Hopes and dreams. That's what we sell in the NFL draft industry. Every year a fresh crop of players comes up from college football, and every NFL fanbase has hopes it'll find the next Tom Brady waiting in the sixth round or that it'll earn the No. 1 pick in the draft and be able to draft the next Peyton Manning.
That's all well and good when there is a Peyton Manning (or even a Jameis Winston) in the draft class. This year? We should be selling caution and patience because this group has the potential to be the weakest I've scouted.
Does anyone else spend way too much time watching those shows where they fix and flip houses? If not, you're missing out, and you probably won't get the analogy I'm about to lay on you. But stick with me.
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Every draft class is like that rundown house in a good neighborhood that was foreclosed on, but with the right vision and the right work it could be a steal and a potential cash cow. If draft classes are fixer-uppers, the 2018 class has mold in the walls and the basement leaks. But that doesn't mean the right person can't fix it up and make something awesome from it. You just need the right person evaluating what you've got and making the plan to fix it.
I usually look at the strength of a draft class in terms of tiers. What's there in the top-end talent, i.e. players who will be drafted in the top 10? This year's class is solid on that front but not great.
Two of the top five players in this class (Saquon Barkley, Quenton Nelson) play positions the NFL doesn't value. The quarterbacks—and as many as five or six could go in the first round—are a collection of question marks all likely to receive a grade lower than Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota on my final board. Even a once-promising left tackle class has been torn apart by struggling play from Mike McGlinchey (Notre Dame) and Connor Williams (Texas).
After the top tier, I look at the meat of the class—players expected to be drafted 11-65. NFL teams are built on these picks, and a good draft will have considerable depth here. Last year, for example, I had 58 players graded as second-rounders compared to 20 first-rounders. There was good depth in 2017, and we're seeing it as players like Kareem Hunt, Pat Elflein, Reuben Foster, Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye and Evan Engram (based on where I graded them) make big impacts from the second tier.
The third tier is your middle-rounders. In a good draft you can find multiple starters here. This year? Yikes. The depth at wide receiver, offensive line, edge-rusher and cornerback is way down. That's following a year that was the deepest I've ever seen at running back, cornerback and safety.
The final tier is the late-rounders. This is where players who are an inch short, a step slow or have serious off-field issues go. This might be the depth of this class because of the number of players who are undersized, under the threshold for speed and underdeveloped as far as the quality of their character. And we're not even to the medical portion of the draft process that happens at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February.
I asked a handful of scouts and executives who've been around the league at least as long as me (2011 is when I started) if this year was better or worse than the infamous 2013 draft that saw Eric Fisher, Luke Joeckel and Dion Jordan kick off the selection process. The consensus was that this year is better—we won't see offensive linemen comprise half of the top 10 picks—but that there were potential steals in the second tier of the 2013 class. One player personnel director said: "At least in 2013 we knew the players' strengths and weaknesses really well at this time and could slot them into a scheme. This year there are just so many unknowns in terms of fits right now."
Others are worried the supply-versus-demand model for quarterback acquisition means players like Derek Carr or Russell Wilson, who were second- and third-round picks, respectively, are now first-rounders. "You can't get caught ... waiting for a quarterback anymore," one longtime national scout told me. "If you even like a guy a little, he's going top-32 now."
What does this mean for teams like the Cleveland Browns, who likely will have two picks in the top seven selections and already own 12 picks overall? This isn't a bad year to trade down and amass more picks. The strength of this group isn't at the top based on evaluations done thus far. Said one area scout: "Would you rather have the No. 1 pick and spend it on Josh Rosen or the No. 20 pick and draft Baker Mayfield? You can't convince me one is better than the other right now."
That's the way I feel too. The difference between the No. 2 overall player in this class and the No. 20 overall player simply isn't that great. This is what I call a flat talent year because there aren't the high peaks and low valleys of talent in the first round. Or from the first round to the second and third rounds.
The 2018 draft isn't the worst in a decade, but based on my rankings and the conversations I've had with evaluators this week, it's definitely second to the 2013 group.
If you're putting a lot of faith in 2018 to turn around your franchise, you'd better hope the front office is equipped to find a diamond in the rough.
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Here's what else is going on this week:
- Top five matchups to watch in Week 11
- Top-ranked cornerback suspended for the season
- Jalen Ramsey calls it like he sees it
- Stick to Football Episode 31: A full first-round mock draft
The Scout's Report
• It's time to talk about Quenton Nelson. The Notre Dame left guard was in the shadow of his tackle Mike McGlinchey before this season, but his play has shot him up draft boards. Talking to a general manager this weekend, he feels Nelson will grade as a top-five player in the class.
• A Twitter follower asked me this week if Baker Mayfield would be a top-10 pick. I replied with what I'm hearing from NFL scouts and executives: that Mayfield is a second- to third-round prospect. Questions about his height (listed at 6'1") and playing style arise every time I talk to NFL scouts. That said, my personal grade on Mayfield is No. 20 overall. I'm also not using a height or hand size threshold to evaluate quarterbacks the same way many NFL front offices do.
• South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel was lost earlier in the year with a broken leg. Some of my sources (agents, scouts) thought he might rehab with a goal to enter the 2018 draft. Samuel tweeted this week that he will return in 2018 after suffering a high ankle sprain while training. Expect him to be one of the nation's top receivers next season.
• Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton could be out for the season for a second straight year according to Nick Saban's announcement. Hamilton suffered a knee injury in the win over LSU. He also suffered a torn ACL last year in the SEC Championship Game. Hamilton has legit skills as a top-50/60 player, but injury questions will be huge for his evaluation.
• Jordan Raanan of ESPN.com reported this week that the New York Giants are focusing on potential franchise quarterbacks in the 2018 draft class. He mentions that Marc Ross, the Giants' vice president of player evaluation, went to scout Josh Rosen at UCLA recently. I've said for a month now that if the Giants earn a top-five pick, they have to strongly consider drafting a quarterback to replace Eli Manning.
• As quickly as Texas cornerback Holton Hill rose up my draft board, he's coming off it. Hill was suspended for the remainder of the year for violating a team rule this week. He'll be able to work out and practice with the team but cannot play. My take: Hill should take his punishment, commit to returning to Texas for the 2018 season and work to stay out of trouble for a year. The key for every prospect is putting as much time between trouble and the time you're drafted.
• Here's a name to file away: Iowa cornerback Josh Jackson. I started watching him after a recommendation from a scout this summer and liked his performance when we visited Iowa City for the season opener against Wyoming. When I circled back this week to get caught up on his tape, it was eye-opening. The 6'1" Jackson has five picks this year and has been huge against the run. I need to see a few more games, but he might be the top-ranked cornerback in this class.
• Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans has been mentioned here in the past as one of my favorite players to watch this year. One national scout I spoke to agreed, calling Evans a "top-10 lock once teams see how athletic and high-character he is."
5 Matchups to Know
5. Washington at Stanford
If you like watching defensive tackles, this is the game for you. Stanford's Harrison Phillips and Vita Vea of Washington are two of the best defensive linemen in the nation. Phillips, lining up at nose tackle, makes a ton of plays against the run but at 6'3" and 290 pounds has the athleticism to play defensive end in a 3-4 or an interior pass-rushing role in a 4-3. Vea, another great athlete, can beast linemen with his strength on a massive 6'4", 332-pound frame reminiscent of Danny Shelton.
4. North Carolina State at Boston College
The two best outside pass-rushers in the 2018 class will be on the same field this weekend when Harold Landry's Boston College hosts Bradley Chubb's North Carolina State. This is a must-see game not because of the talent either player will be facing but because it's rare to get the top two prospects at a position on the same field. One game tape here equals a big scouting opportunity.
3. Georgia at Auburn
The No. 1-ranked Georgia Bulldogs are loaded with talent that requires watching at virtually every position group (and I'm excited about the future of Jake Fromm), but don't sleep on Auburn’s talent in this matchup. Cornerback Carlton Davis has Round 1 potential, Braden Smith is a very good guard/tackle prospect and redshirt sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham needs to be evaluated too in case he enters. Georgia has a trio at linebacker (Roquan Smith, Lorenzo Carter, Davin Bellamy) that teams should be all over and two very good running backs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel that are pro-level.
2. Notre Dame at Miami
I gushed about Quenton Nelson above, and you'll definitely want to see him against the Miami defensive line. Same for tackle Mike McGlinchey. The dude I'm really excited to see in this one, though, is running back Josh Adams. He's been an impressive power back this year but will get a speed test against the Hurricanes.
1. Alabama at Mississippi State
Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald is a legit sleeper candidate despite having an up-and-down year. He'll get a big test against Minkah Fitzpatrick, Rashaan Evans and the all-star Alabama defense. ‘Bama has Fitzpatrick, Evans, Da'Ron Payne and Anthony Averett as potential first-rounders on defense this year.
10. I'm not sure it's news when people report "X team is scouting this player/position group." Every team is scouting every position group. If you're a top-300 player, you're being scouted by all 32 teams barring some off-field issue (a la Joe Mixon) that takes you off the board. But even then teams are looking closely enough to take your name out of it!
This isn't to trash any reporter doing their job by reporting a team's specific interest in a player—that's valuable—but to say the San Francisco 49ers are scouting running backs would be the most obvious statement of the year.
9. Senior Bowl invitations are being sent out this week, and I'm excited for the potential quarterback group in Mobile, Alabama. Look at the names who should all be invited:
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Josh Allen, Wyoming (he graduates in December)
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Luke Falk, Washington State
Ryan Finley, North Carolina State (if he declares...he was a graduate transfer from Boise State)
Logan Woodside, Toledo
That's a fantastic group! Even if Finley opts to return to North Carolina State, which I've heard from scouts is likely at this time, you could substitute Riley Ferguson from Memphis and have a strong group of quarterbacks to scout in Mobile.
8. This is what you want in a rookie quarterback.
Too many guys come from college these days and have never been in a huddle or called a play from one. To lay down the law to veterans (some of which have been Pro Bowlers) and say "This is how it's gonna be" is the type of confidence and fire you want to see.
Mitchell Trubisky was killed in the draft process for only being a one-year starter at North Carolina, but it sounds like he's figuring out how to run a team really well on the go.
7. Why the Indianapolis Colts stink, Exhibit 1:
Ryan Grigson was a trash fire as a general manager, and it shows. Chris Ballard was hired to give Jim Irsay a winner, and that might mean tearing this team down to the studs to fix it.
To be fair, I crushed the Cleveland Browns for doing this, but they were letting very good players (Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz) leave in free agency and replacing them with unproven rookies. I see a difference there. The Colts are letting go of bad players, not Pro Bowlers. And if Ballard and Co. can't draft like I think they will to replace them, I'll be the first to shout them down.
6. Purely my opinion here, but the NFL has gotten a little soft. And I'm not saying we need to go back to helmet-to-helmet hits or "jacked up" segments, but I miss the days when players straight-up hated each other. That's why I'm thankful for Jalen Ramsey:
Ramsey is playing like the best cornerback in the NFL this season, and he shut down A.J. Green. So he's feeling it a little. I like being aggressive here after Green put him in a chokehold and started throwing punches.
I also cannot wait for these two to play again.
5. New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore should win Defensive Rookie of the Year if he continues his strong play from the first half of the season, but don't sleep on the safety duo for the New York Jets as serious hardware candidates too.
Jamal Adams, drafted No. 6 overall from LSU, has been phenomenal playing in the box or in coverage this year. He's also providing the swagger and leadership the defense needed. Pairing him with Marcus Maye, pick No. 39 from Florida, has been an instant upgrade for not only the secondary but the entire defense. Both should be in the top five candidates for DROY.
The Jets are 4-5, which is four more wins than I predicted they'd have at this point, but the arrow is pointing up on the team because of the defense. Adding Adams and Maye was the biggest addition, but trading for linebacker Demario Davis and signing Kony Ealy were underrated moves that are giving the team a foundation to build on. It's no coincidence that these additions have allowed Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins to develop and play their best ball too.
4. I said above that I liked chippy football, but not like this. Josh Norman told 106.7 The Fan's Grant Paulsen and Danny Rouhier on their radio show that he "wanted to take [his arm] off its socket" when Thomas Rawls attempted to stiff-arm him.
Now imagine if Vontaze Burfict said this. The NFL would have suspended him immediately. Norman should be no different after his issues in the past with Odell Beckham Jr. and other fights on the field. Intentionally trying to hurt another player should at the minimum draw a fine.
Maybe Norman's comments shouldn't be taken at face value, but given his past I'm surprised the NFL isn't getting involved.
3. I'm sure you are all just like me and obsess over the updated NFL draft order even if it doesn't mean much with seven or eight games to go for every team. But still...I gotta know. Here's this week's updated order. And a note: I've seen a lot of outlets put the San Francisco 49ers (0-9) at pick No. 1 with the Cleveland Browns (0-8) at pick No. 2. My understanding is that draft order is based on winning percentage and then strength of schedule, and actual wins and losses aren't counted. For that reason, the Browns still own the first pick in this order.
1. Cleveland Browns (0-8)
2. San Francisco 49ers (0-9)
3. New York Giants (1-7)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6)
5. Indianapolis Colts (3-6)
6. Cincinnati Bengals (3-5)
7. Cleveland (from Houston Texans 3-5)
8. Los Angeles Chargers (3-5)
9. Chicago Bears (3-5)
10. Denver Broncos (3-5)
11. Baltimore Ravens (4-5)
12. Oakland Raiders (4-5)
13. New York Jets (4-5)
14. Arizona Cardinals (4-4)
15. Detroit Lions (4-4)
16. Green Bay Packers (4-4)
17. Washington (4-4)
18. Miami Dolphins (4-4)
19. Atlanta Falcons (4-4)
20. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3)
21. Tennessee Titans (5-3)
22. Seattle Seahawks (5-3)
23. Dallas Cowboys (5-3)
24. Buffalo Bills (5-3)
25. Buffalo (from Kansas City Chiefs 6-3)
26. Carolina Panthers (6-3)
27. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
28. Minnesota Vikings (6-2)
29. Los Angeles Rams (6-2)
30. New England Patriots (6-2)
31. New Orleans Saints (6-2)
32. Philadelphia Eagles (8-1)
2. Stick to Football Episode 31 is ready for download—and if you haven't already, go ahead and subscribe and leave a 5-star review!
This week, Connor and I go head-to-head in a mock draft and discuss Andrew Luck's future with the Indianapolis Colts. To close it all out, we take your questions in our "Draft on Draft" segment with our intern, Kennedy.
1. If you're a fan of the podcast, we have good news for you: Stick to Football is expanding to two shows per week as Stick to Football Fridays launched last week. In the first show we talked about our favorite trades, gave you five games to scout over the weekend and took fan questions on trading Andrew Luck and if Josh Allen should take a graduate transfer year in 2018 or declare for the draft.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.