Mock Draft Tips: How to look for late-round gems
As part of an occasional series, Fanspeak will offer tips and best practices for its wildly popular and first-of-its-kind On The Clock draft simulator.
Today’s topic: Not sure who to pick late in the draft? Look for elite traits.
Trent Brown is the ultimate value pick.
After all, the massive 6-foot-8, 388-pound former Florida offensive tackle was primarily drafted on traits when the San Francisco 49ers selected him in the seventh round with pick No. 244 overall in 2015.
And there were good reasons why Brown wasn’t selected until the final round of the draft. Academics, injuries and conditioning plagued his college career.
Here’s some of the things Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote about Brown prior to the draft:
“If beaten, doesn’t have the athleticism to recover.”
“… Limits what an offense can do.”
“Scouts call him an ‘inconsistent worker.’”
“He can only play right guard in a power scheme.”
Then, after he was drafted, NFL.com’s Mark Dulgerian said: “This pick is consistent with teams taking a chance on the ‘measurables’ prospects late in the draft.”
All Brown has done since then is earn a Super Bowl trophy with New England, sign a four-year, $166 million contract with Las Vegas, then earn a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2019.
Scouts, general managers and draft analysts alike can’t be faulted for missing on Brown. After all, there was a reason why he fell so far in the draft.
But Brown’s case also underscores one important lesson: Look for traits in the late rounds.
‘You can’t teach …’
Here’s what to look for in the late rounds:
- Does the player have at least one elite trait?
- If the answer is “yes,” then are any of the flaws that caused him to drop in the rankings fixable?
In Brown’s case, he didn’t have a lot of check-marks in his favor, but his sheer size was hard to ignore. San Francisco felt it could iron out the rough spots with good coaching, so they took a flyer on Brown in the seventh round.
He was traded after his third year to New England, but Brown had already made his mark by then, starting all 26 games he appeared in for San Francisco in years 2 and 3.
Of course, that doesn’t always work out. The same 2016 draft that landed the Dallas Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott also landed them former Baylor basketball forward/center Rico Gathers in the sixth round. At 6-foot-6, 285 pounds, Gathers didn’t have ideal measurements for the NBA, but those same measurements were elite for an NFL tight end.
Ultimately, the move didn’t work out, as Gathers is currently out of the league, but he did spend three years with Dallas.
Non-first round picks who are elite athletes:
WR Donovan Peoples-Jones (98th percentile)
LB Willie Gay (98th percentile)
CB Reggie Robinson (92nd percentile)
S Kyle Dugger (99th percentile)
S Kavon Wallace (97th percentile)
S Tanner Muse (94th percentile) https://t.co/k7rDVtKzkF
— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) April 3, 2020
Who are this year’s candidates?
Even in Brown’s case, there’s usually a reason why a player falls in the draft.
With that in mind, here are three Day 3 prospects who have a chance to far-exceed their drafting standing.
Elite trait: Size
At 6-foot-5, 331 pounds Phillips boasts one of the most impressive height-weight combinations of any of the tackles in the 2020 NFL draft. Zierlein calls him an under the radar prospect in his scouting profile, and there aren’t any fatal flaws under Zierlein’s listed weaknesses that couldn’t potentially be fixed with coaching and effort.
OTC projection: Rounds 4 to 5
Elite trait: Speed
Isaiah Simmons isn’t the only Clemson safety/linebacker hybrid with elite measurables, he’s just the highest-rated. Simmons (6-4, 238) ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine, where he tested as a linebacker. Muse, at 6-foot-2, 227 pounds, ran a 4.41, second-fastest among safeties. Many analysts project Muse to linebacker, where his 40 time would have ranked as second-fastest, due to his limitations as a safety. But his speed-size combination, along with the fact Muse can play all four phases on special teams, gives him a chance at making an NFL roster. Add in his big-play ability – 14 passes broken up, 7 INTs, 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks for his career – and Muse has a solid chance to outperform his draft standing.
OTC projection: Round 5 to 6
Elite trait: Strength
It’s hard to justify drafting any player before the fourth round who’s only played 19 games over four seasons due to significant injuries. But Muti will likely still hear his name called sometime on Day 3 due to his combination of size (6-foot-3, 315) and brute strength (Combine-leading 44 reps in the bench press). Muti allegedly became one of two Bulldogs to bench, power clean and squat a combined 1,300 pounds last summer. Simply put, Muti was dominate when he played, and had it not been for his injury history, he may have been ranked as the top interior offensive lineman. Another player considered for this trait: Baylor DT Bravvion Roy, whose strength is also considered to be elite level.
OTC projection: Rounds 5 to 7
Jake Rigdon (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers the NFL draft for Fanspeak and the On The Clock, which is the only NFL draft simulator that allows you to customize and use your own big board while giving you control over trades.