Every April, the National Football League (NFL) holds its collegiate football draft. This is a three-day event in which NFL teams add talented young college football players to their rosters. This event, for most sports fans, is an exciting event to watch and prepare for, with so many storylines and implications on any given team, and the entire NFL as an entire new class of potential stars will enter the league April 27. Consider this a guide to the players and storylines involved for the casual or even non-sports-fans to follow along and enjoy the 2017 NFL draft.
Storylines to Follow:
A consensus has grown among NFL scouts and general managers that college quarterback classes have consistently diminished from year-to-year. The main complaints have been a lack of professional fundamentals, such as footwork, arm and shoulder rotation and release time, as well as a lack of football IQ. As college offensive game plans have simplified with spread offenses and read-pass options, college quarterbacks are asked to think and read defenses less, resulting in less prepared professional players every year. The days of finding an Andrew Luck or a Peyton Manning, players who can come in at quarterback and instantly take over and run an exceptional offense, at the top of the draft seem to be over. The 2017 NFL draft class is no exception. There is talent and potential at the front end, with players like Mitchell Trubisky, DeShone Kizer and DeShaun Watson, but after these players you get models of inconsistency and lack of fundamentals in players like Pat Mahomes III and Brad Kayaa. It will be interesting this year and in years to come to see whether teams pass on mediocre quarterbacks to take better players, or whether the perceived need of a good signal-caller to be successful will force teams in need of a quarterback to cave-in on these desires too early.
Every draft class is unique and different year-to-year, and every class usually has a position strength, the position in which the talent and/or depth succeeds every other position. In the 2017 NFL draft class, that position appears to be defense. Not only does this class have great depth at the defensive back and defensive line positions, but it is absolutely star studded at the front end of the defensive list. At nearly every defensive position you can think of, there is a star top-10 pick talent who will most likely make a big impact from day one of their NFL career. Young athletes like Myles Garrett and Jonathan Allen on the front end, linebackers Reuben Foster and Hassan Reddick and defensive backs like Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams and Marshon Lattimore are all poised to be the future top caliber defensive players in the NFL, with other players who still have the potential to be exceptional players right behind them.
Big Men on Campus
An annual storyline that will be just as prevalent this year as any other is college football stars and their translation of the learning curve of the NFL. Sometimes this can go very well; such examples are Cam Newton and Adrian Peterson. Other times it can go very poorly like Johnny Manziel or Trent Richardson. Heisman finalists such as Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers, Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook and Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson, as well as Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey were the best of the best in college football, and all are expected to be taken at some point in the draft. When and where they are taken, and how they perform are the big question marks for these young stars.
Names to know:
Myles Garrett, DE/OLB, Texas A&M
Myles Garrett is any defensive coordinators dream, and any offensive lineman’s worst nightmare. Just from his physical measurements, he is clearly a freak athlete. Long and lanky, standing 6’5” with an 82 ½” wingspan, Garrett can distance himself from even the largest offensive lineman in the NFL. Garrett also has superb athleticism, as he had the best vertical jump and second-best broad jump of any defensive end of the NFL draft combine. This is all packaged in a muscular 272-lb. frame which Garrett showed off when he had the second best 225-lb. bench press of any defensive end at the combine. Garrett has the strength, length and athleticism on paper, but also knows how to use it. The 21-year-old junior from Texas A&M knows how to use his length, reach and speed to get around offensive lineman on the field. Garrett’s 7 ½ sacks and 33 total tackles for the Aggies his junior season reflect this. Myles Garrett is expected to be the #1 overall pick by the Cleveland Browns come April 27, and many expect the young defensive player to make a huge impact on any offense he faces, even early on.
Mitchell Trubisky, QB, North Carolina
Mitchell Trubisky is seen to a majority of analysts and scouts as the top quarterback in this year’s non-exceptionally weak class. The 6’2” Ohio native finished his junior season at the University of North Carolina by throwing for 3,748 yards, 30 touchdowns and only six interceptions. Questions were raised early in the draft process about his height, but after officially measuring 6’2” at the NFL combine, Trubisky has emerged as the clear number one option at quarterback this year. What is yet to be found out is where this 22-year-old winds up at the end of the night on April 27th. Mock drafts have him going anywhere from the San Francisco 49ers at number two overall to his hometown Cleveland Browns at number 12 overall. Personally, I see Trubisky to Chicago with the third overall pick or to the Jets with the sixth overall pick.
DeShaun Watson, QB, Clemson
DeShaun Watson was the hero of the 2016-2017 college football season. This All-American junior quarterback led the “David” Clemson Tigers to a 2016 College Football National Championship over the “Goliath” Alabama Crimson Tide. Since that game, Watson has been one of the more polarizing NFL draft prospects of the last decade. Some experts and NFL execs have given him a second-round grade while others have rated him as the top quarterback prospect and expected him to be taken in the top-10. The numbers are on Watson’s side, as the communications studies major threw for 4,593 yards (third among division 1 players) and 41 touchdowns (tied for third among division 1 players) last year, albeit while throwing 17 interceptions. The most attractive aspect of Watson’s game, however, is what dropped him into the spotlight originally, his big-game performances. A flawless second-half of the national championship game, coming after a three-touchdown game against a stout Ohio State defense in his previous game, Watson has shown the ice in his veins in the moments that matter. Mock drafts have the Heisman runner-up going anywhere from the Jets at number six to the Saints at the number 32 pick. I like the Cardinals at 13 or the Bills at 10 as a likely landing spot for Watson.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Stanford
After exploding onto the national stage in 2015, Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey has always had the spotlight on him, for good reasons or controversial reasons. The junior drew comparisons to former Heisman winner Reggie Bush, with both having explosive speed and elusiveness while being a factor in both the run and pass game in their respective offenses. McCaffrey fell off last season, recording significantly lower rushing and receiving yardage totals than the previous year, most likely due to Stanford’s loss of second-team All-PAC-12 quarterback Kevin Hogan among other players, and thus Stanford as a team had a less successful year. McCaffrey most recently dominated the headlines by making the controversial decision to opt-out of playing with his Stanford teammates in the 2016 Sun Bowl against Mitchell Trubisky and the North Carolina Tar Heels. McCaffrey was not injured or sick, but rather opted-out of playing to refrain from injury before he would declare for the 2017 NFL draft. Some mock drafts have McCaffrey going late in the first round to teams such as the Saints at 32, the Giants at 23, the Lions at 21 or the Buccaneers at 19, however, I don’t see McCaffrey being taken in the first round this year.
Joe Mixon, RB, Oklahoma
The most infamous player in this year’s NFL draft, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon was not invited to the NFL combine this year, not because he wasn’t skilled enough either, but because the NFL has the right to refuse any college player from attending the combine due to off-the-field conduct issues. Mixon was sued by another student in 2014 after hitting the student in a café and breaking several bones in the young woman’s face. The redshirt sooner sophomore averaged 6.8 yards per carry in his career at Oklahoma. While Mixon certainly has the talent to be drafted, I don’t expect this young man to hear his name called come April for these off-the-field reasons.
D’Onta Foreman, RB, Texas
How could the Walker Award winner for best running back be a sleeper? Because you have guys like Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook who were injured part of the year or were on more successful teams. Make no mistake though, Foreman is skilled. The Texas running back has the power to run up the middle with the breakaway speed to make big plays in the open field. His lateral movement (or lack thereof) in the box and aforementioned talent at running back ahead of Foreman will probably push him into the second or third round. At best, Foreman can be a team’s primary ball-carrier with his combination of power and speed. At worst, I still see Foreman as a downhill torpedo effective at the goal line, similar to Heisman winner Derrick Henry from Alabama.
James Connor, RB, Pittsburgh
The feel-good story of college football last season was Pittsburgh running back James Conner. In Nov. 2015, the Pitt star was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkins Lymphoma. This cancer diagnosis was certainly a shock to both Conner and his teammates and kept Conner out of action for a full year. Conner returned in Sept. 2016 and continued being the workhorse of his Pittsburgh squad, racking up over 1,000 yards rushing and getting into the end zone 16 times. Don’t be surprised if this comeback story turns into more of an unbelievable success story, as similar to Foreman, Conner has the strength and speed to attack and cause any defense damage if he makes it to the second or third level of a defense.
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
KD Cannon is a homerun threat every play. This Baylor track star has blow-away speed and the strength, toughness and ball skills to come down with tough catches. However, this also makes him somewhat one-dimensional as his route-running skills are far from refined and his ability to make moves with the ball in his hands are lacking.
Jake Butt, TE, Michigan
Jake Butt was poised to be the next Rob Gronkowski and was a first-round prospect until injuring his knee in the Orange Bowl last year. Butt absolutely has the size, strength and athleticism to be a quality blocking and receiving tight end. However, with his injury potentially costing him his rookie season in the NFL, teams will be hesitant to take Butt earlier than the third round.
Demarcus Walker, DE, Florida State
Demarcus Walker was at one time considered one of the top defensive line talents in this year’s stacked defensive draft. But after a mediocre combine and the emergence of players like Soloman Thomas, Taco Charlton and Tarkkarist McKinley at the same position, Walker has found himself sliding in most mock drafts. Walker has very consistent block-shedding moves for a player at his age and his stat totals mirror his skills, but his inconsistent motor may push him into the late second or early third round.
Cordrea Tankersly, CB, Clemson
Cordrea Tankersly has all the tools to be an exceptional corner at any level. The Tiger’s senior defender has the size at 6’ and 194 lbs. to play the bigger receivers he will face, while having the speed (4.3 40-yard dash) to stay step-for-step with the fastest receivers he’ll face as well. Tankersly’s inconsistency playing between the numbers will most likely see him taken in the third or fourth round, but as far as late draft players who could contribute right away, Tankersly can be right up there.
Photo courtesy of Cleveland.com