Twenty days until the NFL draft—20 days of crazy rumors, smokescreens and NFL teams running through scenarios of who might be on or off the board when their picks come.
As pro days and private visits wrap up this week, and with medical rechecks one week from now in Indianapolis, the work that began in August 2015 is nearing completion. Teams will be meeting to stack their boards soon. Players will be buying suits for draft night. And you all will be excitedly waiting to see the next crop of rookies who will be asked to improve your teams.
The Scout's Report
—The top wide receiver in the 2016 class, Ohio State's Michael Thomas, is scheduled to work out for the Cincinnati Bengals this week, per a source with the team.
—Notre Dame offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley took a visit to work out for the Jacksonville Jaguars this week, per a team source.
—The quarterback class is more than a two-person race, and one player I keep hearing positive buzz on is Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. One AFC West college scouting director told me this week that Prescott is "firmly" a Day 2 player.
—In talking to team sources in Philadelphia and to area scouts who know general manager Howie Roseman, there is a feeling the Eagles will look to draft at least one wide receiver. As one scout put it, they "have to clean up the mess Chip [Kelly] made at receiver."
—While polling teams on background information for wide receivers, I learned that three teams have Bowling Green wide receiver Roger Lewis off their boards. Lewis, who was charged with two counts of rape as a senior in high school, is an interesting study in how teams alter their draft boards for off-field issues.
Lewis was acquitted on one charge, but a mistrial was declared on the second charge after the jury couldn't come to a consensus. Lewis pleaded guilty to falsifying a police report before a new trial and was given three years' probation.
—Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson continues to draw praise from scouts and NFL coaches I speak to. When I asked around this week on his draft range, seven teams replied that Lawson is a Round 1 player and his expected draft range is between picks No. 8 and No. 18.
—How impressive was Paxton Lynch's pro day? An NFL coach I spoke to said it was better than any he saw last year and on par with Carson Wentz's showing at North Dakota State last month.
—Eastern Kentucky edge defender Noah Spence has been a busy man. He's met with the Jaguars, Colts and Ravens recently, according to scouts with those clubs. Spence, who played defensive end in college, has the athleticism to play "Sam" linebacker in the NFL.
—South Carolina wide receiver Pharoh Cooper ranks as our No. 10 player at the position in this year's class, and in talking to scouts across the league, he's drawing big interest from the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers.
5 Names to Know
5. Defensive Lineman Bronson Kaufusi, BYU
At 6'6" and 285 pounds, Bronson Kaufusi is going to draw comparisons to Derek Wolfe of the Denver Broncos. He's a nightmare for offensive linemen to contain and has the versatility to play in a 4-3 defensive tackle spot or a 3-4 defensive end alignment. As the draft nears, keep this name in the back of your mind, because Kaufusi has a chance to go very early on Day 2.
4. Edge Defender Tyrone Holmes, Montana
A few weeks ago, an area scout sent me a tip about Tyrone Holmes, but I forgot about it until recently when working on NFL Draft 400 reports. That sent me to the tape, and what you see from Holmes is intriguing. At 6'2" and 253 pounds, he's best suited to a 3-4 outside linebacker position. Holmes can beat up offensive linemen with excellent first-step quickness. He's a late-rounder with upside, but Holmes is definitely a name to know.
3. Cornerback Michael Jordan, Missouri Western
Michael Jordan has been mentioned in this space before, but as the draft gets closer he's a name worthy of bringing up again. A standout small-school star, Jordan has dominated the MIAA and has the size, speed and length to hang in the NFL (6'1", 200 lbs, 4.55 40-yard dash). Jordan needs work on his footwork and technique, but in a press man scheme he could see the field sooner rather than later.
2. Wide Receiver Ricardo Louis, Auburn
Late in the draft, NFL teams tend to take athletes over more proven prospects who may lack height, speed or agility. That's good news for Auburn wide receiver Ricardo Louis—a fantastic athlete, but not a high-production player in the Tigers offense. At 6'2" and 215 pounds he has the size of an X receiver, and with 4.43 speed he can take the top off the defense.
1. Tight End Ryan Malleck, Virginia Tech
The Virginia Tech offense doesn't feature a ton of passes to the tight end, which makes it easy to overlook Ryan Malleck's numbers, but as teams meet to finalize their draft boards I'm hearing Round 5 talk for the former Hokie. Malleck has NFL size (6'4 ½", 247 lbs) and excels as a blocker on the move. In a scheme that wants versatility at tight end, Malleck is an intriguing late-round option.
3 Questions With: Jalen Ramsey, Florida State
Each week I'll ask three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current NFL player or current NFL scout. This week, No. 1 overall prospect Jalen Ramsey handles three questions.
Miller: All right, let's just get right to it. Everyone wants to know, are you a cornerback or a safety?
Ramsey: Cornerback. I'm a corner who can play safety. I feel like I'm the prototypical new edition of cornerbacks that the league needs and is going to with bigger receivers. I'm the most physical defensive back and that's how I play at every level. I have good footwork and can play with the smaller receivers. I can play on the back end because of my physicality, but also because of my range and length.
Miller: You were the second true freshman to ever start at corner for FSU, with Deion Sanders being the other. How important is that FSU legacy to you?
Ramsey: It's super important because I feel like FSU is still DBU and Deion is the guy who made playing defensive back cool. He made the position fun. Following in his footsteps—him and Terrell Buckley and so many others—and being in conversations as a legend like they are is huge, especially because of their NFL success.
Miller: You're a hometown kid, and the Titans have the No. 1 overall pick. How do you sell yourself to them?
Ramsey: I feel like I'm the best player in the draft class. They should pick me because I'm a prospect, not a hometown kid. Just turn on the film. Everything that's ever been asked of me, I've done it and done it at an elite level. I came in and got a job as a freshman. I was the only freshman starting on a national championship team and was making all the calls and asked to know the defense.
Sophomore year they moved me to "Star" and asked me to be a playmaker at the most important position on the team. I was an All-American again. Then this year I moved to cornerback and shut down the No. 1 wide receiver every week.
Every year I've proven I can play wherever the team needs me at an elite level. And that's not to mention what I can do on special teams—where I played every single special team at FSU. A team isn't going to get one kind of player. They're going to get a multiple, versatile guy who can help immediately but also down the line as a leader for a long while.
The Big Board
Mock drafts are a labor of love. The writer has to balance personal rankings with current roster holes, future team needs and any rumors you might be hearing regarding the picks. That leaves a lot of room for confusion when readers are trying to figure out if a mock draft is what the writer would do or what the writer is hearing will happen.
Any mock draft you read from me will be based on what I'm hearing from my sources around the league. But this week I'm switching it up with a side-by-side mock draft featuring what I'm hearing and what I would do as the GM of each team.
|What Will vs. What Should Happen Mock Drafts|
|What Will Happen||What Should Happen|
|1. TEN—T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss||1. TEN—CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU|
|2. CLE—QB Carson Wentz, NDSU||2. CLE—QB Jared Goff, Cal|
|3. SD—DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon||3. SD—T Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss|
|4. DAL—DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State||4. DAL—LB Myles Jack, UCLA|
|5. JAX—CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU||5. JAX—DE Joey Bosa, Ohio State|
|6. BAL—LB Myles Jack, UCLA||6. BAL—DL DeForest Buckner, Oregon|
|7. SF—QB Jared Goff, Cal||7. SF—QB Carson Wentz, NDSU|
|8. PHI—T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame||8. PHI—T Ronnie Stanley, Notre Dame|
|9. TB—DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson||9. TB—CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida|
|10. NYG—RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State||10. NYG—RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State|
|11. CHI—CB Vernon Hargreaves, Florida||11. CHI—OLB Noah Spence, EKU|
|12. NO—WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State||12. NO—WR Michael Thomas, Ohio State|
|13. MIA—CB William Jackson III, Houston||13. MIA—CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson|
|14. OAK—T Taylor Decker, Ohio State||14. OAK—DE Shaq Lawson, Clemson|
|15. LA—WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss||15. LA—QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis|
|16. DET—DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville||16. DET—DT Sheldon Rankins, Louisville|
|17. ATL—LB Darron Lee, Ohio State||17. ATL—LB Darron Lee, Ohio State|
|18. IND—OLB Noah Spence, EKU||18. IND—LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame|
|19. BUF—DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson||19. BUF—WR Josh Doctson, TCU|
|20. NYJ—QB Paxton Lynch, Memphis||20. NYJ—T Taylor Decker, Ohio State|
|21. WAS—DT Andrew Billings, Baylor||21. WAS—DT Andrew Billings, Baylor|
|22. HOU—WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame||22. HOU—WR Corey Coleman, Baylor|
|23. MIN—WR Josh Doctson, TCU||23. MIN—WR Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss|
|24. CIN—WR Corey Coleman, Baylor||24. CIN—WR Will Fuller, Notre Dame|
|25. PIT—CB Mackensie Alexander, Clemson||25. PIT—CB William Jackson III, Houston|
|26. SEA—T Jack Conklin, Michigan State||26. SEA—T Germain Ifedi, Texas A&M|
|27. GB—OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia||27. GB—DL A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama|
|28. KC—DL Jarran Reed, Alabama||28. KC—OLB Leonard Floyd, Georgia|
|29. ARZ—SS Keanu Neal, Florida||29. ARZ—DE Kevin Dodd, Clemson|
|30. CAR—CB Eli Apple, Ohio State||30. CAR—T Jack Conklin, Michigan State|
|31. DEN—LB Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame||31. DEN—C Cody Whitehair, Kansas State|
7. Last night I tweeted that multiple teams told me Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones was off their boards due to off-field issues. That's true—three teams I spoke to said he's not on their boards after he broke the jaw of a male tennis player at the University of Texas. But while polling teams, I found that there is a big gap in what scouts think happened that day in Texas.
What really happened? Jones did get into an altercation and break the jaw of a male tennis player who he felt was giving his girlfriend, a volleyball player, too much attention. That led to his transfer from Texas to Arizona, where he's been a model citizen for three seasons.
Jones, who has the size and speed NFL teams want in a deep threat, is a tough evaluation, but 21 other teams I've spoken to since confirmed he's not off their boards and will hear his name called as early as Round 4 in the upcoming draft. He currently ranks as the No. 17 receiver on my board.
6. "He was taught different footwork in each of his three seasons at Penn State, muddying his mechanics and his muscle memory." This line in Jenny Vrentas' excellent Christian Hackenberg story on the MMQB is fascinating. As a Hackenberg fan, it definitely allows you to understand how he could one-hop a screen pass after launching touch passes to Allen Robinson on clutch drives as a true freshman.
Consistency is huge at every position, but none more so than quarterback. Just like a great pitcher going through the same motions and actions before each pitch, a quarterback has to find a comfort level with his movements. Hackenberg has promise, but he has to find that comfort level. Sitting behind a veteran (Tony Romo or Drew Brees makes sense) and learning would allow him that time.
5. Late Thursday night, Alex Dunlap of Orangebloods.com reported that Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman is under investigation for sexual assault. Dunlap also posted tweets of a search warrant from the Waco police department verifying the investigation.
The potential impact on Oakman's draft stock is secondary to the criminal allegations levied against him, and when talking to NFL teams once this news broke, there is no doubt that if charged with a crime, Oakman will be off the draft boards of many (if not all) teams.
In a day and age where Ray Rice is still out of the league and Greg Hardy is doing interviews to get back into the game, it's becoming harder for a player with a history of violence against women to find work in the NFL. Oakman, who was already flagged for off-field issues after being dismissed from Penn State, doesn't have the high-caliber play to make even the most questionable NFL teams take a look at him if he is guilty of the crime.
4. Who will be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NFL draft? The debate seems to be between tackle Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss and cornerback Jalen Ramsey of Florida State, but that's if the Tennessee Titans keep the pick. And they're telling anyone who will listen that they want to trade it. But who would they trade it to?
The Cleveland Browns.
If the Browns have Carson Wentz or Jared Goff ranked atop their board, they cannot risk letting another team—like Philadelphia or San Francisco—come up and get him. It's risky for the Browns to roll into draft night picking No. 2 overall with no control over who is picked first.
A new front office may not be willing to give up draft picks to secure a player, but swapping picks with the Titans isn't going to cost Cleveland much draft capital. Look back to 2012, when the Browns switched picks with the Minnesota Vikings—moving from No. 4 overall to No. 3—in exchange for picks in rounds four, five and seven.
The Browns currently have 10 draft picks, seven of which can be traded. Giving up picks in this draft or next year—when they'll get compensatory picks for Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz—to get a quarterback they view as a franchise player is worth it.
3. Speaking of compensatory picks...one thing you hear around the NFL is that teams are paralyzed in free agency because they don't want to give up future draft picks, especially with a rule change allowing compensatory picks to be traded starting next year.
Look at the Browns. They lost Mack and Schwartz, both top-tier free agents, and signed lower-level guys like Demario Davis and Alvin Bailey. Even recent signings of Robert Griffin III won't count against compensatory picks because he was released from his contract in Washington.
Smart teams acquire compensatory picks like properties in a game of Monopoly, and now that those successful teams are sending scouts to general manager roles across the NFL, the idea of holding on to compensatory picks is becoming the new trend.
2. The Cleveland Browns aren't the only team with a chance to trade up for a quarterback in this year's draft. The New Orleans Saints and Chicago Bears both make sense as teams eyeing a move up for quarterbacks.
Looking at their current rosters and front offices, it's tough to imagine either club letting a quarterback slide by it if one fell. But a trade up? The Saints do only have six picks in the draft, but they also have almost no money to sign the rookies they draft. Packaging picks to get a quarterback-in-waiting behind Drew Brees is a move they should have made already.
In Chicago, Jay Cutler had a bit of a career revival with a regime change and the tutelage of Adam Gase at offensive coordinator, but Gase is gone and Cutler will be 33 years old this month. He's also battled injuries throughout his career while playing a physical style of football that opens him up to extra hits in and out of the pocket. With nine selections in the draft, the Bears have the capital to trade up.
1. It's been a busy week at Bleacher Report with our NFL Draft 400 series launching. The series, which will run until the draft, profiles the top 400 players in the class in a position-by-position format. Each player is graded, ranked and scouted with complete reports and testing numbers included.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.