- A few first-round picks in every NFL draft will be cases of taking potential over production. Which prospects look like they can grow into the hype? Plus, more draft thoughts and the rest of this week's #DearAndy mailbag.
Your favorite college football players are about to enter the league that pays over the table, and you have questions ...
From @JEMicklos: Who’s your favorite potential over production player in this draft? It seems there are a solid number of guys this year who scouts talk about having potential without actually putting that product on the field.
“Favorite” is a loaded word here. I don’t think any NFL team should draft a player in the first round who wasn’t great at college football. Not good. Great. This may seem overly simplistic, but common sense dictates that the best predictor of someone being good in the NFL is being really good at college football. Call it the Dion Jordan Principle. If you aren’t the best player on your own (kind of mediocre) college defense, you shouldn’t be going No. 3 in the draft.
But that doesn’t mean every player who didn’t light up college football is doomed to fail in the NFL. Sometimes there are extenuating circumstances. Terrell Davis only ran for 1,657 yards at Georgia because of injuries. He was a sixth-round pick and became a great NFL player. Dontari Poe should have dominated at Memphis but didn’t. His measurables turned him into the No. 11 pick in 2012, and he’s still a productive NFL starter and has been selected for the Pro Bowl twice.
Of this year’s production-versus-potential players being touted as possible first-rounders, there are two players I could envision becoming worth being picked so high and two that probably need to be drafted lower so that the expectations around them can be managed.
The knock on Missouri quarterback Drew Lock is that in four years as a starter, he only led the Tigers to a win against one top-25 team (a 38–17 win at Florida last season). This is a troubling stat for a potential first-round QB, because a player who is supposed to be able to play right away in the NFL should elevate his college team to a considerable degree. But here’s a question that should intrigue the fans of whatever team drafts Lock and terrify Missouri fans: What if Lock was elevating the Tigers? What if they would have been much worse without him? Lock’s completion percentage—one of the more reliable predictors of success or failure at the next level—rose every season he played in college. He completed an abysmal 49% of his passes as a freshman and wound up completing a respectable 62.9% of his passes as a senior. His total passing yards (3,964 to 3,498) and yards per attempt (9.5 to 8) dropped from his junior to senior seasons, but that might be explained away by the change in offensive coordinators from Josh Heupel to Derek Dooley. Add in the fact that Lock is a superior athlete—he probably would have started at guard at a high-major program had he chosen to play basketball in college instead of football—and I can be talked into the idea of Lock as a first-rounder.
Ole Miss receiver D.K. Metcalf is another one whose measurables will make him an early pick. If Al Davis were still alive, we would just write Metcalf’s name next to the Raiders at No. 4 right now. The 6'3", 228-pound Metcalf ran a 4.33-second 40-yard dash at the combine. He also was near the bottom in drills that measured players’ ability to move laterally. The takeaway? Metcalf is great as long as he’s running in a straight line.
The first Ole Miss receiver off the board should be A.J. Brown, who led the Rebels with 85 catches for 1,320 yards. But that doesn’t mean Metcalf isn’t worthy of a high pick. Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus makes a great case for Metcalf using advanced stats and plain logic. Metcalf averaged 2.83 receiving yards per route run last season, which isn’t as good as Brown (3.01) but better than Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry, a player everyone agrees was an excellent college receiver. Palazzolo also points out that even without great lateral mobility, Metcalf’s skill set remains extremely valuable. Assuming a team has other receivers capable of running crisp short routes—it’s the NFL; most do—Metcalf could still help by going straight down the field on every play. The corners who can run with him can’t outmuscle him, and the corners who can compete physically can’t outrun him. This means he can either get open or require enough help that he stretches the defense and allows more room for those teammates working underneath.
The player whose draft hype absolutely mystifies me is Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. Yes, he is physically similar to Peyton Manning. Yes, his college head coach (David Cutcliffe) was Manning’s college OC. That’s where the similarities end, though. Jones never averaged more than 6.8 yards per attempt in college and never threw fewer than nine interceptions. I feel bad for Jones, because he didn’t do anything to create the hype around him. But he’ll be the one who gets bashed if he gets drafted too high and thrown onto the field when history pretty clearly tells us that quarterbacks with his college CV do not succeed in the NFL. The good news for Jones is that if this happens, at least he’ll be paid handsomely for it.
I also wouldn’t use a first-round pick on Michigan’s Rashan Gary with such a wealth of edge-rushing talent available. Gary had 9.5 career sacks at Michigan and was outshined by teammate Chase Winovich. The opposing offensive tackles will get better in the NFL, so it’s tough to imagine Gary suddenly developing into a sack machine. But this doesn’t mean I don’t think Gary won’t be a productive NFL player. It’s just that he may not be a productive NFL edge rusher. He’s 6'4" and 280 pounds and extremely quick for his size. He might make an excellent three-technique (outside eye of the guard) tackle in a 4–3 defense or a 4i (inside eye of the tackle) end in a 3–4 defense.
From Dustin: @TheKylerMurray goes No. 1?
I think he has to. Otherwise the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury for no reason. Kingsbury ran the same offense at Texas Tech that Lincoln Riley ran at Oklahoma (the Air Raid). They called different plays because Oklahoma had better backs, a better line and a better tight end, but the underlying scheme is identical. Since Hal Mumme and Mike Leach invented this offense at Iowa Wesleyan in the late 1980s, no one has run it better than Murray did at Oklahoma in 2018. (That includes last year’s No. 1 draft pick Baker Mayfield, who played in it for four seasons at Texas Tech and Oklahoma.) If there is anyone who can make the Air Raid work in the NFL, it’s Murray.
The Cardinals took a massive risk by hiring a coach who couldn’t crack .500 in the Big 12. They’re going to need to give him all the tools possible to succeed. So passing on the perfect quarterback for the offense he runs would be incredibly unwise. Then again, it is the Cardinals…
From Donald: With all that a line judge is responsible for, do you still think three yards is the right distance for downfield blocking on a pass that crosses the line of scrimmage?
My time as a line judge at the Georgia spring game taught me a lot of things, but it didn’t change the way I feel about the rule that states linemen can only go three yards downfield on a forward pass that goes beyond the line of scrimmage. I still prefer the college rule to the NFL rule (one yard past the line of scrimmage) because it allows for more offensive versatility. My experience as a line judge only reinforced what I’ve been saying for years: The Power 5 leagues can afford an additional official. Hire one who stands on the sideline three yards ahead of the line of scrimmage and looks for linemen who wander too far. The line judge and the head linesman already have too much to worry about. It’s no wonder they can’t always see linemen who break the three-yard barrier. They, after all, are the ones responsible for telling the rest of the crew that the pass traveled beyond the LOS, which means they’re watching the ball at that point instead of the linemen.
That new official also could take a few other duties off the line judge’s plate, because that guy is already overworked as it is. The Power 5 schools have the money. Let’s create some jobs.
I’m not sure why Donald would want that rule rethought anyway. He’s an Auburn fan. With the offense the Tigers run, their fans shouldn’t want any changes at all. You don’t want to restrict the linemen any more than they are, and you don’t want anyone paying more attention to when they go too far down the field. You want those line judges and head linesmen worrying about everything else so your pop passes can really pop.