Today marks just 27 days left until the first pick of the NFL draft. To this point, we have now covered 8 weeks of players at a pace of a player per weekday. That brings our total to 40 players through the 8 weeks with hopes of getting to 55 or 60 players. This certainly shows the realities of our time constraints and the further reality that NFL teams have about 500-1,000 players graded and scouted at a much greater depth.
This reiterates the overall point to this exercise. I am not a scout or a general manager, and I hope it is clear that I am not even trying to be a "scout-wannabe". I wish to do my best to be an informed media guy, but I am under no misplaced idea that I can do what they do. The fact is that what those guys do requires countless hours of effort from a whole staff of scouts and personnel experts. They have years of information on each guy that begins long before their draft year. Ask any scout about his files and he will tell you that he has already done plenty of work on the 2018 and even the 2019 drafts. He has massive files on all corners of the football world so that no organization feels out-flanked by their competition.
They meet with coaches, dig into the background of a player going back to high school, learn about every aspect of their medical files, and, of course, try to study the tape and hold their own workouts. The files are enormous and the information is incredible in volume. They do so much more than anyone in the media could ever dream of doing that it is important to understand the differences between those who really do this for a living and those who do player profiles (like me), mock drafts, and anything revolving around the NFL Draft.
It is a vital part of the NFL game and the media does more work than ever before, but that should not get anyone to mistake us for "experts" on the topic. I have been doing this for years and feel like I gain a lot from it, but that doesn't in any way delude me into thinking that there is a level of expertise that is a fraction of the guys who really do this for a living.
So, as I am asked all of the time, why try to "break down" prospects? Well, without question, even though I am not a scout, I do love football. In the spring, I love to learn about the new players coming into the league and I love to compare them with their fellow draftees and players form previous years that I have also studied.
The process I have adopted is the 200-play treatment. You watch a player for 200 plays and you should get a pretty good idea of what he does well and not so well. What he does and what he doesn't do. I try to use All-22 coaches tape, which is far preferable to TV games, which are miles better than nothing or highlight tapes. We need to see all the plays. The bad ones, the good ones, the indifferent ones. Now, that doesn't mean I know about his medicals, his personality, his intangibles, his backstory, his family, or anything like that. I know how he looks in 3-4 games of his last year in school.
So, 200 plays is about 3 games of a full-time player. If you study 3 games of a college player and take careful notes as well as read as much as you can about the player, you can then start to form an opinion of how he compares to the others in the group. You must consider quality of opponents, quality of team-mates, scheme, injuries, and all sorts of nuances, but I believe, if you dedicate a day to a player, you can get a decent read on how he compares to others.
I know some people in my line of work give grades, but I have a hard time offering relative grades based on hard ideas about what constitutes a 3rd round grade versus a 4th. Frankly, every year, due to the candidates available, the quality of the 4th round varies. Also, if you only give 19 1st round grades, but there are 32 1st round picks, then what? In my opinion, if there are 32 picks in the 1st round, then the best 32 players get 1st round grades. It is like suggesting that some marathons are only 19 miles long and others are 37 miles. No, they aren't. All marathons are 26.2 miles. We can't decide that it is shorter this year and longer next year.
Again, these are all just things I have picked up over the years. I believe Football Media guys should watch football and make up their minds on players rather than take someone else's word for it in a magazine or a website. And while we are all under qualified to do so, shouldn't we try to become more qualified every year? Shouldn't we do what teams do on a much lesser scale? Learn, study, make decisions, see our mistakes, alter our process, and try to not make the same mistakes year after year? I think so. And, for that matter, what else are we supposed to do from February until August, anyway? I am a football fan. I like to watch and learn about football. And that explains what I have been doing for years on the NFL Draft.
And with that in mind, here is another batch of players to be familiar with for this year:
DESMOND KING - IOWA
CB - SENIOR- #14
5'11 - 203 - 4.58 pro day
Last 2 years stats - 27 games, 11 Interceptions, 130 tackles 4.5 TFL, 20 PBU, FF
King won the Jim Thorpe and Jack Tatum Awards in 2015 when he was a Consensus All American.
POSITIVES: King is a corner who has excelled at the college level for a long time. He has been Iowa's lead player in the secondary for over 50 games and also adds the component of kick and punt returns at a solid level over the last two seasons as well. He competes very hard and looks comfortable and confident in the predominantly zone defenses that Iowa runs, allowing him to be a ballhawk and read the QB eyes to find the ball. He plays with a physical edge and many in the NFL see him as more of a safety than a corner, but he seems like the type who is more than capable at both spots if you need a wildcard in the secondary over the course of a season. He is a clear team leader and a guy defenses seemed to try to avoid quite a bit this season.
CONCERNS: He did not run particularly well at the Combine and when you add that too his smaller stature, he likely is not in the top class of corner prospects, which likely puts him in Day 2 as a converted safety. He does seem susceptible to "eating the cheese" and falling for pump fakes or double moves when he is in full ball hawking mode, allowing for the occasional big play over the top. I was unable to see him in too much man to man coverage, aside from chasing a Tight End down the field. Teams are concerned about his long speed on the edge, which is curious, given his punt and kick return duties.
I think the total package that King brings to the table offers a guy with positional flex and good mentality to be a contributor in someone's secondary for a long time. He is a football player with the perfect mentality and I would not allow measurables to talk me out of that kind of prospect at the right price.
CHIDOBE AWUZIE - COLORADO
CB - SENIOR - #4
6'0 - 202 - 4.43 40
Last 2 years - 27 games, 3 interceptions, 150 tackles, 18 TFL, 8 sack, 19 PBU, 4 FF
Awuzie has been a bit of a fast riser as he developed from a 3-star recruit to 1st Team All Pac 12
POSITIVES: Awuzie is the type of corner that always attracts the attention of the public with his style of play. He is a "line of scrimmage" corner - slot guy at times - who is brought on blitzes and dive bombs run plays or WR screens to make plays behind the line of scrimmage on a regular basis as his 26 plays behind the line in the last 2 seasons would indicate. He has very nice size and speed with a 40 of 4.43 that plays with aggressiveness that is revved all the way up. It is clear Colorado wanted their flanks to force action into very tight spaces rather than "off and soft" a lot of times. There are some games where they seem to blitz him over and over again. In fact, his deployment and his production both put him in a similar class with Jabrill Peppers as a safety who seems to be playing more of a hybrid near the line, but also has some more slot ability than Peppers has shown.
CONCERNS: For a player with these types of skills, you would think he would be a candidate to be a corner on the outside, but that seems like a bit of a projection at this juncture based on the tape I have seen. I don't know if he can follow a top WR around the field because he wasn't asked to do that. I also want to know about his ability against double moves and play-action because he is so aggressive it seems he is jumping everything which will make him a target on Sundays if he doesn't clean that up. Also, if converted to safety at the next level, is he merely in the box? At barely 200 pounds, I think that can work, but you would love to see someone with a bit more size for durability issues.
Otherwise, there are so many things to like. I think Awuzie is the type of player I tend to over-value, because I love a player at his size who plays with reckless abandon and aggressiveness. He will also be a force on coverage teams, too. This is a very nice football player.
GAREON CONLEY - OHIO STATE
CB - Junior - #8
6'0 - 195 - 4.44 40
Last 2 years stats - 26 games, 6 Interceptions, 75 tackles, 13 PBU
Conley is yet another member of this Ohio State secondary that is expected to go quickly this year.
POSITIVES: He is a candidate to be a #1 corner with his total package that includes good size, great speed, tremendous athleticism with elite hips, and the mentality that he believes he is on an island out there locked up against your #1 WR. He is not worried about too much beyond his guy and can mirror that player pretty well. He also can look convincing when used on a corner blitz. He competes well on passes to his side and gets his hands around a player without making contact that draws penalties. He has tremendous tools that seem to put him right in the mix on Day 1.
CONCERNS: I will confess I have been burned by over-valuing a player's reluctance to participate in team-defending activities like run support and showing any desire whatsoever to take part in the physical side of defense, so Marcus Peters proved to me that this isn't always a deal breaker. That said, Conley has very little interest in hitting anything. In fact, he had a free run at DeShaun Watson from Clemson and was unable to knock him over from the blindside. It wasn't a great demonstration of physicality and to play Ohio State's long season and only have 26 tackles credited in 13 games says you better be Deion Sanders to get away with that at the next level. There were times against Clemson's Mike Williams where he did not look up to the task and overall, he will lose guys chasing crossers. He isn't my favorite prospect.
Conley will go early for sure and things might work out, but I really don't generally like his type and am suspicious of how well he will translate.
KEVIN KING - WASHINGTON
CB - Senior - #20
6'3 - 206 - 4.43 40
Last 2 years stats - 25 games, 5 Interceptions, 83 tackles, 8 TFL, 18 PBU
King is a very tall cornerback who moved from safety to find a real home at corner.
POSITIVES: I think he is a corner who for some reason is slipping under the radar this season, but I would value him quite highly as he seems to do just about everything well. His physical traits are unreal as a 6'3 guy who runs a 4.43 with a 39" vertical. Add to that he is a safety that moved to cornerback a few years ago, so he loves contact of a safety but has the characteristics of a cornerback. Very appealing combination. Add in to that he has demonstrated some very impressive ball skills to pull down an interception that comes near him. He dive bombs on run plays on the edge and is battling through blocks to get to the ball. He will also engage hard with WRs at the snap as he is looking to rumble when possible.
CONCERNS: There isn't much that I don't like in the games I tracked, but for the occasional time he was beaten over the top (it appeared he thought he had some safety help). At times, you might prefer he dials back his aggressiveness a bit because he will fly in there and miss. But, overall, he is a player I am wondering why others don't have him as high as I do.
I think King is on my short list of corners I would really like to slide to Dallas if possible. He seems the type of corner they really lack.
FABIAN MOREAU - UCLA
CB - Senior - #10
6'0 - 206 - Has Not Run 40
Last 2 years - 15 games, 2 interceptions, 39 tackles, 10 PBU, 1 TFL, FF
Moreau has battled injuries to emerge as a real interesting and physical prospect at corner.
POSITIVES: Moreau has a lot to like and on his best plays looks like the belle of the ball. Moreau is a big and confident corner with nice traits and a guy who wants to contest on inside routes while having the catch up speed to help when someone gets behind the defense. His motor runs hot and he is a confident player who wants to defend your best guy. He also baits the QB to try to fit a throw in there and jumps it with very good smarts and cleverness. He is a convincing player who makes you recognize his smooth ability and his willingness to step in there when the situation calls for him to put his body in harm's way.
CONCERNS: Unfortunately, his body seems to not appreciate his style where he has missed considerable time due to injuries and is presently recovering again from an injury suffered at his pro day. It is not thought of as a deal breaker, but after missing most of 2015, he is developing a bit of a reputation. He is also 23 years old which isn't a deal breaker, either, but he is the oldest in this group by a bit. He also seems to lose the ball on fades and verticals. This is something that is often difficult to pick up at the next level. Finding the ball is often considered instinctual and given rather than developed. He is physical enough that he will pick up some penalties down the field for overdoing it for sure.
I like him quite a bit, but I will have him down a bit with the corner class as deep as it is. He will be a nice player when healthy, but like so many on the list, it will come down to the price he costs.
One of the many items I want to touch on today is something I reference periodically over the course of the year, but perhaps am guilty of never fully discussing at length.
It is the concept of the four-year conveyor belt of talent for the Dallas Cowboys, or, more accurately, for any NFL franchise under this current collective bargaining agreement.
The four-year conveyor belt is how teams fill their rosters out after they have selected their core players. You have the ability to pick between 8-10 core players, and the other 43-45 players on your roster are all subject to the system that pushes players on and off your roster at the rate of about every four years. And four years go by exceptionally fast.
Let's take a look:
We can use the 2016 or 2017 Dallas Cowboys cap, so for the simplicity of this exercise, let's use 2017. Also, let's assume Tony Romo is still your starting quarterback, because it is easier to explain this all and because he was the original plan at QB1 in 2017, anyway. Also, it is tough to say the Cowboys have made any decisions based on the deduction that he will be gone, yet. I don't believe any real dominoes have fallen with regards to a "post-Romo era" in the contract/business side of things, so roll with me just for this example.
Basically, the Cowboys' core players, in regards to contracts, are the following -- Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tyrone Crawford, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, Ezekiel Elliott, Orlando Scandrick, Travis Frederick and Cedric Thornton. That's 10 names, with each of them valued in 2017 at over $4 million. Some are well, well over that mark, but all are over $4 million. If you add their current cap values together, they total at just over $100 million. We could probably add Dan Bailey and Cole Beasley in there, too. Both are at $4 million per season, taking you to 12 bodies at roughly $109 million dollars.
Some simple math and some cap estimates suggest the cap will sit at around $167 million for 2017, with the possibility it might get to $170 million. Let's figure that liberally, we get them to where -- without a Romo move -- they have about $60 million for 41 players. That allows, on average, an expenditure of around $1.4 million per player to fill the remaining 77 percent of your roster. When Romo goes off, Zack Martin will replace him within weeks as perhaps the top contract for a guard in the league.
The Cowboys are actually not an abnormal situation when it comes to this. I think you could grab any team and find out that two-thirds of their money is given to about a dozen top players (give or take a bit). Then, the final third of your money must employ between 75-80 percent of your manpower. It is the rich and the poor of the NFL system. Poor still pays really well, but the idea that there is no middle class is pretty clear. If each of the 53 players were paid the same on a $168 million cap, they would all earn over $3.1 million a year. But that isn't how this works. The top 12 players average $9 million a year, and the bottom 41 hit at $1.4 million per year.
This is where the conveyor belt visual comes in.
The conveyor belt is four years because this is the exact length of the typical NFL rookie contract. First-rounders get a fifth year on their rookie deals, but they don't really matter in this sense because they make a ton of money as rookies. If you take someone at No. 4, like the Cowboys did with Elliott, he will already be among the highest earners on the team and at his position in the entire league in many cases. In the case of Elliott, he was instantly the highest-paid running back at his spot in terms of guaranteed money on his contract. He was also one of the high-earning dozen, as he placed ninth in total value on the Cowboys' roster the moment he stepped into the league.
Four years, which, including the 2017 draft, takes us back only to the 2014 draft. So 2014, 2015, 2016 and now 2017 would be the four years the Cowboys currently have at their disposal to fill out their roster with young, cheap labor.
The reason we did not include 2013 is because all of the draftees they took in 2013 (and that includes undrafted free agents as well, but they often have a five-year window with Ron Leary just expiring from 2012) had their deals expire when Mason Crosby hit the field goal to end Dallas' playoff run. Members of that draft class are now either on extensions -- Travis Frederick, Terrance Williams and Jeff Heath -- or they are gone to other teams on fresh contracts, like J.J. Wilcox, and we assume at some point soon Gavin Escobar.
If you keep them, they become big earners in many cases. And if you let them leave, it becomes a priority to fill their spot. That was only four years ago, but that is how this thing works.
And, no sooner do you pick your shiny and new 2017 starlets, then you have to start worrying about the 2014 draft class and their contracts. You have an extra year with Martin, but everyone else -- which is only DeMarcus Lawrence and Anthony Hitchens -- are headed into their "walk" years this season. Yes, that is right, you already have to pay Lawrence to keep him away from free agency, OR you have to ponder replacing him. Already!
That means, Romo included, there are presently only 16 players who joined this team before 2014. That is a staggering reality that many fans are not necessarily aware of. Imagine, the Broncos' visit to Arlington for that amazing 51-48 shootout in 2013 doesn't seem that long ago, right? Well, nearly 40 players on your 2017 roster were not in Dallas when that went down.
So, your 2014 guys are on their "pay or pass" year and the 2015 group -- yes, the group that features Randy Gregory, for Pete's sake (provided there are no NFL exemptions on his service time), as well as Chaz Green and Damien Wilson and Geoff Swaim are all going to be next in just 12 months.
It happens so fast in this league. It explains how you don't open a window for five years, really. That is what we still say in the media, and if you have a special quarterback you certainly operate from a massive advantage, but the future is now in this league. Your roster adds 15-20 new names every single season and loses just as many. Nobody brings everyone back -- even though the media talks like that -- and that is simply how the league's CBA is set up.
The conveyor belt keeps turning. You have to try to keep up.
One under-the-radar note from the weekend was the Cowboys' signing of Byron Bell, a massive offensive lineman who last played for the Titans, for a near-minimal price. He is a very big man and should be able to play guard next year after missing the entire 2016 season with a dislocated ankle injury. Several teams were trying to bring him in, and although he has a real spotty track record -- especially at tackle -- I imagine that a man of his experience level and size should slot right in between Frederick and Smith and be just fine. I assume that pushes La'el Collins out to right tackle, ultimately, in what will be his third season with the team. He has a year of restricted free agency remaining after 2017.
Let's spend a few minutes on Jabrill Peppers, the talented draft prospect from Michigan. Recently, Mike Mayock has called him his best safety available and Mel Kiper has placed him with the Cowboys in the first round of his mock draft. Now, I am not here to suggest those opinions matter anymore than those who think he is going to be a massive bust at the next level, but I will declare that Peppers is, without a doubt, the best player in this draft with the most polarizing viewpoints about his abilities.
It happens every year. Maybe several times every draft season. We all look at the same players and sometimes we all agree this guy will be amazing in the NFL, and sometimes it divides everyone into sides. Last year, it was Joey Bosa. Smart men loved him and other smart men didn't think he was anything too special. Johnny Manziel caused this divide during his draft process. It happens and it usually happens with a guy who enters the process as a "big name." This happens most often when we have to use projections to guess what he will do -- since his college situation did not ask him to do what we would assume would be his most likely role in the NFL.
Well, this year it is the kid from Michigan. He was asked to play linebacker most of the year by Jim Harbaugh even though he is 5-foot-11, 213 pounds. This had him doing things linebackers do and not doing things that defensive backs do. That means he did have all sorts of tackles for loss and sacks and plays at the line of scrimmage, but he seldom showed off his ability to man-cover down the field and get interceptions (he had one). It also showed he does not have the size to deal with the big tight ends, most likely.
So, very smart draft minds suggest he has no spot. They may even want to convert him to a running back to take advantage of his impressive ball skills and quickness in tight spaces.
I am not one of those people. I love him at the hybrid spot. I think he is playing a position that is the future of the NFL. We talked Friday about how nickel is the new base, and that three safeties -- including two in the box -- looks like the direction we are heading with Deone Bucannon, Mark Barron and Shaq Thompson and all of these defensive backs who make plays up on the line, like Troy Polamalu did for so long at 5-10, 207. Call them a safety or a linebacker. Labels are silly in today's NFL, where we call big receivers "tight ends" even though they don't block all season. Football players who make plays are vital, and I am betting hard that Peppers is going to do that.
But the team had better be creative and committed. Is Dallas that team? Probably not. Would I take him at No. 28? I would need to know who is there, but all things being equal, I have no problem with calling him a first-round player. Sign me up. But there is no question you will have others telling you he isn't among their top 100 players. I guess time will tell. I loved Bosa, by the way. But I also expected Manziel to be pretty good, too.
And, in Tony Romo news on Day 18 of the standoff, there is no real news. What a bizarre situation for all involved.
This week we introduce defensive prospects 31-35 in our effort to familiarize you with the finest in draftable talent for the NFL draft that now sits 34 days away. These are players who join the groups we have already featured who are thought of as Top 50-75 prospects by many of our resources. And then I give them the 200-snap treatment to examine them closely and see how they compare with the others in the group.
If you are just joining us, please know that I am trying to get to as many as we can (at my 1 prospect a day pace), but I am definitely going to err on the side of defense, because I expect the Cowboys are leaning heavily in that direction for at least their first two picks. If I am wrong -- which will happen from time to time -- at least I will have a good handle on this impressive crop of defenders who are joining the league. I really don't remember this many real strong prospects on the defensive side of the ball who all seem to fit on Day 1 or 2 of this draft.
So, today, we take our first expanded look at safeties. I already did Jabrill Peppers a few weeks ago, but here are five more names that you will want to know who seem to be exceptional safeties.
A couple thoughts about safeties that I believe are very important: One of the great characteristics about our game is the constant evolution. Unfortunately, it evolves at different paces with everyone involved in the game. This simply means that there are coaches on the cutting edge -- dreaming about how to solve old problems with new solutions. But, most likely, the majority of coaches remain in the mold of solving old problems with old solutions. Coaches, like humans, get set in their ways and can't see the new thing. But, there are those who seem to believe that they must innovate, because offenses are throwing things at them that have never been done in the NFL until recently.
That is why coaches now at the NFL level look to colleges and even high schools to deal with dual-threat QBs with zone reads with pass options. This wasn't a thing before. Heck, 25 years ago, 3 wide receivers was rare. Now, 5 wide outs with empty backfields is just another package that is routinely seen. Sometimes they are all "littles" or maybe they will throw 2 big tight ends with 3 wide outs.
But, one of the bigger things we are seeing is teams trying to put mismatches out there that were not seen in 1992. Put 4 wide receivers on the field to spread a defense out and forcing them into "dime" defense, but then keeping in a RB like Ezekiel Elliott or Devonta Freeman and forcing the 5 defensive players left who would be considered "big" to stop the run out of that formation. Bring in a 6th or 7th run defender and then they pass. You are never right as a defensive coach.
So, what are we seeing more and more of? Where is the innovation taking us? Well, I believe we are getting closer and closer to converting one and sometimes two linebackers into safeties. And then, I believe we are getting closer and closer to safeties and corners being the exact same guys. In other words, what is the opposite of innovation? Drafting a 235 pound safety, like the Cowboys did when Roy Williams was taken so high in the draft. He was a safety that resembled a linebacker which is the opposite direction of where football was headed during his career. Tight hips, poor change of direction, and instead of the 2 LBs who are now the norm, the Cowboys were putting 4 linebackers on the field (and then, ultimately 5 linebackers when the Cowboys switched to a 3-4 in 2005. They were basically running a 3-5-3).
Now, what do we see? Well, we already know that most teams are in nickel 60-70 percent of the time on defense. That has already happened, so the idea that people are looking for 2 corners and 2 safeties to start is not true. They are looking for 3 starting corners in most cases. But, even that is problematic against the teams who are just spreading you out to then run. So, we see the 4-2-5 defense which is more and more becoming a thing. TCU gets tons of credit for perfecting this at the college level for their way of answering the spread. But, it isn't always 3 corners. It is 3 safeties. Strong safety, free safety, and weak safety.
For purposes of this conversation, just consider the strong safety and the weak safety to be very similar players. Teams can do it differently, especially if they want to use a 2-deep safety look, but I prefer the Cover 3 look out of it, where you have the free safety and 2 corners playing high, and that leaves 4 defenders underneath. Your 2 linebackers (who might range between 230-250 still present who can run but also take on guards in the middle) and your 2 safeties who are both playing near the line of scrimmage and can be the Swiss Army Knives of your entire operation. They are guys who might weigh 200-220, can run like the guys they are trying to deal with, but they have a linebacker's mentality. They are not fragile flowers like some corners. These guys can only survive in the box by being animals, regardless of their size.
Are we getting to a point where football is shrinking? The linemen are now leaner than they have been. We stopped trying to see how big guys can get. The bigger they get, the less agility they have. So, tight ends are made into tackles. But, defensive ends are now smaller than ever before. We will consider 250 if he has the flexibility and explosiveness. So, 250 pound defensive ends means linebackers are 225 to 230, and now, yes, these box safeties, if they match the profile, sometimes weigh almost nothing more than 205. Let's look at some safety sizes of guys who have gone through this process: Troy Polamalu 5'10 - 207, Earl Thomas 5'10 - 202, Bob Sanders 5'8 - 206, Eric Weddle 5'11 - 195, Brian Dawkins 6'0 - 210. Now, many of these were centerfield types (which frankly, are more and more becoming cornerbacks), but none of these guys are corners. These are linebackers in a smaller body. Mean, tough, and strong players.
Where am I going with all of this? I believe we need to understand that we can't call all of these guys safeties as fans and just throw a blanket over wildly different responsibilities. It is too broad. It is too vague. You can ask a corner to play free safety, but you would never ask a guy who avoids contact to play in the box and basically replace the old school linebacker. You would get steam-rolled.
So, when we debate these guys, let's use these definitions:
Free safety/center field safety: Must have great hips, great recognition, great ball skills, great speed, and it would sure help if he likes to hit people (although they are trying to take this out of the game more and more).
Strong safety and weak safety: You will want hybrid guys here who can both play at that linebacker depth, turn and run in coverage or drop into zones (you will want guys who can do both ideally), but also can shed and tackle and blitz and cause havoc because they are quicker and faster than the old linebackers. You will not take advantage of them because you run a RB on a wheel route. They may have issues with the hybrid tight end due to size, but that seems to be the new tradeoff for these guys who are sometimes in the slot and other times off the shoulder of the defensive end. These guys have great athleticism and speed, but more than anything -- including their size -- I need guys with a violent mentality. They are not afraid of anything and can't wait to dish out physicality and take it.
And, ultimately, I might need 3 starting safeties in today's game. 3 corners works OK on 3rd down, but on those early downs, I think the new developments are going to follow TCU and the college game. Nickel means 2 corners and 3 safeties and dime means 3 corners and 3 safeties.
Linebackers are being minimized and this is becoming a better world to be a defensive back who isn't afraid of anything. I hope this all makes some sense.
So let's look at this week's group: Jamal Adams of LSU, Malik Hooker of Ohio State, Budda Baker of Washington, Obi Melifonwu of UConn, and Marcus Williams of Utah.
Junior - LSU - 33
6'0 - 214 - 4.56 40
Last 2 years - 24 games - 5 INT, 143 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 10 PBU 2 FF, sack
Adams, the pride of Hebron High School in Carrolton, Texas, is yet another Metroplex product believed to be a sure thing for one of the Top 10 picks in this draft.
POSITIVES: Of all of the safety prospects I have looked at, I think Adams is clearly my favorite. He is absolutely phenomenal in all the aspects of the game you are looking for. He is a guy who can function well at all of those safety spots, including a real impressive game in the physical spots on the field where he hits with a vengeance. He can also play man and turn and go with a guy down the field and he moves so well. He can do anything you want from any of these safety spots and provides versatility to just get a difference maker on the field. He also has size that does not give you any pause about his ability to dish out punishment and to take it. He has a toughness about him that is great and comes down hill to dish out some big plays, too. He is decent in the open field for sure and sometimes plays safety safe. Which is not always a given with certain prospects. He is widely recognized as a very smart player who can be trusted to coordinate on the field.
CONCERNS: There are not many. He whiffed on a big hit on a WR screen that gave me pause, but for the most part in the three games I studied, I did not see anything that would be considered problematic. There are some slight changes in direction that you wonder about against the quickest of attackers, but he is an elite player.
He is a real special prospect and I would give some thought to taking him at #2.
Junior - Washington - #32
5'10 - 192 - 4.45 40
Last 2 Years Stats - 26 games - 4 interceptions, 11.5 TFL, 120 tackles, 3 sacks 13 PBU, FF
This All-American is incredibly small, but makes enough plays to get your attention.
POSITIVES: The positives of Budda Baker are easy to see if you watched Washington play at all this past season. He is all over the field and plays aggressively and with the mentality I always seek. He has a non-stop motor and is also a very smart player who seems to figure out where the QB is looking at top speed. He is a tremendous athlete who can run like you wouldn't believe and his hips are everything you want in a corner. In fact, he might actually be a cornerback, to be honest. He does everything in that realm just fine and while he never played center field or deep safety hardly at all, Washington used him like Peppers in Michigan as almost a straight linebacker who could slide out and grab the slot man without issues. He run blitzes like an all pro. I really, really love this guy's game.
CONCERNS: Well, he weighs about 192. He is 5'10 and 192. I know I just got done claiming that everything is getting smaller in today's game, but he weighs 192 pounds. This is so small that you wonder if he can play a normal work load and be a positive and not a guy who is getting attacked. He is a real hybrid player who will give you everything he has, and they can try to use him like the Honey Badger and there is plenty of value to that, but there does come a limit to where science takes over.
I really want him to succeed, but the question with Baker is where he goes and how committed to figuring out how to use him his new coach is.
RS Sophomore - Ohio State - #24
6'1 - 206 - Has Not run
2 Years Stats - 25 games - 7 interceptions, 5.5 TFL, 84 tackles 4 PBU
Hooker is another first-team All American who is the best center field prospect in the group.
POSITIVES: Hooker is a fantastic athlete who has some very impressive ball skills that jump out at you in terms of thinking if there is a ball in his area, he is going to go get it. He also does something everyone likes once he does make a play on the ball -- which is return it for a touchdown in a way that has many comparing him to Ed Reed. He has played almost all as a free or 2-deep safety, but he will get a bit of a physical edge when the situation calls for it. In fact, there are times where he appears downright chippy with wide receivers and looks to get his shots in. He really looks 100 percent like a corner who is playing safety and that can be a real negative at times, but Hooker clearly makes it a positive in his skill set.
CONCERNS: With Hooker, there are some things to consider. One, his body of work at Ohio State is very limited in that he really has one year as a starter before he bounced. That year was obviously quite impressive, but it was just the one look at the Big 10. He also has been banged up with a torn labrum and a sports hernia, which has prevented big workouts. He certainly has been called more of a projection that the reality like Adams might be. Otherwise, I see he may enjoy ball-hawking over good man coverage techniques which will need to get some attention. Further, I did see him pass on a hit or two on a RB in the open field at Penn State, but he will flirt with coverage penalties for being too physical.
That said, don't get me wrong. He is a real impressive prospect that won't get to pick #20. I just don't quite like him as much as others, it appears.
RS Senior - UCONN - #20
6'4 - 220 - 4.40 40
Last 2 Years Stats: 25 games - 6 interceptions, 206 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 8 PBU
Melifonwu is rising up the charts quickly after dropping jaws at the NFL combine with his absurd workout.
POSITIVES: He ran 4.40, he jumped 44", and he had a 11'9" broad jump as a 6'4 safety. These are all crazy numbers and set him aside as maybe the biggest prospect in his group and the most elite athlete as well. That is some Megatron type stuff, so we should take notice. He plays deep safety for the most part as a deep-half guy. He is extremely tall and lanky and will get in there and make a hit from time to time or break up a pass across the middle. He will find the ball and pick off passes which is a prerequisite for a deep safety in my book. He defends in man coverage at times and can pull it off a decent amount of the time. He gets where he is going in a real hurry.
CONCERNS: I must admit he is a body-type I really struggle with as I am looking to convert athletic cornerbacks into free safeties, so it is tough to see many 6'4" safeties that ultimately have the hips to turn and run like they must. That said, he has absurd athleticism, so perhaps he is an outlier. But, my bigger concern is that he does not seem to have a consistent desire to mix it up and has limited violence to his game. He meets the ball with an amount of disconcerting reluctance at the college level which I fear doesn't always age well at the next level where the meek do not inherit the earth. When he blitzes, it seems he is rather easily picked up.
There is no question he is toolsy, but I would not select him too early as I have mentality concerns about his approach to a position that requires a type for me.
Junior - Utah - #20
6'1 - 202 - 4.56 40
Last 2 Years stats: 24 games - 10 interceptions, 3 TFL, 110 tackles - 8 PBU, 2 FF
Williams has generated an elite number of big plays while playing Center Field at a high level in the Pac 12.
POSITIVES: One thing you are looking for when you study a player is a flat-out ball hawk. There is nothing more rare in NFL players than the guy who can consistently go get you the ball and Williams has enough takeaways -- 12 in the last 2 seasons -- to make you think he has a real knack for it. He is always looking for the ball and then knows how to get to that spot and either break up the play or take it the other direction by baiting a QB or taking the best path to the ball. His instincts appear to be on point and he gets sideline to sideline like you might need if you are a Cover 1/3 team. He is also willing to tackle and come down hill on plays.
CONCERNS: The willingness might be there for the physical component of the game, but he really doesn't really arrive with authority. Tackling will not be considered one of his strengths. In fact, depending on who you talk with, the opposite might be true. He also has some limitations in man coverage where he seems to not have the best hips you have ever seen.
Again, at the right price, he might be the free safety you seek, but he is limited in his value without the physical component we seek.
That concludes Week 7 of this project. More corners next week are coming, I do believe.