Ranking the Players I’ve Been Able To Watch
I don’t get a huge amount of time to commit to watching college players, but with the draft on tomorrow night, I thought it was a good time to get all my thoughts on players out for everyone to read.
This is the top 50 of the players I’ve watched, so there will be better players omitted simply because I never got around to see them.
1. Teddy Bridgewater
There’s a tendency to fall in love with the big arms during the draft process. It’s also something we do when the games are actually played too, it’s the biggest reason people glaze over Matthew Stafford’s inconsistencies and still celebrate Joe Flacco’s abhorrent contract extension. If we aren’t salivating over big arms, then we’re desperately looking for the next Michael Vick type who can extend plays and scramble for huge gains.
When I look at the best quarterbacks in the NFL: Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Matt Ryan and Philip Rivers, I don’t see players who are reliant on their physical tools.
Teddy Bridgewater isn’t lacking in physical talent. He has a strong enough arm and enough overall athleticism to be a very effective NFL quarterback. What makes him my top player are the traits he shares with the players listed above. He manipulates the pocket expertly, feels pressure and adjusts to it consistently and has a very quick release that comes with accuracy and anticipation as a passer.
2. Jadeveon Clowney
There are elements to his game that I don’t like, he doesn’t really bend the edge and plays way too tall at times, but his sheer power and explosion is incredible. Clowney is the type of player who could be the focus of the opposition’s gameplan from the start of his rookie season. Those kinds of talents still need to develop properly to become superstars, but even if he doesn’t live up to his full potential he could still be the next Julius Peppers or Mario Williams.
If that is you not living up to your potential, your ceiling is unfathomable.
3. Khalil Mack
Many see him as more of a coverage linebacker who will play outside linebacker in a 4-3, but I think that understates his potential as a pass rusher. Mack’s ability to use his hands and drive blockers into the backfield should allow him to be effective from the beginning of his rookie season. His long-term potential after that is huge because of his outstanding overall athleticism and his awareness in space.
Mack is very versatile and best fits as a 3-4 OLB carrying out a role similar to that of Ahmad Brooks in San Francisco.
4. Sammy Watkins
A receiver with the potential to be the next Andre Johnson, even though he’s smaller in stature. Watkins hasn’t run a full route tree in college because of the offense he played in, but he definitely has all of the talent to be as good as any receiver currently in the league who is not named Calvin Johnson. His initial burst and body strength combined with that compact frame will make him a nightmare to bring down in the open field.
5. Aaron Donald
Geno Atkins-lite. Much is made of Donald’s role on the next level and how important it will be. I’m not worried about it. His overwhelming amount of talent should offset any concerns over his size. If teams in the league haven’t learned how to use him, then that is their problem. Blueprints have already been laid out with Atkins and Michael Bennett in Seattle. He won’t be a two-gapping nose tackle, but he will do enough to hold his own against double teams at the line and he can be moved around as a pass rusher. He will live in the backfield on the next level.
6. Dominique Easley
Injury is affecting this grade, because I’d probably have him in the top three if he was fully healthy. Easley is a defensive tackle, but he reminds me of Demarcus Ware. His burst at the snap is simply phenomenal as he often hits blockers before they even come out of their stances. Two torn ACLs will affect where he is drafted, but if he gets back to full strength, he will eventually be a star in the NFL.
7. Greg Robinson
While I understand that he is a physical freak of an offensive lineman and I understand that he has all the tools to be a great pass blocking left tackle, it’s hard for me to completely buy into his development because he played in an offense that did so much to take him out of pass-blocking situations in space against defensive ends. He won’t play in that offense in the NFL so I wonder if he may be better suited to being a full-time guard, where he could be a superstar from Week 1 of his rookie season.
8. Odell Beckham Jr.
It’s easy to find fault with Odell Beckham Jr…until you watch him on the field. Beckham is like Antonio Brown in how he wins in a variety of ways on the field. Brown developed into what he is today after coming out of college as a raw prospect. Beckham is way ahead of that schedule because he is the most refined receiver in the class.
9. Jake Matthews
The value of a star pass-blocking left tackle is slightly overblown at this stage. Mobile quarterbacks who feel pressure well and creative offensive coordinators are finding ways around overextending their blindside protectors. However, Matthews is still a very good player who could easily be one of the best players from this class a decade from now.
10. Xavier Sua-Filo
Interior pressure is the most destructive force in the NFL today. It’s why players like Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley are more appealing to teams in this draft. How do you counter those players without exposing your offensive tackles all the time? You improve the interior. Sua-Filo played both left guard and left tackle in college, but he projects as an all-pro left guard who can be a dominant pass protector and a very effective run blocker in the NFL.
11. Mike Evans
Evans has some tendencies that I dislike, extending his arms to create separation being the most irritating, but his physical talent will keep him high up in the draft and on my rankings. His potential to be a mismatch receiver on the outside is clear because of his quickness, straight speed and size. He should be able to bully smaller defensive backs in the NFL, but I wonder how productive he will be against better defensive backs who can fend off his strength.
12. Calvin Pryor
This is a selection that will infuriate some people because it is based solely on future potential. I believe Pryor can play both free and strong safety in the NFL, even though he would be a liability as a free safety early on in his career. He has exceptional on-field speed that will give him great range on the next level. However, more important than that is the controlled aggression he shows. His ability to redirect and close to the football is outstanding. With everyone looking for the next Earl Thomas now, Pryor is the kind of player who will go higher than most expect in the draft.
13. Jace Amaro
There are two consensus top tight ends in this class. Amaro gets the nod over Eric Ebron for me because I think he is a more refined receiver. Ebron may be a greater athlete, but I don’t think he has the same natural comfort running routes or adjusting to the football in the air. Amaro is going to be a matchup nightmare for most defenses in the NFL.
14. Zack Martin
A very balanced player who will probably be drafted to play left tackle but who would be better as a guard. Guard play in the NFL isn’t very good right now, Martin has the talent and consistency to immediately become one of the better starters inside.
15. Kyle Fuller
Any cornerback with great feet who aggressively attacks the football and moves around the field will be a player I want on my team.
16. CJ Mosley
Like a handful of other positions, the inside linebacker spot has undergone a transformation of sorts in recent times. No longer are the big run stuffer who play downhill and attack blockers in demand. Now it’s smaller, faster players such as C.J. Mosley who are being prioritized. Mosley may fall very far down the order because of medical issues, but based solely on his tape he should be taken in the top half of the draft.
17. Jason Verrett
Verrett is another player with medical concerns, but his talent is overhwleming. If he was slightly taller he would be the number one cornerback on this board and likely in the top six or seven, but being the same height as Tyrann Mathieu isn’t ideal even though you can still be successful. Verrett plays very physical coverage with great balance and aggression to attack the ball. He is scheme transcendent and could be the next Leon Hall.
18. Taylor Lewan
Lewan is another tough guy to rank because his success in the NFL will likely be established on how he is developed after the draft. He has all the physical tools to be a really good starter, but that’s not what you’re drafting in New York.
19. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix
It’s very difficult to analyze safeties with the tape that was available to me, but from what I could see JimmieWard and Clinton-Dix are very close. Clinton-Dix is a better tackler and has more discipline, but I wonder about his range. Good tackling and discipline are more important than physical skills.
20. Jimmie Ward
He has some inconsistencies in coverage. Seems to be more comfortable playing with the ball in front of him instead of turning around and running with receivers. He has very quick feet and enough speed to suggest that he could have the range to be a reliable free safety in the NFL.
21. Demarcus Lawrence
A very versatile edge rusher who can move around the field if required. Lawrence’s all-around athleticism and burst will make him an effective player in the NFL, but if he develops more strength in his arms then he could become dominant.
22. Eric Ebron
He will go higher than this in the draft simply because the upside of taking him is too high and because everyone wants the next Jimmy Graham/Rob Gronkowski type of receiver at the tight end position. However, I think Ebron needs to grow somewhat before he can be a real difference maker for an NFL offense.
23. Marqise Lee
Lee’s final season in college has caused many to sour on him, but I still see a very effective receiver who is going to be a nightmare in space on the next level. He is very similar to Santonio Holmes, but hopefully he doesn’t have the same attitude and health problems moving forward.
24. Kyle Van Noy
How high you take Van Noy depends on how much you believe in his ability to improve as a pass rusher. I think he can be an effective pass rusher coming off the edge on the next level, but most of his positive plays will come in other areas. He is a well-rounded linebacker who lacks exceptional athleticism. The kind of player who should be an immediate starter who hangs around for a very long time.
25. Ryan Shazier
Shazier and Mosley are similar players to me, but Mosley is stronger and a better tackler in space. There are real concerns over how Shazier will fend off blockers on the next level and he consistently struggled to adjust to receivers who made sudden movements before he initiated his tackle attempt. However, if he can be the cover linebacker he showed flashes of in college and just be effective against the run, then he will at least be a very valuable piece of a nickle package.
26. Louis Nix
Nix has inconsistent college tape, but part of that may have been due to playing through injury. If he is at his best, he has a chance to be the rare run-stuffing two-gap nose tackle who can also push the pocket to rush the passer. How many snaps teams think Nix can play per game will be crucial in determining where he goes in the draft.
27. Ra’Shede Hagemann
As he is currently, Hagemann can’t be an NFL starter. He is incredible when working towards the quarterback as a pass rusher, but if asked to move side to side or change direction he is essentially a hole in the defense. Hagemann is the type of player who could sit for a season or two before developing into a very valuable starter in a 3-4 defense. The Cameron Heyward route.
28. Will Sutton
Weight issues linger and will likely anchor his draft spot to a mid round, but when Will Sutton is playing well, he is the type of player that NFL teams are desperate to acquire. He can maintain position against double teams at times, but his game is built on being able to break through gaps and penetrate plays to disrupt the design.
29. Weston Richburg
There are a lot of centers in the NFL who simply hope to give help to one of the guards on either side in pass protection or break onto the second level without being touched in the run game. Richburg isn’t that type of player. His balance on the move and the aggression to knock defenders away from the football makes him a very valuable interior lineman.
30. Marcus Smith
Smith has a great burst at the snap that will make him an effective edge rusher in the NFL. He may need some time to add strength and develop more consistency against the run, but his Cameron Wake-like talent keeps him this high on my board.
31. Cyrus Kouandjo
There are a number of left tackles in this draft who have exceptional athleticism, but need to develop technically. Kouandjo is another who falls under that umbrella.
32. Jeremiah Attaochu
Attaochu is one of the more refined pure athletes in this class of edge rushers. He has a great motor and isn’t a liability against the run. He does need to develop better hand usage to get away from blockers when they get good initial engagement.
33. Kony Ealy
Ealy is a very impressive athlete who needs to develop. He should be a situational pass rusher early in his career as he develops better technique and strength against the run. He won’t be able to simply beat offensive tackles with his athleticism in the NFL, so his effectiveness in a limited role may not be that high early on.
34 Telvin Smith
There is some talk about Smith moving to safety, but he seems reluctant to accept that scripted fate. He shouldn’t either because he plays with the strength and aggression that is required of a professional linebacker. With his speed and awareness, he is also a very effective man coverage player. Smith will go in the latter rounds because of his size, but he could be the steal of the draft.
35. Blake Bortles
Bortles and Johnny Manziel are paired together. Both are players who need to develop and I feel like even though Bortles’ ceiling may not be as high, his floor is dramatically higher because it should be easier to fix his footwork.
36. Johnny Manziel
I’m somewhere in the middle on Manziel. I don’t see him as a first round pick, but I’d take a chance on him in the second round. People don’t seem to realize just how much Russell Wilson has to do to work around his height. Wilson plays with exceptional intelligence and discipline, not to mention outstanding physical throwing ability, and I’m just not sure Manziel will ever reach that point. He’s a developmental quarterback in an era where nobody wants developmental quarterbacks.
37. Martavis Bryant
Everyone knows that Bryant is an incredible athlete after his combine performance. There were flashes on the field of brilliance as a pure receiver, but they weren’t consistent. Bryant reminds me of Justin Hunter as someone who won’t run many routes and who won’t have 100 catches per season, but as a big play threat whenever he is on the field.
38. Scott Crichton
Scott Crichton is a really impressive pass rusher when he converts speed to power off the edge. He is also a good run blocker who plays with a high motor. So why is he so low down the list? I’m not sure how much better he can get as he doesn’t seem to be a great athlete. He could be effective in what he does, much like a Kyle Vanden Bosch from previous years in the NFL, but I don’t see him turning into a Robert Quinn at any point.
39. Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Jean-Baptiste has a lot of potential, but he’s old coming out and he needs to develop technically. He has excellent feet and is able to play physical coverage without floating away from receivers when they cut away from him.
39. Bashaud Breeland
Not a great athlete, but a physical cover cornerback with impressive feet who understands how to use his length. Breeland really needs to improve as a tackler in space before he can see extensive time on the field.
40. Bradley Roby
An exceptionally fast straight-line player who is inconsistent with his speed on the field. Being quicker is better than being faster at the cornerback position, so Roby’s straight-line speed may get him overdrafted. He showed good comfort in off-man coverage, but needs to improve his footwork to stick with NFL receivers.
41. Brandin Cooks
Cooks is very similar to Tavon Austin. He is small and very fast, but he doesn’t consistently make contested catches and his routes need to be more decisive to create separation against NFL caliber cornerbacks. He is the type of player who will benefit from a creative coaching staff. Much like New England did with Julian Edelman and Jacksonville did with Ace Sanders, whoever drafts Cooks will likely need to help him release from the line of scrimmage at times.
42. Pierre Desir
A player who played against less-than-stellar opposition in college, Desir has caught the eye of many draft evaluators. He has his limitations, but his athleticism will make him appealing to NFL teams. Much like Antonio Cromartie has been throughout his career, Dessir is the type of cornerback who excels when he works the sideline, but who gives up too much separation through route breaks when he moves infield or faces double moves.
43. Darqueze Dennard
Dennard is a very good technical cornerback, but he struggles to locate the football in tight coverage and relied on holding receivers too much at the college level. When he wins early in man coverage, he is difficult to beat, but he will face much tougher tests in terms of releasing from the line of scrimmage in the NFL.
44. Bruce Ellington
Ellington is a very small receiver who is built like a running back. He could adjust his role and play more like Darren Sproles in the NFL, but when projected as a slot receiver he still has good value. He is very strong, an aggressive blocker and someone who can make spectacular, contested catches against bigger defensive backs. The question is if he is quick enough to create separation against NFL defensive backs consistently. If not, he can still drop back into that Sproles role and work out of the backfield.
45. Anthony Barr
An athlete who didn’t look anything like a potential professional football player on the field last season. Barr will go much higher than this because he is raw and has great athleticism, but he’s very much a work-in-progress that is starting from the bottom.
46. Troy Niklas
Blocking tight ends carry little value in the NFL and there is no way of knowing what Niklas’ true potential as a receiver is because he wasn’t consistently used that way. However, on pure physical skills and the natural ability he showed when he did run routes, Niklas deserves a chance to be a two-way tight end in the NFL.
47. Dee Ford
Ford has to win at the snap if he is going to be effective in the NFL and I’m unsure how much he will be able to do that. He is not a big athlete and he didn’t consistently explode off the line. The marquee matchup with Cedric Ogbuehi featured a lot of poor tackle play that was independent of Ford in my opinion.
48. Justin Gilbert
A very impressive athlete who has the potential to develop into a very good cornerback, but a player who still has sloppy feet and plays with poor technique. Gilbert isn’t very physical, but the one thing that makes him very appealing is his ability to attack the football when he sees it. Could have a very Asante Samuel-type of career.
49. Tre Mason
Mason is definitely a projection. He excelled in Auburn’s run-heavy offense and showed up well as a receiver with limited opportunities, but he needs major work as a pass protector. It will be hard to put him on the field if he doesn’t improve in this area, but he did at least seem willing to contribute when asked…although that may not be a positive sign for his development in the long run.
50. Cody Lattimer
The thought that consistently came across my mind when watching Cody Lattimer was ‘Why does this look so easy for him?’ Maybe he wasn’t face quality competition, but from what I could tell it was simply that he is a very talented player. Lattimer won’t consistently win on one way in the NFL, he will be the type of receiver who can attack the defense in a variety of ways.