Austin Morris
NFP Fresh Voices


Coming out of THE Ohio State University is a QB whose name has been heard by many who follow the college football scene, Braxton Miller. Miller, a 6’2”, 215 pound, Redshirt Senior is coming off of a torn labrum he suffered prior to the start of last season. Miller has made a name for himself at OSU having quite a lot of production in his time at the school; here are his career stats so far:

  • 5,292 passing yards
  • 52 passing touchdowns and 17 interceptions
  • 3,054 rushing yards and 5.5 rushing average
  • 32 rushing touchdowns

Miller’s mechanics were absolutely hideous in 2011 and 2012, so he took the time prior to the 2013 season to focus on improving. The change was quite noticeable as his TD/INT ratio greatly dropped and he played more consistent football. There is no rock solid guarantee that Miller will be starting this season. Coach Urban Meyer has quite a decision to make on who he will start at the QB position. Will he start Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, or Miller? Any one of these guys could start and help OSU win another National Championship. Regardless of what the final depth chart will look like, here are some pre-season notes on Braxton Miller:

Strengths:

He throws a tight spiral, which is surprising considering he wears gloves on both hands during most games. The gloves are present usually during rain, snow, or colder weather. He does a good job of spreading the ball evenly to his receivers. On deeper throws, he does a nice job of stepping up in the pocket to avoid the edge rush. He does an adequate job of throwing against zone coverage. He seems to be aware of the down and distance set in front of him. He does a nice job reading the defensive end on read option plays. He usually tries to go through at least two reads before he scrambles. He is an extremely fast QB who can change directions on a dime. He has experience playing in unfavorable weather conditions. Throughout his college career, he has faced some of the best defenses in the nation.

Weaknesses:

Miller suffered a torn labrum prior to the 2014 season. He rarely throws the ball down the middle of the field and mostly throws to the right and the left sides. Miller struggles greatly when throwing against man coverage. His ball placement is absolutely atrocious; he does not allow his receivers to do much after the catch. He has a little bit of a windup on his throws that should be shortened some. He has spent most of his career in the Shotgun formation, with not much experience under center. Miller has some serious ball control issues (10 fumbles in 2013). He would rather run than throw the ball away. Miller rarely completes his deep throws.

Info from charted games (2013 vs Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State, and Illinois)

Realistic Completion Percentage

  • Behind Line of Scrimmage to Line of Scrimmage-82% completion rate on 31 attempts
  • Line of Scrimmage to 10 yds-62% completion rate on 32 attempts
  • 11 yards to 25 yards-53% completion rate on 20 attempts
  • 25 yards or greater-24% completion rate on 18 attempts

Completion Percentage on Man and Zone coverages

  • 48% Completion Percentage vs. 38 Man Defense Plays
  • 68% Completion Percentage vs. 62 Zone Defense Plays

Preseason Prediction:

Overall, I feel Braxton Miller has a chance at having a Heisman like season and could possibly have one of National Championship caliber. Even with a great year, I don’t see Miller becoming a successful pro QB due to his poor ball placement and inability to throw successfully beyond the Line of Scrimmage. Also, I feel his type of play will not translate to the NFL. Prior QBs before him at Ohio State are perfect examples. Troy Smith and Terelle Pryor both were excellent quarterbacks for the Buckeyes, but their athletic talent only got them so far. NFL history also dictates that unless they are put in the right offense, run n’ gun QBs do not do well. I currently believe Miller will be drafted in the 5th Round, and it will take a great deal of improvement in the 2015 season to change my mind.

Austin is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Reach him by e-mail at amorris3585@scc.stanly.edu

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Greg Gabriel
The Director's Report


 The other day, while driving in my car, I was listening to the radio, and the talk was about the Tennessee Titans. The two hosts were discussing who would be the starting quarterback in Tennessee this season, second year player Zach Mettenberger or rookie Marcus Mariota. In my opinion, there is no debate. It’s Mariota, hands down. Mettenberger shouldn’t even be in the discussion.

Why do I say that? Simply put, Mettenberger is no better than an average backup in the NFL.He has no “special” to him. Mariota, on the other hand, coming from the offense he came from at Oregon, needs some development; but he is loaded with “special”.

Mettenberger was a sixth round draft choice for a reason.He wasn’t considered a premium round prospect. The two things he had going for him were his height and his strong arm. It ends there. Mettenberger, who has had two ACL injuries, is a very average athlete. Before the second injury during his final season at LSU, he had virtually no mobility. Playing behind a very good LSU offensive line, he still took a number of sacks and hits. He never had a good feel for pass rushers and didn’t have the quick feet and lateral agility to avoid them when he saw them coming.

While he has a very strong arm and spins the ball well, his accuracy and ball placement were average, especially on longer throws. This was with two of the best receivers in college football in 2013, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., and playing in an NFL-style offense.

His overall football character was worrisome as well. He was not known as a top worker, and there were many who questioned if his passion for the game was what it should be. Does he really want to be a great player and do all it takes to become one? Leadership skills were also a question mark.

As a rookie in 2014, Mettenberger got to play in seven games. There are some who raved about his play. I wasn’t one of them. His numbers were not that impressive. He completed 107 of 179 passes for 1412 yards and eight touchdowns. He also threw seven interceptions and fumbled four times. As a runner, he got all of four yards on five carries. Put it all together, and you have what amounts to an average NFL backup who may be able to win a couple of games if he has to play. He is by no means a starting-caliber player that a team can win with in the NFL. Do you really think that Tennessee would have taken Mariota if they thought Mettenberger could win in the league?

Granted, Mariota is a work I progress, he played in a quick paced zone read option offense. He seldom played from under center, and a majority of his throws were quick read throws to his first or second option. He seldom had to read the whole field and has accuracy problems on downfield throws.

Mariota has an abundance of athleticism and football character. His athleticism and speed are rare for an NFL quarterback. He can extend and make plays with his feet, and because of that, it will make him a better passer as defenses have to prepare for his movement skills. As for character and football character, he is second to none. He will do whatever it takes to become a top player.

I am hoping that Tennessee does with Mariota what Minnesota did with Teddy Bridgewater. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner kept the game simple for Bridgewater. He didn’t put too much on his plate. He let Bridgewater do what he did best and didn’t try to make him do things he wasn’t ready for. This led to Bridgewater having a very good rookie season.

Tennessee has to do the same thing. Don’t overload him, and let him do what he does well. If they do that, he will play with confidence, and his development will be quicker. I have no doubt that by year three, Marcus Mariota will be one of the better quarterbacks in the league.

Follow Greg on Twitter @greggabe

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Jeff Fedotin
Guest Stars


Though Michael Sam did not play a regular-season down in the NFL, he has the skill set to flourish up north.

“He can be an outstanding CFL rush end,” Jim Popp, Montreal Alouettes vice president, general manager and director of football operations, told NFP.

The Alouettes, who signed Sam on May 22, run an aggressive scheme with a four-man front, which emphasizes pressuring the passer, and employ bump-and-run coverage in the secondary.

Moreover, the CFL has 12 players on each side of the ball, and the extra player is typically a receiver on offense and a defensive back on defense. So, the Alouettes use a 4-3-5 scheme or often a dime look with six defensive backs. Those extra secondary players focus on coverage responsibilities, which will allow Sam to concentrate on pressuring the quarterback.

“There will be times where he has to drop,” Popp said. “But 95 percent of the time he’ll be rushing the passer.”

That should enable Sam, 25, to avoid one of the weaknesses in his game — dropping back into coverage — that prevented him from hanging on with an NFL team.

Sam, however, has a knack for rushing the passer.

In the best conference in the country, he recorded 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss during his senior season at Missouri and was named the SEC’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. During the 2014 NFL preseason, he tied for fourth in the league with three sacks.

But the 6-2, 260-pound Sam, who ran a 4.99 in the 40 at the NFL’s veterans combine in March, was knocked by NFL teams for being a tweener — too slow to be a 3-4 linebacker and too small to play defensive line.

The CFL is often a refuge for players deemed to have inadequate speed or size for the NFL. Doug Flutie, who NFL teams rejected because of his 5’10” height, became a six-time Most Outstanding Player in the CFL.

“We don’t get caught up in measurables,” Popp said.

Popp also is not concerned by the fact that Sam is gay.

“Absolutely not,” said Popp, who lauded Sam’s character and leadership. “We see everyone as equal.”

Sam was not only the first openly gay player to be drafted by the NFL, but Popp also said he is the first one in the CFL, and the CFL is embracing his barrier-breaking status.

“The league office is very happy,” Popp said.

Sam has been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list since college.

The CFL has a draft, but it is only for Canadian citizens. Free agents can be placed on a negotiation list of 35 players, a first-come, first-serve, private list only known to CFL teams and the league office.

Noteworthy players who have been on the Alouettes’ negotiation list include Russell Wilson (who was once deemed too short for the NFL and was recruited to N.C. State by future Alouettes coach Marc Trestman), Clay Matthews (a former USC walk-on once considered too slight), Colin Kaepernick (once considered a product of a gimmicky system at Nevada) and Tim Tebow.

CFL teams can take a player off at any time but cannot tamper with someone else’s list. Hypothetically, they could even put high school players on that list, though they cannot negotiate with them or college players until they have declared for the draft or already have spent four years in college.

The Rams drafted Sam in the seventh round (249th overall) in 2014 before releasing him prior to the season. With Chris Long and Robert Quinn holding down a stacked defensive end group, St. Louis may not have been the best fit.

“That was one of the strongest points of that team,” Popp said. “That was (working) against him.”

Receiving playing time with the Alouettes, a vaunted CFL franchise that has made eight Grey Cup appearances in the 21st century, is not guaranteed either. Defensive end John Bowman, the franchise’s all-time leading sacker, leads a deep group.

“The position we’re bringing him into (has) four very good guys,” Popp said.

Sam signed a reported one-year deal, and the Alouettes hold the option for the 2016 season, though Popp often allows his players to move on if they receive NFL interest.

So if Sam can rise up the Montreal depth chart and produce big this year — like former B.C. Lions pass rusher Cameron Wake — he could find himself back in the NFL within a year.

Sam begins his CFL journey at the Alouettes’ rookie camp, which starts Wednesday.

After his NFL campaign focused on how a gay football player would mesh with his team, the narrative now has become whether he can make an impact on the field.

“This young man just wants to be a football player,” Popp said. “He wants to play.”

Follow Jeff on Twitter @JFedotin

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Matt Pearce
NFP Fresh Voices


Technically speaking, unrestricted free agency is over for the 2015 offseason and has been for more than a week.

On May 12, all free agents became street free agents, compared to previous years when it was June 1. After this date, all free agent signings don’t count against compensatory draft picks in the following draft, hence the reclassification of the players.

With this in mind, there are still some players on the market who could help your favorite team reach the playoffs in the 2015 season. As teams suffer injuries in minicamps and other team activities, expect to see these free agents sign with teams.

Earlier this week, I post looked at the best offensive free agents left.

Defensive End: Dwight Freeney

With 111.5 career sacks, the 35-year old Freeney has been one of the best pass rushers since entering the NFL in 2002. An Indianapolis legend, he has spent the last two seasons in San Diego and has recorded a total of four sacks in 20 games. While he may not be taking down the quarterback as much as he used to, he is still getting pressure. He had 40 quarterback hurries last season, tied for the ninth most in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). Freeney is no longer an every down player, but he can contribute as a pass rushing specialist.

Defensive End: Red Bryant

Bryant is almost the exact opposite of Freeney, offering run stuffing ability, but not much in the way of pass rushing. Playing in Jacksonville, he recorded 23 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble in 2014. The 31-year old did the dirty work for the Jaguars, clogging run lanes and freeing up other defenders. While he was PFF’s third worst pass rushing 4-3 defensive end, he was tied for the third best in run defense. Every team needs a player who stops the run on the defensive line.

Defensive Tackle: Barry Cofield

Prior to missing eight games last season due to injury, Cofield, 31 years old, had missed just one game in his first eight seasons. Most nose tackles are run defense specialists, but Cofield made a habit of getting to the quarterback in 2012 and 2013, recording a combined five sacks, 24 quarterback hits and 43 quarterback hurries in these seasons, per PFF. Interior pass rush is the toughest for offenses to stop, so defensive coaches are always on the look out for players with Cofield’s ability.

Defensive Tackle: C.J. Mosley

Due to the performance of Mosley’s namesake in Baltimore last year, the 31-year old defensive tackle is now the “other” C.J. Mosley. Thrust into the starting lineup last year with Nick Fairley injured, Mosley filled in admirably and the highly regarded Detroit defense didn’t appear to miss a beat. He can start if needed, but is best fit as a backup who plays about 20 snaps per game.

Linebacker: Lance Briggs

For the first time in Briggs’ career, he won’t be playing in Chicago. After 12 seasons and 1,173 tackles, the the Bears decided not to re-sign him. Over the last two seasons, the 34-year old has been limited to a total of 17 games due to injuries. When on the field in 2013 and 2014, he has been productive, averaging just over six tackles per game. Plenty of teams could use help at linebacker and San Francisco has expressed quite a bit of interest. Expect to see Briggs sign with a team soon.

Linebacker: Geno Hayes

After starting 25 games at outside linebacker for the Jaguars the past two years, Hayes is still looking for a job. With Jacksonville, the 27-year old recorded 128 tackles, three sacks, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. PFF graded him as their 12th best 4-3 outside linebacker last season (out of 40 qualifiers). An undersized linebacker (226 lbs), he won’t be a fit for most teams, but on the field he has been productive.

Linebacker: Jacquian Williams

The New York Giants have gone through quite a few linebackers in recent years and Williams is one of them. In four seasons at the Meadowlands, he started 22 games and recorded 243 tackles and two sacks from his outside linebacker position. Before ending 2014 on injured reserve, he had 77 tackles in nine games. The 26-year old Williams isn’t likely find another starting job, but he can be a solid backup for teams.

Cornerback: Tarell Brown

Brown has spent his entire eight-year career in the Bay Area, spending seven seasons with the 49ers and one season (2014) with the Raiders. He has been a starter since 2011, though he probably won’t find a starting job at this point in free agency. With Oakland, he allowed 62.7 percent of passes to be completed against him for a quarterback rating of  91.7, per PFF. There won’t be any repeats of 2012 (his best season), but the 30-year old can still be a solid cornerback in the NFL.

Cornerback: Carlos Rogers

A teammate of Brown since 2011, Rogers, 33 years old, has started 123 regular season games in his 1o year career. Playing just seven games last season before a knee injury ended his season, Rogers struggled in coverage, allowing 84.6 percent of passes to be completed against him for a quarterback rating of 116.3. This completion percentage was tied for the worst in the NFL out of qualifying cornerbacks, per PFF. Rogers has lost a step, but if a team loses a cornerback to injury, he will be on the short list for many general managers.

Safety: Dawan Landry

Since 2010 (five seasons), few safeties have been as productive as the 32-year old Landry, who has recorded 515 tackles without missing a game. A veteran of Rex Ryan’s blitz happy defenses (Landry has played for Ryan in Baltimore and New York), Landry was PFF’s ninth best safety last season. A reunion with Ryan in Buffalo would make sense. Expect Landry to join a new team by training camp.

Safety: Bernard Pollard

Known for hard hits and injuring Patriots’ players, the 30-year old Pollard puts the strong in strong safety. A box safety, he is part of a dying breed in the NFL, as teams are looking for versatile safeties who excel in coverage. Coming off a torn Achilles’ tendon, he must prove his health to teams before they sign the outspoken safety, who requested his release from Tennessee in order to join a winning team.

Matt Pearce is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Pearce13

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Austin Morris
NFP Fresh Voices


Even though the NFL Draft was almost a month ago, it is never too early to start taking a look at the prospects for next year’s draft and get a head start on the NCAA Football Season.

In this article, we will be taking an early look at QB Connor Cook. Cook is a 6’2″, 220 pound, Redshirt Senior at Michigan State. I felt like it was a good idea for Cook to not enter the Draft last year because, at the time, he still had some issues to work on to help improve his craft. I watched a few games of Cook in 2013 and in all honesty, it was hard to watch. He was a very raw and inexperienced quarterback who made mistakes. Fast forward to the 2014 season, and he had greatly improved, but still had some parts of his game he needed to work on. The law of averages tells me that by the end of his senior season, Cook will have developed even more. Here are my preseason notes on Connor Cook:

Strengths

He has great athletic ability to get out of the pocket and avoid being sacked. He has greatly improved his mechanics from his first year of starting. He’s not afraid to stand in the pocket and make a throw. He spreads the ball around very evenly to his receivers and different spots on the field. He has the rare ability to go through his reads and progressions, sees the whole field, and has a decent enough arm to make all necessary throws. He puts nice touch on the ball to where only his guys can get to it. He is very accurate on deep throws and doesn’t often miss.

Weaknesses

He does have some hesitation issues. He seems to have trouble figuring out where he wants to go with the ball. He tries to complete passes while he is getting hit, which often leads to interceptions. He doesn’t really have a tight spiral on his passes, so the wind catches the ball (this makes me curious about hand size). His footwork is still a little sloppy but is much better than when he first started. He tries to force the ball into places it shouldn’t go. He could have better pocket awareness to know when to get out of Dodge. He needs to know when to throw the ball away or take a sack. He needs to get more air under the ball. Too many passes are batted down at the line of scrimmage, and too many balls end up in the dirt.

I charted several of Cook’s games and found an interesting piece of information. Cook does not seem to have a favorite receiver; he spreads the ball around to every player a couple of times a game. Watch Manning or Rodgers toss the pigskin and you will notice they do the same thing – distribute the ball evenly to everyone.

Keep in mind this is a preseason report, so the point of scouting now is to get an idea of how the players play the game and what they should be improving on from the previous year. Cook still has a lot to work on heading into 2015, but I feel he will greatly improve from 2014. As of now I have Cook listed as a 3rd Rounder. If he can have a great season and improve his mechanics, I can see him easily moving to the 2nd Round.

Austin is a graduate of National Football Post’s Introduction to Scouting and Scouting Boot Camp. Reach him by e-mail at amorris3585@scc.stanly.edu

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