Archive for September, 2011

Thoughts on Kirk Cousins vs Florida Atlantic

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

Kirk Cousins went 16-21 vs FAU for 183 yards

I’ve just watched tape from Michigan State’s blow out victory over Florida Atlantic and took the opportunity to monitor quarterback Kirk Cousins. He’s one of a number of second tier quarterback prospects behind Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley who will battle to be the #3 ranked player.

The more I watch Cousins though, the more I view him as a project. He looks like a classic reach – the type of QB who goes earlier than he should, starts earlier than he should and struggles. He’s deceptive in that he’s polished but limited.

For starters he’s very neat and tidy, but lacks upper body power and it shows. There’s some zip on his passes and a decent spiral, but there’s not a lot of punch and anything beyond an intermediate level tends to float. He’s got height and a frame that’s capable of holding more weight, but that’s something he hasn’t really improved upon – at least to the untrained eye – during the recent off season. He still looks about 205lbs and 6-3/6-4, but you sense he could hold 220lbs and dramatically improve his physical make-up to complete the more difficult pro-throws.

What I do like is his footwork. He drops back with a degree of comfort and in the shotgun he sets to throw with the ease of a seasoned pro. Cousins’ has a great grasp of play action and can both sell it and execute. When he’s forced to move around in the pocket he’s capable and he’ll extend plays while keeping his eyes downfield. Last season there were occasional errors trying to force the issue under pressure, but this was a cupcake game for MSU and he wasn’t tested. He isn’t a threat to break off runs though, he’s exclusively elusive rather than a scrambler. I have noticed a tendency to panic on inside pressure, often throwing high to his right when rushed up the middle or taking an unnecessary sack. He’s much better against the edge rush, detecting the defender and making room to throw.

The reason I think his footwork is slightly deceptive in the greater scheme of things is that it makes Cousins appear more pro-capable than perhaps he really is. Everything is one read and checkdown, always to the underneath receiver or running back. I get that a lot of college QB’s are in the same boat but you look for evidence that they’re at least capable of more. There aren’t many challenging throws in the Spartans’ offense and I’m not convinced he has the range needed to make difficult passes on a medium-to-deep level, particularly into tight windows. His deep ball can be ugly – it’s high and floats too much. He’s not progressing to a second read - something (for the point of comparison) Cam Newton did do even in Auburn’s offense (and it was an under rated aspect as people assumed he was exclusively one-read and run).

Accuracy wise he’s inconsistent – he goes just too high too often, including on quick shots to the right. Then on the next play he’ll find a receiver in behind two defensive backs for a 18-yard gain, all because of good placement and touch.

There’s every chance he’ll be over drafted because he carries a level of polish that a lot of college QB’s lack, he’s mobile and I supsect MSU will have a good year - possibly an unbeaten year. Yet he’s still a project and some teams may wrongly judge he’s ready to start quickly. He needs a good two years on a pro-weight programme and you’ll be gambling on that extra strength matching solid accuracy on deeper throws. I’d be concerned that a team will draft Cousins - possibly as early as round two – believing they’re getting a polished QB who can play somewhat quickly and they’ll be surprised when he’s completely unprepared to start. He may not even be able to add weight – it was a big issue for Tony Pike in Cincinnati who similarly had a tall, slim frame before being drafted by Carolina.

I want to stress that Cousins is also far from a lost cause. I think he’d be a good pick up for a team like Philadelphia, who can let him sit behind Michael Vick and be groomed in a good passing system by a good offensive coach. I see some similarities between Kevin Kolb and Cousins and like the former, MSU’s QB would benefit from a similar situation. Kolb had the benefit of time to sit, playing behind a veteran. When he started in Philly he was afforded a running game and a receiver combo of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Now he has Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona. Cousins will need not only a similar environment, but also similar weapons (but which QB doesn’t need Larry Fitzgerald?).

Suck for Luck? Not exactly, but the signs aren’t good

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Feeling lucky yet?

When people call the NFL a quarterbacks league, they speak the absolute, unquestioned truth. The blue print to success is clear these days – having a franchise passer is integral and so is having players on defense who can prevent other franchise passer’s succeeding.

The evidence on Sunday suggests the Seahawks have neither.

I don’t want to be overly critical because it’s only week one and there’s still plenty of football to come. The Seahawks can still go 4-2 in the NFC West and give themselves a fair shot at retaining the division crown. If you’d have made that point to me at half time yesterday however, I would’ve laughed loudly.

The Seahawks’ offense was pathetic in the first half against San Francisco. It wasn’t really a surprise, because the first team unit looked equally awful in all four pre-season games. The offensive line didn’t do a great job, the running game was completely shut down and Tarvaris Jackson looked as tentative and panicky as he did during his five seasons in Minnesota. Is shambles too strong a word? Only if you believe a week one judgement is too soon. On pure face value, it’s the perfect description.

At least the second half performance was better and unlike the previous regime in Seattle, there was at least signs of spirit and hope. The simple fact is though – you can’t give teams a 16-0 head start on the road and expect to win.

Jackson deserves some degree of time to settle into life with the Seahawks offense. He’s been vaulted into a starting role simply due to his familiarity with the offensive coordinator, but his move to Seattle still carries a major learning curve. The problem for Tarvaris is that unlike a rookie or a player that cost some form of trade stock – people will naturally be less patient. The mere fact that Charlie Whitehurst cost a third round pick buys him extra wiggle room with fans because they don’t want their team to make a mistake in the trade. Trades carry pride and a need for justification that low-level investment free-agent pick-ups don’t. Jackson hasn’t got the same luxury as a Whitehurst – if he fails then nobody is going to worry about that $4m salary. People are already concerned that the Seahawks wasted a third rounder on Whitehurst – it’s one of the big argument for Charlie starting regardless of prior performance.

A lot has been made of the offensive line struggles and certainly they exist, but I’m going to keep beating a drum I’ve been banging on about for the last few years. If your offense carries zero or very little skill/passing threat to an opposition defense, you can’t expect to block your way to success. Offensive line play will never be defined by high draft picks or expensive free agents. They are a group of individuals working as a team competing – at times – in outnumbered situations. If you have a lot of talented guys among that group that happened to cost a lot of draft stock, fine. You can’t, however, just fit early draft picks and big names into a line and suddenly expect great pass protection and a running game. Familiarity, execution, scheme and opportunity are just as important as talent for an offensive line. If they are being consistently blitzed, stacked, attacked and outnumbered you can’t expect miracles.

The offensive line is just one cog that relies on the performance of the quarterback and skill position players as much as they rely on protection and blocking. How else do you explain the fact teams with elite quarterbacks and far from elite offensive line regularly meet in the Super Bowl? When you play Green Bay, you fear Aaron Rodgers and all of those receiving options. You don’t go to San Diego, Indianapolis or New England and worry about getting around an elite offensive line - it’s all about the quarterback.

Jackson is never going to be afforded the kind of perfect passing pocket some crave and demand in Seattle. Which team in it’s right mind is going to be concerned about him beating them in the air? Harsh but true. That’s not to say he won’t defeat the odds and win games this year. That’s not to say he won’t end up demanding greater respect with his performances. However, those complaining that Jackson isn’t getting enough time to play better need to realise that situation will not exist and probably wouldn’t even with 2005 Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson on the line.

Speaking of 2005, the Seahawks are a perfect example of this argument. Yes they had a great line, but they also had a Pro-Bowl quarterback in his prime, working within a system he’d mastered from one of the great offensive minds. That passing game, on it’s day, functioned like clockwork. They also had a NFL MVP superstar at running back. Would Jones and Hutchinson have enjoyed half as much success in Seattle without all of the other pieces to the puzzle? I would say almost certainly not.

The Seahawks have acquired some talent this year, not just on the offensive line but also at the skill positions. Yet Michael Lombardi was correct when he said right now they’re just accumulating individuals. There’s not a true identity to the team other than a lot of talk about being able to run and seemingly ’get by’ at the quarterback position until perhaps the opportunity to get ‘the guy’ appears. I can’t see much changing until they do get that guy, whenever that may be. Pass-protection won’t really get much better this season apart from the occasional game (not next week, for sure). The running game will continue to lurch on and will not define this team the way Pete Carroll wants it to. Until that quarterback is acquired one way or another that can sling it like the best, this will be the story of the Seahawks offense. And right now it looks like one of the worst – if not the worst – in the NFL.

The defense seems to have received a much more positive review for it’s performance. Admittedly, San Francisco couldn’t run for peanuts and that is testament to the stoutness up front. That’s all well and good, but Alex Smith may not have an easier game all season and that’s in spite of the fact Frank Gore had only 59 yards from 22 carries. Smith coasted along, unchallenged, to the tune of 15-20 passing. There was NO pass rush. For all the plaudits being handed to the defense, they’ll struggle to come up against an opposition quite as weak as the one presented in San Francisco.

Alex Smith – much maligned former #1 pick who is again playing for his future and seemingly a stop gap for whatever direction Jim Harbaugh chooses to go for the long haul. Michael Crabtree – talented but absent throughout pre-season. Braylon Edwards – the guy nobody wanted. New coaching staff/scheme – and it needed to be installed in a much shorter time frame. Positive aspects like Vernon Davis and Frank Gore noted, but this is not an offense that will give anyone a headache outside of the NFC West this year. Just like Seattle.

That’s the second part of the equation for a competitor – you need to pass on offense and stop the pass on defense. If you’re not creating sacks, you need to be creating pressure. The Seahawks have some niche role players who through scheme will generate a level of production in the LEO, but they lack one dominating, scary pass rusher.

I kept an eye on the Redskins vs Giants game yesterday and was amazed how successful Washington were despite the fact they have some of the same problems as Seattle on offense. It was all based around Brian Orakpoconsistently beating his man, supported by a collection of other guys capable of capitalising on Orakpo’s dominance such as round one pick Ryan Kerrigan.

It’s really encouraging to see that the Seahawks are tough against the run and it has to be said that for the most part on Sunday, the young group of linebackers and defensive backs did a good job. Yet we will never feel the true potential of this unit without someone to cause havoc in the backfield. It doesn’t need to be an edge rusher – it could be a great three technique. Nevertheless, that’s almost as big a need as the gigantic hole at quarterback.

On paper that’s two needs that could be the difference between Sunday’s first half shambles and potential NFC competitor. Unfortunately for the Seahawks, alongside the left tackle position, they’re the most important in the game. They need to aggressively attempt to solve those problems.

In the meantime I don’t expect the Seahawks to prosper in 2011 and the Cardinals game in week three will basically determine the season. Win that game and maybe there will be a shot at repeating as division champs? Maybe they can find some momentum? Lose that and you’re looking at a possible (probable?) 0-5 start, potentially stretching to 0-6 in Cleveland after the bye. There are kind games on the schedule such as Cincinnati at home and Washington at home – despite week one wins neither team is a daunting prospects at the CLink. There are five more games against the rest of the NFC West. Yet I do feel this team is set for an arduous campaign and maybe in the long run that won’t be such a catastrophe if they can fill one of those enormous holes? That’s such a lottery though, which is why the concept of ‘suck for Luck’ still doesn’t interest me much.

Week two as it happens

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

I’ll update this post as games conclude. I’m currently running through tape of Alabama against Penn State and I’ve got Michigan/Notre Dame for later. Expect some thoughts on individual prospects over the next few days. JMPasq has supplied tape on Nick Foles’ performance against Oklahoma State on Friday. Regulars will know I’m not a fan of Foles – and his performance in this game did nothing to change that. I’ve given him a late round grade. Check out the tape and here’s what’s happening today…

Two of the best wide receiver prospects in a decent group  for 2012 faced off in the Rutgers/UNC game. Mohamed Sanu (Rutgers) continued his fast start to the new season with 13 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown. At 6-2 and 215lbs, he carries a fairly unique skill set and the production is starting to match the potential. He stood out as a true freshman and I’ve followed his progress since and he certainly appears to be benefiting from a more settled QB situation. It’s interesting that for the second week in a row he didn’t have a single rushing attempt – he’s being used as an out-right receiver this year instead of a dual threat.

Dwight Jones (UNC) is also making up for lost time with a much more consistent start to 2011. He had 6 catches for 135 yards today, including a 66-yard touchdown grab. Jones has good hands and excellent deep speed and if he can maintain this kind of early season pace he’ll pick up real momentum for next year’s draft.

Quarterback Geno Smith and West Virginia struggled a bit against Norfolk State but recovered to put up big numbers. Smith went 20-34 for 371 yards and four touchdowns. He also looked sharp against Marshall last week and his stock will continue to improve in Dana Holgorsen’s wide open offense. Kirk Cousins and Michigan State had a much easier afternoon against Florida Atlantic going 16-21 for 183 yards and two scores in a 44-0 win. I’ll take a look at the tape on Monday and have some thoughts on Cousins’ performance.

Vinny Curry and the rest of the Marshall defensive line made life difficult for Austin Davis and Southern Miss in a 26-20 victory. Curry was among the sacks in a dominating display and also recorded a saftey. The game was littered with errors including three interceptions by Davis, but he was far from the main culprit for the Golden Eagles and ended with a stat line of 25-49 for 309 yards and two touchdown passes.

Andrew Luck threw an interception against Duke but responded with four scores in a comfortable win. Luck will remain a Heisman favorite as long as Stanford keep winning and he maintains big numbers against weaker opponents – today he went 20-28 for 290 yards. It wasn’t as good a day for Logan Thomas (QB, Virginia Tech) who struggled in a close 17-10 win over ECU. He went 8-20 for just 91 yards and an interception. He added 61 yards on the ground. Better news for another player who may end up being an outsider for the 2012 draft – Mike Glennon (QB, NC State) – he couldn’t lead the Wolfpack to victory over Wake Forest but did achieve a 24-41 passing display for 315 yards and three touchdowns.

South Carolina and Georgia played out a thriller that ended in a 45-42 win for the Gamecocks. Melvin Ingram (DE, South Carolina) had an interesting game, scoring a 68 yard rushing touchdown, getting a further score on a fumble recovery and icing the game by grabbing an onside kick – quite a day for someone predominantly known as a speedy pass rusher. Alshon Jeffery had four catches for 76 yards and a touchdown but Stephen Garcia generally struggled at quarterback going 11-25 for 141 yards and two interceptions.

Ryan Tannehill (QB, Texas A&M) vs SMU game tape

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Once again a lot of credit must go to JMPasq for his efforts in putting together the tape you see above. Fantastic effort as usual, kudos.

This turned out to be a relatively comfortable victory for Texas A&M and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, but there were two things that stood out. Firstly, SMU’s secondary played a terrible game which to a degree really helped Tannehill find open receivers regularly and make passes you would usually expect to be defended with a lot more authority. Secondly, in spite of this when he was asked to make a pass into a small window - Tannehill was able to get the job done. His accuracy at times was very impressive and although he hasn’t got the strongest arm certainly there’s a level of accuracy which is worth noting.

A performance like this makes me want to consider Tannehill as potentially the third best draft eligible QB eligible behind Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. All he’s done since taking the job and switching from receiever last season is win games and put up good numbers. He’s mobile, he has an ability to extend plays and looks comfortable out of the pocket. He hasn’t got a great arm and he still needs polish to become a more technical passer – but you’d expect to see that simply with more time under center. The mobility and accuracy cancels out (to a certain degree) a lack of elite physical qualities and game experience.

There are several quarterback prospects – Tannehill, Landry Jones, Kirk Cousins and Austin Davis – who could easily be that #3 ranked quarterback. There are others such as Robert Griffin III who may well make a charge if they follow up impressive week one performances. I’d struggle to justify taking any in round one and maybe even two at this stage, but Tannehill could be heading the group right now. For those who are still buying the Landry Jones hype-fest, it’s worth pointing out that Tannehill defeated Jones and Oklahoma last season in only his third game as a starting quarterback. The much more experienced Jones threw 59 times for an average of just 4.9 yards per attempt on the day.

In the case of Tannehill one thing still bugs me slightly. Why wasn’t he starting previously? Jerrod Johnson had some success as the Aggies quarterback but fell apart in his senior year allowing Tannehill the opportunity to start. Yet we’re still talking about a guy in Johnson who was never truly considered a legitimate NFL prospect and ultimately went undrafted to Philadelphia before being waived on August 13th. What does it say about A&M if having persisted with Johnson (who originally beat out Tannehill for the QB gig) they had a high draft pick at the most important position out playing wide receiver instead?

It’s not a strong enough argument to mark Tannehill down, but it’s a question that will linger unless he continues what has been an unprecedented start to his quarterback career in a far from ideal situation.

Lamar Miller (RB, Miami) highlights vs Maryland

Friday, September 9th, 2011

Exciting running back prospect that flashed against Maryland. He’s draft eligible for 2012 and had 119 yards and a score in week one. He’s listed at 5-11 and 212lbs by ESPN.

Thanks again to JMPasq for supplying the tape.

The weekend ahead & thoughts on Robert Griffin III

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

Tonight I’ll be recording Arizona vs Oklahoma State. The Bowl game last season was a completely one-sided affair and I don’t expect much difference tonight. I don’t rate Nick Foles or the Arizona offensive scheme and Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon should have a field day. Expect some thoughts on the game this weekend in the round-up. I’m also scheduled to watch tape of Alabama against Penn State, Notre Dame at Michigan and Florida Atlantic versus Michigan State this weekend.

The unquestioned star of week one in my view was Robert Griffin III (QB, Baylor) who had a tremendous performance against TCU. We’ll soon find out if it’s a sign of TCU’s defense taking a big step back, but it’s important to remember that in previous years they’ve had one of the best unit’s in college football – no exaggeration.

Griffin (I’m going to lose the ‘III’ bit for the rest of the article) is a redshirt junior despite currently featuring in his fourth year starting. He started 11 of 12 games a freshman and redshirted as a sophomore in 2009 after suffering an ACL injury. Due to the fact he’d only played three games that season, he was granted redshirt status and maintained an extra year of eligibility. What it means is he isn’t a lock to enter the draft next year despite four years of service at Baylor. Whether he can perform consistently as a passer will play some part, as will the feedback he receives from the draft committee.

His story is an interesting one – Griffin was born in Japan where his parents were stationed as US Army Sergeants. He moved around a lot – even living briefly in Washington state before finally settling in Texas. At high school he set state records for the 110m hurdles and on the AAU track and field circuit he won gold in the 110m and 400m hurdles. His athletic achievements stretch to a semi-final place for the US Olympic team in preperation for Beijing 2008. He received football interest from – amongst others – Oregon, Washington State, Stanford and Tennessee before committing to Houston. When coach Art Briles left the Cougars to join Baylor, he similarly switched to the Bears.

From a physical stand point he looks the part – 6-3 in height and around 215-220lbs in pads. He’ll celebrate his 22nd birthday just over two months prior to the 2012 NFL draft.

Before we get into his technical make-up, I want to stress that in studying Griffin on and off for the last 18 months I’ve never found anything but incredible praise for his leadership and character. This guy is the heartbeat of the Baylor programme, he leads by example and everyone looks up to him. Listen to one of his interviews and you won’t find a shred of arrogance or attitude, he’s a completely humble individual. That will help him when and if he ever gets a shot in the NFL because there are a lot of areas technically he will need to improve.

I was quite surprised how accomplished he looked throwing the football against TCU, because I’d not seen evidence of that previously. There were games when Baylor resorted to repetitive, simple screens and passes into the flats and I remember watching one performance (I forget who the opponent was) where Griffin barely threw a pass past the line of scrimmage. It was almost like he’d switched to rugby momentarily where the forward pass it outlawed.

My impression coming into this year was an athlete who on his day is capable of beating you with a combination of pass/run/athleticism, but ultimately he was a player with little future in the NFL apart from maybe a gimmick role. What we need to work out now is whether this is a matured, coached and capable throwing quarterback who is starting to blossom or whether this is going to be that one game where everything clicks and he dominates.

Perhaps the most striking thing was how little he attempted to run, it’s almost as if that option was taken away from him once Baylor felt confident throwing downfield. Griffin has been the very definition of a dual-threat quarterback, but was seemingly always more dangerous running. In this game, it was all about some pretty impressive deep passes, multiple touchdowns and big plays.

So onto the technique – which as I said needs a lot of work. The main thing that bugs me is the footwork, which is awful. Griffin has a habit of taking the snap, faking the hand off and jumping back with his legs spread out creating a situation where he’s immobile. The stance he gets into in preparation to throw is one that makes it so difficult to avoid pressure if he needs to make more than one read and move away from the pocket. It’s a really unnatural move for a quarterback and a major problem that needs to be worked on, he can’t take a snap and turn into a statue to throw.

Occasionally he also dances into this stance, as if he’s playing quarterback and also preparing to be in the background of Timbaland’s latest music video at the same time. I can’t stress enough just how bad this footwork is, how it prevents Griffin from really making the most of his throwing velocity, how it will make him a sitting target at the next level and bizarrely how it takes away one of the greatest aspects of his game – the ability to move around as a great athlete. This alone will set him back years of work – perhaps 2-3 solid years of practise and improvement – before he’s ready to truly face a starting NFL defense.

Having said that, it looks like he has worked to get stronger in the upper body and therefore gets more zip on those passes. When he was given a clean pocket and time to throw in this game, he actually did an excellent job whether it was throwing deep, finding open targets or even going through the odd progression. His ball placement was very good and he allowed Baylor’s playmakers a chance to thrive. The footwork would be even more of a concern if he didn’t flash some nice ability throwing the ball. If he can play half as well as he did here for the rest of the season, then he has a chance to spark some interest.

He gets the ball out fairly quickly and his release point is fine but not ideal. There were some occassions where he threw slightly more 3/4 than you’d hope for under pressure, but that’s to be expected especially if you need to get the ball out quickly.

The offensive scheme he works from is alien to the NFL, lot’s of option plays and one-read stuff. Alongside the footwork he’ll need a lot of time to adjust taking regular snaps from under center, reading a defense and learning to make more than one quick read and then resorting to a check down.

Teams love athletic quarterbacks who can make unpredictable plays. If they also limit turnovers in college and have the kind of personality that attracts coaches, then they get drafted. Griffin isn’t going to have a TCU game every week but it’s a good start and he’s at least showing improvement and progression as a quarterback. That too will perhaps make a team or two wonder – how good could he be if he continues this upward trend? I came into the year thinking he’d be an UDFA or low round level prospect, but if nothing else in week one he flashed enough to make you consider a home in the middle rounds – even if he will be a substantial project.

Tony Pauline gives Griffin a round 3-4 grade, stating: “Athletic quarterback with a developing game. Has the arm strength necessary to make all the passes, accurate on his throws and also dangerous carrying the ball. Has shown consistent improvement since his freshman season.”

I also noticed Pauline giving some praise to one of my favorite players, Fresno State’s defensive tackle Logan Harrell. I included him on my ’50 to watch’ list for 2012 and see him as a potential pass rushing interior sleeper. Pauline: “Hard-working, tough interior lineman that shows a lot of quickness and explosion in his game. Has an upside and could surprise with a big senior season.”

A few thoughts on Bruce Irvin vs Marshall

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Sunday was a long and frustrating day. I was expecting to watch West Virginia vs Marshall, but ESPN were  showing baseball and would join the game in progress at the conclusion of Philadelphia vs Florida. After four extra innings – seven consecutive with no runs – and a lengthy, boring debate about fan interference, the game was finally concluded some 2.5 hours after it was supposed to. It was already the second half in the WVU game and by the time they finally crossed over – an extreme thunder storm broke out and forced a delay and eventual abandonment.

I had to be up at 5am the next day, I’d stayed up two hours longer than I should’ve done to finally see something – anything – from the WVU game and when the Marlins finally won (on a bases-loaded walk no less) there were merely scenes of an empty football stadium accompanied by a swiftly arranged diversion to talk about Nascar to fill time.

Thankfully the game was broadcast again the next day on replay so I was able to finally sit down and take a look at what restricted action occurred. My main focus was Mountaineers pass rush specialist and JUCO transfer Bruce Irvin, who recorded 14 sacks last year playing predominantly third downs. This season he’s set for an expanded role, although he started the Marshall game again receiving limited snaps. Eventually he began to appear regularly, mixing between three man fronts or RE in a four man defensive line.

I’m a big fan of Bruce and think he’s got legitimate pro-potential, but I wasn’t particularly enamoured with his display here. It’s not entirely his fault. For starters, I have no idea why WVU were using him in a three man front in what must be the lightest five technique to ever grace the game. This is a player who may be too light at 240-250lbs to play outside linebacker in a 3-4, yet the coaches at West Virginia have him playing on a line of three? There were times when Irvin was getting double and triple teamed simply as a more orthodox 4-3 end, so putting him on a line of three easily enabled Marshall to stick a tackle, guard and tight end/running back on his side without any real added consideration.

The main reason for my optimism going into the season was the relative strength of a player Irvin’s size. He didn’t get blown up too often and he flashed occasional power that belittled his frame. He did a good job with his hands to disengage and found ways to get into the backfield. At the same time you couldn’t ignore his limited role and ‘surprise’ element coming off the bench on third downs, so I wanted to see if he could maintain that same explosive level on a longer shift.

I think it’s fair to say I have more reservations today then I did last season. The speed and instinct is still there, as is the repertoire. However, there were several occasions where he couldn’t disengage a standard college right tackle. When playing as part of a three man front, he might as well have not been there on rushing downs because he just doesn’t have the size to fill the hole. One big run for Marshall was purely down to a very simple block on Irvin to the left side of the line, creating a huge wide open space for the running back. The big problem given his lack of size is clearly run defense and although he is stronger than his frame suggests, I’m not sure you can justify even using him consistently at the LEO position on a full-time basis.

Can he work out at OLB? It’s too hard to tell considering he doesn’t ever play that role at WVU (surprisingly) even in 3-4 sets. He’d have to learn coverage duties and for a player who needs to pin his ears back and rush the passer, his stock is going to be limited.

I want to push Bruce Irvin’s stock as high as possible, but it may be time for me to temper those expectations. As a pass rush specialist playing third downs, he could have a nice career in the NFL and enjoy some success. However, he’s never going to be that every down big-time threat. His best position probably is LEO pass rusher, but as part of a consistent rotation. We’ll see if he can change that perception during the season. Even if that doesn’t prove to be the case, he’s one of the most fun players to watch in college football and you can’t ignore 14 sacks last season and one already against Marshall to start the new term.

Southern Miss vs Louisiana Tech highlights

Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

I’m going to be tracking the progress of Austin Davis (QB, Southern Miss) this season. He’s a quarterback who hasn’t been talked about that often who I believe has a legitimate shot at making a go of it at the next level. The conditions were horrendous against Louisiana Tech and the Golden Eagles just sneaked through with a 19-17 victory. This is the only tape I could get on the game, so the week one ‘highlights’ will merely include a block for the end-around score and a rallying speech before leading his team to a game winning field goal.

Landry Jones and the hype machine

Monday, September 5th, 2011

About three weeks ago I wrote this article about Landry Jones, that contained the following:

“Because he doesn’t have explosive physical talent or elite accuracy, you’re always going to be wondering whether he can cope with a much more demanding system and whether he’ll stand out. Teams will gamble on a Jake Locker ‘getting it’ because he looks like John Elway physically if not necessarily in terms of performance at this early stage in his career. Teams won’t always gamble on a guy with all the yards and scores you’d ever want, but with a lingering concern that without his vast array of swing passes and screens he’ll just be found out.”

When he faced Blaine Gabbert’s Missouri in 2010 with Oklahoma the newly crowned #1 team in the nation, Jones was very much the second best quarterback on display.

Tony Pauline has graded Jones as a round four level talent.

Our guest blogger Daniel also had some issues stating, “Jones runs hot and cold. When he’s hot, I think “yeah, this guy could go in round 1″ but he’s cold way too much to actually be worth that grade. Even if he improves this year I would remain skeptical. I think, ironically, Jones will be given the benefit of the doubt in terms of the “spread offense” he plays in due to the success of Bradford and a few other QBs in the NFL. In truth, he looks much less developed playing in the same offense as his predecessor and I firmly believe that at another college he would be viewed as a guy with a big arm who is inconsistent and inaccurate.”

Landry Jones is not an elite quarterback prospect, whether that’s on a physical grade, accuracy grade or playmaking grade. He plays in a system that provides mass production and he is a product of that winning scheme. He is alongside a group of other quarterbacks like Kirk Cousins and Ryan Tannehill jostling to be the second level guys teams looks at if they don’t get a shot at the big two of Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley. Let’s not mess around here, there’s a grand canyon’s difference in talent between Luck and Barkley and the rest – including Jones.

In an era when Christian Ponder is worth the #12 pick, I think there’s every chance Jones will also be drafted above his means and be a high round one pick. He’s not worth top end grades, not yet anyway. Having had the opportunity to watch Geno Smith (QB, WVU) again this weekend, I’m wondering whether he’s worth a higher grade than Jones.

Sam Bradford’s success should play no part in discussing Jones, but I can’t help but feel his excellence is vaulting Jones above his means. The pair are unrelated apart from the fact they attended the same school. Bradford won a Heisman at OU, dominated in such a smothering fashion and was quite frankly sensational. Jones doesn’t even scratch the surface in comparison.

I don’t want to sound too repetitive, but there are two franchise quarterbacks who will be eligible to declare for 2012. There’s some depth after that and teams may well find a star. We could see a late flourisher or a player may emerge from nowhere (see: Cam Newton). Even so, I wouldn’t want to be spending much more than a R2 pick on anyone other than Luck and Barkley at this stage.

Week one thoughts: Barkley, Moore and the rest

Saturday, September 3rd, 2011

I’ve just completed the Boise State vs Georgia game and still have LSU vs Oregon to watch this afternoon. Tonight I’ll be watching West Virginia (Bruce Irvin) vs Marshall (Vinny Curry). I also had the opportunity to watch USC-Minnesota and have Baylor’s victory over TCU saved on tape, but you can check out Robert Griffin’s performance in the video above thanks to JMPasq. If Griffin can perform as he did in that game regularly this season, he’ll warrant greater consideration than the late ground rade I’d previously offered. Expect some thoughts on WVU vs Marshall later tonight or tomorrow.

A lot of our conversations this season will be based around quarterbacks considering the Seahawks starting situation. I don’t want to linger exclusively on the position and certainly we’ll cover a lot of different areas (particularly on defense) but I do want to start by discussing a couple of QB’s that were on show this weekend.

The USC Trojans slipped past Minnesota 19-17 and almost lost the game thanks to bizarre policy on two-point conversions and a truly horrible second half performance. It was such a far cry from the first two quarters, where Matt Barkley was sensational and Minnesota couldn’t get close to sophomore receiver Robert Woods.

Barkley reaffirmed my belief that there’s very little between him and fellow quarterback stand-out Andrew Luck. His control of play action was impressive, he was extremely efficient and could’ve had much more joy than the school-record 34 completions he compiled. All three passing touchdowns flashed different aspects of his game… The first a brilliant pump fake and fade to the back of the end zone for Woods, throwing the defensive back into confusion/embarrassment. The second score was a perfectly thrown deep ball from the 50-yard line – faultless placement, velocity and timing. His third touchdown was a little more simple, but no less well executed as a quick slant on the money to the right hand side of the end zone.

Yet the most impressive play that stood out to me came in the second half when Barkley took a play action, snapped back around and in a split second sensed the inside pressure with a defensive end cutting inside and evading the guard. He side steps the rusher buying enough time to throw for a three-yard gain. In reality it was a 13-yard play, a lot of quarterbacks wouldn’t have been able to diagnose the rush so quickly after the snap/play action. To not only avoid the sack and subsequent big loss but to also turn it into a three-yard gain is the kind of play that pro-scouts will drool over almost as much as the 43-yard touchdown bomb.

The second half was chaotic – and I’d blame Lane Kiffin mostly – but USC didn’t run the ball well enough and allowed Minnesota back into a contest that looked over at half time. They went away from the combination that worked so well between Barkley-Woods (who had a record 17 receptions and looks every bit a future NFL talent) and the offensive line, which includes Ryan Kalil at left tackle, didn’t do a good enough job to allow the Trojans to play this one out.

Andrew Luck deserves a lot of the hype he receives, but it’s 1a and 1b with Barkley and I’m still not convinced that the USC quarterback doesn’t deserve to be 1a. Luck has the better team at this stage and is clearly being set up for a big tilt at the Heisman. He will be the #1 pick next year if he stays healthy, but even now it’s hard to see Barkley lasting much longer on the board after that.

A name to watch on defense for USC this year – DE Nick Perry. He was being touted for a big year in 2010 but injury hampered his progress. He looked good in this one and back at 100% health. If he continues in this form people will start talking about his NFL future again.

***UPDATE***

Thanks to JMPasq, we know have game tape to view of Barkley’s performance vs Minnesota:

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I’ve been critical of Kellen Moore’s pro-future and after watching BSU vs Georgia, nothing has changed in that respect. I’ll qualify firstly that I have a lot of respect for Moore and Boise State. They’ve created a defense which ranks amongst the best in college football and a timing offense which creates almost a ‘slow death’ mentality, frustrating the life out of the opposition and controlling the clock. Moore is integral to the offense clicking – he’s a student of the game who appears to have excellent intangibles.

However, I maintain an UDFA grade for Moore for several reasons. The obvious problem is a lack of physical clout, which isn’t totally unexpected for a 6-0 quarterback weighing 190lbs. A lot of people love to point to Drew Brees when you talk about 6-0 quarterbacks, but Brees weighs a good 20lbs more than Moore and even as a physically weaker passer who has enjoyed massive success, he’s still much more capable than Moore.

Mechanically there are issues - such as the shot-put style throwing motion when trying to generate more velocity and the slightly slingy release which will cause problems at the next level due to his height. There’s a lot of short passes into the flat and dump offs in the Boise State system and Moore is very efficient as you’d expect in a high percentage pass offense. Yet in the first half he’s completed just 1-3 attempted passes of 15+ yards yet managed 7-8 of 0-15 yards to his left hand side. Of the three passes of +15 yards he’s thrown a bad interception, where Georgia actually managed to get some pressure in his face forcing a bad read throwing into a zone with four defenders and one receiver. The pass itself is lofted, floaty and easy for the right cornerback to come across and snatch.

I don’t expect Moore to make that pass under any circumstance, but he locked onto the receiver and when pressured his decision is to try and force it anyway. It shows what pressure can do – and he still had a good 2.5-3 seconds to make a decision before the linebacker rush. This is one of my biggest concerns with Moore. Last year Boise State gave up five sacks (in comparison, there were games last year where Jake Locker was sacked more than five times in a single game). Their quarterback enjoys, for the most part, one of the cleanest pockets in college football. This allows the timing offense to work – short passes, one quick read then checkdown, get the ball into the hands of your playmakers. When Moore isn’t afforded that time and level of comfort, the timing is thrown off. How will he react?

We only had 3-4 incidents in this game because Georgia were awful, but the interception was a major concern for me. On the first drive with pressure in his face he similarly almost threw a pick into triple coverage only for the DB to drop the ball. It’s easy to sit back and admire another completion of 7-8 yards from a clean pocket, but in the NFL even if Moore is playing for New England he’s not going to enjoy that kind of environment. Can he make 2-3 quick reads and drive a ball 10+ yards quickly? Is he going to lock on to receivers and try to force things, as we see here, when pressured? Can he feel basic pressure up the middle, buy time and make the right decision? Can he avoid locking on and attempting the throw as his bail out when the timing is thrown off?

I can’t really answer these questions without seeing it happen and considering Moore is physically weaker than even most back ups in the NFL, it’ll take a major leap off faith to expect a team to spend a on the player. I’m not saying someone won’t take the relatively low gamble in the later rounds, but it’s not a choice I would make personally.

For an alternative view, it’s worth noting SI.com’s Tony Pauline has given Moore an UDFA grade too. Evan Silva from Rotoworld also noted on twitter today, “QB Kellen Moore was measured on campus last year. He is 5-foot-11 5/8 and 195 pounds. He has free agent-only grades from NFL.”

As for Georgia, somebody should’ve thrown the towel in during the third quarter. Just an awful performance on both sides of the ball. Who is responsible for ranking them at #19 and Notre Dame #16?

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What about the other quarterbacks? Logan Thomas made his first start for Virginia Tech in a blow out victory over Appalachian State, going 9-19 for 149 yards and two scores. Thomas is a wild card to keep an eye on – physically capable of having a big year on a decent VT team, but ultimately learning on the run as the new starter. Cam Newton picked things up quickly and ended up dominating for Auburn – I don’t expect Thomas to enjoy that level of success, but he’s someone worth monitoring this year.

Kirk Cousins had the expected easy day against Youngstown State going 18-22 for 222 yards and a score. Michigan State have a big opportunity to go unbeaten this year and win a Big-Ten title – that will help Cousins as he aims to become the top ranked senior passer. He reminds me a little of Kevin Kolb in terms of technique and has a chance to go in rounds 2-3 next April.

Andrew Luck was another quarterback who had it relatively easy, as Stanford smashed San Jose State at home. It wasn’t a perfect performance, recording 17-26 for 171 yards and two touchdowns. He added a further rushing touchdown.

Austin Davis just about managed a winning start for Southern Miss in difficult weather conditions against Louisiana Tech. Davis passed for 226 yards and an interception, while running for 51 more yards in a 19-17 victory thanks to a winning field goal with just over two minutes in the game. Special teams mistakes hurt the Golden Eagles on several occasions, but they survived and maintain hopes for an unbeaten season.

Landry Jones had a comfortable afternoon against Tulsa, going 35-47 for 375 yards and a touchdown. #1 ranked Oklahoma were barely tested in a 47-14 victory.

Guest Blogger Daniel recommended watching NC State QB Mike Glennon this season – he went 18-31 for 156 yards and a touchdown in a 43-21 win over Liberty. This was his first start, expect greater efficiency as the year progresses.

It was a strange day for South Carolina against ECU as Steve Spurrier chose not to start Stephen Garcia, watched his team limp out of the blocks and then decided to bring back their presumed starting QB to force a comeback victory. Despite all of the off-field issues, it’s clear Garcia offers the best opportunity for the Gamecocks to realise their potential this season. He had 110 yards passing, 56 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Star receiver AlshonJeffery had five catches for 92 yards and no scores. Brilliant sophomore running back Marcus Lattimore – an expected key player in the 2013 draft – had 145 total yards and three touchdowns.

Tyler Wilson had a nicestart to life as Ryan Mallett’s replacement in Arkansas. He dissected the Missouri State Bears to the tune of 260 yards and two touchdowns. It wasn’t good news for John Brantley though, who struggled in Charlie Weis’ simplified offense in Florida. Brantley went 21-30 for 229 yards, one touchdown and two picks against Florida Atlantic.

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Quentin Coples had two sacks to start the season for UNC. A possible orthodox 5-technique at the next level, that’s a good start for someone with legit top-10 potential. Tar Heels wide out Dwight Jones equally had a great start – scoring twice in a nine-catch, 116-yard performance against James Madison. Jones will surprise a few people this year.

The defensive player of the week may be Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burflict. A legitimate first round talent, Burflict had three sacks against UC Davis.

A player I have a lot of time for that hasn’t received much national consideration is Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State). He started 2011 with a sack in defeat to California – he had 10.5 sacks last season.

Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers) registered seven catches for 68 yards and a touchdown against NC Central. Interestingly, he didn’t run the ball once – something he’s done regularly as a multi-threat playmaker.

Brandon Jenkins (DE, Florida State) and Jonathan Massaquoi (DE, Troy) both went sackless in week one.

Biletnikoff certainty Justin Blackmon had eight catches for 144 yards as Oklahoma State rolled past Louisiana-Lafayette. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw three interceptions in the game.

Despite a bitterly disappointing defeat to South Florida, Notre Dame receiver Michael Floyd had 12-catches for 154-yards and a pair of touchdowns. That’s a good start for a guy troubled by off-the-field issues.