ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay released his Mock Draft 4.0 last week featuring eight Alabama players selected in the first two rounds, including five projected first-rounders.
McShay projected four Alabama players to land in the top 10, including quarterback Mac Jones (No. 3, San Francisco 49ers), wide receiver DeVonta Smith (No. 6, Miami Dolphins), wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (No. 8, Detroit Lions) and cornerback Patrick Surtain II (No. 9, Denver Broncos). He also had running back Najee Harris landing at No. 24 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
McShay’s second-round Alabama projections include defensive tackle Christian Barmore at No. 44 to the Dallas Cowboys, Landon Dickerson at No. 55 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Alex Leatherwood at No. 60 overall to the New Orleans Saints.
During a Monday morning conference call, McShay was asked about how Jones and Harris improved their draft stock in recent weeks. Here’s a look at what he had to say regarding both prospects.
McShay on Jones’ ‘fascinating’ draft position
During his conference call, McShay made it clear that his projection of Jones to San Francisco was based on intel he gathered from around the NFL, not necessarily his assessment of where the Alabama quarterback stands up to other passers in this year’s class. For example, McShay said that he had Justin Fields above Jones on his board despite projecting the Ohio State quarterback to land at No. 11 to the New England Patriots following a mock-draft trade.
As for the No. 3 pick, McShay believes North Dakota’s Trey Lance would be the perfect selection for San Francisco given his ability to excel in play-action passes, a staple of Ryan Shanahan’s offense. However, if the 49ers do elect to go with Jones, McShay wouldn’t argue with that selection either.
“If you look at the analytics, the three most important things, to me, are what’s your QBR when you’re pressured, what’s your QBR when blitzed and what’s your QBR when throwing the ball 20-plus yards down the field,” McShay said of Jones. “He’s No. 1 in all three categories. He has a 78.3 QBR when pressured, 97.3 QBR when blitzed and he completed 61 percent of his throws 21-plus yards down the field. It matches up with what you see on tape.”
The knock on Jones has been his athleticism. Despite clocking a 4.79 time in the 40-yard dash during Alabama’s first pro day last month, the pocket passer isn’t as mobile as this other top five quarterbacks in this year’s draft. Monday, McShay said that could have an effect on his success at the next level.
“I think he’s got a chance to be a really good pro,” McShay said, “but he needs more protection and support around him than maybe the other guys do, especially early in his career, because he can’t get himself out of trouble with his legs.”
The two teams McShay signaled out regarding Jones are the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots, both of which have sturdy offensive lines capable of providing protection in the pocket. McShay called Jones’ draft situation one of the more interesting ones in the class, stating the Alabama quarterback might slip all the way down to the Patriots at No. 15 if he isn’t selected No. 3 overall by the 49ers.
“Honestly, I’m fascinated to see where he goes,” McShay said. “And if he winds up in San Francisco, I think it’s a perfect spot for him. He has one of the best offensive minds in the game in Kyle Shanahan to help develop him quickly.”
McShay says Harris solidified first-round status
During Alabama’s second pro day last week, Harris broke down the added experience he gained from returning to Alabama for his senior year last season. The reigning Doak Walker Award winner rushed for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns, becoming the Tide’s all-time rushing leader and all-time rushing touchdowns leader in the process. On top of the accolades, McShay believes the extra season “did wonders” for Harris’ draft status.
“First of all, I was so impressed with the improvement that he made in this past year,” McShay said. “He decided to come back, a lot of running backs don’t decide to do that. He came back and in Steve Sarkisian’s offense, he caught the ball a lot better. He was good at pass protection.
“And the biggest knock I had on him when I studied him in the summer was for a 235-pound back he didn’t run like that. He kind of danced and always wanted to bounce to the outside. And he didn’t do that this past year. He really was more aggressive, was a north-south runner and just wanted to get upfield and utilize his size and his strength. I think he really improved his draft stock. I think he solidified himself as a first-rounder.
The running back position has been devalued to a certain extent in recent years as NFL teams have shied away from selecting the position in the first round. McShay has Harris as one of two backs selected in the first round, projecting him to land No. 24 to the Steelers one pick after projecting Clemson’s Travis Ettiene going to the New York Jets at No. 23.
In his mock draft, McShay explains that Harris could help spark a Steelers offense that ranked last in the NFL averaging 3.6 yards per carry. The Alabama back averaged 5.84 yards per attempt last season.
Harris also continued to prove his ability as a pass-catcher last season, recording 43 receptions for 425 yards and four touchdowns. That should increase his amount of potential suitors at the next level.
“Pittsburgh would be a great spot,” McShay said. “The Jets, that’s another spot he could go. I put Travis Ettiene from Clemson at 23 for the Jets, but Harris could be the pick there. Tampa Bay could use a running back as well. There are plenty of teams in that 20-32 range where Harris could go. I think he did wonders for his draft stock with this past year, just the way he competed and how aggressive he was a runner.”