NFL Hot Press

Bears Should Hire Alonzo Highsmith as General Manager

Updated Dec. 29, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

After a disappointing season, the Chicago Bears cleaned house by firing general manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman (go here for all of the Black Monday Firing Grades). Once again, Chicago is looking up at rival Green Bay atop the NFC North. The organization will start its search for new leadership, and it would make sense to go to its rivals for a general manager to change things in Chicago.

Packers' senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith is the right-hand man for general manager Ted Thompson. Highsmith helped the Packers to their string of six straight playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship in 2010.

Numerous sources we've spoken to around the league believe Highsmith would be a great choice as the Bears' general manager and could engineer a quick turnaround for Chicago. Highsmith knows the Bears well as a division rival and also would give Chicago an intimate knowledge of their top competitor in the NFC North that the Bears must find a way to beat. Highsmith knows the strengths and weaknesses of both Chicago and Green Bay.

Executives from around the league say that Highsmith has a great eye for talent, 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 Mike Shula in high school, as well as 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 Packers drafting and developing Aaron Rodgers. Figuring out what to do with embattled starter Jay Cutler will be a critical decision for the new Bears' general manager, and Highsmith is a perfect candidate to tackle that job.

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 as the general manager. He also learned from coaching greats in Howard Schnellenberger, Jimmy Johnson, Don Shula, and his father, Walter Highsmith.

As a running back, Highsmith starred at the University of Miami before playing for the Oilers, Cowboys and Buccaneers. After his NFL career, Highsmith was a professional boxer and compiled a 27-1-1 record in his pugilist career. 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. Everything he does at Green Bay is about winning as an organization, and sources believe he will build that kind of atmosphere in any team that hires him as its general manager.

Highsmith could also be a candidate for the opening with the New York Jets, so if the Bears want to land Highsmith, they should move quickly to steal a top executive from their biggest division rival.

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Matias, Kouandjio Grading as Top Guards

Updated Dec. 26, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

With the college football regular season finished, NFL teams are able to start ranking players according to their draft grades. One position that has some depth and parity is the interior of the offensive line at guard. Sources with NFL teams say that no guard has received a first-round grade. According to league contacts, the guards who have graded out the highest are Florida State's Josue Matias and Alabama's Arie Kouandjio. Both players have received second-round grades.

Sources say that Kouandjio and Matias have prove to be well-balanced blockers. They both have the size, strength and quickness to be starting left guards in the NFL.

The next tier of guard prospects is comprised of South Carolina's A.J. Cann and Florida State's Tre Jackson. Both have received third-round grades. Previously, sources said that Cann was a poor man's Larry Warford (Lions) or Gabe Jackson (Raiders). Both of those pros were third-round picks, and Cann is smaller than both of them. Some in the media have hyped Cann as a potential first-round pick, but sources with NFL teams say they've given Cann a third-round grade.

After that group, there are some mid-rounders. Duke's Laken Tomlinson has received a mid-round grade, and he'll probably go on Day 3.

Overall, sources say this is a decent guard class, but it lacks a rare talent and doesn't have a player worthy of a first-round pick.

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Cody Prewitt Receiving Late-Round Grades

Updated Dec. 23, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Entering the 2014 season, many considered there to be two top safety prospects in the SEC with Alabama's Landon Collins and Ole Miss' Cody Prewitt. Collins was coming off a quality sophomore season, while Prewitt had a strong 2013 campaign and was a First-Team All-American selection by some media outlets. Prewitt totaled 71 tackles with six interceptions, seven passes broken up and two forced fumbles.

As for this season, Collins excelled and confirmed an early-round draft grade, while Prewitt underwhelmed.

Prewitt had a significant drop-off in production in 2014. Prewitt totaled 60 tackles with two passes broken up and two interceptions. He had some issues in coverage, especially against Auburn, and didn't play physical football. Playing soft as a senior didn't make a good impression on NFL evaluators. He had an occasional big hit, but shied away from some opportunities and gave the impression that he was protecting himself from injury.

Sources say they are unimpressed with Prewitt and have graded him on as a day-three prospect. One team said they were grading him as a late-round pick or priority undrafted free agent.

Perhaps Prewitt can improve his grade with a strong performance in an All-Star game and the NFL Scouting Combine, and it only takes one team to grade him higher and pull the trigger on him. However, it currently looks Prewitt is a candidate to be one of the surprise players to fall in the 2015 NFL Draft.

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Ereck Flowers Earns Top-20 Grade

Updated Dec. 20, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

A year ago in the back half of the 2013 college football season, Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson became a hot draft prospect with a meteoric rise into the top five. Robinson ended up being the second player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, but for a long time, no one was mentioning him along with higher-profile prospects like Texas A&M's Jake Matthews and Michigan's Taylor Lewan. Robinson ended up being picked ahead of both of them.

This year, another tackle prospect is hot with NFL teams but isn't getting a lot media attention from the media or draft pundits. That player is Miami junior left tackle Ereck Flowers. The 6-foot-6, 324-pounder has an excellent combination of size, strength, quickness and athleticism. He has been a physical run blocker for Duke Johnson while being very reliable as a pass protector. Multiple teams told us that Flowers is grading out as a first-round pick if he enters the 2015 NFL Draft.

Sources with one team say that they have given Flowers a top-20 grade. Other teams rate him in the first round as well. They all expect Flowers to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft.

This season, Flowers has had a number of impressive performances including his game against Nebraska when matched up against edge rusher Randy Gregory. Gregory had a couple of nice plays, but the majority of reps against each other went to Flowers. Any NFL team would like that level of play against a top-10 talent like Gregory. Flowers missed a few games with a torn meniscus, but returned to the field in impressive fashion against Florida State.

Flowers hasn't received the attention of tackle prospects like Stanford's Andrus Peat, Texas A&M's Cedric Ogbuehi, Iowa's Brandon Scherff or LSU's La'el Collins. However, like Robinson a year ago, NFL teams feel Flowers could end up getting drafted ahead of many of those more highly touted players.

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Multiple Teams Issue Second-Day Grade for Shaq Thompson

Updated Dec. 18, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Washington's Shaq Thompson was one of the players who received a lot of acclaim this season. The biggest reason for that was that the athletic linebacker took over duties as a running back for the Washington offense for a few weeks. With his contributions on offense and defense generating headlines, some draft pundits projected Thompson to go high in the first round. However, two teams we've spoken to say that they are grading Thompson as a day-two pick.

I've had Thompson listed as a day-two prospect because he hasn't had a season of big production. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound Thompson is fast and athletic, but he's never produced a big year. Entering his Bowl game against Oklahoma State, Thompson has 71 tackles, two tackles for a loss, one sack, four passes broken up, one interception and three forced fumbles. As a tailback, he averaged 7.5 yards per carry for 456 yards and two touchdowns.

Thompson is a Will (weak side) linebacker for a 4-3 defense, but isn't as good of a prospect as Lavonte David, who was a second-round pick. After asking a few teams, they felt that Thompson was worthy of a top-100 selection. One scouting director said, "I agree with you, not in Lavonte David category, but will get drafted in the second or third based on athletic ability. Shaq is a 4-3 Will linebacker." We followed up with a general manager of a team that could use Thompson, and is interested in him. He also felt that Thompson was a second- or third-rounder.

Thompson is weighing his options on whether to declare for the draft. It only takes one team to feel that Thompson is a first-rounder and pull the trigger on him on Thursday night, but scouts and personnel men from multiple teams have Thompson as a second-day pick.

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Perryman, McKinney Grade as Late First, Early Second-Round Picks

Updated Dec. 13, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Over the past few years, it has been hard for middle linebackers to get into the first round of the NFL Draft. Similar to the running back position, middle linebacker has been downgraded in importance as the league continues on the path of being passing-oriented. As a result, some good college linebackers have fallen to the second day of the draft.

Two players who are on the brink of the first round in the 2015 NFL Draft are Miami's Denzel Perryman and Mississippi State's Bernardrick McKinney. Scouts told us that both are excellent players and future three-down starters in the NFL. They believe that Perryman and McKinney will be late first-round or early second-round picks.

For the second straight year, Perryman has been very impressive in the middle of the Miami defense. Perryman has 102 tackles with 8.5 for a loss, three forced fumbles, two sacks, four passes broken up and one interception in 2014. He is a tough run defender in the tackle box who happens to be a physical presence. Sources say they hear the 6-foot, 242-pounder doesn't time well in the 40-yard dash, but they feel he's a pure football player who has shown the ability to function in pass coverage.

McKinney, meanwhile, was a leader on a Mississippi State defense that had a good season. He had 61 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three sacks, three passes broken up and a forced fumble this year. One of those sacks came against Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi. McKinney (6-5, 249) is very athletic with the ability to play in pass coverage or rush the passer.

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Multiple Teams Down on La'el Collins

Updated Dec. 11, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

From conversations with sources on NFL teams, one of the 2015 NFL Draft prospects who seems to generate a variance in opinion is LSU left tackle La'el Collins. Some mock drafts have projected Collins to be a high first-round pick, but of the few NFL teams we spoke to, none of them are rating Collins that high. Where they rate Collins and how they view his future position in the NFL comes with different answers from each team.

The team that was the most down on Collins said they view the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder as a guard. However, their problem with playing Collins at guard is that he doesn't bend well and can struggle to create movement up front in the run game. They feel that Collins flashes heavy hands, but is inconsistent. In their opinion, Collins has looked bad this year compared to 2013, and they wonder if an ankle injury he suffered in Week 1 has held him back all season. They grade Collins as a second-round pick and a guard.

Sources from another team that is currently on pace to pick late in the first round and could consider offensive line with their first-round pick said that they view Collins as a right tackle in the NFL. They feel that he has the skill set to block on the edge but needs better technique. They think he could crack the late first, but is more likely to be a second-rounder.

The one area of agreement seems to be that Collins played stronger in 2013. A third team said Collins was much better and more consistent as a junior. They think that Collins could be a very good guard in the NFL and could play as a rookie at guard. They feel with continued improvement he does have the ability to play tackle as a pro.

It could help Collins to attend the Senior Bowl and show that he can handle speed rushers. There already some good pass rushers like Kentucky's Bud Dupree and Utah's Nate Orchard that have accepted Senior Bowl invites. After a season in which Collins disappointed, NFL evaluators and most teams project him moving to right tackle or guard, a big performance in Mobile is exactly what Collins needs to help his argument that he can play left tackle and is worthy of a first-round pick.

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Leonard Williams to Enter Draft, Signals Oakland

Updated Dec. 7, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

Sources tell that USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams is going to enter the 2015 NFL Draft even though he has suggested he may come back to the Trojans next year in order to beat UCLA.

Williams plans to go pro and already has a favorite landing spot for his NFL home. Williams is considered to be one of the top prospects for the draft and a leading candidate for the No.1 overall pick. Currently, the Oakland Raiders are on track to land the first selection, and through the grapevine, Williams has let the Raiders know that he would love to play for them.

Williams was born in Bakersfield, Calif. and played high school football in Daytona Beach, Fla. Williams grew up a Raiders fan and has let it be known that he would love to play for his boyhood team.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Williams has some natural strength and is fast with the ability to play all over on the defensive line. He has 71 tackles, six sacks, 8.5 tackles for a loss, one interception, three forced fumbles and three passes batted this year. Williams could stand to get stronger for the NFL, and gets in trouble when he plays too high, but a shoulder injury that required surgery could have impacted his power. Still, Williams is very disruptive and is capable of taking over games.

Williams has the ability to play defensive tackle or end in a 4-3 defense. He also could be an excellent five-technique defensive end in a 3-4 defense. Oakland needs a lot of help on their defensive line. Rookie nose tackle Justin Ellis could be one long-term starter, but the Raiders need difference-makers on the front of their defense. Williams rushing from tackle or end could form a nice duo with linebacker Khalil Mack coming from the other side.

If Oakland lands the first pick in the draft, the Raiders will probably look to trade down with a team willing to give a package of draft picks in order to land a top quarterback prospect. With three quarterback-needy teams projected to pick in the top five (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, New York Jets), Oakland shouldn't have to drop down too far. The question will be whether trading down is worth the Raiders possibly missing out on Williams.

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Sterling Shepard, Eric Striker Plan on Declaring

Updated Dec. 5, 2014
By Charlie Campbell. Follow Charlie on Twitter @draftcampbell.

We recently learned that Missouri turned Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was likely to declare for the 2015 NFL Draft. He isn't the only Oklahoma product who is leaning that direction. Sources say that junior wide receiver Sterling Shepard and outside linebacker Eric Striker are planning on declaring for the 2015 NFL Draft as well. Their decision could change if they don't like the feedback they get from the NFL Advisory Board, but both are planning on skipping their senior season.

The 5-foot-10, 195-pound missed the last three games with a groin injury, and durability is always a question mark with undersized prospects. For the NFL, Shepard projects as a speedy slot receiver. He could end up grading out as a day-two pick or mid-rounder.

This year, Oklahoma transitioned Striker from playing a typical 3-4 outside linebacker/pass-rusher into an outside linebacker who also drops into pass coverage frequently. He has been more of a 4-3 outside linebacker that splits plays blitzing and dropping into coverage.

Striker (6-0, 220) is a bit of a linebacker-safety tweener, and that hurts his draft grade. Like Shepard, Striker could be a second-day pick or a mid-rounder.

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