Scouts and Team Executives Dish on the Best and Worst of the NFL Draft

NFL front office personnel give their thoughts on the best picks, deepest classes and biggest head-scratchers. Plus, an interview with Justin Herbert, teams are actually investing in running backs and offseason story lines.
Author:
Publish date:

To me, the 2012 Seahawks draft is the one. I’m sure there are others, but that’s the one that sticks out in my mind as the ultimate murderer of draft grades.

And to be sure of it, this week I went back and—through the magic of google—was able to find a lot of evidence of that. I probably perused a dozen different sets of grades, a bunch from people who do a good job, and who I respect, and who I won’t embarrass by printing their names in this space. I couldn’t find a grade higher than a C. There were Ds. There were Fs. There was biting commentary. Here’s a sampling.

The Seahawks received our lowest Round 1 grade for their reach to grab Bruce Irvin at No. 15. They messed up again in Round 3 with Russell Wilson after having signed Matt Flynn.

The Seahawks went bonkers and picked Bruce Irvin at 15. Could he develop into a solid pass rusher? Sure, but this was a spit take-inducing selection. LB Bobby Wagner and RB Robert Turbin will help, and QB Russell Wilson has a bright future, even if Seattle didn’t really need him. The rest was blah.

The Seahawks are getting slammed for reaching on too many players, including Irvin and Utah State LB Bobby Wagner, who they picked in the second round when they probably could have gotten him later on.

The Seahawks spent a third-round pick on Wilson even though the history of QBs under 6' is poor, to say the least. You don’t spend a third-round pick on a guy who’ll be lucky to be Seneca Wallace. You also don’t do that after signing Matt Flynn as a free agent. The Seahawks are no closer to solving the QB situation now than they were before 2011.

Why does Seattle take (Wilson)? They paid Matt Flynn and two others. Strange pick.

Seattle’s draft was full of reaches. Not only was Irvin a reach, but so were Bobby Wagner and Russell Wilson—their next two picks.

And again, I’m not doing this to kill anyone. I may have made the same mistakes if someone asked me to do a grades column right after the draft eight years ago. But it does highlight how little we know at this juncture. Wilson and Wagner are all-time great Seahawks who will likely have a case for the Hall of Fame. Irvin was an important piece on a title team, and has lasted longer in the league than a bunch of guys who went ahead of him. Turbin played a role in Seattle. Later-round picks Jeremy Lane and J.R. Sweezy were very good value gets.

Anyway, I added all this up, and figured I’d give you guys something different with the draft in the rear-view mirror. We’re gonna let the scouts take the wheel on this one.

***

Things may be quiet NFL-wise, but we’ve still got a lot coming for you in this week’s GamePlan, including …

• The top storylines to follow coming out of the draft.

• A fun talk with new Chargers QB Justin Herbert.

• Revelations on a devalued, and now revalued position.

But we’re kicking things off with a fun review of draft day.

***

nfl-draft-best-worst-scouts-talk

So with all of the above in mind, on Wednesday, I sent out a bunch of texts to GMs, directors of player personnel and college scouting directors, looking for answers to three questions I think you’d be most interested in getting the answer to:

The pick that jumped out to you as a great one?

Another team’s class that jumped out to you as strong?

A pick that was a head-scratcher for you?

Here, then, are the answers I got. Enjoy.

Picks that I liked …

NFC exec: “I liked Jonathan Taylor to Colts. Fits their mentality and is a hell of a good player. Never understood, and still don’t, as to why most people thought he wasn’t the top runner—6,000 yards in the Big Ten, when everyone knows he’s getting the ball and still can’t stop him, is impressive.”

AFC GM: “I like Darrell Taylor to Seattle. Fits their mentality and mold at DE perfectly.

NFC scout: “Kenneth Murray. That salty defense [L.A. Chargers] gets a stud in the middle that will be there a long time. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Derwin James and now Murray? Sign me up.”

AFC scouting director: “Zach Baun to the Saints—steal, three-down LB with a big upside at pick 74 (obviously the diluted sample was an issue).”

AFC exec: “Liked Xavier McKinney pick by the Giants. Good football player with versatility, a first-round talent they acquired in the second.”

AFC college scouting director: “Clyde Edwards-Helaire to the Chiefs. Best RB in the draft, fits into a perfect offense. Going to be miserable to matchup with that offense. Also, Kristian Fulton to the Titans. Arguably the third best CB in the draft at the end of the second.”

AFC exec: “Edwards-Helaire for K.C. was a great pick to add to their offensive firepower.”

NFC exec: “Kenneth Murray was a great pick/fit for the Chargers. Although they needed OL, they went with best player on board and got a leader and someone who should be an impact player. … Josh Uche was a great pick for the Patriots at No. 60. Good fit and great value at that pick. … I really like the fits for Clyde Edwards-Helaire in K.C. and D’Andre Swift in Detroit. Clyde has great feet, burst and very elusive and makes K.C.’s offense that much better, which says a lot. Swift will be a dynamic change-of-pace runner with Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough in Detroit. He was the right fit at RB for them.”

AFC scouting director: “NYG OG Shane Lemiuex. Got him in fifth round, but in their situation he could push to start at center, based on who they already have at guard. Getting a fifth-rounder who might start for you is value.”

NFC exec: “I thought Dallas’s Neville Gallimore in the third was a really good pick—we tried to get him … This guy, he’s raw, but to get an in-line rusher in the third round, that’s a really good get, especially when there were no edge guys available. It’s all upside with him. That was a guy that stuck out, that he was still available.”

Classes I was impressed with …

NFC exec: “I liked the 49ers on the strength of their two first rounders. And then Colts and Ravens, I thought, got a lot of value out of a bunch of their picks.”

NFC scout: “Baltimore. Just a throwback Ravens draft class. Inside linebacker and running back with their first two picks? Sorry, draft twitter. But that plays in that division. And bang for your buck—New Orleans. Adam Trautman was probably the second best TE, Cesar Ruiz the best center and Zach Baun was a second-round caliber player.”

AFC exec: “I thought Denver got good value on each day of the draft: Jerry Jeudy … K.J Hamler/Lloyd Cushenberry/McTelvin Agim … Justin Strnad/Tyrie. Cleveland. New Orleans didn’t have much draft capital but got three quality players with their first three picks. K.C.’s first two picks are potential difference-makers if they hit. Jets got good value on each day and didn’t panic for needs. Drafted without emotion which I admire.”

AFC GM: “Atlanta—high character and three starters with the first three picks.”

AFC exec: “Liked the Cowboys draft. Really good value on the majority of their picks. First three picks will be eventual starters.”

AFC exec: “The Vikings’ first four picks were good additions, as well as the rest of their draft, in terms of depth to their roster.”

NFC exec: “Saints. Minnesota had a load of picks but this might not be the best time to load up on back of the draft talent with no OTA’s and a very limited offseason. So I understand New Orleans’s thought process making that trade. Trade and get a few good players rather than holding onto a number of late-round picks that will be limited in their development with a shortened off season.”

AFC college scouting director: “NYG. Joe Judge put his stamp on this class. Potentially three starting OL and a versatile player for the defense in Xavier McKinney.”

AFC scouting director: “Baltimore. Added upgrades and long-term starters at ILB in Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, who complement one another well with Harrison the downhill run defender and Queen the athlete, then added skill players on offense that bring some speed in J.K. Dobbins and Devin Duvernay, and another DL with inside-rush ability in the Texas A&M kid, Justin Madubuike.

NFC exec: “Really liked Denver’s draft, they’re doing their best to give the quarterback weapons. And they need a left tackle, but didn’t reach for one at 15, and they didn’t reach in the second round. They just let the draft board fall to them. The corner (Iowa’s Michael Ojemudia), I’m not as high on. But they did well to get Lloyd Cushenberry, Agim McTelvin and the tight end from Missouri (Albert Okwuehbunam) where they did.

Head scratchers

AFC GM: “Jordan Love. Why?”

NFC scout: “Damon Arnette to Oakland seemed like a reach. But also Kyle Dugger over Jeremy Chinn, and Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene over TEs still on the board by New England, and also a kicker in the fifth round who was not getting drafted.”

AFC exec: “New England’s draft was kind of average, other than the Dugger kid who is from a Division II school, but was one of the better players during Senior Bowl practice. … Like Jaylon Johnson but otherwise I’m not sure what Chicago is doing taking a raw “Y” TE in the second round after investing so much in Jimmy Graham. Maybe going to more 12 personnel with Nick Foles like they did in Philly? Run the ball, protect the ball and play good defense?”

AFC scouting director: “QB Jordan Love to Green Bay. Too many holes to waste Aaron Rodgers’s backend—how long will he be there and is he good with the head coach? And Cole Kmet to the Bears. How many tight ends do you need? They have 10!”

AFC college scouting director: “Arnette to the Raiders. Good player but could have gotten him later and it is a high price to pay for a guy with questionable character.”

AFC exec: “Jordan Love to the Packers is top of the head scratchers because of the presence of Aaron Rodgers and their need of wide receivers. All of Miami’s first-round selections were head-scratchers. Medical risk with Tua and two other guys who were questionable first-round picks.”

NFC exec: “I don’t get the Jalen Hurts pick. … Didn’t like the Bears draft. Tight end was not much of a need and although Kmet is a good player he is not a difference-maker. At a time when the Bears needed to take a step forward, I don’t think they achieved that with this draft. Jaylon Johnson was their best pick.”

NFC exec: “The one where we were happy with was when Vegas took Arnette. That was a head-scratcher. He’s a good player, but most teams had second/third, every time we interviewed him, he was late, there was always something. … They vouch for him at the school, and he brings juice. But giving him money in Vegas would scare me a little.”

Had fun with this one, so if you want more of that, I could work some other stuff into the Monday column, too. You guys know where to find me.

***

POWER RANKINGS

We’re past the draft, which means we’d be at the slow part of the NFL calendar—in a normal year. And based on the circumstances we’re all in now, it figures to be an even slower run-up to training camp than normal. But there’ll be more than nothing going on. So here are the top five storylines to watch over the next three months.

1) Will there be football in the fall? And you knew that’d be No. 1. Our first indication of where the league stands should come with the schedule release. And after that, the next big decision will likely hinge on when the 22 states that house NFL teams all have lifted restrictions, so teams can return to their practice facilities, which, of course, would be a big step toward being able to have training camps in late July and early August.

2) Will the schedule release happen on or before May 9? I’ve always thought this “event” was the height of the NFL trying to manufacture mileposts on a calendar—I was once dispatched to cover it in a Chicago sports bar, on the same night the Bulls and Blackhawks had playoff games, and we had to ask the manager to put it on one of the TVs (not my greatest professional moment)—but this year it has obvious significance. Two things that’ll be easy for everyone to look at, as far as the league’s contingency plans go, will be whether international series games are on the calendar and whether there are baked-in segments of the schedule that can be easily removed to shorten every team’s slate to 12 or 14 games (i.e. full weeks of interconference games).

3) Where will Cam Newton go? Want a crazy fact? There are only eight teams that don’t have a former first-round quarterback on their roster: the Patriots, Jaguars, Broncos, Cowboys, Vikings, Bucs, Seahawks and Niners. And of those eight, five have quarterbacks making more than $25 million per year. That leaves New England, Denver and Jacksonville, all of whom plan to start non-first-rounders on rookie contracts. There just aren’t landing spots for Newton right now, crazy as it sounds, since he’s a former NFL MVP who’s still just 30. I don’t know what happens here. But I do know his inability to take a physical, and show his left foot and right shoulder are OK, hasn’t helped.

4) Will there be any front-office movement? Generally, there’s shuffling in the scouting community this time of year, and we saw the Jets and Texans go through those sorts of shakeups at this point in the calendar last year. Back in February, before the combine, there were rumors a couple teams could be waiting until after the draft to make changes atop their personnel departments. This year, because of the pandemic, my guess is we’ll see less of that, for a couple reasons. One, the optics of firing someone now aren’t good. And two, it’d be borderline impossible to run a real GM search in this environment. (But I do think we will see some tweaking from a few teams in the coming weeks.)

5) How will rookies acclimate? We won’t have the answer to this one for a while. But at the very least, they’ll be able to take the NFL’s equivalent of online classes for the time being. It could also lead to certain teams getting more focused on preparing certain rookies to play—ahead of the 2011 lockout year, the Panthers and Bengals, for example, did all they could to get Newton and Andy Dalton ready to go, and each started in Week 1. The former won Offensive Rookie of the Year. The latter made the playoffs as a 16-game starter that year. Now, all this probably will have more of an effect on rookies who have to fight for playing time, just because teams will be less apt to trust them right away and more focused on getting their vets prepared. But I wouldn’t expect it to have any sort of long-term impact on the class. (If you look back at the 2011 group, you’ll find no less than a half-dozen players with a real Hall of Fame case in the first 11 picks.)

***

justin-herbert-nfl-draft

THE BIG QUESTION

Who is Justin Herbert?

I know that sounds like a pretty general question, but he’s kept a fairly low profile in comparison to the other two guys drafted in the zip code he was. So this week, we did an SI Video interview with him, which you’ll be able to check out in its entirety soon. Some highlights …

AB: Given the circumstances, how different was the draft experience from what you might’ve envisioned?

JH: Yeah, it would’ve been great to have been in Vegas for that experience. But being in Eugene, being with my family, my two brothers, that was pretty great and it didn't take away from the excitement from the whole experience. So there was a lot of time early in the day where we had to find things to do, we ended up playing catch in our front yard. … It was a lot of fun and glad I got to be here with my family.

AB: So take me through the phone call …

JH: The Chargers were on the clock with about seven minutes left. And I think both of my parents were looking down, just by chance, and they weren't really paying attention at the moment. And my brother and I were the first to see the call, and he saw the name and he knew exactly who it was and he started shaking my arm. And by then my parents knew what was going on, so everyone was reacting. And I answered it, was told I was going to be a Charger and it was a great, great feeling.

AB: Anything they said to you that stuck out?

JH: They told me I didn't shy away from anything. This draft process, I played in the Senior Bowl, went through with the combine, did all these things and they talked about how they liked that and they thought of that as a good thing. I appreciated that they told me that.

AB: You would’ve been a high pick last year. How do you look back at your decision to go back to school now?

JH: I knew I made the right decision at the moment I made it. I knew and I'm so glad to have been a part of that program. And to be with those guys and especially that senior group of guys, we came in and went 4-8 our freshman year, finished off 12-2. And these are the things that we wanted, that we set out to accomplish. And to be here and to be in this situation, it doesn't get any better than that.

AB: Any of your new teammates reach out?

JH: I talked to a couple of them. Hunter Henry reached out to me and we talked for a little bit. Easton Stick, another quarterback on the roster. So it's been good to talk with those guys. It'll be great to get down there.

AB: You talk to Tyrod [Taylor] yet?

JH: I have not.

AB: So you start as a true freshman at Oregon, how do you approach competing for the job with Tyrod now? Is it like that?

JH: Competition's great for everyone. He's going to push me and I'm going to push him. He's had a lot of success and so I'm gonna do everything I can to learn from him, do whatever I can to help him, and at the end of the day, it's all about the team. We're both professionals now and I'm really excited to learn from him because he's done some great things. So it's going to be a really great quarterback room and I'm really looking forward to it.

AB: So obviously you can’t go to the facility and do what rookies normally do, with minicamps and OTAs and all of that. How do you plan to make up for it?

JH: So I think we're kind of waiting to hear back from the NFL on what's allowed and what's not. And I'm driving down on Saturday to get set up and get work in. I'm going to be lifting, running, uh, throwing down there with my quarterback coach [John Beck]. That's where I trained for this draft process. So I've got the area down pretty well and my quarterback coach is down there. So I’ll spend some time with him and get going.

AB: You already have the playbook?

JH: I do not.

AB: Do you have any feel for the offense?

JH: They sent me something during the draft process to study over one of our meetings, but it was only six or seven plays. Pretty basic stuff.

AB: Yeah, A-Lynn told me a story about that—you got real mad about missing a formation on one of their tests?

JH: How could I forget? They sent me that packet and, I had to learn these seven or eight plays. And off to the side, there was an example of how they call a formation. And it was just an example on the side, and I said, ‘OK, well this is how they call it. I know how they call it. This is how they do it.’ I was perfect on everything else, knew all the players, knew everything, talking through it. And then they asked about this formation and I said I didn't know, and that I apologize and feel bad for that one.

AB: So what do you hope to accomplish between now and camp?

JH: I think the chance to throw to some of those guys would be great, to start working out with some of them. And I know when we're allowed to get the playbook, I'll be able to get that nailed down really quickly. I’m just doing everything I can. I know how tough of a situation this is, but there are things that I can do.

AB: Last thing—first thing you plan to buy?

JH: I'll probably help my parents out with their house. Other than that, probably not too much spending.

***

WHAT NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT

Amid the continued devaluation of the tailback position, teams actually invested in the position over draft weekend.

Consider this: Six guys at the position went in the first two rounds, which is the second highest total of the last 10 years (seven went in the first two rounds in 2018). That’s more than the vaunted 2017 running back class had (four), and it’s three times as many as went in the first two rounds last year.

And if you want more context, the sixth tailback went before the sixth linebacker went, before the sixth safety went and before the sixth quarterback went. Only the receiver, corner and tackle spots had more players draft over the first two rounds.

So what gives?

First, give credit to the fellas. LSU’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire (Chiefs, 32), Georgia’s D’Andre Swift (Lions, 35), Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (Colts, 41), Florida State’s Cam Akers (Rams, 52), Ohio State’s J.K. Dobbins (Ravens, 55) and Boston College’s A.J. Dillon (Packers, 62) were all damn good college players, and earned their way there. Second, runs on positions can affect these things, and one happened at tailback early on Day 2.

But the third thing is probably most interesting to me—Even if there isn’t great historical value in giving a bellcow tailback an outsized second contract, you can argue drafting one high promises a fantastic return. Why? Because in drafting a guy, you get him on an affordable rookie deal, and chances are he’ll hit his prime early in that contract, because the position is an easier one to evaluate, and backs generally acclimate quickly to the league.

Things, of course, get tricky with the hyper-productive ones after Year 3. But if you’re at that point with a player, that means you nailed the pick, and the problem you’re being presented with is a good problem to have.

What can happen after that, of course, is another story. But chances are pretty decent that the Chiefs, Lions, Colts, Rams, Ravens and Packers won’t look dumb for taking these backs where they did, at least in the short term.

***

THE FINAL WORD

I wanted to take the chance here to thank everyone for following along with us over the last couple months, and into draft weekend. I know it’s been a tough time for a lot of people in our country and having the NFL draft doesn’t really solve anything.

But I also know what a good diversion it was for so many people. And if you guys liked following it as much as I always love covering it—and our numbers over the years show you do—then my hope is we helped enhance your enjoyment of it at the site.

And yes, on Monday, we’ll get you some stuff on the 2021 class. Hopefully, we’ll be going in on that draft in a much more conventional way.

• Question or comment? Email us.