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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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