I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.
See all of Bob Sturm's profiles here.
Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma - 6'6, 335 - Age 22
The impressively built Jordan Phillips is next up on our tour through the available defensive line prospects, and he is a complicated case to examine. No stranger to those of us who follow the Big 12 closely, Phillips has been a legendary athlete to place on the radar for several years when we were told about his size/athleticism combo that gave him a chance to be a rare freak of nature that doesn't come along often. Stories of backflips in full pads are certainly things that defensive backs can pull off, but the biggest man on the roster? No way.
Unfortunately, the ability to do backflips does not have much application in the NFL once the novelty wears off, and what will be left is how disruptive a player he will be in the opponents backfield if they have to deal with him for 65 snaps on any given Sunday over the next few years. Then, we add to the mix the health red flags of chronic back issues - those that took his 2013 season away and those that might have help convince him to turn pro before it gets worse. Production, health, and what the tape tells us makes him complicated for this exercise. We watched Tennessee, TCU, Baylor, and Texas to get a good look at big Jordan Phillips.
What I liked: Well, we start with the size. At that height and weight, he is just not a player you would see line up at nose tackle (0 tech) right over the center in most traditional spots. He moves well enough laterally and forward to cause some issues in the gaps and can certainly demand double team attention to keep him from ripping into the backfield. He spins pretty well and also feeds off stunts because the off-center opportunities are seized and he is quick to pop through and make a play against Tennessee. He is huge and that gives him an exceptional advantage against most interior players as long as he maintains his leverage. This is why often, the DTs are not that tall because they are Greco-Roman wrestling with those more stout centers and guards and sometimes being so tall is a disadvantage. Low man wins, so he needs to employ more bending to keep his strength advantage where he does pretty well most of the time. He can be a bit awkward, but still a force in close quarters.
What I did not like: He just doesn't move a whole lot on most plays. In fact, some plays he doesn't move at all. Against TCU, his battle with Horned Frogs center Joey Hunt was a real disappointing performance where he was single-teamed a lot and did not cause any real disruptive plays all day. As the season went along, he was on the ground a bit too much making you wonder if he was at full health as his best football was in September for sure. For me, I want to know about the production issues. Of all of the DTs we have looked at, there was production. Malcom Brown had 21.5 explosives (sacks + tackles for loss in 2014), Danny Shelton had 23.5, Michael Bennett 21. We must consider that only Shelton was a pure 0-tech, but still, those guys need to be in the backfield more. And here is Phillips with just 9. In fact, there was almost no production his entire time at Norman and while that can happen for health reasons, I just don't think I can risk a 1st rounder who has never demonstrated production at the college level with those massive physical attributes.
Summary: You pop on the Tennessee games and you can see it. He looks like some top level DT quality and potential. Otherwise, in those other games, while surrounded with plenty of NFL talent in Geneo Grissom, Charles Tapper, Eric Striker, he was still not filling the boxscore or performing jaw-dropping feats. I can only guess that he is trying to deal with chronic back issues. That means that we have to consider that this sort of thing might follow a guy who has to trench-wrestle for a living. Generally, you don't get healthier in the NFL as you age. The Cowboys gambled and won on Ron Leary when health scared everyone off, but that was simply an un-drafted free agent bonus check. This would likely have to be a 1st round pick. At best he is a project with untapped potential which will develop nicely. At worst, he is a player who is already a diminished version of himself and cannot handle the 6 months of stress on his back that his living will require. There will come a time where you might be on the clock and compare him to what is there, but from this spot in January, I am going to need the spring for him to prove that he is physically able at age 22 to be a productive player for me until at least his 30th birthday or I am not touching him in the 1st round.