2017 NFL Draft: Updated Draft Radar, Post-Preseason
The NFL preseason has come and gone, leaving the start of the college football season in the air. In an opening weekend that did not disappoint, plenty of NFL draft prospects made noise for all the right (and wrong) reasons.
While all 32 teams currently have high hopes of not earning a top-10 selection, it is inevitable for some with the roller-coaster style of the NFL.
Fortunately, there is a lot to be excited about in the college football landscape of draftable prospects. With a historic running back class, an impressive group of pass-rushers and, of course, potential future franchise quarterbacks, this group has a little bit of everything.
Now why wait? It's time to break down whose stock is on the rise, whose is already taking a hit, an undersized quarterback fighting for a chance and a legitimate contender for the "fastest prospect" title. Also, it's never too early for a mock draft. Let's dive in.
Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
As unfortunate as it is, injury will always lower an NFL draft prospect’s stock. When it comes to running backs, there aren’t many red flags bigger than knee injuries.
Enter Nick Chubb, a supremely talented running back coming off a season-ending knee injury in which multiple ligaments were damaged. Before that injury, the Georgia Bulldog was one of the premier faces of a potentially historic halfback class. Could he return to the form that awarded him as SEC Freshman of the Year in 2014?
The junior erupted in Georgia’s season opener against North Carolina on Saturday, silencing any doubters with a 32-carry, 222-yards performance where he found the end zone twice. Chubb flew through arm tackles and carried defenders throughout much of the game. To cap it all off, he sealed the game with a 55-yard touchdown, flashing NFL-caliber breakaway speed.
Mike Williams, WR, Clemson
Another star skill player returning from injury, Williams' 2015 season ended with a neck injury in Clemson’s opener. Not only did he shut the door on concerns of him ever playing again, but he was quarterback Deshaun Watson’s go-to playmaker.
At 6’3”, 225 pounds with speed that helps him win over the top, Williams has all the makings of a first-round wideout. After hauling in nine catches for 174 yards in an opening win against Auburn, the spotlight is back on him to potentially be the top wide receiver in the 2017 NFL draft.
Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU
White, who surprisingly did not declare for the 2016 NFL draft, performed as a true shutdown corner against Wisconsin on Saturday. His interception came off a poor throw, but he had the awareness to take it to the far side and get LSU a much-needed touchdown.
He was targeted eight times and allowed only three catches for 20 yards, with an NFL passer rating of 6.3. That’s a really impressive day for one of LSU’s many talented defenders. If he can hover anywhere near those numbers this season, he’ll find his way in the top corner conversation with players like Florida’s Jalen Tabor, Iowa’s Desmond King and Washington’s Sidney Jones.
DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Brian Kelly came into the Sunday matchup at Texas intending to run a two-quarterback system, but it was hard to keep Kizer off the field. He was flat-out dominant running the Irish offense, picking up individual momentum from a very impressive sophomore season in 2015.
Kizer checks all the boxes when evaluating a quarterback prospect. He’s big (6’4 ½", 230 pounds), mobile and has excellent arm strength and great vision. His raw ability was on full display as a sophomore, but in the 2016 opener at Texas he showed growth. Situational football, poise and pocket presence is all starting to come easy to the young signal-caller.
It would not surprise if he gives Deshaun Watson a serious run for his money as the top quarterback taken in the draft.
Conor McDermott, OT, UCLA
It’s hard to knock McDermott when he had one of the toughest matchups in all of college football facing Myles Garrett on Saturday, but he was manhandled at times. In a weak offensive tackle class, this was a prime opportunity for McDermott to make a name for himself.
It was a struggle all game long for the third-year starter on UCLA. He surrendered two sacks and 11 total pressures, leaving quarterback Josh Rosen on the ground often. The former tight end is still gaining strength to fill out a gigantic 6’9” frame, but there is no doubt he is a work in progress as an NFL tackle prospect.
Josh Dobbs, QB, Tennessee
With the preseason expectations extremely high for Tennessee this season, Dobbs has a stage to prove he’s a draft prospect worth taking on to develop. He has good size (6’3", 216 pounds), above-average arm strength and mobility.
Unfortunately, the same problems that have plagued him for the previous two seasons showed up in the Volunteers' (surprising) overtime thriller against Appalachian State.
His accuracy and decision-making is extremely poor right now. He’ll also need to vastly improve against pressure, where he was 0-for-5 with an interception and two sacks in Tennessee’s opening game.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, USC
USC’s No. 1 wideout was fantastic as a sophomore in 2015, leaving him in the conversation as the potential top wide receiver for the 2016 draft class. While Alabama’s front seven gave USC’s offense no hope in moving the ball, Smith-Schuster was nearly invisible.
He was targeted five times, but came up with only one catch for nine yards. Alabama has an NFL prospect-filled secondary and it was a great opportunity for Smith-Schuster to prove he can handle any level of competition. While he was not entirely at fault, he certainly did not help his cause in a huge spot.
Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
It has been quite awhile since a talented tight end class with depth has emerged in the NFL draft. That is expected to change in 2017, but one member of the group in Leggett was nowhere to be found on Saturday.
Clemson’s offense struggled against Auburn as their playmakers, outside of wide receiver Mike Williams, failed to get involved. Leggett has potential to be a successful "move" tight end at the next level, but he needs to be a more consistent threat as a receiver to make up for his lack of blocking ability. Zero catches on two targets with a drop is not a great start for Leggett’s draft stock.
Small-School Standout: Eastern Washington WR Cooper Kupp
Weight: 205 lbs
Class: Redshirt senior
Kupp has absolutely dominated the FCS throughout an illustrious career at Eastern Washington, which upset Washington State this past weekend.
Kupp made plays everywhere. He hauled in 12 passes for 206 yards and three touchdowns, completed a 22-yard pass and even had two rushing attempts for 29 yards.
While he plays in the FCS, Kupp saves some of his best performances for the best competition Eastern Washington faces. He caught 15 passes against Oregon in 2015, had a three-touchdown-catch showcase against Washington in 2014 and went over 100 receiving yards against Oregon State as a freshman in 2013.
After a year where an FCS prospect went second overall, Kupp is getting plenty of recognition in his fifth year at Eastern Washington. He currently projects to crack the top 100 in the 2017 NFL draft.
Making the Case: Colts Trading Up for Leonard Fournette
Luck's career has not been as stellar as many had expected and hoped. While he's had his fair share of struggles and injury, the roster around him has been mediocre at best during his tenure in Indianapolis. The best thing to open up a passing attack is a dominate run game. Who better to boost that than LSU's Leonard Fournette?
It could be a big jump as the Colts are expected to be competitive in the AFC South. With that being said, giving up Day 2 selections to get an instant impact player can be worth it. The biggest X-factor is Fournette’s projection. It’s extremely rare for halfbacks to go in the top five, but if he is the exception then his price tag will be too big.
Luck will be turning 28 at the start of the 2017 season—the beginning of his prime. There is little time to waste, especially for general manager Ryan Grigson, who desperately needs to turn around this roster.
The 6'1", 230-pound bruiser can help a rushing unit that hasn't finished better than 20th in the Luck era. His power and straight-line speed are deadly, especially in the second level of the field and in the red zone. Fournette is a rare 'back solely for the fact he never needs to come off the field.
Taking some of the weight off the quarterback while also opening up the downfield passing attack can change the entire dynamic of the Colts offense. The answer to that is finding a way to draft a future star in Fournette.
Quarterback Spotlight: Houston’s Greg Ward Jr.
Weight: 190 lbs
Ward is a dynamite athlete who constantly makes plays by avoiding pressure similarly to Buffalo Bills starter Tyrod Taylor. He "bounces" in the pocket, dipping his shoulder to avoid sacks, but most importantly knows how to reset his feet to make a play down the field.
Houston’s offense is a joy to watch and much of that is from Ward’s ability to manage a drive. The senior understands timing and situational football, while mastering when it is optimal to make a high-risk play. His mobility and touch is especially apparent in the red zone. He is a quarterback who can run when needed, not a runner playing quarterback.
The first thing scouts will have concerns with is Ward’s (lack of) size. Playing quarterback in the NFL is an extreme long shot when measuring under 6'0" tall, as opportunities are rare. With that being said, both quarterbacks in Seattle (Russell Wilson and Trevone Boykin) measured in at 6'0" or smaller. He is noticeably better when the blitz comes rather than pressure from a basic three- or four-man rush.
There will be plenty of teams that want Ward to switch positions, which happens to undersized but elusive quarterback prospects each spring. Can he do enough to get a shot as a signal-caller? If he continues to perform similarly as he did in Houston’s upset win over Oklahoma, he might just get a chance.
Unstoppable Force of the Week: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama
It was a pretty hard feat for Allen to raise his stock because it’s already at skyscraper levels, but he did it by making things a nightmare Saturday for USC’s offense.
Coming off a double-digit sack campaign in 2015, Allen would have easily been a top-50 pick in the spring. He opted to return to school with a clear mission of being a top-10 pick. Two sacks and five total pressures in the opener is a great start. The senior is proving once again to be a complete player on the defensive line, shutting down the run play after play while staying on the field to be a disruptive pass-rusher.
It’s very early in terms of draft projection, but if you’re betting on anyone as a lock for the top half of Round 1 next spring, throw your chips on Allen.
Meet the Fastest NFL Draft Prospect: Oregon WR Devon Allen
Every year the 40-yard dash is the signature testing event at the NFL combine. Every year many wonder: Which prospect will clock the fastest time?
Enter Oregon wide receiver Devon Allen, who is fresh off representing the United States at the 2016 Olympics in Rio in the 110-meter hurdles. The 21-year-old qualified for the final, finishing in fifth place with a time of 13.31.
Do not mistaken Allen as just a "track athlete" though. In 2014, after redshirting in 2013, he averaged 16.7 yards per catch with seven touchdowns.
While it was a quiet weekend for him as he gets back into football, he is a legitimate big-play threat. That skill set is always highly sought in the NFL, as seen with vertical specialists Devin Smith (Ohio State) and Will Fuller (Notre Dame) taken in the top 40 in the past two drafts.
2017 NFL Mock Draft, Top 5
No. 1: Tennessee Titans—Myles Garrett, edge-rusher, Texas A&M
The Titans would love to trade this pick yet again, but if there are no suitors they need to bolster their pass rush. Garrett has been a really impressive college player who is beginning to round out his pass-rush ability for the transition to the next level.
It's hard for Tennessee to pass on talents such as Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook here, but a promising rookie season from Derrick Henry could leave them feeling comfortable at the running back position.
No. 2: Cleveland Browns—Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
The RGIII reclamation project could pan out for Hue Jackson and the Browns, but that's a big-time long shot.
Enter Watson: a smart mobile quarterback with adequate arm strength to flourish in Jackson's offense. Having targets such as Corey Coleman and Josh Gordon around him right away will only increase his chances of being an instant rookie starter.
No. 3: San Diego Chargers—Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
It will be hard to "give up" on Melvin Gordon after just two seasons, but this pick is more about how talented Fournette is. His power running style could actually complement the speedy Gordon, who will still have a chance to figure things out. He'll just be the second option behind the future star.
No. 4: Dallas Cowboys—Deshone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Another serious injury for Tony Romo has led to questions for the future at quarterback in Dallas. Dak Prescott has had an impressive preseason and the team might find out if he can be a long-term starter. With that being said, the team should look at the 2017 quarterback class, where landing a supreme talent like Kizer could be a home run.
No. 5: Jacksonville Jaguars—Dalvin Cook, RB, FSU
The Jaguars have invested in their backfield recently with the signing of Chris Ivory and the selection of T.J Yeldon in the second round of the 2015 draft. While Yeldon is a solid complementary back, they will need a future workhorse. Ivory is dominate in short spans, but his bruising style is not built for longevity and a lot of his guaranteed money is in the first half of the contract. It would be hard to pass on a talent like Cook, who can add to a stellar cast of weapons already established in Jacksonville.
*Draft order from 2016 NFL draft before trades