The KC Star’s fourth annual All-Juice Team
The vision of the annual All-Juice team is simple. In preparation for this year’s NFL Draft, I’ve watched hours of tape. And during that time, some guys have stood out. This team is meant to recognize 22 prospects I like for various reasons, be it their effort, attitude or performance.
Why the name "All-Juice?" Juice is a phrase that, in football terms, means having energy, or having the goods. To better understand it, watch Warren Sapp and Jon Gruden explain in this short clip.
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I've done all-juice teams the previous three years. Each year, the Chiefs have drafted somebody from the team. In 2015, they took Steven Nelson. In 2016, they took Eric Murray. And last year, they took Patrick Mahomes and Tanoh Kpassagnon (here are my previous All-Juice teams for 2017, 2016 and 2015).
One more thing: Last year, I rolled out a new system for picking the team that not only made it more fun, but also introduced a strategical element to the process.
First, take a look at my scale for grading prospects:
7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick
6.8: Top half of the second round
6.7: Bottom half of the second
6.6: Top half of the third
6.5: Bottom half of the third
6.4: Fourth-round pick
6.3: Fifth-round pick
6.2: Sixth-round pick
6.1: Seventh-round pick
6.0: Priority free agent
So once again, I basically forced myself to only take two players from each grade. This made for some painful omissions. My general strategy was to take advantage of a solid O-line class — a rarity these days — and surround those guys with a bunch of alphas, athletes and edgy players who love football. I also added a receiver spot (at the expense of a running back) and cornerback spot (at the expense of defensive line) to reflect the pass-heavy nature of today's game.
So without further ado, let’s get to it — the 2018 All-Juice Team.
QB LAMAR JACKSON, Louisville: A special athlete with blazing speed, this former Heisman Trophy winner has a strong arm and also shows the ability to make some tight-window throws. Teams are picking him apart for his lack of bulk (6-2, 216), delivery and occasional issues with his accuracy, and it's true that he'll need a creative offensive coordinator to maximize his gifts. But Jackson has MVP potential if he comes anywhere close to reaching his ceiling. Grade: 7.0
RB MARK WALTON, Miami (Fla.): Walton (5-10, 202) is projected to go as high as the fourth round by some, but he has some injury concerns, didn't test superbly and this is a great running back class. Whoever lands him will get a pure football player; this guy is faster than his testing indicates, plus he blocks, catches and has a nose for the end zone. Yes, please! Grade: 6.3
WR CHRISTIAN KIRK, Texas A&M: A tremendous route runner with steady hands, Kirk (5-11, 201) could develop into an elite NFL slot receiver, with return skills, to boot. Grade: 6.8
WR CEDRICK WILSON, Boise State: Wilson (6-2, 197) has better vertical skills than his speed (4.55) suggests, plus he's competitive and runs good routes. His father played in the NFL for seven years. Grade: 6.2
WR KEKE COUTEE, Texas Tech: Coutee is not very big (5-10, 181), but I love his quickness, speed and vertical skills. He also has a natural feel as a slot receiver and is an outstanding kick returner. Grade: 6.4
TE MIKE GESICKI, Penn State: Big Mike isn't much of a blocker, but he combines a super-long frame (6-6, 247) with elite overall athleticism and ball skills for the position. Someone's going to get a really good player. Grade: 6.7
T JOE NOTEBOOM, TCU: Noteboom combines enough size (6-5, 309) with plus athleticism and upside as a pass protector; I liked him at the Senior Bowl and could see him being a nice fit for the Chiefs' zone-heavy scheme. Grade: 6.5
G QUENTON NELSON, Notre Dame: If you've followed me at all on Twitter, you already know why I love this guy. Nelson is big (6-5, 325), strong, athletic and nasty. He reminds me a lot of Steve Hutchinson, who will make the Hall of Fame one day. Nelson will be a multi-year All-Pro. Grade: 7.4
C JAMES DANIELS, Iowa: Love big James, who possesses an outstanding combination of size (6-3, 306) and athleticism. He played O-line at Iowa, so you know he's been coached well. He's a plug-and-play starter who will only get better when he gets his grown-man strength. Grade: 6.9
G BRADEN SMITH, Auburn: The Olathe South product is my kind of guard — big (6-6, 315), strong (35 bench reps) and a nasty run blocker. For a second-round pick, sign me up! Grade: 6.7
T JAMIL DEMBY, Maine: Will likely play guard at the next level due to his size (6-5, 319) and average athleticism, but I'm good with that; he's got long arms (33 3/4 inches) and a strong punch and I could see him developing into a contributor in this league. Grade: 6.2
EDGE HAROLD LANDRY, Boston College: Landry (6-2, 252) is an explosive edge rusher whose bend around the corner and production should get him drafted early. Grade: 7.0
DL NATHAN SHEPHERD, Fort Hays State: He's raw as can be, but 6-foot-4, 315-pound behemoths with great athleticism and a willingness to work aren't found on trees. Some team with a great D-line coach will be rewarded for its patience in a year or two. Grade: 6.6
DL MAURICE HURST, Michigan: Super-productive one-gapper who makes up for his size (6-1, 292) with superior burst off the snap; He's a plug-and-play three-technique in the NFL who will immediately be disruptive. Grade: 6.8
EDGE OBO OKORONKWO, Oklahoma: Some will knock Obo for his size (6-1, 253), but he has good athleticism and pass-rush sophistication, plus the guy plays with a ton of enthusiasm. Grade: 6.6
ILB ROQUAN SMITH, Georgia: Premium new-age linebacker with superior sideline-to-sideline speed, terrific instincts and three-down ability. Roquan is going to be a Pro Bowler. Grade: 7.2
ILB NICK DeLUCA, North Dakota State: I appreciate try-hard inside linebackers with intangibles, and DeLuca (6-3, 251) fits the bill. He's not a great athlete, but he eats and breathes football — I loved talking to him at the NFL Combine — and I expect him to carve out a role somewhere, as long as he steers clear of injuries. Grade: 6.1
CB JOSH JACKSON, Iowa: Ball production was insane in 2017, and he also boasts the size (6-1, 192) and length that press-heavy teams covet in a corner. He'll go somewhere like Seattle and kill it. Grade: 6.9
S ARMANI WATTS, Texas A&M: Watts isn't very big (5-11, 202) and he takes a ton of gambles, but he's an experienced safety who makes plays and looks much faster on the field than he tests. Grade: 6.5
S TARVARIUS MOORE, Southern Mississippi: A guy with a terrific combination of size (6-2, 190 with 33-inch arms), speed (4.32) and overall athleticism, Moore only started for a year at Southern Miss but has rare physical tools and could be worth the developmental wait. Grade: 6.4
CB D.J. REED, Kansas State: A really good athlete with ball skills, return ability and an overload of on-field enthusiasm. Someone will ignore his size (5-9, 188) and get a steal. Grade: 6.3
CB TREMON SMITH, Central Arkansas: Don't sleep on Smith (6-0, 190), who has the athleticism, confidence and ball skills to be a starter in the NFL. He needs time to adjust to the tougher competition, but his interception total the last three seasons — 12 — is no fluke. Grade: 6.1