The search for the next Tyler Lockett: Four prospects who will exceed their NFL draft stock
- Like Tyler Lockett in the 2015 NFL draft, college football fans know Dalvin Tomlinson, Jeremy McNichols, Ejuan Price and Josh Reynolds will exceed their current NFL draft stock.
For the millions of us who follow college football closely, the combine can be a frustrating watch. Myles Garrett is an athletic freak who looks like he was drawn by a comic book artist? Awesome. Everyone could see that when he was a freshman. Deshaun Watson actually can make all the throws and didn’t magically complete passes because of Clemson’s scheme? No kidding. The past two national title games were televised. John Ross is ridiculously fast? Thanks for the update*.
The people covering the combine have to do this because it does serve as an introduction to these players for the healthy chunk of NFL fans who don’t watch the college game. But we can still poke fun—at least a little. Because of human nature—we want to know about the best—most pre-draft coverage focuses on the players that will go in the first and second rounds. So when running backs were discussed this past weekend, we got a healthy dose of Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. That’s understandable. But those of us who love the college game and have few doubts about that trio are more interested in what happens later in an absurdly deep class of backs. We feel the same about the other positions as well.
*Of course, Snoop Dogg could have told us this when Ross was 9.
Two years ago, the MMQB had me partner with Andy Benoit to take a deeper dive into the draft class. Benoit would explain what each team needed, and I would suggest a draft strategy based on the talent available. I was more confident in some of my suggestions than others. Quarterbacks are a complete crapshoot. Offensive linemen aren’t that easy to project beyond the obvious first-rounders, either. But some players seemed obvious. I felt like I mentioned Tyler Lockett 100 times during those exercises two years ago. The reason? Every time I watched Kansas State play in 2014, Lockett was the only real downfield threat. Every opponent knew this and adjusted accordingly, yet Lockett still racked up 106 catches for 1,515 yards. He wasn’t a first-rounder, but he was going to provide value for some team.
Today, we’ll examine four players in similar situations. Their measurables or stats might not be perfect, but their production against good college competition suggests they’ll provide more value than their projected draft spot.
Dalvin Tomlinson, DT or 3–4 DE, Alabama
Tomlinson isn’t much of a secret anymore. I’ve seen some draftniks projecting the 6’3”, 310-pounder as a second-rounder and flirting with the idea that he might be a first-rounder. This might have something to do with the fact that Alabama defensive stars such as Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson have been rather vocal about how important Tomlinson was to the Crimson Tide’s defense in 2016.
The knock on Tomlinson earlier in his college career was that he was a pure run stuffer who didn’t get into the backfield much. He improved his pass rush skills this past season, and while he doesn’t get after the passer like teammate Allen, he certainly isn’t a liability on passing downs. This former high school wrestling champ understands leverage better than anyone in the draft, and his intelligence and leadership skills might be just as important as his physical attributes. He will win a locker room immediately—possibly by pinning a veteran in a wrestling match.
If Tomlinson winds up going near the middle of the second round like teammates A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed did last year, some lucky team is going to get great value for that pick.
Jeremy McNichols, RB, Boise State
At 5’9” and 214 pounds, he’s three inches shorter and seven pounds lighter than former Boise State teammate Jay Ajayi measured at the 2015 combine. But McNichols excelled in the same offense with many of the same physical attributes. Ajayi slipped into the fifth round two years ago because of concerns about his knee, but his success in the NFL may convince teams to take a closer look at McNichols, who was wise to leave Boise State following a junior year in which he carried 314 times for 1,709 yards with 23 touchdowns and caught 37 passes for 474 yards with four touchdowns.
McNichols looked like a mid- to late-round pick before the combine, but after he ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash and posted the fastest three-cone drill of any tailback (6.93 seconds), he will climb higher. We keep joking that McCaffrey is the ideal Patriot, but if that doesn’t happen, McNichols would offer a similar running and catching threat lower in the draft.
Ejuan Price, DE/LB, Pittsburgh
Price was an accomplished college pass rusher who doesn’t seem to have a position in the NFL. He racked up 24.5 sacks the past two seasons, but at 5’11” and 241 pounds, where does he play? He’s quite small for a 4–3 defensive end, and he may not have the coverage skills to be a 3–4 outside linebacker. He also missed two full seasons because of injuries, which could further depress his draft grade.
But here’s the thing. The most valuable position in the NFL is the quarterback. The second-most valuable position is the guy who sacks the quarterback. Price proved against good competition that he can get to the quarterback. So it would be worth it for a team to roll the dice on Price with a late-round pick. If it doesn’t work out, the team didn’t really risk much up front. But if Price’s pass-rushing skills do translate to the next level, even if it’s only in a package on obvious passing downs, then he’ll be a steal.
Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M
Reynolds enrolled in a junior college out of high school not because of grades but because he knew he could play in the Power 5 and the scholarship offers hadn’t materialized. He was correct. Texas A&M signed him after his freshman year, and Reynolds wound up leading the Aggies in receiving yards in two of his three seasons in College Station.
Reynolds is long (6’3” with 31.5-inch arms) but not thick. He weighed 194 pounds at the combine, and it isn’t likely he’ll pack much more onto his frame. His 4.52-second 40-yard dash is perfectly fine and suggests he could be a vertical threat at the next level, and his 37-inch vertical jump confirms what we gathered watching him in college: Reynolds is a matchup nightmare on 50–50 balls either in the red zone or along the sideline. He might go sometime between the late second and the fourth round, and he should enhance the offense wherever he goes.
A random ranking
This week, I’m ranking the songs that I’m embarrassed to love. These are the songs that I can never get caught blasting with the windows down (even though I occasionally have). You’ll note that most of these come from the period (1983–90) when I was between the ages of 5 and 12 and thus most emotionally susceptible to cheesy tunes.
Before compiling this list, I hadn’t heard some of these songs in years. I still knew all the words. Also, this list is entirely subjective. A song’s inclusion means I believe I should be ashamed for loving it. You may disagree. You also may disagree with some omissions. My wife insisted I include “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)” by Bryan Adams. I declined, claiming the song too good to make this list. I may be wrong, but I still insist that song was the best thing to come out of a Robin Hood movie in which Kevin Costner couldn’t be bothered to speak in an English accent.
1. “Waiting For a Star To Fall,” Boy Meets Girl
Every once in a great while, my local Publix will interrupt its all Michelle Branch/Vanessa Carlton playlist and spin this piece of late-’80s schlock. I will always sing along, and I might dance down the cereal aisle.
2. “We Built This City,” Starship
If everyone between the ages of 35 and 50 had to make a list like this, this song would appear on the most lists. If we ever perfect time travel, I want to go back to 1967 and play this song for the members of Jefferson Airplane. Would that revelation inspire the members of the band that—after multiple lineup changes—became Starship to change history and ensure this never got recorded? If this video disappears while you’re trying to watch it, you’ll know I’ve gone full Marty McFly.
3. “Ghetto Cowboy,” Mo Thugs Family
When I realized that the woman I met in 2000 was the only other person on Earth who bought this CD single, I knew we were destined to be together forever. Unfortunately for my wallet, I couldn’t merely serenade her with this song to convince her of this fact. I had to get her a ring first. Seventeen years and two children later, she would blaspheme Bryan Adams.
4. “The Touch,” Stan Bush
This song gained some ironic cred when Dirk Diggler sang it in Boogie Nights, but for a particular segment of generations X and Y, it will always be known as the song that played when Optimus Prime fought Megatron in Transformers: The Movie. (This also means it’s the song that played before Optimus died and many 7-year-olds—including me—wept openly in the movie theater.) It also played later in the movie when Hot Rod opened the Matrix of Leadership and became Rodimus Prime. That scene taught a valuable lesson that we wouldn’t understand until much later: Responsibility turns your sports car into a minivan.
5. “I Want It That Way,” Backstreet Boys
In every karaoke bar in America, there is a group of men who, if they get drunk enough, will sing this song perfectly without once looking at the screen. I can neither confirm nor deny whether I’ve been part of such a group.
6. “Man In Motion (St. Elmo’s Fire),” John Parr
Elementary school Andy sang this at the top of his lungs over and over. Middle-aged Andy has been guilty of the same offense on occasion.
7. “Meet Me Halfway,” Kenny Loggins
Kenny Loggins made some great songs that landed on soundtracks in the ’80s. This was not one of those. But consider the pitch: “Kenny, we need a slow, sappy ballad to score a movie about arm wrestling.”
8. “Just Another Day In Paradise,” Bertie Higgins
This Jimmy Buffett knockoff made a decent song called Key Largo, and my dad bought his album because we were living in—you guessed it—Key Largo. My dad fell in love with this particular track and, through repeated playings, I was brainwashed into loving it as well. This is musical Stockholm Syndrome at its most potent.
9. “Endless Summer Nights,” Richard Marx
Most of Marx’s debut album could make this list, but this sax-heavy weeper fits best. (If you’re wondering, “Right Here Waiting” is on Marx’s second album and is waaaaaaay too good to be on this list.)
10. “Get Outta My Dreams (Get Into My Car),” Billy Ocean
I’m not sure this song would even get recorded today.
1. Texas coach Tom Herman joined myself and Rachel Baribeau on SiriusXM’s College Sports Nation on Sunday night and explained why he thinks Texas players have bought into what his staff is doing much faster than Houston players did. Herman, whose Longhorns begin spring practice on Tuesday, said the Houston players had experienced moderate success and questioned the new staff more because of it. Herman believes the Texas players, who have lost seven games in each of the past three seasons, are more open to new ideas because they want to find something that will work.
Click to listen to why Herman thinks his players are “genuinely embarrassed” by their recent record.
2. Unlike the past few years, the NCAA Football Rules Committee’s annual reappraisal of the rules came and went without much fanfare. No one tried to drastically change the rules to slow down the current generation of offenses. There was no uprising among coaches who didn’t even realize a drastic rule change was being considered.
The targeting rule was left untouched, probably because anything that appears to soften it—such as the proposal to add a 15-yard penalty that doesn’t also include an ejection—might create liability issues down the road.
The committee altered the horse collar tackle rule to include grabbing the nameplate instead of just the collar, and it also will now require instead of “strongly recommend” that pants cover the knees and that kneepads are worn. (Pitt’s Price made it out of college just in time.) Also, defenders are no longer allowed to leap or hurdle offensive linemen in an attempt to block kicks. Previously, defenders could leap or hurdle as long as they didn’t land on top of anyone.
3. Next year is an even year, which means rule change proposals that don’t necessarily involve player safety will be considered. With that in mind, the rules committee plans to send a detailed survey to coaches asking them their opinions on two topics: blocking below the waist and ineligible receivers downfield.
This could create some serious debate on two fronts. Some coaches would love to see blocking below the waist banned entirely. That would enrage coaches who run option offenses, which need cut blocks to be legal to succeed. Meanwhile, the up-tempo lovers of the run-pass option united last year to block a rule that would only allow ineligible receivers to go one yard past the line of scrimmage before a pass crosses the line of scrimmage. The current rule is three yards, and its enforcement is spotty at best. What makes this one especially interesting is that every defensive coach would love the one-yard rule so players in the secondary could accurately spot runs and passes and react accordingly.
Last year, coaches who didn’t want the rule to change said they never saw the survey before the rules proposal went before the committee. This time, they’ll have no excuse. Let the debate begin.
4. Anyone looking for a seasoned linebacker? Bowling Green’s All-MAC linebacker Austin Valdez plans to graduate and transfer to another school for his final year of eligibility. Valdez likely will end up at a Power 5 school like former teammate Gehrig Deiter, who went from Bowling Green to Alabama last year.
Spare us any pearl-clutching about these players leaving their team or what the current program did for them. They deserve a chance to play at the highest level. It’s not their fault all the Power 5 programs whiffed on them in recruiting. And besides, no one blinked when coach Dino Babers left Bowling Green for a bigger paycheck at Syracuse.
5. Congratulations to Nadab Joseph, a class of 2018 safety from Miami who last week offered the most specific breakdown of a verbal commitment ever uttered. We all know the word “commitment” doesn’t actually mean anything—from the players or from the coaches—in today’s Recruiting Industrial Complex. So it’s nice to know that a player’s level of commitment can be broken down in such precise terms. Perhaps the coaches will respond in kind.
6. I previewed spring practice in the ACC this week. Except for Duke, which held its spring game this past Saturday. For the Blue Devils, it was a review.
7. While North Carolina may be in need of new starters at quarterback, tailback and receiver, it won’t be lacking in style. Michael Jordan joined Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora at the Dean Dome on Saturday to announce that North Carolina’s football team also will sport Jordan Brand uniforms beginning next season.
8. Trying to decide which former college star is your favorite tailback in the NFL draft? Check out NFL Network’s Simulcam of Cook versus Fournette versus McCaffrey versus Alvin Kamara.
9. Mike Strange of the Knoxville News-Sentinel wrote an excellent column last week about how much has changed at Tennessee since 2009, when John Currie left an associate athletic director post in Knoxville to become Kansas State’s AD. Currie returned to Tennessee last week as the Volunteers’ new AD.
10. The musical choices prior to Currie’s introductory press conference were interesting, to say the least. But jam along as you watch Peyton Manning hobnob with new Tennessee defensive line coach Brady Hoke.
What’s eating Andy?
This, from Amy Krouse Rosenthal, is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing you’ll ever read. It’ll also break your heart.
What’s Andy eating?
I’ve cheated on my diet a few times since I started it five weeks ago, but I haven’t cheated with anything interesting enough to write about in the past few weeks. Instead, I’d like to offer a reminder to all those struggling through a caloric crackdown that not all treats are off-limits.
Saturday, I needed something different. I’d followed the rules all day, and I had plenty of allowable calories left. I could have had a small serving of ice cream or some other sweet, but that might have led to a binge that could have forced a system reset. Besides, I craved something else. I wanted to plop down on the couch and watch a movie with a bowl of popcorn. But we didn’t have any of the microwaveable bags. They’d been victims of a family purge of edible items containing weird chemicals that we couldn’t pronounce.
We did, however, have a giant bag of popcorn kernels and a Whirly Pop that my mother-in-law had bought for us at the hardware store. So I put two tablespoons of vegetable oil and half a cup of kernels into the popper. I turned the stove on medium-high, and I turned the crank for about three minutes. What emerged when I opened the lid was perfect, fluffy popcorn better than the stuff the movie theater charges $9 to buy.
It looked great, and the stats looked even better. Three cups of popped corn run 153 calories. I melted some butter over mine, pushing the total to about 200. I also sprinkled some salt and cracked black pepper on it. Why pepper? Because it’s the secret ingredient to perfect popcorn. It gives it the tiniest bite and quells the urge to pour on more salt, which can only end badly.
If you’re suffering through caloric withdrawal with me, do yourself a favor. Drop $20 or so on a stovetop popper and buy some kernels. It just might keep you from binging, and it will absolutely offer you an indulgence that won’t push you over your daily limit.