2017 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Early Draft Crushes
There's nothing quite like the feeling of falling in love, and for NFL scouts and draft analysts in the media, we feel it too. There's a definite "love at first sight" when you're sitting down and see a player pop on film you hadn't seen before or one who has made major improvements in the offseason.
In the past, my draft crushes have been guys such as Alshon Jeffery, Von Miller and Teddy Bridgewater. Which players in the 2017 class are making my heart swoon early in the process? Here are 10 names I'm all over as college football season heats up.
It's worth pointing out these aren't the 10 best players, or even the best player at each position in every case, but rather a list of players I enjoy watching and may like more than other draft analysts.
DeShone Kizer, Quarterback, Notre Dame
He reminds me of: Can you say Ben Roethlisberger? Some will no doubt compare DeShone Kizer to Cam Newton or Jameis Winston, but he's a better athlete than Winston was at Florida State and is asked to do more offensively than Newton did at Auburn for his one season in FBS ball.
Kizer's arm strength, power as a runner and command in the pocket draw a comparison to Roethlisberger—both now and back during his days at Miami (Ohio).
Where he stacks up: Through three weeks of college football, Kizer sits atop the quarterback board. Even as a redshirt sophomore, the projection on him is so high that if he were to enter the draft, he would be the top-ranked quarterback.
That's not to say that Kizer is right now more pro-ready than Deshaun Watson or Brad Kaaya—it's too early for that type of opinion—but that his ultimate potential is higher than any other draft-eligible quarterback in college.
Impact meter: Coming out of the Notre Dame offense, Kizer projects as an instant starter in the NFL. Similar to Carson Wentz in Philadelphia, his NFL team will want to borrow concepts from his college offense to allow for early success, but given his athleticism and arm strength, he should be able to acclimate early.
One thing to know: Kizer has the second-most rushing yards for a quarterback in a game (143) and is tied for second for the most TD passes in a game at Notre Dame (5).
Myles Garrett, Edge-Rusher, Texas A&M
He reminds me of: Athletically, Myles Garrett is a rare talent. According to scouts who weighed him over the summer, he's up to 275 pounds—A&M lists him at 262—and he has maintained his flexibility and burst coming off the edge.
From a physical-freak standpoint, Garrett's closest comparison is Jadeveon Clowney—but without the work-ethic questions or injuries. Scouts I've talked to are already raving about Garrett's wiring and that he "gets it" when it comes to effort and being a teammate.
The temptation to compare Garrett to former Texas A&M pass-rusher Von Miller will be there, but he's 20-25 pounds heavier and is more likely to be a 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.
Where he stacks up: The top of my big board is reserved for Garrett. He's moved to the No. 1 overall spot based purely on his exceptional talent, production and potential. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Garrett plays a premium position—quarterback, left tackle and pass-rusher are the only positions going first overall anymore.
Impact meter: Here's one area where you can compare Garrett to Von Miller. He has the tools to instantly step into an NFL defensive scheme and make plays as a pass-rusher and run-stopper. Garrett isn't like many of the premium draft picks on the edge in recent years who need to bulk up or learn to play with their hand down. He's the most pro-ready player in college football.
One thing to know: Through three games, Pro Football Focus credits Garrett with three sacks, eight quarterback hits and eight quarterback hurries.
Jamal Adams, Safety, LSU
He reminds me of: Jamal Adams is a special talent with true ability to impact the game as a tackler and in coverage. Some on Twitter have asked if he's the "next Sean Taylor," and while I don't see that type of freakish power from Adams—Taylor was often 225 pounds—I do see a mix of Eric Berry and Tyrann Mathieu in his style, athleticism and impact.
Adams is savvy enough to cover from the slot or be a single-high safety in deep coverage. He's also powerful enough to load up and bring down ball-carriers in the box. And like the Honey Badger, he's able to locate and attack the pass in the air before making something happen with the ball in his hands.
Where he stacks up: Adams currently ranks as the top safety—ahead of Michigan dual threat Jabrill Peppers—and is a rare safety in the top five overall. Just a junior at LSU but expected to declare, Adams may not hear his name called in the top five picks, but he already grades out as a better player than 2016 first-rounders Karl Joseph and Keanu Neal at the position.
Impact meter: Plug-and-play. Adams is NFL-ready thanks to his athleticism and the role he's been asked to play at LSU. He can excel in coverage while also showing the toughness to stack up against the run. Unlike many safety prospects coming out of college, Adams is a three-down player with the tools and talent to step right into an NFL defense.
One thing to know: Jamal's dad, George Adams, was a first-round pick of the New York Giants in 1985.
Mike Williams, Wide Receiver, Clemson
He reminds me of: At 6'3" and 225 pounds, Mike Williams is a big target at wide receiver. Some may see Alshon Jeffery or A.J. Green in his long arms and nifty route running, but he's all Demaryius Thomas to me.
Williams has legit 4.4-second speed and exceptional gear changing in his routes. He can throttle down, sink his hips and then explode through a double move. And when the ball is thrown up, he can elevate to attack its high point and win 50-50 throws—especially in the red zone.
Where he stacks up: Williams was the top-ranked receiver heading into last season, but a freak accident left him with a neck fracture after colliding with a goal post. He's back healthy and is once again the top wide receiver in the draft class.
Impact meter: The Clemson wide receiver pipeline to the NFL is legit. Williams doesn't have the explosive yards-after-catch ability of Sammy Watkins or the jump-ball skills of DeAndre Hopkins, but he does look to be the most polished route-runner of the three.
One undersold positive of the Clemson offense is how well its wide receivers have adjusted to the NFL game—whether that's Hopkins, Watkins or Martavis Bryant. Williams should become a go-to No. 1 wide receiver as a rookie.
One thing to know: In 120 targets, Pro Football Focus counted just six dropped passes from Williams over the last three seasons.
Evan Engram, Tight End, Ole Miss
He reminds me of: Fast, agile and explosive as a route-runner or with the ball in his hands, Evan Engram is a Jordan Reed clone.
Engram isn't a great in-line blocker at 235 pounds, but he uses his 6'3" frame well to find angles and openings in the passing game. He's also very capable with the ball in his hands and can tear apart a defense with yards after the catch. In an offense that will utilize a slot tight end, Engram could be a dangerous asset.
Where he stacks up: Engram currently sits third on my tight end board—behind O.J. Howard and Jake Butt. That's mostly based on his specialized skill set. The other two tight ends play in power-run schemes that require run-blocking skills, while Engram would be best in the slot or maybe flexing into the backfield and attacking run defenders as an H-back or fullback.
Impact meter: Plug Engram into an offense that values a pass-catching tight end, and watch him work. If a team drafts him and doesn't understand what it's getting, though, it could be a setback for his career.
Engram needs to work off the line of scrimmage or at least not in tight next to the offensive tackle. He's at his best beating linebackers in mismatches or bodying up cornerbacks and safeties on crossing routes where his frame can win battles. In the right offense, Engram could be the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the 2017 draft class.
One thing to know: Engram is Ole Miss' all-time leader in tight end catches and receiving yards.
Sidney Jones, Cornerback, Washington
He reminds me of: Silky smooth in his backpedal and through transitions, Sidney Jones has the length (6'1"), speed and agility to line up on the outside of an NFL defense right now.
Comparing him to former Washington cornerbacks Marcus Peters or Desmond Trufant wouldn't be fair—both are thicker, more physical bodies—but the same playmaker mentality is there. For an NFL comparison, I see Kevin Johnson in how well Jones moves his lower body and what he can do with his length. Both are also long, lean cornerbacks who thrive on footwork and technique.
Where he stacks up: Jones is ranked right now at No. 7 among cornerbacks, but that's a fluid group, and no one player has emerged as the true leader. Jones has the playmaking skills and NFL-ready footwork to jump into the conversation as a top cornerback and Round 1 player.
Impact meter: Cornerback has become one of the toughest positions to adjust to going from college to the NFL. The playbook isn't that different, but the offenses they see and the speed of the competition are big differences. In college, most cornerbacks are now seeing go routes or spread concepts that keep the ball in front of them. But once in the NFL, the game changes to complex route combinations against bigger, faster, smarter receivers.
Jones has the goods to be a rookie starter if he can add weight after being listed at 170 pounds this summer.
One thing to know: Jones started 12 games as a true freshman at Washington and has seven career interceptions.
Corey Davis, Wide Receiver, Western Michigan
He reminds me of: Corey Davis is the top-ranked "small school" player in the 2017 draft class, but don't let the level of competition at Western Michigan fool you. Davis is a smooth route-runner with top-tier hands and great ability to create separation in his route tree.
Davis isn't a big receiver (6'2", 205 lbs), but he has legitimate high 4.4 speed and tracks the ball very well on underneath routes. For an NFL comparison, the total package that he brings to the table gives me flashbacks to watching a young Michael Crabtree in San Francisco. The route running, speed and hand strength are all there.
Where he stacks up: Davis is on the board as a top-10 wide receiver and Round 2 projected pick right now, with room to move up. Sitting at No. 7 overall on my big board, Davis is behind many big-play wide receivers, but he will have a great chance to improve his stock if he accepts a Senior Bowl invite and is able to show up well against top-tier competition.
Impact meter: Because of Davis' size, speed, hands and developed route tree, he figures to step right into an NFL offense and make an impact. A coordinator can line him up in the slot or outside the hashes on either side of the formation. I envision an early impact for Davis, even if he's lining up as the third receiver early in his career.
One thing to know: Davis will finish the 2016 season as the MAC's all-time leader in receiving yards.
Dan Feeney, Guard, Indiana
He reminds me of: Athletic, strong and with a stout frame, it's easy to look at Dan Feeney and see another Joel Bitonio—minus the experience at tackle in college.
Feeney has worked to become a better run-blocker during his three seasons at Indiana, and the 6'4", 310-pounder's determination has paid off. He's now a balanced, capable blocker regardless of the down and distance and is equally adept at creating a pocket and shutting down 3-techniques as he is pulling and getting to the second level to open rushing lanes.
Where he stacks up: Feeney ranks as the top "true" guard on the big board, with Ohio State's Pat Elflein making the move to center this season. He currently carries a Round 2 grade. While he's not on par with former top guards David DeCastro and Brandon Scherff, he's one of the more impressive pass protectors of the last five drafts.
Impact meter: There is no reason Feeney can't immediately step into a starting lineup and have success as a rookie. The tools are all there for him to be an instant starter with a projection as a Pro Bowler within his first contract.
One thing to know: According to Pro Football Focus, Feeney has surrendered just one sack in college—coming in 2014 against Rutgers.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Linebacker, Tennessee
He reminds me of: Fast and attacking, Jalen Reeves-Maybin turns heads with his play every week at linebacker in the Tennessee 4-3 defense. And now that he's up to 230 pounds, per my conversation with him, Reeves-Maybin fits the mold of a weak-side linebacker perfectly for the NFL.
When viewing his tape and projecting him forward, you see some Telvin Smith. Reeves-Maybin is built to excel in coverage but also has the tools to cut down running backs or even chase quarterbacks as a blitzer. And as more teams move to base nickel defenses, Reeves-Maybin has tremendous value as a "money 'backer" lining up all over the field.
Where he stacks up: With a Round 2 grade and a top-four linebacker ranking, Reeves-Maybin has a chance to scoot into the first round of the 2017 draft based on need and the importance of his position. Much like Shaq Thompson in the 2015 draft, Reeves-Maybin's stock could rise thanks to the lack of coverage linebackers available in the college ranks.
Impact meter: Given his positional versatility as an inside, outside or money linebacker, Reeves-Maybin has instant starter written all over his game. He's capable of taking away tight ends and shooting A-gaps to get into the backfield, and he has enough range to control the middle of the field in nickel and dime defenses that stress linebackers, given the need for speed and instincts.
One thing to know: Reeves-Maybin had over 100 tackles in both 2014 and 2015, and he added six sacks as a junior last season.
Demetrious Cox, Cornerback, Michigan State
He reminds me of: If versatility is the new name of the game in the secondary, NFL scouts will love Michigan State's Demetrious Cox.
At 6'1" and 197 pounds, he's built like an outside cornerback or free safety but has the hips and feet to play slot cornerback and take away speedier receivers. Cox is a bit handsy—most Michigan State cornerbacks are—but he could continue the trend of first-rounders coming out of Mark Dantonio's secondary. Add that up, and Cox reminds me of Dre Kirkpatrick of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Where he stacks up: Cox isn't a well-known defender outside the Big Ten right now, but give it time. He's well-coached, has excellent size and speed and is starting to make the kinds of plays in coverage that will get NFL scouts excited. Currently sitting at No. 11 on my cornerback board, Cox's value can shoot up by draft weekend now that he's the man in the Spartans secondary.
Impact meter: With so many defenses now playing three and four cornerbacks a high percentage of the time, Cox has the tools that teams will want. He's able to shut down playing inside or outside the hashes and even has the range to step back and play safety. And because he's coming from Michigan State, you can bet he'll be a nightmare on special teams if he's needed.
One thing to know: A first-time captain, Cox had a breakout performance with three interceptions in 2015 while playing left cornerback and safety.