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TE Eric Ebron Draft Profile


By: — April 17, 2014 @ 6:27 pm
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Eric Ebron

Ebron: The next great receiving threat at tight end?

Vitals
College: North Carolina
Height/Weight: 6’4”/250
Hands: 10”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.60
Vertical Jump: 32”
Broad Jump: 10’
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A

Background (College Stats)
Ebron excelled at both tight end and defensive end at Ben L. Smith High School in Greensboro, N.C., and was rated as a three-star recruit from Rivals.com. He saw action in 10 games and flashed his big-play ability as a true freshman, averaging 20.7 yards on 10 catches in 2011. Ebron became a starter the following season and promptly smashed the Tar Heels’ single-season school records for a tight end in receptions (40) and receiving yards (625), numbers topped only by Vernon Davis and Heath Miller at the position in ACC history. The 2012 second-team All-ACC selection continued to terrorize defenses in his final college season, breaking Davis’ conference single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end (973) while also shattering his own school record for receptions (62). Ebron, who was named a Mackey Award finalist for his efforts, enjoyed his finest game in 2013 in a nationally-televised contest against Miami (Fla.) when he established new career highs with eight catches and 199 receiving yards. The highlight of his performance was a 71-yard touchdown reception that perhaps encapsulated his rare talent the best: Ebron took a pass on a short rollout from quarterback Marquise Williams around the Tar Heels 41, broke a pair of tackles and easily outraced the rest of the Hurricane defense down the sideline the final 59 yards for the score.

NFL Player Comp(s): Vernon Davis

Strengths

  • Absolute matchup nightmare down the middle of the field; prototypical tight end size with the speed, burst and acceleration to take any pass the distance.
  • Spent a significant time in the slot in 2013 and looks like a natural; should be an above-average “move” NFL tight end right away.
  • Routinely shows an understanding as to how to maximize his physical talent as a receiver.
  • Plants and accelerates out of a break just like a receiver.
  • Often makes the difficult catch look easy, especially in the red zone.
  • Does a good job of sitting down in zone coverage and is willing to take the punishment that comes along with it.

Weaknesses

  • Dropped a few more catchable balls than he should have (11 percent drop percentage in 2013, highest of all the top prospects at his position); seems to be more reliable on throws away from his frame than on-target passes.
  • Although he separated easily from defenders in college, he lacks polish as a route runner; telegraphs his breaks and allows himself to get redirected from time to time.
  • Effort and technique as a blocker are inconsistent; has the potential to be dominant in this area with better attention to detail and more strength.
  • Shows incredible desire to make the big catch in the red zone, but needs that same passion over the rest of the field.
  • Is guilty of losing focus occasionally when he’s not the top option in the passing game.

Bottom Line
Stating the somewhat obvious, Ebron is a rare physical talent and perhaps the most physically-gifted tight end to come out of college in recent years. North Carolina used him a great deal out of the slot and in a variety of ways, including on the occasional jet sweep or tunnel screen. His current shortcomings aren’t all that different from those of most college prospects and should become less of an issue so long as he takes to professional coaching and embraces football as his full-time job. His strengths, however, are incredibly rare for a 6-4, 250-pound young man who can pull away from safeties, linebackers and most cornerbacks. Critics will point to the high drop percentage and, while it is a legitimate concern, there is more than enough tape to suggest his biggest problem is focus. Look no further than two of his most incredible one-handed catches in 2013 to understand why that may not be as big of an issue with him as it might be with another player. On a 19-yard touchdown catch against Georgia Tech, Ebron hauled in a pass that was probably 2-3 feet over his head with his left hand. On another poor throw weeks later against Miami (Fla.), he runs up the field and shows enough ability to turn his hips around despite running near full speed to reach around with his right hand on a pass thrown high and about 4-5 feet behind where it should have been placed. In short, he has natural hands. Although it is very likely he will be used primarily as a field-stretcher in his rookie year, it would be a mistake if a team decided to limit him to that role long-term. His floor should be what Davis has accomplished this far, because Ebron is less raw now than Davis was coming out of Maryland. Assuming he wants it bad enough, there is no reason why Ebron can’t make it to at least 3-5 Pro Bowls in his NFL career.



RB Carlos Hyde Draft Profile


By: — April 15, 2014 @ 10:25 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Carlos Hyde

Hyde: A north-south runner that should be featured at the goaline.

Vitals
College: Ohio State
Height/Weight: 6’0”/230
Hands: 9 1/2”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.66
Vertical Jump: 34 1/2”
Broad Jump: 9’ 6”
20-Yard Shuttle: N/A
3-Cone: N/A

Background (College Stats)
After growing up in Cincinnati and beginning his high school education in Ohio, Hyde moved to Naples, Fla. to complete his schooling. Rivals.com ranked him as a four-star player and the second-best fullback prospect in the country in 2008. Ohio State saw him as a viable big-back replacement for Chris “Beanie” Wells and convinced him of such, allowing the Buckeyes to beat out Florida, Miami (Fla.), Florida State and a host of other schools for his services. However, Hyde spent the 2009 fall semester at Fork Union Military Academy (Va.) in order to raise his ACT scores because he didn’t qualify academically right away. He finally landed in Columbus for good in January 2010 and played second-fiddle to Dan “Boom” Herron over his first two seasons before breaking out with 970 yards and 16 rushing touchdowns as a junior despite missing two games (and part of a third) with an ankle injury. Hyde found himself in hot water in July 2013 when Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer suspended him three games for “conduct not representative of this football program or this university” when he attempted to strike a woman in a bar. Although he avoided any criminal charges, Meyer stuck to his punishment and it appeared to light a fire under Hyde, who became the first Meyer-coached back to rush for at least 1,000 yards. The 2013 first-team All-Big Ten selection finished his final season with 1,521 yards rushing – good for the 13th-best mark in the country – and accomplished the feat by posting at least 111 yards in each of his last nine contests.

NFL Player Comp(s): Alfred Morris/Zac Stacy

Strengths

  • North-and-south runner that typically powers through the first tackle and almost always gets at least 2-3 yards after contact; should be a top-level goal-line back right away.
  • Is not strictly a straight-line bulldozer; light on his feet, shows good balance and can change direction better than expected for a player of his size.
  • Ball security (career fumble percentage of 0.7); shows good fundamentals in terms of keeping the ball tight to his frame and covers it with two hands in traffic.
  • Decisive runner that accelerates quickly, allowing him to pack even more of a punch when he makes contact with a defender.
  • A rare college power back that was not overexposed (523 career carries in four years with no more than 208 in any season).

Weaknesses

  • More of a between-the-tackles runner that lacks the speed to consistently break a big run, although he showed much more big-play ability in 2013 after dropping roughly 15 pounds from the previous season.
  • Showed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield when used in that fashion, but is little more than a safety-valve/check-down option at this point (34 career receptions, including just 16 in his final season).
  • Not an upright runner, but tends to lower his shoulder a split-second too late – absorbing more punishment than he should – and relies a bit too much on bulk to power over defenders.
  • Dealt with injuries, conditioning issues and off-field concerns in college (was the suspension enough to “wake him up” or will he constantly need outside motivation?).
  • Has the build and desire to be a good blocker, but should dominate in that area more often than he does.

Bottom Line
Meyer hasn’t exactly lined up a who’s who of running backs in his 12 seasons as a college coach and generally spread the rushing load as a result, but it is still pretty telling that Hyde became the first one of his backs to surpass 1,000 yards in a season. Much like Eddie Lacy the year before he was drafted, Hyde was more of a big back without much suddenness in the year before he made himself available in the draft. Again, like Lacy, Hyde went from merely a big back to a powerful back capable of carrying the load in his final college season. Even as inflated as some of the yards-per-carry averages are in college football, Hyde’s 7.3 mark in 2013 is an incredibly high number for a 230-pound back – especially one in a BCS conference. Still, it is hard to overlook the fact that the third-team AP All-American was unable to put together a full season in any of his four years AND that he needed Meyer’s tough love to maximize his talent, but it isn’t overly difficult to understand why he is considered by some to be the best back in this draft. Finding agile big backs with a bit of explosion is a tough gig and Hyde is one of those few backs. As suggested above, he is a likely “foundation” back at the next level in the Morris and/or Stacy mold, capable of carrying his team’s running game so long as he maintains the same kind of work ethic that enabled him to hit the ground running following his suspension to begin the 2013 season. His draft stock will almost certainly get dinged a bit due to his character/injury history (and rightfully so), but the tools and talent are there for Hyde to be an above-average NFL running back if he wants it bad enough.



2014 NFL Mock Draft – Version 2.0


By: — April 14, 2014 @ 10:29 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

NFL DraftWith draft day less than a month away, it’s time for an update. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @thepigskinguy.

Versoin 1.0

1. Houston Texans: Blake Bortles, QB Central Florida – Unless the Texans simply don’t like any of the top quarterbacks, this pick will be used to take one. I originally went with Teddy Bridgewater and while I think he is still a strong possibility, Bortles’ combination of talent, arm-strength and upside gives him a slight edge.

Previous Pick: QB Teddy Bridgewater

2. St. Louis Rams: Greg Robinson, OT Auburn – The Rams would probably like to trade out of this spot but if they stay, Robinson is a logical selection. If the Rams go offensive tackle here it will come down to which player they like more between Robinson and Jake Matthews.

Previous Pick: OT Greg Robinson

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jadeveon Clowney, DE South Carolina – Gus Bradley is a defensive minded coach and unless the Jaguars absolutely love one of the quarterbacks in this draft, it will be hard for them to pass up on a prospect like Clowney if he’s still on the board at three.

Previous Pick: DE Jadeveon Clowney

4. Cleveland Browns: Johnny Manziel, QB Texas A&M – Everyone on the planet appears to love Brian Hoyer but an organization needs more than just him at quarterback if they want to end decades of losing. The franchise needs a quarterback and a player to excite its fanbase. The drafting of Manziel will take care of both of those problems.

Previous Pick: QB Blake Bortles

5. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR Clemson – I actually have Watkins as the top overall player in this draft. I think he is the one can’t-miss prospect given all the physical attributes Watkins brings to the receiver position. That theory will be tested if he goes to Oakland but Watkins certainly fills a need for the Raiders. Oakland has some decent receivers but no one close to being in Watkins’ class. He will be a game-changer from Day 1.

Previous Pick: WR Sammy Watkins

6. Atlanta Falcons: Khalil Mack, DE Buffalo – Mack dominated in college and while some will point to the fact that he played in the MAC, he had some of his biggest games against top-level competition. I saw Mack play a couple of times against bigger schools and he was a terror coming off the edge. He will instantly help a dormant Falcons’ pass rush.

Previous Pick: DE Khalil Mack

7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Mike Evans, WR Texas A&M – The Bucs parted ways with Mike Williams and they really have few options beyond Vincent Jackson. After signing Josh McCown, it would be nice to give him a 6’5 receiver like Evans to throw the ball to in the red zone. Depending on how the draft shakes out early, Evans could very well end up in Tampa Bay.

Previous Pick: OT Jake Matthews

8. Minnesota Vikings: Teddy Bridgewater, QB Louisville – The Vikings re-signed Matt Cassel but will also add a young quarterback in the draft. Minnesota is reportedly high on Zach Mettenberger and so am I, so he is a possible target in Round 2 if they don’t select a quarterback here. However, I have a hunch Minnesota is also very high on Bridgewater and if he slips to them at eight, I don’t see the Vikings passing on him.

Previous Pick: QB Johnny Manziel

9. Buffalo Bills: Jake Matthews, OT Texas A&M – Matthews would be tough for Buffalo to pass up here, especially since the Bills are weak at right tackle. Matthews is a devastating run blocker and he has quick feet for a guy his size. Some NFL scouts think Matthews is the best OT in the draft, so this would be a great pick for the Bills at No. 9.

Previous Pick: WR Mike Evans

10. Detroit Lions: Darqueze Dennard, CB Michigan State – A lot of people like Justin Gilbert as the top corner because of his speed but I don’t think it’s close. Dennard was the best cover corner in college football last year. Denard is tough, smart and he would make a great addition to Detroit’s secondary.

Previous Pick: CB Darqueze Dennard

11. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, LB UCLA – Barr could easily be a Top 10 selection given his ability and production in college. However, if Barr slips to 11, the Titans will have to strongly consider him. Tennessee can go in a lot of different directions but the Titans are in need of an explosive pass rusher and Barr fits the bill.

Previous Pick: LB Anthony Barr

12. New York Giants: Taylor Lewan, OT Michigan – The Giants had one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL last season and protecting Eli Manning is the team’s top priority. Lewan was one of the few bright spots on the worst coached team in college football last year once Lane Kiffin was fired.

Previous Pick: OT Taylor Lewan

13. St. Louis Rams: Ha Ha Clinton Dix, S Alabama – When your name is “Ha Ha” you should be drafted in the Top 15 by law. Dix is all over the field. I actually think he is one of the 10 best players in the draft at any position. The Rams safeties are dreadful. Dix would come in and be a huge upgrade to a defense that already has a nasty front seven.

Previous Pick: S Ha Ha Clinton Dix

14. Chicago Bears: Aaron Donald, DT Pittsburgh – How bad was the Bears’ rush defense last year? Ray Rice gained 131 yards on them. Chicago is one of the easiest teams to project. They badly need a defensive tackle or safety. If the talented Donald is on the board, he will be a strong possibility for the Bears. They need more than just Lamarr Houston.

Previous Pick: DT Timmy Jernigan

15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Gilbert, CB Oklahoma State – Pittsburgh is a tough team to peg because they can go in many different directions like CB, TE, WR, OT or DL. I’m going with Gilbert here if he’s still on the board. Others are higher on Gilbert than I am but he has great speed and playmaking ability. I think Eric Ebron is another strong possibility for the Steelers.

Previous Pick: DT Aaron Donald

16. Dallas Cowboys: Calvin Pryor, S Louisville – The Cowboys signed Henry Melton but they still need a lot of help along their defensive front. However, safety has been a major weakness in Dallas’ defense for too long and a player with Pryor’s skill-set can finally put an end to that. If the Cowboys want to play the Tampa-2 scheme, they need better production out of the safety position. Pryor would be an excellent addition to their defense.

Previous Pick: DT Louis Nix

17. Baltimore Ravens: Odell Beckham, WR LSU – The Ravens added Steve Smith but I don’t believe they are done adding weapons for Joe Flacco. Beckham is a tough receiver that can go inside similar to Anquan Boldin, only with more speed. Beckham is one of the most underrated players in the draft. He has all the skills to be a star NFL receiver.

Previous Pick: WR Odell Beckham

18. New York Jets: Eric Ebron, TE North Carolina – Geno Smith took a lot of criticism in his first season and much of it was deserved. Still, the Jets had the worst group of receivers and tight ends in the NFL. New York added Eric Decker in free agency but the Jets still have to upgrade at tight end. Ebron is the top tight end prospect available and would represent great value if he were still on the board at 18. Just a word of warning: Tight ends always get mocked too high. Ebron could certainly go in the Top 15 but I doubt he gets selected in the Top 10. Teams simply value other positions more than they do tight end.

Previous Pick: TE Eric Ebron

19. Miami Dolphins: Zach Martin, OT Notre Dame – Martin was excellent during his career at Notre Dame. He dominated as a left tackle and Martin has the versatility to play multiple positions on the line early in his career. Given all the problems the Dolphins have with their offensive line right now, Martin would be an excellent selection for them.

Previous Pick: OT Zach Martin

20. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Mosley, LB Alabama – We are getting to the point in the draft where value matters and while Arizona does need an outside linebacker, Mosley is too good to pass up here even if the position may not be the team’s most pressing need. Mosley would fit in nicely with one of the emerging defensive units in the NFL. My guess is he goes higher than 20 though, maybe even No. 9 to Buffalo.

Previous Pick: LB C.J. Mosley

21. Green Bay Packers: Timmy Jernigan, DT Florida State – The Packers need help along their defensive line and Jernigan is an explosive defensive lineman with plenty of upside. One of the things that really hurt Green Bay last year was a lack of depth along its defensive front. Jernigan can come in as a rookie and help make an impact in a rotational role.

Previous Pick: S Calvin Pryor

22. Philadelphia Eagles: Donte Moncrief, WR Ole Miss – I thought Moncrief was one of the top receivers in college football last season but he didn’t play with an elite quarterback. I also believe NFL people think much more highly of him than draftniks on the Internet. Finally, I believe Chip Kelly knows an offensive stud when he sees one. The Eagles are looking for a big receiver to make plays on the outside. Moncrief could be that guy but either way I predict he will be drafted in Round 1.

Previous Pick: CB Justin Gilbert

23. Kansas City Chiefs: Marqise Lee, WR USC – The Chiefs need more gamebreakers on offense and Lee would be a bargain this low for Kansas City. Lee is slipping in some circles but you have to look at his college situation. When a guy still puts up good numbers despite playing for the worst coach on the planet, it says a lot. Lee would be a nice fir in Andy Reid’s offense.

Previous Pick: WR Marqise Lee

24. Cincinnati Bengals: Kony Ealy, DE Missouri – The Bengals lost Michael Johnson to free agency, so Ealy will help Cincinnati upgrade at a vital position. Ealy is a quick edge rusher who is also strong against the run. He can step in and rotate with Carlos Dunlap and Margus Hunt as a rookie.

Previous Pick: DE Kony Ealy

25. San Diego Chargers: Louis Nix, DT Notre Dame – Nix is the top pure nose tackle in this draft and he would be a great fit in San Diego’s 3-4 defense. Nose tackle aren’t easy to find, so getting a dominant run stuffer like Nix at this point would be a steal for the Chargers.

Previous Pick: G David Yankey

26. Cleveland Browns: Brandin Cooks, WR Oregon State – The Browns are picking here because the Colts thought they said “sixth round” pick instead of “first round” pick for Trent Richardson. Cleveland has many needs but Josh Gordon is really the only threat the Browns have at receiver. The explosive Cooks would change that, along with giving Cleveland a dangerous return man.

Previous Pick: WR Brandin Cooks

27. New Orleans Saints: Dee Ford, DE Auburn – Ford dominated last year in the SEC and if he goes to the right team like the Saints, he has a chance to be a stud in the NFL. I won’t be surprised if someone like the Steelers grab him higher in the draft but if Ford lasts this long, Rob Ryan will love him.

Previous Pick: DE Dee Ford

28. Carolina Panthers: Kelvin Benjamin, WR Florida State – If a top receiver is on the board at 28, I have to think the Panthers will pull the trigger. Right now I think I’m projected to be Carolina’s fourth receiver. The 6’5 Benjamin would give Cam Newton a huge target, especially in the red zone. Benjamin is slipping because of some off-the-field concerns but his physical skills still make him a possibility for the Panthers at 28.

Previous Pick: WR Kelvin Benjamin

29. New England Patriots: Jace Amaro, TE Texas Tech – This is the popular pick for the Patriots. I originally had Kyle Fuller going to New England and I still think he’s the kind of player the Patriots could target but after signing Darrelle Revis, I’m going with Amaro. Rob Gronkowski is coming back from his second major injury and there is little behind him at tight end. Amaro would give Tom Brady another dangerous weapon in the passing game.

Previous Pick: CB Kyle Fuller

30. San Francisco 49ers: Kyle Fuller, CB Virginia Tech – The 49ers don’t have many weaknesses but one area where they could stand to upgrade is at cornerback, especially after losing Carlos Rogers. Fuller is a smart, tough, versatile corner that will fit in perfectly with what the 49ers like to do on defense.

Previous Pick: CB Bradley Roby

31. Denver Broncos: Ra’Shede Hageman, DL Minnesota – The Broncos could grab an OT here to protect Peyton Manning but with Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips both gone, defensive line is an area of need as well. Besides, if Hageman lasts this long, the versatile lineman will be one of the top players left on the board.

Previous Pick: DL Ra’Shede Hageman

32. Seattle Seahawks: Ryan Shazier, LB Ohio State – Seattle usually takes the best player available. I wanted to mention Shazier because in my opinion, he’s going to be a difference-maker in the NFL. A couple of years ago I really liked Lavonte David coming out of Nebraska and Shazier reminds me a lot of him. He’s always around the ball making plays. Whichever team selects Shazier is going to get a future stud. Don’t be surprised if he goes in Round 1. If Shazier is still on the board here, Seattle will likely give him a long look.

Previous Pick: TE Jace Amaro



QB Johnny Manziel Draft Profile


By: — April 11, 2014 @ 10:27 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel: Boom or bust and not much in between.

Vitals
College: Texas A&M
Height/Weight: 6’0”/207
Hands: 9 3/4”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.68
Vertical Jump: 31 1/2”
Broad Jump: 9’ 5”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.03

Background (College Stats)
After redshirting in 2011, Manziel reportedly considered transferring in the wake of a potential suspension for an off-field brawl. He stayed at College Station, somewhat surprisingly won the starting job following Ryan Tannehill’s departure to the NFL and made the SEC – annually the most competitive conference in college football – look silly for most of the next two seasons. Manziel’s star really began to shine in 2012 moments after he guided Texas A&M to a 29-24 win over Alabama, a game in which he accounted for 345 of his team’s 418 yards and played an instrumental role in handing the eventual national champion Crimson Tide their only loss. Given his performance in that game and the sheer number of school, conference and NCAA records he set along the way that season, voters seemingly had no choice but to make him the first-ever freshman to receive the Heisman Trophy. Manziel’s follow-up sophomore seemed disappointing if only because his Aggies finished with four losses – thanks in large part to a dreadful defense – and the unrealistic expectations placed upon him from the video-game numbers he posted as a freshman. To that end, he wrapped up his college career with an incredible performance (455 total yards and five touchdowns) in a 52-48 comeback win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Of course, no discussion of the A&M star is complete without noting his off-field behavior, which ranged from being at the wrong place at the wrong time (his June 2012 arrest for failure to identify) to an “inadvertent violation” of NCAA rules (the autograph incident in which the NCAA found no proof that he accepted money) to the somewhat irresponsible (reportedly oversleeping when he was one of the counselors at the Manning Passing Academy).

NFL Player Comp(s): Doug Flutie/Fran Tarkenton

Strengths

  • Uncanny ability to escape trouble, make something out of nothing and extend plays; at his best, he will make defenses cover the entire field.
  • Improvisational skills, elusiveness in the open field and ability to throw on the run or against his body are top-notch.
  • Seems to possess a sixth sense of sorts; has an almost innate ability to feel pressure and enough lower-body strength to get out of the grasp of defensive linemen and/or linebackers.
  • Has huge hands for player of his size to effectively pump-fake; possesses plenty of arm strength to throw down the field and complete the deep out to the opposite hash/sideline.
  • Ultra-competitiveness shows in his play – he repeatedly displayed the ability to rally his teammates in difficult circumstances.
  • Plays with a chip on his shoulder and performs well on the “big stage”.
  • Confidence in his ability should play well with supporting cast in crunch time (former teammates rave about playing with him); figures to be lethal in the two-minute drill.
  • Can throw from a variety of platforms and arm angles.

Weaknesses

  • Reckless with the ball, both as a runner and a passer; carries the ball with one hand away from body while running and throws too many balls up for grabs.
  • Too many instances of throwing off-balance or off his back foot, which is likely a by-product of the confidence he has in his ability to make something happen on just about every play.
  • Has not been asked to work through progressions consistently and, as a result, often gives up on pass plays too quickly; needs to learn a throw out-of-bounds is sometimes the smartest play he can make.
  • Does not do a consistently good enough job of protecting his body when he decides to become a runner.
  • Stares down receivers too often.
  • Has a tendency to throw behind his receivers on short routes and does not deliver a consistent spiral.
  • Will inexplicably change his arm angle, particularly on intermediate throws.

Bottom Line
Manziel can be a very successful quarterback in the NFL, but much will depend on the flexibility and creativity of the team that drafts him. If a team selects with the hope that he will be a timing-and-rhythm-based quarterback no later than 2015 or 2016, then the chances are great that he will fail miserably. In fact, the odds that he’ll ever be a “normal” drop-back passer at any point in his career are fairly slim. Whereas most teams want their signal-callers to be quick-minded distributors, the organization that drafts Manziel must understand – at least initially – that his receivers and tight ends could often serve as window dressing for its new quarterback on any number of pass plays. The former Heisman winner has a strong-enough arm as well as the competitiveness and scrambling ability to be a big-time star in the NFL, but how many of today’s coaches will tolerate the number of times he loses 15 yards on a wild scramble versus the number of times he blindly throws the ball up for grabs versus the number of times he creates a big play due to his elusiveness or ability to improvise? Teams must be willing to take the (sometimes very) bad with the (sometimes very) good his unique talent will allow him to create. While Manziel’s ceiling is incredibly high, his floor is equally low. In short, he will not be an average player in the NFL; he is the embodiment of a boom-or-bust pick. Manziel is a player that should scare all 32 teams (the one that drafts him and must deal with his unpredictability as well as the 31 other teams that will be forced to defend such an unorthodox quarterback). While his lack of ideal size will likely draw the most criticism throughout the rest of the draft process, teams should be far more concerned with the likelihood that his reckless style will lead to a relatively short and/or injury-plagued NFL career.



QB Blake Bortles Draft Profile


By: — April 9, 2014 @ 9:06 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Blake Bortles

Bortles’ boom-bust meter isn’t as volatile as Manziel’s.

Vitals
College: Central Florida
Height/Weight: 6’5”/232
Hands: 9 1/4”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.93
Vertical Jump: 32 1/2”
Broad Jump: 9’ 7”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.21

Background (College Stats)
Unlike Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel, Bortles was not a highly sought-after quarterback recruit coming out of high school. In fact, only four colleges had interest in him and two of them wanted to convert him into a tight end. After redshirting his first year, Bortles began to prove the Knights right for leaving him at his natural position when he earned Conference USA All-Freshman Team honors while appearing in 10 games in 2011. As a sophomore, he started all 14 games and finished behind Bridgewater as a second-team all-conference pick after throwing for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Still, the Oviedo (Fla.) native remained a relative unknown until Central Florida’s fourth-quarter rally fell three points short against SEC power South Carolina in September 2013. However, Bortles and his Knights got the big-time win they desired a few weeks later when they overcame a 21-point third-quarter deficit against one of the top defenses in the country (Louisville) on national television. He then capped off the Knights’ finest season in school history by leading Central Florida to a 52-42 victory against heavily-favored Baylor in the school’s first-ever BCS bowl game, throwing for 301 yards and three touchdowns while adding 93 yards on the ground and another score in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

NFL Player Comp(s): A young Ben Roethlisberger

Strengths

  • Prototypical size with very good athleticism; has the ability to rip off a 20-30 yard run and/or extend plays.
  • Does not possess rocket-launcher arm strength, but does not struggle to make all the necessary throws.
  • Adept as a passer rolling to the left or right, will square his shoulders on the run to ensure an accurate throw.
  • Shows a good feel for pressure, keeps his eyes downfield and moves well inside the pocket.
  • Throws with anticipation on the deep ball and displays the ability to “throw his receiver open”.
  • Mental strength, ability to rally the troops and competitive drive show up repeatedly; has a short memory and bounces back well after a mistake.

Weaknesses

  • Decision-making (especially on deep throws) can be questioned and ball security was an issue in final season (eight fumbles).
  • Doesn’t always do a great job of locating the safety on downfield throws.
  • Tends to get lazy with his footwork and will throw off-balance on occasion inside the pocket.
  • Inconsistent mechanics really show up when he is required to make an intermediate-to-deep throw against the blitz.
  • Runs hot-and-cold in terms of his willingness to “look down the gun barrel” and doesn’t always react well when pressure comes up the middle.
  • Touch passes are a work in progress.

Bottom Line
On one hand, Bortles looks the part as much as any of the top draft-eligible quarterback (along with LSU’s Zach Mettenberger and perhaps Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas). On the other hand, the 2013 AAC Offensive Player of the Year sported a 9:7 TD-to-INT ratio against South Carolina, Louisville, South Florida and Baylor – the four top 40 pass defenses on the Knights’ 2013 schedule – and a 16:2 mark against every other opponent. In those four “difficult” matchups, it should be noted that a great deal of Bortles’ statistical success came as a result of what his receivers and running backs did after the catch. It is hard to deny that Bortles has all the physical gifts necessary to be an upper-echelon NFL quarterback, but his decision-making and ball-security issues are legitimate concerns. While his ceiling is arguably higher than any other quarterback in this draft, he isn’t nearly as ready for rookie-year success as Bridgewater, so the team that selects will almost certainly need to protect him with a good rushing attack since the likelihood is high he will begin the season as a starter. Bortles’ boom-bust meter isn’t nearly as volatile as Manziel’s nor does he possess the polish Bridgewater, but his physical skill set easily surpasses that of his other two aforementioned counterparts. Short of an Andrew Luck-type quarterback who enters the league with prototypical size, athletic ability AND a refined skill set, NFL teams will almost always value a signal-caller that has Bortles’ size and athletic ability along with the potential to develop the skill set over a player with a refined skill set that may lack his size and athletic ability. It’s not hard to see how Bortles could one day be a top 10 NFL quarterback when he’s on his game, but there’s also more than enough film of him to suggest that consistency may be a problem for him as well.



QB Teddy Bridgewater Draft Profile


By: — April 7, 2014 @ 10:40 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Teddy Bridgewater

Teddy Bridgewater: The safest QB pick in the draft.

Vitals
College: Louisville
Height/Weight: 6’2”/214
Hands: 9 1/4”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.67
Vertical Jump: 30”
Broad Jump: 9’5”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.20

Background (College Stats)
Bridgewater, who originally committed to Miami (Fla.) before landing at Louisville, entered college as the second-rated quarterback prospect in the nation by Rivals.com. The Miami native – the first freshman quarterback to start at the school since Stu Stram in 1976 – went on to be named Big East Rookie of the Year in 2011 despite a 14:12 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He proved to be a quick study in Cardinals OC Shawn Watson’s offense as he compiled a 58:12 TD-INT ratio over the final two years of his college career. Bridgewater was already generating a fair amount of buzz near the end of the 2012 season before leading Louisville to a surprising 33-23 victory in the Sugar Bowl over a Florida team that saw five of its defenders get drafted last April, including two in the first round. Bridgewater toyed with the American Athletic Conference in his final season and finished off his college career with a virtuoso 447-yard, four-touchdown (three passing, one rushing) performance against his hometown team in the Russell Athletic Bowl, wrapping up a season in which he completed 71 percent of his passes in a pro-style offense and threw for 3,970 yards, 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions.

NFL Player Comp(s): A poor man’s Aaron Rodgers

Strengths

  • Shows fearlessness against the blitz, does not get rattled after taking a jarring shot from a defender and keep his eyes downfield.
  • Uses eyes/feet to manipulate safeties as well as any college quarterback in the last two draft classes.
  • Makes quick/sound decisions and is rarely ever caught off-guard; ball is almost always gone a split-second after he completes his drop.
  • Was trusted to make his own checks/audibles at the line of scrimmage (as opposed to the majority of college quarterbacks nowadays that look to the sideline after defense has set).
  • Very accurate; short and intermediate throws are often extended handoffs.
  • Exceptional touch on fades as well as throws on the move (left or right).
  • Moves well inside the pocket and has a good feel for backside pressure.
  • Play exudes confidence in his ability; knows the difference between fitting and forcing a throw into a tight window.

Weaknesses

  • Long-ball accuracy (only completed 39% of throws that traveled 20-plus yards).
  • Slightly above-average arm strength is exposed on deep throws as ball can get hung up in the air.
  • Lean build did not necessarily lead to wrist/ankle injuries at college level, but could be a problem in the NFL.
  • Less-than-ideal release point (ball often comes out near his ear as opposed to over the shoulder), leading to a few more tipped passes.
  • Can run well enough to pick up the first down, but is not a breakaway threat as a runner.
  • Doesn’t always protect himself outside the pocket, opening him up for big hits on outside throws or in an effort to pick up yards on the ground.

Bottom Line
It’s rare that a prospect comes along that has virtually little-to-no “bust potential”, especially at the quarterback position, but Bridgewater may very well be that player in this class. Let’s be clear: he is not an elite prospect so much as he is a player capable of being an above-average quarterback for the next decade. While his ceiling isn’t as high as some of his other highly-ranked counterparts (Johnny Manziel has more athleticism and Blake Bortles is an unfinished product with prototypical size for the position), playing quarterback in the NFL is much more of a mentally-taxing job than it is a physically-taxing one in a lot of cases. Bridgewater is the rare combination of a college player that can outthink a defense and has enough ability to do something about it. Watson believes quarterbacks are better served by learning defensive theory first and his playbook second. When watching Bridgewater play, it is hard to argue against Watson’s methodology given how often his pupil simply appeared as if he was always a step or two ahead of opposing defenses. Critics have been quick to point out Bridgewater’s lack of accuracy as a deep-ball thrower, but Louisville’s offensive philosophy is based on short-to-long reads whereas most NFL teams work in a deep-to-short manner. As a result, Bridgewater’s deep throws can sometimes be his second or third read in the progression, meaning he has less time and more pressure to make those kind of throws than most quarterbacks. While he is not the complete package like Andrew Luck or the athlete that Robert Griffin III, Ryan Tannehill or Russell Wilson are, few quarterback prospects in recent memory are more prepared to play in the NFL from the neck up than Bridgewater.


WR Mike Evans Draft Profile


By: — April 3, 2014 @ 10:04 am
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Mike Evans

Mike Evans: Vincent Jackson’s frame and Brandon Marshall’s game.

Vitals
College: Texas A&M
Height/Weight: 6’5”/232
Hands: 9 1/2”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.53
Vertical Jump: 37”
Broad Jump: N/A
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.26
3-Cone: 7.08

Background (College Stats)
Evans was a bit more of a basketball phenom in his high-school days, only playing football in his senior year. However, he proved to be a quick study in the Aggies’ spread attack in 2012 after taking a redshirt year, leading Texas A&M with 82 receptions for 1,105 yards (both school freshman records) and five touchdowns. Evans’ catch numbers dropped in 2013, but spiked almost everywhere else, posting a 69-1,394-12 line (breaking former teammate Ryan Swope’s single-season record for receiving yardage) in an offense that saw four receivers record at least 51 catches. Although the first-team All-SEC receiver tore apart Alabama for 279 yards earlier in the year, his finest game came against national champion runner-up Auburn, which he burned for 11 receptions, a school-record 287 yards and four touchdowns. Those games allowed Evans to become the first player in school history to register two 200-yard receiving games in his career. Unfortunately, the Biletnikoff Award finalist ended his college career on a bit of a mixed note. Evans picked up two 15-yard penalties in the first quarter of the Aggies’ thrilling comeback win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl after getting on officials for a lack of a pass interference call in the end zone against Duke CB (and fellow 2014 draft classmate) Ross Cockrell. The second infraction likely was a carryover from the first no-call (as well as continued physical play from Cockrell), suggesting the mean streak Evans uses to his advantage so often can also manifest itself in a negative way as well.

NFL Player Comp(s): Vincent Jackson’s frame and Brandon Marshall’s game

Strengths

  • Highly physical receiver that uses his size and strength well; challenges defenders to tackle him but displays enough elusiveness in the open field to make the first man miss.
  • Large catch radius given his size and wingspan, shows exceptional hands on 50/50 balls and is perhaps the best combination red-zone/deep threat in this draft.
  • Master at the fade-stop and displays great body control as well as an innate ability to time “high-point” throws.
  • Stacks the defender well on deep throws and can catch over either shoulder.
  • Is not the best run-after-catch threat in his class, but has a good stiff-arm and more than enough power to run through or drag tacklers.
  • Gives consistent effort on pass plays whether or not he is the target and is also a willing run blocker who can flatten his defender on occasion.
  • Was often the target for QB Johnny Manziel when plays broke down, making himself an inviting option by using “scramble-drill” techniques and boxing out the defender when necessary.

Weaknesses

  • Could face a long learning curve in learning a NFL offense since Texas A&M did not use a pro-style offense; most of his production came on jump balls, screens, fade-stops or go routes.
  • Rides a fine line between pushing off defender while ball is in the air and creating separation with his size; earned a reputation among SEC coaches that he grabbed cornerbacks during a route to get an extra “boost”.
  • Final college game displayed a bit of an uneven temperament and that a defender (or referee) can rattle him.
  • Allows the ball get into his body a bit too often, mostly on short and intermediate throws.
  • Ends up near the sideline too often before he can make a play on the ball, thereby making a difficult downfield throw even more so for his quarterback.
  • A bit of long-strider and a bit slow coming out of breaks (common for a receiver of his size), which may lend itself to a lot of contested catches in the NFL.

Bottom Line
Some bigger receivers act as if they have been told not to be overly physical because they have always been bigger than all the other kids; Evans has no such problem and actually plays with a bit of mean streak. He should make an immediate impact as a red-zone threat given the pro game’s love for the fade pattern in the scoring area as well as the deep passing game with his size and leaping ability. That’s the good news. The glass-half-empty view would suggest that his college offense may have stunted his growth as a student of the game because so much of the Aggies’ attack was based on Manziel’s ability to create something out of nothing. It’s hardly a fatal flaw, however, since just about any position coach would prefer having a receiver with Evans’ measurables and competitive drive (and teach him how to be a pro receiver) as opposed to taking on a refined route-runner without his unique qualities. Evans is going to be an instant starter in the NFL for the simple fact he is a matchup nightmare all over the field. It is scary to think Evans is a relatively raw 20-year-old who didn’t begin playing football until his senior year of high school. Clemson’s Sammy Watkins may be the better draft prospect in the short term, but no one should be surprised if Evans ends up being every bit as good – if not better – than his esteemed draft classmate once he becomes a more polished receiver.



WR Sammy Watkins Draft Profile


By: — April 1, 2014 @ 6:43 pm
Filed under: NFL Draft

As we begin the countdown to the NFL Draft starting on May 8, I will spend anywhere from 4-8 hours to break down the strengths and weaknesses of at least the top 20 or so offensive skill-position prospects available in this draft.

Sammy Watkins

Watkins leads a pack of talented receivers in the 2014 draft class.

Vitals
College: Clemson
Height/Weight: 6’1”/211
Hands: 9 1/2”

Important NFL Combine Numbers
40-Yard Dash: 4.43
Vertical Jump: 34”
Broad Jump: 10’ 6”
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.34
3-Cone: 6.95

Background (College Stats)
A five-star recruit out of Fort Myers, Fla., Watkins had already broken 11 school freshman records seven games into his college career, including the all-purpose yardage mark previously held by C.J. Spiller. He finished the 2011 season with 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, numbers that helped him become only the fourth true freshman to be named an AP first-team All-American, joining Herschel Walker, Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson in that select group. In 2012, Watkins was arrested and charged with possession of a controlled substance and simple possession of marijuana – two misdemeanors that were later expunged from his record after he completed pre-trial intervention. Nevertheless, he still served a two-game suspension to open the season as a result. With defenses keying on him following his return, Watkins took a backseat to teammate DeAndre Hopkins (an eventual first-round pick of the Houston Texans) with 57 receptions for 708 yards and three TDs. It proved to be the only significant bump in the road for Watkins, however, as he posted a 101-1,464-12 line in his final season with the Tigers, including an Orange Bowl-record 16 receptions and 227 receiving yards in a 40-35 win over Ohio State. Perhaps the most telling statistic from that game: he gained 202 yards after the catch.

NFL Player Comp(s): Andre Johnson

Strengths

  • Fearless hands-catcher with elite run-after-catch ability.
  • Explosive playmaker in the open field that rarely gets tackled by the first defender.
  • Possesses the initial burst to quickly eliminate cushion, the speed to run by a defender and the power to run him over.
  • Shows exceptional field awareness and has a good sense of when to come back to help out his quarterback.
  • Is able to track the ball well on over-the-shoulder catches and wins the majority of high-point battles with defenders on jump balls.
  • Natural separation skills are enhanced by his ability to change his tempo and manipulate stems.

Weaknesses

  • May struggle as a route-runner initially since Clemson did not employ a pro-style offense and used him primarily as an extension of the running game (on screens and quick hitters) or as a deep threat.
  • Cornerbacks rarely lined up within five yards of line of scrimmage against him, making his ability to consistently defeat physical coverage a bit of an unknown.
  • Charged with a couple of drug-related misdemeanors in 2012 and served a two-game suspension as a result; minor durability concerns.
  • Solid overall build, but average height for a receiver in today’s NFL.
  • Ball security (two fumbles in 2013 and lost four of seven throughout his three-year career).

Bottom Line
Although it doesn’t sound like a big deal, receivers that can actually be called “hands-catchers” are in short supply and those that can create offense with the ball in his hands the way Watkins does are truly a rare breed. Most running backs – much less receivers – don’t read their blocks or make the first defender miss as well as he does, which adds yet another set of unique skills to a prospect that is the clear top option in a draft year in which the receiver position is as loaded as it has been in recent memory. Much like many of the other high-profile receivers to enter the draft since the spread offense took over college football, Watkins may face a bit of a speed bump on his path to superstardom because the Tigers’ offense is based more on tempo and getting players in space and less on systematically breaking down a defense. However, NFL play-callers have gotten better about allowing their new players to do what they do best initially while spoon-feeding them the rest of the offense, so an instant impact cannot be ruled out. Even without factoring his potential impact as a kick and/or punt returner, Watkins will be a very good player in the NFL right away assuming his new team does everything it can to get him out into space. The first-team All-ACC selection isn’t quite the prospect that A.J. Green or Julio Jones was a few years ago, but there are parts of his game that are every bit as good – if not better – than Green or Jones when they declared for the draft (such as his run-after-catch ability).



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