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Wednesday Walkthroughs - Who’s your biggest crush for the 2018 NFL Draft?

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APC writers reveal who they’re hoping for in the NFL Draft.

NFL: 2017 NFL Draft Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s Walkthroughs address the fact that the NFL Scouting Combine is just two weeks away, which means that we will be shifting our focus over to the 2018 NFL Draft. Today, APC’s contributors break down some of our biggest draft crushes for the upcoming class.

Paul Noonan - Lamar Jackson

I’m not a college guy and am completely unqualified to have draft crushes, especially until combine numbers come in, so take everything I say with a grain of salt. I think Jackson is underrated compared to the other top QB prospects, and I think a smart front office will use that to their advantage. People, including me, suck at scouting QBs, and this is especially true when the quarterback is an outstanding athlete, and African-American. There is still, among many, a preference for the “prototypical pocket passer” and that bias can really muck up evaluations. In looking at draft boards I rely on aggregation. Consensus on those boards drives players higher, splits on those boards…

drive people lower. In the minds of many, a subset of analysts who are down on Jackson will carry disproportionate weight. While there are plenty of analysts high on Jackson (Charles McDonald, for example), there are so many who consider him “raw”, or “reliant on athletic ability,” or some other backhanded slur, that the general sentiment gets clouded in BS.

Here’s what I see in Jackson. I see a great athlete who also happens to be an advanced pocket passer, with a very good arm. I see a smart player who was often let down by his teammates. I normally would be put off by a lackluster completion percentage, but among top QB prospects, Jackson’s wideouts dropped the highest percentage of balls.

I don’t know how he is at reading defenses, and I am a bit put off by the number of picks, but for a team of Louisville’s caliber, the number isn’t that concerning. The fact is that even if Jackson’s ceiling is “great college quarterback,” the good, creative teams in the league are doing so much with college scheme’s and play-calling that finding a player who runs an “NFL style offense” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

I like Jackson a ton. I think others will see his peripheral strengths as flaws and that he’ll fall in the draft as a result. I think he has a good bet to end up as the steal of the draft, and given that Aaron Rodgers is getting up there, and that Brett Hundley is awful, I’d love to see the Packers nab him. My worry in that scenario isn’t Jackson failing the Packers, it’s the Packers failing Jackson.

Owen Riese - Andrew Brown and Da’Shawn Hand

Brown and Hand are two former 5* recruits from VA that both never quite lived up to the hype they had coming into their collegiate careers. I’m a big fan of versatility up front, and both players are in the 6’4” and 280-290 pound range, allowing them to survive both as 3 techniques as well as ends in both 4-3 and 3-4 looks. In Mike Pettine’s system, both of these players would be valuable as chess pieces who can cause the havoc up front that would benefit the Packers’ much-maligned secondary.

Jon Meerdink - Vita Vea

Crushes don’t have to make sense. Although it never hurts to have a bunch of talented big guys, it may not necessarily make a ton of sense to nab another with the highest draft pick the Packers have had in a long time.

But still, Vita Vea checks a lot of draft crush boxes for me. Big, strong guy? At 6-5, 332, he’s got that covered. Highlights of him clowning smaller dudes? He’s got those too. Cool name? Doesn’t get a lot cooler as far as I’m concerned.

Make the pick, throw him out there with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, then watch opposing offensive lines try to keep up.

Shawn Wagner - Will Hernandez

If you would have asked me this question earlier in the season, I would have said wide receiver Christian Kirk of Texas A&M. Kirk reminds me of a faster Randall Cobb that will work the slot and occasionally beat the defense deep while offering dangerous value in the return game as a slippery ballcarrier. With Cobb’s status over the next couple years with Green Bay uncertain, Kirk would be a legitimate second-round weapon for the Packers.

But after the Senior Bowl, the new name on my radar in terms of draft crush is UTEP guard Will Hernandez. Aaron Jones’ former lead blocker had an impressive showing during the week in Mobile, escalating himself into top-50 consideration come late April. He plays with an attitude, finishes his blocks, and figures to give Stephen Paea a run for his money on the bench press record at the Combine with his brute strength. He is able to get to the next level as a run blocker and crush linebackers, and also is difficult as an ox to move backwards in pass protection. Hernandez moves well for a big-bodied guard and hasn’t faltered against Big 12 competition in his career.

If the Packers, who still need to anchor down the right guard position, are able to add a player like Hernandez in the mid-second round, they may have a starting lineman for the next 10 years.

MIke Vieth - Josh Jackson and Equanimeous St. Brown

Going into the season I didn’t know much about Jackson but I ended up watching the Iowa games against Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks and came away impressed. Jackson had three interceptions against Ohio State, including a ridiculous one in the video below, and followed with two pick-sixes against the Badgers the following week.

Jackson has good size and 6’1 and has good length in his arms. The biggest asset is he seems to always be around the ball and making plays. He was targeted a lot early in the season and then shut down most after teams realized they couldn’t do anything against him. He really has only one outstanding year at the college level but has shown he could be a big-time corner at the NFL level and he’d be paired nicely across from Kevin King for the foreseeable future if he’s available at the Packers pick.

I knew nothing about St. Brown until this week, when I saw a story on Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on HBO about him and his family. If you haven’t seen it, his family is basically the football version on the Lonzo Ball family of the NBA except they seem to be doing things in a much different way.

Equanimeous and his two brothers are all very good wide receivers, all with potential NFL futures. He has one brother at Stanford and one just committed to Southern California respectively. These three have similarities to the Ball family, from a very demanding father focusing very hard on their possible NFL futures but one big difference is their educations growing up. Their mother is also a huge impact on their lives with education. They all, reportedly, close to 4.0 GPA students that speak several languages (their mother communicates with them in German regularly and they went to a French elementary school, including living a year in Paris). Equanimeous projects as a second or third round pick and seems to be a possible good pick up for any team that selects him.

If you get a chance, and have the availability, check out the episode on HBO. I started the story feeling like this was going to be another crazy sports parent story but at the end, I’m cheering for him and the family.

Evan “Tex” Western: Leon Jacobs

I’m a Wisconsin alumnus, and so I will always show favoritism towards my alma mater’s players. I also love to dig into the numbers around the Combine and athletic testing, and given the choice between an elite athlete who needs a little coaching and a guy with great intangibles but mediocre physical tools, you should go for the better athlete. (That’s a massive oversimplification of the draft process, to be sure, but I generally lean that way.)

As a result, Leon Jacobs is a guy I’ll be watching closely in Indianapolis next week at the Scouting Combine. He’s almost a sure bet to blow up the workouts — if you thought Ty Montgomery was a muscular guy, check out this shot of Jacobs from his pre-Combine workout academy:

Yikes.

Jacobs is also a fascinating player. He came to Wisconsin as an outside linebacker recruit, but moved to inside linebacker then to fullback for a time as a junior, before coming back to inside linebacker and finally back out on the edge for his senior year. He may have had only 3.5 sacks in his final year, but Jacobs will get a shot with some NFL team, probably late on day three of the draft, and he’ll get to work putting that physique to use on the football field.

And I’m not getting in his way.