Rookie Spotlight: Mark Walton

Josh Padgett, Contributor

This short article is the fourth in a growing series of guys that I am going to be higher on than most.  I will discuss some of the combine measurements, some of the tape, and just give an overall prognosis of what I am hoping for from these guys, and of course, where I am looking to take them in a rookie draft.

Three wide receivers kicked this series off, now time for some running backs.  Walton is one of my favorite players in this draft. My love for Walton stems from my comparison for him.  I think Walton runs a lot like Maurice Jones-Drew. He possesses similar size to MJD as well. He runs low with a lot of power.  He breaks through arm tackles and has some really solid balance.

Walton was on track to be a top level back in this class, but that was derailed by an ankle surgery that ended his season in October.  He has fought his way back from that injury but he did not test very well at the combine. He did not participate in the agility drills which tells me he still needs more time to be fully back. He ran a 4.6 in the 40 which isn’t great, but he showed enough game speed and breakaway speed isn’t his calling card by any means.  He showed below average explosion in the vert and broad jump but as he continues to strengthen that ankle I expect more of that explosiveness to come back. Walton does have a tendency to bounce outside and dance a lot. His lower body strength and low running style allow him to escape from trouble in some of the bad situations he can get himself in at the college level.  

This will be more difficult in the NFL, but with more coaching he can learn to take what is there and not try to create unnecessarily. More than anything, Walton is fun to watch. He can play on all three downs and plays the game with a lot of passion. He is a weapon out of the backfield with the ability to create separation from linebackers and safeties. He is on the small side for a 3 down back, but I bet he can put on some weight as he continues his recovery from his ankle.  

I am not saying he will be an RB1, but he has that upside. I am also very comfortable with his floor. Draft capital won’t be a huge issue as I expect him to be taken somewhere between the 4th and 5th round, and draft capital usually doesn’t have a huge bearing on running back opportunity anyways. Walton could be asked to play any number of roles on an offense which gives me confidence that he will play plenty early in his career, regardless of landing spot. I am drafting Walton as high as 1.10 for now.  Landing spot will likely determine where I actually get a hold of him though.

Impact of Free Agency on QB Fantasy Values

Mike Wallace, Contributor

This article breaks down the biggest Quarterback free agency moves, and evaluates whether the moves will increase or drop their fantasy value.

Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: Stock Up

Let’s start with what is considered the biggest QB move of this offseason. Since becoming a full season starter 3 years ago, Cousins has been a reliable fantasy option. Even though it has not translated to more than 9 wins in the NFL, he consistently has been a mid-level QB1. Now he is moving to a situation where he will have better weapons at the WR positions and a more talented RB than he has worked with previously, defenses will need to respect the run and play action more than they did during his time in Washington. Cousins has averaged 27 passing TDs and almost 4,400 yards over the last 3 years, in what should be a better offense that seems like his floor in Minnesota to me. Last year the Vikings sustained two top end WRs and Cousins represents an upgrade at QB for them. The only fantasy concern I have is the better rushing game in Minnesota cutting into the added value Cousins gained from rushing TDs. He rushed for at least 4 TDs each of the last 3 seasons, but the passing numbers will more than make up for any dip there.

Case Keenum, Denver Broncos: Stock Down

From Cousins to the man he replaced in Minnesota. Keenum signed as a free agent with Denver, with the hope of solving their recent QB issues. Keenum had a breakout season in his 6th season once he replaced the injured Sam Bradford. Keenum will see a little bit of a downgrade at WR, but Thomas and Sanders are still a reliable duo. The 1 year of success for Keenum is a little worrisome; he looked great last year, but owners should not ignore what he did for the rest of his career. In 2017 Keenum had a completion percentage of 67.6%, before that he never completed 61% in a season. If his 2017 numbers are removed his career completion percentage is only 58.4% through 2016. He is leaving the system that he had his breakout in and that the previous year led Sam Bradford to a career best 71.6% completion percentage. No longer having Pat Shurmur, known for being a QB friendly coach, as his offensive coordinator is another worry. Even if he remains a solid starter I expect there to be regression coming in 2018. Keenum is best looked at as a streaming candidate at QB.

Alex Smith, Washington Redskins: Stock Down

Alex Smith is the most obvious candidate for regression at the QB position headed into 2018. 2017 was a career year for Smith. For the first time in his 12 year career Smith threw for over 4,000 yards. He through for over 500 yards more than his previous career high. He also set career bests in passing TDs and interception percentage. He has always protected the ball well, but an interception percentage of 1% is unlikely to repeat. He is also moving away from Andy Reid who is a head coach known as a QB guru. Unless Josh Doctson takes a big step forward and Jordan Reed manages to stay on the field all season, he is taking a significant step down in the receiving weapons department. He is likely to be around a back end QB1 in 12-team leagues, but based on his performance last year I expect him to be overdrafted in 2018.

Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs: Stock Up

The trade of Alex Smith opens up a great situation for Mahomes. He is stepping into an offense that already had a big WR in Hill, one of the best TEs in the league in Kelce, a dynamic RB in Hunt and they added Sammy Watkins this offseason. The move may not be great for the fantasy value of Watkins, but he gives the Chiefs another weapon and a threat in the red zone. As previously stated Andy Reid is known as a QB guru, and the Chiefs seem to be all in on Mahomes with the moves made since trading up to draft him last year. The Chiefs also trades away their top CB in Marcus Peters this offseason, so it is possible they need to score more points to win this season if their pass defense takes a step back. Mahomes is known to have a stronger arm that Alex Smith and is more likely to take risks downfield. There will be some growing pains for the young QB, but he is going to be a streaming option that wins fantasy games for owners in 2018. He is also someone who should be considered as a potential late round QB breakout, there seems to be one every year and Mahomes is the right situation if he makes the best out of it.

Tyrod Taylor, Cleveland Browns: Stock Slightly Up (For Now)

Taylor is only in Cleveland to serve as a veteran bridge to whichever rookie QB the Browns are expected to draft in the top 5. Unless they surprise everyone and pass on the all the QBs, Taylor’s value is limited to an early season streamer in the right match ups. The Browns added a reliable target in Landry and Taylor’s rushing provides him with a safe floor, but the number of games he will actually play is a mystery.

Sam Bradford, Arizona Cardinals: Stock Stays Down

The condition of his knee is a huge worry. Arizona’s only other QB option at the moment is Mike Glennon also signed this offseason, so if healthy Bradford should at least play at the beginning of the year. An accurate QB throwing to Fitzgerald should be a solid connection, but Arizona has been linked to targeting a QB of the future in the draft. Bradford could have value has a streamer, but it is risky since he could easily not finish any game.

A.J. McCarron, Buffalo Bills: Stock Stays Down

McCarron was a solid filling in for a few games when Dalton was hurt in 2015, but he is headed to a less than ideal situation. A team that’s only reliable fantasy option will be an aging RB, they traded away an expected starter at OT. Another team likely looking to draft a QB this year, McCarron seems like he will end up an NFL backup with little to no fantasy value.

Teddy Bridgewater , New York Jets: Stock Says Down

Bridgewater likely will not hold much fantasy value this season. After his injury and struggle to comeback hopefully he shows enough to get a chance, but the Jets are looking to the future and are expected to draft a QB after trading up to the 3rd overall pick.

Rookie Spotlight: Deontay Burnett

Photo Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

Josh Padgett, Contributor 

Burnett is much more of a sleeper that the other two receivers I have done to date (Equanimeous St. Brown and Deon Cain).  He put up great numbers at USC in his junior year.  Nothing mind blowing, but 1114 yards and 9 TD’s in his junior year is nothing to scoff at.  He has earned the moniker “Big Play Tay.” This, combined with his listed size of 6’0”, 170 lbs, says to me that he possesses burner level speed and or quickness.  

Watching him on tape, both of those skills are evident. Burnett remains a sleeper for now. He did not participate in testing at the combine or at his pro day because of a hamstring injury he suffered in January.  This is a bit of a bummer because I believe teams will be far more interested in Burnett once they can confirm the quality of athlete that he is. I’m not worried about his small stature, especially if he is a true burner come test time.   

The biggest issue I have with Burnett is that he takes plays off. He is a terrible blocker, and though that is generally excusable for his size, you like to see the effort and more often than not, that effort is just not there. Burnett does love the spotlight though.  He clearly loves making those big plays that earned him his nickname. Get him involved in a game and he can really get rolling. The best example of this is the Rose Bowl against Penn State in which he amassed 13 receptions for 164 yards and 3 touchdowns. Despite a somewhat limited route tree, he runs clean routes and is flat out dangerous after the catch.  He can be an asset at the next level and could learn a lot from guys such as TY Hilton or even Golden Tate. Increasing that route tree is key and using the athleticism to create separation for a lesser quarterback would really make him a valuable commodity in the NFL.

His ceiling could be a low end number one wideout, but his floor is an return specialist. Scary to take him before the third round, but I’m enamored with the upside, so I’m looking for him in the mid to late second.  I would rather have a high upside wideout than a high floor tight end like Andrews or Gesicki in most cases anyways.

Rookie Spotlight: Deon Cain

Josh Padgett, Contributor 

This short article is the second in a growing series of guys that I am going to be higher on than most.  I will discuss some of the combine measurements, some of the tape, and just give an overall prognosis of what I am hoping for from these guys, and of course, where I am looking to take them in a rookie draft.

I think Deon Cain is the type of athlete who can really morph his game across the receiver positions in the NFL.  Is he truly an X, Y, or Z receiver? I don’t think he really fits in any of those boxes. I think he can really benefit a team by moving all over the field.  He can be a deep threat, a possession receiver, a Not a lot of guys in the league have that capability. Coming in at 6’2” and 202 lbs at the combine makes him a bit on the slim side, but I think he can add some muscle at the next level.  

What really shines through for Cain from the combine though is his 4.43 40 and his 6.71 3 cone. These numbers show that he is the type of athlete you want to see in an NFL receiver. He has the deep speed to get behind defenders, but also looks to have the quickness and change of direction to create space across the middle or breaking to the outside.  Although he didn’t test as a terribly explosive leaper and he has pretty small hands, I loved what I saw on tape between the body control and positioning giving himself chances to win on jump balls. I don’t foresee him having any trouble contributing to an NFL offense. Like I said, he can play all over the field and shows lots of strengths on tape.

Last year, Clemson really looked for Cain early and often.  He ran a lot of different routes and was the first read a lot of the time. He had 58 receptions this past year morphing from the deep threat he had been in his first two years to the top receiver for his squad. Is he the best receiver in the draft? No, but he could be the most well rounded athlete at receiver. I also think he is one of the least landing spot dependent receivers which gives him a big boost for me.  I am however looking forward to seeing his landing spot and projecting the role he will play in the offense. One other thing to worry about with Cain is a slight blemish in his off the field record. He was suspended for failed drug tests early in his college career. This seems to be behind him, but it is always better to have these things in mind than to be ignorant of them.

Overall, I see Cain as a early to mid second round player and my WR5 with room to rise up my rankings and little chance of dropping down.

Rookie Spotlight: Equanimeous St. Brown

Josh Padgett, Contributor

This short article is first in a small series of guys that I am going to be higher on than most.  I will discuss some of the combine measurements, some of the tape, and just give an overall prognosis of what I am hoping for from these guys, and of course, where I am looking to take them in a rookie draft.

Equanimeous St. Brown had a tough year this past year with a quarterback who should really play running back trying to throw him the ball.  This lack of production has really turned some folks off of him. That is perfectly fine with me because I will be happy to get even more value on him than I would already be getting.  The Notre Dame offense was pretty bad overall and absolutely terrible through the air leading to the ugly 35 catches for 515 yards and 4 TD’s he put up this year. However, St. Brown was successful at getting open all year when you watch him on tape.  

He showed that he has all the physical tools and some solid route running to boot. While St. Brown didn’t participate in everything at the combine, he impressed in what he did. A 4.48 40 yard dash is very fast for a 6’5” boundary receiver, even one who weighs in at 214 lbs; which is a little on the slim side.  After weighing in light though (which was widely expected), he put up 20 reps on the bench press; far more than I expected. To me, this shows that he can not only play with the bigger DB’s, but he will have more than just a height advantage. I am not scared off at all by the poor production this past year; that Notre Dame offense was brutal.

The smoothness with which he moves on tape is impressive. He seems to run very natural, smooth routes. It is interesting that he didn’t run either shuttle or the 3 cone drill at the combine or his pro day; this could indicate he’s lacking in the agility department.  I could see him struggling after the catch in especially against bigger safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field. However, his build and long speed will allow him to make big plays in other ways.. I am all about the size and potential here, but I think he is more polished than people give him credit for.

His dad is a two time Mr. Universe who has been training him and his two younger brothers as athletes basically since birth.  This kid has all the tools. Now just wait until he has a quarterback. Overall with St. Brown, I want a team where he can take that number 1 role from day 1. I think he will benefit from the pressure and grow with it. He is my WR2 at this point, right behind Courtland Sutton, and I am looking for him in the middle of the first round at this point. The more I see of him, the more I like him. The receivers in this class have been far too maligned.

NFL Mock Draft 2

Photo credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Edited by Matt Hicks, Staff Writer

This mock draft was conducted on March 21st by the Top2Sports Staff. Below are the results, with quick descriptions for some of our picks. To step into the GM seat and hear how the live draft went down, with full explanations of every pick, listen to the NFL Mock Draft 2 episode of Top2Pod

  1. Cleveland Browns Sam Darnold, Quarterback, USC

Reports from around the league all seem to be pointing towards Darnold as the top choice for the Cleveland Browns following his great pro day. The Browns almost surely take their franchise quarterback with this pick and lock up the 20-year-old project to learn behind Tyrod Taylor.

  1. Buffalo Bills (from NYG) Josh Allen, Quarterback, Wyoming

 The Giants take advantage of a “king’s ransom” package offer which includes, amongst other picks, the 12th and 22nd overall picks from Buffalo. The Bill use this pick to make sure they get their guy; Josh Allen. Allen has the big arm and tough play style that Buffalo fans will rally behind for years to come. He offers big upside when combined with deep threat Kelvin Benjamin, but of course comes with accuracy concerns. Not convinced he’s worth the 2nd overall pick? See:

  1. New York Jets (from IND) Baker Mayfield, Quarterback, Oklahoma

 Baker in New York is still Joe Namath 2.0. I love the fit and I think Mayfield can jump start this organization. Mayfield comes with great mechanics and a strong arm, balancing out his character and height concerns. The Jets and Baker seem like a perfect match and it will ignite a rivalry for years to come between the two AFC East rookie quarterbacks.

  1. Cleveland Browns (from HOU) Minkah Fitzpatrick, Defensive Back, Alabama
  2. Denver Broncos  Quentin Nelson, Guard, Notre Dame
  3. Indianapolis Colts (from NYJ) Saquon Barkley, Running Back, Penn State

 Barkley, who some have debated is worthy of the first overall pick, seemingly free falls to the Colts here. Although the conventional pick is Chubb, Indianapolis benefits from taking the generational talent, even at a position that is less valued than defensive end.

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Bradley Chubb, EDGE, North Carolina State
  2. Chicago Bears Denzel Ward, Cornerback, Ohio State
  3. San Francisco 49ers  Tremaine Edmunds, Linebacker, Virginia Tech
  4. Oakland Raiders  Roquan Smith, Linebacker, Georgia

The Raiders have next to nothing on defense besides Khalil Mack. I think Gruden knows he needs a Derrick Brooks type linebacker to lead his defense while Mack gets after the quarterback. With Edmunds going off the board right in front of them, Roquan Smith is an easy pick for the Raiders here.

  1. Miami Dolphins Vita Vea, Defensive Tackle

 Miami passes on quarterback here, opting instead to stick with Tannenhill and replace the literally large gap that Suh left in their defensive front.

  1. New York Giants (from BUF via CIN) Josh Rosen, Quarterback, UCLA

 Wait, what? Maybe we overthought this, but Josh Rosen takes the deepest QB dive since Brady Quinn. The Giants are thrilled to get a franchise QB after trading down. Although this isn’t probable, it’s also not illogical; there’s a clear drop off in need after the top 3 picks meaning two quarterbacks will be left at 11. Although Rosen is well regarded as a ready to play quarterback, it’s going to come down to fit and if the Giants trade back early, the fit might not be at the top for Rosen.

  1. Washington Redskins Marcus Davenport, EDGE,  UTSA
  2. Green Bay Packers Jaire Alexander, Cornerback, Louisville
  3. Arizona Cardinals  Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Louisville

Arizona seems like the floor for the top 5 quarterbacks. In Jackson, Arizona gets the most dynamic quarterback in the draft, and very well could have gotten the best value. Jackson comes with great strength and durability, a good arm, and some mechanical concerns but fits in well paired with David Johnson in what could be a very quick offense.

  1. Baltimore Ravens Rashaan Evans, Linebacker, Alabama

Crabtree signing in Baltimore takes the Ravens away from wide receiver early and instead go back to their old ways and draft defense. They select ‘Sugar’ Rashaan Evans to wreak havoc in the middle of the defense to fit the tough play needed in the AFC North.

  1. Los Angeles Chargers Connor Williams, Offensive Tackle, Texas
  2. Seattle Seahawks Derwin James, Safety, FSU

James has top 10 skill but falls all the way to Seattle here, making him a fantastic value.  James fits the bill of a Seahawks defender, rangy and physical. He replenishes their now depleted secondary and can be a hallmark of their team for years to come.

  1. Dallas Cowboys  Calvin Ridley, Wide Receiver, Alabama

Ridley falls right into the Cowboys’ lap at 19. Whether Dez is a Cowboy or not, Ridley would add yet another weapon to the arsenal of Dak Prescott and could help Dallas finally get the boost they need to win the NFC East.

  1. Detroit Lions  Maurice Hurst, Defensive Tackle, Michigan
  2. Cincinnati Bengals (From BUF) Mike McGlinchey, Tackle, Notre Dame
  3. New York Giants (From BUF via KC) Derrius Guice, Running Back, LSU

With Guice somehow on the board at 22, the Giants completely forget who Wayne Gallman is and call Jonathan Stewart’s agent to tell him he’s better off retired. The Giants win the draft, hands down, if they could somehow land a franchise running back and quarterback.

  1. Los Angeles Rams Harold Landry, EDGE, Boston College
  2. Carolina Panthers Courtland Sutton, Wide Receiver, SMU

Sutton could be considered the top wideout in this class, and the Panthers need more support for Cam Newton. Sutton gives Carolina everything that Funchess cannot as a WR 1.

  1. Tennessee Titans DJ Chark, Wide Receiver, LSU

 Every draft has a surprise and Chark going in the 1st would be one of the many of this mock draft. The Titans could use a compliment to Corey Davis and Delanie Walker. Chark could give Mariota the weapons he needs to finally pay off as a franchise quarterback Tennessee needs him to be.

  1. Atlanta Falcons Dallas Goedert, Tight End, South Dakota State

Dallas “Gogurt” Goedert is the first tight end off the board in the draft. He provides an otherwise solid Atlanta offense with a playmaking tight end, so that we can all finally stop pretending Austin Hooper is fantasy relevant.

  1. New Orleans Saints  Da’Ron Payne, Defensive Line, Alabama
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers  Josh Jackson, Cornerback, Iowa

The Steelers have not found the formula in the secondary since Polamalu retired. Josh Jackson is a big, physical corner who can pair with Joe Haden to form the best Steelers secondary in years.

  1. Jacksonville Jaguars  Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker, Boise State
  2. Minnesota Vikings    Sony Michel, Running Back, Georgia

Thought Chark at 25 was wild? Try this; the Vikings are in position for a luxury pick, and Dalvin Cook and Sony Michel in the same backfield is silly good.  They’ll find a way to use that talent in a backfield that could make Ingram and Kamara look boring.

  1. New England Patriots Orlando Brown, Tackle, Oklahoma
  2. Philadelphia Eagles  Uchenna Nwosu, Linebacker, USC