The Mountain: Carl Davis

The most consistent thing I hear about Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis is that his tape is inconsistent. Now, I am not calling these draft experts liars; they have more game tapes to watch and more knowledge of the game than myself. I can only go off of what I see, but what I see tells a different story. Draft Breakdown only has two games for Davis from 2014: Nebraska and Indiana. He completely dominates both of these contests. The other chance I had to watch Davis was through NFL Network’s coverage of the Senior Bowl practices. He was named the Most Outstanding Practice Player of the Week by a panel of NFL scouts: Not among defensive lineman; I mean out of every player at the Senior Bowl.

Let’s look at those two games.

Nebraska

We’ll start with a couple of his poorest plays of this game, because they happen right at the beginning. On the first defensive play for Iowa, Davis faces an immediate double team from the center and guard. The guard is able to continue moving Davis away from the point of attack after the center peels off. Nebraska gets a good seven yards on first down behind this block.

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We see a similar outcome two plays later.

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The remainder of this game is essentially a highlight reel with Davis asserting his dominance.

Using a spin move from the inside is generally a bad idea– where can you go with it? It isn’t a play you want a habit of going to, but having it in your repertoire is a good thing. Davis’ spin move here leads to a turnover (and touchdown).

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On the very next play, he swims right around the same guard.

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I also want to bring some attention to this play to the right:

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and this play to the left:

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What do I see on those plays? I see a 320-pound player getting quickly to the outside in both directions.

You hear a lot of talk about ‘stiff hips’ in the draft community. For a guy this big, Davis has remarkable bio-mechanics. Watch how quickly he explodes towards his right on this play and creates a huge lane for his fellow defensive tackle.

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I haven’t even mentioned his strength yet. On this play, he shoves the center four yards behind the line of scrimmage. So much for any cutback lanes.

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He ends that drive in a hurry, and for the cherry on top, he blocks the field goal attempt.

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The last two plays I will show you are among his best in the game. First on a run play, he blows the right guard backwards, and reaches his arm out to bring down the runner for a loss.

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Now, on this pass play, all I can think is how rare it is for a man the size of Davis to come bearing down on the quarterback with such closing speed.

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The game continues into overtime. By no means was he finished putting his mark on the game. In fact, I left out a number of quality plays from this one. Watch all of it and you’ll see even more dominance.

Indiana

Carl Davis wastes no time making an impact against Indiana. Here we see him lined up shading the center, but at the snap he gets completely across the right guard with one swim move. That’s crazy. That pressure forces a bad pass:

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A few plays later he whips around the center with a right swim to get pressure up the middle:

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And then on this play, lined up in a 3-technique, he stunts around towards the right tackle, literally smacks him out of the way, and eats the quarterback for lunch.

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That is my favorite play from Davis, no contest.

The center must know he is defeated on this play as soon as the ball is snapped, right? Davis is too strong at the point of attack:

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Now, this game wasn’t perfect, either. I showed Nebraska successfully double-teaming Davis a few times. In this game, Indiana seals Davis off here from a similar pre-snap alignment by effectively trapping him with the guard:

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They botch the play afterwards, of course.

Late in the game, Davis turns his back to the play on 3rd-and-short, and I assign him the blame for these points. A spin move can work occasionally on passing downs. Against the run, there’s no excuse: Do not turn from the play. Davis’ spin move turns his back to the play, and Tevin Coleman runs right past him:

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The Wrap

Based exclusively on what I’ve seen from Carl Davis, he’s the best defensive tackle in this draft class. I watched the Senior Bowl practices with him and Danny Shelton. While Shelton was no slouch himself, it was clear to me that Davis was the more impressive player that week.

Does this mean Davis is a better prospect? Not necessarily. I continue to read and hear about Davis’ inconsistent tape from the draft community. Having not seen anything from 2014 beyond what I have described, I cannot offer any opinion. What I have seen was a mostly dominant interior force who was consistently effective enough for my needs. At minimum, I know he’s capable of playing at a very high level: You don’t accidentally play as well as he did in these two games. I really want to see more of his 2014 tape before the draft.

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The Human Torch: Devin Smith

If you haven’t watched any tape of Ohio State wide receiver Devin Smith, then you’re in for a treat. He’s preternaturally gifted when it comes to making catches deep down field. In fact, that’s essentially all he does. He only caught 33 passes as a senior, 12 of which were touchdowns, for an average of 28.2 yards per reception. These numbers are meaningless without context. That’s what the game tape is for, and thanks to Draft Breakdown I’ve been able to watch four of them (Michigan State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Cincinnati).

In the game against Michigan State, Smith makes two beautiful over-the-shoulder catches. On the first play, he starts off standing on the 35-yard line, runs more or less straight down the field, and makes a rather ridiculous reception around at the 20-yard line. I’ll leave the math to you. That’s a big chunk of yards. The most impressive aspect of this play isn’t the speed, but the way he locates  the ball midair and plucks it with both hands over his shoulder at an awkward angle. Later in the game he makes this catch for a touchdown. Just another routine over-the-shoulder 45-yard reception. I feel bad for the Michigan State safeties there. That is a touchdown presnap as long as the ball is on target.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wisconsin fans might want to skip this next section.

  • Touchdown #1 is all about the adjustment to the ball. He locates it in the air when he turns his head, then he gets his body where it needs to be in order to make the catch. He also plays it like a basketball player boxing out his opponent to snare a rebound.
  • Touchdown #2 is similar to his touchdown in the Michigan State game. This time he gets one-on-one coverage from the slot against a safety. Lamb to the slaughter.
  • Touchdown #3 is a leaping two-handed grab. Smith’s location, location, location abilities are otherworldly. He didn’t drop a single deep bomb in any of the games I watched.

Alright, so he can catch deep bombs. Can we move on? If this is what you are asking, get the hell out of here. Two more. First, this play against Illinois. This guy Devin Smith sure can make deep over-the-shoulder touchdown catches. To prove he is, in fact, human, watch this play. He… almost didn’t catch it! Throwing the ball in the general direction of Smith and letting him do the rest is a foolproof plan I’m tellin’ ya.

He can do a bit other than run deep routes. Not a lot, mind you, but I have some evidence that he can. For instance, there’s this play where he finds the right spot to sit against zone coverage and runs in for a touchdown. Here he makes a catch over the middle on what appears to be a post route. On this play he just comes to a screeching halt. Even though the quarterback is looking the other way, you still need to try to get open if the play breaks down. And, at least to me, both this and this are poorly run routes.

In order to stay on the field (or become elite), Smith must get better at running short to intermediate routes. He will come in on multiple receiver packages and force the defense to respect his deep game, which opens up space for teammates. His deep game is special even among NFL players. He knows how to locate, and, more importantly, to adjust his body in order to make difficult catches with the ball flying 40+ yards. Over and over again.

If you’re going to be a one-trick pony as a rookie wide receiver, this is the best trick to have up your sleeve. Smith has excellent hands. In the four games I watched, he dropped one pass, and the degree of difficulty on his catches were very high indeed. At the end of the first round, I wouldn’t hesitate to send in his name if I needed some help outside. Are you telling me you don’t want to see Devin Smith catch bombs from Andrew Luck, or Russell Wilson, over the next five or more years? Please.

“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.

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.

A Tale of Two Runners: Bishop Sankey and Jeremy Hill

In the 2005 NFL draft, three running backs were selected within the first five picks: Ronnie Brown (#2), Cedric Benson (#4), and Cadillac Williams (#5). Since then, we’ve seen Reggie Bush, Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden, C.J. Spiller, and Trent Richardson all come off the board in the top 10. But we’ve seen a change in recent history: When the 2013 first round was completed, not a single running back had been picked, for the first time in the Super Bowl era. The Cincinnati Bengals made Giovani Bernard the first runner off the board with the 37th pick, the most selections in draft history before a running back was selected. That record lasted all of one year: The first running back off the board in 2014 didn’t come until the 54th pick, when the Titans chose Bishop Sankey out of the University of Washington. With the very next pick, the Bengals took another runner, Jeremy Hill out of LSU.  Aside from playing the same position, these two players have little in common. Sankey is a quick, diminutive back who can run off-tackle, and Hill is a bruising power back who excels between the tackles.

 

ROUND 2, PICK 54

Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington

Standing 5’9″ and weighing 209 lbs., Bishop Sankey is not very physically imposing. He’s the same size as Bengals 2013 second-round pick Giovani Bernard, but without Bernard’s dynamic speed or vision. On the other hand, unlike Bernard, Sankey carried a huge workload for the University of Washington. He ran the ball 327 times last season, and two seasons ago had 289 carries – with major production despite the heavy usage. His competition in Tennessee consists of Shonn Greene and Jackie Battle. While Greene is sitting atop the depth chart as of right now and has been getting the bulk of the first-team reps in camp, this is very likely to change as the regular season approaches. Sankey will almost certainly be the starting running back on week 1. Let’s see what he brings to the table.

One strike against Sankey is that he rarely picks up yards after contact. He can, mind you: See here as he powers over Oregon State’s safety for a monster gain on 3rd-and-1. More representative of his game are plays like this, where he tries to avoid contact at the second level in lieu of trying to slip around tacklers. I don’t think it is unfair to expect a play like this to be a broken tackle most of the time. If not that, then certainly this needs to be a big run. These specific plays are unimportant, but in my view they are representative of Sankey’s overall game. We’ll see later that second-level tacklers are almost hopeless against the much larger Jeremy Hill.

Where the lack of size hurts Sankey in the power department, it does allow him to slip through tight spots. A bigger back is stuffed for no gain on this play. There’s barely a hole, but Sankey makes himself skinny and slips through one. Again, here, there doesn’t appear to be a lane (at least from the sideline angle), yet he finds a way to pick up yards. He works well in these tight spaces. On this play, watch how quickly his feet can move. It’s well blocked by the offensive line, sure, but that flash of agility is what I like most about his game.

Nobody will mistake him for LeSean McCoy or the aforementioned Gio Bernard, but Sankey can make some silky smooth cuts. Check out this play against BYU where he slides away from tacklers with ease with some nimble cuts to the right. He can make this kind of move going left as well, as seen here and here on identical-looking jump cuts. On this play, he does it in both directions, and turns no gain into a big play to the back side. Just like the chess piece, Bishop is best when zigzagging past would-be tacklers.

The worst of any of his rushing attempts (that I saw) was this play, where the tight end plows the defensive end out of the play, the receiver has full control of the cornerback, and the guard is well positioned to blow up the linebacker. All Sankey needs to do is follow the pulling guard and it will be off to the races. Instead, he impatiently cuts inside of the guard and only gains a few yards.

Overall he shows good vision. Here he patiently follows the guard, slips through a tight window, and maintains his balance through contact on a nice touchdown run. And on this play, he presses the run to the right until the linebackers commit in that direction, then cuts back to the left and is off for a 59-yard touchdown.

His most creative run is against UCLA: Anthony Barr is coming unblocked off of the edge here, and Sankey makes a play right out of a video game. First, he evades Barr, then he sees a crowd of defenders out to his left and cuts inside where he’s immediately met by a linebacker. Spin move, no problem! From there he puts his head down and picks up a tough nine yards.

Sankey’s game tapes at Draft Breakdown are full of off-tackle runs if you want to watch any more.  I’ve shown you that Sankey can run inside a bit using his agility and that he’s much better running to the outside. I watched six games and only counted two major lapses in pass protection. He also has soft hands coming out of the backfield. While he’s not as spectacular as perhaps these plays I picked out demonstrate, I do expect him to immediately step in as the starter and be an upgrade for the Titans. His biggest problem is lack of power, and that’s one of the few positive attributes to Shonn Greene’s game. So, until Sankey proves otherwise, I don’t anticipate him getting too many carries in short yardage situations. I’m glad that I revisited Sankey before the season; he is a better player than I remembered when I first checked him out many months ago.

 

ROUND 2, PICK 55

Jeremy Hill, RB, LSU

The Bengals used second-round picks on running backs in back-to-back drafts, selecting Giovani Bernard in 2013 and Jeremy Hill in 2014. In stark contrast to Bernard (and Sankey), Hill is an imposing 6’2″, 236-lb. runner who thrives on smashing over and through second-level defenders. The days of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and his 3.4 yards per carry will come to a end shortly, as it makes both football and financial sense (saves $2.3M against the cap) to cut him. In any event, let’s see what Hill can do for the Bengals.

While Hill rushed for an average of 6.9 yards per carry in his final season at LSU, the number is misleading in a couple of ways. Whereas Sankey, for instance, carried the entire workload, Hill only ran the ball 203 times. Also, if you check out his gamelog for 2013, he contributed little in games against Alabama, Texas A&M, and Georgia. To be fair, he saved his best for last, as he carried LSU to victory against Iowa in the Outback Bowl, carrying the ball 28 times at an elite 7.7 YPC against a good defensive squad.

Hill is a pure north-south and between the tackles runner. His footwork on cuts are nothing like we saw with Sankey. For example, on this play, the Red Sea is temporarily parted to the left side. He sees it and runs in that direction, but by the time he gets there the defenders are better positioned. There’s a lack of suddenness in his footwork; he doesn’t possess the kind of agility you see in the “quick-twitch” runners. Here is a pitch play where you can really see the stiffness of his lower body. There aren’t many yards to be gained, granted, but I’m talking about his biomechanics. And how about this play? A runner who can explode outside scores here. The difference between Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson, if you will.

There are three skills in which Hill excels: power, balance, and straight-line speed. These three traits can often all be seen in a single play. Arm tackles are hopeless. Here against Auburn he explodes straight ahead as if shot by a cannon. Those poor safeties have no chance to bring him down. Plays like this touchdown run against Iowa is where Bishop Sankey failed to make progress, but Hill is able to break on through (to the other side). All of this power at the second-level should translate immediately to the NFL.

Hue Jackson is taking over as offensive coordinator for the Bengals. In his very first press conference Jackson talked about being a more physical team with an emphasis on running, and that was before the team drafted Hill. According to wide receiver Marvin Jones, the new offense is “very up-tempo” with “a lot of aggression.” The Eagles offense last season combined a fast tempo with a lot of running; perhaps this is what we’ll see from the Bengals this year. The lightning-and-thunder (can we get a better nickname?) duo of Bernard and Hill along with the play action threat of A.J. Green is certain to keep opposing defensive coordinators up late at night for years to come. The Bengals have a greatest-show-on-grass amount of talent at offensive skill positions… with Andy Dalton at the helm. Can you imagine Cam Newton with this group? Heh.

Jaguars “Wanted: Talent”: Marqise Lee and Telvin Smith

One of the league’s youngest franchises, the Jacksonville Jaguars didn’t take long to make a mark in the NFL after their founding in 1995. They made the playoffs in four of their first five seasons and played in the conference championship twice. Ah, to be young again. Fast-forward fifteen years.: It’s been six years since the Jaguars were in  the playoffs, and about the same time since they drafted a player of note (i.e. the 2007-2012 classes) for the right reasons. Justin Blackmon certainly makes headlines, albeit for how long he will face league suspension – indefinitely! – more than his play on the field. Thanks for the memories, Blaine Gabbert, and fare thee well in San Francisco.

Head coach Gus Bradley is known for his defensive scheme, but instead of selecting linebacker Khalil Mack with the third overall pick, the Jaguars took University of Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles. They then used their next three picks on the offensive side of the ball. Nevertheless, they managed to snag a very intriguing prospect in linebacker Telvin Smith. We’ll turn our attention to him a bit later. First up, let’s take a brief look at the multifaceted receiver from USC, and I don’t mean South Carolina, Marqise Lee.

 

ROUND 2, PICK 39

Marqise Lee, WR, USC

As a sophomore, Marqise Lee dazzled college football fans with his electric speed and chemistry with quarterback Matt Barkley, grabbing an astounding 118 receptions for 1,721 yards. He was awarded the Biletnikoff trophy as the nation’s top receiver and looked primed to be a top-10 pick if he could maintain anything close to this production. None of this came to fruition, as Lee spent most of his junior season hobbled by an ongoing knee injury. It didn’t cause him to miss many games, but if you watch any tape from 2013, you are likely to see him limping towards the sideline at some point. To his credit – and bravery, or foolishness – Lee continuously returned to the field of play. His production plunged to only 57 receptions and 791 yards. He dropped more balls than he had in the past, as well.

For this post I have watched all six 2013 game tapes available at Draft Breakdown, and four from Lee’s award-winning 2012 campaign. Lee has tremendous awareness on the field and makes a number of toe-tapping sideline grabs. In his best game of 2013 (against Stanford) he does it twice. On this play he’s initially well covered but works back to the quarterback to make a difficult catch. Later in the 1st quarter, he makes a similar catch, this time with his momentum going out of bounds, for a touchdown. It doesn’t look like a catch until the replay confirms it. And again, this time from 2012, his awareness of the sideline and concentration as the ball sails past a defender allows him to haul in a pretty reception.

Lee’s game needs work in a few area. When a cornerback is physical with him, results are mixed. Both here and here he is shoved out of bounds shortly into his route. He isn’t a player you will necessarily trust to win “50-50″ balls against tight coverage, but given that he’s not a big-body WR at only 6’0”, any ability to do so down the road will simply be a bonus. In 2012, the endzone fade makes a few appearances, but with his knee injury in 2013 we didn’t see this play so much. At full health, I believe he has the leaping ability to, at the very least, force opponents to consider the fade as a possible weapon. Additionally, Lee showed amazing chemistry with 2012 quarterback Matt Barkley, the kind he simply did not possess with Cody Kessler in 2013. His catch technique comes and goes as this video demonstrates – including some of those receptions in that video is picking nits, but overall, it does show where he needs some work.

Where Lee really shines is after the catch. Every slant route is in danger of becoming a touchdown. Against Arizona in 2012, Lee put up a game for the ages with a staggering 16 receptions for 345 yards and two touchdowns. On the first of these touchdowns, he catches the ball and zooms 37 yards for a touchdown with near inhuman acceleration. The second touchdown is déjà vu all over again, as the great twentieth-century philosopher, Yogi Berra, was fond of saying. Lee didn’t lose this ability in 2013, as this play in the Las Vegas Bowl demonstrates.

Another exciting aspect of his game is the “quick-twitch” ability of his lower body. I labeled this play “joystick” as it looks more like a video game than real life. Lee is extraordinarily nimble and can pull the chair out from under a defensive back with ease. He can change direction with fluidity and without loss of speed. Of course, this speed also stretches the field vertically. Lee would be the perfect compliment to Justin Blackmon, but alas…

 

ROUND 5, PICK 144

Telvin Smith, LB, Florida State

One of my favorite players to watch on tape, Telvin Smith will need to bulk up from his svelte 218-lb. frame in order to be an every-down player. He was already turning heads at Jaguars rookie minicamp in May among coaches and teammates alike. “If he gets to 230, watch out,” said fellow rookie [running back] Storm Johnson. Watch out, indeed. Smith flies around the field from sideline to sideline and to my eye was the most exciting player to watch amidst a champion Florida State defense not lacking for talent (or excitement).

The first play I want to show you against Miami is perfect. Smith diagnoses the run immediately, then lowers his pad level and attacks the outside shoulder of the fullback, which allows him to meet the running back several yards behind the line of scrimmage. He doesn’t make the tackle, but the referee rules that forward progress has been stopped and whistles the play dead. On this play, his aggressiveness catches him running directly into a pulling guard, which opens up a very nice cutback lane. On the very next snap of the game, Smith takes himself out of the play by mirroring the runner with a step to the right. This allows the same guard to “shield” the path to create another lane for the runner. Here Smith takes a more patient approach with an excellent result.

Missing tackles is a problem Telvin Smith has from time to time. Sticking with the Miami game for one last play, he is responsible for covering the flat to the left side (of the defense). A hop and a stutter-step to the right by the runner leaves Smith tackling air. This time against Boston College, overpursuit in the flat here allows the fullback to take a swing pass in for a touchdown. An end-around in the Pittsburgh game similarly leaves Smith grasping air as he overpursues freshman sensation Tyler Boyd (look for him in, er, 2016).

One play in particular against Clemson is interesting. Just a split second after this reception in the flat, Smith meets the runner for what should be a nice tackle for loss. He fails to make the initial tackle as the runner shakes him loose. Keep watching. Rather than remain on the ground sulking in defeat, Smith hops right back onto his feet and manages to make the tackle which eluded him earlier. It’s a wonderful hustle play. It also shows why he needs to add about fifteen pounds.

While it remains to be seen if he can put on this much weight without losing speed, I will now turn to plays which showcase Smith’s dynamism. His ability to read and react is top notch. While Boston College racked up yards in the running game against Florida State, Smith filled his gap and made plays the entire game. Here he wades through traffic using his teammates as protection to bring down running back Andre Williams (now a New York Giant) for no gain. Note the patience displayed on this play in order to slip through a hole for a similar result. If he doesn’t make the play there then Williams is likely facing a one-on-one with the safety on the outside.

Proper run defense calls for both relentless aggression and patience. The great linebackers in the league know when the situation calls for one versus the other. There is no guideline for when to be aggressive and when to be patient before the snap. A linebacker must intuitively understand when to employ these completely different tasks. Telvin Smith gets it. In the first play of the game against Pittsburgh, he explodes right at the snap through the ‘A-gap’ to bring the runner down for a loss. In the Duke game, he violently attacks the H-back’s chest on this play and the aggression allows him to defeat the attempted block.

As for pass defense, the Jags will almost certainly use Smith in coverage packages. He wasn’t tasked to run with tight ends or receivers downfield very often in college. In the short to intermediate area, he must be accounted for. Here is a good example of him matched up on a running back and defensing a pass. His speed underneath makes him a threat on plays like this (or this) to intercept passes for a touchdown. Smith’s jam on the slot receiver in this play renders the pass ineffective. And, last, he finds a way to the receiver on this screen pass, shedding a block in the process.

 

THE WRAP UP

Jacksonville signed a few defensive linemen in Red Bryant and Ziggy Hood to help bolster their run defense. Bryant is nominally a defensive end, but at 332 lbs. (or bigger) he cannot be mistaken for a pass rusher, and is typically shaded just inside the tackle to eat up blocks. Another former Seahawk, Chris Clemons, was brought in to man the LEO position on the opposite side. Toby Gerhart was acquired to add some punch to the running game. It helps that he’s also a plus catching the ball out of the backfield. None of the free agent signings made a big splash; Jacksonville will rely heavily on rookies and second-year players to play a lot of snaps.

The organization wants Chad Henne to start at quarterback as #3 overall pick Blake Bortles learns from the sideline. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if Bortles is the starter from week 1. Initially, I intended to write this piece about the team’s pair of second-round receivers, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Upon deeper examination I am bearish on Robinson. He’s a bit stiff in the hips, and that effect is only exaggerated when watching him immediately after Lee.

Third-round guard Brandon Linder will bring size and athleticism to the trenches, but he needs a good deal of work technically. Aaron Colvin (cornerback) was injured during the Senior Bowl practices and is a better player than his draft position indicates. He’ll start the season on the PUP list. Defensive end Chris Smith was another Senior Bowl standout. His tape is underwhelming, but if anyone can make him into a player. Gus Bradley can. Storm Johnson was an essential cog in UCF’s BCS run. He joins teammate Blake Bortles and has a shot at winning the backup running back role in spite of his seventh-round status.

Gil Brandt thinks the Jaguars are a potential playoff team. I don’t. Well, unless Bortles is the next Brunell, Lee and Robinson pair up to match Smith and McCardell, and Joeckel is the next Boselli, and all of that right away. More likely is yet another year as a bottom-feeder. As for 2015, that’s a different story, and as with many things in life, “It depends.” The Jaguars’ only rival in the contest for least talent in the NFL last season was the Oakland Raiders. Time will tell if this recent draft class, along with the class of 2013, is enough to turn this franchise around. In the meantime, at least they will be one of the more intriguing teams to keep an eye on during the preseason.

49ers “Gone to Carolina”: Brandon Thomas and Bruce Ellington

In three seasons under Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers’ worst result has been a loss in the conference championship. Not bad, huh? Oh, and talented young quarterback Colin Kaepernick angered his peers by inking a flexible, team-friendly, six-year contract extension that will supposedly revolutionize the way teams pay superstars. In related news, Cam Newton is working on his curveball. With all of this success, you would think everything is coming up roses in San Francisco, but not so fast. Talks have stalled on an extension for coach Harbaugh in what amounts to a dick-measuring contest between he and general manager Trent Baalke. Go figure.

The 49ers one-upped themselves in the 2014 draft with twelve total picks, after picking eleven times in 2013. All of these picks are quite a luxury as the 49ers are one of the most talented rosters in the NFL. The team used several of its six picks on the first two days addressing needs with safety/corner hybrid Jimmie Ward, center Marcus Martin, and inside linebacker Chris Borland (All-Pro NaVorro Bowman will miss significant time following a gruesome knee injury). I’ll briefly discuss them along with a few other picks in the conclusion. Our feature prospects are mid-round selections Brandon Thomas and Bruce Ellington.

 

ROUND 3, PICK 100

Brandon Thomas, OT/OG, Clemson

At a workout for the New Orleans Saints, Brandon Thomas tore his ACL and is very likely to “redshirt” the 2014 season for the 49ers. He almost certainly would have been selected in the second round without this misfortune. Thomas played left tackle as a senior and was projected as a guard in the NFL by most draft sites. If he fully recovers, I believe he can play both tackle and guard. It’s nothing new for the 49ers to use picks on injured players; they used two of their eleven picks in 2013 on Tank Carradine (ACL tear) and Marcus Lattimore (knee explosion), both of whom missed all of last season.

For this article, I looked at Thomas in the Orange Bowl against Ohio State, along with contests against Syracuse, South Carolina, and Georgia Tech. We’ll only be looking at pass protection in the latter two games, because I watched Thomas through Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd’s tape. Always watch the left tackle, #63.

Thomas’ best game tape comes against Ohio State. He sets the key block on Clemson’s first touchdown by cracking down on the defensive tackle and then moving to the second level to shield a linebacker from the runner. Throughout the Orange Bowl, Clemson runs behind Thomas and he does not fail to deliver. Here he gets under the defensive tackle and blows him off the ball, creating a running lane. Watch him shove a linebacker deep into the second level here, and tell me this later play does not give you déjà vu.

In pass protection, Thomas often displays great feet, agility, and everything else you need from a tackle. Here is an example of perfect technique in pass protection: He quickly slides outside, creates a strong base, and stonewalls the pass rusher upon contact. You can see both his speed and strength facing Jadeveon Clowney on this play. Once again, perfect and perfect. All of these are plays you want to see consistently from an offensive tackle.

What you do not want to see is a tackle getting beaten on inside rush moves. Here we see Clowney swim right past our man with an incredible burst. Thomas does not have an answer. He has a similar result when facing Chargers second-round pick Jeremiah Attaochu here, where Attaochu crashes hard inside, and Thomas is immediately beaten. Later in the game, Attaochu gets Thomas to cheat inside with a step in that direction before exploding around the edge for a near sack.

Thomas has a few other lapses in pass protection. For example, he gets no depth when dropping into his stance on this play, and the result is a safety. He barely moves off of the snap here against Syracuse, and the defensive end unloads on Boyd. Later in that game, it looks as if Clemson’s entire line is on the wrong page facing a stunt. Boyd again takes the punishment. Rather than properly kick out, Thomas lunges at the Georgia Tech defensive end here. These issues are less problematic than his proclivity to get beaten inside a few times each game.

The good news is that he can stop an inside rush, and he does tend to rally well in general. If you recall Clowney defeating Thomas inside earlier, note that Thomas reacts in time to stop him here and here. Thomas’ strength allows him to rally here, where Clowney initially gets in a strong bull rush. You don’t want a tackle allowing two or three free shots at your quarterback each game in the NFL. Thomas is not perfect in pass protection, but he has no athletic limitation to prevent him from playing tackle. With a full recovery from his ACL tear, there’s a good chance we will see him starting somewhere along the 49ers offensive line in 2015.

 

ROUND 4, PICK 106

Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina

Don’t let Bruce Ellington’s 5’9″ stature fool you; he plays much taller. It’s all in his 39.5″ vertical. After all, we are talking about a basketball player here. In the four games I watched– Wisconsin, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Missouri– Ellington dropped exactly one ball. As we’ll see shortly, this is rather spectacular, given the degree of difficulty on many of his receptions. His ability to concentrate and make the tough catches is nearly unparalleled in this draft class. The only negative plays other than the one drop all came in blocking, and he is not a poor blocker overall. Sit back and enjoy the show.

As with Brandon Thomas, Bruce Ellington saved his best game for last with six receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns against Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl. Oh, he also threw a touchdown pass. On the first play of the game, Ellington runs a post from the slot and shows toughness in bringing the ball down through contact. Here he simply runs a deep post for a touchdown, showing off that 4.45 speed. Look at the adjustment he makes on this ball for a catch around his feet. Speaking of spectacular catches, take a look at him tipping a ball to himself here. Keep the tape rolling to see a touchdown on the next play.

Missouri featured one of the top defenses in college football in 2013. Nobody told Bruce Ellington:

  • He catches this ball in traffic even though he bobbles it initially.
  • Does this look incomplete? Initially, yes. The replay shows his incredible field awareness and concentration, and, yep, it’s a touchdown.
  • Fourth quarter. Three minutes remaining. Down a touchdown. A diving catch over the middle. Overtime? Please. Touchdown.

In the Arkansas game, Ellington catches two touchdowns and this deep ball. Neither touchdown is particularly special. Both occur near the end zone and Arkansas decides not to cover him. Facing Vanderbilt he makes this pretty over-the-shoulder deep catch from the slot. Double coverage? No problem, Ellington splits them and makes a very difficult catch through contact for a touchdown. All he does is make plays.

I suspect he will find a way to get on the field even with Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, and newly acquired receiver Stevie Johnson (among others) battling for receptions. If nothing else, I expect Ellington to be a preseason sensation, and to make his mark in 2015. I didn’t show any problems with his game because he didn’t show any in what he was asked to do. The only issue, I suppose, is that he’s limited to primarily playing in the slot, and he isn’t six feet tall. His fearlessness in traffic and great hands remind me a lot of Anquan Boldin. And he’s out to take his job.

 

TO INFINITY AND BEYOND

As I said earlier, the 49ers addressed some needs with their first several picks. Jimmie Ward is a safety who can be pressed into service at cornerback and should provide the 49ers with a formidable safety duo for years and years with pro bowler Eric Reid (both were born in 1991). Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde was my highest graded runner in the draft and his selection could very well mean the end of Frank Gore’s long tenure in San Francisco. Wisconsin middle linebacker Chris Borland has big shoes to fill as he’s the likeliest candidate to step into NaVorro Bowman’s role until he returns. The good news is that he’s an experienced player; the bad is that he isn’t NaVorro Bowman. Zone Reads video analyst and contributor Needle made a video on each Carlos Hyde and Chris Borland; I recommend checking out both.

Third-round pick Marcus Martin will almost certainly be the opening day starter at center. Thirty-five year old Jonathan Goodwin had been the starter at center the past three years, but the team let him leave in free agency. Fourth-round cornerback Dontae Johnson is 6’2″ and ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at the combine. He flashes ability in coverage here and there, and given the lack of depth at the position will likely make the team (or, you know, get claimed by Seattle). Defensive end Aaron Lynch will face an uphill battle to make the 53-man roster, but he does have some ability. I have not seen tape on the remainder of the 49ers’ draft class.

The 49ers have done a masterful job of both developing young players and retaining their star veterans. Look at this list: Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, Joe Staley, Michael Crabtree, Mike Iupati, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Eric Reid. All of them were drafted by the 49ers. (It’s a completely different story down the street in Oakland.) Unless Blaine Gabbert is pressed into action (the horror, the horror), the 49ers have the talent to make another run at the Super Bowl.