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:
» A superstar wideout who's hiding in plain sight.
But first, a look at the NFL's OTHER draft ...
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The NFL Supplemental Draft rarely garners much attention from the football world, but this year's event features a number of promising prospects with the potential to impact teams as contributors this season. This is certainly uncommon for a draft that typically features misfits and cast-offs with spotty records and character flaws. Despite those red flags, the supplemental draft has produced some high-level playmakers in the past, with guys like Hall of Fame inductee Cris Carter, Josh Gordon and Terrelle Pryor making their mark in the league after being mid-summer draft picks.
That said, the decision to expend a future pick on a player with academic or off-field issues is a risky play in a league where executives cherish draft currency. To select a player in the supplemental draft, a team will submit a bid with a round value attached to a prospect. If multiple teams submit bids, the player goes to the highest bidder, according to a slotted lottery system that breaks up teams into three different groups: non-playoff teams with six or fewer wins, non-playoff teams with more than six wins and playoff teams. The winning bidder agrees to give up the round selection in the following year's NFL draft. For instance, the Cleveland Browns used a second-round pick on Gordon in the 2012 supplemental draft, thus surrendering their second-round selection in the regular draft the following spring.
With the risk-reward value in mind, let's take a look at the five prospects available in this year's supplemental draft, which will take place on Wednesday, July 11 at 1 p.m. ET:
Sam Beal, CB, Western Michigan: As the hottest name in this year's supplemental draft, Beal has garnered plenty of attention from the NFL scouting community. The 6-foot-1, 187-pounder not only has plus size, but he displays outstanding movement skills and agility on the perimeter. Beal looks like a natural cover corner on the island with the potential to play in a nose-to-nose position or from distance. He flashes outstanding footwork, balance and body control shadowing receivers while staying in their hip pocket down the field. Beal's discipline and detail in coverage suggest that he could grow into a front-line player in a diverse scheme that features man and zone concepts with a variety of techniques.
Critically speaking, Beal needs to work on his physicality and toughness as a run defender. He doesn't aggressively seek out contact on the edge, and his reluctance to engage ball carriers could make him a liability on a gap-control defense that forces runners to bounce to the outside. Now, I certainly understand the challenges of being a solid tackler as a sub-200-pounder, but Beal's suspect effort stands out on tape and must be addressed if he is going to be a solid player at the next level.
From a playmaking standpoint, Beal could also show better ball skills, having snagged just two interceptions as a two-year starter for the Broncos. Granted, he finished his career with 19 passes defensed, but elite corners create turnovers. This former high school track star hasn't produced enough takeaways on the island.
Beal's academic issues and other shortcomings will bother some evaluators, but his exceptional talent and natural cover skills will make him a top selection in the supplemental draft. Given his solid film and the strong workout at his pro day (clocked 40-yard-dash times in the 4.47-4.55 range with a 37-inch vertical leap, 10-6 broad jump, 4.09 20-yard shuttle and 7.11 three-cone drill), Beal could emerge as a second-round pick on Wednesday.
Adonis Alexander, CB, Virginia Tech: In a league where it's hard to find 6-foot corners with solid cover skills and tackling ability, scouts will give a big corner with a few off-field blemishes plenty of chances to prove his worth as a pro. That's one of the reasons why Alexander is likely to come off the board as a mid-round selection in this year's supplemental draft. Looking at his game on tape, it is easy to fall in love with his size, length and press-man skills. Alexander smothers receivers at the line of scrimmage with his aggressive shadow technique, while also displaying good instincts and ball skills. He routinely pins receivers to the sideline with the ball in the air to minimize the target area for the quarterback on downfield throws. In addition, Alexander will use his superior length to swat away 50-50 balls in critical situations.
From a critical standpoint, Alexander's game is still a work in progress, with the young corner needing to refine his footwork and technique in press and off coverage. He is a straight-line athlete without the movement skills or change-of-direction ability to execute head whips or speed turns in coverage. Alexander's shady footwork gets exposed against big-time wide receivers (see: last season's West Virginia game), which leads to concerns about his potential to grow into a CB1 or CB2 as a pro. Considering the off-field problems (academic ineligibility and a marijuana arrest) and the so-so pro day (clocked 40 times in the high-4.5/low-4.6 range with a 35.5-inch vertical leap, 10-4 broad jump, 4.38 20-yard shuttle and 7.18 three-cone drill), Alexander's stock will take a tumble from early 2019 draft estimates that once pegged him as a possible top-50 selection. That said, he should be selected in the third round by a team looking for a Richard Sherman type on the perimeter.
Brandon Bryant, SS, Mississippi State: There are always spots in the NFL for talented athletes with exceptional physical traits. That's why scouts were paying close attention to Bryant as a prospect after he earned recognition as one of the most explosive college football players in 2016 and '17. Despite failing to perform up to lofty expectations during his pro day, Bryant posted respectable numbers for his position (checking in at 5-foot-11 and 207 pounds with 4.45/4.52 40 times, a 34-inch vertical and a 10-3 broad jump) in front of representatives from 14 teams.
On tape, Bryant flashes decent movement skills, range and toughness, but he isn't a playmaker in the back end. Although he tallied five career interceptions as a Bulldog, he snagged three of those picks in 2015 and didn't make much of an impact after his initial success. With questions surrounding his work ethic, discipline and attention to detail after his on-field (blown coverages) and academic struggles, Bryant is likely to be a seventh round/priority free agent prospect on most boards around the league.
Bright Ugwoegbu, LB, Oregon State: It is hard for undersized linebackers to make it in the league when they lack explosive speed, quickness and burst. That's why Ugwoegbu could face an uphill climb after posting pedestrian numbers at his pro day following a nondescript playing career in Corvallis. The 6-1, 205-pounder clocked 40 times in the 4.9 range and put up the kind of numbers in the other agility drills that suggest he could move to a secondary position as a pro. With film also confirming that point through his lackluster play as a part-time starter over three seasons, Ugwoegbu is a long shot to hear his name called on Wednesday.
Martayveus Carter, RB, Grand Valley State: There are a handful of small-school running backs dotting NFL rosters, but most have taken the long road to earn their place in the league. Despite being a Division II All-American with an impressive resume (rushed for 1,900-plus yards and 20 touchdowns in 2016), Carter is likely to enter the NFL as an undrafted free agent due to concerns about his size and durability as a jitterbug runner with a game built on speed, quickness and wiggle instead of strength and power. Without a pro day to verify his reported size (6-0, 200 pounds) and speed, he is hoping his game tape will be convincing enough for a team to pull the trigger on draft day. Although his natural running skills make him worthy of securing a spot on a 90-man training camp roster, I'm not convinced that he is special enough to sacrifice a future draft pick on his long-term potential.
TWO-POINT CONVERSION: Quick takes on developments across the NFL
1) Whether anyone realizes it or not, Keenan Allen is one of the game's best players. If the Los Angeles Chargers are going to make a run at the AFC West title, Allen will have to play at an All-Pro level. Despite Philip Rivers' presence, No. 13 is the engine that really makes the Chargers' offense go. Don't believe me? Just take a look at the 2017 campaign.
After starting off the season at 3-6, the Bolts rampaged to six wins in their final seven games. During those six victories, Allen posted five 100-yard games and scored five touchdowns. He became the first player in NFL history to post 10-plus catches, 100-plus yards and at least one touchdown in three straight games during the wins over Buffalo, Dallas and Cleveland. Allen quietly finished the season with 102 receptions and 1,393 receiving yards, earning his first Pro Bowl berth and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
"Allen is a freakish route runner," an AFC offensive assistant told me. "He is a big receiver who runs routes like a little guy. He has some crazy releases and stems that you typically don't see from a receiver of his size.
"He's like a streetball basketball player with the moves, but he's disciplined and detailed. It's hard to find big guys with those skills."
To that point, Allen is one of the most dynamic route runners in the league. He displays exceptional stop-start quickness, balance and body control while slipping past defenders at the line against press coverage. In addition, Allen will use a variety of fakes and wiggles at the top of routes to create separation from defenders out of his breaks. Although he's not regarded as a blazer, based on the reported 4.71 40 time at his pro day back in 2013, Allen is a deceptive playmaker capable of winning on intermediate and vertical routes on the perimeter.
"He's a dog!" an NFC scouting assistant told me. "He's one of the top pass catchers in the game, but people rarely talk about him. I love his game. ... He's special."
Looking at the Chargers' offensive personnel, Allen must be the No. 1 option for the team to succeed in a highly competitive AFC West. The lack of an established playmaker over the middle, due to Hunter Henry's season-ending injury, puts more responsibility on Allen to spit out 100-yard games on a routine basis. Sure, the team has high hopes for Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams as complementary threats, but the passing game begins and ends with No. 13 and his remarkable talents.
With Rivers poised to post another 4,000-yard season in an offense that operates with a pass-first premise, Allen could carry the Chargers to a postseason berth and put up MVP-caliber numbers as one of the best-kept secrets in the game.
2) Don't sleep on Dak Prescott in 2018. Speaking of No. 1 receivers, I find it interesting that so many skeptics question whether Prescott can guide the Dallas Cowboys' offense without a real WR1 on the field. I've previously outlined why the offense will function just fine without Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, but I really believe Prescott is capable of doing some Tom Brady-like things in 2018, thanks to his increased comfort level with offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
"In over two years, he's made a lot of strides," Linehan said earlier this offseason, via USA Today. "I think in your third year, you just kind of start to get it. 'These are the highs, these are the lows of the position. I've got to maintain this level of consistency in my play so I can play at the best of my ability.' ... Some guys have better second years than first years, whatever it is, it's unique to each guy. But by the time you get to the third year, you have pretty good control of what you're doing, how things work and then how you got to maintain that level of ... not too high, not too low."
To that point, I've been taught by quarterback developers like Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid that it typically takes about 30 games to get a good feel for what you have in a QB1. A young quarterback not only needs enough reps to figure out the speed and pace of the pro game, but he needs plenty of game experience to know his own strengths and weaknesses as a player. Moreover, a quarterback needs to develop a strong rapport with his play caller to help the offensive coordinator design an attack that consistently elevates his play.
"You have to build the system around your quarterback," a former AFC head coach told me. "After 30 or so games, you know exactly what they're capable of doing and you have to tilt the system to their strengths to help them thrive as passers."
With that in mind, I would expect Prescott to take another step in his development entering his third season in the same system. Granted, that system is being retrofitted to better suit No. 4's game after originally being designed with Tony Romo in mind. That's even more reason to believe Dak will break out in 2018.
Based on the numbers from his first two seasons, Prescott is at his best when he spreads the ball around to a variety of playmakers, as opposed to just force-feeding the ball to a designated No. 1 guy. In games when he targets eight or more receivers, Dak has a 14-2 record with a 24:4 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 104.5 passer rating. On the other hand, Prescott has posted an 8-8 mark with a 21:13 TD-to-INT ratio and an 86.1 passer rating when he targets seven or fewer receivers in game. Crazy, huh?
That's why Prescott has downplayed the loss of Bryant at every turn: The force-feeding approach actually hindered his game. Despite targeting No. 88 on 133 pass attempts last year, Dak only hooked up with Dez on 51.8 percent of those throws. By comparison, Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown at a 62.3 percent rate, while Philip Rivers and Keenan Allen had a 64.1 percent clip.
Another reason Prescott will flourish in 2018? A full season of Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. His presence completely changes how opponents defend the offense. The 2016 NFL rushing leader will force opponents to play more "plus-one" fronts with single-high safety coverage. This will create more one-on-one opportunities for the Cowboys' unsung WR corps.
With the quarterback intent on getting the ball to the first receiver to come open -- instead of force-feeding it to Bryant -- the Dallas' offense could look like a ball-movement NBA squad with No.4 playing point guard. Considering the Golden State Warriors' success with that approach, the Cowboys could see Prescott channel his inner Steph Curry while directing a retooled offense in 2018.