That sound you’re hearing is probably my rapid, thunderous heartbeat. We are officially less than a week out from the greatest week of the year and I can hardly contain my excitement. While it may seem hectic in the world of football, read on to see why that is certainly not the case. If anything, all the activity is occurring behind closed doors as teams prepare for what could be a franchise-altering draft. I’ve covered all the top prospects by now and you can view those articles here.
Today, I conclude my draft-focused articles with a look at pretty weak linebacker and safety classes, hence the reason I paired them together. I also give a glimpse at the official NFL schedule and why I found myself scratching my head more often than not. Next week, you can expect my massive, fantastic official mock draft just in time for the draft. Oh yeah, something else is on the way, and it’s pretty marvelous. For now, sit back and enjoy another installment of my ‘Deep Route Football Notebook’…
THINGS I KNOW
I know ’tis the season of overblown news. Almost everything you’re hearing out of the NFL now will likely be blown out of proportion. Part of the reason is the NFL Draft, when teams like to spread rumors to try and manipulate the market for a prospect. The other reason is that, in case you didn’t notice, there is no football being played. How else are fans supposed to get their source of entertainment?
At this time last year, it was by panicking over a QB’s hand size. This year, the list goes on. First, football media was enamored with the political beliefs of Nick Bosa, arguably the best prospect in the draft. Then, speculation spiked about where Russell Wilson would play next season all because he hadn’t reached a contract extension with the Seattle Seahawks yet. Well, Wilson is predictably still a Seahawk, as he should be for the rest of his career. There was no shot Seattle let Wilson play elsewhere.
More pandemonium ensued when the NFL schedule was released (though most of it had already leaked out to the public). People need to stop predicting their team’s records when football doesn’t start for another four months. We don’t even know who these teams are drafting yet. As an encore for this mad dash to blow up irrelevant news, watch how the smallest draft stories become beaten to death on sports TV. Sure, it’s all entertainment but be weary of what information actually matters ahead of next week’s NFL Draft.
I know I’m not that high on Devin White.
I’ve seen him go in the top five of some mock drafts, and frankly, I think that’s a slight gamble. White obliterates the eye-test with his speed, strength and size. Even though he’s only six-feet tall, so is Bobby Wagner, among others. There’s no denying his unreal athleticism and range, or ability to cover large amounts of space quickly. That alone is rightfully enough to make him a high draft pick. Everything else about White is either mixed or a projection, in my opinion. White has constantly shown off his hit power but his tackling technique as a whole isn’t consistent. The same can be said for White’s ability to navigate and monitor space. He’s had ups and downs when deciding what to do when the play is developing in front of him. Blockers usually had fun times blocking White, too.
In short, White has improvements to make on the mental side of the game. I can see why many people think White could be a great linebacker because of his insane physical attributes. However, I feel there’s too much of a projection being made in regards to White’s draft stock. White’s physical attributes might not be enough to hold a place among the NFL’s elite and there’s no guarantee he’ll land on a team with the necessary coaching staff. Despite my concerns, White excels in unteachable areas. He can still become a top LB and is almost a lock to be a top-ten pick.
I know Devin Bush is a solid consolation prize.
If teams miss out on White, they’ll almost assuredly have a chance at snagging Bush in the middle of the first round. The lack of LB’s this year will likely push Bush from the back of the first round to the teens. While a bit undersized (5-foot-11, 234), Bush should have no problems acclimating to today’s NFL. That’s in part due to his physicality; Bush is not afraid to get feisty. He has experience at all three LB positions and has the range to make an impact all over the field. His processing skills and his ability in coverage have been praised as well. He isn’t as athletic nor as fast as White, but those are still definitive positives for Bush. His tackling isn’t perfect but also akin to White, he’s dropped some highlight-reel hits.
Unfortunately, Bush has physical limitations with his lack of length. This disadvantage can be seen in his trouble with shedding blocks and playing through contact. You’ll hear a lot of talk about the two Devin’s and how similar their potential contributions to the league are. White has A+ grades in some areas whereas Bush has only A’s. Nothing is ever set in stone with the NFL Draft, but you can expect both White and Bush to be first-round picks on Thursday.
I know Mack Wilson is too inconsistent.
That really seems to be the main issue with the Alabama LB. Another concern people have about him is his lack of experience. That’s not too much of shocker considering he comes from a loaded Alabama defense. On the other hand, the benefits of that are facing top competition and developing a high football IQ. This might sound obvious but it’s important to not get caught up in where a player went to school. People tend to see ‘Alabama’ and they immediately hold that player in higher regards.
Undoubtedly, this is not always the case. Besides, Wilson is not a bad prospect by any means. He’s shown an adequate nose for the ball in coverage and the necessary quickness to effectively pursue the ball. His patience is a huge plus as it covers up his inconsistent instincts. His tackling isn’t always great, though, and sometimes he might be too patient and fail to react quickly enough to a play. Again, the lack of LB’s might cause Wilson to be selected higher than he should be, so I can see him being a second-round pick with a minimal shot of lasting through the third-round.
I know Blake Cashman is a late riser.
Cashman’s name wasn’t thrown around much until recently, and for good reason. The 6-foot-1, 237-pound LB out of Minnesota is a gem in coverage. He’s the type of guy who could potentially slide out and cover a slot WR or TE, thanks to his quick feet and athleticism. He’s shown he can read plays well and is praised for his leadership. Cashman’s tackling technique is good, not great, but he’s struggled with dropping big, powerful hits. He’ll have to get stronger and cleaner with his technique if he wants to increase his hit power. His less-than-ideal length doesn’t help either, especially when trying to shed blockers. Teams might be weary of Cashman’s shoulder surgeries last year, too. Injuries alone are legitimate reasons for a player’s complete removal from a team’s draft board. I’ve already heard that some teams have taken off edge rusher Montez Sweat due to a heart condition. While Cashman’s injuries aren’t as serious and are largely things of the past, it’s anyone’s guess to how often a past injury can pop up in the future.
I’m not sure if Cashman will have an easy time adjusting to accommodate his limitations, but he has enough positives to make at least a solid contribution to whatever team drafts him. He’s a Day Two pick, if I had to bet.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how this NFL schedule was approved. I know I made a point earlier about how overblown the release of the schedule is, but there were a couple things that caught my eye. First, let me preface my complaints with a little backstory. The schedule used to be completely handmade by a team of experts but is now mostly constructed by a computer. The inner workings and thought process of the schedule makers is extremely detailed and relatively secretive, so unfortunately they probably won’t explain why the schedule includes the following situations. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders will each go six weeks without playing a home game, including a bye week and a London game. That’s a long time away from home. The Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers and Seahawks all will play one home game within a five-week span. That’s also a long time away from home. The Miami Dolphins first five games include one away game. That’s a long time at home. The Buffalo Bills have no prime time games.
Every team deserves at least one prime-time game for those who can’t watch all of the teams’ games. I will say I appreciate that all teams are facing between five to seven playoff teams from last year. In reality, I doubt many people will care about the flaws when the games are actually being played but it will certainly have an effect on teams, whether fans see it or not.
I don’t know which safety is being drafted first.
The safety landscape has shifted immensely throughout the entire draft process and it is still extremely fluid. At this point, I couldn’t tell you if there will be no safeties taken in the first round or if there will be three selected. If I had to guess, I’d say expect one to be picked on Thursday. As for who that player will be, the signs are foggy but could be pointing in Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s favor. Versatility is the name of the game for the Florida defensive back. Among other traits, his size (under 5-foot-11 and 210 pounds) and athleticism allow him to be moved around the secondary.
Gardner-Johnson has made noticeable strides these past two seasons, including with his tackling and his effort. He’s always been a powerful hitter with great range. Consider him the lurker of the Florida secondary, always aware of what’s going on around him. His ball skills are a plus, too. All in all, Gardner-Johnson has a pretty well-rounded résumé. The one thing that miffs me is his inconsistency. Gardner-Johnson has shown he can do a whole lot yet hasn’t shown he can do it all consistently. I’m sure NFL coaching can fix this, though. I’m not as confident with this as I was last year with Seattle’s selection of Shaquem Griffin, but keep an eye on Seattle taking ‘CGJ’ in the first round.
I don’t know how Nasir Adderley was so overlooked.
Wait, never mind, I know why. Not many players from Delaware get good looks during the season. Adderley will become the fifth Delaware player to be taken and has a shot at being the highest-selected Blue Hen ever (yes, they’re called the Blue Hens). Enough with my Delaware infatuation and back to Adderley, who is quietly a top safety prospect. It was hard finding anything wrong with him. He was primarily played as a deep safety so his versatility and man coverage skills aren’t as developed, though it shouldn’t be worried about at this point.
Naturally, there are concerns about the lack of competition Adderley faced at Delaware as well. Other than that, Adderley is extremely well-rounded. His leaping ability and physicality have been praised. He’s got good range and speed. Tackling and ball skills are positives. I could go on. When it comes to Adderley versus Gardner-Johnson, I think Adderley is the better player but Gardner-Johnson has more to offer and will likely be the higher pick.
I don’t know when Deionte Thompson will be drafted.
As I mentioned earlier, the stock of the safety class has fluctuated all year long. At the beginning of the process, Thompson was the favorite to be the first safety selected. Some even had him as a potential top-ten pick, myself included. The truth is that Thompson is a good deep safety but doesn’t offer much at any other position. Versatility is more important than ever in the NFL (and sports in general) and Thompson doesn’t offer what Gardner-Johnson can. He also isn’t as well-rounded as Adderley. For example, Thompson can be too eager to make plays which can indeed lead to big plays… for the other team. His tackling isn’t fantastic, either. Thompson can still be a very good safety, though. If a team needs a physical ballhawk, Thompson is the guy.
He’s got the range and long speed to cover ground fast. Not to mention that Alabama safeties seem to have a solid reputation in the NFL. I like Thompson and I think he can carve out a successful career, but teams prefer guys who wear multiple hats as opposed to Thompson who only owns one. He could hear his name called early on the second day.
I don’t know if there’s a better safety to watch than Johnathan Abram.
Another apparent late riser up draft boards, Abram is as ferocious as they come. He’ll deliver the game-changing hits all day long and is not afraid to voice his emotions. Seriously, this dude has the play-style of a charging bull. His size (5-foot-11, 205 pounds), quickness and intense physicality literally remind me of a wild animal. Abram’s vocal and emotional leadership is praised, too. He’s not the most athletic safety by any means but it’s no liability either. It’s easy to see why so many have fallen in love with him. Unfortunately, Abram has a lot of ground to cover in other prominent aspects, most noticeably with his ball skills. As well-rated as his physicality is, Abram’s ball skills reside at the opposite end. He’ll really need to improve his coverage skills and mental processing if he wants to be a Pro Bowl safety. Something that came to mind that isn’t talked about enough is Abram’s value as a special-teamer. His aggressive, hard-hitting, competitive nature should be a massive addition to many team’s special teams. After all, most rookies’ first see the field on kicks or punts.
Abram would definitely add value there and has the traits to be a fan-favorite. As for his draft stock, it’s risen in recent weeks yet I can’t pinpoint where exactly his draft range is. He could go anywhere from the late first round (too high for my tastes) or could last to the end of the third round (looking less probable by the day).
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Which QB had the highest yards gained per pass attempt last season?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Note that I only included the players talked about in this week’s article and that feelings/projections on a prospect will fluctuate, especially after the draft. Here are my preliminary rankings on this year’s Linebackers and Safeties classes and a sentence for each.
- Devin White – A high-upside, unreal athlete with tweaks to be made in numerous areas.
- Devin Bush – Also a great athlete with size limitations.
- Mack Wilson – Lack of experience isn’t as important as his inconsistency issues, though his coverage skills are a big plus.
- Blake Cashman – Physical limitations will hinder his stock but he possesses all the basics.
Other Guys Who I Didn’t Have Room For: Germaine Pratt, Vosean Joseph
Sleeper: Dakota Allen
- Nasir Adderley – So well-rounded despite playing against lesser competition.
- Chauncey Gardner-Johnson – Can offer more than Adderley yet has to become more consistent.
- Deionte Thompson – A one-dimensional, true safety with exceptional ball skills.
- Johnathan Abram – Wild, feisty player with holes in his coverage and mental skills.
Other Guys Who I Didn’t Have Room For: Taylor Rapp, Juan Thornhill, Amani Hooker
Sleeper: Will Harris
Following last year’s tradition, each week I’ll focus on one wide receiver in hopes of finding the next superstar. This week, that player is DaMarkus Lodge.
Stats: The 6’2, 202-pound WR from Ole Miss notched 122 receptions, 1,790 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns.
- Body control
- Ball tracking
- Creating separation when fighting for ball
- Hand usage
- Yearly improvements
- Limited collegiate role
- Long speed
- Inconsistent hands
The Unknown: Aside from the presence of A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf and his lack of versatility, were there other underlying reasons Lodge wasn’t used more at Ole Miss?
Bottom-Line: There’s no denying Lodge’s highlight-reel ability to make plays. He’s surprisingly well-rounded despite a loaded yet simple Ole Miss offense, which could lead to a higher learning curve. I like Lodge and if he can be a little more consistent with his hands, I think he can be a good ‘X’ receiver (primary target, outside WR).
Team Fit: San Fransisco 49ers
Projection: Day Two Pick
Best Schedule Announcement: Carolina Panthers
It’s become an annual tradition of NFL teams creatively revealing their schedule on social media. This year, the Panthers one-upped every team (literally) with their video-game-themed video. Some games featured on the bodacious clip are Pac-Man, NBA Jam, Pokemon Go! and of course, Madden. It’s the best minute and 42 seconds you’ll spend all week.
Iron Throne Award: Atlanta Falcons
Similar to the blandly-titled ‘Best Schedule Announcement’, this award is dedicated to the team with the best Game of Thrones themed schedule announcement. While the Houston Texans gave the Falcons a tough, longer competition, the Falcons’ video reigns supreme thanks to its superior graphics and attention to detail. Major bonus points were awarded for when the ram comes out of nowhere to blindside the marching saint (sound familiar?) at the 39-second mark.
Kings of the Offseason: Los Angeles Chargers
Breaking: The Chargers have already won the offseason. They didn’t make a huge trade or sign a splashy free agent; they did something better. They announced that they will don their super clean, super awesome powder blue uniforms as their primary home uniforms. The best uniforms in the league are now coming to more screens near you! As the cherry on top, they’ve even added a yellow face-mask. The thought of watching these for half of the season has me swooning.
Faith in Humanity Restored Award: Teddy Bridgewater
I’ll never not honor acts of kindness, especially ones that occur unexpectedly. Bridgewater was giving out toys in his local Miami neighborhood, as he does every year, when he ran out of toys. Bridgewater called an audible and instead started handing off $20 bills to each kid. Perks of being an NFL quarterback and a fantastic person.
Trivia Answer: Ryan Fitzpatrick
Question: Which QB had the highest yards gained per pass attempt last season?
Looks like the oldest QB in the league… Oh, he’s only 36? That’s a year older than Aaron Rodgers and a year younger than Philip Rivers, in case you were wondering. Anyways, it looks like age hasn’t stopped Fitzpatrick from regularly tossing bombs. Not only did he have the most yards per pass attempt, but he also had the most yards gained per pass completion. While those stats are mostly due to Tampa Bay’s vertical offense, it also means that defenses will still have to respect the deep ball from the 14-year journeyman. The Dolphins likely won’t have a vertical system, but their receiving group has loads of speed in it.
ONE LAST THING
Since February, I’ve been focusing each of my columns on a position group for the draft. I covered about eight players per position, but that doesn’t mean I covered all the guys I wanted. Therefore, I provided a quick summary of some notable prospects I missed:
Tyree Jackson, QB: Physically gifted with much to improve on in technical, mental portion of the game. Fifth-Round Pick
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR: Well-rounded, power-forward type receiver with speed limitations. Mid-to-Late Second-Round Pick
Parris Campbell, WR: Speed and athleticism makes him a true Swiss army knife, though he’ll probably be limited to that and the slot. Third- to Fourth-Round Pick
Greg Little, OT: Flashed potential thanks to physical traits but prodded for lack of footwork and technique. Mid-Round Pick (Three Through Five)
Chris Lindstrom, OL: Well-rounded, versatile lineman with very good but not great traits. Late-First to Mid-Second-Round Pick
Erik McCoy, IL: Another well-rounded, versatile lineman who might be limited by length. Late-First to Mid-Second-Round Pick
Zach Allen, EDGE: Athletically limited and despite collegiate success, might find it hard to find a true position in the NFL. Day Two Pick
Vosean Joseph, LB: Generally viewed as a developmental prospect with good mobility, slow mental processing and not enough strength. Fourth- to Fifth-Round Pick
Julian Love, CB: Seems limited athletically but a smart, versatile and technically-sound player. Day Two Pick
Taylor Rapp, S: An in-the-box type safety who found more success playing close to the line rather than dropping back into coverage. Third-Round Pick
The Deep Route Football Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
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