Guest Post: 5 Sleepers To Watch This Draft Season

FB-PicMatt Phillips is the UK’s premier voice on the the NFL Draft. As the founder of 40 Yards Scouting, and, the 4th edition of Europe’s only scouting guide to the 2017 NFL Draft was published earlier this month. Every eligible draft prospect has been individually scouted, and all proceeds go to Muscular Dystrophy UK.

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Zach Johnson/Guard, North Dakota State

Yet another well coached and technically sound offensive line talent to have graduated from Fargo, North Dakota whose high level of play yet again this season saw him rightly named to the FCS AllAmerican team by his opposing coaches. A tough, physically strong lineman who will shift inside from his college tackle spot, who will excel in the ‘phone booth’, best suited for a power-based scheme at the next level. While his lack of quickness and ability to move freely up and down the offensive line mean that he cannot remain on the exterior, the former Bison plays with an outstandingly strong anchor and wide base and a nasty, ‘thou shall not pass’ approach that has prevented the cream of defensive line talent in the FCS in being able to move him off his spot. Be sure to see him slot into an NFL offensive line right away and be an important cog on Sundays.

Matt Dayes/Running Back, North Dakota State

Few in what is an outstandingly deep and talented class at the position, can match the former Wolfpack rusher’s ability to create his own yardage after contact. In fact, Dayes gained an outstanding 47% of his career total after initial contact, one of the most reliable traits in projecting next level traits and future success at the position. The ACC standout runs with impressive leverage, staying close to the ground, keeping his pads low and the strength that belies his smaller stature, with a refusal to go to the ground, needing to be gang tackles to be brought to a halt. He has already proven his durability to carry a heavy load and plays the position with excellent vision and awareness. Continually impressive whenever watching NC State yet again this season who receives very little attention in draft media circles.

Austin Carr/Wide Receiver, Northwestern

The former Wildcat has simply been the finest wide receiver in the Big-Ten this season, a reliable, consistent presence for quarterback Clayton Thorston. Technically impressive, Carr stands out with his innate ability to feel where his passer needs him most and consistently makes himself available. A crisp route runner, the senior exploits soft areas of coverage and gets himself open, breaking off his route and sitting down on a consistent basis. Carr will certainly find a role at the next level and be a trusted presence to keep the chains moving, aided by his glue-like sticky hands.

Caleb Brantley/Defensive Tackle, Florida

Despite being a consistently disruptive thorn in the side of SEC offences once again this season, it is with much surprise that the former Gator is largely being overlooked. It is his explosive burst off the snap and his on-field awareness that continually catch the eye and affected the course of a number of contests thanks to his highly active style of play and relentless competitiveness. Brantley’s burst and explosion off the snap, aligned with his impressive leverage and power allow him to get the edge on his opposite number and when double teamed he simply uses his intelligent hand use to swipe away blocker and spilt them to knife his way into the backfield with impressive quickness. Tough to move from his spot at the point of attack, Brantley is also a reliable force against the run and projects perfectly to playing the 3-technique role inside in a 4-3 front at the next level.

Cameron Sutton/Cornerback, Tennessee

Without his injury struggles during his career, Sutton would be receiving much greater attention in the lead up to the NFL Draft. A hugely competitive, pumped up corner with the swagger that I like to see at such a tough position to succeed, is rarely beaten in both man and zone coverage, deep down the sideline or inside. Limited to just 3 appearances this past season, the former Volunteer bounced back with an impressive week of practice at the Senior Bowl that highlighted his versatility. Additionally, Sutton is a dangerous kick and punt returner, his special teams nous will be hugely attractive as will his versatility that makes him a fit for all thirty two teams at the next level and the size to go with it. The corner is going to fall far below his worth and represents a steal later this month.

40-yards-bannerIf you enjoyed this article, you can find scouting reports on all of the draft-eligible prospects in the 2017 NFL Draft Scouting Guide, which is just £5 with all proceeds donated to charity.

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Midseason Surprises

Who is Surprising Up?

arrowupEagles – When the Eagles traded away starting QB Sam Bradford, it looked like they were heading towards a transitional season to bed in rookie Carson Wentz. However, as they head towards the 2nd half of the season, they’re looking good for a post season slot, and have just thoroughly beaten the last remaining perfect team. That trade is not looking too shabby for the Eagles now!

arrowupBroncos – Amazingly there were a lot of people writing off the reigning champs at the start of the season. Many thought the handling of the Brock Osweiler situation in the summer would cost the Broncos a real chance at retaining their title, especially with the underwhelming battle for starting QB between Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. However, you need to be brave to question John Elway these days (as one fan on Twitter recently found out), while Siemian looks to be an able replacement for Peyton Manning. The Broncos have continued where they left off.

arrowupCowboys – Another example of a team written off due to a QB situation. When Tony Romo shocked nobody with a serious injury in the pre-season, up stepped 3rd round draft pick Dak Prescott, an untested rookie who would surely stink the place up, right? Wrong – Prescott, aided by another rookie in Ezekiel Elliott, has blown the league away with some fearless play. The Cowboys sit atop a very competitive NFC East, and look to be powering their way to the post-season. Tony Rom-who?

arrowupFalcons – You have to go back to the days of Tony Gonzalez to find a decent Falcons team, yet there are a couple of guys who remain from that playoff-relevant roster – Matt Ryan & Julio Jones. Both have been on fire so far this season, aided by some well coached young talent. Dan Quinn, along with Kyle Shanahan, has made this side one of the most exciting offences in the league (an amazing turnaround from the weary final seasons under Mike Smith). Along with Ryan and Jones leading the league in passing and receiving, a fearsome ground game with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman has reignited this franchise.

Who is Surprising Down?

arrowdownJags – Everyone in the UK has been rooting for the Jags to finally turn the corner towards relevance. Ever since they took up their annual residency at Wembley, we’ve been witness to the slow rebuilding project under Gus Bradley and David Caldwell. The roster is littered with picks from around the top of the draft, but still the mediocrity continues. If Bradley and Coleman are to get this team back to competitiveness, it won’t be this season.

arrowdownBengals – For the first time in years, the Bengals might actually struggle to lose in the first game of the playoffs; they might struggle to make the playoffs entirely. The whole roster seems to be a bit banged up, but the bigger problem might be the annual decimation of their coaching staff. In recent years Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden and Hugh Jackman have all enhanced their CVs to get HC roles elsewhere, leading the Bengals to some sort of revolving door of coordinators. This season the Bengals are definitely missing the consistency on both sides of the ball that they’ve enjoyed in previous years.

arrowdownPackers – It seems we’re 1 or 2 weeks away from Aaron Rodgers telling Packers fans and media to R-E-L-A-X. While they remain on the edge of playoff contention with a 4-2 record, again there are questions about Rodgers form (the fact that he sits behind the likes of Case Keenum and Ryan Tannehill in passing yards this season is no joke). Most of the Packers problems comes from having a stagnant running game, with both Eddie Lacy and James Starks missing through injury. Until an answer is found on the ground, it looks as though Rodgers will continue to push the ball into difficult situations for Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both of whom have shown indifferent form and speed this season.

arrowdownPanthers – If people were talking down the prospects of the Broncos, the same people were talking about a potential dynasty in Carolina. It’s been the complete opposite, as the Panthers defence has crumbled with the loss of Josh Norman as a lynchpin in the secondary. Cam Newton may have got favourite target Kelvin Benjamin back, but he looks a shadow of himself compared to the MVP run of 2015. It’s not easy to go from worst to 1st, as the Panthers did over a couple of seasons following the selection of Newton in 2011, but the Panthers are proving that the fall from 1st to worst can be an awful lot quicker.

Week 5: Who is in Backup Purgatory?

Week 5 is in the books, and 6 backup QBs were earning their money this weekend.

Despite the absence of their highest profile player, which teams have kept their season on track?


Derek Anderson for the Panthers

Anderson might not have expected to start in Monday Night Football until the surprise early announcement that reigning MVP Cam Newton wouldn’t progress out of the concussion protocol in time. Anderson is one of the better backups in the league, but consistently made poor decisions throughout an ugly home loss to the Buccs. The Panthers will hope to have Newton back next week, but their season is already on the rails following a shocking 1-4 record.

Charlie Whitehurst for the Browns

Clipboard Jesus seems to have a career that will never end, but his time in Cleveland might be over after just 1 game. Whitehurst was only brought into the building a week ago, with the Browns already having RGIII, Josh McCown and Cody Kessler struck down in the opening 4 weeks, but he was forced to look into the abyss, as Tom Brady returned to guide the Patriots to an easy win. Charlie’s performance will be instantly forgotten in a game no-one expected them to win, while one of McCown or Kessler will surely be back on the field in week 6. But with a 0-5 record, who is starting under centre is just one of the Browns many problems.

Brian Hoyer for the Bears

The Bears looked like a rudderless ship under Jay Cutler in the opening games of the season, but while they suffered another defeat, Hoyer (with a little help of surprise breakout RB Jordan Howard) is reinforcing his reputation as a strong backup / low level starter. Hoyer kept his side competitive through Week 5, albeit against an equally average Colts side. The Bears seem to finally be looking at life beyond Jay Cutler, but Hoyer isn’t going to kill them while on the field, and it seems he might keep the job for a longer spell despite the imminent return of #6.

Drew Stanton for the Cardinals

Stanton has not been a lucky charm for the Cardinals, but he managed to get the job done in Week 5. Despite only throwing for a measly 124 yards, he managed to lean on the skills of the evergreen Larry Fitzgerald, and the boisterous running of David Johnson to get the Cards a priceless division win over San Francisco. I’m not sure even the Cards think he can repeat the act, and they’ll be desperate for a healthy Carson Palmer this week.

Paxton Lynch for the Broncos


The Broncos aren’t just the reigning SuperBowl champs, they’ve been the best team in the league for over a year, and so far this season the unlikely starter Trevor Siemian has been the surprise success story. Ultimately the long term job should end up in the hands of 1st round pick Paxton Lynch, but he looked nervous and unprepared against the high flying Falcons. With Siemian due to return, expect things to get back to normal in Denver, but this preview of the future already has some concerns.

Dak Prescott for the Cowboys


Some might have already forgotten that Prescott is a backup – the rookie has started the season like a seasoned pro, and Cowboy fans are already talking about the next superstar QB/RB combo in fellow rookies Prescott and Elliott. But on the sidelines there is a big grinning reminder of who really sits at the top of the depth chart – Tony Romo is sure to return when finally healthy, but this might be his last year to try and win something with the Cowboys – Prescott is building a glowing resume, and won’t be holding the clipboard for long.

5th Down UK @ Wembley!

While Sundays AFC South divisional game between the Colts and the Jags wasn’t the best exhibition of clinical Quarterback play, it proved a fantastic opening to the 2016 International Series!!


The NFL had Wembley rocking once again, as a full house got behind their adopted Jags to help them to a narrow victory. Just like in last years fixture, the Jags had to weather a late comeback, but ultimately a 4th quarter Allen Hurns TD was enough to get that vital 1st win, making the flight home a little more comfortable for Blake Bortles and Gus Bradley.

“There’s a million decisions in every game. In hindsight, you look at it and you say I wish or I shoulda, coulda.”

Despite the predictable late rally, Andrew Luck had a day to forget, and the game turned on a 4th & 1 decision to toss the ball to Dwayne Allen rather than tucking and running himself.

Blake Bortles had a hot and cold afternoon in the October sun; in the 1st half he seemed to have problems getting the ball released, but with Allen Robinson in fine form, he did enough to get an early lead. In the second half he improved, and despite one bizarre play which he threw and caught himself, he was able to find the game winning play to Hurns, and keep the Jags alive in the AFC South.


The 5th Down’s own fearsome threesome we’re working hard on Sunday, and recorded a special show from the bowels of Wembley Stadium. KB, Dubs and Dave caught all the reaction from the Colts vs Jags game; grabbing interviews with Jalen Ramsey and Paul Posluszny, along with lots of UK fans. There’s also an exclusive tour from inside the Colts’ tunnel and a special interview with Team GB linebacker Niall Scott-Grant.

5thDown Podcast: International Series Preview

Everyone ready for Sunday??

This weeks pod is a special show dedicated to the first International Series game of 2016. KB & Dubs preview the Colts vs Jags game at Wembley with interviews from both camps. Denard Robinson & Dwayne Allen talk up their trips to London. There’s an exclusive interview with former England rugby union world cup-winning captain Martin Johnson and a look back at Week 14 in the CFL.

Week 3: Quarterback Watch

This week on the 5th Down UK podcast, we discussed the different fortunes of 2 starting quarterbacks on the East Coast who were out of contract in the summer –
Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Jets, and Kurt Cousins of the Redskins.


By the start of the pre-season, both were back under contract, albeit in differing circumstances – Cousins would be taking home $20million under the franchise tag, while Fitzpatrick’s hold out resulted in a lower-end 1 year contract worth $12million.

Through the opening 2 weeks of the season, their performances did not seem to respect those valuations – Fitz was driving his powerful offence to a dominant Week 2 victory over the Bills in Thursday Night Football (following a somewhat unfortunate 1pt defeat to the Bengals in Week 1), while Cousins was enduring a couple of error strewn home defeats against the Steelers and the Cowboys.

So then Week 3 happened….

In the Jets matchup away at the Chiefs, Fitzpatrick threw an unbelievable 6 interceptions for 0 touchdowns in a brutal 3-24 defeat.

On the flipside, Kurt Cousins went error free on his away-day, leading the Redskins to their first victory of the season, against a much fancied New York Giants.


Both teams are now 1-2, but in just one week things are now a lot more positive in Washington. And for 2 quarterbacks who went into this season on the hot seat, it seems you get what you pay for.


“Hard Knocks ’16” – The 5th Down UK review


So with the opening weekend of the season now in the books, we can finally reflect on the finale of the pre-season treat, Hard Knocks.

It’s been a long time since the Greatest Show on Turf, and never has there been a franchise so entrenched in mediocrity than the Rams – as soon as owner Stan Kroenke signalled an intent to build a new stadium in Inglewood, the writing was on the wall for the St Louis experiment – the Rams were heading home.

So, the Rams secured the move that several other franchises were coveting, and returned to Los Angeles 22 years after they had quietly left the city in 1994. With the move, they coughed up a kings ransom to the Titans in exchange for the first pick in the 2016 draft – the L.A. Rams would now begin their 2nd life in Southern California with a #1 pick QB under centre… or would they?


So, this brings us up to where this season of Hard Knocks started. The Rams had been an obvious choice from the outset, with the NFL clearly invested heavily in this move to a major untapped market. Despite the Rams mediocrity over the past decade, there were quite a few pro-bowl calibre players on the roster (and a fair share on nut-balls that Hard Knocks always likes to gravitate towards), and Goff would be the icing on the cake.

The series opened with stylised credits, showing Todd Gurley running past the city landmarks (a 20+ mile run if this was filmed without edits); but this highlighted that the city of Los Angeles would be the star of this show just as much as any of the coaches or the players.

As is standard fare with Hard Knocks these days, some characters shined such as Eric Kush (who would eventually be cut and end up starting the season with the Bears) and Strength & Conditioning coach Rock Gullickson; whereas some couldn’t help but annoy – Todd Gurley & Tavon Austin please step forward (or back, out of earshot preferably).

It seemed as the series went on, the producers found the Rams just as bland as fans have, and were forced into following threads like the mermaid loving, dinosaur nay-sayer William Hayes until the point was driven too deep. Yes, he’s a kook, we get it.

Throughout the series we got to see a lot of Head Coach Jeff Fisher; producers seemingly inspired by the coverage of Bruce Arians in Amazons summer hit “All or Nothing”, we got to see the hard and the soft side of the man. While his handling of the Lamarcus Joyner situation in Episode 5 was nicely done, between the crazy new contract he gives Tavon Austin, and the attention his team gives to his warning on golf carts, he ultimately failed to cut the figure of a Head Coach who could take this team to the post-season.

And the fate of the #1 pick, Jared Goff? Well, he was in his civvies this weekend, watching the game. Apparently he’s not yet ready for the big time – the question should really be, are the Rams?

To paraphrase Fisher himself, unfortunately this whole season of Hard Knocks felt like some 7&9 bullsh!t.




The 5th Down UK Fantasy Special

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 14.35.05
So the inaugural 5th Down UK Fantasy Football league is up and running!!

10 all star teams are now all drafted up, and this week the combat will begin, as KB and Dubs try and win their own conferences!

From The Bortle Bank, to Ep 6 The Return of the Jordy, the team-name game was reasonably sound, although there was whispers of playing it safe when both Dub Steps (Dubs) and Desperados (KB) enrolled – we can only wait to see whether their team selection and waiver wire activity is a little more edgy!

The teams in each conference play each other twice, and will match up just once with each of their out-of-conference rivals. As it’s the first season of the 5th Down league, it’s a fairly vanilla setup – we drafted in a random snake, without any PPR or IDP tweaks – this is pure and clean family friendly fantasy!!

1st Picking – 5th Down Style

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 15.07.32Yes – the very 1st player ever picked in a 5th Down UK fantasy football draft was Matt Ryan.

Matt Ryan?

Yes, Matt Ryan.

Maybe Jack (GM of the plucky INSERT TEAM NAME‘s) knows something we don’t. They always say don’t judge a draft until the playoffs, but Jack is making this rule a little difficult!!

The rest of the 5th Down draft went pretty much as expected, with the big names going quickly – in a 10 team league though, there were still some gems left at the end of the draft – I was pretty chuffed to wait until round 12 for Phillip Rivers, and then get high reward flyers like Tajae Sharpe and Stefon Diggs in the final rounds.

Check out the upcoming Fantasy & Season kick off podcast coming soon – KB and Dubs will be getting some of the GMs from our league on to justify their moves and to brag triumph/cry failure over each weeks results!

You can see our league here:

PS: Anyone interested in the INSERT TEAM NAME 2nd round pick? Broncos D

“Hard Knocks ’16: Ep2” – The 5th Down UK review


Already I’m asking myself whether NFL Films & HBO have turned over this season of Hard Knocks to the funny folks at Saturday Night Live? As the Rams kick off their pre-season, we see Coach Fisher tackling the big issues; where to stand for the National Anthem, and how to safely get to and from the dorm rooms. We get to meet mermaid fan and dinosaur nay-sayer William Hayes, some robot blockers, and the whole team take remedial swimming lessons complete with bright pink floats.

In seasons gone-by there was always one thing wasn’t lost on the viewers – training camp is hard, tackling is fierce, and roster cuts are brutal. The newly re-located Rams however seem to be having a great time, laughing in the sun and soaking up the fan attention that had eluded them in St. Louis.

I may have only been young when the Rams last played in LA, but the reputation of warriors like the Fearsome Foursome and the legendary back Eric Dickerson mean that there are big shoes to fill now that the team has returned to the Coliseum. Outside of the physically imposing Aaron Donald, it’s not clear whether this current roster has the intensity of their Hall of Fame brethren.


On a lighter note, centers are never big name tickets on any team, but already our favourite Ram is the tank loving Eric Kush, who backs up his Fat-Arm-Friday promise from Episode 1, this time with a little help from his O-line. This is a glimpse of the Hard Knocks we love, but unfortunately it’s a bit lost within an episode that gravitates towards Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin gooning around for the cameras, and the opening pre-season game against the Cowboys.

So far, it seems, that the LA fan base are backing their Rams – the Coliseum was full for the opening night, in stark contrast to their final season there in ’94. This season of Hard Knocks may not have had the greatest starts (neither did the Rams against the Cowboys for that matter!), but we’re hoping it only gets better from here on.

This season of Hard Knocks starts on Sky Sports 2 tonight at 10:30pm. Episode 1 and 2 are available on the NFL Game Pass right now. New episodes go up every Friday.

“Hard Knocks ’16: Ep1” – The 5th Down UK review

hardknocksLet’s make one thing clear – at the 5th Down UK, we love Hard Knocks. It’s been brilliant for the UK market, and has gradually got more accessible, starting on Channel 4 with the ’13 Bengals, through to the last few seasons on Sky Sports. It’s also helped newcomers to the sport understand what it takes to be a professional footballer in the NFL just as much as it highlights what it means to the players who aren’t able to make it. It’s with this affection in mind when we say that the 1st episode of the new 2016 series was massively disappointing.

We’d be very surprised if the nickname “Hollywood Jeff Fisher” catches on

The Rams are a side who haven’t had a winning season since 2003. Head Coach Fisher (who we see literally fishing in the opening scenes) hasn’t coached a winning team since 2008. For all their talent, this is a team established in mediocrity, and we worry that this series, as with the fates of the Rams, may end up in the shadow of the superb “All or Nothing” series that covered their NFC West rivals, the Cardinals and their effervescent Coach Arians.

Part of the backdrop of the series (and presumably a big reason why the Rams were selected), is the new location of Los Angeles – the Rams going back to a city they left in 1995 because of lack of fan interest, and a long spread of mediocre play. The NFL have a lot invested in the Rams being successful in LA, and when Les Snead sold the house in the draft earlier this year to bring in a big name QB in Californian Jared Goff, it was surely to try and reignite some excitement about pro football in such a big media market. The jury will be out on Goff until he actually hits the field, but as this episode highlights, he still has to win the starting job.

kushOn the positive side, Hard Knocks has always thrown up some unlikely stars, and the brightest moments of the opening episode see Aaron Donald show how much he cares about table tennis, and Eric Kush walk us through his wonderful collection of tanks. This was all classic Hard Knocks.

We hope as the season goes on, we see more of Donald and Kush, and a little less of Gurley and Goff, who both seem to be overly aware of the cameras. As Fisher says – there is a little too much “7 and 9 bullshit” around this team. Let’s hope this season of Hard Knocks can avoid the same fate.

Hard Knocks will be on Sky Sports later in August, and episode 1 is now up on NFL Game Pass, and new episodes go up every Friday.