By now you’ll be well aware of the impact Covid-19 is having on the NFL draft.
Pro-days are cancelled. Medical checks are on hold. More players than ever chose not to compete at the combine so teams are missing vital physical information.
The players who did test — and performed well at the combine — are likely to receive a boost. Especially if their medicals checked out too.
One such player who could benefit is Jabari Zuniga.
It wasn’t a good combine for the defensive linemen. Very few players enhanced their stock. Zuniga, however, did have a strong performance.
He ran a 1.61 10-yard split. Anything in the 1.5’s is considered excellent for a 250lbs speed rusher. To get close to that range at 264lbs is impressive. He’s one of the few edge rushers in the class with genuine burst.
His 4.64 forty was very good too and he had a highly explosive workout in the bench, vertical and broad. Based on our TEF formula, he’s the third most explosive defensive lineman in recent history behind only Myles Garrett, Ben Banogu and Solomon Thomas. In terms of weighted TEF (which accounts for weight + testing) he’s in the same range as Michigan center Cesar Ruiz and Boise State left tackle Ezra Cleveland.
Unfortunately he didn’t do the agility tests. Moving the combine to prime time was essentially the death knell for the three cone and the short shuttle. With players running much later in the day, they were being asked to do these two vital tests at about ten o’clock at night. Next year they can’t make this mistake again and they need to ask the players to perform these tests earlier in the day before the forty runs, on a different day altogether or they need to give the players a financial incentive to do a complete set of tests.
Fortunately, we do have some information on Zuniga.
He was included in Bruce Feldman’s freaks list for 2019. In the report he’s said to have run a 7.03 three cone at Florida.
A repeat performance at the combine would’ve given him the second fastest time among defensive lineman behind only Derrek Tuszka.
Unfortunately we don’t have information about the more important short shuttle. There’s some correlation between a good short shuttle and the Seahawks drafting defensive linemen. The same isn’t the case for the three cone. Even so, it’s all we have. So how does it compare to recent first and second round picks, Seahawks draft picks and other relevant players?
Derek Barnett — 6.96
Montez Sweat — 7.00
Brian Burns — 7.00
Ben Banogu — 7.02
Jabari Zuniga — 7.03
Preston Smith — 7.07
Cassius Marsh — 7.08
Frank Clark — 7.08
Ziggy Ansah — 7.11
Josh Allen — 7.15
Shaq Lawson — 7.16
Taco Charlton — 7.17
Marcus Davenport — 7.20
Rasheem Green — 7.24
Clelin Ferrell — 7.26
Jadeveon Clowney — 7.27
Yannick Ngakoue — 7.35
Bradley Chubb — 7.37
Demarcus Lawrence — 7.46
As we can see — a bad three cone doesn’t necessarily mean a bad NFL career. Demarcus Lawrence and Yannick Ngakoue have done well despite testing at the bottom of this list. Equally, Derek Barnett at the top has not had much impact for the Eagles despite being taken with the #14 pick in 2017.
The list does prove how athletic a 7.03 three cone is, however. If teams are willing to take it on face value then it’s another string to his bow to go with the 10-yard burst and the explosive testing results.
Zuniga has been inconsistent at times. This was on show at the Senior Bowl. He had some nice wins in the 1v1 drills where his quickness off the edge and ability to dip and straighten were on show. He was also stoned several times and on a couple of occasions ended up on the turf.
The coaches seemed to like matching him up inside against LSU’s Damien Lewis and had them run three reps back-to-back a couple of times. That was unusual given these are one-rep scenarios. It’s perhaps indicative of how both players are being underrated in the media (I think Lewis is a second round pick).
I thought Zuniga faired well in this matchup. On one rep he drove Lewis into the pocket. He was handled quite easily on the second rep and the final rep he won with initial quickness but it’s a nice recovery from Lewis:
He would often kick inside to rush the interior at Florida. He has some success doing it too. He might be better served as a pure EDGE at the next level who moves inside only on very obvious passing downs. He can still do it, however.
In a class full of flawed pass rushers though, his highlight reel has more exciting flashes than most:
His pass rush win percentage is also strong at 20%. That’s comparable to Zach Baun (20.1%), Bradlee Anae (20.2%) and Curtis Weaver (22.9%). It’s superior to Yetur Gross-Matos (18.9%), A.J. Epenesa (17.5%), Marlon Davidson (16.2%) and K’Lavon Chaisson (13.1%).
That’s why I think he’ll go earlier than most expect. Yes there are inconsistencies and he’s not going to come into the league and be Bradley Chubb. Yet he ticks a lot of boxes — quickness, size, explosive traits, pass rush production.
A lot of people are very happy to mock Gross-Matos, Epenesa and Chaisson in round one. Yet how many boxes have they ticked? Chaisson chose not to do anything at the combine and his pass rush win percentage is the worst among any pass rusher in the class. Gross-Matos chose not to do any running at the combine despite doing all the on-field drills. Epenesa ran in the 5.0’s.
In this weird draft full of missing information — Zuniga benefits from the knowledge we actually have. For that reason, I think he’ll go earlier than a lot of people are currently projecting.
Thoughts on two other defensive linemen
I spent time watching Marlon Davidson and Terrell Lewis again yesterday. I can’t say my opinion changed much on either.
Davidson looks like a three technique playing end. It’s to his credit that he had as much success as he did rushing the edge despite his big frame. He’s uniquely bendy for a man who looks like a prototype defensive tackle.
It’s well known though that he was spelled on rushing downs. Initially it’s not obvious why. You’d think with his size he’d be an ideal run defender at defensive end. Not so. Re-watching the tape revealed part of the problem.
He’s so aggressive. Too aggressive. He can’t set an edge. He’ll often drive his man off the spot with his head down but that’s not what he’s supposed to do. It leaves the edge wide open. You never see him extend his arms, keep his frame clean and read the situation. You need to be able to connect, jolt, disengage, tackle. He doesn’t. He’s a head down attacking force.
The other thing he does is he’ll rush the edge and leave inside contain open. Watching Auburn vs LSU — it felt like they always had a run option to his side.
It also made me question his fit as an interior defender. If he’s this aggressive as a defensive tackle it won’t work. You’ve got to box clever inside — contain your gaps first and foremost and use your skill and physicality to win as a rusher. You can’t just put your helmet down and charge.
There’s no doubt his frame is better suited inside. I wonder if teams will question his ability to play within a scheme and stick to assignments?
That said, he has tremendous physical potential and quickness as mentioned earlier. He has excellent upside. The questions will be — what’s his full time position and how long will it take him to settle into a role, play within the scheme and maximise those physical skills? If a team buys into his potential he could be a top-50 pick. Otherwise he could last into round three.
On Terrell Lewis, I really came away underwhelmed. In fact during the Alabama vs Auburn game I actually started to drift off he was having so little impact.
He certainly looks the part. He’s long and lean. He had a 37 inch vertical at the combine so he has explosive traits. He also does a good job against the run. You’ll see him extend, read and stay clean enough to make a tackle. He also has a good variety of ways to win at the POA. You see a push-pull, you see a straight arm, you see a bull rush. There’s absolutely no doubt that Lewis will see the field quickly in his career. He won’t be a liability in the running game and he’ll be able to play early downs.
What I didn’t see, however, was any semblance of rushing ability. I watched three games and didn’t see a single win off the edge. There were no examples where he wins with get-off, quickness, great bend and dip or hand use. Too often he will engage with the offensive tackle and look to dip back inside. It became predictable and made me question why he didn’t trust the edge rush more often. Why was he so keen to go inside? Why can’t he just win with speed?
That’s not to say he doesn’t flash athleticism. When he lined up in space and had to read/react to a ball carrier he does it very well. He can chase down runners and quarterbacks with great fluidity. He can shift around the field, he can drop in coverage. The only thing that’s missing are some easy wins off the edge.
That shows up on the stat sheet too. He had only six sacks in 2019.
His injury history will also be a concern. He’s exactly the type of player teams would want their medical staff to check over before the draft. Plus he didn’t do any of the runs or agility testing at the combine. I could see a team like the Steelers or Ravens taking a chance on him as an outside backer. I’m not sure he’s dynamic enough as a rusher for Seattle as a possible LEO.
D-line value is late in the second
One thing I’ve noticed spending as much time as I have on the superb Pro Football Network simulator is the value area for defensive linemen appears to be between picks 35-75.
There’s a real dearth of first round options. Yet a cluster of players are projected in the 35-75 range. Then you get a huge drop off that never really recovers.
If the Seahawks need to go into this draft building up their D-line (and that’s very much the case at the moment) — then there appears to be some clarity in how they can do it.
For starters, having picks #59 and #64 gets them into that range. Those two picks could be saved for a pair of D-liners. The first pick at #27 could be used to trade down aggressively to also get into the 35-75 range. It’d also be beneficial to fill the gap between #64 and #101 by adding another third round pick via trade down.
However — having the two late second rounders does buy some flexibility. So if they wanted to draft an offensive lineman first, tap into the strong receiver class or select a perfect prototype fit at running back (Jonathan Taylor) they have the ability to do that.
Of course, you could equally make the case that they need to spend all three of their early picks on the D-line given how bare the cupboard is currently.
We’ve often talked about it being a weak D-line class. That’s very much the case. We’ve also talked about the flawed nature of the prospects available. Yet the one glimmer of hope is that there are some players who might be available in a range that works for Seattle.
Whether it’s Jabari Zuniga who we talked about earlier or players such as Julian Okwara, Joshua Uche, Curtis Weaver, Yetur Gross-Matos, Bradlee Anae, Marlon Davidson, Terrell Lewis, Raekwon Davis, Justin Madubuike, Zack Baun or Rashard Lawrence — there are options. It’s possible the likes of K’Lavon Chaisson and A.J. Epenesa last longer than people expect. It’s also possible they’ll have more interest in Jordan Elliott, Ross Blacklock and Alton Robinson than I’m currently suggesting.
They’re not all ideal physical fits for the Seahawks. We’re not talking prototypes in terms of speed, length, power. Some of the names on the list didn’t work out at the combine too.
They’re options though and are likely to go in the kind of range the Seahawks will be picking. Whether a bunch of rookies will be able to upgrade Seattle’s bad pass rush is another question altogether.
So a possible plan will be to trade back from #27 to get into the #35-40 range and acquire another third round pick. They’d then have four picks between #35-75. That would give them an opportunity to draft at least two defensive linemen. They’d be able to draft an offensive player — either a lineman (Robert Hunt is the player I’m focusing on at the moment), a receiver from this great class, a running back or someone like Hunter Bryant.
Tony Pauline has been reporting the Seahawks will focus on the lines early and often. That’s worth paying attention to — even though there are many enticing skill players in this class.
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