The tape above features the Tennessee passing offense vs Florida from Saturday. The three guys to focus on are quarterback Tyler Bray (#8) and receivers Justin Hunter (#11) and Cordarrelle Patterson (#84). For the most part Bray looked inconsistent – which is the story of his short career. He has quite a slingy release but it generates decent velocity and he’s quite capable of making some big plays. The touch pass at 6:04 for a touchdown is a perfect example of what’s good about Bray’s game.
Unfortunately, there are many negatives too. He looks a mistake waiting to happen – his first interception at 0:37 was just flat out careless. He doesn’t recognise the defensive end has dropped into coverage, he forces a pass under pressure and turns it over. I think the best way to describe him is a shorter, less efficient version of Brock Osweiler. I much preferred Osweiler, who received a lot of unnecessary criticism despite a lot of good tape. Clearly John Elway saw something in the guy, as he’s the heir apparent to Peyton Manning in Denver as long as he does enough to impress behind the scenes as a backup. Bray has a similar release, similar velocity. But he’s less of a technical passer and he makes mistakes every week that Osweiler only made at his worst (see: Boise State).
You can probably sum up Bray perfectly with two plays. At 8:44, he shows great poise in the pocket to let a Justin Hunter route develop, double pump and throw on a slant for a 15-yard gain on 3rd and 10. On the very next play, he lazily throws downfield into double coverage for an easy interception. The second play was as awful as the first was excellent.
Bray is unlikely to ever be a first round pick and will probably go to a team in that round 2-4 range as a project. He has a lot of the tools to interest teams, but he needs to be more consistent. In the Florida game he had spells where the offense was moving the ball and appeared to be on track for a key victory. Then they’d collapse and couldn’t make a play. A lot of the minor errors and turnovers could be avoided with a greater understanding of the position and more time spent honing his craft. Reports suggest he still has a bit of maturing to do and he may never live up the hype he generated as a freshman. Bray needs to work hard and play football – it wouldn’t be advisable for him to declare for 2013 having spent so little time on the field in his college career. He needs to return to Tennessee next year.
Justin Hunter gets a good press for a guy still working his way back to 100%. He missed most of last season with a serious knee injury and had to work extremely hard to return for the start of the 2012 college season. Mel Kiper has Hunter at #5 on his big board – ahead of Chance Warmach, Star Lotulelei and Dee Milliner. I cannot agree with that. Todd McShay has him at #7, which also seems a bit high – but it’s McShay’s description of Hunter which is most surprising: “Hunter is still recovering from a knee injury that ended his 2011 season, but he’s a smooth route-runner with a lean frame, body control and ball skills reminiscent of A.J. Green.” I see that as a generous comparison. We may never see a player like Green in college football again – he was so smooth with his route running pretty much from day one, he was ultra competitive in college and he consistently made incredible plays. He was the most natural receiver you’ll ever see. Not only is A.J. Green having a great start to his NFL career, he’s dragging along Andy Dalton’s NFL career for the ride.
Hunter does have a similar frame but he isn’t anywhere close to Green’s level of potential. The knee injury hasn’t helped matters and it will linger until he’s completed a full season and shown no side-effects. He had five catches for 42 yards against Florida – but crucially he had two sloppy drops. You also want to see him fighting to the ball a little better – something Green did so well. At 1:32 you can see a defensive back break for the ball and pretty much run through Hunter to almost make an interception. In each of Tennessee’s two ‘serious’ games so far (Georgia State was a blow out where Hunter recorded massive numbers) Tyler Bray has looked for Cordarrelle Patterson early rather than Hunter. I want to see if that trait continues, because it may just be teams are blanketing Hunter and Patterson is getting a more favorable 1 vs 1 match-up. Or maybe Bray just trusts Patterson more at this stage?
So what about Patterson? He didn’t make the huge back-breaking play we’d seen in each of his first two games, but this was a more measured performance. He has a tendency to body catch which you don’t want to see – but there’s room for optimism given the fine diving catch at 9:18. He was being obstructed by the cornerback, but Bray threw just to the back-shoulder – Patterson locates the ball and makes a superb catch. It’s the kind of play you want to see – it’s OK running a reverse for 45-yards and showing what a great athlete you are, but you also need to be able to prove you can do the basics.
I’ve said it a few times now, but Patterson might be the best eligible receiver for 2013. He has the size, the speed, the playmaking ability and he showed at times in this game he can run good routes and make simple catches. If Patterson had been a big recruit with an extra year’s experience at a big programme people wouldn’t stop talking about this guy. He’d be a top-five projection. Instead he’s a JUCO transfer – which always creates some unfair scepticism – and the hype isn’t really building so far. He’s not the most mature guy, as evidenced by his post-game interview against NC State where he furiously chews gum, struggles to answer questions and comes across a little awkward. Hey – maybe he’s just not a natural talker in front of the camera? He doesn’t have to be a great interview, he just has to be a great football player. Yet teams are going to test Cordarrelle come draft time and they’re going to need to be able to invest their faith in him. A.J. Green, Julio Jones and Justin Blackmon were naturals here and probably aced their interviews. Patterson will need to prepare for that if he opts to declare for 2013.
You can see Cordarrelle Patterson’s JUCO tape below: