College News & Analysis

NFL Week 9 Mailbag: Answering questions on the NFC and AFC favorites, The Cleveland Browns draft class, Zach Wilson to the 49ers and more

Provo, UT, USA; BYU quarterback Zach Wilson (1) throws downfield as he warms up during an NCAA college football game against UTSA Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Provo, Utah. Mandatory Credit: Rick Bowmer/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

I’m back off the reserve/COVID-19 list this week to answer all your pertinent football and non-football questions.

Unlike Odell Beckham Jr., the virus had absolutely zero respect for me and put me on my backside for the better part of a week. People are saying that the timing is suspicious given that Trevor Lawrence tested positive days after I did, keeping him out of this weekend’s bout against my alma mater, Notre Dame. I categorically deny all allegations of any wrongdoing on my behalf and, in fact, care so much about Lawrence’s health that I believe he should sit out the 2020 ACC Championship Game as well … just to be safe.

Let’s have a weekend, shall we?

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He currently sits 96th on the PFF 2021 NFL Draft Board and is firmly in the Day 2 mix. With each passing game, I only fall in love more and more with what his skill set can bring to an NFL defense.  The most impressive thing to me, given his size at 6-foot-4, 260 pounds, is his tackle radius. The man engulfs ball carriers and stops them in their tracks. I’ve got Tulsa’s Dec. 5 make-up game against Cincinnati circled on the calendar already.

This isn’t as much an indictment of the pre- and post-O’Brien era but more so a growing trend that they have to get back to. The Texans have to get back to using Watson as a threat in the run game. This year, they’re on pace for only 55 option or designed quarterback runs. Last year, that number was 87. Truthfully, both of those numbers are far too low.

The effectiveness of those types of runs is well documented. They’ve averaged 5.8 yards per carry on options or designed quarterback runs this season compared to 3.7 on all other concepts. They should take a page from the Cardinals, who have seen their offense explode after increasing their usage of Kyler Murray as a rushing option to nearly 10 times per game this season.

Prescient question. This past week I mocked it as such with Wilson going third overall to the Jacksonville Jaguars. If Wilson keeps this pace up the rest of the season, I don’t think there will be a debate for QB3 — it’s Wilson. He’s also far less scheme-dependent, as I believe Lance’s legs will need to be featured in the NFL to get the best out of him.

Two Olave questions! And for good reason, he’s a monster. I am likely underrating him at 40th on the latest draft board. His route running is incredibly advanced for a college prospect, and it’s what makes him so successful. If you’ll remember from my article on broken tackles and YAC ability being so important for the success of top draft picks, there were two distinct types of receivers that were the exceptions for the non-tackle-breakers: They were pure deep threats like Will Fuller V and D.J. Chark along with skinnier route-runners like Calvin Ridley and Tyler Boyd. Olave fits firmly into the latter. He doesn’t have the power in his lower half to get through tackles, but he’s so nuanced as a route-runner that I’d still draft him early.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen Sam consume more than two drinks in a sitting, so I’m definitely going to lean towards “first one to leave” here.

Jedrick Wills Jr. was just what the doctor ordered at left tackle, and they have to be thanking the football gods for the loaded tackle class. A talent like Wills does not fall to the 10th pick in any other draft class without a bong mask being involved.

Jordan Elliott has slowed a bit from his hot start, but a lot of that is because he hasn’t been playing the same number of snaps. The crazy thing is, my favorite pick of theirs still hasn’t even seen the field — I think Grant Delpit could be the missing piece this defense needs in Year 2.

This is one question that even I struggle with. When we started PFF college grading and draft projections, I was naive enough to think we could get to the point where we didn’t miss. I’ve come to realize that this line of thinking ignores the human element of this game. I think the biggest edge to be gained right now in the draft isn’t necessarily in talent evaluation but in philosophy (trading down, positional value, etc.). At this point, our goal isn’t to predict every player’s career spot on but rather to identify outliers to increase hit rates.

I don’t even want to say what my picks were before the season. I’m going to lean chalky here with my picks because I feel like there are fairly clear upper tiers in both conferences. I’ll say Packers @ Bucs and Chiefs @ Steelers with a PackersSteelers Super Bowl rematch.

He’s definitely got the size-speed combination that can win on the vertical tree. You don’t see many guys stack Patrick Surtain II the way he did in Tennessee’s loss a couple of weeks ago. That rep, as well as his grab against Georgia below, are already more impressive than pretty much anything I saw from him last season.

That being said, I worry about his agility and suddenness out of his breaks. His slants are lethargic and would get eaten up at the NFL level. That’s likely the reason he failed to get much in the way of target share a season ago.

Don’t ask PFF guys where running backs will get drafted. We’ve got no clue; it’s like asking PFF guys for advice on how to talk to girls.

I will say this, though, I'll probably get fired for doing so: with a plan to get Etienne vertical in the passing game consistently, I’d be willing to take him at the top of Round 2. That is where running backs can separate themselves (quite literally), and if you watched Etienne this past week against Boston College, you’d know how deadly he is in that regard.

Getting open one-on-one consistently was the knock on Duvernay as he manned the slot for Texas and had a lackluster Senior Bowl. That’s always concerning for a guy with sub-4.4 speed like that.

The good news is that teams barely play man coverage against Lamar Jackson. Playing man is a recipe for a massive run — even with a spy — as oftentimes, it takes multiple guys to corral Jackson in space. The Ravens have seen man coverage on only 22.6% of their offensive snaps this season. So, for Duvernay, just get the ball in his hands and let that running back-esque ability go to work or have him run the seam to maximize his effectiveness.

Playing with Kyle Shanahan as your offensive coordinator is the best fit for A LOT of quarterbacks. Wilson’s ability to throw accurately and with some zip on the move is quite easily his best trait. He’s made more impressive throws without his feet set than any other quarterback in college football this season. That means anyone from the Shanahan-Kubiak school of offense would be a good fit. It will be interesting to see how the head coaches shakedown at places like Jacksonville and Atlanta to project how they might rank this quarterback class.

Ohio State guard Wyatt Davis is iOL1 on the PFF board, but “favorite” is a different designation from “best.” My favorite would be Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. He’s a converted defensive lineman and even beat Tristan Wirfs in some wrestling matches back in high school. He’s the most athletic center in the country, and watching him out on the move is a sight to behold.

…because he’s only a true sophomore, and I haven’t put out 2022 rankings yet.

This is fun theoretically, but with the dead money on his contract, they can’t feasibly trade him until 2022.

I loved, loved, loved both Jerry Jeudy and CeeDee Lamb last year, but I think Chase’s size gives him the nod if I’m comparing them all as prospects. That means we have to go back to Amari Cooper as the next best in line. Cooper was a silly-good route-runner and a man among boys in his last year at Alabama. Yes, he had some drop issues, but I think he was viewed as a sure-fire thing at the time. If Chase had played this fall, I could have bumped him over Amari, but I’ll side with Amari on this one.

Oh, I’m definitely still jaded. They got my number. I’m all ears.

I’m not sure I’d categorize Fields’ issue as “slow mental processing,” but rather overconfidence in that he can make something happen when things break down. That, combined with the fact that his offensive line is so good he’s never had to make quick decisions, is quite easily my biggest concern with him projecting to the NFL. Circle the Michigan game on his schedule this year; it’s easily the best pass rush he’ll face, with Aidan Hutchinson and Kwity Paye posing as a significant threat.

This right here is exactly why I asked this question after last year’s draft:

Everyone can clearly see at this point how much the situation impacts our perception of backs at the NFL level, but it’s still something that too often falls by the wayside in the draft process. So, to answer your question, yes. The fact that they weren’t able to get anything going with two legit NFL talents at running back is still a pretty strong indictment of the program.

Is this even a debate? If you told me I’d have to pay them equal amounts, we could have some discourse, but I’d lean Trevor even then. We’ll see how badly the bottom falls out in Dallas, but with how dire their cap situation is looking for the foreseeable future, tagging and trading Dak to address quarterback in the draft could be their best bet.

This one has to be a Miller Lite. My favorite part of it in the first place is the distinct lack of taste. When I cracked a couple while I was quarantined, they might as well have been water.

Yes, I would have. I also would have gone up to a third and tossed in a fifth. It sounds like the Packers weren’t willing to do so. The biggest factor for me is the ability to let Will Fuller V walk and get a compensatory pick in return. So it’s not even like they lost a pick, but rather traded down. In my opinion, it’s a miscalculation of where they’re at as a roster — the move would have pushed them to the top of the pack in the NFC.

You picked a good trio, I’ll give you that. While getting slaughtered with Austin is the best, it’s the only one of the three I’ve done before (and will do again), so that’s off the table. I’m going to have to side with ND beating Clemson here because everyone knows that a fleeting win over the No. 1 team in the country is more important than the possibility of a lifetime of happiness.

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