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 it is nearly impossible to predict the draft. Obviously, that includes where players will land and how players will pan out. With that said, I expect to be wrong with evaluations and predictions mainly because everyone will be in some way. However, it doesn’t mean I won’t be successful. For every Tyler Lockett I whiff on, there’s a David Johnson I nail. The point is just bare with me; I love the draft and I especially love trying to find the next big thing. It will take patience, persistence and a whole lot of time. Among evaluations, you can expect to see an in-depth look at this year’s top prospects, a couple players I really like (or really don’t like) and the occasional overrated mock draft. As I did with the ‘Deep Route Fantasy Notebook’ I will also discuss the latest news and rumors regarding the NFL and the draft. Let’s kick this series off with something I am 100 percent confident, which will be a rarity…
I know things will change after free agency. Write it in stone. It’s basically pointless to say who will be going where and how the draft will shape up at this stage in the young offseason. For example, many analysts project the Broncos to draft a quarterback with the fifth overall pick. However, those predictions could be worthless if Denver signs Kirk Cousins. Of course, nobody knows what will happen, so you can’t blame the ‘experts’ for making that pick. Besides, I’d bet John Elway is too scared to grab a passer in the first round again and is the leading candidate for Cousins to sign with. While on the subject of unpredictability, I also think it is kind of stupid to project how well a player will perform in the NFL before he is on a team. A lot of players’ success depends on the situation they’re put in; what if Dak Prescott was drafted by the Browns instead? That is why you’ll rarely see me predict how a good a player will be but rather what they can be and how they can become it.
I know there are no such things as ‘experts’ in the draft community. Guys like Mel Kiper and Matt Miller get all the recognition as big name brands, but that doesn’t mean they are the holy grail of draft knowledge. Sure, some people might have more experience scouting players or working around football but anyone can learn the sport of football enough to evaluate a player, especially in today’s technologically advanced society. In my experience, the most effective way to evaluate a player is to watch video of the player yourself. If you don’t feel confident enough to properly diagnose a player, then reading as many scouting reports as you can is a good way to learn. If a guy is really fast, everyone will say he is really fast. The only thing that truly changes is how people project a player’s skill set to the next level. (Ex: Will his unique running style still be effective in the NFL or will he struggle to make an impact like he did in college?) The same can be said about a player’s character. Some people might say planting a flag in an opponent’s field means the guy is brash, uncontrollable and can be detrimental to his team, while others might say the incident showcases the player’s energy and ability to be loved by his teammates. The most important thing to me about scouting is to take into account what others say and to not be close-minded to any possibility, but to also develop trust in yourself so you can build self-confidence.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know why Kirk Cousins’ top choice wouldn’t be Denver. After all, the Broncos have a championship-caliber defense, some talented pieces on offense, a prestigious history and one of the greatest quarterbacks of all-time calling the shots in the front office. None of the other top potential landing spots (Jets, Browns, Vikings) can offer all of those amenities. However, those three destinations can give Cousins something that Denver can’t: money. The Broncos will have an estimated $25 million in cap space this offseason, just 18th in the NFL, per spotrac.com. If the Broncos truly want Cousins, and they really should, Elway and co. would have to clear some cap in order to pay Cousins the massive multimillion-dollar deal he likely craves. If I’m Cousins, I’d beg to join Denver and have Arizona and Minnesota as backup options.
I don’t know why anyone thinks the Vikings would move on from Case Keenum. The man just led the team to the conference championship while injecting hope into a long-depressed fan base. Also, Keenum will likely not demand top dollar. For starters, Keenum is a nice, humble guy. After spending his career as backup, I am sure Keenum would appreciate any offer that makes him at least of the top ten richest quarterbacks in the league, instead of some groundbreaking deal like Cousins might want. Secondly, the Vikings should realize that it was just one season; breaking the bank for a potential one-hit wonder is a risky move. Besides, after faltering in previous stints with the Rams and Texans, some may wonder if Minnesota is the only place where Keenum can thrive (and is worth the dough). My guess is the Vikings like the positives way more than they dislike the negatives and give the 28-year old a four-year, $90 million contract with around 70 percent guaranteed. That deal would be worth just more than Russell Wilson’s contract and just less than Alex Smith’s new contract.
I don’t know why A.J. McCarron seems to be such a hot commodity. He has barely seen any playing time in his four-year career and has thrown 86 completions on 133 attempts in just eleven games. To me, this is just another case of the hype factor and an inflated quarterback market. (It’s always inflated now. I guess that’s just the new norm.) This situation keeps bringing me back to one name: Matt Flynn. Like McCarron, Flynn was also a four-year backup entering free agency, except there were two major differences. The first is that in 2011, Flynn doubled his career touchdown total when he tossed six touchdowns in a game. Second, Flynn was only a backup because he couldn’t unseat some guy named Aaron Rodgers. McCarron couldn’t even beat out Andy Dalton. Obviously McCarron could still flourish in a new situation, but I wouldn’t spend big money on the chance of that happening.
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 Quarterbacks.
1. Sam Darnold – Pros: Big frame. Accurate. Strong. Mobile. Quick decision-making. Great character. Leader. Uses eyes to create plays. High football IQ.
Cons: Turnover prone last season. Funky mechanics. Footwork concerns. Average arm strength. Tries to do too much.
Outlook: To me, he is the safest quarterback in the class. Has everything you want in a quarterback, except for his throwing motion and turnover rate last season, though it could be due to a poor supporting cast.
Big Question: Will his unique throwing motion affect his play in the NFL?
2. Josh Rosen – Pros: Accurate. Big arm. Good footwork. Clean motion. Nice touch. Sees field well. Poised in pocket. Pretty deep ball. Confident. Clutch. Leader. High football IQ.
Cons: Lean. History of injuries. Outspoken. Rumors that he wasn’t well-liked. Not very mobile. Can struggle under pressure.
Outlook: He is your prototypical pocket passer, though a good offensive line will definitely help with his immobility and injury issues. People say he is an ass, but I think he is more intelligent than people give credit for. Speaking your mind isn’t always a bad thing. Rosen might be the best pure quarterback in the class, but his divisive personality and lack of ability under pressure could be huge factors.
Big Question: Can he be protected enough to produce well?
3. Baker Mayfield – Pros: Very accurate. Mobile. Elusive. Throws nicely on the run. Productive collegiate career. Winner mentality. Competitive. Leader. Tough.
Cons: Inconsistent deep ball, sometimes due to late reads. Can throw with too wide of a base, which messes up pass trajectory. Can abandon pocket too soon. Considered undersized. Can be brash. Off-field issues. Has not shown he’s learned from his mistakes.
Outlook: Accuracy and leadership is unquestioned, but his energetic and outspoken personality will not work for every team. He can be great if he learns to control his actions and work around his height disadvantage.
Big Question: Can he be kept under control?
4. Josh Allen – Pros: Elite upside. Insane arm strength. Athletic. Mobile. Throws well on the run. Can make unbelievable throws. Strong lower body. Great balance. Physical tools are there. Friendly personality.
Cons: Raw. Very inconsistent accuracy. Spotty decision-making. Lack of pocket awareness. Outlook: Either plays amazingly or terribly. At his best, he is easily the best quarterback in this class. At his worst, he looks like a joke of a quarterback. He can be great with superb coaching.
Big Question: Can a coach fix his inaccuracy and poor decision-making?
5. Mason Rudolph – Pros: Productive. Experienced. High football IQ. Good anticipation. Very strong arm. Excels on deep balls. Impressive personality.
Cons: Scheme inflated his stats. Ball placement was iffy. Struggles throwing off-balance. Not good improviser; struggles when he loses initial reads. Has trouble under pressure.
Outlook: A pure vertical pocket passer, his record-breaking stats were likely helped out by a pass-heavy scheme, top receivers, and weak defenses. He improved his short passing game but would still be best suited only in a vertical offense.
Big Question: Can he prove he is more than an inconsistent vertical quarterback?
Sleeper: Kurt Benkert – Pros: Strong arm. Gunslinger. Can make amazing throws, especially on deep balls. Solid athlete. High upside.
Cons: Inconsistent. Footwork can get sloppy. Mechanics might need cleaning up.
Outlook: He can make some great plays then make some awful plays. At his best, he can be a good starting quarterback.
Big Question: Can he become more consistent?
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Every week I’ll focus a little more on one player and really dive into his potential, skill set and best possible situation. This week, I’ll be highlighting Baker Mayfield.
One of the most debated prospects in the draft, Mayfield has drawn comparisons as high as Drew Brees and as low as Johnny Manziel. The Heisman winner walked on to two different colleges and won the starting job each time. Mayfield has statistically been the most efficient quarterback in the Big 12 the past three years and for the last two, he even led the entire NCAA. There is no questioning Mayfield’s productivity and accomplishments, but his character and off-field issues have been a popular cause for concern, most notably his arrest in February 2017.
As a football player, Mayfield is a charismatic leader who constantly displays his energy and competitiveness. His athleticism and elusiveness is special for a quarterback. He demonstrates poise and great awareness in the pocket, but he has shown impatience too often and may break from the pocket too soon. As for his passing skills, Mayfield is insanely accurate in short and intermediate throws. He can change how he releases the ball and how his arm delivers the ball. He needs to be more consistent on his deep throws and making those reads earlier.
I love Mayfield’s talent and I am fine with his charismatic and outspoken personality, but it should be noted that no great quarterback has ever thrived with Mayfield’s personality. He will have to mature and use his energy towards his leadership ability, which is already superb. If a coaching staff can keep Mayfield’s head on, he can be a very good player. His ceiling to me is like Russell Wilson because of their similar height disadvantages and heaps of talent. Mayfield should succeed best, at least early on, in a system that favors short and intermediate passes.
Best Fit: Denver, Minnesota Projection: Top-10 pick Risk Factor: Very Risky
THE ‘HANDS’ REPORT
As a former wide receiver, I not only have a special affection towards the position but I especially enjoy scouting them. Hopefully I can find my next ‘Man Crush’ as this week I break down D.J. Moore.
Entering the draft as the second-youngest wide receiver, Moore is a straight-up playmaker. He posted over 1,000 yards receiving and eight touchdowns with a handful of different quarterbacks. He is deadly with the ball in his hands, but not for the reasons you might think. Listed at 5’10” and 215 pounds, Moore isn’t the biggest player but he is certainly one of the strongest. His body strength combined with his impressive balance make him one tough guy to tackle. He’s not the fastest guy but his ability to accelerate with the ball in his hands leads to a lot of touchdowns.
As a catcher, Moore has surprisingly strong hands and is usually successful in jump balls. He excels at high pointing the ball and extending his arms before reeling it in, where he then displays great body control and field awareness to make the catch. He is not afraid to compete for the ball and is notably fearless when making catches over the middle, which can be a dangerous spot for receivers.
My issue with Moore is his lack of separation and his poor route running. Too often Moore would be unable to separate from and would be driven into place by defensive backs. He tends to struggle with press coverage and being physical at the line of scrimmage. Luckily, these problems are easily fixable at the next level. I can see Moore as a very effective number two receiver, kind of in the mold of another Maryland alumni: Stefon Diggs. However, until Moore proves he can create separation, his upside as a first option is limited. Still, Moore has the talent and the traits to be a very lethal weapon in the NFL.
Pro Comparison: Golden Tate Projection: 2nd-round Man Crush Meter: 8.5/10
ONE LAST THING
The winds are swirling on what should be a pivotal offseason for many teams and their signal-callers. With a slew of quarterbacks about to be available via free agency and the draft, I ranked them and gave my predictions on where they’ll end up.
- Drew Brees– You’re crazy if you think Brees will leave New Orleans. Prediction: New Orleans
- Kirk Cousins- He might have performed the worst out of Smith and Keenum, but Cousins age and consistency is a huge factor here. Prediction: Denver
- Alex Smith- Unless either team pulls a ‘McDaniels’, we know where Smith is heading. Traded to: Washington
- Case Keenum- This is just a case of a proven starter over a rookie, but Keenum’s upside is still clearly MVP-level. Prediction: Minnesota
- Sam Darnold- See above. Prediction: Cleveland
- Josh Rosen- See above. Prediction: New York Giants
- Sam Bradford– When healthy, Bradford has played pretty well over the past couple years. Of course, he has rarely been healthy. Until Bradford shows he can stay on the field, he’ll be nothing but a stopgap. I have him over Mayfield for now because teams might prefer a proven veteran to a polarizing rookie, though I think Mayfield’s ceiling is higher than Bradford’s. Prediction: Arizona
- Baker Mayfield- See above. Prediction: New York Jets
- A.J. McCarron- I would only take Mayfield over McCarron because of playmaking ability, though McCarron could be the safer option. Prediction: Cleveland
- Teddy Bridgewater– He flashed potential in his rookie year, but his devastating knee injury adds to the cloud of uncertainty looming over him. This could be a steal, but he needs to prove himself again, though I’m sure a team will overpay for him. Prediction: New York Jets
Honorable Mentions: Tyrod Taylor and Blake Bortles– As of now, these guys each have a roster spot. While they also both led their respective teams to the playoffs, I made an argument a few weeks ago that Taylor and Bortles might not be franchise quarterbacks. If I had to guess, Taylor will move on while Bortles stays (on the hot seat) in Jacksonville. I would take Taylor over Bradford and Bortles over Bridgewater.