Things are starting to get interesting. This is a pivotal week in the NFL as now is when teams begin to make their initial moves in order to get ready for the start of free agency. Teams will begin to release older veterans to free up cap space or they will attempt to sign their own free agents so they don’t reach free agency. In the weeks to come, we will have a much clearer picture of the NFL landscape and I fully expect a lot of movement from now until then.
This is also a big week in the NFL draft world. The pro day circuit has begun and there are some big schools on the docket this week. Players like Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater and North Dakota State’s Trey Lance will get an opportunity to interview and workout in front of NFL evaluators in-person, and this could go a long way in solidifying a player’s position on a team’s draft board. In most years, pro days aren’t extremely important because, by the time they come around, a scout should have most of the information needed for a full evaluation well beforehand. This year, however, pro days are going to be crucial as this could be the first and last in-person interaction NFL personnel will get with these prospects all year.
As more pro days start to happen and more information comes out about these prospects, expect to start hearing some new names entering the first-round conversation. This is an extremely talented draft with really good depth, and there are players who may not find themselves in the first round of most mocks but may have first-round grades on a team’s draft board.
Here are five players who may not be considered first-round picks by most in the NFL draft community but are certainly in that discussion.
Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
Cosmi is a player who I feel is getting lost a bit in a very talented offensive line group. Before the season, many had Cosmi as a surefire first-round prospect, but now his name is rarely seen mocked there. I’m not sure if that’s because of the rise and play of other tackles in this class like Teven Jenkins or Jalen Mayfield, but I do believe Cosmi will be a first-round pick when it's all said and done. Cosmi has a ton of experience playing left tackle, as he has started 34 out of 35 games in his career. He is an easy mover with outstanding length, very good foot quickness, and balance in pass protection. He plays with very good technique and effort in the run game and has the athleticism to reach the second level with ease. Cosmi can stand to add some mass to his lower half and improve his power at the point of attack, but he is a tackle who can step in and start day one and someone who is still an ascending player.
Baron Browning, LB, Ohio State
This is a player I didn’t know much about until I watched his tape recently. I knew he had some intriguing measurements and athleticism, but I had no idea how good of a football player this kid is. After watching the tape, I think it's a real possibility that Browning is a first-round pick. He has outstanding size at 6-foot-3 and 241 pounds and is an excellent athlete. In the passing game, Browning is an easy and fluid mover. He shows an outstanding ability to get depth in zone coverage and has good short-area quickness to close on anything in front of him. He shows a natural feel to understand coverages and where he needs to be on the field. Browning can match up with any tight end in man coverage and can be played in the slot against bigger receivers. In the running game, Browning shows a good ability to read and recognize the play and close downhill. He is physical at the point of attack and has the size and length to stack and shed. Browning can run sideline to sideline and make plays in lateral pursuit as well. For a league that values an ability to play in space, Browning will be very attractive.
Levi Onwuzurike, DT, Washington
In a weak defensive tackle class, Onwuzurike could find himself selected in the first round as he is arguably the best player at the position. He is an up-field interior rusher who has a ton of upside as a penetrating 3-technique at the next level. Onwuzurike possesses excellent athleticism and body control for a big man. He is quick off the snap and is able to gain the edges of opposing guards with ease. Onwuzurike has very good length and is able to keep his body clean while working up the field. In the run game, he shows good power to hold the point of attack and plays with good leverage. He has range to play down the line of scrimmage and shows excellent effort in pursuit. If a team needs some interior pass rush help late in the first round, don’t be surprised to see Onwuzurike come off the board.
Greg Newsome II, CB, Northwestern
A name that’s gaining momentum in recent weeks is Newsome. When you turn on the tape, it's easy to see why. Newsome has good size and length for the position and is an extremely fluid athlete. He ran a 4.38 40-yard dash in his pro day, clearly displaying the necessary speed to succeed at the next level. On top of his speed, Newsome has excellent instincts in coverage and can read and mirror route combinations. He displays good short-area burst to close on the football and has the length to get his hands inside to disrupt the catch point. He is scheme-versatile, as he can has the instincts and fluidity to play in zone, but also has the athleticism and toughness to match up in man coverage. In a corner class that is wide open after the two top guys in Caleb Farley and Patrick Surtain II, it is easy to envision Newsome coming off the board by the end of Round 1.
Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
Look, I personally don’t see Williams going in Round 1, but if we are listing players who may not be common names in the first round of mock drafts but may have a shot to go there come draft day, Williams is one of those guys. Most evaluators have Williams as the third-best running back in this class behind Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris, and that’s the order I have them in as well. That being said, if a team values size and explosiveness in their backs, then they could conceivably have Williams as their No. 1 guy. He may not be as explosive as Etienne, but he has much better size. Conversely, Williams and Harris are comparable from a size and power perspective, but Williams is a much more explosive player. All it takes is one team in the back of the first round to fall in love with Williams and pull the trigger on him in the first 32 picks.