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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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