Friday, August 29, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: South Carolina RB Mike Davis

Mike Davis, Running Back
South Carolina Gamecocks
Height: 5090 - Listed
Weight: 223 - Listed

Games watched: vs Georgia (2013), vs Mississippi State (2013), vs Texas A&M (2014)

Strengths: Davis is on the shorter side, he's a very compact player with a great build to sustain a regular dosage of carries and hits.  Davis' stature plays well carrying the ball in the backfield as he at times "hide" behind his blockers until there's a crease.  He's got powerful legs, which he uses to drive through arm tackles (and sometimes bodies) and pairs it with a good understanding of pad level to stay low and brace for contact.  He's not afraid to run over a defender in his way, like on this touchdown run vs. Georgia

Mike Davis gets the pitch on the 9 yard line before planting and driving downhill.  You can see the pad level drop as he is actually the aggressor on the play; he strikes with more power and punishes his 3 would be tacklers, running his feet straight through all 3 of them to pull the Gamecocks within 3.  This is an impressive play; those aren't FCS defenders Davis is bowling through.  

Davis' skill set expands well beyond just power running; a scary proposition when you consider how good he can be at grinding out yardage (He struggled to produce vs. Texas A&M last night in part due to health concerns and South Carolina trailing big most of the game, but it was clearly visible that Davis' carries had a different assertiveness to them and he consistent fell forward).  Davis' running talents are accentuated with outstanding vision.  He does a very nice job pressing the line of scrimmage and THEN finding a lane; helping to produce flow and over-pursuit.  

Again, make note of how Mike Davis closes in on the line before planting and cutting back against the flow of the LBs and EDGE defender for Mississippi State.  It takes good vision to be able to see that lane so close to traffic, but Davis consistently shows top notch vision and sets up blocks to gain chunks of yardage on the ground.  

This isn't a line of scrimmage lane but rather good open field vision to see his lineman crashing down against a flowing defender and instead of continuing this play to the boundary he cuts back inside the numbers to pick up an additional 10+ yards on the play.  These open field cuts are regular reminders of Davis' vision as one of his best traits.

Nice job by Mike here to stick his foot in the ground and bounce laterally to set up yet another block on #26 in the second level.  For a runner with so much power, Davis makes a killing with chunk yardage because of how well he sets up blocks and IDs running lanes and he compliments with surprising acceleration

Davis really shouldn't be able to get to the sideline here, he's got 2 defenders who have angles on him.  But once Davis bounces and gets into open field, you can see he's up to top speed (which isn't particularly fast) almost immediately.  He's quicker than Georgia's second level bargains for and he's off to the races.

It's obvious Mike Davis can run the ball and run it well.  But how does the rest of his skill set look?  Can he stay on the field all three downs?  In order for a back to be an every down player; he needs to be able to step up in pass protection.  

Running backs are held to a bit different standard when it comes to blocking; they shouldn't be asked to lock on and sustain blocks for extended periods.  Davis does a really nice job here stepping up and absorbing the blow of a blitzing Safety without conceding any ground.  That's a great effort.  

Apologies for no GIF on this play; but Davis' pass blocking was given another plus on this play; where he comes all the way across the set to pick up a blitzing Linebacker.  What impressed me the most about this play was how quick he was to ID the player he's responsible for and shift all the way from behind the RT to the far side B gap and again not concede ground on the play.  

And Davis' supplemental skills don't stop at blitz pickup.  He's also got a set of hands on him.

Davis bails out Connor Shaw on this 3rd and 8 screen pass to come back across his body to bring it in 1 handed and still be able to turn up field and challenge for a first down.  But don't make the mistake of thinking that was a one hit wonder in the receiving game

Mike Davis' skill set is deep in many different facets of the position.  I came away from his 2013 cuts convinced it was the best 2 game sample of any 2013 RB I watched, including last year's draft class.

Weaknesses: So if Davis is such a complete back, what can stop him?  By and large, only he can.  Davis' body has betrayed him thus far in 2014, he's struggled with rib and hamstring issues all throughout the summer and in last night's contest with Texas A&M Davis aggravated his ribs, ending his night early.  Davis lost the start last night due to "missing too many preseason practices" according to Coach Spurrier before last night's game and the Gamecocks offense looked a bit lost without him.  Davis needs to get healthy and stay healthy; as a RB with a laundry list of injuries would make some leery of giving him a lofty draft status should he declare at the end of the 2014 season.

My only on the field knock of Davis is his lack of long end speed.  Davis isn't going to win footraces with plenty of secondary players and he ran out of gas down the field on a number of runs in 2013's cut ups.  Davis doesn't make his living as a home run hitter however and while he isn't going to outrun you, he should still manufacture plenty of large runs with his vision, cuts, short area quickness and acceleration to beat initial angles.

Recap: South Carolina's Mike Davis is the kind of running back teams can use as a centerpiece.  Running, receiving, blocking; provided Davis is healthy there's very little reason to take him off the field.  He's going to provide tremendous value as an every down back.  My hope for 2014 is that Davis can get healthy and flash all of the same talents that he did in 2013 that helped him pop off the screen every time he touched the football (and sometimes without the ball).

Thursday, August 28, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Florida State OT Cameron Erving

Cameron Erving, Offensive Tackle
Florida State Seminoles
Height: 6060 - Listed
Weight: 308 - Listed

Games watched: vs. Clemson (2013) vs. Miami (2013), Florida (2013)

Strengths: Erving, a converted Defensive Tackle who switched over to the offensive side of the ball after his 2011 freshman season, clearly has the kind of athleticism to be an attractive prospect at the position.  Erving has a wide, thick build but moves very fluidly out in space and can get out onto the second level in a hurry.

Erving washes Miami LB Denzel Perryman way down on contact, you can tell Perryman never even saw the contact coming.  That ability to release and clean is a valuable asset in the running game and it's evident when the blocking scheme opens up and allows him to come onto the 2nd level that it's an area of Erving's game that comes naturally to him and suits his talents.  

Erving's movement skills go beyond coming straight out of his stance as well; he can close laterally with relative ease as well.  Here's a nice blitz pick up vs. Clemson that showcases both good awareness and lateral movement to slide out and cut off the blitz.   

Clemson's blitz doesn't show until late because it's coming out of the slot.  The defender takes a nice angle and times his blitz well, he'd be meeting Winston at the top of his short drop out of the gun if Erving doesn't get width and initiate contact.  Such a late shift in pass protect is a nice showcase of Erving's athleticism.  

From strictly a build standpoint, Erving appears to have a large wingspan, which helps him with his "sphere of influence" controlling defenders when he properly initiates contact in pass protection.  Here vs. Miami, you can see just how far out he can engage pass rushers.

His reach forces the DE to produce width before he's any more than 3 yards into the back field.  Nevermind how quickly the ball comes out, Erving has won the snap on first contact because he's got the range to stun defenders early in their pass rush thanks to his wingspan.  

Weaknesses: As you may expect from a converted Defensive Tackle with just 2 years of experience at the position (and the most important position on the line), Erving is raw in his fundamentals.  Extremely raw.  The first half of the Florida Gators game was an ugly one from a fundamental standpoint for Erving (who rarely faced the Gators' best rusher, Dante Fowler).  Offensive line play starts from the feet up and Erving's pass set was all kinds of wrong

Here vs. OLB Ronald Powell (#7), you can see how far Erving is drifting and stepping laterally in his kick slide.  Because he's not getting depth to steepen the angle Powell must press to gain the edge (and in due part because Erving has no pop on his punch), at the point of contact Powell is able to continue momentum up field and force Erving to cross over his feet in an effort to stay in front of the rush.  This pass pressure can be attributed to a poor angle out of his stance, too much width too close to the LOS and a soft punch.  It consistently showed up, including against the previously mentioned Dante Fowler (#6).

This play really showcases how Erving is jumping out laterally.  It forces him to square up on Fowler and turn his shoulders 180 degrees to the line of scrimmage just 2 yards into the backfield.  Once the Tackle squares up his defender, the Quarterback should be positioned directly behind the Tackle's back.  You can see here in this visual that it's clearly not the case, as Jameis Winston is set up approximately 30 degrees outside Erving's left shoulder.  It gives Fowler a wide area to press and still produce pressure and it's compounded by the fact that Erving's hands are DOWN, he triple clutches on a stun punch and Fowler is allowed to rush right past him.  This protection vs. Powell is a nice close up that allows a good visual on where his hands are at the point of contact and how he's forces to cross over his feet. 

Erving's hands are down, he's committed facing up too soon and he's crossing over feet to try to hold.  The ball is out quickly so it's not directly influencing the play; but it's something that showed up consistently and is the best illustration of the work Erving has to do from a pass blocking fundamental standpoint.  The good news is he flashes occasionally the proper kick slide to make him much more efficient and keep his integrity as an edge blocker. 

It's much more obvious on this snap that he's reaching BACK for depth and showing more patience facing up his pass rush, with exponentially better body positioning.  Now he just needs to make this kick slide second nature.  Erving's problems are very much fundamental in nature, however his overall lack of physicality doesn't impress me all that much at this point either.  There are times when Erving will allow his feet to stop on contact, he doesn't generate a ton of movement in the running game and his previously mentioned lack of heavy hands gets him into trouble in pass protection just as much as his sloppy footwork.  

Erving outweighs Clemson's Vic Beasley by a good 70 pounds if you trust the team rosters from 2013; but yet because Erving is passive with his hands and allows Beasley (who has a ton of momentum off the snap with that explosive first step) to initiate the contact, Beasley simply bowls over Erving and puts him on his back.  Beasley does a great job getting under Erving's pads and jolting him on contact and he had Erving inside out after about 3 steps but Erving has to show more ability to absorb and anchor than that as well.

Recap: I hope things click for Erving in 2014, because he's an impressive athlete for his build and size.  The potential is certainly there for an NFL Left Tackle, but at this point I'd consider Erving a mid-round work in progress.  Whether he's thinking too much or for whatever other reasons; he really struggles to put everything together consistently.  Either he's drifting in his kick slide or he's not engaging with any power or he's stopping his feet short on contact in the run game.  Erving shows bits and pieces of being able to do all of these things; but he needs to really brush up on his fundamentals and make them second nature.  Until then, he's going to be a good athlete with a great frame and not much more.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Utah WR Dres Anderson

Dres Anderson, Wide Receiver
Utah Utes
Height: 6020 - Listed
Weight: 190 - Listed

Games watched: vs Stanford (2013), vs Arizona State (2013), vs UCLA (2013)

Strengths: Watching Dres Anderson's 2013 cuts reminded me of another tall, thin, speedy down field receiver from the past several years; Justin Hunter out of Tennessee.  While Anderson is listed 2 inches shorter than Hunter, both displayed an outstanding ability to track the football in the air and have the long speed to separate down the field.  This touchdown reception vs Stanford shows that ability perfectly: 

Anderson gets down the field and despite being muscled and squeezed towards the boundary; he has the awareness to stay in bounds and cut back across his defender.  He turns to locate the ball and his adjustment position-wise is made before his defender even finds the ball.  Anderson does a nice job going up to make the catch and not allowing the DB a second chance to play the ball through his hands and manages to extend the ball past the goal line for 6.  While this throw may have been the signature play of Anderson's season (it essentially was the deciding points in beating Stanford), it's only partially capable of displaying Anderson's down field prowess.  This ball vs. Arizona State is much better thrown and helps give us a fuller view: 

Anderson releases inside against press coverage and his timing is clean; he doesn't take any false steps on his way down the field.  After about 5 yards, Anderson has won the route; he's gotten over the top of his defender and his long strides and speed help him open up about 2 yards of separation by the time the ball is delivered on the post.  What I like most about this route is Anderson's adjustment as the ball drops in overhead.  Part of his advantage is running on an angle away from the sideline towards the uprights, instead of flattening out his post to catch the ball in front of him he runs directly underneath the ball and bows his head and shoulders back to cradle the catch.  If he flattens out his post, his angle isn't as steep and it opens the window for the defender to close from the trail position.  Instead, it's a catch and it highlights Anderson's deep instincts quite well.  

Anderson's open field speed was displayed in more ways than one in 2013, however.  Utah produced touches for Anderson by getting him the football on the boundary quickly and letting him get yardage after the catch in a number of ways.  This touchdown vs. UCLA is a great example: 

Running the bubble, Anderson gets a clean catch vs. off coverage and is faced with 2 options as he turns up field.  He can head all the way to the boundary or he can cut inside of the block he's gotten from the Z and try to break a tackle.  If he goes to the boundary, his block may not hold and the pursuit likely bottles him to a modest gain.  Instead he gets past his block quickly and proceeds to outrun 3 pursuit angles on his way to a touchdown, showing off impressive long speed.  Utah even moved Anderson across the set pre-snap in an effort to get him space for RAC (such as this lateral vs. Stanford):

Stanford's crashing Safety gets out to the boundary, forcing a cut back but it leaves Anderson with 7 yards of space and him 1 on 1 against a LB.  His short area burst gets him out into the second level quickly and before the pursuit can catch him Anderson has already bounced this play to the boundary for a long gain.  

Anderson's deep ability and ball tracking lead to some spectacular receptions, but no catch was more impressive than this short crosser in the red zone vs. Arizona State: 

This ball is hot coming out and because of the angle of the throw it's way out away from Anderson's body.  Coming over the middle in front of the squatting LBs, Anderson's speed busts the zone coverage but that's the easy part; he has to catch this throw.  With one hand, Anderson is able to corral the football and turn up for a score.  Concentration and hands received a plus mark for this play in particular.

Weaknesses: While Anderson does make some spectacular catches and adjusts to the ball very well on the fly, he doesn't always display strong hands when catching, particularly in traffic.  He, understandably so given his frame, doesn't hang tough with potential contact looming and can get a case of "alligator arms".  Additionally, adjusting to throws that test the perimeter of his catch radius produce irregular results, such as this dropped slant pattern

Yes, this throw was behind him, but this is still a fairly reasonable reception.  This was one of the more challenging drops I saw in 3 games from 2013; he had several between the numbers that hit him directly in the chest, including 1 vs. Stanford that directly resulted in an interception.  While Anderson's ball skills are strong, his hands need to show better consistency in 2014.  

While no one expects Anderson to be a juggernaut physically, it's another area that he will need to work on.  This applies to not just being a complimentary blocker on the boundary but also for his release vs. press coverage.  Anderson didn't consistently beat press with clean releases and it negatively impacts the timing of his patterns.  

There's no time on 3rd and 12 to get locked up at the line of scrimmage.  If Anderson wins here off the release, he's got a fair amount of space to release to and challenge for a 1st down.  Instead, he's jarred by the Cornerback and when he does release up the field it is because the Corner has turned to run with him and 7 yards off the line Anderson hasn't gotten on top of his defender, rendering his route useless.  

Recap: Anderson is a player that really pops off the screen at you when he's in space and attacking defenses vertically.  His skill set is somewhat specialized; he doesn't run a ton of routes other than the basic fly, post, bubble, slant and every so often a cross.  He can win in such a role but he'll need to continue to work to become more well rounded and increase his consistency catching the football; particularly in traffic.  The PAC 12 schedule the Utes face in 2014 will provide some great tests for Anderson, I'll be interested to see what steps he takes as a player this year.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller

Braxton Miller, Quarterback/Athlete
Ohio State Buckeyes
Height: 6020 - Listed
Weight: 215 - Listed

Games watched: vs Penn State (2013), vs Michigan State (2013 B1G Championship), vs Clemson (2014 Orange Bowl)

Strengths:  Braxton Miller was the featured trigger man of the Buckeyes offense last season and looked to be poised for a massive 2014 campaign before a non-contact injury to his throwing shoulder ended the year before it ever began.  It's a horrible turn of events for Miller, who has since announced he expects to return for another season by the grace of a medical red shirt.  However, word is Miller had to be convinced to come back after 2013 and the draft process is a long ways off; so there's plenty of time for Miller to change his mind.  

In watching Miller's 2013 cuts, several traits immediately made themselves evident.  First and foremost, Miller has an absolute cannon for an arm.  He spins the ball cleanly and it explodes out of his hand on delivery.  There was no better illustration of this velocity/trajectory trait than this throw vs. Michigan State:

This is a gutsy throw on a post pattern and a defender in the trail position, but with no Safety sitting over the top it's a play that can be made if the Receiver goes up with a strong play on the ball.  Miller's throw pretty much runs straight for the upright crossbar and WR Corey Brown locates the throw much easier than SAF Isaiah Lewis for a touchdown.  The theme of attacking vertically manifested itself frequently watching the Buckeye offense; lots of backfield motion and zone read with secondary progressions down the field appeared to be Miller's bread and butter plays.  It's very easy with that backfield motion into the flat (the same motion that caught the Spartans 2nd level flowing laterally instead of getting depth) for secondary players to start drifting and Miller is usually there to capitalize

Miller's target TE Jeff Heuerman is so wide open, Miller under throws this ball by about 10 yards (forcing Heuerman to come to a dead stop on the 30) and he still pretty much walks into the end zone.  Secondary vertical reads after a zone read are ones Miller typically sees very well and very much likes to attack.  Every so often, Miller will even pop some nice ball placement, such as this throw vs. Penn State to protect his WR from a breaking Safety:

While a throw out in front may likely have been completed anyway, putting the ball there puts his receiver at risk of getting blown up on the hard downhill angle from the Safety.  By forcing his receiver to come back for the football not only does Miller guarantee the completion on 3rd and 13 but he shields his receiver from a huge hit.  Miller doesn't show these throws often but he flashes them enough to suggest he may have the ability to get harness them.  Of course, Miller isn't quite renowned for his arm like he is for his legs, he's absolutely devastating as a runner.  His zone read TD romp vs. Clemson shows just how fast he is when he's out in space: 

What's most impressive about the run (besides lowering his shoulder and going for broke on the goal line) is outrunning 2 angles in open space.  Miller's speed once he gets an opening in front of him isn't just surprising to me, it's clearly catching the Clemson defenders off guard.  Take into consideration that speed and now pair it with the fact that Miller is effective down on the goal line as well

This isn't the type of player you're going to be able to take down with arm tackles, as Clemson finds out.  Miller's legs make him a problematic player to defend and are undoubtedly his best asset when you take the player as a whole. 

Weaknesses: While Miller undoubtedly has the arm strength to attack defenses at any level, I'm more than underwhelmed at Miller's ability to throw the ball on multiple trajectories and with any amount of touch in the intermediate and short areas of the field.  This throw on the move vs. Penn State comes out entirely too hot: 

There's several issues with this specific throw outside of just the lack of touch on the ball.  First of all, when throwing on roll outs it's necessary to attack the line of scrimmage more.  Miller's roll out is too flat, so his momentum is carrying him out to the sideline instead of into his throw.  This compounds things when Miller pulls the trigger.  You can see him make an effort to square his shoulders but again, momentum is carrying him across the field so he doesn't get the proper upper body set.  If he's coming more down hill, those shoulders can really square and he can get more accuracy on this ball.  

As Miller's legs are his greatest gift, they can also be a curse.  Miller periodically tries to do too much, keeping the ball himself when it's best to give.  Both on zone reads and pass/run options, like this goal line snap vs. Penn State

First take a look at the blocking scheme.  Everything is drawn up for a QB draw, RB Carlos Hyde crashes off tackle as a lead blocker, the Right Guard comes around the edge to kick out the DE and there's a strong down block/double team  at the point of attack with the LG and LT.  But TE Jeff Heuerman doesn't block anyone; he releases as if to take the OLB but drifts past him and into the end zone, all by his lonesome.  

Miller could have thrown this ball left handed, behind his back while blindfolded and still could have completed this one.  He's 5 yards off the line of scrimmage and Heuerman doesn't have a defender within sight.  Granted, it's possible the coaches instructed Miller to keep this all the way, but then why leak both Heuerman and Philly Brown into patterns?  This throw was here for the taking and Miller missed a TD pass in favor of a 3 yard run.  

My biggest issue with Miller is a lack of anticipation.  He has to see throws to decide to throw them.  A lack of anticipation makes for an extremely uphill battle in an effort to become a NFL Quarterback.  For example, when is a 30 yard completion a bad play?  Well, this throw went for 30 yards vs. Penn State but I marked it as a negative play for Miller.  Why?  Because look what Miller sees at the top of his drop:

Miller has a clean pocket.  He has at least 4 yards in every direction as to manipulate the pocket.  He has his check down to RB Carlos Hyde WIDE open and his crossing pattern is getting ready to break on the other side of the dropping MLB.  The important thing to note is the LB is drifted slightly to Miller's left but mostly getting depth.  His WR is on a full on sprint to the sideline, if Miller wants this throw he can take a hitch step and put it directly over the official's right shoulder and hit his man in stride.  Instead, he wiggles for 4 steps, contemplates taking off to his right and then spots up to throw the cross, who has since sat down in open field.  This is a throw that needs to be made with timing, he can't rely on his athleticism to extend these plays regularly and expect success.  

Some of these struggles may be systemic issues, like this zone read/seam combination.  

Yes, Miller is staring down the barrel of pressure from the EDGE defender.  But he's also 6-7 yards away and coming from a standing position honoring the jet motion.  Yes, LB Glen Carson (#40) is scraping over the top here and intersecting this throwing window.  But there is a TON of space to drop this into the seam with some touch (and again, anticipation) But despite all the space, his receiver doesn't even turn his head until he's 15 yards down field.  Miller can't hold the ball that long, so his receiver isn't helping him out.  If it's timing based it may explain why Miller doesn't pull the trigger; but it's not helping him as an NFL QB prospect either.

Recap: I have significant doubts about Miller's ability to throw with anticipation, consistent accuracy and touch as a Quarterback.  He's a special athlete with great open field speed and enough size to challenge would be tackles on the second level and beyond but on the whole, I'm not convinced Braxton Miller is a Quarterback in the NFL.  He's quick to drop his eyes and run, he misses passing windows and he isn't asked to do many common practice NFL QB tasks, such as 3/5/7 step drops and timing patterns.  Miller is far too reliant as a passer on visual keys, he has to see a man open to throw more often than not.  Much of Miller's passing production comes off of zone reads and throwing vs. off coverage to receivers on the perimeter in the flat.  Miller has a place in the NFL, I just don't think it's as a signal caller.

Monday, August 25, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Oregon CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Cornerback
Oregon Ducks
Height: 5110 - Listed
Weight: 195 - Listed

Games watched: vs Washington (2013), vs Oregon State (2013), vs Washington State (2013)

Strengths: If tasked with describing Ifo Ekpre-Olomu in one word, the obvious choice would be "technician".  Ekpre-Olomu displays an elite level of closing speed, physicality, ball skills and route recognition/instincts.  He isn't a physical presence in the mold of the 6'2 corners like Richard Sherman but "Ifo" dominates opposition in both run support tackling and block shedding.

Here on the boundary against Oregon State, Ifo uses upper body strength to press his blocker out away from his chest before violently tossing him to the side.  The WR ends up on all fours on the ground while Ifo accelerates in run support and cuts this play off for just a 3 yard gain with impressive closing speed. 

Again on the boundary, Ifo plays off a cut block inside the 10 yard line by pressing the offensive player down into the ground.  It looks like RB Storm Woods will have the corner and make a play for the pylon, but Ekpre-Olomu's short area quickness again surprises and he cuts this play off and corrals the ball carrier around the 5 yard line to limit this to a short gain.  Of course, boundary run support is just a small part of a Cornerback's responsibilities; how does Ifo fare playing the pass?  Even better.

Ekpre-Olomu's route recognition and spatial awareness are on full display on this 3rd down play.  Ifo, lined up in the slot, is tasked with man to man coverage.  Both he and the boundary corner drop off to the first down marker off the snap, but the slot receiver breaks on a speed out pattern.  The two defenders immediately swap, with the boundary corner driving on the out while Ifo takes several steps of width to intersect the vertical stem.  The pattern (a curl just short of the sticks) breaks and Ifo has the throwing lane closed, so QB Sean Mannion hits his crossing pattern as read #3 on the play.  Again, Ekpre-Olomu shows the kind of closing burst that makes him an elite prospect and cuts off the receiver's momentum to the boundary, forcing him to stop dead in his tracks and Ekpre-Olomu is one of several defenders in on the tackle - short of the first down.

Tracking the ball down the field, Ekpre-Olomu shows the ability to turn and run from the "trail" position.  He excels here thanks to that short area burst, which allows him to close windows and undercut passes like this deep post on 4th and 1 covering WR Brandin Cooks deep down the field.  You can see in the tracked track to the ball that Ifo drives on Cooks' cut towards the middle of the field and transitions from a cushion to the trail position, where he's in Cooks' hip pocket stride for stride down the field.  The ball is thrown well, but not perfectly and Ekpre-Olomu looks back to find the ball while feeling Cooks with his left hand before bringing in an interception.

Perhaps the best illustration of coverage instincts I saw in 3 games of Ifo was this pass break up vs. Washington.  To be able to turn and run with eyes on the Quarterback yet still be able to plant, flip the hips 180 degrees and drive on a deep out patterns fast enough to meet the ball at the receiver is just unbelievable.  The fluidity in space is a huge plus as a prospect in the secondary; as it allows for very quick COD and closing burst.

In addition to his technique and ball skills, Ekpre-Olomu is a heady player as well; making SMART decisions and reads on the fly.

Typically, a 3rd and 16 completion that's 12 yards short of the marker isn't a high leverage play.  But here, Oregon's receiver breaks a tackle and Ifo is faced with the choice to shoot under a block to try to catch him before he turns up field or take an angle towards the sideline.  Ekpre-Olomu makes the correct read, he has pursuit already closing from behind and there is no one outside the hash for 30 yards down the field.  But taking the safe angle, he helps bottle what could have been a large RAC situation into a modest 8 yard gain.  

Early on against Washington State, Oregon dials up a blitz for Ekpre-Olomu in the slot.  He times his blitz well and looks to have a clear run into the backfield until the WSU HB peels out into the flat.  Ifo rapidly plants and drives with the HB, getting width into the flat to take away what would have been an easy hot check down that would likely have resulted in a first down inside the Oregon 40.  These are two examples of smart decisions made on the fly that illustrate Ifo's ability to process during execution.

Weaknesses: In all honesty, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu's 2013 film cuts were the best of any player I watched this summer.  Ekpre-Olomu has very little in the way of flaws and holes in his game.  If one were to nitpick, he likes to feel his receivers down the field, sometimes a little too much.  He could potentially get popped for illegal contact frequently in his first season until he learns to feel receivers more subtly, especially if the league's emphasis on calling the penalty persists this year into next.  While Ifo is very active as a run support corner, he does at times get sloppy with his tackling and throw himself into legs.

You can see here that Ekpre-Olomu has a strong back and is rapidly closing on the tackle.  But here (and a number of other times throughout the 3 games I re-watched this morning) Ifo launches off his feet and explodes through the upper legs to tackle.  It's an effective tackle when connecting, but it'd be nice to see him execute a more proper tackle to avoid dropping his head (as an injury risk) and wrap with his hands on a more consistent basis.

Recap: Provided Ifo Ekpre-Olomu A. stays healthy and B. stays committed to reading his keys and executing his fundamentals (unlike Ohio State's Bradley Roby from 2012 to 2013) there's no reason why Ifo won't be strongly considered the consensus top Cornerback in the 2015 class and a Top 10 overall talent.  He has the ball skills, the physicality, the instincts, the movement skills you look for and excels in any number of roles you give him; whether that be turn and run press coverage, off ball coverages, zones, ect.  He's a very strong player who is ready to take the next step NOW.  Look for a massive 2014 for the Oregon Ducks CB.  

Sunday, August 24, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Ohio State DT Michael Bennett

Michael Bennett, Defensive Tackle
Ohio State Buckeyes
Height: 6020 - Listed
Weight: 288 - Listed

Games watched: vs Wisconsin (2013), vs Penn State (2013), vs Indiana (2013) vs Michigan State (2013 B1G Championship)

Strengths: The first thing that comes to mind when digesting Bennett's 2013 tape is for a first year player, his instincts are absolutely outstanding.  Misdirection plays, play action, screen passes; Bennett consistently made the correct read in pursuit before anyone else on the defense could read the play.

Here against Penn State, QB Christian Hackenberg hasn't even finished his play fake and Bennett has already correctly read the play.  Bennett visibly makes an effort to bring his head back outside of his blocker and immediately shoots up field.  Hackenberg still has his back to the defense for another few steps and by the time his head gets around; Bennett is closing quickly and the pass short hops to it's target.  

In another deception play opportunity, Bennett immediately feels both blockers in his vicinity disengage from contact and instinctively follows them.  He's the only defender on the DL to get width before QB Connor Cook's eyes shift to RB Jeremy Langford in the flat.  

Bennett doesn't make this tackle, but he does slow up Langford and prevent a HUGE gain for the Spartans down the stretch.  This time, Bennett's eyes aren't even on the back, he feels the movement behind him and follows Connor Cook's eyes and by the time the ball is caught, Bennett is immediately behind him and gets both hands around his waist.

But Bennett's positive skills go well beyond his mental capacity and into his physical skills as well.  Bennett can attack offenses in a various amount of ways, making him a versatile interior pressure player.

Any time you have an interior lineman who has the athleticism that the coaching staff trusts enough to send him BACKWARDS on a 3rd and short situation to take away a check down; it's a valuable skill.  Bennett sells his rush and initiates contact with a jab step/punch before dropping off and sliding off to his left; directly into the throwing lane of Connor Cook's check down on the hashes.  Cook is forces to swing the ball down to Langford in the flat and the Ohio State defense finished the play; forcing a punt.

Bennett can also win 1 on 1 pass rushing situations with a number of moves.  Above, you can see his rush track in getting heavy pressure in the face of Cook (who does deliver this pass for a wide open touchdown).  Bennett attacks B gap and when his initial rush is stunted; he breaks out a spin move to break the hands of his blocker before using his short area burst to separate and close for pressure on this deep drop from the Michigan State offense.

Here vs. Penn State, you can see Bennett showing the skill of "getting skinny" to shoot a gap.  He engages the Guard and strings along the line of scrimmage while Penn State carries out the backfield action but once Bennett sees action coming his way, he turns his shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, sweeps the right arm high over head and swims through the gap with ease, forcing RB Bill Belton to redirect back into the teeth of the defense.  Any time defensive lineman can minimize the size of their "strike zone" for blockers' hands, they dramatically increase their efficiency in getting into the back field.

Bennett also flashed the ability to work stunts effectively; timing them up to create free runs in short areas.  Here vs. Penn State, Bennett is patient in pressing upward; attracting the attention of the offensive linemen in the area before his teammate crashes hard against the edge.  Once his teammate has occupied the edge blocker, Bennett peels off and hugs tight to the boundary of the pocket before being pushed just past Hackenberg.  But Hackenberg feels the heat either way.

But Bennett isn't ALL finesse and technique.  Here he shows off some raw power in driving his blocker 3 yards into the backfield, resetting the line of scrimmage.  This play was a play action boot; so it had no effect on the final result of the play but these are the kinds of reps that can totally destroy stretch run plays.  

Weaknesses: Teams wondering how in the heck to negate Bennett from impacting their offense should look no further than the Michigan State tape from the B1G Championship Game.  The Spartans closed down their offensive line splits and threw down blocks and double teams at Bennett all night.  While Bennett shows some nice burst off the snap and clearly has quicks for a player of his stature, one thing Bennett struggles at is maintaining technique on the move and lateral agility.

Here, the Spartans have a clear interior lane to run the football.  You can also see Bennett's eyes down inside; he knows where this play is going.  But in losing his focus, he also loses his separation.  So now he's chest to chest with a blocker, who drives him 3 yards further down field as Bennett makes a futile effort to pull away before the whistle.  

As good as a large majority of Bennett's film was, this may have been the worst singular play I've seen from any prospect this week.  The ball action goes away from Bennett, who is double teamed off the snap.  They generate a good 2 yards of push (reasonable effort by Bennett to hold) before Bennett inexplicably breaks out a spin move, turning his back to the ball carrier.  The double team breaks as one OL releases to pick up a scraping linebacker but the single man left blocking bullies Bennett with his back turned.  There is literally nothing good that can come from turning your back to the line of scrimmage, especially once you're engaged in a block.  Bennett did this several times over the 4 games I went over this morning; he needs to break the habit of spinning to shed blocks.  It's a bad one to have.

Finally, the Badgers took the opportunity on the first snap of the game to throw 2 blockers into Bennett's face as well, with similar results.  As Bennett tries to string this double team out, the Badgers get his pad level up and topple him for a pancake.  Now any time you stretch laterally vs a double; it should be expect to concede some ground.  But to totally lose frame, base, pad level and show a total inability to survive it is where Bennett needs to improve this year in that department.

Recap: I really, really like Michael Bennett as a prospect.  I think he could be an effective 3 technique DT in a 4-3 defense or even potentially be a pressure 5 Tech in a 3-4.  He has good athleticism, good first step and outstanding instincts for a player with only 14 career starts.  My only concerns with Bennett are A. his consistency of physicality and B. his lateral movement skills.  He looks like a much different player any time you have him playing laterally along the line of scrimmage or ask him to play with leverage there.  However; the player as a whole has scored as one of my Top 10 preseason evals...Michael Bennett is a very strong prospect coming into 2014.