Explaining some changes on our Big Board

This will most likely be the last update on our Big Board before the draft (unless something drastic happens before then– discovering a heretofore unknown prospect, or a major piece of news lowering someone’s stock, for example). As such, I feel fairly comfortable with the final decisions we’ve made. Thus, I’d like to explain the ones that don’t seem to jive with popular opinion, and why we settled on the decisions we did.

We’ll start with what probably stands out the most right now, our edge-rusher rankings…

Dante Fowler at 22, a tier behind Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Preston Smith

This one is simple, though oddly controversial. When evaluating edge players, one of our top priorities is: Can he provide pass rush around the corner? Other skills are secondary to this. (That’s why Vic Beasley is our #1 EDGE and Randy Gregory, despite his rawness and potential to smoke his way out of the league, is our #2. More on this in a second.) While Fowler does many things well, is explosive, versatile, and an effective blitzer, he isn’t really a top-quality pass-rushing prospect. On film, he doesn’t show much ability to get around the corner, with a lack of bend and ability to turn while maintaining speed confirmed by his 7.40 3-cone time. Fowler only had 5.5 sacks in the regular season (before three in his bowl game), and a significant number of those came on blitzes. I think Fowler is a guy whose athleticism doesn’t necessarily translate into production. (While you can say the same thing about Bud Dupree, Dupree’s athleticism is off the charts compared to Fowler’s, and even with a similarly poor 3-cone time, Dupree’s other athletic measurements are still good enough to qualify him as one of Justis Mosqueada’s Force Players.)

And speaking of Force Players, Smith and Odighizuwa both qualify. That shows up on film, too: Odighizuwa has some hip problems, but he does a great job converting strength to power and with his bull rush. Meanwhile, Smith is larger than a traditional edge rusher, but he also projects as someone who can move all across the formation, a la Michael Bennett (the current Seahawk, not the Ohio State prospect), and still be effective.

I don’t think those two are necessarily elite prospects– hence why they’re only #4 and #5 on my edge-rusher board. But their ability to rush the passer makes them worthy first-round picks, certainly compared to an edge player I have significant questions about on that point.

Brett Hundley #15 and Dorial Green-Beckham #16

Here’s something to think about: The number of prospects with the talent to be a top-flight NFL player at his position (or, at least, at the quarterback position, a reliable enough guy to be a long-term starter) are rare. (That’s also why we have Todd Gurley so high despite his ACL tear, though that one seems much less controversial.)

Dorial Green-Beckham hasn’t played football in over a year and has some serious questions surrounding his off-field behavior. Nobody denies this. (The domestic violence is much more troubling than the cannabis, certainly.) At the same time, nobody denies that he has the talent to be the best receiver in the league someday.

I’m not in the position where I can adequately assess how risky Green-Beckham’s off-field problems are going forward. To that end, I can’t gauge how they will affect his status as a prospect beyond some vague sense that I should downgrade him. That said, I also believe if he hadn’t been kicked out of school for the off-field incidents, and if he had played football last season, he’d be the #1 prospect in this draft and would go off the board in the first three selections. This ranking attempts to reflect that level of talent, combined with the questions surrounding any prospect who sat out a year and may have had his development stunted.

Brett Hundley does not have those off-field problems, but he has people asking similar questions about his game. Thing is, many of the criticisms I’ve heard don’t seem to stand up to much scrutiny. I hear Hundley is an inaccurate quarterback who makes predetermined throws, who can’t read defenses, who drops his eyes too readily, who has no pocket presence and takes off running at the first sign of pressure, then I watch plays like the ones I just linked.

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Sure, Hundley needs to do those things more consistently. But if the argument is that he can’t do those things, plays like these dispel that notion.

Hundley certainly needs refinement to be a successful NFL quarterback, but that’s true of every prospect in this draft. Jameis Winston needs to learn to read underneath coverage and to learn what kind of windows he can and cannot make throws into. Marcus Mariota needs to fix his mechanics, develop more consistent accuracy, and learn to adapt his play in the moment (which may not be possible). Hundley can do many things at an extremely high level, he just has to learn to do them more consistently, and un-learn any bad habits he may have picked up at UCLA.

Reports are that the coaching staff didn’t allow him freedom to audible; it’s possible that his penchant for running was developed from having to deal with plays he knew were broken. Watching UCLA’s film, it’s clear Hundley often had to run for the sheer reason that the offensive line could not block for him consistently. It’s also clear that the coaches did not adjust their route combinations as they should have to provide Hundley with more ways to get the ball out quickly.

Take a look at how few other offensive prospects UCLA has for this year’s draft, and how they’re rated. Last year, the only drafted players from UCLA’s offense were Xavier Su’a-Filo and Shaq Evans, neither of whom made any sort of impact this past season (we gave Evans a “7th/PFA” grade last year, but the Jets took him in the fourth round anyway).

It’s possible Hundley’s struggles were due to overcompensating for a lack of surrounding talent and a lack of faith shown by the coaching staff. (If you think that’s a bad sign for Hundley, remember that Jim Mora Jr. got the Atlanta Falcons job and immediately tried to turn Michael Vick into a high-accuracy, short-yardage West Coast pocket passer.) While I don’t believe you can cite statistics readily when discussing college players, I do believe they can tell you more about a prospect than people want to believe, given the right context. Hundley’s numbers over three seasons, 40 starts, in a Power 5 conference, and with not a lot of supporting talent on hand to help him are pretty damn good, even we look at only his passing numbers and ignore his prodigious rushing talent:

Brett Hundley college passing statistics

Hundley went 29-11 in those 40 starts as well; he wasn’t inflating his numbers in garbage time. And not only were those numbers very good, they continued to improve in his time at UCLA. (If the touchdown totals seem low, consider his lack of receiving talent and his 30 rushing touchdowns as mitigating.)

It’s the Cam Newton argument: If one player has the talent to carry your team this far despite a weak supporting cast, he has the talent for the NFL. (Hundley didn’t carry UCLA nearly as far as Newton carried Auburn, but I’m also not arguing he should be taken #1 overall.)

All of our scouts who have watched Hundley in detail agree that he’s being underrated by the consensus at large and is worth a first-round pick on Thursday. We’re not the only ones; Matt Waldman of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio has Hundley ahead of Marcus Mariota as his #2 QB, having done extensive work writing about, discussing, and analyzing Hundley. (I must tip my hat to him for turning me on to that collection of plays I linked earlier.)

We think both Dorial Green-Beckham and Brett Hundley have much more potential as players than most of the draft community seems to think.

Shaq Thompson as a third-rounder

Okay, I couldn’t think of anything else too controversial (many of our other discrepancies are because we rank raw, unproven prospects like Arik Armstead and Breshad Perriman lower than they will likely go). Considering where Thompson started the draft process ranked, this seems like a good choice.

I didn’t really know in my heart where I regarded Thompson until our Twitter mock draft, where, despite having him listed in the early-to-mid second round on the Big Board, neither of us could pull the trigger until midway through the third. He scares me a bit; he’s too small for linebacker and not athletic enough for safety. He has good instincts, but I have serious questions about his capacity to find a fit in an NFL defense. A creative coach might be able to make the most of him, but he doesn’t have the kind of blow-you-away athleticism that he would need to justify regarding him highly.

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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.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=DeliriousUglyHalicore

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).

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=GoodInfamousAltiplanochinchillamouse

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=SharpImmaculateFennecfox

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

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=PoliteInferiorDikdik

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

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=FilthyJoyfulAntarcticfurseal

and this play to the left:

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=AnotherAlarmingGrayfox

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.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=OffbeatSoreBuck

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.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=RectangularNaughtyGalapagosdove

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.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=GraveLastBlueandgoldmackaw

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.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=257250&gif=AncientMagnificentEkaltadeta

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:

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=255799&gif=DistinctUnhealthyApe

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.

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=255799&gif=FormalFirstAvocet

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:

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=255799&gif=WelloffDisfiguredDuiker

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:

http://www.draftbreakdown.com/gif-embed/?clip=255799&gif=CavernousDeterminedDonkey

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.

The Top 42 Prospects, Part 2

Whoa. The last column took long enough that I had to break it off after #23. On top of that, yesterday was a totally bonkers day in the NFL, as free agency officially opened and multiple big trades went down within minutes of one another.

I’ll write up my thoughts on those trades soon, but for now, here is the remainder of the first set of player rankings I promised:

Group V: Late 1st / Early 2nd

24. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
The big man (315 pounds) has a surprisingly impressive combination of burst, moves, and ability to rush the passer upfield. Consistency is a concern, and I’ll have to see more film to decide what I think of him as an every-down player, but the potential for an interior disrupter here is high.

25. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Hundley is one I’m really torn about. My guys like him. Draft Twitter is low on him. I’m not sure how to reconcile the seeming flaws / lack of development in his game, with the fact he managed to post pretty terrific, and steadily improving, numbers in three years as a starter, without much in the way of surrounding talent. 40 college starts with a 67% completion rate is hard to ignore when matched with the kind of arm and athletic talent Hundley has.

26. Henry Anderson, DT/DE, Stanford
Another one I haven’t done much work on, but what work I have done suggests a guy who can be a serious playmaker from the inside as well, at either a 3- or 5-technique. (Other draft experts rate him even higher than this.)

27. Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
A three-down playmaker whom certain draft analysts I respect are really high on. We haven’t gotten to much linebacker film yet; I’d like to know more before forming a precise opinion.

28. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami-FL
I’m not so sold on Flowers’ ability to play left tackle; I don’t think he possesses the quickness for that. That said, he is very strong and engages well, generally shutting down rushers when he gets his hands on them. I think he could start at right tackle from day one.

29. Malcom Brown, DT, Texas
Don’t have much of an opinion on Brown yet but this is about right given the buzz I’m hearing. Athletic large men never fall too far.

30. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, EDGE, UCLA
Some injury history in his past, but wins with power and speed. Probably most suited as a 4-3 DE. vix wrote an article about him during the season.

31. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
Agholor does everything well– tight routes, very good acceleration and speed, attacks the football well. Really surprised other sites have him as a round 2-3 guy. If he were 3 inches taller he’d be a top-10 pick.

32. Jalen Collins, CB, LSU
Love his athleticism, tons of size and speed. Technique still a little raw, but certainly meets the NFL requirements for the position.

33. Eddie Goldman, NT, Florida State
Another guy I haven’t had a chance to do much work on and I’ve seen all over the boards. I know someone who thinks he’s nothing special. I know someone else who mocked him in the top 5. He’s huge, and even the ability to occupy lots of blockers has value.

34. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
Another aggressive disruptor in the middle. I have to watch more film on him– it’s possible opponents were overly focused on Joey Bosa– but at least one of our writers really likes him.

35. Paul Dawson, LB, TCU
Don’t let the Combine times fool you, Dawson is an aggressive, instinctive playmaker whose reaction speed makes up for a lack of track speed.

36. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota
Young and ridiculously athletic, Williams still has some refinement to undergo but the raw talent that’s there makes him the best tight end in this draft by far. You’ve probably seen this by now.

37. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn
Coates’ upside is so high, but his hands are inconsistent. Ordinarily I hate receivers who can’t catch, but I don’t think Coates fits this bill, as he has made a number of difficult, contested catches that suggest the ability to become more consistent is there. With some work on his form, he could become a real terror.

38. Devin Smith, WR, Ohio State
As far as we can tell, Smith only does one thing– run vertical routes– but he does it extremely well, with serious football speed and ability to get open, and perhaps even more importantly, he’s got terrific ability to track the ball in the air and fight for it at the catch point.
He could be a top-20 pick if he were a more well-rounded receiver. But just what he can add as a reliable deep threat is enough to rank him here.

39. Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
“Tight end” designation is almost a formality at this point. Honestly, Funchess’ ranking involves a lot of projection: He’s young and has fantastic size. His Combine was a little disappointing, though, and he needs a lot of work. I haven’t done enough film study on him to be confident in my evaluation yet.

40. Cameron Erving, C, Florida State
We didn’t like his offensive tackle film at all, but he may well be the best center in the draft.

41. Stephone Anthony, LB, Clemson
Another guy who’s risen up most draft boards because his Combine numbers made people go look at his film again. Anthony first jumped out to us while watching Vic Beasley’s tape, and studying him closer confirms his playmaking ability and the athleticism he displayed at the Combine as legit.

42. D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
Humphries is young, having just turned 21 in December, and I believe most talk about him as a first-round pick factors in the idea that he has a lot of growth ahead of him. Now, there’s some reason to suspect that’s true: He went from a playing weight of 284 during the season to 307 at the Combine without any seeming loss of agility. I believe ranking him higher than this requires projecting physical growth, and while I was willing to do that to a certain point, I couldn’t combine my projections for him with his film work to rate him a first-rounder. Still a quality prospect worth taking a chance on, though.

Well, that’s where we are for now. We still have a long way to go, so we’re going back to the film room for a little while.

“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.