Comparison: Cam Newton
Best Fit: Houston Texans
The Texans are an incredibly talented team, on both sides of the ball, and have one of the best coaching staffs in the league. Bill O’Brien, a proven quarterback guru, (who has won games with Brock Osweiler, Tom Savage, Brandon Weedon, T.J. Yates, Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett) would be the best coach to fix Mahomes’ mechanical issues and place him in a position to succeed.
Mahomes is at his best when he plays freely and O’Brien would instil confidence in him, allowing him to do what he does best. Behind a solid offensive line, and in theory a solid running game, Mahomes and his huge arm could utilise one of the most explosive and dynamic receiving corps in the league with DeAndre Hopkins, second year burner Will Fuller and an all-world athlete in Braxton Miller. This Texans offense could in theory be reminiscent of an air-raid Texas Tech offense, built on big passing plays and high-flying, high-scoring offense. With all of the blue-chip pieces the Texans have in place on offense, fantasy owners everywhere would be desperate to see a situation like this happen and bring fantasy relevance back to Houston.
Mahomes presents himself as one of the more intriguing players in the entire 2017 draft. From a glance at a far he certainly appears to be a special player. With one of the biggest arms in recent memory, Mahomes has put up huge numbers (as is the trend for Texas Tech quarterbacks) in the Kliff Kingsbury offense over the past two years while in the starting role and has a highlight reel to rival any and all. However, on closer inspection many mechanical flaws can be identified with Mahomes’ throwing motion and footwork in particular and herein lies the division of opinions on his draft stock.
Mahomes fans will state that his production speaks for itself and this cannot be argued with. 5,052 yards, 53 total touchdowns and only 10 interceptions in only 12 games is outstanding production undoubtedly. However, much like another Big 12 team in Baylor, Texas Tech’s offensive system is geared towards producing video-game statistics and not towards preparing players for pro-style offenses. Ex-Baylor and New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty also had gaudy numbers at the collegiate level yet that has failed to translate in the NFL. Detractors of Mahomes will also cite a total of 27 sacks taken in 2016 also. Mahomes may be 6’3’’ and 230 lbs, yet no rookie quarterback can sustain that kind of beating in the NFL.
The biggest flaw of Mahomes however is his mechanics. His rare arm talent allowed him to overcome this at the college level yet NFL defenses are faster, stronger and more complicated. Poor mechanics breed bad throws and bad throws often result in interceptions. Mahomes rarely sets his feet or steps into throws and so loses both extra power and accuracy. His unstable base throws off his upper body mechanics too meaning that his shoulders are never flat at release, a trait that results in looping, easily intercepted passes.
Mahomes cleaned up his footwork at the NFL Combine last week yet anyone can appear fleet-footed when there is no real opposition. Mechanical fixes are a lengthy process and are only proven when quarterbacks are put under pressure. Mahomes and his future NFL team could follow the Cam Newton and Carolina Panthers model in order to develop him as a player. Newton struggled with similar mechanical flaws to Mahomes coming out of college, relying on his arm over his mechanics and while he had minor success in his first few seasons it was not until Newton spent a full offseason fixing his mechanics that we saw his full MVP level potential.
As the raw prospect he is now, Mahomes would be much better suited to becoming a back-up and sitting behind a veteran while he develops. This model allowed Aaron Rodgers to sit and observe Brett Favre in Green Bay while fixing his own mechanical issues. However, it is very believable that if Mahomes was forced into the starting line-up due to an injury that he could have surprising success. His knack for making ‘wow’, big threat plays could very easily steer a team to a small string of victories however if placed in the spotlight for too long it is easy to see defenses figuring out ways to stop Mahomes. If this was to happen it may be worth taking a shot on Mahomes in your line-up for a few weeks. There is no reward without risk.
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Player: Deshaun Watson - QB, Clemson
Comparison: Ryan Tannehill
Best Fit: Buffalo Bills
If the Bills don’t sort out their contract situation with Tyrod Taylor, they would be wise to draft a quarterback early and preferably Watson. Watson’s arm strength paired with his deep ball touch and his rushing ability are reminiscent of Tyrod Taylor’s and would suit this Bills offense perfectly. With a solid offensive line, a stud No.1 wide receiver in Sammy Watkins and one of the best running backs in the league in Lesean McCoy, Buffalo’s offense is tailor-made for a rookie QB. Watson would be protected and have less pressure on his shoulders due to their rushing prowess, allowing the offense to move. This was the formula the Dallas Cowboys used to make Dak Prescott the Offensive Rookie of the Year and one that will be modelled by many teams in the near future. Watson had great success in college with a stud receiver in Mike Williams and this would give both Watson and Sammy Watkins great fantasy value while likely increasing Lesean McCoy’s workload also.
Deshaun Watson could not have chosen a better time to turn in some of his greatest collegiate performances. The Clemson quarterback has decided to enter the 2017 NFL Draft and his stock has never been higher, coming off a championship season.
When analysing Watson through a wide lens it is clear to see that he cuts the figure of a modern quarterback. Measuring in at 6’2’’ and 207 lbs, Watson is the smallest of the ‘Big 3’ quarterbacks of this class (including Mitch Trubisky and Deshone Kizer) yet Watson plays bigger and taller than that on tape, standing tall in the pocket in the face of pressure while having the ability to extend plays with his feet. Watson also has a much more extensive college résumé than his other two counterparts. Watson has plenty of experience from being a multi-year starter and with two National Championship game appearances in which he had stellar play, it is safe to say he shows up on the biggest stage.
Being on such a successful team, Watson has played countless ranked, talented teams and more often than not come out on top. Pro-ready or not, Watson has a knack for winning and has the game-winning drives to prove it. These intangibles should not be overlooked as a quarterback’s job at any level of football is to be the coolest guy on the field. When the moment is its biggest Deshaun Watson has showed plenty of times that he can be the guy.
The most impressive thing about Watson is while he has a big arm, every throw seems to have some touch on it. No matter whether it is a deep ball or screen, his range never suffers because of it and every pass is therefore more catchable and tougher to be intercepted as Watson’s touch allows him to place every throw. Watson still has the power to drive balls when needed but unlike last year’s draft prospect Carson Wentz, not every pass has a flat arc.
However, although this touch is impressive, at times it is also inconsistent. Watson’s interception total could have been a lot higher, especially in the red zone, this season as he sometimes struggles with under and overthrows. Overthrows aren’t necessarily too big of an issue, Marcus Mariota, Jared Goff and Carson Wentz all struggled with overthrows in college too and the result is often only an incompletion. Underthrows however are deadly as underthrown balls allow stacked cornerbacks, under-cutting safeties and spying linebackers to all add to their interception total.
Often after an interception from an underthrown ball, Watson would then appear spooked for a few plays and tended to force passes. A combination of wanting to make up for his mistake and a strong pass rush made Watson trigger happy and frantically eager to make a play. This season most of his forced passes broke his way, but the law of averages suggests that that will even out if it continues.
As a lighter guy, Watson is able to utilise his legs much more effectively than either Kizer or Trubisky and this is one of his most proficient talents. Watson ran the QB read impeccably at Clemson and his quick twitch athleticism meant he would be 6 yards downfield before the defense even knew he had kept the ball. This athleticism shows up time and time again on film as he demonstrates his elusiveness and a knack for escaping pressure, leading to very few sacks being taken.
Watson sometimes relies on his quick feet in the pocket a little too much however and so his footwork in the pocket could use some work. His speed and quickness often made up for his sluggish pocket footwork but in the NFL this will need to be tightened up as teams will likely set the edge and force him to throw from the pocket to negate his rushing ability.
One big concern with Watson is his failure to identify trick coverages and walk straight into defensive traps. This became more of an issue against more accomplished defenses and is very apparent in his match-up against Florida State. For a quarterback with so much game experience it is concerning that Watson fails to identify spy and robber coverages and so when he stares down a receiver (which he has a tendency to do when holding onto the ball for too long), safeties are able to read his eyes and undercut his passes for interceptions.
However, the majority of the time (due to the nature of the offense) Watson made quick reads and his quick release and arm strength allowed him to negate pass rushers and prevented him from holding onto the ball and staring down receivers and he was able to drive his offense down the field remarkably quickly.
Wherever he lands in the draft Watson is unlikely to be instantly named the day one starter and he will either have to compete with veterans or simply be red-shirted. However, I think it is likely if he goes to a team with quarterback needs and is not taken as a project to sit and observe for a few seasons in say Pittsburgh or Kansas City, Watson is likely to play at some point during his rookie campaign.
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The running back position requires an athlete to possess several traits for success. One of the crucial ones is competitive drive. The ability to initiate contact with defenders typically much bigger in size, keep your feet churning to break tackles and extend plays is key to turning a five yard gain into eight yards. This trait is even more crucial in short yardage situations where your team needs a few inches on the goal line for a touchdown or first down. One of the most promising prospects in this area is Ohio State junior Ezekiel Elliott, a running back that also possesses the athleticism and durability needed to excel at the pro level.
Elliott was unveiled as the Buckeyes feature back for the first time in 2014, replacing current 49er Carlos Hyde. He flourished in coach Urban Meyer's revamped offense, a scheme that was a departure from his spread days in Florida. The attack focused more on inside zone blocking plays and power runs up the middle. While many hear 'zone blocking' and immediately equate it with running backs avoiding contact and seeking consistent three-to-four yard gains, that wasn't the case with Elliot. He was a physical runner that used his strength after contact to wear down defenses and eventually break big gains in the later stages of the game.
What he did
The offense involved a lot of cutting off the center up the middle, and Elliot proved very good at this up-the-gut style of running. The sophomore ended up rushing for 1,878 yards, a number that trailed only Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman. Elliot finished the season with 20 rushing touchdowns and also added 28 catches for 220 yards (7.9 yards per catch average). He was Top 5 in several rushing categories for the Big Ten, including rushing attempts, rushing yards, touchdowns, and plays from scrimmage.
When looking at Elliott, he's got several characteristics that make him a potentially good runner at the pro level.
Biggest strengths: Functional strength, competitive toughness, finishes runs after contact, mental toughness, vision
Biggest weaknesses: Pass blocking, home run speed, elusiveness
What kind of player is he
At 6'1, Elliott is a little taller than your average running back and has a thick frame at 225 lbs, giving him an NFL-like weight despite being only a junior in college. He shows good quickness when diagnosing a play both physically and mentally, and has the agility to cut off center and between the tackles. His balance is very good and allows him to continue running downhill after contact. A hard-nose runner, Elliot saw his most successful runs come in between the tackle and tight end on inside zone plays with the Buckeyes.
A typical Elliot run
He shows good burst getting to the line of scrimmage with good lateral quickness to cut off inside blocks. He's patient when waiting for his blocks to set up and cuts up field decisively and without losing speed. He has the vision to run off blocks at the second level and stands a good chance to break off a big run if he sheds a tackle or two.
He also has the speed to beat defenders to the edge and get up field. His transition from a 45 degree angle to north-and-south is fluid, and he maintains a good forward lean when running which keeps him from running too tall. He also keeps his feet churning after contact which allows him to pop defenders backward upon contact and gain extra yards in combination with his strength at 225lbs. He struggles when trying to run for long touchdowns as his lack of top-end speed often results in him getting tackled from behind by corners and safeties.
Elliott has only managed to string together a stellar season just once, an obvious thing to write but still important considering teams will be gunning for him more in 2015. Though he'll have a sign on his back, he's already battle-tested when it comes to playing against the best teams in college. He posted four touchdowns and 246 yards rushing against Oregon in the National Championship game. He also ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, a team ranked fourth in points allowed (16.6) in 2014. It's important when any athlete plays his best against the toughest of defenses, and Elliot demonstrated he could do that.
He could also wear defenses down throughout a game, as his biggest runs typically came in the second half when Ohio State needed a breakthrough play to seal a victory.
Elliott accomplished all this despite playing with three different quarterbacks and capped his year off with a 246 yard performance in the National Championship game against Oregon to go along with a season-high four touchdowns. He proved he could remain durable with 273 attempts and no injuries.
Pass blocking woes
Elliott's biggest weakness is his pass blocking. He typically stands too high when engaging defenders which allows him to get driven back by pass rushers. He lacks the desire to pass block and will throw his shoulder in at times instead of squaring up the defender. He does, however, display a desire to run block and relished the opportunity to hit linebackers in the middle of the field on quarterback keepers. That will be something to take notice of if he hopes to elevate his status to potential first-round draft pick either in 2016 or 2017.
Catching the ball
Elliott can definitely make tough catches. He posted a seven catch game against Indiana and three games with at least four receptions. He's not expected to catch the ball a ton in the Buckeyes' offense, but it's a skill he's proven to have.
What type of NFL player can he be
Overall, Elliott is a very good power runner that can move piles with his strength after contact. He has the potential to be a 1,000-yard rusher in an offense that values running the ball up the middle and with the inside zone. A team that runs the inside zone quite a bit is the Philadelphia Eagles. This offense would be ideal for a player like Elliot. He still needs to develop his pass blocking, but he has a good chance of going in the first round based on his running talent alone.