Wednesday, April 29, 2015

2015 NFL Draft Big Board

I’ve been paying more attention to this year’s NFL Draft class than others in prior years, largely because of the craziness that is this offseason for the Eagles.  So I might as well channel my inner Mel Kiper Jr. and do a Big Board.
                                                 Christian Petersen/Getty Images

1.     Leonard Williams- DE USC: This man is a beast and destined to be making plays in opposing offenses backfields his entire career. He’s a versatile defensive lineman that could be a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle.  Williams (seen right) is quick and athletic enough to play outside but big enough to be moved inside depending on the team he goes to.  He reminds me a lot of Richard Seymour and is the best player in the draft.

2.     Jameis Winston- QB FSU: Off-the-field concerns are not enough to drive him down boards, as he’ll likely be the first selection in the draft by Tampa Bay.  Winston has a very strong pocket presence and instincts and a good feel for the rush and gets rid of the ball early.  These are very translatable skills to the NFL and make Winston the top QB prospect in the draft.

3.     Marcus Mariota- QB Oregon: Quite of the opposite of Winston here.  Mariota does not come with the same baggage but there have been questions about his ability to run a conventional NFL offense after running the up-tempo spread type offense at Oregon.  While to a certain degree it’s fair to question, I don’t hold it against him too much because we’ve yet to actually see him run an traditional offense.  Mariota is a smart decision maker with the football and a gifted dual threat.  The team fit is much more important with him than Winston, and he might not be able to make as much of a first-year impact, but Mariota is still an intriguing prospect.

4.     Amari Cooper- WR Alabama: Off the charts 2014 season at Alabama and the best wide receiver in this draft.  Cooper can burn defenses in a variety of different ways as he runs good routes and can rack up yards after the catch in addition to stretching the field by running deeper routes.  I don’t see many weaknesses here.

5.     Brandon Scherff- OT Iowa: Scherff is a very versatile offensive lineman who could be used at tackle or guard and developed as a really nice left tackle at Iowa.  He’s already a run good run blocker that drives defensive linemen back with quick jumps off the snap and is a very good athlete that gets into the second level and often blocks linebackers.  Still getting there as a pass blocker but has made nice strides and will be the first offensive linemen off the board.

6.     Dante Fowler- DE Florida: Perhaps a bit of an underdeveloped pass-rusher but the athleticism is exceptional with Fowler.  He could be used in certain situations as a 4-3 defensive end but I think he projects best as a 3-4 outside linebacker in the NFL.  He’s very comfortable standing up and getting after the quarterback.  Another guy that may not make as much of an immediate impact but could become one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers down the road.

7.     Kevin White- WR West Virginia: White is a dynamic receiver that’s an explosive playmaker in space and will rack up yards after the catch.  The Mountaineer will challenge Amari Cooper to be the first wide receiver taken and could go before Cooper.  He projects to be a number one in the NFL as his ability to create separation and beat out corners on 50/50 balls will have him drafted in the top 10.

8.     Shane Ray- OLB Missouri: I’m higher on him than others but Ray had an outstanding 2014 at Missouri competing in the SEC.  Ray was the league’s defensive player of the year as he led the conference with 15 sacks.  He sheds blockers with ease and could be used as a 4-3 defensive end. While his ceiling may not be as high as Dante Fowler’s, Ray might be able to contribute more as a rookie.  Recently caught with marijuana, which could cause him to plummet.

9.     Trae Waynes- CB Michigan State: Waynes is hands down the best corner in this draft.  Checked out at times at Michigan State but Waynes skillset is worthy of a top 10 pick as he can thrive in press coverage, play off when necessary, and could be a good zone corner as well.  He’s a good tackler in space as well and whoever drafts Waynes is getting a well-rounded cornerback.

10.  Danny Shelton- DT Washington: Shelton is listed at 6’2’’ 339 and is the definition of a bull rusher up the middle.  He stays on the field a lot for someone of his build as he led Washington in tackles a year ago.  He reminds me a lot of a Hiloti Ngata type of nose tackle who has a knack for finding the ball in opponents’ backfields and making plays.

11. Devante Parker- WR Louisville: He missed the first seven games of his senior season at Louisville but still managed 855 receiving yards if you count Louisville’s bowl game.  Parker reminds me of AJ Green with his nimble frame and ability to go up and get the ball.  Perhaps there’s a small drop off from Cooper and White to Parker, whoever gets Parker in the 10-15 range is getting a very capable wide receiver.

12. Vic Beasley- OLB Clemson: Very explosive, quick, instinctual pass rusher.  Beasley’s stock flew up with a very strong performance at the combine in Indianapolis.  His on-field performance is nothing to scoff at either. Beasley compiled 44.5 tackles for loss in his last two seasons at Clemson.  In a draft loaded with pass rushers, Beasley is yet another talent.

13. Melvin Gordon- RB Wisconsin: One of my favorite players in this draft.  Gordon is a lot like Jamaal Charles in that he’s an explosive runner that can bust out a big gain between the tackles at any time.   There are some questions as to how he’ll be as a pass catcher out of the backfield, but a guy with this kind of explosiveness and big play ability belongs in the first round and I believe will become an elite back.

14. Randy Gregory- OLB Nebraska: His stock has plummeted some after a failed drug test.  Gregory is a freak athlete and can certainly get after the quarterback but still has work to do defending the run and is a bit of a raw prospect.  Gregory could definitely come in and be a situational pass rusher as a rookie and he has a considerable amount of upside but he still needs to develop.

15. Arik Armstead- DE Oregon: Much like Gregory, Armstead is a good athlete and needs to polish his skills to become a consistent producer at the next level.  I think Armstead translates best as a 3-4 defensive end at 6’7’’ 292 and with great length.  The fit here will be very important to maximize Armstead’s talent and get the most out of his athletic ability.

16. Todd Gurley- RB Georgia: Gurley has been slowly but surely rising up boards as his knee checks out after having his 2014 shortened at Georgia due to a torn ACL.  Much has been made about the devaluation of the running back position in the NFL but that won’t stop a runner like Gurley who is the perfect combination of power and speed and shreds arm tackles left and right, from getting drafted in the first round.

17. Malcolm Brown- DT Texas: Brown’s production rose year by year with the Longhorns as his sacks and tackles for losses steadily increased.  Brown is very quick given his frame and uses his quickness to shed blocks.   I’m not sure if his upside is as high as guys like Gregory or Armstead, but his floor is definitely higher than both as I think Brown projects to be a good player whether he’s used as a 4-3 defensive tackle or a 3-4 nose tackle.

18.  Cameron Irving- OL Florida State: Love the versatility as this is a guy who played center, guard, and tackle with the Seminoles.  This says a lot about the kind of athlete Irving is and he’s another high floor prospect that I think can help a lot of teams up front regardless of the position but is probably best used as a center.

                                     Matt Kartozian- USA Today Sports
   19. Jaelen Strong- WR Arizona State: Great size and ball skills and his ability to go up and get the ball while creating separation with the ball in the air is outstanding.  I think Strong (left) goes somewhere in the 20-30 range and will be a steal in the back end of the first round. Matchup nightmare.

   20. Landon Collins- S Alabama: Collins is a heavy-hitting safety that is very good in run support.  He isn’t the best against quicker slot receivers in coverage and perhaps that’s the biggest question mark surrounding Collins. He should hold up just fine against bigger targets.

21. Ereck Flowers- OT Miami: Flowers is very good in pass protection and his size makes it easy for him to open up lanes in the running game. His agility and strength at 6’6’’ 329 make him an intriguing prospect and one that should go in mid to late first round.

22. La’el Collins- OT LSU: Well-rounded offensive linemen.  May not have the ceiling of Flowers but should be a first rounder and could be a steal towards the back end of the first.  Hard to see him being anything less than a solid, consistent starter for many years.  High Floor.

23. Marcus Peters- CB Washington: Lots of off-the-field concerns surrounding the causes of Peters missing several games at Washington and ultimately being kicked off the team.  However, he’s a talented football player that has a knack for locating the ball and making a play.  Peters is also good in run support and corner blitzes.  I think there’s a team that takes a chance late first.

24. Eddie Goldman- DT FSU: Will be best suited in the NFL as a run stuffer up the middle.  Goldman’s ability to clog holes and locate the ball carrier should translate.  Not as well rounded as guys like Danny Shelton and Malcolm Brown.

25. Breshad Perriman- WR UCF: Not as high on him as some and think there’s some bust potential here.  He has explosive speed that could lead to him being over drafted.  Perriman dropped a lot of balls at Central Florida and is not the most polished wide receiver. Lots of upside but a low floor as well.  Guys like Phillip Dorsett and Nelson Agholor are safer bets but Perriman’s probably off the board first anyway due to the upside.

26. Bud Dupree- OLB Kentucky: Great athleticism, which could lead to him being over drafted as well.  This draft is deep at edge rusher and I don’t think Dupree is as refined as the rest of the first round pass rushers.  Dupree does bring lots of versatility to the table with his 6’4’’ 269 frame and could be a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 end at the next level.

27. Kevin Johnson- CB Wake Forest: Good tackler.  Decent instincts and a very smooth corner.  Nothing really stands out in terms of freakish abilities but seems to be the kind of player that’s just good at a lot of things and that will get him drafted on Thursday night.

28. Eric Rowe- CB Utah: I like him.  Could be a corner or a safety in the NFL.  I think best used as a safety due to his heavy hitting and ability to tackle in space.  Coverage skills are a work in progress, relies a lot on instincts and anticipation, but because of that I think Rowe can be a really solid NFL safety and could be a hidden gem late first or early second.

29. Jalen Collins- CB LSU: Another defensive back that tackles well.  Solid closing speed but relies on it a little too much for my liking.  Plays off receivers a lot.  Failed drug test leading up to the draft could hurt his stock.

30. Shaq Thomspon- OLB Washington: Good football player but I’m concerned about his fit in the NFL.  Could be an edge rusher, could be a safety in the NFL.  Played some running back at Washington too.  Great athlete but team fit and usage is the most important thing for him.

31. Quinten Rollins- CB Miami (Ohio): Theme of good tackling defensive backs continues with Rollins.  I like the athleticism Rollins brings to the table and his ball skills are nice.  Not the most fundamentally sound corner but there’s a lot to like here.

32. Dorial Green-Beckham- WR Missouri/Oklahoma: He was dismissed from Missouri after the 2013 season and he waiver was denied to play at Oklahoma in 2014 and so here we are looking at the draft’s biggest wild card. All the talent in the world.  Probably should be higher on this board.  But I don’t know if I can trust him.  So much off-the-field baggage I don’t know if he’ll ever reach his potential.  But a great talent and gifted athlete.

Best of the rest: Nelson Agholor (WR-USC), Phillip Dorsett (WR-Miami), Byron Jones (CB-Connecticut), TJ Clemmings (OT- Pitt), DJ Humphries (OT- Florida)

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Most definitely a tradition unlike any other

There is no better life during this week of the year than the one that Jim Nantz lives.  On Saturday and Monday he called the Final Four for CBS, and this weekend he’s a part of the network’s coverage of the Masters as he always is.  As I sat in class this morning streaming the first round of the masters on my computer, I became so envious of those at Augusta taking in the golf and the beautiful weather.  That sounds a lot better than being in a cloudy, rainy, and chilly Philadelphia during the second week of April.

For some it’s the only time of year they watch golf.  While I’m not nearly as tuned in on golf year round as I am other with sports, I do follow the majors closely and there’s nothing like The Masters, in any sport.  There’s a mystique and aura that comes with Augusta National every year.  Something crazy is going to happen.  We just don’t know what it will be.  That’s why it’s so special.  Whether it is Bubba Watson’s magical shot out of the woods in the 2012 playoff against Louis Oosthuizen or the infamous Tiger Woods chip on 16 in 2005, there’s always those moments that define the event.

Perhaps this is why even casual sports fans focus their attention on golf for these four days.  “What’s it going to be this year?” is the question I always ask myself.  There are few events each year in sports that are like this.  Championships aren’t always won in dramatic fashion. But handing out the green jacket every year almost always comes with a certain degree of excitement, which makes it obvious to see why CBS always refers to the event as “a tradition unlike any other”.

Now last year wasn’t as riveting as years past as Watson coasted to his second green jacket despite an impressive weekend from the youngster Jordan Spieth.  But that’s out of the norm.  Usually there’s almost always an abundance of storylines coming into the event and with Woods back after missing the tournament last year, there’s added intrigue to Thursday and Friday just to see if Tiger can make the cut and stick around for the weekend.

So as with another Masters upon us, it’s time to soak it all in.  These four days serve as an annual reminder as to why I love sports.  Opening statements made today, cuts made tomorrow, moves made Saturday, and a green jacket worn by the last man standing on Sunday.  Truly, a tradition unlike any other.