team needs post-free agency before compiling a final seven-round mock draft. We're also taking a look at some draft history and passing along the most credible rumors currently making the rounds.
Five Up, Five Down
5. CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
I've always been a fan of the small-school cornerback. Last year, it was Robert Alford from Southeast Louisiana. This year, Pierre Desir has the distinction of being my top-ranked small-school player at any position. With his size (6'1", 198 lbs) and man-coverage skills, Desir has the tools to step right in and be a starter as a No. 2 cornerback.
Current Ranking: No. 49 overall
4. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State
Will Sutton has been a very tough player to evaluate as the year has progressed. In 2012, he looked dominant as a sub-300-pound pass-rusher. But in 2013, he bulked up, took on more double-teams and was routinely slow off the ball.
Sutton is back under 300 pounds, according to sources, and has looked quick and explosive in workouts. If he's indeed able to bounce back to his 2012 form, Sutton could be a draft-day steal.
Current Ranking: No. 48
3. SS Deone Bucannon, Washington State
Deone Bucannon may not be a first-round talent, but he still projects as a legitimate Year 1 starter. Even with his overall ranking as a third-round pick, Bucannon is a player that teams with a need at strong safety should jump on in the second round. He's versatile, aggressive and athletic enough to impact the game as a hitter or a coverage man.
Current Ranking: No. 69
2. OT Ja'Wuan James, Tennessee
The beauty of the NFL Draft 100 project I'm doing is that each player must be graded and ranked, which puts pressure on evaluators to really dig deep into their thoughts. Some players are falling down my board because of this, but others—like Ja'Wuan James—are rising.
James has the ability to play left or right tackle in the NFL, as he has impressive pass-blocking skills. He should be a starter, and a potential steal, coming out of Round 2.
Current Ranking: No. 59
1. CB Kyle Fuller, Virginia Tech
Kyle Fuller continues to rise on my board—all the way to a final spot inside the top 20. Having prototypical size (6'0", 190 lbs), speed and instincts helped his final argument, and there's no way I could keep him in the second round.
Now that he's healthy, Fuller has all the tools to be a starter from the minute he's drafted. And unlike some corners in this draft, he can line up on the edge and defend top-tier wide receivers.
Current Ranking: No. 18
5. DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
The more you watch a player, the more your true feelings come out. While I do believe in "paralysis by analysis," you have to do your due diligence. When watching Stephon Tuitt's 2013 season a second time, I just wasn't in love with anything he did.
Tuitt did struggle with injuries and weight gain, but he also has a lack of burst and missed too many opportunistic plays by not shedding a blocker or sniffing out the ball. He's also very scheme-specific as a 3-4 defensive end, which moves him down the board.
Current Ranking: No. 87 overall
4. CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
Stanley Jean-Baptiste catches your eye on film. You see a 6'3" cornerback and you start to think about what he can do in press coverage against bigger receivers.
Reality, however, is different. Jean-Baptiste isn't overly physical for a big cornerback, and his movement skills are average in space. He does have big potential—literally and figuratively—but needs a lot of work before he's ready to be a boundary starter in the NFL.
Current Ranking: No. 103
3. WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
I want to like Jordan Matthews' game a lot more than I actually do. Matthews looks the part, and his high-waisted, long-striding skills made for great college production.
But in the NFL, his lack of explosive moves out of his breaks and very average hands are a concern. Matthews is too often credited—including by yours truly—as a great route-runner and pro-ready player, but that's hyperbolic. He's talented, but so are 15 other receivers in the class who are all vying to be drafted ahead of him.
Current Ranking: No. 80
2. DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
Mount McCullers definitely passes the eyeball test, but what else does he do?
There are NFL scouts who have flat-out told me I'm wrong here, but until McCullers shows some flexibility and burst off the line of scrimmage, he's just a 6'7" speed bump. Size and strength are great, but the NFL is about speed too—and he has none of that.
Current Ranking: No. 131
1. QB Tom Savage, Pittsburgh
Tom Savage hasn't actually moved down in my final rankings update, but he has to be placed on this list in order to curb some of the incredible hype surrounding his game right now. Savage is big (6'4", 228 lbs) and does have a nice, strong arm, but what does any of that matter if you're not accurate? And Savage was not accurate.
His defenders will tell you that quarterback evaluation is all about where the player will be in two or three years, and I agree. But in three years, Savage will be 27 years old. If an NFL team is willing to wait that long for him to develop, it will not receive a great return on investment.
Current Ranking: No. 169
The Scout’s Report
— Love sleepers? Keep your eyes on these names: Andre Hal (CB, Vanderbilt), Demetri Goodson (CB, Baylor) and Dexter McDougle (CB, Maryland). All three have been mentioned to me often in the past week as players the NFL likes more than media members do.
— Here's another name you may not have heard from me all year: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. The offensive tackle from McGill (that's in Canada) has been tearing up workouts with NFL teams and is a draftable player. He reminded me of Jason Peters when I finally got my hands on his game film.
— Speaking with one NFL scout this week as his team set its board, he told me they don't view any of the offensive guards as elite players. Furthermore, none should be selected in the first round, according to him.
— Pierre Desir has been a controversial discussion on Twitter, but NFL teams love his ability to step in and play right away. I spoke with six teams that all have him graded as a second-rounder.
— Where will Alabama stars C.J. Mosley and Cyrus Kouandjio be drafted? That's anyone's guess right now. I did speak with multiple teams that cleared them medically after questions arose about Mosley's shoulder and Kouandjio's knee. Both players' final grades will ultimately rest in the hands of each team's respective medical department.
— The Cleveland Browns have many needs in this draft, but people in their front office feel like quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback are the early priorities. The picks may not go in that order, but their first three selections are expected to check off those needs.
— Johnny Manziel has been linked to a number of teams, but one surprise is the St. Louis Rams. This could be an elegant smokescreen, but the Rams are being linked to Manziel by folks around the league.
"The Golden Rule"
When I was first getting started covering the NFL draft—as a 49ers draft correspondent for a small website—I sent my rankings, scouting reports and mock drafts to every NFL team. Almost all of them failed to respond, but a few actually did. One of the things I learned from interactions with Michael Lombardi, Tony Softli and Charlie Casserly was "the golden rule" of scouting.
"Scout traits, not production."
This was a lesson learned hard and taken seriously, and there are examples of this in every draft class. Timmy Chang left Hawaii as the NCAA leader in total yards. However, he never made it in the NFL after going undrafted as a 6'2", below-average-armed quarterback in a run-and-shoot offense.
That's why scouting traits—such as arm strength, accuracy, mobility and vision—and not production is the key to scouting.
One of the more popular players in the 2014 NFL draft is Vanderbilt wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Tell people on Twitter that you're not a fan of his game and expect an hour of replies telling you how stupid you are.
But let's remove the emotion and look solely at Matthews' traits. In a class dominated by juniors at the position, where does the SEC career leader in receptions rank?
A productive and solid player, Jordan Matthews checks off all the boxes when evaluating a wide receiver's build. He's tall (6'3"), long-armed (33.25") and has big mitts (10.375"). He also played in a pro-style system at Vanderbilt that let him run a full-scale route tree. His transition to an NFL offense should be easy.
Matthews produced in a bad offense and has the high character and work ethic every coach dreams of. He has enough straight-line speed to press a defender off the snap, and he uses his body well to make contested catches over his head. He's efficient and active as a route-runner—not wasting steps or space.
Matthews doesn't have elite burst coming out of his breaks, and as a high-waisted runner, he lacks the suddenness you want to see in a skill player. When tasked with catching the ball, Matthews was very inconsistent and dropped catchable balls in space and when contested on his body.
He can be timid in his approach of the ball and develops alligator arms over the middle. Matthews plays like a much smaller receiver in how he attacks passes and how he struggles to use his body to shield defenders from the football.
In the open field, he lacks the ability to be elusive and doesn't inspire yards-after-the-catch ability with his body type or speed. He's a catch-and-tackle type of player who won't pick up many big plays in the NFL.
Pro Player Comparison: James Jones, Green Bay Packers
The Big Board
Here's a sneak peak at my updated big board, with the full 365 scheduled to be released the week of the draft:
|1||QB Teddy Bridgewater||Louisville|
|2||DE Jadeveon Clowney||South Carolina|
|3||WR Sammy Watkins||Clemson|
|4||OT Greg Robinson||Auburn|
|5||OLB Khalil Mack||Buffalo|
|6||OT Jake Matthews||Texas A&M|
|7||CB Justin Gilbert||Oklahoma State|
|8||WR Mike Evans||Texas A&M|
|9||DE Kony Ealy||Missouri|
|10||ILB C.J. Mosley||Alabama|
|11||DT Aaron Donald||Pitt|
|12||QB Johnny Manziel||Texas A&M|
|13||TE Eric Ebron||North Carolina|
|14||OLB Anthony Barr||UCLA|
|15||QB Derek Carr||Fresno State|
|16||FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix||Alabama|
|17||WR Odell Beckham||LSU|
|18||CB Kyle Fuller||Virginia Tech|
|19||DT Dominique Easley||Florida|
|20||CB Jason Verrett||TCU|
|21||QB Blake Bortles||UCF|
|22||OT Taylor Lewan||Michigan|
|23||CB Darqueze Dennard||Michigan State|
|24||DE Dee Ford||Auburn|
|25||DT Timmy Jernigan||FSU|
|26||OT Zack Martin||Notre Dame|
|27||RB Carlos Hyde||Ohio State|
|28||OT Cyrus Kouandjio||Alabama|
|29||SS Calvin Pryor||Louisville|
|30||FS Jimmie Ward||Northern Illinois|
|31||WR Brandin Cooks||Oregon State|
|32||CB Bradley Roby||Ohio State|
10. It's odd that Jake Matthews, the blue-chip left tackle from Texas A&M, hasn't received more praise and buzz in this year's pre-draft cycle. Matthews, in a normal year, would be a legitimate No. 1 overall prospect. Perhaps it's the exceptional depth and talent in this year's class, but Matthews definitely deserves more praise in the national spotlight.
9. New York Giants safety Will Hill is one of my favorite players to watch on film, but his struggles to stay on the field could end his stay with the team. If he's released—and if he is even eligible to play in 2014—the St. Louis Rams would be an incredible fit for him, especially with Gregg Williams running the defense.
8. A fun fact an NFL scout passed on to me this week: Since 2004, only two tackles shorter than 6'5" and with arms shorter than 34" have made the Pro Bowl—Joe Thomas and Donald Penn.
7. I always feel like this has to be reiterated several times per year: My mock draft and rankings are not a prediction of what NFL teams will do, but rather it is a look at what I would do as the general manager of each team. Similarly, my rankings are based on which players will be the best NFL player in three years.
6. Trades are a big part of why I don't put too much stock in the accuracy of my mock drafts, as there is no way to predict them. On the topic of trades, I do expect a good number of them in the first round this year. While the talent is deep early on, teams are thought to be targeting specific players more so this year than in years past. That will lead to a number of trades Thursday night.
5. On Thursday morning, Joe Goodberry of SB Nation tweeted a great note about writing to your audience: "Most of our readers aren't watching these prospects and rely on our ability to do so. They don't need scouting jargon and buzzwords." Since some readers are here trying to learn some things in order to pursue a career in journalism, I'll echo his point: Writing a scouting report full of NFL jargon is great, but if your readers don't know what "dip-and-drive" means, you've lost them. Write to educate, not to show off your vocabulary.
4. There are rumblings that the Atlanta Falcons may trade with the Houston Texans for the first overall pick. I say they should do it. The Falcons have the tools for an elite offense, and adding Jadeveon Clowney could seriously alter their defense. Do it, Thomas Dimitroff.
3. There is a lot of talk about the running back position being devalued, and it may be, but that hasn't kept me from putting Carlos Hyde within my top-32 players. Hyde has a better chance to go in the first round than any of last year's running backs.
2. No one wants to talk about which players are most likely to become a bust, but it's a reality of the NFL draft. Players I would be afraid to trust my job on in the top 10 include Blake Bortles (QB, UCF), Taylor Lewan (OT, Michigan) and Anthony Barr (OLB, UCLA). All three rank inside my top 20, but their value is outside the top 10 picks.
1. Something I'm asked often is which players I've missed on most in my career. It's something I'm open about on Twitter and feel that analysts should be open and honest about, as we should learn from our misses. With that said, here are my biggest draft-day misses since 2008:
|2008||RB Arian Foster (Tennessee)||No. 244|
|2011||CB Richard Sherman (Stanford)||No. 219|
|2011||QB Cam Newton (Auburn)||No. 10|
|2009||OT Jason Smith (Baylor)||No. 2|
|2009||OLB Aaron Curry (Wake Forest)||No. 3|
|2012||QB Russell Wilson (Wisconsin)||No. 102|
|2012||OLB Vontaze Burfict (Arizona State)||No. 201|
|2008||DE Vernon Gholston (Ohio State)||No. 6|
|2008||OT Duane Brown (Virginia Tech)||No. 97|
|2009||QB Mark Sanchez (USC)||No. 8|
Twitter Must-Follow of the Week
@NU_Gap, NFL draft metrics expert
How important are numbers to football? Very, if you talk to NFL scouting departments. While the NFL may never go full-on Moneyball, teams are using advanced stats to track players and look more closely at what a player can and cannot do. Greg Peshek is Twitter's go-to guy on the topic.
Be sure to check out his look at drop rates from wide receivers and how often pass-rushers are double-teamed.
Working and Reading
Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.
MMQB: When the Game Goes Dark (Robert Klemko)
Sports on Earth: A Decade Without a First-Round Pick (Mike Tanier)
B/R: How Wade Davis and Others Paved the Way for Michael Sam (Mike Freeman)
MMQB: How the NFL Schedule Was Made (Peter King)
Friday, April 25—NFL Draft 100: Top Interior Offensive Linemen
Monday, April 28—NFL Draft 100: Top Offensive Tackles
Wednesday, April 30—NFL Draft 100: Top Pass-Catchers
Friday, May 2—NFL Draft 100: Top Running Backs
Friday, May 2—Updated Scouting Notebook