NFL Hot Press

Teams Starting to Feel Optimistic About QB Class

Updated Oct. 30, 2015
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

The NFL Draft has not offered a strong class of quarterbacks for teams to find their starters of the future over the past three years. The top quarterbacks in the 2013 (E.J. Manuel) and 2014 (Blake Bortles) classes were taken more out of default than them actually grading out as top signal-callers for the next level. The 2011 and 2012 drafts produced first-rounders and good starters on the second day of the draft like Cincinnati's Andy Dalton and Seattle's Russell Wilson.

Our sources in the NFL are starting to feel optimistic that 2016 could be more like 2011 and 2012 with a quality quarterback class that has depth. They hope that the optimism is realized when the final grades are amassed and there are a number of quarterbacks proving to be worthy of selections in the early rounds.

Among the senior prospects, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has first-round potential, and he isn't the only one whom evaluators are watching. Sources have said that some teams and scouts have taken a liking to North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. There are also scouts who really like North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett.

Over recent years, the strengths of drafts have come from the early entries skipping eligibility to enter the NFL, and that will be called on for the 2016 NFL Draft to produce a deep quarterback class. Cal quarterback Jared Goff has been hyped by the media all season, and Memphis junior Paxton Lynch has broken out as a pro prospect. Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Ohio State's Cardale Jones have had roller-coaster careers, and each could decide they're tired of waiting for things to work out in college and move on to the NFL.

After once being considered a future star, Hackenberg has turned into a love-or-hate prospect with many evaluators. One East Coast area scout told that he likes Brissett more than Hackenberg and believes Brissett will end up grading out higher. A strong finish to his junior year is critical for Hackenberg to have first-round hopes.

Another junior quarterback who has caught the eye of NFL evaluators is Kentucky's Patrick Towles. Sources say they really like Towles' (6-5, 240) physical skills for the NFL but are concerned about his anticipation and awareness. Of all the juniors, Towles may be the most likely to return for his senior year.

Even without Towles, this class the potential of seven signal callers grading out in the first three rounds with Cook, Wentz, Brissett, Goff, Lynch, Hackenberg and Jones. That's not including other senior quarterbacks like Stanford's Kevin Hogan or USC's Cody Kessler. With this amount of potential prospects, it gives some teams that are likely to be picking in the middle or late in the first round hope that while they may not get a quarterback in the first round, they will be able to come out of the draft with a quality signal-caller on the second day.

In speaking with sources, they say that at this time none of these players are as good of prospects as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota were last year. So while last April had more high-end talent, this year's class features a lot more depth. With a huge number of teams needing a franchise quarterback, this could be the draft they've been waiting for.

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Reggie Ragland Impressing Evaluators

Updated Oct. 22, 2015
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

When Alabama lost star linebacker C.J. Mosley to the NFL, many thought that replacements Trey DePriest or Denzel Devall would be the players who would step up to be the headliner of the Crimson Tide defense. However, it was Reggie Ragland that took over in 2014 and has continued his excellent play this season. NFL evaluators are taking notice, and sources from multiple teams have told us that Ragland has turned himself into a coveted prospect.

Sources say that Ragland is not a special athlete, but he's just a really good football player. He has instincts and toughness, and he brings a real physical presence to the middle of the defense. Multiple teams said they felt that when the final draft boards are assembled, Ragland would be deemed worthy of a pick as a first-rounder in the back half. There are a number of teams that have taken a liking to Ragland, and if he stays consistent he could end up being a late first-round pick.

In 2014, his first season as an every down player, Ragland recorded 95 tackles, 10.5 for a loss, three passes broken up, one interception, one forced fumble and 1.5 sacks on the year. The 6-foot-2, 254-pounder was a physical in-the-box run defender who was perfectly suited to defending the running offenses of the SEC.

This year, Ragland has continued to perform well. In seven games he has 59 tackles with three passes breakups, two sacks and two forced fumbles. Ragland has shown versatility as he has rushed off the edge as a defensive end in obvious passing downs while also showing improved coverage skills in pass defense. He performed well against good receiving tight ends from Ole Miss (Evan Engram) and Arkansas (Hunter Henry).

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Sources Have Speed Concerns for Laquon Treadwell

Updated Oct. 16, 2015
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

In the early going of the 2016 NFL Draft process, one of the most hyped wide receiver prospects has been Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell. He was a top recruit coming out of high school, and he has been a three-year contributor for the Rebels. Many expect that Treadwell will skip his senior season and enter the 2016 draft, thus NFL teams are already gauging him for the next level. Sources say they like Treadwell as a prospect, but they have speed concerns, and right now, they aren't projecting him to grade out as a high first-rounder.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pounder is put together well with the ability to make contested catches over defensive backs. Treadwell uses his size and strength to out fight defenders for the ball, and he has also displayed good run after the catch skills. However, sources aren't convinced that Treadwell will be able to consistently separate from NFL cornerbacks, especially if he is drawing the No. 1 corner from the opposition.

Treadwell has 35 receptions for 510 yards and three touchdowns this season. He had a good game against Alabama (5-80-1), but really struggled to get separation against Florida and their secondary that is comprised of future NFL starters. Perhaps Treadwell isn't at full speed less than a year after the injury.

In what could be the final stretch of his college career, Treadwell has to show the ability to get separation running his routes. Otherwise Treadwell could be dogged by speed concerns throughout the draft process.

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Dolphins Should Turn to Alonzo Highsmith

Updated Oct. 6, 2015
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

After a disappointing start to the season, the Miami Dolphins became the first team in the NFL to make a change in a key leadership position with the firing of head coach Joe Philbin. It seems very possible that general manager Dennis Hickey could be the next to go, as the Dolphins are in a situation where they need to clean house. The franchise has been missing a proven winning direction for years, and leadership looks necessary.

Less than two years ago, Hickey took the Dolphins general manager position after numerous other candidates turned it down. Sources with Tampa Bay had told that new Bucs general manager Jason Licht and head coach Lovie Smith were going to let Hickey go, but prior to that, he fell into the Dolphins position.

Hickey had been leading the Bucs scouting department for a long time, and the lack of talent resulting from his poor drafts played a huge role in the firing of two general managers (Bruce Allen, Mark Dominik) and three head coaches (Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano). Now, a fourth can be added to that list with Philbin. Clearly, Miami needs a new direction in the organization, and it should look to a familiar face in Green Bay Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith.

Highsmith was a water boy for the Dolphins during the early 80s. He was close with Don Shula's family and went to high school with Mike Shula. Highsmith was a high school All-American in Miami and starred at the University of Miami before playing for the Oilers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. After his NFL playing days ended, Highsmith was a professional boxer and compiled a 27-1-1 record in his pugilist career.

Executives from around the league say that Highsmith has one of the best eyes for talent in the NFL and has played a massive role in assembling Green Bay's roster that has yielded a series of playoff appearances and Super Bowl Championship. Not only do they say that he has a great eye for talent, but he works tirelessly, and is especially good at scouting quarterbacks. Highsmith has played with and has been a part of teams with great quarterbacks going back to playing with Shula in high school. He was a teammate of Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde in college at the University of Miami. Highsmith played with Warren Moon and Troy Aikman in the NFL, while being part of Brett Favre's tenure in Green Bay and was part of the Green Bay drafting and developing Aaron Rodgers into the best quarterback in the league.

Highsmith has learned under some of the best general managers in the NFL over the past 15 years in Ron Wolf and Thompson, so he's ready to lead a franchise in the general manager position. He also learned from coaching greats in Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, and his father Walter Highsmith.

Highsmith was hired by then Packers Executive Vice President/General Manager Ron Wolf in 1999 to be a college scout for Green Bay. After serving as an area scout for many years, Highsmith was promoted to his current spot in 2012. Working closely with Thompson has given Highsmith a perfect position to prepare for running a franchise.

Sources say that Highsmith has a tremendous work ethic from his time as a player, professional boxer and area scout. Given his background, he works very well with NFL players and is able to identify with them. With his personal and organizational leadership skills, he can get a franchise working in one direction from the front office into the locker room. That is a huge necessity for the Dolphins franchise that has lacked structure and leadership. Everything he does at Green Bay is about winning as an organization, and sources believe he will build that kind of atmosphere for any team that hires him as their general manager.

Last offseason, the Redskins tried to hire Highsmith away, but they were blocked from doing so by Thompson. Highsmith is expected to be a candidate for other general manager openings, so if the Dolphins want to land Highsmith, they should move quickly to steal a top executive from one of the most successful franchises in the league. Bringing Highsmith back home to Miami would be the first step to resurrecting the once-proud franchise.

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Opinions Divided on Christian Hackenberg

Updated Oct. 1, 2015
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg is one of the most debated prospects in the draft. There's a real divide on how NFL sources viewed Hackenberg entering the season and how fans did. Sources see Hackenberg as a future first-rounder, while a lot of fans felt that Hackenberg had no business in the first round.

The highly recruited Hackenberg was a star as a freshman playing for Bill O'Brien. His sophomore season was ugly as Penn State's offense struggled for a variety of reasons under new head coach James Franklin. As a junior, the roller coaster has continued and that has had an impact on Hackenberg's draft stock. Some teams still see him as a first-rounder, while others don't think he belongs in the first round of the draft.

One general manager from a team that doesn't see Hackenberg as a first-rounder said that he is a statue in the pocket and has just average accuracy. Another issue that rubs some evaluators the wrong way is that Hackenberg reminds some of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in terms of his body language and the way teammates play uninspired around him.

Other teams that view him as a first-rounder see a skill set they like with the 6-foot-4, 234-pounder. They see that he played well with an NFL coach in O'Brien and can see why the situation in Penn State has been frustrating for Hackenberg since O'Brien left for the Texans. In 2013, he was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,955 yards with 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. One source said the following regarding Hackenberg and the first round:

"With quarterbacks all bets are off and it only takes one team to fall in love. We had a fourth-round grade on Christian Ponder, yet he went in the first. [Blaine] Gabbert was another. We didn't have a first-round grade on E.J. Manuel either. [Blake] Bortles wasn't a top of the draft prospect either. There are so many teams desperate for a quarterback that will be picking in the top 20 I could easily see someone taking him there. There are only so many guys that have that skill set and some coaches will feel they can fix him."

There is no doubt that the NFL is a quarterback-driven league and there are a lot of franchises that are desperate to land one. That demand helps elevate Hackenberg, Ohio State's Cardale Jones, Michigan State's Connor Cook, and Cal's Jared Goff. There are so many divided opinions about Hackenberg, that this debate is going to rage on in scouting circles and with fans for many months to come.

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