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The NFL awoke from its short-lived slumber as all 32 teams and their personnel descend upon Indianapolis for the 2019 scouting combine. The league will soon come alive with buzzworthy information and discussion.
The personnel in attendance will get to measure and meet most of the incoming talent for the first time. Discussions will start about possible trades. Agents will get a feel for their clients’ value as they ready themselves for the free-agent or trade markets.
Certain prospects have more to prove than others, even though the combine is only part of the evaluation. The latest noteworthy nuggets concentrate on how the top group of quarterbacks are viewed.
Don’t believe everything that’s being said. The draft never works out as planned. A few curveballs are always thrown into the mix.
Those pitches start to spin at the combine.
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According to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero, evaluations of this year’s quarterback prospects range wildly. While Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins appear to be the top two signal-callers in the class, Duke’s Daniel Jones and Missouri’s Drew Lock remain in that mix, too.
Dissenting voices throughout the draft process aren’t anything new. But too many question marks surround Jones and Lock to eclipse Murray and Haskins as the top QB prospects.
With Jones, a career 59.9 completion percentage and marginal arm talent may not be the main concerns. The Duke product’s leadership traits have already come into question as well.
“They’re not all perfect, because [Joe] Flacco won, Eli [Manning] wins,” a college scouting director said of Jones, per Pelissero. “But man, it’s hard to pull that card when you don’t feel like they’ve got a lot of juice for your team.”
Lock is considered a work in progress even though he set an SEC record in 2017 with 44 touchdown passes.
“While he can make some special throws downfield and on the intermediate stuff, he just needs more footwork and mechanic consistency,” a college scouting director told Pelissero. “I’m not talking about throwing the ball—he can do that fine. [Missouri offensive coordinators and quarterbacks coach] Derek Dooley did a good job with him, but he just needs more time.”
Jones and Lock have first-round ability, but they’re a tier below Murray and Haskins.
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Joe Flacco may only be the start of a Denver Broncos quarterback overhaul.
According to Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline, Broncos general manager John Elway “loves Drew Lock of Missouri.”
Flacco shouldn’t prevent any team from selecting a potential franchise option at QB. He didn’t deter the Baltimore Ravens from trading up to select Lamar Jackson with the 32nd overall pick in the 2018 draft.
However, Denver’s acquisition of Flacco suggests this franchise isn’t ready to rebuild despite going 11-21 over the past two seasons. The Broncos expect to win now.
Lock fits the mold of what Elway prefers: a sturdy, strong-armed quarterback capable of making big-time throws (sound familiar?). Elway’s reported fascination with Lock may not fade even with Flacco soon-to-be in tow. But teams with a veteran starting quarterback, talented defense and a win-now attitude usually don’t spend a top-10 pick on a signal-caller.
The Broncos have other significant areas of need to address, including cornerback, tight end and offensive line. LSU linebacker Devin White, Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson, Alabama offensive tackle Jonah Williams or Florida offensive tackle Jawaan Taylor would be immediate starters for Denver.
The Broncos’ search for a quarterback of the future shouldn’t stop because of Flacco, but it also shouldn’t start with the 10th overall pick.
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Players began to arrive in Indianapolis on Tuesday for the NFL Scouting Combine. No one will be scrutinized more than Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.
Much like last year’s No. 1 overall pick, Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield, Murray’s size (or lack thereof) is coming into question. Like Mayfield, Murray is shorter (5’10”-ish) than ideal for a signal-caller.
However, Mayfield’s thicker core and legs allowed him to withstand an NFL pounding. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s official site listed Murray at 195 pounds this past season.
“The size will be an issue some,” ex-Raiders director of player personnel Joey Clinkscales told The MMQB’s Albert Breer. “But if he’s in shotgun a lot, he already has the ability to scan the field. I do think with his style of play, and his size—and I’m not necessarily talking about the height part of it, it’s that he feels he looks small—standing on a scale will be important. A 190-pound quarterback can only last so long in the National Football League.”
Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, revealed during a Barstool Sports podcast that Murray now weighs 205 pounds. NBC Sports’ Peter King has been told the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is 206 pounds. For the sake of comparison, Russell Wilson weighed 204 pounds at the 2012 combine.
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Draft momentum is building in T.J. Hockenson’s favor. The Iowa tight end went from being known as the Haweyes’ other tight end—teammate Noah Fant entered the season as the TE1—to the John Mackey Award winner to a potential top-10 selection.
A scout told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero that “he would not bat an eye if Hockenson ends up going in the top 10.”
Over the past 35 years, teams have spent only five top-10 picks on tight ends. Those five—Eric Ebron, Vernon Davis, Kellen Winslow Jr., Rickey Dudley and Kyle Brady—were supposed to revolutionize the way the position was played.
In a way, they did.
Teams started to place far more emphasis on tight ends who created mismatches in the passing game. As a result, fewer tight ends learned how to be competent in-line options. Most tight ends now fall into one of two camps: They’re either oversized wide receivers treated as an H-back, or bigger, less athletic options expected to be in-line blockers. Few tight ends can do both.
However, Hockenson is a complete Y-tight end. His power at the point of attack complements his capabilities as a receiving threat. Teams prefer not to have liabilities on the field that cause personnel changes to run certain schemes, which should make Hockenson enticing.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos each own top-10 picks, and all four have a significant need at tight end.
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Some draft narratives are plain lazy.
Massachusetts wide receiver Andy Isabella is the perfect example in this year’s class.
“He reminds me of Danny Amendola,” former NFL wide receiver Reggie Wayne said on NFL Network’s Total Access (via MassLive’s Matt Vautour). “They have the same build, but he’s a lot faster. Trust me, a lot faster, but he has that toughness that Danny has.”
Senior Bowl executive director and longtime NFL scout Jim Nagy made a different comparison, likening Isabella to T.Y. Hilton and Brandin Cooks. Neither Hilton nor Cooks are big targets, but they’re far more than slot receivers with a combined nine 1,000-yard seasons.
Both Hilton and Cooks ran sub-4.4-second 40-yard dashes prior to entering the league. Isabella, who led the FBS with 1,698 receiving yards last season, may be a tick faster.
Cornerback Denzel Ward tied for the fastest time at least year’s combine with a 4.32-second 40-yard dash. Isabella previously outraced Ward.
“When you turn on the film, the first thing you see is fast,” Wayne said. “This guy is extremely fast. He’ll be the fastest receiver in this upcoming combine.”
Isabella is much more than a typical slot receiver.
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An undersized cornerback prospect can still be a top draft pick if he plays fast and physical.
Last year, the Cleveland Browns chose Denzel Ward with the fourth overall pick despite his 5’11’, 183-pound frame because he ran a 4.32-second 40-yard dash and showed a fearlessness when defending the run.
All three of the top cornerback prospects in this year’s class—Georgia’s Deandre Baker, LSU’s Greedy Williams and Washington’s Byron Murphy—have to prove the same, as slight frames are a concern for each.
According to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, Baker may not have much to worry about since he’s expected to “shock people at workouts.” Seeing as he was an all-state performer in the 200- and 400-meter dash during his junior year of high school, his speed should help him shine at the combine.
Baker is a lot like Ward in many ways. The reigning Jim Thorpe Award winner is a sticky man-to-man cover corner with exceptional short-area quickness and drive on the ball. Both are fluid in their lower bodies, which helps them turn through their backpedal without losing a step.
If Baker does run better than expected—his long speed is the No. 1 question about his game—he could end up being the top cornerback selected and move into the top half of the first round.
Coaches will quickly forget how much Baker weighs—Georgia listed him at 185 pounds—as long as he gets the job done.
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The Kansas City Chiefs need defensive reinforcements, and the draft may offer that reprieve.
“It’s a little early, but everything I heard is Kansas City will target a safety in Round 1—which should not come as a surprise to anybody,” Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline stated. “The name that continues to come up as a Chiefs target is Taylor Rapp of Washington.”
Ron Parker is a soon-to-be free agent. Daniel Sorensen is average. Eric Berry hasn’t been healthy since 2016. Eric Murray developed into a nice surprise, but the Chiefs need more help along the back line.
Rapp might be of interest—he’s a versatile defensive back who can play in the box, over the slot or drop deep half while serving as a defense’s tone-setter—but the Chiefs need to think bigger.
Kansas City owns this year’s 29th overall pick. Safety looks like it’ll be a position of strength late in the first round, which means Rapp isn’t the only potential target. Mississippi State’s Johnathan Abram, Alabama’s Deionte Thompson, Delaware’s Nasir Adderley and Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson will be in the mix to become the first safety off the board.
The Chiefs’ decision could come down to preference. Rapp, Abram and Gardner-Johnson are better downhill players, whereas Thompson is a true free safety. Adderley falls between those two points.
Rapp can be the Chiefs’ guy. But even if he isn’t, the organization can still address the safety position with a quality prospect.
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John Ross lit social media on fire when he broke Chris Johnson’s combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash. But his professional career has been almost as disastrous as the Fyre Festival.
The Cincinnati Bengals apparently agree, as they are reportedly shopping their 2017 first-round pick, according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.
On the surface, it’s shocking to see a team ready to give up on a top-10 pick so quickly. While the New York Giants traded cornerback Eli Apple to the New Orleans Saints in his third season, Giants left tackle Ereck Flowers and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. weren’t discarded until their fourth season.
Ross’ availability affects the draft on two fronts.
First, potential suitors could flip a mid- to late-round pick to acquire him. The speedster likely won’t be considered a permanent solution at his next stop, but bringing him in would reduce pressure to add another receiver.
Second, Ross’ possible departure puts the Bengals back in the wide receiver market. Veteran standout A.J. Green is set to enter the final year of his contract. The same is true for Tyler Boyd, who ended last season on injured reserve.
New head coach Zac Taylor comes from the Los Angeles Rams, who used 11 personnel (one back, one tight end and three receivers) more than any other team last season, yet his new squad is light on wideouts. The Bengals are better off giving Ross another shot rather than getting rid of a top pick at a discount.