Highlander’s 2017 NFL Draft Preview: Positional Breakdown

Courtesy of NFL

With the plethora of players and talent in this year’s NFL class and the questions at quarterback, analysts are all over the place in terms of draft position. We try to discern some of this chaos to determine what players are good, hot values and who we would not touch at their current projection

QB

Hot: Deshaun Watson, Clemson. Despite all of the criticism surrounding Watson, it is undeniable that he is both a tremendous leader and winner on the big stage. He solidified that image in his final college game by leading Clemson down the field for the win in the 2017 BCS Championship. He has a good pocket sense for a dual threat quarterback, and is willing to stay in the pocket to make last second throws instead of running at the first sign of pressure. Finishing the NFL Combine with the highest 40-yard dash and three cone drill times at the quarterback position make Watson my number one quarterback prospect. –CMS

Not: Mitchell Trubisky, University of North Carolina. Scouts are high on the potential that Trubisky as a dual threat quarterback, but he doesn’t have the track record in college to really prove that. Trubisky only started one full season for Carolina, losing to both rivals Duke and NC State in that season. Neither team has standout defenses, and Carolina’s defense was ranked 43rd in the country. Trubisky’s offense only registered 27 points on a Duke defense that allowed 28.2 points per game and 21 on a NC State defense which conceded 22.8 a game. These slightly below average performances are more than enough for me to question his ability to lead as an NFL signal caller and adjust to NFL game and play speeds despite his plus physical traits. –CMS

RB

Hot: Dalvin Cook, Florida State University. Dalvin Cook’s performance last year was Heisman-worthy to be quite honest, but he didn’t get the consideration he deserved. Cook missed three games and he still tallied up 1765 yards and 20 touchdowns, but more impressively than that he averaged 6.1 yards per carry. The biggest knock on Cook is that he’s not powerful enough to lower his shoulder and drive out a defender but if you have a back that can average even five yards a carry who cares how he does it. Cook is also a pretty good receiving back which makes even more use of his speed and elusiveness, evident by his 33 catches and 488 yards. He may not be the ideal three-down back but quite frankly the NFL has changed, and a running back route into the flat is the new run it up the middle, and Cook can do that well, on top of just flat out making you miss when he gets the hand off. –JH

Not: Christian McCaffrey, Stanford University. This rating is based less on McCaffrey’s own potential as a player as it is a testament to the depth of the running back class this year. While he put up record numbers and has kick return experience, his lack of notable speed or size necessary to separate oneself from the rest of the class. There are several other running backs later in the draft with higher physical upside like Alvin Kamara and Samaje Perine, and a similar (albeit even smaller) back in Donnel Pumphrey projected in the sixth round. While McCaffery is one of the better running backs in the draft, his lack of breathtaking speed combined with questions about his size and ability to be an every down back make me question his top-15 projection. –CMS

TE

Hot: Jordan Leggett, Clemson University. At 6’5” and 258 pounds, Leggett has amazing size for the position. On top of that, he topped the 20-yard and 60-yard shuttle drills for his position. One would think scouts would be drooling over this physical specimen, but there’s one main problem holding him back. His effort level has been seen by many as lacking and Leggett has even called himself lazy. Will the lure of professional fame and millions of dollars finally knock him into gear? He’s too gifted in my eyes to think it wouldn’t. –CMS

Not: O.J Howard, Alabama. Being an Alabama player, Howard is surrounded by a lot of hype and first round projections. But quite honestly, he’s more of an athlete and less of a football player. His under use at Alabama is blamed on the fact he just wasn’t involved in the offensive schemes but that just further proves that you can’t rely on him in an offense. Howard’s lack of grasp over the X’s and O’s part of football has been glossed over by his athleticism, but X’s and O’s knowledge is pretty important at the tight end position if you’re expecting a guy to block and run delay routes into the flat or middle of the field. –JH

WR

Hot: Damore’ea Stringfellow, Ole Miss. Stringfellow has a terrific frame for a receiver (6’2”, 211) and also has great body control, allowing him to fight for 50-50 balls on a consistent basis. Not attending the combine didn’t help any questions scouts may have about his speed and release, but don’t be surprised if he makes more noise than his sixth round draft projection by NFL.com suggests. -CMS

Not: Shelton Gibson, West Virginia. At 5’11” and 191 pounds, Gibson is decently sized for a receiver but his biggest knock is poor route running, which is 90 percent of a wide out’s job. While improved route running skills can be thought, its an investment you’d rather not make into a receiver who is projected in the second round. –JH

OL

Hot: Isaac Asiata, Utah. There always seems to be an outlier at the NFL Combine bench press, and this year’s standout was Asiata with 35 reps. Asiata is versatile with experience at both guard and center under his belt. With a strong first and lateral step, a large frame and a high motor and strong work ethic make Asiata a solid candidate to be a decent starting lineman in the NFL. –CMS

Not: Aviante Collins, TCU. Collins is a bit undersized at 6’4”, 295 pounds and his tendency to be the high pad is a problem. Low pad always wins and if you’re undersized to begin with, you should always be the low pad. Since his frame may be too narrow to actually carry the weight and bulk that some teams desire, he’s going to have to learn to leverage his opponents by striking low especially since he has exceptional speed and quickness. –JH

DL

Hot: DeMarcus Walker, Florida State. Walker has many of the tools essential to NFL success in his arsenal. While he doesn’t have the size to consistently play inside, his potential as an edge rusher is great. He already knows how to use his hands and can chain several moves together. He is exceptional at keeping away from low blocks and doesn’t give up on plays he’s in. However, his motor is inconsistent and his ability to recognize cutbacks is noticeably poor. Both of those things will come with time to a hard worker like Walker. –CMS

Not: Takkarist McKinley, UCLA. McKinley absolutely ramped up his production in the 2017 season, averaging 61 tackles with 18 tackles for a loss, 10 sacks, three forced fumbles and six passes batted on the season. However, his pass rushing is just a Super Mario-esk speed boost, which isn’t going to cut it in the NFL. His motor and ability to chase down the run actually better suits him as an outside linebacker instead. –JH

LB

Hot: Haason Reddick, Temple. To call Reddick a late bloomer is an understatement. Reddick transformed himself from a high school running back and safety to a fearsome pass rusher, and has shot up draft boards over the past few months. His time at his former two positions show in his incredibly smooth hip transitions and quick twitch reaction times. While Reddick needs to put some more muscle on to match elite NFL lineman, Reddick has a mixture of speed, quickness and instincts that is prototypical for an elite pass rushing linebacker while remaining solid in coverage. –CMS

Not: Rueben Foster, Alabama. Reuben Foster is a specimen, no question about it. His ferocity alone is enough to vault him high in the draft and if you couple that with his speed and athleticism, it’s a wrap. Despite that, his instincts are average at best and he is too reliant on his speed and power. As a linebacker, this translates to getting shook in the open field nine times out of ten, and if he ever goes up against Le’veon Bell or anyone like him that is a forsure blown tackle. He’s going to have to learn patience and refine his pursuit if he wants to be effective. –JH

DB

Hot: Obi Melifonwu, UConn. Melifonwu was expected to blow people away at the NFL Combine, and he did not disappoint. A 4.40 second 40-yard dash time combined with a 44-inch vertical has scouts overlooking questionable instincts. I also believe that these instinct issues are overblown, not only because his reactions aren’t as poor as they are made out to be, and because learning how to play the position is one of the easiest things for NFL teams to coach. You can’t coach how to be 6’4” and 224 pounds with a 4.40 40 and a 44-inch vertical . –CMS

Not: Adoree Jackson, USC. While Jackson had a unexpectedly strong season and finally established a position for himself to transition to the NFL, there are still questions surrounding him. Jackson displayed a slight hitch in his change of direction, and this combined with a small natural frame will make him susceptible to slants and posts by larger receivers, which is enough to keep his value below his early second round projection. –CMS

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