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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.

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?