The 2018 NFL Draft is starting to get a bit more interesting as we just 2 weeks away from the first 20 picks being set in stone. I would like to offer my congratulations to the Denver Broncos, the Washington Redskins and the San Francisco 49ers for probably costing themselves top 5 in April with wins this past week. The New York Giants almost short-passed their way out of a top two pick, but a key Eagles stop keeps them in the running for either Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold.
That’s actually a key story to watch over these last two weeks. If the Giants win one more game and the Colts lose their final two, based on the current strength of schedule the Colts would end up with the second overall pick. I know the Colts wouldn’t draft a quarterback, but they would definitely trade down with the highest bidder. Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are elite quarterback prospects and the drop-off after them is significant.
Last week I spent a lot of time talking about the quarterbacks and I think I’ll beat that position to death the closer we get to the actual draft. This week I am focusing on the players who will be catching passes at the Senior Bowl. I already mentioned Memphis’s Anthony Miller last week, so I’ll focus on some lesser known wide receivers and a couple early round tight end prospects.
I talked about Freeman the prospect last week, but I want to address his decision to sit out the Las Vegas Bowl. This is something we are going to see more and more, especially from running backs, in non-playoff bowl games. These games mean a ton in terms of recruiting and for the fans, but Freeman wasn’t going to help his draft stock by playing in this game. He’s a four year starter with about 50 games worth of tape and he’s already accepted an invitation to the Senior Bowl.
I don’t blame any prospect with two years worth of solid tape that sits out their bowl game. They have nothing to gain and can stand to lose a lot of money if they get hurt in a meaningless game. If the NCAA wants to avoid this, then they need to expand the playoffs. You can’t ask draft prospects to risk injury for zero pay in a game that means nothing other than end of the season pride. In the last two years, Jake Butt and Jaylon Smith have gone from first round prospects to day 2 picks and missed their entire first season in the NFL.
Another quality running back to come out of San Diego State, except this one doesn’t weigh as much as a kicker. Penny is incredibly elusive in the open field and reliable receiver out of the backfield. A lot of people don’t know about this kid yet, even though he ran for over 2,000 yards this season. They soon will, he is going to open up a lot of eyes down in Mobile next month.
Samuels is an interesting prospect to watch. NC State lines him up all over the field. Some sites list him as a running back, wide receiver and even a tight end. He’s like a 5’11 version of Trey Burton. He can beat you as a slot reciever, be a lead blocker in the run game or you can just give him the ball out of the backfield. He was their most reliable target on third down and the type of player that doesn’t need a set position, because he’s versatile enough to play 4 or 5 different spots in a different game. I’m curious how the coaching staff at the Senior Bowl will use him, but my guess will be as some type of combo back.
The defensive backs at the Senior Bowl are going to learn how to defend the fade in a hurry because of this kid. Ateman isn’t a very advanced route runner and he isn’t very quick, but he’s a huge target who knows how to win at the catch point. He was a really easy evaluation. Get him on an island, get him matched up against smaller corners and let him win over the top.
Lazard is similar to Ateman in size, but more rounded as a receiver with a little bit more separation ability. He’s a high character kid who choose to play for a down program and stick with them, instead of transferring for a better program. Coaches are going to like his well-rounded game and work ethic, but his hands are very inconsistent at this point. Right now it’s not a great wide receiver group, so he has a chance to really stand out along with Anthony Miller.
The three tight ends that are getting the most buzz right now are Troy Fumagali of Wisconsin, Mark Andrews of Oklahoma and Mike Gesicki of Penn State(Fumagali and Gesicki will participate in the Senior Bowl). This year’s class doesn’t compare to last year’s by any stretch, but these are the three most NFL ready tight end prospects.
I’ve seen a lot of high projections for Fumagali, but I think that will change after the combine. He’s a pretty good blocker, not over-powering but he’s a boost to any running game. As a receiver he is pretty average. He isn’t much of a mis-match and he doesn’t separate that well. He’ll be a solid number two tight end for some NFL team, but he isn’t anybody scouts are going to drool over and he won’t stretch the field. He should go in the middle of day 3, but he’s getting a lot of high day two projections. That will change once he runs some below-average times for his positional group.
Mark Andrews reminds me of Zach Ertz. He’s quick, versatile and a pretty average blocker. 20 years ago he would struggle to see the field, but in today’s game he’s a big slot receiver who you want on the field on key third downs. He’s not a deep threat, but he can dominate the intermediate part of the field by finding holes in zone coverage and beating his man with seam and post routes.
Mike Gesicki is my number one ranked tight end at the moment. He’s been getting a bad rap with his blocking ability, but honestly it’s not a huge issue for me. Like Andrews, he isn’t a mauler in the run game, but he’s versatile and usually does his job. As a reciever, he has big time potential. He makes a couple of circus catches every week, including two against Michigan and three against Ohio State. He’s about 6’6 and should jump around 40 inches at the combine. He’s also an impressive hurdler(see the Michigan State game).