As the 2016 NFL draft nears, every team in the league is doing the same thing—finalizing its final draft board.
For most teams, final grades are in on players. General managers, as well as scouting and personnel directors, likely know their first-round players. But the team's final draft board—the big one that goes up in the draft room to be used during the three-day selection event—isn't completely set yet. Stacking the board, and all the arguments that go with it, happens now.
As team boards get set, team scouts talk. They're either happy because a player from their area is ranked highly, or they're irritated that after 200 days on the road, none of their players are ranked highly. That talking leads to information for this article, which you'll get in "The Scout's Report."
This process teams are undergoing is the same one I'm doing for our NFL draft 400 series, which kicks off next week. That leads to changes on our big board as a number grade is assigned to each player and any ties at positions are broken.
The Scout's Report
— Which quarterback will come off the board first? One NFC West team I spoke to—that demanded anonymity—ranks them Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch and then Carson Wentz.
— After a disappointing pro-day performance, Ole Miss wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has seen his draft stock take a hit. Treadwell, I'm told by an NFC area scout, is the No. 4 wide receiver on his team's board.
— Ohio State wide receiver Braxton Miller worked out for the Houston Texans last week, and I'm told by team sources that they're considering him "in play" for the pick at No. 22 overall.
— Christian Hackenberg had a private workout with the Dallas Cowboys, according to Fox Sports' Mike Garafolo. Team owner Jerry Jones has said the Cowboys will not draft a quarterback at No. 4 overall, which makes Hackenberg an interesting option in the second or third round as a developmental quarterback.
— Houston wide receiver Demarcus Ayers worked out for the New England Patriots this week, I'm told by a team source. Ayers, who didn't run well at the combine after breaking a finger the week before, fits the inside receiver and return man mold the Patriots like.
— Corey Coleman and Will Fuller are being devalued in draft rooms due to drops, according to a general manager I spoke to this week. His wide receiver rankings are Josh Doctson (TCU), Coleman, Michael Thomas (Ohio State) and then Laquon Treadwell.
— Josh Doctson is the name to watch at wide receiver. After polling teams this week on wide receiver notes, three teams told me he's in their top two receivers and should be a top-20 pick.
— Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith has a private visit planned with the San Francisco 49ers, according to a team source. Smith was the consensus top player in the draft from NFL teams I spoke with before his Fiesta Bowl knee injury.
— Kansas City Chiefs reporter B.J. Kissel confirmed this week that the team has about 150 players on its final board. That's in the same range I've heard from other teams, with the low being 120 from an AFC South team.
— After a strong pro-day performance by Maryland's Yannick Ngakoue, one team scout told me he is likely to move into the third-round range as a stand-up edge-rusher.
5 Names to Know
5. Running Back Jhurell Pressley, New Mexico
A bouncy runner with big-play potential, Jhurell Pressley averaged 7.8 yards per carry over the last three seasons. He has the juice to hit the corner and pull away from defenders and packs a punch on his 5'10", 206-pound frame. In a class with average depth at running back, Pressley could be this year's Thomas Rawls or Charcandrick West.
4. Edge Defender Matt Judon, Grand Valley State
One of the best small-school players in the class, Matt Judon produced an NCAA-best 20 sacks and 23.5 tackles for a loss in 2015. He also showed up big at the combine with a 4.73-second sprint at 6'3" and 275 pounds. Judon won't be likely to hear his name called until late on Day 2 or early on Day 3, but he has big potential as a stand-up edge-rusher.
3. Linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
Nick Kwiatkoski's 4.73-second run in the 40-yard dash didn't blow people away, but watching him move through positional drills and then going back to the all-important game film should open eyes. He's instinctive, fluid and able to make plays in coverage on third down. Kwiatkoski has a real shot to come off the board on Day 2 of the draft.
2. Cornerback Artie Burns, Miami (Fla.)
A fast and aggressive cornerback, Artie Burns has been a "name" player for a while now, but he's worth mentioning again this week as talk that he could be picked in the first round heats up. Burns, from what three team scouts tell me, ranks higher than Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) on their board and is the fourth cornerback expected to be drafted.
1. Kicker Roberto Aguayo, Florida State
If you follow college football, you've likely heard of Roberto Aguayo. That's good, because as a draft prospect, it's likely his name will be called on Day 2 of the draft. Aguayo has a strong leg and clutch accuracy, but he's also becoming more valuable as the NFL makes the kicking game harder with rules like longer extra points and now moving touchbacks to the 25-yard line.
3 Questions With: Michael Thomas, Ohio State
Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current NFL player or current NFL scout. This week, Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas handles three questions.
Miller: Why are you the best receiver in this class?
Thomas: When I look at all the other receivers in this class, I feel I'm the best. No disrespect to anyone else and their talent, but I don't see anyone better than me. I may not run 1,000 go routes on film or get 150-plus targets in my offense, but what I was asked to do by my coaching staff, I did very well, and we won a lot of ballgames by me doing what I was asked. I was on an offense with a ton of talent—going back and forth with quarterbacks—but we still managed to be a top team when the season ended. It's a team sport. And a lot of people, I believe, try to base who is better off numbers and not opportunity. Because when the opportunity presented itself I made plays nine out of 10 times, and I wasn't the only weapon on my team. We had tons of them. At the end of the day it was about winning ballgames for us, and everything else will take care of itself.
Miller: Being the nephew of Keyshawn Johnson, I'm sure you get compared to him a lot. How are you a different player than he was?
Thomas: That's a good one. ... I wouldn't say anything to talk down or disregard anything my uncle did during his college or pro career, but I feel the game has changed a bit since he played. I just took what I learned and got from him and evolved it in a way to the new age. But if you can ball, you can ball, and that's one thing I could say we have in common. We both make plays.
Miller: You played on a college team full of future NFL stars. How did the practices at OSU compare to games in the Big Ten?
Thomas: Practices at OSU were exactly what I needed to help me succeed on Saturdays. They were everything you could imagine with all the talented players on both sides of the ball. Tons of competing and challenging each other to get better every day and win our opportunities. Then the games in the Big Ten—no disrespect—became like a slower, easier version of a Tuesday practice at OSU.
The Big Board
Thanks to hours upon hours spent watching film and finalizing scouting reports, a new top 50 has emerged. Barring injuries, arrests or failed drug tests, this is very close to how the final top 50 will look for this year's draft.
|Updated Top 50 Big Board|
|1||Jalen Ramsey, CB, FSU|
|2||Myles Jack, LB, UCLA|
|3||Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame (injured)|
|4||Laremy Tunsil, T, Ole Miss|
|5||Jared Goff, QB, California|
|6||Joey Bosa, DL, Ohio State|
|7||DeForest Buckner, DL, Oregon|
|8||Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State|
|9||Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida|
|10||Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State|
|11||Ronnie Stanley, T, Notre Dame|
|12||Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State|
|13||Michael Thomas, WR, Ohio State|
|14||Noah Spence, EDGE, Eastern Kentucky|
|15||Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville|
|16||Shaq Lawson, EDGE, Clemson|
|17||Josh Doctson, WR, TCU|
|18||Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor|
|19||Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson|
|20||A'Shawn Robinson, DL, Alabama|
|21||Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss|
|22||Andrew Billings, DL, Baylor|
|23||Taylor Decker, T, Ohio State|
|24||Jarran Reed, DL, Alabama|
|25||Leonard Floyd, EDGE, Georgia|
|26||Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama|
|27||Maliek Collins, DL, Nebraska|
|28||Kevin Dodd, DL, Clemson|
|29||William Jackson, CB, Houston|
|30||Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State|
|31||Germain Ifedi, T, Texas A&M|
|32||Keanu Neal, SS, Florida|
|33||Jack Conklin, T, Michigan State|
|34||Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis|
|35||Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford|
|36||Karl Joseph, FS, West Virginia|
|37||Kenneth Dixon, RB, Louisiana Tech|
|38||Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame|
|39||Su'a Cravens, LB/S, USC|
|40||Cody Whitehair, G/C, Kansas State|
|41||Sterling Shepard, WR, Oklahoma|
|42||Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt|
|43||Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas|
|44||Darian Thompson, FS, Boise State|
|45||Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State|
|46||T.J. Green, FS, Clemson|
|47||Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor|
|48||Harlan Miller, CB, SE Louisiana|
|49||Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss|
|50||Christian Westerman, G, Arizona State|
7. Colin Kaepernick's 2016 salary is now fully guaranteed. That's not a big hurdle for the 49ers in terms of trading him, because they were never going to release him outright this early in the process. That said, it looks more and more like the 49ers are content to keep Kaepernick on the roster.
That's a bad idea.
Kaepernick has asked for a trade. He doesn't want to be there. That may be fine if we're talking about a No. 4 wide receiver, but this is a quarterback. Kaepernick is still relevant enough in that locker room to draw the attention and admiration of players, especially young players. A 49ers team going through a massive rebuild cannot afford to keep a player around who doesn't want to be there. The potential for a bad influence to spread through the locker room is too great.
Whether CEO Jed York likes Kaepernick on the team or not, football minds should make the right call and lower the asking price to trade the quarterback to Denver.
6. NFL scouts have become equal parts private detective and football evaluator lately with more of an emphasis on off-field issues when looking at players. That brings up a lot of questions about what should be deemed a "character issue" and what is simply a bad decision.
One way I've tried to look at this ever-changing landscape is by asking one question: Is the player a bad person, or did he make a bad decision?
A bad decision might be something as serious as a DUI or a party-drug arrest. A bad person, well, that's something like domestic assault, which more teams are staying away from completely.
This isn't a foolproof, scientific way to eliminate poor-character prospects, but is more of a guideline for how to look at off-field issues when studying players.
5. Ohio State's Michael Thomas or Ole Miss star Laquon Treadwell? That's a question every NFL team will be asking in the next month. Here's how the two big receivers break down in a side-by-side comparison:
|Michael Thomas vs. Laquon Treadwell|
|Player||Ht||Wt||40 Time||3-Cone||Targets / Catches / Drops|
|M. Thomas||6'3"||212||4.47s||6.80s||83 / 56 / 4|
|L. Treadwell||6'2"||221||4.63s||7.05s||122 / 82 / 9|
|College Football Focus|
4. Corey Coleman and Will Fuller are the two best vertical threats in the 2016 class. Which player stands out in a side-by-side comparison?
|Corey Coleman vs. Will Fuller|
|Player||Ht||Wt||40 Time||3-Cone||Targets / Catches / Drops|
|C. Coleman||5'11"||194||4.40s||n/a||116 / 74 / 10|
|W. Fuller||6'0"||186||4.32s||6.43s||100 / 62 / 10|
|College Football Focus|
3. As scouts and general managers leak information to the media about their draft boards, it's important to remember that everything is still fluid at this time of year. Pro-day workouts are still being performed, and the official medical rechecks in Indianapolis won't take place until April 14-15.
Teams have a good idea which players they like, but until final draft meetings (usually two weeks before the draft), everything is shifting.
2. Much was made of the fact that Myles Jack hasn't run a 40-yard dash and likely won't unless a team asks him to in a private workout.
Get over it.
Jack is fast—you can see that much on game film. He's also coming back from a meniscus tear that wasn't cleared until last month. Bouncing between the combine and team visits, Jack hasn't had the five to six weeks of training players go through to run a 40-yard dash in Indianapolis. There is no benefit for him to run a time he hasn't trained for.
If a team wants to pass on Jack because he didn't run a 40, it will be its loss.
1. Speaking of Jack, he said this week that the San Diego Chargers view him as a safety and not a linebacker. When we spoke recently, Jack told me the Jacksonville Jaguars would also like to use him in a hybrid safety/linebacker role.
That line between in-the-box strong safety and linebacker is blurring. Players like Deone Bucannon are drafted for their versatility while veterans like Mark Barron are moved from safety to linebacker and put into a role they can succeed in. Jack—and to some extent Jalen Ramsey—are the same way. We get too caught up in sticking players into a position, when the NFL today is all about matchups and being able to erase a playmaker on offense. Jack allows you to do that both at linebacker and at safety.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.