As the bowl games near their conclusion, this is the time of year when I begin preparing to write what I formerly titled "Shawn Zobel's Draft Preview," but now will debut under a new title "The 2018 Sideline Pass Draft Book."
Why call it a book? When trying to come up with a title, Sideline Pass designer Eric Sitarz put it best: "it's a 200+ page book; the word guide or preview doesn't do it justice." Cool, let's do it.
With that said, this time of year I dive back in and hyper-analyze the bowl games from last month to best prepare for upcoming scouting trips to the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine.
Starting today and every Friday moving forward, I'll dive into the actual scouting part of the industry and take a look at a few players who are worth knowing. Introducing, "Emptying The Scouting Notebook":
- If you read my "Tom Brady's Defiance" article from Monday as a Prologue to ESPN's story on the Patriots' today, it shines a spotlight on some of the behind-the-scenes moves that have gone on leading up to today's story breaking down the "beginning of the end" for Belichick & Brady.
- On Thursday's Football Headquarters Podcast, Browns beat writer Mary Kay Cabot said you can "take that to the bank right now" that the Browns will take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the draft. Said Cabot "they passed on Carson Wentz two years ago, they passed on DeShaun Watson in last year's draft, they cannot afford to do that again."
- The performance of Georgia running back Nick Chubb may have impressed me more than any other individual performance during the bowl season. An unstoppable force throughout the Rose Bowl on Monday, Chubb churned his way to 145 yards and 2 TD's (10.3 ypc). While Chubb's injury history (ankle, knee) is going to move him down, if not completely remove him from some NFL teams' draft boards, it was apparent on Monday that Chubb is a "next-level" athlete who is ready to play on Sunday's. A balanced, strong, and angry runner, Chubb showed a physically-imposing running style that wore the Oklahoma defense down when paired with Bulldog teammate Sony Michel. If not for injuries, Chubb would be a first-round talent in April, however in my opinion, a team is going to get a mid-round steal if Chubb can stay healthy in the pros.
- Ask anyone on the street and you'll get a different opinion of what Baker Mayfield is going to become in the NFL. Is he Russell Wilson or Johnny Manziel? Could he be closer to Fran Tarkenton? Mayfield's upcoming performance in the Senior Bowl will be a better indicator of his future success in the NFL. However, on Monday against Georgia we saw some of the good Baker and some of the bad Baker. In the first half he erupted and flashed the free-wheeling, gun-slinging ability to dissect a defense that won him the Heisman Trophy. Yet, in the second half, as Georgia made halftime adjustments and controlled the time of possession with it's dominating ground game, Mayfield found fewer openings through the air, and for one of the first times we saw what a lethal pass rush can do to Mayfield's mobility and escability. Mayfield finished the night 23-35 (65.7%) for 287 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT. By the end of April, most teams are likely to rank Mayfield in the 10-30 range on their boards (provided he doesn't have a collapse at the Senior Bowl); however, it's a near-certainty that at least one team will fall in love with the Sooners' star's confidence and leadership as a quarterback, and that will end up with Mayfield being taken as one of the Top 10 picks off the board.
- One of the under-the-radar players that declared for the 2018 Draft is Boise State junior linebacker Leighton Vander Esch. A 6'3, 240-lb tackling machine at inside linebacker, Vander Esch is a tall, lean athlete who broke through as Mountain West DPOY in 2017. On the year, he tallied a combined 141 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 4 sacks, 3 INT, and 4 PBU. A fantastic, complete stat line from a player that was off of scouting radars when the season began. Now, Vander Esch is positioned as a Top 50 prospect who has the raw athleticism to perform well at the Combine, in addition to a tall frame that still has plenty of room to gain weight. A true sideline-to-sideline defender with Luke Kuechly-like instincts (I don't say that lightly), Vander Esch looks the part of one of the "risers of the offseason" as coaches begin to watch film and discover how truly talented he is.
- Depending on which team you talk to, N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels could be graded as a fullback, H-Back, tight end, scat back, etc. In an era of player versatility, arguably no college player is more of a swiss army knife than the Wolfpack's Samuels. A true dual-threat out of the backfield, Samuels carried the ball 77 times for 403 yards (5.23 ypc) and 12 touchdowns, while also CATCHING 76 passes for 597 yards (7.86 ypc) and 4 touchdowns. A capable kick returner, Samuels is going to be drafted as a hybrid rusher/receiver/special teamer, and his final draft slot will be dependent on how fast he times and how special of an athlete his measurements indicate.
Other nuggets from around the league:
- Between now and April you may read hundreds of mock drafts - at the end of the day I've never seen a closer lock in early-January than Josh Rosen to the New York Giants.
- In Washington all signs point to Kirk Cousins leaving the Redskins for free agency. Washington owns the No. 13 pick in the draft and may need to move up if they intend on drafting Cousins' replacement from among the quarterback crop of Allen, Rosen, Darnold, and Mayfield
- Projected Cleveland Browns starting QB room on August 1, 2018: 1. Alex Smith, 2. Josh Allen, 3. DeShone Kizer
- The San Francisco 49ers finished the season 5-0, have a young, talented GM, coach, and quarterback, and own a Top 10 pick. Give me a reason they aren't a playoff team next year, assuming Jimmy GQ re-signs.