The NFL Draft is right around the corner, players stocks are rising and falling for no apparent reason, and my head is chalked full of mostly useless information about this years' draft class, so now seems like a good time to unload some of that information in a series of random musings about the first round of the draft. Take it or leave it, I really don't care as long as you read it...
-Let’s get started with a bold prediction: Three quarterbacks will be selected in the Top 10 picks, and as many as four will be picked in the Top 15 picks of the 2017 Draft. If were I betting man, I’d say those quarterbacks will be Mitch Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, Pat Mahomes and - wait for it – Davis Webb.
-While I’m at it, I’m going to make one more bold prediction – we will see quarterbacks selected with each of the first two picks in this draft. That’s right – no Myles Garrett atop the draft. I believe Hue Jackson is eager (desperate) to put his stamp on the Browns given their history of cycling through head coaches. As for the 49ers, I think they’re looking to change the culture, and they’ll view Watson, who has done nothing but win, as a natural leader moving forward.
-I have some bad news for the ever-growing camp of Chargers fans who want a quarterback in the first round; it isn’t happening. And it shouldn’t happen. I’m not saying the organization shouldn’t be thinking about finding a replacement for #17; I’m saying this isn’t the year to do it for two reasons. First, in no universe does it make sense for a team with nine combined wins in the last two seasons to take a player they know won’t sniff the field for three years at the top of the draft. But most importantly, this is a decidedly underwhelming quarterback class full of kids who will be drafted too early despite needing a ton of work.
-Whether you realize it or not, there is another much smaller camp of one – let’s call it the world’s smallest cult - led by our own Jamie Sewell, who is obsessed with Patrick Mahomes. Truth be told, his fixation is a little…unsettling. But fear not because we do with that Jamie what we usually do with crazy people who talk to themselves – we give him a wide berth, a polite nod and continue on our way, eyes averted, silently mocking him as we go.
-If we could stop linking Malik Hooker to the Chargers, that’d be great, thanks. Not only is Hooker the least experienced safety in the class, but he’s also the worst tackling safety in the class by virtue of his 16.6% (1/6) missed tackle percentage this year. Finally, he has a nasty habit of watching and mirroring the quarterback. NFL passers will use this habit to manipulate him into late breaks and mistakes from which he won’t be able to recover. So you’ll have to excuse me if I’m not gaga over a safety who can’t tackle and is sure to endure a steep learning curve in coverage.
-Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Chargers need to invest the #7 pick in either a defensive lineman or an edge rusher. This is a team facing a great deal of uncertainty throughout its defensive front with the increasing likelihood it will need to replace Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget, Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu, Caraun Reid, Ryan Carrethers and Tenny Palepoi between now and the start of the 2018 season; which means they need both depth and impact players up front, and they need them now.
-If I’m making the pick at #7, there is one player and one player only I’m targeting, and his name is Malik McDowell. If you rely strictly on stats to evaluate players you’ve likely missed out on McDowell who, quite frankly, was criminally misused as a 0/1-technique in a bad Michigan State defense the last two years. He’s much better suited to playing 3-technique but is going to light the NFL on fire when a smart defensive coordinator realizes he belongs on the edge.
-At 6’6”, 295, McDowell is a frighteningly athletic game wrecker who won up and down the line at MSU. He handled double teams inside, penetrated and blew up running plays on a regular basis and, on third and long, he abused opposing tackles en route to the quarterback. A man his size shouldn’t be able to move like he does and he damned sure shouldn’t be able to bend the edge and redirect the way he does on his way to the QB. And the best part? He plays mean – no, angry – and looks to embarrass offensive linemen and punish ball carriers. He is an immediate bookend for Joey Bosa capable of reducing to 3-technique on third down. Make no mistake, Malik McDowell is the best interior defensive lineman, my top choice for the Chargers, and my highest rated prospect in this class. By the time his rookie deal is up (and probably long before that) he’ll be the best, most productive defensive player from this class.
-Having said that, I don’t expect the Chargers to draft Malik McDowell no matter how much sense it makes. I think the #7 pick comes down to three, maybe four players for the Chargers and those players are Jonathan Allen, Solomon Thomas, Derek Barnett and possibly Rueben Foster. I think the team believes Allen and Thomas will be off the board in the top five and is more or less zeroed in on Derek Barnett, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see both make it to #7. Should that unfold, I suspect they’d select Allen over Barnett and Thomas.
-Should Tom Telesco look to trade back, the most likely dance partners are probably the Cardinals (13), Eagles (14) Giants (23), Houston (25) and Kansas City (27). I think the Bills (10) may also be a sleeper here with the Browns (12) being the ultimate dark horse if they don’t take a QB with the top pick. Basically everyone except the Eagles, who are rumored to be enamored with Christian McCaffrey, would be moving up for a quarterback.
-Depending upon how far the Chargers move back, should they decide to make a trade, a few names to keep an eye on would include Malik McDowell, Derek Barnett, Tim Williams, Rueben Foster, Budda Baker, Kevin King, Ryan Ramczyk and Garret Bolles.
-A few of the names on my “buyer beware” list in the first round are Mike Williams, Marlon Humphrey and Deshone Kizer.
-For all of his leaping catches, Mike Williams is arguably the least athletic of the consensus top receivers in this class. He plays painfully slow and stiff, runs sloppy routes and is going to have a hard time creating separation at the next level. I think he’s a guy who might have peaked physically and may not have much room left for improvement. Maybe it’s me, but I prefer receivers who create separation with speed and sharp routes, and Williams just doesn’t do that.
-Humphrey is probably going to follow in the footsteps of former Crimson Tide corner Dee Milliner. While he’s a fantastic athlete, Marlon’s hips and feet are a horrible mess; he lacks recovery speed and is alarmingly vulnerable to the deep ball. Add to that a tendency to lose track of where he is on the field, which leads to plenty of reaching and grabbing, and I think he’s going to struggle early and often.
-Where do I begin with Deshone Kizer? He’s slow to read defenses, tends to stare down the pass rush, and his receivers and, of course, HE CAN’T THROW LEFT. Like, not even a little bit. This is particularly true of throws outside the left hash and outside the left numbers. Despite what he said in a recent interview, his deep outs are routinely thrown too far inside of and behind his targets. He’s a turnover waiting to happen and should have gone back to school.
-Of the top corners in this draft, the one most likely to outperform his likely late first round draft slot is Washington Huskies corner, Kevin King. At 6’3”, King is an incredibly long, physical and athletic cover man who has begun drawing comparisons to Richard Sherman of late. He’s played all over the secondary, including free safety, but is absolutely at his best when he’s allowed to jam and bully receivers at the line. And oh, those ball skills. He’s going to be special.
That's it, that pretty much sums up my thoughts on the first round of the NFL draft. Here's hoping for a defensive lineman (McDowell!) in the first round because, while you may not agree, I can't justify spending a top ten pick on a safety or a wide receiver when this team still faces so much uncertainty along its defensive front in the next 12 months. Keep investing premium picks in that defensive line, and I promise you it will lead to Chargers football in January.