Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 WR Rankings

The last two WR draft classes have been absolutely phenomenal. This year’s class in not as loaded with talent by comparison, but it’s still a very strong group of players with very distinct talents and styles of play.
In my mind there are three distinct tiers at the top of this WR draft class. Below I’ll discuss the players and give you some video examples of what I’m seeing. You’ll notice that almost all of the clips are from Draft Breakdown. The work that the people at Draft Bearkdown do is an unbelievable asset to anyone who loves the NFL, NCAA Football, the NFL Draft or just football in general. I want to give a huge thanks to everyone at draftbreakdown.com for all of the amazing work that you do. All of us football geeks are in debt. With that, onto the rankings.

Tier 1

1)   Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss)




Strengths:

1)    Wins at the catch point: Treadwell attacks the ball in the air and consistently wins jump balls. He uses his big, powerful frame to hold his position and has the strength in his hands to rip the ball away from DBs.

2)    Run after catch ability: Treadwell uses his strength after the catch to break the tackles of overmatched DBs.

3)    Blocking: Treadwell uses his long arms to get his hands into the chest of defenders. In addition to his physical tools, Treadwell has a nasty disposition and blocks through the whistle.

4)    Release: Treadwell uses several different moves to beat press coverage. He also uses his hands well to disengage.

Weaknesses:

1)    Route running: Treadwell has a tendency to round off his routes, dig routes in particular.

2)    Concentration drops: Treadwell is prone to lapses in focus, usually looking up field too early on screens. This isn’t terribly concerning but worth noting.

Overview:

Laquon Treadwell is the most complete receiver in this draft class. Treadwell plays with a level of intensity and toughness that reflects his passion for his craft. Some evaluators point to Treadwell’s poor combine results and claim that he lacks the physical tools to be a true number one receiver. His build and combine results have prompted comparisons to Alshon Jeffery, but I disagree. Jefferey never played with the level of toughness and confidence that Treadwell plays with. I would be more inclined to compare Treadwell to Brandon Marshall. Treadwell has more than enough physical ability to thrive as a number one receiver. Laquon Treadwell is well worth an early first round pick. If he falls to the Giants, no defense will ever be safe!

Draft grade: Top 10 pick


2)   Josh Doctson (TCU)



Strengths:

1)    Unstoppable at the catch point: Doctson makes highlight reel catches so often that they begin to look routine. He has elite leaping ability and shows great concentration and ball tracking ability.

2)    Route running: Doctson can sink his hips and get out of breaks without losing much speed for his size. His route running should really take off once he gets some NFL coaching.

Weaknesses:

1)    Gets redirected too easily: Doctson has a relatively slight frame. DBs are able to push him around and interrupt his routes. He gets pinned against the sideline far too often. Doctson may struggle with press coverage initially. He does have the room on his frame to add some muscle.

2)    Concentration drops: While Doctson makes difficult catches look easy, he struggles at times maintaining concentration on routine catches.

Overview:

Josh Doctson has the most upside of any receiver in this draft class. He’s a jump ball extraordinaire with underrated deep speed. If Doctson can add some muscle to his frame and continue to develop as a route runner, he’ll be a nightmare to defend. Doctson’s has a rare combination of physical tools that warrant consideration in the middle of the first round.

Draft grade: Late 1st round pick.

Tier 2

3)   Corey Coleman (Baylor)



Strengths:

1)   Speed/acceleration: There’s no substitute for pure speed, and Corey Coleman has speed to spare. He routinely burned overmatched DBs while at Baylor and will continue to at the next level.

2)   Run after catch ability: Coleman’s combination of speed and elusiveness makes him a nightmare in the open field. He has the ability to take slants and screens to the house at any time.

3)   Release: Coleman has a nice repertoire of moves to beat press coverage.

Weaknesses:

1)    Hands: Unlike Treadwell and Doctson, Coleman’s drops are not just a product of concentration. Coleman doesn’t look comfortable catching the ball with his arms extended. This shows up most often on short and intermediate routes. Coleman shows a lack a willingness to attack the ball at its highest point.

Overview:

Coleman is an absolute burner who stretches the field and is electric after the catch. Unfortunately, Coleman’s average to below average play at the catch point will likely prevent him from becoming a dominant #1 receiver. That being said, Coleman’s outrageous quicks will open up other parts of the field for him in addition to the deep ball. Coleman would be a terrifying sight for opposing defenses lining up across from Julio Jones or DeAndre Hopkins.

Draft grade: 2nd round pick

4)   Tyler Boyd (Pitt)



Strengths:

1)    Route running: Boyd is an incredible route runner. He has very flexible hips which allows him to get in and out of his breaks without losing much speed. He also uses head and shoulder fakes very well. Boyd truly understands how to set up and manipulate defenders with his routes.

2)    Strong hands: – Boyd routinely snatches contested passes away from defenders.  His ability to make catches in traffic over the middle of the field will earn him plenty of targets.

Weaknesses:

1)    Lacks elusiveness after the catch: Boyd has a hard time making defenders miss after the catch. He gets tripped up very easily and looks like he’s thinking when he gets into the open field.

2)    Lacks elite athleticism: Boyd was able to beat teams deep at times at the college level. He has some build up speed but lacks the explosive, quick twitch athleticism of an elite NFL receiver. Boyd will struggle to separate on deep routes at the next level.

Overview:

Tyler Boyd is a smooth, technical route runner with hands like vice grips. His timed speed doesn’t reflect the speed he plays with because he gets out of his breaks without slowing down. While Boyd’s physical limitations may prevent him from becoming a #1 option, he could become a very productive receiver working from the slot as well as outside. Boyd’s game would fit very well in a timing based offense where the ball comes out quickly.

Draft Grade: 2nd round pick


5)   Mike Thomas (Southern Miss)



Strengths:

1)    Speed/deep ball: Thomas uses his speed to get on top of DBs and does a great job of stacking them once he’s in position.

2)    Strong at catch point: Thomas does a great job of adjusting to the ball in the air and fully extending his arms to make the catch. He also shows great concentration.

3)    Run after catch ability: Thomas is very deliberate getting up the field after the catch. He doesn’t spend a lot of time making moves, he just catches the ball and gets north and south.

Weaknesses:

1)    Blocking: Thomas is poor blocker, not for a lack of effort. He simply doesn’t have the technique at this point. This will be the biggest barrier to getting playing time early in his career.

2)    Route running: Thomas’ routes occasionally lack a sense of purpose. He has the ability to develop into a very good route runner and did improve over the course of his time at Southern Mississippi.

Overview:

Despite being incredibly productive in his senior season, Mike Thomas has been largely overlooked. He has the speed to stretch the field, the ball skills win at the catch point and the acceleration to gash defenses after the catch. Mike Thomas’ floor is a good number two wide receiver. His ceiling could be much higher. He’ll likely be drafted in the late third round at the earliest, which means that one lucky team is going to find a true steal in Mike Thomas.

Draft Grade: 2nd round pick


6)   Michael Thomas (Ohio State)



Strengths:

1)    Route running: Michael Thomas is an exceptional route runner for a receiver his size. He shows great attention to detail and does and excels at beating press coverage.

2)    Run after the catch ability: Thomas is a powerful player who breaks a lot of tackles after the catch. He is not a shifty player but his speed can take tacklers by surprise.

Weaknesses:

1)    Blocking: Thomas doesn’t have a great feel for blocking. He allows defenders to slip underneath his blocks and make plays on the ball carrier. It’s disappointing because he has the physical tools to push opposing DBs around. The effort is there as well. It may just take some NFL level coaching.

2)    Speed: Thomas has good speed for his size but he isn’t a field stretcher by any stretch of the imagination.

Overview:

Thomas uses crisp routes to create separation and shields defenders from the ball with his big body. He’s hard to bring down and routinely turns slants and curls into big plays after the catch. He lacks elite athleticism but has good speed for his size. Thomas projects as a very strong #2 target at the next level.

Draft grade: 2nd round pick


Tier 3

7)   Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia)



Strengths:

1)    Wins at the catch point: Mitchell excels at adjusting to the ball and uses his gargantuan hands to pluck the ball out of the air. Mitchell consistently wins contested catches.

2)    Run after catch ability: Mitchell uses a blend of speed and elusiveness to create plays after the catch. He makes defenders miss with subtle moves and then uses his speed and acceleration to create once he sees an opening.

Weaknesses:

1)    Struggles vs press coverage: Mitchell gets jammed/redirected too easily. He needs develop some moves to get off of the line without being engaged. He’s also pretty skinny which doesn’t help. He’ll need to get his hands more involved at the line of scrimmage to get off of the line quicker.

2)    Route running: Mitchell did a lot of his damage on slants, curls and go routes at Georgia. But there is nothing limiting his physically or mentally from continuing to develop as a route runner.

Overview:

Mitchell is a one of the more underrated players in this draft class. He has the speed to keep DBs honest and excels at the catch point as well as after the catch. While he lacks elite size, Mitchell has the talent to become a really good number two receiver. He’ll need some time to develop his route tree. Mitchell will probably end up being a steal for a smart team that recognizes his versatility.

Draft grade: Late 2nd round pick


8)   Leonte Carroo (Rutgers)



Strengths:

1)    Speed: Carroo has above average speed. He’s not a burner like Fuller or Coleman but he has enough speed to keep defenses honest.

2)    Release: Carroo uses a variety of moves to beat press coverage. He also has the upper body strength to win hands fights with DBs.

3)    Run after catch ability: Carroo has a strong, compact build and is hard to bring down after the catch. He also has the agility and moves to make defenders miss in the open field. If he has a size advantage he’ll run through arm tackles. If he’s the smaller man, he makes his defender miss.

Weaknesses:

1)    Passive at the catch point: Carroo waits on the ball far too often. He allows defenders to contest passes instead of attacking the ball in the air.

Overview:

Carroo’s game is well rounded. He doesn’t do anything exceptionally well but does everything well enough to move all around the formation. As a result, Carroo could be a good fit in a variety of schemes and should have a high floor as an NFL receiver. If he develops quickly as a route runner, he could be a strong number two option. I appreciate the toughness that Carroo plays with and NFL coaches will as well.

Draft grade: Late 2nd – Early 3rd round pick.


9)   Sterling Shepard (Oklahoma)



Strengths:

1)    Route running: Shepard is possibly the best route runner in this class of receivers. He excels at creating separation using out routes and pivot routes. He changes speed and uses head fakes to bait defenders. He also does a great job of finding holes and sitting down against zone coverage.

2)    Run after catch ability: Shepard is a compact receiver. He has great balance and uses it to break arms tackles with regularity.

Weaknesses:

1)    Lacks elusiveness: Shepard’s agility is underwhelming for a player his size. Most receivers his size dominate one on one matchups in the open field. Shepard looks awkward trying to shake defenders. I don’t like to lean combine numbers too often, but Shepard’s 3 cone time (7.00) accurately reflects the lack of short area quickness you see on the field.

2)    Struggles to separate at times: Shepard struggles to separate at times when facing more talented DBs.

Overview:

Sterling Shepard is going to make his money working out of the slot in the NFL. He’s a tough, savvy route runner that plays with a ton of heart and effort. He’ll be able to beat slot corners using his routes to create separation. Although he will struggle to separate consistently on the outside against more athletic cover corners. I don’t see Shepard as more than an elite slot receiver. I’ll be rooting for him to prove me wrong.

Draft grade: 3rd round pick


10)                  Will Fuller (Notre Dame)



Strengths:

1)    Speed: Will Fuller is a burner plain and simple. He has the type of speed that commands a large cushion and safety help over the top.

Weaknesses:

1)    Hands: Fuller is a body catcher. When he does extend his arms to make a catch he looks uncomfortable. Passes bounce off of his hands and chest far too often.

2)    Passive at the catch point: Fuller gets boxed out and pushed around by DBs when attempting to play the ball. He doesn’t have the “my ball” mentality that most successful NFL receivers possess.

Overview:

Will Fuller has the speed that many NFL personnel departments covet. Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to see with Fuller’s game at this point. His inability to play the ball in the air really limits what he can be asked to do. Fuller will stretch defenses and create separation with curls and comebacks. Other than that, his future team will have to use him on screens and crossing routes to take advantage of his speed. Fuller’s ceiling is a limited number two option but will more likely be a third or fourth option. At this point Fuller is a prime candidate to be drafted too high.

Draft grade: Third round pick

Tier 4
11)                Charone Peake
12)                Braxton Miller
13)                Kenny Lawler
14)                Rashard Higgins

 Tier 5
15)                Kolby Listenbee
16)                Keyarris Garrett
17)                Jordan Payton
18)                Demarcus Robinson
19)                Keyarris Garrett
20)                Tajae Sharpe

Well, there it is. Hopefully this provides some insight to the makeup of this year crop of wide receivers. Other than the guys at the top, I think Mike Thomas and Malcolm Mitchell are really exciting prospects. The lack of pure speed will likely cause Will Fuller and Corey Coleman to come off the board a little bit earlier than they should. Charone Peake is another really intriguing player with a ton of upside. Like I said before, there’s a lot to like about this class of receivers.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. If you liked what you read leave a comment or follow me on Twitter @ncaa2nflscout. Thanks again to everyone at Draftbreakdown.com. I hope to put something out on this year’s running back class before the draft if time permits.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Late Round Running Backs

The day of the 30 carry per game running back has passed. Running backs have short shelve lives and NFL teams are devoting more snaps to the passing game than ever. As a result, wide receivers, tight ends and offensive tackles have all seen the value of their respective positions increase over the last decade. The running back positions haven't been as fortunate. The fullback position is on the endangered species list, but there aren't any NFL wildlife reserves for players built in the mold of Vontae leach. The halfback position will never go the way of the fullback, but teams are starting to understand that you don't need a workhorse running back to have success on offense. More and more teams are going with the platoon strategy at running back. And if a team is going to plan on splitting carries between multiple backs, they can't afford to overpay either of them. So now we're starting to see more and more teams look to find value at running back in the later rounds of the draft. And that's what I want to talk about today. Who are the best running backs that will be drafted on day three (rounds 4-7)? With that, let's get started.

1. Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State)



Isaiah Crowell was ESPN's top ranked running back recruit in 2011 and he ranked fourth overall (behind only Jadeveon Clowney, Anthony Johnson, and Cyrus Kouandjio). Crowell played his freshman season at the University of Georgia. During his freshman season Crowell carried the ball 185 times for 850 yards, 5 TDs, and averaged 4.59 yards per carry. Crowell was named SEC freshman of the year. But during the off-season Crowell was arrested on weapons charges. He was pulled over driving a car with three other football players and police found a hand gun with the serial number scratched off. Crowell was immediately dismissed from Georgia. The charges against Crowell were eventually dismissed due to a lack of evidence tying Crowell to the weapon. Crowell transferred to Alabama State and was able to play immediately because Alabama State is not an FBS school. In his two seasons at Alabama State, Crowell carried the ball 329 times for 1,963 yards, 30 TDs, and averaged 5.97 yards per carry. 

Strengths:

Size/Strength- Crowell measured in at 5'11", 224 lbs at the NFL scouting combine. Even as a freshman at Georgia he was very hard to bring down. And he's only gotten stronger. Crowell has the size and strength to carry the ball between the tackles and run over defenders when necessary. He finishes runs the right way.

Agility/Acceleration- Crowell is extremely agile for a back of his size. He makes aggressive cuts that you don't usually see from backs of his size. Crowell has also displayed great acceleration at times. It doesn't take him much time to get up to full speed.

Weaknesses:

Long Speed- Crowell has more than adequate speed to play running back at the NFL level, but he isn't going to outrun most NFL defensive backs in the open field. 

Ball Security- During his freshman season at Georgia, Crowell fumbled the ball four times on 193 touches (once every 48 touches). But during his final season at Alabama State, Crowell only fumbled the ball once with 177 touches so it would appear that Crowell has corrected whatever issues he was having. But the drop in the level of competition might have had a part to play in his improved ball security. 

Overview- In my opinion, Isaiah Crowell is the most talented back in this year's draft. He has first round talent and I think he's just flat out better runner than Carlos Hyde, Bishop Sankey and Jeremy Hill. The big question is whether or not he's going to make good decisions when he's not on the field. But there's no doubting this guys talent. I think he's going to be one of the biggest steals of this draft.


Branden Oliver (Buffalo)




Branden Oliver is fun to watch. He's only 5'8" (if that) and weighs somewhere in the 200 lb to 210 lb range. But he's as quick as they come. The first player that comes to mind when I watch Branden Oliver is Darren Sproles. The second player that comes to mind is Ray Rice. Oliver's physical ability falls somewhere in the middle. He's quicker than Rice but not as strong, and he's stronger than Sproles but not as quick. Either way, he's exciting to watch. 

Oliver played for the University of Buffalo for four seasons. During those four seasons he carried the ball 866 times for 4,049 yards, 33 TDs and averaged 4.68 yards per carry. Oliver also caught 75 passes for 655 yards and a TD. As a senior Oliver carried the ball 310 times for 1,535 yards, 15 TDs, and averaged 4.95 yards per carry. Oliver also caught 25 passes for 173 yards and a TD as a senior. Oliver only played in 7 games as a junior as a result of multiple injuries to his knees.

Strengths: 

Agility/Acceleration- Oliver makes defenders miss in the hole and if he's in the open field 1 on 1, forget about it.  

Strength- During Buffalo's pro day, Oliver did 26 reps of 225 lbs on the bench press. Those 26 reps would've tied Oliver for the second highest total by a running back at the scouting combine. His legs are very strong as well. He continues to churn his legs after contact and gets picks up a lot of extra yards as a result.

Pass Protection- Oliver is an aggressive pass protector. He attacks pass rushers and uses his low center of gravity to his advantage. He has also shown that he can execute cut blocks and chips. This should help him get on the field early in his rookie season.

Weaknesses:

Size- Oliver's weight is more of a concern than his height. There are plenty of successful running backs in the NFL that are short. Ray Rice and MJD are the most recent examples. But Oliver's weight could be a concern. NFL teams will have to decide whether or not he can handle the punishment that NFL running backs receive.

Speed- Oliver has adequate speed but I don't know that he'll bust a lot of long runs up the sideline.

Overview- Branden Oliver possesses elite agility and acceleration. He's built like a bowling ball, low to the ground and dense. I think it would be a mistake to peg him as a third down specialist just because of his size. That might be the quickest way for Oliver to get onto the field. But I think that given the chance, Branden Oliver could do a lot of damage on first and second down as well. He probably won't be selected until the middle of the fifth round at the earliest. If he ends up being selected that late it'll be a steal for one lucky team.


Andre Williams (Boston College)




Andre Williams led the FBS in rushing yards during the 2013-2014 season. Despite his impressive production as a senior, most draft pundits are tagging Williams with late round grades. Williams is a down hill runner with good vision and great power. He reminds me of Alfred Morris. He isn't as flashy as a lot of other running backs but he gets up field quickly and punishes tacklers at the conclusion of his runs. As a senior, Williams carried the ball 355 times for 2,177 yards, 18 TDs, and a 6.13 yard per carry average.

Strengths:

Size/Power- Williams measured in at 5'11" and 230 lbs at the NFL scouting combine. He's a very powerful runner who gets his pads low at impact. Williams is especially hard to bring down because he doesn't waste momentum by trying to move side to side. He gets the ball, makes his read, makes his cut, and gets all of that body weight moving forward. You're not going to see a lot of dancing when Andre Williams has the ball.

Vision/Patience- I kind of mentioned this already, but Williams has good vision which allows him to succeed as a one cut runner. Boston College ran a lot of zone blocked running plays and Williams excelled at making good reads and having the patience for holes to open up for him.

Weaknesses:

Pass Catching- Williams caught 10 passes during his four years at Boston College. Williams will enter the pass happy NFL as an extremely inexperienced pass catcher. That's not to say that he can't develop the ability to catch passes out of the backfield. But at this point, he's a step behind most of the other backs in this draft class.

Agility- Williams will make some defenders miss because they're usually expecting to get run over. But he won't shake too many guys out of their shoes.

Pass Protection- Williams needs to learn to be more aggressive as a pass protector. He has the size to be successful as a pass protector but he's a bit tentative when it comes time to commit to a block. 

Overview- Andre Williams is a one cut, downhill runner that is best suited for a zone blocking scheme. He has the right combination of vision, power, and acceleration to make him dangerous with a good line in front of him. He also has a second gear when he gets into the open field. I wouldn't be surprised if the Texans spent a fifth or sixth round pick on Williams after losing Ben Tate in free agency. They need someone to backup Foster and eventually take over.  


James Wilder Jr. (Florida State)



When Wilder committed to Florida State he was listed as an athlete. They considered playing him at several positions but landed on running back. Wilder measured in at 6'3" 232 lbs at the scouting combine. Wilder is raw as a runner but possesses elite physical stature. Wilder still has a lot of tread left on the tires after splitting time with multiple backs during his career, including Devonta Freeman. During his three seasons at Florida State, Freeman rushed 226 times for 1,363 yards, 20 TDs and a 6.0 yards per carry average.

Strengths:

Size/Strength- I've already mentioned how huge James Wilder is. He's built like a Will Linebacker or a strong safety. The only problem is that he hasn't quite figured how to use his power.

Pass Catching Ability- Wilder has great hands for a running back. Especially a running back of his size. 

Pass Protection- Wilder is a very savvy pass protector. He has the size to take on pass rushers one on one. He understands the importance of chipping as he comes out of the backfield. And he can execute the cut block when necessary but he appears to prefer taking pass rushers head on.

Weaknesses: 

Pad Level- Wilder runs very upright. Eddie George had an amazing career running very upright. Adrian Peterson tends to run upright as well. The thing that both of these backs have in common is that they get their pad level down at impact. Wilder will have to learn to do this if he wants to take advantage of his strength. He has the size and strength to punish defenders at the next level.

Speed- Wilder isn't going to blow anyone away with his speed. He's not a fast very fast and that's a fact.

Overview- James Wilder Jr. is a big, powerful back that can pass protect and catch passes out of the backfield. Wilder's ability as a pass protector and pass catcher will make him an asset on third down immediately. And one he learns to lower his pad level, he could be a weapon on short yardage situations as well as first and second down. Wilder is a unique running back prospect with a lot of upside. At the worst, he'll be a third down back that can contribute on short yardage situations as well as special teams. I would expect to see Wilder come off of the board during the 5th or 6th round.

That's all for now. As always, thanks to the guys at http://draftbreakdown.com for all of the work that you do compiling prospect video.

I'll be back soon with offensive and defensive line.