The NFL Scouting Combine begins next week, and while most of the football world is thinking about 40 times, bench-press reps and Wonderlic scores, NFL scouts are looking for quarterbacks.
For months now, this class has been panned as a bad one, but as the draft gets closer it seems like teams are falling for some of the passers in the group. Mitch Trubisky is a top-five lock. Davis Webb is rising up boards. Chad Kelly is a favorite sleeper. But the name getting talked about most is a former Tennessee Volunteer who landed at Pitt. A player few scouts talked about during the season, actually.
Nathan Peterman, or as one scout told me this week, "this draft's best chance at a Dak Prescott."
Peterman had a strong Senior Bowl week, and in my study of his film I've seen accuracy, poise, instincts and a good enough arm to make pro-level throws across the field. What the scout meant by "Dak-like," though, isn't that he'll lead a team to a playoff run as a rookie. More likely he means a franchise can grab a starter outside the first two rounds. And Peterman can be that if he slips to the third round.
As myself and every scout I know gets ready for Indianapolis, here's what's going on in the world of the draft:
- Updated Round 1 mock draft
- An interview with an anonymous NFL scout
- Reuben Foster a top-three player?
- Scouting in 140 characters
- And five names to know before the combine
The Scout's Report
—Reuben Foster won't perform at the combine due to shoulder surgery, but that hasn't hurt his stock with NFL franchises. One team scout I spoke with this week said they ranked Foster as the No. 3 player in the entire 2017 draft class. That could change if franchises find issues in his medical check in Indianapolis—Foster has had knee injuries in the past—but the film grade is very high on the Alabama linebacker.
—Speaking of Foster, here's something I learned while doing background research on the 'Bama stud. When he was 18 months old, his father shot him and his mother as she held him. His mom, Inita Paige, was wounded in the back. His father was arrested, bonded out and fled to California. There he was arrested and eventually sentenced to 30 years. But shortly after, his father escaped prison and was on the run for 16 years.
—Who is the top cornerback in the 2017 draft class? For me it's Quincy Wilson, but one NFC scout I spoke with this week said they ranked Alabama's Marlon Humphrey as the top cover man. When reached for a comment, an AFC personnel man told me Ohio State's Gareon Conley was their top corner. Needless to say, there isn't yet a consensus top cornerback in this class.
—LSU safety Jamal Adams, my No. 5 overall player in this class, told me Thursday he plans to compete in every drill at the combine. Adams isn't hiding from scouts and has a chance to walk away as a big winner of the entire event.
—Also expected to do every drill (other than the bench press, per Pro Football Talk) at the combine is Trubisky. I love this decision to go out and compete, and it continues a trend of players represented by Rep 1 of going to Indianapolis with the mindset to win the week.
—Much was made during Senior Bowl week when NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said on a telecast that Trubisky was "a little over 6'1"." That's below the 6'2" threshold NFL teams have established for the position and could be harmful to his draft stock.
Trubisky's college coach, Larry Fedora, isn't buying it. In an interview with Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Fedora said "he's going to measure probably 6'2" or a little taller." That matches with what scouts told me this week, as they expect he'll be close to 6'2 ½".
—Bleacher Report's Jason Cole reported this week that Washington may be interested in Tony Romo if the team trades quarterback Kirk Cousins instead of signing him long term or using the franchise tag again for the 2017 season. A move to Washington makes sense for Romo, but only if he is released, as there isn't a snowball's chance in hell the Cowboys would trade him inside the division.
—Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon isn't welcome at the combine but will be welcomed with open arms at the Sooners' pro day March 8, according to the school. Mixon, who was arrested in 2014 for punching a woman in the face, was able to take an Alford plea in the court system and was suspended (while redshirting) for the 2014 OU season. Without the off-field issues, he's a first-round talent. Given that video of the punch was released recently, Mixon's draft stock is all over the map.
—I've been trying to keep a running list of top players not performing at the combine, based on talks with agents, players and NFL teams. Here's the total I've been able to verify:
- WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan (ankle)
- LB Reuben Foster, Alabama (shoulder)
- LB Jarrad Davis, Florida (ankle)
- LB Kendell Beckwith, LSU (knee)
- S Malik Hooker, Ohio State (hip labrum, hernia)
- OT Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin (hip labrum)
5 Names to Know
5. RB T.J. Logan, North Carolina
While watching Trubisky a few weeks ago, I let my eyes drift and started to take more notice of the talent around the quarterback. Elijah Hood and Ryan Switzer were well-known players with almost full scouting reports done, but the "other" running back and wide receiver also caught my eye. T.J. Logan was that "other" back, and for my money, he's better than Hood as a pro prospect.
Logan is an exciting, versatile runner with more speed and better third-down ability than the more hyped Hood. He's able to change up speeds, has good vision on the go and is a natural fit in a pro-style offense given his ability to create laterally and help in the passing game.
He's likely a fourth-rounder in this loaded running back class, but that's good enough to get onto a depth chart and contribute as a rookie.
4. WR Mack Hollins, North Carolina
The "other" receiver besides Switzer I was watching is Mack Hollins, and he looks like Martavis Bryant did coming out of Clemson.
Hollins is a burner with great size (6'4", 210 lbs) and body control on deep routes. He's an elite over-the-top receiver with 20 career touchdowns despite missing time due to a collarbone injury that took half of his senior season. For vertical passing teams, Hollins will be tempting given his athletic potential, deep-ball production and the fact that he's been held back by one freak injury and an offensive attack that didn't feature him as the No. 1 target in any of his seasons.
If you're looking for a deep sleeper at wide receiver, Hollins in the middle rounds is my guy.
3. CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State
A two-year starter for the Buckeyes, Conley has been lost in the shadow of Eli Apple (2015) and Marshon Lattimore (2016), but a source I spoke with at Ohio State said Conley graded out higher than both players for them. That's impressive company.
Conley doesn't have Apple's length or Lattimore's speed, but his ball skills and natural coverage instincts are special. And while Apple was a top-10 pick and Lattimore most likely will be, Conley looks like a mid-first in a talented class of cornerbacks.
The combine won't be huge for Conley's stock, but one scout I spoke with did wonder just how big he was. That might make the weigh-in Conley's biggest test, but I'm excited to see his hips and feet in open-field drills.
2. WR Jerome Lane, Akron
An NFC scout I was texting with recently told me to check out this hidden gem at Akron, saying he was a "young Anquan Boldin type." He wasn't wrong.
Lane, a linebacker-turned-receiver, is 6'3" and 220 pounds with a dominant playing style and mentality. He's physical, aggressive and agile enough to separate against MAC defenders. It will be interesting to see how well he moves in Indianapolis, but the film grade on Lane is high enough to warrant a harder, longer look once measurables are in.
You never want to overstate the importance of the combine, but for a small-school guy like Lane, he needs to show he has the speed and athleticism to compete in the NFL.
1. FS Eddie Jackson, Alabama
Eddie Jackson is forgotten man in the safety group after breaking his leg midway through the 2016 season. He is back running now and will quickly get back on the radar of media scouts if he can perform at 100 percent in Indy.
A natural playmaker, Jackson was the top-ranked defensive back on the Alabama defense when I scouted the 2015 tape. He was poised for another All-American season given his excellence as a punt returner and rangy free safety. That same skill set makes him a top-64 kind of player in this loaded class.
Jackson is a great player with the ball in his hands and has produced well on the back end of the Alabama defense. He needs to gain strength, but from a pure film standpoint, he belongs in Round 2.
The Big Board
Who wants one more mock draft before the madness of the combine? Here's my look at the first 32 picks.
|Updated Round 1 Mock Draft|
|1||Cleveland Browns||DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M|
|2||San Francisco 49ers||LB Reuben Foster, Alabama|
|3||Chicago Bears||QB Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina|
|4||Jacksonville Jaguars||RB Leonard Fournette, LSU|
|5||Tennessee (from Rams)||S Jamal Adams, LSU|
|6||New York Jets||CB Marshon Lattimore, Ohio State|
|7||Los Angeles Chargers||S Malik Hooker, Ohio State|
|8||Carolina Panthers||DE Solomon Thomas, Stanford|
|9||Cincinnati Bengals||DL Jonathan Allen, Alabama|
|10||Buffalo Bills||QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame|
|11||New Orleans Saints||DE Taco Charlton, Michigan|
|12||Cleveland (from Eagles)||QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson|
|13||Arizona Cardinals||WR Mike Williams, Clemson|
|14||Philadelphia (from Vikings)||WR Corey Davis, Western Michigan|
|15||Indianapolis Colts||CB Quincy Wilson, Florida|
|16||Baltimore Ravens||CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama|
|17||Washington||RB Christian McCaffrey, Stanford|
|18||Tennessee Titans||CB Teez Tabor, Florida|
|19||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||TE O.J. Howard, Alabama|
|20||Denver Broncos||OT Garett Bolles, Utah|
|21||Detroit Lions||TE David Njoku, Miami|
|22||Miami Dolphins||DE Charles Harris, Missouri|
|23||New York Giants||DE Derek Barnett, Tennessee|
|24||Oakland Raiders||LB Haason Reddick, Temple|
|25||Houston Texans||QB Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech|
|26||Seattle Seahawks||CB Gareon Conley, Ohio State|
|27||Kansas City Chiefs||RB Dalvin Cook, FSU|
|28||Dallas Cowboys||DE Takkarist McKinley, UCLA|
|29||Green Bay Packers||OL Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin|
|30||Pittsburgh Steelers||LB Jarrad Davis, Florida|
|31||Atlanta Falcons||DL Malik McDowell, Michigan State|
|32||New England Patriots||S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan|
3 Questions With...
After a few weeks off, "3 Questions With..." returns with an interview with an area scout for an unnamed team.
Bleacher Report: We've talked before about how great this class is on defense. If you had to pick one player from each group to be a Pro Bowler, who would they be?
Scout: So much depends on scheme fit, but if we're just talking based on talent?
DL: Solomon Thomas (Stanford). His first step is the best in the class.
EDGE: Myles Garrett (Texas A&M). I'm pretty sure he was made in a lab somewhere. Dude is unreal.
LB: Reuben Foster (Alabama). Kid has it all. Athletic, tough, smart. He's a true leader.
CB: Marshon Lattimore (Ohio State). When all else fails, ball skills win. Lattimore has that and a whole lot of speed.
S: Malik Hooker (Ohio State). I really like Jamal Adams, but box safeties aren't really Pro Bowlers. Hooker will get a ton of INTs.
B/R: Pretend you're free to give a Twitter hot take on this class. What's your line?
Scout: Dalvin Cook is drafted after Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey. Listen, this is the time of year when we're digging hard into the character of these guys. His past scares the s--t out of us. That, plus all the injuries and all the fumbles is just a lot to sign off on.
B/R: Who is the can't-miss prospect in this class?
Scout: Myles Garrett. I don't know if there's ever a real can't-miss player—other than [Andrew] Luck—but he's really close. You just don't see guys that big who are that fast and that strong and that fluid. He's also a great kid and is really wired to win. You won't have any issues with him like they did with [Jadeveon] Clowney's injuries or Von [Miller]'s drug use.
10. I actually can't remember meeting Matt Bowen (click that link and follow him on Twitter) for the first time—he says he was working for the Chicago Tribune when we met, and I think it was at the 2012 Senior Bowl the first time this intimidating former NFL safety asked me who I liked on the field. I'm pretty sure I stumbled over my words before talking about Notre Dame safety Harrison Smith.
Bowen joined B/R in 2013 after we'd been friends for some time, and it was during our two years working together that I learned more about football than at any other point in my life. Bowen's football knowledge, beer-drinking stories and love of baseball made us pretty natural friends.
We were also the only two Midwestern guys in the B/R office most of the time. I remember doing the dishes together on a Sunday morning in the New York office after the college football crew had left the kitchen dirty and realizing we were cut from the same cloth.
Another good friend, Emily Kaplan of MMQB, wrote a great profile on Matt this week. I know Bowen as a lover of Bud heavies, the Cubs and his kids, but he's perhaps best known as the guy picked right before Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL draft.
Kaplan's story talks about Bowen's career, the time he picked off Brady and how he's transitioned to working in the media and as a state-champion high school assistant football coach.
9. The new NFL year hasn't even begun—it will on March 9—and already trades are being executed even if they can't be made official yet. In two moves this week, the Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins swapped players and picks.
This obviously affects the needs of each team heading into the offseason, with Miami now able to cross one defensive end and one tight end off its list after signing Cameron Wake to an extension and trading for Thomas. The good news is that Thomas is now reunited with former offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Now the primary need is a coverage linebacker—like Haason Reddick or Jarrad Davis.
For Jacksonville, this helps shore up a bad offensive line without having to invest an early draft pick in a gamble (like Luke Joeckel) or relying on Day 2 or 3 prospects to fill in the starting lineup.
8. At this point, it may seem like some in the media are picking on Deshaun Watson. That is not my goal. I like Watson—player and person—and think he has a lot to offer an NFL team in the middle of Round 1. My goal is to explain to fans why Watson isn't the top-five prospect many expect him to be. This stat, shared by Pro Football Focus, helps explain some of that:
With 30 interceptions, a small frame and 13 passes batted down at the line of scrimmage, there are many question marks about Watson. Of course, there are question marks with every quarterback in this class, but when evaluating players, I want the fewest questions at the top of my board and then increasing questions as you move down.
Watson could prove me and others wrong. I hope he does. But right now I see too many questions to establish him as the No. 1 quarterback in this class.
7. So much has been said about this quarterback class, but this bears repeating: This isn't an elite class but it is a deep one. That much is evident when looking at the players picked to sit down with Jon Gruden on his Gruden's QB Camp series.
Peterman, DeShone Kizer, Trubisky, Watson, Patrick Mahomes, Brad Kaaya and Joshua Dobbs will all be featured on the ESPN show this spring. If you've not seen it before, Gruden basically walks the quarterbacks through a one-on-one workout and then takes them into "the film room" to break down plays and do work on his whiteboard.
It's an interesting show, but just remember that it is indeed a show. It's edited. It's somewhat scripted. Gruden is good TV, but it's not an evaluation tool. That said, I'll still watch every one of these things.
6. Former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi was incredibly helpful to me way back in the days before Bleacher Report when I was trying to learn everything I could about scouting and player evaluation. During that time, Lombardi was with the Oakland Raiders while I was trying to launch my own draft website. I'll forever be indebted to him for the time he took to answer my questions and point me in the right direction.
Fast-forward a decade, and I'm here while Lombardi is writing for The Ringer. This week he had a great piece on "The Four Rules of Free Agency." It's a must-read if you're interested in team-building or just wondering who your team should sign.
In it, Lombardi talks about not signing once-great players and expecting them to be great—using the example of Mario Williams' signing with Miami last year and being expected to replace Olivier Vernon. Everyone in the NFL knew Williams was on the downside of his career, but the Dolphins bet on getting production for a low price. It backfired.
This is particularly interesting because so many football heads want to turn up their noses at the "Moneyball" idea of team-building, but there are already elements of that thinking in the league. Lombardi talks about it in this piece.
Teams are constantly trying to assign dollar value to production. "If we can get Williams for half the price of Vernon, and he can produce the same eight sacks, we're winning" is how this thought process goes. Or, "our right tackle sucks but he's paid in the bottom third of the league at the position, and the options to replace him aren't great, so we'll keep a sucky $2.5 million-a-year right tackle."
Team-building is fascinating to me and is one of the great untolds when it comes to the world of football media. I'll do my best to change that with more news and more great articles that talk about how teams are built.
5. This week's Scouting in 140 focuses on offensive linemen in this year's draft class. Here are five prospects broken down in 140 character or less. First up, Adam Bisnowaty:
4. Ethan Pocic:
3. Antonio Garcia:
2. Taylor Moton:
1. Pat Elflein:
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.