We have hit the halfway mark of our eight part NFL Draft Recap series. Part four takes a look at the winners and losers from the AFC West.
This past weekend, the NFL Draft provided all of us with two necessary things during these trying times: hope and normalcy. During the widespread coronavirus pandemic, many of us have been longing for the typical daily schedules of our everyday lives. All of a sudden, the normalcy aspect of our lives is not there. Sports are off the air, concerts are cancelled, and gatherings of any kind are not permitted. The NFL Draft was a return to our “regularly scheduled programming,” even if it was only for a little while.
The NFL Draft also brought us hope. That hope also extends well beyond the affects of coronavirus. As fans, the NFL Draft is the moment where the previous season is in the past, and the new season is upon us. Each fan base believes that the players selected in the draft will help their team in future seasons and beyond.
The best way to grade a draft is to isolate how each player fits into the system they were selected to. Simply giving a letter grade to the selection does not work because it brings in bias from your own rankings. If you think the team should have selected a different player, you will grade a selection poorly. However, the problem with that is the player that the team selected could be a better system fit than the player you wanted them to take.
So which players wound up in the best systems? Which pre-draft darlings could stumble based on where they went? Let’s take a look at some bold predictions for the NFL draft classes of the AFC West.
The Selections: Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, Michael Ojemudia, Lloyd Cushenberry III, McTelvin Agim, Albert Okwuegbunam, Justin Strnad, Netane Muti, Tyrie Cleveland, Derrek Tuszka
General Manager John Elway entered this draft with the goal of giving his quarterback, Drew Lock, the tools necessary to succeed. In a loaded receiver class, Denver found two big time playmakers. Now, they have an explosive young receiving core.
Hamler is the deep threat, first round pick Jerry Jeudy is the route running technician that moves the chains, and Courtland Sutton does a little bit of everything. Not to mention, they also have last year’s first round pick, Noah Fant, to stretch the middle of the field.
Maybe the most underrated selection of the Broncos draft was Lloyd Cushenberry, who inexplicably fell to them at the bottom of round three. Cushenberry has the intelligence and athleticism to transition to guard at the next level. He could also play his natural position of center, should the Broncos kick newly acquired Graham Glasgow back to guard.
Denver’s draft is highlighted by their offensive additions.
Bold Prediction: Jerry Jeudy Leads the Team in Receptions in 2020
Developing a bold call for the Broncos is a challenge because their draft is pretty straight forward. Both receivers will contribute right away, and Cushenberry should start week one as well. Michael Ojemudia, the Broncos third round pick, will start at the boundary position opposite newly acquired A.J. Bouye. The depth selections will be just that; depth.
Jeudy is the one player that could break out in his rookie year. He’s a route running technician with elite quickness in and out of his cuts. Jeudy sinks his hips into his route combinations with precision. He separates with more than just sheer athleticism. Don’t worry, Jeudy still has the straight-line speed to take the top off of the opposing defense.
With Courtland Sutton on the opposite side, Jeudy should face lesser coverage early on. He will also be Drew Lock’s top target on third down. It’s not unrealistic to assume Jeudy is the top pass catcher for the Broncos in his rookie season.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Selections: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Willie Gay Jr., Lucas Niang, L’Jarius Sneed, Mike Danna, Thakarius Keyes
Who says you need defense to win? Last year’s defending champions spent two of their first three selections perfecting the offense that carried them to a title last season. Clyde Edwards-Helaire may not have been the popular choice, but of the running backs, he was the best fit for the Chiefs offense. Edwards-Helaire is a bowling ball through contact. He has excellent balance, and runs with the proper pad level. The most important attribute “CEH,” possesses is his ability in the passing game. He can pass protect, run clean routes, and catches almost everything.
Many Chiefs fans wanted to see them select more defense. However, the Chiefs won last year with a dominant passing attack and a timely run game. They also manufactured timely stops on defense. The blueprint will be the same in 2020.
Bold Prediction: Willie Gay Jr., Leads the Team in Tackles in 2020
Even though he’s a rookie, saying Willie Gay would start week one is not really bold at all. Saying he will lead the team in tackles? Now we’re talking.
Willie Gay is going to fly at the football from day one. He’s got terrific sideline-to-sideline range, and he runs towards contact, not away from it. He’s excellent in coverage as well. While he has a tendency to take some bad angles, Gay will be allowed to make mistakes on the fly in Kansas City. Why? The Chiefs offense is just that good.
The concern with this call is his technique in the run game. Willie Gay struggles at times to disengage from blockers in the run game. However, part of that is because he does not always shoot the right gap. His mental processing of plays is off at times. As he gets more accustomed to diagnosing plays (which defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo will help with), he will become a beast in the run game. The same should go for his angles to the football. As Gay learns to play more in control, he should become better at taking proper angles to the ball.
It’s a bold call that probably won’t happen, but Gay will have plenty of opportunities at the second level of the Chiefs defense. The offense will put up points in a hurry, which means the defense will have plenty of time on the field to rack up tackles. There’s no reason Gay, who will start at middle linebacker, couldn’t be the team leader in that category.
Las Vegas Raiders
The Predictions: Henry Ruggs III, Damon Arnette, Lynn Bowden Jr., Bryan Edwards, Tanner Muse, John Simpson, Amik Robertson
In an NFL draft loaded with skill position players, general manager Mike Mayock made sure to get more than one. In fact, he managed to get more than one on both sides of the ball.
The Raiders receiving core was a mess for the majority of 2019. Three of the Raiders first four picks will provide a necessary jolt to their passing game. Henry Ruggs is the playmaker the Raiders have been missing for quite some time. Because of his blazing 4.27 speed, Ruggs has the capability of taking a slant route to the house any time he touches the ball. Lord knows he can beat the defense over the top. Ruggs is also a better route runner than people realize. He’s quick in and out of cuts, and even though he can improve his technique, there is a good foundational base for a coaching staff to work with.
Mayock backed up the selection of Ruggs with two guys that can move the chains. Bryan Edwards is not your traditional bigger body receiver. He wins routes with technique. Edwards gains leverage with his size during his stem. He then sinks his hips at the top of the route to separate the rest of the way. Most big body receivers win along the boundary with size and their ability at the catch point. Edwards wins in different ways.
Lynn Bowden is going to make the transition from quarterback to running back/slot receiver. As he learns the position, he should become a real weapon. For right now, his job is going to be using his quickness against linebackers and safeties on third down.
Overall, the Raiders made sure to address their lack of skill positions early and often during the 2020 NFL Draft. However, it was their skill positions on defense that stirred some controversy.
Bold Prediction: Damon Arnette Proves Worthy of his First Round Selection
Arnette was arguably the biggest “head scratcher,” of round one. Many had him projected in the middle of round two, yet Mayock spend a top 20 selection on him. Arnette comes with some controversy. He ran a poor 40 time at the combine. Based on his style of play (Arnette spends a lot of time in the nickel corner spot) the question marks around Arnette’s athleticism are alarming. When you combine that with some character concerns, the selection of Arnette can be seen as questionable.
The tape on Arnette speaks for itself. He can play the boundary and nickel corner positions. Arnette’s footwork is outstanding when mirroring receivers. When he’s in off coverage, Arnette shows terrific timing when breaking out of his T-Step. The ball skills are there as well. Arnette’s versatility will make him a successful corner at the next level.
Assuming Arnette had the chance to perform at his pro day, his stock would have been much higher. He would’ve corrected his lackluster 40 time, which is the big question mark that now looms over his status at the next level. The tape warrants a top 40 selection. Therefore, the overreaction to him being selected highly is just that.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Selections: Justin Herbert, Kenneth Murray, Joshua Kelly, Joe Reed, Alohi Gilman, K.J. Hill
General Manager Tom Telesco pulled off the same “win,” that Chris Grier did with the Dolphins. He stayed put at the original draft selection instead of being baited into trading up to land their guy. By keeping his assets, Telesco was able to trade back into round one for the three down linebacker they desperately needed.
Even though the Chargers navigated a solid draft class, the analysis starts and ends with the selection of Herbert. Herbert has ideal size for the position, and a cannon for an arm. He knows where to place the ball so that only his receiver can get it. Herbert’s mobility is also much better than people realize. Not only can he extend plays with his legs, but he also throws the ball well on the move to his right.
Of course, Herbert comes with some question marks. He struggled to see “NFL open,” receivers during the 2019 campaign. Not to mention, his 2019 tape is less than impressive in general. Herbert didn’t improve the way scouts wanted him to. While that is largely due to him playing in an offense that didn’t suit him, it’s still not a positive look for the former Oregon star.
The question the Chargers will be faced with is the same question every team with a rookie quarterback has to deal with. Do you sit, or start, your future franchise quarterback.
Bold Prediction: Justin Herbert Will Sit for his Entire Rookie Year
Overall, the decisions the Chargers will make with Herbert going forward could make or break his progression as a quarterback. Should they choose to start him week one, Herbert will have the chance to learn on the fly. He has two terrific targets on the outside in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Allen is one of the most complete receivers in the NFL today, and Williams wins a lot of 50/50 balls on the boundary. The Chargers offensive line also improved this offseason with the acquisitions of Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner. If Herbert succeeds out of the gate, he can carry the Chargers much farther than Tyrod Taylor can.
On the other hand, if Herbert sits for a year, he can improve in terms of his ability to read defenses. On top of that, Herbert can get a better feel for when to pull the trigger on timing routes. When the pocket collapses, Herbert has a tendency to rush the throw out of his hands. It causes him to be inaccurate at times. Sitting for a year can help his mechanics, especially because the weapons that the Chargers have are not going anywhere anytime soon.
It will be interesting to see how the Chargers approach the development of their new franchise quarterback. While Chargers fans may want to see their future leader on the field right away, reports seem to indicate that Tyrod Taylor will be the incumbent starter when camp opens. Taylor has always been smart with the football, and the Chargers do have a roster that can compete for a playoff spot. They may look to do so with a game manager like Taylor at the helm.
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