Scout­ing the tal­ent

At­ten­tion turns to 2017 NFL off-sea­son, draft

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY ARNIE STA­PLE­TON

The New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots have some more catch­ing up to do.

Bill Belichick hardly took time to rel­ish the great­est come­back in Su­per Bowl his­tory when he de­clared “in all hon­esty, we’re five weeks be­hind in the 2017 sea­son to most teams in this league.”

Af­ter over­com­ing a 25-point deficit to win their fifth ti­tle, the Pa­tri­ots will pick last in the NFL draft April 27 in Philadel­phia. Last year, they were stripped of their first-round pick in the “De­flate­gate” rul­ing that in­cluded a Septem­ber sus­pen­sion for Su­per Bowl 51 MVP Tom Brady.

Cleve­land had the worst record in the league at 1-15 and will pick first, fol­lowed by San Fran­cisco, Chicago and Jack­sonville. Among the pos­si­ble top picks is Texas A&M edge rusher Myles Gar­rett, whom many project will follow in Su­per Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller’s foot­steps.

Between now and draft week­end, prospec­tive rook­ies will be poked, prod­ded and pep­pered by NFL per­son­nel. Some play­ers will get ex­tra scru­tiny at the NFL com­bine in a month or on their pro days in March be­cause of dis­ci­pline is­sues or health con­cerns.

Some have al­ready seen their stock slide based on poor de­ci­sions or plain bad luck, and oth­ers are steadily climb­ing all the mock drafts.

Two run­ning backs who are pro­jected high picks — Leonard Four­nette of LSU and Chris­tian McCaf­frey of Stan­ford — skipped their bowl game a year af­ter Notre Dame line­backer Jay­lon Smith cost him­self millions by blow­ing out his left knee in the Fi­esta Bowl.

Smith was pro­jected as a po­ten­tial top-five pick be­fore his in­jury, and in­stead went to the Dal­las Cow­boys in the se­cond round with the 34th over­all pick. The dif­fer­ence in guar­an­teed con­tract money is about $19 mil­lion.

Other col­lege stars who will draw ex­tra at­ten­tion from teams try­ing to pry the Lom­bardi Tro­phy from Belichick and Brady:

JOE MIXON: The Ok­la­homa run­ning back set the school’s sin­gle-sea­son record for allpur­pose yards last sea­son, but he was sus­pended for the 2014 sea­son af­ter punch­ing a woman in the face. Mixon’s lawyers re­leased video in De­cem­ber of him break­ing Ok­la­homa stu­dent Amelia Moli­tor’s jaw and cheek­bone in July 2014, and heavy crit­i­cism of Mixon and Soon­ers coach Bob Stoops fol­lowed. Mixon gave a tear­ful public apol­ogy a week later.

CHAD KELLY: The Ole Miss QB is both a char­ac­ter con­cern and a health risk . He was lead­ing the SEC with 2,758 pass­ing yards when he tore his right ACL and lat­eral menis­cus and un­der­went surgery in Novem­ber. His long list of off-the-field trou­bles in­clude get­ting kicked off the Clem­son team in 2015, an ar­rest af­ter a bar fight in 2014 and spark­ing a brawl at his brother’s high school foot­ball game. “I’ve made stupid mis­takes in the past. I can’t deny that,” he said. “But ... I’ve learned from it.”

SETH RUS­SELL: Like Kelly, Bay­lor’s QB went to the Se­nior Bowl, where he sat in on meet­ings and ob­served prac­tices even though he couldn’t play in the game. Rus­sell broke his left an­kle in a loss at Ok­la­homa in Novem­ber. He had 2,126 yards pass­ing with 20 touch­downs and eight in­ter­cep­tions, and also ran for 506 yards and eight more scores. He was 14-3 as the Bears starter.

SHAWN OAKMAN: Bay­lor’s ca­reer sacks leader went un­drafted last year af­ter fin­ish­ing his el­i­gi­bil­ity in 2015. He was in­dicted last July on a charge of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a woman. The school was crit­i­cized af­ter Oakman was seen on the side­line at the Bears’ game against Rice in 2016. Coach Art Briles was re­moved last year fol­low­ing a re­port al­leg­ing the pri­vate Bap­tist univer­sity mis­han­dled com­plains of sex­ual as­sault, a cloud that could hang over other Bears prospects.

DALVIN COOK: The Florida State run­ning back has both a long list of ac­com­plish­ments and ar­rests. He topped 1,000 yards in all three sea­sons and ran for 46 ca­reer TDs. He’s No. 2 on the ACC ca­reer charts in yards rush­ing and is the ACC’s all-time leader with 5,399 yards from scrim­mage. His run-ins with the law in­clude ac­cu­sa­tions he punched a woman out­side a bar, bran­dished a firearm and mis­treated dogs.

COREY DAVIS: The Western Michi­gan wide re­ceiver might not work out at the com­bine in In­di­anapo­lis be­cause of an­kle is­sues. Davis could have been a high draft pick had he left af­ter his ju­nior year last sea­son, but he re­turned for his se­nior sea­son and had 97 re­cep­tions for 1,500 yards and 19 TDs. That gave him 331 catches for 5,278 yards and 52 TDs over­all.

MA­LIK HOOKER: The Ohio State All-Amer­i­can safety will miss the com­bine af­ter un­der­go­ing her­nia surgery. He re­turned three of his seven in­ter­cep­tions for TDs last sea­son when he also made 74 tack­les and broke up 11 passes. Ohio State co-de­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Greg Schi­ano has com­pared the 6-foot-2, 205-pounder to for­mer NFL All-Pro safety Ed Reed.

AP PHOTO

In this De­cem­ber 2016 file photo, Texas A&M’s Myles Gar­rett (left) tries to get around Kansas State of­fen­sive line­man Scott Frantz dur­ing the Texas Bowl NCAA col­lege foot­ball game in Hous­ton. Gar­rett is among the top prospects in the up­com­ing NFL draft.

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