The Deep Route Draft Notebook features takes on the latest draft discussions and reports on players and teams ahead the 2018 NFL Draft. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro/College Football Reference, ESPN, or 4for4.com.
THINGS I KNOW
I know mock drafts and big boards are overrated. Sure, they are fun to read and criticize, but if you’re looking for a crystal ball, you will not find one. Don’t get me wrong, mock drafts can be a great way to figure out who a team might select or to see what the mocker (Is that a real term?) thinks about a player or situation. However, I will say that there is few things more annoying than a mock draft without trades. Trades are like March Madness upsets; they are guaranteed to happen. In the past three drafts, six, twelve and eleven first-round picks were swapped, respectively. I get that it is ‘too hard’ or ‘pointless’ to create a mock draft with trades because it is impossible to pick trades, but mock drafts are just as difficult to make without them!
As for big boards, those are a little bit nicer due to their ability to just rank players regardless of scheme fit or positional value. However, so many players’ careers are shaped based on their scheme fit, coaching staff and supporting cast, if I had to name a few factors. Therefore, it seems irrelevant to say which players will be better if we don’t even know who they will be playing for. I prefer to wait until after the draft so I can best determine how a prospect will fit into their new team. One prime example I can think of is Carson Wentz. While he was always a good player, he landed in the perfect situation in terms of coaches and roster talent. The guy taken one pick ahead of Wentz, Jared Goff, was stuck with no surrounding talent and a lame excuse for a coaching staff. Imagine if the two had switched places and consider who still would be considered the top guy. The point I am making is that it is unwise to predict a player’s success in the NFL without knowing what he situation he will be entering. Alas, don’t let that stop you from having some fun in the form of mock drafts and big boards. Just don’t consider them as the Holy Grail, either.
I know teams with quarterbacks and a high draft pick are getting better value. First off, what an absurd offseason this has been so far, especially for the draft. There have been two trades within the first round already, and you can bet there will be more. In a league seemingly defined by who’s tossing the ball for each team, quarterbacks have become more and more valuable (I didn’t think it was possible) as evident by recent draft trends. This could be the third straight year with an arms race to reach the top of the draft in order to likely snag a quarterback. The interesting thing about all this movement is that if quarterbacks do indeed go 1-2-3 (or even picks 1-5, as some speculate) it just helps out the teams who already have a signal-caller. Look at the Colts, for example. Instead of potentially choosing from the best non-QB available, they snatched up three additional high profile picks by just moving down three spots. The important thing about the trade is that the Jets, who now have the third pick, will probably take a quarterback. This pushes another premier talent down the board for teams like the Colts or 49ers. I was already super amped for the draft, but a potential run on quarterbacks to start the draft probably excites non-QB desperate teams just as much as it excites me.
I know the depth of this offensive line class makes up for the lack of stars. Aside from the best offensive line prospect in years (Quenton Nelson), this class really lacks star power. Everyone seems to have a divided opinion on who follows Nelson as the second-best in the class. On the flip side, it really demonstrates the plethora of options teams can choose from. As of now, there are about 7-8 guys who I see getting first round grades more often than not, and I wrote about some of them in this week’s Position Primer. Still, that is an adequate selection of players considering the major deprivation of offensive linemen in the NFL right now. Something else I noticed about this year’s offensive linemen is their overall versatility. Multiple players, including the guys I highlight later on, are not only capable of playing another position but are also willing to. Again, this can be attributed to the NFL’s increasing demand for quality offensive lineman. What does this mean for teams in need of offensive line help? Patience is a virtue. Teams can wait to take a lineman later in the draft and still get a guy who can potentially start at most of, if not all, of the five positions.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know if the Giants will stay at two. Let’s be real: Eli Manning isn’t getting any younger, nor will he play like it. With a new head coach and new general manager, the Giants could really benefit from a new quarterback, too. It’s only been a year, but Davis Webb hasn’t exactly instilled assurance in his long-term success. New York could easily take their top-rated quarterback at number two and allow for him to develop while competing with Manning and Webb. The Giants are in a strange situation, though. There is no question that the second pick is a hot commodity, especially after the Jets jumped to the third pick. While nothing is guaranteed in the NFL Draft, signs point to the first and third picks both being quarterbacks. As of now, I am not sure what the Giants’ likely pick could be, but there are various paths for the G-Men to take. Considering the team’s depleted roster, taking the best player available could be a smart move. However, trading down is enticing, especially with the quarterback run shoving top prospects down the board. If I had to make a guess right now, I would bet on a Giants’ move down the board in an attempt to restock a roster littered with holes, most notably at running back, defensive end, cornerback, linebacker and all over the offensive line.
I don’t know if I agree with the Dolphins’ new philosophy. This is an interesting case as next season is clearly a make-or-break year for Miami. Ryan Tannehill (who finally came into his own last offseason before he went down with a brutal knee injury) will have a year to prove he is the guy. Adam Gase has a year to show he actually knows how to coach his players, let alone a quarterback. The front office, headlined by Mike Tannebaum and Chris Grier, will have a year to show their recent slew of moves were the right ones. With that said, someone tell me why, in the most crucial season of the Gase-Tannehill era, the Dolphins said goodbye to their two best players. I get the team wants a ‘culture change’ (the effects of the ill-fated Jonathan Martin incident still loom South Beach, apparently), but the team needs to win now. Letting Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry go (at the price of a 4th and future 7th rounder, Miami basically sent beans for a magic cow) might lead to an atmosphere change, but it certainly hurts the team’s talent level. I will say, however, that if the team truly is buying into a culture change, they have made the right decisions. Danny Amendola and Josh Sitton not only filled positions of need, but they are proven leaders who can make a huge impact on the field (when healthy) and off it. Those moves add depth, experience and leadership, but this team is still arguably worse than last season. There are numerous holes to plug, and despite what you think about Tannehill, quarterback is not even in the top three of Miami’s biggest needs right now. Which makes it weird that Gase and his staff would be so invested in a polarizing, controversial player like Baker Mayfield, who happens to be a quarterback. Taking a QB in the first round could be a catastrophic mistake because if he can’t succeed, he could be playing for a new staff the following year. Time will tell if this new ideology pays off for the Dolphins, but time is something no one in this organization has.
I’ll give a weekly rundown of the top players at a certain position, including a potential sleeper. The players will be ranked, but of course, these rankings are EASILY SUBJECT TO CHANGE. Let’s take a quick look at this year’s Offensive Linemen.
1. Quenton Nelson (G) Pros: Powerful. A punisher. Athletic. Generational talent. Creates movement well. Can lock down man in pass protection easily. Prototypical size and posture. Strong. Quick. Aggressive. Fluid motions. Powerful, quick hands. Incredible field awareness. Very high football IQ. Rare ability to regain position and still be effective. At this point I could write a new article on how sensational Nelson is. Doesn’t do many things wrong, and when he does it happens rarely.
Cons: Had injuries linger over the years. Timing could be better. Not overly quick.
Outlook: Arguably the best guard prospect in years, there really isn’t any true con with Nelson other than his low positional value. His focus should be just improving small things, like timing.
Big Question: Will Nelson’s low positional value hurt his draft stock?
2. Will Hernandez (G) Pros: Excels in run game. Mauler. Surprisingly athletic. Powerful hands. Surprisingly mobile. Major hip flexibility. Very experienced. Accomplished. Character and passion is praised by many. Quick footwork. Incredible balance, due to strength and wide base. Can go from truck (moving) to wall (anchor) in an instant.
Cons: Can be beaten along edge. Doesn’t have ideal size (6’2, 327). Hands undersized, too. Can be too antsy when engaging rushers. Not always effective blocking upfield.
Outlook: His success in college and incredible combo of speed and power can lead to a long, productive career. His size is a major limiting factor, though.
Big Question: Will Hernandez’s size affect his play?
3. Connor Williams (T) (Featured in Player of the Week)
4. Billy Price (C) Pros: Physical. Strong. Mean. Considered one of the most technically sound lineman in the draft. Leader. Tough. Good size. Explosive. Very powerful. So quick to engage after snap. Great balance. Very high football intelligence. Insanely flexible. Adequate hand placement. Exceptional recovery.
Cons: Hurt at combine. Lack of prototypical length. Patience was an issue. Was too eager at times. Footwork can be too slow.
Outlook: Has all the traits necessary to be very successful, but the Combine injury might (it shouldn’t) drop him some spots. Rumor has it that his personality can be frustrating.
Big Question: Will Price’s time recovering from injury affect his initial impact?
5. Mike McGlinchey (T) Pros: Former team captain. Athletic. Refined technique. Very good instincts. Rare ability to mirror defenders. Constant worker. Uses hands effectively. Flexible hips. Athletic. Balanced. Good posture. Moves well. Excels on double teams. Versatile.
Cons: Speed rushers have been a challenge. Not overly strong. Inconsistent, especially against power. Needs to bulk up a little more. Pad level can rise when blocking. Doesn’t always finish. Tends to lean into blocks to often.
Outlook: Still needs some overall work, but McGlinchey’s natural instincts are on another level. He’ll need to become stronger and is still a little raw.
Big Question: Will McGlinchey let his inconsistency get in the way of his natural abilities?
6. Isaiah Wynn (G) Pros: High football intelligence. Versatile. Usually finishes. Strong hands. Relatively quick off of snap. Mobile. Exceptional hand placement. Nice balance. Athletic. Flexible. Good awareness. Has shown to be a good anchor. Fluid movement.
Cons: Small hands. Relatively lean frame. Impatience was an issue. Concerns about ability to deal with NFL strength.
Outlook: Played tackle but will play guard due to lack of size. Wynn has the right traits but there are concerns about how he will adjust to NFL defenders.
Big Question: Can Wynn make the successful move to inside at the next level?
Sleeper- Austin Corbett (G) Pros: Three year captain. Quick. Prototypical measurables. Developed. Uses hands very effectively. Lethal punch. Quick footwork. Moves consistently forward when reaching second level. Above average football intelligence. Aggressive. Mean. Physical. Good posture. Balanced. Keeps body square. Incredible finishing ability.
Cons: Can struggle against speed moves. Can rely too much on hand placement. Not the strongest, especially with his legs. Inexperienced at guard.
Outlook: Corbett played tackle in college, but his physicality, size and movement skills will probably be more suitable on the inside. He’ll need to gain strength and work on his counters to speed rushers.
Big Question: Can he become stronger while learning to play in the interior?
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Every week I’ll talk a little about an incoming player who has dominated recent draft talk, either for good reasons or for bad. This week, I reached out to fellow draft nerd Rob Paul, who will be highlighting Connor Williams.
Let me start this by saying, Quenton Nelson is the best guard prospect I’ve ever seen and the best offensive line prospect since Trent Williams. With Nelson there is no argument, his tape is spectacular, he makes plays that will blow your mind. The bigger discussion is around this offensive tackle class, particularly Texas’s Connor Williams. Throw on the 2016 tape of Connor Williams and he looks like a dominant franchise tackle, I’ve likened his play to Joe Thomas. He battled an MCL injury in 2017 and he struggled compared to his 2016 season. Basically, the argument against him seems to be the slight regression of play in 2017 due to an injury and his lack of length.
There was always worry his arm length wouldn’t be NFL caliber, but at the combine they came in at 33” which is just hitting the minimum needed. Factor in that he tested as one of the most athletic tackles at the combine and it should quiet some questions surrounding him. Tape should always outweigh everything else in an evaluation process. That’s where Williams justification as the best tackle comes, his 2016 tape is light-years ahead of the rest of the class and even his 2017 “down year” is better than the next best guy, Mike McGlinchey.
Breaking down Williams tape the first thing that stands out is his ability to reset and anchor down when initially beat by a defender. His lower body is strong enough to regain balance and his hand use violent enough to lock inside a defender. The anchor ability is what separates him from the rest of the class. Of course, he also has a mean streak and finishes plays through the whistle. Combine all that with his athleticism and you have the most well-rounded tackle in the class. His anchoring and hand use make up for sloppy footwork at times in pass protection, while his strength, mobility, and mentality make him a great run blocker. Even if Williams doesn’t have enough length for NFL teams I believe he’ll have All-Pro potential as a guard and reminds me some of the Cowboys Zack Martin, who played tackle at Notre Dame. -Rob Paul
Best Fit: Cincinnati Bengals Projection: Top-25 pick Risk Factor: Safe
THE ‘HANDS’ REPORT
As a former wide receiver, I not only have a special affection towards the position but have had a relatively good eye for receiving prospects. Hopefully I can find my next ‘Man-Crush’ as I talk about a new player each week. Today I’ll be discussing Cedrick Wilson.
The perfect word to describe Wilson: electric. This dude is unreal with the ball in his hands. His quickness, speed, lateral agility and shifty footwork all enhance his run-after-catch and return abilities. Wilson is an intriguing prospect in that he plays a lot faster than his Combine numbers showed. There is no doubt that Wilson is an athletic freak, especially considering he is 6’2 and 197 pounds. (A big knock was Wilson’s weight, but he gained nine pounds since the season ended.) Wilson is a precise route runner who separates easily down field. Aside from his absurd playmaking skills, Wilson has a special knack for locating the football. There were too many times when he had to readjust his body in order to reel in a difficult catch. He also flashed when catching in traffic. This man is a top vertical option and once he gets by a defender, he is virtually uncatchable.
Wilson has two glaring holes in his game, but both can be fixed. The first is his lack of physicality. Wilson has a lean frame so he can get outmuscled easily, especially along the line of scrimmage. Press coverage was a challenge for him so he’ll have to improve his strength and physicality in the NFL. Another thing that concerns me is Wilson’s inconsistency when catching balls. There were many times when watching him that I saw him let the ball land in his chest rather than high point it. Most of the times there wasn’t an issue, maybe due to lack of competition in the Mountain West. However, as I have said constantly, an NFL defender will disrupt that pass in an instant. If Wilson could just play to his height a little more, he could be an even deadlier weapon.
I keep seeing Ted Ginn comparisons to Wilson, and while both do have similar playing styles, Wilson is better at catching the ball than Ginn. It was tough finding a tall, quick playmaker with ball-tracking skills akin to Wilson’s, but Marvin Jones might be the closest comparison. While Jones is a little better at tracking the ball and Wilson is a slightly more explosive, both are lankier, playmaking receivers. That includes being absolute headaches for defenders when they have the ball. Wilson might have some holes in his game, but his athleticism and natural ability to find the ball gives him a very high ceiling.
Pro Comparison: Marvin Jones Projection: Early 3rd Round Man-Crush Meter: 6.4/10
ONE LAST THING
In case you have been living under a rock, this has been one whirlwind of an offseason. These past two weeks have been dominated by league-altering headlines. Here are five that captured my attention a little more than most.
Kirk Cousins signs with the Vikings: This is already a landmark deal because of Cousins’ ascension to the NFL’s highest-paid player ever, but it was also the first fully guaranteed contract. You can expect this trend to continue. I bet Cousins’ won’t even be the fifth highest-paid player within two years.
Case Keenum signs with the Broncos: If Keenum plays like he did last year (which was like an MVP), then this is a great deal. It helps that Keenum fits nicely in the Denver system, though he will deal with a worse coaching staff and supporting cast than he had in Minnesota.
Jets, Colts swap picks: Book it now, the Jets are grabbing a quarterback. It was kind of a risky move because this means they are either fully confident in at least three QBs or are still unsure about which one to take. As for the Colts, they need all the talent they can get and garnered an impressive haul back from the Jets.
Bills jump to twelve: Here is another example of an AFC East team looking for a quarterback. It’ll be interesting to see if (or when) they move up, which will probably happen on draft day. The Bengals got two things they sorely needed: a proven offensive lineman and more draft picks.
Joe Thomas retires: I still think he’s a future Hall of Famer, but don’t be surprised if he is eventually enshrined as a sports broadcaster, too.