Ten Storylines of the Week
1. Things just aren’t going great for Alabama LB Reuben Foster. His has been a draft process akin to pulling a tooth, most notably on the health front -- he has already undergone shoulder surgery this offseason and could possibly require another procedure, though his agent denies this -- and in a few off-field incidents. Foster was unable to test at the NFL Scouting Combine last month because, well, he wasn’t really there, having been booted following a heated confrontation with a hospital worker. That display of misplaced anger and even the health issues were not going to necessarily prevent him from being the first linebacker drafted next week. But something else might.
On Thursday, news broke that Foster had tested positive with a diluted urine sample during his (brief) stay in Indianapolis for the Combine. The NFL treats a diluted sample as a positive test. Foster was in full damage-control mode over the failed test, speaking about the incident with NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport and claiming possible food poisoning.
“I couldn't eat much, but I had to drink water and Gatorade. Then a few coaches said something about me being too light. And I'm a coach-pleaser. I don't care what everybody thinks, but I care what coaches think," Foster said. "So I drank and ate as much as I could without throwing up. Then I went in there, drinking and drinking water, trying to flush out my system from whatever was making me sick and trying to keep my weight up and took the test."
Understanding that people might be dubious of his explanation, Foster said simply, "Test me."
None of these things in a vacuum -- the recent surgery, the Combine pout-fest, this diluted test -- would probably be enough to drop Foster out of the top-20, but the combination could prove lethal when the draft boots up on Thursday.
2. Hey, let’s check in with what Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer is up to. Is he playing some sort of Reanimator game with the head of Tom Brady and the body of Cam Newton? Maybe. Is he pumping himself up for the draft by shouting inspirational slogans in the mirror? Again maybe. I’ve written about Kizer’s weirdo draft process in various iterations, but he added a new layer of eye-brow raising this week with some spicy claims.
“No one else can do what I can do," Kizer boasted to USA Today. "And I’ve truly figured out in this (draft) process, if I can maximize all my potential in every aspect of the game – this is bold – I do have the ability to be the greatest quarterback to ever play. Imagine taking Brady’s intellect and Brady’s preparation and putting it on a guy with Cam Newton’s body."
He also said, "Name a college quarterback who goes into the game-plan meetings on Monday and throws his notes at the coaches. No one else game plans the way I do. No one else prepares the way I do. No one else knows football the way I do."
Hey, for as self-promotional as those quotes are, can't knock the moxie. Unlike fellow top quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Mitchell Trubisky, whose evaluations have by and large stayed steady or even risen a little over the last few months, Kizer has generally begun to fade from the first-round conversation (despite his above arguments).
3. A year ago, the Cowboys selected Dak Prescott in the fourth round. Naturally, the NFL now wants there to be another one of him, even though another one of him probably does not exist in this draft. That is stopping exactly nobody. Pitt QB Nathan Peterman is one player who has risen to possible second-round glory this spring, but I’m more interested in another hot name, that of Tennessee QB Josh Dobbs. Dobbs was among the top-three positional performers in four events at the Combine (40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, three-cone drill) and one evaluator said that Dobbs spanked his whiteboard work in interviews, because he is a rocket scientist.
That’s the good stuff. And there is good stuff with Dobbs. It just doesn’t generally come when he throws the ball. His passing remains subpar and in fairness to DeShone Kizer, who was raked over the coals for ye olde “not a winner” rap, Dobbs’ Tennessee teams routinely underperformed expectation. Not in a “Notre Dame 2016 trainwreck” kind of way, but more in a “old lady slowly walking through acid water in Dante’s Peak” kind of way. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein wrote in his draft profile of Dobbs that he just doesn’t see NFL starter material on film. But not everybody is so skeptical. ESPN’s Todd McShay, for one, believes that Dobbs could slip in the Day 1 door.
Which just feels like the most week-before-the-draft headline ever. McShay made his comments while speaking on Mike & Mike. He went so far as to say that he would prefer to use a second-round pick on Dobbs than a first-rounder on Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer or Pat Mahomes. CBS Sports’ Dane Brugler and ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. also tossed out Dobbs as a possible second-rounder. Not to bad for a guy who was widely being viewed as a Day 3 prospect -- at best -- in January.
4. The 49ers are trying their darnedest to move out of the No. 2 slot. This, according to Walter Football, with the outlet hearing from an NFC general manager that San Francisco’s new crew is “desperate to move down.”
“The NFC general manager implied that there is some indecision within the 49ers on whom they would take if they are unable to move down,” writes Walter Football’s Charlie Campbell, who added that “[i]n surveying other teams, four different teams think San Francisco will take a quarterback at No. 2 if they are unable to move down. The quarterback they think the 49ers would take there is North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky.”
With a new head coach and a new general manager at the helm, there might be a bit of a transition period while they try to determine the direction of their franchise. Barring a trade, that they would apparently just kind of take Trubisky because they didn’t know what else to do is probably not the best way to start things off. Sure. That guy. Take him. Mitchell.
5. Hey, let us stick with Trubisky for a moment. This week, Yahoo Sports’ Charles Robinson wrote that he was hearing different teams as targeting Trubisky, writing that all of his sources were “adamant” that their particular team in question was seriously trying to gun for the North Carolina gunslinger. The four teams in question: The Browns, 49ers, Bears and Bills.
If I were to rank these as possible destinations for Mitchell Trubisky, I would slot them (from most-likely to least-likely) 49ers, Browns, Bears, Bills. As has been touched upon several times during the process, Cleveland is sitting pretty here. No, they won’t be taking Trubisky at No. 1, unless something has broken in the universe, but they could at No. 12 if he falls that far. Or they could move up if they so desired.
6. What started out as one of the most loaded classes of running back in recent memory has begun to thin out up top to LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey. NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein reported on Thursday that there was a “buzz” in his conversations with NFL personnel men that FSU’s Dalvin Cook could fall out of the first round completely. This would be quite the fall for a back whom some have argued (in some cases vehemently) as the best back in this draft. However, concerns about previous off-the-field troubles and durability concerns have helped to drag him back during the process. It didn’t help that Cook failed to stand out at the NFL Scouting Combine in athletic testing which he should have, given his reputation as human lightning, aced.
That being said, if I were to bet my neighbor’s house on an outcome for Cook, I would say mid-to-late first round, rather than second round outright.
7. Pitt RB James Conner took to the Player’s Tribune to make his case to NFL teams via an open letter and dropped several tidbits of note.
Wrote the battering ram of a back of his first season back from a torn MCL and chemotherapy to treat Hodgkin's lymphoma, “I was probably at about 60% going into last season. Now, I definitely got stronger and better with each game. But, yeah, that’s just real talk. Sixty percent. If that.”
He finished the past season rushing for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns. In his ACC Player of the Year campaign with the Panthers in 2014, a 100% healthy Conner rushed for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns.
"I know you guys love comps," Conner wrote, "so my favorite running back of all time is Marshawn Lynch, and that’s the best comparison I can give you. He’s always got such amazing willpower to go along with an “I’m not gonna be denied” mentality, and those are two things I bring to the table every time I suit up. I’m not going down on first contact. It’s just not gonna happen. I’m breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards every time I get the ball, just like Marshawn.
"Just call me “Beast Mode 2.0.” (As long as that’s cool with Marshawn, of course.)."
As wearisome as the Player’s Tribune can sometimes be, Conner’s full essay is worth the read. He's a probable Day 3 pick for the draft next week.
8. Just how much Watt-age can we handle in our lives. That really is the question. One NFL scout, at least, has graded Wisconsin edge rusher T.J. Watt even higher than he did Houston Texans stalwart J.J. Watt when Watt the Elder was coming out of college for the 2011 draft.
“All he does is make plays. He’s Clay Matthews. Probably more explosive. I guess he’s learned pass-rush techniques from his brother. Uses his hands well,” the scout said.
Unlike big brother, though, T.J. can probably be had a little later than J.J.’s No. 11 slot to the Texans several years ago. NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah and Chad Reuter both seem him as a potential late-round option for two established playoff contenders, with Reuter slotting Watt to the Cowboys at pick No. 28 and Jeremiah finding him a home at No. 30, to the Steelers in mock drafts.
9. Pat Mahomes is staring across the dance floor at the Texans and they are apparently staring right back, just kind of awkwardly fidgeting until they can build up the courage to ask for his hand. The Texas Tech gunslinger (if any quarterback in this class deserves that designation, it is Mahomes) specifically spoke to the love he has seen from Houston HC Bill O’Brien to date.
“I feel like a lot of coaches like me, but especially coach O'Brien," Mahomes said. "I think my personality and how real I am, those are things beyond what I can do on the field that he likes. It seemed like the way I was answering questions, I think he knew that I knew what was going on. You can tell when coaches have a confidence in you.”
The Texans have long been considered a likely landing spot for a quarterback during the process, especially after they shipped Brock Osweiler out of town. But a counterpoint: What if they actually believe they could make a Super Bowl run with Tom Savage at quarterback? That does not feel right, no, not at all, but Draft Analyst’s Tony Pauline reported as much earlier this week, writing that he had heard from little birdies in the organization that the team is going to look to fill a different need with the 25th pick. He tags corner or offensive tackle as their likely actual positional target. All of this runs contrary to the consensus buzz we have heard for most of the evaluating process, namely that Houston is hot to trot for a quarterback.
10. Here’s an off-kilter one to finish out the week. Should the Cardinals draft a quarterback to groom as heir-apparent to Carson Palmer, that quarterback would receive first-team reps in practice during the season. This is because the 37-year-old Palmer is a 37-year-old quarterback. Thus, he will be given Wednesday’s off from practice to rest his soon-to-be-ailing body. This is a sly enough way to develop a rookie prospect while still maintaining a true win-now push. And should Palmer at some point collapse like a human made of peanut brittle, a rookie could fill in without feeling quite the same anxiety they might have had they rarely worked with the first-team in practice.
The Cards have met with all five of Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, DeShone Kizer, Pat Mahomes and Davis Webb as they attempt to gauge whether or not to use pick No. 13 on a young arm to carry the franchise forward.