Former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks knows the ins and outs of this league, providing keen insight in his notebook. The topics of this edition include:
» Who's the cream of this QB draft crop? NFL scouts weigh in!
» Why Adrian Peterson needs to accept a diminished role.
But first, a look at the Jaguars promising start under new leadership ...
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When Tom Coughlin rejoined the Jacksonville Jaguars as executive vice president of football operations, I instantly wondered how my old coach would impact the team from his office instead of the sidelines. The two-time Super Bowl winner spent 20 seasons in the NFL as a head coach delivering his message from a lectern at the front of the room each day. But his new role would require him to oversee the operation from afar, while GM David Caldwell and coach Doug Marrone carry out his vision for the team.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I was a little skeptical about Coughlin serving as the top executive without acting as the chess master on the field. I played for the Jaguars in 1996 and '97 when he wore all of the big hats in the building and controlled everything, from the office to the field. Coughlin consistently outlined his expectations for the organization and did everything in his power to make sure that the team played up to the standard. From imposing "Coughlin Time" (meetings begin five minutes prior to scheduled time) to the infamous "Concentration Line" at the edge of the practice field (once you crossed it, it was all business), he set the stage for our success by encouraging the team to pay close attention to the details.
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▸ West | North | South | East
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As a coach, it is certainly easier to get the team to carry out the mission, because you have the opportunity to make the grass your blackboard as you teach the team the lessons needed to reach greatness. As an executive, however, you can chart the course, but your lieutenants are responsible for carrying out the mission. While I don't know how things ultimately will turn out in Jacksonville, I do know that Coughlin has already made his mark on the team.
"Things are definitely a little tighter than before [under Gus Bradley]," a Jaguars official told me. "There's more discipline and detail. From top to bottom, everyone has clear understanding of the expectations. There's a level of accountability that was missing in the locker room. We needed to fix that to reach our potential."
Say what you want about his methods, but Coughlin's résumé speaks volumes. He led the expansion Jaguars to a pair of AFC Championship Games during his first stint with the team (1995-2002) and hoisted a pair of Lombardi Trophies as the leader of the New York Giants. When it comes time to recruiting players, particularly in free agency, I've found that some guys will chase the money -- but the majority of players want to win. Considering Coughlin's winning pedigree, it's not a coincidence that a handful of big-name free agents made Jacksonville their destination.
"I really liked Tom Coughlin," Calais Campbell said to MMQB.com following his signing. "I've always respected him, from playing against his teams over the years. I like the way he carries himself. His organization has always been top-notch and guys that play for him always say good things about him. Then you look at what they did in free agency and I think it shows they're committed to winning."
Interestingly, Campbell didn't talk to Coughlin prior to signing, yet revered the coach enough to trust that his mere presence would lead to success in Jacksonville.
"I didn't need to have a conversation with him because his resume speaks for itself," Campbell told MMQB. "He's a future Hall of Famer, so no conversation was needed."
While Coughlin's presence has certainly helped the Jaguars attract marquee players, I believe he has set the standard for what he demands out of players. Based on my personal experience playing under Coughlin, I know that he expects tough players who are committed to the team and value winning over individual accomplishments. When I looked at the players that the team has acquired since his arrival, it is not a coincidence that each of them are blue-collar guys with rugged playing styles. From A.J. Bouye to Barry Church to Branden Albert to Campbell, the Jaguars are a much tougher team than the squad that took the field in 2016.
Speaking of toughness, Coughlin has openly discussed wanting guys with better toughness: mental and physical. In addition, he has talked about improving the running game to add an element of toughness to the team while also alleviating some of the pressure on his young quarterback (Blake Bortles) to run the show.
With that in mind, I would expect the Jaguars to concentrate their efforts on improving a running game that lacked pop a season ago. (Jacksonville's 101.9 rushing yards per game ranked 22nd in the NFL.) Whether it's adding a hard-hitting runner like LSU's Leonard Fournette early in the draft or committing more resources to the offensive line, the Jaguars will certainly take on a more run-oriented approach with Coughlin at the helm. Remember, Coughlin led the Jaguars to a pair of AFC title games with runners like Natrone Means and Fred Taylor playing leading roles on gritty offenses that mixed hard-hitting running with dynamic aerial acrobatics. Thus, he could look to add a bell cow to the lineup to help his team impose its will on foes.
Although he is no longer walking the sidelines on game days, Coughlin's fingerprint are all over a Jaguars' squad that suddenly looks like one that's ready to compete again.
ASK THE LEAGUE: Which QB would you take from this draft class?
The 2017 NFL Draft is a little over a month away, but there's plenty of debate raging in meeting rooms over which quarterback is the top prospect in the class. With pro days underway and private workouts on the horizon, I thought I'd check in with some of my scouting buddies for their thoughts on this group of signal callers. Here is what I asked:
Which 2017 QB prospect would you bet your team's future on?
AFC college scouting director: "I would lean towards (Deshaun) Watson. When you meet him, you can tell that he has the 'it' factor. He has the confidence and competitiveness that you want in a franchise quarterback. He loves the bright lights and big stage. He plays better when things are on the line. Plus, I've seen him grow each year and I think he is playing his best ball heading into the league."
AFC national scout: "I would probably go with Mitchell Trubisky. I gave him the same grade as Watson, but I believe that he spins it better and shows more pocket poise. I know the lack of (college) starts is troublesome, but I think his ability to throw with timing and anticipation is a better fit in our offense."
AFC scout: "I would go with Watson. The kid is a winner. He isn't a finished product and he probably needs to sit behind a veteran for a little while before taking the field, but his leadership skills and intangibles are off the charts."
A second AFC college scouting director: "I wouldn't hitch my wagon to any of the quarterbacks in this class. There are some guys with potential, but I don't know if there is a legit franchise quarterback in this draft."
The 2017 quarterback class features a number of talented players with the potential to grow into elite field generals in the NFL. Although scouts have failed to come to a consensus on which quarterback has the most potential to shine at the next level, it is apparent that a number of scouts are intrigued by Deshaun Watson's leadership skills and intangibles.
Speaking to several scouts and coaches at the NFL Scouting Combine, I came away with the impression that the Clemson star blew everyone away with his personality and intelligence in meetings. Evaluators couldn't stop talking about how he commanded the room in a way that was different from his competitors at the position. Whether it was his ability to make strong eye contact with officials upon walking into the room or his impressive understanding of his offense and the opponents' defensive tactics, Watson apparently displayed the kind of confidence and self-assuredness that's typically associated with the great players at the position. When matched to the remarkable poise and composure that he displayed in crunch time in some of college football's biggest games -- including each of the past two national title bouts -- Watson's mix of grit, guts and determination makes it easy to fall in love with him.
With all of that in mind, I would pick the Clemson star as the one quarterback in the 2017 class that I would invest in. While some observers are caught up in the physical traits displayed by quarterback prospects, I believe the mental characteristics are more essential to succeeding at the position in this league. The elite NFL quarterbacks are smart, competitive guys with fearless demeanors in adverse situations. Sure, they must possess the requisite tools needed to succeed as a passers (B+ arm talent, ability to throw with timing and anticipation, accuracy), but they have to be gritty leaders to flourish over the long haul. When you look at the success that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson and other top dogs have enjoyed at the position, it has been their mental makeup that's helped them separate from the competition. From their unshakable confidence to their big-moment poise and resiliency, the best quarterbacks are exceptional from the neck up.
Looking at Watson's on-field performance in clutch situations and hearing about the way he handles the meeting rooms, I'm willing to bank on the Clemson star figuring it out as a franchise quarterback.
ADRIAN PETERSON'S FUTURE: Free agent must adjust his expectations
No disrespect to Adrian Peterson and his illustrious career, but the three-time NFL rushing king has probably seen his last days as a feature back.
The ex-Minnesota Vikings star has been unable to secure a job thus far, despite an impressive résumé that features 11,747 career rushing yards and a magical 2,000-yard season that placed him among the immortals at the position.
While fantasy footballers patiently wait for the longtime scoring machine to latch onto a team as an RB1, the likelihood of Peterson actually taking on that role diminishes with each passing day.
"I just don't know why anyone would sign a [soon-to-be] 32-year-old running back with significant mileage and an injury history to be a feature back, particularly at a big number," an AFC pro personnel director told me. "He's been a good player in this league for a long time, but he's not the same player as he once was and his body is beat up. Plus, he doesn't have the well-rounded game to slide into a complementary role with a young player operating as the lead. I believe he could only play as a short-term feature runner for a playoff contender that's looking for a veteran runner to spark the team down the stretch."
Now, I know that opinion comes off as a little harsh, considering Peterson's remarkable feats in the league. But the NFL is a bottom-line business and No. 28 has shown deteriorating skills as a runner. Despite leading the league with 1,485 yards in 2015, Peterson has averaged just 3.27 yards per attempt over his past 12 games, including a paltry 1.9 yards per attempt during the 2016 season. In addition, he is considered a dinosaur at the position based on his age (Peterson turns 32 next week) and one-dimensional game as a downhill runner. Peterson primarily has been effective from a "dot" position throughout his career (out of the I-formation and pistol) and offers little as a receiver out of the backfield. Considering how many teams prominently feature the shotgun, Peterson's old-school game isn't conducive to landing a starting role in 2017.
That's why I'm surprised Peterson didn't recognize the changing landscape and make a concerted effort to reach a sweetheart deal with the Vikings prior to free agency. With Peterson established as the long-term face of the franchise and the team's all-time rushing leader, you'd think the Vikes would have been more compelled to overpay (at least a bit) for his services, to ensure he retired with the organization.
"He's far more valuable to the Vikings than another club," the AFC pro personnel director said. "He's not only a fan favorite, but they clearly know how much gas he has left in the tank. They could take care of him by lightening his load or tweaking the game plan to maximize his talents."
It's possible that Peterson didn't see himself as a descending player and refused to accept a lesser role on an offense that needed modification to better fit Sam Bradford's skills as the team's franchise quarterback. (Bradford is most effective operating from the shotgun formation with spread personnel on the field.) If the veteran runner took a hard line on the team's new approach, the Vikings were forced to look elsewhere to fill their RB1 role. Thus, the Vikings signed Latavius Murray on Wednesday.
"It's business," the AFC pro personnel director said. "Sometimes you have to make hard decisions on good players. Peterson has been a great player for them, but every player has an expiration date. It was time for them to move on from him, especially with a number of young runners available in the draft."
With that in mind, Peterson might have to wait a while to land a job on the open market. Teams are intrigued by the depth and talent of the RB draft class and that could lead more front offices to pause before signing the veteran.
"Peterson's age and injury history are definitely big reasons why the market has been soft for him," an NFC pro personnel director told me. "Plus, teams think they can get a better player -- without the big-money demands -- in the draft."
Now, that doesn't mean Peterson won't eventually find a suitor for his services, but he will have to adjust his expectations in terms of role and compensation. Teams no longer view him as the generational talent that you build an offense around and they certainly won't surpass the $5 million mark (per season) to pay for a part-time player. While he has been a great player in this league for a decade, Peterson is suddenly just another guy at his position.
Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.