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 why evaluators should take a look at another prospect from the SEC before declaring Myles Garrett the draft's top pass rusher.
It's well-established that Texas A&M's Myles Garrett is viewed as the top pass rusher in the draft, but Tennessee's Derek Barnett definitely deserves consideration for the honor after terrorizing the SEC as a destructive force off the edge for three seasons. In fact, you could make the argument that Barnett should own the No. 1 spot at the position after wreaking havoc on SEC foes as the Vols' designated pass rusher.
Now, I know that statement will take a few observers by surprise after hearing about Garrett's talents for most of the year. The Texas A&M standout has been anointed by most observers as the best player in the draft and few analysts have cited any other prospects as legitimate contenders to his throne. Yet, scouts paying close attention to SEC football and Barnett's spectacular production should give the Tennessee star a serious look at the top of the draft. The 6-foot-3, 265-pound defensive end broke Reggie White's sack record and finished with the second-most tackles for loss (52; one behind Leonard Little's mark) in Vols history. In addition, Barnett is the only player in SEC history to finish with at least 10 sacks in three straight seasons.
Let that marinate for a minute.
In a league that is viewed as the hotbed of NFL talent, Barnett shattered the school marks of a couple of All-Pro players and established a new standard for dominance as a pass rusher. While I'm not one to make evaluations strictly off numbers, I'm a firm believer that sack production translates to NFL performance, and Barnett should be a great pro based on his impressive resume at Tennessee.
When I study the tape, I see a relentless pass rusher with an outstanding combination of skill and technique. Barnett is one of the best hand-to-hand combat fighters that I've watched in years, and his ability to win with a variety of slick maneuvers makes him nearly impossible to slow down off the edge. In addition to his superior hand skills, Barnett has the rare ability to win with finesse or power off the edge.
He displays enough quickness, balance and body control to blow past blockers with dip-and-rip maneuvers or he can use a variety of power moves, including the butt-and-jerk or bull rush to get home off the edge. With Barnett also displaying a non-stop motor to complement his technically sound game, he's like an old-school construction worker with a hard hat, lunch pail and a shiny toolbox. He has all of the rugged traits that you covet in a player while also displaying the skills to dominate at the next level.
"He's not going to run a fast 40, but if you like tough, violent, high-motor players with production, you'll love him," said an AFC executive. "He kind of reminds me of a young Terrell Suggs coming out of Arizona State."
The praise didn't end there when I spoke to evaluators about Barnett.
"I love the kid," said an AFC college scouting director. " ... He is a great football player with a nasty temperament. I don't understand why some scouts aren't high on him, but he can play for me any day."
Considering how many coaches and scouts say they value hard-nosed football players with sustained production, I'm a little surprised that Barnett hasn't been touted much heading into the NFL Scouting Combine (March 3-6 on NFL Network). He is the kind of player who dominates in the NFL regardless of circumstances, and teams would be wise to pay attention to his skills.
Remember, Joey Bosa displayed similar traits and we questioned whether he could sustain his play as a pro. Yet, he claimed the Defensive Rookie of the Year award with a blue-collar game built on grit, hustle, and technique. With Barnett showing nearly identical skills, I believe the football world should pay closer attention to the best football player that no one is talking about. -- Bucky Brooks
* * *
Normally during this time of year, there is more clarity at the top of the quarterback board. Heading into last year's NFL Scouting Combine, most teams had either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz at the top of their list. They were clearly established as the top two guys, regardless of which one you preferred. This year things are different. I've talked to a bunch of team executives and scouts and I've heard five different quarterbacks mentioned as the top prospect at the position: Deshaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Patrick Mahomes and Davis Webb.
I can't recall a year where there were this many names in the mix to be the top passer in a draft class. I've had a tough time sequencing these signal-callers on my own list. Last year, I felt strongly about Carson Wentz and I never wavered during the run-up to the draft. I don't have that same conviction this year. I currently have Kizer as my top passer, but the more I study all of these guys, the less confidence I have in stacking my board. All you can do is watch more tape and gather more information. That's what I'll be doing and I'm sure the same can be said for the teams looking to draft one of these prospects. To be continued ... -- Daniel Jeremiah
* * *
Most NFL observers believe the debate over whether the running back position been devalued officially ended when Ezekiel Elliott led the league in rushing as a rookie. The Cowboys invested the fourth overall pick in the talented Ohio State runner, and they were rewarded for it, finishing with the best record in the NFC. However, while it's easy to point to Elliott to prove that running backs are worthy of a high selection, there's one other name you need to remember -- Jordan Howard.
Yes, the Cowboys hit a home run with Elliott, selecting him in the top five of the 2016 NFL Draft. However, the Bears found Jordan Howard in the fifth round, with the 150th overall pick, and he went on to rush for 1,313 yards (second-most to Elliott). You can find running backs anywhere. That's the line of thinking for several teams. Take a look at the running backs from this year's Super Bowl teams (Atlanta & New England): Devonta Freeman (fourth round), Tevin Coleman (third round), LeGarrette Blount (undrafted), James White (fourth round) and Dion Lewis (fifth round) were each selected outside of the first round.
This is going to be a fascinating storyline to follow during 2017 NFL Draft. Based on my grades, I have four running backs (Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara) listed among my top 26 players in this class. While I believe all four are first-round talents, I also believe some teams will veer away from their grades and elect to address other needs in the first round.
It's all about value. While some teams are debating whether Fournette or Cook can be the next Elliott, others are desperately trying to locate the next Howard. Who is that guy in this draft? Is it Marlon Mack? Is it Jeremy McNichols? Is it Kareem Hunt? That's the discussion taking place in draft meetings around the league. Next year at this time, we'll know the correct answer to that question. -- Daniel Jeremiah
* * *
The 2017 WR class has been lauded for the talented playmakers set to come off the board in the early rounds, yet there hasn't been buzz surrounding a pair of potential impact pass-catchers from the SEC. LSU's Malachi Dupre and Tennessee's Joshua Malone have rarely been touted as potential difference makers up to this point, but NFL scouts are beginning to notice their talents as playmaking threats on the perimeter.
"I really like both of those guys as potential No. 2s in the passing game," said an AFC college scouting director. "Dupree and Malone have the size to play big in the red zone and they bring some big-play ability as vertical threats. I know people are talking up other guys as mid-round sleepers, but I would bet on each of these guys to make their mark as pros."
Dupre, a 6-foot-3, 190-pound junior, was a five-star recruit expected to follow in the footsteps of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Jarvis Landry when he arrived at LSU. Although the team's perpetual quarterback woes prevented him from making a splash as a WR1, he certainly flashed big-play ability during his three seasons in Death Valley. Dupree averaged 16.4 yards per catch and scored 14 touchdowns as the designated deep threat on the perimeter.
When I studied his tape, I noticed that Dupre is a long strider with impressive speed and quickness. He can take the top off of the defense on vertical routes but also flashes enough balance, body control, and agility to win against one-on-one coverage on short- and intermediate routes, particularly on out-breaking routes like the speed out and comeback. As a pass-catcher, Dupre effortlessly snatches the ball out of the air, exhibiting soft hands and outstanding ball skills. While some scouts will question his courage and toughness due to a few drops on some in-breaking routes, Dupre's hands are not a concern based on how easily he tracks and adjusts to balls down the field.
Malone, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound junior, is just as dangerous as a playmaker with an average of 15.5 yards per catch and 16 career touchdowns, including 11 in 2016. After spending two seasons in a supporting role, Malone thrived as the leading man in the Vols' passing game last year. He nearly posted a 1,000-yard season (972 receiving yards) on 50 receptions while displaying outstanding speed, quickness and acceleration on vertical routes. Malone runs past defenders with ease and flashes strong hands and natural ball skills wrestling jump balls away from defensive backs.
As a route runner, the Tennessee standout shows outstanding patience in setting up defenders with crafty moves at the top of his routes. Malone's slick route-running skills are uncommon for a big receiver, which is why some receiver coaches are certain to fall in love with his talent and potential in the coming weeks.
With Dupre and Malone offering teams an enticing mix of size, speed and playmaking skills as potential WR2s, it's only a matter of time before we hear their names thrown into the mix as late risers up the board. -- Bucky Brooks
* * *
This year's draft class is loaded with depth at several positions. This is the deepest collection of secondary defenders and running backs we've seen in quite some time. Another position that's stocked with talented players is tight end. I believe we will see two of them land in the first round (O.J. Howard and David Njoku) and another 3-4 could come off the board in the second round.
Prior to suffering a knee injury in the Orange Bowl, Michigan's Jake Butt was all but certain to be a top-50 selection. Now, because of the injury and the depth at the position, he could fall to the third or fourth round. While he doesn't have elite speed, Butt is a very well-rounded player. He's a reliable run blocker and he has a great feel as a route-runner/pass-catcher. He reminds me a lot of Jason Witten, a player who has enjoyed a tremendously long and productive NFL career. Even if he's not ready for the start of the 2017 campaign, I personally believe he's worth a late-second-round pick. I believe the team that drafts him will look back in a few years and be very happy with that selection. -- Daniel Jeremiah