2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Joshua Perry

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a fairly productive career. He assumed a starting linebacker role during his sophomore season in 2013, and since then #37 has started 37 games. He has put up 283 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and eight pass deflections over those three seasons. This past year was his best year when he put up 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and four pass deflections while playing inside and outside linebacker. He is well respected as a leader by both his teammates and his coaching staff.

Pros

Perry won’t wow you when you look at the tape, but he does present a skill set that can be very useful for a football team. Partially due to his size, 6’4″ and 254 lbs., Perry is very good at setting the edge and playing his gap well in the run game. He knows where he is supposed to go and makes sure that running backs can’t get outside of him. He forces them back towards help, and his strength makes it so that he can engage with offensive linemen without getting pushed around.

In the passing game, Perry has good instincts and is always looking to make a play, allowing him to be more than competent in a zone defense. This one play best summarizes what Perry can bring to a team in terms of coverage.

Image title

Perry drops back initially, keeps his eyes in the backfield and diagnoses the screen pass. He is able to move laterally, avoid a would-be blocker, cut up down the field, and make a solid tackle on a good running back. These instincts and his ability to tackle will make him an asset to some team.

Cons

Although you can see Perry shed a block in the play above, it’s important to note that he did so against a wide receiver. When Perry gets matched up against offensive linemen and good blocking tight ends, he may not get pushed around, but he also doesn’t shed blocks very often. That means that while he will give others around him an opportunity to make a play, he’s not exhibiting much game changing talent.

Perry, who plays an aggressive and instinctual style of ball, has a tendency to play too aggressively, sometimes taking him out of plays. Here is an example from the same game where Perry bites on a fake and finds himself out of position.

Image title

He should learn to avoid these obvious mistakes as he gains more experience, but the underlying tendency may always be there.

Lastly, Perry is below average in man coverage. He will need to be limited to zone defense and pass rushing on most occasions.

The Verdict

Overall, Perry is a solid backer that should have success depending on what his coaching staff asks him to do. It is still unclear whether he will be listed primarily as an inside or outside linebacker. It depends on who you ask. His limitations in coverage and his setting the edge in the run game makes him look more like an OLB. But his pass rush skills are a bit limited and his instincts would be a bigger asset at the ILB postion. Regardless, he is a good mid-round talent that should probably go sometime between the late second and the middle of the thir round.

Best Fit

A good fit for Perry would be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a team with good defensive players that would play around him and a great defensive coaching staff that could best utilize his skill set. In addition, they just lost a player who is very similar to Perry in Bruce Irvin. Irvin played the OLB role for Seattle and just signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders this off-season.

He had some bitter words for his ex-team, saying “I honestly felt if I stayed in [Seattle’s] system, I don’t think I would ever be the player I think I can be in this league, being a pass rusher. SAM outside linebacker is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you have two tackles. I just want to be utilized more and get put in position more to make plays.”

Perry is a perfect player to fill this void. He does the dirty work and sets up his teammates. He is fine rushing or dropping back into coverage. Both parties will be fortunate if Perry falls to them.

2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Reggie Ragland

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes to join CJ Mosley, Rolando McClain, and Dont’a Hightower as Nick Saban coached linebackers drafted in the first round. Like the three aforementioned players, Ragland ended his Crimson Tide career with at least one SEC Championship, National Championship, All-American Team appearance.

Ragland spent his first two years at Alabama on special teams before starting at linebacker as a junior. He would excel as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker for the next two seasons, being named a Butkus award semifinalist in 2014 and 2015 (The Butkus award honors college football’s best linebacker).

Pros

Not only did Ragland play on special teams, but he also played defensive end in Alabama’s nickel and dime defenses.

via GIPHY

Ragland has great instincts at the middle linebacker position. He seldom takes a false step and quickly sees the play develop him. On the first snap against Clemson, Ragland was not distracted by the ball fake, located the ball carrier, and would have made the tackle had he avoided the Clemson blocker.

via GIPHY

At 247 pounds, Ragland is sound when it comes to dealing with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. Where a smaller linebacker might get washed out of a play, Ragland uses his bulk to prevent the lineman from getting push and then effectively disengages. Notice how quickly Ragland engaged, then disengaged, the lineman on the play below.

via GIPHY

Unlike some bigger linebackers, Ragland is not a slow footed athlete. He has an explosive first few steps that give him great burst to get behind the line and blow up a play. In the snap below, Ragland shows his acceleration in chasing down Deshaun Watson from the backside.

via GIPHY

In the passing game, Ragland has enough range and fluidity to be effective when dropped into coverage. In this play, Ragland didn’t do a great job at preventing the tight end from picking up additional yardage, but still had enough range to reach the tight end and limit the damage.

via GIPHY

Cons

Not only did the previous play highlight that Ragland is only adequate in coverage, it also highlighted a problem with his tackling; he didn’t use good form to bring down the tight end. Although Ragland is generally a good tackler, he can be inconsistent. On the snap below, instead of driving his hips through the running back, Ragland lets the back get into his body and push him backwards for an extra yard.

via GIPHY

To be fair, Ragland went from missing ten tackles in 2014 to three this past season, so it’s an area he is improving in.

Even though Ragland is a solid athlete on tape, supported by how many different positions he played in college, he isn’t a workout warrior. He only had 13 reps on the bench press at Alabama’s Pro Day, a number which would have put him outside the top-15 performers at the combine had he participated in the drill. Of the drills Ragland did perform at the combine, he was only a top-5 performer in the 20-yard shuttle.

Verdict

Ragland has all the makings of an excellent middle linebacker. His instincts, bulk, and burst make him ideal for hunting down running backs between the tackles. He also shows enough ability in the passing game to be able to play all three, or even four, downs (considering his experience as a special teamer).

Baring something unforeseen, Ragland seems like a first round lock. He has very few weaknesses and has the versatility to be deployed at defensive end or on special teams. He might not have the crazy athletic upside of Myles Jack, but Ragland certainly looks the part of a high-caliber, starting middle linebacker.

Best Fit

Ragland would be used best as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, but could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 if needed. Alabama primarily uses a 3-4 defense and while Ragland could adjust to a 4-3, it’d be foolish to take Ragland out of a system he has already excelled in.

The Ravens, Bears, Saints, Colts and Jets standout as teams which both run a 3-4 defense and are in the need of another middle linebacker.

All video content was provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

The Best Defensive Free Agents Left This Offseason

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these players, position by position, we can uncover some of the hidden gems left in the free agent market.

Defensive Lineman: 

Possibly the deepest position at the beginning of free agency, the defensive linemen were quick to get signed. Some, such as Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon, were able to cash in on monumental contracts, while others, like Nick Fairley, are still waiting for the right offer to come their way. While Fairley is a very solid option at defensive tackle, he isn’t the only good option left because there is also Terrance Knighton. Both of these players are very good run stuffers who also possess the ability to go after the quarterback. While Fairley is younger, 28, compared to Knighton, 29, you can count on both of these players to stay healthy for a full season, as they have both shown over the course of their careers. 

As far as defensive ends are concerned, there are not many left that are worth signing in free agency. The only remaining impact player is Greg Hardy and he comes with the baggage of his off-field problems. While he has top ten talent as far as purely physical ability is concerned, he comes with past issues which makes it hard for teams to see him worth the investment and trouble. 

Linebackers: 

Based purely on talent, the best player in free agency that is still unsigned is Aldon Smith. As one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, Smith has shown he is capable of being one of the best in the league at rushing the quarterback. However, he is also a player that comes with a lot of off-field issues, especially considering his suspension since mid-November. With all of the issues he has off the field, it will be interesting to see if any team is willing to take a risk on him, knowing what he is capable of once he gets onto the field. Another expert in the pass rushing game in free agency is Dwight Freeney. While he is 36 years old, he has proven he is capable of making plays with eight sacks in just eleven games last year with the Cardinals. Although teams are taking a risk in signing a player who has played 15 seasons, there is great potential for Freeney to produce eight or more sacks again in 2016.

Also left for free agent linebackers are specialty options Mike Neal and Courtney Upshaw. While Neal is a highly versatile linebacker who can play any position from an outside linebacker to a defensive tackle, he isn’t the best playmaker, only recording one interception and a career high of just five sacks. That being said, Neal is a solid option for teams in need of a versatile linebacker who they can count on to be out there for 16 games. Another specialty option linebacker available is Courtney Upshaw, a run-stuffing specialist. While he has all the talent in the world, he has not reached his anticipated potential in the NFL, with a career high of just two sacks and 55 tackles. Upshaw is reliable as he has never missed a game in his four year career. He is a player, like Mike Neal, that will be signed by a team simply looking for a linebacker that they can count on being on the field for 16 games.

Cornerbacks: 

Another area of free agency that has yet to be depleted is cornerback, where there are still many talented players yet to be signed. The best two cornerbacks remaining in the free agency market are Patrick Robinson and Brandon Boykin. While Robinson had a resurgence in his career last year in San Diego due to his move to full-time slot corner, Boykin has made a career out of slot corner for the past four seasons. Both of these players deserve to be paid similar to at least the top-30 cornerbacks in the NFL, as they have proven to be over last few seasons. Another solid cornerback left in free agency is Leon Hall. Unlike Robinson and Boykin, Hall has played basic outside cornerback in his nine seasons in the NFL. At 31 years old, Hall is on the downside of his career and could be a risk for teams looking to sign a corner this offseason, not knowing if this will be the year that his production drops off. However, Hall will still be signed in the 2016 season based on his ability to still play top-50 corner and be reliable for the full 16 game season.

Safeties: 

When it comes to playmaking ability left in free agency, safety is definitely the deepest position left. With multiple players who had three or more interceptions last year, this position has a lot of talent left. This class is highlighted by the NFL leader in interceptions a year ago, Reggie Nelson. Along with Nelson, Rashad Johnson is also a ball hawk, tied for sixth in interceptions last year. Both of these players are some of the best playmakers in the secondary in the NFL, both getting at least four interceptions for the past two seasons. While Nelson may be demanding a larger contract, Johnson may be one of the best deals left on the market. One more solid option left at the safety position is recently converted cornerback, Walter Thurmond. In one season of playing at the safety position, Thurmond was able to be very productive, recording three interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in 16 games. With this impressive ability to make plays, Thurmond will surely be paid by a team looking for a playmaker in the secondary.

While free agency is an essential part of forming any team, overspending during free agency can lead to years of regret for most teams. So, while every player on this list deserves to be on someone’s NFL roster, it takes time for both the players and the teams to come to terms with what each player values. However, in the 2016 season, barring injury, retirement, or suspension, every one of these players will be suited up and ready to play come kick off.

2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Ronnie Stanley

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame.


Collegiate Career

Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame over Miami, Oklahoma, Florida State, and several other notable programs. He was named the starting right tackle for his sophomore season, and then moved to left tackle the following year after the departure of first-round pick Zack Martin. A model of consistency, Stanley started 39 consecutive games for the Irish since 2013.

Pros

Standing at 6’5” and weighing 312 pounds, Stanley has the prototypical height and weight to play offensive tackle. More importantly, his 35 and 5/8th inch wingspan is above the combine average of 34 and 2/10th inches. Arm length is particularly important for offensive linemen because it gives them a leverage advantage over incoming defenders, allowing them to control the defender without him getting into the body of the offensive lineman. On the snap below, the defender attempted to convert his speed rush to a power rush, only to have Stanley (No.78) extend his arms and prevent the defender from getting a hand in his torso.

via GIPHY

While some linemen have minimal mobility due to their massive size, Stanley has no such issues. He is incredibly light on his feet with the ability to quickly get set in pass protection and then move with the oncoming defender. In this snap, Stanley was matched up against Clemson defensive end and likely first round pick Shaq Lawson. Not only did Stanley quickly get himself in position to defend a wide rush, he also was quick enough to stone Lawson at the point of attack when he tried a spin move.

via GIPHY

The above play also highlights another positive: intelligence. Earlier in that game Lawson had successfully executed a similar move against Stanley, resulting in a sack. Stanley would not be fooled again, as he anticipated the spin move when Lawson tried it again. In general, Stanley has good awareness for the position, and seldom misses on his blocking assignment. Here, the defense ran a stunt where the defensive end and defensive tackle switch positions after the snap. Stanley quickly picked up the stunt and properly switched his blocking assignment to the tackle, allowing the guard to pick up the defensive end.

via GIPHY

Stanley knows how to use his mobility to his advantage in the run game. He can effortlessly move from the line of scrimmage to the second level of the defense, and does a good job at sealing off defenders attempting to get in the backfield. On the snap below, Stanley locked onto a defender trying to shoot the gap, and kept his legs moving to create some running room for the back.

via GIPHY

Cons

Although Stanley is a good run defender, he doesn’t consistently display the push needed to be a great run defender. On this play, Stanley and the guard double-teamed the defensive lineman off the snap, but once the guard peeled off to take on another defender, Stanley couldn’t move the initial defender further downfield.

via GIPHY

Occasionally, Stanley will rely too much on his movement skills instead of being physical, which can lead to some wasted motion and energy on his part. In this snap, instead of delivering a counterpunch to the lineman’s bull rush, Stanley kept his feet mobile, making it easier for the defender to push him back, almost right into the quarterback. 

via GIPHY

Verdict

Stanley has the makings of a top-10 selection. As a pass protector, Stanley might be the most refined in his class with his combination of athleticism, smarts, and technique. He might not be as accomplished as a run blocker, but it’s certainly not an area he struggles in, and if he can get bigger without losing his mobility he would be an asset in the run game.

Best Fit

Usually teams picking in the top-10 of the draft have issues on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Even though Stanley projects as a left tackle long term, a team might consider playing him at right tackle as a rookie, where he would be matched up against lesser pass rushers, which would his transition into the league.

The Charges, 49ers, Jaguars, and Giants are all teams picking in the top-10 with needs at tackle, and will likely be in consideration for Stanley’s services.


Gifs were made through Giphy.com. All video content was provided by
draftbreakdown.com.

How Will The New NFL Rule Changes Affect The Game?

Wednesday morning, the NFL Competition Committee announced their rule changes for the 2016-17 season. There were some interesting ones, all of which can be read here:

But, how will these rules impact the game this season?

The first rule change is not a change per se, but rather making permanent the rule change implemented last year that moved extra point attempts back to the 15-yard line. This change had a significant impact last year, with record numbers of missed extra point attempts, including a few crucial misses in the playoffs. Expect this rule to continue to impact the game the way it did last season. 

It’s obvious that player safety was a point of major emphasis in this new set of rules. Touchbacks on kickoffs and punts will now result in teams getting the ball at the 25-yard line. This could be a double-edged sword, as many teams will opt to take more touchbacks if they are available, but many kicking teams will attempt to avoid the touchback more so than ever before. This potential problem for this rule could have an ultimately negative impact, as a rule designed to increase the number of touchbacks (which would decrease the number of potentially dangerous kickoff returns) could ultimately increase the returns they are trying to limit. 

In a rare player safety rule directed towards protecting defensive players, chop blocks are now illegal in the NFL. While chop blocks don’t lead to injury epidemics the way hits to the head do, they can create many potential lower-body injuries for defensive players, and eliminating these dangerous blocks will hopefully limit those injuries. Along those lines, horse-collar tackle penalties have now been expanded to include tackles where the defender grabs the jersey at the name plate. These common sense rules indicate the NFL is thinking smartly about subtle ways to improve player safety, even if they lack the big picture safety initiative. 

The most controversial rule, however, is the rule that automatically ejects players after two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. This rule was instituted by the competition committee for only the 2016-17 season, and if it proves to have a positive impact on the game, they can vote to keep it next season. While I think it is likely this rule will be kept, I do not think this will have the intended impact.

This is not a rule about player safety as Roger Goodell proposed it at the Super Bowl, but rather a rule about sportsmanship. This automatic ejection rule, by virtue of being for unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and not for unnecessary roughness penalties, does not necessarily protect the players themselves. 

Instead, this rule is intended to protect the image of the league. By trying to limit taunting penalties and other unsportsmanlike penalties, the league is trying to protect its image. If the league really wants to protect players, then it should reconsider the committee’s proposal to eject players after two personal fouls.

The league gets a lot out of this rule, however, because it gets people thinking that the NFL is in it for the player safety, without realizing that unsportsmanlike conduct penalties are not personal fouls. A hit to the head of a defenseless receiver, roughing the passer, facemask, horse-collar tackles, and many of the other penalties that truly affect player safety will not be impacted by this ejection rule. Under this rule, only one player would have been ejected last season (Brian Orakpo was given two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for arguing with a referee). Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman would not have been ejected even in their melee under this rule. Vontaze Burfict and Adam “Pacman” Jones would not have been ejected under this rule for their conduct at the end of the Steelers-Bengals playoff matchup last season. So this rule, despite appearances, has no actual positive impact on the game. 

By imposing rules like this, the league forgets that fans come to the game for the entertainment value, and not necessarily for impeccable sportsmanship. Roger Goodell and the conference committee may dislike excessive celebrations or arguing with referees, but fans absolutely love that kind of stuff. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing a technically excessive celebration?

So, in conclusion, most of the new rules make sense for both the league and the players. The new rules designed to help improve player safety are a step in the right direction, and should definitely help players avoid injury. However, don’t be fooled by this new automatic ejection rule. This is just another in a long line of rules designed to limit the excitement on the field between plays. So, will the ejection rule have an effect on the field? No, but it might negatively impact the fans.

Chronicling The Rise And Fall Of Aldon Smith

The Rise and Fall of Aldon Smith

Arguably the most talented player left in free agency today is outside linebacker Aldon Smith. At just 26 years old, Smith still has time for improvement and carries one of the highest ceilings for pass-rushers in the NFL. Despite these factors, Smith remains unsigned by any team because of a string of off-the-field issues, especially issues related to drug and substance abuse. He is currently serving a one-year suspension for the violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and is eligible to be reinstated in November of this year.

One of the most exciting pass-rushers in the modern era has fallen from the precipice: I want to take a look at his journey.

High School

Coming out of Raytown High School in, who-woulda-guessed-it, Raytown, Missouri, Aldon was rated just a three-star recruit by most scouting sites, including Rivals. In high school, Smith was a defensive playmaker, recording numerous turnovers in a variety of ways. After graduation, Smith decided to stay in-state and attend the University of Missouri.

College

At Missouri, Smith redshirted as a freshman, and played his first games for the team in 2009; a season in which he finished with 60 tackles and 11 sacks. That season, Smith earned a number of honors including First-team Freshman All-American and Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. The following season we only saw Smith play nine games and though his statistics dropped a little, he declared for the 2011 NFL Draft.

The Draft

Evaluated as what we would call today an EDGE rusher, Smith was, on average, coming off of mock draft boards near the middle of the first round. For someone who saw a light dip in performance in his last season of college play, this was actually very strong evaluation once you consider the talent that was in this draft. 

For perspective, every player drafted ahead of Aldon would go on to be an All-Pro. Further, notable players drafted after him include Tyron Smith, J.J.Watt, Robert Quinn, Muhammad Wilkerson, among others. Despite this amount of talent available in the first round, Aldon Smith was picked seventh overall by the San Francisco 49ers. 

Before he was drafted, scouts had questions regarding his initial burst, frame, and stoutness against an NFL rushing attack. However, this was not what was most worrisome for Smith. Even before entering the NFL, there were questions about Smith’s character and his off-field behavior. According to a scouting service for certain NFL subscribers, Aldon had “some past experience with getting into trouble and is a higher-than-average risk for this sort of behavior in the future.”

And perhaps even more importantly, the service’s report indicated that “He [Aldon Smith] does not consistently show the kind of passion and commitment to the game that we see in successful players.” There were clearly early signs of risk available to teams, but perhaps the upside and raw potential of Smith was too much to pass on.

The Early Years

Though Smith did not make any starts for the 49ers his rookie season, largely thanks to the team’s established defensive depth, he managed to surpass Hall of Famer Charles Haley’s single-season rookie sack record. By the end of the season, Smith had racked up four pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and a whopping 14 sacks. 

This was enough to put him in second place for defensive rookie of the year behind close friend and future Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller. Unfortunately, Smith capped off his rookie season by being arrested in Miami Beach for DUI in January. This was just the beginning of a series of missteps.

His sophomore year, Smith had a somewhat meteoric rise as he became a starter for the 49ers. After passing legendary pass rusher Reggie White for the fastest to 30 career sacks, Smith was on the verge of tying or even breaking Michael Strahan’s single-season sack record. However the hype fizzled after Smith recorded zero sacks in his final three games of the season, leaving him at a career high 19.5 sacks.

Yet, even with a rather disappointing end to the season and lackluster performance in the playoffs, people were intrigued by the potential in the then 22-year-old. He, J.J. Watt, and Von Miller were all the rage of young pass-rushers in the NFL. But Aldon slipped up again.

Let the Spiral Begin

After starting his third season with 3.5 sacks in just two games, the linebacker proceeded to be arrested for another DUI and drug possession in September of 2013. Shortly afterwards, Smith was hit with three charges of possession of an assault weapon stemming from a party back in the summer of 2012. 

Following a crushing defeat by the Indianapolis Colts, Aldon checked into a rehabilitation center, missed five games, and finished the season with strong performances; in fact, despite starting in just seve
n games that season, Smith graded out to be the third best 3-4 outside linebacker in the league according to Bleacher Report. Further, it seemed as though he had improved through the years, not only being a force in the pass rush, but also an excellent run defender. Clearly, the talent was still there for Smith, but was the focus?

In April of 2014, Smith was charged with making a false bomb threat at LAX and shortly held in jail. Though he was not convicted in the end, his pattern of unintelligent and rash off-field behavior had become a stumbling block for his place in the NFL. During the summer of 2014, after Smith’s assault weapon charges were coming to a close in court, the NFL suspended him for nine games of 2014 season: four for substance abuse and five for personal conduct.

Regardless of how talented you are, how can you help your team if you’re suspended for the majority of the season? What’s worse is that Aldon had a chance to reduce the suspension through good behavior, but did not do so after failing to complete counseling. After logging another season with missed games and just two sacks, Smith was in a position to pick himself back up and try to fulfill his potential. Sadly for all us Aldon Smith supporters, he had other things in mind…

Soon after 49ers GM Trent Baalke had said Aldon Smith was going to “work hard to make sure…[Aldon Smith] remains here,” Smith got himself arrested yet again in August of 2015 for DUI, hit-and-run, and vandalism. At news of this arrest, the 49ers had no choice but to release the young talent. The following month, Smith decided to join the Oakland Raiders for a fresh start, but in November, he was suspended for a year because of his August DUI incident. 

And Now..?

After a quiet few months from Aldon Smith, this brings us to the present. He is a 26-year-old unsigned free agent who is not eligible to play football in the NFL until mid-November. He’s a former three-star recruit out of high school who was drafted seventh overall in one of the most talented drafts in recent memory, and rose up in just two years to become one of the most feared pass-rushers in football.  

On the other hand, he’s also a young man with maturity issues, a string of arrests, and a pattern of misbehaving off the field. He has been suspended several times for several games by the NFL, and another violation of the substance abuse or personal conduct policy could land him an even more substantial suspension than the one he is currently serving.  

I still believe Smith has value in the NFL. Despite his image and the reputation he has built up, his talent is unquestionably immense, and his ceiling is incredibly high. Most of his missteps came during the offseason, when he is not engaged in the set structure of a football team. If someone can take the time to mentor Smith and build a strong structure for his behavior, I believe Aldon Smith still can become what many of us envisioned him to be: an unstoppable pass-rushing monster with more speed, strength, and length a man of his size should have. The question now is, will anyone invest in him?

2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Taylor Decker

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we look at into the offensive line. Today we look at Taylor Decker out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Taylor Decker was a cornerstone for the Ohio State offensive line during his time there. In his four years at the university, Decker started 42 consecutive games, 28 of which were at the left tackle spot. He became the full time starter his sophomore year and made 14 starts at right tackle, and moved to the other side of the line the following year and started 15 games. This past season he was voted a team captain, selected for the All-Big Ten team, and won the Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year award.

Pros

Decker is a big body, even as far as offensive linemen go. He is 6’7″ and 310 lbs (for comparison, the average NFL lineman is around 6’5″). He has the size that you want, and he knows how to use it in order to overpower rushers. Often when you have big, tall offensive linemen, they don’t bend their knees enough, but when you look at the tape, Decker shows consistent bend in his knees.

He plays best against the run. Decker can get up into defenders, and has good hands which allows him to drive them, while also making it difficult for them to shed the block. He plays smart, and is not often fooled by opposing schemes or the moves.

Cons

One thing, you’ll inevitably see if you read up on Decker is that scouts love his long body, and the measurables just don’t seem to support that. Decker has an arm length of 33.75″ which just so happens to the NFL average for offensive linemen. And, given that Decker is a bit taller than average, his arms are shorter than you would hope. Maybe standing next to a 6’7″ behemoth in person makes you a little less objective. This isn’t a death sentence by any means, but it’s not ideal, and is something to keep an eye on moving forward.

Decker also struggles against defenders who consistently play with lower pad level. This is basically Physics 101: leverage is helpful, but his lack of athleticism hurts him here. It also leads to him being a bit slow when moving horizontally (he finished outside the top-15 in the three cone drill).

The Verdict

Although he played LT his last several years in school, Decker will most likely end up being switched to RT, where he is probably a better fit. Traditionally the LT is more of a pass blocker, and the right tackle is more of a run blocker. In addition to that, Decker probably does not have the skill set to go against a team’s best pass rusher unassisted for the majority of a game.

That being said, Decker has the skill set and size that will result in him being a reliable fixture on a team’s offensive line for the next several years. He is a late first round/early second round talent.

Best Fit

Tackles don’t often slip too far in the NFL Draft, for that reason I see Decker going late in the first round, and not falling to the top of the second round where many teams like the Browns, Chargers, 49ers, and Eagles could use his talents. Of the teams that will be picking at the end of the draft, the Green Bay Packers at pick number 27 make a lot of sense.

As you saw this past season, Aaron Rodgers needs a lot of offensive line help. The Packers could really afford to strengthen both their LT and RT spots, so getting a player like Decker who can play a bit of both would be a big plus for them. It would also help for Decker’s development to play with such a player like Rodgers. There are probably not many better spots for a rookie to land.

2016 NFL Draft Preview: OT Laremy Tunsil

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the offensive line. Today we look at Laremy Tunsil of Ole Miss.

College Career

Tunsil entered the college football landscape as a five-star recruit and the top offensive tackle prospect in the nation. He was the real deal from the get-go; as a freshman, the left tackle was named All-SEC second team and a first team Freshman All-American. In both his sophomore and junior seasons in 2014 and 2015, Tunsil was elected both a second team All-American and All-SEC first team. However, this past fall, the top prospect served a seven game suspension for “receiving impermissible extra benefits” (olemisssports.com). He was also involved in a physical altercation about the matter with his mother’s alienated husband. But in 29 career games over three years at left tackle, Tunsil only surrendered two sacks. 

Pros

No rocket scientist is necessary to help understand why Laremy Tunsil is being considered as the consensus number one pick at this point. A road grader in the running game and a brick wall in the passing game, Tunsil is as complete of a left tackle prospect as they come at 6’5″ and 310 pounds. Sound technique is what drives this young man’s game, and it is truly remarkable to watch him mirror pass rushers and stick to them like glue. Tunsil does a tremendous job of steering his opponents in the passing game; he comprehends how to anchor his base into the ground and gives a great punch with his hands. Texas A&M’s fine, young defensive lineman Myles Garrett, who will likely be a first round pick in 2017, found out the hard way how good Tunsil was after he was shut down in consecutive seasons. 

This is a left tackle with superb athleticism and specifically great feet. Tunsil has a great kick step when pass blocking that he uses to slide and transition smoothly into his pass set. That athletic ability is also showcased in the ground game as he can reach the second level of the defense with ease. Keep your eye on number 78 below and watch how he finishes his block following the bubble screen. There is not much this guy cannot do. Tunsil is always in control, and everything he does looks so effortless and clean. He can cut block, execute double teams, and provide a great push off the line of scrimmage. What people will really love about this young man’s game is that he is a mean, violent finisher who plays smart and is aware of what is going on around him. This is one of those cornerstone left tackles all the guys on TV talk about. The hype is real.

via GIPHY

Cons

There really is not much to be critical of when it comes to Tunsil, and so there should be no surprises when he starts to play on Sundays. With that being said, perhaps the biggest concern is the suspension he was sentenced to this past fall. Although the situation with Tunsil receiving benefits certainly sets off a red flag, the NCAA was investigating Ole Miss as a whole in years prior for suspicion of violations. The physical dispute the left tackle was also involved in was a direct result of the investigation that was taking place at the time. The argument started with his mother’s estranged husband instructing Tunsil not to screw up a golden opportunity. I dont think NFL scouts and general managers believe Tunsil’s character will be an issue as a face of an organization. 

As far as the football field’s concerned, the Ole Miss alum did get beat inside from time to time, specifically on passing plays. False starts where Tunsil was seen rocking in his stance did appear a couple of times, but this is just a matter of mental toughness that should not be an issue going forward. There were also a couple of plays where I would have liked to seen more of an effort out of Tunsil.

Verdict

Laremy Tunsil is arguably the safest pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. He is the next great franchise left tackle to emerge from the college ranks, and the next Orlando Pace, Jason Peters, and Joe Thomas only come around so often. The situation at Ole Miss should not be taken out of context; Tunsil made a mistake and was just trying to take advantage of his talent to get by as a college kid. He was obviously in the wrong for accepting those benefits, but he is among a long list of former players who were bribed with a variety of items while playing college ball. Nobody is worried and I am not either. Tunsil is the next stud LT in the NFL, flawless in just about anything he does in cleats. I’m not sure there is anybody who should be taken before him when the draft opens up a month from now.

Best Fit

Unless the Tennessee Titans remove themselves from that number one slot, there really isn’t another direction to go in besides from Tunsil. Tennessee needs another tackle to pair with Taylor Lewan, and it just so happens probably the best player in this year’s draft is a left tackle. The side designation of both Tunsil and Lewan would come down to head coach Mike Mularkey, but with those two guys capping off the ends of your offensive line, does it really even matter at that point? One thing is for sure: Marcus Mariota would be sleeping pretty sound.  

Does A Quarterback's Hand Size Really Predict Success?

As we enter the month of April, we also creep closer toward everyone’s favorite part of the NFL offseason: the draft. College players work tirelessly once their season is over to improve their draft stock through private team workouts, training programs, and the NFL combine. What they can’t necessarily train for however, is their height, arm length, and of course, hand size. 

Hand size has recently become one of the most polarizing topics of discussion when it comes to comparing draft prospects, as well as presidential candidates. 

This measurement is often discussed, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Common sense tells us that the bigger your hand, the better you can grip the football and the more control you have when throwing it. This becomes increasingly important in poor weather situations. If someone with small hands went out in a blizzard and tried to throw the ball fifty yards down the field, he would probably run across some problems. 

As new Cleveland Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson put it, “I think guys that have big hands can grip the ball better in those environmental situations and so we’ll look for a guy that fits what we’re looking for in a quarterback and, is hand size important? Yes it is.”

It seems safe to assume that hand size is a relatively important aspect of choosing a quarterback in the draft. But just how much? 

Here are the hand measurements,  for each quarterback at the NFL combine:

Image title

According to ESPN‘s famed Todd McShay, NFL teams like to see a QB with hands near 9.50 inches, and the closer to 10.00 inches the better. Looking at these numbers and with that guideline in place, scouts may prefer North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz (10 inches) over Cal’s Jared Goff (9 inches) when comparing the top two quarterback prospects. 

Goff, of course, disagrees with this notion. “I’ve been told I have pretty big hands my whole life. I heard I have small hands yesterday [at the NFL Combine], apparently. No, I’ve never had a problem with that or expect it to be a problem at all.”

So does hand size truly matter when looking at today’s NFL quarterbacks? Let’s look at that too. Here are the top 20 quarterbacks statistically from the NFL last season with their measured hand size: 

Image title

Note: neither Tom Brady nor Ryan Fitzpatrick have their hand size registered anywhere other than former Patriots general manager Scott Pioli claiming that Brady’s hands are “enormous.” So rather than estimate, let’s add a trio of quarterbacks who we know are pretty darn good but had their season cut short due to injury: Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, and Tony Romo. We’ll also add the Super Bowl winner himself: Peyton Manning. Even though he had arguably his worst season statistically as a pro, his stellar reputation cannot be ignored. 

Image title

(While some reports state that Romo has small hands, his combine results say otherwise. The link above also gives us a cool look at what NFL.com looked like in the old days.)  

So with all of these measurements, lets compile them together into a better visual to analyze. We’ll separate the measurements into three ranges:

    Image title                                                     Image title

Of the 22 quarterbacks we looked at, a resounding 50% of them have hands measured greater than or equal to 9.75 inches, and closer to the maximum desired size of 10 inches. Meanwhile, only 13.6% of the top quarterbacks have hands that would be considered “small” or “less than ideal”. 

Even with some outliers, there appears to be a significantly better chance for a quarterback with large hands to succeed in the NFL. 

Although Jared Goff is an exceptional prospect and definitely has the potential to be one of the few outliers with smaller hands, the current trend shows that he might have a lot of extra hard work ahead of him. Information like this might come in handy for Hue Jackson and other coaches who are on the lookout for potential quarterbacks. 

2016 NFL Draft Preview: OL Jason Spriggs

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This fifth week, the focus is on offensive linemen. Our first O-line prospect is Jason Spriggs out of Indiana.

College Career

Jason Spriggs began his college career with a bang. In 2012 he started all 12 games for Indiana at left tackle, a true freshman record for an offensive lineman. Spriggs also led the team with 80 knockdowns and gave up just two sacks in 961 snaps.

Spriggs continued to impress through 2013 and 2014, his sophomore and junior seasons. He started 22 of 24 games at left tackle, only missing two starts his junior season because of a head-to-head collision that sent Spriggs to the hospital during a loss to Michigan State.

During his senior season Spriggs moved from left tackle to right guard. He started all 13 games for Indiana, recorded a team-high 79 knockdowns, and allowed just one sack in 475 pass attempts. Spriggs also earned All-American honors and was the first Outland Trophy semifinalist in Indiana University history.

Pros

At 6’7” 307lbs Spriggs has the build of an NFL lineman plus a long reach. Durability is perhaps his best asset, as Spriggs started all but two games during his four-year career at Indiana. Moreover, Spriggs shows the following strengths according to his draft profile on NFL.com: has elite lateral movement, adjusts well in open space, shows patience, is athletic, has strong tools to slow pass rushers, and carries out efficient backside cutoff blocks.

Cons

The largest concern surrounding Spriggs is his strength. As mentioned earlier, he has the build of an NFL lineman, but Spriggs’ height takes weight away from the inner half of his frame. As a result, he can be moved off his spot and struggles against power rushers on the defensive line. This being said, Spriggs performed very well in the bench press at the scouting combine. His 31 repetitions currently ranks fourth best among linemen prospects.

Grade

During early player evaluations, Spriggs was projected as a late first-round or early second-round selection. However, due to his strong performance at scouting combine, the offensive lineman looks to have secured a first-round pick. Among all linemen prospects, Spriggs was a top 4 performer in the bench press, 40-yard dash, broad jump, and 20 yard shuttle. He ranks first in the 40-yard dash and broad jump, and perhaps more important: Spriggs showed exceptional footwork during lineman drills.

Best Fit

It is hard to project where players will fall in the NFL draft, especially offensive linemen who are always a need for NFL teams. I see Spriggs being drafted in the late first round by a team with a struggling front five. Certain organizations come to mind: Green Bay at No. 27, Kansas City at No. 28, or Cleveland at No. 32. The Browns recently lost tackle Mitchell Schwartz and center Alex Mack during free agency. If Cleveland selects a quarterback at No. 2 overall, which is heavily expected, it would be prudent to fill vacancies at the offensive line in order for a young quarterback to succeed.