Our Big Board Is Updated

…and it gets its own page!

http://zonereads.com/?page_id=1949

I’ll try to send out a notification whenever it’s updated, but that may not be possible. With only two weeks left until the draft (and really, the draft should have started yesterday), there won’t be too many changes left. More likely than anything will be the occasional insertion of a player we hadn’t scouted before.

Enjoy! Comments welcome.

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The Tom Savage Hype Is Nuts

The latest report on Pittsburgh QB prospect Tom Savage, as you may have heard from, say, Russ Lande, is that Tom Savage’s stock is skyrocketing, making him likely to be a day-two pick and, some even believe, a first-rounder. This perception of Savage was confirmed by reports that he was invited to the NFL draft, an honor usually reserved for prospects expected to be drafted in the first round, or at least definitely by day two.

We don’t see it. A high opinion of Savage exemplifies everything that’s wrong about scouting quarterback prospects: Namely, it prioritizes raw physical skills and attributes that look great in practice, while discounting the importance of performing in game situations and under pressure, in accuracy and decision-making, in the mental aspects of the game.

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Lists of Five: Where We Differ From The Mainstream

A great way to find out the value in what we do is to compare our conclusions to the conventional or the commonly accepted wisdom. To that end, I’ve been trying to pay specific attention to (and get as many of our scouts as possible to watch) prospects where the first and/or second opinion we come up with is significantly different than that of the public perception. What happens with these players, both in terms of where real NFL teams take them and how their careers play out, will go a long way, I feel, toward telling us if we’re onto something in our work here.

So… for a little change of pace here, I’ve decided to compare some players of whom our evaluation strongly differs from public evaluation. I’m still working on our latest big board, but I have a pretty solid idea of where most players on it are, and I have multiple opinions at Zone Reads in agreement on each prospect in this list, which for me is enough to work with for this article.

Without further ado, here are five players we think the consensus overrates, with rankings and explanation. Included are each player’s rankings on CBS’ most recent big board, Walter Football’s most recent mock draft, DraftTek’s most recent mock draft (their most recent big board is dated March 16), and NFL.com’s list of prospect grades. I’ve chosen these four sites to compare our evaluations to primarily because I thought of them first.

Greg Robinson

CBS Sports: #2 overall, #1 OT (4/15, big board)
Walter Football: #6 overall, #1 OT (4/16, mock draft)
DraftTek: #2 overall, #1 OT (4/16, mock draft)
NFL.com: #2 overall, #1 OT (ND, prospect grades)

Our Grade: Top half of first round, #11 overall, #3/4 OT

OK, this may seem like picking nits, since we all think Robinson is a pretty good prospect. But the problem is that public perception has fallen in love with Robinson’s athleticism while ignoring his flaws. He’s being considered a runaway pick as the top offensive line prospect in the draft, someone who might be drafted over the likes of Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater, Sammy Watkins, or Khalil Mack, which is absurd– let alone that not a single one of these four sites has Jake Matthews rated ahead of him.

Sure, Robinson’s athleticism gives him an outlandish ceiling in theory. But Robinson has never been asked to pass-block like a traditional left tackle. Watch film of Auburn and you’ll see that, by and large. The one thing that all of us agree on is that Auburn used unorthodox blocking schemes to hide his deficiencies, and that he actually does project to be a top-notch guard, a mauling run blocker with athleticism. How you value him from there is a measure of how well and how likely you think he can learn to pass block like a traditional left tackle.

The chances he can’t are significant, and when you have a guy who’s basically a lock to be, at minimum, a solid NFL left tackle in Jake Matthews, why would you take the risk? The upside of Robinson’s ceiling over Matthews’ isn’t going to break games wide open for you. Matthews is technically perfect and has more than enough athleticism to play left tackle at the NFL level. If the choice is between a top-flight technician who’s a proven left tackle, and someone who will be a great guard that you’re hoping you can teach how to play left tackle, I know whom I’m taking.

It’s also worth noting that Lewan actually outperformed Robinson in nearly all the Combine drills, though he is 23 pounds lighter. That said, Robinson did not perform especially well in the quickness drills even accounting for his larger size. A left tackle needs to be light on his feet.

If I had to describe the top three tackle prospects in this draft in terms of Madden-style ratings, I’d say something like…

  • Jake Matthews: 99 pass blocking, 95 athleticism
  • Taylor Lewan: 95 pass blocking, 97 athleticism
  • Greg Robinson: 80 pass blocking, 100 athleticism

Of course, pass blocking can be taught, and athleticism can’t. But I don’t think Matthews or Lewan are deficient in their athleticism such to warrant taking the risk of Robinson over either of them. Now, that said, I list Robinson as “#3/4 OT” because he’s effectively tied with Zack Martin, depending on whether you prefer athletic upside or proven pass-blocking abilities. So he certainly is athletic enough to warrant taking a risk on early, especially since his floor may well be “Pro Bowl-caliber guard.” But even though that’s a high floor for a prospect to have, you wanted a left tackle, not a guard, so you’re disappointed. Left tackle is a position where getting a sure thing is generally better than rolling the dice to develop a star.

Ryan Shazier

CBS Sports: #24 overall, #2 4-3 LB
Walter Football: #31 overall, #2 4-3 LB
DraftTek: #21 overall, #2 4-3 LB
NFL.com: #12 overall, #1 4-3 LB

Our Grade: Late-2nd / Early-3rd, #59 overall, #4 4-3 LB

Honestly, Shazier’s play on the field merits an even lower ranking than this. Our team almost universally came away with 3rd- and 4th-round grades based on his film. The speed he displayed at the combine is what moves him higher, as that simply can’t be taught, but he’s still not a player we’d expect to be a star, and he’s definitely not a first-round pick.

On film Shazier has trouble engaging and shedding blocks, and he displayed an aversion to contact that both played into his trouble with engaging and caused him to miss more tackles than he should. A guy who runs around the field really fast doing nothing isn’t very useful to the defense.

It also seems a team may fall in love with Shazier if they believe he can be a 3-4 outside rusher. That makes a certain kind of sense given his speed, but he didn’t do it on film, so it’s pure speculation. (And there are many better options for that in this draft.) He did blitz well as a 4-3 OLB, but that’s not the same thing. His speed is also less impressive when you consider his size.

His athleticism is intriguing, but players like Telvin Smith and Chris Borland have shown the same game speed and better ability to actually play the role of 4-3 OLB / coverage ‘backer.

Oh, and one note compared him to Alec Ogletree and another tallied three late hits and called him a dirty player. Sounds like the Rams aren’t going to let him get past #13.

For the record: Most sites simply divide prospects into OLBs and ILBs, DTs and DEs, without distinguishing by skill set and expected role. We divide prospects in the front seven into categories of LB, ER, DL– “coverage” linebackers (MLBs, 3-4 ILBs, 4-3 OLBs), edge rushers (4-3 DEs and 3-4 OLBs), and interior linemen (be them double-gapping wide-body noses, single-gap 1-techs, 4-3 3-techs, or 3-4 5-techs).

Derek Carr

CBS Sports: #26 overall, #4 QB
Walter Football: #4 overall, #2 QB
DraftTek: #33 overall, #4 QB
NFL.com: #23 overall, #3 QB

Our Grade: Late-2nd/Early-3rd, #62 overall, #5 QB

The sites I’ve chosen, Walter Football aside, actually have Carr ranked lower than we think NFL teams will. We have a strong suspicion Derek Carr is going to go in the top 11 picks, because of his attributes that make him measure out to be a great traditional pocket passer. Some team still run by backward-thinking executives who value measurable attributes over on-field performance will salivate over his cannon arm and speed.

Carr has simply not demonstrated an NFL-level conceptual understanding of the position. It’s troubling that the Fresno State offense generally relied on shotgun snaps and pre-snap reads. Carr rarely had to read a defense in motion, and while he may have the mind necessary to learn how to do so and to process information in that matter, he hasn’t yet shown it.

With his arm, if Carr could run a complete offense, he’d be a terror– so either he can’t, or the Fresno State coaches are terrible at understanding what they have and how to get the most out of it.

He’s also got some bad habits and inconsistent mechanics; those can be fixed, but he cannot handle pressure particularly well, which is a much tougher problem.

While the difference between “late first” and “mid-second” might seem a minor distinction, when you’re talking about a quarterback, you’re talking about the difference between “can turn into a positive NFL starter with a bit of work” and “might turn into a positive NFL starter with a couple years of work”. Put it to you this way: I think four quarterbacks in this draft have reasonable equity to become long-term starters, and Carr is ranked fifth.

Carr is so physically talented that his upside his high, but he needs a lot of work to reach it. With all his talent, if he’d proven he could actually play QB, he’d be a top-3 pick. That’s the red flag for me. I wouldn’t draft him at all; if I were in position to and needed a QB (while somehow not being able to take one of the top three guys), I’d try to trade down with a team that loved him and take Zach Mettenberger instead.

Kony Ealy

CBS Ranking: #34 overall, #5 ER
Walter Football: #20 overall, #4 ER
DraftTek Ranking: #31 overall, #4 ER
NFL.com Ranking: #41 overall, #5 ER

Our Grade: Late-2nd / Early-3rd, #63 overall, #11 ER

“Solid” is a term thrown around a lot when we discuss Ealy. Solid is good. What it’s not, however, is elite, and you need some elite attribute as a pass rusher to be considered in the first round. Ealy has some moves, but nothing that wows you. He has some positive attributes, but he just doesn’t have that special level of quickness and fluidity you see in the best pass rushers.

Ealy is 270 pounds, too large to play standing up, but even at that size he doesn’t seem to have the burst to be an effective edge rusher in a 4-3. He may have potential as a 3-4 end, but most publications rank him as though they’re expecting him to be a star-caliber edge rusher, and we just don’t see it.

He’ll probably be a solid, contributing player who finds his way into a rotation, at least. He could even be a good starter. It’s unlikely he’ll be great. In a draft this deep, that’s bound to depress his stock.

Trent Murphy

CBS Sports: #70 overall, #12 ER
Walter Football: #37 overall, #6 ER
DraftTek: #47 overall, #8 ER
NFL.com: #58 overall, #9 ER

Our Grade: Late-4th / Early-5th, #133 overall, #16 ER

We’ve seen mocks that have Trent Murphy in the first round. The second round is the most common landing spot for him; only CBS has him as an early 3rd, and that’s lower than they have ranked Murphy previously in the process. You can see for yourself how much our ranking differs from theirs.

Murphy had a pretty good combine and put up a lot of sacks last year at Stanford. The tape, though, shows someone too slow off the line to be a top-notch edge rusher in the NFL, someone who’s stiff and slow-moving. The combine measurements simply don’t translate to on-field display– some players lose their burst when they put the pads on.

Murphy has a pretty good set of moves once he’s engaged– in the tape I watched, he seemed fond of his spin move– but he has no explosiveness off the snap and lacks for agility. He just won’t be able to get upfield past NFL-caliber left tackles and reach QBs before they can get rid of the ball.

He could still be a solid contributor for a team, with the upside being a starter at LDE in a 4-3, perhaps. (He played more of a 3-4 OLB role in college– maybe Ryan Grigson can give him 4 years and $16 million to not rush the passer.) But any team drafting him expecting the potential anchor to their pass rush is going to be disappointed.

 

Just as important as figuring out where we differ from the mainstream is figuring out why we differ from the mainstream. In this case, I feel two prominent themes emerged:

    • Pass rushers who put up numbers in college but on tape don’t display the level of athleticism required to succeed consistently in the NFL. That’s Ealy and Murphy this year, just as it was Bjoern Werner and Damontre Moore last year.
    • Players whose measurables (and maybe some superficial statistics) make them look like NFL players, but have key gaps in their knowledge base or skill set missing. Carr’s abilities to read a defense, make progressions, and stay cool under pressure are in question. Robinson’s ability to pass block on an island is in question. Shazier doesn’t like to do anything that involves hitting another player, and that’s before anyone fantasizes about making him an edge rusher.

It’s probably no accident that all these players are connected to the passing game in an important way. Teams are desperate for any edge they can get there, and it’s easy to daydream about what you might coach a guy like Robinson or Shazier up to be one day. Not all players take to coaching, though, and some attributes aren’t coachable. Figuring out who does, and figuring out the difference between the two… those are two of the big keys to scouting, right there. Here’s hoping the work we’ve contributed gets us all a little closer to that goal.

For your consideration: Adrian Hubbard

Nobody is talking about Adrian Hubbard, the pass rusher from Alabama. (I believe I know why, but let’s put that aside for now.) He’s been labeled a “controversial player” by a certain professional troll masquerading as an NFL draft expert, and I refuse to link his work or mention him by name. (If you’re really interested, Google it. Hubbard has never to my knowledge had any off-field problems.) That aside, no one is saying anything about him, and most draft websites have him slotted as a 4th- or 5th-round pick, an afterthought.

Enough talk about nobody talking about Adrian Hubbard, though. Let’s take a look at the film and see why they should be.

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For your consideration: Jordan Matthews

My “For Your Consideration” series will focus exclusively on players I like more than the generally accepted consensus, such as that is, among draftnik types in the media. Ideally, I would have started this series earlier, but with a month before the draft, I’ll see how many of these I can write up nevertheless.

Today we’ll take a look at a wide receiver from Vanderbilt who is the all time leader in both yards and receptions in the SEC. His name is Jordan Matthews. He’s also Jerry Rice’s first cousin once removed, if you’re interested in such things. None of this is why I like him, but if you ever get hit up to answer Jordan Matthews trivia in the future, you can thank me. Now, let’s move on to the nitty-gritty.

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For your consideration: Zach Mettenberger

Zach Mettenberger is one of the quarterback prospects getting the least amount of attention from everyone not named Jaws, and that’s understandable given that he tore his ACL late in the season. All indications are that he’ll be ready for his pro day on April 19th. If this is true, I’m expecting a lot of buzz will follow. Let’s take a look at what he can do as a player.

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