Pre-draft visits by prospects get a lot of media attention, but many are calculated ruses by teams looking to gain an advantage. Remember Blake Bortles? Plus, the draft’s best corner (in his own mind) and the first running back off the board
Below, you’ll read all manner of rumor and conjecture about the NFL draft and the people whose lives will change, in minor and major fashion, in two weeks. But first, a cautionary tale about pre-draft visits and sourced information leaks:
Last year the Jaguars appeared poised to draft any player not named Blake Bortles with the third overall pick. It was leaked, in every manner imaginable, that their interest was not in taking a quarterback, and if they were to grab one, it would be Johnny Manziel out of Texas A&M and not the UCF standout.
Jaguars management stressed to the Bortles camp that he wouldn’t be the guy. The team hosted both Bortles and Manziel for visits, and in the interest of spreading that belief, during an early offseason practice before the draft, an offensive coach finished his meeting with the words: “Don't worry about this stuff. We'll put it in when Johnny gets here.” The ruse was bolstered many times over.
Having made every effort to raise the value of their No. 3 selection in the eyes of whoever wanted Manziel (the Browns), Jacksonville was in a position to trade back. Instead, they took Bortles third, to the surprise of Bortles, Manziel and just about every schmo who typed up a mock draft last year.
“That’s pretty good,” said one high-level personnel evaluator I spoke with this week, who works for neither the Browns nor the Jaguars. “We’ll invite guys in for the visits as a smokescreen to get other teams thinking we’re interested in certain guys, but that’s pretty good.”
In the same vein, the Buccaneers hosted Manziel and fellow quarterbacks Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr for pre-draft visits, but not the player they eventually selected, former Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans. There’s a certain level of respect for that kind of gamesmanship this time of year. Most agents and NFL personnel aren’t easily offended, and both sides use grateful media figures like me and those many rungs above me, to dispense bad information. What I’ve done for the past several weeks is try to build a consensus on a few players and scenarios that interest me. Through unanimity, may we discover truth … or something like it.
In my mind, the most disingenuous thing about pre-draft coverage is the media interest in individual visits. Unless you’re talking about quarterbacks, it’s essentially clickbait. All three 2014 first-round passers had visited the teams they were eventually drafted by, and Bridgewater saw the Vikings twice. Outside of those three, only 16 of the remaining 29 first-rounders had pre-draft visits with the clubs that chose them. Among those who weren’t invited to the top 30 party of their chosen teams: Fifth-overall choice Khalil Mack (Raiders) and the seventh pick, Evans (no doubt an effort by the Buccaneers to convince the world they’d pick a QB). Eventual Chargers first-round pick Jason Verrett spent the offseason working out in San Diego, several miles from the Chargers' facility, and didn’t communicate with the team between the combine and the day they drafted him 25th overall. And yet, reporters continue to break news of leaked visit plans as if it means something. I got in on the shameful practice the other day and I still feel dirty about it.
Five things you need to know about the draft
1. The Rivers trade—not gonna happen. As you read in Peter King's mailbag, the big trade rumor has the Chargers dealing an L.A.-wary Philip Rivers to Tennessee for the second pick, ostensibly to draft Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, provided the Bucs tab Jameis Winston as the first pick. Here’s a one-time colleague of Tom Telesco and current NFL talent evaluator on the likelihood of such a deal going down: “I worked with Tom [Telesco], and he’s a sharp guy and I miss working with him, but he’s not a guy who gives up picks or a guy who’s going to make a big, bold aggressive move like that. I don’t see it.” Indeed, to see a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback traded at 33 years old for the second pick in the draft would be arguably the biggest trade since the Vikings traded their future for Herschel Walker.
2. Fowler or Williams? The popular notion that USC defensive tackle Leonard Williams would be the second overall pick for the Titans if not Mariota doesn’t jibe with a handful of decision makers I polled. For some, Dante Fowler, the defensive end out of Florida, is the clear choice as the top defensive player. Said one high-level evaluator: “I think Fowler is the top guy. Tremendous athlete. You see him impact his guy like DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller. Williams is a good player. A top-five pick. I don’t want to say it’s a hype machine, but he’s got some tape where he just disappears and doesn’t make plays.” The statistics culled by Pro Football Focus highlighting Williams as a mediocre pass rusher echo that sentiment.
3. First running back off the board: Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon or Georgia’s Todd Gurley? While the draftnik community is split, teams are leaning towards Gurley and what is seen as a higher ceiling than Gordon, despite Gurley’s surgically-repaired knee. The predominant thinking is that if you’re going to draft a running back in the first round in 2015, he needs to be a playmaker and not necessarily a workhorse. Said one draft decision maker: “There’s more production on the film with Mel Gordon, but I like guys who can create, and Gurley is such a freak athletically, and he has such explosive plays that really get your attention. The elite athleticism overtakes the conventional football production that you want to see. People will say, if this isn’t an explosive player I’m not going to take a back in [round] one.” If one of the two is going to slip into the second round, bet on Gordon.
4. The Randy Gregory rumors. There has been speculation among NFL teams that Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory could have been popped for more than just marijuana at the combine, which would raise serious concerns about his future in the league before his career even begins. I've seen the drug report, via a league source, and Gregory tested positive solely for marijuana and not any other substances. Gregory is in the midst of a month-long visit marathon as a result of the failed test as teams seek to get a handle on his background. He's been forthright, and teams know he failed two drug tests for marijuana while at Nebraska. It's possible the whispers about other drugs are coming from interested teams intent on hurting his stock. How far he drops as a result is anyone's guess. Said one NFL decision-maker: “Talent-wise, he's one of the best players in the draft. I can't see him falling out of the first round.”
5. Parker climbing? I think there's a real chance that DeVante Parker won't be there for the Vikings, his presumptive best fit, at 11th overall in the first round. The Bears (7th) are now a realistic landing spot for the former Louisville wide receiver. Beyond that, the Vikings aren't as enamored with Teddy Bridgewater's former teammate as everyone thinks they should be. If they were to pass on him, the furthest he would slide would be No. 14, to the Dolphins.
Better know a prospect
Considered one of several boom-or-bust prospects in this draft, former Washington cornerback Marcus Peters was dismissed from the program in early November after clashing with new coach Chris Petersen, a renowned disciplinarian. Peters is now in the top cornerback conversation with Michigan State's Trae Waynes, Wake Forest's Kevin Johnson and LSU's Jalen Collins. Ask Marcus, and he sees no room for debate.
The MMQB: Tell me about growing up in Oakland. Raiders fan?
Peters: Heck yeah. For sure. You had to be a Raiders fan if you're from the town. If you weren't, I don't need to know you. There are a lot of 49ers fans because they're winning and we're losing right now. That's how it goes. I grew up in West Oakland but I have family all over the town. Growing up there was real fun. Everywhere I went I had family. If I did anything bad, once I got back home mom and pops were going to get a call. We had to act a certain way even though we had some bad things going on around us. My dad's been coaching at the high school for 22 years. They sacrificed a lot to keep me and my brothers straight.
The MMQB: What's been your relationship with Marshawn Lynch, and did he give you any advice after you were dismissed?
Peters: He's been knowing me my whole life. It's one big family in my neighborhood. My dad knew his mom and we had a good relationship coming up. I watched him play Pop Warner football. That's my big cousin. He does great things, and wants no credit for anything. He's 100% genuine. If he helps you, it's out of love, and it's support that says he believes that you're sincere about what you're trying to do. We talk and text every day. As far as what he told me, that's going to stay between us. He's never given me any information that could hurt me.
The MMQB: Who did you think about when you were dismissed?
Peters: I thought about my mom and my grandma and my son. Letting them down and being a big disappointment. My grandma is my backbone. I spent a lot of time with her. It hurt me when I thought about all the ups and downs she's been through in life. And with mom, the last thing she said to me when I left for school was that she didn't want to see my name going across the ticker for something bad. We laugh about it now because she reminds me. That's just how it is. Mom taught us to own up to situations and keep it moving forward.
The MMQB: What happens if you get drafted by a coach similar to Petersen?
Peters: That system was a great system, but I didn't give myself an opportunity to fit in. At the same time, I need to be myself 100% of the time. If I can't do that, I can't be at my best on the field. I'm going to be a genuine person to the people in the facility or it's not going to work. I try to look back now and think about what I can fix when I get to another team.
The MMQB: Do you think you'll be the first corner taken?
Peters: I’m the best corner in the draft for a reason. I’ve got three years worth of tape. You go watch it and tell me I’m not the best out there.
Stat of the week
Two gems from Pro Football Focus, which is charting collegians for the first time.
- No draft eligible cornerback was targeted as infrequently as Florida State's Ronald Darby. He was targeted once for every 9.8 snaps in coverage as teams shied away from going after him (preferring to go after PJ Williams, whose 5.4 number was 17th from the bottom)
- Todd Gurley had a nation-leading an elusive rating of 123.5 versus Power 5 opponents. The only NFL player to break a 100-plus elusive rating since 2007 was Marshawn Lynch last season. Including the playoffs, Lynch still only reached a 104.2 elusive rating.
Quote of the Week
“Soon after the draft, she told me that I owed her a million dollars for raising me for the past 18 years. Well, that was news to me. If my mother taught me anything, it's that this is the most desperate demand that a parent can make on a child.”
—Phillip Buchanon, the 17th pick of the 2002 draft, on the consequences being a first-rounder
There are any number of vultures who arrive in the lives of NFL players well before they get drafted—player agents, marketing agents and financial planners don't always have their best interests at heart. So it's especially heart-breaking to hear tales of kin stooping to this level in hopes of cashing in.
Scorching Hot Take of the Week
Idk what the big deal about new Orleans is. Seems pretty boring to me lol wrong time of year maybe??
— Randy Gregory (@RandyGregory_4) April 14, 2015
Randy, just log off for the next month or so.
And now, your Sober Take of the Week:
Election coverage makes NFL draft coverage look Pulitzer worthy. https://t.co/yvadaoDClB
— Aaron Nagler (@AaronNagler) April 16, 2015
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