This is a down year for defensive line talent
I watched the tape from UNC’s defeat at Georgia Tech and Quinton Coples was again a disappointing non-factor. It’s not a total surprise that he struggled to create pressure against the triple option, but this isn’t the first time I’ve been totally non-plussed by Coples inability to have an impact. He’s not an explosive pass rusher to play off the edge and he’s not got the size to move inside and possibly work out at tackle. I’m always sceptical of defensive lineman that don’t flash great hands and technique because I want to see more than physical potential, which is essentially what Coples is all about. With greater physical development he could become a very solid five technique at the next level, but is that really enough to warrant the universal elite grades he’s receiving in pretty much every mock draft and big board? Coples is #2 overall on Mel Kiper’s latest board, he’s named at #3 overall by Scouts Inc and NFL Draft Scout ranks the Tar Heels lineman at #2.
Against Georgia Tech he was often subbed out and missed large chunks of drives. Was this a reaction to the fast paced offense he was competing against, or should we be concerned that on key first and ten situations he’s on the sidelines? Why isn’t he on the field when the opponent has 2nd and 1 in midfield? The amount of attention he received when he did take the field afforded the UNC linebackers to have an impact on the game, but that to me isn’t enough to deserve top-five consideration. Da’Quan Bowers regularly endured double teams last year for Clemson and still recorded 16 sacks.
SI.com’s Tony Pauline – one of my favorite draft writers and someone who’s opinion is worth noting – had this to say about Coples’ performance:
North Carolina senior defensive lineman Quinton Coples was universally accepted by NFL scouts and draft pundits as the top overall prospect in 2012. His play during the first month of the season has been disappointing to say the least. He’s registered just two sacks in four games this season, and both came during Carolina’s opener against small school foe James Madison. Against Georgia Tech, he was credited with just a single solo tackle. The lack of playmaking is becoming an issue and while Coples flashes brilliance on occasion, he also shows the propensity to disappear for stretches.
Overall it sums up what a miserable year this is for defensive line talent. Brandon Jenkins (DE, Florida State) is only worth of a mid-round grade. Jerel Worthy (DT, MSU) is another player hugely over rated who often appears in various mock drafts as a top ten pick. Jared Crick (DT, Nebraska) jumps between explosive and non-existent. I’m yet to agree with any of the high profile pundits on the defensive line prospects they see worthy of a top-16 grade. Having been spoilt in recent years with a vast array of top-end talent like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy and Marcell Dareus, this is looking like a distinctly poor year at tackle and end.
One player who is worth monitoring is Logan Harrell (DT, Fresno State). He’s a speedy penetrative tackle without the big size but he gets into the backfield with a combination of quicks and technique. He has 14 sacks working as a DT since the start of 2010, with 3.5 already this season. In terms of LEO prospects, Vinny Curry (DE, Marshall) has a lot of potential and could be worth a first round grade. Alameda Ta’amu (NT, Washington) has the kind of size and athleticism teams look for in a nose tackle, but I prefer Baylor’s Phil Taylor – taken by Cleveland in round one this year.
Wide receivers making a move
On a more positive note, the 2012 class of receivers could be one of the deepest in years. Although there’s no defining top-ten talent (we’ll have to wait a year to discuss USC’s brilliant true-sophomore Robert Woods) overall there’s a lot of depth and possibly several first and second round picks. Everyone knows about Justin Blackmon (WR, Oklahoma State) and Alshon Jeffery (WR, South Carolina). Neither are worth top-ten picks but should be taken before the end of round one. Jeff Fuller (WR, Texas A&M) has had an inconsistent start to the year but has big-time pro talent and was possibly the only player last season to give Patrick Peterson the run around. Michael Floyd (WR, Notre Dame) is enjoying a fast start as he looks to repair his stock after a series of off-the-field problems. Mohamed Sanu (WR, Rutgers) is finally benefitting from a stable quarterback situation and looks every bit the first round talent as an explosive dual threat playmaker who could have an incredible impact in the NFL.
One player I was really high on coming into this season was UNC receiver Dwight Jones. He’s struggled with consistency in the past but this year looks like a more mature, rounded individual who’s letting his talent do the talking. I have no reason to believe he can’t push his stock into the first round area considering he has every single skill you want from a wide out coming out of college. Strong hands? Check. Ability to make difficult catches and avoid drops? Check. Top-end deep speed? Check. Size? Check. Good route runner? Check. You get the picture, but he’s also a competitive player who fights for extra yards and one of his greatest assets is the ability to turn on the jets and accelerate through the gears from a standing start. At 6-4, 225lbs and with the production he’s having as a senior, it’s time to start talking about this guy.
Against Georgia Tech he had seven catches for 85 yards and it’s 421 yards and four touchdowns from his first four games this season. One play stood out last weekend – Jones takes a screen pass at the LOS and is met by a linebacker immediately. He catches the ball one handed, turns and just burns him off rounding the LB and racing up field. He got through the gears quickly showing great acceleration for his size. He ran past two more defensive backs before eventually being taken down for a 49-yard gain. It was an explosive play, really showing incredible speed and YAC ability.
And oh yeah – he does an excellent job re-adjusting to the ball to bail out the quarterback and he just about catches everything. Jones is potentially the complete package and if he keeps this up in 2011, he’s a first round pick.
Another receiver that caught the eye in the UNC/GT game was the Yellow Jacket’s junior wide out Stephen Hill. He made a stunning one handed grab for a first down in the second quarter and scored a 59-yard touchdown on a blown coverage.
He’s 6-5 and around 210lbs. He struggled to make an impact as a freshman or sophomore, recording just four touchdowns, 21 catches and 428 yards. This season he’s already clocked 14 receptions, 462 yards and four touchdowns. He had 181 yards against Western Carolina, 126 yards against Middle Tennessee and 151 yards against UNC. The stats may be deceptive because teams play run support with their cornerbacks against the triple option allowing Hill to find holes in the secondary. Essentially he doesn’t need to run great routes to get open. However, Georgia Tech is a production line for good receivers and as a 2012 draft eligible prospect I’d recommend checking out Hill if you get the opportunity.
Over rated players – is this going to be a weak draft?
The overall strength of the 2012 draft doesn’t look good right now. I have to believe that’s partly the justification for many players receiving unwarranted praise and high grades, even from some high profile pundits and scouts who’s opinions are taken as gospel and who are never made accountable for bad judgements. The fact that players like Donte Paige-Moss (DE, UNC) are given grades in the first round or are listed among ‘top prospects to watch’ is quite incredible. I have Paige-Moss as a late round pick at best right now, how can anyone justify anything more? Jerel Worthy, a completely unspectacular defensive tackle who’s neither a spectacular pass rusher or run stuffer, but he’s a top ten pick?
Landry Jones (QB, Oklahoma) is graded in the top ten by an awful lot of people, I’d guess mainly because of statistics and the fact he’s not been a total failure replacing Sam Bradford for the Sooners. I understand there’s a need to collate early big boards and mocks that not even the most gifted pundit can realistically compile in September, but this year has been a real eye opener so far with big names being paid lip-service to take up space.
Right now I’m concerned that the 2012 draft will be very weak in terms of depth, but it will be boosted by an unusually talented quartet at the very top of the board. Andrew Luck, Matt Barkley, Ryan Kalil and Trent Richardson are as good you will find at their respective positions in any given draft. That along with a strong group of receivers (but no obvious top-ten talent) looks like being the big storyline from next April’s event in my opinion. What it does provide is an opportunity – a chance for players to rise dramatically up boards and cement a home within the first 32 picks that otherwise wouldn’t be possible most other years. It’ll provide a chance for players to get over drafted – such as Landry Jones and maybe even Robert Griffin. Players like Jonathan Martin (OT, Stanford) who deserve solid mid-first round grades could end up being top-five/ten picks.
If I was going to try and do a mock draft today, I’d struggle to get beyond pick five. I may even include Alameda Ta’amu (DT, Washington) in the top ten, purely down to the new importance of the nose tackle position and the lack of alternative quality on the defensive line. When I talk about opportunities, that’s what I mean. There’s every possibility that a guy like Ta’amu could be a high first round pick due to the generally weak overall quality of the 2012 draft. Phil Taylor – formerly of Baylor now a first round pick in Cleveland – could easily have been a top 5-10 pick in 2012.
Austin Davis impresses in front of Seahawks scout
A player I’ve had the opportunity to interview and someone I grade highly as a draft sleeper is Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis. The Seahawks sent a scout to watch the Golden Eagles’ victory over Virginia at the weekend, and that scout will have surely been impressed with what he saw from Davis in a three-touchdown winning effort. Physically he’s an improving player with plus accuracy and decision making. It would not surprise me in the slightest if the scout was sent specifically to watch Davis, given his mobility and mantra to avoid turnovers. Speaking to Davis during the pre-season, it was almost Pete Carroll-esque the way he discussed the importance of not turning the ball over and managing the offense.
Game tape and highlights are not particularly forthcoming for Southern Miss this season but I did find two links highlighting a couple of his touchdown passes at the weekend: Link one, Link Two. You can see extended highlights of the game using this link courtesy of the Virginia Sports TV website.
Davis is completely dedicated to his craft, evidenced by the improved upper body strength that is clearly evident this year. If you want to learn more about the kind of character Davis is, check out the video below at fast forward to the 50-second mark. You can read my interview with Davis by clicking here.