This is it, folks. This is the list every prospect has craved to be on since my 163rd overall player in Darius Leonard won Defensive Rookie of the Year. This list is the sweet breath of life for a player’s NFL career that, at the time of this writing, simply doesn’t have much hope.
I kid. Honestly, my track record at nailing overrated players was one of my best attributes as an analyst, until Leonard wiped out five years of high-quality work. We’re back in the saddle for 2019 however, with five prospects other people love that I just don’t get.
Johnathan Abram, S, Mississippi State
Honestly, I like Abram’s game a decent amount, I just have no idea why we’re valuing what he offers in Round 1. He’s not great in man coverage and he barely played on the back end for Mississippi State for good reason - he doesn’t have the range and ball skills to be desirable back there. Why is a box safety worth a first round pick?
Trick question. It isn’t. There are several types of safeties like Abram in this class, and some of them even offer a little bit more versatility or have better tape. The best part is when NFL people or big media analysts are asked to explain their love for Abram, the response is always a predictable: “He’s just a dog man. He plays so hard. Such an alpha”. Good for him, but that doesn’t make you a great player. Abram can help a team, but the current hype is out of control.
Daniel Jones, QB, Duke
If you take Jones Round 1, you’re going to quarterback purgatory. He’s a low-end starter with minimal upside and very little chance at being much more than he is right now. If the supporting cast is poor or the scheme is aggressive, Jones is going to be bad. If the scheme is conservative and the supporting cast is awesome, Jones is going to keep your team in quarterback purgatory.
At the game’s most important position, a lot of teams are looking for a guy “you can win with”. What they should be looking for is a guy “you can win enough with”. To me, Jones isn’t that guy. Too limited under pressure and too limited in his downfield abilities, while hailing from a dink-and-dunk offense. I’ll pass in the range he’s projected to come off the board.
Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State
I don’t get it man. Why are we pumped up about a cornerback who can’t cover? That is still their primary job, right? While Layne is solid in the vertical plane until he faces a real speedster, he gives up separation at will on any in-breaking route as an outside cornerback. His transitions are clunky and he’s too stiff to mirror-and-match receivers movements as a lock down man cover corner.
Layne projects to a press role, but his technique needs work and he can get excessively grabby. He tested well enough at the Combine to get himself a late round 3 grade on my board, but I don’t see the upside most other do in his game, nor do I think he’ll be a preferable starter as a rookie.
Kaleb McGary, OT, Washington
So he’s big, strong and athletic, which basically makes him a lock to go higher than he should as an offensive tackle. That really doesn’t matter to me, as the NFL has been swinging and missing on project tackles for a LONG time now, with no end to their illogical process in sight.
I like McGary’s toughness and physicality, but his pad level is brutally bad and his footwork needs major work. Despite not facing great pass rushers, McGary consistently gave ground to power rushes and was beaten to the edge by speed and bend. Ideally you’d want his lack of functional movement skills at guard, but there aren’t many 6-foot-7 guards in the NFL. Whatever offensive line coach ends up with him will have his hands full. McGary got a fifth round grade from me.
Lonnie Johnson, CB, Kentucky
Johnson’s improved 40 time at his pro day might make a difference to some NFL teams, but not to me. He doesn’t play like a 4.4 cornerback, but speed is far from his biggest concern. Johnson is severely underdeveloped in his technique as a press corner, and his footwork deficiencies allow separation to happen at will.
Johnson wasn’t targeted as much as he should have been this past season, and when he was it was free yards with very little impact on the ball. I can’t get behind him on day two, let alone this crazy Round 1 talk. He’s a Round 5 player for me.
8 Scouting Observations
-Are you ready for a little game I like to call the “annual fall of Alabama draft prospects”? Based on everything I’m hearing, Mack Wilson and Deionte Thompson are going to be available later in the draft than many think they are, perhaps even into the late stages of round 3.
Thompson’s inability to run so far has kept his stock down. Teams just aren’t going to risk a high pick on a 1-year starter with speed concerns, especially when they are already worried about his playing weight. As for Wilson, he didn’t test well at his pro day and his tape got worse as his junior year went on. He also has not killed interviews with teams and may not have the work ethic or alpha male demeanor that some GMs want in their linebackers.
-I like Miles Boykin, but there isn’t enough upside there for me to think about him before the middle of the draft. His Combine was great, but he doesn’t always play to that potential.
-In the WVU wide receiver battle, Gary Jennings > David Sills for me, easily. Both are day 3 guys, but Jennings is much more likely to see the field in certain packages as a vertical threat or special teams guy, and he has more upside as a developmental player if it comes down to a practice squad spot.
-Clemson cornerback Mark Fields is my sleeper in an abysmal corner class. I can only speak to what he does on the field, but he was very good in 2018 despite not playing much. Traits are there for him to be a top three corner for a team in the NFL, at the likely cost of a day three pick.
-Don’t get it with Michigan CB David Long. He also doesn’t play to his testing, looking like an ideal no. 4 cornerback with inside/outside versatility for a press man team.
-I have zero Round 1 grades on this cornerback class and just eight in the top three rounds, with Julian Love and Sean Bunting still to watch. Brutal year to need a difference-making corner, gang. Worst class I can recall in my years of doing this.
-I think the edge defenders that are a lock to go Round 1 are Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Brian Burns, Rashan Gary and Montez Sweat. Clelin Ferrell has a good shot, and Chase Winovich could sneak in, although it would still surprise me a bit. Jachai Polite is in free fall, and teams aren’t going to take Christian Miller high even though they like him a good bit, simply because of the injury history and lack of usage at Alabama.
-Anyone still mocking Jaylon Ferguson in Round 1 has no idea what they’re doing. Period.