NFL Combine Aftermath

Updated: July 23rd 2017

We take a look at some of the top offensive skill position rookies this week following the NFL combine. The article focuses on how individuals and position groups as a whole performed relative to perceptions prior to the combine and what that could mean for draft status.

Running Backs

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Cook, Dalvin 5′-10″ 210 32.375 9.25 4.49 22 30.5 9′-8″ 4.53 DNP 7.27
Foreman, D’Onta 6′-0″ 233 31.375 10.125 DNP 18 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Fournette, Leonard 6′-0″ 240 31.625 9.25 4.51 DNP 28.5 DNP DNP DNP DNP
Hunt, Kareem 5′-11″ 216 31.375 9.625 4.62 18 36.5 9′-11″ DNP DNP DNP
Kamara, Alvin 5′-10″ 214 32.75 9.25 4.56 15 39.5 10′-11″ DNP DNP DNP
Mccaffrey, Christian 5′-11″ 202 30 9 4.48 10 37.5 10′-1″ 4.22 11.03 6.57
Perine, Samaje 5′-11″ 233 30.375 10 4.65 30 33 9′-8″ 4.37 11.71 7.26
Mixon, Joe * 6′-1″ 228 10.25 4.50 21 35 9′-10″ 4.25 7.00
Table 1: Selected Running Back Performances from 2017 Combine * Pro Day Results

Leonard Fournette confirmed his freakish size-speed status running the forty yard dash in 4.51s at 240lbs.  Other consensus top pick, Dalvin Cook, disappointed in most drills compared to pre-combine expectations spotlighted by agility and explosion drills near the bottom of the class. Players with this type of athletic profile rarely get drafted early and do not often succeed at the NFL level. It was the type of performance that will have evaluators reviewing film and watching his pro day carefully. Christian McCaffrey shined throughout the combine process highlighted by exceptional agility marks and ultra-smooth receiving drills.  The question remains what fit the Stanford Cardinal will play at the NFL level.  McCaffrey’s traits profile more as a slot receiver but his diverse skill-set should ensure a significant role wherever he lands. Joe Mixon’s off the field issues are well documented but he has the least on-field questions of any running back in this class.  The Sooner possesses prototypical size, breakaway speed, strong athleticism, and superb receiving skills.

Most analysts predicted the running back group as the strength of the 2017 rookie class coming into the season.   We seem to have more questions than answers after an underwhelming combine for the group.  There are few complete top end prospects without question marks and no one from the lower tier of backs really emerged from the combine as someone challenging the top-tier prospects.  The group is very deep with individuals of varying skills who should contribute to NFL teams immediately.

Wide Receivers

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Davis, Corey 6′-3″ 209 33 9.125 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Dupre, Malachi 6′-3″ 196 31.5 9 4.52 11 39.5 11′-3″ 4.26 11.88 7.19
Jones, Zay 6′-2″ 201 32.5 9 4.45 15 36.5 11′-1″ 4.01 11.17 6.79
Kupp, Cooper 6′-2″ 204 31.5 9.5 4.62 DNP 31 9′-8″ 4.08 DNP 6.75
Ross, John 5′-11″ 188 31.5 8.75 4.22 DNP 37 11′-1″ DNP DNP DNP
Samuel, Curtis 5′-11″ 196 31.25 9.5 4.31 18 37 9′-11″ 4.33 DNP 7.09
Smith-Schuster, Juju 6′-1″ 215 32.875 10.5 4.54 15 32.5 10′-0″ DNP DNP DNP
Williams, Mike 6′-4″ 218 33.375 9.375 DNP 15 32.5 10′-1″ DNP DNP DNP
Table 2: Selected Wide Receiver Performances from 2017 Combine

Two top receivers, Corey Davis and Mike Williams, provided very little information at the combine.  Davis did not perform due to an injury and Williams did not perform in any running drills. John Ross and Curtis Samuel both blazed incredible forty times highlighted by Ross’ combine record-setting performance.  These are completely different players, however.  Ross will be utilized primarily as a lid-lifting deep threat whereas Samuel is more of a do-it-all player in the mold of Tyreek Hill and Percy Harvin with value in the receiving, rushing, and return game. Zay Jones turned in one of the more impressive all-around performances of any receiver, excelling across the board in every drill.

This class is shallow at the top of with very few players possessing the ideal size and athleticism of traditional high end receiving options from previous years. This group is in no way without talent, however.  The combine brought far more depth into view than many realized coming into the combine and should provide a large number of NFL contributors.  Many small school receivers including Jones, Taywan Taylor, and Carlos Henderson displayed NFL-caliber athleticism confirming their college production was more than just scheme-based against inferior competition.

Tight Ends

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Butt, Jake 6′-6″ 246 32 10 DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP DNP
Engram, Evan 6′-3″ 234 33.5 10 4.42 19 36 10′-5″ 4.23 DNP 6.92
Hodges, Bucky 6′-6″ 257 32.5 10.125 4.57 18 39 11′-2″ 4.45 12.08 DNP
Howard, O.J. 6′-6″ 251 33.75 10 4.51 22 30 10′-1″ 4.16 11.46 6.85
Leggett, Jordan 6′-6″ 258 33.5 10.375 DNP 18 33 9′-6″ 4.33 12.06 7.12
Njoku, David 6′-4″ 246 35.25 10 4.64 21 37.5 11′-1″ 4.34 DNP 6.97
Table 3: Selected Tight End Performances from 2017 Combine

O.J. Howard cemented his place among the top tight end prospects.  He possesses NFL size, great speed (he matched Leonard Fournette’s forty-time weighing 11 more lbs), and he scored highest among tight ends in agility drills. Evan Engram produced a workout which would make most wide receivers jealous highlighted by a jaw-dropping 4.42 forty time.  Engram is the premier split tight end in this class and a matchup nightmare with comparisons to Washington star Jordan Reed common. David Njoku was considered the best raw athlete among tight ends pre-combine and his performance impressed.  The former youth high jump champion from Miami excelled in explosion and agility drills.  Only 20 years old, Njoku has room to grow both physically and learning the position. Bucky Hodges possibly raised his status more than any tight end with a great all around performance.  He routinely beat college defenders on jump balls and that explosiveness was demonstrated at the combine with tremendous best-in-position numbers in the vertical and broad jumps.

Overall, the combine boosted the tight end position to extraordinary heights. Already considered one of the strengths of the rookie class, many now think the position group is among the best in recent memory.  While the top tier of prospects certainly excited, there are intriguing prospects littered throughout the class.  6’-7” 278 lb behemoth Adam Shaheen from Division II Ashland played basketball in college and displays rare receiving skills for someone of his size.  Another example from a small school athlete, Gerald Everett out of South Alabama displayed dynamic hybrid tight end/ wide receiver skills throughout the year and at the combine.

Quarterbacks

PLAYER HGT WGT ARMS HANDS 40 225 VJ BJ 20S 60S 3C
Kizer, Deshone 6′-4″ 233 33.125 9.875 4.83 30.5 8”11″ 4.53 DNP 7.4
Mahomes, Patrick 6′-2″ 225 33.25 9.25 4.8 30 9′-6″ 4.08 DNP 6.88
Trubisky, Mitchell 6′-2″ 222 32 9.5 4.67 27.5 9′-8″ 4.25 DNP 6.87
Watson, Deshaun 6′-2″ 221 33 9.75 4.66 32.5 9′-11″ 4.31 DNP 6.95
Table 4: Selected Quarterback Performances from 2017 Combine

I questioned myself about adding athletic results for quarterbacks from the combine. The information provides limited useful data concerning quarterback evaluation except for those QBs who rely on rushing as a major component of their value (think Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor).  The combine results tended to reinforce much of what was already known about the prospects. Deshone Kizer checks the physical boxes for a limited-mobility, prototypical-sized quarterback while Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, and Deshaun Watson displayed very good agility in a somewhat undersized frame.  The velocity data featured Mahomes’ (60 MPH) big arm with Kizer (56) and Trubisky (55) displaying solid NFL speed.  Watson’s (49) velocity is at the very low end ever recorded at the combine and the results of similarly measured prospects do not provide much hope for Watson at the NFL level.  Velocity is certainly not the primary trait concerning quarterback success but the lack of velocity will require a degree of decision-making, anticipation, and accuracy which has, at best, been inconsistent in Watson’s college career.

Overall, the combine did not really change the perception of the quarterback class. This is not a good year for NFL teams in need of a franchise quarterback.  In addition to Watson’s issues; Kizer (accuracy), Mahomes (mechanics, decision-making), and Trubisky (experience) possess at least one major red flag that makes each more of a project than an NFL player ready to lead  a franchise.

Overview

2017 is a far deeper class for offensive skill position players when compared with the 2016 class. Just three rookie running backs from 2016 received 150 touches and only 2 wide receivers garnered 100 targets.  Do not expect two rookies to lead the league in rushing again or any wide receiver to see the kind of production of the Saints Michael Thomas, but the talent is available in 2017 to double the number of rookies with the afore-mentioned volume numbers.  This class also contains the tight end talent to impact games in a way we rarely see from rookies at the position.


Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

Rookie Film Study: RBs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Last week in this space, I reviewed film on the top quarterback prospects of the 2017 class and shared my notes with you.  Today, we are going to look at the top three RBs – all of which are likely to be drafted in the 1st Round.  In my first batch of mock draft analysis, I supposed that we might even see a fourth RB taken in the 1st Round – Joe Mixon and Wayne Gallman will have to wait for their film review but keep them on the radar.

Leonard Fournette, LSU

Before the combine, I only came across one mock draft with Dalvin Cook placed above Fournette.  I’m not sure if that was a publicity stunt or a true belief at the time but it seems to be the vogue opinion now.  I’m not there yet, but it is getting very close the more tape I watch.  I decided to cherry pick the film I watched of Fournette because I wanted to see him against good competition.  I chose to watch him play against Wisconsin (#4 rushing defense in the nation) and against Ole Miss (#22 and one of only four teams to give up single digit rushing TDs, 3 of which came from Fournette himself).  In my opinion, Fournette reminds me of Adrian Peterson.  He is big but still possesses enough breakaway speed if he hits the hole and can rip off some huge runs.  On the downside though, he has a lot of carries for little to no gain that can keep the offense behind the chains.  I think he is an underrated receiver out of the backfield (as evidenced by a beautiful wheel route catch he made against Wisconsin).  He is also decent in pass protection which I was not expecting (in the two games he was actively engaged in pass protection 18 times by my count – he blew 4 of them that led to a sack/pressure/hurry).

Let’s look closer at his boom or bust potential.  In those two games I watched, Fournette had 38 carries.  On 16 of those 38 carries he earned 3 yards or less – that’s a whopping 42%.  You may be able to find similar stats for any running back but it’s a bit worrisome for somebody who is likely going to be drafted in the Top 5 of the NFL Draft.  At that rate, of 3 yards or less, he is putting his offense in 3rd and Medium or 3rd and Long situations too often.  Throughout the film I watched, I was struck by how infrequently Fournette actually breaks tackles.  On his three TD runs against Ole Miss he was essentially untouched for the combined 200+ yards of those plays.  If he hits the hole just right, he has a combination of vision and speed to kill the defense but he does not often gain extra yards by breaking tackles.  If I am going to harp on his bad runs, I do also need to give credit for his great runs.  In addition to all of those short runs he also had runs of 19, 24, 30, 59, 76 and 78.  Remember, that is just in two games against good defenses and ultimately that is why he will be the first RB drafted.

At the combine, Fournette weighed in as the heaviest RB at 240lb (the next heaviest was 233lb).  It should not be surprising then that his 40 yard dash time was far from elite (4.51 seconds, 20th out of 31) and his vertical jump was horrendous (dead last).  I hate to use the cliche, but he very well may be the guy who runs better in pads.  Honestly, I was disappointed by his two drills and I would have liked to see him complete the others to have more points of comparison.  I still have Fournette as RB1, but it is much closer than when I started my research two weeks ago.

Dalvin Cook, FSU

In my notes, I wrote that if Dalvin Cook showed up at the combine and weighed in at 215lb, he would automatically be my RB1 and overtake Leonard Fournette.  His game tape is that explosive.  He weighed in just short of my hope, at 210lb.  My biggest knock on Cook right now is the diminutive size.  In 2016, 29 RBs were measured at the combine and just 2 of them weighed in under 200lb.  I have seen him listed anywhere between 202-213lb; for comparison, ESPN lists him at 213, CBS has him at 206 and DraftBreakdown has him at 202.  I’m going to assume that he purposefully bulked up for the combine and I expect to see his playing weight fall closer to 202 than 213 come September.  There’s one other thing that concerns me about Cook: his pass protection.  In the two games I watched, he was in protection only a handful of times – most times he was out in the pattern.  I think he has the desire to block, he ended up being the de factor lead blocker on QB scrambles a few times, but he doesn’t have the size.

When watching Cook play, it is clear immediately how explosive he is, especially his cuts.  What is also evident is how patient he is, allowing his blocks to set up.  He rarely takes the hole running straight, but that explosiveness and patience combine for some great runs.  He dominated Florida in the first half but slowed in the second when they were trying to milk the clock.  Against Michigan’s dominant defense he played well too.  In my opinion, two plays against Michigan will best sum up Cook’s potential.  In the 1st Quarter, there was a play where he set out wide as a WR, ran a simple go route, beat the defender and caught the ball over his shoulder for a gain of 45 yards.  It was perfectly executed and could be the piece of tape that showcases his receiving skills to NFL scouts.  Later in that game, in the 4th Quarter, Cook took a 3rd & 22 counter handoff, that was meant to set up better punting field position, and scampered 71 yards after breaking two tackles and turning on his breakaway speed.  A last second push out of bounds was the only thing that kept him from the endzone.  That play showed his patience as his blocks set up and then he exploded up field.  Another positive that caught my eye was the varied sets that FSU’s offense ran.  In the two games I watched, they ran multiple plays out of shotgun, pistol, single back and I formation – that’s good for his transition to the NFL.

If you look at the results of Cook’s combine performance, it throws a bit of cold water on the film.  That’s why I still have him behind Fournette even though I was close to flip-flopping after watching the Michigan tape.  Cook was near the worst RBs in the 3 cone drill, the shuttle drill, the broad jump and the vertical jump.  His 40 yard dash time was good but not great: 4.49 which was tied for sixth fastest.  The only place he really surprised me was his 22 bench press reps which was tied for third most.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford

Christian McCaffrey is a better football player than he is a running back.  That was the conclusion that I kept returning to while taking notes as I watched film and researched his game logs and career stats.  He will be drafted by a good team in the late 1st Round and will slot in immediately as a prototypical third down back.  He’s good at a lot of things, but not great at any.  Ultimately, I think that will limit his RSO upside in Year One but at least it will get him on the field right away.

I watched McCaffrey play against UCLA and Washington and in both games, I was impressed with his pass protection skills.  He routinely picked up the blitz and frequently chipped a rusher before going out for a pass.  He is a great safety valve for his quarterback and because of his blocking ability, he is a great threat to catch screen passes; he can feign blocking without the defense thinking “yeah right, he’s not blocking” and then sneak out of the backfield.  His middle name very well may be Versatile because in just two games, he took three snaps at WR and five at QB (in the Wildcat, no passes).  He will likely be the only player I profile this offseason that has passing, rushing, receiving and returning TDs in his career (2/21/10/2 for the record).

McCaffrey is a very patient runner at the line of scrimmage.  Honestly, he was too patient at times against Washington and I think it cost him additional yardage as he let plays develop too long against Washington’s strong defense.  He is rarely stopped for a loss of yardage.  In fact, I noted it midway through one of the games I watched and went back to review the play-by-play: in over 38 carries in those games he had just one negative yardage run.

McCaffrey, in my opinion, is quicker than he is fast.  That showed itself at the combine where he tied for the fifth fastest 40 yard dash (4.48) but did very well in the 3 cone drill (fastest) and shuttle drill (fourth fastest).  His jumping stats were also above average.  No surprise given his size, he was only able to do 10 bench press reps which was the second fewest.

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com
  • Combine info: pro-football-reference.com, espn.com, nflcombineresults.com

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

QB Musical Chairs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

This offseason could be one of the more intriguing in memory thanks to an unprecedented amount of quarterbacks possibly switching teams. Stable starting quarterbacks rarely move because finding just competent level players at the position is incredibly hard in the NFL.  This year’s candidates for taking over starting jobs in other locations include, among others, free agents Kirk Cousins, Brian Hoyer, and Mike Glennon; trade/release options Tony Romo, Jay Cutler, Tyrod Taylor, Jimmy Garappolo, Colin Kaepernick, Nick Foles, and A.J. McCarron; plus rookies DeShaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, and DeShone Kizer.

This article examines possible landing spots based on a variety of factors including team composition, draft capital, and salary cap situation. The large supply of veteran quarterbacks available with starting experience could make for a very interesting market this offseason at the QB position and will undoubtedly force many into backup jobs.

The Elite Landing Spot: Houston

The Texans provide the premier landing spot for our quarterback class. The defense was among the better units in the NFL in 2016 without superstar defensive lineman J.J. Watt.   The offense boasts quality playmakers at wide receiver (DeAndre Hopkins) and running back (Lamar Miller) plus a decent offensive line which should improve next season.  Houston is set up to win now except for the quarterback position in one of the NFL’s weakest divisions.  There is no need to write more about the struggles of Brock Osweiler.  Tom Savage looked the part of starting QB for about a half of football then reverted to a player who did not belong on the field.

Best fits: Tony Romo, Jimmy Garoppolo.  Houston should find a way to get Romo on the roster despite the difficulties with Osweiler’s contract and Houston’s cap issues.  He instantly makes the Texans a legitimate Super Bowl contender and Houston does not want to waste the limited time frame of a great defense.  Garoppolo answers the cap issue and Houston’s 25th pick would be hard to resist by New England as part of a trade but the Osweiler debacle makes investing in another QB with limited experience scary for Houston.  Selecting a QB at 25 in the draft is another cap-friendly option addressing the position.

No Man’s Land: Buffalo, New York Jets

Both of these teams seem caught in that blurry area of having just enough roster strength to possibly fight for a playoff spot but having far too many weaknesses to truly contend. Both were major disappointments in 2016 failing to make the playoffs.  The Bills (10) and Jets (6) are both at spots in the NFL draft where one of their top rated quarterbacks may fall to them.

Buffalo brings in a new coaching staff led by new HC Sean McDermott.  The Bills are unlikely to pick up the large option on current QB Tyrod Taylor.  The defense unexpectedly bottomed out in 2015 and 2016 under former coach Rex Ryan.  A few analysts made a questionble argument this team is close to competing with the addition of a solid quarterback based on a strong run game and solid offensive line.  A major improvement from a defense among the worst in the league against the run and not good against the pass would have to happen for any talk of contention to occur however.

Best fits: Jay Cutler, Mike Glennon.  This depends a lot on whether the organization views Cardale Jones as a long-term project or an eventual successor.  Buffalo management must find the direction they want to take this team.  Signing a cost-friendly free agent quarterback gives this team desired flexibility for the future. Cutler should come relatively cheap, provides a short-term fix with recent upside (QBR 10 in 2015, QBR 3 in 2013), and has the arm needed for Buffalo’s late season weather.  Resigning Taylor is another option but looks unlikely given the current contract situation.

New York faces a difficult choice about whether to take one last shot or start the rebuild process.  The roster is full of aging former stars including running back Matt Forte (who was clearly outplayed by Bilal Powell in 2016), wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker (who suffered through injuries and the awful version of Ryan Fitzpatrick), and cornerback Darrelle Revis (whose days as a starting corner look over).  This looks like a team in need of a fresh start when adding in an elderly offensive line and a secondary that was among the worst in the league last season.  The Jets also have one of the worst salary cap situations in the league with limited flexibility to obtain significant cap room.

Best fits: DeShaun Watson, Colin Kaepernick.  Time to start over with the top rated QB left on their board.  This is too early in the draft for this quarterback class but better to take the gamble on a possible franchise QB.  This team is going nowhere soon, the top tier defensive prospects might be gone at 6 in the draft, and the Jets do not have the cap space to make big moves in free agency.  The Jets might also effectively “punt” next season on quarterback and sign one of the lower-end options available in free agency like Kaepernick or Nick Foles to compete for the starting job.

The Young Rebuilders: Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago

These teams occupy the top three positions in the NFL draft after winning a combined six games in 2016. Each team has significant holes throughout the roster to be filled.  Each organization has plenty of cap room with Cleveland and San Francisco holding the most cap space in the league.  The cap space and draft capital give each of these teams a variety of options available in addressing QB needs.  Taking one of the top quarterbacks is certainly an option but might not be the wisest choice for a top-three pick with the uncertainty surrounding this rookie class.

Best fits (Cleveland): Tyrod Taylor, DeShone Kizer.  Taylor allows Cleveland to keep all of their draft picks which the Browns management covets.  Hue Jackson displayed a willingness to work with Robert Griffin III who has a similar skill-set to Taylor.  Kizer makes for an intriguing pick at the 12 spot but could fall further.  The Irish quarterback has all the required physical traits and throws one of the better balls among the rookie class but needs a lot of coaching to become ready for the NFL.

Best fits (San Francisco): Mitch Trubisky, Jay Cutler.  San Francisco feels like another team who could wait in determining a long-term quarterback solution.  The roster is nowhere close to competing despite new GM John Lynch’s optimism.  New head coach Kyle Shanahan will not force the issue for quarterback at the top of the draft if he is not confident about the talent available and has ties to Cutler.  Many consider Trubisky the most accurate QB in the draft, if San Francisco goes in that direction, but questions surround the Tar Heel with a limited sample of game film to go off of.

Best fits (Chicago): A.J. McCarron, Patrick Mahomes.  Chicago is a team who could compete sooner than many would presume. There is a strong rushing attack anchored by a very good offensive line and injuries decimated a defense which could be better than expected in 2017 if the Bears find some help in the secondary.  McCarron makes for a low-risk option which should come much cheaper than Garappolo.  Any team acquiring McCarron will also have an extra year of control with his contract as a restricted free agent in 2018.  The Bears should re-sign Brian Hoyer, who showed well in limited action this season, whether as the backup or a bridge to the future for a quarterback taken later in the draft like Texas Tech standout Mahomes.

The Longshots: Denver, Washington, Kansas City

There has been talk of Romo going to Denver but the Broncos seem happy enough with their quarterback situation and just used a first round pick on Paxton Lynch last year.  Kirk Cousins is staying in Washington on the assumption somebody in the Redskins management maintains some level of reason.  Cousins will probably get the franchise tag again as there is no backup plan to Cousins leaving. Kansas City is another popular landing spot for Tony Romo to put the Chiefs over the top.  This seems somewhat unlikely on a team with 23 wins over the last two seasons, a competent quarterback, and limited salary cap flexibility.


Bio: Bernard Faller has degrees in engineering and economics.  He currently lives in Las Vegas and enjoys athletics, poker, and fantasy football in his free time.  Send your questions and comments (both good and bad) on Twitter @BernardFaller1.

Mock Draft Trends

Updated: July 23rd 2017

Does anybody else have Mock Draft Fever yet?  I sure do.  I’ve been checking out various mocks around the interwebs and have noticed two trends that I think are important for RSO owners to keep in mind as we head into the combine season.  Will things change as we progress through the combine and pro-days, certainly, but starting your research now is still a good idea.  Here are two story lines that RSO owners need to pay attention to as they start their mock draft and rookie research.

Offensive Line is Almost Historically Weak

Since 1999, an offensive lineman was not taken in the Top 10 just twice: 2015 and 2005.  Ultimately, like the quarterback position, I think team need will supersede talent and somebody will reach for whomever they feel is the top graded tackle.  You may be asking yourself, who cares, I’m not drafting Cam Robinson regardless of where he goes in the NFL draft.  Of course, but I think this is important for two reasons…
  1. The later the first offensive lineman is taken, the higher the potential that star offensive skill position rookies get drafted higher (i.e. by worse teams)
  2. The earlier the first offensive lineman is taken, the more likely a “run” on them starts because teams are worried they will get stuck with a third-rate tackle
Let’s use a real example to illustrate both ideas and how they could play out.  If the Jaguars, who arguably need both OL and RB help, take RB Leonard Fournette at #4, the next likely landing spot for the first OL would be the Chargers, Panthers or Bengals at #7-9.  If they all skip on OL too, it’s possible we may not see an OL taken until #14 and the Colts who desperately need to protect Andrew Luck.  If the Jaguars go OL first, maybe Fournette falls to #8 and the Panthers, which would look A LOT better for his rookie RSO prospects than the Jaguars.  If the Jaguars do go OL and it causes any of the next ten teams to panic and grab their own over a skill position player, it could mean somebody like WR Corey Davis falling to a better offense like the Titans or Bucs to pair with their young franchise QBs.

2017 Could be the Year of the 1st Round RB

Depending on which mock draft you look at, we will likely have multiple RBs taken in the 1st Round, probably three.  Fournette will undoubtedly go first followed by Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffery.  The draft fortunes of RBs has fluctuated over the last twenty years but over the last five years specifically, the demand for rookie RBs has trended downward.  We could argue if that has more to do with the talent of the players or the importance of the position to NFL teams but that is a conversation for another day.

The last two years gave us Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon, but 2014 and 2013 gave us zero 1st Round backs.  2012 was the last time that three RBs were drafted in the 1st Round but two of those were at #31 and #32.  You’d have to go back to 2010 to see a stronger crop with #9, #12 and #30.  Looking back at the 1st Round names before the 2013-14 drought is scary: Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, David Wilson, Mark Ingram, CJ Spiller, Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best.  The best of this group, Martin and Ingram, are viable RB1s in RSO formats today but they have had bad seasons along the way and aren’t without question (you could throw Gurley and Gordon in that mix too – of course Elliot is a step above them all).  Spiller, Richardson and Mathews have had varying levels of success but none proved to be dynasty assets.  Wilson and Best were both out of the league prematurely due to injury.  Should you be scared of drafting a 1st Round RB for your RSO dynasty?  Probably if his name is not Leonard Fournette.

I think 2017 should probably be a two RB year in the NFL Draft’s 1st Round: Fournette and Cook.  After seeing the success of Elliot in 2016 though, I would not be surprised if some team who thinks their OL is on the rise tries to recreate that magic, albeit with a lesser back.  I predict somebody will reach for McCaffery in the 24-30 range and would not be surprised to see either Joe Mixon (despite his off field issues) or Wayne Gallman (after all of Clemson’s success the last two years) get a nod at #32 if the Patriots trade out which they often do.  Your RSO draft of course will look different with only skill position players but at this point in the process, I would be hesitant to take Cook higher than 1.05 and for McCaffery/Mixon I would wait even a few picks later (of course that could all change based on who drafts these guys).

*Note: When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast
  • Draft history: drafthistory.com/

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

Rookie Film Study: QBs

Updated: July 23rd 2017

My first love was college football.  Like every long-term relationship, college football and I have had our ebbs and flows throughout the years.  Recently we’ve been in a lull due to the fact that I have Rutgers season tickets and I typically spend 6-8 hours at the stadium on a game day.  Factor in an annual away game (Ann Arbor here I come again this year) and I’m missing about 8 weeks of college football action each season.  Thankfully, playing on RSO has helped me refocus and concentrate on the incoming rookies and starting with today’s piece my writing on RSO will be devoted to rookies and the college game.  Check back throughout the offseason for more rookie-centric research, film study and mock drafts.  First up, let’s take a look at the top of the 2017 rookie QB class.

Mitch Trubisky, UNC

By many accounts, Mitch Trubisky will be the first quarterback selected in the 2017 NFL Draft and much ink will be spilled discussing him.

Trubisky is a Junior who is coming out after just one full season as a starter.  The only game in which he had significant reps as a Sophomore came against FCS Delaware when he filled in for injured starter Marquise Williams.  In 2016 he totaled 3,748 passing  yards, 30 TDs and 6 INTs.  He also added decent production on the ground with eight games of either 30+ yards or a rushing TD.  Trubisky’s best outing was against #12 FSU where he completed 31 of 38 passes for 453 yards and 3 TDs; he also added a rushing TD.  His worst outing undoubtedly came against #25 Virginia Tech when he went 13-33 for just 58 yards, zero TDs and 2 INTs.

I watched Trubisky’s film against Duke and Stanford.  One of the first things I noticed about him is that his feet never stop moving in the pocket.  He is always poised to throw but is equally able to evade the rush and escape the pocket.  Twice in the 3rd quarter against Duke, Trubisky fled the rush and turned a sack into positive yardage (one of them into a first down actually).  He did the same a number of times against Stanford and their Top 5 prospect DE Solomon Thomas.  Unfortunately a last second two point conversion attempt to tie the game was one example of the pressure getting home and Trubisky being unable to escape.  Against Stanford he also threw two bad INTs which ended possessions the Tar Heels desperately needed late in the game.

The second half of the game against Stanford perfectly encapsulates Trubisky’s draft prospects.  In the 3rd quarter, on 2nd & 11, Trubisky eludes the pressure and throws a flat-footed pass 40 yards for a first down.  In the 4th quarter, 3rd & Goal, down 8 points with 30 seconds left, Trubisky rolls right toward the boundary but is pressured.  He circles back towards the field, quickly sets his feet and throws a dart from the opposite hash for a touchdown (he threw a similar TD pass from the opposite hash in the 1st quarter of the Duke game).  The next play was the aforementioned two point conversion sack that essentially ended the game.

He certainly has the arm strength and athleticism to make it in the NFL but he’s just a step short.  Will he be the first quarterback drafted?  I think so and somebody will likely take him in the Top 10 but that is too rich for me.

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame

Kizer will be over-drafted because of his size, plain and simple.  He is 6’4″ and 230lb which should peg him as the biggest quarterback prospect other than Davis Webb who will be drafted significantly later.  He certainly won’t be drafted for the stats he put up at Notre Dame.  He had a horrendous completion percentage of 58.7% in 2016 and did not break 3,000 passing yards in either 2015 or 2016.  He does have some “boom” capability though so be careful which tape you watch – he went off for 5 TDs and 0 INTs twice, once in 2016 against Texas and once in 2015 against Pitt.  What makes his size so tantalizing is the speed that goes with it – he’s tough to bring down in traffic and if he gets into the open field, he’s gone.

When I watched Kizer’s film, I was struck by how uncomfortable he looked under pressure which I thought might be a strength given his athleticism and speed.  Kizer often seems to forget about the rush once it gets behind him and gets sacked from behind rather than stepping up and out of the pocket.  Against Stanford, I counted four sacks like this; two of which came on the last drive when the Irish were down 7 points.  I was not impressed with his accuracy or arm strength when rolling out.  I also question his attention to detail: between the two games I watched, Duke being the other, Kizer dropped two snaps and botched a handoff.  Lastly, his awareness of game situation and field position worries me.  Of all of the film I have watched so far of the rookie QBs, Kizer has by far the worst throw.  Let me set the stage… it’s 35-35 against Duke with just 5 minutes left, Notre Dame has the ball in the shadow of their own goal posts and it’s 3rd & 20.  Kizer drops back to pass, into his own endzone, shuffles left and throws a duck without setting his feet.  The pass is easily intercepted at the Notre Dame 45 yard line.  The announcer basically says, “no big deal, they would have punted anyway” but that is asinine.  If Kizer was able to gain even 5 yards to give his punter some room, they could have ensured that Duke at least got the ball back in their own half instead of plus territory.  Duke took over, killed 4+ minutes and kicked a 19 yard field goal that ended up being the game winner.

Some quarterback desperate team will inevitably take Kizer in the Top 15 due to his physical tools but I wouldn’t want my team making that mistake – he will need time to develop and he won’t get that if he’s taken in the top half of the first round.

DeShaun Watson, Clemson

DeShaun Watson will be the name that most casual fans will be familiar with and the one that I am most worried about RSO owners reaching for.  Watson has played in two National Championship games, one of which he won, has finished in the Top 3 of Heisman voting twice and has more than 10,000 career passing yards.  Watson certainly has a championship pedigree but can he turn that into success in the NFL?  Not unless he can stop throwing interceptions.

Without even watching any film of Watson, you can quickly determine his biggest negative… he throws way too many INTs.  In 2016 he threw 17 and in 2015 he threw 13.  Does this sound familiar?  Okay you’re right I ragged on Watson for his interceptions in the lead up to January’s championship game, so I’ll move on.

When I started watching film of Watson, I had a preconceived notion that his interception problems were caused by his limited reading of the field.  After watching 2016 outings against Auburn and Ohio State, I still believe that.  Against Auburn, the first game of the season, you will find very few throws when Watson looks away from his primary receiver.  Against Ohio State, in the semi-finals, he was improved but still not what you would hope for from a franchise quarterback.  Going back to the Auburn game, I also noticed three times when Watson’s throw was deflected at the line of scrimmage.  Depending where you look he is either listed at 6’3″ or 6’2″ – I would not be surprised if his height becomes a problem come combine.

Watson is obviously supremely talented and I think that his field vision issues could be helped by the right coach (whether that means giving him half-field reads or actually helping him improve) so I’d be willing to give him a shot in the late 1st round.

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech

If there is one quarterback in the first round that I would be targeting it would be Mahomes.  Many draft resources have him listed as the 4th prospect behind Trubisky, Kizer and Watson but I believe he should be right up there with Trubisky.  Given the difference in draft pick needed to nab the two, Mahomes would be my pick.

It’s easy not to give any credence to the numbers that Mahomes (and past air raid quarterbacks) put up but let’s just take a quick look because they are insane.  He threw for over 11,000 total passing yards in his career and 93 TDs.  In 2016 he had six games of 400+ yards, three games of 500+ and one of 700+.  Add in 22 career rushing TDs and you have an all-around prolific quarterback.  All of Mahomes’ stats (yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt, interceptions, etc) improved year over year from 2014 to 2016.

Watching film of Mahomes is a bit misleading due to how many attempts he has each game, but it was sill instructive – anybody could find pros and cons when you have 50+ attempts.  You will notice immediately that his footwork needs improvement – he throws off one foot often – but he has the arm strength to overcome.  To my eye, he looked most comfortable when rolling out of the pocket and only had half of the field to read.  When on the run, he throws accurately.  Like Kizer, he seems to struggle with stepping up and out of the pocket, oftentimes he just stepped right into a sack.  Two things that I loved when watching Mahomes play against Arizona State… First, he drew two offsides and turned one of those into a touchdown on a free play.  That is something you see in the NFL (Aaron Rodgers anybody?  Just kidding) and not so often in college.  Second, he executed this one play perfectly a few times, once going for a touchdown, where he has a long fake at the mesh point and then fires a quick bullet to a slanting TE.  He was knocked out of the game against Kansas but it was not a serious injury.

Mahomes, like the other three profiled here, is not perfect but I think his trajectory is pointing in the right direction and he is worth a pick by a fringe playoff team around 20th overall.

 

Note: When watching film for a player, I typically pick two games at random to watch.  I do not necessarily want to watch games where they did very well or very poorly as that may not be a great illustration of their true ability.  If possible, when comparing players at the same position I also like to watch film against common opponents.  Full disclosure, I am not watching film of every single game any player plays, instead I am looking for a representative sample.  When researching college players I use a number of resources, I would recommend bookmarking the below sites…

  • Stats: espn.com, sports-reference.com, cfbstats.com
  • Film: draftbreakdown.com
  • Draft info and mocks: draftcountdown.com, nfldraftscout.com, walterfootball.com, mattwaldmanrsp.com, ESPN’s First Draft podcast

Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.

NCAA Championship Game Preview

Updated: July 16th 2017

Back in 2009 I wrote a preview for every college football bowl game.  It was a lot of work and an undertaking that I regretted somewhere between the Humanitarian Bowl and the Insight Bowl.  I went back and re-read some of those previews this weekend though and found them very interesting.  Now that I have two full years of RSO under my belt, I couldn’t help but think in terms of how all of the mentioned players fared in the NFL and whether or not I would have risked a rookie draft pick on them.  Of all the previews I re-read, the Sun Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma was my favorite.  It was chock full of NFL talent: Andrew Luck, Sam Bradford, Landry Jones, Demarco Murray, Gerald McCoy and Toby Gerhart.  A common refrain I hear from fellow dynasty owners is that it’s tough to keep up with the college season and all of the teams – I think the bowl season is a perfect way to get some exposure and start researching for your rookie draft.  So, I decided we should take a look at this year’s championship game and see if there are any lessons that can be learned for RSO users.

Alabama

What is there left to say about Alabama?  They are 40-3 over the last three season featuring three different quarterbacks: that is impressive.  Current QB Jalen Hurts is the most athletic of those three signal callers (Jake Coker and Blake Sims being the other two) but he’s just a true freshman so he isn’t really on the radar for RSO users.  His numbers are impressive though: 65% completion percentage, 21 passing TDs, 891 yards rushing and 12 rushing TDs.  What’s most important for our purposes is that he’s certainly capable of keep the chains moving and can distribute the ball well to the backs and receivers.

Those backs and receivers are all young too – most being sophomores.  Even though they may not be draft eligible yet, their stock will only continue to rise so take note now.  RBs Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough combine for a fearsome one-two punch.  Harris averaged 7.2 yards per carry over 141 carries (1,013 yards) but scored just two TDs.  Scarborough is a patient, bruising runner and the touchdown vulture, scoring nine in 2016.  He averaged 6.6 yards per carry for 719 total yards.  Neither tailback is featured heavily in the passing game though, just 15 total receptions, mostly from Harris.  Scarborough reminds me more of TJ Yeldon than Derrick Henry who the semi-final game commentators were comparing him too.  He’s tall for a RB at 6’2″ but does not shy away from contact – in fact he initiates contact and bounces off.  Harris didn’t really impress me in my limited time watching the Tide this year, I think Scarborough will be the better pro when he’s eligible.

Junior Ardarius Stewart was the leading WR in 2016 by yards (816 vs 740) but was out-caught by sophomore Calvin Ridley  (52 vs 66).  Ridley’s NFL prospects mostly go back to his true freshman season in 2015 where he put up a 89-1,045-7 stat line, including a huge game in the semi-final against Michigan State going for 8-138-2.  Ridley’s production fell off in 2016 because of Hurts’ run-first mentality but I don’t think that will actually hurt his NFL draft stock.  He draws comparisons to Amari Cooper but I think he could be even better than that.  Come this time next season, I fully expect Ridley to be a top ten pick.  He’s not a sexy name, but I am intrigued by Gehrig Dieter.  He was a graduate transfer from Bowling Green who joined Alabama for the 2016 season.  He only amassed 15 catches for 214 yards and 4 TDs but the fact that Nick Saban took him on for the season speaks louder than his on-field production.  In his junior season at Bowling Green he totaled 94-1,033-10.  If he went undrafted I would not be surprised, but I think he’s the kind of guy who emerges in the preseason, finds his way into the lineup and turns out to be a PPR factor in future seasons (my mind went to Quincy Enunwa and Adam Thielen, similar size and potential career arc).  TE OJ Howard won’t get any looks early in your RSO rookie draft but he is a big body (6’6″ and 235lb) with big play ability; if he lands with the right team he could be a sneaky third round pick or free agent stash.  If Howard’s name sounds familiar it’s because he torched Clemson last year in the championship game: 5 receptions, 208 yards and 2 TDs.

For those of you playing in IDP leagues, you typically can’t go wrong drafting a first- or second-round Alabama player.  According to NFLDraftScout.com’s most recent mock drafts, Alabama could have as many as four defensive players selected in the first twelve picks: Jonathan Allen, Marlon Humphrey, Reuben Foster and Tim Williams.  LB Reuben Foster and DE Jonathan Allen will likely be impact starters in 2017 for their NFL teams and maybe for your RSO team.  Foster is a high-volume tackler (103 total in 2016, 30 more than 2nd place on the team) who can also get to the quarterback (4 sacks in 2016).  Allen racked up 145 total tackles, 43.5 tackles for loss and 27 sacks over the last three seasons; he finished 7th in Heisman voting this year, the highest for a defensive lineman since Jadeveon Clowney in 2012.  He’s probably a “tweaner” in the NFL, somewhere between a DE and DT that could be a positive if he lands in the right place, or be his downfall if he ends up in the wrong system.

Clemson

Let’s get this out of the way at the top: I am not a fan of Deshaun Watson.  It’s nothing personal, by all accounts he is a great young man, but I just don’t want to put the fate of my RSO franchise in his hands.  There is no doubt that he is talented but in my opinion he makes too many mistakes.  Against Ohio State, Watson threw two INTs early in the game that could have made for a much different outcome if the Buckeyes were able to take advantage but the ensuing drives ended in a missed field goal and a punt.  Among 124 qualifying quarterbacks (who averaged 14 attempts per game), Watson threw the second most interceptions (17) in 2016; in 2015 he threw 13 for a total of 30 in the last two seasons.  For comparison, Dak Prescott, Paxton Lynch and Christian Hackenburg combined to throw just 15 INTs in 2015 before being drafted.  DynastyLeagueFootball.com has Watson as their rookie QB1 for 2017 but that’s more a result of the weak class than Watson’s pro possibility.

Junior RB Wayne Gallman is fun to watch and luckily for us it seems as if he will be entering the draft this offseason.  He’s a slasher of a running back who I feel would be at home in a zone-running scheme in the NFL even more so than he has been in Clemson’s read-option attack.  The more highlights I watch and research I do, the more I fall in love.  He’s big enough (6’1″, 215lb) to hold up over the course of the season and is a good enough receiver to stay on the field in some third down situations in the NFL.  Over the last two seasons, Gallman has combined for 2,940 yards from scrimmage and 30 TDs.  I think his RSO draft stock will be heavily influenced by his performance against Alabama in the championship game.  Honestly, I hope he struggles in that game so his stock stays idle and I have a chance to grab him in my home RSO league at 1.09 or 2.02.

As good as I believe Gallman is, he’s not the best pro prospect on his team.  That honor goes to junior WR Mike Williams.  Williams’s story is a good one.  He was injured early in the first game in 2015 after colliding with the goalpost support while catching a touchdown.  He fractured his neck and spent the rest of the season rehabbing so he could come back with a vengeance in 2016 and that’s exactly what he did.  Williams will probably be a top ten pick in this year’s NFL draft after an impressive 2016.  Williams hauled in 90 balls for 1,267 yards and 10 TDs.  As a sophomore back in 2014, he went 57-1,030-6 so he’s no one-hit wonder.  Depending on where you look, Williams is either listed at 6’3″ or 6’4″ but either way he’s tall enough to be an elite NFL receiver.  Williams will most definitely be the first WR drafted in RSO leagues this year, but he probably won’t be the only Clemson WR taken.  Junior WR Artavis Scott is a smaller possession receiver who has had at least 73 receptions in each of his three seasons with the Tigers.  Scott doesn’t have gaudy numbers that will drive his RSO draft stock but given the right offense, he could be worth a third round rookie pick.  Sophomore WR Deon Cain isn’t draft eligible this offseason, and may not be relevant this time next season to be honest, but he is a big play threat that could make the difference versus Alabama.  He averages 19.1 yards per catch, has 9 TDs this season and has a catch of 20+ yards in eight of fourteen games this season.  Senior TE Jordan Leggett is also a factor in the passing game, but might make more of an impact as a good blocker.  He’s been banged up lately and left the Ohio State game injured but I couldn’t find any updates online; assuming he is healthy heading into the offseason, he should be a top five rookie tight end, and much like OJ Howard, deserve some consideration.

On defense, Clemson is much less appealing from an IDP perspective than Alabama.  ILBs Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph each had at least 100 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and an interception.  I don’t believe either will really impact RSO owners this season; if Joseph returns for another season he could see his value increase.  DT Carlos Watkins had 10.5 sacks this season and could be a late first-round NFL selection.

TL:DR

Both teams are full of NFL-caliber talent so this is an important game for dynasty owners to watch.  The players that you should keep an eye on in the championship game are: Calvin Ridley, Wayne Gallman and Mike Williams.  In my opinion those are the three that will have the most impact on RSO leagues in years to come (don’t forget though that Ridley is not draft eligible until 2018).

My prediction?   Alabama wins easily because of their defense and ball control offense but the score ends up being close due to some late garbage time scoring.  Hurts has at least 15 carries; Ridley only gets a handful of targets but has at least one game changing play; Scarborough serves as the hammer to kill the clock at the end, totaling at least 150 yards; Watson throws at least two INTs; Gallman starts strong and has good per-touch numbers but is mostly forgotten about once Clemson falls behind.  Final score: Alabama 34, Clemson 24.


Robert F. Cowper is a freelance writer who lives in New Jersey.  Robert works as a recreation professional, specializing in youth sports, when he isn’t acting as commissioner for his many fantasy sports leagues.