The NFL Draft, the biggest weekend of the NFL offseason, is rapidly approaching, and the football world can’t wait. For teams near the top of the draft board (and generally the bottom of the standings), the draft represents hope. Will the infusion of top college talent lead a franchise back to glory? For championship contenders, the it’s a chance to plug a missing piece into an already playoff-ready roster.
That’s why draft day is so important, and that’s why so many people spend so much time agonizing over who will go where, why and what type of impact will they have in the NFL.
Former Pro Bowl cornerback/safety Corey Chavous is no different. Since retiring from the NFL in 2008, he’s worked with CBS Sports as a color analyst at the college level. He’s also become a draft guru, launching the website DraftNasty.com, which grades potential picks using its own eight-pronged system. Chavous has recently appeared on Inside College Football draft specials on CBS Sports Network.
He and the Draft Nasty team painstakingly rank every NFL prospect and conduct numerous mock drafts to try and unlock all of the NFL Draft’s secrets.
Chavous spoke with CBS Local Sports about his unique NFL Draft rankings, his top prospects and his own draft-day experience back in 1998.
CBS Local Sports: How does the 2017 draft class stack up compared to years past?
Corey Chavous: It’s one of the deeper draft classes that I’ve ever covered in terms of just the overall depth at a number of positions, mainly safety and cornerback. Out of those two groups alone, there are 45 guys with at least third-round grades for me. That’s probably — since we’ve been doing this — the most we’ve ever had at those two positions combined. You also have a lot of depth at defensive end and with the 3-4 outside linebacker group. There’s a lot of depth at the wide receiver position, as is the norm. There are some underrated quarterbacks in the class, and the running back group is very deep. So it’s a very deep draft.
CBS Local Sports: Looking at your top-10 prospects on DraftNasty.com, you have Gareon Conley ranked slightly higher than Marshon Lattimore. Most have it the other way around, but what do you like about Conley?
Chavous: Well, Conley is the longest player, and their grades are nearly identical; it was 1-100th of a point difference from Lattimore. But I like that he was a two-year starter, played opposite Eli Apple, and he’s also a gunner on their punt team. So he’s a four-down player. He was a team captain as a junior, and you know what you’re going to get from Conley going into the league. He has a chance to start as a rookie. Conley is maybe underrated in some circles. He has a solid chance to go in round one. He probably needs to get a little more physical for the NFL, but again, his work on special teams drew high marks. And I like his length in coverage and his ability to find the ball with his back turned in coverage. You’re talking about a guy with offensive lineman arm length playing cornerback at 6-foot, 195 pounds.
CBS Local Sports: Lattimore also had some serious hamstring injuries in high school and college. Though he was healthy last year, is that something you’re taking into account when looking at him?
Chavous: That’s a great point, because after running his 40-yard dash in the mid-4.3 range in Indianapolis… you don’t know if he hurt his hamstring again. But it was some lower-body injury that forbid him from finishing the workout. So not only has it come up in prior years, but it’s even shown up recently as well.
CBS Local Sports: A lot of people have DE/edge rusher Solomon Thomas going at No. 2 to San Francisco, but you guys have both Derek Barnett and Taco Charlton ranked above him. What is it about Thomas that you don’t love as a top-five guy?
Chavous: It wasn’t anything necessarily that we didn’t love. We have him as the 31st-ranked player on our board. But at the end of the day, if you’re talking about the top five or top 10 as a pass rusher, the projection for him was more of a question mark. We felt like he was more of a 3-4 defensive end, which is what he played in school. He can be a 4-3 left defensive end, but in terms of what some of those other guys have shown as pass rushers, they’re a little bit further along than he is as a pass rusher at this point. We think that he’s a solid prospect, but if you’re projecting him as an edge rusher, that’s why he got pushed down our board. All of those guys are further along in terms of being edge rushers in our opinion.
CBS Local Sports: Going ahead of all of them — No. 1 in all likelihood — is Myles Garrett. What do you like about him, and is he as sure of a thing as you’ve seen at that position?
Chavous: I’ve had a chance to go to two of his bowl games over the course of his career, and he had four sacks in those two bowl games. One of those performances came against Lamar Jackson of Louisville, and to get that guy on the ground twice says enough. But aside from that, he’s a little more active and disrupts more plays than his numbers indicate.
CBS Local Sports: Is there any reason for the Browns to look in the direction of a quarterback, or should Garrett be their guy?
Chavous: Pat Mahomes has as much upside as anybody in this draft, and we’re also really big fans of Deshaun Watson and Davis Webb too. But I believe when you look at the No. 1 overall pick, you have to come out of it with a surefire starter in year one. From that aspect, if you think you’re going to draft one of those quarterbacks and they’re going to start from day one, and if they have that guy rated at the top of their board, then go for it. But if those guys are not at the top of your board, to go down into the 20s, or even 15 or 10 to get a player and pass up on a to-5 guy on your board… that doesn’t much sense. Quarterback is a prioritized position for a lot of teams, but if you don’t think you can get one at pick No. 33, or at pick No. 12, then go for it.
CBS Local Sports: Who do you think will be the first quarterback off the board, and where do you think they’ll go?
Chavous: In our mock drafts we have Deshaun Watson going No. 12 to Cleveland. More times than not, because of the Ohio connection, people are associating (Mitchell) Trubisky with Cleveland. So certainly he can be a contender there, but around that area, No. 12, 13, Arizona, Cleveland. I’m still not sure a quarterback will go that high, but that might be the sweet spot. If you see one go by pick No. 12 or 13, it might be awhile before you see one go in the first round.
CBS Local Sports: Which player from the 2017 NFL Draft will we be talking about five years from now?
Chavous: One guy that kind of stands out for me is Alabama’s Reuben Foster. I’m interested to see what his track looks like. If he can be the same player he was the last two years at school and hold up physically, he’s got a chance to be a pretty special player.
CBS Local Sports: Obviously you know the safety position as well as anybody. How NFL-ready do you think Malik Hooker and Jamal Adams are?
Chavous: With Adams, I like that fact that he’s a little bit of a chess piece and you can move him around. You can blitz him with effectiveness. Both of them can blitz, but Adams is a little bit ahead at this stage as a blitzer. He’s got good ball skills. They may not be elite, but they’re good, and he can cover the slot. He won’t be able to do that a lot, but at 213 pounds, he gives you some flexibility with covering tight ends. He’s got enough size to match up…
For Hooker, it just comes down to his ability to field second base, and he can do that as well as anybody in this draft. And that’s what gives him that added range on the football field. You’re talking about a player with Hooker that’s easily one of the top five athletes in the draft. He could have easily played Division I basketball, and he was probably an even better basketball player than a football player. He’s just a smooth mover. He’s had some issues tackling at times, but for all the tackles he’s missed, he’s made just as many solid ones. That will develop over time. He’s just got to stay healthy. It’s very rare that we would have somebody like that with durability issues that high on our board.
CBS Local Sports: What do you remember about the day you were drafted in 1998?
Chavous: I just remember a lot of people saying ‘you’re gonna go here, you’re gonna go there.’ Everybody’s story is different. Some people just want to get drafted, and then some people are projected to go somewhere and that whole story can change for you as the day goes on. That was kind of how my situation was, but again, it was a relief to finally go off the board when I did, and I was very happy about it.
CBS Local Sports: What advice would you give to players who are preparing for the draft?
Chavous: If there’s anything that I would suggest, it would be ‘get in to ball.’ There are certain things that people don’t understand and you’re just going to do because you’re a young man and you just got drafted. It’s kind of cool, right? You should just enjoy it. So the number-one thing is, just enjoy it, enjoy the process. But at the end of the day, the number-one thing you want to remember, is to ball. And you’ve got to get in to ball. Now it’s your full-time job, and understanding that part, to me, is the most important thing. If you can understand that it’s ball, and get into the football aspect of things, then you have a chance to have some success as a rookie.
CBS Local Sports: Any bold predictions for the draft?
Chavous: The one thing I wouldn’t be surprised about is if Tyus Bowser from Houston is able to sneak into the first round. And if so, that would be a big jump from where he began the season.