Here's a special treat for everyone today. The Rutgers Pro Day was just last week, and the upcoming NFL Draft is nearly a month away, so now's as good a time as ever to start really prepping for the event in full force. Of course, vocal Rutgers fans are sure to have their own opinion on each prospect, but I wanted to get an outsider's view to help get a little more perspective on the topic. Please welcome back Jeff Risdon from RealGM Football. Jeff has a regular column there, and manages to write quite a bit about the draft all year long.
Bleed Scarlet: Rutgers runs a pro style offense, even though they mixed in some more Shotgun last year. On defense, they blitz an awful lot, and generally sacrifice size for speed in terms of personnel. Can you talk a bit about the guesswork and projection involved in trying to account for scheme when trying to evaluate draft prospects?
Jeff Risdon: The NFL itself is turning into more of a shotgun league and you’re seeing more empty backfields and pseudo-spread attacks too. So the line is blurring a bit, and that makes it a little easier. Plus there is more of a baseline of expectation as to how quarterbacks and linemen can make the transition now that so many products from those offenses have been in the NFL for some time. As far as draftability, it’s safer to take a guy from a bigger program that runs a more conventional NFL offense, which helps players from successful BCS school like Rutgers, as compared to Cincinnati.
On defense, speed is so important. Teams that run a 4-man front are so heavily reliant on having great speed and quickness in the back 7. Size is more important for teams running the 3-4 but they demand speed too. It’s not just straight-line speed either. Teams look at ability to change direction quickly and get back to full speed, and to be able to functionally use that speed.
Bleed Scarlet: Rutgers fans were dumbfounded (to say the least) at some of the knocks on Kenny Britt last year. I don't know if every word on the internet written about Anthony Davis is true, but it seems telling that no one's really rushing to defend him with everything that's come out in recent weeks. Here's the million dollar question. How does Davis go from looking like an All American candidate last year, to being unable to block the likes of Ricardo Matthews? With so many teams needing left tackles, how far he could realistically fall on draft day?
Jeff Risdon: He won’t fall far, if at all. It is ironic that everyone rushed to defend Britt but nobody really stands up for Davis, even guys within the program. I’ve heard that Davis kind of likes it that way, the whole "me against the world" mantra. That will sell to some coaches but repulse some others. He’s got too much natural physical talent and has shown too much prior ability to dominate to fall out of the top half of the first round.
As for why he struggled so much at times, my best guess is that he was trying to avoid getting injured, which is not an uncommon malady for guys who think they're a year away from 1st round money. There were times where it seemed like he really didn’t care too much, and like he was just waiting for the season to end. The one thing that I always gave Britt credit for is how integral he was to getting a lousy season turned around because he never quit and never let his teammates quit. Rutgers lacked that leadership this year and that showed with how Davis acted. Again, some teams will see that as an opportunity and will trust their locker room--see Cincinnati and Andre Smith last year. Of course that didn’t work out too well....
Now after his pro day debacle, I think the pervasive questions about his maturity and his ability to handle himself as a professional are gaining traction. He’s a real tough sell as a top 10 pick now, but I still see him in the first round, maybe to Green Bay or Pittsburgh.
Bleed Scarlet: There was a lot made about Davis not doing many bench reps at the Combine, and having a very slow time in the 40 yard dash. How much do either of those matter, either by themselves, or as indicative of other issues? How'd he look otherwise, and what's with the reports that he didn't interview well? How much stock do teams (well, outside of the Raiders) really put in the whole workout process? Does it hurt Davis more with his inconsistent junior film?
Jeff Risdon: It depends a lot on the team. Some teams (not just the Raiders) put a great deal of stock into workout numbers, and for linemen the big numbers are bench press, arm length, broad jump and 3-cone drill time (those indicate overall athleticism), not necessarily 40 time. For the teams that don’t pay a lot of attention, the interviews are critical.
I’ve heard Davis came across as sort of disinterested in the whole process but not really "poor", per se. I think back to when Julius Peppers came out and he was much the same way; real quiet, real unimpressed with the grandeur of it all, not liking the attention or the digging into his soul. I have known Orlando Pace since high school and he was the same way. Davis is clearly not a team leader and that will bother some guys, but I also know some coaches that will love to have a crack at being the guy who unlocks the door and molds him into greatness.
His inconsistency is a bit troubling. Much like he appeared disinterested at the Combine, he played like he didn’t really care about the game at times all throughout his Rutgers tenure. I think some of that is that he never really clicked with the coaching staff. NFL coaches are arrogant enough to think they can make that change, so it’s just a minor flag against Davis.
Bleed Scarlet: Conversely, it looked like Devin McCourty did well in most aspects in Indianapolis. Between his play at corner, special teams, workouts, and intangibles, what are McCourty's chances of sneaking into the first round this April?
Jeff Risdon: First round is a stretch, just because the teams picking at the bottom of the round aren’t really looking for corners. I think his ceiling is Detroit’s pick near the top of the 2nd but it’s more realistic he goes somewhere between 40-60 in the second round. His special teams certainly helps, as does the fact he’s a great guy with good habits and a solid background.
Bleed Scarlet: Tim Brown had a productive senior campaign at receiver, but didn't receive an invitation to the Combine. How much does his (lack of) physical stature hurt his chances of being drafted on day two and/or making a team's 53-man roster in the fall? Is it a red flag that he never saw much duty returning kicks?
Jeff Risdon: Honestly I can find 100 undersized receivers just like him, so guys like that need something to make them stand out--special teams is often the place for that. If he can’t return kicks, he’d better be a freaking demon on coverage units. He’s got enough skill to stick as a 5th receiver but those roster spots go to guys that primarily are major contributors on special teams, be it returns or coverage or both.
Bleed Scarlet: There are a couple of potential workout warriors at the upcoming Pro Day (these questions were submitted several weeks back) in Shamar Graves, Kevin Haslam, and George Johnson (especially, even though he and Ryan D'Imperio have had a lot of injuries). Are those three or anyone else generating any buzz under the radar?
Jeff Risdon: Haslam has a pretty good chance of getting drafted, or if not he’ll be a priority free agent with a very legit chance to make a roster. I watched the Cincy game recently and he stood out for how well he handles everything; he’s a solid jack-of-all, master-of-none trades. With his size and attitude he can parlay that into being a backup lineman for a few years.
I thought Johnson really stood out at the Texas vs. the Nation game. He made Jared Veldheer, a guy I know very well and like very much, look bad a few times. Johnson is kind of a DE/OLB tweener. He could hear his name near the end of the draft but I see him as a practice squad guy for a year while the team figures out what they’ve got in him. He plays too high up and he needs to just attack quicker, but I like what he can do in space and he’s got serious burst when he goes.
Bleed Scarlet: On that note, are any of the notable juniors on defense on scouts' radar at this point? Is it too early to start speculating about all the freshmen on both sides of the ball who broke in as starters last year?
Jeff Risdon: It’s too early for the freshmen, though I’m sure some teams’ area scouts have a few notes. Joe Lefeged has some attention that he can build upon. He’s got draftable potential at safety and I think he’s got the agility and range to pull it off. The best prospect is probably Freeny, though that’s likely obvious to you already. What I’ve noticed is that he’s real heady for a "speed" rusher. He understands the game real well and quickly reads his keys and adjusts. That bodes real well for him.
Thanks again to Jeff Risdon, and make sure to check out his columns at RealGM Football leading up to April's NFL Draft and beyond.