The NFL draft has become a 365-day news cycle, but there is definitely a "draft season." And we're getting close to it. With six NFL teams already eliminated from playoff contention and just four weeks of NFL play left, many teams are shifting their focus to the upcoming offseason. That means more information from scouts, more underclassmen making NFL draft decisions and a whole lot of film study to set my big board for player rankings.
You'll get that in this week's Scouting Notebook, plus a look at the updated draft order and each team's biggest need as we head into the offseason.
The Scout's Report
— In all my talks with NFL scouts this week, no player was mentioned more than Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson. He's soaring up boards as teams file their initial grades this week. More on him below.
— What are NFL scouts doing this week? The National Football Scouting meetings are taking place in Indianapolis this week, and most clubs are bringing in all their scouts from the road next week to set an initial big board based on area scout grades. Expect a big information dump in the next 10 days as these scouting meetings get underway.
— Florida State is loaded with athletes, but how do NFL teams see their talent as pro material? I'm told by multiple team scouts that they prefer cornerback Ronald Darby over teammate P.J. Williams. Early in the year the two were reversed on my rankings, but last week Darby did jump ahead of Williams due to Williams' struggles in coverage.
— Staying in the state of Florida, I'm told by teammates that Gators running back Matt Jones will declare for the 2015 draft. To date, I've not studied Jones as he wasn't expected to be in this draft class.
— UCLA head coach Jim Mora said to NFL Network's Rich Eisen this week that he's "sure" quarterback Brett Hundley will leave for the 2015 NFL draft. As if something like this would need to be confirmed, I have heard from agents who are interviewing for Hundley's services.
— One of the hottest names in college football is Gerod Holliman, and I'm told by a source close to the redshirt sophomore that the safety is "99 percent in" on declaring for the NFL draft.
— The Canadian Football League doesn't get much play in this article, but wide receiver Duron Carter is a unique prospect north of the border. The son of Hall of Famer Cris Carter, Duron can sign with NFL teams this season. I'm told by a source close to Carter his preference is playing with the Indianapolis Colts—a preference no doubt influenced by the presence of quarterback Andrew Luck.
— Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has seen his interception numbers skyrocket and an investigation into student misconduct after a rape allegation, so you have to wonder if his NFL draft stock has taken a hit lately. I'm told by three NFL general managers that their view of Winston has not changed, but one did specify that their research into his off-field issues hasn't begun.
Five Up, Five Down
Each week, "Five Up, Five Down" will monitor the movements of players on my draft board.
5. CB Quinten Rollins, Miami (Ohio)
A former basketball player, Rollins picked up football and has been an impressive athlete on the field this season. Playing in man coverage, Rollins shows the footwork, instincts and agility to be an asset on the edge. He's also very new to the game and has upside. Plus he's a solid 6'0" and has the wingspan desired for starting cornerbacks in today's NFL.
The former point guard was recently named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year and has NFL teams on notice.
4. DE Danielle Hunter, LSU
A junior pass-rusher for the Tigers, Danielle Hunter has been impossible to overlook when watching LSU game film. Previously he hasn't been featured in my rankings, though, because of his underclassman status. That's changing as the more I watch, the more it looks like Hunter is NFL-ready.
Hunter (6'6", 240 lbs) is a bit raw physically, but he's gifted with the speed, athleticism and wingspan scouts tend to fall in love with at the position. I see a longer version of Bruce Irvin with the skills to at least help an NFL club in passing situations early on.
3. CB Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest
As mentioned above, Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson is a favorite of NFL scouts right now. That may be because teams are focusing only on seniors and what they consider "shoo-in" juniors (like Marcus Mariota), but Johnson's skill set definitely looks first-round worthy.
A bigger cornerback (6'1", 175 lbs) with the length and agility desired, Johnson moves like a smaller cornerback without being one. He can survive in phases against bigger wide receivers and won't get caught shying away from contact down the field.
2. OLB Jordan Hicks, Texas
Texas linebacker Jordan Hicks' career with the Longhorns has been riddled with injuries. But he's healthy in 2014 and is playing as well as any 4-3 linebacker in the nation.
In his sixth season at Texas, Hicks has become a leader on the field and has made the type of impact the staffs there long thought he could. He's tough, rangy and shows the athleticism to stay on the field in the NFL in passing situations. And at 6'1" and 234 pounds, he's big enough to play against the run as a weak-side linebacker.
1. CB Lorenzo Doss, Tulane
Junior cornerbacks dominate the top of my rankings at the position, and that's without including Tulane's Lorenzo Doss. But now he's on my radar, and it's unlikely he'll come out of the top-100 spots unless he decides to head back to college for his senior season.
The former wide receiver has the hips and feet to excel as a man-coverage cornerback and the size (5'11", 187 lbs) and hands to be a threat on the ball. Doss has a third-round grade right now, but a strong predraft process could move him up the board.
1. TE Clive Walford, Miami (Fla.)
It's no secret that former basketball players converting to tight end is something NFL teams like. Antonio Gates, Tony Gonzalez, Julius Thomas, Jordan Cameron and more show up in the list of successful players who made that transition. Miami's Clive Walford could be next, but it'll take a bit longer now that he's suffered a knee injury.
The Miami product is intriguing but raw, making any missed time a detriment to his draft stock. Walford was likely to be a Senior Bowl star, but his status for the exhibition is in doubt as he's questionable for Miami's bowl game.
2. WR Kasen Williams, Washington
Kasen Williams has been on this list before, and at that time I mentioned how he was a first-round talent heading into the season if he could prove to recover from a lower-leg/foot injury that cut short his 2013 season. But Williams hasn't recovered and is more often a forgotten man on the Washington offense.
Williams will get his chance to show in predraft workouts that his athleticism is recovering, but as of now he's outside my top 100 heading into December.
3. DE Mario Edwards, FSU
Mario Edwards is uniquely athletic for his size and definitely pops off the screen as a player who should dominate games. And then you wait for him to show up and take over the offensive line and he doesn't. And when evaluating defensive linemen, that's a major red flag for me.
Edwards isn't physically like Ra'Shede Hageman, but they remind me of each other in that their physique leads you to believe they'll be this world-beater of a player, but their production and in-game impact don't match up with the potential of their athleticism.
Edwards is now outside my first round and is moving down quickly into mid-Day 2.
4. CB P.J. Williams, FSU
As mentioned above, Florida State cornerback P.J. Williams has come under fire as opposing offenses have gone at him in the last six weeks. That's led to poor play and questions on how well the long, lean cornerback can hold up in NFL man coverage.
Williams looks the part, but that's only half the battle. When NFL teams evaluate his 2014 season, they're going to see the Louisville game and wonder if Williams' struggles are correctable or a limitation that will keep him from excelling in the pros.
5. FS Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
During the Spartans' Rose Bowl run in 2013, Kurtis Drummond was a standout in a great Michigan State defense. In 2014, with the Spartans not quite as dominant in the secondary, Drummond has struggled.
I do like his fluid movement skills, but Drummond lacks the strength to be an effective tackler in the pros. And without top-end speed to be a center fielder in coverage, where does he play? He's tough and fluid, but that lack of power (especially at the point of attack) stands out.
Scouting Report: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Throughout the 2014 college football season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.
Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff, Iowa (6'5", 320 lbs)
- Freakish athlete with elite strength and upper-level movement skills.
- A finisher when blocking with the strength and mean streak to dominate.
- Has quick hands and locks on to defenders with strong hands, then locks them down.
- Has a pro-level frame with enough muscle and bulk to play guard or tackle.
- Unbeatable in the run game. Could be an All-Pro guard within three years.
- Has potential to be a top-level left tackle, but needs footwork refined.
- Anticipates well and has a strong, well-timed punch with strong hands.
- Technically sound with hands and angles. Refined, pro-ready player.
- Knee injury early in 2014 cost him one game and has affected lateral agility.
- Can surrender inside shoulder when speed rushers attack edge.
- Wingspan will be questioned by scouts wanting elite arm length.
- May not fit prototypical left tackle measurables.
- Struggled vs. Indiana speed rusher Bobby Richardson.
- May be physically maxed out.
Pro Player Comparison: Joe Staley, San Francisco 49ers
Watching offensive linemen is a tedious process. Pre-snap you have to look at balance, if the lineman is favoring one side or the other and flexibility in his stance (both two- and three-point). Once the ball moves you're looking at weight distribution, hand placement, knee bend, what the player's back does, how his balance looks on the move, how well he moves in all four directions (back, right, forward, left) and if he commits penalties. But you're not done there.
One of the most important aspects of offensive line scouting is whether the player finishes blocks. Offensive linemen in the NFL cannot be weak or soft, so you want to find a player who fights through his block until the whistle blows—and maybe even a hair after it. There's a fine line between tough and dirty, and you're looking for it. I want a lineman who dumps his defender at the end of a run play and rides his man all the way into the dirt if the play is live.
When you read scouting reports, look for players who are good finishers, because a bad finisher is often something you can't coach up.
The Big Board
The NFL season is four weeks from being complete, and that means the draft order is coming into focus. Here is a look at the updated Round 1 order as well as each team's biggest need heading into the offseason.
|2015 NFL Draft Order (Week 13)|
|Pick||Team||No. 1 Need|
|5||NEW YORK JETS||QUARTERBACK|
|7||NEW YORK GIANTS||LINEBACKER|
|10||NEW ORLEANS||RUSH LINEBACKER|
|17||KANSAS CITY||WIDE RECEIVER|
|18||CLEVELAND (VIA BUFFALO)||DEFENSIVE END|
|25||SAN DIEGO||OFFENSIVE LINE|
|30||NEW ENGLAND||DEFENSIVE TACKLE|
10. The 2015 Senior Bowl is shaping up to be a good one. The Senior Bowl committee announced more accepted invitations this week. Here is the complete list of accepted invitations thus far:
|Updated Senior Bowl Player List|
|QB Shane Carden, ECU||G Laken Tomlinson, Duke||OLB Martrell Spaight, Arkansas|
|RB David Johnson, Northern Iowa||G Robert Myers, Tenn. State||OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville|
|RB David Cobb, Minnesota||C Reese Dismukes, Auburn||OLB Mike Hull, Penn State|
|RB Jeremy Langford, Michigan St.||C Hroniss Grasu, Oregon||OLB Lynden Trail, Norfolk State|
|WR Jamison Crowder, Duke||LS Andrew East, Vanderbilt||OLB Jordan Hicks, Texas|
|WR Josh Harper, Fresno St.||LS Joe Cardona, Navy||CB Kevin Johnson, Wake Forest|
|WR Ty Montgomery, Stanford||DE Trey Flowers, Arkansas||CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon|
|WR Devante Davis, UNLV||DE Nate Orchard, Utah||CB Quinten Rollins, Miami (OH)|
|WR Dres Anderson, Utah||DE Preston Smith, Miss. State||CB Steven Nelson, Oregon St.|
|WR Tony Lippett, Michigan St.||DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa, UCLA||CB Eric Rowe, Utah|
|WR Dezmin Lewis, Central Arkansas||DE Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma||CB Ladarius Gunter, Miami (Fla.)|
|WR Justin Hardy, ECU||DE Corey Crawford, Clemson||CB D'Joun Smith, Florida Atlantic|
|WR Phillip Dorsett, Miami||DE Bud Dupree, Kentucky||CB Senquez Golson, Ole Miss|
|WR Vince Mayle, Washington St.||DT Carl Davis, Iowa||CB Quandre Diggs, Texas|
|TE Nick Boyle, Delaware||DT Joey Mbu, Houston||S Derron Smith, Fresno State|
|TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State||DT Grady Jarrett, Clemson||S Jaquiski Tartt, Samford|
|T Jake Fisher, Oregon||DT Kaleb Eulls, Miss. State||S Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss|
|T T.J. Clemmings, Pitt||DT Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa||S Damarious Randall, Arizona St.|
|T Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin||DT Danny Shelton, Washington||S Anthony Harris, Virginia|
|T Daryl Williams, Oklahoma||DT Gabe Wright, Auburn||S Adrian Amos, Penn State|
|T Ty Sambrailo, Colorado St.||ILB Stephone Anthony, Clemson||S Kurtis Drummond, Michigan St.|
9. This is always a great spot to address a question I'll get a lot on Twitter, and this week many people responded to my ranking of Marcus Mariota as my No. 1 overall player, questioning whether that's justified given the struggles of Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton, Jake Locker, Robert Griffin III and other "athletic" quarterbacks.
Here's my thought on this: Mariota is nothing like those players. Let's look at it one-by-one.
Kaepernick: Mariota is already a more polished passer than Kaepernick in terms of touch, total-field accuracy and getting off his first read.
Newton: A one-year starter at Auburn, Newton had a powerful arm but was unfinished reading defenses and playing from the pocket. Mariota is a three-year starter with severely underrated pocket skills.
Locker: This has to be a joke. Locker was one of the most unaccurate passers in college football and should have never been drafted so high.
Griffin: There are some parallels here, but Griffin's struggles in the NFL largely stem from injuries. Mariota is a bigger, thicker player and also isn't the runner RGIII is/was. And when asked to get off his first read and make plays down the field, Mariota is superior to where Griffin was at Baylor (and to where he is in the NFL now).
8. The Minnesota Vikings have benched wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson after he had zero catches in their Week 13 game. I've taken heat both for my 2013 pre-draft ranking of Patterson (No. 6 overall) and for saying in Week 1 that he was "entering the conversation for a top-10 NFL wide receiver".
Both look foolish now, but it's important to remember that Patterson at Tennessee and earlier this year is a wide receiver with unlimited physical gifts but inconsistent effort. His failure to finish routes or attack the ball have led to his benching and limited production with the Vikings, but the team is also asking him to be something he's not (a deep threat). This is why scheme and personnel are so important to how well a draft prospect ultimately performs.
7. Here's a fun little note for you to share tomorrow: J.J. Watt and Jordy Nelson were both 2-star recruits coming out of high school. In fact, so were Le'Veon Bell, Matt Forte, Joe Staley, Josh Sitton, Khalil Mack, Chris Harris and Eric Weddle. And Antonio Brown, Julius Thomas, Alex Mack, Sebastian Vollmer, DeMarcus Ware and Antoine Bethea were the super-rare 0-star recruit.
6. A quick line to end any talk about Rex Ryan becoming a defensive coordinator in 2015 if fired by the New York Jets. It will not happen. You can take that one to the bank.
5. Something I do regularly is look back at old draft grades and see what went wrong. Did I overvalue a trait? Did the player fall into a bad team that took away his confidence and progression? More often than not, I've found that my weakness for quarterbacks has been the "nice guy" effect.
Kirk Cousins, Matt Barkley, Tyler Wilson and Geno Smith are all examples I found this week of players I probably moved up the board due to off-field and meeting-room positives instead of focusing more on on-field play and quarterback specific traits. Lesson learned.
4. The question I'm asked most on Twitter: "How do I get a job in scouting?"
That's not an easy question to answer in 140 characters, so here's the long-form answer for you.
If you're a current high school or college student, job preparation starts now. If you're a high school player, let your coaches know you hope to be a scout after college and ask them to help you start learning how to break down film. If you're not a player, ask the coaches if you can volunteer as a quality-control coach (which is a glorified gopher, but it's a foot in the door). Your high school coach can then be a recommendation for you to whichever college you attend.
If you're in college now, or will be soon, head straight to the athletic department and surrender yourself. Be prepared to volunteer (which means no money). You can host recruits, do laundry, work in the equipment room, paint lines on the field—just do something to get in with the coaches and let them know you hope to break into scouting.
If you're at a college that has NFL-level football prospects, ask if you can meet the NFL scouts that come around to the school. If you can move into a position as a scouting liaison, grab ahold of it and never let go. This will put you in direct contact with NFL scouts on a weekly basis.
If you're out of high school and already out of college, hope is not lost—but it's a harder path if you haven't grown up in the industry. I once FedEx'd every NFL team my resume, a book of my scouting reports and a plan for how I'd attack the offseason if I worked in their front office. That netted me a few interviews (which I ultimately passed on for family reasons).
You have to be creative, though. Posting player critiques on Twitter is fun, but NFL teams aren't scanning social media looking for scouts. You can still try and volunteer as a graduate assistant at a local college, too, which is another great way to get in touch with the right people.
And lastly, there's no shame in starting your own blog and writing scouting reports. It's how I got my start, actually. And that can lead to bigger and better things both in the NFL (because NFL teams do look at online draft information, and you can send teams your published information to look at this way) or in media.
3. Did the Indianapolis Colts make a huge mistake in trading a first-round pick for Trent Richardson? We can look at that deal now, one year later, and say that the team did overvalue Richardson. But remember this: At the time Richardson was still regarded as one of the best running back prospects since Adrian Peterson or LaDainian Tomlinson, and his rookie season in Cleveland did little to suggest he couldn't become that.
The Colts value of Richardson at the time of the trade was likely the same as their value of him before the 2012 draft—and everyone I talked to then (in the media and in the NFL) agreed that Richardson was a top-five player.
This isn't to say the Colts should have traded for Richardson, but you can bet many NFL teams would have made the same move given his perceived value at the time and the team's need at the position.
2. The 2015 offseason will be a fun one, but looking ahead to the free-agent market, it's noticeably short on quarterbacks and left tackles. That's terrible news for the many teams looking for an upgrade at quarterback (Tampa Bay, New York Jets, Washington, St. Louis, Houston, Buffalo and maybe Tennessee).
The good news is that the upcoming free-agent class is very good at wide receiver (Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Randall Cobb and Jeremy Maclin) and outside linebacker (Jerry Hughes, Brian Orakpo, Brandon Graham, Justin Houston and Brooks Reed).
1. Which NFL teams do I think will be looking for a new head coach after the year? Here's my short list as well as who I'd pick as a dream head coach for each spot. Reminder: This isn't who I think will get the job, but an "if they could have any available coach" type hire.
|NFL Head Coaching Hot Seats/New Hires|
|Raiders||Dennis Allen/Tony Sparano||Rex Ryan, HC, Jets|
|Jets||Rex Ryan||Ben McAdoo, OC, Giants|
|Giants||Tom Coughlin||Darrell Bevell, OC, Seahawks|
|Bears||Marc Trestman||Todd Bowles, DC, Arizona|
|Panthers||Ron Rivera||Adam Gase, OC, Denver|
|49ers||Jim Harbaugh||Kyle Shanahan, OC, Cleveland|