Most of the time, I find NFL Draft analysis a deeply silly proposition.
It’s not due to lack of importance. It’s an incredibly lucrative and popular cottage industry.
It’s not due to lack of effort and ingenuity put into it. Ask Mel Kiper Jr. and his encyclopedic knowledge of, like, 350 college juniors and seniors each year about slacking off.
It’s due to the fact that, no matter how much work, effort, thought and whatever you put into it, there’s basically no such thing as a “can’t miss” prospect.
So, when a draft prognosticator tells you a potential draft pick is a future All-Pro, he or she is lying to you. Because he or she has absolutely no clue what’s going to happen with said prospect over the next number of years.
Just educated guesses. And I’m fine with those. I make them all the time. But the notion that someone can look at a team’s draft class and be like “That’s a B-plus. Full of immediate impact guys and future projects with great potential” is patently ridiculous.
Because there are sorts of variables you can’t predict. Do the GMs, coaches and future teammates like these prospects as much as you do? How about injury/disciplinary things coming down the road? How about how much of his warrior workout numbers actually translate into NFL production? How much of his college showmanship was due to the system/coaching and, when those things change, how much will it throw him off his axis?
But here’s my real gripe with at least a segment of draft coverage: It’s all so dang subjective. Analysts bend any evidence they see to fit the narrative that has already halfway formed in their heads, and they won’t be dissuaded.
Consider Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington. Similar speed, similar production in college, Green-Beckham is a taller, more prodigious jumper with more bulk, Washington with a...shall we say...less checkered off-field reputation.
But the real difference was the hands, right?
Washington’s hands, measured at 9 inches at the Combine, were too small. They made him a “bodycatcher,” a very dirty word if you’re looking for a wideout.
Green-Beckham’s hands were a strength: soft and sure, big enough to snare a ball away from his body like a majestic bear pawing a salmon. Their Combine measure? 9 inches.
Going into draft season, Green-Beckham was the prodigious talent. Washington was the underachieving striver. Every other piece of data — including ones that were exactly the same — fit those conveniences.
Plus there’s the whole “well, my stopwatch had him at 4.39 but the laser timer had him at 4.57 but I think he’s faster than that so I’ll go with my stopwatch” thing.
And the whole thing where scouts/GMs/analysts/coaches/whoever will probably talk about James Conner going through “adversity” in a similar way to how they’ll talk about Joe Mixon going through “adversity” this year or next year.
Conner beat cancer. Mixon punched a woman.
Don’t get me started, you guys.
Which brings me to the point of this post: Markus Golden.
Anyone who watched him play at Missouri knew he was a special talent. Good strength/speed mix, good instincts, good array of pass rush moves, strong against the run, great in the locker room and possessing of an undying motor.
Definite first-round talent. But wait, draft gurus said. His arms are too short. He’ll be a third- or fourth-rounder, if he’s lucky. Going to have to cut his teeth on special teams for a few years before he gets a shot on defense.
The Arizona Cardinals thought differently and “reached” for him at the end of the second round. This year he tied for third in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, in his second season in the league.
Swing and a miss.
So let’s look back at what NFL.com -- which uses a pretty representative mix of analysts and those dreaded “anonymous league scouts” — said about Missouri’s recent draft picks to the lead-up to the draft and try to determine how right they were.
C Evan Boehm — 4th Round, 128th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Four-year starter with outstanding power at the point of attack with an ability to create running lanes through sheer brute force. Boehm’s squatty frame may cause some evaluators to hesitate, but offensive line coaches will fall in love with his instincts, power, leadership and durability. Boehm has a chance to be an early starter for a team looking for power and leadership in the middle of their line.”
In English, Please: More technical than talented; will endear himself to coaches and teammates and, as such, could see the field early.
They Right?: Yeah, pretty much. Boehm played in all 16 games of his rookie season and even got a start in Sunday’s season finale.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Three-year starter who has played guard and both tackle spots. While he has the power and frame of a guard, there are some teams who may give him a shot at right tackle first. McGovern still has some work to do in pass protection, but shows potential to be a starter in the league. He is an ascending prospect whose stock should rise thanks to his power and multi-position diversity.”
In English, Please: He’s a grower and may have to wait a couple years for his chance, but his versatility is his main asset.
They Right?: So far. McGovern didn’t appear in a game this year, but he’s still on the Broncos’ active roster.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Really fun to watch on tape with many of the same play traits that made TCU’s Paul Dawson so productive last season. Brothers is a decisive, rhythm linebacker whose understanding of space and ability to improve his tackle positioning at the point of attack should make him a consistently productive inside linebacker in the pros. While Brothers will lack the speed and overall athleticism that some teams covet, it would be a huge mistake to value athleticism over instincts and production when evaluating Brothers.”
In English, Please: He doesn’t have the measurables, but his instincts and fundamentals will make a lot of teams wish they had drafted him higher.
They Right?: Ehhh, not yet. Which is kind of surprising to me, honestly. Brothers appears in 10 games this year and logged nine tackles, mostly on special teams. He did stand out on special teams, though, which could be the fast track to defensive reps in the near future.
OLB Shane Ray — 1st Round, 23rd Overall, Denver Broncos
NFL.com Bottom Line: “It's hard to find many play weaknesses for Ray, but his lack of overall length is one area that some teams have concerns about. He pursues the quarterback and the ball like it's his last snap. An alpha male packaged in an explosive frame, Ray has the traits and skills to be a dominant pass rusher and potential Pro Bowler. He also has the athleticism and strength to play in any defensive front. A top-10 talent, but negative buzz late in process has stock in question.”
In English, Please: Dynamite prospect in basically all areas (except size). State trooper stopped him with some weed, though, so CHARACTER QUESTIONS!!!!!!!
They Right?: On the talent part, yes. Ray has worked his way into the rotation with two elite edge rushers and acquitted himself well, with 68 tackles and 12 sacks over his first two years. The character part...well, he just started his own charity.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Long-strider with vertical ability to change a game and the catch radius and body control to make the difficult look easy. However, Green-Beckham struggles against physical cornerbacks, and is raw as a route runner with poor instincts when it comes to getting open. It's easy to bet on the traits when a receiver has high football character and is a willing worker, but teams could pass on the traits early in the draft due to his perceived lack of work ethic and overall character.”
In English, Please: A first-round talent who won’t go in the first round because he never learned a playbook and had repeated off-field issues.
They Right?: Showed glimpses of being a gamechanger as a rookie but, on his second team in as many years this season, struggled to find his way. To his credit — outside of unpaid parking tickets and wearing Yeezy shoes -- he’s been relatively quiet away from the field.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Morse relied on timing, instincts and angles to get guys blocked as a tackle at the college level but might lack the arm length and functional athleticism to play tackle in the pros. If he moves inside to guard, his toughness will serve him well, but he's not a power player and must prove that he can sustain his block and positioning to be an effective run blocker. Teams are heating up on Morse and some see him as one of the top transitional center prospects in the draft.”
In English, Please: He was a tackle. His T-Rex arms won’t let him be one anymore, but he could still be an impactful interior lineman.
They Right?: No issues here. Claimed the Chiefs’ starting center spot in camp last year and has started 31 games over two seasons.
OLB Markus Golden -- 2nd Round, 58th Overall, Arizona Cardinals
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Golden is a square-number pass rusher, meaning there isn't much twist, turn and torque to his game. He comes off the ball with a purpose, but scouts don't see the explosive traits they want from a pass rusher. Golden is primarily an effort and pursuit player with special-teams potential, but he doesn't fill up a stat sheet.”
In English, Please: An effort guy. That won’t fly in the NFL.
They Right?: <deep breath> Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo<another breath>ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo<one more>oooooooooooooooooooooooooope. Nope.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Will be hard to get excited about a receiver who lacks deep speed and has a hard time getting a clean release against press coverage, but his body control, ball skills and poise give him a shot to make it in the league. Sasser's best shot might come with a team looking for size in the slot or as a zone-beating possession receiver.”
In English, Please: Going to need to use smarts and sure hands to carve out any sort of niche in the league.
They Right?: Sadly, we never got a chance to see, as a previously undiagnosed heart condition ended Sasser’s NFL career before it began.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “All-purpose running back with a lean frame and a big heart. Showed consistency of effort and production during his time at Missouri. His value as a runner is limited due to his size, but he has the potential to become a legitimate target out of the backfield and might warrant some reps in camp as a slot receiver. Murphy can step in and immediately challenge for the top spot as a kickoff and/or punt returner.”
In English, Please: Not going to be an everydown back, but can be valuable on third downs and in special teams.
They Right?: A little overestimation, thus far. Made himself into one of the Saints’ top return options close to the start of his NFL career, but has never really caught on offensively and missed all but three games this year with an ankle injury.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Big, athletic, ascending, pass-rush talent with the size, burst and flexibility to pressurize the edge as a right defensive end. Is not a finished product, particularly as a run defender, but should only become more disruptive as his strength, technique and savvy catch up with his natural physical ability. Could also draw looks as a 3-4 rush linebacker.”
In English, Please: A tweener (4-3 defensive end, 3-4 rush linebacker) for whom it could take a minute for the team that takes him to find a place.
They Right?: After a middling rookie season, Ealy’s started 15 games over the past two years, logged 10 sacks and played at an MVP level in the Super Bowl. Pretty accurate, if a little less optimistic than reality.
NFL.com Bottom Line: “College left tackle with enough length and foot quickness to handle the blind side in a pinch, but is more ideally suited for the right side and could be best suited for a swing backup role. Has played nearly every position on the line and could add depth as a positional, wall-off blocker.”
In English, Please: He’s going to be a backup right tackle or guard.
They Right?: He’s been a starting guard and center, earning the starting nod for all 47 games of his NFL career, in fact.
CB E.J. Gaines -- 6th Round, 188th Overall, LosSaint LouAngelesis Rams
NFL.com Bottom Line: “Strong, physical zone corner with the toughness, awareness and football IQ to function highly in short spaces. A solid tackler, Gaines plays bigger than his size and takes a professional approach. Can make an immediate impact on special teams and work his way into a lineup.”
In English, Please: He’s too small to be a starting cornerback.
They Right?: I, personally, thought this was the steal of the draft when it happened. And Gaines’ rookie year, with 70 tackles and 14 passes broken up in 15 starts, looked to reinforce that. After missing 2015 with a Lisfranc injury, he came back to start 10 games this year. A less flagrant case of Markus Golden Syndrome.
OLB Michael Sam — 7th Round, 249th Overall, LosSaint LouAngelesis Rams
NFL.com Bottom Line: “A productive, 4-3 weakside rusher who came on as a senior and it made his last season his best. Could fit most ideally as a 3-4 outside linebacker in a zone-blitzing scheme like the Steelers or Ravens.”
In English, Please: A tweener like Ealy, though with less on his plate when it comes to size and athleticism.
They Right?: This analysis appears to have existed in some alternate universe in which Sam did not publicly announce his homosexuality a little less than three months before the draft. How much did that affect his draft stock/teams’ perception of the “distraction” he would be? Impossible to say with certainty, though it definitely affected his career trajectory. Life’s rough when you’re a marginal NFL prospect. It’s even more difficult when teams are trying to decide whether they want to be trailblazers or just another football team. After a productive preseason with the Rams, he was cut and couldn’t latch on with the Cowboys or in Toronto.