OTI NFL Draft Thoughts
The NFL Draft is one of the most exciting events on the NFL calendar for reasons that are quite unexplainable. Surely we have better things to do with our time than watch a middle-aged man read out names on a podium? Clearly not, because millions flock to their TVs every year to watch the excitement unfold, and for good reason. The draft instills hope in the fans of every NFL franchise, bringing new and exciting talent into the league. These players become the building blocks of successful franchises, and will potentially go on to win Super Bowls for the teams that show faith in them by drafting them. Here is what to look out for in this year’s draft.
A tale of two quarterbacks
Cal’s Jared Goff and North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz are widely recognised as the two best quarterback prospects in the draft this year, and it is easy to see why. Goff is a natural thrower of the ball, displaying excellent accuracy and zip on short and intermediate passes. Having taken over the reigns as starter for Cal as a true freshman, the 21 year-old possesses the experience at the college level to make an immediate impact in the NFL. As well as this, Goff shows superb touch on deep balls and can effortlessly pick apart secondaries with clever eye manipulation. He displays an innate ability to manoeuvre inside the pocket, utilising his athleticism to escape defenders and set his feet to deliver passes. Ever since the Los Angeles Rams pulled off a blockbuster trade to grab the number one overall pick, Goff has been linked to Jeff Fisher & co., and he will form an exciting, young nucleus of offensive talent in LA with Toddy Gurley and Tavon Austin if drafted by the Rams
Carson Wentz certainly looks the part of an NFL quarterback, standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing in at over 235 lbs. Wentz possesses elite arm strength and can deliver the ball into tight windows with outstanding velocity. The small-school prospect played in a pro-style offence and showed the ability to execute a variety of designed quarterback runs, displaying his impressive athleticism in the process. Wentz struggles in the area of deep ball accuracy, often overthrowing his intended receiver. He has taken knocks throughout the draft process, with sceptics wondering whether he can translate his skills to the next level having competed against relatively poor competition throughout his college career. It would be a shock if the Eagles did not take Wentz with the second overall pick, and it will be interesting to see how the quarterback room in Philly will shake out if Wentz is indeed their man.
Linebackers Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith, from UCLA and Notre Dame respectively, are undoubtedly two of the best prospects in the entire 2016 class. Unfortunately, both players’ final years in college were overshadowed by gruesome knee injuries that have seen them take severe hits to their draft stock. Fortunately for Jack, his injury occurred in September of last year, when he tore his lateral meniscus in practice. Jack is an insane athlete with elite speed, agility and flexibility, and can do everything you could ask of a modern-day linebacker. He flies around the field making tackles and chasing down plays, and can shoot through gaps in a flash to rush the passer. The most intriguing aspect of Jack’s game is his ability to cover not only running backs and tight ends but speedy slot receivers, and his coverage skills really set him apart from the rest of the field. Jack will transform whatever defense he plays on in the NFL because of his versatility, and he epitomises the classic three-down linebacker. Jack really can do it all.
Mike Mayock has said of Jaylon Smith that “if he did not get hurt, he’d be in the conversation for the first pick”, which speaks volumes of his ability when healthy, Like Myles Jack, Smith is a freakish athlete that possesses the talent to be a perennial Pro-Bowler. The Notre Dame standout is an explosive player with an aggressive playing style, both in run defense and in pass-rushing situations. Smith has natural football instincts, constantly finding the football and making game-changing plays. He can stay on the field in third-down situations, excelling in the role of nickel linebacker and displaying fantastic coverage abilities. Smith suffered a gruesome injury in the Fiesta Bowl in January against Ohio State, when he tore both his ACL and LCL. The extent of the injury remains unclear, with some analysts questioning whether he will hear his name called in Chicago at all due to the severe nature of the tears. When the Rams drafted Todd Gurley with the tenth overall pick in 2015, GM Les Snead made the following comment: “Yes, it takes courage, but it could turn out to be a wise decision”. Some teams will undoubtedly have taken Smith off their boards completely but he is simply too talented not to be drafted at some stage.
Lack of elite wide receivers
The 2016 class of receivers lacks top-end talent, however, there are a number of interesting prospects that could hear their name called in the late first round to mid-second round range. Ole Miss pass-catcher Laquon Treadwell, considered by many to be the best receiver in this year’s class, is a powerful athlete who is violent both at the catch-point and after the catch. Treadwell high-points the football as well as anyone in the draft, and despite his disappointing 4.65 40-yard dash time, he poses a significant danger as a deep threat due to his impressive size and build. His long arms allow him to get off of press coverage with ease, and also aid him in the running game, where he bullies and punishes defensive backs with devastating power.
Josh Doctson of TCU is a smooth athlete with natural hands and, like Treadwell, projects as a competent number one receiver at the next level. Notre Dame’s WiIl Fuller is an intriguing prospect because of his blazing speed and his ability to take the top off defenses. Despite this, his small hands (8 ¼ inches) result in too many drops, and he doesn’t catch the ball away from his body. Teams should not expect him to be anything more than a Mike Wallace-type one-trick pony at at the next level. Corey Coleman from Baylor is a quick-twitch athletic freak who is dangerous with the ball in his hands. He ran a limited route-tree in Baylor’s spread offense, but he is exceptional in both the short and deep passing game. Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard is far and away the best route-runner in this year’s class. Showing outstanding attention to detail and precision in his routes, Shepard regularly creates separation from cornerbacks but may lack the size to hold up out wide, being better suited to playing in the slot.
The next Todd Gurley?
Todd Gurley made an immediate impact in the NFL during his rookie season, and Ezekiel Elliott has the talent to have similar production this year, depending on where he lands. The Ohio State running back can do everything, including staying on the field on third downs because of his pass-catching ability and pass-protection skills. Elliott is a smooth runner who displays excellent agility, vision and patience to burst through holes with power, and he looks a lot like Le’Veon Bell in the way he moves. He can take it to the house on any given play but is also able to churn out the hard yards, and he would be a welcome addition to any NFL backfield.
Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey is up there as one of the best athletes in the entire draft. The Seminole plays with a physical edge and uses his long arms to violently bump receivers at the line of scrimmage. He only made the transition from safety to boundary corner in the final year of his college career, so he will provide the position versatility that many NFL teams covet. Ramsey also works well in space, possessing the necessary footwork and instincts to make plays on the ball and tackle receivers for minimal gains. Due to his impressive size, Ramsey is a little tight in the hips, but he is a rangey playmaker who can excel anywhere in the secondary. Vernon Hargreaves of Florida lacks in the size department but makes up for it with a tenacious playing style. Hargreaves is very willing in run support but his biggest strength is his quickness, which allows him to keep up with receivers and stay light on his feet to react to throws in an instant. Recent draft buzz indicates that Hargreaves may slide down the draft board due to fears that his size could limit him to a role as a nickel corner, but Jason Verrett, now of the San Diego Chargers, is an excellent recent example of a smaller corner who has thrived playing on the outside. William Jackson III, the big, instinctive corner from Houston, and Eli Apple of Ohio State, who boasts impressive ball skills, are also expected to be taken in the first round.
Deep defensive line class
The 2016 defensive line class is the best we have seen in quite some time. This year’s class includes players with a variety of different skillsets, from big powerhouses to speedy edge rushers. The standout athlete of the lot is Oregon’s DeForest Buckner, who stands at 6-foot-6 and weighs over 290 lbs. Buckner is a freakish athlete with enormous hands and a giant wingspan, and he uses this to his advantage to dominate offensive linemen and force his way to the quarterback with excellent upper-body power. Buckner played at defensive end in the Ducks’ 3-4 defense, but he is more than capable of performing at a high level as a 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL if needs be.
Joey Bosa has had a glittering career at Ohio State, and is widely believed to be in contention to be a top 5 pick. His production cannot be questioned, having recorded 26 sacks and 51 tackles for loss in his three seasons with the Buckeyes. Bosa possesses phenomenal strength at the point of attack, and he is very sound fundamentally. He does, however, lack elite athleticism that should be expected of a player being drafted with a top 5 selection. There are fears that he may have reached his ceiling already and that he may be ‘just another guy’ in the NFL.
As for interior defensive linemen, Baylor’s Andrew Billings is a monstrous space-eater who would fit perfectly as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defence, but could also function in a 4-3 beside a smaller, more athletic defensive tackle. Sheldon Rankins of Louisville fits this description, and he looks a lot like Geno Atkins of the Cincinnati Bengals in that he is undersized but displays great speed and effort to fight past interior linemen. He shot himself up draft boards with an impressive outing in the Senior Bowl in January, wowing scouts in one-on-one pass-rushing drills. Don’t be surprised if at least five defensive tackles are taken in the first round.