The NFL Draft, the most exciting day in the league’s calendar that isn’t the Superbowl, is a mere 2 days away and as a big fan of the sport it would be wrong if I didn’t throw my own opinions into an already saturated market for draft opinions and predictions.
Having announced I’d start doing a series of Top 5 themed posts it’s about time I finally actually followed through with the promise and so in this draft season I will offer my take on 5 players I see as Musts; players who I believe are certainties to perform at the next level regardless of where they are taken in the draft due to their abilities being transferable to the next level! I will then follow up with my Top 5 Busts; this is not to say they will be the next Ryan Leaf or Jamarcus Russell but that I am worried about the overall expectations placed on them.
Without any further ado, my top 5 certainties to be instant impacts from week 1 [with the exception of any injuries or Joey Bosa like holdouts!].
1 – Jamal Adams, Safety, LSU
It’s a good time to be a safety right now with Eric Berry’s record breaking new contract in free agency (6-years for $78million, $40million guaranteed) and the evolution of the position within defensive schemes in recent years and so Jamal Adam’s dad – former Giants running back – made a good decision in pushing him to the other side of the ball.
Jamal Adams, produced by the same college that All-Pro Tyrann Mathieu originates from, is projected to be a top ten pick in this year’s draft; the first safety to do so in 7 years when Eric Berry was taken 5th overall by the Chiefs. In a draft class that is deep in defensive backs – Malik Hooker (also a safety) has also been projected anywhere in the top ten – Jamal Adams however seems a sure fire success.
In his final season at star studded LSU, Jamal Adams was voted first team All SEC and second team All America (behind Budda Baker and Malik Hooker) possibly due to the struggles of LSU as a program.
He finished his college career with 5 interceptions, 209 tackles and 17.5 tackles for a loss and certainly the tackle stats are unsurprising when you see the footage. He hits players hard and rarely misses the opportunity to wrap up anyone who breaks through. He may not be the largest safety but he’s still bigger than both his fellow LSU alumni Mathieu and Superbowl Champion Earl Thomas whilst displaying similar football IQ as the latter in reading plays pre-snap.
His tackling ability definitely shows up as more of a run stopper and whilst he’s an athletic and speedy player, he can get burnt on occasion in pass coverage which is something he’ll need to pick up on but certainly he seems like a coach-able player. Schemes can certainly be set up to play to his strengths and for someone like the Chargers in need of safety help he’d be an ideal pick. Expect future Pro-Bowls from Jamal Adams!
2 – Leonard Fournette, Running Back, LSU
Another stand out and projected top 10 pick from the football program at LSU. The Running back position has recently seen a bit of resurgence even as the passing game has taken over importance and the life span of the position has dropped. Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon both went in the first round two years ago and the Dallas Cowboys effectively elevated their team to the playoffs off their 4th overall pick of Ezekiel Elliot.
Certainly there has been arguments of late that high picks on running backs is a waste due to the abundance of players at the position meaning a solid player can usually be found in the middle rounds of the draft but I can assure you that it’s unlikely they’ll be this guy.
Not since Adrian Peterson has there been a running back with such potential to dominate regardless of his destination. Elliot, a 3-down back, was always a talented guy but to end up behind that offensive line was inevitably going to boost yardage. Fournette on the other hand is a different beast. He ran for 3830 yards in his college career averaging over 6 yards per carry and 40 touchdowns even with injuries plaguing his final season. He has the ability to run between the tackle, make tacklers miss or even make them miss the next play when he runs through them – one play he literally throws the defender over his head!
He ran a 4.51 in the 40 yard dash in the NFL combine whilst at 240lbs but has subsequently shed the water weight to get back down to 230 for his Pro day and so his actual speed is likely even faster; quite scary considering the strength and physicality of the runner. The only other concerns scouts have been able to ‘raise’ is his potential inability to aid teams in the all important passing game especially when players like Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffery pose such a threat in this area.
Quite simply, there shouldn’t be this concern. At his pro day, his hands looked more than competent should they be called upon. In fact the concern seems to be down to primarily the fact LSU did not ask him to contribute to their aerial attack. In 3 seasons he caught 41 passes for 526 yards which averages out at nearly 13 yards per catch which is more than useful; certainly something to work with if that’s what a team requires.
Obviously with all running backs a good offensive line/capable quarterback is important for success as teams stuffed Gurley knowing full well Case Keenum wouldn’t be throwing very much but Leonard Fournette to me seems very much someone capable of succeeding at the next level!
3 – OJ Howard, Tight End, Alabama
The tight end has changed dramatically since Mike Ditka first changed expectations for the position. Rather than merely helping block for the running game, Tight Ends are fast becoming taller/stronger wide receivers which has been reflected by the increasing speed of linebackers and size of safeties tasked with covering them. It is no coincidence that Bill Belichick has ensured Tom Brady always has a solid second option behind Rob Gronkowski regardless of the skills of his receiving corps.
OJ Howard has seen a sudden surge in his draft ranking because his numbers from college aren’t eye popping or flattering to the prospect.
Playing under Nick Saban in Alabama, Howard caught 114 balls for 1726 yards and only 7 touchdowns in 4 years. Certainly nothing there to indicate anything special considering he was playing for a team that has been to the past 2 national championship games (winning one and losing the second in the last few seconds), has arguably college football’s greatest coach and a quarterback in Jalen Hurts who is more than capable.
The reason I like so many are drawn to this talented athlete is his measurables, his performances in the Championship games and the comments of the reputable Nick Saban.
Saban himself has suggested OJ Howard is much better than the numbers look from college and that he should excel at the next level. Largely it was due to the run heavy offences that the Crimson Tide often deploy which has seen players like Mark Ingram, Eddie Lacy and Derrick Henry all go to the NFL in recent years. However, that didn’t stop OJ Howard winning MVP in the Championship game a year ago when Alabama won by accumulating 208 yards from 5 catches taking 2 to the endzone! In fact he caught another 68-yard touchdown in this year’s loss of the rematch against Clemson and so certainly he produces when called upon; not a surprise that Offensive Coordinator Lance Kiffin was removed from his position for failing to maximize their potential.
In summary, OJ Howard is a 6’6 251lbs Tight End who ran the same 40-yard dash time at the combine as top prospect running back Leonard Fournette – see above – whilst possessing sure hands, game changing plays and the experiencing of blocking for run heavy offences. Basically, for any team looking for a solid target for a Quarterback, he’s a pick that should leave offensive coordinators drooling and their opposite counterparts tearing their hair out trying to stop him for years to come. Think Jimmy Graham without the wear and tear.
4 – Jonathan Allen, Defensive Line, Alabama
When a guy comes out as a premier player on a Championship winning defence under the guidance of Nick Saban you have to give him some attention. What makes Allen special is that he continues to hold and warrant that attention.
He finished 2016 winning the Chuck Bednarik Award [best defensive player in college football], Bronko Nagurski Award [best defensive player in college football], Vince Lombardi/Rotary Award [best defensive lineman/linebacker in college football] and the Ted Hendricks Award [best defensive end in college football]. Pretty fair to say he is highly regarded as he enters the pros.
The numbers he put up would back up the opinions of those on the varying award panels. Allen – during his career at Alabama – made 152 combined tackles, 28 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. In a league where Quarterbacks are king, a player that is so dominant on the front-lines with the ability to terrorize passers across the NFL is bound to be valuable and Jonathan Allen is a prospect who certainly has the capability to do so.
Concerns of potential long term shoulder injuries have seen Solomon Thomas leap frog Allen in mock drafts who has continued to slide with fellow Tide teammate Reuben Foster. Certainly Allen’s shoulder didn’t seem to bother him when he superman tackled Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight!
The NFL combine is something that shouldn’t be swaying scouts but should consolidate tape. Allen, who dominated on defense in college certainly did that. His 40-yard dash was 5 seconds which isn’t bad for an athlete weighing 286lbs. He also shows relatively quick feet and hands which should make up for a potential weakness due to lack in length. As a Defensive Tackle he should be seen few times making appearances in Pro Bowls wherever he falls to in the draft.
5 – Mike Williams, Wide Receiver, Clemson
When Johnny Manziel came out of college there was huge hype surrounding the former Texas A&M quarterback who earned himself the Heisman in 2012. So touted was he that controversial Fox pundit Skip Bayless had stated he should be 1st overall ahead of Jadaveon Clowney in a draft also containing Khalil Mack. With the benefit of hindsight, we can all see that Mike Evans – the favoured target of Jameis Winston – was actually making him seem a much better player [at the hardest position in sports] than he truly was.
Deshaun Watson seems like a good player with an excellent head on his shoulders with none of the concerns that surrounded and proved warranted with Manziel who has already been out of the league for over a year. However, despite leading Clemson to consecutive National Titles [including one recent win] throwing 7 touchdowns, over 800 yards and only one interception against college football’s best defense he is not considered an accurate and reliable quarterback by draft analysts.
I personally like Watson and think any player than can perform against teams like that when the pressure is on is due additional respect. Tom Brady willed his teams to victory and like Watson was not considered an elite level passer and so whilst I am not comparing him to the GOAT; the former play-maker for the Tigers would be perfect for a team who can sit him behind a Roethlisberger or Alex Smith for a few years to develop at the pro level.
Anyways, back to my original point, a lot of people are pointing to Williams as a reason for Watson’s success. Whilst Manziel is making money from signing autographs, Mike Evans is making play-of-the-year worthy one handed catches to put him on 3578 yards and 27 touchdowns emphasizing who the true star of A&M was on offence.
Mike Williams isn’t elite in speed like a John Ross, but at 6’4 he is a long receiver with large hands and a 32.5 inch vertical leap he is a perfect red zone threat. It’s no surprise he is being linked to teams with young quarterbacks and few targets like the Eagles and Titans. He is a reliable and large target that many are likening to a Brandon Marshall type receiver and so I think he is a solid player that is likely to be a number one receiver eventually.