NFL Draft News & Analysis

NFL Week 13 Mailbag: The potential Week 17 tank-off, second-year breakouts, the Cowboys draft a QB and more

With the year dwindling, we’re fast approaching my favorite time of the year: draft season. That’s the time of year where I come out of hibernation to make a bunch of predictions about 21-year-olds that will undoubtedly not come true. Ahh, what a glorious time of year it is.

In the meantime, let’s get to those questions.

There exists a very slim chance that we’ll be able to witness something I’ve always dreamed about but never actually seen executed at the NFL level: a tank-off.

At this point, the New York Jets would be absolutely out of their minds to try to win a game this season. No one is in the stands, the head coach is about as far from a “player’s coach” as it gets and you can buy a Trevor Lawrence Jets jersey already. This franchise has a shot at a decade of prosperity here if they keep losing. I don’t care how big of a football guy you are; pride ain’t worth that much.

At the same time, Bill Belichick is no dummy. If they have no chance at the playoffs by then, it 100% behooves Belichick to keep Trevor Lawrence off his schedule twice a year. I don’t think he would do it, but boy, would I love to see it if he does.

Thomas’ four highest pass-blocking grades of the season have come in his previous four games, so it’s clear that something has been different. When I went over his struggles earlier in the year, his punch timing was one thing that was very evidently a mess. From firing too hot out of his stance to trying to land that deading blow, Thomas was incredibly impatient.

Compare how he’s using his hands on this pass set from earlier in the season against the Eagles …

…To these from a couple of weeks ago.

Even on the last rep, when he does get a little overanxious, he’s not completely selling out and extending his upper body on his punch. He’s been letting opposing rushers declare their intent before clamping down on them far better than he was before. The mirror/recover ability were never the problems, and we’re finally starting to see why he was drafted so highly.

I think the aforementioned Andrew Thomas is certainly one who would qualify here. Some others I’m looking for:

Yes, he doesn’t have the offseason, but one has to think the offensive line in front of him will be considerably revamped. That seemed to easily be the biggest thing holding him back as a rookie.

He’s been solid on limited snaps after starting the season on IR. In all likelihood, Mims will have a quarterback tailor-made for what he does best. With Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, Mims should have back-shoulder throws and contested-catch opportunities aplenty.

It’s no coincidence that literally no one graded out well in the Lions secondary when Matt Patricia was head coach. It was simply a poorly schemed defense. With a year of mostly man coverage under his belt, Okudah should be up to speed by Year 2.

We’ve seen it in flashes with Dugger. He’s what you want on a modern defense to combat these new-age spread offenses. Going from Division II straight to the NFL is a massive leap, so the fact that he's already making plays bodes well for his future.

Should they? 100%. This is a special quarterback group, and Jimmy G is decidedly not worthy of that adjective. Always upgrade at the most valuable position when given the chance.

The question is, will they have that chance? Slotted for the 16th pick if the season ended today, they sit behind teams such as the Jets, Jaguars, Football Team and Bears (all teams that desperately need a quarterback), as well as the Eagles, Panthers, Lions, Falcons, Broncos, and Patriots (teams that could use a quarterback). They ain’t going to get one standing pat.

This one is easy for me. Jerry Jeudy has been electric when given the chance. He’s been electric when not given the chance either. Here he is turning Xavien Howard in knots.

He’s suffered from the third-highest rate of uncatchable passes of any receiver. Put him with Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers and see if he’s not still WR1 in the rookie class.

I'm really hoping COVID goes undrafted in 2021.

I don’t even think twice about tag-trading Dak if I’m the Cowboys' GM and finish with a top-four pick. They already have one of the most cap-strapped rosters in the NFL. That cap-strapped roster went 8-8 last year and hasn’t won more than 10 games since 2016.

Dealing Dak not only nets them young, cheap talent with whatever picks they acquire, but it also frees up a good deal of needed cap space. If Justin Fields or Zach Wilson are sitting there when the Cowboys are drafting, I’d take my chance.

I’m not sure there’s even any real argument to be made here. It’s a generally accepted fact that the less tape you have on someone, the harder the evaluation is. We will have less tape this year on more prospects than any draft since I’ve been alive.

The most surprising is quite easily Justin Herbert. He’s been legitimately better at a number of different things now than he was last season at Oregon (most notably throwing downfield). That pretty much never happens.

The most disappointing for me is Jeffrey Okudah. Yes, I gave the caveats in an answer above, but it’s still shocking just how bad he’s been. He’s given up the sixth-most yards in the NFL (579) despite missing two games. His 30.1 coverage grade is the lowest in the league. Shocking, to say the least.

Former TCU defender Paul Dawson still has the second-highest single-season grade we’ve ever given to a college linebacker at 92.5 overall. Back in 2014, he racked up 94 stops to lead all of college football. Play after play, he seemingly saw things before they happened. His tape was a joy to watch.

Then, at the combine, he ran a 4.93 40 with a 28-inch vertical at only 235 pounds. Unfazed, I still thought his “instincts” would translate to the NFL. The problem was, college offenses are basically arithmetic compared to the calculus that is NFL offenses. It gets much more difficult to truly sniff out what an offense is going to do purely from film study (and from the stories I’ve heard around town living in Cincinnati, Dawson wasn’t particularly fond of that, either). The vast majority of the time in the NFL on the defensive side of the ball — even if you’re Luke Kuechly — you’re playing catchup. And when you’re playing catchup, only one thing can save you: superior athleticism.

That’s when I learned not to take chances on bad athletes who play in coverage (linebackers, safeties, corners). Bad athletes almost never overcome it, and even the ones who can are still liabilities in certain roles. It’s not worth the risk.

There’s no chance the NFL is going to let it completely bottom out, and I’m confident they’ll spread out the massive dip in revenue — causing a similarly massive dip in the cap — over a number of years. The problem is, everyone has budgeted for considerable year-on-year increases in the salary cap because…well…that’s how it’s gone for the past decade.

At that point, any sort of dip immediately takes out a good portion of teams in the NFL from being players in free agency. Overthecap.com has 10 franchises already over a projected cap of $176,000,000 in 2021. Removing that many players will undoubtedly suppress the market for the top guys.

This is a great sort of “scouting in a nutshell” kind of question. Two guys on the exact same line taken 158 picks apart, and the one taken later is better.

The interesting thing is, Michigan had this identical situation the year prior with Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich. Scouting, however, isn’t trying to answer the question of who is better right now, but who will be better? Ruiz is undoubtedly the better athlete; he is also almost two years younger than Onwenu. Onwenu also had serious struggles with his weight and reportedly played at 370 pounds for Michigan last year.

Interior offensive line is one of the last positions on a football field where I’d go chasing traits, though. It is very much a skilled position, and the fact that Onwenu earned 87.6 and 85.5 pass-blocking grades his final two years at Michigan is why we were much higher on him than where he actually went.

That’s a safe assumption because they quite literally cannot move on from Wentz with his contract and their cap situation (ala Alex Smith and Washington). If they truly are in a position to take one of the top four quarterbacks by season’s end, that’s where I’m going. If not, I’m hoping Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons falls in my lap.

After that, I’m looking to add as much talent as I can to the secondary. It’s a deep safety class, and the value in recent years at that position has been the back end of Round 1 and into early Round 2, which is where they should be picking. If they could go Parsons in the first and then TCU safety Trevon Moehrig in the second. They could transform the physicality levels from the middle of their defense overnight.

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