You know we’re in the endgame of the offseason when there’s almost nothing going on in the NFL. Heck, there’s more happening in the AAF, and trust me, I’ll get to that later. This is an important week to check out my ‘Deep Route Football Notebook’, though. I talk a lot about the edge rushers in this year’s NFL Draft, and believe me when I tell you that there are some very, very good ones. The future of the NFL is awaiting you in this column, so I encourage you to scour through my thoughts on the next great NFL defenders, those new New York Jets‘ uniforms, the sad consequences of the AAF’s collapse and so much more…
THINGS I KNOW
I know Nick Bosa is the best prospect in this year’s draft. I wouldn’t put him up there with Myles Garrett, but Bosa could easily become a top defender within a couple years. There really isn’t a glaring issue with Bosa. On the field, he’s as well-rounded as it gets. Bosa wasn’t asked to stand up and drop into coverage a whole lot so a smart team shouldn’t ask Bosa to do it much. Sure, Bosa’s core injury kept him out of all but three games last season. We’ll never know if Bosa could have returned to the field because he forfeited that opportunity in favor of draft preparation. It’s possible this injury pops up again in Bosa’s NFL career, but that possibility will have almost no impact on his draft stock.
Last week, I talked about how defensive lineman Quinnen Williams could be the best player in the draft if it weren’t for Bosa’s presence. The reason Bosa gets the nod over Williams is simply positional value. It’s hard to quantify it with stats, so I encourage you to take a look at the top of previous drafts. In the past 20 years, the first-overall pick was a non-quarterback just six times. It’s either been an offensive tackle or a defensive end. The position has evolved over the past two decades to where these defensive ends are becoming lighter, quicker and more set along the edge of the defensive line, hence the name edge rusher. In recent drafts, edge rushers like Bradley Chubb, Myles Garrett, Joey Bosa and Jadeveon Clowney have all been the first defenders off the board. This isn’t to say that picking an edge rusher over a true defensive lineman will always be the best choice, but man, that’s a great group of guys right there. In lieu with recent history coupled with his immense talent, Bosa should be and will be the first non-quarterback taken in this year’s draft.
I know this is the year to need an edge rusher. The class is STACKED and could very well be the deepest position in the draft. Exhibit A: Brian Burns is a top-ten player and he might be the third edge rusher taken. I’ve seen some people project Burns to go in the middle of the first round or even later, but I’m just not buying it. The biggest concern surrounding Burns is his thin frame and weight. In order to maximize his talent, he’ll need to fill out that frame more in the NFL. I think he’ll be fine considering he weighed in at 249 pounds at the Combine, nearly a 15-pound gain since the season. With that ‘issue’ slowly dissolving, it’s time I tell you about what Burns can do. The Florida State edge rusher has been praised for his technique. He bends his body with ease in order to get around offensive linemen and has the speed to finish those turns and get to the quarterback. Burns’ versatility will undoubtedly be an asset across multiple formations, though I’d like to see him make a few more plays in coverage, too. Pass rushing is Burns’ forte and he’s demonstrated quick hands and adequate counter moves to go along with it. Burns is fast but he isn’t ultra fast off the line. His mobility also isn’t great but it’s good enough. With this talent and a dope name, all Burns needs to do is continue to bulk up and he can become a very good NFL player.
I know Montez Sweat’s ceiling might be limited. Here’s another potential first-rounder with a cool name. Unlike Burns, Sweat doesn’t have much versatility and will likely be stuck with his hands in the dirt for most of his career. Here’s my issue with Sweat: he seems to lack flexibility. Being flexible is so important for an edge rusher to twist his hips and make swift moves around a blocker. Sweat doesn’t have that. I also worry about his explosiveness. With that said, there is still a lot to like about Sweat. The Mississippi State edge rusher has the size and length (6-5, 260 pounds) to make an impact, especially when you factor in his power and relentless effort. For what hinders him in his lower body, Sweat sometimes makes up for it with his upper body strength. Run defense is where Sweat will probably make his biggest impact in the NFL as his rush moves and long, strong arms aid to his success. His hands aren’t the quickest but they should work just fine. Sweat shows a good anticipation at jumping right when the ball is snapped and this can lead to some quick plays. However, Sweat’s limited athleticism and stiff lower body are tough things to fix and will likely limit his productivity at the next level.
I know no prospect hurt their draft stock more than Jachai Polite did. There are two main portions for evaluating a prospect: watching film and watching a player live. Film is generally used after the season and can provide deeper analysis into a prospect’s in-game performances. Watching a player live also entails watching prospects on the field, but it also includes watching a player in drills or watching his responses to interview questions. In the case of Polite (another fantastic name), he failed in his live performances, both on and off the field. Per multiple reports, Polite bombed the Combine interviews and his Pro Day drills. Prior to the Combine, Polite was widely considered a top-ten pick, and it’s not hard to see why. The dude is a pass-rushing demon. He’s flexible and quick enough to glide by offensive tackles; he’s so slippery. Polite tends to explode off the line of scrimmage and quickly process the play. If the ball is already down the field, Polite is willing and able to chase it down. His run defense isn’t perfect though, so he’ll likely start off playing primarily on passing downs. Teams worry about his size too, apparently. At 6-2.5, 258 pounds, Polite will have a tougher time adding bulk to his small frame. Trusting Polite to drop back in coverage is foolish as well. There’s no question that Polite has immense talent in some areas, but his character and lack of size might scare teams off. Once a potential top-ten pick, I’d bet Polite doesn’t hear his name until Day Two. (Interesting side-note on the fluidity of scouting players: in December, Polite was considered a top-ten selection and his teammate, left tackle Jawaan Taylor, wasn’t expected to be picked until the middle rounds. That has since flip-flopped.)
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know how I feel about the Jets’ new uniforms. As usual, I will give my full opinion on any new uniform change in the NFL. This year, it looks like the only team making a change is the Jets. Their new uniforms and updated logo were unveiled Thursday night but not before the Internet got its hands on a leaked picture. My initial reaction was extremely positive because anything is an upgrade to those bland, mediocre uniforms they’ve been donning since 1998. After closer evaluation, my amazement has slowly dwindled. Let’s start with the positives. I love the logo change, albeit a minor one. The Jets’ brass eradicated the awkward background clutter behind the team’s lettering and opted for a sleeker, bolder look. As for the uniforms, the green is a better, less dull shade. The green chrome paint looks super sexy but it annoys me how only the logo’s lettering is featured on the helmets and not the entire logo. I have no issues with the facemasks. The numbers’ font is solid, and despite complaints about the numbers being too big, I think they fill the rest of the uniform out nicely. I especially appreciate the slim trim around the numbers; it makes the uniforms look less like the Jaguars’ plain threads. I don’t understand why the ‘New York’ is so big above the numbers. It makes the jerseys look like they were created online by a ten-year-old (totally not something I used to do, by the way). On the black and white uniforms, that stripe circling the shoulder looks professional and futuristic. On the green jerseys, it looks incomplete and would’ve looked better in black. Overall, I’d give them a ‘B-‘ with the possibility of improvement. Uniforms tend to look different when they’re placed on the field for the first time, which is why the Titans’ new threads grew on me last season.
I don’t know why Josh Allen wouldn’t be a top-ten pick. Yes, there’s another Josh Allen in this year’s class and the likelihood of him being selected higher than the Josh Allen last year (who was taken at seven) is relatively high. Allen has come a long way in his four years at Kentucky. His athleticism has always been there but Allen molded it into superb play as each season went on. Allen has great bend and explosiveness off the line. He’s got the length and size (under 6-5, 262 pounds) to make plays from various positions. Allen was even asked to drop back into coverage, which will certainly appeal to more NFL teams. While Allen can do a little bit of everything, he isn’t a perfect prospect. He isn’t the strongest player and hasn’t shown he can do much to counter blocking moves. Nonetheless, teams are reportedly encouraged by his growth and feel confident that they can build on his prior success. Allen’s traits and development are too good to pass up, and I’d be shocked if Allen slips out of the top ten. For what it’s worth, I think he won’t get past pick seven. Keep an eye on the Jets drafting Allen, whether it’s by trading down a couple spots or staying put at three. I can already see the Jets’ Josh Allen sacking the Bills’ Josh Allen next Fall.
I don’t know how Clemson keeps producing quality defensive lineman. Last week, I talked about Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. This week, allow me to introduce Clelin Ferrell. (I didn’t have room for the other Tiger edge rusher, Austin Bryant.) There is a legitimate possibility that Ferrell is the fourth edge rusher taken within the first ten picks. A tenacious and superb run defender, Ferrell is also a solid pass rusher. His feisty and quick hands are among the best in the class, while Ferrell is explosive enough off the line with his feet, sometimes, he’ll slow down a bit after his initial movement but that seems coachable to me. Ferrell’s character and leadership will be beneficial traits in the locker room. As if playing on a star-studded defensive line wasn’t enough the past four seasons, Ferrell’s production soared during his second-fourth seasons. The concern surrounding Ferrell is his lack of athleticism and bend, a.k.a. his flexibility. I won’t restate why those traits are important for edge rushers, but I will point out that a player of Ferrell’s skillset and size (6-4, 264 pounds) might be fine without top-notch athleticism or bend. Like I said with Sweat, flexibility is challenging to improve but Ferrell is so good at enough things that I think he can be a solid early contributor. His ceiling might not be All-Pro due to those limitations, but he’s too well-rounded to be kept off the field for long.
I don’t know what the deal is with Rashan Gary. He might be the most polarizing non-quarterback in the entire draft. I’ve seen some consider him a top-five pick while others think he belongs in Round Two. Some think he’s best set as an edge rusher while others think he should bulk up and move inside. I could have included him in last week’s column but I didn’t want to feature too many players. Anyway, Gary flashed excellence at times. Watch his highlights and you might fall in love. A true athlete, Gary has lined up all over the Michigan defensive line. He plays with power and short-area quickness. While generally commended for his strong, effective hands, his usage of them is far from perfect. There have been questions about his lack of productivity and whether his shoulder injury could affect him in the NFL. He doesn’t have the quickest feet and is more of a linear mover. This means he has no issues running straight ahead but struggles when he needs to quickly change directions. My final opinion of Gary is that he’s shown he can be a phenomenal football player, but he’ll have to develop those traits to a more consistent level. Part of that requires a true position. I think if he adds some more weight and strength, he can be a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the defensive line.
I don’t know when Chase Winovich will be drafted. If I had to guess, I’d say somewhere on Day Two (Second or Third Round). Another Michigan defender, Winovich has seemingly become a fan-favorite among draftniks. His motor and charisma are hard to overlook, as is his flowing Thor-like hair. Winovich has some neat tricks in his rushing toolshed and has the long arms to pull them off. He’s a smart football player who knows when and how to use his hands to slither by blockers. As technically sound as Winovich is, he isn’t renowned for his athleticism and flexibility. In fact, those are probably the two traits that could hold him back from stardom at the next level; he’s just average. Winovich lacks explosiveness and, like Gary, grapples with quickly changing directions. I was hoping Winovich would be my sleeper, and while he does have some impressive qualities, I’m not sure if Winovich can overcome his athletic limitations. What’s ironic about Winovich, and really all the edge rushers, is that their values take a hit due to the amount of talent within the position. I’m not saying Winovich would be a first-round pick in other class, but he’d probably be drafted at a higher selection. This is the year to draft an edge rusher, and for desperate teams like the Dolphins, I’d expect them to at least double up on the position.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Which team was flagged the most for defensive pass interference last season?
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 Edge Rusher class and a sentence for each.
- Nick Bosa – Best defender in the draft.
- Josh Allen – Couple tweaks to be made but excels in many areas.
- Brian Burns – Could be second-best edge in the class if he adds weight.
- Clelin Ferrell – Well-rounded but is a little stiff and lacks elite athleticism.
- Rashan Gary – Extremely polarizing, extremely versatile athlete.
- Montez Sweat – Strong run defender who doesn’t have the bend to play every-down edge rusher, yet.
- Jachai Polite – Pre-draft process overshadows his superb game tape.
- Chase Winovich – Average athlete with the energy to change a locker room.
Sleeper: Joe Jackson
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 Emanuel Hall.
Stats: In four years at Missouri, the Senior wide receiver racked up 97 receptions, 2,016 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns across 32 career games.
- Size (6’2, 201)
- Leaping ability
- Yearly improvements
- Route running
- Ball skills
- Nagging injuries
The Unknown: Will Hall improve his hands enough to be a consistent starter?
Bottom-Line: There’s some hype around Hall, but I’m not a big fan. It’s tough to fix a player’s catching ability, though Hall’s speed and ability in open space could set him up to be a playmaking deep-threat.
Team Fit: Buffalo Bills
Projection: Late Day Two – Early Day Three
Each week I’ll talk a little bit about the Alliance of American Football in hopes of catching you up on the rising young league or what was a rising young league. This week, I talk about the unfortunate end to the AAF.
Well, that was fast. With roughly two weeks left in the regular season, the new football league announced all operations would be suspended immediately. There’s a slew of rumors flying around as to why the league closed so soon, but I’m more focused on the future rather than the present. What happens next? Lawsuits, likely. As for the staff and players, all the hope they pinned on the young league has evaporated. For guys like star wide receiver and the new Carolina Panther Rashad Ross, the AAF will be a stepping stone to greater opportunities. Others aren’t so lucky as the formerly jobless become that once again. It’s a cruel world in the sports business, and too many innocent people get caught in the crossfires. This will probably be the last time I ever mention the Alliance of American Football, and I indirectly thank them for giving me a fun new thing to write about. On a lighter note, this will be a funny little section to look back on years from now when the league is largely an afterthought.
Staying Alive Award: Andrew Luck?
I am just so… confused. Luck gives off this really boring, outdated vibe, so seeing him dance so enthusiastically in this commercial was a sight to behold. After all, this is the same Luck who received a $140 million contract in 2016 and bought a flip phone. The wacky scene reminded me of 1980’s John Travolta, and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing.
April Fools Award: Sean McVay
According to reports, McVay was eating with new Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury and Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes when McVay got a text from Roger Goodell. The text essentially scolded McVay and Kingsbury for dining with Mahomes (Mahomes and Kingsburg were at Texas Tech together) and threatened to take away draft picks due to the no tampering rule. Kingsbury freaked, but the text wasn’t from Goodell. McVay had a friend send the text and then changed the contact name. That’s cruel and pure brilliance.
Should’ve-Been-an-April-Fools-Joke Award: NFL Draft Hats
What in the world are these? The NFL released their annual collection of draft hats, which are famously handed out on stage to prospects, and I’m generally disgusted. The league tried to incorporate state or city designs with each hat and for the most part, they struck out. It looks like New Era tried to do too much. The Bears hat is the only one that looks normal, whereas the others resemble failed Appleworks designs. (Google it, you young-ins.)
Trivia Answer: New Orleans Saints
Question: Which team was flagged the most for defensive pass interference last season?
It was the Saints who were flagged a grand 20 times for defensive pass interference last season. Ironically, they were the biggest supporters of the new rule that allows pass interferences and no-calls to be reviewed. After that massive non-call in the NFC Championship Game, it’s not hard to see why New Orleans was fighting hard for this new rule. I wonder how often the rule will come back to haunt them next season…
ONE LAST THING
As the Draft quickly approaches, I’ve seen numerous rumors and reports about which teams are willing to wheel and deal. I thought I’d give a quick update on what teams could be thinking come April 25th.
Raiders – I can see Oakland trading down as easily as I can see them trading up. You never know with coach Jon Gruden and general manager Mike Mayock. I believe they’re dead-set on starting Derek Carr but if they love Kyler Murray, they’ll need to move up. On the other hand, this is a prime trade-down spot with a team that wants a quarterback.
Broncos – While I can see Denver laying low and addressing other needs, general manager John Elway hasn’t shied away from making moves for quarterbacks before. On the other hand, his track record has been so bad that maybe he doesn’t risk spending lots of capital on another quarterback. This will be an interesting team to watch.
Redskins – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Redskins are the worst team at handling their quarterbacks. They need to stay put and fill holes, yet they have the right amount of unpredictability and stupidly to sell the farm in order to draft a guy like Drew Lock or Daniel Jones.
Cardinals – I have the top three teams in the draft trading down right now, both based off of rumors and logic. With the Cardinals, I wouldn’t be shocked if all this Kyler Murray talk is a smokescreen and they’re just looking for leverage to trade down.
49ers – The 49ers have been no strangers to trading down in the John Lynch era. The reason a trade-down this year is more likely is that the top three teams (supposedly) do not need quarterbacks and could swap picks with a team that wants to take one early.
Jets – The same reasoning goes here as it did for the Cardinals and 49ers, except the Jets have been a little more outspoken about their desire to move down the draft board. They need an edge rusher but protecting Sam Darnold is a higher priority, and no tackle is worth a top-three pick in my opinion.
Dolphins – Less than a month out from the draft, I’m more confident in the Dolphins pick than any other team. It’s not a matter of who they select, but when they select. Miami is in rebuild mode and what better way to do that then trade down and secure a high pick in next year’s class. They won’t pick at 13, I guarantee.
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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