Building the Perfect Team from NFL Prospects
This is my first article of the regular season cycle. It has been a disappointing few months for me in terms of content production for all of you. I’m still working to learn all I can about scouting and that has hindered my ability to produce at the rate that I was expecting. As the year progresses I hope to put out more unique articles like this one as well as mock drafts, big boards, and positional rankings.
The purpose of this exercise was to put together a team that I think could win the most games next year in the NFL. It doesn't include players like Joe Burrow who has enjoyed a meteoric rise because I don't think he will give this team the best chance to win. I focused on players who I think will have the most immediate impact for the team that drafts them in April. I added a few unique positions to this team so that I could talk about some of my favorite prospects and how I think they could make the biggest impact as rookies. As always comments and feedback are much appreciated and if you think I should have chosen someone else for any of these positions let me hear it!
QB: Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama: While Tua is not the number one QB in my rankings, I chose him here for a couple of important reasons. One being, he plays with two of the receivers that will be listed later. The other and most important reason is that he knows how to maximize the talent around him. Tua is not the physical specimen and trait-dominant player that Justin Herbert is, but his touch and accuracy to all levels of the field is unparalleled in this draft class, he can fit in the ball into any window and that is important with some of the skills guys he would be playing with on this theoretical team. Tua is also more ready to play right away than some of the other quarterbacks in this class is so slotting him in at QB would give this team the best chance to win from game one.
RB: Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin: I decided to cheat a little on the running back position and add in a 3rd down running back slot just so I could talk about both De’Andre Swift and Jonathan Taylor. Although with Taylor’s improvements as a receiver this season including Swift may not even be necessary. Taylor has produced at an unparalleled level since he was a freshman but has stepped his game up to another level this year as he heads the Wisconsin offense. Taylor has everything teams look for when looking to take a running back in the first round. Evidenced by Taylor’s 1410 scrimmage yards and 19 total touchdowns in 9 games. Taylor will also test very well athletically as he weighs in at around 220-225 pounds and will run in the 4.4 range. In addition to long speed, Taylor has great patience at the line of scrimmage and has great short-area quickness. Taylor can also fill the role of power back as he is willing to stay inside and grind out short yards. No matter where Taylor is drafted figures to be a workhorse running back at the next level.
3DRB: De’Andre Swift, Georgia: Swift was one of my favorite players from summer scouting and is still RB1 for me so far (Taylor has jumped Etienne and is closing the gap) due to the complete nature of his game. He is one of the best receiving running backs in that class and fits the mold of a Kamara-type running back. He has elite contact balance and has insane lower body strength for a player of his smaller stature. His testing may not blow teams away but his product on the field is that of a first-round player. Some of the ways he can set up defenders with subtle moves are way beyond what any player in this deep running back class can do. For the purpose of this exercise being able to slot him in as a third-down back or receiving back would allow this team to utilize his best traits and create one of the most feared duos in Taylor and Swift.
WR: Ceedee Lamb, Oklahoma: Lamb started the year as my WR4, and has moved up to WR2 after his performance this season. In my mind, Lamb is the most complete and NFL-ready receiver in the class besides Jeudy. His skills will translate immediately into the number one receiver for whatever team is lucky enough to draft him. Ceedee is a good contrast to the other two receivers listed here as he has the ability to go up and an secure 50-50 balls as well as be a monster after the catch. Some of the moves he puts on defenders and the vision he has as a ball carrier are special. One of the most important things that jumped out to me about CeeDee Lamb to me was his demeanor and attitude on the field, he wants the ball in his hands on every play and shows effort on every route that he runs. Lamb will be able to establish himself as the X and prototypical number one receiver for this offense.
WR: Henry Ruggs, Alabama: Ruggs is probably the most explosive player in college football and is without question the fastest. Rumors have begun to swirl that he will become the first-ever player to run a sub 4.20 40 yard dash time at the combine. This alone could put him into the first-round conversation. Ruggs is so much more than that though. He is developing as a route runner and has obvious potential in that area due to his fluidity and elite short-area quickness and acceleration. Ruggs makes pursuit angles non-existent, poor SEC defenders think they are in the perfect position to make a tackle on Ruggs only to see him blow by them. Ruggs also makes this list due to his connection with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Tua and Ruggs frequently connect on deep shots or shorter passes where Tua can let Ruggs use his speed and skills in open space to make explosive plays.
WR: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: Although CeeDee Lamb has been balling out recently Jeudy still holds the WR1 honor. He is the purest and most natural route runner in the class. His ability to release off the line and fool corners is also something that is unteachable and puts him on another level. On this team Jeudy would most likely have the luxury of dominating from the slot, where I think he could fit best in the NFL, he would not be tied there and could still play on the outside. Having Jeudy and Ruggs will also help Tua due to his connection with both of these receivers. With Lamb and Ruggs going deep and dominating down the field, Jeudy could be allowed to wreak havoc in the middle of the field on short and intermediate routes. The potential top 5 pick could turn out to be the number one wide receiver for this offense.
TE: Brycen Hopkins, Purdue: Unlike last year’s tight end class, this class is very low on top end talent. As of right now there is no tight end that should be taken in the first round based on their tape, but Hopkins has separated himself as the best of the bunch. There is an argument to be made for a player like Hunter Bryant but he is a unique player due to his size and speed that it will take a team that falls in love with him and understands how to utilize his skillset to take him early. Hopkins has elite ability as a receiver and will fit the mold of a flex tight end who can be a mismatch all over the field. His most surprising trait is how solid of a route runner he is, it takes a few plays to remember you are watching a 6’5 245 pounds tight end run the type of crisp routes Hopkins does. Hopkins is still making strides as a blocker and it may take him a year or two at the next level to see any improvement there. While he may not test off the charts his route running ability and solid hands should vault him into at least mid second round conversation.
OT: Andrew Thomas, Georgia: It has been a long time since there has been an offensive tackle of Thomas’ caliber, he is as close as a team is going to get to the irreplaceable “franchise left tackle”. Thomas has a unique blend of power, speed, and agility. His hand usage can be inconsistent at times and it is clear he has some developing to do as a pass protector. But his most important trait is he knows how to utilize his immense length, even on plays where he gets beat off the ball rusher are always within reach. This will be valuable to his development in the NFL as it will lessen the learning curve. He can also get off the ball insanely well and will help anchor this young offensive line.
OG: Shane Lemieux, Oregon: Lemieux is perfect for this team because he is your trusty and dependable guard. He has made 47 straight starts at left guard for the Ducks and was named as a preseason All-American. His strength as a blocker in the run game could clear holes for Jonathan Taylor and De’Andre Swift, and his technical prowess could help keep Tua upright. Lemieux will be able to step in for any team after he is drafted in April and make an immediate impact in the starting lineup. He isn’t going to thrive in space or moving to the second level but he is able to clear some of the widest running lanes in college football.
C: Creed Humphrey, Oklahoma: I love Tyler Biadesz and I think he should be in first round consideration but Humphrey is as close as a team will get to a plug and play center. He has that brute strength and relentless motor that teams look for to set the tone for their offensive line and for their team. Humphrey mauls in both the run and passing game whether that is clearing holes for Jalen Hurts, Trey Sermon, or Kennedy Brooks or keep the pocket clean so Jalen can work his magic he thrives. Humphrey is the most fun of any of these offensive linemen because one play he will be putting into the ground and the next he will have a defensive tackle locked up so Hurts can scramble out for a 20 yard gain. Humphrey will most likely be a top 15-20 player for me when it is all said and done.
OG: Alex Leatherwood, Alabama: Leatherwood is the fourth Alabama player on this list and it is well deserved. Leatherwood deserves a spot here due to his versatility. He could start at guard or tackle for this team in the event that Wirfs or Thomas were to go down with an injury. I tweeted out recently that Leatherwood is a substantially better run blocker than he is a pass blocker and I stand by that. That isn’t to say he is a poor pass-blocker or that I think he can’t make improvements in that area but he has a long way to go. For that reason I think that he is a better fit at guard in the NFL where he can use his natural strength and athleticism to clear pathways for these runners. In terms of draft stock, Leatherwood has a chance to sneak into the first round as teams will value his versatility and experience at multiple positions.
OT: Tristan Wirfs, Iowa: Rumors have begun to come out that Wirfs may stay another year at Iowa. If this happens the class will be severely weakened as there is a considerable drop off from the Thomas/Wirfs tier to the rest of the class (although the rise of Jedrick Wills may help that). Wirfs continues to dominate big 10 competition with his combination of strength in the passing game and raw power in the run game. Wirfs has some versatility for teams in that he has experience at the left or right tackle spots. One of my favorite things about Wirfs is his motor on passing plays, he never quits and keeps even the most relentless rushers away from his QB. He will need to improve his overall consistency in the run game to be a top tier tackle in the NFL but as of now he is worth a early-mid first round pick.
APB: Laviska Shenault, Colorado: Shenault has had a very rough year and I hope teams are able to see past the criminal underutilization of Shenault in Colorado’s offense. Part of this has been the at times (most times actually) horrendous play of Steven Montez, Montez has some intriguing traits but his inability to get the ball to Shenault has been devastating to his production. Last year before Shenault went down with injury Colorado’s coaching staff got him the ball in every way possible as a running back, tight end, wildcat quarterback and any other way you can think of they did. This year though while they still use him on the occasional screen or jet sweep they have not been putting the ball in his hands to make plays. In this offense the ball could be put in his hands to make plays in the open field where he thrives. Shenault will make most of his impact as a rookie as a gadget type player while he learns the nuances of route running. Shenault may end of falling to the second round of a very talented wideout class, a team that is lucky to snag him in the second round will have found an electric playmaker for their offense.