To study and attempt to understand the NFL draft is a process of constant revision and absorption of new information with selective rejection of other new information. How to tell the difference between the two? Science still hasn't found a good answer to that question. We spend months trying to anticipate a chain of events that proves itself unknowable year after year. The draft unfolds with speed and disorienting twists that leave us spending most of our brain power trying to decipher and grok this new reality that has been foisted upon us. Everyone is horribly wrong and eerily right all at once. We are all forgiven for our mistakes, mostly because they are immediately forgotten. All of the admirable pre-draft work evaluating players and trying to simulate a team’s logic in the use of their draft assets dissipates into the atmosphere the moment the picks come off of the board like a Tibetan sand mandala. And yet the fool’s errand of trying to hold all of the moving parts of the first round in your head draws us back in every year.
Evaluations from good football minds run the gamut from optimistic to pessimistic and we’re employed by a theoretical 33rd team that doesn’t employ a specific scheme or philosophy. The lying season pollutes a body of actual analysis and knowledge about a team’s possible inclinations and taints older information that seemed feasible when it was revealed. The process seems designed to confuse onlookers. And yet we can’t look away.
If you, like me, are drawn to the task of piecing together evidence to chase something that might not even exist, then you might find some value in these thoughts:
Someone really really wants us to believe that Marcus Mariota is go #2 to a team that trades up for him - It seems that we have two choices here. Either Marcus Mariota is so exciting that every team that wants to build around him can’t help but spill the beans to a member of the media about their most important move of the year, or someone is trying to create a perception that there is a hot market for him, if you can only put together an attractive enough package to get the second pick. I know which one I believe.
In the background is the very real consideration that Mariota is a “system QB”. No, not the kind of QB that can only function well in one system. The QB who can only function well in the context of a system. This isn’t to say that Mariota will be a bust, but excellent work from Eric Stoner and Matt Waldman has illustrated a regimented, even robotic nature to his game that will translate much more within structure than outside of it. That could limit his ceiling, and there is a real incompleteness to his body of work for evaluation purposes because of the terms of engagement with the defense that the Oregon offense creates for Mariota.
When you are getting married, ie betting your job on a quarterback, incompleteness is a tough pill to swallow. QB desperation and anxiety is real and could cause monkey to swallow a hot pepper (to borrow a Josh Norris term), but I’d bet on Mariota falling out of the top five, and very possibly all the way to Cleveland or Philadelphia’s natural pick whilst they are frantically trying to trade up.
This is the top 8 of the NFL Draft. This is the EDGE - Much like 2013, the 2015 draft is weak at the top and it will have a trio of edge defenders go early that have inspired a lot of debate in the pre-draft buildup. Vic Beasley (Clemson), Alvin “Bud” Dupree (Kentucky), and Dante Fowler Jr. (Florida) are very different from each other, but they each appeal to their own subset of defensive scheme, and draft/player development philosophy. The need for edge defenders is present throughout the top 8, if not leaguewide, and the position is considered important and expensive enough to gain points on the board for comparative value to the other strong positions in this class, especially WR and RB. Marcus Mariota is the biggest unknown in the draft. A trio of edge defenders going off of the board early is one of the closer things there is to a known.
Wide Receiver Open - Amari Cooper (Alabama), Kevin White (West Virginia), and DeVante Parker (Louisville) are all more than promising enough to merit a high pick in this class. White and Cooper could well be the second and third picks of the draft. They could also fall as far as 11. Parker could sneak into the top 10, but he could fall well into the teens. In any scenario, this trio makes up another backbone of the early plot Thursday night.
Leonard Top 6 - There’s some overthinking on Williams, who wins with “old man game” as Eric Stoner puts it, but does it at the age of 20. Williams has a huge sphere of influence on the field for a defensive tackle, and he’s a rare athlete, but in a more subtle way with flexibility and agility that doesn’t usually happen in a 6’5” 300 pounder. Add in awareness, recognition, and advanced hand use, including hands and feet working together, and you have a defensive cornerstone.
Andrus Peat is more likely to be the first OL off the board than Brandon Scherff - I was turned off by Peat at first because of his passive nature, but Lance Zierlein and Eric Stoner helped me come around on why the NFL will value what Peat has to offer more than we will. Peat is a rare mover with balance and coordination to go with size to be a true left tackle, which is still a coveted and scarce commodity. Scherff is riding the wake of Zack Martin a bit, and he could higher because of the relative weakness of the class in comparison to Martin’s, but Scherff belongs in the middle of the first more than the top 10.
Forget what you think you know about RB positional value for a few hours - Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon will be both be picked at a level that triggers condemnation in some circles “because you shouldn’t draft running backs in the first round”. Let’s not get crazy here. The point of the first round is to get players that are, you know, good. We don’t reject the idea of running backs being very valuable to a team. Marshawn Lynch, etc. Gurley certainly has the potential to be a foundational offensive player, and Gordon does in the eyes of some. They are both the caliber of talent that can present advantages that teams leverage to win plays and win games. In a class without more than 20 clear first-round talents, certainly Gurley and probably Gordon are in the group. And coming away with one of those talents is more important than maximizing positional value.
Just Because You Are a Character Doesn't Mean You Have Character - Shane Ray (EDGE- Missouri), Randy Gregory (EDGE-Nebraska), Dorial Green-Beckham (WR-Oklahoma), and Marcus Peters (CB-Washington) all have film/talent that rates first round level for a decent number of evaluators, but they all have major character question marks to answer (and La’el Collins? teams are trying to find that out right now). With the shortage of first round talents, the temptation for a team like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Dallas, or New England among others to add a boom/bust player that also fills a need will be a storyline to watch in the second half of the round.
On the Corner - The rest of the second half of the first round will consist at least in part of a mini-run of corners that could be started by a pick of Peters, Kevin Johnson (Wake Forest), or Trae Waynes (Michigan State). Almost every team from 20 on could justify a cornerback pick, and they come in a wide variety from Peters top film with character issues, Johnson’s feet and coverage ability, Waynes speed, Eric Rowe’s size and rugged game, and Jalen Collins size and athletic upside and Byron Jones freakish explosion and speed.
Surprise! - There could be a few more than usual this year with a vast plateau stretching after the top 15-20 well into the 50s if not 60s. A few teams will see a perfect fit player or unique player that doesn’t have an alternate version and decide to not risk them falling all the way to their next pick. A third quarterback could sneak in. Teams boards are going to diverge greatly after the first-round talents dry up, and not necessarily in a way that matches the consensus rankings going around this week.
First-Round Footnotes - Some others that look like first-rounders by usual NFL standards: Danny Shelton (DT-Washington) is energetic but more immovable object than irresistible force, but he’ll get in the top 20 if not top 12. Arik Armstead (DL-Oregon) is too projectable with his size and athleticism to be left out of the first in a class like this one. Breshad Perriman (WR-Central Florida) size/speed combination is exactly what teams want to stress and stretch a defense before the ball is snapped. Ereck Flowers (OL-Miami-FL) looks like he’s hanging on for dear life as a pass blocker at times, but he’s a mauler and will appeal greatly to some teams.
20 Questions that Will be Answered Thursday Night:
- Was even one piece of Mariota buzz true?
- After keeping the pick secret last year, will Jacksonville GM David Caldwell surprise us again?
- Can the Raiders actually make two good first round picks in a row?
- How will the Washington pick reflect the addition of Scot McCloughan?
- Will the Jets actually take an offensive player in the first round now that Rex is gone?
- What makes new Chicago GM Ryan Pace tick?
- Which of the 178 needs will the new power structure in Atlanta address?
- Will Adrian Peterson play in Minnesota this year?
- Can Cleveland impress us as much as they did during the first round last year?
- How will the Saints pair of firsts show their new direction as a franchise? or will they?
- Do the Dolphins love DeVante Parker and Todd Gurley as much as we've been led to believe they do?
- In what new way can Kansas City tick off their fanbase during the draft?
- Can Chip Kelly reset the "surprise" bar yet again now that he's at the wheel?
- Will Arizona, Baltimore, or Dallas get a third running back into the first round?
- Will Rick Spielman trade Minnesota back into the first round for a fourth straight year?
- After making a major win now push in free agency, will Ryan Grigson push even more with #30?
- Could six or even seven wide receivers get in the first round coming off of the heels of one of the best WR classes in draft history?
- How does Denver use the first first-round of Kubiak era (and last of the Peyton Manning era)?
- Who wins the race to be the first to trade down from the playoff teams and reap more capital while getting a similar player in the 2nd?
- Which players will fall into the laps of the Giants and Ravens and make us shake our heads again?
Just because, a stream of consciousness mock first:
1. Tampa Bay - Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
2. Tennessee - Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
3. Jacksonville - Vic Beasley, EDGE, Clemson
4. Oakland - Leonard Williams, DL, USC
5. Washington - Alvin “Bud” Dupree, EDGE, Kentucky
6. New York Jets - Dante Fowler Jr., EDGE, Florida
7. Chicago - Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
8. Atlanta - Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
9. New York Giants - Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
10. Philadelphia (from STL)* - Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
11. Minnesota - DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
12. Cleveland - Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
13. New Orleans - Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
14. Miami - Brandon Scherff, OL, Iowa
15. San Francisco - Arik Armstead, DL, Oregon
16. Houston - Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
17. San Diego - Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
18. Kansas City - Malcom Brown, DL, Texas
19. Cleveland (from BUF) - Breshad Perriman, WR, Central Florida
20. St. Louis (from PHI) - La’El Collins, OL, LSU
21. Cincinnati - Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
22. Pittsburgh - Eli Harold, EDGE, Virginia
23. Detroit - Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
24. Arizona - Ereck Flowers, OL, Miami-Fl
25. Carolina - DJ Humphries, OT, Florida
26. Baltimore - Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
27. Dallas - Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Oklahoma
28. Denver - Damarious Randall, S, Arizona State
29. Indianapolis - Cam Erving, C, Florida State
30. Green Bay - Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
31. New Orleans (from SEA) - Owamagbe Odighizuwa, EDGE, UCLA
32. New England - Shane Ray, EDGE, Missouri
*-STL gets PHI 2016 1st