State of the Draft: Wentz Team Matches, Connor Cook Woes, Stanley/Oakman Concerns, much more

In my discussions with multiple people in and around the NFL business, I hear plenty of draft rumors, thoughts, team opinions and character notes. This “State of the Draft” series is how I put out for public consumption a bit of what I’m hearing.

 This addition features ample notes on each top quarterback prospect, two player-team match-ups, Ronnie Stanley/Shawn Oakman and Braxton Miller interview notes.

Carson Wentz has quickly become the feature prospect of the 2016 draft class, and his rise from small school passer to potential top-five pick has happened in remarkable fashion. Aside from my own thoughts, I was told earlier this year that the Dallas Cowboys may be the primary team that his value is derived from. He’s reportedly atop their quarterback board, which has spurned his “top-10 value”, but he’s quickly emerged as the top quarterback for more than few teams.

-On Carson Wentz to the Cowboys: There’s seemingly TOO much smoke around it. There were multiple incidents at the Senior Bowl (scout whispering to Jason Garrett loudly during weigh-ins when Wentz was up, Jerry Jones personally meeting Wentz on the field, etc.) that seem a bit….obviously odd. It may be a smokescreen, it may be genuine interest, but it’s apparent to me that the Cowboys have a plan with their Wentz affection. That doesn’t mean other top-15 teams don’t like him as well.

-Final notes on Carson Wentz: He impressed NFL decision makers in Mobile, but primarily because they likely haven’t dove into his film yet. It’s easy to appreciate his velocity, tools and flashes of athleticism in a practice setting….Also, two sleeper teams for Wentz from what I’ve been told: Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers.

-I don’t want to go into too much detail on ALL of the Connor Cook-character/attitude insight yet. But for me, he was by far the most discussed player among those I spoke with at the Senior Bowl. Between his parents’ role in his college career, Connor’s attitude toward teammates and to people in the draft process (including the Senior Bowl) and plenty of stories during his Michigan State career, it’s become clear that he’s closer to a third-round pick than a first-rounder thanks to mental make-up and attitude concerns.

-At least two NFL GMs gave agents’ advice to limit their pursuit of Connor Cook, and I’m sure they aren’t alone in their discouraging comments. That being said, the Denver Broncos are the one team that still may consider him in round one because of his Kubiak fit and pro-readiness. But that would take a Peyton Manning retirement and Brock Osweiler to leave town.

Christian Hackenberg to the Texans; I’m putting that in dark pencil until I hear otherwise, even if that means mocking it in round one for now. From people close to the Hackenberg family and from what I’ve heard of the Texans decision-making dynamic, it’s too perfect of a fit. The Texans need an NFL-ready quarterback, and Hackenberg showed #1 overall promise with Bill O’Brien as his head coach. I have been told Connor Cook-Bill O’Brien connections in the past, and I can’t entirely rule out that connection either.

-While some teams still value Brandon Doughty, he’s considered undrafted by more than I expected. He won’t be a fit for many teams, and his pocket issues under pressure (LSU game in particular) was the primary talked about issue.

-Small school quarterback to track in the process: Liberty’s Josh Woodrum. I’d expect his buzz to grow towards the tail-end of the process.

-The top quarterback slot isn’t locked up yet, but Jared Goff may emerge as that guy for many NFL teams after his work at the whiteboard at the NFL Scouting Combine. I was told by three separate people that he’ll emerge as the favorite to be the top quarterback taken after his work in meetings and at the whiteboard with NFL offensive coordinators, head coaches and GMs. Also, of the possible top-100 pick quarterbacks, he’s the only one without a single off-field concern as far as I’ve heard.

Jacoby Brissett of NC State is going through the 2016 draft process without a formal agent. Interview-wise, he should be fine, as in speaking with him he already appeared ready to handle the media and NFL questions (if not already a bit coached up). But this trend of not having an agent isn’t being met from agents with frustration, but more of disappointment that players are opting to go without representation. It’s not a simple process that a player should do with just peripheral representation.

-Two player-team connections I’ve heard so far that may be the pick if this player falls to their spot: RB Derrick Henry to the Vikings (surprising, but not without reason if they feel he’s one of the few first-round prospects) and OT Jack Conklin to the Colts.

Ronnie Stanley, often thought of as a top prospect and a future franchise left tackle prospect, has left scouts concerned about his toughness and desire to continue to grow as a player. A more reserved person during his Notre Dame career, Stanley is a technician but not one who displays great tenacity on the field. His basketball background and his passion in that sport may lead teams to question his passion for football….Some of the same develop/desire concerns are around Baylor’s Shawn Oakman.

-There will be more that comes about the Robert Nkemdiche window-falling incident in the weeks to come, especially as the coverage of Nkemdiche’s ramps up at the Combine. And that incident may involve currently projected #1 overall pick Laremy Tunsil in a way that could impact Tunsil’s draft value.

-Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark entered Senior Bowl week with multiple second-round grades, and he may not have fallen off that much despite struggles at the Senior Bowl. Teams with top offensive line coach teachers (Seattle, Pittsburgh) could still consider him in top-75. Personally, I think he’s a Day 3 value.

-Last year, someone close to the Missouri coaching staff told me that the staff felt/told NFL teams that Markus Golden would be a better pro than Shane Ray. This year, I’ve heard the same about Jordan Jenkins over Leonard Floyd. While it’s not as drastic of draft value differeces with Jenkins/Floyd as it was with Golden/Ray, I think I’ll be listening much more closely to coaching input this year

-Players who may not be discussed as first-rounders yet that may quietly emerge there: Arkansas’s RB Alex Collins, Oklahoma WR Sterling Shepard, Boise State SAF Darian Thompson, Maryland OLB Yannick Ngokou, Texas DT Hassan Ridgeway and Mississippi State DT Chris Jones.

Senior Bowl Interview Notes

My plan of attack in my interviews is generally one of gathering information in the same way NFL scouts do. I don’t actively pursue quotes. I don’t try to glean comfortable answers that prospects are expecting to hear, at least not phrased the way some media types will.

With a limited about of time with a limited amount of prospects during the Senior Bowl week, I try and target unique players, ones with a lot they need to display on and off the field and, of course, the quarterbacks.

My goal is to get a feel for the prospects character, mental makeup and if that’s indicative of future NFL success.

Easily the most impressive interview I conducted was Ohio State’s Braxton Miller. Before going into exactly what we discussed, I want to note just how impressive of a man he is. His business-like demeanor is focused, consistent and genuine is both impressive and honest. He’s as mentally organized and focused on what he needs to do to be a professional as I’ve talked with since Russell Wilson, and he’s more honest than Wilson was.

Obviously, a big part of what we discussed was his position change, what went into that decision and how he’s progressed since then. He indicated that the decision was truly his own, one that made because he believes he was “born to play receiver”, clearly understands it’s his best NFL position.

He stated that his decision for the position change was, in part, because he has a son, a family. He can’t afford to try and “live out a dream” as a quarterback. He worked three-a-days with JT Barrett or Cardale Jones all off-season, and has been working with a receiving coach since the summer.

His focus as a person was remarkable to be around, and he’ll make a believer out of every NFL team he speaks with. Additionally, he’s a firm believer of Cardale Jones as an NFL player, as am I.

I also spoke with Jacoby Brissett, Dak Prescott, Brandon Allen, Sean Davis, Glenn Gronkowski, Paul McRoberts, Le’Raven Clark, Tavon Young, and Tyvis Powell. I’m happy to speak about them as well.