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We’re only a few days away from the NFL draft — also known as Football Nerd Christmas — which means it’s time for my annual All-Juice Team, where I recognize 22 prospects I like because of their effort, attitude or performance.
I dubbed this the “All-Juice” team five years ago because juice is a phrase that, in football terms, means having the goods.
In general, my track record has been OK. Like any well-meaning prognosticator, I’ve had some home runs (like MVP Patrick Mahomes) in 2017 and some huge whiffs (Paxton Lynch in 2016). I’ve been the most proud of my ability to identify a handful of players that the team I covered prior to joining Yahoo Sports — the Kansas City Chiefs — ended up drafting. In 2015, Kansas City took All-Juice member Steven Nelson, and in 2016, they took another in Eric Murray. In 2017, they took Mahomes and Tanoh Kpassagnon, and in 2018 they took Armani Watts and Tremon Smith. The focus may be the whole league now, but yeah, it’d be awesome to keep that streak going, though I’m sure I just jinxed myself.
I’ve picked players I’ve heard good things about during the pre-draft process. Just to be clear, I took no more than two players from each of the following tiers of prospects (who have been assigned grades based on where I think they’ll be taken in the draft):
7.5-7.1: Top 10 pick
6.8: Top half of the second round
6.7: Bottom half of the second
6.6: Top half of the third
6.5: Bottom half of the third
6.4: Fourth-round pick
6.3: Fifth-round pick
6.2: Sixth-round pick
6.1: Seventh-round pick
6.0: Priority free agent
There are some painful omissions since the strategy was to build the team the way I think a smart NFL franchise would: by picking the best combination of players I could find at quarterback, receiver/tight end, left tackle, edge rusher, defensive tackle and cornerback, and surrounding them with alphas, athletes and edgy players who love football.
Murray, one of two All-Juice offensive co-captains, is the most explosive dual-threat quarterback to come along since Cam Newton in 2011, and he’s a more accurate passer. Throw in his rare “second-reaction” ability — a coveted trait after Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes crushed the league with it last season — and Murray is the personification of “juice” at quarterback in today’s NFL, small stature and all. Grade: 7.5
The 5-foot-8, 208-pounder is the most explosive running back in this class. He showed it in college, rushing for an absurd 1,909 yards and 22 touchdowns on only 214 carries last season. His vision can be spotty, but athletically he has rare breakaway ability. If he’s behind a good offensive line, it’s Pro Bowl time. Grade: 6.7
I’ll happily tap the man nicknamed “Hollywood” to be my feature receiver, and reunite this DeSean Jackson clone with his college quarterback. Brown is only 5-9 and 166 pounds, but he’s always the fastest player on the field, and a superb vertical threat and route-runner. For the quantity of short passes from Murray, Brown’s elite run-after the catch ability is a boon. Grade: 6.9
Wesley is a massive 6-4, 203-pound target with huge (and reliable) 10-inch mitts and impressive route-running ability. He tests below the NFL mean as an overall athlete at the position, but his contested catch ability and 4.45 speed give him a chance to overcome that. He’s only a one-year starter, but after tallying 88 catches for 1,410 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018, he reminds me of a less-explosive Mike Evans. Grade: 6.2
Yeah, it’s another small guy at 5-9, 166. But what Scott lacks in bulk, he makes up for with playmaking ability. He’s a slightly above average NFL athlete for the position — he ran a 4.39 at his pro day — and I liked his route-running and vertical ability in 2018, when he tallied over 1,100 receiving yards and nine touchdowns. Grade: 6.1
The 6-5, 251-pound Hockenson has good ball skills, and he uses his elite athleticism to either win downfield or regularly leap over defenders after the catch (if he doesn’t run by them first). Plus he blocks, something most tight ends aren’t good at anymore. He’s the best tight end prospect in years. Grade: 7.1
If the 6-5, 310-pounder had tested better athletically, he would have been a first-round pick all day. Instead, he graded a little below average and is now a borderline first-round pick. But Little was a Day 1 starter at Ole Miss who showed good feet and a natural feel for pass protection on a weekly basis against NFL-caliber SEC athletes. Grade: 6.8
There isn’t much media buzz about the 6-4, 322-pounder, but some team is going to get a starter in the middle rounds with this guy. He’s strong (33 bench reps), dependable and an above-average NFL athlete for his position, and he has a good anchor, too. Grade: 6.3
When it comes to the interior o-line, you can get by with guys who are smart and tough. And Pierschbacher, a four-year starter and 2018 team captain, checks those boxes. Teams will ding him for his lack of power but he could eventually start for a zone-oriented team. Grade: 6.3
The 6-5, 305-pounder’s nasty demeanor, quick feet and processing ability helps him open up holes on the regular while zone blocking, and he has an innate feel for the position. Once Samia gets stronger, he has a chance to be a high-upside starter. Grade: 6.4
It’s only fitting that Risner — a three-time captain and 50-game starter at K-State — is the All-Juice co-captain on offense. The 6-5, 312-pounder was a rock in pass protection his entire career. He didn’t move so well on the edge in 1-on-1 drills at the Senior Bowl, but his technique, savvy and nasty disposition — which also shows in the run game — will help him be a long-time NFL starter. Grade: 6.7
The 6-3, 315-pounder plays with a joy and enthusiasm that personifies what the All-Juice team is all about, and his outgoing, jovial personality should make him a fan favorite immediately. On the field, he’ll be a disruptive energy-giver that teammates feed off of — Clemson even used him as a goal-line weapon on offense. Grade: 7.0
Saunders’ highlight video dubs him the “Aaron Donald of The FCS,” and it’s not ludicrous. Saunders’ combination of power, juice off the snap and quick hands were unfair at that level, and he has flair, too — he loves to break out his signature backflip whenever possible. Grade: 6.4
Good luck finding anyone in college football who played harder than Winovich. He consistently outperformed teammate Rashan Gary, who is expected to be taken much higher. Winovich wins with solid athleticism and technique, and his all-out pedal to the metal style and passion for the game ensures he’ll be an early contributor. Grade: 6.7
In this 4-3 defense we’ll need some beef on the edge, and Ferrell (6-4, 264) fits the bill. He also plays super hard, which is a big reason he racked up 53 tackles (19½ for loss) and 11½ sacks on the way to being named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018. Grade: 6.9
He lined up as an edge rusher with his hand in the dirt in college, but he’ll have to play outside linebacker in the NFL after he checked in at 5-11½ and 234 pounds at his pro day. Still, you can’t help but appreciate his production (21½ tackles for loss and 17 sacks in 2018) and non-stop effort. He can eventually contribute in passing situations. Grade: 6.1
The second defensive co-captain of the All-Juice Team, few linebackers attack downhill like Bush, whose sideline-to-sideline 4.43 speed and zeal for hitting makes him a plug-and-play difference maker. He packs a punch when he hits, and was an absolute joy to watch in 2018, when he had 80 tackles and five sacks. Grade: 7.0
Long has adequate size (5-11, 196) and athleticism that backs up the dominance he showed on tape. He doesn’t play much zone, but he’s a press-man cover monster who is fast enough to turn and run on vertical routes. Long doesn’t have long arms and he doesn’t have much slot experience — which could hurt his draft stock — but he was so good in college that teams rarely tried him. Grade: 6.5
Some safeties just have a nose for the ball, and while Savage is being knocked for his size — he’s 5-11, 198 — his impressive combination of above-average NFL athleticism, instincts, ball skills and effort make him a Day 1 playmaker. He had 53 tackles, four interceptions and two pass breakups last season. Grade: 6.8
Hooker is short (5-11) but he isn’t small; at 210 pounds, he has the size to hold up as a backend chess piece. The 2018 Big 10 defensive back of the year packed the stat sheet with 65 tackles, seven pass breakups and four interceptions thanks to his natural ball skills and instincts, and even shows some upside as a blitzer. Grade: 6.5
He’s an adequate NFL athlete for the position, and I love his energy and his nose for the ball. As a senior, the 5-10, 178-pounder had 56 tackles (including 7½ for loss), 10 pass breakups and five interceptions. He is also the school’s career leader in interceptions (18) and pick-sixes. Grade: 6.2
With the NFL’s commitment to legislating the physicality out of defensive back play, secondary players better have quick hips, instincts and natural ball skills to either force turnovers or incompletions, regardless of size. Love, who is only 5-11 and 195 pounds, is one of the safest corners in the draft, a willing tackler who is always in position to compete for the ball. Grade: 6.6
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