In Part III, Bunting discusses rookies making a good impression, young players in good situations, and young players in difficult situations. Bunting also reveals the players he liked that surprised others as well as how NFL defenses are reacting to a specific offensive trend.
Waldman: Let’s go to dreamland for a moment. If you could play any position in the NFL and you had the skills to do it what would it be?
Bunting: I’d be a tough, gritty receiver. Growing up I could always catch the football. I don’t think I’d ever have the athleticism to separate from anyone man-to-man, but I could do the tough stuff over the middle and “Sterling Sharpe,” it – putting your foot in the ground and getting up the field and move those chains on third down. [Except I'd be] A slow, but small slot receiver.
Waldman: The Raiders had a pretty good receiver in that vein back in the day that could catch anything that came his way and he always found a way to get open. The college game named its most prestigious award for the position after him…
Bunting: Freddy B? That was one of my pop’s big heroes, but I like that. I’ll probably start losing my hair in my 30s – that would be me.
Waldman: I was a Biletnikoff fan growing up, but I’m going to be…forty-…yeah, 42 soon enough. See I’m already getting old, I’m forgetting my age!
Waldman: Are there any rookies that you feel are making a good impression in the preseason?
Bunting: I haven’t watched a lot of preseason football thus far, but I did see the Vikings-Titans game last week and I liked Demarcus Love, the Arkansas kid, who was at the Senior Bowl. People just piled on that poor kid during those practices. He played a strong-side/weak-side at Arkansas so he flip-flopped left and right for them. He also played guard for them. Although people say he can’t, he can bend. He just doesn’t do it consistently. He tends to get overextended with his contact.
I saw him as a guard because he can move people off the football, but as a tackle he has range to take people off the edge. At Minnesota they have him at left tackle and I think after a couple of weeks of training camp coaching he looked much more patient, much more balanced, and I was impressed by him.
[The Chiefs] David Mims from Virginia Union was another guy that I liked. He played a little high in the run game, but he’s coming from a small school. He can naturally bend as well, but he does it a little more consistently than Love. Those are two offensive linemen that I saw that I’m excited about.
Waldman: Who are some young players in the league who you think landed in good situations, but they just aren’t shining yet but they could down the line?
Bunting: You know, the one guy who I really liked coming out was David Gettis from Baylor. I had him rated higher than a lot of people. Big – at 6’3” when you get guys like that who run fast – 4.3 – in workouts, their playing speed is often a 4.5. But he played really fast and he could go get the football.
He had the tendency to put the ball on the ground, but I thought that was more of an issue of concentration. He was going to compete to start in Carolina, but then he injured his ACL. I gave him a potential starter grade. I thought this guy was a third-round pick. He’s a talented kid and I think he’ll eventually make his mark.
Waldman: Who are some rookies who you think landed in more challenging situations for their skill sets?
Bunting: That’s a good question. There are always guys where you think why would they draft him there? Anthony Castonzo from Boston College. I get that the Colts needed a left tackle. They are going to move a little more away from a zone scheme.
Then they took Ben Ijalana and I just think he’d be the better left tackle. I thought he was a little better of an anchor player. He as a little more athletic although maybe not as technically sound, but the upside was a little better.
I think they are going to kick Ijalana inside, but I just think when you have a kid that talented – granted he’s only 6’3”-6’4” – but he plays like a guy who is 6’7” and he has 36” arms and he’s a good athlete I don’t know why you wouldn’t give him a chance initially at tackle. I think he’s in a tough spot trying to learn how to play guard.
The same goes for Vladimir Ducasse from Massachusetts. He was killed last year learning how to play guard. I thought he was better as a right tackle.
Put him on the end and let him get after people in the run game. Playing guard in tight areas is something people say is easy but you take even half of a false step and you’re screwed because either off balance or the guy can shoot across your face.
You have a little more room from the outside and with him coming from a small school to learn a new position put him in a tough spot. Give him a year or two to get comfortable. Both him and Ijalana are in tough spots, but I think they’ll develop into good players.
Waldman: Who were some players who you thought highly of, but were surprises to the average fan?
Bunting: Aaron Hernandez was one. I really liked him coming out. I was a big Hernandez fan. He’s only in his second year, but watching him again in the preseason and I think he can be a really dynamic off the line as a “Y.” Hernandez I had as a top-15 player.
I really like Jared Veldheer who the Raiders took. I gave him a starting grade early in his career and not too many people did. He came from a really small school and people automatically assumed he was going to need some work, but I thought he was an NFL-ready player. I’m not saying he’s the second coming of Jonathan Ogden, but I think he can be quality starting left tackle in the NFL. Veldeheer I had in the top 35-40 of the 2010 draft class.
I would have stood up on the table and banged for a team to pick either one of them high.
Waldman: A guy I recall you mentioning in the past whom others aren’t as high on but I also liked, is 49ers running back Anthony Dixon.
Bunting: Yeah, I’m still a little puzzled with Dixon. He’s more of a single back guy. But he’s on on a team that uses a fullback a lot. He’ll keep making that roster. When I saw him last year he looked like he was getting a little bit more comfortable as an inside runner.
He has great patience and good feel and I think he just needs some time to catch up. Big, great body, I know a couple of NFL scouts who liked him as a starter in the NFL as well. I really liked him.
Jonathan Dwyer is a guy also liked, but he hasn’t panned out nearly as well. You can put that on the bad list. He’s a good runner, but he’s not very good in pass protection or catching the football.
Plus he’s consistently out of shape and that doesn’t help with a running back’s overall chances for success. I thought he’d be able to get over that and I was really turned on by his sophomore tape. If he can ever get himself in shape he can wind up playing as a starting running back somewhere down the line.
Waldman: I interviewed Dixon at the Senior Bowl and I really liked his conceptual approach to the game. The way he described his favorite play contained a lot of analytical concepts.
Bunting: What did he say his favorite play was?
Waldman: Actually I told him to take me through a specific play and he told me it was his favorite, but I figured as much. I watched a lot of Dixon in college and the play as Mississippi’s bread and butter running play. It as a counter with Dixon in the shotgun. He was flanking the receiver and following a pulling guard to the hole.
He talked about reading his keys, his step size, what the linebackers were doing. Compared to other backs, like LaGarrette Blount who ran a zone system at Oregon, Dixon had a lot more to say. Blount simply explained he ran to daylight in that zone system and it was instinctive.
He’s done well with it. What I appreciated was the subtlety with the things Dixon does, but he seemed to be trying too much right now, but when one-on-one or in the open field, his sophistication is there.
Bunting: I agree 100 percent about Dixon. Once the game slows down for him a bit he’ll be a 4.0-4.5 (ypc) throughout his career.
Waldman: Is there an aspect of the game that gets you really excited when you watch it? You’re probably spending a lot of time watching and writing things down, but if you were to say, spend an afternoon on the couch with a friend watching football what would get to on your feet and yelling at the TV?
Bunting: I’m a big line guy. I love the offensive line and defensive line and the dynamics of that. Even when I am just watching football I’m always watching the offensive line as a whole.
We get mesmerized by all these spread looks, but I watched a little bit of Iowa today and there is nothing I get more excited about than watching a guy not waste any motion off the snap, snap his hips, extend his arms, gain leverage, run his legs, and drive someone off the football. That is the most basic aspect of football, being able to block someone and move him. It’s such a fallen art in college football as a whole. So when I am able to see an offensive line prospect do that it is probably my favorite thing to watch.
Waldman: Are there any books, DVDs, or instructional materials that you would recommend to hardcore fans of the game that are trying to learn what you were learning in high school and college?
Bunting: You know, there’s not much good reading material out there to be honest. Bill Belichick’s father’s book (Football Scouting Methods by Steve Belichick) is very good. It’s more scouting from a coach’s standpoint of how to scout a team, not a player. But in my case you can learn so much from evaluating teams and learning what they want to do. When you plug that into what a player needs to do it makes that evaluation as a whole that much better.
The Packer Way was very good as well. It was more from an organizational standpoint, but Ron Wolf does a good job talking about players. Even though some of them were old school players and I’m not a Packers fan, but for Wolf to be able to link players or aspects of players they wanted in that scheme to fill needs was very interesting.
Those are two books I would recommend over anything else.
Waldman: Tell me about a trend in the NFL that you notice is on the rise. Don’t talk about hybrid players. I’ve heard enough from other people about this trend with guys like Aaron Hernandez or 3-4 linebackers who can also play with their hand on the ground as defensive ends.
Bunting: The evolution of the spread is one. Certainly hybrid players have a role in that, but what I think he does to defensive players – especially defensive secondaries. When you draft a safety you have to say he’ll at least be a “7” tackler.
Now when Earl Thomas came out – and I didn’t give Thomas that high of a grade as pass defender – I thought he could be a nickel corner and given some time he could be a corner on the outside as a great ball hawk. But I didn’t give him plus grades as a run defender. Because of that I had him anywhere from 30-45.
I thought he was more of a second round pick. But he’s come in and all he’s done is made plays on the football. Granted he’s missed a ton of tackles, but in the NFL you almost need four corners in the secondary now. That’s pretty much what he gives you: a corner at the safety position.
If you want to get paid you’re going to try to tackle, but you don’t even need to tackle in order for NFL to take you high anymore. Defend the pass, that’s what they want you to do. Get off the field on third down.