The War Room: NFL Draft Debate Round One

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The Jets are on the clock with the 18th overall pick. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks are both available. Connor Rogers is yelling to take one, preferably Cooks. Fellow draft analyst Mike O’Connor is shouting back to avoid both. Let’s listen in on their conversation inside the war room.

Connor Rogers: Why would you avoid Cooks and Beckham Jr. at 18 overall?

Mike O’C:  One word jumps to mind when answering this question: mediocrity.  There are prospects that I watch to evaluate and simply don’t like.  Cooks and Beckham Jr don’t fall under that category.  In fact, I like both for their particular skillsets, but that’s where I started drawing lines.

Even if I could find a perfect fit for them in an offense, I’m not sure their overall talent warrants anything more than a late second round pick.  To me, it’s a classic case of getting exactly what you see on tape.

With Beckham Jr, I understand the love for him that makes him worthy of going at 18, or at least more so than I do with Cooks.  Most of the online scouting community has even heralded him as a Top 3 receiver in this class.

Before the 2013 college football season, I watched the LSU wideout and gave him a mid round pick radius-type prediction.  After seeing him improve on some inconsistencies a bit like concentration and discipline in 2013, I pinpointed his grade to an early third round grade.

The key was that he reassured some about his inconsistencies.  I’m not convinced at all there’s a wide enough skillset to draft him in confidence that he can be a dynamic #1 receiver in future time.

The 5’11, 198 lb LSU product is a superbly refined receiver and being an extremely critical evaluator of catching ability and route running, this is essential.  Yet, even the perfectly refined receiver can only get so far if he doesn’t have any skills that set him apart from the rest of the pack.

Beckham is fast, sure, but doesn’t explode out of his cuts like one would hope to see.  He also possesses great flexibility within his routes, but it doesn’t translate to its full potential since he doesn’t know how to set up defenders to faint on his routes.

Additionally, a guy with a slight frame who’s a shade under six feet must have fearless yet smart physicality to work with, and I’m not sure I can credit his with either one of those descriptions yet.  While he can surely improve on some tactics at the next level, there are really no special things to go on about that I would guess he could utilize at some point in his career.

One might wonder what I mean by finding “special traits” that can make even those who come off as average players very valuable.  Last year, West Virginia receiver Stedman Bailey wrote the book on this.

He was only 5’10 without the speed that Beckham or Cooks have and he wasn’t all too explosive after the catch.  Yet, his route running was immaculate.  So good, in fact, that the separation he was always getting wasn’t just a result of his precision in routes and clean practice, it was his intelligence to set up defenders as bait and act on their mistakes.  Such an ability isn’t one somebody can master after they’ve proved they can’t do it.  It’s special (and for what it’s worth, I liked Bailey in the late first round).

Brandin Cooks is a similar story in the regard that I don’t think he can advance further with his upside beyond what he basically already is.  After exploding the past two years at Oregon State, Cooks has proved himself as a reliable weapon in the slot or out wide, and even more lethal with the ball in his hands.  Yet, how much value does he actually have?

Cooks is just barely 5’10, which doesn’t bode well for him when he also has a very narrow frame and arguably has his most severe flaws in maintaining adequate physicality through the process of the catch.

He flashes nice body control and discipline at the catch, but it’s such a rare sight because his height and inability to consistently get himself in the position of beneficial leverage over a defender restrict him so much.

Cooks also lacks the gears and precision in routes that make some of the top tier receivers special.  I think he may be restricted to the slot in the NFL because of his inability to set up defenders, since his routes are basically stuck on the notch of top speed (which isn’t a good thing, it makes routes obvious).

We see what he can do when he flashes with go routes and underneath plays designed to get him the ball in space, but why is the worth of a limited receiver who’s flaws will only get heavier on him in the NFL suddenly considered valuable to the Jets?  They need a starter out wide, it’s that simple.

If fans want to draft a guy who’s probably of most use in and out of the backfield to try and be their best receiver on the team next year (a receiver at 18 should be able to accomplish that), they can be my guest to hope for mediocrity.

In no way shape or form am I severely degrading Beckham Jr or Cooks as prospects, because I can see the talent and where it’s valuable.  But in my blunt opinion, it’s just not there for 18.  Teams more thoroughly built on offense can pick role-specific players, but the Jets are the furthest structure from that right now.

If they can grab Jace Amaro or Marqise Lee and not only adequately fill a position of need, but get a player with a wide skillset and an evidently large ceiling, they will be better off.

Sometimes the draft is much simpler than it seems, and in this case, I believe that is so.  The Jets need to fill wide receiver, a position of intense need, with one capable to do the job to its full potential and not serve as just a gadget.

Rebuttal- Connor Rogers: 

Regarding Beckham Jr., his style of play reminds me of Steve Smith of the Panthers. While not the most physically imposing figure, he has a solid build and attacks the ball in the air. Not only is he is a lethal punt returner, but he improved drastically on his receiving game from his sophomore to junior seasons.

In each of his three seasons (even as a freshman when he was not a focal point of the offense) Beckham Jr. has exceeded 40 catches. When watching the tape, it seemed as if he often bailed out quarterback Zach Mettenberger’s errant throws.

For a guy classified as a gun slinger, Mettenberger often under threw Beckham who came back to the ball nicely, often reaching over defensive backs. The Jets need a big play wide out and Beckham Jr. fits the mold as he averaged 19.5 yards per catch on 59 catches this past season.

As for Cooks, you claimed that “he is what he already is.” If that is the case, I’m okay with that after the previous two seasons he posted at Oregon State. He compiled 195 catches for 2,881 yards and 21 touchdowns. He did not become Oregon State’s number one target until his Junior year, as he played across from the dynamic Markus Wheaton.

When Cooks did take over Wheaton’s number one spot, he thrived. He reeled in 128 catches for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to winning the Biletnikoff award as the best wide out in the country. On tape he finds the soft spot in the zone better than any wide out in this draft class, including Sammy Watkins.

Geno Smith needs a wide receiver that can gain separation no matter the situation. Pair Cooks with Jeremy Kerley and the Jets receiving corps becomes much more difficult to handle, especially on third downs (one of the most important aspects on both sides of the ball in the NFL).

 

Mike O’C:  Interesting how two can feel so differently on players.  Just so I do notlook like a troll from under the draft bridge, I’m very high on Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis.  So high, in fact, that I’d rather see the Jets take him at 18 if they’re going to decide to reach for a receiver.  However, I’d love the value if they take him in the second round.  He embodies a complete receiver who can grow even more at the next level.

Connor, what’s your stance on him?

Connor: 

Unlike a majority of the draft community, I am not a big fan of Abbrederis at all for a magnitude of reasons. At best, I currently see him as a late third round selection but more of a fourth to fifth round prospect. Here is why:

Similar to how you feel about Beckham Jr., I think Abbrederis has maxed out his ability. While he had a nice college career, I do not see his game translating well in the NFL, especially as an outside wide out.

He is not a physical player and immensely struggles against press coverage. Unfortunately, he was also not blessed with “pure” speed. He appears more quick than fast on the field, but his lack of strength allows him to be easily thrown off of his routes.

The NFL is an entirely different game than college ball, especially the passing attack. Defensive backs are bigger, stronger, and faster than they ever have been. While one could make the same argument for wide receivers, Abbrederis does not fit that mold.

I’m not saying he has no chance of making it in the NFL, I just feel he will not be the impact wide out the Jets are searching for. If he is on the board on day 3, taking a flyer on him would not be a bad move. A team taking him on day one or two will most likely be disappointed though, as I do not see him being physical or athletic enough to get open on a consistent basis in the NFL.

At the end of the day, I’ll bet the two juniors who declared early (Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandin Cooks) have a higher probability of rounding out their (already impressive) game, while the senior and former walk on in Abbrederis has peaked in terms of ability.

Give me your thoughts on Abbrederis, Mike.

Mike O’C:

Even though I’m a big fan of Abbrederis, I actually agree with the fact that his ceiling isn’t necessarily very high.  He is what he is, like I said with the other two receivers, but I kind of like it in his case.  He’s fast enough for me and his all around explosiveness is very underrated.  His catching ability has proven to be consistent, even though his hands aren’t as strong as some of the bests’ this year.

The real reason I love the Wisconsin product is his route running. With his adequate speed and acceleration, he already has some of it down.  Yet, he’s also fluid in routes and perfectly patient.  I agree with you, Connor, in the fact that his overall strength is lacking.  However, with how strict he is to maintaining his focus to his route and patience to accept and fix getting redirected in-route, I really don’t mind.

Additionally, Abbrederis can outsmart defenders like I haven’t seen from the former two receivers we’ve debated.  Not only does he correctly sit down on routes and round them off when he’s set up his defender with a fake, but he goes beyond that with his ability to smooth over his lack of strength.  Like I mentioned before, he has a knack for still getting eventual separation even when being out-muscled off the line.  Even more importantly, he finds open zones when he can’t continue a route because of double teams or press.

I think Abbrederis certainly has a role in the league, despite not being an overly attractive fit with the Jets.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him become the first receiver taken in the second round after Watkins, Lee, and Evans in the first.

  • John X

    Abbrederis the 4th WR taken? Whoa!
    A guy who admittedly gets manhandles goes that high must be phenomenally athletic and quick. Is he either of those things?

    Paint me skeptical.

    After watching the tape on Cooks and Beckham I can’t agree with Mike but hey, I don’t agree with 100% of the population on Watkins. A guy who ran clumsy routes and had a lot of jump balls to go with his 57% screen passes and tons of handoffs – to me, this might be the most overrated prospect I’ve seen since Gholston.

  • Connor Rogers

    @John X

    Surprisingly, I actually agree with and understand your skepticism about Watkins. While I think he is a good WR prospect, the love fest for him has gotten out of control.

    My problem is that people are calling him a top WR prospect of the past 8-10 years, but he is not nearly on the level Megatron and AJ Green were in terms of evaluations.

  • Drew

    Mike O’C, I 100% agree with you on Stedman Bailey (I thought I was the only one who is still high on him). I’m surprised you don’t see what I do in Cooks.

    The Beaver’s offense went through him. Watch the tape against Oregon where he is triple covered because he was the only weapon on an otherwise below average team. He did not have very talented QB play and he still managed to put up incredible stats. Better numbers than Tavon and better numbers than Beckham.

    Very rarely does a player perform extremely well during the season and then completely tear up the combine and still have people question how he will translate. Two examples I can think of are JJ Watt and Chris Johnson. The numbers Cooks posted at the combine are better than Tavon’s and his season stats are as well. Tavon’s combine shot him into the top 10 last year. Cooks is continuing to fly under the radar after being recognized as college football’s best receiver and the combine’s top performing receiver.

    The two biggest turnoffs for me on Beckham are his terrible stalk blocking and the fact that he had Jarvis Landry playing opposite him. Some LSU fans have said that they felt Landry was the better player, which to me is concerning.

    I do like both as prospects. Beckham is fantastic with the ball in his hands and he can fight for it. He also seems to be a better deep threat, although throwing long to shorter players is very difficult. He had freakish combine numbers as well. But why didn’t he get voted All-SEC if he is better than Mathews?

    Abbrederis is a poor man, Stedman. He is open on every play. GMs don’t care about that apparently. The problem is that if he doesn’t work out he is useless, where if Beckham or Cooks can’t play receiver they can always return kicks or take handoffs/screens/trick plays.

    Don’t take it from me though, my scouting report on Kerley was that he was a fast guy who wasn’t that fast and that he caught with his body. I am happy that he has proven me wrong. Moral of the story is that players do change and scouting involves luck.

  • Harold

    I like both Cooks and Beckham. I like Cooks better, although I certainly would prefer to take these guys in a trade back scenario than at 18.

  • Nick Evans

    I don’t understand how you could be so high on stedman bailey and not be sold on cooks. I mean bailey is good but he’s not on the same level as Beckham or cooks in terms of prospects. Connor rogers put it perfectly having kerley and cooks running routes under neath is absolute terror for defenses and would open lanes for other receivers and TEs while also opening up the threat of the deep ball while the defense tries taking away the intermediate routes. As for cooks lacking gears I mean he set the shuttle record at the combine so I think he can change gears pretty well. As for his precision I mean he’s only 20 yrs old I think almost every receiver coming out of college lacks precision to a degree as they still have a lot to learn about the game and that precision will improve with nfl experience.

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  • KAsh

    Every single draft, there are players that gain a huge following with eye-popping numbers at the Combine or in their college box score, and sometimes both, but then go on to a mediocre professional career and become an object of derision or the butt of the joke for their team’s fan base. Last year, certain fans were enamored with Damontre Moore and he had a mid-to-late first round grade until a horrible Combine performance and more tape study downgraded him to a second round pick in the eyes of the draft community. Then, people were shocked when he plunged into the third round, even though the tape showed a guy that mopped up sacks for his team. And there are many more players that were not exposed: Trent Richardson, Morris Claiborne, Fletcher Cox, Courtney Upshaw, Prince Amukamara, Mark Ingram, Rolando McClain, Arrelious Benn. These are just some of the guys from the 2010-2012 drafts who severely underachieved the projections based on their college numbers. I forgot to include Kyle Wilson, though I like Kyle. You would think that a fan base that has very recently spent very high picks on the likes of Vernon Gholston, Kyle Wilson, Vladimir Ducasse, and Stephen Hill would know to think twice about such players. But like that chronic victim of domestic abuse, we just cannot stay away from the wrong guys.

    I wanted to say that it is the nature of this media market. But where is the rampant speculation which reckless selection the Giants will stake their future on? It is the average Jets fan and the mainstream media that writes to sell him papers that is captivated by razzle-dazzle. Think back several years: how many players have been mocked to the Jets that did not have “athletic” as one of their first descriptions. It especially helped if that player could run faster, jump higher, and be bigger than everybody else. You would think we are building a team to compete in the Summer Olympics and not on a football field.

    Tape study is not perfect. The fact of the matter is college schemes are very diverse and many do not require their players to learn certain aspects of their position. Tape study cannot determine how good a player is at a task he almost never had to do. But it is also the only way we can look at what a player does to achieve his numbers, so we can identify a Damontre Moore when we come across him.

    My big issue with Cooks is that I highly doubt he can continue producing at the next level. Cooks is a flawed receiver and he uses his superior athleticism to bail himself out of the trouble his flaws get him into. When he has no separation, Cooks outruns or outjumps the defenders to get himself open. In the pros, there are some corners and safeties with flawed technique, but the players that cannot keep up with receivers are the first to be weeded out. Cooks will have much less success outrunning or outjumping defenders once he gets drafted. Since it is almost impossible to make Cooks faster or taller, we need to see if his issues with getting caught in the first place can be fixed. But Cooks’s problem is that he tips off his routes and most DBs break on his cuts before him. Most professional receivers have one or two tells – small habits that give defenders a hint as to what route they are running. Cooks has a lot of these habits. Again, DBs break on Cooks before he even makes the cut. No WR coach can spend so much time and effort on one player as it would take to get rid of all of these tip-offs, and doing so would require deconstructing Cooks as a receiver and reteaching him the position. In short, there is a significant risk that Cooks will be a limited role player at the next level. Cooks is not someone you want to spend an early-round pick on.

    I am an Abbrederis fan. His issues against press coverage are overblown, and the people who cite them always ignore his performance against Ohio State’s Bradley Roby, an athletic and physical press-man corner. There is technique to getting off press coverage -just ask Wes Welker – and Abbrederis is both active with his hands and knows what to use them for. As for his lack of strength, I find that a strange criticism since Abbrederis was a featured receiver on a run-first team and has had to stonewall DBs on running downs to keep his starting spot. He will not move the world, but this is not an area I noticed him struggling in. And, on the field, is he really that much weaker than guys like Holmes or Stevie Johnson?

    But we have to analyze Abbrederis the same way as Cooks. Abbrederis makes catches after getting separation through creative route-running that incorporates clever feints and fakes. It is never clear what route he is running or when he will make a cut. Corners are pushed into a dilemma: they can give Abbrederis a cushion, but then he gains easy yards, or they can commit to a route and try to break up the pass, but if they are wrong, they get to chase Abbrederis from behind for a large gain/touchdown. At the next level, corners will be faster and will recover more quickly, but that means smaller windows to catch the ball, not no windows. Corners will also have better technique, but when the rules favor the offense, in a match up of equal technique, the offense wins out. If Abbrederis can turn a press into a defensive holding or get a clean break for the first five yards, he wins. Abbrederis is also a flawed prospect, but I think he will have a much easier time overcoming his flaws than Cooks. You have to start considering drafting Abbrederis in the middle of the second round, though he might still be there at the top of the third.

    As for OBJ, I realized from this discussion that I have not watched a single LSU game this year focusing only on him. I like him from the glimpses I remember of him, but I cannot describe his game.

  • http://TurnOnTheJets.com Michael O’Connor

    Very well said, Kash. I agree with mostly everything. It’s not that I don’t see Cooks succeeding at the next level, but I certainly don’t see him elevating his game or even being able to consistently win out wide because of the given flaws and limitations.

  • Lidman

    Kash

    I appreciate the thoughts but the question I have is: do you expect everyone picked in the first round to be a star?

    I don’t get the Damontre Moore point. Intially some had him going top 10, but he eventually fell to the third round…same with Geno. Moore had a solid year, so I don’t know why you bring him up. I also question why you bring Fletcher Cox and Amukamara up either. Both of these guys are solid, ascending players. Upshaw was a rookie; doesn’t he deserve some time to prove his worth? Not everyone comes in and is an immediate impact guy. That doesn’t mean they can’t develop and become a solid player, like Kyle Wilson.

    I love this statement: “My big issue with Cooks is that I highly doubt he can continue producing at the next level. Cooks is a flawed receiver and he uses his superior athleticism to bail himself out of the trouble his flaws get him into. When he has no separation, Cooks outruns or outjumps the defenders to get himself open. ”

    Ok, so if you out run, or out jump a guy, doesn’t that count as separation? If you put Cooks on NE, or Den, teams that run a lot of WR screens, do his abilities not translate? Cooks is a guy who produced in college and he also has superior physical attributes. Ultimately it comes down to a player’s work ethic, and his coaches maximizing his talents-like a Welker, Edelman or Antonio Brown. You’re telling me that on all 128 receptions and 16 receiving TDs, Cooks never simply beat his man? I know that’s wrong.

    As for Abbrederis, I’ll say it again. 5th year Sr, that didn’t really come into his own until he was a 21yr old Junior. He’ll be a 23yr old rookie. Sure, he could turn out to be the next Wayne Chrebet, and that’s a stellar career, but to think his ‘clever feints and fakes’ will work at the next level, where CBs watch hours of tape (something that college CBs do very little of) is naive. This guy doesn’t have the athletic ability to consistently beat his guy. Comparing him to Welker, who has a ton of short space, lateral quickness, is wrong. To tell me he had 1 good game against Bradley Roby means nothing. Vernon Gholston whipped Jake Long. AJ Duhe had 3 INTs in the 1982 AFC Championship game. Larry Brown won the Superbowl MVP.

    Cooks was a 2nd round guy coming into the combine, based on his tape and numbers. The Combine tests simply made people realize he’s a superior athlete. He may wind up being a mediocre NFL WR, but when you’re playing probabilities, you want to have as many positives on your side. He’s a 20yr old kid who dominated against older players in college. He’ll be in the top 5% of the NFL in foot speed. His tape displays he’s very quick and elusive in space-something very valuable in today’s NFL. Ok, he may need to work on beating press coverage and sharpening his route running. I think I said this before: if a guy is a hard worker, he can get better at this…it’s teachable. You can’t get faster or more explosive.

    I have watched a few LSU games and both those WR have had their moments. That said, if you put Donte Moncrief on that team, he’d probably be a no brainer 1st rounder. He will be one of the top 3 WR to come out of this draft, IMO. He has all the skills you want at the next level.

  • http://TurnOnTheJets.com Michael O’Connor

    @ Lidman

    I side with Kash on this one. No, I’d say those skills don’t count as separation. In college, he should be finding separation in other ways within the route instead of having to count on winning at the point of the catch. I don’t know how that’s not concerning to you considering his size.

    Also, you’re argument for Cooks is basically claiming that while he has restrictions and big flaws, he’ll be fine because he’s fast and a hard worker. I wouldn’t think of it that simply.

    And who cares if Abbrederis is 23? That’s irrelevant; the average age of a rookie lat year was 22.8 years. 23 isn’t weird.

    I also highly disagree on Moncrief, but that’s another story.

  • Lidman

    Michael…name the top 10 WR, in terms of production, in the NFL…then tell me how old they were as rookies…Age makes an enormous difference. A guy like Abbrederis is a 5th year Sr, for a reason. A guy like Cooks, or Moncrief, who are 2+yrs younger, but have produced similar or better numbers tell you something too.

    We can argue over Cooks, Abbrederis and Moncrief until the cows come home. Again, I think if you read my post, I’m not guaranteeing success for Cooks. More, I’m just pointing out his production, in addition to his ‘measurables’ simply help talent evaluators with the probability of success. While both you and Kash see him as having flaws, there are tons of NFL talent evaluators who are seeing things you don’t. Time will tell….

  • http://TurnOnTheJets.com Michael O’Connor

    Lidman:

    Production is irrelevant to me. It matters for nothing. I watch and evaluate based on what characteristics and skills I see, and then how they can translate and grow. And I really don’t think you can criticize being 23 when it’s practically the average.

  • TJ Carey

    For me it’s tough to consider the draft before free angency has even kicked off.
    It’s hard to judge. Right now it seems clear to take a receiver or tight end. But who knows who we are going to get in FA.
    If we end up getting a TE via FA and 1 receiver. I would say get that #1 WR in the draft. But in FA if we are able to get 2 solid WRs then I would say take BPA (within reason).
    It’s hard to judge without FA even starting. But personally Cooks skill set doesn’t warrant a first round pick. You can get someone like him in mid-late rounds in a player like DeAnthony Thomas.
    I would much rather take Bechman Jr. Than folks in the first, or a Guard/Saftey rather than addressing WR.
    Also, the only way I draft a TE in the first is if Ebron is available, not sold on Amaro at 18.

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  • Harold

    I like Cooks, ODB and Moncrief. Not sure what you guys see in some of the WR are limitations or just them needing to be coached up.

    Also Kash tape does help you evaluate guys if not we would not watch. While their are differences in the Pro and College games.

    A Scout’s job is to see what will work at the next level. Not simply seeing what they can’t do today or maybe weren’t asked to do. the challenge is in having the vision to correctly project.

  • KAsh

    Let me clear up a misconception. Cooks’s routes are not as sharp as you would expect from a 5’9″ frame, but they are not bad. Cooks’s problems are in body discipline: he tips off cuts before he ever makes them. This is not something you learn running routes on the field – from everything I have heard, Cooks’s routes looked great at the Combine – but something that will come out on the field.

    Cooks has the most success separating on go, skinny post, and skinny corner routes, and those are the only times where he looks like someone who will have success at the next level. But whenever he needs to make a turn of 45 degrees or greater – as, say, on every screen pass ever thrown – corners react before he makes the turn. A screen pass has the lowest chance of success when the corner knows it is coming; with Cooks, you always get tipped off to the pass. You can only expect Cooks to be great in the screen game and on underneath routes if you think he will be allowed to do everything he got away with in college. As Lidman said, corners at the next level watch tons of tape, and you could probably write a book on what not to do based off Cooks.

    @Lidman

    Abbrederis’s routes are some of the best I have ever seen. A few years ago, I remember a TV segment that showed how Peyton has the exact same motion when handing the ball off and when going for a play-action pass. Abbrederis has the exact same motion when running a post and a post corner or an out route and an out-and-up. He will be a headache for corners because they will not know what he is running unless they get physical with him and the rules work against the corners when they do so.

  • Nikolas

    After FA the Jets will have no need to draft a WR or TE in the first round unless they are BPA. And the only ones worth taken as BPA at 18 are Watkins, Evans and marginally Ebron.

  • Nick Evans

    “Production is irrelevant to me, it matters for nothing” are you serious? Production is extremely influential in evaluations of prospects. I really can’t believe you just said that.

  • KAsh

    How is production relevant? Please explain. All you can get from the box score are red flags like sacks in bunches or stretches of quiet play. It is useless as it never gives you context. Is that running back good or did his o-line burst open holes for him? Is that pass rusher good or did his defensive scheme let him mop up the action? Did that receiver put up big numbers or was his offense designed to feed him the ball?

  • Harold

    Production is relevant when used in proper context. That is why you watch the tape to measure how production was achieved and what skills translate to the NFL level.

  • http://TurnOnTheJets.com Michael O’Connor

    I will always say production is irrelevant. I’ve never been given a fair reason why it should be used. It clouds judgement. I stand by that.

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