7 SEC-related thoughts I keep having looking at mock drafts
I’ve already read more mock drafts than one should.
Sorry, I can’t help it. Sometimes, I’ll nod my head in agreement. Other times, I’ll shake my head in disbelief.
Today, we’ll focus more on the latter. And just to keep it concise, we’ll focus on the SEC players in that first-round conversation. We’ve got another 2.5 months of digging into the rest of the 2022 NFL Draft. Between the NFL Combine and pro days, we’ll have plenty of twists and turns coming up.
Consider this my post-Senior Bowl reaction to the, for lack of a better word, reactions.
These are the SEC-related thoughts I keep having while looking at mock drafts:
1. I get mad when I don’t see Treylon Burks as WR1
There are 3 instances since 2015 when I truly banged the drum for a receiver to be the first off the board. Those guys were Michael Thomas (spot on), DJ Moore (mostly spot on and it actually happened) and Justin Jefferson (couldn’t have nailed it more).
Well, Burks is the 4th time I felt that way. As in, “This mock is trash” when it doesn’t have Burks as WR1 (I thought that before the Jameson Williams injury). I’ve seen some mocks that barely have him in the first round. That’s baffling to me. Kendal Briles moved Burks all over the place, but one of the reasons I think his floor is so high is his ability to dominate matchups out of the slot at 6-3, 230 pounds.
I’ve seen some knock his route-running. Um, if Burks couldn’t run routes, tell me why he had 3 times as much production as any other Arkansas receiver? Mike Woods left for Oklahoma in the spring and Burks didn’t have a true complement, which meant he was at the top of every scouting report. With the amount of elite slot corners in the SEC, don’t assume the guy was just beating linebackers off the line of scrimmage.
This play epitomized why I continue to bang the drum for Burks. He was in press coverage on the outside against Alabama, he made a perfect adjustment on the football and he outran the entire defense:
Treylon Burks is insanely good at football LOL
His play strength, body control and YAC are absurd. pic.twitter.com/rsmsZhCdEo
— Jordan (@Texans_Thoughts) February 6, 2022
I’m not saying Burks has to be a top-5 pick or anything like that. But he checks every box you’d want out of an NFL-ready wideout as a 3-year starter in the SEC. You could put him in any offense and line him up all over the place (backfield included). That’s WR1 material.
2. It makes me uncomfortable seeing Derek Stingley in the top 3
I want to preface this by saying that the 2019 version of Stingley was one of my favorite college players. I saw him in person 3 times, and each time I came away thinking he was well on his way to becoming an all-time SEC great. Maybe Stingley will be an All-Pro corner and we’ll get flashbacks to 2019 early and often in his NFL career.
But whenever I see him in the top 3, I get a bit uneasy.
As we know, Stingley’s last 2 years were a bummer. He dealt with personal issues, he had injuries and ultimately, he didn’t have this Champ Bailey-like career that so many hoped he would after setting the sport ablaze as a true freshman. It’s hard to pretend like that didn’t happen. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that even when he was on the field, Stingley was part of 2 bad defenses who got thrown on consistently (the 2021 defense didn’t get going until after he was out for the season).
I get it, though. When Stingley is right, there’s no question that he’s the best corner in the NFL Draft. He has the length of a receiver, his fundamentals are second to none and he’s not afraid of the big moment. I’d rather see Stingley come off the board in the latter half of the top 10 instead of being drafted as high as any corner in NFL history (Shawn Springs and Jeff Okudah both went No. 3 overall).
3. Who do I feel best about having a long, productive NFL career? Nakobe Dean
If you forced me to pick 1 prospect in this class who would still be one of the best players at his position into his early 30s, it’d be Dean. That’s why it blows me away to see that he’s being mocked in the back end of the first round by plenty of publications. What am I missing? The size? The length? Ask Devin White about that. I actually think Dean is White 2.0.
Once these interviews start to play out, we’re going to see people rave about Dean. Besides having unbelievable chase-down speed at his size, he was also the captain of the Allstate AFCA Good Works team. His head is screwed on right.
If you see tweets like this, be skeptical because it probably means somebody has fallen in love with Dean and they want to see him slip late into the first round:
Interesting linebacker nugget for 2022 Draft:
Spoke to three scouts this week and none have Nakobe Dean as the top linebacker.
There’s a lot of love out there for Christian Harris (Bama)
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 18, 2022
No disrespect to Harris, but give me Dean over any inside linebacker in the class.
4. I have more questions about Charles Cross than most, it seems
I just saw a Pro Football Focus mock draft that had Cross at No. 1 overall, so I’m basing part of this sentiment on that while also acknowledging that isn’t the consensus. Let’s be clear here. Cross had a much improved 2021, and some of the way-too-early mocks last year that highlighted his freakish abilities looked more justified.
But I question a couple of things. He had 1 great year wherein the confirmation bias lined up. He also played in an Air Raid offense wherein he rarely had to run block consistently. As great as he was as a pass-blocker, let’s also not forget that MSU saw a whole lot of drop-8 coverage. You’re not dealing with quite as much chaos in those scenarios.
Cross did what was asked of him in a major way. I’m just a bit skeptical about how it’ll translate when Cross is tasked with seeing a variety of pressures and when he’s expected to be an elite run-blocker, which he was in 2021, but with just 200 run-blocking snaps (and against favorable fronts).
With so many teams needing a tackle near the top of the draft to protect a young quarterback, it wouldn’t surprise me to see someone with Cross’ skill set come off the board early. I’d rather see him as more of a late-first rounder.
5. Did we forget that DeMarvin Leal exists?
I assumed after Leal put together his best statistical season playing for the No. 3 defense in America that we’d see him mocked in the top 10. You know, just like we did before the season. But instead, you’d think that Leal tore his ACL in his last game because he’s basically nowhere to be found in most mocks.
Three weeks ago, I saw Mel Kiper Jr. had Leal at No. 30 overall. Here was his description:
“The 290-pound Leal could play defensive end in a 3-4 scheme or 3-technique tackle in a 4-3. He has a powerful lower half and strong hands. He had 8.5 sacks for the Aggies in 2021, showing improvement on his ability to take down quarterbacks.”
Yes. Facts. The guy improved in the area that he needed to improve in during his pre-draft season. Last I checked, that was a positive.
Oh, and on top of being extremely versatile — some are viewing that as being a “tween-er” — the guy also never leaves the field, so you can check that cliché “high motor” box. Some are gonna say he’s got some bad film out there, which is fair. Then again, most 290-pound dudes who average 58 snaps per game have some bad film.
This class has an ample amount of edge guys. That’s probably at least partially why Leal showing up in mocks feels rare. But like I said with Burks, I’ll take a guy who can win a variety of matchups and has been doing just that for 3 years in the toughest division in the sport.
6. Cornerback is loaded, but mocks without Roger McCreary are just wrong
I admittedly spent too much time focused on Smoke Monday when I watched the Auburn defense. In my defense, he’s a walking targeting call who plays the game like it’s 1995. But if Monday is the over-produced action movie, McCreary is the thought-provoking, understated drama.
All McCreary did the last 4 years was improve to the point where he became a true lockdown corner. He was PFF’s highest-graded corner in the country having lined up on the outside — mostly against a team’s top wideout — on 89% of his snaps in 2021. At 6-0, McCreary might not have the size of Stingley or Sauce Gardner, and much has been said about his arm length. Still, though. I have no concerns at all that McCreary’s skill set will translate to the NFL after watching him in a significant role for the last 3 years.
Even in press coverage against Ja’Marr Chase on a 50-50 ball from Joe Burrow back in 2019, we saw McCreary’s brilliance (that’s him as a second-year player):
When you go back & watch Roger McCreary over the years – some of the big plays on him might stand out but he competed & made plays too! SEC is a weekly gauntlet of WRs
Ja’Marr Chase got him a few times but McCreary battled all game! And we know Chase is currently cooking NFL CBs pic.twitter.com/9hMNtmdt00
— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) February 2, 2022
When Todd McShay called out Kiper for not having the Auburn star in his first mock draft, Kiper all but said he didn’t include McCreary in his mock draft because he thought he was overrated. Go figure that McShay then listed his own top 32 players in the draft … and he didn’t even include McCreary. In fact, McShay also didn’t have McCreary among his top 5 corners in the draft.
That’s all you need to know about the McCreary conversation.
7. Give me Matt Corral as QB1 all day
Last, but certainly not least, is the QB1 conversation. It’s all over the place. To be fair, I have no problem with a wide range of opinions on this quarterback class. And unlike the way-too-early 2022 mocks that came out immediately after the 2021 NFL Draft, at least now we’re seeing Corral as a consensus first-rounder.
But yeah, in a class without a clear-cut QB1, I’d choose Corral over the bunch. I say that as someone who has been driving the Malik Willis hype train for the last 2 years. I also put Sam Howell as my top quarterback in college football entering the 2021 season.
Why Corral? I come back to the belief that what he lacks in size, he makes up for with toughness, leadership, a cannon for an arm and accountability. I could see a scenario in which Corral walks into a locker room and he comes on a bit strong as a rookie. I could also see that locker room soon realizing that he’s a team-first guy through and through, and he’ll be in anyone’s corner … even to a fault.
Y’all remember that time Matt Corral got into a fight lmao pic.twitter.com/5z2DoP2lQu
— ❄️ (@Boilermakers4er) November 26, 2021
(I’d argue he matured since then. I’d also argue there are worse things than a freshman quarterback defending his teammates like that.)
Pre-ankle injury especially, we saw Corral take his game to another level and become a master of reading drop-8 coverage. Don’t forget he did that even though he lost historically prolific Elijah Moore. Some will wonder if Corral was more of a system quarterback who benefitted from having Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby in his ear. Others will turn on the tape and see that Corral did things that were well beyond a first read getting major separation.
In a time when more pro-style offenses than ever are emphasizing mobile quarterbacks and throwing outside the pocket, I’m not worried if we find out that Corral is only 5-11. His skill set will work wonders in the right situation.