The NFL Combine is in one week and it is going to be absolute chaos. Beautiful, horrifying, blood soaked chaos. 40 times will irrationally destroy weak big boards, Twitter will be on the bring of nuclear warfare over an offensive lineman that can only put up 15 bench reps, and packs feral dogs will roam the streets, picking off the frail and wea-.. okay, okay, it’s not that serious… or is it?
This is the time of year when everybody becomes an “expert”. Let me qualify something right now: I’m not a professional scout. That’s the goal, but there is much work to do. My evaluations, flawed as they are, are my own. I stand by them for what they are, I’m open to constructive criticism, and I’m willing to learn through instructive, open dialogue. What I will tout as a qualification for writing about the draft is my undying dedication to grinding tape and seeking new information. Nearly every moment I’m not working or with my beautiful wife and/or son, I am breaking down tape, feverishly filling out notebooks, devouring heavily highlighted football books, and consuming articles and clinics from football minds I respect because at the end of the day.. I don’t know a damn thing, but I recognize that and put the work in.
Years ago this was just a hobby, something to help me gain a deeper appreciation. My hobby has evolved into something far more serious. This labor of love has produced the following rankings and an incredible appreciation for those that dedicate themselves to this craft. So, for a moment, all I ask is that you put aside the group-think echo chamber and take a fresh look at an honest opinion, as foolhardy as it may be. Here we go, my Big Board 21-32:
(21) Budda Baker, S (Washington) – Don’t let the small 5’10” 180lb frame fool you, Budda is a playmaker that can do it all. Shifty, smooth, and willing to stick his nose in the box, Baker works as a centerfielder and can roll down to cover slots. He must be a film junkie because he is barely ever caught taking the cheese. He is willing, but is more of a catch and drag tackler and will have to play with more control at the next level. That being said, if Budda can hold up, he has the traits, intelligence, and competitiveness to become a top safety in the league.
(22) Haason Reddick, EDGE (Temple) – I’ll start this by saying that Reddick is the type of guy that causes Belichick to cut three other players for because he can fill whatever role they filled and do it better. Outside of playing interior DL, I’m not sure there’s much Reddick can’t do. He walked on as a cornerback weighing 208 pounds, eventually adding 30 pounds as he transitioned to LB/EDGE. When I watched his tape, I was expecting a smallish pass rusher that could get bullied, but what I got was something much more. Reddick was used in a number of ways; dropping into zones, manning up wheel routes, kicking out to cover slot guys, and he did all of these things really well. As a pass rusher, he may have some of the best bend/ankle flexion in the class, which he attributes to his dedication to Yoga. Reddick is an uber-athletic move piece that creative coaches will find a role for, and no matter how he’s used, he could still wind up with double digit sack totals.
(23) Cam Robinson, OT (Alabama) – I don’t buy the narrative that this is a weak OT class. Yes, it lacks a true consensus top 10 guy, but when you can get Ram, Cam, and Bolles later in the first, all very good players, the depth makes up for the lack of top end talent. Robinson has some slight technical flaws that could use some refinement and I would argue these are coaching points that can be easily corrected. If you’re sour on him, watch him work vs. Myles Garrett and gain a new perspective of the 21 year old’s ceiling. Robinson is nasty and will have a long, pancaked filled career.
(24) Gareon Conley, CB (Ohio State) – With fellow Buckeye Marshon Lattimore getting all the hype it would be easy to miss what’s happening on the other side of the screen. Conley will get in your face and make you earn a release. He makes up for some tightness with solid technique, but he will struggle turning in off coverage as he’s much more comfortable when he can turn early and use the sideline to his advantage. As I’ve stated before, I place high value on guys that can play both man and zone well, and I see no reason that Conley can’t do both well at the next level with his athleticism and length.
(25) Jaleel Johnson, DT (Iowa) – My top run stuffer, Johnson does a lot of the small things really well and with tremendous power. He has the lower body strength and bullrush to excel as a smasher on twists, clearing a path for the rushers working behind him, and flashes the ability to get to the QB with violence and power. In the run game, Johnson shows discipline, intelligence, nuance and patience. He will struggle at times against double teams and those flaws are coachable. Big picture: Johnson has the tools you want and not having to come out on 3rd downs will keep his stock up come April.
(26) Forrest Lamp, OG (Western Kentucky) – Mike Mayock called Lamp’s Alabama game the best game he’s seen from an offensive tackle in years. Holding up against one the draft’s top edge rushers, Tim Williams, is no easy task and Lamp didn’t just hold up, he won dang near every rep. The reason he’s listed as a guard is due to his 31 1/8″ arm length, which is below the threshold for tackle. That being said, Senior Bowl arm length measurements are notoriously shorter than measurements taken at the Combine. I think he brings value as a stopgap tackle and his home is on the inside. Lamp makes up for some pad level inconsistencies with the ability to recover using his hands/hips/feet and illustrated this a few times in the Alabama game. With his attention to detail, Lamp has a bright future in the NFL (I’m so sorry for that).
(27) Carl Lawson, EDGE (Auburn) – Lawson may be maxed out physically, but what he does to maximize what physical tools he has speaks to his work ethic. There is an argument to be made that he is the most polished pass rusher in the draft, combine that with an explosive first step and you’ve got a high floor, productive starter. He isn’t going to wow you with his bend like Garrett or Reddick and I’m not concerned, there are many ways to skin a cat and Lawson has mastered a lot of them.
(28) Zach Cunningham, LB (Vanderbilt) – Homework assignment: Watch 20 plays of Cunningham against the run, then watch 20 plays of Alabama’s Foster against the run. Then tell me who is navigating clear, calm seas and who is charging through the roaring Bering Sea. There is a stark difference, and Cunningham is lucky to have the athleticism and range to sift through the traffic and get the ball carrier without falling over strewn about bodies. This is not to knock Foster or to say Cunningham is on the same level, but this stood out so much that I’d be remiss if I didn’t share what I saw. Cunningham has definite warts, namely some sloppy tackling, but teams looking for a sideline-to-sideline ‘backer with coverage upside to combat athletic tight ends and running backs slipping to the flats should take a long, hard look a the Vanderbilt product.
(29) Dorian Johnson, OG (Pittsburgh) – Recruited as a tackle, Johnson has played LT, LG, and RG along the Pittsburgh line while starting in 42 games and playing in 51 total. At 6’5″ 315lbs, it was eyeopening to see how well he moves and finishes with extreme prejudice in space. Johnson has the feet, balance, and power you want in both the pass and run game, with the talent and polish to be a Day 1 starter. Teams needy of line help will be drawn to Johnson’s atheltic ability, size, attitude, and versatility.
(30) Patrick Mahomes, QB (Texas Tech) – If the directors of Crank made Any Given Sunday, Willie Beamen would be played by Patrick Mahomes. For a more indepth breakdown, please check out fellow Breaking Football writer Jonathan Valencia’s report here: Patrick Mahomes Scouting Report.
(31) David Njoku, TE (Miami) – The NFL is constantly searching for the next Jimmy Graham, and while it may not be Njoku, I’m not sure he doesn’t possess that type of ability. So why isn’t he higher on my board? For starters he’s an average blocker, but Graham isn’t known for that either. I’ll add he’s not the fastest TE in the class, which isn’t a huge knock but worth noting considering what he’s going to be asked to do on Sundays. Third, he’s not the most polished route runner in the class, but as the season progressed you began to see the nuance in his game shine as he increasingly used his size at the top of his routes to create seperation. Njoku is only going to get better and is one of the guys that will be a better pro than college player as he figures out how to use his freaky athletic ability. The Combine is in one week. The David Njoku Hype Train leaves the station in one week. Get a ticket, because Njoku is going to open some eyes.
(32) KD Cannon, WR (Baylor) – This is, by far, my biggest projection on this board. Cannon is raw, ran a limited route tree in the “Bear Raid”, isn’t as good after the catch as Louisiana Tech WR Carlos Henderson, wasn’t challenged in press, and suffers from the occasional drop due to passive catching. Typing that out had me itching to delete this ranking and supplant it with the aforementioned Henderson. I can’t though, I’ve gone too far. I’ve seen the easy, blazing speed Cannon boasts. I’ve seen the subtle nods and dips at the top of his routes. I SEE a legitimate homerun threat that will take the top off a defense. In high school Cannon won the 4A State Title in the 100m with a 10.32 and will torch the 40 at the combine. The key for him will be his COD times in Indianapolis, as he is more straightlinish than former Bears teammate Corey Coleman, and it will be important to show that he has the ability to make sharp, lateral cuts. I’ll have an indepth scouting report on KD Cannon here on Breaking Football this week so that I can further entrench myself on this hill I very well may die on.
Thank you for reading. The Draft is a cruel mistress, be great to each other… but feel free to be horrible to me for my horrible takes on Twitter (@MichaelJKist).