BBI Guest Contributor

Apr 082014
 
Share Button
Chris Borland, Wisconsin Badgers (October 12, 2013)

Chris Borland – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Linebackers

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

*DISCLAIMER:  Grading linebackers is arguably the most difficult thing to do because of the different schemes and roles across the league.  These grades are purely based on NYG’s 4-3 front.  Some teams have a scheme that could use an edge rushing linebacker and grade him out very high while a team like NYG would view him as a middle rounder at best.  So please keep that in mind….

Current Linebackers on NYG Roster

Jon Beason – Signed through 2016

Spencer Paysinger – Signed through 2014

Jacquian Williams – Signed through 2014

Jameel McClain – Signed through 2015

Mark Herzlich – Signed through 2014

Allen Bradford – Signed through 2015

Spencer Adkins – Signed through 2014

Where They Stand:

The NYG front office and coaching staff has had their share of troubles over the years when trying to piece together their LB group via every avenue possible when it comes to play acquisition.  The Draft, free agency, trades, waiver wire, in-season street free agents – they’ve attacked it from everywhere.  Personally, I think this has been a below average group for years and there is a direct correlation between that and their extreme inconsistency on the defensive side of the ball.  While the passing era of football has forced teams to only play one or two linebackers at a time for a lot of plays, I still think the value of quality guys in the middle of the defense is vital.  Since I’ve been drafting for NYG in real time to compare years down the road, I’ve been calling for names like Curtis Lofton (2008), Sean Lee (2010), Mason Foster (2011), and Devonte Holloman (2013).  The impact of these guys against BOTH the run and pass is enormous and I am consistently noticing a lack talent at the position hurting this team every year.  The trade for Beason was a nice start, but this group is still starving for another talented player. 

Top 10 Grades:

CJ Mosley – Alabama – 6’2/234: 81

Chris Borland – Wisconsin – 6’0/248: 81

Khalil Mack – Buffalo – 6’3/251: 81

Anthony Barr – UCLA – 6’5/255: 80

Jordan Tripp – Montana – 6’3/234: 79

Ryan Shazier – Ohio State – 6’1/237: 77

Jordan Zumwalt – UCLA – 6’4/235: 75

Christian Kirksey – Iowa – 6’2/233: 74

Trevor Reilly – Utah – 6’5/245: 74

Yawin Smallwood – Connecticut – 6’2/246: 73

Day One Target:

CJ Mosley – Alabama

I should be a bit of an asterisk on this one because I don’t have any of these linebackers graded in the top 12 overall.  But should NYG trade back a bit, Mosley could come in to play.  This is a player that earned a first round grade, but I have been a little let down on his lack of progression the past few years.  I thought he was going to be a ‘special’ player that ended up with a grade above 90; however he never really took the next step.  Despite that, I still think highly of him and believe he is one of the safer bets to be a quality difference maker for a decade in the NFL.  Mosley is a guy that does it all physically but will also elevate the play of his teammates with his high on-field IQ.  Mosley is a great mover in tight spaces as well as in pursuit to the sidelines.  He is also one of the better coverage LBs in this class.  He fits in well with what they want to do with the NYG LBs and he would fill a major hole in this defense.  A true three down linebacker here.

Runner Up: Khalil Mack – Buffalo

Day Two Target:

Chris Borland – Wisconsin

I’ve been raving about Borland for over a year now and I’ve yet to take a step back.  He earned a legit first round grade on my board despite the lack of ideal size.  He is one of the most instinctive LBs I have ever seen and his ability to move in traffic is second to none.  Watch any Wisconsin game, against any kind of offense, against any level of speed and you will see #44 in the frame on almost every play.  Borland is a quality tackler and quality cover man.  He consistently beats blockers to a spot, putting himself in position to impact the play.  He lacks the physical gifts that some of these guys have at the position, but Borland will be a productive player no matter what.  He is a great value pick in round 2, and could be an option for end of round 1 if NYG ends up there via trade.

Runner Up: Ryan Shazier – Ohio State

Day Three Target:

Jordan Tripp – Montana

Tripp comes from a slightly lower level of college football, but he has shined against better competition in his limited opportunities.  He has the wiry frame, movement ability, and power presence that I saw out of Kiko Alonso last year.  He may not be on that level right away, but I think Tripp will eventually be that same kind of defender in the league.  He can fly all over the field, but also has the presence to take on linemen and deliver a violent jolt when taking on their blocks. 

Runner Up: Jordan Zumwalt – UCLA

Most Overrated: 

Kyle Van Noy – BYU (72)

Van Noy has one of the more productive resumes to look at when considering statistical compilation.  But I’ve seen him play almost 10 times and I notice a lack of consistent presence against blockers coming straight at him.  He doesn’t play strong enough at the point of attack; too often he is dancing around contact or even worse, giving up on plays.  His ability to pursue and rush the edge can get him drafted, but I don’t think he warrants anything within the top 4-5 rounds.  There is too much not to like here.

Runner Up: Shayne Skov (64)

NYG Approach:

As I previously stated, this defense needs an upgrade in talent at the LB group.  The addition and resigning of Beason decreased the level of importance a bit, but the issue is still there.  While the likes of Paysinger, Williams, and McClain can instill enough confidence to be a good-enough core at the start, there isn’t enough on the depth chart.  Injuries are inevitable and NYG is just one away here from having yet another year of LB liability.  There won’t be a player worth taking at #12 overall here, so I think they are looking at rounds 2-5 to bring in a quality rookie.  I would prefer one of those day two picks to be spent on one, but not to a point where the value isn’t matched up.  With that said, I think they can grab Borland in round 2, Tripp or Shazier in round 3, or even Zumwalt on day 3.  There can be a lot of debate on just how important this is, but I won’t budge on my stance.  The lack of talent and development at the LB position has held this team back more than most believe.

Apr 032014
 
Share Button
Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State Cowboys (October 26, 2013)

Justin Gilbert – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Cornerbacks

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

Current CBs on the NYG Roster:

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – 28 – Signed through 2018

Prince Amukamara – 25 – Signed through 2014

Walter Thurmond – 27 – Signed through 2014

Trumaine McBride – 29 – Signed through 2015

Jayron Hosley – 24 – Signed through 2015

Zack Bowman – 30 – Signed through 2014

Charles James – 24 – Signed through 2014

Junior Mertile – 25 – Signed through 2014

Ross Weaver – 27 – Signed through 2015

Chaz Powell – 26 – Signed through 2015

Travis Howard – 25 – Signed through 2015

Where They Stand:

On paper, this is one of the best groups of CBs that NYG has had in recent memory.  The aggressive free agency signing of Rodgers-Cromartie was an impressive one for a front office that seems to usually error on the side of caution.  The addition of Thurmond may end up being the top signing of this offseason though.  He’s been a league-favorite of mine for a few years now and I think he will prove to be a difference maker right away.  Round out the top three with the upside of Amukamara and this secondary appears to have the makings of something really good.  The depth has a few question marks, as McBride/Hosley/Bowman all have their deficiencies, but what secondary in the league doesn’t find themselves in that position?  It seems NYG is scouring the street free agent market for a starter every year at some point in the season.  Reese appears to have really locked in a deep group at the position that will give them plenty of options should injuries arise.  This may be the most impressive group of a revamped defense.

Top 10 Grades:

1: Justin Gilbert – Oklahoma State – 6’0/202: 86

2: Jason Verrett – TCU – 5’10/189: 83

3: Kyle Fuller – Virginia Tech – 6’0/190: 82

4: Travis Carrie – Ohio – 6’0/206: 78

5: Aaron Colvin – Oklahoma – 5’11/177: 78

6: Phillip Gaines – Rice – 6’0/193: 78

7: Darqueze Dennard – Michigan State – 5’11/199: 77

8: Shaquille Richardson – Arizona – 6’0/194: 76

9: Brock Vereen – Minnesota – 6’0/199: 75

10: Nevin Lawson – Utah State – 5’10/190: 74

Day One Target:

Justin Gilbert – Oklahoma State

I would say there is a 50/50 chance Gilbert is available for NYG when they are on the clock at #12 overall.  I think he is widely considered the top corner in this class with his size/speed/agility/ball skills combination that isn’t matched by anyone in this class.  He had a dominant 2013 season and showed just how well rounded he can be now that he has put it all together.  Despite NYG beefing up their secondary via free agency, I think he should at least be a consideration for the slot.  In this era, a team may never have too many quality cornerbacks.  As I stated earlier, it seems as if NYG is looking for street free agents to be a part of the CB rotation on Sundays every year.  This is not a spot where you want to have questionable depth.  When you consider Rodgers-Cromartie is the only one that will definitely be around after 2014, a Gilbert selection makes sense.

Runner Up:

Jason Verrett – TCU

Day Two Target:

Kyle Fuller – Virginia Tech

I’m having hard time gauging where Fuller will land in this draft class, but I think he is a legit top 20 player.  His injuries are included in my grade, so I’m not ignoring them even though it appears they will not hamper him down the road at all.  Fuller was one of my favorite players to watch in 2013.  He is as aggressive as it gets against both the run and pass with elite movement ability and good awareness.  I love the toughness he brings to the table.  If he falls out of the first round, NYG should immediately consider him with their second pick.  He has quality-starting corner written all over him. 

Runner Up:

Aaron Colvin – Oklahoma

Day Three Target:

Travis Carrie – Ohio

I’ll venture to say most of you have never heard of my #4 overall CB.  That’s fair and from what I see out there, nobody has this kind of grade on him.  I’m fine with that because I don’t use the media’s perception as part of my grading process.  Carrie is a tall, well put together athlete that can move with anyone.  He has some of the best feet and hips you’ll find and enough speed to stick with speed receivers down the field.  He is a strong tackler that approaches that part of the game the right way.  Carrie may be my biggest diamond in the rough this year and I wouldn’t hesitate to take him on day three for one second.  He will be a player if he finds the right system that allows him to play bump and run coverage and attack the running game.  I am really looking forward to his career.

Runner Up:

BJ Lowery – Iowa

Most Overrated:

Bradley Roby – Ohio State

I want to like Roby because of his receiving ability and movement.  He is a top tier agility/speed guy that can catch the ball.  But every time I watch OSU tape, his lack of awareness and fluidity jumps off the screen.  When he is matched up against receivers that understand the mental side of the game and do the little things right, Roby gets exposed.  He loses a lot of his athleticism when tracking the deep ball as well.  His speed does not translate to the field and guys like that always bother me.

Runner Up:

Keith McGill – Utah

NYG Approach:

I’ve said it a few times that I am very confident this group of CBs can perform at a level that we haven’t seen here in quite some time.  Their top 3 corners can be as good as any in the league.  The depth behind them could be a lot worse when comparing depth charts from around the league, so I could see the case made for not addressing the position in the 2014 Draft.  I have a different view, however.  There are some interesting opportunities here to bring in a quality cover corner throughout the entire draft.  I would have to give a long, hard thought to Gilbert at #12 overall if he is there.  I understand he may not fill the biggest hole, or even the third biggest hole on this team right away, but cornerback is NOT a spot you want to ever be weak at.  It would be foolish to approach this as a “Cross that bridge when we get to it” type mindset.  Gilbert could have a spot on this roster right away that leads to contribution.  If he is passed on, I have a lot of different grades on this class when comparing to what I see out there.  There will be an opportunity in every round of day three for a great value grab.  I would say that should be the route taken if Gilbert is not the pick at #12 overall.

Apr 022014
 
Share Button
Calvin Pryor, Louisville Cardinals (October 5, 2013)

Calvin Pryor – © USA TODAY Sports Images

BBI New York Giants 2014 NFL Draft Preview: Safety

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

Current Safeties on NYG Roster:

Antrel Rolle – Signed through 2015

Will Hill – Signed through 2015

Stevie Brown – Signed through 2015

Quintin Demps – Signed through 2015

Cooper Taylor – Signed through 2017

Where They Stand:

Upon initial glance, the safety group looks strong and deep for the 2014 season.  Rolle is one of the highest paid players on the team and even though his production hasn’t matched his cap number, his value goes deeper than what we see on the stat sheet.  He is the leader of the defense and comes to play every Sunday.  He is one of the more versatile and reliable players on this team.  Hill and Brown have both shown game breaking ability here and there.  They are aggressive players that are always around the action.  Both have concerns though.  Brown has the knee injury he will attempt to bounce back from and Hill has had his share of off-field issues.  Demps was a quality FA signing that can wear a few hats and Taylor showed promise as a special teamer in 2013.  This unit is strong for the current situation they are in, but we could be looking at an entirely different situation a year from now.  How much longer can NYG pay Rolle?  And are Brown/Hill capable of overcoming their respective problems?

Top 10 Draft Prospect Grades:

1 – Calvin Pryor III – Louisville – 5’11/207: 86

2 – Hasean Clinton-Dix – 6’1/208: 84

3 – Deone Bucannon – Washington State – 6’1/211: 81

4 – Dion Bailey – USC – 6’0/206: 78

5 – Terrence Brooks – Florida State – 5’11/198: 76

6 – Vinnie Sunseri – Alabama – 5’11/210: 74

7 – Marcus Trice – North Texas – 5’8/193: 73

8 – Shamiel Gary – Oklahoma State – 6’0/205: 73

9 – Ed Reynolds – Stanford – 6’1/207:  73

10 – CJ Barnett – Ohio State – 6’0/204: 72

Day One Target:

Calvin Pryor – Louisville

Pryor has been the top rated safety on my board since the early fall of 2013.  I saw him early two times and really liked his game.  He is such a well rounded player that makes the impact that some of the top safeties in the game can do.  Pryor is an angry missile from the secondary when defending the run.  His style is straddles the line of too-aggressive.  Pryor is a sound tackler that can be relied upon as the last line of defense in the open fiend, showing the ability to break down on the move and control his body enough to tackle an elusive runner.  In coverage, Pryor grades out as an above average defender, but lacks the elite movement ability.  He still gets his hand in on the action plenty, however.  There is a good chance Pryor will be the top graded player available when NYG is on the clock for me.  Even though the safety spot is not a vital position of need this season, he will still be a consideration.  He’s a reliable impact player that can change a defense.

Day Two Target:

Deone Bucannon – Washington State

Bucannon is the classic case of being a superb prospect coming from a poor defensive program.  Very few were able to see him play in 2013 from a general public perspective, but make no mistake about this player’s ‘special’ potential.  I’ll put his ability against the run up against anyone’s in this draft class.  He is a well built, explosive-in-short-spaces safety that can play in the box with the best of them.  He has consistently led that team in tackles with a career-high 114 in 2013 and has 15 career interceptions, including 6 this past season.  From the first time I saw this defense play, Bucannon always appears to be a pro football player matched up against kids.  He graded out as a 1st-round caliber prospect on my board and he would be a great value pick in round 2 or 3. 

Day Three Target:

Marcus Trice – North Texas

One of my favorite lesser-known prospects in the nation here.  Trice will fight the naysayers all day, every day because of his sub 5’10 listing.  The lack of size hurt his grade, but he still graded out as a borderline 3rd/4th rounder on my board.  Trice made an impact on every game I watched.  He is an enforcer that ball carriers fear but he can also play a deep cover 1 role, showing enough range to reach either sideline.  He anticipates the action well and gets his hands on a lot of passes.  Trice is a fun player to watch that will make his impact on a tea one way or another.  Sometimes I’ll overlook the meaurables when a player like this jumps off the tape as much as Trice did.  He is a spirited competitor that gets the most out of himself and others.  Day 3 will be when is start to consider this versatile defender for NYG.

Giants Approach:

I’ve put a lot of thought in to this, and admittedly am still struggling to come up with a clear cut answer on how to approach the safeties in this draft.  Overall, this group is below average when looking at my past grades.  Pryor and Clinton-Dix would help this defense; there is no doubt about it.  They are more talented than what is currently on the roster at the position with much more upside.  Their grades tell me they are worthy of the #12 overall pick, so those two facts should be enough to say yes to one of them if they are available, right?

Like most of you, I would rather wait on bringing in another young safety to this team.  One could make the case there is no room on the roster, and it would be a waste economically.  Although there is a little voice that says you don’t pass on high grades like this, especially considering the lack of stability at the position past this upcoming season.  In my ideal world, NYG passes on safety altogether in 2014 and reevaluates the position at this time next year.  You have to gamble on certain spots here and there and have faith that what currently resides on the roster will be good enough.

Jan 222014
 
Share Button
New York Giants at Cleveland Brown (November 6, 1955), Rosey Brown (79)

New York Giants at Cleveland Brown (November 6, 1955), Rosey Brown (79)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

(Part I)

Innovation via Delegation

The New York Giants first sought Army Black Knight Head Coach Earl “Red” Blaik as the replacement for Owen. After he declined the offer, assistant coach and former end Jim Lee Howell accepted the job, but only on the condition that he would be able to hire a staff consisting of coordinators on both sides of the ball – a unique idea at that time. Howell said, “Before the war, they didn’t specialize in coaches. One coach taught everybody everything.” Yet Howell foresaw a structure where the coordinators would handle their own sides of the ball, studying film, drawing up game plans, and grading their players while he oversaw the operation in more of an administrative role.

Landry had already served in a player-coach role under Owen, which not only would continue but expand. Instead of merely teaching Owen’s concepts to his teammates, Landry, who was regarded as an introspective genius by his peers, would be counted on to conceive his own game plans, a task he relished with aplomb. While playing in the Umbrella, he was already thinking ahead, visualizing a strong line that covered all possible gaps, linebackers who flowed to the point-of-attack, and a defensive backfield that covered zones on the field. Howell said, “Landry was brilliant, very, very smart. He could size up a situation very quickly and get it right.”

Sensing the defense was in good hands, Howell went outside the organization to fix the broken offense. Blaik suggested to the Giants his backfield coach, who badly yearned to coach in the NFL. Vince Lombardi (who went by Vinnie) had been a very successful high school coach at St. Cecilia’s in New Jersey before serving his five-year apprenticeship under Blaik at West Point. Among the things he picked up from one of the nation’s highest-regarded coaches was organization of practices, film study (still a relatively new idea at the time and not widely used), and an emphasis on unit execution rather than deception.

Working from Blaik’s dynamic power T-Formation, Lombardi saw many possibilities, which included implementing Single Wing blocking techniques for the offensive line (i.e. pulling guards) that he had learned while playing at Fordham. Howell liked what he saw in this burgeoning coach, “Lombardi teaches the style of football I like and believe in. Vinnie is daring and he is brainy. He knew what he could do with the players. His was very basic in his thinking. He was just a fine coach.”

The basic tenet of Lombardi’s philosophy was that players need condensed, uncomplicated information. “A few men working closely together in a spirit of discipline, singleness of purpose, and a commitment to excellence could succeed no matter the odds.” This was distilled to perfection with his signature play, the sweep.

Giants had been last in rushing in 1953. That would not be the case in 1954. Gifford teamed with new fullbacks Alex Webster and Mel Triplett. Left tackle Rosey Brown blocked and pulled. And the Giants plowed their way through the eight-man defensive fronts that were predominant of that period. Lombardi’s wider line splits made the defensive middle guard (today referred to as the nose tackle) vulnerable to double-teams.

The concert of destruction that took place at the snap was a choreographed framework that allowed for improvisation in accordance with how the defense reacted. The guards pulled. The lead guard blocked the defensive halfback and the offside guard blocked either the inside or outside linebacker. The center blocked back on defensive tackle. The onside offensive tackle chipped the defensive end, and then sealed the outside linebacker. The fullback or halfback blocked the defensive end, and then led the ball carrier into the hole, while the tight end influence-blocked the defensive end away from the point-of-attack. The reads of the ball carrier and his blocker (a halfback or fullback) was to determine the edge blocking, and the runner would decide whether to cut inside or take play to the edge.

Over time, Gifford would also have the added option of throwing the football. If Gifford made the proper read and a big play was available, he would pull up and loft a pass over rolled up defensive backs.

Lombardi humbly stated of his soon-to-be legendary sweep, “There is nothing spectacular about it. It’s just a yard gainer. It’s my number one play because it requires all eleven men to play as one to make it succeed, and that’s what ‘team’ means.”

The players noticed the differences immediately when they met at camp that summer. Halfback Kyle Rote noted, “When Howell took over in 1954 we started to have separate offensive and defensive meetings. Before, we all met in one big room. But the offense and defense became separate and definitive units under Jim Lee.”

Eagle Defense, Power T-Formation

Howell had traveled to Mississippi that off-season and promised Conerly if he came back he would be better protected. To make the existence of his reluctant quarterback more comfortable, the A-Formation was discarded, the T-Formation fully installed, terminology simplified, and a system of automatics that enabled Conerly to change the play at the line was developed.

Lombardi was also a breath of fresh air to Gifford. At the first practice the coach told the player, “We’re through fooling around with you. You’re a back now.” The stronger line would take time to gel, but players like Brown, Jack Stroud, and Ray Wietecha were soon to become stalwarts in the newly renamed Eastern Conference, and they gave the Giants a new attitude.

Although the Giants’ offensive system was largely ground-based and built around Gifford, the passing game was also vastly improved. End Bob Schnelker was the deep threat while Kyle Rote ran clever patterns underneath. Whether the pass was coming from Conerly or Gifford was the defense’s guess. Lombardi said, “Two intangibles make Gifford great – his versatility and his alertness. He gives the opposition fits by keeping it off balance. If the secondary comes up fast to check his run, he’ll heave the ball downfield; if the defense holds back, Frank’ll keep on running.”

The changes were evident early during the regular season. The Giants started the season 4-0, with point totals of 41, 51, and 31 in impressive wins. Week 6 brought a 24-14 loss at Cleveland, but the Giants bounced back with romps over Philadelphia and Washington.

Disaster struck in back-to-back games at the Polo Grounds at the end of November. Gifford injured his knee during a 17-16 loss to the Rams, and Conerly injured his knee on the first play of the rematch with Cleveland, which the Giants lost 17-6. The Browns went on to defeat Detroit for the NFL title.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (November 28, 1954)

Despite the third-place finish, the Giants carried optimism into the offseason. Lombardi’s sweep proved to be a success – Gifford’s 5.6 yards per carry led the Eastern Conference. The passing game’s efficiency improved exponentially – in 1953 the Giants’ ends caught a total of three touchdown passes; in 1954 they scored 20. There was a feeling of improvement, accomplishment, and a belief in the new systems being taught by the staff.

Motley left the Browns after the season, but Cleveland made it six consecutive conference titles in 1955 regardless. The Giants started the season slowly and sputtered to a 2-5 record after a physically-tough loss at Cleveland. But they would not lose again. The highlight of their 6-5-1 season was a 35-35 tie with the Browns in the final Giants’ football game at the Polo Grounds (although nobody knew that at the time).

This game marked the first time Howell started Don Heinrich at quarterback, ostensibly to allow Conerly to “spot flaws in the Browns from the bench.” Not all Giants players liked this sometimes controversial strategy, including the supposed number one quarterback himself. Conerly said years later, “You can’t see a damn thing from the bench. It’s the worst seat in the place. I don’t know why they did that.”

The crowd of 49,699 for the game billed as the “grudge match” was the largest in New York that year. Two future NFL head coaches started for Cleveland at linebacker: Walt Michaels and Chuck Noll. The running game by committee for the Browns was Curley Morrison and Ed Modzelewski (whose brother Dick would join the Giants in 1956). On occasion, Brown would deploy five wide receiver sets to confound Landry’s growingly versatile 6-1-4 defense.

The early advantage in the coaching chess game went to Howell as Heinrich staked New York to an early 14-0 lead. However, Graham calmly led his team back and Cleveland took the lead 21-14 late in the third quarter. The Giants, now led by Conerly, immediately tied the game 21-21 on a disputed play. Price was seemingly on his way to a 20-yard touchdown run, but was hit and fumbled at the goal line. New York’s Bob Schnelker came out of the fracas with the ball. When the Giants were awarded a touchdown, the Cleveland bench erupted in protest.

The Giants’ defensive front harassed Graham on the ensuing possession, and forced a Cleveland punt. Conerly engineered a 65-yard drive that he capped off with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Rote in the back of the end zone. Graham responded with a precision drive of his own, tying the game 28-28. Noll gave the Browns the lead when he intercepted a Conerly pass and returned it 14 yards for the score. The Giants took over on their own 15-yard line, and Conerly drove the Giants 85 yards for the touchdown, converting several third downs along the way. The decisive play was a pass completion to Gifford at the Cleveland 15, where he broke a tackle and raced into the end zone for the 23-yard score. Ben Agajanian’s point after knotted the game 35-35.

Graham was the original master of the yet-to-be-named two-minute drill. All opposing defenses and coaches feared his prowess when there was little time left on the clock. He rarely made a bad read, extended plays with his feet, and would run for yardage when necessary. The three minutes left on the clock probably felt like an eternity to player-coach Landry after the kickoff.

Graham opened the proceedings on his own 27-yard line with a bootleg to the New York 45. Just like that, the Browns were nearing the edge of Groza’s field goal range. Two Morrison rushes pushed the ball down to the Giants’ 19-yard line, and Modzelewski plunged to the 14. Groza came on for a 21-yard attempt with 0:25 on the clock, but Phil Knight leapt high from the line and blocked the kick. New York recovered the loose ball while the Polo Grounds crowd rocked in bedlam. Conerly had time left for one desperation pass, which was completed to the middle of the field as time expired. Regardless, the New York fans gave the Giants a standing ovation as they exited the Polo Grounds. Cleveland went on to their sixth consecutive championship game appearance after the season, and sent Graham off to retirement with a 38-14 win over Sid Gillman’s Los Angeles Rams.

Coordination and the Man in the Middle

Significant changes took place for both teams prior to the 1956 season. Brown was frustrated with finding a suitable signal caller for his offense and rotated Tommy O’Connell, George Ratterman, and Babe Parilli under center. The Giants, on the other hand, found a quarterback for their defense. Landry retired as a player and was now a full-time, fedora-wearing coach on the sideline. As a player, Landry knew his own physical limitations, so he had dedicated himself to being the smarter player. He was always aware not only of his own responsibilities on the field but also those of his teammates. In the burgeoning days of Owen’s Umbrella, while Landry coordinated the secondary, he envisioned all 11 players operating in a similar fashion. As he grew into the responsibilities of coaching, Landry began to teach his teammates the concept of reading offensive tendencies, which he called “keys” during film study.

Landry’s central theory was that an offense’s possibilities were limited once its personnel were on the field and a pre-snap formation was aligned. Post-snap, the defense would then read each offensive player’s first step to see where the play would go. Landry distilled it down to a science. For example, the weight a guard had on his front hand could predict whether he was going to drive block or pull on a run, or drop back to protect on a pass. Landry wanted a smart player like himself to realize the defense’s potential.

Sam Huff came to camp as a guard, but was converted to middle linebacker, a new position that evolved from watching film of Bill Willis on the Browns. On some occasions, Willis would be a half-yard back from the line of scrimmage, either in a three-point or two-point stance. But Landry used Huff as a fully declared linebacker, a full yard back from the center, always in a two-point stance, which allowed him to read the offensive backfield. Landry said, “Sam was a very disciplined player. The thing that made him so good was that he would listen, and he would do what was necessary to operate our defense. The effectiveness of the 4-3 depends on the defensive team recognizing a formation, knowing what plays can be run from that formation, and then recognizing keys that tell them the likely play or plays to expect.” Huff attributed the success to his teammates, “We played as a team on that Giants’ squad. I had help. The defense was set up so the defensive linemen actually kept the blockers off me.”

When the two 1-1 teams met in Week 3 at Cleveland, the strain of lacking an on-field leader had already worn on Brown. Always way ahead of his time, he conceived of radio communication between himself and the quarterback to get the plays called. The Giants were onto him early, and designated rookie end Bob Topp to sit on the end of the bench and decipher the Browns’ plays with a receiver tuned in to Cleveland’s frequency. Brown eventually reverted to his rotating guard system to send the calls in, but the Giants rolled to their first win over the Browns in three years, 21-9, behind the strength of a rushing attack that compiled 256 yards. On Monday, The New York Times declared “the Giants handled the Browns the in the manner the Browns used to handle the Giants.” On Tuesday,NFL Commissioner Bell barred electronic coaching devices on game day.

The Giants flexed their muscles with four more wins over Eastern Conference opponents, three of which took place on their new home field at venerable Yankee Stadium, just across the Macomb Dam Bridge from the Polo Grounds. When the Giants and Browns met in Week 11 for their rematch, 4-6 Cleveland was in the unfamiliar position of looking up in the standings at 7-2-1 New York. Brown must have used that as motivation, as the Browns defied expectations and manhandled the Giants in the rain and snow on the muddy field in a 24-7 romp.

The Giants clinched the Eastern Conference the following week with a win at Philadelphia, then won their first NFL Title since 1938 when they defeated the Chicago Bears at Yankee Stadium 47-7. Gifford had a season for the ages. He led team in both rushing yards and pass receptions, for the first of four consecutive seasons, and led the NFL with 1,422 total yards from scrimmage (819 rushing, 603 receiving). Gifford scored nine total touchdowns, five rushing and four receiving, and added two more scoring passes from his option role on the sweep. He also had 161 total yards and a touchdown in the championship game against the Bears. His receiving the NFL MVP award was almost anti-climactic.

The Browns made good use of their draft position following their first losing season in team history, taking fullback Jim Brown from Syracuse. The quarterback situation was still somewhat unsettled, as Brown split starts between O’Connell and Milt Plum, but the effects were minimal as their greatest success came when they were handing off to Brown, who led the NFL as a rookie with 942 yards and nine touchdowns. Brown would lead the NFL in rushing eight of his nine seasons, and this was the only one in which he did not go over 1,000 yards. He would also grow into a receiving threat over time, and lead the NFL in total yards from scrimmage six times.

Umbrella Defense, Split T-Formation, Wing-T Formation

The Giants opened the season at Cleveland in what would be a tense defensive battle. Brown rushed for 89 yards on 21 carries, but neither team accumulated 200 total yards of offense. Cleveland won on a Groza kick at 0:23, 6-3. The Giants rebounded to win seven of their next eight games, fueled in part by another Landry defensive innovation: a linebacker “red dog” in which at the snap of the ball, Huff or one of the outside linebackers would immediately attack the backfield.

When the calendar turned to December, the 7-2 Giants were just a half game behind the 7-1-1 Browns. New York dropped games against San Francisco and Pittsburgh, rendering the finale against Cleveland meaningless in regards to the Eastern Conference standings. However, the Giants-Browns rivalry had achieved Yankees-Red Sox status, and the advance ticket sales for the game were 50,000 and the turnstile count for the game was 54,292, the Giants’ largest home crowd for the season.

This was the first game where Landry assigned Huff the explicit responsibility of keying solely on Brown. Landry said, “Our defense was not designed specifically for Sam Huff to stop Jim Brown, our defense was designed to stop the offense we were working against. Our defense was based on coordination. Sam was just one of the 11 people who were coordinated. Specifically, the front seven was coordinated against the run. He was just one element in that group. But he got great recognition, which he deserved, because in this particular defense he was stopping Jim Brown, who is almost unstoppable. ” Huff versus Brown almost became a rivalry within a rivalry.

The Giants’ offense played well. Heinrich and Conerly combined for 282 passing yards and Gifford scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. New York led 28-27 with under 7:00 left on the clock, but Plum lead Cleveland to the winning score as Graham had done so many times before. Brown had another strong outing for Cleveland, rushing for 78 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the 34-28 victory. Cleveland returned to the championship game but lost again to Detroit.

Reckoning and Recognition

The Football Giants’ ascension in New York’s consciousness came at just the right time. Following the 1957 season, both the Baseball Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers left town for California. Yankee Stadium was the fulcrum of professional sports in New York for all of 1958.

The first meeting between the two Eastern Conference stalwarts did not take place until the first week of November when the 5-0 Browns hosted the 3-2 Giants. A raucous crowd of 78,404, the fourth largest in Cleveland professional football history to-date, packed Cleveland Stadium but went home disappointed after a second-half come-from-behind effort by New York.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (November 2, 1958)

Brown looked unstoppable for Cleveland in the first half, rushing for a 58-yard touchdown (his 15th of the season in just his sixth game!) but the aerial game struggled. Plum completed only four passes for the entire game and was intercepted twice by Jimmy Patton.

The Giants’ attack was balanced. Conerly tossed three scoring passes, two to Webster in the second half, the last of which came with less than three minutes remaining. They brought Conerly’s career touchdown pass total to 140, which placed him second all-time behind Sammy Baugh’s 187. The unlikely hero was Triplett, who outrushed Brown on the day 116 yards to 113 (which was 50 yards below Brown’s season average). It would be the sole 100-yard effort in Triplett’s career.

Landry’s coordinated defense truly came into its own in the second half. He had noticed keys on Cleveland’s formations that tipped off when Brown was getting the ball, and when he was being used as a decoy and the ball would go instead to Bobby Mitchell. Huff’s reads of Brown were nearly flawless, as Cleveland had only 23 plays from scrimmage in the second half, gained only two first downs, and never crossed the 50-yard line. Cleveland’s 17 points were far below the 35 they had averaged over their first five games.

The defense-first trend continued for the Giants throughout the season. The 1958 Giants would end up being the lowest-scoring team of Howell’s tenure with 20.5 points per game. But the New York fans not only didn’t mind this brand of football, they relished it. Landry recalled, “We knew we were something special in New York. The city was just on fire. It was amazing the way they supported the Giants, and the defense. This was a brand new thing in pro football, because no one even knew when you played defense until the late fifties.”

Cleveland and New York met for the final game of the regular season at Yankee Stadium with the Eastern Conference crown on the line. The 9-2 Browns stunned the 63,192 in attendance on the first play from scrimmage. Brown galloped through the middle of the Giants’ 4-3 front untouched and outran the secondary for a 65-yard touchdown. It was all defense for the remainder of the half as Pat Summerall and Groza exchanged field goals for the 10-3 halftime score. The Summerall field goal came after an uncharacteristic Cleveland fumble, which was recovered by Jim Katkavage on Cleveland’s 39-yard line.

As the snow fell during the scoreless third quarter, the Browns’ confidence increased. Their opening possession of the third quarter took a full 12 minutes off the clock, but the drive ended without points as the Giants thwarted a fake field goal attempt. Conerly’s unit was unable to move the ball and punted as the period came to a close. The big play to start the game loomed as the possible difference in a trip to the NFL Championship. This game took on the feel of a stare-down between two rugged defensive outfits.

Early in the fourth quarter the unthinkable happened as Cleveland turned the ball over in their own territory a second time. Poise and precision had always been hallmarks of Paul Brown’s team, which had committed just 12 turnovers in their first 11 games. Plum fumbled on his own 47-yard line and Andy Robustelli recovered for New York at the 45. Stymied by Cleveland’s defense all day, Lombardi’s unit seized the sudden change in momentum and struck quickly on his signature sweep/option. On first down, Conerly faked to Webster and handed off to Gifford who ran toward the right sideline. As he neared the boundary, Gifford spotted Rote coming open behind the defense. He pulled up and lofted a deep pass for a 39-yard advance to the Browns’ six-yard line. After a rush for a loss and incomplete pass by Conerly, Gifford completed a touchdown pass to Schnelker between two defenders on another sweep/option to tie the game 10-10 with just over 10 minutes to play.

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Bob Schnelker (85), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

The Giants’ defense forced a punt after two sacks of Plum by Rosey Grier. But the offense failed to capitalize despite favorable field position when Summerall’s 33-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left. The kicker remembered, “I’d have liked to have gone anywhere but back to the bench. But four or five of the guys came over and told me to forget it, that they’d get me another chance.”

Summerall did get another chance. The New York defense forced another three-and-out. The Giants fielded a short punt near mid-field (the exact yard line was impossible to determine on the now snow-covered field). Three incomplete passes left the Giants’ last hope hanging in the balance on fourth down and 2:07 on the clock, with a tie as good as a victory for Cleveland. Confidence was lacking for a Giants’ offense that had struggled all day. On third down they had missed a sure touchdown connection between Conerly (who was only 10-for-27 on the day) and Webster. “I had (the defender) beat pretty good, five or six yards. But the ball came out of the snow – I know that’s no excuse – and it went right through my hands and I dropped it on the five-yard line.” Webster said, “It would have been an easy six points.”

Howell took the unusual step of overruling his offensive coordinator Lombardi, who wanted to call another pass play, and sent Summerall on to the field for a desperation kick attempt. Summerall said, “I couldn’t believe that Jim Lee was asking me to that. That was the longest attempt I’d ever made for the Giants. It was a bad field and it was so unrealistic. Most of the fellows on the bench couldn’t believe it either.” Wellington Mara shared the popular belief, “That Summerall kick was the most vivid play I remember. I was (up in the press box) sitting next to Ken Kavanaugh and Walt Yowarsky and we all said, ‘He can’t kick it that far. What are we doing?’”

The attempt was logged officially from 49 yards, but some believe it was further. Summerall said, “No one knows how far it had to go. You couldn’t see the yard markers. The snow had obliterated them. But it was more than 50 I’ll tell you that.” Rote supported that theory. He remembered standing on the 50-yard line and said that Conerly spotted the ball, “two yards past me.”

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88) and Charlie Conerly (42), New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Regardless of the actual distance, any kick on that snow-covered field in the wind was going to be a formidable task. As Conerly cleared a spot for the placement, he heard Cleveland players shouting “stay onsides!” to one another. The snap, spot, and hold were perfect as could be, but the ball’s trajectory was not.

Summerall described the kick’s near wayward flight, “I knew as soon as I touched it that it was going to be far enough. My only thought was that sometime you hit a ball too close to the center and it behaves like a knuckleball, breaking from side to side. It was weaving out. But when it got to the 10 I could see it breaking back to the inside.” Conerly felt a little better about it, “I looked up as soon as Pat hit the ball. It looked real good and it made me feel real good. There was a lot of guilt riding on that one.”

Pat Summerall's Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Pat Summerall’s Field Goal is Good, Cleveland Browns at New York Giants (December 14, 1958)

Summerall was mobbed by teammates as Yankee Stadium erupted in delirium. Plum moved Cleveland near mid-field where Summerall’s counterpart Groza attempted what was thought to be a 55-yard field goal, but it fell well short of the cross bar. The Giants survived 13-10 and had forced a playoff for the right to face the Baltimore Colts for the NFL Championship.

The perfectionist Paul Brown blamed himself for the loss. He stayed up that night and re-watched the game film. He concluded he made a tactical error by running the ball too much, perhaps caused by overconfidence from the game’s first play. After that 65-yard touchdown run, Brown was held to just 83 yards on 25 carries.

Brown was not the only one looking back; history was not on the Giants’ side. The Giants were 0-2 in the franchise’s two previous standings tie-breakers. The 1950 loss at Cleveland lingered in recent memory, but another from the past resonated as well. After the 1943 season, New York was tied atop the Eastern Division with Washington 6-3-1. The Giants forced the playoff by defeating the Redskins not only once, but twice, to close the season. However, despite the playoff being held within the friendly confines of the Polo Grounds, Sammy Baugh and his teammates exacted thorough revenge by whipping the Giants 28-0. Defeating the same team three times in the same season was believed to be an unrealistic expectation by most observers.

The players did not seem to notice the doubters however. Practices at Yankee Stadium were unusually spirited throughout the week, crisp and hard-hitting. The enthusiasm carried over to the game on a bright but bitterly cold 20-degree Sunday in front of 62,742 eager fans.

Jim Brown received the opening kickoff and advanced it 45 yards. Plum completed a pass before Brown fumbled on a hit by Katkavage that was recovered by Grier. Heinrich returned the favor however and threw an interception of his own. After a Cleveland punt, Heinrich threw a second interception. The New York defense held again. And Conerly took the field and crafted a 12-play, 84-yard drive, mixing runs and passes. The final play of the drive was a bit of razzle-dazzle drawn up by Lombardi earlier that week.

The play started out as a simple sweep left by Webster on the Cleveland 18-yard line. Webster then handed off to a reversing Gifford sprinting right. Gifford cut through a hole behind the right guard. Racing up field, Gifford juked a safety then surprised everybody when he lateralled to a trailing Conerly. The old quarterback was hit at the goal line but fell into the end zone for what would be the game’s lone touchdown. Conerly said, “It was something new we put in this week. The lateral on the end was optional.”

The Browns responded with another drive into Giants’ territory, but Groza’s 46-yard field goal attempt was wide left and short. Conerly engineered another drive that Summerall capped with a three-pointer to give the Giants a 10-0 lead at the half. Cleveland managed one more scoring threat late in the third quarter when Don Maynard lost a fumble returning a punt. Plum moved the Browns to the New York six-yard line, but following two sacks, Huff intercepted a pass on the first play of the fourth quarter. Cleveland never threatened again. After a quick exchange of punts the Giants ground away the clock with their power running game and controlled the ball 10 of the final 11 minutes.

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

Pat Summerall (88), New York Giants, Eastern Division Playoff (December 21, 1958)

The furiously-fought game’s stars were the magnificent front four, who wrecked Cleveland’s blocking schemes. Robustelli, Katkavage, Grier, and Modzelewski kept Huff free from interference and harassed Plum and Jim Ninowski every single snap. Brown endured the worst showing of his otherwise sterling career with eight yards on seven rushes. Taking into account Brown’s 20-yard run in the third quarter, it means Brown lost 12 yards on his other six carries! Huff said, “Cleveland likes to run its plays to perfection. As long as they run the play perfect, they figure your mistakes will beat you. Well, here I was knowing Jimmy would run and just where he would run. I wasn’t about to make any mistakes.”

The fans in attendance helped fuel the inspired front four’s engine, roaring their appreciation every time the defense held and the Cleveland offense trudged to the sideline. Brown said, “They just played even harder than last week, more determined.” Cleveland was held to a meager 86 yards of offense and seven first downs. The Giants had two times as many plays from scrimmage, 80 to 40, and they controlled the pace with 211 yards on 53 rushes. This was only the second time the Browns were held scoreless in nine NFL seasons, and it was the first in 114 games. The last occurrence was the very first meeting between the two teams in 1950. Howell acknowledged the impressive performance, “They played the best defensive ball I ever saw a club play against a real good team.” Katkavage succinctly stated, “We just played better under pressure.”

The Giants hosted the Baltimore Colts the following week in what became known as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Giants’ fans would probably disagree as their team lost the first overtime game in NFL history, 23-17. But the stage had been set for professional football to capture the nation’s imagination. After the season, Lombardi moved on to Green Bay. The Giants repeated as Eastern Conference champions in 1959, this time on the arm of NFL MVP Charlie Conerly who blossomed under the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Allie Sherman. The clinching-game was on a Yankee Stadium field flooded by delirious fans who were probably somewhat in disbelief of the one-sided 48-7 score over Brown’s Cleveland team.

By the end of the next decade, football not only surpassed baseball as the National Pastime, it had become a national obsession, dominating television ratings in season while commanding headlines throughout the offseason. This was a far cry from the game’s humble stature at the opening of the decade when NFL box scores were fortunate to receive a few paragraphs of type while being buried on the sports pages alongside the previous day’s finishers in the money at the local race track.

The two teams represented the American / Eastern Conference in all 10 NFL Title games in the 1950’s, with the Browns winning three (’50, ’54 & ’55) and the Giants one (‘56.) Each franchise is well represented from the era at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Frank Gifford (16), New York Giants (December 6, 1959)

Cleveland: Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley, Bill Willis, Dante Lavelli, Len Ford, Frank Gatski, Lou Groza, Doug Atkins, Mike McCormack, Jim Brown, Henry Jordan, Willie Davis, Gene Hickerson, Bobby Mitchell

New York: Steve Owen, Emlen Tunnell, Arnie Weinmeister, Tom Landry, Frank Gifford, Roosevelt Brown, Vince Lombardi, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff

The head-to-head outcomes were remarkably even, with Cleveland holding a 10-9-1 regular-season advantage, and both teams winning a conference tie-breaker.

New York Giants vs. Cleveland Browns (1950's)

10/1/50New York 6 at Cleveland 0
10/22/50New York 17 vs Cleveland 13
12/17/50New York 3 at Cleveland 8 (American Conference Playoff)
10/28/51New York 13 at Cleveland 14
11/18/51New York 0 vs Cleveland 10
10/12/52New York 17 at Cleveland 9
12/14/52 New York 37 vs Cleveland 34
10/25/53 New York 0 vs Cleveland 7
12/6/53New York 14 at Cleveland 62
10/31/54 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/28/54 New York 7 vs Cleveland 16
11/6/55 New York 14 at Cleveland 24
11/27/55New York 35 vs Cleveland 35
10/14/56New York 21 at Cleveland 9
12/9/56 New York 7 vs Cleveland 24
9/29/57 New York 3 at Cleveland 6
12/15/57New York 28 vs Cleveland 34
11/2/58New York 21 at Cleveland 17
12/14/58New York 13 vs Cleveland 10
12/21/58 New York 10 vs Cleveland 0 (Eastern Conference Playoff)
10/11/59 New York 10 at Cleveland 6
12/6/59New York 48 vs Cleveland 7
The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)
Jan 202014
 
Share Button
Emlen Tunnell (45), Tom Landry (49); New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 1, 1950)

Emlen Tunnell (45), Tom Landry (49); New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 1, 1950)

New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part I)

by Larry Schmitt for BigBlueInteractive.com

When most people think of a fierce rivalry, the first image to arise is often a series of intense, physical contests – two teams meeting on the field, imposing wills, doling out punishment, one trying to outlast the other. One rivalry during the NFL’s transformative stage encompassed all of that while transcending the physical scrums along the line of scrimmage. When New York and Cleveland jousted for American and Eastern Conference supremacy, the games were more than a battle of brute strength. The coaching staffs engaged in contests of creativity and attempted to outsmart one another. The game of football and its fans still reap the rewards to this very day.

The Father of Modern Professional Football

The organization and structure of football practices are now taken for granted, but it was Paul Brown’s reforms that profoundly altered the way teams prepare for football games. George Halas, a legendary innovator in his own right, credited Brown with “turning the league into an organized, highly skilled endeavor instead of a bunch of big lugs whaling the daylights out of each other.” Brown himself humbly stated his motivation for organizing his practices was to instill a sense of pride into his assistant coaches and players. He wanted them to feel that football, as a full-time occupation, was important, and something worthy of complete dedication.

Brown was strong-willed and did not waver on a conviction. “I believed strongly in the things that were necessary for us to win, and I refused to tolerate any exceptions to those beliefs.” He held his staff and players to high standards. “I always believed that young men want to work in an atmosphere of reasoned discipline and order, and respond better under those conditions.” As a result, the following major innovations that Brown began not only changed the way football was played, but how it was perceived by the general public:

  • Full-time player scouting
    • Character was as equally important as athletic skill; “selfish or disloyal, or those who could not adjust their individual skills to our team concepts” were dismissed from consideration
    • “The ability to perform under pressure is the mark of a great player”
    • Standardized the 40-yard dash after calculating the average distance needed to cover a punt, the most repeated play in football
  • Film study
    • Not only of opponents, but self-scouting and recognizing his team’s own tendencies
  • Playbooks
    • Players were required to take notes during meetings and routinely quizzed to gauge their retention
    • If players understood why they were doing something, “they were more apt to be in the spirit of the occasion”
  • Took play-calling duties away from the quarterback
    • Initially sent plays in by rotating offensive guards; later pioneered the use of transistor radios in the quarterback’s helmet
    • Provided the quarterback with “check-with-me” calls to use at the line of scrimmage if the defense’s alignment was unfavorable
  • Instituted a year-round conditioning plan
  • Racially re-integrated professional football
    • Brought Marion Motley and Bill Willis to the Browns in 1946; no black players had been on an NFL roster since 1934
  • Meticulously pre-planned practices
    • Handed out itineraries to players
    • Morning practice would be spent on all aspects of a single rushing play, then afternoon practice on a passing play
  • Designed an attacking passing offense
    • Conceptualized read-and-react option routes (today known as ”option routes”) and timing patterns
    • Analyzed the geometry of the football field, exploiting open space by spreading defenses away from the line of scrimmage
    • Taught offensive linemen to block passively on pass plays, forming a ”pocket” for the quarterback
    • Conceptualized zone blocking for the offensive line to maximize the capabilities of fullback Jim Brown

More than anything, Brown was passionate about teaching. The list of men who played under and coached alongside Brown, eventually finding their own success as head coaches, is unparalleled:

  • Weeb Ewbank
  • Lou Saban
  • Blanton Collier
  • Don Shula
  • Chuck Noll
  • Don McCafferty
  • Bill Walsh

Brown was tagged as football’s first “genius,” a title he disdained, even if it was merited. His colleagues did not dispute it. They knew they had to be prepared and have their teams performing at their best when they faced Cleveland, and that is what served to further the game of football more than anything else. Head coaches did not want to be embarrassed. They readily adopted Brown’s practices and spent extra time studying film, developing counter plans as they anticipated how Brown would try to beat them. Brown inspired innovation among his colleagues, which is possibly the greatest of all possible legacies.

An Unlikely Protagonist

Giants’ head coach Steve Owen had enjoyed a great run with his team from 1933 through 1946, winning eight Eastern Division titles and two NFL Championships. During his tenure, New York made playing defense a brutal art form. Owen pioneered defenders playing off of the line of scrimmage when most teams deployed seven-man lines and relied on safeties to clean up on ball carriers who may have slipped through cracks in the front wall. Hall of Fame center and linebacker extraordinaire Mel Hein recalled, “Owen brought in the 5-3-3 in 1937 and we first used it extensively in 1938. The 5-3-3 was especially effective against Chicago’s T-Formation. Since we had linebackers left, right and center, none of us had to go running after the first fake. We could wait in our positions to see if the play was coming. Also, we ran stunts from this defense, with the linebackers and linemen crisscrossing as they rushed.”

Passing offense innovations accelerated with the arrival of precision quarterbacks such as Washington’s Sammy Baugh and Chicago’s Sid Luckman. Deft receivers like Don Hutson caused problems for defenses packed near the scrimmage line. Large, slow linebackers were exposed in coverage. Many teams adopted Earle “Greasy” Neale’s 5-2-4 Philadelphia Eagle defensive alignment that became known as the Eagle Defense. Earle said, “This defense was most effective against the tight T-Formation. A man-in-motion or a flanker spread it out.” The four defensive backs covered more of the field, but it would soon be discovered that this defense was still vulnerable.

The Giants were mired in a malaise of decline when the All-America Football Conference (AAFC) merged with the established league prior to the 1950 season. Realignment brought change and new challenges. The Eastern Division was rechristened the American Conference when it inherited the four-time champions of the rival league. The Browns’ 52-4-3 legacy, which included professional football’s first perfect season [15-0] in 1948, preceded them, even if NFL stalwarts were loath to recognize their accomplishments.

Owen’s football roots were firmly grounded in single-wing style formations, having a hand in the dirt and winning the battle on the line of scrimmage. He hadn’t brought a new offensive concept to the game since his A-Formation in the early 1930’s and the Giants were among the last teams to resist adapting to the modern T-Formation.

Defensive coaching was minimal in the late 1940’s. Teams met as large groups and 80% of the meetings and practices were spent on offense. Defenses lined up at the line of scrimmage, beat the man in front of them, and then pursued the ball carrier. There was little or no anticipation whatsoever. Aside from accounting for a man in motion, pre-snap defensive alignments did not change.

The Umbrella Opens

Brown proved to be a catalyst for change. Knowing he would face Cleveland twice every season, Owen spent the offseason studying game film of his new opponent. Owen had the foresight to realize brute force was not enough to get the job done against this “finesse” team. He needed to account for the open spaces on the football field. The Giants played a 6-1 defensive front, and Owen took advantage of the talent on his roster, knowing he had rangy, athletic defensive ends. They would align in their standard front, but at the snap of the ball the ends would drop out and cover the flats, while the defensive halfbacks would retreat. The two safeties covered the deep middle, and the result was an umbrella-like coverage. He thought this would serve the dual purpose of controlling the Browns’ precise passing attack while still being able to defend bruising fullback Marion Motley.

The scheme looked great on paper. Fortunately the Giants received a small bonanza of their own from the AAFC that made it come to life on the field. The New York Yankees were one of the teams that gave the Browns some competition during their four-year reign. Although they never defeated Cleveland, New York tied them once in 1947 and opposed the Browns twice in the AAFC Championship Game, nearly defeating them in 1946 before an Otto Graham-led 4th quarter comeback sent the Yankees home with a 14-9 defeat. The strength of the Yankee team was its defense, and Owen’s umbrella was supported by four newcomers from the Yankees: Arnie Weinmeister, Otto Schnellbacher, Harmon Rowe, and Tom Landry.

Single Wing, A-Formation, 5-3 Defense

Weinmeister was a rare physical specimen. At 6’4” and 240 pounds, he had the strength to consistently win skirmishes in the trenches, but it was his fluid athletic ability, speed, and the desire to dominate that set him apart. He regularly terrorized quarterbacks in the pocket and tackled backs and receivers downfield. When Weinmeister joined the Giants, he told Owen the way to defeat Cleveland was “to knock them on their butts.” Weinmeister and fellow tackle Al DeRogatis were charged with crashing the pocket on pass plays, and funneling Motley to linebacker John Cannady on rushes.

Schnellbacher, Rowe, and Landry formed a unique blend of talents with Emlen Tunnell and were the key to the success of Owen’s strategy. Defensive halfbacks Landry and Rowe played with solid technique and rarely gambled in their coverage. Tunnell had great range and ball instincts. He often freelanced through the secondary, and usually had the speed to recover from a misread. Schnellbacher combined instincts with technique. What set them apart as a unit was all four were exceptional tacklers. Tunnell recalled years later, “That was the best tackling backfield I ever saw. Everyone knew what the other fellow was going to do and that’s what made it so much fun.”

The two-time defending NFL Champion Eagles did not have much fun when they faced Cleveland on Saturday night of the NFL’s showcase opener. The pro passing game was relatively unsophisticated at this point, and Brown took a quantum step forward for this game by splitting both his ends wide on the line of scrimmage. Brown believed, “You had to integrate the running game with an intelligently conceived passing offense to win in pro football.” He also refused to allow the defense to dictate where the ball would be thrown.

Neale’s Eagle Defense was subsequently shredded by quarterback Graham’s sharp passes to ends Mac Speedie and Dante Lavelli. When Neale adjusted by having his two linebackers cover the flats, Graham had Motley pound into the undefended middle. When the linebackers pinched in, Graham sent halfback Dub Jones around end to catch a pass in the short middle or sent Motley wide on a sweep. After the 35-10 thumping, NFL Commissioner Bert Bell congratulated Brown and told him Cleveland was, “the most intensely coached team I have ever seen.”

The Giants opened their season the next day in Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers 18-7, playing their standard defense, as Owen dared not tip his hand to the shrewd Brown. The schedule makers did New York a tremendous favor by giving them a bye for Week 2. The Browns traveled to Baltimore and whipped the Colts 31-0 while Owen drilled his new scheme to perfection at practice.

The Giants visited Cleveland in Week 3, and the results of the new defense were so profound they may have even shocked Owen himself. As New York’s defense came to the line, they showed a standard 6-1 front. At the snap, the ends quickly dropped to cover the flats and the defensive halfbacks dropped to cover the deep sidelines while the safeties covered the middle. The four down linemen attacked the backfield while the linebacker spied on Motley. The Browns were unprepared but, more surprisingly, were slow to respond to the strategy.

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (October 22, 1950)

Emlen Tunnell (45), New York Giants (October 22, 1950)

Graham did not complete a single pass in the first half and was intercepted three times. The Cleveland fans, so used to seeing their team trounce the opposition, booed their team as they went into the locker room trailing 6-0. In the second half, Owen anticipated Brown altering his strategy. Cleveland came out in the third quarter shortening the pass routes of the ends and running wide, but Owen had closed the Umbrella, blitzing his defensive backs, pressuring Graham, and plugging any rushing lanes. The 6-0 score held up, marking the first time the Browns had ever been held scoreless. So impressed was the multi-talented Tunnell, he later said, “We did such a job that afternoon that I never again wanted to play offense.”

Tunnell still clearly recalled the details years later when he was a Giants’ assistant coach, “In 1950 we developed a defense against the Browns that came to be known as the Umbrella. Our ends, Jim Duncan and Ray Poole, would drift back and cover the flats while tackles Arnie Weinmeister and Al DeRogatis and guards Jon Baker and John Mastrangelo were charged with rushing the passer and containing the run. The lone linebacker, John Cannady, was told to follow the Brown fullback wherever he went. Tom Landry played the left corner, Harmon Rowe the right, I was the strong safety and Otto Schnellbacher the weak. If you would look at this alignment from high in the stands it looked like an opened umbrella. In truth, it was the same 4-3-2-2 used today. We did go into other formations, but mostly we used this 4-3 arrangement. It was so successful against the Browns that we beat them twice. The first time we played them we shut them out, the first time that had ever happened to them.”

Given the challenges Cleveland’s offense presented, DeRogatis explained the defense’s strategic goals. “The modern 4-3-4 defense came into being largely because of the fantastic ability of the old Cleveland Browns to make a defense look bad. With great ends, a great blocking and running fullback, and a phenomenal quarterback, the Browns, coached by Paul Brown moved with awesome finesse over almost everyone they met. As a result, Steve Owen devised the Umbrella Defense, which dropped the standard six-man defensive line, to go to at least a version of the 4-3-4 which most teams use now. Against the standard six, the receivers could beat you short; the swing could wreck you outside; the fullback forced you to protect the middle; and the quarterback, who could do anything, passed, ran, screened, drew, and kept you off balance. So the 4-3-4 was born and almost revolutionized the game.”

The teams met for a rematch in front of 41,734 enthusiastic fans at the Polo Grounds three weeks later. The 4-1 Browns punctured the 4-1 Giants’ Umbrella with 13 second-quarter points. The final seven came seconds before the half following a major mental error by New York return-man Jim Ostendarp. On the kickoff following a Lou Groza field goal, Ostendarp let the ball hit the ground and roll to the one-yard line, where Cleveland recovered. Graham plunged for the touchdown on the next play to increase Cleveland’s lead to 13-3.

Owen altered his defensive strategy for the second half after Weinmeister left the game with a knee injury. Instead of having the ends drop off in the Umbrella they rushed Graham relentlessly. Poole and DeRogatis harassed Graham, who completed just four passes and lost 71 yards in sacks over the final 30 minutes. Cleveland crossed midfield just once. The Giants’ offense completed the comeback on a bit of razzle-dazzle when quarterback Charlie Conerly faked a hand-off to Eddie Price and flipped the ball behind his back to Joe Scott who raced around end for an uncontested touchdown and a 17-13 win.

Weinmeister boasted after the game, “We were smarter and better. We proved that defense was more important than offense. A lot of people thought the first win was a fluke. We knew it wasn’t and we were determined to prove it to everybody else.”

Cleveland rolled through the remainder of their schedule unblemished. The Giants fell flat versus the Chicago Cardinals the week after their victory over the Browns. The ship was righted quickly, and New York won impressively the rest of the way, including an amazing run where they scored 50 points three times in four weeks. The Giants and Browns finished tied atop the American Conference with 10-2 records, necessitating a playoff in Cleveland.

Bitterly cold temperatures limited attendance to 33,054 fans. The field was frozen and Owen obviously recalled how basketball shoes helped his underdog Giants pull off an upset against the heavily-favored Chicago Bears in 1934. He brought enough on the trip so the entire squad would be outfitted for the full 60 minutes. The master of preparation Brown would not be outdone; Cleveland took the field in black Chuck Taylors.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (December 17, 1950)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (December 17, 1950)

After the Browns went up 3-0 early in the first quarter, both defenses took control. The icy field made it impossible for backs and receivers to cut sharply, and for passers Graham, Conerly, and Travis Tidwell (Giants) to plant and throw. The teams would combine for just six pass completions and 91 passing yards for the entire game. Owen mixed the A-Formation with the T-Formation throughout the first half, before committing solely the A for the second half

Five minutes into fourth quarter, New York’s Gene “Choo Choo” Roberts whipped around right end with interference in front of him. Before he could reach the end zone, Roberts was caught from behind on the Cleveland 4-yard line by Bill Willis after a gain of 32 yards. Two plunges by Price netted just a single yard (Willis was in on both tackles). On third-and-goal from the three, Conerly tossed a touchdown to end Bob McChesney, but the Giants were flagged for a false start. On the next play, Conerly’s pass was intercepted, but Cleveland was called for defensive holding. The Browns’ fans were in a full-throated frenzy, on their feet chanting “Hold that line!” as they exhorted their defense.

On first and goal from the four, Price ran for one, but the Giants were penalized for an illegal snap. On second and goal from the eight, Joe Scott was tackled for a five-yard loss by Willis. Conerly’s third-down pass was deflected incomplete and the Giants settled for a field goal and 3-3 tie after the frustrating series.

Taking possession with 6:10 left in the game, Graham led the Browns on a march downfield, including three Graham rushes for 36 yards. However, like the Giants on the previous series, Cleveland settled for a field goal after having a goal-to-go situation. With time on the clock for one last desperate drive, Conerly was tackled in the end zone for a safety, completing the Browns’ quest for revenge on the only team to defeat them in the 1950 season. Cleveland went on to defeat the Los Angeles Rams (who ironically had left the city of Cleveland following an NFL Championship in 1945) in one of the most thrilling championship games in history, 30-28.

Despite falling short in the playoff game, the Giants’ three-game series with the Browns that season had to be considered a success. In 180 total minutes played, Owen’s Umbrella Defense surrendered only one touchdown to an offense that routinely piled up points against the rest of the league. The Browns led the American Conference with 310 points scored, and their average margin of victory was just over 13 points. In their three games against New York, their aggregate 21 points came from the lone touchdown, four field goals, and a safety from their defense.

Brown poked some holes in Owen’s Umbrella the next season. Cleveland swept the season series with New York, won the American Conference title but lost to the Detroit Lions in the NFL Championship game. In 1952 the Giants swept the Browns, but Cleveland three-peated as conference champs, and lost again to Detroit. The significance of these two campaigns came to full fruition in 1953. While Brown furthered the offense of the future, developing and expanding the roles of the Split End and Flanker in T-Formation variations, Owen never fully adapted to the T-Formation, and continually reverted to his familiar A-Formation. This stunted the development of quarterback Conerly.

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 12, 1952)

New York Giants at Cleveland Browns (October 12, 1952)

The nadir came in an ugly 62-14 December loss to Cleveland at the Polo Grounds that was so bad even backup quarterback George Ratterman threw a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter after Graham had been pulled. The Giants’ leadership was forced to admit their 23-year steward for the franchise needed to retire. The archaic offense was inept, scoring a meager 179 points over the 12-game season. The once-formidable defense was ragged; the league caught up to the Umbrella scheme and there was no counter strategy on the horizon. The locker room was despondent; many players contemplated early retirement.

Multi-threat performer Frank Gifford, who played both ways and averaged 50 minutes per game at the end of the season while the Giants struggled with injuries, recalled, “The last five games of 1953, I didn’t come out. I played offense and defense; I was kicking off, running back punts, kicking field goals. I was really questioning whether to come back in 1954.” A significant part of Gifford’s frustration was the inability of Owen to figure out a role that maximized his abilities. Gifford had been a star tailback for USC in college, but Owen relegated him to defensive halfback. “I would have cut the good looking son-of-a-bitch if he hadn’t been our top draft pick,” said Owen.

Quarterback Conerly, who was the NFL Rookie of the year in 1948, would turn 34 the next season. He was tired of being beaten up not only on the field behind a faltering offensive line, but by the booing Polo Grounds fans who hung up signs reading “Back to the Farm Charlie.”

The Rivalry That Changed Professional Football: New York Giants – Cleveland Browns 1950-1959 (Part II)
Jan 062014
 
Share Button
Greg Robinson, Auburn Tigers (September 21, 2013)

OT Greg Robinson – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 6, 2014 BCS National Championship: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

AUBURN

*#73 Greg Robinson – LT – 6’5/320

Third year sophomore. Unfortunately Robinson did not receive the public recognition until halfway through the year because most had no idea he was three years removed from high school. Robinson caught my eye last year when I was scouting opposing players. He is enormous but carries minimal bad weight. He is light on his feet but can anchor himself in to the ground and stone a bull rusher. Robinson may be THE left tackle of this class if he comes out. While I think he is a bit raw and will need some balance/core/stability work, Robinson has two years of starting experience in the SEC with game tape just as, if not more, impressive as Kouandijo. If he comes out, he could really go anywhere from #1 to #15 overall.

*#21 Tre Mason – RB – 5’10/205

Third year junior that has not declared yet. Mason is a fun player to watch. He had a big year (1,600+ yards) in 2013 but I am trying to figure out how much of it was the scheme, and how much was it based on his talent. He is short, but Mason is not undersized. He is thick throughout and he runs with power between the tackles and in space. He can shoot out of a cannon and accelerate through traffic with the best of them. Very efficient mover with minimal wasted steps. Once Mason is in the open field, he has good, but not great speed. His game is based on short area quickness and breaking tackles, which is what I want most in a running back. Right now he is a 2nd rounder but there is a chance he ends up being the first back taken.

#30 Dee Ford – DE – 6’2/240

Fifth year senior. Ford is a playmaker from the outside that makes things happen behind the line of scrimmage. My gripe with him is a pure lack of size/bulk and the fact that he doesn’t make his presence known play to play. If Ford doesn’t sack the QB or guess right on a running play, he doesn’t make an impact. He won’t be able to handle the power of the NFL unless he gets significantly bigger. Ford’s lack of staying power wasn’t an issue in college, but he will be manhandled by tight ends if he is an every down guy. Right now, he is a situational pass rusher that only fits certain schemes. Day three guy.

#11 Chris Davis – CB – 5’11/200

Fourth year senior. Best known for his return for a TD after a missed Alabama FG to win the game. Davis is actually a solid CB prospect that I think can be a contributor early on in his career. He is very quick, very explosive. He plays downhill with aggression. Davis is an excellent turn and run guy. He has the quick twitch and reaction that you want to see out of corners. His return skills will only boost his grade as I think he could be a 5th or 6th round guy.

#35 Jay Prosch – FB – 6’0/258

Fourth year senior. Rarely will you see a traditional fullback be drafted, but I think Prosch has a good shot at being a day three pick. He is not a receiver, he is not a rusher. But Prosch might be the best lead blocker that I’ve ever seen and I think his impact at the next level will be immediate. Prosch is effective in space against fast linebackers and defensive backs He always has his balance and power under him. He can send a violent jolt to defensive linemen as well who often outweigh him. He can perform multiple blocking duties at a high level and even though this role is dwindling in numbers around the league, I think Prosch will be drafted.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#94 Nosa Eguae – DE – 6’3/269

FLORIDA STATE

#75 Cameron Erving – LT – 6’6/320

Fourth year junior. Redshirted in 2010 because of a back injury. Backup defensive tackle that played in every 2011 game as the team’s primary run stuffer. Made the move to left tackle prior to the 2012 season and has started every game since then. Finished 2012 season on a strong note and has displayed an impressive tool set. Some consider Erving a top 10 pick and I think it is very possible. He is still somewhat new to the position, which will lead some to believe that he has a lot of untapped upside even though he plays at a very high level currently. He is an easy bender with a lot of hand power. He leans too much though and will likely need some time to shore up some technique issues before he can play. I think Erving is a solid prospect that may need some time on the bench before starting. But all in all, a likely top 15 guy.

*#1 Kelvin Benjamin – WR – 6’5/242

Third year sophomore. Benjamin has evolved in to my favorite WR in this draft class if he comes out. I have a higher opinion of him than most though. He would be better suited off returning to school so he can play with Winston one more year and make himself a definite top 10 pick in 2015. What I like about Benjamin is obvious. His height, length, and girth make him a matchup nightmare for defenses. At his size, it is unreal how well he moves when going after a pass and/or running with the ball in his hands. He has progressed more than any WR in the nation over the past year. In that offense, we may not even come close to seeing what he is capable of. I may have a top 10 grade on Benjamin when all is said and done but if he comes out, he will likely be a late 1st rounder.

#22 Telvin Smith – OLB – 6’3/215

Fourth year senior. Career backup and rotational defender until 2013 but has been consistently productive when his name is called. Was the team’s third leading tackler in 2012. Took over the starting WILL position in 2013 and flourished. Thin but wiry frame, plays stronger than he looks. Top-tier speed in pursuit, can play sideline-to-sideline. Aggressive downhill defender that can fill the lane and locate the ball carrier. Good form tackler that can be relied upon in space. Excellent in man coverage, can stick with most, if not all backs and tight ends. Fluid hips that turn well, light feet that can change direction. Has the tendency to over-pursue on runs to the other side of the line, opening cutback lanes. Discipline isn’t always there when it comes to his assignments. Will dance around blockers too often rather than meeting them straight up. Smith’s game speed and power can make him a three down defender at the next level. He has played both the MIKE and WILL positions very well for one of the nation’s top defenses over the past two years. He is also considered to be one of the more vocal leaders of the team. Smaller linebackers with supreme speed and good enough power are becoming big time players across the league. I think he can be a top 45 player in this class, although I’d expect him to be a 3rd/4th rounder in May.

#20 Lamarcus Joyner – S – 5’8.195

Fifth year senior that has seen a lot of playing time at both CB and S. Lacks the ideal height (5’8”) but weighs a solid 195 pounds and plays worth a chip on his shoulder. Possesses elite acceleration and agility. Can chase down some of the fastest receivers that college football has to offer from behind. Closes a 10 yard window as fast as anyone. Effective blitzer (5 sacks through November in 2013) with the ability to explode through small creases and ability to finish. Has long arms for his height. High energy player that the FSU defense looks to for leadership. Over-aggressive style can be taken advantage of by QBs with the ability to look off defenders. Takes a lot of false steps and is often found recovering. His attitude can only do so much downfield in one on one situations. Gets too hands on and will be flagged a lot. Creates mismatches that opposing offenses will look to exploit. Joyner is a hard nosed football player that can overcome his physical shortcomings. His approach and versatility are always in high demand across the league. Could be a 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#80 Rashad Greene – WR – 6’0/175

Third year junior that has led the team in receptions and yards all three years of his career to this point. Also an accomplished punt returner in 2012. Easy and fluid mover that can separate from man coverage all over the route tree. Has the speed to knife through a secondary over the top. Aggressive pass catcher with a strong pair of hands. Slight frame that can be beat up at the point of attack. Usually starts off the line. May not handle the press corners effectively. Effort as a blocker is there, but he does not make a big difference on the edge. Greene shows a lot of NFL ready skills and I’m not sure how much he could gain by returning to school. His upside is limited but he could be a QBs best friend because of his ability to get open, catch the ball, and run after the catch. 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#8 Timmy Jernigan – DT – 6’2/298

Third year junior. Was a top tier, 5 star recruit out of high school that made an immediate impact in a rotational role as a freshman in 2011, winning the team’s newcomer of the year award. Plays the inside gaps, mostly lining up over center. Smaller than the typical nose tackle, but plays low and powerful, making him a tough guy to push back. Strong player with outstanding footwork. Incredible quickness and speed for the position. Does a nice job of sending the initial punch with a strong pair of hands, keeping his base low so he can control the engagement with the blocker. Well-developed technique, knows how to get off blocks using moves and positioning. No matter that, he will need to develop more lower body strength before being relied upon against NFL linemen. Jernigan is a disruptor in every sense of the word that has several ways to beat a blocker. Despite his less than ideal height/weight numbers, he can play multiple roles along any defensive front. Could be 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#32 James Wilder Jr. – RB – 6’2/226

Third year junior. Top tier athlete out of high school that was highly recruited. Son of former NFL running back James Wilder. A physical specimen with the size/speed/strength that will make NFL coaches dream about stardom. Hard-nosed, physical runner that is tough to bring down once he has a head of steam. Broke out in 2012 with almost 6 yards per carry and 11 TDs. Superb blocker with the ability to process information quickly and deliver a violent jolt to the defender. Breaks a lot of tackles in space and is a tough guy to bring down past the second level of the defense. Maintains a strong grip on the ball and can be relied upon to secure it. Runs with a high pad level in traffic. Lacks the quick twitch acceleration and change of direction when approaching the line. Too many recovery steps with approaching the line of scrimmage. Not a natural receiver. Limited role but can be a valuable weapon as part of a committee approach. Wilder Jr. could declare early and me a mid-round pick that out-produces backs drafted ahead of him. I see some Eddie George here. A true workhorse that does a lot of little things well on top of having enormous gifts.

#7 Christian Jones – LB – 6’4/232

Fourth year senior that has started games at both outside linebacker positions as well as defensive end. Productive player that led the team in tackles in 2012, and was second on the team in 2011. Great size/speed/strength numbers that contributes on special teams as well. Physical player that plays well with his hands. Pursues well across the line. Can close a 5-10 yard window fast. Effective tackler that makes the effort to wrap up while maintaining a powerful presence. Can be used in a variety of ways. Gets locked on to and ridden out of plays by quality linemen and tight ends. Doesn’t use his hands effectively to control the engagement with blockers. Lacks awareness and reaction as a pass defender. Better athlete than he is a football player. I’m not as high on guys like this. He looks like a guy that will be a solid backup and special teamer, but I wouldn’t draft him until day three.

#31 Terrence Brooks – S – 5’11/197

Fourth year senior, two year starter. Plays a lot of single high safety but has shown the ability to approach the line and make tackles in the box. Led all FSU defensive backs in tackles in 2012. Quick and fluid hips that can get him moving laterally in a blink. Anticipates well and has coverage ability that you will find in a cornerback. Doesn’t have good enough speed to run downfield with speed receivers. Won’t make a lot of plays in back side pursuit. Aggressive player but doesn’t have the physical presence as a tackler to make a big difference. Does a lot of little things well to get him on the field, but has not stood out among a talented FSU defense. Sometimes guys like this get overlooked because they lack star power, but are solid prospects that can grab a roster spot in the NFL. Brooks can be a reliable third safety that can play both spots if need be. Day three guy.

#52 Bryan Stork – C – 6’4/312

Fifth year senior that has been starting since 2011. Has seen time at both guard and center. Graded out as the team’s top blocker in 2012 and is considered to be the leader of the line. Big weight room strength. Active feet that can get his hips in to the hole easily. Moves in space like a tight end, very good athlete. Lacks the power presence when matched up with bigger defensive tackles. Doesn’t create a new line of scrimmage. Leans forward too much. Weak hands prevent him from locking on to a defender. Stork isn’t strong enough for my liking when it comes to immediate production/reliability. He has good movement skills though so I think he can be drafted late and be given time to add some power to his game.

#81 Kenny Shaw – WR – 6’1/170

Fourth year senior that has played in every game since the start of 2011. Big play threat that works best in the slot because of his ability to find the holes in zone coverage. Very thin frame that needs to add bulk. Won’t break a lot of tackles. Average agility in space to make defenders miss and will often go down on initial contact. Not a pure hands catcher. Will allow the ball to get in to his body which impedes his after the catch ability. Not a fluid mover considering his size/frame. Has been the beneficiary of such a talent-rich Florida State offense which has inflated his statistics. There isn’t enough here to get me excited about his potential in the NFL. I don’t think he will handle the physical side of the game and we aren’t talking about an elite burner here. Late rounder.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#97 DeMonte McCalister – DT – 6’2/285
#55 Jacobbi McDaniel – DT – 6’0/286
#6 Dan Hicks – DE – 6’4/260

Jan 032014
 
Share Button
Sammy Watkins, Clemson Tigers (November 23, 2013)

WR Sammy Watkins – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 3, 2014 Bowl Games: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

OKLAHOMA STATE

#4 Justin Gilbert – CB – 6’0/200

Fourth year senior. Some believe Gilbert is the top corner in this draft. I don’t quite put him on that level but I do think he has more upside than any other defensive back. Gilbert is very tools-rich. Tall, strong, fast, explosive, agile. Physically, he has the capability to do it all. I didn’t like what I saw in 2012 out of him, but he has a few ultra-impressive game tapes from 2013. What makes Gilbert so effective is the combination of abilities to jam receivers at the line and stick with them all over the field. He has his moments of pure brain lapse too often. He mis-diagnoses a lot and his game appears to be based on guess work. It’s hard to knock that area of his game though because I don’t know the background information including his reads and scheme. All said and done, Gilbert is a top 10 athlete but I don’t think he is a top 30 player yet.

#99 Calvin Barnett – DT – 6’2/300

Fourth year senior that spent two years at a junior college. Burst on to the scene in the Big 12 in 2012, earning first team all conference honors. Barnett is a thick, country strong interior guy that can fill a couple different roles. He makes an impact each and every play because of the attention he demands. Barnett is a bit of a loose cannon. There is a certain nastiness to him. He lacks discipline with both his technique and post-play antics. There is a lot to love and hate about that attitude. Barnett will be a solid mid-round pick that can handle the power of the NFL right away.

#87 Tracy Moore – WR 6’2/215

Fifth year senior that missed most of 2012 with an ankle injury. Moore is a gifted athlete that is put together was well as one would want in a receiver. His career got off to a nice start, but a combination of injuries and trouble with the law have kept his stock down a bit. Moore is a solid possession receiver that makes things happen after the catch. He is strong and aggressive and loves to bully the defensive backs. Willing and able over the middle in traffic, Moore has proven to be a solid third down target. There is some hidden upside here as long as Moore can work on his craft without distractions. Had he not been injured and stayed away from off the field trouble, we may be discussing him as a potential 2nd rounder. Now, I see him as a 4th/5th rounder.

#8 Daytawion Lowe – S – 5’11/205

Fifth year senior that missed 2010 with a shoulder injury. Lowe is a tackling machine that lays bigger than his listed size. He led the team in tackles in 2011 and 2012, second in 2013. He’s quicker than he is fast. I like him as an in-the-box safety that supports the run and covers underneath. I think he’ll struggle to play in deep coverage, as the catch speed simply isn’t there. His hips and ankles look tight. He is a different player when moving downhill than when he moves laterally. I think he can be a solid back up and special teamer in the NFL. 5th/6th rounder.

#11 Shaun Lewis – OLB – 5’11/225

Fourth year senior. Undersized player that gets lost in the shuffle sometimes. But I’ve seen three of his games in 2013 and he makes a lot of impact plays. He is a brick house that plays as hard as any linebacker you will find. Lewis can use his height to his advantage. He can sneak underneath blockers and locate the football. Lewis struggles to sit tight and shed blocks though. He will shoot gaps without diagnosing, opening up huge cutback lanes for the opposing back. In the right scheme where he can attack, Lewis might be a guy that makes 100+ tackles per year in the league. I think he is a 5th/6th rounder at worst.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#31 Jeremy Smith – RB – 5’10/210
#71 Parker Graham – LT – 6’7/315
#7 Shamiel Gary – S – 6’0/210
#51 Brandon Webb – G – 6’3/328
#1- Clint Chelf – QB – 6’1/210

MISSOURI

*#47 Kony Ealy – DE – 6’5/275

Fourth year junior. Has not declared yet but many expect him to. There are some people in the Midwest that I speak with every year, and they have said Ealy has more upside that Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson did when they were in college. Pretty high praise if you ask me. Ealy is put together well. He is a comfortable 270+ pounds with above average movement ability. Ealy is an underachiever at the moment. He plays too high and doesn’t have the power presence you would think a player of his size would have. He doesn’t have the second gear when rushing the edge, either. I’m not high on Ealy but nobody can deny the upside. He has a lot of work to do and it will be a matter of how he approaches that. Probable 1st rounder if he comes out.

*#20 Henry Josey – RB – 5’10/190

Fourth year junior. A great story here. Suffered a gruesome, possible career ending injury in 2012. Came back in 2013 to lead the team in rushing , averaging over 6 yards per carry. Josey is quick and decisive with runaway speed. Despite being under 200 pounds, he can run inside with some force. Personally I think he needs to return for another year. His production is impressive but may be inflated due to the scheme he plays in. He isn’t what I would call a special back. A poor man’s Reggie Bush without the upside. If he comes out, we are looking at a 3rd rounder a best.

#52 Michael Sam – DE – 6’2/255

Fifth year senior. Opposite situation of Ealy. Sam has evolved in to a quality football player over his five years at Mizzou. He led the team with 10.5 sacks and 18.5 TFL this year. Sam has a ton of functional strength. He can handle the power blockers and run past the speed blockers. I think his best role will be a 3-4 OLB at the next level. He doesn’t have the length to play a DE spot play in, play out and he has shown some ability to work well in space. Top 100 pick, maybe top 75.

#31 EJ Gaines – CB – 5’11/195

Fourth year senior that has had a very accomplished career. I want to get another 2-3 looks a Gaines in the coming months. So far, I love what I see out of him. He is a physical player that sticks his hat in there against the run like a linebacker. Gaines shows nice ball skills down the field with proper balance and timing. He never seems to be playing catch up, which you have to respect a lot. He is a fluid mover that makes the game look easy. Right now I think he is a top 100 guy but I’ll need to see more before I put him in to the round 2 area.

#68 Justin Britt – LT – 6’6/315

Fifth year senior. The 2014 left tackle class might be the best in a long time. We all know the popular names like the back of our hand, but Britt is a guy that is close to their level and never gets talked about. I really like his pro potential and I think he can be a quality starter. He has experience at both RT and LT. His footwork and balance make me believe he can be a left side guy in the NFL. He carries 310+ pounds with ease and I think he has the frame for some more. His greatest asset are his movement skills and consistent technique. He’ll need some work in the weight room but in a year or two, I think we are looking at a quality starter.

#2 L’Damian Washington – WR – 6’4/205

Fifth year senior. Led the Tigers in receiving in 2013 among a group of talented receivers. Washington is a deep threat that has long strides with the ability to take a top off a secondary. His tool set is among the top 10 in the nation, but his skill set hasn’t caught up yet. When I watch him, I always ask myself why isn’t he better than what I see on tape? I’m not sure he has the physical style necessary to factor all over the field. Right now Washington is a limited player that can still be an asset to an offense that needs a deep route runner. But besides that, he is a backup. 4th/5th rounder with upside.

#85 Marcus Lucas – WR – 6’5/220

Fourth year senior. Another tools-rich kid that has not lived up to expectations. Lucas has a lot of experience and has shown flashes on a few occasions of being a big time player. His size and speed along can get him drafted. He has the speed to get behind a defense, but he was used underneath in the games I watched. He is a guy that can create mismatches. I think we are looking at a day three guy here.

#48 Andrew Wilson – MLB – 6’3/240

Fifth year senior. Leading tackler each of the past three years. Wilson has played the middle and outside in Missouri’s scheme. He has been a reliable contributor and the source of a lot of big plays. He dances left and right, back and forth pre-snap. Wilson is a strong player between the tackles but his lack of speed to the edge was exposed in the games I saw. He is a slow change of direction guy that plays too high. He does well when taking on blocks though and I think he can be a solid player in a 3-4 scheme down the road. Day three prospect.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#1 James Franklin – QB – 6’2/225
#7 Randy Ponder – CB – 5’10/195
#17 Matt White – S – 6’0/195

CLEMSON

*#2 Sammy Watkins – WR – 6’1/205

Third year junior. Considered by some as the top receiver in this draft. Watkins was an All-American as a freshman in 2011, but has failed to take the next step since then. 2012 was a rough year for him with a suspension, ankle injury, and stomach virus. He has come back strong in 2013 and has put himself back in to top 15 consideration. Watkins is one of the top YAC receivers you will find. He runs with the ball as if he were a running back, showing a low pad level and the power to break tackles. I can see he has strong hands, very strong hands. The ball has minimal-to-no wiggle upon contact. But he has had a case of the drops in 2013, thus I wouldn’t say he has a top grade for catching ability like most seem to give him. Watkins seems to be a very smart player that understands what opposing defenses are doing. He is an excellent route runner that knows how to set defensive backs up for failure. Combine that with his outstanding movement ability and you may have a top tier playmaker in Watkins. I will personally have him graded somewhere between 20-35 overall, but I think he gets taken in the top 15.

*#3 Vic Beasley – DE – 6’3/235

Fourth year junior that has not yet declared. After Clowney, many think Beasley is the top edge rusher. He is such an explosive, agile, flexible athlete when getting after the passer that it’s hard not to project him as a potentially special player. In the weight room, he is one of the strongest players on the entire Clemson roster and the power will show up on tape when he hits a ball carrier. While he has the frame for more weight, I question if Beasley will end up as one of the situational pass rushers that simply can’t hack it as an every down guy. He can be moved to the side by a bigger offensive tackle too easily, and that would bother me if I were trying to draft him. Teams ran the ball right at him numerous times because his impact on a game is minimal in those situations. His hustle, aggression, and speed are nullified when the action is coming his way. Beasley will be a first round pick, possibly even in the top 10. But a guy that has severe power presence concerns will needs a very specific role and scheme. I don’t like taking guys like that in the first round.

#10 Tajh Boyd – QB – 6’1/225

Fourth year senior that has re-written the record books at Clemson. A statistical compiler that has had some of the best talent and the best scheme to work with. Boyd was considered a borderline first round talent heading in to 2013, but I don’t think this year has helped him much. Boyd has a quick release and the power to shoot the ball downfield on a line. His arm talent is there. Boyd is shorter than you want and has had issue with his accuracy in 2013. He struggles when he is on the run being chased. Boyd also tucks the ball and run too early. I question his ability to stand strong in the pocket and go through progressions. He has a lot of adjustment to go though once he enters the league and I don’t see the upside being any higher than a Chase Daniel type. Quality backup, but not someone you take on day 1 or day 2 of draft weekend.

#63 Brandon Thomas – LT – 6’3/305

Fifth year senior that has started at left tackle for three years now. Thomas is a name that doesn’t get enough attention. He is going to have a much higher grade on my sheet that what’s put out there. Because of his size, he will likely move inside to guard. With that in mind, Thomas does all of the little things right to lead me to believe he will be a good one at the next level. He has a lot of power, a guy that creates a new line of scrimmage play after play when run blocking. He isn’t blessed with tremendous movement tools, but he is a consistent player because of his mechanics and strong hands. I really liked what I saw in his matchup against Clowney. Despite being out-classed talent wise, Thomas put forth an admirable performance from start to finish. His vast experience at left tackle will only help teams when building a depth chart. Thomas has a ton of value in my eyes, and may end up in the top 75 overall on my board.

*#1 Martavis Bryant – WR – 6’5/200

Third year junior that did send paper work to the advisory board. Bryant is a big time deep threat with enormous upside. He doesn’t have a lot experience in teams of balls being thrown his way, but has shown the talent to be a big time receivers. I would advise him to return to school because I think he could be a top 10 guy in 2015 if he had a nice senior year without Watkins in the picture. Bryant isn’t physical and he doesn’t get himself open underneath. He does make a lot of catches when covered though. There are some teams that will view him as a first round caliber athlete and it could get him drafted in round 2. But I would likely grade him out as a 3rd/4th rounder with big time upside.

#25 Roderick McDowell – RB – 5’9/195

Fifth year senior that has played behind some of the best RB talent that college football has seen from one school in recent years. McDowell had a huge 2013 campaign and some believe he could end up being a top 100 pick. I like him and his game, but I’m not sure he warrants something that high. McDowell comes from an extremely favorable scheme for the running game and I think his production was a result of the playmakers around him, not the other way around. At that size, you need to have game breaking speed that runs away from defenders, elite agility, and/or wide receiver-caliber hands. McDowell is average across the board. I think he gets drafted late and can stick somewhere as a 3rd string guy for a few year.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#33 Spencer Shuey – OLB – 6’3/240
#8 Darius Robinson – CB – 5’10/175
#62 Tyler Shatley – RG – 6’3/300

OHIO STATE

Carlos Hyde – RB – 6’0/235

Fourth year senior. Hyde did more for his draft position in 2013 than arguably any senior in the nation. Despite missing 3 games because of a suspension, Hyde rushed for 1,408 yards averaging over 7.5 yards per carry. Hyde is not your space back that has a lot of big runs because of speed and elusiveness. He is a brick house that doesn’t go down on initial contact and moves the pile forward every time he has the ball. He is an impressive, old school running back that moves the chains and grinds down the clock. There is a lot to like about his running style. I need to try and look in to his off the field trouble but if that checks out, his game tape warrants a top 75 pick.

*#10 Ryan Shazier – OLB – 6’2/230

Third year junior. Led the team in tackles in 2012 and 2013 by a wide margin. Shazier is a fun player to watch. He improved a lot as the year progressed and I‘ve had to re-evaluate my outlook on him. He is a little thin below the waist and it shows up when he takes on blocks. But when he is in space, Shazier might be one of the best linebackers in the nation. He plays really fast and maintains strength when approaching the ball carrier. He has a nasty style to him and it helps. Shazier appears lost in coverage. He isn’t much of an assignment linebacker. When you tell him to make reads and flow towards the action, he struggles. But tell him to blitz a gap and pursue, he can shine. Right now I think he is a lock for the top 75 but he could sneak in to the top 45.

*#1 Bradley Roby – CB – 5’11/192

Third year junior that has already declared. Came in to 2013 as one of the top CBs in the nation but I have been unimpressed all year. Roby has elite movement skills with legit sub 4.4 speed. He can turn his hips and change direction with ease. My issues with him are the extreme lack of ball skills. He is awful in deep coverage when it comes to locating the ball and making a play. In addition, he doesn’t always make the effort I want to see against the run. There is a lot I don’t like about his game I and won’t have a top 100 overall grade on him. He will probably be a day two pick though.

#74 Jack Mewhort – LT – 6’6/308

Fifth year senior. Mewhort started off as a guard playing both spots. He made the move to LT prior to the 2012 season and has done a nice job. Mewhort is a solid blocker all around that doesn’t jump off the screen, but gets his job done consistently. I want to really dive in to some of his tapes in the coming months. I want to see if he can play guard at the next level. I think his value will be as a versatile backup that can play multiple spots. 3rd/4th rounder I think with potential to start.

#4 CJ Barnett – S – 6’1/204

Fifth year senior. Hard hitting, downhill strong safety with a lot of experience as a starter. Has been the go-to-guy in that secondary for a few years. Barnett does a lot of little things well that are hard to pick up on if you just watch him on TV. From the All-22 angle, its easy to see the impact he has on that defense. He is a smart player with quick reaction. He is physically limited in man coverage. He has tight ankles and hips but if he is used correctly, I think he can be a starter in the NFL down the road. 3rd/4th rounder.

#10 Corey Brown – WR  6’0/190

Fifth year senior. Brown is a reliable underneath receiver that can run himself open. Very good route runner and does the little things right. Hands catcher that plays more physical than you would assume. Brown doesn’t scare anyone with speed or size, but he is quietly effective week in, week out. I think he is worth a late round draft choice. He can be a solid backup and brings some return ability to the team as well.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#78 Andrew Norwell – LG – 6’6/316
#7 Jordan Hall – RB – 5’9/191
#71 Corey Linsley – C – 6’3/297

Jan 022014
 
Share Button
Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama Crimson Tide (September 1, 2012)

Cyrus Kouandjio – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 2, 2014 Sugar Bowl: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

OKLAHOMA

#14 Aaron Colvin – CB – 6’0/192

Fourth year senior.  Colvin will likely finish as a top 4 cornerback on my sheet.  He is a versatile, physical defensive back with starting experience at both safety and cornerback.  He led the team in tackles as a starting safety in 2011 before making the move back to cornerback in 2012, where he earned 1st Team All Big 12 honors.  Colvin is at his best at the point of attack.  He is a violent press corner that can easily turn and run with speed downfield.  Colvin has elite body control, which is one of the most vital skills a cornerback can have.  He shows the aggression needed to factor as a run defender outside as well.  Colvin’s weakness shows up underneath when trying to stick with receivers.  He is over-aggressive and gets too hands on, which simply can’t happen in the NFL.  I view him as a top 45 overall talent that can do a lot for a secondary.

#8 Jalen Saunders – WR – 5’9/157

Fourth year senior that has had a nice career.  Undersized but reliable, Saunders projects to be a potential difference maker from the slot.  He started off at Fresno State, making an immediate impact.  He averaged over 20 yards per catch as a sophomore with his ability after the catch and explosive speed to get behind secondaries.  Saunders also adds a weapon to special teams as a return specialist.  He is quicker and more agile than most, making him a tough guy to get your hands on.  Once in the open field, he can run away from guys.  His lack of size will limit what he can do at the next level, but I still think he’ll be worth a day two pick for some teams.

#64 Gabe Ikard – C – Oklahoma – 6’3/298

Fifth year senior.  Four year starter that played left guard in 2010, making an immediate impact.  Earned 1st Team All Big 12 three years in a row.  Appears to be settled in at center but his experience at guard will only help his grade.  Ikard is a great athlete that moves laterally and to the second level with ease.  He has consistently been the top graded offensive lineman on that team over his career, and there is something to be said about that.  Oklahoma has a solid history of putting out quality OL to the league.  Ikard is so highly regarded that I may have to re-watch a few games.  Personally I view him as a scheme-specific blocker that doesn’t play with enough power inside.  He doesn’t get a push; he doesn’t lock on to defensive linemen.  The tools are there and he has the frame for more weight, but I think he is more of a project that should be taken on day three.

#33 Trey Millard – FB – 6’2/253

Another accomplished four year starter.  Millard is a versatile weapon out of the backfield that could thrive in the right scheme.  He has surprising quickness to the line as an inside rusher.  He can be a productive short yardage running back.  As a blocker, Millard is powerful.  He can deliver a jolt to linebackers but he struggles to maintain blocks.  He is hit or miss that needs a lot of work when it comes to blocking mechanics if that’s what he will be used for.  As a receiver, Millard could fill the H-Back role for some teams.  He is an easy catcher of the ball that can do some things after the catch.  For his size, Millard is a big time athlete that can do a lot of different things.  I think he can be a 4th/5th rounder.

ALABAMA

*#71 Cyrus Kouandjio – LT – 6’6/310

Third year junior.  Very good chance at being the first or second left tackle taken in this class.  When it comes to pure tools and talent, Kouandijo is the blue goose of this draft.  He is big and long with minimal bad weight.  He shows easy movement all over the field.  Great flexibility and power production.  I watched a lot of his game tapes early in 2013 and noticed a lot of skill-based flaws.  His technique was so inconsistent and he was being pushed around by stronger defenders.  However, as the year progressed and especially in his last two games, Kouandijo looked better than ever.  His weight distribution was flawless and he made the game look easy.  Neither speed nor power can knock him off his plan.  I think he will be a top 10 pick, possibly even top 5.

#32 CJ Mosley – LB – 6’2/232

Fourth year senior that has been one of the more productive players on one of the most talented defenses in the nation.  Mosley is a favorite of mine, and has been for awhile now.  He is a true three down linebacker that can wear a lot of hats.  I think his best fit is at the 4-3 WILL position.  He pursues well and makes good decisions.  He’s a guy that is always in the right position, run or pass.  Mosley, like most college linebackers, struggles to disengage from linemen.  He gets too upright and can be taken out of plays too easily.  If I have one gripe with him, it is the lack of progression over the past 2-3 years.  I don’t think he has gotten much better than where he was in 2011.  That bothers me a little bit.  All in all, Mosley will be a solid starter in the NFL.  Superstar?  No.  But linebackers that are a true threat for all three downs can be tough to find.

*#6 Hasean Clinton-Dix – S – 6’1/208

Third year junior.  Considered to be the top safety in this class if he comes out.  Clinton-Dix caught my attention several times in 2012 when I scouted Dee Milliner.  I came in to 2013 with high expectations but they have not been met.  I think his general-public-grade has a lot to do with where he plays rather than his true ability.  He plays the physical brand of football that Alabama always produces.  He has a lot of range as a deep cover man.  His ball skills are wide receiver-quality.  All of that put together makes him a good prospect.  What I don’t like here is the lack of impact plays week to week.  He gets fooled easily and I think his aggression hurts a defense as much as it helps.  All in all, Clinton-Dix is a player that can help a team.  But a high first rounder?  Not on my sheet.  He will likely finish 30-45 overall for me.

#26 Deion Belue – CB – 5’11/183

Fourth year senior that played two years of junior college.  Won a starting job right away in 2012 and had a productive year.  He had a nagging toe injury all year that hampered his playing time and performance.  Because of that, I think there is some hidden value here.  Belue appears undersized at first glance but he makes a physical impact on receivers in coverage.  Very good technique and he consistently has his balance.  He struggles downfield a bit with a lack of ball skills and he can be too hands on.  I think he can be a 4th round pick that outplays several guys that are drafted ahead of him/

#83 Kevin Norwood – WR – 6’2/195

Fourth year senior.  Was not a factor in the offense until 2012.  He was second on the team in catches last year and tied for the team lead in 2013.  Norwood is a better football player than he is an athlete.  His tools don’t jump off the screen when watching the Alabama offense, but his skill set does.  He is a smart receiver that understands schemes and how to manipulate defenders.  Norwood is a strong hands catcher that attacks the football.  I love this kind of receiver and I’ll have a higher grade on him than most.  Possibly a top 100 overall guy.

#10 AJ McCarron – QB – 6’4/214

Fifth year senior.  Three year starter that will leave Alabama as one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in the program’s history.  McCarron is a little underrated in my eyes.  Too often people will use the argument that his performances are a result of being surrounded by supreme talent.  He does have NFL prospects surrounding him everywhere, but I love this kid’s makeup.  He is a good decision maker that knows how to manage a game and exploit opportunities.  He comes from arguably the highest-pressure situation in the nation, so you know he can handle the mental side of things.  I have him graded as a 3rd/4th rounder that has starting potential.

#61 Anthony Steen – RG – 6’3/309

Fifth year senior.  Has been the starting RG for 2+ seasons.  Nothing spectacular about his game but Steen has been a reliable player for a top tier offensive line.  He is a great knee bender that plays under the pads of his opponent consistently.  He isn’t a guy that moves the line of scrimmage and he struggles to maintain his position as a pass blocker.  Steen will, at least, provide depth inside for a team that likes to move their guards in a zone-scheme.  Day three pick here.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#49 Ed Stinson – DE – 6’4/292
#7 Kenny Bell – WR – 6’1/180
#10 John Fulton – CB – 6’0/186

Jan 012014
 
Share Button
Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina Gamecocks (October 12, 2013)

Jadeveon Clowney – © USA TODAY Sports Images

January 1, 2014 Bowl Games: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch (Early Games)

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

NEBRASKA

#17 Ciante Evans – CB – 5’11/190

Fourth year senior with a lot of experience. Evans has steadily improved throughout his career. He is an aggressive, physical defender that stands out with his ability to tackle in space and defend the run. He spends a lot of time in the nickel position, and I think he can stick in the NFL there. While he is best known for his play against the run, Evans has shown the short area quickness to shadow receivers underneath. He can do lot for a secondary. He might have a shot at the 3rd/4th round area.

#16 Stanley Jean-Baptiste – CB – 6’3/220

Fifth year senior. Started off at WR but made the move to CB prior to 2011. Long, wiry frame that is becoming more sought after in the NFL these days. Jean-Baptiste is a rangy cover man that can play vertical with most receivers. He struggles to turn and change direction. There are a few schemes that covet a player with this size and style. Others will think he is too slow to play. Jean-Baptiste will get drafted somewhere between rounds 4-6 based on his size and ability to make plays on the ball.

#18 Quincy Enunwa – WR – 6’2/225

Fourth year senior that has improved every season of his career. Enunwa played in a run-heavy scheme that really hindered his ability to show his wide receiver skills. I think there is some talent here worth looking in to on day three of the Draft. He is big and physical. Very tough guy for corners to push around at the point of attack. Enunwa is also an asset on plays where just a few yards are needed. He has the quick movement skills to get himself open and he can box defensive backs out from making a play on the ball. Enunwa has shown, on a few occasions, some hidden ability that can make an impact in the NFL.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#71 Jeremiah Sirles – RT – 6’5/315
#63 Andrew Rodriguez – RG – 6’5/330
#41 Jake Long – TE – 6’3/240
#9 Jason Ankrah – DE – 6’4/265

GEORGIA

#88 Arthur Lynch – TE – 6’5/254

Fifth year senior that wasn’t really a factor until 2012. Lynch is a block-first tight end that consistently gets the job done against both defensive linemen and linebackers. He has a nice combination of power and quickness to go with good technique to handle whatever is in front of him. As a receiver, I think Lynch has some hidden upside to be factor underneath and up the seam. He has sneaky athleticism and strong hands. Lynch won’t ever be a star that puts up the sexy numbers, but for the offenses that still use a tight end as both a blocker and receiver, he will have value. I expect to see him taken somewhere in the round 4-5 area.

#56 Garrison Smith – DE – 6’3/299

Fourth year senior. Plays outside in Georgia’s 3-4 front. Smith plays the role very well, consistently demanding attention from one or two blockers. He is a blue collar type defender that does a lot of little things well if you watch him individually. Smith had a big year in 2013, showing he can make some things happen behind the line of scrimmage. He plays low and strong, making him a tough guy to block. He has the upside of a solid rotational player for most schemes. Round 5-6 guy.

#72 Kenarious Gates – LT – 6’5/327

Fourth year senior. Mammoth blocker that can overwhelm opponents and drive block. Powerful hands and a strong punch at the point of attack. Too much of a leaner, bending at the waist and playing on his toes. Gates has experience at guard and tackle. I think his future resides inside. I project him to be a backup in the NFL that can provide depth for a few spots along the line. He has some bad weight on him that impedes his ability against the quicker defenders. Developmental guy that needs time. Late day three prospect.

#68 Chris Burnette – RG – 6’2/314

Fifth year senior. Has been starting three years now and looks like a low ceiling/high floor prospect. Might project as a career backup but Burnette has been a consistent performer that past two years. He doesn’t dominate or get a big push, but he gets the job done. He is a much better run blocker than he is a pass blocker. His feet get heavy and he’ll lean forward too often. He is an impressive kid off the field and appears to be the player that can be a reliable second stringer. Late day three here.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#64 Dallas Lee – LG – 6’4/295
#17 Rantavious Wooten – WR – 5’9/176

UNLV

#35 Tim Cornett – RB – 6’0/215

Fourth year senior. All time leading rusher at UNLV by a pretty wide margin. Cornett is a size/speed prospect that will get a few looks after round 4. He doesn’t have the wiggle in his hips to be elusive. And I don’t see the girth to his lower half needed to handle a full load in the NFL. With that said he can be a guy that sits on the bottom of the depth chart for a couple years and tries to develop in to a quality rotational back. He has some tools and I like his style of play. Great blocker that takes pride in that part of the game. There is a spot for him somewhere.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#8 Caleb Herring – QB – 6’3/200

NORTH TEXAS

#8 Marcus Trice – DB – 5’8/193

Fourth year senior that started off at Oklahoma. He was a solid player without a true position for the Sooners, being moved all over the defensive backfield and even to WR for a little bit. He is mostly a S for North Texas and is a fun player to watch. He is brick house that can handle the physical side of the game. He explodes downhill and makes a violent impact on the running game. Trice also shows a lot of range as a cover man. He shows the ability to cover half the field as well as stick with receivers in man-based schemes. Trice will be fighting up an uphill battle because of his height and low level of competition. But keep in mind he played a great game against Georgia this year and has been coming up big for two years straight. I’m going to have him graded out as a top 150 overall guy.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#24 Brandon Byrd – RB – 5’10/223
#3 Breian Chancellor – WR – 5’9/186

WISCONSIN

#44 Chris Borland – LB – 5’11/246

One look at him prior to the game starting and I would say close to 90% of the public would state he had no shot at making an impact in the NFL. I think he is even shorter than his listed 5’11” with stubby arms and a lack of upper body strength. With that said, I’ve seen Borland more than enough to believe he will be a starting linebacker in the NFL, and a very good one to boot. He has out-produced expectations every season of his career, turning himself in to one of the most accomplished and well rounded linebackers in the nation. Borland is incredibly smart and decisive. He is constantly moving in the right direction, rarely caught out of position. He moves exceptionally well in pursuit, easily displaying true sideline-to-sideline range. He’s been a dominant blitzing linebacker because of his ability to time snap accounts and sneak under the pads of much taller, less agile blockers. Borland can be overwhelmed in traffic because of the size deficiency, but he is a guy that simply finds a way to get it done week in, week out. I’ll have him graded much higher than where I expect to see him selected. But even then, I can’t see him available after the 3rd or 4th round.

#4 Jared Abbrederis – WR – 6’2/190

It seems like Abbrederis has been around forever. I can remember watching Russell Wilson in 2011 throwing deep balls to Abbrederis, clearly looking like these two were above the level of every opponent they faced. I’m not sure how well he will test out in workouts, but he is an overachiever and I see that translating to the NFL. He is a reliable hands-catcher that rarely drops balls within his radius. He doesn’t have the top tier explosion, but he constantly runs himself open and can make things happen with the ball in his hands. The game he played against Ohio State’s Bradley Roby (whom some believe is a top 64 pick himself) was one of the more dominant one-on-one performances I saw all year. The lack of tools may hurt his grade when all is said and done, but he’ll be taken somewhere in the middle of the draft and could be an early contributor at the next level.

#20 James White – RB  5’10/195

Fourth year senior. White was the primary backup to Montee Ball for three seasons and split carries in 2013 with Melvin Gordon. He is a lesser prospect than both but something needs to be said for a back that has averaged more than 6 yards per carry for his career. He isn’t big and lacks the runaway speed, but White shows quick feet, agile hips, and easy vision. I question his ability to handle the physical part of the game. He doesn’t break a lot of tackles and has shown to be a non-factor as a blocker. White will get drafted late.

#79 Ryan Groy – LG – 6’5/320

Fifth year senior. Saw some spot duty early in his career before starting every game in 2012 and 2013. He is a guard, but has some experience playing left tackle. Groy’s greatest asset is his size and length. He can overwhelm defenders when his balance and mechanics are right. Groy is a solid run blocker because he can move forward quickly with power. As a pass blocker, he is slow out of his stance, slow to react, and leans forward too much. I think he has the tools to be a contributor but I wouldn’t spend a pick on him until day three. I project him as a backup.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#48 Jacob Pederson – TE – 6’5/240
#96 Beau Allen – DT – 6’3/325
#12 Dezmen Southward – S – 6’2/210

SOUTH CAROLINA

*#7 Jadeveon Clowney – DE – 6’6/274

No secrets or surprises here. Clowney has been destined for the top, or near the top of this draft class for years now. I firmly believe he would have been a first round pick after his freshman season had it been allowed. He has the tool set that comes around once every 5-6 years. He is the top defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers and will likely grade out above him when all is said and done. Clowney is the Calvin Johnson of defensive ends. The main red flag surrounding him has been hovering all year. His lack of hustle and conditioning have made his 2013 game tape look pedestrian for the most part. Even with that in mind, Clowney showed more than enough signs that he is still the most elite defensive talent that has come around in a long, long time. People need to stop attempting to be the black sheep when evaluating him. He is better than everyone. He isn’t a bad kid. I think he simply tried to protect himself from injury after watching what happened to Lattimore last season. He’ll be a dominant force from day one for whichever team selects him.

*#27 Victor Hampton – CB – 5’10/202

Third year junior that has already declared for the Draft. Hampton is a unique player that is incredibly strong and thick for the position. He is a little tight in the hips, but I think he can handle the speed and quickness of the NFL. He will need to shore up some technique because he is almost too physical, draping receivers down the field. Hampton brings a physical style that most teams want. I think he can be a quality nickel back and possibly even a starter down the road if he works at his craft. The talent is there, the skill set has potential. 2nd/3rd rounder.

*#99 Kelcy Quarles – DT – 6’4/298

Third year junior that has not yet declared, but his stock may be higher now than it ever will be. Quarles is a very nice prospect in his own right, but a lot of his production can be attributed to the presence of Clowney. The light came on for him towards the end of 2011, and he has shown signs every week of being a quality NFL starter. At 300 pounds, Quarles is a guy that can chase quarterbacks, and even some running backs from behind. Inside the trenches, he displays hand strength to control the engagement and the lower body power to create a new line of scrimmage. He can play a couple different roles inside, but I think teams looking for a pass rushing three-technique will have a high grade on him. He could even grade out as a 2nd rounder in a sub-par DT class.

#90 Chaz Sutton – DE – 6’5/263

Sutton looks like a player when you turn on the tape and see him prior to the action starting. Great height and length with a filled out frame and long arms. Once the game starts however, he looks pedestrian despite the majority of the opposing team’s attention on Clowney and Quarles. Too often was he overmatched by a single blocker. His run defense was especially poor because he can’t anchor. He is pushed where the blocker wants to push him. He has nice tools and can move in space, so I think there will be teams willing to gamble on him late in the draft.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#14 Connor Shaw – QB – 6’1/209
#67 Ronald Patrick – RG – 6’2/315
#15 Jimmy Legree – CB – 5’11/187

IOWA

#86 CJ Fiedorwicz – TE – 6’7/265

Fourth year senior. Took over the starting spot with 5 weeks to go in 2011 and hasn’t looked back since. Fiedorwicz is about as balanced as it gets in this draft class when it comes his attributes. He shows dominant ability against defensive linemen. He fires off the ball well and has a strong pair of hands and light feet. He carries 260+ pounds very comfortable. As a receiver, he is better than you would assume. He has reliable hands that can pluck the ball out of the air. Very good underneath route runner that can shield defenders from making a play on the ball. Underrated ball skills, can really be a weapon in the red zone. Fiedorwicz will most likely be a solid contributor at the next level but he won’t be a star. 3rd/4th rounder.

#19 BJ Lowery – CB – 5’11/193

Fourth year senior. At this time last year I spoke highly of Iowa CB Micah Hyde. He was graded out as a day three prospect by pretty much everyone. I loved what I saw on tape in 2012 and put him in to my top 45 overall. Since then, he has played in every game of the 2013 season for division-winning Packers. I see something similar going on here with Lowery. Maybe it has something to do with the system, I’m not sure. But I think Lowery might be one of the top 5-6 CBs in this class, and he will likely be available on day three. He has good length for the position. Very good at press coverage with a blend of a physical and easy moving style. I’ll watch a couple more tapes in the coming months, but this is a guy that will outplay a lot of CBs that are drafted ahead of him.

#20 Christian Kirksey – OLB – 6’2/233

Fourth year senior. Team captain known for incredible intangibles and leadership. Rangy linebacker that pursues well and consistently takes down the ball carriers. Kirksey is a little weak with his lower half and he will need to bulk up before he can be an every down guy in the NFL. However he has great athletic ability and is comfortable in coverage. He has made a lot of big plays over the past few years. I think some teams will see him as a developmental guy that can be a star on special teams and an extra pass defender early on. There is a high ceiling with him.

#31 Anthony Hithcens – OLB – 6’0/233

Fourth year senior. Led the team in tackles each of the past two years. Hitchens is undersized and it will hurt him at different points of the game. He easily gets engulfed by blockers who come straight at him. If he doesn’t get an early break towards the action, he can easily be ridden out of a play. With that said, he shows quick reaction and finds himself in the right spot at the right time consistently. Hitchens can pursue well and make plays sideline-to-sideline. His biggest struggle is coverage. He lacks awareness of whats going on around him and it really hurt the Iowa defense in games I watched. I’m not sure he can handle every down duty but I think he can be drafted for special teams/backup duty. Day three guy here.

#70 Brett Van Sloten – RT – 6’7/300

Fifth year senior. Tight end in high school that made the to move to OL when he arrived at Iowa. I can see the movement skills here. He has light feet and quick reaction. The issue is a lack of power though. A guy this big and this fast should be able to move people and he simply doesn’t. He has the frame for more weight and perhaps he can add the power game once he gets put in to an NFL weight training program. Practice squad type prospect with the upside of a solid starting RT. Day three prospect.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#44 James Morris – MLB – 6’1/240
#59 Connor Boffeli – LG – 6’5/295
#5 Tanner Miller – S – 6’1/207

LSU

*#3 Odell Beckham – WR – 6’0/190

Third year junior that hasn’t declared yet. I think Beckham is a legit first round talent with big time upside. He is more than a speed/quickness guy. He is incredibly strong and tough. It will be hard to find a 190 pounder that plays with the power and brute force of Beckham. He has the speed to get behind a secondary and the quick twitch/agile hips to get open underneath. Very dangerous with the ball in his hands that will get a lot of yards after the catch with his toughness and ability to miss contact from defenders. What stood out to me in 2013 was the improvement with his ball skills. He can make a lot of tough catches away from his body in traffic. Over the past three years, I’ve seen as much LSU as any school in the nation and I am impressed with how Beckham has improved from a great athlete to a great player. If he comes out he will be a top 20 overall guy on my board.

*#70 La’el Collins – LT – 6’5/315

Third year junior. Has not declared yet and I think he will return to school. But just in case, I wanted to get a few thoughts out on him. I think Collins has the upside to be the top OT in this class. The former guard made the move to LT this year and has absolutely shined. He holds 315 pounds with ease, minimal bad weight. He is a punishing straight ahead blocker that consistently creates a new line of scrimmage. He bends well and can lower his pad level against anyone when necessary. Collins will surprise you with his ability in space. While his footwork needs refining, he can be an immediate upgrade along several starting offensive lines right away. His experience inside only helps. If he comes out I will likely have him in the top 25 overall.

*#9 Ego Ferguson – DT – 6’2/309

Fourth year junior that hasn’t declared yet. Ferguson is an impressive player in my eyes, a far better prospect than his well known teammate Anthony Johnson. Ferguson is constantly fighting off blocks and making a difference against the run. He pursues well towards the sideline but he can also eat up the double team and anchor his position. He plays a similar style to Bennie Logan, currently of the Eagles. I like his ability with his hands the his consistent performance throughout an entire game. I don’t think Ferguson is a star, but he is a reliable player at a position that most teams are always looking to add to. Day two pick here.

*#80 Jarvis Landry – WR – 6’1/195

Another third year junior that hasn’t declared yet. Landry may not have the upside of some receivers in this class, but I am just as, if not more confident in saying he will be a productive player in the NFL in comparison to every other WR prospect. What stands out about him is his refined skill set. He is a pure hands catcher. He runs great routes. He comes back to the ball well. He times his leaps and lunges for the ball well. Everything he does is NFL-ready. He is pure toughness over the middle in traffic and tries to drive cornerbacks in to the ground when blocking to boot. Landry can be a reliable #2 at the next level, which has become more and more important in this era. Day 2 pick here that will out produce a few WRs taken in front of him.

*#33 Jeremy Hill – RB – 6’1/233

True sophomore but has been out of high school for three years, thus is eligible for the 2014 Draft. Several off the field issues with Hill and it will hamper his grade. As a running back, Hill is a downhill brick house with surprising speed in the open field. He is an angry runner that can take on a lot of contact before being brought to the ground. He’s been the top back for LSU, a team that always has an abundance of great college running backs. Hill is a 4th/5th rounder right now because of the issues off the field.

#8 Zach Mettenberger – QB – 6’5/235

Fourth year senior. Transferred to LSU prior to the 2012 season and had a disappointing first year, but came back strong in 2013. Mettenberger is an old school pocket passer with a strong arm that makes all the throws look easy. When it comes to throwing ability, he is right up there with the best QBs in this class. I’m not sold on his ability to start in the NFL, but I think he is worth a shot for teams that haven’t made a change to the zone-read offense. Mettenberger has had some of the best talent in the nation to work with at the skill positions. His rebound in 2013 can be partially attributed to that, but he made some big time throws in 2013 that will make you think he’s got a shot to be a good one.

#56 Anthony Johnson – DT – 6’3/294

Third year junior. Johnson hasn’t made a decision yet either, but he needs to go back to school. He has been a major disappointment since his arrival at LSU. The expectations were sky high and I can remember watching him as a freshman thinking he was already NFL caliber when it came to power and movement ability. However he has remained at the same level since the beginning. He fails to make an impact on the game, plain and simple. He has rare speed and quickness for the position but he doesn’t beat lone blockers. His technique is hit or miss. Just seems like he thinks his tool set is good enough to get him by. That doesn’t happen at defensive tackle in the NFL. If he comes out, someone may gamble on his athletic gifts on day 2 but I wouldn’t consider him until the 5th or 6th round.

#6 Craig Loston – S – 6’2/209

Fifth year senior. Physical, run defending safety that plays with angry intentions when playing downhill. Loston can make an impact on special teams and he could probably help defend the run right away. The problem with him is the fact that he is a major liability against the pass. He has such tight hips in coverage, failing to react in time to balls thrown in his direction. His movement skills are sub-par and in this era, that could be a major problem for his draft grade. Day three guy here.

#18 Lamin Barrow – MLB – 6’2/234

Fifth year senior. Barrow is another run defender that plays the inside gaps well. When he has a simple assignment, he can make a difference. The issues arise when he has to sit back, diagnose, and flow to the action. He doesn’t appear to be a quick thinker. If a blocker can reach him, its all but over for Barrow. He can’t shed blocks and his power doesn’t translate to that part of the game. He is an easy target for a lone blocker. There are a lot of technique-based issues with Barrow and he isn’t exactly a supremely gifted athlete either. Late rounder that fits best in a 3-4 ILB role.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#44 JC Copeland – FB – 6’1/270

Dec 312013
 
Share Button
Ka'Deem Carey, Arizona Wildcats (November 30, 2013)

Ka’Deem Carey – © USA TODAY Sports Images

December 31, 2013 Bowl Games: 2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

by BigBlueInteractive.com Contributor Sy’56

ARIZONA

*#25 Ka’Deem Carey – RB  5’10/198

Third year junior.  Carey is currently my top graded running back in this class if he declares, which most assume he will do.  He led the nation in rushing in 2012 (1,929 yards) while also breaking the school’s single season record.  He had another big year in 2013 despite being suspended for game one as a result of some trouble off the field during the offseason.  Those issues are considered minor and I don’t think it will affect his grade.  Carey is a statistical compiler in some ways because of how many carries he gets over the course of a season (averaging almost 30 per game).  Even with that in mind, I love his ability with the ball in his hands.  He is a tough, hard nosed runner that knows how to finish.  He has agile hips and light feet.  Very impressive after contact with good vision and instincts.  Carey is an established pass catcher and blocker to boot.  He’ll need to add some bulk to his frame but Carey is a rare every down horse with big play ability.  He’ll finish with a top 45 grad eon my board and has a good shot at being the first running back taken.

#5 Shaquille Richardson – CB – 6’1/186

Fifth year senior.  Richardson has a sketchy past that needs to be looked in to, but it seems he has matured.  Richardson is a height/length/speed guy that is becoming more and more popular in the NFL these days.  He gets his hands on a lot of passes.  He is a light-footed player with long speed but I question his ability to cover underneath.  Quickness has beat him time and time again in the 4 games I saw this year.  While I see the physical side to his game, he is a poor tackler and will often screw up his assignments.  He has some tools to work with though and I think a team will come after him in early day three.

#2 Marquis Flowers – OLB – 6’3/230

Fourth year senior.  Former safety that made the full time move to LB in 2012.  Flowers is a great athlete for the position that moves well in space.  He is a pursuit linebacker with coverage skills.  He has the short area explosion to make powerful hits and tackles.  He has come a long way in terms of taking on blocks, but he still has a lot of work to do.  Too often did I see him overwhelmed by a lone blocker at the second level.  He creates massive cutback lanes with his style of play and has shown to be a liability as much as an asset to their defense.  Flowers will impress with his workouts and coaches will want to work with him, but I don’t see him being taken before day three.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#33 Jake Fischer – MLB – 6’0/225
#98 Tevin Hood – DT – 6’0/302

BOSTON COLLEGE

#44 Andre Williams – RB – 6’0/227

Fourth year senior.  Williams was a nice power back his first three years at BC but broke out in a huge way this season.  He led the nation in rushing yards (2,102) while also setting school and ACC single season records.  While he did have a lot of carries, Williams is an impressive back that is more than impressive statistics.  At 6’0”, he can run with a low pad level, giving him maximum power behind every run.  He is thick, country-strong ball carrier that rarely goes down on initial contact.  He is a no-nonsense runner that works best in between the tackles with minimum lateral movement and cutting.  He won’t time well in workouts but Williams has a shot at being a day two pick.  Teams will love his potential as an inside/power runner.

#24 Kevin Pierre-Louis – OLB – 6’1/218

Fourth year senior that has started every game of his college career minus the games he missed with injuries.  He is a quality, rangy linebacker that plays bigger than his listed size  He has the strength and pop to take on blocks without giving ground.  Pierre-Louis works through traffic well and can factor against the inside run.  As a cover man, he shows instincts in zone coverage.  He shows nice flow to the action and makes quick breaks on the ball.  I think he can be a quality weak side guy at the next level down the road.  Day three pick that will stick somewhere.

#83 Alex Amidon – WR – 5’11/186

Fourth year senior.  Amidon has had a very productive career that has set a few school records for receptions and yards.  When I watch him, I fail to see a guy that will make a big difference in the NFL.  A receiver with such a slender frame needs to have elite speed and/or quickness, neither of which Amidon has.  He shows nice ball skills and NFL-ready routes, but I think the lack of talent is going to really hurt him at the next level.  He could be a solid 4th or 5th receiver down the road if he can find the right situation.

#77 Matt Patchan – LT – 6’6/305

Has been in college football since 2008.  Has had a very circuitous path to where he is now.  Started off at Florida as a DT, but made the move to OT early in his career.  Overall he started 8 games for the Gators but was in and out of the lineup because of injuries to his leg, shoulder, and pectoral.  Patchan is an under the radar prospect that I think has some starting potential at the next level.  He has a nice frame with great length and good enough flexibility.  His heavy hands give him a nice advantage at the point of attack.  I’m not sure he has the feet and balance to play the left side.  He was consistently late on reacting to blitzes and stunts in the games I saw.  All in all, Patchan put together a healthy year in 2013 and we got to see that he is capable of fulfilling his potential that many used to think was very high.  He’ll be a late day three guy worth taking a chance on.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#91 Kasim Edebali – DE – 6’3/246
#11 Chase Rettig – QB – 6’3/206
#49 Steele Divitto – ILB – 6’3/238
#96 Kaleb Ramsey – DT – 6’2/285

VIRGINIA TECH

#17 Kyle Fuller – CB – 6’0/189

Fourth year senior with a lot of experience and production.  Considered one of the hardest workers on the team, winning several offseason team awards.  Fuller is one of my favorite players in the draft.  He does it all from the cornerback position and he really doesn’t have a glaring weakness to his game.  He has the body control in coverage with superb ball skills.  He is one of the few corners that shows an all out effort when tackling on running backs downhill.  He has the short area burst and long speed to stick with receivers all over the field.  Fuller tore a muscle in his groin, forcing him to miss 5 games but it looks like he will be ready for the bowl game.  Despite playing in just 7 games, he was still voted 1st Team All ACC by the coaches.  He may grade out as one of the top 3 CBs in this draft on my sheet.

*#34 Kyshoen Garrett – S – 5’11/198

Third year junior that has not declared, but did file paperwork to the advisory board.  Garrett plays a SS-type role.  He is an effective run defender that tackles well.  He has the speed to play in deep coverage as well, showing wide lateral range.  Overall, he isn’t a great pass defender though. He doesn’t show the anticipation and quick breaks on the ball to be considered an asset.  I think he needs to return for his senior year because he will grade out as a 3rd-5th rounder at best.

#99 James Gayle – DE – 6’4/255

Fifth year senior.  Best known for his elite workout numbers across the board.  Fiery player that has not loved up to his strength/speed numbers.  Gayle shows average explosion out of his stance and average quickness when trying to use moves to reach the quarterback.  He has such a think lower half and I don’t think he has the power to handle the 4-3 DE role.  With that said, he did improve as the 2013 season progressed.  If he continues to progress, the tools are there to be a solid DE or OLB.  I see him as a 4th/5th rounder.

#98 Derek Hopkins – DT – 6’0/311

Fourth year senior, three year starter.  Hopkins is a bit undersized but I really like his game.  I think he can stick somewhere at the next level.  He has strong hands, quick feet, and a very high on-field-IQ.  He anchors against the double teams well and plays much heavier than what he is listed at.  He is more than a space eater though.  Hopkins can make plays between the tackles, showing a nice burst to the ball.  Coaches have always thought there was some big time talent here and I think he is starting to blossom.  Someone will take him day three and get a great value.

#3 Logan Thomas – QB – 6’6/254

Fifth year senior.  Thomas came to Virginia Tech as a TE/WR recruit, but made the move to QB full time in 2011 (he was a high school QB as well).  He was considered to be a potential first round pick after an impressive 2011.  Scouts have always loved his combination of size, speed, and throwing ability.  The tools are there, nobody can argue that.  However Thomas has failed to take the next step and if anything, he has gone backwards since 2011.  Thomas fails to make quick reads and decisions.  He has had stretches where his accuracy was woefully awful.  Even with all the failure he has had, I think someone will take a chance on him.  He has the tools and worst case scenario is he gets moved back to TE.  He does have the athletic ability to make a move.  Day three prospect here.

#1 Antone Exum – CB – 6’1/224

Fifth year senior.  I’m not sure if Exum will play because of a serious ankle injury.  But he is a guy that teams will look to steal late in the draft with the hope he will bounce back from his injuries.  He was a good player for their defense in 2011 and 2012.  He was all over the defensive backfield, playing S, CB, and Rover.  At his size, he can play in the box and make an impact as a downhill run defender.  He is very strong, very powerful.  While he doesn’t have the ideal hip movement when covering receivers in space, he can still factor in with his ability to press them at the line.  Exum played in just 3 games this year because of that ankle injury and long recovery from a torn ACL that occurred while playing basketball in the offseason.  When watching his 2012 tape, there is a lot that jumps out at you.  Day three guy that could pay enormous dividends in the right scheme.

#42 JR Collins – DE – 6’2/252

Fifth year senior.  Collins is a versatile edge player that can be moved around to exploit matchup problems.  He is a strong player with good short area quickness.  He took a step back in 2012 and there were some rumblings about a poor work ethic and dedication.  He turned it around last offseason and coaches raved about his improvement with the little things.  Collins is a sleeper prospect that may be undervalued as a result of average game tapes in 2012.  Late day three guy.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#24 Tariq Edwards – OLB – 6’2/234
#18 DJ Coles – WR – 6’3/234
#58 Jack Tyler – MLB – 6’0/234
#98 Derek Hopkins – DT – 6’0/312

UCLA

#11 Anthony Barr – OLB – 6’4/245

Fourth year senior that has an interesting story.  Barr was a RB/FB for the first two years of his career.  He wasn’t used a lot and the coaching staff wanted to get his athleticism on the field, moving him to LB prior to the 2012 season.  He flourished right away and has put himself in to round 1 discussion, possibly even top 10 overall.  Barr has elite closing ability.  He can explode downhill with the best of them with powerful strides and agile hips.  He has excellent reaction skills with the necessary suddenness to his game.  Barr is an awful pass defender, however.  I think he will need to play the rush linebacker position but I don’t think it will hurt his grade too much.  He is only in year two at this position, this his upside could be in the elite area.  Barr has the tools and the skills to be a demon behind the line of scrimmage.  In a weak edge rushing class, he could be a top 10 pick.

*#17 Brett Hundley – QB – 6’3/223

Third year junior with two seasons of experience.  Hundley has not yet declared for the draft, and many think he will return.  I think he needs to, as there are too many glaring weaknesses to his game that result from simple inexperience.  Hundley has all the physical tools that teams look for.  He is a strong-armed, thick, well put together athlete with a nice bend of movement and throwing ability.  Hundley lacks the presence within the pocket and tries too hard to make plays when his mechanics aren’t lined up.  Hundley was often late to react to the defense in 2013.  His issues are correctable though and he could be a top 10 pick in 2015.  Right now, he might be a 2nd/3rd round guy.

*#56 Xavier Su’a-Filo – LG – 6’3/304

23 year old junior that started at LT his freshman season in 2009.  Then took off two years for a Mormon mission, returning in 2012 to play LG.  He has bounced back and forth between G and OT, but his NFL future likely resides inside.  Su’a-Filo is a little awkward when it comes to his technique.  He plays too high and has issues with weight distribution and hand work.  He doesn’t play low enough to anchor his position in to the ground, often getting pushed back in to the pocket.  He is, however,  a superb athlete in space that can pull out and lead block with the best of them.  I think he is a solid prospect for a zone blocking scheme.  As a pass blocker, he really struggles with the speed rushers that play low.  He could benefit from another year but his age may force him to leave early, especially if he gets a nice grade from the advisory board.  Right now, I see him as a 3rd/4th round pick.

#99 Cassius Marsh – DE – 6’4/260

Fourth year senior.  Marsh has steadily progressed throughout his career.  He has a nice frame for the 4-3 DE position and can easily add 10-15 pounds of good weight over time.  He has the length needed to effectively play with his hands.  Marsh is a physical player that plays angry.  He shows quick movement skills out of his stance and is equally effective against the run and pass.  I’m not sure he has starting potential at the next level, but he can be a quality backup.  4th-6th rounder here.

#1 Shaquelle Evans – WR – 6’1/204

Fifth year senior that started off at Notre Dame but transferred after just one season.  Evans has led UCLA in receptions and receiving yards each of the past two seasons.  He isn’t an overly impressive athlete, nor does he have an special size attributes.  Evans is a reliable pass catcher that runs good routes and can get himself open underneath.  He is a savvy receiver that can fool a defensive back and set them up throughout the game.  He doesn’t jump off the screen but I think some teams will be attracted to his NFL-ready skill set.  Backup-type in the NFL that can be taken in rounds 5-6.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#29 Jordan Zumwalt – ILB – 6’3/235
#40 Keenan Graham – OLB – 6’1/255
#98 Seali’I Epenesa – DT- 6’1/310

MISSISSIPPI STATE

#61 Gabe Jackson – LG – 6’4/335

Fifth year senior.  Has been the starting LG since week one of his freshman year.  Jackson is a very well rounded guard that will do well in the NFL.  He is a hard guy to move backwards.  Jackson is more than a straight ahead mauler.  He shows good technique as a pass blocker and is pulled laterally often.  I like Jackson, but not as much as most out there do.  He isn’t as powerful as you would think when looking at him.  Linebackers get off his blocks easily in space.  Even though he shows good drive and strong hands, he doesn’t sustain his position and/or blocks very well.  I think he will be drafted somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round.  He can be a solid but unspectacular starter at the next level.

#1 Nickoe Whitley – S – 6’1/208

Fifth year senior, four year starter.  Whitley has an outstanding tool set and I like his aggressive style.  He has had a couple injuries slow him down (Knee, Achilles) though.  Whitley has a lot of experience as a single high safety as well as an extra linebacker in the box.  He brings a lot of versatility to the table.  I want to see some more of him in the coming months because I think there may be some hidden talent here.  He may not be far off from the top safeties in this class.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#27 LaDarius Perkins – RB – 5’9/195
#11 Deontae Skinner – OLB – 6’2/250

DUKE

#6 Ross Cockrell – CB – 6’0/190

Fourth year senior, four year starter.  Cockrell has a wiry frame and plays with an aggressive style.  He isn’t afraid to mix it up with blockers and shows the willingness to tackle a downhill running back.  He doesn’t have a big power game, however.  Cockrell also struggles to turn and run downfield.  He doesn’t have the movement skills to factor as a man defender.  I can see him being a solid zone coverage cornerback.  He sees the field well and can anticipate routes.  He is a 4th/5th rounder.

#84 Kenny Anunike – DE – 6’5/260

Sixth year senior.  Scouts like the natural tools here.  He has the size, length, and frame to develop in to a big 4-3 DE.  The main issue with Anunike has been his left knee.  He has had four surgeries on it since 2008.  He did play a full season in 2013 but that history with his knee will hurt his grade a significant amount.  Anunike is a fun player to watch.  His motor is always on and he shows relentless pursuit every play.  He has average get off and struggles to beat blockers with moves though.  Against the offensive tackles that are NFL bound, he appeared to be overmatched.  Anunike has the potential to develop physically over the next few years if that knee remains intact.  If he does so, I think there is a shot he can be an every down player in the NFL.

Potential UDFA to Look For:

#92 Justin Foxx – DE – 6’3/255

TEXAS A&M

#75 Jake Matthews – LT – 6’5/305

Fourth year senior.  Played RT until this past season.  Widely considered to be the top OT in this class, a feat in itself.  Son of former NFL great Bruce Matthews, Jake is a sure bet to succeed at the next level.  He has top grades when it comes to power, quickness, balance, agility, and technique.  His experience on both sides will help him early on if he enters a situation where the team that takes him already has an established left tackle.  Matthews will be a top 5 pick.

*#2 Johnny Manziel – QB – 6’0/210

Third year sophomore.  Has not yet declared but many expect he will.  Manziel is no secret to anyone.  He has a world of talent and may be the most unique QB prospect we’ve seen in recent memory.  Hate him or love him for the off the field issues, Manziel is a player.  It is hard to find a more competitive signal caller than Manziel.  It equally helps and hurts him as a player.  On tape, he has the arm to play in the NFL.  He doesn’t have a cannon, but it’s strong enough to make NFL throws.  He can fit the ball in to tight spaces and makes the back shoulder pass look easy.  He is a magician with his feet.  Very good at avoiding pressure and creating big plays with his scrambling ability.  Do I think he is worth a first round pick?  It all comes down to his maturity and work ethic.  His antics won’t work in the NFL.  His style of play will need to change a bit as well.  QBs that run first, pass second simply don’t last.  His mechanics are enough to make a QB coach throw up.  I think Manziel has the swagger/confidence to win games though.  He needs to grow up, but which of us didn’t say the same when we were in college ourselves?  His path to the draft will be incredibly fun to watch.

*#13 Mike Evans – WR – 6’5/225

Third year sophomore that many expect to declare for the draft.  1st Team All American and record setting receiver has been Manziel’s go to guy over the past two seasons.  Evans is an asset within any offense because he doesn’t need to be open when a QB throws him the ball.  He has great ball skills with a huge catching radius.  He is physical and tough, showing the ability to completely dominate smaller cornerbacks.  His size and style of play creates matchup problems for opposing defenses.  Evans doesn’t have elite speed nor does he have the quick twitch-suddenness to his game.  I was a little let down in his performance against LSU this season.  The physical corners really took him out of the game.  He’ll see a lot of that in the NFL.  Evans will need to work on the little nuances to the position if he is going to succeed much like Vincent Jackson has done since being drafted.  Does he have that drive and dedication?  That’s the biggest question that needs answering.  Boom or bust pick here that can be taken in the top 15.

#70 Cedric Ogbuehi – RT – 6’5/300

Fourth year junior.  Currently playing RT but played RG in 2012.  Ogbuehi caught my eye in early September and I stated back then that he was a 1st round caliber player.  He has said he will return for his senior season but a friend of mine has recently found out he is now 50/50.  Ogbuehi has enormous upside.  Athletically, he is better than both Matthews and Luke Joeckel.  He shows proper technique and the position versatility will only help.  The catch here is Ogbuehi could return to school, play a dominant left tackle in 2014, and put himself in to the #1 overall pick discussion for the 2015 Draft.  As of right now we are talking about a 2nd round type guy in this loaded OT class.

#1 Ben Malena – RB – 5’9/195

Fourth year senior.  Malena is a small but quick and elusive back that can make things happen in space.  He doesn’t have elite speed but his ability to change direction and explode can be tough for a defense to handle.  He shows good hands and has some return skills that teams will look for late in the draft.  Malena has a good shot at being drafted late.

Potential UDFAs to Look For:

#11 Derel Walker – WR – 6’2/185
#81 Nehemiah Hicks – TE – 6’4/255
#8 Steven Jenkins – OLB – 6’2/220
#15 Travis Labhart – WR – 5’9/182