As the 2017 NFL Draft approaches, I can’t help but think of the endless possibilities of how it might turn out. I guess in watching all the tape that I do and studying so many different players, it brings out an extra boost of excitement for me each week the draft draws closer.
However every year, I always find myself looking forward to a select few players being picked who might be receiving some recognition but probably not as much as they are worth. No, this isn’t about players I find to be underrated. These are moreso players who are very rated indeed but probably won’t go in the first round making them interesting grabs in rounds two through four.
This year’s draft is loaded with jaw-dropping, middle-round talent, and as I have stated on several occasions, teams will be able to find a starter at DE, A, CB, LB, TE and WR more often than normal in the middle rounds this year. So here are five players I would love to see in horns next year (even if they are in the dreaded blue and white ones...), and why:
Washington FS Budda Baker
Why I like him: Baker reminds me a lot of Earl Thomas. I have heard from some Bob Sanders which isn’t a bad comparison in itself. Either way, Baker is a dawg! He’s a true center field safety with the ability to cover the slot like a corner. He has good ball skills and runs through his tackles. His size means nothing to him. He’s a passionate player who’s also explosive.
Why he’s a fit: Baker would fill a slot that is completely empty right now. Maurice Alexander is currently the only safety on the team that can be trusted as a starter, and he already has one of the safety spots locked down. However, the other safety spot is wide open. Cody Davis is probably not going to be the answer making safety one of the bigger needs on the team. Some might even say that need is bigger than cornerback or wide receiver. It’s certainly not bigger than center though. Baker has the potential to be the plug for the next 10 years and would very possibly be a playmaker in the process as well.
Oklahoma RB Joe Mixon
Why I like him: Mixon is highly likely to be the ultimate steal of the draft. Due to extreme PR precautions — specifically his assault of a woman in 2014 — Mixon could see himself go from being a top-20 pick, to a mid-round or even undrafted player. After the huge media fiascos that came with Ray Rice and Josh Brown, teams will be extra weary of drafting Mixon.
Why he’s a fit: Mixon is simply a superior fit for the offense new Rams HC Sean McVay wants to install, when comparing him to Todd Gurley. Gurley is not a sideline-to-sideline player. He’s not shifty at all. He's also not a back whos going to lower his shoulder and run you over (a la Marshawn Lynch, Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, etc). Gurley will run hard and shows incredible leg drive upon contact, but he's not shifty and he's not delivering blows. Mixon is bigger, faster, has better lateral movement skills, better vision and patience, and is a top-notch receiving back.
Now this isn't to say replace Gurley. No no no.... that would just be silly. This is to create one of the more feared backfields in the NFL. Gurley is still a good back, but adding a threat like Mixon as a true change-of-pace back who needs less volume than Gurley to get going, would be a recipe for dominance in the run game. And it will actually help bolster the receiving game as well.
Northwestern MLB Anthony Walker
Why I like him: Walker is a prime example of what a natural ILB looks like. He can play in a 3-4 or 4-3 as a true seek-and-destroy backer that makes diagnosing plays look easy. He's a sideline-to-sideline guy with above-average coverage skills. While that part of his game goes under the radar quite a bit, I think it's something that will help him shine at the next level.
Why he’s a fit: The Rams have to find another linebacker specifically one that can play inside. Mark Barron is not that player. Walker would instantly improve the run defense and help improve an area that has caused the Rams and their fans headaches for years: the seams. His ability to play in any system and above-average athletic ability makes him a bit of a middle round gem. His all around game is very similar to that of Lavonte David, someone the Rams allowed to stay on the board in the 2012 NFL Draft but surely regret doing so.
Floride Gators CB Quincy Wilson
Why I like him: Simply put, I like his swagger. He’s a confident corner who talks the talk but also walks the walk. Wilson has not received nearly as much hype as teammate Teez Tabor, but he's damn good in his own right. He's got prototypical size for today's cornerback position at 6'1", 207 lbs. He moves well, has good speed, and can play a variety of styles out on an island holding his own just fine.
Why he’s a fit: Wilson is the big, aggressive corner that plays well in man coverage that new Rams Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips likes. And with the Trumaine Johnson situation completely botched, it’s hard to see him coming back beyond 2017. That's if he's still around come camp. Even if he's around for the next five years, the Rams have to find another starting corner to replace losing Janoris Jenkins.
Northern Illinois WR Kenny Golladay
Why I like him: A 6'5", 218-lb. receiver with sub-4.5 wheels, leaping ability, strong hands? Um, yes please! Golladay is similar to you'd create on Madden. Just a size/speed specimen with good hands. His route running is only average, but that’s still better than Brian Quick. Golladay won’t cost the 33rd overall pick to get either.
Why he’s a fit: If the Rams fail to address adding to the receiver room in rounds two and three, the pickings will get slim when deciding who’s worth the pick as a true potential contributor and not just another body because it’s a need. At the very least, Golladay can fill the void left by Kenny Britt's departure. He can be a slant maestro as well as a big, fast deep ball specialist (something Golladay is already really good at). That’s not to say that as a rookie he’d duplicate Britt's 1000-yard 2016 season, but production similar to Britt's first two seasons as a Ram is very possible.
Be sure to comment and let us know how you think this might play out as well as who you think can be had in the middle rounds that can come in day one and have an impact.