NFL Draft

NFL Draft Roundup: Garrett, Fournette, and Allen are just too good

October 22, 2016: LSU Tigers running back Leonard Fournette (7) rushes for a touchdown during Ole Miss Rebels at LSU Tigers SEC game at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, LA. (Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by John Korduner/Icon Sportswire)

The big news from the weekend isn’t Ohio State losing — everyone has already agreed it doesn’t matter as long as the Buckeyes beat Michigan. Nor is it Alabama rolling Texas A&M, because this current Alabama team is a machine that looks unstoppable. No, the biggest news from this weekend in college football is Today’s Pigskin releasing it’s updated 2017 NFL Mock Draft, courtesy of Connor Rogers. Two things have been consistent since the first Pigskin mock NFL Draft in early May through the quarter-season mock a few weeks ago:

  1. The Cleveland Browns are projected to have the first-overall pick.
  2. The Browns are slated to take a quarterback.

Not to spoil things, but while the former remains true in Rogers’ version, the latter is no longer a given. Rogers pegs Myles Garrett as the pick for Cleveland. Despite slotting the Browns a quarterback only a few weeks ago, I tend to agree with him now. I was never in love with any of the top quarterbacks in this draft, but Garrett has really emerged as an undeniable prospect. The Browns need to get a quarterback on the roster who can change things, as it is by far the biggest need for a team staring at an 0-16 season. However, the rebuild might be better suited with Garrett in round one and a quarterback later in the draft or in another year.

Garrett has been struggling with injuries in 2016, but halfway through the season despite everyone looking for the under-the-radar prospect or falling for the flavor of the week, the fact remains that Garrett is a star. With much of the season behind us, the hype should have played out for everyone and this week was a chance for the true stars to remind us why they started at the top of draft boards. Check out Rogers’ mock draft to see who else he has in round one, but first let’s look at three big things from the weekend, starting with two players who also decided to remind us that they are elite prospects.

Three big things

  1. Leonard Fournette can now retire from college football: With 249 yards rushing on his first seven carries, Fournette is in no danger of losing his position as the best offensive player in this draft. Even a known contrarian like myself has to admit that. A record-setting day in Baton Rouge has quieted any backlash RB1 had from a disappointing junior campaign and has effectively put an end to the hipster narrative that Christian McCaffrey (or whoever else people like) is a more “modern NFL running back” in this class. Guys who are bigger, faster, and stronger than the people trying to tackle them are not getting phased out of the league. If Fournette quits LSU tomorrow, he will be the first back off the board.
  2. Jonathan Allen should be in the NFL right now: The talent on defense at the top of this class is something to be marveled at, but Allen really has no business being a part of it. Nick Saban somehow got him to return to school for one more year, and I hope he is enjoying his Alabama education because at this point he might as well be playing against third graders. Allen would have been almost a lock to be the second pass rusher selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, and probably had a ceiling as high as the Ravens at sixth overall. Garrett has the pole position as the top defender in the draft, but to think he is a tier unto himself is discrediting his peers. Also, Allen did this, which is just fun.
  3. Despite questions, Joe Mixon and Curtis Samuel are going to make plays with the ball in their hands: It would be hard to totally ignore the Oklahoma-Texas Tech game that set records for total offense, passing offense, and defensive players wondering if it is too late in their collegiate careers to switch positions. Mixon had the most fun, with 263 rushing yards and two scores, plus 114 receiving yards on four catches and three touchdowns through the air in Oklahoma’s win. Serious character concerns (and by serious, I mean serious) will take him off many draft boards, but moral and ethical concerns aside the team that puts them on the field will likely get a productive and versatile player.It is unfair lumping Samuel in hear, because his questions stem from positional concerns, not character ones. Samuel has been highly productive on his 64 carries in 2016, but his value to the Buckeyes can be seen most as a receiver, where he has nearly double the receptions and yards of the next best player on the team. Samuel might not be thought of as a running back who can carry the load, but I have heard rumblings that NFL teams are looking at him as a player with first-round talent even if he is unlikely to be drafted that high.

Standout senior

There can never be enough edge rushers, and Takkarist McKinley of UCLA figured he might as well add his name to the list. He had four sacks in five games leading up to the matchup against Utah on Saturday, but it was against the Utes that he truly broke out. McKinley was highly productive with three sacks in the game, including two strip sacks, and added a QB hit and two hurries according to Pro Football Focus. With seven sacks on the season, he could be a day two pick with some upside.

Small-school star

We already looked at one future pro from Western Kentucky in Forrest Lamp, but his teammate Taywan Taylor is also an interesting draft prospect. He had 86 catches for nearly 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns last year, and he remains a productive receiver in 2016. He already has 64 catches for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns in eight games, and at 6-foot-1 he has enough size and speed to make the jump to NFL competition. He has 18 catches and 230-plus yards against two SEC opponents, with more than half of that total production coming against Alabama, and has exploded for 22 catches, 320 yards and four touchdowns over his last two games. With a good showing at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine Taylor could be a factor as early as round two.

Sneak peek: 2018 draft

22 October 2016: Washington running back #9 Myles Gaskin waits for the signal from the ref signaling a touchdown against Oregon State. Washington defeated Oregon State 41-17 at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. (Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire)

(Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire)

Jake Browning gets all the love for the Washington offense, but fellow true sophomore Myles Gaskin has been a key part of the attack for the Huskies. Gaskin is averaging 6.3 yards per carry on the season after a freshman campaign in which he went over 1,300 yards on the ground. He just went over 100 yards for the third straight game, averaging nearly 8.2 yards per carry in that stretch and reaching the endzone four times. With all the talent at the running back position (assumingly) leaving for the 2017 NFL Draft, Gaskin should begin next season as one of the five best running back prospects in the country.

Week 9 matchup to watch

Despite being in my preseason top-25 prospects and potentially a top-three safety in this class, Virginia’s Quin Blanding has fallen off the map as fast as the Cavaliers’ defense did. On Episode 9 of the NFL Draft Podcast I accidentally said he played for Virginia Tech. Maybe it was a small mistake, maybe it was a referendum of how he is irrelevant at this point in the season despite the safety class being loaded. This week he gets a safety’s worst nightmare in Lamar Jackson and Louisville. I have little faith the Virginia defense will even keep this close into the second quarter, but Blanding will get a chance to show the athleticism that makes him a dangerous safety in the box and in coverage. If he can make a few plays and play Jackson honest, maybe there will be hope for him yet.

Additionally, DeShaun Watson gets his biggest chance to change the perception that he is an unworthy quarterback prospect. Florida State is the last team on the schedule that has a legitimate chance to put a loss on their record without it being considered an unholy upset. The bar against Florida State was set by Jackson earlier this year, but Watson could use a nice game against a marquee opponent in primetime to quiet his critics.

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