I’ve been making a lot of short videos this year in lieu of written articles. If you miss the written pieces, let me know. And if you miss the written pieces, you’ll probably appreciate today’s quick download of thoughts from my “first pass” at prospects between June and December.
These are initial impressions. Some, if not many, will change as I see more tape and analyze workout results.
This is the most fun I’ve had studying quarterbacks in a while and it has to do with the fact that his class has a lot of players that displays flashes of NFL skills, but not a single one looks like the media or league’s idea of a first-round, franchise prospect. We all know that doesn’t mean much. Getting it right with a first-round QB amounts to a coin flip, although I’d say the league’s general practice of developing quarterbacks is much like throwing kids into the deep end of the pond to teach them how to swim.
Kirk Cousins is developing into a solid NFL player, maybe even a solid NFL starter. Don’t let anyone tell you that the process wasn’t accidental. Cousins got to rotate on and off the bench, work at his game without franchise expectations thrown on him, and by the time he began demonstrating notable improvement on the field, most had abandoned any thought that he had a viable future as anything more than a streaky interception machine whose conceptual reach outpaced his physical grasp.
His development strikes me as a situation where his coaching staff and personnel team could claim, “Uh…we knew it all a long,” or “We had a long-term plan for him.”
I’m not buying it.
If the NFL was more patient with quarterback development, we wouldn’t be listening to folks claim that there’s a quarterback talent gap. The reality is that 32 NFL teams will be selecting promising long-term developmental passers like Carson Wentz, Christian Hackenberg, Connor Cook, Dak Prescott, Jacoby Brissett, Jared Goff, Kevin Hogan and Paxton Lynch and throwing them in the deep water.
Of those guys who I think might show some promise for swimming despite a real lack of lessons, the careers of Wentz, Hogan, Goff and Lynch might emerge from the waters still breathing, but they’ll be criticized heavily for their flaws as swimmers. Given time, patience, and real development, I think all four can become quarterbacks that help organizations build playoff-caliber teams.
Hackenberg, Cook, and Brissett need time. If they get enrolled in the NFL’s John Wayne School of Swimming Instruction For Boys I’d say the most likely to emerge alive are Brissett and Cook in that order.
But there are more quarterbacks in this class perfect for the slow cooker that doesn’t exist on most NFL teams. It will be a disservice to make Trevone Boykin a receiver or running back. His athletic skill is average for a contributor at that position, but it’s a plus for quarterback. Boykin has the accuracy, smarts, and pocket presence to develop into a quality NFL passer. If the Bills are happy with Tyrod Taylor, Boykin would be a nice developmental option for redundancy of style.
Vad Lee was an option quarterback at Georgia Tech who left for James Madison because he believed in his potential as an NFL passer and knew it wouldn’t be developed in Atlanta. Lee’s arm is impressive and the throws I’ve seen him make under pressure are plays no quarterback should be able to make. he has a real knack for hitting the intermediate throws from the right to the left in a tight pocket while off balance. I also like his touch and anticipation on the red zone plays I’ve studied.
If Lee can enhance his footwork and learn the timing passing game from center–and I think he can if there was a team willing to invest the time (unlikely) without forcing him into a must-win, starting role–I think he could surprise a lot of people.
There’s one more player I want to list, but I not. I mentioned him on Twitter (maybe) a couple of times. A long-time coach on a high school football scene who has seen a lot of pro passers come from his region and has the ear of major college coaches compared this player to Drew Brees and said he’d be devastated if this player didn’t create an NFL career with his skill, work ethic, and leadership.
I didn’t know any of this or his college career story before I studied him this month. It was only after I came away impressed with his performances that I had to do more biographical research, because no one is talking about him. He’s one of my three favorite players in this class.
One of those two other favorites is Kenneth Dixon. I can’t tell you yet if I’m sold on Dixon having a future as a feature back, but I am sold on him developing into a valuable contributor and team favorite for his versatility. A player who fits that mold in recent years for an NFL team has been Pierre Thomas. Another has been James Starks. Neither of those are comparisons to Dixon other than potential role.
The polarized view of Derrick Henry is based a lot on misunderstandings people have about a player’s fit in the scheme. Henry’s best fit is a power running game that gives him a sizable downhill runway.
When Henry can generate this kind of momentum, he tears through the reach of defenders like a runaway dump truck splintering parking gates. He also has better feet than characterized. He cna make enough nifty moves to set up a crease or bait a defender waiting on the other side of the tunnel.
I’ve had a former scout and an analytics and scouting consultant with the league ask me about the Heisman runner. They were pleased that if, forced to play in more of a spread scheme that I thought Carolina would be a good fit for Henry. They had similar thoughts.
It’s very possible that Henry could drop as far to the middle rounds and still offer high-round value. If my steakhouse doesn’t have a need for a top-notch pastry chef I’m not hiring that chef even if he or she is genre-for-genre, the most talented culinary artist available. This is why I don’t believe round value is synonymous with talent value.
I have a RSP Boiler Room in production on Derrick Henry. Stay tuned for more specifics on his game.
Maybe I’ll change my mind on Devontae Booker, but I don’t see an immediate impact starter on tape. He loves the corner store too much. I don’t think there’s a strong link between what his eyes see and how his feet process the information into action. He’s not finishing runs with the type of pad level that helps NFL runners maximize their yardage in short-yardage situations or when he’s not already running away from a defender.
Can Booker improve? You bet, but he might be overvalued if the NFL’s view matches the phrasing of questions that I get from readers.
I can’t wait to see Tyler Ervin at the Senior Bowl. The San Jose State runner is in that size-talent spectrum of Dexter Cluster. I don’t know if practices will reveal anything more than what I continue to learn from the tape, but it’s always fun to watch players live who have his burst and change of direction. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do between the tackles in a basic system that he’ll run in Mobile.
Do you know anything about Jhurrell Pressley? New Mexico’s back has some serious burst and, unlike Ervin, the size to open some eyes. If Pressley can display Ervin’s decision-making, he could make a living on Sunday.
There are folks who will disagree with me on Dwayne Washington’s NFL potential, considering that he didn’t even start this year at the University of Washington. I don’t care, he’s strong, fast, and he shows enough skill that I think the right fit and a good mindset could be the difference between him bouncing around the league for work and having a brighter future than he did in Seattle.
I have performed two evaluations on Georgia’s Keith Marshall–one pre-injury, one post-injury. If Marshall is completely healthy by NFL training camp and looks like the “Gur-shall” back who many considered the better of the backfield pairing with Todd Gurley, he’s the best back in this class.
If Marshall is the player I saw against Penn State, he’s still a quality prospect but I have questions about his change of direction, burst, and balance against contact not coming straight at him. I anticipate that some of these questions will be answered as I study more games from this season. Even so, his participation has been limited this year so it’s fun challenge ahead.
Frank Gore and Jamal Lewis are two excellent runners who looked like a fraction of themselves during their final seasons at Miami and Tennessee. It’s possible Marshall has that kind of recovery trajectory. T.A. McClendon was a different story at N.C. State.
I wish Toledo’s Kareem Hunt had Kelvin Taylor’s burst. I wish Taylor had Alex Collins’ patience and maturity between the tackles. I wish Collins could pass protect with the technique and ferocity of Arizona runner Jared Baker. I wish Baker had the strength and balance to take on all shapes and sizes of defender like Ezekiel Elliott.
And despite the fact that he’ll make ill-advised cutbacks and Ohio State’s line opens some canyons against five and six-man fronts, I have a feeling I’ll wish most running backs in this draft had the skills of Elliott.
If there was a code word for “fade route” named after a receiver, I’d call it “Devin Lucien.” The Arizona State receiver is nearly automatic on these routes. The UCLA transfer and his quarterback are locked in with this style of pattern.
Two UCLA receivers that I think will carve out NFL careers are Jordan Payton and Devin Fuller. I’d be surprised if Payton weighs 212 pounds. He looks like he’s 225-230 pounds and a lot of it has to do with how comfortable he is in the physical aspects of the receiving game.
Fuller has skills to build on, the speed to win down field and the versatility to earn a role on special teams. I don’t know for sure if he has the same palette of skills as Nate Washington, but the journeyman receiver who plays well enough to endear himself to a quarterback where ever he goes, comes to mind when I see Fuller’s game.
With more colleges spreading the field, there are more slot receivers worth watching. Casey Martin of Southern Mississippi finds the open zone and makes difficult adjustments to off-target throws. He has a habit with his route running that I hate, but I think it’s easy to eliminate with a little practice and more technique added to his game.
Jaydon Mickens has potential to win against zone and man coverage in the NFL. He’s a pinball after the catch. If Mickens is a pinball, then Jakeem Grant is pinball operated by a joystick with a master video game player doing the work. These two players, despite weighing less than 180 pounds, have the skills to at last earn a cup of coffee as return specialists.
Daniel Braverman might be the best all-around slot prospect of this bunch. He also has the best vertical game of the four.
Will Fuller is a passive catcher of the football. I’ll be providing video evidence and explaining why passive catch techniques are correctable, but they limit a player’s game on the perimeter, in tight coverage, and in the red zone.
There’s a lot of love for Corey Coleman and much of it is well-deserved. But watch the Oklahoma State game and you’ll see a player who had difficulty against physical coverage. It could be one bad game, but it’s worth noting.
Sterling Shepard is a fave of mine. If you saw my short video tutorial on vertical routes with Shepard as the teacher, you get a glimpse as to why. He’s a tough, smart, versatile football player. I always want those guys on my team.
Rashawn Scott hasn’t had the career that his talent was capable of fulfilling, but if there’s a receiver to follow in Allen Hurns’ footsteps as a surprise NFL starter with an unheralded college career, Scott is one of my nominees. I like how he wins the ball and the intelligence he displays as a runner. The biggest question might be whether he has the maturity to handle the profession of football player–and I’m speculating about this point.
Two players I haven’t seen enough to supply more glowing opinions are Montana’s Jamaal Jones and Tajae Sharpe. I like what they do around the ball, but there’s a lot more to playing the position to set that up where I think the jury is still out for me as I work through the evaluation process.
I’m thankful Cincinnati’s Chris Moore will be in Mobile. His scheme doesn’t ask him to do enough to deliver as strong of an evaluation as I can perform on most of his peers.
Toledo’s Alonzo Russell frustrates me. I think he relies too much on his physical skills and he has moments where he should be slapping himself in the forehead for what he did or didn’t do.
Tulsa’s Keyarris Garrett and Mississippi State’s De’Runnya Wilson have greater promise than the grades I’ve currently assigned them after limited exposures to their games. I won’t be surprised if their statuses rise as I see them do more things on the field. Both are big, physical, display hand-eye coordination, and illustrate smarts on the field for their specific roles.
After I told a scout that I like Henry Krieger-Coble, he told me that the Iowa staff likes him, too. He might not be a physical stud who offers a passing game a mismatch down field, but if you need a tough catch in the short zone, a run blocker and pass protector with technique and grit, and a guy who does the unsung dirty work, he’s on your short list. If he’s not over-matched physically, and I don’t think he is, I think he’ll have a long career in the league even if fantasy players won’t always be among his admirers.
Holden Huff of Boise State is a better blocker than I expected. Not as good as Krieger-Coble, but he’s another prospect I admire more as a football player than a one-dimensional fantasy option. I like how well he closes the gap between himself and his opponent in the run game. He doesn’t overextend his frame and lose leverage as often as many tight ends that I’ve seen thus far. The biggest issue might be his size. Huff is listed in some outlets as 226 pounds.
He didn’t appear 226 in late November of this year. He didn’t appear 236, which was another recent listing of his weight. Huff appeared closer to 246 pounds. If my State Fair Weight Guessing prowess is on-point, Huff could be an underrated option for NFL teams seeking a special-teamer or future No.2-No.3 tight end with developmental upside.
Another undersized player is Cal’s Stephen Anderson and he is an option that fantasy hobbyists should get familiar with. Anderson plays the “Y” in Cal’s offense (think Aaron Hernandez’s role in New England, which was the “F” or flex role and Anderson might fit that bill in other schemes) and see a player with strength and fluid athletic ability. He plays like a large receiver, but does he have the speed of a large receiver? If he physically gets caught in NFL no-man’s land, he be a niche player at best or staring in another league. I’m intrigued, but cautiously so.
Jake McGee isn’t a top-shelf athlete and there’s work to address as a blocker, but he can roll his hips into contact, he can sustain contact and turn edge defenders, and he’s quick enough to get yards after the catch. He’s a fluid receiver. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him in Mobile.
For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio – early-bird purchase for April 1 download available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2012 – 2015 RSPs at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece