Due to the lockout, 2011 could be more difficult than usual for undrafted free agents trying to make it in the NFL. Yet, there will be players with the talent, the skill, and the work ethic to enter a camp and make the most of their limited opportunities. This week, I’m profiling offensive skill players who I believe have the ability to develop into quality professionals if they have been training hard enough in this crazy offseason to hit the ground running. Profiles of these players are excerpts from my publication, the 2011 Rookie Scouting Portfolio, available at Footballguys.com
Will Yeatman, Maryland (6-6, 273): In some respects Will Yeatman reminds me of the Bears’ Kellen Davis and potentially Rob Gronkowski. All three are big, strong tight ends with fluid athleticism and soft hands. Davis has progressed enough in the Bears offense that there are rumors this offseason that starter Ben Olsen could be dealt away.
Yeatman is a former lacrosse player with quick feet. He makes fast turns as a route runner and he has enough strength to carry a defender on his back for extra yards. He’ll also lower his pads into contact and its this type of agility and flexibility for his size that makes him promising. He catches the ball away from his body and he’s a decisive player who seems comfortable on the field. He finds open seams very well as a receiver and he has a skill for creating space against single coverage.
Yeatman has limited game experience because he transferred from Notre Dame after charges of DUI and resisting arrest for driving on a sidewalk at night with his lights off. After promising freshman and sophomore seasons, Yeatman’s career at South Bend came an end and he sat out the 2009 season per NCAA rules and then missed half of 2010 with a broken finger.
Yeatman has the size to become a very good blocker. He delivers a decent punch, but he has to work on his footwork. If Yeatman has gained the maturity and work ethic to become a professional, I think he’s good enough to become a terrific short-range option. He’ll never lead the NFL in receptions or yardage, but he could become a highly productive red zone option.
Collin Franklin, Iowa State (6-5, 252): Franklin has a chance to get drafted because he ran a decent 40-time at his pro day and at his dimensions, it makes him a viable developmental project as a move tight end. Franklin was often split wide or placed in the slot at Iowa State where he was among the receiving leaders at his position in the FBS.
Franklin has the receiving skills you want from an NFL TE. He catches the ball very well with his hands away from this body and he adjusts to high and low throws as well tracking the ball with his back to the passer. He also moves well in the open field and dips inside and outside blocks fluidly. He protects the ball well and he’s big enough to break arm tackles and fall forward. His speed is good enough that he can occasionally threaten a seam on some passing plays.
As a runner, Franklin’s power is a little below average for his size but he does execute good pad level and he falls forward on a consistent basis. He makes the effort as a blocker and if he can add more muscle and develop more consistent technique, I could see Franklin sticking with a team and developing into a reliable reserve capable of decent production as a receiver if needed.
But he’s not a starter in the making unless he’s paired with a highly precise quarterback that can exploit defenses with his pass catching talents in the way a Jacob Tamme was used with Peyton Manning. Franklin might surprise as a reserve TE who grows into a starter with value in an offense that emphasizes the pass and the TE is a frequent check-down option.
Brad Taylor, Baylor (6-2, 241): Taylor’s upside is as a move-TE where he can be used in the slot or split wide. He has the speed to stretch the seam and the acceleration and movement to gain yards after the catch. He runs a lot like a receiver.
He does a good job bending routes away from defenders to create additional separation and he finds openings in the zone. He also works with his quarterback when his teammate is flushed from the pocket. His best skill is his hands and ability to adjust to the football. He can fully extend for the ball, turn on the run, or catch passes at his knees while in stride.
He’s undersized and will likely struggle with teams that need an in-line run blocker or limit their tight ends to short zone plays in the passing game. He could develop into an adequate run blocker on plays where he can be matched up with a defensive back.
He’ll need to refine his skills with routes that aren’t seams or crosses and require more footwork and technique with breaks. If he works hard enough to develop his game, he could become a nice weapon as a receiver .
Allen Reisner, Iowa (6-2, 248): Reisner is one of those players that I wish had more speed, because he’s a smart and dependable receiver and blocker at the college level, but I have concerns that he lacks the frame and athleticism to succeed as a starter in the NFL.
In the running game, Reisner consistently gets his hands into the opposition’s pads and steers with good leg drive. He is patient enough to mirror a defender to an angle where he can funnel the opponent away from the flow of the play.
As a receiver, Reisner has soft hands and he catches the ball well in tight coverage or after contact. He works back to his quarterback and doesn’t give up on a route. He also used his hands well to release from the line of scrimmage against press.
He doesn’t have the size to take on NFL defensive ends on a consistent basis without wearing down over the course of a game or getting pushed backwards. He’s likely at his limit in terms of athletic potential. If Reisner can demonstrate better downfield speed, he could surprise in the NFL as an H-Back, but I’m not optimistic. He’s the type of player who is good enough to perform well when called upon, but there will always be a better prospect ahead of him.
Zack Pinalto (6-4, 250): It will depend on the team that takes Pinalto, but he could develop into a Frank Wycheck/Bo Scaife type of weapon for a team that runs a power offense and needs a reliable check-down option.
Pinalto is a good short-field route runner because he uses his hands and arms effectively to deliver a punch to get a quick release and then find the open zone even in tight areas so he can present a good target for his quarterback.
He catches the football well with his hands and he has a decent first step and change of direction to prevent direct shots to his body and this helps Pinalto gain yardage after contact and avoid direct hits. One of the best things about his game is how he deals with avoiding contact at the line or on short routes to get a clean release or break.
Pinalto has decent quickness, but I didn’t see an example of intermediate/deep speed to stretch the field. He can avoid direct hits, but he doesn’t have dynamic agility to make defenders miss completely. The same can be said about his power: decent, but not enough to break tackles consistently.
As a blocker, Pinalto moves his feet well and delivers a good punch. I like that he uses his hands proficiently to continue working against a defender as his opponent changes directions. Pinalto can transition from a punch and control type of technique to a reach technique effectively.
He also sets up defenders well on blocks where he funnels the player outside by first firing to the inside of the defender and baiting the opponent to get outside of him. However, Pinalto has issues diagnosing the correct angle to make a cut block and although he is strong enough to get an initial punch, he lacks the power to sustain and move most defenders or linebackers at the pro level.
He’s more of an H-back in size. This means he can be helpful with his solid technique as a standup blocker, but he won’t be reliable enough at his current weight in pass protection or the run game against LBs or ends. This makes him a nice player, but a one with limited upside.
Cameron Graham, Louisville (6-3, 244): Graham has the tools to develop into a committee player as move-tight end for an NFL team. He has enough acceleration to occasionally stretch the intermediate seam and the agility to make the first man miss.
He catches the ball well with his hands and he sets up his routes with good footwork and flexible hips to sink them into his breaks to create separation. When Graham focuses, he is capable of firing off the line of scrimmage, getting his hands into the defender, and turning his opponent away from the flow of the play. He also uses his hands well to release from the line of scrimmage either after an initial block or against the jam and he flashes a nice initial punch.
Although Graham frequently demonstrates all of the characteristics you’re seeking from a good run blocker, he doesn’t consistently put them all together on a play. Sometimes he gets to a spot in time but doesn’t deliver a punch. Other times he delivers the punch but doesn’t move his feet to sustain the block. Or he’ll hit the defender and drive the legs, but not get his hands inside the defender’s pads. He’s not an effective runner after the catch and seems to do little in space despite the decent first step. He needs to learn to carry the ball under the correct arm.
If he can show the toughness to make catches in traffic and improve his run blocking, he could develop into a capable contributor as an H-Back in an offense that doesn’t feature the tight end heavily, but I don’t see superstar status ahead for Graham as a receiver.