They say player assessment in the NFL requires a three year window. In three years, the general rule of thumb is that NFL players will have every opportunity to show you who they are -- and that final judgements on players can be made. Were you right, wrong or somewhere in-between on that Day 2 receiver you chose to 'stan' for? And more importantly, why?
Scouting football players is all about the process -- inevitably the human element of players is going to yield irregular results. Injuries are a thing. So, too, is motivation and work ethic. So looking at the process you took to come to the conclusions that you do is really, really important along the way. The 2016 NFL Draft class has had three full seasons in the NFL now and I took the time a few weeks back to weigh in on where I stood among the top players at the class. I think I did okay.
But with this class now out of the evaluation window, I wanted to undergo an exercise that would provide us with a great look at those players who the jury is still out on. In some cases, we can confirm that the player is good already. But for those lagging behind, there's still time to change the narrative. And what better way to look at the players in the evaluation window than to combine them?
Draftniks are constantly asked -- "if so and so was in last year's class, where would he rank?"
Consider this to be your lucky day. This multi-part series is going to showcase the top 40 player grades I've handed out between the 2017, 2018 and 2019 NFL Draft classes -- so that you can see for yourselves how the cream of the crop sorts itself out.
Today, I'll introduce players ranked 30th through 21st -- the second of a collection of five posts dedicated to covering the best grades I've handed out over the last three years (and how nervous I need to be about my final ranking).
If you missed the rankings thus far, here's what you've missed. And once you're caught up, it's time to reveal prospects 21 through 30 on the list!
Just Missed (Click for analysis)
Rankings 40 through 31 (Click for analysis)
#30. Philadelphia Eagles Cornerback Sidney Jones
I said: "Sidney Jones is a tremendous Cornerback prospect with the ability to play in any number of defensive schemes. Jones has a combination of fluidity, explosiveness, ball skills, length and aggressiveness; offering a skill set that should be able to immediately transition successfully to the NFL. Jones has strong route awareness and makes strong reads in the secondary to key on the backfield action in zone action and sustain leverage against routes in the vicinity simultaneously. Jones' one critique could be zeroed in on his frame; he is very physical but still has some weakness against bigger bodied receivers. Jones plays patiently and with good pop with hands at the LOS but big bodied players can run through presses. Jones in man coverage has the ability to stay sticky and in the hip pocket of receivers down the field. An Achilles tear at Pro Day robs team of a Day 1 starter in any scheme."
I am: Not super hopeful that this one is going to turn around in my favor -- or more importantly in Jones' favor. Which sucks. Jones clearly hasn't been the player that he was at Washington and so much of that has to do with health issues. The Achilles tear that put him on the shelf for the first 15 games of the 2017 season resulted in his slide to the 43rd overall pick of 2017 earlier that spring. If things are to turn around for Jones, it will need to come from a healthy season from wire to wire -- not only did he battle back from the Achilles tear, he was hampered by a hamstring issue in 2018. Jones' game at Washington was predicated on a lot of foot quickness and suddenness in short spaces -- perhaps he's still on the mend and we will see a more springy version of Jones in 2019 going into year three. We've reached "do or die" territory with Jones, although the early returns suggest this will be a miss for me and Jones' promising pro career will be tarnished by an injury suffered in the pre-draft process.
#29. Minnesota Vikings Running Back Dalvin Cook
I said: "Florida State's Dalvin Cook is an electric runner; he has an elite blend of short area agility, linear speed and top notch mental processing during live action. Cook has a rare gift to pick up and process defensive flow and creases in the point of attack with such suddenness that he's planting and cutting before alleys are developed. Cook combines that anticipatory skill with blue chip short area agility and foot speed. His cuts are steep, sudden and can break the grain of pursuit with excellent consistency. Cook has game breaking speed and is a pleasantly well rounded runner; he can impact the game between the tackles or when turning the corner. Cook will consistently beat angles with speed; even when he's looked to be cornered Cook has another gear to break through and pick up large chunks. A three down back and an immediate starter in any offensive system."
I am: Cautiously optimistic. Cook nearly hit 1,000 offensive yards from scrimmage last year despite Latavius Murray getting 140 carries to Cook's 133. Of course, we wouldn't be in this position had Cook not torn his ACL in the 4th game of his rookie season. As the #41 pick of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cook was primed to gobble up the majority of the touches that year and had 354 rushing yards in 4 games before going down with the injury. Last year, Cook missed 5 games with a hamstring issue -- he's only played in 15 games over the last two years.
Here's the good news, fam. The Vikings have brought in Gary Kubiak and his outside zone rushing offense -- along with drafting Garrett Bradbury to man the center of the offensive line. This is all shaping up for a booming year three for Dalvin Cook. No more Latavius Murray, a clean bill of health, Garrett Bradbury in the picture and Gary Kubiak's rushing pedigree behind the scenes. Let's not call this one a miss just yet.
#28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Linebacker Devin White
I said: "Devin White has the ceiling of a star in the NFL. White's explosive range, hitting power and explosiveness compliment a sturdy frame and some awesome reps of reads at the LOS. The contact balance issues with White may scare some teams, but provided he's able to square up his challenges with more consistency it's difficult to project anything less than Pro Bowls in his future. White plays through contact and trash well, he's a viable starter in any system."
I am: Surprised to see Devin get the call so early. As the #5 overall pick of 2019, White has monstrous expectations to live up to. I suspect he' going to be a great pro and is a prospect who I generally perceive to be a "plug and play" upgrade for a defense who is reeling on the second level. The Bucs said goodbye to Kwon Alexander in free agency and may have lost LB Kendell Beckwith for good due to an ankle injury suffered in the offseason of 2018 -- so make no mistake, this is Devin White's show now. He's the captain now. (Get it? Pirate joke? No? ...I'll see myself out.)
#27. Seattle Seahawks Wide Receiver D.K. Metcalf
I said: "D.K. Metcalf enters the 2019 NFL Draft as a rare prospect, his blend of physicality and explosiveness have the ability to develop into a game-changing WR. Metcalf projects favorably to just about any system, he's fluid enough to run hard angled routes and big enough to win in the red zone. Metcalf offers vertical explosiveness as well. An early starter just scratching the surface of how good he can really be."
I am: Not sweating the haters. Metcalf fell to #64 overall in this year's draft, so he must suck and I misread the tea leaves, right? Well, not exactly. Russell Wilson would like you to know that D.K. is "looking really, really special. He can do anything and everything and he's tremendous." That is a direct quote. I love the scheme fit in Seattle and think Russ is a great quarterback to pull out all the best qualities from Metcalf's game. And given the Seahawks' loss of Doug Baldwin this offseason, I'd expect Metcalf is going to get a hefty load of targets. Now, I know the narrative on Metcalf in the pre-draft process was that "big man run fat but no turns". But when you factor in his functional strength and his ability to create separation in ways other than being "quicker than a hiccup", I still expect Metcalf to tear things up.
#26. New Orleans Saints Offensive Tackle Ryan Ramczyk
I said: "Wisconsin Left Tackle Ryan Ramczyk, in spite of just one season as a starter for the Badgers, looks to have the cleanest transition from the college to NFL. Ramczyk is so methodical with his feet and blocking mechanics that he will rarely lose a rep after first contact. There are times in which Ramczyk's movement skills are used against him; he can be prone to overrunning blocks. Yet the physical size and athleticism combination is a treat to watch in action. Ramczyk is capable of exploding off the line in drive blocks, pulling cleanly to get out in front of a stretch run or cleanly taking balanced strides to get back onto a pass set platform. There is some subtle nuance to Ramczyk's game with his hand utilization as well, which suggests that this transition will be one that takes place smoothly and provides Ramczyk the opportunity to start early on in his career."
I am: Somehow we let a dominant lineman from Wisconsin tumble to the #32nd overall pick of 2017. Don't blame me, I had him higher than that. And guess what? This mauling presence on the edge of the line of scrimmage has the 5th best pass blocking efficiency of qualifying offensive linemen over the last two years. Is that good? Yes, yes it is -- thanks for asking. Ramczyk helps keep an elite passing offense humming on all cylinders by doing his part to keep Drew Brees upright -- his 3.4% sack percentage was the lowest figure Brees has experienced in a decade.
Oh and by the way, the Saints saw the highest percentage of their teams' rushing yards come behind Ramczyk vs. the rest of the NFL last year. The team has averaged 5.0 yards per carry running behind Ramczyk since he entered the league -- 28% of their carries that way have gone for first downs and/or touchdowns.
#25. Washington Redskins Linebacker Reuben Foster
I said: "Alabama's Reuben Foster took a wonderful step forward with his 2016 campaign. Already a valued prospect, Foster remodeled his body composition by losing over 10 pounds and the end result was a greatly improved dynamic movement skills. Foster did not lose an iota of hitting power in his transition and now has full field range and pairs it with an explosive functional skill set. Foster has strong mental processing in live action as well; he sees plays very early on and trusts his keys to lead him to the football. Foster has an ability to play through traffic as well, he is patient to press the LOS and take on blockers before pressing laterally or popping with his hands to get into further pursuit. His range in pass coverage allows him to influence and disrupt TE routes in the middle of the field. Foster is a defensive stalwart and can be the face of a defensive unit for the next decade."
I am: Not going to kick myself for this one. I promised myself that I wouldn't. Foster's unceremonious boot off of the 49ers is a difficult situation. His merits on the field have lived up to his selection as the 31st overall pick on 2017. He'd actually have gone much higher -- and would have lived up to THOSE expectations, too -- if not for the red flags off the field that ultimately led to his demise in the Bay area. The hope with Foster was a new location could help him completely detach from the toxic people in his life and protect him from himself -- Foster's blame in the off-field issues ultimately falls onto himself, he can't put himself in bad situations. He has to date, which is why the 49ers said "enough is enough".
It doesn't appear that Foster is the monster his ex-girlfriend has painted him as -- she admitted to lying about Foster's conduct at least once and the latest run-in in Tampa that led to Foster being cut by San Francisco had the charges dismissed in January.
Even if Foster steers clear of bad situations, he's now got a totally different hill to climb -- he tore his ACL and LCL this spring during organized team activities in Washington and will undoubtedly spend the season in injured reserve. Only a deep playoff run would put Foster even remotely close to a potential return -- so don't bet on seeing him on the field again until 2020. Again...the human element of football can make player projection a very messy, sloppy affair.
#24. Cincinnati Bengals Running Back Joe Mixon
I said: "Oklahoma's Joe Mixon is going to face a much larger task over the spring and summer than any task he's faced on the field: rehabilitating his image. Mixon is an incredibly gifted runner; a lethal combo of size, explosion, agility and balance. Yet his off field history is going to keep him off of some team's boards all together. A very ugly, very public assault of a young woman in Norman looms over what is a total package at the Running Back position. In terms of a NFL role, Mixon could very well be the next Adrian Peterson or Ezekiel Elliott in terms of his immediate impact on the league. His skill set fits any system and allows him to be a fixture on all three downs for whichever team rolls the dice and invests in Mixon. Mixon's decision making away from the facilities are going to be the deciding factor in what level of success he experiences in the NFL."
I am: Wondering if I didn't have Mixon high enough. I'm mostly kidding -- but Mixon did rush for nearly 5 yards per carry behind the Bengals' 2018 offensive line, which is an act of wizardry that I simply can't wrap my head around. Think that's not impressive? The Bengals offensive line in 2018 featured Cordy Glenn (13 starts), Clint Boling (16 starts), Trey Hopkins (9 starts), Alex Redmond (15 starts) and Bobby Hart (16 starts) for a large portion of the season after Billy Price (10 starts) went down in Week 2 and was out through Week 10.
And yet Mixon nearly doubled his rushing yardage (1,168 yards on 4.9 YPC in 2018), doubled his rushing touchdown production (4 to 8), caught 43 balls and saw his snap usage swell from 39% as the 48th selection in the 2018 NFL Draft (lol Marvin Lewis, you big goof!) to 65% in year two.
#23. Arizona Cardinals Safety Budda Baker
I said: "Washington Safety Budda Baker is an impressive back end defender with the versatility to make a high number of impact plays in both the run and pass game. While Baker is not a true free Safety and does not have an ideal frame for playing in the box with such a high frequency; he has proven himself more than competent in the slot, as a box safety and as a pressure player. In man to man coverage; Baker can be relied upon to lock horns with slot receivers. His short area movement skills, play processing and reactionary quickness are all plus traits that allow Baker to be one of the better pursuit defenders in this year's class. Baker projects favorably as a Strong Safety; on passing down and distances he can be left in the slot to give his defensive coaches some multiplicity and flexibility with how they address and attack their personnel groupings. Should be a Day 1 impact player."
I am: Needing more time. Baker started 13 games in 2018 and played...well enough. Not like a top talent, necessarily, but I mean geez. The Cardinals' three leading tacklers in 2018 were Safeties (Antoine Bethea - 100 solo tackles, Budda Baker - 78 solo tackles, Tre Boston - 66 solo tackles). That's a pretty putrid endorsement on the front seven. The Cardinals quite frankly got their asses kicked up front and were dead last in the NFL in rushing defense (2,479 yards allowed and 25 rushing touchdowns allowed). Teams ran 510 times against the Cardinals last year...it's almost like hiring Steve Wilks to come in and run a completely different defense than the one that the Cardinals were built to run over the course of the 5 years that Bruce Arians was at the helm was a terrible idea. I think the Cardinals got the message though, since they fired Wilks after one season and hired *squints* the former head coach at Texas Tech who had two winning seasons in six years.
And again, that's where the context of teams and players and situations all matters. Baker hasn't been bad, but he hasn't lived up to expectations. He didn't see the field a ton as a rookie (48% of the team's snaps) as the 36th selection of the 2018 NFL Draft but did make some big plays down the stretch. In 2018, Baker was on the field 84% of the time but was regulated to a glorified run defender because the team's direction, coaching and personnel were a steaming hot mess.
#22. Cleveland Browns Running Back Nick Chubb
I said: "Georgia Running Back Nick Chubb is an impressive player. The one true hole in his game is top end long speed, but Chubb would fit either a gap/power running scheme or a zone heavy system, where his vision and cut ability can be showcased effectively."
I am: Feeling good. Nay. Feeling great. Nick Chubb rushed for 996 yards in 2018 as a rookie and the Browns didn't give him more than three carries in a single game until Week 7. Thanks a lot, Hue. Can we just appreciate how bad Hue Jackson is at his job? He insisted on playing Tyrod Taylor over Baker Mayfield for the first three weeks until Taylor got hurt. He entrenched Chubb behind Carlos Hyde for the first six weeks of the season until -- wait for it -- Hyde got traded and forced Chubb into the lineup. All Chubb did in the 10 games after he got more than three carries in a single game was rush 170 times for 823 yards (4.84 YPC) and score 8 touchdowns.
I get there's a "running backs don't matter sentiment" but all I'm doing is grading and searching for good football players. Chubb is a great back whose only legit threat to sustained success is the horrific knee injury he suffered back in 2015. It took him nearly two full years to fully regain his form, what do his long-term prospects look like? The Browns must have felt pretty good about them, considering they invested the 35th overall pick of 2018 into him. The early returns are terrific -- projecting his 10 game workload over 16 games would have yielded 1,317 rushing yards and 13 total touchdowns.
#21. Miami Dolphins Quarterback Josh Rosen
I said: "UCLA QB Josh Rosen is an excellent pro prospect and should be regarded as a potential franchise player. Rosen's aggressive mentality to push the ball, mechanics, pocket presence and arm talent make him an excellent fit for a vertical passing offense in the NFL."
I am: Not giving up. Here's the bad news: that same Cardinals' staff that imploded the franchise seemingly overnight didn't do Rosen any favors as a rookie. He was pounded by opposing pass rushers, struggled to play with consistency and was troubled with ball security.
Here's the good news: the Cardinals put the #10 overall pick from 2018 on an escape pod and sent him across the country to South Florida -- he'll look to capture the hearts of Miami Dolphins fans. And I'm optimistic. Rosen's college tape was SO. GOOD. If not for some fella named Baker Mayfield, Rosen would have been my top quarterback prospect that year. But Rosen needs a few things to have success -- receivers who can win 50/50 throws and/or create some separation, since he's a very cerebral passer who knows conceptually where he *should* be able to fit a ball vs. coverage. He's going to try tight coverage, for better or for worse. So you better be able to win that toss, or you better get a lot of separation early on. And he needs some protection up the middle. Rosen was very good at the college level of sliding within the pocket. But if you're giving up pressures before Rosen even hits the top of his drop, he's not the caliber of athlete who can redirect on a moment's notice like a Kyler Murray and make the first (and second) arriving free rusher miss.
And guess what? Rosen had neither one of those in Arizona last year. Rosen was pressured in less than 2.5 seconds in over one out of every four drop backs in 2018. That is...to put it mildly...horrendous. And the Cardinals receivers did him no favors, either. Cardinals receivers failed to create separation at a troubling rate -- so much so that one colleague in the industry told me that their separation rate was nearly 10% below the NFL average. The Dolphins are a flawed football team, no doubt. But they have Laremy Tunsil and a 2019 rookie in Michael Deiter, who I like a lot -- he'll get his first look at left guard. Add in a center in Daniel Kilgore who was solid in San Francisco before tearing his triceps in 2018 and the Dolphins at least have some pieces to work with -- and their receivers are speedy. Albert Wilson is a slot dynamo, Kenny Stills is much better than his stat line and can separate to all three levels of the field. There's more for Rosen to work with in Miami -- I'm not ready to accept Rosen's 2018 season to be his fate as a player.