By the time you read this article, there will be just 12 days separating us from the first round of the 2015 NFL draft. All of your hopes and dreams for that final piece in a Super Bowl puzzle or that one player who can start a rebuild and change a franchise will come down to the decision of a general manager or head coach (or a homeless guy if you're a Browns fan).
Where is each team leaning as we enter the final days? We'll get into that and look at an updated Big Board with final grades.
The Scout's Report
— Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Jameis Winston has been sued over a December 2012 sexual assault allegation. How will this affect his stock two weeks before the draft? I reached out to six scouts and general managers and asked them, "Would you draft Jameis at No. 1?" Each of them replied with affirmatives. This lawsuit, stemming from the original allegation that Winston has been cleared of twice, is not new information.
— Expect to hear that the Cleveland Browns haven't worked out quarterback Marcus Mariota, even though myself and others have reported their interest in the former Oregon quarterback. But here's something to remember: The Browns hired Mariota's pre-combine quarterback coach Kevin O'Connell for the same job. They don't need a private workout or visit when they have intimate knowledge of his abilities.
— The 2015 safety class is a unique one, and the consensus in the media seems to be that Landon Collins is the best of them all. But two college scouting directors I spoke to this week have Samford's Jaquiski Tartt rated as their top safety—and these are teams with a legitimate need at strong safety.
— Speaking of safeties, I spoke to one area scout about Louisville's Gerod Holliman and how even with great production and instincts, he's not a surefire top-50 draft pick. Said the scout, "I hope he ends up in Tampa. He'd be a great fit for Lovie's defense." The Buccaneers had Holliman in for a visit early this week.
— Sources with the St. Louis Rams passed along this nugget: Expect us to draft a linebacker in the middle rounds. The team has Alec Ogletree in place and signed Akeem Ayers, so expect that pick to be someone who could eventually replace James Laurinaitis at middle linebacker.
— The Seattle Seahawks are setting their draft board, and one source told me they are paying heavy interest to power backs who will be available in Rounds 4 through 6. Something worth tucking away for Day 3 of the draft.
— In talking to sources with the Miami Dolphins, the team is expected to draft a big-bodied wide receiver either in the first or second round.
— Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc told me this week he'll make visits to the New York Jets and New England Patriots as part of his predraft tour.
— USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor is receiving a lot of late-first round attention. Said one competing area scout, "I just hope he doesn't go to the Patriots. He'd be so great there."
— What will a pre-existing wrist injury do to Jaelen Strong's draft stock? I talked to four scouts Thursday afternoon and none indicated he would move down their board because of the injury.
Scouting Report: Jalston Fowler, Alabama
Throughout the 2015 draft season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.
Fullback Jalston Fowler, Alabama (5'11", 254 lbs)
Strengths: An old-school blocker who loves contact, Jalston Fowler can clear lanes in the run game and help as a receiver out of the backfield. Fowler is a good athlete for his size and the position, showing enough speed and burst to reach linebackers at the second level as a blocker. He came to Alabama as a running back and still has the ability to pick up yards between the tackles. Fowler is a strong assignment player who does what he's asked, and he does it with consistency. He has the vision and agility to find his target and rock them off their heels. Fowler can contribute as a blocker, runner, receiver and special teams performer. Fowler is versatile, though, and ranks as one of our favorite players to watch on film.
Weaknesses: Fowler plays a position few teams use, making his chances to be drafted more limited. Fowler has to learn to use his hands as a blocker to better secure and maintain contact. Fowler is a bit of a "jack of all trades, master of none" type player who is not an elite blocker, runner or receiver.
Pro Comparison: Bruce Miller, San Francisco 49ers
Aggressive, violent, athletic and versatile. That describes Fowler and his NFL comparison, Bruce Miller.
Final Grade: 5.10
The Big Board
We are less than one month away from the 2015 NFL draft, which means draft boards are coming into clearer focus. Here's a look at my updated Top 50 players.
|Updated Top 50 Big Board|
|3||Dante Fowler, Jr.||EDGE||Florida|
|4||Kevin White||WR||West Virginia|
|25||Trae Waynes||CB||Michigan State|
|29||Kevin Johnson||CB||Wake Forest|
|33||Cedric Ogbuehi||T||Texas A&M|
|36||Jaelen Strong||WR||Arizona State|
|38||Duke Johnson||RB||Miami (Fla.)|
|42||Benardrick McKinney||LB||Miss. State|
|43||Denzel Perryman||LB||Miami (Fla.)|
|45||Phillip Dorsett||WR||Miami (Fla.)|
|47||Devin Smith||WR||Ohio State|
5. Wonderlic scores for Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota were leaked this week, but you won't find a link to that here. Wonderlic scores, as per the NFL, are not supposed to become public information. The NFL's own website warned against leaking Wonderlic scores in 2012, but it's still a practice of many websites to publish the information.
If I thought Wonderlic scores mattered, I'd push back and say it's no different than a 40-yard-dash time. But the Wonderlic isn't a test of intelligence, and too many pundits make it out to be an IQ test. It's not. In fact, this week I had a top-50 player message me and ask if I knew what he scored. The players aren't even given their scores, nor are their agents. It's an outdated test that loses its impact if the test subject has seen it before—and they all do. Every player sitting down at the combine has taken multiple sample tests, rendering the actual test pointless. Just like the leaked scores are.
4. Will signing Michael Crabtree keep the Oakland Raiders from drafting a wide receiver at pick No. 4? It may, but it shouldn't. There is a reason the Raiders continually pick in the top five, and general manager Reggie McKenzie needs to continue to add as many blue-chip-caliber players as possible. He did that in the 2014 draft by staying true to the board and picking the best talent available. Doing that again may mean selecting Amari Cooper or Kevin White, but it also means building the most talented roster possible. And that's the goal.
3. Fans have blown up Twitter asking if their favorite team will trade up or down in this year's draft. It's honestly impossible to predict trades or analyze the potential until you know which players are available on the board, but this much is predictable: The Cleveland Browns would be my bet as the most likely team to trade up.
With picks No. 12, No. 19 and No. 43, the Browns have good ammunition to get within range to grab a top-tier player. I've heard they want Marcus Mariota bad enough to trade up, and maybe sending the 12th and 43rd picks to the Raiders would be enough to get to pick No. 4 if Mariota falls.
2. Bill Walsh and Ron Wolf preached about "overscouting," and with the draft now such a huge enterprise, we're definitely seeing overscouting in the media. How do NFL teams handle this? Many of my friends in the scouting community have already moved on to preliminary scouting for the 2016 NFL draft. I'll do the same next week with first looks at the top 10 players likely to be in next year's class.
1. We all wish the draft were today instead of two weeks from now, but it's funny to see folks complain about the "later" start date for the draft. Let's remember that the 2003 draft started April 26 and the 2013 draft started April 25. The last weekend in April has always been a common draft date. And let's be honest—anything is better than the May 8 start date we had last year.
Hang in there, draft fans. We're almost to the finish line.