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.

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Lions Outside Rush: Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster

The Lions have rebounded from a recent history of failure to field a watchable team over the last several seasons. Heck, they even made the playoffs in 2011. Calvin Johnson is perhaps the most exciting player in the game, and the cupboard of roster talent is certainly not empty. However, a 4-12 2013 meant a coaching change: Jim (Schwartz) is dead, long live Jim (Caldwell)!  Being watchable is all well and good, but Detroit fans want to see a Super Bowl contender, or a team good enough to win one with the right breaks, which hasn’t happened in a long time. In this draft, the Lions addressed an assortment of needs– now, as for drafting the best players, I would say they were not as successful, but history cannot be reversed. These are the players we are stuck with, and hey, it isn’t all bad. Right? Let’s all agree to answer yes. And now to Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster.

 

ROUND 2, PICK 40

KYLE VAN NOY, ER/LB, BYU

With the 5th overall pick in last year’s draft. the Detroit Lions selected my absolute favorite player in the 2013 class, defensive end Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah. I bring him up because Kyle Van Noy was his teammate at BYU. Because of that, we’ll take a brief look at some plays where they played side by side in 2012, along with how Van Noy played without him in 2013. Kyle Van Noy is a player who throughout the process stood out to me as a “jack of all trades.” At BYU, he played essentially every linebacker position in their 3-4 scheme. We’ll see him lined up outside against the offensive tackle as a pass rusher, behind the defensive tackle in a role that’s closer to what I believe he’ll play with the Lions, and even matched up against slot receivers on many passing downs. As is often the case with a “jack of all trades” player, Kyle Van Noy is good to very good at all of these roles and elite at none.

First, let’s look at a handful of plays from 2012, where Van Noy is playing with Ziggy Ansah. Just to get Lions fans salivating, I’ve selected this play first. Van Noy and Ansah are lined up side by side, and from the snap, it’s a race to the quarterback, as both men are essentially unblocked and nearly kill that poor passer. Good game, NFL. (Well, this was against Hawaii, but let’s hope they can repeat it.) Now on the other side of the field, again next to Ansah, Van Noy is unblocked as the quarterback bootlegs to his right, away from him. It doesn’t matter, as Van Noy has the speed to chase him down, and if the ball stays in the playing field, this is a turnover. Last, we have Ansah at nose tackle with Van Noy standing right behind him, and on a perfectly timed blitz, Van Noy shoots the gap opened by the pulling guard and drops the runner for a six-yard loss.

One skill I love with Kyle Van Noy’s game is how well he sees plays developing and how well he reacts to them. There’s no hesitation in, for instance, this play in the red zone (now in 2013 sans Ansah). He sees the toss left, makes a beeline towards Bishop Sankey, and tackles him for a big time loss of yards on 4th-and-1.

I haven’t yet shown him playing in coverage. He’s used more often around the line of scrimmage, but as I said earlier, he does occasionally split out in the slot or behind defensive linemen and drops into coverage. Here’s a play where Van Noy is in the slot and makes a tackle on the receiver where he squares up and doesn’t get out of position versus a faster opponent. What he doesn’t do there is get his hands on and jam the slot receiver as he’s releasing into his route. Failing to jam receivers is a common problem of his play in the slot; it’s something he should be doing and that shouldn’t be difficult to teach, but he almost never does, at least on the plays I looked at over a number of games. When he drops into coverage, he’s almost always “spying” the quarterback, as he does in the play here. Van Noy is playing the quarterback and, on that specific play, is able to read where the throw is heading and tips it in the air.

Kyle Van Noy’s biggest strength is rushing the passer. You can split him out in the slot or in a zone and he’s not going to play badly, necessarily, but certainly you want to make use of his strengths. Van Noy will bring the kind of pressure from the outside that the Lions simply did not have in the absence of Cliff Avril, albeit as a linebacker rather than a defensive end. Van Noy does need to use his hands more often on his engagements; often he’ll rely on his speed to get around the corner, and when he’s met by an offensive tackle, he doesn’t always make use of his hands to help him out. He did in most of these plays I showed, but if you watch several games, you’ll see this is an area he can improve in. In any case, I like the pick and the reunion with Ziggy Ansah. Looking forward to what he can bring to the table.

 

ROUND 4, PICK 136

LARRY WEBSTER, ER, BLOOMSBURG

The selection of Larry Webster in the fourth round by the Lions is a bit more puzzling. Mind you, I don’t have much film on him: there are only two games available on Draft Breakdown, both against the same opponent. So perhaps he looks like Lawrence Taylor in other games (I can dream), but against the great Shippensburg University (who? what? where?), he only flashes here and there. If you look at Webster’s combine performance, the pick starts making more sense; he measured in at 6’6″ and 252 lbs., ran a very speedy 4.58 40, with an incredible 36.5″ vertical. Hey, maybe he can play tight end if Eric Ebron doesn’t work out.

Larry Webster is positively primordial in his development. The first tape I looked at was his 2012 game against Shippensburg. It ain’t pretty. On this play, Webster does ‘beat’ the left tackle inside, but he’s standing straight up, allowing the tackle to simply control his momentum and drive him completely out of the play. Now this does force the quarterback to climb the pocket before making a strike downfield, but I don’t think I’d call it a ‘good’ play from Webster. On the very next play, Webster once again is too tall when he meets the tackle, and this time, he’s also slow as molasses off the snap: just look how far away he is from engaging at the 1:26 mark. Yikes. These two traits of being too tall and too slow are common themes of his play in this game. Not only that, the steps he takes in his pass rush are very short and purposeless, as in this play, where he once again engages incorrectly.

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The above is a frame from the last play. It’s at the point of contact or engagement. The yellow line represents where his weight is distributed. I don’t have a compass on me to measure it, but it doesn’t take a physicist to understand that this is not how you want to engage a blocker. His left foot isn’t even on the ground. Webster meets the blocker with barely any force. A better tackle could plant him into the dirt here. Pancakes for all. For comparison’s sake, watch the speed and efficiency of Barkevious Mingo’s steps in this play against Clemson. Now, yes, he was the #6 overall pick in the draft last year, but he was considered a raw prospect; this is why I used the word “primordial” to describe Webster.

Fortunately, it gets better. In Webster’s 2013 game against Shippensburg, he’s still making similar mistakes, except now we can see flashes of that athleticism and a better grasp of the game. I’ll focus on the positives here. The first thing of note is that in many plays he’s now standing up before the snap, whereas in the game the prior season he played entirely with his hand down. Did you watch the Mingo play earlier? Well, notice on this play how Webster wastes no motion on an inside move and blows by all the blockers, forcing the quarterback to roll to his right and throw a quick pass. At no point in the 2012 game did he show off this kind of burst or fluid motion. Now at least he’s flashing.

On this play, Webster gets a sack. He’s still playing too tall, but at least he’s shooting his hands into the right tackle’s chest, which allows him to toss the tackle aside and bend around the corner for a sack. Will this work in the NFL? No, but it’s an improvement. Right here is a play that will translate to the pros: Webster again explodes off the snap, and he uses his right hand to swat the left tackle’s left shoulder, which gives him the momentum to bend around the edge, allowing him to “dip” under the tackle and nearly get a sack. And here the exact same move does lead to a sack.

If you watch the entire 2013 game, there are more good plays, and yet, he still has more plays where he’s playing too high or he’s slow off the ball. Larry Webster manages to look sluggish and awkward one play and explosive and talented the next. Seeing as he looked in the 2012 game like a player that had essentially no ability, and in the 2013 game he’s flashing an awful lot of ability, the pick starts to make sense as you picture him showing that athleticism more consistently and developing skills to go with it. I’m not going to ask if he was selected too high relative to other athletic pass rushers, because Larry Webster is the one who is on the team. From what I can gather, he seems a ways from being any kind of impact player, but the Detroit Lions did have some success with a similarly athletic, lanky fourth-round project in Devin Taylor last season. Lions fans will be rooting for the same kind of improvement for Webster.

 

CONCLUSION

By picking Kyle Van Noy and Larry Webster, the Detroit Lions added some much needed pass rushing talent on the outside. They already have it in spades at defensive tackle. As for the rest of their 2014 draft class, they picked up a big bodied receiving tight end in Eric Ebron. They got younger and bigger at center with Travis Swanson. In the fifth round, they went searching in the Ivy League for standout defensive tackle Caraun Reid. With their final selections, the Lions tried to add some depth at cornerback and receiver. And of course, Detroit went and drafted a kicker with their seventh-rounder. While I’m not so sure the Lions picked the best players available at each turn, they did address major needs for the team.

Texans Trench Warfare: CJ Fiedorowicz and Louis Nix III

It was a rough season in Houston last year, going from two consecutive playoff appearances to two wins. Long-time coach Gary Kubiak was fired, and a new regime headed by Bill O’Brien was given the reins. In the draft this year they really added some power in the trenches. Plenty of ink has been spilled on the #1 overall pick, Jadeveon Clowney, and rightly so. I’ll discuss both of their third round picks: tight end CJ Fiedorowicz & defensive tackle Louis Nix III.

ROUND 3, PICK 65

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa

Fiedorowicz was one of my favorite tight ends in this class; he performed well both on the field and at the Combine. He’s 6’5″ and 265 lbs, ran a respectable 4.76 40, and benched 25 reps. He’s the same height and weight as the Jets 2nd-round pick, Jace Amaro, with similar workout numbers across the board. The biggest difference between the two is that Fiedorowicz actually plays tight end, whereas Amaro is more or less a slot receiver– a gigantic, smooth-route-running slot receiver, but a slot receiver nevertheless. I know everyone is drooling in anticipation of seeing some great in-line blocking, so I’ll cut to the chase.

Fiedorowicz isn’t going to dazzle you with his route tree, but he does show ability to get open in tight spaces and make some tough catches. His go-to move, outside of the usual seam and drag route, is this little number I’ll call his shimmy move, where he plants his left foot at the top of his stem, follows it quickly by doing the same with his right, and flashes out towards the sideline. It’s not mind blowing, as I said, but it works. He’s a tough guy, as you can see here, where he wades through some traffic (while avoiding a jam from the linebacker) and gets blown up after catching the ball. But, hey, if you’re going to get destroyed, it makes a hell of a difference if you catch the ball, and he does.

He’s a very effective red zone player in both aspects of the game. First, as a receiver: On this play you see him run a delayed corner fade where he engages the defensive end and pushes him upfield momentarily before leaking out towards the back pylon. It’s a well-orchestrated play by Iowa, and all it takes is one false step by the defense for Fiedorowicz to high-point the ball and bring it down for six points. Second, as a run blocker, he can be relied upon to seal off the defensive end and making way for the runner. Let’s watch more, as run blocking is where he really shines.

You’ll consistently see his ferocity in the running game. On this play, Fiedorowicz takes on the opposing linebacker and drives him ten yards downfield. Sure, the runner is tackled for a mere two-yard gain, but Fiedorowicz keeps pushing his man even past the sound of the whistle. No harm, no foul. Here, he takes the 15th overall pick, Ryan Shazier, and does the same thing. And, for good measure, let’s end on a passing play where he positions himself perfectly to hedge off the defensive back away from the receiver.

ROUND 3, PICK 83

Louis Nix III, DT, Notre Dame

College football fans will be well aware of the man who dubs himself “Irish Chocolate.” Louis Nix’s personality is as big as his belly; all you need to know is that he’s 6’2″, 331 pounds, and he’s not winning any 40-yard dashes. His task in Houston will be very simple: Occupy blockers, so that J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and the rest of the Texans defensive front can get to the quarterback, and plug up the middle in the running game. He gritted through a torn meniscus in 2013, and his play suffered as a result, so we’ll look at a few of his 2012 plays from the Oklahoma and Stanford games instead. Your enduring memory of Notre Dame’s season may be Eddie Lacy running over Manti Te’o on his way to the end zone in the National Championship, over and over, but before that game, Notre Dame fielded an all-time great defense that season, and Nix played the biggest (literally) role.

On most of the plays in these games, Nix is double-teamed, and he consistently gets a stalemate at the line in both the running and passing game. Very rarely does a double-team run block result in Nix getting moved backwards; I only recall seeing it happen once. While Nix does not have the have the type of speed which results in sacks for himself, his burst off the line in 2012 is awe-inspiring. Watch this play, where his first several steps are faster than every single player on both teams, resulting in pressure on the quarterback. This tends to be the result when Nix is not double-teamed; on this play against Stanford, he similarly uses his burst to push the pocket, and his pressure forces an interception. You simply cannot afford not to double-team Nix. He can also clog the throwing lanes by batting down passes at the line, much like J.J. “Swatt” is famous for doing.

As you might imagine, Nix’s burst off of the snap can make running the ball a chore for opposing teams. On this play, Nix quickly swims over the center and gets in for a tackle. At first glance, this next play might look ordinary– Nix makes a run tackle. Look again, and you’ll recognize that Nix’s momentum is moving him to the right of the play, allowing the center to use his position to shield Nix from the run. But as the quarterback takes off, Nix simply tosses the center to the ground and sprints out to his left to make the hit. That smarts, doesn’t it? Last, but not least, take a look at what happens on this play where Stanford pulls a guard and attempts to run away from Nix. By the time the handoff occurs, Nix is already four yards behind the line of scrimmage, with a full head of steam, and is able to bring down the runner for no gain shortly thereafter.

So, these were, of course, his highlight-reel plays. As I said earlier, most plays end with Nix in a stalemate with a double-team. For a smaller defensive tackle, expected to penetrate upfield and sack the quarterback, this would be a problem. Nix’s role in Houston is simply to occupy blockers. They already have the best defensive lineman in the world in J.J. Watt, who occasionally commands triple-teams. With the #1 overall pick, the Texans selected Jadeveon Clowney, widely considered the best defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers. Consider the scenario where both Clowney and Nix are as good as advertised: while I am certainly not knowledgeable enough to think of a scheme to stop them, I am not sure anyone has that blueprint.

Conclusion

The Texans decided with this draft to establish dominance at the line of scrimmage. With the selections of Jadeveon Clowney, Xavier Su’a-Filo, C.J. Fiedorowicz, and Louis Nix III all within the first three rounds, I believe this has been accomplished. Nix has health concerns, as I mentioned; he will need to return to his 2012 form in order to be a dominant force, as he just didn’t make the same impact in 2013. Fiedorowicz needs to add a few more routes to his repertoire before he can become a dangerous threat in the passing game. I believe he has the necessary tools. Now comes the work.

Not many of us at Zone Reads thought much of Tom Savage when he was rumored to be an early-round selection, but it turns out that talk was all smoke and mirrors, as the Texans picked him late in the 4th round, which is fine. I believe Ryan Fitzpatrick will start at quarterback next year, and while he’s not a player likely to win games with his arm without help, I do think he’s a player that doesn’t necessarily condemn the team to another losing season. Texans fans should be optimistic with a new regime in town and the talent acquired in this draft class. I certainly am.

Hindsight: AFC East Offseason Grades

Now that the draft is behind us, I’d like to revisit each team’s plan of attack in free agency. It may be slightly unfair to praise or knock a team for certain signings, since it’s impossible to know who will be available at given draft slots, but these are the offseason challenges for each franchise; you have to improve your team’s future to the best of your abilities. After the jump, I’ll evaluate each teams free agent signings based on how they drafted, while acknowledging the grey area of available talent at each of their draft slots.

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Our Top Undrafted Prospects, and Why They Went Undrafted

When the 256th and final selection of the NFL Draft had been used, 90 of our top 100 prospects had been drafted. When life hands your blog such a set of nice, pleasing round number lemons, you make list lemonade. I’m going to talk about those ten prospects who went undrafted, discuss why we liked them, and why I think they went undrafted.

(Note: I have designated a “Priority Free Agent” as someone who signed last night, in the hours after the draft ended. Anyone who signed today or later is an “Undrafted Free Agent” unless the term “priority free agent” was used to announce the signing.)

Adrian Hubbard, OLB, Alabama
Our Rank: #39, second-round edge rusher
Status: UDFA, Green Bay Packers
Possible Red Flags: Injury, personality, work ethic

Adrian Hubbard is an odd case. He was a starter at outside linebacker in 2012, where he proved to be a fluid athlete with good quickness who occasionally flashed incredible burst off the snap. He demonstrated a variety of skills as well, both in rushing the passer and coverage.

In 2013, though, he lost his starting job and only saw the field as a situational pass rusher. It’s not really clear why, but rumors began circulating during the draft process (including one from the NFL’s most famous amateur psychologist of them all, Trollin’ Nolan Nawrocki) that Hubbard was difficult and had a “quirky” personality, which can mean anything from a Ryan Leaf spoiled brat to an Arian Foster thoughtful and inquisitive mind. The biggest piece of evidence supporting these theories are his reduced playing time in 2013; I can’t imagine Nick Saban wouldn’t want his best players on the field.

I considered all this during day three, as Hubbard fell all the way out of the draft. In the end, after the Packers signed him, Hubbard revealed that he had a minor heart condition which caused most teams to remove him from their boards, but he was cleared to play. Again, without the same access to medical information that teams have, we can’t pull prospects from the board entirely. The best we can do is make use of what we do have, which is what we view on tape, combined with statistics and measurables to an appropriate degree. Obviously any evaluation has a subjective component, but we try not to use criteria we don’t have evidence for.

Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
Our Rank: #76, third round
Status: PFA, New York Giants
Possible Red Flags: Off-field, overrated

Kelcy Quarles and Victor Hampton were arrested last month following a fight at a club, and even though they weren’t charged with a crime, I can see why teams might be concerned that these two are not only out clubbing so close to the draft, but getting in fights as well. Hampton’s rap sheet is rather long, and teams might be worried that Quarles is out with him.

We also might have overrated Quarles due to his playing next to Jadeveon Clowney. (Similarly, teams might be underrating him, afraid of falling for another Ryan Sims situation.) He does possess good burst for his size, though.

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Our Rank: #79, third-round inside linebacker
Status: PFA, Chicago Bears
Possible Red Flags: Teammates, out of position

Jones is another guy we could be overrating because of the strength of his teammates. I think the more likely issue, though, is that he was largely used as a pass rusher in 2013, when he’s more suited to play a more traditional linebacker role. The film of that from 2012 is pretty good, and that’s where we think we should play. Our grade reflects that.

Zach Kerr, DT, Delaware
Our Rank: #82, third round
Status: PFA, Indianapolis Colts
Possible Red Flags: Consistency, Competition Level

Kerr’s highlight reel is great, but that’s all we really had access to; we couldn’t get full game cutups of him.  I tried to account for that in my grades, but it’s really hard to say how often he was that productive. His size/speed combination on those highlight plays was still rare enough that I thought some team would draft him.

Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State
Our Rank: #84, third round
Status: PFA, Cleveland Browns
Possible Red Flags: On-field performance, injuries

When “on-field performance” is cited as your red flag, it’s not hard to understand why teams pass on you, and I freely admit our evaluation of Barnett is out of step with the mainstream. Barnett didn’t attend the Combine due to injuries, so I had no idea who he was until Draft Breakdown included him in the first round of a mock draft. I wanted to know more, so I watched his film and saw a guy with an incredible first step off the ball. Granted, he had little else– his pad level was usually too high; he didn’t have much in the way of speed or moves– but I thought that raw ability was enough that a team would take a chance on him. I was wrong.

Victor Hampton, CB, South Carolina
Our Rank: #86, third round
Status: Unsigned
Possible Red Flags: Off-field, measurables

Hampton is a talented corner with tremendous ball skills, but his rap sheet of off-field incidents is long, and apparently troubling enough that no team yet has taken a chance on him. Our evaluation of him is almost entirely based on his on-field play; we don’t get to meet and interview the kids, so we can’t say whether or not we think they’ve learned from their mistakes or the risk outweighs the reward.

He also ran a 4.7 40 at the Combine, which was probably discouraging to teams regardless of whether the slow time was reflective of poor speed or poor work ethic (or even if it was just variance).

Antonio Richardson, OT, Tennessee
Our Rank: #89, third round
Status: PFA, Minnesota Vikings
Possible Red Flags: Measurables, medical

It’s possible we still had Richardson too high. In the early stages of the draft process he was being listed as a first-round prospect by quite a few outlets and a second-rounder by the others. We quickly discovered from the film that he wasn’t as talented as teammate Ja’Wuan James, so we moved him down, but we didn’t think he’d fall all the way out of the draft.

Today, though, we heard a rumor that Richardson has serious knee issues, which would probably warrant removing him from a team’s board entirely if they are true.

Isaiah Crowell, RB, Alabama State
Our Rank: #90, third round
Status: PFA, Cleveland Browns
Possible Red Flags: Off-field

This one’s easy. He was kicked out of Georgia after his freshman year for a felony weapons charge. As far as I can tell, his record has been clean since, but teams are understandably wary about committing a draft pick to a player who might shoot or be shot by someone. He’s probably the most talented running back in the entire draft, though.

Jackson Jeffcoat, DE, Texas
Our Rank: #93, third round edge rusher
Status: PFA, Seattle Seahawks
Possible Red Flags: Injuries, performance

Jeffcoat is a curious case. He shows some athleticism and good strength and quickness for the position, but he’s absurdly slow off the ball, as though he hears the snap count a bit later than everyone else. If this can be fixed, he can be a productive player. But being slow to the snap so often took him out of plays that I’m not surprised teams downgraded him for that.

Jeffcoat also has a checkered injury history– he missed significant time in college when he tore one pectoral muscle late in 2011, and the other in October 2012. That alone probably made him undraftable to a significant number of teams. We didn’t really consider it, attempting to evaluate him as a prospect based on how he’d perform in the NFL.

Dion Bailey, S, USC
Our Rank: #95, third round
Status: PFA, Seattle Seahawks
Possible Red Flags: Skill set, performance

While I was never particularly confident in this rating, our film study still suggested Bailey should have been drafted, at least. He’s a raw player who got by on athleticism, and still needs to learn the game, but he’s only 22, and young athletic players with upside usually get drafted. There may be something else going on we don’t know about and could only hope to guess.

 

You want to know what the strangest thing I found was? Trollin Nolan’s personality assessments, which so often read like so much thinly veiled racist bullshit, apparently are shared by quite a few teams. Six of the ten players he named went undrafted. Three of them were in our top 100; we also regarded Mike Davis and Colt Lyerla as pretty talented and draftable, although it’s much more understandable no one drafted Lyerla, given he didn’t even play in 2013 after being kicked off Oregon’s team.

I’m not sure what the message is here. Maybe teams excessively weigh personality concerns that are hugely speculative. Or maybe it’s as if friend-of-the-blog Dave suggested in this comment, namely that starting around the third round or so, the talent pool is flat enough that anything that gives a team any reasonable concern that a player may not even take the field is enough to remove him from a team’s draft board. (I have a theory that maybe it’s not so much that two hundred players have third round grades, but instead fifty or sixty players really are “third round” grades on talent, and injury or other concerns cause them to drop or be removed from team’s boards. And maybe sixty or seventy fourth-round grades, etc. etc. Something else to try to determine when we work on the 2015 draft.)

Thank you all for following along with us this weekend and helping make our coverage a success. That may be it for this year’s NFL Draft, but we’ll continue to write about the incoming rookies over the next few months, until it’s time to seriously talk about the 2014 season. Follow us on Twitter or Facebook to stay up-to-date with what we’re doing.

Seahawks Building on Strength: Justin Britt and Garrett Scott

The Seahawks won a Super Bowl last season by fielding an elite defense and plowing through defenses with a devastating ground attack. The Seahawks drafted with this philosophy in mind, selecting six players with their nine picks who play at or around the line of scrimmage. I want to take a look at their two picks on the offensive line: Justin Britt and Garrett Scott.

ROUND 2, PICK 64

JUSTIN BRITT, OT, MISSOURI

Justin Britt is a comically large human being; at a hulking 6’6″ and 325 lbs, he is almost always the largest person on the field. I’m going to skip the easy games and take a look at how he matched up against #1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, which you can see in entirety here at Draft Breakdown. (Big thanks to Draft Breakdown for their work with video cutups during this entire process. Without them, none of this could be possible, and I won’t have won the first Super Bowl for the Detroit Lions as general manager in 2028. Don’t worry, fans, it’ll be worth the wait.) Britt is of course playing left tackle.

One thing you’ll notice if you watch the entire game is that Justin Britt does not even attempt to engage Clowney on many plays. Believe it or not, this is a common theme to how offenses altered their game plan around him. (But that’s another issue entirely.) I intend to keep this brief, so we’re only going to look at a handful of plays. The first such play occurs late in the first quarter; this is the first time Britt is asked to block Clowney on a pass that is not an immediate throw. From what I can tell from the broadcast camera, Clowney fakes a move inside and goes for an outside rush. Britt stays low with a nice base, calmly slides outside, and with a little help from the running back is able to neutralize the pass rush.

The first ‘issue’ arises two plays later. This time Clowney goes straight for the outside rush and uses a quick arm over move across Britt’s chest to explode past Britt, and if not for the running back’s double team, Clowney could’ve ended Maty Mauk. Britt can be shaky in pass protection at times, and this play is an example of what I mean. It isn’t only against the Clowneys of the world; Britt needs to improve on this in general. It shouldn’t keep him off the field, though, and Russell Wilson has a Ph.D in improvisation.

Let’s be real now: Britt was not selected for how he will come in and immediately improve Seattle’s pass protection. If that happens, well, brilliant. Seattle wants to open lanes for Marshawn Lynch in the ground game as long as his tires still have tread. On this play I’ll give you a glimpse of Justin Britt’s ability as a run blocker. He doesn’t block any of the defensive linemen by design; instead he charges to the second level looking for defenders to toss aside. The runner does an incredible job to elude some players in the backfield and Britt clears away TWO players in one block at the second level. And this, I believe, is what Seattle is looking for from him.

You might be thinking, “Oh, so from what we’ve seen so far, he can’t block defensive linemen?” Au contraire, my friend. If you kept playing the tape, on the very next play Justin Britt drive blocks the #1 overall pick completely out of the play, just bulldozing him a good 7 yards upfield and allowing plenty of room to run for a first down. Marshawn Lynch can cut these plays inside and take them to the house.

I’m stopping here because it is not my intention to break down every snap. I merely want to give you a picture of why Seattle made this selection. If you want to see more, watch the entire game, and if you still need more after that, then go right here.

ROUND 6, PICK 199

GARRETT SCOTT, OT, MARSHALL

Garrett Scott’s game against Maryland was the first I saw of him, and I thought he could be a 3rd or 4th round pick based on athleticism alone. He ‘flashes’ hard at tackle, and I’ll show you what I mean by that. I’ve selected a few plays to watch; you can watch the entire game if you want to see more.

  1. I like how he doesn’t get concerned about the outside rusher stunting in and engages the defensive tackle,
  2. This is where he showed off elite quickness with his feet, which speaks for itself, and
  3. Here he sprints off to the left and just drives his man backwards.

I focused on early plays because he gets injured not long into the game. He stays in, but plays noticeably worse than before.

Here are the concerns I have with Scott, and trust me, I could list a lot of these:

  1. His quickness only flashes itself; it doesn’t doesn’t always show up. If you pay close attention to this play (Scott is at right tackle), Scott has only taken one step outside by the time James Gayle is on his third step (!!!) rushing the passer; Scott rallies a bit and doesn’t entirely blow the play, but this is something you’ll see in his tape from time to time.
  2. We see what is his biggest problem, in my view, here, and that’s how often he gets blown back by even meager bull rushes. (He’s back at left tackle; I apologize for the confusion. Wait a minute, it’s not my fault, it’s Marshall’s.)

I took a capture at :51 in the link above to illustrate the problem. His arms are not doing anything. He’s not ready to take on a player who is milliseconds away from thrusting his arms into his chest. Imagine yourself in this situation; try it at home if you can find someone willing to bull-rush you. A person is trying to run you over: What do you do? Physics and millennia of human evolution suggest you get lower, put up your hands, prepare to absorb the force, and push it into the ground. It’s pretty basic. If, instead, you stand straight up with your arms down, all the force will be transferred to your chest and it’ll knock you to the ground. That is (almost) exactly what happens here. Immediately after the engagement Scott correctly squats down to absorb the blow and extends his arms… except that it’s too late for him to get his arms up, and he’s thrown off balance. At this point the defensive player rips him away and has a free path to the passer. With Scott, this is not an isolated incident; this happens again and again and again in this game against Rice.

I would not expect Scott to start immediately. As you can see, he’s a bit rough around the edges. The Seahawks drafted him to develop him, as they’ve done before with these late offensive line picks. I wouldn’t discount it from happening again. There’s a lot to like in Garrett Scott and he was just a 6th round pick; getting anything at all from him would be a smashing success.

As for the rest of the Seahawks draft, I love the Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood picks as well. Wilson does need someone to throw to while Percy Harvin is standing on the sideline, and those two players were both excellent college receivers. I suggest checking them out yourself; you’re going to like what you see. (I guarantee it.)