Here come the underclassmen.
The past week brought a whirlwind of redshirt sophomores and juniors declaring for the draft. Notable players like top-ranked Myles Garrett and Leonard Fournette all announced their intentions this week. And we're not done yet, with top underclassmen Josh Allen (QB, Wyoming) and Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina) still waiting to make their decisions as of Thursday evening.
It's been a busy week in the world of the NFL draft, with so many underclassmen declaring, bowl games ending and NFL teams making changes at head coach and general manager. This column is here to get you caught up on all that and:
- The hottest names on the GM market
- Arizona's plans for the franchise tag
- An updated two-round mock draft
- Lance Zierlein from NFL Network drops by
- ...and could a Shanahan return to Denver?
The Scout's Report
—What went wrong in San Francisco? One rival general manager I spoke to this week said fired GM Trent Baalke "got too conservative" and was afraid to think outside the box. "Find me a pick on offense of his that worked for them. Even [Carlos] Hyde looks average right now."
—I polled a handful of general managers and owners this week to ask who the hottest name on the GM market was. Three replied with Kansas City Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard. "Ballard is the best scout available. And his background in coaching allows him to really relate to the entire team—players and coaches."
—No insider information here, but a possibility: Kyle Shanahan makes plenty of sense for the Denver Broncos. His father, Mike, also coached Denver general manager John Elway to two Super Bowls. With Elway having built a winner but unable to find a long-term head coach, it isn't a stretch to think he could go young with the Atlanta offensive coordinator as his hand-picked replacement for retired Gary Kubiak. Elway is also around to help the first-time head coach transition into the new role.
—One more layer to this: Shanahan could keep defensive coordinator Wade Phillips on staff. Phillips' experience would be a huge boost to the young coach.
—Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, in his end-of-year press conference, said the team would use the franchise tag on pass-rusher Chandler Jones if they're not able to lock him up long-term before then. That's huge news for a team with another top-tier pending free agent in Tony Jefferson. If Jefferson hits the market, his price tag could start in the $7 million range. Not bad for a former undrafted free agent.
—What do fellow scouts think of the Philadelphia Eagles handing the draft board to scout Joe Douglas? "Best move they've made since firing Chip. Joe can scout the hell out of some players" is what an NFC area scout told me about the move.
—"You know [Dalvin Cook] has a shoulder that's gonna be an issue?" That's what an NFC East scout sent me after I texted him my updated Top 10 rankings. Cook sits at No. 8 overall. That ranking won't change assuming his shoulders do check out, but the star running back had one shoulder surgery last spring. This is a situation worth watching.
—Scouting, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Take a look at these texts from competing scouts about Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen:
- "Tell him to go back to school. He has no business entering the draft yet."
- "Best traits in the QB group. That'll get you drafted high in this league. Can't see him slipping out of Round 1."
—Now imagine being Allen and having to make a decision based on information like this. I'm told by teammates close to the Wyoming quarterback that he's truly on the fence regarding his 2017 decision.
—I am a Jaylon Smith fan and have been rooting hard for his comeback for a full year now. This news, shared by ESPN.com's Todd Archer, is great:
Talked to Jaylon Smith. Believes he could've played by now, being patient. Nerve regenerating. Brace not a factor anymore. Ran 4.5 other day— Todd Archer (@toddarcher) January 5, 2017
5 Names to Know
5. DL Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama
The Alabama defense is loaded with NFL draft prospects, which means it can be easy to overlook a standout player because of the talent around him. Dalvin Tomlinson has been overlooked for far too long.
Turn on a 'Bama game and No. 54 is in there making plays on a consistent basis. He's athletic, flashes good get-off speed and has the relentless motor coaches love. So why isn't he getting talked up? I can't find a reason. Tomlinson is this week's biggest mover up my board and carries a solid Day 2 grade.
4. S Budda Baker, Washington
Jabrill Peppers gets the Tyrann Mathieu hype, but Budda Baker is the guy who plays like the Honey Badger.
A rangy, fast, smart free safety in a Washington secondary that looks a whole lot like the one up the road in Seattle, Baker is able to play over the top of the defense and force quarterbacks into mistakes. He has coverage range all over the field but is also strong enough to come down and make plays on the run. And despite a smaller frame (5'10", 195 lbs), Baker is a Top 40 candidate.
3. DL Nazair Jones, North Carolina
An underclassman entry, Nazair Jones impressed with first-step quickness and power in my first extended look at his film.
Jones, who is a fit as a 3-technique in a 4-3 scheme or as a defensive end (5-technique) in a 3-4, has the length and power to shut down the run game from inside the tackle or head-up on the end of the line. In a weak defensive tackle class, Jones has the traits to make a move up the board with a good predraft process.
2. S Eddie Jackson, Alabama
A former cornerback who moved to free safety, Eddie Jackson had six interceptions in 2015. He was on pace for another great season before breaking his leg against Texas A&M in October.
That injury may ultimately push Jackson down the board some, but a broken bone (without nerve or ligament damage) is a cleaner fix than a torn ACL or MCL. Because of that, Jackson has a chance to be running again by the NFL Scouting Combine the first week of March.
A potential Top 50 player, Jackson has excellent range and coverage skills as a free safety.
1. TE David Njoku, Miami (Fla.)
One of the most athletic prospects in this draft class, redshirt sophomore David Njoku is an instant-add as a Day 2 player now that he's officially in the draft class.
Njoku exploded in the Mark Richt offense for the Hurricanes this season, but it's his athleticism and potential that make him such an intriguing draft prospect. Njoku is a natural route-runner and easy mover at 6'4" and 250 pounds. With a well-developed route tree, he looks like the kind of tight end that can step in and make an immediate impact in the passing game.
3 Questions with: Lance Zierlein
Each week, I'll pose three questions to an NFL draft prospect, current player, agent or current scout. This week, I spoke with NFL Network's draft analyst Lance Zierlein.
Bleacher Report: You've worn a number of hats in the draft business, but now you're at NFL Network. What all are you doing there, and how is that different from your days of doing radio and writing?
Zierlein: I handle all of the draft profiles that show up on the draft tracker for NFL.com, I put together the "team needs" portion of our website, and I am responsible for a majority of the content on the "Sources Tell Us" articles each week. I'll appear on our mock draft show on a weekly basis once we hit March, and I'm usually involved in the draft broadcast on the NFL Now mobile platform. I'm actually still doing my Houston sports talk show on a daily basis from 6-9 a.m., so needless to say, I stay busy.
B/R: A lot of people reading this want a job like yours. What advice do you have for folks who want a job as a "media scout?"
Zierlein: First and foremost, you have to be willing to put the time in, and you really have to love what you're doing. This can't be about finding a career at the beginning. It has to be about a passion for evaluating and trying to solve the puzzle. I think there are two important things that all media scouts should learn. Learning leaguewide drafting philosophies and how they continue to change is essential.
Why did guys like A'Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed fall into the second round? They fell because they aren't pass-rushers. If you can't get to the quarterback, you usually aren't going to go in the first if you are a defensive tackle. Cornerbacks generally need to be a certain height, weight and speed to go in the first. There are exceptions, but that is generally true. Things like that are important to know for draft-slotting purposes. Secondly, go watch a lot of NFL football and start to get a feel for what starters look like at each position. Unless you know what bad, average and good starters look like, you won't know what you are projecting to.
B/R: I know you write a ton of scouting reports. Do you have an early favorite in this year's class?
Zierlein: My highest-rated prospect will be Myles Garrett based on past production and future projection due to his explosive traits as a rusher. His season was a little blah this year, but he was injured at one point, and many scouts thought he was just playing not to get hurt. I'm not holding it against him. As for my early favorite players I studied in general, I really like guys like Forrest Lamp, Gerald Everett, David Njoku, Haason Reddick, Caleb Brantley and Taco Charlton.
The Big Board
This week was supposed to be an updated Top 50 Big Board, but then 10 top-tier players declared for the draft. That shakes up the seven-rounder that was posted earlier this week and means it's time to do an updated two-round mock.
|Updated 2-Round Mock Draft|
|1||1||Cleveland||DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco||QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina|
|3||Chicago||QB Josh Allen, Wyoming|
|4||Jacksonville||DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama|
|5||Tennessee (f/LA)||WR Mike Williams, Clemson|
|6||New York Jets||S Jamal Adams, LSU|
|7||San Diego||S Malik Hooker, Ohio State|
|8||Carolina||RB Leonard Fournette, LSU|
|9||Cincinnati||LB Reuben Foster, Alabama|
|10||Buffalo||QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame|
|11||New Orleans||DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee|
|12||Cleveland (f/PHI)||QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|13||Arizona||CB Quincy Wilson, Florida|
|14||Philadelphia (f/MIN)||RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State|
|15||Indianapolis||EDGE Tim Williams, Alabama|
|16||Baltimore||WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan|
|17||Washington||DL Solomon Thomas, Stanford|
|18||Tennessee||CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State|
|19||Tampa Bay||S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan|
|20||Denver||T Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin|
|21||Detroit||DE Taco Charlton, Michigan|
|22||Miami||DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA|
|23||New York Giants||T Cam Robinson, Alabama|
|24||Oakland||LB Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt|
|25||Seattle||CB Jalen Tabor, Florida|
|26||Houston||TE O.J. Howard, Alabama|
|27||Green Bay||WR John Ross, Washington|
|28||Pittsburgh||EDGE Ryan Anderson, Alabama|
|29||Atlanta||DL Montravius Adams, Auburn|
|30||Kansas City||CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State|
|31||New England||EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College|
|32||Dallas||DE Charles Harris, Missouri|
|2||33||Cleveland||CB Sidney Jones, Washington|
|34||San Francisco||LB Jarrad Davis, Florida|
|35||Chicago||S Budda Baker, Washington|
|36||Jacksonville||G Dan Feeney, Indiana|
|37||Los Angeles||T Garett Bolles, Utah|
|38||New York Jets||RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford|
|39||San Diego||QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech|
|40||Carolina||S Justin Evans, Texas A&M|
|41||Cincinnati||DL Caleb Brantley, Florida|
|42||Buffalo||EDGE Joe Mathis, Washington|
|43||New Orleans||QB Brad Kaaya, Miami (Fla.)|
|44||Philadelphia||CB Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson|
|45||Arizona||LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State|
|46||Minnesota||G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky|
|47||Indianapolis||RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas|
|48||Baltimore||LB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin|
|49||Washington||S Desmond King, Iowa|
|50||Cleveland (f/TEN)||TE David Njoku, Miami (Fla.)|
|51||Tampa Bay||CB Tre'Davious White, LSU|
|52||Denver||TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech|
|53||Detroit||T Dion Dawkins, Temple|
|54||Miami||S Marcus Williams, Utah|
|55||New York Giants||DE Carl Lawson, Auburn|
|56||Oakland||CB Howard Wilson, Houston|
|57||Seattle||DE DeMarcus Walker, FSU|
|58||Houston||EDGE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois|
|59||Green Bay||RB Jamaal Williams, BYU|
|60||Pittsburgh||CB Jourdan Lewis, Michigan|
|61||Atlanta||S Eddie Jackson, Alabama|
|62||Kansas City||EDGE Garrett Sickels, Penn State|
|63||New England||DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State|
|64||Dallas||WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC|
10. Six NFL head coaching jobs are open, and one of those teams—the San Francisco 49ers—is also looking for a new general manager. This list could grow after the playoffs, but here's a look at each opening and the names being connected to each through interviews and interview requests, with the aid of NFL.com's coaching tracker.
Buffalo Bills HC: Anthony Lynn (interim HC), Harold Goodwin (Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator), Sean McDermott (Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator), Vance Joseph (Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator)
Denver Broncos HC: Kyle Shanahan (Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator), Dave Toub (Kansas City Chiefs special teams coordinator), Vance Joseph
Jacksonville Jaguars HC: Doug Marrone (interim HC), Josh McDaniels (New England Patriots offensive coordinator), Kyle Shanahan, Mike Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator), Anthony Lynn
Los Angeles Rams HC: Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay (Washington offensive coordinator), Harold Goodwin, Vance Joseph, Matt Patricia (New England Patriots defensive coordinator), Anthony Lynn
San Diego Chargers HC: Dave Toub, Teryl Austin (Detroit Lions defensive coordinator), Sean McDermott, Matt Patricia, Mike Smith
San Francisco 49ers HC: Josh McDaniels, Kyle Shanahan, Sean McVay, Vance Joseph, Sean McDermott, Anthony Lynn, Tom Cable (Seattle Seahawks offensive line coach)
San Francisco 49ers GM: Eliot Wolf (Green Bay Packers), George Paton (Minnesota Vikings), Jimmy Raye III (Indianapolis Colts), Trent Kirchner (Seattle Seahawks), Scott Fitterer (Seattle Seahawks), Louis Riddick (ESPN), Nick Caserio (New England Patriots), Brandon Beane (Carolina Panthers)
9. This week I'd like to try something new with so many underclassmen quarterbacks declaring. I'm calling these "140-Character Scouting Reports." Real original, right? But the idea here is to show the kind of notes I take when watching a quarterback. These are the starting points for what eventually becomes a 500-word scouting report.
Up first, North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky: 1 year starter with needed arm and mobility. Sets up well on the run. High % passer who pushes the ball down the field well. Future starter.
8. 140 Characters on Josh Allen of Wyoming: 1yr starter with big arm. Has legs to get outside pocket. Athletic. Gunslinger. Turnovers an issue. Tools are best in class. Future starter.
7. 140 Characters on DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame: 2yr starter with size/arm/athleticism. Regressed in '16. Poor coaching. Ball placement can wow you. Spotty decision-making. Future starter.
6. 140 Characters on Clemson's Deshaun Watson: 3yr starter. Accuracy is rhythm-based. INTs increased this year. Smaller frame. Can take over games. Leader. Can win as passer/runner. Future starter.
5. 140 Characters on Miami's Brad Kaaya: 3yr starter. Pocket passer. Good arm. Feet suffer when pressured. Very high football IQ. Strong leader. Will win interviews. Future starter.
4. 140 Characters on Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes: Biggest arm. Footwork/motion need work. 6'2". Can make every throw on the move. Shotgun only. Great genes. Ceiling may be highest in class.
3. Another round of players accepted invitations from the Senior Bowl this week. Here's a look at the updated rosters—which are, of course, subject to change:
|Updated Senior Bowl Rosters|
|QB C.J. Beathard, Iowa||QB Josh Dobbs, Tennessee||QB Chad Kelly, Ole Miss||QB Sefo Liufau, Colorado||QB Nathan Peterman, Pitt|
|QB Antonio Pipkin, Tiffin||QB Seth Russell, Baylor||QB Davis Webb, Cal||RB Corey Clement, Wisconsin||RB Matt Dayes, NC State|
|RB Kareem Hunt, Toledo||RB Donnel Pumphrey, SDSU||RB Jamaal Williams, BYU||FB Sam Rogers, Virginia Tech||FB Freddie Stevenson, FSU|
|WR Amara Darboh, Michigan||WR Travin Dural, LSU||WR Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse||WR Zay Jones, East Carolina||WR Cooper Kupp, Eastern Wash.|
|WR Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M||WR Fred Ross, Miss. State||WR Jamari Staples, Louisville||WR Ryan Switzer, North Carolina||WR Trent Taylor, La. Tech|
|WR Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky||WR Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma||TE Evan Engram, Ole Miss||TE Gerald Everett, South Alabama||TE Cole Hikutini, Louisville|
|TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas||T Zach Banner, USC||T Adam Bisnowaty, Pitt||T Julien Davenport, Bucknell||T Dion Dawkins, Temple|
|T Antonio Garcia, Troy||T Conor McDermott, UCLA||G Jessamen Dunker, Tenn. State||G Dan Feeney, Indiana||G Danny Isidora, Miami|
|G Dorian Johnson, Pitt||G Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky||G Jordan Morgan, Kutztown||G Taylor Moton, Western Michigan||G Nick Siragusa, SDSU|
|C Isaac Asiata, Utah||C Kyle Fuller, Baylor||C Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia||C Ethan Pocic, LSU||C Jon Toth, Kentucky|
|DE Tarell Basham, Ohio||DE Keionta Davis, Chattanooga||DE Daeshon Hall, Texas A&M||DE Tanoh Kpassagnon, Villanova||DE Carroll Phillips, Illinois|
|DE Dawuane Smoot, Illinois||DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State||DT Montravius Adams, Auburn||DT Ryan Glasgow, Michigan||DT Jaleel Johnson, Iowa|
|DT Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte||DT Tanzel Smart, Tulane||DT Dalvin Tomlinson, Alabama||ILB Duke Riley, LSU||OLB Ryan Anderson, Alabama|
|OLB Vince Biegel, Wisconsin||OLB Jarrad Davis, Florida||OLB Takkarist McKinley, UCLA||OLB Haason Reddick, Temple||CB Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado|
|CB Rasul Douglas, West Virginia||CB Corn Elder, Miami||CB Damontae Kazee, SDSU||CB Desmond King, Iowa||CB Brendan Langley, Lamar|
|CB Ezra Robinson, Tennessee St.||CB Cameron Sutton, Tennessee||CB Marquez White, FSU||S Justin Evans, Texas A&M||S Johnathan Ford, Auburn|
|S Nate Gerry, Nebraska||S Josh Harvey-Clemons, Louisville||S Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami||S John Johnson, Boston College||S Marcus Maye, Florida|
|S Obi Melifonwu, UConn||P Toby Baker, Arkansas||P Justin Vogel, Miami||K Jake Elliott, Memphis||K Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State|
2. The January 16 deadline for players to declare for the 2017 NFL draft seems far away, but some are already announcing their intentions. The following players have confirmed they'll enter the draft:
- QB Jerod Evans, Virginia Tech
- QB Brad Kaaya, Miami (Fla.)
- QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame
- QB Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
- QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson
- RB James Conner, Pitt
- RB Dalvin Cook, Florida State
- RB D'Onta Foreman, Texas
- RB Leonard Fournette, LSU
- RB Wayne Gallman, Clemson
- RB Brian Hill, Wyoming
- RB Aaron Jones, UTEP
- RB Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
- RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
- RB Jeremy McNichols, Boise State
- RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma
- RB Stanley Williams, Kentucky
- RB Joe Yearby, Miami (Fla.)
- WR KD Cannon, Baylor
- WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
- WR Derrick Griffin, Texas Southern
- WR Chad Hansen, California
- WR Carlos Henderson, La. Tech
- WR Jerome Lane, Akron
- WR Josh Malone, Tennessee
- WR Isaiah McKenzie, Georgia
- WR Speedy Noil, Texas A&M
- WR John Ross, Washington
- WR Artavis Scott, Clemson
- WR Damore'ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss
- WR Mike Williams, Clemson
- TE Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech
- TE David Njoku, Miami (Fla.)
- TE Adam Shaheen, Ashland
- OT Garett Bolles, Utah
- DL Davon Godchaux, LSU
- DL Nazair Jones, North Carolina
- DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State
- DL Elijah Qualls, Washington
- DL Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State
- DL Solomon Thomas, Stanford
- DL Eddie Vanderdoes, UCLA
- DL Charles Walker, Oklahoma
- EDGE Derek Barnett, Tennessee
- EDGE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
- EDGE Charles Harris, Missouri
- EDGE Carl Lawson, Auburn
- EDGE Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami (Fla.)
- EDGE Garrett Sickels, Penn State
- LB Alex Anzalone, Florida
- LB Jermaine Grace, Miami (Fla.)
- LB Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
- LB Anthony Walker, Northwestern
- LB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin
- CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
- CB Sidney Jones, Washington
- CB Teez Tabor, Florida
- CB Howard Wilson, Houston
- CB Quincy Wilson, Florida
- S Budda Baker, Washington
- S Malik Hooker, Ohio State
- S Montae Nicholson, Michigan State
- S Marcus Williams, Utah
1. Every year draft analysts say things like "wait until next year" and fans get irritated because "next year" never seems as good as promised. At the risk of making you all hate me—wait until next year.
The 2017 draft class is good, but in the areas it is weak, the 2018 class looks strong. Quarterbacks Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen are already getting NFL scouts excited. Offensive tackle Connor Williams (Texas) looks like a young Joe Thomas.
Of course, these opinions are based on first looks and not extensive scouting, so the information on these players (and all 2018 players) could change, but looking ahead to next season, I'm already excited about the talent on the field.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.