Fantasy Football Strategy, Advice, and Commentary
By: Doug Orth — April 27, 2013 @ 10:19 am
3.01 – Chiefs: TE Travis Kelce
Tony Moeaki is a very good talent, but his durability is almost always in question. Kelce is as good as all-around TE as there is in this draft. He is a nasty blocker, which ensures he will see the field right away. Off-field concerns dragged down his stock a bit, but Kelce is almost the Robert Woods of the TE position among the rookies in that he has a smooth path to playing time and should be consistently productive, even if he’s not an elite talent. There is low-end TE2 redraft upside here and second-round value in dynasty rookie drafts.
3.11 – Buccaneers: QB Mike Glennon
The Bucs do it right here by sending a message with a first-round arm talent with third-round consistency to “challenge” Josh Freeman. Glennon needs time to add muscle to even think about challenging Freeman, but is enough of an investment to make sure Freeman puts together a full season that is more like his first half of 2012 rather than his second half. Glennon has no redraft value, but any unexpected hiccup by Freeman means Glennon could have the keys to a pretty high-powered offense. In short, dynasty owners could do a lot worse than invest in Glennon for a year or two to see if Freeman fails or not.
3.12 – Cowboys: WR Terrance Williams
The Cowboys stay in-state and find another weapon on offense (while continuing to ignore the defense). Williams steps in to fill the void of the departed Kevin Ogletree and is a much more dangerous receiver that could potentially replace Miles Austin at some point down the line. His redraft fantasy value will likely be similar to that of Ogletree’s (an occasional big game followed by long bouts of 1-2 catch games), but his dynasty value is such that he could be worth a late second-rounder for an owner willing to wait for 2-3 years while Austin begins his decline.
3.14 – Chargers: WR Keenan Allen
Allen’s knee injury and subsequent slow 40-time did him no favors, but speed was never his game to begin with. The Cal product has been compared favorably to Anquan Boldin and rightfully so. Don’t expect Allen to catch passes at Boldin’s history-making pace, but he is a precise route runner and steady performer that can obviously create yards after the catch. He’ll start out behind three receivers on the depth chart (meaning his redraft stock is very low), but I’d be surprised if he isn’t starting and a fantasy WR4 at worst in 2014.
3.16 – Bills: WR Marquise Goodwin
Underutilized at Texas despite world-class speed, Goodwin immediately steps into the fray as a player who could be Buffalo’s WR3. This pick is likely an indictment of what the new staff thinks of TJ Graham, who was drafted by the previous regime as the speed WR. He’ll need some time to develop, but Graham is definitely on notice. Yet another player that will have minimal redraft value in 2013, but there is a potential for a poor man’s Mike Wallace here if he is able to pick up the system and his coaching quickly.
3.17 – Steelers: WR Markus Wheaton
The Steelers have hit on most of their recent WR picks and they do their best to replace Mike Wallace by grabbing a receiver that has a lot of the same qualities as Wallace and Antonio Brown. Wheaton was a big-time producer at Oregon State and certainly more developed than the player that went right before him (Marquise Goodwin). Given Emmanuel Sanders‘ durability issues and Jerricho Cotchery‘s age, Wheaton stands a great chance of being productive sooner than later. Sanders will likely be drafted higher in redrafts (and rightfully so), but Wheaton could bypass him by season’s end and should be a clear starter by 2014 if/when Sanders leaves as a free agent. He’s likely a WR5 in redraft, but worthy of a late first or early second round in dynasty rookie drafts.
3.23 – Redskins: TE Jordan Reed
For those fantasy owners that like to chances on rookie TEs, this is your draft. Reed profiles similarly to Dustin Keller (will get compared to Aaron Hernandez partly because they both came from Florida). Reed is likely to be used exclusively out of the slot as he is a liability as a blocker. HC Mike Shanahan has a long history of using his TEs, but will need to be used creatively because his snaps will be limited due to his poor blocking. His redraft value is minimal, but slightly higher in dynasty. Still, he’s got a chance at some dynasty value if Shanny is willing to think outside the box.
3.30 – Rams: WR Stedman Bailey
There’s going to be a day in the near future where fans will forget how bad the Rams’ WRs were two years ago. Bailey was more productive than his college (and now pro) teammate Tavon Austin and was Geno Smith’s preferred red-zone option. Bailey is a technically sound receiver that will stick in the league because he will be where he is supposed to be on every play and has reliable hands. He doesn’t have the upside of any Rams receiver that will be ahead of him on the depth chart (Austin, Chris Givens, Brian Quick), so his fantasy potential is negligible. He’ll go undrafted in redraft leagues and is probably a late-second/early-third dynasty rookie draft option at the moment.
3.34 – Chiefs: RB Knile Davis
Davis was actually one of my favorite backs in 2010 (although I saw only two games), but Davis has injuries and a coaching change conspired to make him a shell of himself in 2011 and 2012. Davis showed athleticism at the Combine to give his stock a boost, but he will likely be relegated to a 2012 Peyton Hillis-like role (at best) this season. He should go undrafted in redraft and it will take an owner willing to turn a blind eye on his long injury history and fumblitits to accept the risk he carries as a dynasty option. His talent warrants a selection in the third round of dynasty rookie drafts, but don’t expect any kind of durability.
By: Doug Orth — @ 9:47 am
2.02 – Titans: WR Justin Hunter
Goodbye Nate Washington…or Kenny Britt? Hunter was the most productive receiver for the Vols this past season and should further help the Titans get more “chunk” plays. It really could be either one or both, but it cements the Titans’ philosophy as a big-play, deep-ball offense now. The amount of receiver talent Tennessee has now is scary, but given the fact that Washington’s status with the team was already in question and Britt’s status is almost always in question, the roadblocks aren’t’ what they appear to be at first look. His redraft stock is low at the moment, but could skyrocket at a moment’s notice. His dynasty value is much higher.
2.03 – Eagles: TE Zach Ertz
It’s becoming clear that Chip Kelly is looking for size mismatches in the passing game with James Casey‘s signing and this pick. Kelly loved to use his TEs down the seam at Oregon and it is safe to say those seams will get a workout in Philly. Kelly’s offense may very well be a two-TE offense in theory, but I’d be shocked if Casey/Ertz aren’t working out of the slot 60% of the time. I’m not thrilled about his redraft value with so many TEs on the roster, but the team will likely move on from Brent Celek in the next year or two, making him a very solid dynasty league option in Kelly’s warp-speed offense
2.05 – Bengals: RB Giovani Bernard
The Bengals grab Law Firm’s complement, not his eventual successor. The Bengals land a prospect that has drawn comparisons to LeSean McCoy and rightfully so. While not at that level, the Bengals are definitely sending a message they want to give Andy Dalton every opportunity to be successful. Whichever RB landed in Cincinnati was going to be a good bet to be the best redraft rookie available and Bernard has that honor (along with Tavon Austin). Bernard has a legit shot at becoming 1A/1B with BJGE in short order, making him a solid dynasty option as well.
2.08 – Jets: QB Geno Smith
This is going to be fun. Goodbye Tebow tomorrow and Sanchez next year? Smith is a smart pick from the perspective that the Jets now have an OC that can develop a quarterback, but his “fit” is questionable in the new offense. The Jets’ situation is dire right now with such a poor supporting cast, but there’s no doubt anymore that Sanchez MUST produce this season. Smith will have time to transition from the spread to the West Coast offense, but how long will it take the Jets to surround him with enough talent to allow him to succeed? He’s going to be among the lowest-ranked redraft QBs (for good reason) and his dynasty upside is also somewhat limited.
2.10 – Bills: WR Robert Woods
Woods should slot in immediately as the Bills’ solid, steady option opposite Steve Johnson right away. Woods isn’t exactly flashy, but he is very much pro-ready and will help move the chains in Buffalo. He is more than willing to go over the middle and will be a solid producer for years to come. The Bills have talked about moving Johnson into the slot more often and Woods’ presence should help them do just that. The USC standout is very likely to be a late-round option at best in redraft leagues given the uncertainty at QB in 2013, but he has a great shot at holding WR4 value at some point this season and should be a reliable WR3 in dynasty leagues (perhaps as soon as 2014).
2.17 – Cowboys: TE Gavin Escobar
One year after letting Martellus Bennett go to New York, the Cowboys take another shot at Jason Witten‘s successor. Escobar is a soft-handed, athletic TE with great ball skills. In many ways, the Cowboys have drafted a younger version of an older Witten. Escobar is not the blocker that Bennett was before he departed, but is landing in a solid situation where he can learn from one of the best. His redraft value figures to be minimal, but he has second-round upside in dynasty league rookie drafts.
2.18 – Steelers: RB Le’Veon Bell
I want so much to like Bell, who drew some comparisons to Steven Jackson earlier this season. However, I was less than impressed by the consistent power displayed by this power-running RB. This is going to require more tape-watching on my end b/c Eddie Lacy was a superior RB (especially for the Steelers). Bell is a better option than Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, but I have a bad feeling about it. By virtue of his draft status and likely standing on the depth chart with little competition, Bell lands in a great spot for his redraft value. For the Steelers’ sake, I hope I just watched Bell in the wrong games, but any recommendation I give him now would be based more on the situation he finds himself in and less on his overall skill level.
2.25 – 49ers: TE Vance McDonald
Much like former Rice prospect James Casey, this Owl was used all over the formation in college. McDonald has little in-line experience as a blocker, which might suggest that SF will be another two-TE team in theory, but pull the Patriots’ TE trick of lining up Vernon Davis up in Rob Gronkowski‘s role while McDonald works out in space in the same fashion Aaron Hernandez does. There is considerable upside here in all fantasy formats. In redraft, he should be considered a low-end TE2 right now with his arrow pointing up. In dynasty, he is probably the most attractive TE in rookie drafts.
2.28 – Broncos: RB Montee Ball
This pick is likely to be seen as an indictment on Willis McGahee or Knowshon Moreno, both of which are likely correct. McGahee is probably only going to play one more year in Denver. Moreno – despite a strong finish in 2012 – has yet to capture the imagination of the Broncos’ brass. As long as Manning is around, every RB on his team has a great shot at value as soon as he learns to block and shows he can catch the ball. Ball has limited experience at both, but certainly has the capacity to do both. At this moment, Ball appears to have the best combination of skill and situation of any drafted RB in redraft leagues. I think he is a league-average talent, so I am less optimistic about his dynasty upside.
2.29 – Patriots: WR Aaron Dobson
Assuming he can build trust with Tom Brady (always an unknown), Dobson gives NE its first big receiver since Randy Moss. He’s not Moss in size, speed or skill, but he is an able and trustworthy pass catcher. Dobson probably will not start in front of Donald Jones in year 1, but he’s a better overall talent. There is minimal redraft value here, but he has second-round value in dynasty league rookie drafts.
2.31 – Packers: RB Eddie Lacy
It’s about time. Lacy slide due to medical concerns, but he finds the best fantasy situation of any RB drafted so far. The Packers have played around with undersized committee back lately, but Lacy could bring that to an end in short order. Lacy is a power back with nimble feet and helps make up for Green Bay opting not to trade for Marshawn Lynch a few years ago. Lacy has low-end fantasy RB2 upside in redraft leagues and should be the top pick in dynasty league rookie drafts.
2.32 – Seahawks: RB Christine Michael
Michael is easily a second-(if not a first) round talent, but character concerns and the fact he landed in coach Kevin Sumlin’s doghouse this past college season did him no favors during the draft process. In Seattle, he’ll have a difficult time seeing the field anytime soon due to the presence of Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. Second-round picks shouldn’t be resigned to third-string status, but the Hawks were simply taking the best player available. Michael can be ignored in redraft, but his talent is such that he warrants a pick in dynasty league rookie drafts because he could overtake Turbin at some point. (With Lynch likely to wear down soon, that’s a potential fantasy goldmine.)
By: Doug Orth — April 26, 2013 @ 9:12 am
1.08 – St. Louis: WR Tavon Austin
Austin essentially fills the void left behind by Danny Amendola. It also suggests the team has plenty of confidence in Brian Quick. Austin’s incredible speed and sharp cuts should play incredibly well indoors in the Edward Jones Dome. I recognize he is of slight build and most of us that own him in fantasy at some point will cringe whenever he takes a hit. But the fact of the matter is that he rarely ever takes a big-enough hit to jar him. It was eye-opening to watch Austin and Patterson throughout this process; I have a hard time remembering the last time I saw two WRs in the same draft so elusive. Austin should contend for the team lead in receptions, receiving yards and TDs in his rookie season while also giving the Rams a big boost in the return game. Fantasy-wise, Austin’s floor should be a WR4 in all leagues, with definite WR3 upside (in 12-team leagues).
EJ Manuel: A raw talent, but could see action as a rookie.
1.16 – Buffalo: QB EJ Manuel
I’m very surprised the Bills ignored “conventional” wisdom, but I think they made the right QB choice in the end. Putting Spiller and Manuel in the same backfield gives Buffalo a shot to do some read-option and the Bills their first strong-armed QB in recent memory. Given his draft status, Manuel is almost certain to be starting no later than the bye week (Wk 12). The Bills were smart to give themselves a “buffer” in Kevin Kolb. I doubt Manuel has significant fantasy impact in 2013 with the Bills’ current WR corps, but his running ability will make him a passable QB2 option in 2013. I do like Manuel from a dynasty perspective so long as they surround him with more receiving talent than Steve Johnson.
1.21 – Cincinnati: TE Tyler Eifert
Mike Brown‘s fascination with big-school players continues. The Bengals drafted Jermaine Gresham a few years ago thinking he was a vertical threat, but he has since evolved into a short to intermediate threat. From that perspective, this pick makes sense as Cincinnati continues to try to emulate the Patriots’ dynamic TE duo. And the value is very good as well, but the Bengals are not one TE away from winning football games. This is also an indictment on Orson Charles, who is likely on the roster bubble (already) with Gresham, Eifert and Alex Smith in front of him. Fantasy-wise, this is a terrible landing spot initially as Gresham isn’t a free agent until 2015 and his arrival certainly doesn’t figure to help Mohamed Sanu or Marvin Jones become more fantasy relevant. Add in the fact that Cincinnati wants to remain a running team and I hope for Eifert’s sake he doesn’t remain in the Queen City.
1.27 – Houston: WR DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins doesn’t bring the “wow” factor of a Cordarrelle Patterson, but the risk-reward is much more manageable with Hopkins. The Clemson standout should step in as an instant starter in Houston and give the Texans 40-50 receptions in his rookie year, but should be much more productive than Kevin Walter. Hopkins’ feistiness (as a blocker and after the catch) should also endear him to the Texans. He fills the one gaping hole in Houston’s offense and should be considered a WR4 in redraft leagues. He has been compared to Roddy White and the comparison is appropriate, although he isn’t the burner White was coming out of UAB. Considering his solid long-term job security and talent, he should be the second rookie WR to come off the board in dynasty league rookie drafts.
1.29 – Minnesota: WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Whereas the Texans likely guaranteed themselves a steady, solid WR in Hopkins, the Vikings complete their first-round haul with arguably the best big-receiver playmaker to come out in recent drafts. At the very least, it’s a risk worth taking when the draft allows a team to pick up three first-rounders. Patterson’s upside – real and fantasy – will most likely hinge on the quality of coaching he receives from his position coach. He isn’t getting the greatest QB to work with, but Minnesota has quickly rounded out its receiving corps after dealing Harvin last month. Patterson isn’t likely to be the PPR goldmine Tavon Austin is, but he’ll deserve the same kind of WR4 respect in fantasy that Austin does.
By: Doug Orth — April 25, 2013 @ 7:49 am
A perfect blend of size and speed.
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.42
Vertical Jump: 37”
Broad Jump: 10’ 8”
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
Background (College Stats)
After a strong 2008 high school season put him on college teams’ radars, Patterson did not play the following season at North Carolina Tech. He moved to Kansas the next year, became a two-time NFCAA All-American at Hutchinson Community College and was considered the top ranked JUCO product in the nation. Patterson entered 2012 expecting to be Tennessee’s No. 3 receiver (behind fellow draft classmates Justin Hunter and Da’Rick Rogers), but the latter was dismissed from the team. The South Carolina native seamlessly transitioned to the Division I level in his first game with the Volunteers, posting a 6-93-1 line against North Carolina State’s David Amerson, who led FBS with 13 interceptions the previous year. Patterson continued to make plays thereafter, becoming the first NCAA player in four years to score a touchdown four different ways. As the season progressed, Tennessee began to get him snaps at running back, where he tallied 208 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. But he did his most damage as a returner, setting a SEC single-season record with a combined kickoff and punt return average of 27.6 yards, and a school record of 1,858 all-purpose yards.
NFL Player Comp(s): Dez Bryant
Patterson arguably has the best size-speed-skill combination of any receiver in this draft and is something special in the open field; he may be the best bigger-bodied receiver in that regard to come out in recent drafts. As noted NFL Films guru Greg Cosell recently pointed out, he has “open field instincts and movement that you cannot teach”. Former Tennessee recruiting coordinator (and current Cincinnati Bearcats QB coach) Darin Hinshaw suggested Patterson “was the best I’ve ever seen with the ball in his hands”. To those points, Patterson repeatedly flashed exceptional stop-and-start ability as a ball-carrier. As cliché as it sounds, every play he has the ball in his hands is one that can actually be a big play. He also separates rather easily on vertical routes and could emerge as the player who “takes the top off” the defense early in his career. It comes as no surprise then that he was asked to – and excelled in – many different facets of the game, including receiver, runner and return specialist. As agile and nimble as he is in the open field, he is also not averse to getting a bit physical and will fight through weak tackles. For the lack of respect he gets for his “limited” mental acuity, Patterson does seem to comprehend hot routes and has a more expansive route tree than Bryant had in his first two seasons.
As his background and one year in major-college football will attest, Patterson is raw. In his case, “raw” means he has a lot of work learning to use his hands to separate initially from coverage against the higher-quality cornerbacks he will face in the NFL. It also means he’ll be a work in progress becoming a better route runner to take more advantage of his natural physical gifts. Opponents will almost certainly use press coverage on him early on – assuming they have a cornerback capable of playing it well – until he stops trying to avoid the jam and learns to take it head on from time to time (something that he can be coached to do). As wonderful as he is with the ball in his hands, one of the bigger knocks on Patterson is that he doesn’t bring it on every play, as a receiver or blocker. Although his drop rate (4.2%) was lower than other high-profile receivers in this draft like Keenan Allen and Hunter, Patterson has a tendency to body catch, even when it isn’t necessary to do so. Patterson’s overall intelligence has also come into question, which may have something to do with the number of teams (reportedly) that he has not interviewed well throughout the draft process.
If football was played simply from the shoulders down, the evaluation would be simple and the Pro Bowls would likely be aplenty. Patterson is about as talented as they come, but needs a lot of polish. For those reasons, he is one of the most difficult players to project in this class. One of the factors he has going for him is that he is not a character red flag, so the questions he raises with his academic struggles and supposed inability to retain information will be less of a burden on a coaching staff. (Based on some of his play, I get the distinct feeling that he’s a bit more football-savvy than he is getting credit for during the draft process.) Former University of Tennessee coach Derek Dooley told NFL.com’s Gil Brandt that Patterson “can be a head coach’s delight” and it isn’t hard to see why when he can make the big play at receiver, returner and even running back. Patterson should (and probably needs to) be brought along slowly, with his new team focusing on his abilities as a returner and the routes he excelled at with the Volunteers as a receiver (crossing routes, hitches and go routes). Will he shore up the mental/psychological part of his game? That’s the (several) million-dollar question, because he oozes physical talent. Assuming Patterson lands with a team willing to build a package of plays around his strengths in his rookie season – much like San Francisco did with OLB Aldon Smith a couple of years ago – and finds a very good (and patient) position coach to work with him, he could very well be one of the most dynamic receivers in the league in 3-4 years.
By: Doug Orth — April 24, 2013 @ 9:36 am
Eifert is the consensus top tight end in the 2013 draft.
Hands: 9 1/8”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.68
Vertical Jump: 35 1/2”
Broad Jump: 9’ 11”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.32
Background (College Stats)
The son of a former Purdue basketball player, Eifert began to emerge as a factor in Notre Dame’s offense in 2011 when he led all FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards as a complement to first-round receiver Michael Floyd. Eifert was not highly recruited out of high school, but ended his amateur career as a two-time finalist for the John Mackey Award (college football’s best tight end) and won it this past season despite seeing his numbers slip to 50 catches for 685 yards. Despite leaving college a year early, Eifert leaves Notre Dame with just about every school receiving record for a tight end – including catches (140) and receiving yards (1,840).
NFL Player Comp(s): Ed McCaffrey
This requires a bit of an explanation since McCaffrey was a receiver for three teams from 1991-2003. The best current player comp is probably the Carolina Panthers’ Greg Olsen, but I was less than two minutes into studying Eifert recently before my mind flashed to “Easy Ed”. Despite being 35 pounds heavier, Eifert actually has a similar body type to McCaffrey. However, the comparison stems from the fact that both players use(d) their size, grit and fearlessness to do most of their damage as a receiver.
Eifert may have no peers in his class – at tight end or receiver – when it comes to focus and body control. There also may be no pass catcher in this draft that attacks the ball in the air better than he does or shows less regard for his own physical well-being when he leaves the ground. Despite somewhat less-than-ideal hand size, Eifert helps make up for it with superior hand strength. The 2012 Mackey Award winner has a lean, long frame with above-average arm length (33 1/8”), which he uses to “box out” defenders in zone coverage. Notre Dame used him all over the field, which speaks to his versatility and ability to understand the entire offense (and not just his role in it). Eifert is a feisty competitor, which was reflected in the desire he showed when trying to power through a tackle or when he made a block for a ball-carrier down the field to prolong a big play. Eifert was plenty productive at Notre Dame despite the lack of a consistently accurate quarterback, improved dramatically over his college career and has no red flags attached to him on or off the field.
Almost every college prospect can improve their route-running ability and Eifert is no different, with his biggest issue being that he telegraphed too many of his routes. When combined with his lack of initial burst, Eifert may struggle to consistently beat man coverage in the early part of his career. While he will create big plays with his ability to win jump balls, he isn’t likely to gain many yards after the catch. Like most young tight ends, Eifert’s effort as a blocker is ahead of his effectiveness, although that is a weakness many tight ends have been able to overcome in the NFL once they add “man-muscle”, learn the proper angles and make football their full-time job. It’s the same lack of overall strength that will probably limit his snap count in his first year or two in the NFL and prevent him from getting open against some of the league’s better cover linebackers early in his career.
Although the Irish didn’t really have many other legitimate passing-game weapons to threaten Alabama’s defense in the BCS National Championship game, it was telling that Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban opted to use CB Dee Milliner against him in coverage and even more telling that Notre Dame QB Everett Golson seemingly forced the ball to him anyway. Like most of this year’s prospects, I don’t get the sense that Eifert will be that once-in-a-decade (or generation) talent that defines this draft class. However, I do think he will be a better all-around pro than last year’s top-drafted tight end, Coby Fleener. Assuming Eifert continues to show the same kind of work ethic and year-to-year improvement he displayed in college at the next level, none of his current shortcomings should be overly difficult to overcome. In a day and age where most tight ends are strictly “rocked-up receivers” or muscle-bound in-line blockers, Eifert is the exception and projects a player who should eventually excel at receiving and blocking. While it is important to note that the Golden Domer isn’t likely to become the next Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski or Tony Gonzalez, Eifert could easily evolve into a top 10 player at his position and make multiple Pro Bowls in the right system with a quarterback who learns to trust his ability to make the contested catch.
By: Doug Orth — April 23, 2013 @ 9:13 am
The most powerful RB in the draft.
Hands: 9 1/2”
Important Pro Day Numbers (NFL Combine – DNP; hamstring)
40-Yard Dash: 4.64
Vertical Jump: 33 1/2”
Broad Jump: NA
20-Yard Shuttle: NA
Background (College Stats)
A four-star recruit despite playing only seven games in his final year of high-school football in Louisiana, Lacy is just the latest in what is becoming a long line of first-round quality NFL running backs from the University of Alabama. (Mark Ingram went in the first round in 2010, Trent Richardson went No. 3 overall in 2012 and freshman T.J. Yeldon projects as a high future first-rounder himself.) Lacy overcame a tough upbringing, including but not limited to being displaced by Hurricane Katrina as a teenager. Although he was never the featured back at Alabama, he accepted his role as a complementary back and played a critical role in two of the school’s three national championships over the past four seasons.
NFL Player Comp(s): Andre Brown
Lacy is without question the most powerful back in this draft, faster and more athletic than most would expect a back his size to be. Unlike many draft-eligible running backs, he is already where he needs to be in terms of his build, meaning his transition to the NFL will almost exclusively be above the shoulders. And unlike most runners his size, he is not strictly a straight-line runner. But perhaps the most surprising part of his game is his spin move – which he will utilize multiple times per game – underscoring the fact he is not just a big back, but one that is light on his feet with very good balance. The first-team All-SEC selection is also not one of those big backs seems to embrace contact and will fight for every yard. For a player who runs as violently as Lacy does, the fact that he wasn’t worn down (355 carries in three years at Alabama) in college makes him more attractive to talent evaluators. Vision and patience are underrated parts of Lacy’s game as he does a good job of pressing the hole and bursting through it when it develops. Those skills – along with his one-cut ability – make him a more than adequate fit as a back in the zone-blocking offense while his size and tendency to break through weak tackle attempts should allow him to hold up well in a power-based run-blocking scheme. Lacy is also a willing and improving pass blocker, meaning he isn’t likely to embarrass himself in those situations.
Foot injuries (ankle sprains, turf toe) were a slight concern in college, which made his durability a question mark before the draft process began. He then suffered a partial hamstring tear during pre-draft training, causing further anxiety. His willingness to accept contact also likely means he will struggle to remain healthy enough to stack consecutive 16-game seasons together. While it is always hard to knock a runner during an evaluation for playing with superior offensive line talent, Lacy rarely ever had to dodge a defensive tackle or linebacker penetrating the line of scrimmage because it rarely ever happened. (Consider this aspect of his game more of an unknown than a weakness at this point, but it needs to be pointed out that big backs are typically more dependent on their lines to hold the point because it takes them a split second more to build up their speed and get to the hole in order to create the momentum necessary to power through the linebacker or safety.) Lacy has adequate hands, but it is doubtful he’ll ever emerge as anything more than a dump-off or screen option simply because he isn’t sudden enough nor does he run the sharp routes necessary to free himself.
(To give readers some idea on how I would rank the recent Tide runners in terms of pro potential, I would go Richardson-Yeldon-Lacy-Ingram.) Critics of Lacy may point out that he was rarely the best back in his own backfield, but talent evaluators – or at least the good ones anyway – recognize that Alabama simply has enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at the position. While I must admit I was turned off by his answer to a question he received on his pro day (he suggested the reason he couldn’t make it through his workout was because he didn’t eat enough prior to the workout), it is hard to knock the way he closed out his college career. If he had only managed to perform at that level for his entire junior season, my final assessment of him might be different. Lacy projects as a player that should have an immediate impact as a red-zone/bruiser/end-of-game role, similar to the role the Detroit Lions had in mind for Mikel Leshoure before the start of the 2012 season. While Lacy is unlikely to be a bust simply because he has what a lot of teams want – power – I also don’t see anything about his game that screams “must-have” either.
By: Doug Orth — April 22, 2013 @ 12:38 am
“Elite” status may be out of the question for Franklin.
Hands: 9 1/8”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.49
Vertical Jump: 31”
Broad Jump: 9’ 7”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.31
Background (College Stats)
Franklin didn’t enter college football with all that much fanfare (a three-star recruit) and redshirted in 2008 before emerging as a four-year starter for UCLA. Although he began to show his wares as a sophomore in 2010 with his first 1,000-yard rushing season, it really wasn’t until the arrival of new coach Jim Mora Jr. and offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone that Franklin truly entered the conversation as an upper-echelon first- or second-day running back. In Mazzone’s zone-read offense, Franklin produced back-to-back 200-yard games against Rice and Nebraska in 2012 that generated early Heisman Trophy buzz. Perhaps most amazingly, Franklin set single-season records for rushing yards (1,734) and all-purpose yards (2,062) as well as career marks for rushing (4,403) and all-purpose yards (4,920) for a Bruins team that went 26-27 during his four-year stay.
NFL Player Comp(s): Warrick Dunn / Shane Vereen
Franklin has the tools necessary to excel in the zone-running scheme that just about every team uses to a degree and some teams feature. He runs bigger than most backs his size, is patient and willing to run inside. He also ranks among the best in this class in terms of his vision and has the balance necessary to not get knocked off his feet in the hole. Although he won’t make his living by generating yards after contact, he does a fine job of keeping his legs moving and falling forward. Along with his vision, his best attributes may be his cutting ability and explosion, the three traits that will likely be how he makes a name for himself in the NFL. Toughness and durability are two other traits that Franklin has displayed that are somewhat uncommon for a player his size. Mazzone’s offense accentuated his ability to catch the ball and excel in the open field as the Bruins frequently used him on swing passes to get him on the perimeter of the defense. Franklin didn’t get a chance to showcase his receiving ability for much in his career, but his senior tape proves it wasn’t because of a lack of skill. Ball security had been an issue throughout his first three years, but he did a much better job of holding onto the ball in 2012. Intangibles – such as leadership, work ethic, work in the community, etc. – are also not in question.
Two of the primary concerns entering the 2012 season – ball handling and picking up the blitz – will remain his biggest question marks entering his rookie season, until he can prove that he can do it again. (It should be noted that he had zero fumbles in 2012, showed dramatic improvement as a pass blocker and backed the latter up with a solid performance during Senior Bowl week.) Franklin knows he is at his best outside the hashes and bounces a few too many runs to the perimeter, although that is not an uncommon thing for any college back that has enjoyed as many big plays in his career as Franklin has. While the second-team All-American can make defenders miss in the open field, he isn’t exactly a player that will stack one open-field move on top of another. Franklin has likely already maxed out his frame, meaning he probably isn’t going to add 10 pounds without sacrificing a few of his aforementioned strengths. Given how NFL teams have taken the bigger-is-better approach in short-yardage situations, Franklin probably won’t see a great deal of time on the field in at the goal line.
Mora is said to love Franklin more than Dunn, who he coached for several years with the Atlanta Falcons, and it is a very appropriate comparison to make – on and off the field. Franklin isn’t likely to get a lot of action in the red zone in the NFL, although he wasn’t exactly a slouch in that department in college. (Remember, Dunn lost a lot of those opportunities to T.J. Duckett even though Dunn was the better inside/goal-line back.) While I don’t believe Franklin will ever be an “elite” back, I have little doubt he can emerge as a 250-carry back at some point early in his career. He doesn’t take a lot of big hits and has shown the ability to make dramatic improvements from one season to the next, suggesting he cares about his craft and wants to be great. Franklin has also drawn comparisons to Frank Gore (minus the catastrophic knee injuries), Bernard Scott and Maurice Jones-Drew – a fellow UCLA alum. While none of those comparisons are completely off, he’s almost certain to be viewed by coaches as a 1A/1B kind of back (as opposed to “featured” back), which brings us back to Dunn and Vereen. Franklin should be a solid, steady 6-7 year pro that averages about 220 touches.
By: Doug Orth — March 29, 2013 @ 10:18 am
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Austin: The next Randall Cobb?
Hands: 9 1/8”
Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.34
Vertical Jump: 34”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.01
Background (College Stats)
A two-time Maryland high school player of the year that set a number of state career and single-season records, Austin led the NCAA in all-purpose yards as a junior (198/game) and finished second in the category as a senior (224.4). Austin was already in consideration to be a potential late-first or early-second round draft pick midway through last season, but likely solidified his standing as a top-20 selection with a historic performance against Oklahoma on Nov. 17, 2012. In that contest, Austin – a wide receiver who had no more than five carries in any of his first 48 career games – rushed 21 times for a school-record 344 yards in his first action at running back since high school and set a Big 12 record with 572 all-purpose yards. As a result of his stellar senior season, Austin won the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player) and earned first-team All-America honors as an all-purpose player.
NFL Player Comp(s): Randall Cobb / T.Y. Hilton
Austin combines incredible acceleration with breathtaking quickness, allowing him to be the kind of “space player” the NFL has found a role for in recent years. Perhaps the one aspect of his game that really jumps off the tape is his stop-and-start ability which – when combined with his body control and vision in the open field – allows him to create a lot of “whiffs” and make defenders look silly. These same qualities obviously bode well for his chances to be one of the NFL’s top kickoff and punt returners – areas in which he excelled in college. While his size will likely always be an issue, defenders rarely get a chance to square up Austin – particularly in the open field – and, as such, he never missed a practice or game at West Virginia. That quality, along with the fact that he plays to his timed speed, should help quickly dissolve the notion that he is a slot-only receiver with return skills. Austin gains separation rather easily, has a solid feel for the soft areas in zone coverage and transitions out of cuts effortlessly. Although he wasn’t used much as a deep threat in college, he certainly has the ability to do that and will fight for the ball in the air.
Size – and how it relates to his ability to absorb punishment in the NFL – is probably always going to be the biggest question mark with Austin. He isn’t the most consistent “hands-catcher” and will drop balls that he should catch. On the rare occasion that he can’t make a defender miss, he tends to get tripped up easier than he should. Austin often plays as if he has gotten used to defenders being unable to corral him – which could easily come back to haunt him at the next level. His vertical jump is average for a receiver – which accentuates his lack of height even more – meaning quarterbacks probably won’t throw to him as much down the field despite his top-end speed unless he has at least a step or more on his defender.
Austin isn’t built in the same way Percy Harvin is – and probably never will be – which will likely result in him being used slightly less on offense than he should be, at least initially. The upside for his future employer is that while he may only see 30-40 snaps on offense per game in his first season or two, his contributions as a returner may help make for it. In that way, it is entirely possible that his career trajectory is similar to Cobb’s in which he essentially forces his way into the starting lineup in Year 2 simply because he will prove to be his team’s most explosive playmaker. As is usually the case with a young skill-position player entering the league, the creativity, aggressiveness and scheme of the offense he enters will have a big say in his overall production. His best fit will likely be in a wide-open passing offense that uses him all over the field and isn’t scared of how someone of his size will hold up long-term. Austin projects better to the NFL than a similar-sized player such as Dexter McCluster simply because he is more elusive and explosive. While Austin could line up in the backfield in theory to dictate defensive personnel, it would be a mistake for his future team to put him in a position where he may be forced to run in between the tackles. Austin is a slot receiver that should hold his own on the outside in two-receiver packages and contribute as a returner, not a receiver that should be asked to serve in a third-down back role at any cost.
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