2016 NFL Draft

Latest On Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conley

NFL clubs are beginning to worry about the fragility of Ohio State Marshon Lattimore‘s hamstrings, and have concerns about him staying healthy for a full season, according to Jason Cole of Bleacher Report (video link). Those injury issues could push Lattimore down draft boards, and may lead to him falling outside the top 10 picks.Marshon Lattimore (Vertical)

Lattimore had been widely viewed as the draft’s No. 1 corner prospect, and was expected to be selected first among that strong position group. In PFR’s first mock draft of 2017, I sent Lattimore to the Bears at pick No. 3. The Titans, too, have shown a good deal of interest in Lattimore and are not expected to pass on him if he falls to pick No. 5.

But those hamstring issues may affect Lattimore’s stock — his hamstring tightened up during the scouting combine in March, and he had similar problems during his time with the Buckeyes. Those problems — and the fact Lattimore is only a one-year starter — could lead to the rise of his Ohio State teammate, fellow cornerback Gareon Conley.

Conley is considered a safer pick than Lattimore, and may now be overtaking the latter as this year’s No. 1 CB. The Jaguars will host Conley for a visit on Monday, reports Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com, who adds the Titans and Saints have also exhibited “a lot” of interest in Conley. NFL teams like Conley’s “work ethic and temperament,” per Pauline, and feels he’s ready to play in the pros immediately.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

PFR’s Impact Rookies Series

All summer long, longtime scouting consultant Dave-Te Thomas of The NFL Draft Report has been breaking down the draft class of every team in the league and identifying the players that can immediately make a difference. The Impact Rookies series, which wrapped up today with a look at the Seahawks, provides unique insight to this year’s NFL freshman class from a veteran guru who worked closely with several teams around the league leading up to the draft.

Here is the full rundown of the Impact Rookies series:

AFC East

AFC North

AFC South

AFC West

NFC East

NFC North

NFC South

NFC West 

Impact Rookies: San Francisco 49ers

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

Out of eleven selections, we here at The NFL Draft Report only see one 49ers draft pick making a significant mark in 2016.

First Round – DeForest Buckner, DL (Oregon, No. 7 overall)

A “tall drink of water” at a shade over 6:07, Buckner entered the 2015 bowl season having produced 225 tackles (104 solos) that included seventeen sacks (eleventh on the school career-record chart) for -118 yards. His 34.5 stops-for-loss ranked ninth in Oregon history, good for losses of 154 yards. Additionally, he registered thirty quarterback pressures, with six of those hurries causing interceptions, as Oregon converted those turnovers into touchdown drives. He also caused three fumbles and recovered two others that led to Ducks scores. DeForest Buckner

Buckner has outstanding size and a developing frame, adding fifteen pounds of solid muscle mass to it during the 2015 off-season. He has a solid upper body frame, with a wide back, long arms, good lower body strength and room on his frame for additional growth. He has broad shoulders, good bubble, thick thighs and a tight waist. He has a very long torso, arms and legs. A well-proportioned athlete with good upper body muscle development, he has good shoulder size and width, large hands, good bubble, thick thighs, and calves.

The Oregon standout has incredible moves off the edge and can change direction immediately. Buckner shows very good hip strike on contact and is a normal strider who plays with leverage and above average body quickness. He has the burst to penetrate and balance much like a linebacker. Buckner can be an “elephant” (hybrid rush end/linebacker) or just a tenacious defensive end with a high motor and excellent intensity.

From a sheer strength point, Buckner has more natural power than you would expect. He generates a good jolt in his hips and hands to rock the offensive tackle back on his heels during the bull rush. He has more than enough speed and explosion to get an edge. Despite his size, he is stronger than he looks, as he plays with leverage and keeps his pads down, making it tough to block him head-on. He rarely ever gets washed by some down blocks, as he can simply overpower his opponent when heading up the gut (see 2015 Washington, California, Arizona State, and Stanford games). He is best coming off the edge, but he has that long reach and strong hand punch to play off the offensive tackle and quickly locate the ball in backside pursuit. In 33 games of film view, he has never been widened or steered away from the play in any phase.

Last season, Buckner honed his wrap-up tackling technique and became more explosive in that area. The 6’7″, 287 pound athlete is fun to watch as he stalks, chases, wraps, and drags down the ball carrier, as he looks like a spider engulfing the ball carrier to get a piece of the opponent’s body. When he is closing on the quarterback, he shows even more explosion. He is best in open quarters, but he has more than enough power to battle in-line.

As a rookie, Buckner is being slotted in as a starting defensive end in the Niners’ 3-4 alignment. With 2015 first-round pick Arik Armstead at the other bookend and 26-year-old Quinton Dial in the middle, this is a young defensive line that will grow together. Expect Buckner to impress right out of the gate and show the world why he was a Top 10 pick in this year’s draft.

Dave-Te Thomas owns and operates The NFL Draft Report, a service providing insight to league scouting departments for over 40 years. All year round, you can read Thomas’ in-depth reviews of both blue chip prospects and diamonds in the rough by visiting the NFL Draft Report blog.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Seattle Seahawks

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

My hat is off to the Seahawks tireless college scouting staff. Yes, that was quite a bounty, drafting ten players, but they also deserve credit for their UDFA discoveries.

Second Round – Jarran Reed, DT (Alabama, No. 49 overall)

Reed’s tenure at Alabama lasted just two seasons, but the highly coveted recruit out of East Mississippi Community College proved to be an invaluable performer for the Tide. Now, he is being slotted in as one of the Seahawks’ starting defensive tackles right out of the gate. Jarran Reed (vertical)

Reed is a quick and explosive run container who plays with non-stop effort. He is a short stepper who does a very good job of using his upper body strength and lower frame power to collapse the offensive line and occupy multiple blockers. He gets into the blockers with good urgency and shows adequate hip flexibility and lower body quickness to make plays moving down the line (see 2015 Middle Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana-Monroe games). He plays stout at the point of attack and uses his hands well to keep blockers away from his chest. When he stays low in his pads, he gains leverage and shows strength and explosion coming off the snap.

Reed is a “never back down from anything” type. He sacrificed personal success to play the role of “trash man” for the Tide, using his power and frame to constantly take on double teams in order for a freed-up teammate to make the play. He is an all-out battler in tight quarters and shows enough functional quickness to make plays outside the box while also generating good urgency in pursuit. When he gets in a groove, he simply overpowers and wears down the blockers with his leg drive and combative nature.

The Alabama product might not have the 330-pound frame you look for in a three-tech, but he has above average upper body strength and that strong anchor to split double teams and collapse the offensive line. The youngster has become more conscious of using his hands to play off blocks and keeps them active when working across the face of an offensive lineman. He will engage and shed with good force and shows a surprising motor in short area pursuit. When he gets into the hole, he delivers that strong hand punch to clog the rush lanes and push back the lead blocker as evidenced by teams recording just four first downs on 52 rushing attempts against him in 2015.

Reed has long-term upside, but he also figures to pay dividends for the Seahawks D-Line right away in 2016.

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Impact Rookies: Los Angeles Rams

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

Even Stevie Wonder could see that the biggest problem for Los Angeles/St. Louis was their quest to find Kurt Warner’s replacement. They finally feel they found that answer in-state, drafting Jared Goff after a trade for the rifle-armed passer. The front office then used four of their next five selection to add weapons to the receiving corps for their new signal caller. Still, all that attention led to two glaring omissions – help for both lines.

[RELATED – Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Rams]

Goff is expected to be brought along slowly this year and based on his exhibition performances to date, it seems like a wise idea to have him observe, rather than being thrown to the wolves. The Rams offensive line is mediocre, if even that, and will be breaking in two new guards this season, along with trying to figure out the tight end and wide receiver crowd. The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft may prove to be a solid quarterback down the line, but you won’t see him listed as an “Impact Rookie.” In fact, there’s only one member of the Rams rookie class that we can envision making a mark this year.

Fourth Round – Tyler Higbee, TE (Western Kentucky, No. 110 overall)

At one point this summer, Higbee was running with the first team and it looked like he might be Los Angeles’ primary tight end. Instead, Higbee is No. 2 on the TE depth chart behind Lance Kendricks. In the Rams’ season opener, Higbee caught one pass for two yards. That’s hardly superstar production, but he did draw four targets while Kendricks saw only three. "<strong

If the Rams can figure out their offensive line issues, then Higbee could have a chance to break out a bit in his frosh campaign. There is no doubt that Higbee is an NFL caliber tight end. The big question is – will he mature enough to stay out of trouble off the field?

For a tight end, Higbee displays good quickness and timed speed. He has above average agility, flexibility, and burst and displays the ability to adjust on the run. The WKU product stays on his feet with good balance, flexibility and change of direction agility. He makes good adjustments on the run, doing a nice job of spotting coverage while running routes. He has the speed to get open after the catch and shows good hustle getting out on the edge to cut block.

Higbee might not be bulky, but he does not step away from b fourthlocking assignments down field. He needs to be more physical in his in-line blocking approach, though. He is a well-coordinated athlete with good speed and quick feet for his position. He shows good balance in his routes and has enough speed to threaten the defenses on deep patterns, but is more comfortable on controlled routes. Higbee runs with a normal stride and builds quickly to top speed. He is not really explosive, but has the balance and body control to make proper adjustments on the move.

Higbee has soft hands and is very good with hand placement on the ball. He will catch in his hands, extend and pluck outside the framework and look natural doing both. The thing you notice on film is his ball concentration skills. Once he gets the ball within his grasp, it will result in a clean catch. When in stride, he catches the ball smoothly, showing the hand/eye coordination to make proper body adjustments and will extend some to catch out of the body’s framework.

As a fourth-round pick, Higbee may make some GMs regret passing him up. But, he’ll need the offense around him to get it together.

Dave-Te Thomas owns and operates The NFL Draft Report, a service providing insight to league scouting departments for over 40 years. All year round, you can read Thomas’ in-depth reviews of both blue chip prospects and diamonds in the rough by visiting the NFL Draft Report blog.

Photos courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Impact Rookies: Arizona Cardinals

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Robert Nkemdiche, DT (Mississippi State, No. 29 overall)

The NFL Draft Report casts a wary eye on the Cardinals’ first round selection. In sort of a déjà vu’ for the staff, could this Ole Miss prospect pull a “Honey Badger” and see the error of his ways off the football field, or are we again seeing a remake of the Demetrius Underwood situation, where a talented player simply self-destructs in life? We are very cautiously including him in this article, because it’s hard to cast the troubled Nkemdiche as an “impact player,” despite his talent. Robert Nkemdiche (Vertical)

[RELATED – Click here to read our in-depth recap of the Cardinals’ offseason] 

Currently, Nkemdiche is slated to be one of the first defensive ends off of the bench in relief of Chandler Jones and Calais Campbell. The Cardinals say they want to extend Campbell, but that could be a tall order as they also have to carve out a monster deal to retain Jones. If all works out with Nkemdiche, he can serve as insurance against Campbell going elsewhere in free agency.

Nkemdiche has Ndamukong Suh-like athletic ability, but his problems occur when he seems to throttle down more than he plays with intensity. His occasional “let-ups” on the field became much more noticeable this year and he did seem to be more concerned about his running back duties than he did in giving pursuit as a defender. The Ole Miss defender made only two long distance tackles this year, despite having valid lateral agility and burst to give proper chase. When his head is in the game, Nkemdiche demonstrates the ability to easily take plays from the chalkboard to the field.

He needs minimal reps to retain and evident by the fact that he has started every game during his career, he has a good feel for blocking schemes and the vision to locate the ball in a hurry. He understands his assignments and his feel for the ball is above average, but his woeful inconsistency and attention to detail can be maddening, at times. He is not the type who will make an effort on every play to get to the ball and there are more than a few times where he is caught out of position due to a mental error.

Nkemdiche is a hard worker in the weight room, but is the type that needs to be pushed to get the best effort out of him. He has the ability to be a self-starter and he is a good field leader who lets his actions speak louder than his words, but his inconsistency has now become an issue. He is compliant to the coach’s wishes and plays with good intensity and effort when he performs to his ability, but he runs too hot-and-cold to be strongly considered a football player on par with his athleticism.

Ultimately, on the field, we believe that Nkemdiche has a lot to offer. How he performs at the next level, however, will hinge largely on his own head.

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Impact Rookies: New Orleans Saints

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Sheldon Rankins, DT (Louisville, No. 12 overall)

The Saints found a playmaker in Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins. One month ago, I would have told you that Tyler Davison and Nick Fairley should watch their backs as the former Cardinals powerhouse was rapidly pushing for first unit assignments. Unfortunately, Rankins suffered a broken fibula a couple of weeks ago, meaning that we’ll have to wait a little longer to see him take the field. Even though he seems ticketed for IR-DTR, Rankins still appears poised to make an impact in 2016. Sheldon Rankins (vertical)

Thrust right into action as a 280-pound true freshman, Rankins was a valuable performer for Louisville and “fireplug” at the strong-side defensive tackle position, playing in a 4-3 defensive alignment during his first two campaigns.

With the Cardinals shifting to a 3-4 defense in 2014, Rankins returned to his “roots” at strong-side defensive end, a position where he had compiled 153 tackles (112 solos) with 23.0 sacks and 49.0 additional stops behind the line of scrimmage with 23 quarterback pressures, five fumble recoveries, six forced fumbles, six pass deflections, and three interceptions during his sophomore through senior prep campaigns.

Entering the 2015 season, the Cardinals defender has an appropriate last name. If you consider the consensus analysis from professional scouts, at the strong-side defensive tackle position, it is sort of a “rank and file,” with Rankins the unquestioned top 2016 draft talent, and the rest of the eligible prospects “filing” in behind him.

Rankins is a very disruptive run defender with rare initial quickness. He is at his best shooting gaps and planting ball carriers in the backfield, but he also has long arms (33 inches) for his frame and the upper-body strength to press blockers off him. His ability to penetrate also makes it tough for quarterbacks to step up in the pocket, and he doesn’t have to win with quickness to be an effective pass-rusher, either. He has the violent hands and motor to get to the quarterback when he doesn’t win with his first move.

Rankins is an exceptional competitor with great football character and football/classroom intelligence. He’s a self-motivator, called the team’s “best” practice player by the coaching staff. He has developed into a “film junkie” and easily transfers what he learns in film study to the field. He displays elite first-step quickness and explodes into the backfield, as he can handle either the five- or three-technique chores, thanks to his low center of gravity and explosiveness that makes it tough to establish position against him.

Rankins’ hand usage and upper body strength shows that he has more than enough ability to split double teams. He consistently shoots the gaps to make plays in the backfield and excels at using his hands to control blockers and tracks the ball when moving down the line. He is not the type that will have any issues when trying to anchor when forced into phone booth vs. bigger offensive linemen, as he does a very nice job to split double team action with initial quickness and power.

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Impact Rookies: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Vernon Hargreaves III, CB (Florida, No. 11 overall)

Hargreaves shows above average body control and does a nice job of keeping his feet on the move. He shows good agility and balance, but needs to redirect and change direction skills better when challenging the receivers running deep routes along the perimeter. Still, he shows explosion out of his plant and is a quick twitch type who shows good alertness vs. plays in front of him. When beaten, he has that sudden burst to recover. His quickness in transition prevents smaller receivers from getting good position working underneath vs. him. Vernon Hargreaves (Vertical)

Hargreaves is a mentally tough athlete and solid hitter who could play inside at safety, if needed. Still, his primary position with the Bucs will be cornerback. He will hustle and run down a ball carrier from across the field and seems to enjoy the contact in run force. He plays at full speed and few players in the game of foot-ball can match his quickness. He competes for the ball with no regard for his body.

With his exceptional speed. Hargreaves has no problem maintaining inside position when challenging a receiver in man coverage, especially when working along the sidelines. He has the speed, closing burst and ball reaction skills to stay tight with any opponent, whether they are quick and fast or tall and physical. He needs to improve his strength base, so not to get backed off by the bigger receivers at the next level, but has the frame to add the power needed.

Hargreaves will be a starter right off the bat for the Bucs and anyone who doubts his ability clearly wasn’t watching Saturday night’s preseason contest against the Jaguars. Hargreaves picked off opposing quarterback Chad Henne twice, helping Tampa Bay to a 27-21 victory.

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Impact Rookies: Carolina Panthers

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Vernon Butler, DT (Louisiana Tech, No. 30 overall)

While Butler is certain to play an important role in the defensive tackle rotation this year, his arrival holds even further importance. With the first round pick showing flashes in camp, the Panthers have not yet embraced the idea of giving right defensive tackle Kawann Short the long-term deal the player wants. They could let Short walk after the season, if Butler shows he is ready to step in and contribute this season. Vernon Butler

Before his junior season, Tech coaches were seriously considering moving Butler to the offensive line – reasoning that his burst off the snap might be a better fit trap blocking from the guard position. Instead, they kept him on the D-Line and watched his draft stock soar.

Butler is a highly competitive sort who relishes his role as the defense’s “garbage man,” taking on multiple blockers constantly to free up a fellow Bulldog defender to make the play. He is simply unstoppable when he charges through the gaps and uses his hands with tremendous force when facing constant double teams. Some scouts were concerned about his gas tank late in games, but he worked hard during the 2015 offseason to get his weight down in order to eliminate his “tired legs” issue.

His strength at the point of attack is one of his best assets, as I have yet to see any blocker, or blockers, capable of riding him out once he anchors and establishes position in the trenches. He doesn’t use his violent hand punch as much as he should, but he can easily obliterate any blocker once he gets his hands into their body. He is the type that will rarely ever get bounced around by double teams, thanks to his overall strength and ability to remain at a low pad level. With his big, strong hands, body mass and aggression, Butler excels at shutting down the interior running game.

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Impact Rookies: Atlanta Falcons

The old adage that defense wins championships may or may not be true, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a title-winning team that didn’t build heavily through the draft. Rookie classes, naturally, are evaluated on the perceived upside of the NFL newcomers, but which rookies are ready to contribute right out of the gate? And, how do they fit in with their new team schematically?

To help us forecast the immediate future of these NFL neophytes, we enlisted the help of draft guru Dave-Te Thomas who has served as a scouting personnel consultant to NFL teams for multiple decades.

First Round – Keanu Neal, S (Florida, No. 17 overall)

When the Falcons drafted Neal, they did so with the idea that he would start at strong safety from Day 1. That’s exactly how the Falcons are going to use the youngster just as soon as he rebounds from his “trunk” injury that has dogged him in recent weeks. Keanu Neal

Neal is a smooth, fluid mover who has done quite a nice job of making plays at the opposite side of the field, thanks to his burst, second gear, and ability to sift through traffic to get to the ball. He shows excellent ball reactionary skills, along with the quick decision-making process to close on the play with good urgency. He can change direction in an instant and does a nice job of maintaining position when challenged by lead blockers assisting vs. the ground game.

He has the nimble feet you would want in a free safety, along with the loose hips to recover quickly when a receiver gets behind him. He can turn and run with the speediest of receivers, as he is a savvy player who knows how to disrupt the route’s progression by using his hands to knock his coverage assignments off stride. He has the loose hips and sudden burst to close on the ball in a hurry and shows good body control in transition. Neal has excellent hand/eye coordination, along with the leaping ability to get fine elevation going up to get to the pass at its high point (team’s active interception leader). He is quick and fast, which allows him to keep plays in front of him and mirror even the swift flankers and split ends in deep secondary coverage.

While he is too valuable as a centerfielder to remove him from either safety position, he has the speed, range and mirroring ability to excel as a slot cornerback, as he is fluid and calm in one-on-one confrontations with split ends and flankers, along with showing the physicality to reroute tight ends and slot backs working in the short areas. Neal has the quickness, agility, and speed needed in the slot to more than handle any NFL No. 3 receiver. His play is reminiscent of Ryan Clark in terms of his ability to quickly locate the receiver and stay on the hip of his man throughout the route.

Neal came into this draft with experience at both safety positions, but thanks to the recent success that the Cardinals and Rams had in utilizing big safeties to play the Cover-2 linebacker role, Neal drew extra attention. Handling Cover-2 assignments at the next level will see Neal return to his roots as he was a second level defender during his days at South Sumter High School.

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