Scouting Notebook: The Holy Grail QB Prospect, Updated Big Board and More

Matt Miller@nfldraftscoutNFL Draft Lead WriterMarch 18, 2016

California quarterback Jared Goff during an NCAA college football game against Oregon State Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Eric Risberg/Associated Press

Jared Goff or Carson Wentz: Who goes first at quarterback?

If you've paid attention to the coverage of draft season, you're probably thinking it's Carson Wentz and it's not even close. But remember, this is the time of year when prospects get torn down for no reason (see: Bridgewater, Teddy or Jeffery, Alshon), and what Goff does that only shows up on film or in interviews is what's keeping him ahead of Wentz on my board.

What about NFL teams; how do they see it?

One NFL general manager compared Goff's football IQ and intangibles to a player most consider the holy grail of quarterback prospects.

The Scout's Report

— "He's the smartest quarterback since Andrew Luck. Someone is gonna trade up to take him No. 1 [overall]." That's what one NFL general manager told me this week about Cal quarterback Jared Goff.

Myles Jack is another player worthy of top-pick consideration, and I'm told by a source with the San Diego Chargers that they're falling in love with the UCLA linebacker. The Chargers sent seven people to the UCLA pro day and ran Jack through defensive back drills after his workout.

— While the Chargers showed a ton of interest in Jack, the San Francisco 49ers did too. The team put him through a linebacker workout at the UCLA pro day.

Myles Jack
Myles JackDamian Dovarganes/Associated Press/Associated Press

— Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones is generating first-round talk, or rather was before he was arrested for driving with a suspended license. That report, from Michael Bonner of the Clarion-Ledger, had one area scout who has spent time with Jones texting me, "top-15 body, bottom-15 head." Jones isn't considered a bad-character player, but rather someone who is a bit clueless and lazy off the field.

— The Carolina Panthers have used a first- and second-round pick in the last two drafts to add receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess, respectively, but I'm told by front-office personnel they'd love to add a vertical threat at receiver in the middle rounds of the draft.

— Following an excellent pro day that had him running high 4.3s according to scouts on hand, Baylor cornerback Xavien Howard is expected to move himself into the late-first- and early-second-round conversation, per team scouts I've polled.

— The Baylor pro day drew a ton of NFL personnel to Waco, Texas, and I'm told that Houston Texans head coach Bill O'Brien was in attendance and that he and his scouts took special notice of wide receiver Corey Coleman. With a need at wide receiver opposite DeAndre Hopkins, Coleman makes sense at No. 22 overall.

Corey Coleman
Corey ColemanSue Ogrocki/Associated Press/Associated Press

— Boston College safety Justin Simmons improved on his 40-yard dash time with a mid-4.5-second run at his pro day, according to an area scout. I'm also told that Simmons has met with the Detroit Lions three times since the Shrine Game.

Jack Conklin is getting a ton of buzz after a great combine performance. I asked an NFL offensive line coach about him and he said, "Left tackle athleticism, but his footwork right now is backup level."

— The San Francisco 49ers need help at wide receiver, and I've been told by sources with the team that they met with Tyler Boyd of Pittsburgh. Boyd projects as a second-rounder at this time.

— The Ohio State pro day was one week ago, and in the aftermath of that one general manager told me wide receiver Michael Thomas had the best day of anyone there. "He's a better route-runner and athlete than most people realize."


5 Names to Know

5. Wide Receiver Charone Peake, Clemson

When a wide receiver comes out of Clemson, you take notice, especially with the recent run of success from Dabo Swinney's school. Peake is the next in that line.

With a breakout performance at the Senior Bowl, he started to climb up draft boards. Now, following a solid combine and more film study, he's comfortably in the Round 2 range. The 6'2", 209-pound receiver has the deep speed and burst to stretch the field right away in a vertical offense.

4. Cornerback Rashard Robinson, LSU

Rashard Robinson
Rashard RobinsonJoe Robbins/Getty Images

If it weren't for off-field issues, Rashard Robinson would be in the running as a top-20 player. But there are issues. He struggled to meet academic standards before enrolling at LSU and was suspended in 2014 and never let back on the team.

Robinson is long (6'1", 32 1/4" arms) and has the speed to turn and run with wide receivers, but he's raw in terms of technique and has to put weight on his spindly 171-pound frame. If teams check the boxes on his character questions, Robinson could sneak into the top 50 picks.

3. Defensive Lineman Ronald Blair, Appalachian State

A strong, versatile defensive lineman coming out of Appalachian State, Ronald Blair is turning heads with his technique and how pro-ready he is. At 6'2" and 284 pounds, Blair can be used as an interior lineman or as a 5-technique in a 3-4 scheme.

While he's not overly tall, his 34-inch arms and 10 1/4-inch hands show that he has the length to handle blockers at the point of attack. Blair has a shot to go in the top 100 picks on draft day.

2. Edge-Rusher James Cowser, Southern Utah

James Cowser
James CowserJoe Robbins/Getty Images

Cowser graduated from high school way back in 2009, then did two years as a missionary for his church. That makes him an older prospect, but he's a true edge-rusher with a toolbox of pass-rushing moves.

Cowser will stack up tackles with his hands and arms, but he can also break out a spin move or stutter-step to generate space on the edge. He's a sleeper at outside linebacker for 3-4 defenses and ranks as a late fourth-rounder due to age.

1. Free Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson, William & Mary

A former cornerback-turned-free safety, DeAndre Houston-Carson offers a ton of versatility to NFL teams craving movable parts in the secondary.

He's big enough (6'1", 201 lbs) to hang with physical receivers or tight ends but showed the quickness in space to handle slot coverage duties. He's a smart, high-motor player with the instincts to play in sub-packages and on special teams immediately.

In a good safety class, he looks like a Round 4 player.

Scouting Report: Michael Thomas, Ohio State

Throughout the 2016 draft season, I'll highlight one draft prospect each week with a first-look scouting report.

Michael Thomas' Measurables
HeightWeight40 TimeHand SizeArm LengthThree-ConeVertical
6'3"2124.43s10 1/2"32 1/8"6.80s35"

A junior graduate from Los Angeles, Michael Thomas was a third-team All-Big Ten selection following the 2015 season. Thomas, who attended Woodland Hills Taft High School, spent the 2011 season at Fork Union Military Academy before joining Ohio State. In his two seasons as a starter, Thomas emerged as a leader of the wide receiver group and finished his career with a catch in 29 straight games. 

Football runs deep in Thomas' family—he's the nephew of former No. 1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson.


Michael Thomas
Michael ThomasChristian Petersen/Getty Images

A 22-year-old rookie, Thomas passes the eye test with impressive height, length and muscle definition. He's a strong athlete, recording 18 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and broad-jumping 126 inches at the combine. Thomas has no athletic deficiencies that would keep him from being a No. 1 wide receiver.

Thomas has the hand strength, concentration and toughness to win contested catches. Over the last two seasons, he's dropped just five passes total, per College Football Focus, and is able to pluck the ball from the air with big hands and long arms. Thomas is versatile enough to beat press coverage with his size and strength but smooth enough to break ankles in the open field with his burst and agility.

As a route-runner, Thomas is explosive off the line of scrimmage. He gets upfield quickly and can sell deep routes with his long stride and body lean. Where he's able to make a difference is in his change-of-gear abilities.

He can sink his hips and/or stutter-step to throw the cornerback out of step with him and then accelerate down the field to gain separation. When asked to run breaking routes, Thomas knows how to throttle down to cut and then explode away from the transition. He makes himself a big target over the middle and excelled on screens and quick outs, showing he's comfortable on the boundary.

While his speed allows him to separate down the field, Thomas also uses his length and size well to go up and grab 50-50 balls in the air. He's a natural catcher and looks the ball into his hands, unlike many receivers who try to basket catch the ball.

In the open field, Thomas has the speed to pick up big yardage after the catch. He's not overly elusive, but he does have enough agility and balance to wiggle and shake would-be tacklers.


Michael Thomas
Michael ThomasChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Production, or lack of production, will be brought up by NFL teams when evaluating Thomas. He caught just 56 passes for 781 yards and nine touchdowns in 2015, which is off the pace of the other top receivers like Laquon Treadwell or Corey Coleman.

Thomas' film shows good speed, but teams must get comfortable with his build-up style of speed. He ran a 4.57-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and teams that use that time over pro day times will worry about his deep speed.

When head coach Urban Meyer first came to Columbus, Thomas struggled to learn the playbook and was redshirted for the 2013 season so he could focus on school and acclimating to the Ohio State scheme. This will raise questions about his ability to learn a complex NFL playbook—even if he's been a go-to receiver at Ohio State without issue the past two seasons.

On the field, the big key for Thomas at the next level will be dealing with press coverage and getting a clean release up the field. He has the tools to become a factor here but is inexperienced coming out of the Ohio State scheme at using his hands or quick feet to beat a jam.

For all of Thomas' ability to generate space in his vertical route game, the playbook at Ohio State was thin on routes, so he'll need time to learn a full route tree.

Pro Comparison: DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

Thomas may not have the production of Corey Coleman or Will Fuller, but he brings size, speed, route-running ability and sure hands to the table. Those skills, plus his upside as a technician, make him the top-ranked receiver in this class.

The Big Board

With six weeks to go until the NFL draft, all anyone wants to see here is a mock draft, but more important (in my opinion) is how the rankings of this class look. Here's a fresh Top 50 Big Board with pro days changing things around.

Updated Top 50 Big Board
1. Jalen RamseyCBFSU
2. Myles JackLBUCLA
3. Jared GoffQBCalifornia
4. Laremy TunsilTOle Miss
5. Joey BosaDEOhio State
6. DeForest BucknerDEOregon
7. Carson WentzQBNorth Dakota State
8. Jaylon SmithLBNotre Dame
9. Ronnie StanleyTNotre Dame
10. Vernon HargreavesCBFlorida
11. Ezekiel ElliottRBOhio State
12. Noah SpenceEDGEEastern Kentucky
13. Darron LeeLBOhio State
14. Sheldon RankinsDLLouisville
15. Shaq LawsonDEClemson
16. Michael ThomasWROhio State
17. Mackensie AlexanderCBClemson
18. Leonard FloydEDGEGeorgia
19. Laquon TreadwellWROle Miss
20. Corey ColemanWRBaylor
21. Taylor DeckerTOhio State
22. William Jackson IIICBHouston
23. Maliek CollinsDLNebraska
24. Josh DoctsonWRTCU
25. Germain IfediTTexas A&M
26. Paxton LynchQBMemphis
27. A'Shawn RobinsonDLAlabama
28. Kevin DoddDLClemson
29. Jarran ReedDLAlabama
30. Andrew BillingsDLBaylor
31. Reggie RaglandLBAlabama
32. Jack ConklinTMichigan State
33. Cody WhitehairCKansas State
34. Jihad WardDLIndiana
35. Robert NkemdicheDLOle Miss
36. Eli AppleCBOhio State
37. Joshua GarnettGStanford
38. Will FullerWRNotre Dame
39. Xavien HowardCBBaylor
40. Vernon ButlerDLLouisiana Tech
41. Ryan KellyCAlabama
42. Jonathan BullardDLFlorida
43. Karl JosephFSWest Virginia
44. Keanu NealSSFlorida
45. Emmanuel OgbahEDGEOklahoma State
46. Kamalei CorreaEDGEBoise State
47. Su'a CravensLBUSC
48. Braxton MillerWROhio State
49. Austin JohnsonDLPenn State
50. Hunter HenryTEArkansas
Matt Miller

Parting Shots

8. The Ohio State pro day was last week, and the turnout—both in terms of athletes on the field and NFL personnel in the stands—was off the charts. All 32 NFL teams were represented, totaling 120 coaches and scouts, according to an official at Ohio State. They weren't in Columbus for the weather, either. The players did their part to wow the coaches and scouts at the workout.

Joey Bosa, whose brother came decked out in Tennessee Titans gear, was the star of the show. He posted an unofficial 4.70 in the 40-yard dash and dominated the bag drills while showing the hip snap and explosion that became his trademark over the last two years.

Joey Bosa
Joey BosaJoe Robbins/Getty Images

On the offensive side of the ball, all the skill players drew praise from scouts. Ezekiel Elliott showed his hands as a receiver out of the backfield after a shaky performance at the combine, and wide receiver Michael Thomas improved his times in the 40-yard dash (4.37 on one scout's clock).

The Buckeyes were absolutely loaded this past season, and while they won't be catching the 2001 Miami Hurricanes team—they had 17 future first-rounders on that squad—it's one of the best classes in recent memory.

7. I had the chance to speak to Jaylon Smith and his trainer this week, and the update is all good news. Smith is squatting without a brace and doing 400-pound reps. He's focused on gaining back the 20 pounds he lost post-surgery and building balance and strength in his leg. At Notre Dame's pro day on March 31, he'll do the bench press and meet with teams.

Smith, who is only 20 years old, is going through the rehab of his first-ever injury. The prognosis right now is a waiting game. It's a "when, not if" situation with his knee.

From an outside perspective, what Smith has already been able to do is remarkable. There have been many reports that spell doom and gloom for Smith, but the truth is no one outside of his surgeon and his trainers know what the future holds. And right now they're waiting to see just like the rest of us.

What does that mean for his draft stock? Smith will travel back to Indianapolis for a medical recheck soon, but it's truly a wait-and-see approach for his team and every NFL club right now. Had he been healthy, Smith would be the No. 1 overall player in this draft.

Oh, and one more thing: Smith's camp shared with Bleacher Report this exclusive video of him working as a pass-rusher in Notre Dame practices before the season. The plan was to feature him as an edge-rusher on third downs, but injuries on defense meant he had to spend more time at linebacker and not as much as an edge-rusher.

6. How do the New England Patriots stay so good? Having Tom Brady helps, but it's also how the team manipulates the draft. Once again, the Patriots have double-digit draft picks (11) and four in the top 100 overall. And that's after being stripped of a first-rounder following Deflategate.

Not only do the Patriots have plenty of draft capital; they're also trading away pennies on the dollar for impact tight end Martellus Bennett and signing Chris Long to replace Chandler Jones—whom they traded away for another second-round pick and a guard who was good enough to be drafted in the top 10 back in 2013 (Jonathan Cooper).

5. Speaking of draft picks, the San Francisco 49ers lead all teams with 12 picks in the upcoming draft. They received four compensatory picks (which cannot be traded) in exchange for lost free agents last year.

Trent Baalke
Trent BaalkeEzra Shaw/Getty Images

With so many needs on both sides of the ball, general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly have to be in sync with how they want to build this team. And make no mistake about it: This is a rebuild, not a reload.

The Niners need a quarterback they trust, another running back, at least one receiver, two guards and a right tackle. And that's just on offense. All the needs won't be filled in one draft, but having 12 swings of the bat to find impact players helps the cause.

4. Looking at the big picture of this year's draft class, I expect there to be around 20 players receiving a first-round grade when our NFL Draft 400 series launches. Last year, just 15 players were graded above the line, so the overall depth this year is better.

But how many players are worthy of a top pick? Last year it was Jameis Winston, Marcus Mariota, Leonard Williams or Dante Fowler as the top-ranked player overall. This year, there are six who are truly worthy of that value.

Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, at quarterback, are the obvious selections. Not only are they both talented, but they play the most premium position in the sport. Laremy Tunsil is the best left tackle in the draft. For some he's the best overall player regardless of position, which definitely makes him a worthy candidate to be selected first.

Linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Jalen Ramsey play positions that generally aren't drafted first overall, but both are otherworldly talents and clearly worth it from a talent perspective. And finally, Joey Bosa, the defensive end from Ohio State. He's a pass-rusher in a league that craves pressure off the edge. Not only is he a value by nature of his position, but he is worthy based on his talent.

3. Now that we know the talent at the top of the draft, those of you with a favorite team outside the top six or seven picks will wonder about the depth of talent—and it's good.

I mentioned above I'll have roughly 20 first-round grades, and when looking at the overall class, the gap between Player 21 and Player 40 wasn't that big. The difference between Taylor Decker (No. 21) and Vernon Butler (No. 40) is small, and that's great news for teams drafting in the late first or early second round.

Teams will be able to find starters in the top of the second round, and perhaps even impact starters. The 2016 class isn't on par with 2011 or 2014 in terms of overall talent, but it's an improvement overall from last year and the famed 2013 class.

2. The San Francisco 49ers have the most picks, and the Atlanta Falcons have the fewest with just five total selections. That explains the aggressive need-filling through free agency this year.

Commissioner Roger Goodell
Commissioner Roger GoodellJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Falcons—with picks No. 17, 50, 81, 115 and 238—can still get starting-caliber players with selections in the first four rounds, but it's those depth picks they'll lose out on. Given the lack of success on the field the last two years, it's only natural to load up on free agents like Alex Mack, Mohamed Sanu and Derrick Shelby.

Now they head into the draft able to focus on selecting the best player available and not filling needs.

1. If you missed it this week, Connor Cook wrote a first-person story for the MMQB in which he addressed not being voted a team captain. It's a good read—albeit a biased one—and gives you a look inside what Cook is doing with predraft workouts and how he's handling questions about his leadership role at Michigan State.

Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.