Monday Morning Draft is back! This is a column that delves into the past weekend’s action from an NFL Draft perspective. As the season goes on, the draft picture and slotting will become more clear, but every Sunday will provide a few hints for next April.
By Charlie Campbell.
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Play like Shizer for Kizer:
Cleveland maintained its draft status with a loss to the Bengals. Cincinnati pulled away to drop the Browns to 0-7 on the season. The Browns are the only winless team in the NFL. Obviously, Cleveland has a huge rebuilding process, and it all starts with finding a future franchise quarterback. Perhaps the Browns won’t blow it like they did last spring when they passed on Carson Wentz, but with a baseball general manager running the Browns, you can’t have any confidence that the franchise has the people in place to get it right.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco scored the first 14 points, but after that, it was all Tampa Bay as the Bucs rolled on the road. The 49ers are 1-6 and look like they could be the worst team in the league as the Browns play closer games on a weekly basis. San Francisco is in for a long year with a roster that lacks talent thanks to the poor decisions made by general manager Trent Baalke. For example, it is an unacceptable failure to go into a season with Blaine Gabbert as the starting quarterback. The 49ers’ Week 1 win was a fluke, and they could easily go 1-15 this season. If they land the No. 1-overall pick, getting a franchise quarterback is the priority.
Chicago lost on Thursday night to the Packers. The Bears kept the game close heading into the fourth quarter before Green Bay pulled away. There doesn’t seem to be much hope for Chicago to turn it around as the roster is lacking talent at a number of positions. The Bears (1-6) should remain in contention for the No. 1 pick throughout the season. If they land the No. 1-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, it would be time to release or trade Jay Cutler while starting the rebuilding process with DeShone Kizer.
It shocks me, that seven weeks into the season, the reigning NFC Champs are in the race for the No. 1-overall pick, but that is the reality as the Panthers are 1-5 on their bye week. Carolina has been hurt by letting Josh Norman leave as the team’s cornerbacks have been picked on all year. The offensive tackles have been a crushing weakness as well, and it is shameful that the Panthers brought back the tandem that cost them a Super Bowl. If the Panthers end up picking high in the first round, they could target a cornerback like USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey or Florida’s Jalen Tabor. Carolina also could think of an offensive tackle like Alabama’s Cam Robinson or Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett and LSU running back Leonard Fournette could be too good to pass on if they are available to the Panthers.
Let’s Play Matchmaker:
This section will look at some of the top talent in college football and match those prospects up with teams that have a dire need at the position.
Oakland Raiders: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt
The Raiders have been weak at middle linebacker all season and could use a difference-maker there. That was seen again against the Jaguars as Jacksonville was able to run for 105 yards on only 16 carries. Oakland needs a tough linebacker who can stop the run and be a contributor in pass coverage on third down. Cunningham would be a great fit in Oakland’s defense.
In 2016, Cunningham has 85 tackles with 13.5 tackles for a loss, one pass broken up and one forced fumble. He is a tremendous run defender who is very good at shedding blocks and making the tackle. Additionally, Cunningham is instinctive with the length and athleticism to function in pass coverage. Sources say Cunningham is grading out as a late first-round or early second-round pick, so that would put him in line for the Raiders’ Thursday night selection.
Detroit Lions: Desmond King, CB, Iowa
The Lions got a late comeback from Matthew Stafford to pull out a much-needed win over the Redskins. Detroit’s secondary has a very good corner in Darius Slay, but the Lions could use more corner talent around him. Jamison Crowder and Vernon Davis hurt Detroit on Sunday through the air. Taking cornerback talent early in the 2017 NFL Draft looks like a necessity for Detroit.
King is an athletic cornerback with impressive ball skills and also is one of the best tackling corners in college football. He has 41 tackles this season alongside one interception and six passes broken up. The senior has been a weapon on special teams as well in kick and punt returns. King had 13 pass breakups and eight interceptions as a junior. King should be a good value in the first or second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Philadelphia Eagles: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
The Eagles gave the Vikings their first loss of the season despite the Vikings’ defense keeping the Philadelphia offense in check. The Eagles need to improve their skill-position players for Carson Wentz and give him more play-makers. Philadelphia can’t rely on Ryan Mathews to lead the running game and could use more receiving talent for Wentz. A player like Kamara would help address both needs.
Kamara has been phenomenal for Tennessee this year. The 5-foot-10, 215-pound back is a dangerous runner and receiver. He is strong and tough to run between the tackles with excellent speed, hands, and route-running skills as a receiver. On the season, Kamara has averaged 4.9 yards per carry for 313 yards with three touchdowns while catching 22 passes for 260 yards and three scores. He would be a great addition to the Eagles’ offense from the first or second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
New York Jets: Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
The Jets have had coverage issues all season, and that could be seen again on Sunday as Baltimore’s Mike Wallace (10-120) was able to have success against New York’s secondary. Darrelle Revis is aging and declining, while the corners around him need to be upgraded since Dee Milliner went bust. Taking a corner in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft would make a lot of sense.
Jackson is a play-making corner who has a serious combination of speed and cover skills. He is very good at running the route and preventing wide receives from getting separation. In 2016, Jackson has two interceptions with 34 tackles and four passes broken up. He also is a dangerous returner with a punt and kick return for a touchdown this season. If the Jets are picking in the No. 5-16 range of the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Jackson would make a lot of sense and be a good value.
Cincinnati Bengals: Tim Williams, DE, Alabama
The Bengals took care of business over the hapless Browns, but once again the need for an edge rusher on the other side from Carlos Dunlap was visible. Dunlap and safety Shawn Williams were the only defenders to notch sacks of Browns rookie quarterback Kevin Hogan. Adding a pass-rusher to go across from Dunlap looks like a necessity considering Michael Johnson and Margus Hunt struggle to get to the quarterback.
Williams has been a pass-rushing demon this year, building off his breakout junior year in which he had 10.5 sacks despite his part-time role. The senior is seeing the field more and already has 6.5 sacks. He is on pace to pass last year’s sack total and far exceed his 2015 tackle total of 19. Williams is a fast edge rusher with a nose for the quarterback.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State
All year, the Buccaneers have had problems with their receivers not generating separation. That has led to Jameis Winston having to force too many passes to covered receivers, and that has lead to interceptions. This offseason, the Bucs have to get some wideouts who can get open and not just have starting receivers who use size to win contested catches.
Samuel (5-11, 197) is an explosive wide receiver/running back who is in the mold of Percy Harvin. He has averaged 8.2 yards per carry for 527 yards with four touchdowns on the ground and 37 receptions for 471 yards with three scores. Samuel would inject some play-making into the Bucs’ offense and would be a nice weapon for Jameis Winston. If Tampa Bay could land Samuel in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, that would be a great value.
Green Bay Packers: Bucky Hodges, TE, Virginia Tech
The Packers got back on track against the Bears with Aaron Rodgers throwing for 326 yards and three touchdowns. Rodgers spread the ball around, but the Packers didn’t get much from the tight ends as Richard Rodgers had one reception for seven yards. Green Bay has been missing a true receiving element at tight end for years. The 2017 NFL Draft could be loaded at tight end, so next April would be a great time for Green Bay to address the need.
The athletic Hodges would be a great fit in the Packers’ offense. The 6-foot-7, 245-pounder creates a lot of mismatch problems as he towers over defensive backs and has the ability to shield defenders from the ball. Hodges also is too fast for linebackers to run with in man coverage. The junior has 25 receptions for 323 yards with five touchdowns on the year. He had over 500 yards each season as a sophomore and freshman. Hodges could be a good addition for Green Bay with a second-day draft pick.
Team Draft Report:
In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2017 NFL Draft.
For the second straight season under head coach Dan Quinn, Atlanta has got off to a good start to the season with an impressive first half even though they lost the Chargers on Sunday. The Falcons have fielded the best offense in the NFL with quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones dominating the competition. With these two stars at the top of their game, the Falcons have a championship window if they can get their defense into Super Bowl form.
In speaking with league sources, the unsung hero of the Falcons’ season is wide receivers coach Raheem Morris. The former Buccaneers head coach was a defensive backs coach for Atlanta last year. That was the position he had with Tampa Bay prior to his promotion and with the Washington Redskins in between his NFC South stops. Last year, there was a lot of conflict in Atlanta’s locker room between the offensive players and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Many players hated Shanahan, and there were problems with communication between Shanahan and the players. Morris has always been a players’ coach, and Morris had a friendship with Shanahan going back years. Quinn asked Morris to move to the wide receivers coach in order to be the bridge between the players and Shanahan. While it didn’t look good for Morris’ career to do that kind of move, he did it to try to help the team win. Thus far, that move has really paid off as the Falcons’ offense has been superb this season. Shanahan calls plays from the box and Morris is on the field to coach up the players. It will be interesting to see if Shanahan gets head-coaching interviews this offseason, but if he does bringing, Morris along to any new job would be a wise move.
Back on Morris’ original side of the ball, the Falcons have a few needs to address. Vic Beasley is on pace for a double-digit sack season, but Atlanta could use a rusher on the other side from him. Dwight Freeney has contributed, but he isn’t a long-term player at this point of his career. Alabama’s Tim Williams, Missouri’s Charles Harris, Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot or Illinois’ Carroll Phillips would be good targets for Atlanta and could fit Quinn’s scheme well.
The Falcons also could use an interior pass-rusher as Jonathan Babineaux is aging. If they take a defensive tackle, they could target a player like Florida’s Caleb Brantley. He would be a nice interior disruptor for Atlanta.
Another need for the Falcons to address could be a Mike (middle) linebacker. Deion Jones could play the Will (weakside) linebacker for years to come, but they could use a bigger, tough Mike linebacker next to him. Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Florida’s Jarrad Davis, Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan or LSU’s Kendell Beckwith would all be good targets. The first three probably won’t make it to Atlanta’s second-round pick, so a player like McMillan or Beckwith might be more realistic targets.
Offensively, the Falcons are set at the skill positions. They could consider some offensive line competition and depth in the mid-rounds.
If the Falcons are able to build up their defensive talent, they could be a serious contender to be playing for a Lombardi very soon.
The Lions have been up-and-down this season. On any given week, they could beat any team in the NFL or lose to any team in the NFL. Detroit has a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and adding more play-makers on defense should be the focus of the offseason even though the Lions’ defense just played well against the Redskins.
Late in the last decade, the Lions had a string of high first-round picks who they hit on with Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford and Ndamukong Suh. All three of those picks were taken with top-two selections before the rookie cap limitations. Thus, they all had huge contracts and all were worthy of huge extensions. Detroit didn’t have the room to re-sign Suh as he got more money on the open market, and as a result, the Lions have had a hole at defensive tackle. Haloti Ngata was a great player for the Ravens, but is declining, so Detroit could use an interior table-setter up front. The organization made a mistake passing on Aaron Donald for Eric Ebron, but Alabama’s Jonathan Allen could be a similar prospect to Donald. Allen is a very fast, strong and versatile to get the better of guards and tackles. Playing next to Ngata and Ziggy Ansah, Allen could be a force for the Lions. He would be an ideal pick if they are picking high enough to get him. Kerry Hyder is a good role player, but Detroit could use a stud like Allen.
If the Lions don’t land Allen, there are some other interior defensive linemen for them to consider. Those players include Florida’s Caleb Brantley and Michigan State’s Malik McDowell. Brantley is a good fit as a three-technique defensive tackle in a 4-3 defense, while McDowell would fit best as a 3-4 defensive end.
Depending on who is on the board, a cornerback could also be in play for Detroit. Darius Slay has turned into an excellent pro, but the Lions could use an upgrade to pair with him. If they don’t go with the defensive line in the first round, there could be some good cornerback options available. Those prospects include USC’s Adoree’ Jackson, Florida’s Jalen Tabor, Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey, Ohio State’s Marshon Lattimore or LSU’s Tre’Davious White. Having an elite cornerback tandem would be huge for the Lions.
After the defensive line or a cornerback, Detroit could use another linebacker to pair with DeAndre Levy. This is a strong linebacker class, so the Lions could land a good one in the second round. Their options could include Vanderbilt’s Zach Cunningham, Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Florida’s Jarrad Davis, Ohio State’s Raekwon McMillan or LSU’s Kendell Beckwith. All of them could be good fits for Detroit.
Offensively, the Lions could have a hole on their offensive line if Larry Warford isn’t re-signed. They are set at the skill positions, so just line depth and competition could be a consideration in the mid-rounds. If Warford leaves, Detroit might have to consider a guard on the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft.
The Lions still have a Super Bowl window with Matthew Stafford in his prime. I’m not sure he’s enough of a killer to put the team on his back and push Detroit to greatness by himself. Thus, I think the organization needs to build up a great roster around him where he doesn’t have to carry the team. Adding some impact-making defenders next April could be a good step in that direction.
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