Explaining some changes on our Big Board
This will most likely be the last update on our Big Board before the draft (unless something drastic happens before then– discovering a heretofore unknown prospect, or a major piece of news lowering someone’s stock, for example). As such, I feel fairly comfortable with the final decisions we’ve made. Thus, I’d like to explain the ones that don’t seem to jive with popular opinion, and why we settled on the decisions we did.
We’ll start with what probably stands out the most right now, our edge-rusher rankings…
Dante Fowler at 22, a tier behind Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Preston Smith
This one is simple, though oddly controversial. When evaluating edge players, one of our top priorities is: Can he provide pass rush around the corner? Other skills are secondary to this. (That’s why Vic Beasley is our #1 EDGE and Randy Gregory, despite his rawness and potential to smoke his way out of the league, is our #2. More on this in a second.) While Fowler does many things well, is explosive, versatile, and an effective blitzer, he isn’t really a top-quality pass-rushing prospect. On film, he doesn’t show much ability to get around the corner, with a lack of bend and ability to turn while maintaining speed confirmed by his 7.40 3-cone time. Fowler only had 5.5 sacks in the regular season (before three in his bowl game), and a significant number of those came on blitzes. I think Fowler is a guy whose athleticism doesn’t necessarily translate into production. (While you can say the same thing about Bud Dupree, Dupree’s athleticism is off the charts compared to Fowler’s, and even with a similarly poor 3-cone time, Dupree’s other athletic measurements are still good enough to qualify him as one of Justis Mosqueada’s Force Players.)
And speaking of Force Players, Smith and Odighizuwa both qualify. That shows up on film, too: Odighizuwa has some hip problems, but he does a great job converting strength to power and with his bull rush. Meanwhile, Smith is larger than a traditional edge rusher, but he also projects as someone who can move all across the formation, a la Michael Bennett (the current Seahawk, not the Ohio State prospect), and still be effective.
I don’t think those two are necessarily elite prospects– hence why they’re only #4 and #5 on my edge-rusher board. But their ability to rush the passer makes them worthy first-round picks, certainly compared to an edge player I have significant questions about on that point.
Brett Hundley #15 and Dorial Green-Beckham #16
Here’s something to think about: The number of prospects with the talent to be a top-flight NFL player at his position (or, at least, at the quarterback position, a reliable enough guy to be a long-term starter) are rare. (That’s also why we have Todd Gurley so high despite his ACL tear, though that one seems much less controversial.)
Dorial Green-Beckham hasn’t played football in over a year and has some serious questions surrounding his off-field behavior. Nobody denies this. (The domestic violence is much more troubling than the cannabis, certainly.) At the same time, nobody denies that he has the talent to be the best receiver in the league someday.
I’m not in the position where I can adequately assess how risky Green-Beckham’s off-field problems are going forward. To that end, I can’t gauge how they will affect his status as a prospect beyond some vague sense that I should downgrade him. That said, I also believe if he hadn’t been kicked out of school for the off-field incidents, and if he had played football last season, he’d be the #1 prospect in this draft and would go off the board in the first three selections. This ranking attempts to reflect that level of talent, combined with the questions surrounding any prospect who sat out a year and may have had his development stunted.
Brett Hundley does not have those off-field problems, but he has people asking similar questions about his game. Thing is, many of the criticisms I’ve heard don’t seem to stand up to much scrutiny. I hear Hundley is an inaccurate quarterback who makes predetermined throws, who can’t read defenses, who drops his eyes too readily, who has no pocket presence and takes off running at the first sign of pressure, then I watch plays like the ones I just linked.
Sure, Hundley needs to do those things more consistently. But if the argument is that he can’t do those things, plays like these dispel that notion.
Hundley certainly needs refinement to be a successful NFL quarterback, but that’s true of every prospect in this draft. Jameis Winston needs to learn to read underneath coverage and to learn what kind of windows he can and cannot make throws into. Marcus Mariota needs to fix his mechanics, develop more consistent accuracy, and learn to adapt his play in the moment (which may not be possible). Hundley can do many things at an extremely high level, he just has to learn to do them more consistently, and un-learn any bad habits he may have picked up at UCLA.
Reports are that the coaching staff didn’t allow him freedom to audible; it’s possible that his penchant for running was developed from having to deal with plays he knew were broken. Watching UCLA’s film, it’s clear Hundley often had to run for the sheer reason that the offensive line could not block for him consistently. It’s also clear that the coaches did not adjust their route combinations as they should have to provide Hundley with more ways to get the ball out quickly.
Take a look at how few other offensive prospects UCLA has for this year’s draft, and how they’re rated. Last year, the only drafted players from UCLA’s offense were Xavier Su’a-Filo and Shaq Evans, neither of whom made any sort of impact this past season (we gave Evans a “7th/PFA” grade last year, but the Jets took him in the fourth round anyway).
It’s possible Hundley’s struggles were due to overcompensating for a lack of surrounding talent and a lack of faith shown by the coaching staff. (If you think that’s a bad sign for Hundley, remember that Jim Mora Jr. got the Atlanta Falcons job and immediately tried to turn Michael Vick into a high-accuracy, short-yardage West Coast pocket passer.) While I don’t believe you can cite statistics readily when discussing college players, I do believe they can tell you more about a prospect than people want to believe, given the right context. Hundley’s numbers over three seasons, 40 starts, in a Power 5 conference, and with not a lot of supporting talent on hand to help him are pretty damn good, even we look at only his passing numbers and ignore his prodigious rushing talent:
Hundley went 29-11 in those 40 starts as well; he wasn’t inflating his numbers in garbage time. And not only were those numbers very good, they continued to improve in his time at UCLA. (If the touchdown totals seem low, consider his lack of receiving talent and his 30 rushing touchdowns as mitigating.)
It’s the Cam Newton argument: If one player has the talent to carry your team this far despite a weak supporting cast, he has the talent for the NFL. (Hundley didn’t carry UCLA nearly as far as Newton carried Auburn, but I’m also not arguing he should be taken #1 overall.)
All of our scouts who have watched Hundley in detail agree that he’s being underrated by the consensus at large and is worth a first-round pick on Thursday. We’re not the only ones; Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio has Hundley ahead of Marcus Mariota as his #2 QB, having done extensive work writing about, discussing, and analyzing Hundley. (I must tip my hat to him for turning me on to that collection of plays I linked earlier.)
We think both Dorial Green-Beckham and Brett Hundley have much more potential as players than most of the draft community seems to think.
Shaq Thompson as a third-rounder
Okay, I couldn’t think of anything else too controversial (many of our other discrepancies are because we rank raw, unproven prospects like Arik Armstead and Breshad Perriman lower than they will likely go). Considering where Thompson started the draft process ranked, this seems like a good choice.
I didn’t really know in my heart where I regarded Thompson until our Twitter mock draft, where, despite having him listed in the early-to-mid second round on the Big Board, neither of us could pull the trigger until midway through the third. He scares me a bit; he’s too small for linebacker and not athletic enough for safety. He has good instincts, but I have serious questions about his capacity to find a fit in an NFL defense. A creative coach might be able to make the most of him, but he doesn’t have the kind of blow-you-away athleticism that he would need to justify regarding him highly.