Posted on: August 31, 2010 10:49 pm
Edited on: August 31, 2010 11:50 pm
On draft day each year, amid the excitement and bustle, I always find one aspect of scouting to be, well, bittersweet.
Follow along with me a moment.
It is impossible in this business to not develop favorite prospects through the course of a year. Often, I've characterized some of these favorites in an article that we, NFLDraftScout.com, affectionately refer to as Rang's Gang .
The players featured in Rang's Gang aren't supposed to be the best. In fact, the only real rule is that they aren't supposed to be first round prospects. Considering I write each year's article a month or so before the draft, sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised that a club feels as highly about the player as I do and my "rule" is broken.
Typically, however, these are mid-round players who have legitimate NFL talent and have demonstrated some intangible (e.g., instincts, determination, physicality, technique, etc.) that caused them to stand out (at least to me) from their peers.
Now the bittersweet part.
Unfortunately, on draft day, I sometimes see these "favorites" placed into tough situations. There are prospects, for example, who I feel are best suited to one scheme but are drafted into another. Or, talented players drafted behind starters in their primes, potentially meaning limited playing time. Or, players, who after interviewing them, I've felt might do best working for a "player-friendly" coach -- and then are drafted into a team with a strict disciplinarian.
Some players are so talented all they need is an opportunity.
Others, toll in relative anonymity until a change in scenery, scheme, coaching staff or a veteran moving on give them a freer lane to NFL success.
Here are 5 players I think find that lane this year.
CB Josh Wilson, Ravens: A second round pick by the Seahawks in 2007, Wilson has started 23 games the past two seasons, demonstrating true playmaking ability on a struggling defense. His lack of height (5-09) made him an immediate tough fit in Pete Carroll's scheme that prefers taller corners, so his trade to the Ravens, however, wasn't shocking. Wilson has returned three of his six INTs the past two years for touchdowns and is the Seahawks' all-time leader in kickoff return average (25.76) with a TD scored his rookie year. His height is obviously an issue -- especially considering the big receivers of the AFC North. Wilson plays bigger than his height due to physicality and pure speed. He was "officially" clocked at 4.39 seconds at the 2007 Combine. Here's the thing. If Wilson was able to make this many plays for the Seahawks' anemic pass rush (more on this later), imagine how much more effective he could be with the Ravens' defense around him.
RB Peyton Hillis, Browns: Characterized by some as little more than a throw-in for the Browns in the trade that made Brady Quinn a Denver Bronco, Hillis, I believe, will emerge as one of the league's best young fullbacks this year. Hillis' overall athleticism and versatility intrigued me back when he played at Arkansas. This guy played fullback, tailback, H-back, tight end and wide receiver in the SEC. Not only that, the 6-2, 250 pounder was the Razorbacks' punt returner at a time when Darren McFadden and Felix Jones were the supposed future NFL stars. In fact, Hillis already has seven touchdowns in only two NFL seasons. Seven not so impressive, you say? Jones has scored six touchdowns for the Dallas Cowboys, thus far. McFadden, for the Raiders, has only five.
DE Chris Clemons, Seahawks: Clemons, entering his seventh NFL season, is older than the others on this list. He is an example of a player whose new environment is going to help him tremendously. Clemons, originally an undrafted free agent out of Georgia who signed with the Redskins, has flashed as an outside pass rusher with the Raiders and Eagles. Those two defenses featured other talented pass rushers during Clemons' tenure, limiting his opportunities for production. He was fast off the edge; just not fast enough on teams featuring Derrick Burgess, Warren Sapp and Trent Cole. Clemons has had success before. He, opposite Burgess in 2007 with the Raiders, collected 8 sacks. He's never topped four any other year of his career. Unless injured, he should have no problem rejuvenating his career this season with Seattle. Clemons is quicker upfield than anyone else on Seattle's front four. With the noise generated at Qwest Field, Clemons could push his career numbers simply because someone, sometime has to register a pass rush for the Seahawks.
WR Jacoby Jones, Texans: Some of you will claim I'm jumping on the bandwagon with Jones, as it is no secret he's been a preseason star this year for the Texans. In reality, I've been driving the bandwagon (as well as changing the oil and fixing the brakes ) with Jones long before he ever teamed up with Matt Schaub. Jones has been making big plays as the Texans' third wideout, but his production this year could rival most team's No. 2.
QB Kevin Kolb, Eagles: This is what it comes down to for me in regards to Kolb. Sure, it was a risk by Andy Reid to trade Donovan McNabb, but consider this. Mike Holmgren, who was Bill Walsh's QB coach from 1986-1988, knew Matt Hasselbeck could run his offense when he left Brett Favre and Green Bay for Seattle. Andy Reid, Holmgren's QB coach in Green Bay in 1997-1998, obviously feels that it is Kolb's time. That's good enough for me -- (especially when I scouted Kolb in the preseason ). Kolb's poise, accuracy and quick release could make him a quick star in this offense.
Posted on: August 24, 2010 3:36 pm
There are lots of opinions out there as to which rookies will have an immediate impact this year. The popularity of fantasy football puts most of the attention on skill position players, but hardcore fans are just as interested in offensive linemen or safeties (or any other position) giving their favorite teams immediate and significant playing time.
I've featured several higher round picks like C.J. Spiller , Bryan Bulaga and Brandon Spikes already as players I fully expected to stand out as rookies and, at least in the preseason, have done so.
I've also listed 10 players drafted in the 3rd round or later who have impressed as rookies.
The following five players make up the exact opposite story. They are five well-hyped prospects who have thus struggled to acclimate to the NFL.
QB Colt McCoy, Cleveland: McCoy was recently among a list of eight players characterized by Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer as "need[ing] good showings in the last two games to make the roster." McCoy, in two games, has only completed 5 of 12 passes for 25 yards. He's thrown two interceptions and taken two sacks.
RB Toby Gerhart, Minnesota: The Vikings were hopeful that Gerhart would win the 3rd down role behind Adrian Peterson. Gerhart's inconsistent hands and route-running is a concern. So too is the lack of foot quickness he's shown so far. Gerhart can help this team as a short-yardage specialist, but that may be it.
WR Armanti Edwards, Carolina: Edwards has flashed for the Panthers, but he's shown just how tough it is to switch from college quarterback to NFL wide receiver. He's had issues at receiver and punt returner and may require a "redshirt" year.
WR Golden Tate, Seattle: The 2009 Biletnikof winner, Tate has been a star in training camp, but in the games -- where he's needed to run crisper routes -- he's struggled to demonstrate the same playmaking ability. Tate will be fine. He's too talented not to, but he has only three catches for 13 yards in two games so far.
RB Joe McKnight, New York Jets: I remember when McKnight signed with USC out of the state of Louisiana as one of the most hyped prep prospects in the country. He never showed the agility and balance of Reggie Bush -- the guy he was signed to replace -- at USC though, at times, he received similar hype. McKnight is a terrific athlete, but I haven't seen the toughness out of him so far to think the Jets can keep him on the field much this year.
Posted on: August 22, 2010 5:31 am
Edited on: August 22, 2010 3:00 pm
By the end of the first drive of his second NFL game, Russell Okung -- the player Seattle drafted (and paid) to replace Hall of Famer Walter Jones -- suffered a "legitimate ankle sprain" which could keep him sidelined into the regular season.
Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said he wasn't sure if the sprain was of the "high ankle" variety, which often takes considerably longer than "low ankle" sprains to heal. High ankle sprains are known to sideline players for 4-6 weeks or more.
Seattle hosts NFC West division favorite San Francisco in three weeks to begin the regular season.
I attended this game and looked forward to comparing the play of Okung and Green Bay Packers' first round pick Bryan Bulaga (who was impressive ).
In watching Okung's three plays live, as well as watching and re-watching the recording of the game I took at home, I still am not sure how or even when, precisely, Okung was injured.
Neither were Carroll nor quarterback Matt Hasselbeck when interviewed following the game.
Okung started at left tackle and played each of the three offensive downs of Seattle's first drive. The rookie did not appear to be injured on either of the first two plays -- two runs by Justin Forsett.
Okung appeared to ease out of his stance cleanly into pass protection on third down. He was balanced and under control. The pocket began to break down and Hasselbeck made his throw -- which Deion Branch allowed to slip through his hands -- and the Seahawks were forced to punt. Though I focused on Okung throughout much of the play, I followed Hasselbeck's pass and didn't notice Okung being hurt.
Later, after it was announced that Okung had suffered an ankle injury and was "doubtful" to return, I asked some of the media and pro scouts around me if they had noticed Okung limp off the field or suffer the injury. None had.
In fact, the first notion most (all?) of us in the pressbox had that Okung was hurt was when former offensive guard Mansfield Wrotto took over as Seattle's left tackle on the next drive. Seattle Post Intelligencer's Greg Johns reports that Okung was "helped to the locker room early in the first quarter." Okung did not return to the field, nor was he made available to the media following the game.
Upon getting home this evening, I reviewed the film to see if there was a clearer view of the injury.
As I suspected, the television coverage focused on Hasselbeck's pass to Branch on third down. Okung appears to be comfortable in pass protection when the camera follows the ball.
Often, when offensive linemen receive ankle injuries while in pass protection, they are rolled up from behind. The pocket was shifting as the play ended and it is possible that this is precisely what occurred with Okung. The television coverage I have, however, does not show Okung being knocked down.
Regardless of how it happened, the injury to Okung could wreak havoc with the quiet optimism that had been brewing in Carroll's first training camp in Seattle.
The Seahawks struggled mightily with injuries along the offensive line last year; they started five different left tackles last season. Improved consistency and durability along the offensive line was considered as critical to the Seahawks improving from their 5-11 record last year as any other factor.
The usually energetic Carroll appeared somber in the post-game press conference, admitting that Okung's ankle sprain was "pretty significant."
He was short on specifics other than to say that Okung's x-rays were negative and that the No. 6 overall pick would undergo an MRI Sunday.
Carroll did, however, further acknowledge the severity of the situation.
"We obviously made it [left tackle] as big a priority as we could make it in getting him," Carroll said. "So, we'll have to see how it goes."
"That's a big loss if he can't come back. We put a lot of time and effort into getting this guy right and he's done everything we've asked of him. We'll just have to see how long it's going to take."
Mansfield Wrotto played the rest of the game at left tackle for the Seahawks.
Okung's injury is the second the team has faced in the past week along the offensive line. Ray Willis, who started all 16 games last year at right tackle for the club, was already out with plans to undergo knee surgery. His injury, like Okung's, is expected to keep Willis out until at least the start of the regular season -- and perhaps much longer.
Posted on: August 21, 2010 11:59 pm
Edited on: August 22, 2010 12:22 am
If the season goes as hoped for the Green Bay Packers, first round pick Bryan Bulaga won't see much time at left tackle. The Packers feature former Pro Bowler Chad Clifton on the left side and certainly don't want to have to trust Aaron Rodgers' blindside protection with a rookie.
However, with Clifton, Rodgers and the rest of Green Bay's starters comfortably on the sideline, Bulaga has been impressive working againt Seattle's starting defense throughout the second quarter of the team's preseason game tonight.
Bulaga, playing left tackle matched up against Seattle's best pass rusher -- DE Chris Clemons -- throughout much of the second quarter. While Clemons has occasionally challenged Bulaga with a speed rush, the former Iowa Hawkeye has done a nice job protecting backup quarterback Matt Flynn and providing big running lanes.
Bulaga has the footwork necessary to remain at left tackle, though he isn't an elite athlete. He's shown good upper body strength, routinely latching onto Clemons and controlling him. Bulaga's anchor has also been impressive. Clemons was flagged late in the second quarter for getting his hands too high into Bulaga's facemask, but the No. 23 overall pick of the 2010 draft held his ground surprisingly well. He's also done a nice job in the running game, popping Clemons quickly and turning him either inside to set the edge or outside to open up a clear gap for the Packers' backup runners.
Beginning in the third quarter, Bulaga was moved inside to left guard. While his play there has been solid, his inexperience at the position was obvious. Quinn Pitcock, a backup defensive tackle struggling to earn a roster spot, beat him off the snap on a few occasions with a quick burst early on. There were also times when his initial punch was too high, giving the Seattle DTs an opportunity to rush the passer after being stopped initially. As the third quarter went on, however, Bulaga seemed to gain confidence inside. Again, the power that was evident against Clemons when playing left tackle proved helpful at left guard. Bulaga was consistently able to land the initial pop to the defender and generate running lanes.
Currently listed as the backup left tackle and left guard for the Packers, Bulaga is likely to see plenty of playing time as a rookie.
If tonight's performance was any indication, Bulaga appears capable of helping immediately and like a potential future standout at whatever position the Packers most need help along the left side.
Posted on: August 19, 2010 12:23 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2010 12:23 pm
If you like NFLDraftScout.com's year-round coverage of college and pro football and especially the NFL Draft, you may want to check out our two latest ventures onto the radio airwaves.
My fellow draft analysts Chris Steuber and Chad Reuter introduced our new series "Setting The Board" on NFLDraftScout.com radio just last night. The show, which airs each Wednesday night at 6pm EST and offers listeners a live call-in, is off to a rocking start. The topics last night range from Rex Ryan's obscenity-filled theatrics on HBO's Hard Knocks to Tim Tebow's first NFL test to the real meat and potatoes of our content -- checking out the prospective NFL talent across the country.
Last night's show focused on the senior prospects on the offensive side of the ball, including a debate as to which of the top quarterbacks -- Washington's Jake Locker or Florida State's Christian Ponder -- is the most pro-ready.
In case you weren't able to listen in live or simply want to listen again, you can check it out by either following the prominent NFLDraftScout.com radio link on the right side of our main page here or simply by clicking on this link to go directly to our UStream link.
For those of you that would like to listen to me yap a bit, as well, I'll be co-hosting with Ian Furness on Seattle's 950 KJR AM today from 4-6 pm EST. KJR's website offers a "Listen Live" feature off their main page and toll-free numbers to call in and talk with us.
Live at the Seattle Seahawks' training camp, listeners can expect a great deal of talk centering on Pete Carroll's bunch, but Ian and I often break down college prospects that the Seahawks and every other NFL team are certain to be keeping an eye on. In fact, Ian and I broke down prospects on KJR each Friday last fall and plan to do the same this year, as well.
I hope you'll find the time to join us NFLDraftScout.com radio in the future. If you're like us -- and can't live without draft talk even nine months away from the event -- this is the place to be.
Posted on: August 17, 2010 12:45 pm
During a handful of radio spots over the past few days I've been asked to list rookies that have stood out to me in film review so far in the preseason.
Of course, I start out with some of the obvious choices. Many of the first and second round picks are already proving that the 2010 draft class was every bit as strong as we said it was .
Rather than re-state the obvious -- that Ndamukong Suh guy is pretty good -- I thought I'd highlight ten players selected in the third round or later that I and, more importantly, league sources feel have been impressive thus far in the preseason.
This isn't meant to be an exhaustive list. There are certainly other players who have stood out, as well. Feel free to leave comments with others that have impressed you and I'll keep my eye on them.
Players are listed in the order they were selected, not necessarily by who has impressed the most.
Tags: Cam Thomas, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, Geno Atkins, Green Bay Packers, Greg Hardy, Jarius Byrd, John Conner, Jordan Shipley, Jordan Shipley, Mike Williams, Morgan Burnett, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oregon, Patrick Chung, San Diego Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, T.J. Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Victor Cruz, Walter Thurmond
Posted on: August 10, 2010 8:36 pm
Chris Steuber is a new addition to the NFLDraftScout.com family and has already done a fantastic job of helping Chad Reuter and I keep new content on the site even though the season hasn't yet even begun.
His most recent article, "Second Year Players From The 2009 Draft Who Could Take Off" is an interesting read. Chris highlights a player from each of the 2009 draft's seven rounds that he feels could enjoy significantly better "sophomore" seasons than their rookie campaigns.
It is an interesting enough idea that I thought I'd jump in on the conversation. I mean no disrespect to Chris. Quite the opposite, actually. As they say, imitation is the best form of flattery.
I just have some different opinions as to some second year players who may "breakout" in 2010 and thought the group would make for an interesting blog post.
Feel free, as always, to comment...
First Round: Chris Wells, RB, Arizona -- I strongly considered several others for this role. I anticipate big second seasons from several players who, quite frankly, were disappointments their rookie seasons. Chris picked OLB Aaron Maybin for the Bills. The same logic he uses for Maybin I believe could be used to argue for fellow OLBs Aaron Curry (Seattle), Robert Ayers (Denver) and Larry English (San Diego). I'm going instead with Beanie Wells, however. I don't even necessarily expect that the former Buckeye star will start early in the season as I'm among those who feel Tim Hightower rarely gets his due. That said, there is no denying the impact Wells made as the Cardinals finished their season. With Arizona moving to a more run-heavy offense this year, I expect Wells to emerge as one of the NFC's better young backs.
Second Round: Patrick Chung, S, New England -- There were few players I raved about more frequently than Chung prior to the 2009 draft. The former Oregon star hardly took the NFL by storm as a rookie, but let's be honest, adjusting to Bill Belichick's defense can take even the savviest of players a year to get comfortable. Just wait. I'm not wrong on this kid.
Third Round: Deon Butler, WR, Seattle -- Butler emerged as one of the few bright spots on an otherwise slow and unathletic Seattle receiving corps as a rookie. He's been a star in OTAs and training camp so far this summer. Rookie Golden Tate is getting all of the attention, but don't be surprised if this is the undersized speedster who emerges as the Seahawks' most consistent big play threat in 2010.
Fourth Round: Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville -- Thomas only started four games for the Jaguars as a rookie, but still shattered the team's record for rookie receptions (48) and receiving yards (453). Sure, his size (5-8, 198) isn't intimidating, but Thomas has the agility and toughness to play well despite a less than ideal frame. He's also been lighting up practices thus far in training camp. Perhaps most importantly, he's already earned David Garrard's trust.
Fifth Round: Javon Ringer, RB, Tennessee -- Ok, for this one Chris and I agree. The Titans decision to trade away LenDale White and yet not aggressively pursue another big back in the draft or free agency gives me the impression that Jeff Fisher and his staff realized the same thing I did when reviewing Ringer: while he may lack size, he certainly doesn't lack for toughness. Ringer isn't going to take away too many of Chris Johnson's touches, but I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him emerge as the club's primary backup to their superstar.
Sixth Round: Brice McCain, CB, Houston -- I fully recognize that the Texans weren't so overcome with McCain's talent that they ignored cornerback early in the draft. Their first round pick, Kareem Jackson, is a terrific talent who I believe will quickly help erase the negative feelings left behind by now-Atlanta Falcon Dunta Robinson. However, I'm a sucker for quick feet and McCain certainly has those. He may never emerge as a standout starter, but I think he has the agility to be a heckuva nickel corner for a long time.
Seventh Round: Lance Louis, OG, Chicago -- Disrespect Mike Tice's ability as a head coach all you want. For my money, there aren't three better offensive line coaches in the NFL than the former starting NFL tight end. Louis was graded by some as a tight end or H-back coming out of San Diego State, but the Bears took a chance on him last year. Now, Tice believes Louis has a real chance at earning the starting right guard position. With his athleticism and the Bears' focus on the passing game under Mike Martz, Louis could surprise.
Posted on: August 7, 2010 3:43 pm
With each of their first three picks of the 2010 draft -- OT Russell Okung, FS Earl Thomas and WR Golden Tate -- thought likely to win starting jobs for the Seattle Seahawks, their rookie class could be one of the more critical first-year groups in all of the NFL.
I've attended several OTA and training camp practices at the team's facility since the draft, including today's morning practice.
Considering that he was the last 2010 rookie to sign his contract and the gargantuan shoes he has to fill in taking over for Walter Jones, former No. 6 overall pick Russell Okung is certain to earn plenty of attention this season. So far, Okung has been characterized as "solid, but not spectacular" by those close to the team. He lined up with the second-team unit on Friday, his first practice since signing his deal, but had been moved up to the first-team today.
The more impressive players, thus far, have been Seattle's "other" first round pick, free safety Earl Thomas and second round pick, wide receiver/returner Golden Tate.
Thomas' instincts, quick feet and ball-skills have been on display. Though veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been able to take advantage of the rookie's aggression, at times, Thomas has more than held his own. An interception in the end-zone was one of the best plays I saw during the June OTAs and he's consistently been in good position to make plays in training camp, as well. Considering Seattle's questionable pass rush and the rookie target on his chest, Thomas could be challenged early and often. With Thomas' ball skills and solid play from cornerbacks Marcus Trufant, Kelly Jennings and Josh Wilson, the 2010 No. 14 overall pick could enjoy a rookie campaign similar to the stunning breakout campaign that Jairus Byrd had last year with the Buffalo Bills. Byrd tied for the NFL lead with nine interceptions last season despite missing a couple games due to a groin injury.
Tate has been characterized to me by Seahawks' staff as having "made at least one big play each day" so far. His strong, compact frame and vision has already made him one to watch for the quick passes that offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates likes and he's shown a burst as a returner, as well.
The impressive leaping ability that characterized many of Tate's best plays for Notre Dame last year was evident this morning when he jumped high to snatch a deep pass downfield thrown by J.P. Losman. Trufant, however, was in perfect position to knock the ball out of Tate's hands as the two came down. Though the pass ultimately was incomplete, Tate's athleticism gives the Seahawks the big-play threat they've lacked since the days of Joey Galloway.
It is always tough to gauge how well rookies will be able to acclimate to the NFL based on their performances in training camp. Still, for a team desperate for an infusion of talent at so many positions, Seattle's "big three" rookies should be among those making an immediate impact in 2010.