NFL1000 Presents Bleacher Report's 2017 NFL Draft Preview
Each year, NFL teams hope to remake their rosters and either start or finish the run to the ultimate goal in this league—the ability to trot out a championship-level team year after year. To create that kind of consistency, free agency and trades can help to a degree, but the team that doesn't draft well is forever lost to the throes of mediocrity—or worse.
To that end, the scouting departments for all 32 teams have been working overtime since last season to watch, analyze and grade the players eligible for the 2017 draft. Area scouts start the process, and as the reports move up the scouting department to the top of the front office, checks and cross-checks are made on everything from a player's capacity to play more than one position to his ability to stay out of trouble. It's all important when it's your turn to select the next franchise player.
At Bleacher Report, we have our own scouting department in the NFL1000 group—a total of 18 scouts who work in-season and during the offseason watching tape and putting evaluations together. From that, we’ve put together this draft guide to offer insight into what your favorite team might do and what it all means when the draft is done.
Names to Know Outside the First Round
Here's a list of players you might see selected outside the first round but who could make serious impacts on their NFL teams over time.
Davis Webb, QB, Cal
Webb played in two Air Raid offenses at Texas Tech and Cal, which may lead some to believe he's far from NFL-level. But he's got the playbook smarts to compete with any NFL quarterback, and while he does need a few mechanical fixes, he's capable of making most throws.
Nathan Peterman, QB, Pitt
More than one evaluator I've talked to (including ESPN's Jon Gruden) believes Peterman to be the most complete quarterback prospect in this class above the neck. Over and over, you'll hear people say that from an understanding perspective he could be a first-year starter. Mechanical and field-reading issues may get in the way of that, but don't be surprised if you hear his name called in the second round.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Kamara's fumbles, lack of consistent inside running and off-field concerns may take him out of the first round, but he's a shifty, balanced runner with the kind of easy acceleration to get to the second level and make home run plays happen.
Kareem Hunt, RB, Toledo
Hunt doesn't possess blinding speed, but he shows great balance before and after contact—if you're going to stop him, you'd better do more than arm-tackle. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry in his collegiate career in the MAC, but he's got NFL-level skills.
Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington
Kupp blew up the stat sheet in 2016 with 117 receptions on 155 targets for 1,704 yards and 17 touchdowns. He won't get a nod in the first round because he lacks the explosiveness that allows the league's better receivers to create separation, but he can sit in zones very well, he understands how to rock slot cornerbacks to sleep on short routes, and he'll be a high-volume target in the right offense.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina
One of the NCAA's more prolific receivers in the last few years, Jones had an incredible 216 targets in 2016, and he made the most of them with 158 catches for 1,744 yards and eight touchdowns. He's going to be a No. 2 receiver in the NFL because he doesn't have amazing straight-line speed, but he does have the innate toughness to create plays after the catch.
David Njoku, TE, Miami
Njoku is an exciting option in any passing game—his route understanding and combination of size and speed will help his NFL success. There's an outside shot he may hear his name called in the first round, but someone's going to have to love his receiving tape enough to ignore his relatively unimpressive blocking.
Julie'n Davenport, OT, Bucknell
A 44-game starter in the Patriot League, Davenport is getting looks from teams because he's able to move his 6'7", 318-pound frame around the edge. He's going to have to deal with a severe uptick in competition and clean up his footwork, but there's a lot to like.
Danny Isidora, OG, Miami
The 6'3" Isidora isn't as tall as some NFL teams would like their guards to be, and he tends to struggle at the line of scrimmage in pure power situations, but he's great on the move. A move to center at the next level wouldn't be a shock.
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State
You've probably heard some buzz about Rivers, and it's warranted. He's a bit of an end-backer tweener at 248 pounds, and he'll be best served away from the line to get his speed going without too many obstructions, but he's got the speed around the edge and an impressive "dip-and-rip" move to get to the quarterback.
Tanoh Kpassagnon, DE, Villanova
The 6'7", 289-pound Kpassagnon put on 70 pounds of weight during his college career, turning himself into the kind of raw but gifted athlete NFL teams love to take as projects and turn into finished products. An amazingly quick and violent lineman, Kpassagnon is still getting the intricacies of the position together, but if he does, watch out.
Chris Wormley, DT/DE, Michigan
At 6'5" and 298 pounds, Wormley projects best as a hybrid end, though he can kick inside in hybrid packages when needed. He's got decent enough speed to generate a pass rush, but he'll need a wider array of pass-rush moves at the next level—like most defensive linemen who come out of college. He had 15 sacks, 18 quarterback hits and 66 quarterback hurries his last three years at Michigan.
Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
It may take the right defense—and a lot of patience—to make Bowser an elite pass-rusher at the NFL level, but he does have the raw tools. He put up seven sacks in just 173 pass-rushing snaps last season, but he'll have to learn pass-rush moves and how to generate strength against better blockers.
Jayon Brown, OLB, UCLA
Brown was a linebacker in college, but he could make the move to strong safety at the NFL level. Last season, he allowed an opponent passer rating of 50.4 when he was targeted, and he'll probably be a more effective tackler when he's not asked to deal with run fits quite as much.
Cordrea Tankersley, CB, Clemson
Tankersley has the ability to be a lockdown corner; there's no question about that. He allowed an opponent passer rating of 41.2 in two full seasons, but he'll have to cut down on the physical nature of his play to a degree, or NFL refs will target him like crazy. He also needs to learn to be more seamless in his transitions from the line of scrimmage.
Adoree' Jackson, CB, USC
It's not out of the question for Jackson to hear his name called in the first round of the draft—teams will find his explosive athleticism exciting. He's a touchdown magnet whenever he gets the ball in his hands, but as a pure cornerback he'll need to refine his technique in most dimensions. He's a project player to a degree but one well worth taking early on.
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Baker was a missile on the field for the Huskies' championship-level secondary, and by all accounts he was the emotional table-setter for the entire defense. What will keep him from the first round is his size. At 5'10" and 195 pounds, he's likely a good fit in the NFL as a slot and roving defender, but he'll have to play in space because he doesn't have the size to become a nickel/dime linebacker or center field safety.
Marcus Williams, S, Utah
Williams is a bit of a tweener from a size perspective (6'1", 202), but there's no question he has an eye for the ball. He nabbed five interceptions in each of his last two seasons and added four forced fumbles in his three-year collegiate career. He'd be a great addition to a variable secondary that requires its defenders to play multiple roles.
What's Going on with the No. 1 Overall Pick?
The Cleveland Browns hold the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft, and the consensus prediction is that they'll use it to take Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. However, things aren't that clear at this point. According to Jason La Canfora, while the coaching staff are all in on Garrett, team owner Jimmy Haslam may want a quarterback with that pick.
That would be an interesting choice—read: mistake—for a number of reasons. If the coaching staff isn't on board with the idea of any quarterback in this class as a first-overall talent, there's no point in saddling the coaches with a player they're not really interested in.
It should also be remembered that Haslam was the one who advocated for the selection of Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick in the 2014 draft, and we know how that turned out. And you can ask Texans head coach Bill O'Brien what happens when ownership jumps in and decides on a quarterback the coaches aren't sold on and haven't even met—that's how the Brock Osweiler disaster happened.
Coaches coach, owners own. The staff should be given the freedom to make the selection of the player who best suits their needs and fits into the schemes. While quarterbacks are a generally overdrafted lot in the first place, there's no quarterback in this draft who looks like a first overall pick based on his college tape. The Browns also have the 12th overall pick in this draft, and it's very likely they can pick up a quarterback of the future there.
Would another team trade up to acquire the first pick? That's a bit fraught because of the aforementioned quarterback situation. Most likely, any team that trades that far up—and giving up as much capital as the Rams gave up to the Titans to move up to the first pick to select Jared Goff last year—would do it only for a quarterback. It's possible Goff's struggles add an element of "buyer beware" to that idea.
I believe the Browns will stay put and take Garrett.
The QB Derby: Who Will Be Best in Class?
Deshaun Watson: I Can Win with That Guy
by Mark Schofield, NFL1000 Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Scout
One of the more fascinating aspects of this draft cycle is trying to ascertain just who the QB1 actually is. Ask five different scouts or evaluators, and you might receive five different answers. In a way this exercise has become a Rorschach test for quarterback evaluation and a window into the mind of evaluators and what they look for in a potential signal-caller at the next level.
Those who favor playmaking ability and the knack for throwing off-platform favor Patrick Mahomes. Others who prefer athletic ability and upside might look to Mitchell Trubisky. If you place a reliance on the offensive scheme and how that may ease the transition, DeShone Kizer might be your man. But for me, if I were a coach or scout and my team was on the clock, I would be banging the table the entire 15 minutes for Deshaun Watson.
Examining the traits that coaches and scouts look for in a QB, Watson checks off a number of those boxes: play speed, processing speed, accuracy in the short- to intermediate-area, athletic ability and competitive toughness. While at first glance the Clemson spread offensive attack might leave one with the impression Watson is a one-read quarterback, he is still tasked with working through a number of progression reads in a variety of situations. Even on run/pass option designs, Watson still needs to diagnose and read the defensive keys and make split-second decisions with the football. In addition, he is very adept at understanding defensive alignment and leverage and can either exploit advantageous situations pre-snap or rule out one or two progression reads before the play.
Watson is very accurate with solid ball placement in the short and intermediate areas of the field. Look no further than his throw to Jordan Leggett with 19 seconds remaining in the national championship game this past season, where under duress and facing a blitz he placed a back-shoulder throw in the only spot his tight end could make the play. His game tape is replete with throws just like that.
This is not to say Watson is without his flaws. Critics can point to the 17 interceptions he threw last season, or to the fact that at times he'll run into trouble when trying to escape the pocket, or the low velocity and lack of arm strength. But looking through those 17 interceptions—as I have—you'll find that there are not many repeated mistakes. He can get baited into bad throws at times, particularly on the boundary, but he rarely makes the same mistake twice.
Finally, Watson's other standout trait, and perhaps his strongest, is competitive toughness. That's an aspect of playing the position you cannot teach, but it matters a great deal. Quarterback is the toughest position the sport of football has to offer, and the harsh glare of the brightest stage can be difficult. Mistakes are magnified, errors are glaring and the most popular person in town is often your backup. But when you see a player like Watson put his body on the line, get helicoptered by Reuben Foster in the national championship game, and bounce right back up and be ready for the next play, that moves people. As a teammate you want to play for that guy. As a coach you want to help him win, and as a fan you want to buy his jersey and cheer him on.
Strip away all the other great traits Watson brings to the table as a quarterback—and there are many—and you can rest your hat on this one. That's a player you win with, and because of.
Those are the reasons I'd be banging the table for him. He has flaws, but all the quarterbacks in this class have their areas to fix. True, he lacks the arm talent of a Mahomes, the upside of a Trubisky or the deep ball of a Davis Webb. But to me, the areas where he stands out—play and processing speed, accuracy and competitive toughness—are a recipe for quarterback success in the NFL. If it were my job on the line, it's Watson whose hands I'd put my future in. He's the guy who will be the standout from this class three, six and even nine years down the road.
NFL Players Who Could Be Traded
The need for talent comes from multiple sources, of course. Some teams may believe players already in the NFL are their best bets, and you could see a few trades come along before or during the draft this weekend. Here are some likely candidates.
Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
This one's been floating around for a while. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Sherman started the dialogue with a request for a new home. The Seahawks have been fielding offers for one of the best pass defenders in the NFL, though nobody has yet come close to their asking price—most likely a first-round and a mid-round pick. Sherman turned 29 in March, but his play hasn't declined yet, and the Seahawks don't have any other top-level cornerbacks on the roster. Unless another team is prepared to give up serious picks, don't expect this one to happen.
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, New England Patriots
2017 is the last year of Garoppolo's rookie deal, and the Eastern Illinois alum looked comfortable taking over for Tom Brady early last year while Brady served his Deflategate suspension—at least until Garoppolo suffered a shoulder injury. The NFL's desire for Brady backups remains irrationally high no matter their talent level, and the Pats have said they're not closing the door on a trade. The Browns have two first-round picks this year, and it's possible they'll want an established quarterback given the choices in draft prospects. They're the likely candidates if anything happens.
Malcolm Butler, CB, New England Patriots
The Saints received New England's 32nd overall pick when they traded receiver Brandin Cooks to New England, and the Pats would probably want that back if they traded Butler to New Orleans. Talks have been going on for a while now, and something would obviously have to happen this week. The Pats signed former Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a mega-deal in free agency, but they also lost Logan Ryan to the Titans. If the Pats do trade Butler, who's a very good player, they'll wait to see if the Saints' desperation for anyone who resembles an NFL starting cornerback kicks in.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Apparently, this one is all but done—Marshawn Lynch from Seattle (which still has him on its retired list) to Oakland. The key now is for Seahawks general manager John Schneider and Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie to hammer out the compensation. It won't be much—most likely a flip of draft picks—because Lynch has no desire to return to the league for any other team. Odds are, this one happens if the Raiders can come to terms with Lynch on his one-year salary.
Sheldon Richardson, DL, New York Jets
Richardson is an undeniably talented player who played out of position at times in the Jets' odd 2016 schemes, and his off-field baggage doesn't help his overall value. The Jets reportedly wanted a first-rounder for Richardson last year, per Brian Costello of the New York Post, but that's not going to happen. They'd be lucky to get a mid-round pick at this point, especially if the reports that Richardson is seeking a $100 million deal in 2018 are true…because that's not going to happen. This seems like one of those complicated situations where player and team maintain a rocky relationship for one more year, but you never know who might still be in love with Richardson's base talent and is willing to overlook everything else.
Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
The Redskins slapped the franchise tag on Cousins, guaranteeing him $23.94 million in real money and cap space in 2017, and then they let receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon—the two primary reasons for Cousins' improved production in 2016—walk out the door in free agency. They're now reportedly offering Cousins less than he wants per season in order to break that salary-cap logjam, per ESPN.com's John Keim, and Cousins isn't committing to anything. Any team wanting to trade for him would have to accept a functionally limited quarterback who was buttressed by his receivers, wants a ton of money and is going to cost at least one first-round pick. Stranger things have happened, but Cousins will likely stay put.
AJ McCarron, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
If you're looking to see a current NFL quarterback head to the Browns in a trade, this one makes the most sense. McCarron played under Browns head coach Hue Jackson in 2015 and performed decently enough on the field when Andy Dalton was hurt. The Bengals might want a first-rounder for McCarron, though getting that for a guy who's thrown 119 passes in the NFL may be tough. Still, McCarron does have a history with Jackson, and he's under club control until 2018, when he's a restricted free agent. If the Browns did trade for a quarterback, this is where I would expect them to go.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
When you watch Trubisky on tape, there's certainly a lot to like. At 6'2" and 222 pounds, he's a solidly built athlete with the arm to make any throw and the easy mobility to make plays outside of structure. You can see why a lot of analysts have him as their QB1 over time. But when I watch Trubisky, I also see a lot of the things you'll generally see with a one-year starter in a collegiate offense—he telegraphs his reads, his mechanics are inconsistent and he tends to lose accuracy under pressure.
The bust potential here comes if Trubisky is selected by a quarterback-needy team that puts him on the field well before he's prepared to face NFL defenses and deal with NFL route concepts—and he probably won't be ready in his first year. Trubisky has a lot of raw talent, but it is still raw, and such quarterbacks tend to flame out in the NFL under the wrong circumstances. — Doug Farrar, NFL1000 Lead Scout
Tyus Bowser, OLB, Houston
A two-year starter after being a role player for his first two seasons at Houston, Tyus Bowser finally broke out a little as a senior. But the buzz on him has grown after the combine, where he tested well for a 6'3", 247-pound off-ball linebacker. He's strong in run support and moves well when dropping back in zone coverage, but the fact it took him so long to develop and produce against lesser competition raises questions as to whether he was winning because of his age and size. Bowser is largely unrefined, lacking experience in man coverage and technique and a plan as a pass-rusher. He's a mid-round player who needs time to develop, and it's not a guarantee he'll ever be a solid starter. — Ian Wharton, NFL1000 Safeties Scout
Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
Barnett has other pass-rushing tools capable of making him a good pro, but how many dominant edge-rushers are 6'3" and run 4.9 in the 40-yard dash? I don't know if he has the length or burst to consistently beat NFL-level offensive tackles. You can't rely on jumping the snap in the big leagues. Barnett's college production could be fool's gold. — Zach Kruse, NFL1000 Outside Linebackers Scout
Jabrill Peppers, LB/S/CB/RB, Michigan
There is no denying that Peppers is an extremely talented college athlete and football player. The issue for his transition to the NFL is projecting him into a defined defensive position. There may be a thought to use him as a money linebacker, but there were times last season when in a role near the line of scrimmage he struggled to stack and shed blockers. But using him as a pure safety might be asking for trouble because on film he seems hesitant to read, diagnose and react. With the right coaching system, he could carve out a role as a strong-slot safety, similar to how Micah Hyde was used with the Green Bay Packers. But if asked to do too much or play in a role he is ill-suited for, there could be struggles. — Mark Schofield, NFL1000 Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Scout
Solomon Thomas, DL, Stanford
Thomas is a likely top-10 pick who is a boom-or-bust player. He's a fantastic athlete who can rush the passer when he puts it all together, but I'm not sure where he fits in the NFL. He's a bit of a tweener who lacks length to play on the edge against tackles and isn't stout enough to hold up inside against the run. His hand usage is inconsistent, and at times it looks like he rushes without a plan, hoping to win purely on athletic ability alone. That won't work on a consistent basis in the NFL, and he'll need to improve his technique in that regard. His ceiling is a versatile defensive end who can kick inside on third down, but his floor is a tweener who doesn't have a spot in the NFL. — Mark Bullock, NFL1000 Safeties Scout
Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida
At the moment, Jarrad Davis is more sizzle than substance. He is a highly explosive, aggressive athlete who has flashes of overwhelming speed and power as a downhill force. On the other hand, Davis is too often out of position for a player considered a possible first-rounder. First-round linebackers should be ready to go immediately, but Davis is not. He's going to need time to clean up how he reads keys, adjust how he takes angles and improve his comfort as a coverage piece. — Derrik Klassen, NFL1000 4-3 OLB Scout
Garett Bolles, OT, Utah
There is a lot to like about Garett Bolles when you turn on his tape. He combines freaky physical traits and athleticism with tremendous competitive toughness. Within as little as five to 10 plays of watching, it's easy to see the effort Bolles plays with and the mentality to finish blocks every chance he gets. Though he possessed quick feet and very good lateral agility, his feet weren't always efficient in putting him in position to execute in both the running game and in pass protection when needing to kick-slide or expand set points. I also noticed that because Bolles' feet didn't always leave him in position, his hands were often off-target, which allowed defenders into his frame.
When you factor in that he played only one season at the FBS level and will be 25 years old once the season begins, though I typically don't care about age due to the structure of the current CBA, it is undeniable Bolles' window for development is a bit condensed. Many of his deficiencies not only can be a nightmare if exposed but generally take many seasons to correct, if they can be fixed at all. — Duke Manyweather, NFL1000 Offensive Tackles Scout
Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Jones has unquestionable first-round talent and tape, but the torn Achilles tendon he suffered at his pro day on March 11 put his future very much in doubt. He'll probably be a Day 2 pick now, and teams are right to wonder if he'll ever get his explosiveness and full-field agility back after such a serious injury. Jones recently told me there's a six-month timeline until he's able to return to the field, and from there it will take more time to get back to full speed on all the little things.
It's possible Jones could be a sub-starter in his first season, but given the advances in surgical technology in the last few years, it's not out of the question for him to return to his collegiate form in time. If that happens, the team that drafts him may have to redshirt a future Pro Bowl cornerback through his rookie year. If he stays on point with the timeline, it's well worth the risk. — Doug Farrar, NFL1000 Lead Scout
Ishmael Zamora, WR, Baylor
A 6'4", 224-pound receiver oozing with the size and speed intangibles that coaches can't teach, Ishmael Zamora has huge potential. The redshirt sophomore was a surprising early declarant into the class, especially after being suspended for an off-field incident where he was caught on video abusing a dog. On the field, Zamora is an explosive downfield threat with his catch radius and strength to finish at the catch point and break tackles. Though not a shifty receiver and lacking route refinement, if Zamora can master curls, comebacks and go routes, he has potential to be the next Terrelle Pryor. — Ian Wharton, NFL1000 Safeties Scout
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State
Rivers checks off all the boxes for an edge-rusher. He has excellent tape, collegiate production, outstanding athletic testing numbers, ideal size and a standout performance at the Senior Bowl. Forget where he went to school. What more could you want? Rivers might be the second-best edge-rusher in this class. — Zach Kruse, NFL1000 Outside Linebackers Scout
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
It might sound odd to consider Kaaya a potential sleeper in this quarterback class, but such is the cycle of draft season. Prior to last season, he was thought to be a near-lock for the first round, but as other signal-callers such as Patrick Mahomes and Mitchell Trubisky rose up boards, and QBs such as Nathan Peterman, Davis Webb and Jerod Evans drew attention, Kaaya slid under the radar. But he is a very technically proficient, almost robotic quarterback with his footwork and mechanics, and when in rhythm his performance is on par with the best quarterbacks in this class. He'll face questions over making anticipation throws and handling pressure, but in the right scheme—such as a West Coast offense—Kaaya could thrive. — Mark Schofield, NFL1000 Wide Receivers/Tight Ends Scout
Tedric Thompson, S, Colorado
The Colorado prospect has good coverage instincts and exceptional ball skills that make him a candidate to be a good coverage safety in the NFL. In what is a very deep safety class, Thompson will likely fall because of concerns with his run defense, where he does struggle with run fits and tackling. But in coverage, he does an excellent job anticipating routes and breaking on them early, giving himself a good jump on the ball. His history as a former receiver is clear to see, as Thompson is great at locating the ball in the air and attacking the catch point, which led him to seven interceptions in his final season in college. — Mark Bullock, NFL1000 Safeties Scout
Jordan Evans, LB, Oklahoma
Jordan Evans has been lost in the shuffle of a top-heavy linebacker class. As a three-year starter, Evans proved to be a versatile, well-rounded linebacker who can play in today's pass-happy NFL. Evans has enough range and gap control as a run defender to compliment his comfort and range in coverage. Additionally, Evans blew up his pro day, posting a 4.51-second 40-yard dash time and a 7.01-second three-cone time. Evans has all the makings to be a solid rotational linebacker at the next level. — Derrik Klassen, NFL1000 4-3 OLB Scout
Parker Collins, OG, Appalachian State
When you turn on film of Parker Collins, you first see a player who sets the tone from the opening snap no matter the opponent. Games versus Tennessee and Miami are great references of this, and it is evident he takes great pride in being a violent finisher in both the running game and in pass protection. Collins plays with good explosion and strength at the point of attack to jolt defenders off the ball and is able to get movement and break stalemates by generating a great deal of power up through the ground as he drives through the steps of his feet.
If there was an area for improvement in Collins' game, it would be consistency in creating space in pass protection and punch timing. At times Collins plays too close to the line while trying to protect and also exposes his chest with mistimed punches. This has left him susceptible to push-pulls from defenders. At 6'2" and 304 lbs, he won't "wow" you with off-the-chart physical traits, but the critical offensive line factors he does possess as an undersized interior offensive lineman not only give him a chance to stick on a roster, but to potentially be drafted and add quality production as a reserve. — Duke Manyweather, NFL1000 Offensive Tackles Scout
Most Versatile Players
By Mark Bullock, NFL1000 Safeties Scout
Jabrill Peppers, LB/S/CB/RB, Michigan
In college, Peppers played safety, corner, slot corner, linebacker, running back, wide receiver and wildcat quarterback, and he was one of the best punt and kickoff returners in the game. There is some belief he will be the latest safety/linebacker hybrid in the form of Deone Bucannon and Su'a Cravens, but I'm not sure that will be his best position in the NFL. At linebacker, Peppers had some issues getting caught on blocks and driven back out of the play, which is to be expected of a 5'11", 213-pound defender coming up against 300-plus-pound offensive linemen. He played that role at Michigan to give the team much-needed speed at linebacker to protect the edge and stop runs from bouncing outside.
His best position might be as a safety/slot corner hybrid. When he was allowed to play man coverage in the slot, he looked like a different player, fluid in coverage and sticking tight to slot receivers. He also flashed good range whenever he rotated back to free safety to cover the deep third. A team drafting Peppers may create an offensive package for him because of his explosiveness, and he'll likely be the best return man on whatever team he goes to. But his position in the NFL should be as a safety/slot corner hybrid, where a creative defensive coordinator can make the most of his abilities.
Haason Reddick, OLB, Temple
Look up the definition of versatile and a picture of Reddick might just pop up. He walked on at Temple as a safety, having previously played some running back in high school, before converting to 4-3 defensive end. While he was impressive at defensive end, he's probably too small to play that spot in the NFL, and it wouldn't necessarily make the most of his talent. He's likely to convert to linebacker at the pro level, with his best fit likely being in a 3-4 front. He can play inside linebacker in a 3-4 base front but has the ability to kick outside in obvious rushing situations too.
Reddick is terrific in pursuit and understands how to filter through traffic to find the ball-carrier. At the Senior Bowl, he displayed just how much potential he has dropping into coverage with a number of impressive reps in one-on-one coverage drills in practice. Those two aspects of his game, combined with his pass-rushing ability, make him a fantastically versatile prospect. A creative defensive coordinator could have a lot of fun trying to mold him in the form of do-it-all linebacker Jamie Collins.
Obi Melifonwu, CB/S, Connecticut
Melifonwu is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft class. He stands at 6'4", 224 pounds, and jumped out of the gym at the NFL scouting combine with a 4.40 40-yard dash, 44-inch vertical jump and 141-inch broad jump. With his size, some teams might see him as a strong safety with the ability to slide down to dime linebacker and match up against tight ends in man coverage. Others may feel his athleticism gives him range to play free safety in the deep middle of the field. There are reports some teams are even considering switching him to cornerback because he's so fluid and athletic, per Peter King of the MMQB.
Ultimately, his best fit will be in a similar role to fellow Connecticut alum Byron Jones with the Cowboys. Jones plays the deep third as the free safety in base packages but then rotates down to match up against athletic receiving tight ends in man coverage in nickel and dime sub-packages. Melifonwu has great range when playing deep with fantastic recovery speed when he needs it, but to leave him there the whole game would be a waste of his potential. There aren't many 6'4" safeties with the potential to play press-man against tight ends and be able to match up athletically. But each team will have its own view on how to best use a truly versatile safety like Melifonwu, and he might end up doing a little bit of everything.
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State
McDowell has flown under the radar throughout this draft process due to some red flags about a lack of effort. But when he's at his best, McDowell is as versatile as any defensive lineman in this class. At 6'6", 295 pounds, McDowell has the size and length to combine with a good burst that gives him the ability to cause offensive linemen issues up and down the line. At Michigan State, McDowell played and won blocks as a 1-technique, 3-technique, 4i-technique, 5-technique and 7-technique. He's too quick for interior offensive lineman to handle and too powerful for offensive tackles, and his length gives everyone issues.
In a 3-4 defense, he's probably a 4i/5-technique defensive end in base that can kick inside in nickel. In a 4-3, he's a 3-technique defensive tackle. But in either scheme, he can and should be moved around to create mismatches. There's an enormous amount of potential in McDowell, but he'll need to work hard and commit fully to the game in order to fulfill it.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
McCaffrey is a game-changing weapon on offense. The Stanford running back shows incredible patience and vision as a runner, waiting for lanes to open up in front of him before bursting through a hole that most other backs wouldn't have seen. He's elusive and has the ability to make defenders miss in the hole with a stutter step or sharp cut. It's a running style that resembles that of Steelers running back LeVeon Bell. He's capable of running in any type of running scheme, be it outside and inside zone, gap or power schemes.
But McCaffrey has another string to his bow: He's also a very talented receiver. He is perfectly capable of motioning out of the backfield into the slot and then running routes like a receiver. He would still be a high draft pick if he was coming out as just a receiver. This versatility will give his future offensive coordinator plenty of different options to be creative with personnel and formations.
Project Players Who Could Pay Off in the Long Run
By Ian Wharton, NFL1000 Cornerbacks Scout
Robert Davis, WR, Georgia State
The freakiest receiver prospect at the 2017 NFL combine, Robert Davis is a quintessential developmental investment. At 6'3", 219 pounds, Davis blazed a 4.44 40-yard dash to go with an elite 41-inch vertical and 6.82 three-cone time. Players who move as well as he can are rare, oozing the upside that'll make positional coaches drool.
Davis wasn't a bad player at Georgia State, totaling 968 yards and 980 yards in 2016 and 2015, respectively. He produced well for the Panthers despite limited talent around him. But he didn't dominate the competition, notably posting less than 90 yards in seven of 12 games.
A more diverse passing attack that moves Davis inside and outside could be beneficial with his physical traits. He's not just a straight-line runner, so acting as a big slot is an enticing option, especially as he becomes a more precise and less predictable route-runner. The right situation and some time could allow Davis to develop into a Tyrell Williams-type receiver.
Dylan Cole, LB, Missouri State
Coming from the FCS, Dylan Cole has an uphill battle to prove he can be starter material in the NFL even more than an FBS prospect. But with 457 career tackles and 40.5 tackles for loss, Cole has the production and elite athleticism worth banking on. The 6'0", 239-pounder can play inside or as a weak-side linebacker.
Cole's pro day was eye-popping, headlined by his 4.54 40-yard dash. His 6.82 three-cone time and 39-inch vertical at his weight were more impressive than a majority of the receivers in the class. There's no reason to think that with his explosiveness he won't at least be a special teams demon.
What'll really determine Cole's upside in the NFL is his ability to fight through traffic and play with physicality. He's a finesse player in nature, and the jump to the NFL may expose that more than the FCS could. That being said, early Day 3 would be a fitting risk.
Shaquill Griffin, CB, UCF
Athleticism isn't everything at the cornerback position, but speed, length and change of direction ability are worth taking a flier on. Every cornerback loses at some point, so recovery is a premium skill. Shaquill Griffin of UCF is a raw technician, often overly reliant on his gifts, but his physical traits are tremendous.
The 6'0", 194-pounder's combine put him in elite NFL athlete territory, comparing to Devin McCourty, Leon Hall and Cortez Allen from years past. Most importantly, Griffin confirmed the straight-line speed seen on film and helped alleviate some change-of-direction worry by hitting a 6.87 three-cone.
Griffin has a lot to work on, including his discipline reading routes and the quarterback. His reaction time shows a player who is still becoming comfortable with his game and capabilities. Even in a deep class, Griffin will be an intriguing long-term option.
Grover Stewart, DT, Albany State
Every year there's a player who gets taken earlier than expected due to the Planet Theory. There are only so many big humans that move well, and you want those rare players on your team to develop them. Grover Stewart fits the bill, standing 6'4" and 347 pounds, yet moved like a man 40 pounds lighter.
Similar to how former Syracuse defensive tackle and current New York Giant Jay Bromley plays, Stewart is a strong, ox-like presence in the middle of a defense. He demands double-teams, and when offenses choose to not shade a guard, he is quick enough to get into a blocker's hip and create pressure. Twelve of his 37 tackles in 2016 went for a loss.
Like most players that big, Stewart is not a technician yet. He's sloppy with his huge but slow hands. He has to be more precise with his punches and be as efficient as possible to hold up at the point of attack. If he can do that, he can be a very good value even though he'll likely play about 35 percent of snaps.
The need for talent at the NFL level is so great that teams will often take fliers on players with complicated off-field issues. Here's our list of the players in the 2017 draft class who have that look about them for various reasons.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
Mixon's history is well-documented—he broke a woman's jaw with a punch in 2014 and was suspended for the entire 2014 season. Mixon came back to the Sooners in 2015, and in 2016 he finished second in the nation to Stanford's Christian McCaffrey in all-purpose yards per game. That's the conundrum with Mixon—he's undeniably talented, but the specter of assault will follow him now, as it should.
In a recent survey of NFL decision-makers taken by Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, six of 11 coaches and executives said they wouldn't draft Mixon at all. Of course, when he's on the board and your team needs a running back, cultures can change quickly. My guess is Mixon will go in the second round, and his NFL team is already preparing for the PR barrage it's going to get.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook's history is a bit more complicated. He has no convictions on his record, though he's faced charges for everything from robbery to firing a weapon to criminal mischief to violation of animal care. Such a history will give NFL teams pause, though Cook's undeniable talent and lack of convictions will probably see him taken in the first round. Still, that's a lot of stuff to clear up.
Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
Kamara was suspended twice when on Alabama's roster for behavioral reasons in 2013 and was arrested for driving with a suspended license in 2014. These are relatively minor dings, and Kamara has kept his nose clean since, so it shouldn't affect his draft stock too much as long as he's forthright with NFL teams in interviews about what happened.
Dede Westbrook, WR, Oklahoma
Westbrook was arrested twice on domestic violence charges involving the mother of his children before he arrived in Norman to play for the Sooners. Somehow, that got missed on the background check. Both charges were dropped. He was also arrested in 2016 on a criminal trespassing charge. He'll probably go in the middle rounds, more due to size concerns than anything else.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama
Foster was sent home from the 2017 combine after an altercation with a hospital worker during medical tests, and last week NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Foster came up with a diluted urine sample, which equates to a positive drug test. The incident at the combine can be overlooked to a degree, but a positive drug test raises all sorts of red flags around the league, and it may take Foster out of the first round—though his talent will probably keep him there.
Tim Williams, LB, Alabama
Williams has admitted to multiple failed drug tests while at Alabama, and he was arrested last year for carrying a pistol without a permit after police smelled marijuana smoke coming out of his car. The passenger in the car said the marijuana was his, so no drug charges were filed against Williams. Still, he's going to drop a bit—teams are understandably skittish about anyone who's failed multiple tests in college given the league's strict suspension policy in such matters.
Jabrill Peppers, LB/S/CB/RB, Michigan
We should be very careful when ascribing the Monday report from ESPN's Adam Schefter that Peppers tested for a dilute sample at the combine, especially since he has no other character dings on his record and there could be multiple reasons for the test result. But it could add to the complication that some teams don't have an optimal position for him, and this news may drop him out of the first round.
The Next [Fill in the Blank]
Teams and analysts project prospects to the NFL as part of draft preparations, and making comparisons can often help that process along. Here's how we see a few of the top prospects in 2017 via their NFL doppelgangers.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina—Blake Bortles, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars
It's hard to remember now given Bortles' checkered career in the NFL, but he was such a hot prospect in the 2014 draft that nobody blinked an eye when the Jaguars took him with the third overall pick. Like Bortles, Trubisky has the size, arm and mobility you want in an NFL quarterback. But also like Bortles, he has accuracy, field-reading and scheme issues that may prevent him from succeeding if he starts too soon.
Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson—Robert Griffin III, QB, Cleveland Browns
Griffin had a better deep ball coming out of Baylor, but the comparison fits in just about every other way. Watson is an electric mover with the ability to throw to all fields, an underrated sense of the complexities of the position and a knack for coming up big in big moments. Watson's slight frame gives me pause, and I hope his NFL future isn't as injury-riddled as Griffin's.
Davis Webb, QB, Cal—Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
A coach's son, Webb clearly has a preternatural understanding of the playbook, and he's going to devour any information given to him. That mindset is what made Redskins head coach Jay Gruden believe Cousins was his long-term starter despite Cousins' obvious physical limitations at the position. Webb has a good short-to-intermediate passing game, and like Cousins, he'll see the deep ball come along if he's in the right system.
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU—Adrian Peterson, RB, free agent
Fournette has said he's not comfortable with the comparisons to Peterson, but when you see a back run with his combination of unreal power, agility and speed, it's hard not to go there. There's an element of Marshawn Lynch's style too—Fournette goes out of his way to deliver the first punch when he's on the run.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford—Brian Westbrook, RB, retired
Like Westbrook, McCaffrey has the potential to be all things in his NFL offense—he's a dynamic rusher and would be worth a second-round pick as a receiver alone. You could also draw comparisons to Reggie Bush in New Orleans when Sean Payton motioned Bush from the backfield to the slot a ton and forced defenses to take their third linebackers off the field.
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State—Jamaal Charles, RB, free agent
Like Charles, Cook is at his best when he's outside the formation, stunning defenders with his speed and turning short plays into game-breaking touchdowns.
John Ross, WR, Washington—DeSean Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It's tempting to compare every speed receiver to Jackson, but most fall short of the comparison because their route running isn't as developed as Jackson's. But Ross, who blazed up a 4.22 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, can run any route you'd like, and he's particularly effective with foot fakes in the red zone.
Cam Robinson, OT, Alabama—Andre Smith, OT, Cincinnati Bengals
Like Smith, Robinson is a powerful run-blocker who can move his opponent right out of the picture. And like Smith when he came out of college, Robinson has some agility and balance issues he'll need to clean up before he's able to take on the NFL's best edge-rushers.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M—DeMarcus Ware, DE, retired
Garrett has about 20 pounds on Ware coming out of college, which makes his similar ability to bend the edge and get under the pads of blockers all the more impressive.
Malik McDowell, DL, Michigan State—Calais Campbell, DL, Jacksonville Jaguars
McDowell doesn't have Campbell's power inside yet, but at 6'6" and 295 pounds he does share Campbell's size and freakish wingspan. And like Campbell, McDowell can win from just about any gap.
Reuben Foster, LB, Alabama—Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle Seahawks
Strictly from an on-field perspective, Foster has the potential to track the ball against the run and pass and keep everything in front of him in ways that have made Wagner special. He also has the ability to roam from sideline to sideline—the one thing that screamed off Wagner's college tape.
Kevin King, CB, Washington—Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks
This might be the most like-as-like comparison in this draft class. King isn't at Sherman's level yet when it comes to defending the boundary, but Sherman took time to develop that as well. Both are hyper-aggressive press cornerbacks who can trail anyone downfield but struggle with shorter angular routes like curls and comebacks.
Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan—Johnathan Cyprien, S, Tennessee Titans
Peppers has been compared with everyone from Troy Polamalu to Tyrann Mathieu, and there are understandable similarities in both cases. But I would liken Peppers more to Cyprien, who had Peppers' full-field speed at Florida International but eventually transitioned to the strong safety position in the pros because he wasn't as adept a deep cover man as his explosiveness may have led people to believe. Peppers may eventually transition to deep safety, but in the interim he'll be best as a roving safety and slot defender.
Advanced stats via Pro Football Focus.