Here we sit, just 11 days from the NFL Scouting Combine kicking off in Indianapolis and 12 weeks from the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. It's draft season, and every Friday the Scouting Notebook will serve as your one-stop shop for all things draft.
The Scout's Report
— As I reported earlier this week, West Virginia's Kevin White is now seen as the consensus top wide receiver in the 2015 class among teams I've spoken with.
— Who is the top running back in this class? To me it's Georgia's Todd Gurley, but NFL teams I spoke with this week feel Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon is right there with him and a potential top-15 pick in this class.
— There is a consensus that Minnesota's Maxx Williams is the top tight end in this class, but a surprise name came in via text this week for the No. 2 tight end: Oklahoma's Blake Bell. The former quarterback has impressed teams with his athleticism, footwork and toughness.
— As NFL teams meet this week to set their pre-combine draft boards, I've heard from four college scouting directors who all have Iowa's Brandon Scherff as their top-ranked offensive lineman.
— Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was a potential top-five pick in the preseason, but he tore his ACL in the Liberty Bowl. One team I spoke with this week still has him graded as a first-rounder even with the injury.
— Speaking of offensive tackles, I'm told by one high-ranking AFC West scout that Ereck Flowers (Miami) is a top-25 pick in this class.
— The running back class is no doubt deep, and three area scouts I spoke with this week reiterated that Miami's Duke Johnson and Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah are the best of the "scatback" type that can run outside the tackles and catch the ball.
— Small receivers are an exciting group in this year's class, and as one scout told me, Kansas State's Tyler Lockett is the best of the bunch. He's expected by this team to be a top-75 selection.
Three Up, Three Down
With little to report on the draft front post-Super Bowl, here's a look at three players moving up and three players moving down my board after extended film review.
3. TE Blake Bell, Oklahoma
As part of my draft process each year, I watch three games early in the season on a player and assign a fall grade. NFL teams do the same thing, and as part of their process (and mine), you have to review each player again in the spring. Blake Bell makes a huge leap up my board after a second viewing.
Bell really improved over the year as a tight end after playing quarterback at Oklahoma for his first three seasons. He's big (6'6", 260 lbs) and moves like a much smaller man. He's a very raw player as a technician, but his athleticism and toughness make him an intriguing tight end in a weak overall class.
2. OT D.J. Humphries, Florida
When D.J. Humphries declared for the 2015 draft, I can honestly say I hadn't spent one minute on his game film. An early review against the University of Missouri and defensive end Shane Ray had me unimpressed. Thanks to a friend in the scouting community, I dove back in.
Humphries is a very athletic player with the footwork and agility ideal for a zone-blocking scheme. He may be physically maxed out at around 310 pounds, but he shows the natural tools already to play left tackle. His hand placement needs work, but that's a teachable skill most incoming tackles need help with.
1. DE Arik Armstead, Oregon
When you're 6'7", 300 pounds and move like a gazelle, you're going to get noticed. And Arik Armstead has been on my radar for some time, but with his season finally over and with his declaration official, I cued up the Florida State game for a closer look at the huge defensive lineman.
I had erroneously typecast Armstead as "only" being a 3-4 player, but his leverage and athleticism for his size are very impressive. Sure, he's a natural 5-technique in a 3-4, but he could slide inside and play the 3-technique in a 4-3 front. He's currently a top-30 player.
1. QB Shane Carden, East Carolina
Quarterbacks have always been a fascination of mine. I didn't have the arm strength to play the position, but the mechanics and accuracy were always something I studied before spending three years coaching quarterbacks at the high school and minor league levels. I say all that to emphasize that Shane Carden has some of the weirdest mechanics I can remember from a right-handed passer.
Carden holds the ball far away from his body when throwing and likes to pat it in the pocket. That won't fly in the NFL, as his setup takes way too long and will tip off defenses about when and where he's throwing. At this stage, I'm not sure Carden is a truly draftable prospect.
2. WR Deontay Greenberry, Houston
Deontay Greenberry is another of the underclassmen who I didn't expect to declare, and I therefore did zero work on him in-season. When I started my film review of him I was really impressed, but as you get into 2014 you see a receiver who drops easy passes, struggles to separate in routes and generally looks bored on the field.
Greenberry definitely has talent—turn on any 2013 game to see that—but his regression and drive are very disappointing in 2014. At this time, I'm not sure he'll get a top-200 grade.
3. OLB Zack Hodges, Harvard
Turn on Harvard games and Zack Hodges dominates. But at the Senior Bowl he was a non-factor in practices and drills. So which is the truth?
Hodges beat up on Ivy League competition and looks the part, but I don't see a player with the tool set to dominate or impact the game early in his career. Hodges is a project with a good foundation, but he lacks the goods to be a starter in Year 1 or 2.
Scouting Report: Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
Throughout the 2014 draft season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.
Wide Receiver Jaelen Strong, Arizona State (6'4", 212 lbs)
- A big body with serious box-out potential.
- Has exceptionally long arms and long legs with an open stride.
- Physical blocker in the run game.
- Has a good stutter step/head fake game in his routes.
- Fights for inside leverage and can separate with his body on short/intermediate routes.
- Flashes surprising change-of-direction skills in the open field for his size.
- Concentration and hand strength are impressive but inconsistent.
- Tracks the ball well and shows ideal vision and body adjustment.
- A very physical player who dominates with strength and shows toughness.
- High-ceiling player with tons of potential ahead of him.
- Will drop the easy pass and can struggle to extend in traffic.
- Doesn't show top-end speed to run past defenders.
- Can get caught waiting on the ball instead of attacking it.
- Can be a body-catcher instead of a hands-catcher over the middle.
- Isn't very explosive out of his breaks. Hips are stiff.
Pro Player Comparison: Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears
The Big Board
With the Scouting Combine so close and a seven-round mock draft just posted, the only thing left to update is my Big Board. With a full top 300 coming out Monday morning, here's a look at the top 32 in advance.
|2015 NFL Draft Big Board|
|1||Jameis Winston||QB||Florida State|
|5||Kevin White||WR||West Virginia|
|11||Dante Fowler Jr.||DE||Florida|
|15||Benardrick McKinney||ILB||Miss. State|
|20||Trae Waynes||CB||Michigan State|
|23||Cedric Ogbuehi||OT||Texas A&M|
|29||Jaelen Strong||WR||Arizona State|
|30||Eddie Goldman||DT||Florida State|
|32||Ereck Flowers||OT||Miami (Fla.)|
8. Accountability and credibility are very important to me, so I'm not hesitant or afraid to admit when I'm wrong about a player. Each week, I'll post my scouting notes summary and a ranking of a player I feel hasn't or didn't live up to my predraft expectations.
Grade: No. 11 overall
"A speedy, versatile, explosive wide receiver with all-over-the-field talent, (blank) pops off the film every time you watch (team) play. He can line up in the slot, the backfield, out wide, in-motion and as a return man. Just get him touches and he'll fly."
— Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
7. And now for a player I hit on. A "hit" can be defined a few ways—a player ranked/drafted higher than the NFL viewed him is how I categorize a hit, though.
Grade: No. 38 overall
"(Blank) is a mauler and a physical anchor on the offensive line. Coming out of a pro-style offense he's NFL-ready, but he projects better at guard than tackle due to limited ability as a blocker in space. His power and leverage would make him a star on the inside, but on the edge he'll be overwhelmed."
— D.J. Fluker, San Diego Chargers
6. I spent the last week looking back at my notes from 2009 until now, trying to find a quarterback class with worse depth than this one. I couldn't. This year has the big two in Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota but a 50-spot drop to Brett Hundley.
These were the top quarterbacks in my predraft rankings in recent years:
* Only nine quarterbacks received a top-300 grade this year.
* 17 quarterbacks with draftable grade, seven in top 100.
2013—Geno Smith (No. 14), Matt Barkley (No. 33), Ryan Nassib (No. 49)
*Generally considered worst QB draft of last decade.
2014—Teddy Bridgewater (No. 1), Johnny Manziel (No. 12), Derek Carr (No. 15)
5. I tweeted what I thought to be a pretty obvious statement regarding a hypothetical 2014 re-draft, essentially that if the Houston Texans had drafted Teddy Bridgewater at No. 1 overall, they would have made the playoffs. And I believe that firmly.
The Texans won nine games without getting any production from Jadeveon Clowney (first round), Xavier Su'a-Filo (second round), C.J. Fiedorowicz (third round), Louis Nix (third round) or Tom Savage (fourth round). Put in Bridgewater, who excelled over the last half of the season with lesser talent at receiver, running back and on the offensive line, and the Texans are easily one or two wins better and in the playoffs.
4. A prediction—fans of Marcus Mariota will end up hating the draft process this year. The Heisman Trophy winner will have his frame, production, scheme, personality and upside questioned heavily, and as a survivor of Bridgewater Slander 2014, I can tell you it's rough.
Mariota needs to do two things, though: 1. Throw at the combine to show teams he's not afraid of his arm; 2. Own his pro day. I'm not a big believer in pro days being an evaluation tool, but last year's draft showed that NFL teams factor them in heavily. Mariota needs to excel every chance he gets to throw the ball from now until the draft.
3. During Super Bowl week I was invited to visit the EXOS training facility outside Phoenix. It's a quiet building tucked away in an industrial park, but once inside you're overwhelmed by the science, organization and attention given to the success of the future rookies preparing for the combine.
USC's Leonard Williams quickly stole the show as myself and guys like Colin Kaepernick and Matt Hasselbeck watched the defensive line go through drills. Williams doesn't look like a 300-pounder, and much like Sheldon Richardson at Missouri, it's easy to picture Williams as an outside linebacker until you get close enough to realize just how big he is.
The folks at EXOS (formerly Athletes' Performance) have owned the 40-yard dash in recent years, with their players routinely posting the best times at their positions. With Williams anchoring another strong class of around 30 players, they'll be showstoppers in Indianapolis again.
2. A lot of people ask me why the Senior Bowl or combine are so important. One reason—one of the big reasons—is to get an accurate measurement of a player. Never trust the media guide.
I remember covering the 2009 draft and having Florida State defensive end Everette Brown as a top-20 player. He was explosive, productive and listed at 6'4", 260 pounds...and then he went to the combine and measured in at 6'1.5" tall. Again, never trust the media guide.
1. A bit of a national signing day mic drop from J.J. Watt, and while I'm not a huge high school recruiting guy, it's impressive how accurate folks like 24/7 Sports are at projecting how 17- and 18-year-old kids will develop over the next four years. Yes, there are misses and anomalies like Watt, but largely they're on the mark.