You know the drill, my people! Tuesday means it's time for another edition of Draft Class Heroes!
Stop me if you've heard this before: LSU has ANOTHER cornerback worth watching in lieu of the 2019 NFL Draft. Also, three underclassmen have declared and I've got early draft range projections for them, and the Dallas Cowboys are a fast-sinking ship that refuses to be rescued.
Draft Class Superhero of the Week: Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU
When you're the 22nd-ranked high school recruit in the nation, and the third-ranked cornerback, things typically don't get too rough for you until the NFL stage arrives. But for LSU cornerback Kristian Fulton, the adversity began early in his college career, and some of it was self-inflicted.
Most thought Fulton could contribute in some fashion right away at LSU, but instead a loaded secondary kept him mostly on the bench during his freshman season. Then before his sophomore season, near-disaster struck. From 247sports.com:
In 2017, the NCAA alleged that Fulton tampered with a drug testing sample after he feared the NCAA was testing for marijuana. When it was revealed that the test was for performance-enhancing drugs, Fulton provided his own urine sample, which returned from a UCLA laboratory clean of any banned performance-enhancing substances. But because of Fulton's initial alleged tampering, the NCAA suspended the New Orleans native for two full seasons.
In a completely bizarre situation, Fulton was initially going to be forced to spend two full seasons on the sideline for LSU, a decision that appeared to be upheld when the cornerback's appeal was denied on August 10th by the NCAA. Less than two weeks later, the committee revisited their decision and altered course. Fulton would be allowed to play in 2018, his junior season, after all.
With the decision coming down just ten days before the season opener, Fulton was understandably rusty in Week 1 against a murderer's row of Miami wide receivers. But every week since he has faced the best college football has to offer in a man coverage-heavy role, and every single week he's been better and better.
When Fulton began his college career, most believed he would be a top draft pick by his junior year. No one could have foreseen the circuitous path he's taken to get there, but the important thing is that he's getting there, one week at a time.
This is the play that got everyone talking abut Fulton, and rightfully so. Patience in man, mirror-and-match ability and undeniable ball skills on display. But truthfully, Fulton was balling before this game, and has been every bit as good as Greedy Williams since the Ole Miss contest five weeks ago.
Fulton was a blanket in that game against the best draft-eligible wide receiver group in the country, and he was a blanket against Alabama as well, a team with four wide receivers that should all be high draft picks over the next two years.
Patience at the line of scrimmage, smooth turns from press position and consistent competition at the catch point. Those have been Fulton's calling cards this year, and they've led to an interception and eight passes defensed already. He isn't the smooth mover that Williams appears to be on tape, but Fulton is still a good athlete despite the questions that will exist about his long speed.
The question used to be: will Fulton ever live up to his high school billing? Now the question is, will Fulton take his nine games of tape and run to the NFL, especially given the fact that he's currently banged up with a shoulder injury? Or will he return to LSU to lead the Tigers secondary for his senior year with Williams undoubtedly departing to the NFL?
Time will tell. Yesterday I was told of one NFL scout who believes Fulton is a superior prospect to Williams. If that kind of talk is commonplace in the league, Fulton could receive positive enough reviews from the advisory board that he decides to join an average cornerback class and jump to the NFL at 20 years old (he would not turn 21 until a few days before his rookie season began). He certainly has the pedigree, size (6-foot-1, 195), tape against the best receivers in the country and preferable scheme fit (press man) for the NFL. Oh, and it probably doesn't hurt that he hails from cornerback factory LSU either. This one will be worth tracking over the next several months.
Three players have declared for the NFL Draft already. Two of them were no brainers, Nick Bosa and Ed Oliver. The third was Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson, who tore his ACL several weeks ago. My assessment of the trio and their likely draft range.
1. Nick Bosa, EDGE, Ohio State
I'll keep this short and sweet, because I've already written a lot about Bosa over the past few weeks. He's the best player in the draft and there shouldn't be any question about it from now until April. Burst, bend, power, hand usage, run defense, counter moves, effort, size, athleticism, work ethic. He's got it all. If he isn't one of the first two players off the board, cancel the draft.
2. Ed Oliver, IDL, Houston
Has Oliver suddenly become a semi-polarizing figure amongst draft pundits? He's had another monster season at Houston, despite missing the last two games with a knee injury, but his lack of overwhelming sack or pressure production as a pass rusher has generated some concern.
Oliver is an athletic freak with unbelievable movement skills, burst and flexibility for his position that can simply overwhelm a lot of interior offensive linemen. But it is true that his plan of attack and lack of dynamic hand usage as a pass rusher are somewhat to blame for his less-than-desirable impact as a pass rusher.
Still, the debate around Oliver won't center around whether he's overrated as much as it will if he is more likely to go 1-5 or 6-10. My guess is somewhere in the middle of those projections, more due to size concerns against a much higher level of competition as Oliver makes the leap from a non-Power 5 school. A fair concern, but I'll take my chances with Oliver based on what I've seen on tape. He can be special.
3. Rodney Anderson, RB, Oklahoma
Widely considered the best running back in an average-at-best class, Anderson was on his way to another brilliant season at Oklahoma until he tore his ACL. Anderson's injury history is significant, and his inability to stay healthy along with questionable overall athleticism might push his stock to the middle of the draft.
There is no denying Anderson's talent, but running back has already proven to be a replaceable position, and now Anderson is entering the draft with his status for next season, at least currently, blurry to say the least. That's dangerous territory for a man with just 200 collegiate carries and a host of serious injuries for NFL teams to go off of. Don't be surprised if Anderson lasts until day three of the draft given his extenuating circumstances, especially when the run on running backs may not begin until Round 3.
Villain of the Week: Jerry Jones, Owner/GM, Dallas Cowboys
So last night I'm watching the Dallas Cowboys self-destruct against a bad Tennessee Titans team to fall to 3-5, putting their season on ice, and I'm working around a story idea in my head: how to fix the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, you begin with the obvious: fire Jason Garrett and bring in serious competition for the final year of Dak Prescott's rookie deal.
Orrrrrr, and hear me out here, you could be like the Hall of Fame owner and general manager of the team in Jerry Jones, opt to KEEP BOTH the head coach and the quarterback, while absolutely signing the latter to a long-term contract extension. That is the other option, that no one in their right mind would choose, except for Jones, if indeed he is still in his right mind.
Denial is a powerful thing, and Jones is squarely in the midst of its' clutches right now. Garrett is a yes man, easy to control and micromanage, so it's simple for Jones to trot out in front of the microphones after last night' debacle and say he doesn't anticipate any changes to the Cowboys coaching staff the rest of the season and that he won't be firing Garrett. Garrett = max control for him, and it's uncertain that Jones would be able to sell another coveted head coaching candidate on accepting that type of a role.
I'm not sure how long he'll be able to play it safe (for himself) by keeping Garrett, but it appears he's willing to test fans' patience at the quarterback position. Dak Prescott has been a declining player with clear limitations since his rookie season, and at this point I'm not sure his issues are fixable. His lack of elite arm strength coupled with his accuracy and mental processing concerns are only outdone by the ghosts he's been seeing in the pocket the past few seasons. Plays lose their structure and integrity under Prescott in the pocket, who has slowly crumbled as the Cowboys offense has crumbled around him.
That's not the mark of a preferable starting quarterback, let alone one you want to sign to a long-term contract extension. Yet there Jones was Tuesday morning, crowing on the airwaves in Dallas that Prescott is the quarterback of the present and the future of the Cowboys.
Prayers up for you, Cowboys fans. You've seen dysfunction all over the NFC East since the turn of the century, but not many fans of the Star have accepted their own team as part of the mess. Now, there is no denying it. The Cowboys need help in a lot of ways, but when the owner is also the general manager, where do you begin?
The Raiders, Browns and Cardinals are bad, but at least they know it and have begun to make changes. The Cowboys are a sinking ship a million miles from land, captained by a man in denial enough to go down with the vessel instead of admitting failure and opting for rescue. Is there a worse place for an NFL franchise to be?
Already deceased: Giants, Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Colts, Jets, Browns, Broncos and Raiders.
That means just ten teams are still in competition (in my mind) for six playoff spots in the AFC, with the 4-5 Ravens and 3-5 Jaguars on the brink of sliding into the abyss. As early as next week, we could be down to eight teams in the competition for postseason berths in the AFC, while the NFC has an entirely different set of problems.
The bottom feeders in the NFC are clear, but nine teams are .500 or better, and I'm certainly not ready to count out the 3-4-1 Packers just yet. The Falcons have surged back into contention and the Seahawks are scrapping their way into competition as well.
Still, I can't talk all that talk about Dallas and not walk the walk. Stick a fork in the 3-5 Cowboys, even if the weakness of their division does give me momentary pause. Dallas is a mess and they still have to play in Philly and in Atlanta over the next two weeks before seeing the Saints and Redskins at home. Can't see them getting out of that stretch without at least two more losses.
Detroit can kick rocks too. They hung on longer than I thought they would, but two straight ugly losses have them floundering for good. Two games against the Bears, and one each against the Panthers, Rams, Vikings and Packers remain. They'll be lucky to finish .500. 6-10 seems likely.
In the lair this week...
- TDN has begun using our new scouting report format, which you can see here in Kyle's report on Rashan Gary and mine on Landis Durham. Strengths and weaknesses is fine for summer scouting, but by creating trait-based templates we believe we've found a way to present our official scouting assessments in a much more easily-digestible manner.
- Also, Kyle, Joe and I will have different traits that we value for each position group, so the format isn't always the same either. That variety will allow the reader to decide which evaluation perspective they prefer for each player. Eventually, at least 300 draft-eligible players will have reports from all three of us, probably more. On top of that, we'll have plenty of additional players covered by one of us or Ben or Brad. It's going to be a fun draft season, folks.
- I'll be pumping out scouting reports all week, while also dropping my updated top 10 positional rankings and top 100 big board on Thursday. TDN Mailbag in Friday.
- No Draft Class Heroes next week! I'll be on vacation in Orlando, Florida with my family from this Saturday to the following Friday, so you'll see a little less of me around here for a week. Enjoy it while you can, because I'll be coming back with a vengeance.