Film Breakdown: Panthers Versus Falcons

Early in the game against the Falcons, Mike Shula dialed up a play I’ve yet to see this year. While the result was a modest gain of eight yards, it’s a play that by design could work a number of times, and has the potential to result in a much bigger gain.

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The situation is second down and 10 yards to go from the Atlanta 39. Quarterback Cam Newton is in the Shotgun, with Running Back DeAngelo Williams to his left. He has a three wide formation to his left, with Wide Receiver Steve Smith playing inside on the line of scrimmage, and WR Brandon LaFell as well as Tight End Greg Olsen outside of him. The play utilizes Play Action out of the back field, and then Williams releases just past the line of scrimmage as the check down option. Smith will run the inside post. Because of the play maker Smith is, this will by design keep the Safety Thomas DeCoud in the center of the field. Notice how far off Cornerbacks Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant are? This will come into play as the routes form.

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As the ball is snapped, LaFell instantly gives Alford the look of a bubble screen. This causes Robert Alford to bite and shoot up field to defend the quick screen pass. At the same time, CB Desmond Trufant maintains his distance from TE Greg Olsen so as to not let Olsen get behind him. Instead of getting up field to jam Olsen out of his break, Trufant drops back to the 30 yard line to protect the play at the sticks. DeCoud is playing Smith the entire way, and as the ball is snapped begins creeping up to help on the Panthers explosive WR.

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Here’s where the play catches my eye though. LaFell turns his bubble route into a wheel route, forcing the defender (Alford) to try to adjust to recover. Alford was in front of Olsen’s route, but with LaFell’s move up the sideline is forced to vacate the area, leaving an open hole in the Atlanta defense. If DeCoud was on this side of the field to help Trufant could break on Olsen, but with no help over the top on the left side he has to stay back.

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Because of quick pressure by Defensive Tackle Jonathan Babineaux, Cam is forced to make an early decision.

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The wheel route clears Alford out, and Newton is given an easy target in the form of his TE Greg Olsen on the comeback route. Because Trufant was playing so far off of the TE, Olsen is able to get another three yards after the catch and set up a manageable third and two from the Atlanta 31. This is where the bigger play part of the analysis comes in. Notice the huge red circle up the left sideline? There’s no Safety help over the top, and LaFell has a step on Alford at this point (was almost level with him when ball was thrown). If Newton has a fraction of a second longer in the pocket this is an easy touchdown for the Panthers.

This play shows what having a player of Steve Smith’s caliber can do for an offense, even when he’s not getting the ball. The Falcon’s know they have to commit extra attention to Smith, and because of this two capable play makers are left in single coverage. The screen route LaFell uses to set up the wheel creates confusion with a young DB, and by the time he show’s his true intentions LaFell has put Alford in a very difficult position to recover from. While some of the success of this play is due to soft coverage by the Falcons, the routes could be modified to create opportunities against press coverage as well. Against the press, LaFell could sell the same bubble screen and turn up field, at the same time instead of a comeback route, Olsen could run a quick slant to get inside the defender. While the gain might be a modest 4-5 yards, it’s still almost automatic by design. With a slight personnel tweak, the Panthers could create an even more dangerous play by using Tedd Ginn in LaFell’s position. Not only does Ginn give you elusive ability after the catch in the event you throw the bubble screen, but he’s also a player who can get behind a single defender easily. Either way, this is a play I could certainly see the Panthers coming back to several times down the stretch. Now that defenses have it on tape they’ll have to be selective, and disguise their intentions to the Defense, but the possibilities the play design creates can certainly cause headaches for a Defense.

 

Thanks for reading and be sure to comment, and follow me on twitter @danny_g13

Looking Ahead to the Top Five Wide Receivers in the 2014 NFL Draft

The 2014 Draft class (like all Draft classes) is deep at some positions, while relatively weak at others. The good news for the Carolina Panthers (and any other team who needs a play maker) though, is one of the 2014 classes deepest positions is Wide Receiver. There is no shortage of quality pass catchers in this Draft class, and in my opinion there are eight to ten potential number one Wide Receivers in this class. So with that said, lets look at the five who stand out among the rest.

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1. Mike Evans, Texas A&M: 6’5 225 lbs projected 4.55 40 yard dash

Evans entered the season as my fourth WR, but his consistent dominating performances have shot him up my big board. Evans is a gigantic athlete at 6’5 and 225 pounds. Not only does Evans have the size to be an almost impossible WR to defend, he also possesses a competitive desire to win the ball that intrigues me. While Johnny Manziel may get most of the recognition for the Aggies success, Manziel has benefited on numerous occasions from Evans’ ability. Evans in my opinion, is the best WR in the nation in jump ball situations. He locates the football well, and times his leap to catch the ball at the highest point possible. This makes it extremely difficult for defenders to win a 50-50 ball from Evans. Also, Evans excels at coming back to the ball when Manziel scrambles. One of the most important things for a WR to do is keep working to get open, and Evans is tireless in this regard. He keeps fighting throughout a play for position, and uses his body well to shield a defender from the ball. Finally, Evans has great body control to make highlight reel catches, and has made significant improvements as a hands catcher since his first game last season.

Perhaps the biggest concern, with Evans is his speed. Evans doesn’t display overwhelming vertical speed in games, and he seems to lack the extra gear a home run threat at the position possesses. I would like to see him continue to improve his route running, and route tree in general. Still, with his overwhelming size, and desire to win the ball, Evans shouldn’t have much trouble becoming an impact player in the NFL in my opinion. Whether you play him at WR, or try to use him as a hybrid Tight End, I still see Evans giving opposition headaches at the next level, and have him as a solid top 15 selection.

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2. Sammy Watkins, Clemson: 6’1 200 lbs projected 4.40 40 yard dash

The next player on my list has stayed right where he was on my big board entering the 2013 season. Watkins is a gifted athlete, who uses a great skill set, excellent tools, and track speed to win match ups. A player who two short years ago was nothing more than an unrefined freak athlete, Watkins has matured and turned into one of the best pass catchers in the nation. Watkins biggest asset is his explosive ability. He’s lightning quick off the line, and can blow by defenders in an instant if they let him. Also unlike Evans, Watkins does possess that extra gear to squeeze through the smallest of lanes and take any play the distance. Watkins also has become an exceptional route runner since his Freshman year. He not only has good foot/hand work on his routes, but his route tree has been expanded from just the fly and post routes he used to run.

If there’s one huge area that Watkins needs to continue to work on, it’s competing for contested balls on a consistent basis. At times he can be excellent in jump ball, and contested situations. He will outwork his defender, and go up to reach the ball at its highest point. However, he will also play too passive other times, and give up far too easily. He will need to become reliable in these situations to maximize his potential, and reach his ceiling. Watkins will have to become a more physical WR to become the dominant player I think he can be.  He will need to use his body better to shield defenders, and fight through jams at the line more consistently if he wants to live up to the top 25 selection I currently have him slated as.

Marqise+Lee+USC+v+Colorado+M9FiihLj7jnl3. Marqise Lee, University of Southern California: 6′ 190 lbs projected 4.45 40 yard dash

Marqise is probably my most interesting (not to mention controversial) name on my big board. After dominating from the position last year, Lee has been invisible in multiple games, and battled knee and ankle injuries throughout the year. Still, Lee has to be on my list for several reasons. First, when he gets the ball in space, he can be absolutely deadly. He has great acceleration which allows him to stop and go in an instant, and change directions constantly. You never quite know where Marqise is going, and sometimes it works against him.  Lee is an improved route runner since entering USC as a raw athlete. Like Watkins, Lee has not only improved route technique, but has extended his route tree to include the digs, curls, comebacks, slants and double moves. Lee has also improved as a pass catcher, showing the ability to be a natural hands catcher, as well as technique to fight through physical press coverage. While he still needs to continue in these areas, the signs of progress are encouraging for a WR who’s only been playing the position since his Senior year of High School. Finally, while he lacks the deadly extra gear that Watkins has, Lee does have ability as an explosive play maker. Lee shows the ability to not only run away from players, but also to be a great yards after the catch player.

Lee’s biggest flaw in my opinion, is that he tries to do too much on any given play. Lee to me, is an all or nothing type of guy, and he will need to adjust in the next level where big gains are few and far between.  At times he can get caught going East to West too much resulting in negative plays, or minimal gains. He has shown that he will cut back and go behind the sticks even after picking up the first down, to try to pick up an even bigger gain. While this has resulted in several big plays for Lee, it’s resulted in just as many negative plays, or critical third down failures for the team.  Also, Lee needs to make improvements in his concentration during games. He will at times drop easy passes, which speaks to concentration issues. I believe these issues come from Lee’s lack of inclusion in the offense this season, but he will still need to show NFL Scouts it wont be a regular problem. Lee will have to show the injuries that have plagued him this season, won’t linger in the future. Still, I have him with Watkins as a top 25 selection, with a small chance of sliding early into round two.

maxresdefault 4. Brandon Coleman, Rutgers: 6’6 220 lbs projected 4.6 40 yard dash

Right now Coleman is the fifth best Receiver on my board, but he could see a huge rise/or fall in his stock in late February.  His draft stock (maybe more than most Receivers this year) will be greatly impacted by his measurables at the Combine. If Coleman goes to the Combine and runs a sub 4.5 time in the 40 yard dash he could end up battling Watkins/Evans and Lee for a spot in the top 25 picks. It goes without saying that Coleman is a massive prospect at the Receiver position. At 6’6 he’s got an absurd catch radius, which he extends even more with his ability to pluck the ball as a natural hands catcher. His 40 time is so important though because he doesn’t look like a burner on tape. That’s not to say he’s slow by any means though. He shows good acceleration, and when he gets up to speed he’s like a runaway train with his size. One other thing I love about Coleman is he’s big and he knows it. He’s a physical Receiver who doesn’t shy away from contact, staying in bounds to pick up every yard possible. He also doesn’t let physicality from Corners impact his game, showing that he can make the tough contested catches. But for a big Receiver, he’s also deceptively elusive, showing potential as a yards after the catch guy.

Like other players on my board, one of Coleman’s biggest knocks is consistency. This mainly shows up as a pass catcher. Coleman shows you that he can pluck the ball before it gets to his pads, but too many times you’ll see the ball get into his pads still. He also has consistency issues with locating the football at times. He’s generally good in this respect, but there are times where he doesn’t put himself in the best position to make a catch.  Finally, he’s a raw player still who will need some time to develop better technique. His feet can get choppy a little too often, and he doesn’t always use his hands as well as you would like him too. His route is also somewhat limited right now, and his cuts can be a little too rounded and prolonged instead of sharp and sudden. Even with him being a raw talent, the physical gifts are undeniable. Like I said before, Coleman’s Draft stock will be greatly impacted by his 40 time. A sub 4.5 time and he’s a top 15 selection, a time in the 4.55-4.6 range and he’s a top 35 selection.

ncf_a_beckham_o_6005. Odell Beckham Jr, Louisiana State: 5’11 185 lbs projected 4.40 40 yard dash

Beckham is a player who definitely wasn’t in my top five at the beginning of the season, but he shot up my rankings quickly. He’s an explosive WR who can absolutely take the top off the defense. He also is an experienced Special Teams player who shows ability both as a kick and punt returner. He’s more than just a one trick pony though, showing he can be much more than just a vertical threat. He’s a good route runner showing quick and fluid feet. He flashes the ability to extend his catch radius, whether he does it by diving for passes, or by out leaping defenders in jump ball situations. He has incredibly strong hands for a smaller Receiver, that he uses to pluck the ball out of the air, or win from the defender. Finally, Beckham shows a great willingness as a blocker, and utilizes above average technique to create opportunities for his teammates.

The biggest question for Beckham not surprisingly, is consistency. Beckham possesses all the physical ability to be a special play maker at the position, but he has lapses in his game that are concerning. As a route runner, he can become choppy at times. This increases the time it takes for him to run his routes, and makes it easy for Corners to stay with him.  Above I said he flashes the ability to extend his catch radius because it’s just that. Flashes. He shows he can do it, but there are times where he needs to use that ability and it doesn’t happen.  Beckham also flashes ability to be a natural hands catcher, and at times shows great technique for catching the football. However other times, he lets the ball get into his pads, and drops easy passes. That said, Beckham Jr. is still one of the best Receiver’s in this class to me. Even though he’s a smaller Receiver with consistency issues, he still shows all the physical tools to be a potential number one target, which is why I have him slated as a top 25-40 selection.

So there you have it, my top five Wide Receivers for the 2014 Draft. What do you think of my rankings, was there someone you expected to see that wasn’t there? Did I have someone too high? Let me know on twitter @danny_g13 and thanks for reading!

What the Addition of Tavarres King Means for the Panthers and King

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On Monday the Panthers were awarded Wide Receiver Tavarres King after he was claimed on Waivers from the Denver Broncos. While a fifth round draft pick who never could get on the field doesn’t seem like anything special, King could end up being a more than solid addition for the Panthers. He has physical qualities of a starting caliber WR, and his production level was high during his career in Georgia. So what potential impact could King have in Carolina, and why is this move beneficial to not only the Panthers, but King himself?

First lets look at who King is. He’s just an average sized WR at 6 feet and 189 pounds, but he also possesses a good degree of speed, registering a 4.47 second forty yard dash at the NFL Combine earlier this year. But more than just physical qualities, Tavarres demonstrates a good level of positional skill on the field. King shows quick feet during games, and fluid hips. This allows him to make sudden cuts in his routes, and makes it possible for him to generate a good amount of separation.  This is evident when King runs the double move, showing the ability to cut, stop, and start again at times leaving the defender in the dust. King also shows a very good level of body control. He’s able to adjust to a poorly thrown or late pass, and put himself in position to make the play. He uses his body well to shield the defender most of the time, walling them away from the football. Finally, he shows a good ability to make plays along the boundary and does a good job with the 50-50 ball, at times out working the defender.

But with a fifth rounder there will obviously be some areas of concern. One of the biggest hurdles King will have to overcome to be a contributor for the Panthers, is consistency. While Tavarres has all of the ability mentioned above, he doesn’t do these things consistency. At times his body control won’t look as refined, he’ll have trouble tracking the football in the air or he won’t consistently meet the ball with his hands instead letting the football get into his chest plate.  Also, at times his footwork will get choppy in his routes, reducing the separation he gets from a Cornerback. Along with consistency, is being consistent at catching the football altogether. It appears that Tavarres either has lapses in concentration, or inconsistent hands. There’s a great example of this in his Bowl game against Nebraska last year. At the 5:50 mark in the fourth quarter, King adjusts perfectly to a back shoulder throw. He contorts his body to get back to the pass while shielding the defender, and extends his arms out to snatch the ball out of the air. Then, on his very next target at the 2:40 mark King drops a perfectly placed ball over his shoulder in the end zone.

So is King a player that can help the Panthers? In my opinion, absolutely. He’s a well-rounded Receiver that does most things well. While he isn’t elite in any one area of his game (at least not yet), he is solid enough at most things to be a quality complementary WR. Once King learns the playbook, he is a player that I can see having a good contribution down the stretch, and moving forward. For King, it’s as simple as that. He has an opportunity. Something he wasn’t likely to receive from the Denver Broncos. With Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker firmly entrenched in the Broncos depth chart, King would have found it almost impossible to make any significant impact for at least a couple of years. Even though the Broncos didn’t want to lose King (they added him to their active roster two weeks ago to prevent the Packers from grabbing him off their Practice Squad), they were forced to waive him to fit Von Miller on the active roster. In Carolina, King enters into a situation that is much less concrete. Uncertainty surrounds Brandon LaFell, Ted Ginn Jr and Domenik Hixon who are all essentially on one year contracts. It’s possible that all three of them will be playing elsewhere in 2014. So while King will probably be nothing more than a number four man at best this year, if he shows progress his role could expand greatly moving forward.

So when the Panthers were awarded King on Monday they didn’t just pickup some scrub. They got a player who has a lot of ability and room to grow. A player who performed in arguably the toughest conference in college football, registering 136 catches for 2,602 yards and 21 touchdowns. They got a player who was coveted by the team who let him slip through the cracks. But most importantly they got a player who can potentially be part of the Panthers young core, and who can be a weapon for Quarterback Cam Newton in 2013 and in the future.

Thank you for reading and be sure to follow me on twitter @danny_g13 where I talk all things sports! Also, be sure to send me any comments you have on my article, or any thoughts you have on sports in general. 

Should the Panthers Trade Cam Newton?

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It wasn’t too long ago that everyone in Charlotte had Cam fever.  He was the hope for the Panthers future, and the player that and coach would love to build around.  But things haven’t gone the way most fans expected.  The Panthers have stumbled out of the gates, to an 0-2 start, and now Head Coach Ron Rivera’s job is in serious doubt.  Should Newton’s be as well?

The fact is the offense hasn’t performed up to expectations.  A year after averaging over 22 points per game, and just two removed from a 25 point per game average, the Panthers offense has managed just 30 points in two games.  It’s not all on Cam, his Wide Receiver core is below average, the Offensive Line is patchwork at best, and he’s still missing the second Tight End that he thrived with in 2011.  But Cam has played his part in the offensive failures.  He hasn’t pulled the trigger, or simply hasn’t seen open Receivers down field,  He still is playing with poor mechanics, having trouble with accuracy, and he’s staying in the pocket too long when things break down.  Maybe the most concerning part of Cam’s play, he’s a third year Quarterback who’s still having trouble reading the defense, and staring targets down instead of looking off Safeties.  So I ask again, should the Panthers look to move Cam Newton?

Ideally no, but it’s complicated.  Even with the things Cam isn’t doing, or isn’t doing well, he’s not exactly being utilized correctly.  Cam is an athlete, and has always been at his best when making plays outside of the pocket, or down field with the ball in his hands.  Despite this, it seems the Offensive philosophy has changed under new Coordinator Mike Shula, and new General Manager Dave Gettleman.  There’s more of an emphasis on Cam to make plays in the pocket it seems, and putting him in situations to use his athletic ability has become less important.  Not to be cliché, but that is putting a square peg into a round hole.  In order for Cam to be a winning Quarterback (at least at this point in his career), you have to let him do what he does best.  That means getting outside of the tackle box on roll outs, and utilizing his ability to make plays with his legs whether it’s making a throw on the run, or getting past the sticks with his running ability.

There’s no denying that Cam can be an elite weapon in the NFL.  He’s done it already.  He’s compiled the most yardage of any Quarterback in his first two years in NFL history.  But what he’s doing in Carolina currently just isn’t working.  Whether it’s Cam’s fault, the coaches fault, or the General Manager’s fault is irrelevant.  For the Panthers to win consistently they need Cam to be Cam.  So if they don’t want him to be Cam, is there really a reason to keep him?  See, I told you it was complicated.

Ron Rivera will inevitably lose his job for his own failures.  A new staff will be brought in, and tasked with turning Cam into the top-tier Quarterback he shows the potential to be.  But will that staff recognize what Cam does well?  Will that staff let Cam be Cam?  Will that staff come up with the creative and unique plays that Cam needs to be an elite weapon again?  If not then Cam may not be the guy that this franchise needs, and both parties would be better off parting ways.

As a fan of Cam Newton I hate the idea of him playing anywhere but Charlotte, but I also want what’s best for the team.  If the Panthers can get multiple first round picks to acquire a top-tier Quarterback who fits their system, as well as complimentary pieces to build around that Quarterback it might be the best option.

Ideally the Panthers hire that dynamic Head Coach who will fully utilize Cam Newton (can anyone say Kevin Sumlin), but Jerry Richardson’s history with Head Coaching hires casts serious doubt that the next Head Coach will be that kind of guy.  It’s an interesting debate that has cases to be made for both sides.  My preference is to keep Cam, build the offense around him, and give him the weapons other teams have given their young franchise Quarterbacks, but Dave Gettleman and Jerry Richardon may not see it the same way…

Five Impressions From Week One of the 2013 College Football Season

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Week one of the college football season is in the books, and a lot happened.  It started with North Carolina heading to Williams Bryce, and ended last night with the Jameis Winston show in Pittsburgh.  I spent most of my Saturday huddled around a big screen, two laptops, and an ipad, and now it’s time to recap.  So without further ado, here are my five lasting impressions from week one of the 2013 college football season.

5. Alabama Is Not Unbeatable….

But they’re still probably the best team in the nation.  Saturday night Alabama began their title defense, and quest for a three peat in Atlanta against Virginia Tech.  While Alabama won the game comfortably by a score of 35-10, anyone who watched the game would know the final score didn’t tell the whole story.  The Crimson Tide had luck on their side Saturday, scoring 21 points from Defensive or Special Teams touchdowns.  Even more alarming were the warts that the “unbeatable” team showed, most notably on the Offensive Line.  Left Tackle Cyrus Kouandjio has been heralded as a potential top ten pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but he looked less than comfortable on Saturday.  He and is brother Left Guard Arie Kouandjio were beaten several times pretty badly, resulting in unwanted pressure for Quarterback AJ McCarron.  McCarron struggled to deal with the pressure, completing under 50% of his passes.  He looked less like the Quarterback who can win games, and much more like the Quarterback who started his career at Alabama being asked to not lose them.  Still, this team is too talented, and their coach is too good to spend much time worrying.  I fully expect them to correct the issues, but the giant that everyone thought Alabama was may be more of a taller than average man when compared to the likes of LSU, Florida State, Texas A&M and others.

4. Johnny Football Just Doesn’t Get It….

And maybe never will.  After a Summer that saw Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel constantly in the news, you would think he would want to tone things down a bit now that he’s back to football.  You would be wrong.  After a summer of eyes on him for the wrong reason Manziel found himself in an unusual position to start Saturday, on the bench.  Manziel was suspended for the first half of the Aggies game vs Rice after he was found to have signed thousands of autographs for brokers.  Again, you would think he would want to stay out of the limelight now.  Again, you would be wrong.  It didn’t take long for Manziel to make an impact both on the scoreboard, and in the headlines.  Manziel played well helping his team pull away, but it was his actions after the play that will be remembered.  Johnny Football used some questionable celebrations, including making the gesture of signing an autograph, and a hand motion to suggest he needs more money.  He was also penalized for taunting the opposition after he got into it with a Rice player following a touchdown.  His actions were so disruptive that his coach pulled him out of the game after the penalty.  Manziel is quick to remind everyone he’s still a kid whenever criticism comes, but he’s acting like a spoiled brat on the field.  The pressure and spotlight will only increase from week one, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it.

3. The Spread & High Tempo Offenses Will Ruin Games….

But not for the reason you think.  Two things really frustrated me from the first week of college football.  I’ll cover the second in a moment, but the first was the defensive “strategy” to tempo offenses.  I’m referring to defensive players doing their best soccer dives on the field, faking injuries in order to buy their teammates time.  It’s disgusting, despicable and unfortunately unavoidable.  That is unless the officials take control.  I watched the majority of the games on Saturday, and on numerous occasions it appeared as though defenders were faking injuries to slow down the offense.  This was most notable in the late night California versus Northwestern clash, where I saw almost ten “injuries” that I thought were pretty questionable by Northwestern players.  The problem is, it worked like a charm, disrupting the flow of the offense and taking Cal Freshman QB Jared Goff out of his rhythm.  Honestly, I don’t blame coaches for using this tactic, it works.  But that’s where the official comes in.  It’s their job to question the coaches and the validity of the high number of minor injuries.  They have to take control, and make a coach feel like this is no longer an option to disrupt the offense.  Not only do they need to question coaches, but in some cases they need to penalize.  Will it happen?  Hopefully.  If not, watching teams like Cal, Oregon, North Carolina and any other spread or tempo based team will become a lot less enjoyable.

2. The Targeting Rule Will Too…

Because it’s a joke of a rule and won’t be consistently enforced.  If you’ve been living under a rock, or don’t live football 24/7 365 like I do, you may have missed a major rule change.  Beginning this year, players will risk ejection for “targeting” a defenseless player.  This has already been applied several times this season.  In one instance they got it right.  A Defensive Back for Oregon launched himself into the Nicholls State Quarterback as he was sliding.  He hit the QB in the helmet, knocking him out of the game.  He was rightfully flagged, and ejected from the game.  However just several hours later they got it incredibly wrong in the already mentioned California and Northwestern game.  Early in the fourth quarter of the home game against Northwestern, Defensive End Chris McCain was penalized for a hit on the Quarterback.  Not only was the call a roughing the passer 15 yard penalty, but McCain was promptly ejected from the game.  McCain’s hit was far from an ejection worthy penalty though.  In fact, it was probably closer to a legal clean hit, then it was worthy of being sent to the locker room early.  The play should have been reviewed, but it wasn’t due to a failure in the system.  Due to this McCain won’t be suspended for the first half of this weeks game, but it doesn’t make the issue go away.  Giving officials the power to eject a player for what they believe is targeting is a risky business.  Not only that, but what happens when a targeting situation occurs in a big game?  Let’s say Alabama versus Texas A&M in week three for instance.  Does anyone actually believe a player is getting kicked out of that game?

1. Jameis Winston’s First Start Was Good….

Really, really good.  I’m not one to jump to conclusions based on a first impression, but it’s hard not to be impressed with what Redshirt Freshman Quarterback Jameis Winston did for the Seminoles last night.  Winston was electric last night, completing 25 of 27 passes for 356 yards and four touchdowns.  He also added 25 yards and another touchdown on the ground.  It wasn’t just the numbers though, it was all the things that don’t show up in the box score for the young QB too.  His pocket awareness, his decision making, his command on the field, he just looked like a much more seasoned Quarterback then he is.  We may not see just how legit Winston is until mid October when the Seminoles face Clemson.  That will be the first time Winston plays a quality opponent in the unfriendly confines of Death Valley (just ask Aaron Murray how welcome Clemson made him feel).  Still, his performance last night was incredible, amazing, insane, unreal, otherworldly, and any other ridiculous adjective you can come up with to describe it.  With a schedule loaded with inferior opposition to pile stats against, a Heisman trophy for Winston may not be out of the question.  Still he’s a Redshirt Freshman making his first career start, so I’ll be gentle on the gas of the Jameis Winston bandwagon for a few more weeks.

The Best of the Best: Jadeveon Clowney

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Tale of the Tape

6’6″

275 lbs

Career Numbers

90 total tackles

35.5 tackles for a loss

21 sacks

8 forced fumbles

3 passes broken up

We’ve finally made it.  College football is just one day away, which means it’s time for the top player in my Best of the Best.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that the player is South Carolina Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney.  He’s without a doubt the best player in college football, and he may be the best defensive prospect from an NFL standpoint in the last decade.  He’s the closest thing you can get to a “perfect prospect”, being complete in every area of the game.  Even as a 17-year-old Senior in High School Clowney was so good that you could see top pick potential in him.  Now four years later he’s only gotten better, and barring a team needing a Quarterback that bad will almost certainly be the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  So now it’s time to take a look at what makes Clowney THE Best of the Best.

Athleticism

  • Clowney is an incredible athlete, and this shows up in a lot of ways on the field.  He’s a great speed rusher, getting around the edge with ease.  He’s shows good ability to pursue not only sideline to sideline, but also down field.  He even shows the ability to completely embarrass blockers by leaping over them.       Image
  • On this play we’ll see Clowney force the Quarterback to evacuate the pocket.  Image
  • Clowney does a good job getting to the Quarterback in the backfield, but Michigan’s Devin Gardner is athletic enough in his own right to escape Clowney initially and scramble down field.                                 Image
  • Here we’ll see Gardner is in space, and Clowney looks to be having trouble maintaining his balance.  It doesn’t look like Clowney is going to be able to make a play.                                                                                       Image
  • But as the play ends, it’s Clowney that gets down field and is able to bring down Gardner before the damage is even worse.  Gardner was slowed slightly by a couple of Gamecock’s players before Clowney made contact, but it’s still a tremendous individual effort.                             Image
  • On this play we’ll again see good down field pursuit from Clowney as he chases down the ball carrier.                                                     Image
  • Clowney does a good job reading the direction of the play, and disengages quickly in order to pursue the ball carrier.                      Image
  • Clowney shows great athleticism being able to launch himself in a diving tackle attempt, and pull the Running Back down for a moderate gain.  Without Clowney’s play this may have been a significant yardage play.                Image
  • On this play, Clowney shows excellent sideline to sideline ability in pursuit of the highlighted Wide Receiver’s end around.         Image
  • Clowney does an excellent job not biting on the Running Back’s fake, reading the play as an end around from the start.               Image
  • Clowney shows great acceleration closing on the ball carrier, and taking away his angle to the second level.                            Image
  • Even though Clowney doesn’t make the initial stop, he’s right there showing just how fast he can get from one side of the field to the other.          Image
  • Here we’ll see an even better example of Clowney’s down field pursuit against LSU.  As the play begins Clowney runs a stunt, and will pressure the Quarterback.                                                                      Image
  • However LSU has the screen called, and the QB gets the pass to the Running Back who has blockers in front of him.                         Image
  • The back is able to miss a couple of Gamecock defenders miss, but Clowney still hasn’t given up on the play.                          Image
  • The result of the play is a first down, but it would have been an even bigger gain without Clowney’s incredible effort pursuing the screen.

Against Georgia Clowney’s athleticism was on complete display as he leaped over the blockers several time in order to get into the backfield.   ImageImageImage

Pass Rushing

  • Along with athleticism, Clowney is an incredible pass rusher.  He’s got a great stable of pass rushing moves, from a simple speed rush to a devastating bull rush.  He uses these moves along with great leverage to regularly get into the backfield and frustrate Quarterbacks.  Not only does he have a good arsenal of moves, his burst off the line is so good that at times he doesn’t even need them.                                                                                   Image
  • On this first play, we’ll look at a rush where Clowney is so quick out of his stance that he’s able to slip by practically untouched.  He’s going to rush between the Left Tackle and projected top 15 pick in 2014 Taylor Lewan, and the Left Guard. Image
  • Clowney gets a great initial burst off the ball, and is easily able to get between the Tackle and the Guard.  He’s going to use a subtle swim move, but it’s really not necessary with how fast he is.                                Image
  • The Offensive Lineman do eventually get their hands on Clowney, but it’s not before he’s in the Quarterback’s face and causing him to throw ball that a defender is in position to deflect.                                     Image
  • This play is actually a designed run, but it shows Clowney’s excellent swim move.  Once again he’s going to get a great burst off the line.        Image
  • He not only beats Taylor Lewan off the snap, but makes things worse by using a great swim move to get around the outside of Lewan.  This makes it impossible for Lewan to block him without grabbing the jersey and being called for a foul.  Image
  • Here’s a better look at the swim.  Clowney is able to bring his arm up and over Lewan’s inside shoulder.  With the leverage he can turn Lewan, and slide by the outside putting Lewan completely behind him.                 Image
  • Clowney now has a free lane to the ball carrier Denard Robinson and he’s easily able to finish the play off in the backfield with a big hit.          Image
  • Clowney doesn’t just use the swim to beat a man to the outside though.  He’s got a devastating inside swim move.  He’s so quick, and so powerful with it that it just leaves Offensive Tackles looking silly.                 Image
  • Here we see how easily Clowney beats Offensive Tackle Xavier Nixon off the snap.  Notice the separation Clowney already has.            Image
  • Another look shows us how lethal this pass rush move is.  Nixon is left helpless to the inside swim, and looks like he has no clue where Clowney went.Image
  • On this next play, we’ll see Clowney overpower Lewan with a powerful bull rush.  Clowney will get leverage off the snap, and be able to drive Lewan straight back into the Quarterback.                                                     Image
  • Clowney fires off the snap and immediately wins the leverage battle.  Notice how Lewan’s body is almost completely vertical, and Clowney has an arched back and his momentum is moving forward.  This creates large amounts of leverage, and allows Clowney to drive Lewan straight back.       Image
  • In order to try and stop Clowney’s rush, Lewan is forced to hold him.       Image
  • Even with the hold Clowney is able to drive Lewan straight back into the QB and force Gardner to make a hurried throw.                          Image
  • On this last rush, we’ll see Clowney use nothing but speed to get to the Quarterback and bring him down.  Clowney get’s a great burst off the line, and the Left Tackle is already in a bad spot being asked to kick out and mirror his athleticism with his feet.                                          Image
  • The Left Tackle does a pretty good job getting in front of Clowney, but his foot speed isn’t quick enough to take away the edge from the South Carolina End.  Image
  • The Running Back doesn’t do a good job chipping Clowney as he’s coming out of the backfield, and Clowney is easily able to get around the edge of the Left Tackle.                                                                                  Image
  • Once he’s around the edge the only thing left to do is finish the play with a sack, which Clowney does with ease.

Run Support

  • Clowney isn’t just a one trick pony though.  Along with excelling as a pass rusher, he’s also a very good run defender.  As already mentioned he pursues the entire field well, he’s good at sealing the edge, and he’s a strong tackler.   Image
  • On this play we’ll see Clowney seal the edge against Kentucky, and not allow the Running Back to get to the sideline.                Image
  • Once again Clowney explodes off the line, and gains the leverage advantage against the Left Tackle.  He recognizes early that the play is a pitch to the left side of the field, and begins sliding the Tackle laterally.           Image
  • With the leverage advantage he’s able to continue sliding the LT laterally, keeping himself in between the Running Back and his lane to the edge of the field.     Image
  • This forces the RB to cut back inside, where he and his teammates are there to clean up.                                            Image
  • Here we’ll see Clowney overpower a blocker to make the tackle in the backfield.  Clowney again gets an explosive burst off the snap.  He’s given a free release which allows him to build up speed.  This is going to create an extremely tough matchup for the Right Guard who is pulling to block him.             Image
  • The Guard makes contact, but Clowney is able to pretty easily overpower him on the play.                                                Image
  • Another look at the play shows us how Clowney does it.  With nothing but speed Clowney crashes into the pulling Guard.  Clowney’s forward momentum is so powerful it shocks the blocker and jolts him backwards.  This creates balance issues, and he’s able to run through the blocking attempt despite the Guard doing his best to hold Clowney.                                 Image
  • Clowney is able to easily clean up the play in the backfield.

Play Maker

  • The last thing I want to touch on, is Clowney’s ability to make big plays.  Whether it’s a critical sack, and forced fumble, or knocking the pass down, Clowney always seems to be able to make a big play when his team needs it.   Image
  • Here we’ll see Clowney’s ability to force the QB to throw the ball long before he’s ready.  Notice how well Clowney has jumped the snap.  He’s already well into his first step as the same time as the ball is being snapped.       Image
  • Clowney is easily able to beat the Left Tackle around the edge, and get pressure on the QB.  This forces the QB to to throw the ball well before he’s ready, and without his feet set.                                                        Image
  • The results are disastrous.  The ball his the Right Guard in the back and bounces in the air.  The South Carolina Defensive Tackle will intercept the ball inside the 20 yard line.  In a game where Kentucky was down by 11 with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter this effectively ended the game.  Image
  • The best example of his play making ability came in the form of a bone jarring tackle against an unfortunate Michigan Running Back, in a play that is simply known as “The Hit” among college football fans.  After a controversial call against the Gamecocks, Clowney comes off the edge unblocked due to a missed assignment and unloads on the back, jarring his helmet, the football, and perhaps even his body loose in the process.  For those that need a refresher, just want to see it again, or were living under a rock during the last nine months here’s the clip.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gC44nP7ClxM

Needs Work

Anything I put here will be nitpicking at best.  Clowney does practically everything better than anyone else in the nation at his position.  However there is one area of his game I would like to see him get better in as the 2013 season plays out.

Tackling In Space

  • If I had to pick out one area where Clowney could get better it would be finishing tackles in space.  As I said before this is a bit of nitpicking because he even has times where he looks very good in space.  However there are plays where it looks like Clowney has a ball carrier dead to rights, only to have an awkward looking tackle attempt be unsuccessful.  Here’s several attempts from the same game against Florida.                            ImageImageImage

Final Thoughts

Clowney is the closest thing to a complete football player you can get going into the NFL Draft.  He’s an incredible athlete, with great size and length.  He has an explosive first step that at times, makes his pass rush moves unnecessary.  When he does have to use rush moves though, he’s not lacking at all.  He’s got a great speed rush, timing the snap well and exploding around the Tackle with great hip flexibility and bend.  He routinely plays with great leverage, allowing his powerful bull rush to be effective at pushing Tackles back into the QB and collapsing the pocket.  Without a doubt the best move he has is his swim move.  He has the ability to swim both inside and outside of the tackle, something no other pass rusher shows on a regular basis.  His outside swim move is extremely effective, turning the Tackle and leaving them forced to hold or let him go by.  Even as effective as his outside swim is, his inside move is that much better.  His inside swim move is absolutely devastating, leaving Tackles looking lost and completely helpless as he gets into the backfield with ease.

Clowney is also a very skilled Defensive End in run support.  He pursues plays exceptionally well, being able to chase ball carriers sideline to sideline, and showing the ability to run them down from behind.  He seals the edge well, forcing ball carriers back inside where he and his teammates are waiting to clean up.  He also uses great power to overpower blockers into the backfield, and is able to work through the trash at the line of scrimmage with great feet.  He’s a play maker in every sense of the word, coming up with the big sack, tipped pass, or forced fumble when his team needs it most.  He also creates plays for teammates, by pressuring the QB and forcing early throws.   Nitpicking a bit, I would like to see him finish tackles in space at a more consistent rate.  Also, his spin move isn’t as strong as his other rush moves, however he uses it far too often in my opinion.  Going forward, Clowney is without a doubt the best player in college football, and will almost certainly be the top player on NFL teams Draft boards.  His skill set will be intriguing to any team, and he has the ability to be a difference maker at the position, in the mold of players like Julius Peppers and Jason Pierre-Paul.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my Best of the Best series.  Please feel free to send me any comments/critique to danguy013@gmail.com or feel free to comment/follow me on twitter @danny_g13

The Best of the Best: Teddy Bridgewater

We’re now two days away from the beginning of the 2013 college football season, which means it’s time for part nine of my Best of the Best series.  This 10 article series will take a look at my top 10 draft eligible players in college football.  This isn’t necessarily a prediction of where I feel they will be drafted, but more my thoughts on where these 10 rank against all other college players.  While I fully expect all of these players to be top 15 draft selections next year, there could always be fluctuation with a premium placed on positions like Quarterback and Offensive Tackle.  With that said, it’s time to look at my number two prospect, Louisville Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

Image

Tale of the Tape

6’3″

205 lbs

Career Numbers

5847 passing yards

66% completion percentage

41 passing touchdowns

20 interceptions

There may only be one Quarterback in my top ten prospects, but he’s a pretty special Quarterback.  Bridgewater has good size, great arm strength, and excellent awareness on the football field.  The Miami native earned the starting job as a true Freshman, and after an average year in 2011 became one of the best signal callers in the nation last year.  While he may not have the flash and make the exciting plays that Johnny Football does, he’s the better Quarterback.  He’s accurate, makes good decisions on the field, and has intangibles that you love to see from your Quarterback.  So lets take a look at what makes Bridgewater so good.

Toughness

  • One thing that immediately stands out about Bridgewater is the level of toughness he shows.  While you don’t like your QB to take unnecessary hits, sometimes they have to be willing to in order to make the play.  Bridgewater is fearless in the pocket, always keeping his eyes down field, and never shying away from the incoming hit at the expense of making the play.       Image
  • On this first play, we’ll see Bridgewater roll out while watching his receivers down the field throughout their routes.Image
  • Despite the Linebacker coming downhill to level him Bridgewater’s eyes stay down field, waiting for one of his receivers to come open.   Bridgewater at this point knows he’s probably going to take the hit, but also is aware there is the opportunity for a big play.       Image
  • Bridgewater is able to get the pass off, but can’t prevent the vicious hit from the Linebacker.                                                   Image
  • Another look shows us how hard the hit is that Bridgewater takes.      Image
  • The result of Bridgewater’s willingness to take the punishment in order to make a play, is a ball thrown where the Wide Receiver down field has a chance to make a play.  He ultimately drops the ball, but that doesn’t take away how good of a play this was by Bridgewater.

Mobility

  • Another thing that stands out about Bridgewater is the level of mobility he has for someone who is mainly a pocket passer.  Not only can Bridgewater move around in the pocket to avoid the rush well, he also shows the ability to convert the down with his legs.                                             Image
  • Here, we’ll take a look at Bridgewater’s mobility within the pocket.  He will use his mobility to extend the play, and create an opportunity for a critical touchdown late in the third quarter.                           Image
  • Bridgewater feels the pressure coming, but continues to keep his eyes down field looking for the touchdown.                             Image
  • He shows good ability to evade the rusher and slides up in the pocket.  By doing so, he’s able to buy himself a little more time to scan the field.   Image
  • As he slides up he continues to go through his progressions and he sees the Running Back has some space in front of him.           Image
  • Instead of getting rattled and just tucking the ball and picking up what he can, he’s able to stay focused on the play and tosses it to the RB on the shovel pass.  He’ll be rewarded for his patience and ability to extend the play with a touchdown.                                                               scramble uf 1
  • Here we’ll see Bridgewater feel the rush closing in, but this time instead of just extending the play he’s able to convert the down with his scrambling ability.  scramble uf 2
  • Once again Bridgewater feels the rush closing in and the pocket collapsing around him.  He still has his eyes down field on his receivers, but he’s going to have to extend the play somehow.                                                                                                                                             scramble uf 3
  • He’s able to step up in the pocket, and then escape to the right.  He still is scanning the field, but nothing is coming open.  He has a decision to make, either tuck the ball and pick up what he can, or try and force something down field to a receiver.scramble uf 4
  • He tucks the ball and takes off.  He shows good scrambling ability to not only pick up positive yards, but concert the down running the football.         scramble pitt 1
  • Again Bridgewater feels the pressure around him and decides it’s time to get out of the pocket.                     scramble pitt 2
  • He does a good job moving laterally to get outside the pocket and away from the defense.                                                  scramble pitt 3
  • Once he has space again he gets his eyes back down field, and scans the field for a potential receiver.                      scramble pitt 4
  • Not finding an open receiver he makes the smart play and tucks the ball to pick up the yardage to convert the down.

Arm Talent

  • At the end of the day to play the Quarterback position you have to be able to throw the football.  There may not be a better thrower of the football in the nation then Bridgewater.  He shows the ability to make all the throws on the field, and also demonstrates the ability to either gun the ball into a tight window, or take something off when he needs to float it in the air.                                                                                               corner 1
  • Here we’ll see Bridgewater demonstrate good arm talent to put the ball where only his receiver can catch it on the corner route.                    corner 2-1
  • The Corner actually has pretty good coverage on the route, however Bridgewater trusts that he can not only lead the receiver into the catch, but also get the ball in quick enough that the CB can’t break.                                                                                       corner 3
  • His throw gives the CB no shot to make a play on the ball, the Wide Receiver is catching it, or nobody is.                                   corner 4
  • He puts the ball right on the money, and the WR is able to catch it in stride and pick up a few more yards before being ran out-of-bounds.                post uf 1
  • On this play against Florida, we’ll see Bridgewater be able to lead his receiver on the post.  This allows the receiver to catch the ball in stride and pick up extra yards.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    post uf 2
  • Bridgewater shows good ability to get the ball off under pressure.  Not only does he get the ball away, but it’s going to be a perfect pass.               post uf 3-1
  • This angle shows us the pressure Bridgewater is under, as well as the coverage down field.  He has two defenders in the center of the field and will have to squeeze the ball between them to the intended receiver marked with the yellow square.                                     post uf 3-2
  • As the ball gets to the receiver you can see how well Bridgewater leads him.  This not only allows the receiver to run into the catch, but also makes it impossible for the defender in front of him to make a play on the ball.                                                                               post uf 3
  • The result is the receiver Eli Rogers is able to catch the ball in full stride, and create an even bigger play by not just picking up the first, but also getting a significant amount of yards after the catch.  Without the throw being as good as it is Rogers is probably tackled immediately after the catch, and may not pick up the first.                                                                                                                                         fade 1
  • On this last play, Bridgewater shows the ability to take something off the ball in order to let the Wide Receiver run under it on the slant and go to the end zone.                                                                                                                                                                                                  fade 2
  • As Bridgewater is getting ready to release the ball the Wide Receiver is still behind his man.  Bridgewater however has faith not only in his WR to run under the ball and make the play, but his arm to loft the ball up and give the WR the time to do so.                                                               fade 3
  • As the ball reaches it’s highest point you can see the Wide Receiver still hasn’t gotten by his man.                                                                   fade 4
  • The air Bridgewater puts under the ball though gives the WR ample time to get behind the Defensive Back who is doing a bad job locating the football.   fade 5
  • Bridgewater’s pass finally comes down, and the WR barely has to extend his arms out to make the easy over the shoulder catch for a touchdown.

Going Through Progressions 

  • Bridgewater does an excellent job going through his progressions on the field.  You hardly ever see him lock on a receiver, and when you do it’s almost always because they’ve been given a free release down field.                                      progressions rutgers 1                                                                          progressions rutgers 2                                                          progressions rutgers 3
  • Bridgewater does a good job of quickly scanning the field.  He goes from left to right across the field, looking for a receiver he can get the ball to.        progressions rutgers 4
  • The result of his work is taking the safe play and living to fight another down.  To be honest, I could have picked just about any of Bridgewater’s throws and showcased him going through his progressions, he’s that good at it.
  • Not only does Bridgewater do a good job going through his progressions, he also has a feel for what the right play is.  Even if it’s a check down for a minimal gain, or throwing the ball out-of-bounds under pressure, he usually seems to make the right play for his team.

Needs Work

While every single player in my Best of the Best series has traits to their game that in my opinion make them stand out, they all have things they need to improve too.  So let’s look at a couple of areas where I would like to see Bridgewater improve in 2013.

Accuracy On the Deep/Vertical Ball

  • Bridgewater is a pretty complete Quarterback, and the vast majority of his flaws are minimal and easily corrected.  However there is one area where Bridgewater needs to make significant strides to become an elite Quarterback at the next level.  While Bridgewater is a very accurate Quarterback and has the ability to make all the throws on the field, his deep accuracy is nowhere near the accuracy he has at the other levels of the field.  He consistently overthrows open men on fade routes and double moves, and on deep curls he’s shown the tendency to said the ball.                                            overthrow 1                                                                          overthrow 2                                                                    overthrow 3                                                                     overthrow 4
  • Bridgewater will have to correct the accuracy issues he has on deep throws in order to be the level of Quarterback he has the chance to be at the next level.

Final Thoughts

Teddy Bridgewater is far and away the most complete Quarterback in this class.  He has good size at 6’3″ and has good arm strength.  He’s a tough QB who’s not afraid to take a hit in order to make a play.  On several occasions last year he put his body on the line in order to wait for the play to come open.  He’s got a good level of mobility, showing the ability to move around in the pocket to evade the rushers, and slide horizontally in the pocket with fluidity.  He also has good mobility as a scrambler.  While he won’t remind anyone of Michael Vick in the open field, he does have the ability to make a defender miss and convert the down with his leg.  He’s a very accurate passer in the short and medium areas of the field, completing passes with ease at times.  His game is extremely cerebral, showing how polished he is as a QB.  He seems to understand coverages, and knows how to look defenders off, and throw his receiver open by leading them.

Bridgewater also does an excellent job going through his progressions, at times scanning the entire field before releasing the football.  Not only does he make his reads well, but he’s an excellent decision maker in the field, almost always making the play that won’t hurt his team.  There are some minor mechanical flaws such as an elongated release in his game that creep up at times, but it’s not enough to be worried about going forward in my opinion.  The one big issue for Bridgewater is his accuracy in the deep quadrants of the field, where he’s pretty hit or miss.  If he can shore up this area of his game, and continues to progress at the rate he has his first two college seasons he could be special.  Not only is a Heisman trophy a serious possibility for Bridgewater, but more importantly he has the tools to be an elite NFL Quarterback in the not too distant future.

Thank you for reading, and be sure to check back tomorrow for the next player in my Best of the Best series.  Also, please feel free to send me any comments/critique to danguy013@gmail.com or feel free to comment/follow me on twitter @danny_g13

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