The Top 10: Safeties

In a lot of ways, safeties are the least valuable players on a defense. They get paid the least on average, and are rarely drafted higher than late in the first round. However, this may have more to do with the distribution of talent at the position; the overwhelming majority of players at safety are marginally replaceable. While this makes for a lot of turnover at the position for many teams, it also makes the top players at the position all the more valuable.

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2015 Draft Peek: Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Markus Golden

The 2015 NFL draft is right around the bend– well, in geological time, anyway. In any case, it’s never too early to take a look at some senior prospects. Our players today are both highly athletic defensive ends. Markus Golden was on my watch list before the season. He was the ‘other’ end on that incredible Missouri defensive line rotation which featured Michael Sam and Kony Ealy. Owamagbe Odighizuwa – say with me, OH-DIG-E-ZOO-WAH – leaped off my screen while I was leisurely watching UCLA open the season on the road against Virginia. I’ll start with him.

Thanks to Draft Breakdown for the videos, as always; none of this would be possible without their work.

Owamagbe Odighizuwa

Edge Rusher, UCLA

Owamagbe Odighizuwa (“Owa” from now on) missed all of the 2013 season with a hip injury that required surgery. He’s listed at 6’3″ and 270 lbs., and as The Daily Bruin put it in a profile last year, “His hands are the size of baseball mitts and his arms are bigger than most people’s legs.” His explosiveness off of the snap is extraordinary, as I’ll show soon. I watched UCLA’s opening game on the road at Virginia with the purpose of checking out quarterback Brett Hundley; but it was Owa who captured my attention. He plays again today versus Texas.

Look at his first few steps on this play. Watch it frame by frame from 1:16 to 1:18, if you can. That is an elite burst. What he fails to do there is rip or swim through the tackle and pressure or sack the quarterback.  The opportunity is there, but the hand work is not. He chooses to dip around the edge and the left tackle does a great job taking Owa out of the play in spite of getting beat at the snap. The next play is textbook run defense. Owa immediately extends both of his arms right into the tackle’s chest, pushes him 3-yards in the backfield, and makes the tackle for a loss.

The play of the game happens soon thereafter. On this play our man uses those long arms on a pass rush to perfection. Once again he displays an elite burst off of the snap, and this time due to his hand work he’s able to attack the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. This allows Owa to free up his right arm; and he slaps the quarterback on the wrist right before the release. Interception. If you keep the tape rolling, the next play shows off his bull rush.

While spin moves usually result in making the pass rusher look ridiculous unless he happens to be named Dwight Freeney, Owa uses one beautifully here. His explosiveness is simply too much for Virginia to handle throughout the game. Here he uses a speed rush, and I want you to watch his left arm. That’s why he’s able to get around the edge. On this play we get to see him playing over a guard. Well, that was easy. If you keep the tape rolling he makes several more plays. You get the idea. The schedule for UCLA will get much tougher as the season rolls on. Keep an eye on him. Next up: Texas.

Markus Golden

Edge Rusher, Missouri

As I mentioned in the introduction, Markus Golden made quite a splash for Missouri last year. He finished the season with 13 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, and picked off a pass for a 70-yard touchdown. At 6’3″ and 260 lbs., he has good, albeit not incredible size, and can explode off of the snap at times. He’s another fifth-year senior with some experience at linebacker.

Golden is off to a hot start this year. We’re going to take a look at his game against Toledo. While Toledo is not the program that Missouri is, they have won at least 8 games in each of the last three seasons. In other words, this isn’t simply a team expected to roll over early in the season to the big, bad SEC opponent.

Golden relies almost exclusively on his speed. While impressive, he does not show any of the technical skill that Odighizuwa does. He gets blown off the line in the run game a number of times against Toledo. The tackle not only seals him off on this play, but drives him down the field as well. There’s a particularly ugly play on the goal line where Golden crashes inside only to have his back turned to the runner, who walks in for an easy touchdown. You need to be able to hold the point of attack in order to see the field on a regular basis in the NFL.

Nevertheless, there’s a reason why I decided to bring him up. His first step can be awesome. Here’s an example. Golden is two yards into the backfield by the time the ball reaches the quarterback. The play is completely doomed, an easy tackle for loss. On this play, it’s almost unbelievable that he is not offside. Even among top-tier pass-rushing prospects this kind of first step speed is rare. I mean, how many players can do this? How many tackles are thinking “no problem”? Not many. This next play is caused due to the quarterback inexplicably rolling out of a clean pocket, but I want to show it due to Golden’s closing speed.

If you watch the rest of that game, you’ll see him flash more here and there. He’ll also hesitate in spots where a play could’ve been made. Between these two players, Odighizuwa has better size, technique, and a higher football IQ. Golden possesses a more impressive first step, but that’s it. There’s a lot of football left to be played. Keep an eye out for both of these players as the season progresses.

On Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and the NFL

The TMZ release of the Ray Rice assault video has sparked outrage all around the sports world. The outrage has been directed at both the horrible, now unambiguous actions of Ray Rice and the mishandling of the situation by the NFL league offices. Much has been written and said about the situation in the last 24 hours. Not nearly enough, however, has been written about domestic violence in general. Here’s hoping this is a start.

I am an Assistant Prosecutor in my hometown, a normal Midwest town. Currently, I am assigned to the domestic violence court in my hometown. I prosecute domestic violence cases on a daily basis. It’s been an illuminating experience. I had a normal, healthy childhood. I never witnessed domestic violence in my home. So I, like most others, never realized that it is a real problem. But it is. It’s a problem that plagues every community in the country– large or small.  The case of Ray Rice is a good reminder of that fact.

While every instance of domestic violence is unique to those involved in it, all domestic violence cases share similar characteristics and dynamics. Domestic violence is rarely an isolated incident. Rather, it is a series of events, both verbal and physical, which result in a cycle of violence.

Relationships mired in domestic violence generally begin small and escalate gradually. Abusers do not simply assault their partners. Abusers control their partners. Abusers use many different methods to control their partners. Money and children are among the most common methods of control. Power and control manifest themselves in many different ways, though, captured in the Power and Control Wheel created by domestic violence experts.

Abusers begin with verbal and emotional abuse. That escalates to physical violence. The physical violence escalates in degree. Eventually, the physical violence ends through either the termination of the relationship or the death of the victim. In my small Midwest hometown, there have been at least three murders in the past 12 months that are a direct result of domestic violence escalating to a fatal ending.

In between the abusive events, there are honeymoon periods. Abusers begin blaming victims for the abusive event occurring. Victims blame themselves. Abusers manipulate and intimidate victims into feeling responsible, minimizing the abuse, and ultimately recanting. I meet and speak with domestic violence victim on a near daily basis who recant and minimize the behaviors of their abusers. Victims then re-enter abusive relationships.  The cycle continues. The relationship becomes increasingly dangerous.

So how does all of this tie into the Ray Rice video? Understanding the dynamics of domestic violence allows us to provide better context for individual instances of domestic violence. The Ray Rice video shows a domestic violence incident that is, in all likelihood, not an isolated incident. Rice and his fiance engage in a verbal argument outside of the elevator. From there, they enter the elevator, the doors close, and Ray Rice proceeds to punch his fiance twice in the face until she falls unconscious. Rice then allows her unconscious body to lay in the elevator until the doors open and he drags her away.

These are not actions that are characteristic of a person who lost his temper and made a mistake. These are actions indicative of a calculated abuser. Rice doesn’t impulsively hit his fiance while outside of the elevator. He waits until they are seemingly in private and seriously assaults her. He doesn’t panic and check on her well-being immediately following the assault. He is calm. He shows no remorse. He appears to know what he’s doing.

And it’s not just that Ray Rice’s assault on his fiance doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. His situation doesn’t seem to be all that unique among NFL players. Ray McDonald was recently arrested for a suspected felony domestic violence incident. Greg Hardy was recently found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend while threatening to kill her. These incidents, too, are not indicative of being first-time, isolated incidents.

These incidents do, however, reflect the wide-spread epidemic that is domestic violence. No one watches a football player score a touchdown and think, “You know what, I wonder if he beats his wife.” But that is the sad reality in the world in which we live. Athletes, friends and family we admire engage in these abusive relationships every day, whether it be as an abuser or a victim. And we turn a blind eye. It’s about time that changed.

The NFL has a terrific platform to contribute to that sort of change. Shift the focus off from diseases like cancer, which already have real and significant public awareness, to something like domestic violence, which is currently under-reported and under-prosecuted.  The NFL doesn’t have to stop contributing to the causes it currently does.  There is plenty of money to go towards other worthy causes like domestic violence awareness.  Encourage domestic violence victims to report and follow through with cases.  Donate to centers that provide support networks for victims of domestic violence.  Correct the behavior of abusers, whether it be that of players, other employees, or fans.

Make a difference. The opportunity is there. Take it and run with it, NFL.

Today’s reads and views: The Ray Rice Embarassment turns into The Ray Rice Fiasco

I have a medical emergency at home, so sadly, I don’t have time to write my own hot take on this yet. (I will tell you, as a Saints fan, I’ve known for two and a half years that Roger Goodell is a liar and a hypocrite more concerned with PR than doing the right thing– and that’s before we get into his disciplinary stance as judge, jury, and executioner, who adjudicates primarily on whether or not he was lied to or his ass was sufficiently kissed than on the severity of the offense or any sense of morality and justice.)

You can read my initial take here. In lieu of writing something new in the meantime, I’ll post some of the best links of the day from some of the best writing and reporting on the issue. (Don’t be surprised if I update this regularly.)

Adam Schefter is furious that his water-carrying for the NFL has left him out to dry.

Gregg Doyel thinks the NFL got some ‘splainin’ to do, but considering he refers to Roger Goodell as an “invertebrate,” I think he’s keeping his expectations low.

The Kansas City Star has called for NFL owners to fire Roger Goodell. Not for him to resign, for him to be fired.

Christine Brennan wants the NFL and NFL teams to punish all domestic abusers, not just the ones caught on camera. (Which, I mean, duh, but given this league cares about image and image only, is still something they need their feet held to the fire on.)

And of course, the granddaddy of righteous anger, Keith Olbermann:

(transcript)

We will have a column coming later from Matt, whose experience as a prosecutor provides him with a uniquely well-informed perspective on domestic abusers and their patterns and pathology of behavior. I’m looking forward to it.

Our top 20 day-three draft values

I wanted to wait to write this column until the 53-man roster deadline had passed, until teams had used the waiver wire to stock the bottom of their rosters from other team’s castoffs. Now that the dust has settled, we’ll look at some day-three picks we really like. These players represent a combination of value at their selection, contribution right away, and potential down the line. I’ve ranked them by order in which we had them ranked.

20. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami-FL
Buffalo Bills, Round 7, Pick 237
#123 overall, #14 OT

Henderson was an unusual prospect to grade, with worlds of physical talent dragged down by off-field problems and laziness in developing his technique. It was never clear at Miami whether he just needed good coaching or didn’t have the mental attitude, but all indicators are that he’ll start at right tackle for the Bills over second-round pick Cyrus Kouandijo.

19. E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
St. Louis Rams, Round 6, Pick 188
#112 overall, #13 CB

Gaines is currently penciled in as one of the Rams’ starting cornerbacks opposite Janoris Jenkins. He had some strong games in the preseason, and while we believed in his abilities as a solid cover corner in various coverages, even we didn’t project a week-one starter.

18. Ronald Powell, LB, Florida
New Orleans Saints, Round 5, Pick 169
#105 overall, #7 LB

It should be no surprise that Powell ended up on Rob Ryan’s Saints defense, as his versatility was a highlight on film. Let vix tell you more.

17. Jonathan Newsome, OLB, Ball State
Indianapolis Colts, Round 5, Pick 166
#104 overall, #15 ER

He popped on film, showing occasional flashes of high-level athleticism, but he also played at Ball State. Developmental, but loads of potential here.

16. David Fales, QB, San Jose State
Chicago Bears, Round 6, Pick 183
#103 overall, #7 QB

Fales has a subpar arm, but showed some good skills in read progressions and decision-making. He didn’t post another 70%+ completion percentage in his senior year, but he was accurate enough. If he can develop his arm strength and refine his skills, he could have a solid career in the league.

15. Corey Linsley, C, Ohio State
Green Bay Packers, Round 5, Pick 161
#101 overall, #2 C

Linsley was a late riser on our board, someone whose film turned out to be significantly better than expected. Conveniently enough for us, we’re going to see just how well that translates to the field very soon, thanks to J.C. Tretter’s injury.

14. Avery Williamson, LB, Kentucky
Tennessee Titans, Round 5, Pick 151
#92 overall, #6 LB

Williamson was a star on the field for the Wildcats, a legitimate three-down linebacker who is strong at shedding blocks and making tackles while also being strong in pass coverage. He held his own for an overmatched Kentucky team, and don’t be surprised if he’s starting in the middle for the Titans soon.

13. Tre Boston, S, North Carolina
Carolina Panthers, Round 4, Pick 128
#87 overall,  #6 S

Safety may be one of the more difficult positions for us to evaluate, as reliable all-22 film that includes full footage of the back end is tough to find. That said, Boston graded out well for us as a versatile safety who can tackle and hit. Given Carolina’s losses at safety in free agency (and the past-their-prime veterans they signed to fill the gaps), Boston could be starting sooner rather than later. At least he’ll have a front seven capable of making his job easy. Let vix take you into more detail.

12. Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
Green Bay Packers, Round 4, Pick 121
#85 overall, #13 ER

Bradford needs some development to reach his potential but he showed high levels of athleticism, mostly as an edge rusher but occasionally in coverage too. He won’t be rushed into action in Green Bay; if he works on his craft and develops his technique and strength, he could be a solid all-around player.

11. Kevin Norwood, WR, Alabama
Seattle Seahawks, Round 4, Pick 123
#81 overall, #14 WR

Norwood was mostly regarded as a deep threat at Alabama, which is a little unfair, as he possesses quite a wide range of receiver skills, as well as good size and speed for the position. He had a camp injury that’s kept him buried on Seattle’s depth chart, but long-term he should be part of their rotation, perhaps even one day starting opposite Paul Richardson on the outside.

10. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
San Francisco 49ers, Round 4, Pick 106
#77 overall,#13 WR

Ellington is a unique player, a speedy little slot receiver with moves, maneuvers, and vision like a running back. He’ll never be a traditional #1, but he’s the kind of guy who can have a role right away, and I hope the 49ers make the most of his skills. Vix can’t say enough good things about him.

9. Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
Cleveland Browns, Round 4, Pick 127
#75 overall, #10 CB

I had to look up where Lindenwood is, too. Small-school prospects with little to no film against comparable competition are always a gamble, but Desir’s size-speed combo makes him worth it. (Supposedly there’s a tape out there where Desir goes up against John Brown of Pittsburgh St. (KS), Arizona’s third-round selection, but I haven’t been able to locate a copy.)

8. DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
Tennessee Titans, Round 4, Pick 112
#67 overall,#8 DL

We may have been overrating the very large men who tend to leave the field during passing downs, as we put a number of defensive tackles higher on our board than where they actually were drafted. That said: Jones stands out a consistent, explosive force up the middle who if nothing else will force teams to keep blockers on him if they don’t want him in their backfields.

7. Caraun Reid, DT, Princeton
Detroit Lions, Round 5, Pick 158
#59 overall, #6 DL

Another guy whose level of college competition surely caused NFL teams to be more bearish on him than we were. We saw a guy who, when he wasn’t getting double-teamed, showed great quickness and pad level for his size and ability to rush the passer from a 3-technique. Perhaps Akiem Hicks is a good comparison for possible upside.

6. Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Buffalo Bills, Round 4, Pick 109
#56 overall, #8 CB

Not a prospect with outstanding measurables, but man, can he play. Watch his tape from the Chick-Fil-A bowl against Texas A&M: In a game the Blue Devils eventually lost 52-48 (!), Cockrell was largely left in man coverage against Mike Evans and held him to four catches and no scores.

5. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
Pittsburgh Steelers, Round 4, Pick 118
#53 overall,#9 WR

Bryant is a very raw prospect, but he’s a physical specimen. Considering guys with his kind of measurables who are even less developed as prospects go in the second round (Why hello there, latest member of the Carolina Panthers practice squad). It’s always a risk whether or not a guy like this develops, but he has admitted that he didn’t take his game as seriously in the past as he does now, which is a great sign of maturity especially for a young prospect. Even though he was inconsistent in college, he wasn’t so much so that you couldn’t reliably throw to him.

4. David Yankey, G, Stanford
Minnesota Vikings, Round 5, Pick 145
#47 overall,#5 OG

Yankey was a prospect much more highly rated in the public eye until he started sliding close to the draft, winding up in the fifth round. We still liked what we saw: a guard with terrific athleticism and great ability to pull, whose blocking needed some refinement but who should still be a solidly capable starter sooner rather than later. Maybe teams didn’t like that he slid inside in 2013 to make room for top offensive tackle prospect Andrus Peat.

More on David Yankey.

3. Dakota Dozier, G/T, Furman
New York Jets, Round 4, Pick 137
#42 overall,#3 OG / #7 OT

What we liked about Dozier that elevated him over your typical small-school lineman prospect was what we saw in his footwork. He’s still developmental to a degree, naturally, but he has the feet to make us think he could play tackle someday (and has a non-zero chance to become a positive left tackle).

2. Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State
Jacksonville Jaguars, Round 5, Pick 144
#34 overall, #1 LB

Smith fell in part because of a positive marijuana test at the Combine. He may have fallen in part because of his size. But for a linebacker prospect, his game speed is incredible, his coverage skills are excellent, and he’s still pretty solid at tackling and run support. C.J. Mosley is the better prospect as a classic every-down middle linebacker, but in a game that’s becoming less about big hits and more about speed and the aerial attack, Smith could be the kind of valuable coverage linebacker that doesn’t come along too often.

Our mystery mountain man of tape, vixticator, breaks him down further.

1. Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
Tennessee Titans, Round 6, Pick 178
#30 overall, #4 QB

vix’s breakdown

For perspective, we had Mettenberger ranked higher than Derek Carr. That was an outlier stance- Carr has much more physical talent overall, and comparing their athleticism would be unfair and mean– but Mettenberger combined a cannon arm with good decision-making and the willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit. He played QB at a high level for LSU last year, and in the preseason showed some flashes he could develop into a throwback QB, a cannon-armed statue. Sadly for Jake Locker fans, I think that development may need to show as soon as next year.