NFL DRAFT PREVIEW

A.J. Hoffman: 3 players I like, 3 I don't in the NFL Draft

Lamar Jackson is not a player to take in the first round. Andy Lyons

The NFL Draft starts tonight, and by now you have probably seen 100 different mock drafts and maybe even more people telling you who is overrated and who is underrated. Obviously, where a player gets drafted can impact how good or bad he can be, but I thought I would profile a few players that I like blindly and a few players that I don’t. I tried to limit the “players I like” to players that I have heard others question. For instance, I didn’t pick Saquon Barkley or Bradley Chubb, because basically EVERYONE likes those guys. Without further ado…

PLAYERS I LIKE

Calvin Ridley-WR-Alabama

Calvin Ridley isn’t usually the type of wide receiver I rave about. He is barely 6’0” tall and is well under 200 lbs., but there is more to him than meets the eye. He is one of the sharpest route runners I have ever seen, and that combined with his deep speed and burst off the line gives him great separation, and size starts to matter less the more separation a receiver can get on the route. Alabama has put some pretty good receivers in the league (Amari Cooper and Julio Jones) but for some reason I keep hearing Ridley’s name falling late  in the 1st round, and I think he is a top-10 caliber player. 

Isaiah Oliver-CB-Colorado

I have not seen his name at the top of the cornerback rankings, but Isaiah Oliver has all the physical tools I am looking for in a cornerback. At 6’0”, 200 lbs. with a 33.5 arms, he is going to be hard to put a football over. He does a good job in early jams to force receivers to alter routes, and shows the kind of raw talent that could end up being way better than scouts currently project him. Oliver also has seen pretty good competition in college, going up against Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk in the Pac-12. I think he would be a good fit in Seattle, Atlanta or a similar cover-3 type defense. 

Jamarco Jones-OT-Ohio State

Jamarco Jones is almost assuredly not going on day 1, and I don’t have a problem with that, but I think he should go early day 2 considering he plays a position that is always in such high demand. Most of the questions about Jones seem to stem from him playing in Urban Meyer’s offense, but I don’t see much not to like about him. He is 6’5, 312 lbs and his game footage shows him being a solid pass blocker and a really outstanding run blocker down the field. He has excellent feet and doesn’t get cheated against speed rushers. He may be the only tackle prospect that won’t be taken in the first round that I see as a potential day 1 starter at the next level. Teams like Houston, Denver and Indianapolis should all be taking a look at this guy. 

PLAYERS I DON’T LIKE

Lamar Jackson-QB-Louisville

Let me start off by saying I am not someone who thinks that Lamar Jackson should be moving positions or he can’t play quarterback in the NFL. I actually look at him as a high upside player who could be a special talent if he gets some fundamentals down. That said, I am not looking to use a first round draft pick on a guy who has serious footwork and accuracy issues. Those two things are much more important to me than athletic ability, which he has in droves. Another turn-off for me is his build, which reminds me a lot of Robert Griffin III’s. If Jackson had Cam Newton’s size, I would be less concerned about having a run-first quarterback. If a team can afford to use their first round pick on a long-term project with a seemingly high injury risk, so be it, but I don’t know many teams that are run that way. 

Christian Kirk-WR-Texas A&M

This might not be fair, because if someone is looking for a slot receiver, Kirk could make some sense. I just don’t believe many teams look at slot receiver as a top priority where they are willing to use a first or second round pick on someone who seems limited to being just that. He also has some issues with his hands, and too often lets balls get into his chest. He doesn’t have ideal size for me at 5’10” and could conceivably struggle with press coverage at the NFL level. He isn’t without upside, as he has big-play ability, he is a solid return man and by all accounts is a very high-character guy. That just isn’t enough for me to consider him a top option at wide receiver. 

Mark Andrews-TE-Oklahoma

This is mostly my way of saying that there isn’t really an every down tight end in this draft (save maybe 25 year old Hayden Hurst), and Andrews seems to be the most highly touted of the bunch. He has good size at 6’5” 255, and is actually a pretty decent route runner given that size. His hands are a major problem. He drops a lot of balls, and some of it is probably a concentration issue, but it is an issue regardless. He was a decent blocker in college, but can’t be counted on as a primary blocker in the NFL. He also seems to quit on plays that he isn’t involved in, which might be my biggest pet peeve in a tight end. 

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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