You know the drill, my people! Tuesday means it's time for another edition of Draft Class Heroes!
This week I wrote about the most improved player in college football, eight college football underclassmen I'm hearing may declare for the 2019 NFL Draft and why the Dallas Cowboys deserve to catch hands for their foolish surrender of a first round pick.
Draft Class Superhero of the Week: Josh Allen, Edge Defender, Kentucky
I'll be honest, watching Josh Allen over the summer, I was not impressed at all with his 2017 tape. Sure, he seemed versatile enough with his ability to cover and defend the run while also being used as the occasional blitzer, but I didn't see a player with pass rush athleticism (burst/bend) last year.
Turns out, Allen does have the traits needed to win as an edge rusher, he just had to figure out how to use them. Last year he couldn't corner on anyone, but this year Allen has been a terror around the outside edge for opposing offensive tackles. He has five games with multiple tackles for loss and two with multiple sacks. Vanderbilt caught Allen's full skill set on the chin this past week, as he tuned them up for two sacks, a pass breakup and the game-winning forced fumble.
Allen was always fast, but last year he was constantly pushed up the arc and failed to corner. He just didn't get his feet and hips in line with the quarterback often enough to have a great angle to threaten his opponent at the top of the arc.
Now Allen is using his athleticism to his advantage, turning explosiveness, speed and flexibility from raw traits into functional movements. Allen is doing the little things a lot better, sinking his hips around the edge and dipping that inside shoulder to reduce the surface area offensive tackles have to strike him. He's even flashed a little hand usage, swatting down Martez Ivey's punch here to corner for the strip-sack:
— d money 313 (@airdeemoney30) October 15, 2018
Allen has eight sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles and four pass breakups this season. He's excellent in coverage and has been tenacious as a run defender all season, whether sorting through trash in the box or setting a strong edge. I would venture to say he's been the most improved player in the country this season, and has a legitimate chance to grade out as a Round 1 player for me.
For a guy I thought was a late day two prospect at best entering the year, that's a big leap up the board. Allen still has a lot to improve, from his hand work as a pass rusher to his speed-to-power conversions to his ability to access counter moves readily when his speed rush is stymied, but the traits are finally turning into production for Kentucky's star defender.
Early Draft Declarations Headed Your Way
Believe it or not, early draft declarations will begin in earnest very soon, and I've already begun to hear plenty of whispers from reliable sources on several players who plan to enter the 2019 NFL Draft.
1. Brian Burns, EDGE, Florida State
This one should not come as a surprise, as Burns has been a monster all season long for Florida State. His burst, stride length and natural flexibility allow him to corner at a high level, but utilizing counter moves has opened up a new dimension for Burns as a pass rusher in 2018.
There will be concerns about his weight (I've been told he's been playing as light as 225 from one source, another says he was up to 245 this summer), but there aren't many examples of him getting pushed around on tape, even at that size. Burns has the length to pack on more muscle, and perhaps an NFL program can help him do that. In any event, nine sacks and three forced fumbles this season has the junior ready to take his talents to the NFL.
2. Levonta Taylor, CB, Florida State
Taylor may be small (listed 5-foot-10, I hope he's 5-foot-9), but his instincts and technique are still very impressive for the position. I can't imagine the NFL asking him to play on the outside, so Taylor may be relegated to slot duty at the next level.
With nickel being the new base defense in the NFL, that is still a valuable position for any team. Taylor will probably test at a high level at the Combine, and he certainly isn't going to get any taller, so entering the draft makes sense. I'm not sure Taylor will ever be a top pick at his position, but for him it should be all about getting to the next level and proving himself. He has the smarts and work ethic to stick in the NFL, regardless of where he is drafted.
3. Javon Kinlaw, DL, South Carolina
Multiple sources have affirmed to me that Kinlaw is planning to declare for the 2019 NFL Draft as somewhat of a surprise entry in a deep interior defensive line crop. I wrote about Kinlaw a few weeks ago, a massive 6-foot-6, 305-pound specimen with some crazy peaks and plenty of inconsistency littering his tape.
Kinlaw reminds me of a more raw Chris Jones, and I think an early jump to the NFL could be a good one for him. He's reportedly worked very hard at South Carolina and shows a good motor on tape, which combined with his raw traits should get him drafted sometime on day two. Players with his dimensions and potential rarely fall outside the top 100, thus the leaning toward declaring early despite mediocre production.
Other names to keep an eye on? Ole Miss wide receiver A.J. Brown, South Carolina defensive end D.J. Wonnum (has played part of one game this season, expected to return this Saturday against Tennessee) and Oklahoma offensive tackle Cody Ford. I'm also told Oregon wide receiver Dillon Mitchell is planning to weigh his options carefully at the end of the season. I would assume his decision will rest somewhat on that of quarterback Justin Herbert's.
A surprise early quarterback declaration?
One surprise potential early entry that could shake things up a bit in the quarterback class: Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois. The redshirt junior has not made any decision, but is considering entering the 2019 NFL Draft despite the rough year the Seminoles have had.
Francois' numbers are actually pretty solid, especially when you consider the kind of protection he's been getting at Florida State. I'm told he believes his best shot to prove his talents may come in the NFL, rather than sticking around to risk injury again behind a suspect Seminoles offensive line. I don't think he's a great prospect, but in this quarterback class, it would not surprise me to see Francois come off the board earlier than expected.
He has a long way to go however, and no final decision has been made that I'm aware of. I would imagine plenty of options would be on the table for Francois, but transferring as the starter would be a pretty bold move. I think in the end, his decision will come down to Florida State or the NFL.
Villains of the Week: Jerry Jones, Owner/GM, Dallas Cowboys
Is Amari Cooper talented? Yes. Has he lived up to being a first round pick, especially a top five pick? Absolutely, unequivocally not.
Cooper posted two productive seasons as a rookie in 2015 and then his best year in 2016, but struggled significantly with drops in his first season, a problem which resurfaced with a vengeance last year. Cooper was a nightmare in 2017, struggling to finish in contested spots or when he was wide open. This is simply not a resume you even consider trading a first round pick for:
Among all 61 wide receivers to see at least 150 catchable targets since 2015, Amari Cooper ranks dead last in drop rate (13.1%).
Over this stretch, Doug Baldwin dropped one pass every 38.0 catchable targets, while Cooper has dropped one pass every 7.6 catchable targets.
— Scott Barrett (@ScottBarrettDFB) October 23, 2018
I can live with some dropped passes, but one every 7.6 catchable targets over a four-year timespan?? You better be producing at an elite level outside of those drops, and that's something Cooper has really never done consistently in his career, as good as his 2016 season was.
A first round pick for 1.5 seasons of a guy with significant drop issues, work ethic concerns and a lack of production dating back to three seasons ago is insane. Cooper is undoubtedly young and talented, but even at his peak he was over-drafted. He can definitely help the Cowboys wide receiver room, and I like his fit in their offense, but acting like Cooper can be the savior of any team's passing attack is ludicrous. There is no evidence to support the kind of value Dallas has placed on him.
When you take into consideration the struggles of Dak Prescott, Scott Linehan's offense and Jason Garrett, the move is even more puzzling. None of those three have proven worthy of their current role in 2018, what makes Jerry Jones believe that they are going to be able to maximize Cooper? The Cowboys offense is currently one of the worst in the NFL, that's a quarterback and coaching issue before it's a wide receiver issue.
Cooper can help Dallas, but at the price of a first round pick? Asinine. As media reports have already stated, Dallas was bidding against themselves on this one. He has to be outstanding to live up to that cost, but most importantly, so do the rest of the key offensive factors in Dallas. I'm not holding my breath.
Already deceased: Giants, Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Colts, Jets and Raiders.
Everyone stayed alive this past week. Not read to put a fork in the Browns just yet, while the Falcons and Bucs both momentarily saved their seasons with victories last week. Next week we should have a few more casualties.
In the lair this week...
- I'm working on a big project for my Thursday article, looking at all the young quarterback situations around the NFL and ranking them by five critical factors. I'll also be discussing why the struggles of a rookie quarterback shouldn't surprise or dismay anyone, and how to properly evaluate NFL signal callers at that stage in their careers.
- I'm also working on re-ordering the consensus positional rankings for the TDN prospect database, and should have all of them completed by Thursday. Then it's on to updating the consensus big board, which should be over 500 prospects this time around. Hoping to get that to you all by the beginning of next week.
- All eyes on Florida-Georgia this week. Can Jachai Polite beat up Georgia's tackles the way Darrell Taylor did? Will Elijah Holyfield continue to quietly build an RB1 type of resume? Can Riley Ridley further bolster his already rising stock with a big game against a talented Gators secondary? D'Andre Walker against Jawaan Taylor should be fun. My body is ready.