When you conduct player assessments in the manner that we do; there’s two schools of thought that take place as you study players. The first is simple: This is where I think this player should be valued. But then you remember the additional metrics, which are meant to act as checks and balances. But he’s also just a one year starter and he’s got sub-optimal size and long speed. In working within the confines of the system within the past four years; I’ve come to be pretty accurate with placing a thumb on how much that peripheral measures will influence a player’s overall assessment. But it makes projecting final scores and rankings very convoluted and complicated until all of the information is collected on all 300 annual prospects.
Well; that time has come. And I can definitely tell you who I think the best five prospects are at each respective position.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Patrick Mahomes II, Texas Tech
Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh
Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame
The Quarterback group this season suffered the same narrative as years past: “Next year’s is better.” But in this case, I believe the top prospects are actually better than both QBs from 2016, who went first and second overall. Watson and Trubisky both scored as 1st Rd caliber prospects in my system. They aren’t on the same tier as Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston, yet Watson scored favorably in comparison to Teddy Bridgewater in 2014 and Trubisky eeked out a slightly higher score than Derek Carr from 2014 as well. Mahomes, Peterman and Kizer all score as 3rd Rd values; although this is where it’s important to note the objective here is not to accurately forecast the Draft. It’s meant to project success at the NFL level. Mahomes, Peterman and Kizer are all closely bunched; their future successes are going to be dependent on unique variables.
Mahomes’ good is *great* but his ability to consistently work and find success in the infrastructure of a passing offense is something I have significant questions about. Nate Peterman is a lower ceiling passer; he’d find a lot of success in a passing offense like what you’d find in Kansas City or Houston but he isn’t for everybody. Kizer has all pro tools but there’s a lot of red flags on film that have me uncertain how easy his transition will be and how well he’s going to acclimate to a faster game with tighter throwing windows.
Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Christian McCaffrey, Stanford
Leonard Fournette, Louisiana State
Wayne Gallman, Clemson
It goes without saying that this scoring is not indicative of Mixon’s status off the field. But Mixon as a runner is an impressive specimen; he’s got a deliberate running style when needed and a well rounded skill set to consistently impact the game on all three downs. Plus, he’s a fairly low mileage back courtesy of his timeshare with Samaje Perine. Mixon, Cook and McCaffery were all separated by 0.02 in my scoring system, with all three hauling a 1st Rd value score.
All three are three down players with the ability to create; which separates them a touch from Fournette; who is not as polished as a receiver or as loose with his ability to create if the point of attack gets bottled up. Wayne Gallman might be the most underrated runner in a class filled with quality athletes. He does a lot of things well and in spite of not having a dominant trait shows likable vision and ability to string cuts together as a means of vacating alleys.
Corey Davis, Western Michigan
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky
Mike Williams, Clemson
Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M
Carlos Henderson, Louisiana Tech
Davis is head and shoulders above the other skill players in the class in my eyes. He’s a perfect blend of burst, contested catch ability, route polish, hands and body control. He’s as close as you’ll find to an alpha receiver coming out. There’s a notable drop (as in two tiers in my scoring system kind of drop to the next group, which includes Taywan Taylor and Mike Williams. Taylor reminds me of Michael Crabtree; he’s a polished route runner with better athleticism than he’s given credit for. Williams’s output as WR3 is one that surprised me; but he scored average in all three peripheral metrics (Experience/Leadership, PSAR: Physical Size and Athleticism and Production).
Josh Reynolds continues to be one of the most underrated receivers in the draft; he has upside as a vertical player and I see a lot of Josh Doctson in his game. Carlos Henderson, meanwhile, reminds me of Corey Coleman from last season and he’s a twitch player with an impressive blend of burst and physicality after the catch.
O.J. Howard, Alabama
David Njoku, Miami (FL)
Evan Engram, Mississippi
Jake Butt, Michigan
Jonnu Smith, Florida International
Howard, Njoku and Engram are another group, much like the running back crop, that are separated by small margins on the final assessment outputs. The three are stylistically very different players but in ideal roles can all be high impact players. Howard is the most polished and well rounded. He should be a viable three down player from Day 1. Njoku’s impressive run after catch ability gives him the chance to be a game breaking mismatch against LBs; while Engram’s speed gives him a unique advantage against nickel CBs and safeties.
Jake Butt is a forgotten prospect due to his ACL injury during the Wolverine’s bowl game but ACL tears are no longer a harbinger of doom as they once were. He’s a well rounded player with a knack for maneuvering the middle of the field with great field vision and spatial awareness. Jonnu Smith lacks the ability to put his hand in the dirt and can get lost blocking but as a move player he’s got good burst, soft hands and is tough after the catch. He reminds me of Charles Clay from his Miami days.
Cam Robinson, Alabama
Ryan Ramczyk, Wisconsin
Antonio Garcia, Troy
Garett Bolles, Utah
Chad Wheeler, Southern California
Robinson’s physical upside is undeniable. And when he’s right between the ears he is a physically dominant force capable of imposing his will on nearly any pass rusher in the country. That can be a scary thing to bet on, getting a fire lit under somebody’s butt, but I’ve seen him turn it on too much to ignore. Wisconsin’s Ryan Ramczyk hasn’t tested this offseason due to a hip but his technical prowess and body positioning are impressive; he knows how to manipulate bodies at the point of attack. Antonio Garcia is a player I’ve fallen for hard in years past: he’s light on his feet and capable of mirroring agile rushers on the backside; but his lack of a reliable anchor and lean frame ding him notably in comparison to how I’ve scored players like Jake Fisher and Jason Spriggs in years past.
Garett Bolles is violent and reminds me a good deal of Taylor Lewan out of Michigan a few years ago. He’s got plus movement skills and plays angry; but he’s a little too wild at times to score higher in the ranks. Chad Wheeler was a player that surprised me when I watched his film. He has nice functional mobility and length; he’s not physically dominant and has an off field incident to answer for but I like his overall package.
Interior Offensive Line
Pat Elflein, Ohio State
Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
Sean Harlow, Oregon State
Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky
Ethan Pocic, Louisiana State
Elflein took a big step forward in 2016 in my opinion. He added polish, tenacity and control of bodies at the point of attack. He’s an upgrade on many offensive lines throughout the league from Day 1. Dorian Johnson’s physical power and ability to reset the LOS blend well with a frame/skill set that entered college as one of the most coveted tackle recruits in the country. He’s highly underrated in media spheres. Sean Harlow is another sleeper prospect due to playing off the radar with the Oregon State program but his film is littered with quality ZBS style manipulation along the line of scrimmage. He’s also scrappy and difficult to shed.
Forrest Lamp has played Left Tackle throughout his career with WKU but he’s likely a ZBS style guard. His lack of natural power is a minor gripe. Pocic is the only true Center of the group but he’s also likely a viable Guard. Pocic shows impressive recovery balance but is too prone to losing at first contact to be a more highly rated prospect.