Defense has dominated the conversation in this NFL draft cycle, whether it is at the top of big boards or smattered through mock drafts. It is tough to fill out a top-five list of wide receivers while a top-15 list of pass rushers sometimes doesn’t seem like quite enough. In Connor Rogers most recent mock draft for Today’s Pigskin, he had defenders going in 13 of the first 19 picks, even with two quarterbacks and Leonard Fournette going second, third, and fourth.
To balance this out, here we have an all-offense edition of the NFL Draft roundup.
Better than that, it is a version of the roundup that largely ignores those offensive superstars we expect to see in play high in round one. Except of course where we start our three big things, with a running back who has been in the shadow of Fournette but has played as well as any offensive player not named Lamar Jackson over the past month and a half.
Three big things
- Dalvin Cook isn’t Fournette, but he has established himself as a first-round talent: It is hard to compare to the 6-foot-1, 230-pound back from LSU, but Cook has been unbelievable over his past five games. He has gone over 100 yards in each after failing to do so in his first three games, and is averaging better than 168 yards per game over that stretch while finding the end zone nine times. He is currently fifth in the nation in rushing yards, and should clearly be the second back drafted in a loaded class at the position.
- While Jake Butt and Jehu Chesson got all the preseason hype, Amara Darboh has outproduced both: Butt was the first or second tight end on most boards, and Chesson’s strong finish to 2015 had him as a preseason top-five receiver. Darboh was a fine player as a junior, but this year his yards per catch is up a full five yards. He has been the heart of the Wolverines’ offense (when Jabrill Peppers isn’t on the field), catching 38 passes for 664 yards and five touchdowns. Butt and Chesson have combined for 49 catches, 649 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Darboh should be taken seriously as a prospect.
- While pass rushers, cornerbacks, safeties, and running backs are getting the hype in this class, the options at tight end should be deeper than we’ve seen in a while: This past week, three ranked teams were led in receiving by their future-NFL tight ends. Clemson narrowly escaped Florida State with the help of Jordan Leggett’s five catches for 122 yards and a touchdown. Evan Engram of Ole Miss had nine catches for 95 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Auburn. Virginia Tech got past Pittsburgh with help from Bucky Hodges’ six catches for 145 yards as well. These three make up part of a second tier of tight ends likely to be day two selections, behind Butt and O.J. Howard of Alabama, who each have a shot at round one. It has been a while since we have seen a draft class of tight ends actually have two populated tiers at the top.
Syracuse hasn’t produced a ton of highly draftable players recently, but wide receiver Amba Etta Tawo might be the best receiver the school has produced since Marvin Harrison (depending on how you feel about Mike Williams). Etta Tawo is coming off a 10-catch, 144 yard performance against Boston College that included a touchdown. He is the fourth-leading receiver in the country, with 1,074 yards this season. At 6-foot-2 and 202 pounds he has the size and speed to push himself up into a day-two pick.
While on the subject of underappreciated wide receivers, Zay Jones of East Carolina has been putting up some mind-boggling stats in 2016. He is coming off a game when he caught 19 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown. This is further impressive because this is neither his most catches in a game or most yards in a game this season. He has caught 17 or more passes four times, including a ridiculous 22-catch performance against South Carolina earlier in the year.
Jones has caught at least 10 passes in seven of his eight games, and is averaging more than 14 catches per game for a nation-leading 114 catches, putting him 21 catches ahead of the next-closest player. However, while he is first in caches his 9.6 yards per catch is tied for 406th. He doesn’t have a catch this year longer than 33 yards, and has only found the end zone four times. Jones has good size and has gotten some love by draftniks, but those are concerning numbers that could be difficult to translate outside of the East Carolina offense.
Sneak peek: 2018 draft
After giving this spot to Washington running back Myles Gaskin last week, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley has earned a shoutout. He had 18 carries for 207 yards and two touchdowns in a 62-24 victory over Purdue. Barkley was also the Nittany Lions leading receiver with three catches and 70 yards. Barkley has now gone over 200 yards in two of his last three games, and is already statistically outpacing his tremendous true freshman season.
Week 10 matchup to watch
The LSU-Alabama game is always a showcase for future Pro Bowlers on defense, and with Alabama possibly having the 2020 NFL All-Pro team currently being screamed at by Nick Saban while they are trying to do their homework, this year is no different. However, the more interesting thing to look at is the skill position players for the Tigers against the Crimson Tide defense. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre will get tough matchups against Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Fournette will get a shot at redemption against a defense that held him to 31 yards on 19 carries. On top of that, center Ethan Pocic will get the best challenge on the defensive line.
It is also worth watching Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen — who hopefully will stay in school but could be a sneaky-good prospect in the 2018 NFL Draft — try to move the ball against Florida while throwing to receivers covered by Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson on the outside. Should Allen continue to play well, he could be one of the best senior quarterbacks in the country next season.
I tried to go all offense, but Washington’s secondary against California’s offense will also see an interesting challenge, with Davis Webb ready to hurl the ball all over the field. Sydney Jones is one of the best cornerbacks in the country (counterpart Kevin Smith is a mid-round pick as well) and Budda Baker is one of the best safeties, but both will have a very different task to defend.