Believe it or not, the 2017 NFL Draft is right around the corner. Soon enough, the 'draft experts' can stop writing things they know nothing about, the TV specials where analysts either kiss up to draft prospects or try to put them on the defensive will end, and we can get to the point where it's rinse and repeat with the NBA Draft.
Speaking of those draft prospects, some are going to be falling further than they - or we - may have originally expected as their pro days commence, free agency happens, and the scouts and general managers do more research. Whether it's because of injuries, holes that once were a necessity to be filled in the draft have been temporarily fixed with free agents, or attitude issues, there are some top prospects that we once tied to the first round who may not even go until the draft's third day.
As unfair as that may sound, the game is the game. You're going to hear that The Wire-like quote plenty of times over the next few weeks, I assure you of that.
As for today, though, we're going to look at some of these draft prospects, examine why they're going to fall, and even suggest a potential landing spot or two. It should go without saying that with the exception of players who are recovering from major injuries (Jake Butt and his torn ACL), this is pure speculation with rational thinking.
In other words, we are not draft experts. We're only trying to think logically.
15 Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
A consensus first-round prospect as recently as this month, Jones was literally hurt by the dreaded Pro Day injury. At a Pro Day hosted by the University of Washington, Jones sustained a torn Achilles and will most likely fall out of the first 32 picks. In fact, given the normal recovery time for an Achilles injury coupled with Jones' position, it's entirely possible that he could go undrafted.
It's a sad turn of events for Jones, who was a two-time All-Pac 12 first-team selection with the Huskies. Jones decided to forgo his senior year after spending the past three seasons becoming arguably the most shutdown corner in college football; if a quarterback threw to a receiver that Jones was covering, they were likely to pay in the form of a turnover, as Jones averaged five turnovers (three interceptions, two forced fumbles) a year in Washington.
Given the recovery time, their need for cornerbacks, and their current rebuilding state, the Jets may want to take a chance on Jones. Fans may not be pleased with the pick - then again, Jets fans are notoriously known for booing on draft day - but they could afford Jones having a year to recover.
14 Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan
The curious case of Jabrill Peppers is so curious because teams are curious about where they can play the former Michigan star. When you watch Peppers' tape from Michigan, you're almost reminded of a create-a-player from Madden because of everything that he can do; between 72 tackles (16 of which went for a loss), four sacks, a forced fumble, 17 carries for 150 yards and three touchdowns on offense, and electrifying speed, the hybrid linebacker/safety was absolutely everywhere for the Wolverines a season ago.
But, concerns about where he'd play in the pros as well as some struggles when it comes to reading the passing game mean that the Heisman finalist is likely to drop in April's draft. Walter Football reported that sources said, "they are projecting Peppers to be a hybrid dime linebacker and safety, similar to Arizona's Deone Bucannon" and that comparison definitely makes a lot of sense. People had hyped Peppers up as a top 10 pick, but he's more likely to go anywhere from 20th to 45th overall next month.
13 Takkarist McKinley, DE/OLB, UCLA
Even before Takkarist McKinley announced that he'd be having shoulder surgery, he was likely to fall because of how stacked the defensive line prospects are in this draft. But with the surgery now a thing and McKinley likely to miss 4-6 months, reason stands to think he's going to fall out of the first round next month. For teams who thought they could get him in the second round but would likely lose him within the first 32 picks, this is obviously a good thing.
If you're Takkarist McKinley, a California native who played his collegiate ball at UCLA, you're probably wanting to avoid heading anywhere that's cold and has a lot of snow in the winter. Yet, the Buffalo Bills come off as a perfect match for McKinley, especially with former Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Sean McDermott - who had several defensive linemen and linebackers become key contributors in his scheme - now the head coach there. Better find some puff jackets and boots, Takkarist!
12 DeShone Kizer, QB, Notre Dame
Like Watson, everyone seemed to have Kizer going in the top 10 for the majority of the college football season, but things have certainly changed over the past few months. What will help Kizer remain on many team's draft boards is his arm strength and physical makeup, traits that still matter in a quarterback prospect.
Unfortunately for Kizer, the young quarterback struggled to win in Notre Dame this past season, as the program went a dismal 4-8. Kizer's decision-making also took a hit, with his completion percentage dropping from 62.9 percent in 2015 to 58.7 in 2016. Not unlike Katy Perry, Kizer is too hot and cold to be a successful NFL quarterback right now, causing his stock to drop to a day two pick. Given Drew Brees' age and the wear-and-tear that comes with being a starting NFL quarterback for 15 years, the Saints may want to take a chance on Kizer with their second-round pick (42nd overall).
11 Malik Hooker, S, Ohio State
In an ideal world, Malik Hooker was going to be the first safety off the board in April. Surgeries to repair injuries to his labrum, as well as a hernia, will change that, as will him being unable to participate at the NFL Combine. Based off talent alone, we could be looking at a Jaylon Smith situation with Hooker where he falls to the late first, early second round before a team swoops in and has him sit the majority of his rookie season out.
With how talented Hooker is, though, he could easily still go in the first round to a team like the Seahawks or Cowboys who have the depth and talent to give him a year off. But expecting Hooker, who had seven interceptions - three of which he returned for scores - a year ago to go as highly as he once would have is extremely unrealistic. It's also a sad reminder of how quickly things can change with one injury.
10 Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
Every aspect of the Joe Mixon story has already been told by now, but let's recap what we know. In 2014, Mixon punched a woman named Amanda Molitor in a cafe near Oklahoma University and had to sit out the season as a result of being charged with misdemeanor assault. Mixon returned in 2015 and has been one of the best running backs in college football since, rushing for 2,027 yards on 6.8 yards per carry with 17 touchdowns.
Unfortunately for Mixon, he's going to fall because of the crime in 2014, leading pundits and writers to wonder which team will scoop him up first (and which team will be alright with taking a public relations hit). Though they signed Eddie Lacy earlier this week, the Seattle Seahawks could be a perfect landing spot for Mixon given how they've handled players with off-the-field issues in the past (most notably defensive end Frank Clark). Talent-wise, Mixon is among the best in this draft class, but he'll rightfully fall as teams try to figure out if he's truly matured from previous incidents.
9 Patrick Mahomes, QB, Texas Tech
With bias, Mahomes is my favorite quarterback prospect in this year's draft. Without bias, I think the Texas Tech star could easily become a victim of the 'numbers game' that has come with the amount of teams that desperately needed a quarterback filling the gaps.
Given how much hype there was about Mahomes being a top 16 pick not too long ago, this is crazy to think about. On paper, the numbers for Mahomes' 2016 campaign are absolutely gaudy, with the junior completing 66 percent of his passes for 5,052 yards, a 41-10 TD-INT ratio, and adding 12 rushing touchdowns on the ground. When you have more rushing touchdowns than interceptions as a quarterback and you can make plays in the passing game, then teams aren't likely to let you fall too far.
Logically, Mahomes may not be the worst option for the Cleveland Browns with their first pick in the second round, though reason stands to think Mahomes will get picked up at the end of the first round.
8 Davon Godchaux, DT, LSU
What will happen to Davon Godchaux in a draft class stacked with defensive linemen? Well, that and teams making trades and signing free agents for defensive linemen (Washington, much??) means we'll likely see Godchaux, who had some first-round hype early in the season, go on the third day of the draft. Unfair? Maybe, but the game is the game.
Not many people seem to know about Godchaux, who had 6.5 sacks for the Tigers last year and six sacks the year before. Scouts seem to love Godchaux's speed and his finesse abilities, but there's so many other defensive linemen who, unfortunately for Godchaux, are better. Still, look for a team like the Chicago Bears or the San Francisco 49ers who are going to draft a defensive lineman early in the draft to take him as additional depth.
7 Bucky Hodges, WR/TE, Virginia Tech
When marginal players get overpaid, it causes a chain reaction that doesn't just extend to other players in the NFL. No, the domino effect also impacts college football players, especially when an entire position gets extremely overpaid by general managers who aren't sure what they're doing. Because so many tight ends were overpaid to start free agency (the Bears gave Dion Sims $10 million dollars guaranteed???), the tight ends who are entering the draft will be affected.
While players like O.J. Howard and David Njoku are fine, it's a 'fringe day' prospect like Virgina Tech's Bucky Hodges who got burnt the worst by NFL free agency. Hodges, who caught 48 balls for 691 yards and eight touchdowns last year, would have likely ended up with a team in need of a second tight end - the type of guy who, if he played well enough, could have the starting job by midseason - but now will fall because teams can address other needs. Hodges didn't even do anything wrong!
6 DeMarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Walker essentially is in the same boat as Godchaux as an interesting prospect who is backlogged and blocked by other defensive linemen. Which, given how well Walker played at Florida State, is a shame. With the Seminoles last year, Walker had 16 sacks, three forced fumbles, and a total of 21.5 tackles for a loss. In short, Walker was one of the best defensive linemen in the country last year.
Unfortunately, he's going to probably be a day two pick at the earliest, partly because his best spot right now is as a pass-rushing specialist. Do you really want to sink a first-round pick into a guy who you're probably only going to be using on passing downs? Still, plenty of teams could use Walker. The New York Jets aren't a bad fit, especially if they send Sheldon Richardson packing in a trade over the next few weeks.
5 Evan Engram, TE, Mississippi
Another tight end who will likely end up being hurt by the Dion Sims and Logan Paulsens of the world being overpaid, Engram stood out at the Senior Bowl and caught 65 balls for 926 yards and eight touchdowns a year ago. Though some may have hoped he'd sneak into the first round, now it's looking like Engram may be falling to the third day of the draft.
Which, again, isn't his fault! Engram does need to work on his blocking, but he'd have been a second or third round pick if not for teams starting to cause logjams at the tight end positions by overpaying marginal players. Thanks, Dion Sims! Well done, Rhett Ellison! You've managed to hurt the draft prospects while cashing in for doing nothing!
4 Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Butt won't fall because of the tight end logjam (well, he will, but that's not the main reason), but he instead will because of a torn ACL sustained in Michigan's Orange Bowl loss to Florida State. If there's one thing that could help Butt still be drafted early enough, however, it's his attitude, especially him not regretting returning for his senior year. As Butt told the Detroit Free Press...
“I came back. I made that decision, it was the right decision for me. We had a great year as a team. I improved on a lot of the things I wanted to improve on. And even playing in the bowl game, I wouldn’t change it going back. I was a leader on that team, a captain, I love that university. The player I am I would never sit out of a game.”
That type of attitude will definitely be needed in the NFL, and we wish Butt the best of luck in his recovery.
3 Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
The first time I saw something was off with Brad Kaaya, it was when he struggled against Florida Altantic's frustratingly bad defense in last year's 38-10 win over the Owls. Apparently, I wasn't alone, as a quarterback who entered the 2016 season as a likely second-round prospect who might have been able to sneak into the late first-round is now almost locked in as a day three pick.
Simply put, Kaaya is a quarterback not long for the NFL. When you have an arm that's probably on par with Alex Smith's, but you don't have the leadership qualities or 'gamer aspects' that Smith does, having a career in this league seems impossible. Based off the Miami name alone and that there are some positives in his game, Kaaya should be drafted between the fifth and seventh rounds as a developmental prospect, but it's been a long fall from grace for the former Hurricane.
2 Carl Lawson, DE/OLB, Auburn
Here's one final defensive lineman who could see himself falling because of depth and an injury history, though the former Auburn star was healthy for most of the 2016 season and had nine sacks. Still, a deep defensive line class, his stiffness as a rusher, and medical issues means that Lawson, once viewed as an easy first-rounder, may not be drafted until day three.
Even with all of that being the case, Lawson should play a role in 2017 and the Dallas Cowboys, who are always looking for help on the defensive line, may show some interest in the former Tiger. If for some reason they want to take it easy with Lawson, they can do that; or, if they need him to contribute day one, he can do that too. Though they have some other holes they should work on fixing, Dallas would be a perfect location for Lawson.
1 Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
We may finish our list with a player who seems to be the most polarizing draft prospect of this year's class: Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. And yes, contrary to popular belief, it is Deshaun rather than DeShaun. Unlike fellow quarterback prospect Mitchell Trubisky, who recently told people he wanted to be called by his first name rather than Mitch, Watson has yet to fine-tune his name. Interesting.
Come the NFL Draft, however, teams and general managers will care more about Watson's shortcomings - notably, his accuracy and poor on-field decision making - than they will about how he spells his first name. Some 'draft experts' still believe that Watson will be the second quarterback taken off the board behind Trubisky, but the gray area is where that will end up being. San Francisco and Chicago have addressed their quarterback needs for the short-term by signing Brian Hoyer and Mike Glennon respectively, meaning that they may try for a mid-round prospect like Pittsburgh's Nate Peterman or wait for next year's first-round.
Because of how valuable a quarterback is, Watson will likely end up still going in the first round, but the days of thinking he'd be a top 10 pick are over.