Matt Waldman views Day 2 as part of a week-long process. Several player takes inside, including game-tape examples from other contests.
It’s another round of posts where we’re burning the late night oil. I wish I could share why, but the most I can say about my meetings with this person is that my readers often benefit from the lessons learned–directly and indirectly–from the conversations with the parties I’m referring to that have reached out to me in recent years to validate, enlighten, and share a broad array of information.
Vague I know, but it’s important that it is if I want to maintain that relationship.
Even so, the plan for tonight’s post remains the same before the opportunity to meet with what Jene Bramel aptly describes as a ghost (and it often feels like we are when we meet these folks): Make what we saw from practices less mysterious than what I’ve shared about our meeting.
If Day 1 is the day for setting the stage for where these players begin their progression throughout the week, Day 2 is still too early to make a definitive judgment with signs of improvement, stasis, regression in their performances. I didn’t come away with nearly as many worthwhile observations about the North players as I did with the South today, so I’m not categorizing the players by team. Today’s report will be a free-flowing format where I’ll sometimes discuss a play, an overall view of a player, or a broader take on the game, the sport, or the league.
On RB Prospects and Pass Protection
None of the Senior Bowl backs stand out as ready to protect a quarterback. The closest is Minnesota’s David Cobb. The angles he takes are the most consistent and the combination of his size, strength, and willingness to engage is the best of the class. But like off the backs I’ve seen thus far, he has to learn a consistent punch where he attacks first rather than catches contact.
Pass protection is the last great hurdle for most top prospects, so I’m less concerned with a runner lacking pro-ready skills in this area if they’re abilities as a runner, receiver, and/or return specialist are refined. Unless the back is lighter than 185 pounds, I’m not concerned about size, either.
It means that Ameer Abdullah’s pass protection in today’s drills, a performance that my colleagues have aptly described as bad, don’t faze me. If he gets worse tomorrow, I’ll be a little concerned. Otherwise, I expect Abdullah to refine these skills over a period of time that begins in Mobile and continues throughout the spring, summer, and fall of 2015. If we see significant strides tomorrow, there’s a great deal of reason for encouragement about Abdullah’s potential overall.
The reason is that practices for this game should not be viewed only as a day-to-day experience but a period of potential growth. Wide receiver Terrance Williams made notable improvements throughout the week of practices during the 2012 Senior Bowl and it’s a reason why he has become a solid contributor in the Cowboys’ rotation.
Teddy Bridgewater finished the year with the 10th best completion percentage on passes over 20 yards in the air, but his clear weakness on tape and in workouts was his vertical game. Yet, if you listened to Norv Turner explain how much Bridgewater improved during a single practice after Turner suggested technical adjustments for the quarterback then you begin to understand why teams get as excited about players who learn fast as players who make few mistakes.
The most prevalent issues that I saw with the running backs participating in pass-pro drills today–Cobb, Abdullah, Jeremy Langford, and Tyler Varga–was consistently waiting for defenders to make first contact and a tendency to lean into contact, which forces them to overextend and lose leverage to the opponent.
Yale’s Varga displayed the most improvement from rep to rep during these drills, displaying better effort with his feet to sustain his position on an opponent. He earned encouragement from the Titans’ staff.
Practice Corroborating the Tape
One of the reasons, I’m not reporting as much on the Senior Bowl practices this year as opposed to recent seasons is that a lot of what I’m seeing isn’t much different from the tape. Stanford’s Ty Montgomery is a terrific example.
The man is physically blessed, but every time I see him I wonder why he has been a receiver during his career in Palo Alto. It’s possible this was the position of his choosing and the Cardinals adjusted to Montgomery’s strengths and limitations.
What I see in Mobile and on film from Montgomery is a player with a running back build, a straight-line mentality, and a lack of nuance as a receiver. He has great difficulty performing hands and footwork release techniques.
When a defender allows Montgomery to get open, he’s often 2-3 steps ahead, but fails to close the deal. What might be the root issue of his limitations at his position is a difficulty tracking the football in the air. It’s rather ironic that my first exposure to Montgomery was one of the sickest receptions in the vertical game I saw in 2013, because he often loses the ball or tips off his intentions to the cornerback.
Auburn’s Sammie Coates is another fine athlete, but his tape is maddeningly inconsistent and I’ve seen nothing different today. Coates gets wide open on a post in the afternoon practice, but doesn’t even begin tracking the ball until at least four steps past his break and he fails to reach an attainable target. Later, he runs a smooth dig route in a tight zone and makes a fine play.
Whether it’s blocking, running, catching, or route running, Coates has moments that are befuddled and borderline sublime. I don’t want to make this a definitive take on Coates until I see more tape, but if asked today if I’d want to draft the Auburn receiver, I’d have to pass because I’m worried he’s a tease.
I think he knows enough to play with greater consistency, but he doesn’t. I worry that he may lean too much on his athleticism until it becomes a crutch for his flashes of excitement couched by long stretches of uninspiring and disappointing play. He’s a first round body without the commensurate body of work.
On the other end of the spectrum is Dezmin Lewis, a player I’d consider making my pet developmental project in this draft if he checks out as a person I’d want on my team, because I see the ugly duckling with swan-like potential.
The wide out from Central Arkansas makes difficult catches–grabs from awkward angles in any direction. Unlike Coates and Montgomery, he lacks their elite athleticism and build and he’s often playing without control of his form.
This afternoon, he made a catch at the boundary during a drill where he executed a good turn in the air to adjust to the target. However, the Jaguars coach imitated Lewis’ position during his break and exaggerated the illustration to appear as if he were an airplane flying in figure eights.
“This is what you looked like,” said the receiver’s coach.
Lewis lost his line on a route later in the session and had to pluck the ball low and inside his body and near the end of the day, he hesitated at the top of his stem in a way where he seemed tentative with his pacing because he wasn’t sure of the break point of the route. The hesitation created a target that arrived earlier than he reached the ball and it forced an odd adjustment on the ball, which he managed to catch in impressive fashion
Lewis unintentionally makes his job harder than the likes of Montgomery and Coates and I wonder how much exposure he had to the details of his craft compared to these front-runners. If a team can verify that Lewis’ flaws are based more on football ignorance rather than football stupidity, I’d love to take the Central Arkansas receiver later in the draft or as a UDFA.
What he does well is track and adjust to the football. He has to refine his route skills and develop more efficient body form. I’ve seen flashes of these skills on tape.
I don’t know about you, but I’d be excited to have a player who does that hard stuff well, but the easier skills are missing. I suspect Lewis could qualify. I’ll have more on him in the coming weeks.
A less consistent player who I want to like, but I’m still waiting to see more than “almost” is Vince Mayle of Washington State. I love his size, I see evidence of functional strength, and he often gets deep, but he’s often a hair shy of making the play. It could be the quarterback play this week, but my initial tape study revealed similar observations.
Mayle seemed unsure of his break points, he also slipped on a break; allowed a ball too close to his frame; come “close, but no cigar” on a low target; and make a strong attack, but fight the ball. Everything seemed difficult for him today. This could be the awkward middle of an improvement process, but we’ll have to wait and see.
After a surprising first day, Antwan Goodley’s inconsistency as a pass catcher emerged during Day 2. Score a point for the tape after a point for the Day 1 practice.
Tight end Clive Walford was the first player I studied in his draft class. What I enjoyed was his catch radius and adjustment to difficult targets. Nothing from Mobile indicates it was an illusion. The Miami Hurricane made multiple grabs of this fashion–more than I saw from any player at his position during the past two years of Senior Bowl practices. It might have been more than two years of time, but I’m being cautious with my memory.
David Johnson of Northern Iowa is big, tall, and athletic, but his eyes are too big for his feet. He can’t adjust his stride or pace at the line of scrimmage in a pro-style attack and I saw glimpses of this issue from a spread scheme. Get Johnson in space, and his athleticism comes to the fore. It means Johnson’s best position may not be running back as much as it might be H-Back. And I’m now just mentioning that he dropped two good exchanges from the quarterback. Stay tuned.
Practice Supplementing the Tape
I haven’t seen Justin Hardy work the vertical game on tape. It’s not because he hasn’t; my sample size hasn’t included these targets thus far. This week, I’ve seen him not only get deep, but frame separation during the break down field to maintain his space and then make a fine, diving adjustment in the corner of the end zone for the touchdown.
Although the East Carolina Pirate had two drops late in the practice, he was often smooth, patient, and focused against tight coverage, running routes that displayed poise and skill to get open and make the catch. None of these receivers have stood out as top prospects, but I like what I’m seeing from Hardy and it leads me to question the conventional thought that his upside is only limited to a slot receiver.
Good First Impression
Rannell Hall of UCF showed up several times in my notebook today. I haven’t studied his tape yet, but he displayed the skill to tell a story with his routes. He had an excellent head fake at the top of his stem to get open for a diving reception followed by a contested catch in tight coverage and later another grab in tight coverage between two defenders on a dig route thrown into this tight zone from Colorado State quarterback Garrett Grayson.
Speaking of Grayson
Great fundamentals does not mean great talent, but it is something that can make you a professional football player. This is an opening line I wrote about a posted I drafted about Grayson two months ago, but have yet to work on completing a post on the Colorado State passer.
Grayson is far and away the most fundamentally sound passer in Mobile. He looks off safeties, he’s aggressive where it’s logical and desirable, he has solid pocket presence, and there’s potential that he develops better arm strength. This 2nd and 10 play from a game I studied this year shows the type of work he displayed on the practice field.
Grayson executes a three-step drop, scans the field from left to the middle within the timing of his footwork, and hitches once before delivering the ball with pressure in his face.
While he didn’t make as impressive of a throw or faced this kind of pressure while delivering a skinny post between two defenders, Grayson has been the least afraid to target tight windows in zone with multiple defenders present and without having the chance to ask him personally, the likely motivation behind his choices appear sound from my perspective.
However, Grayson, like many of the options I like in this class, hasn’t exceeded my expectations for a crop of Senior Bowl prospects that I think is less talented than recent years. What makes draft analysis so challenging is that this 2015 crop could be less exciting but standout more as a group over the long haul if they stay healthy, find good fits, and work hard.
The above paragraph doesn’t necessarily apply to Ameer Abdullah. He made the most impressive play of the day–maybe not to anyone else, but it elicited a long chuckle from me in the stands.
Cincinnati linebacker Jeff Luc hit the gap and reached the backfield on a run where Abdullah was steps from reaching the line of scrimmage. The collision point was the Nebraska runner’s right side and bent him in two, drawing an audible moan from the crowd.
What I’m not sure most noticed was that Abdullah not only didn’t go down, he barely broke stride, bouncing off the hit, and finding a crease for more yards. It wasn’t a big gain, but it was a physical run with a great display of balance that I’ve repeatedly seen on tape.
My buddy Cecil Lammey ends every practice talking up David Cobb, and rightfully so. But if I’m looking for a player with greater upside as an explosive, dynamic runner capable of plays that make highlight reels while also doing the dirty work, I’ll take the Alabama native Abdullah, who this state should be proud of.