Even for a perceived down class, quarterbacks continue to dominate discussions with sources and those within the football industry. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson will be the enigma of the 2017 class, but a different quarterback could be the top overall pick.
Also in this NFL draft roundup, an update on the 49ers’ quarterback situation for the future, who the Lions might take in Round 1, a buzz on the top running backs in the class, a defensive lineman with substantial character concerns and much more.
With six junior quarterbacks having declared for the 2017 NFL Draft, the most ever, NFL teams won’t be passing on the position altogether, but many may be more patient than in recent years.
Watson will be the primary storyline from a network programming standpoint. But I actually don’t think NFL teams are as divisive as some have made it seem. Some in the NFL are huge fans of Watson on and off the field. He won’t check the boxes character/leadership-wise in the same way Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Marcus Mariota have in recent years.
Watson will have his chance to win over a team at the Combine, but as of now, he isn’t expected to do so. Film and mental development do most of the work for quarterbacks. But at the end of the day, a decision maker has to be willing to tie his name to a quarterback. That’s what Watson needs to do in Indy.
While Watson is the bigger name and will be the media’s focus, Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech might be the true question mark for NFL teams.
North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky could go first overall, but at this point, maybe he’ll be a Cleveland Brown. The Bears may be a fit, especially considering Trubisky’s experience in cold weather in high school. But the team to watch out for is the Buffalo Bills. Cleveland will be all ears when it comes to trading down from No. 1 overall.
A team that’s fully on board with Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is tough to find. Most like Watson, but it’s a matter of how high.
But Kizer is the one could fall on draft day, based on news and the minimal excitement around him.
Two passers that have similar teams interested: Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman, who had a fantastic Senior Bowl, and Miami’s Brad Kaaya, who has the most college experience of any junior passer and any top-four round projected quarterback. The Saints and Chiefs, for example, could jostle for these two on Day 2.
New general manager John Lynch signed a six-year deal. New coach Kyle Shanahan signed a six-year deal. Now the 49ers will look to add a quarterback, and I’d expect that quarterback to also sign a six-year deal.
Shanahan wants to find his quarterback of the future immediately, if he can’t get Kirk Cousins, he might pull the trigger on Jimmy Garoppolo, the quarterback he advocated for the Browns to take in 2014 instead of Johnny Manziel. Garoppolo’s next contract maybe can be six years, $20 million per year and $20 million or more guaranteed. He’ll get more years and less guaranteed than Brock Osweiler, but more guaranteed than Colin Kaepernick and/or Tyrod Tayor.
Evan Engram of Ole Miss and Gerald Everett of South Alabama will have fans during the process, but I’m most fascinated by Toledo’s Michael Roberts. He’s a bit slow off the line, maybe his only concern for NFL teams, but his fluidity on the perimeter and remarkable red-zone ability (16 touchdowns in 2016) makes him one of the complete tight ends in the class. He’s firmly in the second-round mix.
Jeremy Sprinkle of Arkansas might be more talented than Hunter Henry was a year ago, but intelligence concerns and his Belk Bowl incident are the two things multiple agents/NFL scouts conveyed to me as to why he won’t be a top-three-rounder. Sleeper tight end to watch Alabama State’s Brandon Barnes.
Houston’s Tyus Bowser hasn’t gotten a ton of love this year, and part of that is because he missed six games after his teammate accidentally punched him in the eye and fractured his orbital bone. Bowser played both linebacker spots, dropped into zone coverage surprisingly well and was a tremendous pass rusher when he worked off the edge. If you project his stats over a full 13 games: 87 tackles, 22.5 TFL, 15.5 sacks. His sacks and TFL numbers would’ve been the best in FBS. He’s a Day 2 lock, a likely second-rounder, and a darkhorse first-rounder.
Another pass rusher who will get more buzz during the process: Kansas State’s Jordan Willis. At 6-3, 265 pounds, he is expected to run in the 4.5s and build off a strong Senior Bowl week to emerge as a potential late first-rounder. He’s one of my favorite prospects this year, and he’s a scout favorite, as well. If you’re making mock drafts, put him someplace between Nos. 27-50 overall.
Two other major Senior Bowl “winners”: Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers, who is now firmly in Day 2 consideration and might be a high second-rounder, and UConn’s Obi Melifonwu, who was tremendous as a do-it-all defensive back and should test through the roof at the Combine. He’ll be in the late first-round mix, even in a strong safety class.
Louisville’s Josh Harvey-Clemons, at 6-4, 230 pounds, is far more than just an oversized safety who will be expected to play in the box. He grew substantially as an anticipatory player, and his fluidity, movement skills and ability in space has many in the NFL excited about his upside. Like Willis, he’ll be a major riser in the draft process, and I haven’t spoken to anyone who feels he could fall out of Day 2. I think he’ll go higher than that.