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The 10 most interesting players in the NFL Draft

Lacking a first-round pick has taken some of the drama out of the NFL Draft for Minnesota Vikings fans, but this year’s crop of prospects offers plenty of intrigue. Here at the 10 players who either have the best storyline or have been the most debated throughout draft season:

DeShaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Nov 12, 2016; Clemson, SC, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) passes the ball during the first half against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Clemson Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

For most of the 2016 season, the narrative around Watson was that his stock was falling. That’s until the National Championship game. He not only led a game-winning drive to win the title, but Watson threw for 420 yards and three touchdowns. The two-time Heisman finalist has been criticized for a lack of arm strength and accuracy, but praised for his strong showing at the NFL Combine, both on the field and in interviews. Mock drafts are all over the place with Watson, some listing him as high as No. 2 overall and others have him dropping either to the bottom of the first round or early second.

This statistical study threw another wrinkle into the analysis of Watson. Adjusting his numbers for competition puts him in the same category as some notable busts like Mark Sanchez, Vince Young and Christian Ponder.

Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Over his last two years at LSU, Fournette put up freakish rushing numbers, averaging 6.5 Yards Per Carry in the SEC while scoring 40 rushing touchdowns in just 19 games. At the combine there were concerns that he was overweight at 240 pounds, until he ripped off a 4.51 40-yard dash. His NFL.com draft profile compares him to Bo Jackson.

Fournette is ranked as the No. 1 running back by most, but Pro Football Focus has him behind more versatile backs Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey. The biggest question is whether a one-dimensional back who caught just 34 passes over the last two seasons is worth a top pick or if he fits in today’s offenses.

John Ross, WR, Washington

Nov 5, 2016; Berkeley, CA, USA; Washington Huskies wide receiver John Ross (1) scores a touchdown against the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Ross’s name shot to the top of the receiver list when he set the record for the fastest 40-yard dash time with an absurd 4.22, beating out former Titans and Cardinals running back Chris Johnson’s 4.24. The 5-foot-11 receiver had a ton of success with the Huskies, catching 114 passes and scoring 22 touchdowns and rushing for another 195 yards on 20 carries.

Of course, being a speedster hasn’t always equated to the most NFL success. The likes of Jacoby Ford, Dri Archer and Marquise Goodwin aren’t far behind Ross in his 40 time, yet none of them have had impressive careers. Ross is a more skilled receiver, but there are questions about his strength and ability to get open against physical corners. The debate among teams will be whether to take a shot on Ross or pick more typical NFL receivers like Mike Williams and Corey Davis.

Jabrill Peppers, DB, Michigan

peppers

Michigan’s Heisman finalist has seen his draft stock fall from a potential top pick to possibly a late-first second-rounder. The biggest problem: Where does he play? Is Peppers a hybrid linebacker/safety? Is he a slot corner? With the Wolverines, he played all over the field, which has caused some concern about his development at a single position. He also lacked production, grabbing just one interception. But Peppers is an explosive athlete who ran a 4.46 40-yard dash and was known for blowing up plays in the backfield. Will someone in the first-round see him as a Swiss Army Knife who can make an impact at multiple positions (and the return game) or will he drop because he lacks ideal skills to be a DB and size to be an LB? Could he even be an offensive player?

Budda Baker, S, Washington

Baker

Washington’s star defensive back performed like he should be one of the best in the draft, leading the Huskies in tackles and adding a pair of interceptions and 10 tackles for loss. He’s fast (4.45 40-yard dash) and instinctual. The only problem: He’s small for a safety. At 5-foot-10, 195-pounds, there are concerns about whether his body will be able to handle the punishment of playing NFL safety. Film watchers love his game and compare him to Bob Sanders. Will a team buy into him as a first-round pick or could he drop into the second because of his size?

Curtis Samuel, WR/RB, Ohio State

samuel

Samuel is the offensive version of Peppers. He was a terrific college playmaker, but he doesn’t have a true position. In fact, if you look at Pro Football Focus’s rankings, they list him as a running back, while CBS Sports’ draft page ranks him among the receivers. One thing is clear though: With the ball in his hands, Samuel is a special player. He has drawn comparisons to Percy Harvin after rushing for 771 yards and gaining 865 through the air.

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

Oct 29, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes offensive lineman Garett Bolles (72) celebrates a touchdown by Utah Utes tight end Evan Moeai (not pictured) during the second half against the Washington Huskies at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Washington won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

At the NFL Combine, the Utah tackle shot up draft boards and may be the first offensive lineman selected come draft day. He ran a 4.95 40-yard dash and scored among the best linemen in the broad jump, 3-cone drill and 20-yard shuffle. Bolles is also tall at 6-foot-5 and quick enough to force speed rushers to the outside. If he were 21 years old, Bolles would be a no-brainer top pick, but some troubles during his teenage years kept him from football, so he will be 25 when he hits the field for his first NFL camp. That might cause some teams to shy away.

Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington

Sep 3, 2016; Pullman, WA, USA; Eastern Washington Eagles wide receiver Cooper Kupp (10) makes a touchdown catch against Washington State Cougars defensive lineman Samson Ebukam (3) during the second half at Martin Stadium. The Eagles won 45-42. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Kupp had incredible numbers over his four years, catching more than 100 passes in three of those years and scoring 73 touchdowns. His performance at the Senior Bowl turned a lot of heads as Kupp showed terrific route-running ability and hands. His speed, however, leaves much to be desired. His 4.62 40-yard dash was topped by a handful of tight ends. Some see his production and ability as deserving of a fairly high pick, while others are concerned he won’t be able to separate from NFL corners.

TJ Watt, DE/OLB, Wisconsin

Watt

JJ Watt’s younger brother was only a one-year starter for the Badgers but it was a darn impressive one year. He picked up 11.5 sacks and 63 tackles. Watt was also one of the most impressive players at the Combine, which may have been enough to push his stock up into the first round.

James Connor, RB, Pitt

Sep 5, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Pittsburgh Panthers running back James Conner (24) runs the ball against the Boston College Eagles during the first half at Alumni Stadium. Pitt won 30-20 over Boston College. Mandatory Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Gregory J. Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Connor is just an incredible story. He continued to practice with Pitt despite battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma, then had a terrific year once he beat it. He’s not the fastest runner by any means, so it’s unlikely Connor is a high draft pick, but he is a battering ram and a never-say-die player who everyone will be rooting for.

Honorable mention

Teez Tabor, CB, Florida – Analysts have him ranked all over the board

Malik McDowell, DT, Michigan State – All sorts of talent, questions about his drive

Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss – Put up great numbers in college, but plenty of concerns about character and whether he could make the jump.

  • linus

    Venturing a guess, I’d say Coller had never even heard of Budda Baker until he had that ONE interview with a self-appointed draft expert, and now he’s talking him up as NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Truth is, Baker has a better chance of going in round three than in round one.

    • linus

      If I were Baker, I’d hire Ledyard (the self-appointed draft expert) as a publicist…

    • Troy Sowden

      I’ll take that bet. He’s more likely to go in the first than the third.

      Budda goes by pick 48 (first half of second round) I win. He goes 49 or later you win.

  • linus

    “Connor is… a never-say-die player,” Yep… literally. Well done, Mr. Coller.

  • Gordon Guffey

    I hate when colleges misuse players like Jabrill Peppers and the same goes for college QB’s ~ Kids should refuse to play for colleges who dont run a pro style offense ~ Sooner or later these schools would get the message ~ But for some being a starter for 4 years means more than being a good backup in a system that could turn them into good pros ~

    Brad Johnson comes to mind ~ He never stated a game in college and spent 2 or 3 season playing in the old Europe League before becoming a pro bowler with the Vikings and the Redskins and winning a SB with the Bucs ~ However thats when the draft was something like 12 rounds ~ LOL

  • Topgunn

    Gosh, I think I’d rather read Matthew Coller’s articles than Linus’s comments. Linus, go grab your blanket and sit in the corner sucking your thumb…

  • Brian_pdx

    I live in the northwest so I’ve watched Kupp and the Vikings would be lucky to get him except he is really what Treadwell was suppose to be. Rather have Mixon at 48, We don’t need a QB this year, too many other needs. The front office and coaching staff ought to nail this draft without moving up or find other professions. Offense first (RB, 2OL) than pick up some defensive gems in the mid-rounds and late.

  • Wilbur One

    I see the Vikings going D and OL with their first two picks. RB in late rounds, and no wasted picks this year. Maybe even a drop down to recover the #4 lost in the Bradford trade. They have an extra #3 they can give to get a higher 3&4 next year.

  • Gordon Guffey

    Even more interesting ~

    By one measure, Vikings’ last 10 drafts are 5th-best in NFL
    http://www.espn.com/blog/minnesota-vikings/post/_/id/22583/by-one-measure-vikings-last-10-drafts-are-5th-best-in-nfl

  • Gordon Guffey

    Mock Madness 4.0: Experts Project Potential Trade for Vikings
    Posted 5 hours ago
    Eric Smith Team Reporter

    http://www.vikings.com/news/article-1/Mock-Madness-40-Experts-Project-Potential-Trade-for-Vikings/c27e54cd-6ad6-41d8-8f0e-39974cc6d97e

  • Luis “TGO Fate”

    I’m a fan of Budda Baker. I think he would do well in the backfield next to Harrison Smith. Heck he could even fill Greenway’s old spot.





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