Consider this my flu game article, or more accurately my ‘cold game’. While I was sick writing 90 percent of this week’s column, there was no chance I would deprive the world of my thoughts on this year’s cornerbacks. (Sense sarcasm, not arrogance.) Seriously though, we are two weeks out from the NFL Draft and I can hardly believe it. At this point, the football world is dominated by draft headlines and I am all here for it. Get your popcorn ready, the draft is coming…
THINGS I KNOW
I know this draft’s CB class is a muddled mess. At the beginning of the draft process, there were at least two CB’s projected to go in the top ten. Now, there may not even be two in the first round. Greedy Williams was the guy who’s name sat at the top of many mock drafts and big boards, but since then his stock has cooled. Meanwhile, another player hasn’t seen his stock heat up too much, but I’d say he’s still the best CB in the draft: Byron Murphy. Just under 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, the Washington product looks as well-rounded as it gets.
His ball skills (ability to track and snag a pass), fluidity (natural movement skills and flexibility) and quickness all scream first-round prospect. There’s no denying Murphy’s athleticism and versatility; he can wear multiple hats in the secondary. He’s also a smart football player with good awareness in zone coverages. He’s been knocked for his size and lack of elite physicality, but I think certain schemes and coaching can cover that issue up if he can’t improve. While Murphy played only 20 games in college, he showed enough to make me deem him the top-rated CB in the draft right now.
I know Greedy Williams could become the best the CB of the draft. Notice I said could become and not is. Williams has all the physical gifts necessary to excel in the NFL. He’s just under 6-foot-2 and 185 pounds with the length and speed to properly play the position. Williams had success at LSU with man and zone coverage. He showed a good eye for the ball and a fluidity in his lower body to mirror receivers. With that said, just because he’s able to do things doesn’t mean he actually does those things. Williams has been knocked time and time again for his lack of effort and mental decisions. Sometimes, Williams will allow receivers to run right by him and he’ll have to use his speed to make up for it. Another knock on Williams is his poor tackling and run support. He also isn’t the most physical CB and could use some extra muscle to help with bigger receivers. If Williams gives 110 percent effort every play and improves his tackling, he could be a top CB down the road.
I know Amani Oruwariye is a big sleeper.
He hasn’t received much hype until recently, and while I haven’t seen him regarded as one of the best CB’s in the draft, he deserves contention among them. Oruwariye has the size (6-foot-1.5, 205 pounds), athleticism and versatility to be successful. His physicality and hand usage is noticeable when fighting receivers and for the ball. A reliable run supporter, Oruwariye’s tackling could use some work. His speed and change of direction skills have been questioned as well. The reason for my ‘sleeper’ label on him is all his issues (excluding speed, which isn’t too big of a problem) are fixable. Some prospects require the right coach to take their games to the next level; Oruwariye just needs coaching, period. It would take horrendous coaching to not fix Oruwariye’s issues as they are deemed as easy fixes. For the record, Oruwariye is also a great person off the field. Therefore, I have no concerns about his coachability, or willingness to learn and be helped. I wouldn’t call him a first-round prospect yet, but there’s enough here to make Oruwariye a solid Day Two selection.
I know Justin Layne needs more time to develop.
The former WR has only played CB for two years and while he occasionally showed flashes of brilliance, he still has a lot to learn. It’s mostly all technical stuff, such as learning how to play better in space, understanding zone coverage better and improving his footwork. So why is his stock rising? Too often, teams fall in love with what a player can potentially do rather than what a player can actually do. I’m not saying a player’s potential should be disregarded, but there comes a point when a player’s potential is only a possibility and not the reality. Let’s say you have a 10-dollar bill. Would you rather cash that in now, or would you wait three years when it could either be worthless or ten times that amount?
Alright, back to football. Layne’s physicality and top-notch ball skills are likely contributors to his rising stock. He anticipates passes and routes well and tackles hard. His size alone (6’1, 192) should make some teams drool. Layne isn’t a bad player by any means, but he’s not a great one, either.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know what to make of all the drama among top stars. In the past two weeks, there has been drama surrounding both Antonio Brown and Aaron Rodgers. Brown found himself in a Twitter feud with former teammate Juju Smith-Schuster which further painted Brown in a negative light. As for Rodgers, he was the focal point of an article that outlined issues between him and former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy. All in all, not a great week for two of the best players in the game. My takeaway is that while not all superstars are obviously divas, it is noticeable how underwhelming Pittsburgh and Green Bay have played in recent years. Brown and Rodgers were arguably the two best players on their respective teams. Amidst the teams’ woes, both superstars caused issues, albeit some more public than others.
In NFL history, teams have won despite their best players not being totally well-received. Can this no longer be the case in the modern NFL? Do superstars have to follow an issue-free model of perfection? Time will tell if the Brown and Rodgers issues are the new norm or just two outliers. As for present-day implications, you never know what goes on behind the doors of a top football organization, let alone two of the most prestigious franchises in football history. The Steelers and Packers will have lots of rebounding to do to reclaim their spots atop the league and prove that these two controversies are simply blips on their pathways back to success.
I don’t know if DeAndre Baker has the work ethic for the NFL.
That seems to be the concern flying around the league. Reports of laziness and poor work ethic have swept through NFL circles in regards to the Georgia CB. Even those these rumors aren’t new, it’s tough to buy into any reports at this time in the draft process. Some people call it ‘Lying Season’, when teams spread rumors to sinisterly lower players’ values and/or mask their true intentions to the rest of the league. Baker could just be another victim of the NFL’s worst annual tradition. After all, there’s a good amount to like about Baker. The 5-foo-t11, 193-pound CB improved each year on a stacked Georgia defense. His refined technique was constantly on display, especially when Baker was showing off his ball skills and tackling. He’s a physical player who doesn’t mind getting feisty when fighting for balls or when playing press coverage. Baker has some work to do in zone coverage, but he’s not a liability in that area, either. Aside from his questionable work ethic, speed is Baker’s biggest issue. Despite an average 4.52 40-yard time at the Combine, Baker looks slower on tape. Remember, timed speed and play speed are different. Baker has some intriguing tapes and could be a stud, but are teams willing to risk a pick on him early? I’d say he’s currently locked in as a second-rounder.
I don’t know why Rock Ya-Sin has been a first-rounder in some mock drafts.
Mock drafts are widely for entertainment purposes these days. Sure, some are clearly devised as a way of compiling all the latest rumors and trends. Unfortunately, the idea of a “What Could Happen” mock draft has become blurred with a “What Would I Do” mock draft, in simpler terms. There were times when Ya-Sin looked like an All-Pro CB and there were times when Ya-Sin looked like that inflatable man outside of car dealerships. Ya-Sin joins Layne in the ‘developmental’ category. His footwork is generally horrendous and stems from his shoddy technique as a whole. He’s occasionally made good plays in the air, but overall Ya-Sin’s ball skills need improvement. As for the positives, Ya-Sin has the length (5-foot-11, 192 pounds), flexibility and competitiveness to usually have a shot at making a play. His recovery speed is intriguing as is his play strength and physicality. Despite playing one year at Temple, Ya-Sin has some traits that could convince a team to take an early gamble on him. I just can’t see that gamble being worth a first-round or even a second-round pick.
I don’t know where Trayvon Mullen will be drafted.
Here’s another player who has seen his value fall considerably in the past few months. Maybe I didn’t read enough information, but I could’ve sworn Mullen had first-round buzz in January. I’ll be honest, it’s no fun doing any work when you’re sick. I really just want to get this little section out of the way so here’s some positive traits Mullen has: Playing physical, tackling, recovery speed, playing press coverage and quick acceleration. Here’s some other things working in Mullen’s favor: Technique (could be tweaked) and a Clemson pedigree. Finally, here’s what Mullen needs to improve on: Footwork, playing zone coverage, being more aware in open space and changing directions quickly. He’ll likely be a Day Two pick with chances of falling to the fourth round. Maybe I’m just lazy or tired of being sick, but that’s all I’ll say about Mullen. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to find some soup. (Update: I found soup and it was delicious.)
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Since 1967 (the Common Draft era), who was the highest drafted QB to be traded before he turned 23?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Note that I only included the players talked about in this week’s article and that feelings/projections on a prospect will fluctuate, especially after the draft. Here are my preliminary rankings on this year’s Cornerbacks class and a sentence for each.
- Byron Murphy – So well-rounded that there might not be anything wrong with him.
- Greedy Williams – An athlete who needs to improve on secondary traits and mental processing.
- DeAndre Baker – Work ethic could impact him; lack of speed will impact him.
- Amani Oruwariye – All his main issues seem fixable.
- Trayvon Mullen – Less of a projection than Ya-Sin and Layne, yet has to be better in zone.
- Justin Layne – Relatively inexperienced with great ball skills and physicality.
- Rock Ya-Sin – Another developmental player who has looked the part at times, but man, that footwork stinks.
Other Guys Who I Didn’t Have Room For: Julian Love, David Long, Kris Boyd
Sleeper: Derrick Baity
Following last year’s tradition, each week I’ll focus on one wide receiver in hopes of finding the next superstar. This week, that player is Mecole Hardman.
Stats: In three seasons at Georgia (he did nothing his first season), Hardman posted 60 receptions, 961 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns.
- Accelerates easily
- Sees field well
- Has hops
- Catching deep balls
- Limited usage
- Limiting size (5’10, 187)
- Inconsistent hands
- Releasing from press coverage
The Unknown: Will Hardman ever be more than a slot receiver?
Bottom-Line: Hardman is a fast, electric player who wasn’t used too much in college. I think he has a solid chance of being an impactful WR in the NFL.
Team Fit: Pittsburgh Steelers
Projection: Day Two
Dwyane Wade Tribute Award: Dwyane Wade
But, but, it’s a football article… Actually, it’s my article so if I want to write about my childhood hero, I’ll write about my childhood hero. Besides, this is more of a promotion for when I wrote about Dwyane Wade Wednesday night following his final NBA game. Can’t read 23 measly sentences? Here’s the SparkNotes version: Thank you, Dwyane Wade.
Mitchell Trubisky Tribute Award: John Manziel
Yup, that’s a thing. I’m not going to poke fun at Manziel because it’s good to see him taking action towards growth and maturity. I will point out that Trubisky tried the same thing two years ago when he said he wanted to go by ‘Mitchell’ instead of ‘Mitch’. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure everyone still calls him ‘Mitch’. Manziel will arguably have a steeper hill to climb with his own name change.
Thin Ice Award: Leonard Fournette
After news breaking that the former fourth-overall pick was arrested for various traffic violations and driving with a suspended license, I wonder just how think the ice under Fournette’s feet is getting in Jacksonville. He’s already been fined and suspended within his two years as a Jaguar. While I’d be shocked to see the run-heavy Jaguars part ways with a young stud like Fournette, injuries and issues with the team certainly have to be taking a toll on the front office. If Fournette wants to remain in Jacksonville, it’s pivotal that he stays healthy and out of trouble this upcoming season.
Trivia Answer: Brett Favre
Question: Since 1967 (the Common Draft era), who was the highest drafted QB to be traded before he turned 23?
A year after the Falcons took him with the second pick in the second round, they shipped him to Green Bay and the rest is history. Why do I bring this up? Josh Rosen, the tenth overall pick last year, has faced countless rumors suggesting the Cardinals might already trade him. He’s 22 years old. Is this another sign that Arizona taking Kyler Murray over Josh Rosen is a mistake? Maybe not, but history sure frowns upon it.
ONE LAST THING
I only release one full mock draft every year, but that doesn’t mean I can’t predict a few picks here and there. I was going to do a top ten mock this week, but things aren’t looking clear enough for me to provide next-to accurate insight. Therefore, I decided to just try and pinpoint which quarterbacks will end up where:
Kyler Murray – Cardinals: I don’t like this for everyone involved right now. There’s an immense amount of risk for taking a guy with Murray’s size a year after drafting Josh Rosen in the first round. Arizona is naive to think QB is their biggest need and while a trade down is the best option, the more realistic one is taking a potential game-changer like Nick Bosa. Alas, everything I’m hearing now points to Murray making landfall in Arizona in two weeks.
Dwayne Haskins – Giants: This is a real wildcard because I bet the Giants don’t take a quarterback at six. Nonetheless, I have no clue where Haskins could end up so for now, I’ll say he’s a Giant. Don’t get me wrong, this is a phenomenal pick. I think Haskins can be a really good QB and would blossom under Eli Manning‘s tutelage. On the other hand, the Giants need help in other areas. The Raiders are a sleeper team for taking a quarterback early, by the way.
Drew Lock – Broncos: This pick makes too much sense to not happen. Unfortunately, it’s for the wrong reasons. GM John Elway has shown his hand at the team’s desire for QB, even if he claims new 34-year-old QB Joe Flacco is “in his prime”. The Broncos might be the best team with a hole at quarterback, and Lock is the type of player who needs to sit behind Flacco for a while. He’s flashed excellence but remains an inconsistent prospect.
Daniel Jones – Redskins: Again, this makes sense for all the wrong reasons. I am not a Daniel Jones fan and frankly, it seems like the media is lower on him than the NFL is. The Redskins have been known to botch the QB position and taking Jones in the first round seems like a bad pick. If he had gone in last year’s draft, I’d say Jones would be at most a second-round pick. Case Keenum is not the long-term solution, though a team who traded for and extended a 34-year old Alex Smith might think otherwise.
The Deep Route Football Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
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