First and foremost, it is a pleasure to formally welcome you to The Draft Network. As we introduce the features of the site over the next several weeks, it will become apparent that this new hub for football fans is geared to put the power into your hands. The vision is simple: place football fans in a constant state of euphoria courtesy of our interactive tools and more football coverage than you can shake a stick at.
That, my friends, is where Studs & Duds comes into play. Studs and Duds will serve as my weekly column for The Draft Network and provide us a chance to look at any standout performances (for better and for worse) over the course of the week. Each and every one of our full-time staff will have a weekly column to share, but I won't spoil the fun for them. Instead, there's a whole summer worth of scouting and news that needs to be sorted out.
Welcome to the launch edition of Studs and Duds.
Stud(s) - The 2018 Pro Football Hall of Fame Class
Raise your glasses, everyone.
At a young, spry 29 years of age, this is one of the first classes that introduced the heavyweight legends of the game from my vivid memories growing up. Brian Dawkins, Brian Urlacher, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Ray Lewis? My goodness. What a terrific group of talent.
This isn't meant to diminish the contributions to the game from folks like Bobby Beathard, Jerry Kramer or Robert Brazile, either. A heartfelt congratulations to them as well. Yet I can remember clear as day sitting on a close friend's couch in October of 2003 and watching Randy Moss flip that football over his shoulder to Moe Williams. We promptly went out in the yard and made every effort to recruit a few more friends to reenact the play.
I can also remember Ray Lewis' theft of Eddie George at the 50-yard line late in one of those heavyweight match-ups between Steve McNair's Tennessee Titans and Lewis' Ravens. Lewis' interception would seal a victory as the Ravens pressed onward for their first ever Super Bowl title.
To the legends of the game who were immortalized in Canton, Ohio this past weekend: Thank you. You were all contributors in solidifying my passion for the game.
Oh, and a plea to the HOF committee: #ZachThomasFor2019HOF!
Dud - QB Johnny Manziel, Montreal Alouettes
#ComebackSZN has officially become #SetBackSZN after last Friday night's disastrous 50-11 loss to his former team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It was Manziel's first start in nearly 1,000 days and his first career start in the CFL.
Here's the most troubling part of Manziel's performance, if you're pulling for him to make it back to the NFL: some of his interceptions were, to put it mildly, egregious decisions. His first pass attempt of the night had to pass through three Tiger-Cats before it would have found the desired target and it was quickly intercepted. Manziel later tried to push a ball up the right sideline but the pass aimlessly floated between two receivers, directly into the hands of a defender.
Manziel had a steadfast attitude after his abysmal performance, stating that he "knew this was a test". Study up, Johnny Football. The world wants to see you back at your best, what a great story that would be. But Friday night's loss has the arrow pointing the wrong direction.
Stud - WR Javon Wims, Chicago Bears
To draw inspiration from the late Denny Green, Wims is exactly who we thought he was. It wasn't the fact that Wims put up 7 receptions for 89 yards in Thursday's Hall of Fame game, but rather how he got there.
Wims was a nightmare for the opposition on Thursday night at the catch point, the first signs that his physically overwhelming style of play just might gain traction at this level as well. Of course we're going to need to see it on a weekly basis (and against the starters on opposing defenses) before anyone is allowed to get worked up into too much of a tizzy. Yet Wims has the feel of a late round steal for Chicago.
Wims carried a 4th round grade (118th overall) in my personal assessment of the 2018 class, yet the two-year Georgia Bulldog slipped into the later rounds, presumably over some concerns regarding separation and a lack of production.
With Allen Robinson in house, Wims has a productive veteran sharing the meeting room with him and he'd be wise to pick Robinson's brain for anything and everything he can get. Should he develop some chemistry with QB Mitch Trubisky, it won't be long before Wims locks into playing time on Sundays.
Dud - QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama Crimson Tide
Hurts was let out from behind the crimson curtain the Tide have been hiding him behind since the team's National Championship victory over Georgia, a game that was won in spite of a very lackluster first-half performance from Hurts.
The magic produced by then freshman QB Tua Tagovailoa in the second half ignited perhaps the most high profile quarterback controversy in recent memory. After all, how often does a reigning National Champion enter the next season with 7 returning starters on offense (including the quarterback) and have a 50:50 battle for the starting job?
Hurts' comments on the way the team's coaching staff handled the controversy made headlines over the weekend, with Hurts suggesting there was a lack of empathy all spring.
"No one came up to me the whole spring, coaches included, no one asked me how I felt. No one asked me what was on my mind...Now when we're trying to handle the situation now, for me it's kinda late. It's too late. The narrative has already been created."
I'm not quite sure what Jalen would have preferred his staff to do, considering until camp opens up there would be no additional clarity on the status of the position.
Yes, Hurts quarterbacked this Crimson Tide team to a 26-2 career record and 2 CFB Playoff wins since 2016. But it doesn't take a highly trained eye to see Hurts isn't a high ceiling passer. His career high for passing yards in the CFB Playoff games (2016 - Washington/Clemson, 2017 - Clemson/Georgia) is 131, which came on a 13/31 passing effort in the team's last second loss to Clemson in the 2017 Championship Game.
Hurts' yards per attempt average in the Playoff?
4.1, 4.2, 5.0, 2.6
So, yeah. Hurts' feelings aside, the coaching staff has every right to throw these two into the fire and let the top candidate emerge once the pads come on.
Stud(s) - Redshirt Sophomore LBs in the Big Ten
These boys can play. Borland, who is recovering from an off-season Achilles tendon injury but appears to be set for the start of the season, is a fast, twitchy linebacker who came into his own late into the 2017 college season. As a redshirt freshman, Borland averaged 7.5 tackles against Michigan State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Southern Cal, games that all took place mid-November and beyond.
At a listed 230 lbs, Borland impresses with his quickness diagnosing keys and shot gaps with confidence that his fundamentals will lead him to the football, which they often did.
Fisher, on the other hand, is a bit more of a physical specimen. At 6-4, 245 lbs, Fisher stands out for his mobility and lateral range in many of the same ways Leighton Vander Esch did while rising draft boards last winter. Fisher didn't need half the season to make a huge impact on the field, logging 18 tackles against Duke in his second career game for the Wildcats.
Keep an eye on these youngsters in the Big Ten this season, where a majority of the conference is predisposed to playing smash mouth football. That style of play will let athletic linebackers with disciplined eyes, such as Fisher and Borland, make a big impact.
Dud - QB Drew Lock, Missouri
Missouri's Lock is the latest big-armed passer to be crowned as a potential high draft selection, a trend that's as reliable as death, taxes and the sun rising in the east. There's just one problem: in my samplings of Lock, I was left wanting a lot more out of him.
Yes, of course, a 6'4, 225 lbs quarterback who can throw 50-yard passes on a rope is going to capture the imagination and attention of those who are paid to evaluate talent. The sexy plays? There's plenty of those on film for Lock. So, too, is the production, as he set an SEC record for the most touchdown passes in a single season with 44 last year.
Ty Detmer set a few passing records in his day, too. The concerns with Lock, for me, are centered primarily around his offense and what is translatable to the next level. Can he consistently read the defense and disperse the football accordingly? Or is the Missouri spread so wide open that it's simplified things disproportionately?
Lock did take several steps in the right direction in 2017. For example, prior to last season, Lock had never completed over 50% of his passes against a ranked team in five tries. He accomplished 59% against Auburn in late September before hitting 60% against Georgia in mid-October.
But then again, there were two separate pairs of consecutive sub-50% games last year as well. He was awful against South Carolina/Purdue in September and offered low accuracy against Tennessee/Vanderbilt in November.
I don't know who Drew Lock is yet as a pro prospect. But I do know he isn't the franchise quarterback he's being sold as, at least not yet.
Stud - WR Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns
Josh Gordon has yet to report to the Cleveland Browns for training camp. Allow me to tell you why that is the best news possible for both the Cleveland Browns and for Josh Gordon.
Gordon's addiction and mental health issues have been highly scrutinized ever since the prodigy exploded on the scene all the way back in 2013 (it's been that long?!) with over 1,600 receiving yards while averaging 18.9 yards per catch.
So when the NFL and Roger Goodell finally green-lit Gordon to return to competition in 2017, it would be easy to assume Gordon had put his struggles behind him. For the most part, he has. He's acknowledged his struggles and has actively gotten help for that.
But mental health issues are not "curable". There's ebb and flow, which Gordon began to experience in late July as training camp inched ever closer for the Browns.
Maybe it was the weight of high expectations. Perhaps it was something else, like the bright lights of Hard Knocks filming during camp. It doesn't really matter, because once Gordon felt himself teeter towards the edge he pulled himself back and sought help. The Cleveland Browns, to their credit, have been highly supportive as well.
There is a clause in Gordon's contract that states if he is not in training camp by Tuesday of this week, he would be forced to serve another year with Cleveland before being eligible for free agency. The Browns, according to Mary Kay Cabot, are working to ensure Josh can receive the help and counsel he needs without fear of retribution in the form of lost opportunities with his contract.
The Browns haven't seen many wins lately, but this is one that deserves to be applauded.
One final thought
Our team here at The Draft Network has been slaving away all summer long, grinding the tape and forming our baseline opinions of the players who will make up the 2019 NFL Draft class. And while our team has (mostly) determined the love for all of the above players is deserved, there's so much more to unpack. Conversation around top prospects up front needs to include names like Alabama's Raekwon Davis, LSU's Rashard Lawrence, Mississippi State's Jeffery Simmons on the inside.
Today's NFL is won with pressuring opposing quarterbacks, something that the league will see a notable influx of, regardless of how many underclassmen join this year's Draft pool.