Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: Centers and Guards

Name five centers. Ok, name five guards. Ok, ok, name a combination of five centers or guards. Most people can't because interior offensive linemen are not highlight reel material. But their role in an offense is vital. The Center is the only other player aside from the quarterback who will touch the ball on every offensive snap. He is the captain of the offensive line, the conductor of a violent orchestra. The guards are his closest comrades in arms, flanking him on either side, as between them they clog up any inside pass rush and drive back defensive tackles to create openings up the middle in the run game. In the case of the guards they also frequently have to pull and take on difficult moving blocks as part of a power running offense.

So what am I looking for in the guards and centers?

1) Pass blocking,
2) Run blocking,
3) Awareness,
4) Versatility,

Very similar to the tackles then, except that awareness leaps over versatility because stunts and twists are more common with interior defensive linemen and because most guards are already reasonably versatile, otherwise they wouldn't make it to the field in the first place. In the pass game I'm looking for these interior linemen to bend their knees, engage their defender with a good punch with the hands inside, and then the ability to hold their balance and their position without being driven back or thrown aside. Against the run I'm looking for quick movement off the snap, getting their hat between the defender and the hole, and the ability to combo block with those around them to get up to the second level and grab a linebacker. Awareness is the ability to recognise movement, blitzes and stunts, coordinating with their fellow linemen to pick up these up. And versatility is simply the ability of the player to perform a variety of blocks, to be scheme versatile as opposed to being pigeon holed into a specific offense, and bonus points if they could play tackle in an emergency.

That last point is something that is coming to the fore more and more these days as teams are struggling to find adequate tackles and frequently find themselves shifting their lines around. It's becoming far more common for tackles to have to move inside and play guard, with guards sometimes being thrown into action as emergency tackles. This I believe is a function of what I talked about in the offensive tackles post (plus the clarification) where an increasing number of college tackles are arriving in the NFL without the prerequisite skill sets needed to block the best pass rushers that the NFL has to offer. Oddly enough it's often college guards who come better equipped for this, having at least some experience of facing one-gap rushes from blitzing linebackers and defensive tackles.

And as always with these lists, they're ordered the way they are because that's how the list that I'm working from is ordered. Read the specific piece on the player to find out how I rate him. We start this list with...

Brandon Scherff, Iowa
Of course the very first player on the list of guards and centers is actually a tackle, or at least was for his final season at Iowa. So, any good? Perhaps he might make up for the dearth of good tackles this year?

Hahahahaha! No.

Scherff is being talked about as a first round pick. Possibly a top ten pick. I would love to know why. He was awful! Against Nebraska he just about held his own for most of the game, then on the final play of regular time he finally faced a one-gap pass rush and got absolutely destroyed. Against Maryland he got destroyed for four quarters by a combination of Yannick Ngakoue, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, and Andre Monroe. Maryland, that powerhouse of NFL development. Let me say that again; MARYLAND! They ruined him. Monroe is 5'11". Jason Pierre-Paul is 6'5". 6-5! Based on the evidence presented by his senior year Scherff is going to get killed in the NFL. Honestly, it was so bad that this could get real ugly, real quick. Pass, pass, pass.

On a side note, I mentioned last year that I liked the then junior Iowa running back/fullback Mark Weisman, who was a senior for 2014. Got to see plenty more of him watching Scherff and yeah, I still like him. He is absolutely an undrafted guy, I don't think anyone expects otherwise. I don't think anyone's even paying attention to him. But I would absolutely want him in my training camp. He has decent speed for his size, finds the hole well and then powers through it. He's not an amazing running back by any means and he'd probably be at the bottom of any running back committee, but I think he has value. I can see him as a brawler, used in a rotation to take the pressure (and some of the pounding) off the other backs. I really like Weisman.

A.J. Cann, South Carolina
What to say about Cann? He was pretty solid in general. He has a nasty streak at times that offensive line coaches like, though he's not a pitbull-esque mauler by any means. Can't say as I'm overly keen on him though. He didn't dominate the line in the manner that you'd like a top guard to. At times his decision making seemed poor and you could see a number of plays and protections that broke down because of his mental errors. He struggled to cut off faster linemen because he's a little slow off the snap at times, but he dealt with power rushers pretty well. He's only 6'3" so he gets under the defensive linemen with ease. My overall thoughts on Cann? Not a bad player. I like that streak of aggression and he's a legitimately strong guy, but I'm concerned how he'd cope with the greater speed at the next level, something that will only exacerbate the mental problems he seems to have. Those errors will kill an offense at the next level just as assuredly as they did at South Carolina. On balance I have to say I'd pass on Cann.

Tre Jackson, Florida State
You know what's not fun? Trying to track a Florida State offensive lineman when their jerseys are white and the numbers are gold (or are they blue and black?) with no definition. You'd have thought someone would have had a quiet word with them by now to point out that it makes identifying players very difficult for the crowd. Enough of that though, what about Jackson?

Well, Jackson for the most part seemed solid. Against smaller defensive linemen he had sticky hands, in the sense that once he got his hands on them they weren't going anywhere. His run blocking was broadly ok. But the issues tended to stand out for me. At times Jackson seemed to be a little lost. The defense would be charging all over the shop and Jackson would frequently lose track of his man in the chaos. He's quite a restricted guard in terms of what you can do with in the running game, having little experience outside of zone rushing plays. On the two occasions I did see him pull on a power type run he was very slow getting to the point of the attack. He doesn't come off the snap with great speed either. Against bigger power rushers he really struggled, which is a problem when you consider where he's heading. They had a tendency to get under him and just jack him up and out of the way. For me? I think the flaws stick in my mind too much, so I'd pass.

Cameron Erving, Florida State
Beaten to the point of attack every time in the run game and couldn't handle power, speed or technique rushers in the pass game. Will get destroyed in the NFL I suspect. Suffice to say I pass.

Hroniss Grasu, Oregon
Played in a gimmick offense and got bullied mercilessly. Couldn't block anyone effectively without help. If you were putting together a defensive game plan then - regardless of where he ends up - I think Grasu would be the top target to go after as the weak link in the O-line. Maybe Chip Kelly will give him a job? I wouldn't. I have to wonder how long it will take before high school kids begin to realise that very few players from these gimmicky offenses are putting together solid NFL careers and start veering towards programs that may not offer them the same short term rewards in college, but are more likely to prepare them for a longer and more profitable career in the pros?

Laken Tomlinson, Duke
Ok, it's getting a bit better. That's not saying that much but Tomlinson seemed a little more, shall we say 'robust' up the middle. He did ok. In the run game he was very strong blocking D-tackles individually and showed a degree of versatility that would make him a fit for a number of offenses. The problem was that pass protection wasn't brilliant. On the occasions that the defense pinned back their ears and went after him he was often beaten by those single gap pass rushers. He was exceptionally lucky in a few cases not to concede a holding penalty, but then guards generally seem to get away with more holding than the tackles. Again though, can't say as I walked away wowed by him. If he was available undrafted (which I doubt) then I'd be willing to offer him a camp spot to see if we couldn't work out some of the kinks in his pass protection, but I wouldn't want to use a draft pick on him I don't think. Definitely an improvement though. Fingers crossed.

Jarvis Harrison, Texas A&M
Definitely starting to improve. Massive dude at 6'4", 330 pounds. Crushed people at times in the run game. Pretty versatile, though his awareness of pass rushing stunts wasn't great. His pass blocking was... meh, neither here nor there. As a left guard he faced few one gap rushes and when he did - sticking to the common theme - he looked vulnerable. Given the importance of the passing game to modern football I just wouldn't be able to justify using a pick on someone I couldn't be certain would hold in the pass game. I think Harrison probably would make a decent left guard and has a better shot than most on the list so far to be able to make the leap, it's just me personally, I wouldn't be able to get that nagging itch out of my head. The draft is a great way to build a team from the ground up, but only I think if you play it somewhat safe. Maybe as a late round pick, depending on what else was out there?

B.J. Finney, Kansas State
Bingo! We have a winner at last. It's certainly taken long enough.

Finney is a 6'4", 318 pound center who locked down pretty much everything that came at him. He really only had two major weaknesses that I could see. One was blocking in space, for example against linebackers in the screen game. He was slow to get out in the first place and then struggled to find his target. That can be more or less of an issue depending on how often you run screens and how you go about setting them up. Middle screens for example should be a little easier for him, the problems only really starting when you make him run outside into space and try to pick up linebackers on the move.

The other issue is that sometimes he gives up too much ground against one gap rushing tackles which will hamper the quarterbacks movement in the pocket sometimes, but a good quarterback should be able to shift around this without too much trouble. It's just a slight weak point that coaches would need to be aware of. And yes, you heard that right, he actually had to block some one gap rushers! And he didn't get beaten senseless by them! It's a miracle people! I cannot describe how happy I am to actually see an offensive linemen that I'm interested in.

All in all, I thought Finney was pretty good. He wasn't outstanding, but he was solid. I'd want a risk premium to cover those weak points because they might be a little restricting on the offense, but Finney is a powerful center who held his own individually against some good D-tackle play. I'd say probably from the third round down you're in good shape. If things keep up the way they've been in terms of offensive linemen you'd possibly put an asterix next to his name to remind you that "hey, there's good depth at a number of other positions but not this one, so if he's there in the third then take him". It would depend on what the board looks like and how the rest of these guards and centers pan out, but Finney is definitely a player that has caught my eye. Let's hope that some of these other guys I'm about to watch reach this same bar that he's set.

Daryl Williams, Oklahoma
Actually played as a right tackle but projected to kick inside to guard at the next level. Which is probably for the best because Williams couldn't handle speed on the outside and would probably get creamed as a right tackle. As a guard? Not sure I can comment because that's a difficult thing to do, projecting how someone will play in a completely new position. I don't think he did anything particularly exceptional to suggest he'd make a great guard. As a right guard I'd be extremely worried about his vulnerability to 3 technique defensive tackles rushing him one on one through his B gap (the gap between the guard and the offensive tackle). On the move he seemed surprisingly good for a guy with such a slow 40 time (even by O-line standards). He seems every bit as strong as you'd expect a 6'5", 327 pound guy to be. I just get the feeling that his technique and balance lets him down at times. Personally I'd pass.

Josue Matias, Florida State
Not a great O-line and Matias has to accept his share of the blame for that. His run blocking was ok, but several times he would fall off his blocks which had a big impact on the running game. His pass protection was ok, but nothing special. Again I couldn't see anything that would make me part ways with a pick for him. Maybe B.J. Finney really will just be an island in the middle of an otherwise drab drizzle of an offensive line class.

Jeremiah Poutasi, Utah
Actually played as a left tackle for Utah but projected to come inside as a guard. How would I sum Poutasi up in one word? Awful. Utterly and chronically awful. Horribly bad. Pass.

John Miller, Louisville
Hahahahaha! Laughably poor. Got jacked up repeatedly and driven off the line. Most of the time he looked like he was thankful just to be in the game, let alone do anything productive. Supposedly scouts are excited by his upper body strength and believe that he will perform better in the NFL than he did in college. To call that assessment 'wildly optimistic' would be an understatement. And people wonder why coaches look at scouts and personnel guys sceptically. Pass.

Shaquille Mason, Georgia Tech
Bit shorter than some of these other guys at 6'1" (300 pounds) but tremendously quick. Ran a sub 5 second 40 yard time at the Georgia Tech pro day and it shows on the field. And here we get into the dilemma of Shaquille Mason. Georgia Tech was a massively run heavy offense and so Mason has very limited experience of pass blocking. Very limited. However he was very good on the limited snaps where he was asked to pass protect. He showed good balance, technique and used his hands really well. In the running game his speed and agility offered him a unique ability to cut off linebackers, even when they (and he) were on the front side of a play. He has varied experience of different run plays and coupled with his athleticism he should be able to fit any run scheme.

He did have his problems in the run game as well though. He has a tendency sometimes to cut block at the defenders feet when he could take them on head to head. Then on some plays where he was sent upfield he would try and use his shoulder to deliver a big hit to knock a defender out of the play instead of engaging them properly. You have to wonder how much of that is him naturally and how much of that is his coaches? And because of those weak points and because of his very, very limited experience in the passing game I'd have to say I'm not sure whether I would be able to justify the use of a draft pick on him as a right guard.

But hang on just a moment.

While teams aren't allowed to work players out during pre-draft visits to their facility, they are allowed to arrange private workouts at the players college. I'd be willing to go visit Shaq Mason for three reasons. Firstly, to get a general look at his pass blocking skills and movement. Secondly, to assess his potential for a shift to the right tackle spot. Even though he's a bit short for a tackle, he's strong, quick and technically very skilled. I'd be intrigued as to whether that could be tapped for use on the outside against speed rushers. Thirdly, I'd be interested in assessing his potential as a defensive lineman.

As mad as that sounds, I saw him do a really good swim move as he was trying to work his way through to a linebacker and it got me thinking. With his combination of size and speed he might have a shot as a 3 technique tackle in a 4-3, or as a 5 technique defensive end in a 3-4. It's a long shot and probably something he hasn't done since high school, presuming of course he played both ways, but it has me rubbing my chin in deep thought. When you consider how few seventh round picks ever pan out - with less than half even making their teams roster in their second year - then I have to wonder whether it might be worth a cheeky gamble to use a seventh rounder on Mason, depending on the outcome of the facility visit, and perhaps convert him to a right tackle or even D-lineman. If it works, hurray! If it fails, ah well, another of the many, many seventh rounders that didn't amount to anything in the league.

Andy Gallik, Boston College
Like Finney he's a guy that actually has plentiful experience against one gapping pass rushers. And you know what, he handled it really well. But not only is Gallik strong, he's also pretty athletic. He has quick feet and can pull from the center position and get around the end of the line before the running back catches up, giving coaches more variety in their options for the run game. He's also proven that he can climb to the second level and pick up linebackers on the move, so Gallik is definitely scheme diverse. In terms of his awareness Gallik did a superb job of switching blocks and finding work for himself, his head constantly on a swivel and his heart eager to get stuck in. All in all a very likeable center whose projection is somewhere in the third to fifth round. For that price I think you get good value.

Trenton Brown, Florida
6'8", 355 pound man mountain. Moved reasonably quick for a guy of that size and could probably afford to shave off a few pounds (or twenty. Or thirty) and still have the strength and weight to move people around. The problem is that once again we get back into the realms of another guy who did very little pass blocking at all, let alone any against a one gapping lineman. He was ok in general, not brilliant, not bad. Bit limited. I think teams will be attracted by what they could do with a guy of his size and sure, that would warrant maybe a seventh round pick/undrafted look as a project, but that's the price I would want for someone who has no proven record of pass blocking.

Tayo Fabuluje, TCU
Another man mountain at 6'6" and 353 pounds. Played left tackle for TCU but scouts are talking about him moving inside to guard. Part of the reason for that is because he can't handle the sort of speed rushers he'd face in the NFL. Playing inside he might be ok simply because of how large he is, but he does have a tendency to turn his hips and open the door for one gap rushers which is quite alarming. For me he has project written all over him and as such, much like Brown, if you wanted to bet a seventh rounder on the potential of what he might become then ok, but nothing more than that.

Reese Dismukes, Auburn
Having read quite a glowing review of Dismukes I was surprised to then see this under his list of weaknesses; "Has difficulty with a zero nose or shade techniques". Which is basically one way of saying that as a center in the NFL he will have difficulty with... every defense in the NFL. In fact, the only time he's unlikely to have either a zero/nose or a 1 technique shade over him would be on long third downs when defenses tend to widen their alignments because they're going all out against the pass and not worried about the run. Which poses a significant problem then because what do you do with Dismukes if he can't handle the sort of techniques he'll face 90% or so of the time in the NFL?

Well in fairness I didn't actually think he was that bad. I guess "has difficulty" is quite a broad statement with plenty of wiggle room. Then again, Dismukes didn't exactly shine either. Another one of these players from a very run heavy offense, one that involves a lot of misdirection, and with a passing game that's heavily reliant on play-action passing. As a result he didn't really do that much classic pass protecting and I think he could struggle having to read a defense and make line calls in a more conventional setup. In summary, not terrible, but not worth a pick either.

Arie Kouandjio, Alabama
Just as a side note, it's a miracle watching Alabama that they even made it to the Sugar Bowl. Some of their O-line play was horrible, as was most of their quarterback play. It's a testimony to just how much of an advantage it is in college ball to have four and five star athletes like Amari Cooper on your team. And speaking of bad O-line play, Kouandjio was a big part of that. He was ok as long as you didn't ask him to move more than about three or four yards from his starting spot. His movement is limited by a shortage of athletic ability and he really struggles to pick up blitzes and stunts. I wouldn't trust him as part of my O-line.

Bobby Hart, Florida State
I'm frankly surprised that Jameis Winston survived the season without taking a career ending hit given the play of Bobby Hart, who actually played at right tackle but is projected to play inside at guard. If you're bored one day and you want to conduct a little experiment for yourself then go and find a video of Bobby Hart somewhere and just watch. What you're looking for and should pay particular attention to is how an offense can be severely limited, both in terms of play calling and play execution, by poor offensive line play. It restricts how long you can allow the quarterback to hold the ball for, which often rules out any kind of seven step drop, as well as limiting how and where the offense can attack the defensive front in the run game.

Because Hart was awful. And I do mean awful. His feet are incredibly slow even by college standards and he just couldn't cope. Whether it was outside rushers, inside rushers, straight ahead blocking, pulling, climbing to the second level, the whole shebang. He literally could not do a single thing right. So I have a question; who in their right mind thinks he could play guard in the NFL? I've seen one comment from a draft expert that basically said "oh it's ok, the sort of problems he faced as a tackle won't be a problem at guard, they're different positions". Really? Pass blocking (something he had a massive problem with at tackle) isn't something he'll have to do as a guard? Pulling? That's sort of a bread and butter part of being a guard in a power running offense. Climbing to the second level to pick off a moving linebacker? That's a major part of playing guard in a zone offense. I would say this to you reader, keep an eye out for Bobby Hart on the third day of the draft. As in, hope on all you hold dear that your team doesn't draft him and laugh at your friends when their team does. Pass.

Quinton Spain, West Virginia
Wasn't horrible, which is a start. But at 6'4" and 332 pounds I think alarm bells have to start going off when you see him get bull rushed back into the quarterbacks lap like he was a mere training sled. He looked determined, I'll give him that. He never gave up and kept fighting right to the whistle. But nothing I saw filled me with any confidence to put him in front of a multi-million dollar quarterback. I'd pass.

Max Garcia, Florida
Pretty strong center and moved well onto the second level I thought. Showed great ability to turn people out of the hole and create space for the running back. Again though, back to that same old, same old problem. Did very little pass blocking full stop and faced almost no single gap rushers. And once again that means that he might yet be a great pass blocker in the NFL but nobody will know until they throw him in at the deep end and he either sinks or swims. Would you use a precious draft pick on that, on what is basically guesswork? I wouldn't. If he was still around after the draft I'd be interested to see what he was capable of, but not for a pick.

Sean Hickey, Syracuse
Actually played as a left tackle, but another one of these guys projected to move inside to guard. But you know what, I'd want to keep him at tackle because he was actually pretty decent. Let's put it this way, do you remember Brandon Scherff from Iowa who I talked about first in this post? Scherff is projected as a first round talent but got utterly destroyed against Maryland. Well guess who else played Maryland last year? That would be Syracuse and in that game Hickey didn't give up a single sack or pressure that I could see. So you tell me then, how is Scherff considered a first rounder while Hickey is described as the following; "As an NFL prospect, he won't check off many of the boxes teams are looking for in terms of his natural talent"? Someone please explain that to me. Two players, same defence, one got mauled and the other stood up well. The guy that got mauled is a first rounder and the guy that held up well doesn't "check off many of the boxes teams are looking for in terms of his natural talent"? Because... scouting.

Now, just because I think Hickey is better than Scherff that doesn't make Hickey a first rounder. Just because Scherff is massively over valued that doesn't mean Hickey should be. I think Hickey is probably a fourth or fifth round pick, maybe a bit lower. He has his own flaws that will cause him problems in the NFL. His technique is a little wanting in some places and he's not the most athletic player in the world just for a start. I think there are limits on what you could ask him to do in the run game and although he didn't get beaten against Maryland he did come close several times. Maybe then you go lower and say rounds six or seven, another gamble pick where you see the small nugget of something good and wonder what could be made of it.

Adam Shead, Oklahoma
Guess what I'm about to say?

If you guessed something along the lines of "not enough pass blocking experience to justify drafting" then good for you, at least you've been paying attention. If you didn't then seriously? Go back and have another read through because you've been skimming. So yeah, not a bad run blocker really but not enough pass blocking experience to justify drafting.

Jake Smith, Louisville
The other guard in the Louisville starting O-line alongside John Miller. And just as bad. Got bullied all over the place, struggled horribly to pick up rushers and just generally looked like a disaster waiting to happen.

Malcolm Bunche, UCLA
Started 2014 at left tackle but later moved to guard. And I have to question why. Is Bunche a brilliant tackle? No. But he was pretty effective. Has been marked down almost across the board for "mental errors leading to sacks", but I call bullsh*t on that right away. Offensive linemen work within a scheme. That scheme tells them who to block. In some cases the scheme will acknowledge that it's not possible to block every rusher and so sometimes the quarterback has to account for the free rusher using a "hot" pattern (a quick throw to a receiver), while the blockers pick up the most dangerous threats.

That's what seemed to be happening with Bunche. One of the ways you can tell is because I never once saw him doubling up on a defender with his left guard while a rusher came free outside, nor did I ever see him standing around looking lost as a free rusher came through. In each case of what I'm guessing other people are recording as "mental errors" I came away with the impression that the protection was either not set correctly (which is normally the centers fault) or that the scheme simply called for the quarterback to throw hot off the unblocked rusher and didn't. If anything the running backs were commonly at fault, something which Bunche has taken it in the neck for.

As such I think he's been treated unfairly. Now like I said, he's not a brilliant tackle. He still needs some work and there may be a finite cap on his ability which falls short of being a top caliber left tackle, partly because of his limited run blocking when picking up second level targets like linebackers in space. But overall I think Bunche is worth a pick, if only a low round one. Probably somewhere in that fifth to sixth round region, Bunche would be a guy that you draft with the intention of developing into a starting tackle over time, as opposed to a plug and play guy. If you're someone like the Jets and you have a superb starting left tackle but one who is getting a bit long in the tooth (and bloody expensive) then drafting Bunche in the later rounds to mould as a low cost, low risk, long term replacement makes a lot of sense. Or at least to me it does.

Brandon Vitabile, Northwestern
Personally I didn't feel like Vitabile could stand up to NFL defensive tackles without help. He struggled mightily one on one at the college level, so I fail to see how it's going to get any better at the next step up. Pass.

David Andrews, Georgia
Like Vitabil Andrews struggled to hold his ground one on one, and this was against smaller college defensive tackles. Imagine him trying to solo block someone like Haloti Ngata. Or don't, because you don't want to have nightmares. Did a lot pulling on wide runs which was odd because he almost always lacked the requisite athletic ability to get out in time and actually make blocks in open space. I'd pass.

Christian Lombard, Notre Dame
So Lombard played a bit of right tackle and a bit of right guard, but for some reason he's listed as a center. I really hate it when people put together lists of players and instead of listing them at their proper positions instead presume to put them in a different category based on their opinion. Imagine if I had put tight end Ben Koyack in the offensive tackles post because I felt like he could be converted to that position. But it is what it is and watching Lombard I thought he actually did an ok job at right tackle. He wasn't stunning and he got a reasonable amount of help from team mate Koyack when he lined up next to him, but by and large Lombard looked solid.

Would I draft him? That I'm not so sure about. The problem is I didn't see him take on too many pure edge rushers (that's partly where Koyack came in). I just can't say as I would be confident enough to take that step and part with a draft pick for him, especially as I suspect there would be other players on the board even down at the bottom who I would feel more confident in. Would I offer him a camp spot as an undrafted free agent? 100%.

Ian Silberman, Boston College
Let's put it this way; Leonard Williams is considered a top 5 pick in this years draft, possibly going number 2 overall, and represents the sort of talent that Silberman will have to face regularly in the NFL. Williams absolutely destroyed Silberman. If it was a boxing match it would have been stopped in the first round as a no contest. Still want Silberman on your team? I wouldn't.


And on that damp squib we finally reach the end of the centers and guards post, 29 players later. That was the most painful draft post I have ever had the misfortune to have to produce. I cannot even muster the energy to proof read it. I'm just glad that it's done now, over with, and I can move on to the defensive lineman, which is another of my favourite groups to watch. In my estimation this is not a good year for drafting offensive linemen. Not at all.

Thanks for stopping bye and reading this. Sorry I had to put you through all that. Trust me though, it was a lot worse to watch than it is to read about. But I guess it's all in the name of the draft, so worth the pain. Just about. If you liked this post or indeed one of my past posts then feel free to share the address about on twitter, facebook etc. Every share really does make a difference.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A quick clarification

Just as an add on to the post about the offensive tackles I want to clarify my argument against drafting any of them. I used the phrase "so bad" which perhaps wasn't the right phrase and that's my fault. Some of them were actually pretty good and almost all of them were very strong in the run game. The problem is that none of them clearly demonstrated the ability to stop a decent outside pass rusher, one on one, when the pass rusher was going all out to get to the quarterback. Most of them spent a big chunk of the year facing two gap rushers, that is defenders who deliberately attacked them head on and tried to drive them back but who were playing conservatively and keeping an eye on the quarterback to avoid letting him rush down field.

This is a consequence of the evolution of college football. Running quarterbacks and run heavy offenses are immensely common now and so defenses have had to react to this by playing with a more cautious pass rush that is designed to contain the quarterback and force him to throw as opposed to leaving open lanes for him to run up through. This is something that is not a huge concern in the NFL. Nobody is worried about Tom Brady or Peyton Manning gashing them up the middle with his feet. Even teams with very capable running quarterbacks like the Seahawks with Russell Wilson are unlikely anytime soon to lean too heavily on his feet, as investing tens of millions of dollars in a player who would expose himself regularly to big hits down the field is not a viable long term strategy. 

In the NFL the biggest problems that offensive tackles will face are pure, out and out, single gap pass rushers like Justin Houston and Jason Pierre-Paul. These are the sort of players that an NFL level tackle has to be able to stop on a consistent basis. And none of the tackles that I looked at from this draft class had any real experience at stopping such a defender. On the few snaps that any of them did, they generally performed very poorly. As an example, I've just started looking at the list of guards. The first guy on the list is Brandon Scherff from Iowa, who actually played as a left tackle for the 2014 season and is likely to be drafted to play tackle. For the entire game home game against Nebraska he was barely challenged on the outside with a true pass rush. Then on the final play of regulation he finally faced a legitimate, all out, one-gap pass rush like he would in the NFL. Annnnnd he got beaten like a drum. It wasn't even close. It looked like it came as a complete surprise to him and he had no clue how to deal with it. 

This is the problem I have with this years tackle crop. None of them has a proven track record of facing this kind of pass rush and stopping it. Imagine drafting a wide receiver who had only ever run blocked and caught screen passes. No down field passes, just screens. You wouldn't. Why? Because there is no proof, no track record that this receiver can do the things you'll ask of him in the NFL. It's the same with the tackles. You can't use a draft pick on any of these players because you have no idea how they will cope in the NFL. Some of them faced a few pure pass rushes and performed poorly. The others that didn't, you might as well flip a coin. That's just as likely to predict their performance. And no, watching them do a kick slide at a pro day is not enough.

That's the crux of the issue that I have with these tackles. The idea of drafting someone to come and do something in the NFL which they've been unable to prove they can do in college. For me that's a crazy risk to take.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: Offensive Tackles

Quarterbacks are normally the most expensive asset on any football team. At least the good ones. Understandably then offensive tackles - the men that keep the quarterback safe - are often in the next pay bracket on most teams. To be an offensive tackle is to be exposed on an island, one on one, on almost every play. When they get it right they rarely get any public acknowledgement for their efforts. Yet when they get it wrong they are scrutinised intensely all across the media. It's a tough life, but the pay is good.

I'm a big believer that football games are won and lost in the trenches around the line of scrimmage. Behind every touchdown run and touchdown pass is normally the hard work of the five offensive line. If you look at the offensive stats for the 2014 regular season, 8 of the top 10 offenses in terms of least sacks allowed made the playoffs. And the tackles represent a massive part of that. They are the ones routinely tasked with matching up against the very best pass rushers that the NFL has to offer. With the dominance of the passing game growing every season, the requirement to find solid young offensive linemen in the draft, and in particular top tackles, grows too.

So what am I looking for when I look at the offensive tackles?

1) Pass Protection,
2) Run Blocking,
3) Versatility,
4) Awareness,

One should be fairly obvious. Against the pass I'm mainly looking for the ability of the tackle to handle outside rushers one on one as this is the most difficult challenge they will face in the NFL. One thing I keep a cautious eye out for is tackles on offenses with running quarterbacks. This is because sometimes the defenders are asked to take on the linemen head to head and not speed around them in order for them to contain the quarterback. This is not representative of how NFL pass rushers will operate most of the time and was one of the problems with Jake Matthews who was taken in the top 10 last year by the Falcons, due to the influence of having to block for Johnny Manziel. I'm looking for great balance, timing of the punch, and the athletic ability to kick slide out and cut off even the fastest pass rushers.

Two should also be fairly self explanatory. Tackles are often asked to make some quite difficult blocks, including coming off the line and having to track and engage a linebacker in open space on the second level. A tackle whose run blocking is very good but whose pass blocking is less impressive can in some cases make a career as a right tackle as long as the pass blocking reaches a basic standard. Conversely an exceptional pass blocker whose run blocking needs some work is normally fine as a left tackle because of the higher premium placed on pass blocking and a lesser imperative on run blocking.

Point three is a little foggy so let me clear that up. An offense is often constrained by what its offensive line is capable of. Athletic tackles who can pass block, run block man to man, pull, and get out and block defenders in space on screens give the offensive coordinator more options. Versatility at the tackle position can add a lot of versatility to offensive game planning. And finally awareness is a catch all term I use to refer to the ability of the offensive lineman to recognise various blitzes, stunts and twists by the defense and to pick up the correct defender.

So lets get to it and as always this list is ordered the way it is because that's how the list I'm working from is ordered. Starting with;

Andrus Peat, Stanford
Had to have a little chuckle to myself when I read a review of Peat that included "Has good knee bend" under strengths, then "Waist-bender" under weaknesses. So which is it then? You're either one or the other.

The answer is emphatically that he's a waist bender. I would go so far as to use the word "chronic". He does it on almost every play. And I really wonder why Peat is this high on anyones list? I can think of a couple of reasons. One of them is that he's 6'7", with long old arms. Scouts and personnel people love them a genetic monster, someone that they can envision the coaches taking and turning into a hall of famer. The problem is that while you can take a genetic monster who is already 75-80% there and then apply the finishing touches, it has historically proven almost impossible to take a genetic monster who is a long way from being ready and somehow make that guy into a pro bowl caliber player.

Another would be the initial impression you get from watching Peat. With those long arms and the reach generated by having a guy that tall bend at the waist he does have the ability to engage defenders early and hold them up. Peat didn't give up many sacks either, so on the surface he looks great. The problem is that I didn't see Peat face many truly decent, NFL representative pass rushers. When he did, he was beaten fairly comfortably and always looked like he was on the back foot (figuratively and sometimes literally). While he has a tremendous kick step due to those long legs, the second he gets in range of an outside rusher he immediately bends at the waist to try and engage, which is when it all starts going wrong. I saw some rushers in particular exploiting that bend by setting him up and then swimming him beautifully.

As such in the NFL I think Peat will struggle mightily. At most he's going to face perhaps two or three quarterbacks who are running threats per season, and even that would be most unusual. The rest of the year he's going to be facing premier pass rushers and I think they're going to make his life in the NFL a misery. If I had to hand someone the keys to the left tackle spot, knowing my quarterback's health and my offense's productivity depended a great deal on it, I wouldn't want that guy to be Peat. The fact that at times he had trouble reading the pass rush and picking up odd stunts and blitzes only makes it worse. Conceivably I think he could kick inside to left guard which would suit his skill set and play style a little better, and I think ultimately that is what will happen when someone drafts him, puts him in the firing line at left tackle, then has to perform emergency surgery on their line when he doesn't get the job done. Me personally? I'd pass.

T.J. Clemmings, Pittsburgh
One of the advantages of playing on a team that doesn't throw the ball that much is that you don't give up that many sacks. Unfortunately it means that pass protection is probably de-emphasised in practice during the week because it's effectively a secondary skill in your offense. And for Clemmings it shows. 

This is a 6'5" dude with pretty long arms who can push people on quite a wide arc at times but Clemmings, like Peat, never really seemed to face that many good pure pass rushers. Again he had a quarterback who was a serious threat with his feet and only a limited threat as a passer, so defenses seemed more concerned with containing Pittsburgh's tremendous run game and not that bothered about their passing. In the running game Clemmings was like a battering ram. He especially excelled at pinching down on a defensive lineman to give the man next to him some help before charging off to find a linebacker. Unfortunately his blocking in space was not that great, as he often seemed to give up quickly and let linebackers get around him with relative ease.

On the few occasions that he actually did face an outside pass rush I'm afraid to say he didn't look good. Some players took advantage of his deep and uncontrolled kick step and simply cut in underneath him. Other times he was just straight up beaten for speed and technique round the edge. In one case a defender got his hands inside and simply pushed Clemmings open like a door (It was actually quite amusing to watch). So how will he stand up in the NFL against the best pass rushers in football, all of them legitimately very capable athletes with normally very good technique? Let's put it this way, I wouldn't want to spend a pick to find out. I'd pass.

D.J. Humphries, Florida
This is getting completely ridiculous. I don't see how you can possibly consider Humphries as an NFL left tackle, because he barely had to face any true pass rush. Ask yourself this simple question; would I trust the health of my multi-million dollar quarterback, the heartbeat of my offense, to a guy who played in a gimmicky college offense that hardly threw the ball and had a quarterback who was far more of a run threat than a pass threat? Because I wouldn't. Now you never know, he may come to the NFL and be an amazing left tackle. But how can you possibly tell when he hasn't had to do anything like what would be required of him in the NFL on a regular basis? You'd basically be rolling the dice and hoping they came up good.

That is not how you build a successful franchise, by gambling your first round pick on someone who is completely unproven. And, I should point out, someone who played very high (legs extended, very upright style) and as a result was often thrown off balance with basic pass rush moves and was beaten easily around the edge by speed. It just amazes me. People often say the draft is a crap shoot. I don't really buy that at all, I think it's just a convenient excuse, but it will be if you make it one and keep drafting players who have no proven track record of the type of thing you're going to ask them to do in the NFL. How can you possibly assess Humphries as being a top tier pass protector when he barely had to do any of it in college? He might be ok at left guard as he seems like a reasonably powerful guy, but me personally I'd pass and let someone else use the pick on what is absolutely a coin flip player.

La'el Collins, LSU
Halle-bloody-lujah! We finally have a tackle who actually played in something approximating an NFL offense, who actually had to pass protect against genuine pass rushers. That's the good news. The bad news is that Collins was at times comically bad. Slow, a massive waist bender, whiffed in spectacular fashion on some run blocks and ended up shadow blocking thin air. He was unbalanced most of the time, got pulled all over the shop by opposing defenses, and generally did nothing that would make you think "hmm, I really want this guy protecting my quarterback!"

I hope it gets better than this, for my sanity if nothing else. I'd pass on Collins. Unquestionably.

Ereck Flowers, Miami
This is definitely not the year for tackles. On top of that it might not be the year for pass rushers either from what I've seen, and that might last a few seasons. No wonder college football scores are going through the roof because nobody rushes the quarterback anymore. Where are all the good outside pass rushers? I hope this is not a long term trend in football because it's incredibly boring to watch. 

So Flowers. Same old, same old. Most of the snaps people just ran directly at him with no clue or hint of any kind of pass rush technique. They just ran straight into his arms. I mean I could be a tackle if that's all the defenders are going to do. The major problem with Flowers is that he's a penalty waiting to happen in the NFL. He opens his arms and gets his hands on the outside of the defenders shoulders, which is one of the keys that NFL officials are told to look for on determining holding penalties. Against the few outside rushes he faced he looked slow, unbalanced, has a really weird kick step, and wrapped his arm around the rushers neck. I just can't see how he's going to adjust. You think guys like Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Houston are just going to run directly at him and let him cuddle them every down? Not a chance. They're going to blaze past him on the outside and destroy him. And his quarterback. Let someone else try and convert him to the NFL. I'd pass.

Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M
Finally we're starting to get somewhere! At least Ogbuehi had to deal with a consistent, outside pass rush. And he handled it pretty well. He had an odd technique where he would cut off the defender and deliver a solid punch, then when the defender reset and tried to have another go he would sort of leave a window open to the quarterback for them to attack, and when they did he would drop his head and simply drive them around the top of the pocket. It was quite weird and I've probably not done it great justice. It worked though, to an extent.

Would it work at the next level? Hmmmm. I wonder how he'd cope with greater speed. It's a risky strategy he uses and he does have some waist bending tendencies. And that really is the problem with Ogbuechi. I think he's ok, he's got a solid nugget of talent. He's quite athletic and he reads the game well, adjusting his technique and set based on the play call and working well with the left guard to combo people. But would I part with a pick for him? I just can't say that I would. Don't ask me why but it's just a gut feeling. Maybe if he was still there in the third or fourth round - which is highly unlikely - then I'd take a shot. I just honestly wouldn't feel comfortable with anything higher. While his technique against outside rushers seemed to work, he just always looked like he was one false step away from getting his quarterback killed. I'd pass.

Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
It's getting better. I can feel it. Soon we're gonna stumble across someone I actually like. Not that I don't like Havenstein. I'm just a little indifferent to him. He's a superb run blocker and from what I saw his pass protection at the right tackle spot was solid. The problem is that again he had very little pass protecting to do and that's simply not how the NFL operates. I could not imagine the kind of look you would get from a quarterback when you tell him that his safety is being placed in the hands of someone who has very little experience in pass protection. "Don't worry though kid, he looked decent on the few snaps that he did do it". Again, it's not that Havenstein was bad. He actually didn't put a foot wrong that I saw. But that still doesn't fill me with much confidence. To play right tackle I would be willing to part with perhaps a fifth rounder for him but not much more, purely because of that unknown factor in the passing game.

Jake Fisher, Oregon
Something a little different this time. You're just going to have to take my word for it but before watching Fisher I'm going to take a wild guess and say that this is going to be dull as dishwater and a complete waste of my time watching him, based on this being Oregon and the gimmicky nature of their offense. There will be no proper pass rush, just a bunch of hesitant defensive linemen 2-gapping in order to contain Mariota instead of 1-gap all out pass rush. So let's see if I'm right...

Well buy me a deck of cards and call me a psychic. Or just remember that I watched Mariota for the quarterbacks post so I knew this was coming anyway. Two gapping linemen, no real threat in the pass rush, run blocking was based on angles mostly off of zone read plays. On the few occasions that he had to face a one gap rusher they were all over him and ran circles around him. I'd pass.

Just kill me now. Put me out of this misery for the love of God.

Donovan Smith, Penn State
Really? I'm within an inch of just giving up on the tackles. This is pathetic. I can't tell you how many snaps I've watched just covering the tackles but among all of them I've probably only seen maybe 30-50 snaps total where the tackle was facing a one-gap pass rush that truly represents what they will face in the NFL. How can anyone possibly claim that any of these tackles are NFL ready? There is almost no evidence on film that any of them will be able to handle an NFL caliber pass rush. Some might because of their size and a bit of coaching, but nobody can honestly claim that they saw anything on game day to demonstrate that any of the players listed above would succeed. That includes Smith. Pass.

Ty Sambrailo, Colorado State
More misery. Pass.

Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
Couldn't handle one-gapping rushers. Pass.

Jamon Brown, Louisville
It's amazing how easily a 6'4", 323 pound tackle can be thrown around by some defenders. Pass.


And that's that. I have a handful of tackles left on this list but they're all smaller school guys, same offenses as above, and I honestly do not have the patience to sit and watch them. I'm not even sure I have the patience to go throw the guards and centers. I quite literally would not draft a single offensive tackle on this list, in this draft. Which is crazy. I don't think I've ever reviewed a group of players at any position that was so bad I wouldn't draft any of them. It was honestly just pathetic. None of them consistently faced a decent one gap rush and when any of them was exposed to a one gapper they all struggled. That is not something that would fill me with confidence. If you can't handle a one-gap college kid who isn't even that skillful or exceptionally athletic then how on Earth can you be expected to block the best that the NFL has to offer? I'm pretty stunned.

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read it. Sorry it was so negative in the end! My hope is to do the guards and centers next, providing I don't smash this keyboard in frustration before hand.

Friday, March 20, 2015

2015 NFL Draft: Tight Ends

The quarterbacks best friend. Supposedly.

Tight ends have garnered greater attention over the last decade or so and mostly due to a shift towards primarily pass catching tight ends. Players like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski have become highly valued because of their combination of size and speed. They're typically too big and too strong to be manhandled by a corner or safety at the line of scrimmage, and tower over most corners in the red zone (the shortest guy on this list is 6'2", which puts him just an inch below Richard Sherman). The only players with a realistic shot at matching a tight end for physicality off the line are linebackers, who in turn are very seldom fast enough to cover a top tier tight end in the open field. It's that match up nightmare that they cause that makes modern, elite tight ends such versatile and dangerous weapons. They also run block.

So what am I looking at with the tight ends? Primarily these four things;

1) Use of physical traits
2) Route running technique
3) Run Blocking
4) Hands

Number one is a bit nebulous so let me explain. The tight ends major advantage is his size, but some tight ends don't understand how to use their immense height and physical presence to block off defenders when competing for jump balls (often because they switched to the position late in college). Against a linebacker a tight ends greatest advantage is his speed, but some tight ends get stuck in the mentality of trying to muscle their way through everything and aren't alert to the natural advantages they have over slower players. So I like to see a tight end that understands how to use his physical gifts and adapt his play style depending on who he's matched up against.

The second point is the same as for the wide receivers. I'm looking for a tight end that understands the subtlety of running clever routes, using his brain as well as his brawn to set defenders up and then leave them in the dust with sharp cuts and crisp breaks. Or at least as sharp as a 6 foot plus, 240 pound plus physical freak of nature can. And like the wide receivers I'm also very interested in their run blocking, even though this is something that has fallen by the wayside as the pass has become the predominant method of moving the chains. It would be remiss of me to play down the talents of a great pass catching tight end just because he doesn't block well, but solid run blocking ability can be a great tie breaker and can give an edge to a tight end whose pass catching game isn't quite up to par. And of course hands should be self explanatory; the ability to consistently catch the ball.

So let's get started, and as always the list here is ordered the way it is because that's how the list that I'm working from is ordered. You have to read the specific piece on a player you're interested in to find out what I think about him. Starting with;

Maxx Williams, Minnesota
I'm not entirely sure how to put my thoughts on Williams into words. I just came away very underwhelmed by him. He's a reasonably effective run blocker, mostly asked to crack down on linebackers as opposed to going head to head with them. He doesn't truck people out of position, but he's big enough and strong enough to at least force a stalemate on most occasions. Had some decent speed to get away from linebackers, but never really looked like a major passing threat to me. Yes, he has made some very long plays, like the highlight reel grab and run against Missouri, but if you watch the play again he was actually chased down from behind by the linebacker who then pulled out from making a tackle in order to avoid hitting his team mate who I guess he thought was going to hit Williams.

I'm not saying he's a bad player, he's not. On some of his catches along the sideline and at the back of the end zone he shows exceptional body control and great concentration. I'm just not sure if I would want to draft him. He's predicted by many to go sometime in the first round and looks unlikely to slip any further than the middle of the second at this point. At that price I just feel like there are other, more impactful players to be had. Williams does have something to offer, I'm just not sure he's the next top tier tight end. I can't see him breaking open the down field passing game the way someone like Vernon Davis used to and he's not a dominant physical presence in short areas either. He tested pretty quick at the combine, but just looks and feels in pads like he shouldn't be too hard to cover. He never really used his strength effectively against cornerbacks and his pace wasn't so quick that it left linebackers in the dust. He was just kind of in the middle ground. Me personally, I'd pass on Williams. I'm just not that excited by him in the way I am by some other players that I've seen so far.

Clive Walford, Miami
Not a bad blocker. Gets engaged with the defender and provides a decent human brick wall. He's not an aggressive finisher who drives people out of the way and punishes them, but nine times out of ten he's effective enough to get the job done. Efficient is a good word to describe it I think. In the passing game though, things start to go a bit awry.

Here's the problem; sometimes it's good. Really good. And sometimes it's bad. Really bad. On some pass patterns he comes off the line and sells the linebacker that he's going up the seam, only to cut back inside and create space for himself underneath, catch the ball, fake out another defender, and then run for a first down and more. Then on some plays he'll come off the line, try (and fail) to push off the linebacker, cut to the inside and kind of jog along, allowing the linebacker to close the gap and make a play on the ball. On top of that he fumbles the ball a fair bit, gets penalised for silly things and generally seems to have as many low lights as he does highlights. For me, I just don't see it. I don't see why you would part with anything more than a low round pick because for all the good he can do for you, he'll also kill you with some of those negative plays. I just think there are better players who can do more to help a team in the long run. I'd pass.

Devin Funchess, Michigan
Has taken weight off in the last season and is pitching himself as a wide receiver. Looking at him I can't really see him in that role on every snap. As a tight end that on occasion flexes out wide but who mainly plies his trade up the middle? Yeah I can see that. Keep in mind that Funchess is 6'4" and 232 pounds, so he fits in a nice little gap in the passing game. He was a little slow at the combine but supposedly tested better on his pro day, so he has the speed to get away from linebackers. He showed some decent moves off the line and some good route technique to help him create space. When he moved outside he had the size advantage to man handle small corners and even though they kept with him step for step down the field, he was able to use his size and strength to maintain position on them and then go up and get the football. He's basically the prototype of what I was talking about at the beginning of this article.

There are some problems though. Firstly, in order to get a look at his blocking I had to go back to 2013. There you can see part of the reason why he became an out and out receiver, because his blocking is not great. It's one of the disadvantages of cutting weight off in that you lose some of that ability to anchor against tougher defenders. He can still get his body in position and with those long arms he has some value as a blocker, but it's definitely his weak spot. Anyone taking him as a tight end will need to figure out how to integrate him into their scheme and possibly single him out for some more intense coaching in that area. Secondly, against taller corners he loses a lot of his advantages. That's why I don't think he'll survive on the outside as a pure wide receiver. He needs that element of creativity in the scheme to get him the most advantageous match ups against linebackers, safeties and the shorter corners.

The last problem is his hands. This could be the big one and is the reason he will slide a little I think. He makes some brilliant catches under pressure, in some cases having to leap into the air and arch himself backwards to get into the right position. But he also has a lot of drops. Some people have described these as concentration drops, but I disagree. For clarity's sake, a concentration drop is normally classed as any drop where the receiver is more worried about getting hit and/or making the run after the catch and as such literally takes his eyes off the ball before he's caught it; a lack of concentration on the ball = a concentration drop.

But it struck me that Funchess's drops were not concentration related, they were technique related. On passes that come in over his shoulder he has a tendency to hold his hands too far apart and then tries to catch the ball with timing. Think about holding your own hands out in front of you, palms up, with about 6-8 inches of space between the tips of your little fingers. A football, travelling with the point down, will not naturally sit inside this space. It'll go right through. That means that in order to catch the ball you'll have to close your hands together with perfect timing to make it happen. Unsurprisingly this is incredibly difficult, even for top athletes. Then on some of the passes that he takes high and in front of him, say head height or higher, he'll do a very similar thing. He holds his hands apart and tries to snap them shut on the ball with perfect timing, which again is very difficult. This is compounded by the fact that instead of turning his palms outwards to face the ball, he often holds his hands up vertically presenting the edges of his hands to the ball, which again makes it more difficult to catch.

That's a problem that I believe can be fixed, but it needs somebody to identify the problem and take corrective action as opposed to chalking it up incorrectly to "concentration". If someone can do that then I think they get a great tight end. He's a guy that can kill linebackers and safeties up the middle, whether it's short possession style passes like hooks, or deep shots down the seam. He can also provide that physical mismatch against smaller, weaker corners which is highly valuable both in the end zone and on third downs. The problems should push him down to the bottom of the first round (Bill Belichick sure loves him a good tight end...) or even into the early part of the second, and from their downwards he represents great value in my estimation. Solid pick to be had and definitely one to keep and eye on in 2015 I think.

Rory Anderson, South Carolina
6'5", 244 pounds, and a tough athlete. Anderson can take on a bigger defensive end one on one and block the guy out of the play. Definitely an advantage in the run game. In the passing game he has the size and speed to be a mismatch problem for linebackers, along with some pretty good route technique. I'm not sure about safeties though. He certainly has the size to box them out, but his speed is not amazing by comparison and he still seems to be learning how to use his size to the best advantage.

On top of that Anderson has a bad history of injuries, in particular repeated tricep injuries. The main issue with that can be understood by looking at former Redskins pass rusher Brian Orakpo. He tore his pectoral muscle at the end of the 2011 season, came back the next year and tore it again in week 2 and missed the rest of the 2012 season, had a good year in 2013, then tore the same muscle again after 7 games in the 2014 season and missed the rest of the year (oddly enough he injured himself against the Titans, his new employers). That has to throw a big red flag over Anderson. A repeated injury problem is not a great way to make an impact on a roster.

To me that leaves Anderson kind of hanging in the air. I'd want a fairly hefty risk premium for that injury history, say third round or even lower. I'm not sure he'd actually last that long though. I think someone will bite before hand because he has the raw talent to be a classic, old school tight end that plays each down on the end of the line, blocks hard and runs routes mainly in intermediate patterns against linebackers. If he can stay healthy then Anderson has great promise. But that's a big "if", one I'm not sure I'd want to gamble on unless he fell down the order into my lap.

Nick O'Leary, Florida State
Not especially athletic. Poor route running. Frequently manhandled by defenders when blocking. Give me one good reason to use a pick on him. Just one. I'll wait.

Jeff Heuerman, Ohio State
Probably the luckiest guy in all of college football. If he bought a lottery ticket and won, it wouldn't surprise me one bit. He'd probably consider it normal running. I say that because he picked up a number of big gains and touchdowns purely because defenses essentially forgot to cover him. I counted at least six plays over two games where the defense just got mixed up and let him run free. Not because he was exceptionally gifted athletically or technically, but just blind luck. He does block well in open space and as such I think he can be a decent factor in the run game. It's just everything else that's a problem. The luck has to run out at some point. He's ok, just doesn't grab my attention really. I think I'd pass.

Tyler Kroft, Rutgers
Plagued by poor quarterback play, it's difficult to judge Kroft completely fairly because we don't know how much more he could have done with better passes coming his way. He showed some ok route running in confined spaces and even broke off a couple of deep ones. Blocking wise... meh. And unfortunately that was my broad feeling about Kroft. He seems like he could be a decent backup tight end or rotation guy who could carve a spot out for himself as another roster body, possibly play a bit of special teams. But he doesn't grab me as a guy that will stand out and really be a consistent difference maker. For me I think I'd put him on a list to look at after the draft, but not for a pick.

Ben Koyack, Notre Dame
Wasted as a tight end. He actually did a decent job in pass protection taking on a number of edge rushers. With a bit more bulk he'd make a serviceable offensive tackle. And that would be my angle on him. I wouldn't want to draft him, but if he was undrafted and available as a free agent I'd want to bring him in, pass him a plate stacked with bacon and a copy of the offensive line manual, and say "eat this and learn this".

MyCole Pruitt, Southern Illinois
Did very little of any value. Caught a few passes for a handful of yards. Waste of a pick by the looks of it.

Jesse James, Penn State
Remarkable how little use Penn State made of the fact that James is 6'7" and 261 pounds. You'd think he'd be a magnet for passes in the red zone, but I saw little of that. His route running is clearly very unrefined and he's not especially quick even by linebacker standards. There is potential there clearly for someone to take this tremendous frame and figure out a way to make it score touchdowns, most likely by shaving off some of the weight and going for more of a hybrid type approach. But I just don't think there's enough there as a base to work with. I'd pass.

Blake Bell, Oklahoma
Few things in football are more frustrating than watching a quarterback throwing the ball at the hip of a 6'6" receiver, allowing the chasing linebacker to close in and make a play. He's 6'6", just put the ball up high where only he has a realistic shot of catching it! That must be even more annoying when the tight end himself used to be a quarterback for several years, as Blake Bell did. 2014 is his first season as a tight end and it shows at times with a lack of polish all across his game. He misses blocks because he takes bad angles and hesitates sometimes when he should be piling into his defender. When running routes you can see the quarterback in him trying to deceive defenders and run good routes, but he just lacks that element of refinement at this stage.

Thus herein lies the dilemma with Bell and whether you want to draft him or not. He has a lot of raw potential that hasn't been fully tapped yet. He's tall, he's pretty quick, he understands the passing game from a quarterbacks perspective and he has fantastic hands. But his run blocking is insufficient right now and his route running needs a fair bit of work. Do you want to spend a pick on that? In the back end of the draft I think there is some value there. Certainly as an undrafted guy. By this point in the draft the pickings would be slim and Bell is a project with a significant potential upside. I'd be interested. If he can learn the subtle nuances of the position then the sky could be the limit for Bell.

A.J. Derby, Arkansas
I kind of like A.J. Derby. He's quick. He runs away from linebackers with relative ease, especially once he sets them up with his pretty good route technique. He's 6'4" and 255 pounds, elevates well to catch the ball and has decent hands. The only downsides are that he doesn't have the top end, elite level speed and his blocking needs a bit of work. At the minute when he goes head to head with a defender he often gets rocked back on his heels and then starts to panic a little. With a bit of proper coaching (he's another one year wonder at the position) I think that can be fixed. I'd be looking at the later rounds for this guy purely based on his inexperience but I think he has decent potential.

Gerald Christian, Louisville
I'm surprised at Christian's 40 time from the combine and his pro-day, clocking in at both in the 4.89 region. He looks a lot quicker on film, though not exactly blazing I'll grant you that. Technique wise Christian is very good. He makes quick cuts at the top of his routes and finds the open spaces in the defence. He's not a big play tight end I don't think, especially with that 40 time, but has a lot of use as a shorter ranged possession type tight end who can help you clock up first downs and keep the chains moving. 

Blocking wise Christian is a bit middle of the road. He makes some good blocks, especially when he playing off the line and taking an angle on the defender, but he's not someone I think you would trust to go one on one with a top outside defender. His build is a little slim for that and against the bigger defenders he has a tendency to get pushed around too easily. Overall though I think Christian is a handy little weapon. He might come onto a team as a back up at first but should be able to earn himself a future spot. Not sure where I'd position him on a draft board personally. The lack of the big play potential and the inability to handle the toughest blocking assignments demands a risk premium that moves him down into the later rounds, possibly even undrafted. 


And that, as they say, is that. At least as far as the tight ends are concerned. Next up we get into the offensive line and I've decided I'm going to do the tackles first, then the guards and centers as a separate post. Till then, thanks for stopping by, I hope you enjoyed the post (you've come this far after all) and hopefully you'll share this blog with as many people as you can. It would be most helpful.