It also means they can be quite open in the draft. Unless a major glaring need emerges over the next few weeks, they can afford to make a ‘luxury’ pick (if you want to call it that). By that I mean an extra pass rusher to add to the rotation (not necessarily a starter), an extra weapon for the offense (WR, TE, RB) or a linebacker hybrid (won’t always be on the field and could be a LB/S or a LB/LEO).
A case can certainly be made for continuing to invest in the offensive line and nobody would argue if, like the Cowboys, they simply keep spending their high picks on the O-line. However, it’s worth noting:
a.) This is looking like a really weak class at offensive tackle
b.) The interior O-line looks set
c.) They just spent a third round pick on Rees Odhiambo who figures into their long term planning plus they appear to be enamoured with the potential of George Fant
None of this prevents them from spending a high pick on an offensive tackle — but look at the thin options. Cam Robinson has character red flags and Mike McGlinchey recently revealed he intends to stay at Notre Dame in 2017.
If you’re pinning your hopes on another high pick for the O-line next Spring, you might want to hope other players emerge in the second half of the college football season.
Strengths of the draft at the moment
This is potentially a tremendous class for defensive backs — a sublime class. The group of safety’s are headlined by the likes of Jabrill Peppers, Malik Hooker, Justin Evans, Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye. All could end up with top-20 grades with Budda Baker also in the equation. My personal favourite is Ohio State’s Hooker. His range and playmaking ability is reminiscent of Earl Thomas at Texas. That’s no over-exaggeration.
In the modern NFL teams are desperately looking for deep cover safety’s that can do what Thomas does in Seattle and Hooker could easily land in the top-10 as a consequence. Teams are also looking for players that can operate in a similar role to Deone Bucannon and Peppers and Maye look like potential candidates for that. Adams and Evans (plus Washington’s Baker) look like more traditional safety’s.
At cornerback there’s also a cluster of potential first round picks. Tennessee’s Cam Sutton is a tremendous talent while Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey has everything — size, speed, length, physicality. The two Florida cornerbacks could go early (Tabor & Wilson) while Clemson’s Cordea Tankersley, Virginia Tech’s Brandon Facyson, LSU’s Tre’Davious White and Washington’s Sidney Jones are all really good prospects.
It’s also shaping up to be a very intriguing class for front seven players on defense. At the top end you’ve got the likes of Myles Garrett and Tim Williams. Carl Lawson and Derek Barnett are two other EDGE types who could go early while Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot plays like he’s shot out of a cannon and Michigan’s Taco Charlton doesn’t just have a great name — he also plays with great quickness at DE or OLB.
There are DE/DT types in Jonathan Allen, Malik McDowell, Demarcus Walker and Caleb Brantley. If you want a nose tackle, Greg Gaines at Washington is just explosive and might declare if his stock continues to rise as a redshirt sophomore and Lowell Lotulelei isn’t the same pass rusher as his brother Star but he’s tough to move and soaks up double teams.
Linebacker will also provide some options — including Alabama’s Reuben Foster, Florida duo Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis, Washington’s Akeem Victor and Iowa’s Josey Jewell.
These are just the names at the top of the board too. There’s likely to be depth deep down the line, including guys like Ole Miss LB/DE Marquis Haynes and Texas A&M DE/DT Daeshon Hall.
This would tend to suggest it’s a defensive draft — but aside from the lack of resources on the O-line there’s also some really nice depth at running back, receiver and tight end.
Thoughts on the running back position
If the team picking first overall selected Leonard Fournette — I don’t think anyone should complain. He is that good. In fact he’s been so good for so long it almost feels like people are trying to fight it now and find reasons to knock him (a slight ankle injury being the latest example).
Fournette is special. You just don’t see many human beings with his combination of size and explosive athleticism. He is virtually the perfect running back. Plus he has the character and maturity to be an instant face of the franchise and a leader. Teams will have nightmares game-planning to stop him. He is the Julio Jones or J.J. Watt of running backs.
I suspect, at the moment, that there are only two other backs with first round potential — Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey.
Cook’s burst is exceptional and he takes advantage of the smallest crease to make big gains. He won’t be a tone-setting, physical up-the-gut runner but he can be a chunk-play specialist similar to Jamaal Charles.
McCaffrey gives off the vibe of a football junky — a guy who just loves the game. He’s a sudden running back with great patience in the backfield. He will make people miss and does a good job turning probable short gains into big chunks of yardage. Both Cook and McCaffrey are a threat catching the ball but need to work on their pass protection to become complete RB’s.
Personally I think Oregon’s Royce Freeman is a little overrated. He has a nice collection of skills but I’m always slightly wary of finesse bigger backs. He’s 5-11 and 230lbs but he’s not a pounder and not always a great short-yardage back. He’s best working in space but at the next level does he have the speed and quickness to be as effective?
If we’re talking bigger backs I prefer Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine. He can be reckless with his body and he’s been banged up — but he shows tremendous power and balance with a 5-11 234lbs frame. He’s quick for that size too and can make big gains. He doesn’t shy away from contact would be a nice addition to a stable of backs lacking some genuine bulk.
Tennessee’s Alvin Kamara isn’t a big RB but he’s an absolute warrior — as we saw in the Texas A&M game last weekend. Whoever gets this guy is going to struggle to keep him off the field. NC State’s Matt Dayes is similarly underrated with a smaller, compact, squatty frame with a low centre of gravity and the ability to eat up space quickly and win 1v1 contests with leverage. He’ll fight for extra yards, makes really nice cuts at the second level and he could be a mid-round gem.
I spent some time watching BYU’s Jamaal Williams today. He’s a really busy running back — keeps his feet moving and finds improbable ways to escape from a packed box to break off runs. He’s a decent athlete but not an outstanding, sudden runner. He’s been at BYU since 2012 and has suffered some injuries. As a day three value pick he could be worth monitoring. Nice personality.
And then there’s Nick Chubb (the last I will talk about here, but not the last one in a deep class overall). He’s bounced back well from a horrific knee injury a year ago and he’s the heart and soul of the Georgia offense. He still plays with great physicality and while maybe the burst isn’t completely back to 100% — he looks like a Frank Gore type for the next level. Gore was a mid-round pick after also suffering a big injury in college. Chubb might have the same fate and ultimately the same success.
I only have access to three games over the weekend — NC State @ Clemson (watch Matt Dayes), Ohio State @ Wisconsin (watch Malik Hooker) and Alabama @ Tennessee (watch the long list of ‘Bama prospects and Alvin Kamara). For some reason they’re not showing the Alabama/Tennessee game until Sunday. There will be an open thread as usual to discuss what you’re watching.
I’ve never felt comfortable doing a mock draft this early before, not since 2008 when I started writing this blog. Of course it’s way too early to try and get any of this right — it’s just a chance to highlight the depth in this class and certain prospects who are worth watching during the college season. But this is possibly the most interesting group we’ve covered so far.
The 2017 draft has the potential to be one of the best in recent years. That’s not an overreaction.
Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
Dawuane Smoot (EDGE, Illinois)
Derek Barnett (EDGE, Tennessee)
Caleb Brantley (DT, Florida)
JuJu Smith-Schuster (WR, USC)
Malachi Dupre (WR, LSU)
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame) — has stated he wont declare
Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Lowell Lotulelei (DT, Utah)
Josey Jewell (LB, Iowa)
Cam Robinson (T, Alabama)
Sidney Jones (CB, Washington)
Mike Williams (WR, Clemson)
Zach Cunningham (LB, Vanderbilt)
Alvin Kamara (RB, Tennessee)
Damore’ea Stringfellow (WR, Ole Miss)
Thoughts on Seattle’s pick
Engram is having an incredible season and could move into top-20 contention by the end of the season. His combination of size, athleticism, incredible hands, the ability to high point and create mismatches and production deserves a lot more attention.
Rather than just repeat myself I’ll refer back to the piece on Engram from last week (click here).
Luke Willson is a free agent at the end of the season and Jimmy Graham’s contract only lasts until the end of 2017.
Check out these three plays in the video below:
3:05 — Chad Kelly throws into double coverage (almost triple coverage) and Engram makes the play. It’s a lofted pass, a jump ball. Placement is fairly good from Kelly (back shoulder) and Engram is able to locate the football and make a play. The coverage is pretty good but Engram’s body control, size and ability to locate the football makes him a really difficult matchup. Explosive pass completion for about 40-yards.
5:28 — Underthrown pass from Chad Kelly. Look how Engram adjusts and attacks the football, showing off a fantastic vertical jump and high-pointing the ball above the cornerback. A better throw (hitting Engram in stride) could’ve led to a massive gain — the safety has a bad angle and it legitimately could’ve been a touchdown with space along the sideline. Without Engram’s play it could’ve been a pick. This is just a fantastic catch. Go watch it. Now.
6:42 — Straight forward touchdown. The defense stands off Engram in the slot giving him way too much of a cushion. He settles down underneath and runs it in. I wanted to highlight it because it a.) it’s a score and b.) he makes a defender miss, albeit far too easily.
No offensive linemen?
This is not a good class if you want to improve your O-line in the early rounds. Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey says he won’t declare. He could change his mind (Will Fuller made a similar remark a year ago). Cam Robinson looks the part and is a good run blocker but carries serious character risks.
There’s a decent collection of guards but how often do you see the position drafted in round one?
This has been brewing for a while. The top High School recruits want to play defense. The colleges want the top recruits so accommodate their wishes. Some get moved to the O-line after a year or two (eg Cam Erving). The rest play defense. There’s a serious mismatch between the O-lines and D-lines in college and the dearth of talent is starting to translate to the NFL.
The top-100 lists compiled by the NFL Network usually only have 4-5 offensive linemen named. Most of the league is scrambling around to find an answer at left tackle. Teams like Seattle are taking on projects like ex-Basketball star George Fant because what’s the alternative? There isn’t one unless you’re picking in the top ten.
The league is littered with bad pass protection and the best teams are finding ways to manage the problem. Minnesota are a good example — they’re 5-0 and playing without their starting left and right tackles at the moment, yet Sam Bradford isn’t feeling the impact. You can game-plan around these issues — but the entire NFL would surely rather see more quality left tackles coming through the college ranks. The well is dry at the moment.
Malik Hooker (S, Ohio State)
Sometimes you only need to see a few snaps of a prospect to notice they’re special. That’s what happens when you watch this guy. The entire NFL is looking for the next Earl Thomas and it could be Malik Hooker. I watched two Ohio State games today and he’s incredible. This draft class is loaded at safety and this guy has the potential to be the best of the lot. The Buckeye’s use him as a single high safety and his range is fantastic. Like Thomas he’s shot out of a cannon, covering ground rapidly and delivering well-timed hits. One interception he had against Bowling Green was stunning (see above). It’s a deep shot to the left sideline — Hooker sprints to the ball and makes a superb leap (amazing vertical) to tip the ball to himself for the pick. Instinct, skill, athleticism — it’s a sensational interception. He reads the play initially, covers about 30 yards in no time at all and his range puts him in position to make one of the picks of the year. He already has four picks this season (most in the country) and returned one for a touchdown. Hooker is special.
Greg Gaines (DT, Washington)
These days big defensive tackles generally don’t go early in the draft unless they offer pass rushing ability (see: Jarran Reed’s fall to round two) — but Gaines has the necessary explosive potential despite his size. On one sack against Stanford last week he showed incredible quickness and get-off combined with a terrific swim move to break into the backfield — despite looking every bit a nose tackle at 6-2 and around 320lbs. He added two more sacks against Oregon (he has 7.5 TFL’s for the season & 3.5 sacks) and people are starting to talk. Yes — he’s playing alongside two other excellent prospects in Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls. Yet Gaines has that X-factor that Danny Shelton had — and he’s a better pass rusher. Shelton was the #12 pick in 2015 and while Gaines might not get as high as that — he genuinely looks the part of an impact D-liner. He’s a redshirt sophomore so could easily choose not to declare — but as this Washington team becomes more nationally prominent, some of these defensive studs will start getting more attention. Gaines is very intriguing.
Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
The Washington defense is loaded with talent — an exciting group with NFL players at every level. Budda Baker could be a #1, Sidney Jones could be a #1 — it’s not just Gaines on the D-line with high-pick potential and they have talent at EDGE and linebacker too. Usually the really great college defenses have a linebacker that just pulls everything together and that is the case here. Victor gets things organised and sets the tone but his range and versatility really sets up his draft stock. He can play up in the box and handle the run, he can play in space and read/react and he seems pretty adept in coverage. Linebackers need to be explosive to go early and Victor has that level of athleticism. He can handle sideline-to-sideline, recover and quickly change direction and he’s a sure tackler. It helps playing behind the three-headed monster on the D-line but it’s no different for the brilliant Reuben Foster at Alabama. Both players could go in the top-25.
Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
This time last year nobody was talking about Keanu Neal and he ended up being the #17 pick and with good reason. Explosive speed and hitting — the ability to play coverage and handle playing in the box. Neal was a warrior for Florida and was vastly underrated by the media going into the draft. Marcus Maye is a similar talent and he’s similarly underrated. He can line up in coverage vs tight ends and hold his own (see his matchup vs Jake Butt from the Citrus Bowl last season). He frequently lines up at the LOS and sets the edge. Maye has the same ability as Byron Maxwell for punching the ball out — it’s an instinctive talent. Pete Carroll once suggested you’ve either got it or you haven’t, that some players have an innate feel for dislodging the ball. Maye has a number of forced fumbles in his career. And while he might not hit quite as hard as Neal he’s arguably better and more fluid in coverage with great anticipation and feel for the flow of a play. He absolutely has every chance to go in the first frame.
Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
Lawson isn’t by any means an unknown and many have touted his potential to go in the first round. Yet a series of injuries have prevented him from building up a reputation as one of the truly great pass rushers in college football — and that’s exactly what he is. Lawson is a superior talent to Dee Ford (#23 overall pick in 2014) with a fantastic repertoire of pass-rush moves, great speed and hand use and the ability to finish. He already has six sacks this season including five in his last three games. It’s his ability to keep a lineman guessing that really stands out. He’s not a one-trick pony content to win with a predictable speed rush. He’ll stunt inside, he’ll use a spin move, he uses the club/rip. He’ll set up a lineman by rushing inside initially and then changing direction with great quickness and explosion. Lawson converts speed-to-power well, his first step is terrific. Despite a lack of great size or length (6-2, 258lbs) he is really good setting the edge against the run, he anchors with ease and has great upper body power. He’s a street fighter type who loves a battle — his effort is always 100% and he plays to the whistle. If the injury problems (ACL, hip) lead to a fall it’ll be a real shame. Lawson is otherwise a top-25 talent.
Mitch Trubisky (QB, North Carolina)
There’s usually one quarterback who emerges and ends up being a high draft pick. Last year it was Paxton Lynch and this year it could be Trubisky. He had a bit of a nightmare against Virginia Tech during the Hurricane/storm that battered the east coast over the weekend. In his previous outings against Florida State and Pittsburgh he was extremely impressive. He doesn’t have a cannon arm but it’s good enough, he manipulates coverage well with his eyes and throws to all areas of the field. He’s mobile enough to extend plays and scramble away from pressure. His footwork is very impressive when he’s moved off the spot and he has to reset and fire. He gets the ball out very quikcly. He hadn’t thrown an interception until the Virginia Tech game and in the Florida State & Pittsburgh games he never came close to a turnover — he was accurate and made great decisions. Plus in those two encounters he led game-winning drives with seconds remaining. He is extremely inexperienced (first year as a starter) and would benefit from more time in college (he’s a junior) but sometimes you have to take the chance when it’s there. And with other quarterbacks eligible for 2017 failing to impress, this could be his chance to be the #3 behind Deshone Kizer and Deshaun Watson.
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
We’ve talked a lot about Engram already but it’s really surprising that he doesn’t get as much buzz as Jake Butt and O.J. Howard. Engram is a terrific athlete with a great vertical and safe hands. He might have the best hands in college football — plus the ability to high point the ball in coverage. He’s finally moving out of the shadow of Laquan Treadwell and turning into Ole Miss’ number one target. He leads the team with 479 yards and four touchdowns in five games — and that includes half a game in a walkover against Wofford. In his four other games against Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Memphis he has 436 receiving yards (an average per game of 109 yards), he’s averaging 16.25 YPC and he has four scores. He’s not only producing — he’s producing against some of the best teams in college football. He’s 6-3 and 227lbs so he’s not the biggest but he still gives plenty of effort as a blocker (and he’s somewhat effective) but his major strength at the next level will be working in the slot, detached from the line or as a H-back. He will create mismatches against linebackers and safety’s and would be the perfect addition for teams that like to run 2TE sets. He could be the next big thing at the position — a thoroughly modern day weapon. He deserves to be discussed as a first round possibility.
DeMarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
If DeMarcus Walker was consistent he’d be a top-15 prospect. There are times on tape where he kind of just goes with the flow. He’s on the field but he’s not particularly disruptive. ‘Relentless’ isn’t necessarily a word you’d use to describe him and he doesn’t play with his hair on fire like Carl Lawson. Yet when he turns it on — he can be virtually unstoppable. He’s adept at getting off a block. The right coach or environment that gets him amped up could be the catalyst for a productive DT/DE at the next level. By now you’ll know about his 4.5 sack performance against Ole Miss where he flashed get-off, violent hands, technique, burst and the ability to finish. He helped change the game completely. It wasn’t a one-off this year. Florida State’s defense has been pretty miserable in 2016 but Walker was the only player who got close to limiting Lamar Jackson. He did a decent job on his side vs the read-option on a day Jackson helped Louisville to an improbable blow-out. On Sunday against Miami Walker won the game for FSU. In the second half he made a number of crucial plays — including helping DT Derrick Nnandi get a sack by forcing Brad Kaaya to step into the pocket with a great outside rush. And when Miami scored a late touchdown to seemingly tie the game — Walker blocked the extra point to secure a dramatic one-point victory. He’s an impact player who can work inside and out — and when guys make as many plays as Walker has in 2016 so far you can forgive a little inconsistency.
Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
Another player we’ve talked a lot about so far this year but surprisingly he still isn’t getting much attention. Anzalone is basically a Clay Matthews clone — and it’s not just the hair style. He plays virtually the same role as Matthews in college. Neither had major sack production but showed flashes of potential. Green Bay moved Matthews into more of an EDGE role in the 3-4 to start his career and he piled up the sacks. Anzalone has great get-off and pursuit and looks tailor made for a similar role either as a WILL or a 3-4 OLB. Florida challenged him to work predominantly in coverage vs Tennessee and he held his own — working well against tight ends and receivers over the middle. This is a loaded Gators defense with talent all over the field but the coaches consistently highlight the play of Anzalone and fellow linebacker Jarrad Davis. Like Matthews he’s unlikely to wow anyone with a great forty time and his combine might be so-so — but I’m willing to bet he also has a really good 10-yard split (also like Matthews) and it’s that ability to go from 0-60 in a flash that’ll intrigue teams enough to think he can have the same kind of impact in the pro’s.
If you watched Tennessee’s games against Florida and Georgia — you’ll struggle to imagine anything could top those two for comebacks. However — this one against Texas A&M was a game of the season contender. An instant classic — containing one of the greatest defensive plays you’ll ever see.
We’ll come to that in a minute.
Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara was sensational. He had 127 yards rushing and 161 receiving including two scores.
He’s listed at 5-10 and 215lbs which is right in the ballpark for Seattle running backs. He gets skinny between the tackles but keeps his legs moving on contact to push the pile. He’s tough to bring down but also has a really nice burst. He’s not an exceptional ‘wow’ athlete but he takes very sudden, short steps and gets upfield quickly.
Kamara showed off really good hands in the passing game. On more than one occasion he was tossed an awkward looking screen pass (low to the turf, wide of the target) and managed to grab control of the football without breaking stride.
He kept the game alive in the fourth quarter with a brilliant 36-yard run on fourth and 1. He punched in the score shortly after to make it 35-28 and give the Vols a chance with time running out.
Cue the play of the weekend.
Texas A&M were driving to kill clock and close out the contest. Then suddenly — the running back breaks free. Game over? Surely.
What a play. Instead of game over, Tennessee gets the ball at the 20. And Kamara was there again helping the Vols drive 80-yards before tying the game with another great catch and run — driving through tackles to cross the goal line:
It all counted for nothing in the end as the Aggies won 45-38 in overtime but what a game. And it shouldn’t diminish Kamara’s efforts or the remarkable play by Foreman. This was a classic.
I’m sure Kamara’s tape will be on Draft Breakdown soon it was that impressive. Watch him for the rest of the season. If the Seahawks look to add another back to their stable in 2017 — Kamara ticks a lot of the boxes they look for. Physical, multi-dimensional, athletic and quick. He’s tough and has the size they look for. Plus he’s not a bad blocker either:
He’s a former four-star recruit and was being touted as a NFL prospect before the season started. He looked the part today and has done in flashes during TEN’s other close SEC games. For balance he did have a fumble (one of seven Tennessee turnovers in the game) after a long +50-yard catch-and-run. It was careless but typically followed a great initial play.
Elsewhere, Texas A&M safety Justin Evans had another terrific game. He’s a top-20 pick. His key plays included an interception and a crucial (at the time) third down pass break-up over the middle (WR caught it, Evans jarred it loose with the hit). He is very similar to Karl Joseph the #14 pick this year.
Tennessee EDGE Derek Barnett didn’t have the kind of impact he had against Florida or Georgia but had a consistent if not explosive game. He had a couple of pressures but surprisingly also did a lot of dropping into coverage. On one play he dropped to cover the slot receiver, mirrored him downfield and had the pass break-up. Nobody would accuse Barnett of being a fluid athlete but he actually did a good job here tracking for a good 20-yards. Could he be more impressive at the combine than expected?
Texas A&M EDGE Myles Garrett came into the game hurt and it showed — he battled through but had to be spelled and was limping at the end. He still managed some impact plays including an early sack/fumble. He stood out playing at probably around 50% healthy with an ankle problem.
Garrett’s partner on the opposite side Daeshon Hall also had a good game and he’s finding some momentum. I’m not sure on the official numbers but he had at least one sack, two passes deflected and a fumble recovery. He came into the game with three sacks in the previous two weeks. He’s long at 6-6 and about 260lbs and he could do with adding another 15lbs and becoming more of an inside/out type on the D-line. He’s not a special speed rusher off the edge but has a nice combination of burst, length and size.
He’d make a great DE/DT type if he can carry the extra weight. He’s from Seattle for what it’s worth and has a cool personality. He could be an interesting project for the Seahawks. He has the edge to his game, the physicality. He plays with heavy hands and contains the edge well vs the run. His hand placement could be better. You’ve got to have good hand technique at the next level if you’re not Myles Garrett as an athlete. Here are some highlights:
I endured Notre Dame vs NC State earlier — played during Hurricane Matthew with a storm to match. The game should’ve been postponed. It’s impossible to judge most of the players as a consequence. Yet NC State’s running back Matt Dayes had the star turn — somehow running for 126 yards at 5.5 YPC. That might as well be 1000 yards at 176 YPC given the conditions. He carried the offense on his back and like Kamara has a nice squatty, physical frame with good burst and the ability to get skinny through the tackles but still play with power.
A lot of people will focus on the big names in this RB class but don’t sleep on Kamara and Dayes. Both could work into the second or third round range.
I’ll also say — this is starting to look like a potentially loaded 2017 draft class with star talent at the top of round one and plenty of depth. The only position without a great deal of depth is offensive tackle — and that’s part of the problem the entire NFL is having right now. There just aren’t that many good offensive tackles in college — and there certainly aren’t many playing in the pro’s. This issue is not just confined to the Pacific North West — and it’s why the Seahawks are working so closely with projects like Garry Gilliam and George Fant.
Another quick note — blog favourite Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan) scored a nice touchdown today vs Rutgers:
Let us know who you’re watching today. On my schedule is Florida State vs Miami, Notre Dame vs NC State and Tennessee vs Texas A&M. One of the players I’ll be looking at closely is NC State running back Matt Dayes. Keep an eye on him.
Joe Mixon is a controversial figure in college football
The last time we discussed a topic like this it was Frank Clark — long before the Seahawks took him in the second round. The community here handled the debate with maturity and I hope that’ll be the case again.
Please be sensitive and respectful in the comments section.
It reads like a who’s who of 2017 draft prospects. The best of the best in college football. It’s unusual for the top-20 to have so many names destined not just for the NFL — but as high draft picks. Mixon being at #8 in this group says a lot about his potential.
On tape he is without a shadow of a doubt one of the most impressive prospects you’ll watch this year. Oklahoma’s offense/team is a bit of a mess — but when Mixon is involved it’s must-see TV. Jenni Carlson wrote this piece calling — no demanding — the Sooners feature Mixon instead of persisting with a committee involving fellow running back Samaje Perine.
Mixon has everything you look for. Breakaway speed and the ability to accelerate at the second level, toughness and the willingness to finish runs, ability in the passing game, the physicality to push the pile and break tackles plus the elusiveness to make people miss. As a bonus he’s also a terrific kick returner. Mixon is 6-1 and 226lbs — the same height and 9lbs heavier than Adrian Peterson at the 2007 combine.
He has the freaky athleticism the Seahawks seem to love — plus the suddenness, physicality and ability to turn a good play into a scoring play.
When I wrote about Frank Clark in 2015 — I said something like this: He’s an explosive talent, one of the best in the draft. His tape is incredibly underrated and he dominates. He is a first round, top-20 talent based on what you see on the field. Yet his well publicised character flags involving domestic violence will make him undraftable for many — and some fans and the media will be uncomfortable and find it unacceptable if the Seahawks were to draft him.
This is, unfortunately, a similar situation with Mixon.
“Our organization has an in-depth understanding of Frank Clark’s situation and background… We have done a ton of research on this young man. There hasn’t been one player in this draft that we have spent more time researching and scrutinizing more than Frank. That’s why we have provided Frank with this opportunity and are looking forward to him succeeding in our culture here in Seattle.”
It was a decision that led to an initial backlash, especially at a time when the league was handling the high-profile Ray Rice domestic violence case. This article on Deadspin used the headline: ‘The Seahawks Didn’t Care Whether Frank Clark Punched A Woman‘
Two years ago Mixon entered an Alford plea to a misdemeanor assault charge for punching Amelia Molitor in response to her pushing and hitting him. The incident happened on July 25, 2014.
The plea allowed him to maintain his innocence while also admitting that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict.
As a consequence Mixon received a one-year deferred sentence and was required to perform 100 hours of community service and undergo counselling. He was suspended for the entire 2014 season by the Sooners although he was allowed to take classes and keep his financial aid but not take part in any team activities.
Mixon was reinstated by the team on February 14th 2015 and played last season. He was kept away from media duties and didn’t talk at all throughout the season — until he was required to speak per the rules of the Orange Bowl. It appears he was advised not to discuss the incident:
There’s a very obvious legal case for why he shouldn’t be talking to the media but some have argued the moment was not handled well by the Sooners:
The footage of the press conference isn’t particularly easy to watch. A well prepared apology or signs of sincere regret upon his return would’ve been preferable — instead this delayed, awkward and forced exchange really didn’t aid the situation.
Mixon hasn’t spoken to reporters since the Orange Bowl in December 2015 but last month Bob Stoops suggested he might be set to speak again:
“It’s something we’ve talked about… I’ve talked about it with the administration. We’re working on that. So there’s a possibility.”
Brady Vardeman notes, ‘It’s unlikely Mixon’s lawyers would allow him to talk about his incident with Molitor given the ongoing civil suit filed by her legal team in July.’
It’s impossible to know how the NFL will handle this. Frank Clark was dismissed by Michigan immediately after his incident but still attended the combine and then became a second round pick. He started his pro-career with no limitations, suspensions or sanctions and people rarely refer to what happened anymore.
Mixon wasn’t dismissed by Oklahoma but did sit out a whole season. In context it really isn’t much of a ‘punishment’ but will it conveniently allow the league or specific teams to judge the situation as at least partially addressed?
Clark didn’t fall much by going in round two. Who knows what’ll happen to Mixon — a legitimate first or second round talent. He could fall completely off the radar and never get a chance, he could be an UDFA or like Clark he could still be an early pick.
Teams will investigate. They will research the incident, the legal case and Mixon as an individual.
As the writer of this blog all I try to do is highlight the talent in college football so we can discuss possible Seahawks picks in the draft. I don’t know if Seattle or any other team would entertain drafting Mixon. This isn’t any kind of endorsement — but the Clark situation suggests we also shouldn’t avoid the subject. Talking about Clark pre-draft at least gave the readers of this website an insight into his backstory before the team subsequently selected him.
Mixon truly has the ability to be one of the great playmakers in the NFL. Seriously. We’ll see if the NFL decides he deserves a chance to prove it.
One other note on Mixon — when asked who his mentors were during a pre-college interview, the first name he gave was Marshawn Lynch:
Marcus Maye (S, Florida)
Maye is a lot closer to the brilliant Keanu Neal than I think many people realise. He’s 6-0 and 216lbs so he’s right in the range to be a safety/linebacker hybrid (Deone Bucannon was 6-1 and 211lbs at his combine). Maye’s field awareness and read/react skills are superb. He had five forced fumbles last year and already has a sack, a pick and three PD’s in 2016. He has the speed and size to line up vs tight ends and his ability to direct traffic and get to the ball carrier is a good sign for any possible move to hybrid LB/S. There’s evidence of him being able to line up in the box and even set an edge. Great character and the QB of Florida’s secondary. In the video above Maye is #20 and Neal #42.
Azeem Victor (LB, Washington)
I stayed up until the early hours to watch Washington’s demolition of Stanford and it was worth it to watch the Huskies defense properly for the first time this year. Greg Gaines’ mobility for his size on his sack jumped off the screen, I could watch Vita Vea and Elijah Qualls all day and Joe Mathis might be undersized but he had the game of a lifetime rushing the passer. No wonder John Schneider attended in person. Yet the player who stood out most after Mathis was linebacker Azeem Victor. His range and closing ability stood out constantly — he was always around the ball. He took the right angles, didn’t miss a tackle and just kept a lid on things all night. At the 2015 Husky combine he ran a 4.10 short shuttle — that would’ve been the third fastest time by a linebacker at the 2016 NFL combine (Alex McCallister 4.00, Nick Vigil 4.00). This is a loaded defense without even mentioned Sidney Jones or Budda Baker.
Derek Barnett (DE, Tennessee)
He’s been superb in the last two games and he’s one of the main reasons Tennessee somehow remains unbeaten. His sack/fumble led to a touchdown against Georgia (he had two sacks on the day) and he took over the second half vs Florida (registering two more sacks). Great effort player but not a slouch athletically. Is he twitchy enough to go top-25? That’s going to be the question — but there’s a bit of Everson Griffen to his playing style and Griffen didn’t blow up the 2010 combine. Barnett plays with his hair on fire and that’ll make up for some of his possible physical limitations. He has good size for the Seahawks EDGE (6-3, 265bs) but his frame on tape looks more than capable of some inside work too.
Demarcus Walker (DE, Florida State)
Florida State’s defense is a mess but Walker is one of the few to come away with his reputation enhanced. His 4.5 sack performance vs Ole Miss was a sight to behold and he was the only FSU defender capable of containing Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. He’s an inside/out D-liner (6-4, 280lbs) with violent hands and the ability to disengage and then explode to the QB. He could play with more consistent intensity but players like this are valuable in the modern NFL. His swim/rip move is excellent and he can win in multiple ways — technique, speed, power. He’ll set the edge playing DE vs the run and collapse the interior as a pass rusher. For more check out this post from a few weeks ago.
Alex Anzalone (LB, Florida)
Impressive range and blitzing ability. Flies to the quarterback when asked to rush and showed potential in coverage vs Tennessee. Plays with intensity and is well respected by the coaches at Florida. Looks a lot like Clay Matthews at USC and not just the hair. Not the SPARQiest player during recruiting — only posting a 108.9 (Darron Lee had a 135.94 pre-draft). Matthews only ran a 4.67 at his combine but had a good split. Anzalone is so similar. You’d like to see Florida use him more as a rusher — against the Vols he was almost exclusively used in coverage and played well. Matthews had a similar issue at USC and then started piling up sacks at the next level.
Evan Engram (TE, Ole Miss)
He’s putting it together this year (as noted yesterday — check out the piece) with big performances against CFB’s elite. Impressive vertical, mobility and speed. A genuine modern day X-factor who lines up in multiple positions to create mismatches. Good character and well spoken. Vastly underrated. Averaging 16.25 yards a catch against top opponents including Alabama is not easy. Incredible hands. Love the guy. One of my favourite prospects to watch so far in 2016. Don’t undersell his athleticism and while he’s only around 6-3 and 227lbs — he shows up as a blocker and he can handle work in the slot or split out wide. Just draft him.
Mike McGlinchey (T, Notre Dame)
It isn’t a good tackle draft unless others emerge and McGlinchey might be the best available. He definitely looks the part and he’s a chiseled 6-7/310lbs. Former basketball player with the kind of mobility you’d expect — he’s also a well spoken, intelligent individual (something Tom Cable admitted was important after the 2016 draft). Struggled a bit vs Malik McDowell but that’s understandable. Looked at ease vs Duke and Syracuse. Decent balance and ability to set quickly. Kick slide isn’t explosive but good enough and he’s technically sound. Might never be one of the greats but certainly capable of being a starter for a long time in the NFL. He might be the only first round tackle in 2017.
Dan Feeney (G, Indiana)
The Seahawks look set at this position but Feeney still warrants a mention. He’s adept at pulling and hitting the target at the second level. His pass protection and run blocking is equally good working in a phone booth at the LOS and he plays with the kind of aggression you want to see. Finishes plays. Another impressive, modest individual. Speaks well. Technically sound as well as powerful — shows well driving at the line but also capable of subtle hand use to turn the DL and create a running lane.
Carl Lawson (DE, Auburn)
I’ve not had a chance to watch Lawson or Auburn properly this year but I’m really keen to watch him down the line. His injury history is a problem and could really impact his stock. He missed the entire 2014 season with a torn ACL and missed six games last year with a hip injury (the details of which were suspiciously vague). He has four sacks already this season and if he’s finally healthy he could be set for a major rise. Based on what we’ve seen in the past — in terms of physicality, intensity, ability vs the run and ability to convert speed-to-power Lawson is one of the best 2017 prospects. His size fits Seattle’s EDGE profile (6-2, 258lbs) and he plays big — but does he have the required length? Lawson is a tone setter who plays through the whistle and fits the personality of this defense. Former 5-star recruit.
Evan Engram — underrated and very, very interesting
Jimmy Graham is borderline unstoppable at the moment. His blossoming chemistry with Russell Wilson is exciting for Seattle’s offense and he’s starting to look like the 1200 yards, 10-15 touchdown TE we saw in New Orleans.
Nick Vannett’s return to health makes the tight end position quite a strength for Seattle. Luke Willson is a very solid #2 while Brandon Williams is a decent blocker and core special teamer.
Tanner McEvoy is also on the roster and had his first career pass (and touchdown) yesterday. He’s essentially a WR/TE hybrid and a project who could end up permanently at either position.
The Seahawks seem to like McEvoy while their receivers are all signed up for the long haul. Graham isn’t going anywhere and they just drafted Vannett. Yet Willson and Williams are both free agents in 2017 and if both depart — that leaves at least one opening in the off-season.
Is there room for another crazy athletic big target on the roster in the future?
The line between receiver and tight end is becoming increasingly blurred these days. Big, explosive TE’s with a massive catching radius are all the rage — occasionally taking the place of the ‘orthodox’ #1 receiver. Complimenting these seam-busting giants are the smaller, sudden receivers who work as well in the slot as they do hugging the sideline (eg OBJ, Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and lately Will Fuller).
The idea of two truly dynamic TE’s has been intriguing since the Gronk/Aaron Hernandez days in New England. It was incredibly difficult to defend. Gronk was the all-round monster and Hernandez more of the ‘joker’ style receiver or H-back. There’s a chance Graham and Willson could develop a similar dual-threat partnership this year — but if that happens it’ll be harder to re-sign Willson.
Vannett could be pencilled in for such a role too but appears to be more of a traditional TE that can be used as an extra blocker. Even in that role he’d be an asset in this physical offense. Theoretically you could see all three TE’s on the field at the same time later in the year — with Graham in the slot or out wide and Willson/Vannett book-ending the OL.
The point I’m making is multiple TE sets and TE/WR hybrids appear to be here to stay and they might lose a couple of TE’s in free agency. So why not spend a bit of time looking at a player who is extremely underrated today?
Ole Miss’ Evan Engram is a little bit like Jordan Reed albeit 10lbs lighter. He can line up anywhere — inline TE, detached, slot, H-back. He’s a mismatch. At a listed 6-3 and 227lbs you could just use him as an out-and-out bigger receiver if you wanted. He has the agility, fluidity and athleticism to make it work.
So far in 2016 Engram has averaged 95.8 yards per game and 17.3 yards per catch. He is Ole Miss’ leading receiver with a healthy 174-yard lead over #2 target Damore’ea Stringfellow. Engram also has four touchdowns in five games.
These numbers are even more impressive when you consider his poorest statistical performance came in a week two walkover against Wofford. Presumably he didn’t play many snaps in the 38-13 victory where the Rebels never got out of second gear. Here are the collective numbers he put up in the other four games against Florida State, Alabama, Georgia and Memphis:
Receiving yards: 436
Receiving yards average per game: 109
Yards per catch: 16.25
That’s an impressive return against tough opponents — and Engram is well on his way to a +1000 yard season with +10 touchdowns.
It’s easy to see why he’s so productive… those hands…
Now fast forward to 0:38 in the video below. Doesn’t this catch just remind you of Jimmy Graham’s brilliant one-handed grab against the Jets yesterday?
How athletic is he? Expect an incredible vertical leap at the combine. Check out his touchdown vs Georgia at 1:41 in the video below:
Check out 0:48 and 1:31 below from the Florida State game to see his capabilities as a blocker, helping to spring a couple of really nice runs by sealing the edge. He also has a nice touchdown at 2:17, running a crisp route and showing he’s in sync with the QB on a timing throw:
In terms of his personality/character — he also seems personable and intelligent:
If he runs well — and there’s no reason to doubt that — I suspect Engram will go a lot higher than people are currently projecting. Athleticism + size + character + production in the SEC = high draft grade.
It’s worth putting him near the top of your watch list this season.
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