Welcome to the NFL Underground Mailbag. Ask Chris Harris your question about the NFL, general sports or cultural minutiae at HeyHarris@HarrisFootball.com. And if you're interested in fantasy football, check out the Harris Football Podcast at www.HarrisFootball.com.
Steven B.: Who's a better prospect coming out of college, Jadeveon Clowney or Myles Garrett?
Clowney went No. 1 overall to the Texans in '14, and Garrett went #1 to the Browns Thursday night. As prospects, I think they're close. What did we hear about Clowney three years ago? Amazing first step. Incredible athleticism. Eats Wolverines. But especially in his junior year, when his first move was unsuccessful, he didn't seem to have a follow-up strategy and could disappear.
These are criticisms Garrett heard this winter, too. He might be an even better athlete, his first step is ludicrous, but once he gets blocked his technique is raw. In the NFL, you don't get to play against T.J. Clemmings every week. Most of the time, you're not going to just run around a tackle or shove him into the quarterback.
Once Clowney was healthy and got some experience, he became a feared NFL pass rusher in his third season; provided the Browns don't fuck him up—a legit concern—Garrett will probably show flashes at first, then be great in a couple years.
Rodney L.: Did you like the Bears moving up to draft Mitch Trubisky at No. 2 overall?
I. Did. Not.
I'll talk about the philosophy behind trading up later in this column. I accept it as a strategy when you see a player you like. The world is home to many sets of eyeballs, and not all of them see the world as I do. So if Bears GM Ryan Pace fell hard for Trubisky, a one-year starter at North Carolina who couldn't beat out the immortal Marquise Williams for two seasons, I guess I have to accept it.
But when I watch Trubisky on tape, on deeper throws I find his accuracy awful because his hip mechanics are bad; he stays open and flings deep shots way up in the air, a recipe for doom in the NFL. Also, he flinches under pressure: it's never a good thing when a kid is asked to make multiple reads, and his second look makes him nervous. I'm not convinced he processes information in the heat of the moment. Also, his head is a cube.
The Bears wanted him like Ditka wants sausage. And I won't criticize Chicago for giving draft capital to be sure they got a player they liked. I just don't understand the infatuation with this particular QB.
Tom: How unprecedented was the run of skill-position players in the early first round Thursday night?
It was crazy! In my Twitter feed, I joked that we'd all accidentally stumbled into somebody's rookie dynasty fantasy draft. Check this out:
2. Mitch Trubisky, QB, CHI
4. Leonard Fournette, RB, JAC
5. Corey Davis, WR, TEN
7. Mike Williams, WR, LAC
8. Christian McCaffrey, RB, CAR
9. John Ross, WR, CIN
10. Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
12. Deshaun Watson, QB, HOU
That's eight skill players in the first dozen picks! Back in '05, we saw five skill guys in the first five picks (Alex Smith, Ronnie Brown, Braylon Edwards, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams) and seven in the first dozen, but we have to go back to '99 for this kind of crazy run.
Why did it happen? Clearly Roger Goodell controls the universe.
Actually, the offensive linemen in this draft were Wonderlic rejects who did excellent impersonations of turnstiles, and the defensive stars all had diluted urine—Diluted Urine! My new band name!—so maybe the teams all partied like it was 1999 and took skill guys by default.
Mahomes is my least favorite pick of the group. If Trubisky is a one-year wonder, Mahomes is a mechanics nightmare; his footwork couldn't remind me of Blake Bortles more if he'd spent 2016 bouncing interceptions off T.J. Yeldon's foot. He'll sit behind Alex Smith this year, and Smith's contract gets eminently cuttable in '18, but I'm skeptical Mahomes will be ready by then.
Voltaire: I don't watch much college football. Why is Christian McCaffrey not seen as a Reggie Bush–type of player?
By some, he is. Production-wise, I understand the comparison. They're about the same size and were both Pac-12 monsters:
Nobody has yet accused McCaffrey of nearly destroying his collegiate program yet, but give him time.
For me, the difference between Bush and McCaffrey (whom Carolina selected with the eighth pick Thursday night) on the field is about strength. Bush was a strong-ass man coming out of USC. He didn't run over tacklers—the Trojans had LenDale White to do that—but Bush was hard to bring down, with leg drive and power I'm not sure McCaffrey has right now. And while McCaffrey cranked out a lot of terrific plays at Stanford, his mid-run change of direction isn't quite Bush-esque. Seriously. Watch Bush's USC highlight package again. He was just a different kind of cat. Also, to my knowledge McCaffrey hasn't hooked up with any Kardashians. And I keep close track of that stuff.
But listen. Bush went No. 2 overall in '06 and McCaffrey went No. 8 in '17. Even if he's not quite the bouncy-legged freak that pre-injuries Reggie Bush was, McCaffrey will be fun as hell. In '17, he'll catch passes, play special teams, and be Jonathan Stewart's change-of-pace.
Jason B.: Are you a fan of trading up in the draft, or trading down?
Every year, many teams picking in the draft's top ten inevitably leak that they're "open for business" to trade down, looking for a Bobby Three Sticks–type Godfather deal that can net them multiple good players. (Let's set aside the fact that the Rams screwed up the huge haul they got for the second pick in '12.) If the player you'd get by trading for a super-high pick was so terrific and flawless and worth mortgaging your future over, a bad team would just go ahead and draft him. This is a way of saying: it's a heck of a lot easier to trade up than to trade down.
Mostly, I'm a fan of teams who spend nine months assembling a draft board and assigning specific values to all prospects, and then are willing to make a move up or down, depending on the situation. Of course, this is easy for me to say, because I'm an idiot fluffster who doesn't hang out in NFL draft rooms; how the heck do I know which organizations I'm describing? And yes, I admit: my answer is mostly theoretical. But it's the way I'd try and approach it: be willing to go up and get a player in a draft slot where I think he's still appreciably undervalued based on my analysis, or be willing to get out of the first round altogether if nobody left on the board is worth my pick. Do teams do this? I believe some do.
I also believe that others put their fingers in the wind, think about selling tickets or having well-attended tailgate parties, and wind up drafting E.J. Manuel two rounds before anyone else thought he'd go.
Jesse P.: What's your least favorite NFL draft cliché?
I should begin answering this question by saying: my TV sports-watching habits are changing. I've always been a homebody. I'm not particularly a fan of six-dollar beers, sawdust vomit, or that guy at the sports bar wearing a Chiefs jersey who drunkenly tomahawk-chops the air and tells you it's OK because he's 1/16th Cherokee. But these days, take me to a spot with a lot of TVs and a crowd loud enough to drown out the awful blather that stands in for most commentating. Thursday night was no exception: I watched the first night of the draft from a bar in Los Angeles, wisecracking with a friend, pointedly not hearing Jon Gruden say that every quarterback is awesome and the best and "can play for me anytime."
Most draft talk is insufferable, right? I'm not talking about my pals Matt Waldman, Eric Galko, or Dane Brugler—those folks do hard work, they watch an insane amount of film, and they develop a full picture of prospect talent. It's difficult to be them! You know what's easy? Getting on TV and flapping your lips regurgitating the same dumb lines year after year. How many more "high-upside" prospects can we hear about? How many "physical freaks" can there really be in one draft class? Can every quarterback in the draft "make all the throws"? Is a player punching a lady in the face best described as a "character concern"? "Work ethic," "playmaker," "extremely raw," "gym rat," "hard nosed," "intangibles," "ball skills," "gritty" … the nicety-nice-nice of never saying a disparaging word about anyone is a whitewashing that brings me despair.
And my absolute least-favorite, soul-crushingest cliché anyone listening to draft coverage this weekend will hear? "He's got a nonstop motor!" Really? Really? Because from where I'm sitting, he's a half-interested lumbering ox who comes to life when he knows the cameras are on him, and otherwise is waiting for that first official check to cash—although obviously he's been cashing his recruiting checks for years—so he can buy that place in South Beach and do gas-mask bong hits with Lil Jon. Everybody can't have a nonstop motor. It would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics or something.
Dale: Who's your favorite remaining prospect headed into Friday's draft session?
Dalvin Cook. Nonstop motor.
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