While most articles you’re reading will either be a “Top 50 Big Board” or a common “Mock Draft”, this piece takes you behind the scenes of the top five (non-quarterback) players in this draft. Obviously, there is no such thing as a “sure pick” when it comes to the NFL draft, but I dive into the five players that are “safer picks” than the rest.
The NFL draft has common misconceptions when it comes to its philosophy on selecting players – one of them is team’s desire to fill “positional needs”.
Most great organizations have a big board in their war room and select the best possible player that is available to them. When teams don’t have a player they “love” at their current selection, they elect to move back in the draft because the player they have their eye on will likely be there at their next selection while acquiring more draft capital. A few weeks ago, Bill Belichick, during a weekly press conference, alluded to this point by saying –
“Well, again, the whole draft need thing is — I don’t really understand that,” Belichick said. “You put a card up on the board. That doesn’t mean the guy is a good player. I think it’s important to acquire good players wherever they are. If you take a player at a position that you might so-called “need” but he’s not good enough to fill that need, then it’s a wasted pick. So, I don’t understand the whole need thing. I understand player value, and that’s what we try to go by.”
Player value – that’s what is key for him and the most successful organization in the NFL.
So, I am putting together a list of the top five players with the highest value in this draft. While these aren’t the “sexiest” players the draft has to offer, you’ll find yourself wishing your team snags one of these top talents.
Roquan Smith – ILB – University of Georgia
Weight: 225 lbs
The NFL is changing and has been for some time now. The league of bulky, run stopping, beefed up linebackers is gone and the new age is here. This is now a passing league and its defenses are starting to reflect that. Two NFL linebackers that fit this mold are Bobby Wagner and Deion Jones because both players play tremendously in space.
Roquan Smith plays the same way. Watch him sniff this play out and fly toward the sideline to prevent Auburn from scoring. Not to mention, he adds a good pop at the point of contact as well.
Roquan Smith gonna be a Raider Thursday night? pic.twitter.com/XOYqDKBbAS
— King Brian? (@BFord_the_Great) April 23, 2018
This type of coverage absolutely transitions to the NFL.
Roquan Smith has rare coverage skills for a linebacker. That’s never been more important in the NFL. TV angle doesn’t do this play justice, but it’s elite-level coverage: pic.twitter.com/i4AitFDEMP
— Sam Monson (@PFF_Sam) March 25, 2018
His speed really stands out when watching film. This play was designed to get the option quarterback in open space.
This is LB Roquan Smith teleporting. Insane closing speed pic.twitter.com/ng3RgPZHKJ
— KP (@KP_Show) February 5, 2018
He even starts behind the other linebacker and still makes the play. Insane speed and awareness.
roquan smith is a star pic.twitter.com/Wtmk4CqFNn
— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) November 25, 2017
And even though he is undersized at the position, it doesn’t stop him from plugging a hole.
This dude Roquan Smith does not play around. pic.twitter.com/92td7tuqSJ
— Barton Simmons (@bartonsimmons) October 2, 2017
Do you need any more convincing? It’s all on his tape. He is the perfect linebacker to build around in today’s new age of passing.
Quenton Nelson – OG – University of Notre Dame
Weight: 330 lbs
Most analysts can’t find a single flaw in Quenton Nelson’s game and he is considered the best lineman in this draft class. So what’s the issue?
Teams shy away from drafting offensive guards in the top five (even top 10) selections. If a team takes an offensive lineman, it’s usually a left tackle. The last time a guard was selected top ten was Chance Warmack in 2013 by the Tennessee Titans. The last time a guard was selected top five was 2001 when the Arizona Cardinals selected Leonard Davis. Needless to say, it doesn’t happen very often.
One scout told NFL.com,
“He’s so unique because he’s big, but he’s not fat. Nelson is one of the best run blockers I’ve ever evaluated, but he’s not a liability in pass protection Mike Iupati is. He’s also an alpha who can bring and a**-kicking mindset into your position room.” – NFC team personnel executive
Often times what you’ll find in his tape is Nelson man-handling opponents.
— Indy League of Champions (@IndyBestDamnFFL) April 17, 2018
Watch him pick up a blitz from the other side of the formation. Unbelievable awareness to protect his quarterback.
Quenton Nelson is not going to directly give you fantasy points, but the team he goes to will have stronger pass protection and a mammoth blocking up front in the run game pic.twitter.com/bnOtjpolmU
— Crow Worthy (@CrowWorthy) April 24, 2018
Oh yeah – and he’s as strong as an ox.
The average # of bench press reps for offensive guards last year was 26.
Quenton Nelson just pumped out 35. ?
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) March 1, 2018
From one former NFL offensive lineman (Geoff Schwartz) to a future NFL offensive lineman – he’s a beast.
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 1, 2018
It’s extremely rare for a team to select an offensive guard early in the draft. However, Quenton Nelson is going to be an incredible asset to whichever team selects him. Additionally, he solidifies the trenches which is among the most important aspects of a roster in the NFL.
Bradley Chubb – EDGE – North Carolina State University
Weight: 269 lbs
Some analysts regard Bradley Chubb a better pass rushing prospect than Myles Garrett of last year. The reason Garrett went number one is his potential as a pass rusher combined with his insane athleticism. If there is a chance the Browns take a QB with the first overall pick and then select Chubb fourth overall, they – without question, need to do it.
Don’t take my word for it. Von Miller knows a thing or two about rushing the passer in this league and he has very kind words concerning this young man.
Von Miller on Bradley Chubb:
“He’s Khalil Mack and Von Miller put together” pic.twitter.com/DMCfa9lxTV
— #3 Barstool Pack (@BarstoolPack) April 17, 2018
He has the ability to get around blocks with his rare explosiveness. He is able to take down one of the most elusive college football players after beating an offensive tackle off the edge.
— Dustin Fox (@DustinFox37) March 28, 2018
Additionally, scouts rave about his ability to “bend” around the edge when hunting down quarterbacks.
Do you need to ask who it is? Bradley Chubb with yet another big play to back the Noles back 9 yards, holding FSU to a FG chance pic.twitter.com/d2y82h5RE0
— Pack Pride (@PackPride) September 23, 2017
He even gives us a taste of his passing rushing arsenal with a rare inside spin move.
Bradley Chubb’s ability to win with variety on inside moves is awesome pic.twitter.com/QiXn4gfP7K
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) September 1, 2017
It is widely known across the league that in today’s NFL, general managers think pass rushers are the second most important position behind quarterback.
I think it would be wise for the Browns to address both positions with their first and fourth picks in the first round.
Minkah Fitzpatrick – CB/S – University of Alabama
Weight: 204 lbs
Sources tell NFL.com that Minkah Fitzpatrick is arguably the most versatile player in this year’s draft. Not only that, but he has the ability to change a locker room with his presence as he lives and breathes football.
In today’s NFL, the ability to cover players anywhere on the field is at a high premium. Offensive coordinators spend countless hours finding the best ways to utilize their receivers, tight ends, and running backs in different formations and packages and if you have a player that covers all three without having to make substitutions or switches, that is a very valuable asset.
Scouts are caught in between playing him as a corner or safety. He has the uncanny ability to play in the box and blitz the quarterback while also being able to cover the slot and outside receivers.
Here, Minkah is shown covering the slot receiver. As the play develops, he passes off the receiver and squats below the outside receiver for an interception.
— IKE Packers (@IKE_Packers) April 24, 2018
This is where scouts want him to be used as a safety – watch how fast he processes this play and sniffs it out.
minkah fitzpatrick is an elite blitzer off the edge. being able to read the mesh point that fast is a huge skill for today’s game pic.twitter.com/7inX5gNSnW
— charles mcdonald (a guy at the airport) (@FourVerts) April 22, 2018
He’s not afraid to stick his nose in the trenches and finish a play in space. There aren’t many players out there that can do this.
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) March 26, 2018
This interview was conducted at the combine.
As the DB’s hit the field today at the NFL Combine, all eyes are on Alabama star Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Listen to him break down how Nick Saban taught him to thrive at both cornerback and safety. pic.twitter.com/0u2Ii56jBS
— 247Sports (@247Sports) March 5, 2018
A few things stand out to me:
- His willingness to accept coaching
- He constantly talks about working and practice – which means he loves the grind
- He understands football and how to elevate a team
A couple of months ago, Saban was asked about Fitzpatrick and responded like a proud father bragging about his son.
“Minkah does it as well as anybody I’ve ever coached, in terms of how he works every day, how he finishes plays, his conditioning level, just phenomenal. Pays attention to detail. It’s important to him. Makes sure he knows what to do. A lot of players that are good players I’ve heard them say ‘I’m saving it for the game.’ Every one of those players, and all those teams that I’ve been on that the players say that, none of them are worth a sh*t. He doesn’t do that. He works every day to get better. I hope we have more and more players who work like him because when you have players that do that, you usually have a pretty good team. He sets a great example and we’re excited to be able to utilize him in a lot of different ways.”
Coach Saban doesn’t publicly praise many individual players but now adds Minkah to that list. Not once does Saban talk about Fitzpatrick’s talent or ability. He praises his work ethic, love for the game, and preparation. All three aspects translate to the NFL.
Derwin James – S – Florida State University
Weight: 215 lbs
There might not be a better athlete in this class than Derwin James – his explosiveness is off the charts.
One NFC Scouting Director told NFL.com,
“He is going to be the dude in any locker room he ends up in. That’s his makeup. Physically, he’s probably more talented than Jamal Adams but Adams was more consistent as a player. Derwin is still learning so he has a sky-high projection if his play can catch up to the talent.”
If you know anything about Jamal Adams, then you’re just as impressed as I am with James. Last year, I scouted Jamal Adams (and projected him to be selected by the Jets at 6th overall) and his player comparison was Brian Dawkins. For that scout to say Derwin has a higher ceiling means he will be a special player.
His former coach, Jimbo Fisher, was asked about why he would take Derwin James over any defensive back in this draft.
Asked Jimbo Fisher what an NFL team is getting in star safety Derwin James pic.twitter.com/XxpHJ4xQUM
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) March 27, 2018
Derwin carries himself with such a swagger, it’s contagious.
This may be one of my favorite plays I’ve watched of any player in this draft. I love his willingness to bully offensive tackles to get to the quarterback.
Derwin James throwing a Florida OT really never gets old pic.twitter.com/ogSu50tqey
— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) April 5, 2018
Here are more impressive plays from Derwin James.
FSU Safety Derwin James (@derwinjames6) Career Highlights
James is a big hard hitting playmaker who can cover bigger WRs and TEs while also being fast enough to chase down fast RBs in the backfield
— JustBombsProductions (@JBP_Official) February 24, 2018
Instant run recognition and has the closing speed to wrap the running back up for a loss.
Good morning. Here’s Derwin James from 15 yards off the ball making a TFL. pic.twitter.com/hdGcT0JE5I
— Caleb (@CJDNole) July 2, 2016
He makes plays in the passing game, too.
Seriously great play by Derwin James. The WAKE WR had the ball in his hands. pic.twitter.com/h9mIFUWMzX
— Billy Marshall (@BillyM_91) September 30, 2017
What sets him apart is the mental side of his game and how committed he truly is to the game of football. He should be, without question, a top ten pick. However, because of the quarterback craziness that this draft possesses, if he slips, make sure your team snags him.
Regardless, it’s draft Thursday and I’m prepared for anything to happen. Christmas is coming early!