Less than 48 hours before the start of round one, the NFL is abuzz with rumors. Here’s the latest on La’el Collins’ police problem, the Top 10 team that’s air-tight and what the Patriots might do at No. 32. Plus, readers respond to my mock draft
1. I think La'el Collins, the LSU tackle projected to be a first-round draft choice, has a problem. A pregnant woman Collins apparently knew was murdered last week in Louisiana, and police want to speak with Collins. Police say he is not a suspect. But one team I talked to that is interested in drafting a tackle in the first round is now re-thinking whether Collins will even be on its board on Thursday night. This team's thinking goes: How can you draft a guy who's being sought in connection with the death of a woman, even if police are saying now he isn't a suspect? He needs to be exonerated by Thursday. Fair or unfair, Collins needs to address this today, and with finality.
2. I think Tennessee, Tampa Bay and Jacksonville, three of the first four teams in the second round, all have inquired with late-first-round teams about trading up into the bottom of the first round. I'll be following that in the hours before the draft.
3. I think Dallas, at pick 27 in round one, would love Melvin Gordon to fall to that spot. But two names to watch if the Cowboys stay at 27: UCLA inside linebacker Eric Kendricks and Mississippi State inside ’backer Benardrick McKinney.
4. I think UConn cornerback Byron Jones is the perfect metaphor for this draft, in which one team's 15th player on the board could be another team's 55th. I've heard Jones as high as 15th to San Francisco, and as low as the 50s to the Eagles, Steelers or Ravens.
5. I think no one knows what Mike Maccagnan and the New York Jets are doing. That's a tribute to the tight and leak-proof ship Maccagnan must be running in his first draft.
6. I think the Patriots are in a great spot at 32. So many teams high in the second round want to move up, and the Patriots don't have to take anyone here. If they could get the 2016 first-round pick of a current bad team, I'd do that deal in a second...
7. ... I think there's one exception. New England likes USC wide receiver Nelson Agholor. If I were Bill Belichick, I wouldn't be getting cute late in the first round, particularly with three picks between 96 and 101. I'd take the guy I'd like. Even if I could get an attractive first-round picks next year for the 32nd pick, I'd still take a receiver like Agholor now if I could. (But I do think he'll be gone before 32.)
8. I think I heard this from a smart GM Wednesday night: “I know everybody's got Tennessee taking Marcus Mariota, and that's probably how it goes. But it will not shock me if Cleveland trades the farm to get him at two. [Owner] Jimmy Haslam has to be sick of the merry-go-round at quarterback, and he has to be embarrassed by the Johnny Manziel pick last year. How could he not want a squeaky-clean quarterback like Mariota to lead his franchise?”
9. I think the Bucs haven't gotten an offer that would come close to making them consider trading the first overall pick.
10. I think I believed I was going out on a limb in my mock draft, putting Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi in the first round (Denver, pick 28). Ogbuehi had ACL surgery in January after tearing it in his last college football game. But now comes this revelation: Cincinnati, at 21, also is considering Ogbuehi, even with a cadre of good tackle prospects who actually would be able to play on opening day instead of likely being on the physically-unable-to-perform list at the start of the season. It's an interesting dilemma. But it goes to show you that teams with a tackle need are willing to wait, say, a half-season or longer if they think there's a premier player out there who will have a long career but just might not be ready to start at the beginning of his rookie year.
Now onto your email:
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SAINTS AND GREGORY. Regarding Randy Gregory, exactly what pick in the history of the Saints organization indicates that they are a "franchise willing to take a shot?"
Here’s the point: Randy Gregory before this process was a top-five player on many draft boards. Then he admitted to drug use and weighed 235 pounds at the combine. Further investigation by teams, at least several that have talked to me, has shown more reason to be hesitant and to be very thorough before picking Gregory. I just think No. 31 in the first round is a reasonable landing spot for an excellent player with some off-field problems. Plus, the Saints need a pass rusher. It doesn't go a lot deeper than that.
INSIDE THE MOCK PROCESS. Having read so many mock drafts this offseason, many by the same writer(s), I am wondering about the overall process. Clearly, mocks change over time, from the first ones perhaps at the end of the regular season, to the last ones this week. But in the the last month or so of the process, how much of that is genuine changes—rumors/hints from teams, things happening to players (like with Shane Ray and Randy Gregory this year), etc.—and how much of it is simply an attempt by the writers to mix things up? Especially after the combine and pro days, it doesn't seem like a lot can happen to affect the major changes we see in mocks.
—Dan, Los Angeles
I can’t speak for how anybody else does a mock draft. I can simply tell you what my process is. The first time I did a mock draft this year was after the scouting combine, at which I had maybe 10 to 15 conversations with trusted front-office people, coaches or agents about what they were hearing and what they thought about specific players. This past weekend, preparing to do my last mock draft, I talked to a total of 14 teams and several other people who have been in contact with other teams. I basically went about my business like this: I would ask the person to please tell me anything he might know about any specific team or about his team that might be able to help me. I usually say that if you can’t tell me anything about a team, that’s fine; I would only ask you simply to not to tell me anything you know is untrue. In exchange, I would tell them anything I knew that might be able to help them without betraying any confidences or without hurting another team competitively. For instance, if someone with team X had given me strong indication that they would consider a certain player if he were still there, I would not go to the team that picked next and say, for instance, “You better trade ahead of team X if you want player X, because I think they’re going to take him.” That would be unfair, so in that case I simply wouldn’t tell them anything about the team ahead of them. Now, I don’t know how other people do mock drafts, but I wanted to give you an idea of how I do mine.
AT-RISK PLAYERS. I am always fascinated by the analysis of players with off-field issues. Obviously, young men like Josh Gordon, Johnny Manziel, Justin Blackmon or Lawrence Phillips have tremendous talents and physical gifts that make them a desirable commodity. In Monday's column, you quoted Mike Mayock, who concluded that with few exceptions, “the kid ultimately turns into who he's always been.” I manage people as part of my job—and I tend to agree that usually, you can't change people. Are you ever as surprised as I am that teams continue to believe that so-and-so has “turned a corner” or “learned from his experiences” and become a new person?
Mayock thought that 90 percent don't change. I am struggling to think of players who came in with a troublesome reputation and turned things around in their lives once they hit the big leagues. Do you have examples? And do you have insights as to why teams always want to take that risk with high draft picks?
—Dave, Durham, N.C.
What an excellent email. Thanks for writing it. Off the top of my head one player sticks out: Cris Carter. He had a drug problem and a major attitude problem early in his career with the Eagles. Philadelphia eventually gave up on him, and Minnesota picked him up on waivers. Carter knew his career was hanging in the balance soon after he got to Minnesota. He could either stop messing up and let his talents dictate how far he went in the sport of football, or he could continue the behavior that got a very talented player cut and go on to have a short career. Carter certainly was not without his flaws over the years, but I can tell you that he was a positive influence on quite a few young players, and continues to be a positive influence when speaking to players at the NFL Rookie Symposium every spring.
I’m sure there are others who simply don’t come to mind right now, but I think your point overall is very well taken. The Browns for instance, had a very good feel for Johnny Manziel when they drafted him last year and thought he’d tone down his partying ways after the draft. Obviously, he didn’t. That’s one of the reasons why I’d be very surprised to see the Browns take a shot on any questionable character guys in the first few rounds of this draft.
I SURPRISED MYSELF. In the Chiefs blurb of your mock draft, you wrote, “I would be surprised if [DeVante] Parker is still hanging around at this pick.” This is YOUR mock draft. YOU made the previous 14 picks and pointed out why they would happen. Why would you be surprised he was still available?
In most of the mock drafts I have seen, DeVante Parker is picked in the first half of the first round. When I did my mock draft, and talked to quite a few plugged-in NFL people I didn’t hear Parker’s name once in the top 10. And so, as I began to go down the list in the teens, he was one of those players who kept popping out at me as one everybody said should be gone by 13, 14, 15. But I just couldn’t find the right match. That isn’t to say he won’t be picked at 11, or 12, or 13, or even higher. But when I saw him still there at 15, I thought it made an awful lot of sense. The Chiefs love Parker and there’s a good chance the guy I think San Francisco likes a lot, Arik Armstead, will still be there at 18. So I made the trade.
I do understand why you would think that my reasoning sounds absurd. But I’m trying to walk a fine line between what I think is going to happen and where most people view the ultimate landing spot for each player.
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