If you’re new to the Rookie Scouting Portfolio Blog, Friday posts are titled “Reads Listens Views” and in addition today’s commentary on 10 third and fourth-year players I’m monitoring in training camp, I’m featuring links to content from colleagues, non-football stories, photos, videos, lectures, and music that interest me. You may not like everything you see here, but you will like at least one thing. It’s also my opportunity to thank you for visiting and convince you to download the Rookie Scouting Portfolio publication.
Listens – RIP George Duke (Pianist/Composer/Producer)
This thing we got going here is a mutual deal. Thank you for following my blog, my tweets, reading my work at Footballguys and Football Outsiders, and buying the Rookie Scouting Portfolio. In return I do my best to give you stuff to read that helps you become a more informed football fan, makes you see something with a new perspective, or at least makes you laugh. If you haven’t bought the Rookie Scouting Portfolio before you need to know that according to my readers, I’m the rare bird who is giving you something that far exceeds its cost to you.
The depth of what I write about any subject here is the tip of the iceberg for the two publications (pre-draft and post-draft) that you get for just $19.95:
- Over 1300 pages of 179 skill position prospects.
- Play-by-play notes of each game I study.
- Position rankings.
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- Assessment of skills that are easy/difficult to learn.
- Fantasy landscape analysis for each position.
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- Overrated, Underrated, and Projects.
- Defined criteria shown for all my scouting reports.
This report is based on my perception of talent, potential fit, long-term development first and then draft stock as a slight factor due to opportunities it affords/prevents as opposed to the other way around. The book outlines my process so you can get better at studying these positions regardless of the accuracy of my assessments on players.
At the same time, I’m still here after 8 years of writing this publication and asked to write for others because my process has helped me have strong takes on players who were often seen as exceptions to the rule like Maurice Jones-Drew, Ahmad Bradshaw, Russell Wilson, Austin Collie, Dennis Pitta, and Ray Rice while also cautioning people about the extreme love for the likes of a Matt Leinart, Robert Meachem, Darren McFadden, and Craig Davis. I have my misses – Demaryius Thomas, John Beck, Bruce Gradkowski, and Will Yeatman are examples – but my process helps me learn. Even when my ranking isn’t sky-high on an unknown-turned-starter like Alfred Morris – my assessment of that player’s skills give you an idea of what he can do if given a shot.
Not many had Kenbrell Thompkins rated as high as the 15th receiver and were writing about him in February. Many scoffed at the idea that Russell Wilson compared favorably to Drew Brees, but I was showing how that could be the case before the 2012 NFL Draft.
I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I don’t like self-promotion. However, I have to do it. Fortunately what I do like telling you is that 10 percent of each RSP purchase is donated to Darkness to Light, a charitable organization devoted to sexual abuse prevention training. Downloading the Rookie Scouting Portfolio is a win-win-win.
Friday Commentary: 10 Third/Fourth-Year Players I’m Monitoring In Training Camp
These players are in no particular order, but here’s why I’m interested in monitoring their progress – and so should you.
Running Back Chad Spann, Jets: Spann is a friend of this blog since I took a shine to his game when he led college football in touchdowns as a senior at Northern Illinois (Cam Newton was No.2). I’m personally a fan of Spann now that I’ve gotten to know him a little bit, but I’ve been persistent about talking about him for the past three years because first and foremost I believe he has the talent to contribute in and NFL lineup. He was a top-five runner on my pre-draft board in 2011 because he made strong decisions, demonstrated good balance, and his burst, and skill after contact all were stylistic reminders of backs like Ray Rice and Ahmad Bradshaw.
Spann is one of many players who has had rough luck early on because his opportunities to contribute were small and a late preseason injury with the Colts, a revolving door at the Bucs’ organization, and a new coordinator in Pittsburgh all foiled the runner’s chance to parlay his good practice/preseason play into a real opportunity. But Spann has continued working and is making good with the Jets as he heads into the first week of the preseason. With Chris Ivory’s health history, Mike Goodson’s troubles, and Bilal Powell the only effective veteran option practicing, Spann’s pass protection, receiving skill, and burst has caught the team’s eye.
While I’m fine with admitting I missed on a player like Knowhson Moreno, if you believe in someone’s skill, you continue to tout them even if they aren’t getting the chance to prove it. Bengals running back Cedric Peerman is one of those players where I’ve seen nothing to disprove my believe that he can be a starter in the NFL. The fact that Jay Gruden told reporters last year that “we didn’t know what we had” in Peerman as a running back after three years he was on the roster, only validates my notion that the Bengals have pegged him as a special teams guy and don’t care to see anything more unless forced to do so. Spann is also one of these players I’ll have to see something different from what I studied to believe he can’t produce as a pro.
Running Back Bilal Powell, Jets: Powell is another interesting case for me. I also had Powell ranked higher than most in the 2011 NFL Draft. While he’s made incremental improvement each year, he failed to make an instant impact. Whether this is because he’s not as talented a runner as I initially thought or the Jets line play and distribution of carries has prevented Powell from truly demonstrating his potential remains to be seen. With Ivory, Goodson, and McKnight missing in action, we’re going to get a better look in the preseason.
Powell is more physical than his size indicates and he’s a volume runner who sets up defenders over the course of several runs. This is why I think the carry distribution under Tony Sparano didn’t maximize Powell’s potential. The Jets are the preseason favorite to be in the Jadeveon Clowney Sweepstakes (the first pick of the 2013 NFL Draft), which has a lot of us wondering just how effective the offense can be for any skill talent. Still, we’ve seen New York improve its run game last year despite tough circumstances so Powell and Spann or worth monitoring.
Offensive Weapons Dexter McCluster, Chiefs and James Casey, Eagles: I thought McCluster would be Tavon Austin before Austin’s arrival in the NFL the way I thought James Casey would be Aaron Hernandez before Hernandez’s arrival in the NFL. In fact, I think McCluster was a far more natural running back than Austin and illustrated it with greater frequency in a less diverse offensive scheme than Austin. However, McCluster went to a Chiefs’ offense where there appeared to be a disconnect between those who drafted the Ole Miss star and how to maximize his talent.
The same could be said of Casey, who once riddled the Saints (see link above) as a receiver, but earned very few opportunities of this magnitude since. Both players have also dealt with injuries and position changes (and flip-flops). This year they seem to be in organizations with coaches and offenses that will maximize their versatility. I’m excited to see how this plays out this month because McCluster has a shot to be a terrific slot option opposite the talents of Travis Kelce at tight end and Casey should have a lot of room underneath and also win mismatches with linebackers on deeper routes when given the green light in Chip Kelley’s offense. Both could earn enough receptions this year (50+) to be among the top 2-3 options in their respective offenses.
Wide Receiver Torrey Smith, Ravens: I love Smith’s speed and skill at winning the ball on deep routes in tight coverage. What remains to be seen is if he can take his game to the level of another speedy receiver with the same last name: Jimmy Smith. Although the Jaguars’ legend has 10 pounds on the Ravens third-year wide out, both players shared similarities in their games early in their careers.
The Ravens’ Smith needs to prove he can not only produce at a high level as the primary weapon, but with out Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta making life easier for him. This may mean more intermediate routes in the middle of the field than what I’ve seen in the past. If he can do it, the Ravens will have the offense to stay in games against quality opponents.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Raiders: When Pryor first entered the NFL, I cautioned fans to remove the beer goggles. Pryor admitted this summer that he didn’t know how to throw the ball when he arrived in Oakland and camp reports indicate he has improved his mechanics. One thing he can do is run.
If Matt Flynn fails to hold this offense together, the Raiders might decide a heavier dose of read-option featuring Pryor and Darren McFadden is a worthwhile stop-gap. I’m curious to see just how much Pryor has improved. The fact that Oakland has red zone packages for him is a positive sign – even if it’s not a glowing endorsement.
Wide Receiver Vincent Brown, Chargers: Not much to say about him that I haven’t here. I think he could be the most underrated producer heading into the 2013 season due to talent, situation, and injury to Danario Alexander. Think Reggie Wayne production from 2012.
Running Backs Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure, Lions: Leshoure says his burst is back after a hamstring injury that hindered him last year since Week 3. Bell has done enough with his opportunities for Jim Schwartz to say this spring that the former UDFA has forced his way onto the field with his production and work ethic.
Leshoure and Bell are the classic example of the safe, big-school athlete with all the measurements that personnel executives can tick on their balance sheets before issuing a sizable initial investment and a small-school player with dime-a-dozen athleticism in t-shirt and shorts, but notable skill when the pads come on.
Scouts have a saying about college athletes that I’ll paraphrase: The number of stars next to a recruit’s rating can be equated to the number of garages he had on his house. The more garages, the more entitled, the more likely he succumbs to the scent of his press clippings and underwhelms. Likewise, the fewer the garages, the harder the recruit works for everything he wants.
It’s a generalization that sometimes fits college players. I don’t think it fits as well in the pros, but I have to believe there is some element of that at play with individual cases. Was Leshoure one of those five-garage players now looking up at a one-garage guy in Bell? We may find out, because I fear Leshoure might be looking for a new team by 2014 if he does flash 2011 expectations in 2013. Follow?
Quarterback Jake Locker, Titans: The weaponry at wide receiver is promising, but every one of these talents has a question mark. Justin Hunter could be the most talented receiver in the draft, but even the camp reports are focused on “toughening him up,” and that’s not a good sign for a player with a history of sloppy habits. Kenny Britt appears to be maturing and preparing with the fervor of a professional for a change. It’s the first year I’m optimistic about him, but his quarterback is another story.
Locker has always been a reckless player. You love that at key moments, but only when he gets off the ground and trots back to the huddle unscathed. Combine this issue with his accuracy and there’s enough concern that he’ll never take the steps to become a productive NFL starter. This will be a pivotal year for the coaching staff and I think the future of this organization hangs in the balance with Locker’s performance.
- Attacking Coverages In the Passing Game – Want to learn more about football beyond watching the ball. Reading this once a day for a month might help.
- Roger Goodell’s “Secret Plan” to Relocate the NFL – Fun read. Poor Titans fans.
- Jason Witten Shows How To Execute Option Routes – Chris Brown illustrates why I could care less of some folks are commenting that Witten looks slower. He’s fast enough and faster than most at reading these . . .
- The Steve Smith Post – Chase Stuart nails it on the receiver I believe the Football Gods made small to keep defenders safe.
- ESPN’s Jay Bilas Spend Tuesday Afternoon Embarrassing the NCAA – In case you missed it. Not technically football, but you know why it’s here.
- Doug Farrar’s Fine Q&A With Former Saints-Rams-Chiefs Tackle Kyle Turley – If you love football and care about its future, worth reading regardless of where you stand on labor issues.
Views: Great White Shark Even Tries to Flush Afterwards
- 70-year-old man cycling from Kirkland, Washington to Alaska – To show up his two sons and raise money for Leukemia research.
- Rutgers Experiment Sends 163 Kids to College – Site loads a little slow, but worth reading.
- Cool Jet Skis/Small Marine Vehicles of the Future – Some wild designs.
- Trying to Get Beyond the Role of Maid – Even if I cared about Eva Longoria I wouldn’t watch that new LIfetime show on principle after seeing the preview. They might as well as trotted out four Jewish accountants – then again, the sexiness factor of the way the networks would probably depict that stereotype wouldn’t play as well to the voyeuristic needs of its audience now would it?
- CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta makes public apology for earlier stance against marijuana – Eye-opening.
- Low-Key Grocery Chain Being Called Wal-Mart’s Worst Nightmare – H/T to Sigmund Bloom.
Bill Moyers’ Series: Distracted From Democracy: I haven’t seen it yet, but looking forward to taking the time to watch.