- He spends all year studying prospects, so Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage has special perspective on the value (and purpose) of mock drafts, and insights into the 2018 quarterback class, the Saquon Barkley question and the potential breakout player at next week’s combine
It’s that time of year again. The weather is getting warmer, the scouting combine is about to start, and the draft is just two short months away. Can you feel it, boys and girls? Mock Draft season is upon us. If you haven’t already, you should pause now to check out Albert Breer’s latest mock draft. Are you back? Good. Because, as mock draft mania kicks into high gear, we thought it would be a fine time to check in with Phil Savage, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, who spends all year studying prospects.
In this week’s edition of Talking Football, we talk with Phil about Saquon Barkley’s chances of going in the top five, the quarterback in this year’s class who reminds him of Tom Brady, the player to watch at the combine and the reason for the season: Phil’s take on all those mock drafts.
The MMQB: So, Phil, the boss over here at The MMQB, Peter King, really dislikes mock drafts. What’s your take on them? When do you start paying attention to them?
Phil Savage: For the most part, they’re a stab in the dark. All it takes is for one team to do something different than what anybody’s anticipating and there can be a chain reaction all the way through the first round.
I understand the desire and the need for them, because there’s a demand out there from the public. But in reality they can be very deceiving. We’ll have mock drafts out as soon as the end of last year’s draft. I think sometimes players are put in these mock drafts and they’re a top-10, top-20 pick, and they think they’ve got it made. And the reality is, the NFL may not see them in the same light.
Now, by the time we reach this point? In terms of the names, you’re probably safe to assume this is the pool that everybody is picking from. But, wow, it’s a lot of guesswork. I don’t know that you can put much stock in [mock drafts], especially trying to match a player to a particular team.
The MMQB: The Senior Bowl wrapped up a few weeks ago. You got a good look at two of the top quarterbacks, Baker Mayfield and Josh Allen. What’d you see in those guys? What do you make of this quarterback class?
Phil Savage: I thought coming into the season, there was going to be some depth to this quarterback class. The other point I would make, while I thought there would be really good depth in this class—I’m talking about from the first round all the way through the third day of the draft — I thought that all of the guys were probably a bit overhyped. I still feel that way to a degree. But at the same time, if you’re not going to take one of these guys, who are you going to take?
In terms of the Senior Bowl … Josh had an A-plus experience here. On the field, I thought he improved a bit every day. Then on game day he goes 9-for-13, threw a couple of touchdown passes, and it seemed like he was able to apply what he learned during the week and put it on display. Off the field I thought the idea of getting him by the media, so many requests, interviewing with a ton of teams, that was really good exposure, for him to understand what the demands are being a top-flight quarterback regardless if he’s the first pick or the 11th pick or somewhere in between.
Baker Mayfield … I’ll be honest with you, there was a lot of talk outside my circle in regards to, ‘Baker’s going to bail out,’ ‘Baker’s going to practice and not play in the game,’ all these different things. That was never said to me by him or his agents at any point in time. From an obligation standpoint, he fulfilled all of those. He made all the practices, he was in all the meetings. And of course, he played on Saturday, which was huge for us as an organization.
As a prospect? I would say that, 10 years ago, two-thirds of the league would probably shrug their shoulders and say, ‘He’s probably not for us.’ Nowadays two-thirds of the league will give him a legitimate look. Most of the teams have gotten to the point where they’ve had to embrace the idea that, ‘Hey, we’re going to have to evaluate these six-foot quarterbacks coming out of spread systems, and we’ve got to figure out who can make the leap.’
To me, he’s not a fit for every team in the league. He’s got to find a team that’s willing to wrap an offense around his skill set. He does have playmaking ability. He does have moxie and some leadership and some really competitive intangibles that make him attractive in that way.
But at the same time, he’s a shade over six feet and he’s been in a bit of a spread offense, as compared to what he’s going to be asked to do in the NFL. That’s a tough project for some clubs to make.
The MMQB: I’m going to put you on the spot now, Phil. Can you rank those top four quarterbacks for me: Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Mayfield, and Allen?
Phil Savage: It would be tougher for me to rank them today, because honestly, I’ve only seen Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold down at the Manning Academy. But I will say this—each of them has certainly a ton of strengths, [but] all of them have a weakness or two that puts a bit of a caution light up.
Josh Allen? It’s the completion percentage, if people want to point to that. Now, he had a lot of drops this year, so if you like him, you’re going to blame it on his receivers. If you don’t like him, you’re going to say he’s a sub-60 percent passer.
With Baker, you have the height situation plus some of these off-field issues. [Editor’s note: in Feb. 2017, Mayfield was arrested and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, fleeing and resisting arrest. Video of his arrest went viral at the time, and he eventually took a plea deal in the case.] If you don’t like him, you can point to that police tape. If you do like him, you can say, ‘Hey, he’s a college kid, he made a mistake, it’ll never happen again.’
With Sam Darnold, he’s probably got the most instinctive flair about his game. But he had a ton of turnovers this year.
With Josh Rosen, he’s probably the purest passer of the bunch. But he’s had his own maturity issues, in terms of some of the things he said during his college career, and just the fact that he’s been hurt each of the last two years and hasn’t been able to finish the year.
The MMQB: You had Kyle Lauletta, the quarterback from Richmond, at the Senior Bowl, too. I’ve heard some people make Lauletta-Jimmy Garoppolo comparisons and suggest that the Patriots could take Lauletta at some point. Did you see any Garoppolo in Lauletta?
Phil Savage: The similarities are that they’re both from the FCS level. Jimmy was in an offense [at Eastern Illinois] where they threw it all over the lot. Kyle’s offense was more balanced. Now of course, he had four different coordinators in four seasons at Richmond.
I went down to watch him, and … I was impressed with his size and his presence. Good leader. Varied offense, so you saw him throw it short, intermediate, deep—on the run, in the pocket. You know, they were 5-6 this year. They didn’t make the playoffs. He was coming off an ACL [injury], and he didn’t miss any time, responded to his rehab and made it back.
I think he had a really solid week of practice, not spectacular. But then he got in the game, and he really played well. He threw for 198 yards in essentially a quarter, three touchdowns.
Garoppolo, I would say, Jimmy has a little bit quicker release, a little quicker feet maybe. But Kyle, to me, he seems bigger. He’s overcome a knee injury. I think there are a lot of things to like about Kyle.
You know how people are always trying to find the next Tom Brady? This is sort of out there, but Luke Falk is kinda skinny, a bit of a gawky athlete. He has a very smooth [throwing] motion, doesn’t have a huge arm. Threw for a lot of yards at Washington State. He really has a sense for timing. He’s a passer of the football. He’s not a thrower, he’s a passer. If his workout numbers can be at least decent, I’m eager to see what the quarterback coaches think of him.
The MMQB: So you’re saying Luke Falk is the next Brady?
Phil Savage: I’m not saying that! But there are some things that are somewhat reminiscent.
The MMQB: You had another interesting player at the Senior Bowl, Marcus Davenport, the defensive end from Texas-San Antonio. He’s been consistently high in the mock drafts. What did you make of him?
Phil Savage: Honestly, during the week, it was a bit of an adjustment. O.K., you’re stepping up a level, maybe a little bit different technique, sort of finding his way a bit on Tuesday, Wednesday. But the last half of the Thursday practice, he really started to show up as a pass rusher and a real force. Then he got in the game and played really well.
It reminded me a bit of when Ziggy Ansah was here. Ziggy’s practices, it just seemed like, he was just getting a feel for what he was being taught. He did not dominate the practices, and there was a lot of hype on him coming into the week. Then in the game, he just dominated. Had a couple sacks, forced fumble. Then he ends up going fifth over all.
With Marcus, once he got his feet on the ground and figured out what was going on, he demonstrated the skill set that these [4-3] teams want.
The MMQB: The combine is coming up. Who’s the guy we’re all going to be talking about after the combine, someone we’re not talking about now? The biggest riser?
Phil Savage: The guy to keep an eye on is Darius Leonard, the linebacker from South Carolina State. You know, he had 14 tackles in our game, in essentially two quarters worth of work. He can fly. He’s athletic. And to me, he’s the epitome of the modern-day linebacker. Ultimately he’s going to be bulky enough to play inside the box, but he’s athletic enough to walk out in space and run downfield with tight ends and slot-tight receivers.
The MMQB: There seems to be a debate in football circles about whether Saquon Barkley is worth a top-five pick. Barkley seems like a top talent, à la Leonard Fournette or Ezekiel Elliott. But then you can always find a gem like Alvin Kamara or Kareem Hunt, too. What’s your take?
Phil Savage: It’s apparent to me that teams, organizations, GMs—I don’t know if they’re looking four, five years down the road anymore. I think they’re looking at it as, “We need to win this year.” And a running back can have an instant impact, especially when he has that kind of talent.
It doesn’t even matter what kind of quarterback you have. All of these quarterbacks [in this draft class] are capable of turning and handing the ball off. It’s not an issue about getting the ball to Barkley.
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