For the second straight season, the AFC South held two of the draft’s top three picks. The Jaguars picked third in both years, and that’s where much of the intrigue with this year’s draft began after the top-rated quarterbacks went with the first two picks. Chris Tripodi breaks down the division’s draft hauls.
Just a season after drafting first overall, Houston found itself in the middle of the first round despite getting nothing from 2014 top pick Jadeveon Clowney. The Texans again bolstered their defense, drafting Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson with the 16th pick. Johnathan Joseph is set to be a free agent next season, and Johnson is capable of playing the slot as a rookie then taking over on the outside in 2016 if Joseph isn’t retained. A physical player despite his thin build, Johnson shows excellent instincts in coverage and is capable in both man and zone. He must add strength and improve his tackling but if he does, Johnson can be a plus starter. Mississippi State linebacker Bernardrick McKinney was the choice at No. 43 and should start immediately on the strong side. An explosive defender with the strength to stack and shed as well as the ability to cover and play effectively in space, McKinney is a fundamentally sound player who follows his assignments. He could eventually kick inside next to Brian Cushing, but his versatility adds value to his projection. The Texans traded up in the third round to select Arizona State receiver Jaelen Strong at No. 70. A firm second-rounder on our board, Strong stands 6-2, 217 pounds with 4.43 speed, but doesn’t play to that speed and isn’t a deep threat. He high points passes extremely well and shows great body control, effectively using his frame to win out in battles. He can be inconsistent at times, but his talent was well worth a third-round pick, and he could eventually take injury-prone Cecil Shorts’ starting role. Houston added another weapon in the fifth round with Michigan State receiver Keith Mumphery. Like Strong, Mumphery’s body control and ball-tracking skills are excellent and he shows the skills to be a threat after the catch. He didn’t produce much with the Spartans, but has long-term upside if he improves his route-running. With two sixth-round choices, the Texans went back to the defensive side of the ball, drafting South Florida linebacker Reshard Cliett and Rice defensive tackle Christian Covington. Cliett is undersized at 6-2, 223, but has great range and is effective in space. He will fit in well on special teams. Covington was building momentum as a potential Day 2 prospect before dislocating his kneecap in November. A surprise early entrant as a junior, Covington is explosive out of his stance, stays low off the snap and disrupts plays in the backfield. He’s not the best fit as a five-technique in Houston’s 3-4 defense, but has good upside as a gap penetrator if he recovers from his injury. With their final choice, the Texans snagged LSU running back Kenny Hilliard in the seventh round. A 226-pounder best used as a downhill runner, Hilliard has nice burst on inside runs and is effective after first contact. He can be a useful short-yardage back. Houston also added a few players with late-round grades on our board after the draft: Norfolk State defensive end Lynden Trail who fell due to character concenrs, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond and Oregon linebacker Tony Washington. Trail is a great athlete who started his college career at Florida and has nice upside, but is a long-term project. Drummond disappointed as a senior, but is solid against both the run and the pass and has starter-level talent. Washington is a hustle player with decent size (6-3, 247) but poor speed. He should stand out on special teams and may be effective as a situational rusher.
Grade: B+ The Texans got great value from their first three picks, adding players who should be key contributors in short order. Their late-round picks and UDFA signings are brimming with upside potential and Houston may look back at this draft as the one that pushed them back into contention a few years down the line.
The Colts made one of the surprise picks of the first round, taking speedy Miami receiver Phillip Dorsett at No. 29. Viewed as insurance in the event T.Y. Hilton leaves as a free agent, Dorsett joins a crowded group of receivers in Indianapolis. His slight frame is a mild concern, but Dorsett plays to his elite 4.33 speed with great acceleration and the skills to effectively track passes downfield. After trading back four slots near the end of the second round, the Colts drafted Florida Atlantic cornerback D’Joun Smith with the 65th pick. An athletic defensive back with fluid hips and 4.4 speed, Smith stays tight in coverage and shows good timing and instincts. While he lacks strength, Smith is a solid run defender who should settle immediately into a sub-package role. With Greg Toler hitting free agency next offseason, Smith could find himself in the starting lineup in 2016. Indianapolis took Stanford defensive lineman Henry Anderson at No. 93, and his versatility should help their front seven. Quick off the snap and tough, Anderson can hold his ground in the middle of the line as well as bend around the edge. We had him rated as a second-round prospect. The Colts continued to add to their defense in the fourth round, grabbing Central Florida safety Clayton Geathers. A prototypical strong safety with good instincts, Geathers wraps up well when tackling and can play the role of enforcer in the back end. He struggles in man coverage and doesn’t change direction well, but can be an impact player if used correctly. Indianapolis went back to Stanford for their fifth-round pick, nose tackle David Parry. A hard worker who fits the label of overachiever, Parry uses a quick first step and powerful lower body to bull rush lineman off the ball and force runners to change their attack angles. He holds his ground well and allows linebackers to flow to the football, and is a player whose contributions won’t show up on the stat sheet. Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson was the choice in the sixth round, and is a short, stocky pile-mover with good burst and vision. An average receiver who loses momentum in and out of his cuts, Robinson has limitations but could find a role on an unsettled depth chart behind Frank Gore. Two picks later at No. 207, the Colts grabbed Georgia linebacker Amarlo Herrera. A fifth-rounder on our board, Herrera plays assignment football and has outstanding quickness. He isn’t great in space and gets swallowed up in the trash in the middle of the field, but could become a starter in time. With its final pick, Indianapolis drafted Mars Hill tackle Denzelle Good. A transfer from N.C. State, Good is a 6-7, 320-pound mauler who lacks foot speed and agility. A move inside to guard may be in his future if he expects to stick in the NFL. Two notable undrafted additions were Yale fullback Tyler Varga and Western Michigan corner Donald Celiscar. Varga stood out at the Senior Bowl and shows potential as both a lead blocker and pass catcher. Celiscar has good ball skills and flashes ability against the run, but at 5-11, 193 with 4.6 speed, is likely bound for special teams and sub-package work.
Grade: B- The Colts didn’t reach for any one player and got good value in their draft, but Dorsett was a luxury pick at arguably the team’s strong position. For a team that’s built to win now with a leaky run defense, that pick may have been better used on the defensive side of the ball. The Colts did well after the first round, but the Dorsett pick is still a head-scratcher.
After drafting their quarterback of the future with last year’s No. 3 overall pick, the Jaguars went defense with that pick this season, selecting Florida defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler shows good burst and bend and is a fluid mover who plays hard on every down. He was overwhelmed at times by larger opponents at just 261 pounds, but was very disruptive for the Gators. Unfortunately, Jacksonville will have to wait until 2016 to see Fowler in action, as he tore his ACL at rookie mini-camp. A player they won’t need to wait to watch is their second-round pick, Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon burst onto the scene as a freshman behind Eddie Lacy with the Crimson Tide and has feature-back size at 6-1, 226. A patient runner, Yeldon plays with strength, balance and quick, agile feet and poses a receiving threat out of the backfield. He will be a Week 1 starter on an offense looking for balance. Jacksonville added a blocker for Yeldon in the third round, grabbing South Carolina guard A.J. Cann. Our second-rated guard, Cann uses a violent hand punch and good pad level to get great movement against the run. He is ineffective blocking in motion but holds his own in pass protection and is a good fit for the power run game the Jaguars will look to employ. Fourth-round pick James Sample was a top-70 player on our board and is a complete safety. He shows good discipline and route recognition while flashing a quick burst to the ball and good hands for the interception. A wrap-up tackler who takes good angles to the action, Sample could surprise if he breaks into the starting lineup quickly. In the fifth, the Jaguars added another weapon for Bortles in Florida State receiver Rashad Greene. Greene was an extremely reliable target for Jameis Winston with the Seminoles and uses his quickness and great route-running ability to get open underneath. He has excellent hands and creates yardage after the catch, but his size (5-11, 182) and speed (4.53) will limit him to slot duties in the NFL. Jacksonville ended the fall of Ohio State tackle Michael Bennett in the sixth round, a player we had a second-round grade on. His size (6-2, 294) was a deterrent for NFL teams, but Bennett has great quickness and fires through gaps to disrupt plays in the backfield. He has great technique that helps him overcome his size deficiencies and has starting potential if surrounded by stronger defenders. The Jags added two more pieces to their offense in the seventh round, taking Monmouth receiver Neil Sterling and Notre Dame tight end Ben Koyack. We ranked Sterling as a tight end, as he uses size and strength to create separation. He could be useful as a move tight end. Koyack is a solid route-runner who catches the ball well away from his frame, but has average strength as a blocker. He will be groomed to be Julius Thomas’ eventual backup. Jacksonville also added cornerback Nick Marshall from Auburn as a UDFA. The Tigers’ quarterback will attempt to transition to defense, and displayed the smooth athleticism and fluidity to prove himself worthy of an opportunity at the Senior Bowl.
Grade: B+ The Jaguars came into this draft with a plan and executed it beautifully. Their picks complement each other well on both sides of the ball and they were able to fill needs with excellent value, ending up with four players in our top 70. Fowler will need to recover from his season-ending injury next season for this draft to live up to its grade, however.
Tennessee was on the clock well before the draft started, with Jameis Winston to Tampa Bay nothing more than a formality since early in the draft process. After unsuccessfully trying to trade down, according to reports, the Titans stood pat and drafted Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota second overall. Our top-rated quarterback, Mariota has a quick release and the arm strength to drive passes down the field. Coming out of an offensive system that created open receivers with ease, Mariota’s pass placement is a work in progress. A hard worker with great athleticism and a quiet demeanor, Mariota has all the physical skills to develop into a future star at the position. Tennessee added a weapon for Mariota early in the second round, taking a chance on Oklahoma receiver Dorial Green-Beckham. Green-Beckham had well-publicized off-the-field issues and never played a down with the Sooners, the combination of which kept him out of serious Day 1 consideration. A first-round talent who controls the game with his size (6-5, 237) and speed (4.49), Green-Beckham is unlikely to become anything but a star or a bust. His route-running needs work and he needs to keep himself clean off the field to hit his massive potential. The Titans grabbed Utah tackle Jeremiah Poutasi in the third round. A player we had projected for a move inside to guard, Poutasi will get a shot at right tackle in Tennessee. A big, nasty blocker who uses strong hands to drive opponents off their spot, Poutasi is stiff and struggles protecting the edge as a tackle. Auburn defensive tackle Angelo Blackson was the pick at No. 100, and is a prospect we feel is underrated. Quick and fluid in pursuit and changing directions, Blackson is tenacious and tough to handle inside. He didn’t produce much with the Tigers and needs to use his hands better to keep blockers off his body, but is a nice developmental prospect. Eight picks later, the Titans went to the other side of the Iron Bowl rivalry, drafting Alabama fullback Jalston Fowler. Rated as a sixth-rounder on our board, Fowler doesn’t create space well as a lead blocker but occupies defenders and shows ability as a receiver. In today’s NFL, this pick was a significant reach. Tennessee added another player to their backfield in the fifth round, drafting Minnesota running back David Cobb. A north-south runner with great vision, Cobb creates yardage after contact and shows good agility in his cuts. He isn’t a great receiver and struggles beating defenders in the open field, but Cobb will have a legitimate opportunity behind disappointing 2014 second-round pick Bishop Sankey and veteran Shonn Greene. Sixth-round linebacker Deiontrez Mount out of Louisville has great size (6-4, 250) and speed (4.56) and was productive as a senior with the Cardinals. He beats blocks and changes direction well to redirect the action, but struggles in coverage and has a motor that runs hot and cold. Mount is a project, but one with the physical tools to develop into a situational threat off the edge. The Titans moved back to the offensive side of the ball with their second sixth-rounder, drafting Boston College center Andy Gallik. While Gallik lacks a dominant base and great power at just 306 pounds, he’s smart and tough with good vision and awareness in the middle of the offensive line. A productive player with the Eagles, Gallik has starting ability if he’s surrounded by strength at the guard position. Tennessee finished their draft by taking William & Mary receiver Tre McBride with the 245th pick. McBride has the speed to stretch the field (4.41 40-yard dash), good size (6-0, 210) and a quick release off the line. A solid route-runner with strong, soft hands, McBride must adjust to the NFL level of competition but has great upside for a late pick. Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt was a UDFA steal as a player we had ranked in the top-75. A big hitter who shows good discipline, Prewitt struggles in coverage but will be a nice special teams piece initially with the upside for more. The Titans also added Tennessee-Chattanooga defensive tackle Derrick Lott after the draft. Lott is a good athlete at 6-4, 314 pounds with 4.95 speed and plays nasty, but must improving his playing strength and consistency.
Grade: C+ The Titans’ draft will be remembered for Mariota’s contributions to the team’s future, but throwing him to the wolves immediately like the team plans on doing could stunt his potential growth. Green-Beckham was a risky pick in the second round, and Poutasi may not find his true position until his second season. Most of their late-round picks came with some value, but this was a very boom-or-bust draft for the Titans that could either keep them at the top of the draft board for years to come, or push them into playoff contention within a couple seasons.
Chris Tripodi has been writing draft reviews and rookie reports for Draft Insider since 2008. He is also an ACC and Conference USA scout for Optimum Scouting and writes about the New York Jets for Pro Football Spot. Follow him on Twitter @christripodi to talk NFL Draft and Jets football.