But first, we kick off this week's notebook with a pick-by-pick look at the likelihood of a quarterback going in the top 12.
Over the last few years, I've really started to pay attention to high school recruiting. It's a fun process to follow and it helps me learn about future NFL players before they've stepped foot on a college campus. Prior to signing day, one of my favorite recruiting writers (Gerard Martinez) always does a signing-day forecast. He gives a percentage, representing the likelihood a player will choose a particular school. I thought it would be fun to do a similar exercise with next week's draft. How likely are the teams picking in the top 12 to select a quarterback? Here's my forecast for each pick:
1. Browns: 10 percent
I would be very surprised if the Browns took anyone other than Myles Garrett with this pick. However, they haven't publicly confirmed he will be the choice. Mitchell Trubisky would likely be their quarterback of choice.
4. Jaguars: 15 percent
Cris Collinsworth floated the idea about the Jaguars taking Deshaun Watson and I can see how that could make some sense. He could be an upgrade or simply light a fire under Blake Bortles. Either way, the team would benefit. This is a good, young roster and I expect them to give Bortles some more time under Doug Maronne.
6. Jets: 40 percent
I would put the odds at slightly below 50-50 for the Jets to take a quarterback. This roster has a lot of holes and I don't think they'll reach for a QB right here. Trubisky would be the best fit scheme-wise, but it makes more sense to wait for next year's class of passers.
7. Chargers: 25 percent
The Chargers need to start thinking about finding Philip Rivers' eventual replacement. They don't want to enter a new stadium in a few years without a plan at the most important position on the field. Watson would be the best fit, but I really don't have a good feel for this situation right now.
8. Panthers: No chance
Cam Newton is coming off an injury but he's still an elite talent and he has plenty of good football left in him.
9. Bengals: 2 percent
I guess anything is possible, but it wouldn't make any sense for the Bengals to pick a quarterback in the first round.
10. Bills: 60 percent
The Bills have been spending a lot time visiting with the top quarterbacks and most people around the league expect them to aggressively target one of them early in the draft. Trubisky makes a lot of sense right here.
11. Saints: 25 percent
Drew Brees isn't getting any younger and a guy like Patrick Mahomes would be a fun project for Sean Payton. However, this team is so desperate for defensive help, I would be surprised if this is anything other than a defensive playmaker. If a QB were to fall to the bottom of Round 1 (the Saints hold the No. 32 overall pick, as well), this percentage would go way up.
12. Browns: 70 percent
The Browns are rumored to be very intrigued by Trubisky. This is something I've heard from multiple sources around the league. I think it would be a no-brainer for them if he slid to this spot. If Trubisky is off the board, would they take Watson or Mahomes? I can't answer that question at the moment. As it is with every draft, Cleveland will be fascinating to follow on Thursday night. -- Daniel Jeremiah
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Missing piece for the Falcons: While the Falcons came up just short in their pursuit of a championship last fall, the team is well-positioned to challenge for the title again this season. They have a very explosive offense and several outstanding young defensive players. What is the missing piece? I believe the addition of another pass rusher to join Vic Beasley is just what doctor ordered.
Thomas Dimitroff famously traded up for Julio Jones and I'd love to see him use a similar approach on the other side of the ball. I don't envision a trade into the top 10, but if a player like Tak McKinley were to slide to the early 20s, the Falcons should make a move and go get him. He is a perfect fit inside this scheme and he'd help the defense close out games with his pass-rush ability. His combination of speed, power and effort is off the charts. He could be that missing piece. -- Daniel Jeremiah
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Don't underestimate interior rushers: The 2017 draft class has been lauded for its talent and depth on the defensive side of the ball. Scouts and coaches have raved about the number of pass rushers available at various stages of the draft. In most instances, we point out the pass-rushing edge players that could affect the game with their disruptive skills, but the growing trend of NFL inside rushers affecting the game has led evaluators to spend more time scouring the ranks for defensive tackles with pass-rush skills or defensive ends capable of moving inside on obvious passing downs to provide a disruptive presence in the A and B gaps.
"Guys that can win on the inside are invaluable," said an AFC national scout. "They disrupt the timing and rhythm of the quarterback with their instant pressure up the gut. I almost believe they are more valuable than edge rushers due to their ability to win immediately in the A gap."
Finding inside pass rushers has been a priority for teams since John Randle and Warren Sapp showed coaches that a defensive tackle could anchor a pass rush from the inside, but teams are increasingly looking for defensive ends with the ability to slide inside on third down, like Michael Bennett. The Seattle Seahawks' Pro Bowl defensive end has made a living abusing offensive guards in pass-rushing situations as a "speed" three-technique in the team's nickel package. The 6-foot-4, 271-pound disruptor overwhelms interior blockers with his combination of speed and quickness, resulting in free runs to the quarterback up the gut. In addition, Bennett's sneaky power catches blockers by surprise when they're expected a finesse move from the sinewy defender.
Looking ahead to the 2017 class, there are plenty of pass rushers available with inside rushing skills. Whether they're hybrid defensive ends/"speed" defensive tackles or pure defensive tackles with dynamic games, defensive coaches should be able to identify a handful of interior pass rushers with impact potential in the draft.
Here are some that fit the bill:
Solomon Thomas, Stanford, DE:Michael Bennett clone with quick hands and fast feet. Thomas completely wrecks game plans with his ability to harass the quarterbacks off the edge or up the gut.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama, DE: Rugged pass rusher capable of getting home from the inside. Allen overpowers blockers with a series of power maneuvers but also flashes enough speed and athleticism to win with finesse moves on the inside.
DeMarcus Walker, Florida State, DE: Productive sack artist with a crafty game that makes him a tough matchup on the inside. He produced 25 sacks over the past two seasons with a number of those takedowns coming on rushes from a "speed" three-technique alignment.
Jordan Willis, Kansas State, DE: Blue-collar rusher with a workmanlike game built on hustle, grit, and determination. Willis is a little undersized to move inside, but his non-stop motor and underrated athleticism could make him a terror as an inside rusher.
Malik McDowell, Michigan State, DT: Talented pass rusher with outstanding physical tools but a low-revving motor. If McDowell hits the switch, he could be an impact pass rusher capable of notching 10-plus sacks from his DT spot. -- Bucky Brooks
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How many players should be on an NFL team's draft board?
That's the question that I had to ask a few executives after hearing New England Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio recently tell media members that the team only had 75 prospects on its draft board.
Now, I know the Patriots have a long-standing reputation for keeping their draft board skinny, but the presence of only 75 names on the board when 253 prospects are drafted seems a little scary to me. While most teams will tailor their board to include only players that fit a specific team profile, I was surprised to hear so many executives discuss the need to include players that weren't exactly team fits on their boards.
"I think it's crazy that they only have 75 players on the board," said an AFC personnel executive. "I would like to see more guys on the board to make sure that we have a feel for what's happening around the league. I want to make sure that we've talked about the guys being drafted. I guess I want to know what I don't know. ... That's probably why I would want more names."
When I surveyed a handful of executives about the ideal number of names on the board, I came to the general consensus that 150 is the perfect number. I found a number of teams ranging from 120 to 175 prospects on the board. While the reasons varied for a number of guys included on the board, I discovered that most wanted to have about five rounds worth of names to give them plenty of options, including post-draft free agents. Considering how most teams view sixth- and seventh-rounders as "shots in the dark" or priority-free-agent types, the need for so many names helps teams fill out their camp rosters.
Of course, each guy included on the board, particularly in the later rounds, must have one or two redeeming qualities that would make him a viable candidate to make the squad.
From a procedural standpoint, the draft board features a pair of lists that teams use on draft day. The horizontal lists mirror the top 5 by position lists that we produce on NFL.com with teams ranking players from 1-15 or so at each individual position. The vertical list consists of every graded player on the board ranked from 1-75 (or whatever the designated number) based strictly on how teams view their talent and potential impact. On draft day, teams will simply consult the vertical list and take the next available name regardless of position. When teams adhere to the script they are able to accumulate a number of good players and the roster's overall talent improves significantly over time, if the decision makers are good evaluators.
Considering the different criteria that teams use to evaluate players, I've always believed draft boards are like snowflakes with multiple boards rarely looking alike. Teams simply don't value players at the same level based on scheme fit or other factors, which makes it nearly impossible to predict or forecast what will take place on draft night. With Caserio shedding light on how the Patriots do business when it comes to drafting, I think we now have a better understanding of how why it's impossible to execute a mock draft or real draft without mistakes. -- Bucky Brooks
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Rise of Reddick: I can't recall a prospect having a better postseason run than Temple linebacker Haason Reddick. He was the most dominant player at the Senior Bowl and he followed that up with an excellent NFL Scouting Combine and pro day performance. The hype train hasn't slowed down. In talks with decision makers over the last week, one of the most popular questions I've been asked: "Where do you think Reddick is going to land?" I believe there are several teams targeting Reddick and I'll be very surprised if he falls out of the top 20. In fact, I think there's a good chance he lands in the top 10. -- Daniel Jeremiah