Editor's note: NFL.com analysts and former NFL scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks of the Move The Sticks Podcast share some of their scouting notes, including:
But first, we kick off this week's notebook with Brooks' take on the best draft strategy for the team holding the top pick.
The Cleveland Browns have an opportunity to quickly reverse the fortunes of a downtrodden franchise with a spectacular effort in the 2017 draft. The team has five picks among the first 62 selections in the draft, including two first-rounders (Nos. 1 and 12 overall), which puts them in a position to add a handful of blue-chip talents to the roster. While most of the pre-draft chatter will focus on the quarterback position and why the team should trade away its picks to nab a potential franchise QB1 (Jimmy Garoppolo or another intriguing veteran), I believe the Browns would be wise to focus on the strategy of acquiring "BPAs" (best players available) in each of the first three rounds.
Let me explain ...
When I studied the 2017 Pro Bowl rosters, I discovered that 72.1 percent (62 of 86) of the players were selected within the draft's first three rounds. More specifically, 52.3 percent (45 of 86) of the players on the rosters entered the league as first-round picks, with 20 former top-10 selections. Given how that information validates the thought that the league's top players are mined in the draft's early rounds, the Browns must make sure their grades match the expectations of their top players.
From a grading standpoint, top-10 picks are expected to develop into Pro Bowlers and rank within the top five players at their respective positions early in their careers. First-round players are viewed as impact playmakers/immediate starters with the potential to rank as top-10 players at their positions early in their careers.
Second- and third-round players are expected to be key contributors during their first few seasons before becoming quality starters for the team. With players selected in the fourth through seventh rounds viewed as developmental prospects/special-teams contributors, the Browns would be wise to focus all of their efforts on acquiring a handful of great players instead of putting all of their eggs in the franchise quarterback basket.
Why would I say that?
While a young quarterback like Garoppolo would certainly energize the fan base as a sign of hope, the fourth-year pro has only played in six NFL games with two starts and is far from a sure thing at the position (see Brock Osweiler). He has teased us with his talents in limited action, but are we really sure that he is the next best thing at the position based on what we've seen from other backups in his position? Remember, the Patriots' offense continued to roll with Garoppolo's backup (Jacoby Brissett) in the game.
That's why I believe the Browns would be better served to build up the rest of the team with potential Pro Bowl players than trading for an unknown commodity at quarterback. Yes, I know there aren't any sure things in the draft, but this draft is loaded with promising young players and a solid scouting staff should be able to find some blue chippers in the opening rounds.
Of course, this is easier said than done and Browns fans are certainly witnesses to the flip side to that equation. But the best way to reboot the program is to take a homegrown approach (draft and develop) and allow the nucleus to grow together. If the Browns can make the right selections on draft day, there's no reason why the Dawg Pound can't rock again with a core of future Pro Bowlers leading the way. -- Bucky Brooks
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Last year, Titans general manager Jon Robinson wisely shipped out the No. 1 overall pick in exchange for a package of draft picks from the Los Angeles Rams. As a result, the Titans hold the fifth overall selection (courtesy of the Rams) as well as the 18th overall selection in the upcoming draft. They don't currently own a second-round pick, but they do have two third-round selections.
What should they do with these picks? Well, I believe they should focus on three things: 1) Trade down and recoup a second-round pick. 2) Get Marcus Mariota a dynamic playmaker. 3) Upgrade the secondary.
Let's throw out a dream scenario for the Titans:
Part One: The Buffalo Bills, desperate for a quarterback, ship their first- and second-round picks (Nos. 10 and 44 overall) to the Titans in exchange for the fifth overall selection. This seems like a steep price, but if the Bills are convinced the Jets (a division rival also in need of a quarterback) might target their top signal-caller with the sixth overall pick, they might be encouraged to aggressively move up the board.
Part Three: The Titans use their next two picks (Nos. 18 and 44 overall) to upgrade the secondary. Let's give them two very gifted cornerbacks: Washington's Sidney Jones and USC's Adoree' Jackson. Jones has elite cover skills, while Jackson has tremendous upside on defense and he's also the best returner in the entire draft.
To summarize: The Titans land two big-time pass-catchers, two starting cornerbacks (one of which happens to be the best returner in the draft) and one hard-hitting safety. Not too shabby. -- Daniel Jeremiah
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QB prospect worthy of the hype? Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes has generated plenty of buzz in league circles, but he remains one of the most challenging evaluations in the 2017 draft class. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound gunslinger is unquestionably one of the most talented passers in the draft after passing for more than 11,000 yards and 93 touchdowns with only 29 interceptions in three seasons. Although the Red Raiders' Air Raid system certainly makes statistical stars out of every field general that steps behind the center, Mahomes' impressive combination of arm talent and athleticism gives him a legitimate shot of becoming a franchise quarterback at the next level.
"He definitely has the tools to be a No. 1," said an NFC scout. "He's big and athletic with big-time arm talent. I know his numbers are inflated but he can make all of the throws. I think the kid can play. ... I like him a lot!"
Despite the effusive praise being lavished on Mahomes, I believe evaluators face quite a dilemma when assessing his talent and potential. While there's no disputing his physical skills, there are certainly valid concerns regarding his ability to master a pro scheme after thriving in a system that allowed him to throw 40-plus times each week. Sure, the reps help the quarterback master the art of throwing the ball, but the simple reads and pick-and-stick throws associated with the scheme don't necessarily translate to the pro game. Thus, a team willing to take on Mahomes should consider him a developmental prospect and map out a long-term plan to help him grow into the position.
Considering those factors alone, I was a little surprised to hear my colleague Ian Rapoport tell the Setting The Edge podcast that several people have pegged Mahomes as their "favorite quarterback" in the draft. Now, I definitely understand how evaluators fall in love with prospects based on their natural talents and athleticism, but quarterbacks are evaluated differently due to the rigorous demands of the position, particularly from a mental standpoint. In the NFL, the quarterback is the de facto CEO of the team and he must possess the leadership skills, aptitude, and diagnostic skills to direct an offense between the lines.
Considering how the quarterback is viewed as the joystick for the offensive coordinator in the video-game-like Air Raid system, there are valid concerns regarding Mahomes' ability to assimilate into a pro-style scheme. Remember, there haven't been many NFL success stories in the Air Raid tree (Washington State, Texas Tech and Cal) despite the gaudy resumes of the field generals that have starred in the system. Sure, Jared Goff was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft, but the football world is still waiting to see if he eventually cuts the mustard as a franchise quarterback. That's why there is some hesitation in anointing Mahomes as one of the top prospects due to the repeated failures of his predecessors from the system.
After studying the tape of Mahomes' game, I believe his shoddy footwork and mechanics might trump the concerns about his ability to master concepts of an NFL scheme. Mahomes rarely takes a traditional drop in the pocket and his penchant for throwing balls while fading away or from a flat-foot platform leads to wayward throws down the field. In a league where accuracy is coveted at a premium, Mahomes' inconsistent mechanics could lead to a number of turnovers on tips and overthrows.
While watching a "sandlot" playmaker deliver a few splash plays on tape is tantalizing, it's hard for a play caller to work with an improvisational specialist at the position when attempting to build winning game plans. Offensive coordinators prefer to take a systematic approach akin to a chess match when picking apart defenses from the press box (or sidelines) and it's challenging to stick to the script when the QB1 is at his best throwing alley oops at the end of scrambles. Now, that statement isn't meant to discredit Mahomes' talent as a big, athletic gunslinger, but his style of play doesn't necessarily fit structured systems that expect the quarterback to hit his designated receivers on time after going through his progressions.
With that in mind, I'm still having a tough time envisioning Mahomes as a top-tier quarterback prospect despite his natural talents and potential. -- Bucky Brooks
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Don't sleep on Cal QB: In this week's Ask 5 article, I posed a question to five executives working for teams with established quarterbacks. I asked them to identify the quarterback they would target this offseason if they worked for a team that was desperate to upgrade the quarterback spot. One of the players mentioned -- Cal quarterback Davis Webb -- caught some readers by surprise.
Despite being selected as the MVP of the Reese's Senior Bowl last month, Webb hasn't received much hype in media circles. However, I can confirm this executive isn't the only one intrigued by the big pocket passer. In fact, I think he is likely to go in the second round and I wouldn't be totally shocked if he snuck into the back of Round 1. Two teams to keep an eye on: the Cardinals and Browns. Webb's skill set fits perfectly in Arizona's offense, and Hue Jackson's Browns staff coached him at the Senior Bowl. -- Daniel Jeremiah
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Riser to watch: Every year we see small-school players emerge during the evaluation process. One name to remember in this class: Ashland TE Adam Shaheen. I've heard his name come up often while talking to different personnel executives and scouts over the last couple months. After finally studying his film, I see what the buzz is all about. He's listed at 6-foot-6, 277 pounds and he is a tremendous athlete. He shows burst, natural ball skills and toughness. Most teams have him slotted in the third-round area. I wouldn't be shocked if he went one round higher. I can't wait to see him next month at the NFL Scouting Combine (March 3-6 on NFL Network) in Indianapolis. -- Daniel Jeremiah