For those of you that have been following me for a while, you know that football is a real passion of mine. Being a 24-year old fan of the Buffalo Bills that never really witnessed anything from the glory years, has led me to start following college football more than ever, especially in relations to the NFL Draft. After all, when your team is generally out of the playoff hunt by Thanksgiving on a yearly basis, I became drawn to studying college prospects and the “behind the scenes’ work that goes into building a team.
Laugh as you will, but I enjoy analyzing NFL Draft prospects. After all, my ultimate goal is to find a position within the league or as a part of the media. Every year, fans, for one reason or another become fascinated with lesser-touted prospects than the ones that are constantly scrolling across the ESPN or NFL Network ticker.
Here at Building The Herd, I decided to offer my 2016 NFL Draft “Man Crush” list, in which I’ll take a look at some players that I have a more optimistic view of their future than most in a position-by-position format.
Let me know who your favorite prospects are in the comments section!
QB Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State
A two-year starter for the N.C. State Wolfpack after transferring from Florida, Jacoby Brissett is the most entertaining quarterback to watch in this year’s draft class. Standing 6’4” and weighing 236 pounds, Jacoby Brissett has the prototypical size teams look for in a passer. His big frame helps him in the pocket, as he has the height to see the whole field and the bulk to shrug off oncoming rushers.
He’s got a big arm and can deliver the ball when rolling out to either direction, but he has the mobility that will keep defenses honest and can pick up chunks of yards on the ground as well.
N.C. State’s offense ran a lot of zone read, read option and triple option to utilize Brissett’s mobility, but he also showed the ability to escape the pocket when it collapses and move the chains.
Brissett is a tough evaluation because he didn’t have much of a supporting cast around him, so he would look for the big play probably more often than he should. He’s an aggressive passer that knows how strong his arm is and while this mentality leads to eye-opening splash plays, it also results in sacks, turnovers and missing underneath receivers and leaving yards on the field. Nonetheless, Jacoby Brissett is an exciting player to watch and is one of my NFL Draft Man Crushes this year.
RB Alex Collins, Arkansas
I got my first look at Alex Collins when he was awarded the “Mr. Florida” award during his senior year of high school at a Bills vs. Dolphins game in Miami. His humbleness when accepting the award was telling and I made a mental note to follow his collegiate career. After one of the strangest signing day stories of all time, Alex Collins finished his three-year career with the Razorbacks rushing for 3,703 yards and 36 touchdowns on 665 carries while adding another 167 yards on 27 receptions.
Collins is a big back with underrated agility to make the first defender miss.
His legs never stop moving and he consistently moves the pile forward.
In pass protection, he shows textbook technique, as Daniel Jeremiah showed us with this Vine.
WR Tajae Sharpe, UMass
Tajae Sharpe is likely a name that many casual fans aren’t familiar with, as UMass isn’t exactly an NFL-factory, but the 21-year old wideout is a talented player. In four seasons (three as a starter) with the Minutemen, Sharpe recorded 277 receptions for 3,486 yards and 16 touchdowns.
At the combine, his hands measured in at 8 3/8” which is pretty much a death sentence for a receiver. This doesn’t look too bad, does it?
The 6’0” 195 pounder that runs a 4.55 40-yard dash looked great at the Senior Bowl and during the gauntlet drill in Indianapolis.
He’s quicker than fast on vertical routes and knows how to position himself to make the big play.
Sharpe does a good job tracking the ball when it’s in the air and will catch the ball over his shoulder on a regular basis.
TE Austin Hooper, Stanford
Austin Hooper declared early for the 2016 NFL Draft after recording 34 catches for 438 yards and six scores in his junior season. In Stanford’s run-oriented, pro-style offense, Hooper didn’t get a lot of opportunities to showcase his abilities as a receiver and regularly was attached to the line of scrimmage and was asked to block on a regular basis.
Austin Hooper has good footwork and underrated play speed that allow him to run a variety of routes and create separation. At Stanford, he was used on slants, hitches, curls, posts, corners and go’s, so he has experience running a full route tree. He’s physical in his release against press and has the strength to knock a defender back without losing balance in his route stem, and he’s not afraid of contact at all.
Hooper will fight for extra yards, as he shows in the following clip. After a great slant route that beats the linebacker across his face, Hooper makes the catch and gets downhill, weaving through multiple defenders to find the endzone.
Austin Hooper was often attached to the line of scrimmage and serve as a blocker for Stanford’s run-first offense and he showed a tenacious mentality when doing so. He can stand to get stronger and refine his technique when it comes to shooting his hands into a target, but his willingness and effort allow him to be effective as well.
His abilities as both a run blocker and a receiver are impressive and he has the skill set to play the “Y” where he’s attached to the line of scrimmage, as well as in the backfield as an H-Back or even flexed out into the slot.
OL Joshua Garnett, Stanford
Joshua Garnett was a key cog in the Stanford Cardinal offense that produced a Heisman Trophy candidate in running back Christian McCaffery, seeing action in 41 games throughout his career. He was awarded the Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s top interior offensive lineman and was named first-team All PAC-12.
Joshua Garnett is a joy to watch in the run game, playing with a mean streak and a maulers mentality. Stanford runs a pro-style offense that features multiple tight ends, a fullback and often uses unbalanced formations in their power rushing attack, so Garnett won’t have a big learning curve as he adjusts to the next level.
Garnett routinely looks to destroy whoever is in front of him and when he does a good job moving downhill, locating and sealing off linebackers at the second level as you can see in the following play.
EDGE Kyler Fackrell, Utah State
Kyler Fackrell is an impressive pass rusher that wins in a variety of ways. He has a great first step off the edge and is flexible enough to get low and bend the corner around the tackle, without running himself behind the pocket.
Kyler Fackrell 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/GeHSwPpMM5
— ML_scouting (@ML_Scouting) January 29, 2016
Additionally, he’s strong enough to overwhelm offensive linemen with a bull-rush and knows how to use his length to drive his man off the ball.
Kyler Fackrell is a really intriguing prospect and reminds me a lot of current Buffalo Bills “SAM” linebacker Manny Lawson, in that they’re both long, twitchy, athletic defenders that can play all three downs.
EDGE Kevin Dodd, Clemson
Kevin Dodd has ideal size, standing 6’5” and weighing 277 pounds to go with 34” arms. His combination of size, power and length allowed him to play as both an interior defender as well as on the edge throughout the year. Dodd plays with great strength and is incredibly athletic for his size, showing explosiveness, the ability to bend the corner and physically overwhelm opposing linemen.
When it comes to edge rushers, there’s typically two different styles in which they win—either with speed or with power—but Kevin Dodd shows the skills to win with both, depending on the situation. He’s relentless when rushing the passer and truly gives 100% effort on every snap.
In the following play against Oklahoma, Dodd beats the right tackle around the edge with a speed rush before bending around the arc to close on the quarterback Baker Mayfield. Dodd misses the sack, but gets up and continues chasing Mayfield, forcing a throwaway.
Dodd’s ability to turn the corner and re-direct his path to the quarterback is shown in the following clip. Watch how Dodd uses his hands to control Cincinnati’s right tackle before bending the corner and using his length to sack the passer.
As good as Kevin Dodd is as a pass rusher, he’s just as talented when defending the run. His explosiveness, high motor, gap integrity and hustle allow him to be an impact player on early downs. For a player in his first year as a starter, Kevin Dodd showed that he can take to coaching as he displays excellent technique against the run—using his hands to shed blockers, staying patient without overpursuing, as well as showing the strength to set and hold his ground on the edge, allowing his teammates to swarm to the ball.
Kevin Dodd is quick off the snap and can get skinny when shooting gaps, as he shows in the following play against Alabama as he wraps up Derrick Henry for a loss as soon as he receives the handoff.
DL Vernon Butler, Louisiana Tech
Vernon Butler is one of the more intriguing draft prospects in a class loaded with defensive linemen. His combination of size, power and movement skills are rare and coveted by NFL teams, but Butler is very much a work in progress.
As a senior in 2015, Butler recorded 50 tackles, 10 for a loss and three sacks. ProFootballFocus credited him with 35 quarterback pressures and RealSportsNetwork credited him with 12 “stuffs” and 33 run disruptions. Vernon Butler measured in at 6’4” and 323 pounds at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. Butler has a thick frame and a compact lower body with ridiculously long arms (35 1/8”) and massive hands (10 ¾”) that allow him to control opposing linemen.
Vernon Butler played all over Louisiana Tech’s defensive line—as a shaded nose tackle, as well as the one, three and five techniques. He’s got an extremely quick first step off the ball and his length and power make it a tough assignment for a lineman to effectively reach block him in the run game. Butler has incredible play strength and knows how to use his long arms to not only push and collapse the offensive line, but also to create distance between himself and the defender to maintain leverage while chasing down running backs.
As a pass rusher, Vernon Butler wins with initial burst and power. His first step is often too much for a lineman and he does a good job using his length to prevent blockers from getting their hands in his pads.
Once Butler is engaged with a lineman, he doesn’t stop driving his legs and has the power to overwhelm them with a bullrush.
Vernon Butler still has a lot of room for improvement, but he’s a talented player that’s incredibly fun to watch.
DL Chris Jones, Mississippi State
Mississippi State defensive lineman Chris Jones is a raw, yet uber-talented interior defensive lineman that stands 6’6” and weighs 310 pounds, possessing ridiculously long 34 ½” arms and 10 ¾” inch hands. He’s a powerful and athletic player that has shown flashes of dominance throughout his collegiate career. In his three seasons with the team, Jones has tallied 97 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks, nine pass breakups and 58 QB hurries.
Chris Jones rarely surrenders ground at the point of attack and his strong lower base allows him to anchor against the run. Whether he’s used as a one or two-gap defender, Jones consistently finds a way to get in on the action, something you love to see in a defensive lineman.
In the following clip, Jones is lined up at the three-technique between LSU’s right guard and right tackle. He bursts through the double team attempt at the snap and takes on the fullback, forcing running back Leonard Fournette to cut back inside where he’s met by a gang of Mississippi State defenders at the line of scrimmage.
Chris Jones is a ridiculous athlete for someone of his size and he has the ability to pressure opposing quarterbacks with both speed and power. He’s got heavy hands and knows how to use them to split double teams and get into the backfield quickly.
LB Joshua Perry, Ohio State
Joshua Perry has a rare blend of size and athleticism, standing 6’4” and weighing 254 pounds. He ran a 4.68 second 40-yard dash at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine while posting a 33.5” vertical leap and a 10’4” broad jump—impressive numbers for someone of that size. He’s got long arms (33 7/8”) and big, heavy hands (10 ¼”) that allow him to excel in a variety of roles within a defense.
Joshua Perry is a fantastic run defender and routinely shows the ability to quickly diagnose runs and quickly flow to the ball carrier. According to RealSportsNetwork, Perry had 12 “stuffs” and 24 run disruptions during the 2015 season and 42 of his 105 tackles came within two yards of the line of scrimmage.
Here, Joshua Perry is aligned as the weakside linebacker and the Michigan State Spartans are running a power with a pulling guard and tight end from the backside of the play. Perry uses his strength and shoots his arms into the pads of the oncoming tight end, tossing him aside before changing direction and leaping to make a tackle for a short gain.
Joshua Perry shows impressive lateral quickness and is truly a sideline-to-sideline defender. Here against Cincinnati, Perry shows off his ability to scrape over the top of the formation, shedding two blockers before making a tackle and forcing a fumble.
You typically don’t see many 6’4” 254 pound linebackers dropping into coverage very often, let alone excelling at it, but Joshua Perry has the speed, range and hip flexibility to do so. According to RealSportsNetwork, Perry allowed 14 receptions on 22 targets for 109 yards, a 4.9 yards-per-attempt average and just a 7.7 yards-per-completion rate.
Joshua Perry is one of the most overlooked linebacker prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft and would be an interesting fit with the Buffalo Bills’ defense. Rex Ryan’s scheme is multiple and diverse, so having a player like Perry that can play several different positions within that defense would be valuable. While he doesn’t have the quick-twitch athleticism of his teammate Darron Lee, Joshua Perry has the speed, physicality and football intelligence that should allow him to make an early impact in all aspects of the game—from defending the run, dropping into coverage and rushing the passer.
LB/EDGE Leonard Floyd, Georgia
Leonard Floyd was a three-year starter for the Georgia Bulldogs and recorded 178 tackles, 28.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, five forced fumbles, four passes defensed and 32 quarterback hurries in that span. Throughout his first two seasons, Floyd was used exclusively as an edge rusher, but in 2015 he was a moveable chess piece within Georgia’s defense, lining up in a three-point stance on both sides of the formation in four-man fronts, in a two-point stance in 3-4 looks and even as an inside linebacker on base downs.
The 6’6” 240 pounder’s got a tall, long frame with room to add another 10-15 pounds of good weight. Floyd’s got great speed, lateral agility and adequate strength to play both the run and pass.
Leonard Floyd shows a great first step off the snap and does a good job using his length to keep opposing linemen at a distance. In the following play against Clemson, Floyd gets high out of his stance, but he’s able to quickly get his hands inside the pads of the opposing lineman and fight him off before getting off the block and bringing down DeShaun Watson for a sack.
While Floyd’s body type lends itself to more of a wide rush where he can use his speed and lateral agility to his advantage, he uses his hands well enough to beat linemen with inside moves and is slowly developing an arm-over swim move.
Here against Vanderbilt, Floyd times the snap perfectly and closes in on the right tackle immediately before using a quick rip move to the inside which forces the quarterback to step right into a sack.
Leonard Floyd’s lean frame will lead many to believe that he’ll be a liability against the run, but he’s consistently shown the patience to scrape laterally, the range to flow to the sideline, aggressiveness to shoot gaps, the flexibility to make tackles even when engaged with linemen and uses his length to set the edge and allow teammates to make plays for him.
Here against Vanderbilt, Floyd is playing inside linebacker. The Commodores run the read option, but Floyd stays patient—understanding his run fit—and shoots the gap to make a stop.
Floyd projects best as a 3-4 outside linebacker or a 4-3 strongside linebacker, where he’ll need to be able to occasionally drop into coverage. He’s a fluid athlete that can cover a lot of ground in both man and zone coverages. Here, he’s in man coverage as a slot defender and runs stride-for-stride with the receiver.
S Karl Joseph, West Virginia
Karl Joseph is undersized for the safety position, standing 5’11” and weighing 197 pounds. However, he’s got incredible speed that allows him to cover from sideline-to-sideline and plays as physically as any safety in the nation. Joseph is small, but he has an incredible burst with closing speed and is a powerful hitter that will set the tone for the defense.
Despite weighing just 197 pounds, Karl Joseph is one of the most physical run defenders and best tacklers at the safety position. Whether he’s playing deep, in the box, or on the edge, Joseph has a knack for filling his lane and bringing down opposing running backs.
Against Alabama, a team known for running the ball down their opponent’s throats, Joseph recorded 18(!!!) tackles, with the majority coming against two big backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.
In the next play, Joseph walks down to the line of scrimmage and chases Yeldon down from the backside of the play, bringing him down for a loss.
Karl Joseph has great instincts, especially against option offenses. Here against Maryland, Joseph’s lined up about 10-12 yards as a single-high safety. West Virginia’s edge defender rushes the quarterback who pitches the ball to the running back. Joseph flies down the field and blows the play up for a loss.
Karl Joseph has incredible range and lateral agility that allows the West Virginia defense to run a variety of coverages. Joseph can defend the deep middle 1/3 of the field in Cover 1 or Cover 3 due to his sideline-to-sideline range.
Joseph’s speed allows him to recover even when he takes a false step, as you can see in the following play that ultimately results in a great interception. Joseph steps down before turning and running with his man, gains inside leverage and boxes him out to intercept the pass.
Rex Ryan loves hard-hitting safeties that can line up in the box and fill against the run, but Karl Joseph is much smaller than the safeties he’s used in the past. However, Joseph’s range and physicality are reminiscent to that of an Earl Thomas-type of free safety. Rex’s scheme relies on a lot of man-free coverage (Cover 1) so having a player like Karl Joseph who can play the deep middle and strike fear on receivers running in-breaking routes could be valuable.
S Keanu Neal, Florida
Keanu Neal is a big, physical safety that acted as an enforcer on the backend of the Florida Gators’ defense for the last two years, racking up 141 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, two sacks, four interceptions, five pass breakups and two forced fumbles.
Neal stands 6’0” weighing 211 pounds. In terms of size and athletic ability he compares to some big, box safeties such as Deone Buchanan, Dawan Landry, Jacquiski Tartt and Kenny Vaccaro after running a 4.62-second 40-yard dash, a 7.09 three cone, a 4.38 short shuttle, while putting up 17 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press and posting a 38” vertical leap and an 11’ broad jump.
He’s a force against the run, especially when he lines up in the box where he has the physicality of a linebacker.
Neal is rangy and instinctive as you can see in the following play as he sniffs out a swing pass to the flat and blows up the receiver for no gain.
He’s a powerful hitter that every defense loves to have, as he has the force to come downhill and deliver a blow that stops ball-carriers in their tracks.
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