Player Analysis: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson

screencap via ABC Sports

Name: Sammy Watkins
Class: Junior
Height: 6’1″
Weight: 211 lbs.
School: Clemson

Strengths: There is so much to like about Watkins, one could go on for days. Watkins accelerates smoothly, getting to an impressive top speed easily and can fly past a corner who gives him space off the line. He possesses great footwork as well though, and is able to beat press-coverage off the line by outmaneuvering the defender and then turning on his speed.

Watkins also shows more than one gear both in route running and after-the-catch yards, easily going from half to full speed while juking defenders. Was called upon to catch a lot of screen passes from quarterback Tajh Boyd, but showed a propensity to add bonus yards after the catch, both with his own speed and by wisely setting up and following his blockers. Watkins has great hands, helped by his habit of looking the ball into them as he makes a catch. He can adjust to off-target throws and snatch the ball out of the air quickly if he can’t get underneath it.

Watkins can go vertical for big yards, run short routes and then add to them with great ability after the catch and shows the toughness to initiate contact as well as effectively block on run plays. Watkins is also very versatile, having lined up in the slot, out wide or in the backfield.

Weakness: Watkins’ height isn’t considered ideal, nor is his build. While he posted a nice 40-yard time at the combine, there are still a few questions about his top-end speed, though a lot less. Watkins needs to polish his route running a little bit and isn’t prone to go across the middle, though was rarely asked to do that anyway. As a punt returner he had a few botched punts in college.

Intangibles: Everything you hear is he is a hard worker and a solid teammate. There are no off-the-field issues, and he doesn’t take foolish penalties on-field. Watkins seems to ignore trash-talking, though there are some masters in trash talking at the NFL level who will test him.

Notes: There is a difference between game speed and 40-yard speed. While Watkins had a nice 40-yard time, it wasn’t something I was worried about anyway. Watkins’s acceleration, smoothness and overall speed combine to make him play far faster than he was expected to time. After having watched a ton of games of Watkins, charted his receptions and watched the things he did when not targeted (blocking, for example) I really feel as though his potential is through the roof.

Player Analysis: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois

Name: Jimmy Garoppolo

Class: Senior
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 226 lbs.
School: Eastern Illinois

 

Strengths: Garoppolo has a very quick setup and release, with a smooth motion and compact delivery. He can read the field, make a quick decision and get the ball out all in rapid succession. Garappolo sees the field well, scanning the defense and making his progressions in an efficient and fast manner without rushing it when he has time.  Does a good job getting rid of the ball and not taking foolish sacks. Garoppolo is very clearly willing to take a hit to deliver a pass. Garoppolo started for four years without any injury or durability concerns. While he showed touch on passes during games, in Mobile for the Senior Bowl he seemed unable (or unwilling?) to show anything resembling a touch. It may be that he was trying to prove the knock that he lacks good velocity on his ball is untrue, but it was something which surprised me. Garoppolo seems to have a short memory in games—if he makes a mistake, he doesn’t appear to dwell on it.

Weakness: As mentioned above, the touch I saw on game film wasn’t there in practices at Mobile. While I may think the issue was trying to prove that he had velocity (something he lacks a bit of on film), it’s a concern.  Some of his velocity issues stem from a low release point and a somewhat awkward sidearm motion. While he is confident in his arm, he can be too confident, attempting to fit throws into windows which are too small. Definitely shows some cracks under heavy defensive pressure, where he will speed up his motion or make poor decisions. It’s very obvious on film—when he has a clean pocket he is very smooth and efficient, making impeccable choices, while under pressure all that can at times fade. His pocket awareness needs to improve, as does his footwork both setting to throw and during his throwing motion. He definitely feels pressure when it isn’t there and doesn’t trust his line when he needs to. While at Mobile, during footwork drills his foot frequency was a bit slow compared to Derek Carr (who he was grouped with).  Garoppolo worked mostly in a shotgun, so he will need to work on being under center, though he progressed well with it in Mobile.

Intangibles: By all accounts, Garoppolo is a very smart, very dedicated player with a high football IQ. Talking to him at the Senior Bowl, I found him very smart and personable and observing him at practice you could tell he worked well with both coaches and other players.  He was vocal when he needed to be, light when he wasn’t working and laser focused when he was.

Notes: Garoppolo is one of those prospects who pops up each year—a momentum builder nobody has on their radar in December, but has heavy buzz by March. With back-to-back great practice weeks at the Shrine Game and Senior Bowl, Garoppolo has made a lot of people go back and look at his tape. One of the biggest questions is whether he will be able to handle the higher level of competition in the NFL that he didn’t see weekly in the Ohio Valley Conference.  He doesn’t have elite physical skills or attributes but makes the most of his tools with sharp decision making and timing. Of course, that makes concerns about how he reacts under heavy pressure even more focused because he lacks the elite tools to fall back on that an Andrew Luck or Tom Brady has.  In the end, I believe this is a player who can adjust to the level of play and overcome his limitations, improving his reactions to pressure through good coaching and a solid supporting cast. As such, as much as I like him, I’d say a second round or late first round pick is as high as he should go and a team would be well served by being patient (if not sitting him) if they lack a good supporting cast. A team like the Houston Texans might be able to plug him in more quickly than a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars who lack playmakers in the offense.

Player Analysis: Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State

Name: Derek Carr

Class: Senior
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 214 lbs.
School: Fresno State

Strengths: Carr is a very good all-around athlete, able to move well in and out of the pocket and generally move well when he needs to.  He has a tremendous arm, with the ability to throw deep as well as drive the ball with good velocity.  Carr has shown good accuracy and record-breaking production at Fresno State, despite having to adjust to a coaching and system change. He’s got solid mechanics, with pretty good technique during his delivery and the ability to get the ball out quickly.

Weakness: The problem with lauding Carr’s accuracy and production is that it came against sometimes sub-par teams in the Mountain West Conference. When he played against bigger teams, like USC in the 2013 Vegas Bowl, he wilts. Yes, the loss to USC (I would have also accepted the words “disaster” and “pummeling”) was one in which the whole team collapsed, but Carr himself looked overwhelmed. He struggled under pressure and had a hard time completing passes under fire. That’s a real concern considering USC’s defense wasn’t one of its best ever and the level of play in the NFL will be much fiercer. I didn’t walk away from the Senior Bowl excited either (more on that below), as I saw too many passes sail on him even when there was no pass-rush. When he’s blitzed, you can see him hurry throws, which result in some badly overthrown balls. He also has a tendency to stare down receivers at times. Carr played almost exclusively out of the shotgun, so he’ll need to adjust for that. He didn’t look terrible comfortable under center in Mobile and he’ll have to work on it, though that’s common for many quarterbacks these days. Carr also seems to struggle on deeper throws.

Intangibles:  The biggest question about Carr, in my mind, is how he reacts to pressure and pressure situations. While he appears calm and poised in many games, he has struggled in bigger games. Now, as mentioned above, the bludgeoning by USC was a team-wide failure. If Fresno State doesn’t collapse early on defense, maybe USC’s defense  doesn’t have carte blanche to tee off on Carr and maybe he struggles less. On the other hand there are definitely times in other games where he was under pressure and definitely looked shaky.  Aside from that, all reports are that he is solid in the huddle and a smart quarterback who was able to weather changes in the program without freaking out. That may not seem like much, but for a young quarterback in the NFL, that’s a big deal—just ask Alex Smith.

Notes: A lot of folks came away from Mobile and the Senior Bowl saying Carr was the best quarterback there—and he was. Which was a lot like saying he was the best natural disaster.  That’s a bit harsh but I really just want to drive home the point that, save for Carr and Jimmy Garropolo, this was not a group where “being the best” should mean as much as you think. Once you take that grain of salt, combined with what you see on tape, a picture is painted of a decent quarterback whose ending value is balanced on his ability to improve. It’s what would keep me from drafting him in round one, or at least high is round one. That said, he’s a solid second round pick or a good pick for a team willing to get back into the late first. He has some issues, but the upside is there to become a solid NFL starter.

Eric Decker to the New York Jets: Just Crazy Enough to Work?

To the relief of New York Jets fans, the team signed wide receiver Eric Decker after the first two days of free agency passed with barely a whisper from Florham Park.

As reported by Chris Wesseling of NFL.com, Decker and the team signed a five-year, $36.25 million contract with $15 million in guaranteed money.

It’s incredibly hard to get a firm grasp of what to expect from Decker for many reasons.

First, Geno Smith is an unproven quarterback who struggled much of the season, though he improved as the season went on. Any quarterback is a step down from a future Hall of Famer like Peyton Manning, but even though Smith could prove to be a very good starter, this is more akin to a stumble down a flight of stairs than a step down.

Can Decker produce? Well, while we can focus on the back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with Manning heaving the ball, we should also remember he caught eight touchdowns and had over 600 yards with Tim Tebow throwing him the ball.

So while he will definitely see a dip in production, it might not be as horrible as many think.

We also should consider that New York is not likely to be done yet. The Jets are very likely to add another free-agent receiver, which will further change his production and potentially his role. Ditto for any addition of a rookie in the upcoming draft.

So let’s talk about what we do know about him and what he can do.

Decker lacks elite speed but is a tough receiver who can come down with contested balls by outmuscling defenders. That makes him a solid red-zone target—something the Jets have lacked for several years.

With Jeremy Kerley mostly in the slot (though with all the injuries, he has shown he can do more), Decker is probably destined more for a role as the “split end” or “X” receiver—a guy normally farthest from the center on his side of the field and often on the opposite side of the field from the tight end.

That means while he will occasionally be asked to go vertical, he’s going to have to get off the jam at the line and could be asked to do some shorter routes as well.

Pro Football Focus tweeted out two charts from some of the material it provides for teams which is worth looking at.

First, it tweeted out a route breakdown for Decker. The chart shows that, out of 87 catches (and 135 targets), Decker was thrown at most on “Go” routes, followed by “Out” routes.

Next, we have Geno Smith’s numbers by route. While Smith threw the ball most on “Hitch” routes, he spread the ball pretty evenly among multiple routes.

He threw specifically to the “Out” route 39 times, completing 20 of those throws or 51.3 percent of them. The completed passes accounted for 278 yards and two touchdowns but also three interceptions.

Smith threw even more often to the receiver on a “Go” route—41 times, his second-highest total after the “Hitch” route. Unfortunately he only completed just 36.6 percent, though he totaled 418 yards (101 after the catch) and six touchdowns. He also threw six interceptions on those plays.

What does this all mean aside from Pro Football Focus teasing us with stats it won’t normally release?

Well, it means Smith and Decker could hook up for quite a few passes, as routes that Decker runs well, Smith tended to throw to.

Again, depending on who else gets pulled into this offense, Decker could see an awful lot of work come his way.

I could absolutely see him grabbing 60-70 balls, totaling somewhere between 700-800 yards and seven or eight touchdowns.

It’s a guess, though, until we see more of the offense come together.

Player Analysis: Blake Bortles, QB, UCF

screencap via ABC

Name: Blake Bortles

Class: Redshirt Junior
Height: 6’5″
Weight: 232 lbs.
School: University of Central Florida

Strengths: Bortles is a big-time competitor, a fact reinforced by his willingness to throw and do all the drills at the combine. Appears to have a pretty short memory, allowing him to put a play, a quarter or even a half behind him to keep his team on track. Bortles plays very cool under pressure and was able to pick his team up against both Louisville and Penn State, on the road, for come-from-behind wins. Bortles has shown the ability to throw his receivers open, properly read defenses and deliver a sharply thrown ball. Without a doubt, Bortles has a strong arm, both in terms of making all the throws you want to see from a potential franchise quarterback and delivering the passes with a tight spin and high velocity. When he needs to, though, Bortles does a great job dropping the ball into the bucket. Does a pretty good job of sensing pressure and avoiding the sack, and is a threat to scramble and extend the play or move the chains with his legs as well.

screencap via ABC

Weakness: Bortles’ footwork can be inconsistent, and there are times he doesn’t step into his throws. It’s a testament to how strong an arm he has that he still throws a nice ball even in those cases, but he’s costing himself distance and it certainly factors into his occasionally spotty accuracy. With improvements to technique he could do a lot more with his arm so he still has room to maximize his ability. While he has shown the ability to read defenses, it is still a work in progress, as Bortles will misread a defense or coverage and he will fail to look off defenders. While Bortles is cool in the pocket, under pressure his technique suffers and you’ll see accuracy and patience start fading. Having frequently worked out of the shotgun and in an offense which favored shorter, high percentage passes, Bortles will have to prove he can adapt and deliver the long ball consistently at the pro level. On top of that, many of his throws were on one-read plays and he will have to learn how to make his progressions swiftly and wisely before delivering the ball. Bortles had some fumbling issues this past year as well and he will have to improve that. While he played very well overall, at times he faltered against top-level teams. While he has the physical traits you like in a quarterback, Bortles is very raw and, as he admitted himself at the combine, he has a lot to learn, so a team may have to be very patient.

Intangibles:  Everything you hear about Bortles is positive, from his leadership on the field to his work ethic off it.  He’s clearly a very savvy football player and while some might not want to hear a potential #1 overall pick admit to flaws, it speaks well of him that he can admit he’s not perfect—especially when the other quarterbacks around him are often talking themselves up. Most importantly for a guy like Bortles is that short memory mentioned under “strengths” because a raw player is going to make mistakes. Being able to forget them right after they happen is critical—there is enough time later for examining how you screwed up, while dwelling on a mistake can lead to more mistakes. As mentioned before, teams took note of his willingness to throw in Indianapolis, while other top quarterbacks—Bridgewater, Manziel and Carr—chose to wait for their pro days. That competitive

screencap via ESPN

spirit will raise his stature in the eyes of some in NFL front offices.

Notes: Overall, Bortles is a guy who doesn’t have the upside of Johnny Manziel, but his floor is a lot higher. Less of a boom or bustcandidate, teams may lean towards him over a more volatile player like Manziel or another player with raw abilities, but less upside such as Derek Carr. I came away from his press conference impressed—this is a player who knows he has work to do but is sure he can pull it off. The more I heard him talk, and the more I listened to what Houston Texans head coach Bill O’Brien had to say, the more it feels like Houston/Bortles is a great fit.

That’s not to say that Bortles is the most talented player in the draft—that remains Jadeveon Clowney—and in fact he’s not even the most talented quarterback (that is Teddy Bridgewater, who at this point is almost underrated).

Merely that O’Brien is looking for a fit and Bortles may be the best one he could find to play under center.

I will admit I went into analysis on Bortles almost begrudgingly—I found his early hype a bit ridiculous. However, four games into the study, I was sold. Blake Bortles has questions and is not a sure-thing under center. But I have seen enough to say that he has a lot of skill and in the right situation, with the right coaching staff, he can be an NFL starter for a long time.

Fit and patience will be critical, but Bortles has the raw tools.

Player Analysis: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Name: Johnny Manziel

Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Height: 5’11”
Weight: 207 lbs.
School: Texas A&M

Strengths: Manziel’s game is predicated on mobility, as his ability to move outside the pocket is outstanding and he is far more comfortable throwing on the move than staying home in the pocket. However, Manziel also made some big improvements as a pocket passer this past season, though there is still room for improvement. Manziel told the media at the Combine that while sometimes you need to move outside of the pocket “I want to be a guy who can drop back and go through my progressions, go through my reads and really take what’s given to me by the defense.” Manziel does do a good job of keeping his eyes downfield even when scrambling and can look a defender off when moving, so that he can get a receiver open. Manziel is not afraid to throw the ball up and let his receiver make a play, something he did frequently with Mike Evans in 2013. While he wants to continue to be a mobile quarterback, Manziel has acknowledged that he will have to play smarter in the NFL to stay healthy, telling the press at the combine,

screencap courtesy CBS Sports

“You have to be on the field, you have to be healthy to be a great player. Stay healthy, be able to slide, pick your poison really when you need to go out and get a first down and when you need to do some things. Stay healthy, slide when you need to and have better ball security, which is what I’m working on as well.”  Manziel isn’t a big guy but he has large hands, which should help him with ball security. Quite often played big in big situations during his collegiate career and finds a way to sustain drives when his team needs him to. Was wildly successful in his two years starting.

Weakness: While he has worked on his pocket-passing skills, Manziel still leaves the pocket too early at times. His height and build are concerns given his tendency to run and whether he can stay healthy in the NFL is a big concern. Was able to have Evans bail him out on big throws, but needs to be more picky about when he risks it, and may lack a receiver like Evans at the next level making those throws more dangerous. Manziel has not done a ton of work under center, and will need to further adjust an already sometimes questionable technique. While he can stretch a play out, he sometimes does it for too long—occasionally tossing up some ill-advised passes. There are times he just needs to get rid of the ball and he hasn’t done so consistently. While he had a great two years at A&M,  it was only two years so his experience as a collegiate starter is minimal. As he mentioned at the combine, learning to slide, staying healthy and ball security are things he is working on. The biggest concern from a football standpoint comes down to whether he can adapt to the speed of the NFL and overcome issues with his height. A guy like Russell Wilson is a success because he does a tremendous job lining up his offensive line to give himself passing lanes to see through. Can Manziel learn to do that, or something like it? That’s a real concern.

Screencap courtesy CBS Sports

Intangibles: Much has been made of Manziel’s off-the-field lifestyle in college—maybe too much.  It’s hard to begrudge a young man some fun in college, but the real issue is whether he can become an adult and a professional and put funtime aside now that college is over.  Certainly there have been many kids coming out of college under less of a spotlight who failed. Manziel was adamant that his college time is over and he;s ready to work, saying at the combine, “I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line.” Manziel passed on numerous chances to get his face in front of the camera during the Super Bowl and declined, deciding instead to remain focused on football and improving his game. That speaks volumes to me. There have also been questions about how much he is dedicated to football and how hard he works. Without being at Texas A&M when he works, all I can do is relay what I have been told and what I have read.  I have heard plenty from people who say Manziel is a hard worker and puts in a ton of time during the week.  While I may not have all the inside scoop, I’ve heard enough to think that he has every intention (and ability) to put in the hours to get better. Of course, as they say on Game of Thrones: words are wind. He will have to prove it.

Notes:  A lot has been written about who Manziel is and what he’s about. It’s hard to avoid getting swept up in the persona we see in the media and have relayed to us via media repeating things agenda driven scouts tell them.  This is not to dismiss Manziel’s off-field issues. Prior to seeing him speak at the combine, Manziel came off to me as a bit of an entitled brat. Certainly you aren’t out of your mind tho think that if he changes, maybe he reverts once he gets to his goals. But if you get past the narrative, there’s a lot more to him and I feel as though we are writing him off unfairly from a personality standpoint. That said, there are issues from a football standpoint which are also a concern, not the least of which is the fundamental question of whether he can avoid injury and make better decisions.

Of the quarterbacks in this class, I feel Manziel has the highest ceiling and the most exciting upside. However, his floor is lower than either Bridgewater or Bortles as well. A team will have to build an offense around him in a way you don’t need to with other quarterbacks and while some could, overall that’s not a tendency a lot of NFL coaches have.

All that said, if in the right spot, Manziel has the chance to be a tremendous quarterback in the NFL and for that upside, I’ve ranked him as high as I have.

Player Analysis: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville

Teddy Bridgewater has everything you need for a franchise quarterback.

Name: Teddy Bridgewater

Class: Junior
Height: 6’2″
Weight: 205 lbs.
School: Louisville

Strengths: Bridgewater is easily the most pro-ready prospect at the position as he comes out of a pro-style offense where he was very comfortable.  Scans the whole field and makes all is progressions, and on film repeatedly showed the ability to look off and fool the defense with his eyes before delivering the ball. Bridgewater gets the ball out quickly with good technique, and can fit the ball into tight windows or put it where only his receiver can make a play. Shows poise in the pocket and a willingness to stand and take a hit while delivering the ball, though is also very effective scrambling as well. Bridgewater delivered on numerous big drives when the team needed him to step up, though was let down by his defense more than once. Is absolutely deadly when facing blitzes and pressure and was very effective on third downs. Added weight and mass prior to the Combine in order to allay concerns about durability due to body type.

Weakness: Bridgewater has a solid release, but a lower-than-ideal release point, which can be corrected. While accurate on downfield throws, could improve both touch and ball placement, in part because he doesn’t have the best drive on the ball for downfield throws. Mobile but not spectacularly so, is not a true “dual-threat” quarterback. There are concerns about Bridgewater’s durability due to body-type and big hits he has taken in college.

Intangibles: There are some “concerns” among media and some analysts about his ability to lead, but nothing we see on tape leads one to believe he isn’t a good leader on the field. From all accounts he is a dedicated worker and knows his football, and loves to be around it. He appears to elevate the play of those around him by example, both on and off the field. Adding weight pre-Combine shows he is willing to work and improve, and has the dedication to make gains swiftly in areas he might be lacking.

Notes: While he’s the best quarterback in the class, Bridgewater has absolutely suffered a bit as folks pick him apart—as is the case for most top picks. Not competing in the Combine hurt him, at least from a media standpoint, though as numerous NFL people told me in Indianapolis (and guys like Pete Carroll said publicly) teams prefer to see these guys compete. While the film on Bridgewater is better than a guy like Blake Bortles, the UCF quarterback impressed people by competing whereas not doing anything hurts the perception of Bridgewater. More than a few people mention bad weather as a concern, but he played well against Southern Miss in heavy rain and has played in other inclement weather.