2017 NFL Draft: Predicting This Year's Draft-Day Slides
An appearance on this draft sliders list does not mean a prospect is unfit for the NFL or doomed to the all-time bust bin. It does not necessarily mean he has bad game film, has bad workout results, is a bad apple or gave bad interviews with bad breath.
It just means there are only so many draft selections and lots of outstanding prospects in this year's class. When 22 players are touted as "surefire top-10 selections," some good ones—big-name quarterbacks, workout warriors, even draftnik darlings—will be waiting a while to hear their names called during draft weekend on April 27-29.
This list contains a few obvious selections and a few surprising ones. Yes, there are players with character concerns, injuries, 40 times that look like they were clocked with the Mayan calendar and reputations that don't quite match their accomplishments. But several of them are just stuck behind better prospects or just aren't as coveted as their reputations suggest.
Players rarely "slide" on real NFL draft boards in April without getting injured or arrested. But this is all about aligning fan and media perceptions with NFL evaluations now that every scrap of available information has been digested.
With that in mind, let this high-stakes game of Chutes and Ladders (without the ladders) begin!
Dalvin Cook, Running Back, Florida State
Dalvin Cook ended his Florida State career looking like the next Marshall Faulk: a rusher-receiver with breathtaking quickness, outstanding vision and tremendous big-play capability.
Then, everyone took a closer look at everything that wasn't on the game film.
Cook was charged with misdemeanor battery for allegedly striking a woman outside a bar in 2015. There was also a criminal mischief charge involving a BB gun in 2014. And a robbery charge as a juvenile in 2009. And an animal abuse citation involving three mistreated puppies. And more.
Cook was found not guilty of the battery charge. He was forced to pay a fine for the animal abuse citation. The other charges were dropped or minimized. But NFL executives are not prosecutors. They are more concerned about patterns of behavior than verdicts. No general manager wants to get a phone call in the middle of the night to learn that his running back is suddenly in the midst of a Greg Hardy or Michael Vick scandal.
Cook is still a top-10 talent on film, but he has fallen into the Joe Mixon bin as a character risk. Teams prefer to select players like Cook and Mixon on Day 2 of the draft, when they can be spun as "value" choices receiving "second chances" and the selection can be buried in the weekend news cycle.
Great running backs often slip into the second round even without character concerns. After all, there is a Hall of Famer looking for work at the position.
In mock drafts, Cook is a popular choice for the Buccaneers, who have the 19th pick. That may be reunite-the-Seminoles fan service. It also sounds like a terrible idea for an individual who could probably use a change of scenery before NFL money floods his lifestyle. But even if the Bucs roll the dice with Cook at No. 19, it's a slide for a player with Cook's talents.
DeShone Kizer, Quarterback, Notre Dame
Just because Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly's remarks about DeShone Kizer needing one more year in college were cynically self-serving doesn't mean they were wrong.
Kizer is a huge, rifle-armed passer with a rumbling, rushing style who produces three to five gorgeous highlights per game. He also couldn't find his secondary receiver if said receiver drove on the field in a fire truck, endures wicked cold snaps in which every pass is either five yards too high or too short and looks just fleet-footed enough to run himself into trouble against NFL pass-rushers.
Among other yellow flags for a top quarterback prospect, Kizer has a high sack rate: 5.8 per 100 dropbacks, according to PFF College. (Because you are curious: Pat Mahomes was sacked 3.7 times per 100 dropbacks, Mitchell Trubisky 3.7, Deshaun Watson 2.9 and Davis Webb 2.5). Analytics-oriented teams don't like college quarterbacks with high sack rates; it serves as a proxy metric for their decision-making.
Kizer is obviously talented. But his upside is not as stratospheric as the freewheeling Mahomes' or rapidly developing Trubisky's, and his downside is much lower than the big game-tested Watson's. There are some personnel execs who love Kizer's potential, but love of potential doesn't guarantee a first-round pick, especially with similar quarterbacks on the board and surer things available at nearly every other position.
Also, as anyone who remembers the all-day mortification of Brady Quinn in 2007 will tell you, Notre Dame quarterbacks always slide. Scouts and GMs are better at sifting through their service academy-laden schedules and past the nationally televised exposure than even the most dedicated media analysts.
Teez Tabor, Cornerback, Florida
Repeat after me: Teams do not draft slow cornerbacks.
But Teez Tabor succeeded against the highest-level competition outside the NFL. That should translate...
Teams do not draft slow cornerbacks.
You need to watch some tape. You'll see he can...
Teams do not draft slow cornerbacks.
You are putting way too much stock in workout results and not enough stock in...
TEAMS DO NOT DRAFT SLOW CORNERBACKS (sky darkens, thunder rumbles in distance).
Tabor ran a 4.62 40 at the combine and was clocked anywhere between 4.75 seconds and "he's still running" at Florida's pro day. Most teams have a minimum speed threshold for draftable cornerbacks, and that threshold hovers around 4.6 seconds. Any slower than that, and the cornerback is too great a liability in man coverage against too high a percentage of NFL receivers to be anything but a nickel and dime role player.
Tabor's size, instincts and other qualities will get him drafted by the middle of Day 2, when teams can start shopping for matchup players or high-upside projects. But Tabor looked like a potential top-15 pick before anyone saw him run. No amount of finger-crossing, video editing or excuse mongering will keep him there.
Taco Charlton, Edge-Rusher, Michigan
Here's the recipe for creating the perfect overrated pass-rushing prospect:
- Start with a pure outside speed rusher, preferably a tall one with really long arms;
- Place him at a major program with a vast national fanbase in a power conference. For best results, make sure that conference isn't as strong as its reputation;
- Give the prospect several splash plays in nationally televised games;
- Limit his value as a run defender and his repertoire of pass-rush moves. Make sure he couldn't drop into coverage if you gave him a road atlas of the flat zone.
- And add a catchy, fun-to-say name—nothing generic or easy-to-forget for those filling out a mock draft like "Derek Barnett" or "Charles Harris."
Presto! We've created a prospect that should set off every Barkevious Mingo, Vernon Gholston and Jarvis Jones alarm in a personnel evaluator's mind. We've also just described Taco Charlton.
Charlton obviously has potential to be an outstanding edge-rusher. But his combine results were unspectacular, he's a mess against the run, and the quality of blocking he faced against opponents like Rutgers, Maryland and Michigan State was lower than you typically associate with the Big Ten.
There are too many excellent defensive ends in this class for Charlton to reach the top half of the first round based on tape-measure results, highlight footage and "he'll get better" hand-waving about his shortcomings. Look for him to remain on the board at least until late in the first round, when bargain hunters (Packers, Steelers) and big-name lovers (Cowboys) do their shopping.
Taywan Taylor, Wide Receiver, Western Kentucky
Aspiring writers are advised to "kill their darlings:" excise their favorite passages from their own stories, which are also usually the most self-indulgent passages.
Aspiring draftniks must learn to "kill" their darling draft crushes as well. Or at least include them on lists like this one.
Taywan Taylor is a fun prospect to fall in love with. He's a small-program receiver with great productivity and plenty of NFL attributes. But then, so is Zay Jones. And Cooper Kupp. And Carlos Henderson.
Leave the hinterland for the power conferences, and this draft offers playmakers like Josh Reynolds, Dede Westbrook and speed demon Shelton Gibson. There's also combine superstar Chris Godwin, intriguing slash players like ArDarius Stewart and Curtis Samuel, LSU's Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural (it's hard to evaluate a receiver when he's blocking for handoffs 40 times per game and passes are flying over his head) and many more.
Not all of these receivers are going to be Day 2 picks. The ones who are selected early will have something unique and special to offer. Jones made a name for himself with his combine workout results and hands during Senior Bowl week. Kupp has his route-running and Peyton Manning-meets-Moneyball study habits. Gibson was a blur, on film and at his pro day. And so on.
Taylor? He is still that guy you heard all the fuss about in mid-January. His measurables are ordinary, as was his Senior Bowl week performance.
Taylor could well slide into the fourth round, as will some other receivers with early buzz or big reputations. That doesn't mean they cannot play. It's just that when there are six or seven "sleepers" at one position in a draft, some of them are going to miss the wake-up call.
Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams, Pass-Rushers, Alabama
Temple's Haason Reddick had the offseason Ryan Anderson was supposed to have.
Anderson left Alabama as a well-regarded prospect, a 3-4 outside linebacker or 4-3 "Sam:" a defender who could not only rush the edge but provide extra value as an underneath pass-defender.
Then Reddick tore up Senior Bowl practices, while Anderson looked ordinary in pass-rush drills and helpless in coverage more than five yards down the field. Anderson then ran a sluggish 4.78 combine 40, while Reddick lit up his drills.
Unimpressive workouts send scouts (media and pro) back to the video, where Anderson can be seen generating much of his 8.5-sack, 18.5-tackles for loss production late in Tide victories, when opponents were throwing for dear life.
Tim Williams faces a similar problem. His workout results weren't great, and this draft class is teeming with edge-rushers who have more to offer. As an undersized, one-dimensional pass-rusher, Williams needed a great combine to stand out from the pack. Kansas State's Jordan Willis, Houston's Tyus Bowser and Auburn's Carl Lawson (among others) stole much of his thunder.
Anderson and Williams are more likely products of Nick Saban's system and the Alabama program than potential difference-makers. Both will still be available well into the draft, after Reddick and others have held up their new jerseys.
Tide fans will just have to settle for early rounds full of Jonathan Allen, Reuben Foster, O.J. Howard, Marlon Humphrey, Cam Robinson, etc., etc.
Chad Kelly, Quarterback, Ole Miss
If Chad Kelly's offseason gets any worse, the Jets will have a hard time wasting a second-round pick on him.
Kelly sure looks like the ultimate Jets mid-round quarterback flyer right now. He's like Geno Hackenpetty. What an arm! What potential upside! We shall outsmart the league, once we dig out from this enormous heap of red flags and deliver our draft card to the commissioner.
Kelly injured his wrist a dozen throws into Ole Miss' pro day. He has a private workout scheduled for April 22. If he falters then, he might bounce a few spirals off the Rocky statue the morning of the draft. Kelly spent Senior Bowl week wandering the sidelines during practice and grumbled about attending the combine even though he had been uninvited. Don't put anything past him.
When coaches list the traits of a successful quarterback, phrases like "reliability" and "does nothing to embarrass the franchise" typically rank well ahead of most of the attributes you see during highlight footage.
Kelly has a habit of exacerbating his own problems off the field; seriously, what purpose could challenging the league's combine ruling serve except to make Kelly look like Jay Cutler's moody kid brother? On the field, he's already recovering from an ACL tear, and now there's the wrist issue, which should make teams wonder how focused Kelly is on his rehabilitation regimen.
On the Big Arm With Big Questions scale, Kelly ranks somewhere between Ryan Mallet (third round, 2011) and Zach Mettenberger (sixth round, 2014). A successful Extra Special Bonus Workout before the draft, coupled with Kelly's friends/family members in high places, could help him climb back into the bottom of Day 2. But another setback will make him a seventh-round afterthought. Unless the Jets get one of their wild hares.
Obi Melifonwu, Safety, UConn
When an unknown prospect goes ham at the combine, fans start clamoring for him, while media types like me start penciling him into mock drafts and penning "Is the new a guy a perfect fit for your favorite team?" articles.
NFL evaluators go back and recheck his scouting reports and game film.
Actually, many of us in the media go back and re-watch (or watch for the first time) some video, too. But when a prospect is buzzy and new, we overlook minor flaws, like the fact he plays safety as if he is waiting for instructions after every snap.
Obi Melifonwu climbed some real NFL draft boards at the combine with his 4.40-second 40 (at 6'4", 224 pounds) and outstanding jump results. He played for a mid-major weakling, though, which can make scouting tricky; combine workouts are designed to uncover athleticism that is not obvious on tape (or expose hidden weaknesses), and Melifonwu demonstrated untapped potential. Lots of it.
But it's unlikely any team vaulted Melifonwu into the first round. His instincts and play diagnostics look a full beat too slow on video, and that's after four years as a starter.
At a position like edge-rusher, teams put more stock in the stopwatches and tape measures. But instincts and processing speed are critical for a safety, and this draft is full of defenders who play faster, and with more confidence, than Melifonwu.
For comparison's sake, fellow Connecticut defensive back Byron Jones leapt out of Lucas Oil Stadium at the 2015 combine with a world-record 12'3" broad jump and other lip-smacking results. Jones was drafted 27th overall by the Cowboys. That sounds like great news for Melifonwu.
But Jones' results informed and reinforced his scouting reports, verifying there was nothing fluky about his ability to shut down American Athletic Conference receivers. Melifonwu's results almost contradict his tape.
Melifonwu will be selected some time on Day 2 by a bargain-shopping team. But he was never as coveted as the post-combine chatter suggested.
The Injured Guys
It's not exactly breaking news that players who were recently injured or underwent offseason surgery are likely to slide at the draft. But it's worth taking a second look at a trio of first-round defenders who may have fallen behind by standing still—or running in a pool.
Malik Hooker (Ohio State) has fallen behind LSU's Jamal Adams as the top safety in the draft class. While Hooker rehabs from hernia and labrum surgeries, Adams blazed a 4.33-second pro-day 40.
Yes, many of the results from LSU's pro day look like scouts were clocking the downhill 37-yard dash with double espresso stopwatches, but teams will take the healthier and more experienced Adams over the otherwise similarly talented Hooker.
Hooker is unlikely to fall out of the top 20, but the second safety on the draft board has high slide potential because teams often prioritize other needs.
Cornerback Sidney Jones (Washington) may have the most to worry about of any injured first-rounder after he tore an Achilles at his pro day. This draft is so deep at cornerback that teams may address needs at other positions in the first round, knowing they can select a starting-caliber corner (or high-upside project) in the second or third round. A medical redshirt likely leaves Jones in the Day 2 pool.
Edge-rusher Takkarist McKinley (UCLA, shown above) conducted pro-day meet-'n'-greets with his arm in a sling. McKinley is recovering from shoulder surgery, but injury concerns have been baked into his projections since he opted out of the Senior Bowl, so his "slide" may not be noticeable.
McKinley will land in the late first round among pass-rushers like Charlton, Harris and T.J. Watt. Had McKinley been able to show off his athleticism in more offseason activities, however, he would likely have pushed himself to the front of that bunch.
The Defensive Tackles
Last year's draft class was overflowing with defensive tackle talent: Sheldon Rankins, Chris Jones, Vernon Butler, Javon Hargrave and others merited early-round picks and either made immediate contributions or flashed the potential to develop into difference-makers.
That's bad news for this year's defensive tackles, who are not nearly as impressive. There are some massive run-stuffers (Alabama's Dalvin Tomlinson), quick-footed three-techs (Florida's Caleb Brantley), intriguing weirdo square pegs (Michigan State's Malik McDowell) and a few small-school wonders (Charlotte's Larry Ogunjobi, Albany State's Grover Stewart). But there are few tackles in this class who match up to the studs of last year's class.
So this year's tackles will not only fall behind the standouts at other positions but find themselves de-prioritized by teams that stocked up on tackles last year.
Take the Bengals, for example. Andrew Billings, their fourth-round pick in 2016, was a medical redshirt last year after he injured his knee. Billings was thought of as a first- or second-round value, and the Bengals consider him the top replacement for Domata Peko. That takes them out of the early-round market for defensive tackles.
The Bengals aren't alone. Adam Gotsis, drafted as a long-term project, is expected to contribute more to the Broncos after flashing potential late in the year. The Jaguars expect more than a handful of snaps per game this year from Sheldon Day, whose 2016 development was slowed by a back injury. And so on.
While this year's tackle class isn't top-heavy with superstars, it's deep with athletic 300-pounders who can hold down a roster spot and add depth behind/alongside last year's redshirts. The big guys may dominate Saturday afternoon. Just don't expect to hear much from them on Thursday or Friday night.