The SemiColumn: Mid-April Notes on the 2017 NFL Draft

By | April 13, 2017
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Mandatory Credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the two-weeks-away point from my favorite day of the year: the first round of the NFL Draft. This is also right about the time when we can really get a good sense of what teams might or might not do in the first round.

Last year, I did a similar “brain dump” of pre-draft news, chatter, thoughts, and insight. So, building upon that, here’s the same thing, only in a 2017 edition:

1. The Redskins Going Offense At #17?  HailToTheDistrict.com has learned, from multiple sources, that the Redskins are strongly considering the selection of a running back with the #17 pick in the Draft.

The Redskins coaching staff is believed to be very high on this year’s crop of running backs, according to what we’ve heard. While the coaching staff does admire the job that Robert Kelley — aka “Fat Rob” — did last season, from what we’ve gathered, they are very much considering adding a more dynamic running back to the mix, and perhaps making Kelley more of a change-of-pace guy. In other words: there is a lot of credence to the fact that running backs like Dalvin Cook from Florida State and Christian McCaffrey from Stanford have been linked to Washington’s pick at #17 overall.

Note: if you didn’t get a chance to listen to it, make sure you check out our podcast with Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com, where we discuss both Cook & McCaffrey, and how they’d fit with the Redskins, among other NFL Draft topics.

Now, there are two wrinkles to this, which could impact what the Redskins do with their top pick. The first of which is the simple fact that Cook and/or McCaffrey could both be gone by the time the Redskins make their pick. McCaffrey is one of the hottest names in the draft right now, with people saying he could even go as high as #8 overall to the Carolina Panthers. Cincinnati at #9, Cleveland at #12, Philadelphia at #14, and Indianapolis at #15 could all very much be in the market for a running back themselves.

The second wrinkle is that there is believed to be some hesitancy in the Redskins front office in devoting the cap resources allocated for a first round draft pick to the running back position. The 17th overall pick would likely have a cap hit of around $2 million or so (if we use Keanu Neal — the 17th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons — as a comp).

While that’s really not a lot of money, the front office is acutely aware that they are still painfully thin at many positions on this team, and could choose to use some of those cap resources at other positions. Washington could perhaps wait until Day 2 of the NFL Draft, and select a running back like Alvin Kamara from Tennessee, D’Onta Foreman from Texas (whom the Redskins are believed to be intrigued by), or even Joe Mixon from Oklahoma (whose background and checkered past the Redskins are believed to be conducting extensive discussions regarding — but they have NOT taken him off their draft board as of yet).

2. The Top 4 Picks Of The Draft Starting To Take Shape — With only two weeks to go before the start of the 2017 NFL Draft, I believe the top four picks are starting to fall into place:

  • 3) Chicago: Marshon Lattimore, CB, Ohio State — Safety Jamal Adams is the name that’s most often associated with Chicago at #3 overall, but I strongly believe the Bears will end up taking cornerback Marshon Lattimore from Ohio State with this pick. Chicago recently released cornerback Tracy Porter, and the current regime has no loyalty to cornerback Kyle Fuller, the team’s top pick from the 2014 draft (made by former General Manager Phil Emery). Current Bears General Manager is a “Height-Weight-Speed” guy — evidenced by his last two top picks: wide receiver Kevin White and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd — and Marshon Lattimore fits that mold perfectly. He’s a ridiculously-gifted athlete: a legit six-feet tall, running the 40 yard dash in 4.36 seconds, and posting a 38.5-inch vertical jump and an 11-foot broad jump (all among the very best among his position). He also happens to be the best cover corner in this entire class. I’m going on the record as saying that you’ll hear Lattimore’s name called — and not Adams’ — at #3 overall, on draft night (assuming the Bears are the one making this pick).
  • 4) Jacksonville: Jonathan Allen, DL, Alabama — Running back Leonard Fournette is the trendy selection here (and the preferred selection for those remaining few long-suffering fans of this team), but I really think that Allen is the guy they’re actually targeting. Remember that Tom Coughlin, the Jaguars’ new Executive VP of Football Operations, won two Super Bowls behind the talent and versatility of his defensive lines. Even though Jacksonville spent heavily on Malik Jackson (last offseason), Calais Campbell (this past offseason), and Dante Fowler (their top pick in the 2015 NFL Draft), adding Allen would actually make a lot of sense. His scheme versatility might be one of his best traits, making him a great fit Seattle-style of defensive front(s) the Jaguars will continue to use under new defensive coordinator Todd Wash (a former defensive line coach for the Seahawks).

3. My Favorite Overall Player in the 2017 NFL Draft — Last year, I was on the record as stating that safety Karl Joseph from West Virginia — taken by the (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders with the 14th overall pick — was my favorite player in the draft.

My favorite player from this year’s draft happens to play the same position: safety Budda Baker from the University of Washington. You want a comparison for Baker? How about Bob Sanders, the former hitman for the Indianapolis Colts, who was a two-time Pro Bowl and two-time First-team All-Pro selection, as well as the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2007.

Baker plays safety like a heat-seeking missile. He shows superior football intelligence and discipline in reading plays, and once he locks in, he covers ground like a cheetah going after lunch. Back in Takoma, the Huskies used him all over: as an in-the-box safety, as the single-high guy, or in a a basic Cover 2. He’s not a playmaker/ball-hawk in the Earl Thomas-mold, but more of an enforcer. He’s a sure-fire tackler who Attacks, hits, and finishes. When he gets to the ballcarrier, he stops them like flypaper. You can definitely trust him as your “last line of defense” guy.

Now, as mentioned: his single — and biggest — drawback is his size. He’s only 5’10 and 192lbs, meaning the questions about whether he can hold up as a nickel linebacker/”moneybacker” type of player, which he’s perfectly suited to play, are very legitimate. If he was 20lbs heavier, he’d be a lock to go in the first round. But, he’s not.

Still, there’s a part of me that wants to treat Baker like Allen Iverson when he was coming out of Georgetown University: ignore his size, because pound-for-pound, he might be the best “football player” in this draft class. There’s a reason that so many Redskins fans — present company included — are in love with him. It’s just a matter of whether he’ll be able to handle the punishment that comes with playing in the NFL.

4. The “Quarterback of the Future” for the Houston Texans? — Venerated NFL reporter John McClain of the Houston Chronicle went on record as saying that he thinks the Houston Texans would use the 25th overall pick on Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, or Patrick Mahomes, if one of those three are available when they make their pick.

As an aside: I think Tony Romo’s retirement really blindsided the Texans. I have a feeling they put a lot of eggs in the basket of Romo being released from the Cowboys, and signing with Houston to make one last title run. I personally think Romo going to Houston would’ve made the Texans an instant contender in the AFC, and the team with the best chance to dethrone New England for the conference crown. With the #1 overall defense last year, a legitimate #1 wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) and running back (Lamar Miller), AND with the return of J.J. Watt to the lineup, this team was literally a quarterback away from being really, really good. If they got Romo, they could’ve used their first round pick to take an offensive lineman to help protect Romo (and shore up one of the few weaknesses they have on the team), and maybe spent a day 2 pick to replace departed cornerback A.J. Bouye (who signed with Jacksonville).

Obviously, all of that now relegated to the realm of purely hypotheticals. Houston now has to roll into this season with the highly uninspiring duo of Tom Savage (who looked completely overwhelmed when given the starting quarterback job last season), and Brandon Weeden (who has no business still being employed by an NFL team).

So, it would make sense for Houston to do something to upgrade the “shit taco vs. turd sandwich” situation they have at quarterback. But if McClain’s belief turns out to be true, i’m not sure their situation is really going to be all that much better.

As of today, i’m of the belief that Watson and Trubisky will go in the top half of the draft; taking it one step further, I still think both of them are taken among the top 13 picks. So, that would leave Patrick Mahomes as the lone remaining option, and I do think Mahomes would fall to them at #25, regardless of all the pre-draft hype & chatter surrounding him right now.

In the personnel world, there’s a saying about “standing on a table,” when vouching for a guy. I’ll go in the opposite direction on this one: I’ll stand on the table saying I wouldn’t touch Mahomes with anything more than a late Day pick (like the 6th or 7th round).

Mahomes is one of the hottest names among draft prospects at this moment, with most people believing he’ll slip into the first round, and some of those people believing he’s the best quarterback prospect in the draft. I’ll readily admit that NFL talent evaluators know much, MORE than I do, or ever will about scouting. But when going back and watching Mahomes’ games from 2016, I can’t be the only one who sees just another physically gifted quarterback who has no idea how to play QB.

Yes, Mahomes put up gaudy statistics — or basically what I like to call “Nintendo numbers” — at Texas Tech, but so did/do a lot of quarterbacks playing in the infamous “Air Raid” system. If you actually watch Mahomes play, 80% of his game is “sandlot” stuff — running around and using his arm strength to huck up passes. Go back and watch any game film or highlight reel of his; for any 10 highlight plays you’ll see him make, no more than two of them actually feature him standing in the pocket, reading what the defense is doing, and delivering the football based on that information & assessment.

Everyone is tantalized by his physical gifts and athletic ability, but that’s exactly how (and why) guys like Jamarcus Russell, Kyle Boller, Jake Locker, and so many others were drafted too high for their own good — only to end up fizzling in the NFL — after they failed to show the ability to be an actual quarterback in college. I don’t care if Mahomes can throw the ball into the end zone, when standing on his own 20 yard line (as he reportedly did at his Pro Day workout). Boller famously threw the ball through the goal posts, while standing on one knee on his own 50 yard line. How’d that “skill” work out for him, as far as his NFL career?

You know how people say a player is “three years away” (from being able to contribute)? Mahomes is five years away from being three years away. If Houston takes him with an early round selection, and then forces him to play before he’s ready, they could ruin a guy that’s rawer than sashimi.

I don’t have anything personal against Mahomes or Texas Tech (or the Texans). For his sake, and Houston’s sake, I hope he proves me wrong. But, in a draft where there’s already not a lot to get excited about at quarterback, Mahomes is outside my top 5 quarterbacks. I would take Watson, Trubisky, Kizer, Davis Webb, and even Brad Kaaya over Mahomes, without thinking twice.

5. Five Random Parting Thoughts

– I still have a strong feeling that, unless he’s taken goes earlier, the Jets will take quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the #6 overall. I recognize the Jets have used a fourth round pick on Bryce Petty (in 2015) and a second round pick on Christian Hackenberg (in 2016), but it’s pretty apparent they have zero confidence in either of those guys. On top of that, I think Jets General Manager Mike Maccagnan is in full-on “CYA” — read: cover your ass — mode right now, and the best way to do that is to draft a young quarterback and convince your fickle owner (Woody Johnson is one of the ficklest) that you need more time to build a team around him.

– If something strange happens on draft night, and the two super-stud Safeties in this year’s class — the aforementioned Jamal Adams, along with Malik Hooker from LSU — happen to make it past the first seven picks without being drafted (either of them would make a lot of sense for the New York Jets at #6 and the Los Angeles Chargers at #7), that’s when the draft could start to get fun. All of the teams between #8 and #16 are pretty well set at the safety position. As much as I dream to see Adams or Hooker fall to the Redskins at #17, there’s no way that would happen. Expect some team to trade up into the first half of the first round to grab either/both of them, if such a scenario were to take place.

– From what i’ve heard (from a reliable source), Carolina’s top target with their first round pick is running back Leonard Fournette from LSU. For the fifth season in a row, Jonathan Stewart has proven he can’t stay healthy (he hasn’t played a full season’s worth of games since 2011), and he just turned 30 years old this offseason. Fozzy Whitaker and Cameron Artis-Payne are totally replaceable guys. The Panthers front office recognizes they can’t go into 2017 letting teams continue to focus on beating the chutney out of Cam Newton. If Fournette falls to #8, i’m expecting him to be the pick.

– I’ll readily admit that i’m not exactly someone you should go to for insightful hockey analysis. As the saying goes, I know just enough to be dangerous. So, as far as previewing the Capitals vs. Maple Leafs playoff series that begins tonight, what I do know is that: 1) the Capitals are heavy favorites to win the series (a concept that should TERRIFY any DC sports fan); 2) there’s some young hotshot named Auston Matthews that plays for Toronto, and he’s supposed to be really good; and 3) Mike Babcock is the coach for Toronto, and he’s well-known for being a good coach. Point being: while this series should be a cake walk for the Capitals in theory, anyone living in the DMV knows that NOTHING is a cake walk, as far as DC sports teams in the postseason.

– I’m proud to announce the official launch of a new website I founded called Top Ten Town. Background: I get a lot of freelance writing requests for various Top 10 lists, so I wanted to create a place where I could syndicate all the pieces that i’ve written for other people. I actually launched the website back in February, but am just now getting around to announcing and promoting it. I’d love for you to have a look and provide any feedback (or story ideas).

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