Our top 20 day-three draft values

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on David Yankey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

vix’s breakdown

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

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Panthers Double “Trey”: Trai Turner and Tre Boston

All things told, the Carolina Panthers 2013 season is among the most successful in franchise history. Their offense was about league average, with Cam Newton throwing to the corpse of Steve Smith, and the defense was the best in team history. Instead of grabbing all of the receiving and offensive line help they could get in this year’s draft, the Panthers seem to have held to a “best player available” strategy. While they did add a big receiving weapon in Kelvin Benjamin with their first pick, it’s unclear how much he’ll be able to contribute immediately. I’ll discuss Benjamin and the rest of the Panthers incoming rookie class in the conclusion. Our featured prospects will be the rare offensive line prospect who declares for the draft as a redshirt sophomore, LSU right guard Trai Turner, along with North Carolina safety Tre Boston.

ROUND 3, PICK 92

Trai Turner, OG, LSU

It’s not often you see an offensive line prospect declare after his sophomore season, and after only 20 career starts, but that’s exactly what Trai Turner did. He only just turned 21 on June 14. From a physical standpoint, Turner is a grown-ass man at 6’3″, 310 lbs., with long 34″ arms, and he plays like one, as we’ll get to shortly. Turner was the #1 “pure” guard on my draft board (behind tackle/guard prospects Greg Robinson and Zack Martin) and I thought Carolina was stealing in broad daylight when they selected him 92nd overall.

Keep an eye on the right guard #56, that’s Trai Turner. What I am looking for in an offensive line prospect are rudimentary things such as agility, strength, pass protection, etc, and I’ll leave the more detailed play-by-play oriented analysis for Zone Reads contributors Needle and Matt W (extra thanks to Matt for help on this piece). Consistent play is key for an offensive lineman and I kept an eye on that in my preliminary research. If there are any areas which strike me as a concern I’ll give an example and inform you what my concern is about. For this post I’ve taken a look at LSU’s 2013 games against Texas A&M, Arkansas, Alabama (via CJ Mosley), and Florida (via Hill and Mettenberger). If that sounds confusing, it isn’t. We’re always going to be looking at the right guard.

All of Trai Turner’s mistakes come in pass protection. That is to say, there are no flaws which show up in his run blocking either at the point of attack or at the second level more than a handful of times in these four games combined. As a run blocker Trai Turner is among the best you’ll ever see at the college level. His ability to reach the second level and sustain blocks there is tremendous. None of his issues in pass protection appear to be unfixable and they are rare enough where it isn’t likely to keep him from immediately starting.

First we’ll take a look at his strengths and weaknesses in pass protection. There were a number of plays in Turner’s tapes where his technique could use some work. On this first play Turner is a split second too slow on his engagement and allows the defender to get to his outside shoulder and is forced to hold with his right arm. The refs didn’t throw a flag here so hooray for the big gain. On this next play a similar issue happens where the defensive tackle is able to get ideal hand placement on Turner and win the leverage battle. If there’s a positive to take away from these two instances it’s that Trai Turner rallies well when beat. The defenders are unable to get to the quarterback on either play in large part because Turner has learned the subtle art of holding and not getting flagged. You may laugh but this is much better than giving up a free rush to your quarterback and it’s a skill every offensive lineman needs in his toolbox.

More often than not Turner does play the proper technique in pass protection. On this play Turner gets his hands out earlier with more depth in his drop and what really sticks out here is how well he uses his hands to consistently attack the defender. Once again Turner plays the correct technique by shooting his hands first and not waiting to be attacked.

In these four games there are only two plays I identified where Trai Turner completely blows the assignment in pass protection. The first play is similar to the previous two where he doesn’t engage the defensive tackle quick enough and loses the leverage battle once the tackle reaches his outside shoulder (this time he’s beat too much to even hold). On this one Turner fails to recognize a stunt, doesn’t get any depth in his drop, and a rusher comes free with a shot at the quarterback. Compare that play with this play where Turner gets plenty of depth on his drop and is able to briefly help the right tackle before sliding over to the middle in order to meet a stunting defender. Perfect. In fact, there are several instances where Turner slides over to help the right tackle before ‘his’ man needs to be blocked. I’ve suffered through seeing so many guards who lack the athleticism to make this kind of play that I’m in awe when there’s a player like Trai Turner makes it look easy.

If you’ve made it this far then surely you want to see why I described Turner as one of the best run blockers I’ve ever seen. He can ride defenders down the line, turn his man away from the run, pull around to the left, or simply plow straight down the field. These plays don’t require much in the way of explanation. See target, destroy target. The single most impressive play to my eye was this one against Arkansas where Turner fakes a ‘down’ block to his left, pirouettes his feet in the complete opposite direction, charges full steam ahead into the cornerback, and takes him for a 12-yard ride. That isn’t a ride you’ll find at your local amusement park. It was difficult to pare down my rather lengthy collection of Trai Turner ‘highlights’ into a few for display here. I have enough of them to write another 1,000 words, but I’ll spare you the time and urge you to check out his tapes over at Draft Breakdown if you’re interested in seeing more.

 

ROUND 4, PICK 128

Tre Boston, S, North Carolina

Tre Boston started 40 out of 48 games at North Carolina either at safety or cornerback. There’s not anything eye-popping about his combine numbers but all across the board he scores similarly to the highly touted Alabama safety and Green Bay Packer 1st-round pick HaHa Clinton-Dix. There are 5 tapes available for Tre Boston at Draft Breakdown – two from 2013 and three from 2012 – and I’ve taken a look at all of them for this post. Disclaimer: safeties are the most difficult position to get a feel for with the TV camera but it is what it is.

Boston is a sure tackler. By my count Tre Boston missed 5 tackles in the 5 games with only the 2012 contest against Duke being more than one missed. Mind you, Boston accounted for 17 tackles in that game either as an assist or solo. Two of these tackles came in critical situations near the goal line. On this play as soon as Boston recognizes the runner he sprints to him and gets in on an important tackle. In fact, I believe Boston hesitates just a moment too long as you can see him barely moving at the 5:38 mark; but the play also shows how quickly he can close when he recognizes the offensive attack. Later in the same game Boston shows no hesitation during a critical play (check the score and time remaining). Duke went on to win on a pass the very next play but alas this play isn’t on Boston’s tape.

In the 2013 game against Duke Tre Boston accumulates 15 tackles. My favorite is this tackle on a well disguised blitz where Boston drops the runner for a loss. Boston can be seen both in making plays around the line of scrimmage or deep in coverage in the Tarheel’s defensive scheme. One issue of concern is biting on play action as he does on two plays in different games here and here. On this play Boston stands flat footed in no man’s land following a simultaneous double move from the wide receiver and pump fake from the quarterback. While I don’t even know went wrong here since the TV camera on both the play and replay fails to key on the secondary, I do know a safety isn’t supposed to be sprinting to chase down a receiver in his area as the ball sails by him.

Many defensive backs in the ACC feasted off of Miami quarterback Stephen Morris these past two seasons and Tre Boston was no different. Boston’s interceptions highlight some incredible in-game athleticism. Watch as he locates and high points this ball. If not for a pointless shove from a teammate later in the same game then this interception wouldn’t have been called back for pass interference. Boston has a field day against Miami in 2012 with those plays and this pass deflection – not his only one. In these 5 games I counted a total of 9 plays which were either deflected or intercepted by him. The same peeking in the backfield which got him busted earlier also results in some plays such as this one where he eyes the quarterback the entire play and returns an interception for a touchdown.

What I like about Tre Boston is his aggressive play. As we’ve seen in these plays I linked he’s not afraid to throw his body around near the line of scrimmage or react to defense a ball flying in his general direction. He’ll be tested on his eye discipline early and often throughout his rookie season as I really don’t see Roman Harper holding Tre Boston back from starting for particularly long.

 

THE WRAP

The Carolina Panthers are coming off of arguably their second best season in franchise history, behind their appearance in Super Bowl XXXVIII. They accomplished this with significant weaknesses along the offensive line and in their receiving corps(e). A lot will be asked of 1st-round pick Kelvin Benjamin to make an immediate impact and I think fans may be disappointed in those early returns as Benjamin isn’t nearly as polished as the similarly sized sophomore entry Mike Evans. One thing Benjamin has going for him over Evans is Cam Newton throwing him the ball; if Benjamin is to succeed he’s in the right spot to do so.

Zone Reads contributor Needle made a 20 minute video on 2nd-round pick Kony Ealy which I recommend checking out. Short and sweet cliffs: Needle loves Ealy’s inside move. Being able to rotate Ealy in along a defensive line which already includes Charles Johnson, Greg Hardy, Kawann Short, and Star Lotulelei is nothing short of terrifying. I didn’t love Kony Ealy as a player to come in and start immediately and he certainly won’t be doing so in Carolina but with these players commanding attention Ealy will see a lot of 1-on-1 matchups as a rookie.

The only other Panther’s draft pick which I watched some of was 6th rounder Tyler Gaffney. He’s a powerful short yardage runner who seems to fill no specific need for the Panthers but, hey, you can never have too many running backs. I kid, I kid. Overall I love what the Panthers did in this draft. They drafted a lot of very talented young prospects to go with those already on the team. A run at the Super Bowl is very much in play, even in a loaded conference.