I thought I would throw out some of our initial impressions on this year's draft prospects, though it will take some time before we finalize our lists for each position group. A fair number of our favorite prospects either weren't invited to the combine, or didn't participate in all of the drills, which means we will have to wait for some of the pro-day results to start coming in. So, for now, I'll just throw out some random thoughts, though we're a long way from having our final lists for each position group.
One thing I should mention is our view on pro-day numbers. Some people don't like to use them since they feel that the results can be a bit rigged in the player's favor when they perform at their home campus. There may be some minor truth to this, but I think it gets a bit overblown. Either way, I have no problem with adjusting a player's results in the vertical jump and broad jump, based on this extra data. A jump is a jump is a jump. I'm not too worried about this aspect of things being rigged in their favor. As for the other data that pro-days can provide, well, sometimes it's the only data that is available. If a player performs at the combine as well as their pro-day, I will tend to place more weight in the combine performance, at least for the timed drills. In the end, I'll just say that some players can still improve their stock a bit in the next couple of weeks.
Also, do you know how frustrating it is that the NFL is so slow to release some of their combine data? Waiting for them to release the numbers from the player's 10-yard and 20-yard splits is just annoying. They also haven't released the results for the defensive linemens' short shuttle, which is extremely frustrating. The data will come eventually, but they are being ridiculously slow about it. Clearly the NFL doesn't care about my suffering.
This minor frustration pales in comparison to the greatest violation I have experienced this draft season. If I have to see that Honda Civic commercial, with the 'Today is the greatest day' theme, one more time, I might just kill someone. For some reason this ad comes up in virtually every Youtube clip I watch for draft prospects, and it is slowly driving me insane.
Now, onto my deranged first impressions, a few thoughts that are probably pretty obvious, and others that are sure to be treated with scorn.
The tight end group this year performed horrifically. While players like Eric Ebron and Jace Amaro may end up performing like stars, their combine performances fell well short of the mark for what I need to see in order to draft a tight end in the vicinity of the 1st round. The results were so bad, that I had to start considering some possibly idiotic options to solve this problem. What if we considered Logan Thomas, the QB from Virginia Tech, as the best tight end prospect? People keep suggesting that he has the tools to be a QB, and just needs to be coached up a bit, but does this ever really work? It certainly doesn't seem so to me. Bad QBs almost invariably remain bad QBs. He does, however, have somewhat interesting physical measurables to play tight end. At 6'6", 248 pounds, and showing good speed, explosiveness and agility, I think it would be an interesting experiment. He also has 10 7/8" hands which would be exceptional for a tight end. I'm not getting my hopes up that this will happen, but I think it is worth considering.
Despite all of the attention paid to Michael Sam, I think we can officially eliminate him as a draftable prospect. I have no interest in rooting against this kid, because he seems like an intelligent and reasonable human being, but his profile as an NFL pass rusher is preposterously bad. Though he may improve his numbers at his pro-day, he currently has a -1.113 Kangaroo Score and a -2.225 Agility Score (based off of his 3-cone drill, since the short shuttle data is still unavailable). I don't even care that much about his poor 40 time (4.91 seconds). I have never seen anyone achieve any real measure of success with results that were even half as bad as Sam's numbers. When we consider his statistical performance in college, it doesn't really get any more encouraging. He only performed at a high level in his senior year, and was relatively insignificant prior to that. Even if we just considered his senior year, 9 of his 11.5 sacks came in just three games, with long stretches in between where he did very little. At this point I would say he is completely undraftable.
It also seems that I will be continuing my trend of betting against players from Alabama. Considering that most people project middle linebacker C.J. Mosley to be a mid-1st round pick, I will say that I find this all a bit confusing. While we still need to get some additional data for him, he currently has a -0.748 Kangaroo Score, and a -0.251 Agility Score. These results aren't quite as horrific as they may seem at first glance, as a -0.800 would be a fairly average result for a MLB (the baseline numbers here are skewed in favor of more explosive pass rushers), though we would really hope to see something closer to -0.400 here. I would say his statistical production was also just in the okay-to-good range, but nothing exceptional. When I watched him play, nothing really leapt out at me, and I got the overall impression of a fairly mediocre middle linebacker. All the numbers, both athletically and statistically speaking, point to him being a smaller, less productive version of Rolando McClain, who the computer didn't think was very good either. Still, I'll give him a shot to show some improvements at his pro-day, but for now, I don't see him being worth more than maybe a fourth or fifth round pick.
Similarly, the hype on Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as a first round prospect seems a bit odd. I don't think he is necessarily terrible, and still need to watch him play a bit more, but the numbers just don't add up to him being a reasonable pick in the 1st or 2nd round area. While he has acceptable size (6'1" and 208#) and speed (4.58 seconds), his -0.603 Agility Score doesn't suggest any likelihood of exceptional coverage ability, and his 0.079 Kangaroo Score doesn't suggest he will be a great hitter either. His college production is fairly unimpressive, outside of a decent number of interceptions, and is dwarfed by many of his peers such as Deone Buchanon, Calvin Pryor, and Jimmie Ward. I'll keep digging around for more information here, but for now I would avoid him. I would probably be willing take him a round higher than he probably deserves to go, just based on having an awesome name.
The top three projected offensive tackles (Matthews, Robinson and Taylor), all passed our initial inspection as at least okay to good prospects. I would say that all three should easily surpass last year's prospects of Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher by a pretty good margin, but perhaps not Lane Johnson who I still think is incredibly promising. If I had to pick one of them at the top of the draft, I would currently lean towards Robinson. Lewan Taylor was probably the most athletically intriguing, despite his rather mediocre arm length for his height, but the potential that he has human body parts in his refrigerator makes me a bit nervous. The stories about him paint a potentially disturbing picture. After these three, the list of tackle prospects gets very sketchy very fast, though there are some mid-round prospects we think could be intriguing. The most interesting player to go in the top couple of rounds might actually be Joel Bitonio, though what position he will end up playing is a bit of a mystery at this point. He is possibly the safest o-line prospect in the whole draft, at least based on currently available data. Either way, our full list of offensive line prospects will probably be one of the first things we post up.
How funny is it that CBS's projected top running back, KaDeem Carey, ran a 4.70 second 40-yard dash, with a -0.858 Kangaroo Score, and a -0.941 Agility Score? He better be relying on his charm and personality to gain yards, because physically he is a disaster. On the other hand, maybe speed, power and agility are overrated aspects of being a running back.
So far, I would have to agree with Mike Mayock when it comes to making a decision between Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack, and would lean strongly in Mack's direction. The computer currently has 1st round grades for both of them, though the decision may come down to whether your team is going to play a 3-4 or 4-3 defense. I like Mack better in a 3-4, and Clowney has a slight edge in a 4-3, though I think both could probably play in either defense, if you accepted that they both have certain physical limitations. Either way, I think the hype on Clowney is a bit ridiculous. Yes, he is physically gifted, but he is not some otherworldly specimen that has never been seen before. The really interesting question here will be whether a team would be better off trading out of the top of the draft, and gambling on some of the prospects that will be available later. There could be some pretty good pass rusher depth this year (as well as general purpose linebackers), and I would probably be willing to settle for a potentially 'very good' player at a lesser price. It will still be a little while before we put together our final list here, but I am dying to see how USC's Morgan Breslin performs at his pro-day, as I think he could be a very exciting option that would cost significantly less than other prospects.
I don't want to get too far into the wide receiver subject yet, though I will say that the initial projections of who will go in the first two rounds looks to be somewhat in line with what the computer would expect and approve of. There are only two thoughts I want to throw out here. One, I'm not sure if I can fully support the idea of Sammy Watkins as a top ten pick. The computer likes him, and he was clearly a very productive player, but for a receiver who is of somewhat average size, his athleticism doesn't seem to fully back up the idea that this is a reasonable risk at the very top of the draft. I suppose I could say many of these same things about Marqise Lee as well. On the other hand, we have the incredibly frustrating situation that is Jeff Janis. On paper he is just an astounding prospect, even if he did play at Saginaw Valley State. He is clearly a bit of a gamble, but an incredibly intriguing player.
We'll be back relatively soon to dig deeper into the individual position groups, and lay out where we would take individual players, but I just thought I would throw this out for the moment. For now, I think we can call this year's combine a roaring success since there was no feces-play in the hotel rooms, and nobody pulled an Isaac Hilton, though we did have someone duck out of the combine because God told them to. I suppose that is progress, of some sort.