HOUSTON — As Super Bowl week unfolds around us, the NFL draft is lurking in the background. There will be plenty of big stories in this class—Leonard Fournette's dominance, the potential of Myles Garrett and the lack of a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback will be headlines. But perhaps the biggest story should be the three first-round talents at defensive back coming out of Ohio State.
Just one year after sending Eli Apple, Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell to the NFL draft, the Buckeyes are loaded again with cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley alongside safety Malik Hooker. Urban Meyer and his staff reload as well as anyone in the nation, and the fact that this group of underclassmen can go from second-line players in 2015 to first-rounders in 2016 is a testament to a school that's quickly moving up the ranks as a defensive back factory.
What else is happening this week?
- Updated top 50 big board
- A shifting offseason focus for the Arizona Cardinals
- The shock of John Lynch in San Francisco
- An Alabama star with off-field questions
- Five players moving up the board
The Scout's Report
—On Wednesday, I broke the news that Ohio State safety Malik Hooker had undergone surgery to repair a torn labrum and a hernia and would miss the NFL Scouting Combine. The expected recovery timetable is four to six months, per Hooker's agent. How does this affect his draft stock? Much like Corey Coleman the year before, hernia surgery won't hurt him unless there is a complication with the rehab. Hooker still projects as a top-10 pick.
—When the San Francisco 49ers announced the hiring of John Lynch as general manager on Sunday night, my phone blew up with texts from sources across the league who were shocked at the hire. I collected a few of those texts in this thread (contains profanity). By Wednesday, after the hiring of Adam Peters as vice president of player personnel was announced, cooler heads had prevailed. Said one scout, "Hiring Peters shows Lynch knows his limitations. That's a huge first step." Good news for 49ers fans who may not have been excited initially.
—Where will Jay Cutler end up in 2017? One director of player personnel told me Cutler is "the forgotten man in all of this" and expects he'll get a starting gig next season, maybe even in San Francisco.
—The 2017 quarterback class lacks a consensus No. 1 player, but more and more of the rankings I get back from teams show a confusion about the top five. For example, coming out of the Senior Bowl, I talked to one director of college scouting who had Pitt's Nathan Peterman over Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer—both as Round 2 players.
—Clemson wide receiver Artavis Scott made plenty of big plays in college, but one scout I spoke with after the Senior Bowl felt he was a late-rounder who "lacks the speed to separate in the NFL."
—Jim Trotter of ESPN broke the news that Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald will return for the 2017 season. A source with the Cardinals' scouting staff told me that drafting a receiver in the first round is still in play due to the loss of Michael Floyd.
—ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis will not work out at the scouting combine due to a minor ankle surgery. Davis still projects as a Round 1 talent and potentially a top-10 pick.
5 Names to Know
5. DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State
On the hoof, Malik McDowell looks like a top-15 pick as a defensive end or defensive lineman. The issue is that McDowell will completely shut down his motor for entire stretches. During the 2016 season, he missed time with an ankle injury, but even before that setback, he wasn't dominating at the rate expected from a top-tier player.
The best fit for McDowell, per a scout I spoke with, is as a left defensive end in a 4-3 scheme where his length is used but his lack of bulk won't be an issue in the run game.
4. WR John Ross, Washington
The fastest receiver in the 2017 draft class just might be John Ross. The Washington junior is a blazer on the field and has the extra gear to run past defenders on vertical routes or tear them up with shaky moves when he has the ball in his hands.
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"A lot of people want to compare him to DeSean [Jackson], but he's so much stronger" is how one scout described Ross to me this week. Florida State's Kermit Whitfield may run a faster 40-yard dash in Indianapolis at the scouting combine, but Ross' field speed and open-field moves are the best in the class.
3. DL Jarron Jones, Notre Dame
If you saw Jarron Jones' final game against USC, you saw Jones crushing the Trojans' offensive line like Lionel Richie—all night long. Jones helped himself with a strong finish to the 2016 season, and scouts took notice.
"He's an ideal 5-tech for us. He's a poor man's Chris Jones" is what I heard back from a scout when I asked about Jarron Jones this week. Chris Jones went early in Round 2 to the Kansas City Chiefs last year, and he made an instant impact as a defensive end in the 3-4 scheme. Jarron Jones could hear his name called starting in the middle of Round 2 but is likely a Round 3 player.
2. WR Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
"One-trick pony, but that one trick is pretty good." That's how an SEC scout described Josh Reynolds to me at the Senior Bowl. That one trick? A vertical route with the body adjustment to match.
Reynolds is a good deep threat, but his small hands (8 ⅞") and skinny build make him unlikely to beat press coverage in the NFL unless he can learn to beat it with agility at the line of scrimmage. So far, he hasn't shown that type of twitch in his game, but the former JUCO transfer is still a raw project as a route-runner and technician.
1. CB Kevin King, Washington
An area scout on Kevin King: "He's tall with the stiff hips you'd expect from a 6'3" guy, but he doesn't want to tackle. He'll get overdrafted on length."
King is impressive on film with how well he uses his height and long arms, but outside of a press scheme, he doesn't offer much value. Seattle makes the most sense for his talents—or maybe Atlanta or the Los Angeles Chargers with disciples of that press-zone scheme—but when your skill set is only a fit for so many teams, your overall draft stock tends to fall on a media big board that reflects fits and values for all 32 clubs.
With some experience at safety, it wouldn't be a bad move to try King as an over-the-top free safety.
The Big Board
Monday morning after the Super Bowl, I'll release a seven-round mock draft, but until then, here's a new top 50 big board to hold you over.
|Updated Top 50|
|1||Myles Garrett||EDGE||Texas A&M|
|5||Malik Hooker||S||Ohio State|
|11||Corey Davis||WR||Western Michigan|
|12||Marshon Lattimore||CB||Ohio State|
|13||Dalvin Cook||RB||Florida State|
|15||David Njoku||TE||Miami (Fla.)|
|16||Mitch Trubisky||QB||North Carolina|
|17||DeShone Kizer||QB||Notre Dame|
|18||Gareon Conley||CB||Ohio State|
|39||Justin Evans||S||Texas A&M|
|42||Cooper Kupp||WR||Eastern Washington|
|45||Forrest Lamp||G||Western Kentucky|
|50||Patrick Mahomes||QB||Texas Tech|
10. Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com reported Thursday that the Chicago Bears will "make a strong run" at New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. This makes sense for a few reasons.
General manager Ryan Pace played football at Eastern Illinois—Garoppolo's alma mater. He's also already been a trading partner with Bill Belichick for Martellus Bennett. But perhaps most importantly from a New England standpoint, trading Garoppolo to the NFC North means it's not facing its former quarterback as often.
If the asking price is a first-rounder, the Bears cannot consider trading the No. 3 overall pick for an unknown quarterback, but sending a high second-rounder and a third-rounder next year might get it done.
9. I'd like to take a minute to clear up something I said on radio row this week and didn't get an opportunity to explain in the quick-hit nature of talk radio. When asked about Deshaun Watson, I said that no team I've talked to has a Round 1 grade on him. That doesn't mean he won't go in the first round, of course.
Most NFL teams don't have 32 Round 1 grades. In fact, most will probably have in the 12-15 range this year. We all know 32 players will be drafted in the first round, though. So while it's accurate to say no teams I've spoken with have Watson at a Round 1 grade, that doesn't mean he's a lock to be picked in the second round.
8. Being in Houston for the week, I can't say enough good things about the weather, the people, the food and the beer.
At a Gatorade event last night, there were 150 beers on tap, great food, pinball machines and a live band at The Hay Merchant. I'll also take sunny and mid-70s weather all day, every day.
Of the Super Bowl cities I've been to now (New Orleans, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco and Houston), I have to give credit to H-Town for a sweet setup and some restaurants and bars that are on par with any I've been to in the country.
7. Back by popular demand, five more "Scouting in 140" players this week. Up first, Myles Garrett.
6. Taco Charlton:
5. Marlon Humphrey:
4. Ryan Ramczyk:
3. Joe Mixon:
2. I often get asked how I can rank Mitch Trubisky so high when he couldn't beat out Marquise Williams for the starting quarterback job at North Carolina. Why does no one ask why Malik Hooker is so good if he couldn't unseat Tyvis Powell at safety at Ohio State?
The quarterback job at North Carolina may not have been open to Trubisky, just like the North Dakota State job wasn't open to Carson Wentz when the Bison sat him for his first two years of college.
It's lazy analysis to say Trubisky couldn't beat out Williams when none of us knows if there was even a competition.
1. Since everyone else makes a Super Bowl pick this week, I'll add mine: New England 31, Atlanta 27.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.