NFL Draft fans, you could have seen this exclusive analysis first, in your inbox, last Friday morning if you subscribed to our FREE NFL Draft newsletter. Sign up today!
With the NFL scouting combine now well in the rear-view mirror and pro days and team visits in full swing, all 32 NFL teams, and all of us at Pro Football Weekly have begun adjusting our draft boards with the benefit of actual measurements of players, workout results, sound medicals and perhaps most importantly one-on-one interviews to better understand what makes these kids tick.
At the end of the day, the draft still remains more an art than an exact science for the 32 GMs and scouting staffs whose jobs depend on how successful they are at it, and most position groups don’t get stacked all that differently.
However as I talk to various teams – GMs and scouts – I’m noticing an interesting phenomena this draft season. While almost everybody agrees the strength of this year’s draft is in the front seven on defense among defensive tackles, defensive ends and edge rushers, very few folks seem to agree on who the best is or what order to rank them in.
At the end of the college season it seemed that Alabama's Quinnen Williams and Ohio State’s Nick Bosa would be the top D-lineman and edge rusher respectively, and that be or other could very well be the first player taken this year.
What I’m hearing now are a half dozen different names at the top, and no real clarity as to how to rank these guys one through 10.
The significance of those rankings is most evaluators agree there will be as many as eight-to-11 players at these positions taken in the first round.
Get it right and you’ll be a genius, but get it wrong and you could be looking for work.
Williams is still at the top of plenty of boards and considered by some to be the top prospect in this draft. But Mississippi St.’s Jeffery Simmons presents evaluators with a real dilemma.
Simmons has a slightly bigger frame than Williams and is more athletic, possibly raising his ceiling a notch above Williams’, but his character grades carry the scar of a fight with two women at the start of his college career, and he tore his ACL in a workout accident just last month.
Williams appears the safer bet. Simmons may have the higher ceiling but carries more risk.
And what are teams to do with Michigan’s Rashan Gary? He is the best athlete and most impressive physical specimen of the three and he showed flashes of brilliance in Ann Arbor, but he never played to his full ability while disappearing for significant stretches and never approaching the potential he showed as the top high school recruit in the country.
I’ve seen Gary as high at number two and number three on a couple of boards, and as low as 15-to-20 on several others.
While Williams and Simmons will most likely be interior guys in the pros, Gary could end up anywhere in a 30 or 40 front but will need to add some muscle to play inside.
Some have questioned his work ethic and character, and there was a failed drug test at the end of the ’18 season that Lawrence insists is a complete mystery to him. But at the combine Boston College guard Chris Lindstrom, a likely day two pick himself said Lawrence was easily the toughest D-lineman he faced in his career and other opponents have echoed that sentiment.
Lawrence is massive at 6-foot-4, 342 pounds and is going to be awfully hard to leave on the board very early on night one.
Edge rushers come with the same dilemma. Bosa has done nothing to diminish his prospects, he just hasn’t enhanced them at all having missed the first part of his last year in Columbus and more than one scout has shared a "may be very good, but unlikely to ever be great" label for him.
On the other hand talking to various opponents of theirs at the combine about who were the toughest to handle, Bosa’s name didn’t really come up that much while Josh Allen plaudits were everywhere.
Texas A&M running back Trayveon Williams told me Allen was the toughest defensive opponent he faced in college regardless of position.
When a 5-foot-9, 217-pound scatback tells you a 6-foot-5, 262-pound linebacker/edge rusher was his greatest challenge...
It wouldn’t be shocking to see Kentucky’s Allen taken ahead of Bosa and while they are likely to go one, two in one order or the other, Montez Sweat dramatically improved his stock at the Senior Bowl and combine and Clelin Ferrell, Brian Burns and Jaylon Ferguson are all likely day one picks that no two teams seem to have in the same order.
The consensus of what I’m hearing right now is Williams, Gary, Lawrence, Simmons (because of the ACL) and Oliver up front, and Allen, Bosa, Sweat, Burns, Ferrell and Ferguson on the edge.
But stay tuned, I’m sure that will change three more times at least before April Fools Day.