These are players I’ve recently added to my horizontal board that I wanted to spend a bit of time discussing today…
Calijah Kancey (DT, Pittsburgh)
There are ‘wow’ plays on tape for Kancey, who is an undersized yet dynamic interior rusher. His quickness complements his good use of hands to create pressure through the A or B gap. He can stun blockers with his ability to swipe and slide across the line to wrong-foot guards. He has a fantastic swim move. There are occasions where you can see blockers wary of his quickness and he plays off that. He uses choppy feet to let the guard make his move, then once he’s committed he’ll throw a little head fake, drop a shoulder or just swim by. It’s always exciting to watch a player like this with great skill and athleticism at defensive tackle. The only problem is size. He’s 6-0 and 280lbs. I suspect, given those measurables, he will probably have shorter arms too. It’s a shame because he can reportedly run a 4.69 and jump a 31.5 inch vertical. So he’s fast and explosive. Will it translate at that size though? Aaron Donald, another former Pitt defensive tackle, ran a 4.68 at 285lbs at his combine, then jumped a 32 inch vertical. He also had 32.5 inch arms. So his size shouldn’t be written off — but the chances are he won’t be Donald. After all, Donald had a ridiculous 66 TFL’s and 28.5 sacks in college. Kancey has 28.5/11.5. Even so, the expectation shouldn’t be Donald. It’s whether he can still make an impact. I think he can — but he’s difficult to project in terms of a round grade. At the moment I’m thinking day two simply because the quickness and hand-skill isn’t seen that often.
JL Skinner (S, Boise State)
This was a really fun watch and I immediately plonked a round two grade on Skinner after two games. He’s the kind of safety you fall in love with right away. He’s 6-4, 220lbs and he’s an enforcer. He’s violent. He’s destructive. He has a highlight reel full of massive hits. His closing burst is so good and when he gets you in his sights — bang. He’ll dump you on your arse. Everyone loves to throw around comparisons to Kam Chancellor but this is the first player I’ve legitimately seen who might warrant the tag. He’s not as big as Kam and won’t ever be Kam because nobody will be. Yet it’s a fair comparison for what you see on tape — a big, punishing strong safety who’ll knock your block off. You want him eyeing those crossing routes, creating a fear factor. He’s tremendous in run support. I think he’s faster than Kam and might be more of a chess piece. He accelerates well and he’s no slouch when he gets moving. He’s also well regarded as a strong communicator on the field and he’s all business off the field. I’ve enjoyed listening to his interviews. He is laser focused and no-nonsense. Sign me up for some of this.
Ji’Ayir Brown (S, Penn State)
Another safety I thoroughly enjoyed watching. I wanted to watch him as soon as Jim Nagy tweeted he was the definitive alpha on Penn State’s roster. That’s always something that catches your eye. On tape he’s a quality, playmaking safety. He didn’t disappoint. Brown is constantly around the ball. I’ve seen people claiming he has a lot of opportunistic interceptions (tipped passes etc). So what? He has nine picks in one-and-a-half seasons. He’s doing something right. He’s stocky and reminds me a bit of Quandre Diggs in terms of his frame. Could be a cheaper option (given Diggs is due $18m next year and there’s an easy out in his contract)? There are some differences to Diggs, though. For example — against Michigan he set the edge on a red-zone running play and bulldozed an offensive tackle backwards, stunning the blocker and then wrapping up the ball-carrier as he tried to run to that side. It was more Kam Chancellor-level stuff. He anticipates and reads the field well from deep. He reportedly is capable of a 3.99 short shuttle and a 4.45 forty. Jim Nagy said in his tweet that he also has big 10-inch hands. Watching Brown and Skinner, I couldn’t help but think about the pair of them on the field at the same time. A new tandem. Big, fast, violent, explosive. Brown might not suit everyone because his body type is not typical for his position. I have to say, after watching him, I wouldn’t overthink that.
Quentin Johnston (WR, TCU)
I’ve talked about Johnston before but I wanted to add him to this piece too. He’s a tough one to work out because at times I watch him and think, ‘this guy is the next DeAndre Hopkins mixed with some Larry Fitzgerald’ (which sounds ridiculous but also kind of fits). Then in other games he goes missing or his technique is a little off and then I start to worry about Kevin White vibes. Yet there’s no doubting Johnson has special qualities and a unique frame. His body type is Richard Sherman-esque. He’s long and quite gangly but also incredibly quick and explosive. He makes sudden, subtle moves to avoid tackles. He has a go-to spin move after running a comeback route to break away from the first defender. Johnston makes clutch plays downfield and he’s an electric runner when he gets going. When his legs are churning it’s a terrifying sight — he runs like the T1000. He looks like an outstanding, special athlete and he supposedly will run in the 4.4’s and jump a 42 inch vertical. I’d like to see him make more of his size/speed frankly. He has long arms — use them to high point better. Box-out opponents. Become unstoppable. Even so — he is a freakish athlete and I suspect the league will be lining up to draft him. He will be a first round pick.
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