The SemiColumn: Mid-April Notes on the NFL Draft

By | April 12, 2016
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Safety Karl Joseph has become my favorite player in this draft class.

Safety Karl Joseph has become my favorite player in this draft class.

We’re only two weeks away from my favorite day of the year: the first round of the NFL Draft. This is right about the time when we can really get a good sense of what teams might or might not do in the first round. So with that in mind, here’s a “brain dump” of all sorts of pre-draft news, chatter, thoughts, and insight:

1. Possibilities for the Redskins First Round Pick (#21) — As of right now, the smart money is still on the Redskins taking a defensive lineman with the #21 pick, especially now that Terrance Knighton has officially left town and signed with New England (i’ll be pouring out a little au jous for Pot Roast’s depature). If that’ s the direction they go, it looks like Andrew Billings from Baylor, Jarran Reid from Alabama, and A’Shawn Robinson from Alabam are three players they could very well select (probably in that order of preference). But, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Redskins took a wide receiver with their first round pick. As Redskins beat reporter Rich Tandler pointed out: Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are both in the final year of their (very pricey) contracts, and there’s a distinct possibility that neither of them will be back with the Redskins after 2016. That would leave them with Jamison Crowder and Ryan Grant as their starting wideouts. Yeesh. Plus, from many accounts, Scot McCloughan would’ve drafted Amari Cooper over Brandon Scherff in last year’s NFL Draft, had Cooper not gone one pick earlier to the Raiders. So, taking a receiver in round one is certainly not out of the question for McCloughan. There was already a report from Bleacher Report that the Redskins could be interested in Ohio State wide receiver Michael Thomas, a 6’3 and 212lb physical specimen who’s still rather raw (Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s resident NFL Draft Expert, ranked Thomas as his #1 wide receiver in this year’s class). Tandler mentions Josh Doctson, the 6’2 and 202lb silky-smooth acrobat with fantastic hands, as a very strong possibility. Personally, I could see McCloughan viewing Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss (6’2 and 221lbs) as a poor man’s Dez Bryant-type, though I doubt Treadwell will make it to #21. Regardless, it’s a position that the Redskins clearly need upgrades at, so don’t be surprised if they address the position early on.

2. My Favorite Player in the 2016 NFL Draft — Laremy Tunsil is considered by many to be the top overall prospect in this draft, but safety Karl Joseph from West Virginia has become my favorite player over anyone else. I haven’t enjoyed watching highlights of a safety just repeatedly obliterating people the way Joseph does, since maybe Sean Taylor (RIP). I love the description I read in one scouting report about Joseph wanting to “assail” — make a concerted, violent attack upon — ballcarriers he comes across. Former NFL Personnel Director Louis Riddick, who now works as an analyst for ESPN, called Joseph one his favorite players in the NFL Draft, citing Joseph’s “footwork at the snap, play-entry angles against the run and pass, and ability to finish with absolutely ferocious hits and athletic interceptions,” and the fact that other NFL personnel people “[love] Joseph’s passion and commitment to being the best football player he can be.” Initially, I thought Joseph — who’s just under 5’10 and 206lbs — compared very favorably to Broncos safety TJ Ward (Ward was 5’10 and 211lbs coming out of school), but I’m becoming more convinced he could have Earl Thomas-like upside (Thomas is the same height and nearly identical in weight as Joseph). I dream about the idea of Joseph lining up next to DeAngelo Hall (or Dashon Goldson if he’s re-signed) in the Redskins secondary next season. Don’t forget that Scot McCloughan was part of the Seahawks front office that drafted Thomas.

3. The Cowboys and the #4 Pick — Dallas’ first round pick is kind of the fulcrum of the first round of the draft; what they do will shape a lot of the rest of the top 10 to 15 picks might go. Assuming the top three picks go “chalk” (Laremy Tunsil, Wentz/Goff, and Jalen Ramsey), my current prediction is on the Cowboys doing one of three things (in order of likelihood): 1) taking defensive end Joey Bosa (the most logical combination of team need + scheme fit); 2) trading back out of the spot (which i’m getting an increasing feeling that they’d like to do); or 3) taking Ezekiel Elliott (letting Elliott run behind that offensive line would be terrifying). The Cowboys would certainly enjoy adding a pass rusher, especially after getting rid of Greg Hardy. Pairing Bosa, who could contribute from day one, with Demarcus Lawrence (who lead the team with eight sacks last year) would be a huge upgrade for the defensive line. I wouldn’t be overly surprised if they took Ezekiel Elliott at #4; the Cowboys staff has spent a lot of time in Columbus scouting both Bosa and Elliott. But, I get the feeling that they’d be ok with rolling with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris as their running backs this year. And as I mentioned, I get the feeling they’d be a prime partner for a QB-needy team — the Rams at #15? (more on that in just a second) — wants to make a move up to grab whoever the Browns don’t end up taking.

4. Keep an eye on “Trader Les” and the Rams — If there’s one team that could make things interesting, in the form of a “splash” trade upwards in the first round, it’s the LA Rams (side note: it still feels weird writing “LA” in front of their name; that’s going to take some getting used to). The Rams could package their first round pick (#15 overall), one of their two second round picks (they got an extra one from Philadelphia as part of the Sam Bradford trade), and a third round pick, to move up as high as the fourth or fifth overall pick. In essence, they could basically leapfrog a team like San Francisco at #7, and put themselves in position to take the best quarterback available, or the quarterback Cleveland doesn’t end up taking at #2 (presumably Jared Goff, assuming Cleveland takes Carson Wentz). Yes, Rams GM Les Snead publicly declared that Case Keenum is their starting quarterback, but they can’t possibly be serious about that, because… well, he’s Case Keenum. Oh, and then there’s the fact that, right around the same time last year, Snead declared that Sam Bradford would be his starting quarterback; how’d that work out? As Peter King at SI (who has a great relationship with the Rams front office) pointed out: in Snead’s four drafts since taking the Rams’ job, he’s traded eight times in the top 50 picks of drafts (more than any of his peers since 2012). King also recently polled 10 team officials around the league, asking them which team they believed to be most likely to trade into the top five picks of the first round; half of them mention St. Louis (next up? Philadelphia… more on that in a second). Personally, i’m still not 100% sold the Rams are going to make a trade — because they might stubbornly believe they can win games without having a real franchise quarterback — but if there’s a team that’s primed to make one, it’d be the St. Louis… err, LA Rams.

5. Quarterback Run in the First Two Rounds — While we’re on the subject of quarterbacks in the draft, I think, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to see six QB’s taken in the first two rounds of the draft. Wentz and Goff will go among the top 15 picks for sure (i’d be astonished if the Rams stayed at 15 and passed on Goff if he somehow fell to them). I’m not as big a fan of Paxton Lynch as others, but it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll go in the late first or early second round. After that, with teams like Dallas, Buffalo, the Jets, Los Angeles, and Denver all looking for potential long-term solutions at quarterback, and with Kansas City, Chicago, and San Diego potentially in the market for longer-term developmental guys, it’ll be interesting to who chases a prospect in that second tier of quarterbacks, headlined by Connor Cook from Michigan State, Christian Hackenberg from Penn State, and even Cardale Jones from Ohio State (I think someone is going to get real itchy to take a chance on Jones and all the physical talent he has).

6. A Solid Class of Running Backs in the Draft — It certainly lacks the depth and overall star power of the defensive linemen in the draft, but the running back crop has the potential for some real mid-round players. Yes, Ezekiel Elliott is right up there with Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley as the best running back prospects to come out of college in the last decade or so, and Derrick Henry is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner who runs like a speeding freight train with no breaks. But overall this is the type of group that’s going to yield a lot more David Johnson and Devonta Freeman-type running backs — mid round players who could become stars in the right system with the right opportunity. Kenneth Dixon put up massive numbers at Louisiana Tech, and could be a solid contributor as a receiver out of the backfield. Alex Collins from Arkansas is a slasher that broke 1,000 yards rushing in each of the last three seasons; he joined Herschel Walker and Darren McFadden as the only SEC running backs to do so. Devontae Booker from Utah is a polished three-down running back. C.J. Prosise from Notre Dame is an intriguing prospect, having converted from the wide receiver position; 49.7% of his carries last season went for 15 yards or more, and he’s obviously going to be good at catching the football. Kenyan Drake from Alabama could be a dynamic dual-threat weapon; he was overshadowed by Henry, so he never really got to consistently show what he was capable of. Paul Perkins from UCLA, Daniel Lasco from California, Jonathan Williams from Arkansas, and Keith Marshall from Georgia all have some sleeper potential as well. While Elliott is a lock to go in the first round (I really think he’s going to be a top 10 pick) and Henry will likely go high in the second round (if he doesn’t slip into the first round himself), this is the type of group that proves the new thinking of being able to find a quality running back later in the draft.

7. Seven Random Parting Thoughts:

A. Laremy Tunsil has locked up the #1 overall spot, and don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. He reportedly put on a total show at Ole Miss’ Pro Day, showing off a combination of strength and athleticism that even surprised those who already believed he was the best prospect in the draft. I promise you that the reports of the Titans being “torn” between Tunsil and offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley from Notre Dame are totally bogus; it’s just a public ploy to get some team to try and make a godfather offer for the #1 overall pick,

B. We’re at the point in the draft season where we’re getting more reports of “[insert team] loves [insert player] and wants to trade up for him!” Last year, all the buzz was around the Browns, Eagles, and Bears possibly moving up to go get Marcus Mariota; again, how’d that work out? Most recently, it’s this report that the Eagles want to move up for Carson Wentz. It might make sense — I don’t think Doug Pederson is anywhere near as invested in Bradford as Chip Kelly was, and Bradford is only on a two year deal right now anyway — but I seriously doubt it’s going to happen.

C. Of course, there’s an outside chance that Wentz could end up falling to the Eagles at #8, if: 1) the Rams don’t make that trade up into the top 15 picks, and 2) Cleveland surprises everyone and takes Jared Goff at #2. In the aforementioned poll that Peter King took, one personnel elevator said about the Browns pick: “It’s definitely Goff. Believe it.” Now, i’m no NFL insider or personnel guy, but I personally would be very surprised if the Browns took a quarterback at #2 and it wasn’t Wentz. Hue Jackson and the Browns coaching staff were at the Senior Bowl, where Carson Wentz was the proverbial talk for the town. Wentz is also bigger, strong, and more rugged than Goff (the biggest knock on Goff is whether his slight frame can sustain all the punishment he’ll take in the NFL). Goff is also a California boy, born and raised in the San Francisco Bay area. Wentz is a Bismarck, North Dakota native, through and through. Which quarterback do you think would be better suited for the Cleveland climate? Wentz-to-Cleveland still makes more sense to me, but let’s see what happens.

D. The Dolphins, who used to own the #8 overall pick before they traded it to Philadelphia, were often linked in early mock drafts to University of Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, given their needs in the secondary. But even after the Dolphins traded the pick to Philadelphia for cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso (thus dropping them back to the #13 overall pick), it still appears they’re taking a close look at cornerbacks for their first round pick. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they “reached” for cornerback William Jackson III from the University of Houston, who would be another tall corner (Jackson is 6’0 and 190lbs) opposite Maxwell; Matt Miller of Bleacher Report recently mocked Jackson to the Dolphins as well.

E. On the subject of the draft — or draft busts, in this instance — here’s a really interesting perspective on Trent Richardson’s highly disappointing first few years in the NFL. I still think there are questions about how good his vision as a runner really is, but him never truly being healthy since entering the NFL would make a lot of sense. There are some questions as to whether Nick Saban “overuses” his players at Alabama, given how many of them suffer from nagging injuries when they get to the NFL. If there was ever a team that could resurrect a player that has as much presumed talent as Richardson, it would be the Baltimore Ravens. The interesting wrinkle in all of this is whether Richardson will ever get a chance to prove himself there, because the Ravens might be a darkhorse to draft Ezekiel Elliott with the #6 pick.

F. Speaking of the Ravens: as intelligent and pragmatic as their front office staff has continually proven to be, that’s how mentally deficient and boorish the vast majority of the team’s fans are. Want proof? Take a look at this recent example. I get that Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams might not be household names, but they’re two young, emerging stars along the Ravens defensive line, and likely two of the three best players on the Ravens defense. The fact that a supposed “Ravens fan” doesn’t know who they are says everything you know about the intelligence quotient of your standard “Ravens fan.”

G. The irony of learning on the same day earlier this week that: 1) Johnny Manziel is not actually living with Von Miller… but is really living with Josh Gordon; and 2) Josh Gordon failed yet another drug test, is both profound and saddening. Both guys’ situations are beyond humor now; they need serious help for some serious addiction issues, which neither of them seem really interested in obtaining.

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