Then as it was, then again it will be.  Though the course may change sometimes, the rivers always reach the sea.

10 Years Gone

              Wow, it’s been 10 years evaluating NFL drafts for the Matriculator and friends.  What a run it has been. In 2019 we attended the draft in Nashville with the Matriculator Junior, The Draft Junkie, the Draft Savant, and Cowboy Brock.  We've applied for credentials to the NFL Combine and been spectacularly rejected.  (Check out NFL Cork Soakers Nearly Ruin The Matriculator)  We've taken pre-season scouting trips to places like Wofford College.  Dancing King.  We've spoken with ESPN's low hanging fruit, Matt Berry, and been interviewed by radio stations as far away as Buffalo.  We even got to chat on air with Dolphins great Crash Jensen.  We've been a regular on The Red Zone Sports Report and The Draft Junkie Podcast.  Everyone who has read us acknowledges (often reluctantly) that we have proven to be the greatest NFL scouting consortium of all time.  Heck, we even won the grand prize at the Dolphins-Steelers game a few years back. Grand Prize winner Ricky Wiggles!

We’ve learned a lot in our ten years.  Cornerbacks are difficult to evaluate, both in college and in the pros.  If they are viewed as high level players or have a terrible cornerback playing on the other side, teams rarely throw at them.  There isn’t much tape to evaluate.  Look at the first-round corners in the last decade.  It’s been about a 50/50 hit rate.  It’s about the same for offensive tackles. Most people say quarterback is the most difficult, but that hasn’t been the case for us.

            The most enlightening draft evaluation we have done in our first decade is the 2014 Draft.  We had Kareem Martin in our top 15.  Johnny Manziel was in everyone’s top 10.  Outside pundicators didn’t know he had a substance abuse/mental problem, though the NFL teams apparently did which is why he slipped out of the top 10.  We also had Taylor Lewan at 28 and Anthony Barr at 29.  They have both been better than that rating.  We had tight end Jace Amaro at 23. He was in everyone’s top 40.  That’s where we learned the lesson about Jets players in the passing game.  So you’re probably thinking how we get from here to the greatest NFL Draft scout in the world?  Well let’s hear the rest of the story about the 2014 draft.

              Blake Bortles was everybody’s darling in the 2014 draft.  He was top 15 on every pundicator’s board and was selected at number 3 by the Shaguars.  We had him at 40, as a second-round developmental type.  We certainly demolished all of the evaluators on Bortles.  Our number one rated prospect wasn’t in anyone’s top 5 that year.  He wasn’t drafted until pick 13 in spite of us penning an article called Don’t Duck Donald.  The Best Prospect We’ve seen in a Decade.  Aaron Donald is in the argument as the greatest player in NFL history at any position.  How did we get medieval on the scouting departments of every single NFL team?  We had Teddy Bridgewater as our 7th rated prospect and couldn’t figure out why nobody else did.  He was taken at 32 and was an NFC Pro Bowl quarterback in his second year before a career threatening injury.  He went 5-0 in 2019 for the Saints and is now replacing Cam Newton as the starter in Carolina.   We hate to pile on but there is more.  We had a guy in the top 15 (12 to be exact) that most people had never heard of.  He wasn’t in anyone’s top 50 and he was drafted 62nd.  His name is Jimmy Garoppolo and he became the highest paid player in the in the NFL.  In his first full season he reached a Super Bowl.  He also has the highest winning percentage of any quarterback in NFL history.  Not Bart Starr or Troy Aikman or Joe Montana.  Jimmy G.  Damn.  Most people don’t believe someone could be that much better than those armies of scouts and executives from every single team.  We don’t like to toot our own horn, but we’re simply not fans of false modesty.

              Some of the lessons we learned from the 2014 draft can be applied universally.  If a skill position offensive player gets drafted by the Saints, he’s probably going to perform much better than his draft status.  Michael Thomas was a second-round talent out of Ohio State who’s now headed to the Hall of Fame.  Alvin Kamara was a third-round pick who is a perennial Pro Bowler.  Even years before that there was 7th rounder Marques Colston and 3rd rounder Jimmy Graham.  Mediocre players like Darren Sproles and Ted Ginn coming from other teams have had breakout seasons in New Orleans.  It’s the system, obviously.  On the other end of that spectrum is the Jets.  Anyone drafted by them in the passing game will suck.  We’ve had three players in our top 30 who were drafted by the Jets.  Tight end Jace Amaro, quarterback Bryce Petty and wide receiver Stephen Hill.  They all flamed out not necessarily because of ability, but because they were on the Jets.  Hill and Amaro both were injured early in their careers, but New York is a passing wasteland.  Mark Sanchez, another ballyhooed doink. We didn't like Sam Darnold but he's another highly drafted player on the way to the scrap heap.   The Arizona Cardinals have generally been a trash bin for first round picks.  Besides Kyler Murray last year, their prior first round picks, in order, are: Josh Rosen, Haason Reddick, Robert Nkemdiche, D.J. Humphries, Deone Buchanon, Johnathan Cooper and Michael Floyd.   In other words, if you like a guy as a first-round talent and he goes to Arizona, you’re probably going to be wrong.  It’s not because of your evaluation but because of the team.  The same can be said for the Browns over the majority of the last decade.  Minkah Fitzpatrick, traded from the Dolphins to the Steelers for a first-round pick in 2019, is a prime example.  In Miami you hardly noticed Fitzpatrick and he was headed for bust status.  He was traded to the Steelers mid-season and suddenly becomes one of the best defensive backs in the NFL.   

            We also learned that a myth heading into the 2010 Draft evaluation wasn’t true.  In 2010 NFL teams were starting to employ much more 3-4 looks on defense.  The prevailing wisdom, which we followed, was that 3-4 ends were bigger and their primary job was to set the edge, not get to the pass rusher.  That was our rationale for not including 3-4 ends Cameron Jordan and J.J. Watt in our top 15.  Our philosophy since then has been, “If they can get to the passer, they can get to the passer.”  Keep it simple stupid. 

              Though our underground Fin Cave location is top secret, there is a rumor that it may be on the outskirts of Atlanta.  You know Atlanta, where the GM Thomas Dimitroff is still, after a decade, trying to prove he’s smarter than everyone.  Of course, it invariably backfires, other than that one flash of lightning in a bottle that was the 2016 season. He’s always doing interviews and talking draft strategy and then making trades to make the news. Last year he traded up to take RT Kaleb McGary in the first round.  McGary wasn’t graded by anyone (other than Dimitroff apparently) as a first-round talent and he failed miserably as a rookie.  In the weeks leading up to the draft Dimitroff has reportedly announced that he is going to trade up!  The only reason to announce that beforehand is to draw attention to your organization, but it also has the impact of letting the other GMs know your intentions and using that against you in negotiations.   He is the same guy who drafted Vic Beasley in the top ten (we must admit we liked him coming out of Clemson) and then doubled down by picking up Beasley’s fifth-year option after it had become clear that he was no good. They call that throwing good money after bad.  When GMs make bad first round picks they will give them every opportunity to succeed, even when it’s clear they will likely be failures.  Dimitroff passed on Aaron Donald with the 7th overall pick to take a middlin left tackle.  He drafted first round bust Takk McKinnley after trading up to get him.  And he’s still around!  Who has pictures of Arthur Blank?

              We have some juicy stats for you.  Over the past decade we have had four wide receivers in our top 10 who weren’t drafted in the top twenty.  Two, T.Y. Hilton and Deandre Hopkins, are on their way to the Hall of Fame.  D.K. Metcalf had one of the best rookie seasons in NFL history and broke the rookie record for receiving yards in a playoff game.  The other player is Andy Isabella from last year.  Buy his rookie cards while they’re cheap.  At tosser there are 10 players who were drafted in the top 15 who we didn’t have in our top 25.  Blake Bortles, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, Daniel Jones, Mitchell Trubisky, Jameis Winston and Josh Allen.  So far we are 10 for 10.  100% versus every NFL scouting department.  On the flip side, tossers we had in our top 20 who weren’t drafted in the top 30:  Russell Wilson, Dak Prescott, Teddy Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo, Colin Kaepernick and Geno Smith.  Smith is the only tosser we’ve missed on versus the league…ever.  In ten years.  We jab our Geno Smith voodoo doll before we go to bed each night.   

            Another thing we’ve learned over the years is, Don’t project.  The old, “He’s not there yet, but with NFL coaching blah, blah, blah, blah” almost never works.   The smaller rush ends who didn’t look strong enough in college but were going to “bulk up in NFL weight rooms” flop.  Look at guys like Barkevious Mingo, Leonard Floyd and Vic Beasley if you need proof.  Guys with one year of production are almost always mirages, particularly at tosser.  Jamarcus Russell, Mitchell Trubisky and Dwayne Haskins?  I certainly like Joe Burrow better than all of them, but would feel much more concrete in my evaluation if I saw him do it for 2 years.   

              Nobody has said anything about this, but one of the biggest issues in this draft is that the NFL hasn’t issued its punishment for the Patriots latest cheating scandal.  They got caught filming the sidelines of the Bengals, who they were facing the following week.  This was the same thing that cost them a first-round pick and a whole bunch of money during Spygate.  Ooops, they did it again.  They have to lose a first-round pick for doing it after they had been busted in years past, right?  Without the pick being taken this year (they have the 23rd pick) and the investigation and punishment still pending, could the commish be waiting to take next years pick?  The Patriots appear to be tanking, with the NFL’s worst quarterback tandem in Brian Hoyer/Jared Stidham.  They haven’t shown any interest in Cam Newton or Jameis Winston, or even former starter Jacoby Brissett.  Tank for Trevor then get gagged by Goodell?  This could be good. 

              So the big news this year is why are we the only pundicator that doesn’t think Tua Tagovoiloa is a top 10 player.  That’s based mostly on tape, not on his injury history.  So why are we so different?  First of all, we don’t watch games versus the teams that don’t have NFL caliber players.  Those are meaningless.  Watching him stand in the pocket for 5 seconds and throw to one of his wide open All-Americans doesn't help.  That doesn't happen much in the NFL. Tua is playing with high level NFL talent at every position.  Literally, there are 11 offensive players on Alabama who will be NFL starters in 2022.   Never has a college team had 4 first round picks at receiver at the same time.  Alabama does.  Why does he look mediocre in the 4 full games he played against NFL caliber defenses?  He had a 55% completion rate and 9/6 TD/INT ratio in those games.  First of all, he has an average, at best, NFL arm.  He has short arms and it shows in his velocity.  He’s a timing thrower, which is okay if he goes to an offensive coordinator who runs that type of offense. He’s not a one size fits all type player who can succeed in any system.  He reminds us of Boomer Esiason or Chad Pennington.  They were good, but not great tossers.  Tua posted monster college stats with a 69% completion rate, a 186 passer-rating and a 5/1 TD/INT ratio.  Wait, the Fin Cave is calling.  What’s that?  Those aren’t Tua’s numbers?  Oh, right they are the guy that took over for him last year, Mac Jones.  Mac Jones numbers were better than everyone in the country besides Burrow too?   They were.  There are two quarterback coaches who have had massive success no matter who their tosser is.   Sean Payton and Andy Reid.  Tua won’t be going to one of those teams and he will be lucky to ever be considered a top 10 passer in the NFL.  The other players in this draft whom we have rated lower than most are WR Laviska Shenault, DT Ross Blacklock and QB Jordan Love.  The guys we like better are OT Isaiah Wilson, OT Matt Peart and WR Chase Claypool.

              There will be trade.  In addition to teams moving up and down and swapping picks, there are a number of high-level players who could be traded.  The possibilities, with our guess at the pick they would garner, are:  Patriots guard Joe Thuney (3rd and 6th), Raiders guard Gabe Jackson (4th), Jaguars DE Yannick Ngakoue (1st or 2nd), Browns WR Odell Beckham (2nd), Redskins OT Trent Williams (2nd).  Just for fun let's make our predictions as to where they might go.  How about Joe Thuney to the Dolphins?  Interdivision trades are rare, but the Dolphins have lots of draft capital and a glaring need on the interior.  Gabe Jackson to the Ravens to replace Marshall Yanda.  Yannick Ngakoue to the Falcons for a first and the Jaguars send a late second with him.  Odell Beckham to the 49ers for pick #31.  Trent Williams to the Jets for an early second round pick.  

When we go to sleep the night before this bizarro 2020 Coronavirus draft, the same sugar plums will be dancing in our head that have been dancing since as long as we can remember.  We promise to wash them before we eat them.  Who knows, maybe Tua will prove us wrong and be the next Dan Marino.  To quote Jimmy V, "Don't give up hope.  Don't ever give up hope!"