Archive for November, 2010

Quarterback stock watch

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Andrew Luck (Staford)

Current projection: 1st overall likely, a certain top-five pick

He’s pulled away as the top quarterback prospect and looks destined to be the #1 pick next April. Only the likelihood of a lockout in 2011 will stop him declaring as a redshirt sophomore. He’s eliminated some of the erratic throws he made at the start of the year and developed into the focal point of a dominating offense. He’s benefited from the best offensive line/running game combo in college football (only nine sacks in two seasons), but he’s also flashed incredible poise, mobility and mechanics. Sometimes throws off balance and still learning due to inexperience – but his development at 21-years of age is unique. If he lands in Carolina, he’ll lift that team in year one.

Cam Newton (Auburn)

Current projection: Top 10

People are starting to grade Newton with 2010 in mind, but he’s been a top-ten pick in my mock drafts for a few weeks already. His lack of experience and two-read system at Auburn offer some concern – as do a laundry list of other issues that will need to be answered at the combine and in team meetings. However – his form in the face of adversity has been nothing short of spectacular. He’s a better passer than most give him credit for – with some footwork improvements necessary but a nice release, arm strength and decent accuracy. He has made some NFL caliber throws this year. Running ability speaks for itself – he’s not Michael Vick, but he’ll make plays with his legs and tough to bring down.

 

 

 

 

 

Ryan Mallett (Arkansas)

Current projection: Top 20 if he can ease character concerns, but might fall if teams put off by personality and work ethic

There’s no doubt in my mind that Mallett deserves a lot more credit for major improvements made this year. He’s a more rounded, accurate passer in 2010 and that shows with improved numbers. He’s completed 63% of his passes this year, compared to 56% in 2009. He’s answered the critics both statistically and with big wins on the road (vs Georgia & South Carolina). Improved accuracy adds to supreme arm strength and ability to read the field, diagnosing plays quickly. On the field, the sky’s the limit for his stock. Character concerns are prevalent though and need to be answered. Locker’s disappointing year could keep him in round one with many teams needing a quarterback.

Jake Locker (Washington)

Current projection: Falling – can’t place him in round one at the moment

This year hasn’t gone according to plan for Locker. He’ll rescue back some of that disappointment if Washington win their last two games and become bowl eligible. His draft stock has collapsed though and he’s sinking down the board. Accuracy is a major concern, as is decision making and the regularity with which he throws blind. Upside through character and athleticism may repair some of the damage at the Senior Bowl and combine, but a completely unconvincing year with no improvements on 2009 is of most concern. He started the year as a contender to go first overall – he’s struggling to stay in round one now.

Instant reaction: Jake Locker vs UCLA

Friday, November 19th, 2010

Locker completed just 47% of his passes vs UCLA

I wrote earlier that this was a big game for Jake Locker. His stock has plummeted after a disappointing season – mixed with poor performance and injury.

He should be able to repair some of that lost momentum at the Senior Bowl and the scouting combine. Until then – this was the first of three remaining PAC 10 games with Washington needing to win the lot to be bowl eligible.

This is the third time I have watched Locker in full this year (Nebraska, Stanford & UCLA). I watched part of Washington’s win over Oregon State.

I gave Locker the benefit of the doubt against Nebraska and Stanford. The game against Stanford in particular was especially difficult. This game against UCLA was a much greater opportunity to impress.

Locker did not impress.

He finished with 10/21 passing for just 68 yards and a pick. He added nine yards and a touchdown on the ground.

I appreciate that he was playing with sore ribs and this may have impacted his performance. I could also argue – why were they calling designed QB runs if he was that bad? It’s not like running back Chris Polk wasn’t having a fine game.

It started badly and never really recovered.  With 5:05 left in the first quarter, Locker took a play action and received modest pressure from his left hand side. He moved away to provide a better angle for a right arm throw – and panicked into a shot down the middle which should’ve been picked off. It showed a lack of poise (pressure forcing mistake) bad decision making (low percentage throw, unlikely to complete) and a lack of touch (darted into defensive back, needed more air). The fact the pick was dropped afforded only momentary respite.

Two plays later on third down, Locker dodges pressure and is in two minds whether to try and run for the first down or throw a pass down the left sideline. He goes pass – and just throws it off target behind the wide receiver for an interception. Locker needed to lead his receiver more and it was just an inaccurate throw.

Throughout the first half Locker acted on scripted plays without reading the field. Too often he’d take the snap, roll out and throw blind and could easily have thrown a couple more picks.

Overall the lack of development for a fifth year senior is alarming. Yes – this is only year two in a pro-style system. However, we’re not seeing enough to justify a first round grade at this point. Mistakes against Nebraska and Stanford could be forgiven given the circumstance. There’s no excuses tonight other than the injury and Locker admitted afterwards he had no issues with his ribs.

The accuracy issue is the biggest concern for me – you can accept occasional mistakes because they can be limited down the road. It’s the number of high passes, off target throws, bad decisions. Luck, Newton and Mallett are all well ahead of Locker when it comes to accuracy.

He’s not progressing through his reads quickly enough off the snap and he’s locking onto receivers. Locker has the arm to fit the ball into tight windows – he’s capable of making plays other QB’s can’t. However – whilst he struggles with reads and stares down targets, it’ll render any benefit of the physical qualities null and void.

The upside (athleticism, occasional big plays, tremendous character) will never drown his issues making quick reads and accuracte throws.

Locker was essentially a non-factor against UCLA – Washington finding a way to win without him. Isn’t that strange, given how one of the often used excuses when Locker struggles is his poor supporting cast?

You can only give a quarterback the benefit of the doubt for so long and I’m beginning to seriously question whether a team can justify that first round selection on Jake Locker.

The Interception:

Big night for Jake Locker vs UCLA

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Tonight I’ll be watching UCLA vs Washington. Jake Locker returns after sitting out the Oregon game and with his draft stock in the balance.

The emergence of Cam Newton and the continued form of Ryan Mallett is in stark contrast to the year Locker’s had. Washington need to win out to be bowl eligible, his numbers are down across the board and it’s been a struggle.

Impressive wins over USC and Oregon State have been usurped by struggling displays against Nebraska and Stanford. The doubters are growing.

In Mel Kiper’s weekly online mailbag, he was asked whether Locker could one day become a franchise quarterback. The response?

It would be a real stretch to call him a franchise QB right now, based on the way he’s played. He hasn’t played well. He’s struggling with accuracy. He’s struggling with game management. He should have been playing better. 4-20 earlier in the year against Nebraska. If you’re going to be franchise QB, you have to have a great year. That’s not to say that he won’t become one. He has all of the physical skills. If a QB coach can mold him, then yeah. He was the No. 1 player going into the year. He looked like a franchise QB going into the year, but right now, he doesn’t.

As Mel says – he came into the year the #1 ranked prospect. In his latest big board Locker is only placed at #1 – below Newton, Mallett and Andrew Luck.

The main issues for Locker are his lack of development this year and continued problems with accuracy. It was hoped another year in a pro-style system would further show off his star qualities. Instead, we’ve seen a few flashes of brilliance but far too many bad decisions and errors.

Rightfully some point to a below-par supporting cast. He had no chance agains Stanford – being pressured almost immediately as the offensive line buckled time and time again. Locker has been sacked 15 times this year and 43 times in total during 2009 and 2010. As a comparison, Andrew Luck has been sacked just nine times during the same period.

That clearly has some influence on his ability to impress scouts and coaches. It’s not a total excuse though for bad accuracy and decision making when he is given time – no better emphasised than a stunning throw into double coverage early in the Nebraska ‘massacre’ which resulted in a tone-setting interception (see video below, it’s the first play).

Tonight Locker will come up against the wildly inconsistent UCLA. This is the game Washington’s quarterback needs to impress. Akeem Ayers and Rahim Moore offer playmaking qualities amongst the Bruins defense, but it is a defense that can be picked apart. I’m looking to see if Locker can maintain poise in the pocket, limit his mistakes and make a few big plays.

The Senior Bowl workouts (Locker should attend) and the combine will offer Locker the opportunity to repair any damage caused during the 2010 season. In fact, nobody stands to enhance their stock more during those two events than the 22-year old Senior.

However – finishing the year strongly, starting tonight, will begin the repair job early.

Kiper and McShay on Newton’s stock

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Prospect tracker update & focus on defense

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

I’ve updated the prospect tracker with all this weekend’s stats. I wanted to have a look at the defense this week and see how the top prospects are performing.

Three potential first round picks have reached double digit sacks already.

Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson) collected his 14th of the season in a narrow defeat to Florida State – and added his first career interception too. Bowers has had a breakthrough year combining excellent size (6’4″ 280lbs) with freakish agility. Although Andrew Luck has almost certainly guaranteed his place as next April #1 overall pick – I don’t have another prospect ranked higher than Clemson’s star defensive end.

Ryan Kerrigan (DE, Purdue) plays with a high motor, relentless style. He’s got an adequate if not elite burst off the edge but he does a good job winning one-on-one battles against offensive lineman, driving them into the backfield for consistent pressure. He absolutely destroyed Michigan on Saturday collecting four sacks – taking him to 12 for the year (matching his 2009 production). He was given a third-round grade by the draft committee last year but two-years of solid production has pushed him into late first round consideration.

Justin Houston (OLB, Georgia) is a lighter, quicker prospect (6’3″, 258lbs) who could be a potential LEO rusher. He flew under the radar earlier in the year but his eleven sacks in 2010 leads the SEC. When you combine it with seven more sacks in his sophomore year and two as a freshman – that’s a solid college career against tough opponents.

All three will fit into different roles. Bowers could be used in either 4-3 or 3-4 schemes. His size and overall power would be welcome as a power end in a 4-3 or five technique in a 3-4. His pass rushing ability, agility and speed equally makes him an interesting fit in space.

Kerrigan equally has some value in both schemes. Some see him as a pure 4-3 fit rushing off the edge as a RE. Certainly his relentless stlye would be a logical fit there. His size (6’4″, 265lbs) however would be better suited to an OLB prospect in the 4-3. Teams will have to weigh that up, consider if he’s able to add size or not. He reminds me a little bit of Brandon Graham last year – who went 13th overall to Philadelphia (a 4-3 team). At 6’1″ and 268lbs Graham was under sized, but convinced many he could fit in any scheme. His stock was sufficiently boosted with a superb Senior Bowl appearances. Kerrigan will get a similar opportunity.

Houston does line up in a front four for Georgia and shows good initial burst and an ability to beat his man around the edge. He doesn’t have a great repertoire and he relies on quicks for success, but he has a knack of getting to the QB. Teams who use a 3-4 scheme will want to test his coverage skills and we’ll see if he takes some linebacker drills at the combine should he declare. He’d be a very good fit in Seattle’s LEO position – he’s almost identical in size to Chris Clemons (four pounds heavier and the same height).

Production across the board is impressive, particularly from interior defensive lineman. Drake Nevis (6), Nick Fairley (9), Stephen Paea (5), Jurrell Casey (4) and Jared Crick (7) have been amongst the sacks. The five technique position has grown in importance withregard the draft – Allen Bailey (7) and Cameron Jordan (6) could both surge up draft boards in the same way Tyson Jackson did. Marcell Dareus (three sacks) could also receive looks at that position.

Von Miller (DE, Texas A&M) started the year slowly as he battled injury. It took him five games to record a sack this year, after collecting 17 last year. The chart shows his recent return to form (and health) with six sacks in his last six games since then. I’m still concerned about his size (6’3″, 238lbs) and a switch to linebacker may be likely.

Updated first round mock draft: 16th November

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

I posed the question yesterday – what happens if the Seahawks don’t draft a quarterback?

I’ve long argued that it’s the team’s greatest need. I’ve also looked at scenarios where the Seahawks take a QB whether they win the NFC West or not.

My objective with mock drafts is never to attempt to accurately predict what’s going to happen in six months time. Instead I prefer to examine different scenarios and create a discussion. In this weekly update I have the Seahawks picking 21st overall (the position they will likely hold if they win the NFC West and do not reach the NFC conference game). The four top quarterbacks – Luck, Newton, Locker and Mallett – are all off the board before Seattle are on the clock.

If the team had a firm belief in either Locker or Mallett – in this projection they’d only need to trade up a handful of spots to get their man. That is an option – however – I never include trades in my mocks.

Taking that into account I had a look at the alternative options available.

TO VIEW THE UPDATED PROJECTION CLICK HERE OR SELECT ‘MOCK DRAFT’ IN THE TITLE BAR

As a big fan of Mark Ingram (RB, Alabama) it was a tempting option. The Seahawks still lack playmakers and I believe Ingram has star-potential. The trade for Marshawn Lynch negates the likelihood of this move. Seattle’s run game could use the boost Ingram provides – but a stagnant pass offense (Sunday excluded) and poor blocking is more to blame than a lack of quality at running back.

Cornerback is a position that can always be improved and added to. Jimmy Smith (CB, Colorado) is physical and owns the size Seattle wants at the position. He’s also under rated and could go higher than I have projected here. It was extremely tempting to place Smith with Seattle – with Utah’s Brandon Burton a secondary consideration.

Not, however, as tempting as it was to hand the Seahawks some needed depth to the defensive line. With Brandon Mebane an impending free agent, the roster may look thread bare come April. Stephen Paea (DT, Oregon State) and Drake Nevis (DT, LSU) both fit scheme and would be worthy options. LEO consideration could go to Georgia’s eleven-sack pass rusher Justin Houston. J.J. Watt (DE, Wisconsin) is a solid five technique candidate.

The Seahawks could also look here at Adrian Clayborn and Ryan Kerrigan – to prospects who have fallen considerably in the last 2-3 weeks.

Despite all of these options, I went elsewhere. The pick in this week’s mock draft?

Mike Pouncey (OG/C, Florida).

I’m not one for over rating interior line prospects. Their value is comparatively slim compared to the more premium positions – OT, DE, DT, QB etc. I’ll admit in the past to cringing at mocks from yester-year that placed Seattle with an offensive guard when much greater long term needs remained. If anything – those needs are even bigger today.

Even so – I will attempt to justify my decision making here.

For starters – this is not necessarily the direction I would go in. Let me stress that right off the bat. This team has been forced into a turnstile mentality on the offensive line all year and have invested a serious determination into not only improving the O-line, but also the running game.

The run blocking so far has been abysmal.

I have sympathy for what can only be described as a patched up line with players who are unfamiliar, returning from injury, acclimatising to new environments and learning new schemes. Even so – there may be further changes in the off season. Sean Locklear and Chris Spencer are free agents. We have no idea whether Max Unger is considered a long term staple when he returns from injury. Can Chester Pitts and Stacy Andrews become part of the furniture alongside Russell Okung?

You may know Pouncey’s twin brother Maurkice? He was taken 18th overall in last year’s draft. He’s also been a revelation on a banged up and notoriously disappointing Pittsburgh offensive line.

The other Pouncey stayed in school whilst his brother headed for the NFL. Things started badly – his move from guard to center took some getting used to. His main issue was something so basic – snapping the ball.

Since then he’s worked hard to address that, developed into the heart and soul of his team and his performances have been striking. He looks like a clone, rather than a twin. He’s equally adept at pass protection as he is versus the run.

At 313lbs he’s not over sized for this team (especially since Andrews became a regular feature). His brother plays at 304lbs for Pittsburgh, so he could lose weight to suit more zone blocking tendencies. The Seahawks would have the option of playing him alongside Okung at left guard or as a center should Spencer depart.

It’s a big investment, especially if it was to be made ahead of choosing to trade up for a shot at the QB’s. Even so – if this team is serious about improving the run and the offensive line – I wouldn’t rule it out. He could be BPA and picking 21st might limit the Seahawks options. Of course we wouldn’t be looking at this position if Seattle don’t win the NFC West and pick much earlier. If they do select in the 20’s, it goes to show how things might change in terms of who we project as the team’s first round pick.

What if…. the Seahawks can’t take a QB?

Monday, November 15th, 2010

If the season ended today, Carolina would own the #1 overall pick with Buffalo selecting second. Here’s how the top ten would shape up:

1. Carolina
2. Buffalo
3. Detroit
4. Dallas
5. Cincinnati
6. San Francisco
7. Minnesota
8. Arizona
9. Denver
10. Cleveland

The Seahawks of course would be picking no earlier than 21st overall, because they’d be NFC West Champions. I still firmly believe the division is a lottery and that there’s a distinct possibility three teams could be in contention in week 17. I wouldn’t want to try a predict anything right now, even though the Seahawks have a one-game lead over the Rams.

It could be a bizarre situation, with the division winners picking late in the first round next April and the other three teams selecting amongst the top 10-15 picks. The margin of difference could be as little as head-to-head record.

In my updated mock draft tomorrow, I’m going to review a situation I’ve yet to cover – what happens if all the quarterbacks go before Seattle is on the board? Looking at the current top ten order, it wouldn’t be unrealistic to see three or even four QB’s taken. Andrew Luck would be an absolute shoe-in to go first overall to Carolina. Buffalo, Cincinnati, San Francisco, Minnesota and Arizona are all logical QB takers. A case could even be made for a team like Dallas – stranger things have happened.

Previously I’ve had Luck, Jake Locker and Cam Newton going in round one. Ryan Mallett is a first round pick based on his on-field talent. Could they all leave the board before #21?

I’ve long argued the importance of Seattle drafting a QB early. The longer they wait to draft a quarterback, the bigger the issue becomes. Whether the Seahawks win their division this year or not – this is still a re-build. Any re-build – in my opinion – has to start with the quarterback. Look at St. Louis’ improvement simply by drafting Sam Bradford. Tampa Bay have rebounded this year – in large part because of Josh Freeman. Atlanta and Baltimore were 4-12 and 5-11 before drafting Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

Atlanta turned a bad situation into a positive by drafting Ryan and putting the LT, RB and TE around him. They already had a #1 receiver. That for me will be the road to extended success – getting your QB and putting the pieces around him.

There is the possibility that a quarterback (or more than one) could fall. We’ve seen it before – Aaron Rodgers being a key example. Projecting the stock of Jake Locker, Cam Newton and Ryan Mallett is particularly difficult right now. Nevertheless if the Seahawks did pick later in round one there won’t be any guarantees any will remain available.

Of course there’s always the opportunity to trade up. If a QB is there you simply must have, then that has to be a serious consideration. In 2009, the New York Jets moved up 12 places to draft Mark Sanchez. Obviously that was a considerable jump. However, it’s not unusual to see teams make minor moves up the board to ‘guarantee’ the quarterbacks they want.

In the same 2009 draft, Tampa Bay moved up just two places to get Josh Freeman. In 2008 – having moved from #8 down to #26 – Baltimore moved back up to #18 to draft Joe Flacco. Last April Denver moved back into round one to get Tim Tebow. It’s not unusual to see teams make these kind of moves. I don’t include trades in my mock drafts, but that has to be considered – particularly when I don’t place a QB with the Seahawks as I will tomorrow.

So what are the alternatives if they won’t or can’t move up?

It’s a good year for cornerbacks – would a player like Colorado’s Jimmy Smith fit the bill? Will Cameron Jordan be available to add some depth on the defensive line – not to mention another Golden Bear on the roster? What about a wild card on the offensive line? I’ll publish my updated mock draft tomorrow.

Jenkins pitches strike three against top WR’s

Monday, November 15th, 2010

Jenkins has shut down three of CFB's best

Cornerback’s are sometimes difficult to judge in college football. Take Prince Amukamara for example – ranked as the top senior going into the 2010 season. He’s barely been tested all year as opposition coaches scheme away from the highly rated corner. When he was challenged – by Oklahoma State’s Justin Blackmon – he struggled a little bit. Rusty or warning signs? He has no picks this year which emphasises how little he’s been targeted. He had five in 2009. 

Other cornerbacks are easier to judge. Janoris Jenkins didn’t come into the year with Amukamara’s reputation, so he isn’t been avoided. Jenkins has lined up against three NFL calibre receivers: Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Alshon Jeffery. All three may eventually be top-15 picks. 

Julio Jones vs Florida: 4 catches 19 yards 

A.J. Green vs Florida: 4 catches 42 yards 

Alshon Jeffery vs Florida: 6 catches 53 yards 

The numbers listed above are each individuals single-game lowest in 2010. Coincidence that all have been shadowed by Jenkins? Absolutely not. 

I’ve watched all three games. Jenkins systematically took Jones out of the Alabama game. He handled Green – something nobody else has managed in CFB this year. Jeffery had a frustrating night and his most competitive duel this season so far. 

People have spoken openly about Patrick Peterson and Amukamara – but it’s time to discuss the huge talent Jenkins has. In coverage, he might be the best available next year. Great hips, fluid backpedal and flawless balance. Jenkins does a great job tracking the ball and putting himself in position to make a play. He’s got enough speed to stick deep and against Jeffery he showed major improvements with his open field tackling and ability to disengage blocks. 

He’s 5’11” and about 190lbs, which is standard size really. However, that just further flashes his ability when he’s coming up against the three wide who all stand above 6’4″ with considerable weight advantages. He’ll come up against bigger guys at the next level too – guys who might actually not be as talented as Jones, Green and Jeffery. 

He’s also a special teams threat on kick returns – and is more than capable of turning a pick into six points. 

When coaches and scouts sit down and look at his CV – they’ll see the competition Jenkins has come up against and performed brilliantly against. There are a few background checks to make – he was arrested last year, tasered and charged with misdemeanous affray and resisting arrest without violence. This does appear to be an isolated incident though after a fight broke out. 

Based on the tape he’s a top-10 talent in my opinion and potentially the second cornerback off the board next April.

Saturday round-up

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

I wrote down some instant reaction to Georgia vs Auburn earlier (click here). There were some other noticeable performances this weekend too:

-Da’Quan Bowers (DE, Clemson) recorded his 14th sack of the year (leads NCAA) and also made his first career interception in a defeat to Florida State. Bowers’ transformation this year has been stunning and he’s a top-ten shoe in next year as far as I’m concerned. He could easily go #1 or #2 overall next year.

-Andrew Luck (QB, Stanford) had a difficult day in a close victory at Arizona State. He threw one pick and no touchdowns in a 17-13 win at Arizona State – a second interception was wiped off for a holding penalty. He completed 33/41 passing but this was a slight blip on his recent brilliant form. It’s not unexpected from a RS sophomore.

-Cameron Jordan (DE, California) could be set for a rise in stock. Some see him as a top-ten pick because of his ability to play 5-technique in a 3-4 and feature in many different schemes and calls. He played a vital role in restricting Oregon to 15 points in a two-point defeat – the first defense to really get a grip on the Ducks this year.

-Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State) put up the big numbers again (9 catches, 145 yards and one score) but this was a hit and miss game for me. He made a 67-yard TD grab that flashed his ability to locate the ball on a deep route and win the ball in tight coverage. He also had some lazy drops and isn’t always a hands-catcher. He isn’t a great deep threat, but he’s a stout strong player. He beat Aaron Williams on the deep TD.

-Julio Jones (WR, Alabama) only had three catches for 41 yards in a win over Miss. State. He boosted his stats with a 56-yard touchdown run, but it stunts his recent big production. Alabama turned to the run and rushed 13 more times than they threw.

 I’ll be watching South Carolina vs Florida tomorrow, so expect thoughts on that and more notes on this weekend’s action.

Instant reaction: Georgia vs Auburn

Sunday, November 14th, 2010

Newton impressed again after a tough week of allegations

I’ve just finished watching today’s brilliant game between Georgia and Auburn which ended in a 49-31 victory for the unbeaten Tigers. It was also the perfect platform for two potential top-ten picks to really flash their amazing talent.

Cam Newton and A.J. Green have found a home early in my updated mock drafts. Both were sensational in this game. One prospect didn’t impress me as much for differing reasons – but more on that in a moment.

It was only revealed at the last minute that Newton would be Auburn’s starting quarterback at the last minute. This has been a difficult week for the one-time Heisman shoe-in (he still should be for me). I can only imagine he was emotionally drained coming into another huge game. You wouldn’t have noticed. (more…)