Could Ken Whisenhunt trade out of No. 2 and reunite with a QB he knows well? This and other intriguing questions as our panel drills deeper into the draft with a little more than three weeks to go
For the latest installment of the roundtable, The MMQB’s Peter King, Jenny Vrentas, Robert Klemko and Andy Benoit are joined by NFL.com draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former scout for the Eagles, Browns and Ravens and host of the Move the Sticks podcast. Follow him @MoveTheSticks.
KING: Daniel, I will start by asking you: Do you see this as Jameis Winston and then a big muddle after the Bucs pick Winston?
JEREMIAH: That’s a good way to put it. The Bucs seem locked in on Winston, but then it’s all guesswork. The Titans have let it be known that they really like Mariota, but people that know them well question that level of love. It is going to be really interesting to see what they do.
KING: We’ll put it to a vote right now. Who should the Titans take at 2? I say Mariota. As Ken Whisenhunt says, you won’t know if you’re going to get a shot to pick this high again soon, and if you like a quarterback—and he likes Mariota—you’ve got to pick the most important player on the field.
VRENTAS: If the Titans aren't sold on Mariota, could they sell the pick to a team that is—sure. But the Titans need a QB as much as any team to whom they could auction the pick.
BENOIT: Can we vote for the Titans to trade the pick for Philip Rivers?
KING: Yes, if you think that’s realistic. But just remember: Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco love Rivers.
BENOIT: But if they can’t re-sign him in 2016 and therefore make him available for the No. 2 pick, that’s a win for both clubs. Because Rivers is a classic dropback passer who is willing to throw with bodies in his face. That makes him perfect in Whisenhunt’s system.
KLEMKO: Peter, the Pro Football Focus data you revealed in your column this week noted that Mariota used play-action as a crutch and was sacked 23 percent of the time he was pressured, nearly the worst in this class. Why would Whisenhunt, with one of the worst pass-blocking offensive lines in football, think things would work out any differently for Mariota than, say RG3 post-rookie year?
BENOIT: I find it hard to believe that Whisenhunt truly likes Mariota. Mariota is the antithetical style of QB that Whisenhunt’s system demands. And we know Whisenhunt won’t change his system because he didn’t in Arizona even after Warner left. It’s in Whisenhunt’s best interest for people to think he loves Mariota. That keeps the trade value high for the No. 2 pick.
KING: I think it’d be a great trade for Tennessee. I just am not sold that San Diego will move him. I saw Telesco at the league meetings, and he told me he wasn’t going to pressure Rivers to re-sign—but that he really wanted him to re-sign.
The Jameis Risk
KING: Daniel, do the scouts you know, and the Tampa people you know, really believe Winston’s clean enough off the field to risk at number one?
JEREMIAH: I know they have done an incredible amount of background work on Winston, and I believe they feel his issues are more “immaturity” than major character flaws. One thing about Winston: He loves football. That is a good starting point. That was the major concern with Manziel.
VRENTAS: I just want to say, though, that I watched The Hunting Ground [the recent documentary on campus sexual assault] last week, which has a segment focusing on Winston's case. His accuser speaks, and so does State Attorney Willie Meggs, who made the decision not to file charges against Winston. Meggs stands by that decision, but when asked if he believes Winston is innocent, he paused. "I think I did not have sufficient evidence to prove he sexually assaulted her against her will," he said. "I think things that happened that night were not good." His words, "not good," are troublesome, and I just think it's important to differentiate between some of the other incidents Winston was involved with at Florida State (stealing crab legs, standing on a table and yelling an obscenity) that can be chalked up to immaturity, and the sexual assault allegation. Winston was never arrested or charged with a crime and has maintained his innocence, but the prosecutor's own words should give pause to teams investigating Winston and considering investing in him. Their burden of proof is lesser than in a court of law.
KLEMKO: For what it’s worth, I’ve asked three area scouts for that region, and two said they wouldn’t take the risk, but they’re glad they weren’t in position to make the decision because they didn’t know what they would ultimately decide.
Room at the Top
KING: Let’s move to another topic: the rest of the top 10. Daniel, lots of conjecture about who the next-best players are. In order, who are your top five players in this draft, grade-wise?
JEREMIAH: 1) Leonard Williams 2) Kevin White 3) Amari Cooper 4) Dante Fowler Jr. 5) Jameis Winston. It’s unusual to say this, but I believe two wide receivers might be the safest players in the draft.
KING: Okay, respond to this from Pro Football Focus: A sure-fire top-five pick, USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams, was underproductive in obvious passing situations. On third-and-long he recorded only eight pressures (two hits, six hurries) on 94 pass rushes. That earned a Pass-Rush Productivity number of 6.4, well below the class average for interior defensive linemen of 7.6.
JEREMIAH: I’m not worried about that at all. He draws all of the attention from inside, while playing in a conference that features a lot of gimmicks. Plus, he plays every snap (which in Pac-12 games can be up to 90 plays). His traits translate extremely well to the next level.
KING: Andy, you watched an hour of tape with Williams. What’s your feeling about the PFF critique?
BENOIT: It did not surprise me one bit. I am by no means a draft expert—I don’t watch the college game—but watching Williams’s Stanford game tape three or four times, I never saw consistent flashes of the “athletic freak” that I’d been told to expect. It’s chic to call defensive linemen athletic freaks these days. But Williams, to me, looked like a better 5-technique than 3-technique. So he’ll take on blockers in the NFL better than he explodes by them. This was one game I saw, though. I have not studied multiple games over multiple years the way Jeremiah has.
JEREMIAH: Williams had a high ankle sprain before the Stanford game. He wasn’t supposed to play. He left the field during warmups, and most expected him to sit. He gutted it out and played. He’s going to be an excellent pro. I have few doubts about it.
KING: Jenny, you did a long story for The MMQB on Brandon Scherff. Where do you think he fits? With what team?
VRENTAS: I see the Giants at No. 9, and needing help on the offensive line, and that looks like such an easy fit. The Giants love linemen who can play multiple positions, i.e. David Diehl—though I guess who doesn't love that? What stands out about Scherff to me is that he plays with a nastiness. He’s very athletic—played tennis and soccer growing up. He has the power of a state champion shot-putter. I saw a play from his junior year when he was pass blocking Randy Gregory, then midway, when the play broke down, he switched to plowing him downfield. I haven't talked to anyone who doesn't have him as their top offensive lineman.
KING: Daniel, give me your mock top 10 right now, 23 days before round one.
JEREMIAH: I’m due for another mock draft soon. Here’s what I had last time:
1. TB: Jameis Winston
2. TEN: Leonard Williams
3. JAX: Dante Fowler, Jr.
4. OAK: Amari Cooper (think he’ll help out David Carr on third down BIG TIME)
5. WAS: Randy Gregory (before he tested positive at combine...I think he will fall out of top 10 now)
6. NYJ: Shane Ray
7. CHI: Marcus Mariota (wild-card pick—new coach, new GM, new QB)
8. ATL: Vic Beasley
9. NYG: Brandon Scherff
10. MIN: DeVante Parker
KING: Whoa. A couple of really interesting picks there. I also think Bud Dupree gets picked in the top 10, from what I’m hearing now.
KLEMKO: Mariota to Chicago would be so fun.
KING: I can’t see John Fox with Mariota.
JEREMIAH: Keep an eye on Dupree to ATL.
KING: That’s what I had in my last mock. One sure thing, seems to me, is Atlanta with an edge rusher number one.
BENOIT: Regarding Mariota to Chicago, I think if you’re going to give up on a talent like Cutler (and contrary to what people are starting to believe, Cutler is a talent), then you’d want to go with a sure-fire NFL prospect. Mariota is more of a projection than sure-fire prospect, of course.
Moving on Up
KING: Okay, for all of you: Give me the team with the best shot of trading into the top 10. I say Cleveland. If Cooper falls down to six or seven or eight, I would see the Browns trying to move up from 12 to try for him.
BENOIT: I’ll say Philly. Chip Kelly’s full system demands a mobile QB (regardless of what Kelly might say publicly), and he has a chance to get a “proven” one, so to speak, in Mariota.
KING: Andy, you’re going to get the WIP listeners riled up in Philadelphia with that comment.
JEREMIAH: I’d go with Cleveland, but keep an eye on San Francisco. They always know what they are looking for and aren’t afraid to move up and make it happen.
VRENTAS: If Mariota starts to slide, my vote is for Philly, too. He would be more than a projection in Kelly's system. The Saints are a candidate too. They're in a rebuilding process and have the ammo to do it, with five picks in the first 100.
KLEMKO: I like the idea of Philadelphia trading, but I don’t necessarily think it will be for Mariota. I could see Chip making a move to 11, 12, 13 ,14 or 15 to grab Arik Armstead, a very long defensive tackle and another Oregon guy.
KING: OK, any draft thoughts you feel strongly about? I’ll start with one: USC wideout Nelson Agholor goes in the top 40. One NFC team told me he was neck-and-neck with Kevin White as the number two receiver on the board. Daniel?
JEREMIAH: Love Agholor. He’s my 32nd player right now. It wouldn’t shock me if he went round one. I think we can stop talking about the de-valuation of the running back position once this draft is over. We should see two go in round one and a bunch more in rounds two and three.
KING: Todd Gurley’s going in the first round. And I don’t think Melvin Gordon gets past Baltimore at 26.
BENOIT: I like both of those sentiments. I don’t think ACL injuries scare teams remotely close to the way they once did. And the Ravens need an RB—Justin Forsett is strictly a zone runner. Though let’s not forget, Baltimore did take Lorenzo Taliaferro in the fourth round last year, and he looked good at times in 2014.
VRENTAS: I think what appeals to teams about both Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley is they have seen them running the way they'll be asked to run in the NFL—between the tackles, getting tough yards, in pro-style systems—and they've seen them have success at it. That says a lot more than a running back who racked up a lot of yards in a college spread offense.
KLEMKO: I don’t understand taking running backs in the first round anymore unless they have wide receiver hands, can pass block, have healthy knees and fit exactly the character mold you’re looking for. You wouldn’t see my team taking Gurley in the first.
KING: What if you thought he was the closest thing to Adrian Peterson since Peterson, and you could get him in the 20s?
KLEMKO: No thanks. Especially not if there’s a CB, DE, QB, WR or OT I like there.
JEREMIAH: One thing Ozzie Newsome always stressed in Baltimore: No strikeouts in the first round. Don’t worry if we hit doubles, just no misses. We were very close to taking [Nick] Mangold in the top 15 one year. Conventional wisdom at the time said you don’t take a center that high. Ozzie didn’t care. I want starting caliber players that we won’t need to replace for a long time. Both RBs fit that description.
KLEMKO: What’s a long time? Eight to 10 years? I don’t know how you can trust any running back to last that long.
JEREMIAH: Five to six years is a very long time in today’s NFL
BENOIT: Shouldn’t five to six years be considered a long time for any position given that the men making the decisions to draft these guys, statistics say, likely face being fired sometime well before then anyway?
KLEMKO: Yes. I just believe you can manufacture RB production with an offensive line and a runner with one or two specific traits that go perfectly with your system. Very rarely worth a first-round pick, in my opinion.
KING: Four players picked between 20 and 30 in 2012: Brandon Weeden, Nick Perry, Whitney Mercilus, A.J. Jenkins. That goes to Newsome’s point: Hit doubles.
VRENTAS: I think the success of last year's rookie receiver class, which had impact playmakers right away starting with Odell Beckham, Jr., will result in Kevin White and Amari Cooper coming off the board quickly. But I'm not so sure that's the right way to go. I think it's easy to become infatuated with freakish receivers, but you don't build your team around receivers. Just look at the two teams in this past Super Bowl. Not to say those two won't be successful pros—Daniel is a keen evaluator, and he says they're safe bets. I'd just rather hit on a pass rusher than a receiver.
Be Ready to Be Surprised
KING: Last question for all: Give me one big surprise you think could happen in the draft.
BENOIT: Belichick trades around and everyone calls him a genius just for doing it.
JEREMIAH: Chip Kelly .... still working on it.
VRENTAS: The Saints draft a quarterback. High. I don't think they're done surprising us this offseason.
KLEMKO: All the love for Mariota turns out to be a scarecrow. He slides into the late teens because the team that likes him isn’t fooled by Tennessee’s, Chicago’s and Washington’s overtures.
KING: Beware the Jets. I’m just saying. And as an homage to Daniel, I’d say this: Ray Farmer ... still working on it. I bet he moves around and ends up with a receiver he really likes. Hey, thanks to everyone for your contributions.
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