The wait for college football season is nearing its end, while the NFL preseason has been an appetizer for fans eager to see some action.
It’s not only the hyped up first round selections that are making noise, as day two and beyond players are staking their claim for playing time right away. In Oakland, no news is currently bad news as Khalil Mack continues to watch from home. Is there a team ready to make the Raiders reconsider their stance on not moving him?
Finally, get a front row seat in class. It’s your draft history lesson of the week and it’s forecasting an expensive future for one particular position.
One of the best quotes on scouting that a former NFL general manager once told me was “you know pretty quickly, sometimes even by the third day of OTAs if a guy is going to make it or if you’ve made a terrible mistake.”
While that’s not the case for all draft picks, there are rookie summer standouts each year that weren’t first round picks.
Here are five non-first rounders making noise this Summer that should translate into the regular season:
1. D.J. Chark, WR, Jaguars
Receivers with a great size-to-speed profile like Chark rarely make it out of the top 50, but in a bit of a shocker he didn’t come off the board until the 61st pick in the Spring.
The Jaguars are already seeing the dividends with this selection as the LSU speedster has had a great camp displaying not only vertical ability, but also shining on special teams.
With Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns off to new teams, Chark can capitalize on the playing time available for wide receivers in Jacksonville.
2. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Lions
Could you name the last Lions running back to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season without looking it up?
The answer might surprise you, but it was Reggie Bush in 2013. Even more startling is that before Bush, a Detroit running back hadn’t topped 1,000 yards since Kevin Jones in 2004.
The position has been a strange revolving door for this franchise (with a lot of bad luck mixed in as well), but Kerryon Johnson brings long-term stability.
Early in the preseason he’s already shown ability as both a runner and receiver, with ability at the second level of the field to create yards on his own.
He’s a very sneaky offensive rookie of the year pick if you had to make a non-Saquon Barkley entry.
3. Dante Pettis, WR, 49ers
Pettis was a world class punt returner throughout his college career (he broke NCAA punt return touchdown record in 2017) and it somehow helped neglect how talented of a wide receiver he is.
Fortunately for the 49ers, they took notice and have quickly seen returns on their second round investment. He’s an incredible route runner, can track the ball down the field and displays reliable hands.
It wouldn’t shock me if he turns into a Jimmy Garoppolo favorite target by the end of his rookie season.
4. Nathan Shepherd, DL, Jets
The Fort Hayes State product became a bit of a marvel after crushing his first Senior Bowl practice, only to miss the rest of the week with a fractured hand.
Todd Bowles and the New York Jets had seen enough, selecting him early in the third round and disputing the reports that he was a ‘raw’ prospect.
The head coach is living up to his analysis as Shepherd is already a starter for Gang Green’s front seven. Not only has he looked like he belongs, he’s stood out.
5. Royce Freeman, RB, Broncos
For a player that had over 5,600 rushing yards in the Pac-12, Royce Freeman endured an extremely quiet draft process. Questions about durability and overall motivation were raised in scouting rooms, but the Broncos might have found their starting running back due to his slide (third round, 71st overall selection).
With only Devontae Booker and De’Angelo Henderson taking carries from him, this seems like Freeman’s job to lose. His experience at Oregon as a three down ‘back should get him on the field in the pros right away.
What’s The Buzz: Everyone Losing In Khalil Mack Situation
Sometimes no news is good news, but that’s not the case with the Oakland Raiders and their superstar in Khalil Mack holding out.
Despite the chatter, I’ve heard they still do not have interest in moving him. More importantly even if they did, the situation becomes complicated due to the contract he will be owed immediately after a team acquires him.
With an expected contract extension that could reach or top $20 million per year and a large chunk guaranteed, many teams become eliminated from being a dance partner in trade talks.
On top of that, I’ve heard the teams that could make the salary work wouldn’t give up suggested conversation (two first round picks) because of the salary ramifications.
In the end, this creates a complicated situation where no side comes out on top. Khalil Mack sits at home without the extension he deserves, the Raiders are without their best player (who they need to be a playoff contender) and NFL fans potentially lose the chance of watching one of the best game changer’s take the field on Sundays.
Draft History: The Truth About Pass Rushers
Did you miss last week’s lesson on the mistakes made in the 2013 NFL Draft’s top 10 picks? Before diving into this, you might want to catch up on that first. Also, don’t forget to stop by the Bert Bell Historical Library where you can get lost for hours.
There is a common saying with quarterback prospects: if he’s your guy, go get him. Don’t wait until round two, don’t pray he falls down the board in round one. We saw this with the New York Jets making a move into the top three this year, the Bills coming up for Josh Allen, the Cardinals moving up for Josh Rosen and the Ravens finding their way back into round one to take Lamar Jackson.
What if I told you that trend is beginning to catch on with pass rush prospects?
Look at the Saints this year: they moved two first round picks to climb up the board to select Marcus Davenport. I’m not saying it was the right move, but they clearly felt he has double-digit sack potential and can be the disruptor their defense needed. They didn’t wait, they paid a huge price to make sure they got him.
Now, why would teams do this? Let’s just say the recent hit rate of pass rushers taken outside of round one is not-so-great. Dive back into the Historical Library and only keep on the round and position settings. Navigate through the edge rushers (use ‘DE’ in your search) taken in any round outside of the first.
Of course, like anything else in the draft, there are outliers. Yannick Ngakoue was an early third round pick for the Jaguars and has been extremely good in just two seasons already. The same can be said for Danielle Hunter in the draft class before.
Players such as Frank Clark and Demarcus Lawrence don’t count, as they were round 1 talents on NFL boards with legitimate character concerns that contributed to their slides to round two.
This exercise isn’t necessarily about the players that did break the trend, but more about the countless number of picks that did not. NFL teams are catching up on this, realizing once you get outside the top 32 picks (and narrowing even further as years pass by, going back to the Davenport example) you’re chance of missing on a pass rusher is astronomically higher than many other positions where above average talent does fall (running back, wide receiver, safety, linebacker, etc.).
With Ohio State’s Nick Bosa and Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell seemingly locked into round one for 2019, the demand for each (along with others such as Michigan’s Rashan Gary) will be sky high. Pass Rushers are becoming the drafts defensive version of quarterbacks: pay a premium or pray for a miracle.