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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Race for the No. 1 Pick:
The Ravens cruised over the Browns, pushing Cleveland one week closer to the infamy of an 0-16 season. Now at 0-14, Cleveland is assured of, at worst, the No. 2-overall pick. One more loss would clinch the Browns the No. 1 selection in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Cleveland has had some bad coaching this season, plus has been overmatched from a talent perspective on a weekly basis. The Browns are the last winless team in the NFL, and they have not significantly improved over last season despite lots of spending in free agency to go along with high draft picks. That lack of talent and passing on franchise quarterbacks ended up costing Sashi Brown his job after a stretch of 1-27 running the Browns.
As stated by owner Jimmy Haslam, finding a franchise quarterback is the No. 1 priority for new general manager John Dorsey. With the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Dorsey will have his choice among candidates of Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson; most likely Sam Darnold goes back to USC. At this point, Rosen would be the favorite to be that pick.
To add insult to injury this year, the Browns have lost to the two quarterbacks they’ve passed on recently and who look like budding stars. Carson Wentz won over them earlier in the year, and then later the Browns were dominated by the Texans in Houston. Deshaun Watson killed Cleveland’s defense, teasing the organization with what could have been if it hadn’t passed on him twice in the 2017 NFL Draft.
New York Giants:
At this point, the first selection can only be held by the Giants or Browns. New York was dropped to 2-12 on the season after losing to the Eagles. The Giants won in overtime against the Chiefs last month, and that win will make it tough for New York to land the No. 1-overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft as the Giants need the Browns to win their last two games while losing both of their own.
The Giants already fired general manager Jerry Reese and head coach Ben McAdoo to start the rebuilding process. In the 2018 NFL Draft, the organization will have to consider looking for its next franchise quarterback given the age and declining play of Eli Manning. Having taken Davis Webb in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft isn’t enough of a commitment of resources to pass on a quarterback in Round 1 of the 2018 NFL Draft. Additionally, the new front office and coaching staff have no attachment to the Webb selection.
Check out WalterFootball.com’s Hot Press article on who are some good general manager candidates for the New York Giants. Included is a survey of staffers from around the league.
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.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
Even with Antonio Brown leaving the game early to go to the hospital with a calf injury, the Steelers were still able to score on New England. Pittsburgh has other players to lean on like Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster. One thing the Steelers don’t have, however, is a true receiving threat at tight end. Jesse James not controlling the ball on that late touchdown catch cost Pittsburgh a win. The Steelers still really haven’t truly replaced Heath Miller, and they should look to do that in the early rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
In 2017, Hurst has 41 receptions for 518 yards with two touchdowns. He also has a rushing touchdown and has done a nice job of blocking. Team sources have raved about Hurst and think that he has a first-round skill set. They say he might slip to Day 2 because he will be a 25-year old rookie after playing pro baseball. Still sources say they love the physical talent of the 6-foot-5, 250-pounder. In 2016, Hurst had 48 receptions for 616 yards with one touchdown. A lack of production from not many opportunities could also push Hurst down.
Los Angeles Rams: Carlton Davis, CB, Auburn
The Rams absolutely dominated the Seahawks in Seattle for a resounding victory. Los Angeles has a strangle hold on the NFC West division title thanks to the incredible improvement from Jared Goff, a great season out of Todd Gurley, and a tough defense that creates turnovers. This offseason, the Rams will have a big decision to make on the contracts for No. 1 corner Trumaine Johnson and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, who they gave up a second-round pick for. Even if Johnson is re-signed, the Rams could improve their defense by adding more cornerback talent across from him.
Thus far in 2017, Davis has 36 tackles, 11 passes broken up and one interception. He is a good corner with size, speed and length. The junior can battle big wideouts as he is a physical defender who really competes. Davis can have issues with coverage downfield and deep speed, like many big corners. Some sources believe he could end up being a first-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, but others aren’t as high on Davis. Picking late in the first round, Davis could make sense for the Rams.
Washington Redskins: Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
The Redskins signed Terrelle Pryor in the offseason, but he hasn’t done much for them this season. Washington could use more receiving talent across from Josh Doctson and with Jamison Crowder in the slot. Given the needs on defense and potentially at quarterback, the Redskins could look to address wide receiver on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft.
St. Brown has 31 receptions for 468 yards and four touchdowns in 2017. His production and opportunities are getting killed by the lack of passing talent with Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush. St. Brown also sees lots of double teams. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder had a quality 2016 season with 58 receptions for 961 yards and nine touchdowns with DeShone Kizer at quarterback. Scouts who did advance work on the 2018 class told me they were really intrigued with St. Brown. They say he is a super-polished route runner with tremendous speed, athletic ability, body control, and hands. They still think that St. Brown could be a first-rounder even though he won’t have significant production this season thanks to Wimbush playing quarterback. Other scouts aren’t as high on St. Brown and grade him on Day 2 of the 2018 NFL Draft. He could be a good value for the Redskins in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Philadelphia Eagles: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
The Eagles really could use a young left tackle, but picking late in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft could make it very difficult for them to land a blind-side protector for Carson Wentz given this is a weak offensive tackle draft without a lot of talent. If Philadelphia is unable to land a tackle, the organization could draft another receiver for Wentz. The Eagles have some size with Alshon Jeffery, and a speed receiver like Kirk would be a nice addition to their offense.
The speedy Kirk has mismatch speed and could be a deep weapon who challenges defenses downfield. In 2017, quarterback play has been a problem for the Aggies, yet Kirk has 58 catches for 730 yards and seven touchdowns while seeing a lot of double coverage his direction. He also played well in 2016 despite inconsistent quarterback play from the Aggies. He had 83 receptions for 928 yards with nine touchdowns while splitting targets with wideouts like Josh Reynolds and Ricky Seals-Jones. In 2015, Kirk caught 80 passes for 1,009 yards with seven touchdowns. Multiple scouting sources have compared Kirk to Sterling Shepard and Jarvis Landry. Kirk would be a nice fit in the slot for the Eagles with Jeffery and Nelson Agholor on the outside.
New Orleans Saints: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
The Saints were able to take care of business over the Jets. Kenny Vaccaro was New Orleans’ leading tackler, and throughout this season, the team’s safeties have been making too many tackles for the defense. The Saints could use a fast sideline-to-sideline linebacker to defend the ground game and add to their pass defense. Smith could be a big-time presence in the middle of the defense for New Orleans.
The 6-foot-1, 225-pounder is a linebacker who has impressed scouting sources, who have compared him to the Falcons’ recent second-day picks of the LSU duo of Deion Jones and Duke Riley. They think that Smith is a better prospect than either of them and could be a NFL linebacker similar to Lavonte David. Smith is a very fast and physical linebacker who flies around the field. Along with great speed, he has excellent instincts and the ability to cover. Smith should be an impact-making three-down starter in the NFL quickly in his NFL career. Smith has 113 tackles with 5.5 sacks, 10.5 tackles for a loss, one forced fumble and two passes batted in 2017. He could make sense for the Saints’ first-round pick.
Baltimore Ravens: Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia
Baltimore was able to take care of business over the Browns to remain in the wild-card race with Buffalo. The Ravens’ offensive line has improved during the course of the 2017 season, but they could use more talent up front. On the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft, Wynn could be a great fit for the Ravens to improve their talent at guard or play right tackle. Wynn could improve the run blocking for Alex Collins and Buck Allen while being a solid pass protector for Joe Flacco.
Wynn (6-2, 302) has played really well in 2017. He has been very good in the ground game, pushing defenders around at the point of attack to open holes for Georgia’s stable of backs. Wynn has nice strength to get movement and blocks hard through the whistle. He also has shown some nice quickness and athleticism in pass protection, including impressive play to negate speed rushers this season. Wynn has some quickness, athleticism, and bending skills in pass protection. If Wynn were three inches taller, he would be a top-16 pick. Being short and lacking length, however, makes him more of a second-day pick. Wynn could be an overachiever who stays at left tackle, or just plays as a guard, center, or right tackle in the NFL.
Denver Broncos: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Broncos have won two straight and have shown some fight playing for Vance Joseph. Denver could have packed it in after its losing streak, but the team has played hard over the past two weeks to drop the Jets and Colts. Clearly, the Broncos still have a great defense, and all they are really missing from being right back as one of the top AFC contenders is more quarterback play. These two wins will probably cost Denver any shot at getting UCLA’s Josh Rosen, and the organization also might miss out on Wyoming’s Josh Allen. Thus, the Broncos will have to consider options like Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
In 2017, Jackson has completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,489 yards with 25 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is averaging 6.9 yards per carry on the ground on his way to 1,443 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns. Jackson has an amazing skill set with a powerful arm that allows him to make throws off platform that many NFL quarterbacks couldn’t even dream of making. He is tough in the pocket, knows his scheme well, and has amazing athleticism and speed as a runner. Jackson looks like a taller and right-handed version of Michael Vick. Some team sources feel that Jackson is being undervalued similarly to Deshaun Watson a year ago. For the NFL, Jackson needs to get stronger and work on his accuracy. However he has big-time play-making potential and could be a dynamic player if an offensive system is built around him.
Team Draft Report:
In this section, we take a deeper look at specific teams and where they stand in regards to the 2018 NFL Draft.
Early in the 2016 season, the Vikings looked unstoppable, rolling opponents on a weekly basis. The wheels came off the wagon for them though, and they missed the playoffs. This year, however, the Vikings have been able to sustain their hot start and are a top contender to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. That would be very historic as no team has played the Super Bowl in its home stadium. Even if the Vikings don’t get to the Super Bowl this year, they should be a contender for the Lombardi for years to come. Minnesota has a talented roster without a lot of significant needs.
In my latest mock 2018 NFL Draft, I have the the Vikings taking Central Florida cornerback Mike Hughes. Cornerback isn’t a critical need, but Minnesota is still getting good play out of Terrance Newman, who turns 40 next year. Mike Zimmer always has been inclined to draft cornerbacks in the first round, so taking a corner to replace Newman is definitely possible. Aside from Hughes, there could be other good cornerback options like LSU’s Donte Jackson, Ohio State’s Denzel Ward and Auburn’s Carlton Davis.
Perhaps the biggest need on the roster is defensive tackle as it appears that Sharrif Floyd will unfortunately not play any longer. It isn’t clear that the top interior defensive tackles will get to Minnesota’s first-round pick, but Florida’s Taven Bryan or Clemson’s Christian Wilkins would be great fits. On the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft, some options to consider include Michigan’s Maurice Hurst, USC’s Rasheem Green and Florida State’s Derrick Nnadi.
The Vikings also could consider more offensive line talent and help at wide receiver on the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft. On the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft, there could be some good options, including the Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown, Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell and Memphis’ Anthony Miller.
If Minnesota addressed a few needs in free agency, the team could go with the best player available in the 2018 NFL Draft. That strategy would further strengthen the Vikings’ roster and make them more talented. Clearly, Minnesota is one of the best teams in the NFC, and this year, the team could make a run to the Super Bowl with more title contentions in the years to come.
Two years ago, the Panthers dominated the NFC on their way to winning the conference before falling short in the Super Bowl. They had the 2016 season get away from them as injuries, and a weak offensive line kept the Panthers from getting back to the postseason. Thus, it hasn’t been a surprise that Carolina snapped back into playoff contention this year after getting healthy and improving its line in free agency. The Panthers have a franchise quarterback with a tough defense and have the experience on how to win. With that formula, the Panthers easily could return to the Super Bowl in the next few years if they don’t do it this year. In the offseason, Carolina does have some needs to address to help get the team over the top.
The Panthers have some freaky athletes on their team with Newton, Luke Kuechly and Christian McCaffrey among others. One of those freaks of nature is aging defensive end Julius Peppers. After being the No. 2-overall pick in 2002 NFL Draft, Peppers has had a great career, but he turns 38 in January and obviously is nearing the end. In my latest mock 2018 NFL Draft, I have the Panthers taking an understudy for Peppers in Clemson’s Austin Bryant. In the NFC South with quarterbacks like Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Jameis Winston, it is critical that Carolina has an edge rush that can get after the quarterback. There could be some good edge-rushing options for the Panthers late in the first round with Bryant, teammate Clelin Ferrell, Boston College defensive end Harold Landry and Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard. Carolina’s other top needs like wide receiver, safety, and perhaps more offensive tackle talent don’t find good value late in the first round. Thus, getting Peppers’ replacement could be the best plan for Carolina.
Staying on the defense, the Panthers have a lot of age at safety and could use an injection of youth. There could be some good safety values on Day 2, including Texas’ Deshon Elliott, Virginia Tech’s Terrell Edmunds, Pittburgh’s Jordan Whitehead and Virginia Tech corner/safety Adonis Alexander.
Carolina surprised the league when it traded Kelvin Benjamin to the Bills for a third-round pick. That opened up a big hole at wide receiver for the Panthers. It is doubtful that first-round receivers like Alabama’s Calvin Ridley or SMU’s Courtland Sutton will get to their first-round pick, so they probably will have to look to Day 2. On the second day of the 2018 NFL Draft, there could be some good options, including the Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown, Indiana’s Simmie Cobbs, Ohio State’s Parris Campbell and Memphis’ Anthony Miller.
Carolina could use the third day of the 2018 NFL Draft to consider addding some depth along the offensive line, at running back, at tight end, or just more front seven talent on defense. The Panthers have a talented team, so they could be right back in the Super Bowl mix with another strong draft.
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