April 25, 2017
There's something different about this year's NFL Draft.
It's not that it's the first outdoor draft. And it's not that it takes place in Philly. No, the biggest difference this year is that no one seems to know what anyone else is going to do.
And while that may be the case almost every year to some extent, nailing down the picks this year is almost impossible. Not only is that something that we like to do as fans, but it's also something that can make a general manager's job easier on draft night – the more accurately he can predict which players will be off the board before his team's pick, the better prepared he'll be to make a decision.
What makes this year so difficult to predict, according to ESPN NFL Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr., is the fact that so many players already have one or more strikes against them. And because each team will apply its own sensibilities when determining just how big of a deal those red flags are, it's nearly impossible to know what's going to happen.
“From team to team, that [priority] changes," Kiper said. "So you really can’t speak to – because I’m not with a team, so it doesn’t really matter what I think. That has nothing to do with my opinion, it’s that [each team] is going to have different opinions on each of these issues."
While we know that the Eagles have been willing to take in troubled players in the past – and are reportedly one of the handful of teams still considering taking Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon – there's no telling if they'll still be willing to take him on considering the depth that can be found in a draft like this.
So what should they do?
"The guys that don’t have any issues are the ones to go to," Kiper said.
Luckily for the Eagles, this is a deep draft with plenty of players – beyond the Mixon's and Rueben Foster's, Jabrill Peppers' and now, apparently, the Gareon Conley's – who have a high upside and don't come with nearly as much baggage.
However, there are even some concerns about those guys, including the projected first-overall pick, Texas A&M linebacker Myles Garrett.
"Now, it’s a deep draft, I’ll give it that. It’s a deep draft, but as far as having to find stars – people are taking shots at Myles Garrett now," Kiper said, referring to the fact that he was seen on film apparently taking plays off at Alabama. "He’s taken more significant criticism than I’ve seen a No. 1 pick take in a while.”
This is a weird draft, all the way around, to try to find guys that you can really say definitively are going to be great in the NFL.
But that's just the beginning.
"The guys with no issues – Jamal Adams, people say he doest have any issues, but he only had a 31.5-inch vertical," Kiper explained. "So that’s an issue when you’re talking about the second or third pick in the draft. A 31.5 vertical is not explosive enough athletically as you want a player to be at that point.
"So you say, O.J. Howard, a tight end from Alabama. He’s safe, but he didn’t catch a lot of balls this year, he wasn't thrown to that much. Well why wasn’t he? Solomon Thomas, is he going to be a great pass rusher? He’s versatile, but we don’t know. [Leonard] Fournette, is he going to be a guy who just doesn’t have enough wiggle, isn’t the receiving entity, isn’t the blocking entity Zeke Elliott was. Mike Williams had the neck injury a couple years ago. He had a great year, but he had a couple drops this year. Trubisky’s a one-year starter. Corey Davis hasn’t run for the clock because of the ankle injury, coming out of the Mid-American Conference.
"So if you look at some of the cleanest guys, I can even poke holes in the clean guys, the guys people say don’t have any issues. This is a weird draft, all the way around, to try to find guys that you can really say definitively are going to be great in the NFL."
As a draft analyst, you'd think that makes Kiper's job all the more difficult. But that's not the case.
Even though he sees this as a "weird draft" where almost anything can happen before the Eagles pick at 14, Kiper actually enjoys it more this way. The people who have to be careful are the ones who actually make the pick. The Howie Roseman's and Joe Douglas' of the world.
“These guys’ jobs are on the line. Their careers are on the line," Kiper said. "And to have all these guys with red flags, you’ve got to sift through that and take the guy that you feel comfortable with despite a medical red flag, a character red flag, other red flags like one-year wonders or system players. All these things factor into making [a pick].
"I’ve said all along – people will say, ‘Oh, how’d you miss this guy or that guy?’ – it’s not an exact science, and it’s very difficult with these guys going from college to pro to project, even if they’re clean coming out."
And therein lies one of the big problems, especially in a draft with so many questions surrounding so many players.
“You know, just because they’re clean doesn’t mean they’re going to be great," Kiper added. "They could have no red-flags, no medical issues, nothing and still be busts. So this notion that they’ve got to be clean – clean doesn’t mean that they’re great, clean doesn’t mean that they’re going to have great careers."
So how does one weigh the risk of drafting a guy with a checkered past or a history of getting injured against his potential as an NFL player? Potential isn't a tangible – or even knowable – concept. There's no way to know for certain how much potential a player has until it begins to unfold.
And for teams that are scared away by injuries or a penchant for smoking weed, that could come back to bite them down the line. Like, for example, when the Eagles passed on Warren Sapp in 1995 after information on a failed drug test was released the night before the draft. Instead, they drafted Mike Mamula.
We all know how that turned out. And that's just one example of players who overcame those draft-day concerns to have successful NFL careers.
"I can give you a ton of guys who weren’t clean, in terms of no red-flags, and are in the Hall of Fame," Kiper said. "Anthony Munoz had like five or six surgeries in college and he’s a Hall-of-Fame tackle. Randy Moss dropped way down in the first round because there were concerns about him. Warren Sapp dropped because there were concerns about him. Tyron Mathieu dropped to the third round because there were concerns about him. So I can go – Ray Lewis dropped into the twenties because he was only 223 pounds as an inside linebacker. All these guys drop for a reason. Tom Brady dropped because he had a 24.5 vertical and he ran a 5.24 40.
"So to act like just because all these guys are clean, like just because Christian McCaffrey does all these great things in college doesn’t mean he’s going to be a great pro. That’s why all these mistakes are made, because it’s very difficult to project any player from college to pro.”
Hopefully, the Eagles can avoid making one of those mistakes – passing on a guy with a red flag who turns out to be a stud OR specifically drafting a guy because there are no concerns and watching him turn into a bust – when they go on the clock with the 14th-overall pick.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin
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