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Monday, 3 November 2014

NFL Draft: Will Todd Gurley and Jameis Winston Be Top 10 Picks?

The NFL Draft is more than five months away and if you ask fans of teams with losing records, the reset or rebirth of the NFL season cannot get here soon enough.

The Draft means one thing – a chance to better your roster and for teams like the New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars, the sports radio programs and local sports programming are not only focusing on whether coaches will be retained or free agents signed to big contracts – the talk of who may get drafted has been thrown around a bit.

In many cases because these teams and others have a need at running back or quarterback or even both (Jets) some conversations (especially here in Jacksonville on social media sites) have begged the question about Todd Gurley. Some have focused on where Jameis Winston might fall in the selection process. Two uber-talented players who have faced scrutiny off the field. Will it affect their stock?

Here is a quick assessment of both players.

The debate will go back and forth between Winston and Marcus Mariota until Draft day about who is the better prospect. Here is a thought – Mariota is the better leader while Winston is the better player. Someone here in Jacksonville told me that Winston is John Elway with a slower run. I see the comparison to the big strong quarterback with running skills, but I see him more of a Randall Cunningham-type with a Warren Moon arm. Here is what has to say about him.

STRENGTHS: Possesses all the natural physical tools you look for in today's NFL. He's big, athletic, has a strong arm and moves well inside the pocket. As for the intangibles, the list includes poise, anticipation, toughness, vision, leadership and a competitive fire. He's the total package, physically.

When on his game, Winston deliveres strikes before his receivers are out of their breaks or even looking for the ball. He handles pressure well, evading, resetting and speeding up his process when needed, listening to his internal clock.

Generally makes excellent decisions with the ball, showing the ability to pepper well-thrown short and intermediate routes as well as driving strikes down the alleys. Shows nice touch on traditional deep balls.

On the field, Winston is a natural. He has the requisite physical skills with his size, arm strength and athleticism along with the mental process as a passer to pick apart defenses. His anticipation, instincts and chemistry with his targets come easy to him and it's something that scouts search for within quarterback prospects. Simply put, Winston has a rare skill-set and that's why he has the makings of a top 10 selection or even No. 1 overall pick.

WEAKNESSES: Where he's causing some scouts to question his pro-readiness is off the field where a series of questionable incidents have raised concerns his maturity and character, including a couple of shoplifting/theft accusations. Some teams are likely to take Winston off their boards entirely.

Some scouts also believe he needs to quicken and shorten his delivery in order to be consistently successful at the next level, as he tends to wind up when he throws, lacking the quick release NFL teams desire. He has NFL arm strength, so the elongated delivery was not a big issue at the college level.

Winston still has a tendency to stare down his targets and will make poor decisions with the ball down the field when hemmed between the tackles and forced to get rid of the ball under pressure.

Personally, I think if he is there and a team like the Jets or even St. Louis has a chance to grab him, they should do so and will be set for the next decade at the position.

Also, beware of Jerry Jones making a play for Winston since he “lost out” on Johnny Manziel this season.

As for Gurley, the assessment is a bit tougher because teams have proven they can get free agent runners, put them in a lineup and cash in often. This is a Draft where there could be four running backs taken in the first round and there is plenty of depth at the position.

Gurley should be the first running back taken unless his off-field issues throw up red character flags. He was clearly the best runner in the country before he was suspended and figures to be the best runner at the Combine. Here is what said about the Georgia star.

STRENGTHS: Built for the NFL with a muscle-bound, physical frame and naturally lowers his pads and squares his shoulders to attack the line of scrimmage and bounce off defenders. He runs with natural balance, power and momentum that makes him tough to slow down, rarely conceding with the first tackler.

Reads the first line of attack very well and senses daylight to hit holes with authority and quickness to stick-and-go, accelerating extremely well in his cuts. Knows how to shift his weight extremely well for a 232-pounder and strings together moves with devastating jump cuts and long strides to eat up yards.

Soft, natural hands out of the backfield and is a willing, cognizant blocker in pass protection.

WEAKNESSES: Bit taller than ideal. Like most backs in the highly physical SEC, the concern with Gurley will almost surely be the punishment he has absorbed at the collegiate level. Gurley missed all of the Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt games in 2013 after sustaining an ankle injury against LSU and must remain healthy as a junior to earn the high selection his talent warrants.

COMPARES TO: Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks -- Like Lynch, Gurley is best known for simply bowling over defenders, but each back's success is also a testament to good vision, surprisingly light feet and balance to bounce off would-be tacklers. With the NFL increasingly favoring the running back-by-committee approach, some have theorized that the days of runners earning first round selections has passed; certainly the fact that no backs have earned a top 32 pick the past two years provides evidence of this. It is worth noting, however, that there hasn't been a back with Gurley's talent available the past two years.

Boasting a combination of power, balance and underrated agility that helped Lynch "Beast Mode" his Seattle Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title, Gurley has dominated the SEC the past two seasons, rushing for a combined 2,374 yards and 27 touchdowns, while chipping in another 558 yards and five scores (all last year) as a receiver. 

While the chances of both players being a top 10 selection are good, Winston gets the nod over Gurley. The NFL is to quarterback-centric to be without a top player in the top five of this draft. Mariota and Winston and maybe Connor Cook of Michigan State fit that requirement.

Gurley could be a pick of the Jets, who have awful success picking running backs in the first round in their history. The Falcons, Raiders, Jaguars and Falcons are all potential landing spots. But before it is all other backs like Ameer Abdullah, Melvin Gordon and Duke Johnson will have something to say about it.



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