When you get this close, you learn one or two nuggets about the way the league is viewing the draft. We get a good idea who’s going to go in the top five. We know who’s likely to fall.
And we get the occasional surprise consensus first round pick.
In 2012 about a week or two before the draft it emerged that Chandler Jones was a round one lock. The media had him tagged not unfairly as a second or third round pick, but the NFL felt differently. There was talk he could be the first pass rusher off the board — but either way he wasn’t going to get out of the first round.
A handful of pass rushers went before Jones in the end but he was drafted by New England with the 21st overall pick.
This year’s version is Tennessee tackle Ja’Wuan James. Most people expected him to be a second round pick — so it was interesting to see Mark Dominik refer to him as a first round lock a few days ago. Now Adam Beasley from the Miami Herald is reporting the Dolphins have five first round grades on five offensive tackles — including James.
The other four players are, predictably — Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan and Zack Martin.
This quote from Beasley’s piece is also interesting:
In their eyes, there’s a drop-off to the next level, which includes Virginia’s Morgan Moses.
The Dolphins will not spend a first-round pick on Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, whose injury red flags have the team concerned.
It certainly sounds like Zack Martin is going to leave the board early — it’s hard to see him getting past St. Louis at #13 and he could go earlier than that. If he’s gone by the middle of the first round, James could easily be taken by Baltimore at #17, Miami at #19 or Arizona at #20.
It shouldn’t be a major shock that he’s getting a high grade from teams. He’s fundamentally sound. He’s got 35 inch arms and as a pass protector he’s certainly competent. In terms of footwork, balance and body control he’s excellent. James isn’t a great athlete or even particularly strong (only 22 reps on the bench, doesn’t drive people off the ball in the run game) but he’s a plug-in-and-play tackle. He started 49 games in college and managed a high level of consistency.
A reader recommended I watch the Tennessee @ Missouri game because he had some struggles against one of the better pass rush teams in the SEC. You can see the game below for yourself:
I think James generally does pretty well. It’s not his best tape — But I thought he handled Michael Sam for the most part. He had an issue against former JUCO star Marcus Golden — who looks a really good prospect for the 2015 draft. Golden’s burst off the edge gave him fits and there were a couple of occasions where he got into his pads and drove him back into the quarterback. It was a very impressive display from Golden who needs to be watched next season.
If the Miami Herald report is accurate (and there’s no reason to believe it isn’t) and teams see a drop off between the first five tackles and the rest, we could see a situation where the likes of Morgan Moses and Joel Bitonio are available in the late first. I’ve soured somewhat on Moses with the more tape I’ve watched — but if you’re in desperate need of a left tackle (eg Carolina) he’s probably your best bet.
If the Seahawks want to go tackle early, Bitonio might be the best or even only hope. Right tackle could end up being a difficult spot to fill in round one. And if they don’t take Bitonio, Tom Cable could be tasked with finding at least two linemen who can contribute in the mid/late rounds — because the second round options aren’t great either. We might see an early run on OT’s because if you miss out early, you probably miss out altogether. The Seahawks have faith in Cable to find later round gems — but there aren’t many teams with that level of trust in their offensive line staff.
Clowney or Manziel at #1 for Houston?
Clowney or Manziel with first pick. If trade down and Manziel is gone Bortles or Mack.
— John McClain (@McClain_on_NFL) April 26, 2014
You can make a strong case for taking Johnny Manziel. The Texans have a good defense. They have solid receiving options, a good running back and a franchise left tackle.
The one thing Houston really lacks is a dynamic playmaker at quarterback — and Manziel can be that man.
It’d also be fun to see the Jaws, Cosell and Hoge trio react to the quarterback they wouldn’t touch in the first three rounds go with the top pick.
If you’re willing to embrace Manziel for what he is, he can succeed. You’d need to set up an offense similar to Seattle’s. Make the run your focus, use a lot of play action, sprinkle some read option into the playbook and challenge your receivers to win 1v1 battles. Emphasise the importance of explosive plays, try to limit the mistakes while appreciating you need to accept Manziel’s going to scramble a lot and get out of the pocket frequently.
He is the ultimate competitor. And despite all of the off-field drama at Texas A&M Manziel’s performance on the field was never affected. People like Jaws/Cosell/Hoge just want big quarterbacks who stand tall and throw bullets in an orthodox system. The game has developed beyond that being the only way to succeed.
Improvisation is crucial these days. You need to be able to manage chaos. The defensive players entering the league are the best athletes in college football. If you can’t extend plays, throw on the run and be creative — you’re going to struggle. And before anyone quotes Manning or Brady — we’re talking about two established Hall of Fame veterans who get the ball out quicker than anyone in history. How many rookies enter the league with that level of ability, composure or command of their offense? Zero.
Manziel would go into Houston and instantly elevate that franchise. With the supporting cast they already have in place he’ll be a production machine — stacking up yards on the ground and through the air just like Cam Newton as a rookie.
Here’s Manziel’s appearance on Jon Gruden’s QB camp:
And here’s Manziel’s classic performance against Duke, where he put the team on his back and dragged them to victory:
Dominique Easley remains a wildcard
If there was one document I’d love to read going into this draft, it’s a medical report on Dominique Easley’s knees.
How is the most recent ACL injury healing? What condition is his other knee in? What are the chances he will re-injure either knee and how long could you realistically expect to get out of him?
When you watch the tape he just explodes off the screen. He constantly impacts the quarterback by pushing the interior line into the pocket, he shoots gaps better than even Sheldon Richardson and he has that sparky attitude you want to see from a three technique. He plays amped, he plays with an edge.
He’s a fantastic player. A really terrific interior pass rusher who wouldn’t have ANY chance of making it to the late first round with a clean bill of health.
Tank Carradine — who’d also suffered an ACL injury albeit later in the season than Easley — was the 40th pick in 2013 and essentially red shirted by San Francisco. I’m not sure you’d need to redshirt Easley given the extended recovery time he’s had. I also think he’s a better player than Carradine. So how early could he be drafted?
Everything comes down to the medical check.
If it’s positive, he isn’t lasting until #64 and you’ll get one shot at drafting a fantastic player with some risk. If it’s negative, you probably don’t even consider him with the last pick in round two.
He’s impossible to project without seeing the report. And yet it’s hard not to root for good news — because if he can recover and stay healthy, you’re talking about a major impact pass rusher available in an unlikely range.
It’s a big ‘if’ though.