The draft is about projection
What can a player become? What are they facing in college that helps you project success at the next level?
These are fairly obvious points, right? Essentially the core of what the draft is.
Yet it feels like we on the outside are increasingly forgetting the basics.
Todd McShay was at the Mississippi State vs Alabama game on Saturday. He was asked about the top quarterbacks in the draft. He said his top two remained Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud but people in the league favoured Will Levis.
Tony Pauline has voiced a similar sentiment.
I respect McShay and Pauline greatly and this isn’t about pointing fingers at them. They’re far from the only ones sharing this opinion.
For me, though, it’s fairly obvious why the league feels the way it does about Levis.
He’s operating the Kyle Shanahan offense with offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. Last year he had Liam Coen, who’s now Sean McVay’s right-hand-man. He utilises pro-concepts, is asked to make reads at the line of scrimmage and he needs to function like a NFL quarterback.
He plays for an unfancied team in the SEC without the perks of playing for one of the giants of college football. He has to play behind a horrible offensive line — meaning he faces weekly adversity. Just like in the NFL.
Levis also has outstanding athletic qualities (123.27 SPARQ score), he has ideal size and arm strength. He has all of the traits teams covet.
He can do this:
If you’re into Will Levis just had a friend send me this from the Northern Illinois game. Whew. pic.twitter.com/HLAdx74BBK
— Landon Oliver (@Landon3MR) October 7, 2022
As a GM it’s very easy to turn to an owner, list those positives and explain why you’re going to invest their money in Will Levis to lead the franchise.
It doesn’t mean Levis will succeed. It just means when you consider what he can become, it’s not a stretch to imagine a Josh Allen or Justin Herbert-type projection. Levis is having a better college career than either Allen or Herbert and he has similar physical tools. Jim Nagy at the Senior Bowl made the comparison before the season began, so don’t just take my word for it.
Levis has transferable qualities and experience. That is why the league, reportedly, values him more than the others.
Let’s now look at two other quarterbacks. I get asked a fair bit about Mississippi State’s Will Rogers. He has no arm strength to speak of and he looks mightily like a system player from the air-raid offense. It’s very hard to project Rogers to the next level as a consequence. Again — it doesn’t mean he’s a guaranteed failure. Yet you have to follow the evidence to make the best judgement call. Very little about Rogers’ play suggests he has a NFL future.
Let’s take it a step further. Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is the darling of the internet currently. That’s not a surprise. The Vols are playing incredibly well. They beat Alabama. They have an explosive, exciting offense.
I’ve seen some people suddenly projecting Hooker to round one.
I’ve watched all of Hooker’s 2022 games so far. Josh Heupel has done a tremendous job but we need to be honest about what’s happening. Heupel’s offense is a half-field attack filled with simple reads. It sets the table for the quarterback. Hooker’s experience within the scheme certainly brings everything together. But this is an offense that churns out production and we see a lot of this in college. Washington does something very similar, for example.
On top of this, Tennessee’s receiver group is absolutely loaded with talent and they have a potential high first round pick at right tackle in Darnell Wright — a player who shut down Will Anderson last week.
When you watch the tape closely — Hooker does indeed have some good throws (especially downfield) and he has a strong command of his brief. He can be streaky with his accuracy though, there are a lot of easy throws and I fear that when he’s not operating in a system that acts as a ‘cheat code’ for quarterbacks — and when he isn’t surrounded by the talent he is at Tennessee — he might be found out. Is he good enough to excel when the environment isn’t tailor made for success?
I wouldn’t rule it out. Far from it. But I think any of us talking about the draft have a duty to be honest about this and grade accordingly. You won’t know whether Hooker can handle a pro-system and pro-challenges until he’s in the building. If someone takes him early, it’ll be a massive role of the dice. And they’ll probably take him early based on faith rather than grade.
The truth is despite his 2022 success — he’s a far harder projection than Levis.
You might ask — why Levis over Stroud and Young then?
With Young it’s obvious. It’s easy for an internet pundit to dismiss any concerns over size. You’re not spending someone else’s money. Your job isn’t on the line if you get this decision wrong. There simply aren’t any 5-10, 185lbs quarterbacks with middling arm strength winning in the NFL.
Young has the natural talent, charisma and creativity to be the one who makes it work. That’s why he’ll still go in round one. Yet there’s a risk factor here. Again — the projection is difficult. The transferable qualities are not as clear.
Stroud is like Hooker with a glow-up. He’s surrounded by four and five star recruits. The offense holds his hand for him. He can produce moments of absolute majesty. His arm strength, accuracy and touch — at times — has to be seen to be believed. Yet when the sideline tells him to throw somewhere — you better believe he’ll throw it.
Numerous times this year his intended target has been smothered like the screen-shot below and he’s thrown the ball anyway, leading to a turnover:
He will go in the top-three picks because the talent and upside is through the roof. Yet the projection is far harder than Levis. He won’t be playing on a star-studded offense in the NFL, with his reads made for him on the sideline, with first round picks getting open and making insane plays every week at receiver. He’ll need to operate the kind of pro-offense Levis is already showing he’s capable of. It’s why the Kentucky quarterback should be viewed as the favourite to go first overall.
If the Seahawks plan to take a quarterback early — and they currently have the #6 pick thanks to Denver — I still think Anthony Richardson (if he declares) could be an option. The Seahawks love tools, upside and special qualities. Richardson is far from the finished article and needs time and development. Yet as I’ve said a lot — his upside/projection is superstar level. It remains an enticing thought to retain Geno Smith and then draft and redshirt Richardson for a year or two.
Stop getting defensive tackles wrong!
Most mocks and articles have Bryan Bresee or Jalen Carter as the top defensive tackle. Let’s get one thing straight — Mazi Smith is the best eligible defensive tackle for 2023.
Bresee has been in-and-out of the Clemson line-up due to a personal tragedy and injury, while Carter has been missing games also with an injury. Smith plays every game. He doesn’t get the media hype because he only has 0.5 sacks for the season. Yet when you watch Michigan tape — he is constantly creating interior pressure and disrupting opponents.
With respect to Bresee and Carter — so far they haven’t come close to making the same kind of impact when they’re on the field.
Further to that, Smith will be a physical phenomena when he tests at the combine after topping Bruce Feldman’s freaks list for 2022.
The media has a tendency to latch-on to players and stick with them. We see it every year. One name that springs to mind is A.J. Epenesa before the 2020 draft. Frequently touted as a top-10 pick — nothing on tape suggested he warranted that type of grade. He lasted until pick #54. That was the range he was always destined to go in.
I think we’re seeing something similar now. Bresee and Carter are both athletic, talented players. They appear more likely destined to go in the second half of round one in a typical draft year. Maybe they get bumped up due to the lack of alternative options?
Mazi Smith is the real deal, however. He is the one with the size and freakish athletic potential — plus the consistent impact on the field — to talk up as a high pick.
Clemson defenders impress
Having said all of that — I thought Bresee had a much more impactful game against Syracuse. Hopefully he’s working into some form — although he was upstaged by his defensive team mates.
K.J. Henry is wildly underrated and was again bright and disruptive off the edge. His best football should come at the next level. He’s a truly dynamic, athletic edge rusher with star potential who deserves a fringe first round mark.
Myles Murphy continues to grow on me. He looks a bit lighter and quicker this year and while he’s still somewhat overrated by the media, his last three games have been very impressive. For a rusher with his size he appears agile and quick with the ability to attack the edge with burst and lean. I’ve bumped him from a round two grade to a fringe first round grade.
Tyler Davis also excelled and while he’s perhaps more of a third-round type at defensive tackle — he showed a great motor and the ability to swim into the backfield.
Keep an eye on Jonathan Mingo
The Ole Miss receiver is one of the players I’ve enjoyed watching the most this year. He’s 6-2 and 225lbs but he’s just so fluid as a runner. He glides around the field and does an excellent job getting downfield. He’s big and quick, presents his hands to the ball and he’s just a fantastic weapon.
A couple of things really stand out for me. Firstly — explosive plays. He has nine +25-yard receptions this year. Secondly — he’s so effective when you move him to the slot and get him matched up against a safety. Every time I watch him I can’t help but wonder how good he’d be as Seattle’s WR3. Pre-testing I think he’s a second rounder.
B.J. Ojulari continues to rise
I really liked his brother and if anything — B.J. is longer, leaner and quicker. He was a handful again at the weekend against Ole Miss and he just creates so much pressure rushing in space. He’s well versed in the role of a 3-4 OLB and has shown he can drop effectively but also provide a challenge for blockers throughout a game.
I mentioned last week he wears the famous #18 jersey for LSU — an indicator of his leadership qualities. At the very least, he warrants a second round grade. He’s far better than players like K’Lavon Chaisson who had no business going as early as he did.
Alabama notes after a blowout win vs Mississippi State
There was a better performance from Will Anderson on Saturday and he’s a top-three lock next year — but I maintain he’s not on the same level as a Bosa brother, Myles Garrett or Von Miller. At least not based on what he’s shown in 2022.
Byron Young is a personal favourite simply because — as a 3-4 DE — he stays so active. He doesn’t record a bunch of sacks but he consistently breaks into the backfield and gives the quarterback something to think about. He thought he had a sack-fumble in this game but it was overturned as an incomplete pass. Young has great power and mobility for his size and is someone to think about for day two, depending on testing results.
In terms of Bryce Young — in the first half he looked so mature, talented and naturally gifted. Yet the injured shoulder is clearly bothering him. His throws lacked the same kind of zip, he was receiving treatment on the sideline and his second half was, unfortunately, quite bad. He took unnecessary sacks, had plenty of misses, should’ve had multiple turnovers — including a fumbled snap, an avoidable sack fumble and he could’ve been picked in the red zone. He only finished 21/35 for 249 yards and two scores despite the blowout.
C.J Stroud continues to be streaky
The good with Stroud is ever so good. The bad is utterly frustrating.
The screen-shot from earlier in the article led to another interception we see all too often. It was a nice leaping grab by Jack Campbell — a player I’m not sure has the mobility to be a great linebacker at the next level (but this was a great play). Stroud also had a really careless sack/fumble. He was just barged over by a defender and dropped the ball. It was returned for a touchdown.
Yet offsetting this were the usual pretty passes and another collection of a highlight reel moments. The talent is there — but can you trust him to make the step up to the NFL and adjust to the demands of the pro’s?
Thoughts on UCLA’s triplets
I’m yet to study Oregon from this game but have watched the Bruins’ key trio.
The Seahawks should seriously consider drafting running back Zach Charbonnet to pair with Ken Walker. His toughness, explosive traits, ideal size, footwork to make people miss and acceleration is absolutely fantastic. I’ve got him graded in round two. A tremendous player.
Jake Bobo made several clutch catches to extend drives. He also had a wonderful one-handed catch with a defender draped all over him. If Bobo tests well — he would be another fantastic ‘bigger’ WR3 option for Seattle. I have him in round three at the moment but testing is key.
I thought this was Dorian Thompson-Robinson’s worst game of the season (from the games I’ve seen). It wasn’t terrible or anything. He made some plays as a runner and passer and his interception was merely a hopeful, desperate heave late in the fourth quarter on fourth down. You might as well take that shot. I just thought he looked a little bit limited when the game was drifting and he does unfortunately lack size and traits — even though he’s incredible creative and talented. I think a fourth round grade is fair, although he might go later.
Another defensive tackle to monitor
I checked out South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens yesterday after reading a recommendation from Tony Pauline. He’s one to keep an eye on. He has ideal size and you see real flashes of quickness and power on tape. Pickens can shoot gaps to disrupt, he can drive blockers back into the pocket. I like his motor and effort — I just think his conditioning looks like it could use some work. He seems to tire quickly and need a breather. As an impact rusher though from the interior he has some potential. I can imagine him taking a year or two to maximise his potential, though. Even so — a likely day two pick.
A quick word on Michael Penix Jr
He’s probably the player I’m asked about the most and he won again at the weekend, meaning the questions re-started.
I like his size and his arm. There’s a sturdy quality to him which is impressive and it provides the solid base from which he’s able to generate throws with velocity. Yet the offense is a classic ‘set the table’ scheme and he often zones in on his intended target to telegraph throws. It’s a very comfortable offense to play in and he has a history working within it at Indiana. Thus — it’s no surprise he’s executing at a high level.
Penix Jr will get drafted later on and will get an opportunity to see if he can make it stick as — if nothing else — a useful backup. He won’t be a high pick though and he’ll need a lot of work at the next level, even though he has a decent arm.
If you enjoy the content on Seahawks Draft Blog, why not consider supporting the site via Patreon? (click here)