Mailbag: Overrated and Underrated Draft Prospects; Rob Gronkowski in Tampa

Some players who NFL scouts say the public is rating incorrectly, five thoughts on the Rob Gronkowski trade and more mailbag questions about the draft.
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The idea of Rob Gronkowski as a Buccaneer is fun. And here’s hoping we get the rollicking, gameday-loving, defensive-back-decleting, monster of a few years ago, because that’d be good for football, and it’d be great to watch.

But to assume that would be to ignore a lot of things.

In this week’s mailbag, we’re going to get to questions on Jordan Love, Jamal Adams, Trent Williams and just what draft day will look like—plus I’ll give you a list of players who the public has overrated and underrated. We’ve gotta start, though, with the news of the day, and that’s the Gronk stunner of a Tuesday afternoon. And I’ll be the first to concede that I’m surprised he’s back.

The Gronk I saw after his last game, Super Bowl LIII, was totally, completely drained, and looked like football had taken everything he had. That, in fact, was one thing that he took great satisfaction from. That he made it to the finish line in a trying year that tested him physically and mentally strong enough to play the hero at the end of the biggest game. Add that to how he was enjoying his retirement, and a comeback always seemed unlikely.

So why’s he doing it? Obviously, his relationship with Tom Brady is a factor. Knowing that Bruce Arians has a great track record of taking care of aging vets would be another, as would the fact the environment in Tampa won’t be nearly as difficult day-to-day as the one he worked in for nine seasons in Foxboro. Along those lines, this is also pretty clear proof that Gronk was more done with the Patriots than he was done with football.

And that opens up the chance we see a totally revitalized Gronk, and guys I know who evaluated him during his last year didn’t close the door on that last night.

“His body was just beat to hell and he couldn’t run,” texted one AFC exec. “But who knows what 18 months off will do? He’s still only 30.”

“He wasn’t done, that’s for sure,” said another AFC exec. “I’m guessing a year off may have been good for his body too.”

With that in mind, here are five thoughts on the Gronk news, before we move on.

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• As I understand it, the issues he had when he last played football wouldn’t necessarily come up in a physical now, and he passed one ahead of this trade. More so, the issue would be how his back holds up to contact. Part of why he retired was that he narrowly escaped a fourth back surgery. At the end, in fact, he’d have trouble getting his shoes and pants off after games. So the back problem is one the Bucs will have to monitor.

• Gronkowski had leverage here. He’s due $10 million in cash in 2020. The Patriots are less than $1 million under the salary cap. Holding the line with Gronkowski for better compensation coming back could have turned this situation ugly, and if Gronk chose to file paperwork to come out of retirement, the Patriots would’ve had to start cutting or restructuring other players. Or they would’ve had to cut him, which would’ve left them with no compensation.

• The other piece of leverage? Gronk was only going to Tampa to play with Brady. The way to build a trade market for a player is to pit suitors against each other. But if there’s only one suitor, and that suitor knows it, good luck. So even if a pick sway that in essence turns a seventh-round pick into a fourth-rounder seems like a paltry return for the greatest tight end ever to play, the Patriots really did fine just to get an asset out of thin air.

• The Bucs now have a chance to get something for O.J. Howard, a former top 10 pick who’s very affordable in 2020 (due less than $2 million in cash). I’d think Howard, for all his warts, would be attractive in a year where the draft’s tight-end talent is sparse. Especially if Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet, considered the one legit prospect at the position, is gone come Friday morning.

• So where does this leave the Patriots? They have six picks (23, 87, 98, 100, 125, 139) in the first four rounds of the draft. And they’re in as close to a rebuild situation as they’ve been since Bill Belichick’s first year.

And with that, we can get back to where we started. This is gonna be fun, seeing what Brady and Gronk bring to Tampa, and seeing what Belichick does next.

One thing’s for sure—we aren’t lacking for potential outcomes.

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OVERRATED/UNDERRATED PROSPECTS

And now, we’re gonna jump into the overrated/underrated list. Basically, I texted a bunch of scouts on Tuesday, and left this open ended—give me some guys you think the public is too high or low on. We got some results back.

UNDERRATED

Saahdiq Charles, OT, LSU: Some see Charles, talent-wise, belonging with the top group in this year’s class. The problems are, mostly, off the field. He was suspended for six games in 2019, and had a history of failed drug tests in Baton Rouge. Those aren’t as big a deal as they used to be, but for a guy who needs development, those sorts of missteps aren’t the best sign. So Charles could be someone’s long-term left tackle a couple years from now. Or he could be out of the league.

Ezra Cleveland, OT, Boise State: There’s a wide range of outcomes here based on how some teams picking early decide to play their need at tackle. And some see a lot of room for growth with Cleveland, an athletic specimen who still needs some development and to add strength. He could go anywhere from the teens to the top of the second round.

Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, LSU: I think there’s been a consensus that he’d be the third or fourth back off the board, and I’m not so sure that’ll wind up being the case. A couple people have said to me they’d be watching Joe Burrow or Justin Jefferson, and Edwards-Helaire would jump off the tape as a true 21st-century back with real ability in the passing game.

Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State: Gross-Matos cuts an impressive frame, had a very solid final year for the Nittany Lions and still has room to get stronger and more refined as a player. Some teams view him as the type of prospect who, because he’s a very solid kid and works, is bound to reach the considerable potential that’s there.

Lucas Niang, OT, TCU: You don’t hear his name much, and he does have health concerns, but he’s a big athlete with football smarts that teams are projecting as a starter down the line. He could be a fit in a Shanahan-style offense.

Laviska Shenault, WR, Colorado: He was seen, at one point, as a first-round prospect. The big question on him was raw speed, and going into the draft process injured hurt him there—he couldn’t run a 40 to disprove that knock. But he’s big and strong, and at Colorado he did a little bit of everything, including moonlighting as a wildcat quarterback. Someone’s gonna have a lot of fun with him.

Logan Wilson, LB, Wyoming: Once Isaiah Simmons, Kenneth Murray, Patrick Queen and Jordyn Brooks are gone, a lot of teams think the going will get tough for teams that need off-ball linebackers. But some believe Wilson’s lurking there as a very strong Day 2 option, with a ton of college production in the books, and solid athletic testing numbers from the combine.

OVERRATED

Zack Baun, LB Wisconsin: Baun was a force in his final year in Madison. The question really is where he’ll fit in the NFL, as a prospect who may be good in a lot of areas, but not great in one. The type of defense he’s drafted into figures to play a big part in where his story goes from here. And there are significant injury concerns.

A.J. Epenesa, DE, Iowa: Here’s another great college player who may wind up being ordinary in the pros. Questions about Epenesa’s explosiveness off the snap were there in the fall, and were only heightened with a mediocre showing at the combine. I wouldn’t be surprised if he slips from the first round.

Kristian Fulton, CB, LSU: The question with Fulton is one of upside. He came into the year as a first-round prospect and was tested a ton with star freshman Derek Stingley opposite him. And he played OK. He probably won’t be a bust. But he may never wind up being better than an average starter at the position.

Josh Jones, OT, Houston: His athleticism and Senior Bowl performance probably catapulted him into the first round, but lots of teams see his tape as iffy, and don’t consider him the level of tackle prospect that typically goes that high.

Terrell Lewis, DE/OLB, Alabama: This is purely medical. Some teams flat out won’t touch him because of his injury history. There’s first-round talent there but a boatload of risk, too.

Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: We’ll have more on Love in the mail, but a lot of teams I’ve talked to can’t get past what Love put on tape last year.

Denzel Mims, WR, Baylor: Mims blazed a 4.3 at the combine, and was productive and clutch as a Bear. But there’s a reason why scouts saw him as a third- or fourth-rounder coming into the process, and a lot of it centers on how raw he is as a player—something that showed up when he faced press coverage in college, and in his route-running. A lot of teams see him more as a developmental-type receiver.

And now, finally, let’s get to the mail …

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MAIL TIME

From Rami Alkadri (@ramisvine): Is Jordan Love still going first round? I feel like he’s been dropping.

Rami, Love’s been a tough one to peg. Back at the end of the college season, I had one pretty successful exec say to me that the Utah State product was going to have a limited number of teams that would be head over heels for him—and those teams would make every effort to keep that affection under wraps, because he figured to be such a polarizing prospect. That made him sort of a less-accomplished version of what Patrick Mahomes was in 2017. And maybe it’s why it has been hard to ascertain who really likes him.

But there’s a pretty big difference in the two as they were coming out of college. While both were seen as difficult to evaluate because of the offenses they played in and free-wheeling style they employed, Mahomes’s production (41 TD, 10 INT in his final year) dwarfed Love’s (20 TD, 17 INT in 2019), and the former did a much better job carrying his team when it was overmatched than the latter did, something evidenced in games the two played against LSU (Love: 15-for-30, 130 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT; Mahomes: 28-for-56, 370 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs)

Still, the mystery in who can get past the quirks in the game tape, and in raw ability, can draw parallels between the two. So figuring where Love will go has been a little bit of a guessing game. The Chiefs, you’ll remember, guessed right three years ago—that the Saints were smitten—and jumped right in front of them at 10.

The one rumor that’s floated around out there, which I mentioned earlier in the week is that the Dolphins could take a tackle rather than a quarterback at No. 5, and circle back and grab Love later on. But Miami’s done a good job keeping everyone guessing. And if something like that doesn’t happen? It’s feasible Love’s draft weekend might wind up like that of another 2017 QB—DeShone Kizer, an assumed first-rounder at one point, who fell to the middle of the second round.

And if it seems like we’re all over the place here, it’s because the range for Love really does seem to be that wide.

From Louie (@Louie_Rock): Do you think Jamal Adams is still a member of the Jets come Friday morning?

Louie, yes, I do think he’ll still be a Jet. Situations like this—where there’s clearly some ill will between player and team—can sometimes prompt teams to make offers for stars, and maybe someone puts a blockbuster in front of Jets GM Joe Douglas. But I don’t think he has an intention to move his game-wrecking safety.

This will, however, bear watching going forward. Adams was incensed at the trade deadline last fall that his name was being bandied about on the rumor mill, as the Jets listened to offers on, really, anyone on the roster this side of Sam Darnold, (which made sense given there was a new GM and coach in place and a team that was going nowhere). And while Adams finished the season strong, I do know other teams had their radar up for this relationship coming undone like Jalen Ramsey’s did in Jacksonville last season.

Adams’ contract status, of course, is where the rubber meets the road. A handful of safeties (Kevin Byard, Tyrann Mathieu, Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Eddie Jackson) are around $14 million per year, and if that’s where the Jets star wants to be, I think the team will get him there. But if he wants to blow up the market all together? And get paid more than any defensive back ever has? With two years left on his rookie deal? That’s another question.

Stay tuned.

From Kyle Scully (@socal_scully): Usually draftees go up to the podium, shake hands and get a hat. Will they be sent a few potential hats in advance? Are any of them planning to dress up?

Kyle, I haven’t asked, but based on what I know, my guess is New Era will send prospects boxes of hats, so they and their families have everything they need to celebrate the occasion. We’ve seen this in the past with players who’ve decided to stay home. It’s not like Tim Tebow, for example, had a dozen Broncos hats just lying around on draft night in 2010.

As for how this will work, it sounds to me like the ESPN broadcast, anchored by Trey Wingo, will throw to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as normal, with the obvious difference being that instead of it going from anchor desk to stage, it’ll be going from studio to … Goodell’s basement. And after Goodell announces picks, the ESPN broadcast will go to a highlight package, which is also customary, and show the draftee, if he’s one of the 58 to have the camera set-up in his house.

But despite all this, will it look the same? Of course not.

From New Year's K (@kstalz): What is the realistic return Washington can expect in a Trent Williams trade?

New Year’s, Washington never really had an ask for Williams last year, and his contract status further muddies the waters in ascertaining value here. His monetary demands a year ago were off the charts and, presumably, they’ll be more reasonable now. But he turns 32 this summer, has a lot of injury history and has had off-field missteps, so if he still wants something north of where the tackle market is now, that’ll hurt his draft-pick value.

That’s what’s challenging about this whole thing for everyone. Washington wants fair value for a premier player at a premier position. Williams wants one last bite of the financial apple—it’d be hard for him to count on another top-shelf contract after his next one. And what each side is seeking hurts the other’s pursuit. Williams would be easier to move if he’d take a discount on a deal. And he’d be more like to get a big contract if another team wasn’t assuming as much risk in what it gives up in draft pick compensation.

Given all that, if you ask me what’s fair, I’d say a second-round pick would be fair. Washington doesn’t have one right now. And so maybe some team comes out of the first round without its left tackle, needs one, and makes an offer on Friday morning.

From Ethan Gansel (@the_swaggy_E): Chiefs more likely to trade back or pick at 32?

From Sean Sims (@SeanSims7): Likelihood the Titans trade back?

Ethan and Sean, I’d put those two, along with Seattle, at the head of a class of teams that will be open for business with their picks late on Thursday night. If you don’t have too many pressing needs, this is a draft class you can let come to you—because I believe there will be runs of certain positions (tackle, linebacker, corner), good players are going to slide into the meat of the second round. So for those three teams, picking up some extra capital makes sense, if you think you’ll get a similar player at 45, as you would at 27, 29 or 32.

Now, if there are players that the Titans or Chiefs like, maybe they’ll stick. In my mock draft, I gave Tennessee the right tackle from Georgia, Isaiah Wilson, at No. 29 because I’ve heard him connected to the Titans. Likewise, I think guys like Kristian Fulton, Grant Delpit or A.J. Epenesa could be a consideration for Kansas City at 32, and I’ve also heard they like D’Andre Swift—though Andy Reid has no history of taking a running back that high.

But even in the case that someone one of those teams likes slips to them, I do think those teams will listen to any and all offers to move out of the first round. And maybe Love sitting there in that range, or the second wave of tackles starting to go, would be enough to draw something good out of teams with picks high in the second round.

From Tom Wellington (@min1berrycrunch): How badly are the Bengals going to mess this up?

Tom, I know the jury’s still out on Zac Taylor—and while I like the way he’s handling this offseason, and the staff he’s got there, that’s totally fair. But I’m not sure I totally get the lack of faith in the Cincinnati front office and scouting chief Duke Tobin. Yes, they’ve been in a slump of late draft-wise. But if you look at his personal track record, for the first half of the last decade, the Bengals carried one of the most talented rosters in the league.

Among those Tobin drafted from 2010-14: Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, Gio Bernard, and Shawn Williams. Even more recently, he’s brought good young pieces like William Jackson, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, Billy Price and Sam Hubbard onto the roster. And the team made the playoffs in five straight years pretty recently, and did it playing in the rugged AFC North.

Obviously, they have a lot to prove now. But it’s not like there’s no track record of success here. They have some good people in place. Let’s see where it goes with a new QB.

From Joe McKenny (@JoeMcKenny): What are the chances that either Judon or Ngakoue get traded this week? Do you know of any interested teams?

Joe, in both cases, I think we saw teams that saw the movement with tagged players a year ago (Frank Clark and Dee Ford were traded) as sort of a piece of insurance to go with the risk of franchising them. In other words, the Jaguars like Yannick Ngakoue and the Ravens like Matthew Judon, but figured the option to deal them would be there if things went off the rails one way or the other (and, with Ngakoue, it seems like we’re already there).

And now, we’re into draft week, and both guys are still on their rosters, with neither guy having signed a tender. The pandemic only further complicates these situations, making a long-term deal that much harder to get done ahead of time, since physicals can’t be taken and face-to-face meetings can’t happen. So to do a trade, in the either case, at this point, the player would have to sign his tender, and probably work out parameters of a long-term deal with his new team, with both taking the leap of faith the physical would work out OK.

Could it happen? Sure it could. But it won’t be simple, and if either player doesn’t like the team he’s going to in a deal, he can just refuse to sign his tender or negotiate with them. We’ll see if something happens between now and tomorrow. Both players do have some value, and so maybe someone makes an offer.

From ropese (@ropese34): Do you see the Pats making a move that would net them a second round pick in this draft?

Ropese, I think the Patriots would love to do that. I’ve heard them associated with a number of players—Notre Dame TE Cole Kmet, Alabama S Xavier McKinney, Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray and Michigan C Cesar Ruiz among them—and one thing that’s jumped out at me is how all over the map these guys are. That underscores the situation the team is in. They have to get younger pretty much everywhere.

That’s a long way of say: Yes, I can absolutely see them moving down, and maybe out of the first round to fill in the gap that they have between the 23rd and 87th overall picks. Maybe something crazy will happen and they’ll move up (obviously, Tua Tagovailoa falling could qualify as a crazy circumstance). But I think if all things are equal, they’d like to start stocking their roster with younger guys, and they do that by building draft pick volume.

From None Ya (@hambleedsgreen): Do you think Alshon gets moved on draft night?

I think the Eagles would like to move Jeffery, yes. The problem is, his market value is probably close to nothing right now. He’s 30, coming off a serious foot injury, has grown a reputation for being difficult in both his NFL homes, failed to even get halfway to 1,000 yards last year, and is due eight figures in cash, with over $11 million guaranteed.

Could Philly move him? Sure, if they’re willing to take pennies on the dollar and maybe eat some salary. And maybe, with a young receiver or two likely incoming on draft weekend, they want to get rid of him that badly, where they’re OK doing it. Even then, I’d have trouble figuring a team that would really want him.

From Simón Uribe (@suribepe): Name one player that everyone expects to go high first, but ends up falling.

Simon, the obvious one would be Tua Tagovailoa. We’ll see what happens with him, but for now, I have him getting scooped up by the Chargers at No. 6. Outside of that, looking at my mock, there aren’t a ton of shockers I have, mostly because I think, beyond the clump of four elite defenders, four tackles and three quarterbacks at the top, the rest of the round is very fluid, and dictated by runs on certain positions.

I guess it’d be a surprise to some that I have seven tackles going in the first round. And maybe it’s a surprise to see Henry Ruggs ahead of CeeDee Lamb (though that, in this case, is very team specific). And LSU CB Kristian Fulton lasting until 32 probably would surprise certain folks. But honestly, and I’m not saying this as a cop out, there’s a lot of volatility in how this is going to go once you get into the teens.

From michael christopher (@Bigdogz1318): If there is no NFL season next year how would the draft work? Like would Cincy still have first pick and what happens if rookies don’t sign their contract because they didn’t want to go to team, would they go back into draft pool.

Michael, I’ll answer your last question first: My guess is they wouldn’t go back into the draft pool. I’d think the league would make a one-year exception on that. As for the first part, I actually answered the question in March, and used the best applicable comp I could find (what happened after the canceled NHL season of 2004-05), so I’ll run that one back here …

For its 2005 draft, the NHL put the entire league into a weighted lottery, based on playoff appearances in the 2001-02, 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons, and the first overall picks in the four previous drafts. Teams that had no playoff appearances or first overall picks in that period got three lottery balls. Teams that had one playoff appearance or first pick in that period got two balls. Everyone else got one ball. Forty-eight balls went in, and the first round was drawn. And from there, it was a snake draft, with order reversing each round.

What was the impact of all that? The Penguins wound up with the first pick after getting the second pick the year before. The No. 2 pick in 2004 was Evgeni Malkin. The first pick in the 2005 draft was … Sidney Crosby. That’s two Hall of Famers and the foundation for three Stanley Cups.

Of course, none of us want the NFL, or any of the other sports leagues, to be pushed down that road because of the crisis in our country. But it was fun to look that up, anyway.

From RIP MAMBA & GIGI (@raider_chucky): What do you expect the Las Vegas Raiders to do on Thursday? Could you see a QB?

RIP, I would not fall out of my chair if the Raiders took a falling Tagovailoa. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they, say, took a flier on Georgia’s Jake Fromm on Friday. Which, as I see it, sort of puts them where they’ve been at quarterback since Jon Gruden returned to the team two years ago.

As for the best-laid plans on Thursday, I see receiver and corner at the top of their list. And I was told Gruden’s looking specifically for a “Z” receiver (flanker), which is exactly what Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy is. So I could see Jeudy and then someone like A.J. Terrell with the second of the team’s first-rounders. Or they could take C.J. Henderson at 12, and then find a receiver later on.

In the backdrop of all of this is word that’s circulated that the Raiders would like to trade down with one of those picks and maybe get a second-rounder, since they don’t have one right now (they got their second first-round, and lost their second-rounder, as part of the Khalil Mack trade). The draft value chart shows that the Raiders could, on paper, ask for a late two or early three in return for moving down a dozen or so spots. The question then, of course, would be what someone else would be coming up to No. 19 for.

But that’s all part of the fun of tomorrow night.

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