NFL Draft

Top 10 interior offensive linemen in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Finishing up our breakdowns of the best offensive linemen in the draft, after going through the tackles last week, we’ll now shift our focus to the guys in-between those, as always grouping the guards and centers together.

I feel like this year we actually don’t have a lot of prospects with true flexibility between the two spots and many of them rather have experience at tackle and even played there for the majority of their collegiate careers. To me there’s a 1A and 1B at the top of the class, with a number two/three very closely behind them. To me they’re all worthy of being picked in the top 20-25 picks, even if positional value sticklers may disagree. After those there’s a significant drop-off. However, even more impressive to me is the group of second-to-fourth round evaluations I have, particularly at center. Altogether I believe there are 13-14 names among the IOL, who have a legitimate case to go in the top-100, even though I’m sure that depth will push them further down.

Since there are varying skill-sets and offenses these players have played in, I will try to specify where these guys fit most cleanly at, in regards to schemes and exact spots, after outlining the strengths and weaknesses of every prospects. There’s so many players who are of similar quality, that you will find a lot variety in the way people stack them up depending on what exactly they value and even the final player you can find in my “the next names” is somebody I could see be a long-term starter.

 

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Finishing up our breakdowns of the best offensive linemen in the draft, after going through the tackles last week, we’ll now shift our focus to the guys in-between those, as always grouping the guards and centers together.

I feel like this year we actually don’t have a lot of prospects with true flexibility between the two spots and many of them rather have experience at tackle and even played there for the majority of their collegiate careers. To me there’s a 1A and 1B at the top of the class, with a number two/three very closely behind them. To me they’re all worthy of being picked in the top 20-25 picks, even if positional value sticklers may disagree. After those there’s a significant drop-off. However, even more impressive to me is the group of second-to-fourth round evaluations I have, particularly at center. Altogether I believe there are 13-14 names among the IOL, who have a legitimate case to go in the top-100, even though I’m sure that depth will push them further down.

Since there are varying skill-sets and offenses these players have played in, I will try to specify where these guys fit most cleanly at, in regards to schemes and exact spots, after outlining the strengths and weaknesses of every prospects. There’s so many players who are of similar quality, that you will find a lot variety in the way people stack them up depending on what exactly they value and even the final player you can find in my “the next names” is somebody I could see be a long-term starter.

 

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NFL Draft

Top 10 edge defenders in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Completing our third week of positional draft rankings, we go from offensive tackles to the guys trying beat them around the edge. With how much more hybrid NFL defenses continue to become, the distinction between 3-4 outside linebackers and defensive ends in even fronts isn’t as important, but if there’s specific scheme fits that I believe make sense, I will mention them here.

This has been a heavily discussed group, because of how strong the top of the class is, with different rankings in the top-six in particular. Yet, while I have the same names as a lot of other analysts, my order looks slightly different I would say and past that point, I think I have very different opinions to a lot of the general media outlets/big boards.

Similar to the OTs earlier in the week, there are some players, who are often listed as defensive ends, but to me qualify as interior D-linemen. Those include DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M), Logan Hall (Houston), Zachary Carter (Florida) and Isaiah Thomas (Oklahoma), among others.

Once again, this evaluation does not account for injuries or off-the-field stuff, simply because I don’t have all the information and it’s hard to measure those things anyway. So on this list, that is prevalent, because we obviously saw David Ojabo tear his Achilles at Michigan’s pro day recently.

 


 

Kayvon Thibodeaux

 

1. Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon

6’5”, 250 pounds; RS SO

The number two overall recruit in the country in 2019, Thibodeaux looked like a future number one overall pick right away as a freshman, recording 14 tackles for loss, nine sacks and three passes batted down. His second season was so-so, considering how late the Pac-12 joined the party and that it took him a while to get going, but Thibs was a nightmare in the eye of USC quarterback Kedon Slovis and beat up top-15 pick Alijah Vera-Tucker pretty good in the process in the conference championship game. This past year, he was limited a little bit by a sprained ankle, but he was still a problem to deal with when on the field, making him a first-team All-American, recording 12 TFLs, seven sacks and a couple of forced fumbles.

While he has continued to fill out his frame to some degree, I think Thibodeaux still looks and moves more like an oversized wide receiver. Still, he has the raw power to make offensive linemen look small as they collide on run plays. You see Thibodeaux truly explode through the chest of a lot of blockers, lift from the bottom in order to bend them backwards and extend his arms, to find the ball. Then he has no issues shedding those blocks and closing in on the ball, if it comes nearby. He has the change-or-direction skills and short-area burst to legitimately play both the quarterback and the option-man on zone reads and speed option. And he possesses the agility in condensed spaces to slip underneath kick-out blocks. You see Thibs absolutely blow up some run plays, where he’s lined up over the tight-end and crashes through the C-gap. And whether it’s having somebody crack back on him or banging into a pulling lineman, KT has this crazy balance to barely seem affected by it. Oregon had him slant inside at times as well, where he was able to stand up guards and not allow any flow to the front-side one zone runs. From the backside, he can shuffle along initially and then showcases the quick acceleration to chase down fast ball-carriers.

All the way back in his freshman season, Thibodeaux had a snap late against Utah in that Pac-12 title game, where the right tackle instantly flipped his hips and still barely touched the talented edge rusher because of his ridiculous speed off the edge. That was the day he announced himself to the rest of the country, with 2.5 sacks and blocked a punt, despite playing limited snaps. KT’s first step is pretty much in a class of his own. He can make tackles look like they’re leaning over a table, with the angles he can turn the corner on and how quickly he gets to their outside hip, while packing a strong rip, to create a shorter angle to the QB. Plus, then he brings some serious force when he buries those hands into the blocker and he can put them on their behind. He did so a couple of times in the 2020 conference championship against USC, when he put several licks on quarterback Kedon Slovis and was a big factor in forcing him to throw three interceptions. His stutter-bull could become jarring. Thibodeaux also has one of the deadliest up-and-under moves I’ve seen from a college prospect in his bag, thanks to the way he can stress the outside initially. This guy is a problem to deal with on any types of games up front, where he has that ability to kind of slither through the O-line and then the punch power to work through contact, as somebody does slide in front of him. While he may not win cleanly all the time as a pass-rusher, what I appreciate about him is that he consistently adjusts, to take the direct path to the quarterback, and how shockingly fast he gets there once he sees an angle for himself. And you see it on a few snaps, where he’s chasing the passer, who decides to redirect and it almost looks like a workout drill, where he sticks his foot in the ground and completely changes direction. I saw Thibodeaux get cut at the line and still bear-crawl his way to the quarterback without losing a ton of time. He lined up at three-technique on rush downs a lot more last season, where his quickness was too much to handle for guards and then he could push through the inside shoulder to open that lane for himself. Along with his seven lacks last year, he had 41 additional pressures on 290 pass-blocking snaps.

While Thibodeaux can create pretty direct angles towards the quarterback by tilting around the corner, he doesn’t necessarily have great bend to actively flatten at the top of his rush. At this point he is engaging offensive linemen too straight-up instead of stressing the edge and he should still be more cognizant of building up a pass-rush plan altogether. He doesn’t feature a very diverse set of rush maneuvers at this point, often being content with running into blockers and trying to drive them backwards. Thibodeaux’s arms barely measure in above the 33-inch mark and he’s on the smaller side for edge defenders altogether. In the run game, he gets overly focused on just physically overwhelming blockers, rather than defending the scheme and seeing the ball throughout. Plus, he is too undisciplined as a contain defender, wanting to peak and often shoot inside, which allows the back to work around him on some occasions. And while it may be overstated, he doesn’t chase the ball with relentless motor necessarily.

I get why a lot of people would prefer Hutchinson as an immediate impact-starter and Thibodeaux still has a long way to go technically to become a truly dominant player, but for me the high-end talent I saw in number five for Oregon was just on a different level. To me, all the talk about KT being focused on his brand and being overly confident, is absolutely ridiculous – even though I didn’t love how he handled skipping the on-field workout at the combine and his weird reasoning. For the people saying he took a step back last year, not only was the ankle bothering him, but just go back to the Cal game, where he created 11 pressures in the second half alone (as he was coming off a target penalty the week prior), or look at what he did to those UCLA tackles. In terms of the type of player you should expect, while the size would suggest a Von Miller type coming out of college, to me he presents more of a Jadeveon Clowney-type profile. Thibodeaux had stretches of dominance in college already and he’s still so far from actually reaching his potential, that his physical gifts provide him with.

 

 

Aidan Hutchinson

 

2. Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan

6’6”, 270 pounds; SR

Nicknamed “Mr. Michigan”, this former four-star recruit barely got to see the field as a rotational player his first year at Ann Arbor, due to having Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich in front of him. When he took over as a starter, Hutchinson put up a very high tackle total in 2019 with 69 of those, which 10 of them went for a loss and he recorded 3.5 sacks. After just two games of his junior season, he broke his leg and missed the rest of the year. He came back in year four and turned himself into a different beast, showing out big-time on a weekly basis, which made him a unanimous first-team All-American and a Heisman finalist, having racked up 62 total tackles, 16.5 of those for loss, 14 sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes batted down.

While his production as a pass-rusher is what earned Hutchinson most of the attention he received this past season, he may actually be a better run-defender. He consistently was able to attack the chest of blockers with his hands and set a physical edge, to where tackles were forced to take a couple of steps backwards at the point of attack. Hutchinson can overwhelm tight-ends when soloed up against them and can dislodge them in the run-game, especially when the back tries to cut a run back his way or tries to press front-side, while keeping vision on the backfield. He doesn’t shy away from taking on pulling guards head-on and creating chaos in the backfield either. His pursuit as the unblocked backside defensive end is so great, that he quickly takes stuff off the play-sheet, after the offense sees him blow those up. Even if Hutchinson isn’t directly at the point of attack, he can make an impact by crashing the inside gap, with well-timed hand-swipes, or squeeze his man inside to minimize the size of the B-gap. He displays outstanding effort, chasing after the ball until the echo of the whistle, and he shows uncommon overall awareness for a defensive lineman, like clueing a potential screen alert for the offense by pre-snap alignments or calling out pulling guards on multiple occasions before the play starts (especially in the Indiana game).

Hutchinson has tremendous snap anticipation and advanced hand-fighting skills. Two of his go-to maneuvers are the scissors or swim move, where working from wide alignment on most passing down, he can bait the hands of the tackle by taking a direct angle initially and then widening his path to get around the guy. While he may not have the longest arms, you saw him follow up outside rush moves more and more with a rip-through to actually clear the reach of blockers, when they were able to still stay engaged with him to some degree. Even from a pretty high two-point stance, Hutchinson can create a lot of power to drive tackles backwards once he’s set them up with his upfield burst earlier. He routinely put a potential first-round left tackle next year in Washington’s Jaxson Kirkland on his heels that way. There may be more dynamic athletes at the position, but one thing that you see routinely on tape with the former Wolverine is the balance issues he causes for blockers and that he catches them “on the wrong foot”. That was already apparent against Bucs’ first-round pick Tristan Wirfs all the way back in their 2019 matchup. At the same time, Hutchinson has the quick twitch to cross-face blockers and get through the inside lane cleanly, when it opens up for him, quickly recognizing when tackles overset him. In particular, he’s been highly effective with presenting a quick stutter and then crashing through the inside shoulder of tackles. He was able to beat the Ohio State tackles on several occasions in their matchup this past season. A large portion of Hutchinson’s production as a pass-rusher came in second halves, due to his ability to decipher but also set up blockers. He recorded 60(!) extra pressures along with his 14 sacks, which were more than any other player in the draft.

While Hutchinson anticipates the snap well, he has a bad tendency of adding a false step that with that back-foot, in order to push off with a slight kick-back. He doesn’t have the elite burst or flexibility to win cleanly around the edge I would say, And as wll as that scissors-swipe works for him, tackles who quick-set him or just get their hands inside his chest first give him trouble, because he doesn’t have the length (only 32.5-inch arms) to disengage from blocks at times. Plus, while the speed-to-power conversion is impressive, I’m not sure if he can actually straight-up bull-rush NFL tackles. Going back to 2020 Citrust Bowl, Hutchinson’ clearly met his with those two great Alabama OTs and then in his final college game – the Orange Bowl – Georgia’s tackles were able to make him far less effective, neutralizing inside moves on several occasions and being able to anchor down against the bull-rush. Hutch showed me a different side to him last year and he has great lateral agility, but I don’t at him as an athletic phenom, like most non-QB first overall picks.

Some people may say it’s a bit of a lazy comparison, but Aidan to me even looks like one of the Bosa brother in that number 97 jersey. In terms of the hand swipes and strong anchor in the run game, they are very much alike, but they also share a lack of arm length and the bend is more reminiscent of Joey. Hutchinson’s 4.74 in the 40 may actually be slightly below-average for edge defenders this year at the combine, but he did lead the group in both the three-cone and 20-yard shuttle. I may not have him at number one, like almost every ranking these days it seems like, but I still like the players a lot. Hutch plays with good motor and has already shown plenty of alignment flexibility, as the Wolverines move him inside quite a bit on passing downs, even letting him work one-on-one against centers at times. Looking back at the ’21 season, he seemingly got better every single week and will forever keep a spot in the heart of fans of the Maize and Blue, when he helped them finally defeat Ohio State in the “The Game”, racking up three sacks, to earn the school’s all-time record for a season.

 

 

Jermaine Johnson

 

3. Jermaine Johnson II, Florida State

6’4”, 260 pounds; RS SR

The number one overall JUCO recruit in 2019, Johnson ransferred over from Georgia during the 2021 offseason, transitioning from a rotational player, that showed some flashes (five sacks in seven games of 2020), into an every-down impact player. He turned himself into a second-team All-American selection, thanks to 17.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, a couple of forced fumbles and PBUs each, along with a scoop-and-score.

There’s some real jolt in those hands to rock the pads of blockers backwards and set a hard edge in the run game with Johnson. He keeps vision through the block, taking advantage of the “one arm being longer two” principle and doesn’t prematurely try to slip guys. Yet, then he’s sudden with his ability to disengage and meet ball-carriers as they try to cross the line of scrimmage. You see tight-ends really kick those feet into the turf with high frequency trying to move Johnson off the spot, but he keeps them locked out and then has the lateral movement skills to wrap up the back, as he tries to go slice up the gap to either side of them. When guys do overset him on down-blocks, Johnson has the short-agility and flexibility to step around and into the B-gap, while reducing the near-shoulder, to completely kill the frontside, unless the ball-carrier decides to bubble all the way around. He puts good discipline on display, to stay home on the backside of bootlegs and against reverses. Then he displays freaky closing burst to run down ball-carriers to the sideline and he’s someone you can’t leave unblocked on fly sweeps. Overall, he’s very natural with his hand usage and he gives you 100 percent every plays, despite averaging 61(!) snaps a contest last season, basically never coming off the field.

Johnson is at his best as a pass-rusher when he can stress with his burst and then transition to the long-arm, where he can put blockers on skates at times. Overall, speed-to-power is his go-to move and when he hits the outside pec of the tackle the right way, he can significantly shorten the arc. He had one play rushing off the left side against Miami last season, where he literally made the right tackle do a full 360-degree spin before getting a strip-sack himself. Off that, he packs a nice scissors move where he initially takes a direct angle up the middle of blockers and then almost euro-steps back to the outside, paired with the swipe-action to swat away the hands of the opponent. If he continues to work on those hesitation moves, combined with the pop in his hands, he could create major issues for tackles. And he has the mobility in his hips and ankles to flatten at the top of the rush that way. Johnson routinely crowds passing lanes by getting his arms up and when he’s closing in on the quarterback with those branches in the air, you see some real discomfort by the passer trying to get the ball over/around him. His effort as a pass-rusher is also highly impressive, as he overruns the QB at times or his rush stalls, but he tracks down that guy anyway as the scramble start. Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Western Michigan’s Ali Fayad are the only players in this draft, who recorded more than Johnson’s 12 sacks this past season, plus he had 32 additional pressures in 2021. In early February, he went down to the Senior and proceeded to whoop ass for two straight days, basically winning every single rep in one-on-one’s in decisive fashion and in a variety of ways, where his combination of length, power, speed and technique were just too much for opponents.

The first question with Johnson is why it never worked out for him Georgia with those kinds of physical tools, as talented as that Bulldog may have been. In general, he is often a tad bit late off the ball. The timing and placement of his downward chops is off by quite a bit on occasion, which doesn’t allow him to actually clear the hips of blockers and flatten his rush. He utilizes the outside spin move on too many occasions, where it’s now almost impossible to create an angle towards the passer anymore. I don’t believe Johnson has the flexibility to truly bend underneath the reach of blockers consistently and he gets too predictable with setting up his inside moves. And overall, he needs to learn how to fluidly transition into a secondary move, where he gets into too many stalemates, even though he does continue to chase, but just not getting to the quarterback at the top of his drop. At times I would also like him to just not get hung up with tight-ends sealing his on the backside of boots for example.

Johnson has had an OUTSTANDING pre-draft process. What he did down in Mobile was so damn impressive, that his agent probably called him up and told him to shut it down after those first two practices. Then he followed that up by running a 4.58 in the 40 and had a 10’5” broad jump at the combine, weighing in at 258 pounds. His burst out of his stance and ability to take advantage of tackles having to respect his speed could end up with a lot of guys getting driven into their quarterback’s lap, while his condor-like 83-inch wingspan offers a lot of room for error, and he sets a very physical edge in the run game. He will have to continue working on his craft and develop a reliable second move as a pass-rusher, but there are no physical limitations to really speak of.

 

 

Travon Walker

 

4. Travon Walker, Georgia

6’5”, 275 pounds; JR

A five-star recruit in 2019 (number three defensive tackle), Walker was a rotational player for that loaded Bulldog defenses the first two years (5.5 TFLs and 3.5 sacks combined). He finally did step into a more prominent role this past season, when he put up 33 total tackles, 7.5 of those for loss, six sacks and two passes batted down, ending the season with a national championship.

This guy has lined up anywhere from one- to seven-technique at UGA and transformed his body depending on where they needed him to play. He may be one of the very few players actually capable of playing anywhere across the front even if he doesn’t know what exactly to do yet. If you tag him as an edge defender, I’m not sure if there’s a stronger guy in this class. Walker comes out of his stance with his hands ready to strike and rock the pads of blockers backwards, while having those long arms to keep guys away from his chest. You see him at times get combo-ed on the front-side with the tight-end and he’s not moving off the spot whatsoever. When he’s sealed off on the backside, Walker can just drive the tackle behind the center at times, to create chaos in the backfield. Having him matched up with tight-ends will likely end with those guys getting rag-dolled or Walker flat-out crashing through the inside shoulder and chasing the play down. He can redirect without really any wasted steps and when he chases the ball, he always moves faster than it looks like he does. In particular as he shuffles laterally initially and then just takes off to chase things down as an unblocked man. And Walker is a strong tackler, who can stop momentum and pull ball-carriers backwards. A play that isn’t talked about enough from Natty was when Alabama threw one of their receivers a shallow crosser, who broke the first tackle and looked like he may out-angle the safety for six, but Walker came from being tangled up in the middle to chasing the ball down 20 yards downfield at the numbers.

Walker operated quite a bit out of a four-point stance on all three downs. He packs a mean long-arm maneuver, which you see some blockers brace themselves for at times. Plus, then he can pull very large men off himself, once they start leaning into him, like they’re 200 pounds. He has the flexibility to contort his body on wider angles and make it tough to cut off his path, as linemen have to switch onto him on twists and stuff like that. What I like about Walker as a pass-rusher is that if he gets close, but there’s still a blocker in his way or the guard has slid over, he doesn’t try to find a different path anymore, but just powers through and takes away the quarterback’s space to step up. And as he wins on an inside move, he can still compress the pocket, even when the guard slides over to help out. Walker’s production as a pass-rusher was limited by having zo slant inside and open a lane for one of his teammates and not being put in wide alignments, to create more favorable angles. Still, you see snaps on tape where he lines up at one-technique and loop all the way around the tackle and reach the passer at the climax of the drop. Even as the set-up man on twists, he can power through the reach of blockers, to get home. On a few obvious passing situations, he times up the snap perfectly, to explode like a fire-ball. Walker was put over guards quite a bit on longer downs last year, where the initial twitch can give those opponents issues. Altogether, he had nine more QB hits and 20 hurries, to go with his six sacks. And he has plenty of experience dropping into the hook area, especially on the field side, and taking away the number three at times when stemming down the seams – although I wouldn’t say he looks super-comfortable in space necessarily yet.

However, too often Walker is the last guy out of his stance for the Georgia D-line. He simply doesn’t have much of a plan as a pass-rusher at this point and just bangs into bodies on a lot of occasions – particularly on the interior – and it’s not like he has some secondary moves to win anyway. When it’s all coming together, it can be beautiful, but Walker’s upper and lower half aren’t always in sync, he doesn’t attack half the man consistently enough and puts stress on blockers with his initial approach, before going after the area, that they leave themselves vulnerable at. He lacks some feel for timing up games up front and understanding how to approach blockers in his way. While I love the natural power, there’s certainly a bull-in-the-china-shop “quality” to him and he will have to refine his technique, to actually win cleanly with hand-swipes. There’s not a whole lot to criticize as a run-defender, but at times he seems pre-occupied with his blocker and doesn’t decipher schemes.

Travon Walker has had a meteoric rise since the conclusion of this past season, as people fell in love with the freaky upside he presents. Dane Brugler was first to talk about him as a top-tier prospect, having him at number six overall on his big board back in February. Then Walker went to combine and put on an absolute show, when he ran a 4.51 in the 40 at 272(!) pounds, was good in the jumps and top-three in both agility events for the position. More importantly, people his size should not be able to move as easy in space and go through the bag drills the way he did. And his hips looked so loose running the figure-eight and bending that inside shoulder. With that being, he is so much of a projection as a pass-rusher, because he didn’t have a ton of success actually winning around the corner and showing that he can string together moves, by having his hands and lower body unified. At this point, he seems to be a lock for the top-five, which is too rich for me. He has the physical tools to end up as the best defensive player in this draft, but he still has a long way to go.

 

 

George Karlaftis

 

5. George Karlaftis, Purdue

6’4”, 275 pounds; JR

Once having been a member of the U-16 Greek national water polo team as a 13-year-old, Karlaftis came other to the US in 2014, after his father had died of a heart attack. He became a two-time Indiana state champion in the shot put and quickly acclimated himself to the life on the gridiron. Karlaftis joined the nearby Purdue Boilermakers in 2019 and immediately was a monster for them on the field, racking up 17 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, two PBUs and fumble recoveries as a freshman. He appeared in only two games the following season, due to a combination of injury and COVID, before turning it back on in 2021, when he was named first-team All-Big Ten, recording ten TFLs, 4.5 sacks, four PBUs, a couple of fumbles forced and recovered, along with a scoop-and-score.

Even though the nickname of “The Greek Freak” will probably be limited to NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, Karlaftis presents a dense, muscular frame. He has the body type to play five-technique and has been part of some odd fronts, but also has plenty of experience rushing from a two-point stance. This guy is one of the most “smack-you-in-the-face” type of players in this draft. He plays with heavy hands against the run and mostly controls offensive tackles, being able to pull them off himself to either direction. Karlaftis does a good job of keeping full extension and contorting his body, so he can lean in against blocks and not get moved off the spot. He stops the flow on zone run plays routinely. If tackles overstride with their first step, he can instantly switch to the inside and pairs it up with an effective hand-swipe to slip those blocks. When unblocked on the backside, he flatten hard down the line and is ready to bang into sifts underneath the formation. Yet, when the quarterback rides the mesh point to potentially pull the ball, Karlaftis switches to a shuffle, before tracking the ball down with good burst. And when tight-ends try to seal him away from the play, he caves in the edge by driving those guy into the middle. Karlaftis is one of the better tacklers you will find on the edge, wrapping up and flattening ball-carriers from the side routinely.

Karlaftis’ first step and activity level as more a true 4-3 defensive end improved a lot in 2021 I think, where he’s now consistently the first to attack the hands of blockers. It also applies to the way he shoots upfield initially, to make tackles respect the speed rush, to go with converting that effectively into power and forklifting guys. Karlaftis is very efficient and non-stop with his hand usage, while keeping his pads low to reduce the surface area for blockers to target. You can tell that he’s worked a lot on his hand-combat maneuvers and there’s no pause from one to another, to clear the hands of his man. He often operated out of two-point stance with the “wrong” foot forward, so he could take a more direct path towards the quarterback and condense the edge, with an often devastating bull-rush. Karlaftis is a pretty complete pass-rusher coming out of college already, with the initial burst to get tackles out of their vertical sets, but then the power to make them pay for getting too tall, while displaying awareness for when they overset to the outside, at times slapping at the inside hand and swimming over the top. Karlaftis also shows good recognition and countering skills against backs coming over to chip or wing-men working across the formation towards him off play-action. And opposing teams started sliding protections and giving him extra attention more and more in ’21. He may only have had 4.5 sacks, but he added 14 more hits on the QB, along with 35 hurries on 335 pass-rush snaps.

With that in mind, Karlaftis simply isn’t the most twitched-up, sudden athlete. He’s such a linear pass-rusher. There’s some stiffness to his movement and he can’t pair hand-swipes and cross-face steps in a very fluid way, to beat tackles cleanly on inside counters. His spin moves in particular aren’t very effective, because he’s barely moving off the spot, At 32 ½ inches his arms are at the low spectrum for edge rushers and you see that show up at times, when can’t quite reach the elbow of tackles trying to land clubs. And if his first two steps are upfield, he doesn’t have the natural flexibility to curve his rush to the quarterback without having to initiate contact. Karlaftis has to do a better job of avoiding holds or at least making the officials aware of it, by forcing guys to stretch at his jersey – even though he has certainly started doing a better job of working through contact. And I would just like to see a more defined rush plan, rather than throwing a bunch of different stuff at tackles. While Karlaftis is a very physical run-defender, when blockers do catch from the side on angular blocks, you see him not be able to anchor that way. And overall the lateral agility to come off blocks and set the tackle needs improvement.

This is an ultra-physical player with a non-stop motor. Karlaftis looks and feels like somebody who spent almost too much time lifting heavy weight, to where he’s not loose enough in certain areas you would like from an alpha pass-rusher, and his length will make defeating the hands of blockers more challenging. However, if you’re looking for somebody to re-set the line of scrimmage in the run game and collapse the pocket with power off the edge, along with setting the tone for your defense with his all-out effort, this guy can be a quality starter for a long time. He does need to become more efficient with actually disengaging from blocks though and a push-pull off the bull-rush should become a key component of his game.

 

 

David Ojabo

 

6. David Ojabo, Michigan

6’5”, 250 pounds; JR

A four-star recruit in 2019, Ojabo grew up in Nigeria and moved to Scotland when he was seven years old. Ten years later, he came to the US and initially started playing basketball, yet received 35 football scholarships. He really didn’t have any role for Michigan’s defense until his junior year, having played just 26 total snaps, due to all the guys the Wolverines had in front of him – Kwity Paye, Joshua Uche, etc. However, when he got his chance, he immediately became one of the biggest threats rushing off the edge, recording 11 sacks, five forced fumbles and three passes knocked down, making him a second-team All-American this past season.

Ojabo may not be that close to being a great run-defender, but it’s certainly not due to a lack of willingness to contribute. He keeps his outside arm free against in that area and rarely gets beat around the corner, even by wide receivers on sweeps and stuff. And I saw him crash low into pulling guards and tight-ends sifting across to him on kick-outs on multiple occasions going through his film. When left unblocked on the backside of run plays, Ojabo has tremendous accelerate to chase the ball-carrier down from behind. As tight-ends/wings try to seal him away from the play, he has the agility to slip over the top and flow to the ball on lateral run scheme. And something I saw times on tape was how well he sold or rather indicated holds, as blockers grabbed at the outside of his shoulder-pads and slightly held him back. Ojabo was peeled off the edge a few times last year and while it was very basic, just standing up and being in the way of quick in-breakers, he can show off his speed to chase down receivers after catching the ball.

This kid was the speed-ball to Aidan Hutchinson’s more technique-based dominance on the opposite side. Ojabo has great explosion off the snap, the ability to reduce his inside shoulder and bend around the corner, which paired with good snap anticipation, forces tackles to flip their shoulders almost instantly at times. Whether it’s the ghost or the dip-and-rip, Ojabo can win around the loop consistently. You see him get so low at times that he can actually touch the ground with the inside hand. Plus, we’ve seen him be able to defeat the hands as he’s running the loop, by pulling the low-arm up forcefully and using that momentum to shorten the arc even further. Ojabo is so sudden in his movement and can almost lull tackles to sleep at times with hesitation maneuvers. He already does a good job of keeping blockers off balance with some uncommon step sequences, without being able to pair that up with diverse hand-combats yet. And this is a guy, where your quarterback has to be aware of where he’s coming from and that he can’t escape the other way, because once Ojabo can widen his path a little bit and run after that guy, he will get there in a hurry. Along with his 11 sacks, he had 33 more pressures on exactly 300 pass-rush snaps last year.

At this point, Ojabo isn’t rather poor at defending the run, at least certainly trying to hold his ground on the front-side. You see him get taken for a ride on several occasions and offenses made it a priority to go right at him. He almost exclusively lined up on the weak side of the formation and in a seven-alignment or further out, being allowed to chase from the back-side, if he was even out there on early downs. And overall, his game is very reactive at this point, not ID-ing run schemes and having to process run-pass altogether. He barely saw the field against Georgia, when they ran the ball. As a pass-rusher, it’s all about speed at this point, without any dependable hand-swipes to call upon, other than the rip. There’s no real power element to speak of. Ojabo gets caught with his back to the blocker at times, when attempting lethargic spins, if hung up initially. And he limited his speed a lot of times, by this little hop out of his stance, while typically not being first to come off the ball. Obviously, the big concern with Ojabo is that torn Achilles he suffered at the Michigan pro day, which will knock him out for his rookie campaign and he may never be fully back to that explosion he showed before – which for him particularly is a huge deal.

I feel really bad for this young man, because without the Achilles, he’s most likely a top-20 pick. Looking back at some other prospects, who suffered that same kind of injury in the pre-draft process, the few that come to mind simply never made it all the way back in terms of athletic traits. That being said, if he can get all the way back – which potentially could take all the way until 2024 – Ojabo has that speed off the edge that you simply can’t teach. With his ability to bend and the feel for setting up blockers with hesitation moves, to momentarily stop the opponent’s feet and now if he can develop reliable hand-swipes, he can clear the hips and close on the quarterback. To be a full-time player, he will have to add more muscle to his frame and work on his run-defense altogether, but if he returns all the way to form, his ability to stress the edge on passing downs is something the NFL covets highly.

 

 

Boye Mafe

 

7. Boye Mafe, Minnesota

6’4”, 255 pounds; SR

Just a three-star recruit in 2017, Mafe’s playing time increased every season with the Gophers (4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, two batted passes in 2020). His career was highlighted by an excellent senior year, when he recorded ten TFLs, seven sacks and a fumble forced, making him a second-team All-Big Ten selection.

Mafe mostly lines up in a two-point stance with the outside foot forward and his body aimed directly at the tackle, while switching into a more parallel position if he tight-end is motioned in/over to him. Thanks to that alignment, he can be the one establishing contact in the run game and not allow blockers to move him off the spot when he’s at the point of attack. Mafe’s ability to flow laterally on the backside of zone runs with his shoulders nearly parallel to the line of scrimmage is super impressive, plus then he can slip underneath sift-blocks across the formation in fluid fashion and chase down the running back, usually wrap up effectively. When a tight-end tries to seal him off on the back-side, he has the upper body strength to press that guy off and create an angle on the ball for himself. He doesn’t shy away from crashing into a pulling guard and stopping the momentum right there, and overall he muddies up the picture in the backfield on several occasions. Mafe has the athleticism to shuffle with somebody slipping underneath the formation on leak routes and then make that transition to bearing down on the quarterback in a hurry. The coaches trusted him to even pump tight-ends off the line and then run with them down the seams or match running backs on wheel routes, where he has some highly impressive tape of running with guys 20+ yards down the field. Of course, he also did with more simplistic spot-drops, where he can quickly cover ground and is an asset at chasing down receivers to eliminate potential for YAC.

The Gopher standout displays great acceleration up the arc and a rapid inside-arm that he can swipe up or down with, to clear himself from the tackle’s reach, along with an effective swim move and ability to flick the hips around. He’s very sudden to get around blockers and if guys stop their feet momentarily, they’ll open up shortly after, trying to chase after him. He flashes a very promising cross-chop, which could do wonders in combination with that. And he packs more force than you’d think, to where he can get tackles off balance at times, when they get too far onto their heels or he catches them lunging, by lifting at the inside shoulder and pushing them further upfield, in order to open up a path to the quarterback. Then he has the closing burst to run quarterbacks down, trying to escape either way. As he continues to diversify his pass-rush portfolio, learning to incorporate subtle hesitation moves, along with his bursty style, will make him only more dangerous. On obvious passing downs, Mafe will at times put the inside hand down with a lot of weight out in front, looking almost like a sprinter, in order to get out of his tracks as explosively as possible. You see some Minnesota B-gap blitzers have a freeway to run through because of the way he attacks vertically. Overall, Mafe recorded 42 total pressures on 257 pass-rush snaps last season.

With that being said, Mafe has to do a better job of establishing half-man relationships in the run and pass game. He gets his eyes trapped inside a few times, particularly when he sees traffic coming his way, such as sift blocks by a tight-end or wing-man, and he loses his contain in the process. Ohio State’s Miyan Williams had a 71-yard touchdown largely thanks to Mafe shuffling inside to take on the tight-end working underneath the formation, whilst the running back was headed for the sideline already. Once linemen are able to get into his frame, he struggles to disengage, and he needs to do a better job of feeling down-blocks, when the offense pulls the tackle out to the corner on toss plays, as they’re able to pin him inside, rather than him being able to work over the top. As a pass-rusher his biggest limitation is the lack of length at 32 ½ inches and the fact he doesn’t yet know how to maximize it, as a lot of hand-combats don’t quite defeat the hands of blockers and they quickly re-attach after slipping off a little bit momentarily.

Mafe is another guy who general draft media only started to catch up with since this past season concluded. He had an excellent Senior Bowl week, where his ability to win around the corner and then work some different moves off that was on display throughout practices. PFF handed him the highest pass-rushing grade among edge defenders during practices for, and then he ended the week with a couple of sacks, including one strip in the actual game. He also had a monster combine, finishing above the 90th percentile in the 40 (4.53), the vert (38 inches) and the broad jump (10’5”) at 261 pounds, while skipping the agility drills. I wish he was a little bit longer and he has to take his contain responsibilities more seriously, but he has the physical tools to be a high-level speed rusher and chase-player in the run game.

 

 

Drake Jackson

 

8. Drake Jackson, USC

6’3”, 250 pounds; JR

The number six defensive end recruit in 2019, Jackson recorded 11.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three PBUs as a true freshman. His numbers were basically cut in half during a six-game 2020 season, although he did pick off a pass and present his physical profile of a eventual top-ten pick, which encouraged him to announce that 2021 was his final college campaign. This past season, he was named second-team All-Pac-12 for recording eight TFLs, five sacks and one’s across the board for interceptions, PBUs, fumbles forced and recovered.

Simply visually, Jackson looks like an alien sent to earth, in order to play on the edge. He has those really long arms hanging to below his knees and good thickness in his lower half. This guy creates issues in the run game with his heavy hands to set the edge and short-area quickness to back-door blockers. He can make the heads of tight-ends snap backwards at first contact and will fight across the face of zone-blockers on the backside of run plays, routinely taking the tight-end wuth him a good five yards sideways as he works his way down the line. However, when he’s allowed to back-door blockers on the edge, he will make them miss before they can process what happened. And when he’s left unblocked altogether away from the action, he has the speed to flatten down the line and chase down fast running backs. At times he will also show his impressive ability to go from a full sprint when chasing the ball to redirecting and shutting down reverses.

Man, does Jackson has some shake to him as a pass-rusher. He’s truly one of those guys, who you have to respect, being able win inside and out. Jackson packs a sudden rip move, the ability to drop the hips and run nearly parallel to the ground as he’s working around the corner, whilst pushing hard off the ground when he tries to circle back around, if he’s slightly past the quarterback. The dude has next-level change of direction to counter back to the inside, when tackles overset him. Yet, then he has the incredible flexibility to dip underneath the reach of tackles and win on ghost moves, after he’s made them respect the willigness to win inside. His ability to stab at the chest of blockers and keep them off himself on one-arm maneuvers is something you see all over his tape. There’s certainly potential to incorporate that into more multi-faceted rush maneuvers, such as stutter-bull rushes and power-to-speed. Jackson is dangerous stunting through interior gaps, with his ability to reduce his frame and crash through. You saw him slant inside and flawlessly transition to the arm-over against guards sliding over and work around them. Last year, he quietly put up 26 total pressures on 182 pass-rush snaps. Jackson was asked to peel off with the running back releasing into the flats and he was used quite a bit to match pass-catchers underneath, dictating their release initially and crowding those windows as he passes those off. He’s a very loose mover in space altogether and you saw him bang receivers to the turf on several occasions.

This certainly has something to do with what coaches allowed Jackson to do, but at this point Jackson isn’t a very disciplined run-defender, whether it’s jumping inside of guys on the edge or letting the quarterback get around him when keeping the ball on zone-reads and bootlegs. He’s still learning how to read run schemes properly and not just go after the ball. He doesn’t play half the man and extend his arms to control the point of attack, while still learning how to properly deconstruct blocks. In the pass game, he delays his start with a significant step backwards, he doesn’t have a ton of jolt in his hands when engaging with offensive linemen and he’s not always in full-on attack mode as a rusher. Jackson has to do a better job of using that length and keeping his frame clean in the pass game. Once blockers land a punch inside his frame, his rush dies out significantly. And he overruns the arc on too many occasions, not showing the ability to shorten his path by transitioning to power. As much as I like Jackson’s ability to beat tackles inside on up-and-under moves, when opponents do have the post leg ready to mirror, he doesn’t show the quick secondary hand-swipe or power to win anyway.

With his movement skills and natural athleticism, I believe Jackson could develop into an excellent RUSH linebacker. In terms of rushing the passer, he’s at his best as a wide-nine technique, where his ability to bend around the corner and cross-face tackles who overset him. He’s not a reliable edge-setter in more defined run fits and he lacks much of a power element as a pass-rusher, but I just don’t get how he’s so overlooked in this class. This guy has some elite traits for an edge defenders and he still has plenty of room to grow. To me he’s a no-doubt top ten prospect at the position. Hopefully he reminded NFL evaluators of that, with how easily he moved around during positional drills at the combine and the fact he had top-tier numbers in vert (36.5 inches) and broad jump (10’7”), while looking to have bulked up a bit.

 

 

Josh Pascal

 

9. Josh Paschal, Kentucky

6’3”, 270 pounds; SR

A four-star recruit in 2017, Paschal contributed in every game as a freshman, before ending up with a redshirt in year two, due to having multiple surgeries for malignant melanoma. Over these last three years, he has been a full-time starter and played pretty well (16 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and a pick), until really breaking onto the scene this past season, with 15 tackles for loss and five sacks, including one strip, making him a second-team All-SEC selection.

Having split his time pretty equally between five-technique and outside the tackle, along with 110 snaps inside, Paschal has great length and girth throughout his frame, making him attractive for anything from a three- to a seven-technique. He plays with heavy hands and great extension in the run game. I thought he really improved his physicality in that area this past season. Paschal showcases the strong base to anchor against bumps from the side and not allow quick combo-actions to affect him a whole lot. Against combos with the tight-end, the former Wildcat really attacks the outside man and doesn’t allow actual double-teams that way, by creating a gap between the two and limiting the movement at the point of attack in significant fashion. And if he sees an opportunity, he has the suddenness to back-door zone blockers in impressive fashion with the high swim, to create negative plays. As tackles try to scoop-block him the backside of zone runs, he has the upper body strength to lock them out, in order to work down the line, or ride them into the lap of the running back. When slanted outside from a head-up alignment on the tackle, tight-ends don’t really stand a chance at sealing him there and he instantly flattens down the line, in order to run down the back. If he’s allowed to just chase as the unblocked man, his pursuit is relentless. Yet, on snaps where he’s given contain assignments in those situations, he shuffles along tightly to the last man at the line with parallel shoulders and even when it looks like the quarterback seemingly has the angle to get out wide on bootlegs, Paschal displays tremendous closing burst to force the ball to come out and often be thrown away. Pro Football Focus credited him with a Power-Five leading 12.4% run stop rate in 2021 and he had 12 solo tackles for loss.

For playing at about 270 pounds, Paschal shows some serious juice out of his stance on passing downs as well. He has some of the most violent hands in this draft, where that initial club routinely creates upper body rotation for blockers and opens up the lane to stop through, as Paschal follows up with the rip or swim. However, he’s also incredibly twitchy for that size, often times giving a little shake when he has room to operate and making blockers stop their feet momentarily. Paschal shows the flexibility to disconnect his upper and lower half to some degree and corner around blockers. As a three-technique in particular, that ability to beat guards across their face, as they set to the outside, leads to him running right at the QB on several occasions. Those qualities could make him a nightmare to pick up on twists, as the set-up man or wide looper. This guy has the natural force to break the anchor of large men routinely. He truly takes guys for a ride when he commits to power and then can pull cloth to discard them. Yet, once he feels blockers take their eyes down, as they dip their head into contact, he pulls out a rapid arm-over to get past them. When slanted inside and guards don’t have their eyes on him in slide-protection, I’ve seen straight-up put those guys on their behinds on several occasions. Watching the Georgia game, you see him make one of the strongest offensive lines in the country get physically overwhelmed on quite a few snaps. When you look at Paschal’s pass-rush win rate of 16.3 percent, it’s a slight step down from the top of the group, but it’s still pretty impressive considering how often he had to widen his rushes from head-up alignments of the tackle or would have a guard slide over towards him, because Kentucky didn’t have anybody else to really scare offenses on passing downs.

At this point, Paschal is not a very refined pass-rush, often times just banging into bodies and not getting those clean wins in that regard. His aiming points are slightly off on a large percentage of his rushes and he doesn’t yet attack the edges of blockers efficiently enough. While I would certainly argue he makes more of an impact on passing downs than the numbers would indicate, coming up half a sack short of double-digits over the course of these last three years (35 games), speaks to his inability to finish in that regard. The physicality and want to be a great run defender are certainly there, but Paschal is a little slow to ID chemes still, having to fight through seal-offs or down-blocks on the backside, at times whilst the guy in front of him was used as a puller, and getting pinned inside initially when offenses try to get the ball out to the perimeter. He also rarely saw reverses coming. He also limits his ability to control the point of attack, because head-up linemen are able to get their base around before he can step into his gap, forcing him to work over the top of those running blocks.

While I wouldn’t say that they’re quite the same time, watching Paschal’s tape gave me flashbacks of evaluating Dayo Odeyingbo at Vanderbilt a year ago. Both are just such violent players with positional versatility, who popped off the screen even though those plays wouldn’t reflect on the stat sheet. Similar to last year’s second-round pick of the Colts, the description “bull in a china shop” certainly fits, as Paschal just goes with the flow a little bit too much and doesn’t always rush with a plan. He will have to learn to play a little more within himself and speeding up his process of recognizing plays, but he’s a guy who can line up all over the formation and “F” plays up.

 

 

Myjai Sanders

 

10. Myjai Sanders, Cincinnati

6’5”, 245 pounds; JR

Right around the top-1000 overall recruits in 2018, Sanders saw very limited action his freshman season, but turned himself into a very valuable piece to that Bearcats defense in year two and then as a junior he led them in sacks with seven, to go with 10.5 tackles for loss and five passes knocked down, for a unit that finished the year in the top ten in terms of points allowed. His numbers took a dip this past season, with 7.5 TFLs and 2.5 sacks, to go with another five PBUs, but he helped Cincy become the first Non-Power Five team to make the College Football Playoff.

This is a long and athletic kid on the edge, who by the words of his own coaches could have probably survived at any spot in the front-seven purely based on his athletic tools Despite presenting a somewhat lanky frame, Sanders can surprise blockers in the run game, with the way he shoots his hands into the chest of the opponent and rocks their pads backwards at times. Then he showcases some sudden hands and agility to jump inside of blocks as he sees the ball-carrier cut it up that way, often times tripping that guy up with arms that look longer than the 32 ½ inches would suggest. He continues to fight the hands and bring his hips around to not get pinned inside on the front-side of wide zone schemes. When unblocked on the backside, he usually directly attaches to the back-hip of zone blockers, at times even slightly twisting them so they can’t climb cleanly to the second level, yet then Sanders has the suddenness to wrestle down the RB trying to cut backside. While it’s obviously not how you teach it, I’ve seen Sanders be at the point of attack on a zone run, scrape over the top and set a tackle on the running back cutting all the way back behind the opposite. He has that flexibility and agile movement to get around pulling linemen and initiate contact with the ball-carrier, while if his man is pulled and somebody blocks down on him, he displays the awareness to cross that guy’s face and create havoc in the backfield. Cincinnati slanted him inside quite a bit, where he was able to actually make blockers miss with the high swim and flexibility to step around.

Sanders has the get-off and long strides up the arc to consistently threaten offensive tackles in their sets. That speed around the corner allows him to win cleanly on ghost or dip-and-rip moves on several occasions. When tackles do seemingly cut off the angle for him, he packs a nice two-handed swipe or cross-chop, where he jabs with the inside foot and then has the loose hips to step around, as well as that rip-move, where he can arc around or hook the arm of the tackle, to keep that guy on his hip. Off that, he shows a nasty up-and-under move, where he rapidly hits the arm-over and makes tackles look like they’re stuck in quicksand. He may be forced to overrun the arc initially, but then has the athletic ability to corner all the way back around and jump on the quarterback’s back. When you let Sanders rush from a wide-nine alignment and he has that runway, where tackles have to hurry to get back in front of him and now #21 has the shake to go inside or out, he becomes a real problem. His short-area burst and bendiness also make him tough to pick up on twists or when the A-gap is left open and he sees an opportunity to take it. And the Bearcats used him as a semi-off-ball blitzers head up over the center, slicing through gaps. While his standard numbers didn’t look great season, he did have 62 total pressures on 389 pass-rush snaps.

However, Sanders’ lack of bulk does show up at instances, where he’s engaged with blockers for a longer period of time or they can clamp down on him, to make his rush stall. When blockers catch him with the outside foot off the turf on drive blocks, they can toss him to the side and drive him for a while. And evn though you love his activity in that regard, you have to question with the way he would free-lance at times if he can be relied upon to fulfill simplified run fits. He gets too far off track at times with a wide-swim, particularly against the run, and loses his balance in the process, limiting his ability to turn the corner and/or chase the ball. Alabama’s Evan Neal was able to take him for a ride a few times and had the agility to counter his sudden burst-based moves to either side, negating a large portion of his rushes. Sanders simply doesn’t have the power to close in on the quarterback when he can’t cleanly create an angle for himself to get around the blocker. He does flash some speed-to-power conversion, but it’s more sporadic if guys get way back on their heels. And he’s really antsy to get off the ball, which cost his team a few times with jumping offside.

Considering what kind of superior athlete he was compared to a lot of the offensive linemen he faced, you would have like to see Sanders be more productive in the AAC. He does present a rather gangly frame and my question about him are mostly power-based, but I have no idea how he’s been falling as much on boards. He was sick at the combine and people got scared about him weighing in at just 228 pounds, but he’s put another 20 on and put up good numbers across the board at his pro day. Watching him a Senior Bowl prior to that, what really stood out about was that explosion off the snap and how patient he was with his hands before the ones of the tackle. And he made several big plays in the run game during team drills, rag-dolling tight-ends. I believe Sanders is a unique player and chess piece for a creative defensive coordinator. In no way would I let him fall to day three.

 


 

Just missed the cut:

 

Arnold Ebiketie

 

Arnold Ebiketie, Penn State

6’2”, 250 pounds; SR

Around the top-2000 overall recruits in 2017 for Temple, Ebiketie saw very limited action through his first two years (16 total tackles), before making a name for himself in 2020, when he recorded 8.5 tackles for loss, four sacks, three forced fumbles and a scoop-and-score, earning second-team All-ACC in the process. He decided to transfer to Penn State ahead of this past season and the move paid off immensely, as he more than doubled those previous numbers for TFLs and sacks, and was named first-team All-Big Ten.

+ Understands how to set his base with good knee-bend and pad-level while burying the inside hand into the sternum of blockers, to set the edge, L

+ Routinely wrong-shoulders pulling guards and forces the ball-carrier to bounce out wide, where the rest of teammates could clean things up, Yet if opposing teams try to kick him out on the backside with somebody working across to him on split zone runs, he can swipe that guy further that way and shut down cutbacks,

+ Shows tremendous pursuit as the chase defender unblocked from the backside, choosing a flat angle down the line

+His 18 tackles for loss speaak on his ability to come off late and make plays in the backfield

+ Adjusts his rush-plans to who he’s facing, understanding how to affect opponents accordingly and set them up throughout games

+ Comes off the ball with good forward lean and has the combination of speed and ability to tilt in order to win around the corner

+ Shows well-time club-rip or two-hand swipe, to stay on his path, yet if he doesn’t clear the hands with that first combat, there’s no pause between his follow-up

+ Does a great job of stabbing at the shoulder-pad of tackles at the side he wants to get past and is quick to counter the hands

+ Beat Ohio State’s Nicolas Petit-Frere on several quick inside moves, such as the up-and-under

+ Along with his eight sacks on the year, Ebiketie had 44 extra pressures and 32 of what PFF calls “other pass-rush wins” (fourth-most among draft-eligible EDGEs)

– Basically took him five years of college (including an initial redshirt), to turn himself into a real difference-maker on defense

– Rather undersized for an edge defender and doesn’t a ton of pop in his hands

– Didn’t nearly dominate matchups with tight-ends in both facets of the game as much he should have

– A lot of his production as a pass-rusher came on counters – will have to win with the initial move more consistently

– When blockers were able to land an early punch, he became far less effective in his approach

Ebiketie’s height and weight are on the very low-end of the spectrum for edge defenders, but his arms are just above 34 inches and his hands measure in at 10 ¼. He was above the 90th percentile in the vert (38 inches) and broad jump (10’9”). This is really sudden and bendy athlete, who can win in a multitude of ways. I don’t believe Ebiketie is a powerful player necessarily, but he flashes that ability to make tackles pay for setting him too softly or prematurely open their hips. He’s the type of guy NFL evaluators fall in love with and he was the most productive pass-rusher for Penn State since 2017, but he didn’t quite make it into my top ten.

 

 

Cameron Thomas, San Diego State

6’5”, 265 pounds; JR

A three-star recruit in 2018, Thomas was a quality player for San Diego State in his first two seasons, following a redshirt year, combining for 18.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks, making first-team All-Mountain West in both of them. In 2021, he lined up all over the Azetcs’ defensive front and created negative plays for them, earning himself second-team All-American honors, thanks to 71 total tackles, 20.5 of those for loss and 10.5 sacks.

+ Dense, muscular frame that carries 265-270 pounds well and makes him attractive as a base end in a 3-4 as well

+ Very disruptive run-defender in a penetrating role or slanting across gaps, being able to get skinny

+ Combines that with well-timed hand-swipes and a highly impressive ability to contort his body,

+ Can rip or squeeze across the face of zone-blockers when working cross-face, with ridiculous ability to flow laterally and work over the top of blocks

+ His burst to chase down the ball as the unblocked defender from the back-side is eye-popping

+ Impressive first step and twitchiness for a plus-sized edge rusher

+ Has been very effective with the high-swim, fluidly following through on the initial club and placing the opposite hand on the back of the blocker’s shoulder-pad to make sure he can clear the hips

+ Relentless with continuing to work the hands, trying to pull guys to the side and he likes to finish up with a strong upwards rip, to kind of pin the arm of the blocker,

+ Shows the burst to be a real threat on inside stunts and loops across multiple gaps, making it tough for the protection to account for him properly

+ On 525 pass-rush snaps this past season, he amassed 77 total pressures and 34 “other pass-rush wins” according to PFF

– Due to an unrefined role at SDSU, he doesn’t necessarily have a distinguished approach as a pass-rushe

– Once blockers are able to get their hands inside Thomas’ chest, he has a tough time getting them off

– His 32 ½-inch doesn’t measure up to the rest of his frame and hurt him in an odd front role, where he’s asked to two-gap or “win half a gap back”

– A lot of run-down production came from slanting through gaps – wasn’t asked to do much gap control work

– So much of what he was successful with in college was based on beating opponents to the inside, which he will not be allowed to do nearly as frequently at the next level

This was one of the tougher evaluations of the entire class. Thomas has some really fun tape and he was one of the most disruptive – as well as productive – players in the country this past season. The explosiveness and sudden movement skills are very intriguing. However, his role or style of play at San Diego State is so far off anything you see or can project him to in the NFL. Some of his worst run-down plays came in more traditional assignments and he didn’t win a ton as a true edge rusher. I believe in a versatile front, where he can be a penetrator up the B-gap, is slanted a lot and has more freedom in his approach, he could be a real impact player, but that’s pretty rare in the league. So now you project a lot based on his physical tools.

 


 

The next names up:

Sam Williams (Ole Miss), Nik Bonitto (Oklahoma), Kingsley Enagbare (South Carolina), Tyreke Smith (Ohio State), DeAngelo Malone (Western Kentucky), Michael Clemons (Texas A&M) & Alex Wright (UAB)

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NFL Draft

Top 10 offensive tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Two weeks into my positional draft rankings, we have arrived at the big boys! Today we’re looking at the best offensive tackles, before we get into the guys coming off the edge later this week. If you enjoyed reading my detailed analysis of this class, feel free to always read up my top running backs, linebackers, wide receivers and cornerbacks.

Back to this group – I believe there is clear top three, which at this point all seem like top-ten locks – and deservedly so. After that, there’s a significant drop-off, before we get to four other names, that I have graded in the late first to late second-round range. Rounding out my top ten, I believe the three remaining prospects are worthy of later day two picks, before we get into a bunch of guys, where either they can give you quality snaps early or have the talent to develop into starters down the road, but they all have certain limitations or questions.

And as a quick side note, there may be a few names that you feel like are missing here, because they qualified as interior offensive linemen for me, which I’ll break down next week. Some notable players that pertains to: Tyler Smith (Tulsa), Sean Rhyan (UCLA), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), Andrew Stueber (Michigan) and Zach Tom (Wake Forest).

Let’s get into these tackles:

 

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Two weeks into my positional draft rankings, we have arrived at the big boys! Today we’re looking at the best offensive tackles, before we get into the guys coming off the edge later this week. If you enjoyed reading my detailed analysis of this class, feel free to always read up my top running backs, linebackers, wide receivers and cornerbacks.

Back to this group – I believe there is clear top three, which at this point all seem like top-ten locks – and deservedly so. After that, there’s a significant drop-off, before we get to four other names, that I have graded in the late first to late second-round range. Rounding out my top ten, I believe the three remaining prospects are worthy of later day two picks, before we get into a bunch of guys, where either they can give you quality snaps early or have the talent to develop into starters down the road, but they all have certain limitations or questions.

And as a quick side note, there may be a few names that you feel like are missing here, because they qualified as interior offensive linemen for me, which I’ll break down next week. Some notable players that pertains to: Tyler Smith (Tulsa), Sean Rhyan (UCLA), Darian Kinnard (Kentucky), Andrew Stueber (Michigan) and Zach Tom (Wake Forest).

Let’s get into these tackles:

 

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NFL Draft

Top 10 cornerbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Switching back to the defensive side of the ball, after breaking down the draft’s best receivers earlier this week, we are now looking at the guys covering them. So this group includes outside and slot cornerbacks, where the boards among NFL teams can vary a lot depending on the defensive scheme they run and what they ask their CBs to do.

As always, I will break down my top ten overall prospects, regardless of scheme fit, and I have three more guys in the “just missed the cut” paragraphs”. Just like the receivers, there’s five names worthy of going in the first round in my opinion and there’s several potential diamonds in the rough, with a large amount of small school prospects with intriguing qualities.

Here’s what I ended up with:

 

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Switching back to the defensive side of the ball, after breaking down the draft’s best receivers earlier this week, we are now looking at the guys covering them. So this group includes outside and slot cornerbacks, where the boards among NFL teams can vary a lot depending on the defensive scheme they run and what they ask their CBs to do.

As always, I will break down my top ten overall prospects, regardless of scheme fit, and I have three more guys in the “just missed the cut” paragraphs”. Just like the receivers, there’s five names worthy of going in the first round in my opinion and there’s several potential diamonds in the rough, with a large amount of small school prospects with intriguing qualities.

Here’s what I ended up with:

 

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NFL Draft

Top 10 wide receivers in the 2022 NFL Draft:

We’re entering our second week of positional draft breakdowns. After talking about the best running back and linebacker prospects, it’s time to highlight the wide receivers and cornerbacks, once again starting with the offensive side of the ball.

Right off the bat, I cheated a little bit, by having two guys tied at number ten, but this time I didn’t add some names that just missed the cut, but rather decided to mention a wildcard name at the end. As always, this is 90 percent based on film study, with advanced statistics and testing numbers helping me make my case or just separate names, which I had very closely bunched together.

Similar to what we’ve seen in recent years – and a trend that will continue, thanks to all the youth passing camps and wide open college offenses – this receiver class is very deep and I could have mentioned about 30 names here that I look at as draftable players. However, in order to not just list off names, I broke down the twelve guys I already referenced and then put just a few as the “next names up”, that I think are in that next tier. Currently I have first-round grades on five of these and six more in the top-75 or so.

Here’s the list:

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We’re entering our second week of positional draft breakdowns. After talking about the best running back and linebacker prospects, it’s time to highlight the wide receivers and cornerbacks, once again starting with the offensive side of the ball.

Right off the bat, I cheated a little bit, by having two guys tied at number ten, but this time I didn’t add some names that just missed the cut, but rather decided to mention a wildcard name at the end. As always, this is 90 percent based on film study, with advanced statistics and testing numbers helping me make my case or just separate names, which I had very closely bunched together.

Similar to what we’ve seen in recent years – and a trend that will continue, thanks to all the youth passing camps and wide open college offenses – this receiver class is very deep and I could have mentioned about 30 names here that I look at as draftable players. However, in order to not just list off names, I broke down the twelve guys I already referenced and then put just a few as the “next names up”, that I think are in that next tier. Currently I have first-round grades on five of these and six more in the top-75 or so.

Here’s the list:

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NFL Draft

Top 10 linebackers in the 2022 NFL Draft:

Rolling along with my top ten positional rankings for the NFL Draft, after breaking down the top running backs, we’re now looking at the guys on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, trying to bring them down before they can really cross it.

Once again, these are all my personal opinions based on tape study, while using advanced settings and testing numbers to back my case or mention some of the concerns I may have.

Putting this linebacker class into perspective, instead of a trio at the top of the rankings like we had last year, with Micah Parsons, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Zaven Collins, there’s a clear duo at the top, while LB3 can vary a lot depending on which rankings you look like. However, I believe there’s about nine or ten more names that could arguably arguably within the first two days and even after that, there’s guys I like in specific roles.

Let’s get into it:

Continue reading

Rolling along with my top ten positional rankings for the NFL Draft, after breaking down the top running backs, we’re now looking at the guys on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, trying to bring them down before they can really cross it.

Once again, these are all my personal opinions based on tape study, while using advanced settings and testing numbers to back my case or mention some of the concerns I may have.

Putting this linebacker class into perspective, instead of a trio at the top of the rankings like we had last year, with Micah Parsons, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Zaven Collins, there’s a clear duo at the top, while LB3 can vary a lot depending on which rankings you look like. However, I believe there’s about nine or ten more names that could arguably arguably within the first two days and even after that, there’s guys I like in specific roles.

Let’s get into it:

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NFL Draft

Top 10 running backs in the 2022 NFL Draft:

We have arrived at the time, where I’m ready to present my top ten draft prospects at every single position. Leading up to the final weekend of April, I will put my top ten list for all of them – along with some honorable mentions – one after the other, alternating between offense and defense, basically as counterparts to each other.

Concerning the criteria, this is purely based on tape study, while I back up my case for the final spot in the rankings with advanced statistics and testing numbers to some degree. Injuries and off-field situation can/will not be taken into account, although it may reflect itself in my finalized big board, as long as I have enough information on physical conditions.

With that being said, let’s kick things off with my top ten running backs:

 

 

Breece Hall

 

1. Breece Hall, Iowa State

5’11”, 215 pounds; JR

One of top 500 overall recruits in 2019 and the cousin of 49ers legend Roger Craig, Hall put up 1150 scrimmage yards and 12 TDs in 12 games as a true freshman. He already exceeded those statistics through seven games in 2020 and ended the year with 1752 yards and 23 touchdowns from scrimmage, powering the Cyclones to a Big-12 title game appearance and finishing sixth in the Heisman voting. This past season the ISU program took a big step back, going 7-6 overall, but Hall put up basically identical numbers, with slightly better averages and more of it coming in the receiving game (36-302-three), which made him a first-team All-American.

Hall is a tremendously patient runner, who will let creases develop and slice through them. Thanks to that, combined with high-level vision, he can make linebackers pay for shooting the gap too quickly on several occasions, routinely coming up with answers against quick penetration. Seeing the kind of start-stop quickness Hall has for being a big back is absurd. You routinely watch defenders trying to desperately reach out for him, as he makes them come up with nothing but air in tight spaces. Hall can literally move completely sideways as he tries to get the defense to flow and then gets vertically without any pause. If you give him a runway out to the edge, he will take it even if the cutback is more so the designed option. Like he’s deceptive with his speed out to the sideline almost. At the same time he has the peripheral vision to see the end-man on the backside crash inside, jump-cut behind that, but stay tight enough for the edge-setting defender to not get a clean shot at him. Hall usually gets more than what is there and is one of the very best at getting something when nothing is available.

What’s apparent when you watch Hall’s tape is how balanced he is within himself, even when making more drastic direction-changes. He has the contact balance to spin off defenders and regain his momentum. So many times you see him stumble momentarily and he doesn’t go down, often times not even needing to put a hand in the ground. He makes the first defender miss with the dead-leg or force himm to stop his feet with a little stutter step on several occasions or hitting a little one-two on the safety to make him do the splits. That ability to string moves together seamlessly has an artistic element to it. Yet, he also has great balance and power to run through arm-tackles and break wraps. That always shows up in his ability to convert in short-yardage situations. Along with that, he has much better breakaway ability than you would expect when you see him take the handoff, with 25 and 22 carries of 15+ yards respectively over these past two season.

The Cyclone standout steps up into his blitz pick-ups with urgency and he has that girth in the lower body to hold his ground. He gets the job done as a personal protector on rollout concepts, at times getting wide edge defenders to the turf with technically sound cut-blocks. Hall was designated with a lot of check-releases, where he would work out to the flats if he didn’t have anybody to pick up and produced positive plays consistently when nothing was available downfield. He has that shake to him to get linebackers to have their feet stuck in the turf and then he creates an angle for the ball breaking either way on option routes. Hall finds the open space as a receiver and displays fluid transitional skills after the catch. Plus then as a defender sprints at him, he can dip underneath and get positive yardage quickly.

On the negative side, Hall certainly needs some room to build up speed, as doesn’t have that zero-to-100 in-the-flash-of-an-eye ability. And it’s not like he’s trying to hit the hole at full speed a whole lot anyway. There’s potential for Hall to utilize the stiff-arm more frequently and at times I’d like him to just drop the pads instead of trying to work around guys. In pass-pro he needs to be alert for green-dog blitzes for a little longer, before committing to help out his offensive line and giving up the inside position, and he tries to mid-point it when there’s two rushers coming his way. While his drop numbers wouldn’t suggest any issue, as a receiver down the field, he claps at the ball rather than letting it drop into his hands usually, which makes it more likely that it’ll squirt out.

There was a lot of eyes on Hall in that Iowa State offense, with some of the struggles his quarterback Brock Purdy has had, but he continued to produce in a big way time and time again, handling the most touches of any back in college football over these last two years (590 times). He has that slow to it – blow through it type of approach, while being able to put some wicked moves on defenders, but also the power to drive ahead for yards after contact. At the combine he finished top-three in the 40 (4.39), vert (40 inches) and broad jump (10’6”). Hall has the potential to be a special player at the next level, because he has impeccable quicks in short areas, along with has the size to gain yards through contact and top-end speed to finish long runs.

 

Kenneth Walker III

 

2. Kenneth Walker, Michigan State

5’10”, 210 pounds; JR

Having ranked outside the top-2000 overall recruits in 2019, Walker started his college at Wake Forest, where – weirdly enough – he had exactly 579 rushing yards in each of his first two years of college, although the TD total rose from four to 13. He transferred over to Michigan State ahead of the 2021 season and quickly made an impression, with a 268-yard and three-touchdown debut for Sparty against Northwestern, including a 75-yard house call on the first play from scrimmage. He finished the year with 1646 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns over 12 games, averaging 6.2 yards per carry despite his high work load, earning himself first-team All-American honors and being among the Heisman front-runners for most of the year.

This kid has excellent short-area quickness. He just hesitates a little but and then finds that cutback in the zone run game with high efficiency. Yet he can also drop those hips and make cuts at a large radius, often times to bounce out to the edge. You see him literally jump-cut two gaps or get all the way outside the tackle when the defense is caved in at times. Walker uses his off-arm well to guide blockers and kind of sort through traffic. I think his ability to force defenders to commit and put them at the wrong side of blocks is outstanding. He didn’t benefit from Wake Forest’s weird option run game, where the quarterback rides the mesh point for forever, but rather when he was able to hit holes, that burst through the line of scrimmage really started to shine.

Walker displays the hip mobility and short-area agility to execute any type of cut – pivot in space, jump-cuts to navigate through traffic, but also make some dramatic moves in the open field. And the difference between him and many other backs is how quickly he can re-accelerate to actually get away from defenders. He can get opponents to stop their feet with a shimmy on the fly and get to the sideline even if it initially looked like they had guys out there in contain. Walker has a natural feel for navigating around defenders with curvilinear movement, reducing his area to grab, turning his upper or lower body away from flailing arms, and using the pursuit of defenders against them. He doesn’t look very big, but when he’s rolling and drops the shoulder on an awaiting defender to finish the run, he can bring some thunder. I thought you saw him bounce off some tackles and keep his balance at Wake Forest, but now he actually runs through those and gains yardage after contact, by shrugging off tackling attempts from the side. His 1168 yards after contract led the entire nation.

At the same time, when he sees that open space in front of him, he has the extra gear to run away from the pursuit, where you often see safeties try to dive at him, after getting too aggressive with their angles downhill. That led to an equally nation-leading 30 carries of 15+ yards this past season. And he was highly consistent with hitting big plays and producing numbers, as he rushed for 126 yards or more in eight of twelve games. As a pass-protector, Walker does a good job of securing the inside and at least pushing blitzers off track a little bit. Along with that, he’s pretty effective on his cut-blocks, really working through the legs of charging linebackers, to put them on the turf.

The biggest question mark on Walker as a runner is his tendency of cutting all the way across the formation or bouncing out wide as much as he tends to. He doesn’t yet understand how to freeze contain defenders to actually beat them to the corner, when they have NFL quality athleticism, needing to incorporate dips to the inside, to create that angle for himself. And he needs to understand when he’s outleveraged by multiple defenders and should just drive ahead in traffic, to get what he can. Walker isn’t necessarily looking for work if he’s not directly assigned to a defender in pass-pro and his approach in that regard is not very pro-active altogether. I’m not sure if I can remember a back being first off the board with just 19 career receptions – especially in the modern era. And on the few targets that he did have, I saw him stop his momentum or go to the turf to haul in catches.

In terms of the quickness, ability to make whatever cut is necessary, power to break arm tackles and speed to take it to the house, I think Walker ranks at the top of the class. Unfortunately with him, we just haven’t seen him produce at all as a receiver and the flashes we have seen, haven’t been great. Walker will have to become more disciplined with not relying on his speed to the edge as much, but he has all the tools to bleed out runs and get the most out of them. The top two names are just more complete players at this point, but Walker has the chance to being the most dangerous big-play threat among this group, which was backed up by beingh just one hundredth of a second off the best 40 time for a back at combine (4.38).

 

Isaiah Spiller

 

3. Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M

6’1”, 225 pounds; JR

A top-200 overall recruit in 2019, Spiller quickly turned into a workhorse for the Aggies’ dominant rushing offense, already going for 1149 scrimmage yards and ten touchdowns on 203 touches as a freshman and then putting up even better numbers the following season, with 1229 scrimmage yards on 207 touches and eight TDs, cracking the 100-yard mark on the ground in six of ten games. In 2021 he put up nearly identical numbers in two more games, even though the Aggies only went 8-4 and he personally went from first- to second-team All-SEC.

Spiller presents a thick lower body, he runs with a lot of power and consistently falls forward for an extra yard or two, extending himself as he’s already going down even. You also see several defenders slip off his legs. However, for a 225-pound back, he has incredibly quick feet and can get around defenders at a high rate. His ability to lead opponents one way and forcing them to overrun plays, as he sticks that foot in the ground and slips underneath them is highly impressive. He routinely uses the jump-cut/-stop to shift into the right lane, as he takes the handoff, and gets downhill. And in the open field you see some violent plants to cut across the grain, along with tilting away from defenders trying to get a hand on him.

This young man is so quick to translate information from his head to his feet and can adjust his running path rapidly whilst on the fly. He makes good use of stutter steps, as he approaches the line of scrimmage and wants to time things up appropriately. I love the way he runs power concepts, showing urgency initially to get his landmarks, but then being able to navigate around blockers by changing up his stride length and sliding past closely to his teammate, so he can maximize the space available. Spiller can make an unblocked linebacker miss in the backfield better than a lot of sub-200 pound backs and he does an outstanding job of reducing his surface area and contorting his body to squeeze through creases, where at times his upper body is leaning a different way than his legs are already taking him.

Spiller can absolutely stone-wall blitzers, who try to run right through his chest, and he doesn’t shy away from putting hands on defensive tackles even as a pass-protector. He can redirect and push blitzers off track just enough as he sees the man get through. His loose hips are on displays when he steps up one way and has to quickly transition to a different rusher, as the defense runs some kind of twist with the linebackers. And he sells out on play-fakes, to where you actually see him drop the shoulder on guys who try to wrap him up. He also takes his job as a lead-blocker seriously and does a great job of breaking down against safeties working upfield. While his usage as a receiver was rather limited at A&M, there’s no indication that anything is wrong with Spiller’s hands and he becomes a pretty tough tackle, if you flip it out to him, with everything that I already described, showing a plan on what to do with it. Spiller Came up with two enormous catches on third-and-long in the 2021 Colorado game, including the game-winning and only A&M touchdown on the day with three minutes left, to avoid the upset. And that was one of quite a few grabs, where he showed great focus on slightly underthrown wheel routes.

With that being said, Spiller tends to trust his speed a little too much and tries to bounce out to the edges more often than he should. He can get a little too eager and gives away cutbacks pretty early, where his body is already tilted that way as he takes the handoff. He doesn’t yet have the between-the-tackle vision you’d like to see from, having run as much zone as he has. Spiller gets a little too cute at times, where I’d just want him to use his size and go through people, especially when there’s traffic in the backfield. And as much as you like the creativeness in space, Spiller lacks the top-end speed to rip off explosive runs routinely. I feel like 90 percent of the routes he ran at Texas A&M were swings or chip-and-hooks over the middle. So we don’t know much about his ability to actually aim at linebackers and set them up in that area.

I don’t know what exactly it is, but Spiller somehow went from one of the top two backs in the draft entering the 2021 season to a bit of an afterthought in that conversation, as people fell in love in with other names. Really the two only concerns I have with him are the fact he’s a bit too much of a dancer and that he doesn’t have breakaway speed. Everything else is excellent. While he needs to learn how to read gap-schemes more cleanly and decisively, he has the goods to play in any system, with the footwork to navigate around bodies in tight areas. He was probably underutilized as a receiver, he’s a super-creative open field runner and he has the size to go through defenders as well, when needed.

 

James Cook

 

4. James Cook, Georgia

5’11”, 190 pounds; SR

Once a top-50 overall recruit in 2018, this brother of Vikings superstar running back Dalvin Cook never quite became a featured option in the backfield for the Bulldogs, because of all the other talented guys they had there. However, on 157 touches through his first three years, he amassed 1221 yards and nine touchdowns from scrimmage, And then in 2021, when he finally did receive more work, he turned 113 carries and 27 more receptions into 1012 yards and 11 TDs on 7.2 yards per touch, while playing a key role in Georgia winning the National Championship.

Cook reminds me a lot of his brother with the way he can kill linebackers, who flow a little too hard and leave the gap behind them uncovered for a split-second, because he can shoot through it. When he has a defender flashing in the hole, he can add a little head-nod that way and slip underneath, to not allow that guy to get a hand on him. He can incorporate those small hops to get over trash and fluidly play with his acceleration almost. Cook is very efficient with his footwork behind the line of scrimmage and can slice through the crease between the furthest blocker on the backside and the edge defender, who he tries to stay home on zone schemes against boots or guys sneaking into the flats. At times it seems this guy has greased up his hips, when you see tacklers slip off him, and he’s very elusive once he gets out into space.

Watching Cook’s burst through the line of scrimmage is scary for defenders. He has the speed to get out to the edge and defeat secondary pursuit consistently. That’s why Georgia had him aim outside on some invert veer plays, where even if the end played it pretty well and looked to have a shot at him, Cook was able to bubble around and get wide. You see plenty of defenders not take conservative enough angles to get to him at the sideline. Yet when someone in pursuit overruns it, he can also cross that guy up and completely make him whiff. It’s kind of crazy how often you see defenders land flat on their face that way. If the play-side linebacker leverages himself outside a little too much and backside stays home, you better hope your deep safety is a great open-field tackler, because Cook will cut underneath the backer and may just bang his head on the goal-post. There was a 29-yard touchdown run at the end of the first half in the 2020 South Carolina game, where the defense has two stack linebackers and a two-high safety look out there, Cook goes right through the middle and literally splits the entire defense so to speak

Over the last couple of years, Cook was the ying to the steady yang of Zamir White, as more of the receiving option and big-play guy. He is so natural at catching the ball on the run with those soft hands and not having to slow down at all, as well as staying focused on higher-arcing balls on routes down the sideline, as he provided some big play on wheels. That is backed up by having dropped just one of 68 career catchable targets. When catching the ball with his back to the defenses, Cook quickly IDs defenders around him and gets past them effectively. He has innate feel for how guys try to leverage him and dip the other way. His coaches really liked using him as a jet sweep threat and on swing routes/screens. Georgia legitimately put Cook out wide in empty sets and had him run fades, where he attacks straight and then slightly widens, to avoid contact. He was kind of the Alabama killer these last two year, catching an 82-yard touchdown in 2020 against linebacker Christian Harris on one of those go routes, and then ripping off a season-long 67-yard run against them in the ’21 Natty, to set up the first touchdown of the day.

Unfortunately, Cook simply doesn’t have the build to be something like a workhorse back. His brother was 20 pounds heavier coming into the league for example. James will have to add some more muscle to his frame, which may come at the cost of some ease in his movement skills. While he does extend forward routinely, there’s not a ton of power to actually gain yards through contact. In particular when the B-gap on the front side of zone runs is open, but his only real option is to power through the linebacker in it, too often it’s just a one- or two-yard gain. Cook only carried the ball more than seven times once until this past season and even than his highest total was 12. While you like the ability to get to blitzers across the front, Cook is rather timid as a pass-protector and he just doesn’t have the natural girth to really anchor down against 240+ pound linebackers.

Even though he wasn’t heavily utilized at Georgia, Cook always displayed fresh legs and plenty of juice when he was on the field. You always want to see more of a power aspect to his game, but he has that slashing running style and can make those one-step cuts in the open field, to punish pursuing defenders, who have to take respect his speed. I don’t believe he’ll ever handle the ball 18-20 times a game, but if you give low double-digit touches and allow him to operate in space, with the way he can catch the ball and run with it, he can add a very dynamic element to your offense. And he actually bested his Dalvin with a 4.42 at the combine.

 

Dameon Pierce

 

5. Dameon Pierce, Florida

5’9” ½, 220 pounds; SR

A former top-ten running back recruit from 2018, Pierce immediately was involved in the Gator offense and increased his production throughout his career. However, he was still heavily underutilized, especially as a senior, when he touched the ball just 119 times, even though he turned those into 790 yards and 16 touchdowns. That made up for a little less than half of his career production at Gainesville.

This dude runs the ball with apparent violence and contact balance, to where you even see him shake of defensive linemen in the backfield a few times, and he always finishes strong. He looks like a wild horse trying to be corralled once he gets going, while having the build of a bowling ball, where people are bouncing off his thighs and torso or twisting away. That clip of Pierce losing his helmet, but still running through tackles against Florida State was one of my favorite moments from last year’s college football season. And while the overall production throws up question, Pro Football Focus gave him the highest rushing grade (93.5) of any FBS running back in 2021.

Pierce has the change-of-direction ability to bounce all the way around the backside edge defender, when he crashes down blindly and there’s no lane to hit front-side for Pierce. At the same time he can stutter, nod inside and then as he sees defensive linemen peak inwards, point the toe outside and beat them around the corner on a original play-direction. Pierce shows the suddenness to squeeze through a narrow crease between his blocker and a defender sat in the hole, to at least dive forward, when the play is covered, actively launching himself ahead on multiple occasions. And he has a phenomenal one-legged plant, along with twisting the upper body just a little bit, to run through wraps without being slowed down a whole lot. You routinely see him set up defenders, getting them to lean outside and then slice underneath, where now those arm tackles aren’t going to do much to him.

Analyzing his usage as a receiver, Pierce ran a bunch of swing routes, often times off motion, clearing out space on the inside, but showing good burst and then of course the power when he got a chance to, as the quarterback dumped it off to him. The few times they did let him go further downfield, he usually showed good concentration on the catch, even with a hit coming in. During Senior Bowl week, we got to see him run different patterns, beating linebackers across their face on angle routes and getting a couple of steps on them on wheels, after giving a little shake initially. Plus, then he was able to hit another gear once the ball was in his hands. With Florida’s RPO heavy scheme, true pass-pro reps were also limited, but he did look pretty impressive at getting in front of charging linebackers and holding his ground. He also put that on display in Mobile. In particular on day two – as they did at the end of Lions practices – he stone-walled App State linebacker D’Marco Jackson a couple of times when that matchup was called out by the coaches.

However, Pierce has to peak back inside more regularly to recognize opportunities to get upfield. He could bleed out runs some more, where he slightly overruns his blockers and isn’t ready to cut it up, after pressing a crease. Because at that point his only option is to bounce out wide and his burst isn’t at that level, where he can just outrun the defense regularly. Pierce never touched the ball more than 123 times in a season and carried it more than 13 times just once. There were complete drives for Florida, where Pierce didn’t see the field, and while you can put a lot of the blame on the Gators’ coaching staff, you have to question why he didn’t receive more chances – whether it’s understanding (protection) rules or whatever. We simply don’t have a ton of tape of him on passing downs, being used in any diversified role, and while he flashed ability in that regard down in Mobile, he also dropped a couple of potential over-the-shoulder grabs, where the timing of him stretching out the hands was a little bit off.

This was one of the most underutilized backs throughout his college career. Pierce put on a show at the Senior Bowl and has a lot of people – including me – excited for an extended (three-down) role. There are things he has to clean up in the way he approaches the line of scrimmage and we really only saw him run inside zone, HB sweep and a bunch of swing routes, but the short-area quicks, power and mentality are all there. NFL teams will have to sit down with him (and the Florida coaches), to figure out why he didn’t get the chances it seems he should have, but if there’s no red flag due to that, I’d love to bring him in later on day two.

 

Jerome Ford

 

6. Jerome Ford, Cincinnati

5’11”, 210 pounds; RS JR

After originally committing to Alabama as a four-star recruit in 2018, Ford transferred two years later because he didn’t get the chances to show off his skill-set for the Crimson Tide. In 2020, he was still sharing touches with Gerrid Doaks (81 touches for 534 yards and eight TDs), but Ford eventually became the Cincinnati’s workhorse as a senior, touching the ball 236 times for 1539 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Ford approaches the line of scrimmage with some urgency on more vertical schemes and takes the direct lane, when it’s there. He can pull in his shoulders to squeeze through to narrow openings and there’s a lot of occasions, where other backs would try to navigate their way around traffic, as defenders are leveraged to either side of him, but he just slices right through it. Ford does a nice job of adjusting his path ever so slightly on the move and pairs it with excellent burst, to make swinging arms at him look like they don’t affect him at all. He displays some impressive start-stop quicks in crowded areas. When going off-tackle and seeing the edge defender peak inside, he will not hesitate to punish poor contain and get to the corner, where he becomes a tough tackle for flat defenders, while forcing guys to overrun stuff with his burst as well.

This guy becomes a freight train, when you give him a runway, where he can pull through wraps and push off defenders in his way, with tremendous leg-drive and contact balance, quickly getting his feet back down. I really appreciate the violence to his game and how hard he runs from the first to the very last snap. Ford utilizes a well-placed stiff-arm against diving tackling attempts, putting his hand right at the crown of the helmet. He doesn’t fool around in short-yardage situations, probably bruising his own blockers on plenty of occasions with the way he plows ahead. Often times he will take a negative play and at least pull himself back forward to the line of scrimmage. At the same time, he has the top-end speed to go the distance, which you saw on a 79-yard touchdown against Georgia in the 2020/21 Peach Bowl, where he was actually gaining ground on fast DBs. On what PFF calls “perfectly-blocked runs”, nobody averaged more yards per (11.2).

Due to the mobility of quarterback Desmond Ridder, Ford is very familiar with the option run game (zone read and speed option), along with some duo and Y/H-lead. He’s also one of the better draw runners I’ve watched in the class. His burst out to the edge and quick footwork to hit cutbacks was on display during Senior Bowl practices. Ford does not shy away from sticking his face in the fan when picking up blitzers, although his take-on technique needs some work to actually maintain blocks, and when you get this guy rumbling, he can quickly gain yardage after the catch, as you flip it out to him out in the flats, where he shows good focus on extension grabs.

With that being said, I would like to see him plant harder on lateral run schemes, to really punish the flow of the defense. There’s room to become more efficient with his footwork overall and there’s a lack of patience to some degree, where he runs into his own blockers, when it’s not necessary (even if he has improved there). Rarely does Ford actually make guys flat-out miss and while I appreciate the fight, he has to understand the importance of protecting the ball when he’s pushing forward with bodies around him. You love the physicality Ford brings to the table, but you have to question the durability long-term with that kind of style, since he did come in 10 pounds lighter at the combine than expected. Ford didn’t have a ton of passing down work, often being subbed out in those situations and being limited to swings, flat routes and screens.

You look at some of the other backs that have come out of Cincy, there has certainly been a benefit to playing in that system and having a running threat at QB next to them. However, there are a lot of redeeming qualities to Ford’s game, with the ability to set up runs with quick movement in tight spaces, the power to run through contact and the speed to rip off big chunks in a hurry. He will have to work on his technique as a pass-protector and he’s unproven as a route-runner, but I don’t see anything that would keep him from becoming a three-down back at the next level eventually, if he learns to hold onto the ball, having fumbled three times in each of the last two years.

 

Kyren Williams

 

7. Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

5’9”, 200 pounds; JR

A former four-star wide receiver recruit. after barely seeing the field as a freshman, Williams became the feature back for the Irish in 2020, combining for 1438 yards and 14 touchdowns on 211 carries plus 35 receptions, during their run to the College Football Playoff. Last season, he recorded 84 scrimmage yards less and his averages slightly went down, but he reached the end-zone three extra times, whilst his team still made it to a New Year’s Six bowl.

Williams is an excellent zone-runner, who can dip and widen off the inside foot to continue working frontside or hit the cutback when a seam opens up. Along with that, he will punish poor backside discipline routinely, as he sees somebody shifted too far inside and bends all the way across the grain. Williams has the sudden movement skills to make people miss in the backfield and turn a loss into a nice gain. He showcases the reactive athleticism to translate what he sees to his legs and he clearly doesn’t panic with bodies screaming by. He can make something out of nothing, where he is dead to rights with multiple defenders around him, but he gets away from them with his sudden bursts. He will absolutely test your discipline on run fits. Watching him get out of harm’s way on draws, as defenders are guided off track is beautiful to watch.

Watching him operate navigate through traffic, Williams gets really low in his cuts and can actually completely stop and start, to somewhat create a lane for himself, while being very well-schooled in switching hands with the ball. Plus, when he gets in the open, he can actually stop on a dime, to make defenders miss, who come in too eager. While he may not have break-away speed and will never time particularly well, he did pull away from defensive backs on multiple occasions and Clemson’s talented defense learned that at first hand, going for about a 70-yard TD just a few plays into that big 2020 regular season matchup. However, Williams also runs with a certain physicality that you don’t out of many guys his weight class. He initiates contact with good pad-level and pulls through for extra yardage consistently – and he also likes to deliver a wicked straight-arm.

This young man offers an intriguing skill-set as a receiver, with the quick twitch to separation on angle, out and pivot routes. He consistently catches the ball with his finger-tips away from his body, he adjusts to off-target throws super naturally and bailed out his quarterback(s) on multiple occasions. Williams does a tremendous job of setting the table on screen plays, stepping up with his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, before working outside and then quickly getting to his second gear once he secures the catch. He was motioned out and used in the patterns quite a bit for the Irish. Along with that, this is one of the better pass-protecting backs I’ve seen at a young age in college. He shows an excellent ability to keep his head on a swivel, ID blitzes and pick up the biggest threat in protection. Then he squares up his man immensely effectively, strikes upwards to take off the initial steam and maintains active feet. And he actually takes out some guys with cut-blocks, when necessary.

The two things that Kyren lacks is great size or explosiveness. So with how the NFL is getting faster every year, he might not be able to provide big plays consistently, as you already saw him get tripped up from behind on several occasions when playing top-tier competition. And running the slowest 40 of any RB at the combine (4.65) certainly doesn’t help. While Williams can avoid straight wraps and slide forward for a couple of extra yards, you barely see him actually break tackles, in part because he’s easier to wrap around, due to not having the girthy lower body the other top backs in this class do. There’s quite a few runs for minus two yards for him, because he can drive forward to the line of scrimmage. You can argue the description “jack of all trades, master of none” applies here with Williams. And he was surprisingly subbed off a lot more last season for the light-footed Chris Tyree, particularly on longer down.

You’d like him to be a little bit bigger. You’d like to see a little more explosion. I don’t know if he’s elite at anything in this draft necessarily, but Williams does pretty much everything well. Personally, I can see him play all three downs effectively, even if he may end up sharing more touches than the top three names. What you really like about him is that you can trust him in passing situations from day one and he gives you the ability to win cleanly in one-on-one tackling spots. I understand that some people may drop him way down the board after his showing at the combine, because he may not meet certain cut-offs, but the kid can absolutely play.

 

Tyler Badie

 

8. Tyler Badie, Missouri

5’8”, 200 pounds; SR

Back in 2018, Badie was a three-star all-purpose back recruit. After moderate production as a part-time player behind Larry Rountree III through his first three years, where he primarily got onto the field on longer downs, because he might be able to make something happen if the quarterbacks checks the ball down, he became the Tigers workhorse in 2021. Overall he touched the ball 322(!) times for 1942 yards and 18 touchdowns, including 54 receptions, earning himself second-team All-American notice.

If you’re looking for a dangerous one-cut zone runner, this is your guy. It looks like Badie actually gains speed through his cuts going laterally to horizontal. He shows outstanding hip mobility, to spot penetration and change directions fluidly, getting himself out of trouble time and time again, while having the acceleration to quickly get moving again. You routinely see Badie give defenders a little head-fake and maneuver around them, when it looks like his opponent was leveraged correctly. Getting skinny through the hole doesn’t do him justice, because you literally see the him hop over the legs of blockers, to glide through that crease between two guys. He absolutely killed Vanderbilt last season for 294 scrimmage yards and a couple of touchdowns (on 39 touches). That was one of five(!) contests with over 200 yards on the ground alone.

This dude has some serious juice through the hole, where he may cut it up behind the center and the backside linebacker is shuffling along, but can’t touch him at all or someone gets a wrap from the side and he still has already ripped off ten yards – if he doesn’t go 70 to the house. The Mizzou breakout can make some dynamic cuts in the open field and is a master at setting up defenders, in order to cross them up, whilst using the off-arm to almost push them by. Yet, he also twists his body and pushes off the ground with his back towards the opposite end-zone, to fall forward on many occasions, while also having some slipperiness to him and the ability to get his cleat back into the turf after getting spun off contact.

Badie ran a lot of slide or flat routes at Missouri, where he caught the ball with extended arms and made fluid transitions upfield. He also shows the flexibility to pluck passes off his shoe-laces and regain his balance. Badie can make something happen on check-downs by making the first man miss, often times in creative fashion, and he is dangerous weapon in the screen game, with the way he can juke around blockers and accelerate past pursuit. The Tiger coaches put him in the slot and pop-passed him some jet sweeps off motions, to have that dynamic runner at full speed at the snap already. I also saw him do the Michael Jackson’s lean with the toes in bounds for some catches at the sideline. Badie caught multiple passes in all but the final game of last season and he had ten(!) against Kentucky. During Senior Bowl practices, he hit a wicked dead-leg move to win on an angle route once and I loved the way he operated on screen, hesitating and timing things up, in order to allow his blockers to do the work and the slip underneath them.

Taking that into account, when defenders do get a straight shot at Badie or a defensive tackle tries to pull him backwards, there’s not the type of power to drive through it. You see linebackers shoot the gap and really smack him backwards a few times on tape. He should have absolutely been more involved before the ’21 season, but handling the ball as much as he did was more of an anomaly, because there wasn’t much to rely on for that offense. Badie dips his head a lot and doesn’t have the size to really be an asset in pass-protection, making him a scat-back mostly. And as a receiver,  he has to get his head around a little quicker on outlets, to be ready for the ball. While you like his potential out in the pattern, it’s not like Badie ran a very complex route-tree in college.

Badie to me is a back, whose snap count should be limited, because you don’t want him to get banged up on a bunch of first-down carries and pass-pro reps, but man, can he can give your offense some juice! He did not play in a very dynamic offense and had the ball checked down to him without much space on plenty of occasions, but he somehow consistently made things happen and ripped off chunks. There’s some power backs in this draft who might end up touching the ball more frequently in this class, but those guys are much easier to find and don’t bring the same amount of value as Badie in my opinion.

 

Cam'Ron Harris

 

9. Cam’Ron Harris, Miami

5’10”, 210 pounds; RS JR

Once a former top-200 overall recruit in 2018, Harris racked up just under 1500 scrimmage yards and 17 touchdowns through his first two years with the Hurricanes, after an initial redshirt campaign. Then he was on pace for career-highs across the board in 2021, but a knee injury ended his season seven games in – he had recorded 82 touches for 528 yards and six touchdowns up to that point.

Harris is very smooth with his transition from East-West to North-South. He uses those little stutter-steps and sideway jukes to go along with his powerful running style, to catch defenders off balance. He can be pressing the A-gap and then bounce all the way out wide in one jump-cut. Along with, he’s able to spot color in the backfield and get upfield quickly, as well as forcing the defense to keep flowing and then cutting up right behind the next blocker, routinely nullifying backside linebackers, by getting them to overcommit. Plus, he can give a little one-two step to freeze the edge defender just enough to get to the corner. Harris displays that secondary burst to split two defenders trying to converge on him from opposite sides and he has the long speed to go the distance, including a 75-yard touchdown against Louisville in their top-20 matchup.

This guy can make some dramatic moves in the open field, juking sideways or setting up defenders and making hard cuts to cross them up. The amount of times there’s a defender charging at him at full speed on an angle and he shrugs them by or makes them run three yards past him is pretty crazy. Harris has the balance to slip off tackles, step sideways and get back downhill. Miami let him take some direct snaps in short-yardage situations, where he could just plow ahead. He has those sweet feet, so you can forget that he’s a pretty big guy and can bounce off some hits. Harris understands when it’s time to leave his feet to leap into the end-zone or levitate over a defender who’s about take out his knees by working across.

With the way he can set up defenders and get around them, Harris can consistently make flat defenders whiff and turn checkdowns into nice yardage. He ran a ton of swings and continued that way off orbit motions, to clear out space over the middle. So his yards-per-route or whatever may not look great, but it’s not actually indicative of what he may be able to do in that regard. Harris isn’t looking to sit back in protection, but rather makes up the space to rushers and strikes from below. He even gets his hands on some D-ends looping inside off twists or when the Canes do full-line slides, while having the athletic feet to guide defenders away from the quarterback loses. And he whacks some guys on the edge when chipping before getting out in the route.

On the negative side, Harris’ feet and eyes aren’t always married, when trying to naturally plant and make cuts behind the line of scrimmage. He has to become more efficient with his short-area operation to take advantage of the things he sees. When there’s traffic in the backfield, he tends to dance a little bit too much and lose a couple of yards in the process at times, along with cutting all the way back on a few occasions with somebody in position to keep contain. Harris didn’t run any intricate routes, almost exclusively working out to the flats, and he waits for the ball to get into his body and pin it against himself at times.

As I try to project Harris forward to the NFL, he could be more efficient as a mover in tight spaces, but he has that ankle and hip mobility to perfect that, while having good burst and special ability to make guys miss in open space. I would like to see him run up to his size more often and he’s unproven as a pass-catcher (beyond the line of scrimmage at least), but he has the potential to become one of the most complete backs in this draft in my opinion and is a name that gets lost a little bit in the shuffle I believe, due to missing the latter half of the season and the class being as deep as it is.

 

Tyler Allgeier

 

10. Tyler Allgeier, BYU

5’11”, 220 pounds; RS JR

Not receiving any stars in his recruiting profile back in 2018, Allgeier actually had the same amount of carries as tackles (26 each) through his first two years at BYU. However, he has produced big offensive numbers over the latter two, touching the 164 times for 1304 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2020, and then without Zach Wilson at QB, Allgeier became a true workhorse, touching the ball 304 times for 1800 yards and 23 TDs this past season.

This young man combines good power and breakaway speed. He had several long touchdowns for the Cougars these last two years. Allgeier takes those completely horizontal handoffs on wide zone runs and can bend well off that outside foot to get upfield, dragging that inside foot along to curve his path. You see him recognize defenders that are supposed to get kicked out, try to slip their block, and he punishes them by getting all the way outside. He can step next to a blocker almost and kind of pivot or juke sideways, to get to the other side of him. Even if he has to get to a full stop behind a teammate, he can squat down momentarily and quickly get back up to gear, as he shoots through a different lane. Yet, there’s not much dancing in the backfield or anything like that. Allgeier’s speed was also utilized on jet sweeps and taking handoffs off motions.

In the open field, you see him run a lot with his shoulders completely North and then give a defender in space a sudden acceleration either way. He really pulls those knees up high and has the galloping strides to run away from defenders. Allgeier runs with his pads out in front and lifts them up through contact, to often times slip off guys. There’s a lot of arms swinging at him and pads popping, but he doesn’t get off track too much, as well as stumbling forward. Allgeier keeps churning his legs to push the pile, which made him such an effective goal-line back for the Cougars. His 1143 yards after contact was the second-most among backs in college football last season and only five guys eligible for this draft forced more missed tackles (76).

Allgeier can give your offense some attitude with his physicality and how he keeps himself alive as a runner, while also firing up his teammates with the fight he shows. As a receiver, he was mostly limited to swing or slip routes and outlets, but he typically caught the ball and if you give him space, he will take it. My favorite play from Allgeier however was one, where he never actually touched the ball – last season he had an awesome chase-down tackle and strip on what should have been a pick-six for Arizona State last season.

While he has ability to plant and redirect, so it doesn’t come off as problematic, in general Allgeier has a bit of an issue of overrunning plays and get to the edge of a blocker too early, with a defender shaded that way. You see him stop his feet a lot and not allow himself to gain momentum, which at that point he is much easier to bring down. And his speed is more built up than explosive out of the gates. Running a 4.6 at the combine doesn’t quite match up with the fact he’s had quite a few long TDs in college, where having one of the best run-blocking O-lines and playing some inferior physical opponents comes into play. Plus he’s not a very creative open-field runner. Allgeier shows good toughness as a pass-protector, but has to do a better job of identifying the biggest threat and then actually striking up into the frame of that guy at contact. He’s not pro-active enough that area and a couple of times I felt like he wasn’t fully convinced with what he was supposed to do.

Even though I would like to see more refined pacing and setting up run schemes, Allgeier is one of the better rushers coming out of the draft, thanks to the combination of power and ability to build up speed. While there should be room to grow, he is nowhere near trustworthy on obvious passing downs and didn’t put in a lot of work as a receiver either. To me, if you have somebody to fulfill that role, he can be an explosive rusher early on, who adds an element of physicality to an offense as soon as he hits the field.

 


 

Just missed the cut:

 

Brian Robinson Jr.

 

Brian Robinson Jr., Alabama

6’1”, 225 pounds; SR

A top-ten running back in the 2017 class, Robinson had to really wait his turn, behind Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris, but improved his numbers all four years in Tuscaloosa and as a senior he recorded more than half of his career touches (306) for 1632 yards and 16 total touchdowns, which made him a first-team All-SEC selection.

+ Shows a very fluid ability to get North on those one-cut zone schemes

+ Does a nice job of adjusting his stride length and making subtle shifts in his direction, to allow the blocking to get set up

+ When he can really stride it out, Robinson can get to a better top-end speed than you’d think

+ Runs super hard and his pads are always out in front, often times rolling over defenders

+ Packs a strong stiff-arm and drags tacklers along with him on several occasions, when he has some steam, and just falling forward

+ Brings a physical toughness to an offense, with the third-most missed tackles forced among draft-eligible RBs last season (79)

+ Understands who he is and doesn’t try to pull off any dramatic moves, he isn’t actually capable of

+ Displays good ball-security fundamentals, bringing it tight into his body and protecting it with that second hand

+ Understands his assignments and packs a punch as a pass-protector, stone-walling guys at full speed

+ Caught 35 passes last year and is tough to bring down for secondary members

– Doesn’t have the explosive burst to get around the edge consistently on wide zone schemes and gets tracked down for negative yards on quite a few

– Can’t really make defenders miss in tight spaces and when he has to stop his feet, he’s much easier to get to the ground

– Doesn’t show the quick twitch to get separation on option routes

– Didn’t really catch any passes downfield at Alabama, despite the large volume of receptions

There’s nothing that really excites you about Robinson games, but everything he does is super solid. He’s physical in all aspects of the game, gets what is there and can gain yardage through contact. Due to his ability to anchor and get the job done as a protector, he can stay on the field on passing downs, but he doesn’t offer you anything dynamic as a receiver, being limited to a check-down option most likely. So you’ll probably want to pair him with somebody who can make something happen individually a few times.

 

Zonovan Knight, N.C. State

5’11”, 210 pounds; JR

This was a top-500 overall recruit in 2019. Other than touchdowns, Knight had three almost identical seasons with the Wolfpack, averaging 762 rushing yards and six touchdowns, despite only about 140 carries, sharing the load every year with somebody else.

+ Very much trusts the run scheme and takes what is there on the front-side, rather than being hellbent on finding the cutback

+ Literally aims towards the line of scrimmage at a 45-degree angle on those zone schemes, before planting hard but in a controlled fashion to get North

+ Rarely overruns his blocks, allowing guys to get set up and tightly navigating around them

+ Pretty violent with his jump-stops to sort of pause and let things develop

+ Does a good job of cutting behind pursuit defenders, paired with a swipe-by with his arm

+ There’s a lot of subtle shifts of his running path in general, that don’t look as cool as they are effective

+ Consistently pulls up his heels to get them out of the grasp of would-be-tacklers, rarely getting tripped up or twisted down low

+ Led the ACC with 95 missed tackles forced over these last two seasons

+ Doesn’ slowing if there’s defenders in his way and squirms through for that extra yard at the end

+ Adjusts well to off-target throws and doesn’t usually let the ball get into his frame

–  Doesn’t have a ton of juice to or through the hole

– His upright running style exposes more surface area for those initial wraps to occur

– Doesn’t have any type of break-away gear, getting run down or having to try crossing defenders on the back-end

– Had the benefit of often being able to stretch runs out to the left side, with tackle Ikem Ekwonu driving his man into the sideline, along with a pretty strong run-blocking unit overall

– Has to do a better job of working inside-out as a pass-protector

Knight could be an excellent addition of a rotation in the backfield, as a disciplined runner with an understanding for how to utilize his blockers and getting positive yardage. However, he won’t give you that big play ability and he has to improve as a blocker to stay on the field on third downs. Watching him blast through defenders, but then also absolutely nailing the Deuce Staley drill at the combine kind of tells the story.

 

Hassan Haskins, Michigan

6’1”, 220 pounds; SR

Just inside the top-1000 overall recruits in 2018, Haskins was a pure special teams contributor as a freshman. After a good 1000 yards and ten touchdowns combined over next two seasons, he went off for 1458 yards and 20(!) TDs in 2021 alone, which earned him first-team All-Big Ten honors, as he really started to take over down the stretch last season and was tough to slow down.

+ Shows good peripheral vision and overall ability to see run schemes develop

+ Can guide defenders into getting blocked, by staying behind his teammate and then working around that guy

+ Moves well laterally to navigate around blocks and Can torque his upper body, to get really skinny through the hole

+ Gets low in his cuts and doesn’t already tilt prematurely

+ Makes good use of lead-blockers, actually putting a hand on guys on guiding them to some degree, before either committing either way

+ Utilizes that off-arm extremely to stabilize himself and be more effective with his running path, as well as swipe down the reach of would-be tacklers

+ Has some pretty good build-up speed when there’s room

+ Spins off a bunch of tackles and carries defenders on his back for some YAC a couple of times every game

+ Rock-solid pass-protector, who identifies blitzers, works inside out in a disciplined fashion, slides his feet to square up his man and doesn’t lung into guys

+ Delivers chips to the edges with a purpose, before releasing into his routes

– At times there’s too much hop to his game, when I him to just plow ahead

– Not a very creative open-field runner or somebody who will punish third-level defenders for breaking down in space

– Lack of juice that can show up a few times in tight areas, where a defender can scrape over the top of a block and slow him down

– Can turn two-yard into four-yard runs, but where others might go 80, he gets taken down after 20

Haskins is a guy I trust to get it done on all three downs, as a tough early-down runner and a physical pass-protector. Rarely will you see him hurt your team by trying to do his own thing or missing something, but he’s not somebody who will deliver a bunch of explosive plays at the next level necessarily. I look at him in sort of a Jordan Howard mold, where he might get 1000 yards in the right situation, but eventually is more of a (trustworthy) committee back.

 

Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma

5’11”, 215 pounds; RS JR

A former top-250 overall recruit back in 2017, Brooks had an incredible freshman campaign with 1056 rushing yards and 12 TDs on a ridiculous 8.9 yards per carry. He went over 1000 yards on the ground in 2019 as well, but the average went down by 2.4 yards and he only scored half as many times, sharing the backfield with Trey Sermon, He opted out of the 2020 (COVID) season and then was paired with another talented back in Eric Gray last year, yet he actually recorded career-highs in carries (198), total rushing yards (1253) and touchdowns (13), keeping Gray on the sideline for the most part.

+ Eyes and lower body are in sync, while being very patient at allowing the blocking to develop

+ Excels at pressing on zone plays and taking advantage of the flow with an upfield cut to the backside

+ Does a great job of attacking the outside edge of defenders and then sliding underneath them, to where he barely gets touched

+ Uses the off-arm well to almost pull himself laterally as he leaves his feet momentarily, while swiping away the reach of the tackler simultaneously

+ Routinely being first to establish contact with well-located stiff-arms in tight quarters

+ Might be the best back in this draft with the way he uses minimal movements to maximize what he can get

+ Strong runner, who won’t be easily pulled down, as he bounces or spins off several hits, and he really pulls those toes upwards, to step out of tackling attempts

+ Burst looked a little bit better this past season,

+ Excellent balance and keeps himself alive during plays

+ Basically forced Trey Sermon to transfer and left no doubt who should get the majority of work, when Eric Gray came in

– Very unproven as a pass-catcher (only 29 career receptions) and there’s multiple drops on tape on very catchable balls

– Doesn’t have that type of instant acceleration and looks almost a little lethargic at times with his approach as a runner

– Difference in burst when OU’s second running back Eric Gray got to touch the ball was apparent

– Gets tracked down a lot of times where most backs would bang their head on the goal post

You always want to see more explosiveness out of Brooks and with how fast the NFL has become, that may be the difference between him actually getting past the line of scrimmage, where he becomes a rolling train, and getting wrapped up in the hole for no gain. However, in terms of a strong early down back, who can frustrate the defense by bouncing off hits, there’s plenty to like as well. I thought the pairing between him and Gray last season worked well, because of the way they complemented each other. However, you saw who Lincoln Riley trusted to carry the load – especially in the big games.

 



 

The next names up:

 

Zamir White (Georgia), Ty Chandler (North Carolina), Tyler Goodson (Iowa), Snoop Conner & Jerrion Ealy (Ole Miss), ZaQuandre White (South Carolina), Sincere McCormick (UTSA), Rachaad White (Arizona State), Pierre Strong (South Dakota State)

 

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NFL Draft

Who made and lost the most money at the 2022 NFL Combine:

We’re back after the NFL combine and I’m bringing you my list of the biggest winners & losers from the week, in terms of all-around showings – measurements, testing numbers and on-field drills. Of course tape is still king, but this can allow us to separate guys who were grouped closely together, and either confirms what we saw on tape or makes us go back to it, if there’s a discrepancy.

Btw. I have a new microphone – a little more quiet, but I hope the quality is better. Let me know in the comments, along with any other thoughts you may have on this topic!

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NFL Free Agency

One free agent to target for each NFL team in 2022:

We are nearly two weeks into the non-playing season and while my main focus right now lies in the NFL draft, I thought it would be a fun exercise to look through all the teams in terms of available cap space heading into free agency, team needs & then find that one player that they should prioritize on trying to sign.

Thanks to overthecap.com for the graphic and cap space information!

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NFL Draft

Biggest risers from the 2022 college all-star events:

With the NFL having added an extra week of regular season football and everything else being pushed back even further, there was even less media attention for the first parts of the draft process. However, now that the Rams have been crowned as league champions, we enter the offseason and for everybody, who didn’t actually keep up with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl, I put together this list of prospects, who have boosted their stock over the course of those events.

So I watched all the practices and the games from those three weeks and picked out 15 names altogether, who I believe helped themselves the most with their performances. This group primarily includes Senior Bowl guys, who partially were called up from the NFLPA Bowl, since I actually watched every single rep of every single drill basically, while I didn’t have that kind of exclusive footage from the other two events.

Here’s the list I came up with:

 

Continue reading

With the NFL having added an extra week of regular season football and everything else being pushed back even further, there was even less media attention for the first parts of the draft process. However, now that the Rams have been crowned as league champions, we enter the offseason and for everybody, who didn’t actually keep up with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, East-West Shrine game and Senior Bowl, I put together this list of prospects, who have boosted their stock over the course of those events.

So I watched all the practices and the games from those three weeks and picked out 15 names altogether, who I believe helped themselves the most with their performances. This group primarily includes Senior Bowl guys, who partially were called up from the NFLPA Bowl, since I actually watched every single rep of every single drill basically, while I didn’t have that kind of exclusive footage from the other two events.

Here’s the list I came up with:

 

Continue reading

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