Monday, October 20, 2014

10.18.14 - Baylor (27) @ West Virginia (41) - Baylor Prospect Summary

Quarterback Bryce Petty (#14) would like to have this one back.  The Baylor signal caller left multiple touchdowns on the field by virtue of his Jekyll and Hyde vertical passing.  While Petty did draw and audible 'wow' from me on his gorgeous toss down the right sideline to freshman WR KD Cannon (#9) (and as if a perfect symbol of the day the Bears had on Saturday, Cannon dropped the ball), I lost track of the number of vertical shots Petty had against 1 on 1 coverage that were overthrown by 3-5 yards.  Saturday felt simply like a matter of Murphy's Law for the Bears in Morgantown.  Typically sure handed WR Levi Norwood (#42) also dropped passes.  Media favorite Defensive End Shawn Oakman (#2) was invisible, minus a tackle on a reverse that was run directly into Oakman's path. Cornerback Xavien Howard (#4) couldn't help but playing just a little TOO physical against star WR Kevin White for the referee's taste, getting popped for anywhere between 4 and 6 defensive pass interference calls (I honestly lost count).  As a matter of fact, I really only marked down two players for Baylor who had strong performances: WR Antwan Goodley (#5) and sophomore DT Andrew Billings (#75)

Shifting focus back to Petty, I was equally frustrated by his ball placement skills and his inability to move off of primary reads.  Having watched Petty play extensively both in evaluations last year and his body of work this year, it was no surprise.  I actually included both as my major knocks on him for the mid-season evaluation that I wrote up for the game.  It was again on full display, as throws further down the field were subsequently further off target.  As he pushes the football down the field, he loses the ability to control.  It looked as though throughout the course of Baylor's missed deep shots that his ball trajectory was a bit flat; he has no problem spinning that for distance but he's not quite dialed in on his loft of those 'bucket throws'.  Petty does have great athleticism for a player of his size, he pulled a number of zone read plays and was able to pick up solid yardage against a defensive front seven who put the squeeze on Petty inside the pocket.  Petty's eyes lock onto a down field read excessively, to the point where he has no feel for traffic in front of him or the status of the pocket.  There were plays where he stood against a firestorm of defenders and ate sacks and others where he had a well established pocket but flushed out of it anyway.  He does throw with HEAT when he wants to, he can put balls any where on the field, it's just a question of how does he amend the accuracy issues (if he can).  I haven't been able to pinpoint mechanical flaws that have had a negative impact as he's throwing the ball down the field, so the question begs to be asked "is this just who he is."  I'm trending towards yes.  

As poorly as Petty flashed, I can't honestly say I was disappointed because at this point I knew what he was.  I was, however, notably disappointed in the performance of Levi Norwood.  Norwood flashed at me a number of times in 2013 (notably the Oklahoma and Texas Tech), but didn't look like anywhere near the same caliber of player.  He was smooth but nonexplosive moving around the field.  He struggled to separate.  He dropped an easy pass target.  I know Norwood is still working his way back from a fractured wrist, but this was his 3rd game and 3rd week back in the lineup.  No reason for the conditioning not to be on par, so I'm again a bit at a loss as to what is going on with the player.  I am going to need to go look back at some 2013 cuts to see if his success was more scheme/spacing based than it was on account of his individual talents.  

While I can understand the appeal to many of a player like DE Shawn Oakman, I personally don't see a top selection in waiting.  Oakman spent a large majority of the day on Saturday running himself too deep into the backfield and out of the play or bumping chests with offensive linemen.  Oakman struggles mightily as is with disengaging from blocks on the line of scrimmage.  He has made nice strides in getting his hands involved in the contact, but he still gives no consistency pressing and using his massive length to his advantage.  Oakman's struggles with backfield depth were multiplied due to how gradual his change of direction skills are.  He's an extremely powerful player, but he's not quick twitch or explosive. Oakman looked very much like I had noted over the course of watching him before, linear.  He gets a head of steam built up and from there, he just makes plays with how long his wingspan/strides are to cover a massive area.  I see Oakman as a player who is going to continue to need development.  He showed absolutely nothing on Saturday to suggest otherwise.

Antwan Goodley is someone who I have mixed feelings about as a player.  His ability to create in space and his size make him an attractive option.  But his hands are never anything better than "inconsistent" (he likes to trap balls when he's squared up to the throw but CAN catch away from his body when he needs to) and the Baylor system is doing him zero favors for the upcoming transition into a NFL offense.  Goodley ate and ate often on Saturday but minus his long 63 yard catch and run touchdown, Goodley's work came against off man coverage.  CB Daryl Worley did a very nice job of limiting opportunities for Goodley when on the field.  Goodley's route experience is essentially flys, posts, slants and come backs.  He doesn't show a lot of crisp technique in breaks and doesn't have to sit down suddenly for breaks coming out of a stem.  He has the ability to develop these skills because when you watch him move you see just how natural of an athlete he is.  He has explosive qualities and gets up to top speed in space very quickly.  I liked what I saw Saturday; but think that the extent of his impact early in his career with be tempered due to what he's asked to do in Coach Art Briles' system. 

The real standout for Baylor was sophomore DT Andrew Billings.  Compact, agile, low center of gravity, disruptive...Billings was constantly flashing in the back field and creating penetration/chaos.  Listed at 300 pounds, Billings was nimble, fluid and quick off the snap.  Billings was a Baylor commit in February of 2013, electing to play in Waco over offers from University of Texas, Texas Christian University and others (also notable to mention he was listed as the #18 recruit in the state of Texas that year).  He looked every bit the part of a pro prospect against the Mountaineers and is someone I'm going to be keeping a particular eye out for in the coming months/seasons until his time for a complete evaluation comes. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

10.18.14 - Baylor at West Virginia (Mountaineers Player Reaction)

As I watched West Virginia first weather the storm on 3 turnovers on their half of the field and yield just 10 points to the then #4 Baylor Bears and then watched in awe as QB Clint Trickett (#9) took over the game down the stretch to secure a 41-27 upset victory at home, I had a bit of an epiphany about what I was watching.

Yes, the Baylor offense was out of sync with their timing all afternoon.  Yes, the official crew at the game seemed intent on handing out 15 yard penalties like it was Halloween.  But this was no fluke of a game.  The West Virginia Mountaineers are a damn good football team.  After watching them be very much game for both Alabama and Oklahoma in their only two losses of the year, I knew that they had WR Kevin White (#11).  He made himself felt again yesterday.  But the amount of legitimate talent the Mountaineers had when watching a full game play out in front of me was startling.  Both Safeties, KJ Dillon (#9) and Karl Joseph (#8) have futures on Sundays.  NT Kyle Rose (#93) is very much undersized to play a 1 Tech in the NFL at 6'4 and 294 pounds, but he's got skills I can with with in a 3 man front.  DE Shaq Riddick (#4) has started to flesh out a lot of the hype that followed him to Morgantown as a JUCO transfer this summer and had his closing burst and speed on full display, as well as impressive power in sacking Bryce Petty on an interior gap rush where he came untouched.  Sophomore CB Daryl Worley (#7) was injured in the 1st half with a rib injury and did not return, but he was impressive in man coverage against WR Antwan Goodley (Goodley's long 60+ yard TD catch and run was his first target with Worley out of the game).

K Josh Lambert over the past several weeks has turned himself into a pop icon at West Virginia and struck again with a long FG as time expired in the first half to buy West Virginia a vital 3 points to extend their lead to 24-20.

The previously mentioned Trickett was impressive in his own right.  Trickett's frame is thin at a listed 186 pounds, something that obviously needs to change once he's set up on an NFL roster.  He's also a bit of a gunslinger, as evidenced by his interception off his back foot to avoid pressure.  No one is going to confuse him with either of the 2 QBs who faced off on ABC last night (Jameis Winston and Everett Golson) with his legs; but he can move just enough to shift the pocket and he in general stays in the pocket and throws staring down the barrel of pressure.  His vertical passing was a joy to watch.  Throws over 20+ distance in the air were cleanly spun and minus a handful of slight under throws he was on target.  His ball trajectory is strong; he can tear drop deep passes or he can fire them on a rope to their target down field.  I saw a player in Trickett who was in complete control of his offense down the stretch and carried the team on his arm to shred Baylor for 2 touchdown drives in the 2nd half to pull away.  His fade to Kevin White to take the lead was his best throw of the day.

Junior Safeties KJ Dillon and Karl Joseph impressed me for separate reasons.  KJ Dillon strikes me as an in the box Safety.  Traditional "Strong Safety" role where he plays robber coverage in the box, roams around and is essentially a 3rd level linebacker.  But the Baylor system forced Dillon to play not just out in space, but to play him in man coverage.  Dillon was caught flat footed several times and bailed out on an overthrow by Bryce Petty in the end zone at one point, but he held his own.  Dillon is a long 6'1 (listed) and was surprisingly good turning and running with the slot receivers from Baylor.  It gave me a bit of a glimpse that he may not necessarily be a liability in that area and defenses may not have to hold him in such a predetermined role.  Karl Joseph, on the other hand, checks off all the boxes.  He was quick to the football and a heavy hitter (most notably filling a 3rd down screen on the far sideline that jarred the receiver out of bounds) and is very active both around the LOS (Alabama/Oklahoma games) and as a deep center fielder.  Joseph spent most of the afternoon 20+ yards deep as a single high safety and displayed the read ability and the speed to suggest he can thrive in either situation.  He's a complete safety and should he declare, I'd expect him to challenge Cody Prewitt for the #2 Safety in the class (assuming Alabama's Landon Collins declares).

What can be said about Kevin White at this point that hasn't already been said?  I noted yesterday that his hands looked like boxing gloves from the press box and he showcased exactly what he can do with them when he threw up one and essentially palmed the football on a fade in one on one coverage while still drawing a DPI call on Xavien Howard (#4).  I saw over 10 teams represented in the press box yesterday (including 2 GMs) and you can bet they were looking at White.  White fits the mold for a player that a majority of those teams could afford to add to their arsenal.  His fever pitch is happening now, over 1,000 yards in 7 games and simply dominating whoever teams cover him with.  Between his naturally soft hands, his ability to attack the football in the air, his high point ability and how strong/fluid he is after the catch, we all know about his receiving skills, but he was just as devastating on the perimeter as a blocker, he gave WVU the edge on several runs for big gains.  A complete player and hands down a 1st RD prospect at the end of the year.

NT Kyle Rose has a heavy set of hands, is fairly flexible and has a nonstop motor.  He was rooted out a few times on the interior but as I mentioned before; his future isn't eating G/C double teams.  He looks like a more fluid version of Taylor Hart out of Oregon last year, a 5 Tech going forward.  Rose really stood out on several plays by resetting the LOS behind the original snap by jolting the Center heavily on first contact.  A guy who can move laterally, hustles relentlessly and has the hands to jolt offensive lineman backwards on contact is a guy you can at least get into a rotation.  Very unheralded player, but a solid niche for him going forward with the amount of depth NFL teams carry on the defensive front.

DE Shaquille Riddick is working against the clock, as he spent 3 seasons at Gardner-Webb before transferring immediately to West Virginia for his senior season.  Some may not realize that when this season is over, so is Riddick's time in Morgantown.  With such a loaded EDGE class, Riddick needs to flash to help his draft profile.  At a listed 6'6 and 242 pounds, he looks the part.  A bit light, but he still looks the part.  And while Riddick started this season slow after being referred to as a 'game changer' by those in the WVU organization in August; 3 sacks against Baylor in a variety of ways will help that profile.  Riddick attacked from 3 and 2 pt stances, he attacked from interior gaps and on the boundary.  His first sack was a great hustle play, coming off the right side of the defensive front and chasing Bryce Petty down from behind as he rolled out of the pocket for a good 20+ yards.  Great closing burst.  His second was an interior gap rush where he was on top of Petty so quickly after the snap that Petty had no chance.  Riddick made it count, he jarred Petty hard enough to draw an "Oooh" out of several of those in attendance in the press box.  I'm hopeful that Riddick will continue to get greater snaps going forward after earning starts the past 3 weeks so we can get an accurate evaluation of what his technical skills are.

Be sure to check back in tomorrow for the prospect reaction from the Baylor side!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: East Carolina QB Shane Carden

Shane Carden, Quarterback
East Carolina University Pirates
Height: 6020 - Listed
Weight: 221 - Listed

Games watched: vs. North Carolina (2013), vs. Ohio (2013), vs. NC Central (2014)

Summary: Shane Carden is another prospect that I would struggle to summarize in "Strengths" and "Weaknesses" categories, because he shows a lot of blended traits on any given snap.  To put it bluntly, Carden is a mixed bag.  There's some appeal; but there's also some warts (as there are with any prospect).  So what I'm electing to do for Carden is work chronologically through this year's game cut vs. NC Central and then add in any additional information towards the tail end and just discuss the highlight throws/plays that caught my eye.  It doesn't take long into the game for Carden's flaws to manifest themselves.

In watching the throw and the end result; there's tight coverage on the crossing pattern Carden is trying to get the football too.  And the problem with that is he looks to be rattled despite his line picking up the defensive stunt and giving him a clean pocket to throw out of.  Carden doesn't capitalize on it and throws with his weight sitting on his back foot, causing this throw (which needs to be HOT if he's going to squeeze it into a tight window) to lose velocity.  In addition to the poor platform and poor handling of the pocket, Carden misses the check down.  I understand it's 3rd and long.  But picking up an extra 10 (which his check down could easily get here) can really help to flip the field position and give the punt unit a chance to pin the opposition deep.  Carden looks to be trying to do too much here and the end result of the play is lucky to not end in a turnover.

I'd have loved to have gotten an end zone shot of this throw to see what the crossing pattern looked like when Carden first flinched.  He double clutches this ball, yet another thing that you'll see more than a few times watching him play.  But shortly after this 3rd down throw Carden flashed the kind of football IQ that caused me to raise an eyebrow, as he drilled a quick throw with a basic NFL route combination

This "Stick" concept is one you'll see NFL teams run regularly (and is a passing combination that Jim Light discussed in great detail in regard to Texas A&M here) so seeing the carry over and quick decision from Carden is a promising one.  The throw and the read are simple, you essentially have an isolation of 2 WRs in the same vicinity as the nickel corner.  But it's the feet that I really appreciate, you can see Carden snap onto his throwing platform and spin a clean release for an easy pitch and catch.  It's an illustration of a quick, basic decision and proper throwing mechanics.  

Unfortunately for Carden, he just doesn't flash those mechanics regularly.  Here in the 2nd Quarter, you see a really nice window throw but poor throwing mechanics.

Yet again, watch his weight transfer on release.  He's almost hopping into this throw and predictably the ball sails a little bit on him.  It's a nice window throw to beat Cover 2 zone, dropping in over top of the flat but in front of the high Safety.  Not enough weight transfer to drive this football and you also see another issue: Carden is REALLY showing the football on his release here.  This ball drops down and back before he follows through his motion.  Back side pressure can easily jar loose a release like that, where for a split second the football is vulnerable in his hand and out away from his body. 

Let's take a little closer look at that release.  Some 5 minutes of game clock later Carden is driving the Pirates down the field when this out pattern caught my eye

This throw really concerned me because despite a clean drop and a hitch into his throw, this ball really floats on it's way to the far sideline.  You can see the arching trajectory of the football on a throw within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage.  Far sideline throws like this can't be a chore to make because without top notch anticipation, NFL defenders will feast on undercutting these passes.  Again, you can see the pronounced release and wind up.  It's a troublesome quality that isn't going away as we get deeper into the film.

Say what you will about Carden, he certainly does get results.  Just 2 plays later, Carden pops the NC Central defense on a coverage bust for a nice climb of the ladder and touchdown throw.

This is a good feel of edge pressure and climbing the pocket into space.  Justin Hardy (#2) rubs off behind the TE release into an out pattern and for whatever reason, the NC Central Safety gets tunnel vision and follows the TE towards the sideline, allowing Hardy to replace with a post pattern wide open vertically down the field.  Carden doesn't miss a beat off his hitch and let's a pass fly into Hardy's grasp for the touchdown.  It's great recognition, great feel of pressure and a good climb into open space, however Carden just feels like he chokes this ball a little bit.  You can see he's a bit off kilter on his release and you can see the ball isn't spun very clean.  He makes a great decision but the follow through on his release seems a bit too rigid.  

This would not be the last time Carden "chokes" the ball on release, as illustrated by this end zone fade pattern.

This ball goes straight up out of his hand.  I can understand wanted to get air under the football...but this is on a whole new level.  Again, coming back to the feet, Carden almost falls away from this throw.  You can see his left (or "post") leg open approximately 30 degrees upon release of the football.  That's backwards, that foot needs to be planted and his right leg needs to follow through to facilitate hip and waist rotation.  Instead, he "chokes" it and lets go an all arm pass into the heavens, which thankfully falls out of bounds incomplete.  

Into the 2nd half, Carden rebounded with a really nice touch throw.  I feel much more comfortable with him throwing off a release point within proximity of his target; as evidenced by this really nice touch throw after rolling out to his right.

This is a pretty, pretty pass dropped in over the top of an underneath defender.  Carden does a nice job resetting his feet and pulling off the middle of the field to find this crosser and does a wonderful job of leading him into a catch along the sideline.  I think this was hands down Carden's best throw of the game; showing off intermediate touch for first down. 

Remember that comment from the floating out pattern that caught my eye?  It reared it's ugly head again about a full quarter later

This time it's a comeback; but either way you spin it, this ball should've been going the other way.  Carden works back to it late and you see him load into the throw with the hitch and wind.  As I mentioned previously, if this was something Carden could process during his drop and be releasing off the top of it once his back foot hits step #5; he's got a chance at completing these.  But he doesn't have the anticipation for compensating for the lack of arm strength and therefore the trajectory of his wide sideline throws allows defenders to plant and drive on them.  

If I could choose one play to summarize what I saw from Carden's first cut of 2014; it'd be this ball late in the 3rd quarter.

If you look at ONE GIF out of this entire set of notes, make it this one.  Carden sets this throw up WONDERFULLY; he rides the play fake and takes eyes down the left sideline before shifting back across to the right, setting up an open back side post.  But from there his base crumbles, his feet chop and with hips opened 60 degrees to the sideline and his plant foot pointing towards the far pylon Carden unwinds on a pass deep into the middle of the field; which predictably is severely under-thrown and subsequently dropped by a defender off of the tip.  

Recap: The holes observed in Carden's game also popped up in both games I watched from 2013.  Despite having an extensive college resume and impressive production against some bigger schools, I don't see Carden as a fit for anything other than a developmental prospect.  He isn't a very scheme diverse Quarterback, he's going to have to go to a timing based offense that doesn't ask him to make long throws with any kind of regularity and hope that the coaching staff in place can fix his footwork woes.  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Miami DB Ladarius Gunter

Ladarius Gunter, Defensive Back
University of Miami Hurricanes
Height: 6020 - Listed
Weight: 198 - Listed

Games watched: vs Florida State (2013), vs Virginia (2013), vs Duke (2014)

Strengths: Gunter is an incredibly long defensive back, he's listed at 6'2 and looks every bit of it when he's out on the boundary against opposing Wide Receivers.  Gunter plays quite a heavy percentage of Cover 3, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise when digesting his 2013/2014 film that he does quite well reacting to throws spatially close to him on the field.  I was really surprised when looking closely at the Hurricanes secondary how frequently they play Cover 3 with "bail technique" from the corners on the boundary.

Gunter (when on the boundary) frequently lines up a few yards off the LOS, emulating press man coverage.  But on the snap, he turns and runs; bailing off the line and getting rapid depth to cover his 3rd of the field.  While this defense leaves the Hurricanes susceptible to middle out breaking patterns and come backs, it does illustrate just how well Gunter can turn and run.  He even shows positive diagnosis and reaction when he has to break on the vertical throws inside the hashes

This is a strong effort to see the slot receiver and react to the football, playing it through the receiver's hands and forcing an incomplete pass.  The benefit to the turn and run bail is that the corner gets rapid depth (more so than with a backpedal) and he can eye the Quarterback in doing so.  It's a showcase of his play diagnosis and quick reaction skills that he can peel off onto patterns.

One of the downsides to this bail technique is how susceptible the defense is over the top if the receiver is able to close cushion, which there isn't much of to begin with on the snap.  Duke made several attempts to capitalize of this look earlier this year and after a missed throw on their first try to the other side of the field; the Blue Devils went after Gunter.  However, he displayed he has the length and runs well enough to defend these vertical attacks against scheme holes.  He not only turned and maintained his cushion but he plays the ball better in the air than the WR for an interception. 

It's really easy when you're (listed at) 6'2 to influence the football; Gunter has a sizeable "sphere of influence" and while he wasn't challenged vertically on this particular throw, it's obvious to see that he has the length to break up passes from the trail position.  I like how well he keeps eyes on this ball and actually separates down the sideline.  Long strides which cover a lot of ground.  

But enough Cover 3 bail technique.  Gunter shows some positive technique from other coverages as well.  Against Florida State in 2013, Gunter popped on one particular play in coverage for execution.  This is a really outstanding job filtering Kelvin Benjamin into his Cover 2 help over the top. 

Take note of how he slides to the boundary.  This coverage is meant to accomplish 2 things: 1.) Prevent a free run up the sideline with a collision and 2.) filter the WR into the Free Safety over the top.  Gunter accomplishes his first task in creating a collision with Benjamin inside the 5 yard window for contact and he specifically slides outside, putting himself between Benjamin in the boundary.  This creates a smaller window for any vertical throws because Benjamin releasing inside of Gunter puts him closer to the Safety covering the top half of the field.  Gunter passes Benjamin off to a Safety who takes a poor angle and the end result is a deep completion; but it's not on Gunter's tab.

On another snap vs. Florida State, Gunter's area is affected with a complete pass but yet again the fault isn't with Gunter.  This one instead goes on OBLB Denzel Perryman.

Gunter is held by the Fullback releasing into the flat and he does a very nice job maintaining integrity to hold his leverage in the flat before breaking and helping to clean up the hook.  To an untrained eye, some may credit Gunter as fault but in reality it's a really nice job staying disciplined in his zone before reacting to the throw.

Weaknesses: Gunter is a plus athlete and an imposing frame but he doesn't play with the kind of physicality you'd expect to see out of a 6'2, 200 lb defensive back.  Frequently against teams that presented him with blockers or tackling opportunities, Gunter struggled mightily to even get in the way.  I saw it present itself against Duke from earlier this season, but it was most obvious against Florida State last year (including this textbook example of how NOT to tackle.) 

Gunter's closing burst isn't quite there and he's got nothing behind his pads.  His head needs to be down on the football, instead he's entirely too high.  

Gunter also appears to be a smooth, but nonexplosive athlete.  I don't see a lot of power OR a lot of burst.  You don't need to have both but you should have one.  He's a long strider; he moves well but I'm not certain of his ability to stick his foot and drive on throws in front of him.  

Recap: When my film study first started, I thought Gunter would be a Safety convert.  He has the size, the length, the instincts and feel for diagnosing throws.  But he certainly doesn't have the physicality to play in the box and I'm not sure he has the long speed to play center field.  As is, he's a bit of an in between Corner prospect; a long, lean player without quick twitch ability or notable physicality. He's at his best turning and running in zone coverage, opportunities he won't get so frequently at the next level.  I can see the appeal of a Corner with his length and smooth, natural movement skills...but I'm on the fence right now about where he fits and wins regularly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Iowa NT Carl Davis

Carl Davis, Nose Tackle
Iowa Hawkeyes
Height: 6050 - Listed
Weight: 315 - Listed

Games watched: vs Ohio State (2013), vs Michigan (2013)

Strengths: Davis, despite playing at a listed 6'5, plays with outstanding leverage from an interior line position.  Frequently the attention of multiple blockers on the inside, Davis is a handful to generate movement against at the point of attack.  Davis is a prototypical 3-4/4-3 NT in the way he plays the game but don't confuse him for strictly a space eater.  Davis has an outstanding motor and consistently gives full effort not just in holding the point but even going so far as to flash near the numbers on bubble screens if the receiver makes enough moves getting up field:

This is house money for the Hawkeyes, no one is asking Davis to be out 2/3rd of the way to the sideline chasing after screens; but there were a number of times Davis actually helped clean up tackles out this far towards the boundary.  

Again, for a NT?  This is an outstanding motor and high effort player.  Davis certainly isn't going to be confused with an EDGE player out on space but the ability to get down the line and make plays like this really adds extra depth into Davis' traditional NT skill set.

As to be expected, Davis carries quite a bit of power behind his hands and once he gets a little bit of forward momentum going; he can easily walk back an offensive lineman on roller skates.

You can clearly see Davis get up underneath the Center's pads off the snap and as he extends his hands forward (plus note for hand technique) he simply drives his blocker a good 2-3 yards right back.  It's a good thing that was a moving pocket, otherwise Devin Gardner would have had the Center in his lap very quickly.  This kind of raw power was put on display early vs. Michigan and shortly afterwards the Wolverines consistently dedicated 2 lineman to blocking Davis in an effort to control his power.  Of course NT value isn't measured by their pass rushing penetration and Davis frequently spent the better part of the game without getting into the backfield; but rather occupying blockers.  When he can still impact those downs with batted passes at the line, it is again, just another plus in versatility department within his specific 1 TECH role:

At 6'5; Davis has the ability to knock down balls, close throwing lanes and alter arm angles...effectively impacting passing plays without ever being a threat to register sacks.  This adds value for teams and incentive to not necessarily consider him a passing down liability.  He can also eat blocks to open blitz lanes, so there's merit to keeping him on the field in those situations as well. 

But of course, as a NT his interior run defense is going to be the premium skill to look for.  Davis (provided he's asked to do what he does well) doesn't disappoint.  Against Ohio State; Davis does a great job "following his Guard" and quite nearly pulling down Carlos Hyde for a 2 yard loss.

Davis doesn't quite have the burst to finish this play, but you can't ask for anything else out of your Nose Tackle than to execute a textbook swim move over top of the down block by the Center to get depth into the backfield and then slide laterally along the line to at least disrupt the play.  He's coming all the way from the opposite A gap to influence off tackle.  It's an impressive display of understanding and reading the blocks, plus execution to put himself in a position to make a play if the original hole is sealed.  

A little later in the 3rd quarter against Ohio State; Davis displays the kind of short yardage penetration ability that will make scouts' mouths water.  

Don't be misled by the fact that Miller pulls this ball and keeps it off the right edge for a new set of downs.  Focus on Davis a full yard into the backfield (and deeper than any of his teammates for that matter) and bottling up essentially both A gaps in the backfield.  This is a great job of "resetting the line of scrimmage" and if Miller does give this ball to Carlos Hyde, Hyde runs into the back of his own lineman 2 yards behind the original line of scrimmage.  It's a great effort to shut down the inside run against a power run team.  

A final thought on Davis; I'll leave you with this following thought from Twitter.  Here's the play in question

Weaknesses: As you may expect with a NT prospect; Davis isn't necessarily very explosive outside of his handwork.  He doesn't move particularly well laterally.  These aren't negatives about him; it comes with the territory and they just need to be mentioned to understand who he is as a player.  Davis is very much a linear player; once he gets moving in a direction odds are he isn't going to be able to readjust

Davis here has finally gotten his weight going forward; but there's no action left in the back field.  In a perfect world, Davis is able to read this block and cross the face of the RG to get some width down the line of scrimmage. But again, it comes with the territory.  Davis occasionally struggles with leverage as well; playing the interior at 6'5 leaves some vulnerability for blockers to get under his pads.

However, the silver lining with Davis is he has the functional strength to play tough and hold his ground; even if he's been outgunned with leverage.  But it is something to pause for, interior line play will only get better at the next level so he's going to need to get more consistent with where he is height wise when initiating contact.

Recap: Carl Davis isn't a versatile chess piece to be moved around to attack offenses, but he IS a linchpin of 1 Tech NT play that can be used in either a 3-4 or 4-3 base defensive alignment and in that role, he can truly help dictate how offenses call their blocking schemes.  Davis has too much power be be contained with a Center on a regular basis.  He's also a great effort player, willing to venture outside of the trenches towards the boundary when he's not being eaten up by multiple blockers and when he can find the ball.  He may not consistently get there, but you can't ask him for anything other than what he gives.  Davis has good size and offers just enough ability in the passing game that he could be a 3 down player from the NT position and still impact throws despite a lack of explosiveness with his lower half to win pass rushing situations.

Monday, September 22, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: UCLA OBLB Eric Kendricks

Eric Kendricks, Off Ball Linebacker
UCLA Bruins
Height: 6000 - Listed
Weight: 230 - Listed

Games watched: vs Virginia (2014), vs Texas (2014), vs Stanford (2012)

Strengths: Kendricks, one of a plethora of talented prospects on the UCLA roster this season, is a tackling machine.  Team leader in tackles for 2 straight seasons (including his 2012 campaign where he also led the conference).  Despite a short frame, Kendricks' instincts allow him to see/feel the flow of the run game through traffic; as seen here vs. Virginia to open the season

This is a a strong effort to recognize the lane for RB Kevin Parks and burst through it once the backfield penetration forces Parks to cut and break to his left.  You can see just how well Kendricks closes on the line of scrimmage once he gets down hill; he's swift and authoritative pressing the line of scrimmage and forcing a loss on the play.  This play also highlights another one of Kendricks' best traits; his patience forcing the play in the run game.  Note how Kendricks takes his run read step and doesn't shoot the first gap he sees; he has the closing speed to pause and force the offense's hand

With the zone read such a popular staple of offenses right now; it's great to see a prospect that keeps his integrity to play either before being assertive and skilled enough to still greet the ball carrier in the hole and keep runs to a minimum.  Kendricks is great in this area and it puts him consistently in position to finish plays in the run game.  

By and large, Kendricks is a heady player with the instincts to feel where the ball is going not just on the ground but also in the passing game.  This screen pass vs. Texas (2014) is a great example

Kendricks diagnoses pass thanks to the offensive line's kick slide steps out of their stance and Kendricks quickly gets width AND depth into a hook/curl zone before his eyes pick up on the slot receiver's screen.  Kendricks quickly sticks his nose back inside and eats up BOTH lead blockers on the play...Kendricks doesn't make the tackle but his diagnosis and ability to get back inside and occupy forces a cut from the slot receiver in space and guarantees this play isn't sprung for a huge gain.  Kendricks makes strong diagnosis of plays on the move regularly on the move after the snap; here's another example of this against Texas.  

First and foremost; it's important to note that Kendricks again picks up backfield motion through traffic in seeing the TE come across the set away from the play action into the flat.  If he isn't quick to close here, this ball goes into the flat quickly and likely picks up a new set of downs.  Instead; Kendricks takes a strong angle, getting width but also coming slightly to the LOS to further diminish the throwing window.  Once the QB decides he's going to run and tucks the ball; Kendricks immediately foregoes the flat receiver and makes a form tackle to limit the play to no gain.  Note his head on the ball and how well Kendricks wraps up in the open field.  He literally clings onto the runner as he tries to spin; a great form tackle on the whole.  As you might expect from the 2012 PAC 12 tackle leader; Kendricks is pretty damn good at this portion of his craft

A great hand by Kendricks pokes this ball out for a touchdown in what was ultimately the deciding factor in the game; taking Virginia from being in field goal range to a UCLA touchdown in a game they won 28-20.  Because of his build; Kendricks is compact and packs some solid pop on his pads.  He displays proper form in open field tackles but is also (as seen here) aware of where the ball is even when he isn't putting his helmet on it.  

If I had to pick one play to sum up Kendricks as an off ball LB and his strengths from the 3 game sample I watched this morning, it would be this one vs. Texas the other week.

Kendricks reads pass immediately, is quick to get into a pass drop and then proceeds to display textbook chop block defense and has the athleticism to get up from on his knees to make a picture perfect form tackle against the back in space.  Charles Davis was calling this game and called it a "big league play"; he's absolutely right.  This is an outstanding individual effort and showcased just about every desirable trait you could think up, a total package play.  

Weaknesses: While Kendricks atones for limited ability to see backfield action with great instincts; his height will certainly limit his potential at the next level.  Kendricks struggles with engagement at the point of attack; despite strong efforts to engage with offensive linemen and scrape off blocks.  Kendricks is a player that will have to be kept clean by scheme because once he's gotten into contact he struggles to get off of it

Texas runs this ball right off Kendricks' right shoulder; but despite a strong play to stonewall the TE coming after him on the 2nd level; he can't get himself clean enough.  Realistically, Kendricks struggles with contact at the point of attack and as an off the ball Linebacker it's a significant limitation.  He executes exactly how you'd like to see a LB take on a block but he doesn't have the reach to separate and he certainly won't have the anchor to hold off Guards like that either.  

Coincidentally, the other major miss on Kendricks' cuts from this morning was a short yardage gaffe that led to an easy touchdown for the Longhorns.  

This certainly appears to be a bust on the part of Kendricks in a man coverage situation.  The other OBLB shoots into the flat to pick up the fullback in the flat and the backside receiver is locked up in man to man coverage as well.  Kendricks looks a little too anxious and geared up to get downhill and the TE on this play doesn't really sell a run block all too convincingly; yet Kendricks' eyes miss him as he's peeking into the backfield.  Kendricks isn't a player I'm sure would see regular snaps on the goal line due to his size/power ability to begin with, but plays like this don't give me any more confidence to leave him on the field. 

Recap: Eric Kendricks is a player that is going to have to fight the narrative about his size throughout the draft and evaluation process.  Ultimately; it will in all likelihood drop his stock and it will limit the way teams are comfortable using him.  But this is a player who displays outstanding fundamentals and wonderful instincts in all areas of the position.  Kendricks is quick to break on the ball and even quicker to find it.  He moves really well in space; he isn't limited in this area much like fellow OBLB Denzel Perryman.  It should give teams more confidence that he's a 3 down player in more situations as he can effectively drop into zones quickly and doesn't labor opening his hips to turn and run.  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NDT Scouting Prospect Spotlight: Miami RB Duke Johnson

Duke Johnson, Running Back
Miami Hurricanes
Height: 5090 - Listed
Weight: 206 - Listed

Games watched: vs Virginia (2012), vs FAU (2013), vs Georgia Tech (2013)

Strengths: Johnson, a Junior, has the kind of frame you really like to see out of a back; as he's compact and his height gives him natural leverage and pad level when running the football.  His girth is solid; he's carrying some solid weight on his frame that should help him endure regular hits and grind out yardage between the tackles.  Duke Johnson burst onto the scene in 2012 as a true freshman; rushing for a Hurricanes record 947 yards as a freshman and 10 touchdowns to go along with it.  I really liked that Johnson added 8-10 pounds between his freshman and sophomore seasons and seemed to retain most of his explosiveness.  Johnson, for not being a power back, manages to collect quite a bit of yardage after contact thanks to the previously mentioned low pad level/center of gravity and some really persistent leg drive.  Also displays the kind of vision (both in the open field and behind the line of scrimmage) that allows him to brace, adjust and diminish hits coming at him.  And that vision carries over to zone running schemes as well

At the snap of the football, the offensive line shifts to the right; simply engaging in the first defender to show their face.  Johnson is very patient in the backfield, stringing out this stretch run before he eyes a lane to shoot through.  Johnson effectively sticks his foot in the ground, shifts upfield and bursts onto the second level.  You can see at the end of the run exactly what I had previously mentioned regarding his leg drive and producing yards after contact.  This is an all around good play and shows his versatility as a runner.  But Johnson isn't necessarily a grind it out type of back; he's actually more prone for home run than he is 6-7 yards a pop. 

Another stretch play and again Johnson picks his spot attacking the LOS.  From the back end angle of this run; he's got a sizable hole to run through until he hits the second level; where a defender is on the ground and scrambling to his feet.  Johnson shows off the natural play making ability that has made him so popular for the Hurricanes; effortlessly leaping over the top and from there you see the burst to outrun the angle the Safety has coming from the middle of the field for a long touchdown run vs. FAU.

Johnson hasn't shown a ton of efficiency as an all around back since the start of 2013; he's had just 7 receptions out of the backfield (although he did have 27 as a freshman in 2012) but Johnson does show a willingness to contribute and play physically as a pass protector.  

Here he comes across the set to help pick up a block on current San Diego Charger Jeremiah Attaochu and actually jolts him really well as Attaochu tries to shoot inside of the RT.  Johnson contributed in this facet a number of times against Georgia Tech and notably getting a piece of Attaochu.  It's certainly not his biggest strength coming into 2014 but the effort level is there and the physicality appears to be as well.

Weaknesses: Johnson comes into 2014 with the obvious questions about his health; having had his 2013 season ended prematurely with a nasty ankle break against Florida State.  Fortunately he appears to be back to 100% with a solid start to this season; logging at least 90 yards in all 3 of Miami's contests.  But questions can also be asked about his ability to carry a workload; Johnson has yet to eclipse 145 carries or 160 touches from scrimmage.  While the day and age of bell cow backs logging 400+ carries appear to be behind us for the time being; Johnson's ability to project as a feature back and handle that load will greatly affect his stock.  

In regard to his on the field resume; as previously mentioned Johnson hasn't been particularly active in the passing game recently, just 7 of his last 195 touches (back to the beginning of 2013) have been receptions.   

And it's also worth noting that despite how well Johnson does coming down hill attacking tacklers, he's frustratingly prone to getting tripped up by the smallest contact down around his feet.  

This had the potential to be a touchdown for the Hurricanes; as Johnson sees and shifts to the boundary there's virtually no one in his way of getting the corner.  However a Georgia Tech defender comes through the initial hole and throws himself down at Johnson's feet; forcing him to stumble and eventually drop for no gain.  There were several plays like this were traffic around his feet tripped him up.  

Johnson also appears to have some shaky ball security; he put the ball on the turf several times in watching him as well.  That's a weakness that is easily fixed; but not one that coaches will stand for very long if it continues.  

Recap: Overall, Duke Johnson is a very talented runner.  He has great vision, a solid build, an assertive (yet patient) attitude carrying the ball and has the kind of explosion to pop a run off for a large gain.  What I'd like to see is Johnson stay healthy for 2014 and begin to blossom a bit more as an overall player at the position (as well as take care of the football).  Johnson's running abilities are obvious; but I need to see him get back to being involved in all facets and prove he's the kind of talent that should be given consideration to being a centerpiece of a NFL ground attack.