“F— It, I’m Going Deep” (Sleeper Series): Brandon Bridge

Hello once again, fellow draft devotees and combine connoisseurs. I speak to you today to preach the word of Brandon Bridge. He comes from a land where pines and maples grow, great prairies spread, and Lordly rivers flow. That’s right: Mobile, Alabama, where sits the University of South Alabama, playing football in the Sun Belt conference. And he’s come to save your franchise from years of quarterback misery (results may vary). The tale of the tape reads as 6’4″, 229 lbs., with 34 1/4 inches of flame-throwing arm power.

Bridge does not inspire much confidence statistically. He completed a paltry 52% of his passes, and only threw 15 touchdowns to 8 interceptions. Not exactly folkloric numbers, but I’ve seen two of his 2014 tapes, and the kinds of throws he can make will leave your head spinning. One game is against Appalachian State via Draft Breakdown, and I found another on the YouTube channel ‘CollegeFBDude‘ against Mississippi State. Thanks to both for uploading.

 

Appalachian State

The first play I want to show displays a number of positive attributes in my book. Bridge sees the blitz, but trusts his protection. His eyes scan from left to right as he drops back and climbs the pocket. There’s no wasted motion in his throw. The ball hits his receiver in stride. Then on the very next play, he throws the ball over his intended receivers head. Don’t ask me. He ends that drive with a nice rushing touchdown.

Overall, he uses the pocket well. Here you see him using every last second of his time, and all of the space possible, to stay in the pocket and find a receiver. This is not his first read (it might be his third). Watch his eyes.

Guess what happens next. If you answered “a touchdown strike to the running back on a wheel route,” then congratulations on being wrong. That almost happens. It *should* be the result. Alas, Bridge rushes the throw under no pressure and misses an easy touchdown.

Not everyone can roll to their left with a defender on pursuit, square up, and fire a strike to a receiver. It looks easy for Bridge. He has functional mobility in both directions. Now look at this play. He sells the pump fake to the bubble screen man – the corner bites hard,leaving him completely flat footed. Bang! Bridge hits his receiver in stride, again. Notice how he slides ever so slightly in the pocket before releasing that one. I really like how he can move in the pocket.

Bridge can throw a great deep ball. He releases the ball on the far left hash of the 26 yard line, and it hits the receiver in stride along the right sideline at the 22 yard line. That’s impossible. Seriously, what?  Of course, the difference between that pass and this pass is the amount of pressure he’s under. He can’t get it done in the face of true pressure. Except, well, yes he can. With a free rusher bearing right down on him, Bridge makes a picture perfect toss deep down the sideline for a touchdown. It is actually impossible to put the ball in a better location.

OH. MY. GOD.” Jaw meet floor. Words cannot describe my reaction when I saw Bridge break multiple would-be tacklers and impossibly make that touchdown throw while on the run. Without any hyperbole, that is one of the greatest plays I’ve ever seen. Yeah… next game.

 

Mississippi State

If you didn’t follow college football last year, Mississippi State was ranked #1 in the polls for several weeks. That’s the level of competition Brandon Bridge is facing on this tape. The first play of note is this beauty deep down the middle, behind the defense, right into the hands of the receiver. In and out of the receivers hands, that is.

On this play, Bridge probably needs to take the brief running lane and pick up however many yards he can on the ground instead of pulling the ball back and attempting to escape around the left side. Most likely, he ends up near the line of scrimmage. In trying to make a heroic play on 1st down, the ball ends up on the ground. Live to fight another down.

Here is an important 3rd down where Bridge simply makes a poor decision. He’s about to get sacked on his blind side, and, well, he just dares the defender to intercept this ball. It’s a spot where a field goal is likely difficult for a college kicker. I’m not certain what he should do here without seeing the all-22 camera angle, but this isn’t the answer.

I really want you to see this play. It looks like the ball is bending into the receiver who is breaking right off the top of his stem. Bridge keeps hitting players at full speed with perfect ball placement in these two games. No one man should have all this power (watch that throwing-across-your-body thing though). How the heck did he only complete 52% of his passes? Someone out there upload more games.

About that interception he nearly threw earlier, this time the corner does make the catch. Also, this is a much worse decision. It isn’t 3rd down. He isn’t under pressure. His receiver is double covered. There’s no deception by the defense or anything. Of all the throws in both games, this is the worst. I can make some excuse for the other mistakes. Not this one.

After making such a boneheaded throw, I’m glad to see him rebound here. It’s a similar throw – and result, unfortunately – to the first play I showcased. Bridge can sure rip some deep balls. If only his receivers could catch them. His accuracy down field is very impressive, which I can’t say about a prospect like Bryce Petty in this 2015 class.

So we return to Mr. Bridge’s poor decision making with this throw. That comes stamped with postage saying “return to sender.” If you’ve figured this guy out yet, you already know that his very next throw is right where it needs to be. On the ground, because his receivers cannot catch (duh).

There are a few notable plays in the rest of the game. On the bad side, he doesn’t see the underneath defender here, and almost throws another interception. I’ll leave off with a rather funny play. Bouncy! In all seriousness, he shows some nice elusiveness there.

 

THE WRAP

Consistency is king in the NFL. Bridge is not consistent. We’re looking at a developmental prospect. I see one with huge upside. I omitted a few plays where he manages to escape the pocket to scramble for positive yards. He does possess that dimension to his game, when necessary. I’m dying to find more tape on Brandon Bridge. His arm talent is rare even among NFL starters.

A good comparison from last year might be Logan Thomas, who is currently being mentored under Bruce Arians in Arizona. I think Bridge flashes NFL talent more consistently, and those flashes of talent are at a higher level (Thomas was much more frustrating to watch). Thomas got picked in the 4th round last year. All it takes is one team to fall for Bridge as much as I did for him to go in a similar spot. This class is really poor with quarterback prospects after Mariota, Winston, and Hundley. I’m laughing at any team that takes any of the senior bowl guys ahead of Bridge.

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Our first (wildly inaccurate and ill-informed) Mock Draft, Part 2

Click here for part 1.

Rounds 2 and 3 won’t have as much detail, because, good Lord, I’m not trying to write a 7,500-word column. I’ll try to include a brief explanation of each pick, though.

ROUND 2

  1. Tennessee Titans – Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
    Still need DB help, and Collins is a tremendous athlete with first-round potential.
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Cameron Erving, C, Florida State
    Tampa’s offensive line flatly sucks. This is in part because they never use high picks on linemen. What better way to fix that problem, and to aid Jameis Winston’s transition to the NFL, than by drafting his center?
  3. Oakland Raiders – Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
    Some character-concerns (which make him a natural-born Raider) but Dawson is a great playmaker, and he and Khalil Mack will amplify each other’s abilities.
  4. Jacksonville Jaguars – Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
    Marcedes Lewis has been with the team since, seemingly, George Bush was in office (that is, George H.W. Bush), but even his time must come to an end soon. Williams is a fantastic athlete for the position who will give Blake Bortles another dynamic receiver and help build on the tremendous young crew Jacksonville found from last year’s rookies.
  5. New York Jets – Owamagbe Odighizuwa, DE/OLB, UCLA
    The Jets have seemingly needed edge-rusher help for the entirety of the Rex Ryan era, and Odighizuwa is the kind of guy they could use, even if he’s more of a 4-3 DE.
  6. Washington – Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
    More help in the trenches for a team that needs it. Davis crushed the Senior Bowl and displays terrific movement and pass-rush ability for his size.
  7. Chicago Bears – Gerod Holliman, FS, Louisville
    Chicago’s safeties were terrible. Holliman (14 INT in 2014) is the kind of ball-hawk the Bears could use covering the back end.
  8. New York Giants – T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pittsburgh
    The Giants seem to be perpetually in need of offensive line help, and Clemmings is popular among scouts for his athleticism (even though he had a poor Senior Bowl).
  9. St. Louis Rams – Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
    Even if Jake Long never plays another down for the Rams, they still have Greg Robinson at left tackle, and a hole at one guard position. Tomlinson is the best guard in the draft.
  10. Atlanta Falcons – Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami-FL
    I have concerns about Flowers’ ability to play left tackle in the NFL, but I think he could fill in in a pinch, and more importantly can be a quite good right tackle. (Check out his film against Virginia, where he basically stonewalls Eli Harold.) Atlanta has their LT of the future, but they need a right tackle, with Sam Baker’s injury history making him unreliable for the future.
  11. Cleveland Browns – Hau’oli Kikaha, DE/OLB, Washington
    For all the resources the Browns have spent on edge rushing, they haven’t gotten much production as a result. Kikaha falls because of his injury history, but his hand technique and athletic upside are up there with the best in this draft.
  12. New Orleans Saints – Daryl Williams, OT, Oklahoma
    Zach Strief is a journeyman right tackle who basically ended up with the job because Charles Brown couldn’t hack it. Strief is better suited to playing the sixth man; Williams should start at RT right away.
  13. Minnesota Vikings – Ty Sambrailo, OT, Colorado State
    Minnesota’s entire offensive line was a mess last year. Wherever Sambrailo slots in, he’ll be an upgrade.
  14. San Francisco 49ers – P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State
    They don’t have much talent at this position. Now they have a little more.
  15. Miami Dolphins – Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
    The big man offers some insurance in case they can’t keep one of their interior guys, and is a steal this late to boot.
  16. San Diego Chargers – Arik Armstead, DE/DT, Oregon
    Raw but athletic, Armstead would slot right in at 3-4 DE for the Chargers and hopefully provide some push.
  17. Kansas City Chiefs – Chris Hackett, S, TCU
    Sadly, Eric Berry’s lymphoma diagnosis leaves the Chiefs looking for a safety here. Hackett is a nice fit to replace Berry at strong safety.
  18. Buffalo Bills – Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
    Fred Jackson is nearing the end of the line. C.J. Spiller is a free agent. Gordon provides answers to both questions.
  19. Houston Texans – Bernardick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
    Brian Cushing hasn’t been able to stay healthy, and this is the film on Houston’s other ILB. McKinney fills a bad need on defense.
  20. Philadelphia Eagles – Nate Orchard, DE/OLB, Utah
    Marcus Smith didn’t really work out last year. Connor Barwin probably won’t get 15 sacks next season. Trent Cole is nearing the end of the line. The Eagles give pass rushing another shot.
  21. Cincinnati Bengals – Quinten Rollins, CB, Miami-OH
    Rollins has been a riser of late, and the Bengals are constantly reloading at this position.
  22. Detroit Lions – Duke Johnson, RB, Miami-FL
    I think he’s one of the more complete backs in the draft, but the team also has Joique Bell on hand to spell Johnson and keep him from taking too many hits.
  23. Arizona Cardinals – Danielle Hunter, DE/OLB, LSU
    Arizona can’t continue relying on John Abraham and Larry Foote, so LSU West gets another member.
  24. Pittsburgh Steelers – A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
    David DeCastro has been great at one guard spot, but the other is very much a question.
  25. Carolina Panthers – Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon
    I have a hard time not seeing Carolina taking an OT in the first two rounds. Fisher’s athleticism has some talking of him as a first-round pick. Whichever tackle position he plays for Carolina, he’s an upgrade.
  26. Baltimore Ravens – Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
    Justin Forsett likely isn’t coming back. Abdullah’s receiving ability gives him an immediate and important role in this backfield, with Lorenzo Taliaferro handling the grunt work.
  27. Denver Broncos – Donovan Smith, OT, Penn State
    Denver needs to find a right tackle so they can move Louis Vasquez back to guard. Smith’s athleticism has some teams drooling, but he’s a project.
  28. Dallas Cowboys – T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
    Happy trails, DeMarco Murray.
  29. Indianapolis Colts – David Cobb, RB, Minnesota
    Don’t let the door hit you in the ass while you stand around doing spin moves in the doorway, Trent Richardson.
  30. Green Bay Packers – Alex Carter, CB, Stanford
    Green Bay’s always looking for more depth here.
  31. Seattle Seahawks – Preston Smith, DT, Mississippi State
    An aggressive pass-rusher who can play multiple positions along a front: An ideal fit for the Seahawks.
  32. New England Patriots – Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
    Another attempt to add a big-play element to the Pats offense. Let’s hope Coates sorts out his hands well enough to stay out of Belichick’s doghouse.

ROUND 3

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers –  Lorenzo Mauldin, DE/OLB, Louisville
    The Bucs have made a mess of their edge rushing, letting Michael Bennett go while overpaying the disappointing Michael Johnson and clinging to busts Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers. Mauldin is another attempt to fix this problem.
  2. Tennessee Titans – Tre Jackson, G, Florida State
    The Andy Levitre signing has not worked out.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Jeremiah Poutasi, OT, Utah
    Luke Joeckel and Brandon Linder (and maybe Luke Bowanko) are the only long-term parts of this OL, so this is another case of “Wherever he plays, it’s an upgrade.”
  4. Oakland Raiders – Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
    A steal here for a team that hasn’t gotten what it hoped out of D.J. Hayden and has little else at the position.
  5. Washington – Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami-FL
    A playmaker at another position Washington needs them.
  6. New York Jets – Tevin Coleman, RB, Indiana
    A speedy, big-play complement to Chris Ivory.
  7. Chicago Bears – Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
    Coming back to school significantly hurt his stock, but he should still fit in at slot CB once he recovers from his injury.
  8. St. Louis Rams – Kevin Johnson, CB, Wake Forest
    E.J. Gaines outperformed his draft position, but Janoris Jenkins has been inconsistent since a promising rookie year, and the rest of the corners on roster are crap.
  9. Atlanta Falcons – Jay Ayaji, RB, Boise State
    I look forward to watching an Ayaji-Devonta Freeman rotation on Sundays.
  10. New York Giants – Markus Golden, DE/OLB, Missouri
    True to form, New York reloads their edge rushing with another day-two pick.
  11. New Orleans Saints – Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
    A steal here, especially for a team whose wide receiver crew has quietly become very suspect.
  12. Minnesota Vikings – Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina
    Goodbye, Adrian Peterson. Davis and Jerick McKinnon will take it from here.
  13. Cleveland Browns – Reese Dismukes, C, Auburn
    Alex Mack is probably gone after 2015, either because he exercises his opt-out or he fails to recover sufficiently from his injury. Either way, Cleveland needs to prepare for it.
  14. Miami Dolphins – Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
    Miami’s receiving crew needs more help than just Greene, but he’s a start.
  15. San Francisco 49ers – Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami-FL
    A true burner to take advantage of Kaep’s monster arm. Could line up opposite Anquan Boldin on opening day if the 49ers let Michael Crabtree walk.
  16. Kansas City Chiefs – Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
    The kind of speedy waterbug player Andy Reid loves. He will find a way to run a personnel grouping of Jamaal Charles / Knile Davis / De’Anthony Thomas / Travis Kelce / Crowder frequently in 2015.
  17. Buffalo Bills – Arie Kouandijo, G, Alabama
    The interior line needs shoring up beyond Richie Incognito, and now the Kouandijo brothers are reunited.
  18. Houston Texans – D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
    An athletic project who could develop into a starting tackle. The team has some questions on the line, especially since #33 overall pick Xavier Su’a-Filo barely got on the field last year.
  19. San Diego Chargers – Jacoby Glenn, CB, UCF
    They still need cornerback help beyond Jason Verrett, especially since he’s more suited to playing inside.
  20. Philadelphia Eagles – Cody Prewitt, FS, Ole Miss
    Pretty self-explanatory.
  21. Cincinnati Bengals – Nick O’Leary, TE, Florida State
    Jermaine Gresham is a free agent, and he’s probably gone. O’Leary should fill his role well.
  22. Arizona Cardinals – Hroniss Grasu, C, Oregon
    They need some upgrades on their line and could move on from Lyle Sendlein soon.
  23. Pittsburgh Steelers – Trey Flowers, DE/OLB, Arkansas
    Their last few swings at finding edge rushing haven’t worked out as well as they hoped. Here’s another.
  24. Detroit Lions – Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
    The son of longtime Herman Moore second banana Brett Perriman walks into an ideal situation, as the third receiver for a team that badly needs one.
  25. Carolina Panthers – Shaq Mason, G, Georgia Tech
    Between Fisher, Mason, and last year’s third-round pick, Trai Turner, Carolina’s offensive line has been significantly improved (if still one player short of legitimate).
  26. Baltimore Ravens – D’Joun Smith, CB, Florida Atlantic
    Injury questions surround Baltimore’s most talented guys, so depth here always helps.
  27. Dallas Cowboys – Jaquiski Tartt, S, Samford
    Dallas needs safety help, and I for one can see Jerry Jones saying “Hot damn! I love that name!”
  28. Denver Broncos – Kevin White, CB, TCU
    Like the inverse of the Detroit pick, White walks into a scenario where the team has two strong cornerbacks already and he can slide in behind them.
  29. Indianapolis Colts – Josh Harper, WR, Fresno State
    Reggie Wayne is at the end of the line and Hakeem Nicks didn’t work out. The Colts need more receiver depth than just T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief.
  30. Green Bay Packers – Gabe Wright, DT, Auburn
    A big body to prepare them for the possible loss of B.J. Raji.
  31. Seattle Seahawks – Josue Matias, G, Florida State
    Seattle’s offensive line is relatively weak outside of its top two players. This is an attempt to solve that problem.
  32. New England Patriots – Clive Walford, TE, Miami-FL
    A second tight end with some athleticism and receiving skills who the Pats can use in the ways they hoped to use Aaron Hernandez.

Leave all complaints in comments.

Our first (wildly inaccurate and ill-informed) Mock Draft, Part 1

Mock Drafts are pointless and inaccurate. They’re also fun to write and fun to read. We’ve begun film work for this year’s draft, but we’re nowhere near forming complete opinions, and as we gather more information about prospects, discover some sleepers, and are able to access more and more film, some of these picks are going to look downright silly. But to reiterate: Mock drafts are fun to write and fun to read, and we like to have fun here.

As we’ve mostly focused on prominent, well-regarded prospects so far, I’m limiting this draft to three rounds, since we don’t know so much about the guys projected to go later. (Frankly, we don’t know much about some of the guys mocked in this draft. I won’t be surprised when some of our first-rounders go in the third round, and vice-versa.) Compensatory picks haven’t been handed out yet, which was another good reason to stop there, as only the first 96 picks are set in stone right now.

I did want to get one of these in before the Combine, as that event will separate some players who look similar on film but may measure differently. For now, enjoy three rounds of wild speculation!

Round 1

  1. Tampa Bay BuccaneersJameis Winston, QB, Florida State
    Our war room is still split on Winston vs. Mariota. I personally prefer Winston’s on-field game; I think it will translate to the NFL very well, and while Marcus Mariota is a talented athlete with a strong work ethic, I have some concerns about whether or not he can refine some of his decisions in the heat of the moment to the point I want to see in a quarterback.
  2. Tennessee TitansLeonard Williams, DE/DT, USC
    I don’t think the Titans will take a quarterback here, and Williams is head-and-shoulders the best non-QB in this draft. I could see the Titans doing something dumb, because they’re the Titans, but that’s not the point of this mock.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars – Randy Gregory, DE/OLB, Nebraska
    In reality, Jacksonville is probably best served trading down with someone who wants Mariota, but without that option here, they go with the guy perceived to have the highest upside as an edge rusher. His production wasn’t what you want from a premier prospect, but his athleticism, length, and skill using his hands leads teams to project a lot of growth from him.
  4. Oakland Raiders – Kevin White, WR, West Virginia
    A bit of a surprise to some here, but we have White ranked over Amari Cooper. A sure all-around receiver who has invited comparisons to Larry Fitzgerald, White immediately becomes the Raiders’ best receiver and the top-flight guy Derek Carr needs to aid his development.
  5. Washington Potatoes – La’el Collins, OT, Washington
    Washington needs help basically everywhere. Collins is our favorite tackle in this draft, a guy who exhibits tremendous power in the run game and enough quickness that we’re higher on his ability to play LT than most. Even if he can’t, Washington could use another stud offensive lineman; Trent Williams is really their only above-average player in the unit.
  6. New York Jets – Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
    I could certainly see the Jets giving Geno Smith one more year, but I doubt Mariota falls further than this regardless. Smith’s wild inconsistency leads to this pick; OC Chan Gailey is the kind of creative thinker who will tailor his offense to his franchise QB, rather than the other way around.
  7. Chicago Bears – Dante Fowler Jr., DE/OLB, Florida
    Chicago needs defensive help badly. Rumors are that new DC Vic Fangio is switching to a 3-4. I think Fowler’s best position is 3-4 OLB, and I like him slightly better than Shane Ray (stronger) and Bud Dupree (more athletic).
  8. Atlanta Falcons – Shane Ray, DE/OLB, Missouri
    Atlanta needs defensive help badly. Last year’s switch to a 3-4 under then-DC Mike Nolan lacked the necessary parts to succeed. I have no idea if Dan Quinn and Richard Smith will keep the same system or switch to something more like the Seattle 4-3, but Ray is the kind of edge-rushing prospect they need either way.
  9. New York Giants – DeVante Parker, WR, Louisville
    Another surprise. This comes from projecting a few things: One, that the Giants will make the decision to go all-in on the offense and maximize Eli Manning’s potential to carry them back to the playoffs. Two, the decision that Rueben Randle has been a disappointment leads them to replace him with a receiver of similar size.
    One could easily argue that the bigger worry is that Victor Cruz will never be the same again after his catastrophic injury, and Amari Cooper makes an ideal replacement for him. I won’t argue with you if you do; it’s Odell Beckham’s lack of size that led me to go with the bigger body as the tiebreaker.
  10. St. Louis Rams – Landon Collins, SS, Alabama
    The secondary is almost certainly the weakest spot of St. Louis’ defense, and an all-around player like Collins would go a long way to fixing some of the weaknesses there. (I think this is a bit of a reach for him, but the talent pool gets pretty flat pretty soon, and I’ve seen him mocked as high as #5, so I’m not sweating it.)
  11. Minnesota Vikings – Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
    Minnesota needs receiver help to aid Teddy Bridgewater along. Charles Johnson, Bad Cordarrelle Patterson, and Old Greg Jennings aren’t enough. Parker might arguably be the better fit as an outside receiver, but he’s gone. Cooper will offer tons of speed to stretch the field, and may even draw attention away from Patterson enough that he becomes a productive player again.
  12. Cleveland Browns – Danny Shelton, NT, Washington
    Men of Shelton’s size and level of performance don’t come around very often. It’s arguable that he’s only a two-down player in the NFL, and this is a reach for any such player, but Shelton played all three downs in college, and Cleveland needs help in the defensive trenches, even if just to occupy blockers for their pass-rushing trio.
  13. New Orleans Saints – DE/OLB Bud Dupree, Kentucky
    New Orleans needs a lot of help. Getting after the quarterback was one of their more obvious deficiencies last season, and is one of the only things that can cover up holes on the rest of the defense. Dupree is the best edge rusher left on the board by some margin, and I think he can be moved around and employed in enough different ways to please Rob Ryan.
  14. Miami Dolphins – Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington
    Miami spent lots of money on linebackers in free agency. That money was wasted. Thompson is a true playmaker who can take advantage of the opportunities afforded by Miami’s strong front four.
  15. San Francisco 49ers – Henry Anderson, DE/DT, Stanford
    A bit of a surprise here, but Anderson is fantastic on film, and his combination of size and pass-rushing ability is very reminiscent of Justin Smith. Possibly a reach, but pass-rushing is always in vogue, and with San Francisco’s questions at outside linebacker (and no one really worth taking here), getting pass-rushing production from another position here makes sense.
  16. Houston Texans – Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
    Oh boy. This one’s gonna draw some controversy, as lots of scouts see Hundley as a second-rounder at best. But if you believe in a quarterback, you take him in round one. Despite Hundley’s flaws, he’s had very productive– and steadily improving– numbers in three years as a starter while having little to work with in terms of receiving help or offensive line. If Bill O’Brien can develop Matt McGloin from walk-on into actual NFL starter (for a very bad team, but still), Texans fans will have fun imagining what he can do with a talent like Hundley.
  17. San Diego Chargers – Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford
    While the Chargers have gotten serviceable left tackle play out of King Dunlap, he is not the left tackle of the future, and even if he was, the Chargers have a hole at right tackle after moving D.J. Fluker inside. Peat’s technique is somewhat raw, but he has tremendous agility for his size: He’s by far the tackle prospect in this draft with the best “left tackle athleticism.”
  18. Kansas City Chiefs – Brandon Scherff, OT/G, Iowa
    Unlike Peat, we have significant concerns about Scherff’s ability to play NFL left tackle. Fortunately for the Chiefs (well, so to speak), they need help everywhere on the line. Even if Scherff can’t supplant #1 overall disappointment Eric Fisher at left tackle, the Chiefs could surely use him at right tackle or guard.
  19. Cleveland Browns – Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona State
    The Browns should be pumped that the 49ers and Chiefs both passed on Strong. A big and, well, strong receiver, Strong wins with tremendous hands and ability at the catch point, even if other areas of his game need work. Becomes the best (active) receiver on Cleveland’s roster.
  20. Philadelphia Eagles – Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
    Philadelphia has been plagued by poor cornerback play for several years now. Waynes gives them their first real chance at having a #1 cornerback since they signed Nnamdi Asomugha and decided to use him as a roving Joker player rather than a press-man corner.
  21. Cincinnati Bengals – Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson
    I don’t get the love for Beasley as a top-ten or even top-five selection, as I don’t think he has the upside for that. Cincinnati needs pass rush help badly, though, as Carlos Dunlap was their only consistently effective rusher last year. Hopefully Geno Atkins will get back up to speed another year removed from his ACL tear, but either way, Beasley can offer someone to fill a Von Miller-type role of traditional outside linebacker mixed in with a rusher on passing downs.
  22. Pittsburgh Steelers – Marcus Peters, CB, Washington
    Here’s another team that badly needs a cornerback. Peters falls because he was dismissed from his Washington team midseason, but stories are coming in that the rumors surrounding his dismissal were wildly overblown. If that turns out to be true, expect his stock to rise even higher.
  23. Detroit Lions – Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
    Detroit catches a break of sorts when Ogbuehi’s ACL tear causes him to fall to them. He should be recovered by the start of the season, and he’d arguably be a top-ten pick without the injury. Ogbuehi would probably play right tackle this year before flipping sides with Riley Reiff. He shores up one of the weakest spots of Detroit’s offense.
  24. Arizona Cardinals – Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
    And speaking of guys who would have gone much higher if not for ACL tears. Gurley has tremendous agility and balance for his size to go with strength, vision, and patience. Bruce Arians learned last year that his fears that Andre Ellington could be run into the ground were true; Gurley gives them the between-the-tackles every-down guy they need so they can save Ellington for big plays.
  25. Carolina Panthers – Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
    This seems probably the least realistic pick of the first round– unlike Peters, DGB’s dismissal from school involved a serious domestic allegation, and he hasn’t played in an entire year. Still, though, his talent is rare– a size-speed combination reminiscent of Calvin Johnson– and I think some team with a need at receiver will take a chance on him. Giving Cam Newton two big outside targets who can get balls out of the air should go a long way to helping his production.
  26. Baltimore Ravens – Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
    While it’s not terribly like Baltimore to draft a receiver in the first round, Torrey Smith is a free agent who seemed to take a step back this year, Steve Smith turns 36 soon, and they don’t have much else at receiver (or at tight end, if Dennis Pitta can’t recover from his hip injuries). They need to give Joe Flacco a serious target.
  27. Dallas Cowboys – Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
    Cowboys fans should be pumped with this pick. An aggressive, penetrating defensive tackle who will aid the pass rush and make the rest of the front seven better.
  28. Denver Broncos – Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
    Terrance Knighton is a free agent and likely to depart. Phillips moves very well for his size and has been ranked a top-15 prospect by several outlets. When in doubt, grab the big man who moves fast.
  29. Indianapolis Colts – Eli Harold, DE/OLB, Virginia
    Harold is a very athletic but not accomplished pass rusher (so basically, the opposite of Bjoern Werner). Indianapolis needs defensive help, and so they take a chance on Harold developing into an edge-rusher to pair with last year’s fifth-round find, Jonathan Newsome.
  30. Green Bay Packers – Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
    Possibly the most complete linebacker in the draft, Green Bay has been looking for a true playmaker at the position for some time (to the point where they moved Clay Matthews there for stretches last year). Kendricks will fill the bill nicely.
  31. Seattle Seahawks – Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
    Seattle had been able to get by with a weak wide receiver group, but the Super Bowl exposed some of the limitations of that approach. If they want to maximize Russell Wilson’s potential, and want to develop an offense to match their defense, they need to bring some talent in at the position. Agholor hasn’t been mocked this high elsewhere, but he’s a very impressive player who wins in all sorts of ways, from his precise route-running to his explosiveness to his strong hands and large catch radius for his size. If he were three inches taller, he’d be in the conversation with the top guys.
  32. New England Patriots – Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
    Future Hall of Famer Vince Wilfork (he legally changed his name after the Super Bowl) probably doesn’t have a whole lot of time left in the NFL. The Pats can both help prepare for his departure and offer him some relief in games in 2015 by drafting Brown, another big, aggressive body who will command blockers.

Click here for Part 2.

What we learned from our 2014 draft scouting

The NFL Draft fascinates us, and has become a major topic of study at Zone Reads, in large part because of the gap of knowledge between what we know and what we want to know; that is to say, the NFL Draft is far from an exact science, and while some of the causes for this are random (bad luck happens, injuries are unpredictable, growth projections made from a solid process still don’t quite pan out), we think teams make a lot of mistakes, too, particularly in that they often overrate measurables over football skills, as though they were drafting for “best physical specimen” rather than “best football player.”

All these factors matter, though, which is why I wanted to talk a bit about what we learned from last year’s film-heavy approach, and what we need to refine, not only in film-watching itself, but in our ability to incorporate other information as well.

1. Film, then measurables, then off-field

Our priority when evaluating the draft last year was to go by the film, and that stood us well for the most part. We weren’t perfect, but when trying to determine whether or not a football player is good enough to become a professional football player, how well they play football goes a long way, usually better than how well they work out in a specific, controlled environment that is not a football game.

Of course, one can be a good, skilled, technically sound football player who makes an impact in college, but is not athletic enough to make the same impact in the NFL. (Bjoern Werner is finding this out right now.) In this regard, athleticism is important, both in terms of the necessary baseline to compete on an NFL playing field, and to measure a player’s potential ceiling (players who are athletic enough to dominate on an NFL field will always go early even when their technique is bad, because such a thing is so rare). Still, though, film comes first, because functional athleticism shows up on film: There’s a difference between a raw, technically unsound athlete who makes plays, and one who runs around like a chicken with its head cut off. Many coaches believe you can “coach up” lack of technique and discipline, and in some cases you can, but we find it more accurate to take the “you are who you are” approach to players, and not project too much growth without reason.

Similarly, we’ll have higher grades on players who seem deficient in certain measurable areas but who play well on film; these players tend to have their ceilings capped due to their physical limitations, but they can often make a positive impact in a specific role if given the chance. We’ll move a guy up if we think he has a strong chance of being a positive contributor to a winning team, even if his ceiling is limited and he’ll never be an All-Pro. (Michael Campanaro is a good example; his measurables led the Wake Forest wide receiver to drop all the way to the seventh round, but we think he displays the kind of traits to make him a strong slot receiver in the Wes Welker mode of “get open short and catch everything.” Now, that’s a very specific skill set, and at 5’11”, 190, he’s never going to be the all-around terror you want when you draft a receiver early. However, the fact that we think he could be a quality starter in that role moved him up on our boards, because we think that’s a valuable thing.)

In many cases, the difference between our evaluations and where a player got drafted came down to off-field stuff. That sort of thing is tricky for us to evaluate: All we have is news reports that are publicly available to everyone. We don’t have a chance to meet with players, we don’t get to have our team doctors evaluate them, and we don’t get the information we need to determine whether off-field incidents or injuries were youthful indiscretions and/or flukes, or if they were part of a recurring pattern. So we do the best we can. We try to only let off-field factors affect our grades to the degree we can be confident in our knowledge of those factors, and that confidence is not common given our limited information.

Of course, even these rules have exceptions. We rated Martavis Bryant as a second-round pick last year, which seemed more of a measurement of potential and athleticism than the film would suggest. However, we thought that Bryant’s athleticism translated to the game itself; in addition, the stories we heard about Bryant off the field is that, although he was still raw, he had recently begun taking his preparation much more seriously. We believed these stories, so we gave more weight to the idea that he would be able to develop his talents. So, sometimes, you do indeed have to go with the athleticism and your opinion of a player’s work ethic, when it seems like the most accurate evaluation of the prospect’s potential to make it as an NFL player.

2. We’re still better at evaluating skill positions than the trenches.

Without doing a comprehensive study of our 2014 evaluations and where those prospects ended up, my initial impression is that we missed more than anywhere else on linemen– offensive line more than defensive, and interior linemen more than outside players.

Brandon Linder is probably the best example of this from last year; we rated the Miami (FL) guard as a fringe-draftable prospect, and yet the Jaguars not only drafted him in the third round, but he played well enough to be considered a part of their future plans. It’s possible we overemphasized his struggles in pass protection. It’s possible we underrated his athleticism and ability to adjust to the next level. It’s possible he was poorly coached at Miami and played much better with a better staff and better supporting teammates. (The fact that two of his Miami teammates, Seantrel Henderson and Allen Hurns, well outperformed their expectations suggests the coaching in Miami isn’t getting the most out of its players.)

We were mostly wrong on centers, too, having Bryan Stork lower than most, Weston Richburg much lower than where he was drafted, and Marcus Martin higher than his performance warranted. (We were right that Corey Linsley was a sleeper with a good chance to start, though.) I’m not sure where exactly our offensive line scouting is deficient, but it’s something we’ll continue to refine.

3. Consider the whole body of work.

We underrated some players because they had poor tape as a result of nagging injuries, when their tape from when they were healthy shows a much better player. On the other hand, trying to correct for this also led up to overrate some players because their highlights were impressive, but their consistency was lacking. Probably the best examples I can remember of this are Louis Nix and Adrian Hubbard, players whose 2013 film was stellar, but for whom injuries (Nix) and loss of playing time (Hubbard) made for much more questionable prospects than our grades reflected.

4. In film watching, consider the context.

Consider the competition.
This is one reason small-school prospects are always met with scrutiny: It’s a lot easier to look like the fastest guy on the field against a bunch of non-scholarship student-athletes than it is to look like the fastest guy on the field against a team full of four- and five-star recruits who have NFL futures of their own. The idea with the Combine is that it provides a baseline for athletic comparison, but again, what the Combine measures doesn’t always manifest itself in gameday performance. (Running a 40-yard dash or a 3-cone drill in workout gear is a different beast than getting off the line of scrimmage first and beating the tackle to the corner. Just ask Trent Murphy.)

I’ve decided to start paying more attention to whom exactly a prospect is going up against, and weighing performances against other highly rated prospects more heavily.

Consider the system.
It’s a lot easier to look like a good player if you are in a system that consistently sets you up to do so. If an offensive system makes decisions easy for its quarterback, the quarterback deserves to have additional scrutiny placed on his decision-making abilities. If a receiver puts up big numbers in a system that consistently helps him get open, we need to determine how much of that is the system vs. his own abilities. (Similarly, we may have concerns about said receiver’s ability to make tough catches in traffic, if he never goes into traffic to make a catch.)

Consider the teammates.
On the one hand, considering the Tennessee Titans may go into 2015 with him as the starter, our evaluation of Zach Mettenberger as a second-round talent feels pretty good. On the other hand, considering the success of Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Jeremy Hill, and even Alfred Blue this season, we might have paused to ask ourselves why LSU’s offense didn’t perform better despite all that talent, and we might have settled on Mettenberger as the reason. I don’t even think our evaluation was bad– Mettenberger does have a number of positive traits, and I feel our evaluation accurately reflected those– but I don’t think we sufficiently considered that context, and we would have had him lower on our boards if we had.

Trying to separate what a player does from the context he does it in is tricky, but it’s necessary.

All in all, what this post is really about is looking for flaws in our process and refining them.  We’re never going to be perfect, or even the best, but now that the NFL season is over and the “real” season for draftniks has begun, I’ve begun to also think about our approach in the lead-up to watching film on prospects. Hopefully we can get better at it and contribute to the growth of knowledge.