There has been a lot written about Georgia running back Todd Gurley. When healthy, he is one of the most talented running backs in this draft. He has all the tools to be a top NFL back: size, speed, power. He is a very good receiver out of the backfield. But durability will be a question. Before we talk about the injury, let’s break down his strengths and weaknesses.
A 6’1 – 222, he has great size. He is well built with a thick and well-muscled upper and lower body. He shows an excellent burst and has very good play speed (was a top sprinter and hurdler in high school). He’s a quick starter with no false step. Has good, not great, vision but can find the cutback lanes. He is very powerful in the open field and extremely hard to tackle. He is a physical runner who punishes tacklers. He consistently gets yards after contact. He has very good balance and shows the ability to stop and start. He can make a cut in the hole to find daylight.
He is best as an off tackle and outside runner, showing patience to set up and follow blocks and has the speed to go the distance. He has very good hands, runs good pass routes, and can adjust to the ball. He gets up field quickly after a reception and shows good ability to make people miss in the open field with his quick-cutting ability. He has been an excellent kickoff returner his entire college career. He shows a willingness to pass block.
He has a tendency to run tall, and that hurts his power in short yardage situations. In a game in the 2013 season, he was given the ball three times in a row in a 2nd, 3rd and 4th and 1 situation and failed to get the first down. He needs to work on his pass protection technique and also needs to be more aware in blitz pickup.
Durability is an obvious concern. He suffered an ankle injury in 2013 and missed three games, and he suffered an ACL injury late in the 2014 season and had surgery. His physical running style makes him prone to injury. He takes a lot of big hits.
He showed poor decision making by accepting money from a memorabilia agent for signing jersey’s helmets, pictures etc. That led to a four game NCAA suspension. He injured his knee right after he came back from the suspension.
Before the knee injury, Gurley was the odds on favorite to be the first running back taken in the draft. Though he runs tall, his style of play projects very favorably to having a good NFL career. Like most college running backs, he needs work on pass blocking, but that will come with coaching. He has the traits to step in and be very productive right from the get go. He can also be most clubs’ number one kickoff returner. When healthy, he is probably the most physical runner to come out since Adrian Peterson. The key phrase is “when healthy”.
While Gurley’s knee was shown to be stable at the medical rechecks last week, he is still far from stepping on the field. He won’t be nine months out from his surgery until opening weekend in September. What that means is that during OTA’s and training camp he won’t be 100% and will need to be monitored. He won’t be ready for full practices until late in training camp, if at all.
Once he is deemed “100%”, will he be the same back we saw last fall? No one knows the answer to that question. He could lose some speed or lateral movement or he could be better than he was before the injury. With the unknowns, does a team take a chance using a first round pick on him?
One draft analyst recently had Gurley going as high as 6th overall in a mock draft. I find that absurd with all the unanswered questions. Personally, I see Gurley as a wild card. While he could go in the first round, I feel it is much more likely that he will go in the second. The reason for that is we might not see the real Todd Gurley until 2016 if at all. No matter where he gets drafted, there will be an element of risk with him playing the running back position.
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Quarterbacks always have the inside track when it comes to being selected at the top of the draft board. But that aside, do NFL teams favor one side of the ball or the other when drafting? Do teams prefer to load up at a position early in the draft and then ignore that position later in the draft, or vice versa? This article addresses those issues through the examination of the 2005 through 2014 drafts.
Offense vs. Defense
While there might be short-term fluctuations due to supply or demand at a position, over time it is reasonable to expect that number of offense players and defensive players drafted should be about even. When looking at the 2005-2014 drafts that does turn out to be the case. Of the 2501 non-kickers drafted, our count is that 1245 were offensive players and 1256 were defensive players. That’s about as even as you can get.
There are more significant variances on a team-by-team basis. Certain teams, even over a 10-year period, do show at least some indication of bias on one side of the ball or the other. A short-term bias is certainly understandable as a team looks to plug holes wherever they exist. Over a 10-year period, though, all that should even out and it may come to a team’s drafting strategy or pure chance.
The following table shows the percentage of offensive draftees for each NFL team for 2005-2014.
The ends of the spectrum are the Jets taking offensive players with 58% of its selections and, on the other end, the Falcons taking defensive players with 60% of its choices. Is the variance from the average a matter of a team’s strategy or is it just random based on a team’s draft board and the players available? It is impossible to say without being in the draft room or being part of a team’s management.
The first three rounds of the draft produce most of the starters in a draft class. Over those three rounds, the numbers historically lean slightly toward defense, but it is still a relatively even split with about 49% of the draftees being offensive players versus 51% on defense. The team distribution changes, though, indicating that some teams favor one side of the ball in the first three rounds and then the other side in the final four rounds. Here is the chart as previously shown, but for the first three rounds only and with the scale slightly changed to accommodate the 49%/51% split.
The extremes for the first three rounds are the 49ers with 59% of its selections from the offensive side and the Saints with defensive players making up 62% of its selections. The same question as above is still applicable regarding whether this is a planned strategy or just a matter of chance.
The differences by team can be seen more clearly in the next table. This table shows the percentage of offensive draftees by playing position and team for round 1-3, rounds 4-7 and overall. Defensive draftees are, of course, 100% minus the percentage of offensive draftees.
Bias by Playing Position
Within the offensive and defensive splits presented above, there are also biases by playing position. Before looking at the information by team here is a breakdown by playing position for the first three rounds, the last four rounds and all rounds. The percentages represent the portion of all drafted players in each grouping from 2005-2014.
This table shows that quarterbacks, wide receivers, defensive linemen and corners account for 50% of draftees in the first three rounds but only 44% of players drafted in rounds 4-7. This indicates a bias towards drafting those positions in the top three rounds.
To get a better feel for the teams that are most and least likely to draft players at those four positions, the following tables show the distribution of players drafted by playing position and NFL team.
The first table shows the quarterbacks drafted in the first three rounds. The Browns, still searching for a quarterback, had the most with five. Six teams did not draft a quarterback in the first three rounds. The Texans are one of those six, though they are not settled at the position.
The next table shows the distribution by team for wide receivers drafted in the first three rounds. The Giants and Titans are the leaders with eight and seven, respectively. The Titans are far from settled at the position. Five teams drafted two or fewer receivers in the first three rounds. With the exception of the Cowboys, none of the teams are well set at the position.
The next table shows the distribution for defensive linemen. The Eagles had the most with 10 and the Redskins the least with one.
And finally, the distribution for corner backs is shown in the next table. The Rams led with eight corners drafted in the first three rounds while the Eagles had only one.
This addressed only one aspect of the positional bias issue. A “shortcut” way of looking at the possible existence of a bias is to find situations where the number of players drafted at a position is somewhat greater (or less) than 1.5 times the number of draftees for the first three rounds. The 1.5 factor is based on averages by position as discovered in this study.
The logic would be applied as follows:
The following table shows selected instances of positional biases for each NFL team and the number of players drafted in rounds 1-3 and then in round 4-7.. The number of instances was capped at three. The column labeled “bias” indicates whether the bias was in favor of drafting a position early (like the 49ers offensive linemen) or in favor of drafting a position later. 1-3 indicates that the bias is toward drafting early. 4-7 means that the bias is toward drafting later.
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Voluntary offseason workout programs for teams that did not hire a new head coach can begin on the third Monday in April, which is April 20 this year. Teams with a new head coach were allowed to start two weeks earlier on April 6. Players who are franchised, such as Dez Bryant, Justin Houston and Demaryius Thomas, and restricted free agents, like Tashaun Gipson, are prohibited from participating in off-season team activities without signing an NFL player contract.
There is another way for these types of players to participate through an obscure provision (Article 21, Section 9) of the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). Players who received a tender but haven’t signed an NFL contract and unrestricted free agents whose contracts expired can engage in offseason workouts and minicamps with their previous team while retaining the free agency rights they already have. In order to participate, these players must sign an agreement that contains the standard language the NFL and NFLPA came up with in 2012, which has been incorporated into Article 21, Section 9 of the 2011 CBA as Appendix Q.
Appendix Q protects players in case they are injured while participating in team activities during the off-season. In the case of an injury, a player will receive as a one year salary the greater of his required tender, his applicable minimum salary or the amount negotiated by the player and the team. Participation by a player is voluntarily under this provision so he can withdraw at any time with impunity. In Gipson’s case, his 2015 salary would be $2.356 million with an injury, his restricted free agent tender, since it’s unlikely that the Cleveland Browns would agree to a greater amount in order to get him to participate.
A main benefit to signing a participation agreement instead of an NFL contract is that a player will preserve his option of holding out without subjecting himself to penalties. For example, if Gipson boycotted a mandatory three day minicamp because of a lack of progress on a long term deal after signing his restricted free agent tender, the Browns would have the right to fine him $12,155 for the first day he missed minicamp, $24,300 for a second missed day and $36,465 if he missed a third day ($72,920 total for missing minicamp). If Gipson continued his boycott into training camp, the Browns could fine him $30,000 for each day he missed. These fines can’t occur when players are operating under participation agreements and they can only partake in training camp if they have signed an NFL contract.
Participation agreements have been rarely utilized by players receiving a franchise tender. Tennessee Titans safety Michael Griffin signed one in 2012 so he could be a part of the off-season program. The Titans rewarded his approach by signing him a five-year, $35 million contract (with $15 million in guarantees) about a month before training camp started.
The player least likely to use this option as a gesture of good faith is Houston. The Chiefs shouldn’t expect to see Houston during the off-season unless he has signed a long term deal. The 2011 third round pick skipped off-season activities in 2014 and forfeited a $25,000 workout bonus in a contract dispute with the Chiefs. Houston reported to training camp despite his unhappiness with his salary because he lacked leverage to continue his holdout. He wouldn’t have gotten a year of service towards free agency without reporting to the Chiefs at least 30 days prior to their first regular season game. Missing the August 5 deadline in 2014 and playing out his rookie deal would have made Houston a restricted free agent this year.
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Joel Corry is a former sports agent who helped found Premier Sports & Entertainment, a sports management firm that represents professional athletes and coaches. Prior to his tenure at Premier, Joel worked for Management Plus Enterprises, which represented Shaquille O’Neal, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ronnie Lott.
I usually wait until after the draft to write this column, but I was having a discussion with some people about the accuracy of the college football recruiting services as to their accuracy. As many of you know, I am not a fan of these services. They sell themselves as being able to accurately predict a prospect’s future, when in reality they are throwing darts at a wall and hoping that a high percentage stick.
For the purpose of this article I went back to see what players who have a legitimate shot at being a first round draft choice this year were rated when they came out of high school. There are more than 32 players on this list as we have no idea who will get drafted between 20 and 32. All of these players should be drafted in the top 45. What I found is that a high percentage of these players (over 50%) were rated 3 starts or less when they came out of high school in 2010, 2011 and 2012. While many weren’t highly rated three to five years ago, they sure as heck are now. If the recruiting services were accurate in their evaluations, a very high percentage of first round players should be 4 and 5 star players. That isn’t the case and has never been the case.
Jameis Winston – 5 stars
Marcus Mariota – 3 stars
Melvin Gordon – 4 stars
Todd Gurley – 4 stars
Ameer Abdullah – 3 stars
Tevin Coleman – 3 stars
Jay Ajayi – 3 stars
Amari Cooper – 4 stars
Kevin White – 0 stars
DeVante Parker – 3 stars
Jaelen Strong – 0 stars
Breshad Perriman – 2 stars
Phillip Dorsett – 3 stars
Maxx Williams – 3 stars
Brandon Scherff – 3 stars
Andrus Peat – 5 stars
La’el Collins – 4 stars
T.J. Cummings – 4 stars
Ereck Flowers – 4 stars
Cam Irving – 3 stars
Arik Armstead – 4 stars
Danny Shelton – 4 stars
Leonard Williams – 4 stars
Malcom Brown – 4 stars
Eddie Goldman – 5 stars
Vic Beasley – 3 stars
Randy Gregory – 3 stars
Shane Ray – 3 stars
Bud Dupree – 3 stars
Benardrick McKinney – 3 stars
Eric Kendricks – 3 stars
Paul Dawson – 0 stars
Trae Waynes – 2 stars
Marcus Peters – 3 stars
Kevin Johnson – 2 stars
Landon Collins – 5 stars
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Every year there are players who are overrated and underrated going into a draft. The underrated players are usually guys who are very productive but lack a trait or traits to be drafted high. Once they get to the NFL, their work ethic and desire to be great players works for them, and they out-play their draft position.
The overrated guys are usually, but not always, the “workout warriors”. They have great combine and pro day workouts, but when you watch tape, their play doesn’t match their workout numbers.
The overrated category also includes players who only the draftnik community rate high. While they get a lot of media attention, many clubs don’t have them rated nearly as high.
Bud Dupree – OLB/DE – Kentucky
When I watched the first three tapes, my first thought was “why the hype?”. I thought he was a good solid football player but I didn’t see anything special. I didn’t see a player that was worth a first round grade.
After the Combine, I went back and watched more tape, because his Combine workout was so outstanding. Dupree ran a 4.57 and 4.73 in his two 40 attempts. His play speed is more indicative of the 4.73 than the 4.57! The only other things he did at the Combine were the jumps, and they were elite. His vertical was 42” and is standing long jump was 11’6′, an unheard of leap at any position.
Because Dupree didn’t run the agility drills at the Combine, he had to run them at his pro day. The results were interesting. His 20 yard shuttle time was 4.47, and his 3-cone was 7.48. Both of those times would rank in the lower half of the linebacker group at Indy and translate more to the 4.73 40 time.
After watching late tape, I saw nothing that changed my opinion. He plays the run well, shows some strength at the point of attack, and can set the edge. He is not explosive as a pass rusher, and his sack production is good, not great (7.5 sacks). He can drop into coverage and play zone but struggles when asked to play man. His overall production was not as good as an elite player would have. Part of the problem is he lacks top instincts. He is more a “see and react” type than an instinctively reacting player. While I feel he will be a solid NFL player, I don’t ever see him becoming a pro bowler. He will get drafted in the first because of his great Combine numbers, but he looks more like a second rounder to me.
Shane Ray – OLB – Missouri
Go back two to three months, and most draft analysts had Shane Ray, Randy Gregory, Dante Fowler and Vic Beasley as top 10 picks. Today, 10 days before the draft, things have changed. While Beasley and Fowler still remain solid top 10 choices, Ray and Gregory are not.
Ray is a hell of a football player, and he will get drafted high, just not as high as many think. Why? He has limitations, most of which are athletic. And some are size.
The best part of Ray’s game is his competitiveness. He has a great motor and goes all out every play. A coach can’t ask for more. Many of the plays he makes are because of that relentlessness he plays with.
At 6024 – 245, Ray is about as big as he is going to get. 250 might be his max. He has some athletic limitations that were seen when he worked at the Missouri pro day. While he showed good straight-line speed (4.64) and has better than average explosiveness (10’ long jump, 33.5” vertical), his change of direction was poor. His 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone were among the slowest of the OLB group (4.53 – 20 shuttle, 7.71 – 3-cone). What those times tell us is that he his tightness in his hips and lacks great bend.
Ray has a quick first step and can use his hands as a pass rusher but can get overpowered by big offensive linemen in the run game. When in pass coverage, he has a fairly good drop but doesn’t flip his hips well and can be slow to transition.
While I still feel that Ray will be a very good NFL player, I don’t think he will ever be an elite player. I no longer see him as a top 10 player but more like a guy who gets drafted in the teens, maybe even in the low 20’s.
D.J. Humphries – OT – Florida
Since the Combine, Humphries has gotten a lot of play. Many believe he is a lock to be a first round draft pick, and he very well may be. I just don’t like him as much as others.
Humphries came to the Combine at 307 pounds and worked out well. While he was at Florida, he never played at 300 pounds. He was in the low 290’s last season.
While he is quick and athletic, I don’t see him playing with strength. He does not get movement with his run blocks, and you see him get stalemated at times. His hand use in pass protection also needs to be improved.
One of my biggest concerns is durability. Humphries has missed a number of games because of injury. If he couldn’t stay healthy in college, how is he going to stay healthy in the NFL?
I understand that finding quality left tackles is a difficult job, and Humphries surely has the athleticism to be a very good left tackle. It’s the other things that bother me. I see him as more of a developmental player and would much rather have him in the second round than force him to play before he is ready if he is taken in the first.
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