NFL Draft Analyst Tony Pauline Discusses 2017's Strongest and Weakest Positions
The publisher of DraftAnalyst.com, Tony Pauline, sat down with Jon Meerdink on this week’s episode of Blue 58 to talk about the NFL Draft and what Packers fans need to know as we head towards April.
The following is a transcript of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity.
Jon Meerdink: So looking ahead to the 2017 NFL Draft, we’re starting to get an idea of how this class is starting to play out. What do you see as the strengths or positions with the most depth in the draft?
Tony Pauline: One position of depth is cornerback. I’m not really sold on the prospects at the top, but I think you’re going to be able to get good corners in the third and fourth rounds: guys that can develop into starters, guys that can play in nickel and dime packages as rookies in the league.
I think the tight end position is very strong. Again, no superior talent at the top but I like the depth through the fourth and fifth rounds where you’re going to get starters and guys who can be productive number two tight ends.
I like the running back class a lot. This is one position where I really like the talent at the top, but when you get in that third, fourth round you’re looking at guys like Matt Dayes of North Carolina State and Brian Hill of Wyoming. All of these guys can develop into players at the next level.
And, it’s also going to be a good year for pass rushers and defensive ends in a 4-3 as well as 3-4 outside linebackers.
Jon: Where are some position groups that are going to be weak?
Tony: I’m not a big fan of the quarterback crop. That’s the one that everyone always centers on, unfortunately. I think there’s some talent there, but there are equal amount of questions as far as that talent’s concerned. So that concerns me.
It’s not a good offensive tackle class, but I don’t think that’s a position of need for the Packers. The tackles at the top have a lot of questions or are guys with thin bodies of work like T Garett Bolles of Utah or T Ryan Ramczyk of Wisconsin.
Not a good year at inside linebacker. If you want an inside linebacker, you better get one quick because the talent drops off very quickly there.
It’s an okay receiver crop. There’s no dominant number one receiver that’s going to come out of this draft. There are some good second and third receivers, but I would put them in the middle of the pack compared to the offensive tackles, quarterbacks and inside linebackers.
Jon: You mentioned not liking the top end of the cornerback class. Across this draft class, are there any prospects you think may be getting too much attention ahead of the combine?
Tony: I don’t understand the love for CB Marshon Lattimore of Ohio State. I think he’s a good cornerback, but compared to some of the other guys like CB Sidney Jones of Washington or CB Marlon Humphrey of Alabama even CB Jalen Tabor of Florida, I don’t think that he’s really that much better than the rest of them. Lattimore’s a guy who I think is a bit overrated.
CB Cam Robinson of Alabama was overrated, although he’s starting to come back to the pack. If you watch the film, the reality doesn’t meet the reputation. I wrote three weeks ago that he may be a good tackle in the NFL, but he’s not going to be a good left tackle because he’s stiff. Some people are starting to catch onto that.
Again, I think any or all of the quarterbacks. There’s always a tendency to overrate quarterbacks primarily because of the position and because it’s in such high demand and low supply. Whether it’s QB Mitch Trubisky of North Carolina or Clemson’s QB Deshaun Watson, QB Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech is now the new flavor of the month.
I think people are getting ahead of themselves but, listen, I thought Jared Goff was overrated and he turned out to be the first pick of the draft. I was wrong on that account. We’ll see if I’m wrong in the long-term about Jared Goff.
Jon: Who’s getting too little attention? Some prospects fall off draft boards because of bad body types or testing poorly in athletic testing. Anyone who’s dropping that you’re surprised at?
Tony: I’d say Michigan’s Jabrill Peppers. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not because he’s a bad body guy. I think people just don’t know what to do with him. When I look at Jabrill Peppers, I see a superior athlete. A guy who makes plays up the field, who makes plays laterally, who makes plays in space, makes plays against the run, and is a game impacting return specialist. He just does so many things well.
I’m really anxious to see how he works out. The workouts will dictate whether I’m right or wrong. I see a superior athlete and a very good football player. Often, you get guys who work out like Olympians but just aren’t good football players, and you get guys who are good football players and mediocre athletes.
Jabrill Peppers is a combination of a really good athlete and a really good football player, I just don’t know whether he’s going to be a linebacker or a safety. I think he’s going to be a safety. His game-breaking return skills are rarely if ever factored into the equation when they should be.
Jon: The combine invite list is out, and it’s always a bit of a crapshoot when it comes to small school guys. Are there any FCS or DII players we should be aware of?
Tony: No. Guys like Adam Shaheen from Ashland, a tight end, I had a very good idea he was going to get invited and he did. Billy Brown from Shepherd, the receiver/tight end, he got invited and as well he should have been. I don’t think there’s any surprises as far as that’s concerned. I think the bigger surprises were some of the better names or lesser named prospects that didn’t get invitations that I thought should have received them.
Jon: It’s easy to talk ourselves into or out of prospects for incorrect reasons. How should we try to understand the draft as someone who doesn’t do this for a living, like you do?
Tony: It’s a long-term process. The fact is you’ve got mock drafts and top 100 lists, and everyone goes crazy on draft day because I got 18 of the first 32, or I picked 25 guys right in the first round. You have to look at the draft as a long-term process.
Come draft weekend, it’s all just names on a piece of paper. And people get very excited when they make correct predictions. People sometimes get upset or irritated because their team made wrong decisions on draft weekend. You have to look at it in the long-term.
If someone was predicted to be a top ten pick and he wasn’t a top ten pick, you may look like a hero on draft day.
But if the guy never pans out, the people who were saying in the lead up to draft day that this guy is ridiculously overrated and he shouldn’t have been taken that high look like the smart people, but people tend to forget about that.
You can’t just look at it as what’s going to happen on draft day. You have to have a long-term perspective if you really want to be genuine towards the NFL Draft. This is what general managers have to do in war rooms, or they’re going to lose their jobs.
General managers are not trying to be right just on draft day, but they want to pick guys who are going to be there for three, four, five years down the road. Otherwise, GMs are going to lose their jobs. Draft day is just one piece of the puzzle.
When draft day is over, all it is is names on a piece of paper. Getting those names on the piece of paper to translate into production on the football field is another larger, more important part of the equation that people tend to forget about.
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