Strategies For AFC Teams In The 2018 NFL Draft

It’s like Christmas Eve in the air today. The NFL Draft starts tomorrow night, and the anticipation is getting to its peak. So much is about to go down on what should be another extremely entertaining weekend.

Before the craziness ensues, let’s get to a different type of article on the draft. Most often, you’ll see articles of mock drafts or player rankings and analysis. This time, it’ll be a little different. Here, we will roll through every teams’ best strategy (based on the opinion of yours truly) entering the draft.

Without further ado, let’s get started with the AFC teams.

Cleveland Browns – Continue To Build The Roster, Find a Quarterback

Number of picks – Nine

The Browns are in an excellent position to start their 2018 draft in the right way. With the first pick, they can get the quarterback that the franchise deserves. Whether it ends up being Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, or Baker Mayfield, the front office needs to get it right. After that, it’s all about finding the right pieces. If Bradley Chubb is available at four, the Browns shouldn’t hesitate. If not, trade back for the right price and add pieces to the secondary and at tackle, two positions that are in desperate need of filling. Two names to throw out after a trade back would be Denzel Ward and Mike McGlinchey, which would round out a great haul in round one. After that, it’s about finding depth at spots. More investment at cornerback is necessary, and you can never have enough help along the front seven. The Browns have plenty of picks to load up the roster, and this front office is much improved from previous years.

Baltimore Ravens – Load Up The Offense For Flacco

Number of picks – Eight

The Ravens still continue to boast a top defense in the NFL, but the front office hasn’t done enough getting playmakers in the building to help Joe Flacco. Now, with eight picks in this draft, the offense must be addressed. They have a number of ways to go with their first pick. Drafting a receiver seems likely at this point, but they should opt for an offensive tackle there to put opposite Ronnie Stanley. Connor Willams and Mike McGlinchey could both be there, and that would be a great start. Baltimore has good possession receivers, but could use speed and quickness as a complement. Players like D.J. Chark and Christian Kirk would be great adds. On top of that, finding a reliable tight end is a need. Having someone to trust like Flacco did Dennis Pitta during their Super Bowl run is important. If the Ravens don’t have one by round three, they will have to look for guys like Durham Smythe, Troy Fumagalli, or Ian Thomas. All three would be solid adds that late.

Pittsburgh Steelers – Secondary and Linebacker Help, But Also Look To Future

Number of picks – Seven

This will be a telling draft for the Steelers. With their roster now, they are still in place to make championship runs. Their trio of Ben, Bell, and Brown always make them tough. What they still lack is some pieces on defense. A lot of Thursday will dictate what Pittsburgh does in the first round, but linebacker and safety are the biggies. Guys like Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch are in play, but if they’re gone, Justin Reid should be in play. After that, a certain LSU running back has been mocked there. Derrius Guice would be a good move for a Steeler team that is unsure of Bell’s future. If they don’t sign him to a long term deal, running back becomes a need instantly.

Of course, life after Ben Roethlisberger has to be in the equation. Giving serious thought to a quarterback will happen soon for this franchise. However, the board will likely take them out of the equation there.

Overall, finding linebacker help (guys like Fred Warner and Josey Jewell in later rounds) and safety help (Jessie Bates, Marcus Allen, Armani Watts) are the priorities. If they can get guys like these on the roster, the defense will look more complete.

Cincinnati Bengals – Address Offensive Line Early, Help Dalton Late\

Number of picks – 11

The Bengals used to be a playoff team every year, but now they are sitting in mediocrity. Marvin Lewis is still around, but the Bengals need a good draft to find themselves in the playoff picture come January. It starts with the offensive line. Seeing major pieces of the offensive line leave in consecutive season has left it in shambles, even with recently acquired Cordy Glenn. They currently sit with the 21st pick in the first round, where they need to draft offensive line. Whether it’s a tackle like Connor Williams to play at right tackle or a interior guy like James Daniels or Frank Ragnow, that needs to be the pick.

After that, look for them to mix their picks between offense and defense. They could use a linebacker to pair with Vontaze Burfict, along with more help in the secondary. Christian Sam is a mid round prospect with some gaining buzz. Shaquem Griffin and Oren Burks are two other names to look for. On offense, the organization doesn’t seem to like John Ross, so it’s possible they will look for a receiver to help out Dalton. Michael Gallup and James Washington would be good complements to A.J. Green.

Overall, the Bengals need help at a lot of spots, so their 11 picks will help Cincy fill them.

New England Patriots – Get Secondary and Trench Help, Quarterback In Play?

Number of picks – Eight

The Patriots are in an excellent position to do as they please in this coming draft. They have four picks in the top 64, which gives them options. Rumors are swirling about the Pats trading up for a quarterback. If I was in their position, I would certainly consider giving up 23 and 31 overall for a chance at Josh Rosen.

If they don’t do that, adding four impact players in the first two rounds would be perfect. They need a franchise left tackle, so Mike McGlinchey would certainly be a great pick at 23. They could also look for Chukwuma Okorafor in the second round. On the other side of the trenches, getting consistent pressure is important (you can never have enough pass rushers). With no real premier pass rusher on the roster, I’d give Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport a look if they’re available at 23. In round two, someone like Josh Sweat or Duke Ejiofor would be good for them.

Let’s also not forget about the secondary. They were torched by Nick Foles and company in the Super Bowl. The 31st pick could be a corner like Mike Hughes or Jaire Alexander, two guys with excellent man coverage skills. Isaiah Oliver could also be in play as a longer press corner.

Whatever the Pats do, their needs are clear. Whether they trade back to continue to acquire more or trade up for a quarterback, they will be contenders once again.

Buffalo Bills – Get Your Quarterback and Protect Him

Number of picks – Nine

The Bills currently own the 12th and 22nd picks in the draft, but that could change on draft night. Don’t be surprised if they trade up. If it were me, I’d package 12 overall and second rounders to move up, keeping pick 22 if possible. Getting Josh Rosen would be huge for Buffalo. Alas, I don’t see them taking Rosen. If they have their guy marked, go get him.

If they are able to retain the 22nd pick, the offensive line is a likely pick there. Either James Daniels or Frank Ragnow make perfect sense with Eric Wood retiring. Building a strong offensive line for your new quarterback is key.

As far as other picks, the Bills should look at helping their defensive line and finding a quality linebacker late. We’ve mentioned plenty of linebackers, but someone like Oren Burks, Jack Cichy, or Fred Warner makes sense for them. The defensive line class is deep. Andrew Brown would be a nice pick in the middle rounds.

If they get their quarterback and get trench help, call it a successful draft for the Bills.

Miami Dolphins – Quarterback In Play, Line and Defense Priority Otherwise

Number of picks – Eight

The Dolphins, like the Bills, could move up to select a quarterback. However, if I’m the Dolphins, I would stand pat and roll with Tannehill worst case. If a quarterback falls, take him, but other than that, stick to your guns elsewhere. If Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith is available at 11, then there’s the pick. If not, look for an offensive linemen like McGlinchey, who has been mentioned a bunch in this article.

After that, continue to add defensive help and another receiver to replace Jarvis Landry. I have mentioned the depth of the defensive line class, and someone like Nathan Shepherd or Harrison Phillips will be in play for them. If Maurice Hurst falls, and he might according to reports, they should pounce.

Finally, finding a replacement for Jarvis Landry would be nice. Michael Gallup, James Washington, and Christian Kirk all would fit nicely there. Some later round names include Tre’Quan Smith and DaeSean Hamilton, the latter of which is a fantastic route runner who can thrive immediately.

New York Jets – Get Your Quarterback And Get Skill Positions

Number of picks – Six

The Jets got themselves into a position for a top quarterback with their trade up from six to three overall. They lost their second rounder in the process, but they were smart to get in position for their guy. Whether it’s Baker Mayfield or Rosen, either will fit in well up in East Rutherford.

After getting their quarterback, the Jets have plenty of time to figure out their plan in the rest of the draft. Their defense looked much better last season, but they still need help at corner. Players like Rashan Gaulden and M.J. Stewart could be mid round targets for New York.

After that, adding a running back and some receivers would be beneficial for their quarterback. Guys like DaeSean Hamilton and Byron Pringle would be nice adds in the later rounds, along with a running back like John Kelly or Jordan Wilkins.

Jacksonville Jaguars – Fill Your Small Roster Holes

Number of picks – Seven

The Jags don’t enter with many holes, but there are specific areas they can target with their picks. In round one, ideally they make a play for a guard or a tight end. It’s a little early for a tight end in this class in my opinion, but if they want the top guy, they may have to pull the trigger. Someone like Hayden Hurst or Mike Gesicki (depending on the type of tight end they want) will be gone by round two, so they need to weigh that carefully. As far as the guard spot goes, the interior line class is loaded, but they also need to consider that depth will diminish by the early going in day two. Players like Will Hernandez and Billy Price will only be available once. If I were the Jags, I’d run with the interior line first.

On defense, there isn’t too much to fill. One spot could be the linebacker position with Paul Posluszny’s retirement. There are plenty of linebackers to fill his spot, especially in the later rounds. Previous names like Jack Cichy and Jerome Baker would be good, along with Tegray Scales. There is value later for them.

Tennessee Titans – Replenish The Front Seven

Number of picks – Six

The Titans have interesting patterns when it comes to the draft. Not this time around, as I expect new head coach Mike Vrabel to convince the front office to address the front seven. Edge and linebacker should be the positions to target in round one. Players like Rashaan Evans, Marcus Davenport, and even Harold Landry may be there for the taking. Another name floating around is Josh Sweat, someone I am a huge fan of in this draft.

In the later rounds, the Titans could target another receiver. It seems odd with Corey Davis and Taywan Taylor in the building, but the Titans did meet with several wide receivers pre-draft. The Titans could pull the trigger in later rounds, and I expect they’d target a receiver who will take the top off of defenses. It might be too late for D.J. Chark, but someone like Deon Cain will likely be available for Tennessee.

Indianapolis Colts – See: Browns, Cleveland (Minus The Quarterback)

Number of picks – Nine

The Colts, like the Browns, need to start building the roster with talent at a number of spots. Indy GM Chris Ballard made a smart move trading back to the Jets spot at six, and it may be beneficial to trade back again. First, if they don’t, look for them to target Bradley Chubb, Quenton Nelson, or Saquon Barkley. They could take Derwin James or Roquan Smith, but the three former names are more likely at this point. I like Chubb and Nelson a ton, as does everyone, but if neither are there, a trade back could be beneficial. If they trade back, I expect them to for sure land another second round pick. The second round is loaded with talent for them to acquire. Should they trade back, someone like Harold Landry or Derwin James could still be available.

Let’s move on to round two. With a possibility of four (they have three already) picks in this round, the Colts can do some damage. In my latest mock, I had them trade back in round one, and they picked up Josh Sweat, Da’Ron Payne, Austin Corbett, and Mike Gesicki. The defensive line sorely needs help, as does the offensive line in protecting Andrew Luck. Luck also needs some more targets. Those potential four picks attacked those needs.

If Indy trades back, they can have a heck of a draft, adding young talent to boost a very underwhelming roster. I trust Chris Ballard to do just that.

Houston Texans – Protecting Watson Is Key

Number of picks – Eight

The Houston Texans moved up in last year’s draft to select their quarterback of the future, DeShaun Watson. That left them without a first or second round pick in this year’s draft. The Texans will need to do what they can late on day two and day three to help themselves out. They have a really strong defense, so their focus shifts to the offensive line. They brought in some interior help, but tackle is still a need for them. Later round help for them could include Alex Cappa, Chuks Okorafor, and Martinas Rankin, all three of which might be ready to go by the start of the year. The other area where they could improve is tight end. They had a slew of injuries at that spot last season, and are losing C.J. Fiedorowicz to retirement. Guys like Chris Herndon, Durham Smythe, and Tyler Conklin will be there to help that out. They don’t have a lot of early picks, but they can use their eight picks to move up and get someone they covet later.

Kansas City Chiefs – Address Pass Rush, Linebacker

Number of picks – Eight

The Chiefs look ready to explode on the scene once again with their offense in 2018. However, their defense still needs some work before the season. They don’t pick until round two, but they will be looking at the front seven to start themselves off. Someone like Sam Hubbard or Obo Okoronkwo would be a nice selection for them in round two. They could also look at the linebacker position, and they could opt for someone like Darius Leonard, who is a bit raw, but packs a punch.

Where else should they look? The secondary is still an area of need. They added Kendall Fuller via trade, but they lost Marcus Peters to the Rams. There are corners to target in the middle rounds, most notably players like M.J. Stewart and Quenton Meeks. Adding stability there would be good for a team that struggled mightily in coverage down the field.

Denver Broncos – Quarterback, Offensive Line, Linebacker In Play

Number of picks – Eight

The Broncos were one of the teams coaching at the Senior Bowl, so they got a great look at Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield during the week. It wouldn’t be shocking at all for the Broncos to target one of them Thursday night. However, they need to be extremely prepared, because the “top four” quarterbacks could (although not likely) go in the first four picks. Also, their guy might not be there at five overall. If it was me, I want Baker Mayfield for Denver at five, and if he’s not there, I would take a different approach.

The options at five if my quarterback is gone would be either Quenton Nelson or Bradley Chubb. However, if some team wants to move up to five, I would definitely trade back. Let’s say the Bills offer 12 and 22 for number five. If it’s me, I’m pulling the trigger and moving back. With the 12th and 22nd picks, I can target the pass rush and the offensive line. Let’s go with Harold Landry and Will Hernandez. Landry complements Von Miller well, and Hernandez gets to team up with Garett Bolles on a line that will protect Case Keenum.

After that, it becomes pretty clear. Linebacker is another need for the Broncos, but in the mid rounds, linebacker drops off to a point. So, another direction could be wide receiver. The era of Thomas and Sanders could be done, and someone like D.J. Moore, Courtland Sutton, and Anthony Miller could be in play. Those are all great options to boost the offense with Keenum running the show.

Oakland Raiders – Tackle And Defense Need Serious Help

Number of picks – 11

The Raiders have an opportunity to get this draft right and turn themselves around and get back to the playoffs. This draft needs to be a home run for a team that struggled last season.

First off, the tackle spot needs to be fixed. Donald Penn is aging and right tackle is a mess right now. Mike McGlinchey at number 10 overall makes a ton of sense, and he would fit well on the right side right away. The other option at 10 is to find the linebacker that they’ve desperately needed. If Roquan Smith is there, I’d be hard pressed not to pull the trigger. He would play right away and be a centerpiece in the middle of that defense.

After that, the secondary needs a ton of work. Gareon Conley and Karl Joseph are young pieces, but they can use more. Players like Jaire Alexander, Justin Reid, and Isaiah Oliver are players to look at for the Raiders in the second round.

What else can they do with their eleven picks? Wide receiver is one position to address in the later rounds. With Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson already there, it seems fine, but Nelson is on the back nine of his career. Someone like Equanimeous St. Brown would be a nice add with a high ceiling later in the draft.

Los Angeles Chargers – Help Trenches, Start Thinking Future

Number of picks – Seven

The Chargers dealt with so many injuries in 2017, but they still have a playoff caliber football team in 2018. There are plenty of directions for them in the first round. Safety, linebacker, defensive line, and offensive line are all needs for this team. It seems unlikely either top safety falls to them in round one, but they’d be obvious picks if they did. Defensive line is deep, so waiting on that makes sense. The one position they should look for is linebacker in round one. It’s probable that Rashaan Evans is there for the Chargers at 17, and I would make that selection for them in the first. Another option for them would be someone like Da’Ron Payne, who would bolster the line already dominated by Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Payne and Taven Bryan, another first round name flying around, would be nice picks there to develop for Los Angeles.

The next rounds for them could fall for them in a good way. As far as defensive and offensive line goes, Alex Cappa and Tyrell Crosby are names that could help the tackle position. On the defensive side, Justin Reid and Jessie Bates are safeties that could make an already potent pass defense better. Nathan Shepherd and Harrison Phillips are defensive tackles that will be available for them in round two.

The final thing the Chargers may look at is a quarterback. Philip Rivers has his days numbered in Los Angeles, and picking a quarterback could be the move in round one. Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph could be available for them at 17, and if they like one of them, that could happen on Thursday night.

What do you think of the strategies? Do you like your team’s? What are your thoughts? Follow me on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 and let’s talk! Also, join Nate and I @SportsGuysBlog on Twitter for our live stream on Thursday and Friday night! 

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Schyvinck’s 2018 NFL Mock Draft 2.0

We have a week until the draft, and the excitement is certainly building. Rumors continue to swirl about prospects and where they could end up. It’s almost exhausting in the last week, and many just want the draft to come to get rid of the rumors.

The most interesting rumor lies (of course) with the Cleveland Browns at number one. The debate sounds like it’s between Josh Allen and Sam Darnold, the two strong armed quarterbacks with high upside. They aren’t the most ready from day one, but they could pan out down the road.

Speaking of quarterbacks, many expect six quarterbacks to go in the first round of the draft. With plenty of teams having a need, including teams with quarterbacks at the end of their career, it’s likely to happen.

All that said, let’s take a look at this two round mock draft.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

The Browns need to find their signal caller of the future, and they stick with the player they’ve been linked to for the past couple months. Sam Darnold has the arm talent to succeed in the NFL, along with the ability to make things happen when things break down. He will get to sit behind Tyrod Taylor and develop.

2. Buffalo Bills (from Giants): Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

  • Bills Get: No. 2 overall
  • Giants Get: 12 overall, 21 overall, 53 overall, 2019 2nd

The first stunner of the draft. The Bills, seeing their guy is there after the Browns pick, make their move with the Giants to secure the second overall selection. They go with Josh Allen, another quarterback with high upside but plenty to learn. He needs to refine himself in the pocket and gain touch as a passer. He will also likely sit and develop.

3. New York Jets (from Colts): Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The Jets moved up a while back, but they are in position to get their quarterback of the future. Baker Mayfield gets a lot of negative press, but his on-field acumen is hard to beat. He has a strong pocket presence and throws with very good accuracy and anticipation. He also possesses the qualities you want in a leader. The bright lights won’t be too much for him.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans): Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State

After getting their quarterback of the future, the Browns take the top defensive player in the draft. Bradley Chubb is a relentless pass rusher on the edge. He wins with strong hand placement and a top flight motor. He reminds me a bit of Derek Barnett in last year’s draft. Pair Chubb with Myles Garrett, and you have an intimidating duo off the edge for a long time.

5. Denver Broncos: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

The Broncos miss out on their likely targets at quarterback, and they can’t find a trade partner here. Instead, Denver stays put and drafts the best talent in the class. Quenton Nelson is a better prospect coming out at guard that I’ve ever seen. He will start instantly next to Garett Bolles, and the two will protect Case Keenum very well.

6. Arizona Cardinals (from Colts via Jets): Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

  • Cardinals Get: No. 6 overall
  • Colts Get: 15 overall, 47 overall, 152 overall

Another trade! After seeing the Broncos pass on a quarterback, the Cardinals move up to the Colts spot and compensate them handsomely. Sam Bradford and Mike Glennon aren’t long term answers, so the Cardinals get their franchise quarterback in Josh Rosen. Rosen is questioned off of the field for his leadership qualities, but you won’t find a better pocket quarterback in this draft. Rosen can make all the throws with great accuracy, and he is a better player outside the pocket than given credit for.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The Bucs have needs on defense, but it’s not often a player of this caliber falls in their lap. Saquon Barkley is a game changer at running back, with the speed and power combination to shred defenses. Barkley can take pressure off of Jameis Winston and give Tampa Bay a strong running game. Plus, he will be dynamic out of the backfield as a pass catcher.

8. Chicago Bears: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

The Bears lose out on their likely target in Nelson, but they can look elsewhere. The secondary could use some work, especially at the cornerback position. Denzel Ward plays extremely physical near the line of scrimmage, and possesses the speed and ball skills to succeed at the next level. The Bears now have a nice duo with Ward and Kyle Fuller.

9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

This pick wouldn’t make much sense, except that 2017 draft pick Reuben Foster is likely facing jail time. This creates a big hole at the linebacker position, one that Roquan Smith can definitely fill. Smith has the speed and instincts to play on every down, and the physical nature to punish opponents.

10. Oakland Raiders: Mike McGlinchey, OT, Notre Dame

Oakland needs plenty of defensive help, but Donald Penn is aging and the right tackle position is not good at all. The Raiders get their future left tackle in Mike McGlinchey here. McGlinchey has had a fantastic career at Notre Dame as a powerful tackle with good footwork. He can eventually move to the left side once Penn is done.

11. Miami Dolphins: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Miami is in the market for a quarterback, but they decide to go a different direction. The linebacker position is one to address in this draft, and Tremaine Edmunds fits the bill. Edmunds has everything you want in a linebacker, and he is only 19 years old. He also has the versatility to play on the edge, something the Dolphins could do considering their depth in that area.

12. New York Giants (from Bills via Bengals): Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

After trading back, the Giants can do a number of things. New York traded JPP to the Bucs, so a pass rusher is certainly an option. Here, they go with Harold Landry, who can instantly provide a spark to a pass rush that sputtered in 2017. His quickness off the snap and bend around the edge would be a key part of that defense right away.

13. Washington Redskins: Vita Vea, DL, Washington

This would be more of a luxury pick for the Redskins, but if you pair Vita Vea with Jonathan Allen, you have a great young interior duo. Vita Vea lined up all along the line at Washington, and excelled at all of it. He has the quickness to get around blockers and the functional strength to push the line of scrimmage.

14. Green Bay Packers: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

The first surprise of the draft is here. The Packers lost out on Denzel Ward, and they decide no edge rusher is worth it. Also, they feel confident in their safety group. So the pick here is Jaire Alexander, a player forgotten because of missed time in 2017. Alexander possesses the physical style, cover skills, and swagger to be a top corner. The Packers would like a King-Alexander duo.

15. Indianapolis Colts (from Cardinals): Derwin James, S, Florida State

After trading back, the Colts need to add talent wherever they can. It starts with the defense. Malik Hooker will be back this season, hopefully better than ever, but he needs someone to finish out that tandem. Derwin James would be a great fit to complement Hooker. He plays physical near the line of scrimmage and has the speed to play in coverage.

16. Baltimore Ravens: Minkah Fitzpatrick, S, Alabama

A lot of analysts have a certain Alabama receiver mocked here, but in this case, a better Alabama player falls in their lap. This is more of a luxury pick for a team that still needs offensive help, but Minkah Fitzpatrick is too good to pass on. He can cover in the slot, blitz, and play single high.

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State

Philip Rivers is still playing very well at quarterback, but at some point, planning for the future is needed. With two of the big six still on the board, the Chargers pull the trigger. While Mason Rudolph doesn’t have the buzz that the others carry, he does possess a strong arm and good touch down the field. He will fit perfectly sitting and learning for a couple seasons.

18. Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

The Seahawks are a team that is moving towards a rebuilding track. They still have a good core, but they need more young talent in the building. Now that Richard Sherman is gone, the cornerback group needs some work. Josh Jackson would be a perfect fit for the Seahawks because of his ball skills and anticipation on routes.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia

The Dallas Cowboys shock a bit here, considering their need at receiver. Before Dez Bryant’s departure, offensive line was a need. No receiver is really worth it here, so they follow the original script. Isaiah Wynn is a very talented tackle from Georgia. He played tackle his entire career there, but many expect a shift inside in the NFL. He could start his career at guard and possibly move to right tackle.

20. Detroit Lions: Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan

Fixing the defensive line should be a priority for the Lions. Ziggy Ansah is still there, but they need help on the interior. After checking out okay in the second round of checkups, Maurice Hurst is cleared to play football. Hurst proved on the field why he’s the top interior defender in the class. His quickness off the ball is tough to mimic. He will bring life to the Lions defensive line.

21. Cincinnati Bengals (from Bills): Connor Williams, OT, Texas

The Bengals did acquire Cordy Glenn from the Bills in a trade, but there’s still work to be done on the offensive line. Neither Jake Fisher nor Cedric Ogbuehi are panning out, so it’s time to look elsewhere. Connor Williams is an excellent pass blocker with a mean streak. While some believe he should move inside, there’s no reason he can’t start out on the right side for Cincinnati.

22. New York Giants (from Bills via Chiefs): James Daniels, C, Iowa

The trade back is looking good for the Giants. Up next on the list is to replace the loss of Weston Richburg. James Daniels is an excellent pick here for the Giants. He had an excellent career at Iowa, and he works to the second level with ease while also holding his own against top defensive talent as a pass blocker.

23. New England Patriots (from Rams): Marcus Davenport, EDGE, UTSA

This is exactly what a Patriots pick looks like. Marcus Davenport has plenty of promise but needs coaching and refinement to maximize his skills as a rusher. Bill Belichick takes that gamble here and bets on the tremendous upside Davenport brings to the table.

24. Carolina Panthers: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The Panthers could go a lot of directions at 24. The defense needs some help along the edge and the secondary needs help on the boundary. However, they didn’t think they’d see Calvin Ridley fall this far. With no elite talent on the perimeter, the Panthers pull the trigger. They get an excellent route runner with the burst to break away in space.

25. Tennessee Titans: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

The Titans could use some help on the front seven, and new head coach Mike Vrabel will certainly want to address it early. Rashaan Evans is good value in the late first round. He can play right away and become a leader on that defense. He plays very aggressive and is very good getting off blocks, whether it be with his hands or his quickness.

26. Atlanta Falcons: Taven Bryan, DL, Florida 

These two are consistently being paired up in mock drafts, and the buzz seems to be that this could happen. The Falcons don’t exactly have a lot of needs, so beefing up their front makes sense. Taven Bryan is a little raw, but he has the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. 

27. New Orleans Saints: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville

The fall for Lamar Jackson starts here. Sean Payton has described this to be an underwhelming quarterback class, but that could be a smoke screen. After all, the Saints tried to move up for Patrick Mahomes last year. This time, no trade is necessary. Lamar Jackson is an electric playmaker with a very good pocket presence. Sitting behind Drew Brees would help him out a ton, and he can be an eventual franchise quarterback for New Orleans.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State

The Steelers definitely need linebacker help after the injury to Ryan Shazier this past season. He isn’t the fastest linebacker in the draft, but Leighton Vander Esch is extremely effective as a downhill thumper. He is also solid in coverage and closes well to make plays. He would fit well in Pittsburgh.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

The Jags are another team with very few needs. At this point, strengthening the offensive line to create more lanes for Leonard Fournette and to protect Blake Bortles is the right strategy. Will Hernandez is a mean machine at the guard position. He showed out in a big way at the Senior Bowl and could start day one at guard.

30. Minnesota Vikings: Billy Price, G, Ohio State

The Vikings don’t have a ton of needs either. Their offensive line could also use some depth. After drafting Pat Elflein last year, they reunite him with Billy Price. Despite a pectoral injury suffered at the combine, Price should be ready for training camp. Having him and Elflein in the middle will create some nice holes for Dalvin Cook.

31. New England Patriots: Mike Hughes, CB, Central Florida

After adding Davenport, the Patriots now look to the secondary, which got torn up by Nick Foles and company in the Super Bowl. Mike Hughes would help the Pats right away. He is very good in coverage and has good ball skills down the field. He is another who fits the Patriot mold.

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

The rich get richer here. The running back position isn’t as highly regarded as others, but the Eagles are happy to take a top 10 player in the draft in Derrius Guice. Guice runs like every carry is his last and he also possesses great lateral quickness. He can also be a three down player because of his prowess in pass protection. Guice, Ajayi, and Clement in a backfield together sounds pretty good.

Round Two

33. Cleveland Browns: Sony Michel, RB, Georgia

The Browns get a smooth runner with some giddy up to pair with Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson.

34. New York Giants: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia

The Giants follow suit, grabbing Michel’s running partner at Georgia in their attempt to retool the roster.

35. Cleveland Browns (from Texans): Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA

Joe Thomas has retired, and the Browns surely don’t want Shon Coleman as their starting left tackle come September.

36. Indianapolis Colts: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

The Colts trading back twice netted them plenty of picks, and they start the second round with a quick and powerful defensive linemen in Da’Ron Payne, who has tons of potential.

37. Indianapolis Colts (from Jets): Josh Sweat, EDGE, Florida State

They missed out on Bradley Chubb, but Josh Sweat is a very athletic pass rusher with plenty of prowess playing the run.

38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

The Bucs could use some corner help opposite Vernon Hargreaves, and Isaiah Oliver is a long corner who plays well near the line of scrimmage.

39. Chicago Bears: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

The Bears continue to build a strong supporting cast for Mitchell Trubisky. D.J. Moore is an electric playmaker who will complement Allen Robinson well.

40. Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

The era of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders is in the twilight stage, and Courtland Sutton brings a little Thomas to his game.

41. Oakland Raiders: Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas

The linebacker position is very weak in Oakland, and Malik Jefferson brings the speed and physical nature to reinvigorate it.

42. Miami Dolphins: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota State

Adam Gase loves productive tight ends in his scheme. While Dallas Goedert is a little raw, he has all the potential to be a number one tight end.

43. New England Patriots (from 49ers): Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

The Patriots continue adding on defense, bringing in Ronnie Harrison to use in coverage and near the line of scrimmage.

44. Washington Redskins: Justin Reid, S, Stanford

Justin Reid is an excellent safety who continues to shoot up boards. He will fit well on the back end of Washington’s secondary.

45. Green Bay Packers: Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, EDGE, Oklahoma

It’s no secret edge help is needed in Green Bay, and the Packers opt for Obo Okoronkwo, who has plenty of potential as a three down player.

46. Cincinnati Bengals: Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State

It’s hard to know how many games Vontaze Burfict will play each season, and adding a physical, raw talent in Darius Leonard could eventually ease the burden.

47. Indianapolis Colts (from Cardinals): Austin Corbett, G, Nevada

The Colts need to protect Andrew Luck and find offensive balance. Austin Corbett is an excellent guard talent who can play right away.

48. Los Angeles Chargers: Nathan Shepherd, DT, Fort Hays State

Adding a player like Nathan Shepherd, who caught plenty of attention at the Senior Bowl, would make the Charger defensive line very formidable.

49. Indianapolis Colts (from Seahawks): Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

The Colts keep acquiring talent in the second round. Getting Mike Gesicki for Andrew Luck and the offense would get the passing game back on track.

50. Dallas Cowboys: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis

It’s finally time to find a replacement for Dez Bryant. Anthony Miller is a great route runner who wins at the catch point more than you think at his size. He’s also not just a slot receiver.

51. Detroit Lions: Lorenzo Carter, EDGE, Georgia

The Lions continue to build the front seven, adding an athletic edge player in Lorenzo Carter.

52. Baltimore Ravens: Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

The Ravens get their speedster in the slot to complement Michael Crabtree and company.

53. New York Giants (from Bills): Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon 

Tyrell Crosby is a powerful presence in the run game who could start his career off at right tackle.

54. Kansas City Chiefs: Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State

After Tamba Hali’s release, the Chiefs need some depth on the edge. Sam Hubbard is an athletic edge rusher with a number of moves in his arsenal.

55. Carolina Panthers: Donte Jackson, CB, LSU

The Panthers need help in the secondary, and Donte Jackson has the speed to garner attention in the early rounds.

56. Buffalo Bills (from Rams): Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas

The Bills get an absolute steal late in round two to replace Eric Wood.

57. Tennessee Titans: Dante Pettis, WR, Washington

The Titans seem to be interested in adding more receivers, and Dante Pettis has tons of upside and can start as a returner.

58. Atlanta Falcons: Braden Smith, G, Auburn

The Falcons add a solid guard in Braden Smith to fill the hole left by Andy Levitre.

59. San Francisco 49ers (from Saints): Chukwuma Okorafor, OT, Western Michigan

Offensive linemen go at a premium nowadays, so the Niners getting Chukwuma Okorafor would give them a lineman to develop to be their next left tackle.

60. Pittsburgh Steelers: Jessie Bates III, S, Wake Forest

The Steelers still need secondary help, and Jessie Bates is a do-it-all safety.

61. Jacksonville Jaguars: Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina

The Jags added a couple tight ends in free agency, but none are really top end quality. Hayden Hurst gives them a pass catcher who can also line up inline.

62. Minnesota Vikings: Arden Key, EDGE, LSU

The Vikings can afford to do whatever at the end of round two, and they pick up a pass rusher with plenty of potential, should he stay clean off of the field.

63. New England Patriots: Harrison Phillips, DT, Stanford

The Pats finish out their first two rounds with another defensive player. Harrison Phillips plays relentless on the defensive line.

64. Cleveland Browns (from Eagles): M.J. Stewart, CB, North Carolina 

The Browns desperately need corner help, and they get M.J. Stewart, a name that isn’t getting enough buzz right now.

How do you think your team did? Questions? Comments? Follow Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13.

Also, NEWS! Nate and Jake will be back again this year breaking down picks live and chatting with all you NFL and draft fans on Twitter. Go to @SportsGuysBlog on Twitter for coverage of the first two nights. 

Kyzir White, A Solid Prospect In A Deep Safety Class

When it comes to the safety class in 2018, a few names jump out at you. Guys like Minkah Fitzpatrick, Derwin James, Ronnie Harrison, and Justin Reid will be the first names called next week. However, there are other names in the class that can be impact players for a defense. One of those players is West Virginia safety Kyzir White.

What Does He Offer?

Traditionally, most safeties either will play more as a deep safety in coverage, or a box safety who plays more like a linebacker. Obviously, with versatile defenses becoming more popular, many safeties are doing multiple things on defense. For a player like White, his best fit will be in a box safety role. However, that doesn’t diminish the impact he could have.

White plays extremely aggressive near the line of scrimmage. He has the build of a smaller linebacker which fits today’s NFL. His best trait is his explosiveness coming upfield, attacking downhill with good acceleration off the snap and the quickness to find holes and get in the backfield with ease. One of his best plays of the past season came against Virginia Tech. He was lined up near the line of scrimmage and completely blew up a running play with his explosiveness off the snap and his quickness to get into the backfield.

Above, I discussed that White’s best fit is as a box safety. However, he did play some in the slot in his time at West Virginia. The fact that he played in multiple spots shows some versatility in his part. This versatility could also land White a gig as a dime linebacker in addition to playing safety.

Where Does He Need To Improve?

While White is an extremely tough, aggressive player near the line of scrimmage, there are things that show up on tape that need to be addressed. For one, being aggressive is a good thing, but too much of a good thing sometimes isn’t good. Sometimes, that aggressiveness leads to easy missed tackles. I would like to see White refine his tackling form and get to a point where he wraps up more than he hits with his shoulder.

Another think White needs to work on is his footwork in coverage. He does play quick on the field, but there are times where he was lined up in the slot and he played extremely flat-footed. If White wants to be on the field more, working on his footwork and technique could help him get on the field as a cover guy.

The other concern with White is his speed in open space. When you see him running straight line in space, White looks significantly slower than other players in his secondary and (more importantly) skill players on opposing teams. If his play speed stays that slow, he will not be able to adjust to the next level, where players are bigger, faster, and stronger.

Projection

Right now, Kyzir White sits at a late day two grade for me. While he has plenty of prowess as a box safety and a safety/linebacker hybrid, he struggles a lot in space with his technique and speed. He will certainly find a role in the NFL, but he needs to continue to develop his instincts as a hybrid linebacker and his tackling form. There is upside there, he just has to unlock it.

White has a fit with practically every team that could use safety or linebacker help. Look for him to go on day two of the draft.

Follow Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 for all things NFL Draft. Also, join Jake and Nate live @SportsGuysBlog on Twitter for the first two nights of the draft.

 

What Will Teams Get If They Draft Leighton Vander Esch?

I’ve heard a lot of words to describe Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. Here are some examples.

  • BAMF (shoutout to Stick To Football. If you don’t know, look it up.)
  • Hard-nosed
  • Brick Wall
  • Tackling Machine
  • Tough As Nails

When it was suggested I take a look at Vander Esch, I went in with a clear head of all the outside. It’s hard not to take in some bias with you, but part of learning in this area is forming your own opinions. So, I did, ready to see what Vander Esch would show me on tape.

Prototypical Downhill Backer Alert

After a few games of tape, it was clear what teams would get if they drafted Vander Esch. He is about as prototypical as a downhill linebacker can be. Vander Esch is excellent at reading and reacting to what an offense throws at him. He recognizes very well in the run game, and is quick enough to move around blocks and get into position to make plays. When he’s in position, he is not afraid to put big hits down on players.

After hearing he’s a big hitter, sometimes that carries a connotation that he isn’t a form tackler and wants to lay the big hit on every time. This is definitely not true of Vander Esch. He’s as sound a tackler as you will find in this draft.

Vander Esch is also good with his change of direction, which helps when he’s caught out of position. At times, you’ll see a play where he attacks downhill and comes up empty. However, he finds a way to quickly turn and chase down players in the open field.

We’ve discussed a lot about the run game with Vander Esch, but how about his skills in space? Well, his agility scores (which will be discussed below) show that he has the athleticism and ability to play just fine in coverage. On tape, it’s clear he has the instincts to hang with faster players in space and does well recovering with his athleticism.

Make Sure You Know How To Use Him

You’ll often get a mix of players that were used extremely well in college and some who weren’t used in the correct manner. Both of these are true for Vander Esch. There are many examples on tape of Boise State sending Vander Esch on a blitz. When you send linebackers on a blitz, you expect to see certain things. To be an effective blitzer, you want to see someone get a great jump and accelerate to the quarterback. Otherwise, you want to see good hand usage and block shedding abilities.

The issue is, that isn’t there with Vander Esch on tape. He didn’t get good jumps when he blitzed, and he was stoned at the point of attack almost every time. Seeing this constantly makes me wonder if the coaching staff saw this at all.

The conclusion here? Vander Esch fits very well as a WILL linebacker.

Athletic Ability Strong

Vander Esch didn’t overwhelm me at all on tape. He’s a fine player, and he will certainly excel at the next level. I just don’t see a big game changer. However, if you take a look at his athletic scores, they are off the charts. He tested very well in agility drills, while also posting 98th and 96th percentile scores in the vertical and broad jump. Those scores do confirm a great athlete on the field.

Projection

At this moment, I see Vander Esch as a solid second round player. He isn’t in the elite category like Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, and Rashaan Evans, but you will get a great run defender with the athletic ability to hold his own on third downs. He reminds me a lot of players like Blake Martinez and Reggie Ragland. They don’t play extremely fast, but they are certainly reliable players on defense.

A lot of teams need a reliable defender like Vender Esch, so based on what I’ve read, it’s likely his name gets called on the first night of the draft. Teams like the Chargers, Titans, Saints, and Steelers could all use help at the linebacker position.

For more prospect suggestions, follow Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13. Also, don’t forget, Jake and Nate will be live once again talking NFL Draft for the first two nights on Twitter.

Jaire Alexander, CB1

When the top of the cornerback class is mentioned, the names that come up are a select few. Most people you ask will say that Denzel Ward, Josh Jackson, or Mike Hughes are currently their top corner.

However, I offer a bit of an alternative view. None of those guys are the top corner in the 2018 class, because Louisville standout Jaire Alexander is that guy.

Why didn’t we hear about him as much in 2017? Well, for starters, Alexander missed about half of the 2017 campaign with hand and leg injuries. Also, he was on a team where the main attraction was quarterback Lamar Jackson, which is fair. To top it off, Louisville didn’t contend for the playoff like some of the others. But that’s okay, I’m here to tell you there’s plenty of time to join the Jaire Alexander bandwagon.

What He Does Well

When it comes to Alexander, his biggest fans say that you should throw out the 2017 tape. However, all things considered, it really wasn’t too bad, even with Alexander going through injuries. When you go to 2016, you see a true shutdown corner, and yeah, the proof is coming.

When it comes to coverage, Alexander can do it all. He works best when he plays near the line of scrimmage and gets his hands on receivers right away. He is physical enough to drive them off their routes early and disrupt timing between wideouts and quarterbacks. If he plays off, he still sticks right with receivers because of his iQ to recognize routes and his quickness to change direction.

There are many corners who play well in coverage in the short and intermediate area of the field, but lack the deep speed to stay with receivers down the field. Alexander’s 4.38, along with the tape to show, prove that he has that deep speed and can stay with anyone down the field.

Another thing Alexander brings to the table is his physicality and instincts along the line of scrimmage. He is an able and willing tackler, and he is very instinctive in attacking near the line of scrimmage. There are multiple instances on tape where Alexander blows a play up near the line of scrimmage because he sees it coming.

Let’s also not forget about the ball skills and how he plays at the catch point. Alexander’s best displays of ball skills show up in 2016, with one of the big highlights being his two interceptions of DeShaun Watson. One of those came against Mike Williams in coverage. Williams beat him initially, but Alexander had the recovery speed to close the gap and come up with the interception. Other than that game, you see a corner who aggressively attacks the catch point. He is relentless at getting the ball out.

Another thing that I am a big fan of. Alexander is a confident player, and sometimes his talking on the field makes him look arrogant. Richard Sherman plays the same way, and if you can back it up, do it. Even Jalen Ramsey plays this way.

Does He Have A Weakness?

Every prospect has flaws, as I have said before. With Alexander, it’s the aggressiveness. There are several instances of Alexander being too aggressive too early at the catch point, resulting in easy penalty calls. That’s something that Alexander will need to clean up. Another issue is the 5’11” frame that Alexander brings. There are times where bigger receivers will get the best of him. That issue does rear its head. While Alexander is very good in coverage, he does get too aggressive underneath, which results in him having to recover deep.

Where Do You Play Him?

There will be a debate as to where Alexander ends up playing. Most will favor the slot for him because of his size. He will be very good in that area, but why limit such a good talent to the slot. He continually shows he can play on the boundary, so why not both? Someone who can play on the boundary and in the slot is very valuable (I’m looking at Chris Harris and Casey Hayward).

Projection

By now, you know Alexander is my top cornerback, so he will receive a round one grade from me. However, not many mocks have him going in the first round. I think Alexander can end up going round one, but right now it seems like round two is more likely. Things can still change, but for now, that’s where he stands.

Rashaan Evans Is An Elite Linebacker Talent

The linebacker position is a position with plenty of talent in this year’s draft. Right now, the names near the top of most boards are Roquan Smith and Tremaine Edmunds. Both players are going in the top 10 of most mock drafts right now. While he isn’t a forgotten man at the linebacker position, Rashaan Evans deserves plenty of hype heading into the draft.

What He Does Well

The first thing I noticed with Evans on tape is that he doesn’t just play in the middle of the defense. Alabama played him on the edge for a big chunk of snaps (mostly coming on third downs). That versatility is worth a look.

After that, you see a linebacker who checks off all of the boxes. Is he a sideline-to-sideline player? Check. Is he a powerful downhill backer? Check. Does he bring the tenacity as an aggressive finisher? Absolutely.

Let’s also not forget about seeing a linebacker (who is often the leader on your defense) never give up on a play and chase guys down to the best of his abilities. Evans does that too.

Something you definitely want to see from linebackers is their ability to shed blocks and make plays against the run. Evans is one of the best at this in the entire draft. Not only does Evans use his hands and his strength to get off bigger blockers, but he also has the smooth lateral quickness to make blockers miss entirely.

Another positive that Evans brings to the table is his ability to blitz. There is an art to blitzing from the linebacker spot, and Evans has it down. First, he has the football iQ to often time the snaps of his opponent (shows that he puts in the time in the film room). Second, he accelerates so well downhill that it’s often impossible to get the ball off clean before Evans has you wrapped up or hit hard.

Can He Play On The Edge?

Earlier, I brought up that Alabama used Evans on the edge on third downs. With that being the case, it’s natural to look at his snaps on the edge to see if he can be a guy to thrown in that spot.

Overall, he wasn’t that great on the edge. More often than not, Evans tried to use his hands and his strength to win one-on-one. Against bigger, stronger linemen, winning like that is hard to do. Evans did have some wins, but playing on the edge like that doesn’t often work.

I will say a couple reps flashed. He pulled off a wicked spin move against LSU, and he did get some bend on the arc a couple times. However, for the most part, his reps show that linebacker is his spot.

Where Can He Improve?

What separates good linebackers from great linebackers these days is the ability to play all three downs. On third down, of course, linebackers are expected to do enough in coverage to stay on the field. While Evans isn’t by any means slow, there are some tells that say he isn’t exactly the best in coverage. For starters, Alabama used him on the edge and sent him in to blitz. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his coverage skills. There are also times where Evans gets flat-footed covering running backs out of the backfield, but that is easily fixed. Overall, Evans is fine in coverage, but he won’t wow you.

One other area for Evans to improve is something that you see with many young linebackers entering the league. Sometimes, Evans will get a little too aggressive, which results in some overrun plays and some missed tackles. This isn’t putting Evans’ tackling ability into question, but it’s something he just needs to be cognizant of as a player.

Projection

Overall, I am a big fan of Rashaan Evans as a player. He brings so much to the table, and that will likely lead to his drafting on the first day. He will provide instant impact for a team that needs help on the second level of the defense. His ability to blitz effectively and get off blocks will draw teams to him.

His best fits would be with the Cowboys, Saints, Steelers, and Titans. All four teams are in dire need of stability at the linebacker position (yes, even Dallas. Sean Lee just doesn’t stay healthy enough), and they all would love his ability to come in and play from day one.

Parry Nickerson Is Worth A Look In This Year’s Draft

When it comes to this year’s cornerback class, most everyone is familiar with the top names. Denzel Ward, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, and others are firmly entrenched as first round prospects.

However, the cornerback class is deeper than some believe. It isn’t at the level of last year’s group, but it has late round talent that is worth a look. One of those guys is Parry Nickerson from Tulane.

What’s unfortunate about smaller school prospects is that there isn’t a lot of tape out there for the public. I could only find one game on Nickerson, and that game just happened to be against Memphis. For those following closely, Memphis has a talented wide receiver this year in Anthony Miller. In this game, Nickerson did cover Miller pretty frequently. Here are my notes from this game.

What He Does Well

Nickerson impressed me a lot in his game against Memphis. The first thing that jumps out to me with corners is whether or not they are willing to get dirty and come up to tackle. If I were a GM, I would want corners who are willing to come up and tackle well. The good news is I saw that with Nickerson. He is an able and willing tackler.

What else did I see from Nickerson? His speed was on display early and often, and you see that in a couple plays from that game. On one, Nickerson undercut a wide receiver screen and ended up running the receiver down. On another occasion, Nickerson had the speed to recover after getting beat to the inside and make a nice play on the ball. Speed isn’t everything, but it certainly helps to be able to recover like that and hang with speedier receivers down the field.

The other thing that stood out about Nickerson is his ability to go to work when the ball is in the air. He plays extremely aggressive with the ball in the air, and walked away with multiple pass breakups in the game (two of which were against Miller). He also plays with great timing, and doesn’t get his hands in too early, which of course leads to penalties.

Where He Needs To Improve

No prospect is without fault in this draft. Everyone has things to improve upon. This section isn’t about ripping prospects apart, and it won’t be that. What this will be is pointing out some things where guys can improve.

One thing about Nickerson is his thinner frame. When he takes on blocks on the outside, he often gets overpowered by receivers. This isn’t a huge deal, but corners who help in run support can be very effective players on any defense.

Nickerson is also a bit raw when it comes to flipping his hips, changing direction, and recognizing routes. Nickerson got away with it a bit in his game against Memphis due to his recovery speed, but in the NFL the margin of error is much slimmer. He is a quick player, but sometimes he assumes a deeper route and flips around too soon. A big example in the game is Nickerson flipping his hips and getting beat on a comeback route.  More development from coaching can help, but it is something he needs to work on. Mirroring wideouts is important for a corner. Recognizing how wide receivers operate will only help him in the long run.

Projection

With how raw Nickerson is at this point, it’s likely we will see his name come off the board on day three. However, Nickerson has a leg up because of his speed, which you cannot teach. This speed, combined with his willingness to tackle, could land him on special teams early, and he could work his way to the gunner position sooner than later. As far as a corner goes, he does have work to do technically.

Pre-Free Agency 2018 NFL Mock Draft

The combine came to a close last week, and with many putting on a great display in front of coaches and scouts, rankings and mocks will change. Many players, including Saquon Barkley, Nick Chubb, and Derwin James, checked off the boxes, while others, including Shaquem Griffin, showed us that they are ready for the big stage.

Now, we look forward to the craziness that is free agency. Many big names will be on the move, and it should be crazier than what we’ve seen this past week. Before the madness begins, let’s do a quick mock draft.

Free Agency Note: This mock assumes Kirk Cousins lands with the Vikings.

1. Cleveland Browns: Sam Darnold, QB, USC

The Browns made a ton of moves with and ended up acquiring Tyrod Taylor with those moves. However, Taylor might not be the long term solution. He is a perfect bridge quarterback for Sam Darnold as Darnold develops behind him.

2. New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State

The Giants really should take a quarterback here, but I don’t think new GM Dave Gettleman wants to go in that direction. He has stated Eli Manning is the guy going forward. With that in mind, the Giants take the best running back in the draft to instantly boost their poor running game.

3. Indianapolis Colts: Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State

The Colts have a ton of needs right now, with the biggest coming on defense. Indy is missing that game changer who can consistently get after the quarterback. Luckily, Bradley Chubb is right there for the taking. Chubb is a relentless pass rusher with good hands and a motor that doesn’t quit. He can become a leader on defense quickly.

4. Cleveland Browns (from Texans): Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama

I can definitely see the Browns trading out of this spot with Barkley gone, but let’s keep them here for now. The biggest need on defense lies in the secondary. Minkah Fitzpatrick can do a lot of things for a defense. He can cover in the slot, play a deep safety, and play a hybrid linebacker role near the box, giving the Browns a versatile chess piece.

5. Denver Broncos: Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming

The Broncos cannot go on with Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch at quarterback. I expect they’ve made a strong pitch to Kirk Cousins, but like we assume, that ultimately fails. A backup plan is in place, but that plan also includes drafting a quarterback for the future. For some reason, I think John Elway will fall for the arm strength and potential that Josh Allen provides. He can’t start right away, but he can develop into a starting quarterback.

6. New York Jets: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

The Jets lose out on the Cousins sweepstakes, but that isn’t the worst thing. They instead land a quarterback with the swagger to handle the Big Apple spotlight. Baker Mayfield is rough around the edges at times, but he’s a great competitor and has the arm and accuracy to succeed in the NFL.

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vita Vea, DL, Washington

The Bucs can go a lot of different ways here due to their needs on defense. The biggest need is to get a better pass rush. With no pass rushers left worthy of taking at seven overall, they opt for another beast in the middle. Vita Vea has the power and quickness to thrive in the middle of a defense. Combine him with Gerald McCoy, and interior offensive lines will have issues with them.

8. Chicago Bears: Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

The Bears obviously want to help out their young quarterback, but receiver isn’t worth a top 10 selection. Instead, the Bears look to beef up the front seven by adding Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds can play on the edge or play off the ball, two things Chicago could use. He’s also only 19 years old with his best football ahead of him.

9. San Francisco 49ers: Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia

The Niners added Richard Sherman just yesterday to boost the secondary, and they are now looking to be a contender now. With Reuben Foster in some trouble after his first season, linebacker needs more reinforcements. Roquan Smith plays with sideline-to-sideline speed and is a fierce tackler. He would fit right in on that defense.

10. Oakland Raiders: Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

The Raiders miss out on the linebacker position, but they still need help in the secondary. Last year’s first round pick Gareon Conley figures to be in line for serious reps this season, but other than that, they’re washed up. Bring in Denzel Ward and the Raiders immediately become more physical on the perimeter.

11. Miami Dolphins: Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

The fall ends for Josh Rosen. The Dolphins have a decision to make regarding Ryan Tannehill. At this point, it’s better to look to the future, and the future lands right in their lap. Rosen is the best quarterback prospect in the draft. He has the accuracy, pocket presence, and the ability to work through progressions well. Rosen can start right away.

12. Cincinnati Bengals: Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame

Many analysts have Quenton Nelson as the top prospect in the draft. When the tape goes on, it’s easy to see why. Nelson plays with a mean streak, but his technique is also unmatched. The Bengals need help along the line, and Nelson automatically shores up a spot.

13. Washington Redskins: Derwin James, S, Florida State

The Redskins can go a lot of directions here, especially on defense. They need some help in the secondary and at linebacker. Derwin James helps this defense on both accounts. James is from the same mold as Jalen Ramsey. He can cover bigger receivers and tight ends while also possessing the speed to blitz and play in open space.

14. Green Bay Packers: Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College

The Packers, once again, need defense in the first round. Pass rush is a good place to start, as Green Bay needs more speed coming off the edge. Harold Landry is exactly the player to provide that. His best move is a quick first step and the bend to get around the corner. That speed could ignite the pass rush from day one.

15. Arizona Cardinals: Connor Williams, OL, Texas

The Cardinals could go Lamar Jackson as he sits on the board. However, it seems that Arizona will look elsewhere here. Fixing the offensive line would be a good start. Connor Williams had a disappointing 2017, but he’s still a top tier tackle prospect who can also move in to guard if need be.

16. Baltimore Ravens: D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland

Receiver seems likely for the Ravens in round one to help out Joe Flacco. D.J. Moore checked off the boxes at the combine and could end up being the first receiver off the board. His explosiveness in the open space and ability to make plays down the field give the Ravens a more dynamic passing game.

17. Los Angeles Chargers: Isaiah Wynn, OL, Georgia

The Chargers are in win-now mode, so finding another big body up front to protect Philip Rivers is key. Forrest Lamp will return from injury this year and Dan Feeney is coming off a good rookie season. Now, they shore it up by adding Isaiah Wynn. Wynn projects as an NFL guard, but he did play tackle in the toughest conference to do so. He is a powerful player with good balance in pass protection. Tackle isn’t out of the question for him.

18. Seattle Seahawks: Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

The Legion of Boom is likely going to be split up this offseason, which puts corner back on the list of needs for the Seahawks. Seattle would love to have a game changing corner with great ball skills to come in and fill the void. Josh Jackson can do exactly that. He is a perfect zone corner with top tier ball skills.

19. Dallas Cowboys: Maurice Hurst, DL, Michigan

The Cowboys tagged pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence, giving them a year to work out a long term deal. Now, they add Maurice Hurst to make their front even more dangerous. Hurst has an explosive first step with the power to match. He has the potential to wreck defenses from the interior.

20. Detroit Lions: Da’Ron Payne, DL, Alabama

With new head coach Matt Patricia in town, the Lions will look to revamp the front four of the defense. Haloti Ngata is aging, and they need another presence along the interior to create pressure. While his stats didn’t pile up at Alabama, Da’Ron Payne is a force on the inside who gets upfield to make plays.

21. Buffalo Bills: James Daniels, OL, Iowa

The retirement of Eric Wood makes center an important position to fill. James Daniels isn’t being talked about enough in this class, but he is an excellent lineman with the ability to start right away.

22. Buffalo Bills (from Chiefs): Taven Bryan, DL, Florida

The Bills use their second pick to help out the defensive line. While he isn’t a perfect prospect and requires some development, the potential in Taven Bryan is very high. He can come in and add some juice to the rotation right away with the chance to be a top player down the road.

23. Los Angeles Rams: Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA

After acquiring top talent at corner, pass rusher is the biggest need now for the LA Rams. Marcus Davenport, like Bryan described above, has all the physical tools to succeed as a rusher, but he needs to refine his game. Wade Phillips is the perfect coach to develop and maximize his talent.

24. Carolina Panthers: Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State

The Panthers, outside of the ageless wonder Julius Peppers, need help along the edge to get to the quarterbacks in the NFC South. Sam Hubbard, a converted safety, brings a lot to the table as a pass rusher. He has a plethora of moves and tested well at the combine to check off the athleticism box.

25. Tennessee Titans: Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville

The Titans will almost certainly be looking for help on defense early with Mike Vrabel running the show as head coach. The front seven could use a boost, but there aren’t any pass rushers left worth a gamble at 25. Even though Logan Ryan and Adoree Jackson are there, another corner wouldn’t hurt the Titans. Jaire Alexander was hurt most of 2017, but he is the best corner in this class and would provide immediate impact.

26. Atlanta Falcons: Will Hernandez, OG, UTEP

The Falcons have one of the best rosters in the NFL, which means there aren’t many holes for them. The one area that could use a little boost is the offensive line. Andy Levitre hasn’t worked out excellent at guard, so bring in Will Hernandez, a guard who can play right away and will play with a mean streak.

27. New Orleans Saints: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

The fall ends here for Calvin Ridley. After a poor showing at the combine, many analysts are cautious about Ridley’s stock. If there’s anyone who can get the most out of him, it’s the Saints and Sean Payton. Pairing the quicker Ridley with Michael Thomas gives Brees another target to work with on offense.

28. Pittsburgh Steelers: Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama

The Steelers have a huge need at inside linebacker with Ryan Shazier sidelined for 2018. Rashaan Evans is a perfect fit for the Steelers in this spot. He plays like a heat seeking missile like Reuben Foster before him.

29. Jacksonville Jaguars: Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State

With the extension for quarterback Blake Bortles, it’s likely the Jags won’t use this pick on a quarterback. Other than that, a couple spots need some help. The tight end position is one of those spots. While he won’t do a ton for you as a blocker, Mike Gesicki is a big-bodied target who moves extremely well in the open space. Adding Gesicki creates a whole new dynamic for the Jags passing offense.

30. Minnesota Vikings: Billy Price, OL, Ohio State

Yes, yes, I know Billy Price partially tore his pec at the combine, but that shouldn’t deter teams from picking him. He is still a top interior line player in the draft, and the Vikings could use some help there. Teaming him back up with Pat Elflein would make Dalvin Cook and the backfield very happy.

31. New England Patriots: Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado 

It’s always hard to predict what the Patriots will do with their pick. Most likely, we will see a trade down. Since there are no trades in this draft, the Patriots will opt for some help at the cornerback spot. Malcolm Butler is on the way out, so someone opposite Stephon Gilmore is necessary. Isaiah Oliver is a long corner with very good coverage skills. The Pats could use him for a number of situations.

32. Philadelphia Eagles: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

The rich get richer. Should the Eagles lose LeGarrette Blount to free agency, the backfield could use depth. Pairing up Derrius Guice with Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement creates a very dynamic backfield for the reigning champs.

What do you think of the selections? Comments? Not happy with your team’s pick? Find Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13.

2018 NFL Draft: Top 5 Positional Rankings 1.0

One of the more anticipated weeks in draft season begins on Friday, as the NFL world descends on Indianapolis for the NFL Scouting Combine. During the week, draft prospects will look to improve their stock and move up a couple rounds in projection by proving their athleticism.

Before the craziness and on-field workouts begin, a draft position rankings is long overdue. This post would normally be on The Draft Den, but unfortunately, we are fixing some things at the moment. For now, NFL Draft content will be here.

Let’s get to my top five players at each position for the NFL Draft, pre-combine edition.

Quarterbacks

1. Josh Rosen, UCLA

2. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

3. Sam Darnold, USC

4. Lamar Jackson, Lousiville

5. Josh Allen, Wyoming

Analysis: As of right now, and it’s hard to see this changing, Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield are the most polished quarterbacks in the class. Rosen is masterful moving in the pocket and reading the defense. His accuracy is also top notch, especially in the intermediate area of the field. Mayfield has the arm and the accuracy to go toe-to-toe with Rosen, but is slightly less polished. Sam Darnold may have the highest ceiling of any of the quarterbacks, but he has things to work on, most notably his footwork and turnovers. Overall, though, the talent is there. Lamar Jackson is a much better passer than people give him credit for. He does a great job maneuvering the pocket with his athleticism. What stands out most is how he resets his feet after evading pressure. He does need to work on having a wider base when he throws, but he is improving. Oh yeah, and he’s also a special player in space as a runner. Josh Allen is all boosted with arm talent, but he has plenty to work on. He needs to play more refined in the pocket and work on his touch. He is a project, but he has potential.

Running Backs

1. Saquon Barkley, Penn State

2. Derrius Guice, LSU

3. Ronald Jones, USC

4. Sony Michel, Georgia

5. Nick Chubb, Georgia

Analysis: I nearly put Guice above Barkley because it’s that close right now. Barkley is a special player, with the burst and pass catching ability to wreak havoc on defenses. He’s also big enough to run between the tackles. Guice is another big back at 224 pounds, but he has burst himself to run away from the defense. He also possesses the lateral quickness Barkley does, but he makes every run look like his last, fighting for every last yard. Ronald Jones feels slept on in this class right now. There might not be a better back with the burst to get to the edge and turn it upfield. Even though Jones is smaller, he still runs well between the tackles and has great balance through contact. Sony Michel and Nick Chubb are a big reason why Georgia played for a national title. Michel and Chubb both possess the vision, burst, and balance through contact to succeed in the NFL. Right now, Michel sits slightly higher because of injury history.

Wide Receivers

1. Calvin Ridley, Alabama

2. D.J. Moore, Maryland

3. Courtland Sutton, SMU

4. James Washington, Oklahoma State

5. Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

Analysis: There isn’t a better receiver in the draft than Calvin Ridley right now. Ridley is a nuanced route runner, and is smooth as silk getting past defenders after the catch. He can also stretch the field with his speed and has good hands. D.J. Moore is an electric playmaker with the ball in his hands. He may not be a number one option down the road, but he certainly has high end wide receiver two potential in the league. Courtland Sutton is a big bodied wide receiver who wins down field with his body. He has a strong frame to go up and win 50-50 balls. He is an above average route runner, but sometimes struggles to separate against quicker defenders. James Washington checked off a lot of boxes during Senior Bowl practices. He is a vertical threat with strong hands, and ran routes better back in January than many predicted. Rounding out the list is Christian Kirk, a dynamic receiver who can line up anywhere. Kirk is extremely dangerous after the catch, with the burst to take anything to the house.

Tight End

1. Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State

2. Mark Andrews, Oklahoma

3. Mike Gesicki, Penn State

4. Hayden Hurst, South Carolina

5. Ian Thomas, Indiana

Analysis: The tight end class in 2018 is full of untapped potential. It starts at the top with Dallas Goedert, who, while still raw, presents great athleticism to stretch the field while also having the size and willingness to block. He has excellent hands and a wide catch radius. Mark Andrews is a solid prospect this year, especially in the passing game. He isn’t extremely dynamic, but he gets the job done and will be a good option in any offense. Mike Gesicki is a big bodied tight end with the athleticism to thrive in the red zone at the next level. He has strong hands and a strong frame to frustrate defenses. Gesicki’s only knock will be his ability to get his pads low enough to block. Hayden Hurst is rising quickly up boards with his dynamic ability in the passing game. He is a do-it-all tight end. Ian Thomas is another athletic prospect with the ability to stretch the field.

Offensive Tackle

1. Connor Williams, Texas

2. Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

3. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma

4. Jamarco Jones, Ohio State

5. Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State

Analysis: The offensive tackle group isn’t very deep this year, but some big names sit at the top. Connor Williams, despite a knee injury this season, is still my number one tackle. He is the most refined with his footwork and balance of anyone. Mike McGlinchey is another disciplined tackle, possessing the strength and leverage to block upfield in the running game while holding his own in pass protection. Orlando Brown is a physically dominant tackle, and is more agile than people think. Jamarco Jones should be talked about more, and maybe that’s because he spent his time on the right side in 2017. He is a powerful run blocker capable of starting right away. Martinas Rankin is forgotten in this class, but he’s a steady player and does everything well.

Interior Offensive Line

1. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

2. Billy Price, Ohio State

3. Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

4. Will Hernandez, UTEP

5. James Daniels, Iowa

Analysis: This top five is a group of strong players with a mean streak. Quenton Nelson may be the best guard prospect in quite some time. He is a powerful player that gets to the second level with ease. Billy Price also plays mean up front, and his versatility to play center and guard will attract plenty of teams. Isaiah Wynn played tackle at Georgia, but many believe he will transition to guard in the NFL. He anchors well and has the power to move defenders. Will Hernandez is cut from a similar mold. He uses defender’s speed and power against them, and may get the bouncer title very early on. James Daniels has only been talked about recently, but he is another who can play both center and guard.

Edge Defenders

1. Bradley Chubb, North Carolina State

2. Harold Landry, Boston College

3. Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma

4. Duke Ejiofor, Wake Forest

5. Sam Hubbard, Ohio State

Analysis: The edge class is the most intriguing, because so many players make a case for the top five. The one thing that is clear is Bradley Chubb sitting on top. He is a relentless pass rusher with a plethora of moves to win one-on-one. Harold Landry didn’t have a good 2017, but his quick first step, bend around the arc, and better-than-advertised run defense make him a first round talent. Obo Okoronkwo is a powerful pass rusher who impressed a lot at the Senior Bowl with his power and hand usage. Speaking of hand usage, there may not be a better rusher at that than Duke Ejiofor. He is a calculated rusher who does a great job reading the lineman before making a move. Sam Hubbard converted to edge rusher, but he has acquired a number of moves and always attacks differently.

Interior Defensive Line

1. Maurice Hurst, Michigan

2. Vita Vea, Washington

3. Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

4. Taven Bryan, Florida

5. Nathan Shepherd, Fort Hays State

Analysis: The interior defensive line class might be the deepest in the draft. It starts with Maurice Hurst, who has an extremely quick first step and will thrive with his hand usage. Vita Vea had an inconsistent year, but his physical traits can’t be taught. Plus, Vea can be moved all along the line thanks to his quickness. Da’Ron Payne didn’t show up a lot on the stat sheet this season, but he lived in the backfield playing along the interior. Taven Bryan is another physically gifted player who just needs some more refinement in his game. Nathan Shepherd was unheard of until the Senior Bowl, where he looked like the best defender in attendance. He did a great job in one-on-ones using his hands to not get sucked in by linemen. He also showed good quickness and bend from the interior and will certainly shoot up boards after the combine.

Linebackers

1. Roquan Smith, Georgia

2. Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

3. Rashaan Evans, Alabama

4. Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

5. Fred Warner, BYU

Analysis: Roquan Smith is the top linebacker by far in this draft. His sideline-to-sideline speed combined with his instincts and coverage prowess separate him from the pack. Tremaine Edmunds is on the rise for sure. He’s a big and fast player who can play on the weak side and rush the passer, but he’s a project when it comes to his instincts and understanding his position. The good news? He’s only 19. Rashaan Evans is a missile at linebacker and his speed fits right in with the changing NFL. Vander Esch is a classic downhill linebacker, which still fits in today’s NFL, but his lack of three down ability may push him down. Fred Warner may be a bit of an unknown, but he’s a faster and more athletic player than people know, and he will continue to rise as the process goes on.

Cornerbacks

1. Jaire Alexander, Louisville

2. Denzel Ward, Ohio State

3. Isaiah Oliver, Colorado

4. Josh Jackson, Iowa

5. Carlton Davis, Auburn

Analysis: Just throw the 2017 tape out the window for Jaire Alexander. Alexander is the best cover corner in this class and he talks and walks like he is. Denzel Ward is extremely physical near the line of scrimmage. He lacks deep speed, but zone teams will love him. Isaiah Oliver is another long corner from Colorado who will be able to start from the get go. Josh Jackson is the definition of a ball hawk, which will be attractive to many. However, he needs to work a bit on his technique in coverage. Carlton Davis rounds out the list, and his physical stature and play near the line of scrimmage translate well.

Safeties

1. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

2. Derwin James, Florida State

3. Ronnie Harrison, Alabama

4. Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh

5. DeShon Elliott, Texas

Analysis: Minkah Fitzpatrick could be on the cornerback list, but he fits better as a safety, where he can play deep with everything in front of him while also moving down by the line of scrimmage. His instincts, speed, and work ethic make him exactly the type of player to lead a defense down the road. Derwin James started out 2017 rough, but he found some of himself before his injury in 2016. James will be a great player near the line of scrimmage in a Kam Chancellor role. Ronnie Harrison plays like a linebacker near the line of scrimmage, but he also has the speed to play in coverage. Jordan Whitehead was a star on an underwhelming Pitt team. He has above average ball skills and plays a good centerfield. Rounding out the top five is DeShon Elliott, a speedster at the safety spot with good instincts and tackling skills.

Disagree with the rankings? Find Jake on Twitter @JSchyvinck13 and discuss!

The Illini Guys, Episode 3: Bounce Back Against Wisconsin, National Signing Day

In this episode of The Illini Guys, the guys recap the Ohio State game and what could have been. Then, they preview all things Wisconsin as the Illini look to bounce back on Thursday night. Moving over to the recruiting side, Nate takes a look at a couple recruits that basketball fans should have an eye on. Then, the guys wrap up signing day for the Illini and what to look for come football season.