Posts by Eric Saltzman

2016 NFL Draft Preview: Myles Jack

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA's Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA’s Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an early impact at UCLA, scoring seven rushing touchdowns as a spot starter at running back in his first season. On defense, Jack finished fourth on the Bruins with 75 tackles and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on offense and defense.

After moving to linebacker full time as a sophomore, Jack recorded 88 tackles and earned Second Team All-Pac 12 honors. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL three games into his junior year. Shortly after sustaining the injury, Jack announced he would forego his senior season to enter the draft.

Pros

What makes Jack a consensus top-10 pick is his ability in the open field. A common issue with linebackers is their inability to perform on passing downs. Jack has no such concerns.

Athletically, few linebackers compare to Jack. His 40 inch vertical at UCLA’s Pro Day would have been tied for the highest at the combine, if he had participated. His 124 inch broad jump would have slated him in the top-5 of combine participating linebackers. Jack has some freakishly long arms, useful for gaining leverage in blocking and reaching to knock down passes.

Jack shows the speed, fluidity, and quickness to cover all offensive skill positions. Here Jack lined up across from a wide receiver (normally a matchup advantage for the receiver), flipped his hips and ran with the receiver step for step in a sequence normally executed by a cornerback.

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The former Bruin linebacker also pairs his man-to-man skills with good instincts as a zone defender, displaying a good closing burst and instincts to track the ball. On the play below, off the snap, Jack locked onto the quarterback’s eyes, mirrored the quarterback when the play broke down, targeted the receiver coming into his zone and located the pass for a game-clinching interception.

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Jack also possesses the type of range that makes him ideal for tracking down ball carriers. On this snap, Jack bit too hard on the play fake and took a few false steps out of position, but still had the speed to reach the receiver on the other side of the field for the tackle.

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There is also mean streak to Jack’s game. He delivers some pop when he engages lineman or hits a ball carrier.

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Some of Jack’s power as a blocker and tackler comes from his short area burst which is outstanding. That burst comes in handy when rushing the passer, or like in the play below, for blowing up the play for a tackle for loss, accumulating 15 in his time with the Bruins. Jack was so fast on the play that he burst past the offensive lineman trying to get set and brought down the ball carrier.

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Cons

Health will be the primary concern for Jack. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine and only did some of the drills at the UCLA Pro Day. The fact that Jack can do the drills is a good sign of his recovery, but some teams might be scared off considering the severity of the injury.

While Jack excels in the open field, he struggles when confined to small spaces. Jack isn’t great when it comes to dealing with offensive linemen, and struggles to take good angles when he doesn’t have a clear path to the ball. On this play, Jack had the range to get to the running back but instead of taking a better angle to the play, got caught up navigating through the players between him and the ball carrier and got cut-blocked before he could make the tackle.

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Although Jack plays with an edge, his aggressive style can sometimes put him out of position. Below, Jack is opted to make a big hit rather than the sure tackle, whiffed on the running back, and consequently allowed the back to fall forward for an extra yards.

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Physically Jack has the range and physicality to be an effective run defender, but lacks great instincts to be a great run defender. In this snap, Jack confused the hole opening up near the bottom of the offensive line as the rush lane, when in fact the play went to the opposite direction.

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Verdict

ESPN, CBS Sports, and other draft sites have Jack as one of the top-10 players in this draft. That would be fine if Jack were as complete a run defender as he is a pass defender. Jack is still a first round pick, but should be valued as a mid-first round pick. Jack is certainly one of the best players in this draft with his outstanding athleticism and ability in passing situations, but concerns about his knee and his lack of refinement in the run game hurt his value.

Best Fit

Jack might not be great against the run, but he certainly won’t be a liability either. The team which drafts Jack is getting, if healthy, a player who has the potential to be an impact player on all three downs in a plethora of packages and situations.

It’d be very surprising for any team with a need at linebacker, like the Giants, Falcons and Lions, to pass on the UCLA linebacker.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Reggie Ragland

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes to join CJ Mosley, Rolando McClain, and Dont’a Hightower as Nick Saban coached linebackers drafted in the first round. Like the three aforementioned players, Ragland ended his Crimson Tide career with at least one SEC Championship, National Championship, All-American Team appearance.

Ragland spent his first two years at Alabama on special teams before starting at linebacker as a junior. He would excel as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker for the next two seasons, being named a Butkus award semifinalist in 2014 and 2015 (The Butkus award honors college football’s best linebacker).

Pros

Not only did Ragland play on special teams, but he also played defensive end in Alabama’s nickel and dime defenses.

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Ragland has great instincts at the middle linebacker position. He seldom takes a false step and quickly sees the play develop him. On the first snap against Clemson, Ragland was not distracted by the ball fake, located the ball carrier, and would have made the tackle had he avoided the Clemson blocker.

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At 247 pounds, Ragland is sound when it comes to dealing with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. Where a smaller linebacker might get washed out of a play, Ragland uses his bulk to prevent the lineman from getting push and then effectively disengages. Notice how quickly Ragland engaged, then disengaged, the lineman on the play below.

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Unlike some bigger linebackers, Ragland is not a slow footed athlete. He has an explosive first few steps that give him great burst to get behind the line and blow up a play. In the snap below, Ragland shows his acceleration in chasing down Deshaun Watson from the backside.

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In the passing game, Ragland has enough range and fluidity to be effective when dropped into coverage. In this play, Ragland didn’t do a great job at preventing the tight end from picking up additional yardage, but still had enough range to reach the tight end and limit the damage.

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Cons

Not only did the previous play highlight that Ragland is only adequate in coverage, it also highlighted a problem with his tackling; he didn’t use good form to bring down the tight end. Although Ragland is generally a good tackler, he can be inconsistent. On the snap below, instead of driving his hips through the running back, Ragland lets the back get into his body and push him backwards for an extra yard.

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To be fair, Ragland went from missing ten tackles in 2014 to three this past season, so it’s an area he is improving in.

Even though Ragland is a solid athlete on tape, supported by how many different positions he played in college, he isn’t a workout warrior. He only had 13 reps on the bench press at Alabama’s Pro Day, a number which would have put him outside the top-15 performers at the combine had he participated in the drill. Of the drills Ragland did perform at the combine, he was only a top-5 performer in the 20-yard shuttle.

Verdict

Ragland has all the makings of an excellent middle linebacker. His instincts, bulk, and burst make him ideal for hunting down running backs between the tackles. He also shows enough ability in the passing game to be able to play all three, or even four, downs (considering his experience as a special teamer).

Baring something unforeseen, Ragland seems like a first round lock. He has very few weaknesses and has the versatility to be deployed at defensive end or on special teams. He might not have the crazy athletic upside of Myles Jack, but Ragland certainly looks the part of a high-caliber, starting middle linebacker.

Best Fit

Ragland would be used best as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, but could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 if needed. Alabama primarily uses a 3-4 defense and while Ragland could adjust to a 4-3, it’d be foolish to take Ragland out of a system he has already excelled in.

The Ravens, Bears, Saints, Colts and Jets standout as teams which both run a 3-4 defense and are in the need of another middle linebacker.

All video content was provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Ronnie Stanley

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame over Miami, Oklahoma, Florida State, and several other notable programs. He was named the starting right tackle for his sophomore season, and then moved to left tackle the following year after the departure of first-round pick Zack Martin. A model of consistency, Stanley started 39 consecutive games for the Irish since 2013.

Pros

Standing at 6’5” and weighing 312 pounds, Stanley has the prototypical height and weight to play offensive tackle. More importantly, his 35 and 5/8th inch wingspan is above the combine average of 34 and 2/10th inches. Arm length is particularly important for offensive linemen because it gives them a leverage advantage over incoming defenders, allowing them to control the defender without him getting into the body of the offensive lineman. On the snap below, the defender attempted to convert his speed rush to a power rush, only to have Stanley (No.78) extend his arms and prevent the defender from getting a hand in his torso.

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While some linemen have minimal mobility due to their massive size, Stanley has no such issues. He is incredibly light on his feet with the ability to quickly get set in pass protection and then move with the oncoming defender. In this snap, Stanley was matched up against Clemson defensive end and likely first round pick Shaq Lawson. Not only did Stanley quickly get himself in position to defend a wide rush, he also was quick enough to stone Lawson at the point of attack when he tried a spin move.

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The above play also highlights another positive: intelligence. Earlier in that game Lawson had successfully executed a similar move against Stanley, resulting in a sack. Stanley would not be fooled again, as he anticipated the spin move when Lawson tried it again. In general, Stanley has good awareness for the position, and seldom misses on his blocking assignment. Here, the defense ran a stunt where the defensive end and defensive tackle switch positions after the snap. Stanley quickly picked up the stunt and properly switched his blocking assignment to the tackle, allowing the guard to pick up the defensive end.

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Stanley knows how to use his mobility to his advantage in the run game. He can effortlessly move from the line of scrimmage to the second level of the defense, and does a good job at sealing off defenders attempting to get in the backfield. On the snap below, Stanley locked onto a defender trying to shoot the gap, and kept his legs moving to create some running room for the back.

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Cons

Although Stanley is a good run defender, he doesn’t consistently display the push needed to be a great run defender. On this play, Stanley and the guard double-teamed the defensive lineman off the snap, but once the guard peeled off to take on another defender, Stanley couldn’t move the initial defender further downfield.

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Occasionally, Stanley will rely too much on his movement skills instead of being physical, which can lead to some wasted motion and energy on his part. In this snap, instead of delivering a counterpunch to the lineman’s bull rush, Stanley kept his feet mobile, making it easier for the defender to push him back, almost right into the quarterback. 

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Verdict

Stanley has the makings of a top-10 selection. As a pass protector, Stanley might be the most refined in his class with his combination of athleticism, smarts, and technique. He might not be as accomplished as a run blocker, but it’s certainly not an area he struggles in, and if he can get bigger without losing his mobility he would be an asset in the run game.

Best Fit

Usually teams picking in the top-10 of the draft have issues on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Even though Stanley projects as a left tackle long term, a team might consider playing him at right tackle as a rookie, where he would be matched up against lesser pass rushers, which would his transition into the league.

The Charges, 49ers, Jaguars, and Giants are all teams picking in the top-10 with needs at tackle, and will likely be in consideration for Stanley’s services.


Gifs were made through Giphy.com. All video content was provided by
draftbreakdown.com.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Jack Conklin

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Jack Conklin from Michigan State.

Collegiate Career

A preferred walk-on at Michigan State in 2012, offensive tackle Jack Conklin was almost an afterthought, even to the Spartans. After redshirting his freshman year, Conklin was put on scholarship, named a starter, and played well enough to earn Freshman All-American status. Conklin’s play continued to improve, and, by the time he had completed his final season in East Lansing, he was a consensus All-American.

Pros

Whichever team gets Conklin will be getting a very tough player. Conklin plays through the whistle and shows little regard for the well-being of the defender while the play is live. His tape is littered with him pancaking defenders or driving the defender out of bounds entirely, as in the clip below.

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Conklin’s best physical asset is his strength. He really shows off his effort as a run blocker as he combines his strength and nastiness to create openings. On this snap, Conklin plowed over the defensive end then quickly located and locked onto the linebacker at the second level.

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When asked to make more than one block on a play, like the one above, Conklin is adept at handling multiple assignments. Where some offensive lineman struggle if they have to make blocks further downfield, Conklin looks comfortable making blocks past the line of scrimmage. Notice in the play below how Conklin came off the initial block then properly located and locked onto the defender at the second level of the defense.

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As a pass blocker, Conklin is strong enough to sustain blocks for a relatively long period of time. He also has the ability to absorb and redirect incoming pass rushers. In the clip below, the blitzer tried to convert his wide speed move into a bull rush, but Conklin was strong enough to stone the defender and prevent him from collapsing the pocket.

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Cons

The concerns with Conklin usually deal with his feet. While he is strong, Conklin is not the fleetest of foot. This really hurts Conklin in pass protection, where speed rushers can put him out of position. In this snap, the blitzer timed the snap count and effortlessly beat Conklin to the outside, although he does recover a bit. Had this been a longer developing pass play, the pass rusher probably would have beaten Conklin for the sack.

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Aside from just adequate foot quickness, Conklin will sometimes abandon his footwork altogether, putting him off-balance and making his blocks ineffective. In the clip below, instead of continuing to mirror the rusher, Conklin lunged forward, dropped his head, and made it easy for the defender to avoid the block.

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Verdict

Conklin might not be the ultra-athletic left tackle teams look for in in the top of the first round, but he certainly deserves to be a first round pick. Conklin has a very complete skill set for a tackle. He is an outstanding run blocker and an adequate pass protector, and brings a nasty edge to both elements of his game.

Schematically, Conklin would be best served in an offense that runs a more power-blocking scheme where he can use his strength to win individual matchups against specific defenders. He does have the intelligence and enough mobility to be an adequate blocker in a zone-blocking system, but it wouldn’t play to his strengths.

Best Fit

The former Spartan has a chance to be a really good right tackle, where his skills as a run blocker would be more valuable than his pass protection. Conklin does have a long wingspan, so some team might consider him as a potential contributor at left tackle, but it’s probably not his best fit long-term.

The Seahawks, Jets, Steelers, and Chiefs are all teams potentially in the market for a left tackle and all are picking in latter half of the first-round, where Conklin is best suited to be drafted.

All GIF content courtesy of draftbreakdown.com. GIFs were made using giphy.com.

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UFC 195 Preview

Main Event: (C ) “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler vs. #4 Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit for the welterweight championship.

Last time anyone saw Lawler he was bloodied, but victorious in his UFC 189 title defense over Rory MacDonald by TKO, in what many view as the best fight of 2015.

Lawler has been described

Main Event: (C ) “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler vs. #4 Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit for the welterweight championship.

Last time anyone saw Lawler he was bloodied, but victorious in his UFC 189 title defense over Rory MacDonald by TKO, in what many view as the best fight of 2015.

Lawler has been described more of a brawler than a fighter due to very heavy hands and an aggressive style. In his fight against Josh Koscheck two years ago, Lawler was still able to win by 1st round TKO, despite most of the fight occurring with the two fighters on the ground and grappling against the wall, not typically great striking position. With the end of the first drawing near, Lawler’s heavy hands were on display when he used one strong punch to stun Koscheck, dislodge himself and then land several blows on Koscheck before the ref stopped the fight.

Even though Lawler does not look for much offense via submission or wrestling, he is solid at defending both. His 67% takedown defense is still out of the top-10 amongst active UFC welterweights (number ten on the list, Sean Spencer, is 72%). Where Lawler struggles is his striking defense where he averages almost the same numbers of significant strikes landed per round as significant strikes absorbed per round.

Another KO artist, Carlos Condit had his last win, a Fight Night victory over Thiago Alves, end in a knockout and has 15 of his 30 career wins come by knockout. Where the two differ is in versatility in striking. Where Lawler primarily use his punches, Condit is very good when it comes to mixing up his moves as far as punches, kicks, knees and looks more to use his strikes as a counter-attack. Against Alves, Condit showed punch to set up a kick, kicked to set up punches, and punched to set up elbows.

Defensively, Condit is a bit deceptive. On paper, Condit’s 58% total strike avoidance rate looks bad compared to Lawler’s 62%, but Condit’s significant strikes absorbed per round rate is significantly better than Lawler. Additionally, where Lawler once again has the advantage in takedown defense rate, Condit has 11 submissions in his career to just one by Lawler.

Ultimately, if Condit can find a way to avoid and then counter Lawler’s punches, he can take the title. Though, Lawler’s devastating power means he can change the direction of a fight with just one punch.

Three other bouts to watch

Heavyweight bout: #3 Stipe Miocic vs. #2 Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski

The winner of this match will probably have a date with the winner of Cain Velasquez-Fabricio Werdum title match next month.

Arlovski is going through a bit of a career revival at 36. Now in his second stint with the UFC, he has won his last four fights including two knockouts. In his first round knockout of Travis Browne earlier in 2015, Arlovski does a good job of mixing up his striking combinations, but tends to favor his punches. Those punches pack lots of power, as he was able to stun Browne numerous times in that one round. At one point during the fight Arlovski got a little to aggressive in his attempts to KO Browne, and Arlovski took a big punch. It’s not the first time in his career Arlovski’s aggressive KO attempts has backfired.

To counter, Miocic has a three inch reach advantage and is already pretty accomplished defending strikes, ranking third amongst active UFC heavyweights in significant strikes defended rate at 62.8% (Arlovski is 2nd on the list). Miocic also has an advantage in takedowns, landing 2.16 takedowns per 15 minutes and ranks in the top-10 amongst active heavyweights in total takedowns and takedown accuracy. Once on the ground, Miocic’s ground n’ pound is exceptional.

Welterweight bout: Lorenz “The Monsoon” Larkin vs. Albert “Einstein” Tumenov

The UFC may have something in the 24-year old Tumenov. He already has 16 wins at a very young age, and has only two losses, both by decision, and just one of those was a unanimous decision. Meanwhile he has won 10 of his last 12 bouts by knockout. In his only loss in the UFC,  the split-loss decision in what was his first UFC fight, Tumenov looked great at striking from the ground, but also looked very susceptible to takedowns.

Larkin’s resume includes a victory over current UFC welterweight champion Lawler, back when both fighters were part of the Strikeforce promotion. Larkin is primarily a striker who likes to mix in some flying front kicks. Defensively, Larkin holds an advantage over Tumenov, absorbing fewer significant strikes per minute (3.54 to 2.45) while also sporting better a total strikes defended rate (64% to 59%).

Lightweight bout: Scott “Hot Sauce” Holtzman vs Drew Dober

Holtzman enters this fight, just his second in the UFC, with a 9-0 record, but at 32, isn’t a youngster like Tumenov. In standup, Holtzman deploys some very good head kicks, but also has the ability to score a takedown to deploy some ground n’ pound punches. Defensively, Holtzman looks pretty comfortable at escaping or reversing when an opponent takes a dominant position in a clinch or on the ground.

Since joining the UFC, Dober has struggled, with one win in four bouts. Dober is a striker, but not a very accurate one, landing just 31% of his punches. Additionally, he takes a ton of big shots, averaging 4.57 significant strikes absorbed per minute. Dober is solid at takedown defense, stopping 69% of all takedown attempt by opponents.

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SEC Coaching Tradition

Tradition and the SEC are synonymous. However, as awesome as tradition is and can be, it can clash with change, even if that change is ideally for the better.

Where the tradition-change clash is perhaps most apparent this offseason is in the SEC head coaching hirings. A case can be made that while the new

Tradition and the SEC are synonymous. However, as awesome as tradition is and can be, it can clash with change, even if that change is ideally for the better.

Where the tradition-change clash is perhaps most apparent this offseason is in the SEC head coaching hirings. A case can be made that while the new hires reflect the SEC tradition, that familiarity with SEC tradition may not be as important as many consider.

It’s easy to see why former SEC coaches would work well as SEC head coaches. An assistant with years of SEC experience can enter with good knowledge of the conference landscape along with key recruiting insights.

A quick review of the coaches hired shows very apparent connections to the SEC. Georgia’s Kirby Smart and South Carolina Will Muschamp both played their college football at UGA (at different times) and both have held coaching positions for at least three different SEC schools.

Slightly the odd man out, Missouri’s new head coach Barry Odom does not have the same SEC resume as Smart or Muschamp, having just one season with Missouri since the Tigers joined the SEC. Still, Odom has had multiple stints in Columbia and, similar to those of Smart and Muschamp, Odom’s hiring likely is based somewhat on his familiarity to the current landscape of the program, which includes experience in the conference.

Recent history shows that hiring ex-SEC coaches to SEC head coaching gigs does not provide as much of an advantage as one may think. This analysis does not include hiring of coaches who only served as head coach for one season. For instance, Robbie Caldwell, John L. Smith, and Lane Kiffin do not make the list, since one year is too small a sample size. Same goes for Jim McElwain, since he has only coached one season.

Coach Previous SEC ties Record 
Houston Nutt Arkansas 24-26 at Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze* Ole Miss 33-18 at Ole Miss
Dan Mullen Florida 54-35 at Mississippi State
Derek Dooley Georgia, LSU 15-21 at Tennessee
Nick Saban* LSU 98-18 at Alabama
Bobby Petrino Auburn 34-17 at Arkansas
Joker Phillips South Carolina 13-24 at Kentucky
Guz Malzahn* Auburn, Arkansas 26-13 at Auburn
Gene Chizik Auburn 33-19 at Auburn
Steve Spurrier Florida 86-49 at Florida
Will Muschamp LSU, Auburn, Florida 28-21 at Florida
444-261 (.630 winning percentage)

*Denotes current SEC head coach

A .630 winning percentage factored over a 12-game season equals seven and a half wins per season.

This might sit well with a South Carolina team coming off of three-win season or a Missouri team which won just five games the year prior. But for a team like Georgia that fired Mark Richt, who won at least eight games in every season but one under his tenure, having a coach that would average seven and a half wins a season could be considered a slight drop.

72% of the coaches on this list have a winning record over their tenure, so it is still possible to find a quality coach from SEC assistants and seven wins a season is usually considered a solid season.

By comparison, coaches without SEC ties have actually fared about the same as coaches with SEC connections.

Coach  Record
Les Miles* 111-32 at LSU
Urban Meyer 65-15 at Florida
James Franklin 24-15 at Vanderbilt
Butch Jones* 20-17 at Tennessee
Mark Stoops* 12-24 at Kentucky
Bret Bielema* 17-20 at Arkansas
249-123 (.669 winning percentage)

A .669 winning percentage over a 12 game season equals about eight wins a season.

Statistically, the difference between a former SEC coach and a non-SEC coach is rather insignificant with recent history showing that both should average at or close to eight wins a season.

If one were to blindly look at the average win-loss records of head coaches with SEC ties and without SEC ties, the numbers would look very similar.

Still, in a sport where one win could equal bowl eligibility or a major win over a rival, one win is significant. An eight-win team can crack a Top 25 ranking, while a seven-win team probably does not. So on a season-to-season basis, the difference between seven and eight wins could be substantial, but not when looking at a larger sample.

Of the six coaches, just 66% have winning records. However, of the SEC head coaches hired since 2005 without SEC ties, 66% are still employed with their respective school, where just 36% of those with SEC ties are still employed by their SEC school.

In fairness, three of the coaches (Jones, Bielema, and Stoops) currently employed started in 2013 and with all three of their records close to or below .500, might be out of a job if this study was conducted five years in the future should their records not improve or remain the same.

Ultimately, there isn’t a perfect formula for projecting how well a coach will perform at his new job. The fact that the majority of the coaches on both lists have winning records does not seal the fate of the most recent hires, or any future hires. 

Still, those in a position to hire should not assume that a coach with SEC ties is going to fare significantly better than one without SEC ties.

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SQ C-USA Championship Preview

Just because the Conference USA title game will likely not have playoff implications, does not mean it is not worth watching. This year’s C-USA title game features a juggernaut Western Kentucky team (11-2, 8-0 C-USA) looking to win its second straight conference title against an upstart Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) squad, who can reach

Just because the Conference USA title game will likely not have playoff implications, does not mean it is not worth watching. This year’s C-USA title game features a juggernaut Western Kentucky team (11-2, 8-0 C-USA) looking to win its second straight conference title against an upstart Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) squad, who can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1988.

The Offenses

Chuck Cook (USA Today)/ Tedd MonkenOne of the best passing offenses in the country resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Head coach Jeff Brohm has continued running the passing scheme brought over by predecessor Bobby Petrino. The Hilltoppers lead the nation in passing touchdowns with 44, and are the only team in the country to have a completion percentage greater than 70%.

WKU’s offense is no slouch passing the football either. They rank 4th in the nation in passing yards, and 23rd in passing attempts. However, the Golden Eagles have outgained Western Kentucky in total yards, and rank 6th in the nation with an impressive 7.12 yards per play. After two years of losing records, Todd Monken has led the Golden Eagles to it’s first winning season since 2011, led by this prolific offensive attack.

The Defenses

Western Kentucky employs a “Bend don’t break” style of defense, allowing just under 400 yards per game, while still holding them to 25 ppg.

The Golden Eagles defense is more opportunistic, looking to create more big plays. USM has more sacks, tackles for loss, and pass breakups than the Hilltoppers. Southern Miss’s Overall Havoc Rate (which looks at TFL’s and turnovers on a per play basis) is ranked 21st compared to Western Kentucky’s 46th ranking.

Key Stats

34: For all the hype about the Western Kentucky passing attack it is a bit alarming the number of bad pass defenses the Hilltoppers faced this year. Entering Championship Week their opponent with the best ranked pass defense in terms of yards per game is Marshall at 34. Even more alarming is that the Hilltoppers lost to Indiana who has the worst ranked pass defense in the country. Perhaps this makes the WKU passing attack slightly less intimidating.

10-20: Throughout the season Southern Miss had a tendency to win, and lose, big. 10 of Southern Miss’s games have been decided by 20 points or more. That includes a pair of 20-point losses to Mississippi State and later in the season Marshall. So there is a decent chance this championship game will not be decided by a field goal as time expires.

Key Players

Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty
The success of the Hilltopper offense will undoubtedly be tied to the success of the fifth-year senior passer. Doughty will probably fall short of his 2014 yardage totals and touchdown totals, which is understandable considering he threw for over 4,800 yards and 49 touchdowns. In 2015, Doughty’s passer rating and completion percentage are improved and his interception totals are down. He still leads the nation in passing touchdowns and claims a passer rating higher than Heisman contender Baker Mayfield and projected 1st round pick Jared Goff.

Southern Mississippi RB Jalen Richard

When the the Golden Eagles need a score they turn to their star senior tailback. Richard is an adept rusher who not only leads the Golden Eagles in rushing yards and touchdowns, but can also be a factor as a receiver and returner, having recorded touchdowns in both areas.

Prediction

Southern Miss is certainly capable of creating a big play, but they lack the offensive efficiency of the Hilltoppers. This may very well come down to the defenses, and in this area Western Kentucky may have the advantage. The Hilltoppers seem to be comfortable giving up yardage so long as it does not result in points. They concede five yards to prevent fifteen yards while Southern Miss thrives on the big plays to drive the offense.

Ultimately, Doughty and the rest of the Western Kentucky offense are so good at limiting turnovers that the Southern Miss defense could be in for a long day if they can’t pressure Doughty into mistakes. 

Western Kentucky 48, Southern Miss: 38

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Proud To Be An American

When the American Athletic Conference became a Division I football conference in 2013, it seemed to be a punchline. With a combination of a handful of former Big East teams along with a hodge podge of schools ranging from Rutgers in the northeast, to South Florida in the south, to SMU all the way in Dallas, it

When the American Athletic Conference became a Division I football conference in 2013, it seemed to be a punchline. With a combination of a handful of former Big East teams along with a hodge podge of schools ranging from Rutgers in the northeast, to South Florida in the south, to SMU all the way in Dallas, it seemed that several non-power five schools decided to make a conglomerate.

However, the AAC’s odd geographical combination of teams has led to one of the most compelling to follow and one of the best in the country, due to a very simple fact: the AAC wins.

A conference which wins a lot conversely must have few losers. Just four of the 12 teams in the AAC have losing record and of those just three teams are eliminated from finishing the season with at least a .500 record.

Those look good compared to other non-power five conferences. Conference USA has nine teams with below .500 record, the MAC has six teams, the Mountain West has six, and the Sun Belt has seven.

Against Power Five teams, the AAC have eight wins entering Saturday. The AAC had just four wins against Power Five conference schools all of last year. 

Although the conference is doing well as far as winning top to bottom, it has been helped by four teams, which should all be at the very least, inline for a very good bowl game come post season. 

Two of the newest members of the conference in Memphis and Navy have also been two of the most impressive teams.

Memphis was ranked 10th in first 2015 CFP Poll after an 8-0 start, which included a thorough victory over Ole Miss thanks in large part to an offense which entered Saturday ranked 8th in points per game. Those wins plus the offense had the Tigers ranked as high as 10th in the coaches poll.

The team that dropped Memphis, Navy, currently sports just one loss on the season, a closer than perhaps anticipated game against Notre Dame. Perhaps most amazingly for the Midshipmen, who were ranked 20th in the latest CFP poll, is they have scored fewer than 30 points just twice this season, despite running an option offense. These accomplishments are that more impressive considering the disadvantage the Navy has when it comes to recruiting due to how hard it is to get into a service academy.

Additionally, Temple was another school which started out 7-0 including. Unlike Memphis and Navy, the strength of the Owls is defense. A unit which ranks 20th in points allowed per game. The notable win for the Owls includes a win over Penn State, the first time that has happened in 74 years.

While Temple, Navy and Memphis are all impressive, the cream of the crop of the American Athletic Conference is the Houston Cougars. Houston currently stands undefeated at 9-0 and has wins over an ACC team in Louisville, 34-31 and over a very strong defensive team in Vanderbilt, 34-0. The Cougars currently sit at 24th in the latest CFP Poll. Houston and its opponent Saturday, Memphis, are two of just eight averaging more than 44 points per game.

If there is a blemish it is that the AAC is also home to two of the teams that win the least (a combined 1-18 record), UCF and SMU, call the conference home.

Some of these impressive records might appear more blemished by the seasons end. As mentioned Houston plays Memphis, who faces Temple next week. Navy closes out the season against the Cougars. Still, this is the season the AAC needed to show that it’s conference can provide top-notch football.

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Keenan Reynolds Rushes To Endzone, Runs To Legend

Tell me if this story sounds familiar: An individual who has taken a commitment to defend our country returns to their home state and does something remarkable.

On Saturday, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds will travel to Memphis to take on the #13 Tigers. Not only does it have large implications for both teams in the

Tell me if this story sounds familiar: An individual who has taken a commitment to defend our country returns to their home state and does something remarkable.

On Saturday, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds will travel to Memphis to take on the #13 Tigers. Not only does it have large implications for both teams in the American Athletic Conference, with both teams sporting an 4-0 conference record, but the game has special meaning to Reynolds.

A native of Antioch, Tennessee (about a four hour car ride from Memphis), Reynolds has never played a college game (he did play Middle Tennessee in a bowl game, which was held in Texas) in his home state and he has a chance to break the NCAA career rushing touchdown record.

Perhaps more remarkable than Reynolds returning to his hometown to break a major NCAA record is how Reynolds got to those totals and how truly dominating he has been in his almost four years at Annapolis by both his total numbers and which players he has passed while collecting those totals.

Consider that of the all the players ranked in the Top-10 for total rushing touchdowns (several ties exist in the Top-10), the highest total by a quarterback since 1956 had been 59 by Eric Crouch and Colin Kaepernick. Reynolds passed that total just nine games into his junior season in 2014.

Beyond the quarterbacks, Reynolds will be passing some of the biggest names in college football, most notably Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball, whom Reynolds is currently tied with at 77.

In just this season, which he entered with 64 rushing scores, Reynolds has passed exceptional college players such as Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson, and Ron Dayne.
Still, an overview of the top rushing scorers in NCAA history shows that most of the players reached these milestones while playing at major powerhouse conference like Texas (Williams and Benson), Wisconsin (Ball and Dayne), or Nebraska (Couch).

Reynolds has statistically become one of the best rushers in college football, and did so at a military academy where football ability comes second to the ability to lead soldiers in a time of war.

Reynolds physical ability and Navy’s desire to find future leaders proved to be a perfect match for both.

A big reason the fit was so good, at least on the field, was because of the triple-option scheme and Reynold’s best attribute, based on the record he is chasing, is his legs. In his three plus seasons, Navy has never ranked lower than 3rd nationally in total rushing attempts.

As a freshman, Reynolds got the nod as the starting quarterback just five games into his time at Annapolis, with the team just 1-3. This includes being thrashed by a Notre Dame team, a team that would eventually reach the National Championship game.

Once Reynolds took over the job, he saw instant success and it turned into wins, with the Mid’s losing just one more time during the 2013 regular season.

Reynolds truly became a stat stuffer as a sophomore rushing for 31 touchdowns, which tied him for the lead amongst all Division I players and also set the mark for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a single season. He had more rushing touchdowns than Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch and Boston College running back Andre Williams, both of whom were Heisman finalists.

That year, Reynolds also set the record for most rushing touchdowns in a game by an FBS quarterback with seven against San Jose State.

Although Reynolds’ rushing totals are the most impressive, he has proven to be a solid passer within the option system. He has thrown for over 1,000 yards twice which might not seem impressive, but consider how few times Navy throws the ball. Navy has never ranked higher than 121st in total pass attempts during Reynolds career.

The result of this is that Reynolds has not only been an effective scoring the ball on rushing attempts, but also through the air.

Currently, Reynolds sits at 38th on the list of total touchdowns, tied with Geno Smith at 102, and having passed Peyton Manning already. By seasons end, Reynolds likely can crack the Top-30 which would include passing Drew Brees, Matt Leinart and Brett Hundley, amongst others.

So when Reynolds crosses the goal line, hopefully on Saturday, he will not only be setting a milestone, but cementing his status as one of the best players in NCAA history.

Read More 683 Words

Life With And Without Luke

In “The Numbers Say” SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.


The mood in Carolina was not that great when All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly was

In “The Numbers Say” SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.


The mood in Carolina was not that great when All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly was knocked out of Week 1 just 32 snaps into the season. In a fantastic twist, the Panthers have actually been playing outstanding with a 4-0 start, and with Atlanta’s loss, now sit in first place in the NFC South.

Perhaps most comforting, is that despite losing arguably the team’s top player, the defense has played well through the first four games of the season.

A crunch of the numbers says that while the Panthers are playing at an elite level, the return of Kuechly cannot come soon enough.

23.2

Of the four teams Carolina has played (Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Houston) 23.2 represents the average of where the teams rank in points per game. Clearly, the best way to keep the defense in shape while the star player is gone is to play offenses that are not that good to begin with.

24

In the absence of Kuechly the biggest star has been #24 cornerback Josh Norman. The former sixth-round pick from Coastal Carolina is off to an outstanding start, ranked the number one cornerback by Pro Football Focus. Despite Norman’s best efforts, the Panthers have not been stellar against the pass, with the team ranked…

16

Although the Panthers have one of the better defenses in the league, and Norman is one of the better corners in the league, the Panthers currently sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending the pass. That number could potentially worsen in the coming weeks because…

4, 4, 3

The Panthers next four games are against Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay. All four finished last season in the Top 10 in points per game. Three of those teams–Seattle, Indianapolis, and Green Bay–had their respective starting quarterbacks finish the Top 10 in QBR.

In fairness, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis have not had the win loss records they had last season. Still, the Eagles have won their last two, Andrew Luck appears set to return soon, and two of Seattle’s losses have been to undefeated Green Bay and Cincinnati. All three could be due for a breakout.

84.1.

Although Kuechly has not played a full regular season game, he earned a coverage score of 84.1 which ranks him 6th amongst linebackers. Yes, the sample size is small, but it echoes what many have said about Kuechly being outstanding in coverage.
Against some of the better offenses, and specifically the better passing games, Kuechly’s coverage ability will be critical in the coming weeks.

92.0

For the Panthers concerns with the passing defense, there are very few concerns about the run defense. The unit is surrendering just 92.0 yards per game, good for 6th in the league.

Unsurprisingly, Kuechly is also tremendous against the run. Specifically his tackling and range skills are some of the best in the NFL. In theory, Kuechly’s return should make the Panthers run defense better over this stretch. That will be important because…

2

Two teams (Seattle and Green Bay) have a rushing attack that ranks in the Top 10.
Through four games, the Panthers defense has been exceptional, but it is truly going to be tested with some of the better offenses coming up. The good news is that since Kuechly is so stout against the run and athletic in coverage, the Panthers defense should be able to at least contain some of the better offensive teams coming up. He makes a great run defense elite, and solidifies an already elite pass defense.

Read More 574 Words

Life With And Without Luke

In “The Numbers Say” SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.


The mood in Carolina was not that great when All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly was

In “The Numbers Say” SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.


The mood in Carolina was not that great when All-world linebacker Luke Kuechly was knocked out of Week 1 just 32 snaps into the season. In a fantastic twist, the Panthers have actually been playing outstanding with a 4-0 start, and with Atlanta’s loss, now sit in first place in the NFC South.

Perhaps most comforting, is that despite losing arguably the team’s top player, the defense has played well through the first four games of the season.

A crunch of the numbers says that while the Panthers are playing at an elite level, the return of Kuechly cannot come soon enough.

23.2

Of the four teams Carolina has played (Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Houston) 23.2 represents the average of where the teams rank in points per game. Clearly, the best way to keep the defense in shape while the star player is gone is to play offenses that are not that good to begin with.

24

In the absence of Kuechly the biggest star has been #24 cornerback Josh Norman. The former sixth-round pick from Coastal Carolina is off to an outstanding start, ranked the number one cornerback by Pro Football Focus. Despite Norman’s best efforts, the Panthers have not been stellar against the pass, with the team ranked…

16

Although the Panthers have one of the better defenses in the league, and Norman is one of the better corners in the league, the Panthers currently sit in the middle of the pack when it comes to defending the pass. That number could potentially worsen in the coming weeks because…

4, 4, 3

The Panthers next four games are against Seattle, Philadelphia, Indianapolis and Green Bay. All four finished last season in the Top 10 in points per game. Three of those teams–Seattle, Indianapolis, and Green Bay–had their respective starting quarterbacks finish the Top 10 in QBR.

In fairness, Seattle, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis have not had the win loss records they had last season. Still, the Eagles have won their last two, Andrew Luck appears set to return soon, and two of Seattle’s losses have been to undefeated Green Bay and Cincinnati. All three could be due for a breakout.

84.1.

Although Kuechly has not played a full regular season game, he earned a coverage score of 84.1 which ranks him 6th amongst linebackers. Yes, the sample size is small, but it echoes what many have said about Kuechly being outstanding in coverage.
Against some of the better offenses, and specifically the better passing games, Kuechly’s coverage ability will be critical in the coming weeks.

92.0

For the Panthers concerns with the passing defense, there are very few concerns about the run defense. The unit is surrendering just 92.0 yards per game, good for 6th in the league.

Unsurprisingly, Kuechly is also tremendous against the run. Specifically his tackling and range skills are some of the best in the NFL. In theory, Kuechly’s return should make the Panthers run defense better over this stretch. That will be important because…

2

Two teams (Seattle and Green Bay) have a rushing attack that ranks in the Top 10.
Through four games, the Panthers defense has been exceptional, but it is truly going to be tested with some of the better offenses coming up. The good news is that since Kuechly is so stout against the run and athletic in coverage, the Panthers defense should be able to at least contain some of the better offensive teams coming up. He makes a great run defense elite, and solidifies an already elite pass defense.

Read More 574 Words

The Eagles Offense Will Fly Again

In “The Numbers Say”, the SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.

When the Philadelphia Eagles got off to a 1-3 start this year, many cited a

In “The Numbers Say”, the SQ will look at a hot topic in the NFL and dive behind some of the key numbers, both good and bad, that have contributed to the current situation in which a player or team find themselves.

When the Philadelphia Eagles got off to a 1-3 start this year, many cited a lack of offensive production from an offense that has been one of the best in the NFL over the last two years. Thankfully, after two impressive wins both of which came by at least 20 points, it looks like the Eagles’ offense is back on track.

A look at the numbers say that, while the Eagles’ offense admittedly struggled, it may have had more to do with the teams they were facing. Combine this with their upcoming schedule and the Philly offense should be high-flying once again.

6, 4

In the first six games, which the Eagles lost three, Philadelphia matched up against three run defenses ranked in the Top 10 of the NFL entering week seven, Dallas, both New York teams and Atlanta. 

80

Predictably, the Eagles’ offense struggled averaging just 80 yards per game over the first four games (Falcons, Jets, Cowboys and Washington) in which the Eagles had just one win. It seems very plausible that when the Eagles, who historically under Chip Kelly have been good at running the ball, go up against teams that are good at stopping the run, the Eagles’ win totals suffer.

20, 30

Not all of the credit in the Eagles’ losses should go towards the opposing defenses. When the Eagles could not run the ball, they were quite quick to abandon it, never having more than 20 rushing attempts in any of their losses. Whereas in the three games the Eagles won, they stuck with the run longer, rushing the ball 30 times or more.

170.5

In the last two games, which have resulted in two wins, the Eagles have averaged 170.5 yards a game. Not surprisingly, when the Eagles are able to put up impressive numbers running the ball, they win by impressive scores.

11, 1

Perhaps a more overlooked factor, when it comes to the Eagles’ success running the ball, is how it has created balance for the entire offense. When the Eagles win in 2015, the difference between rushing attempts and drop-backs by a quarterback is within 11. In last week’s victory over the Giants, a game which the Eagles won by 20, the difference of rushing attempts to drop backs was just one.

9, 2, 3

Balance is important since the Eagles cannot rely on its passing game because of the interceptions thrown by Sam Bradford. So far this season, Bradford has the second highest total in the league. Additionally, when Bradford does throw his interceptions, he throws them in bunches. He currently has three multi-interception games. It should be noted that one of those games was last week against the Giants. So Bradford’s interception do not exactly spell defeat for the Eagles, but Bradford’s turnover tendencies show why the Eagles have to rely on the run game.

2

Further proof that the Eagles’ offense should kick into gear in the second half of the season. Of the Eagles’ remaining games, just two teams, Dallas and Buffalo, enter the seventh week of the season ranked in the Top 10 in run defense. One of those Top 10 run defense is actually the Eagles.

With a potentially easier schedule in terms of run defense and the Eagles’ ability to compliment that rushing attack with a balanced passing game, the points should once again be easy to come by in Philadelphia.

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Does The NFL Have A QB Crisis?

On Wednesday, Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Why the NFL has a quarterback crisis.”

The article, a great read, goes on to say that it is becoming harder and harder to find quarterbacks from the college level who can immediately join the NFL and eventually develop into top

On Wednesday, Kevin Clark of the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled, “Why the NFL has a quarterback crisis.”

The article, a great read, goes on to say that it is becoming harder and harder to find quarterbacks from the college level who can immediately join the NFL and eventually develop into top level talent.

The bulk of the article claims that as college offenses drift away stylistically from NFL offenses, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the next elite level quarterback.

Headline grabbing aside, this “crisis” the NFL currently finds itself in isn’t necessarily a new one, and it is less of a crisis and more of a long-term dilemma.

Before continuing, it is important to note that, yes, college offenses are drifting further and further away from NFL norms. Whether it be with tempo like Baylor, with misdirection like Auburn, or with an option-base like Georgia Tech, what is seen on Saturday is likely to be substantially different from Sunday. Misdirection and option-football are not new to college football and certainly not new for talent scouts.

In general, it is very hard to make it to the NFL. Most teams only retain about 50% of their draft class over the long term. The number looks even gloomier if one were to analyze which of those draft picks actually become “good” players. The fact that only one quarterback starts at a time cuts the opportunity even more so.

Finding good players for the NFL has never been an easy process and it likely never will be.  Also, consider how long it has taken to reach this point. Currently, the oldest starting quarterback, based on year drafted, is Peyton Manning, drafted in 1998.

It has taken 17 years to find 10-12 starting quarterbacks who are play at an “elite” level. Now consider how many failed quarterbacks have taken snaps in that span. Even simpler, consider how many quarterbacks have entered the league since Andrew Luck, arguably the newest “elite” passer, was drafted in 2012.

It’s easy to see that if the NFL does indeed have a quarterback crisis, it has been happening for a long time

As for the future, the NFL does have a small inkling of a problem. In large part, the “new wave” college offense is based on simplicity. Since the flexibility of a college football roster pales in comparison to a pro roster, college coaches need to find simpler methods for teaching the team and making them competitive.

Meanwhile the NFL game is all about details. For instance, Chris B. Brown documents how Peyton Manning loves to run a pass concept called levels. Brown shows how Manning and his coaches have manipulated that levels play every which way in his career, to adjust to the defense and adjust what the defense must prepare for. Details.

An adjustment for Baylor might be as simple as the same exact play that was previously run, where basically the quarterback is just keying on one defender, but with a different formation. Or a different side of the field a play will be run on.

Based on this comparison, it is easy to see why NFL teams would be frustrated with the current crop of passers who do very little of what is required, mentally, of top tier NFL quarterbacks.

Clark quotes Browns General Manager Ray Farmer who talks about potentially using quarterback-like running backs as package players. This could be a solution, and there is probably a way where coaches can eventually scheme to use this strategy.

NFL teams have already begun to adapt college schemes to pros. Several teams, most notably the Patriots, have adopted the idea of no-huddle as a staple of their offense. Meanwhile, Chip Kelly has brought a spread based rushing attack, much like the ones used in college. It isn’t too hard to remember when the read-option and pistol formation were implemented by the 49ers.

So while those around the game may lament how they can’t find a typical NFL quarterback, they already have begun to implement current staples of the college game into the pro game. How much of that is to actually ease the transition for their respective young quarterback and how much is because the coaches view it as a strategic advantage is unknown. It is probably some factor of both.

This doesn’t mean that an NFL team can just take any college quarterback and ease them into being a quality starting quarterback. Much of the same general evaluations regarding decision making, arm strength, accuracy, decision making etc. still very much apply to figuring out which college passers can be NFL quality players.

It is understandable that the typical NFL quarterback which has boomed in the 21st century seems to be phased out at the younger level. But at the same time, the NFL has already shown that it can develop it’s game around it’s younger players by implementing components of the college game, while they pick up on the more advanced components of the NFL game.

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Tyler Lockett: A Breakout Rookie

Figuring out which NFL Draft pick will provide even minimal return is hard. Picking which players will live up to, or even exceed, expectations is even more difficult. Predicting who will do so in their rookie season is nearly impossible.

Despite these overwhelming odds, by the time the season is over, Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett

Figuring out which NFL Draft pick will provide even minimal return is hard. Picking which players will live up to, or even exceed, expectations is even more difficult. Predicting who will do so in their rookie season is nearly impossible.

Despite these overwhelming odds, by the time the season is over, Seattle Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett
will be a household name. In terms of talent, he was known in college for his ability to go deep. It happened at least once a game, usually more frequently.

Overall, Lockett, standing at 5’11”, spent his collegiate career using his agility and speed to shred defense. The receiver made a name for himself being just as explosive with the ball in his hands. He was also extremely versatile, having spent a portion of his time in college returning punts, a skill he has already displayed at the NFL level.

The knocks on Lockett are his small size, though there are dozens of 5’11” receivers who have had successful NFL careers, and his small hands, which can lead to some drops. The latter is a bit concerning considering most rookies have more to prove than veterans. However, Lockett will still be successful due to the team that drafted him. It is safe to say that, both in long and short term, he found a great home in Seattle.

Despite having not yet played in a regular season game, the young receiver has already made a solid NFL highlight reel with two kick returns and a receiving touchdown in his four pre-season games.

Returning punts provides an easy way to showcase his ability with the ball in his hands.

Still, as great as specialists are, it is what Locket will do as a receiver that will really make him a breakout player.

The big newcomer for the Seahawks offense is Jimmy Graham, and believing he isn’t the featured target in the passing attack would be foolish, for now.

Beyond Graham, there is certainly some room for speculation about the overall talent of the receiving corp. Seattle’s receivers in the Russell Wilson era could be dubbed as functional but not elite. Doug Baldwin has been pretty consistent but probably isn’t an upper-echelon receiver.

Behind Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse caught one touchdown last season. Arguably, Ricardo Lockette’s most famous play involved going flying backwards as Malcolm Brown came running from the back of the endzone to pick off Wilson and secure a Patriots victory.
In short, the Seahawks lack the talented veterans at receiver to keep Lockett from rising up the ranks.

As of Tuesday, Lockett was behind Kearse on the depth chart.

If Lockett does not begin the year as the top receiver on the depth chart, which seems likely, he will still be featured predominately lining up in the three or four receiver sets.

By using him in the slot, Lockett won’t have a size match against linebackers and safeties who figure to be around 6’0.” Still, his quickness should allow him to create separation on short routes, and his speed will make for an easy match-up win should the Seahawks look to exploit the deep middle of the field.

Additionally, Lockett spent some time lined up on the outside and caught his preseason pass on a streak where he simply burned the receiver. Seattle knows their new receiver has speed and are more than happy to use it.

Lockett has already proven his chops as an electrifying returner, which has gotten him some notoriety. If he can continue to shine as a kick returner and continue to rise up the Seahawks depth chart as a receiver, Tyler Lockett should be a recognizable name by years end.

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Preseason 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Defensive Backs

Top Teir

The defensive back entering the season with the most draft hype is probably Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, and the praise is warranted. It is difficult to find a player whose game is as complete as Ramsey’s. He spent time at safety after spending a year at corner, but safety is probably the best fit

Top Teir

The defensive back entering the season with the most draft hype is probably Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, and the praise is warranted. It is difficult to find a player whose game is as complete as Ramsey’s. He spent time at safety after spending a year at corner, but safety is probably the best fit for him.  

His experience as a corner is evident as his coverage and ball skills are phenomenal. Although he is not the type of player to come sprinting down from the secondary and burst through the line to make a tackle for loss, he is a good blitzer and would not be considered a liability against the run.

Two years ago, Virginia Tech corner-back Kyle Fuller was a first round pick of the Chicago Bears. In 2015, his younger brother Kendall looks to do the same. Like the elder Fuller, Kendall shows the raw fluidity that should make him good in man-to-man coverage. He’s also more comfortable in zone than his older brother, and his ball skills look pretty good for the position. Not to mention he does a surprisingly good job against the run, despite not being a bigger corner.

LSU’s Tre’Davious White is another corner with first round ability. White was honored with the #18 Jersey, traditionally given to the player who exemplifies leadership on and off the field. As a player, White looks to continue in the long line of cover corners to come out of “DBU.” In man-to-man coverage, White is extremely agile and shows great recovery if beaten initially. One area of his game that needs to improve is his ability against the run, although he is a solid tackler.

Along with Ramsey, another play-making safety is Kentucky’s AJ Stamps. Stamps is a very, very aggressive player which can lead to some big hits, but also some big misses. Still, the positive plays usually outweigh the negative ones. In coverage, Stamps has great awareness and excellent ball skills when he can see the play develop in front of him. In the run game, he can lay out some big hits but is prone to missing the ball carrier at times when he aims to make a big hit over the sure tackle.

Another name to look out for is Vonn Bell S, Ohio State.

Mid Round and Sleeper

Many see Florida’s Vernon Hargraves as a first round pick, and there is good reason to. He is extremely physical and is probably one of the best run-defending corners in this class. Hargraves also has good hips and looks like he has some strong tools to be a good cover corner. However, some parts of his game, like his back pedal, and some of his ball skills prevent him from being considered a potential first-round pick.

Another defensive back who is on the cusp of being a top tier talent is Duke’s Jeremy Cash. The Blue Devils safety excels near the line of scrimmage and when dealing with ball carriers. He makes some very good plays in the run game and can force the occasional fumble. In coverage, Cash looks okay, but he can be a real weapon if used near the line of scrimmage.

Mississippi State’s Taveze Calhoun excels in zone coverage. His football instincts are great, he has solid ball skills, and he is also a good run defender. Calhoun is not the kind of loose, quick-twitch athlete that will be elite in man-to-man coverage, and he lacks the long speed to make up for mistakes if a receiver gets past him initially.

West Virginia safety Karl Joseph had the opportunity to come out for the 2014 draft as he was already considered one of the top prospects at the position last year. Joseph is a versatile player who can play in the box and be a quality run defender. In pass coverage, he has good range and does a good job at closing in on passes to either disrupt the pass or stop the receiver from gaining additional yardage.

Other players to watch include: Jalen Mills’ S, LSU; Rashard Robinson CB, LSU; Leon McQuay S, USC; Zack Sanchez CB, Oklahoma; William Jackson CB, Houston; Orion Stewart S, Baylor.

Best of the Rest

Calhoun’s teammate at Mississippi State, Will Redmond, may not be as highly regarded but still looks to have a bright NFL future. Redmond is an extremely raw player with great hip fluidity, but he lacks many of the technical skills for the position.

Perhaps one of the more intriguing prospects in this group of defensive backs is Louisville safety Josh Harvey-Clemons. The Cardinal defender is listed at 6’5 230 pounds, as a safety, after playing a hybrid role at his previous school, Georgia. Clemons has a leg up on his other safeties in terms of pure size and ability against the run but might be a tick behind everyone else as far as pass coverage. Like Shaq Thompson from a year ago, NFL teams will have to put careful thought in how Clemons, at his size, will be deployed at the next level.

Other names to look out for include: Avery Sebastian S, Notre Dame; Tyvis Powell S, Ohio State; Sua Cravens S, USC; Tracy Howard CB, Miami; Eli Apple CB, Ohio State; Kevon Seymour CB, USC; Tony Conner S, Ole Miss; Max Redfied S, Notre Dame; Trevon Stewart S, Houston.

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2015 Division Preview Series: NFC North

Chicago Bears (5-11 in 2014, 4th in NFC North)

How will new offensive coordinator Adam Gase handle the Bears’ offense?

In Denver, Gase had a ton of success, leading the Broncos to top-five finishes in yards per game in both his seasons. Skeptics will say that much of Gase's success has to do

Chicago Bears (5-11 in 2014, 4th in NFC North)

How will new offensive coordinator Adam Gase handle the Bears’ offense?

In Denver, Gase had a ton of success, leading the Broncos to top-five finishes in yards per game in both his seasons. Skeptics will say that much of Gase’s success has to do with having Peyton Manning along with an extremely talented and deep group of receivers.

Working with the Broncos, Gase loved to throw the football and worked almost exclusively out of three wide receiver sets, seldom putting in heavier blocking packages for run plays. Not to say the Broncos didn’t run the ball, but it was an offense clearly designed to play to the obvious talent in the passing game.

With the Bears, the bigger intrigue might not be how Gase brings in the passing attack, but how he uses Matt Forte and the running game. In his two seasons as Broncos offensive coordinator, Gase never had the kind of feature back the Bears have had in Forte.

Who will emerge as a defensive playmaker for the Bears?

Looking at the numbers for the team, the Bears defense was awful a year ago. Looking at the individual numbers, the Bears were not entirely devoid of playmakers, but there are lots of questions entering this season.

The Bears will rely heavily on veterans Jared Allen and Antrel Rolle, but both players are well into their thirties and their effectiveness will certainly be in question. On the flip side, rookies like Eddie Goldman and second year corner Kyle Fuller have talent, but still could face a learning curve early in their pro careers.

Meanwhile, Lamar Houston and Willie Young are both coming off torn ACL and torn Achilles, respectively.

2015 Prediction 6-10, 4th in NFC North

Detroit Lions (11-5 in 2014, 2nd in NFC North)

Who are the playmakers not named Matthew Stafford
or Calvin Johnson?

As great as the Stafford-to-Johnson connection has been, both have seen regressions in their game. Johnson missed some time with an ankle injury last year while Stafford has seen his passing yard totals steadily decrease over the last few seasons.

Detroit is hoping that 2014 first round pick Eric Ebron lives up to his top-ten selection. Meanwhile the Lions rush attack was horrific and Joique Bell was underwhelming last year. Hopefully rookie Ameer Abdullah will provide some spark to the Lions rushing game.

What’s life without Suh?

The Lions opted to let Ndamukong Suh, the most dominant defensive tackle in the league for the last several years, go to Miami. In his place is former Raven Haloti Ngata, a talented tackle in his own right. However, Suh was a force on both runs and pass that he opened things up for many other players.

Aside from Ngata, the Lions will rely heavily on Ziggy Ansah, who will likely draw much more attention from teams in Suh’s absence. Added pressure will also likely be placed on the linebacking corps as Suh often commanded double teams allowing the linebackers an easier time taking on ball carriers.

2015 Prediction 9-7, 3rd in NFC North

Green Bay Packers (12-4 in 2014, 1st in NFC North)

Can the offense keep up its excellence?

The biggest move the Packers made this offseason to address the offense was spending a draft pick on receiver Ty Montgomery. As lame as it sounds, there is so little to question about the Packers offense it is almost unfair. Maybe if Randall Cobb had left there would be some some issue with receiver depth, but that is not the case. As long as Aaron Rodgers stays healthy, the Packer offense should be exceptional once again.

What’s going on with the back seven?

Ted Thompson used three of his five selections on a linebacker or a defensive back in April. At linebacker, Clay Matthews is the only impact player, although Julius Peppers might provide some sort of a pass rush. Late round rookie Jake Ryan could see some playing time, but the Packers are still very thin at linebacker.

In the secondary, rookies Quinton Rollins and Demarious Randall figure to see significant playing time after the Packers lost two starters in Tramon Williams and Davon House to free agency. Safeties Morgan Burnett and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix
should still be solid as the Packers’ starting safeties.

2015 Prediction: 13-3, 1st in NFC North

Minnesota Vikings (7-9 in 2014, 3rd in NFC North)

How good can the Viking offense be this year?

At last the VIkings have found their quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, who arguably had the best season amongst rookie passers despite having no Adrian Peterson, his best receiver being a declining Greg Jennings and an offensive line that surrendered 41 sacks. 

The offensive line hasn’t really been addressed but Adrian Peterson is back and Jennings is gone in favor of Mike Wallacethus likely spelling improvement for Bridgewater and the rest of the Viking offense.

Will defensive newcomers make the defense an elite unit?

The Vikings spent their first three draft picks on defensive players to upgrade each of the three layers of defense. Trae Waynes for the secondary, Eric Kendricks for the linebackers and Danielle Hunter for the defensive line. All three should see the field pretty early.

Last year the Vikings defense was actually pretty solid, ranking in the top-15 in several statistical categories all while getting some good play out of their defensive line. If the newcomers can perform at a high level, the defense could make the Vikings a playoff contender.

2015 Prediction: 9-7, 2nd in NFC North

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Preseason 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Linebackers

Top Tier

For a team looking for a pass rushing outside linebacker, one of the first names to come up will likely be Georgia’s Leonard Floyd. At 230 pounds, Floyd is fairly stout against the run and can generate a bit of a bull rush. His real strength is using his great first step, torso

Top Tier

For a team looking for a pass rushing outside linebacker, one of the first names to come up will likely be Georgia’s Leonard Floyd. At 230 pounds, Floyd is fairly stout against the run and can generate a bit of a bull rush. His real strength is using his great first step, torso flexibility, and swim move to reach the quarterback.  Don’t mistake Floyd’s pass rush ability as his only quality skill. Although Floyd is not as accomplished as a coverage linebacker, he still shows good range and good instincts for finding the ball carrier. If Floyd does have a clear weakness it is in pass coverage, where he lacks good fluidity and doesn’t look comfortable when dropping back.

The counterpart to Floyd is Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith. Unlike Floyd, Smith’s strength is not rushing the passer; in fact it is probably the worst part of his game. On the flip side, the rest of his game is outstanding. Smith is one of the most instinctive linebackers in this group. Additionally, Smith is a top tier athlete whose movement skills and strength make him arguably the top non-pass rushing linebacker in this group.

Scooby Wright will probably be the most decorated defensive player once the 2015 season concludes. The Arizona Wildcat defender is one of the most active players in the game and shows great instincts for dealing with the pass and the run. He probably could play defensive end with his strength and athleticism, a combination which produced 29 tackles for loss in 2014. The big issue with Wright’s game is his tackling, as he frequently will whiff on the ball carrier, turning a good play for the defense into a big play for the offense. Also, Wright is not as rangy as some other linebackers in this group, but is adequate in chasing outside runs or dropping into coverage.

Other names to watch out for include: Myles Jack: OLB, UCLA and Dadi Nicholas: OLB, Virginia Tech.

Mid Round & Sleepers

If a team needs a throwback (middle linebacker) who can come down to the line of scrimmage and plug up run holes, they should look at Alabama’s Reggie Ragland. The Crimson Tide linebacker isn’t as small and light as others at his position-which can make him a bit of a liability in space. However, he is great in tight quarters, using his strength to engage bigger blockers and then disengage to make tackles for loss. Ragland also scores points for versatility, lining up on the defensive line at times and being a frequent contributor on special teams.

Oklahoma’s Eric Striker could be one of the most decorated linebackers in the country. Unfortunately, Striker will likely be a much better college player than pro. Part of this is due to his size, weighing in at a shade under 230 pounds, below average bulk. His versatility is also in question, as he projects likely as an outside linebacker in a 4-3. Still, Striker is a pretty rangy player despite his size and looks to be a pretty solid pass rusher. His instincts for the position need work.

A player who, while currently a relative unknown, could be a first round pick by season’s end is Rutgers outside linebacker Kemoko Turay. At 6’6” 240, Turay has a great frame, with perhaps the ability to add some weight and play full time defensive end. Although Turay spent most of his time playing on third downs in 2014, he did begin to see more snaps as the season progressed. The reason he mainly played on third down is because his pass rush skills are developing but, with some refinement, could be the best in the draft. With that said, Turay is extremely raw as a linebacker struggling to play the run and seldom dropping back in passing situations.

Other names to watch include, Devonte Fields: OLB, Louisville, Kyler Fackrell: OLB, Utah State, Joshua Perry: ILB, Ohio State, Daron Lee: OLB, Ohio State

Best of the Rest

Auburn linebacker Cassanova McKinzy will likely be an inside linebacker at the next level.  McKinzy looks to be pretty stout at 6’3” 253 pounds, and he can take on bigger offensive lineman with ease. He appears to know his assignments a bit better on passing plays than on running plays. McKinzy is not very rangy or very good at rushing the passer, but he is formidable against the run and a good tackler.

Striker’s teammate at Oklahoma, Dominique Alexander, is another NFL linebacker hopeful. Alexander appears to be a more traditional inside linebacker who does a good job at locating and flowing to the ball. He is a good tackler, despite his 6’0 220 pound frame, and shows a good amount of range. Like Striker, Alexander is undersized for the position, and it really shows when he has to engage with bigger blockers, lacking the strength to hold his ground when teams run in his direction.

Other players to watch are: Tyrik McCord: OLB, Miami, CJ Johnson: OLB, Ole Miss, Antonio Morrison: ILB, Florida, Kris Frost: ILB, Auburn, Ifeadi Odenigbo: OLB, Northwestern, and Kentrell Brothers: ILB, Missouri.

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Preseason 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Defensive Line

Top Tier

Ohio State’s Joey Bosa is the favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and is already receiving JJ Watt comparisons. The Buckeye end is one of the best lineman in the country as a result of his great athletic ability

Top Tier

Ohio State’s Joey Bosa is the favorite to be the first overall pick in the 2016 draft and is already receiving JJ Watt comparisons. The Buckeye end is one of the best lineman in the country as a result of his great athletic ability and even greater refinement of his game. When rushing the passer, he displays good swim, rip and spin moves to keep tackles off-balance. As a run defender, Bosa is stout and can shed offensive lineman to take on ball carriers.

Like Bosa, Oklahoma State’s Emmanuel Ogbah is an extremely refined player. He is not the athlete Bosa is, but Ogbah does all the little things right. Against the run, he is stout and Oklahoma State has used him at nose tackle on a few occasions even though he is listed as an end. Ogbah has a good motor and can effectively dip around blockers to reach the quarterback.

Robert Nkemdiche came to Ole Miss with high expectations, after being ranked as the number one high school senior in the country. The statistical results have been mixed, but Nkemdiche will likely be a top-15 selection if he keeps up his current rate of play. At 293 pounds, Nkemdiche plays tackle even though his speed is that of a much smaller player. He is also incredibly strong with a great bull rush. The only concern with Nkemdiche is his technique against the run, in which he won’t square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage, making it easy for offensive lineman to move him.

The top nose tackle in the 2016 draft figures to be Alabama tackle A’Shawn Robinson. Robinson’s game is all about stopping the run. He is built enough to hold a double team, while also showing enough agility to disengage and take down the ball carrier. As with most bigger tackles, endurance is a bit of a concern, and Robinson is not nearly as good against the pass as he is against the run.

Other players to watch include: Shawn Oakman: DE, Baylor, Montavius Adams: DT, Auburn, Deforest Buckner: DE, Oregon, Jordan Jenkins: DE, Georgia.

Mid-Round and Sleepers

Penn State end Anthony Zettel made off-season headlines when he sacked a tree on video. Zettel is extremely quick with excellent snap anticipation, allowing him to shoot the gap between offensive linemen. Zettel also has an excellent motor. He is solid in the run game, but he can struggle when teams run directly at him.

Even though Baylor has historically been known for its offense, it could have two defenders drafted early in 2016 with Oakman and tackle Andrew Billings. If Billings shows the ability to finish plays more often, his stock could go through the roof. He displays good strength and quickness in both the run and pass game.

Other names include: Shilique Calhoun: DE, Michigan State, Darius Hamilton: DE, Rutgers, Sheldon Day: DT, Notre Dame.

Best of the Rest

Nebraska nose tackle Vincent Valentine will be an interesting prospect going forward. At the moment, Valentine is much better against the run where he uses his size and quickness to be a disruptive force. He has little value against the pass, not yet having shown the ability to translate his size into a good bull-rush.

Valentine’s teammate, tackle Maliek Collins, is the complete opposite. Collins game is all about using speed and quickness to shoot the gap on running plays, and he shows more skill as a pass rusher. However, Collins is not nearly as successful against the run.

Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper looks like a solid two-down run stuffer at the NFL level. For a defensive end, he is incredibly stout and even shows the ability to be double-teamed but not concede any ground to blockers. He looks okay as a pass rusher but is not the type of player who will win based on speed.

Bronson Kaufusi from BYU is one of the more versatile players in the group, having spent most of his career at outside linebacker. As a pass rusher, Kaufusi has a good swim move to get past offensive lineman but does not have great speed or first step to make much of an impact aside from his swim. He looks solid as a run defender but appears better suited to rush the passer than take on running backs.

Other players to watch: Jonathan Bullard: DE, Florida, Drew Ott: DE, Iowa, Adolphus Washington: DT, Ohio State, Luther Maddy: DT, Virginia Tech. 

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Pre-Season 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Offensive Line

Top Tier

Entering the season, arguably the top offensive tackle is Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley.  The senior tackle has very few flaws in his game, and his strongest trait is his awareness in both the run and pass game. Unlike many college linemen, Stanley does not struggle with picking up complex blitzes or finding defenders on

Top Tier

Entering the season, arguably the top offensive tackle is Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley.  The senior tackle has very few flaws in his game, and his strongest trait is his awareness in both the run and pass game. Unlike many college linemen, Stanley does not struggle with picking up complex blitzes or finding defenders on the second level. His movement skills in space are outstanding, and he excels in pass blocking. Perhaps Stanley could improve on his toughness by finishing blocks a bit better, but that is a nit-picky criticism of his game.

LSU’s Vadal Alexander will make the transition to tackle this year but likely has a long-term future at guard. Alexander’s value is in the run game―he can effortlessly move his 6’6” body to the second level and block incoming linebackers or defensive backs. He is solid in pass protection; although, he does not recover well when he is beaten on the initial block. 

Another premier run blocker in this draft is USC’s Max Tuerk. A 6’6” offensive lineman, Tuerk looks like a tight end and does an excellent job at both swinging out on outside runs as well as moving downfield to reach the second, and third levels. He is also outstanding in pass protection; he seldom gets beat and when he does, he recovers very well.

One player who is just on the fringe of being a top tier prospect is Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin. Unlike many of the offensive linemen listed here, Conklin does not have great movement skills and can struggle with speed on the edge. However, in his match-up against highly touted defensive end Shawn Oakman last year, Conklin showed excellent ability in sustaining his blocks in both the pass and run game. Conklin is also very tough and plays through the whistle.

Mid Round & Sleepers

Ole Miss offensive tackle Larmey Tunsil is widely considered to be a top tackle prospect entering the 2015 season. However, after watching some of his game, its clear that he has some obvious flaws. Most apparent is his awareness, particularly in the run game. Tunsil’s mobility is certainly a plus, but once he moves up the field, he looks very confused as to what to do. With some refinement in his game, he can certainly be a first round pick.

At guard, Oklahoma’s Nia Kasitati is a name worth keeping an eye on. The Sooner is extremely well-rounded for his position. As a run blocker, Kasitati shows solid awareness along with good mobility and good push to create running lanes. In the passing game, Kasitati looks respectable as a pass blocker. His lateral mobility is not great, but he gets a good burst off the snap to compensate for his lateral movement deficiency.

Christian Westerman, a guard from Arizona State, is incredibly strong, as evidenced by his workout videos. His strength certainly shows on the field, more so in his pass blocking than his run blocking. However, Westerman might be too muscular because he does not look quick or mobile.

Other names to watch: Tyler Johnston, OT, Oregon; Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech; Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State; Kyle Murphy, OT, Stanford; Brandon Shell, OT, South Carolina; Landon Turner, OG, North Carolina, Kyle Friend, C, Temple.

Best of the Rest

Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango’s is a good pass blocker. His awareness and technique are above average, although he does not recover well if he is beaten off the snap. Drango really struggles in the run game in both locating the defender and actually making effective blocks.

Notre Dame guard Nick Martin’s awareness really stands out when watching him play. He seldom takes on the wrong man. Martin is a slightly better run blocker and looks really good when asked to pull out on sweep or toss runs. In pass protection, Martin does not have a ton of quickness and does not recover well, but does do an adequate job at keeping defenders away from the quarterback.

Texas A&M Germain Ifedi might be the next Aggie offensive lineman to be drafted in the first round, a streak that dates back to 2012. Should Ifedi achieve that goal, he has lots of work to do.  He is a natural mover, with maybe the quickest slide step of any tackle in the draft. On the other hand, Ifedi shows little technique and awareness, especially in the run game.  He also does not appear to have much of an edge in terms of finishing his blocks or playing to the whistle.

Ifedi’s teammate, center Mike Matthews, appears to be the complete opposite. Matthews’ game is much more refined both mentally and physically, while also demonstrating the toughness that Ifedi may be lacking. However, Matthews is not a great athlete and really can struggle in the run game, failing to generate much push.

Other players to watch: Cody Whitehair, OG, Kansas State; Pat Elfein ], OG, Ohio State; Matt Hegarty, C, Notre Dame; Kyle Fuller, C, Baylor.

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Pre-Season 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Receivers & Tight Ends

Top Tier

Although he might not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking about wide receivers with the potential to be drafted in the first round, Auburn’s Duke Williams certainly fits the criteria.

Physically, Williams has a great combination of height, weight and speed, allowing him to make some spectacular

Top Tier

Although he might not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking about wide receivers with the potential to be drafted in the first round, Auburn’s Duke Williams certainly fits the criteria.

Physically, Williams has a great combination of height, weight and speed, allowing him to make some spectacular catches. If there is one knock against him, it is that he is not as refined as some other receivers in this group, in part due to having just one year of experience at the Division I level.

Another potential first round receiver is Leontee Carroo from Rutgers. The best part of Carroo’s game is his hands. He shows good technique and enough strength to secure catches even with defenders draped around him. Carroo is not a guy with a ton of deep speed or quickness, but he has just enough that teams still need to respect his potential to make the big play.

Unlike Carroo, TCU’s Josh Doctson has tons of speed and quickness. He has a great release, and when not being pressed at the line of scrimmage, can reach his top speed in just a few steps.

The Horned Frog receiver also has an ability to make some spectacular catches. He might not be as refined a route runner as some other receivers, but he has the quickness to become one with some additional coaching.

As far as tight ends, Alabama’s O.J. Howard
looks like he has the making of a star tight end. He has been greatly under-utilized at Alabama, thus he is raw as far as a receiver. However, on the rare occasion he gets the ball, it is obvious that he could dominate the NFL. Like many tight ends who are more receiver than blocker, Howard really hasn’t shown a strong ability as a blocker.

Other notables:  Laquan Treadwell from Ole Miss and Tyler Boyd from Pitt.

Mid Round and Sleepers

South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper is a versatile, but extremely raw wide receiver. What could propel Cooper to be a first round prospect is if he worked on his catching technique, as he is prone to drops. Aside from the drops, Cooper is fast and quick. His experience as a wildcat triggerman shows he has good ability with the ball in his hands.

From Clemson, receiver Mike Williams looks to be the next Tiger receiver to make a splash in the NFL. Like other Tiger receivers succeeding in the NFL, Williams has deep speed and gets to his top speed really quickly. Williams does not have great foot quickness, which hurts his route running ability, and limits his effectiveness with the ball in his hands after the catch.

Other notables: LSU receiver Travin Dural, Notre Dame receiver Corey Robinson (son of NBA great David Robinson), Tight end Hunter Henry from Arkansas.

Best of the Rest

Mississippi State receiver De’Runnya Wilson looks like a pure possession receiver. The Bulldog has a 6’4” frame and shows great effort in blocking and in battling defenders for passes. However, Wilson does not have great speed or quickness.

Dan Vitale, a tight end from Northwestern, likely looks more suited as an H-Back at the next level, considering he is just 6’2”. It’d be unwise to overlook Vitale for his height. He has a pretty good release and looks to have enough speed and quickness to at least challenge linebackers he is matched up against.

If a team is looking for a receiver who is good at racking up yards after the catch, they’d be wise to look at Penn State receiver DaeSean Hamilton. When Hamilton gets the ball, it looks like he has a plan to how he wants to elude defenders, and is aided by some good quickness. However, Hamilton does not have great long speed and does not have great size.

Florida tight end Jake McGee looks like a solid possession type tight end. His blocking is considered to be below average, but he has good size and is a savvy route runner. McGee has great hands, and combined with good size and good vertical, give him a large catch radius.

Other names to watch: Wideout Marquez North of Tennessee, tight end Nick Vannett  and receiver Michael Thomas from Ohio State, Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram, Kyle Carter a tight end from Penn State,  Stanford receiver Devon Cajuste, Quinshad Davis receiver from North Carolina, Oklahoma wideout Sterling Shepard, tight end Braxton Deaver of Duke, Pharaoh Brown a tight end from Oregon.

Pre-Season NFL Draft Watch: Quarterbacks

Pre-Season NFL Draft Watch: Running backs

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Pre-Season 2016 NFL Draft Watch: Running Backs

Top Tier

James Conner, Pittsburgh
A quick anecdote on this year’s class: at the moment, none of the backs grade out as first rounder’s like Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon. Conner’s best attribute is that he is extremely tough to bring down. He not only has the power for the position, but also great vision and balance

Top Tier

James Conner, Pittsburgh
A quick anecdote on this year’s class: at the moment, none of the backs grade out as first rounder’s like Todd Gurley or Melvin Gordon. Conner’s best attribute is that he is extremely tough to bring down. He not only has the power for the position, but also great vision and balance which make him a threat in the open field. However, his long speed is not great.

Kenneth Dixon, Louisiana Tech
Dixon might be the most complete running back in this year’s class. His best assets as a runner are his strength, power and balance, which are complimented by his willingness to constantly fight for extra yards. He does a good job at hitting the line hard and showing good initial vision at the line of contact. He also has the speed to break some big runs. Dixon looks like he has some value on third down showing great pass-blocking ability.

Mid Rounds & Sleepers

Corey Clement, Wisconsin
Like Melvin Gordon a year ago, Clement has tons of speed to burn. However, he does not have a ton of power and will need to work on his vision. But do not underestimate his tenacity; in the open field, Clement is very difficult for defenders to corral.

Devonte Booker, Utah
There are times Booker can be extremely frustrating to watch, showing poor vision and balance. Other times, he shows great power and toughness to break off some incredible runs. If Booker can become more consistent with his reads he has a chance to be one of the top backs in this group.

Brandon Wilds, South Carolina
Outside of Henry, Wilds might have the best frame on this list at 6’2” and 224 pounds. Wilds is more than a big back, showing a good amount of agility and some value as a pass catcher. But, he does not have a ton of speed and will not have many touchdowns streaking past defenders. A full season as a starter should see if Wilds can be more than a short yardage back.

Best of the Rest

DJ Foster, Arizona State
Foster is probably the most versatile running back in this year’s class, he is arguably a better receiver than he is a running back. He has really good long speed and burst leading to some big runs. But Foster offers very little between the tackles.

Alex Collins, Arkansas
Collins is certainly the superior runner out of the Arkansas backfield. He runs hard and has good vision to get some decent yards between the tackles. Collins’ long speed and power are mediocre which puts a cap on his upside.

Nick Wilson, Arizona
The Wildcat tailback looks like a solid fit as a zone runner, with good vision, agility and burst when he hits the line of scrimmage. Wilson does not offer as much as far as speed in the open field nor strength to push the pile; though his toughness does slightly compensate for a lack of power.

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