Now that the OTAs are in full swing, teams are starting to get a look at how their rookies play. By no means does this compare to what an actual game will be like, but it does give them a taste of what they can expect from their long-term investments. There are several rookies in this year’s draft class that everyone who is in love with football, should be anxious to see.
Shane Ray, EDGE, Denver Broncos
Shane Ray made the headlines prior to the NFL Draft after being busted for possession of pot, plus there was some concern for a turf toe injury he suffered late last season which took longer than expected to heal. Ray was never really liked by most draft-niks because of his smaller build. When scouting Ray, I was never concerned with his size, because I felt he played bigger than what his measurements said. Ray is an extremely quick and powerful edge rusher; I was consistently impressed with his play game after game. If you need a sack on third down, he is going to be the one who you can expect a sack to come from. The only issue I have with Ray is his poor run defense; that is where the smaller size bites him in the butt. It is hard for him to penetrate through the inside of the O-Line and get to the ball carrier. I like the group that Ray is surrounded with at Denver. He will be trained and helped along by one of the best EDGE/D-Linemen to play the game, Demarcus Ware, and a talented pass rusher by the name of Von Miller. In Denver, Ray is set up for success and I can see him being the eventual replacement for the aging Ware.
Melvin Gordon, RB, San Diego Chargers
Melvin Gordon is one of the most accomplished RBs to come out of Wisconsin University. Setting records last season, he was arguably one of the best backs to go in the Draft. I loved watching Gordon in my time scouting him. He was very quick and he had the home run potential on every single handoff. The main downgrade I gave him was I didn’t feel, in college, that he caught the ball enough. So that is something he will need to get used to in his transition to the pros. I feel Gordon will do very well in his rookie season. He is set up with some veteran help. Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown have both been in the league for some time now and can give him some help. He also has a decent O-Line blocking for him and some guy named Philip Rivers, a five time Pro-Bowler, leading the offense. I have to wonder with Gordon coming from a team known for using their running backs a great deal, if he is a short term answer to a problem in San Diego.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Indianapolis Colts
Until the Combine, no one had really heard of a guy named Phillip Dorsett out of Miami (FL). Then, he ran the 40 yard dash and his Draft stock started rising. Dorsett was a very fast player at Miami who was known for out-running defenses on the deep ball and getting excellent yards after the catch, particularly on screen plays. There is some issue with his size, seeing as he is only 5”9” (5’10” if you round up) and 185 pounds, and there are problems with too many dropped passes. As of right now, it seems that Dorsett will not be a starting WR the first week. Instead, it looks as if his main role will be the number one punt return and kickoff return man. It is a smart move by the Colts to give him some time to develop until there is a spot for him as backup receiver. As of now, Andre Johnson, T.Y. Hilton, and Donte Moncrief are the main receivers for the Colts and will be for several more seasons. In the meantime, Dorsett will have a chance to learn from veterans Johnson and Hilton (who is slowly turning into a top notch receiver himself). To me, nothing is more exciting than watching a game where an extremely fast return man is about to work his magic. Seeing guys like Devin Hester, Patrick Peterson, and Tavon Austin do their stuff is a thrill to watch and they bring excitement back into the usually boring and drab Special Teams. I expect to see a few returns by Dorsett to be on the highlight reels on Sunday and Monday nights.
Jadeveon Clowney – OLB – Houston Texans
The number one pick in the 2014 NFL Draft had a very disappointing rookie season because of knee injuries. He only participated in four games last year and finished with seven total tackles and no sacks.
He suffered a knee injury early on, had surgery, and was able to come back in late October. He still experienced problems and finally had microfracture surgery on the knee in late November. Clowney is said to be doing very well with his rehab, and the hope is that he is full go late in the preseason and 100% by opening day.
If healthy, Clowney gives the Texans a player who has the opportunity to be a dominant edge rusher and a complement to All-World defensive lineman J.J. Watt. While Clowney had a disappointing final season at South Carolina, the tools are there for him to succeed. While I don’t expect him to be in top form early on, I do feel he will put up respectable numbers and help make an already good defense even better.
Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson – WR’s – Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars spent second round draft picks on Lee and Robinson a year ago, and both played fairly well. While there were a number of rookie receivers who played well last year, generally, a receiver is in his second year before he really begins to break out. That is the hope for both Lee and Robinson.
Neither played poorly, but they did not play quite as well as expected. Lee finished the year with 37 receptions for 422 yards and only one touchdown. Robinson had 48 catches for 548 yards and two touchdowns.
The two receivers complement each other very well. Lee is a quick, fast, deep threat with outstanding run after the catch skills. Robinson can be more physical and a possession type but still has enough speed to get deep. For second year quarterback Blake Bortles to reach his potential, both Lee and Robinson have to come on strong this year. The talent is there and they know what is expected of them. Now all they have to do is get the job done.
Donte Moncrief – WR – Indianapolis Colts
From a physical standpoint, there is no reason Moncrief doesn’t become a top wide receiver in the NFL. He has all the natural tools. At 6’2 – 220 he has outstanding size to go along with better than 4.4 speed. He is long, has good hands, and is extremely athletic.
Coming from a very simple spread offense in college, the only thing that is missing with Moncrief’s game is experience and confidence playing in a complex NFL offense. As a rookie, the former third round pick had 32 catches for 444 yards and three touchdowns. He added another five catches in the playoffs. This year, with Reggie Wayne gone, the Colts would like Moncrief to at least double that production. This being his second year in Pep Hamilton’s system, he should be able to start strong and help improve an already strong passing game.
DaQuan Jones – DE – Tennessee Titans
As a rookie in 2014, Jones looked like a rookie. He showed flashes of potential but could never put it together. He finally got a chance to start the final game of the 2014 season at defensive end and played well. He finished the game with four tackles and a sack.
Coming into his second season, Jones is looking good and has been given the starting nod at the 5 technique defensive end spot. He has the tools to be a very good run stopper on base downs and can move inside to defensive tackle in passing situations and provide a strong inside rush. If Jones can come up with 50 tackles and 6.0 sacks for the season, he will be looked at as being a solid part of the defensive front. I look for him to put up those numbers or better.
Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe
The cat is out of the bag. I have revealed my rookie crush for new Chiefs DB, Steven Nelson. If you are not as familiar with him, he is a defensive back the Chiefs selected in the third round in this year’s NFL Draft. Steven played two years at The College of the Sequoias in Visalia, California to help better his studies before transferring to Oregon State. Sometimes, people think a junior college player may not be as accomplished; but that was not the case here. After completing his studies, Oklahoma and USC, amongst others, offered him scholarships. Nelson chose the Oregon State Beavers.
I have not spoken to him; but when we drafted him, I wanted to learn all about him. Ever since I started my introduction to scouting class, I have added watching game film to my analysis, and when I put on the tape, I came away with the following: Nelson is a physical corner and will make anyone work for a catch. He high points the ball well when playing against much bigger opponents. For instance, he held former Arizona State WR Jaelen Strong without a touchdown catch. In 2013, out of 14 passes defended, six were interceptions. In 2014, he had two interceptions. Remember Chief fans, six interceptions during the 2014 season. Yes, we need guys with ball skills. In addition, he has good run coverage. He will wrap up and effectively tackle the ball carrier. He did not miss a tackle last year at Oregon State.
Nelson is quick, however; if Phillip Dorsett has him beat, he will not be able to catch him. He has good game speed though. He looks faster than a 4.4 40-yard dash on tape. I don’t know about you; but a good friend who is now a coach told me once, “Sometimes you may not be the fastest or most skilled, but if you are prepared to work, game on.” I’m not saying he is the next Deion Sanders, but I do see Steven has good, natural instincts. He will, no doubt, make some mistakes, but he was taken because he has great football character and good instincts. He wants to be a great football player. Adding him and Marcus Peters to a secondary with Phillip Gaines and Sean Smith can only help. He is wearing #20. Remember that, you will need it when you place your order for a Chiefs’ @Nelson_island jersey.
Want to let me know what you think? @sportswizard28
NAME: Dick Schafrath
TEAMS: 1959-71 Cleveland Browns
UNIFORM NUMBER: 80 (1959), 77 (1960-71)
• Excellent downfield blocker
• Very competitive
• Can lose his balance on occasion
• Can get pushed back in pass protection
• Defenders could stand him up, getting him to lose leverage
BOTTOM LINE Schafrath’s game had some deficiencies. In pass protection, he could get pushed back, beaten on the edge and lose his balance. However, it did not often result in negative plays. Defenders could get pressure on the quarterback, but did not sack the quarterback. He was effective in getting downfield to block on sweeps and screens. Was weak with his cut blocks. Struggled to maintain balance in pass protection.
GRADING SPECIFIC FACTORS
OVERALL ATHLETICISM (QAB): 7.4
STRENGTH AND EXPLOSION: 7.1
MENTAL ALERTNESS: 7.5
RUN BLOCKING: 7.6
PASS BLOCKING: 7.2
OVERALL GRADE 7.5
NUMBER OF GAMES REVIEWED: 4
GAME: December 27, 1964 – Baltimore Colts: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE The film is of poor quality. This film is a highlight film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Schafrath played left tackle and faced right defensive end Ordell Braase (#81). He was very good in both run blocking and pass protection. At one point in the third quarter, Brasse got around Schafrath and caused a fumble in the backfield. It was not shown how Brasse got around Schafrath. He may have released Brasse in order to block downfield, as he had on a few other plays in the game. The film did not show Schafrath getting beat, but it did show him getting pushed around and pushed back. Schafrath was knocked off balance on occasion. Very competitive. Very good athleticism to get out in front of screens and sweeps.
GAME: October 8, 1966 – Pittsburgh Steelers: 7.3
BOTTOM LINE: This is a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Schafrath played left tackle and faced right defensive end Ben McGee (#60). Schafrath struggled at times in pass protection. McGee was able to get good penetration into the offensive backfield, especially on a bull rush. In the second quarter, Schafrath blocked McGee low. McGee jumped over him and pressured quarterback Frank Ryan (#13). Later in the second quarter, Schafrath did an excellent job picking up a stunting linebacker Rod Breedlove (#63). Schafrath was knocked off balance on a few occasions. Very good run blocking downfield. Schafrath left the game in the fourth quarter, when the game was well in hand. He was replaced by John Brown (#70). Overall, Schafrath was beaten around the edge, pushed back, thrown around and missed some cut blocks. However, none of this led to negative plays.
GAME: October 30, 1966 – Atlanta Flacons: 7.8
BOTTOM LINE: This is a Game of the Week film. As a result, not all plays are shown. Schafrath played left tackle and faced right defensive end Sam Williams (#88). Excellent downfield blocking. In the second quarter, he made a very good block out in front of a sweep. Very good in pass protection. However, there were times when he stood too straight up and lost leverage against the defender. He was repeatedly pushed back into the pass pocket, as well as knocked off balance.
GAME: September 21, 1970 – New York Jets: 7.0
BOTTOM LINE: Schafrath played left tackle. Depending on the formation, he faced either right defensive end Verlon Biggs (#86) or right defensive tackle John Elliott (#80). Schafrath was very good in run blocking. However, he was a little slow when pulling to the opposite side of the field to block on the sweep. He struggled in pass protection. Lateral movement was not smooth and he was slow to get into his stance, which made him relatively easy to knock off balance. On several occasions, the defender was able to get by him to pressure quarterback Bill Nelsen. In the first quarter, he made a good cut block on a screen pass. However, in the same quarter, he was run over by Biggs. He was repeatedly beat on the edge. With all of these struggles in pass protection, he did not give up a sack.
HISTORIC REPORTS GRADING SCALE
Hall of Fame
9.0 – Rare
8.5 – Exceptional to Rare
8.0 – Exceptional
Hall of Very Good
7.5 – Very Good to Exceptional
7.0 – Very Good
6.5 – Good to Very Good
6.0 – Good
5.5 – Above Average to Good
5.0 – Above Average
4.5 – Average to Above Average
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Matt Reaser is a member of the Professional Football Researchers Association and serves on multiple PFRA committees. He has written articles on football history and recently contributed towards a book on the 1966 Packers. He has researched high school, college and professional football. He is a former high school quarterback.
Follow Ken on Twitter @KenCrippen
The 10th edition of HBO’s Hard Knocks has been announced for the 2015 season and the cameras will be following the Houston Texans during training camp.
This is the first time that the Texans will appear on the television series. (Only Dallas and Cincinnati have appeared twice.)
While the series focuses on the team as a whole, every year there are certain storylines, players and coaches that play essential roles. Who could fill that role in 2015?
The most dominant player in football right now, Watt is likely one of the main reasons the Texans are on the show. Even if you aren’t a Houston fan, you have to appreciate what he is doing. His devotion to the game is well known and now everyone will get an inside look at how he prepares for the season. There is no doubt that Watt will be one of the stars of Hard Knocks this year.
Quarterback Competition: Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett
Despite an unsettled quarterback position, the Texans were able to finish the 2014 season with a 9-7 record, just missing the playoffs. This year, there will be another battle for the quarterback spot, this time between Hoyer and Mallett. Hoyer joins Houston from Cleveland, where he had the Browns playing relevant football again. Mallett re-signed with the Texans after starting two games last season before tearing a pectoral muscle, sidelining him for the season. Will the veteran Hoyer or the strong-armed Mallett line up under center for Houston next season?
The Return of Jadeveon Clowney
The number one overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft, Clowney was one of the best defensive prospects to enter in the NFL in recent years. However, his rookie year didn’t go as planned. He suffered a knee injury in week one and then returned to play in weeks eight, 11 and 12 before being shut down for the year. In early December, he underwent microfracture surgery on his right knee. Microfracture surgery is known not only for long rehab times, but a lot of players never return to the same level. How will Clowney recover from this surgery? Hard Knocks should give us an inside look.
Head coaches play an essential role in Hard Knocks for obvious reasons. O’Brien is entering his second season as the head coach of the Texans. Despite very little contribution from his rookies and playing four quarterbacks, O’Brien reversed the Texans’ fortunes last season, turning them into a 9-7 squad, just a year removed from going 2-14. Coming from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, O’Brien probably isn’t thrilled to be featured on Hard Knocks. In spite of this, he is going to be a key person in the television series.
Known as one of the best NFL players to follow on Twitter, Foster is not only the Texans’ star running back, but a character perfectly suited for the Hard Knocks environment. Houston will rely on the 28-year old running back for heavy offensive production again this season. In training camp, he is sure to provide a few memorable moments, just like he has done on Twitter.
Replacing a Legend
For just the second time in franchise history, the Houston Texans will take the field without wide receiver Andre Johnson. The only other time was the first season in franchise history, which was a year before the Texans drafted him. After 12 seasons in Houston, their legendary receiver is now playing with division rival Indianapolis. Replacing Johnson will mainly fall upon the shoulders of DeAndre Hopkins, who actually had more receiving yards and touchdowns than Johnson last season.
Breakout Star: Mike Vrabel
The former New England outside linebacker, best known for his exploits as a goal line tight end, is currently the linebackers coach for the Texans. A rising star in the coaching world, the 39-year old enters his second season with the Texans after three years as an assistant at Ohio State, his alma mater. Vrabel is already well known due to his playing career, but Hard Knocks has a chance to catapult his coaching career.