October 2, 2012 - Practice Squad Analysis – NFC West (Part One)
Not surprising to anyone, numerous players have been injured in the first month of the NFL season. This has led to a number of practice squad players being signed to active rosters, both by the team whose practice squad they were on or another team stealing them away. While some NFL analysts discuss practice squad players as nothing more than “practice bodies,” most NFL teams realize the value of building a strong practice squad with players with real developmental potential. Unlike most weeks where we break down the first most interesting practice squad players in a division, this week we look at the first five of ten practice squad players in the NFL West that we believe have the tools to develop into contributors on the 53 man roster. On measureables listed, they are all verified (As in taken by someone in the NFL) unless they have an “E” next to them, which stands for estimated.
Despite only starting at offensive tackle for one season at East Carolina, Baker showed enough athleticism and potential to warrant being signed as a free agent after the 2012 NFL Draft. At nearly 6’8 Baker has the length that NFL teams love at offensive tackle and combined with his good arm length and big, strong hands he has the tools to be a top pass blocker with improved technique. Unlike most tall offensive linemen, Baker has the knee and hip flexibility to get low to block with good base, but his lack of experience shows up in his tendency to still block straight legged and high. For Baker to become a “swing” tackle or potentially a starter, he will need to become more consistent blocking with base/leverage so that he can slide and adjust laterally to adjust effectively in pass pro and to maintain run blocks out in space.
ICONHouston linebacker Sammy Brown makes tackle.
One of the more frustrating linebackers I evaluated for the 2012 NFL Draft, Brown is definitely capable of starting in the NFL and that is why he is an excellent developmental prospect. Excelling in pass coverage has become paramount for a linebacker to shine in the NFL and this is where Brown is the strongest. Smooth and fluid in his pass drops, he can flip his hips to change directions easily and can cover backs and tight ends in man coverage without issue. Remarkably, for a player who racked up 13 ½ sacks as a senior, Brown lacks explosiveness off the ball and a variety of pass rush moves. Naturally strong, Brown can anchor, shed and make plays when he competes hard and fights to make the play. Brown must prove he can maintain a high level of intensity and competitiveness on every snap if he is going to take advantage of his athleticism to become a contributing NFL linebacker, especially because great effort is required to be good on special teams.
3. Hebron Fangupo DT BYU 6006 323 5.18 Seattle Seahawks Practice Squad
Blessed with rare natural strength, Fangupo can be a dominant run defender when he gets hands on offensive linemen first. When he beats offensive linemen to the punch, his violent hands enable him to jolt and control blocker and at times he has flashed the strength to just toss blockers off him to make plays. Lacking explosiveness off the ball limits Fangupo’s ability to get backfield penetration vs. the run and keeps him from pushing the pocket as a bull rusher. In Seattle’s defense they ask its defensive linemen to be strong at the point, carry out their responsibility and shed and make the play if they can, which fits Fangupo perfectly. He lacks the height of current starter Red Bryant, but his strength, violent hands and production vs. the run give him the tools to become a similarly good starting defensive end with improved initial hand quickness.
Johnson definitely looks the part of an NFL outside linebacker “on the hoof” and is a smooth and fluid athlete, but his production does not match his talent level. Despite giving a great effort every snap and possessing the speed to chase plays down all over the field, he struggles to make plays because he often is a beat late reading and reacting to the play, which makes me question his football awareness. Additionally, for a defender with his size, strength and arm length, Johnson is slow to shed and free up from blocks, which limits his production on running plays to his side. Lacking explosiveness or burst in his movements, he struggles to make an impact as pass rusher and to finish plays when he gets close to them. Overall, Johnson is a good player to try and develop because of his size, strength, athleticism and great intangibles, but unless he becomes quicker reading and reacting to the play he will never develop.
A perfect player for Coach Carroll to try and develop, Johnson has the raw, physical tools to be a high end starter in the NFL, but is extremely raw and undisciplined right now. A highly recruited prospect out of high school who ended up at Mississippi, Johnson’s immaturity and poor decision making led to him being suspended three times and eventually was dismissed from the team. He has excellent foot quickness, the flexibility to block with base and blocks with a nasty attitude that is so difficult to find. However, despite his talent, Johnson plays with such bad technique that he often looks like a bad athlete and ends up on the ground way too often. Overall, Johnson showed at the East West Shrine practices that he has the athleticism to try and develop, but he is definitely a long term project.
Email Russ at Russelllande@yahoo.com and Follow him on Twitter @RUSSLANDE