Jameis Winston; QB Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jameis Winston is one of my favorite players to come out of the NFL draft. From the time I first watched him as a redshirt freshman in the spring game at Florida State to his last game in college against Oregon. I felt he was NFL ready and the next great Quarterback. Sure, he came with a little baggage but at the end of the day talent is talent. The kid has it. He threw for 4,042 yards and 22 Touchdowns while completing 58 percent of his passes. For me though it is more than just the stats and big arm. It has to be how well he not only throws the ball under pressure but how he calls out pressures and identifies coverages so quickly. He’s a gamer, he flat out just knows how to play the game of football and knows which man is going to be free and uses his personnel to make the right calls on the field. You can’t coach those things. You simply can’t coach a Quarterback how to lead his teammates. You can’t teach him how to make tight window throws under pressure. You can’t teach him how to make magic happens when the play goes wrong or the play breaks down. Winston does all the things that as a coach is just a luxury to have at Quarterback and the leader of your team. The one negative: he’s a gunslinger. He’s going to take his chances and he’s going to make some throws that have you scratching your head. It’s part of having a gunslinger and a young Quarterback, they’re going to take shots even when it’s not there instead of taking what the defense gives them. But think about this part: Aaron Rodgers, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Phillip Rivers. All great quarterbacks that are categorized as gunslingers have been very successful in this league and two of them are sure fire first ballot Hall Of Famers. Expect Jameis Winston’s name being thrown around with some of the best in the league by the end of 2016.
2016 Prediction: 62 Completion Percent, 4,349 Yards, 31 Touchdowns, 12 Interceptions
Dorial Green-Beckham; WR Tennessee Titans
The Freak. DGB. I don’t think we’ve seen a closer clone to Calvin Johnson size, talent, and athleticism wise. Dorial Green-Beckham stands 6’5 237 Lbs. runs a 4.4 40 yard dash, and vertical jumps 33.5 inches (per NFL.com). Calvin Johnson at the same age? 6’5 239 Lbs. 4.4 40 yard dash and vertical jumped 35 inches (per NFL.com). In DGB’s rookie year he had 32 receptions, for 549 yards, and 4 Touchdowns while averaging 17.2 yards per catch. While those stats may not be eye popping. Remember, that was his rookie year and he only started 5 games last year. Just think of the possibilities with Marcus Mariota entering his second year in a pro style offense with an improved offensive line as well a more established running game. Scary. Downright scary. The one question he will have to answer of course is will his route running improve? He was in a spread offense for two years at Missouri and out of football one year at Oklahoma. He ran three routes at Missouri from the games I watched which was about 9 of them. Fade, slant, and a crossing route. I’m sorry but even the average high school football wide receiver can run those routes. He will be required to be more diverse and run more routes because against the great corners he wont catch more than three passes. To start the year he will most likely have some monster games just cause he can go up and get the ball and he’s big on those slants. But I expect him to at least halfway expand his route tree to make him even more dangerous. Don’t be surprised if you see some jaw dropping games come from DGB this upcoming season.
2016 Prediction: 64 Receptions, 1,208 Yards, and 9 Touchdowns
Za’Darius Smith; OLB Baltimore Ravens
You may look at the position and the team and say there is no way this guy is going to get any burn next year. But folks this is a new day and age in the NFL. First off, defensive coordinators find any way possible to get as many pass rushers on the field as possible. This guy Za’Darius Smith is a natural pass rusher. When I seen him get drafted by Baltimore in the 4th round of last years draft. I was already sold Alvin “Bud” Dupree was the better prospect and player. But then I went back and looked at the Kentucky games. And when i seen Smith’s number, I instantly remember who he was. I remember watching Mississippi State vs. Kentucky cause I wanted to get a first hand look for myself on Dupree. But the more I watched the game the more I saw how number 94 (Smith) was to Kentucky’s defense. He played with 200% effort every single play with the same energy and with great ability. He could play against the run and he could rush the passer. He was a little less athletic than Dupree but he played with consistency, energy, and effort. His combine numbers weren’t eye popping. At 6’4 274Lbs. he ran a 4.75, verticaled 28.5 inches, broad jumped 9 feet and 4 inches, and had a short shuttle of 4.63 seconds. Those aren’t the best numbers but they certainly are pretty solid. You need those gritty, grimy, blue collared guys not only in your front seven but on your team. As a rookie last year he was thrusted into the rotation due to injuries but he held his own. In 15 games not starting a single game he recorded 30 tackles, 20 of those as solo tackles, with 5.5 sacks. Those 5.5 sacks were good for 3rd in NFL among rookies more than Dupree (4) and Shane Ray of the Denver Broncos (4). Terrell Suggs will be back next year after tearing his achilles in the first game of the year last year. But Smith set himself up to be right in the pass rush rotation because of the opportunities he was given last year, and he surely can open a lot of people’s eyes with a great year in 2016.
2016 Prediction: 40 Tackles, 8.5 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles
Damarious Randall; CB Green Bay Packers
Boy, how the NFL has changed so much. It was once a time where big hard hitting middle linebackers and massive gap eating defensive tackles were the most valuable positions in the NFL. Now the nickel cornerback position might be not only the most valuable but the most important position on the field. Having cornerback or defensive back that can cover a quick shifty guy in the slot or even a big athletic receiver in the slot. Either way, the nickel cornerback position has become a staple in today’s football. Ronde Barber was probably the first real great nickel back, a player who could not only cover in both man to man and in zone from the slot but could also rush the passer. Damarious Randall might be the next great one. I remember watching him at Arizona State against USC, a fast, ball hawking safety who easily looked like he was just a cornerback playing safety. He had every last bit of the coverage skills just playing safety. When Green Bay chose him 30th overall in the first round of last years draft. I had a feeling they would move him to corner and most likely play nickel. I just didn’t know he would be that good his rookie year. But in all in today’s college football your free safety basically is your nickel corner so it wasn’t that surprising after I put two and two together. In his rookie year last year, Randall played in 15 games, 17 including the playoffs, 10 starts, and accumulated 58 tackles, 14 pass deflections, 3 interceptions, and returned one for touchdown. The most key thing to take away from his guy though outside of the 3 interceptions and his tackling. He is a tremendous tackler in space no matter the size or athleticism of the opposing offensive player. It could be a quick shifty receiver like Tavon Austin, a smooth big receiver like Larry Fitzgerald, or even a big and athletic running back like Matt Forte. He finds a way to bring the guy down to the ground. The most amazing thing about it is he is only 5’10 and 196 Lbs. one of the smallest corners out there. The first great play I saw was against San Diego down on the goal line in crunch time San Diego ran the infamous pick play to Danny Woodhead and on 4th and Goal with the game on the line, Randall made a great and veteran play. His coverage and technique made him look like a savvy 10 year veteran. Randall is an up and coming player in this league and with his skillset and tremendous talent, he is certainly set up for a ground breaking sophmore season..
2016 Prediction: 63 Tackles, 4 Interceptions, 23 Pass Deflections
Ryan Shazier; ILB Pittsburgh Steelers
Ryan Shazier is the model for the new era linebacker in the NFL. Big enough in size but an athletic freak. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an athletic marvel like Shazier is at linebacker. To wonder just how does an inside linebacker in the NFL runs faster, jumps higher, and just the superior athlete to many WR’s and RB’s in the NFL. At 6’1 237 Lbs. Shazier at the NFL combine had a vertical of 42 inches, bench pressed 25 reps, did the 20 yard shuttle in 4.21 seconds, and broad jumped 10 feet and 10 inches. Wow. Oh, by the way he ran an unofficial 4.36 at his pro day in the 40 yard dash. His combine numbers are equivalent to Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, and AJ Green. 3 of the best receivers in the league. Watching Shazier on film and on game day he clearly stands out. He absolutely flies sideline to sideline every single play. His play recognition of reading between zone blocking, pass, and traditional power blocking rules, is tremendous. He fills the gaps quick and fast and uses a variety of moves to shed blockers and make tackles. He mixes it up between making contact at the point of attack with a lead blocker and shedding the block to using his speed and quick to elude the blocker completely and making his way to the ball quickly. Once he gets to the ball he has a good knack for rippng the ball out and forcing fumbles. This is a defensive player that can go from making tackles as a traditional linebacker to guarding the slot or tight end to even rushing the passer and wreaking havoc on the quarterback. The most important variable in all of this equation is his health. In his rookie year he played in 9 games and started 5 of those where he posted 36 tackles and had 1 pass deflection. Last year Shazier played and started in 12 games missing 4 in the regular season and accumulated 87 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception, and had 2 forced fumbles. If Shazier can play in 14-16 games next year, he is in store for a breakout season.
2016 Prediction: 114 Tackles, 6.5 Sacks, 3 Interceptions, 4 Forced Fumbles