Stanford/UCLA Notes

by David Syvertsen

I just watched the Stanford/UCLA matchup.  They play again Friday night in the conference’s championship game, an interesting situation.

Stanford has two players on offense worth looking in to.  Running back Stepfan Taylor (5’11/215) is the school’s all time leading rusher.  He will finish his career at the top of a lot of rushing records for the school.  His game will translate to the next level very well.  He is quick in short space and can break the weak tackle attempts with ease.  Very strong base, well developed frame.  Taylor will surprise you in the open field, as he’s proven on multiple occasions he has the speed to run away from defensive backs for long gains.  He is a little tight in the hips however.  Takes way too long to stop and change direction on anything less than a 90 degree angle.  Thus his ability as a cutback runner will be limited.  He’ll be a scheme specific back, but if the right team drafts him, he’ll be a guy that produces right away.

Junior tight end Zach Ertz (6’6/252) might give Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) a run for being the top rated tight end in the country.  Very smooth pass catcher with easy ball skills.  Can catch on the run, stationary with a defender on his back, or when leaping and reaching away from his body.  He has proven to be reliable in any part of the route tree, which is not easy to find at this level.  He can block well enough, although the strength isn’t quite there yet with his upper body, especially his hands.  In a game that loves to find the matchup problems, Ertz will be a highly sought after asset should he come out.

Defensively, Stanford is known best for their two senior linebackers.  They get a lot of publicity from commentators and writers, but I’m not a fan of either.

Inside linebacker Shayne Skov (6’3/242) is coming off a torn ACL, which forced him to miss almost all of 2011.  He’s come back healthy and is producing well.   Skov moves well within the tackle box and is a great downhill attacker.  He can pop the ball carrier.  Has a physical presence inside.  The problem is when he has to venture outside of the window.  He has a lack of speed and lack of acceleration in lateral pursuit.  His range as a cover linebacker is severely limited as well.  Putting him up against NFL speed and NFL passing games, I just don’t see it.  Years ago, Skov would have been a top 100 prospect.  In this era, I’m looking at 5th-6th round range.

His teammate, Chase Thomas (6’4/248), plays on the outside.  His statistics will paint the initial picture that he is a dominant force.  I’ve seen him three times in 2012, and I’ve yet to come across a performance where I see an NFL difference maker.  He is a hustler, a relentless player that won’t stop until the whistle blows.  He won’t beat NFL offensive tackles with initial explosion.  He won’t overpower anyone with a bull rush.  His moves are average at best.  Against the run, Thomas makes a lot of his plays on missed assignments and/or poor blocking.  At the college level, Thomas is split 50/50 on the amount of times he can stifle a run blocker, shed and make the play.  Put him in the NFL and I just see him getting dominated.  Another guy that, at best, is a mid round prospect in my eyes.

* * * * *

UCLA has more defensive NFL talent on their roster.  Guys that I can see making a difference.  Filling multiple roles and developing in to quality starters.

Defensive lineman Datone Jones (6’4/275) is one of the more versatile trench athletes in this class.  In the current 3-4 scheme, Jones is playing defensive end.  Throughout the previous three seasons, Jones was in and out between tackle and end.  He is too quick for the interior blockers, too powerful for tight ends and most offensive tackles.  Jones in an impressive specimen that carries 270+ pounds easily.  He has a strong punch that stands blockers up consistently.  Combine that with his strong and quick hands make him a tough guy to block.  Jones may not be the guy that leads the league in sacks or tackles, but he makes guys around him more productive.  In an era of hybrid defensive schemes, a versatile athlete like Jones can be sought after by a lot of teams.

The two edge rushers in UCLA’s aggressive scheme have NFL futures.  Junior Anthony Barr (6’3/235) moved to the defensive side of the ball this season and has exploded on to the national scene to say the least.  He could use another year of physical development in the weight room.  But there is a physical skill set here that someone will take a chance on in the first two rounds if he comes out.  Barr has elite speed and agility for the linebacker position.  He can chase down running backs from behind.  He can bend and get beneath blockers off the edge.  And there is a physical presence to him despite the lack of bulk.  He can hold ground against blockers in the trenches.  He get knock back a pulling guard and free himself to make the tackle.  This is an incredibly unique situation here that warrants a lot of attention should he declare for the 2013 Draft.

Senior Damien Holmes (6’2/250) moved from defensive end to linebacker in the new scheme.  He plays a little smaller than that, or at least it appears to be that way.  He doesn’t use length or extension to beat blockers.  Holmes is a relentless, no-nonsense type player that will eventually slip away, no questions asked.  What he lacks in size, strength, speed…he makes up for with the ability get off blocks and make himself small.  He has quick hands and agile hips, allowing him to become a blur to blockers after the initial engagement. Holmes might be drafted late, but he is a guy that will make a difference at the next level.  I’d choose him before Chase Thomas.

I want to get a better look at the pair of senior corners on UCLA’s defense.   Sheldon  Price (6’2/180) is very long and skinny.  But he has the hips and turn around speed to cover receivers down field.  The issue I see with him so far is the lack of presence as a press corner.  He can be pushed around by the physical receivers with ease.  The lack of balance will make it tough for him at the next level  I’m intrigued though, especially if he is available late.  Aaron Hester (6’1/207) is more physical, but the speed just isn’t there.  He may have to make a position change to safety at the next level.  He has a presence at the point of attack though and I like his initial footwork.  There is upside here.

Big night in the Pac 12 on Friday.  These guys are going to get my full attention.

Follow Dave on Twitter for more of his NFL draft thoughts.

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