Tampa Bay landing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft has sparked a heavy debate with Buccaneer fans and the media covering the team about which quarterback is the top prospect between Florida State?s Jameis Winston and Oregon?s Marcus Mariota. Per our sources with the Buccaneers, the organization currently prefers Winston over Mariota.
Sources say it is early in the process, and things could change in the months to come. Coaches getting involved in draft evaluations can make a big difference in a team?s thinking. However, our sources don?t view that as likely. They say that as long as Winston interviews well and doesn?t get into trouble in the months leading up to the draft, they feel that he will be the top pick in the draft.
I would agree with Tampa Bay?s thinking that Winston is the far superior prospect on the field. Off the field, the advantage swings to Mariota, but in speaking with evaluators at other teams, they all feel that Winston is the right pick for the Buccaneers. Sources from the Bucs and multiple teams also agree with my contention that Winston is a better prospect than Matthew Stafford, Sam Bradford, and Cam Newton, who went first overall in the 2009-2011 drafts.
A lot can change in the spring months leading up to the draft, but entering the pre-combine training, Winston is the favorite to go first overall to Tampa Bay.
Check out my mock draft, where I have Tampa taking Winston No. 1 overall.
Recent reports came out that the Tennessee Titans could look to address a position other than quarterback with the second-overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. ESPN's Chris Mortensen stated that Tennessee was content with Zach Mettenberger moving forward as their starting quarterback. Our sources with the Titans said that Mortensen is correct that they are indeed content with Mettenberger, but they will consider a quarterback with the second-overall pick, and Mettenberger's rookie year won't prevent them from taking a signal caller at No. 2.
Sources with Tennessee feel that they have to get the quarterback position right, and they can't pass on a potential franchise quarterback. Overall, the Titans were pleased with Mettenberger in his rookie year and aren't opposed to entering training camp with him as the favorite to be the starter. However, the importance of the position compels Tennessee's front office to take another quarterback if a potential franchise quarterback is there at No. 2. If Mettenberger beats out Mariota/Winston, and Mettenberger becomes a good starter, then Tennessee could have a valuable trade commodity in one of its quarterbacks.
Sources with the Titans say that Mettenberger had a nice rookie year, but couldn't stay healthy, and they believe they have to get the quarterback position right. Thus, Mariota or Winston landing in Tennessee is still very likely.
It can be hard for prospects to stand out when they play at Kentucky. A few years ago, former Kentucky guard Larry Warford (Detroit Lions' third-round pick) didn't receive the hype of other guard prospects like the Titans' Chance Warmack (Alabama) and Cardinals' Jonathan Cooper, but Warford has been a steal for the Lions and should have been drafted sooner. Apparently, teams are learning from Warford, as Kentucky defensive end/outside linebacker Alvin ?Bud' Dupree is being viewed as a potential first-round pick. Multiple teams told us they feel that Dupree could go as high as the middle of the first round and shouldn't fall lower than early in the second round.
One team told us that they view Dupree as a mid to late first-rounder. Another said a late first-round to early second round as to where they viewed the appropriate value for Dupree.
The 6-foot-4, 264-pounder has impressed talent evaluators with his combination of speed, athleticism and strength. Dupree had 74 tackles with 11.5 tackles for a loss, one pass batted, one interception, two forced fumbles and 7.5 sacks in 2014. He was more disruptive than the numbers illustrate. As a junior, Dupree recorded 61 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles, one pass broken up and seven sacks.
Sources say that production is a concern, but part of the lack of sacks is that Kentucky played eight read-option teams this past season, so Dupree had fewer pass-rush opportunities.
Dupree will get the opportunity to help his draft grade at the Senior Bowl. If he does well in the pass-rushing one-on-ones, that could ease the production concerns and help him to reach the high projection as a mid-first-round pick.
As the Bears and Jets conduct their general manager searches, sources say that one name who should be included is Titans director of college scouting Blake Beddingfield. League contacts say that while Beddingfield has gone under the radar, he's an excellent talent evaluator and knows how to build up talent on a roster.
Sources say the Titans 2-14 record this season is misleading as to the superb job that Beddingfield has done. Beddingfield took over leading the Titans college scouting and setting their draft board in 2012. The previous year, Jake Locker was the Titans' first-round pick, and Beddingfield made it a priority to build a young nucleus on offense to help their young signal-caller.
Tennessee has a talented young offense with left tackle Taylor Lewan, guard Chance Warmack, center Brian Schwenke, wide receiver Kendall Wright, wide receiver Justin Hunter, and running back Bishop Sankey. Assuming the Titans draft either Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, the new quarterback will walk into an offense that is ready to grow up around him with early-round talents one the line and at the skill positions. If the Titans don't draft one of those quarterbacks, it's because they believe they got a steal on Day 3 with Zach Mettenberger last year.
Beddingfield has been a college and pro scout for 16 years, as he worked his way up in Tennessee's organization. Many of the names being discussed for the Bears and Jets have been general manager retreads who were let go from other teams. There haven't been many general managers in NFL history who had success in their second attempts at leading a franchise. League sources say the both the Bears and Jets should be giving Beddingfield serious consideration for their general manager positions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sources tell WalterFootball.com 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.
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.
In the pass happy NFL featuring some dangerous receiving tight ends, the safety position is taking on increased importance. The consensus top safety prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft is Alabama's Landon Collins. The Crimson Tide junior is expected to declare for the draft, and scouts are grading Collins for the next draft. While many have stated that Collins is a safety that can do it all, sources with NFL teams feel that Collins is a strong safety prospect and is not a safety who can play the deep end of the field as a free safety.
Sources say that Collins has some limitations in pass coverage. Those could be seen in a few games season, but especially against Ole Miss. He can struggle to play man coverage on tight ends and wide receivers in the deep part of the field. At the next level, he'll need to be protected from those kind of mismatches. They feel that in the NFL he is going to be better playing closer to the line of scrimmage and should excel as the eighth man in the box. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is a physical tackler and a good run defender in the tackle box.
For the purposes of comparison, sources say that Collins game is similar to Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam and Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. The difference is that Collins is bigger a version than both of those players, but he is a comparable player with a similar style of play. Elam was a late first-round pick, while Swearinger went in Round 2. Sources believe that Collins will go ahead of both of them.
Collins has 68 tackles with five passes broken up and three interceptions in 2014. He is grading out as a first-round pick, and teams feel that he is ready to compete quickly in the next level.
Two years ago, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon and Georgia running back Todd Gurley were freshman superstars who were expected to be the next great running backs in college football. That has been the case for Gurley, despite injuries and a suspension. Yeldon has been a solid contributor for the Crimson Tide, but he hasn't been the dominant runner like Eddie Lacy or Trent Richardson were in their final seasons for Alabama. Still, NFL scouts told us that Yeldon is grading out as a late first-round or early second-round pick.
Statistically, Yeldon isn't having the kind of season that many expected. Yeldon has averaged 5.0 yards per carry for 758 yards with six touchdowns. Yeldon hasn't been as impressive as teammate Derrick Henry, but both have been reliable backs for Alabama, and the Crimson Tide coaches have trusted Yeldon to be their third-down back in pass protection.
Sources say that Yeldon is a smooth runner with quickness, elusiveness and cutting ability. They feel that he runs a little upright, as a result of his height, and needs to improve his ball security. He can improve on those issues at the next level.
NFL teams are hearing that Yeldon is going to declare for the draft, so they are scouting him as if he'll be in the 2015 class. Gurley and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon are expected to be the first two running backs selected. Yeldon could be in a crowded group of backs that could go in the late first or second-round. That group includes Indiana's Tevin Coleman and Miami's Duke Johnson.
Because of Alabama's rotation at running back and working the ball to wide receiver Amari Cooper, Yeldon should be fresh entering the Combine, and a fast 40 time could help him to be a Thursday night pick.
Dorial Green-Beckham, one of the most physically talented wide receivers who could be in the 2015 NFL Draft class, has been ineligible to play for Oklahoma this season after leaving Mizzou, but that still hasn't stopped NFL teams from preparing for him to be in the draft. Sources told us that Green-Beckham is likely to declare for the draft, meaning he would never end up playing football at Oklahoma.
Green-Beckham had a couple of arrests for marijuana at Missouri. The final straw for him was an incident where he allegedly pushed a woman down some stairs. Because of that, sources say that Green-Beckham is going to need a strong advocate and representative to help him overcome the domestic violence red flag. Violence against women is a hot button issue with NFL teams in the wake of the Ray Rice controversy. Plus, we know that one team, the Houston Texans, had a zero tolerance towards players that had a history of violence with women long before the Rice controversy. That was an order that came down from owner Bob McNair.
That being said, sources say that Green-Beckham has been a model citizen at Oklahoma, and he isn't a bad-character person. They say that he has been a positive presence in the Oklahoma program.
As for his draft hopes, Green-Beckham is probably more likely to be a second-day pick. Arizona Cardinals cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was suspended for his final season of college football for numerous off-the-field issues, and he was selected in the third round. Mathieu was also very undersized, and there aren't questions about Green-Beckham's skill set.
Green-Beckham (6-6, 220) was one of the top recruits in the nation and has often been compared to Cincinnati Bengals stud receiver A.J. Green. Playing for Missouri, Green-Beckham totaled 59 receptions for 883 yards with 12 touchdowns in 2013. He finished the season strongly with impressive performances against Texas A&M (7-93-1) and Auburn (6-144-2) in the SEC Championship Game.
Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman generated a lot of buzz was at the start of the college football season. The 6-foot-8, 290-pounder opened the year with a huge outing against SMU and looked unblockable. There was a lot of talk about Oakman being a first-round pick, and a potential high one. As the year progressed, however, Oakman's play has tailed off.
We caught up with sources from multiple teams to gauge where they're grading Oakman, and there was a discrepancy. However, they all came back agreeing that they wouldn't take Oakman in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
One team that has drafted really well in recent years feels that while Oakman is overrated, he "doesn't suck." They feel he has upside and is a project similar to Cincinnati Bengals second year defensive end Margus Hunt. Hunt and Oakman are the same size with similar speed and athleticism. They say that Oakman looks the part and has tools, but is very raw. They feel his value is on the second day, perhaps the second round, but off-the-field issues from his time at Penn State could cause him to fall lower.
A general manager of a perennial playoff team was the most pessimistic about Oakman. He felt that Oakman was the most overrated underclassman and was a mid day-three pick.
Another team said that Oakman doesn't play up to his size and looks. They also suggested that he is a project like Hunt because Oakman does possess the size, speed, frame and athletic ability. However, they wouldn't take Oakman high. Oakman has 35 tackles with 12.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, one pass batted and two forced fumbles. His production is similar to what Hunt did in his final season at SMU.
While some teams obviously really don't like Oakman, others feel he is a quality developmental prospect. Given his skill set, Oakman looks most likely to be a day-two selection.
The University of Washington announced Thursday that cornerback Marcus Peters was kicked off the team. The 6-foot, 190-pound junior was enjoying a strong season that had him as a potential top 20-pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. After being removed from the team, sources have told us that it looks unlikely that Peters could still go in first round.
Our sources said that a lot can change in the months to come, and if Peters cleans up his act while interviewing well with teams, perhaps a team picking late in the first round could take a chance on him. However, it is more likely that Day 2 is the earliest Peters should hope to go. Other cornerbacks with major off-the-field issues like Janoris Jenkins and Tyrann Mathieu were kicked off their teams before entering the draft and ended up going in the second and third round, respectively. Jenkins' situation was a little different in that he played his final season at North Alabama after getting kicked out of Florida.
Peters finished his 2014 season with 23 tackles, five passes broken up and three interceptions. He had an excellent game against Stanford with a pick and good coverage on Cardinal receiver Ty Montgomery. Peters had a solid game versus Jaelen Strong and Arizona State as well. Peters covered Strong better than any other defensive back this season.
The Seattle Times was the first to report Peters' dismissal and stated that Peters had multiple run-ins with the new Huskies coaching staff. He argued with coaches during the game against Colorado and a practice argument on Wednesday was apparently the final straw that pushed Washington to move on from the talented cornerback. Peters was suspended a game earlier in the season after throwing his helmet and gloves from being given a personal foul penalty for head-butting an Eastern Washington wide receiver.
In speaking with NFL evaluators, Peters will have to be accountable and show a change in attitude. Falling to the third day or going undrafted is possible for him.
Prior to last Saturday, there was some media buzz building about Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace being a rising pro prospect for the NFL. The Rebels are one of the upstart teams, and Wallace helped Ole Miss to a huge upset of Alabama. While Wallace has generated some headlines, NFL teams aren't believers, and sources from around the league say they have Wallace as late-rounder or undrafted free agent.
The 6-foot-4, 217-pound Wallace has some size to him, but NFL evaluators say that they have questions about his arm strength. They also think his decision-making is lacking, and that he needs to improve his composure. Those issues could be seen in Ole Miss' loss to LSU last week. There could be some teams that differ in their view of Wallace as a pro prospect, but sources from a few teams they think that he's a late-round pick or an undrafted free agent.
In his third season, Wallace hasn't had a big season statistically, but is on his way to his best production. He has completed 62 percent of his passes for 2,075 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
Florida State's Jameis Winston and Oregon's Marcus Mariota have received all the attention and headlines as the top quarterback prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft, however NFL teams believe that there could be a third signal-caller who ends up being a high first-round pick. League sources we spoke to, including one general manager, feel that Michigan State junior quarterback Connor Cook could possibly be a high first-round pick.
Sources say that Cook has a good skill set to be an NFL starter. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Cook plays in a pro-style system and has shown improvement with his ability to function in the pocket while working through his progressions. He has a quality arm and can make all the throws necessary at the next level. He also has underrated mobility. In many games, Cook will make some amazingly accurate throws into extremely tight windows for completions downfield, but also has some inconsistency with his accuracy on the routine passes.
Sources say that Cook needs to improve his footwork, accuracy, passing while under pressure, and overall consistency in order to be a high first-round pick. He has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,868 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions this season.
If Cook finishes the season strong and enters the draft, he could be part of an interesting discussion at the top of the draft. Cook has a clean off-the-field profile unlike Winston, and Cook has shown more skills as a pocket passer than Mariota. Some teams could end up preferring Cook to those quarterbacks. Sources say that Cook has the potential to be a high first-rounder, but he hasn't proven it definitively yet.
Every draft class has some positions that are weak on talent. Back in 2013, quarterbacks were especially weak, while guard was very strong. Last year tight end was strong, while center wasn't as talented. League sources have told us that they are very unimpressed with the tight end prospects who are eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft.
Tight end is so weak that currently the favorite player for the position is a conversion, tweener prospect in Michigan's Devin Funchess, who was the Big 10 Tight End of the Year but has since moved to wide receiver. Sources said they are excited about Funchess as a tight end, but that's if he can move back to the position. The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder would have to gain some weight to serve as a blocker in the NFL, and his blocking would need a lot of development. It will be interesting to see if Funchess is willing to go back to tight end, or if he wants to remain at receiver.
After Funchess, sources say that Florida State's Nick O'Leary will probably be drafted next. The reliable O'Leary has been a solid receiver for the Seminoles the past few years. League contacts say that O'Leary is a solid player, but not special. They think he's going to be over drafted by a team that has a big need at tight end.
Another tight end who could go on the second day of the draft is Miami's Clive Walford. Sources say they like the size of the 6-foot-4, 258-pounder Walford and feel that he catches the ball well. However, they don't think Walford is all that athletic.
Last year, the tight end class was strong, as five were selected in the top 65 picks and two more went in the third round, including Eric Ebron, who was chosen in the top 10. Sources think the 2015 class probably won't come close to those numbers and are hoping that there are some breakout players in the second half of the college football season.
It was a surprise to see Georgia running back Todd Gurley suspended indefinitely, and it appears his suspension is for an NCAA rules violation related to autographing memorabilia. Gurley has a good reputation off the field, so this suspension came out of nowhere. Sources from multiple NFL teams adamantly told me that this suspension won't hurt Gurley's draft stock.
Sources say that Gurley is just too talented and too good of a kid for teams to hold this suspension against him. They say that off the field, Gurley is a good worker and teammate who loves football. Last year, Texas A&M and future Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was basically suspended half a game for the same thing. NFL teams view this as more NCAA nonsense and a non-issue for Gurley's pro prospects.
The past three years, the 6-foot-1 232-pound back has been destroying teams with his combination of size and speed. Gurley has averaged 8.2 yards for 773 yards with eight touchdowns in 2014. He has 11 receptions for 53 yards. Gurley had huge games against Clemson, Troy, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.
After his consistent play over the past three seasons with some dominant games against elite competition, Gurley looks poised to break the mold of teams passing on running backs in the first round. In the 2012 NFL Draft, three running backs were taken on Thursday night, and none were taken in the top 32 in 2013 or 2014. No draft prospect wants a suspension to answer questions about, but sources told us that they don't envision Gurley's suspension impacting his draft stock negatively.
It isn't easy for undersized running backs to go early in the NFL Draft, but one running back who has the potential to change that is Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. We heard from NFL sources, including one general manager, who feels that Abdullah could end up being a second-round pick. Abdullah became Nebraska's all-time leading rusher this season and has impressed NFL evaluators.
Sources say they like Abdullah's versatile skill set. The slashing runner is tough for his size with excellent vision, fast feet, balance, and third-down potential for the NFL. This season, Abdullah (5-9, 195) has averaged 7.3 yards per carry for 833 yards and eight touchdowns. Even though he only has five receptions, Abdullah has shown enough where evaluators feel he'll be a good contributor in the passing offense.
Abdullah could use see his stock continue to rise if he keeps playing well and impresses at the Senior Bowl in the blitz-protection drills. It would be wise for Abdullah to go to Mobile, as his stock could continue to rise with a strong showing there. With his athleticism and speed, Abdullah should perform well at the Combine.
Throughout his collegiate career, Abdullah has stayed durable, and it will be important for him to maintain that this year.
A year ago at this time, there wasn't a lot of buzz that Auburn defensive end Dee Ford was a first-round prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft. Ford came up with some big performances to help vault Auburn into the national championship, and in the process, Ford's stock rose. Clemson defensive end/outside linebacker Vic Beasley has had more draft buzz entering his senior year, and scouts told us they feel that Beasley is a comparable player to Ford.
Last year, some teams had second-round grades on Ford while other teams like the Kansas City Chiefs had Ford graded in the first round. Scouts feel that is where Beasley is ending up; as someone who goes in the back half of the first round or the second round. Of course, where he goes will also depend on the other talent in the draft class that could push Beasley higher or drop him lower. Pass-rushers are always in demand, and Beasley has scheme flexibility to intrigue defensive coordinators.
Scouts say that even though the Beasley is undersized, he is strong for his size, similar to Ford. Both of them have natural edge-rushing skills and are very skilled at finding a way to get to the quarterback. The 6-foot-2 Beasley weighs in the 230, and he'll have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL. He could line up as a defensive end in obvious passing situations.
Scouts say that Ford may have better instincts than Beasley, but Beasley could have more speed and athleticism to be able to play a variety of linebacker positions in a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. Overall, they are similar players that are being graded in the same range.
Beasley has four sacks, nine tackles, five tackles for a loss in three games so far this season. He had his way with Florida State left tackle Cameron Erving a week ago.
One draft prospect who has gotten a lot of hype recently is South Carolina senior guard A.J. Cann. Some have projected Cann to be the top guard for the 2015 NFL Draft and a potential first-round pick.
We spoke with NFL sources who feel that Cann is being overhyped to a degree. They like Cann and feel he is a quality player, but don't view him as a Thursday night prospect. They have Cann as a second- or third-round selection depending on the rest of the draft class.
Sources said that Cann is a similar style player, but not as good of a prospect as Detroit Lions guard Larry Warford or Oakland Raiders guard Gabe Jackson. Warford and Jackson were both early third-round picks in 2013 and 2014, respectively. League contacts say that Cann's game is similar to Warford and Jackson's in that he is a tough run blocker who can move people at the point of attack. He is strong and physical. However, they say that Cann struggles in space and as a result, he can have issues in pass protection. That could be seen last Saturday against Georgia, as Cann can have problems with interior speed rushers.
Our sources also said that while Cann (6-4, 311) has some size and strength to him, seeing him in person, he looks smaller than Warford (6-3, 330) or Jackson (6-3, 336). Considering Warford and Jackson were both third-round picks, league contacts said their teams probably wouldn't consider Cann until the third round. However, Warford was a steal as a third-round pick for the Lions, and Jackson is already starting for the Raiders, so Cann isn't in bad company when being discussed with those young guards.
A year ago, there wasn't any draft hype about UCF quarterback Blake Bortles, but a great junior season gradually elevated Bortles nationally. His rise continued to make him the consensus top quarterback prospect, and he was the first one selected with the third-overall pick.
NFL sources we've spoken to identified a sleeper prospect who has really impressed them. That would be Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson. Sources say they don't think Grayson will have a meteoric rise like Bortles into the top 15, but they say they could see Grayson grading out in the first few rounds and be this year's Jimmy Garoppolo.
Grayson has definitely impressed NFL talent evaluators, as they feel that he has a quality arm that can make all the throws. He has some mobility to make throws on the run. His character receives good marks, as he is viewed as a good teammate with leadership skills. While Grayson isn't a big quarterback, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder is a similar build to Garoppolo. Grayson had a breakout junior season to lead Colorado State to a bowl game with a win over Washington State.
Grayson became the starter as a sophomore in 2012, but a broken collarbone shortened his season. In 2013, he completed 62 percent of his passes for 3,696 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. In two games this season, he has completed 44-of-81 passes for 568 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He contributed to Colorado State's season opening win over Colorado, and he followed that up by throwing for 434 yards against Boise State.
Sources say they expect Grayson's stock to rise over his senior year and during the lead up to the 2015 NFL Draft. Grayson is a sleeper quarterback prospect right now, but he may not be a sleeper for much longer.
Last year, Miami running back Duke Johnson was on his way to having a big season of around 1,500 yards before breaking his ankle against Florida State and missing the final five games. The 5-foot-9, 206-pound running back has shown impressive speed and playmaking ability since breaking into the lineup as a freshman. However, some of our NFL sources have told us that they believe Johnson will end up grading out as a third- or fourth-round pick.
Sources say that in order to rise, Johnson will need to improve his contributions in pass blocking and prove that he can stay healthy. Johnson isn't the biggest of backs, so showing that he can play an entire season is important for him. If Johnson can do that, he could make it into the second day of the draft next year if he decides to declare as a junior. If can't stay healthy, Johnson could fall into day three.
In his 2014 debut, Johnson had 90 yards on 20 carries. He also had a long reception that was called back by a penalty. However, Johnson's offensive line and new starting quarterback didn't invoke a lot of confidence that they will get Johnson good running looks this season.
About a week ago, we discussed the view of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston from one NFL general manager's perspective. He felt that Mariota was vastly overrated and Winston was the real deal. We reached out to more sources from around the league and got some differing opinions regarding those quarterback prospects. Some other teams stated that Mariota is not overrated at all, and that they have major concerns about Winston.
A high-ranking scouting director told us that Mariota is not overrated at all and that he's better than Blake Bortles and every quarterback prospect from the 2014 draft. He noted that Mariota is a tough player with athleticism, arm strength and size. Sources from another team said that Mariota will need to be taught how to thrive as a pocket passer, but he is known to be a good kid and hard worker, so they think he can learn it. They said he is in the same boat entering the NFL as Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick were.
Multiple teams said they have serious off-the-field concerns with Winston. As one team put it, "off-the-field issues are real and more than advertised." Other sources said that Winston is liked in the Florida State locker room and viewed as a leader. He is said to work hard and balances his commitments to football and baseball. However, in time away from the athletic facilities, Winston has a habit of getting himself in trouble. Sources from a quarterback-needy team said they are very worried about character concerns with Winston and his maturity off the field.
While there are some differing opinions about Mariota and Winston, there is a consensus about UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley. Every team said that Hundley is overrated, but has a lot of talent and upside. The other players who had a consensus opinion regarding them were Oregon State's Sean Mannion and Baylor's Bryce Petty. They were at differing ends of the spectrum, as all teams liked Mannion and were down on Petty. Being described as average was the kindest words shared about Petty.
Things will change over the next several months, but entering the 2014 season, there already is a healthy debate about the top quarterback prospects.
We've heard from sources in the NFL scouting community that some of the highly touted quarterback prospects are overrated. Among those categorized like that were Oregon's Marcus Mariota and UCLA's Brett Hundley. One the other hand, one quarterback prospect who has impressed sources is Oregon State signal-caller Sean Mannion.
The NFL is a pass-happy league that has an endless demand for pocket passers like Mannion. The senior has shown improvement over his three seasons as a starter for Oregon State. He made a big jump as a junior when he completed 66.3 percent of his passes for 4,662 yards with 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. The 6-foot-5, 214-pounder has pocket presence, a good arm and field vision.
There are three things that Mannion must improve for the NFL. They are: accuracy, anticipation and footwork. He had a rough stretch last November that can be attributed to those weaknesses. One skill that Mannion does not possess is running ability. While he doesn't offer a running element, neither do a lot of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
Sources with multiple teams say that of the senior quarterback prospects, they are intrigued with Mannion and eager to see how he performs in his final collegiate season. League contacts made a point to say that Mannion was a good player, while stating that Mariota and Hundley were overrated. With a big year, Mannion could merit first-round consideration.
About a week ago, we caught with an NFL general manager to discuss the 2015 quarterback prospects as they stand going into the 2014 season. Scroll down to read about the GM's view that Marcus Mariota is "vastly overrated" and Jameis Winston is the "real deal." Another quarterback who has received buzz as a potential first-round pick is UCLA's Brett Hundley. The Bruins' junior signal-caller has been a part of a resurgence in the UCLA program since taking over as the starter before the 2012 season.
The general manager told us he felt that Hundley was overrated. He said he hasn't seen Hundley have a defining game against a big opponent. Last year, Hundley struggled versus Stanford, but he played better against Oregon than his numbers indicated, but still tossed two interceptions while completing 13-of-19 passes for 64 yards, as the Ducks blew out the Bruins 42-14. Hundley needs to help his draft stock by showing that he has the ability to put the team on his back and take down an elite opponent.
Many project Hundley to becoming a first-round pick, but that NFL general manager was unconvinced and felt that Hundley was being overrated in these early projections. Perhaps Hundley will change that during is junior season.
Hundley completed 67 percent of his passes in 2013 for 3,071 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions. On the ground, he ran for 970 yards (748 net) and 11 scores. The 6-foot-3, 227-pounder has a physical skill set and is said to be a hard worker.
The Baylor Bears have become one of the best programs in the Big 12 and have been led by a prolific point machine for an offense. Senior quarterback Bryce Petty enters the 2014 season with a lot of hype as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
However, after speaking with one NFL general manager and some other league sources, they are all down on Petty and don't believe he looks like a potential early-round pick.
One league source said that Petty has received a lot of hype but he isn't very good and doesn't translate well to the NFL. Another league source was more blunt, saying he did not think Petty was good at all. The feedback from league contacts had Petty as a college system quarterback and more of a day-three prospect.
Petty (6-3, 230) is a dual-threat quarterback who completed 62 percent of his passes for 4,200 yards with 32 touchdowns and three interceptions. He ran for 339 yards and 14 touchdowns as well.
Over the next few months, there will be many comparisons between Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota. Both are draft eligible, and most project them as the top two signal-caller prospects for the NFL. Entering the season, the consensus view has them pretty even as top-10 picks.
We recently talked to an NFL general manager of a team who has a franchise quarterback, so he wouldn't draft either Mariota or Winston. That general manager said that Mariota is vastly overrated, and he doesn't view him as an elite quarterback prospect. Winston however, is the ?real deal,? according to this general manager.
The NFL prizes pocket passing ability above everything else with a quarterback, and that gives Winston an edge over Mariota. Winston is a rare athlete who is a natural passer. His field vision and decision-making were phenomenal in 2013, and that helped him win a national championship and a Heisman. Mariota, meanwhile, is part of a college up-tempo spread offense. He uses his legs to make more plays that won't translate to the NFL. Mariota needs to show improved pocket passing potential according to that general manager.
Of course, the general manger acknowledged that there is a lot that can change in the months to come, as Mariota looks to improve as a junior. Winston will have the challenge of repeating his 2014 success while staying out of trouble. Other sources have expressed they have off-the-field concerns with Winston, and they want to see him show more maturity.
Michigan's Devin Funchess was awarded the Big Ten's tight end of the year award in 2013 after he totaled 49 receptions for 748 yards and six touchdowns. Funchess was a dynamic weapon who presented lots of mismatch problems for defenses. Surprisingly, Michigan decided to move Funchess to wide receiver full-time in 2014.
Physically, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Funchess is a tweener between a tight end and wide receiver. For the NFL, the smart move would have been for Funchess to add weight and fill out his frame to help his blocking ability. At his size, Funchess has an advantage over many NFL defensive backs, but he could struggle to gain separation from cornerbacks. It's much easier for a player like Funchess to get separation running against linebackers and safeties compared to the fastest players on the field.
Receiving tight ends are a rage in the NFL, as they present so many mismatch opportunities. Funchess could have been a potential first-round pick if he stayed at tight end while gaining some weight and improving his blocking. Eric Ebron was a top-10 pick this year, while Tyler Eifert went in the top 25 the year before. Every team wants to find a Jimmy Graham weapon for their offense.
Both Ebron and Eifert needed work as blockers when they entered the draft, thus Funchess could easily have received that same high-round consideration. Now, he looks like just another big receiver who may lack the speed to separate in the NFL. Those players are a dime a dozen and typically get selected in the mid to late rounds. Funchess was more special as a tight end. Don't be surprised if NFL teams move him back to that position in a year or two.
Two years ago, TCU defensive end/outside linebacker Devonte Fields took college football by storm and was one of the best pass-rushers in the nation. We spoke with Philadelphia Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson at the Senior Bowl, and he said that Fields was the best pass-rusher he went against in college. That matchup came when Fields was just a freshman, so there was plenty to get excited about what Fields could evolve into once he gained experience.
Since that freshman season, Fields has gone off the rails. TCU head coach Gary Patterson criticized Fields' performance in spring practice after that season, and Fields was suspended for the 2013 season opener against LSU. He played two games before a season-ending foot injury. The off-the-field issues continued to be a problem for him, as he was arrested for a domestic disturbance with his ex-girlfriend. TCU moved quickly and said that Fields was removed from the team while the legal process played out. In reports, school officials have said if Fields was found guilty, there is no chance they would take him back.
Unsurprisingly, Fields' ex-girlfriend is backing off her story. That opens up the possibility that the charges will be dropped and that Fields will return to football for TCU. The Horned Frogs would certainly like to have the player who broke out with 10 sacks, 53 tackles, 18.5 tackles for a loss, four passes batted, two forced fumbles and an interception in 2012.
While Fields may not be done with college football, he continues to do damage to his NFL stock. Sources say the character issues with Fields are huge and mounting. One team told us that stemming from their ownership, they won't consider drafting players that have had assault issues with women. That was before the controversy surrounding Ravens' running back Ray Rice.
Like Vontaze Burfict from Arizona State a few years ago, the damage from off-the-field issues could cause a first-round talent like Fields to ultimately go undrafted.
The Green Bay Packers know that if they want to obtain another Lombardi trophy during the window provided by future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, they have to get by the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have knocked Green Bay out of the playoffs the past two years and have also beat the Packers during the regular season. The Packers had a player in mind to help them get by San Francisco: former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier.
The Packers felt that the lightning-fast Shazier could be the answer to the riddle of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. With Kaepernick's scrambling threat and ability to make throws on the run, the Packers felt that Shazier would be a perfect spy. He has the speed to chase down Kaepernick when he breaks out of the pocket. As Packers source explained, ?It takes a wolf to catch wolf.?
The plan didn't come to fruition, however, when the Pittsburgh Steelers took Shazier with the 15th pick. However, Green Bay feels it landed a few players that will help them defend Kaepernick in safety HaHa Clinton-Dix and linebacker Carl Bradford.
Clinton-Dix can defend the pass and covers a lot of ground in the middle of the field. He kept a lot of points off the board for Alabama as its last line of defense. Bradford, meanwhile, was an excellent edge rusher and pursuit player at Arizona State. He could help to chase Kaepernick down when he breaks containment.
The Packers will see how Clinton-Dix and Bradford develop and if they can earn playing time as rookies. Having said that, they still feel like they are better equipped to match up better against Kaepernick and San Francisco even though they missed out on Shazier.
In the months leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, Oakland was hoping to land either Khalil Mack or Sammy Watkins. Wideout Mike Evans was their plan C, with Mack being their plan A. Oakland's wish came true as Mack fell to the fifth pick. He has not disappointed the Raiders. They feel that Mack is the real deal with a huge future in the NFL.
Throughout the OTAs and mini-camps, Mack was impressing the Raiders' coaches and staff. They saw an immediate boost to their pass rush with Mack coming off the edge. They say he is extremely fast and has real strength to shed blocks. Mack is a great scheme fit for Dennis Allen's system, and the Raiders believe that he instantly upgrades the defense. Allen had success as Von Miller's defensive coordinator when Miller entered the league, and the team feels that Mack can contribute right away.
Mack has been equally exciting off the field. He's been very hard-working with a great attitude in the team facility. He's friendly and humble, and the team believes he's going to evolve into a true leader.
Raiders' owner Mark Davis wanted to see his team land some long-term building blocks this offseason. Sources with the team feel Mack is something special, and that he is going to make an immediate impact in 2014 and will continue to build on his performance in the years to come.
As training camps open across the league, there are some high-profile players who are waiting by their phones, hoping to get a call for a chance to compete to make a team. Among those players is former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman. After a short stint with the Giants this offseason, Freeman remains unsigned. The reason why a physically talented 26-year old quarterback can't find a roster spot in the NFL is because teams are unsure of Freeman off the field.
We were the first to chronicle that off-the-field issues had plagued quarterback Josh Freeman during Tampa Bay's disappointing 2011 season. The off-the-field issues remained unaddressed by the organization over the next few seasons, and they led to Freeman's poor performance and eventual release early in the 2013 campaign. Around the league, teams are wary if Freeman can be trusted going forward after his fallout with Tampa Bay and Minnesota.
Last fall, there were a number of teams interested in signing Freeman after he was cut by Tampa Bay. One of them was the Oakland Raiders. Oakland was moving towards signing Freeman, but wanted to bring him into their facility and meet with him before making any commitment. The Vikings were willing to sign Freeman unseen, and Freeman's camp decided to go with Minnesota despite him not knowing their offense. Conversely in Oakland, Freeman would have been reunited with offensive coordinator Greg Olson, who coached Freeman in his first three seasons and got the best play out of him. Olson was running the same offense with the Raiders that Freeman played in with the Buccaneers. After only one start against the Giants, the Vikings' experiment didn't go well for Freeman, as they moved on from him after the season.
Having said that, sources have told us that Freeman has had success this offseason with improving his off-the-field situation. He's been working hard with former NFL coaches Terry Shea and Jon Gruden. Shea has helped him on the field, while Gruden has mentored him in the classroom and film study.
One potential landing spot for Freeman is with the Oakland Raiders, where he would be reunited with former offensive coordinator Greg Olson. However, the Raiders don't have the roster spot available, as they like young quarterbacks Derek Carr and Matt McGloin. In a critical year for the Raiders regime, management felt Matt Schaub bouncing back to pre-2013 form was a better route to go.
Even though he is entering his athletic prime years, Freeman doesn't have many opportunities left. Freeman's past off-the-field issues are what's keeping teams from giving him a chance, but he is working hard toward rectifying those problems.
Throughout the leadup to the 2014 NFL Draft, many scouts and pundits agreed that the 2014 class of quarterbacks didn't feature NFL-ready starters. While there were good talents worthy of being selected in the first round, all of the prospects were viewed as needing developmental time as backups before being ready to play. However, our sources around the league believe many of the rookie quarterbacks will be starters this season.
Jacksonville was the first team to select a quarterback, with Blake Bortles at the third-overall pick. The Jaguars have stated they hope that Bortles will watch Chad Henne as a rookie, but everybody expects Bortles to see the field midway through the season when Jacksonville is 3-5, 2-6 or 1-7. At that point, the franchise doesn't benefit much by depriving Bortles of game experience.
The same rationale goes for the Browns with Johnny Manziel and the Vikings with Teddy Bridgewater. Of all the quarterbacks, Bridgewater is considered to be the most pro-ready, and he could win the starting spot sooner than other quarterbacks, possibly even training camp.
Sources say that they think fourth-round pick Tom Savage is going to end up playing a lot for Houston. The Texans have made Ryan Fitzpatrick the starter, but sources say they believe Savage is going to see a significant amount of playing time as a rookie even though he is very raw. Fitzpatrick was named the starter, but wasn't impressive during the offseason practices. Giving Savage the opportunity to play significant playing time would provide the Texans with the answer on whether they need to target a starting quarterback in the 2015 NFL Draft or free agency.
Similarly in Oakland, Derek Carr will probably end up eventually outplaying Matt Schaub for the starting spot. If Schaub plays like he did in 2013, Carr will be on the field quickly. If Schaub is able to bounce back to his 2012 and 2013 playoff form, it could be later in the season after the Raiders are longshots for the playoffs before Carr takes over.
If the Raiders get encouraging play out of Carr for the long-term future of the franchise, that could help the coaching staff and front office return for Oakland in 2015. Proof of drafting a promising young signal-caller would make a big difference for general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen.
Over the past months since winning the Heisman Trophy and a national championship, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and his family have made claims that they plan on Winston playing two more seasons of college football and another season of baseball for the Seminoles. Despite those claims, many fans and pundits have assumed that Winston would enter the 2015 NFL Draft.
We reached out to NFL teams to see how they plan to approach Winston this fall. Their response was they would scout him as if he'll be entering the 2015 NFL Draft. They will write their scouting reports on him and will wait until the end of the year to include their off-the-field and character assessments. With a prospect like Winston, who could be a high first-rounder, teams would rather be prepared for him to come out than having to start the process months later.
Scouts write reports on high-profile prospects who are viewed as likely to declare. Houston's Jadeveon Clowney, Buffalo's Sammy Watkins and Jacksonville's Marqise Lee were treated like they were seniors last year, but the vast majority of players that have eligibility remaining aren't scouted like they're entering the draft. Even with the comments made by him and his family, NFL teams are treating Winston the same as they did with Clowney, Watkins or Lee.
Over the years, many prospects have said publicly they plan on going back to school - until the time comes when they're starring at a big pay day if they declare for the draft. Some recent examples of that are Robert Griffin III and Jace Amaro. Around the NFL, teams are taking the stance entering the season that Winston will be like Griffin and Amaro.
There were a number of quarterback-needy teams that were considering drafting Johnny Manziel prior to the 2014 NFL Draft. However, many franchises in search of a franchise quarterback opted to pass on Manziel. That group included Jacksonville, Houston, Minnesota, Oakland and Tampa Bay. Other teams with a lesser need at quarterback gave him consideration before going with other players. Those teams included the Rams, Titans and Cowboys.
With Manziel continuing to indulge in his partying and celebrity lifestyle, sources from a few of those teams have said they feel better about passing on Manziel.
During pre-draft interviews, sources told us that Manziel said that his off-the-field celebrity was overblown, and it wouldn't be issue as a pro. He claimed that he got caught up in the post-Heisman hype and didn't do a good job of saying "no" to a wide variety of invitations. He said that would change in the NFL and partying wouldn't be a problem as a pro, or serve as a distraction.
However, after his latest visit to Las Vegas with pictures of him rolling dollar bills in a bathroom, a number of teams have said they feel increasingly happy that they took a pass on him.
Sources say that at this point, they feel that Manziel is addicted to the spotlight and loves the attention. They believe that Cleveland is going to have to give him some strict discipline and keep him on a tight leash. The Browns could use the examples of Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning as great NFL quarterbacks who do some endorsements but aren't making a spectacle of their off-the-field lifestyle.
A few teams feel that Manziel's answers were coached up before his interviews and that his actions prove they weren't genuine. Sources say they were intrigued but wary of Manziel. He has something special about him, but with his off-the-field maturity continuing to be an issue, they feel even better about passing on him.
According to NFL teams, there aren't any Josh Gordons in this year's supplemental draft. Two years ago the Cleveland Browns used a second-day pick to select the talented, but troubled wide receiver in the supplemental draft. This year, four players in particular are hoping to get drafted: Virginia-Lynchburg defensive tackle Lakendrick Ross, SMU running back Traylon Shead, New Mexico wide receiver Clayton Chase and North Carolina linebacker Darius Lipford.
Multiple teams have told us that none of those players was worthy of a pick, and they didn't think any team would burn a draft pick in the 2014 supplemental draft. However, our sources felt that all of them would get signed for training camp.
Shead received the most praise from league contacts. They felt that he has a nice skill set with size and speed, but does not have enough experience to be worthy of a draft pick. The 6-foot-2, 225-pounder had 51 carries for 197 yards and three touchdowns last season for the Mustangs. Shead averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
The 2013 supplemental draft did not have a player selected, and by the sounds of it, the 2014 class will make it two years in a row. It was unanimous among the multiple teams we spoke to that none of these players was worth a pick.
A few years ago, Washington outside linebacker Josh Shirley was considered a potential early-round pick. As a freshman, Shirley was a pass-rushing force in 2011 and ended the season on fire. He racked up 6.5 sacks in the final four games, including three sacks against Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl. Shirley totaled 28 tackles with 12 tackles for a loss, two forced fumbles and 8.5 sacks in his first college season. He seemed poised for great things for the Huskies, but after two seasons of increasingly decreased playing time, Shirley has left the program, and it was a wise decision.
Shirley recorded 33 tackles, 6.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles and a pass batted in 2012. As a junior, Shirley barely played and recorded only 12 tackles with three sacks. The Huskies phased out Shirley as they featured linebacker Shaq Thompson in their defense.
Under Chris Peterson's new coaching staff, a fresh start seemed possible for Shirley, but his prospects for more playing time didn't look any better entering training camp, so he decided to leave the program. Shirley is rumored to be in the sights for San Diego State or Fresno State in order to be closer to his family home in Southern California.
The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder could be a nice situational pass rusher in the Mountain West Conference. There are some pass happy offenses for Shirley to match up against. Shirley needs to improve his strength and run defense, which is the real reason why he lost playing time. If Shirley can bolster his run defense while rejuvenating his pass-rushing production, he could make himself a draftable prospect again.
The 2014 NFL Draft featured a great class with some superstar talent. One position that wasn't particularly strong was inside linebacker. After Ryan Shazier and C.J. Mosley were selected in the middle of the first round, the next true inside linebacker to get selected was Preston Brown by the Bills in the third. One player would would have changed that had he entered the draft was Miami middle linebacker Denzel Perryman.
Perryman had a decent debut as a sophomore before a breakout junior season. The junior totaled 108 tackles with five tackles for a loss, one sack and three passes broken up in 2013 while playing well against good competition. Perryman showed pass coverage skills to be a three-down starter in the middle of an NFL defense. The 6-foot, 240-pounder was the leader of the Miami defense.
Sources told us that if Perryman had decided to skip his senior season and enter the 2014 NFL Draft, he would have been a second-round pick, and perhaps even a first-rounder. There were teams picking in the 20s that needed linebacker help, but went with other positions because of better talents available.
League contacts say that Perryman would have been the third-rated linebacker in the draft class. There is talk that Perryman may not run well in the 40-yard dash, but that hasn't always hurt other inside linebacker prospects in years past. Sources say that Perryman is extremely instinctive, and that makes up for less than elite foot speed.
If Perryman stays healthy and productive as a senior, he should be no worse than a second-round pick with a shot at going on Thursday night.
The big criticism on Jadeveon Clowney throughout the draft process was work ethic concerns. Even with those criticisms, Clowney was too good for the Texans to pass up with the first-overall pick, as Houston envisions a lethal front seven led by J.J. Watt and Clowney. After getting Clowney into their offseason program, Clowney has meshed well with his new teammates and has done everything he's asked to do. The Texans have no concerns about his work ethic.
According to our league contacts, Clowney has been working hard with his teammates. The team is happy with Clowney coming in wanting to prove the critics wrong. He has a chip on his shoulder from the draft criticism about his work ethic. Clowney is said to have been coming in on time and staying late to put in extra time to learn the defensive scheme. He's been eager to learn from the coaches and veterans.
Clowney has also been great in the locker room. He's been a good teammate and hasn't shown any prima donna attitude having been the first pick in the draft.
Health-wise, Houston is saying it believes that Clowney will be ready for the start of training camp after undergoing sports hernia surgery. The Texans will take precautions and ease Clowney back into it. With a motivated Clowney ready to prove the critics wrong, holding him back sounds like the bigger obstacle.
Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was one of the top draft prospects for the 2015 NFL Draft entering the college football season. Green-Beckham was one of the most sought-after players in the nation coming out of high school and started to illustrate his talent in his first two seasons of college football. However, the lofty draft estimations for Green-Beckham were derailed in early April when he was kicked off of Missouri's football team. Green-Beckham's future is uncertain, as there are a lot of rumors on his future landing spots.
Green-Beckham was kicked off Missouri after being investigated for assaulting a woman, but no victim wanted to press charges, and the police closed the case without an arrest. Previously, Green-Beckham had two marijuana related arrests. One of those incidents led to a suspension.
For a time, Eastern Illinois was said to be the next stop for Green-Beckham. There have been recent reports that Green-Beckham may transfer to Oklahoma and sit out the 2014 season per NCAA rules. Green-Beckham would play for Oklahoma in 2015 before probably entering the 2016 NFL Draft. However, the Oklahoma rumor is said to have come from Green-Beckham's camp, and Oklahoma may not be interested. Green-Beckham could also sit out college football this fall and enter the 2015 NFL Draft as he would be three years removed from high school.
We reached out to some sources in the NFL about what they thought the best move for Green-Beckham would be. They were unanimous that Green-Beckham should return to college football. He could transfer down a level and play right away, like Rams' cornerback Janoris Jenkins when he was kicked out of Florida. Green-Beckham sitting out a year and playing again at high level program received the best response from NFL staffers.
Teams want to see Green-Beckham clean up his off-the-field act, and going two years without an incident would be more helpful to his draft stock. Sitting out the 2014 season and entering the next draft was said to be the worst option that Green-Beckham could chose.
There are many teams interested in signing former Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers. After being cut by Kansas City, Flowers is expected to select his new team this week. However, Flowers' contract demands have limited his options. Sources with a few teams said the reason that it has taken time for Flowers to find a landing spot is because he has priced himself out of the market for a number of teams.
Teams ultimately expect Flowers to sign a 1- or 2-year deal that could essentially be a 1-year contract with an option to get out of the second year. They don't anticipate Flowers signing a long-term pact.
Some teams said that the tape on Flowers from 2013 wasn't that great, and he was beat too often for many team's liking. However, teams feel that Flowers is worth signing and could be an upgrade over some starting cornerbacks in the NFL. Flowers (5-9, 187) has 17 career interceptions with 91 passes broken up and four forced fumbles during his six-year career.
If Flowers signs with a team that has two quality starters in place, he could work as a nickel corner that also can push a starter on the outside. If Flowers wins the spot, he can play on the outside in two corner sets and move to the slot when the team goes to the nickel.
The 2014 NFL Draft was considered one of the strongest classes in years. However, the edge-rusher group was pretty weak overall. Once Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr were selected in the top 10, only one other pass-rusher was selected in the first round, Kansas City's Dee Ford, who was considered to be a reach. One player who probably would have gone in the top 25 had he come out was Clemson's Vic Beasley. Scouts tell WalterFootball.com that Beasley was coming in with a first-round grade before surprisingly deciding to return to school.
Beasley was a tremendous pass-rusher for the Tigers in 2013 with 13 sacks. He also picked up 23 tackles for a loss, 41 tackles, six passes batted, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. After dominating the early part of year, Beasley was clamped down by Florida State as the Seminoles blew out Clemson, but he ended the season in impressive fashion against South Carolina and Ohio State. Beasley had 14 tackles with eight sacks and a forced fumble in 2012.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder will have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL, but he would be a great fit in a Von Miller-style role. The athletic Beasley could also play in a 3-4 defense as an inside and outside linebacker as well.
Many college pass-rushers see a dip in production from extra blocking attention after a big season. That could happen to Beasley, but with his speed and athleticism, he should still make plenty of plays against ACC offensive linemen. If Beasley can stay consistent with his 2013 production, he could easily end up being a high first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Earlier this week, LSU cornerback Jalen Mills was charged with second-degree battery for allegedly punching a woman in the mouth. His attorney says that it was another woman that struck the victim, but Mills has been suspended indefinitely by LSU while his legal situation is resolved. Mills is a potential first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
The length of Mills' suspension is going to have a huge impact on his draft stock. If Mills has a short suspension of a game or two, he could still be a first-round pick if he plays well. Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby was selected by the Broncos in the first round even though he had a disappointing season as a junior, which included an arrest. Roby was suspended for the opener after an arrest for a bar fight. It was deemed minor enough by coach Urban Meyer for Roby to only have a short suspension.
LSU, on the other hand, suspended star defensive back Tyrann Mathieu for his junior season for a variety of off-the-field issues, and that cost Mathieu a shot at being a first-round pick. He fell to the third round before being selected by Arizona.
The lessons of Roby and Mathieu dictate that Mills has to hope that his legal situation is sorted out positively, so he only has a short suspension. Missing significant time could send Mills to Day 2.
Mills totaled 67 tackles, three passes broken up, three sacks and three interceptions as a sophomore in 2013. The 6-foot-1, 189-pounder has a nice combination of size, speed and athleticism. LSU has been a factory for talented defensive backs with the likes of Patrick Peterson, Morris Claiborne and Eric Reid being recent first-round picks.
Sources with the Tennessee Titans have told us that the Titans have hired Brian Gardner to be their director of pro scouting. Gardner had previously scouted for the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans. With Houston, Gardner was the Director of Pro Personnel until he was let go last January as the Texans shook up the organization following a 2-14 season.
Gardner will head up the pro scouting department for Tennessee. Sources at other teams have told us that they feel the Titans have one of the best front office staffs in the NFL with general manager Ruston Webster, Vice President of Player Personnel Lake Dawson, Director of College Scouting Blake Beddingfield, and now Gardner. Titans' college scout Tim Ruskell also was a top executive with the Bears, Falcons and Buccaneers before serving as the Seattle Seahawks' general manager in 2005-2009.
League contacts feel that Dawson and Beddingfield could be hired away for general manager positions as soon as next offseason. Dawson interviewed for Tampa Bay's general manager opening in January.
Every year, late in the college football seasons, scouts will put
together draft grades on some players who end up returning to
school. Some of them are a result of players who petition the NFL
Advisory Board and end up remaining in the college ranks. Other
times, scouts hear or anticipate that a player is coming out, yet
they end up changing their mind to return.
The 2014 NFL Draft set a record for early entry prospects that
left eligibility on the table to go pro. Many of them made
regrettable decisions in leaving school. One of the few good players
who decided to return to college was Mississippi State inside
linebacker Benardrick McKinney. According to sources,
McKinney received second-round grades and had a lot of believers
in the scouting community.
The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder was considered to be a three-down middle
linebacker who has the ability to play in pass coverage. Sources
like his size and feel that McKinney has good instincts. McKinney
has upside, and it is possible that he ends up improving on his
draft grade during the 2014 season.
After redshirting in 2011, McKinney made a splash in 2012 and was
a First-Team Freshman All-American by numerous media outlets. He
recorded 102 tackles with 4.5 tackles for a loss, one sack and
four passes broken up. As a sophomore McKinney had 70 tackles,
seven tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks in 2013.
The consensus opinion leading into the 2014 NFL Draft was that LSU's Jeremy Hill and Ohio State's Carlos Hyde were the top two running backs in the draft. The question was which one would get selected first, so it was a surprise when the Tennessee Titans took Washington's Bishop Sankey as the first back off the board. Their second choice to Sankey was Hill.
Sources with the Titans said that they had Sankey as their top back for a few reasons. Tennessee felt that Sankey was the best back to do all three phases of running the ball, catching passes and pass blocking. At LSU, Hill was part of stable of backs and he didn't get as much preparation in the passing game as Sankey did. Hill had 26 receptions the past two years, while Sankey had 58. Along with receiving experience, Sankey has more blocking development as a blitz protector. Sankey blocked well for quarterback Keith Price as the Huskies' three-down running back the past two seasons.
While Hill had some off-the-field issues, Sankey had a better non-football makeup than Hill. Sources said that Hill interviewed well with teams regarding his problems, but Sankey was known to be an exemplary worker and teammate.
With his all-around skill set, Sankey was considered to be a better fit for Ken Whisenhunt's offense. Keeping quarterback Jake Locker healthy is critical for Tennessee, so having a back with pass protection skills is essential. For all of those reasons, Sankey was the choice for Tennessee.
For months, we and other media have linked the Oakland Raiders to quarterback Derek Carr. It was no secret that Raiders' organization from the top down liked Carr. In fact, the Raiders preferred Carr over quarterback prospects like Minnesota Vikings first-rounder Teddy Bridgewater. With off-the-field considerations factored in, Carr was viewed as a great fit for the organization. After Carr slipped to the second day of the draft, Oakland decided to take their potential quarterback of the future.
Even though the Raiders liked Carr throughout the organization, the decision to take Carr wasn't cut and dry. Oakland's staff is under pressure to win and show significant improvement next season. The Raiders have one of the toughest schedules in the NFL, taking on the NFC West and having the other three teams in their division make the playoffs last year. With that pressure on the front office and coaching staff, there was some thought to going with a position player who could contribute right away rather than a quarterback who would probably begin the season backing up veteran Matt Schaub.
However after speaking with sources, we have learned that Raiders owner Mark Davis made his voice heard and pushed for the Fresno State signal-caller to be taken. Davis was a huge fan of Carr, and he wanted the team to develop him to be their franchise quarterback. Sources from other teams that have been very successful at identifying and developing quarterback talent have told us that they think Carr was the most natural passer in the draft. In recent years, there has been a lot of success from second-day quarterbacks, and Oakland feels that Carr could keep that trend going.
If Carr makes it onto the field midway through the season and plays well down the final stretch, he could end up making the argument for the front office and coaching staff to remain in Oakland for 2015.
Check out my mock draft where I have the Raiders picking Marcus Mariota.
Across the NFL, there is vast agreement that the Miami Dolphins made a mega reach with their first-round pick of Tennessee right tackle JaWuan James at No. 19 overall. Everybody knows that Miami was desperate to upgrade a porous offensive line before they ruin quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but taking James in the top 20 was a stretch by any imagination.
As one source said, it's scary that James was taken only eight picks after Taylor Lewan and three picks after Zack Martin because the gap between those players and James in terms of draft grade is titanic. His team gave James a second-round grade in his report, but after putting their draft board together, they had him down in the third round.
Two teams that drafted offensive tackles before Miami told us they did not have a first-round grade on James. One of them had James in the third. Another team that selected a few picks after Miami did not have a first-round grade on James. They had him with a late third-round, early fourth-round grade.
A team picking in the top 10 that was rumored to be in the tackle market told us that they had a fifth-round grade on James. While that sounds extremely low, that team felt the only tackles worthy of a first-round pick were Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin.
All told, we've heard from five teams that did not have a first-round grade on James. One team that drafted a left tackle in the top 10 said they had a late first or early second-round projection on James. Thus, no team that we spoke with had a legitimate first-round grade on James.
New Dolphins general manager Dennis Hickey was part of some bad drafting during his tenure in Tampa Bay. After Hickey took over as the director of college scouting for the Buccaneers in 2006, three coaching staffs and two general managers ended up getting fired thanks to bad drafts that consistently featured the team reaching on players to fill a need. Head coaches Jon Gruden, Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano all had rosters that lacked talent because of draft-day mistakes. Sources told us that Hickey was going to be fired by Tampa Bay after the draft, but Miami hired him to be their general manager after a number of candidates turned down the job.
Given that history, it isn't surprising that the Dolphins took a mega reach with the first selection by the new regime.
We've been asked if the players who failed their drug tests at the Combine would drop in the 2014 NFL Draft. We reached out to our sources, and they told us that Florida State defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger could indeed drop because of the "diluted sample." Teams feel that a diluted sample indicates that the player was trying to hide something by taking a masking agent.
We've spoken with a couple of teams picking early in the second round. Both teams need a quarterback, but are going to pass on the top-10 signal callers. They were considering Mettenberger, but this positive test is too much with his other character and injury concerns. Mettenberger had off-the-field issues early in his career. After giving Mettenberger some consideration, both teams have decided they're going to take different quarterbacks. Some sources feel that it is possible that Mettenberger could slide to the mid-rounds.
Jernigan was on the bubble of the first round before the positive drug test. He isn't a fit for 3-4 defenses, so that hurts his available options. Adding in the positive drug test, and Jernigan could slide on day two.
Hurting the players is not only the test, but the decision-making of taking a substance when they know they have a drug test coming at the Combine. That lack of judgement is as big of a concern as the positive test.
In the final days before the draft, there has been a lot of speculation that the Houston Texans could take Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack instead of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Some pundits project Mack to be a better fit for the Texans 3-4 defense. However, our sources in Houston have told us the Texans are not considering taking Mack with the No. 1 overall pick. The Texans are going to draft Jadeveon Clowney if they select with the first spot.
The only way the Texans won't take Clowney is if they trade down. Sources have said repeatedly - and we've been posting it for weeks - that Houston won't trade down at a discount. It would take a package similar to the Robert Griffin III trade with the Rams and Redskins two years ago. That package included three first-round picks and a second-round pick. Another trade package that sources used as an example of what would be necessary to get Houston to move out of the first pick is the Ricky Williams trade where the Saints gave their entire draft class, plus picks in the next year's draft.
Our sources have told us that Johnny Manziel isn't an option at No. 1 either. With Manziel and Mack out of consideration, the Texans are locked in on Clowney if they keep their pick.
The new Buffalo Bills' regime went "all in" when it drafted quarterback E.J. Manuel in the first round last year. Manuel's rookie season didn't go as planned, as he missed a lot of practice time and games while dealing with injuries. One of the reasons Manuel was sidelined was an undermanned offensive line. With that in mind, we weren't surprised when we learned from sources that the Bills are targeting an offensive tackle with their first-round pick.
North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron has been a popular projection for the Bills. After all, Manuel needs more receiving targets and Ebron would be an instant upgrade over Buffalo's tight ends. They've also been rumored as a team that could trade up for a receiver. However, our sources say the Bills view the hole at right tackle to be even more critical. Buffalo is set at left tackle with Cordy Glenn, a 2012 second-round pick, but are in need of an upgrade on the other side.
Buffalo feels as though a tackle will help Manuel by not only protecting him in pass protection; but also will improve the Bills ability to run the ball with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson.
According to our sources, the three players on the radar for the Bills are Texas A&M's Jake Matthews, Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Notre Dame's Zack Martin. With Matthews likely to be off the board, the Bills first-round pick is likely to be either Lewan or Martin.
Opinions are split on Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Many acknowledge that the 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is a boom-or-bust prospect and his panning out in the NFL will depend greatly on the team he lands with. Some have dubbed him a late first-round pick, while others believe he'll be chosen in the second round. However, we've heard from a team that has graded Benjamin as a mid-round pick.
The team that has graded Benjamin as a mid-rounder said they don't like him at all as a player. They feel that he won't be able to get separation, and they basically think he can't run. That team said they view Benjamin as another Mike Williams. The former USC receiver was the 10th-overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft to Detroit, and he turned into a huge bust because of a lack of speed. That team believes Benjamin won't be able to get himself open against NFL cornerbacks.
That team feels that there are four true first-round receivers in Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks. They have Marqise Lee on the bubble of the first round and rate Jarvis Landry as a solid second-rounder. This team could draft a receiver early, but they don't see Benjamin as being worthy of a pick in the first two rounds at the very least.
Benjamin has off-the-field concerns regarding maturity as well, and some teams are wary of bringing him into their locker room. Sources from different teams other than the one above feel that where Benjamin lands in the NFL will determine if he is a boom or a bust. If he goes to a weak environment without good leadership from veteran teammates, his wide receivers coach, offensive coordinator and head coach, he could end up out of the league before long. Conversely, if he goes to a strong organization with veterans and coaches who teach him how to be a pro, he could turn a productive player. One team that was cited as being a good fit for Benjamin was New Orleans. The Ravens have also shown a lot of interest in him.
The pressure to win now is being placed on the Oakland Raiders' front office and coaching staff by owner Mark Davis. The demands of a big step forward in the win column next season is pushing the Raiders toward drafting prospects who can provide an immediate impact from the 2014 NFL Draft. As a result, the Raiders are less likely to take a quarterback with their first-round pick, according to our sources, because that player could easily be the signal-caller for the next regime.
Oakland would love it if they could land Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack or Sammy Watkins, but they know that those three are all likely to be off the board in the first four picks. For the second straight year, the Raiders are in the market to trade down. If they're stuck at five with those players off the board, sources say the Raiders will strongly consider Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson or Texas A&M tackle Jake Matthews could get consideration, but the Raiders sound more likely to go with Evans.
A quarterback or offensive tackle are possible, but less likely. Oakland signed left tackle Donald Penn and are optimistic about 2013 second-round pick Menelik Watson. Veteran Austin Howard was signed to compete at guard, but he also could play tackle if needed. The Raiders have some quality speed receivers, but lack a receiver with an imposing size like Evans.
The Raiders traded for former Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, and he will enter the season as the starter. They also signed veterans on the offensive line, running backs, wide receivers and throughout the defense in their effort to improve their roster quickly. With the veteran additions on offense, Oakland is likely to focus on the defensive side of the ball on the second and third days of the draft.
Depending on how the draft plays out, Oakland may take a signal-caller at some point if he's the best player available. However, with the need to win now, the Raiders are more likely to pass on a quarterback until later.
Many projected the Texans to reach with the first-overall pick for a quarterback over the past few months, but the Texans are now extremely likely to take the draft's best player, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the first-overall pick. We've heard that barring a mega trade of draft picks similar to the Robert Griffin III package two years ago, the Texans will go with Clowney.
With Clowney being evident as the first pick, many have now assumed that the Texans would take a quarterback to start off the second round. However, we've also learned from sources that the Texans are considering waiting on a quarterback until the third or fourth round.
Houston believes that a good player with a firm first-round grade will fall to pick No. 33, and the team would be better off taking that player with a quarterback coming later. The talent at 33 could be too good to pass on a player that they don't consider to be a franchise quarterback - in which they say that it is plausible they wait to nab a signal-caller until the third round.
So what could Houston do at No. 33 if it doesn't take a quarterback? Some of the talented players that could be there include Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley, Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix and defensive end Stephon Tuitt.
The Texans needed an inside linebacker in the 2013 draft and didn't land one. Mosley would be a great fit in their defense next to Brian Cushing. A front seven that includes Clowney, J.J. Watt, Cushing and Mosley could be tremendous. They also need a five-technique defensive end after losing Antonio Smith this offseason. Hageman and Tuitt could fill that role, while Nix would meet the need for a nose tackle in Romeo Crennel's defense.
Offensively, some of the candidates to fall to Round 2 and cause the Texans to wait on a quarterback include USC wide receiver Marqise Lee, Oregon State Brandin Cooks, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde and LSU running back Jeremy Hill. Houston needs a slot receiver for O'Brien's offense. They also need a young back to pair with Arian Foster.
If the Texans wait until the third round to take a quarterback, the potential targets could be Pitt's Tom Savage and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas. Both have plus skill sets for O'Brien to work with. Taking Savage or Thomas could provide them with a more talented roster and avoid reaching for a quarterback above their appropriate draft slot.
If Houston doesn't like the first-round prospects who fall to day two, they could decide to take a quarterback like Louisville's Teddy Bridewater or Eastern Illinois' Jimmy Garoppolo. The Texans are also open to trading down in the second round and adding more picks to address the holes on their roster.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is one of the most polarizing players in the 2014 NFL Draft. Some pundits feel that Manziel is a contender for the No. 1 overall pick, while others believe Manziel could slide in the first round, as sources have told us in the past. With so much variation in Manziel's projection, we decided to sample five teams to see where Manziel was being graded and projected.
One of the quarterback-needy teams picking in the top 10 told us they have a second-round grade on Manziel. We also know that the Houston Texans aren't considering Manziel with the first selection. The only viable options for Houston are Jadeveon Clowney, Blake Bortles or a trade. Clowney is still the heavy favorite to go to the Texans despite the trade rumors circling.
Four sources with other teams told us that they have a first-round grades on Manziel. Two of those teams said they have Manziel in the top 20 on their big boards. One general manager said he is confident that Manziel won't be available in the second round, and someone is going to pull the trigger on him in the first.
Which team takes Manziel in the first is up in the air, but he should at least he should be selected on Thursday night.
We've reached out to sources around the NFL over the past couple of weeks to see where they were projecting Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Some pundits have opined that Seferian-Jenkins could sneak into the end of the first round. However after checking with multiple teams, every team stated that they have Seferian-Jenkins going in the second round. They also said that Seferian-Jenkins could slide into the third round.
The reason for Seferian-Jenkins falling on draft weekend is poor interviews with teams. Seferian-Jenkins had some off-the-field concerns entering the draft process after a DUI arrest last year. He was suspended for the season opener because of that incident. A foot injury prevented Seferian-Jenkins from working out for teams at the Washington pro day.
With tough questions about his off-the-field issues, Seferian-Jenkins hasn't impressed teams. Conversely, other players that have had similar concerns (Jeremy Hill) and on-the-field performance problems (Logan Thomas) were able to make a good impression on teams with their accountability.
We've spoken with teams selecting early in the second round that need help at tight end, and they said they won't be drafting Seferian-Jenkins because of his personal makeup. They like him as a player and believe he is a first-round talent, but with his off-the-field concerns, they plan on passing on him.
There are plenty of teams that could use a tight end picking in the back half of the second round, so Seferian-Jenkins stands a chance of avoiding falling out of the top 64 picks. However, it sounds like Seferian-Jenkins hasn't interviewed well enough to prevent every team from passing on him in Round 2.
After a good finish to the 2013 season and a strong performance at the Senior Bowl, Dee Ford was projected to be a first-round prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. We initially heard from one team that said Ford graded out as a late second-round pick, but they thought it was possible that a team that likes him enough would draft him in the first round. We've reached out to more teams, and we've discovered that Ford has universally graded out as a second-rounder.
Teams like Ford's pass-rush ability and his pure speed off the edge. Ford gave the Senior Bowl offensive tackles a lot of fits with his get off and speed to turn the corner. However, there are a number of issues that cause Ford to be graded out as a second-round pick.
The 6-foot-2, 243-pounder is too small to remain at defensive end and will have to move outside linebacker in either a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense. Ford isn't much of a run defender either, as he had only 29 tackles as a senior. Aside from the concerns about Ford's size and position change is a back injury that forced him to sit out the Combine, although the injury was from 2011 and he was medically cleared later.
Considering the need for pass-rushers, Ford should be selected in the second round. There are many landing spots for Ford atop Round 2, including Jacksonville, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Detroit, Minnesota, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Dallas. While Ford isn't viewed as an every-down player, he could make an impact as a rookie in a role as a situational pass-rusher. However, teams aren't viewing Ford as an option in the first round.
Over the final months leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, there have been a lot of reports of Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater falling lower than expected on draft day. They've become more commonplace with each passing week.
This isn't news to teams though. They've told us that the national media is simply catching up, and that it has
overrated Bridgewater during his collegiate career and throughout the draft process.
We've reached out to many teams about Bridgewater, and all have been down on him. Perhaps the most glaring response we've heard came from an executive with an NFC playoff team that has no need for a starting quarterback. They have their franchise signal-caller, but they could use a reserve, so we asked this executive his thoughts on some quarterbacks, including Bridgewater.
The NFC executive said that he thought Bridgewater was a "fourth-round guy" and will fall out of the first round. He said that there isn't anything exceptional about Bridgewater's skill set, as he doesn't have an elite arm, size or mobility. Because of that, he felt that Bridgewater is a fourth-round talent.
Another scouting director picking in the top 20 that could consider a quarterback told us that his team never had Bridgewater as a first-round pick. They said he's carried a second-round grade throughout the process. They still have him as a second-round pick after his much-maligned pro day.
Sources from three teams in the top 10 have told us that they have Blake Bortles and Derek Carr graded ahead of Bridgewater. One team also has A.J. McCarron rated ahead of Bridgewater.
Six different franchises, including those three in the top 10, have said they believe that Bridgewater is going to fall much lower than expected on draft day and could easily drop out of the first round because teams aren't grading him as a first-round pick.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one of the quarterback-needy teams picking in the top 10. After Josh Freeman turned into a bust, the new regime moved to bring in veteran Josh McCown to be the short-term starter. The Buccaneers obviously need a long-term starter, and they are going to target a quarterback in the 2014 NFL Draft to groom behind McCown for a year. Sources have told us that the Buccaneers are operating under the premise that they won't be moving up from No. 7 overall and are giving consideration to whom they would target if they move down.
Tampa Bay also has needs at wide receiver and the offensive line to help improve the NFL's last-ranked offense from 2013. The draft class is strong at offensive tackle and wideout, so the Buccaneers could still land a player who will provide an immediate impact while moving down to get more picks to address other needs.
Lovie Smith and general manager Jason Licht inherited a roster that had a lot of holes. The new regime has done an excellent job of revamping it by bringing in a number of new starters and moving on from some bad contracts that paid players far beyond their value. Sources from other teams say that it is clear that Tampa Bay has upgraded the front office, coaching staff and roster this offseason.
One source told us that the Buccaneers will take Central Florida's Blake Bortles if he falls to the seventh pick. Considering the time of year, that has to be taken with a grain of salt, but the intelligent and hard-working Bortles meshes well with the new coaching staff. With his pocket presence and mobility, sources with the team say that Bortles is a good fit for Tedford's offense. However, the Buccaneers also don't believe that Bortles will get to their pick considering the Texans, Jaguars, Browns or Raiders all need help at quarterback.
Lately, there has been a lot of talk in the Tampa Bay media about the Bucs taking Johnny Manziel. The Bucs have shown a lot of interest in Manziel along with the other top quarterback prospects, so if Bortles is gone, they could easily take another quarterback like Manziel, Derek Carr or Teddy Bridgewater.
If a good deal presents itself, the team could move down. The Bucs don't feel the need to move up and cost themselves picks that could strengthen their roster. With so many good options along the offensive line, wide receiver and quarterback, Tampa Bay feels it's in a nice position to hold tight at No. 7 and take the best player available at one of those three positions.
Everyone knows that the St. Louis Rams want to trade down from the second-overall pick. With the 2014 quarterback class not yielding multiple elite prospects for the top of the draft, there has been some doubt about the Rams' ability to move down this year. However, if the Houston Texans take Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick, there are a number of teams that could move up with the Rams to get the top-ranked quarterback.
One team that is a prime contender to move up with St. Louis is the Minnesota Vikings. Sources have told us that the Vikings are a real contender to move up for Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles.
That trade was documented in two recent mock drafts on WalterFootball.com in Walt's trade mock and my mock . His good work ethic meshes well with the new coaching staff, and sources say that Bortles is the Vikings' top-rated quarterback with Derek Carr as their No. 2 quarterback.
Minnesota clearly needs a franchise quarterback, and the team has extra ammo to move up with two third-round picks. Sources with the Rams say that it would take a lot for St. Louis to drop down to eight. The Vikings could try a big package of second-day picks, but might have to use their 2015 first-rounder.
Even if they deal a 2015 first-round pick, they still would have drafted six first-round talents over a four-year span (2012-2015). That list of first-rounders would include three on each side of the ball with Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Matt Kalil, Cordarrelle Patterson and potentially Bortles. However, the price could rise or fall depending on other teams looking to get involved in the trade market.
The Rams were able to get a huge haul of draft picks from the Redskins in order for Washington to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012. In that same draft, St. Louis moved down again with the Dallas Cowboys for a second-round pick to the 14th-overall pick from the sixth-overall choice. Last year, the Rams moved down in the 20s before selecting linebacker Alec Ogletree. As we highlighted below, if the Rams are stuck at No. 2, they would be inclined toward drafting Khalil Mack and are said to be falling in love with him. Thus, it will take a lot for St. Louis to pass up on Mack.
The Vikings know in order to land Bortles, they would need to trade with the Rams because Bortles could easily be drafted by the Jaguars at three, Browns at four or Raiders at five. The deal wouldn't go down until the Rams are on the clock, but St. Louis could end up with another big haul of early-round picks, and Minnesota could finally land the franchise quarterback it has been missing.
A couple of weeks ago, we detailed how teams around the league feel that two of the top quarterback prospects, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, could be facing a potential draft-day free fall. In following up with some of the quarterback-needy teams picking in the top 10, three of them have Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr as their second-rated quarterback behind Central Florida's Blake Bortles. The common media and fan projection is that Carr is the fourth-rated quarterback and a late first-round or early second-round pick, but at least three NFL teams aren't in agreement with the consensus opinion.
The reason that Carr is being rated second is that teams feel he is the most polished passer in the draft. Two of the teams told us that Carr is the best passer of the draft class, while Bortles presents the most athletic upside. A number of teams have varying doubts about Manziel and Bridgewater as pro prospects and are lukewarm on them as players. They feel as though a late first-round or second-round pick would be more appropriate for Manziel and Bridgewater.
One NFC team picking in the 20s told us that they expect the Minnesota Vikings to take Carr with the eighth-overall pick, unless he is selected by the Raiders at No. 5 overall.
A year ago, most of the attention on the quarterback prospects was focused on Geno Smith and Matt Barkley. Many pundits were surprised when E.J. Manuel was selected first. Once again, teams in the top 10 aren't following the consensus signal-caller rankings. At least three feel that Carr is the second-best quarterback prospect in the draft.
When the Rams landed the second-overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, thanks to their 2012 deal with the Redskins, many thought that once again St. Louis would be in position to make another big trade to load up on extra early-round draft picks for the next few years. As it turns out, some teams we've spoken to in the top 10 feel as though the Rams will have a trade market for the No. 2 pick.
There are four players that are viewed as elite in this draft: South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack and Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson. Some teams want to come away to land one of the elite players, or get ahead of other teams to get the top quarterback prospect, Central Florida's Blake Bortles. In order to move down, the Rams would have to do it for less than the package they received from Washington, and St. Louis general manager Les Snead has been willing to move lower for less. He did in 2012 when the Rams traded down from the sixth-overall pick to the 14th with the Cowboys for a second-round pick.
However, there is a good chance that the Rams will be stuck at No. 2 with nobody offering a deal worth passing on one of the elite talents in this draft. From speaking to sources, if St. Louis is stuck there and can't select Jadeveon Clowney, its pick is coming down to Watkins or Mack.
The Rams have drafted a receiver in the top 35 picks in the last two drafts, including a trade into the top 10 to land Tavon Austin last year. Watkins could give St. Louis an explosive receiving tandem with Austin, but considering they also have invested picks in Brian Quick, Stedman Bailey and Chris Givens (as well as the signing of Kenny Britt), that is an awful lot of resources for wide receivers without that many targets to go around considering St. Louis likes to run the ball with Zac Stacy.
Sources say that Mack is the direction that St. Louis is leaning at No. 2. It sounds like the Rams are falling in love with the Buffalo pass-rusher. Mack's speed, strength and physicality is exactly what Jeff Fisher and Gregg Williams are looking for. They feel they can do a lot of creative blitzes with Mack and their two pass-rushing defensive ends: Robert Quinn and Chris Long. They would have all three rushing the quarterback on passing downs, with Long or Quinn moving inside on occasion. Mack would also give the Rams another edge rusher if Long gets too pricey to keep in two or three years after extending Quinn. They also would have depth in case they have a serious injury.
St. Louis feels it needs an elite front seven to top its divisional rivals, including the defending Super Bowl Champion Seahawks and a 49ers team that has made it to three straight NFC Championship Games. Arizona won 10 games last year and is a tough team that is getting better. With Mack, Long, Quinn, Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis, the Rams would have a lot of play-makers in their front seven who are good run and pass defenders.
The Rams, like all teams, are about to start convening all their area scouts in St. Louis as they hold their draft meetings and host prospects on teams visits in the final weeks before the draft. Things can change in those meetings, but right now, the Rams are coming down to Mack or Watkins with the second-overall pick, with Mack being the favorite.
There is a growing sentiment among some of our NFL sources that one or two of the high-profile quarterback prospects could be in store for a draft-day free fall. The two quarterbacks are Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.
We've also learned that one team picking in the top 10 has Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron rated ahead of Bridgewater.
A slide for Bridgewater seems more likely than Manziel. Manziel helped himself with his Pro Day performance, but there are still concerns about him off the field and how much of his game is going to translate in the NFL. Teams wonder if he will be able to develop his pocket passing. One source who attended his Pro Day said that he looked good, though he threw side-armed at times, and they wish he would have done more work out of the pocket. Teams feel that they would have to change their scheme to a shotgun-based offense for Manziel.
While some believe that Manziel could be in store for a draft-day slide, they think it is less likely for him, as it only takes one quarterback needy team to fall in love with his playmaking ability and "it factor."
Meanwhile, we know a few teams that are rating Derek Carr as the second quarterback behind Blake Bortles. Sources said that Carr is the most natural passer in the draft, while Bortles has the most upside.
Sources feel that that quarterback-needy teams like Houston and Jacksonville could get better value to pass on a signal caller in the first round and see who falls them at the top of the second. Cleveland could take one of the elite talents with the fourth pick and target a quarterback late in the first round.
In the 2011 quarterback class, second-round picks Andy Dalton and Colin Kaepernick have been far and away better than first-rounders Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Jake Locker. Considering that nobody views Bortles to be on a par with Andrew Luck, Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford, a number of teams feel that Houston would be crazy to pass on Jadeveon Clowney for a quarterback. Houston could take Clowney and see if Bridgewater or Manziel falls to them at 33 or trade back into the first round to get their quarterback.
Last year Geno Smith, Matt Barkley and Ryan Nassib fell far lower than expected. That trend has happened in other years like 2005 with Aaron Rodgers and 2007 with Brady Quinn. Multiple sources feel that history could repeat itself in 2014 with Manziel and/or Bridgewater.
LSU running back Jeremy Hill has had a low profile over the past few months. This is despite being the best back in a stable of talented runners for the Tigers and one of the top runners in the SEC. While Hill has been an impressive player, he entered the draft after his redshirt sophomore season and had a lot of character concerns with teams.
The off-the-field red flags stem from a few incidents. At the end of high school, he was charged with misdemeanor carnal knowledge of a 14-year old girl and also had a simple battery charge for a bar fight in April of 2013. At the Combine, Hill was grilled hard about the incidents from teams. However, sources from multiple teams said that Hill did surprisingly well and was very honest and candid about his past. They said that teams came away impressed.
We've spoken with sources from an AFC team in the market for a starting running back, and they have Hill as their top-rated running back in the 2014 NFL Draft. They gave Hill a second-round grade. Another team that needs a running back told WalterFootball.com that they love Hill and are considering him on the second day of the draft. The only back they have rated ahead of him is Ohio State's Carlos Hyde.
The 6-foot, 233-pound Hill has the size of a power runner, but also has a burst to the hole and the second level of the defense. His quickness differentiated him from the Tigers' other big backs and led to him being their featured runner for 2013. Hill averaged 6.9 yards per carry in 2013 for 1,401 yards with 16 touchdowns. He also caught 18 passes for 181 yards. As a freshman the year before, Hill ran for 755 yards with 12 touchdowns and 5.3 yards per carry.
The pre-draft process has gone well for Hill, and he has impressed teams. If he continues to do well in his interviews while on pre-draft visits, Hill could end up being a second-round pick and may be the first running back chosen.
A 50-year streak of running backs being selected in the first round snapped in 2013, as no halfbacks were selected Thursday night. Many expect this new trend to continue, but we learned that a running back is being graded out as a first-rounder this year. That player is Ohio State's Carlos Hyde.
League contacts say that Hyde is a difference-maker and worthy of a top 32-pick based on his talent. They love his combination of power and quickness. They feel that he is a power back who can control a game from start to finish and can remake an NFL offense.
Multiple teams we've spoken to are giving Hyde a first-round grade, but that doesn't mean he'll be a first-round pick. Over the past few years, the running back position has been devalued in the first round. Running backs have been flaming out quickly in the NFL, and many teams have changed to run a running-back-by-committee approach. Plus, Hyde's off-the-field issues could work against him.
Some teams we've spoken to picking at the top of the second round believe that Hyde could get to their pick, and they feel he's worthy of going in Round 1. Sources believe that as a second-rounder, Hyde could be one of the steals of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Hyde (5-11, 230) is a one-cut downhill runner who can pick up yards after contact by running over defenders. He fits a man or zone blocking scheme. He was suspended for the first three games of the 2013 season, but after that, he dominated the Big Ten. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry for 1,521 yards with 15 touchdowns. Hyde also had 16 receptions for 147 yards and three scores through the air. Evaluators we've talked to feel that he has nice receiving ability for a big back.
There is an interesting dialogue among some teams regarding the NFL Draft's top two safeties, Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville's Calvin Pryor. Both are the only consensus first-round prospects at the position. Many fans and draft analysts believe that at least one of the safeties will go in the top 16 picks, and both could go in the top 20. However, we have spoken with sources from playoff teams who believe that both safeties could get to their picks.
The main reason that teams feel that Clinton-Dix and Pryor could make it into the 20s is because neither one is considered to be a rare athlete with elite speed. As one source said, "Neither one of these guys is an Earl Thomas-like athlete." That was proven at the Combine when they had solid, but unspectacular 40 times at 4.58 seconds. Clinton-Dix looked better in the field drills, but neither dominated the Combine.
Multiple sources also pointed out that defensive backs from Nick Saban's programs have disappointed in the NFL. As one source said, the best defensive backs he produced could be Roman Harper and LaRon Landry, and even the latter didn't live up to his billing. Perhaps Dre Kirkpatrick or Dee Milliner will break that mold, but multiple staffers from around the NFL feel that Alabama defenders have been overhyped and haven't validated those expectations at the next level.
However, one source had this to say about Clinton-Dix: "Ha Ha had a so-so workout, but his film is too good for him to drop too far. He's safe in the top 25."
Clinton-Dix and Pryor could also be hurt by teams prioritizing other positions over safeties like quarterbacks, linemen, cornerbacks and wide receivers.
This is a loaded 2014 NFL Draft class with a lot of quarterbacks, offensive tackles, edge rushers and wide receivers expected to be chosen in the top 20 selections. It will be interesting to see if these teams are correct and the top safeties make it into the 20s.
One of the recent trends in the NFL Draft has been the downgrading of the linebacker position. Last year was considered to be a strong class for inside linebacker prospects, yet only one was selected in the first round. Among the players who fell to Round 2 was a college superstar in Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o. This year's victim could be Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley.
Mosley, the leader of the Crimson Tide defense, has been one of the best linebackers in the nation over the past couple of seasons. However, sources have told WalterFootball.com that Mosley could go much lower than expected for a variety of reasons.
One of the concerns with Mosley has to do with an injury. Teams believe that there could be a knee issue and are unsure about Mosley's health. Mosley didn't work out at the Combine, so that puts more pressure on him to perform well at his pro day and look healthy. The medical evaluations by the different teams' medical staffs will be critical.
Another issue is that over the past few years, a number of Alabama prospects have entered the draft with injuries and durability concerns. That group includes Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy, Dee Milliner, Dre Kirkpatrick, Barrett Jones, Jesse Williams, and Josh Chapman among others. Mosley could be the latest Crimson Tide prospect to enter the league with a knee injury.
Team needs also could help push Mosley down, as there aren't a lot of teams looking for a linebacker early. WalterFootball.com spoke with a playoff team that could use a player at the position, and Mosley is in a group of Plan B players rather than the top tier of prospects the team covets. Considering many projected Mosley to go in the top 16 picks, it's noteworthy that a playoff team views him in that group. They also believe that Mosley will get to their pick. Another team selecting early believes that Mosley could get to their pick in the second round.
Of course, Mosley could help himself if he impresses at his pro day. He has a lot of good tape and production arguing his side. However, with the trend of linebackers falling in the draft, don't be surprised if Mosley goes much lower than many project.
Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews has been the consensus projection as the top offensive lineman for the 2014 NFL Draft throughout the collegiate season. Matthews was a 4-year starter for the Aggies with a lot of good tape. However, WalterFootball.com has learned that there are teams that are now grading Matthews behind Auburn left tackle Greg Robinson. Those teams have Robinson ahead of Matthews and the rest of the offensive line prospects in the draft.
Robinson was an unknown commodity six months ago, but Robinson turned in a dominant 2013 season to help transform Auburn from a sub-500 team to the SEC Champions that nearly pulled the upset over Florida State in the national championship. Robinson was a road-grading run blocker. He has some room to develop as a pass blocker, but his skill set makes him perfectly suited to being a franchise left tackle in the NFL. The 6-foot-5, 332-pounder was a star of the Combine as put his rare athleticism on display.
Matthews (6-5, 308) had a good showing at the Combine, but didn't show the athletic upside that Robinson displayed. In speaking with sources, the athletic upside makes a big difference for Robinson. Not only is he bigger and faster, but Robinson has more length with longer arms. Sources also say that there were some issues on tape that they found with Matthews. They still believe that he is a good prospect and worthy of a high first-round pick, but Robinson is being rated ahead of Matthews according to multiple teams.
There is a lot of time left before draft day, and some teams could be more comfortable with Matthews and feel he is a safer pick. However, Robinson's stock has been on a steady climb for months, and right now, he looks like the favorite to be selected second overall to the Rams. Multiple teams are currently making that projection.
Throughout the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, analysts Mike Mayock and Warren Sapp were particularly critical of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney for not having a big enough work ethic or drive for greatness at the NFL level. Those critics question whether Clowney deserves to be the top overall-pick in the 2014 NFL Draft because of that.
More important than the actual workout at the Combine was how Clowney interviewed with teams. We reached out to sources with teams across the league to get their feedback on how Clowney did in the team meetings. Unanimously, they all said he did well, and they were impressed with how he addressed their concerns.
Two teams that are picking in the top five told WalterFootball.com that they are good with Clowney as a person/teammate, and they are not concerned about his work ethic or drive. They both said he did very well in the interview and eased any doubts that they had.
Another team picking in the teens that would consider moving up for Clowney if he slides in the top 10 said Clowney did very well. One playoff team said they didn't take the time to interview Clowney because they don't have any shot at landing him, but they asked friends they trust who did interview him, and they said they heard that Clowney did very well in those team meetings.
Back on Aug. 25, we reported that Clowney wasn't blowing away NFL evaluators with his work ethic. Leading up to the 2013 season, Clowney lacked dedication in his conditioning and took a significant amount of plays off in 2012. However, sources told us that Clowney's effort and conditioning was solid this past season after the embarrassment against North Carolina.
League contacts aren't concerned with Clowney's numbers being down as a junior. He faced an obscene amount of extra blocking attention, and offenses schemed their game plans to go away from Clowney. Sources say there is no way any NFL offense could get away with that or function well with those kind of limitations.
While Clowney had an incomplete performance in the field work at the Combine, sources say it was "mission accomplished" for him in the team meetings, as he did very well. The teams we've spoken to came away impressed.
UPDATE: An AFC team we reached out to got back to us this morning. They agreed with the consensus: "Clowney did very well. No issues with his interview."
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford broke out as one of this year's late-season stars and carried that momentum through the Senior Bowl. He helped the Tigers reach the BCS National Championship game with 10.5 sacks while being an explosive pass-rusher off the edge. In Mobile, Ford used his speed to be a terror in the one-on-ones. With a strong finish to his collegiate career, some are projecting Ford to be a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
WalterFootball.com decided to reach out to team sources to see if they are grading Ford as a first-round pick. Among the teams we've spoken to, sources have said that they have Ford as a late second-round pick, but they believe that some team is going to reach for him late in the first round.
If that happens, it would be reminiscent of the Seahawks taking Bruce Irvin with the 15th pick of the 2012 NFL Draft when most had him as a second-day pick. Irvin had eight sacks as a rookie before recording two sacks in 12 games during Seattle's Super Bowl run. Irvin (6-3, 248) is nearly the same size as Ford (6-2, 243). Like Irvin did, Ford projects as a pass-rushing specialist at outside linebacker. Both Irvin and Ford played defensive end in college, but don't have the necessary size to stay at that position in the NFL.
Ford should perform well at the Combine, and if that bears out, it should only strengthen the resolve of the team that falls in love with him enough to pull the trigger much earlier than others have him on their boards.
Bortles Rated over Bridgewater, Manziel by Two Top-Five Teams
Heading into the NFL Scouting Combine, there has been a wide-open debate about which quarterback prospect should be the first one selected. The Texans (No. 1), Jaguars (No. 3), Browns (No. 4) and Raiders (No. 5) are all in the market to possibly take a quarterback with their first-round pick. Two years ago, there was no doubt that Andrew Luck was the top quarterback prospect. There hasn't been one quarterback who is the clear-cut top choice this year, but one could be emerging.
WalterFootball.com has spoken with sources with two of the four quarterback-needy teams picking in the top five, and both of those teams are rating Central Florida's Blake Bortles as the top signal-caller over Louisville's Teddy Brigewater and Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. However, both of those teams see flaws in all three quarterbacks to the point that these sources think their organizations would get a better player by passing on the quarterbacks.
Both teams have concerns about Bridgewater's frame and his ability to handle the punishment of the NFL. His Combine weigh-in is going to be important, and it would be damaging if he comes in under 200 pounds. Teams are worried about Manziel's party lifestyle and wonder if he'll focus on football amid the wealth and celebrity status. Manziel also is smaller than ideal and has some flaws in his game. Bortles is viewed as having the best NFL skill set with size, athleticism, intelligence and arm strength.
Both teams said that their ratings are fluid and could change in the months to come as they spend more time with the prospects leading up to the draft. Other teams could see it differently as well, but heading into the Combine, Bortles is the top-rated quarterback with nearly half of the clubs in the top five.
The NFL world has been consumed with news of Missouri outside linebacker Michael Sam announcing he's gay. There have been mixed reports on where Sam is being projected and whether his sexuality will hurt his draft stock. WalterFootball.com reached out to a few teams to get an idea where they rate Sam, and if they think this will downgrade him with teams.
Two teams that could consider drafting Sam say they have graded him as a late-round pick. Both of these teams said his sexuality wouldn't matter to them, but they could see some teams not wanting to take on the media distraction of having the first openly gay active player on their team.
With that reason being a factor, one team told WalterFootball.com it thinks Sam could go undrafted. It has him as a late pick who could fall to the free agents ranks.
Another team said it doesn't believe Sam will fall as low or go undrafted as some are predicting. That team believes that the commissioner is going to be confidentially pressuring general managers to not let Sam fall so low to avoid a public-relations problem and allegations of discrimination. It thinks he could go in the first couple of rounds on Day 3.
Overall, sources weren't concerned about having an openly gay player added to their locker room. However, the extra media attention and focus that will now come with Sam is working against him with some teams.
When teams are discussed about being candidates to trade up in the NFL Draft, the conversation is mainly focused on a team moving up for a quarterback. However, as last year's first round illustrated, a number of teams could be on the move on Thursday night. There were six trades featuring a first-round pick last year, and none of them involved a quarterback being taken. According to sources, one team that could be on the move up this year is the Washington Redskins.
Sources with the Redskins tell WalterFootball.com that they believe some good talents are going to fall to the Nos. 30-34 range. Washington's first selection is the second pick of the second round, so moving up into the Nos. 30-32 range could cost as little as a mid-level third-day pick.
Redskins' sources also have in mind the long-term contract benefits that trading up would provide the organization. Trading up into the first round has the added advantage of an extra year being tacked onto the rookie contract. First-round picks get 5-year contracts while second-rounders receive a 4-year deal, so the Redskins would get another year of that player's prime for a bargain, while also potentially buying more time before deciding on an extension. For example, Carolina would have had a fifth year on Greg Hardy's rookie contract rather than him entering unrestricted free agency.
One team to keep an eye on is the Super Bowl champions. The Seahawks could be a good trading partner with Washington, as Seattle is without its third-round pick thanks to the Percy Harvin trade. Moving from No. 34 to No. 32 could be done for perhaps as low as a fifth-round pick. The Redskins could be more sure to get the player they want and not have to worry about a team jumping ahead of them with Houston to open Friday night.
For the second straight season, Washington is without a first-rounder from the 2012 trade for Robert Griffin III. However, the Redskins are picking just outside the first round with the 34th-overall pick, and they are in striking distance of going only one year without a first-round pick being added to their roster.
The 2014 draft class became extremely strong at the wide receiver position, thanks to a flood of early entries. Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and USC's Marqise Lee have gotten the most attention, but they aren't the only early-entry wideouts who could hear their name called on Thursday night. WalterFootball.com reached out to sources to gauge where the LSU duo of Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry was grading out. Bith players can expect to go early.
Scouts told WalterFootball.com that they would be comfortable taking Beckham late in the first round. If he doesn't go on Thursday night, they think he will go early in the second round. Scouts love Beckham's potential to be a dangerous slot receiver who stretches defenses vertically. Slot receivers are basically starters now, as most offenses operate out of a three-receiver set the majority of the time. Beckham (6-0, 187) also is big enough to line up outside.
Beckham showed the speed to stretch the field as a junior and has demonstrated the potential to make game-changing plays. He caught 59 passes for 1,152 yards with eight touchdowns in 2013. He also is a dangerous returner.
Landry (6-1, 195) was more of the possession receiver, but he did a good job of moving the chains in 2013. Landry caught 77 passes for 1,193 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2013. He is a tough receiver with good hands and had many highlight-reel catches with defenders hanging all over him.
Sources say that they believe Landry will go in the second round. Some teams WalterFootball.com spoke with said they felt Landry was a better fit in Round 3, but they believe a team will send in the card on him in Round 2. Landry has decent size and is quick, but doesn't have Beckham's vertical speed.
LSU has been a factory for NFL prospects in recent years with a lot of talent being drafted in the early rounds on the defensive side of the ball. Unless defensive tackle Ego Ferguson sky rockets up boards, the first prospect who could could go off the board for the Tigers is likely to be Beckham - possibly on Thursday night.
There are a number of teams around the NFL that could consider drafting a center in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Baltimore Ravens, Detroit Lions, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars all need new centers, among others. However, scouts feel this is a weak center class, so some of those teams are likely to miss out on landing a center on draft weekend.
The top two centers in the draft are Arkansas' Travis Swanson and Colorado State's Weston Richburg. Both of them could go on the second day of the draft and should be able to play quickly in the NFL. Each one had a quality showing at the Senior Bowl to solidify their draft standing.
After those two, the next center who could be drafted is Utah State's Tyler Larsen, but he is more likely to go early on the third day of the draft. After that, there is an opening for a few other centers to rise up in the months leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Sources have told WalterFootball.com that two centers who aren't held in a favorable light are North Carolina's Russell Bodine and Florida State's Bryan Stork. Bodine is said to be "just a guy" and is nothing special. Stork is not a great athlete and isn't overly strong. He didn't impress at the Senior Bowl and could have some medical concerns stemming from concussions. They are more likely to be late-round picks.
With the lack of talent at the center position, sources say that many teams will be looking at guards and whether they have the ability to move inside.
One of the players who received a lot of negative attention for his Senior Bowl performance was Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. The harshest criticism of Boyd came from Tony Pauline of Draft Insider when he quoted a Packer scout who said Boyd is undraftable. WalterFootball.com decided to conduct a small survey of five teams from around the league to gauge where they currently have Boyd projected. All of them added the caveat that a lot of fluctuation could occur in Boyd's rating in the months to come.
Out of five teams, three said that they have Boyd in the third round right now. A fourth team said it has Boyd on Day 3, while the other team said it has Boyd as a low Day-2 or high Day-3 pick. None of the teams had Boyd close to being undrafted, but if he doesn't impress at the Combine, his Pro Day and in his team visits, he could fall lower on the third day.
Sources said that Boyd (6-0, 222) interviewed well at the Senior Bowl with a personality that illustrated he could be a leader and a positive force in the locker room. However, some teams have questions about his intelligence. Boyd is currently working out with Trent Dilfer, and sources feel that Dilfer will help Boyd to make strides mentally and could help him improve his accuracy.
In past conversations with WalterFootball.com, scouts compared Boyd to Russell Wilson in that he had plenty of detractors when he entered the NFL Draft two years ago. Wilson will start in the Super Bowl on Sunday, so Boyd can use Wilson as proof that the skeptics, pundits and NFL evaluators can be proven wrong.
Boyd completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,851 yards with 34 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2013. He rushed for 634 yards (400 net) and 10 touchdowns on the ground. He's currently projected to the Raiders in the third round of Walt's 2014 NFL Mock Draft.
UPDATE: A sixth team answered our poll. This is an NFC team that doesn't need a quarterback. A source with that club told us that they have Boyd as a Round 2-3 player.
ANOTHER UPDATE: We were able to speak to a seventh team - this one, an AFC squad in need of a quarterback - and our source with this organization has Boyd pegged as a third-round prospect.
One player who has been projected by many to crack the top 10 in the 2014 NFL Draft is Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley. The leader of the Crimson Tide defense, Mosley was an integral member of Alabama's defense during their National Championship teams in 2011 and 2012. With three seasons of good tape, Mosley is the top-rated inside linebacker prospect and looks solid as a first-round pick.
However, after consulting with sources around the NFL, they feel that Mosley was overhyped during his senior season and should be a mid to late first-round pick.
Evaluators have told WalterFootball.com that Mosley's junior year tape was a lot better than his senior season. His statistics prove that. Mosley totaled 102 tackles with nine tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and five passes broken up in 2013. Compare that to his junior campaign when he led the team in tackles with 107 and also notched two interceptions, four sacks, eight tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two passes broken up.
Sources said that Alabama weighed Mosley down and had him thinking too much on the field as a senior. They had him responsible for their defensive checks and audibles. As a result, he played much tighter and was thinking too much on the field. Mosley was better when he played looser and was able to let his instincts put him in position to make plays.
Some have compared Mosley to Panthers star inside linebacker Luke Kuechly coming out of Boston College, but Mosley isn't the same caliber of prospect as Kuechly. The Panthers took Kuechly in the top 10 of the 2012 NFL Draft, while Mosley is being placed in the middle or latter portion of the first round. Sources said Mosley should still be a Day 1 starter who is a three-down difference-maker in the NFL, but doesn't look destined for the top 10 this May.
Like last year, this draft doesn't feature an elite quarterback prospect such as Andrew Luck, Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford. Thus, some of the quarterback-needy teams at the top of draft are considering the veteran quarterback market for a solution to their problem. The turnaround success of the Chiefs after trading for Alex Smith last season serves as an example of what a veteran quarterback can do for a team.
One quarterback to keep an eye on for a potential trade market is Steelers veteran Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger turns 32 in March and is entering the final year of his contract. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that there is some reluctance of the Rooney family to give Roethlisberger another big contract. Pittsburgh has had a history of letting pricey veterans leave when they hit the later years of their career, and Roethlisberger's off-the-field issues haven't been forgotten by ownership. At 32 years old, this is Pittsburgh's last shot at having quality trade value for him. The Steelers also have an aging defense that needs to be rebuilt, and they could decide to start a youth movement in Pittsburgh.
In speaking to Roethlisberger's camp, their priority is for him to re-sign with the Steelers and they want him to finish his career in Pittsburgh. However, they also want a big pay day. They want Roethlisberger to be paid like the other top quarterbacks in the NFL, and they know that this is his last shot at a big contract in Roethlisberger's career. If the Steelers aren't willing to pay it, they would be willing to look elsewhere for it.
Teams that WalterFootball.com has heard could be interested in trading for Roethlisberger include the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals. The Texans selection at the top of the second round and a 2015 conditional pick could mimic what the Chiefs gave for Alex Smith last year. Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians coached Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, and Arizona could use Roethlisberger to put the Cardinals over the top to get into the postseason in the NFL's toughest division.
A trade market for Roethlisberger hasn't started started cooking yet, but the ingredients are in place. There are interested teams, a pricey contract and reluctant ownership. Once the contract negotiations begin, don't be surprised if trade discussions pick up some steam.
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Sources Say Stephen Ross is Bungling Dolphins GM Search
Only two general manager openings are available in the NFL. If you speak to scouts and college directors, they would say that there is really only one such job, and that is with the Miami Dolphins. They feel that Tampa Bay's general manager position has been neutered with final say over players being given to head coach Lovie Smith. With the Miami job being the only true opening, many league staff members have been discussing the position at the East-West Shrine practices. The consensus opinion is that Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is not doing a good job of choosing candidates who will help his team on the field next season.
League contacts say that Ross is leaning on Carl Peterson too much, rather than speaking to staff around the league and finding a general manager who would mesh well with the Miami coaching staff. Sources say that Ross and Peterson are inclined to get a general manager who does not have a history with Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.
Philbin will be on the hot seat in 2014, and Miami fans are growing impatient with the lack of postseason appearances. Sources feel that saddling Philbin with an unfamiliar general manager is only going to make his job harder as they are forced to work together to put together a draft and free agency class that can help Miami make a playoff run next season.
Scouts do feel that the Dolphins' job would be a good one to land. The team has some talent on the roster, plus the general manager will have final say on player acquisition. If Miami doesn't have a good year, Philbin could be let go, and the new general manager will get to pick his own head coach.
Packers senior personnel executive Alonzo Highsmith would be a perfect hire for the Dolphins according to sources. Highsmith has risen up the ranks in Green Bay to become the right-hand man of Ted Thompson. Highsmith started as a college scout for the Packers in 1999 and has helped build multiple playoff rosters, including Green Bay's Super Bowl Championship team in 2010.
Sources said that Highsmith has worked well with the Green Bay's coaches, including Philbin when he was Green Bay's offensive coordinator. Providing Philbin with a familiar general manager who already understands his offense and what type of players are needed for the scheme would be an asset for Miami, especially considering the state of the Dolphins' talent-depleted offensive line that needs to be rebuilt on the fly to prevent Ryan Tannehill from becoming David Carr 2.0.
Highsmith played collegiate football at Miami and is from Bartow, Fla. He understands the challenges of South Florida and sources feel that Miami is making a huge mistake by not having Highsmith as at least a final candidate for the position.
Ross has made numerous mistakes in the past while running the Dolphins, and it appears that the trend is continuing with the general manager search.
What the Bucs' Plan Should Be After Firing Greg Schiano, Mark Dominik
The Buccaneers had to move into a new direction, so their firing of general manager Mark Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano comes as no surprise (check out Walt's coach firing grades). Dominik was 28-52 in five seasons with three seasons of 12 or more losses. He had many blown draft picks that led to losses, including Josh Freeman. He never brought in effective pass-rushers, while a lack of depth hurt the team every season. Freeman's off-the-field problems were known back in the 2011 campaign and were never adequately addressed by the team before his release.
Schiano was 11-21 in two seasons and was never a good fit in the NFL. His strict style rubbed players the wrong way. Some of the Bucs' best players told WalterFootball.com privately that they didn't like how Schiano was using them and that he wasn't putting them in a position to do what they do best. As one source said, "He doesn't understand that these aren't college kids where you can threaten to yank their scholarship. These are grown men and many of them are getting paid more than he is. He can't use the college style to get them to play together."
The Glazers made the right decision to clean house and start over. Going forward, the Buccaneers should look to some familiar faces to get the franchise righted. Lovie Smith was the Bucs' linebackers coach during their turnaround in the 90s. Considering what he did in Chicago, he would be a huge upgrade as the head coach over Schiano.
In the front office, Tampa Bay has some interesting names they could hire. Jerry Angelo helped build the Bucs' Super Bowl roster as well as Chicago's in 2006. He's in Tampa ready to get to work. The Glazers haven't been successful at identifying young up-and-comers as general managers or head coaches. They should go for proven commodities.
The Buccaneers should also look to hire Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes as their director of player personnel. Holmes is a Tampa native who went to Chamberlain High School. He's done a great job of building up young talent on the Rams' roster.
For better scouting, Tampa Bay should look to bring back scout Mike Martin. He grew up in Tampa and was with the Bucs during the Bruce Allen and Jon Gruden years before being hired away by the Texans. After leaving the Buccaneers, Martin helped lead Houston to signing Arian Foster and drafting Duane Brown along with many other astute draft picks. Martin would be a top-notch selection head to the Buccaneers' college scouting department, or the director of pro scouting if the new general manager wants to keep Eric Stokes on staff.
Why so many local guys? Tampa is a unique place to play. Playing in the heat is tough on a lot of players, especially lineman. You can't just take any offensive lineman from Wisconsin and expect them to perform as well in the hot and humid conditions. Some lineman don't hold up in the Tampa heat. And the party culture in Tampa Bay has ruined some players' careers in the past. The right players have to be brought in to keep these issues from being a problem, but it takes people who know Tampa well to spot the players who don't fit.
It can be done as evidenced by the franchise's string of success during the Tony Dungy and Gruden years. Angelo, Smith, Holmes and Martin all know this from their time in Tampa. They would be a great group to lead the Buccaneers back to being a relevant team in the NFL.
With today being Christmas, it is fitting to see which NFL teams would be the perfect gift for the elite prospects in the 2014 NFL Draft. NFL scouts, coaches and players will all tell you that going to the right team fit can make the difference in a first-round pick panning out or being a bust. The physical talent is there for selections to worthy of first-round picks, but going to a bad coaching staff or organization can ruin the pro careers of a lot of gifted athletes. Once a death spiral of confidence and abilities starts, a change of scenery may not be enough. With that in mind, here would be the best teams from the prospect's perspective.
Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Houston is the perfect landing spot for Clowney. With J.J. Watt and Brian Cushing in the front seven, Clowney won't have all the pressure on him to carry the defense. Watt on the other side will also provide Clowney with a lot more single-block situations than he would receive if went to a different team.
Clowney also needs to go to a team that will provide him with leadership to be develop a good work ethic as a pro. He can find that in Watt, Cushing and Antonio Smith - if he's re-signed. The Texans also have a good defensive line coach in Bill Kollar who will push Clowney to max out his great skill set. Landing in Houston would help increase Clowney's odds of panning out as a pro.
Atlanta Falcons: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Atlanta is a perfect scheme fit for Barr. Mike Nolan's defense has the ability to use him as an edge-rusher and outside linebacker. The Falcons' coaching staff under Mike Smith has done a good job of developing its first-round talents like Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Sean Weatherspoon. Having Weatherspoon playing next to Barr will also help the Bruin to pan out in the NFL. Barr would be a perfect candidate to fill the long-term void of losing John Abraham.
Cleveland Browns: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
With Josh Gordon on the other side, Watkins should see a lot of single coverage early in his NFL career. Gordon and Watkins could form a prolific duo for the Browns. Cleveland is going to need to find a capable quarterback to get them the ball, but consistently seeing single coverage could have a huge impact on Watkins panning out in the NFL. The Browns are one of the few, if not the only team picking in the top 10 that can offer that to Watkins.
Minnesota Vikings: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M
The Vikings would be a great fit for Manziel because of the supporting cast he would be walking into. A Minnesota signal-caller has a future Hall of Fame running back in Adrian Peterson; a young, talented play-maker at wide receiver in Cordarrelle Patterson and a young franchise left tackle in Matt Kalil. All of that talent around Manziel would help make his job a lot easier. The Vikings are in desperate need of a franchise quarterback, and Manziel would be fortunate to land with a team that has that kind of talent around him.
Tennessee Titans: Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
This is also dependent on at least part of the current coaching staff surviving. Even if Mike Munchak is let go, Bruce Matthews could be retained as offensive line coach on the next coaching staff. Jake Matthews playing for his father could be a challenge, but the Matthews family seems perfectly capable of making it work. The Titans could have some turnover at tackle in the next few years, so Matthews would be a perfect fit on the blind side. With Chance Warmack at left guard, Tennessee could have the best left side in the NFL for about a decade. Right now though, it seems unlikely that Jake Matthews would fall to the Titans' first-round pick.
Detroit Lions: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Similar to Watkins with the Browns, Lee would have a better shot of panning out if he goes to a team that doesn't require him to be the No. 1 receiver. With Calvin Johnson commanding so much attention, Lee would be in great position to see single coverage. He also has a talented quarterback to work with in Matthew Stafford, while USC legend Reggie Bush could help mentor Lee's transition to the NFL. The Lions also have young talent on their offensive line, so if the right coaching staff is in place, Detroit could field an incredible offense with a weapon like Lee on the other side from Johnson.
Oakland Raiders: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
There aren't many times when going to Oakland would be desirable for a prospect, but the Raiders could be the best landing spot for Bridgewater. Oakland offensive coordinator Greg Olson does a great job of getting quarterbacks to play above their talent level. After all, Olson was able to get some wins and production out of the likes of Josh Freeman, Blaine Gabbert, Terrelle Pryor and Matt McGloin over the past four years.
A talented quarterback like Bridgewater would be fortunate to land with Olson. He tutored Drew Brees early in his career, and Brees has told people around the NFL that Olson is one of the best coaches he's ever had. The Raiders have some talent on their offensive line with a ton of salary-cap space to add a pack of weapons for Bridgewater in free agency. In Oakland, he won't be under pressure to win immediately and can grow into being a pro quarterback. Bridgewater would walk into a better situation with the Raiders than he would in Jacksonville.
Bortles Grading Out Late First, Early Second Round
Central Florida junior quarterback Blake Bortles has gotten a lot of acclaim late this season as a top quarterback prospect for the NFL. Some pundits have stated they rate Bortles above Louisville junior signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater, the consensus top quarterback prospect. Last August, nobody was talking about Bortles being a potential franchise quarterback in the NFL, so to many casual fans of the draft, Bortles is still an unknown commodity.
WalterFootball.com reached out to sources and scouts around the NFL to gauge their early projection for Bortles' draft grade, and where he will go on Draft Day. As for his grade, Bortles is being graded out as a late first-round or early second-round pick at this time. However, sources said they believe that Bortles will go higher than the late first round to a quarterback-needy team. Thus, he could easily be a top-20 selection when all is said and done.
That grade could easily improve if Bortles impresses coaching staffs when they get involved in the draft process. He also could rise from there with good showings at pre-draft visits, the Combine and Pro Day performances. A friend of WalterFootball.com, Tony Pauline of draftinsider.net, reported that it is a "70/30" chance that Bortles enters the 2014 NFL Draft.
With the number of quarterback-needy teams in the NFL, and Bortles receiving that high of a grade as a starting out point entering the offseason, it would make sense for him to enter the 2014 NFL Draft. At the very least, Bortles should hear a conservative estimation of a late first-round or early second-round pick from the NFL Draft Advisory Board to base his decision off of.
Entering his bowl game, Bortles has completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,280 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The 6-foot-4, 230-pounder has a nice skill set for the NFL. He has a strong arm with good size and the athletic ability to scramble for yards.
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been viewed as a future high first-round pick going back to a breakout sophomore season. In the quarterback-needy NFL, many have viewed Bridgewater as an elite quarterback prospect who has the makeup of other No. 1 overall picks. However, WalterFootball.com has spoken with sources and has found out that Bridgewater is not grading out as highly as other first-overall picks.
League contacts say that Bridgewater is not the caliber of prospect of Indianapolis Colts' Andrew Luck (2012), Carolina Panthers' Cam Newton (2011) or Detroit Lions' Matthew Stafford (2009); all three were the first overall pick in their draft classes.
Sources say that Bridgewater has a good skill set, but not a great one. He is not the athlete or passer that Newton and Luck are. Bridgewater has a strong arm, but not an elite cannon. While Bridgewater has some mobility on rollouts, he isn't viewed as being close to the athlete as Newton or Luck. Bridgewater isn't projected to be a true dual-threat quarterback. The 6-foot-3, 218-pounder is also smaller than those other quarterbacks, and some sources have said that he could check out with a slighter build.
As a junior, Bridgewater has completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,523 yards with 28 touchdowns and four interceptions. In 2012, Bridgewater completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,718 yards, 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He is said to be a good student of the game and a hard worker, with a different personality than the majority of NFL players.
For many months Bridgewater has been viewed as the heavy favorite to be the No.1 overall pick. That could easily be the result on draft day as quarterback prospects tend to raise in the months leading up the draft. However in a deep class of quarterbacks, whoever is picking first overall could take another player like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney and address quarterback at the top of the second round. Bridgewater still has to convince evaluators that he deserves to be the No. 1 overall pick even though he isn't viewed to be on a par with Luck, Newton or Stafford.
Desmond Trufant Says Seferian-Jenkins Not a Character Risk
Washington junior tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been on the NFL's draft radar since he made his way onto the field as a true freshman. Over the past three seasons, Seferian-Jenkins has been one of the best tight ends in college football and could be a first-round pick if he enters the 2014 NFL Draft.
However, Seferian-Jenkins had an off-the-field issue as he was arrested for an DUI that caused him to be suspended for the 2013 opener. WalterFootball.com caught up with Atlanta Falcons' cornerback Desmond Trufant to get his perspective on Seferian-Jenkins. They were teammates at Washington in 2011 and 2012.
"He made a mistake, but he's a young kid in college," said Trufant. "Certain things go on and sometimes you get caught up. Unfortunately, it was him, but he is definitely a good kid. I can say that for him."
Seferian-Jenkins has 31 receptions for 361 yards and six scores this season. The Washington offense has been more focused on getting the ball to running back Bishop Sankey, while quarterback Keith Price has thrown to other receivers. Trufant doesn't believe the dip in production should impact his draft stock.
"He's obviously one of the best, if not the best, tight end in this draft coming up," said Trufant. "He has a hard work ethic. In the offseason me, him and Keith Price would always do one-on-ones, working on camaraderie and little details of the game. He's got a good shot at being the first tight end taken because of his work ethic and physical dominance."
While Seferian-Jenkins' receiving numbers are down, he has blocked well this season. Sankey has carried the Huskies' offense as he's averaged 5.8 yards per carry for 1,575 yards with 17 touchdowns on the ground. If Sankey enters the 2014 NFL Draft, he could be a second-day selection. Price has completed 65 percent of his passes for 2,662 yards with 19 touchdowns and four interceptions. The undersized Price (6-1, 202) could be a third-day pick.
"They're both great guys," Trufant said. "Sankey is a real quiet, humble guy. Keith is one of my best friends and we always work out. Those guys represent themselves well off the field as well."
With the majority of his rookies season over, Trufant believes that both Sankey and Price have what it takes to be on NFL teams.
"Definitely, in large part because of how hard they work. Every day they're striving to get better," said Trufant. "They're working hard to get this point and they will to stay in this league. They'll definitely make an impact in the NFL."
The 6-foot-6, 266-pounder Seferian-Jenkins has a rare combination of size, speed and athleticism. He made an immediate impact as a freshman in 2011. He was an absolute force as a receiver and a blocker, totaling 41 receptions for 538 yards and six touchdowns. He followed that up with a sensational sophomore season as he caught 69 passes for 852 yards and seven touchdowns in 2012.
Texas Tech junior tight end Jace Amaro has been one of the best tight ends in college football this season. A few weeks ago, Amaro surprised many when he tweeted that he was going to return for his senior campaign. However, Amaro wouldn't be the first player to change his mind and enter the draft. Sources tell WalterFootball.com that they believe that has happened with Amaro. Sources say that the junior is very likely to come out and has told some around the Tech program that he is going to enter the 2014 NFL Draft.
There is no doubt that Amaro's receiving ability will be in high demand in the passing-driven NFL. His blocking could be a potential area of improvement for him; one source with a NFL team said that was a concern for Tyler Eifert, but that didn't stop the rookie from being a first-round pick by Cincinnati last April.
If Amaro enters the 2014 NFL Draft, he would be in the running to be the first tight end selected with North Carolina's Eric Ebron and Washington's Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Those two also could skip their senior seasons to go the NFL. If Amaro, Ebron and Seferian-Jenkins all enter the 2014 NFL Draft, this could be a rare year of strength for the tight end class, similar to the guard position in the 2013 NFL Draft. Amaro will be an interesting player to monitor when the seasons ends.
Amaro has 92 receptions for 1,157 yards with six touchdowns this season. He has been a matchup nightmare with many huge Saturdays for the Red Raiders. The 6-foot-5, 260-pounder has good size to go along with superb quickness and hands.
Purifoy, Roberson Viewed as Late First-, Early Second-Round Picks
The Florida program's worst-kept secret is that junior cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy are going to skip their senior seasons and enter the 2014 NFL Draft. Both Roberson and Purifoy have a nice combination of size, speed and athletic ability. While the Gators have had a disappointing season, Purifoy and Roberson have been solid.
WalterFootball.com caught up with some league sources to gauge where Roberson and Purifoy are being evaluated. There are definitely scouts that like Roberson and Purifoy; they said that they view both players as late first-round or early second-round picks.
Roberson (6-0, 178) is the more natural cover corner. Florida has put him on an island in man coverage going back to his first season as a true freshman. He also has been a good punt returner for Florida. The 2013 season hasn't gone as planned as a sprained knee caused Roberson to miss three games. The junior has 11 tackles with three passes broken up this season.
Sources believe that Purifoy will be a good fit as a nickel back and core special teams player. Purifoy (6-1, 189) has been one of the top special-teams players in the country the past two years. He blocked a punt against Miami and recovered a fumble on special teams against Missouri. Purifoy has 17 tackles, an interception and five passes defended so far this year. He was an animal against Arkansas with a strip-sack and an interception returned 42 yards for a touchdown. He had a sack for a safety against Georgia. Purifoy was also a special-teams demon in 2012.
The Gators have a lot to rebuild after this season, and it sounds like that includes replacing their top two cornerbacks. Going late in the first round or early in the second round to start their NFL careers looks like the next step for Roberson and Purifoy.
Last April, Florida State sent a big group of players to the NFL and this year could be more of the same. While redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has gotten all the headlines, the Seminoles have a lot of NFL talent on both sides of the ball. Scouts have told WalterFootball.com that one junior who is playing his way into the late stages of the first round is Florida State junior defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan.
The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Jernigan has been the Seminoles best defensive lineman after they lost Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner to the NFL. The junior has 21 tackles, two sacks and five tackles for a loss in 2013. He has been more disruptive than the numbers illustrate. As a freshman he totaled 30 tackles, six tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. He recorded 45 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks in 2012.
One issue for Jernigan in terms of being a first-round pick could be scheme fit. Scouts agreed with me that he would be a fit for a team needing a three technique. Teams picking in the back half of the first round that could consider a three-technique defensive tackle include Dallas, Chicago and Miami. However, if the fit isn't there for Jernigan, he could slip to the second round.
Jernigan has some similarities to former Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, a first-round pick by the Vikings last April. Floyd was a true junior who finished the year in dominant fashion to become a first-round pick, and it wouldn't be surprising if Jernigan is chosen in the same range. If the fit is there, he could be a Thursday night selection.
Entering the 2013 season, the expectations were that Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik needed to have a winning season in order to return in 2014. Dominik survived one coaching staff change after the 2011 campaign, and in his fifth season, guiding Tampa Bay a jump to playoff contention was the minimum of progress needed to be shown. Things haven't gone as planned for the Buccaneers as they are off to their second 0-7 start under Dominik. In the five years under his stewardship, the Bucs have a dismal 24-47 record. The Bucs' owners, the Glazers, fired general manager Bruce Allen in January 2009 after five seasons where he went 38-42 and won two divisional titles. Obviously, Dominik has already fallen very short of Allen's success.
Allen inherited an aging roster as the Bucs had just seen their Super Bowl window close. The expensive roster also left Allen with zero salary cap room for three of his five years. Dominik inherited a great salary cap situation from Allen that has allowed him to dish out a plethora of big-money contracts to the likes of Darrelle Revis, Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, Dashon Goldson, Davin Joseph, Donald Penn and Eric Wright.
The Bucs' roster has a number of weaknesses starting with the quarterback position. Tampa Bay never had a good option to go with if Freeman didn't play well and now are starting a rookie third-round pick. The Buccaneers have been without a competent pass rush this season from their draft-pick defensive ends. They also don't have a capable slot receiver, tight end, No. 2 cornerback and nickel corner. Considering all the money spent on their offensive line and secondary, it is embarrassing that Tampa Bay has had spotty play from both units in 2013.
There is a long list of draft mistakes with early-round picks like Josh Freeman, Brian Price, Arrelious Benn, Myron Lewis, Roy Miller, Da'Quan Bowers, etc. Scouts from the Buccaneers and other teams have told WalterFootball.com that Dominik has almost never traveled to watch draft prospects during college football season. He's preferred to stay home and left that duty to others. In the scouting community, he has a reputation as a general manager who focuses on working with agents and the media. Tampa Bay has also blown lots of money in free agency on some terrible signings like Michael Clayton, Derrick Ward, Wright and many others.
All of this has led to a string of losses that has put Dominik and head coach Greg Schiano firmly on the hot seat in Tampa. The focus has been on a potential interim coach if Schiano is fired before the end of the season. Dave Wannestedt and Butch Davis are the top options. WalterFootball.com has heard from sources with the Buccaneers and contacts around the league that Bucs' director of college scouting Eric Stokes or pro personnel director Shelton Quarles would be good candidates to serve as a interim general manager if Dominik is fired before the season ends, like Carolina Panthers general manager Marty Hurney was last year.
Quarles is a former Pro Bowl linebacker for Tampa Bay who has been part of the pro scouting staff since 2007. Stokes was a college scout with the Seahawks before coming to Tampa Bay last year.
League sources have told WalterFootball.com that the Kansas City Chiefs tried to hire Stokes away at a higher position last offseason, but his move was blocked by Tampa Bay. Ironically, former Buccaneers scout Dom Green is the Chiefs' assistant director of college scouting. Green was the scout who discovered Bucs' right tackle Demar Dotson and pushed for Tampa Bay to sign him with a move from the defensive line to the offensive line. Many good scouts have left the Buccaneers in recent years because of a difficult working environment under Dominik and Dennis Hickey, the director of player personnel and former college scouting director.
Many around the Buccaneers expect Dominik to be fired. The Glazers have been aggressive in the past, as they fired two most winningest head coaches in franchise history, Jon Gruden and Tony Dungy. Some believe that Dominik could be moved to another position in the organization like Rich McKay was with the Falcons. However, McKay has a law degree with other business management skills, while Dominik has only served as a football scout in his career.
Firing Dominik before the season ends would make sense if the Glazers want to get a head start on other teams that that are in the market for a new general manager. That would allow them to interview general manager candidates before other teams have the chance. Getting a general manager in place for the coaching search early would be more advantageous than the last two coaching changes when the Bucs had to settle for weaker assistants after the head coach was hired in late January.
Some sources believe the Glazers will be targeting an established and experienced general manager like former Colts' head Bill Polian. If the Glazers do want to start their general manager search early at least they have Stokes or Quarles available to serve in an interim capacity while they hope to find the architect capable of turning the franchise around.
Redshirt Sophomores, Height Could Prompt Slide for Tajh Boyd
Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the No. 1 quarterback prospect for the 2014 NFL Draft. After Bridgewater, there is an opening for the consensus second-ranked prospect. Many have elevated Clemson's Tajh Boyd into that spot. The strong-armed and mobile Boyd has been a consistent point producer the past three seasons for the Tigers. However after speaking with sources, they believe that there is a good chance that Boyd will end up being a mid-to-late first-round pick.
The first reason that Boyd could slide is many scouts believe that at least one of the star redshirt sophomore quarterbacks will declare. The two they are speaking of are Oregon's Marcus Mariota (6-4, 211) and UCLA's Brett Hundley (6-3, 222). Both have a special combination of passing ability, size and mobility. Both programs have excelled the past two seasons with them as their starting quarterbacks. Sources believe that one of those quarterbacks will enter the draft as a potential high first-round pick, with some believing they could challenge Bridgewater as the top-rated signal caller.
The main reason that sources feel Boyd will go lower than those quarterbacks is height. Clemson has Boyd listed at 6-foot-1, but sources say that is very generous. They say they believe that he will measure in the 5-foot-11 to 6-foot range at the Senior Bowl or Combine. Sources believe that some teams will ding him for the lack of height. Helping Boyd's argument against that perceived negative is the success of shorter quarterbacks like New Orleans' Drew Brees and the Seahawks' Russell Wilson. Scouts have repeatedly compared Boyd to Wilson, citing their big arms, mobility and toughness.
Boyd has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,783 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions thus far. He's run for 250 yards (187 net) and five touchdowns too.
Sources have said that Boyd's completion percentage is inflated to a degree and he will need to improve his accuracy for the NFL. They feel he has the ability to do that, but it is an area that he can improve.
Everybody around the NFL and college football knows that Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel will enter the draft. But Manziel has the same height concerns as Boyd along with other potential negatives.
If Mariota and Hundley decide to return to school in 2014, that will help push Boyd up, but right now sources feel he will be a mid-to-late first-round pick.
WalterFootball.com has learned from sources that the Oakland Raiders are strongly considering signing free agent quarterback Josh Freeman.
Sources with the team believe that general manager Reggie McKenzie will sign Freeman assuming everything checks out OK after the team does their due diligence into Freeman's exit from Tampa Bay. The Raiders have been an obvious landing spot for Freeman as current Raiders' offensive coordinator Greg Olson was Freeman's offensive coordinator in Tampa Bay for the troubled quarterback's first three years in the NFL.
Freeman's best seasons in the NFL came under Olson's direction. In 2010, he completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,451 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 364 yards that season, as Freeman led Tampa Bay to a 10-6 record, its only winning season since firing Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen after the 2008 season. In 2011, Freeman completed 63 percent of his passes for 3,592 yards with 16 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.
After Olson left, Freeman had streaky play in 2012 with a completion percentage at 55 percent throwing for 4,065 yards with 27 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Freeman is only 25 years old, and there is no doubt that the 6-foot-6, 240-pounder has the physical talent to be an effective starter. Olson will have to get Freeman to erase the past two seasons. Sources with Tampa Bay have told WalterFootball.com that Bucs' head coach Greg Schiano killed Freeman's confidence and didn't handle the quarterback well.
Olson and the Raiders aren't in need of a starting quarterback as Terrelle Pryor has had an impressive start to the 2013 season. However, behind Pryor, Oakland has rookie Matt McGloin and veteran Matt Flynn serving as backups. If Freeman is brought in as the team expects, he could compete as a backup while he gets reacquainted with Olson's offense.
If Freeman is signed to a 2-year contract or is brought back in 2014 to the Raiders, he could serve as starting competition for Pryor if the first-year starter doesn't lock down the starting spot this season. Having Freeman and Pryor would give Oakland two young starting options that they could potentially rebuild their team around. Having those quarterback options would also give McKenzie more flexibility in the 2014 NFL Draft.
When the Buccaneers drafted Freeman with the 17th pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Olson was the quarterbacks coach in Tampa Bay. The Bucs then fired offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski and promoted Olson to offensive coordinator just prior to Freeman's rookie campaign. After the 2011 season, the Bucs changed coaching staffs with Schiano being named the head coach and Mike Sullivan coming in as the offensive coordinator.
During Freeman's rookie contract, he has had three different offensive coordinators along with a lot of changes at his position coach. The Buccaneers have had Alex Van Pelt (2010-2011), Ron Turner and John McNulty serve as the quarterbacks coach the past three years.
Since the start of the season, the Buccaneers have had an endless soap opera around Freeman and Schiano. Freeman wasn't voted a captain, missed the team photo from oversleeping, was fined by the team for missing meetings, gave an unauthorized interview to ESPN, wasn't allowed to watch the last game from his personal suite and was forced to go to an inactive player suite. Reports also came out that Freeman had voluntarily entered the league's substance abuse program after taking the wrong medication for an ADHD condition.
The Raiders are investigating the fallout with Tampa Bay, and if Oakland is comfortable with what they find, sources with the team believe they will go ahead and sign Freeman in the coming days.
Ever since Jim Harbaugh turned around the Stanford football program, the Cardinal has been one of the better schools in the nation for NFL talent. Harbaugh may have left for the San Francisco 49ers, but David Shaw has maintained the Cardinal as one of the top teams in the nation. Shaw has been mentioned as a candidate to jump to the next level with many NFL coaches on the hot seat.
WalterFootball.com caught up with Arizona Cardinals'rookie running back Stepfan Taylor, who powered Harbaugh and Shaw's ground offense from 2010-12. After getting acquainted with the NFL and the Cardinals' coaching staff led by Bruce Arians, Taylor thinks Shaw is an NFL head coach if he wants to be.
"I think if he wanted do it he could. His dad coached in the NFL and he has experience in the NFL as well," said Taylor. "He's definitely prepared for it. He and Harbaugh brought an NFL program to Stanford, so he's definitely got what it takes. I think he likes he like it there and said he wants to stay, so we'll see."
Taylor said the Stanford program runs in a similar manner as the Cardinals.
"We have a lot of NFL coaches on the staff with a lot of experience in the NFL, so they just taught us how to approach the game and be team first," Taylor said. "We bought in to the system and it was the players making the plays. Coaches had great game plans and put us in a position to go out and execute. You got to have physical players and smart players. They had a lot in the playbook for us to remember. They were great in the locker room at leading us."
With NFL experience in the Stanford locker room and running pro schemes, Taylor felt he was able to easily adjust to Arizona.
"It was a pretty good transition for me going from college. There weren't too many things that were different," said Taylor. "Coaches have a different way of teaching things, so I had to get used to that, but as far as the scheme goes Stanford has us extremely well prepared."
In practice, Taylor went against one of the best defenses in college football with a lot of players that are on the radar for the NFL Draft.
"Shoot to be honest all of them," Taylor said. "[Josh] Mauro, [Ben] Gardner, [Trent] Murphy, [Shayne] Skov, [A.J.] Tarpley, [James] Vaughters, Jarek Lancaster and other young guys are coming up too. Henry Anderson is a young guy. He's awesome. I remember him on scout team eating up the offensive line. They all have a lot of talent and are around great coaches. They'll be good at the next level. It was always a struggle going against them in practice. It was head to head and we hated going against them all the time, but it was good preparation to be ready to play another defense."
One of the players that is also well prepared for the NFL from going against that defense is Stanford senior guard David Yankey. He was a starter in 2011 on the right side of the line before playing left tackle in 2012. As a senior he moved to left guard. Taylor feels that Yankey is going to be a good NFL offensive lineman.
In Arizona, Taylor is waiting for his opportunity to contribute, and it could be coming soon. Veteran Rashard Mendenhall had two fumbles last Sunday against Tampa Bay and hasn't led the Cardinals to an effective ground offense.
"I just have to be patient and control what I can control," said Taylor. "I know I can play. I can't go in the coach's head, so I just have to be prepared for it."
Vaccaro, Stills Profile Texas and Oklahoma Prospects
While the Big 12 conference isn't known for the quality of their defenses, they have some quality pro prospects at some of the conference powerhouses. Texas and Oklahoma aren't as talented as they've been in past years, but both schools have some good pro talent. Two cornerbacks who are on the NFL's radar are the Texas duo of Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom. WalterFootball.com caught up with Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro, who played with Diggs and Byndom before being drafted by New Orleans in the first round last April.
"They got great talent and just need to continue to grow," said Vacarro. "They're just as talented as the guys at this level. I had always wondered what the difference was, but Texas has a lot of talented guys and if they continue to grow they can be here. The coaches had me ready for the NFL, technically and physically. If they follow the coaching they'll be fine."
When asked who else at Texas he thinks will be a good pro, Vaccaro didn't hesitate to say defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat. Coming off a two-sack game against Kansas State, Jeffcoat has reestablished himself after missing the last half of the 2012 season with an injury. Vaccaro said he believes that Jeffcoat will translate to the NFL.
"Jackson Jeffcoat - he has a great get off," said Vaccaro. "He's a great pass rusher. He's tough, he's a leader. He was injured last year but when he's healthy, he's dangerous."
A former rival for Vaccaro is current teammate Kenny Stills. Playing for Oklahoma, Stills had some vigorous battles with Vaccaro and the Texas corners. He also practiced against teammate Aaron Colvin, one of the top senior cornerbacks in the nation. After taking on NFL cornerbacks, Stills believes that Colvin is going to be a difference maker.
"Aaron is a great player," said Stills. "He's very quick, instinctive and smooth. His goal is to be here playing in the NFL and he's working his tail off. He's going to be good. He can get out there and make plays and I definitely he can do that in the NFL."
The Saints could consider some cornerback and pass-rushing help next offseason, so New Orleans' front office may go back to the Big 12 to bolster their defense with Colvin, Jeffcoat, Byndom or Diggs.
WalterFootball.com has learned from league sources that the Arizona Cardinals are planning on coming to Tampa Bay early before their Sept. 29 game against the Buccaneers. The Cardinals will stay in Bradenton, Fla. and practice at the world-class IMG Academies sports complex. IMG is the top pre-NFL Draft Combine training spot for draft prospects. Many veterans train there in the offseason as well.
Arizona will play at New Orleans this Sunday, so it makes sense for the Cardinals to stay in the Southeast and come to Florida early. By practicing at IMG, Arizona will get used to the humid Florida conditions and get adjusted to Eastern Standard Time. The game versus the Bucs has a 1:00 p.m. start time at Raymond James Stadium, and many in the NFL believe that early East Coast games can be a difficult adjustment for West Coast teams. Getting used to Eastern Standard Time could have the players in sync for an early game.
The same can be said for East Coast teams going to the West Coast. The Jacksonville Jaguars have stayed on the West Coast after playing in Oakland since they take on Seattle this coming weekend. Also, helping with the Cardinals' familiarity is Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer having played New Orleans and Tampa Bay last year when he was with the Oakland Raiders. After taking on the Saints and Buccaneers, the Cardinals will return home to battle the Carolina Panthers before crucial divisional battles with the 49ers and Seahawks.
There is a lot of NFL talent on the Gators for the 2014 NFL Draft. Florida has a trio of highly talented defensive players in cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, cornerback Marcus Roberson and defensive end Dominique Easley. WalterFootball.com caught up with Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed to get his view of his former teammates.
Reed battled the cornerbacks in pass coverage in Florida's practices. After getting a view of NFL talent with the Redskins, Reed thinks Roberson and Purifoy will fit right in at the professional level.
"I think they're great players, and I think they're both hard working and they'll pan out great in the NFL," said Reed. "Roberson and Purifoy are huge corners. They are both athletic. They are really long with long limbs. I think they're going to do great."
Both Purifoy and Roberson are considered to be first-round talents. When asked who else will translate well to the NFL, Reed had no hesitation in who he thought would be a good player at the next level.
"Dominique Easley. I think he's going to be a great player in the NFL," said Reed. "If he keeps working hard, stays focused and healthy, I think he's going to do great. He's big and just as explosive as any [defensive] end I've faced so far in the NFL. He definitely got me better. He has a lot of power."
The other player whom Reed made a point of mentioning was another pass-rusher, outside linebacker Ronald Powell, who had two sacks last week against Miami.
"Ronald Powell is going to have a good year as well," Reed said. "He's a hard-working dude and a great athlete as well. He's going to be good. He was really coming on before his injury."
For his part, Reed is optimistic that his role will expand and he will be a good contributor for Washington as a rookie.
"I feel like I'm getting better every week," said Reed. "The guys in my room and coaches are helping me a lot. I think if I keep working hard, it will continue to come around. I feel like the speed of the game is all right and I can play in this league. Also, I think I'll be playing like a fullback on some plays."
Reed felt the playbook was the biggest hurdle for him.
"Just the knowing plays," said Reed. "Not having any mental errors out there so they can trust me and know that I'm going to do the right thing."
After catching five passes for 38 yards in the season opener against Philadelphia, Reed appears to be nicely on his way to helping the Redskins this season.
Buffalo outside linebacker Khalil Mack became a break-out star last week. There was a nice buzz about him entering his senior season, but Mack showed what a play-maker he can be with a massive performance against Ohio State. Mack showed speed, power and the instincts to be a difference-maker versus the Buckeyes. Many view him as a potential first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Walt has him as high as No. 10 in his 2014 NFL Mock Draft.
WalterFootball.com caught up with Mack's former teammate Steven Means, a rookie defensive end with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Means said that Mack's production is no accident as his technique has been well honed for the NFL.
"Yeah, the coaches did a real good job of teaching us [how to get upfield]," said Means. "When we first got there, we weren't doing a real good job of getting upfield and getting to the quarterback. [The staff] made a real big emphasis on getting up field and getting to the quarterback with good coaching points."
Mack recorded nine tackles and 2.5 sacks against Ohio State, plus snagged an interception that he returned 45 yards for the score. The senior also had another sack-fumble that was negated by a facemask penalty on him. When it comes to the NFL, Means said he will be helping Mack with the biggest challenge of going from the college ranks to the pros: the mental hurdles.
"I'm going talk to [Mack] and continue to talk to him to get him ready," said Means. "He's physically ready, but I want to make sure he's mentally ready."
The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Mack looks like he will have to play outside linebacker in the NFL. His weight is undersized to play defensive end as a professional. Buffalo moves him around its defensive front, so 3-4 defenses should be very intrigued with inserting Mack in their schemes. Having battled Tampa Bay's offensive linemen in practice and played other teams in the preseason, Means doesn't believe that Mack needs to add weight for the NFL.
"I think [Mack]'s good as is," said Means. "He needs to keep working on the things he's good at; the things that the coaches like. He has power and he has speed. He's going to be a good fit in this league. I recommend him to stay where he's at and where he's having the most success."
Mack had 56 career tackles for a loss entering this season and has been a downhill play-maker for three years already. He registered 94 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss, eight sacks, four forced fumbles, one blocked kick and two passes broken up as a junior in 2012. Off the field, Means said Mack is a good teammate and a hard worker.
"We went hand-and-hand together at [Buffalo]," Means said. "We were always competing for sacks and competing for tackles. [Mack]'s a competitor. He puts in extra time in the weight room."
There is always a big jump in talent and the speed of the game for any player entering the NFL. Coming to the next level from a smaller level of collegiate competition makes that transition even more difficult. Means was able to beat the odds by making the Buccaneers' final 53-man roster. Tampa Bay has a need for edge-rushers, and Means showed some of that ability when he recorded 7.5 sacks for Buffalo as a senior in 2012. Means said he needs to keep getting better to earn game-day snaps with the Buccaneers.
"One thing at a time. I want to work on my get-off," said Means. "I'm going to work more on finishing to the ball; my pursuit skills; the things that I'm good at so I can master my craft in those areas and try to be an elite pass-rusher in this league. Coming from college, I played a three-technique, a four-, a five-. Here, I'm able to be outside more and rush the passer."
Means wasn't happy with his performance in the preseason, but it was good enough to keep a roster spot.
"Honestly, I want to first thank God for the opportunity and I honor him. Myself, I'm disappointed in my play," said Means. "I wanted to make bigger strides than I did. I'm going to continue to work and get better."
It sounds like Mack and Means both have the work ethic and attitude to compete in the NFL.
Scouts like Boyd over Manziel, McCarron, Renner & Morris
Area scouts are currently traveling across their regions sizing up draft prospects heading into the 2013 season. One of the most scrutinized parts of their preseason preparation is the quarterback position. The 2014 NFL Draft looks like it could have a deep quarterback class with the potential for a number of first-round signal-callers. Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater is the established front-runner and is clearly ahead of the other quarterback prospects. There is some debate about who would be ranked second behind him. WalterFootball.com caught up with some scouts to find out who they liked the most after Bridgewater.
Sources said that Clemson's Tajh Boyd was their second-favorite quarterback prospect. The other quarterbacks whom they named as rated below Boyd were Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Alabama's A.J. McCarron, North Carolina's Bryn Renner and Miami's Stephen Morris. Scouts said there were question marks about all four of those quarterbacks, while Boyd looks like a more complete prospect.
It is understandable for evaluators to hold that view of Boyd. The 2-year starter is more experienced than Manziel and Morris. McCarron also is a 2-year starter, but he plays in a run-based offense and has seen far fewer passing opportunities than Boyd. Sources also feel that Boyd's arm is stronger and his skill set is better than McCarron or Renner's. Clemson's high-scoring offense has been carried by Boyd the past two seasons.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Boyd was a dominant play-maker for the Tigers at times in 2011. The sophomore completed 59 percent of his passes for 3,828 yards with 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
Boyd elevated his play to another level in 2012. The junior put together a dominant season and was a force through the air. He carried Clemson to an 11-2 record and a last-minute comeback win over LSU in the season finale. Boyd completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards with 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran well with 769 yards (514 net) and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Scouts say they like Boyd's arm, field vision, toughness, decision-making and mobility. Sources also said that the senior is impressive off the field for his work ethic and leadership skills. They like his intangibles and feel he comes from a good family.
A few sophomore quarterbacks who could factor into the debate were not included in the discussion at this time (UCLA's Brett Hundley, Stanford's Kevin Hogan and Oregon's Marcus Mariota). Scouts are fully aware that a lot can, and will, change over the next eight months before the 2014 NFL Draft, but heading into the season, they feel that Boyd is the best quarterback behind Bridgewater.
News out of the Manning Passing Academy was that North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner was one of the most impressive quarterbacks in attendance. That caused some pundits to project Renner as a future first-round pick. After speaking with sources around the league, however, they say that it is time to pump the brakes on those projections. They feel Renner has some questions to answer before they are ready to agree with those lofty estimations.
Some league contacts told WalterFootball.com that Renner has an OK arm and is a decent athlete, but they don't see anything special that looks like it warrants a first-round projection heading into the season. In studying Renner, they didn't feel that he saw the field all that well and some are concerned that he lacks toughness with a fear of getting hit.
Scouts were positive in their defense of Renner. They said his receivers were young and very raw, and that he used his best weapon, tight end Eric Ebron, well. Scouts felt Renner was making improvements heading into his senior year.
Evaluators want to see Renner display good arm strength, see the field well and show toughness in the pocket this year. If Renner can illustrate improvement in those facets, it will definitely help his cause to be an early-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Renner completed 65 percent of his passes last year for 3,356 yards with 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He went 26-of-43 for 194 yards and a touchdown in the opener this season against South Carolina.
Scouts: "Clowney Lacks Work Ethic, Motivation; Has a Different Set of Rules"
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is going to be owning the spotlight for the 2014 NFL Draft over the next eight months. The physical phenom is known as the best player in college football and is perhaps the most coveted defensive prospect of the 21st century. Assuming Clowney continues to dominate on the field, the majority of the research from NFL scouts could focus on him off the field. WalterFootball.com has learned from scouts that what they are finding suggests Clowney lacks work ethic and motivation, and lives by a different set of rules from the rest of his teammates.
Sources have told WalterFootball.com that current Clowney's situation reminds them of when Mario Williams was at N.C. State. Clowney has a different set of rules from the rest of his teammates and he exploits it. During training camp practices, Clowney has been picking and choosing what he participates in and has shown less effort in conditioning.
"[Clowney]'s lazy in conditioning. He does what he wants and has a different set of rules," said one scout. "He has the attitude of 'What are you going to do? Bench me?' He isn't a great worker and he doesn't do anything he doesn't want to do."
In a recent interview with GoGamecocks.com, Clowney admitted that his conditioning in 2012 was subpar and he was out of shape. His coaches also said that Clowney took off about 20 percent of his plays last year.
Scouts said that the coaches were being generous and felt Clowney tried hard in far less than 80 percent of the snaps last year. While scouts say Clowney's motor isn't great now, they think that could change in the NFL if he lands with a tough, no-nonsense defensive line coach who can command Clowney's respect. Having some veterans who can do the same in the huddle would also help push Clowney to utilize his astounding skill set.
South Carolina's coaching staff doesn't have that authority over Clowney right now. Obviously, the Gamecocks need him to continue to be the dynamic play-maker he has been if they want to challenge for the SEC Championship. Pushing Clowney could cause a variety of problems that might hurt the 2013 season and could hurt the team's ability to recruit. Allowing Clowney to live by his own rules, but still have him star on Saturdays will keep the Gamecocks in the spotlight and help them to land the next superstars. While this dynamic isn't ideal, sources say that Clowney and the university staff get along well and genuinely like each other.
"[Clowney] has them by the balls," said another scout. "They know, and he knows, that he could just quit the team, train and still go at the top of the draft."
Staff around South Carolina have told NFL scouts that instant success in the at the next level could be the worst thing for Clowney. The belief is that he needs to be humbled and learn to push himself. Clowney doesn't have natural motivation and if he has some rookie struggles, scouts think that could spur him to become more dedicated to training. Over Clowney's career, it could be the best thing for him. If he has instant success, he could continue to think that his natural ability is good enough and he doesn't need to work hard to be a successful pro.
Scouts say that the 6-foot-6, 272-pound Clowney's natural athletic ability is the real deal. They said the reports that he ran the 40-yard dash in a time around 4.40 were accurate. He also did that without NFL Scouting Combine-style training.
"It's all God given," said one scout. "[Clowney] running a 4.40 (40-yard dash) was legit. He had no real training for it and doesn't push himself. You might not like how he works during the week, but when they say 'hut,' he clearly is the most talented guy on the field. However, he does love the lights and loves rising to the occasion when the game is on the line."
That could be seen last season in particular when he had a strip-sack fumble to seal a win for South Carolina against Tennessee. Throughout the game, Volunteer left tackle Antonio Richardson was playing well against Clowney, but late in the fourth quarter, Clowney came alive to make the play that kept the Gamecocks from allowing a comeback win. Of course, everyone remembers his forced fumble and recovery against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
In 2012, Clowney dominated the SEC and was one of the best players in college football. The sophomore amassed 54 tackles, 23.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles, two passes batted and 13 sacks. He finished sixth for the Heisman Trophy. In 2011, Clowney was the SEC Freshman of the Year and a Second-Team All-SEC selection. He totaled 36 tackles with eight sacks, 12 tackles for a loss and five forced fumbles.
Aside from living by a different set of rules, Clowney is said to be a fine teammate. He isn't a jerk or locker-room bully. Sources say he isn't a bad guy off the field either. Some have concerns about the influence of his father who served a stint in prison for robbery. Clowney was raised by his mother and grandparents.
While scouts feel that Clowney lacks work ethic, motivation and motor, and lives by a different set of rules, they don't think that will drop him down in the 2014 NFL Draft. They believe that good coaches and veteran leaders in the locker room could break Clowney of those bad habits. It sounds like where he lands in the NFL is going to be a big determining factor in Clowney realizing his full potential.
There were big NFL Draft hopes for running back Michael Dyer just a few years ago. All of that came crashing down after he was bounced out of both Auburn and Arkansas State. Dyer didn't play football in the 2012 season, and there was some talk that his career could be over before it started. After searching for an opportunity to play, Dyer was lucky to find a home in Louisville with head coach Charlie Strong. If Dyer can play well and stay out of trouble, he could make himself relevant to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Going to Louisville gives Dyer the opportunity to work with the top quarterback prospect in college football, Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater looks poised for a huge junior campaign after an turning in an excellent sophomore season despite playing injured. Defenses will be focused on stopping Bridgewater, so Dyer should see some good running situations.
Dyer ran for 1,093 yards with five touchdowns as freshman in 2010, averaging six yards per carry. That broke Bo Jackson's freshman running record at Auburn. With Cam Newton gone, Dyer carried the load for the Tigers' offense in 2011. He ran for 1,242 yards (5.13 average) with 10 touchdowns. Dyer was a First-Team All-SEC selection alongside Alabama running back Trent Richardson.
The 5-foot-9, 210-pound Dyer has a nice mix of speed and strength. After being effective in the SEC, he should be able to dominate the weaker ACC assuming he can learn the offense well enough to see the field over some veteran halfbacks. One big question mark about Dyer's game is his receiving ability. He only caught three receptions for 16 yards in two seasons at Auburn. Dyer should be able to answer that resoundingly with Bridgewater as his quarterback.
If Dyer has a big junior season and enters the 2014 NFL Draft, he could get consideration on the second day. Last year, Christine Michael was a similar back with a first-round skill set and off-the-field issues. The latter caused Michael to slide into the late second round. Equally as important as playing well on the field, Dyer has to prove that he is a changed man off of it. If the junior shows that he has matured and learned from his mistakes, that could help his draft stock more than another 1,000-yard season.
Since being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Johnny Manziel has been under an immense spotlight. His dynamic play meant NFL scouts couldn't help but notice him last season even though he wasn't eligible for the 2013 NFL Draft. Manziel has had a turbulent offseason since then, and scouts have told WalterFootball.com that Manziel could be blowing his shot at being a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Currently, Manziel is being investigated by the NCAA for rules violations by accepting money for autographs. That is just the latest of the offseason storylines surrounding him. A parking ticket led to Manziel tweeting complaints about College Station. He also had a well-publicized issue at the Manning Passing Academy when he left early following a missed practice. Manziel also has seemed to revel in his celebrity status and a high profile while partying. His maturity and off-the-field decision-making are big concerns for scouts.
Manziel is widely expected to enter the 2014 NFL Draft. Scouts are questioning whether the sophomore is able to handle the pressure and attention. They wonder if Manziel is going to get into trouble off the field and if he is committed to doing the necessary work to be great in the NFL.
Physically, scouts like Manziel's game. He is a dangerous weapon who has the ability to beat defenses with his arm or legs. Manziel is instinctive and is a continuous threat to make something out of nothing. They say that he has the look of a first-round pick, but he could blow it with his the off-the-field activities.
Manziel dominated the SEC as a dual-threat quarterback. The redshirt freshman completed 68 percent of his passes for 3,706 yards with 26 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Manziel also ran for 1,410 yards (1,571 net) with 21 touchdowns on the ground. He was an absolute force for the Aggies.
Manziel had a statement game when Texas A&M beat eventual national champions Alabama on the road. Manziel completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards with two touchdowns in the air. On the ground, he ran for 92 yards. Manziel closed out the season by blowing out Oklahoma as he ran for 229 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Manziel completed 22-of-34 passes for 287 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
In order to be a first-round pick, Manziel needs to have another good season on the field and show improved passing ability with better footwork. Equally important to playing well, Manziel has to embrace a low profile off the field and earn the reputation as a hard worker who has leadership skills. He has to understand that scouts are digging into him as a person.
A.J. McCarron Hasn't Convinced Scouts of First-Round Status
Entering the 2013 season, there has been some debate about Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron. Some believe that he has a limited physical skill set and is just a game manager. Others say that McCarron is worthy of a first-round pick and that he's a future NFL franchise quarterback. WalterFootball.com caught up with some NFL scouts to get their opinion of McCarron. Right now, scouts told WalterFootball.com that they don't see the senior grading out as a first-round pick.
However, they think that could change during the 2013 season. They currently see him more as a game-manager rather than a play-maker. One scout asked what's the difference between McCarron and Brodie Croyle, a third-round pick of the Chiefs in 2005 who has been just a backup. Another scout thinks McCarron maybe be possible as a functional starter for the next level, but ideally would be a backup. In order to be a definite first-rounder, McCarron has to show that he has game-changing ability and enough arm strength to be an NFL starter.
McCarron has shown improvement over the last two years while contributing to Alabama's back-to-back National Championships. The first-year starter completed 67 percent of his passes in 2011 for 2,634 yards with 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. The junior completed 67 percent of his throws last year for 2,933 yards with 30 touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ran for 175 yards (171 net) and four touchdowns. McCarron makes good decision and is accurate, but he hasn't displayed a powerful arm and the ability to be carry a team on his own.
The questions about McCarron may not be clearly answered during his senior season. Alabama has a elite talent around McCarron with one of the best running backs (T.J. Yeldon) and wide receivers (Amari Cooper) in the nation. McCarron could end up winning his third national title with scouts still skeptical about him being an NFL starter. Despite his previous success, the 6-foot-4, 214-pound senior still has more to prove.
After losing veteran Dan Koppen to an ACL injury, the Denver Broncos were able to lure Ryan Lilja out of retirement to compete for the starting center position. Lilja is thrust into the competition without the benefit of the offseason training program, and it isn't clear what his conditioning regimen was like the past few months.
With quarterback Peyton Manning in his second season with the team, the Broncos have hopes of winning the Super Bowl. Denver needs quality play out of the center position to provide Manning with a clean pocket. The 37-year-old quarterback has never been a mobile player, so giving him good protection is an essential ingredient for the Broncos to reach the Super Bowl.
If Lilja is unable to inspire confidence in the weeks to come, there could be some other options for Denver to investigate in the trade market. Here are a couple of players for the Broncos to keep an eye on.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Brad Meester
The Jaguars are firmly in rebuilding mode, so rookie general manager David Caldwell would probably be thrilled to get even a late-round pick for Meester. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that Jacksonville has liked the way second-year pro Mike Brewster has developed, and he could be ready to play. Brewster was a standout at Ohio State and did well as a backup last year.
Meester is 36 years old, so he obviously isn't a long-term building block for the Jaguars. He also would probably be thrilled to play for a contender and close out his career by working with Manning. The Broncos sending a sixth- or seventh-round pick for a starting center makes sense considering their aspirations for the 2013 season.
Houston Texans: Ben Jones
The Texans like the long-term potential of Brandon Brooks at right guard. With rookie David Quessenberry showing impressive versatility, Houston has some depth on the inside of the offensive line. The team could, actually, have a numbers issue with keeping all its young backups. The Texans have a third-round pick invested in rookie right tackle Brennan Williams and he probably needs developmental time behind Derek Newton.
Houston used a fourth-round pick on Jones in the 2012 NFL Draft, so it would probably take a mid-rounder to land him if the Texans deem Jones expendable. Jones would have more long-term potential for the Broncos than Lilja or any of the other unsigned options. Denver should watch Houston closely during the preseason.
Other veteran free agent options to consider include Jeff Faine and the recently released Geoff Hangartner. Neither one has much power in the ground game, but either could contribute some pass protection.
Some Believe Gabe Ikard Could Be Next Lane Johnson
A year ago, there were very few people who knew who Lane Johnson was. The Oklahoma Sooner offensive tackle was flipping over to the left side having played right tackle in 2011. There were doubts about the junior college product's ability to protect the blind side of senior quarterback Landry Jones. Johnson answered them resoundingly and followed that up with superb performances at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine. Now, there is talk around Oklahoma that the Sooners have another offensive lineman who could follow the same pattern as Johnson in senior guard/center Gabe Ikard.
The 6-foot-3, 304-pound Ikard is a well-rounded player. He started 11 games as a freshman in 2010 and was selected as a First-Team Freshman All-American by numerous media outlets and named an honorable mention All-Big XII by the AP. Starting center Ben Habern missed multiple games with a broken arm in 2011, and Ikard filled in with seven starts at center. He returned to left guard for the final three games. With Habern retiring from football, Ikard took over at center in 2012.
Some around the Oklahoma program believe Ikard could wow scouts athletically the way Johnson did earlier this year. Ikard is also said to be extremely intelligent. The senior will have the challenge of working with a new quarterback this fall, but the Sooners do have some talent in the backfield for Ikard to work with.
The 2013 NFL Draft was a banner year for guards that debunked the old style of thinking regarding interior linemen as rare exceptions for a first-round pick. Sources around Oklahoma think Ikard could rise up boards after a strong senior year and impressive postseason. He could be viewed as a starting center candidate who has the flexibility to play guard. If Ikard plays as well as expected, he could end up being the top interior lineman available in the 2014 NFL Draft.
At the start of training camp, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said that the Bears don't plan on coming to any contract extensions during the 2013 season. That stance is surprising considering the number of high-profile players who are in the final seasons of their contracts with Chicago. Quarterback Jay Cutler, center Roberto Garza, safety Major Wright and cornerbacks Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman are all important starters for the Bears. Defensive tackle Henry Melton can't be extended under rules for players who had the franchise tag, but he also has his contract running out in early 2014. If the Bears have a slow start to the 2013 season, they could be in a position to sell off some of these veterans for a plethora of draft picks.
Emery was a long-time scout before becoming the Bears' general manager, so adding extra draft picks will have a big appeal to him. New coaching staffs also like to bring in their own players who fit their system. Those young players typically are preferred over veterans who are inherited. Thus, the new staff under Marc Trestman could be open to dealing veterans if the coaches aren't sold on the players as future starters.
A few years ago, the Bengals picked up a first-round pick and a second-round pick for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. If a playoff contender has an injury at quarterback, a veteran like Cutler could be an intriguing trade target.
There certainly will be playoff contenders that have injuries and could use help in the secondary. Jennings, Tillman and Wright should appeal to a lot of teams that need to improve their pass defense. Melton and Garza would also be big upgrades for many teams around the league.
On the flip side, coaches and front-office staff know that players often give their best performances when they are in the final year of their contracts. So this strategy could end up helping push Chicago to more success on the field. In that case, the Bears will be a formidable playoff contender and won't be interested in selling off any of these starters. If that happens, Emery may be wise to rethink his stance on contract extensions rather than letting a lot of talented players hit free agency at the same time.
Raiders Don't Have a Serious Quarterback Competition
From a distance, one of the most unsettled quarterback situations in the NFL appears to be with the Oakland Raiders. However, WalterFootball.com has learned from sources that the Raiders' quarterback depth chart has a clear view heading into training camp.
Oakland appeared to be secure with veteran Carson Palmer heading into the offseason, but gave him away to Arizona in a cost-cutting move. Now, a training camp competition will take place for the starting job with veteran Matt Flynn being the heavy favorite. The other participants will be Terrelle Pryor, and rookies Tyler Wilson Matt McGloin. WalterFootball.com has learned from sources that Flynn is pretty much locked into the starting spot. The Raiders don't believe that Pryor or Wilson will be serious competition to start.
There were some who hoped Pryor would be the quarterback of the future in Oakland, but he has had a hard time learning the playbook. Wilson also has had struggles in the classroom, and neither young quarterback is evoking confidence in their ability to run the offense. The Raiders used a third-round pick in the 2011 supplemental draft to select Pryor and a fourth-rounder last April to select Wilson. The franchise's former regime selected Pryor before the team changed its leadership in the front office, coaching staff and ownership.
The young quarterback who has been the most impressive has been McGloin. The undrafted rookie has been a quick study. McGloin (6-1, 200) doesn't have the physical skill set of the other quarterbacks, but he is a good student who has picked up the playbook and made good decisions. That could be seen in his collegiate career as well. McGloin completed 61 percent of his passes for 3,271 yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions last year. The senior also ran for five scores.
McGloin's performance is even more impressive considering the turmoil surrounding the Penn State program after child abuse scandal that rocked State College. McGloin also received good preparation from then new Nittany Lions head coach and former Patriots assistant Bill O'Brien. It sounds entirely possible that McGloin could beat out Wilson or Pryor for the backup quarterback job.
If that were to happen, general manager Reggie McKenzie may look to send Pryor away in a trade. McKenzie was part of the Green Bay Packers when they decided to make Flynn, a seventh-round pick, the backup over a second-rounder Brian Brohm. Brohm only lasted one season before the Packers cut him and stuck with Flynn as the backup to Aaron Rodgers. The market for Pryor would probably only be a late-round pick to a team that may have had preseason injuries at the quarterback position. Pryor also could be cut when the team drops down to the 53-man limit.
Sources think only an injury would prevent Flynn from winning the starting job. The team likes Flynn and feels they can compete with him. However, the Raiders' quarterback depth is a real concern heading into the 2013 season.
Scouts are about to start their preseason 2014 NFL Draft meetings in the next few weeks as training camps get going across the league. Teams don't assign draft-round grades before the season, but many area scouts already have an initial impression of the senior class and top draft-eligible underclassmen. The consensus top-two wide receiver prospects heading into 2013 are USC's Marqise Lee and Clemson's Sammy Watkins. Most rate Lee first, but in conversations with some sources, there are scouts out there who prefer Watkins over Lee.
Those scouts feel that Watkins (6-1, 200) is built slightly better for the NFL and believe that he could have the edge over Lee (6-0, 190) in terms of first-step explosiveness. These same scouts think the receivers are pretty even with each other right now, but the preference concerns Watkins translating to the NFL better.
Both players had tremendous freshman seasons in 2011. Playing opposite Robert Woods, Lee had a massive debut hauling in 73 passes for 1,143 yards and 11 touchdowns. Watkins totaled 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also ran the ball 32 times for 231 yards.
Lee was the best receiver in the nation last year and won the Biletnikoff Award. He put up astounding totals with 118 receptions for 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns. Watkins' season, on the other hand, never got on track after dealing with a suspension and never getting settled into an offense that featured teammate DeAndre Hopkins. Watkins registered 57 receptions for 708 yards and three touchdowns in 2012.
There could be the opposite results for them this year. USC is breaking in a new quarterback after losing Matt Barkley, while Clemson has one of the top passers in the nation, Tajh Boyd. Thus, it isn't unreasonable to think Watkins could have more production this fall.
Both receivers are held in high regard entering the season, and it wouldn't be surprising if there was a vigorous debate over whether Lee or Watkins is top wideout during the months leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft.
Many early estimations see USC's Marqise Lee and Clemson's Sammy Watkins as the top two draft-eligible wideouts in the 2014 NFL Draft, but entering the season there isn't a consensus third-rated receiver. One player who some could consider was perhaps the best wide receiver in the SEC last year, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews. He played well against elite competition and came up with some clutch performances for a Commodore team that won nine games and finished ranked in the top 20 in the nation.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Matthews was a First-Team All-SEC selection for last year. He had a great 2012 season-opener with a 78-yard touchdown against South Carolina among a total of eight receptions for 148 yards. Against Georgia, Matthews had 119 yards on eight receptions. Matthews also played well against Florida with eight catches for 131 yards and a score. He finished the regular season strongly, going over 100 yards against Ole Miss, Tennessee and Missouri. The junior amassed 94 receptions for 1,323 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012.
NFL scouts are on vacation until the start of training camp and teams don't assign draft-round grades before the season. However, many area scouts already have an initial impression of the senior class and top draft-eligible underclassmen. In speaking with some scouts, they felt a lack of speed would be the issue that could hold back Matthews.
In their estimation, Matthews doesn't have top-end speed necessary to be a first-round pick. Scouts agreed with my suggestion of former Baylor wide receiver Terrance Williams, the Dallas Cowboys' third-round pick from the 2013 NFL Draft, as a comparison. Williams was massively productive in college, and has some size, but didn't display the speed to cause teams to select him on Thursday night even though he led the nation in receiving yards last year.
Matthews will see a lot of double-coverage as a senior and will be challenged by playing with a new quarterback. Scouts feel that he needs to show more of a burst and quickness in order to get first-round consideration.
News broke Monday from the Columbus Dispatch that Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby and running back Carlos Hyde had major off-the-field legal issues in recent days. Hyde was dismissed from the team after being named as a person of interest on the assault of a woman. He will have to try to find a quick landing spot if he wants to play college football this fall. Roby, meanwhile, was arrested for a bar fight and could be facing a significant suspension after having charges filed against him. Both players significantly hurt their NFL future.
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has faced a lot of criticism this summer and dating back to his years at Florida for tolerating players running afoul of the law. He had to respond to that criticism this summer regarding former Gator and Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez after Hernandez was charged with murder. Considering the heat on Meyer, one could see the program giving Roby a stiff punishment to avoid further criticism.
The Buckeyes have a rather easy schedule to open the season, so if Roby lands a four-game suspension, it shouldn't prevent Ohio State from starting 4-0. Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M are their first four opponents. A four-game suspension would have Roby back for the fifth game against Wisconsin and the Big Ten conference schedule.
Entering the 2013 season, Roby is considered by many to be the top draft-eligible cornerback prospect in the nation. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder is fast and very instinctive. In the back end of the defense, Roby had a big presence and always seemed to be around the ball. Roby provided some clutch plays for Ohio State to go undefeated in Meyer's first season in Columbus. He registered 63 tackles, one sack, two tackles for a loss, 17 passes broken up and two interceptions as a sophomore.
Off-the-field problems have hurt cornerbacks in the draft the past two years. Janoris Jenkins, a former Gator under Meyer who was kicked out of Florida after Meyer left, fell to the Rams in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft despite having top-16 talent. Last year, LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu fell to the third round because of character issues. If Roby shows signs of maturity while dominating on the field, he could maybe break the trend. However, even if he goes in the first round of his draft class, this arrest could push him lower than where he would have gone otherwise.
Hyde (6-0, 242) was a potential mid-round prospect for the 2013 NFL Draft. He averaged 5.2 yards per carry for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. The power back could look to transfer down a level in order to play immediately. A year ago, that was the case for wide receiver Da'Rick Rogers, who went to Tennessee Tech after getting kicked out of the Tennessee Volunteers' program. Rogers went undrafted, and that could easily be Hyde's fate in the wake of his off-the-field problems.
WalterFootball.com surveyed some sources from around the NFL to get idea of who could be the top coordinator candidates next offseason. There were a number of interesting names mentioned. Here are the defensive coaches who were suggested to be the top defensive coordinator candidates.
Chicago Bears: Jon Hoke, Defensive Backs Coach
Hoke was able to get an incredible 2012 season out of Bears' veteran cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Hoke also has developed safety Major Wright into a solid young pro with upside for years to come. There were some who thought that Hoke would be the Bears new defensive coordinator after head coach Lovie Smith was let go, but new Chicago head coach Marc Trestman decided to bring on Mel Tucker from Jacksonville.
Hoke has coordinator experience at the college level with three seasons at Florida along and spent seven seasons coaching defensive backs with the Texans. If Chicago's secondary is able to maintain its high level of play during the 2013 season, Hoke could be a hot defensive coordinator candidate next January.
San Francisco 49ers: Ed Donatell, Defensive Backs Coach
Donatell should be a defensive coordinator somewhere. He has a lot of coordinator experience from stints with the Falcons (2004-06) and the Packers (2000-2003). Over his career, he has worked with some of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history, including Champ Bailey, Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, Darren Sharper, Ty Law and Brian Dawkins.
Donatell has spent the last two season coaching the 49ers' defensive backs and San Francisco has had excellent results. The 49ers' secondary finished second in the NFL in interceptions last year as the team won the NFC. Donatell could be San Francisco's next defensive coordinator if current coordinator Vic Fangio lands a head coaching job.
With experience in 4-3 and 3-4 defenses, Donatell could mold his defense to the players he inherits rather than forcing them into a scheme.
Washington Redskins: Raheem Morris, Defensive Backs Coach
The Redskins have had a weak secondary, and if Morris can turn the unit around, he should be a hot commodity as a defensive coordinator. Morris had a good first season in Washington after serving as Tampa Bay's head coach for three seasons. In his final year as the head coach and defensive coordinator of the Bucs, Morris had the 21st-ranked pass defense after leading Tampa Bay to the seventh-ranked pass defense in 2010.
After Morris was let go, the Bucs sank to the worst pass defense in the NFL and almost set the record for the most passing yards allowed in NFL history. That was after they used a top-10 pick on a safety and signed veteran corner Eric Wright to a big contract in free agency.
Morris is well equipped for any team that hires him with experience in both defensive schemes. He's learned the 3-4 defense in Washington after coming up in the Tampa-2 under Monte Kiffin. Morris' players love him and he has a lot of experience for a young coach.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Keith Butler, Linebackers Coach
The Steelers have been grooming Butler to be the heir apparent to Dick LeBeau for years. Year in and year out, Pittsburgh has had a dominant defense that has led the team to sustained success and postseason appearances. The work of Butler has been a big reason why.
Over the past decade, Butler has been one of, if not, the best linebackers coach in the NFL. The Steelers' defense has been led by tremendous linebacker play from the likes of James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons. Harrison was the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Multiple times Farrior was selected as an All-Pro. Woodley and Harrison are the only Steelers in team history to record at least 10 sacks in three straight seasons. The linebackers have been the leading position group to lead Pittsburgh's defense to being a perennial elite stop unit.
Previously, the Dolphins showed interest in making Butler their defensive coordinator, but he turned them down. It wouldn't be surprising if Butler receives more offers from other teams after the 2013 season, especially if Jarvis Jones has an impressive rookie season. Butler could decide to leave Pittsburgh for a defensive coordinator or head coaching job elsewhere in the NFL after this season, especially if LeBeau decides to stay on for the 2014 season.
WalterFootball.com surveyed some sources from around the NFL to get idea of who could be the top coordinator candidates next offseason. There were a number of interesting names mentioned. Here are the offensive coaches who were suggested to be the top offensive coordinator candidates.
Green Bay Packers: Alex Van Pelt, Quarterbacks coach
Multiple contacts suggested Van Pelt as a top offensive coordinator candidate. Being Aaron Rodgers' position coach can make anybody look good, but Van Pelt hasn't screwed up the veteran signal-caller. Rodgers had the second-best season of his career with Van Pelt in 2012.
Van Pelt also has coordinator experience with the Buffalo Bills in 2009. In 2010, Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman had the best year of his career with Van Pelt as his position coach. Van Pelt also played in the NFL, which carries weight with players in the locker room.
Rodgers is a good bet to produce a big season as long as he stays healthy, and Van Pelt could easily be a highly sought after coordinator next January.
New Orleans Saints: Joe Lombardi, Quarterbacks Coach
Numerous sources said Lombardi should be a top offensive coordinator candidate. Like Van Pelt, it easier to become a hot coaching candidate when you have an elite quarterback. Lombardi has served as Drew Brees' position coach the last five seasons, in which time Brees has rewritten the record books and won a Super Bowl.
With Lombardi as his coach, Brees has completed 68 percent of his passes for almost 20,000 yards and 156 touchdowns passes. Each season, Brees has been a Pro Bowler and has led the NFL in every passing category during that time. Lombardi played for Air Force and is the grandson of Hall of Famer Vince Lombardi. He certainly has the resume to be a coordinator and future head coach.
San Francisco 49ers: Geep Chryst, Quarterbacks Coach
Chryst is a veteran NFL coach who has been invaluable to the 49ers the past two seasons. He helped guide Alex Smith to the best season of his career in 2011. Smith had a complete turnaround under Chryst and the new San Francisco staff. The formerly mistake-prone quarterback became an efficient game-manager as he set the franchise record for fewest interceptions thrown (5) in a season with the 49ers advancing to the NFC Championship Game.
A year later, Chryst may have done an even more impressive job with second-year pro Colin Kaepernick leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Chryst has coached with Carolina, Chicago and San Diego. There is some talk that Chryst would prefer to remain in San Francisco, and he could become the offensive coordinator of the 49ers if Greg Roman lands a head coaching job next offseason.
Baltimore Ravens: Jim Hostler, Wide Receivers Coach
Hostler is in his sixth season as the Ravens' wide receivers and has a lot of experience in the NFL. He was an offensive coordinator (2007) and a quarterbacks coach with the 49ers (2005-2006). He also has coached with the Jets, Saints and Chiefs.
During the Baltimore's title run last year, the wide receivers came up with some clutch plays to help get the team into the Super Bowl. Hostler hasn't always had the best talent to work with, but he has developed a strong reputation around the league for being able to compete with whatever hand he's dealt.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: John McNulty, Quarterbacks Coach
McNulty is a veteran coach who spent three seasons as the wide receivers coach in Arizona working with Larry Fitzgerald. McNulty served as quarterbacks coach for the Cardinals last season with the worst stable of quarterbacks in the NFL. He has coordinator experience at the college level, plus spent years coaching receivers in Jacksonville, during the Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell era.
If Josh Freeman has a big season and earns a lucrative contract extension, it could set up McNulty to be an offensive coordinator, and possibly move offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan to a head coaching job.
WalterFootball.com's outstanding readers regularly suggest interesting story ideas. This one came from forum member Ragnarok. A year ago, he suggested we discuss some potential 2013 NFL Draft prospects who could flop over the next season and lead up to the 2013 NFL Draft. Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict, Ohio State center Mike Brewster and North Carolina defensive end Donte Paige-Moss were all considered to be potential first-round picks in the summer of 2011 before going undrafted in the 2012 NFL Draft.
In late June last year, I predicted that LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu and Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams could be potential Burficts. That turned out to be pretty accurate. Mathieu was kicked off his team a few weeks later and ended up being a third-round pick. Adams had a disastrous senior year and fell into the ranks of the undrafted.
Making similar predictions has been a lot harder this year as the 2014 NFL Draft class looks a lot stronger at the top. No player really stands out like Adams or Mathieu did a year ago. That being said, there were a couple of players who look like possibilities.
Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State
I like Crichton as a player, but I see some flaws that could cause him to fall a lot lower than most are projecting. Crichton needs to improve his hand usage and the ability to shed blocks. He has some quickness and strength, but needs his repertoire of pass-rushing moves to get better. Crichton is too reliant on a bull rush and he had some effort sacks on which the ball would have long been thrown by an NFL quarterback.
That being said, Crichton displayed some natural pass-rushing and play-making ability over the last two years for Oregon State. The sophomore had an impressive 2012 with nine sacks, 17 tackles for a loss, 44 tackles and a forced fumble. He had six sacks, 14.5 tackles for a loss, six forced fumbles and 74 tackles as a redshirt freshman in 2011.
It will also be interesting to see where Crichton weighs in. He's listed at 6-foot-3, 260 pounds. If Crichton is any smaller, he will be too undersized for 4-3 defensive end. I'm not sure the junior has the fluid athleticism and speed to be a 3-4 outside linebacker. Crichton is a good college player, but I'm not sold on him being a first-round pick.
Zack Martin, OT, Notre Dame
Like Mathieu, I think Martin will get drafted, but I could see him falling a lot lower than where most project him to go. Martin is listed at 6-foot-4, 304 pounds. That is very undersized for an NFL left tackle and it is possible that Martin's numbers are exaggerated. His measurements make him a candidate to move inside to guard if he can't stay at tackle. Still, I'm not sure if Martin has the strength that most starting NFL interior linemen possess.
Even though the Fighting Irish had a low sacks-allowed total in 2011, Martin, the team's left tackle, was inconsistent. The sophomore had stretches where he was getting beaten and allowing too much pressure on his quarterback.
Martin improved as last season progressed. The junior did a good job of contributing to a sound running offense. Martin's pass protection got better and he was much improved over a year earlier. Martin and Notre Dame struggled in pass protection against Stanford and were less than impressive against Alabama.
Aside from his height and weight, I'm not sure that Martin's arms are long enough to be a starting left tackle in the NFL. I could be wrong about him as the New York Giants took Syracuse left tackle Justin Pugh in the first round and he is very similar in size to Martin. I think Martin will get drafted if he stays healthy and has a quality senior season, but I could see him falling much lower than most predict.
One of the top quarterbacks returning to college football in 2013 is Clemson's Tajh Boyd. Many early 2014 NFL Draft predictions including Walt's 2014 NFL Mock Draft and mine have Boyd as a high first-round pick. Considering Boyd's production in recent years, it is easy to see why.
Boyd has been one of the best quarterbacks in college football over the past two seasons. He took over as the starter during 2011 and followed up his impressive debut with a phenomenal 2012 campaign. The junior put the team on his back and produced a massive year. It was very impressive considering the Tigers had a shaky offensive line and defense whenever they played a good opponent. Boyd completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards with 36 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He also ran well with 769 yards (514 net) and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Boyd finished the year by leading Clemson to a come-from-behind bowl win over LSU.
The biggest knock on Boyd is his height. He is listed at 6-foot-1, 225-pounds, but could be shorter than those measurements. Scouts who have met Boyd have told WalterFootball.com that the senior signal-caller could easily check in at 6-foot. They say that he is shorter than ideal, but is still taller than Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. They believe that Boyd is closer to Drew Brees in height.
These same scouts don't believe that Boyd's height will cause him to be downgraded before the 2014 NFL Draft, citing the success of Brees and Wilson. If Boyd produces a big senior season and continues to develop as a passer, scouts believe that he stands a good chance of receiving a first-round grade. Quarterbacks rise leading up to the draft, and the demand for good NFL passers is insatiable. Boyd's height may not fit the prototype, but there should be plenty of teams willing to look past it.
Even though the NFL is on vacation right now, scouts and talent evaluators are still thinking ahead to the fast approaching college football season. Scouting staffs for all 32 teams will be in preseason meetings less than a month from now. The scouting departments will be discussing which prospects they plan to watch and preparing for the college football season.
There are prospects who are nobodies right now, but they will shine this fall. A year ago, BYU's Ezekiel Ansah and Florida State's Menelik Watson were unknowns who were poised for breakout seasons that would vault them into being first- and second-round picks, respectively. While scouts aren't working hard on the 2014 class to identify the future Ansahs or Watsons yet, there are some players who already have a positive buzz around them heading into the season. One of such prospect is Florida State inside linebacker Christian Jones.
The 6-foot-4, 232-pounder has good size, length and athleticism. Jones also is very fast and able to defend the sideline. A first-year starter in 2011, he totaled 56 tackles, six tackles for a loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles. The junior made a lot of improvements last year. He led FSU in tackles with 95 with seven tackles for a loss and two forced fumbles in 2012. The Seminoles' defense has lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but Jones is expected to have a big senior season to lead the Florida State defense.
Sources said there was talk in the scouting community that Jones was going to declare for the 2013 NFL Draft, so some teams started working on their initial reports on him. He was described as being more athletic and less physical than Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic, a second-round pick of the Bears last April. If Jones had entered the 2013 NFL Draft, sources believe he could have gone in the second round. If Jones has a big 2013 season, it is possible that the senior could go even higher and be in the running as one of the first inside linebackers selected.
This is the time of year that coaches and front office staff fear the most as players are free of team activities. That fear is felt in the college ranks just as much as the NFL, and Texas A&M had the concern justified with the arrest of starting cornerback Deshazor Everett. TheEagle.com broke the story that Everett and teammate Floyd Raven Sr. were charged with assault and criminal mischief from a fight in April. The altercation started at a bar and ended at Everett's apartment complex. Everett and Raven have been suspended by the Aggies' coaching staff.
A year ago, superstar quarterback Johnny Manziel was reportedly suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin. Manziel's suspension was lifted he threatened to transfer, and the redshirt freshman went on to have a prolific season while winning the Heisman Trophy. Everett's suspension could cause him to miss some games, but he is a key player on an Aggie team that has lofty ambitions for an SEC Championship and more. It would be surprising if Everett's suspension extended into the middle of the season or went the entire 2013 season.
Everett could have been one of the top corners in the SEC this fall and still could be if Texas A&M reinstates him. The 6-foot, 185-pounder has a lot of ability and seemed to be just scratching the surface of his talent. The first-year starter was impressive in 2012, and he should be better now that he has a year of experience going against elite competition.
Everett totaled 56 tackles with seven passes broken up and two interceptions last season. He had a big game against the Crimson Tide to help the Aggies pull off a road win. Everett had five tackles a pass broken up and a late-fourth-quarter interception to help seal Texas A&M's 5-point victory over the eventual National Champions.
The 6-foot, 185-pound Everett has a nice mix of size and speed. If he comes back to the field, he should take on a number of good receivers and will have a lot of eyes on him when he plays against Alabama and LSU. Both teams have talented wide outs. If Everett can shut down those opponents and stay consistent versus the rest of the Aggies schedule, he could easily grade out as an early-round pick for his on-field play. Everett now has damaged his draft stock significantly with the arrest. Even if he only is suspended a few games, this incident will hurt him when he enters the NFL and could cause him to fall multiple rounds in the 2014 NFL Draft.
The Cowboys made one of the most shocking picks in the 2013 NFL Draft when they selected Wisconsin center Travis Frederick in the first round. Nobody expected Frederick to go that high, but Dallas was desperate for interior offensive line help. While Frederick is expected to solve their problems at center, the Cowboys have to get better play from their guards in order to be a playoff team next January.
Dallas is hoping that Ronald Leary can push veterans Nate Livings and Mackenzy Marnadeau, but the Cowboys could find some talented young trade targets later in the preseason. Two teams in particular stick out as being potential trade targets for the Dallas.
The Miami Dolphins have transitioned to a zone-blocking system under head coach Joe Philbin, which is a poor fit for heavy guard John Jerry. Miami also drafted guard Dallas Thomas in the third round this year. Jerry is in the final year of his contract and doesn't appear to be in Miami's long-term plans. Philbin has expressed concern and criticism for Jerry's conditioning in the past. Dolphins' general manager Jeff Ireland is open to trading veterans to build up draft resources, and sending Jerry to Dallas for a mid-round pick makes a lot of sense for both teams.
The other team that could be a good partner for Dallas is Kansas City. They have veteran Geoff Schwartz for left guard with two young competitors in Jeff Allen and Donald Stephenson. Kansas City took Allen in the second round and Stephenson in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but they were picks of the former regime. General manager John Dorsey could be willing to part with one of those youngsters if they are buried on the depth chart at the end of the preseason.
The Cowboys will hope that their in-house candidates solve their problems at guard, but if they don't, Miami and Kansas City are teams they should keep an eye on during the preseason.
Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo was considering entering the supplemental draft a year ago because he was facing a suspension to start the 2012 season. Rambo was coming off a great junior year where he finished second in the nation in interceptions with eight. He decided to return for his senior campaign and accepted the suspension handed down by the Bulldogs' coaching staff.
Rambo had a solid senior year, but he fell to the sixth round despite having the talent and production of an early-round pick. Perhaps if Rambo had entered the 2012 NFL Supplemental Draft, he would have gone a few rounds higher to a team that was desperate for safety help. The Browns used a second-round pick on Josh Gordon after he missed the entire 2011 college football season. While Gordon was more of a physical specimen, Rambo had a better career thriving in the SEC. It isn't a stretch to think a team would have used a pick in the Round 3-5 range on Rambo.
USC's Dion Bailey is another safety who could benefit from entering the supplemental draft this year. He spent the last two seasons as a Will (weakside) linebacker for the Trojans in Monte Kiffin's Tampa-2 defense. Bailey was basically a seek-and-destroy linebacker and he was impressive as a redshirt sophomore in 2012.
Bailey totaled 80 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, four interceptions and five passes broken up last year. He showed nice instincts and the ability to play well in pass coverage. Bailey had 81 tackles, two interceptions and two sacks as a freshman in 2011.
Bailey played safety in high school and has been asked to move back to that position now that Monte Kiffin has moved on to be the defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. The coaching staff agreed to the move, but now Bailey is in a serious fight for a starting job.
According to ESPN's Kevin Gemmell and Vince Verhel, Bailey is in a tough fight at free safety with senior Demetrius Wright and Leon McQuay III, a highly regarded freshman. By the sounds of it from the ESPN reporters, Bailey isn't a leader to be a starter in 2013. Considering he could be standing on the sideline, it might be in his best interest to enter this summer's supplemental draft.
The 6-foot, 210-pound Bailey could be a fit at strong safety in the NFL and could eventually learn how to be a free safety playing deep centerfield. He may not be ready to be a deep defender with the speed of NFL receivers after playing linebacker the past two years. Thus, the strong safety role playing near the line of scrimmage could be an easier transition for him.
There are a number of teams that still need safety help entering training camp. The Carolina Panthers have a huge hole at safety with a coaching staff on the hot seat. The Rams needed to get two safeties and only landed Bailey's former teammate T.J. McDonald. Dallas needs safety help and Bailey could be reunited with Kiffin. Other teams that could consider using a mid-round pick on Bailey include the Jets, Cardinals, Ravens and Dolphins.
This could be the best time for Bailey to jump to the NFL and it certainly looks better than being a backup as junior. That could kill Bailey's draft stock. Entering the 2013 NFL Supplemental Draft could be the best move for his football career.
The Oakland Raiders entered the offseason seemingly set in the short-term at the quarterback position with veteran Carson Palmer, but after giving Palmer away to Arizona, the Raiders are searching for a new starting signal-caller. The competition is between veteran Matt Flynn, youngster Terrelle Pryor and rookie Tyler Wilson. While Flynn is the favorite to win the starting spot, Oakland is more likely to feature veteran running back Darren McFadden during the 2013 season.
Sources and league contacts suggest that the Raiders know that a strong running game has the best shot at keeping them competitive. Their lack of talent on defense is especially glaring. As a result, Oakland's plan is to feature the ground game to try and control the clock and keep its defense on the sideline. The Raiders hope to keep games close entering the fourth quarter and make enough plays to steal some wins.
Featuring the ground game makes a lot of sense. McFadden could be the most talented player on the roster and has flashed in the NFL when injuries haven't knocked him out of the lineup. The 6-foot-1, 218-pounder has great speed to go with size, but has been unable to play a full season during his 5-year career. McFadden's best season came in 2010 when he ran for 1,157 yards (5.2 average) and seven touchdowns. The 25-year-old is in a contract year, so this is make-or-break time for him regarding his NFL career. The Raiders should get McFadden's best effort in 2013 as he hopes to earn a lucrative deal in free agency.
Oakland's plan is to run the ball a lot and feature a short passing game with Flynn. He doesn't have the arm strength to push the ball downfield, but can attempt to move the chains with the short, precision passes of the West Coast offense. Emphasizing the ground attack also takes advantage of perhaps the only talented position group the organization has.
Another one of the few areas of strength on the Raiders' roster is the offensive line. Oakland has quality blockers in left tackle Jared Veldheer and center Stefen Wisniewski. The team fixed its one hole by drafting Menelik Watson in the second round to play right tackle. Second-year pro Tony Bergstrom - a third-rounder in 2012 - is expected to make a big jump at guard this season. Veteran Mike Brisiel is adequate at the other guard position.
Oakland also built up some depth in the backfield by drafting a big, bruising power back in Latavius Murray. Another rookie, tight end Mike Kasa, will also contribute to the ground game.
The 2013 season could be a tough year for the Raiders, but if the ground game performs up its capacity, they could be a more competitive team than most expect.
We noted here on May 4 that Tim Tebow and the Patriots are a natural fit, so it wasn't surprising when he landed in New England. Tebow presents no risk and the possibility of a high reward as a third-string quarterback. New England loves players with good character, so the organization signing Tebow isn't a surprise. His team-first attitude and tireless work ethic are a perfect fit for the Patriot Way under head coach Bill Belichick.
Signing Tebow as a practice player alone makes a ton of sense as he could help prepare New England's defense for the spread-option offenses that are so the en vogue rage in the NFL right now. None of the Patriots other quarterbacks have the mobility to properly execute read-option plays. The spread option gave a lot of defenses across the league problems last year, so having Tebow as the third-string and scout-team quarterback could help New England's defense better prepare for starting quarterbacks the team will see on Sunday.
The Patriots showed interest in Tebow prior to the 2010 NFL Draft when he was a first-round pick of the Denver Broncos. Tebow was drafted by former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels, who is now back in New England as the Patriots' offensive coordinator. Ever since the Broncos fired McDaniels, Tebow hasn't had a coach who believes in and wants to work with him.
With future Hall of Famer Tom Brady still playing high-level football, Tebow lands in a perfect spot where he can develop and fans won't be pushing the coaches to play him. The Patriots are notorious around the league for suppressing the media, so you can expect some of the Tebow media frenzy to die down once the novelty wears off.
New England has taken chances on a number of high-profile, controversial veterans in recent years, including Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. Unlike those veterans, Tebow is good in the locker room and doesn't carry character concerns. Plus, he has former college teammates in Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez and Jermaine Cunningham to help him assimilate into the franchise's atmosphere.
Tebow gives the Patriots nice roster flexibility. If he proves to the coaching staff that he is capable of being Brady's backup, New England could look to trade current backup Ryan Mallett for a quality draft pick. Mallett will sign with a team as the starter or starting competition when he hits free agency, so dealing him would at least get the Patriots something in return.
Tebow has more starting experience than Mallett, so New England wouldn't be in the situation of having an inexperienced backup behind Brady. Learning from Brady, McDaniels and Belichick could definitely make Tebow a better quarterback. Brady turns 36 in August, so adding another young quarterback makes sense for New England. If Brady were to get injured, the Patriots have the team around Tebow to continue winning just like they did with Matt Cassel in 2008. McDaniels and Belichick are creative coaches who could emphasize Tebow's strengths and hide his weaknesses.
As I wrote in early May, "The Patriots can take their time to see if Tebow can make the improvements needed to one day replace Brady. Perhaps Tebow could be the Steve Young to Brady's legendary Joe Montana status. New England has nothing to lose by trying."
League Sources Believe Bills Will Have Big Changes in 2014
There have been a lot of moves made since the 2013 NFL Draft, as teams across the NFL restructure their front offices. Perhaps the most high-profile move was by the Buffalo Bills. Buddy Nix stepped down as general manager, with Doug Whaley stepping in.
Whaley, a former Wall Street retail stockbroker, has a tough task ahead of him. League contacts believe that Buffalo needs a lot of work with its roster in order to compete for the AFC East title. Sources who spoke with Whaley and the Bills believe that big changes will come in 2014. These sources think a lot of players are battling for their jobs and very few are safe under the new front office and coaching staff.
Whaley spent 12 total seasons with the Steelers, finishing up as high as their pro scouting coordinator. He also was an area scout for three years with the Seattle Seahawks. It is unknown how Whaley feels about a lot of Buffalo's draft classes in 2011 and 2012 when Nix was running the show and Whaley was the assistant general manager, but sources believe that the new GM was firmly on board with the Bills using this year's first-rounder on quarterback E.J. Manuel.
Sources believe that Buffalo has designs on a building an organizational culture like Pittsburgh's. The Bills also want a defense like the Steelers with an offense that is similar to the Saints. However, the franchise clearly has a lot to do to get to that level and unseat the Patriots as the class of the AFC East. League contacts think that Dolphins are on the rise and are much closer than the Bills or Jets.
It does sound like Whaley is well regarded. Other general managers and scouts said the Bills made a good hire. They think that Whaley is the right man for the job. It will be interesting to see how he goes about proving them right or wrong.
Everybody knows that the Houston Texans are one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the AFC right now. The organization has one of the best running games in the NFL led by a superior offensive line and talented running back Arian Foster. The team also has perhaps the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt to go along with a lot of other talent on defense. Thus, it made sense for Houston to sign veteran safety Ed Reed after losing starter Glover Quin in free agency.
The Texans wanted to bring back Quin, but weren't willing to pay him top dollar. The Detroit Lions were willing as they gave Quin a lucrative contract to help bolster their weak secondary. Houston signed Reed to a short-term contract that pays him quality money, but in signing Reed, the team used up some of the money that could have gone to filling a big hole at inside linebacker.
Veteran inside linebacker Brian Cushing is coming off an ACL injury and the Texans have nothing next to him. They didn't draft an inside backer and all the players available are flawed veterans.
It turns out that Reed could be damaged goods as he will miss the offseason program while rehabbing after hip surgery. Houston used its second-round pick on safety D.J. Swearinger and the talk out of the Texans' offseason practices has been that Swearinger looks like he could start as a rookie. Considering Reed is 34 years old, any injury is a real concern about how it will impact his play in 2013.
Houston could have used the money it spent on Reed - hindsight being 20-20 - to sign a veteran linebacker like Arizona's Karlos Dansby or Cincinnati's Rey Maualuga. It will be interesting to see how Reed pans out with the Texans, but his playoff experience could help get them over the hump in January. That is if he can stay on the field and keep Swearinger from taking a starting spot.
D.J. Hayden Scar Tissue Problem Anticipated by Other Teams
The news that Oakland Raiders cornerback D.J. Hayden would miss offseason practices after surgery to remove scar tissue took the Raiders, media and some fans by surprise. Oakland had stated both prior to and after the 2013 NFL Draft that Hayden had been cleared medically and was 100 percent recovered from his torn inferior vena cava. For reference, that's the vein that returns blood to the heart from the lower portion of the body.
However, WalterFootball.com heard from other teams that their medical staffs were concerned about the scar tissue that remained after Hayden's initial surgery.
Once the news broke that Hayden would be out of commission following the scar tissue removal, sources reached out to say an "I told you so" about Hayden's complications. Other teams giving Hayden a second-round grade prior to the 2013 NFL Draft was partially based on his injury. Those medical staffs were less confident in Hayden's recovery than the Raiders were. The latest surgery means he is not expected to be ready until training camp starts in late July.
Part of the problem for Hayden and the Raiders is unprecedented nature of this return. No other player has had this injury, so there is no model for the team to use; there is no track record for Hayden to follow. Oakland general manager Reggie McKenzie took a big risk by making Hayden his initial first-round pick. Hopefully for Hayden, McKenzie and the Raiders, this was a minor setback in what will be healthy return to the football field.
Since winning the Heisman Trophy, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel has definitely enjoyed the limelight and indulged his new-found celebrity status. Observers have already started knocking Manziel and questioning his focus on football. While there could be legitimacy to their claims, it hasn't been all partying for Manziel.
Manziel has spent time in California working with quarterback guru George Whitfield. In the past, Whitfield has trained quarterbacks like Cam Newton and Andrew Luck. Whitfield has worked with Manziel this offseason along with Clemson's Tajh Boyd and Ohio State's Braxton Miller.
The workouts were showcased by ESPN and college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit. Manziel was said to have filled out his frame with another 10-15 pounds of muscle. He also has worked to bolster his footwork, which will improve his accuracy and ball placement. College coaches are restricted from working with their players during the summer, so it's a good sign that Manziel committed to working with a serious top-level instructor.
For teams that could consider drafting Manziel next April, assuming he enters the 2014 NFL Draft, it is encouraging that he is devoting time in the offseason to improving. Herbstreit said that Manziel is driven and hungry to be better in 2013. Manziel's goal is to lead the Aggies to a National Championship. In order to do that, and be a high first-round pick, he'll need to focus his time improving rather than indulging in fame. At least he has shown some signs of that.
It has been rumored for months that the NFL league office wanted to move the NFL Draft to take place in early to mid-May. Team contacts say the true reason is to add more intrigue time and cut down on the dead period between the draft and training camp. The NFL has announced that the 2014 NFL Draft will move to May next year on a 1-year trial basis, but everybody around the league believes that the draft taking place in May is here to stay.
WalterFootball.com reached out to scouts and talent evaluators across the league to get their opinion on moving the draft. Every source said they disapproved of the move, but recognized that doesn't matter to the league. Scouts work long hours starting in August and going through the draft. They're constantly on the road and away from their families. Moving the draft into May will cut down on their family time.
Another impact of moving the date of the draft is the evaluation process. Typically, coaching staffs get started on the draft process around the Senior Bowl and hit the draft meetings hard in the spring. Coaches can have big influence on the draft process and completely change the players who are being targeted. Sometimes scouts have to sell players to the coaches just to help get them in the discussion.
Generally, scouts know the players better because they've seen them play for years in practice and games. They know the college coaches and staff in the football buildings. They use those contacts to get to know how players conduct themselves off the field.
Coaches, on the other hand, see the game tapes and make their judgements based off that and how they meshed with the player while interviewing them at the Combine, team visit, private workout or pro day. Many teams have been burned by coaches pushing for players because they got along well together and overlooked the feedback of the scouts. Giving coaches more weeks to be involved in the process could definitely increase their influence.
The NFL is thinking of fan interest and the bottom line. The league could potentially make more money off the draft by holding it in May. Ad revenue for the Web site and NFL Network could increase with more weeks of fan interest. Scouts and general managers aren't fans of the move, but that won't change the decision. They all believe that the new normal is the draft going on in the first half of May.
A number of league contacts and sources from various teams, have indicated that a number of people are surprised that former Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is still lingering on the free agent marketplace. Sources say they believe that Bradshaw still has plenty of good football left in him and are surprised that he hasn't found a new home. Their teams don't need a running back, otherwise they would've signed Bradshaw.
Sources believe that Bradshaw could remain on the market and may have to wait until the preseason to sign with a team that sustains injuries at running back. Considering the running back situation of a few teams around the league, Bradshaw could definitely serve as an upgrade. Here are a couple of teams to consider.
If the Raiders are going to be competitive in 2013 it will be because of a good running offense. Oakland has a ton of holes on the defense and its quarterback situation is a weakness with Matt Flynn or Terrelle Pryor. The one thing Raiders have going for them is a quality offensive line and running back Darren McFadden. However, he has had a hard time staying healthy. Behind him, the team has rookie Latavius Murray and veteran Rashad Jennings. Bradshaw would be a definite upgrade over Jennings.
Oakland figures to run the ball a lot this season to try and eat up the clock, keep its vulnerable defense on the sideline and keep the game close heading into the fourth quarter. Having a stable of talented backs is necessary to pull off that offense, especially if McFadden gets hurt again. Bradshaw would form a nice tandem with a healthy McFadden, plus Bradshaw would be a good scheme fit in pass protection for the Raiders. It makes a ton of sense for the Raiders to sign Bradshaw, but they may not have the money to do it.
New York Jets
The Jets traded for Chris Ivory and signed veteran running back Mike Goodson in free agency, but still have a need at running back. It sounds like Goodson could be getting released before ever suiting up after he was arrested for weapons and gun charges. That would open up a spot for Bradshaw to pair with Ivory in New York's new offensive scheme under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Bradshaw would be a good fit in the offense with his ability to function in the passing game.
Like the Raiders, the Jets don't have a lot of salary cap space. However, letting go of Goodson with the retirement of quarterback David Garrard could free up enough money to get Bradshaw signed. It makes a ton of sense for the organization to sign Bradshaw and keep him in the Big Apple.
It was reported by certain outlets last week that Chip Kelly banned red meat and the beloved Taco Tuesdays from the Eagles' cafeteria. I've spoken to a reliable source who told me those reports aren't completely true.
"There's still red meat there, and they even served fried chicken the day after the report was made," the source told me.
Also, there are stacks of delicious cookies still available that the players take by the handful. My source wasn't sure if the Taco Tuesday report was accurate or not, though he did inform me that many were bummed out when they initially heard the news/rumor.
Having said that, Kelly is definitely trying to help the players be more mindful of their diet. The spoons in the cafeteria now say what serving size they are. Kelly is also making sure that the players have as much information as possible about maintaining a good diet.
Even stuff as simple as that is a much radical change from what Reid used to do. My source told me that Reid would bring countless boxes of Popeye's fried chicken on plane rides and hand them out to the players.
"I didn't get an exact number," my source said when I asked him how many boxes of fried chicken Reid brought aboard the plane. "I think he got a box for everybody."
This isn't the most ground-breaking news, I'll admit, but I still found it amusing. It's just a slow news day, save for the Dwight Freeney signing. Click on the link for the Freeney grade.
Future Hall of Fame defensive back Charles Woodson has lingered in the free agent marketplace after being cut by the Packers earlier in the offseason. While Woodson has been in the NFL for the last 15 years, he was an All-Pro selection as recently as 2011, so he could still contribute at 36 years of age. The veteran plans on continuing his pro career, and now that teams have gotten a look at their draft picks, the market for Woodson is starting to blossom. Here are the destinations that make sense:
The Broncos are the favorites for Woodson. Denver has expressed interest in signing him and has the cap room to fit in the veteran for the 2013 season. The Broncos have an open competition at safety with young players like Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter. Moore was burned in last year's playoff loss to the Ravens by a late 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime. Woodson could be a good teacher for Moore and Carter next season and beyond.
Of the interested teams, the Broncos give Woodson the best shot at going back to the Super Bowl. He is reportedly going to meet with Denver, and it seems like his most likely landing spot.
The Raiders have expressed interest in Woodson, so a homecoming to Oakland appears possible. He was selected fourth overall by the Raiders in the 1998 NFL Draft. Oakland had a weak secondary in 2012 and lost safety Michael Huff this offseason. Woodson could be a great mentor to first-round pick cornerback D.J. Hayden. The Raiders aren't willing to spend a lot of money, so Woodson probably could get more from Denver.
Carolina is the final team that has shown Woodson that it is considering adding him to the roster. The Panthers signing Woodson makes a ton of sense. The safety play for Carolina was terrible in 2012 and the organization was unable to address the position adequately this offseason in the 2013 NFL Draft or free agency. The Panthers also had to cut veteran cornerback Chris Gamble because of salary-cap issues.
Carolina's coaching staff is under pressure, and Woodson could provide a nice short-term boost to the team's secondary. Bringing in Woodson would buy the Panthers some time to find long-term answers for the secondary in 2014.
New York Jets
The Jets have a hole at safety after losing LaRon Landry in free agency. Yeremiah Bell also left New York, and the team was reduced to signing the pedestrian Dawan Landry. General manager John Idzik made the decision not to draft a safety as he plugged other holes on a roster filled with needs. The Jets don't have a lot of money to spend, but bringing in Woodson could help shore up their safeties. He also would be a good influence on first-round pick Dee Milliner.
St. Louis Rams
The Rams needed two safeties this offseason and filled one spot by drafting USC's T.J. McDonald in the third round. Second-year pro Trumaine Johnson could play safety, but Johnson had an arrest this offseason and it might be a good idea for St. Louis to get some veteran stability. Woodson could be a good role model for Johnson and Janoris Jenkins. The Rams could afford Woodson, but haven't shown serious interest in the veteran yet.
Ronde Barber retired last week, ending a great career after 16 seasons that saw him set NFL records for a cornerback. He's the only corner in NFL history with more than 40 interceptions and 25 sacks. Barber was named to five Pro Bowls, three First-Team All-Pro selections and the NFL 2000s All-Decade Team, plus was a huge contributor to the Buccaneers' only championship team.
Barber made a successful transition to safety in 2012 and continued to provide big plays from his tremendous instincts. While he could've returned to the Bucs in 2013, that wasn't the only potential opportunity for him. Sources have told WalterFootball.com that the Washington Redskins were interested in signing Barber.
The links to the Redskins are obvious as former Tampa Bay head coach and defensive backs coach Raheem Morris is coaching the secondary in Washington. General manager Bruce Allen signed Barber to a long-term extension with the Bucs just after Barber turned 30. There are a number of other former Buccaneer staffers who are now in Washington. Barber and Morris are close personal friends after spending years together in Tampa Bay.
The Redskins were interested in signing Barber, but didn't have the cap room to afford him. He wasn't seriously interested in playing for any team other than the Buccaneers, so the Redskins would've had to make a lucrative offer to try and get him to change his mind.
Washington entered the offseason with glaring needs at cornerback and safety, and Barber could've had the opportunity to start at either position for the Redskins. However, with Washington having no cap space, the organization wasn't in a position to be competitive for Barber's services.
The Redskins addressed their secondary issues in the 2013 NFL Draft with second-round cornerback David Amerson to go with third day safeties Philip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo, but Barber would have been a great mentor to them. Barber was a model of professionalism on and off the field throughout his 16-year career. He could have helped Morris teach the rookies how to succeed in the NFL.
Playing for a Super Bowl is always a great motivator and Washington is closer to a championship having made the postseason last year. The Redskins feature a good pass rush, running game and one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL in Robert Griffin III. If Barber pulls a Brett Favre later in the summer and decides he isn't ready for his career to end, don't be surprised if Washington reaches out to see if a deal with Barber is feasible.
The 2013 NFL Draft was the first time in 50 years where there wasn't a running back selected in the first round. Leading up to the draft, the runner who was considered the most likely to go in the first round was Alabama's Eddie Lacy. The power back helped lead the Crimson Tide to repeat as national champions and projects as sturdy bell-cow in the NFL.
Lacy fell to the bottom of the second round before being selected by the Green Bay Packers with the penultimate pick. It was a surprise that Lacy was the fourth running back to be chosen after Giovani Bernard (Bengals), Le'Veon Bell (Steelers) and Montee Ball (Broncos). The reason for Lacy's fall in the draft were medical concerns stemming from multiple injuries and surgeries that treated his knee, pectoral and toe.
Scouts have told WalterFootball.com that most troubling injury was Lacy's turf toe. They said that he had surgery on the toe, but the issue is expected to linger and there is nothing more that can be done about it. Multiple teams' medical evaluations felt that Lacy would be playing with the toe injury for his entire career.
Other media reports have the Broncos and Steelers passing on Lacy because of the toe injury. Lacy insists that it won't be an issue in his career and he'll be ready for the start of the 2013 season.
The medical evaluation of draft prospects is a tricky projection. There were teams that removed Titans running back Chris Johnson from their draft boards because of concern about his neck. Johnson has gone on to have a good career for Tennessee with the neck being a non-issue. Perhaps Lacy will prove the medical reports of the Broncos and Steelers wrong, or maybe they will have made the correct estimation about Lacy not having longevity in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how this evaluation plays out.
Travis Frederick Graded Out Late Second, Early Third Round
Dallas selecting Wisconsin center Travis Frederick with the 31st-overall pick was one of the most shocking picks of the 2013 NFL Draft. The Cowboys had originally been at No. 18 before trading down with the 49ers. Many in the media were critical of the Frederick selection and felt that Dallas reached to fill a position of need.
The interior of the Cowboys' offensive line was a serious weakness that the organization had to address. Still, Frederick was taken too early according to other NFL teams. WalterFootball.com reached out to sources at multiple teams, and all came back with the same grade. Everyone had Frederick in their pool of players for late in the second round or early in the third round. Basically, the Cowboys took Frederick a round earlier than anyone else would have.
Dallas has already proclaimed that Frederick will start and said it had him ranked as the No. 22 player on its board. Teams don't typically reveal where they have players on their draft boards, so it feels like the Cowboys were trying to do their best to justify and sell the pick.
One of the teams that WalterFootball.com spoke with was looking for interior offensive line help. The organization had other interior linemen available graded higher, among them Kentucky guard Larry Warford who was the next interior lineman to be drafted. The Lions selected Warford with the third pick of the third round.
The only offensive lineman selected in the second round was Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson by the Raiders. Some teams felt that he could move inside to guard and there were teams that gave him a first-round grade. Warford or Watson were rated higher than Frederick according to the consensus around the league.
Dallas' drafts by owner/general manager Jerry Jones have come under a lot of criticism. If Frederick doesn't play well in 2013, the calls for Jones to hire a new general manager will be a lot louder.
Sources have told WalterFootball.com that the St. Louis Rams are going to promote Brad Holmes to a role as director of college scouting or assistant director of college scouting. Holmes has been with the Rams since 2004.
Holmes started out as a scouting assistant before being the National Combine Scout. He then covered the Midwest as an area scout before finally working as the St. Louis' national scout through the 2013 NFL Draft. Holmes has extensively covered the Southeast region and Rams general manager Les Snead has drafted heavily from this area in his first two drafts for the organization.
Contacts at with St. Louis wouldn't confirm or deny Holmes' promotion, saying only that the team's scouting moves haven't been finalized yet. Most franchises wait until after the draft to make changes in their scouting department, but Snead got started on remaking the Rams' scouting department in January. St. Louis fired assistant director of college scouting John Mancini and area scouts Drew Casani and Luke Driscoll.
Perhaps Holmes is replacing Mancini. Reports by the Chicago Tribune's Dan Pompei have former Bears scout Ted Monago taking over as St. Louis' national scout. Taylor Morton worked with Snead as a scout for the Atlanta Falcons, and Snead made Morton the Rams' director of college scouting in 2012. It would make sense if Holmes replaces Mancini as Morton's assistant and Monago replaces Holmes as the national scout.
It is crystal clear that Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher are continuing the process of remaking the Rams' organization.
Oakland Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie is highly regarded in league circles. Coaches, scouts and agents have all expressed that they believe McKenzie knows what he is doing and can turn the downtrodden franchise around. However, scouts were surprised at the risks that McKenzie took in what was essentially his first real draft as Oakland's general manager.
The Raiders were without any picks in the 2012 NFL Draft until the third day. Oakland had a compensatory pick at the end of the third round, but that was the highest selection the team had. WalterFootball.com reported in the final days before 2013 NFL Draft that the Raiders were badly trying to move down and that they loved Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. We also learned that if Eric Fisher or Luke Joeckel had been available, and Oakland found itself unable to trade down, the organization would have selected one of those offensive tackles.
The Raiders managed to move down with the Miami Dolphins and were able to land a second-round pick. Oakland was without its original second-round pick due to the Carson Palmer trade. The Raiders, sitting at No. 12 due to the Dolphins' trade, suprisingly passed on Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd for Hayden. Sources with Oakland said the organization loved both players.
Scouts have told WalterFootball.com they were surprised McKenzie went with Hayden. Both Oakland's secondary and defensive line are sorely lacking talent, but scouts feel that Floyd was the safer pick. Hayden almost died on the practice field at Houston last fall after a routine collision tore a major vein to his heart. He has been cleared medically, but a number of teams are scared of the injury happening again.
The Raiders don't share that concern, but there is no history of a player having dealt with and returned after this injury. That resulted in other teams giving Hayden a second-round grade. Given the lack of talent on Oakland's roster, scouts were shocked McKenzie would draft a risky player like Hayden with his initial first-round pick as a general manager.
Oakland took Florida State offensive tackle Menelik Watson in the second round. Some teams had given him a first-round grade. The British product has size, speed, strength and athletic ability. Watson is an upside projection since he only played one season of big-time college football.
The Raiders selected some more prospects with boom-or-bust potential on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft. Those choices included Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, Colorado tight end Nick Kasa, Tennessee tight end Mychal Rivera, Central Florida running back Latavius Murray, San Diego State wide receiver Brice Butler and Missouri Western defensive end David Bass. Scouts felt those were solid selections by McKenzie and some could contend to start immediately.
Oakland's roster was a massive mess when McKenzie took over. The team was in a horrible salary-cap situation and lacking draft picks. Essentially, the Raiders were worse off than an expansion franchise.
If the picks of Hayden and Watson work out, they will help get Oakland back to zero entering the 2014 offseason when the franchise has all its draft picks and a ton of salary cap space to work with. If the Hayden and Watson selections backfire, however, the Raiders will be further behind competitive football. Scouts said they were surprised that McKenzie took such big gambles in the 2013 NFL Draft. For the sake of Oakland's fans, hopefully those risks will pan out to validate the belief in McKenzie by coaches, scouts and agents.
New Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter was on the bubble of being a first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. If there had been a run on receivers, Hunter probably could easily have gone in the top-32 picks. However, WalterFootball.com has learned from scouts that there were teams that removed Hunter from their draft boards because they believe that his knee isn't completely healed from his 2011 ACL tear.
There were many teams that cleared Hunter medically, and league contacts said there were a few organizations late in the first round that almost selected him. However, concerns about his knee made those teams feel that other players were safer picks.
Some sources believe that Hunter could be fine for the long haul, but there were evaluators who were worried that Hunter could be prone to re-injuring his knee. The Titans traded up six spots in the second round to land Hunter with the 34th-overall pick.
Scouts have told WalterFootball.com that if Hunter can stay healthy and get further removed from the knee surgery, he could be a huge steal for Tennessee. They believe that his size and speed will translate well to the NFL and he will be a dangerous receiver in combination with Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder has displayed some deep speed to go along with his mismatch size. If Hunter had never been injured, he would have been a high first-round pick. Some teams believe that the knee injury was such a serious concern that they removed him from their eligible pool of players to select. Others were less worried and there were a number of teams that passed him medically. If Hunter is able to stay healthy and turns into a productive contributor, a number of teams are going to be second-guessing their medical evaluations.
Tim Tebow is available as a free agent and there hasn't been a receptive marketplace for him. It has become fashionable in the media to bash Tebow for not being an NFL quarterback. The critics neglect to mention Denver languishing with Kyle Orton at quarterback and Tebow taking over a 1-4 team and leading it to a division title. They also seem to ignore that Tebow had almost 400 yards of total offense in a playoff game against the No. 1-rated defense in the NFL. While Tebow certainly has room for improvement, he's better than the majority of backups in the NFL and some team's starters (Jacksonville, Oakland, New York Jets, Buffalo).
Of all the possible landing spots for Tebow, the one that makes the most sense is with the New England Patriots. There was a lot of talk before and after the 2010 NFL Draft that the Patriots had designs on drafting Tebow on the second day. Bill Belichick loves to obtain Gator products, as he has a close relationship with one of Tebow's biggest backers, former Florida head coach Urban Meyer.
Tebow was drafted by former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels, who is now back in New England as the offensive coordinator. The media attention in New England is always focused on Tom Brady, so Tebow's spotlight will be massively diminished sitting behind Brady. With a Hall of Famer in Brady, there won't be any pressure from the fanbase to put Tebow in the lineup.
The Patriots have taken chances on high-profile, controversial veterans in recent years, including Randy Moss, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco. Unlike those veterans, Tebow is good in the locker room and doesn't have character concerns.
Some former Gator teammates would help Tebow assimilate to the Patriots locker room. Brandon Spikes and Aaron Hernandez were big supporters of Tebow at Florida. Tebow's team-first attitude and tireless work ethic is a perfect fit for the Patriot Way under Belichick.
Learning from Brady, McDaniels and Belichick could definitely make Tebow a better quarterback. Brady turns 36 in August, so preparing for the end of his career would be astute planning by New England. Adding a backup like Tebow would allow the Patriots to trade backup Ryan Mallett rather than losing him for nothing in free agency. If Brady were to get injured, the Patriots have the team around Tebow to continue winning just like they did with Matt Cassel in 2008. McDaniels and Belichick are creative coaches who could emphasize Tebow's strengths and hide his weaknesses.
The Patriots can take their time to see if Tebow can make the improvements needed to one day replace Brady. Perhaps Tebow could be the Steve Young to Brady's legendary Joe Montana status. New England has nothing to lose by trying.
WalterFootball.com caught up with a few scouts to survey their opinions on which teams did well in the 2013 NFL Draft. Often scouts have a different view from the national media on which teams did well, so it's interesting to see whom they feel helped themselves on draft weekend. There was a consensus behind the teams below as having improved themselves substantially.
The Vikings were the team that was mentioned the most. Scouts felt Minnesota did a great job of filling needs with good talents. They felt that landing defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd with the 23rd pick was an absolute steal. His ability to be a disruptive three-technique was a big need, yet the Vikings were able to land the top talent in the 2013 NFl Draft at that position.
Minnesota filled its corner need with a tall, fast athlete in Xavier Rhodes. The Vikings' pick of Cordarrelle Patterson received a lot of praise as a replacement for Percy Harvin. Landing Gerald Hodges to help bolster the organization's linebackers was another nice pick.
The work of the Vikings recieved the most praise of any team in the league.
The Titans were praised as having a great draft as well. That could be surprising considering the team took a guard in the first round, but scouts said that taking Chance Warmack in the first round could prove to be a very shrewd move by general manager Ruston Webster.
Scouts agreed with the contention by WalterFootball.com that a guard like Warmack would do more to help Jake Locker and Chris Johnson than any other pick. Scouts also felt this could be a tremendous value for Tennessee from a salary-cap perspective. They believe that Warmack could become one of the top guards in the NFL during his rookie contract. Considering the massive contracts that have been given out to the likes of Carl Nicks, Jahri Evans and the Titans' own Andy Levitre, Warmack could provide massive savings from a salary cap and top-shelf talent perspective.
Second-round pick Justin Hunter was praised highly as well. Scouts felt he would be an excellent receiver to pair with Kenny Britt and Kendall Wright. They also liked the value that Tennessee received in cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson and center Brian Schwenke.
The Titans need young players like Jake Locker to step up, but clearly the team's front office has had a strong offseason to help Locker improve in 2013.
The Texans went under the radar because they pretty much stayed put and chose among the good talents who fell to them. Houston needed help at wide receiver and was able to land a plug-and-play player in DeAndre Hopkins. Scouts said Hopkins is a very polished receiver who does everything well. They feel he is a great scheme fit for Gary Kubiak and will be an immediate contributor.
Scouts said teams that draft well take a long-term view of their roster, which the Texans do as well as anybody. Their second-round pick of D.J. Swearinger is an example of that. Many felt he would go early in the second round. While Houston had more pressing needs, the team didn't reach for them. Swearinger can learn behind future Hall of Famer Ed Reed for a year before taking over as a starting safety.
The Texans' third-round picks, Brennan Williams and Sam Montgomery, could both be boom picks as each has a excellent athletic skill set. Williams was a monster blocker and played hurt in his senior year. He and second-year guard Brandon Brooks could form a lethal right side of the offensive line. Montgomery gives Houston pass-rushing depth after losing Connor Barwin. Linebacker Trevardo Williams does the same thing.
Scouts loved that the Texans nabbed David Quessenberry in the sixth round. He could have been a second-day pick. The athletic Quessenberry is a perfect scheme fit and will provide great depth with his ability to play any position on the offensive line. They also felt that Houston could have gotten some other steals in Jacksonville State wide receiver Alan Bonner and Bowling Green defensive tackle Chris Jones.
Scouts felt that the Texans' draft lacked the glitz of other teams, but it could prove to be a strong class years from now and one of the reasons for the organization's sustained success.
San Diego Chargers
New general Manager Tom Telesco received a lot of praise for what he did on draft weekend. Scouts said they liked what San Diego did in the early rounds especially. The Chargers' offensive line has been horrible and right tackle has been a weakness for years. Filling that spot with D.J. Fluker was a nice value considering San Diego missed out on the first-round left tackles.
Scouts felt that the Chargers got nice value in selecting Manti Te'o in the second round. They said the team's defense needs a presence like Te'o in the middle.
The pick that scouts liked the most was San Diego landing California wide receiver Keenan Allen in the third round. They felt that landing him was great value as he was borderline first-round pick. Allen could quickly be an impact wide out for Philip Rivers.
San Diego had a few bad drafts in the final years under A.J. Smith, but scouts felt that Telesco turned the tide with his first effort.
Even though Justin Blackmon was the fifth-overall pick just a year ago, he doesn't have a long rope with the new Jaguars' regime. ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Tuesday that Blackmon would be suspended for the first four games of the 2013 season. Jacksonville has a new general manager in David Caldwell and a first-year head coach in Gus Bradley. They weren't involved in drafting Blackmon, so the sophomore wide receiver needs to clean up his act to make sure he stays with the Jaguars.
Sources told WalterFootball.com that the new regime was rather lukewarm on Blackmon after watching the game and practice tapes from the 2012 season. There were staff members in the organization who felt that Cecil Shorts was the team's best receiver. Shorts caught 55 passes for 979 yards and seven touchdowns while being targeted on 106 attempts.
Blackmon caught 64 receptions for 865 yards and five touchdown in 2012. The rookie was targeted on 133 throws. He finished the year well and was able to produce more for the Jaguars after they switched from Blaine Gabbert to veteran Chad Henne.
Blackmon had off-the-field DUI problems at Oklahoma State, and after being drafted by the Jaguars, so his suspension wasn't a big surprise. He is going to have to work hard to make sure he is in the organization's long-term plans, as Caldwell and Bradley try to rebuild the the team.
WalterFootball.com has heard that the Raiders plan on drafting one of the elite left tackles if they fall to their pick at No. 3 overall. Oakland feels Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel or Central Michigan's Eric Fisher are too good to pass up. Drafting one of them would give them bookend offensive tackles with Jared Veldheer and shore up their offensive line.
If those tackles go in the first two picks, Oakland will probably select Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd. However, the Raiders think there is a good chance that they could trade down and still land Floyd. The Eagles, Lions, Cardinals and possibly others could trade up to the third pick for one of those left tackles. The Raiders are without their second-round pick and have a plethora of holes on their roster. If a quality second-day pick is offered, Oakland would probably slide down and select Floyd.
A lot has been made about the lack of first-round talent in the 2013 draft class. One general manager is rumored to have said there are only 10-15 picks that are legitimate first-rounders in a traditional year. WalterFootball.com reached out to sources, and they said the number was about 20 in their estimation. Here is a list of the positions and the amount of players at the position that were said to be first-rounders. The specific player is the guess of the author.
One Quarterback - Geno Smith
Two Guards - Chance Warmack and Jonathan Cooper
Five Offensive tackles - Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher, Lane Johnson, D.J. Fluker and Menelik Watson
Three Outside Linebackers - Alec Ogletree, Jarvis Jones, Barkevious Mingo
Three Defensive Ends - Dion Jordan, Ezekial Ansah, Tank Carradine
Three Defensive Tackles - Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson
Interestingly, the team that provided the information did not feel there was a cornerback or safety prospect that was a first-rounder in most years or as good as those 20 prospects.
In some of the late rumors, WalterFootball.com heard that the Bears are big fans of Desmond Trufant. It makes sense for Chicago to draft corner help as Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are older veterans. Phil Emery made a similar pick last year when he selected defensive end Shea McClellin despite having some good veterans.
Sources told WalterFootball.com that the Cincinnati Bengals are "all in" on Alabama running back Eddie Lacy. It makes sense because the Bengals badly need a feature running back and Lacy is a good scheme fit. He could be an option in the first round or early in the second round.
WalterFootball.com has also heard that the Raiders really like Houston cornerback D.J. Hayden. It seems unlikely Oakland could pull off moving down to get a second-round pick, but if they do, Hayden would be a target.
League contacts think the Jaguars would be foolish to draft Joeckel or Fisher with the second-overall pick. Head coach Gus Bradley said if they select one of them they would be starting at right tackle because Jacksonville already has a quality left tackle in Eugene Monroe. Even though Monroe is in the last year of his contract, getting a right tackle with the second selection is not good value. They could land a right tackle at the top of the second round in the form of Watson, Syracuse's Justin Pugh or Arkansas Pine-Bluffs Terron Armstead.
The Jaguars have a ton of cap space so they could sign a proven veteran right tackle after the draft. There are some quality options available in Andre Smith, Tyson Clabo and Eric Winston. Staff around the league think the Jaguars would be better off selecting an elite defensive talent like Oregon's Dion Jordan or Utah's Star Lotulelei rather than a right tackle.