WNUR 4-on-4: NFL Draft Edition
With the NFL Draft just under a week away we asked our panel some Northwestern and Big Ten-related NFL Draft questions leading up to the draft. Ari Ross, Ian McCafferty, Max Gelman and Zach Pereles answer our 4 pack of questions in this weeks WNUR 4-on-4.
1. Not a single Northwestern player was drafted last season but this year that looks to change. Safety Ibraheim Campbell was invited to the Senior Bowl and has been getting looks for numerous teams. Brandon Vitable could find a home as a backup center and the Browns, Bears and Broncos worked out Trevor Siemian over the past three weeks. How many Northwestern players will be selected in this year’s NFL Draft?
Ari Ross: As much as I want to say two or more, I just don’t think it’s happening. Ibraheim Campbell should be drafted as early as the third round, but unless someone takes a flier on Kyle Prater, Brandon Vitable or someone else in the seventh round, I think just one Northwestern player will be drafted. In such a deep wide receiver class, it’s going to be tough for someone like Prater to be drafted. Similarly with Vitable, center’s aren’t usually drafted that high and for the No. 9 center according to CBS Sports, it’s going to be tough for him to be drafted. A bunch of Wildcats, including Vitable, Siemian and Prater, will sign with teams as undrafted free agents and get a chance to prove themselves in minicamp.
Ian McCafferty: I think Northwestern will have one player drafted but quite a few signed as undrafted free agents. Ibrahiem Campbell is the only Northwestern player currently projected to be selected and I think he will wind up being the only player taken. Most of the talk has Campbell being drafted somewhere in the fourth round, but I could see him being taken a round earlier if there’s a run on safeties at some point. Strangely, NFL.com has Campbell ranked as a seventh round pick, which I think is way too low. He’s one of the top 5 strong safeties in this draft and should go in one of the middle rounds. As for the rest of Northwestern’s draft hopefuls, I think Siemian and Vitable both play positions that are traditionally loaded, and there are a lot of players ranked ahead of them. They don’t have the athleticism or college production to warrant a late round flyer. They’ll both be invited to NFL training camps, but they won’t be drafted. One potential sleeper might be Kyle Prater. While he’s ranked in the 800s on CBS Sports, he’s an athletic receiver with size, something that NFL teams love. He might be a surprise seventh round pick by a team that needs a big receiver.
Max Gelman: Realistically, only Ibrahim Campbell is going to be drafted next week. Pat Fitzgerald is an excellent defensive coach, and Campbell has been one of his most talented players in recent years. I do, however, agree with Ian that there will be multiple Wildcats signed as undrafted free agents. There’s QB Trevor Siemian, who doesn’t have the greatest arm strength but is a decent mid-range passer. Then you have WR Kyle Prater, who is similar in size to Calvin Johnson, but much less athletic. A team that lacks receiving depth could take a flyer on Prater. His biggest problem in college seemed to be drops, which with the right coaching is an easy fix. And then, Chi Chi Ariguzo, a scheme linebacker, could potentially be a decent backup or special teams player in the pros. Ariguzo has the speed to be a gunner, and I can see him signing once the draft is completed.
Zach Pereles: Two Northwestern players will be drafted. It’s nice to see that Trevor Siemian is talking with teams, but there’s no way he’s going to be drafted. Not only was he an average or below-average Power 5 conference quarterback, but he’s coming off a serious knee injury as well. He’s the 22nd rated quarterback in the class according to nfldraftscout.com, and that’s certainly not high enough to be drafted. A lot of late-round prospects are immense talented with off-field issues, or they immense production in the college ranks but aren’t deemed ready for the pros. Siemian fits into neither of those categories. Vitabile was a solid center and a good guy off the field, but physical limitations will hurt him. Both guys, however, could be picked up as college free agents. I think someone will take either Kyle Prater (just based on his size) or Jimmy Hall, who posted incredible workout numbers during Northwestern’s Pro Day, in the late rounds.
2. While Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones decided against entering the draft, plenty of other Big Ten starts left college for the NFL including Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon III, Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes and Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff. Who is the best Big Ten player in this year’s draft?
Ari: Character concerns aside, the best Big Ten player in this draft has to be Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory. Gregory has fallen due to a failed drug test at the combine, but he’s still a top 10 talent. As a junior last season with the Huskers, Gregory recorded seven sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. He was first-team All-Big Ten and a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player. For the Huskers, Gregory was a force off the edge and he will continue to be a terrific edge rusher in the NFL, with a chip on his shoulder if he falls far in the first round.
Ian: I think Melvin Gordon III is the most explosive playmaker and most exciting B1G player in the draft this year, but he’s not the best. The best Big Ten draft prospect is cornerback Trae Waynes. As great as the flashy players at QB and RB are, we learned in this past year’s Super Bowl that having great cornerbacks is a must for any NFL team. This draft will feature many teams taking cornerbacks earlier than usual, and Waynes is the best of the bunch. His only real weakness is that he’s too skinny and can get pushed around by bigger receivers. That’s something that can be fixed quite easily. Waynes will be a great fit with any team, and might be one of the best players in this draft.
Max: The only way to answer this question is most NFL-ready Big Ten player and without a doubt that is Brandon Scherff, who has been connected to the New York Giants all offseason. After a couple of seasons with an injury-riddled line, the Giants are in great need of an upgrade and could be looking to do what the Cowboys did last year with Zack Martin. Using an early 1st-round pick on a lineman will greatly benefit the Giants, as Eli Manning and Rashad Jennings will be more comfortable in their second year with offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. While Gordon is certainly a more explosive player Scherff is ready to start in the NFL right now, whereas Gordon will likely not make an immediate impact.
Zach: Melvin Gordon III is by far the best player of this bunch. He’s big, he’s strong, and he’s fast, plus he has great vision and durability. I’ve never seen someone dominate a game quite like Gordon III did against Northwestern last year. Although Waynes and Scherff will likely come off the board earlier, Gordon III is the best of the bunch, and was the Big Ten’s best player last year.
3. A number of Big Ten players, including Jones, decided against declaring for the draft, instead staying another year in college. Connor Cook, Braxton Miller, Joey Bosa, Shilique Calhoun and Christian Hackenberg all decided to forgo the draft. But staying in college isn’t always the answer, and it backfired for Washington quarterback Jake Locker. Which Big Ten prospect made the wrong decision to stay in college?
Ari: I think Braxton Miller made the wrong decision to stay at Ohio State University. After injuring his shoulder in preseason, J.T Barrett and eventually Cardale Jones took over and both performed exceptionally well. Coming off a National Championship season, I think Miller goes into the season as the No. 3 quarterback and I’m just not sure he’s going to get any playing time. J.T. Barrett showed he was better last season and the fans are going to be calling for Jones to play. Miller might sit on the bench the entire year, barring any injury and that doesn’t look good to NFL teams. The fact that he wasn’t able to beat out Jones and Barrett, when he would have been a first round pick this year without injury, says something about Miller to NFL teams. Coming out this year, Miller would have been able to prove he was fully healthy at the combine and could have been a Top 5 or even a Top 3 quarterback.
Ian: Personally, I am always for players coming back to school and playing out their eligibility, but I understand the need to maximize your talent and make the most money that you can. That being said, I don’t think any of these players made terrible decisions coming back. This year’s QB class is loaded, so Cook and Hackenberg made good decisions waiting an extra year. They might actually be the top two QB prospects for 2016. Braxton Miller missed an entire year of football and coming out this year would have been a disaster, especially given the recent track record of Ohio St. QBs in the NFL. (Terrelle Pryor or Troy Smith anyone?) Miller can use this year to show that he’s healthy and ready to play at the next level. He just has to worry about whether or not he’s starting. Joey Bosa could have been a first round pick this year, but he might be a top 5 pick next year. The only choice that I can somewhat doubt is Shillique Calhoun, I’m not really sure what Calhoun can do to increase his stock. Sure he would have been competing with the likes of Shane Ray and Randy Gregory this year, but next year he has to compete with Joey Bosa and Shawn Oakman. I think Calhoun gets drafted next year right around where he would have gotten drafted this year. It might not wind up hurting him in the long run, but another year of earning NFL money is very rarely a bad thing.
Max: While returning to college didn’t necessarily backfire for Locker (he was still selected 8th overall) it has the potential to be a huge mistake for Cardale Jones. In Ohio State’s three-way quarterback battle, Jones figures to be the odd man out despite winning a national title. Braxton Miller has to have the first shot at winning the job since he’s a senior, and J.T. Barrett played ahead of Jones last year as a redshirt freshman. Instead of riding the wave of success, albeit short, that he had late in the season to the pros, Jones is gambling on himself to win the Buckeyes’ starting job outright. It’s a gamble I just don’t see paying off, especially since Jones has the potential to be the next Ben Roethlisberger.
Zach: I think Cardale Jones made the biggest mistake returning. Braxton Miller couldn’t have possibly gone pro after missing all of his senior year due to injury, but Cardale Jones, after winning a National Title, could have gone pro and probably been a high-round draft pick. Instead, he might not even start next year. Jones is also quite old (age undetermined). What happens if he doesn’t start next year? He’ll be somewhere around 25 and his stock rise from the National Championship run will have dissipated. He might struggle to regain his form as an in-game quarterback. Jones was playing fantastic football the last time we saw him, and now we don’t even know whether we’ll see him again.
4. Rarely does the No. 1 overall pick end up best player in the draft. There are always sleepers hidden throughout all 256 players drafted. In 2002, Michigan quarterback Tom Brady was picked in the sixth round and became one of the best quarterbacks of all time. Former Badger and Super Bowl Champ, Russell Wilson was a third round pick. Who will be this year’s sleeper prospect?
Ari: While he played just one season of football at Miami (OH) University, Quinten Rollins show the potential to be a solid defensive back in the NFL in just one season of college football. After playing four seasons of basketball for the Redhawks, Rollins switched to football and tore up the MAC, as he was named the MAC Defensive Player of the Year. as he totaled 7 interceptions and 9 interceptions in his one season with Miami. While a very raw prospect, Rollins has all the psychical tools to succeed as a defensive back in the NFL and will be selected in the second or third round.
Ian: For my sleeper pick I’m staying in the Big Ten and going up to Ann Arbor and WR Devin Funchess. There are a lot of skills you can teach a football player, but size isn’t one of them. Funchess is 6-foot-4 and 235 pounds and an immediate threat in the red zone. He doesn’t have the gaudy numbers of some of the other receivers (62 REC, 773 YDS, 4 TDs last year) but that’s because he was playing in a terrible passing attack. The only reason he’s not a first round talent is because of his hands. Another receiver that dropped because of worries about his catching was Torrey Smith, and I think he turned out pretty well for the Ravens. Put Funchess with a good QB that has a big arm (like maybe Joe Flacco!?!?) and I think he has a big rookie year and beyond.
Max: While Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are great prospects, both have their issues. Winston has been harshly scrutinized for his off-field antics and there are questions as to whether Mariota can run an NFL-style offense after playing at Oregon. A quarterback that has been largely overshadowed by both Famous Jameis and Super Mariota is Bryce Petty. At 6’3” with a huge arm, the senior from Baylor doesn’t have as high a ceiling as the top two projected QBs, but his floor is just as high. In a couple of years I can see Petty as the next Joe Flacco, and considering he’s projected in the late-2nd, early-3rd round right now that’s a heck of a steal.
Zach: I’m a huge fan of Landon Collins, a safety from Alabama. He’s a big hitter with just enough speed and hip fluidity to cover. He reminds me a lot of the late, great Sean Taylor. He can command the box and is a smart player who has a lot of physical skills that make him stand out. He looked better in 2013 than he did in 2014, but I certainly think he will regain his form and be a top guy in some team’s secondary (hopefully the Redskins’) for the next decade.