MariotaAs the college bowl season is upon us its time to update our mock draft from last month.  Based on NFL.com’s most recent draft order, here’s a look at how the draft’s initial ten picks could play out next April.  To stay consistent with our information and the report from a week ago that he’s likely to return to Stanford, Andrus Peat was purposely left out of the mix.

# Team Selection Position/College
1 Tampa Bay Marcus Mariota QB/Oregon
Analysis:  The need at quarterback is growing and Mariota is not only the best signal caller in the draft but one of the best prospects available.
2 Tennessee Titans Jameis Winston QB/Florida State
Analysis:  It pains me to put Winston in this slot as I don’t think he deserves to be a top six selection.  We always witness teams reach for signal callers and the Titans may be backed into a corner with Mettenberger on the mend.
3 Jacksonville Jaguars Cedric Ogbuehi OT/Texas A&M
Analysis: Many feel the Jags need a pass rusher but they’ve given up a league high 54 sacks and Bortles is getting hammered every week.  Luke Joeckel can play either tackle spot which makes this pick easier to digest. 
4 New York Jets Amari Cooper WR/Alabama
Analysis: The Jets play the Titans this weekend with draft positioning on the line. Cooper is the consistent play maker the offense has lacked for some time and he’ll be the best receiver the Jets have drafted since Al Toon. Quarterback and offensive tackle are also considerations here. 
5 Oakland Raiders Randy Gregory DE/Nebraska
Analysis: Gregory combines the athleticism the Raiders organization loves along with the ability to rush the passer, which they need.
6 Washington Redskins Leonard Williams DL/USC
Analysis: Williams is conventionally thought of as a 4-3 tackle yet I feel he has the size, athleticism and movement skills to stack up as a defensive end in a 3-man line for a one-gap or two-gap system.
7 New York Giants Brandon Scherff OT/Iowa
Analysis: The Giants could use a pass rusher but they best protect Manning to prolong his future.  Despite the nasty tweets sent my way a month ago, the team will look for an upgrade at both offensive tackle positions and consider moving Pugh into guard. 
8 Carolina Panthers Vic Beasley DE/Clemson
Analysis: Despite the changes expected in the organization Carolina still needs a pass rusher.  I’m disappointed in the play of Kony Ealy as I thought he was under drafted last year.  Beasley offers the disruptive force needed up front.
9  Chicago Bears Leonard Floyd DE/Georgia
Analysis: I may be alone believing Floyd is worthy of a top ten choice and in the end I’ll be a genius or a fool.  When I watch the sophomore I see a disruptive pass rusher who can play in space and comes with tremendous upside. 
10 New Orleans Saints La’el Collins OT/LSU
Analysis: Personally I’m of the opinion Collins will play guard at the next level and is of the late first round variety.  That said a number of area scouts who’ve come through the SEC love Collins and feel he’ll have no problem holding down the left tackle spot in the NFL. 

Roby_proBy the end of the NFL season, most of the league’s impact rookies have already made themselves known to the public. Some came out of the gates hot, like Kelvin Benjamin and C.J. Mosley, while others didn’t make an impact until the second of third month of the season, like Odell Beckham Jr. and Isaiah Crowell. With that in mind, Chris Tripodi takes a look at how some prominent defensive backs performed last week, as well as a few late-round picks that have seen a recent increase in opportunity thanks to injury.

 

Bradley Roby (CB-Den)

Like most rookie cornerbacks, Bradley Roby has experienced an up-and-down year in his first NFL season. The 31st overall pick out of Ohio State has played behind Aqib Talib and Chris Harris this season, mixing in a few solid performances with some stinkers as well. Roby did battle with fellow first-round rookie Sammy Watkins on Sunday, and while the former Clemson star got the better of Roby for most of the afternoon, the first-year corner didn’t allow much to the Bills’ other receivers and made a great play to force an early turnover.

On the game’s first possession, Roby lined up in press coverage against Watkins. Beaten badly by a sudden slant route to the inside, Roby had to make up ground to catch up to Watkins after he made the catch. The corner noticed Watkins holding the ball in his left arm while he cut back towards him, and Roby smartly clubbed his arm down on the ball to force a fumble that was recovered by Denver in Buffalo territory. The drive resulted in no points for the Broncos, but it was a big play that helped set the tone for the Bills’ rough day on offense.

Other than that mistake, Watkins dominated Roby for most of the game, catching all six of the balls thrown to him for 113 yards in Roby’s coverage. Roby struggled in both press situations and off coverage, struggling to find the ball on an 18-yard back-shoulder grab in the second half. Roby wasn’t called for illegal contact, but did have his hands all over Watkins 15 yards down the field once the receiver stopped to make the grab. That was the second big play Roby allowed to Watkins in the game, as he was beat deep for a 35-yard grab in the third quarter as well. Roby backpedaled and committed too soon to Watkins’ route, allowing the receiver to get behind him. With his back to the ball in an effort to catch up, Roby wasn’t in position to react to another back-shoulder throw.

Despite some struggles with the explosive Watkins in the aforementioned situations, Roby did show good awareness and sure tackling ability with Cover 2 responsibilities. A couple of short dump-off passes to Fred Jackson were stopped right around the line of scrimmage, as Roby closed quickly on Jackson and got into good position to make the tackle. He did make one mistake on a late crossing route by Watkins, however, not recognizing the receiver coming from the other side of the field and doubling the tight end inside instead. This allowed Watkins to turn the corner to get the first down and more after the catch.

Overall, Week 14 was indicative of Roby’s season so far. He made some good plays and showed an ability to come up hard against short passes, but also had some issues with footwork in the secondary as well as playing the football. Roby has looked more like the 2013 version of himself at Ohio State that dropped his draft stock into the late-first round rather than the emerging star he was viewed as after the 2012 season. The former Buckeye still has time to figure out the NFL, but his first year hasn’t exactly erased the doubts some had about him after his rough junior season.

Justin Gilbert (CB-Cle)

After a few early-season struggles, the first cornerback drafted in May was demoted to fourth on the depth chart recently, behind undrafted rookie K’Waun Williams. After seeing just 39 snaps in his past three games and losing his nickel role to Williams, Gilbert took over the spot Sunday when Williams left with a hamstring injury. The first-rounder out of Oklahoma State acquitted himself well against the high-powered Colts passing attack, recording his first career interception in the third quarter and returning it for a touchdown.

The interception was an impressive play from Gilbert, who was initially covering Hakeem Nicks on the outside. Feeling pressure in the pocket, Andrew Luck stared down Reggie Wayne running an out route from the slot. Reading Luck’s eyes, Gilbert squatted around the first-down marker awaiting the throw. With the pressure finally getting to Luck as he released the pass, Gilbert undercut the route for an easy interception, then forced a missed tackle and busted through the rest of the Colts for a 21-yard touchdown return. Gilbert was willing to take a risk on the route knowing he had safety help over the top, showing a good understanding of his responsibilities within the Browns’ coverage schemes to make a big play.

It wasn’t all positive for Gilbert, as he allowed a key 27-yard reception to Donte Moncrief on third-and-18 during the game’s final drive, keeping the drive alive that eventually resulted in the game-winning touchdown. Lined up over Moncrief in press coverage, Gilbert did little to impede the receiver and found himself trailing Moncrief for most of the play. Moncrief broke to the inside and made a nice grab for the first down, while Gilbert didn’t stand much of a chance after losing the initial battle at the line of scrimmage.

On just two plays, Gilbert summarized his strengths and weaknesses as a player. His seven-interception senior season proves his ability to make game-changing plays, but most of those turnovers came when Gilbert was playing off the line of scrimmage, giving him a chance to keep the receiver in front of him and read the quarterback. His closing speed combined with elite ball skills for a corner will allow him to make plenty of big plays in these situations at the NFL level. When asked to handle receivers in press coverage, however, Gilbert’s deficiencies show up. He isn’t quick or smooth moving in reverse, which was obvious when he lost Moncrief over the middle. If the Browns put him in situations where he can be successful, he has serious playmaking potential. Throwing Gilbert in press situations, however, is a good way for Cleveland to get a minimal return on their high first-round investment.

Bene Benwikere (CB-Car)

With the Panthers cutting Antoine Cason after their Week 13 game, Benwikere stepped into a starting role in Week 14 opposite Josh Norman. Playing every defensive snap for the first time this season, Benwikere turned in a great performance that has to make the Panthers feel validated in cutting Cason and promoting the rookie. A fifth-round choice out of San Jose State, Benwikere did a great job of keeping plays in front of him as well as making plays on the ball, including the first interception of his NFL career.

With his team already out to a 10-0 lead early in the game, Benwikere picked off Drew Brees on a deep pass intended for Joe Morgan. Lined up off the line of scrimmage in zone coverage, Benwikere flipped his hips quickly when Morgan got within five yards of him, doing what was necessary to keep stride with the speedster. While Morgan had a step on Benwikere, the ball was slightly underthrown and the rookie did a great job of tracking the ball in the air and cutting in front of Morgan for the interception. With his safety help not getting enough depth, Benwikere’s trailing coverage was the difference between an interception and a touchdown and a possible 14-point swing with Carolina scoring on the ensuing drive.

Benwikere continued to show excellent coverage instincts and fundamentals throughout the game, understanding when to leave his man in both man and zone coverages. On a third-and-two in the second quarter, Benwikere recognized Kenny Stills breaking open on a short route and left his man to stop Stills right at the first-down marker. While the play still resulted in a first down for the Saints, Benwikere was very close to stopping Stills short and forcing a tough decision on the offense thanks to his instincts.

Lined up in Cover 2 late in the first half, Benwikere executed his assignment perfectly and almost came up with his second interception. After pressing the receiver at the line and letting him run down the sideline after taking a few steps with him, Benwikere closed on a short pass to Pierre Thomas and was a split-second from another pick. He still did a nice job breaking on the ball to force the incompletion, and this was a textbook play from the rookie corner that could be found in instructional videos.

Benwikere also showed good instincts as a tackler in the short passing game, taking an outside route against a block on a short pass to Thomas to force him back into the defense. Thomas had nowhere to run and Benwikere got back up off the ground and got back into the play to assist on the tackle.

Overall, this was a very impressive performance for Benwikere in his first career start. His size (5-11, 195) and speed (4.6) dropped him into the third day of the draft despite an impressive college resume. That lack of speed did show up on the early interception if the ball had been thrown in stride, but Morgan is tough deep cover for most NFL cornerbacks and Benwikere did an excellent job playing the ball, one of the strengths he showed in college. If he can continue to play with great instincts and fundamentals, Benwikere may have a shot to be an NFL starter despite his below-average measurables. The rest of the season should be a good barometer to evaluate his 2015 potential.

Marqueston Huff (CB-Ten)

Blidi Wreh-Wilson’s early injury against the Giants on Sunday opened the door for additional playing time for Huff, a rookie capable of playing both cornerback and safety. A fourth-round pick out of Wyoming, Huff stepped in to make an impact in his best game of the season despite the Titans’ getting blown out by the Giants. In fact, Huff was the only reason Tennessee wasn’t shut out in Week 14, returning his first NFL interception for a third-quarter touchdown.

The Titans used Huff well Sunday, giving him opportunities as both a nickel cornerback and at the safety spot. His interception came with the Titans down 30-0 lined up as a safety. Huff initially showed blitz up the middle, but backed off the line before the snap and dropped into coverage. Once tight end Larry Donnell finished his chip and went into the flat, Huff was all over the play and positioned himself between Donnell and Eli Manning. Manning inexplicably threw to Donnell on the play, leading to an easy interception and 30-yard return for Huff.

While that was the play that put Huff on the highlight reels, he was otherwise solid and didn’t allow any big plays on a day when the Tennessee defense gave up plenty. The only pass completed in Huff’s coverage was a short five-yard pass to Donnell in the red zone. With the rest of the defense lined up in tight man coverage and Huff playing 10 yards off the ball, Manning made the quick read to find Donnell in the flat. Huff came up to make the stop after a five-yard gain, but it’s tough to fully judge this play without knowing the coverage. Lining up so far off the line on the snap implies he was responsible for the back end in a Cover 1, in which case he reacted quickly to come up and stuff Donnell. If it was Cover 0, which seems less likely, then the cushion Huff gave was unacceptable.

The first-year defensive back was called for a face masking penalty on a punt, but other than that he stayed within himself to keep the Titans defense on schedule. With Wreh-Wilson hitting injured reserve, Huff should play out the rest of the season in a hybrid role as the team’s nickel back while also getting reps at safety. His versatility makes him a nice depth player to have in the secondary, but nothing in his profile suggests starting potential at either position. His size (5-11, 196) plays best at corner, but his hard-hitting and sometimes overaggressive style fits better at the safety spot. Despite not having a true position, Huff has the potential to make a role for himself at the NFL level, and the final three weeks will go a long way towards solidifying the Titans’ confidence in him heading into 2015.

Chris Tripodi has been writing for Draft Insider since 2009, contributing Rookie Reports and Draft Reviews along with interviewing NFL prospects. He has worked as a regional scout for Optimum Scouting since 2013, writes Jets-related content for Pro Football Spot and previously worked on a college football project at ESPN. Follow him on Twitter at @christripodi to talk football and the NFL Draft, and check out his blog at http://christripodisports.blogspot.com/

WinstonIn what is the penultimate weekend of the college football regular season, a top ten shake-up is in the offing. And while a number of sleeper prospects are rising up draft boards one big named player makes our Sliders list.

 

 

 

 

 

Word from the PAC 12 has two cornerbacks moving in opposite directions.

I continue to hear a lot of good things on Steve Nelson of Oregon State. The senior entered the year with free agent grades but has elevated himself into the middle rounds. Sized well at just under 5-feet/11-inches and 200-pounds, he could elevate to a top 100 pick with a good post-season showing.

On the other hand the flow of information on Marcus Peters has gone from bad to worse. The issues which led to his dismissal from the Washington football program are well documented but several area scouts say it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

On Saturday I closely watched Florida Gators defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and have to say he was relatively impressive. The junior plays with leverage, quickness and shows good movement skills. He looks as though he’ll be a solid three-technique prospect and possibly defensive end in a three man line/one-gap system. Bullard is expected to enter the draft but the consensus in the scouting community is he’d really benefit from another season in college.

Risers

Antonio Morrison/LB/Florida: Slightly undersized but swift and explosive, Morrison is very much a linebacker in the body of a safety and a defender who makes plays sideline to sideline. Prior to the Florida State contest Morrison led all Gator defenders with 98 tackles, 40 more than his nearest teammate. He added 5 more during the loss to the Seminoles. He’ll be looked upon as a natural fit at weak side linebacker yet considering the multiple fronts used in today’s NFL, Morrison will also be given consideration on the inside of a 3-4 alignment which allows him to freely run to the action.

Brandon Doughty/QB/Western Kentucky: For the moment let’s dismiss the fact Doughty threw for 491-yards and 8 touchdowns during the Hilltoppers victory over Marshall this weekend. Rather look at the accuracy and timing of Doughty’s throws, as well as his completion percentage. I first mentioned Doughty last season and was surprised he never received as much as a mention from scouts entering the 2014 campaign. He does not possesses a big arm but Doughty’s ability to run a timing/west coast offense should at the very least, get him into a camp next summer.

Jermauria Rasco/DE/LSU: Fact is I was never very high on Rasco entering the season and neither were NFL scouts, who expected him to be a mini-camp casualty. But give credit where its’ due as the senior has played consistently productive football this season. He finished the year with 8 tackles and 1 sack during the LSU victory over Texas A&M, and finishes the season atop the team with 4 sacks. Rasco does not possesses the upside of teammate Danielle Hunter who holds a 2nd/3rd round grade, but at the same time he does not disappear for stretches as the junior does.

Laken Tomlinson/OL/Duke: Four years a starter on the Duke offensive line, Tomlinson has been a consistent blocker in college and intrigues NFL scouts. He’s a wide bodied lineman at 6-feet/3-inches and 325lbs, strong enough to open holes on the line of scrimmage and nimble enough to remove defenders on the second level. He’s not expected to wow anyone in pre-draft testing rather Tomlinson will be a name that slips into the later rounds of the draft then fights for a starting role at the next level.

Willie Beavers/OL/Western Michigan: I continue to be impressed by Beavers, the collegiate left tackle who projects to guard on Sunday’s. The junior hits the tape under 6-feet/4-inches yet moves well off the edge and easily adjusts to cover a lot of area. He’s shown improvement in each of the three years he’s started at WMU and is another wide bodied blocker that jumps out on film.

Doran Grant/CB/Ohio State: Entering the season I was of the opinion that Grant, stamped as a late round pick by scouts, was overrated yet his play this season has impressed me. Its as much his consistency on the field and ability to stay away from mental mistakes as much as anything else. Grant has a knack for staying on receivers hips out of breaks then making plays on the ball. He’ll be a solid nickel back/special teams player on Sunday’s.

Sleeper Prospect: Chris Conley/WR/Georgia: The Bulldogs have found ways to slip receivers into the late part of the draft. Receivers who then go on to have moderate success on Sunday. Kris Durham immediately comes to mind and Conley could be next. The sure handed pass catcher is a consistent underneath target who finds ways to get open or wins out in battles. Though his production has been slightly down this season the senior comes through for Georgia during important moments, including late in the Georgia Tech game on Saturday. His pre-draft workouts won’t excite anyone but his work ethic and personality will surely be embraced by NFL coaches and will help him stick as a fifth receiver.

Small School Prospect: Chris Bonner/WR/CSU-Pueblo: Bonner is the fourth CSU-Pueblo player written about this year and like his cornerback teammates, another one overlooked by scouts. Watch the game film and you can’t help but be impressed. He’s a tall signal caller with impressive pocket stature and a rocket arm. Bonner easily delivers all the throws and does so with a nice degree of accuracy. Relatively nimble, he can escape the rush and connects with receivers throwing on the move. I find his physical skills favorable to those of Mike Glennon, another tall and rangy quarterback, and feel Bonner is a terrific developmental prospect at the position.

Sliders

Jameis Winston/QB/Florida State: Two years ago at this time when many were anointing Geno Smith as the top pick in the 2013 draft I watched the film and thought “no way.” It was a similar feeling with Johnny Manziel a year ago when most positioned him as a top ten selection. Watching Winston, whom I grade a much better prospect than Smith or Manziel, I feel much the same. Off the field transgressions aside, his play on Saturday’s has been exciting but not the caliber of an early first round pick. His ability to bring the Seminoles from behind is becoming legendary yet many gloss over the fact his mistakes force FSU to play catch-up or kept opponents in the contest. Take a look at the last five games. Four interceptions against Florida on Saturday. An interception against Boston College the prior week which led to game-tying points for the Eagles. A drive killing interception at the end of the first half against Miami. Interceptions thrown on consecutive series against Virginia which the Cavaliers converted into touchdowns. Three interceptions against Louisville. In the end Florida State won all those contests, which was most important for the team, its fans and the national rankings. Yet talk with scouts or next level decision makers who watch the film in its entirety rather than the highlights and they’ll tell you Winston’s penchant for turning the ball over very disconcerting. Talent? Lots of it. Upside? An enormous amount. But also an equal amount of downside risk which is dangerous for any signal caller, especially one who seems to struggle controlling himself off the field.

Eric Lefeld/OL/Cincinnati: Lefeld was highly rated by many entering the season except league scouts, who were proven correct. He’s a solid college tackle but lacks the balance, athleticism and necessary skills to be anything other than a small area blocker at the next level.

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