2017 NFL Draft – Poor Man’s Versions of Top Prospects

Ryan Marcone on mid round targets for the New York Jets who have skill sets that approximate prospects commonly linked to the team in the first round…

Every year, in every draft there are a handful of blue chip prospects projected to be top picks that teams and fans view as almost “can’t miss”. The only problem is even when you have a high pick in the draft, you more than likely only have one of them and so a decision must be made. You have to choose just one of those top players.

But good front offices with savvy scouting departments know that while you find your stars in the first two rounds, you build your team in the latter five. The best teams turn second and third day selections into Pro Bowl caliber players because they were able to identify traits that made those prospects valuable NFL players. So while the Jets will get to pick one top prospect with their 6th overall pick, here are some players who should be available in the middle-to-late rounds that exemplify similar skills to some of these top players. This is not to say that they are as good as the top prospects, but they show similar talents that could make them diamonds in the rough for the green and white.1) Top Prospect: Malik Hooker, Free Safety, Ohio State

Poor Man’s Version: Tedric Thompson, Free Safety, Colorado

We know that the NFL values ball-hawking safeties who that are true center fielders and range from sideline to sideline from single high coverage. They create turnovers by reading a quarterback’s eyes and closing windows the QB thought were open. And they provide a confidence boost for cornerbacks, who tend to play more aggressively when they know they have a rangy free safety behind them who can cover for their mistakes. We saw first hand how Seattle’s corner play dropped when Earl Thomas went out for the year this past season. And they are rare.

Colorado’s Tedric Thompson brings much of the same skill set as projected top ten pick Malik Hooker. Hooker is lauded for his ability to get deep into his zone and cover astounding amounts of ground to get to passes to every third of the field. Thompson brings this same ability, and also like Hooker he has exceptional ball skills and is a play making safety who comes away with the ball more often than not. Thompson matched Hooker’s 2016 total of 7 INTs and tied teammate Ahkello Witherspoon for the FBS lead in passes broken up with 23 so the ball production is definitely there as well.

2) Top Prospect: David Njoku, TE, Miami

Poor Man’s Version: Jonnu Smith, TE, Florida International

Many believe this to be the best and deepest tight end class in over a decade, which is great news for the Jets because it seems like it’s been about that long since they’ve had a decent one. While the class may be headlined by Alabama’s OJ Howard and Miami’s David Njoku, there is absolutely talent that can be found at the position on days two and three, and several players who could step right in and be the best tight end on the Jets roster.

Smith in particular could emulate the type of player many believe Njoku will grow to be. There are physically very similar, both being undersized for the traditional NFL position, but are matchup nightmares. Both Njoku and Smith blew the Combine away, testing through the roof in speed, explosion, and agility drills. This shows through in Smith’s game as he has the speed and athleticism to separate in the NFL, and just like Njoku he is an absolute stud after the catch. Smith has a bit of an injury history and questions about level of competition which will make him a mid-round prospect, but he did perform will at the Senior Bowl. So while the 6th overall pick is too early to take David Njoku, the Jets could do well to find their tight end later in the draft in Jonnu Smith.

3) Top Prospect: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

Poor Man’s Version: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma

Fournette has been linked to the Jets in mock drafts all throughout the draft process, and on the surface it does make sense. The Jets do have a need at running back, and we saw how Ezekiel Elliot elevated an overlooked Cowboys team last year. However, spending the 6th pick on a running back with a ton of tread on the tires who will spend most of the rest of his prime on a rebuilding team while there are so many other glaring needs on the roster just isn’t a good allocation of resources.

Enter the Sooner’s Samaje Perine. Like Fournette, Perine differs from other top runners in this class in that his preferred method of running is to go through defenders, not around them. He lacks Fournette’s burst and lateral quickness, but he has better hands and is better in pass protection, so he may actually have more of an ability to stay on the field for all three downs in today’s NFL. He holds the FBS record for single season rushing so the flashes are easy to see. And he is STRONG. Perine weighs in at 233lbs and put up thirty bench reps at the Combine. And that’s exactly how he runs, which is a perfect compliment to Powell and Forte. He reminds me a ton of Maurice Jones-Drew. Good luck tackling this guy.

4) Top Prospect: Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

Poor Man’s Version: Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, USC

Clemson’s Mike Williams is the top receiver for many people in this year’s draft. He’s a big, imposing wideout who knows how to use his size brilliantly to out-position defensive backs and is outstanding at the catch point. While not quite as tall as Williams, Smith-Schuster has ideal size for the position. At 6’1″, 215lbs he has a frame that he uses similarly to Williams to bully smaller defensive backs. He even tested similarly to Williams at the Combine, with just middling speed and explosion numbers. These are two receivers who win with size.

Smith-Schuster is also great at the catch point. He even struggles where Williams struggles, and that is with questions about speed and the ability to separate. However, while Williams is better at bringing in contested catches, Smith-Schuster is better in the open field after the catch and has the ability to turn small passes into long touchdowns. This is a loaded draft class on the defensive side of the ball and at tight end, and after the top three receivers the picture gets muddy. Players like Smith-Schuster will drop because of the wealth of talent at other positions, which positions the former Trojan to be an absolute steal for whatever team selects him in the middle rounds.

Photo Credit: Yahoo Sports