The Carolina Panthers played it safe, taking Luke Kuechly instead of reaching to add another weapon for Cam Newton on the offensive side of the ball. Kuechly may not be the flashiest rookie, but he’ll start from day one and immediately improve a struggling Panthers defense.
While Kueckly primarily played inside at Boston College, the Panthers are shifting him to the weak-side position where he’ll start next to Jon Beason, who maintains his position on the inside. In 2011, the Panthers suffered through a revolving door on the weak side, featuring James Anderson (who will compete for the job on the strong side) and Jordan Senn, among others.
Given his experience and the fact that he has a guaranteed job from day one, Kuechly should be considered an early contender for the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
In 2010, the Cleveland Browns were briefly a dangerous team, upsetting the Saints and Patriots in consecutive weeks and taking the Jets into overtime. That was at the height of Peyton Hillis’ success in Cleveland, as he averaged over 130 total yards per game during that stretch.
The 2012 Browns offense should look similar to the 2010 version, with Trent Richardson playing the starring role.
Like Hillis, Richardson is a powerful downhill runner and can also contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. That combination should make him a workhorse from day one. He’ll be running behind an offensive line which features four returning starters, including Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, which should help ease his transition to the next level.
Considering the lack of playmakers in Cleveland, anything less than a 1,200 yard season would be a disappointment for Richardson.
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical build for a nose tackle. Built like a true space-eater, but athletic enough to make some plays in the backfield. Struggled with weight issues early in his career. Came to Ohio State weighing around 350 pounds, but has been able maintain a playing weight around 330. Being able to keep his weight down will be key to ability to be a three-down lineman at the next level.
Run Defense: Can play the role of space-eater and hold his ground against double teams at the point of attack. One of the few nose tackle prospects that can make some plays in pursuit. He’s obviously not the fasted lineman on the field, but he gives a great effort in pursuit and will occasionally make some plays simply by being in the right place at the right time. Will occasionally line up at defensive end for Ohio State, primarily when they’re anticipating a run to a particular side of the line.
Pass Rush: Surprisingly quick off the snap. Does a great job staying low. His size, coupled with his ability to stay low and leverage his way into the backfield makes him extremely difficult to block and almost impossible in a one-on-one matchup. Bull rush is his go-to move to get into the backfield, but he is also involved in a number of stunt plays on the Ohio State defensive line. Occasionally lines up at defensive end and loops inside, which allows him to generate some momentum before engaging with an offensive linemen making his bull rush nearly impossible to stop.
Intangibles: Soft-spoken off the field. Coaches speak highly of his work ethic and his leadership, especially working with the younger defensive linemen on the team.
Durability: Suffered a knee injury in 2011 but continued to play with the help of a knee brace.
Comments: Former Ohio State defensive coordinator compares Hankins to Ryan Pickett, a former 1st-round pick who has played nose tackle but has also proven to be athletic enough to line up at defensive end for the Packers over the past few seasons. Hankins won’t be the most impressive looking lineman at the combine – he’s sort of built like a bowling ball, and is more pudgy than you’d like to see – but his athleticism shows on the field. What impresses me most about Hankins is his conditioning. He’s demonstrated the ability to stay on the field and, most importantly, remain productive for 30+ plays per game, which is rare for a guy carrying around 330 pounds.
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical build for a workhorse running back. Well built and conditioned to take a pounding. Very average athleticism. Speed is adequate, but nothing special and he lacks the agility to be a serious home run threat out of the backfield.
Vision: He’s a very patient runner and does a great job following his blockers and not over-committing before holes open up. His vision makes him a very reliable runner, who you can count on to pick up positive yardage on nearly every play. He rarely deviates from the script and simply takes what’s given to him. However, this also means if the offensive line doesn’t open up a gaping hole, he’s not going to break off a long run.
Power: Very much a North/South runner. At his best when running between the tackles and has the size to take the pounding. He’ll run right through the arm tackles, but once he’s wrapped up he goes down. He lacks the elite strength to consistently push the pile and break out of a strong wrap-up tackle.
Speed/Agility: Basically a one-move runner. Has the open-field speed to break off some long runs, but not real elusive. He’s not that type of running back that creates much for himself and needs the offensive line to pave the way. He takes a few steps to gain momentum and lacks the agility to make guys miss in the open field. Below average start-and-stop ability. Once the hole closes up, he lacks the ability to make a second move and create something out of nothing.
Passing Game: A reliable receiver out of the backfield. Not a threat to break off many big plays as a receiver, but displays good hands and can be an asset in the short passing game. One of the better blockers in this class. Does a great job staying low in his blocks and doesn’t shy away from stepping up against defensive ends.
Intangibles: Cousin Darius Hill played at Ball State and was briefly a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. Arrested for trespassing at a party in May, 2012 – a very minor infraction and shouldn’t factor into his evaluation. Coaches speak very highly of his work ethic. He’s a team leader on and off the field and has the character NFL coaches will love.
Durability: Knocked out of a game in 2011 with a “head injury” but returned to the game and did not miss any further time. Enters the league with a lot of wear and tear on his tires. Carried the ball over 300 times in 2011.
Comments: Ball put up some ridiculous numbers at Wisconsin, but he is, at least partially, a product of the system. He played in a run-first offense and behind a dominant offensive line. He definitely has the skills to play at the next level, potentially as a starter, but he lacks the elite measurables to project as a can’t-miss prospect. While he does everything well, he just doesn’t doesn’t stand out in any one area. He’s sort of a ‘tweener in terms of his style – he’s not big enough to be a powerful downhill runner, but not elusive enough to be a threat running to the outside.
Size/Athleticism: Adequate size for a 4-3 linebacker and could play on the strong or weak side. May be slightly undersized to play outside in a 3-4, but does have experience lining up at the position during his first three years at Texas A&M. Would probably benefit from adding at least 5-10 pounds of muscle, especially if he lands in a 3-4 scheme at the next level.
Run Defense: Definitely the weak area of his game. Lacks the strength to consistently shed blocks. He’ll make plays in pursuit and can be disruptive by getting into the backfield, but he’s a liability at the point of attack.
Pass Rush: A pure speed rusher. When playing in 3-4 sets, he explodes off the edge and is simply too quick for most offensive linemen to get a hand on him. But when a lineman does get set in time to get his hands into Porter’s body, he’s done. He simply lacks the strength or any kind of meaningful pass rush move to shed blocks from offensive linemen. Can be a little reckless at times as a pass rusher allowing himself to get knocked off balance relatively easily, making him easier to be be picked up by blockers in the backfield.
Coverage: Has the athleticism necessary to excel in this area, but is still developing. Speed is his best asset in coverage right now, giving him the range to cover more space than your typical outside linebacker. Still learning how to read the quarterback at this stage in his career. Lots of hesitation in his decision-making process – struggles to balance watching the quarterback and keeping track of receivers in his zone and is often a step late when reacting to the ball being thrown. Has the athleticism to match up with just about any tight end or running back in man coverage. In 2011, A&M even used him in man coverage against Justin Blackmon in the red zone.
Intangibles: Three-year starter with experience in both a 3-4 and 4-3 defense.
Durability: No significant injuries and has not missed any games. Slowed by an illness in September, 2011 and reportedly lost 10 pounds but played through.
Comments: Porter is a difficult prospect to grade. He clearly has the athleticism to be a star at the next level, but there are still a number of questions about his game. He’s a great athlete, but not the most physical player. He’s best suited to play outside in the 3-4 and could potentially play the strong-side or weak-side position. He’s strong and quick enough to be utilized as a pass rusher, but also capable of dropping in coverage. His upside is limited, but he’s well rounded and could be a solid contributor.
Size/Athleticism: Prototypical size and strength for an inside linebacker, and could easily shift to strong-side linebacker in a 4-3 scheme. Straight-line speed is more than adequate for the position. Not as quick and fluid as he is fast, but not necessarily weak in that area either.
Run Defense: Excellent recognition ability. A tackling machine, but more so due to his ability to put himself in position to make a play than his raw athleticism. A scrappy player who can fight through traffic. Despite his size, doesn’t shed blocks as quicky and consistently as you’d expect. Once he’s engaged with an offensive linemen, he can be taken out of a play fairly easily. Fast enough to make some plays in pursuit. Not an elite athlete, and will get juked out of some would-be tackles in the open field, but is very strong fundamentally and rarely misses a tackle once he’s got someone wrapped up.
Pass Rush: Relatively effective when rushing off the edge. Lacks the strength to ever be a pure pass rusher, but has the speed to be effective in certain situations. Does a nice job staying low when turning the corner, making him tough for taller offensive linemen to get a hand on him. Not as effective when blitzing up the middle. Does a really nice job fighting through traffic against the run, but isn’t explosive or agile enough to slip through holes in the line, which are skills needed to be an effective pass rusher from the inside linebacker position.
Coverage: Looks comfortable in zone coverage. Does a great job reading the quarterback and putting himself in position to make plays. Limited experience in man coverage and lacks the fluid athleticism to excel in this area. He has the straight-line speed to get downfield but just doesn’t have the quickness to stay with the elite pass-catching tight ends that he’ll see at the next level. He’ll excel when matched up with short-yardage pass-catchers (such as Gronkowski) due his fundamentals and physical style of play, but he shouldn’t be asked to cover the hybrid tight end/receivers (such as Jermichael Finley).
Intangibles: Four-year starter with plenty of experience against top competition. Clashed with head coach Brian Kelly at times, but Kelly’s brash coaching style is at least partially to blame. I wouldn’t expect his attitude to be an issue in the pros.
Durability: Suffered a sprained knee during during 2010 bowl game and had minor knee surgery in the offseason, and was limited during spring practices. Suffered a broken nose in 2010, but played through the injury. Played on an injured ankle for much of the 2011 season.
Comments: Te’o is one of the more recognizable names in this draft class and, as a result, is probably a little overrated. He’s a classic example of a prospect who does everything well but nothing great. He definitely has NFL starter potential, but his upside is somewhat limited. He could be a great pick for a team that needs to plug a hole immediately, because his experience and strong fundamentals makes him one of the more NFL-ready prospects in this draft. However, I don’t expect to see significant development once he’s in the pros. Basically, what you see is what you get.
Size/Athleticism: Elite size. Definitely has the size/strength to play nose tackle at the next level. Surprisingly athletic for his size. He’s more than just a space-eater. He’ll get into the backfield fairly consistently and even make some plays in pursuit. Utah will even drop him into coverage on occasion, a rare assignment for a guy his size. In terms of the size/athleticism combination, he compares favorably to Haloti Ngata, or, for a more recent prospect example, Dontari Poe.
Run Defense: Holds his ground at the point of attack. Can definitely be a space-eater when he needs to be, and can easily hold his ground against double teams. Very reliable tackler. Impressive awareness, always keeping his eyes on the backfield while engaged. Has the strength to make plays even while still engaged in a block (see 2011 Washington game – he reaches out with one arm and stops Chris Polk dead in his tracks).
Pass Rush: Elite explosion off the snap. He obviously isn’t the fastest lineman on the field, but he makes up for with a quick burst off the snap and then does a great job leveraging his way into the backfield. As soon as he catches an offensive lineman off balance, he’s won; very few linemen, especially collegiate linemen, possess the size and/or quickness to recover against him. Does a great job keeping his eyes on the quarterback and adjusting to pursue when they take off, and to get his hands into passing lanes.
Intangibles: Poor academics forced him to attend Snow College for two years out of high school. He played football at Snow College for one year, but quit the team the following year, stating he no longer had interest in the sport. While he’s obviously regained some amount of passion for football, it will certainly be a topic of conversion during pre-draft interviews. Has reportedly matured since his JUCO days, and is now married with two children. Teammates at Utah speak highly of his leadership and work ethic in practice.
Durability: No significant injuries of note.
Comments: Only a handful of players enter the draft each year with Lotulelei’s size, and among those that do, very few possess his athleticism. Lotulelei is built like a true nose tackle, but has the athleticism to be more than just a space-eater. His size/athleticism combination makes him a viable option in any defensive scheme, which should make him particuluarly attractive to teams running the increasingly popular hybrid defense.
As I’ve been reviewing prospects for the 2013 Draft, I’ve been focusing on their games against top defenses. So when it came time to watch Tyler Wilson, I immediately turned to the Arkansas Razorbacks game against LSU. In theory, watching him take on college football’s top defense should provide some meaningful insight into his ability to play at the next level. But, unfortunately, Arkansas’ offensive line was so overmatched against LSU’s front seven that Wilson had little chance of success. By my count he was pressured on 16 of 29 dropbacks, so while it was a brutal performance, it’s tough to place too much of the blame on Wilson.
I’m not putting too much stock in this performance, but it is worth noting that the constant pressure got to Wilson. There were a few plays on which Wilson had a reasonable amount of time in the pocket, but took off running at the first sign of pressure. And even when he did stand in the pocket, he was so preoccupied with LSU’s front seven that he wasn’t seeing wide open receivers.
Here’s a great example of the pressure forcing Wilson to miss open receivers. This is his 9th dropback of the game, and he had already been pressured six times. As he drops back, a nice pocket forms around him and he clearly has the time to make a play. But when his downfield options aren’t open, he tucks and runs. Only after he’s on the move does he notice a wide open Greg Childs.
Again, it’s tough to take much away from this game given the pressure, but I was impressed with Wilson’s accuracy throughout the game. 15 of his 20 aimed passes were on target, including five of seven while under pressure. Due to the constant pressure the vast majority of these were short passes (he attempted just six beyond seven yards downfield) but it’s still encouraging to see him making the right decision and delivering a catchable ball.
This isn’t exactly what Wilson’s known for, but he demonstrated the ability to make plays with his feet. He’s no Michael Vick or Tim Tebow, but he can definitely be as effective as a guy like Aaron Rodgers. Ideally we won’t see him run this often in 2012, but he showed that when he has to, he’s can be threat.
It’s tough to see a future 1st-rounder in this performance, but it’s also rare to see any elite prospect pressured at this rate. Andrew Luck certainly never saw a defense like LSU’s, and even if he did, his offensive line was far better equipped to handle the pressure. As a result, I’m not going to hold this performance against Wilson. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to show he learned from this experience in 2012.
I’ll leave you with this play, easily his best throw of the game and the only one on which he really shows off his arm.
Size/Athleticism: Above average height, but doesn’t play like a 6’1″ receiver. He relies much more on his speed than his size. Capable of going up to pluck the ball but tends to shy away from physical play and doesn’t make many plays in traffic. Bigger defensive backs can definitely out-physical him in a fight for the ball. Has the straight-line speed to consistently stretch the field and also provide value as a return specialist.
Separation Skills: Has the speed to take the top off the defense. Most corners give him a solid cushion due to his speed. However, he lacks the quickness to shake defenders who can match his straight-line speed. He’s a solid route runner, but needs to either improve the suddenness in his breaks or become more physical. At this stage in his career he has yet to demonstrate the skills necessary to separate from the top corners at the next level. The vast majority of his receptions at USC came within five yards of the line of scrimmage, many on screens, which required no separation ability at all.
Ball Skills: Fairly reliable hands, but nothing special. He does a nice job adjusting to the ball in the air and will make some difficult catches, but he’ll drop some easy ones along the way.
Intangibles: Coaches speak very highly of his work ethic. Worked hard to play through an ankle injury during his sophomore year.
Durability: Slowed by an ankle injury which he suffered playing basketball in April, 2011 for much of his sophomore year which likely contributed to his relatively modest performance on tape, especially impacting his lack of quickness. The same right ankle injury forced him to miss 2012 spring practices, a full year after the initial injury.
Comments: Woods was productive at USC, but did not display the skills to warrant the hype he received early in his career. He played in an offense that fit his skills set well and played to his strengths. He is not, and never will be, a No. 1 receiver. Woods does his most damage after the catch, which can definitely make him a valuable asset to a team in the NFL, but don’t confuse him for a difference maker. Woods is a piece of the puzzle, not a guy that changes the dynamics of your offense.
Size/Athleticism: Average height. Tall enough that it’s not a concern, appears to have no issues seeing the whole field from the behind his linemen. Enough athleticism to move around in the pocket, but not a threat to take off running. Rarely leaves the pocket on his own, but looks good on designed rollouts and is capable of throwing on the run.
Arm strength/Accuracy: Arm strength is adequate, but nothing special. When given time to set his feet he can make all the throws, but he lacks the elite arm strength to still put enough zip on the ball to remain as effective when pressured. Accuracy is adequate to above average on short and intermediate routes, but breaks down considerably on deeper routes. Even when given time to set his feet, his deeper throws (beyond 15 yards) are consistently wild. And he’ll unleash some wild throws from time to time, missing the downfield target by a good three to five yards.
Footwork/Release: Solid fundamentals all around. When not under pressure, he’s about as polished as you can expect from a college quarterback. Displays consistent footwork and stands tall in the pocket, keeping his eyes downfield at all times. Has an impressively quick release. He’s rarely sacked, and a big reason for that is his ability to get rid of the football quickly and efficiently when the pocket starts to close in around him.
Decision making: Does a fantastic job going through his reads. For the most part, he’s very patient and clearly has a firm grasp on USC’s offense. He’s also fairly poised under pressure. When the pocket begins to collapse he stands tall, moving within the pocket when necessary, and keeps his eyes downfield. However, under extreme pressure – typically once a defender gets a hand on him – he has a tendency to make some awful decisions. He needs to learn how to hang on to the football and just take a sack, rather than throw the ball up for grabs (see pick-six vs ASU in 2011 for a great example of this).
Intangibles: Smart player on and off the field. Coaches speak very highly of him and he seems to be respected by teammates for his leadership ability. Has caused some minor controversies with comments he’s made to the media (a few examples: called Vontaze Burfict a dirty player, called out Notre Dame coaches for quitting during 2011 game, arrogant comments after first game of freshman year).
Durability: Missed final few games of his senior year with a shoulder injury. Offseason workouts may be limited due to his recovery.
Comments: Barkley may be the most polished quarterback in the 2013 class, which should earn him a spot in the 1st round. However, he isn’t the can’t-miss prospect that many made him out to be before the season. He has some physical limitations, which puts his ceiling much lower than some other highly touted prospects. In some ways he reminds me of Chad Pennington – a very steady, reliable quarterback but one who is limited physically. I don’t expect Barkley to ever develop into an elite quarterback, but he definitely has the tools to be an average starter (like Pennington) at the next level.