Almost there …
• As usual, what’ll likely lead to trades tonight is when the draft approaches where the cliff is at certain positions. And a lot of my conversations over the last 24 hours have centered on that, in discussing what teams might move up for. Three positions have stood out—corner, pass rusher and receiver. So here’s a look at where the pressure points for those spots might be …
Corner: The first two, in some order, will likely be Cincinnati’s Sauce Gardner and LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr. There’s a drop-off after that, then comes Washington’s Trent McDuffie. Then, maybe a bigger drop-off before the next group (Florida’s Kaiir Elam, Washington’s Kyler Gordon, Clemson’s Andrew Booth). So I’d think if someone’s going to take a swing, it might be to get in front of the Seahawks, if Stingley’s still there in the Nos. 6-8 range.
Pass rusher: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson, Georgia’s Travon Walker, Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux and Florida State’s Jermaine Johnson II constitute the first group. And there’s a significant drop-off after that. If you want one of them, it’d seem getting in front of the Jets at No. 10 might be the play—presuming Walker and Hutchinson are, in some order, Nos. 10 1 and 2.
Receiver: The first four are USC’s Drake London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, and Ohio State’s Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson. Again, the drop-off is considered significant to the next group (Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Arkansas’s Treylon Burks, etc.). I’d think the first group will comes off the board between Nos. 7 and 16, and teams wanting to have their pick of the crop would have to get in front of the Falcons at No. 7 8.
You can throw the offensive linemen in there too, though it seems like the first three are probably going to go—and probably without trades—in the first six or so picks. But, to be sure, there’s definitely seen to be a drop-off after the first three guys at tackle, too.
• All of that said, there are still way more teams looking to come up than move down. The two that seem to have done the most significant groundwork on dealing up, as far as I can tell, are the Eagles and Chiefs. I could see Philly moving up into the middle of the top 10, maybe for a corner, maybe for a pass rusher, maybe for a receiver. I could see Kansas City making a jump, too, but maybe for a corner—with a receiver like Georgia’s George Pickens being in play with the first-rounder they don’t wind up moving.
• Williams’s name continues to come up. And this line from a coach who knows him really well stuck with me in that regard: “Watch him at 30 yards, and how his second gear kicks in.” So I did. And I think I knew, having watched him, what I’d see. But it still was pretty wild just homing in on that and seeing how he pulls away from defenders.
I think his range is from the seventh pick to the 15th pick—I’ve heard him connected to the Giants (7), Jets (10), Vikings (12) and Eagles (15) specifically, and there certainly could be others in the mix to position themselves to take him. And he could be the guy some team winds up making a move up for.
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• Re: Hutchinson vs. Walker, I’ve spent a lot of time talking to coaches and scouts the last couple of days about the difference between the two. And there are a few takeaways I’ve gotten from those conversations.
First, Walker isn’t all traits. It’s true that many of his splash plays are in chase-down situations and that he was more consistent as a pass rusher from the inside than the outside. It’s also true, per NFL folks, that he needs to develop moves as a pass rusher if he’s going to be a dominant edge guy. But he’s got rare raw power for a player at his position, and below is one play that shows it.
Second, the arm-length/narrow-build thing with Hutchinson is a bigger deal for some teams than others. And third, the way the Georgia offensive line swallowed him up was a real problem for some coaches and scouts, worried what’ll happen when he’s being blocked by guys like that every week.
“There’s a difference between liking and loving a guy,” said one head coach without a dog in the fight. “To take him that high, you gotta love him. I like him; he’s a good player. But I don’t think he’s special, and at that position, based on who you’re going up against, you gotta be special to justify a pick that high.”
And it feels like that’s what this is about for a lot of people—can Hutchinson be special? Can Walker? It seems like if the Jags take the latter, it’ll be because they think he’s got a better chance to get there, even if there’s also a better chance that he winds up falling far short of the level a first pick should reach.
The good news, for the Jags, is that if it’s between these two, the character assessment on both seems to be spotless. Which is probably why Kayvon Thibodeaux—who’s turned some teams off through the process—really hasn’t been part of the conversation, particularly in a year when ownership has been prioritizing culture and alignment with his football folks.
• You hear a lot about owner involvement in the days leading up to the draft. So those questions have come up in my conversations: Would Jags ownership push the safe play, in Hutchinson, here? Would Jets ownership allow Joe Douglas to take an offensive lineman for the third straight year? Would Lions ownership sign off on another corner in the top three?
• I thought this line from an AFC exec sort of summed up how the league feels about the group going into tonight: “There just aren’t a lot of needle-movers. There might not be any. But there are a lot of solid guys.”
More NFL Draft coverage:
• Final Draft Day Mock 6.0
• The Draft’s Old Men: Meet the Seventh-Year Seniors
• Why Pass Rushers Will Rule the NFL Draft
• Meet Matt Araiza, Punt God