At this late stage in the 2017 NFL Draft process, we have a pretty good idea as to who will be among the top picks in the annual event later this month.
Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is almost assured to go No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns. Meanwhile, defensive backs Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams will all likely go within the top 10.
After that, there are still a lot of question marks.
How will the quarterback situation play out with inexperienced arms such as Mitch Trubisky and Davis Webb drawing first-round chatter? Will off-field issues surrounding both Joe Mixon and Reuben Foster push them down the board come draft day?
These are among the 10 highly regarded 2017 NFL Draft prospects that will fall down the board when the annual event itself kicks off in Philadelphia later this month.
Mitch Trubisky, quarterback, North Carolina
Depending on who you ask, Trubisky could go as high as No. 2 overall to the San Francisco 49ers. He could also drop down to the last pick in the first round, where the New Orleans Saints might want to find an eventual successor to Drew Brees.
But what if Trubisky’s lack of experience at the college level starts to concern NFL teams the closer we get to the draft? It’s already something Bruce Arians mentioned has been “bugging me” as he contemplates drafting Carson Palmer’s replacement.
Here’s a guy that started just one season at North Carolina and attempted a grand total of 572 passes in college. To put this into perspective, former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson put up 579 pass attempts last season alone.
There’s two ways scouts and teams can go about this. As to where Watson’s ceiling might be more limited, his floor is higher. The same can be said for other potential first-round picks at this position.
As it relates to Trubisky, his floor is incredibly low. He’s a high-risk proposition in an industry that inundated with high risks, especially at quarterback. That could potentially push Trubisky down further come draft day.
There’s definitely some concern over Trubisky’s lack of experience around the NFL.
“There are times he looks like another Carson Wentz and then there are times he looks like Blaine Gabbert,” one NFL scout just recently told NFL.com. “He has starting qualities and he’ll go early, but he better get better at seeing blitzes and throwing hot or he’ll get eaten alive by the exotic packages they are throwing at quarterbacks these days.”
In a draft that’s absolutely stacked at other positions, are teams willing to exhaust a first-round pick on this type of risk? It’s surely a fair question to ask as the event in Philadelphia nears.
Tim Williams, EDGE, Alabama
Multiple failed drug tests. Gun charges. Williams’ off-field history with the Crimson Tide reads like a sad police blotter. This will drop the otherwise dynamic pass-rush threat completely out of the first round. In fact, there’s surely a scenario in play here where he could drop to Day 3.
That’s an amazing realization to come to, especially considering Williams tallied 18.5 sacks an 27.5 tackles for loss in his final two seasons with Alabama. It’s his production and the awe-inspiring tape that has some thinking Williams might go higher than we expect.
For his part, Williams sounds contrite when discussing his history.
“Oh, yeah. I have failed some (drug tests),” Williams said back in March, via AL.com. “A young player, making decisions that I grew from. That’s all about life, being a man and owning up to your situations — owning up to your mistakes because everybody makes some. I’m not here laughing around and joking. I know I have something to prove.”
Some might conclude that these comments will ease the fears of NFL teams heading into the draft. We’re here to throw that whole idea out the window.
Teams might look past off-field issues when it comes to the quarterback position. The same really can’t be said for any position on defense, even what has been an increasingly important EDGE pass-rush role in the NFL.
Despite his tape and previous production, we’re expecting Williams to fall to at least the fourth round. When a team does pick him up, it will surely be getting a high-upside prospect that needs to be given a direction off the field. That much can’t be denied.
Jabrill Peppers, linebacker/safety, Michigan
A player without a position. Some teams are even contemplating the idea of playing Peppers on offense. That’s how extremely talented the former Michigan safety is.
While having that type of versatility and athleticism is a plus, there’s definitely some concerns here. Is Peppers big enough to play linebacker? Does he have the coverage skills to play free safety? Depending on how teams answer these questions, there’s surely a scenario in play here that suggests Peppers could fall completely out of Round 1.
He’s also somewhat limited in terms of what specific position he can play. At linebacker, the 5-foot-11, 213-pound former Wolverine is pretty much limited to the weak-side position in 4-3 defenses. At safety, he surely doesn’t possess enough of a frame to play strong safety.
With free safety itself absolutely stacked in the 2017 NFL Draft, there’s definitely a chance teams will decide to go with natural center fielders. This list includes the likes of Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams, Marcus Williams and Marcus Maye. That could further drop Peppers down the board.
Corey Davis, wide receiver, Western Michigan
It has to be considered troublesome that Davis’ ankle injury has forced to him miss important workouts in front of teams.
At 6-foot-3 and 209 pounds, he has the frame to be a true No. 1 receiver in the NFL. Add in his large catch radius and absurd level of production in college and teams are definitely drooling over him. Heck, here’s a dude that put up over 4,300 yards with 46 touchdowns in his final three seasons with the Broncos.
Unfortunately, recency bias may force NFL teams to stray away from Davis early in the upcoming draft. No one wants to see a repeat of what happened with Josh Doctson after the Washington Redskins made him a first-round pick last year. Dealing with a foot injury of his own, Doctson played in a total of two games before being shut down for the season.
There were also concerns over Kevin White’s foot after the Chicago Bears made him the No. 7 overall pick back in 2015. All White has done in two seasons with Chicago is play in a grand total of four games.
With the likes of Mike Williams and John Ross acting as true first-round prospects, teams might go in that direction rather than take a chance on Davis early. A top-10 prospect by every other definition of the term, it would not be a surprise to see Davis fall to the second half of Day 1 due to concern over his injuries.
Malik McDowell, defensive tackle, Michigan State
One of the most physically dominant defensive players in the draft, there’s surely some reason to believe McDowell will go within the top 20 later this month. There’s little doubting what he can bring to the table in that regard. Unfortunately, there’s also some major concern over McDowell’s work ethic, making him a boom or bust prospect.
“He has a chance to be a dominant player in our league. I mean dominant. It hasn’t turned on for him all the way yet but if it does, he could be like Mario Williams,” A scout told NFL.com recently. “He’s just a little lazy and I worry about whether he is going to be a self-starter.”
This has to be considered a major concern, especially from the defensive line. If a prospect is seen as taking plays off, teams won’t value him as a three-down player. Once that happens, said prospect shoots down the draft boards in a big way.
Sharrif Floyd was a prime example of this back in 2013. He was considered a top-five prospect heading in before falling to Minnesota within the final 10 picks of the first round. We might see a repeat of this with McDowell later in the month.
Joe Mixon, running back, Oklahoma
If it weren’t for a video showing Mixon hitting a female patron at a bar back in 2014, the former Oklahoma standout would be in the conversation with Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey as the second running back off the board. That’s obviously no longer going to be the case, especially with multiple teams having taken Mixon off their draft boards.
Having already visited with the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals, there’s surely some interest in Mixon’s services. In terms of talent, this is definitely not a surprise. Here’s a dude that put up over 1,800 total yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
At 6-foot-1 and 226 pounds, Mixon provides both the power and athleticism to be a dynamic running back at the next level. It’s never really been a question about his on-field ability.
But with the NFL trending away from valuing running backs at a high clip, Mixon’s off-field incident could cost him big time. Simply put, some will conclude he’s not worth the risk. With an absolute ceiling in the second round, there’s definitely a chance that Mixon could go undrafted completely. In reality, something in between that remains most likely.
Cam Robinson, offensive tackle, Alabama
Dominant in both pass protection and run blocking throughout his career with the Crimson Tide, there’s every reason to believe that Robinson’s game translates well to the NFL. The issue here is whether teams actually believe he has the athleticism to play left tackle. How that question is answered will surely dictate where the former All-American goes when the draft comes calling.
NFL Media draft insider Lance Zierlein covered this in detail in his scouting report of Robinson earlier in the year.
“Balance issues a concern. Struggles with active, high-motor defenders. At times he ducks head into his run blocks, losing sight of a moving target. Narrow in-line power base due to lack of bend and excessive leaning,” Zierlein opined. “Weight creeps too far past his feet in both run and pass blocks. Inconsistent sustaining his block.”
That’s the crux of the issue here. At 6-foot-6 and 323 pounds, Robinson is geared to only play tackle. That frame just won’t hold up at guard. So if teams draw the conclusion that his balance issues and lack of athleticism prevents him from manning the blindside, Robinson will shoot down the boards in a big way later in the month.
Sidney Jones, cornerback, Washington
Likely the No. 2 cornerback in the draft behind Marshon Lattimore based on talent and tape, Jones will now hear multiple corners called before he ultimately goes off the board. Such is the nature of the beast in a draft process that saw Jones suffer a torn Achilles during the Washington Pro Day last month.
Whatever team selects Jones has to expect a red-shirt season as a rookie in 2017. That in and of itself will push down his stock a great deal. Add in the fact that it’s an injury to the cornerback’s lower body, and this is magnified even further.
Concerns here will include Jones’ ability to regain his top-level athleticism and just how long it might take him to get back to where he was before his injury.
For his part, the former Huskie standout has indicated he’s looking at the same recovery time as Michael Crabtree had when the receiver tore his Achilles as a member of the 49ers back in 2013. Crabtree missed seven months of action and was obviously slowed down when he returned that season.
A seven-month timeline here would put Jones back on the field by November. At that point, it would probably be best for him to sit the entire season out. This will surely push Jones, who was a potential top-15 pick, out of the first round completely.
Reuben Foster, linebacker, Alabama
Say what you want about Foster’s on-field ability, he’s surely going to drop outside of the top 10 when the draft gets going in Philadelphia. That’s a far cry from the All-American being considered the second-best prospect in the draft prior to the NFL Scouting Combine.
As you already know, Foster was sent home from the combine after getting into an altercation with a hospital worker prior to what should have been a common physical (more on that here).
While the linebacker has since shown remorse, this incident has brought up questions about his level of maturity.
The NFL itself is full of recency bias. Is it possible that Foster’s glowing tape will be overshadowed by this recent incident? Will a team exhaust a high first-round pick now knowing that there are questions about the defender’s character? These are two important questions we must look at when determining where Foster will go.
Davis Webb, quarterback, California
Multiple teams reportedly told Webb that he was a first-round prospect during the CAL Pro Day last month. That’s all fine and dandy. It also won’t be the case once the first round wraps up in Philadelphia.
There’s a lot to look at here. Davis played one season of high-level college football. He did so in a Sonny Dykes’ spread offense that is nowhere similar to the type of offense the quarterback will be asked to run in the NFL. Those are two huge concerns.
They also seem to indicate that Webb will have to sit for a couple years before he can become a starter-caliber quarterback in the NFL. That right there precludes Webb from going early in Round 1.
Now add in the fact that other quarterbacks in this class could potentially start early (see: Deshaun Watson) and that pushes Webb down a peg or two more. This situation could very well be similar to Tom Savage leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft. Ultimately picked up by Houston in the fourth round, there was late buzz that he might end up as a first-round pick. That obviously didn’t play out for Savage.
While we’re stopping short of saying Webb will fall to Day 3, the idea that he is a first-round prospect is absolutely absurd. It’s just not going to happen. And if it does, the team that selects him will rightfully face a ton of scrutiny.