NFL Draft 2017: Top 5 prospects who could free fall

Jan 9, 2017; Tampa, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Which five 2017 NFL Draft prospects could be in for a long wait to hear their names called?

The 2017 NFL Draft is just around the corner. Every year somebody becomes that guy sitting uncomfortably in the green room while player after player gets picked before them. Although nothing may come close to the Aaron Rodgers draft day experience, these five players may just be “that guy” who free falls.

5

Deshaun Watson

QB, Clemson

Players free fall for various reasons. If Watson free-falls, it will not be because of anything he did wrong. It will be because of the depth at every other position in the draft compared to quarterback. Many experts believe this is a weak quarterback class. Combine that with a strong defensive draft and quarterbacks may start free falling.

Working against Watson is the recent rise of Patrick Mahomes from Texas Tech. Although he comes from an “Air Raid” system that has yet to produce an outstanding NFL quarterback, teams are falling in love with Mahomes’ arm and gunslinger mentality.

Also, Deshaun Watson is the second rated quarterback in the draft. Most experts pick Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina to come off the board first. If teams like the Jets, Bears, Cardinals and Browns pass on a quarterback in the first round, no quarterback may come off the board until pick 25 with the Houston Texans. This means Watson may be in for a long night.

Watson comes from a spread system, meaning he will have to learn a lot at the NFL level. His short passing game is excellent. However, there are questions about arm strength and long throw accuracy. Teams will think twice about taking a developmental quarterback with arm strength questions in the top ten.

Watson better start practicing his stoic look now.

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) during warm-ups before the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

4

Jonathan Allen

DL, Alabama

Jonathan Allen is already free falling in mock drafts. Concerns over his arthritic shoulders seems to be making Allen less desirable. Part of the problem for Allen is the presence of several outstanding edge players in the draft.

When draft season began, Allen was considered in competition with Myles Garrett for the first overall pick. As teams began to dig into his tape, it became apparent that his real value as a pass rusher comes when he is playing the 3-technique. A 3-tech pass rusher does not have the value of an edge pass rusher.

The combine hurt Allen. News of his arthritic shoulders was a serious blow to his draft stock. Even though the shoulder will not affect him until later in life, why should an NFL team take a chance on a guy like Allen when other prospects like Solomon Thomas, Derek Barnett and Myles Garrett are still on the board?

His combine numbers do not compare well with other premium edge rushers in the draft. There are even questions if his productivity is a result of playing along with other great talent at Alabama.

Allen may free fall simply because he is projected to go so high. A free fall for Allen may mean coming off the board outside of the top ten.

Don’t be surprised to see Allen sitting in the green room after the first ten picks are off the board. Defensive linemen are tough, they can take it.

December 31, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes safety Malik Hooker (24) celebrates after intercepting a pass against the Clemson Tigers during the first half of the the 2016 CFP semifinal at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

3

Malik Hooker

S, Ohio State

Malik Hooker may free fall down the draft board for two reasons. First, he does not play a premium defensive position in a draft loaded with great talent in premium positions. Second, there is enough of an injury concern that may cause he team to pass on him for a premium position player.

Hooker is legitimately a freak athlete at his position. He has drawn comparisons to Ed Reed at the NFL level. Hooker’s value at the next level lies in his ability to patrol the field sideline to sideline from the deep safety position. Teams running a 4-3 press scheme will love Hooker’s ability to play center field. He is a one year starter and need refinement. But the freakish nature of his game is too good to pass up.

Traditionally, safety is not a premium position in the NFL. The onset of more spread formations is quickly changing the NFL game. This draft will be a referendum on how the game is changing. If Jamal Adams and Hooker come off the board as early as experts are predicting, safety may become a premium position.

There is the possibility that Hooker’s injuries may push him down the board. He did not work out for teams at the combine or at the Ohio State pro day. Teams are left only with this game film, which is outstanding for a center field type safety. However, why take a chance on an injured safety when several premium cornerbacks are still on the board?

The Ohio State safety may free fall. Again, free-fall may simply mean outside of the top ten. If Hooker is still in the green room after pick ten, the free fall is on.

Dec 31, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide linebacker Reuben Foster (10) during warm-ups before the 2016 CFP Semifinal against the Washington Huskies at the Georgia Dome. Alabama defeated Washington 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

2

Reuben Foster

LB, Alabama

Reuben Foster has done a lot to hurt his draft status. Already on the radar for medical concerns over recurring “stingers”, Foster further hurt his draft status with the incident in late March at the combine. Being sent home from the combine was not a smart move.

Foster projects to play in a linebacker position that is protected by defensive linemen. That is, Foster is lacks the ideal size to take on NFL blockers. A defense will have to protect him with by having a lineman in front of him take up two blockers. This is a common scenario for weakside 3-4 linebackers (think Ray Lewis) and weakside 4-3 linebackers. Foster will need to shore up his tackling technique to prolong his career.

Foster is another player who could fall for reasons other than character and medical concerns. The rise of Haasan Reddick up draft boards will hurt Foster. Draft experts at NFL.com have one inside linebacker coming off the board in the top 15 picks. That player is usually Foster. But Reddick’s speed and high ceiling may propel him up ahead of Foster on draft day.

Free falling for Foster may mean he is picked after pick 15. If his medicals look bad at the Combine recheck, it may be a long night for Foster.

Oct 29, 2016; East Lansing, MI, USA; Michigan State Spartans defensive lineman Malik McDowell (4) gestures to the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Michigan Wolverines at Spartan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

1

Malik McDowell

DL, Michigan State

Malik McDowell is a freak athlete who has yet to learn how to play the game of football at a high level. His athleticism and size make him a perfect specimen for a 3-technique position. Unfortunately, his lack of craftsmanship at the 3-technique position will push him down the board. His length, speed and athleticism may make him a better defensive end. If the NFL projects him as a defensive end, he will wait even longer.

For teams, the question for McDowell is maturity. Before signing with Michigan State, his mother made a public display of her distaste of the decision. Her reasons against the Spartans revolved around her perception of Malik’s lack of maturity. She would have preferred he go to a school that would challenge him and make him earn playing time. Right or wrong, her message is one NFL teams will ask about.

Malik did very little to assuage concerns over his maturity at the Combine. In fact, the opposite may have occurred. Teams reportedly came away from the combine concerned about his ability to take coaching, work ethic and whether he can be a self-starter.

McDowell has all the athleticism and talent to be an All-Pro defensive linemen. Yet, he continues to be his own worst enemy. It will take a team with a strong coaching staff with a plan in place to help him mature. That said, Malik McDowell is a huge prospect to bust in the NFL. Look for teams to avoid him for as long as possible. In this draft class, that may be a while.

Early in the draft process, McDowell was projected to go in the mid to late first round. Now he is going AWOL in first round mock drafts. Come draft night, McDowell may just want to stay home.

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