Apr 192021
 
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Kyle Pitts, Florida Gators (December 19, 2020)

Kyle Pitts – © USA TODAY Sports

TIGHT ENDS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The use of a first round pick on Evan Engram in 2017 simply has not panned out. He has made some big plays and he continues to be one of the top athletes at the position in the NFL, but his instability when it comes to catching the ball, making an impact as a blocker, and staying on the field has put multiple speed bumps in the path of this sputtering offense. Engram is a hard talent to completely give up on, as he keeps showing glimpses of a big-time player. He will be a free agent in 2022 and with the signing of Kyle Rudolph in addition to the fact Levine Toilolo and Kaden Smith are back, the chance of an Engram trade still remains. If a team needs a tight end over the course of the summer because of an injury, I expect Gettleman’s phone to ring. If he ends up in blue for a contract year, there is still hope that he could be that threat in the passing game. Long term, however, there is instability and if this offense truly wants to build around Barkley, they need to get stronger here when it comes to presence in the trenches.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Kyle Pitts / Florida / 6’6-245:

Grade: 90

Summary: Junior entry from Philadelphia, PA. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors both seasons. Pitts also earned 1st Team All American honors as a junior and won the Mackey Award. He wasn’t eligible for that award in 2019 because he didn’t play enough snaps in-line. That in lies the only question mark around Pitts and what he will bring to the next level. He needs to add more bulk and develop more core strength if an offense is going to expect him to block pro defensive ends and linebackers. As an athlete and receiver, however, Pitts has all the tools to be a dominant force. His long and twitchy frame shows fluidity and bend when attacking the ball in the air. He has elite speed and leaping ability for the position. He understands route running and displays receiver-type ball skills. Pitts has all the tools to be an immediate force in the passing game and if his lack of in-line presence can be hidden for the most part, he can be a big-time asset in any pro offense.

*The closer the draft gets, the more it seems everyone wants a piece of Pitts. I really don’t see any chance of him slipping through the cracks to #11. I would put that at a less than 5% chance. If it somehow happened, yes NYG needs to take him. It could make the tight end room crowded and it would yet again bring another tight end that may not factor well as a blocker. However, I think this offense would be better suited for that situation and I think Pitts will hold his own against defensive linemen much more so than Engram did. He would be brought in for receiving prowess, though, make no mistake about it. Pitts could change this passing game and make them unstoppable in the red zone. He can be Travis Kelce pr Darren Waller within 2-3 years. His floor is Jared Cook and I m not sure why people think the is a bad thing, as he will end up as one of the top 10-12 tight ends of all time statistically. No brainer if NYG could get their hands on him.

2. Pat Freiermuth / Penn State / 6’5-251

Grade: 80

Summary: Junior entry from Merrimac, Massachusetts. Three-year starter and two time All-Big 10 honoree. The 2019 All American played in just 4 games as a junior, but still won the conference’s Tight End of the Year Award. He was a two-time captain. Freiermuth is a classic Y-Tight End that can stay on the field in all situations. His weaponry will revolve around the ability to make plays in the passing game with his size, contact strength, and toughness. He is a blue-collar type player on the field with developed smarts and intelligence. He reads the field exceptionally well and combined with his plus short area quickness, he has all the makings of being a big time short and intermediate threat that can add production after the catch. Freiermuth will do most of his damage near the end zone and on 3rd and medium, two areas where the best offenses thrive. He isn’t overly explosive, and he won’t move defensive linemen off the ball, but his contributions will be well rounded, consistent, and reliable.

*This is a player that will need the right offense to truly reach his ceiling, and that isn’t a bad thing. There are countless players in the league you can say that about. Freiermuth is a really good football player that lacks the standout trait to his game. Again, that isn’t a bad thing. In relation to NYG, he would have to be taken in round 2 and I’m not sure it is a good fit unless this team unloads Engram. The draft is about long term, but bringing him in wouldn’t be very useful in 2021. He will be the 3rd stringer in a likelihood and the value that pick can present elsewhere will be stronger. All in all, a very good player that should start in the league for a long time.

3. Brevin Jordan / Miami / 6’3-247

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Las Vegas, NV. Three-year starter that earned All-ACC honors all three seasons, including 1st Team nomination in 2019, a year where he was also a Mackey Award finalist. Jordan is the son of Darrell Jordan, a ninth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in 1990. Brevin will enter the league as a much higher touted prospect, as he is one of the more explosive prospects at the position in this class. He doesn’t have the desired size or reach radius, but his ability after the catch and competitive mindset will create plays out of nothing. Get him the ball in space and he can break tackles, barrel over tacklers, and run away from the defense like a running back. He is a dangerous player that adds multiple dimensions to a passing game.

*Jordan is going to be an interesting kid to follow draft weekend. He is a dangerous weapon after the catch, that isn’t even a question. But snap to snap there are holes in his game and some teams may not even consider him. He plays a little small and there is some tightness in his movement as a route runner. Jordan has good straight line build up speed though and he showed the ability to go up and get it. He is a package-player, maybe not an every down guy, but a good package player that can be a monster if he is drafted into the right situation.

4. Tommy Tremble / Notre Dame / 6’3-241

Grade: 77

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Johns Creek, Georgia. Two-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All ACC honors in 2020. Tremble was somewhat hidden in a very talented tight end room at Notre Dame. He is a fine prospect in his own right and could finally blossom in the NFL more so than what he showed in college. Tremble is a really good athlete, most notably in the five-to-ten-yard window, that plays the game with a lot of hustle and grit. He is a factor as a blocker because of that effort but he also creates really good pop on contact. His route running and burst give him a high upside when it comes to getting open underneath and intermediate. Tremble wasn’t targeted as much as he could have been with another program, thus his production and overall ball skills can be questioned. He shows interesting traits and the effort is what coaches are looking for. High upside player.

*Notre Dame has a younger stud tight end that has a real shot at being a first round pick in the coming years. Because of that, Tremble was a bit overlooked. I think NFL coaches are going to like what he brings to the table but the question can be asked, is he big enough to play every down. He blocks well but he is best used in space against linebackers and safeties. Not sure he can hang with pro defensive ends. I love him in a two tight end system in a situation where the bigger, more traditional tight end already exists. He can be a 3rd down weapon.

5. Kenny Yeboah / Mississippi / 6’4-250

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Spent four years at Temple where he started one season but was a key part to their offense for three. He transferred to Mississippi as a graduate student for the 2020 season and nearly doubled his career yard output under Lane Kiffin’s high-octane offense. Yeboah averaged 19.4 yards per catch in the SEC, nearly an unheard-of number from the position. He did play a lot of traditional in-line tight end and was asked to block often. Yeboah still has a ways to go, needing to add power and strength to his game. He is a natural when attacking the ball with a wide catch radius, though. There is an interesting upside here that could fill in backup and/or specialty duty early on with the possibility of being an every down asset down the road.

*This is where the tight end group drops off a decent amount, but there is a cluster of early day three guys that are worth looking at. Yeboah tops that cluster. He is really long and it helps him as both a receiver and blocker. He just needs time to add some bulk and power to the frame. He isn’t enough of a pass catching threat to overlook the lack of true power, if that makes sense. He can be a solid player down the road.

6. Hunter Long / Boston College / 6’5-254

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Exeter, New Hampshire. Two-year starter that earned All-ACC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Long led all tight ends in the nation with 57 receptions en route to an All-American nomination in 2020. He is a tall, long, and athletic pass catcher that was the security blanket for the Boston College passing game. He is quick to get his head around and will show his numbers to the passer, making him an inviting and reliable target. He still has a lot of physical development to undergo, as he needs to add bulk and power to his lower body to enhance his stability when it comes to lateral movement. He was not relied on to block in-line often and that won’t be why a team drafts him, but he needs to improve his strength overall. There isn’t enough ability as a pass catcher to overlook the shortcomings in that department. He can create mismatches in the passing game however. That size, vertical speed, and ability to do the little things right will be a great place to start.

*Most are higher than Long than I am. He is likely going to be a day 2 pick. Very traditional tight end here and he can get to the ball in traffic. He shows potential as a blocker. I docked him because I just don’t like the way he moves. He is unstable and off-balance too often. The lack of smooth unplanned movement bothers me. But I think that can be fixed in time with stability and strength work, I just don’t see it in year one and I think the overall upside is limited.

7. Noah Gray / Duke / 6’3-240

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Leominster, Massachusetts. Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019. Gray is a chess piece that can be moved around pre-snap in an offense that likes to use motion and versatile skill position players. He is a technically proficient, throwback player that does a lot of the little things right to help him exceed the sum of his parts. Gray may not be a top end athlete, but he is quick enough and has shown soft hands and toughness in traffic to pose as a threat underneath and intermediate. If a team wants a low ceiling-but-sure-thing number two tight end that can also play some fullback, Gray is the guy.

*Gray is the kind of guy that a good team wins with. Not in the sense where he steals the show and makes a ton of big plays, but more in the sense where he just consistently gets the job done and can wear a lot of hats. I see Gray as a tight end that lines up in line, in the backfield, and moves around pre-snap. Not every scheme would use a guy like and to be real, I don’t see Garrett using a guy like this. But he is a pure gamer and will do what he is asked more often than not. You can’t overdraft these guys but they are quality day 3 picks.

8. Nick Eubanks / Michigan / 6’5-245

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Plantation, Florida. Three-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 in 2019. A classic Y-tight end that can be an every down player in the NFL, Eubanks will enter the league after years of being under-utilized at Michigan. He has all the tools and skills necessary to be a factor for an offense that has traditional tight end usage. He has tremendous hands as a blocker, he can catch the ball and make things happen via physical nature after, and he plays fast enough as a route runner. Eubanks won’t jump off the screen but there are very few holes in his game. He needs to get more consistent with his lower body usage and mechanics and the athletic upside will put a cap on his potential. When you look at the big picture and how he took advantage of his limited opportunities however, someone is going to get a vastly underrated and overlooked player.

*Eubanks didn’t show much in college, but I think a large part of that was a result of how Michigan used him. He could have done more had he gotten more looks in my opinion. I have to keep his grade down here because he just didn’t prove enough on tape, but I do see a potential starter here. He has heavy contact to him when he blocks and runs with the ball. He caught almost everything thrown his way when he did get looks, and he has a lot of natural ability.

9. Tre McKitty / Georgia / 6’4-246

Grade: 72

Summary: Senior entry from Wesley Chapel, Florida. Spent three years at Florida State, two in which he was the starter, prior to transferring to Georgia. Split starting duties in his lone season with the Bulldogs. McKitty is a plus short-area athlete that can translate his speed into power. He is an effective space-blocker that can be moved around pre-snap. McKitty is a really comfortable pass catcher, one that can get to balls away from his body naturally. He plays a pro’s game that can be used on every down with the upside of being a solid number two tight end at the next level.

*A guy I work with has McKitty as a top 4 TE in this class for what it’s worth. He has a few really attractive tools and traits. He could have been featured more at Georgia in 2020, but they had a freshman tight end that is on a first round trajectory. He is similar to Noah Gray in that I think he can be a really important role player on a really good team that likes to move a second tight end around a bit. He made some big time catches at Senior Bowl week.

10. Quinton Morris / Bowling Green / 6’2-243

Grade: 71

Summary: Senior entry from Richmond, Texas. Three-year starter that earned All-MAC honors in 2019 and 2020. The former top prep basketball player chose the gridiron over the hardwood. He was number two on the team in catches in 2018 behind current Tampa Bay receiver Scotty Miller. Since then, he has led the team with 75 catches for 897 yards. The next leading pass catcher totaled 34 catches for 458 yards over that span. Morris was the focal point of that passing game and even though he got a lot of attention from opposing defenses, he still produced. Morris is a gamer. He plays through injuries, he puts himself on the line when attacking the ball, and he will make tough catches in traffic. He isn’t blessed with plus-tools and won’t factor as an in-line blocker. He should be able to fit into a number two or three tight end role and offer an extra, accessory-type element to a passing game.

*Morris was a little overweight and sloppy at the Senior Bowl. Stuff like that always bothers me unless there is a significant reason why. He is already on the low end of tools, thus he really needs to stand out in other areas and really work at perfecting his craft if he is going to factor. He is a natural hands-catcher and looks really crafty in traffic. I think he can make some plays on the ball but the question will be his blocking and skill development.

11. Cary Angeline / NC State / 6’6-245

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania. Two-year starter at NC State after transferring from USC, where he redshirted in 2016 and withdrew from a season later. Two-time Honorable Mention All ACC. Angeline is an interesting athlete with an intriguing skill set as a pass catcher. His hands are natural and soft, capable of plucking the ball out of the air with easy coordination. His foot speed and balance stand out when considering his height, as most players at that size struggle to move in and out of traffic efficiently. Angeline won’t offer much as a blocker but two straight years of averaging 15+ yards per catch matched with his size and athletic ability means something.

*There are a few tight ends in the league that Angeline reminds me of. This kind of height and ball skills are attractive. He isn’t, and won’t be, a big-time athlete. He isn’t a very stout blocker right now. But the natural skill set as a receiver and that frame will mean something when it comes to projecting what he can potentially develop into. He has upside that some guys down here don’t.

12. Pro Wells / TCU / 6’3-249

Grade: 69

Summary: Fifth year senior from St. Petersburg, Florida. Two-year starter that was part of a three-way tight end rotation in his two seasons at TCU after redshirting in 2018. Wells’ career began at Milford Academy before a season at Northwest Mississippi Community College. He broke out in 2019, finishing 2nd Team All Big 12 after tying for the team lead with 5 touchdowns. Hamstring issues slowed him down a bit early in 2020, but he began to regain his old form over the second half of the year. Wells will be developmental tight end that will need time to get stronger and clean up his skill set. He has natural receiving ability with big, soft hands and a basketball player’s movement skills in traffic. He can really go up and get it, making him a potential menace in the red zone.

*There is a really interesting skill set here. Wells can naturally catch the ball better than most of the names in this group. He really sees it in and will get through traffic easily. He looks a tad limited when it comes to pure athletic juice and he won’t be a factor as a blocker, thus he will be limited snap to snap. I think he can be a guy that carves a role out for himself though and sticks around.

13. Matt Bushman / BYU / 6’5-245

Grade: 68

Summary: Senior entry from Tucson, Arizona. Three-year starter that led the team in both catches and yards in all seasons in which he played respectively. Missed the 2020 season with a torn achilles. Bushman has noticeably soft and easy hands capable of bringing the ball in from all angles. He has snappy reactions to the pass and will be a reliable traffic-threat. His tools, at the end of the day, will put a low ceiling on what his potential will be. He isn’t a burner and lacks pro-quickness. In addition, he is a very poor blocker that doesn’t have the power or attitude to make any difference in that department. He will be on the back end of a depth chart or practice squad while a team tries to increase his floor along areas outside of catching the ball.

*My first few looks at Bushman led me to putting him in the early day 3 tier. He just looked like a pro when it came to going after the ball and bringing it in. Further looks into the details of his game and it was pretty easy to find the holes in his game. He isn’t a top tier talent kind of guy, however he does have natural ball skills and body control. Can he get big enough to handle NFL trenches? If he can be just good enough, he can make a roster.

14. Briley Moore-McKinney / Kansas State / 6’4-240

Grade: 68

Summary: Fifth year senior from Blue Springs, Missouri. Spent three years at Northern Iowa where he started for 2 seasons. After missing 2019 because of an injury, Moore transferred to Kansas State for the 2020 season where he also started and tied for the team lead in touchdowns. Moore is a quick footed, underrated athlete that has a feisty way about him. He excels at finding the windows in coverage, comes to the pass hard, and will create after the catch. He can be a very quarterback-friendly target. He won’t factor much in the trenches, but his effort is there, and he does block well at the second level. He can be a solid backup at the next level with a limited upside.

*This is a player that impressed me each time I watched his film. Not so much with is talent and ability, but more because of his skill set and repeatability. He does a lot of the little things right and even though his actual tool set can put a limit on his impact, he is a nice guy to have on the back end of a roster. He will impact special teams.

15. Tony Poljan / Virginia / 6’7-251

Grade: 67

Summary: Senior entry from Lansing, Michigan. A former quarterback that played three seasons at Central Michigan. Made the part time move to tight end in 2018, full time in 2019. A two-year starter at the position, one of which was following his transfer to Virginia for the 2020 season. Poljan has a thick and long frame with plenty of functional straight-line speed and burst. He can pose a weapon in the end zone, as he shows the understanding of how to find space and box out defenders. His lateral quickness and overall short area athleticism are very limited. He won’t project as a starter, but he could evolve into a solid number two if he can improve his lower body mechanics.

*There are a lot of guys that like Poljan. I don’t see a dynamic enough athlete, but he does impress with straight line burst and at his size, that is going to get coaches excited. Also keep in mind he is relatively new to the position and his potential upside will be viewed as higher than most of the others down here. He has a long ways to go though and that high hipped, lack of balance-type movement bothers me a bit.

16. Miller Forristall / Alabama / 6’5-239: 67

17. Luke Farrell / Ohio State / 6’6-251: 67

18. Jake Stoll / Nebraska / 6’4-257: 67

19. Dylan Soehner / Iowa State / 6’7-268: 66

20. Shaun Beyer / Iowa / 6’5-250: 66

21. Tory Carter / LSU / 6’0-229: 66

22. Zach Davidson / Central Missouri / 6’7-245: 65

23. John Bates / Boise State / 6’5-250: 65

24. Kylen Granson / SMU / 6’2-241: 64

25. Carl Tucker / Alabama / 6’1-249: 63

NYG APPROACH

A big part of how NYG approaches this position may revolve around whether or not they ship Engram out via trade. Because of his performance and financial resources spent this offseason, I just can’t see him being a Giant in 2021. If there is a market for his services and NYG can net a future day 2 pick, I say you have to think hard about pulling that trigger. If, however, Engram plays out the duration of his rookie contract here, I don’t see room for another tight end. They’re already four deep, all four of which I see making the final 53 man roster, and adding another body there seems unlikely. The one circumstance I can see occurring, however, is if Kyle Pitts were to somehow fall into their lap at #11. The odds are slim there but adding him would add something to this offense that can really put the passing game over the top. You bring a talent like that in and figure out what to do with Engram later. Besides that unlikely scenario, the best move would be to wait until the undrafted free agency period begins to add new talent to the position.

Apr 172021
 
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Penei Sewell, Oregon Ducks (November 23, 2019)

Penei Sewell – © USA TODAY Sports

OFFENSIVE TACKLES

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

On paper, the Giants appear set for 2021 at tackle. While the progression questions still need to be answered (only comes with time) when looking at Andrew Thomas and Matt Peart, both are tool-rich and flashed as rookies. Thomas ended the year strong and played the majority of his season with a bad wheel, and Peart was showing signs before being derailed by Covid. When looking at how rookie offensive linemen play year to year, both were average. Nothing to be worried about, but also nothing to put in stone just yet. I think that means in regard to 2021, those two are the starting tackles Week 1. That is in the bag unless an injury occurs obviously. Nate Solder comes back at a reduced-price tag to back both of them up and while he has been a major disappointment since signing a huge contract, there are much worse backup tackles in the league. If Thomas and Peart move forward in their progression respectively, NYG is in a really good spot with them being on rookie contracts for the next few years. If one of them falters, the trouble sign will once again begin to flash. Jackson Barton and Kenny Wiggins offer back-end roster depth inside and outside and the coaches have said good things about Chad Slade. To be as simple as possible, this is coming down to Thomas and Peart.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Penei Sewell / Oregon / 6’5-331

Grade: 91

Summary: Junior entry from Malaeimi, American Samoa. Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. Earned Honorable Mention all-conference honors as a true freshman in 2018 before being named Co-Pac 12 Offensive Player of the year in 2019. Sewell delivered on his highly touted high school recruit profile, ending his playing career at Oregon as the winner of the Outland and Morris Trophy, respectively. Sewell has elite potential that stems from his combination of size, athleticism, and techniques. He is a consistent weapon the trenches that has an extremely high win rate both as a run and pass blocker. He is a comfortable mover, he has outstanding hand strength, and he almost always looks under full control no matter the situation. Because he opted out of the 2020 season, however, Sewell will enter the league with just 20 college games under his belt. He needs to develop more power and trust in his lower half and become less dependent on simply being more talented than his opponent. He was a man among boys in college, but his subtle and hard to notice weaknesses will need to be cleaned up if he wants to carry that success into the NFL.

*Sewell has legitimate All-Pro potential. He can be the Quenton Nelson of tackles; a guy that comes in and makes an entire offense better simply because he is on the field throwing his weight around. If he somehow drops to #11, he has to be the pick. What do you do with him? Again, an unpopular opinion here, but I say you throw him at left guard where he could almost right away be top 5 guard in the NFL, and this running game go wild. If Thomas falters at left tackle, which needs to be considered a possibility, you have Sewell who can shift over. Sewell not playing in 2020 is causing some in the media to question him. Nonsense. This kid has rare ability and will be a big-time player at a position that causes so many problems for different teams in the league. There is a chance we see him go to ATL at 4, he’s been training at right tackle and part of me thinks he’s been told by someone to do it.

2. Christian Darrisaw / Virginia Tech / 6’5-322

Grade: 83

Summary: Junior entry from Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Two-year starter that ended his career first team All ACC. Darrisaw checks a lot of boxes when it comes to size, athletic ability, and body control. He is rarely found off balance or losing his base. Darrisaw shows the hard to find, unique trait of getting on his man and sticking to him like a magnet. That initial hand placement combined with such a stable and twitchy lower half can enable him to mirror defenders that play the speed game. His true strength and power will need to be developed over his first couple of years in the league but if that does catch up with the rest of his skill set, he has as much potential as any offensive lineman in this class.

*At first glance, I saw a tackle that was heading toward the top 10. His balance and hand techniques were so easy and consistent. Upon further review, he has a few holes (albeit correctable) that need to be cleaned up. He doesn’t always play with man-power and there are too many plays where he just isn’t getting after his man. I like bullies in the trenches but even then, I still prefer guys that play with balance and control. Starting tackle that has elite upside if he enhances his power and grit.

3. Spencer Brown / Northern Iowa / 6’8-311

Grade: 82

Summary: Fifth year senior from Lenox, Iowa. Three-year starter that had his redshirt senior season postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 2nd Team All Missouri Valley Conference in 2019. Brown comes from a hometown of 1,500 people and played 8-man high school football where he was a tight end and defensive end. He was a 0-star recruit that received just one scholarship offer. He then hurt his knee after 5 games into his redshirt freshman season before he started to turn heads over the course of the next two years. Brown developed his frame while maintaining his plus-foot speed and body control in a big way. The well-versed athlete is still early in the progression scale in comparison to fellow offensive line prospects, but there is a tool set here that very few possess. Brown is a one-to-two-year project with elite upside. He is worth taking a chance on.

*It surprised me, and admittedly causes some hesitation, to place a 1st round grade on a kid from Northern Iowa. I’ll go on record though; Brown has the ceiling of an All-Pro. I really do believe that. The question will be how much NFL coaching and NFL strength work elevates his game. Brown is already a freak athlete, and he already shows the understanding of footwork + hand techniques. I thought he was one of the biggest winners from Senior Bowl week and that was after having his 2020 season cancelled. I have to admit there is a lot of risk with a prospect like this and that is why I have his grade down here. I see a lot of Taylor Decker here, one of the most underrated tackles in the game.

4. Alex Leatherwood / Alabama / 6’5-312

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from Pensacola, Florida. Three-year starter, one at guard and two at left tackle. Three-time 1st Team All SEC, two-time 1st Team All American, and 2020 Outland Trophy Award winner. Leatherwood capped off his career with 40 straight starts split between left guard and left tackle. He has an NFL body and power presence right now. He will undoubtedly be ready to step into an NFL offensive line week 1 if needed. The question will revolve around where he is best suited. The physical talent and upside should land him at tackle, where his overwhelming strength, length, and quickness can be most effectively used. However, a team that already has the outside shored up can use him early on at guard. There are some pass protection issues he needs to clean up from a technique perspective, most notably with his hands and body control. His power and ability to move men off the ball will be an asset to a running game and should provide immediate contributions if he were inside initially. No matter what, this is a starting caliber player that will increase the mauling at the point of attack for any offensive line.

*Some teams will look at him as a guard, some teams will look at him as a tackle. I see him as an offensive lineman that can play either spot based on the situation he is drafted into. If NYG goes for him, I think he is the starting left guard week 1 and I would feel really good about it. Leatherwood never quite reached the 1st round tier on my grading scale, but I still like him as a pro. He is heavy handed and a better athlete than some give him credit for. He has a few issues in pass protection that were actually similar to what I saw in Andrew Thomas last year. Maybe NYG sees that and comes out of the process with the same outlook; they think they can fix him enough and mold him into a key part of their offensive line. Leatherwood will certainly be in their discussion day 2 if he is there and NYG does not go OL round 1.

5. Dillon Radunz / North Dakota State / 6’4-301

Grade: 79

Summary: Fifth year senior from Becker, Minnesota. Started for two complete seasons. In 2017, he started 1 game then missed the rest of the season with a knee injury. In 2020, North Dakota State’s season was just one game because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 1st Team All American and Missouri Valley Conference in 2019, 2nd Team All-Conference in 2018. Radunz has elite body control and balance and it led to him being dominant at the FCS level. He then went to the Senior Bowl and had a really solid week against the better competition. This is the kind of offensive lineman that has all of the movement and balance traits but may need some extra time before he is thrown into the mix at the next level. He doesn’t seem to have that natural power and anchor that handles the man-strength found on a play-by-play basis in the league. He is an ideal fit for a heavy zone-blocking scheme and if he reaches his upside, you are talking about a very solid left tackle for a long time.

*Radunz was another impressive player in that he was forced to miss all of the 2020 season because of the school cancelling their program, but he still showed up to the Senior Bowl and performed admirably. I love the balance Radunz plays with, such a natural athlete. He may even be a better fit inside in a zone blocking scheme where his lack of true strength can be hidden a bit. No matter where he plays, he will be a solid player. There is a nice combination of grit and athletic ability here, but I think there is a cap on just how good he can be.

6. Liam Eichenberg / Notre Dame / 6’6-306

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Cleveland, Ohio. Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All ACC honors in 2020 and was an Outland Trophy finalist. Eichenberg also won the ACC’s Jacobs Blocking Trophy, given to the conference’s top blocker voted on by the league’s Head Coaches and Defensive Coordinators. Eichenberg is a throwback, blue collar lineman that gets the job done consistently through technique, grit, and desire. Where he lacks physical talent and ability through tools and traits, he can make up for in his approach and mental game. He may need to make a move inside but no matter where he lines up, he is the kind of lineman that plays to a higher result than the sum of his parts. His mental game is strong, his techniques are repeatable, and he has good brute strength in his hands and base respectively.

*This is a name to keep an ear out for when NYG gets on the clock day 2, assuming they don’t go OL in round 1. Eichenburg can play tackle at the next level, but if a team like NYG brings him in, he can easily transition inside. One could make the case he would be better at guard because there have been issues with him getting beat on his outside shoulder. Eichenburg is a technician that plays hard and smart. Just seems like a Joe Judge kind of guy and he brings extra versatility to the table. I bet he is in the league for a long time.

7. Jalen Mayfield / Michigan / 6’5-326

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Two-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 honors in 2019. Mayfield initially opted out of the 2020 season but changed his mind, playing in just 2 games before suffering an ankle injury. Mayfield only has 15 career starts on his resume. His upside is obvious, as his size and athleticism are easy to respect. He carries a lot of weight on a big and wide frame, and it certainly plays a role in his dominant run blocking. When he gets a strong punch and maintains inside hand position, which occurs often, he looks lethal. Mayfield is, as expected, still pretty raw when it comes to techniques in pass protection and overall staying power. He still has multiple holes in his footwork after he is engaged with his man, narrowing his base and playing too tall. He has starter-upside but won’t be ready right away. Mayfield could also make a move inside where his pop off the ball could factor earlier in his career while he develops pass blocking approaches.

*Mayfield will likely go earlier than where I have him slotted. Nobody can deny his upside, as he put forth a performance against Chase Young in 2019 that may be the best lone performance I saw out of all these tackles, and I mean that. Mayfield just lacked the snap-to-snap consistency. It looked like there was an issue with his switch, just simply turning off and on too often. This is a player that ideally sits for a year, has the coaching staff work with him and feel out his drive, and let him see the field in 2022. A good team that will need a tackle next year (LAR? DAL?) would be a good landing spot for him.

8. Tevin Jenkins / Oklahoma State / 6’6-317

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Topeka, Kansas. Four-year starter that earned 1st Team All Big 12 honors in 2020 after being named Honorable Mention in both 2018 and 2019. Jenkins has experience at both tackle spots, although he was predominantly on the right side. He is an old school mauler that cherishes the opportunity to run block. He takes it on as a personal challenge to grab his man and put him through the sideline play after play. He already has man strength, and it was evident he was playing against boys at times in college. Jenkins checks the boxes when it comes to size, playing strength, and attitude. He needs to clean up his essential and vital techniques. His pad level and base-width are all over the place when it comes to consistency and it has produced more than his fair share of ugly tape. The starter potential is there, and the issues are correctable. High upside player.

*Jenkins is an old school right tackle prospect in that he is the big and physical mauler that doesn’t always know what he’s doing but will pretty much always throw his weight around and enhance the line’s physical attitude. He absolutely tossed Texas edge rusher Joseph Ossai around in their matchup this past year and yes, that truly does make a difference in some scouts’ eyes. Some players elevate their level of play against higher level of competition and that is something I keep hearing about Jenkins. Some view him as a late 1st rounder, I can see why.

9. James Hudson / Cincinnati / 6’5-313

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior from Toledo, Ohio. One-year starter that earned 1st Team All AAC honors in 2020. Originally a defensive line recruit that began his career at Michigan before transferring to Cincinnati in 2018. Hudson underwent a nationally-known mental health situation that enabled his transfer. The NCAA denied his immediate eligibility, thus forcing him to sit out all by 1 game. Hudson then played in the shortened 2020 season, starting 10 times. That is it. Hudson is still incredibly raw and inexperienced, but there is absolutely no denying his physical talent and upside. Hudson has a lot to learn and clean up but there is a level of explosion, twitch, and power here that very few can match. It may take a year-plus, but Hudson could be a starting tackle or guard for a long time, and a very good one.

*There is a lot of hype around this kid when looking at the long-term upside. His college career was as rocky as it gets, and he may be the most inexperienced prospect in this class. Some want to steer clear of that, others start dreaming about value in relation to where he can be had in the draft. I’ve been told he could even be a day two pick, which is wild because I thought I was too high on him. He is a gifted mover, and he plays hard. It will come down to how hard he works and how well he is coached. Could move to guard too.

10. Foster Sarell / Stanford / 6’6-318

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior from Graham, Washington. A two-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 honors in 2019 after missing most of 2018 with a knee injury. Sarell only started 17 games over his career but possesses an NFL body and plays with very quick, active feet. He was the emotional leader of the Stanford offensive line and is clearly a try-hard player that will get the most out of himself. There are multiple technique shortcomings but they all stem from his over-aggression, which will cause him to overset and reach. If he can learn to be more patient and allow his ability to take over, Sarell has starter potential down the road. The athletic ability, pop, and desire are all there. He simply needs time and good coaching.

*A few guys I know have an undrafted grade on Sarell, and that is fine. He doesn’t have the lower body juice and athleticism that some want. I think he makes up for it enough with is tenacity, hustle, and size. He plays big and violent. I’m not sure if NYG really wants to use a draft resource on another tackle. If they do, unless they get major value at #11 (who might move to OG anyway), I think it is late. And I see Sarell being a guy you can get late and stash on the practice squad for a year.

11. Samuel Cosmi / Texas / 6’6-314

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior from Humble, Texas. Three-year starter that earned All Big 12 honors in 2019 and 2020, respectively. 1st Team All Big 12 in 2020. Cosmi is a tall and athletic tackle with good hand striking and fighting. He has an aggressive style that will work well in the running game. He gets a solid initial pop and is athletic enough to stay on defenders as he moves downhill. His issues consistently pop up in pass protection, however. His high hips and lack of knee bend make it very difficult for him to stay balanced and upright. He dips his head too often and just doesn’t maintain quality posture throughout. There isn’t a lot of sustainable power in his legs either. He has a lot to fix before being considered a starter at the next level.

*I had a feeling Cosmi was going to get more publicity after his Pro Day. All due respect, he absolutely crushed that Pro Day. He may be one of the better overall athletes in the class and coaches will bang the table for him. Every coach wants the athlete because they feel their coaching will make THE difference. Cosmi has had some quality OL coaching in his career so far and it hasn’t really made him a great player. I’m not sure I see the change happening in the NFL that needs to happen. He is worth a day 3 pick though and nobody can deny his upside, I just wouldn’t want to overdraft him because of it.

12. D’Ante Smith / East Carolina / 6’5-305

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Augusta, Georgia. Four-year starter that barely played in 2020 because of an undisclosed injury. Honorable Mention All AAC in 2019. Smith is an undersized but overly athletic blocker that shows exceptional foot speed and twitch. He moves at a different level of speed and quickness off the ball and when he maintains his balance and technique, he looks like a pro. The question with him will be where to put him, and when to put him there. He may be best suited for guard in the NFL, as he doesn’t look comfortable in sustained pass protection in space. However, this kind of athlete with this kind of length and natural bend could be a high ceiling player for tackle. Either way, Smith needs to get stronger and play with a more consistent level of balance and control. If that comes in time, he can be a starter at guard or tackle.

*I really want to see Smith get a shot in the next 2 years. I initially saw some Duane Brown, one of my favorite tackles in the game over the past decade, and upon further review I still saw it. He is underdeveloped in pass protection skills and I need to see strength gains. But his foot speed, hand strike, and natural ability to mirror was on display at the Senior Bowl after a 2020 in which we just didn’t see him play much. Really interesting guy to keep an eye on day 3 and I do think NYG will be looking at him.

13. Walker Little / Stanford / 6’7-313

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas. Three-year starter, but just started just 1 game in the final year because of a season ending knee injury. Honorable Mention All-Pac 12 in 2017, 1st Team in 2018. Little is the grandson and nephew of two former NFL players. He began his career at Stanford winning the Pac 12’s Co-Offensive Freshman of the Year Award. After an impressive sophomore year, Little injured that knee in August 2019 and hasn’t been on the game field since. He opted out of the 2020 season. Little is one of the biggest mysteries in the class. His body and initial techniques look like a prototype. His natural athleticism and heavy hands further enhance the notion he can be an immediate starter. However, he has a lot of poor tape where his balance, power, and sustainability look low-level. The floor is there for Little to be a quality starting tackle, but the questions are way too many to consider him anything close to a sure thing.

*Off the top of my head, I can’t remember a player that essentially go through 3 full years between live game action. He was on an early trajectory of being a sure-thing 1st rounder after 2018, but that early knee injury and opt out left a lot unknown. I am really interested in following what happens here, some still think he is a top 60 pick. Talk about a risk, but one that can certainly work out really well.

14. Alaric Jackson / Iowa / 6’6-321

Grade: 74

Summary: Fifth year senior from Detroit, Michigan. Four-year starter that earned All Big 10 honors three straight years, including 1st Team in 2020. Jackson started at left tackle right off the bat as a redshirt freshman and never looked back. He paired with current Tampa Bay right tackle Tristan Wirfs to create a formidable duo on the outside for a couple seasons. Early on, Jackson was considered the better of the two before Wirfs’ athletic tools took over during his development. Jackson may not be the first rounder and potential All-Pro that Wirfs is currently, but he has something in him. He is a really powerful and physical player that has flashed dominant stretches over his career. His lower body mechanics need to be cleaned up and there may be an issue with his length as an exterior pass blocker, but he should fit into a first-backup role with the potential of being a starter down the road.

*I can remember prior to 2019, I had a note sent to me that the Iowa coaches thought Jackson was going to be a better pro than Tristan Wirfs. I never saw that and certainly don’t see that now, but I still think it is noteworthy when you get notes from a coaching staff that you trust. Jackson is a bully. He hits hard, he finishes plays, and he is consistent with his effort. I see a guy that is just physically limited, though. He may have to make a shift inside or simply be that 7th/8th lineman on a team that can fill in at guard or tackle if injuries pile up. Perhaps he starts out the way David Diehl did and who knows what happens from there.

15. Royce Newman / Mississippi / 6’5-310

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Nashville, Illinois. Two-year starter that spent a season at guard and a season at tackle. Some think Newman doesn’t appear to have the length or foot speed for the outside. He gives up too much pressure on his outside shoulder and struggles to get the long arm position. He is better suited for guard in some schemes where he can use his ability to play low and strong with limited space windows for defenders around him to use. He has a lot of natural knee bend and he shows the ability to stay square with his hands attached. He just needs time to bulk up and add more power and size to his lower body. He projects as a backup at the next level.

*I’ve been back and forth on Newman when it comes to guard or tackle. It will depend on the scheme and situation a bit, but I will keep him here for now. He has the body control for it, but just not sure the speed and length will be enough. He didn’t play enough out there for me to think he can’t do it though. Maybe he just needs more looks out there. Either way, a solid backup type that can likely fill into multiple spots.

16. Tommy Doyle / Miami (OH) / 6’6-320: 73

17. Josh Ball / Marshall / 6’7-308: 71

18. Stone Forsythe / Florida / 6’8-307: 71

19. Brenden Jaimes / Nebraska / 6’5-298: 70

20. Drew Himmelman / Illinois State / 6’9-323: 69

21. Adrian Ealy / Oklahoma / 6’6-321: 69

22. Carson Green / Texas A& M / 6’6-320: 68

23. Brady Christensen / BYU / 6’5-302: 68

24. Jaylon Moore / Western Michigan / 6’4-311: 68

25. Greg Eiland / Mississippi State / 6’8-321: 67

26. Dan Moore / Texas A& M / 6’6-311: 67

27. Larry Borom / Missouri / 6’5-322: 67

28. Cole Van Lenen / Wisconsin / 6’4-305: 66

29. Landon Young / Kentucky / 6’6-310: 66

30. Grant Hermanns / Purdue / 6’7-300: 65

NYG APPROACH

Just to reiterate my stance, NYG needs to move forward in 2021 with Andrew Thomas at left tackle and Matt Peart at right tackle. I can’t imagine Nate Solder beats out Peart on the right side and I would feel good about him being the third tackle that backs up both spots. I say this because no matter who they decide to bring in, those two have the be the tackles. They drafted and developed them for a year, and it would likely do more harm than good to draft a rookie at replace either one of them. Really, there is only one player that even creates a question mark in relation to 2021: Penei Sewell. The odds of him slipping through the cracks and into the laps of NYG is probably less than 20%. However, if it happens, you scoop him up and put him at guard and there isn’t even a debate in my mind. In a more realistic sense, I think this is a year NYG can use their draft resources elsewhere. They used two top 100 picks on the position a year ago and they have a solid veteran backup. I can see them using a pick on one of these tackles that poses as a possible transition-to-guard type that can be had on day 3. If not there, possibly one of their last picks on a day 3 project that can be stashed on a practice squad.

Apr 142021
 
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Rashawn Slater, Northwestern Wildcats (October 28, 2017)

Rashawn Slater – © USA TODAY Sports

GUARDS / CENTERS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The surprise of the 2020 season, in my book anyway, was the emergence of Nick Gates at center. I remember watching him at 2019 Training Camp and didn’t think he was any different than Chad Wheeler. He did flash a bit during that regular season, but I don’t think anyone saw his performance at center, especially after the first few weeks, coming. Gates is a wild card on this line. On one end, he proved he can be the center of the future. On another end, in a year where the center class is especially strong, he could likely move to either guard spot and still be a strong part of the unit. The guards, both of them, are major questions marks. Kevin Zeitler fell off in a hurry and was released. Shane Lemieux flashed in his rookie year and passed Will Hernandez on the depth chart. Both have significant limitations, however. Lemieux lacks a true power anchor and Hernandez plays ultra-tight when it comes to his footwork. Veteran Zach Fulton, who has started 90 games in 7 years, was signed and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him starting while Lemieux and Hernandez battle it out on the other side. Jonotthan Harrison is a solid backup at center. Kyle Murphy is a project that I’ve heard some good things about.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Rashawn Slater / Northwestern / 6’4-304

Grade: 85

Summary: Senior entry from Sugar Land, Texas. Three-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. Honorable Mention All-Big 10 in 2019, 3rd Team in 2018. Slater’s father, Reginald, played 8 years in the NBA. Slater does not fit the prototypical profile for tackles in the NFL. He is short and may have an arm length issue that didn’t always get exposed in college. He may be best suited to make the move to guard like Zack Martin did coming out of Notre Dame when he was drafted by Dallas. No matter where he plays, Slater will be ready for a starting role early on in his career. He is really technically sound, plays really smart, and has the athletic ability to handle the speed of the NFL right away. Slater has top shelf hands and foot speed, always a good place to start. He can lock on to any kind of defender and at the very least, slow him down. There are some issues that pop up when needing to move toward his inside shoulder, but he has the ability to recover. He also could use a stronger anchor position but remember, his tape is from 2019. It is safe to assume he will be stronger next time he steps foot on the field. Wherever Slater ends up playing, he has the look of a long-term solution but his truest ceiling resides at guard in a zone-scheme.

*I know some are going to think Slater should be in the tackle group. I don’t want to get into a debate about it, this is simply where I see him at his best in the NFL. Can he play outside? Sure. A lot of good guards in the NFL couple likely play outside if needed, but they are better inside. I really see a Zack Martin type situation here. Not sure how many people truly realize how important he was and still is to that offensive line. DAL had a top 5 OL for a few years and he was a key part of that. Even if Slater is the NYG pick at #11 to play guard, I would be more than fine with it. This line absolutely needs to be better inside and outside if they want to avoid being the 31st ranked offense (second to last). “Wait until day 2” just because you don’t like the idea of using this pick on a guard is, with all due respect, completely foolish. If the line can get to a dominant level, imagine what happens with Barkley and the offense.

2. Alijah Vera-Tucker / USC / 6’5-308

Grade: 85

Summary: Fourth year junior from Oakland, California. Two-year starter that earned All-Pac 12 honors, 1st Team in 2020. Winner of the 2020 Morris Trophy. Tucker made the move from guard to left tackle this past season, proving to be an equally effective talent at both spots. That kind of versatility and consistent production will weigh a lot for teams that have multiple question marks along their offensive line. Vera-Tucker is a nasty, powerful off the ball blocker that will stifle defenders and stick to them with active feet. He can mirror his man while playing a strong, effective game. He can rightfully grade out both inside and outside, but his ideal spot will be at guard. He has shown a few leverage and control issues when he is far into open space. He should be a starter early in his career and a guy that sticks around for a decade-plus.

*I had a 1st round grade on Vera-Tucker after the first USC game I watched in 2020. This kid is a stud and will be as reliable as you would want a guard to be. His footwork and body control in pass protection as a tackle was the best I had seen all year. Even though I think his length issue will keep him inside, which again is more than fine when talking about a 1st round pick, I bet he could back up a left tackle spot if a starter were to go down and the backup tackles simply aren’t good. Anyway, I like Vera-Tucker in the same way I like Slater. His hands are powerful and sticky, his footwork and adjustment speed are both upper tier, and he is incredibly consistent.

3. Landon Dickerson / Alabama / 6’6-333

Grade: 81

Summary: Fifth year senior from Hickory, North Carolina. A transfer from Florida State prior to the 2019 season that was the starter all five years at the schools combined, albeit multiple of them were cut short by injuries. Two time All SEC honoree, including 1st Team in 2020. Also won the Rimington Trophy Award to cap off his career. Dickerson is an emotional leader and physically dominating presence inside that best fits in to a power blocking scheme. His size, country-power, and attitude make him a magnet to energy and constant juice in the trenches. He is a true leader that impacts a team with his actions and consistency. Dickerson’s major red flag, however, revolve around his health. For the fourth time in five years, Dickerson suffered a major injury (multiple to his knees) that ended his season short. The medicals will be crucial here but if things check out, he has starter potential.

*Dickerson is going to add a ton of personality to the offensive line he gets drafted to right away. What I mean by that is strictly on the field. His power presence and ability to straight up maul defenders play after play is fun to watch. I even think some teams will view him as a guard so he can just focus on pushing guys around rather than all of the directing traffic a center needs to do. I imagine his medicals are going to turn some teams off though, and you may see him fall into deep day 2 because of it.

4. Creed Humphrey / Oklahoma / 6’4-302

Grade: 78

Summary: Fourth year junior from Shawnee, Oklahoma. Three-year starter and three-time All Big 12 conference honoree. The two time All American (1st Team in 2019) also earned Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year two straight seasons. Humphrey is as decorated an offensive lineman as anyone in the class. He is a true general in the middle and will be a huge mental asset to any quarterback he works with at the next level. He is steps ahead of the defense at all times and will be a strong piece of glue holding his fellow linemen together. Physically, Humphrey brings a big, wide body with strong hands and advanced technique. His consistency as a run blocker is top notch, however he needs to improve his lower body in pass protection. Too often he gets stuck in the mud and will lack the quickness and power needed on the fly. He will be a starter and he fits into multiple schemes, but there is plenty of work to be done in a league where interior pass rushers are becoming more and more effective.

*I view Humphrey as a starting center in this league. I don’t want to come across in a way where I don’t like him. I just don’t see the “sure-thing” that many speak about. To be blunt, I think his best tape was from his redshirt freshman season in 2018. He just never took that next step when it comes to lower body twitch and bend. His mind alone will be a help to an offense and that is a bigger deal than most know when it comes to playing center. I just think his physical potential will prevent him from being a truly great player.

5. Wyatt Davis / Ohio State / 6’4-315

Grade: 78

Summary: Fourth year junior from Bellflower, California. Two-plus year starter that earned 2nd Team All Big 10 in 2019 before earning 1st Team All American honors in addition to All Big 10 in 2020. Davis also won the Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year Award, given to the conference’s top lineman. He is an easy prospect to be attracted to. He is a mauler inside with ideal size across the board. He is big and thick with long arms. He has plus straight line burst and explosion. He plays hard and wants to be the Alpha on the field. Davis has tools but he plays a polarizing style. His consistency is maddening at times. He really struggles to get across a defender’s face when moving laterally. He overreaches but doesn’t adjust his footwork well enough. The lack of balance and adjustment speed is going to hurt him in pass protection early on. He can be a solid starter if he cleans those issues up, but he won’t be ready right away. There are also knee issues that need to be investigated.

*Davis was at the top of pretty much everyone’s iOL stack going into the season. I don’t want to say he played that poorly to drop down here, but a couple other guys played really well and Davis just showed a few repeated mistakes that make me nervous. When I see an offensive lineman on the ground as much as Davis, I have a hard time getting behind him when it comes to grade. At this point in his career, if balance is an issue, I don’t see it changing much. He is so good in other areas though and his tool set is top notch. He can be a quality player, but I wouldn’t go higher than round 3 for him. This is a name I think NYG will be interested in.

6. Trey Smith / Tennessee / 6’6-321

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Jackson, Tennessee. Four-year starter and two-time 1st Team All SEC honoree at left guard. 2nd Team All American in 2020. Smith’s career began with him seeing starts all over the line, every position other than center. He was on a trajectory of being one of the best guards in the country before being slightly derailed with blood clots in his lungs halfway through the 2018 season. After overcoming that, Smith was back on the field for the start of 2019 and didn’t miss a game since. Smith is a seasoned veteran with over 40 career starts. He is an oversized guard that will occasionally struggle with lateral movement and adjustment speed, but his size and intelligence can somewhat make up for it. He is best suited for a gap-power scheme that will allow him to come off the ball downhill and get movement with his powerful hands, heavy frame, and long arms. He is a safe bet to be a starter in the league once he can clean up his footwork and knee bend.

*Another guy I am confident will start a lot of games in the NFL, but I wouldn’t count on him being a top-level guard. And again, that is just fine when you are talking round 3. Smith is a guy that will elevate the attitude of an offensive line day one. He can backup multiple spots as well if injuries pile up, which happens around the league every year. Smith needs to prove he can move well laterally and maintain a lower center of gravity. That is a no-no for many in the NFL once they are matched up against that elite speed/power combinations.

7. Quinn Meinerz / Wisconsin-Whitewater / 6’3-320

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Hartford, Wisconsin. Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All All-Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference two times in addition to being named 1st Team All American in 2020. Meinerz was the most talented but also the hardest working player on the team, on and off the field. He won a team award for offseason strength and conditioning work. The two-time team captain sat out the 2020 season because the school postponed its season, but he showed up to the Senior Bowl and simply dominated all week. Meinerz is plus athlete with the exact type of body and power you would expect from a Wisconsin axe man. He plays with grit, intelligence, and strength that rarely comes out of the Division III level. While the jump in competition is enormous and he did have to spend 2020 on the outside looking in, Meinerz is a safe bet to start at one of the three inside positions within a year or two at the next level and play at a quality level.

*Whenever I get a name from a D-III program, I am ultra-strict and hard on them in the scouting process. It is such a jump in competition and while it does happen every now and then, it is extremely rare to see a kid from that level make the jump to impactful NFL player. Dominating isn’t enough. Well, Meinerz checked every box, and he did so in every tape. Then he went to Senior Bowl and played well there too. Some guys that didn’t play in 2020 were unimpressive in workouts having not been in the routine they were used to for a decade plus. Meinerz didn’t miss a stride and that says a lot about his character.

8. Drew Dalman / Stanford / 6’3-295

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Salinas, California. Three-year starter that was All Pac-12 in his final two seasons respectively, including a 1st Team honor in 2020. The son of former NFL offensive lineman and Super Bowl champion, Chris, Drew brings pro lineage to the table that other simply cannot. With that said, Drew appears to be heading toward a similar if not better trajectory. He is ultra-advanced when it comes to technique, smarts, and repeatability. He displays a rare level of consistent balance and body control and it is a big part of his game. Zone blocking schemes will favor him more so than the power blocking schemes, but this is a kid that can do it all and should be NFL ready year one.

*Dalman is too small according to some. His lack of reach and a frame that looked maxed out at under 300 pounds will turn a few teams away. I am still totally on board with him. Even though there aren’t many centers that play at his size, he is more athletic, he is smarter, and he has better hand accuracy than most. While there are certain blocking schemes better for him than others, I see him as a long-time starter in the league. He could make a Garrett Bradbury type impact as a rookie.

9. Aaron Banks / Notre Dame / 6’5-325

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Alameda, California. Three-year starter that took over for Quenton Nelson after he was drafted by the Colts in 2018. 2020 All American and 1st Team all ACC honoree. Banks is a barrel chested, long-armed mauler inside that will fit into gap schemes like a glove. He gets off the ball with heavy hands and can really roll his hips into contact. Even though there are lower body issues that stem from stiffness and lack of twitch, Banks’ sheer size is simply hard to get around. He will excel in some areas but has the potential to really struggle in others. He will need to be groomed but his upside is that of a quality starter.

*I am really curious to see what kind of interior blocker they bring in via the draft. Last year we saw them brining in a smaller-but-quicker guy in Lemieux. But historically the guards that Gettleman has drafted have mostly been big and heavy handed. I think Judge is calling the shots more so with the draft and DG is more pro personnel based. So, with that’s said, I don’t see Banks being on their radar but I like him as a 1-2 year project. He has something in him that most of these other guys do not when it comes to getting movement off the line.

10. Jackson Carman / Clemson / 6’5-317

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior from Fairfield, OH. Two-year starter that earned All ACC honors both seasons. Jackson is a bruiser with NFL-ready power and strength. He is a factor in the league right now in that department. The questions with him revolve around speed and quickness to the edge and when he is up against quality athletes with an array of double moves. If he doesn’t get the initial positional advantage, he gets really sloppy in his quest to recover. There is a possibility his game could be better suited for interior play where is ability to move defenders off the ball and anchor his position naturally and consistently would be of better service. Regardless of where he plays, he fits into a power blocking scheme right away and should be able to contribute in year one.

*After watching a lot of Carman, I formally moved him to guard a few weeks ago. I had written him up at tackle, and I still think he can play put there, but his best days would be at guard. Offensive line coaches love to see thick lower bodies, especially between the hips and knees, and there aren’t many thicker than Carman. He produces so much power from his base and if his hand placement improves, which is a tall ask once in the NFL, he can be a difference maker. Similar to Banks above, I think NYG won’t be looking at him very hard unless Gettleman gets full say on who they are bringing in. Yes, he can be a guard and emergency tackle.

11. Deonte Brown / Alabama / 6’3-344

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Decatur, Alabama. Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors in 2020. Brown is an absolute mauler that could take hold his ground against an 18-wheeler rolling down hill. He absorbs contact like its nothing and shows some twitch in tight spaces. He will be one of the heaviest players in the NFL, but one can question if he has too much bad weight that inhibits necessary movement traits for the position. He is lethargic in space and simply doesn’t adjust well to late, sudden, lateral movement up front. He is a non-factor in space. He needs a gap-blocking scheme and even then, he will have to clean up the body and footwork if he wants to be anything more than a backup.

*Like the two names above, Brown may not bring to the table what this new NYG regime wants when it comes to skill set. While he can hold his ground against the biggest and most powerful defensive linemen in the game right now, the movement issues would worry be no matter what scheme he is in. I’ve seen snaps where he looks like he doesn’t even belong on the field in college followed by stretches of play where he looks dominant. I really think if this kid lost 20-30 pounds, he could be a big-time player. With some guys though, that is just near impossible. That is what I hear on Brown.

12. Trey Hill / Georgia / 6’4-319

Grade: 73

Summary: Junior entry from Warner Robins, Georgia. A three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Hill was moved around the line early in his career before settling in at center. He has overwhelming size and power with plus straight-line athletic ability. He has plenty of tape on display showing dominant stretches of play. Where he gets into trouble revolves around adjustment speed and pad level. He simply does not have the natural bend in his ankles and knees, which forces him to play top heavy and that leads to a lack of balance. There is a lot to work with here, but Hill will need time and a lot of consistent effort to maximize his physical traits. He will also need to prove his knees are healthy, as both were scoped in December 2020.

*Disclaimer here: Hill’s knees are a question mark. The medical reports (which won’t be public) are going to impact his grade and potentially leave him undrafted. I did factor knee issues into his grade for the record, but not a lot. Hill was a guy that jumped off the screen last year when I was scouting Thomas, Kindley, and Wilson. He can really move guys off the line, and he reaches the second level in a hurry. He is sloppy around the edges in multiple ways, but a good coach can work with him. He didn’t look as natural in 2020 and later I found out about the dual meniscus tears, which I am impressed he played with. Could be a hidden gem here if NYG wants a project that could play all the interior spots.

13. Robert Jones / Middle Tennessee State / 6’4-319

Grade: 72

Summary: Senior entry from Chicago, IL. Two-year starter at Middle Tennessee after starting for two years at Highland Community College. Two-time Honorable Mention All-Conference USA. Jones played tackle at Middle Tennessee but will likely move back inside to guard in the NFL where he played at in junior college. He has the ideal body type for the interior and his skill set matches up there as well. Jones has a really snappy, explosive upper body that can gain control after the initial punch. He has extra pop, and the foot speed post-engagement is a plus as well. Jones needs to get more consistent with his technique all around before he can be put into a starting lineup, but the ceiling is there to be a really solid player.

*I think Jones is one of the most underrated offensive linemen in the class. I look for balance, then quickness, then power when scouting. It goes more detailed than that in the long run, but that is where I start. Jones’ balance and foot speed is top notch, I just question how much he can move NFL defenders off the ball. That can come in time as he comes from a program that is a little behind the times when it comes to strength and conditioning work in comparison to Power 5 schools. I just have a feeling about this kid, but I know the value for him is day 3. If NYG ignores OL early on, this may be the one I want day 3.

14. Josh Myers / Ohio State / 6’5-310

Grade: 72

Grade: Summary: Fourth year junior from Miamisburg, Ohio. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All Big 10 honors in 2020, 2nd Team in 2019. Myers does not have the prototypical body of an interior offensive lineman. He is tall and plays with high pads. While he may be a candidate to change positions, Myers has the physical tool set and smarts to try and develop over time. He has a strong punch and shows the athleticism to play fast. If his hands line up well on the defender, he can ride defenders, both big and fast, out of a play. He needs to enhance his lower body power and mechanics, however. Myers projects as a versatile interior backup early on but certainly has the tools of a starter down the road.

*I am lower on Myers than the general consensus. A lot of guys see a 10-year starter here, but I just can’t there on him. He is too stiff for my liking and I see someone that will be too dependent on initial contact. When he was matched up against defensive linemen that really knew what they were doing with their hands and feet, Myers struggled. I think he has a longer way to go than what others think. Smart kid, good kid, and could be a player down the road but I don’t see It early on.

15. Ben Cleveland / Georgia / 6’6-350

Grade: 72

Summary: Fifth year senior from Toccoa, Georgia. Four-year starter that was in and out of the lineup because of injuries and inconsistent level of performance. 1st Team All SEC in 2020. Cleveland is almost always going to be the biggest guy in the room. He is tall and long with a Strongman’s body type. His immense muscle mass is lean enough to keep away useless weight. His hand strength and upper body drive is enough to send season NFL veterans violently backwards. Cleveland can factor right away in an offense that goes for downhill push more than lateral movement. There are, however, significant issues with his ability to react with twitch and quickness. He is really stiff below the waist. The knee bend looks overly labored, and his movement in space is poor. Cleveland may be big and strong, but his game is awfully limited.

*Cleveland is one of the enigmas of this class. I don’t know if I have ever seen a body type like this that can actually play football. He looks like he belongs on Game of Thrones. He is absolutely massive, he carries minimal body fat, he has one of the strongest upper body’s you will ever see, and he has elite timed-speed. Honestly, I can see a team falling in love with him to the point where he ends up in the 2nd round. Something just doesn’t click with him mentally, though. He is late to react and bending his knees looks overly labored. He is a hard guy to get around but I question if he can chop his feet well enough. He will be an interesting player to follow.

16. Kendrick Green / Illinois / 6’2-305: 72

17. Sadarius Hutcherson / South Carolina / 6’3-321: 71

18. Robert Hainsey / Notre Dame / 6’5-306: 71

19. Jared Hocker / Texas A& M / 6’6-325: 71

20. Michael Menet / Penn State / 6’4-301: 71

21. Jake Curhan / California / 6’6-323: 70

22. Kayode Awosika / Buffalo / 6’3-307: 70

23. Bryce Hargrove / Pittsburgh / 6’4-310: 70

24. Jack Anderson / Texas Tech / 6’5-314: 69

25. William Sherman / Colorado / 6’3-3-4: 69

26. Tommy Kraemer / Notre Dame / 6’6-309: 68

27. Jimmy Morrissey / Pittsburgh / 6’3-303: 68

28. David Moore / Grambling / 6’2-330: 68

29. Drake Jackson / Kentucky / 6’2-293: 67

30. Brett Heggie / Florida / 6’4-310: 67

NYG APPROACH

As I wrote a few times in this preview, I am very curious to see how NYG approaches this interior offensive line class. Gettleman loves the big maulers with heavy hands and to a fault, will overlook movement issues at the position. Jason Garrett has always wanted his guard to seamlessly pull laterally seamlessly with good body control and coordination. I think it is pretty clear this group needs to add a rookie inside. Will it be a mauler? There are plenty in this class. Or will it be more of an athlete? The supply there is a little less. Another question will be how they address Nick Gates and his versatility. This is an unusually strong OC class. Perhaps the value could be there and NYG could move Gates to one of the guard spots? A lot to think about with this trio and whatever they end up doing, they need to at least hit a double. No more strikeouts on the offensive line in the draft. I can see them using the #11 pick on a lineman and if Penei Sewell falls, things can get really interesting. I can see Slater and Vera-Tucker being in the discussion as well. What do I think will happen? I see a day two pick being used on a guard like Quinn Meinerz or Wyatt Davis. If the value isn’t there or they’re off the board, I think it will be an early day 3 pick like Josh Myers, Robert Jones, or Trey Hill.

Apr 122021
 
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Alim McNeill, North Carolina State Wolfpack (November 30, 2019)

Alim McNeill – © USA TODAY Sports

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

As if often the case, a strong defensive tackle group like what NYG had in 2020 was overlooked by many. The trio of Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, and Dalvin Tomlinson was, at worst, a top 5 trio of interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Williams, after signing a monster-sized contract, will return after a career year. Lawrence, with multiple years left on his rookie contract, will return with a bit more expected of him. Tomlinson, however, left town for MIN a la Linval Joseph. They are left with a formidable trio of tackles that can fill in for Tomlinson, albeit on a slightly lower level. Austin Johnson, B.J. Hill, and newly signed Danny Shelton will keep this group deep. Remember, Hill was essentially the odd man out when it came to playing time over the past 2 years after finishing his rookie season in 2018 with 5.5 sacks. He is entering a contract year and I would bet a lot of money we are going to see a different level of performance out of him.

The rest of the depth chart is filled with replaceable players. I don’t want to talk down on the likes of R.J. McIntosh (who I liked a lot out of Miami), Danny Moa, Breeland Speaks, and Niko Lalos. What I mean though, is that there is room for a rookie on this team. Hill, Shelton, and Johnson are all free agents after the 2021 season. The long-term depth spending at this spot will be limited with the Williams contract on the books. So with all of that in mind, there is a spot for a new body.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Alim McNeill / NC State / 6’2-320

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Raleigh, North Carolina. Two-year starter that finished his career first team all ACC. McNeill has played in multiple defensive schemes that had him play in multiple roles. The transition from 4-3 to 3-4 made the assumption his production would go down, but it went in the opposite direction. While he did prove he can two-gap inside, McNeill’s upfield burst and explosion provided an extra punch to his game that can make him useable in so many different situations. There is some skill development that needs to take place when it comes to hand usage and lateral balance, but this is a player that will play like a boulder against the run and a missile against the pass. Not an easy combination to find.

*I don’t have any true first round grades at the DT position in this class. The first 2 guys on this list can end up playing like one, though. When I first saw McNeill play in the fall, I thought he would be an ideal fit for the hole left by the eventual Tomlinson departure. He can play over center, fill roles in both the 4-3 and 3-4 front, and shows underrated pass rush potential. As time went, I realized he wouldn’t be available in the middle rounds because of a poor DT class, and he ended up grading out pretty well. I bet he is a 2nd rounder and if a good scheme gets their hands on him, he will be a very good player. Unsung hero type.

2. Christian Barmore / Alabama / 6’4-310

Grade: 79

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Just a one-year starter that was heavily involved in the defensive rotation both seasons. 1st Team All SEC in 2020. Barmore appears to be the next in line from the Alabama program that has been pumping quality defensive linemen into the NFL for years. He has just as much natural talent and upside of those that came before him, but he is slightly behind in the technique and consistency realms. He checks all the boxes when looking at measurables and there have been several flashes of him tying it all together. The height, length, and frame make him an attractive asset to try and develop. He was woefully inconsistent within a few key, borderline vital components to the position. High risk, high reward player that can be an every down force if he cleans things up. The talent is there.

*I made the mistake of putting a 4th round ground on KC defensive tackle Chris Jones in 2016. I didn’t love the build/body, I hated the inconsistency, and I overlooked his talent. Barmore is a woefully similar prospect. Jones is one of the top DTs in the game and while I do think Barmore has the talent to get to that level, he has a longer way to go than Jones did coming out. Barmore looks absolutely dominant at times. His length, reach, and burst is a hard combination to find. Someone out there is going to think they can make him a star and I won’t blame them. I’ve seen guys like this fail more often that succeed, however. So even though I am trying to avoid the mistake I did with Jones, I am only going to put a 2nd round grade on him.

3. Daviyon Nixon / Iowa / 6’3-313

Grade: 78

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Kenosha, Wisconsin. Spent one season at Iowa Western Junior College where he started. Redshirted at Iowa in 2018 before playing a rotational role in 2019 and starting in 2020. Earned 1st Team All Big 12 and All-American honors in 2020 while also finishing as a finalist for the Outland Trophy and Nagurski Award respectively. The Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year broke out this past season with 13.5 TFL and 5.5 sacks. His athleticism and instincts jump off the screen. He has a body that needs to develop more, specifically below the waist. In the meantime, he will offer pass rush potential and should be a solid option to play a gap specific role where he can win the initial movement battle and use that hunger and natural strength to finish plays.

*There isn’t enough talk about Nixon’s upside. He is the best big-body that penetrates consistently. There is a metric some teams use that revolves around plays behind the scrimmage (Pressures + TFL/Sack) per snap played. Nixon’s 2020 season was in some REALLY good company when it comes to guys that have reached a certain number in college and how it translated to success in the NFL. He still has a lot to learn too. He can be a quality every down threat within a year or two.

4. Jay Tufele / USC / 6’2-305

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Salt Lake City, Utah. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors in 2019. Opted out of the 2020 season. Tufele was the team’s defensive lineman of the year the last time he stepped foot on the field. He is a dirty-work player that already has NFL-caliber power presence and hand strength. He is a solid two-gap option that will occasionally surprise with quality pass rush skills that stem from his ability to shorten the pocket. His athletic upside is limited, and he may be best suited for a rotational role. There are some lower body mechanics that need to be hammered out to hinder those speed and twitch shortcomings.

*Oregon stud left tackle Penei Sewell allowed 1 sack over his career. Who was it against? Tufele. That doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things but hey, fun fact for you that I bet your buddies won’t know. Anyway, Tufele is what he is. He won’t be a star, but I can see him being a really solid number three DT on a team. He can play in multiple fronts as well, but I think ideally he lands in a 4-3.

5. Bobby Brown III / Texas A& M / 6’3-315

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Arlington, Texas. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors in 2020. Brown III started to break out a bit down the stretch in the shortened 2020 season, showing dominant athletic traits. He has an enormously wide frame that carries 320+ pounds with ease. The movement in space can be downright scary for any ball carrier he in pursuit of. The amount of force he can create on contact is not common. Brown III is still a really inconsistent player though. His techniques and reaction times just aren’t there yet. He won’t get by on talent in the NFL, but if the right coach gets his hands on him, watch out.

*I think the league is going to really like Brown. He has the ideal NFL body for a space eating, multiple gap defender. He plays so wide, he’s got long arms and heavy hands, and he just plays dense. Every now and then I saw him burst toward the action in space and it would raise my eyebrows. He was woefully inconsistent, thus the grade, but a defensive line coach is going to watch him and will think he can make him a star. Wouldn’t surprise me to see him go day 2.

6. Tommy Togiai / Ohio State / 6’2-300

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Pocatello, Idaho. One-year starter that earned 2nd Team All Big 10 honors in 2020. Togiai is an athletic penetrator that can get off the ball well, but mostly excels with his post-engagement movement. He has twitchy, strong hands and can adjust his weight on demand to avoid getting locked onto. His switch is always on and will make an impact far away from the point of attack. He will struggle to maintain his position against the run, notably when multiple blockers get their hands on him. His anchor is poor, thus he likely won’t be an every down player at the next level. He can be a rotational pass rusher that will bring energy to a front.

*If a team strictly wants more juice from the interior defensive line, more disruption, more energy, Togiai can be their guy. He is a little limited play to play, but this guy brings the heat with the switch turned on at all times. I think he has more potential is a 4-3 front a as a 3-tech, this I’m not sure I see the fit with NYG unless they really change their front. I like pass rushers that play with this kind of engine.

7. Tyler Shelvin / LSU / 6’3-346

Grade: 75

Summary: Fourth year junior entry that opted out of the 2020 season. One-year starter that played in just 21 career games. Shelvin was the unsung hero of the 2019 National Championship squad. He usually lined up at nose tackle and constantly demanded double team blocking against the run. He excelled at anchoring his position and keeping teammates free. Shelvin also showed some surprising speed in pursuit for such a big player. His run defense will be upper-tier but for teams that want their interior linemen to impact the passing game, Shelvin may not be their guy. He has a limited repertoire there and he simple doesn’t have the capacity to be an every down player. He can be a high-end run defender if a team is looking for rotational help, but he may need some extra time to develop because of how little college football he played.

*I think Shelvin is a really good fit for the situation in NY. He can be the next interior defensive tackle that will man the inside role for years to come, but he won’t need to play right away. Shelvin has a ton of talent attached to a really big body. He just isn’t an every down guy right now, as conditioning appeared to be an issue and his pass rush looked limited when it came to his repertoire. But with the NT situation here for 2021, he won’t be needed unless injuries pile up. If he is around early-to-mid-day 3, I really like him for this defense. Would be a huge benefit to walk in to 2022 with him on the roster.

8. Ta’Quon Graham / Texas / 6’3-292

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Temple, Texas. Two-plus year starter that made the move from defensive end to defensive tackle when he arrived at Texas. Honorable Mention All-Big 12 in 2020. Graham is a really unique player when looking at his body type and style of play. He has elite length and a frame that plays extremely wide. He may be a tad undersized when it comes to traditional height and weight, but he is learning how to use his physical gifts as a true strength play to play. He is advanced with hand and lockout techniques, as seen how consistently he can stack and shed. Graham is a lineman that can be moved around, and the defense can always count on him to at least perform a specific role. He didn’t take off when it came to production and pass rush like many thought he would, but this is a player worth taking a chance on. If the snap anticipation improves, he can be an absolute menace.

*Another name I think NYG is going to be high on. A sub-300 pound defensive tackle? You need to look further into him. Graham has freakishly long arms and some of the best hands in this group when it comes to pop and technique. That can help negate size issues. And the fact he plays a little lighter does show up when it comes to twitch and movement, which gets him an advantage as a pass rusher. Throw in the fact he was moved all over that defensive front and I can see the fit with NYG day 3.

9. Levi Onwuzurike / Washington / 6’3-290

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Allen, Texas. Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. 1st Team All-Pac 12 in 2019. Onwuzurike was a key part of a very talented Washington defense. He was mainly responsible for interior penetration that stemmed from his plus-speed and burst and ability to twist and turn his body. There was a lot of inconsistency on tape with his techniques, however. His pad level was all over the place despite having enough flexibility in his knees and ankles and it forced him into a lot of ineffective snaps. He did on occasion flash the ability to shoot and gap and disrupt the quarterback’s ability to step up in the pocket. He is athletic enough to take a chance on, but he will need time to develop more power and refine his skills to be more repeatable.

*There are a couple guys I know that have Onwuzurike top 3 in this group. He was up there in most stacks prior to the season, but deeper looks at his game didn’t go well. He gets too high and doesn’t play stout enough. Maybe someone will see the straight-line movement and like his upside, but I think he belongs day 3. I see too many holes.

10. Osa Odighizuwa / UCLA / 6’2-280

Grade: 73

Summary: Fifth year senior from Portland, Oregon. Three-year starter that was one of the more active defenders on the team. Led the Bruins’ defensive linemen in tackles in both 2019 and 2020. Osa is the brother of former New York Giants 3rd round pick Owamagbe. The younger brother has a little more versatility to his game but is a lesser athlete. Owamagbe will fit like a glove into defensive schemes that want to move their linemen back forth from head up on the tackle to the A-gaps. He has the hand strength and arm length to get solid initial strike on a consistent basis with the capability of quality shed techniques to make plays on the ball carrier. He can be a rotational disruptor but likely won’t fit as an every down player. There are a lot of inconsistencies in his game when it comes to balance and anchor and there isn’t anything special about his juice off the snap.

*Recognize that last name Giants fans? His brother was one of the more disappointing NYG draft picks in recent memory in my book. Can’t use that against the younger brother though. Osa has a really interesting body and style. Like Graham above, he is undersized for interior play but his arm length and hand strength make up for some of it. He has a wrestling background, and it shows up. He spent a lot of time at NT and was really effective. I think he will be a limited impact guy, but some teams are gravitating toward this kind of interior presence to rotate in.

11. Marvin Wilson / Florida State / 6’4-303

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas. Three-year starter that earned All-ACC honors in both 2019 and 2020, 1st Team in 2019. Wilson had both of those seasons cut short by different injuries, one to his hand and one to his leg. He never quite lived up to the five-star recruit potential, but he did flash throughout his career. He has a good frame and plus-speed in space to go with it. His power on the move is elite. What is odd about Wilson is the fact he seems more confident and surer in space but looks rigid and unsure in traffic. Playing this position, he needs to be better off the ball in traffic. He needs a lot of development coming from a patient coach and determined work ethic. The tools are there, as seen with his 3 blocked field goals in 6 games this past season. He will need time but there is an interesting upside.

*I know a scout that has a 2nd round grade on Wilson, and he told me that a few others do as well. Wilson has always been a name in the scouting community that has gotten a ton of hype. I just never saw it. Every time I scouted him, I left disappointed in the pad level and lack of consistent hand fighting in the trenches. I guess I can see the potential and ceiling when looking at the ability to move, but there was too much sloppy-ness in my eyes.

12. Milton Williams / Louisiana Tech / 6’3-284

Grade: 72

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Crowley, Texas. Two year starter that earned All-Conference USA honors both seasons, including 1st Team in 2020. Williams caught some steam this past fall. He isn’t an ever down player in every scheme, but for the hybrid fronts that want a guy that can play both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive end roles, he is going to be attractive. His hands are really heavy and he has a really stout lower half. That is always a really good place to start for a defensive lineman. His tool set may not be ideal when looking at long term projection, but he should be a serviceable option for most teams.

*Williams’ name gets mentioned a lot when I discuss defensive line with some guys. Everyone thinks he has a pro-ready game right now and he should be able to fill the hard-to-find role of CRASH end. NYG is one of the teams that looks for a guy like that. He lacks length though and it could turn them off. I question if he can truly be an effective every down guy, I see more of a backup that is good for a few snaps per game but don’t want him in there for a long time.

13. Jonathan Marshall / Arkansas / 6’3-310

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from Shepherd, Texas. One-year starter that slowly but surely evolved into a quality player and pro prospect. He led the Razorbacks defensive linemen in tackles while showing some promising pass rush upside. Marshall has the pro body and heavy hand combination that can create an aura of upside. His get off is a little delayed and there are issues with his bend and late twitch, but this is a powerful kid that has some natural ability in him that others simply do not. He projects to the back end of a depth chart early in his career and could evolve the way he did at Arkansas into a contributing rotation lineman.

*The first time I saw Marshall, I wasn’t going into the tape looking for him. I was scouting an opposing offensive lineman and I left the tape wanting more of Marshall. He looks like a pro on so many levels. Good body, good hand striking, good base strength. If he had more natural post-snap flow and a bit more twitch, he would be up in the round 3-4 area. I like this kid as a guy you stash on the back end of the depth chart for a year and see what happens.

14. Marlon Tuipulotu / USC / 6’2-307

Grade: 70

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Independence, Oregon. Three-year starter that was forced to medically redshirt in 2017 because of multiple injuries to his knee and back respectively. Earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors in 2020. Tuipulotu is a well-sized interior defender that plays a powerful game capable of manning two gaps. He is a nose tackle candidate that will offer the occasional pass rush because of his ability to stack and shed lone blockers. He won’t profile as a high-end athlete and he still has a lot of work ahead of him to make his techniques more consistent and repeatable. He projects as a quality-depth option for all fronts.

*There isn’t much to get excited about when looking at Tuipulotu’s game, and that is just fine. He is a dirty-work kind of guy that, at the very least, you know will control his gap and occupy blockers. He is stout and smart, which can lead to a quality run defense presence. If he can be the 4th or 5th defensive tackle on a team, it would be a good spot for him.

15. Khyiris Tonga / BYU / 6’2-325

Grade: 69

Summary: Senior entry from West Valley, Utah. Started games all four years but took over a weekly role in 2018. Tonga has the potential of being a really solid 2-gap defender inside. He can play the role of a boulder, getting off the ball well and taking up space plus blockers to help keep the linebackers clean. He is an aggressive and passionate player that will make his fair share of plays inside the tackle box as well. Tonga may not offer much as a pass rusher but there are traits here that can give off an occasional productive bull rush. Tonga is a classic nose tackle that can be quietly effective on early downs especially if he fixes pad level and conditioning issues.

*Not every scheme is going to see a player here, he is strictly a 2-gap nose tackle. There are a few of them in this class, Tonga is one that I would want to use a late day 3 pick on with the assumption he is going to provide solid value at some point. I am confident in that. He just won’t offer a ton of long-term upside or pass rush. Really strong upper body but he lacks the natural bend and length. May not be a fit for NYG unless they are going to favor more toward the 3-4 snap by snap.

16. Naquan Jones / Michigan State / 6’3-313: 68

17. TJ Slaton / Florida / 6’4-330: 68

18. Roy Lopez / Arizona / 6’2-318: 68

19. Jaylen Twyman / Pittsburgh / 6’2/301: 68

20. Isaiahh Loudermilk / Wisconsin / 6’7-295: 67

21. Quinton Bohanna / Kentucky / 6’4-327: 67

22. Jordon Scott / Oregon / 6’1-311: 67

23. O’Bryan Goodson / Memphis / 6’1-297: 66

24. Austin Faoliu / Oregon / 6’3-287: 66

25. Darius Stills / West Virginia / 6’1-278: 65

26. Forrest Merrill / Arkansas State / 6’0-322: 65

27. Lorenzo Neal Jr / Purdue / 6’2-318: 64

28. Jack Heflin / Iowa / 6’3-307: 64

29. Mustafa Johnson / Colorado / 6’1-285: 63

30. Kenny Randall / Charleston / 6’3-305: 62

NYG APPROACH

NYG has done a very nice job building the entire group in recent years. They have hit on multiple draft picks, they found good value in late free agency periods, they made a spectacular trade, and they spent their money wisely. With the big contract now in the possession of Leonard Williams, however, it will be harder to hold on to young talent in the coming years. The loss of Dalvin Tomlinson and a possible loss of B.J. Hill next offseason in addition to their veterans being under a 1-year contract give the long-term projection of this group very gray. Dexter Lawrence and Williams are a really solid and complimentary (equally important) 1-2 punch that NYG will have in their back pocket for a few more years. However, there will be a hole or two beyond them as soon as next year and certainly beyond. Do you wait until next year to address this? Or do you use a mid-to-late round pick on a guy that can be brought in right now, groomed for a year, then put into the system? With what NYG is clearly going for in 2021, I think they should pass on DT talent this year. Maybe use a late pick or get aggressive here in the UDFA period, but nothing more. This is a woefully weak group and I think some teams will be reaching for talent in the middle rounds. Might as well wait, if you are asking me, for that UDFA period. For the record, the 2022 DT class is going to be very strong.

Apr 102021
 
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Kwity Paye, Michigan Wolverines (November 2, 2019)

Kwity Paye – © USA TODAY Sports

EDGE

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The edge role in this defense is a little subjective. It is such a hybrid front. Just so you know, the current NYG names I have in this group are Lorenzo Carter, Ifeadi Odenigbo, Cam Brown, Carter Coughlin, Oshane Ximines, and Trent Harris. Not a very intimidating group of pass rushers here. While the Graham-scheme has a way of producing pressure via different blitz packages in addition to one of the top interior pass rushing threats in the league in Leonard Williams, this is a major hole. Carter was supposed to show us in 2020 if he was going to the answer or not, but a season ending Achilles tendon injury suffered in October ended that idea. Ximines didn’t play much in his sophomore season before injuring his shoulder Week 4 and missing the rest of the year. Kyler Fackrell played the versatile BUCK role, which saw him interchange between inside and outside roles, but he is now with the Chargers. Jabaal Sheard was signed in-season and occasionally flashed, but he likely won’t return. The signing of Odenigbo was an interesting one. After the 2019 season, many believed he was on the cusp of really breaking out into a 10+ sack per year guy. He didn’t follow through, however.

Overall, this edge group lacks a true stud that can make a difference week in, week out. While there is still some hope from guys on their rookie contracts in Carter and Ximines, odds are they won’t step up to be what this defense needs. And to be real about the likes of Brown and Coughlin, they’re shots in the dark at this point.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection
85+: Pro Bowl Projection
81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away
79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter
77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter
74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter
71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter
68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy
65-67: Preferred UDFA
60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Kwity Paye / Michigan / 6’4-277

Grade: 85

Summary: Senior entry from Providence, Rhode Island. Three-year starter that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 honors in both 2018 and 2019, 2nd team in 2020. A state champion in the long jump and 4×100 relay as a 250-pound senior in high school, Paye has one of the more interesting tool sets in the entire class. He has rare quickness, bend, and agility for his size. He wins a lot of battles with late movement and sheer head-to-toe power. He lined up all over the Michigan front and that is the kind of role he will thrive in at the next level. He has the power presence to play inside the tackle’s shoulder on all downs, but notably against the pass where he can provide elite interior rush. He does need to improve his production as an outside pass rusher, as he seems late and ineffective too often when trying to purely speed rush. Paye will be an ideal fit for a scheme that wants to move their exterior linemen inside at times and also demands serious running game responsibilities. At the very least, he will be elite at that part of the game.

*Paye will be on my short list of prospects that I will want NYG to take at #11. He is an ideal fit for what NYG wants along that defensive front and in the locker room. He doesn’t have the exact same size as Justin Tuck, but I think his style and on-field impact will be very similar. The Michigan defense moved him all over the field because of what he can do. Did it hurt the stats a bit? Sure, but only the ones a casual fan looks at. There is more to DE than sacks. Paye was among the national leader in pressures, and he did it from every angle you can imagine. In addition, he is by far the best run defender in this top 5. Nobody is close. Paye may not have the upfield juice some want but after watching the way this Graham scheme works, I don’t think that is exactly what they need. Last thing, I am not inside the NYG coaching rooms. They may want something else in terms of skill set for the outside, so I could be off in relation to calling him an ideal fit. Just my opinion.

2. Azeez Ojulari / Georgia / 6’2-249

Grade: 84

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Marietta, Georgia. A two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2020. The semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award led the SEC in tackles for loss and sacks in 2020, a year after leading the Bulldogs in sacks and pressures. Ojulari is a mature, hardworking kid that gets the most out of his talents. He won team-awards for most improved player in 2019 as well as one for his efforts during the offseason strength and conditioning program. Ojulari was also a team captain in 2019, the first time a freshman has earned that honor in the Coach Smart era. This is a kid that has high-end talent that can be used in multiple ways for a defense, and it is paired with top notch intangibles. His game really started to blossom as the 2020 season came to a close. He finished with 5 sacks over his last 3 games. Ojulari still has more physical development to achieve, as he will need to add functional weight to play the every down edge in the NFL, but his versatility, talent, and intangibles will make him a dangerous defensive weapon and he can be one of the best when things come together.

*No inside information here. I think Ojulari is on the NYG short list for #11 overall. I’m not exactly sure what NYG is looking to add to their outside pass rush. Do they want a pure burner (what Carter was supposed to turn into, and still can), or do they want an inside-out versatile piece? If it is the former, Ojulari is a very strong possibility. I think he has the best get off in the group. That is a great place to start. I also believe who he is as a person will be exactly what NYG wants to add.

3. Jaelen Phillips / Miami / 6’5-260

Grade: 84

Summary: Fourth year junior from Redlands, California. Two-year starter that split his time between UCLA and Miami. Capped off his career 1st Team All ACC and an All-American honor. Phillips’ early years were marred by injuries to both ankles before a serious wrist injury suffered off the field in a traffic accident that required multiple surgeries. He also sustained multiple concussions at UCLA where some doctors urged him to retire. Phillips was out of the game for a few months with the mindset that his career might be over. He then transferred to Miami, sat out all of 2019 while getting his body back together and awaiting medical clearance. He then went on to break out in the shortened 2020 season, showing real life glimpse of what many thought he could be. Phillips showed some inconsistency early on, but there may not have been a more dominant edge player in the country down the stretch. Over his final 4 games, he finished with 11 TFL and 6.5 sacks. He appears to have turned a corner when it comes to his maturity and showed what he can actually do on the field just in time. Phillips is an every down defender capable of being a dominant force if he keeps his head focused and his body healthy.

*If you are strictly looking at 2020 tape and workout performance plus tools, Phillips is the top EDGE in this class. Someone I work with has him at the top of the group and top 5 overall. Point is Phillips is a prospect that would surprise nobody worth listening to if he ended up being an All Pro player. He has a lot going for him and I think he can fit into every scheme. His medicals (which likely won’t be made public) are essential. I doubt anyone is going to give him a 10 out of 10 on the durability scale, but if NYG does or is even close, he is another name on the short list for #11. My question, and it is more based on tying dots together in a subjective manner rather than facts, he may not be the personality fit NYG wants. Will leave it there.

4. Gregory Rousseau / Miami / 6’7-266

Grade: 81

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Coconut Creek, Florida. A one-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season. That one year was as good as it gets when looking at production where he led the ACC with 19.5 TFL and 15.5 sacks, leading him to 1st Team All ACC and 2nd Team All American honors. With Rousseau sitting out of 2020 and playing in only 2 games as a freshman before getting injured, his lack of game experience is noteworthy. He played in just 15 games since high school. Rousseau is dripping with disruptive and versatile pass rush talent. He checks several boxes, but there are questions revolving around his movement. There is a lot of tape with him falling off balance, needing recovery steps, and struggling to really change direction sharply. As impressive as he was in 2019, it has to be considered a possibility that he was a one-year wonder. Boom or bust prospect.

*One of the major boom or bust prospects in the class. On one hand, you have to love what he did in 2019, have to love his height and length, and you have to love his straight-line burst. He can be a really dangerous pure upfield rusher both from the outside and inside. On the other hand, how can one invest an early pick in a kid that played 15 games since high school and has pretty poor agility times? I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall out of round 1 but his upside will likely make someone bite.

5. Joseph Ossai / Texas / 6’4-256

Grade: 81

Summary: Junior entry from Conroe, Texas. Two-year starter that capped off his career with a 1st Team All Big 12 and 1st Team All American campaign, leading the conference and finishing third in the nation with 16 tackles for loss. A native of Nigeria, Ossai moved to the States at the age of 10 and quickly developed into one of the best outside linebacker prospects in the class. He is a blue-collar player with constant hustle and desire whether he is rushing the passer, defending the run, or dropping into coverage. Ossai wins a lot of his battles with quickness post-engagement, bend, and hunger. He has a developing frame that will need to add more bulk and power to make him a multi-dimensional threat as a pass rusher. He is a bit of a project in that department, but the skill set is good enough to factor in the league right now. How much bulk he can add while sustaining his quickness will determine just how high the ceiling gets. His ideal fit is in a 3-4 scheme and should end up being an every down force.

*I had a scout tell me that Ossai had one of the more influential pro day workouts of all the defenders in the class. These workouts do mean something, at the very least. Ossai had a lot of up and down tape from the past two years. It made me watch more and more tape, and my number of games for him went over 15. That is way more than I do for most guys. It was frustrating but also enticing, if that makes sense. If he gets more consistent, you are looking at. Khalil Mack type player. I can’t put him any higher than this though, too many games where he just got overwhelmed by good blocking. Don’t be surprised though if he ends up being a big-time player.

6. Joe Tryon / Washington / 6’5-262

Grade: 80

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Renton, Washington. One-plus year starter that took over the edge role at the end of 2018 and stayed there in 2019, where he earned 2nd Team All Pac 12 honors. Opted out of the 2020 season. Tryon is a physical freak that wears the pads well. He is more than just an athlete. His engine is always on and will make plays away from the point of attack routinely. He is not someone you want to take a hit from when he has a head full of steam. He matches that physical ability and power with attitude. Tryon is a nasty dude that will immediately elevate the presence of a defense. At his size and speed, Tryon will be intriguing to defenses that like to move their plays around. He is comfortable dropping back into coverage, he is comfortable in space, and he can really defend the run in addition to obviously being a potential menace as an edge rusher. The upside is enormous here but there are concerns over his lack of experience (14 career starts) and he has a long way to go when it comes to developing pro-caliber techniques and rush-versatility.

*Tryon is the kind of guy I see just destined for PIT, NO, or BAL. They value defenders that are just big, fast, and mean. That is how I describe Tryon in the most basic form. He lacks the desired skill set but that can always be acquired with a willing player and coach being on the same page. He is a borderline first rounder that could be in the NYG crosshairs if he falls to their 2nd rounder.

7. Boogie Basham / Wake Forest / 6’3-281

Grade: 80

Summary: Fifth year senior from Roanoke, Virginia. Four-year starter that got into the lineup toward the ends of his freshman season and never looked back. 1st Team All ACC in 2019, 3rd Team in 2020. Basham saw a dip in week-to-week production in his final season. He still accrued 36.5 TFL and 20.5 sacks over his accomplished career. While he isn’t going to win the runway model contests, Basham has the ideal body for an inside-outside versatile lineman that can change his style at the snap of a finger. His power and hand striking are both elite. At the very least, the defense can rely on him to control one or two gaps against the run. Where Basham will surprise from time to time is the ability to reach the passer from any and all angles. His upfield burst won’t win a lot of battles up the edge but what he can do once engaged with a blocker one on one will make an impact. Even if Basham does not end up near the league leaders in traditional production, he is a dirty-work lineman that will make players around him better.

*If NYG wants another crash end (hybrid 3-4/4-3 DE) early in the draft (day 2), I bet Basham is on their list. I’m not sure I see that though, as they like to put Williams there in some looks and Odenigbo will likely be the depth there. There is also an unusual amount of solid crash ends in this class that can be had day 3. Basham is a really good football player though, one that will find a bunch of ways to make an impact for a long time.

8. Jayson Oweh / Penn State / 6’5-257

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Howell, New Jersey. One-year starter that also spent a season in the heavy rotation. 1st Team All Big 10 in 2020. Oweh is going to catch a lot of eyes as a result of his physical tool set. He is tall, long, strong, and very fast. In fact, he may be one of the fastest and most explosive defenders in the entire class even beyond that of the defensive ends. However, Oweh’s play never got to a point where it matched that kind of potential. He started just 8 games over his career, played in just 24 total, and recorded just 1 sack over his final 12 games. Beyond the production, Oweh has a hard time keeping his center of gravity when he needs to react laterally. He needs too many recovery steps and lacks consistent technique. Oweh has sky-high potential but his basement is lower than most. At this point, he is much more of an athlete than he is a football player. He will need a lot of development.

*I was told last summer that Oweh was a name to watch, and he would test out better than Parsons. I didn’t believe it, and I should have. Oweh is one of the more impressive athletes in the entire class. With that said, I’m still not overly impressed with him as a football player. He did accrue some pressures, but they were basically all straight-line speed rushes with minimal skill or power present. I’ve been burned like this before, where I just didn’t think the athlete would turn in to a football player but most of the time, these dudes don’t pan out. Worth a day 2 shot though, I think he goes top 45.

9. Elerson Smith / Northern Iowa / 6’7-262

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Minneapolis, Minnesota. One-year starter that had his senior season canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 1st Team All Missouri Valley Conference and 1st Team AFCA FCS All American in 2019. Smith broke out in his redshirt junior season, netting 21.5 tackles for loss, 14 sacks, 5 forced fumbles, and 2 blocked kicks. He plays the game with a level of ease and smoothness in traffic. He gets off the ball in a hurry with great leverage and upper body positioning, his hands are exceptionally fast, and the foot quickness is elite. Smith is just scratching the surface when it comes to his true potential. He needs to sleep in the weight room for a year before he can be an every down asset, but he will be a solid rotational pass rusher right away and has the upside of being a solid starter in multiple schemes.

*If you haven’t seen Northern Iowa play but you want to get a feel for what this kid looks like on the field, think about Jayson Taylor. He has the really long, borderline thin frame but plays with tremendous burst and bend for a player his size. Smith impressed me a ton at the Senior Bowl in the practice tapes. Really twitchy, plays low to the ground, and easily changes direction. His 2019 tape is something else, too. Good player here that may need more time than others but presents more upside than most guys in this tier.

10. Chris Rumph II / Duke / 6’3-235

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior from Gainesville, Florida. Two-year starter that was a part of the rotation all three seasons. Ended his career 2nd Team All ACC in 2020. The team captain put together two quality years over 2019 and 2020, combining for 26 TFL and 14.5 sacks. Father coached outside linebackers for the Houston Texans in 2020 and multiple southeastern college programs, including two stints with Alabama. Rumph is an ultra-bendy, long limbed athlete that put together two very productive seasons at Duke. He looks a little light and there is a lack of power presence in his game, but if a team is confident they can add bulk and strength to his game, he has the potential to be an every down force. Athletically he plays with a nice blend of grace, speed, and technique. He is a high upside player that may need to be brought along slowly for a year.

*I struggled with where to put Rumph II in relation to his true position. He won’t be an every down player on the edge, but he can certainly be a pass rusher that stays on the field all three downs. Duke played him at a hybrid LB/EDGE position, majority EDGE. No matter the case, I see him as an attractive day 3 pick that can make an impact right away but it may be 2022 when he can play every down. Really interesting skill set, really interesting knowledge of the game, and he flashed dominant stretches of play.

11. Payton Turner / Houston / 6’5-270

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas. Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All AAC honors in 2020. Turner missed his senior year of high school with a knee injury and had his 2018 cut short by a foot injury. His final two-year run, however, netted 18.5 TFL and 9 sacks. Turner started to blossom in 2020, taking his plus-size and overall frame and showing he was learning how to use it. He won’t ever be a pure burner up the edge but if he can continue his path of progression from a skill set perspective, the tools he possesses can make him a solid left defensive end-type and one that can shift inside in specific situations.

*If NYG ignores the EDGE spot on days 1 and 2, but still want a guy that has some inside-out versatility, I think Turner is a really good fit. He plays the run and pass equally well, he has a very moldable frame and tool set, and he is a really good kid. I’ve had some people rave about him. Turner is the kind of player/body type I see Gettleman going after as well, although the more I see, the more I think Judge is the final shot caller with personnel. No matter the case, this is a really nice fit for NYG on day three if the value matches up. I like his upside.

12. Patrick Jones II / Pittsburgh / 6’4-261

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior from Chesapeake, Virginia. Two-year starter that earned All ACC honors in both 2019 and 2020, 1st Team in 2020. Jones is tall and fast with average length and below average power. He needs further development in the weight room before he can be thrown into every down duty at the next level. With that said, he was a very productive player that totaled 32 TFL and 21 sacks over the past three seasons combined. He has a knack for beating tackles off the edge because of his ability to burst upfield and bend under the blocker’s pads. He is relentless in his approach and will make a lot of hustle plays. The team that gets him needs to be patient and really try to develop the power game. If he gets refined and improved in that facet, he can be a true threat.

*Jones just always left me wanting more. He has the look, he has the upfield burst, and he plays a hyperactive game. But he just doesn’t have a standout physical trait and I don’t love how he moves his lower body sometimes. Seems unstable. I can see why some have him day 2 but I would be much more comfortable bringing him in as a day 3 guy that could be worked with for a year or two.

13. Ronnie Perkins / Oklahoma / 6’3-253

Grade: 75

Summary: Junior entry from St. Louis, Missouri. Three-year starter that was a two-time 2nd Team All-Big 12 honoree. Missed the first 5 games of 2020 because of a drug suspension that stemmed from an issue in 2019. Perkins was a man playing against boys when it came to field-strength and technique. He isn’t blessed with upper tier tools when it comes to size and speed, but he does pack a punch. He has really good hands when it comes to power and placement. He understands how to properly use leverage and he simply knows how to position his body. The issue with Perkins revolves around his upside. He is a really solid player right now and he looks like a reliable throwback type, however there isn’t a ton of juice off the edge and he isn’t overly twitchy. His frame also looks nearly maxed out. He could be a solid starter in time or a part of a heavy rotation in a 3-4 scheme.

*I see a similar player to what NYG has in XImines here. Not blessed with particularly standout tools in any area, but he knows how to get to the passer. He is crafty, strong, and plays with some decent twitch when engaged with the blocker. There are limitations with him across the board and I would simply temper any expectations I’d have for him.

14. Wyatt Hubert / Kansas State / 6’3-258

Grade: 73

Summary: Fourth year junior from Topeka, Kansas. Three-year starter and two-time 1st Team All Big 12 honoree. The two-time team captain plays the game with contagious energy and all-out hustle. He is a throwback in the sense that he relies on instincts and effort more than he does speed. However, do not make the mistake of shorting the evaluation of his talent. He blends together plus-skills across the board. His hands are violent, accurate, and powerful. His base is incredibly strong and bendy, making him a constant winner in the leverage battle. He shows a clear understanding of angles and knows how to find the creases. Hubert moves exceptionally well for a player at his size in addition to playing with constant high effort. He will be able to contribute on the edge right away.

*I have to admit that for most of the college season, I had Hubert a bit too high. I fell in love with his grit, heavy hands, and hustle. Part of the scouting process is all about keeping personal bias aside and knowing when you are wrong. I’ve made the mistake in the past of over-grading a guy simply because of my initial impression even though further information came out that should have lowered the grade a tad. Hubert didn’t measure well, and he didn’t test well athletically. I think his playing style can hide that a little, but not completely. I love his tape, I really do. At the end of the day, the lack of true talent is going to make like difficult for him, as it did at the Senior Bowl. I still wouldn’t mind taking a round 5 or 6 chance on him, but it can’t be any earlier.

15. Rashad Weaver / Pittsburgh / 6’4-259

Grade: 72

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Three-year starter that missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL suffered in preseason. Came back strong in his final year, earning 1st Team All ACC honors. Weaver has an attractive frame with current thickness and width that has plenty of room for more functional muscle. He is a really physical player at the point of attack that does a nice job using his heavy hands and natural bend. There is a lot to work with when looking at his potential as a versatile inside-out lineman. He isn’t overly impressive when it comes to upfield burst and suddenness, but he can be a factor as a third down pass rusher that can be moved around. Weaver missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL and how strong he came back just a year later is noteworthy. There are multiple options when it comes to how a defensive front can use him and he can be an every down force within a year or two.

*Weaver looks like a pro when he engages with the blocker. That stood out to me right away when I first saw him. I don’t love his body though; he needs more thickness in his lower half and he won’t win a lot of foot races. There are certain skills he has already that others take awhile to obtain, but I think there is a cap on just how good he can be. Solid guy to have on the depth chart though because he can impact the running game as well as rush the passer.

16. Dayo Odeyingbo / Vanderbilt / 6’5-285: 72
17. Chauncey Golston / Iowa / 6’5-259: 72
18. Quincy Roche / Miami / 6’3-243: 72
19. William Bradley-King / Baylor / 6’5-254: 71
20. Daelin Hayes / Notre Dame / 6’4-261: 70
21. Janarius Robinson / Florida State / 6’5-263: 70
22. Cam Sample / Tulane / 6’3-274: 70
23. Romeo McKnight/ Charlotte / 6’4-260: 70
24. Jordan Smith / UAB / 6’6-255: 70
25. Jonathon Cooper / Ohio State / 6’3-254: 69
26. Ade Ogundeji / Notre Dame / 6’4-256: 69
27. Victor Dimukeje / Duke / 6’2-256: 69
28. Malcolm Koonce / Buffalo / 6’2-249: 69
29. Malik Herring / Georgia / 6’3-275: 68
30. Josh Kaindoh / Florida State / 6’6-260: 68

NYG APPROACH

So, I have had this thought for awhile now. I think NYG coaches don’t view the EDGE as a significant hole on the defense. Can it be better? Sure. Half the teams if not more can say that. I think this coaching staff simply wants to improve their pass rush. They think more macro than micro if that makes sense. I don’t see them pursuing the top edge rusher just because they don’t have a solid edge presence. I think they want to come out of this draft class with another guy that helps this defense get to the passer. It can be another interior pass rusher, it can be a blitzing linebacker, it can be a hybrid OLB/DE type. They just want to get someone that can build around, and that has always been the right approach. Ideally, in my eyes anyway, that extra presence comes in the form of someone that can line up outside the tackle. He doesn’t always need to be out there, but he can be out there and pose as a threat. I think the ideal, for an amoeba scheme, is someone that can shift inside at times and/or defend the run at a high level. Fortunately, there are several of those guys in this class. If they swing for the fences, and I think it would be a strong idea, they use #11 on Paye or Phillips. If they want to wait for day 2, Tryon or Basham. If they want to build elsewhere early on, day three target is Turner or Odeyingbo.

I would be very surprised to see a draft class that does not include one of the names in this top 30.

Apr 072021
 
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Micah Parsons, Penn State Nittany Lions (November 9, 2011)

Micah Parsons – © USA TODAY Sports

LINEBACKERS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

One of the best signing across the NFL during the 2020 offseason was Blake Martinez. NYG has lacked a consistent and reliable presence at linebacker for years and I’ve been very vocal about that leading to a lot of their defensive shortcomings. Martinez is the general they needed. One can make a case that the talent next to him is good enough with an interesting upside player in 2020 7th rounder Tae Crowder. He certainly outperformed his draft status as a rookie, and he deserves a shot. The likes of Devante Downs and David Mayo (now with WAS) just didn’t cut it. They don’t play fast enough and only made a positive impact on special teams. Reggie Ragland will give more of the same, although he is stouter against the run and T.J. Brunson is an unknown who was drafted in the 7th round. The Ryan Anderson signing is interesting to me. As I said in my year-end review, that BUCK linebacker is a hybrid outside/inside linebacker position that needs to be a legitimate force at both spots and capable of switching his skin play to play. Ryan Anderson was exactly that at Alabama (19 TFL/9 sacks as a senior) but they never gave him a ton of snaps in WAS and he simply did not fit the Rivera scheme. The one year that he did play over 20% of the snaps, he did have 4 sacks. That was an underrated signing by this front office. The Giants are likely set at ILB + Buck (I am including Carter in the EDGE group by the way) but the player they have next to Martinez (Crowder) cannot be considered a sure thing and the depth behind those two is average. The depth behind Anderson is near non-existent (although Carter Coughlin can fill that role).

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection 
85+: Pro Bowl Projection
81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away
79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter
77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter
74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter
71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter
68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy
65-67: Preferred UDFA
60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Micah Parsons / Penn State / 6’3-246

Grade: 84

Summary: Junior entry from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A one-year starter that was heavily involved with the defense as a freshman in addition. Earned 1st Team All American honors and won the Big 10 Butkus-Fitzgerald Award in 2019, the first true sophomore to ever do that in conference history. Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, thus there are only two seasons of experience under his belt. However, in those two seasons he showed enough to be considered one of the premiere talents in this draft class. Parsons is already built like a man with a frame that will hold more bulk. His closing speed, burst, and violence when meeting the ball carrier will make him a playmaker who can be tossed around pre-snap. He plays like he is on fire and finishes with bad intentions. Parsons will be best suited for a defense that shows multiple fronts and can change their tune weekly. He is the epitome of versatility and playmaking. There will be some issues with his ability to mentally process and stick to assignments against the inside run, but that can be hidden with a quality defensive coordinator who understands this is a player you can build around.

*In 2019, I had Devin White and Devin Bush at 83 and 85 respectively. I place Parsons right in that tier, although he is a different kind of linebacker. He isn’t the play-to-play reliable force that the other two are, but he offers more versatility and playmaking potential. I actually think a scheme like Graham’s is the ideal fit for him, considering how much they blitz and try to bring pressure from different angles. My “concern” here is how disciplined he is with making reads, fighting through blockers, and impact on the passing game. Parsons is a highlight reel type, but the 12 plays in between those highlights he can be merely average. Is that worth #11? It is debatable. In regard to some of the off-field concerns, I did not bring him down at all. Yes, there are maturity issues, but we aren’t talking about the kind of trouble where we see him on the 11 PM news in handcuffs. He is a stud, he knows he is a stud, and he has a temper issue. And to be honest, I don’t mind that in a linebacker. Parsons will be in the discussion, but I think he is behind a few guys who will be there at 11.

2. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah / Notre Dame / 6’1-221

Grade: 82

Summary: Fourth year junior entry. Two-year starter that took home a lot of hardware in 2020. Earned 1st Team All ACC and All-American honors respectively, won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award, and the Butkus Award to cap off his career. Owusu-Koramoah was a high school safety that played an ultra-hybrid role at Notre Dame. He led the Fighting Irish in tackles over the two seasons he was a starter while adding 24.5 TFL, 7 sacks, 7 pass break ups, and 5 forced fumbles. His versatility within his skill set matches what is seen in the box score. This is a kid that can line up in multiple spots based on what the opposing offense is showing and make an impact no matter what the opposing offense ends up doing. While there are some issues that need to be hidden, namely his stoutness inside, Owusu-Koramoah is an ideal fit for the new mold of defensive schemes looking for a hybrid defender that can stay on the field every down. He may be more safety than linebacker to some, but no matter where he lines up, he is going to be an impact player.

*During the season, I was convinced Owusu-Koramoah was going to finish as a top 10 player on my overall board. He didn’t quite reach that tier because of a few physical limitations, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him making a big impact if he lands on a good defense that really uses him the right way. I actually think there is a subtle chance NYG goes after him. He reminds me a bit of CAR linebacker Shaq Thompson, who Dave Gettleman drafted in 2015. He is as “multiple” as it gets, a term Joe Judge uses all the time, and he brings the intangibles to the table they want.

3. Zaven Collins / Tulsa / 6’5-259

Grade: 82

Summary: Fourth year junior from Hominy, Oklahoma. Three-year starter that earned All AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Also earned All American honors and won both the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy to cap off his career. Collins, a high school quarterback, morphed from 2-star recruit to one of the nation’s top defensive players during his time at Tulsa. He is ultra-tools rich that can change his skin play to play. The versatility he brings to the table as an off ball linebacker, edge rushing presence, and cover-man will be sought after by defenses that want to play a multiple-scheme. Collins shows the intelligence and knack for locating the action to rightfully be considered a cornerstone player for a team. This is the kind of prospect that is hard to find.

*I have a really hard time projecting where Collins is going to go in the draft. He is a 1st rounder in my book, but I could see him slipping to day 2 but can also see him being taken in the top 15. These guys with plus-tools, but from slightly lesser college programs, are always an enigma when it comes to projecting where they will go. Collins has Anthony Barr-type numbers when looking at measurables, but he gets way too high at times and didn’t read the action the way Barr did at UCLA. He also has a little less twitch. Collins upside is really high, no denying it.

4. Pete Werner / Ohio State / 6’2-242

Grade: 81

Summary: Senior entry from Indianapolis, Indiana. Three-year starter that earned All Big 10 honors in both 2019 and 2020, 1st Team in 2020. Werner is a new-age linebacker in that he can fill multiple roles along the second level of a defense and has the skill set to really stand out in coverage. He has good size, excellent foot speed, and fluid hips. He moved around the scheme often, seeing plenty of time both between the tackles and split out. He is a smart, well-versed, experienced player that simply gets the job done play in, play out. His pop and violence on contact and ability to pursue the action stands out. Werner may not raise eyebrows in workouts or on the stat sheet, but this is a blue-collar player that appears to be a safe pick and will out-perform several players drafted ahead of him.

*I am higher on Werner than most of what I have seen out there. Not sure what else people want to see out of a linebacker in terms of projecting a quality starter. He is big enough, fast enough, and plays versatile. One of the more dependable linebackers week to week. He spent a lot of time matched up against receivers in space, but still found a way to impact the running game between the tackles. He has everything an every down linebacker needs. And I’ll tell you what, if he is there in round 2, it would take someone else really falling for me to not want this kid to play with Martinez inside.

5. Nick Bolton / Missouri / 6’0-232

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Frisco, Texas. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors both seasons. Bolton has a powerful, muscle packed frame that is built low to the ground with speed and burst. He has true sideline to sideline range and will make his presence known on contact. He totaled an SEC-high 202 tackles over 2019-2020 combined, showing a consistent every down presence against the nation’s fastest offenses. There are red flags on tape when it comes to processing information and working through traffic against the inside run, but he is at the very least a rotational linebacker that can make things happen athletically.

*Bolton is going to be sought after day 2. His speed and power has some thinking he is an every down MIKE. I can see what those guys like, I really do. I just wish he had more looseness in his lower half. I actually think his best fit is inside in a 3-4. A team like PIT makes a lot of sense here, and he would thrive. However, if he is THE guy in the middle of a defense, I think he will leave some to be desired.

6. Jamin Davis / Kentucky / 6’3-234

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Ludowici, Georgia. Davis broke out in his first year as a starting linebacker, leading the team with 102 tackles in just 10 games. He also intercepted three passes, forced a fumble, recovered one, and blocked a kick. It is easy to notice the versatile upside Davis brings to the table. He is all over the field, he is fast, he is long, and he is physical. Considering the lack of experience and occasional mental and technique hiccups that arose weekly, he is in the tier of prospects that a team will need to be patient with. He has a higher ceiling than most, but he may need a redshirt year in the NFL besides special teams.

*Davis is the best athlete in this group, and pound for pound may be the best athlete in the entire class. He absolutely tore up his Pro Day workout and it shows up on tape. If he can figure it out, he has the potential to be a player that can change a defense. There is a chance we see him drafted in the first round.

7. Chazz Surratt / North Carolina / 6’2-227

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Denver, North Carolina. Two-year starter at linebacker that originally arrived at UNC as a quarterback, where he also started 7 games. Two-time 1st Team All ACC and was the runner up for the 2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award. Surratt was a record setting quarterback in high school and spent his first three seasons with the Tar Heels under center. He moved to linebacker prior to the 2019 season and the transition was completely seamless. He quickly became of the best at the position in the ACC. Surratt clearly understands the game mentally and used his experience as a quarterback to aid the transition process. Throw in the fact he is incredibly twitchy with plus-closing speed, it is easy to see how good of a player he can be in a league that now demands linebackers to cover first, play the run second. Surratt may not be big and stout, but he plays tough and knows how to work around traffic. His role is specific and there are certain schemes he won’t fit into at the second level, but this is the kind of linebacker that will provide an upgrade to the speed and athleticism of a unit and should contribute early on.

*I think the grades on him around the league are going to vary a ton. Some will be turned off by the size because he isn’t a big-time speed guy. Some will be turned off by the lack of stoutness. I think he is good enough in all those areas but brings his game to another level because of what goes on between the ears. He is really smart and twitchy. He has some pop and attitude in his game too. I think he is a quality starting weak side guy year 2. Remember, he was a quarterback just 2 years ago.

8. Jabril Cox / LSU / 6’3-233

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Kansas City, Missouri. Spent four seasons at North Dakota State before grad-transferring to LSU for 2020. Four-year starter between the two programs. Three-time All Missouri Valley Conference and two-time All American during his time at North Dakota State. Cox decided to take his game to the highest collegiate level in 2020 after four years in the FCS. While it took him a few weeks to get acclimated to the speed of the game, his tools and versatility were on full display by the end of the shortened season. Cox is naturally gifted with the ideal NFL body for the position, possessing length and functional lower body thickness. His speed in space is real and he can catch a lot of action from behind. He seems to be missing the quick twitch reactions that stem from recognition and instincts, however. He looks much better in space than he does in traffic, which could be a major problem if he is put into the wrong role. He has the tools to be a very good player, but the team that drafts him needs to be patient and smart about where they put him.

*As expected, the uptick in competition from the Missouri Valley Conference to the SEC didn’t do much for Cox. While he proved he can run with those guys, he didn’t perform well against blockers. I think he needs a space-friendly role. If a team can protect him in that regard, he can be a really good front seven piece that will immediately make a group faster.

9. Dylan Moses / Alabama / 6’1-225

Grade: 76

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Alexandria, Louisiana. Three-year starter that missed all of 2019 with a knee injury. 2nd Team All SEC in 2018, 1st Team in 2020. Moses was a rising star after starting 11 games in his first year on campus and landing on the SEC All-Freshman team. He then went on to being named a Butkus Award Finalist in 2018. The knee injury that ended his 2019 before it started killed his momentum, however, and he never quite got back to the same level in 2020. Moses, a former 5-star recruit, was a standout athlete on a team full of freak athletes. His burst and speed are top notch. He seemed to really struggle with post-snap reads though. There wasn’t much natural flow through traffic, and he didn’t impact the game consistently. Moses will be an athlete that some teams want to gamble on, but this will be a high risk, high reward draft pick.

*A few too many got on the Alabama hype train when initially projecting Moses. I hand out my initial draft grades over summer for stacking purposes, and I never saw him as a day 2 guy. I do like the speed and pop he brings to the table, and he had a lot of quality tape in his career. He just never took that step up, though. Like a lot of linebackers with this kind of speed, he can make an impact for a defense if he is in the right situation. I don’t see him being a guy that will create a lot on his own without help.

10. Baron Browning / Ohio State / 6’3-241

Grade: 76

Summary: Senior entry from Fort Worth, Texas. Two-year starter that saw a lot of rotation duty in the NFL-filled linebacker room at Ohio State. Two-time All Big 10 honoree, 1st Team in 2020. Browning will test well athletically, and he has the NFL-ready body. He is thick and long with functional muscle mass from head to toe. Browning looks like a star on some plays, usually when he gets going in full pursuit and delivers violent impact on the move. Play to play, however, he doesn’t show a natural feel for the game. He has speed but lacks twitchy reaction and has proven to be a liability in zone coverage. He projects to backup duty where he can fill a specific, space-friendly role in certain packages.

*Browning in the kind of linebacker that I talk about when saying that instincts for this position are more important than pure speed. Yes, the speed (and in his case, power) can make a difference up front. He is not someone you want to be hit by with a full head of steam. However, he is too slow to see things transpire and there is a lot of catch up in his game. That works fine in the Big 10, not so much the NFL. He is a backup early on that can evolve into a solid MIKE if he learns the game.

11. Cameron McGrone / Michigan / 6’1-234

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Indianapolis, Indiana. Two-year starter that never quite lived up to the hype after being a five star recruit out of high school. He played in just 18 career college games and flashes his top-shelf speed and burst but failed to consistently put together quality production. McGrone’s shortcomings mainly came from slow reading post-snap and a lack of stoutness between the tackles. His athleticism will make him a solid run and chase defender and potential solid cover man at the second level, though. Taking a chance on a plus-athlete that is a solid kid off the field is worth the risk. The debate will center around his lack of experience and inconsistent impact against the inside run.

*McGrone is worth gambling on day 3. He is really explosive, has a nice frame with good weight, and plays hard. Smart kid too. He is a really raw football player and lacks experience. He just never found a long groove at Michigan and I think the shortened season hurt him a bit, more than most. As a football player, he is a 6th or 7th round pick. But the upside is worth looking at early day 3. Worst case, he will be a really good special teamer. Keep an eye on this kid with NYG if he is there mid to late day 3, it is a good fit.

12. K.J. Britt / Auburn / 6’1-235

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Oxford, Alabama. Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All SEC honors. Played in just two 2020 games, as he injured his thumb and needed surgery. Britt thus only started 15 games over his career. There is enough tape to see how effective he can be as an interior run defender. He is a violent thumper with plus speed and power. Britt plays the game like an old school, classic Mike. With that said, he doesn’t appear to have a high ceiling against the pass and there is some agility-based tightness in his hips. Britt is a solid two-down linebacker that will provide on special teams, but he may be too limited to make an every down impact as a starter.

*Britt is worth drafting for special teams and providing depth at MIKE. I don’t see him ever making a big impact, but these are the kinds of guys I like to have on the depth chart. Smart, physical, and straight-line speed.

13. Monty Rice / Georgia / 6’0-233

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Huntsville, Alabama. Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2019 while also winning the co-MVP for the Georgia defense. Rice took a step back in production as a senior, as he saw a chunk of his playing time taken away from a couple of future NFL linebackers. He was still very much a part of the Georgia defense, he simply rotated in and out more. Rice is a really instinctive, physical linebacker that tackles well and always seems to be around the action. He isn’t blessed with elite size and it does show up time to time, but he has underrated speed and plus intelligence. This is a linebacker that carried Alabama speedster Jaylen Waddle up the seam in coverage. He gets the most out of himself and should carve out a role on special teams early on and will stick as a solid backup with the potential of someday being a starting inside linebacker.

*Rice is similar to Britt, a guy I would love to have in a backup role and on special teams. It was a little bizarre how Georgia used him. There is a lot of young talent on that roster at linebacker and it definitely impacted Rice’s playing time. He wasn’t an every down guy, but I think he could have been. He simply doesn’t have the size + power those younger kids had. One of the best speed + instincts combos in the class, against the run. Didn’t see him much against the pass but I’ll never forget the time he carried Jaylen Waddle up the seam and ran with him all the way down the field. He may be entering the league really underrated because of how he was used at Georgia. Another interesting name to keep an ear out for.

14. Charles Snowden / Virginia / 6’6-243

Grade: 74

Summary: Senior entry from Silver Spring, Maryland. Three-year starter that earned All-ACC honors in 2019 and 2020. Had his 2020 cut short because of a broken ankle and then suffered a minor foot injury during the Senior Bowl practices. Snowden is a very unique player with a blend of tools and skills that don’t come around often. He has an enormous wingspan, he shows a good feel for the game, and his production is versatile. He has proven to be a factor against the pass as both an edge rusher and cover man (16 career pass break ups, 15 career sacks, and 18 career QB pressures). He is a smart and vocal player. He plays hard. All of these traits are sought after but there are concerns surrounding his lack of true power and burst. He is really thin and had hard time against true strength. He also looks awkward when his pad level isn’t low when it comes to his high-hip movement. Snowden is a player that will need time on the depth chart performing backup and situational roles before he can be an every down defender. Thew upside is high.

*I had high hopes for Snowden after watching his 2019 tape in prep for 2020. He had a slightly lower level-Anthony Barr look to him and a similar style. Some coaches are going to love his wingspan and he has some decent stride speed. I downgraded him a bit during the season though, as he lacks lower body stability which creates balance issues. He also has the body type I don’t trust when it comes to staying healthy. That in mind, he still is worth looking at day 3 because he can do a few things against the pass. He can run with tight ends, his wingspan can make life difficult for passers, and he has pass rush upside. Can be a solid situational player.

15. Grant Stuard / Houston / 5’11-230

Grade: 73

Summary: Senior entry from Conroe, Texas. Two-year starter that earned All-AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020. Stuard was a hybrid-safety until the team moved him to a full-time linebacker role as a senior. The former accomplished high school track athlete plays at a different level of speed and energy, somewhat hiding the fact he is very undersized for play near the line of scrimmage. Despite that red flag, Stuard was a very productive and impactful player. He is all over the field every week. There aren’t many prospects that bring the intensity like Stuard, but the question will revolve around the team’s ability to hide his size issues. His ideal role may even be more on the safety side. Stuard is going to be a demon on special teams and a defender that will instantly raise the energy of whatever unit he ends up on.

*Want to watch a fun player? Go get some Stuard clips on YouTube. This is one of the most energetic players I have ever seen, and it is literally every play, every game. His size is below the minimum that some teams have when it comes to overall reach, but enough teams will still see a stud special teamer. Stuard plays really fast too and knows how to avoid contact in traffic. You will hear about this kid someday; just not sure it will be on anything more than special teams.

16. Paddy Fisher / Northwestern / 6’3-240: 72
17. Hamilcar Rashed, Jr. / Oregon State / 6’3-254: 72
18. Garrett Wallow / TCU / 6’2-220: 71
19. Ernest Jones / South Carolina / 6’2-230: 70
20. Riley Cole / South Alabama / 6’3-225: 70
21. Buddy Johnson / Texas A&M / 6’1-230: 70
22. Tony Fields II / West Virginia / 6’0-222: 69
23. Derrick Barnes / Purdue / 6’0-238: 69
24. Anthony Hines III / Texas A&M / 6’2-230: 68
25. Isaiah McDuffie / Boston College / 6’1-227: 68
26. Amen Ogbongbemiga / Oklahoma State / 6’0-235: 68
27. Erroll Thompson / Mississippi State / 6’1-239: 68
28. Justin Hilliard / Ohio State / 6’1-227: 67
29. Tuf Borland / Ohio State / 6’0-229: 66
30. Trajan Stephens-McQueen / Georgia State / 6’1-230: 66

NYG APPROACH

While I think NYG is more than fine moving forward with Martinez and Crowder, especially considering that second ILB doesn’t play a ton of snaps, there are a lot of interesting names in the that top 15. If a value drops into day 3 that NYG likes, I think it would be smart to bring in another young depth piece. I think Devante Downs is very replaceable and to be honest, I would take any of those guys in the cluster of #9-#13 right now over Downs, and I think all five will go day 3. Something to think about. The biggest early-on question will be whether or not NYG should use #11 on Parsons if he is there. I can see why some would give the thumbs up; he is electric and could be the star of a defense because of how much base-level help there is around him. This NYG defense is put together really well, and it could handle a “freelancer” who Graham moves around and creates with. I wouldn’t criticize the pick at all. I just think the NYG defense could better-use that 11th pick and still bring in a quality player later on. The off-field stuff? Again, from what I have been told we aren’t talking about a guy who has jail time coming his way. I don’t think it will factor into the grade. NYG could use a new star defensive player, he is the one that has that All-Pro ceiling.

Apr 052021
 
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Patrick Surtain, Alabama Crimson Tide (January 11, 2021)

Patrick Surtain – © USA TODAY Sports

CORNERBACKS

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-25 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The signing of James Bradberry from last year’s free agency period was one of the best signings we have seen this franchise make in a long time.  Having a reliable, quality presence on the outside week to week means more to a defense than most understand.  Scheming around that is so much more opportunistic and with the versatility at safety, this defense has a lot of options.  The other outside corner role was a revolving door in 2020, as DeAndre Baker was released.  The signing of Adoree’ Jackson in this year’s free agency period is a huge net-gain for this defense.  Now they have two reliable guys on the outside, an up-and-coming nickel in Darnay Holmes, and adequate depth in Isaac Yiadom, Ryan Lewis, and Quincy Wilson.  One can make the argument that it is a thin group when looking at the future.  You always want to have 1-2 quality backups on the outside because they do see the field plenty and you’re an injury away from a glaring hole that a good opposing offense can torch.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection 

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Patrick Surtain II / Alabama / 6’2-202

Grade: 85

Summary: Junior entry from Plantation, Florida.  Three-year starter that began his career as a rare true freshman starter at cornerback when looking back at the Nick Saban era.  He went on to start 38 straight games.  Ended his career as a 1st Team All American, SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and finalist for the Thorpe, Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lott Awards respectively.  Surtain is the son of former NFL cornerback Patrick Surtain.  Like his father, the young pedigree plays with outstanding strength and aggression.  He has the size and physical brand that can take over and dominate receivers on the outside.  Even though there are some deep movement and tracking issues, he is a starting caliber cornerback right now because of how advanced he is with techniques and how consistent of a presence he provides.  He is better in zone than he is man, but he can fit into any scheme and play week 1.

*Prior to the Jackson signing, Surtain II was one of five guys I had pegged to NYG.  He is an ideal fit for the scheme and there was a hole on the outside of Bradberry.  Add in the fact his grade met the value of #11, I really thought this would be the direction they would lead toward.  I still think there is a chance it happens, but obviously less likely.  Surtain II has a couple issues with the deep ball that concern me a bit, but he is so good in every other area.  He is going to be very good.

2. Jaycee Horn / South Carolina / 6’1-205

Grade: 85

Summary: Junior entry from Alpharetta, Georgia.  Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2020.  Opted out of the 2020 season after 7 games.  On a short list of true freshmen that have started at South Carolina.  Some of the other names include Stephon Gilmore (Patriots), Jadeveon Clowney (Titans), and Bryan Edwards (Raiders).  Horn, from day one, has been an impressive and important part to the Gamecocks defense.  He plays a physical game, capable of taking on a big possession receiver and beating him to the ball.  While there are some concerns with his turn and run ability, there is enough he can do, notably in a zone heavy scheme, that can make a big difference.  The ball skills, instincts, and downhill explosion will make him a starter early in his career.

*The single best performance I have seen out of any corner in recent years was the one Horn put out against Auburn last fall.  I have no quarrels with anyone that has him at CB1, him and Surtain II are equally very good.  Horn shows more ability in man coverage and I think his upside is higher.  If he evolves more like he did over the past 2 years, we may be looking at one of the top 3 or 4 corners in football.

3. Caleb Farley / Virginia Tech / 6’1-207

Grade: 81

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Maiden, North Carolina.  A two-year starter that earned 1st Team All ACC honors in 2019 after leading the conference in pass break ups while adding 4 interceptions.  He opted out of the 2020 season.  Farley was a high school quarterback that initially tried his hand at wide receiver in 2017 before tearing his ACL, leading to a redshirt.  He came back in 2018, made the transition to cornerback, and started the next two seasons.  Farley’s top shelf height, length, and long speed make him a very attractive prospect for any scheme in the NFL.  He can blanket the opposition’s targets with both size and speed in addition to possessing receiver-caliber ball skills.  The glaring issue is the fact that he only played in 23 career college games, with his 2019 being cut short because of a nerve issue in his back that later needed a procedure.  There will need to be extra medical screening done here, but his tape and tools pass all the tests.

*I never had Farley in the running for CB1 in this class, nor did I ever see him as a top 20 guy.  Still a very good prospect and 1st round talent though.  He has the tools, a case can be made he is earlier on the progression scale than others, and he showed plenty of playmaking skills.  Farley simply has too many question marks for me to “love” him.  Medical and small area movement.  Still a starter in year one I think.

4. Ifeatu Melifonwu / Syracuse / 6’3-212

Grade: 80

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from South Grafton, Massachusetts.  Two-year starter that was 2nd Team All ACC in 2020, the only year in which he played every game.  He led the team with 17 pass break ups over the past two years combined and showed a safety’s type impact on the running game.  Melifonwu is dripping with talent, much like his brother did coming out of Connecticut in 2017 when he was a 2nd round pick of the Raiders.  The younger brother has the kind of size and speed for the position that is hard to find when trying to connect it to a player with an actual cornerback skill set.  He attacks the ball with tremendous precision and accuracy, plays a physical brand, and is just scratching the surface.  If he takes in NFL coaching and cleans up some simple but vital techniques, he can be a menace on the outside.  High upside player that needs work.

*I am a bit higher on Melifonwu than most.  I think he is a borderline first rounder, partially because of the versatility he can bring to the table.  If I were to grade him strictly as a safety, he would be right around here as well.  Teams that really value the size at corner are going to be high on him.  He is twitchy, agile, and quick which doesn’t usually match up with this height and length.  He can do so much in the secondary.

5. Greg Newsome II / Northwestern / 6’0-192

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Chicago, Illinois.  Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All Big 10 honors in 2020.  A very fluid and easy moving athlete, Newsome brings the desired height, length, and athleticism to the table that NFL corners need.  He can play on the outside and be left alone on an island.  His footwork and hip movement look ideal, and he has shown the ability to play with high-level ball skills.  Newsome II only started 18 games over his career and there are some inconsistencies across the board.  He will get caught looking in the backfield too often and his physical maturity still has a ways to go.  He plays weak on contact and will not factor much against the run.  He can be a starting corner in time but would be best suited for a situation that brought him along a little slower over the course of the first year or two of his career.

*There is a lot of hype around Newsome II and I think he is going to get drafted somewhere in the 20s.  I’m not that far off from that evaluation, but I do question how quick he can make an impact. A few issues in his game are what I saw out of Jeff Okudah in his disappointing year in DET.  It takes a few corners multiple years before they’re high quality, and that is the path I see both those guys taking.

6. Aaron Robinson / Central Florida / 6’0-190

Grade: 79

Summary: Fifth year senior from Deerfield Beach, Florida.  Began his career at Alabama in 2016 where he played in 13 games.  Transferred to Central Florida in 2017 and redshirted.  Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All AAC honors in both 2019 and 2020.  Robinson has the pro-caliber foot speed and burst that enables him to stay sticky to his man on all levels of the route tree.   He can play the game with his feet rather than getting too grabby with his hands.  Robinson has a lot of dog in him.  He is always one of the toughest players on the field and he knows it.  Even though he needs to control where he gets aggressive and where to gamble, he is the kind of player that elevates the energy of a defense.  That doesn’t occur much from cornerbacks.  His size may keep him at nickel but he can play both.

*There are some corners that elevate their game with swagger.  They are constantly getting in fights, constantly running their mouth.  I understand that isn’t an approach for everyone to get behind, but I personally love it.  Much prefer that than guys on opposing teams laughing with each other all game and trading jerseys afterward.  Robinson hates his opponent every week, and he plays like it.  He also has really well developed technique and footwork.  Little gamble here, but I think he is starting in the league within a year or two.

7. Tyson Campbell / Georgia / 6’1-193

Grade: 79

Summary: Junior entry from Plantation, Florida.  Three-year starter that was a key part of a loaded Georgia secondary.  Campbell was a five-star recruit that developed from athlete with upside to full blown pro-caliber starting corner.  His body type fits in exactly with what the league is looking for.  His height, length, and speed have the potential to shut the big deep threats down at the next level.  He is a light and easy mover with fluid hips and flexible ankles.  His ability to seamlessly change direction with this kind of body is rare.  Campbell still has a ways to go in his progression when it comes to locating downfield passes, however.  His athleticism looks uncomfortable when he is on an island deep.  He lost too many 50/50 situations and simply didn’t produce enough to be considered a first rounder, but his upside is that of a starting corner.  If his progression path stays on the path he forged over his career, his upside is as good as any at the position in this class.

*Upside-based grade here.  There are safer prospects below him with similar grades but this where one can get more subjective with how they stack guys.  I saw flashes out of Campbell that I didn’t see from others.  His easy turn and run ability, top shelf speed, and size make him an attractive long term prospect.

8. Paulson Adebo / Stanford / 6’1-198

Grade: 79

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Mansfield, Texas.  Two-year starter that earned 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors both seasons.  Also earned All American honors in 2019.  Opted out of the 2020 season.  Adebo was very productive over the course of his short playing career.  He was on the field for just 22 games but still walked away with 8 interceptions and 29 pass break ups.  This tall, long, and fast cover man has proven receiver-caliber ball skills spread across multiple seasons.  He is a try-hard corner that pursues the action hard on all downs, all situations.  He is a smart and well-spoken kid that will get the most out of himself.  There are a few essential techniques that he will need to clean up, however.  He plays really high and it messes with his ability to minimize separation underneath.  His tool set is there, he just needs to become more machine-like.  High upside talent here that has the tools the NFL wants.

*Adebo was one of the guys I really wanted to watch in 2020.  He opted out though and I didn’t want to move him any higher than this even though I do think he can play like a 1st rounder.  He had a really impressive Pro Day and he is a really smart kid + hard worker.  He has the tools and showed the ability to make a lot of plays on the ball.  He just had a few backpedal and turning issues that, without the 2020 tape to look back on, I’m not currently sure about.

9. Kelvin Joseph / Kentucky / 6’1-192

Grade: 79

Summary: Third year sophomore entry from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Began his career at LSU where he was a rotational backup in 2018 before transferring to Kentucky which forced him to sit out all of 2019.  Started 9 games in 2020.  Joseph is a smooth and easy mover that has plus-athletic traits attached to a really long frame.  His skill set looks NFL ready right now, as he can turn and run as if he were on ice skates on top of showing the ability to play the ball in the air like a receiver.  The issue here is a significant lack of experience.  He has 9 career starts and played in just 20 games total.  High risk, high reward cover man.

*There are a couple guys in the league that have a 1st round grade on Joseph.  No arguments against that from me.  He is as fluid and fast as they come.  The lack of experience increases his risk a ton and I saw a couple red flags when it came to being physical in both coverage and run defense.  Nobody would be surprised to see him being the top corner in this class a few years from now.

10. Elijah Molden / Washington / 5’10-190

Grade: 79

Summary: Senior entry from West Linn, Oregon.  Two-plus year starter that is a two-time 1st Team All-Pac 12 honoree.  Molden was a chess piece for the Washington secondary that can project to multiple positions in the NFL.  He has the skill set to be a high-level nickel defender but can also play a free safety type role.  He flies around the field without any hesitation.  Molden is a true student of the game that is self-made.  His tools won’t win any awards, as he falls under the desired lines when it comes to pure size and speed.  However, his short area burst and quickness gets him around the action often.  Molden is a true leader of the defense type, one that will make players around him better and hide deficiencies via smart and active play.

*There are certain teams that are going to get everything out of this kid.  He is blue collar player that is smarter than most prospects coming out.  He can wear a lot of hats.  I just hope the right coach/scheme gets their hands on him.  If he is put into the wrong place, he will be merely average at best.

11. Benjamin St. Juste / Minnesota / 6’3-200

Grade: 77

Summary: Fifth year senior from Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  Began his career at Michigan and spent two years there.  Two-year starter for the Gophers that earned Honorable Mention All-Big 10 honors in 2019.  St. Juste fits the mold of corners that many teams want now. He is tall and twitchy with plus-length.  He has a nicely developed frame with an easy-moving lower half.  St. Juste may not check all the boxes when it comes to long speed, thus he will need protection over the top or play a specific role at the next level.  His quality of play has been on a solid and consistent upward trajectory since the start of 2019 and there are intriguing tools here to try and develop.

*St. Juste was really far down the scouting lists that I get to cross check over the summer.  When I say far down, I am talking outside of the top 50 (just cornerbacks).  I knew he would finish higher than that, but even I was not anticipating him finishing this high.  He was one of the first Shrine Bowl recommendations I sent out.  Plain and simple, you just don’t get a guy with this kind of agility and balance paired with this height often.  It is rare, actually.  If he were at a SEC school, we may be talking round 1.

12. Shakur Brown / Michigan State / 5’10-190

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Stockbridge, Georgia.  Two-year starter that broke out in 2020, earning 1st Team All Big 10 honors after he led the FBS in interceptions per game.  His 5 picks in just 7 games highlighted his ability to make plays on the ball while also displaying superior sticky coverage potential.  Brown isn’t overly big or fast, but he plays hard and will stick the NFL slots naturally.  He is a short strider with elite agility.  He projects to a starting nickel role in time if he can prove to say healthy and progress his mental game.

*Brown has nickel written all over him.  Not just his size, but his movement and sticky-style in coverage underneath.  Was his breakout 2020 season real?  Or just a product of a short year? He is a tough dude that plays with some attitude and swagger.

13. Eric Stokes / Georgia / 6’1-194

Grade: 77

Summary: Fourth year junior entry from Covington, Georgia.  Two-year starter that earned 2nd Team All SEC honors in 2019, 1st Team in 2020.  In a crowded secondary with NFL talent all over the place, it was Stokes that led the team in pass break ups in 2019 and interceptions in 2020.  The former high school track star developed nicely into his frame that has natural height and length to it.  He still needs to add some bulk so he can maintain power positions and balance in traffic against physical pass catchers, but his long speed and easy burst really minimizes the separation receivers can obtain all over the route tree.  He will be a dependable man-cover corner capable of playing early in his career with the upside of being a very good number two corner.

*Stokes got put on some radars when he ran a sub 4.35 at the Georgia Pro Day.  We already knew he was fast, that wasn’t ever the question.  His questions will revolve around physical impact on contact and the ability to anticipate.  I just wish I saw a bit more natural flow in his game.  If he makes gains in that area, he can be a starter in a similar way to the new NYG starter Adoree Jackson.

14. Asante Samuel Jr. / Florida State / 5’10-184

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Sunrise, Florida.  Son of former Super Bowl winning NFL cornerback Asante Samuel.  A three-year starter that earned 1st Team All ACC honors in 2020, 3rd Team in 2019.  Samuel, like his father, is a ball hawk that can make up for physical shortcomings with his instinctive nature and precise footwork.  He broke up 29 passes in 32 games while intercepting another 4.  He was a bright spot among the struggling FSU program.  Samuel’s lack of size and questionable speed could get him in trouble if left alone against NFL receivers on the outside.  He doesn’t always look comfortable down the field and in traffic.  However, when it comes to sitting back and diagnosing the action in front of him, Samuel Jr looks NFL-ready.  He can be eased into action and is most attractive in a scheme with safety help deep.

*Samuel is going to be a very good nickel.  He is a bit scheme-specific, one that favors zone, but for the team that gets him will know that.  He could slip into day 3 because of the crazy CB depth in this class.  And I bet he makes a year-1 impact.

15. Kary Vincent / LSU / 5’10-185

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Houston, Texas.  Three-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season.  Son of former NFL cornerback Kary Vincent, Sr.  A former high school state champion sprinter that also ran track for the Tigers in college.  Vincent may be the fastest defender in the class.  His burst, acceleration, and top end speed are all tied together.  He plays at a rate faster than everyone else when he knows what he is going after.  The issue seems to be that he just doesn’t always mentally click when deciphering route concepts and the passer’s intentions.  Vincent was moved around the secondary a ton, seeing a lot of looks at nickel corner and free safety.  A team needs to try and develop him at one spot because the tools are good enough to be a big-time factor at the next level.  He isn’t a physical player and his instincts aren’t natural, so the nickel spot is likely his best spot where the power-shortcomings won’t hurt as much.

*I had Vincent top 5 in my stack at the start of 2020.  His opt out was less than ideal. I don’t want to penalize him for it but I do have a tendency to push guys ahead of him when I know there are significant instinct-based issues in his game.  Vincent will be one of the fastest players in the NFL right away and he made some big plays over his career.  He is worth the gamble at some point, the question will be when.  Also, you need a strong plan for where he is going in the secondary, as I don’t see the intelligence to man multiple spots.

16. Camryn Bynum / California / 6’0-198: 75
17. Robert Rochell / Central Arkansas / 5’11-195: 75
18. Shaun Wade / Ohio State / 6’1-195: 75
19. Ambry Thomas / Michigan / 6’0-189: 74
20. Keith Taylor / Washington / 6’2-191: 74
21. Thomas Graham Jr / Oregon / 5’11-193: 74
22. DJ Daniel / Georgia / 5’11-183: 72
23. Michael Carter II / Duke / 5’10-190: 72
24. Israel Mukuamu / South Carolina / 6’4-205: 71
25. Trill Williams / Syracuse / 6’1-198: 71
26. Marco Wilson / Florida / 5’11-187: 70
27. Rodarius Williams / Oklahoma State / 6’0-193: 70
28. Bryan Mills / NC Central / 6’1-180: 69
29. Bryce Thompson / Tennessee / 6’0-182: 69
30. Tay Gowan / Central Florida / 6’2-185: 69

NYG APPROACH

This is one of the deepest cornerback groups in recent memory.  I still have another 10+ names that I consider draftable.  NYG has a strong 1-2-3-4-5 for the 2021 season, maybe top 7 in the NFL if Jackson reaches his previous form now that his knee is 100%.  As said earlier, however, that extra depth for the future isn’t there yet.  Do you wait until next year and then have to rely on a rookie?  Or do you use a day three pick on someone that falls and groom him for a year?  I also think some depth and competition for Holmes at nickel would be a benefit to him.  While it isn’t a pressing need, you don’t ever want to be poor or lacking depth at corner.  If the value is right any point day 3, I think it is a smart investment.

Apr 032021
 
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Trevon Moehrig, TCU Horned Frogs (October 10, 2020)

Trevon Moehrig – © USA TODAY Sports

SAFETIES

Format includes a quick position overview, my grading scale and what the number means, the summary and final grade from my final report on my top 15, a quick additional note on the player, and my ranks 16-30 with grades only.

*I AM NOT DOING NFL COMPARISONS

QUICK POSITION OVERVIEW

The Giants employ a very-hybrid scheme, and that isn’t just what goes on at defensive line.  The safeties are very interchangeable.  Jabrill Peppers made a big impact throughout the year.  The 2022 free agent was a much better fit in this scheme than what we saw in 2019.  Will he be here long term?  That is the question.  If he leaves town, it will be a result of the economics not lining up more than his quality of play.  Logan Ryan was a late signing last year.  He went on to finishing as the leader of the secondary and another player who benefitted greatly from Patrick Graham’s scheme.  He has been such a hybrid corner/safety his entire career, but TEN just couldn’t figure out how to use his talent.  After watching TEN closely the past 2 years, a place where defensive backs have gone to die lately, that was more of them than him.  Ryan was extended and provides a big-time presence in the secondary.  Xavier McKinney is the wildcard of the group, as he missed most of his rookie season with an injury but came back for the final 6 games, starting the final 4, and flashed the talent that made him a 2nd rounder.  I feel good about him moving forward.  Julian Love, a college cornerback, quietly provides really solid depth at multiple spots.  He played in all 16 games, started 6, and finished 4th on the team in tackles.

Overall, this is a strong group that has just one player (Peppers) that is not locked up through 2022.  The need for new talent here is not a priority, however with the way safeties are used in this scheme, an extra depth piece with a specialty (whether it be coverage or run defense) is possible.

GRADING SCALE

90+ All Pro Projection 

85+: Pro Bowl Projection

81-84: 1st rounder – Should be able to play right away

79-80: 2nd rounder – Should be able to rotate right away – Year 2 starter

77-78: 3rd rounder – Should be able to rotate by end of rookie year – Year 2/3 starter

74-76: Early Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup/possible starter

71-73: Mid Day 3 – Special Teams – Future backup / gamble starter

68-70: Late Day 3 – Back end of roster / Practice Squad / Development guy

65-67: Preferred UDFA

60-64: Undrafted FA

TOP 15 GRADES AND ANALYSIS

1. Trevon Moehrig / TCU / 6’2-202

Grade: 84

Summary: Junior entry from Spring Branch, Texas.  Two-year starter that earned postseason honors all three seasons.  Won the TCU Special Teams Player of the Year as a freshman and 1st Team All Big 12 honors in both 2019 and 2020.  Also named 2020 All American and winner of the Jim Thorpe Award.  The team captain has evolved into a premiere safety that can do it all from the middle of the field.  He is more than rangy enough in deep zone, showing true sideline to sideline range.  He is fast enough, but the glaring positive trait comes from his on-field intelligence.  He excels at feeling out the whole field when looking downhill.  In addition, Moehrig is an elite level tackler when measuring his success rate, power, and technique.  He is a year one starter that will do a lot for a defense and special teams unit respectively.

*In a safety class that looks bleak at the top, Moehrig gets the nod for the best safety prospect by a really wide margin.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking he got that label by default, as he is a really good player.  When I look at a safety, I want instincts, then tackling, then speed, then size.  Moehrig is top-shelf in the first two, and good enough in the next two.  Like most safeties, how strong his reputation builds along the next few years very much depends on what team brings him in.  If BAL gets their hands on him, a good fit, he can be a star.

2. Andre Cisco / Syracuse / 6’0-209

Grade: 78

Summary: Junior entry from Valley Stream, New York.  Three-year starter that began his career on fire, earning 1st Team All ACC and 3rd Team All American honors.  Earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019.  Cisco created a playmaker’s reputation with his ACC leading 7 interceptions as a true freshman and responded with another ACC leading 5 as a sophomore.  His 2020 campaign lasted just two games, however, as he tore his ACL.  Even then, he brought in another interception Week 1 against North Carolina.  Cisco is a credible playmaker that can man the centerfielder role.  His instincts, anticipation, and speed make him a rangy and dangerous defender.  His burst is elite and as long as he can bounce back well from the ACL surgery, he is going to be a really high ceiling prospect that can fill a role that many teams have a hard time locating.  His run defense and physical presence won’t make a big difference, but when he makes plays the way he does, that can take a back seat to a point.

*Cisco has the kind of game that is going to make fans love and hate him.  He is going to make plays on the ball, but there were flashes on tape, too many, where he went for the home run when the smart decision would have been take the double.  If he were a better tackler and wasn’t coming off the ACL, he could have been 1st rounder on my board.  Even though he will be on the field for cover purposes, he needs to enhance his tackling and physical nature.  You can get away with being poor in that department as a corner, not safety.  Really high upside player.

3. Richie Grant / Central Florida / 6’0-200

Grade: 78

Summary: Fifth year senior from Fort Walton Beach, Florida.  Three-year starter that earned 1st Team All AAC honors all three seasons.  A productive player across the board that totaled 259 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 10 interceptions and 19 pass break ups over his career, Grant has exactly what a lot of defensive coaches look for in a safety.  He can play multiple spots at a high level, making him that chess piece from the middle that can play the role of Queen, going anywhere he wants whenever he wants.  He has excellent quickness and burst and seems to have really taken a step up in understanding route concepts and running schemes.  Grant may not be the most powerful enforcer, but he is a good tackler that can be relied upon.  This is a do-it-all safety that should be a starter early in his career.

*I know a few guys more important than me that really like Grant.  They see him as a true nickel safety, something more and more teams want now.  He shined at the Senior Bowl and in a weird year where there was less tape all around, I am curious if his week down there meant more.  I see a player that will thrive in a scheme similar to the one NYG employs, one where the safety is half corner/half safety.

4. Jamien Sherwood / Auburn / 6’1-219 

Grade: 77

Summary: Junior entry from Jensen Beach, Florida.  One-year starter that did see rotational playing time his first two seasons.  Sherwood is the prototype when looking for pro box-safeties.  He has outstanding size and speed, but also has the skill set to fill multiple roles along the second and third level of the defense.  Sherwood had to wait his turn to breach the starting lineup, but he made the most of his opportunity in 2020.  He was all over the field on a weekly basis, doing most of his damage in the box.  He may not play as physical as his size suggests, but he is a reliable run defender that can also make an impact as a pass defender.  He is an ideal matchup for athletic tight ends and has the kind of long speed to take a deep half.

*Sherwood is one of “my guys” in this class.  He doesn’t have a lot of starting experience partially because he had a couple NFL safeties playing ahead of him prior to 2020.  Sherwood is put together different, which can create false hope.  But what stuck out to me was his ability to get in and out of traffic, the ability to make himself small when he needed to be, and his closing burst.  He may be there day 3 and if NYG wants to start thinking about post-Peppers when it comes to finding a safety that can play specific linebacker roles, here you go.

5. Hamsah Nasirildeen / Florida State / 6’3-213

Grade: 77

Summary: Senior entry from Concord, North Carolina.  Three-plus year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2019.  Played in just the final 2 games 2020 after it took him nearly a year to recover from a serious leg injury suffered during the end 2019 season.  Nasirildeen is a really attractive prospect when looking at his tools and watching him fill in a variety of secondary roles.  He led the team in tackles in both 2018 and 2019 while also providing a spark 3 forced fumbles and 3 interceptions over that span.  He may not be the most sudden or instinctual player in coverage, but he has an athletic base to work with.  Nasirildeen has starter potential in time and will be able to contribute in a limited role right away.

*As is the case with countless prospects this year, there are a lot of questions around Nasirildeen.  Since the start of 2019, he played in 14 games.  While that isn’t a huge deal, Nasirildeen has been on my radar for a few years now and I really wanted to see more out of him on the field.  I think he has 1st round tools and upside, but he never quite proved it.  Really high upside prospect that has a shot at being there day 3.

6. Caden Sterns / Texas / 6’1-207

Grade: 76

Summary: Junior entry from Cibolo, Texas.  Three-year starter that won the job right away as a true freshman in 2018, a season where he won Big 12 Freshman of the Year and earned 1st Team All-Conference honors.  Brother of former Kansas City Chief Jordan Sterns.  Caden’s career began with a bang but injuries limited him in 2019 and he played in just 7 games over the Covid-shortened 2020 season.  He is a versatile safety that does his best work as a deep centerfielder.  He is a reliable last line of defense because of his ability to pursue the action with efficient angles and quick acceleration.  He excels at making plays on the ball, covering receivers in multiple coverages, and being in the right place at the right time.  Sterns won’t add much to the physical presence of a defense, but he is willing to throw his hat into oncoming traffic.   This is a smart and versatile player that can do a lot for a secondary.

*I watched a lot of Sterns.  Someone in the league I speak with has a 2nd round grade on him.  I didn’t see it the first time and I still don’t.  I only say that because I think he will go higher than where I have him slotted.  He has really fluid hips, good closing speed, and receiver caliber ball skills.  I get nervous about prospects who’s best tape was from their freshman year, though.

7. Divine Deablo / Virginia Tech / 6’3-226

Grade: 75

Summary: Fifth year senior entry from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  Two-year starter that made the move from wide receiver to safety in 2017.  He played just 4 games before getting injured and missing the rest of the year.  Again, fought through injuries in 2018 and did not become the full-time starter until 2019.  He then responded by leading the team with 84 tackles before his breakout year in 2020, where he earned 1st Team All ACC honors.  Deablo shared the ACC lead with 4 interceptions.  He is still figuring out the defensive side of the ball, but Deablo looks like a future starter if he can continue his current path.  He still has rawness within his skill set, but there is a combination of size, speed, and playmaking skills that can make a versatile impact at the next level.

*Yet another high upside safety that is still early on the progression scale.  If he continues to surge up, he is a definite starter.  If this is his peak, he is a solid backup and special teams player.  Have to love the size and tackling that shows up and does not come at the expense of making plays in coverage.  He doesn’t move with enough balance for my liking and there are multiple issues in coverage against receivers that I am nervous about.

8. Jevon Holland / Oregon / 6’1-196

Grade: 75

Summary:  Junior entry from Pleasanton, California.  Two-year starter that opted out of the 2020 season.  2nd Team All-Pac 12 in 2019 after tying for the conference lead in interceptions with four.  Holland was part of the Oregon secondary rotation from the beginning of his freshman season.  Even though he started just 2 games in 2018, he still played a lot of snaps in multiple roles.  He is best suited for a box-safety type role that can shift out to the nickel in some looks.  He is slightly undersized for that role, but he plays tough and is a good tackler.  Holland is a bit of a gambler in coverage.  It obviously worked out well (9 interceptions in 2 years), but it can be exposed and toyed with if he is in deep coverage.  He is a chess piece for a secondary that should be used in more man coverage and underneath roaming-type roles.  In the right system, he has starter-potential in addition to adding special teams value.

*Not an ideal fit for every scheme, Holland is another one I think may go on day 2 based on what I’ve heard.  He is a gambler, a fun player to watch.  But I am being stubborn in my thought process when it comes to the guys that completely opted out of 2020.  If they didn’t completely, utterly win me over prior to, I am not upgrading them at all.  Some don’t agree with that stance, and that is fine.

9. Mark Webb / Georgia / 6’0-210

Grade: 75

Summary: Senior entry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Two-year starter that earned a team award for his versatility in 2019.  Webb was in a very talented secondary filled with future NFL players.  His role was moved around week to week and even snap to snap in some cases.  His size and power presence is a better fit for the safety position but he can, in certain packages, play the nickel.  His coverage ability against tight ends and physical nature in the box should carve out a role for him in any defense in addition to providing solid special teams play.

* Summary: Senior entry from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  Two-year starter that earned a team award for his versatility in 2019.  Webb was in a very talented secondary filled with future NFL players.  His role was moved around week to week and even snap to snap in some cases.  His size and power presence are a better fit for the safety position, but he can, in certain packages, play the nickel.  His coverage ability against tight ends and physical nature in the box should carve out a role for him in any defense in addition to providing solid special teams play.

*The name Logan Ryan came up in my head when watching him in 2020.  Not on the same level, but a similar player.  One that probably can’t handle life on an island as a corner, but one that can add extra dimensions as a safety.  He worked out well at his pro day.  Smart kid, hard worker, good enough athlete.

10. Jamar Johnson / Indiana / 6’1-197 

Grade: 75

Summary: Junior entry from Sarasota, Florida.  One-year starter that was in the heavy rotation in addition the season prior.  1st Team All Big 10 in 2020.  Johnson was a key playmaker for one of the most surprising teams in the nation.  He totaled 9 takeaways over his career, including 4 interceptions (2 against Ohio State) over his final 4 games.  The former nickel moved inside to safety and started to really turn the corner over the second half of the shortened season.  There are holes in his game when it comes to deep coverage and tackling techniques, but he is a player worth trying to develop.  He can be multiple in the secondary, plays with good instincts, and won’t shy from downhill aggression.

*This nickel safety we keep talking about is a role made for Johnson, a former cornerback.  Johnson was actually one of the first underclassmen I scouted in January when I started looking at guys I didn’t watch in-season.  His flow to the ball stood out to me.  He has something natural in him that doesn’t come around often.  I have a hard time really liking him though, as he doesn’t do well against vertical routes and he isn’t a good tackler.

11. Paris Ford / Pittsburgh / 6’0-197

Grade: 74

Summary: Fourth year junior from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Two-year starter that earned all ACC honors both seasons, including 1st Team in 2019.  Ford opted out after the first 7 weeks of the 2020 season, giving him just 20 career starts.  The former cornerback is still raw when it comes to certain techniques and nuances, but he has top tier instincts for the position that produced great results in his limited time.  He had 6 career interceptions and averaged over 7 tackles per game.  Ford is a fun player to watch, as he is an undersized but effective enforcer in the box.  He comes downhill like a missile and puts every ounce of himself into a hit.  That quickness and speed translate to twitchy and rangy coverage as well.  While there are some emotional habits that get him into trouble on the field, this is the kind of defender that will spike the energy upward on a defense right away.  He has such a loose, bendy lower half that goes along well with his naturally instinctive play.  He is a really high ceiling safety that brings a fair amount of risk as well.

*Full disclosure, I initially gave Ford a 3rd round grade based on tape alone.  He was different.  I wrote down the name “Ed Reed” when it came to his body, movement, and overall impact.  As the scouting process went on though, it was clear I overshot him a tad.  He has long speed issues, which showed up in a very ugly way at his pro day.  He ran a slow time for defensive ends and tight ends, let alone safety.  He also had a horrific overall workout there.  I later found out he didn’t want to train for those drills, thus did not hire a coach.  That is unheard of.  There are a few character issues here.  I won’t cross him off though, I like his tape too much.  He is worth a day 3 pick.

12. Talanoa Hufanga / USC / 6’1-210

Grade: 73

Summary: Junior entry from Corvallis, Oregon.  Three-year starter that saved his best for last, earning 1st Team All-Pac 12 honors and won the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year Award as a junior.  Also, a 1st Team All American. Hufanga was a dominant force in the shortened 2020 season, averaging over 10 tackles per contest and brought in 4 interceptions in just 6 games.  He is a box-safety that has a knack for getting around and to the action nearly every play. He has physical shortcomings when it comes to speed that do get exposed in space, however.  He doesn’t have the gear to stay with NFL receivers in coverage and he won’t catch ball carriers from behind.  If he can be protected over the top and avoid man coverage against receivers, he will impact the game as a run defender and blitzing safety.

*Hufanga is training with Troy Polamalu leading up to the draft.  It is hard not to think about Polamalu while watching Hufanga on tape.  Honestly though, it has more to do with body type, uniform, and hair as funny as that may seem.  They aren’t in the same stratosphere when it comes to athleticism, which is the main reason Polamalu was what he was.  Hufanga doesn’t move with the same twitch, but I do like the hustle and impact he can make against the run and short passing game.  Limited player, but can fill a solid role.

13. Richard LeCounte III / Georgia / 5’10-196

Grade: 71

Summary: Senior entry from Riceboro, Georgia.  Three-year starter that has been one of the most productive defenders on the Bulldogs defense over that span.  LeCounte led the team in tackles in 2018, led the team in interceptions in 2019, and led the team in interceptions per game in 2020.  His senior year was cut short by a traffic accident that forced him to miss the final 4 games and majority of their bowl game.  He is a smart and heady player that comes across bigger than his listed size because of how reliable he is against the run.  His tackling is top tier and his ability to make plays on the ball will make him serviceable against the pass.  Some teams may look past him because there is a low ceiling that stems from below average tools, but LeCounte is a football player at a position that is so reliant on intelligence and instincts.  He checks enough boxes to be considered a solid number three safety and eventual starter.

*I have a tendency to be a sucker for guys that play smart.  LeCounte is one of the smartest safeties in the class and that was verified by his coaches.  He just doesn’t have the top end speed to always take advantage of it.  I still think it can pass as “good enough”.  After all, he started 3 years in the SEC and played well.

14. Damar Hamlin / Pittsburgh / 6’1-201

Grade: 71

Summary: Fifth year senior from McKees Rock, Pennsylvania.  Three-year starter that earned 2nd Team All ACC honors in 2020, Honorable Mention in 2018.  Hamlin has led the Panthers in tackles over the three-year period in which he was a starter.  After being injured multiple times over his first two seasons, he was a consistent and reliable leader for the entire defensive unit.  He was a shot caller from the back end that put others in position while consistently being a right place, right time defender himself.  He was productive across the board and showed every down versatility.  Hamlin’s deep speed does not leave a lot of margin for error, however.  He doesn’t catch up well and lacks the quick burst to turn and run.  He has some hit or miss to his game as a run defender as well.  He could be an ideal fit for a backup role that sees snaps every week with the upside of developing into a quality starter.  High floor, low ceiling type.

*Hamlin is another name that many in the know rave about when it comes to intelligence.  He was the shot caller of that defense and it was hard to find tape where he was out of place.  He got burned deep so many times when I saw him though.  He doesn’t turn well.  I think he can be a core special teamer though, one that makes a living based on that alone.  Will he make an impact at safety?  I don’t see it, but there are worse safeties on pro depth charts right now.

15. Jacoby Stevens / LSU / 6’1-216 

Grade: 70

Summary: Senior entry from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Three-year starter that was named 2nd Team All SEC in 2019 for the National Champion Tigers.  Stevens was a chess piece that was moved all over the scheme pre-snap.  He was a shot caller that put his teammates into position as well.  This is a versatile and smart player that can get to the right place at the right time and produce.  The issue that will put question marks around his name revolves around his top end athletic ability.  Stevens was a 5-star recruit and even played some wide receiver early in his career, but he never got to a point where he played fast or explosive in space.  He gets toyed with in coverage against NFL caliber speed and quickness.  He will need a specific box-safety role that has some similarities to what a linebacker is asked to do.  He can be a solid rotational piece that is package-specific.

*I am really curious to see where Stevens goes.  Some teams look at him as a linebacker, one that came come on the field in Dime packages and play the role of linebacker-safety hybrid.  He still has some to learn about playing defense and that could be part of why he looked too slow at times.  When you don’t process information well, it makes you play slower than you are.  Stevens has some untapped upside for that reason.

16. Joshuah Bledsoe / Missouri / 5’11-201: 70
17. Ar’Darius Washington / TCU / 5’8-178: 70
18. James Wiggins / Cincinnati / 6’0-205: 70
19. Tyree Gillespie / Missouri / 5’11-207: 70
20. Brady Breeze / Oregon / 6’0-196: 69
21. Tariq Thompson / San Diego State / 6’0-200: 69
22. Jordyn Peters / Auburn / 6’1-195: 68
23. Christian Uphoff / Illinois State / 6’3-213: 68 
24. Lamont Wade / Penn State / 5’9-188: 68
25. Shawn Davis / Florida / 5’11-202: 67
26. Darrick Forrest / Cincinnati / 5”11-206: 66
27. Eric Burrell / Wisconsin / 5’11-201: 65
28. Troy Warner / BYU / 6’1-201: 64
29. Ben DeLuca / Charlotte / 6’1-215: 64
30. Dwayne Johnson Jr / San Diego State: 64

NYG APPROACH

Safety is maybe the one spot on this roster where you don’t see a spot for a rookie.  They have four guys who can be in the weekly rotation, four guys who can play multiple spots and roles, four guys who are young and healthy.  While there will be several other pressing needs and holes to fill, this is a spot that if I see a value day three, I still very much think a pick can be used on one.  Do you prefer a box-safety to potentially groom behind Peppers should he not be here in 2021?  Do you prefer a nickel-safety who can play some corner similar to what they have in Ryan?  Or do you want a true centerfielder, as they are really hard to find and may be worth a “shot in the dark.”  There are a lot of good safeties in the league that were found on day 3 and it is largely a result of the scheme and surrounding talent.  If NYG sees a value slip into round 5 or later, I am fine with pulling the trigger there.  He better be able to fill in on special teams though.

Mar 292021
 
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Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions (November 28, 2019)

Kenny Golladay – © USA TODAY Sports

Teams were officially able to begin negotiating with free agents from other teams on March 15. So although it seems as if free agency has been going on for quite some time, we’re only still at the 2-week mark since it began. More signings will continue through the spring and summer, especially as players are cut. That said, the initial free agency rush is over and we can start to make some snap opinions on what the New York Giants have and have not accomplished.

The “need” level I reference was addressed in my March 12th Free Agency Preview for the team.

QUARTERBACKS (Previous Need Level – Medium): For at least one more season, Daniel Jones is the unquestioned starter. The expectation was that the team would re-sign Colt McCoy. However, the Giants surprisingly went in another direction by signing the well-traveled Mike Glennon as Jones’ back-up. Glennon is much bigger (half a foot taller) than McCoy with a much stronger arm. Both complete around 61 percent of their passes and both have started roughly the same number of NFL games. There were media whispers too that McCoy wanted more money than the Giants were willing to pay. On the surface, this appears to be a wash, although the coaches said McCoy was a very good influence on Jones in the meeting rooms. (Mike Glennon YouTube Highlights)

RUNNING BACKS (Previous Need Level – High to Desperate): Some chided my prediction that all three running backs behind Saquon Barkley may not return in 2021, but that appears in fact to be the case. As of this moment, Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis remain unsigned. So much of the team’s upcoming success will depend on how well Barkley returns from a major knee injury and whether he can stay healthy for a full season. It’s quite telling that the very first player the Giants signed in free agency was the relatively-unknown Devontae Booker to a 2-year, $5.5 million contract. Fan reaction was immediately negative. But it appears the coaching staff simply wanted a veteran back who was a more reliable blocker and receiver than Gallman. Depth behind Barkley still remains shaky as the only other halfbacks on the roster are NFL cast-offs Taquan Mizzell and Jordan Chunn. The Giants also added another fullback/special teams player in Cullen Gillaspia to compete with Eli Penny. (Devontae Booker YouTube Highlights)

WIDE RECEIVERS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): The Giants have significantly upgraded this position with the addition of one player to the tune of a 4-year, $72 million contract. Kenny Golladay is not only a true #1 receiver, but he fills a desperate need that this team had for a physical receiver with size. His presence also allows Darius Slayton to become the #2 and Sterling Shepard the slot receiver, roles that both are far better suited for. From Golladay’s style of play to the team’s extended wooing period to satisfy personality issues, this signing is highly reminiscent of the Giants’ signing of Plaxico Burress in 2005. And Golladay is quite capable of having a Plaxico-type impact on this team. In addition, before the Giants signed Golladay, they signed the 9th overall player taken in the 2017 NFL Draft, John Ross. While Ross did not live up to expectations in Cincinnati, he brings true deep speed to a team that desperately needs it. It would not be shocking to see Ross get cut, but it also would not be shocking for him to press for a starting job opposite of Golladay. In addition to wanting to prove doubters wrong, Ross will rejoin his old college receiving teammate, Dante Pettis, on what had been an explosive University of Washington receiving corps. Overall, the make-up of this unit is far different now than it was just two weeks ago. (John Ross YouTube Highlights)

TIGHT ENDS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): Right or wrong, the front office and coaching staff appear willing to continue to hope Evan Engram develops into the player hoped for when he was drafted in the 1st round of the 2017 NFL Draft. But the team decided to team him with a mentor. Kyle Rudolph has been one of the NFL’s best tight ends for the past 10 years. While not an explosive player, he can catch and block. Just as importantly, he is reliable, something Engram is not. The downside is that Rudolph turns 32 in November and is coming off a foot injury (The Athletic is reporting it is a Lisfranc injury) that required surgery AFTER the Giants signed him. Much depends on how well he recovers. On paper, if he is healthy, this looks like a major addition both in terms of helping out Daniel Jones and the offensive line. (Kyle Rudolph YouTube Highlights)

OFFENSIVE LINE (Previous Need Level – Medium): This is one area where it is debatable if the team has improved in free agency. The Giants were able to force Nate Solder to take a big pay cut to remain with the team. He will now compete against Matt Peart for the starting tackle spot opposite of Andrew Thomas. The Giants somewhat surprisingly simply cut Kevin Zeitler without approaching him about a pay cut. To fill that void, they signed right guard Zach Fulton, who had an inconsistent stay with the Houston Texans. Fulton will compete with Will Hernandez and Shane Lemieux for a starting spot. Fulton does not feel like an upgrade over Zeitler. Where the team probably did get better is at back-up center with the signing of Jonotthan Harrison back in January. He is a better player than Spencer Pulley. Look for the team to continue to address the offensive line in the upcoming draft.

DEFENSIVE LINE (Previous Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson): Undoubtedly, the biggest loss the team suffered in free agency was losing nose tackle Davlin Tomlinson to the Minnesota Vikings for what appeared to be a reasonable 2-year, $22 million contract. The Giants re-signed back-up nose tackle Austin Johnson to a 1-year, $3 million deal in anticipation of the loss. Johnson will now have to start at nose tackle or the team will be forced to move Dexter Lawrence from end, or sign a veteran or draft a player. Moving Lawrence seems like an obvious option, but that would have a domino effect in that B.J. Hill would probably then become the new starter at end opposite of Leonard Williams. Thus, what had been a somewhat shaky depth situation becomes even more dubious. The team was extremely fortunate in 2020 that no one got hurt up front. The only back-ups on the roster right now are R.J. McIntosh, David Moa, and Breeland Speaks, the latter signed by the Giants in January. Speaking of Williams, the Giants were able to re-sign him to a 3-year, $63 million deal. There will be tremendous pressure on him to live up to that contract.

(Late Note: The Giants signed 6’2”, 335-pound nose tackle Danny Shelton today. Drafted in the 1st round of the 2015 NFL Draft by the Cleveland Browns, Shelton was cut by the Detroit Lions and will help fill the void created by the departure of Tomlinson).

LINEBACKERS (Previous Need Level – High): On paper, the Giants lost one free agent (Kyler Fackrell) and signed three (Ifeadi Odenigbo, Reggie Ragland, Ryan Anderson). All three newcomers were relatively inexpensive, 1-year deals. Ragland will likely compete with Tae Crowder for the inside linebacker spot next to Blake Martinez. He has started 38 regular-season games in the NFL and is a former 2nd-round pick so he has a good shot to win that job. Anderson is another former 2nd-round pick who was stuck behind a plethora of outstanding outside linebackers in Washington. He is known more as an overachiever who saw most of his playing time on special teams, but he could surprise as his competition will be Lorenzo Carter (coming off of a torn Achilles), Oshane Ximines (coming off of shoulder surgery), and last year’s rookies (Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, Niko Lalos). What about Odenigbo? Good question. He was the first defensive player the Giants signed in free agency. He played exclusively on the defensive line in Minnesota, primarily at end, but also shifting inside in pass-rush packages. However, his lack of size (6’3”, 258 pounds) strongly suggests he will be used like “linebacker” Jabaal Sheard was used by the Giants last year, that is, an edge rusher in 4-man pass rush packages. The Giants could also push him inside like the Vikings did in obvious passing situations in 4-man fronts. It is doubtful that he should be considered a true outside linebacker because he simply does not have experience dropping into coverage. Because of that, one could actually argue he should be included in the defensive line review. Also, the Giants did re-sign inside linebacker Devonta Downs, who started at inside linebacker for the Giants in 2020 until Tae Crowder beat him out. He will have to fight just to make the team however.

CORNERBACKS (Previous Need Level – Desperate): Like the wide receiving position, the make-up of this position completely changed with the addition of one free agent, adding Adoree’ Jackson to a 3-year, $39 million contract after he was cut by the Tennessee Titans. Opinions on his play vary, but Jackson is clearly a major upgrade over everyone else on the team’s roster with the exception of Pro Bowler James Bradberry. The former 1st rounder is a physical and aggressive press corner who plays with a lot of confidence. Depth is still a concern, but on paper, the Giants now look like they have one of the better secondaries in the NFL as long as Darnay Holmes continues to develop at slot corner.

SAFETIES (Previous Need Level – Low): While Adrian Colbert and Nate Ebner remain unsigned, the Giants still look to be in decent shape at this position with Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, Logan Ryan, and Julian Love – the latter two who can also play corner. Depth will be added later in free agency or the draft.

KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER (Previous Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter): When the Giants re-signed long snapper Casey Kreiter, this position was largely settled other than camp bodies. The only real question is are the Giants looking to upgrade at punter at some point.

SUMMARY: In my March 12th article, I argued this roster was a train wreck. Two weeks later, with the addition of 11 free agents and counting, it feels vastly different. It’s not just the quantity, but the quality. Keeping Leonard Williams was a big deal. Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson were two of the best, if not the very best, players available at desperate need positions.  If healthy, Kyle Rudolph could be a major addition as a security blanket for both Daniel Jones and the offensive line. Golladay and Jackson will start. Rudolph will be a quasi-starter. John Ross (1st rounder), Reggie Ragland (2nd rounder), Ryan Anderson (2nd rounder), and Zach Fulton might start. Devontae Booker is now the primary back-up behind Saquon Barkely, Ifeadi Odenigbo will add to the pass rush.

The risk? The money. While most of the deals were relatively cheap, the team did dole out $174 million on three players – Leonard Williams, Kenny Golladay, and Adoree’ Jackson. If they are wrong about any of these three, the team will be paying for it for years. We’ve seen that before and it’s one of the major reasons why the Giants have been mired in the basement of the NFL for a decade. One could also argue that the team should have allocated its resources a bit differently in order to keep Dalvin Tomlinson, extending his contract even last year.

Mar 122021
 
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Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants (November 8, 2020)

Dalvin Tomlinson – © USA TODAY Sports

As is always the case, there are fans of the New York Giants who are optimistic about the team’s future while there are others who are pessimistic. That’s just human nature. Regarding the 2021 edition of the franchise, the optimism is largely based on confidence in Head Coach Joe Judge and his staff. The negativity is mainly due to a lack of faith in ownership and the front office. But a cursory review of the existing roster doesn’t help either.

The Cliff Note’s version of this article is that the roster is still a mess.

The most damning thing about the franchise is that the Giants seem to have been in “rebuilding” mode for a decade. And they don’t seem to be REALLY further along in that rebuilding effort than they were 10 years ago. Much of that has to do with the fact that John Mara, Steve Tisch, and two general managers would not accept that the team needed a complete rebuild. At least not publicly. If they felt that way privately, then their level of incompetence is frightening. To be blunt, the team has been spinning its wheels for years. We all know it.

The core problem is easy to diagnose. The team has drafted poorly. They have attempted to compensate for that by overpaying for often mediocre talent in free agency. That has not only tied up immediate cap space but created additional burdens in future years with millions of dollars in dead money. A common refrain heard from fans defending team management is, “What choice did the GM have? He had to overpay because not doing so would have been worse!” This is a loser’s argument. And that’s what the team has become, a losing franchise.

So the 6-10 New York Giants approach free agency with little cap room once again and over $10 million dead money wasted. If the team is ever going to stop this vicious cycle, it needs to draft better and stop trying to compensate in free agency with ridiculous contracts. It’s not just the foolish high-profile signings such as when the team made Nate Solder the highest-paid offensive lineman in football but the under-the-radar contract such as giving a 3rd-string tight end (Levin Toilolo) a 2-year, $6.2 million deal. Stupid. Indefensible. The “what choice did they have” argument looks pretty foolish in hindsight.

Now to be fair, the team’s two high-profile signings in 2020 appear to have been smart decisions. CB James Bradberry and LB Blake Martinez were major positive additions to the team Bradberry went to the Pro Bowl and Martinez is arguably the team’s best inside linebacker since Antonio Pierce. But it came at a cost in the form of $74 million spread out over three years. And both will have to continue to justify those contracts. After 2016, fans were applauding the $194 million given to CB Janoris Jenkins, NT Damon Harrison, and LB Olivier Vernon. That tune changed quickly after only one season. And those contracts sabotaged the team for years.

Hopefully my point is obvious. Be careful. Spending tens of millions of dollars in free agency rarely ends up well. It feels good initially, but the team often finds itself right back where it started, with its wheels spinning in the mud.

QUARTERBACKS: Daniel Jones remains the starter. But 2020 back-up Colt McCoy is currently an unrestricted free agent. So there is a greater need here than many realize. Daniel Jones gets hurt and misses games. The team will likely re-sign McCoy or sign another veteran. (Need Level – Medium)

RUNNING BACKS: Aside from depth, after the 2018 season, the New York Giants seemed set at this position for the foreseeable future after Saquon Barkley’s superlative rookie season. But after two injury-plagued seasons, including injuries to his ACL, MCL, and meniscus last year, his future with the team is very much in doubt with his contract expiring after the year. Worse, the next three running backs on the depth chart (Wayne Gallman, Alfred Morris, and Dion Lewis) are all unrestricted free agents and there is a decent chance that none will be re-signed. That leaves Taquan Mizzell, Jordan Chunn, and fullback Eli Penny. Oh boy. (Need Level – High to Desperate) 

WIDE RECEIVERS: This position is bordering on disaster. Golden Tate flopped in 2020 and was cut this offseason. That leaves Sterling Shepard, a perpetual tease who is possibly one concussion away from retirement, and sophomore slump victim Darius Slayton, who only caught 12 passes after the bye week. Dante Pettis and C.J. Board are waiver-wire pick-ups. The other four receivers were undrafted and two of those have already been cut by other teams. Dave Brown had better receivers to work with in the 1990s and that’s saying something. (Need Level – Desperate)

TIGHT ENDS: If Evan Engram was the player the front office and coaching staff says he is, the team would be in decent shape at this position. But he’s not. I pray I am ultimately proven wrong about Engram, but it’s been four years since he was drafted. He is a tease who disappears for long stretches and comes up small in the clutch. Engram is a “receiving” tight end who isn’t particularly good at that aspect of the game. He had ONE touchdown in 2020. And yet the coaching staff keeps saying they can build an offense around him? Put down the crack pipe! Kaden Smith and Levine Toilolo are average-at-best back-ups. Neither scored in 2020. The Giants only had one touchdown from their tight ends last year. Wow. (Need Level – Desperate)

OFFENSIVE LINE: How you view this position depends on your level of confidence in the young guns. Understandably, Giants fans have little faith in the ability of the team to “fix” the offensive line because they have been unable to do so in 10 years of drafting and free agency. In addition, the Giants enter 2021 with a new offensive line coach who has never coached at the pro level, and multiple cooks in the kitchen who will advise him (Freddie Kitchens, Ben Wilkerson, Pat Flaherty). The good news is that Andrew Thomas, Nick Gates, Shane Lemieux, and Matt Peart did show flashes of real ability. The ups and downs were to be expected by green players with no real training camp and no preseason. The team cut Kevin Zeitler so Lemieux and the player he replaced, Will Hernandez, will likely start at guard unless the team signs a veteran or drafts an impressive rookie. It also appears the Giants will bring back Nate Solder on a reduced contract to compete with Peart at right tackle. Depth is not terrible with the likes of Jonotthan Harrison, Cam Fleming (if re-signed), and the loser of the Peart/Solder competition. The real pressing question here is guard and much depends on Lemieux and Hernandez. (Need Level – Medium)

DEFENSIVE LINE: The Giants will be in really good shape at his position IF they can re-sign their three free agents: Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, and Austin Johnson. Combined with Dexter Lawrence, B.J. Hill, and R.J. McIntosh, this is young, big, strong group. Williams was franchised and will be back unless both sides can’t agree to a long-term deal and his tender is rescinded (a possibility). Tomlinson is key. Many fans and pundits say the Giants should not invest too much money in 3-4 defensive linemen. They could be right. And overpaying for your own talent is just as bad as overpaying for someone else’s. That said, the Giants have a long recent history of drafting defensive tackles in the 2nd round only to see them walk in free agency and then having to replace them again in the draft. What did I say about spinning wheels? If Tomlinson and Johnson don’t re-sign, the team will have to move Dexter Lawrence to nose tackle and/or sign or draft replacements again. A team with so many holes at so many positions can ill-afford creating more holes at the few positions where they have some strength. Tomlinson is a good player and a good influence in the locker room. He would be my free agent priority. (Need Level – Low to High Depending on Tomlinson)

LINEBACKERS: Really this position needs to be divided into inside linebackers and edge rushers (outside linebackers).

Blake Martinez was a major addition to the team as a player and leader. He played virtually every defensive snap and finished the season with a team-high 151 tackles, nine tackles for losses, three sacks, six quarterback hits, five pass defenses, one interception, two forced fumbles. Finding his counterpart inside is the challenge. David Mayo was cut. The last player taken in the 2020 NFL Draft, Tae Crowder, stole the starting job away from Devante Downs. On paper, Crowder appears to be a good, athletic complement to Martinez. But insurance and depth are needed. Keep in mind that T.J. Brunson is still in the picture as well. (Need Level – Medium)

The problem for the Giants is that they were deprived of a key evaluation year for Lorenzo Carter and Oshane Ximines. Both earned starting jobs but both were lost for the bulk of the season. Worse, Carter is coming off a serious ruptured Achilles’ tendon injury. Kyler Fackrell was a nice complementary piece who could play inside or outside, but he’s an unrestricted free agent. What the Giants really lack on defense are outside edge rushers who scare the other team. They were reduced to a committee approach in 2020, employing role players such as Jabaal Sheard (unrestricted free agent) and rookies Carter Coughlin, Cam Brown, and Niko Lalos. Some have questioned just how important an outside rusher is in the Giants’ scheme, but no team would ever turn down an outside pass-rushing threat. (Need Level – High)

CORNERBACKS: James Bradberry was everything the Giants had hoped, but it is a minor miracle the defense performed as well as it did with the revolving door at cornerback opposite of him. Corey Ballentine, Isaac Yiadom, Ryan Lewis, and Julian Love all took their turns. All have significant warts (and Ballentine is gone). Darnay Holmes will likely remain the nickel corner. There are whispers that the Giants are not really counting on COVID-19 opt-out Sam Beal. If Bradberry were to go down, this would arguably be the worst group of corners in the NFL. The Giants don’t just desperately need another starter, they desperately need quality depth. (Need Level – Desperate)

SAFETIES: This position has been a chronic weakness for the team but seems more settled now due to the additions of Jabrill Peppers, Xavier McKinney, and Logan Ryan. Peppers and Ryan have their issues, but they make plays and the coaching staff seems to know how to use them. McKinney missed most of the season due to injury but flashed in limited playing time. Ideally, this position would also be addressed but there are simply too many other needs elsewhere. (Need Level – Low)

KICKERS/LONG SNAPPER: 33-year old Graham Gano had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history as a kicker. However, Riley Dixon saw his gross and net punting average decline. Veteran long snapper Casey Kreiter is an unrestricted free agent. (Need Level – Low to Average Depending on Kreiter)

SUMMARY: It’s weird. In many ways, I feel more optimistic about this team than I’ve done in years, largely because of Joe Judge and his staff. But this roster is a train wreck. I have never published a “needs” article with so many “desperate” categories. You would be hard pressed to find a worse group of wide receivers and tight ends in the NFL. At running back, the only thing the Giants have is Barkley, who is coming off a potential career-altering injury. The defense is not in great shape either with obvious significant needs at cornerback and outside linebacker.

That all said, if the Giants spend a lot of money to fix these problems in March and April, I guarantee you that I will be typing a similar article in 2023, and probably with a new coaching staff.