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 convincing loss to the Cowboys. The Browns have played close games against a number of teams, but the Browns were never competitive with Dallas as the Cowboys cruised to a road win. Dallas dropped the Browns to 0-9 on the season, and they 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 was taken out by the Saints at home. The 49ers are now 1-7 and look like they could be the worst team in the league as the Browns have played more competitive games, overall. 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.
Other Teams In Contention
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.
Detroit Lions: Charles Harris, DE, Missouri
The Lions pulled off an overtime upset over the Vikings, and Matthew Stafford continues to have an excellent season. Detroit has gotten an excellent season out of Kerry Hyder as well, and he recorded two more sacks against Minnesota. The Lions could use another edge rusher to go across from Ziggy Ansah with Hyder rushing from the interior.
Harris had a slow start to the season, but he has heated up recently, including a two-sack, eight-tackle performance last week. In 2016, he has 43 tackles with 7.5 tackles for a loss, 5.5 sacks, one forced fumble and a pass batted. Harris has the speed and athleticism to be a natural edge rusher in the NFL.
Baltimore Ravens: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The Ravens knocked off the Steelers even though Ben Roethlisberger returned to the field. Baltimore got a big game from Mike Wallace, but once again, the team’s rushing attack continued to underwhelm. Terrance West (15-21) was the Ravens’ leading rusher, with a pathetic total, while Kenneth Dixon (9-13) was also ineffective. The organization’s offense hasn’t been the same since the demise of Ray Rice – on and off the field. Baltimore needs to find a difference-maker in the offseason.
Chubb’s running style is similar to Rice when he was at his peak. The 5-foot-10, 228-pound Chubb is a bowling ball who can roll through defenses with power and speed. He isn’t completely back to his pre-ACL-injury form yet this year, but he should get back to that level if he stays healthy. On the season, Chubb has averaged 4.7 yards per carry for 691 yards with five touchdowns. He would make a ton of sense for Baltimore with an early round pick.
Miami Dolphins: Armani Watts, S, Texas A&M
The Dolphins lost Reshad Jones to a torn rotator cuff recently, and they really missed him on Sunday as Matt Forte ran well on Miami. They also allowed some receptions in the middle of the field, including Jalin Marshall’s touchdown. Assuming Jones returns to form in 2017, Miami could use an upgraded safety to pair with him. Luckily, the 2017 NFL Draft is strong at the position.
In 2016, Watts has been unsung hero for the Aggies with a lot of clutch plays in crunch time. He has 56 tackles with three passes broken up, two forced fumbles, and two interceptions on the year. Watts (5-11, 200) has free safety potential in the NFL with the ability to contribute in pass coverage. He is an instinctive defender who also is capable of making tackles in space. The 2017 NFL Draft is loaded at the safety position, and that could push Watts down if he doesn’t return to school. If he does enter the 2017 NFL Draft and does slide, he could be an excellent value pick after being a three-year starter in college.
New York Giants: Alvin Kamara, RB, Tennessee
The Giants were able to beat Philadelphia as Eli Manning and the posing offense got job down for New York. Once again though, the Giants had no rushing offense whatsoever. Paul Perkins (11-32) and Rashad Jennings (11-26) were ineffective as New York recorded only 54 yards on 24 carries. This offseason, the Giants have to find an upgrade for their backfield.
Kamara (5-10, 215) is a prospect who is loved in the scouting community, and he could continue to rise in the lead up to the 2017 NFL Draft. He is an explosive runner who also is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield and returner on special teams. This year, Kamara has averaged 4.9 yards per carry for 313 yards and three scores. He has 22 receptions for 260 yards and three touchdowns receiving as well. With Jalen Hurd off the team, Kamara could produce well to close out the season and should impress in pre-draft workouts.
Dallas Cowboys: Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
Dallas took care of business by dominating the terrible Browns on Sunday. The Cowboys look like the class of the NFC East, but one weakness they’ve had this season has been their cornerback play. Morris Claiborne has played well, but he is injured and entering free agency. Dallas could target cornerback help in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Last week, I moved Jones into the first round of my mock draft because he has been tremendous in coverage this season. He gave further proof of being a Thursday-night talent with two interceptions, two passes broken up and three tackles in a win against California. This season, he has 24 tackles with four passes broken up and three interceptions.
Jones (6-0, 181) has the athleticism to run with receivers and prevent separation. He also has size and length to take on big receivers. Even in a strong cornerback class, Jones could continue to rise in the leadup to the 2017 NFL Draft.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kai Nacua, S, BYU
The Chiefs’ safety play was a weakness against Jacksonville. Tackles were missed on a long run by Chris Ivory along with passes to T.J. Yeldon and Marcedes Lewis. Safety Ron Parker dropped an easy interception in the end zone and then gave up a touchdown to Allen Robinson on the next play. Eric Berry wasn’t signed to a long-term contract, so Kansas City could consider adding some safety talent on the second day of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Nacua is a ballhawk who would fit in well with the Chiefs’ defense and their desire to create interceptions. He has five interceptions already this season, and that comes after recording six picks in 2015. The senior also has a forced fumble and 38 tackles to go along with those turnovers. He would give Kansas City an upgrade over Parker and potentially an impact-making player if Berry isn’t signed for the long term.
Atlanta Falcons: Fish Smithson, S, Kansas
The Falcons made a good selection with strong safety Keanu Neal in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. He is a big presence in the middle of the field who helps them in run defense and pass coverage. Atlanta does need a free safety to pair with him, however. Mike Evans’ big Thursday night illustrated that the Falcons could use a coverage safety to help them with providing double coverage and serving as the deep center fielder. The Falcons probably won’t take a safety in the first round two years in a row, but this is a deep safety draft, and so could land a good one on Day 2.
Smithson could be one of the steals of the 2017 NFL Draft. He has played well this season, demonstrating the ability to play free or strong safety. The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder has the size to tackle but also the speed, athleticism and instincts to cover. In 2015 on an 0-12 team, Smithson led the nation with 7.9 solo tackles per game on 87 solo tackles. He totaled 111 stops with two interceptions, five passes broken up and one forced fumble on the year. Landing Smithson in the second or third round of the 2017 NFL Draft would make a lot of sense for Atlanta.
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.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
The Buccaneers were dropped to 3-5 via Thursday night football, and they are on pace to miss the playoffs for the ninth straight season. Every other team in the NFC South has been to the playoffs multiple times in that span, but Tampa Bay has the NFC’s second-longest streak of missing the postseason. The Bucs have lacked continuity since making the regrettable decision to fire Jon Gruden and Bruce Allen. Over the past eight years, the organization has had three different general managers and five different head coaches. That is a recipe for failure that lands squarely on ownership as the Glazers have been in charge of making some terrible hires like Mark Dominik as general manager and Greg Schiano as a head coach. The jury is still out on current general manager Jason Licht and head coach Dirk Koetter, and this will be a critical offseason for this regime.
The Buccaneers have some clear needs entering the offseason, with the most glaring one at safety. Last year, the team’s safeties were terrible, and a lot of the blame went to former head coach Lovie Smith and his son coaching the secondary. This year’s failures can’t be pinned on them, and the flat-out truth is that Tampa Bay’s safeties are just bad players. Fortunately for Tampa Bay, this is a great safety draft. The Bucs might be picking high enough in Round 1 to land Ohio State’s Malik Hooker. He is a star safety, and scouting sources have compared him to Sean Taylor and Ed Reed. If the Bucs aren’t picking high enough to land Hooker, they could still find an upgrade in LSU’s Jamal Adams, Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers or Florida’s Marcus Maye. Adams and Peppers are strong safeties (SS), while Maye is a free safety (FS). On Day 2, Tampa Bay could address the position again to give the roster a talented young tandem. Some good second-day candidates include Texas A&M’s Justin Evans (SS), Texas A&M’s Armani Watts (FS), Kansas’ Fish Smithson (SS/FS), BYU’s Kai Nacua (SS) and Alabama’s Eddie Jackson (FS).
Another need big need to address is wide receiver. Mike Evans has rebounded nicely this season, and he definitely is a good building block for the receiving corps. To help Jameis Winston, Tampa Bay needs some receivers with the speed and route-running to get separation. Right now, it doesn’t look like there is a receiver worthy of the Bucs’ first-round pick, but the 2017 NFL Draft has some quality receiver prospects for Day 2. Western Michigan’s Corey Davis would be a great target to pair with Winston and Evans. Other good candidates include LSU’s Travin Dural, LSU’s Malachi Dupre, Florida State’s Travis Rudolph, Virginia Tech’s Isaiah Ford and Eastern Washington’s Cooper Kupp. For speed receivers to get separation, Ford and Kupp could be the best fits aside from Davis.
Tampa Bay also could consider more defensive line talent and offensive line help. If a great pass-rusher falls to the Bucs’ first-round pick, that would have to be a consideration as well.
The Bucs have an advantage in building a playoff team in that they already have a young franchise quarterback in Winston. If they build up talent around him, I think Winston will emerge as one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. If Licht drafts well over the next few years, the Buccaneers should be back in playoff contention very soon.
This was supposed to be the year that the Jaguars made a big jump from a team that was annually picking from the top-10 selections of the draft to a legitimate playoff contender. That hasn’t been the case as Jacksonville is 2-6 halfway through the season and looks like one of the worst teams in the NFL. The reason why the Jaguars continue to be bad, despite having access to the top talents coming out of college, is poor drafting by general manager David Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley.
This regime started off on a terrible foot by making Luke Joeckel their first-ever selection with the No. 2-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Joeckel was a bust at left tackle and guard, and he is entering free agency after the Jaguars declined his fifth-year option.
As bad a pick as Joeckel was, the organization made crippling decisions in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Jaguars coached Derek Carr in the Senior Bowl, yet Bradley and his staff couldn’t see a good franchise quarterback right in front of them. They passed on Carr for the streaky Blake Bortles. The Jaguars’ decision of Bortles over Carr is a disaster as Bortles is on his way to having his second bad season in three years while Carr is one of the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. Jacksonville could have taken Khalil Mack in the first round and Carr in Round 2 – that’s what Oakland did. Taking Bortles in the first round led to the Jaguars taking Marqise Lee in the second round. Taking receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft led to Jacksonville passing on Amari Cooper in the 2015 NFL Draft. Obviously, the Raiders’ trio of Mack, Carr and Cooper is far superior to the Jaguars’ trio of Bortles, Lee and Dante Fowler. Caldwell and Bradley had the opportunity to get the Jaguars a great trio to build around, but they completely blew it.
Last year, offensive coordinator Greg Olson saved Caldwell’s and Bradley’s jobs as he got Bortles to throw 35 touchdown passes with smoke and mirrors. Jacksonville’s ownership screwed up by giving Caldwell and Bradley contract extensions.
Caldwell and Bradley made Olson the fall guy for their failures this year, but both should be fired. They have proven over four years that all they produce is losing for Jacksonville. If Jaguars owner Shad Khan is smart, he would hire Packers executive Alonzo Highsmith to be his team’s new general manager. Highsmith has helped build Green Bay into a Super Bowl champion and a perennial playoff team that is always in the Super Bowl hunt. Jacksonville needs that kind of leadership to get the franchise turned around.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Jaguars have a number of needs to address. They should take the best player available on the defensive side of the ball in Round 1. Bradley is a defensive coach, yet four years into his time there, the Jaguars continue to have a bad defense. Caldwell made a terrible decision to give a $90 million contract to Malik Jackson. Assuming Myles Garrett is off the board, Jacksonville could get an upgrade with Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen. He could bring a Ndamukong Suh- or Aaron Donald-type presence to Jacksonville’s defensive line.
The Jaguars also could consider cornerback talent as Prince Amukamara is entering free agency. Early in the second round, some players to consider would be Washington’s Sidney Jones, LSU’s Tre’Davious White and Iowa’s Desmond King. The Jaguars also could use more talent at safety as Jonathan Cyprien has been another disappointing pick from Caldwell; this is a deep safety draft, luckily. Some good second-day candidates include Texas A&M’s Justin Evans, Texas A&M’s Armani Watts, Kansas’ Fish Smithson, BYU’s Kai Nacua and Alabama’s Eddie Jackson.
Offensively, the Jaguars need to improve the offensive line to replace the bust Joeckel turned out to be. In the first round, Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Alabama’s Cam Robinson would be worth considering if Jacksonville misses out on Garrett and Allen.
The Jaguars have a few young talents to build around. Caldwell and Bradley took nice players in Allen Robinson, T.J. Yeldon, Jalen Ramsey and Yannick Ngakoue. The cupboard isn’t completely empty, but if Bortles doesn’t make a big jump in his fourth season, it will be time to consider a different quarterback. Jacksonville needs the right leadership in the front office to lead the organization going forward, but Khan’s hiring has been poor up to now, so it is hard to have confidence that he will pick the right person in the near future.
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