Apr 182024
 
Quinyon Mitchell, Toledo Rockets (December 2, 2023)

Quinyon Mitchell – © USA TODAY Sports

CORNERBACKS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Core special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 20 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Quinyon Mitchell – Toledo – 6’0 / 195

Grade: 85

Three-year starter. Earned first team All-MAC honors in both 2023 and 2022. All-American in 2023 and 2022. Mitchell set a program record with 46 career pass breakups and ranked second nationally in his final year. Mitchell did what he had to in the MAC to be considered a potential top prospect. He dominated in most off-coverage and was simply a step or three faster than everyone on the field most Saturdays. He then did what he had to do at the Senior Bowl, leveling up his competition and still dominated. Lastly for the hat trick, Mitchell had arguably the best performance among all defensive backs at the Scouting Combine. This is a prototype physical package on the field but the only box left unchecked is how well we can progress in press man coverage. The traits and mentality are there, but he may need some extra time to develop that part of his game before a starting role. His ceiling at a position of such value is worth the gamble and while he progresses there, he has the makings of a top-shelf gunner on special teams.

*We have not seen a non-Power 5 corner taken first (at the position) since Leodis McKelvin in 2008. Mitchell has a strong possibility of being that guy in 2024. Very few are considering a trade down by the Giants and while it may not be the most popular decision for the short term, I believe it is as likely as them trading up. If they find themselves anywhere outside of the top 10, Mitchell becomes a strong possibility. The glaring hole at outside corner outside of Deonte Banks stands out every time I look at the Giants depth chart. While I’m not sure I see Schoen using consecutive first rounders on the same position, Mitchell makes the most sense if they want defense. He may not be the immediate impact guy of the two listed below, but there is no denying this is the highest upside defensive back in the class. He dominated the MAC, he dominated at the Senior Bowl, he had the most impressive weekend at the combine.

2) Terrion Arnold – Alabama – 6’0 / 189

Grade: 83

Third-year sophomore entry. Two-year starter that earned first team All-SEC and All-American honors in 2023, leading the SEC with five interceptions. Arnold was a five-star safety recruit in high school that could have opted to play college basketball instead. The uniqueness to his game, unlike many other highly-graded cornerback prospects, is how much he played both the nickel and outside roles. Coming from the Nick Saban school of defensive back play is always notable, but the usage here is noteworthy. He played 200+ snaps from the slot and 550+ outside in 2023. His performance at both spots was exceptional. This stems from his versatile tools and skillset respectively. His twitch and pop stands out when he needs to mirror a sudden receiver. His easy turn and run speed stands out when he needs to trial a vertical threat. Add in the quality tackling, receiver-type ball skills, and top-shelf intangibles, it is hard to imagine a world where he is not a team’s number one guy in a couple years.

*Arnold was a safety in high school (a very good one). He played outside and in the slot at Alabama. He is a physical, smart player that was making plays every week. And he is going to be every coach’s dream come true from an intangible perspective. My fear in spending a high pick for a guy like Arnold is him being left alone on an island against a true vertical threat in the NFL. I’m not confident he can be that kind of guy. A team will need the right plan for him and if he ends up with NYG, I’m sure it will be more of a nickel role (which they need as well) which still leaves the outside vulnerable.

3) Kool-Aid McKinstry – Alabama – 5’11 / 194

Grade: 83

Junior entry. Two-year starter. First-Team All-SEC and an All-American in both 2023 and 2022. The former five-star recruit could have played college basketball if he wanted to. He chose the right path, as he meshed well with one of the best cornerback programs in the country under the specialist Nick Saban. Corners that come from this program are pro-ready day one both on the field and in the film room because of how well they are schooled and how hard they are coached. McKinstry has a safe vibe to his game. He knows where to be and when to be there. His ability to read a route immediately and know the design of a play gives his floor an incredibly high level. The SEC tested him in 2022 and then threw his way half as much in 2023. McKinstry may have seen slight dip on production, but do not make the mistake of calling it a dip in impact. There are issues that arise with his ball location, as he left a lot of production on the table. The margin for those errors at the next level will be much smaller, so there are areas he can clean it up. McKinstry has the ceiling of a true shut down guy at the next level but also a basement that still provides solid number two status.

*Interesting debate here that I still wrestle with. Which one of these Alabama corners is the true #2 in this class? Obviously the question, do they want an outside guy or nickel, needs to be answered. From there, the answer can more easily come about. McKinstry was brought in for a 30 visit and I believe that was in case they find themselves in a trade-down situation. McKinstry was thrown at 80 times in 2023, just 39 times in 2023. While his measurables aren’t anything to write home about either, he appears more pro-ready than the two above. It will be interesting to see where he lands.

4) Nate Wiggins – Clemson – 6’1 / 173

Grade: 82

Junior entry. Two-year starter and two-time first team All ACC. Wiggins brings an elite length/speed combination that specific systems are going to drool over. He is high-hipped, and it can cause issues at times, but overall he plays both smooth and fast. Getting the ball over him will always be a risk, especially if he cleans up the route recognition. He will get himself into trouble at times because of eye discipline. He has the tendency to look too deeply into the backfield and will be slow to relocate his man in coverage. The deep losses need to be fixed but if they are, he can be a true number one guy. Wiggins will not be an effective defender against the run and his impact in press coverage is light. There will be margin to improve on, however. This is one of the highest-upside defenders in the entire class. His competitive juice and sheer desire in pursuit are good signs for the mentality that will be needed to reach that ceiling.

*Teams will have to weigh how much they value run defense in their corners when looking at Wiggins. With what I expect to see out of NYG in the new scheme, I’m not sure I see the fit. He is a high risk, high reward prospect at a position that is incredibly hard for everyone to project to the next level.

5) Mike Sainristil – Michigan – 5’9 / 182

Grade: 82

Fifth-year senior. Two-year starter on defense after starting 9 games over his first three seasons at wide receiver. Earned All Big-Ten honors both years after making the switch to cornerback and was a 2023 All-American as he finished second in the country in both interceptions and pick-sixes. Sainristil is a playmaker in every sense of the word. He also has one season under his belt as an every down nickel and then he started a handful of games on the outside. His size profile screams the former, but do not sleep on him as a potential multi-position player at the next level. The two-time team captain is smart both on and off the field and will be a coach’s dream come true. A guy that changed sides of the ball halfway through his career, made big play after big play, and was penalized just one time in just under 1,400 defensive snaps does not come around often. He is a willing run defender but his inexperience shows up there when it comes to angles and technique, which could cause issues at nickel.

*A 5’9” nickel corner that ended with a late first round grade? Top of my head I can’t remember last time I did that. Perhaps Jason Verrett? Anyway, Sainristil is truly one of my favorite players in the class. His story is both unique and impressive. He has had my attention for two years now and he only gave it a boost with his play on the outside in 2023. I’ve been told he’s been one of the best interviews in the class and will be an immediate leader on and off the field. If by some chance he makes it to their second rounder, there are very few guys I would rather use the pick on.

6) Max Melton – Rutgers – 5’11 / 187

Grade: 82

Four-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023 and 2022. Brother of Green Bay wide receiver, Bo. Melton is a force on special teams and a cornerback that credibly projects to starter-caliber both at nickel and the outside. He blocked four punts over his career, started 40 games, and picked off eight passes. Simply put, he produced from any and all angles that Rutgers put him in. This is a football player in every sense of the word. He fills his run assignments like a safety, proving to be an asset and not a liability on all downs. He can run with real NFL speed down the field, as proven in his toughest matchups he has seen throughout his career. Snaps against Marvin Harrison Jr. and Roman Wilson proved that he can do against Sunday-receivers. Melton plays bigger than his height/weight measurements would suggest. He has an unusually wide wingspan with plus-length. Where he needs to clean up his game will be against short underneath crossers. Melton commits his hips too soon and will get caught out of position on routes that cross his face. However, when it comes to vertical routes and feeling route combinations in zone, Melton has the ability to do two things at once. The explosive playmaker has several game-changing traits ready to go and all the tools in the shed that can be built on.

*Melton is the guy I liked more and more as I got deeper into his tape. He blends a lot of movement traits together along with a tough-guy attitude that can create a lot of big plays, which we saw over his career. Melton doesn’t full trust himself yet. He needs to learn to play the game with his feet more than his hands. He got flagged a bit too much in college (nothing drastic) but he always got away with a lot of grabby play. Melton brings credible inside-out versatility that needs to be valued in this system. He could easily be the second-round target and I would strongly applaud it. He fits perfect.

7) Josh Newton – TCU – 5’11 / 190

Grade: 80

Fifth-year senior. Four-year starter. Spent three seasons at Louisiana-Monroe prior to transferring to TCU in 2022. First Team All-Big 12 in 2022, second team in 2023. Newton is one of the most experienced defenders in the class. He played over 3,600 snaps split between the two programs and has been very productive. The vast majority of those snaps came on the outside where the tools are merely average for the next level. While he plays twitchy with minimal-to-no wasted movement, the top end speed is questionable if he is left alone on an island. While he plays tough and without hesitation, his power presence does not alter big receivers. Newton’s game is based on reaction speed, precise lower body techniques, and coordination when attacking the ball. He can play sticky for the first three quarters of a play and his body control at the top of a route can get him to play faster than he times. Newton is a battled tested, mature kid that will be NFL ready right away but does have a cap on his potential because his tools just don’t reach the high-enough level. He is an ideal number two or three corner that can stick in the league a long time.

*I am taking a chance on Newton here. I think he projects day three to most from what I have seen and heard. Every time I watched his tape, I walked away saying he plays like a hungry pro that sticks around for a long time. His intangibles are next-level, and he was a guy that kept showing up after getting beat. Now, he did get man-handled against the two future pro receivers against Texas. But he came back strong and played at a very high level the final two weeks. In a conference where playing corner is really tough, Newton’s tape is very, very good.

8) Kris Abrams-Draine – Missouri – 5’11 / 179

Grade: 79

Three-year starter. First team All-SEC in 2023 in addition to All-American honors. Abrams-Draine was a high level high school basketball player and wide receiver. He transitioned to cornerback in 2021 and flourished right away. He led the team is passes defended three straight years, capping off his career as the leader int the SEC as well. The fluid, easy mover has the speed to carry vertical routes and body control to remain sticky. He fits in to multiple schemes and has a safe feel to his game. While Abrams-Draine falls short when it comes to tools, he displays eye-discipline and instincts that vary in the class can match. He projects to a solid number two or three that can play inside and outside.

*Another corner that I’m higher on than the market. Abrams-Draine has production that very few can match. Doing so in the SEC after transitioning from receiver makes it even more impressive. Some are drawn away from the lack of size and I did factor that in obviously, but I rarely found it beating him up in college. His coordination within traffic is so good that I actually think the lack of size helps him in some scenarios. Just an overall impressive guy that knows how to play the position and understands where to be.

9) Andru Phillips – Kentucky – 5’11 / 190

Grade: 79

One-year starter. Also part of the heavy rotation in the Kentucky defensive backfield in 2022 which hosted two eventual pro outside corners. Phillips moved from the slot to outside, although he played all over the defensive backfield all three years, in 2023. Former high school track standout that starred in triple jumps where he finished number one in the nation. That burst stands out on film. Although slightly undersized, Phillips already has a lot of pro traits in his arsenal. He is smooth as butter in his backpedal and his ability to stick is foot in the ground and explode downhill created a lot of impressive tape. The inside-out versatility in addition to impressive tape in both zone and man coverage will make him attractive to any team looking to upgrade the cornerback room. There are off-field concerns from an arrest in 2021 that need to be answered. He also failed to grab a single interception over his career. Phillips does not react as quickly in man coverage and there are too many missed tackles. The good and bad with him creates a wide margin within his projection, but this guy has starting corner written all over him.

*Phillips is a guy that picked up a lot of steam over the season. His movement traits and fluidity are so pro-caliber. When he makes plays on the ball, there are a few elite, hard to find components that immediately jump off the screen. That is how I first found him. I was watching Florida offense tape and this kid kept jumping off the screen. The physical limitations did impede some of his playmaking potential. He may have to be a slot only but man I love how he turns and runs. The character concerns need to be a part of his process, no question.

10) Nehemiah Pritchett – Auburn – 6’0 / 190

Grade: 79

Fifth-year senior, four-year starter. Pritchett was also an all-state outfielder on the diamond in high school. His calling card was always on the gridiron and he balled out once he got consistent snaps on defense in 2020. After leading the team (and finishing third in the SEC) in passes defended, the spotlight turned his way. Pritchett never gripped on to the national spotlight from there, but he remained one of the most consistent cornerbacks in the country through 2023. His wiry build plays long and fast. His acceleration vertically helped keep him over the top of some of the best deep threats in college football. His short area change of direction does get leggy and it could impede his ability in a strict man-cover scheme. But when it comes to cover three deep coverage roles, Pritchett is set up to be a quality starter. While there are a few physical limitations, this is an experienced corner that plays smart and a step ahead. Add in the long speed and he gives the secondary a safe feel to it.

*I had a first-round outlook on Pritchett prior to the season. He did not finish as high, but he was close. He has some of the traits I value a lot at the position. His ball location and burst out of his breaks stand out. He knows how to stay away from penalties, and I love the body control when he is involved in the action. Pritchett also protects the deep route tree exceptionally well. He was rarely thrown at in 2023 after missing the start of the season with an ankle injury. He allowed under 50% of balls thrown his way to be completed and I loved his tape vs LSU. I like him if the staff thinks he can be physical enough.

11) Cam Hart – Notre Dame – 6’3 / 202

Grade: 78

Fifth-year senior, three-year starter. Hart showed up to Notre Dame and spent his redshirt season as a wide receiver. He was recruited to play both spots and it didn’t take long to realize his NFL future resided on the defensive side of the ball. This is where the size and speed truly stand out. Hart is an intriguing corner prospect because of how much ground he can cover. He has shown the ability to use his length to its maximum potential. The physical go-getter forced three fumbles in 2023 alone but has just two interceptions to his name. He may not be the best playmaker because of some tightness throughout his entire frame, but the receiver background leaves some hope there. Hart was a fixture on special teams and can offer help in several areas. He will be in demand for man-heavy schemes that value the size/speed combination.

*Sneaky-strong (and likely) target for the Giants if they are still looking for a corner in round three. The one concern is a shoulder issue that has re-occurred multiple times since 2019. While I am not as concerned considering he is a corner (and not a safety), it is something that could be bad enough to get him crossed off. He also suffered a concussion at the Senior Bowl.

12) Ennis Rakestraw Jr. – Missouri – 5’11 / 183

Grade: 77

Three-year starter. Rakestraw Jr. really only had one full season of being healthy and productive. A torn ACL in 2021 limited him to just four games and a nagging groin injury allowed him to play just nine games in 2023. What he put on tape over the past two years, however, was enough to project him to a possible starter role at the next level. This is a physical player that remains competitive throughout the entire route and has some extra juice when he closes in on the action. He can play downhill in a hurry. That, in combination with a lack of pure vertical speed, could land him in a zone-dependent scheme. He may not be fast enough to be left alone on an island against pro deep threats. Rakestraw Jr. did have solid ball production in 2022 and he has above average length on the undersized frame. There are enough tools and enough quality plays on tape to project a starter ceiling, but that lack of durability and speed will lower his floor. He is on that border of number two / top backup type cornerback prospect.

*If I am a man-heavy scheme, I’m not confident this kid makes a ton of sense. The lack of speed showed up a few times and there is a history of lower body injuries. He looks solid when he can look downhill on the action, and he has a great first step. He can close in a hurry. There is some unknown with this kid, but some believe he is a round 2 guy. I can see the upside but again it will be scheme specific.

13) TJ Tampa – Iowa State – 6’1 / 194

Grade: 77

Three-year starter. Two-time All Big 12. Tampa was a Division I basketball recruit and former wide receiver recruit that was shifted to cornerback right before beginning his career at Iowa State. The long-limbed, physical cover man has a unique physical profile that fits in well with zone-heavy defensive schemes. He has tremendous eye balance and rarely gets caught out of position. He needs to keep it that way, as Tampa is approaching the line of being too slow at a position you cannot afford to be too slow. The physical nature to his play style will provide the defense he plays for with an extra weapon against the run. There is a chance we see him moving to safety at the next level. Tampa’s first look will be at outside corner to a zone-heavy scheme and he can be a quality starter if the footwork catches up to his eyes and instincts.

*Tampa is a guy I would like to see at safety. He can fit in the classic cover 2 corner role, but there are things I like about his game that fit better in the middle. I work with a guy that thinks he can be round one. I can’t get there with him running a near-4.6 and grabby style when matched against quickness. The length and physical style combined with good forecasting can be a weapon in the middle. He can add some bulk, too.

14) Jarvis Brownlee Jr. – Louisville – 5’10 / 194

Grade: 77

Fifth-year senior, four-year starter. All-ACC in 2023. Began his career at Florida State where he spent three seasons. Following the transfer to Louisville, Brownlee Jr. took his game to another level. He plays with a level of competitive swagger that is needed for success at the position. He is a daring player that, in some cases, over trusts his own ability. This created a quality volume of ball production over his career. Brownlee Jr. starred at the Senior Bowl during practices, as players and coaches from the American team voted him the top corner on the roster. He has some “rise to the occasion” to him that can be hard to measure. Brownlee Jr. is tough, strong, and aggressive. His best tape is found in press coverage where he can delay the release of a receiver off the line. His over-eager style can be toyed with by savvy, jittery route runners. The lack of top end athletic ability will limit his upside but the way he plays can help him stick to a roster as a quality backup and special teamer.

*Brownlee Jr. is an ultra-competitive, swagger-filled cover man with excellent ball skills. That’s a nice start. He has both above average length for his frame and some power to him that will surprise receivers off the line. There is an attitude to complement the skill set and following his transfer to Louisville, we saw a different level of player. What solidified him as a day two guy was his week at the Senior Bowl. I loved what I saw there. He likes to jump routes and while you will need to deal with the occasional wrong read, he seems to pick and choose his spots based on instincts that are real. There are a couple of off-field issues I would want to dig into before drafting him.

15) Renardo Green – Florida State – 6’0 / 186

Grade: 77

Fifth-year senior, three-year starter. All-ACC in 2023 and 2022. Green began his career as a cornerback but was moved to safety his sophomore season. He shifted back over to cornerback in 2022 and won a team most improved player award. Fast forward to 2023 and Green led the ACC in passes defended (14) after an impressive week one against LSU receivers Malik Nabers and Brian Thomas Jr., both likely first round picks. There is a lot of hot and cold to his game and it stems from the combination of his aggressive nature and lack of recovery speed. Green can play explosive and violent, but his ability to smoothly change direction is inconsistent. He labors in man coverage when left unprotected over the top. Green’s vast experience at both safety and cornerback along with his style of play are ideal fits for a nickel role at the next level. He can be a true force in that role.

*There is going to be a lot of demand for this kid. As you can see, there is a huge cluster of guys with similar grades and projections. Incredible depth of corners that I think can start in the league, but they may not be household names. Green’s vast experience at multiple positions, excellent week at the Shrine practices (he was the top DB there), and elite workout at the combine was as good of a process as he could have had over the past 9 months. Is he big enough to play an effective slot/safety role? I saw some Julian Love in his game.

16) Myles Harden – South Dakota – 5’11 / 195

Grade: 76

Four-year starter. Three-time All-MVFC, first team in 2023 in addition to being named an FCS All-American. Harden blossomed from a zero-star recruit to one of the top FCS prospects in the class. His measurables will scare some teams, as he is short-armed and lacks long speed. Harden is one of the cleanest-technique players in the class, however, and his 3.98 short shuttle at the combine was the fastest, all positions. It confirmed the belief that stems from the tape; Harden is one of the most sudden movers one can find in this corner group. He plays the game in short windows in fast forward with no wasted motion and a knack for getting to the ball. His zone-based college scheme and performance at the East-West Shrine Bowl practices proved what he can do if the amount of green he is responsible for can be limited. Harden will not be an ideal fit for everyone, but this is a sticky underneath cover man that will make plays on the ball and offer reliable zone coverage.

*Harden is my favorite FCS player in the draft. He opened a lot of eyes in the pre-draft process between Shrine week and the Combine. Elite mover with no wasted time or steps. His production was elite, and he plays bigger than I anticipated. Every year we see a no namer defensive back excel at nickel right away. Harden is my pick to be that guy in 2024.

17) Willie Drew – Virginia State – 6’0 / 191

Grade: 76

Sixth-year senior, three-year starter. All-CIAA in 2023 and 2022. Won the CIAA Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2023 and finished the season as a Division II All-American. Drew began his long career at James Madison despite multiple FCS offers. A serious knee injury nearly ended his career in 2019. The transfer to Virginia State took place in 2020 but his season was cancelled due to the pandemic. After almost two seasons of no game action, Drew was back on the field and clearly dominated the lower level of competition. Drew’s ball production was elite, and he checked another box at the Senior Bowl in practices. His tools are good enough but there is a clear lack of development in specific skill-based components of the position. His short area movement does not match his long speed, but he took in the NFL coaching in Mobile which is a good sign for what he may be able to do in the future. Drew is a bit of a gamble, but his speed and ball skills create a strong place to build from.

*Our small school guy at Ourlads turned me on to Drew after the season. I hadn’t watched him until February in Mobile. Man, he looked great. The lower fluidity with explosion and receiver-caliber ball skills will be a nice foundation for him to build from. No disrespect to coaching at lower levels, but this kind of kid will benefit a ton from pro caliber programs. His raw talent is there and there will be a transition period that keeps him off the field for a year, but I am drawn to what he can be moving forward. He graded out higher than a lot of the guys on this list in a few areas.

18) Caelen Carson – Wake Forest – 6’0 /193

Grade: 76

Four-year starter. Carson is a highly experienced corner that was often tasked with shadowing the opponent’s top receiver. He is an aggressive cover man that has the right mentality. He has played in multiple schemes and has always come out on the other side proving to be a capable defender that will contribute against the run and pass. Carson has suffered multiple injuries over his career, all to his lower body. He also struggles to stay with pro-caliber long speed. The questions are enough to keep him out of a projected starter role, but there is enough quality tape against quality opponents to keep his hopes alive.

*I planned to like Carson more than this. He was a guy near the top of my corner stack leading into the 2023 season and even after the first month. But the deep dive into his film, medical history, and lack of ball production put him near the bottom of this fringe-starter stack. Simply put, the idea of him from his best tape is better than the projection that stems from his full dose of tape.

19) Kamari Lassiter – Georgia – 5’11 / 187

Grade: 76

Junior entry, two-year starter. All-SEC in 2023. Lassiter is a pro-ready corner when looking at his play-style, techniques, and discipline. He is well-schooled and drew rave reviews from the program’s coaching staff. Lassiter does not have standout size or speed, which can make him a tough sell to certain NFL decision makers. He is a proven commodity in the SEC, however; one that built a long resume filled with quality tape and very few losses. He shut down a side of the field on a routine basis, allowing just one touchdown over his final 24 games. In addition, he was flagged just once over his final 17 games. Lassiter brings tremendous eye discipline and sudden movement to the table and is equally effective in both man and zone cover schemes. The poor forty time (4.6) will worry some teams but do not overlook the fact he had the best 3-cone time among corners at the combine. This is a corner that can contribute with the pro-caliber maturity and mindset already set to go.

*I’ve been back and forth on Lassiter as much as any corner in the class. He was top ten for a long time. This just reminds me of former Georgia corner Derion Kendrick who benefitted from playing on a stacked Georgia defense. His lack of speed has torched him so far. Lassiter has more quickness and plays more physical, so the hope for him will be scheme-based. He can hang in zone coverage.

20) Khyree Jackson – Oregon – 6’4 / 194

Grade: 75

Fifth-year senior, one-year starter. Did not play football for two seasons after high school and then struggled to find a home between off-field issues and the pandemic. Graduated high school in 2017 but did not begin his college career until 2021 at Alabama. Jackson’s story is one of the most unique you will ever find. He was overlooked as a high school recruit because of multiple moves and transfers in addition to missing his junior year with an injury. His name did appear on the radar, but his grades were so poor he had to go the junior college route. Simply put, Jackson had incredible talent and rare tools, but his motivation and maturity created a roller coaster of a life. He found a home at Alabama under Nick Saban. His greatest contributions came on special teams and after being suspended for a violation of team rules, he transferred to Oregon. Finally on the field and in a starting lineup, Jackson opened the door to his ceiling. His size, speed, length, and attitude are an ideal fit for teams that put the corners on the line of scrimmage. He moves better than most at his size. There are still several rough edges to his game, and he is very old for a prospect. There has been a significant climb in his quality of play to give gasoline to the idea of him being a slept-on prospect that can make it at the next level.

*One of the more interesting day three guys in the class. I can’t recall a story that quite matches up with this one. The character questions will need a ton of extra screening, but that size/speed is real. He also creates the MMA match aura for a receiver matching up against him for an afternoon. There will be a lot of up and down to his game but knowing he fought through life adversity and came out with an outlook that some still consider day two-caliber is enough to take a chance on. Where that risk is taken will be different around the league.

21-43:

21) DJ James – Auburn – 6’0 / 175: 75

22) Deantre Prince – Mississippi – 6’0 / 183: 75

23) Elijah Jones – Boston College – 6’1 / 184: 74

24) Decamerion Richardson – Mississippi State – 6’2 / 188: 74

25) Te’Cory Couch – Miami – 5’10 / 185: 74

26) MJ Devonshire – Pittsburgh – 5’11 / 186: 74

27) Jarrian Jones – Florida State – 6’0 / 190: 74

28) Qwan’tez Stiggers – Toronto (CFL) – 6’0 / 204: 74

29) Daequan Hardy – Penn State – 5’9 / 179: 73

30) Kalen King – Penn State – 5’11 / 190: 72

31) Myles Sims – Georgia Tech – 6’3 / 188: 71

32) Marcellas Dial – South Carolina – 6’0 / 190: 71

33) Tarheeb Still – Maryland – 6’0 / 188: 71

34) Johnny Dixon – Penn State – 5’11 / 188

35) Storm Duck – Louisville – 6’0 / 195: 71

36) Ja’quan Sheppard – Maryland – 6’2 / 199: 70

37) Josh Wallace – Michigan – 5’11 / 186: 70

38) Chau Smith-wade – Washington State – 5’10 / 184: 69

39) Beanie Bishop Jr. – West Virginia – 5’9 / 180: 69

40) Chigozie Anusiem – Colorado State – 6’1 / 200: 69

41) Mikey Victor – Alabama State – 6’2 /205: 68

42) Ryan Cooper Jr. – Oregon State – 5’11 / 186: 68

43) Miles Battle – Utah – 6’3 / 196: 68

NYG APPROACH

Like the receiver groups year after year, there is a ton of depth at corner. It is filled with guys that can make rosters, credibly back up early on in the career, and contribute on special teams. If you want a real projected starter and difference maker, you’re gonna have to try and get one in the second or third round. The debate with the Giants will be how much they believe in the 2023 training camp star Tre Hawkins. His rookie season went as bad as it could have in limited action and while we can’t hold that against him considering where he was drafted and where he came from, it is a classic “don’t make a decision based on him” type scenario. If he pans out to be something real, you have real depth when injuries arise. Not a bad problem to have.

At nickel, NYG has options that I feel more secure with but a strong case can be made to get a real dude there. And that is where I see likely value being for NYG in round 2. While you would rather have the answer on the outside, getting a difference maker at nickel could do wonders for this defense overall. Deonte Banks and a strong nickel presence can give the new scheme a path of less resistance to hiding problems or a gray situation at the other outside corner. If they go elsewhere (man there are lot of holes on this roster) – there will be a good value available day three. No matter what, NYG absolutely needs to add a corner to this team. As early as round one (following a trade down).

Apr 172024
 
Edgerrin Cooper, Texas A&M Aggies (September 23, 2023)

Edgerrin Cooper – © USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKERS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Core special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Edgerrin Cooper – Texas A&M – 6’2 / 230

Grade: 81

Two-year starter. First team All-SEC and All-American in 2023. Cooper was a constantly ascending player during his four years at Texas A&M. He was mainly a special teamer in 2020. He then rotated in as a sophomore but still finished fourth on the team in tackles. He then won the program’s offseason strength and conditioning most improved award. He then breaks into the starting lineup in 2022 and leads the team with eight tackles for loss. And finally, be breaks out as an All-American in 2023, leading the SEC with 17 tackles for loss. Cooper’s game is based on pure speed and physicality. This is the kind of player the Niners have turned into complete game-changing studs. The question will be how fast he can diagnose in the NFL. He was late more times than I like, and those mistakes will hurt more at the next level. This is a player you may have to take some bad if you want some of the good. You can trust his tackling, you can trust his playmaking, and you can trust his energy. He is a starter that can stay on the field.

*Cooper has superstar potential. If he can improve his first two steps both against the run and pass, he could be another Fred Warner. He is an absolute menace as a blitzer. No other linebacker in the country had as many sacks as Cooper did. The guys that were near him were essentially hybrid edge guys that rushed the passer twice as many times. There remains a sense of rawness to his decision making which kept him down a couple tiers. Two years as a starter with another season as a rotational guy and I do think it should be further along. He is a bit of a gamble-on-traits type, but the production cannot be ignored.

NFL Comparison: Fred Warner / SF

2) Payton Wilson – North Carolina State – 6’4 / 233

Grade: 80

Sixth-year senior. Three-year starter. First Team All-ACC in 2023 and 2022 and an All-American in 2023. Winner of both the Butkus Award (nation’s top linebacker) and Chuck Bednarik Award (top defensive player). Wilson’s story is one of the most interesting in the draft overall. He enters the league with arguably the most alarming medical history in the class. He missed all of 2018 with a knee (also injured his knee in high school). He missed the spring season of 2021 after surgeries on both shoulders and then played just 51 snaps before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. In 2022, Wilson stayed healthy for most (but not all) of the season and almost declared for the 2023 Draft. Feedback from agents and NFL scouts was not encouraging, as the ten surgeries and lack of back-to-back seasons led him to a day three or undrafted grade. Thus, he came back and played at a completely different level. Wilson is the best pure speed linebacker in the class that always brings personality to a front seven. The risk is real, as bad shoulders on a violent linebacker are likely to create long term issues. But at some point, this is a guy worth a risk because he is a true difference maker at a position where it is hard to find them.

*I get asked a lot what his grade would be with a clean bill of health. It would be in the 84-86 range. Wilson’s tape from the past two years is almost as good as I’ve seen. He is blazing fast, and he plays blazing fast. He is smart and moves well in coverage. He converts his burst to power. His missed tackle rate is one of the best I’ve seen. He is 6’4” but he is short-limbed and that will show up from time to time. Inside run fits can get him in trouble. And bringing down NFL backs will be harder. If I needed a linebacker and I could afford a risk – Wilson is a top 40 pick no question. You better be OK with potentially watching a pile of money burn in the living room floor before you spend it on this, though.

3) Junior Colson – Michigan – 6’2 / 238

Grade: 80

Junior entry, three-year starter. Brentwood, MI. Colson is a native of Haiti and moved to America as a nine-year old after being adopted. His biological father passed away when Colson was young. The highly rated recruit got on the field as a rotational player his true freshman season before earning the starting job halfway through the year. He never looked back, leading the Wolverines in tackles in both 2022 and 2023. He is a heavy thumper with enough range to play sideline to sideline. The blend of size, power, and speed will make him a plus-run defender early on in his career. The athleticism does not always show up in coverage, but it appears to be a result of a sometimes-slow trigger, not a physical shortcoming. When he makes his mind up, he gets to where he needs to be and knows how to finish. The missed tackle rate is incredibly low for the position and his pressure rate as a pass rusher is above average. There is a lot to like about Colson. He projects to a solid starting inside linebacker role that can fit into all schemes. If his anticipation skills improve, the baseline talent is enough to be one of the better inside guys in the league.

*The two guys above are labeled “risky” for different reasons. Colson may not have the upside but if I want reliable and safe, he’s the guy. He has quite the story stemming from a childhood filled with adversity. The talent with him is real. Colson missed a lot of the pre-draft process while recovering from a hamstring injury. He didn’t miss a single game in three years at Michigan. The physical thumper may have been best suited for the NFL about 10-15 years ago, but don’t mistake him for an immobile guy. He can move. And he can destroy blocks. Set it and forget type inside linebacker that won’t be a star but will be a guy a dozen teams wish they had.

4) Cedric Gray – North Carolina – 6’1 / 234

Grade: 76

Three-year starter. First Team All-ACC in 2023 and 2022. Gray was a two-year captain that put up incredible production over his career, his final two seasons especially. Whatever there is to get from a linebacker, Gray brought to the North Carolina defense week after week. He led the power five in tackles in 2022 and accrued 23 tackles for loss over his final two years. Over that span he added 10 pass break ups and five forced fumbles and three interceptions. Simply put, this kid is all over the field and has the athletic ability to do so at the next level. Gray does not fit well as a pure inside run defender, however. He lacks power presence and struggles to get off blocks consistently. What he does well is play in space. If he can find a home at weakside linebacker that can shift away from the box at times, he will be difference maker. Teams just need to try and protect him from too much traffic and big bodies.

*Gray is well liked within NFL circles. This is the guy that would have been a late day three pick a few years ago but could easily find himself in round three this year. I like him and this linebacker group is a little thin, so I could see him going there. Personally, I believe he is the ideal fourth rounder. He will help on special teams and could be a very good sub-package defender or average starter. Either way, he will stick around for awhile. There is a playmaker here that shows up every week. Six forced fumbles, five interceptions, and a ton of tackles with a plus-pressure rate proves he can do a lot for a defense.

5) Ty’Ron Hopper – Missouri – 6’2 / 231

Grade: 76

Fifth year senior, Three-year starter. All-SEC in 2023. Hopper spent three years at Florida, the final one (2021) leading their back seven defenders in tackles for loss. That has been the standout trait to his game including post-transfer. He finished with 30 career tackles behind the line of scrimmage, an upshot of his style and explosive play. His quick trigger and explosive closing ability brings violence. There is a bendiness to his body that helps his game. His very fluid below the hips and it helps him adjust late to shifty ball carriers. It also gives him the potential to be a factor in coverage. Hopper is a a rangy defender that can hit his points as he drops back. His read and react skills are good, but there is the occasional wrong guess, and his aggressive style will lead to some missed tackles. He does not play with tremendous power, thus his margin for error when attacking the strike point is small.

*I have been higher on Hopper than the consensus for a long time now. Thew Florida program was a mess under Dan Mullen and I’m not sure everyone truly understands how bad it was. Hopper was a drive-by victim of it. What we saw at Missouri, a true playmaker that lived behind the line of scrimmage, is more of what I expect to see in the NFL. Hopper’s lower body fluidity is encouraging for the future as well when projecting what he can do in coverage. Add in the success as a blitzer – I simply feel good about his game doing well in the NFL.

6) Jeremiah Trotter Jr. – Clemson – 6’0 / 228

Grade: 74

Junior entry. Two-year starter. First Team All-ACC and All-American in 2023. Son of Jeremiah Trotter, a 12-year NFL linebacker that made the Pro Bowl four times. Trotter Jr. delivered on his potential of a five-star recruit with pro lineage. He led the team in tackles and tackles for loss in both 2022 and 2023. His ability to disrupt the offense behind the line of scrimmage showed up in all situations. Trotter Jr. plays the game a lot like his father. He is a fiery, competitive leader that can wreck a game with his run defense and ability to make game-changing plays. The powerful pursuer and tackler needs to a better job controlling his aggression and needs to get his athletic ability to carry over in to coverage but the right role will get him in positions that will impact the game weekly. Even though there are shortcomings when he needs to move backward against the pass, Trotter Jr. had four career interceptions, including two pick sixes. The lack of arm length and mistakes that stem from it will hurt the defense on occasion, but there is no denying his potential impact as a weak side linebacker that can shift into the middle within specific looks.

*Prior to the season, I had Trotter Jr. as a potential first rounder. The deep dive into his film softened that idea and his athletic testing didn’t help. There are a lot of average scores on his grading sheet. I dig the way he plays, and I think he knows the game better than most. Trotter Jr. can play every down, and he will make game-changing plays throughout his career. What happens between those plays will determine if he can impact the game as much as his father did (in a different way) or not.

7) James Williams – Miami – 6’4 / 231

Grade: 74

Junior entry, three-year starter. All-ACC in 2021. Williams was a college safety that was the enforcer-half of a duo in the middle that flashed dominance over his career in multiple stretches. There is a presence about him that screamed Kam Chancellor. He is an alpha with excellent size and strength. While there are schemes that can keep him in the middle, the predominant belief is he will need to shift up to linebacker at the next level. He may need a specific role that a defense can plan around. As versatile as he is, he has not proven he can play a traditional safety role that relies on smooth movement and quick reactions against the pass. The second level us where he can make a case for himself to be considered a plus-athlete and true difference maker. How smooth he can transition and pick up the nuances plus techniques will determine a lot. Williams appears best suited for nickel safety or dime linebacker role that can provide better run support and pass rushing than a traditional defensive back.

*Williams has quite the story. He had a really tough upbringing, and you can almost tell by simply watching him play the game. If I had to make a list of the top three enforcers in the class, he is on it and he may be the number one guy. He had nine unnecessary roughness personal foul penalties. While you don’t want to see those flags on game day, I can live with a few if it changes the personality of a defense. I am very intrigued by this kid and the position switch. This is the kind of guy that can match up with the freaks at tight end some teams have. This is the kind of guy that can spy the quarterback. And this is the kind of guy that has the floor of a Cam Brown special teamer type. Sign me up day three.

8) Edefuan Ulofoshio – LB / Washington – 6’0 / 236

Grade: 74

Sixth-year senior, three-year starter. Two-time All-Pac 12, first team in 2023. Former walk-on that evolved into a team captain and All-Conference performer. Ulofoshio was somewhat overlooked on the high school recruiting trail, as he lived in Alaska halfway through high school. Washington knew they had a steal on their hands early on in his career. His ascent was interrupted by season ending injuries (torn bicep and torn ACL) in back-to-back years. He came back strong in 2023 with a career year on the second-best team in college football. Ulofoshio has tremendous tools for today’s linebacker demands. He is long and fast. When he can play downhill and aggressively, he is a true difference maker that can get behind the line of scrimmage and cause disruption. Ulofoshio can hang on the field in sub packages as well. Early on he will be a weapon on special teams but tightness in his hips and lack of reaction speed laterally will need to improve before being depended on. He will likely be a career backup that can hold the fort if needed.

*If you told me this kid is going to lead his team in tackles year one, I wouldn’t be surprised. We see this happen all the time at the position. Sometimes it is more about situation than the player, but the player still deserves some credit. Anyway, Ulofoshio screams pro linebacker. He will be limited in some areas, but he knows what to do and where to be. I trust his IQ and ability to finish the plays he can get to.

9) Tommy Eichenberg – Ohio State – 6’2 / 233

Grade: 74

Three-year starter. First team All-Big Ten in both 2023 and 2022, All-American in 2022. Winner of the Butkus-Fitzgerald Award (Big Ten’s top linebacker) in 2023. Brother of Liam Eichenberg, offensive lineman with the Dolphins. Tommy is a little bit of a throwback inside linebacker that does not have a true standout trait to his game besides heady run defense that needs to be in traffic to be truly effective. He is tough and hard-nosed, plays smart, and will be assignment-savvy. On paper he looks to be an ideal fit for a starting Mike at the next level, but his tape shows plenty of movement issues that are going to be a problem. Take out the shortcomings in coverage, and I still see a lack of agility and change of direction when he is in space. The Big Ten did not fully expose that in a way the NFL can. He can be trusted as a quality backup-caliber defender and key special teamer that could be a guy if surrounded by very good talent. He can make the most of a situation like that but do not expect a high ceiling playmaker.

*I had a stretch where I thought this kid would be a first rounder. But after the deep dive on his tape and considering the coverage demands of linebackers these days, I had to keep him in this day three tier. I can see a team (especially a 3-4 front) viewing him as a starter which can land him day two. I’ve heard some mixed reviews on him character wise that gives me some pause.

10) Trevin Wallace – Kentucky – 6’1 / 237

Grade: 73

Junior entry, two-year starter. Wallace arrived to Kentucky as a prized recruit with one of the. most interesting physical profiles in this class overall. He was a two-way star on the field in high school starring at quarterback, running back , and wide receiver. He was also a state champion weightlifter and an accomplished track athlete. The 11th player on Bruce Feldman’s “Freak List” has standout traits that show up both on the field and in workouts. His production climbed all three seasons and fits in exactly with what the NFL wants out of linebackers now. His ability to unlock his hips and close in on the ball carrier in pursuit makes him a space-weapon. The speed shows up laterally. Wallace does not play with enough power or clear instincts. He is a grab and drag tackler that gets caught over-pursuing. His athleticism in coverage is inconsistent, which can rightfully bring up questions about his instincts and feel for the game. His future will likely include a starting job on the weak side early in his career. How strong he stays on his progression will determine if he can keep the job.

*For a team that wants to gamble on a linebacker that has the upside to be an athletic playmaker, Wallace is the guy. There is a good chance he goes day two. When it comes to what I want out of linebacker when it comes to run defense and instincts, especially in an era where we often see two (or one) linebackers on the field, I weigh the risk more than the potential reward. He also lacks the violence and power element that I believe is very important. Fun player to keep an eye on.

11) Michael Barrett – Michigan – 5’11 / 233

Grade: 73

Sixth-year senior, three-year starter. Two-time All-Big Ten. Left Michigan as the program’s all-time leader in games played (64). Barrett, a former offensive player that arrived to Michigan and spent two years on that side of the ball, finished his career as a team captain. He looks undersized initially, but Barrett understands how to use his disproportionate length to his advantage when taking on blockers. He is a violent, smart player that gets himself to the right spot over and over. His ability to drop back in to deep zone coverage will be a welcomed addition to teams that run a lot of cover two. He is extremely disciplined on and off the field and it shows with how well he progressed from offensive player to special teams standout to third and second leading tacklers respectively on back-to-back top-shelf defenses. While the speed and size of the league will likely muddy his projected ceiling at the next level, Barrett’s game is worth taking a shot on in the middle rounds. His game translates to a starting caliber player or sub-package defender with special teams prowess.

*Fun player to watch. Fun player to root for. The measurables knocked his grade down and even though I wanted to put him higher, I kept him where I think he presents the most value in relation to what his real upside is. Barrett does feel safe, though. He is smart and I think his ability to cover ground in coverage can get him on the field. Don’t expect a starter, maybe not even a sub-package player, but a guy you want to have on the depth chart of injuries pile up.

12) Curtis Jacobs – Penn State – 6’1 / 241

Grade: 73

Three-year starter. Two-time All-Big Ten. Jacobs arrived at Penn State as a prized five-star recruit with the perception he would be next in line for big-time NFL projection from a program that come consider to be “LB U”. While he never quite reached that ceiling, this is a kid that started 36 games with consistent production on all three levels. He is a powerful downhill mover that can create a play for the defense. Space is his friend. He looks comfortable in any role with lots of green around him and his range is a credible threat. The feel for the game can be questioned, however. Jacobs gets caught playing with high pads and struggles to see through blockers. Too often he is rendered ineffective by quality blocking and angles. He can start off as a quality special teams weapon but in time he will need to improve his mental side to maximize his physical gifts.

*Jacobs is a similar prospect to Wallace above. Gifted and brings the high ceiling. But hasn’t shown the feel for the game and often finds himself on the wrong side of blockers. He brings a bit more power to the table but for a guy coming from that program with that many starts but never got consistent with his reads makes him a gamble. I am fine with the gamble at this portion of the draft, but that’s it.

13) JD Bertrand – Notre Dame – 6’1 / 235

Grade: 72

Fifth-year senior, three-year starter. Bertrand is a two-time team captain that led the Fighting Irish in tackles each of the last three seasons. When it comes to intangibles, it does not get better than him. The former Eagle Scout and Academic All-American has a brother in pro baseball and already has the reputation as a future Head Coach or General Manager. On the field, he is a somewhat athletically limited defender but he is a ring leader-type that will raise the floor of the room he is in. He is smart, instinctive, and physical. Bertrand won the Linebacker-MVP award at the Senior Bowl (voted on by players and coaches). He suffered a foot injury during the pre-draft process which hindered his opportunity to answer a few questions about his speed that show up on tape. The safeness in him comes from the fact he will be a near-automatic special teams force and reliable backup middle linebacker. He can be more.

*Bertrand will win over coaches that value the brain and leadership qualities of a linebacker. While there are specific roles he will struggle with because he is playing with a scaled back version of NFL tools, some of weaknesses can be hidden. He was productive consistently no matter who he played against.

14) Jaylan Ford – Texas – 6’2 / 240

Grade: 71

Two-year starter. First Team All-Big 12 in both 2023 and 2022. Also a 2022 All-American. Ford went from late signee to Texas and their lowest rated recruit to an All-American and team captain. Coaches pointed to him when asked which players were most responsible for the surge into the College Football Playoffs. Ford made a name for himself with repeated game-changing plays. He intercepted six passes and forced four fumbles over his last two seasons. He was a productive tackler as well, leading the team in that department both seasons as well. Ford’s game is built on reaction speed and instincts. He shows good flow to the action with the ability to finish. Those turnovers did not happen by mistake. Even with that, Ford has a somewhat slender frame, and his athletic potential is very limited. Physically, he is average at-best. Ford will make a team as a special teamer and quality backup. He will need to prove he can play faster and be more reliable as a space defender if he wants to obtain and keep a starting job.

*If you asked me where this guy would end up last summer, I would have said closer to round one than round three. He ends up closer to round six. The splash plays were he for him and I do think it matters this guy seemed to always be at the right place at the right time. He is smart and a true self starter. But the every down breakdown of his tape was similar to a lot of guys in this day three tier. Just too many losses stacked on top of each other. While I do like the idea of getting a guy like this with their final pick if possible, it needs to be exactly that. End of draft type.

15) Steele Chambers – Ohio State – 6’1 / 226

Grade: 71

Fifth-year senior, two-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023 and 2022. Spent his first two seasons at running back before moving to linebacker in 2021. Averaged eight yards per carry on 28 attempts. Chambers opened eyes on special teams and because of the crowded running back room topped off by the signing of star recruit TreVeyon Henderson
in 2020, Chambers shifted to the defensive side and impressed the staff immediately. He is a quick and slippery defender that understands how to miss contact with proper footwork while maintaining balance, likely stemming from his previous life on the other side of the ball. He intercepted four passes over his three years at linebacker and shows excellent quickness and closing speed. Chambers lacks length and power, two areas that hurt him mightily in specific situations. His contact is light, and he struggles to wrap physical downhill ball carriers. His initial impact will come on special teams but as he gains more experience on that side with hopeful strength gains, he can be a key contributor from the weak side.

*Chambers may be a bit overhyped by some. I am intrigued by him, but the truth is his size and lack of elite speed and/or power is going to make it highly unlikely for him to be more than a backup. His profile and story are worth a shot though. I like the quickness he shows in making reads for a guy that recently moved to linebacker. He was a high school teammate of JD Bertrand, listed above. Imagine that! Chambers fits in well with what I think the new scheme will demand if he can check the power presence box.

16 – 28:

16) Jordan Magee – Temple – 6’1 / 228: 71
17) Darius Muasau – UCLA – 6’0 / 25: 71
18) Tyrice Knight – UTEP – 6’0 / 233: 71
19) Jackson Mitchell – Connecticut – 6’1 / 225: 71
20) Nathaniel Watson – Mississippi State – 6’2 / 233: 70
21) Winston Reid – Weber State – 6’0 / 223: 70
22) Omar Speights – LSU – 6’1 / 225: 69
23) Dallas Gant – Toledo -6’2 / 228: 70
24) Tatum Bethune – Florida State – 5’11 / 224: 69
25) Aaron Casey – Indiana – 6’1 / 230: 69
26) Maema Njongmeta – Wisconsin – 6’0 / 228: 69
27) Joe Andreessen – Buffalo – 6’0 / 140: 68
28) Jett Bush – Texas – 6’1 / 240: 68

NYG APPROACH

Thankfully this front office locked in a real MIKE linebacker last offseason in Bobby Okereke. I’ve been banging the table for one for years and it does solidify the position overall even though he is just one guy. If you have a rock like Okereke, a guy who can stay on the field in all situations and perform at a high level, you can afford to go bargain shopping at the other spot and/or come up with a healthy rotation. NYG has two guys with different skill sets next to him. Micah McFadden is an ascending complement that has some home run or strikeout to his game, but he did have a ton of impact plays in 2023. I would like to see if he can take it to an even higher level in 2024. Isaiah Simmons was brought back but I’m not sure what the new scheme will view him as. There is a shot we see him as a wide-nine edge rusher. His tool set fits the role and I think we all know he is limited as a true inside linebacker.

The room is full enough with special teamers and roster hopefuls. Is there really a spot for another piece that NYG needs to use a pick on? I lean towards no. The only situation where it makes sense is where an immense value presents itself round 5, 6, or 7 (if they find themselves there after a trade). I’m not overly impressed with the group overall, as a lot of these guys are missing a key trait respectively. You can find that caliber day three in the draft, any year.

Apr 152024
 
Ruke Orhorhoro, Clemson Tigers (November 4, 2023)

Ruke Orhorhoro – © USA TODAY Sports

DEFENSIVE TACKLES

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Core special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Ruke Orhorhoro – Clemson – 6’4 / 294

Grade: 83

Fifth year senior, three-year starter. Lagos, Nigeria. Orhorhoro played just two years of high school football after arriving to America as a nine-year old. He was actually a better basketball player early on. Clemson took a chance on the raw 265 pounder and after barely seeing the field in both 2019 and 2020, he stepped up in a big way when Bryan Bresee got injured in 2021. He turned himself into a consistent, steady interior player capable of taking on the dirty work. His ability to play wide and low with immense staying power and surprising quickness can put him into multiple roles within multiple schemes. Orhorhoro has some of the best hand strength you will find, as he constantly wins the lockout battle over and over. The stutter step quickness and ability to adjust late to a blocker will get him into the backfield occasionally and he has a knack for finishing (8 tackles for loss each of the last three years). This is an every down, starting caliber lineman that will be dependable play to play with some more upside to chew off since he is still relatively new to the game. Orhorhoro is a the kind of prospect a team can feel both safe about and intrigued by when it comes to the floor-ceiling ratio.

*If you asked me in the fall who would end up as the top DT grade in the class, I would have all but guaranteed it to be one of the two guys below. Orhorhoro has a Dalvin Tomlinson-type feel to his game in that he is going to be NFL-ready week one. His play strength is immense. I had the opportunity to speak with multiple ACC offensive linemen over the past three years and I always ask who the top guy is they’ve ever played against. Ruke’s name came up more often than anyone. They said he was the strongest guy that had to match up against. The difference between him and Tomlinson is two-fold. Ruke is still new to the game. He is very inexperienced compared to most prospects despite starting 30 games in college. Second, Ruke is one of the best athletes to ever test at the combine. He absolutely dominated the position drills and testing. There is something about this kid I am drawn to. I will get into the DT group in relation to NYG at the end, but this is someone I am looking at hard in round two if he is still there. He makes sense from every angle.

2) Jer’Zhan Newton – Illinois – 6’3 / 296

Grade: 82

Three-year starter. Three-time All-Big Ten, first team in 2023 and 2022, and two-time All-American, first team in 2023. Newton was a high school running back and basketball star. That kind of athletic ability shows up along the interior, a spot he is usually matched up against bigger, slower offensive linemen. His style of play fits into the prototypical three-technique role that has him shoot a single gap and create havoc in the backfield. His ability to play low and quick can be a headache for blockers to deal with. While Newton rarely left the field in college, his lack of stoutness and ability to hold the point may prevent him from being a true every down player. He is best suited for a defensive line that goes overkill in rotations. He proved he can stay on the field as much as any prospect that plays up front in the class but if a defense can take away the negative plays he has against the gap-controlled running plays, his contributions can rival what the stars of the NFL produce. Newton will need the right situation to reach his ceiling and even though there is some “home run or strikeout” in his game, he will at least make impact plays for the defense weekly.

*Newton played more than any FBS DT since the start if 2022. He was on the field for 749 snaps in 2023 alone! For reference, DeWayne Carter played 588. Brandon Dorlus 587. Maason Smith 582. Byron Murphy 438. Orhorhoro. 409. You get the picture. This guy does not come off the field. He is more than a pass rusher. He penetrates with the best of them and has the mobility in his lower body to adjust on the fly and disrupt a running game. He can crush a wide-zone rushing attack. Why don’t I have him higher? As a stay-at-home guy, he struggles mightily. He gets turned, he gets moved, and he struggles to maintain lockout with a blocker. It doesn’t always matter, but it matters enough. Still a first-round grade, though.

3) Byron Murphy II – Texas – 6’0 / 297

Grade: 81

Junior entry. One-year starter from DeSoto, TX. Played in a heavy rotational role for his first two years before moving into more of an every down-type spot in 2023. He did play a lot all three years and will enter the league with over 1,000 snaps of experience. Murphy II is slightly undersized for the interior when it comes to his length and height, but he plays with tremendous power and quickness. His pure strength and speed metrics are rare for both his position and weight class, and it shows up on tape. He clearly has a plan for his pass rush snaps, setting blockers up and adjusting based on their initial footwork. There is a strong sense of “know-how” with his techniques and because he plays with such a low base and high hands, the likelihood of a lone blocker staying on him for more than a couple seconds is low. Murphy II even splits double teams at a highly successful rate. His best fit would be in a three-tech role but he can be moved around a bit and will support the run (averaged 10 snaps a game from the A gap). After never missing a game in his career, Murphy II will be viewed as a starting-caliber inside defender capable of boosting a pass rush right away with top-ten (at the position) potential.

*Pre-grading process my gut was leaning toward Murphy being DT1 and a top 15 pick. Between the deep dive on film and his official measurements, he took a slight hit. There is a very small list of DTs that played at his size (height/length/wingspan). In the same breath, there is a very small list of DTs that are as athletic as him. Murphy II can play every down. I do not question that. Will he hold up? Some will bring up Grady Jarrett, a guy I overlooked in 2015 because of size. I think this is a better projection for a player like this, someone that could end up getting drafted late round one because of the positional value boost.

4) Braden Fiske – Florida State – 6’4 /292

Grade: 79

Sixth-year senior, four-year starter. Spent five years at Western Michigan before entering the transfer portal in 2023 where he was one of the most highly sought after transfer recruits in the country. Fiske was one of two All-Americans on the Florida State defensive line, and he showed flashes, especially late in the year, of the being the most disruptive. His get-off and ability to adjust on the move creates havoc in the backfield. The functional athleticism he plays with has had teams consider him as a situational fullback at the next level. Beyond the movement traits, Fiske brings power, but he lacks stout presence. He can get displaced by the double team and the lack of length arises when he is a stay-at-home defender. He needs to be in three or five-technique role and an every down role may not be in the cards for him. However, the ability to penetrate and impact the backfield is enough to warrant a day-two slot and his rotational impact along with the mentality he plays with will be attractive to all schemes.

*Now this is a name to keep an eye on for the Giants pick at #47. One of my favorite guys to watch in the entire class. Fiske broke out in a big way down the stretch, but don’t mistake this for a one-shot wonder. He was a pro prospect coming into 2023 and everyone wanted a piece of him in the transfer portal. This might be one of the best five athletes we have ever seen at DT in combine history. His energy is contagious and whoever drafts him will have a new coach/fan favorite. There is some hot/cold to his game and it may keep him in a rotational role. But he will make an impact player. Ideal fit for NYG.

5) Fabien Lovett Sr. – Florida State – 6’4 / 314

Grade: 79

Sixth-year senior. Four-year starter split between two seasons at Mississippi State and Florida State. Transferred to the Seminoles in 2020 and earned Honorable Mention All-ACC honors in 2021 and 2022. While he played just under 550 snaps over the last two years, Lovett had a hard time staying healthy with nagging lower body injuries, two of which were to his foot/toe. This is a guy that actually received and accepted a Senior Bowl invite in 2023, but returned to school. He has the ideal pro body for an interior run stuffer. His length, strength, and post-snap feel have been NFL ready for years. His floor is that of a solid situational run defender. What he tried to enhance, but never quite got there, was the pass rush skill set. While he did show the occasional flash (especially in 2021, his final healthy season), Lovett is going to remain an unknown there. I like the upside he has in that area and if he does reach it, he can be a complete starting interior lineman that can wreak havoc. He will turn 25 toward the end of his rookie season and his medicals need some extra screening, but this is a sneaky high-ceiling, unique prospect.

*I am pretty sure I will be the only one with a grade this high on Lovett. I was here on him last year and I saw enough in 2023 to keep him there. 35.5” arms with his this foot quickness and lower body power? He screams starting DT. A foot injury history for a guy this big will need screening. I was told he got the green check there, thus I did not downgrade him. This is also a DT that makes sense for NYG without the size handicap. While he does not bring anything near the athletic ability of Fiske, he does bring more every-down ability and still has a pass rush upside that we got a glimpse of in 2021.

6) Michael Hall Jr. / Ohio State – 6’3 / 290

Grade: 78

Third-year sophomore entry, two-year starter from Streetsboro, OH. Hall Jr. has a unique game that is fully built on disruptive quickness. While he is undersized for every down duty inside, he knows how to get by blockers in a hurry. He fits the mold of the classic three-technique (where he spent 75% of his snaps) with developed rush moves and a nose for the ball. The comfort in which he moves with, both in space and in a phone booth, will make a difference. The ups and downs are real with a player like this. He gets moved and spun in the running game and the bull rush capabilities are low. The lack of consistent durability and overall workload could be sign of what he is truly capable week to week in the NFL. He will need a specific front and role to be effective and it will likely not be an every down role. Pass rushers have value, however, and his upside in that area is good enough to warrant a slight boost to his grade.

*My grade on Northwestern DT Adebawore last year was probably a bit rich. I had a first-round grade on him, and he ended up going in the fourth. Hall Jr.’s grade is probably closer to where I should have put him. That said, Hall Jr. fits in with this scheme and is one of my favorite second-tier options for the interior pass rusher role next to Lawrence. His get off is some of the best I have seen, and his length can offset some of the size concerns. 33.5” arms are long enough to make a real difference. He has rush moves, he has excellent closing burst, and he has some killer instinct to his game. He was the most disruptive interior pass rusher at the Senior Bowl. Because of the pass rush value, I could see him sneaking into round two.

7) Kris Jenkins – Michigan – 6’3 / 299

Grade: 78

Three-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023 and 2022, Second Team All-American in 2023. Jenkins is the son of former Pro Bowler Kris Jenkins (Panthers, Jets). He is undersized for every down duty as an inside-gap defender, but he has a level of versatility that multi-fronts will be attracted to. Jenkins’ burst and quickness post-snap can get him to shoot the gap and track down runs away from him. He works down the line exceptionally well, as his sheer athleticism is elite for the position. He shows no wasted steps, constantly wins the leverage battle, and chooses violence with his hands. There are a lot of attractive and versatile traits to his game. Jenkins is best suited for a three or five-technique type role with the occasional shift further inside. However, for him to maximize the physical gifts he has, there needs to be more variety with his pass rush. He never got over the hump there. If that remains the case, he is more of a rotational guy than a pure starter. He will be a solid player, though, and the physical ability is there to be much more.

*For the second straight year, a Michigan DT was in the top 10 of the Bruce Feldman “Freak List” – reserved for the best athletes in college football. For the second straight year, I was underwhelmed by that player on tape, and he did not test even close to what the school was stating he did in their private workouts. It was Mazi Smith a year ago (DAL first rounder), another guy I had a 78 grade on. While he deserves more time to prove what he can be, things are not off to a good start. Jenkins does have impressive talent, but there were too many losses in between his flashes to give him anything more than this. I do see a good fit here in this scheme and situation; however I fear he will be off the board before I would think the value is right.

8) DeWayne Carter – Duke – 6’2 / 302

Grade: 76

Fifth year senior, three-year starter. Three-time All-ACC, first team in 2023. One of the top students in the country, was a finalist for the “Academic Heisman” (William V. Campbell Trophy). First three-time team captain in program history. Carter is a densely built, powerful, low-to-ground defender that plays the game with immense power and quickness. He gets off the snap with a plan and shows the ability to adjust if he initially loses. A lot of his production came from second-effort plays and it makes sense considering how hard he plays. Carter will pursue the ball all over the field and chase down the action from behind. His best role will likely be at three-technique where his get off and powerful twitch can create a lot of wins. The lack of reach and lockout capabilities will make it tough for him to win as a run defender down to down, but the penetration skills and intelligence factor will create plays in flashes.

*Carter is essentially a scaled back version of the Newton/Murphy/Fiske trio. For teams in on those guys but don’t get their hands on them, Carter is a nice Plan B. His 2023 did not go as planned. They moved him to defensive end a lot and it seemed to throw off his rhythm. Some guys are not meant to be moved around and Carter is one of them. This can be a nice mid-round fit for NYG if they want to beef up the inside pass rush, something I strongly feel they need to do. He is more explosive than quick, more pass rusher than complete defender. Let him shoot the gap, get someone else to do the other stuff.

9) T’Vondre Sweat – Texas – 6’4 / 366

Grade: 76

Fifth year senior. Two-year starter. Two-time All-Big 12, first team in 2023. All-American and Outland Trophy Award winner in 2023. Sweat’s game is built on his rare size and power. He can overwhelm defenders at the point of attack with his mass and heavy hands. His game has developed into more versatile style with every down usage. The newfound pass rush and pursuit capabilities give him starter upside for both odd and even fronts with a high floor to build from. This is a kid that has been on a constant ascent both on and off the field since arriving in 2019. His maturity concerns did improve as time went on, but a DWI arrest in early April of this year puts a dark cloud over that fact. On the field, Sweat evolved into a true difference maker away from the point of attack. His ability to move like he does at 366 pounds does not come around often. Add in the dominant flashes he showed at the Senior Bowl in 1 on 1’s, there is optimism around what he can be. He will need to answer for his arrest, however.

*Sweat could not have gotten arrested at a worse time. His maturity concerns from earlier in his career centered around partying and lack of good decision making. And here we are watching him get a DUI in April. The fact this happened says a lot in my eyes. I downgraded him from a 79. The idea of NYG going after him (as a player) is more fun fantasy that intelligent reality. He would give the team a fourth oversized run defender without a true pass rush arsenal beyond anything other than a bull rush. It would be more luxury than necessity for a team that needs a lot of help. I don’t see this lining up, but I do think a team will use a third rounder on him. He is truly dominant in flashes.

10) Brandon Dorlus – Oregon – 6’3 / 283

Grade: 76

Fifth year senior, four-year starter. Three-time All-Pac 12, first team in 2023 and 2021. The highly experienced and versatile lineman gives a high floor, high ceiling outlook that can be used in multiple ways at a dependable level. If he can become more consistent with specific lower body techniques, he will be a quality starter with above average pass rush capabilities that can be moved all over the front. He has split his career between lining up as a an edge defender and interior lineman. The physical tools are there to project to both at the next level. The lockout game is strong and when he pairs it with proper bend, he consistently wins the initial fight with the blocker. From there, he shows an array of crafty moves with his hands to create space and opportunity. The athletic ability is good enough to get into the creases and when his forward lean is there, he finds daylight when pursuing the action. Dorlus is a finisher when he smells blood. His 160 career pressures and 27 tackles for loss that were compiled from all angles and positions prove his ability to impact the game. A versatile front will value him a lot, but he needs to improve his lower body power and strength. As he grows into his frame, his best fit will be inside but a front could use him as a five-technique occasionally because of the edge setting prowess he shows.

*At first glance, I was looking at round one for Dorlus. He is a true tweener that gave me some Justin Tuck vibes early on. After the deep dive on his film, I did not see enough sheer talent to be considered that high and his testing confirmed that. I can think of several schemes that would do him right and get the most out of him where you could make an argument for day two. If NYG wants a size-guy to rotate in behind Thibodeaux and Burns with capability of rushing from inside, I like the Dorlus fit. Similar vibe to what Jihad Ward offered in Martindale’s scheme but younger and faster.

11) Jordan Jefferson – LSU – 6’3 / 313

Grade: 76

Three-year starter. The former state champion wrestler spent four years at West Virginia where he contributed all four seasons, starting for two years, before transferring to LSU in 2023. There is a level of intrigue that comes from his combination of get off and upper body power. He has a lot of tape where he creates a new line of scrimmage with proper pad level. From there, he has the quickness to shed his man and reach the ball carrier in the tackle box. He had glimpses of high-level run defense. While he will struggle to man two gaps because of a slight deficit in his lower body (both strength and technique-based), Jefferson should be able to contribute right away if he is in the right role. He does not stay square, but some defenses will value that less than others. The heaviness to his punch and level of athleticism that landed him on the Bruce Feldman Freak List last summer in addition to the quality week at the Senior Bowl will credibly project him to a number three-defensive tackle spot at the next level. He was not used much as a pass rusher at LSU but there are traits worth trying to develop there. Interesting prospect.

*Jefferson actually caught my eyes in 2022 while scouting Dante Stills’ tape (2023 6th rounder by ARI). I did not even know he transferred to LSU until August. These linemen that test well athletically paired with the wrestling background are always intriguing. He has the Barry Cofield-type day three grade but capable of playing early as a stopgap type feel to his game. Jefferson has some hot and cold to his game and he was not a productive pass rusher. But he has get off with good hands and the right mentality for a guy that can offer a solid 5-10 snaps per game. Similar feel to what Nunez-Roches offers NYG right now.

12) Maason Smith – LSU – 6’5 / 306

Grade: 75

Junior entry. Two-year starter that missed almost all of 2022 after tearing his ACL week one. Smith was a top-shelf, five-star recruit out of high school that got on the field as a rotational piece right away in 2021. There were some flashes but the main draw was based purely on potential as a result of his rare combination of power height, weight, speed, and power. He was supposed to be the guy in 2022 but it was over after just eight snaps. The hype around him was still very real heading into 2023. Smith played all over the line over his career and the crowded defensive tackle room at LSU may have taken some of the production away from him. However, the fact is he never quite reached a consistent level of dominance. The flashes were there, but four of his six career sacks came against McNeese State and Georgia State and he still has several technique-based issues in his game. He plays high and lacks variety within his attacks. Smith still brings a level of sheer power that few can match and his youth will strengthen the level of intrigue. His best spot will likely be in a 3-4 front where could play on the outside. There is some Stephon Tuitt in his game.

*Even in a room full of some of the biggest people in the world, certain guys still stand out. That is Smith. This kid is just put together different. When he is standing around, you notice the absolute giant he is. You don’t always see it on film for good reason; this kid can really bend. Add in the 35” arms (second longest) and 84.5 wingspan (the widest) and you have a freak label. Smith did not look right in 2023, as he was a year off his ACL surgery. While recovery is quicker than it used to be, I still think it takes 18 months for a bigger guy to get their movement traits back to 100%. Smith’s tools and five-star status and impressive freshman campaign had some guys talking round one here at this time a year ago. If NYG wants to swing for a high-ceiling guy that can give NYG a Marcus Stroud + John Henderson (JAX) vibe to the DT room, they may have to go round three for Smith. I will say this…it would really excite me even though he could be a complete dud.

13) Mekhi Wingo – LSU – 6’0 / 284

Grade: 75

Junior entry. Spent one season at Missouri prior to transferring to LSU. Two-year starter. Earned second team All-SEC and All-American honors in 2022. Wingo’s 2023 season stood out in multiple ways, ways that sum up what teams will think about the person. First of all, he was given the prestigious #18 jersey – reserved for the number one leader on that team. That was even more notable than usual considering he had been with the program for just one year prior to getting that jersey. Second, he tore his adductor muscles off his pelvis in October which forced him into surgery, ending his season. Third, rather than sitting out the Bowl Game and prepping for the draft, he opted to come back. And lastly, he not only played, but he had his best game of the season with 2 sacks against a solid group of Wisconsin linemen. Wingo is small and gets washed out by the double team at times. He is a good, not great, athlete. But this is a productive gap shooter that will impact the game on passing downs. He is not a fit for every scheme or role inside, but he should have at least a rotational role with impact on third down. Coaches are going to love this kid’s attitude and he proved he can win against quality blockers multiple times over the last two seasons especially.

*Yet another undersized but credible threat for a three-tech spot. I cannot recall having this many in the same class, especially in the top 4-5 rounds. Wingo is probably the final option if you really want one to impact your defense in 2024. Remember what Kobie Turner did for the Rams in 2023? An end-of-third-round rookie that was not invited to the combine that led all rookies in sacks. Wingo plays the game with a lot of similarities. 284 pounds and a 77” wingspan is really, really small though even for this role. A team will get a guy they know will come in and work, though.

NFL Comparison: Kobie Turner / LAR

14) McKinnley Jackson – Texas A&M – 6’1 / 326

Grade: 72

Senior entry, three-year starter. Lucedale, MS. Jackson is a two-time team captain and has made a habit of winning team awards for toughness offseason strength work. He is a coach’s favorite type on and off the field. He is wide and thick everywhere. The length he can play with is rare considering his height and it opens doors for a variety of play styles and roles. His game is built on a quick first step that turns into power. His push and stoutness give him the ability to get the initial win spatially. There is a quick first step to penetrate if he aligns in a gap. McKinnley’s low-to-ground build and strength at 330+ pounds can create wins behind the line of scrimmage. His 15 career tackles for loss and the consistent plays on tape where he is found disrupting the action in the backfield prove he can be more than a space eater. His pass rush repertoire remains a work in progress, as he needs to get better with his hands when it comes to counter moves. At worst, Jackson will be a serviceable one/zero-technique that can muddy the waters against the inside running game. His intangibles and tools are unique to consider strong possibility he can be more than that.

*If I am running strictly a 3-4 front and I need a boulder to line up at nose tackle, I am going to have a higher grade on Jackson. This is a big-time presence inside. His unique frame presents a big upside for that spot. He needs to change his style of play, however. He overshoots in pursuit and will lack the gap integrity. If he fixes that and stops trying to be something he isn’t this is a Casey Hampton (remember him?) that can stick around for a long time.

15) Justin Eboigbe – Alabama – 6’4 / 297

Grade: 70

Fifth year senior, one-year starter, Forest Park, GA. Eboigbe played all over the line with almost equal distribution between defensive end and tackle. His blend of size, power, and hand-strength will fit best into a five-tech role, but he can fit into any scheme. This is a credible inside-out threat that can be shifted based on situations and matchups. His impact on the defense was delayed after suffering a neck injury that limited him to just four games in 2022. He bounced back in his final year with a season that essentially doubled his career production across the board. The tools were always attractive but because of the injury and crowded defensive line room, they were never consistently on display until 2023. He will be a plus-run defender right away and will give the occasional pressure in the passing game. His country-strong hands and ability to produce power from his lower half will give him a high-floor outlook. He is high-cut and shows some tightness in his hips when adjusting his weight laterally, but he should be able to keep techniques clean if can be a rotational player at the next level. He will be good for 10-15 snaps per game at the start of his career with the potential to evolve into more.

*While there isn’t anything about his game that screams upside, I bet Eboigbe will be able to come into the league right away and create a role for himself that sees the field weekly. The run defending defensive lineman is not nearly as valuable as it was 10-20 years ago but be sure to remember the fact 2023 was his first full clean year in the rotation. And he was a key piece that brought it every week. He had a pressure in all but one game. He had a tackle in all but one game. He played multiple positions in every game. Sounds like a classic old-school Patriot to me that plays better than the sum of his parts would lead you to believe.

16 – 29:

16) Tyler Davis – Clemson – 6’2 / 301: 70
17) Kristian Boyd – Northern Iowa – 6’2 / 329: 70
18) Jaden Crumedy – Mississippi State – 6’4 / 301: 70
19) Logan Lee – Iowa – 6’5 / 281: 70
20) Leonard Taylor – Miami – 6’3 / 303: 70
21) Gabe Hall – Baylor – 6’6 / 291: 69
22) Tuli Letuligasenoa – Washington – 6’1 / 295: 68
23) Myles Murphy – North Carolina: 6’4 / 309: 68
24) Evan Anderson – Florida Atlantic: 6’1 / 320: 68
25) Taki Taimani – Oregon – 6’1 / 309: 68
26) Keith Randolph – Illinois – 6’3 / 296: 68
27) Marcus Harris – Auburn – 6’2 / 286: 68
28) Casey Rogers – Oregon – 6’4 / 294: 68
29) Jonah Laulu – Oklahoma – 6’5 / 292: 68

NYG APPROACH

NYG has the numbers at DT to look past the position draft weekend. They have the big bodies behind Lawrence in Davidson, Phillips, and Riley. They have a serviceable starter in Nunez-Roches. They have guys that can compete for a roster spot in Horne and Anderson. But rewind to week one of 2023 and they also were employing Leonard Williams (traded to SEA) and A’Shawn Robinson (signed with CAR). Brian Burns was added to the edge to but if you’re leaving it up to me, they need another pass rush option inside. Some of this will depend on the young guys and their progression but even in a best-case scenario, a case can be made to get another tackle in here. I believe there is only room for one. So which direction do they go? A complete DT-type that can develop some presence as a pass rusher? Or a pure three-technique that is going to lack size for every down duty? I am pass rush biased so I am leaning toward the latter and because I am all-in on building an identity, I would do it as early as round two.

Apr 132024
 
Laiatu Latu, UCLA (September 16, 2023)

Laiatu Latu – © USA TODAY Sports

EDGE

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Core special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 16 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Laiatu Latu – UCLA – 6’5 / 259

Grade: 84

Fifth year senior, one-year starter. Sacramento, CA. Spent three years at Washington under the guidance of defensive line coach Ikaika Malloe. Latu suffered a neck injury during an August 2020 practice that initially forced some into believing he would need to medically retire. The conclusion came from meeting with five different specialists and a surgery. Articles were written about the young man moving on from football, coaches from Washington were sealing his fate. However, following his surgery and meeting with more specialists, he received clearance to start playing again but the Washington medical staff did not give the thumbs up. Latu then transferred to UCLA, where his former coach (Malloe), had been hired. He got the green light for contact in June, 2022 and then went on to breakout in a big way. He led the team in tackles for loss and sacks as a rotational player that finished seventh in snaps. His 65 pressures were sixth in the country, just five behind Will Anderson (third pick in the 2023 NFL Draft). Latu opted to return to school after considering the NFL and ended up winning both the Lombardi Award (top OL/DL) and Hendricks Award (top DL). The medicals will be an influential piece to the puzzle, but the on-field performance and skill set screams impactful pass rusher at the next level. Latu wins with techniques and fluidity. He can alter his approach play to play and even his adjustments on the fly are difficult to play against. His rush moves and full arsenal are automatic and natural Latu can win outside, he can win inside, and he can go through the blocker. The question will be the baseline burst and size. He lacks ideal length and he does not have the pure speed to constantly win up the edge. Latu wins as much as any pass rusher we have seen and the way in which he wins translates to long, sustained success at the next level if his medicals are clear.

*I was ready to put Latu in the 85+ range for months. I even envisioned him heading toward the 87-88-89 mark where Aidan Hutchinson wound up in 2022. The truth is, all things considered, he is closer to Kayvon Thibodeaux than he is Hutchinson. That is totally fine, and it warrants a top 15 pick without question, but he isn’t a guy you typically take top five. The physical package is good, not great. The medical history is OK, not good. Those two factors brought him down to the 84 range, but I still believe he is going to be the safest and most consistent pass rusher in this class. I really can’t remember a guy that was as polished as Latu. Add in the production and quality play vs. quality opponents and he comes out with a really solid starting edge grade.

*NFL Comparison: Kayvon Thibodeaux / NYG

2) Dallas Turner – Alabama – 6’3 / 247

Grade: 83

Junior entry. Two-year starter from Fort Lauderdale, FL. Played the “little brother” role to Will Anderson for two seasons before taking over the Alpha-role in 2023. After being a highly sought after recruit wanted by everybody, Turner consistently progressed and emerged from the shadow of Anderson, finishing top three in total pressures and pass rush win rate as a junior. His game is built on speed, explosion, and bend. He has been schooled at a high level in the artistry of beating blockers with a combination of techniques starting at his feet and finishing through his hands. The problem that never got solved and creates some hesitation is found in the power section. Too often he gets bodied by bigger, longer offensive lineman. It is a weapon he does not have in his arsenal; he cannot use it on demand at a high level. He is a bully, and he will play physical, but the questions are credible when he is matched against a plus-athlete across the line and there is not a ton of versatility to his game overall. He straddles the line of pure pass rush specialist and slightly above average every down defender.

*Turner is likely to be the first defensive player taken. He does fit in the profile so I would not argue against it. However, I can’t put a true number one threat on a guy if he doesn’t have the power game. Turner doesn’t have the power game. He has an elite combination of length and speed (almost a 7-foot wingspan and a 4.45 forty) with the top tier bend and aggression. But he gets stalled out as a bull rusher. Coming from the Alabama program where they put as much into their strength and conditioning as anyone in the country, that is a red flag. I don’t know how much he will improve there. Drafting Turner top 20 would not concern me at all. But counting on him to be a big-time dude year after year would. He is better as an appetizer than an entrée.

NFL Comparison: Brian Burns / CAR

3) Chop Robinson – Penn State – 6’3 / 254

Grade: 83

Two-year starter. Two-time All-Big Ten, first team in 2023. All-American in 2023. Limited to ten games in 2023 because of a leg injury. Began career at Maryland as a backup before transferring to Penn State. Quickly became the top player on that defense and the team’s emotional leader. Robinson initially looks a bit undersized, but he plays bigger than what the visual will suggest. He has a powerful and explosive lower body that beds very well. His game is built on burst, leverage, and agility in addition to reliable effort and passion for the game. He will at least be a disruptor on passing downs with the upside of providing a high-end weapon for the defense that constantly beats one on one blocking. The lack of production is a factor in the evaluation. While a few factors beyond his control kept his consistent impact away, Robinson still has a lot of unknown within his projection.

*One of the pleasant surprises of combine weekend was where Robinson measured in. I was almost positive he was going to be smaller. Running a 4.49 at 254 pounds is crazy. If you ask me which of these guys gets the best “quick pressure”, it is Robinson. That alone is going to get him atop some draft boards at the position. San Francisco is one of the teams that value that a ton and there is not a true standout in the group overall. I can see Robinson going top 15, I can see him being there in round 2. Either way, I don’t see a fit with NYG unless they trade down but even then, he is too similar to the guys they already have.

NFL Comparison: Vic Beasley / RET

4) Jared Verse – Florida State – 6’4 / 254

Grade: 82

Began and spent three seasons at Albany before transferring to Florida State for the 2022 season. Four year starter. Two-time first team All-ACC and a 2023 All-American. Also won a team award for leadership. Verse took an enormous leap in competition after three years at Albany only to improve his production and glimpses of dominant play. He brings a power element to his pass rush that will raise his floor and give him every down, every situation contribution. The lack of consistent agility-based rush moves and too-occasional leverage losses need to be fixed if his high ceiling can be reached. The initial triangle numbers are going to get coaches excited but this is not a traditional young prospect. He will turn 24 in November of his rookie season. Bringing him in is less about pass rush, although he will be above average there, but it is more about an every down reliable force on the edge.

*Verse will turn 24 as a rookie. That alone will not hurt his grade, but it does get me thinking his physical progression from here on out will not be as much as someone 2-3 years younger. The tightness in his hips likely won’t disappear and it does show up when looking for variety in his attack. The power that I wish Turner had? Verse has it. But the other traits may make him a straight line-only type. You can have success with that, but not to the point where he is a true number one threat.

NFL Comparison: Jermaine Johnson / NYJ

5) Bralen Trice – Washington – 6’3 / 245

Grade: 80

Two-year starter. Two-time first team All-Pac 12 and 2023 All-American. Trice has led the nation in total pressures each of the past two years. When he gets hot, he is the kind of player that can take over games. His try-hard mentality raises his floor but the lack of top end athleticism and the fact he also ranks near the top of missed tackles over that span causes some concern. The prototype tools of a true edge threat revolve around speed, burst, bend, power, and length. He has one of the three traits at a high level. Decision makers will have to weight those hard facts against the immense production he had two straight seasons. The style of play and constant plan of attack will help hide a few of the issues. Trice can fit into multiple edge roles but how high the ceiling can be is in question.

*Trice was, at one point, the number two edge in this class. He is one of my favorite players in the class to watch overall. That said, I expected him to test better athletically, and I was expecting him to weigh closer to 260. Both were disappointments and those measurables do matter for me when it comes to grade. His tape and production are there with the top three guys (if not better) but how well his game projects to the next level can be credibly challenged. Still a guy I want on my front no matter who is already in place, just needs to be the right slot.

NFL Comparison: Uchenna Nwosu / LAC

6) Darius Robinson – Missouri – 6’5 / 281

Grade: 78

Fifth year senior, three-year starter. Southfield, MI. Robinson is a former high school basketball star that did not start playing organized football until his junior year of high school. He carries 290 pounds with ease, not a single ounce of bad weight. The length and wingspan are weapons against blockers considering how he complements that with his lockout strength and heavy hands. He sets a hard edge against the run and tracks down the action with power and explosion. Robinson showed tremendous pass rush impact in his final (and fifth) year. Prior to 2023, he lacked fluidity. He learned how to initially stifle a blocker with a good pad level and play with more consistency in his pass rush plan. His game revolves around power, but his quickness and burst have started to catch up. The tightness in his hips when adjusting and reacting laterally is still there, however. He tends to get stalled out by blockers that can handle his power. He needs to become more consistent as a technician but the fact he is earlier on the progression curve that most that spent five years in college and he complemented his strong 2023 with a dominant Senior Bowl week, Robinson appears to be ready for a versatile inside-out role.

*There was a ton of love for Robinson after the Senior Bowl. I spent time re-watching his practice tapes a couple weeks later and I walked away with the same day two impression I had of him going into it. Every scheme can use a player like Robinson which could lead to him getting drafted a round early. The is real inside-out usage to his game. Can he ever turn into something great? I’m not sure I see that ceiling. But you get this kid on the field as an interior pass rusher against the pass and/or an edge setter against the run, he will be reliable and consistent. The person and player are going to be what coaches want from the rotational defenders. With the new scheme and current personnel, Robinson actually fits in well as a day two pick.

NFL Comparison: Dayo Odeyingbo / IND

7) Chris Braswell – Alabama – 6’3 / 259

Grade: 78

Senior entry, one-year starter. Baltimore, MD. Braswell played behind Will Anderson for two years in a rotational role following a redshirt season. Following his departure to the NFL, he stepped in as a starting edge defender opposite Dallas Turner, a soon-to-be first round pick. It was Braswell that led the team in pressures and sacks. He was on the field for just over 1,000 career snaps for the Crimson Tide (Turner was just under 1,700). There needs to be more variety in his pass rush repertoire, but the studs are there to be a complete and consistent weapon for the defense. He bends and flattens exceptionally well, understands hand placement, and has the next gear to finish. He does not always react quick enough to fully use his speed and he tends to get stopped in his tracks as pure bull rusher, but he does have ability to play violent. His issues appear to stem from a lack of experience more than a lack of sheer talent. Braswell ideally fits in as a pure edge defender for an odd or even front that will initially rotate in before developing into a solid starting-caliber player.

*Who knows what we would be saying had Will Anderson not been in front of him prior to 2023. Or if Dallas Turner had ended up going to Notre Dame/Clemson. Braswell belongs in the same room as those two, no question. We just did not see enough over his career to warrant anything more than day two. In addition, I thought he would have tested just a notch better. Nonetheless, this is a reliable and safe prospect that can play all three downs and he did produce at a high level in his one year as a starter.

8) Jonah Elliss Utah 6’2 / 248

Grade: 77

Junior entry, two-year starter. Two-time All-Pac 12 and a 2023 All-American despite missing the final three games with a torn labrum. Elliss comes from a football family. His father, Luther, spent ten seasons in the NFL. He is currently the defensive line coach for Utah. His brother, Kaden, was a seventh round pick in 2019 and two of his other older brothers, Christian and Noah, have spent time in the league as undrafted free agents. Elliss plays the game as one would expect a coach’s son to. He is technically sound across the board and shows outstanding instincts and feel for the game. He is constantly in the right position at the right time. While his frame suggests a lack of size, Elliss plays big and strong. He has an effective combination of punch and lockout strength paired with proper bend and foot placement. Elliss’ greatest trait is his quickness and agility. He is a sudden mover that has multiple approaches to beating a blocker. His spin move is already a formidable weapon that will make a difference at the next level. Elliss can immediately make a name for himself as an impact edge rusher and has the makings of an every down player if he can physically hold up against the run. The mental makeup is already in place. He is recovering from a November shoulder surgery but should be a full-go before training camp.

*I liked this kid’s tape better than I thought I would. He is much more than a one-tricky pony. If you have watched any Utah at all, you have probably seen the elite spin move and closing burst he has. While the frame is not impressive, Elliss plays stronger than you would assume. I see him being a dangerous threat in schemes that use the wide nine, but he is more than a mere specialist. The question will be how easily he can hold up physically. Instant energy burst for whatever defense drafts him. I would like to see this kid coming in to spell Burns or Thibodeaux when needed. He is going to demand attention outside.

NFL Comparison: Harold Landry / TEN

9) Marshawn Kneeland – Western Michigan – 6’3 / 267

Grade: 77

Fifth year senior. Four-year starter. All-MAC in 2023. Kneeland was a regional track star in the 400 meter and high jump as a high school athlete. That athleticism still shows up on a frame that is already pro-caliber. He measured in exceptionally well and added in some of the best workout times, notably the agility drills, for a player pushing up against 270 pounds. Kneeland is the “old-school” / traditional 4-3 defensive end. He will be an impact run defender week one, as he controls the point of attack with a lethal combination of heavy hands and length. That is not where it ends, however. Kneeland ascended as a pass rusher over the years and is a good defensive line coach away from a potential double digit sack artist. The other ingredients are there but this will come down to how confident a coach is when it comes to his development from where he is. At worst, he is a solid run defending rotational edge setter that will likely make some noise on special teams.

*Everything about Kneeland got better over the past year and a half. He arrived at Western Michigan as more athlete-than-football-player by wide margin. He blossomed at the right time and while I still think a lot needs to happen to his skill set, he brings more to the table physically than all of the day two guys. What he also has is a true, prototype 4-3 defensive end body that a lot of teams are using more of with the abundance of nickel/dime looks. This is another defensive lineman that I like a lot for the NYG situation. He brings size and power that both Burns and Thibodeaux do not, and he does have some experience over tackle with inside rush paths. The gamble will be the amount of technique work he still needs.

NFL Comparison: Marcus Davenport / MIN

10) Mohamed Kamara – Colorado State – 6’1/ 248

Grade: 76

Five-year starter. All-Mountain West in 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023. Won the conference Defensive Player of the Year Award in 2023 in addition to earning All-American honors. Kamara was a hybrid linebacker/defensive end for his first few seasons prior to making the full time move to edge in 2022. He broke out in a big way there, finishing second all-time in Colorado State history in career sacks. The size profile is going to turn some off and it will be the number one factor in him staying out of the top two tiers of edge rushers. From there, it comes down to scheme-fit and the role in teams want to use him in. Kamara is a pure edge rusher that can be put in a wide-nine alignment and win from a pure burst standpoint repeatedly. He is more than that and that is why he projects to be a difference maker. Kamara plays low and strong and knows what to do with his hands. He has counter moves, he has power from his hips, and there is such an aggressive forward lean to his game. He is simply a hard guy to square up. Kamara made things happen against the run as well. He will not be a pure edge setter, but he can make plays there as well. This is an ideal number three edge defender that starts off as a package defender.

*Kamara is one of my favorite prospects in the entire class. It took some discipline to make sure I slotted him correctly. If NYG wants to pick up an extra edge presence for depth and a possible Ojulari replacement, Kamara is interesting to me. In 2014, Shaquil Barrett entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Colorado State as a 6’1” / 250 pounder with 32”arms and good production (MWC Defensive Player of the Year). I try not to get too attached to comparisons like this that stem from sheer irony, but the name “Shaq Barrett” is found multiple times in my games notes of Kamara. There’s something here with kid. Sign me up day three.

*NFL Comparison: Shaquil Barrett / MIA

11) Adisa Isaac – Penn State – 6’4 / 247

Grade: 76

Fifth year senior. Earned second team-All Big 12 in 2023, third team in 2022. Isaac was a highly sought after recruit but arrived to a crowded Penn State front seven in 2019, playing behind several eventual NFL draft picks including multiple first through third rounders. He then suffered a season-ending Achilles injury prior to the 2021 season. Once back on the field, he totaled 27 tackles for loss over his final two seasons and ended 2023 as one of the most productive pass rushers in the Big Ten on a per-snap basis. He has an incredible frame with length and bend. He can turn a corner under the pads of a blocker and when his hand placement is accurate, there is some “unblockable” in him. The effort switch is always on and there is more twitch in his feet than it looks at times. “At times” is where he gets into trouble. There is a frustrating level of inconsistency to his game and part of that is a lack of true staying power. He has a hard time holding up against power-run blocking and his success rate as a bull rusher against other future pro draft picks was average-at-best. Isaac is going to be a situational pass rusher early on but his ability to eat up lot of space in a short time with that kind of body and level of aggression will get him a look at a starting-caliber draft slot. A team needs to know what he is, and what he is not, to truly get the most out of him.

*There is enough here to put him near Chop Robinson based on who you speak with. The length and bend are really attractive traits. He plays hard and has shown some variety in his attacks. So the studs are there and that achiles injury could have hampered him a bit in 2022. So, maybe he has some of that Chris Braswell type potential? I don’t think he is the same athlete, and his lack of power was an issue when he faced off against quality talent. He is an exciting day three guy but a bit rich day two. Day two would be very Gettleman-like.

NFL Comparison: Carl Granderson / NO

12) Brennan Jackson – Washington State – 6’4 / 264

Grade: 75

Sixth-year senior. All-Pac 12 four times. Following a redshirt season in 2018, Jackson injured his leg and missed most of 2019. The Pac-12 played a very abbreviated 2020 season because of Covid, thus there was a three-year stretch where he played a total of six games. From that point on, Jackson has been on a constant ascent. His game is both polished and violent. He can bend at the top of his rush, and he always appears to have a plan B. The most attractive trait to his game, however, is the sheer effort and passion. Jackson plays all out, all the time. Do not mistake this for a guy that does not have talent. He has the pro-body and shows plus athletic traits and pro-caliber technique. The former Academic-Heisman semifinalist is a near-sure bet to at least contribute as a rotational defender. Now that his ankle is healed from a minor injury sustained at the Senior Bowl, Jackson should be viewed as a high floor, high-ceiling prospect capable of fitting into any edge role.

*If you like Latu (UCLA), you have to have at least a solid rotational grade on Jackson. The similarities on tape are there and if you match up their measurables. It’s crazy how close their size + athletic profile matches up. Add in how many positive notes I have on Jackson when matched up against quality opponents and I think he can be one of the top day three values in the class. Now, what makes Latu a top prospect in this group is how automatic his rush moves are. He is one of the most skilled rushers I’ve ever seen. Jackson is not on that level, so he needs to be slotted correctly. The physical upside is limited as he lacks both explosion and length. But every time I watch him play, Latu’s name did pop up. I want to see what he can develop into.

13) Cedric Johnson – Mississippi – 6’3 / 260

Grade: 75

Three-year starter. Johnson gets off the bus and he’s hard not to stare at. He is built out of granite and has a few physical tools that scream high draft pick. He is a workout warrior that shows the occasional flash on tape to create the notion he can be a starter at the next level. The rugged style to his play combined with the tools will be an intriguing combination for coaches. While his tape leaves you wanting more, he was a consistent contributor on that front for multiple seasons in the SEC. He finished his career with at least one pressure in 35 of 36 games with multiple pressures in 29 of those games. The shortcomings in his game can be coached out of him. Things like allowing blockers into his body, getting his pads turned, and poor usage of his hands to disengage are skills that can be acquired. His rare tools cannot be. Swing for the fence prospect.

*The position he plays, the tools he possesses, and the flashes he’s shown are enough to warrant a day two pick for Johnson for a team that is in a position to really gear back and go for it. The straight line burst at his level of size and strength screams NFL-ready right now. The change of direction and lack of feel for blockers will get him into trouble at times. It will be hard for a coach to look at him and not believe he can be morphed into something. Also, a top-shelf intangible kid that will be easy to work with. He is a consistent player that left me wanting more on occasion but gave enough to strengthen the idea he will be at least a solid backup.

NFL Comparison: Rashan Gary / GB

14) Jaylen Harrell – Michigan – 6’4 /250

Grade: 74

Three-year starter, two-time All-Big Ten. Harrell is a stand up outside linebacker with a lot of starting experience on one of the nation’s best defenses over the past two seasons. With a heavy amount of rotations they employ up front, Harrell was more of a pass rush weapon than a true every down threat but he does bring enough of a balanced skill set to the front to play the run as well. He is both quick and strong off the snap, showing urgency to get his hands on the blocker in a good position. The snap anticipation and burst will get him a lot of initial wins. He has the ability to beat tackles to the meeting point, but the next step will be development in his secondary rush moves. There is some lateral tightness and delays in his responses to the blocker that can stall him out. There is an upside here to be an effective situational pass rusher and solid overall number three edge defender in three-man fronts.

*I feel safe about Harrell. He will be a guy that can hang on to the back end of a depth chart in this scheme. I am just as confident that he will not evolve into a full-time starter or real dangerous threat. What NYG had in Oshane Ximines for years is what I envision. All good if you use a fifth-round pick on him, not a third.

15) Jalyx Hunt – Houston Christian – 6’4 / 252

Grade: 72

Fifth-year senior, two-year starter. Two-time All-Southland Conference, first team in 2023. Also won the conference Defensive Player of the Year Award. Spent three seasons at Cornell (including a canceled 2020) where he was a backup and rotational safety and standout special teamer. Transferred to Houston Christian in 2022 and was immediately moved to outside linebacker. The background of Hunt is what keeps the door wide open to his potential. The former safety and accomplished track star (jumps) has very little experience as a pass rusher but how far he came in short amount of time, albeit against a lower level of competition, is noteworthy. The burst, bend, and elite length combines to a dreamy toolbox. Watching him pursue the football with his closing speed and aggression checks more boxes and can make his ceiling look like a more likely reality. Hunt brings a background and usage in coverage that nearly no other outside linebacker can. While there are several steps up the ladder he will need to walk up, this is the kind of project that can change a defense. At worst, he gives a creative play caller multiple options in sub packages.

*It takes a while to explain what this kid is. Both his physical profile and his story, both of which are rare and intriguing. If NYG wants to gamble on a guy with credible difference-making upside but also acknowledging the fact the bottom can fall out in a hurry, Hunt is the guy. I’ve referenced NYG needing to hit a few triples and homeruns in the draft to turn this around. A day three pick that produces a starter or credible pass rush weapon would be in that category. At some point, you gotta swing hard. This would be a hard swing.

16) Austin Booker – Kansas – 6’4 / 240

Grade: 72

Third-year sophomore entry, one-year starter. Greenwood, IN. Played two seasons at Minnesota (one was a redshirt) prior to transferring to Kansas for 2023. Booker is one of the most inexperienced players in the class. After his redshirt year (2021), he played just 23 snaps because of an injury in 2022. He saw full-time snaps weekly over the back two-thirds of the season. What he showed over that limited amount of time was enough to warrant a Senior Bowl invite. His game creates a sense of excitement and fear from evaluation and projection perspectives. He plays long and bendy with a sense of slipperiness against blockers in space. When he gets his hands and hips in the right spot, he can win off the edge. The ability to reach and flatten with an extra gear and finishing power is attractive considering how raw he still is. Booker does get buried against the run at times and his counter moves are not good enough yet. He is a multi-year project with the kind of upside that could have landed him in the first round projection a year from now had he stayed in school and taken his game to a higher level. Boom or bust that may have to earn his initial spot on special teams.

*Booker was expected to test better than he did. I did not like him more than where I have him graded prior to. I actually saw several movement-issues in his game stemming from the leggy, high-hipped frame and lack of lower body stability. I do think there is some untapped upside because he hasn’t filled out yet and still has a lot of football to play when it comes to catching up to guys experience-wise. You are getting a high-effort type burner that can jump the snap well. With his bend and length, that can be a real weapon.

17-31:

17) Gabriel Murphy – UCLA – 6’2 / 247: 72
18) Javon Solomon – Troy – 6’1 / 247: 72
19) Eric Watts – Connecticut – 6’6/274: 71
20) Braiden McGregor – Michigan – 6’5 / 257: 70
21) Nelson Caesar – Houston – 6’3 / 254: 70
22) Solomon Byrd – USC – 6’3 / 257: 70
23) Myles Cole – Texas Tech – 6’6 / 278: 70
24) Zion Tupuola-Fetui – Washington – 6’3 / 244: 69
25) Jamree Kromah – James Madison – 6’3 / 274: 69
26) Javontae Jean-Baptiste – Notre Dame – 6’5 / 239: 69
27) Sundiata Anderson – Grambling – 6’4 / 247: 68
28) Richard Jibunor – Troy – 6’2 / 232: 68
29) Khalid Duke – Kansas State – 6’3 / 246: 68
30) Trajan Jeffcoat – Arkansas – 6’4 / 266: 68
31) Justin Blazek – Wisconsin-Platteville – 6’3 / 252: 68

NYG APPROACH

Rewind to mid-January. I was asked to put together mock draft for Ourlads once the early entrant deadline had passed. As many of you know, I’m not a huge fan of mock drafts beyond the fact it can create discussion. I’ve never met someone “good at mock drafts” and I think the sheer volume of them is just bizarre. But anyway – I mocked ED Laiatu Latu to NYG at #6 overall. While he ended up not quite qualifying for that high of a grade, my rationale was this team needed a true number one pass rusher. I believe Thibodeaux is a very good player and will be a very good player, although I do not see the All-Pro or perennial Pro-Bowl type, as I said prior to the 2022 Draft.

My stance had more to do with NYG needing an identity that would create urgency in the opponent. They have not had it on the entire team since the prime Odell days. With an All-Pro caliber tackle in Dexter Lawrence and that “very good” Thibodeaux progressing, I thought one more big time pass rusher was needed. NYG soon after traded for Brian Burns and signed him to a massive contract. Thus, even though there is not an edge talent graded high enough to warrant #6 overall, that need was crossed off. However, they cannot be done yet. They need another pass rusher and additional depth. Because Burns and Thibodeaux are strictly outside guys, I lean toward finding a presence that plays inside. You’ll hear about a few options in the DT preview. With that said, additional depth is needed along the edge. If a day three value is there and that best grade available plays outside, go for it. Because remember:

“You never, ever have enough pass rushers” – Ernie Accorsi after drafting Mathias Kiwanuka in 2006. NYG won the Super Bowl two seasons later.

Apr 112024
 
Marvin Harrison, Jr., Ohio State Buckeyes (November 25, 2023)

Marvin Harrison, Jr. – © USA TODAY Sports

WIDE RECEIVERS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Cores special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 20 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Marvin Harrison Jr. – Ohio State – 6’3 / 209

Grade: 92

Junior entry, two-year starter. Unanimous All-American in both 2023 and 2022, a first for receivers in program history. Earned first team All-Big Ten both seasons. Biletnikoff Award winner in 2023. Son of 13-year veteran and Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison. Harrison Jr. is a factory-engineered playmaker that can align anywhere pre snap, run all routes at a high level, and cleanly catch any ball within striking distance. While he will not be an every-down vertical threat, Harrison Jr. has both the physical body type, impeccable footwork, and mental characteristics to get him open all over the route tree. He can make the “wow” play look easy and routine and as long as he remains focused on fine tuning the small things to add strength, his future in the league will belong with the league’s true number one receivers.

*Harrison Jr. has been the number one player in this draft class since I put an initial list together last summer. While the spots behind him have been slightly moved around and other receivers have joined him in the elite tier, I still trust the polish of Harrison Jr. the most. Despite such poor quarterback play in 2023 (a significant drop off from Stroud in ’22) Harrison Jr. essentially matched his production. There was a lot more to chew off too had the situation around him been better. Is there a world where Harrison Jr. would not be the ideal fit for NYG? Absolutely. If a system wants more yards after the catch, the other two are better options. Harrison Jr. does not play as tough or as strong as I want but the other areas in his game and his unusual amount of focus, drive, and work ethic to be great are enough to overshadow that. This is the number one player on my board for NYG – yes above the quarterbacks.

NFL Comparison: Michael Thomas / FA

2) Rome Odunze – Washington – 6’3 / 212

Grade: 91

Three-year starter. Earned first team All-Pac 12 honors in both 2023 and 2022. All-American both seasons as well, first team in 2023. Odunze has all of the tools and a rapidly growing skill set to be a credible number one threat at the next level. He can win in several ways that stem from more than just talent alone. His feel for route running and unique blend of ability, size, and speed will add both explosive plays and efficiency to an offense. If the questionable areas of his game can catch up to the rest, he can be one of the more dangerous receivers in the game.

*Odunze had a contested catch rate of 75%. Anything above 45% gets my attention. I have not seen a number that high since 2018 and that was Jakobi Meyers, who averaged 11.4 yards per reception and ran a 4.64 forty. Odunze averaged 17.8 yards per on a huge frame with 4.45 forty and elite shuttle time. That number simply hits different, it is truly special. Add in the top-shelf intangibles that everyone wants and the rare movement traits off the line and occasionally appear on routes gets him the rare All-Pro projection. The Washington offense did not have him run as many routes as I would have liked but he did run a full tree, and he seems more raw than incapable. Odunze is a guy you bet on, and he is very much in play at #6. Such an ideal fit for this current NYG receiver group as well.

NFL Comparison: Larry Fitzgerald / RET

3) Malik Nabers – LSU – 6’0 / 200

Grade: 90

Junior entry, three-year starter. All-American and first team All-SEC in 2023. Nabers steadily developed from a high school player that did not play as a senior to one of the most productive receivers in the country. He plays a notably physical brand for the position with level of competitiveness that shows up in several ways. Blended in with his elite top-end burst and above average speed, Nabers has the style of a guy that can evolve into a credible number one threat. His routes need work in specific areas but they are already elite in others, showing the likelihood of his quality projection in that area. The savvy, team-first playmaker is going to be a coach’s favorite and has the upside of a true number one with his top trait being what comes after the catch.

*We have seen glimpses and heard Brian Daboll discuss how much value a playmaker after the catch can be in his system. We’ve also heard how much he values a guy that can line up in different spots. Something like that makes me think he can be the guy that is atop their list in a few weeks. Nabers has elite twitch and toughness. His issues with drops have come from the fact he makes his post-catch move prior to bringing the ball in. That has been somewhat corrected and when it clicks, it looks special. The concept of pairing him with an eventual new, young quarterback makes sense. Nabers and Wan’Dale Robinson can create serious excitement in that area and if everything else falls into place, watch out. This would actually take some pressure off the quarterback much like the situation around Brock Purdy in SF. Nabers will be a fun player.

NFL Comparison: DJ Moore / CHI

4) Brian Thomas Jr. – LSU – 6’3 / 209

Grade: 85

Junior entry, three-year starter. Earned second team All-SEC and third team All-American honors in 2023. A former 1,000-point scorer that turned down division one basketball offers out of high school more than doubled his career production in his final season with the Tigers. The tall, long, and flexible downfield target led FBS with 17 touchdowns, scoring in 10 of 13 games. He is the kind of playmaker that looks overly inviting to a passer. He tracks the deep ball with precision and control, he can go up and get it, and he shows excellent coordination near the boundary. Thomas broke out at the right time and was a key part to the statistical season that led to quarterback Jayden Daniels winning the Heisman Trophy. He came down with several wins in contested situations in and near the end zone. There are some edges to the skill set that need more refining but in a league of scoring and explosive plays, Thomas can be a true number one.

*Thomas Jr. was not this high on my list until I got done watching his film. I then saw the amount of elite wins he had on tape against future NFL corners. I then watched him put together one of the best explosion/speed workouts in combine history for a player with his size profile. A lot of things lined up to give Thomas Jr. a Pro Bowl projection. I see a Tee Higgins-type impact at the next level. One of those guys that can be a number one but may be best suited to be a complement to a different top tier guy. An example would be Tampa Bay or Dallas. I prefer his game over this cluster of guys because of what he can project to, but I do think he may need a bit more time than some believe. He did not run a ton of quality routes and if there is a question about his athleticism, it will be short-area agility and change of direction.

5) Ladd McConkey – Georgia – 6’0 / 186

Grade: 82

Redshirt Junior entry. Two-year starter. All-SEC in 2022. Winner of the Wuerffel Trophy, a community service-based award combining with athletic and academic achievements. McConkey is a slightly built, but quick-footed receiver that creates more than the sum of his parts. He is a refined route runner with a sense of intelligence that is hard to find. He shows a strong understanding of what defenses are trying to do both pre-and post-catch. The amount he can create via doing precisely what he needs to do and then some more via innovation will be a welcomed addition to an offense that has primary weapons already in place. Sleep on a contributor like McConkey and he will carve you up. His tools and upside are likely not enough to be projected to a number one threat, but he can complement one at a high level.

*The name Garrett Wilson comes to mind when watching McConkey run routes and after the catch. He does not exactly have the same length profile or contested catch upside which can limit him, but I do see a similar impact at the next level. Remember, Wilson won the 2022 Offensive Rookie of the Year. McConkey is pro ready yesterday. He is going to come in and be a quarterback’s best friend early on if the situation is right. The one thing that bumped him down a bit was the occasional drop paired with small hands. That duo can be an issue. Besides that, McConkey’s game is polished but it may not be the best fit for what NYG has. They need someone more physical but if the engineers of the offense want another shifty, fast but undersized guy in round two, I wouldn’t argue against this value.

NFL Comparison: Jordan Addison / MIN

6) Adonai Mitchell – Texas – 6’2 / 205

Grade: 82

Junior entry, three-year starter. Mitchell spent two years at Georgia where he started 15 games. He missed 9 games due to injury in 2022 before transferring to Texas for the 2023 season and leading the Big 12 in touchdowns. His combination of size, smooth movement traits, and ball skills make him a dangerous weapon on all levels of the route tree. If Mitchell can become more complete and consistent when it comes to effort and concentration, he will be a key piece to a quality passing game. The worst case would be a good red zone threat and third down target. All of the traits are there for him to be a high-end possession receiver at the next level early on with a credible shot at being a true number one if he cleans things up.

*Mitchell is my prediction for the receiver that ends up going higher than most are projecting. The top three receivers are set but after that, it is pretty open. Mitchell put together one of the best workouts in combine history. He ran a 4.34 and jumped out of the building. That said, I was less than inspired by his on-field workouts. On tape, his fluidity and body control stand out like a CeeDee Lamb (except Mitchell is bigger and faster) type. That said, I have several game notes where I question his effort and hustle. He was awful after the catch. Wide receivers are a different breed. In some ways, you have to let the divas, well, diva. If Mitchell brings even the B+ effort to the field most weeks, he can be a dangerous player. It is a matter of how much you are willing to risk and the leadership around him. If something clicks mentally, yes he can be grouped with the top three.

NFL Comparison: AJ Green / RET

7) Xavier Worthy – Texas – 5’11 / 165

Grade: 81

Junior entry, three-year starter. All-Big 12 all three seasons, first team in 2023 and 2021. All-American in 2023. Exploded on to the national scene as a true freshman in 2021 after having his senior season of high school cancelled due to Covid in 2020, earning the Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year Award and re-writing the program’s receiving records for first year players. Worthy’s game is built on the most sought-after trait in the game, speed. He can move quicker and faster than most players in the league and he pairs it with toughness and intelligence. How an offensive scheme can hide his lack of size and physical presence will largely determine whether or not can be a true number one, or a very good two. Either way, he is going to make a passing game more explosive.

*Dating back to the summer of 2023, I’ve had Worthy in my first-round stack. This was not a result of him setting the all-time record in the forty. His speed grade to my equation was already elite. So, nothing changed there. Worthy is only the second first round grade I have given to a guy under 170 pounds. The other? DeVonta Smith. Worthy is just an inch smaller and has similar length. But the similarity that outweighs the pounds? Toughness. Worthy plays like a pit bull. He will fight for yards, he will run through contact, he will extend himself over the middle. In some ways, the lack of size is a weapon for him. Will he hold up? Or will we see a Tank Dell part II and watch him get hurt the second he gets into a pile of NFL men. Putting him in the NYG offense would create one of the smallest group of pass catchers in the NFL, but also the fastest. Works for Miami…

NFL Comparison: Desean Jackson / FA

8) Ricky Pearsall – Florida – 6’1 / 189

Grade: 80

Three-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2021. Spent three seasons at Arizona State where he finished as the team’s leading receiver in his final year before transferring to Florida where he led the team in receiving two straight years. Pearsall is a refined receiver with a pro-caliber skill set across the board. His alignment versatility and experience as a pre-snap motion player will give a play caller several options when it comes to his usage. He is a machine on third down, as over two thirds of his catches went for a first down or touchdown at Florida. The ability to win at the start of the route and his feel for coverages will make him a quarterback’s best friend in high-leverage situations. Pearsall is not the most physically gifted player when it comes to sheer size and speed, but his sudden movement traits, near-perfect hands, and toughness will make him a consistently dependable threat at the next level. He is a year-one contributor that can catch 70+ passes per year if he is in the right system and role.

*Pearsall is polished on film. Everything about his game is a joy to watch and it just feels clean and safe. I had a middle of the pack day two grade on him before the Senior Bowl and combine and he boosted his stock at both. He ran a 4.41 and jumped out of the building. Remember, this kid’s calling card was route running and ball skills. He made everything look easy against SEC defensive backs but now adding the plus-athletic traits to his grading sheet put him at the top of the loaded day two group. The Giants are a sneaky-strong fit and one that I will even call likely if he makes it to their round two slot (however he might be a first rounder). While the majority of his snaps in college over the past two seasons have come from the slot, I think he can hack it as a hybrid-alignment guy which is what Daboll wants. He would be more reliable than explosive in this offense and I can see him being a key part of the offensive nucleus for a long time.

NFL Comparison: Amon-Ra St. Brown / DET

9) Troy Franklin – WR – 6’2 / 176

Grade: 80

Junior entry, two-year starter. All-Pac 12 and All-American in 2023. Franklin is going to change how a defense defends the pass when he comes on the field. He goes from zero to sixty in a blink, putting tremendous pressure on deep coverage. He is an easy and natural mover on anything vertical with enough bendability to avoid contact and gain immediate separation. He has the very-reachable potential to be one of the top downfield threats in the league right away. In order for him to be more than that, he needs to be more precise with both his routes and ability to run the full tree.

*Franklin was a guy I had a first-round grade on during the season. The deeper I went, the more I saw he was not complete enough to warrant that. He is somewhere between DeVonta Smith and Jalin Hyatt as a prospect. Not nearly as complete as Smith but has more explosive speed. Not quite as explosive as Hyatt but has a bit more ability after the catch and more toughness. If NYG wants more vertical speed to pair with Hyatt, this could be 1-2 punch a couple years from now that takes the top off every defense in the league. They better have a guy that can get it to them if they go this route. I like Franklin a lot, but there is a lot that needs to be cleaned up and the lack of fluid agility he showed at the combine in both drills and workouts makes me question the complete upside in his game.

NFL Comparison: DJ Chark / CAR

10) Roman Wilson – Michigan – 5’11 / 185

Grade: 79

Senior entry, three-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023. Wilson has elite quickness and agility with sure hands. His skill set is bred for the slot, but he is more than a specialist. He spent 40% of his snaps out wide. The alignment versatility and the ability to produce from both spots will create options for the passing game. His ability to set up defensive backs and put them into specific positions before snapping in and out of a break will gain constant separation. This is the kind of weapon an offense wants to have in their arsenal on third and manageable. Wilson can be a 100-catch receiver at the next level and will add return value. He will outperform several players drafted ahead of him.

*Man, this grade was hard to accept. I was round one on Wilson for most of the year and even after the Senior Bowl. While he did not finish far from it, I had a hard time not cheating the system a bit. Wilson is a guy I have “a feeling” about. He plays the game the right way and I do think he would have been much more productive in a different offensive scheme. That said, his lack of size is going to limit him. That 72.5 wingspan is nearly as small as it gets, and it could end up making him a slot-only. Wilson will be a high-volume pass catcher and if he gets linked to a good situation, he will catch 100+ yearly. The workout could have been a bit stronger, and I did grade him very well after the catch. I still have him labeled as one of my favorite players in the draft, but he needs to be slotted correctly. I don’t see the fit here with NYG as long as Wan’Dale Robinson is in the picture.

NFL Comparison: Zay Flowers / BAL

11) Malachi Corley – Western Kentucky – 5’11 /207

Grade: 78

Three-year starter. First Team All-Conference USA in 2023 and 2022. Corley spent over 90% of his career in the slot and nearly half of his receptions were behind the line of scrimmage. There are several standout attributes to both his game and physical build. He looks like a running back after gaining over 20 pounds since his freshman year. The all-time leader pass catcher in program history has been among the nation’s leaders in yards-after-catch and broken tackles each of the past two years and couples that ability with the kind of quickness and sudden speed to create separation as an underneath route runner. While his lack of radius and flexibility hurts him in contested situations, Corley’s role can be specific-but-dominant in the right offense. Teams need to know what he is, and what he is not. He will be a menace underneath and with the ball in his hands.

*You have to take some of Corley’s production with a grain of salt. Watching his film was funny. Screen pass after screen pass after screen pass. The opposing defensive backs and coaches from the Senior Bowl voted him as the best receiver during practices. I can confirm, nobody could cover him underneath. His is shifty, powerful, and smart. The combination of traits can make him a lethal slot when it comes to getting open and the icing on the cake is how nasty he is after the catch. He is easily one of the most competitive players in the class. Like Wilson, I’m not sure the fit with NYG can pan out. Slot-only type but one that will be a ton of fun to watch. For those into the fantasy game – circle this guy.

NFL Comparison: Deebo Samuel / SF

12) Keon Coleman – Florida State – 6’3 / 213

Grade: 78

Junior entry, two-year starter. Michigan State transfer that also had a stint on their basketball team, one of the best programs in the country. All-Big Ten in 2022. Arrived to Florida State for the 2023 season and led the ACC with 11 touchdowns and earned first team All-ACC at receiver, all-purpose, and returner. Coleman can change the outlook of a passing game early in his career based on his size and ability to go up and get it. If nothing else develops, he is still a formidable weapon near the end zone. The intrigue comes from his basketball background and the fact he still has plenty of margin to chew up when it comes to the nuances of route running. His speed alone will not get enough separation; thus, the development of his skill set is needed for him to reach his credible number two receiver upside.

*Coleman nearly made my preseason top 32 list. He was two spots away. I still have the day two outlook on him, but I bumped him down a tad because of hard it is for him to initially separate combined with a poor 40 (4.61). Coleman can be an Allen Robinson type. I would bet on him in almost all contested situations and the savvy craftiness he has to him both with the ball and avoiding too much collision with defenders can make up for some lack of speed. He can be a nice complement to what else NYG has in the receiver room and a guy that creates options near the end zone. A true number one? I don’t see it. A solid number two? That is the ceiling.

NFL Comparison: Allen Robinson / FA

13) Javon Baker – Central Florida – 6’1 / 202

Grade: 78

Two-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023. Spent two seasons at Alabama in a backup/rotational role prior to transferring to Central Florida. Baker was in a crowded wide receiver room early in his career, playing behind the likes of first rounders Jameson Williams, Jaylen Waddle, and DeVonta Smith. There simply were not enough passes to go around in that offense. He was immediately the number one receiver at Central Florida and ended up leading the country in yards per reception (21.2) among receivers with over 33 catches in 2023. Baker made the most of his opportunities, finishing ninth in the country in yards per route run but his 17.1 yard average depth of target was higher than anyone in the top 25. Baker is a unique downfield threat that excels in 50/50 situations. His sudden change of direction and contact-strength sets him up well both as a route runner and ball carrier. His versatile game is NFL-ready and capable of fitting into a solid number two type.

*Baker could have been the next dude from the Alabama program. There were a couple of off-field concerns combined with Saban constantly pumping in new talent via recruiting and the transfer portal at the position that led to the transfer. It worked out for Baker, and I’ve heard great things about his growing maturity. Baker has a lot of professional nuances to his game that I love, both as a route runner and contested catch guy. The sheer talent is not enough to anything higher than a third-round outlook. This is a guy that could fall into day three and if NYG goes elsewhere with their first three picks, I’ll be banging the table for him in the fourth.

NFL Comparison: Reggie Wayne / RET

14) Malik Washington – Virginia – 5’8 / 191

Grade: 77

Two-year starter. Transferred to Virginia in 2023 after four seasons at Northwestern. Earned first team All-ACC and second team All-American in 2023 after re-writing the program’s single season record book in receiving yards and catches. Led the nation in receptions, finished second in yards while hauling in 80+% of his targets. Washington is an explosive and shifty slot receiver that is short, but thick. His play strength and body control play bigger than that listed size. What stands out the most, and arguably more important than his physical profile, are his competitive genes and intelligence. Washington knows the game, understands leverage, and forces the defense to react to him. If he struggles to get open, he has proven the ability to win in contested situations routinely. This is an NFL-ready inside threat that can quickly turn into a quarterback’s best friend underneath.

*Yet another shifty and explosive slot receiver that will be ready week one. Like most of the guys that project to this role, his success will depend on where he gets drafted. I wonder if the abundance of guys that will primarily align inside (including the tight ends) will bump at least one of these guys down a round or two. Plain and simple, more than a few teams don’t have room for these slot-only’s. Does that create extra value for a team to chew on? Can NYG find a spot for a guy like this if he were to fall? I say yes. NYG needs depth, NYG needs to create intra-squad competition, and NYG needs more playmakers. At the right spot, it makes sense.

NFL Comparison: Jaylen Waddle / MIA

15) Jermaine Burton – Alabama – 6’0 / 196

Grade: 76

Senior entry, four-year starter. Burton spent his first two seasons at Georgia where he started 15 games and played in 24. Despite fighting multiple lower body injuries, he led the National Champion Bulldogs receivers in yards in 2021. The decision to transfer centered around the Alabama’s propensity to produce first round draft picks at the position (four from 2020-2021) and a relationship with Bryce Young. The one constant in his game, no matter what program he was in and no matter which quarterback he played with, was the ability to make big plays. Over four years, he averaged 18.0 yards per reception including a career-high 20.5. in 2023 (number one in the SEC). Burton plays with a swagger and toughness that will show up as he works the middle of the field as well. There is a lot to like but until he can perform better after the catch, there is some thought he will be a vertical-threat only. He can still be highly sought after but the point is if he can ascend to a more complete player, he can be a high end number two at the next level.

*For the record, Burton was bumped down from a 79 because of character concerns. There are certain things I overlook and ignore, and there are some I will not. Burton is a big-time talent and has proven himself at the toughest stage of college football in multiple offenses. Simply put, he is fast, and he can catch anything. There is a toughness to his game that can make him special, too. Yes, special. Burton has Odell Beckham vibes in some of his tape. He wasn’t as well rounded as Beckham was coming out, but I did think of young Odell more than a few times when watching his film. The pre-draft interviews will go a long way for him, both with Burton himself and his college coaches. At some point, he is worth taking a chance on. Upside is through the roof.

NFL Comparison: Odell Beckham / FA

16) Xavier Legette – South Carolina – 6’1 / 221

Grade: 76

Four-year starter. All-SEC in 2023. Leading up to his final season, Legette had 423 career yards and five touchdowns on 75 targets. He more than doubled all of those numbers in 2023 alone. He led the SEC in yards per reception (17.7) among receivers with over 55 catches and ranked fourth in the conference in catches per game. To say he was a late bloomer would be an understatement. His unusual frame and play strength along with credible deep speed gives him a unique style that rarely comes across at the position. His ability to play from multiple alignments in addition to his contributions on special teams will give coaches a long list of potential usages at the next level with the ceiling of a solid number two receiver. Legette has standout traits that produced at a high level in the SEC and brings a sense of physicality to both the offense and special teams’ rooms that can used all over the field.

*Maybe the guy that improved his grade the most via 2023 on-field play in this class. Some are calling him a potential first rounder. I’m not there on him but I am intrigued. I want to like him because he has a story filled with overcoming adversity and by all accounts is one of the guys coaches and fans alike will love. He’s also incredibly unique. He is built like DK Metcalf and he’s got a few flashes where he looks dominant. The disconnect I have is with his short area movement. He is tight and I think it will limit his impact as a receiver. The. fallback will be a quality backup with a rare tool set and special teams contributions. Worth a shot day three but not before.

NFL Comparison: Noah Brown / HOU

17) Jalen McMillan – Washington – 6’1 / 197

Grade: 75

Senior entry, three-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2022. Accomplished track star in high school, running a 10.67 personal best in the 100M. McMillan put together one the best seasons in Washington history in 2022 and even though his final year was somewhat derailed by injury and the ascent of other playmakers within that offense, he has enough on tape to promote the idea of him being a potential downfield threat at the next level. He is a smart, tough player that primarily lined up in the slot, but they liked to move him around and take advantage of what he can do to get open. He is best suited for a number three or four role that specializes in the deep passing game.

*Before Rome Odunze was Rome Odunze, McMillan was the leading receiver on this team and the guy everyone was projecting to a future first round slot. A year later, the speedster was the Robin to Odunze’s Batman character. And lastly, in 2023, McMillan was the guy that got hurt and saw his number two status questioned by the rise of teammate Ja’Lynn Polk. The scouting is now complete, and McMillan is the guy I remain most intrigued by when it comes to the gap between his floor and ceiling. This is a real speed threat that measured in well enough to be a complete guy. Nice fit for NYG day three if they want to get more explosive.

18) Brenden Rice – USC – 6’2 / 208

Grade: 75

Senior entry, three-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2023. Son of Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice. Began his career at Colorado where he played in 17 games over two seasons prior to transferring to USC. An accomplished track star (sprints), Rice brings an element of size, speed, and physicality in addition to the lineage that can factor right away at the next level. His skill set does not fall far from the tree, as his advanced ball skills and route tactics are detailed and advanced. He plays with a competitive edge that is visibly intense. The try-hard mentality and competitive attitude gives him that extra edge in contested situations. Rice does not have the most fluidity yet and his play speed does not match the timed speed. The NFL frame and style of play will give him a nice right away, but his ceiling will be determined by advancing as a route runner and playing with more control.

*I was initially viewing Rice as a second rounder before I dove all in on his tape. I brought him back down to earth after that and the Senior Bowl week. Don’t get this twisted though. It is simply a numbers game with him in the crowded round 3-4 group. Rice has a few elements to his game that will translate. He knows route running and reading defensive backs just like you would assume Jerry Rice’s son would. He is one of the best competitors and arguably the most physical receiver in the class. He did show flashes of playing to sub 4.5 speed. The issue stems from a lack of body control and inconsistent ability to get open. The tightness in his hips and wasted steps are going to make things difficult with specific areas. This is a guy I would be excited to get in blue, though. Just needs to be in the right slot.

19) Jamari Thrash – Louisville – 6’0 / 188

Grade: 74

Fifth year senior, three-year starter. Spent four years at Georgia State before transferring to Louisville for the 2023 season. First Team All-Sun Belt in 2022 before the transfer. After elevating to a higher level of competition, Thrash rose to the occasion and earned second team All-ACC honors, more-than doubling the production of the next highest pass catcher on the team. He is a smooth and easy moving route runner that glides as if he were on ice skates. The transitions in and out of his breaks along with the mental capacity to set defenders up will create space to work with for the quarterback. Thrash is a smooth criminal that has the skill set to be a space-creator and big play threat.

*Above I described Thrash as a “smooth criminal”. It kept coming up in my head over and over and I had to put it in there. He is unassuming. He isn’t big and his speed is (maybe) slightly above average. But this guy separates as well as anyone and his hands are suction cups. Really, there isn’t a huge gap between him and Ladd McConkey. He is a nice fallback option if one of those sure-thing route runners cannot be had. Thrash is going to be in the league a long time and he will be one of those overlooked, under-appreciated types.

NFL Comparison: Chris Olave / NO

20) Devontez Walker – North Carolina – 6’1 / 193

Grade: 74

Two-year starter. Had three stops within his college career, beginning at North Carolina Central before transferring to Kent State where he led the MAC in touchdowns. Missed the first month of 2023 because of the NCAA declining his eligibility. Walker has the studs to be a nice project that can evolve into a solid number two receiver that specializes in explosive plays with a lot of air yards. The size/speed combination is hard to find, and he has proven he can win against some of his best competition. The immediate contribution may not be there because he is a bit of a one-trick pony at the moment, but his ceiling and position could get him drafted a round higher than his grade.

*Walker has the triangle numbers to be a real deep threat, but he needs to improve as a finisher. His Senior Bowl week was a frustrating watch. But there is enough on tape as Drake Maye’s top vertical threat to project him as a potential weapon at the next level. This could be a Darius Slayton type in that he can be a contributor year one, but the frustration comes from a lack of consistency and development from a macro-perspective.

21-42 GRADES:

21) Ja’Lynn Polk – Washington – 6’1 / 203: 73
22) Luke McCaffrey – Rice – 6’2 / 198: 73
23) Jacob Cowing – Arizona – 5’8 / 168: 72
24) Anthony Gould – Oregon State – 5’8 / 174: 72
25) Jha’Quan Jackson – Tulane – 5’9 / 188: 72
26) Bub Means – Pittsburgh – 6’1 / 212: 71
27) Tahj Washington – USC – 5’10 / 174: 71
28) Jalen Coker – Holy Cross – 6’1 / 208: 70
29) Ainias Smith – Texas A&M – 5’9 / 190: 70
30) Xavier Weaver – Colorado – 6’0 / 175: 70
31) Ryan Flournoy – Southeast Missouri State: 6’1 / 202: 70
32) Isaiah Williams – Illinois – 5’9 / 179: 69
33) Cornelius Johnson – Michigan – 6’3 / 212: 69
34) Tayvion Anderson – Kentucky – 5’10 / 191: 69
35) Jordan Whittington – Texas – 6’1 / 205: 69
36) David White – Western Carolina – 6’2 / 201: 69
37) Devaughn Vele – Utah – 6’4 / 203: 69
38) Joshua Cephus – UTSA – 6’2 / 193: 68
39) Lideatrick Griffin – Mississippi State – 5’10 / 181: 68
40) Tejhaun Palmer – UAB – 6’2 / 210: 68
41) Cole Burgess – SUNY Cortland – 6’0 / 192: 68
42) Casey Washington – Illinois – 6’1 / 201: 68

NYG APPROACH

Take quarterback out of the discussion and look at the current Giants roster. There are needs everywhere but the one that shines brightest resides at receiver. There is some hope between Wan’Dale Robinson and Jalin Hyatt. Both drafted on day two by this regime. Both explosive play threats. Both unproven. Darius Slayton, on the other hand, is proven. He is proven to be a solid but unspectacular receiver with a proper blend of efficient and explosive-type play. While he has not delivered on the promise he showed as a rookie in 2019, we know what NYG has in him. 740, 751, 339, 724, 770 yards. Amazingly, Slayton has been the number one receiver each season outside of 2021. Four out of five years. And therein lies the problem.

In the passing era of modern football, NYG does not have anything close to what can resemble a true number one guy at this premium position. Finding one, or at least trying to, is a must for both the short and long term. You can attack free agency (Stefon Diggs, Chris Godwin, Amari Cooper in 2025), sure. But you are paying top dollar to an aging star. You can attack the trade market (Brandon Aiyuk / Tee Higgins), sure. But you are giving up a premium draft pick and immediately paying top dollar. The route to finding a true number one almost needs to be via the draft in this NYG scenario. Pulling off another Brian Burns-type trade and sign is almost impossible when considering the economics.

With that, I’ll go on record saying NYG absolutely, unequivocally needs to add a high-ceiling receiver to this offense with one of their first three picks. I would put more-than 65% odds they will do so with one of their first two picks. The irony here is they are guaranteed to get one of the three elite graded receivers by simply staying at 6 overall. “But who is going to throw him the ball?” line is short-sighted and lacks awareness when it comes to roster building. I don’t know, to be honest. But I do know an All-Pro (or even Pro Bowl) caliber receiver is going to be a huge asset to this team and their rebuild efforts. Maybe that QB comes via a later draft pick? Or a 2025 free agency signing? Or a 2025 first round pick. But neglecting the need for a guy like this with an offer like this because you don’t know who the future quarterback is a classic move that many teams make which end up putting them into a hamster wheel of offensive mediocrity and misery. NYG needs a playmaker, preferably a guy who line up in multiple spots. They’ll be staring one in the eyes in a couple weeks. If they are not fully positive about a quarterback that would even make this a debate, the decision is easy. Get one of the top three. You then have the start of something potentially special. Not good, but special if the other two pan out as well.

Apr 092024
 
Trey Benson, Florida State Seminoles (December 2, 2023)

Trey Benson – © USA TODAY Sports

RUNNING BACKS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Cores special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Trey Benson – Florida State – 6’0 / 216

Grade: 82

Two-year starter. All-ACC in both 2023 and 2022. Spent two seasons at Oregon, one as a backup and one was missed due to injury. Transferred to Florida State in 2022 and took over the lead role in the backfield both years. Benson has the pro body and strength to handle the dirty work right away. What makes him special is the breakaway speed between the lines that he has proven multiple times over his career. Add in the capabilities on third down and his proven elite ability to break tackles and we are looking at the complete back with ball security strength and a lot of tread left on the tires.

*Big and fast? 215+ pounds and he was one of just THREE players at ALL positions and the combine to run a sub 4.4 at that size. He also tied for the lead among all backs nationally in runs over 21 MPH according to GPS tracking data. So, check. Ball protection? He did not fumble once over his entire career. So, check. Break tackles? He broke a tackle once every three touches. That is approaching Bijan Robinson territory, the number one trait that made him an elite prospect. Benson lacks some of the fluidity below the waist and natural innovation skills, but this is a physically gifted “Pro’s Pro” that has a game ready for the NFL. There is a blend of prime LeVeon Bell and DeMarco Murray here. When day two arrives, he is in the discussion. And he is the ideal complement to Devin Singletary.

NFL Comparison: DeMarco Murray / DAL

2) Jonathon Brooks – Texas – 6’0 / 216

Grade: 80

Junior entry, one-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2023. Brooks had to spend two years behind Bijan Robinson and Roschon Johnson, both of which were drafted in 2023. He had just 57 carries over his first two seasons. He passed that number during the fourth game in 2023 alone. As the season progressed, Brooks showed he was fully capable of handling the lead-back role. He runs with tremendous tempo and has a feel for daylight. Combine those traits with his bendy, agile lower half and propensity to break tackles and he averaged 6.1 yards per carry, the same Robinson did in 2022. He will miss the spring and the start of summer team activities as he recovers from a torn ACL, but if team doctors are confident in his ability to regain his form, Brooks should be considered someone you can insert into the starting lineup by the end of year two.

*Brooks was heading toward round one territory before the ACL. While backs can regain their form, it is usually 12+ months after where they get to 100% so I did knock him down a couple points. The immediate impact may be delayed, and the upside will be even more delayed. Sign me up day two, still. His missed tackles forced fell in line with Bijan and the looseness in his lower body is noticeably better than what Benson brings to the table. It was that trait that got him the nod among most I have spoken with. I also question if Brooks can pass protect; he rarely did it in his one year. Just a lot of unknown around a guy that does have real talent.

*NFL Comparison: Melvin Gordon / FA

3) Blake Corum – Michigan – 5’8 / 205

Grade: 77

Three-year starter. All-American in 2023 and 2022 and All-Big Ten three straight years. Corum will go down in history as one of the most productive running backs in Michigan’s storied history. He finished top ten in career yards and second in touchdowns and his 168 points scored in 2023 are a single season conference record. His ability to bounce back from a knee injury that ended his 2022 season combined with several other leadership qualities will make him an easy guy to welcome to any organization. The debate lies within how much versatile value he can bring to the offense and if his tool set is good enough to be a feature back or simply a rushing weapon from the backfield group.

*On one hand, Corum is 205 on a short and stout frame, which plays bigger. On the other hand, he is still 205 pounds with OK, but not great, speed and burst. His profile and style remind me of Ray Rice from back in the day. I could see a similar career as well. Where he falls short, however, is an area I look at with a lot of expectations. That is yards after contact and broken tackles. No stat should be worth more than a little bit with running backs, however it is worth noting that out of 263 backs with over 60 carries, Corum ranked 241st in yards after contact per rush and 93rd in missed tackles forced. Now, perhaps some of that is a result of his high volume of goal line carries and overall short yardage attempts. But this backs up game notes I have on him that center around lack of consistency when it comes to creating on his own. I like Corum and he could be a top-shelf weapon when one to two yards are needed. But he needs to be slotted correctly, and that is round three-on.

NFL Comparison: Ray Rice / RET

4) Marshawn Lloyd – USC – 5’9 / 220

Grade: 77

Two-year starter. Spent three years at South Carolina, one of which was missed because of a torn ACL suffered in fall camp. Transferred to USC in 2023 and earned All-Pac 12 honors. Lloyd split time with Austin Jones early on but quickly became the team’s top back and finished fifth in the nation with 7.1 yards per carry among backs that carried the ball over 100 times. His game is built on sudden burst and breakaway speed to create explosive plays for the offense. Get him a foot of space and he will turn it into multiple yards. Over 56% of his rushing production came on plays of over 15 yards. Only one player nationally had more explosive gains than Lloyd on such a small number of total carries. The small, but yoked frame will produce yards after contact, but he has consistently struggled to catch and hold onto the football and his early playing time will be impacted by his improvement as a blocker.

*Lloyd is a favorite of many guys I respect in the business. He is built the right way and plays fast. In the right system, this is the kind of guy that can lead the league in explosive runs. I did not love what he brought to the table in the passing game, as a receiver or blocker. I also noted a few times his decisions with the ball in his hand won’t fly in the NFL, a league that is just so much faster than what Pac-12 defenses have. I like him enough for a day two pick, however, and NYG would be a nice place for him to settle in. They want more speed and big plays from the backfield. That is going to be Lloyd’s calling card.

NFL Comparison: Doug Martin / RET

5) Ray Davis – Kentucky – 5’8 / 211

Grade: 77

Three-year starter with stops at three different programs. All-SEC in 2023. Began his career at Temple after growing up in foster care. A multi-sport athlete in high school. Transferred to Vanderbilt in 2021 and played in three games before suffering a season ending knee injury. Bounced back in 2022, finishing fourth in the SEC in rushing. Ended his career at Kentucky in 2023, where he once again finished fourth in the conference in rushing. Davis is a natural back that uses vision, anticipation, and timing to set himself up for success. He knows the mental side of the game well and it shows up in multiple areas, not just running with the ball. He is hungry for yards and will fight for every inch. The ability to make defenders miss with late movement and deceptive tempo will translate well at the next level. His feel and short area burst will work especially well in a zone-heavy attack. Davis also shows prowess as a pass catcher and can add value to the return game as well. This is a complete back that is built for the NFL in several ways.

*Davis’ best tape is better than every back in this class. He put that Wildcats team on his shoulder in ways nobody else did. The versatility in his game, never-say-die mentality both on and off the field, and sneaky athletic ability scream NFL starter. There will be a few durability issues. He isn’t the biggest guy, and he takes a ton of hits with the way he runs with the ball. But in a committee-type system, he will be reliable force. He would not be my first pick for a new NYG back in this situation, but I do think he can be a dude.

NFL Comparison: D’Andre Swift / CHI

6) Bucky Irving – Oregon – 5’9 / 192

Grade: 77

Junior entry, two-year starter. Earned first team All-Pac 12 honors in 2023. Began career at Minnesota in 2021 where he helped fill in for an injured Mohamed Ibrahim and finished second on the team in rushing. Transferred to Oregon in 2022 and became one of the most productive dual-threat weapons in the class, leading the country’s running backs in catches in 2023. Irving may not pass the initial eyeball test when looking for the prototype-size but the his tape, production, and the trend of smaller NFL backs creating explosive plays should lead Irving into an important role early in his career. This is the kind of shifty back that needs to be given a dozen touches weekly via the run and pass game because of how much he can create on his own in space.

*Some of the most productive first and second year backs in the NFL last season measured at or under 200 pounds. That used to be a number a back could not be under, but the extension of the passing game has softened that notion a few ways. If NYG wants a receiving threat out of the backfield without giving up too much as a pure runner, Irving is the target. I love how this kid plays. He has all the toughness and shiftiness to gain yards after contact. The glaring issue will be what he can do in pass protection. He is bottom-rung there.

NFL Comparison: Kyren Williams / LAR

7) Audric Estime – Notre Dame – 5’11 / 221

Grade: 77

Junior entry, one-year starter. Estime has a game built on power and the ability to gain yards after contact. His downhill style is an ideal fit for a gap-heavy blocking scheme where he can shoot for a lane and adjust at the second level. His footwork and short area burst are sneaky-strong traits that will be a weapon for the right system. He has lead-back potential and will be, at the very least, a strong short yardage back that will score a lot of touchdowns.

*Estime was creeping toward a top three slot for a long time. As you can see, guys from 3-8 all have the same grade. I can still make a case he is RB3 based on what style of back you want. Estime ran a 4.71 at the combine and people started jumping off the bus faster than a handful of rocks sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I thought something was off, however. He has more than enough speed on tape, outrunning defensive backs in space. He ran a 1.58 ten-yard split, very similar to guys that ran in the 4.5s. He jumped 38” in the vertical and 10’05” in the broad – both numbers very much associated with guys running in the 4.5s (or better). He improved to a 4.61 at his pro day and while it won’t set records, it is enough for me to keep the 77 on him. Estime is a guy I would be all over in round 3 or 4. He is a mauler that can be paired with a Singletary-type to create a thunder and lightning duo.

NFL Comparison: Chris Carson / FA

8) Jaylen Wright – Tennessee – 5’10 / 210

Grade: 77

Junior entry, one-year starter. All-SEC in 2023. Wright is an explosive back with the kind of top end speed that can change how an offense operates. His ability to create on his own in the open field will be a sought-after trait and at his size, the potential can be dreamy. He led the SEC in rushes that went or 15+ yards and also finished in yards per carry. He also brings a level of toughness to table, leading the SEC in yards after contact per attempt. If he can tighten up his ball security and continue his ascending ability as a blocker, he can be a lead back for a space-friendly offense.

*Wright is similar to Lloyd, who is at #4. He has elite speed. There are a few speed metrics that are not available to the public where Wright finished number one and were better than Devon Achane (explosive Dolphins back). Doing that at 210 pounds with some quality film against legit SEC defenses is enough for some to label him RB1 in this class. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him be the top guy drafted. As I said earlier if NYG wants speed as the top asset added to the backfield, keep an eye on this kid.

NFL Comparison: CJ Spiller / RET

9) Tyrone Tracy Jr. – Purdue – 5’11 / 209

Grade: 75

Sixth-year senior. Four-year starter that spent four seasons at Iowa before his final two at Purdue. Tracy will turn 25 years old as a rookie but in terms of running back age, he is younger than most. He played wide receiver from 2018-2022 before moving into the backfield full time in his final year. In that one season, Tracy finished fourth in the country in yards after contact per attempt in the country among backs with over 100 carries. His career was sputtering, as his best season as a receiver came in 2019. The smooth position move opened a door, one that is searching for pass game weapons out of the backfield. Tracy is not a dynamic or explosive athlete, but he simply knows what to do with the ball in his hands and it shows up as a returner as well. His progression will be an interesting one to follow, one with a high ceiling.

*Tracy is one of the more interesting prospects in the entire draft. He runs like he doesn’t always know what he’s doing but that is part of the intrigue. What happens to him if it does click? He is already productive, and he is already a top-shelf pass catcher the position. He already adds return value. Something about him simply makes sense for a chance on day three because Singletary could easily be elsewhere before the end of 2024, let alone pre-2025. And I view that as the season this team can be ready to compete.

NFL Comparison: Antonio Gibson / NE

10) Kimani Vidal – Troy – 5’8 / 213

Grade: 74

Four-year starter. All Sun-Belt three times, first team in 2023 after leading the conference in rushing. Vidal is a densely built back with tremendous lower body girth. He can produce both power and sudden burst beneath the waist. The balance he can move with at full speed through contact breaks a lot of tackles. He broke more than any other player in this class. Vidal is also a productive receiver that is dependable to bring the ball in and get north right away. There are a lot of areas in an offense where he can be an asset as a backup. He wore multiple hats in college both stylistically and role-wise.

*I was a bit late on Vidal. I wasn’t breaking down any film on him until after the Senior Bowl where he didn’t stand out. This kid is a pure NFL back. He hit over 21 MPH in a game (very fast), he is a kid that Troy coaches told me is the best football person they’ve ever been around, and he has the body that will break tackles left and right. He is an excellent day three shot that brings a high floor to the backfield. There isn’t a ton of variety to his game but what he offers is more than enough.

11) Braelon Allen – Wisconsin – 6’1 / 235

Grade: 74

Three-year starter. All-Big Ten three consecutive seasons. Allen was just the fourth true freshman in school history to rush for over 1,000 yards (Ron Dayne, James White, Jonathon Taylor). He turned 20-years old just three months prior to the 2024 Draft. The second all-time leading rusher in school history among three-year backs finished near or at the top of multiple measurables among ball carriers in the class and he has the vision to complement his talent. His ceiling is a top rusher on a team that specializes between the tackles, but the change in offensive scheme at Wisconsin with the new coaching staff created some questions about his versatility. Allen needs a specific role in a specific style of offense to truly maximize his unique ability.

*My biggest gripe with Allen is the fact he plays more like 200-pound back than a 235-pounder. My first look put a day two label on him. There simply aren’t many guys his size with his speed and his production. He is going to be 20-years old his entire rookie season which is also enticing. Some will say the change in scheme altered his trajectory, but I still can’t get by the lack of fluidity in his hips coupled with inconsistent toughness. There are also issues I have with him as a receiver and with his ball security. Allen is still a high-ceiling guy, but he needs to be slotted correctly. If I’m wrong, it wouldn’t be the first time I whiff on a Wisconsin back.

NFL Comparison: Arian Foster / RET

12) Isaac Guerendo – Louisville – 6’0 / 221

Grade: 74

Sixth year senior. Spent five seasons at Wisconsin, including a redshirt in 2018. All-Big Ten as a returner in 2022. Transferred to Louisville in 2023 and was a part of one of the top rushing duos in the country. Guerendo was a high school receiver that struggled to get consistent action within the Wisconsin offense. His explosive speed (a high school state champ long jumper and sprinter) did show up in flashes. It was not until year six where he carried the ball over 65 times. He was always a big play threat that could also provide playmaking ability as a receiver and returner. There is some untapped potential on a big frame with elite speed that could finally break out in the NFL.

*Imagine if Wisconsin could have figured it out with this kid and Allen? That is about as impressive as you can find physically from two guys in the same backfield. The “idea” of Guerendo is better than the player right now. But we did see the flower start to blossom in 2023 and a team could be getting him just at the right time here. The speed does show up on tape, but it does not always show up with the decisiveness. The agility is there, though. His physical profile is top five all time at the position. Worth a shot.

13) Jase McClellan – Alabama – 5’10 / 221

Grade: 74

One-year starter. After a promising freshman year where he stood out as a special teamer but also averaged over 10 yards per carry, McClellan suffered a torn ACL in October of 2021. He returned for the 2022 season but had to play second fiddle to transfer Jahmyr Gibbs who ended up a first round pick. McClellan got his shot to lead the backfield in 2023 and shined, finishing as the team’s leading rusher. He is a thick, well-balanced back that can do everything well. His contact balance stands out on tape, and he has the skill set that can stay on the field in all situations. He fought through a foot injury toward the end of 2023; thus the medicals will be big for him. There may not be a standout trait to his game, but his proven ability to contribute on special teams and the dependable feel his game presents will land him a number two role early in his career.

*Many backs of a standout trait. Speed, pass catching, size, production…etc. But what about a guy that is just a jack of all trades, master of none type? A guy that simply answers the bell in any situation with a variety of approaches? That is McClellan. And there is a part of me that thinks he should be with the cluster of 77’s higher up. He was in line to be the next dude in the Alabama backfield but then Gibbs transferred in from Georgia Tech. McClellan does everything you ask him to do, he played excellent in big games, and he can contribute on special teams. Sure, he lacks some dynamic traits but there are times we get too wrapped up into that. This is a kid that would be a sneaky-strong day three pick late if he falls.

NFL Comparison: Bilal Powell / NYJ

14) Dylan Laube – New Hampshire – 5’10 / 206

Grade: 72

Sixth-year senior. Two-year starter. Earned All-American honors two times as a returner and all-purpose player respectively. Was a Walter Payton Award finalist in 2023. Laube got the ball in his hands several ways. The stocky, quick-footed playmaker led FCS in all-purpose yards two straight seasons. He excels in the pass game with his ability to run routes both from the backfield and slot in addition to adjusting to the ball in the air. He has late hands and a sense for where the defense is post-catch. While he will not produce much as a typical ball carrier between the tackles and there are inevitable shortcomings that stem from his size as a blocker, there are enough roles Laube can fill at a high level to warrant an active roster spot weekly. How a team uses his skill set will be vital to his impact at the next level.

*I actually had some Tiki Barber vibes watching his film. Laube is stout enough to play through cheap contact and quick enough to get open against defensive backs. He does have some receiver-caliber skills in the passing game. He can line up out of the backfield and still pose as a threat. He did so 100+ times in college and I actually think that is where he can be used best. He is better at avoiding tacklers when there is some real estate to leverage. The quickness is elite, as his vision. How well he responds to the speed of the NFL will be the deciding factor.

NFL Comparison: Salvon Ahmed / MIA

15) Rasheen Ali – Marshall – 5’11 /206

Grade: 72

Three-year starter that missed most of 2022 (10 games). All Sun Belt in 2023 and first team All-Conference USA in 2021. Ali took the nation by storm as a redshirt freshman in 2021 scoring 23 touchdowns, tied for the most in FBS. After that Freshman All-American season, Ali pumped the breaks to address his emotional, physical, and mental health. He came back strong in 2023 but a rupture biceps tendon suffered at the Senior Bowl in February will cloud his initial impact at the next level. His home-run ability and aggressive, wild, but balanced running style is an attractive weapon for zone-blocking schemes. The issues in his game can be cleaned up via quality coaching and hard work, but the natural explosion and innovation he has cannot be taught.

*Ali’s best tape is exciting. He is a true home-run threat. The biceps tendon injury did not impact the grade. But I do need him to clean up the ball security at the next level, he truly is bottom tier there. We see day three backs surprise the league with explosive plays and wonder how they fell that far. Ali gives me that vibe.

16-27:

16) Miyan Williams – Ohio State: 72
17) Will Shipley – Clemson: 72
18) Emani Bailey – TCU: 71
19) George Holani – Boise State: 71
20) Frank Gore Jr. – Southern Miss: 71
21) Michael Wiley – Arizona: 70
22) Cody Schrader – Missouri: 70
23) Dillon Johnson – Washington: 69
24) Daijun Edwards – Georgia: 69
25) Isaiah Davis – South Dakota State: 68
26) Kendall Milton – Georgia: 68
27) Jaden Shirden – Monmouth: 68

NYG APPROACH

The Saquon Barkley era came and went with nothing more than the 2018 Rookie of the Year hardware and a few highlight plays. Now, he’s with Philadelphia and behind one of the best offensive lines in football. NYG is entering a new era of offensive football. In the next two years, I fully expect to see a new starting running back, a new quarterback, a new number one wide receiver, and likely a new tight end. How far up or down the list should running back be? We know the position itself has been devalued league-wide, but I feel the same way about that as I have about inside linebackers for a decade-plus. They’re still important. A really good one makes a very big difference. The debate is two-fold. One, how early of a draft pick is a team allowed to spend on one? And second, how much money should a proven difference maker get when it is time to get paid?

Fortunately, NYG will not need to answer either of those questions this year. There is not a special back worth taking early and they aren’t shopping for a veteran. But I want to circle back to the fact this team needs more talent, period. Eric Gray will rightfully get his shot (I still like him) and Devin Singletary has had a solid career; he can play. There is room for a rookie back and I want a guy who can move. I want a speed guy. I would settle for a power guy but I am confident you can find them any year and/or in cheap free agency. As for when the position should be approached? Day three only. That likely boots a few guys out of the picture of possibilities. As much as I love Trey Benson and Bucky Irving, taking them day two likely equals passing on better or same-grade players at more important positions in need of an upgrade. The secondary options to those two are the likes of Vidal, McClellan, and Tracy.

Apr 072024
 
Caleb Williams, USC Trojans (November 18, 2023)

Caleb Williams – © USA TODAY Sports

QUARTERBACKS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Cores special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Jayden Daniels – LSU – 6’3 / 210

Grade: 87

Five-year starter. Earned first team All-SEC and All-American in 2023. Spent three years at Arizona State where he was the first true freshman in school history to start week one. Transferred to LSU in 2022 where he ended up winning the Walter Camp Player of the Year Award, Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, Davey O’Brien Award, and Heisman Trophy. (in 2023). Daniels brings two important traits to the table that fit perfect into today’s NFL. He is a true dual threat that knows how and when to use his legs to enhance both the passing and running games. He also has a tremendous amount of experience with his best football coming after he transferred into the SEC. The ability to process and get the ball out actually improved after making that jump in competition against NFL-caliber speed. He plays fast and confident, he shows poise and intelligence. If he can avoid a lot of heavy contact in order to stay on the field, he will end up a dangerous big play machine at the next level. The concerns around his body type and durability are warranted, but he hasn’t missed a start since November of 2019, shows extreme dexterity in his joints, and exudes both mental and physical toughness.

*Daniels set records for explosive plays. Daniels checks every both athletically. Daniels left his mark on the LSU coaching staff when it came to leadership and work ethic qualities (among coaches that set the bar high). Daniels has impressed in private meetings with teams. What else can one want? The body type is the one thing that will prevent some from putting him into the elite category (I bet he plays closer to 200 pounds) and because of historical data, I won’t push back against those that want to steer clear. But you have to keep in mind the historical data is partially from a different era of football. With how much quarterbacks are protected now; I think him being around 205-210 pounds is not as big of a deal as it would have been in 2000-2010. Brian Daboll made this offense more efficient in year one, but he knows that will never be good enough. They need more explosive plays while maintaining the efficiency both on the ground and via the air. That sums up Daniels and what he brings to the table. The game is changing and Daniels is closer to the prototype than had he come out ten years ago, by a mile. He’s the guy if he is somehow there at 6.

NFL Comparison: Randall Cunningham / RET
NFL Ceiling: Lamar Jackson / BAL

2. Caleb Williams – USC – 6’1 / 214

Grade: 87

Three-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2021 and All-Pac 12 in both 2023 and 2022 after transferring from Oklahoma to USC. Winner of the Heisman Trophy, AP Player of the Year, and Maxwell Award in 2022 after setting a USC single season record for total offense and touchdowns. Williams was a five-star recruit that followed Head Coach Lincoln Riley out west from Oklahoma following his freshman season. Riley guided two quarterbacks (Baker Mayfield in 2018 and Kyler Murray in 2019) to eventual number one overall slots in the NFL Draft in addition to reviving Jalen Hurts’ college career prior to being selected in the second round of the 2020 Draft. Williams’ succeeded in the quarterback-friendly system as well but his overall talent is on a different level. The playmaking ability is dripping off the innovative, creative competitor. He can create on his own and there is always a credible threat for the homerun when he touches the ball. Because his offensive line was so poor, specifically in 2023, Williams was forced out of structure often. He needed to make up for one of the worst scoring defenses as well and that combination created bad habits. He tried too hard to play hero-ball and got away from taking what was available initially. While that does make it look good on the highlight reel and it did provide clarity on what he is uniquely capable of, Williams will not get away with most of those circus acts at the next level. NFL defenses are too fast and complex for that. He will need to show he can get back to basic, fundamentally sound football that centers around ball protection and sound decision making. If he applies himself properly and the system around him is strong, the sky truly is the limit for the uber-talented star.

*Williams ends up with the same grade as Daniels. While I trust Daniels more, I will acknowledge Williams does have the ceiling of a perennial All-Pro. Simply put, he can do things nobody else can on a weekly basis. I also think he has shown better pocket awareness and “sixth sense” in his game. His contact balance and lower body strength will make him tougher to take down for a sack, and he throws better on the move. What puts him as “1B” in this class has nothing to do with some of the off-field stuff that bothers some. Painting his nails, crying in his mom’s arms after a loss, his sense of fashion. None of that matters to me and none of it factored into the grade. I simply do not like the lack of ability to control his “backyard” football. I do not think it will work against NFL speed and if anything, pro defenses will leverage against it. The fumble issue was all-time bad, the Notre Dame tape was as bad as it gets among the top guys in this class, and I think he created more issues than some want to admit for that USC team. Are there whispers about how different of a dude he is? Yup. Dating all the way back to high school. Do I fear him being the face of a franchise during a bad stretch? Yup. Do I think he’s reading and taking in the talk of him being a generational talent (whatever that means)? Yup. But he has a clean slate in the NFL, period. This isn’t Johnny Manziel. I will not be surprised if the personality differences get ugly if things get bad, however. And for some, that is enough to look past him.

NFL Comparison: Kyler Murray / ARI
NFL Ceiling: Aaron Rodgers / NYJ

3. JJ McCarthy – Michigan – 6’2 / 219

Grade: 84

Junior entry. Two-year starter, La. Grange, IL. An accomplished lacrosse and hockey player in high school, McCarthy spent one season as a backup before winning the starting job in 2022 and eventually ascending to a National Champion and Manning Award finalist. He went 27-1 as a starter and set program single-season records in interception rate and completion percentage. Playing in a pro-style offense under Jim Harbaugh that was built on a power run game, McCarthy did not have the carry the team week in, week out. His drop back volume and overall need to spray it all over the field was did not reach the level of most others at the position. When it mattered, however, he showed clutch genes and dependable play. McCarthy is a very mature 21-year-old that is still only scratching the surface of what he can become. Focusing on what he does well in big moments on the national stage under the big lights gives the notion he can handle the pressure, literally and figuratively, of leading a team from under center. The fact he did not have to throw the ball as often can leave his projection a bit gray. However, considering how much this position is based on what goes on between the ears along with an ability to be a dual threat, McCarthy is set up for success at the next level and has several key variables made clear.

*I was asked a few times during the fall and December where McCarthy would go in the 2024 Draft if he were to come out. I said day two more times than I can count. Before the deep dive into all of his film from 2023 AND 2022, that is what his game looked like from the casual onlooker. I thought (and still think) he was best suited to return to school and be the unquestioned #1 overall guy in 2025. When he declared, I went all in on his film and came out with him being the #3 guy in this class. You want to know who was the best in class against pressure? McCarthy. What about the best on third + fourth down? McCarthy. What about protecting the football? McCarthy. Who’s played the most football in a pro-style offense? McCarthy. It was not enough to put him ahead of the other two, but I do think he is the number three guy and the most realistic option for NYG at 6 if they stay put. Now the question is, do you trade up for him to avoid getting leapfrogged by MIN? It is a tough call. NYG is not a quarterback away and they need the resources (draft picks) to build this thing long term. McCarthy is good, but I would not label him special. After a long time pondering, I came away saying I would not give anything more than a third-round pick to move up for him and my preference is to not trade up at all.

NFL Comparison: Rich Gannon / RET
NFL Ceiling: Joe Burrow / CIN

4. Drake Maye – North Carolina – 6’4 / 223

Grade: 83

Third-year sophomore entry, two-year starter. All-ACC both seasons, first team in 2022. Coming from an athletic family (two brothers and father played basketball at North Carolina, one played baseball at Florida), Maye has been waiting for his time seemingly forever. He arrived to the Tar Heels as a four-star recruit and backed up eventual NFL quarterback Sam Howell for a season. After the redshirt year he went on to win FWAA Freshman All-American honors, finished as a Manning Award finalist, and earned ACC Player of the Year honors with a dual-threat approach. His production coming from his arm and legs matched the levels we have seen from the likes of Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Robert Griffin III, and Marcus Mariota to name a few. He led the team in rushing, but also set a program record with 38 passing touchdowns. He was just the fifth quarterback in ACC history to amass over 5,000 total yards. While Maye did see a dip in production in 2023 and there are specific elements to his game that absolutely need to be sharpened, he does show a prototype combination of traits to be a quality starter at the next level. He can make every throw at a high level, and he does a lot of good work on the move where he needs to be the creator. If he can gain more consistency with ball placement and become more confident in his decisions, the likelihood of him becoming a quality starting quarterback is high. The hesitation comes from inconsistent ball placement and random poor decisions he will make with the ball, both correctable issues if he can be put in the right position.

*I see Maye’s name thrown around into the Josh Allen/Justin Herbert section of projections. I can see why. The size and easy arm talent is close to (not quite there) those two. I do have Maye graded as the best pocket passer in the group. To some, that is enough to label him the guy in this class (or at least QB3) and I won’t argue against it. If I had to bet on who the NYG brass will make a move for, it is Maye. I’m simply worried about the inconsistency and step backwards he took in 2023. I don’t want to hear about a lack of supporting cast either. He had Josh Downs last year (Colts 2nd leading receiver as a rookie), and 2024 prospect Tez Walker in 2023 (and a RB that we will be talking about next year) along with a few others that will be in training camps / on pro rosters. It was not a poor supporting cast. Maye simply looks and plays like Tarzan some plays, looks and plays like Jane on others. The situation around him needs to be a certain way for it to work, more so than the other guys. The one positive NYG can be for him is the fact he will sit for a full season here. That is a must for him unless a team is fully loaded (which NYG is not). That can give this front office another 12 months to build the support system for him. Any of these four quarterbacks for NYG would be fully endorsed by me, but Maye is the one that scares me the most.

NFL Comparison: Jameis Winston / FA
NFL Ceiling: Eli Manning / RET

5. Bo Nix – Oregon – 6’2 / 214

Grade: 80

Five-year starter. All-Pac 12 in both 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023 in addition to winning the conference Offensive Player of the Year Award and a spot on the All-American Squad. Nix spent three years at Auburn, following in the footsteps of his father. He was the first true freshman to start under center for the program since 1946. The son of a legendary high school coach is battle tested. After winning the 2019 SEC Freshman of the Year award, his career began to spiral. He graduated in just three years and transferred to Oregon. He left there as the program’s all-time leader in completion percentage and set single season records in completions, yards, and passing touchdowns. His completion percentage in 2023 was an all-time NCAA record. Nix started more games under center than any other quarterback in FBS history. Simply put, this is a guy that is battle-tested, mentally and physically tough, and all-time productive. The physical traits are more than good enough to make everything happen on the field a quarterback needs to make happen.

*A big part of playing and evolving in the NFL at this position is the response to adversity. Not everyone wants to talk about it, but it is the truth. Nix has had almost unfair expectations put on his shoulders since he came out of high school. It went great, then it went horrible. Sounds like some of the young quarterbacks that flame out, right? Nix resurrected his career in a big way. Now, the fact he did it in the Pac-12 and not the SEC needs to be weighed (part of what makes the Daniels ascent special). But watch some of his early tapes at Auburn and watch his 2023 at Oregon; it is easy to see the contrast in him as a player. Nix is a guy I like a lot as a day two option for the Giants. Do I think he will be there? No. But I did not think Will Levis would fall to round 2 a year ago. It is a possibility. It would likely require a day 2 trade-up but there are options at #6 overall to trade down and pick up extra capital to offset any sort of loss. Or they can get a blue chip WR at #6 and make the aggressive move up in round 2 for a guy like Nix. I think his floor is what NYG currently has in Daniel Jones. His ceiling is something in the area of what Deshaun Watson was with Houston (pre-drama). Do you like the day two risk of Nix or the top 10 risk of one the guys above? Another tough call considering what else could come in through the door if they go receiver early.

NFL Comparison: Daniel Jones / NYG
NFL Ceiling: Deshaun Watson / CLE (from his HOU days)

6. Michael Penix Jr. – Washington – 6’2 / 216

Grade: 79

Sixth-year senior, five-year starter. Spent four seasons at Indiana where he earned All-Big Ten honors in 2020. Transferred to Washington in 2022 and earned All-Pac 12 honors in both 2023 and 2022. All-American in 2023 in addition to winning the Maxwell Award. Winner of the 2022 AP Comeback Player of the Year Award. Penix’s career was marred by injuries early on. He suffered four separate season enders to his right knee and both shoulders respectively. He was turning Indiana around in 2020, as he had them as highly ranked as number seven in the country and he was leading the Big Ten in passing before he went down. The transfer to Washington displayed what he was capable of. Penix did not miss a single game in two years, he set and then broke single season passing records for the program, and he led the nation in passing in both 2023 and 2022. He is battle tested and has come out on the other side of adversity a winner. He has more than enough arm talent and athletic ability to physically do it all. The lack of pressure he dealt with during his time at Washington from opposing pass rushers does leave some gray area around his projection. He did not always deal with tight windows and quality opposing defenses well. This is a wildcard-type prospect for multiple reasons, but one that has the ability to be an explosive play engineer.

*You ever golf with someone that is an absolute monster off the tee box? Forget everything else. He’s simply a dude every time he gets to tee it up, he launches it. That is Penix as a quarterback. He can make the explosive downfield passes with the be best. Because of scheme and who he had at receiver, Penix simply did not have to do a lot with crossers and/or west coast concepts. Because of his offensive line and poor Pac-12 pass rushes, he constantly had a ton of room to navigate within the pocket. The question that he enters the league with, beyond the scary medicals, is what he can do with his long drive off the tee box. Can he chip? Can he putt? Can get the approach shot over water and in front of the sand? How many clubs in that bag does he truly use at a high level? We just don’t know. There is a level of unknown to every prospect. That is what makes some of this playing darts with a blindfold on. Penix, if healthy and that is a big if, has as much arm talent as any of the guys listed above. For the record, the medicals downgraded him from an 82 grade. So don’t get it twisted. NYG in round two makes some sense as long as the medicals are clean but that would give NYG two quarterbacks with serious concerns in that area. Robbing Peter to pay Paul?

NFL Comparison: Marcus Mariota / WAS
NFL Ceiling: Jordan Love / GB

7. Joe Milton – Tennessee – 6’5 / 235

Grade: 75

Sixth-year senior. Two-year starter. Spent three seasons at Michigan before transferring to Tennessee in 2021 where he lost his job to Hendon Hooker (Detroit third round pick in 2023). Milton has rare arm strength combined with a plus-sized frame and easy confidence. The traits are there to create the high-ceiling outlook if he can be properly developed. In order for him to come anywhere near that ceiling, he needs a lot of ducks to line up perfectly. His mechanics, ability to read a defense, and accuracy all need significant upward strides, or the bottom is going to fall out fast. Hit or miss, star or castoff. A team will likely need to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for at least a full season because of how far away he is from being ready.

*If NYG is going to punt on quarterback early (which a case can be made for), Milton is a name to keep an eye on for day three. I think coaches will know within a year of working with him whether or not he can be a guy. That Tennessee offense is something else and while some will say it is too simple to project potential NFL success from, it can actually mean Milton has ability between the ears we don’t know about yet. Milton’s tools are as good as it gets. If the processing can catch up and his lower body can get more consistent, he’s 90% there. Some are fully out on Milton, I’m not. The NYG quarterback situation, if they don’t go QB early, is an ideal spot for a guy like Milton if you’re ok with three quarterbacks on the 53 and waving goodbye to Tommy Cutlets.

NFL Comparison: Jeff Driskel / WAS
NFL Ceiling: Carson Wentz / KC

8. Michael Pratt – Tulane – 6’2 / 217

Grade: 74

Four-year starter. All-AAC three straight years including first team honors in 2023 along with winning the Conference Offensive Player of the Year Award. Pratt turned the Tulane program around during his time under center. They had not reached double-digit wins since 1998 and they went 2-10 during Pratt’s first full season as the starter. He ended his career with two straight double digit-win seasons and a Cotton Bowl win over USC in January of 2023. His consistent ascent as a quarterback puts proof to the amount of work he puts in off the field. He is a plus-athlete and hard-nosed competitor that has the ability to lead through example. There are questions about his hip rotation and general feel for coverages, but the physical ability is there to be a true dual threat at the next level.

*Pratt is the kind of backup that can come in for a few weeks when your starter goes down with an injury and keeps it together. He can lead your team to a couple wins. I see some Josh Dobbs in his game but in terms of developing him into anything more, I’m not sure there is enough on tape to project anything more. The way he approaches his game and the mental side is ideal for any quarterback room, however. And the fact he put an entire program on his back and got it out of the basement means something. He can be a leader, one that makes a real difference beyond playing on the field.

NFL Comparison: Brandon Allen / SF
NFL Ceiling: Sam Howell / SEA

9. Spencer Rattler – South Carolina – 6’0 / 211

Grade: 74

Four-year starter. Spent three years at Oklahoma prior to transferring to South Carolina for his final two seasons. Following his redshirt season in 2019, Rattler burst on the scene in 2020, winning the Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year Award and first team All-Conference honors. He went 15-2 as a starter under Lincoln Riley. However, in 2021 he was benched week six for Caleb Williams. In total, Rattler started 42 games between the two programs. He won the team-MVP award both seasons with South Carolina and set a single season record for both completions and completion percentage. He is a gifted thrower with a lot of pro traits already developed in his game. The footwork, power created from his base, and pure arm talent all scream NFL starter. There is a lot of unknown to his game despite the heavy amount of experience. He rarely threw the ball deep and did not have a lot of success when doing so. He is undersized and he does not have standout athleticism. Rattler projects to a quality backup at the next level that has the arm talent and swagger to start if he can develop and hide the shortcomings he could not extinguish over the 42 college starts.

*There is a ton of love for Rattler around the league. It really seems like he is heading toward a round two slot. I can’t get there on him. There are too many components beyond looking good when you throw that matter to me. He falls below average in multiple areas of what I look for and there were some immaturity concerns that centered around him thinking he was better than he was. That did not factor into his grade, but it did help break the tie between a few guys. Rattler will look good enough to get you excited, but once the filters come off the finished product won’t be enough.

NFL Comparison: Bailey Zappe / NE
NFL Ceiling: Baker Mayfield / TB

10. Jordan Travis – Florida State – 6’1 / 200

Grade: 74

Sixth year senior. Four-year starter. All-ACC in both 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023. Won the ACC Offensive Player of the Year Award in 2023. Travis transferred to Florida State from Louisville in 2019 and leaves the storied program as one of the most accomplished and productive quarterbacks in its history. He set records in career touchdowns and total offense in addition to finishing atop the quarterback rushing record book and second in passing. His late-season ankle injury ended his final season early and hampered his pre-draft process. He proved to be capable of leading an offense and creating on his own with both his legs and arm. The creative playmaker protected the ball, came up big in clutch situations, and led by example. There are multiple physical shortcomings to his game that do limit his ceiling, but this will be a quality addition to anyone’s quarterback room and should be in the league for a long time as an athletically-biased backup.

*If you liked Bryce Young last year – you have to at least somewhat like Travis. There is a lot of Steph Curry in their games; undersized but slippery, weak but tough to get hands on, and always ready to fire even when he isn’t fully lined up. Travis’ significant broken leg suffered late in the year should keep him off the field 100% until training camp but that won’t impact the grade. He will be drafted to provide depth and in most cases, he will be the third guy. Is there potential for more? Yes. Travis has the gamer-trait in him that I’ve been drawn to since 2022. He is a quiet-leader type that teammates respond well to. If NYG wants to wait until the round 5/6 area for a new quarterback, Travis is on my short list of guys I want that I believe will be around.

NFL Comparison: John Wolford / TB
NFL Ceiling: Case Keenum / HOU

11. Kedon Slovis – BYU – 6’2 / 223

Grade: 71

Five-year starter. Spent three seasons at USC, where he won Pac 12 Freshman of the Year in 2019 and earned first team All-Pac 12 honors in 2020. Transferred to Pittsburgh in 2022 before ending up at Brigham Young in 2023. Slovis was heading for stardom after a historic true freshman season for one of the most followed college programs in the nation. It only declined from there to the point where he lost his job in 2021. He replaced Kenny Pickett at Pittsburgh but never quite took off, prompting the second transfer. Slovis’ completion percentage decreased all five years of his career. The primary concern is that he did not progress and there is a credible durability concern. He is an underrated athlete, however, and there are a lot of fundamentals to the position that look natural and consistent to the point where he can project to back up duty for years.

*Rewind back to 2019, the year in which he looked like a first rounder, and I was initially thinking this could be the next Josh Rosen! Yes, that Josh Rosen. Yes, arguably my worst miss as an evaluator at the quarterback position. That said, maybe the projection in 2019 does end up being accurate. Rosen is currently holding on for dear life as a backup and that is where I end up slotting Slovis. This is a guy that tested athletically much better than I anticipated. He looks good in workouts and has a very clean, mature way about him on and off the field. Things just don’t seem to click when he gets pushed away from his point. Despite the experience, Slovis never quite matched what we saw in 2019. Multiple programs but the same shortcomings. He can stick somewhere as a backup, though.

12. Devin Leary – Kentucky – 6’1 / 215

Grade: 71

Sixth-year senior. Five-year starter. Spent five seasons at North Carolina State before transferring to Kentucky in 2023. He suffered season ending injuries in both 2022 (shoulder) and 2020 (fibula). His best season came in 2021 where he broke the program record set by Philip Rivers for passing touchdowns. The highly experienced, tough-minded signal caller has the arm talent to make it at the next level. He has a small, but thick frame and a fast release. The accuracy woes led to a career high in interceptions and career low in completion percentage in his one season in the SEC. The starting point is strong enough to warrant a third string job for Leary, but he will need to prove he is more the 2021 version of himself than the 2023 one fast if he wants to stick to a roster long-term.

*Everyone that watches Leary throw the ball is impressed. Everyone. He can spin it as well as anyone. I’ve been keeping an eye on him since 2021 where he really caught fire and there were rumblings about him declaring for the draft. 2022 did not pan out. The transfer to Kentucky, replacing eventual second rounder Will Levis was a gamble, one with huge upside, also did not pan out. Leary is the kind of guy that looks better in workouts than on film. His response to pressure has never been good and he has enough experience in multiple systems with some solid-enough talent surrounding him to dampen his projection. Backup life is for him, one without much upside to be more.

13. Sam Hartman – Notre Dame – 6’1 / 211

Grade: 70

Sixth-year senior. Five-year starter. All-ACC in 2022 and 2021 before transferring to Notre Dame for 2023. Left Wake Forest as the all-time leader in yards, completions, and touchdowns and finished second all-time in ACC career yards. Hartman is a free-spirit type quarterback that will take chances, play strong against pressure, and bounce back from adversity. Hartman was one of only five FBS true freshmen to start week one in 2018 before losing his job a year later. Hartman won the job again in 2020 and never looked back. This is a guy that played well in multiple systems and was often playing against defenses more talented than what he was working with offensively. He won two separate bowl game MVP awards and has an immense amount of experience under his belt. Physically, Hartman can throw the deep ball with strength and precision. Mentally, he is the coachable type and brings a level of toughness to the team with the way he plays. He will be a backup that elevates the room but lacks the upside of anything more.

*Hartman does just enough to keep him in the discussion. He is a good kid, and he is the kind of guy that raises up the quarterback room behind closed doors. The experience he has as the poster boy of multiple college program shows the needed and desired maturity coaches want from their quarterbacks. When push comes to shove, I don’t think the talent is enough to project anywhere past third string.

14. Carter Bradley – South Alabama – 6’3 / 218

Grade: 68

Sixth-year senior. Three-year starter. Two-time All-Sun Belt. Spent four seasons at Toledo before transferring to South Alabama in 2022. Son of Colts Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley. Carter never fully held the starting gig at Toledo but he did play a credible amount of snaps his final three seasons. He set a single season school record in his first year with South Alabama right away, putting himself on the NFL radar. While 2023 did not meet expectations, Bradley continued to build his reputation as a guy that can make every NFL throw while handling the mental capacity the position demands. The NFL lineage helps strengthen the notion.

*There is not much to get overly excited about with Bradley, but there is a safe feel to his game that was also seen at the Senior Bowl. He knows when to take chances and when to take the single. He plays smart. His knowledge of the game alone is worth looking at because that backup quarterback, in some cases, can be just as much of a coaching staff add-on.

15. Tanner Mordecai – Wisconsin – 6’2 / 210

Grade: 68

Sixth year senior. Three-year starter. Spent three seasons at Oklahoma before transferring to SMU, where he spent two years. Finished off at Wisconsin in 2023. All-AAC in 2021. Mordecai has had statistical success in air-raid type offensive systems. He threw over 70 touchdowns and 7,000 yards over a two-year span. He can sling it and the athletic ability is up there with some of the best in the class. When he got matched up against a tougher schedule in the Big Ten, Mordecai did not raise his level of play. While he still has the occasional flash and his ability to run is always a threat, Mordecai proved that his ceiling is too low to credibly project anything more than a backup.

*This is a kid I found myself wanting to root for. In evaluation, you always need to be careful with a situation like that. It can hide the truth. The truth is Mordecai was in a QB-friendly system for years and it created a lot of production for him. He also turned the ball over too often in that system as well. I always speak about how I like Jayden Daniels ascending after transferring a level up to the SEC. Mordecai did the opposite at Wisconsin. The small hands factor into the equation as well but I still think he is worth a shot in training camp because the talent has always, and still is, there.

16-20:

16. John Rhys Plumlee – Central Florida – 6’0 / 200: 67
17. Taulia Tagovailoa – Maryland – 5’10/202: 67
18. Jack Plummer – Louisville – 6’4 / 216: 67
19. Austin Reed – Western Kentucky – 6’1 / 220: 67
20. Jason Bean – Kansas – 6’1 / 184: 65

NYG APPROACH

The discussion that won’t go away. I don’t get to BBI much from January through March – but every time I do, I see multiple threads on Daniel Jones and the future of the Giants quarterback position. The majority of fans seem ready to move on. The front office has been aggressive with their pursuit of scouting and information-gathering around the quarterbacks in this class. And Joe Schoen did put in an out of the contract he signed him to after 2024. It is an expensive one, but nothing worth avoiding for financial reasons alone. So, where do they go with this top-six slot in the draft? Ironically, the same slot they chose Jones from in the 2019 NFL Draft.

I was skeptical that, after the seesaw relationship between this front office and Jones, that Schoen would pull the plug just six games (in a horrid situation) after signing him to the largest contract in franchise history. And to be real, there is a small(er) part of me that still feels that way. Do they believe in Jones? Hard to imagine especially with the two serious injuries suffered in 2023 alone. Does that mean they will go all-in on a new quarterback in 2024, which also means likely passing on a blue-chip receiver (arguably the top need on this team outside of QB)? That is where I’m coming from. NYG can punt on quarterback if their guy isn’t there and still walk away with a true nucleus player at a game-altering position. This would leave the future of this franchise on unstable ground, but whatever they end up doing in 2025 at the position would have a head start should they have a true number one target and a few solid accessory pieces to work with.

Now, if they do go quarterback with #6 overall (or higher with a trade up), who’s it gonna be? Here is where I currently see it:

Williams and Daniels are off the board
Minnesota is going to trade up for Maye or McCarthy
New England is 50/50 on taking Maye or McCarthy

So, odds are without a trade up, NYG will not get one of the top four quarterbacks. The only way I see it happening is if the Pats don’t want one. I do think it is possible they go the long-term route and build the nucleus with Joe Alt or Marvin Harrison Jr. That would be best-case scenario for NYG because even if they get leapfrogged by MIN, they still have the leftover between Maye/McCarthy. I have my preference, and it is the latter. But even with that, I don’t see “special.” I do see “better.” I do see “cheaper.” But keep in mind when it comes to that cheaper label, the economic advantage of the rookie quarterback window is only 2-3 years. They’re paying Jones big money in 2024 and the cap penalty for cutting him in 2025 is near $25 million. This situation is so much more complicated than it needed to be, much more than we want it to be.

So, such as in life, try to come up with simple solutions that chip away at the most glaring problems. The glaring problem on this roster both short and long term is a low ceiling quarterback situation in a league that is run by elite quarterbacks. NYG does not have one. They will not have the possibility of one until a new face comes in. NYG also has a shot at an elite wide receiver. The priority is the former and a sweet consolation prize is the latter. They are in the middle of a five-year rebuild with some key pieces in place. That said, they still are very far away from being a credible contender. And because of the money already designated for Andrew Thomas and Dexter Lawrence, they can’t sell multiple future premium draft slots for a good, not great, quarterback prospect. The draft is where they need to build from, with multiple doubles, triples, and maybe a couple of home runs.

NYG needs to stay at 6. Coin flip between the elite receiver & good, not great, quarterback. I do not see NYG being very competitive in 2025 so it could be in their best interest to move around the rest of draft weekend in an effort to pick up extra bullets for a trade up in 2025. That is my conclusion.

Apr 052024
 
Brock Bowers, Georgia Bulldogs (December 27, 2023)

Brock Bowers – © USA TODAY Sports

TIGHT ENDS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Cores special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Brock Bowers – Georgia – 6’3 / 243

Grade: 88

Junior entry, three-year starter. Mackey Award winner in 2023 and 2022. Earned All-American honors (first team in 2023) and first team All-SEC honors twice. Grew up in a family of athletes. Father was a center for the Utah State football team and mother was a Hall of Fame softball player there. Burst on to the scene as a true freshman in 2021, leading the team in receiving. Led the country’s tight ends in yards after the catch each of the past three seasons and averaged just under ten yards per carry. Bowers has a special and rare skill set that can create production all over the offense short, intermediate, and down the field. The risk will be the engineer of the playbook and how much he can tailor it to fit Bowers’ uniqueness. He can be a weapon that changes a team right away, but he should not be inserted into a traditional role.

*That final line is going to be vital to Bowers’ career. “Should not be inserted into a traditional role:”. I hesitate to put this kind of grade on him but that is where I try to remain objective. The grade is the grade. It is not based on how I feel that day or this day. It is a culmination of traits, production, projection, talent, and skills. But I can say this right now; the right team needs to draft him to be anything more than a Dallas Clark type (good player, but not special). For reference, Kyle Pitts was the highest TE grade I ever gave out (90). He’s been paired with an awful offensive scheme and situation so far. That is going to dictate so much for Bowers because of his style. If Darren Waller retires, should Bowers be considered? The grade will be good enough to be in the discussion, but my answer is a hard no. The receivers (spoiler alert) are higher and I even value the OT need over Bowers. While I do think Daboll and Kafka could make something work with him, I’m not completely sold it would be the right fit anyway. He will be a fun guy to track but it won’t be here.

NFL Comparison: George Kittle / SF

2) Ben Sinnott – Kansas State – 6’4 / 250

Grade: 79

Two-year starter. Earned first team All-Big 12 honors in both 2023 and 2022. Recipient of the 2023 Lowman Award, the top fullback in the country. Coming from a small high school with zero FBS offers and a potential hockey future, Sinnott opted to walk-on for Kansas State as a 205-pound roster hopeful. The gap from where he started to where he is right now says a lot about him. He is winner, plain and simple. Sinnott does so many of the little things that the common eye may not always pick up initially. The on-field IQ, in addition to the grit and talent, gives him a sense of completeness that can be hard to find. He can line up in several positions and roles and provide impact in the passing game with sure hands and after-catch grit.

*Sinnott went from day three to round two with his combination of quality play and top-shelf combine. Not only were his workout numbers fantastic, but his ball skills and positional drills were graded higher than every tight end that worked out there. Add in the intangibles and versatility, Sinnott simply has a “useful” label to him. He will line up everywhere, he will make plays that surprise you, and he can block. He is an ideal tight end in today’s game. I see some Sam LaPorta in him.

NFL Comparison: Sam LaPorta / DET

3) Ja’Tavion Sanders – Texas – 6’4 / 245

Grade: 78

Junior entry, two-year starter. Earned first team All-Big 12 in both 2023 and 2022. Sanders came out of high school ranked as a top-shelf, five-star “athlete”. Ask different programs and you would have gotten different answers on where they envisioned him. The high school wide receiver/defensive end and accomplished basketball player was put at tight end right away upon arriving to Austin. He left atop the school’s all-time record book in receptions and second in yards. It took time, as 2021 was a complete wash. But he ascended to a key point of their passing game abruptly as a sophomore and took off. While his tools may leave him just a bit short as a pure slot tight end prospect and the lack of size will limit him as a traditional in-line guy, the tape shows a player that can help an offense produce in multiple ways. This constantly ascending player is a fit into any scheme and will be extra-attractive to offenses that want to mover their tight ends around often.

*Man, I liked Sanders big-time before the start of 2023. I was putting him near the Brock Bowers level, and I envisioned him as a first rounder. He failed to meet those expectations and his pre-draft process has been rather poor. He isn’t big. He isn’t explosive. He isn’t fast. He isn’t strong. So how does he still end up with a day two (round three) grade? I love his film. I love the way he plays. And I tie him to Isaiah Likely. Likely was a guy I liked on film in 2022 but the poor pre-draft process caused me to knock him down way too far. I don’t want to make the same mistake twice. Likely had little more explosion, but Sanders has more toughness, grit, and football sense. NYG could be a nice landing spot if Waller leaves.

NFL Comparison: Isaiah Likely / BAL

4) Theo Johnson – Penn State – 6’6 / 259

Grade: 78

Three-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023. Johnson has the prototype body merged with soft hands and quick feet to pose as a potential starting tight end in the league. He has shown flashes of being a matchup nightmare for both linebackers and defensive backs. The catch radius and sheer weight he can play should help with some of the short area movement issues he shows as a route runner and ball carrier to have at least a quality backup outlook. The athletic upside he possesses leaves the door open to a bigger role. He brings a rare blend of size and speed to the table that coaches will want a crack at developing. Johnson needs to clean up some of the fine points of the position to reach his ceiling, but the floor with him is high to feel safe about hm providing solid rotational play, at least.

*I’ll say this right now. Johnson has the ceiling to be the top tight end in this class (including Bowers). That fact alone leads me to believe he should be graded a bit higher. But the number is the number. He has several flashes on tape combined with a historic blend of size, explosion, and speed. At this time, however, he is a better athlete than he is a football player. I felt that way after watching tape and when I saw him in person at the Senior Bowl. It looks like he is still learning his body and simply lacks some important coordination and football reaction speed. Worth the gamble because he could change an offense. Maybe a similar trajectory we have seen with Cole Kmet with the Bears.

NFL Comparison: Cole Kmet / CHI

5) Johnny Wilson – Florida State – 6’6 / 231

Grade: 77

Two-year starter. All-ACC in 2022. Wilson began his career at Arizona State where he was rarely used over two seasons. After receiving very little attention in the transfer portal, he settled in at Florida State and became an immediate weapon for their passing game, finishing as the team’s number one receiver in 2022. The downfield threat led the ACC and finished third in the country with 22 receptions of 20+ yards. The long-stride speed coming from a player with a rare combination of height, weight, and length will intrigue creative offensive minds. There are options he presents that most others simply cannot. Wilson will make the “wow” plays and he has shown signs of development from a skill set perspective. The lack of consistency from his hands on simple throws is maddening and his short area movement skills will create issues in certain situations. Whether he stays at receiver or moves to a non-traditional tight end role (a growing trend) will dictate his place on boards. There is no debating his potential to be a dangerous weapon, however.

*For the record, very few have Wilson in the tight end group. Most have him with the receivers. I see Darren Waller part II here – a former wide receiver. Wherever he is listed, he will be a guy that can be a Jimmy Graham-type red zone threat. Another guy that will need the right situation to succeed. Without the right situation, he will be a non-factor. Wilson’s size (radius) is bonkers. His long stride speed can actually get behind a secondary. He’s simply a special prospect in that we may not see another one like him for a decade-plus. If he was cleaner as a route runner with better hands, he would be a sure-thing first rounder. A team may think they can fix his shortcomings there. He could be sneaky top 45 pick for someone.

NFL Comparison: Darren Waller / NYG

6) Jared Wiley – TCU – 6’6 / 249

Grade: 75

Three-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023. Spent three years at Texas where he started a total of 12 games prior to transferring to TCU in 2022. He almost walked away from the game and then he needed a back surgery. Wiley came back from adversity reinvigorated and turned his career around. The battle tested, former quarterback played a versatile role, lining up in a variety of spots. The move-tight end has standout-hands, dropping just one pass over his entire career (and catching 91 of them). He is a comfortable athlete with enough speed to threaten up the seam and is quick to turn up field after the catch. While he may not handle blocking duties in-line to warrant an every down role, his size profile and ability to run routes and catch the ball will be a threat at the next level. Wiley is a receiving threat that can line up in multiple spots and provide a unique weapon for the passing game, but his strength limitations could put a hard cap on his overall effectiveness.

*Wiley has been on my radar for a couple years. I was scouting him in 2022 as if he were coming out. The return to school did not necessarily help or hurt his grade, but this tight end group as a whole is not as good as what we were working with 12 months ago. Wiley has the goods physically if you are looking for a mismatch in the passing game. Again, if NYG is going to wave goodbye to Waller, Wiley is a guy I would love to see as a replacement. He won’t block well, but if used in a role similar to Waller I see a guy that can be a difference maker. He will be there day three, too.

7) Tanner McLachlan – Arizona – 6’5 / 244

Grade: 73

Sixth-year senior. Spent four seasons at Southern Utah where he played a hybrid wide receiver/tight end role. He started for one year (spring 2021 season) and then missed the following fall while rehabbing a torn ACL. He transferred to Arizona as a walk-on and quickly earned a scholarship soon after. McLachlan is a high-effort pass catcher and run-after-catch guy that will make things happen on his own. The lack of short area agility and reaction will make things difficult for him beating man coverage and he is not strong enough to factor as a blocker. The straight line speed and improving ball skills will give him checks in boxes as a receiver, which does carry weight.

*The initial look at his game had me thinking potential day-two guy. He is a comfortable athlete with soft hands. He did not measure or test very well but there are subtle components to his game that will help get the most out of himself. The fit with NYG is similar to Wiley above – somewhat dependent on Waller retiring or sticking around. With the number of options NYG will have to build the depth of this roster day three and limited resources (picks) in their arsenal, McLachlan does not seem to have anything stand out that is worth putting into this tight end room.

8) Cade Stover – Ohio State – 6’4 / 247

Grade: 73

Two-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023. Stover took a long and indirect route to where he is now. A former all-state basketball player that set his high school’s all-time record in both points and rebounds. He was a two-way star that began his career for the Buckeyes on the defensive side, splitting time between linebacker and defensive end. He then made the full-time move to tight end prior to 2022. Stover has been a full-time at tight end for just two seasons. His performance and skill set have steadily improved and there is more to chew off, albeit with a low ceiling to his upside stemming from average athletic traits. He projects to a solid number two tight end that can be moved around the offense and depended on weekly.

*Stover is a gritty dude. I bet he sticks around for a while, as the years he spent on defense will likely land him on special teams units where he can be a key contributor. Will he get over the hump and consistently impact the game as a receiver? There are flashes on tape, but I do not see his ball skills or physical profile standing out. Definitely a “chew glass” type that is nice to have in the room but not the feature guy.

NFL Comparison: Pat Freiermuth / PIT

9) Erick All – Iowa – 6’4 / 252

Grade: 73

Three-year starter. Spent four seasons at Michigan before transferring with former Wolverines quarterback Cade McNamara to Iowa to add some firepower to a lackluster offense. All played in seven games before tearing his ACL on a violent hit post-catch against Wisconsin. It put him on the shelf for the rest of the season and will keep him out of the physical portions of the pre-draft process. All missed most of 2022 as well with a back injury that also required a surgery, albeit minimally invasive. The medicals will be a key variable to his grade. On the field, All has the potential to be a primary weapon in a pro passing game. He has playmaking skills and an easy-moving lower half. He won’t make much money as a blocker, but he can get things done on the move. If he can get a medical check from the physicals, which is questionable at this point, there is a high level of intrigue.

*All has had so much promise surrounding his future for years. If you remember back to 2022, Michigan tight end Luke Schoonmaker was a part of their dual tight end attack and eventually turned himself into a second-round pick (by DAL). All was the guy I was more intrigued by at the start of the season. The back injury and transfer to Iowa took him off the radar. During the front half of the 2023 season, All then re-appears on the radar and looks like the next dude from that program at tight end (slowly turning into “Tight End U”). Now we are watching another injury rehab. I did knock him down from a 76+ because of that. Talent wise, he can be a weapon. But the risk is there, and he is a one-dimension guy that is reliant on movement traits. High-ceiling guy for day three to look at.

NFL Comparison: Noah Fant / SEA

10) Brevyn Spann-Ford – Minnesota – 6’7 / 260

Grade: 70

Sixth year senior. Three-year starter. Spann-Ford has played a ton of football (2,200+ snaps) and brings rare size with better-than-functional athletic ability to project to a backup role at least. There is some power forward-type movement traits when attacking the ball in the air and after the catch that create intrigue. He should be a better performing blocker than he is with this kind of mass and reach, but he can hold his own. The intrigue comes from the matchup problems he can create but he never quite reached a consistent level as a pass catcher. He will turn 25 as a rookie, so his leash should not be long but this is too unique of a combination to look past.

*Athletically, Spann-Ford is below average. As a blocker, I don’t see him move guys the way he should with his frame. As a receiver, however, I still see the upside that put him on my radar in 2021. That’s when the outlook on him was a potential day two guy but we never saw him take the step up. That size and his willingness to play hard is enough to warrant a late pick. He won’t get many opportunities, but he needs to get a look somewhere. If a team can get more out of him as a blocker, he will stick.

11) AJ Barner – Michigan – 6’6 / 256

Grade: 70

Two-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023. Spent three seasons at Indiana prior to transferring to Michigan in 2023. Barner is a well-sized, physical player that can wear all the hats of today’s tight end. He is capable of putting his hand in the dirt and holding the point of attack as a blocker but can also line up in the slot and factor in the passing game. He made a name for himself early in his career as a special teams standout. After opening some eyes in 2022, he transferred to Michigan as the eventual national champions were looking to replace their top two tight ends. Barner was second in line to an up-and-coming star (who will be a top prospect in 2025) but he found his niche within the offense and was a key part to their success. His athleticism and impact on the passing game will not move the needle much, however. The physical package beyond his size is average at best. Barner will struggle to get open against quality man coverage but as a number four or five option and near the end zone, there are tools to work with. He best projects to a backup role that can make a difference on special teams.

*For the second straight year, a Michigan tight end that looked very average on tape ended up opening eyes through the combine and Pro Day. Barner is a big and long athlete that can play quick and sudden. The balanced athleticism and overall polish to his game does not come close to Schoonmaker from 2023, but he is a player in a similar mold. Barner may actually make an impact as a special teamer. He did it early in college and that could help justify choosing him over some guys down here.

12) Jaheim Bell – Florida State – 6’2 / 241

Grade: 70

Two-year starter. Spent three seasons at South Carolina after tearing his ACL as a senior in high school. Transferred to Florida State in 2023. All-ACC in 2023 and won the team’s Newcomer of the Year Award. Bell had a couple of knee issues early in his career, dating back to a torn ACL his senior year of high school. After he got that settled, Bell was a hybrid offensive player for South Carolina. He was actually short yardage running back in 2022, carrying the ball 74 times. He moved to a more traditional tight role after transferring to Florida State, more than doubling his career snaps with his hand in the dirt. Bell is undersized and will struggle to find a fit in some systems, but for teams that use a fullback and/or H-Back will be drawn to his athleticism, yard-after-catch production, and physical toughness. Bell can be a player, one that can wear a lot of hats and add both personality and big plays to an offense.

*Whether or not NYG can truly use a guy like this is the question. We have seen Bellinger line up as a fullback a few times and if I had to choose between that and a guy like Bell, I am going with the latter. He offers different options when it comes to usage and his presence as a blocker is just as good. Bell works best with an offensive system that can use smoke and mirrors. We saw some of that in 2022, not so much in 2023. Perhaps a personnel change like this would help.

NFL Comparison: Chigoziem Okonkwo / TEN

13) Tip Reiman – Illinois – 6’5 / 271

Grade: 70

Two-year starter. Reiman is an oversized but surprisingly athletic Y tight end that can make a career on his ability to block alone. He has been elite in that realm since 2021. As his career went on, he got more and more involved in the passing game and showed he can be at least something as a receiver. Reiman is a hard nosed runner with the ball that runs hungry for more. His athletic testing, again at 270+ pounds, was special. Top 11 all-time special at the position. Reiman is not a fluid player and it shows up specifically as a pass catcher and route runner. His outlook will very much depend on how confident a pro tight end coach believes in the likelihood of getting his football skillset to match his tool set. If the two do align, watch out.

*Is Reiman worth a gamble higher than where I have him? In this tight end group, which is an odd one holistically, this could be a sneaky day two pick somewhere. A team like San Francisco, who really values blocking tight ends, could swoop in and use a third rounder on him and I wouldn’t be surprised at all. The reason? His absolute floor is still a quality presence in your run game. If you do tap into even 80% of his tools as a receiving threat, he can be a quality starter in the league early on. Personally, I am much more confident he will be the former because there is too much rigid movement in his game.

NFL Comparison: Ross Dwelley / FA

14) Dallin Holker – Colorado State – 6’3 / 241

Grade: 70

Sixth-year senior, two-year starter. Spent four seasons at BYU (including mission years) before transferring to Colorado State in 2023. First team All-Mountain West and an All-American in 2023. Holder was a Mackey Award finalist after leading the FBS tight ends in both yards and catches through the regular season. He came out of nowhere, creating production from multiple angles. What he put on paper in 2023 was more than double than his entire career combined to that point. He is crafty and quick, which helps him get open and make plays on the ball. He did not line up in-line often and his lack of power will make things tough for him as a blocker, but he is feisty enough to compete. He is a fun player but the limitations will keep him in a backup role with some gadget-type usage.

*Holker appeared early on in 2023. I remember his game against Colorado in week three was one of those “who is THAT guy” moments. His toughness in traffic stood out and he went on to produce at a high level the rest of the way. Holker actually measured in bigger than I thought he would which is encouraging for his odds to not only make a roster but create a niche for him in an offense that likes to use multiple tight ends.

15) Jack Westover – Washington – 6’3 / 243

Grade: 68

Sixth-year senior. Two-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2023. Westover is a versatile chess piece for the offense that can be moved all over the offense. The F tight end can line up in the backfield, in-line, and as a slot receiver. He was the fourth most targeted receiver in both 2023 and 2022 in the high-octane Huskers passing game. His sudden burst and agility can get him open, and he shows quickness to the ball when it comes his way. While the lack of pure physical ability can hinder him in every down roles, he will be able to provide options in specific packages. There will also be an opportunity for him to shine on special teams, as he won the program’s scout team award there in 2018 and contributed there every season since 2019.

*”The more you can do” is the route Westover will need to take. He simply isn’t big or fast enough to catch your attention and he was not a big playmaker after the catch. He is simply solid across the board and will impact special teams units. He lined up everywhere and he blocks well. Limited ceiling type, but certainly the kind of guy everyone wants on the back end of the tight end group.

16-21:

16) Brenden Bates – Kentucky – 6’4 / 246: 68
17) Owen Glascoe – Long Island – 6’4 / 245: 68
18) Devin Culp – Washington – 6’3 / 231: 68
19) Trey Knox – South Carolina – 6’3 / 240: 68
20) Baylor Cupp – Texas Tech – 6’5 / 253: 68
21) McCallan Castles – Tennessee – 6’4 / 249: 68

NYG APPROACH

As I mentioned a few times in the player write ups, this very much depends on what Waller ends up doing. The prized acquisition of the 2023 offseason did not carry the weight we thought he would. What first appeared as a bargain for a third-round pick now looks like another lost opportunity to use a day two pick to build the future core of this roster. Whether it truly is Waller’s hamstring / nerve issue or just simply old age, he did not change the offense many believed he would. Daniel Bellinger is still in the picture and while we have seen enough to believe he can be a usable piece, I have seen enough to label him one of those “don’t make plans around him” types. That means, if you see a good value in the draft at this position, you still go for it. You cannot let Bellinger dictate whether or not you opt to bring in an intriguing player. A true threat at tight end is one of the fastest ways to turn this offense around. A true threat at tight end is also extremely difficult to find whether you are using a first rounder on one or waiting until undrafted free agency.

Apr 032024
 
Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Penn State Nittany Lions (October 30, 2023)

Olumuyiwa Fashanu – © USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Draft Grade Index:

90+: All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Cores special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Olumuyiwa Fashanu – Penn State – 6’6 / 312

Grade: 88

Two-year starter. All-Big Ten in both 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023 and an All-American. Winner of the Rimington-Pace Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year Award. Finalist for the 2023 Academic Heisman. Fashanu is a player that can start at left tackle right away. There will be power-based losses early on, but the 21-year-old should be able to enhance his strength soon enough to be considered an ideal blind side protector for today’s NFL. The name D’Brickishaw Ferguson has come up several times when scouting his tape. The athleticism and attention to detail will be sought after by offensive line coaches looking to develop a young talent. He comes from an academic family, did not start playing football until he was in high school, and put on some serious weight since arriving at Penn State with room for more. All of the intangibles are there and he has multiple elite physical traits.

*Fashanu has some Charles Cross in him, but with more upside. He is such a comfortable mover in space and the body control he shows does not come around often. There was a lack of consistency in hitting his landmarks but it had nothing to do with an athleticism shortcoming. He could have been OT1 had he come out last year and I did expect to see a better level of play in 2023. That is what kept him out of the 90+ region but I would not be even a little surprised to see him on the All-Pro team before the end of his rookie contract. Because of that and because of what Evan Neal has shown – a surprise Fashanu selection would have my support in the first round, but I doubt that is in the cards.

2) Joe Alt – Notre Dame – 6’9 / 321

Grade: 87

Junior entry, three-year starter. Unanimous first team All-American. Son of John Alt, a former Kansas City first round pick and two-time Pro Bowler and brother to Mark Alt who played in the NHL for five seasons. A former basketball player, tight end, and quarterback. Alt is a young, unique tackle with NFL lineage that is still relatively early on the progression curve of the position. He blends top-shelf physical tools and ability with reliable intangibles and maturity. The team captain is a high-floor, high-ceiling prospect. While he does not always play with an upright chest and his high-hipped frame can create the occasional mishap, his losses on tape are hard to find. He will start at either tackle spot early in his career and is set up to be a key player for a long time at a premium position.

*This was a challenging evaluation. On one hand, Alt rarely ever loses. On the other hand, it does not always look the way I want it to look, and it partially stems from his unusual height. Yes, I do think one can be tall enough to the point it actually worsens the size variable of a player’s grade. After all was said and done, I still put the Pro Bowl projection on Alt because of how well he tested athletically. The NFL lineage helps as well. This is a safe bet. I would even say his floor is higher than Fashanu. I trust his ability to play right tackle (he was LT only in college) more than Fashanu as well and there is a better power game as a run blocker. Like Fashanu, I would not criticize or be down if NYG surprisingly went with him at 6 (or after a trade down) but I don’t see it happening.

3) Troy Fautanu – Washington – 6’4 / 317

Grade: 86

Three-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023 in addition to earning All-American honors. Morris Trophy Award winner. Fautanu is an ideal fit for a zone blocking scheme where he can get on defenders in a hurry with a quick second burst into space. While Fautanu did play both guard and tackle over his career, he was predominantly on the outside and his tool set matches that. He is a comfortable mover with rare potential body control and ability to adjust his weight. He can credibly project to both inside and outside roles and has the upside of a Pro Bowl lineman in time but the team that drafts him and their situation up front will dictate where he ends up. This is the kind of player you simply get in the building and figure out the usage down the road.

*There is not a single offensive lineman that garnered more interest than Fautanu. That does not mean he is viewed as the top guy – but simply the one that everyone wanted more information on. He had 28(!) interviews lined up at the combine which is unheard of for an offensive linemen. Part of that is the position versatility, part of that is he can be a top 10 guy but also someone that could fall into the late 20’s. It is difficult to project where he will end up. For a long time, he was THE guy I was hoping NYG could grab at the top of round 2 but the fact they traded that pick away and likelihood he is going somewhere in the top 20 has erased that from my hopes. Fautanu has a few technical warts so there is some risk here, but if he comes anywhere close to his upside, he is a game-changing offensive lineman that can play both guard and center at a high level. He creates options for a team.

4) Amarius Mims – Georgia – 6’8 / 340

Grade: 85

Junior entry, one-year starter. Mims looks like was scientifically manufactured in an offensive tackle factory. He has an enormous frame in all directions with ideal weight distribution from top to bottom. It is hard to find bad weight on him. The abrupt snap he shows out of his stance with proper bend and flat back with inside hands is textbook. The elite play-strength is already there for the 21-year old, as there are several flashes of him moving defenders at all levels against their will. The significant red flag is his lack of experience. He played just 803 snaps in college, which is approximately worth less than a full season. His eight career starts are as few as one will find when looking at an offensive lineman in this process. Coaches will drool over what he can turn into and a strong argument can be made there is enough quality tape on him against NFL-caliber opponents. The interview and pre-draft process will be big for him, as he will need to check all of those boxed to hide the lack of time spent on the field during games and the fact he has a right tackle-only with average adjustment-twitch against speed. Swing for the fence type prospect; the ceiling is elite.

*Here is a line I shared with an AFC scout that he agreed with. “If Mims hits 80% of his ceiling, he is a Pro Bowler”. That is the kind of talent we are talking about. I thought he should have done what Fashanu did (who was in a similar lack-of-experience situation last year) and returned to school to have the unquestioned top OT spot in 2025. But here we are looking at a guy that could be had in the teens or twenties that has a higher ceiling than every OT in this class. My biggest concern beyond the unknown? Durability. Guys this big with multiple injuries (Mims’ injuries have not been serious) always worry me. It is hard to be this big and recover from anything. There is Mekhi Becton-type freakish ability but like I said about Becton years ago, the size can be a detriment to his availability. Where he ends up will be dictated by how much risk a team is willing to take on. But remember, the upside is All-Pro without question.

5) JC Latham – Alabama – 6’6 / 342

Grade: 85

Junior entry, two-year starter. All-American and first team All-SEC in 2023. Latham has a special trait that will work well at any level of football, and that is pure hand strength. Combine that with his easy knee bend and natural athletic ability, his upside can match anyone that plays on the right side in the league. He needs to continue the progress he showed from 2022 to 2023 to further hide the slight lateral-reactions that show up from time to time. If he does, he can be a top-shelf right tackle early on. Even if he were to flatline his progression as a pass protector, Latham is going to be a weapon in the run game. His play style is overwhelming and consistent in that area.

*Latham is the guy that improved his grade the most from pre-2023 and post-2023 via quality game tape. That is the ideal way to see a surge. I thought he was a day two project when I put out my initial grades in August. I had a problem with his reaction speed and how often he would abandon technique. He was a different player in 2023 which makes sense because it was his second year of real experience. Like Evan Neal, he did not test athletically. Do I have some PTSD from that? Yes. I was concerned about that after watching Neal’s Pro Day workout and I foolishly ignored it. But watching Latham in drills, it is obvious he is a better athlete than Neal and his body is much more pro-caliber. One thing to keep in mind; Latham was a guard when he started off at Alabama and his game would be elite there. It will depend who drafts him but he gives a unit options.

6) Taliese Fuaga – Oregon State – 6’6 / 324

Grade: 84

Two-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023. All-American as a senior. Fuaga is a road grader that sends second and third level defenders flying. He puts defenders from all levels on the ground and moves them against their will whenever he wants to. He combined the top end power with light feet and a quick burst to win initially. His play strength and mentality finishes them off, notably in the running game. He is a credible weapon in the trenches with is ability to displace his man. Fuaga played right tackle his entire career at Oregon State and did not allow a single sack. His tool set may be better suited inside because the lack of length and natural bend can be an issue on the outside. He credibly projects to a starter level at both spots, however, in any kind of scheme. The ceiling will be higher at guard.

*Fuaga is a questionable tackle in my eyes. Not everyone agrees. I kept him here because that is where I think he will start out based on what guys in the league have told me. I had a similar vibe on Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC a few years ago who has been a hybrid inside/outside guy with the Jets. I saw a few things live in Mobile at the Senior Bowl that concern me about protecting the edge. But other than that, Fuaga wins as much as anyone. He put out some really good performance against his toughest competition, including the UCLA defensive end Laiatu Latu, who I am very high on.

7) Tyler Guyton – Oklahoma – 6’8 / 322

Grade: 82

Two-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2023. Spent two seasons at TCU primarily as a backup prior to transferring to Oklahoma where he locked in the starting right tackle job for two seasons. A former high school defensive lineman and basketball player, Guyton’s tool set and the fact he is an offensive lineman with just two years of game experience leads to the notion there is plenty left for him to realistically absorb. He checks all of the boxes when it comes tools and talent. The flashes of dominance are there and if a coach can get him to play pissed off more often, he can be a quality starter on the outside. Guyton plays raw at times, relying on talent more than technique but can get away with it for the most part.

*Guyton is a favorite of a few guys I speak with. Not necessarily current grade, but long-term projection. After all, that usually trumps ties within position stacks and because of this OT group being so crowded, he still has a shot at being a surprise top-fifteen back. Guyton’s lack of bend concerns me a bit. If that wasn’t an issue, I would end with a Tyron Smith-type outlook. So, whether he can get that fixed or not (not easy to fix) will dictate his success. The idea of NYG using a second rounder on a tackle is still alive in my head. One of these guys is going to fall and if it is Guyton, it is hard to argue against gambling on him as a hedge to Evan Neal. That said, he does not offer inside versatility so it could be viewed as an unnecessary risk and inefficient use of resources.

8) Kingsley Suamataia – BYU – 6’5 / 326

Grade: 80

Two-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2023. Former five-star recruit that was wanted by everyone coming out of high school. Backup at Oregon in 2021 prior to transferring to BYU in 2022. Started for one season at right tackle while eventual NFL draft pick Blake Freeland manned the blind side. Shifted over to left tackle in 2023. Suamataia has a rare blend of tools that NFL coaches want to work with and develop. His natural power, size, and athleticism do not come around often and he did not allow a sack in 22 of 23 career starts. The production on surface level is attractive, but the occasional lapse in concentration and overall sloppy feel to his bend and body control will create the need for some extra time on the bench. He will need to improve subtle techniques, but his ceiling is that of a quality starting right or left tackle.

*I was as high as top 20 overall on Suamataia earlier in the season. I love the physical package. He is long, strong, and athletic. While it does not always show up tape, I’ve seen the combination of traits to keep that late first/early second outlook on him. His skill set could work inside as well if things do not pan out. Simply put, guys move different when he gets a clean punch to their chest plate. His hands are so heavy, and the lower body explosion landed him #3 on the Bruce Feldman Freak List. Maybe he won’t be a year-one guy but by 2025 I think you’ll know if he can be your next OT or your next OG. NYG will likely need one at this time next year. Remember, think 2-3 years from now more than this season when looking at the draft for a team like this.

9) Patrick Paul – Houston – 6’7 / 331

Grade: 77

Five-year starter. Paul started just five games over his first two seasons, the second of which ended early because of an ankle/foot injury. The brother of Commanders guard Chris Paul, Patrick is a long-armed and athletic piece of clay that needs extra development. If he reaches the upside that his rare blend of tools presents, this is a guy that can man the left tackle island at a high level for a long time. He has the kind of frame that can make up for a lot of losses. He takes up so much space and moves well when it is planned. The issues arise when he needs to adjust his weight laterally, as the stability in his hips and overall coordination look young and raw. He comes across like someone that is still learning himself physically but can still hack it while he improves the skill set in a rare-sized frame.

*Paul is stacked with a few guys that have similar outlooks, but his ceiling is much higher. There is such a thing as being “too long” and Paul is approaching that territory. His 36+” arms and 86+” wingspan is ridiculous, but it can make his hands a bit lethargic. It actually dampens his power a bit and it can open the door for extra penalties. He only had three in 2023, but he was flagged 18 times over 2021-2022. I bet he goes somewhere in round two because he has the profile some OL coaches drool over.

10) Roger Rosengarten – Washington – 6’5 / 308

Grade: 77

Two-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2023. Rosengarten started 28 games at right tackle, protecting the blind side of Michael Penix Jr. He did not allow a single sack over that span despite Penix Jr.’s propensity to throw the ball deep. He is a technically sound blocker with the right mentality. There is a repeatable process with both his hands and feet to get him in the right position and he pairs that with grit and determination. The ability to recover shows that. Rosengarten may not be the most talented or gifted, but his tools are more than good enough, and his frame appears to be an unfinished product. The studs are there to build a solid, long-term player with swing tackle potential early on that can evolve into starting caliber. Rosengarten fits best in a zone-heavy scheme but will make his money in pass protection and can credibly project to both sides of the line.

*At first, I was surprised to see Rosengarten come out early. With teammate and left tackle Troy Fautanu declaring for the draft, the left tackle spot would have been his to lose. But then again, he was the blind side protector of one of the top passing games in the country and maybe his stock won’t ever be as high as it was following their National Championship appearance. He has a classic high-floor, low-ceiling outlook. I see some David Diehl in his game as a tackle, but he tested better athletically. Keep an eye on him in the round 3-4 area; it would be pick I fully support.

11) Kiran Amegadjie – Yale – 6’5 / 323

Grade: 77

Three-year starter. All-Ivy in 2021 and First Team in 2022. Played in just four 20223 contests prior to tearing his quad muscle in practice which required surgery, keeping him out the rest of the season and the majority of the pre-draft process. Played guard in 2021 before moving to left tackle in 2022. Amegadjie looks like he was created in a factory that specializes in blind side protectors. His length is off the charts and his basketball background shows up below the waist. He is a comfortable, easy mover with proper balance and bend. The tools are there for both a higher starting point and ceiling when looking at the linemen in this class. He may not be ready for the power demands of the NFL right away, but with time and proper development he can reach heights very few can. He checks all the intangible boxes as well and combining those with his tools and glimpses of high-quality play, it is easy to bang the table for him.

*Another high-ceiling guy that I think several OL coaches will want to work with. The length is off the charts and the basketball background is noteworthy. He is more raw than Patrick Paul but he is in the same category. His power presence is not there but I would assume a pro strength program will be a significant jump up from what he had at Yale, so one could argue the upside is higher. The one thing I would say about drafting him in round three is the fact he likely needs to be a gameday inactive for the entire 2024 season. You have to fully commit to him not playing in year one even if injuries start to pile up.

12) Delmar Glaze – Maryland – 6’4 / 315

Grade: 76

Three-year starter. All-Big Ten in both 2023 and 2022. Glaze split his snaps between right and left tackle. His length and athleticism are suitable for the outside as well and he showed even more versatility by shifting inside to guard during Senior Bowl week. He can. credibly project to both because of his skill set to handle the different demands. He is an athletic bull with heavy hands that can latch on. His ability to get across the face of a defender in a blink while maintaining balance and ability to re-direct will make him a weapon in outside zone schemes. He shows a solid forward lean without compromising foot leverage, always keeping them a bit behind his hips but capable of adjusting on the fly. He looks comfortable in space and that is why he should get his initial look at tackle. If it does not work out, plan B can be a shift inside or provide the valuable role of a versatile sixth lineman, the one that comes off the bench first.

*Put Glaze in the category of guys I am a little higher on than most because of what he did against his top competition for two straight years. His game tapes against Ohio State (one at RT and one at LT) were very good. The issue was a lack of consistency. He had a few really poor performances in 2023 and I thought he got overmatched at the Senior Bowl. Following that week, I took him out of day two. He has something in him, just needs to smooth the edges.

13) Blake Fisher – Notre Dame – 6’6 / 310

Grade: 76

Junior entry, three-year starter. Fisher arrived at South Bend and won the starting left tackle job right away. An injury week one was thought to shelf him for the rest of the season, but he returned to the starting lineup for the Fiesta Bowl at right tackle, as fellow draft prospect Joe Alt took over the blind side job midway through the year. Fisher went on to start the next two seasons, opposite Alt. He has the pro body and athleticism with heavy, dense contact to promote the idea of being a quality starter at the next level. There is a lot to like when examining his ability to move defender in the run game and control a pass rusher on the move. His lack of consistency stems from poor technique and initial losses, which are very correctable. He has youth on his side and if he does not develop to his potential, Fisher still projects to a quality swing-role.

*There is more interest in Fisher than people think. NYG sent their new OL coach to the Notre Dame pro day and there was a lot of work being done with Fisher. I can’t imagine they were there for Alt. This is a sneaky fourth round pick with the talent and heavy hands of a starting tackle in the league. In a normal offensive line draft, we could see him get over drafted as high as round two. While I do not have enough confidence in him to put him there, I can see him being a guy outlasting several that were drafted ahead. Fisher has more talent than Alt. Yes, you read that right.

14) Matt Goncalves – Pittsburgh – 6’6 / 327

Grade: 75

Three-year starter. All-ACC in 2022. Played in just three 2023 games, injuring his toe which led to a season-ending injury. Goncalves is a big, technique-savvy tackle with sizeable experience on both sides of the line. He finished his career with 16 consecutive games not allowing a sack and was penalized just four times his entire career. His game is clean, and he knows himself as both an athlete and technician. Goncalves does not have ideal length or re-direct speed for tackle. There are noticeable limitations in his arsenal, but he should get a look outside before being moved to guard, where he did play some early in his career. He can be an ideal versatile depth piece for a quality offensive line with starter potential.

*This was a kid on my potential top 96 list prior to the injury. He feels safe, albeit limited. In such a strong OT group, he can be an easy guy to overlook. But there are a handful of linemen like this in the league. Maybe a little short on athletic talent but far advanced on football IQ and technique. I really wish he was healthy in 2023. On the flip side, someone may get really lucky considering where he can be had.

15) Christian Jones – Texas – 6’5 / 308

Grade: 74

Sixth year senior, four-year starter. After a late start to the gridiron (was a soccer player until junior year of high school), Jones was lightly recruited and then was on the field for just 29 snaps from the start of 2018 to the end of 2019. He was raw, but his frame is above average even for NFL standards. From there, he split time between right and left tackle in his first two seasons as a starter, then reverted back to the right side. The baseline tools are there, and he has steadily improved each season of his career. The question is how much is there left to chew off considering he is one of the most experienced linemen in this draft when looking at snaps played since 2020.

*Jones dropped some weight after the season with the hope of improving his ability to move. He is plenty powerful enough but the two-handed lunges for his man in addition to sub-par balance created some ugly losses on tape. However, when he is in the right position and the hands get where they need to, he can overwhelm defenders. I’m not sure I see enough athletic potential to project anything beyond a quality backup, but I do think he can be worked with to develop a secure baseline should injuries pop up. His upper body is very effective.

16-29:

16) Javon Foster – Missouri – 6’5 / 313: 74
17) Garrett Greenfield – South Dakota State – 6’6 / 311: 73
18) Walter Rouse – Oklahoma – 6’6 / 313: 72
19) Travis Glover – Georgia State – 6’6 / 317: 71
20) Caedan Wallace – Penn State – 6’5 / 314: 71
21) Frank Crum – Wyoming – 6’8 / 313: 70
22) Julian Pearl – Illinois – 6’6 / 312: 69
23) Nathan Thomas – Louisiana – 6’3 / 332: 69
24) Ethan Driskell – Marshall – 6’8 / 313: 69
25) Andrew Coker – TCU – 6’7 / 315: 68
26) Anim Dankwah – Howard – 6’8 / 353: 68
27) Mike Edwards – Campbell – 6’5 / 366: 68
28) Josiah Ezirim – Eastern Kentucky – 6’6 / 329: 68
29) Jeremy Flax – Kentucky – 6’5 / 343: 68

NYG APPROACH

If you don’t have three tackles you’re comfortable starting on any given Sunday, you need to find a way to find one (or two? or three?). We know the left side is locked up by All-Pro Andrew Thomas. We also know if he goes down with an injury, this entire offensive line is going to fall apart. Sure, the free agent signings of Jermaine Eluemunor and Jon Runyan and even Aaron Stinnie look good on paper. So did Mark Glowinski and Tyre Phillips. Sure, perhaps Matt Nelson has been an overlooked depth piece. Lastly and most importantly, sure, maybe Evan Neal is going to figure it out in year three after an absolutely horrid start to his career. Tackle is one of the most important positions in football and NYG is banking on a bunch of maybes. If you’re asking me, tackle should be in play at #6 and/or after a slight trade down. This class is borderline historic when it comes to amount of starting caliber, real dudes available. I think they will kick the can down the road because they feel Neal deserves another shot (remember this regime did draft him) and they hedged with a couple third/fourth tier free agency signings. How far down the road? Mathematically they may look at this roster and say there’s no more room. It is a deep group right now but one that could easily lead to the position being a significant need in 2025, yet again. Maybe the best move is to wait until round three or round four. See who drops and go after a guy with some versatility. No matter they opt to do, this tackle class has answers to a problem NYG has been dealing with since Kareem McKenzie left after the 2011 season. Maybe isn’t good enough.

Apr 012024
 
Jackson Powers-Johnson, Oregon Ducks (November 18, 2023)

Jackson Powers-Johnson – © USA TODAY Sports

GUARDS / CENTERS

Draft Grade Index:

90+ All-Pro Projection

85-89: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st Round – Year 1 starter

77-80: 2nd/3rd Round – Year 1 contributor, year 2-3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3: Core special teamer and rotational player

71-74: Mid Day 3: Core special teamer and backup

68-70: Late Day 3: Developmental and special teamer

TOP 20 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1) Jackson Powers-Johnson / Oregon – 6’3/328

Grade: 86

Junior entry. Two-year starter. Unanimous All-American in 2023 and first team All-Pac 12. Rimington Trophy winner. Also has a start at defensive tackle on his resume. Power-Johnson looks like a starting caliber interior lineman when his lower body techniques are on point. His strong hands and cohesion through his hips to extremities combined with his oversized frame will create movement off the line and a strong anchor in pass protection. His versatility will increase his outlook because he could credibly project to different spots. He should be able to start right away at the next level and immediately add personality and identity to a line. There are not many true weaknesses to his game and the power he brings can be overwhelming. Powers-Johnson was the best player in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, as his level of dominance was simply on another level. Put him at any interior spot in any scheme, set it and forget it.

*Take away positional value for a moment. If you asked me to come up with one player that fits what NYG needs the most right now and what they have needed in recent years, Powers-Johnson is going to be in the discussion. This is truly a dominant player that has and can play both guard and center. With the problems both spots have and continue to present to the current NYG offense, this is a guy that has “Solution” written all over him. He is not in play at #6 overall but if NYG finds themselves in a trade-down situation outside of the top ten, Powers-Johnson will not be a popular or sexy name to talk about, but I can make a strong case he will do more for the long-term projection than a lot of guys that are more-often talked about.

2) Graham Barton / Duke – 6’5 / 313

Grade: 81

Four-year starter. Earned first team All-ACC in 2023 and 2022. Spent one season at center before moving to left tackle for the duration of his career. Barton is a technically sound, easy-bending blocker that projects best inside. His lack of length will be less of an issue there. His experience snapping the ball in 2020 will only answer more questions about his potential to fit into multiple roles at the next level. He is an intelligent and a blue-collar type teammate, showing the want-to as he is constantly playing through the whistle and looking for extra work. There are some physical limitations to his game that can create issues against big and long defenders. The lack of reach and true strength causes him to lose ground but the ability to recover and adjust is there.

*Barton is a safe bet to be a solid pro at the next level. He wants a shot at left tackle and while some of the traits are there for it, he needs to stay inside. The tape against Florida State’s Jared Verse confirmed that in my eyes. He wound up on the ground too often and failed to control the engagement because of his lack of length and hand strength. The Senior Bowl was set to have play center all week, but an injury kept him out. He receives a slight boost because of the versatility and there is a safe feel to his game without the high ceiling component. Barton fits in the same way Zach Frazier does. Get him in the building, figure it out later.

3) Jordan Morgan / Arizona – 6’5 / 311

Grade: 81

Three-year starter. Earned first team All-Pac 12 in 2023 and 2022. Morgan is a career left tackle that never played another position in college. His length limitations and pass protection issues could lead to a transition to guard at the next level. Either way, this is a nicely built and athletic blocker that checks a lot of boxes when looking for tools to develop. He has a tap dancer footwork with fast hands that he understands how to use. He is a natural knee bender that can play with a squatty lower half and flat back. His comfort moving at a fast rate of speed coming off a torn ACL suffered in November of 2022 is an encouraging sign of what is to come. Morgan has the baseline ability across multiple spectrums to be a solid, reliable starter but there is physical improvement needed as a power blocker first and foremost. He has a lot of game experience and brings a versatile skill set to the table that could initially backup multiple spots as well.

*For the record – I graded Morgan at both tackle and guard. He was slightly higher at guard and positional value will come into play to even it out. I went with where I see his best fit, but he can credibly play both spots at the next level. The lack of experience at guard could delay his impact at the next level, a situation that does fit with what NYG is looking at day two. Morgan actually has some Jon Runyan in his game. Both former college tackles that have the size and plus-athletic ability to handle NFL speed right away. Morgan will be 18+ months removed from a torn ACL this upcoming spring. He was good in 2023 but expect even better in 2024 by a notable margin now that he can focus on football and not rehab. The NYG offensive line situation is perfect for a prospect like Morgan; try him at guard and if right tackle opens up in a year, you at least have a cheap in-house option ready to compete.

4) Zach Frazier / West Virginia – 6’3 / 313

Grade: 80

Four-year starter. All-Big 12 all four seasons of his career, first team in 2023 and 2022 and a third team All-American in 2023. Frazier was a four-time heavyweight wrestling state champion in high school, finishing with a career 159-2 record and set a school record with 54 career starts on the gridiron. He predominantly played center for the Mountaineers, but he did start nine games at guard early in his career. He is the prototype center when it comes to both his physical tool set and intelligence. He squatty frame and fast hands get him the consistent leverage wins. He plays a step ahead mentally, getting on and staying on defenders. The dependable presence inside will be a year-one starter with a strong likelihood of ending as a long-time leader of an offensive line. Frazier has an incredibly high floor stemming from a well-balanced, near-fully developed skill set.

*I will dive deeper into this position from a macro level down below, but Frazier is a name I have circled for day two. With the abundance of offensive line talent at tackle, it is possible we see a couple interior guys slide based on a few different factors. Frazier was graded as a center but keep in mind he did play guard in 2020 and his tool set translates to that spot at the next level if needed. There were some alarming snaps against Texas (who had three future pros at DT) that bumped him down a bit, but Frazier is safe to be at least a reliable starter. Add in the ability to play multiple spots and I see a guy that, if he falls into round three, would be a guy that makes sense for a lot of reasons.

5) Christian Haynes / Connecticut – 6’3 / 317

Grade: 79

Sixth-year senior, four-year starter. All-American in 2023 and 2022. Had his 2020 season canceled by the program due to Covid. Haynes played every one of his snaps (3,318) at right guard over his career and started 49 straight games. He is an athletic and powerful competitor that plays with an edge. His violent hand strikes and twitchy lower half will bode well in the pass-happy league with better athletes rushing the passer from inside. He allowed just one sack over his final 30 games. Haynes also fits in well with a scheme that uses a lot of outside-zone running. He is calculated, fast, and accurate with his first step and hand placement. He can get across a defender’s face both in-line and at the second level with power and control. Haynes will be an early starter at the next level with the upside of being a long-time, quality player.

*If NYG is looking purely for a guard prospect they do not need or value the versatility factor from, a case can be made Haynes is the number two guy in this class. He did play some center at Senior Bowl week, but I do not see him playing anywhere besides guard. Physically, Haynes has the best upside among these guys outside of Powers-Johnson. He is fast, long, and strong. He is one of the more coachable guys among all the OL in this class and once those guys get involved in the grading process, I can see him getting pushed into the top half of round 2-territory. So many good offensive linemen are drafted there.

6) Hunter Nourzad – Penn State – 6’3 / 317

Grade: 79

Sixth year senior. Spent four seasons at Cornell where he earned All-American and First Team All-Ivy honors as a tackle. Transferred to Penn State in 2022 where started for two more years, one at left guard and the other at center. All-Big Ten both seasons. Nourzad played all five spots along the offensive line throughout his career. His athleticism stands out, as does his strength on the move. Teams that want to move their center laterally often will use a guy like this to maximum potential. The way he can peel off a combo block and get his hands on a linebacker while keeping his legs chopping is special. While he does not play the strongest anchor in pass protection, his ability to bend with inside hands while adjusting his feet can go a long way. Nourzad is a starting center in the league, one that brings credible versatility to the interior.

*I watched a ton of Penn State offensive line in both 2022 and 2023, and Nourzad was never a guy that stood out. I then watched the Shrine week practice tapes and he looked like the best offensive lineman down there. I rewind back to 2023 tape and his game against Illinois and their talented defensive front, and I was blown away. This is undoubtedly a pro center that can start early in his career. Nourzad has experience (literally) everywhere on the line, he plays fast and physical, and saved his best play for his toughest competition. The lack of power shows up from time to time (Ohio State game was brutal for him) but certain schemes will love the way he can move. Nourzad can play any of the interior spots at a good-enough level.

7) Beaux Limmer – Arkansas – 6’5 / 302

Grade: 78

Four-year starter. All-SEC in 2022. Was a career-right guard until shifting to center in 2023 to replace Ricky Stromberg (third round pick by Washington). Limmer excelled in lone season as the leader in the middle. His game is built on power and strength. He creates tremendous push in the run game and can stop defenders in their tracks as a pass blocker. While he has some ugly losses on tape at both guard and center stemming from poor positioning, this is a pure gamer that will compete hard. He does not abandon techniques and the massive amount of experience he has in the SEC with credible positional versatility will be a welcomed project for an offensive line coach to work with. He will provide solid multi-spot depth early on with the upside of a quality starter in a year or two.

*Limmer’s tape is hot and cold. The inconsistency was a bit maddening in 2023 but I had to remind myself he was playing a new position. I do think his best spot is guard because he is an elite athlete for the position. His 36.5-inch vertical is the best ever for centers and his 39 bench press reps was a combine-best by a mile. Let this kid play without worrying about snapping the ball and he can blossom into an elite player. It will just come down to coaching, development, and his desire to be great. If those three line up, watch out. Underrated day two option that can sit for a year.

8) Cooper Beebe – Kansas State – 6’3 / 322

Grade: 77

Four-year starter. Earned first team All-Big 12 honors three times. All-American in both 2023 and 2022 in addition to winning Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year both seasons. Beebe is a smart, powerful, and versatile football player that will change the personality of an offensive line. His game resembles that of a locomotive. While he does take a while to get moving out of his stance, the power in which he plays with from top to bottom will displace defenders consistently. He gets a tremendous push off the line as a run blocker and does not lose an inch against the bull rush in pass protection. A team will need to use him correctly because the margin between his good and bad is as massive as his frame. This is a guy that played both guard and tackle spots respectively and was practicing at center during the summer of 2023. Get Beebe in the system, work with what he has, and he is going to stabilize a spot on the line for years.

*This is such a unique prospect. At first glance, he looks a step too slow for any sort of starter projection. Then he goes out to the combine and tests out as one of the top 50 athletes ever at guard. Simply top 10% all time across the board when it comes to speed and quickness. Then it is hard to get over the lack of length. His 31.5” arms are woefully short. But then it is hard to not be impressed by his immense power and anchor. He simply does not lose ground against the bull rush, partially stemming from his strong and heavy hands. Beebe will not be for everyone but the loads of quality tape and the fact I love the person – I’m betting on Beebe. He will be a coach/fan favorite.

9) Tanor Bortolini – Wisconsin – 6’4 / 303

Grade: 77

Three-year starter. All-Big Ten in 2023 and 2022. Bortolini started at four different positions along the offensive line in addition to the role of a blocking tight end over his career. He was set to play left guard for the second straight season in 2023, but an injury to a teammate shifted him back to center, the spot he began at with the Badgers. He is a quick and sudden mover that plays smart and savvy. Bortolini played under three different offensive line coaches and two different blocking schemes. In 2023, his ability to move in space within the new zone-blocking was on display and he continued that prowess at the Senior Bowl. He is comfortable with planned, fast movement and there are multiple fine-tuned technical ingredients that help him get the most out of his toolbox. He projects to back up all three interior spots with a possible upside of starting at center.

*Yet another center that could credibly project to guard based on the situation he is drafted into. When I was at the Senior Bowl, I made it a point to show up early to every practice. Who was the one OL I saw out there every day before everyone else working on foot/hand techniques? Bortolini. Combine that with what I have read about him and a workout that was right up there with the best in history, this is a guy I would want to bet on. His lack of length and the fact he fits in best with heavy zone-blocking schemes could see a slight fall into day three. If NYG has not added OL talent by the time they’re on the clock in round four, he will be on my short list.

10) Layden Robinson – Texas A&M – 6’3 / 302

Grade: 77

Three-year starter. All-SEC in both 2023 and 2022. Earned the team’s Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year award in 2019, his redshirt season. Robinson is an ideal-sized interior blocker with notable work ethic and coachability habits. He gets on his man in a hurry and stays attached with proper positioning. The start to each snap is constantly positive, stemming front he explosion that turns into power which is a weapon for the front. He is an absolute freight train in the running game but there are moments where he gets over-eager, overshooting his approach to defenders in space and the lack of ability to stop and change direction has bitten him multiple times. Robinson did struggle in pass protection in 2022 and while he did show vast improvement a year later, there are still some warts in his approach. The tools and intangibles are enough to label him as an eventual starter at the next level.

*Robinson is a guy I am higher on than most I have spoken with. I’ve been anticipating him coming out for over two seasons now, so I have seen it all with him. He does have more than his fair share of poor tape and I would understand those that gave up on him. After all, he’s played over 2,000 snaps (all at right guard) and we still see several technical shortcomings. But things I know about that Texas A&M staff and looking at his natural tools lead me to believe he is still a distance away from his ceiling.

11) Brandon Coleman – TCU – 6’4 / 313

Grade: 76

Three-year starter. All-Big 12 in 2023 and 2022. Grew up in Germany and moved to the United States in 2016. Coleman began his college career at Trinity Valley Community College after finishing high school as an unrated recruit. He transferred to TCU in 2020 and had his first season there cut short with a wrist injury. He then went on to start games at both left tackle and guard, proving he has the tool set to cross train both spots at the next level. He will likely begin his pro career inside, as his losses in space that derive from a lack of lower body fluidity and techniques will give him problems against pro edge rushers. Coleman does have above average athletic ability for guard, and he simply looks more comfortable. This will be a valuable versatile backup that is still relatively early on the progression curve with tools that can develop into a starting caliber player.

*Coleman’s grade is a based on a bit more projection than others. He is still relatively new to the game compared to others. He has the size of a tackle and even though he did play out there plenty, I still feel comfortable with him inside. The footwork just isn’t there but there is a chance it can be developed under NFL coaching. I’m not sure he is the best fit for a team that can afford the loss if he does not get better with his body control.

12) Zak Zinter – Michigan – 6’6 / 309

Grade: 76

Four-year starter. All-Big Ten three straight seasons, first team in 2023. First Team All-American. State record holder and state champion in the shot put in high school that carried over that talent-success in college, constantly testing out as one of the best athletes among all offensive linemen at Michigan. Zinter is going to be a reliable pro that will come to work every day with a coachable, dependable, and physical mindset. The upside is there to be a quality starter at the side because his blend of tools can be hard to find matched with the intangibles. The concern revolves around the fact he has so much experience and so many boxes checked, but the tape is woefully inconsistent. How much upside is left to chew up will determine if he can reach anything higher that quality backup.

*Zinter is widely loved by people I have spoken with. Almost everyone I respect is saying day two, more round two than round three. I simply don’t see it. One of the traits I value the most is the ability to quickly re-direct and mirror. While his big frame will give him some wiggle room on any deficiency, I have far too many negatives from film study in this area. The intangibles and quality testing does matter; perhaps I am not placing enough value on it. I just saw a guy that never reached the level of dominance everyone told me to expect out of him. He broke his leg in November, but he should be ready for training camp.

13) Mason McCormick – South Dakota State – 6’4 / 309

Grade: 76

Sixth-year senior. Four-year starter. All-MVFC all four seasons, first team honors in 2023 and 2022. FCS All-American in both 2023 and 2022. McCormick played over 3,300 snaps in college, nearly all at left guard. His game is built on sheer power and aggression, but his athletic testing is elite across the board. He played his best football on tape against his best competition, opening the door to the idea that he can turn into something at the next level. While there are subtle but important movement issues in his game, much of his weak points can be corrected via coaching. He projects to a future sixth lineman, possibly even a starter if the skill set can catch up to the rare set of tools.

*McCormick really burst on to the scene at the East/West Shrine practices. He was dominating the one on one’s and he kept it up during the game. I did not see any of his film until after that week and while he did flash, I did not see what I wanted to see. There is some stiffness in his lower body that I’m not sure he will get rid of. It shows up when he needs to quickly react, something he will need to do much more of in the NFL than he did in FCS college football. I kept coming up with similar vibes to Zak Zinter above and I’m not surprised he came up with the same grade even though I did them months apart.

14) Christian Mahogany – Boston College – 6’3 / 314

Grade: 75

Three-year starter. First team All-ACC honors in 2023 after missing all of 2022 with an ACL injury. Mahogany is a densely built, top-heavy mauler that has a long highlight reel filled with sending defenders flying. His speed to power conversion is a credible weapon, as there is a violent pop that comes from his hands. When his full weight gets behind his pads, there are very few defenders that can maintain their position against him. Mahogany is inconsistent and it stems from a lack of pure balance and control. He plays too straight-legged and has a ton of all-or-nothing in his game. The baseline athletic ability, strength, and size are all there if he can simply improve his ability to get into the right position going into year two off his injury.

*If this kid can learn to play with better bend and balance, he can far exceed this grade. He had more than a year to recover from his torn ACL and despite that, he did not look very polished in 2023. The talent is there but he will need to do a better job at working his way into better habits off the field and technique on the field. Another prospect that has a wide margin between his ceiling and floor and the team that drafts him needs to be aware for that, be ready for both.

15) Charles Turner III – LSU – 6’4 / 303

Grade: 75

Two-year starter. Turner III is a long-armed, bendy, and thick body that has a unique combination of tools for the interior. He has game experience at four offensive line positions, including both tackle spots. That kind of versatility will mean a lot for teams that are looking for depth along the line. His athleticism in the open field and on-field intelligence give fuel to the idea that he still has a lot of margin to acquire from where he currently stands. While his tape leaves desire for more, there is enough to project a valuable sixth lineman-type role early on in his career with the potential for more.

*Turner has a few traits that very few can match in this class. The tape never caught up to the potential. The one thing I always come back to that gives me hope for him was the fact he played big against his toughest competition. That always means something to me. He played against future pros against Auburn, Mississippi, and Mississippi State with big time results. There are times it looks easy and that makes sense because of the length and strength. It is the lack of consistency that is maddening. He is worth a shot day three if you want a high-ceiling project.

16) Nick Gargiulo – South Carolina – 6’5 / 318

Grade: 74

Sixth-year senior. First team All-Ivy in 2022. Spent five years at Yale (2020 was canceled due to Covid) and transferred to South Carolina in 2023. Gargiulo began his college career as a left tackle. He moved to center in 2022 and was named the traditional single team captain as they moved him to center. He exceled there and was highly sought after in the transfer portal. He marched right into the SEC and performed well among a line that struggled all season. Gargiulo is oversized for the position, but he is an above average athlete that brings credible versatility to the table. He played both center and guard for South Carolina and brings a sense of reliable, know-what-you-are-getting feel to his game.

*One of the more interesting day three prospects, one that probably has a higher ceiling than most. He had one year of true top-end coaching and still kept it together in the SEC. He has some enforcer in him. He is one of the best athletes among all OL in the class. Add in the versatility and impressive interviews he’s had from an intelligence perspective, he will be a fun roll of the dice.

17) Keaton Bills – Utah – 6’4 / 321

Grade: 74

Four-year starter. All-Pac 12 in 2023 and 2022. One of ten siblings, Bills made a name for himself in high school on the defensive side of the ball. He converted to full time offensive line play upon arriving to Utah. After a redshirt year, Bills went on to start at left guard. All but one of his 2,624 snaps came at that spot. He is a well put-together athlete with size, strength, and flexibility. He makes it look good, notably in pass protection. This is a smart player that plays upright and balanced and could work his way into a starting role in time. There are a few tendencies he needs to fix, and his athletic upside is capped, but the tools are there.

*Bills took a slight hit after a poor workout. While it never bumps anyone down more than a round, it can get him pushed under four to five guys that had similar tape grades. Bills’ game is built on technique and size. He plays under control and does not abandon his intentions. He simply knows how to block. The question will be how well he can adjust to the speed of the game.

18) Sendrick Van Pran-Granger – Georgia – 6’4 / 298

Grade: 74

Three-year starter. All-SEC in 2023 and 2022, first team in 2023 and All-American. Recipient of the SEC Jacobs Blocking Trophy. Van Pran arrived to Georgia after an accomplished high school track & field career (thrower). After two seasons of backup duty, he compiled 2,746 snaps for the Bulldogs, all of which were at center. The team captain started 43 consecutive games for the two-time National Champions. His blend of intelligence and power will fit in well for a team looking for a potential starting center. He is a plus-run blocker with heavy contact and has allowed just one career sack over his career.

*Van Pran-Granger has been up and down my OL stacks as much as anyone all year. In summer, I considered putting him in my top 32 overall. During the fall, I had him fall more into the day two area not for any specific reasons besides the fact I did not see a first-round athlete. He had a pretty tough pre-draft process, battling an undisclosed injury before measuring in a bit smaller than I thought he would at the combine. His tape is good, that is most important. His intangibles are good, that is second most important. The center-only component here is the last variable that concerns me a bit. I thought I would end higher on him, but with the amount of quality interior guys that also present more physical upside and versatility, he got bumped down the stack a bit.

19) Isaiah Adams – Illinois – 6’4 / 315

Grade: 73

Two-year starter. Transferred to Illinois in 2022 after three seasons split between Garden City Community College and Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario. All-Big Ten in 2023 and 2022. Adams played both guard and tackle over his college career; his skill set best fits inside at the next level. He has a squatty frame with thickness around his hips and easy flexion at both his knees and ankles. Adams is a power blocker with a strong latch and situational awareness. He is assignment-savvy and his inside-outside experience only proves that. He excels at combo blocks before peeling off to the second level with body control and power on the move. His punch delivers a violent jolt and he maintains leverage with hand placement and pad level. There is some sloppiness to his movement habits that showed up in space and his baseline athleticism is a step behind, but he can be a potential starter if kept inside.

*I speak OL talent with a former OL coach and he loves Adams. I do value his opinion, but I do think Adams fits more in with the 90’s / early 2000’s version of quality guard prospects. He lumbers. Just has a hard time consistently getting his feet off the ground and it would worry me a bit, right now anyway, if he were matched up against a high-end interior pass rusher.

20) Gottlieb Ayedze – Maryland – 6’4 / 308

Grade: 73

Five-year starter. Four seasons at Frostburg State, first team All-MEC three straight years and a 2022 Division II All-American. Transferred to Maryland in 2023. Ayedze turned down a Senior Bowl invite in order to take on the opportunity to spend an entire season against better competition. It was the right move. He played all ten games on the right side in 2023, most of which coming at right tackle. His body screams guard at the next level, but the vast experience he has on the outside will only open doors down the road if injuries pile up, which will help his grade. This is an athletic and consistent blocker that knows how to play. He does not get overwhelmed mentally, showing quality control of his weight with proper techniques. The power is still developing but as he gets more training in sophisticated strength programs, that should catch up to the above average movement traits. Ayedze is a sneaky-strong candidate to out-perform several linemen drafted ahead of him.

*How much more can he improve with NFL-caliber coaching? That is the question. If he can make significant gains as a result of that, we are looking at a starter. He really would be one of my favorite day three gambles if NYG is ok with this completely blowing up a couple years from now. He has a few traits that others cannot match, plain and simple. How much of that talent can be transformed into usable skills will be the question. Ayedze responded well in a jump up in competition. Maybe he can do it again.

21-40:

21) Trevor Keegan – Michigan – 73
22) Dominick Puni – Kansas – 72
23) Andrew Raym – Oklahoma – 72
24) Jacob Monk – Duke – 71
25) Sataoa Laumea – Utah – 71
26) Javion Cohen – Miami – 71
27) CJ Hanson – Holy Cross – 70
28) Karsen Barnhart – Michigan – 70
29) Kingsley Eguakun – Florida – 70
30) LaDarius Henderson – Michigan – 70
31) Trente Jones – Michigan – 70
32) Steven Jones – Oregon – 69
33) Dylan McMahon – North Carolina State – 69
34) Drake Nugent – Michigan – 69
35) Brady Latham – Arkansas – 69
36) Jarrett Kingston – USC – 68
37) Nick Samac – Michigan State – 68
38) Matthew Jones – Ohio State – 68
39) KT Leveston – Kansas State – 68
40) X’Zauvea Gadlin – Liberty – 68

NYG APPROACH

I respect what NYG did this offseason to address the offensive line. They put resources into the group up front and the two big signings, Jon Runyan and Jermaine Eluemunor. While neither of them is considered a household name (and their contracts reflect that fact), they are more than capable of being starters on a quality line. It does take at least take some urgency off the idea of building this unit early in the draft, although I still believe grabbing one as early as round two is very much on the table. This interior group is very, very deep. Having 40 draftable grades from the interior is almost unheard of (still a carryover from the Covid year). While NYG also added veteran backups in Austin Schlottmann along with Aaron Stinnie, I believe there is a spot for a rookie.

Do they need to target a 2024 starter? No. Although I would put good money on one being available both rounds two and three which is always a spot where a few are available. Do they need to force a pick at any point for the sake of filling the roster? No. What they can do, however, is wait for the right value to present himself at any point and bring him in for future depth and/or competition. There is an unusual amount of quality centers in thus group, and you can even add guys to that list with some previous center experience. I am not sold on John Michael-Schmitz and while he is the unquestioned starter for 2024, I would like to see the interior guy they draft (if they draft one) to have a potential contribution at center. If they wait until day three, I would chase high ceiling more than high floor because of the veteran depth they already have in place. While I think tackle is going to be on the list before guard/center, there will be a need for a new starter (or two) at this time next year in my opinion. Now would be the time to try and find him before it is actually needed. “Don’t shop hungry.”