February Brain Dump

Austin Hooper

This month’s download of thoughts as I study prospects for the 2016 Rookie Scouting Portfolio.

Note: My impressions of players mentioned below may change as I continue studying tape and analyze the workout data.


Brandon Allen

After watching the film, I understand why some older NFL analysts have been touting Brandon Allen. He has just enough arm for the league, he’s good at the play-action game common in the West Coast Offense, and there’s feel in the pocket.

Allen did little to impress at the Senior Bowl in its stripped-down offense. He was the quarterback most likely to break the pocket early.

At Arkansas, Allen was a lot better at attacking down field. But some of that aggression was built-in to the offensive scheme. Unless the league takes a turn away from play-action passing, Allen could have a lengthy career in the league as a reserve or journeyman starter.

I was cautious about Cardale Jones’ this time last year, because lumping him in the same category of prospect as Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota seemed like a disservice to an inexperienced quarterback despite his talents.

I can’t say I feel different about Jones’ skills and development since last January, but my perspective has changed. One, Jones is part of a class where (thus far) there aren’t top talents like Winston and Mariota.

I believed Winston was a franchise starter capable of riding out the rough times on the field. I saw Mariota as a highly competent system quarterback who could show promise in a scheme tailored to his skills.

As I continue my way through this class, there are three, maybe four, players in this class who might qualify as developmental franchise guysGive these players 3-4 years, and if you don’t screw them up, they have the budding feel for the game, the physical skills, and technical tools to become the figurehead of the offense.

Jones is one them. Last year, I approach the Buckeyes’ quarterback from the point of view that opposing teams had little if any tape on him, which gave Jones an advantage that he would not have if he started the following year.

While still a valid point, an equally valid point is that Jones faced top-drawer teams like Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon when the stakes were highest and he lacked the rhythm, timing, and rapport with his teammates that a long-term starter with months of practice reps earns with the first team. There were plays last year where Jones was just a hair late in recognizing an open receiver and by the time he did, the defense engulfed the pocket.

Even so, Jones made a good decision far more often than a bad one. His pocket presence against Alabama and Oregon should not be dismissed. Watch those games carefully, and Jones has an excellent feel for pressure and how to handle it.

Where Jones lacked refinement was playing from deep in his own territory and that’s more often a reflection of his inexperience. Much of what Jones didn’t do well last year was akin to throwing a young guitarist into a band that has been touring for years and the first gigs are at the Apollo, Carnegie Hall, and Madison Square Garden.

Jones didn’t mess up the tunes and he shredded his solos, but there were a lot of little things the band couldn’t do because the guitarist didn’t have familiarity with all the improvised vamps, time changes, and alterations to the harmony that they played on tour, but not on the album.  Jones was with the same band the following year, but the group had a new album and they wanted a guitarist with a different sound and look.

If Jones checks out as a worker, his future could be as bright as any quarterback in this class.

Josh Woodrum has been a player that multiple people have asked me about. The Liberty quarterback has the size. I’m not sold he has the feel.

He doesn’t perceive pressure that’s not there, but there are a lot of throws where he’s delivering the ball off balance when he had more than enough time to set his feet and throw a technically sound target.When he looks off the defense, I’ve noticed many of these plays have this look-off embedded into its function and it’s not an added tactic of the quarterback’s.

And overall, his movement isn’t fluid. He rushes some parts of a process and takes too long with others–and it’s not consistent which part is rushing or lagging.

I don’t want to tell you the player comp I currently have for him, because I think the image will be too negative and I’m not finished studying him. Let’s just say that at this point, he won’t be one of my top 8-10 prospects at the position unless I’ve had some bad exposures or I’ve missed vital analysis points about his game.

Running Back

Tra Carson

If you haven’t watched Chase Price of San Diego State, I recommend you head over to Draft Breakdown and take a look. Despite his 5’8″, 200-lb. frame, he knows how to run inside. I’m looking forward to accessing my library of games for more exposures of Price.

Tra Carson isn’t a fit for every team, but I see shades of a player with the power, agility, and possibly the burst of Stephen Davis, the former Washington and Carolina starter. Carson is part of a class that features a lot of powerful, downhill runners that you don’t often see within the same year. The question is can they do the things in NFL offenses that don’t require the offenses to mold their scheme around them?

The guy with the greatest likelihood to have a career as good or better than Davis is Ezekiel Elliott. For those of you rabid Big-Ten fans, a Davis-like career will probably seem like a minor disappointment for your expectations.  I’m not completely sold that Elliott is on par with a prospect like Todd Gurley.

Elliott has enough speed to the corner and in the open field to run an expanded running game, but I’m not convinced he has that extra gear or the highest caliber of agility to place him in the tier of special prospects like Gurley. While he’s close from what I’ve seen on tape, there are mitigating factors that cloud the picture: the speed and angles of the opposition in these exposures of perimeter and breakaway runs; the number of men in the box and the size of the creases; and some of the decisions Elliott makes in difficult scenarios.

There’s also Elliott’s work as a blocker. It’s good…very good. It’s not as good as some people make it out to be just yet. With a little more attention to detail, he should become a far more consistent cut blocker and his stand-up game could evolve to the point where he’s able to control defensive linemen in addition to punching them to a short-term standstill.

If my current view stands, Elliott has a good chance to emerge as a year-one, NFL stud in an offense that doesn’t lean on him as the guy everything revolves around like Gurley and the Rams. Elliott is the boxer who wears you down with relentless body shots and it makes his knockout punch appear more devastating than it is early in the fight.

It doesn’t mean Elliott can’t knock you out early, but it’s not the same as a guy like Gurley who can knock you out from any angle and brawl in close quarters.

Wide Receiver

Michael Thomas S Miss

Is Thomas Duarte a wide receiver or a tight end? Get a firm answer to this question and he’ll have a noteworthy NFL career. Lack a firm answer and forget it.

Why didn’t Southern Miss receiver Michael Thomas earn an invitation to the NFL Combine? This seems to be the question of the day on Draft Twitter.

I don’t have an answer. I haven’t even researched the question. All I can offer is speculation:

  • Perhaps scouts are slow to recognizing that Thomas is a viable talent.
  • Maybe Thomas’ coaching staff and teammates didn’t give him the endorsement as a teammate that matters for a player at a mid-tier program.
  • Could Thomas be rehabbing an injury that hasn’t been brought to the public eye?
  • The NFL has mentioned it will not invite prospects to the even if there is a record of sexual violence or domestic abuse. There is no arrest record that I could find on Thomas so it’s unlikely he fits here.

I’m more inclined to think the NFL is slow on the uptake. Wes Welker, Antonio Gates, Julian Edelman and Victory Cruz are all notable exclusions from the event.

Remember, receiver is the position where the NFL has the greatest variation in grades from team to team. Also, Thomas is a sleeper. I know many writers say that term is dead i the NFL, but all too often there are still players that emerge away from our scope of focus.

You can’t embrace Thomas as a true sleeper and at the same time be outraged that he didn’t earn an invitation to the NFL Combine. It’s one or the other and right now, the NFL is sawing logs on the Southern Miss Golden Eagle.

I watched a ton of Pharoh Cooper this week. The South Carolina receiver is a favorite among many of my colleagues whom I respect.

One thing he must get better at is his first five yards off the line of scrimmage. If he can be the aggressor in this area and dictate the action, he’ll be able to use the rest of the skills in his arsenal. If not, he’ll disappoint.

I loved Randall Cobb when he was at Kentucky (He was my No.3 receiver in a class loaded with talent). Cooper is to Randall Cobb that my Bo Ssam is to David Chang’s Bo Ssam. To the untrained eye and palette, both get the job done. But I’m sure if David Chang gave me some pointers, my Bo Ssam would be much better than it is today.

I’m not convinced Cooper, or I, will get that kind of expert attention.

Tight End

There’s some love for Arkansas’ Hunter Henry out there and I get it. He can catch, he’s a fluid runner, and he can work the intermediate-to-deep seams. If a safety lets Henry get behind him, there will be trouble.

He’s not an impact tight end as a rookie. Not at least until he addresses his work at the line of scrimmage. If there could be a visual entry for “over-extending” as a blocker, Henry could supply numerous viable options for the photo or video.

The best tight end I’ve seen thus far is Stanford’s Austin Hooper. I’m working on a RSP Boiler Room episode on Hooper. I have more to watch, but he might have a shot of making noise on the field as an NFL rookie.

The fact I’m even speculating this is a possibility is an impressive statement about Hooper, because it’s rare for rookie tight ends to perform well.

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.


4 responses to “February Brain Dump”

  1. Great stuff as always, Matt!

    Certainly is puzzling that Thomas wasn’t invited to the combine. I think the NFL is just slow to realizing his talent.

    Speaking of the combine, I wanted to ask you how much Laquon Treadwell’s 40-time will impact your grade on him. Personally, he’s my #1 WR, and that won’t change no matter what he runs at the combine.

    • Treadwell? None. I think the tape shows what kind of receiver he is and what kind of team will acquire his services. Unless there’s a complete mismatch, he’s not budging.

  2. Glad to hear your thoughts on Brandon Allen, I really like him as a mid round guy. If only he had better arm strength.

    Been with you all the way on Mike Thomas. Dude’s a beast. Too bad he didn’t get a combine invite, because I think he has more speed and agility than people give him credit for.

    And as for Chase Price… woah. One two minute video and I’m in love. Reminds me a lot of Thomas Rawls. Great balance, power, and agility. Attacks the hole, good vision.

    Great read as always.

  3. […] As respected talent evaluator Matt Waldman has noted, Pharoh Cooper needs to be more aggressive “in the first five yards.” That means eating up the cushion between him and opposing cornerbacks more quickly, and settling on a plan of attack before the ball is in his hands rather than on the fly when the play is already in motion. […]

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