DE Breeland Speaks college highlights from the 2017 season
Each grade is assigned based on the job each team did filling needs, and how much I like the players they selected.
Kansas City Chiefs: A
Based on my Twitter feed following the third round, I might be on an island with this grade, and that’s fine. I’ve been a tough grader, traditionally — I gave their 2015 class, which included two-time All-Pro Marcus Peters, a “C+” and their 2016 class (which included Chris Jones) a "C," for example — but I’ve watched every game this team has played for five years now, and after being around these guys that long, I see exactly what general manager Brett Veach is hoping to accomplish with this class.
Veach aggressively attacked the Chiefs’ biggest weakness, which was a defense that melted down in the wild-card loss to Tennessee and badly needed an injection of aggression, enthusiasm and beef. And considering Veach also took two of my favorite players in this year's draft in Armani Watts and Tremon Smith — who each made my annual All-Juice team (this was the second year in a row I had two players on the team drafted by the Chiefs and the fourth year in a row I had at least one player from it drafted by the Chiefs, by the way) — I’m comfortable with giving this haul an A grade.
First, Breeland Speaks. His selection took many by surprise. Most pundits only had him projected as a third- or fourth-round pick, due to him having only one year of big-time production and background issues that included a 2016 DUI and two ejections for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
But the Chiefs have long pegged Speaks as one of the best edge rushers in the class, and they were sure he wouldn't be on the board at No. 54, so they went up and got him. Because while many fans wanted a corner in the second round, the pass rush was an even bigger problem spot last season, and Speaks is a terrific athlete who plays with a lot of enthusiasm. The Chiefs are sold on him. They see him as an outside linebacker with great strength and motor who can reduce inside on passing downs. They think he’ll be a starter before long at a position of need.
In the third round, the Chiefs took Derrick Nnadi — a run-stuffing nose guard with lots of brute strength and marginal pass-rush — and Dorian O’Daniel, an enthusiastic leader with dime linebacker traits (they got killed with the run in that subpackage last season) and superb special-teams ability. Both players, like Speaks, also love football and play with terrific motors, and the Chiefs believe all three of them will contribute in some capacity immediately and offer long-term starter potential.
The same can also be said for Watts, a 2018 All-Juice Team member who got too bulky and didn’t test well during the pre-draft process but possesses leadership skills in addition to outstanding instincts, ball skills and upside as a free safety (a position of need). Veach went back to the defense in the sixth round, taking another All-Juice member in Smith, a super-athletic, uber-confident corner who might need some time to adjust to the NFL but has a proven track record of ball production, plus some return chops.
Veach then closed the draft by surrendering two seventh-round picks to move up and select Kahlil McKenzie — the son of Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie — a big defensive tackle who will switch to offense because of his massive, strong frame and upside at guard.
At the end of the day, this class will be judged by many on whether Veach is right on Speaks. And yes, they could still use a tight end that can block — the only area they didn't address in the draft. However, the overall football character of this class appears to be strong, and the whole of it should add a much-needed infusion of energy and youth to a defense that inexplicably let the Chiefs down in the biggest game of the season last year as the Chiefs continue to build toward realistically fielding a Super Bowl-caliber team in 2019.
Arizona Cardinals: A
Love Josh Rosen to the Cardinals; he’s a gifted pocket passer who will have the motivation to prove the nine teams that passed on him wrong. Christian Kirk’s route-running could make him an elite slot receiver, while Mason Cole is smart, dependable and tough — great traits for an interior lineman. Chase Edmunds is an elusive back who can spell David Johnson adequately. Really good draft.
Atlanta Falcons: B
Calvin Ridley didn’t test great in drills, but he was clearly the best receiver in this class on tape. Isaiah Oliver is a press-man corner with upside, while Deadrin Senat’s run-stopping strength and Ito Smith’s pass-catching ability will be useful.
Baltimore Ravens: B
Hayden Hurst is over-aged, but he’s a natural pass catcher who plays with loads of enthusiasm. Absolutely love the pick of Lamar Jackson, an electric football player who should get a year to sit, watch and refine his game. Orlando Brown is boom-or-bust. His length, bloodlines and natural pass-catching ability got him drafted, but he tested really poorly physically. Mark Andrews has upside as a receiving tight end who doesn’t block, while Anthony Averett doesn’t create turnovers but is solid in coverage. Kenny Young (fast) and Jaleel Scott (big) could develop into useful players.
Buffalo Bills: C
The Bills moved up to take Josh Allen, who looks the part physically but has significant accuracy issues he’ll have to overcome to live up to his draft slot — especially when you consider they could have just drafted Patrick Mahomes a year ago. Tremaine Edmunds is an athletic freak with Pro Bowl potential, provided he improves his eyes. Harrison Phillips is a strongman in the mold of Kyle Williams, but he may never give you much as a pass-rusher. Taron Johnson doesn’t test well but he has some natural coverage ability.
Carolina Panthers: C
D.J. Moore is a superb athlete who can go get it on the deep ball outside, though he might end up as a better slot receiver. Donte Jackson is fast and athletic, but his instincts and eyes need to improve. Rashaan Gaulden is confident and versatile with a good football IQ; he could contribute early. Ian Thomas’ collegiate production is a concern, but he’s a good athlete with natural receiving ability. Marquis Haynes is athletic and disruptive, but his run defense is a concern.
Chicago Bears: A
The only knock on Roquan Smith is his size; pound for pound this three-down linebacker is a wrecking machine who is easily one of the draft’s five best players. James Daniels has some medical concerns, but he’s young still and a terrific blend of size and athleticism. Anthony Miller was super productive in college, Joel Iyiegbuniwe has lots of range and experience and Bilal Nichols and Kylie Fitts could help the front seven. Great draft.
Cincinnati Bengals: A
Billy Price is awesome. He’s physical and nasty, a tone-setter up front. Jessie Bates has range and ball skills, Sam Hubbard is a solid-if-unspectacular try-hard guy, while Malik Jefferson will be a Pro Bowler if his instincts ever catch up to his athleticism. Mark Walton has a nose for the end zone and plays better than his tests would indicate, while Devontae Harris, Andrew Brown and Darius Phillips offer intriguing depth.
Cleveland Browns: B
Baker Mayfield has outstanding accuracy and moxie, and general manager John Dorsey is betting that’s enough for Mayfield to overcome his lack of height and emerge as the best choice instead of bigger guys like Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Josh Allen. The same can be said for Denzel Ward, who is easily the draft’s top cover corner but only stands 5 feet 11 and was taken instead of edge rusher Bradley Chubb. Austin Corbett and Nick Chubb will immediately upgrade the running game, while Chad Thomas has better test scores than productivity. Antonio Callaway is gifted, but his background issues dropped him by at least two rounds. Genard Avery is a talented sleeper as an edge or inside linebacker, while Damion Ratley may end up being a better pro than college player if he can get coached up well.
Dallas Cowboys: A
Leighton Vander Esch possesses great size and athleticism. He’s a sideline-to-sideline guy who does a great job weaving through the trash. Connor Williams is a nice choice; he’ll be a great addition to one of the league’s better offensive lines. Michael Gallup was super productive in college, Dorance Armstrong has the physical tools to be a contributor and Dalton Schultz has good short-yardage receiving ability. Mike White is a big guy with a gun, but he needs to improve his ability to read defenses.
Denver Broncos: A
Bradley Chubb is a stud. He might be the best player in the draft, and the Broncos were lucky to get him where they did. Courtland Sutton is gifted but a little raw. He has Pro Bowl size and physical gifts. He’ll make the most of them if he refines his route running, but he was projected by many to be a first-round pick. Royce Freeman is a nice fit for the Broncos’ zone-run scheme, while Isaac Yiadom and Josey Jewell both have noses for the ball. Even DeaSean Hamilton, who has a great understanding of how to play the receiver position, and Sam Jones, who has a feel for zone-run blocking, have starting upside while Troy Fumagalli could be a contributor. Great draft.
Detroit Lions: B
Frank Ragnow is big, strong, experienced and tough with versatility; good pick for an offense that can run the ball. So was Kerryon Johnson, who runs super hard and has some wiggle for size but has durability concerns due to his upright style. Tracy Walker has a nice blend of size and range, while Da'Shawn Hand and Tyrell Crosby are physically gifted linemen who were terrific value at the spots they were taken.
Green Bay Packers: A
Jaire Alexander isn’t very big (5 feet 10), but he’s a ballhawk who plays with passion. Josh Jackson is also a ballhawk, who was great value where he was selected, while Oren Burks has cover skills. J'Mon Moore has starting potential if he can improve his catch focus, while Cole Madison has good feet in pass protection and JK Scott could easily earn the starting punting job. Marquez Valdes-Scantling is a height-weight-speed prospect who was a nice gamble in the fifth.
Houston Texans: B
The Texans surrendered the first-round pick this year in the trade for Deshaun Watson and their second in the Brock Osweiler cap dump, but Justin Reid was good value in the third round. He’s instinctive with starter potential. Matinas Rankin has versatility on the line, while Jordan Akins is over-aged but a good receiver. Keke Coutee is small but productive with a nice skill-set for the slot, while Duke Ejiofor’s size and football savvy gives him the look of an eventual contributor.
Indianapolis Colts: B
Quenton Nelson is the best guard to come out in years. He’s a plug-and-play guy who will make some All-Pro teams. Darius Leonard has great athleticism and range, but he needs to improve his aggression and coverage to reach his potential. Braden Smith and Tyquan Lewis upgrade the brawniness of some lines that need it, while Nyheim Hines, Daurice Fountain, Jordan Wilkins and Deon Cain add some juice to the skill positions.
Jacksonville Jaguars: C
Tavern Bryan has loads of natural gifts, but he needs to be coached up on his eyes and technique to live up to this pick. D.J. Chark is a speedy, tall receiver who fills a need while Ronnie Harrison is a height-weight-speed prospect who needs to improve his eye discipline. Will Richardson has the gifts to be a starter but needs to prove he can be reliable off the field.
Los Angeles Chargers: B
Derwin James, a physically gifted alpha dog who will only get better with more experience, is a steal at No. 17. He could make a few Pro Bowl teams. Uchenna Nwosu is a pass-rush specialist while Justin Jones is a stout 3-4 nose, but both have some work to do to become every-down players. Kyzier White projects as a nice box contributor, while Dylan Cantrell could turn into a solid possession guy. Scott Quessenberry adds depth at center.
Los Angeles Rams: A
The Rams lost their second-round pick in the Sammy Watkins trade and their first-round pick in the trade for Jared Goff, so it was always going to be difficult for them to find premium talent in this draft. However, general manager Les Snead did a solid job finding some real value, as he ended up with three All-Juice players in Joseph Noteboom, Jamil Demby and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. Brian Allen is smart and tough — interior guys like that always seem to find a starting role somehow — while John Franklin-Myers and Micah Kiser could help the defensive front. John Kelly’s punishing style will be effective behind Todd Gurley, while Sebastian Joseph, Trevon Young and Travin Howard add defensive depth to a top-heavy unit.
Miami Dolphins: A
The Dolphins arguably got the draft’s best safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick, who is versatile, experienced and plays with lots of enthusiasm. Mike Gesicki has the tools to turn into a fine receiving tight end, while Jerome Baker has the look of an effective dime linebacker. I love Durham Smythe’s blocking ability, while Kalen Ballage looks the part of a versatile weapon in a timeshare.
Minnesota Vikings: B
Mike Hughes has good athleticism and ball skills; he’ll help an already-solid defense. Brian O’Neill has plus length and athleticism, and it’s easy to see him developing into a starter though it might not be immediate. Jalyn Holmes and Tyler Conklin have enough ability to be contributors, while Daniel Carlson was arguably the best kicker in the nation. Solid, if unspectacular, class.
New England Patriots: A
Isaiah Wynn isn’t very big (6 feet 2), but he’s a heck of a player: smart, agile and strong with good technique. It will be interesting to see if he’s big enough to stick outside. Sony Michel is an outstanding pick. He possesses terrific physical gifts, and the Pats will find a way to use him immediately. Duke Dawson sees the game well and could be smart enough to see the field quickly, while I see Braxton Berrios as a classic Patriots slot receiver. Their decision to flip their mid-round picks for a second and third in 2019 took this grade to an A.
New Orleans Saints: C
The Saints gave up a ton to move up and draft the physically-gifted Marcus Davenport, but they deserve the benefit of the doubt after their killer draft last season. Tre'Quan Smith has some developmental upside, and the same can be said for Rick Leonard and the rest of their picks. But aside from Davenport, there might not be much immediate impact from this group.
New York Giants: A
Saquon Barkley is a special all-around back who might be the draft’s best player. Will Hernandez is short, but he’s a stout road grader who will create space for Barkley. Lorenzo Carter is a super-athletic projection as an pass rusher who didn’t do much of that at Georgia, but could turn into nonetheless. B.J. Hill and RJ McIntosh could become contributors down the road while Kyle Lauletta is a smart quarterback who sees the field well and has the look of one of those backups who last in the league for a while because of his anticipation and makeup.
New York Jets: B
Sam Darnold has the size, arm strength and accuracy you like, but his footwork needs lots of work and he’ll probably need to sit for a while. They moved up to get him, so they surrendered their second-round pick but still ended up with a super gifted but raw defensive tackle in Nathan Shepherd in the third. Chris Herndon is undersized and recovering from a knee injury, but he’s got the receiving chops to be helpful down the road. The Jets took some solid chances, but it could take a while to see an impact from most of this class.
Oakland Raiders: C
This might be a little high for Kolton Miller, but he’s a good player; he’s long (6 feet 9) and athletic and when he gets his grown-man strength, he could be a Pro Bowler. I also like the P.J. Hall, Arden Key and Maurice Hurst picks. Each could be really good players, and the latter two could be steals if concerns about their long-term viability (Key’s personal issues and Hurst’s medical condition) turn out to be unnecessary. Brandon Parker’s a nice developmental prospect, while Nick Nelson could help fairly soon. However, the Raiders’ decision to surrender a third-round pick for Martavis Bryant — who is only one strike away from a lifetime suspension under the league’s drug program — is a big-time gamble.
Philadelphia Eagles: C
Dallas Goedert is a great pick for a team that needs depth behind starter Zach Ertz. Avonte Maddox has good athleticism and could contribute quickly; he’s just small. Meanwhile, Josh Sweat has top-60 talent, but medical concerns tanked his draft value. The reigning champs did just fine, though the class appears to lack initial splash.
Pittsburgh Steelers: A
Terrell Edmunds is a good athlete who sees the game well but was banged up in 2017. James Washington is an outstanding football player who could contribute immediately. Mason Rudolph is also a nice pick for a team that might need to replace Big Ben sooner rather than later. I’m also a fan of the Chuks Okorafor, Marcus Allen and Jaylen Samuels picks; Samuels has a nice knack for the end zone, Allen is a big hitter and Okorafor is a great fit for their power scheme. Terrific draft for Pittsburgh.
San Francisco 49ers: A
Mike McGlinchey is easily the draft’s best tackle; he’s plug-and-play on either side. Dante Pettis isn’t a burner but he’s a natural receiver, while Fred Warner has really good upside in pass coverage. Tarvarius Moore is an awesome athlete with range, while D.J. Reed’s enthusiasm for the game and return ability could help him outperform his draft slot and size (5 feet 9). Solid overall class.
Seattle Seahawks: C
Rashaad Penny was super productive in college, but very few had him going this high. Seattle’s got a respected scouting department though, so it will be interesting to see if this works out. Rasheem Green has some pass-rushing juice and would be served well by playing defensive end. Will Dissly, meanwhile, is a reliable receiver and run blocker who should help replace Jimmy Graham. Shaquem Griffin is more than a feel-good story; he has awesome athleticism and will, at the worst, be a good special-teams player. Michael Dickson has Pro Bowl potential at punter, while Tre Flowers and Jamarco Jones could turn into contributors. Solid draft, but it will be determined by what happens to Penny and Green.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: A
Vita Vea is a stout nose guard who will team up with Gerald McCoy to form an intimidating duo on the interior. Ronald Jones II could end up being one of the league’s most dynamic backs, while M.J. Stewart, Carlton Davis and Alex Cappa have starter potential. I also like Jordan Whitehead and Jack Cichy, who have injury concerns but good football character.
Tennessee Titans: C
Rashaan Evans combines good size and athleticism. He needs to process quicker, but he could be a good player. Harold Landry, Dane Cruikshank and Luke Falk are all decent value plays. This is a class light on numbers, but the Titans did the best they could with the number of picks they had.
Da'Ron Payne is a run stuffer who will team up with former Alabama teammate Jonathan Allen to lock down the interior for Washington. Derrius Guice reportedly dropped due to concerns about his football character, but he’s a big, athletic back who can pay immediate dividends in the right situation. Geron Christian has the look of a potential starter, while Tim Settle and Shaun Dion Hamilton could be steals. Solid draft here for Washington.