Safety Talk

NFL teams are desperate to find good starting Safeties. The 2014 draft has some talented prospects that teams will be highly interested in.

To me, there are 2 prospects that stand out…Calvin Pryor and Lamarcus Joyner.

Pryor lists at 6-2, 210. He might be heavier than that. He has an excellent combination of size, speed and strength. He’s very impressive when he attacks downhill. Pryor can deliver impact hits. He jumps off the screen when you watch the game tape. Really impressive physically.

He’s not a polished player. There are some plays where he takes a bad angle. There are some sloppy tackle attempts. Teams with a strong coaching staff will see a gifted prospect that can be developed into a star Safety. I can imagine that some teams won’t value Pryor as much.

Joyner will be a polarizing player. He is 5-8, 190. That size will cause some teams to really downgrade him. And I think that is reasonable. Do you want someone that size matched up with Calvin Johnson or Jimmy Graham in space?

Joyner plays much bigger than he is. To me, he jumps out when watching the tape. Joyner is a big-time hitter. He knows how to explode into runners and receivers. He delivers clean hits, which is all the more valuable in today’s NFL. Joyner offers versatility because he can play the slot. He’s got CB experience.

The natural comparison for Joyner is the Honey Badger, who just had an outstanding rookie season. Both guys lack ideal size,  but can be impact players and in unusual ways. Both are very good at playing in the box. Both can rush the passer and play the run. Both have good man cover skills.

Honey Badger had serious character issues. Joyner was a key player on a dominant defense that just won the national title. I’m betting teams will love him as they meet with him and do their background checks.

I see Pryor as a 1st round pick. Joyner could go 2nd or 3rd round.

* * *

Two other guys who get a lot of talk are Ha-Ha Clinton Dix and Jimmie Ward. Dix could be a real good deep Safety. He is a good tackler and has good range and ball skills. There really isn’t anything compelling about him, but he could still be a 1st round pick. There will be some teams that like him better than Pryor.

Ward, who played at Northern Illinois, is 5-10, 191. He had a good showing at the Senior Bowl. I’ve seen some people mention him as a high pick and I just don’t get it. I see a solid prospect, but not a special player. He does have excellent cover skills. I could see some teams actually looking at him as a corner.

While Ward is the same weight as Joyner, he’s not nearly as physical of a player. Ward told me down in Mobile that he hoped to bulk up to 200 pounds. That’s a smart goal, but I still don’t see him as a player I would take early as a Safety. Teams wanting someone to play the slot could value him as early as the 2nd round.

* * *

Deone Bucannon gets a lot of talk because of his size (6-1, 216), but he’s more inconsistent than you want. He’ll miss some tackles. He looks stiff when facing athletic guys in space. There is plenty to like with him, but I think Bucannon could slide more than some fans think.

A big Safety from the Pac-12 that I feel is under the radar is Dion Bailey from USC. He is 6-2, 218. Former LB. He has some downhill explosion. Bailey is a good athlete. He’s got terrific hands. He was a stud DB in high school and redshirted in 2010, but practiced as a S. Bailey moved to LB for 2011 and 2012. This year he went back to S and played really well. He had 5 INTs and broke up 6 passes. Bailey had 6.5 TFLs. He tied for the team lead in solo tackles. I think Bailey has a lot of potential.

* * *

One small school guy that has really grown on me is Isaiah Newsome of Louisiana-Monroe. They list him at 5-11, 200. He can hit, cover and tackle.

* * *

One player I’ve been asked a lot about is Allen Darby, the Arizona State star. Darby played well in the Shrine Game, but didn’t impress me all that much when I checked out his game tape.

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There are plenty of other Safeties to talk about. I need to watch more tape and do more research on them before writing about the players.

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Early Senior Bowl Review

I haven’t had a chance to study the tape yet, but here are some initial thoughts on the Senior Bowl.

* Dee Ford was the MVP and he deserved it. Ford was explosive off the ball and disruptive all afternoon. He was clearly the best player in the game. That doesn’t mean he’ll be picked the highest, but he really stood out. Ford also batted down a pass. That play showed discipline and awareness. There are some plays where he’s a bit out of control and will get burned by fakes, but you can work on that.

* Telvin Smith has probably frustrated a few teams with his refusal to even discuss a move to Safety, but he certainly has impressed them with his play. Smith flew around the field on Saturday. He was active and aggressive. That is exactly what you want to see from a 218-pound LB.

* None of the North QBs were good. Logan Thomas, Stephen Morris and Tajh Boyd had a rough week. Boyd was the most disappointing since I actually had high hopes for him. Thomas was 4 for 5…but only for 9 yards. The man lives on short throws. And he was sacked 5 times. Some of that was blocking, but some on him.

* David Fales helped himself by going 6-7-104. He had a TD and INT. Fales didn’t have a great week so it was good to see him bounce back with a good showing in the game. His best pass early on was a throw down the middle to a TE. The ball was up high, but Fales gave his guy a chance to make a play. Later Fales hit WR Jordan Matthews for a good gain with a really good throw. His TD pass came when on the move. The WR was wide open, but it was still impressive to see Fales find the guy and get him the ball.

* The TE that Fales hit was Crockett Gilmore, who had a fantastic game. He was 5-61-1. Gilmore was a late add to the game who came in and made things happen right away. He has good hands and shows a knack for getting open. I’m looking forward to watching some tape on him.

* I wasn’t impressed with Safety Ahmad Dixon. He had a couple of quick screens thrown his way. He didn’t handle either one of them well. It would have been good to see him look better when playing in space.

* Marcus Smith did impress me. The stat sheet shows one tackle, but I thought he did a solid job as both a run defender and a pass rusher. He was aggressive and physical with blockers. Smith showed some cover skills as well. There was one play when he turned and ran with the TE down the seam. That’s impressive for a guy who is 6-4, 258. You know 3-4 teams are interested in Smith as an OLB.

* ILB Chris Borland had a good game. He only had 1 solo tackle, but was credited with 7 assists. He forced a fumble. Borland also had a TFL. He was active and flew around the field.

* A couple of big CBs flashed. Stanley Jean-Baptiste broke up a pass and almost picked it off. He read the play in front of him and got a good break on the ball. Just couldn’t pick it off. I thought he showed good instincts this year. Dontae Johnson also had a PBU. He also got in on a TFL. Both guys will appeal to teams who want tall, long press corners.

* How cool was it to see DT Caraun Reid play so well? The Princeton star came down to Mobile and showed he was for real. He had a pair of sacks in the game, which capped off a strong week. Reid is quick, athletic and strong. Typical Ivy Leaguer that has to rely on brawn instead of brains. 4-3 teams will love him. Some 3-4 teams could see him as a NT. Might fit better with one that runs the 1-gap system.

* Kyle Van Noy showed off his versatility in one sequence. He made a tackle out in coverage on one play and then on the next snap got a sack. Van Noy might not be great in any one area, but the guy is a complete LB.

* S Craig Loston had a pick when a deflected pass came his way and was there for the taking. Nothing fancy, but you do like to see guys show good hands and make those catches. How often do we watch a game and yell at the TV “How did he drop that?”

* S Jimmie Ward looked good. He played some in the slot and showed the good man cover skills we expected. He also had an impressive tackle when he totally upended a bigger player. Ward lacks ideal size, but he’s tough and he will tackle.

* OT Sentreal Henderson struggled all game. He was regularly beaten in pass pro. He also was sloppy in the run game. Not a good day for the big guy.

* CB Chris Davis had an impressive INT. He jumped a route and showed good hands in snatching the ball away. Davis didn’t have one pick this year, despite several PBUs. He isn’t a shutdown corner type so his ball skills must improve if he’s going to make it in the NFL. Davis showed good potential on Sunday. We need to see more of that.

* Michael Sam had a rough week since he played mostly LB and just doesn’t fit there. He got to rush the passer on Saturday and came up with a sack. He’s a limited pro prospect, but has some pass rush ability.

* RB James White used a good stiff-arm and quick burst to get into the end zone on a short TD run. He led both teams with 11 carries for 62 yards.

Senior Bowl box score

Some highlights can be found here

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Senior Bowl – Day 3

SOUTH

QB Jimmy Garoppolo is a player I like. Not everyone is sold on him, though. One of the questions with Garoppolo is his ability to throw the deep ball. He doesn’t have a great arm. He doesn’t have great downfield accuracy. I stood down on the field to watch him throw some today and loved his smooth motion, quick release and tight spirals. The short and intermediate stuff is very impressive. His deep balls do need work. \

I do think that is an area he can work on in the NFL and I don’t think it will make teams rule him out. Garoppolo didn’t wow scouts and coaches this week, but he had a solid showing and helped himself.

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I haven’t said too much about Mike Davis the WR from Texas. He had a good week. Runs well and has pretty good hands. He’s 6-0, 193, which is solid size for a WR with speed. I’m not sure I see him as a starter in the NFL, but the potential is there.

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Georgia Southern has a pair of prospects in the game. CB Lavelle Westbrooks played well the last couple of days and showed good man cover skills. He’s 5-11, 195 with 31 7/8 arms. Teams that want bigger corners should have interest in him.

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RB Jerick McKinnon played well the whole week. He needs work as a pass blocker and receiver, but the guy can run and is a tough, physical player. He should help on Sts right away.

* * *

I hoped to get a good feel for Walt Aikens, another small school CB. He was burned for a long TD on Wednesday. Aikens looked good at times, but I didn’t get to focus on him enough to have a strong opinion. He does have good game tape and that is what he’ll be primarily judged on.

* * *

Dee Ford looked great on Tuesday, but seemed to be a bit more quiet today. There were a couple of plays where he flashed great speed. He jumped offside in one team drill, which got the RT nervous. Stopping Ford is hard, but even worse when he’s jumping early.

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Arkansas DE Chris Smith made some plays the last couple of days. He only measured in at 6-1, 266 and that’s shorter than was expected. But Smith has 34-inch arms and that will help him with the lack of height.

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Morgan Moses sure looks the part of a stud OT. He is 6-6, 325. I have concerns with his pass blocking, but others like him as a prospect. Speed rushers can get the best of him, but he will win if he gets his hands on the rusher. Moses has very long arms and is able to get to some rushers before they can get around him. Could be a good RT.

* * *

Caraun Reid never jumped out at me as great, but sure had some good moments. He was able to control OL when they single-blocked him. I didn’t get a good feel for his ability to deal with double teams. Reid showed quickness off the ball, but he wasn’t getting regular penetration.

NORTH

S Deone Bucannon looks like he should be a great player. He is 6-1, 216 and chiseled. Who wouldn’t want a DB like that? The problem is that he’s a bit stiff in his hips and doesn’t have top speed. Bucannon has shown good hands when the ball gets near him. He does look good in some man-coverage situations. I’m not sure how effective he is when playing the deep zone or the deep middle. In the old days he could just be a box Safety, but teams don’t do a lot of that anymore. Bucannon made a couple of plays today. In listening to him after the practice, Bucannon knows he does have some cover skills that need to be improved.

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Michigan OL Michael Schofield had a good day. He played RG and RT. He’s 6-7, 303, which is an OT build. Some feel his future is at OG, since he doesn’t have great feet. Schofield did well in the blocking drills at both G and T today. I will be interested to see if a team gives him a shot at RT.

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Aaron Donald had a great week. He just dominated the 1-on-1 drills. It wasn’t fair to the guys he went against. Donald exploded off the ball. He also stayed low and used his hands well. 4-3 teams that play a 1-gap system will be in love with this guy.

* * *

Kain Colter made a terrific downfield catch today. He’s still got a lot of learning to do as a WR and he knows that. Colter spoke after practice about how he has to get used to practicing as a receiver and perfecting skills like route-running. Colter has a great attitude. He said he’s willing to play QB, WR, DB or anything else they want. This is a young man who wants to have an NFL career. I think he can be a good slot receiver in time.

* * *

UConn DT Shamar Stephen had another solid showing. He’s big, but also a quick, disruptive player.

* * *

Brandon Thomas got the better of Trent Murphy in a drill. Murphy is an effort guy, but Thomas isn’t a slouch himself. I wonder how many teams are going to consider giving Thomas a shot at LT now.

* * *

The North QBs never looked all that good this week. Logan Thomas did nothing for me, unless you consider setting the world record for checkdown passes.

Tajh Boyd did have some good moments today. He threw a good deep ball for a TD. That pass was accurate and had good touch. There was another play when he didn’t find anyone open early so he slid to his right and then dumped the ball to a skill player who turned and ran upfield for a big gain.

Boyd’s motion could still use some work. And he’s thrown a few horrible INTs. A talented, experienced QB like himself shouldn’t be making some of these mistakes.

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RB James White has looked good at times. He has a good burst. White ran for a short TD today. He bounced the run out wide and had enough speed to get in for the TD.

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Zach Martin is the only OL I saw block Aaron Donald today. Martin played both LG and LT. He and Arnold had a LG vs DT battle, which Martin won. Martin is 6-4, 305. Most teams prefer OTs to be huge, but Martin will appeal to some teas.

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Senior Bowl – Day 2

SOUTH

* Bad news. CB Aaron Colvin tore his ACL. He was having a good week and had a chance to be a Top 50 pick. You hate when a kid gets hurt at this time of the year. He’ll probably miss most or all of his rookie year. No idea what his draft value will be now.

* LB Kyle Van Noy continues to impress. Ideal SAM because he can play the run, cover and rush the passer. Showed good hands today when the ball came his way in drills. I wonder if 3-4 teams will prefer him as a SAM or ILB.

* DE Dee Ford looked great at times. He can absolutely fly off the edge. He’s smart, too. Beat Morgan Moses with speed rushes a couple of straight times in team drills and then beat him badly with an inside move right after that.

Ford does a good job of chasing the ball when it goes away from him. There was one pass play where he flew into the backfield and pressured the passer. He then flew across the field in pursuit and almost got in on the tackle. The offense did use this against him a bit later. They ran a bootleg and he chased the RB, allowing the QB to get wide.

* OL Billy Turner has some good moments. The young man from North Dakota State can really hold his own when it comes to strength and power. Speed rushers get the best of him. He was beaten several times by speed guys in the 1-on-1’s. I still like his potential.

* The South QBs are infinitely better than the North trio. And that might be putting it mildly. Jimmy Garoppolo just seems like the real deal. He throws the ball well and doesn’t seem out of place when dealing with elite competition. He made one beautiful throw into a very tight window today. Beyond that, he has the right presence. This is a young man I would trust with being my starting QB.

* We got to see LB Christian Jones vs TE Arthur Lynch in some blocking drills. Jones ate him up. Wasn’t pretty at all. He used speed, quickness and good moves to win. This is really impressive because Lynch stuffs almost every other guy he goes against. Lynch is usually a very good blocker.

* WR Jordan Matthews is an interesting kid. I love his size. He will make some really tough catches that impress you. But he doesn’t have naturally soft hands. Watch him in warm-ups and you’ll see he’s not the same at catching the ball as someone like Cody Hoffman of BYU. Hoffman can effortlessly pluck the ball. Matthews has drops each day and that problem shows up on tape as well. I think you can work on that with coaching, but he just doesn’t have great hands and there is only so much you can do about that.

As a point of reference, remember that TO didn’t have great hands. He always was among the league leaders in drops. But he also was a big, talented receiver who produced at an elite level. And Matthews will make some spectacular grabs. He had one impressive downfield catch today.

* CB Lavelle Westbrooks, 5-11, 195, did some good things today. He had one terrific play. Westbrooks read a double-move and didn’t bite. He stuck right with the WR down the field and made a leaping PBU. I need to do more studying on him.

* DE Brent Urban continued to impress. He came very close to getting a sack when playing RDE. Moves well for such a big man.

* DT Daniel McCullers wasn’t good yesterday, but got going today. He won some battles and looked much better. He finally played like a big guy. I still wish he was more of a jerk. You want big guys to be mean guys. He doesn’t show a nasty streak.

* Florida CB Jaylen Watkins had an impressive day. He looked very good in man coverage. He showed good speed and was able to run with receivers.

* Vandy OL Wesley Johnson has not impressed me, but he’s the kind of guy who isn’t made to shine in the drills. Limited athlete. Only 290 pounds. He’s not going to win with size, strength or athleticism. Don’t be surprised if Johnson looks much better in the game. He’s the kind of guy that will win on gameday more than in a 1-on-1 setting.

* DT Will Sutton does a good job of driving his blocker backward. He won’t always disengage, but he uses his hands and leverage to collapse the pocket.

NORTH

* Michael Sam is having a rough week. They’re playing him as a 4-3 LB, which isn’t his natural position. You could see how stiff his hips are in the drills today. He’s not meant to play in space. Sam is a pass rusher. Hopefully he’ll get some DE reps in the game on Saturday.

* DB Dez Southward showed really bad hands today. Instead of catching the ball, he was almost fighting it, which of course leads to drops. Southward played Safety at Wisconsin, but is getting a look at CB this week. He shows potential, but would need a lot of work at CB. And he can’t use the position switch as an excuse for the drops. He was a 3-year starter and only had 2 career INTs.

* Logan Thomas looks more and more like a TE to me. His passes lead to a lot of “Ugh” moans from the crowd.

* CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste is an interesting player. Great size at 6-2, 215. As you might guess, he’s not the most fluid athlete. But he seems to have real good instincts. There were a few plays today when receivers go separation because he couldn’t make the quick moves to stick with them, but Jean-Baptiste would get to the receiver because he knew where the guy was going. He didn’t break up the passes, but was right there to make the tackle.

* CB Nevin Lawson is a one-man holding machine. Utterly ridiculous. I assume the Seahawks will use their 1st rounder to draft him.

* I was not impressed by S Ahmad Dixon. He didn’t look good in coverage and then badly held guys on a few other plays.

* WR Shaq Evans is one of the reasons the DBs were getting desperate. Evans looked very good. He is 6-1, 210. Showed good speed, physicality and good route-running. He got open deep a few times. You can’t judge him on catches since the North QBs are so erratic.

* RB Charles Sims stood out to me in the pass blocking drill. Looked very good.

* WR Josh Huff made one impressive grab today.

* S Deone Bucannon had an impressive hit today. A player got upfield and was going down the sideline. Bucannon hit him up high. Wasn’t a full speed hit, but you could still hear the pop. Bucannon is a tough, physical player. His upper body is incredible. I do wonder about his range. I think he might be best used closer to the LOS. The problem with that is that few teams have a dedicated box Safety anymore.

* Marcus Smith is playing 4-3 LB this week, not his natural spot. I did think he might come alive in the pass rush drill. It was LBs vs TEs and RBs. Smith was quiet. Rushing vs those guys is very different from being a DE that goes against OTs, but I was disappointed.

* OT Jack Mewhort can be too upright at times. Rushers get under his pads and just walk him right back.

* DT Ra’Shede Hageman might be 6-6, 318 but don’t think of him as a big ol’ NT that is meant to stuff the run. Hageman can fly off the ball. Very quick. A guy with that build who moves like that…might remind you of a young Albert Haynesworth.

* If they gave out hustle awards, Trent Murphy would be carrying a lot of trophies. The guys flies all over the field. 100 mph all the time. The problem is that he’s a tweener. He is probably best suited to being a 4-3 DE. I just don’t know if he’s got the quickness for that role. I don’t think he is athletic enough to play 3-4 OLB. You could consider bulking him up for 3-4 DE. Murphy is 6-6, 261 right now. He would literally need to add 20 pounds.

Murphy is a fun guy to talk to. He had a terrific career at Stanford and I hope he’s able to carve out a role in the NFL, but I fear he might be a guy who was really good in college but just doesn’t translate well to the NFL.

* Tajh Boyd is the best QB on the North, but he’s highly erratic. I hope he has a strong practice on Wednesday or a good showing in the game. Things haven’t been pretty so far.

* OG Brandon Linder is an impressive blocker. He’s very calm. Some OL look almost panicked as they deal with the rusher. Linder is smooth and efficient. Good strength. Seems technically sound.

* DL Shamar Stephen has impressed me a few times. I need to study him a lot more. Looks quick, which is impressive for a guy that is 6-5, 308. Might be 3-4 DE material.

* OL Brandon Thomas played LT at Clemson. He doesn’t have great feet or size so many projected him to OG in the pros. Thomas has played some OT in Mobile. He is actually 6034, which means 6-3 1/2. And he’s got 34 inch arms. Thomas might move to OG, but he could play OT if needed. He did a solid job in pass pro today.

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Senior Bowl Notes – Day 1

NORTH

* Logan Thomas looked like Logan Thomas. You never want to get on a kid too much on the first day, but Thomas didn’t do anything to make me think I should hop on his bandwagon. He looks great. He’s got a strong arm. I just don’t see a smooth, efficient passer. Struggled in 7-on-7 drills. Lots of checkdowns. Even had one picked off. Appeared Thomas put too much mustard on a pass to a RB and it bounced off him and got picked.

* It is very possible that ILB Jordan Zumwalt will be my favorite player when I leave Mobile. He is a mean, nasty LB. A player started to the inside today after a short catch. Zumwalt came over and leveled the guy. There wasn’t supposed to be full contact and Zumwalt got a bit of heat for the hit. I’d rather have a LB that I had to tone down than one I had to pump up. Had a cut on his forehead tonight from some hit he gave/took today. Fun guy to watch.

* Robert Herron was very impressive. Who? The Senior WR from Wyoming ran crisp routes and showed good athletic ability as he got open. He also caught the ball well, including one impressive deep catch. Herron is only 5-9, 193, but he can play. He was 72-937-9 this year. He had 8 TDs and averaged more than 21 yards a catch in 2012.

* DT Aaron Donald was hard to slow down in the 1-on-1 drills. He gave OG Cyril Richardson fits. Donald fired off the ball and blew by Richardson several times. 4-3 teams that use a 1-gap system will love Donald. Disruptive force.

* Marcus Smith is playing OLB here in Mobile. He is a DE or 3-4 rush LB, but it is good to see him playing a new role. 3-4 teams will get to see how he is in space. I thought Smith looked okay today. He’s a pass-rusher first and foremost, but it is helpful to find out that he’s got enough athletic ability to drop back when asked to.

* Dontae Johnson is a press corner. He’s mostly going to play off this week so expect him to have some ups and downs. That’s exactly what happened today. You can see his ability to be physical, but when he plays off and has to rely on a combination of technique and athleticism, he’s going to struggle at times.

* Jimmie Ward is a Safety, but played some in the slot vs certain looks. He is comfortable in man coverage and playing the slot. That helps his value. Some teams like when their Safety can jump on a slot receiver. That gives the coaches flexibility. I was hoping to see Ward cover TEs, but didn’t notice that.

SOUTH

* Kyle Van Noy is an interesting player. I don’t like him as a 3-4 rush LB, but the guy is a good football player. He showed that today by breaking up several passes. Some came in individual drills, others in group drills. Van Noy had 58 career TFLs so we know he can make plays in the backfield. 26 of those are sacks, so we know he can get to the QB. Now people can see that Van Noy can make coverage plays as well.

Van Noy is 6-3, 245. He could be a terrific SAM. He could be a terrific ILB. He might be able to play OLB in a 3-4 if he wasn’t the primary rusher. The problem is that I don’t think he can add too much more to his frame. Most 3-4 teams prefer guys up in the 255-260 range these days.

* Let’s stick with LBs. Jeremiah Attaochu was a stud pass rusher at Georgia Tech. He has 31.5 career sacks, which is tops in the nation. Attaochu is playing 4-3 LB this week. That means he’s back off the ball and playing in space. This isn’t going to be his strength, but I think he has shown that he can be functional, which is all 3-4 teams needed to see. I would be shocked if any 4-3 teams want him as a SAM. Attaochu is still a very physical player. He blew up a FB today on a run play by attacking downhill. Attaochu packs some pop and isn’t afraid to hit.

* Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers is one massive human being. I just wish he played like it. He held his own in some battles today, but lost a few as well. The coaches were trying to praise him to get him going, but McCullers doesn’t play to his size. He should be a dominant player. His calf muscles are as big as some slot receivers. This guy should be controlling blockers, not the other way around.

* Adrian Hubbard is going to be a player that gives me fits. You watch one drill and he’s too upright and awkward. Then you see him covering a player 30 yards downfield and he’s able to do that because of his great length (6-6 and long arms). His strides eat up ground so quickly. Both 3-4 and 4-3 teams will have interest in him as a SAM. I think 4-3 teams could also see him as a DE.

Hubbard is 255 pounds. He has the frame to add weight is a team wants that. And Hubbard is a physical player. He can set the edge and will take on blockers. There is a lot to like, but you can’t ignore his awkwardness either. He’s too upright and doesn’t always show good agility. Receivers (TEs, RBs) were able to consistently create separation from him today. They used quick cuts. Hubbard was slow to react. He did use his length to recover on some plays.

* One offensive player who stood out to me today was Georgia TE Arthur Lynch. He showed the ability to get open on short and intermediate routes. He caught the ball well. He did a solid job as a blocker. Lynch isn’t going to be an athletic TE that will give you big plays, but if you want an old school 2-way TE, he could be a great fit.

* RB Jerick McKinnon had a highlight play when he ran over S Terrence Brooks. That drew oohs and ahs from the crowd. McKinnon was a QB at Georgia Southern, but will shift to RB in the NFL. He is 5-9, 209 and has a thick, powerful build. You see his potential as a runner, but he needs lots of work as a receiver.

* Speaking of Brooks, he did have a terrific downfield INT.

* Telvin Smith said on Monday night that he has no interest in moving to Safety. He is completely set on playing LB. But he’s only 218 pounds and has skinny legs. I’m not sure he’s going to be able to be a starting LB with that size. He really should have bulked up to 225 for the Senior Bowl. That would have helped convince teams he can play LB.

* Brent Urban played mostly DT at Virginia. They had him at DE in some 3-man DL sets. The NFL likes Urban as a DE. He is 6-7, 298 and looks like a DE. He’s got a medium build. He played both LDE and RDE today. Urban isn’t a great pass rusher, but he is a good run defender. I think he’s got potential as a pass rusher. He just needs coaching and more experience.

3-4 teams will love Urban as a LDE. He can easily get up to 310 and be an impact run defender, but with some pass rush potential. Urban drew praise today from the DL coach for how he set the edge.

* DE Dee Ford is fast, active and disruptive. I still don’t know what teams are going to think of his size (6-2, 243). Ford might be small, but he is physical and is more than just a speed rusher. He gave some blockers fits today.

* I loved watching OG Jon Halapio. He anchors really well. He’s not moving back an inch when he locks onto a defender. Halapio is 6-4, 320. Strong, physical player.

* RB Lorenzo Taliaferro had some good moments. He is 231 pounds, but showed the ability to get open and catch the ball well. Teams are going to love a big back who can catch the ball and has some agility.

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Senior Bowl Weigh-In Highlights

The weigh-in is over. Rather than just post the numbers, let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jeremiah Attaochu – 6032, 252 – That’s good size for him. He’s just over 6-3 and came in heavier than expected. Has 32 7/8 arms, which is good size. 4-3 teams will like him as a DE and 3-4 teams will love him as an OLB prospect

Justin Ellis – 6017, 342 – He is almost 10 pounds lighter than he was at the Shrine Game weigh-in. Still has a sloppy upper-body, but you can live with that since he’s a big guy and plays NT. He’s not meant to be sleek. Might be good to lose a few more pounds and get down to 335. That’s enough bulk for NT, but also would better allow Ellis to show off his athletic ability.

Dee Ford – 6021, 243 – Came in about the size he was listed at. Can bulk up some, but not too much. Won’t appeal to every team due to his size. Does have 10 inch hands, which can help when fighting off OL and trying to shed blocks.

Jimmy Garoppolo – 6022, 219 – He’s not huge, but looked solidly built.

Jon Halapio – 6034, 320 – Naturally thick build. Love to see OL built like that. Most have just added bulk to a good-sized frame. Halapio carries it very well. His hands are 10 1/4 and his wing span is more than 80 inches.

Adrian Hubbard – 6057, 255 – Not so sure about him. Looked like he had a small belly. Hubbard listed in the 240’s at Alabama. I wonder if he’s trying to bulk up so he can play 4-3 DE. Arms were 33 7/8, which is very good.

Ja’Wuan James – 6061, 315 – Had a small belly. You don’t mind that on big OL, but James isn’t all that huge. Good frame. Would have preferred him to be in better shape.

Christian Jones – 6033, 234 – Very cut. Looks the part of a LB. Can play ILB or MLB. 4-3 teams could like him at SAM or WLB. I wonder if any 3-4 teams will have interest in him adding 15 pounds and being a rush LB.

Arthur Lynch – 6044, 258 – This is no jacked up WR. Legit TE body. Thick legs. Strong dude. Could become an excellent blocker in the NFL. Has the build for it.

Daniel McCullers – 6067, 348 – Huge. Carries it pretty well. Hands are 10 5/8. Arms are 35 5/8. Wingspan is 85 1/2. Literally a monster. Hope he plays like that. Game tape is inconsistent. Some teams love big guys. McCullers is the biggest. Now that has to show up on the field.

Jay Prosch – 6006, 256 – Do you need a FB? Prosch is one thick, strong dude. Huge calf muscles. Looks the part.

Caraun Reid – 6021, 301 – A DT from Princeton? Yep. And he had one of the best bodies at the weigh-in. Has a naturally thick build. Isn’t going to get much bigger, but is impressive as is.

Jalen Saunders – 5086, 164 – A player small enough that DeSean Jackson could kick his butt. We knew Saunders would be small, but 164 is awfully light.

Telvin Smtih – 6027, 218 – Listed as a LB, but has the body of a DB. Skinny legs Thin build. Just doesn’t look like a LB. Gotta do a lot of tape study on him to see if he can play S.

Kyle Van Noy – 6032, 244 – I was worried he’d be closer to 6-2, 235. Has solid size. I don’t think he’s going to get much bigger. I really think Van Noy is best suited for 3-4 ILB or 4-3 SAM.

Brent Urban – 6066, 298 – One of the best bodies at the weigh-in. Looks the part of a 3-4 DE. Big frame, but sleek build. I’m sure OL coaches were looking at him and thinking he’d make a good OT prospect.

Chris Borland – 5113, 245 – Came in at the size he was listed at. Built like a brick wall. If ILB doesn’t pan out for him, could be a FB for some team. Short arms at only 28 7/8.

Tajh Boyd – 6006, 222 – I’m sure he wanted to be over 6-1. Looked to be in okay shape. Was heavier early in his career.

Michael Campanaro – 5093, 191 – Short, thick, muscular. Big upper body. Not your typical slot receiver. Very short arms at 28 5/8. That build will turn off some teams.

Kain Colter – 5106, 199 – QB and WR at Northwestern will be a full-time WR in the NFL. Has a solid build. Is 199, but carries it well. Has 10-inch hands and 30 3/4 arms.

Aaron Donald – 6007, 288 – Almost made it to 6-1. The most disruptive player in the country came in a bit bigger than expected. And he didn’t look like he put on too much weight. Can go 290 and still look good. Not sure he is meant to ever be a 300-pound DT, though.

Kadeem Edwards – 6041, 309 – Didn’t make a good first impression. Had a noticeable belly, which isn’t good for 309. Has a good frame, but needs to keep an athletic build. I don’t know if he’s tried to bulk up or just isn’t in great shape. Needs to get better.

Seantrel Henderson – 6067, 331 – Big dude, but in pretty good shape. Just naturally big. Hands are 10 3/8. Arms are 34 3/4.

Kareem Martin – 6057, 272 – Looks like a DL. I don’t see him playing 3-4 OLB. Has long arms at 34 3/4. Could bulk up to the 290 range and be a 3-4 DE.

Marcus Smith – 6034, 258 – Listed at 6-3, 252 so it was good to see him exceed those numbers. Looks the part of a 3-4 LB or 4-3 DE.

Logan Thomas – 6056, 250 – Huge. Looks more like a TE than a QB. Many people think he’s a project to develop at QB. I’m not in that group. I don’t believe in him as a QB. I think he’ll end up at TE eventually. Great body.

 

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Pro and College Notes

* The NFC title game features the best teams in the NFL going head-to-head. The Niners at the Seahawks. This is the matchup we all wanted to see. It should be a nasty, physical game. Old school football. It’s good to see some of that after watching so many shootouts this season.

I’m picking the Niners. I know winning at Seattle is brutally hard, but I think the Niners can do it. Their offense is playing better than Seattle’s right now. Russell Wilson has put up pedestrian numbers in the last 5 games. He’s still doing enough to win, but I don’t know if that will be good enough against a team like SF.

Wilson is getting some national criticism for the first time in his career. Some is warranted, some is silly. I heard a radio guy ask if Wilson has hit his ceiling. Huh? In Year Two? That’s ridiculous. That said, some of the hype that came with Wilson early on was over the top as well. He’s got a great defense. He’s got a great running game. Wilson plays with the lead a lot. That’s worlds different than a guy like Andrew Luck who has to carry his team on his back.

Sunday will be a big test for Wilson. Will he play well in the biggest game of his young career? That’s going to be tough against SF’s defense.

* I don’t have a good feeling at all for the AFC game. The Pats are so banged up. And they’ll be on the road. But how do you pick against Brady and Belichick in January? Do you trust Peyton to beat them in the AFC title game? Does Denver have enough defense?

I’m picking the Pats, but I don’t feel great confidence in that pick. The best way to slow Peyton down is to keep him on the sideline. That means the Pats need long, sustained drives. Blount is running the ball well. The OL is playing well. Brady can make the key throw here and there to keep the chains moving.

* We all have come to admire Stanford coach David Shaw in recent years. He’s done great work with that program since Jim Harbaugh left. Shaw is now in for some real challenges.

His defensive coordinator, Derek Mason, proved to be one of the best assistant coaches in the nation. Mason is now heading to Vanderbilt to take over that program. Great choice by Vandy. Replacing Mason won’t be easy for Shaw. He needs someone who can get that defense to continue to play their smart, rugged style.

Stanford also lost some underclassmen to the NFL. They lost some key Seniors as well. Shaw might have his toughest coaching challenge so far in 2014. It will be fun to see how he handles it and if he proves to be the great coach we think he is.

* I’m not sure what to think of Jim Caldwell taking over in Detroit. He is a smart offensive coach and will help Matt Stafford. My concern is whether Caldwell has the right personality for the Lions. That team is dysfunctional. If they buy in to Caldwell’s ideas, things will go smoothly. I just wonder if Caldwell’s message will get through. He’s not a fiery guy. He’s not a forceful guy. Will some of the knuckleheads up there listen to him?

* I also have concerns about Jay Gruden to the Skins. I think Gruden can be a good NFL coach. My concern is whether he’ll stand up to Dan Snyder. Mike Shanahan had a pair of Super Bowl wins on his resume. He could stand up to Snyder and say we’re doing this my way. Snyder has given Gruden his first coaching job. I don’t think Snyder will be a mindless sycophant, but I do wonder if dealing with Snyder is going to prove to be a major stumbling block for him. I wonder if Gruden called Jason Garrett to ask what it is like to work for Jerry Jones. Similar situation.

* It sure sounds like the Houston Texans want to trade the 1st overall pick. They’re trying to seel the idea that they want Jadeveon Clowney. If you had to guess, you wonder if they’d prefer to move back and draft Blake Bortles. You can bet he and Teddy Bridgewater will be on their radar. Bortles is more accurate downfield. I think Bill O’Brien would prefer that. As for Johnny Manziel, I don’t think O’Brien would like him. Manziel is too much of an improvisational QB.

* I was glad to see Auburn RB Tre Mason enter the draft. He is a tough, physical runner. He showed how good he could be this year. RBs who have his style can wear down easily so I would almost always advise them to come out. Mason isn’t the most gifted RB, but he runs hard and has excellent strength. He’s got some violence to his game. He might remind you of Marshawn Lynch or a bit of Marion Barber. Really fun player to watch.

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Johnny Football, Part 1

Johnny Manziel is headed to the NFL. We knew this was going to happen. For some reason he was hesitant to announce this for about a week, but it was inevitable

Johnny Football has proven he can be a great college player. He won the Heisman Trophy as a Freshman and you can argue that he should have won it this year. There wasn’t anything more to prove in college and his lifestyle didn’t mesh well with NCAA rules. It was time to go.

There is no question that Johnny is an amazing talent. He’s done things on the field that make our jaw hit the floor. He is one of the most dynamic college players I’ve ever seen. How will that translate to the NFL? This is a really tough question.

NFL QBs must be pocket passers first and foremost. Making plays and improvising are added abilities, not the foundation of your game. Manziel has the potential to be a pocket passer. Does he have the discipline?

In the NFL coaches want players to play how they practice. They don’t mind some creativity from time to time, but coaches prefer guys they can control. Coaches want to know how a player will play. They don’t want to hope that Good Johnny showed up today. You can’t gameplan around that. Plays must be executed the same way over and over. They must be practiced and perfected. That’s how you win games.

Coaches will want Manziel’s physical potential and his playmaking ability. The coaches will all be convinced that “I’m the guy who can control him”. If a coach can do that, Manziel can be a special player. He can be a QB you build your team around. If Manziel and the coach don’t see eye to eye, that’s when you’ve got trouble.

No one has questioned the fact that Manziel works hard and plays hard. But the NFL is a whole other level. You can’t be out partying and then get to work at 6am and be ready to go. The NFL is hard work from April to January. When you do get time off, the great players work on their own. They know how hard it is to be great.

A team that spends a Top 10 pick on Manziel will want to know that he understands all of this and is ready to focus on football. I just don’t know if that’s the case.

I’m not making a moral judgment on Manziel. I got drunk plenty of times in my early 20’s and did some very crazy stuff. However, I wasn’t paid millions of dollars to do a job and I wasn’t the face of a billion dollar organization.

If I were a coach/GM, I’d be scared to death of Manziel. If you take him, will he stay focused on football and do all the work that’s needed? If you pass on him, will he make you regret that by becoming an elite QB?

This is a guy you will study to death on an off the field. There is no question about his arm strength, accuracy, mobility, leadership and other-on-the-field skills. Can you get him to function within the offense? That’s your primary playing concern. Off the field, I’ve got a ton of questions.

I only take Manziel if I’m fully committed to him. Don’t take this guy and shove him into a conservative offense. You’ve got to be willing to spread the field and do the stuff he likes. You’ve got to have the right coaches to work with him (OC, QB coach). Don’t get old school hardliners. Get someone that is open and willing to deal with Manziel.

I also don’t know about drafting him and having him sit. Manziel with lots of money and being a backup sounds like a bad formula. I want him playing early on. Manziel is incredibly competitive and I think getting him on the field is the best way to control him off of it.

I’ve heard more than a few comparisons to Russell Wilson. That is utter nonsense. Wilson was incredibly mature in college. He came across more like a Senator than a draft prospect. He played in the WCO for 3 years at NC State and then spent a year in Wisconsin’s power run game. Wilson led the nation in passing efficiency as a Senior.

Manziel led the SEC in rushing n 2012. He threw the ball better this season and dialed back the running. But he still improvised a lot. And he benefited a great deal from throwing the ball to Mike Evans. I would guess the majority of his big plays came due to his running or throwing the ball to Evans and then having Evans make most of the play on his own.

Give Manziel the right weapons and put him in the right system and he can be a star QB in the NFL. Try to force Manziel to play in Norv Turner’s system and I think you’re asking for trouble.

I hope wherever he goes, Manziel pans out. Football is a lot more fun when he’s good.

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Draft Notes

* Logan Thomas is a polarizing player. Some people love his size and raw skills. There is no questioning that he’s got a strong arm or that he can be a very good runner. He makes his share of “wow” plays. Many people see him as a player to take in the 3rd or 4th round and coach up. They seem to look at him as EJ Manuel Jr.

I’ll pass. Thomas really got my attention as a Sophomore, but he’s failed to make any progress since then. He actually looks worse to me. I’ve heard a ton of excuses. He didn’t have good receivers to work with. He didn’t get great coaching. I don’t dispute that these factors did hurt him.

My problem is that I question if the guy will improve in the NFL. We’ve seen a ton of guys who had terrific physical skills get to the NFL and not pan out. You need more than a strong arm and good mobility. I don’t question Thomas brain or character. I just don’t see a guy who looks like an NFL QB to me. I would absolutely have interest in him as a TE or some other position. There’s no doubt that he does have an NFL body.

I hope he’s not over-drafted because that will put extra pressure on the young man and make it that much more difficult for him to succeed.

* Clemson had some good NFL talent on display in their bowl game. WR Sammy Watkins is an elite player. He’s one of the best college receivers I have ever seen. He is special because he is such a complete receiver. Watkins has the speed to go deep and make plays down the field. He is strong and physical enough to take short catches and get RAC yards. He’ll run through tacklers when he’s got to. He also can be elusive, as you saw with one dynamic move in the game. Watkins should absolutely be a Top 10 pick.

WR Martavis Bryant also looked good. He made one incredible TD catch on a fade pass. That showed body control, hands and great concentration. Bryant is 6-5, 200 and plays to that size.

DE Vic Beasley projects to OLB in the NFL. He’s just 6-2, 235. Some 3-4 teams won’t like a guy that small. He could have to be a SAM for a 4-3 team and then situational pass rusher, similar to Von Miller. Beasley was terrific in the bowl game. He got regular pressure throughout the game. He was a disruptive force.

Beasley is very quick off the ball. He is a natural pass rusher. He’ll mix in some inside moves, which is crucial for a speed rusher. Beasley also will use power at times. I’m curious to see how Beasley measures in at the Combine. 3-4 teams will be thrilled if he’s 6-3, 250 or anywhere close.

Size-wise, Beasley is similar to former Penn State star Aaron Maybin. But Beasley is a more complete rusher. Maybin flew off the edge and went wide/deep, play after play. That one trick worked in college, but not the NFL. Beasley is much better prepared.

* Need a good ILB? This is the year for you. The headliners are going to be Ryan Shazier from Ohio State and CJ Moseley from Alabama. There are plenty of other players to choose from. You just need to decide if you want a run stuffer, an athlete or an instinctive, overachiever type. Really impressive group of prospects.

* One player that has always jumped out to me is Oregon DB Avery Patterson. He’s 5-10, 189. Has experience at both CB and Safety. Patterson is very productive. He was third on Oregon in tackles (80). He also had 6 TFLs, 3 INTs and 6 PBUs. Patterson shows up on tape. He is a solid tackler. Very active in pursuit. Goes hard after the ball.

Patterson lacks ideal size or athletic ability, but NFL teams could have interest. He might fit in as a Tampa 2 CB. He could be a backup S for teams that aren’t focused on size. Patterson sure looks like a guy who would go all out on STs. Mid to late round type, but a fun player to watch.

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Underclassmen WRs Leaving in Droves

Big names like Sammy Watkins, Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson have also declared. After the National Title game, we might hear from FSU’s Kelvin Benjamin.

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