College News & Analysis

NFL Week 16 Mailbag: Thoughts on Kyle Trask vs. Mac Jones, what the Browns should do with OBJ, the most overrated QB in NFL history and more

It’s a very special Christmas mailbag, with one hell of a showing by you guys. It’s the longest mailbag yet, so let’s not waste any more time getting to your questions!

  1. Notre Dame’s brand and QB wins.
  2. Because no one else deserved the fourth spot either.
  3. It is with great shame that I think Bama will not only win but likely cover what’s grown to a 19.5-point spread. No one is stopping this Alabama offense — teams are going to have to outscore them, and that’s not this Notre Dame team.

Tears of joy, Austin. I knew Notre Dame was still going to the playoffs. Such a special moment for me, and I’m not afraid to be vulnerable.

This one depends on a number of factors, but if your goal is to win next year, relying on a rookie tackle is a scary proposition. Just ask the Dolphins, who are in the no man’s land of hoping that their young tackles develop to protect Tua. For as good as Mekhi Becton and Jedrick Wills Jr. have been as rookies, Rick Wagner and his $4.8 million cap hit has graded out higher this year.

After defensive line and safety in 2019 and then cornerback this past year, the only answer is either at defensive tackle or linebacker. Mayock obviously values toughness with his picks. The linebackers that personify that the most,  Missouri’s Nick Bolton and Tulsa’s Zaven Collins, thankfully wouldn’t qualify as “reaches” for the Raiders. The defensive tackles who tick that box, LSU’s Tyler Shelvin and Florida State’s Marvin Wilson, qualify as reaches. With how consistently poor their run defense has been, I’ll go with Shelvin.

There are likely going to be six quarterbacks in this draft class that I’ll have a higher grade on coming out than Jones. In the NFL, Jones hasn’t particularly shown anything to prove that wrong. At that point, any significant upgrade at that position is worth more than a quality starter elsewhere.

There’s no real magic personnel grouping, but rather what you do with it. Innovation and creativity are almost universally rewarded in the NFL. Now, 20 personnel is no cheat code on its own. Only six teams have run at more than 10 snaps of 20 personnel, and only two teams — the Bills and Ravens — have generated positive expanded points added (EPA) on those snaps.

As with pretty much anything in this pandemic, it’s the fringe that’s getting screwed. Not only the guys who got their season canceled altogether, but also even big names like Zach Wilson who got their chances of proving themselves against Power 5 competition zapped. Teams are likely to lean toward players they’ve seen play against other players who will be playing in the NFL. Simple as that.

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
  2. Joe Burrow, LSU
  3. Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
  4. Kyler Murray, Oklahoma
  5. Zach Wilson, BYU
  6. Justin Fields, Ohio State
  7. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama
  8. Trey Lance, North Dakota State
  9. Sam Darnold, USC
  10. Mac Jones, Alabama

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has been a healthy scratch in one of the worst receiving corps in the NFL. That blows my mind, as he seemed at least one of the higher-floor receivers in the draft with his ball skills. I don’t know what’s going on out in Philly, but I still think he can produce with an actual opportunity.

I’ll go with Penn State’s Jayson Oweh. He could solidify himself as a top-five pick if he returns and balls out with his physical tools. Offensively, Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder could end up in the first round next year with a more consistent 2021, but he could also risk losing the allure of “upside” if he doesn’t take a meaningful next step.

Timo Riske’s study on kickers is a must-read on this topic. The TL;DR is that it’s extremely difficult to evaluate based on how they kick in college and that it's not worth spending the draft capital. A team is better off getting multiple guys in the building for an extended period of time and evaluating from there.

Miller has quietly developed into one of the better pass-protecting tackles in the league and is likely the best draft pick under Jon Gruden. The Raiders' draft picks defensively have been a little more of a minefield. The only surefire building blocks, in my opinion, are Maurice Hurst and Clelin Ferrell. From there, Maxx Crosby and Trayvon Mullen have also shown enough flashes to not worry about upgrading at the moment. Obviously, they are tied into Johnathan Abram and Damon Arnette, but neither has shown enough for me to be confident in.

I think Bruce Gradkowski (former NFL quarterback who’s younger than Brees) and Steve Palazzolo (former minor league pitcher) are shoe-ins. After that, it’s iffy. I don’t want to sound like a hardo and say I could throw farther, but…I can get into the 50s, and Brees' farthest throw this year went only around 53 yards from release to catch point.

Boy, have I got the article for you.

The advice I give to anyone asking how to break into the industry is this:

  1. Learn as much about the Xs and Os of football as possible. There are a lot of great resources nowadays. It really sets you apart when you know what you’re looking at/talking about.
  2. Do the work and do it somewhere public, whether it’s a personal blog, a public google sheet, whatever.

Having something to point to is a tremendous leg up over someone who’s just “passionate.” Everyone is passionate about sports. Are you competent, though, is the question people who will be hiring you want to answer.

The Chiefs are wholly beatable. They seem to have an air of invincibility around them, but I think any of the top contenders in the AFC have at least a chance to take them down.

Attention policing is difficult. I always say that no matter how high you are on a player, someone, somewhere, will inevitably tweet at you that they are higher. I’ll say Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto. He’s a twitchy, undersized edge rusher who leads the country with a 93.3 pass-rushing grade.

I don’t have a sleeper QB that I like for you just yet, but my sleeper for a couple of years has been San Jose State wide receiver Tre Walker. He’s a sudden route-runner with a shiftiness that I believe will translate to the NFL. He's not necessarily a No. 1 type of wideout, at 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, but he could develop into a nice No. 2.

He didn’t have a great 2020, but he’d still be the No. 1 corner in this draft and lock top-10 pick. He ran a 4.3 coming out of high school and was the highest-graded corner in the country as a freshman.

Pipe Dream: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

More Realistic: Rashod Bateman, Minnesota

If they aren’t going to get some game-breaking speed, they at least need another receiver they can rely on to win one-on-one. That’s Bateman.

We’ll know more when the daft order dust settles, but the problem for Denver is how far they have to trade up for him and how many QB-needy teams they’ll have to jump. Slated at Pick 13 right now, they have to leap the Panthers, Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, Lions and 49ers, who could all be in the quarterback market. Not many teams in the top five want to move all the way back to the teens without getting multiple other firsts and seconds in return. When the Rams moved from Pick 15 to 1 in 2016 to draft Jared Goff, they gave up a first, two seconds and a third in 2016 along with a first and third in 2017.

Obviously, I’d take my chances of switching Oregon’s Penei Sewell to the right side before anyone playing right tackle right now. But, to take a more literal reading of the question: Texas’ Sam Cosmi is the highest-ranked tackle on our board with experience at right tackle, while Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins is the highest-ranked currently playing right tackle.

I talked about linebacker Paul Dawson back in 2015 and how much it changed how I felt about athleticism at coverage positions in a past mailbag. He and subsequently Deion Jones are easily two of my biggest misses on the opposite ends of the spectrum for precisely that reason.

I have a feeling that this is a decision that will be made for them. My conclusion in this article was that I’d rather have Wilson unless I’m going very run-heavy. I would trust Matt Rhule to play to Fields’ strengths and use him in that manner if that’s where he ends up.

There are only two mascots in the NFL that aren’t normal people dressed up in fuzzy costumes but rather real live horses: Thunder for the Broncos and Warpaint for the Chiefs. I’ll have to lean warpaint solely for the badass name alone.

That he doesn’t ever take over as the Packers' full-time starter unless Aaron Rodgers gets hurt.

I do think it’s too soon to move on. I don’t think he’s been too good to waltz into 2021 with the starter job as a given. They absolutely need to bring in another option either through the draft or free agency this offseason.

I’ll go with John Elway. He had a big arm and the draft hype, but his stats aren’t anything special for his era, and he got propped up by the league’s best rushing attack for two super bowls late in his career.

They’re not “screwed,” per se. If Trevor Lawrence didn’t exist, one of Wilson or Fields would still be going first overall. It’s just going to make Joe Douglas work a little harder to build a winner. I’d put it at a 3/10 on the screwed scale.

I try not to read too much into small sample sizes, and one player’s development would qualify as such. The one biggest thing I’ve taken away is how valuable it is to have a quarterback who can open up an entire playbook with their athleticism and arm strength. Any area of the field you want to attack or quarterback-run concept you want to dream up as an NFL offensive coordinator, Allen can execute. That gives defenses so much more to prepare for and makes quarterbacking easier.

I don’t know what was going on with Florida State this fall, but defensive tackle Marvin Wilson looked like a shell of the guy we saw in 2019. He went from a 90.7 overall grade last year to a 67.7 this season. He was hoping for a Derrick Brown-esque rise returning for his senior year, but he may fall to Day 3 now.

Odell is a special talent at receiver. Odell has not worked well with Baker Mayfield at all. Both of these things can be true. His ~$15 million cap hits the next three years are very reasonable, given the current receiver market, and the odds are they’ll have trade suitors. That’s the route I’d take.

Ja’Marr Chase outproduced the league’s best rookie wide receiver in a more difficult role in the same offense back in 2019. He’s also got more prototypical size than Smith. Chase easily here.

He was always a physical projection and not a terribly productive linebacker. However, when that doesn’t change by Year 4 of college, it starts to take the perceived “upside” away.

2011 Rodgers is still the best I’ve seen in terms of quality of throws from hand to landing spot. This season's Mahomes is right up there with prime Manning in terms of mastery of offense. I’ll take the Rodgers season, though, because it was before the creative offensive boom of late and didn’t have much in the way of schematic advantage that Mahomes has.

This is going to be the debate for a lot of teams drafting in the middle of the first round. I’m going to punt on this one for now, as the playoff and the fact that he'll likely be facing two of college football’s best defenses will be massive for Jones’ evaluation. It’s just hard to really put a firm stamp of approval on him with how easy his job has been in that offense.

Besides the fact that they quite literally can’t trade him until 2022 because of cap implications, yes you would still be insane to trade Watson. He is the goal everyone strives for at the position. You’ll just have to suffer for a couple of years with a rough roster, but as soon as Bill O’Brien’s absurd deals are off the books, you’ll still have a decade with Watson.

Honestly … laziness. Do you know how long showers take when you have long hair?

I, myself, will be pairing a Miller Lite with my prime rib on Christmas because I prefer to taste my meat and not my beer. You really can’t go wrong with any alcohol on Christmas, though.

Route-running. Pitts has special suddenness and flexibility in his routes for a man that size.

Balance — You can’t block well flat on your face. Oftentimes blocking on the interior is not going to be pretty. It’s going to be like riding a rodeo bronco. Being able to stay on balance is a necessity to maintain blocks.

While a Super Bowl is great, I disagree with the fetishizing of it. Just because a team doesn’t win a Super Bowl doesn’t mean the season wasn’t worthwhile as a fan. Seasons with no hope — which would essentially be the final five or so in this proposition — suck the life out of you. I’ll take my chances over the next few years with Rodgers instead of getting one guaranteed.

I shared my early thoughts on him here. He’s not in a particularly great situation to succeed. He’s also not overcome it in any meaningful way. There’s more than enough plays to be optimistic about on tape, and I think he’s looked more than enough like he belongs already.

The biggest reason is NFL-translateable things; throwing to guys not wide open, specifically. The stats of both when throwing into tight windows are particularly telling:

Stat Burrow 2019 Jones 2020
Completions 124 39
Attempts 195 78
Comp % 63.60% 50%
Yards 1,532 596
Yards per attempt 7.9 7.6
TDs 25 6
INTs 5 3
Passer rating 116.7 85.2

Throwing into tight windows is a must in the NFL.

You've got the first pick with your finances. Western Southern Financial Group.

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