Saturday, June 28, 2014

6.28.14 - NDT Scouting Film Study Week in Review

The final weekend in June; another milestone towards our long awaited return of the scouting season with fresh film, exciting weekly match ups and new players to announce themselves on the scene with performances yet to be made.  We aren't quite there yet however, so we'll continue to re-hash games from last season, looking at seniors to be in an effort to be as efficient with the film sessions as possible.  This week features 2 prospects at positions of increasing importance as the NFL (and football in general) continues to trend towards faster pace and higher passing volumes: OT Brandon Scherff of Iowa and S Cody Prewitt of Ole Miss.  Without any further delay, let's dig into what was found:

- Ole Miss Safety Cody Prewitt vs. Vanderbilt (2013)

Back end play in the secondary is not just one of the more difficult positions to scout on account of the limitations in coverage responsibility and film available to see the entire field, it's also one of the most mentally challenging positions on the football field to play.  There is a lot of required foresight, anticipation, multiple reads being made at once...all this goes without saying the physical tools required to play the back end efficiently as well.  I largely came away impressed with what I saw from Prewitt vs. Vanderbilt, who was recommended to me by my friend Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) of Bleacher Report/RealGM/DraftLions:


Prewitt on this shallow post to Jordan Matthews is responsible for a deep 3rd of the field.  But because of the offensive alignment (Matthews is alone on the left side of the LOS) Prewitt has a bit of flexibility.  This again goes back to "situation awareness" of the position.  When Matthews breaks off his stem to the inside, there is no threat for another offensive player to break vertical in Prewitt's zone, so he's free to drive downhill to make a play on the football.  Prewitt is in outstanding position here, but Matthews displays great ball skills to snatch a ball that goes over the average receiver's head.  Prewitt isn't expecting that and actually leaves his feet to make a play on the ball, leaving Matthews free to run for an extra 10 yards after the catch.  While the result of this play itself is a big gain for Vanderbilt, Prewitt shows good understanding of responsibility and liberties and puts himself in a great position to make a play on an overthrow.  If the receiver isn't Jordan Matthews or if the ball is thrown lower on target, Prewitt either has a chance for an interception or he's running through the receiver to break up the pass.  


One of the biggest keys to a Safety's success at the position is something as simple as the angles he takes.  Proper angles make life a lot easier in pursuit and in coverage...too many prospects will leak up field or laterally instead of being efficient and economic in their angles.  Prewitt isn't one of those prospects, at least not against Vanderbilt.  Jordan Matthews takes the pictured bubble above with 3 defenders closing on his position and just one blocker out in front of him.  It would be very easy for Prewitt to collapse this back side pursuit flat along the 45 yard line in anticipation of a cutback; but Prewitt immediately plays this towards the pylon some 45 yards down field.  Sure enough, Matthews slips to the outside of the one block he has and breaks down the right sideline for a huge gain.  Prewitt catches Matthews at the 5, but Matthews toes the sideline after contact and ends up scoring anyway.  This is another positive play result for Vanderbilt despite strong play from Prewitt; who shows great effort, pursuit and takes a strong angle from his spot as the back side safety.


One thing that Ole Miss did quite frequently against Vanderbilt on defense was disguising coverages.  This level of complexity is important to see, because surely prospects will be asked to do the same in the NFL.  Prewitt here is the top Safety in this Cover 2 alignment out of the huddle.  But as the QB starts calling his cadence, Prewitt begins to creep up to the LOS, collapsing down for man coverage against the TE in this 12 package on offense.  His fellow safety drifts between the hashes, gaining depth...this is in fact a Cover 1, not a Cover 2.  Prewitt's responsible for man coverage on the TE and has 5 yards if he'd like to disrupt the route:


Sure enough, 5 yards off and Prewitt is initiating contact (very physical contact at that) against his man, disrupting the break.  Prewitt is attacking across the face from the inside out, he doesn't sit and catch this route or feebly attempt to punch with a hand.  Prewitt walks down into the box and times his collision at 5 yards to get physical.  This is a very strong play in man coverage.  But Prewitt's strongest play in coverage came a bit later in the football game: 


Again, Ole Miss is throwing in movement before the snap, rolling Prewitt down into the box.  The Rebels appear to be rolling out of Cover 2 alignment and into Cover 3 this time, the boundary corners are off the ball at 9 yards, backpedaling off the snap while the 2nd Safety slides into the middle 3rd of the field between the hashes.  Prewitt rolling down into the box gives him flat or hook/curl responsibility...but again Prewitt has good awareness that he's to the single side of a 1x3 alignment.  He's going to have help over the top and he's not going to have a second receiver to pull him away from the route, so he can gamble on anything underneath.  Matthews runs a slant pattern, which shouldn't have been hard to guess when you consider this: He's the single receiver and he's lined up outside the numbers: there's a TON of space to the inside and not a lot of room to work to the boundary.  Odds are his pattern was going to be an in breaking route.  Prewitt recognizes this and is quick to break on the pass as the QB hits his back foot, driving into the throwing window and breaking up this pass.  If the ball had been thrown accurately, it would have been a touchdown going the other way.  

Ole Miss lost this game against Vanderbilt on a heart breaking busted blitz with a minute left to surrender the lead.  Prewitt executed his man coverage appropriately against the slot corner, not even realizing the boundary corner had left his man and there was a free running streak behind him on the sideline.  This play is not Prewitt's fault, but I did want to highlight the defense putting him in such an awful situation:


Prewitt plays his responsibility and drives on the slant pattern (GIF), but Vanderbilt walks into the end zone to win the game.  A very bitter ending to what had been a very strong defensive performance.  I feel bad ending such a strong game performance on a busted coverage, so here's one last play for your consideration: Prewitt blowing up Jordan Matthews in the slot.  A very entertaining prospect who showed a lot of promise against the Vandals in coverage, on special teams and tackling the ball carrier.

- Iowa Offensive Tackle Brandon Scherff vs. Michigan State (2013)

Iowa's Brandon Scherff is one of the more well known offensive line prospects coming into the 2014 season, in the discussion with Cameron Erving, Andrus Peat and Cedric Ogbuehi as one of the top offensive tackles in the class.  But against one of the best defenses in the country in 2013 (Michigan State) Scherff posed just as many questions about his game as he did answers in my eyes.  


This pass protection is a mixed bag: Scherff plays it properly when his defender tries to duck his shoulder underneath by simply burying him into the ground.  But before Scherff bodies his defender into the ground, he was walked back a good 2-3 yards on a bull rush.  We'll get into the finer points of why Scherff's base is a problem which needs some refinement if his total body of work is consistent with what he showed in this game a little later, but at this point take this as a play in which Scherff showed good instincts to not allow his defender to slide underneath of him to his the Quarterback.  More on Scherff's pass protection base:


As an Offensive Tackle, the proper fundamentals of a kick slide feature posting off the inside leg, reaching back to gain depth and maintain leverage on the perimeter with the outside leg.  As you can see above, Scherff showed a habit of posting up on the outside leg against the Spartans; the detrimental effects are numerous.  This makes Scherff vulnerable to bull rushes: he is trying to play inside out but his base is playing outside in.  It prevents Scherff from getting depth in his pass set, which will force him to lunge and leave his feet behind when engaging defenders trying to run the outside track.  And it limits his ability to slide and mirror when confronted with counter moves again because of the balance associated with playing inside out with the incorrect foot holding weight.  This issue will pop up again, but in the meantime let's take a look at what Scherff does well:


Moving forward off the line of scrimmage agrees with Scherff much more.  Here's he takes a lateral step to clear himself of the defensive tackle shaded on his inside shoulder before coming out onto the second level to absolutely swallow up a linebacker.  Scherff has a ton of power in the run game and roots this LB a good 3 yards off the ball on contact before losing his footing.  There's a little bit more waist bend than I'd like to see (likely a contributing factor on why he didn't keep his feet) but the movement off the snap and the ability to root out a defender is still a very strong plus on the play.


Now into the 2nd Quarter, Scherff's kick slide is rearing up again.  You can see how Scherff has left his feet behind as he reaches out to engage this edge rush.  Any time a lineman is not engaged with a defender and you can clearly read his numbers on the edge, something is off.  Because Scherff hasn't gotten appropriate depth in his kick slide, he's forced to turn his shoulders perpendicular to the line and try to run this rush past the QB, but the defender has a large area to work with in attacking because Scherff has hasn't taken enough depth in his pass set.  


A few plays later, this is a MUCH stronger effort in pass protection.  Scherff's shoulders are again turned out but this time he's already engaged, he has a strong base and he isn't leaning out or lunging over his toes to punch.  It's clearly visible just how better his balance is here.  This play I made note of because it was the first pass set of the game that was proper in fundamentals, execution and results.  Scherff easily handles this rush, swallowing up his defender with great power and control.


Scherff here in the red zone actually does a very nice job releasing off the line and slipping out into space to get in front of this screen pattern.  But Scherff costs the Hawkeyes a touchdown here, throwing himself at Darqueze Dennard's feet and coming down the line of scrimmage too flat.  Dennard "ole's" him and makes the tackle, but there was no one else there.  The release into space was very well done; the effort once in space left something to be desired.  A bit more control, keeping the head up and using length to just get in the way and this play goes for 16 yards and 6 points.


This play is a perfect embodiment of Scherff's strengths.  He's run his defender all the way to the sideline and is finishing his block a good 15 yards off the point of engagement.  Scherff is a nasty lineman who has the kind of strength with his hands to stun anyone upon contact when he's got a good base and the kind of functional power to run defenders through the whistle.  


On the flip side, this play is a perfect embodiment of what I'll be looking for improvement on in 2014.  Scherff again is posting up on the outside leg.  If not for the brute power Scherff possesses, this defensive rush would turn him into a turnstile, swinging him on that outside leg and leaving the defender on an unimpeded rush to the Quarterback.  The end result of this play results in no pressure on the Quarterback...but if the plays highlighted this week had one theme it would be the result of the play as a positive or negative doesn't tell the whole story.  There is a lot of work and improvement to be made in the pass protection area of Scherff's game, I'll be eager to watch him in 2014 to see if it's been made.  

Did you enjoy this article?  Do you have any questions?  Reach Kyle Crabbs, founder of NDT Scouting, on Twitter via @NDTScouting and let him know.  Also for your consideration, swing by NDT Scouting's homepage at www.NDTScouting.com and take a look around.


Friday, June 20, 2014

6.20.14 - NDT Scouting Film Study Week in Review

For those regular followers of the Film Study Week in Review; today's session may come as a bit of a surprise, as our standard 3 prospects have been reduced to two.  However; thanks to the wonderful GIF tool recently made available from our friends at Draft Breakdown, I've been able to add an extra level of visual demonstration to these film studies to really flesh out what I'm explaining and allow you to see the action happening in motion for yourselves.  (These GIF images will be available throughout the Film Study in hyperlink form, so be sure to click away...it will open a separate window for you!) Today, we'll be looking at 2 of the bigger names of the 2015 Draft Class coming off very strong 2014 campaigns, Miami Hurricanes LB Denzel Perryman and Baylor Bears QB Bryce Petty.  

- Miami Hurricanes LB Denzel Perryman

Perryman isn't your prototypical specimen, listed at 6'0.  But the execution you see in team defense from Denzel doesn't just make him a dangerous player on the defensive side of the football, it also enables his teammates to be more dangerous.  Take this blitz for example.

What do you see?  Perryman blocked by a back and taken out of the play?  If that's what you took away from this 3rd and 7 pass, you'll need to go back and take a closer look.  This packaged blitz features a defensive slant, the LB and the slot corner both blitzing in gaps.  The right DE slants down to take the B gap (between the G and the T) while Perryman comes clean off the edge with his nickel corner a few steps behind him.  And when it comes time for Perryman to engage the back, stepping out to protect the left side, he visually makes the decision to press to the inside, despite the fact that the path of least resistance is to continue off the edge.  Perryman goes as far as to cross his face into the inside gap and physically pull this blocker inside.  Why? 


Because in doing so he's decreasing the angle needed from his teammate to impact this play and get onto the Quarterback.  It's not a play that is going to show up in the stat sheet, but this was one of my favorite plays from this game from Perryman because it shows unselfishness and a willingness to execute a defensive play call down to the smallest of details.

Perryman's impact goes well beyond blitzing, he's physically a very strong presence between the tackles.  This 1st and 10 run in the 2nd Quarter looked to have potential to rip off a big play, but Perryman's physicality shuts it down:


Not only does Perryman beat this block, he physically tosses the cracking WR to the side with strong body posture (wide base, strong back, and a powerful punch) and cleans up RB Kevin Parks for a short gain by making a tackle.  On a chalkboard, this play works for the offense, but not once you factor in Perryman's execution.

And Perryman's impact in the run game goes beyond reads and fundamentals, he's got instincts that make him very difficult to get an advantage over.  Linebackers are taught primarily to read the offensive lineman in their "gap" as a 1st run/pass read.  On this play below, note where the offensive line is going:


A zone run to the near sideline, with the entire line stepping to the right.  9 times out of 10 a LB is going to see that and he's going to flow to the near sideline, expecting the back to show through a crease trying to read a gap headed towards the sideline.  Perryman's teammate has flowed this way, so much so that he's directly in front of Perryman.  But that's not where the play going and you can already see Denzel's left foot has planted into the ground, his eyes seeing the large cut back crease.  Perryman drives against the flow of the offensive line, scraping over the top and stopping this play for a gain of 2.  That level of instinctual flow and reading something outside of his keys is impressive to see.


In this 2nd and 5, Perryman is initially jolted off the football before recovering into a very strong "stack" position, where he has maintained a strong back, good knee bend with a wide base and has his hands up into the chest of his blocker.  Perryman proceeds to press his arms and cleanly disengage from the block to help create a pile and stop forward progress on the back.  When watching Perryman work between the tackles, it's evident that he's a very powerful player against the run.

Speaking of power, I'll just leave this here:


The pad level here is absolutely phenomenal, but even more so when you see the tackle from the rear endzone:


You can clearly see that Perryman's head is up.  The first fundamental of tackling is to keep your head up, as to see the ball carrier.  I mentioned the 4 fundamentals of tackling on Wednesday when watching Perryman live, but I'll list them here as well:

1. Head up
2. "Bite the ball" (Facemask on the football)
3. Wrap up
4. Run the feet

Go back and watch that play again and check them off as you see them.  That's as close to a perfect tackle as I saw in college football last season.  But that isn't to say Perryman isn't without flaws.  He makes occasional lapses in pursuit, such as in the two plays to follow:


Perryman gets a bit overzealous here...he has good straight line speed but he gives up too much lateral width in collapsing into the backfield.  If Perryman plays this directly up the Miami 49 yard line, he cuts off the QB at the sideline or forces a cutback, instead, Perryman collapses 2 yards into the backfield and runs himself out of the play.  


And on this swing pass, Perryman takes the lazy way out and tries to run underneath a block on the 2nd level.  The frustrating part?  He's already done the hard work and disengaged the Tight End.  You can see in this screen cap the TE's left hand is down, off the body of Perryman.  With a lead blocker out in front of the back, Denzel's best option is to force a cutback to pursuit and eat up as many blockers as possible...but he tries to undercut both the TE and the lead blocker to make a play.  You simply CAN'T concede the sideline with a lead blocker...and if you do, you damn well better make the play.  Perryman does neither and Parks romps for a touchdown.

Overall, Perryman is a very physically imposing presence coming off his 2014 campaign.  He's a better athlete than he looks to be, but he has very little trust in his abilities moving laterally or in pass coverage.  He's a bit one dimensional as is, but if he can refine the supplementary parts of his game, he has the potential to be a 3 down stud on the inside of either a 3-4 or a 4-3, his athleticism and explosion gives him some scheme diversity despite his lack of length.

- Baylor Bears QB Bryce Petty 

Coming off his first season as a starter at Baylor, I feel very comfortable in saying that Bryce Petty has the most arm talent of any senior QB coming into the 2014 college football season.  What is arm talent, other than something I seemingly reference any time I discuss a Quarterback?  It's a combination of 3 things: arm strength, arm velocity and ball placement.  

1. Arm strength: Can a Quarterback attack a defense at any level?  Can he effectively push the ball down the field and not compromise the other aspects of his mechanics and his placement in doing so?

2. Arm velocity: Can a Quarterback squeeze passes into small throwing windows and push a ball past a breaking defender?  How quickly can he deliver a pass when he needs one in a hurry?

3. Ball placement: Can the Quarterback consistently put the football on his target's hands?  And not just that, can he effectively place a pass to create opportunities for run after the catch?  

We will get into the specifics of Petty's arm talent soon, but I want to cover a few of my target areas for improvement first:


This check down into the flat fell incomplete, in part because Petty fades away.  To this point I have yet to figure out WHY Petty fades off his back foot here; he needs to be driving off his post (front) foot and stepping towards his target.  You can see Petty's front foot just barely has toes on the ground inside the black circle above and his momentum is carrying him back towards the end zone.  His front foot needs to be closer to the green circle pictured.  Why?  Because if you drive towards the target, it allows the follow through to be complete and a pass is less likely to sail out of your hand.  Petty fades here and this pass runs too far up field, falling incomplete.  It's an issue that I saw many times in watching 6 Baylor games in 2014 and it also popped up on a number of occasions in this film session as well.


The second big flaw in Petty's current film resume is his eyes.  On this play at the 10:00 mark in the 1st Quarter, Petty receives a snap against off man coverage.  His eyes immediately shift left, where he has 1 wide receiver against a squatting CB with safety help over the top.  Long story short, that's a tough window to squeeze a come back pattern without staring down your WR...but Petty tries to do it WHILE staring him down.  Even before Petty receives the ball, his eyes are left and you can see the CB is already driving on the throw in anticipation for the come back.  Sure enough, Petty takes a drop step with his right (back) foot and throws left...just barely missing an interception returned for a touchdown thanks to his WR coming back to the football.  This incomplete pass is a dangerous throw, but one that can be made if Petty learns to better manipulate his defenders and trust his pre-snap reads without staring down throws.

But the general narrative on Petty isn't quite 100% accurate; Bryce receives a fair amount of kickback that his sense of pressure isn't great.  While his manipulation of the pocket leaves something to be desired, Bryce actually sees a number of pressures and blitzes well in the Texas Tech game.


This play features pre-snap motion from the slot defender and the over top safety, the defense shifting out of a single high cover one (one safety over the top to protect deep) to a cover zero coverage (no safety overhead and man coverage across the board) with the nickel defender dropping into the box to blitz off the edge.  Petty diagnoses this play well and throws his WR open: The route replaces the area vacated by the blitz.  It's a simple concept and feels like common sense but the execution of "taking what the defense gives you" can't be overlooked.  For Petty to quickly see and process these things, as well as be on the same page to have the pattern pull up instead of continue across the middle of the field where the off ball S can close or a LB can impact the play is a very strong plus.

One of Petty's strongest aspects of his game as of last season was his ability to attack up the seams.  Baylor really liked running this pre-packaged play illustrated below, combining a zone read with a seam pattern with a wide split.


The pressure on this play on the defense is universal.  The front 7 has zero help against the 7 players in the box on offense, the Baylor offense splits so wide that if a crease is available, it could go for 60 yards on the ground.  And the secondary is manned up in Cover 0, man to man with no help anywhere.  As if that wasn't hard enough to defend, Petty's reads are simple, he reads from far sideline edge defender to same side nickel corner.  If the edge defender stays wide, Petty will likely give the ball to a 5 on 6 secenario in the box and hope the back can win a 1 on 1 for a big gain.  If the edge defender crashes, Petty will keep the ball and his eyes go to the slot corner.  If the WR is able to get behind or get an inside release, Petty is going to tear him open up the seam.  If the slot corner maintains integrity in the hip pocket of the WR, Petty will keep this ball himself and likely run for 10+ before he's forced to slide.


And suddenly we're back to Petty's arm talent.  This ball is perfectly placed in stride (allowing for run after the catch) while traveling 20 yards on a rope (velocity) just out of the outstretched arm of the slot corner.  End result of the play? A 40 yard touchdown strike.

Speaking of ball placement, check out THIS throw by Petty, 40 yards down the far sideline and between 2 defenders onto the hands of WR Antwan Goodley.  The corner coverage is pretty good, while the Safety is trailing off with a bit of a poor angle, but his presence gives no wiggle room towards the hash.


This next pass takes place behind the LOS, but it's actually a 15 yard throw or so.  It's also a nice contrast to the first check down we highlighted, as Petty has himself properly balanced and striding to his target here.  The end result?  Petty works his WR up the field and allows him a running start against a 12 yard cushion.  The speed of the play and the throw being up field puts pressure on the S to make the tackle soon after the catch...which he doesn't.


The final Petty throw I would like to highlight is this one, a 40 yard touchdown pass that despite a timing issue was a perfectly placed football.  The distance was long, the placement perfect.  The motion itself was effortless, it's evident that Petty has a big time arm and has no problem accurately pushing the ball down the field.  It's rare that I can sufficiently describe my thoughts in a single Tweet, but I think the timing issues with Petty at times can be diagnosed in part due to this outstanding issue with Baylor offense:



Bryce Petty will continue to be a difficult study into 2014 because the offense he is working in isn't a carbon copy of anything NFL teams are doing.  There is going to have to be analysis of translatable skills.  But if we're talking arm talent, I'll take my chances with Bryce Petty over any other senior signal caller.

Did you enjoy this article?  Do you have any questions?  Reach Kyle Crabbs, founder of NDT Scouting, on Twitter via @NDTScouting and let him know.  Also for your consideration, swing by NDT Scouting's homepage at www.NDTScouting.com and take a look around.

Friday, June 13, 2014

6.13.14 - NDT Scouting Film Study Week in Review

We're now firmly into June and with this weekend marking the end of season 4 of HBO's series Game of Thrones, Weekly Film Studies will now be the single highlight of my week.  This past week I've had the opportunity to take a look at two second level defenders and a RS Senior Running Back: UCF LB Terrance Plummer, Wash CB Marcus Peters and MSU RB Jeremy Langford.  If you would like to see someone specific on a future incarnation of the Film Study Week in Review, please feel free to comment below, reach me on Twitter at @NDTScouting or via NDT Scouting's headquarters at www.ndtscouting.com/about-ndt-scouting.html.  In the meantime, let's have a look at what I found this past week:

- Central Florida Linebacker Terrance Plummer

Plummer is a very physically stout presence on the second level for the Knights defense, having played significantly over the last two seasons and logging back to back 100 tackle years to be one of the major leaders in 2014 coming off the best season in UCF's history of the program.  The production speaks for itself, but how does Plummer go about reaching the end result?  Let's take a look.  


This first play illustrates one of Plummer's greatest strengths in that he has an awesome ability to filter through traffic and find the proper fit to make an impact on the ball carrier.  Plummer started this play closer to the far hash but still managed to scrape over the top of the interior line and still make progress on the line of scrimmage (LOS) on this stretch play to the near sideline.  You can see Plummer (highlighted in white) is clearly in a great position in the hole and has broken down to be prepared to try to wrap the ball carrier.  This kind of ability to accurately put himself in proper position speaks to his instincts and flow, which are directly related in linebacker play.  The quicker you see things, the sooner you will be able to move ahead of blocking schemes.


But Plummer isn't too consistent once he's fit into the hole and ready to make a play.  As you can see here, Plummer has shot the gap and totally beat the OL assigned to blocking him.  Plummer (again highlighted in white) has his eyes on Cardinals RB Michael Dyer.  Meeting Dyer on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage, Plummer should be able to at least stun Dyer and stall his progress...but Plummer has two things working against him.  The first is his feet, you can see just how narrow his base is.  With feet so close together, Plummer has to be aligned perfectly just to have any kind of physicality behind his pads.  His feet SHOULD be about as wide as the green line noted on the screen capture, this would allow for an even weight distribution and allow Plummer to adjust his own tackle attempt outside of a single linear lunge.  It's impossible to change directions with feet so narrow.  The second thing working against Plummer isn't a technical flaw, but rather a physiological limitation: Plummer is listed at 6010 (6 feet, 01 inches and 0 eighths) and it's apparent that it has left him with a limited reach and wingspan.  Plummer can't consistently wrap up on tackles with arms too sort to get a good grip.  But let's take a look at another way Plummer's physical stature limits him.


This play is particularly alarming because despite Plummer's good instincts, he has to be able to deal with the inevitable traffic he will deal with as an off the ball linebacker.  Here, Plummer has a fundamentally strong "Stack" technique working, he has a strong base, good leverage and he's got his arms totally locked out to create separation from his blocker.  Except his arm length can't keep his blocker away from him, even with full extension.  This will lead to a lot of plays ending similarly to this one; Plummer being ran 8 yards down field like a blocking dummy.  A "stack" technique creates separation between a defender's chest and the blocker, taking away the leverage of a blocker and disallowing him to dictate where he's guiding the defender.  Plummer appears to be at a natural disadvantage with his arm length and will need to learn how to disengage effectively from blockers to become a more effective linebacker.


That isn't to say that Plummer doesn't have worth as is coming into his final season.  The play above is actually a touchdown over top of Plummer, but it isn't on him.  UCF has 2 defenders in the middle of the endzone vs. WR Adams.  Plummer's responsibility on this play is the underneath, you can clearly see the RB leaking out of the backfield on a delay.  Linebackers in this area of the field (Goal to go situations) are taught in pass coverage to get to the end line and keep anyone with the football in front of you.  If Plummer is 2 yards deeper, he breaks this pass up...but if Plummer is 2 yards deeper Bridgewater wouldn't have put the ball there, he'd have dumped the ball off underneath and watched the RB with a full head of steam walk into the end zone before Plummer or anyone else can even get in front of him.  Plummer is in a fundamentally correct football position; execute your responsibility first and THEN find the football.  Plummer is a very reliable option to execute the calls and while he's a somewhat physically limited prospect he should continue to be a very productive linebacker for UCF this season.

- Washington Cornerback Marcus Peters

Just a few seasons after CB Desmond Trufant came through the Huskies program and made himself an early selection to the Atlanta Falcons, Washington has their next stud at the position in Marcus Peters.  Peters pops on film in various ways; a very strong omen that should the RS Junior make himself eligible for the draft after what one would assume would be a strong 2014 campaign, he'd be a very popular name throughout the draft process.  Just how does he make himself noticed?  Let's take a look:


Peters, highlighted in purple, is in picture perfect trail position against new New Orleans Saint and first round selection Brandin Cooks approximately 25 yards down the sideline.  Peters filters Cooks to the sideline and proceeds to "squeeze" as they run down the field, pinning Cooks further and further against the sideline, making the window in which to throw a football in increasingly smaller.  QB Sean Mannion obliges with a perfect throw, but Peters is able to stay stride with stride with Cooks and locates a football placed perfectly over top of his helmet, get his body around and reach up to get a hand on the football.  This pass falls incomplete, but only because Peters is perfect from start to finish.   Cooks gets both hands on the football but Peters' hands come through the football to ensure Cooks cannot squeeze on the ball to complete the catch.  


Don't mistake Peters for a finesse corner through, you can see on the play above that Peters is a willing support man in run defense.  Peters starts approximately 8-10 yards off the ball at the snap and after diagnosing run, he breaks down to the ball carrier and pops the back with VERY strong tackling form (a strong base, good bend to get his pad level down, a strong back, his head up and shooting the arms to wrap and finish.  This kind of versatility as a RS Sophomore last year is very impressive.


Of course that isn't to say that Peters isn't a prospect without his holes.  Pictured here, you can see Peters (at the top of the screen highlighted in purple) has very good knee bend but notably tall shoulders in his backpedal.  This is not a turn and run coverage, Peters is bailing off the snap and trying to maintain his cushion (space between him and the WR) for a long as possible before flipping open his hips and committing to turn and run.  With Peters' shoulders so tall, he has too much weight back on his heels...which in turn affects his foot speed and also his ability to fluidly change directions.  If he can bring his shoulders over top of his knees as compared to back over his hips, Peters' foot speed in his backpedal will increase.  How does this affect a play down the field?   Our next screen cap is a great illustration.


This isn't the same play as the first portion of this discussion, but it's a great illustration of the consequences.  You can see Cooks has forced Peters to commit to opening his hips up the field due to Peters' challenges in his backpedal.  In opening his hips, Cooks can now make his direct cut while Peters has to slow his up field momentum, then plant, then turn his body back inside.  If Peters had maintained his cushion off the snap, he could simply plant his back foot in the ground and break down hill towards the football.  Let's quickly see how Peters got himself into this trouble with a screen cap from the release off the line of scrimmage.


Peters' shoulders are nearly vertical to the line, forcing his weight back on his hips and you can visually see both of his feet are parallel, his feet can't keep up with where his momentum is taking him.  Cooks actually sets Peters up with a nice fake step off the line and it totally throws Peters off as he attempted to laterally jump in front of the anticipated route.  This was the one consistent negative from the Oregon State game for Peters, he has to clean up his weight distribution and footwork on the perimeter to be more effective in executing coverages and maintaining cushion before committing to turn and run.


But as one may guess after seeing Peters go step for step with Brandin Cooks down the sideline, speed itself isn't a problem with Peters.  On this crossing pattern, Cooks sits down over the middle with eyes on his QB ready for a quick pass, Peters never more than half a step behind.  Mannion is under pressure and actually throws this play too far to the middle of the field and Peters intercepts the pass...but that isn't what I'd like to highlight on this play: It's Peters' body positioning and his right arm.  Peters sits down along with Cooks, he doesn't run through him or get physical.  Left hand on the receiver to feel him if he flushes out, shaded over a shoulder and the right arm free to swing over the top and punch the football if it's an accurate pass.  This is natural man coverage instincts that Peters makes look elementary.  Peters has a natural feel for the position and it's evident in 9 out of 10 snaps.


This final play highlighted is Peters' second interception of the first half and it not only displays strong man coverage and ball skills but also an understanding of defensive concepts and an ability to execute.  Washington is in a Cover 1, only one SAF over the top of the defense to prevent vertical passes.  Because of the splits (alignment) of the WR on the play, Peters can't pin him directly on the sideline, so he concedes an inside release.  By conceding an inside release, he's filtering the WR to where he help is if the play goes vertical...the middle of the field.  Once conceding the inside release, Peters turns and runs until the WR breaks on his post pattern.  Peters now has help over the top on a vertical post pattern, so he plants hard and drives underneath the route, going from the trail position to undercutting the ball and with the football being ever so slightly behind, Peters goes up and makes the interception for his second of the day.  These kinds of plays showcase not just physical abilities but also the kind of mental sharpness in the heat of the moment to consider Peters a very special future prospect if he continues to progress.

- Michigan State Running Back Jeremy Langford 

Michigan State's stellar campaign was aided by the emergence of Langford, who came into 2013 with 23 career rushing yards before pinning up 1,422 rushing yards as the Spartans pounded opponents into submission on their way to a Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.  But how well did Langford play in Michigan State's upset of then title game bound Ohio State in the Big 10 Championship game?  Here's 3 screen caps that tell you what you need to know:


Langford is a north/south runner and against a physical Ohio State defense, it's usually a plus.  But on this early run, Langford missed what may have been a huge romp around the left side.  The CB highlighted in red is collapsing down into the LOS and leaving Langford with a thin crease off the Left Tackle...and an 80 by 15 yard area with no one standing in his way all the way down the left sideline.  Langford opts to tuck this run up inside and picks up about 4 yards by taking the dotted white lane.  I can't really blame Langford for sticking true to his style, but he did leave a massive run on the table here because he wasn't looking for it.


The best run Langford had early on in this game was helped by jet motion across the backfield.  Before the snap it produced the linebackers getting width to the motion side and after the snap held them for just a split second for the Michigan State offensive line to produce a massive hole on the right side for Langford to burst out into the 2nd level.  Langford is at his best when he doesn't need to think at this point...simply give him a hole, make sure one is open and let him produce any extra yardage he can find by forcing missed tackles out on the 2nd level.  


This final play for Langford in a tight ball game is another huge play left on the table.  The screen pass is a great call on this 1st and 10; a low risk, high percentage pass into space.  And there was plenty of space to be had, but Langford doesn't sell his fake.  Langford takes 3 delay steps before casually leaking off towards the numbers...with only DT #63 having any chance of stopping this play for about 20 yards or more.  Because Langford simply steps past an unblocked rusher, #63 slams on the breaks and follows Langford...forcing him to cut and allowing defensive pursuit to shed blocks and tackle him for a short gain.  If Langford is physical at all with that lineman, even just a split second punch, the natural instinct of that lineman is going to be to fight through the block.  A simple two hand punch to the shoulder would create more depth from the DT and Langford would likely still be running on this play.  

Langford is a player with good aggressiveness at the line, good vision on the second level and a solid build, but it's evident his carries were limited before this season.  Should he continue to develop and refine the finer points of the Running Back position, he could be a much more complete player in 2014 than he was in 2013.


Did you enjoy this article?  Do you have any questions?  Reach Kyle Crabbs, founder of NDT Scouting, on Twitter via @NDTScouting and let him know.  Also for your consideration, swing by NDT Scouting's homepage at www.NDTScouting.com and take a look around.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

6.5.14 NDT Scouting Film Study Week in Review

I hope everyone has enjoyed the aftermath of the 2014 NFL Draft.  But the beauty of the scouting world is that there really, truly is no "down" time; eyes have shifted towards the 2015 class and many have already begun formulating big boards and position rankings.  Personally, the remainder of May was utilized at NDT Scouting as administrative fine combing.  I have made some alterations to my methodology and will continue to do so in my pursuit of the most in depth evaluations possible.  But May has come and gone and June is here, the 2015 football seasons looming ominously on the horizon and inching closer every day.  With the start of June, we return to our Weekly Film Study series; an opportunity to explain some of the fundamentals and finer points of WHY 'Player X' is good at "skill Y".  Today we recap the players I've looked at over the past week:

- Kentucky Edge Defender Alvin 'Bud' Dupree
- Arizona State Quarterback Taylor Kelly
- Washington Linebacker Shaq Thompson

Kentucky Edge Defender Alvin 'Bud' Dupree

One of the more popular defenders of the 2015 class is Clemson's DE Vic Beasley, thanks in part to his explosive first step off the snap.  But while Beasley certainly has the natural skill set to be an efficient pass rusher, I personally would take my chances at this point with Bud Dupree instead.  Consider this:



Such a sizable difference in stature makes a great deal of difference when considering a player's ability to consistently see the field in different situations.  Dupree isn't prototypical size but he's got great size none the less.  And then there's the actual fundamentals he displays.  Let's start off with a pass rush that doesn't produce a sack but rather a very effective pressure:


Dupree closes the cushion between himself and his blocker just 2 yards into the backfield.  And while the offensive tackle initially is set up in very good position, Dupree shows something that when paired with his speed creates a very dangerous combination: a counter move.  Dupree leverages his inside hand on the wrist of his pass blocker's inside arm and presses, swatting both lineman's hands off of his chest and Dupree clears by quickly clearing with his outside hand.  This is not a swim move but rather an "arm over" hand technique.  This move doesn't win if Dupree doesn't have movement skills to suddenly change directions, but he does and hence Dupree is able to run directly underneath the OT and display relentless pursuit of the Quarterback before a teammate cleans up and finishes the play.

But it shouldn't be mistaken that Dupree is strictly a pass rushing specialist; on the contrary.  He frequently flashes good instincts and technique against the run. 


Sometimes it is as simple as an angle in pursuit.  Dupree's ability (as shown in this still) to get flat and collapse along the line of scrimmage is an important skill not just because he has the speed to impact running plays from the weak side as an unblocked defender but also because it means he's diagnosing the play during live game action.  On 2nd and 10, it would be easy to assume Vanderbilt is passing out of a single back set and get 2-3 yards of depth into the backfield.  But on his 2nd step Dupree is already flattening out and driving inside.  This kind of read can't be made in watching the running back, it's made watching the Left Tackle.  Reading keys is a vital part of team defense and plays like this suggest Dupree is active and effective in reading HIS keys.  (Defensive ends will normally key on the OT or the TE to his side of the set).  Recognizing the tackle is attempting to work across face is a tip that action is going away, while firing off the ball is a tip that the play is a run.  


This run on 2nd and 1 is a play in which Dupree has no impact on the end result, but it still displays execution of proper edge fundamentals.  Dupree is unblocked on the play initially and gets depth at 2 yards into the backfield before "sitting down" (or stopping his up field progress).  This is marked with his original starting point (blue square) to where he stops (blue circle). At this point he recognizes the offensive player pulling to try to kick him out and create an inside crease off the Right Tackle for the ball carrier to pick up the first down.  But Dupree maintains square shoulders and squeezes laterally inside (arrow) towards the Center, using functional strength to wall off his blocker and muddle what would otherwise be a gaping hole for the running back.  But the most important part of this play is the 2 white lines drawn up field from Dupree's inside shoulder and out towards the sideline.  Because he stayed square and kept his outside arm free, Dupree has not only muddled the hole but he's also maintained his outside leverage, which is paramount for edge defenders in the run game.  If this running back decides to bounce to the perimeter, Dupree has a massive sphere of influence in which the man blocking him simply doesn't have the leverage to prevent Dupree from making the play.

Overall, Dupree displays the kind of fundamentals and instincts that when paired with his level of explosion and size makes for a very exciting prospect.  Certainly a player to pay special attention to as Kentucky kicks off their 2015 season.

Arizona State Quarterback Taylor Kelly

It's obvious watching Taylor Kelly roll and move from outside the pocket that he's a QB with some intriguing tools as an overall athlete.  But as a passer, Kelly against Wisconsin in 2013 left something to be desired.  Here are two plays that encapsulate what I saw on a consistent play by play basis: 


This first play is a rarity, as Kelly actually shows really nice anticipation and timing on this slant pattern.  However, this was the first time he displayed anywhere near this level of timing in the game and it's a third of the way through the 2nd Quarter.  By and large, Kelly is either throwing on the move on roll outs or he's hitching at the top of his drop to "climb the ladder" (escalate in the pocket) and press the ball down the field.  But in doing so, Kelly is consistently forcing passes into coverage instead of simply taking what the defense was willing to concede.  This next play perfectly illustrates that.  


On 3rd and 8, Kelly hits the top of his 3 step drop out of the shotgun and immediately has a window to hit an inside slant pattern with lots of room to run.  However, Kelly is still latched onto his first read, a streak at the bottom of the picture.  If Kelly has eyes elsewhere (his WR doesn't win vs. the press coverage he was given and still has yet to get behind his defender.  It's time to move on.) he can hit the slant between the blitzing MLB and the slot corner who has yet to plant and drive on the underneath slant (this is a nice illustration of the importance of route combinations, this slot DB eventually does drive and get into the slant's hip pocket, but the slot WR pressing hard off the line of scrimmage before breaking into his out pattern forces the slot CB to get depth and back pedal off the line in case the route goes vertical, which opens up a temporary window for Kelly to go with the ball with big YAC potential). Instead, Kelly hitches off the top of his drop, climbs the pocket (into interior pressure no less) and lets fly a pass to his first read, who never gets a step on his defender for an incomplete pass and a punt.

Kelly excels in moving outside the pocket and making simplified reads, attacking with crossing patterns that fit inside the natural windows that come with a QB moving the pocket towards the sideline.  If Kelly is going to take the next step and become a legitimate pro prospect, he's going to need to refine his timing and anticipation as a passer.

Washington LB Shaq Thompson

Thompson's name has become a popular one in the past few weeks as a favorite of a number of draftniks, so I figured he was well worth an early spotlight.  It's easy to see what makes him such a likable prospect, but there is plenty of room for improvement and growth in Thompson's game.


Thompson here is diagnosing action in the backfield, but he doesn't need to be.  Stanford's LG (#54) has aggressively collapsed on the DT playing the 3 technique, already leaving a gaping hole in the B gap.  This tips off immediately where the football is going.  It goes back to what was previously mentioned in discussing Bud Dupree: reading keys is vital.  An outside linebacker will at times key the Fullback, or the Guard.  So Thompson's eyes either way are in the wrong place, he's watching the QB and the jet motion.  (It should be noted: if this ball is given to the jet motion, it's not Thompson's initial responsibility.  As an off ball LB in a 4-3 front, he isn't the edge defender and he shouldn't be relied on to cover the B gap AND the perimeter.  That responsibility is passed to the CB and the DE to the jet side.) If he's keying on the Guard, Thompson would already be attacking downhill to plug this hole and could meet the Fullback on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage.  Instead, Thompson waits and by the time he steps to fill the Fullback is engaging him 3 yards on the defense's side of the line of scrimmage.  More assertiveness and eye discipline will go a long way, because Thompson did show a good job on the 2nd level of disengaging against Stanford.


This 3rd and 1 run is a troublesome one as a talent evaluator.  Thompson lines up in the hole that Stanford actually runs, you can see Tyler Gaffney inside the purple starting square from the pre-snap alignment.  But Thompson shows the kind of resistance you'd typically see in a blocking dummy and gets washed a good 5-6 yards down inside before his blocker loses his feet.  Thompson needs to hunker down here and hold at the point of attack.  Plays like this one suggest that Thompson is not suited for an on the line role at any point, but rather should be kept in space where his athleticism and hand usage can keep him clean on the 2nd level.


But even off the ball, Thompson has some fine tuning to do.  Here, Stanford is running the stretch play on 2nd and 7 and actually picks up the first down on this play.  Why?  Thompson is too nosey inside.  As an outside linebacker on a perimeter run (as compared to the interior run in the previously discussed Thompson play), it has to be played outside in.  You can't overrun a play you're already outside of but Thompson allows himself to be out flanked by the Fullback Ryan Hewitt (again, read the proper key and he'll take you to the football) and he doesn't flow with enough width, instead coming down hill as if to shoot the gap.  Only there's no gap there, just a TE who proceeds to cut Thompson off just enough to give Tyler Gaffney a first down run around the edge.  


It was hardly all bad with Thompson, as is shown here on this zone coverage play just outside the red zone.  QB Kevin Hogan wants to hit the perimeter slant pattern and Stanford runs dual slants in hopes of influencing Thompson inside to create a window.  They're hoping he collapses towards the middle of the field, but Thompson's eyes are in the right place here: on the Quarterback.  He sees where Hogan is eyeing to go and holds firm, the perimeter slant running right into Thompson's area of influence.  And because Hogan is so locked onto the outside slant, he actually misses a window (albeit brief) to hit the inside slant and Hogan flushes from the pocket...but not before Thompson closes in space and tackles him for no gain.

Did you enjoy this article?  Do you have any questions?  Reach Kyle Crabbs, founder of NDT Scouting, on Twitter via @NFLDraftTracker and let him know.  Also for your consideration, swing by NDT Scouting's homepage at www.NDTScouting.com and take a look around.