Scouting Notebook: Silly Season, the Rise of Michael Thomas & Latest Mock Draft

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Scouting Notebook: Silly Season, the Rise of Michael Thomas & Latest Mock Draft
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North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz

The Scout's Report

It’s silly season, which means you should be careful believing the NFL draft rumors and anonymous scout quotes you read and hear.

That may seem hypocritical given that you’re about to read an entire section of these quotes, but only trusted sources have been used in this article. If a quote is used about a quarterback, that source is either a high-level decision-maker privy to every scouting report and interview the team has conducted or an area scout who was assigned to that player’s area.

We’re not quoting a Northeast scout when talking about an SEC player like Laremy Tunsil. On the same note, anything heard from a team that sounds like a blatant smokescreen isn’t used—even if we’re missing out on great information by being overly cautious.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

— According to sources close to quarterback Paxton Lynch, the Memphis star worked out for the Dallas Cowboys this week and met with team owner Jerry Jones, his son Stephen and director of player personnel Will McClay. Said the source, “Paxton is very much in the mix for [Dallas].”

— Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has come under fire after not being voted a team captain in the fall, and that was predictably a big topic for teams at his pro day. A scout in attendance told me the actual workout went well, with Cook connecting on 59 of 67 passes overall. On passes thrown over 20 yards, Cook went an eye-opening 16-of-17.

— Penn State held its pro day this week too, and the big name was Christian Hackenberg. One college scouting director told me after that Hackenberg “looks like how we’d design a quarterback” but “struggled with accuracy...again.” He graded Hackenberg’s performance as a B-minus.

— The North Dakota State pro day, featuring Carson Wentz, was televised on NFL Network for all to see. A scout who worked Wentz out before the pro day said he was amazed at how NFL-ready he is from a mental standpoint. Said the scout, “I’ve never seen a rookie handle the whiteboard like [Wentz] did.”

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
California quarterback Jared Goff

Jared Goff was the main attraction at the California pro day, and he didn’t disappoint. One coach I spoke to said Goff “did everything you could hope for” in the workout. He was not on hand to see Cleveland Browns coach Pep Hamilton spraying footballs down with water for Goff to throw, but he did add they have “zero concerns” regarding Goff’s 9 ⅛” hands.

— A source with the Carolina Panthers told me the team worked out Clemson defenders Jayron Kearse and Shaq Lawson this week. Lawson, who is gaining steam as a potential top-10 pick, isn’t expected to be on the board at pick No. 31, barring a failed physical when NFL doctors check his shoulder again later this month.

— The Indianapolis Colts worked out Eastern Kentucky’s Noah Spence this week, according to a source with the team. Spence, who dominated the Senior Bowl, would be an ideal fit at "Sam" linebacker in the Colts defense.

— The AFC North has taken notice of Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas. I’m told by sources with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals that the former Buckeye ranks as the top receiver on both of their draft boards.

Joe Robbins/Getty Images
FSU defensive back Jalen Ramsey

— The 2016 NFL draft is five weeks away, and unless the Tennessee Titans trade the No. 1 overall pick, my hunch is they’ll draft Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey and look to improve the offensive line in Round 2.

— Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson worked out for San Francisco 49ers general manager Trent Baalke on Thursday, according to a team source. Lawson played right defensive end in college but is seen as versatile enough to play in either a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.

  

5 Names to Know

5. Cornerback Kalan Reed, Southern Miss

Kalan Reed flew under my radar for much of the season, but he's definitely on it now. Reed, who wasn't invited to the combine, pops off the screen when you watch Southern Miss play. He ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash, according to a team scout at the USM pro day—and did it in the rain. Reed is a physical, aggressive cover man with the size (5'11", 195 lbs) to play inside or outside cornerback.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Safety T.J. Green of Clemson

4. Free Safety T.J. Green, Clemson

The Clemson defense was loaded with future NFL talent in 2015. We all know about Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse. But T.J. Green is the guy who's getting the most love from NFL scouts right now. He's considered a day-one starter at free safety and could even slide inside to play nickel cornerback. Green ranks as a top-50 player currently. 

3. Tackle Joe Haeg, North Dakota State

Wentz dominated the North Dakota State pro day, but offensive tackle Joe Haeg is a top-100 player in his own right.

Haeg, who played left tackle for two seasons and right tackle for two seasons, has the size (6'6", 304 lbs) and athleticism to line up at either spot in the NFL. Teams I've talked to also like his potential at guard in zone-blocking schemes.

2. Running Back Jonathan Williams, Arkansas

A starting running back and star in the SEC before missing the 2015 season with a foot injury, Jonathan Williams looks healthy and is once again among the top running backs in the draft class. At 220 pounds on a 5'11" frame, Williams has the power to lower his shoulder and pick up tough yards between the tackles and is starting to show the same agility and speed he displayed in 2013 and 2014 as the starting running back for the Razorbacks.

1. Fullback/Linebacker Soma Vainuku, USC

Soma Vainuku has seen his role change many times at USC. In 2013 he was used as a singleback and as a receiver out of the backfield. A change at head coach meant he became more of a fullback and less of a ball-carrier in both 2014 and 2015. After a strong Senior Bowl week and a pro day that saw him work out at both fullback and linebacker, Vainuku is continuing to rise up the board and should be drafted for his versatility and special teams acumen. 

3 Questions With: Noah Spence, EKU

Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current NFL player or current NFL scout. This week, Eastern Kentucky's Noah Spence handles three questions.

Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

Miller: You've worked out for teams that run a 3-4 and teams that run a 4-3. Are you more comfortable as a 4-3 DE or 3-4 outside linebacker?

Spence: To be honest, I think I can play either position...and I'm not just saying that. 

Miller: Of all the sacks you had in college football, which one will you never forget?

Spence: My sophomore year against Penn State to end the first half. I loved that sack the most because it came at a great time in the game and it was a home game and against my home-state team. I also knew Donovan Smith was supposed to be pretty good.

Miller: Which NFL player do you think you most closely resemble as a player?

Spence: Justin Houston. I love the way Justin plays—his heart, relentlessness and the love for the game show. Not to mention his pass-rush moves. I try to take as many as I can from him and use them in my game. 

Scouting Report: Aaron Wallace, UCLA

Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.

Danny Moloshok/Associated Press

A redshirt graduate from San Diego, Aaron Wallace might not be a big name in NFL draft circles yet, but he looks like a potential Day 2 player. Wallace, who started just 10 games during his UCLA career, has the instincts and athleticism to turn heads. 

Aaron Wallace's Measurables
Height Weight 40 Time Vertical Jump Three-Cone Short Shuttle
6'3" 240 lbs 4.57 36" 7.35 4.27

NFL.com

Positives

The son of a former second-round pick of the then-Los Angeles Raiders (Aaron Wallace Sr.), the younger Wallace has experience in sub-packages and on special teams. In 2015 he flashed pass-rushing abilities on his way to seven sacks while replacing Myles Jack in the linebacker corps.

Wallace is a flashy athlete. He timed at 4.57 seconds in the 40-yard dash at his pro day and has a vertical jump of 36 inches. Wallace is strong, too, going for 25 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. These athletic traits show up on the field. He can win with burst and twitchy movement coming off the edge. He's flexible enough to get knee and shoulder bend when engaging offensive tackles around the corner, and he can accelerate out of that turn to get after the quarterback.

Wallace is scheme-versatile thanks to his experience in sub-packages at UCLA. He's capable of playing Sam linebacker in a 3-4 scheme or at either outside linebacker spot in a 4-3. He's more than just a rush linebacker and will drop into coverage with the agility and awareness to make plays on the ball. 

Negatives

NFL teams will want to know why Wallace couldn't break the UCLA starting lineup if he's this talented. What was missing? 

You may want to chalk it up to a lack of experience, but Wallace didn't show the instincts of an early starter in the NFL. His read-and-reaction time was average at best, even if it did improve over the course of the season. It is something coaches have to address in training camp to get him up to speed.

Wallace isn't accustomed to stacking up blockers in the run game and will struggle to use his hands to get free and chase the ball. The ability to stack and shed isn't there yet. When taking on the run, Wallace has to win with speed by scooping under blocks and running down ball-carriers. 

Pro Comparison: Devon Kennard, New York Giants

Wallace is a bit of a gamble early in the draft due to his lack of experience, but he has the athleticism and raw abilities to turn into an impact player with NFL coaching.

The Big Board

Free agency and pro-day workouts have changed every NFL team's needs and priorities since I posted the last mock draft here. Following last week's big-board update, here's a look at the first round of the draft based on what I'm hearing from team sources.

Updated Round 1 Mock Draft
Team Pick
1. Tennessee CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU
2. Cleveland QB Carson Wentz, NDSU
3. San Diego T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss
4. Dallas DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State
5. Jacksonville LB Myles Jack, UCLA
6. Baltimore DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon
7. San Francisco QB Jared Goff, California
8. Philadelphia T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame
9. Tampa Bay DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson
10. New York Giants RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State
11. Chicago CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
12. New Orleans DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville
13. Miami LB Darron Lee, Ohio State
14. Oakland T Jack Conklin, Michigan State
15. Los Angeles WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss
16. Detroit DT Maliek Collins, Nebraska
17. Atlanta LB Leonard Floyd, Georgia
18. Indianapolis OLB Noah Spence, Eastern Kentucky
19. Buffalo DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
20. New York Jets QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis
21. Washington DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
22. Houston WR Corey Coleman, Baylor
23. Minnesota WR Josh Doctson, TCU
24. Cincinnati WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State
25. Pittsburgh CB William Jackson III, Houston
26. Seattle T Taylor Decker, Ohio State
27. Green Bay DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama
28. Kansas City CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson
29. Arizona S Karl Joseph, West Virginia
30. Carolina T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M
31. Denver LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame

Matt Miller

Parting Shots

6. The Cleveland Browns signed quarterback Robert Griffin III on Thursday. There are many ways to look at this signing and many possible NFL draft implications to the move. 

Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Does signing Griffin mean the Browns pass on a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick?

No, it does not. The Browns may view Griffin as a stopgap quarterback with high upside. They could still draft Wentz or Goff with the intention of letting them sit behind Griffin for a year. 

Is Cleveland a good fit for Griffin?

Cleveland, with head coach Hue Jackson, is the best fit for Griffin outside of maybe Denver. Jackson is a quarterback mentor and firmly believes he can develop anyone if they're willing to work. A key here, I'm told, was that Griffin had "hit rock bottom" and is ready to rebuild himself as a quarterback. That was huge for the Browns bringing him in.

What's next for the Browns?

There isn't a wide receiver worthy of the No. 2 pick in the draft, but the Browns have to add a dynamic playmaker at the position. With pick No. 32, the Browns should simply draft the best receiver available. Whether that's Josh Doctson or Will Fuller or someone else entirely, Griffin will need weapons to work with, and currently the Browns have very few.

5. NFL Network broadcast Wentz's workout live Thursday morning. Pro days have become overrated as of late, but they still hold importance for teams that want a closer look at a player. Here are my notes from Wentz's workout:

Thirty-two NFL teams credentialed...18 attended due to snow canceling flights out of Denver...65 scripted throws with 62 completions...first incompletion came on throw No. 45...several high passes from Wentz were saved by good catches from his receivers...athleticism and arm strength are as good as advertised...handled being asked to move his feet with poise and was able to set up and reload his arm off movement...wet ball drill run by Browns offensive coach Pep Hamilton after the workout saw Wentz struggle with velocity and spin on a few throws, but overall he adjusted well to the conditions.

4. One final pro-day note in an article that went heavy on workout analysis: If it seems like there is a lot less buzz surrounding the glorified workouts, it's because there is. The overanalysis of Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel's pro days in 2014 was way over the top, and people learned from them what to expect. As many new faces enter the NFL draft media landscape, pro days get overhyped during slow news days. At the end of the day, a pro-day workout is maybe 1 percent of a total grade on a player.

Tom Pennington/Getty Images

3. Much has been made of quarterback hand size and how important a hand over nine inches is to the NFL. The general rule for hand-size threshold used to be nine inches, but that seems to be a floating standard after Bridgewater was criticized for a 9 ¼" hand and now Goff is being moved down boards for a 9 " hand. 

But what really matters to NFL teams? I went to the best source possible on quarterback play: Bill Walsh.

Walsh, in writing about how he evaluates quarterbacks, never once mentioned hand size. Sure, it's a piece of the evaluation puzzle, but hand size shouldn't become such a major focus when talking about potential NFL quarterbacks.

2. The Tennessee Titans have options with the No. 1 overall pick, even if most expect them to choose between offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (Ole Miss) and cornerback Jalen Ramsey (FSU). But what should they do?

The Titans must look at obvious things like which player is graded higher, but they should also factor in the overall strength of the draft class. Smart teams look at the draft as a puzzle and consider the package of picks they can make in the first three or four rounds. This is what the Titans should do.

With that in mind, would you rather have Jalen Ramsey at No. 1 and an offensive tackle like Germain Ifedi (Texas A&M) at No. 33 overall or Tunsil and Eli Apple (Ohio State)? Knowing where the class is strong will help inform smart decisions—not just in Round 1 but in the entire draft. 

1. Which NFL teams should consider drafting a quarterback in Round 1 if one of the top three (Goff, Wentz or Lynch) has a fall on draft day? There are obvious teams such as the Rams and Jets, but are there any possible Aaron Rodgers situations where a quarterback would be drafted in the first round to sit and develop?

San Francisco: For obvious reasons, the 49ers need help at the position and a long-term solution. Even if Colin Kaepernick is on the roster in 2016, the front office can still draft a quarterback at No. 7 overall.

Philadelphia: The Eagles signed Chase Daniel to a three-year deal and still have Sam Bradford on the roster. Those aren't the types of players you overlook a potential franchise quarterback for.

New Orleans: Drew Brees is 37 years old and starting to show signs of arm regression. The Saints drafted Garrett Grayson in the third round in 2015 but graded him as a backup-caliber player. 

Kansas City: Alex Smith turns 32 this spring, and the Chiefs have no real succession play behind him. Neither Aaron Murray nor Tyler Bray is a future starter. This is an ideal situation for any of the young quarterbacks with Smith in place and head coach Andy Reid a top-tier developer.

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.

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