With all the general managers, coaches and scouts in attendance for the Senior Bowl there was a lot of chatter going around. Here are some of the highlights from the rumor mill earlier this week.
The Falcons have used their previous three first-round picks on upgrading their defense, and by the sounds of it, Atlanta could make it four in a row. According to Falcons sources, defensive tackle is in the running for their first-round pick. The Falcons could use some youth in the middle of their defensive line, and there are some good first-round tackle prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Alabama nose tackle Da'Ron Payne and Washington nose tackle Vita Vea have caught their eye. The Falcons like both of them a lot. It seemed like they had Vea higher than Payne, but felt both of them were worthy of top-20 picks. If one of them slips to Atlanta, that could be a no-brainer, but the Falcons think both will be long gone as they have the 26th pick. Some Atlanta sources think Vea could go in the top 10.
Assuming those two are off the board, a player who Atlanta likes is Florida defensive tackle Taven Bryan. While Bryan hasn't gotten a lot of media buzz, Falcon staffers say that Bryan's tape is very impressive, and they are intrigued with him. The athletic Bryan had a breakout year, and he wasn't even on the Gators' preseason watch lists given out to team scouts heading into Gainesville. Bryan showed serious speed, strength and athleticism to cause havoc behind the line of scrimmage. He could be a three-technique defensive tackle or a five-technique defensive end. Atlanta also puts a lot into taking players with good character, and Bryan has that reputation. He had a late start in football and is somewhat raw, but has a strong work ethic he inherited from his Navy Seal father.
Atlanta has been very happy with the development and the character of Vic Beasley, Keanu Neal and Takk McKinley. Bryan could fit in that group with his character to go with impressive physical skills.
According to Los Angeles Chargers sources, some leftover needs from the 2017 NFL Draft could figure prominently in the Chargers' 2018 NFL Draft plans. Sources said that last year, LSU safety Jamal Adams was finalist for Los Angeles' first-round pick. The choice was made for Los Angeles as the Jets snatched up Adams one pick ahead of the Chargers. Los Angeles was thrilled to land Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams, and it feels that its offense is in great shape heading into the 2018 season.
With the offense being strong, sources with Los Angeles say that their 2018 NFL Draft class is going to be focused on the defense. The top needs the Chargers have in mind to address are safety and defensive tackle. If the right value isn't there at those positions, Los Angeles also could consider linebacker and cornerback. The only defensive position that doesn't seem to be in contention in the first round is edge rusher, as the Chargers are set with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. After their vigorous comeback after a rough start to the year, Los Angeles is optimistic about its team in 2018 and it feels adding more to their defense is their priority.
It is still very early in the process for the 2018 NFL Draft, but at the Senior Bowl, there was a lot of buzz that teams could be moving up high in the first round to get a quarterback prospect. The success of the trades from the Texans and the Chiefs to land talented young quarterbacks has other teams thinking that similar moves will be made this year.
One general manager told me that he thought three quarterbacks would go in the top 10, and there could be some teams moving up for them. After that trio go off the board, there will be some quarterback-needy teams picking high in the second round that didn't land a signal-caller, and they will have to move up in front of some of the playoff teams if they want to get a quarterback. Those franchises picking high in the second round can't count on playoff teams with aging quarterbacks passing on a young signal-caller. Teams like Pittsburgh, New Orleans and the two selections with Buffalo could be options for quarterbacks. Thus, the 2018 NFL Draft has the makings to be a very exciting first round with a number of franchises moving around and making some bold moves to acquire young quarterbacks.
Central Florida tight end Jordan Aikens is falling into the love/hate category. Some scouts really like his receiving ability and were impressed with the skills he put on display in Wednesday's practice. Those teams had a third-round grade on Aikens. Other scouts don't like Aikens because they feel that his blocking is terrible. Some teams have a mid-to-late third-day grades on Aikens. Even though some teams don't like Aikens, he probably will be a mid-rounder as there are a plenty of teams that are in the market for a receiving tight end.
In the realm of stating the obvious, sources around the league have been in agreement that Penn State running back Saquon Barkley is the best player in the 2018 NFL Draft. In talking with general managers, directors of college scouting, national scouts and area scouts, not a single one has mentioned a player they thought was better than Barkley. Perhaps there is an outlier out there, but I haven't found one yet. What happens with the quarterbacks will dictate how high Barkley goes, but there is no debate on who the best player in the draft is. Barkley has that locked up, and it shouldn't change before draft day.
A few days ago in the Hot Press, we discussed how one general manager thought Georgia running back Sony Michel could go late in the first round. Sources from a couple of other teams also had a very high view of Michel. Those teams have Michel as the second-rated running back in the draft behind only Barkley. Michel has seen his draft stock skyrocket over his senior year. Being the second running back selected and going on Thursday night of the draft seems entirely possible.