We can officially dive in head first into the 2018 NFL Draft as the actual draft order starts to clear up, team needs are starting to become obvious and the 2018 Senior Bowl roster is nearing completion. The Senior Bowl is where I’ve been focusing my time on the most right now, along with a very deep quarterback class. Ideally I’ll have done tape study on every participant in the Senior Bowl before that game(played 8 days before the Super Bowl). That way I have tape study and each prospect’s impact on the week down in Mobile to go off of. Sometimes a certain scheme will make a prospect look faster or more capable in coverage or blocking. Practicing in one-on-one drills at the Senior Bowl will expose players that were more protected in college. This is especially crucial for corners who we might have concerns about their deep speed, that don’t run at the combine.
First let me get to the quarterback group. Josh Rosen is the clear cut number one prospect of this group and Sam Darnold is the wildcard who could completely change the draft. He’s a third year sophomore who may or may not come out. He has the highest ceiling, but also currently possess really bad mechanics and footwork. He can make some wow throws and scrambles, but also some of the dumbest decisions in and out of the pocket. He doesn’t get phased by his mistakes, which coaches will love, but he also doesn’t learn from them either, which coaches will hate.
Josh Rosen has outstanding mechanics and a really good, strong and accurate arm. For me, he looks like Matt Ryan on tape. He can make all the throws and he’s exactly the type of quarterback you want when you are down a score late and need that final clutch drive. He’s leaner and not quite as athletic as Darnold so I can see why a team might draft him over Rosen, but with Rosen I know I’m getting a franchise quarterback who is going to win a lot of playoff games at the next level. With Darnold I really don’t know. He’s a gamble. You might get Andrew Luck, you might get Jeff George.
The next quarterbacks to get drafted after Rosen and possibly Darnold are very much in the air. Josh Allen was supposed to be the third quarterback, but he has had a rough 2017 season and at times he looks more like Brandon Bridge than he does Big Ben.
A lot of people expect Baker Mayfield to be the third(or 2nd if Darnold stays in school) quarterback drafted. I love Mayfield and I wouldn’t want to bet against him, but his deep ball is a huge concern going forward. I have yet to find tape of him throwing a pass over 30 yards in stride to his receiver. It tends to die in the air after about 25 yards and his receiver is constantly waiting on the ball or fighting back against the defender. Better mechanics and some time in the weight room could improve this, but right now I see more of a Alex Smith than I do a Russell Wilson. The top 10 hype will soon fade and he’ll be a late first round, early second round draft pick. I gave him a 3rd round grade.
Lamar Jackson is probably the third best quarterback in this draft, but the team that drafts him is going to have to deal with his leaner body frame, aggressive running style and build an offense around him better suited to what he does best. He’s estimated at about 210 pounds, which isn’t a lot lighter than Josh Rosen, but Rosen doesn’t take off and run nearly as much as Jackson does.
Outside of his elite speed as a runner, there is a lot to like in Jackson’s game. Outside of Rosen and Darnold, he throws the best deep ball in this class and his mechanics in the pocket will surprise you. His issues as a thrower are mainly playing within a pro-style offense, learning how to make changes pre-snap at the next level and learning how to read an NFL defense. If he can get up to 220 pounds at the combine, I think he, not Mayfield, we’ll be the third(again could be 2nd if Darnold stays) quarterback taken in the top 10 next April.
There are three more senior quarterbacks that I’ve watched, one of which I really like. The other two are Luke Falk and Mason Rudolph. Falk is okay, he just doesn’t wow you in any way. He doesn’t do anything pre-snap, he has okay accuracy, weaker arm, average athlete and doesn’t go through his progressions very well. You can get a quarterbacks like that all day that go undrafted, which is why I gave him an UDFA grade.
Rudolph to me, looks like Blaine Gabbert 2.0. He has good straight line speed and an above-average arm. He plays in a very simplistic offense so adjusting to an NFL offense is going to be an up-hill battle for him. What really turned me off on him is how slowly he moves laterally. It’s really a sight to see. He’s a statue in the pocket and isn’t going to avoid any type of rush. There was a time in the NFL when a QB with zero lateral agility could survive, but that time passes when 280+ pound edge rushers starting moving like wide receivers. He’s a sitting duck who can’t read a defense. I wouldn’t waste a draft pick or even a 90 man roster spot on him, but I’m sure he’ll be drafted by somebody. I mean Johnny Manziel and Brandon Weeden both went in the first round and neither looked like NFL quarterbacks in college.
Kurt Benkert is this year’s Kirk Cousins. Not an elite arm, but good enough, deadly accurate at times, fearless and a very underrated athlete. When you put on the tape of the first half against Miami, you’ll swear he’s a first round prospect. The rest of his tape is pretty up and down and at times you wonder if he’s worth a draft pick. He’ll be at the Senior Bowl and that week will make or break him as a possible day 2 prospect.
Speaking of the Senior Bowl, that running back group is absolutely going to steal the show, and they still have a few spots open at that position. Royce Freeman, Rashaad Penny, Akrum Wadley, Jaylen Samuels and Kalen Ballage have all accepted their invites. Samuels is a hyrbid back whose role will depend on the team that drafts him. Wadley, Freeman, Ballage and Penny all have the potential to be 1,000 yard backs right away at the next level. Freeman reminds me of Kareem Hunt, Wadley is Shady 2.0, Penny is another elusive cutback RB and Ballage is an impressive athlete who could be a nightmare matchup on wheel routes.
There is senior running back who either hasn’t accepted a Senior Bowl invite or hasn’t gotten one yet, that has really caught my eye. Jarvion Franklin of Western Michigan reminds me of Jay Ajayi when he came out of Boise State. He’s big, powerful with really light feet and an explosive first step. He’s solid in pass protection and is a dangerous receiver coming out of the backfield. I haven’t seen enough of his 2017 tape yet, but from what I’ve seen from this year and in 2016, he’s got the potential to be the third best back in this class, just trailing Derrius Guice of LSU and Saquon Barkley of Penn State.
I’ll talk more about the actual Senior Bowl running backs and wide receivers next week, but I want to finish on another Mobile participant in Memphis’s Anthony Miller. Miller has started receiving top 100 hype, but by the end of the scouting combine he is going to be a consensus first round prospect.
Miller’s tape is phenomenal and at times he completely dominates games. He does everything a receiver needs to do at a high level. He competes as a blocker, he has outstanding hands, he runs crisp routes, he separates quickly and finds the ball in the air very quickly. He’s not as freakish as Odell Beckham, but he’s a similar prospect. Not great size, but good enough, he catches everything and he’s a nightmare to cover on an island. He’s too quick and too precise to handle without help. He’s going to wow at the Senior Bowl, run really fast times at the combine, catch everything in every drill he participates in and end up being the first wide receiver drafted.