The new year is here in the NFL, and with it came a flurry of trades, signings and cuts. How do free-agent signings, salary-cap cuts and trades affect the NFL draft? The entire landscape has changed, and clarity is coming to team needs.
The Scout's Report
— The Oregon pro day was Thursday, and by what was shown on NFL Network, quarterback Marcus Mariota did not have a good outing. I'm not one to put much emphasis on a pro day (see: Bridgewater, Theodore), but when there are concerns on tape and those same concerns pop up in a workout, it's validation. There's a rule in scouting about not counting something twice, though, and a poor throwing workout from Mariota that echoes issues on film won't hurt his stock in my eyes.
— The San Francisco 49ers have seen a player exodus as of late, leaving them with big needs at many spots. In talking to team sources, I'm told offensive guard and cornerback are the big needs likely to be addressed in the draft.
— One player the 49ers may target at cornerback is Florida State's Ronald Darby. I'm told by multiple scouts that he ranks as the No. 2 cornerback in the draft, behind only Marcus Peters, and could be drafted in the teens.
— Another player seeing a lot of activity right now is Hobart offensive lineman Ali Marpet. I'm told by Marpet's camp that he has at least 12 visits scheduled with teams between now and the draft. Each team is allowed 30 private workouts, and Marpet will be one of them for many clubs.
— Combine interviews may be the most important part of the event for players, and three teams I spoke with have since told me that Arkansas redshirt sophomore Darius Philon was the worst interview of the process for them. He reportedly came off as immature, uninterested and even combative.
— Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is recovering from an ACL tear, and I'm told he has at least four team visits lined up soon. The Lions, Browns, Buccaneers and Jaguars are all interested in his services.
— Peter King of MMQB reported that Jameis Winston met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell last week, and in talking to one general manager this week, he called it "the smartest thing I've ever heard a prospect doing."
— Another quarterback impressing folks is UCLA's Brett Hundley. I'm told his interviews and whiteboard work with teams have been among the most impressive of the offseason.
— The Chicago Bears have plenty of needs, and their aggressive approach to filling holes on defense in free agency has been interesting. Also of interest from a team source: Don't rule out a wide receiver at pick No. 7 overall as the team looks to replace Brandon Marshall.
— Scouts in Cleveland told me the team plans to use a private workout on Washington nose tackle Danny Shelton. He could be in play at pick No. 12 overall.
Five Up, Five Down
With the 2015 NFL draft approaching, here's a look at five players moving up and five players moving down my board after extended film review.
5. WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Missouri
How do you grade a prospect when he has top-10 talent and his off-field issues are more like an undrafted free agent? That's the dilemma with Dorial Green-Beckham as the NFL takes a harder approach to domestic violence. But looking at his talent, it's impossible to ignore, and the chances of Green-Beckham being picked in the first round are growing.
4. C Cameron Erving, Florida State
Cameron Erving started the year as a potential first-rounder at left tackle. That didn't go so well, and to shore up the Florida State offensive line, he made a selfless move to center...and the FSU offense took off. Erving made himself serious money by moving to center, and his pro-ready style of play and athleticism have him looking like a late first-round pick.
3. DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State
If you're looking for an athletic pass-rusher at defensive tackle, Xavier Cooper is trending upward at the position. His combine performance made reviewing his film a must, and his quickness and agility in Indianapolis definitely show up against Pac-12 offenses. A Round 2 grade for Cooper isn't out of the question.
2. WR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State
The 2015 wide receiver class is surprisingly deep given the historic depth of the 2014 draft class. One of the players in the second tier of talent who could have an impact early is deep threat Tyler Lockett. He has the speed to get behind defenders and tracks the ball exceptionally well. He's also fast enough to make plays post-catch and in the return game. Lockett is moving up my board and will likely be a Round 2 player.
1. DT Marcus Hardison, Arizona State
Another athletic big man, Hardison is versatile and showed good production as a pass-rusher for Arizona State. He could play as a 3-technique, but with so many teams wanting that Malik Jackson/Michael Bennett-style player, Hardison could be eyed as the next big defensive end who can kick inside to throw off offenses.
1. WR Devin Funchess, Michigan
Is he a receiver or a tight end? That may not matter until his second contract, but Devin Funchess' subpar combine meant re-watching more Michigan game film. And while Funchess does look faster on film than he did in Indianapolis, the burst needed to consistently separate from defenders isn't there. That could push him into the top of Round 2.
2. DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma
Jordan Phillips looks the part, but the big Oklahoma nose tackle doesn't show up on film as a marquee performer and is more look than impact. Teams may fall in love with his size, and he did dominate Clemson's interior offensive line, but it's far easier to point out games in which he didn't make an impact than games he did.
3. T Donovan Smith, Penn State
In a tackle class that is deep but not top-heavy, Donovan Smith is an intriguing option, but the Penn State tackle lacks the athleticism needed to play well in space. He has the body of a guard and the feet of one, too. He definitely has the power to play inside and reminds of a poor man's D.J. Fluker. That will likely keep him out of the top two rounds.
4. EDGE Lorenzo Mauldin, Louisville
If Lorenzo Mauldin walked in right now while you're reading this, you'd think he looks like an NFL edge-rusher. But if he had to move quickly, you'd see the same things the game film shows—a heavy-footed player who lacks the burst or agility you want from an edge-rusher. Mauldin was never dominant on film, and his average athleticism makes his upside limited.
5. T Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State
There were moments this season when Ty Sambrailo looked like a potential first-rounder, but more time for film study has led to a fall down the board. Sambrailo struggles with movement in space, and while his hand placement and technique are good, there are many more athletic tackles in this class who will be drafted ahead of him.
Scouting Report: Preston Smith, Mississippi State
Throughout the 2014 draft season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.
Defensive Lineman Preston Smith, Mississippi State (6'5", 271 lbs)
Strengths: A big, versatile defensive lineman, Preston Smith (6'5", 271 lbs) can play as a true 4-3 defensive end and kick inside as an interior rusher on third downs. He's an impressive athlete, posting a 4.74 in the 40-yard dash with a 121" broad jump and 7.07-second three-cone-drill time. Smith has exceptionally long arms (34") and uses them well to create and maintain separation as a rusher. He understands leverage in the pass and run games and doesn't surrender his chest easily in either. He has shown the skill to stack-and-shed blockers on the edge and can anchor against the run. He's at his best in the gaps but played as a nose tackle and two-gap player in the past.
Weaknesses: Smith's track speed doesn't match up consistently with field speed, and he doesn't show the quickness to win around the edge. His first-step quickness is average, and he can get bogged down easily as he can't sell a hard outside move. Smith needs to work on a secondary rush move and learn to better use his leverage and power to push the pile.
Pro-Player Comparison: Everson Griffen, Minnesota Vikings
The Big Board
With free agency shaking up the NFL, here's a look at how the first round would play out if the draft were today.
|March 12 Mock Draft|
|1||Tampa Bay||QB Jameis Winston||FSU|
|2||Tennessee||DL Leonard Williams||USC|
|3||Jacksonville||EDGE Randy Gregory||Nebraska|
|4||Oakland||WR Kevin White||West Virginia|
|5||Washington||EDGE Dante Fowler||Florida|
|6||New York Jets||EDGE Vic Beasley||Clemson|
|7||Chicago||WR Amari Cooper||Alabama|
|8||Atlanta||EDGE Shane Ray||Missouri|
|9||New York Giants||SS Landon Collins||Alabama|
|10||St. Louis||OL Brandon Scherff||Iowa|
|11||Minnesota||WR DeVante Parker||Louisville|
|12||Cleveland||NT Danny Shelton||Washington|
|13||New Orleans||QB Marcus Mariota||Oregon|
|14||Miami||WR Dorial Green-Beckham||Missouri|
|15||San Francisco||CB Marcus Peters||Washington|
|16||Houston||EDGE Bud Dupree||Kentucky|
|17||San Diego||NT Malcom Brown||Texas|
|18||Kansas City||T La'el Collins||LSU|
|19||Cleveland||WR Jaelen Strong||Arizona State|
|20||Philadelphia||WR Breshad Perriman||UCF|
|21||Cincinnati||NT Eddie Goldman||FSU|
|22||Pittsburgh||CB Ronald Darby||FSU|
|23||Detroit||DL Arik Armstead||Oregon|
|24||Arizona||RB Melvin Gordon||Wisconsin|
|25||Carolina||T D.J. Humphries||Florida|
|26||Baltimore||RB Todd Gurley||Georgia|
|27||Dallas||LB Shaq Thompson||Washington|
|28||Denver||ILB Eric Kendricks||UCLA|
|29||Indianapolis||CB/S Jalen Collins||LSU|
|30||Green Bay||ILB Benardrick McKinney||Miss. State|
|31||New Orleans||CB Trae Waynes||Michigan St.|
|32||New England||EDGE Owa Odighizuwa||UCLA|
10. With three days of free agency in the books, here are a few of my favorite signings: Pernell McPhee to the Chicago Bears, Julius Thomas to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Jeremy Maclin to the Kansas City Chiefs.
9. How about the other side of things? These are the moves I'm not a fan of, and each is due to the new team giving up too much for the player: Sam Bradford trade for the Philadelphia Eagles, Torrey Smith signing with the San Francisco 49ers, Cary Williams signing with the Seattle Seahawks and Bruce Carter signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
8. I'm not a fan of the compensation the Eagles sent the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford (Nick Foles, a 2015 fourth-rounder and 2016 second-rounder), but I am a fan of Sam Bradford and was from the minute he entered the 2010 NFL draft.
I graded Bradford as a franchise quarterback, and at the time, it was the second-highest grade I had ever assigned a quarterback (behind only Matt Ryan). Bradford's pro day at Oklahoma was legendary, too, and the ball didn't touch the grass all day during his throwing session. The high-octane offense he ran, the accuracy and the athleticism he displayed were all franchise-caliber. Injuries and an unstable offense in St. Louis have limited him professionally, but Bradford did have talent to warrant the No. 1 pick in 2010 and is still a very intriguing option at quarterback if he can stay healthy.
7. UCLA head coach Jim Mora said during NFL Network's broadcast of the team's pro day that quarterback Brett Hundley "Isn't ready to start in the NFL." Mora did say he felt like Hundley was ready for the NFL, but not as a rookie starter. That echoes what the film shows, as Hundley's decision-making, accuracy and pocket awareness are not that of an early NFL player. He is a good athlete with a strong arm and a very high football IQ, so there are positives here, but being able to process what defenses do in the Pac-12 is a lot different than processing them in the NFL, and Hundley struggled to do that at UCLA.
6. The NFL world received a shock this week when Patrick Willis, Jake Locker and Jason Worilds all announced their retirements. Willis' retirement was due to foot injuries, but Locker and Worilds both expressed a lack of desire to play the game. It's a surprise, but I went back and looked at my pre-draft scouting notes on Locker and there was this line: "Coaches said he doesn't love football." So, there's that.
5. I was in the room at the combine when Jeff Fisher said during his press conference that Sam Bradford was his quarterback. That was three weeks ago. This week, he traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles. This should bring home the point to never, ever completely trust what a coach says in his press conference. They're not held to their words, and we shouldn't take them at face value.
4. There were several rumors this week that the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers were shopping their quarterbacks. While I do believe Jay Cutler was being shopped around, it's hard to believe the 49ers were shopping Colin Kaepernick. Reason being, who would they replace him with? Blaine Gabbert is the only other quarterback on the roster, and with pick No. 15 overall, the 49ers aren't in a position to draft a starter. Trading Kaepernick simply doesn't make sense from a football or football economics standpoint.
3. The Indianapolis Colts have been one of the hottest teams in the free-agency period, and a big reason for that is the presence of quarterback Andrew Luck. When Duron Carter was deciding on a new team, my sources in his camp said Luck was the main draw for him to Indianapolis, and you can bet it factored heavily for Frank Gore and Andre Johnson, too.
2. How bad is the 2015 quarterback class after Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota? Chip Kelly said in his press conference Wednesday that a team offered him a first-round pick for Sam Bradford. I'm going to go ahead and speculate that it was the Cleveland Browns, but this should tell you all you need to know about the lack of viable quarterback options on the market.
1. It has to be said: Super Bowls are not won in free agency. If your favorite team hasn't been active this week, be patient. Free agency is the beginning of the puzzle—we're just starting to get the corners and sides together—and much work is yet to be done before any team's roster is official.