2017 NFL Draft: Draft Radar Heading into NFL Week 2
In what was a slate full of mismatches in college football this past weekend, plenty of prospects had the opportunity to get their name on the NFL draft radar. Drama was not lacking as returns from serious injury are building, the quarterbacks are rising and falling, and the skill players are darting for the first round.
While the NFL season kicked off as well this weekend, glaring holes were made apparent on quite a few teams—as well as brutal mistakes. Not to worry though, there is a fix for everything in football and most of the time that answer is the NFL draft.
Let's take a look at who's making headlines for all the right and wrong reasons, along with the players you'll need to know come spring time.
Carlos Watkins, DL, Clemson
If you’re looking for a staple of the Clemson defensive line, look no further than Watkins. At 6’3," 305 pounds, the redshirt senior and second-year starter is a force for the interior of the Tigers line.
While it wasn’t a pretty day for the offense on Saturday against Troy, the defense (led by Watkins up front), did its part. He registered three quarterback pressures, including a sack, and three solo stops. Interior defensive linemen that can disrupt the passer are always a hot commodity, which will certainly help Watkins come next spring.
Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU
The 6’4" wideout Sutton is a more interesting stock-up candidate, as much of his traits do not translate to the box score. He’s an impressive go-up-and-get-it-type playmaker, but the offense at SMU has done him little favors thus far.
His six-catch, 112-yard performance in which he hauled in his fourth touchdown in just two games could have been even more impressive if not for numerous missed throws. The NFL loves wide receivers that don’t necessarily have to get open to dominate, and Sutton fits that perfectly. His long arms make him a dominant red-zone threat whose best football days are ahead of him.
Pharaoh Brown, TE, Oregon
The tight end class was a popular topic this summer, as it looks like a deep group filled with plenty of talented pass-catchers. One player that has been completely neglected is Oregon’s Pharaoh Brown, whose return took off this weekend.
The 6’6," 245-pounder is quite the athlete at the tight end position. He is a mismatch nightmare that can split out or stay in line.
Unfortunately for Brown, his career took a disastrous turn in 2014 when he suffered a noncontact leg injury against Utah. Three surgeries and more than an entire lost season later, Brown is back in what looks to be a remarkable recovery.
He hauled in five passes for 55 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, reminding scouts across the country he might just be the dominate tight end prospect the nation watched a few years ago.
Malik Hooker, FS, Ohio State
The sophomore safety only had two seasons of football experience before arriving at Ohio State, and it hasn’t taken him long to make a name for himself. After earning a starting safety job with the departure of Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell, he’s off to a roaring start with three interceptions in just two games.
The NFL is often willing to take on raw but extremely athletic defensive backs with great size (see Eli Apple and Quinten Rollins in recent years), and Hooker fits the bill. His 6’2" frame combined with excellent closing speed makes him an exciting safety prospect on the rise.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
While it would be extremely unfair to put Watson entirely at fault for a poor weekend performance, he certainly factored into Clemson’s offensive struggles.
Watson is an excellent talent with a good arm and well-above-average mobility, but he is missing throws. Much of his erratic play through two subpar performances in 2016 is due to being under heavy pressure, something he will have to improve against to succeed at the next level. He's completing under 30 percent of his passes when pressured, and two of his three interceptions have come when the heat is on.
There is no doubt the Clemson signal-caller is in the mix to be the top quarterback prospect in the 2017 class, but it is far from a sure thing as it once seemed. Right now, Watson's supporting cast is not helping his cause, and that needs to change quickly.
Jourdan Lewis, CB, Michigan
It’s hard to make the club in the tub. Well, it’s also hard to improve your draft stock when you’re not on the field. Lewis was one of the better corner prospects to keep an eye on heading into 2016, but he’s been out in back-to-back weeks.
For a player with size issues, the last red flag he’ll want to raise is durability concerns. Corners like Florida’s Jalen Tabor, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey and Washington’s Sidney Jones are off to great starts. Lewis needs to get back on the field before he falls too far behind the many talented defensive backs in this class.
Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State
Mark this as another player whose environment is starting to hurt their draft stock. Unlike Watson, whose team is letting him down, Godwin appears to be a victim of an extremely subpar offense run by head coach James Franklin.
Godwin has talent and was a favorite target of Christian Hackenberg, but seeing only four targets on Saturday in an absolute shootout in Pittsburgh was not the kind of offensive production he's searching for. The junior wideout is capable of much more; now it's time for his coach to make sure he gets more involved.
Underclassman Phenom of the Week: Louisville QB Lamar Jackson
Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the most exciting storyline in college football thus far. In just two games he's thrown seven touchdowns and run for six more, totaling 13 scores. There is no player that defines "big-play ability" more than Jackson, who has now completed six passes of over 20 yards with three of them going for touchdowns.
There has already been talk regarding whether Jackson will be a quarterback at the next level (he can't declare for the draft until 2018), and he will have plenty of time to prove himself. Right now he is an incredible athlete that possesses the most playmaking ability on the field at all times. His timing and accuracy will be key focal points in his development, especially when the opposition sells out deep and forces him to work underneath throws.
Unlike most dual-threat quarterbacks, Jackson has the frame at 6'3" (he'll naturally gain weight over time) to take on contact in the pocket and in the open field. Going forward, he is a must-watch player every single weekend in the college football landscape. He and Josh Rosen could make for a fun quarterback class come spring 2018.
Quarterback Spotlight: Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer
Height: 6’4 ½"
Weight: 230 lbs
Kizer has what might be the best arm talent in the 2017 draft class. He has plenty of strength to consistently drive the ball down the field, but also displays an impressive intermediate game.
Velocity won’t be an issue at the next level, as the second-year starter for Notre Dame fires darts all over the field. He also possesses above-average athleticism and uses his legs to pick up first downs when given room to run. Since taking over in early 2015, he has shown growth managing drives and grasping situational football to orchestrate drives.
One weakness that is out of Kizer's control is game experience. He took over at quarterback for the Fighting Irish in the second week of the 2015 season, giving him around a full season’s worth of starts up to this point.
He can still get caught holding the ball too long, putting a ton of trust in a Notre Dame unit that has been quite good in pass protection over the last few years. This leads to unnecessary sacks while scanning the field for too long.
His accuracy was average for a starter as a sophomore (63 percent), but through two games as a junior he has been much more precise, completing over 70 percent of his passes.
Kizer has a legitimate chance to play his way into the top quarterback and No. 1 overall pick conversation. He has the tools along with the physical and mental makeup to be a franchise quarterback at the next level. The biggest question is whether he'll declare for the 2017 draft (which will depend on his draft projection) or return for one more year under Brian Kelly at Notre Dame.
Draft Projection: Round 1 pick
Meet the 2017 NFL Draft's Biggest Hitter: Alabama LB Reuben Foster
The second-year starter for the Crimson Tide defense is a smashmouth linebacker that is extremely impressive moving sideline-to-sideline. On film, it often looks like Foster is on an endless seek-and-destroy mission.
Playing behind an impressive defensive front throughout his collegiate career has allowed him to flourish, laying plenty of big hits. He also pulled off the rare feat of lighting up LSU's Leonard Fournette in the open field.
However, don't mistake Foster for an old-school thumper at linebacker. He's an impressive athlete that has a lot of upside in coverage, where he can continue to lay the wood in the open field. After making 73 tackles in his junior season, he could top that total in 2016 as his draft stock continues to soar.
Making the Case For: 3 Teams Solving Their Franchise QB Draught
Rebuilding Robert Griffin III was a bold project for new head coach Hue Jackson, but the upside of the move makes it understandable. With that being said, the Browns' franchise quarterback draught has to end. Jackson can mold quarterback talent in an offense that's a proven success. When the 2017 draft rolls around, the Browns need to find their guy. Griffin can hold down the fort for a bit, but it's hard to see him as the long-term answer.
One bittersweet note for Browns fans: This team should be bad enough to garner another top pick, landing them in Deshaun Watson or DeShone Kizer territory.
New York Jets
Ryan Fitzpatrick is the guy he's always been: an erratic journeyman that can win with premium talent around him. That doesn't mean the Jets should settle for that type of play from their signal-caller. Christian Hackenberg is most likely a two-year project on a win-now team. With an older but extremely talented roster thanks to a proactive and calculated front office, could 2017 be the year the Jets make a move up to grab their franchise guy? After rumors swirled that they considered moving up in 2016, it will be interesting to see how they handle the draft this year.
San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers, much like the Browns, should have a bad enough season that they won't have to move for their next quarterback. Head coach Chip Kelly will do his best to get through a tough 2016 season with Blaine Gabbert at the helm, but his eyes are most likely on the future. Watson would be a great fit for his offense, a mobile thrower that can find his rhythm working a short-intermediate game but has enough arm to work the vertical attack.
The Great Comeback Story: Pittsburgh RB James Conner
The most impactful storyline in college football this year is the return of James Conner after battling and defeating cancer. The 2014 ACC Player of the Year suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2015, which ultimately led to the discovery of a cancerous mass in his chest.
Conner's fight to get back on the field for the 2016 season is a story of resilience, but it's not over yet. This is a star player hoping to return to form, to find his way into the NFL as a starting running back.
Through two games, the Pitt Panther has been extremely impressive. He's running angry and proving to be one of the better red-zone backs in the country. In Pitt's Week 2 win over Penn State, Conner reached another sign of returning to normalcy after carrying the ball 22 times for 117 yards and a touchdown (on top of a receiving touchdown as well).
It did not take long for the touchdowns to return—Conner now has four in just two games—but regaining his role as a workhorse feature back is one of many things that make him so great. He's now forced seven missed tackles on 47 touches in 2016, and as the momentum of playing in games returns, the greatest comeback story in all of college football will only get better.
3 Dream Landing Spots for 3 Prospects
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan: Pittsburgh Steelers
Tight end has become quite the dilemma for the Steelers recently, as offseason acquisition Ladarius Green's future is in question. With Martavis Bryant set to return in 2017, the wide receiver position should be one of the league's better units with him, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Eli Rogers. Running back is among the NFL's best as well if Le'Veon Bell can stay on the field.
Solving tight end will be key, and 6'6" pass-catcher Jake Butt out of Michigan would be a perfect fit. With Butt in black and gold, I'm not sure there would be a better red-zone unit in the league than what the Steelers would trot out.
Myles Garrett, EDGE, Texas A&M: Tennessee Titans
The Titans need to add more juice to their pass rush and Garrett is the perfect candidate to make that happen. He is building a legitimate arsenal of moves to get after the quarterback while possessing the necessary strength behind a 6'5," 262-pound frame. Tennessee has done a good job of getting younger and more talented on offense, now they need to round out their team by building the defense.
Isaiah Ford, WR, Virginia Tech: Dallas Cowboys
Too soon, Cowboys fans? I apologize, but it's time to start thinking about the future of the No. 2 receiver position since Terrance Williams is in a contract year. Ford displayed some incredible route running against top talent this weekend and is coming off of a huge 2015 breakout season. While names like Clemson's Mike Williams and USC's JuJu Smith-Schuster often dominate the receiver prospect headlines, Ford is making a well-deserved case to join the conversation.