And In That Corner ... A Thor-ough look at Notre Dame’s offensive draft hopefuls
Let’s pick up where we left off yesterday. After Thor Nystrom, Rotoworld’s lead college football writer and NFL draft analyst, walked us through the draft chances of four former Notre Dame defenders, let’s discuss a handful of offensive draft hopefuls.
DF: We should admit some of this is article is actually us recollecting past conversations, shouldn’t we, Thor? When Miles Boykin stole the show at the NFL combine in Indianapolis, I believe your exact message to me was, “I fell off my couch when watching the combine. I had no idea he could move like that.”
Neither did Irish fans until the 2018 Citrus Bowl, when Boykin soared for a one-handed grab and then kept his feet as two LSU defenders lost theirs. That set the bar for his 2019, a bar he largely met but still, somehow, his 59 catches for 872 yards never included another “WOW” moment.
He has a lot of good to very good qualities, but I argue none that are elite or that will set him apart. I believe I once told you Boykin’s peak may be that of a bargain bin Anquan Boldin.
How far off do you feel I am? What does an NFL team see when it looks at Miles Boykin?
TN: Boykin is a really tough nut to crack. And that’s from the outsider’s perspective. I think most Notre Dame fans who watched this kid week after week for multiple years don’t know where this goes. I wish I had more certainty, but he’s one of the most difficult evaluations in this class.
If they redrafted this class a decade from now, Boykin would not go on Day 2. In the redraft, he would be either a first-rounder — and perhaps a top-10 pick — or a late-rounder.
Boykin tested as one of the great athletes in the history of the NFL combine, regardless of position, and he’s 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. We’re talking Megatron-neighborhood measurables.
Boykin was clearly not a stiff in college, but I was stunned he tested like that. If you told me a receiver in this class was going to test as one of the top-three WR athletes of all time that week and had given me 10 guesses, I wouldn’t have tossed out Boykin.
You just wonder if he is a guy who is ever going to play up to his gifts. He’s raw, of course, but some guys stay raw.
There is another school of thought I tend more toward: Boykin never really got an opportunity to show his stuff because he was cast into receiver misery those years serving as a receiver to no-arm “dual-threat” quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
I’m very intrigued by the profile, but I hedged my grade because I don’t have a great feel one way or the other for the way Boykin’s development is going to go. I rank him as the No. 66 player in the class.
DF: Only one player really provided “WOW” moments for Notre Dame’s offense last season: Dexter Williams. Readers of this space know I have been long critical of what Williams cannot or does not do — pass block, pass catch, stay within the known rules. While his 40-yard dash time is only 4.57 seconds, he has undeniable burst and thus is a dangerous runner.
In the modern NFL, though, is that enough? Do those missing tools I focus on lower his draft stock?
TN: Yes, we’re on the same page with Dexter.
I actually like him a lot as a pure runner. He’s a see-hole, hit-hole rocked-up smooth operator with 81st-percentile athleticism. Williams moves really well east-to-west, and he can create yardage on his own.
But he has some red flags in his evaluation that hurt his value. He’s a net zero in the passing game, and that’s a killer in the modern NFL. For every Jordan Howard, you have 20 guys who starred in college but couldn’t catch and quickly faded into irrelevance.
He also has character red flags probably already discussed ad nauseam among Notre Dame fans, and Williams struggled for years to free himself from a crowded running back room and Brian Kelly’s doghouse into a consistent role.
I ranked him RB8 earlier in the evaluation process and kept moving him down because of the red flags. Character issues from a running back who can’t play on passing downs and doesn’t have long speed are a tough sell in the NFL.
I could see ranking Dex as high as RB7 or as low as RBOffMyBoard. I ended up ranking him RB13 in the class. I grade him as a mid-fifth-rounder.
DF: Again to betray some of our past back-and-forths, I know Alizé Mack holds a special place in your heart. He did for a long time for Irish fans, too. The difference between you and them is you did not watch Mack fail to fulfill your affections for four years. As physically gifted as he is, Mack refuses to catch the ball consistently. There is no denying Brandon Wimbush struggled with accuracy, but Mack did him no favors, dropping at least a handful of catchable passes in 2017.
Mack even dropped passes from Tom(my) Rees at Notre Dame’s Pro Day last month. If there is one thing Rees always did, it was throw a catchable ball.
As you have studied Mack the last few months, have you come to grips with these realities or do you continue to focus on the possible and the potential?
TN: Note to the reader: Douglas has held more than one Alizé Mack intervention with me. It’s true.
As Douglas knows, it was always hard for me to quit Alizé. I twice predicted breakout campaigns for Mack in my work with college fantasy football rankings. He disappointed both times, disappointed throughout his career at Notre Dame, and yet I still can’t entirely dismiss him as an NFL prospect.
That’s because Mack is arguably the most natural pure receiver in this class when he’s on. Not the most athletic or the best after the catch, but the most skilled, the most natural.
Frustratingly, for a natural receiver with soft hands, Mack drops too many balls. Is that from a lack of concentration? Yeah, probably. Could some of it have to do with the concussions he dealt with in college? I think that’s plausible.
He really needs to clean that up pronto. Because he has no interest in blocking, and, as was confirmed at the NFL combine, he lacks quickness and agility. Mack is a good athlete overall, but he’s entirely a north-south mover.
He’s dangerous down the seam and in the red zone, but he’s not cutting on a dime to snatch a ball outside his frame coming in hot in the intermediate sector. He’s not that fluid.
If Mack doesn’t stop dropping the ball and ditch the inconsistency, he’s going to get escorted out of the NFL quickly. And Douglas, I think you had him pegged pretty good.
I want to believe he’s going to just show up one day as the guy with A+ hands that he sometimes was in college and just be that guy forever. Because that guy could, at the very least, do damage down the seam, damage as a big slot and damage in the red zone in the NFL. His risk profile dropped him to TE9 in my final rankings.
DF: The top of this Q&A would be very different if Alex Bars had not torn his ACL in week five last season. Maybe his draft stock would have settled into the second round or so, but it really seemed like he was playing at an All-American level.
Bars is reportedly far ahead of his expected rehab schedule, implying playing this fall is not impossible. Frankly, that makes sense: He will have had 11 full months since the injury and ACL recoveries have sped up ever since Adrian Peterson bordered on a medical miracle in 2012.
Is there any chance Bars gets drafted?
TN: Yes, I think there’s a good chance he gets drafted.
It’s really too bad Bars got hurt. Douglas and I were talking a few months back about this — Notre Dame had just lost a Mount Rushmore tackle and a Mount Rushmore guard, and with them gone it was now Bars’ time to take over and assert himself as one of the top guards in the nation.
Instead, we got less than 350 snaps out of him before his season ended. I think we saw enough in the 2,000-plus snaps Bars had between 2016-2018 to conclude he’s a guy worth developing, even if we never got that leap we thought we were going to see, and even if he’s rehabbing.
But as you mention, he won’t miss much time, and even if he does, who cares. You’re not taking Bars on Day 3 with the idea he’s going to contribute Year 1 even if he was healthy. The guard class dries up at a certain point. When that happens, Bars is one of the first guys I want to roll the dice on. I rank him as the No. 198 player in the class, mid-sixth-round territory.
DF: That leaves Sam Mustipher. I am rather confident he ends up an undrafted free agent, which many argue is preferable to going in the seventh round, or even perhaps the sixth. He will get to choose his destination. As someone who embraces contact, can hold a block and thoroughly understands the game, could he catch on for more than a season?
TN: I agree with you — I don’t think he gets drafted.
Mustipher was a solid college center, but he wasn’t a standout. Pro Football Focus graded him above-average the past three seasons, but never with a grade above 74.0.
That’s pretty troubling for a guy who tested as one of the least athletic centers in the class. I don’t like his chances of hanging on an active roster.
DF: Thanks, Thor. I realize it has been a busy few months for you. Feel free to take May off before you start prepping for fall previews.