The Sports Quotient

How Howie Roseman Is Returning The Eagles To Form

When the NFL free agency tampering window opened at noon on March 7th, the DeChippification of the Philadelphia Eagles became the top priority for General Manager Howie Roseman. Since the start of free agency, Roseman has shipped out the "Kelly guys" and attempted to reload to compete next season in the weak NFC East.

Ever since Chip Kelly

When the NFL free agency tampering window opened at noon on March 7th, the DeChippification of the Philadelphia Eagles became the top priority for General Manager Howie Roseman. Since the start of free agency, Roseman has shipped out the “Kelly guys” and attempted to reload to compete next season in the weak NFC East.

Ever since Chip Kelly won the power struggle prior to the 2015 season, Roseman has been pushed to the back seat of football operations. News broke that Kelly had even moved Roseman’s office to the business side of the organization and away from all things football. Now, with Kelly in San Francisco, Roseman is back in charge and taking a swing at the team formerly run by Kelly.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

More importantly, Roseman is returning to pre-Kelly traditions by rewarding guys already on the team and plugging holes without breaking the bank through free agency. Before free agency began, Roseman made his name by doling out contracts to current players such as Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Lane Johnson, Malcolm Jenkins, Vinny Curry, Najee Goode and Sam Bradford. In addition, he has made it a point to rid the locker room of guys brought in by Kelly, especially those who are overpaid and/or a problem in the locker room. See: DeMarco Murray.

Roseman wasted no time in taking care of business, starting with the trade of cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Kiko Alonso to the Miami Dolphins. Roseman was able to dump the $63 million salary of Maxwell, rid the team of two disappointing players and jump five spots in the first round of this year’s draft. Most characterize this deal and the DeMarco Murray trade as great moves for the Eagles.

Little time passed before the next overpaid Kelly signing was packing his bags. Later that same day, Murray was shipped to Tennessee for a swap of fourth round picks. The 2014 rushing champion was traded for virtually nothing, amplifying the severity of his locker room issues and horrible contract. Still, many see this deal as a win for the Eagles, as ridding the team of that kind of baggage was huge for the organization to take the next step towards success. 

The next step started with the small signing of cornerback Leodis McKelvin, but didn’t stop there. Roseman flexed his muscles by reaching agreements with Rodney McLeod, Brandon Brooks, Chase Daniel, Ron Brooks and Nigel Bradham. These signings signaled not only a return to the old way of doing things, but a change in philosophy for the organization: collaboration.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Before Kelly’s power revolution, Roseman had a clear method for free agency. After the disaster that was the 2011 offseason, Roseman resorted to signing mid-tier free agents to reasonable contracts. The signing of Malcolm Jenkins in 2014 is a prime example of what I mean by this. Big name safeties such as TJ Ward, Jarius Byrd and Donte Whitner were on the market looking for big pay days and the Eagles were in dire need of a safety. 

Instead of writing a huge check to a top-tier free agent, Roseman gave Jenkins a safe three year deal. In 2015, that same “mid-tier safety” was Pro Football Focus’ top ranked safety. If Jenkins hadn’t performed as hoped, the team would only have one year at a low cost before being freed from that contract. Roseman is hoping to replicate that same success this offseason.

With the likes of Eric Weddle and George Iloka on the market this year, the Eagles went for a young, rising safety named Rodney McLeod. Although Roseman gave McLeod a nice pay day, it still resembles a “Roseman move”. Unlike last season, when Kelly lured Maxwell to he Eagles with $63 million, Roseman is going after the productive, less expensive options to fill holes throughout the team. So far, the fans seem to love this way of doing things.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Even though Roseman has recovered his office and all of his power, he hasn’t let it go to his head like Kelly did. Whereas Kelly was a dictator, Roseman’s rule more closely resembles a democracy. This is evident by the new presence of collaboration around the NovaCare Complex. In the introductory press conference of the recent free agent signings, head coach Doug Pederson addressed the communication between him and Roseman.

“Our offices are about four doors away, so we have to yell a lot down the hall. But no, the communication has been me walking to his office, him walking to my office, going over our roster,” said Pederson. 

“So that communication has been very well received over the past month and really since I’ve been here. That’s something that will continue now on through this draft process.”

Roseman and Pederson are in constant communication with one another, evident by the signings this offseason. Daniel and Brooks are two guys that Pederson has targeted since day one. Daniel was with Pederson in Kansas City while Brooks is the type of big, athletic guard Pederson prefers on his offensive line. But the communication doesn’t stop there.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz has clearly had his fair share of input in the free agent signings. Three former Buffalo Bills have been signed this season, all having played under Schwartz in 2014. Bradham, Brooks and McKelvin have all alluded to Schwartz being a reason for signing with the Eagles, citing his coaching style and scheme as reasons for following him. All four, including McLeod, possess the physical, athletic style Schwartz looks for in his defenders. Clearly, Roseman is communicating and collaborating with Pederson and his staff to field the best product on Sundays.

Roseman has taken steps to eliminate the issues created by Kelly. He has traded seemingly untradeable contracts, collaborated with Pederson and his staff, and signed players, old and new, without breaking the bank. Roseman’s execution has been near perfect so far, but his kryptonite is fast approaching. This offseason has been characterized as a success for the Eagles around the league, but if he wants the full approval of Philly fans, he has to strike gold on draft day, which is something he hasn’t been able to do in the past.

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Breaking Down Brock Osweiler’s Departure From Denver

Moving on from a legendary quarterback and finding his replacement without skipping a beat is one of the toughest tasks for any GM. In the last eight years, it has been done twice, with the Packers' transitioning from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and then the Colts' transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Before that however,

Moving on from a legendary quarterback and finding his replacement without skipping a beat is one of the toughest tasks for any GM. In the last eight years, it has been done twice, with the Packers’ transitioning from Brett Favre to Aaron Rodgers and then the Colts’ transitioning from Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck. Before that however, it had been done only once in the history of the NFL when the 49ers transitioned from Joe Montana to Steve Young. 

Many other teams with legendary quarterbacks failed to replace them with another franchise signal caller. This includes the Dolphins’ moving from Dan Marino to Jay Fiedler, the Steelers’ moving from Terry Bradshaw to Mark Malone, the Cowboys’ moving from Troy Aikman to Quincy Carter, the Broncos’ moving from John Elway to Brian Griese, and the list goes on. 

The Broncos looked like they were in perfect position to transition from Peyton Manning to Brock Osweiler. When Manning got hurt in week 10 vs Kansas City, Osweiler took over in the fourth quarter and then started every game for the rest of the regular season. Osweiler looked like he was a clear upgrade over Manning: 

Stats: completion % TDS INTS yards passing per game passer rating Pro football focus 
ranking and grade (0-100 scale)
Points per game when playing  
Brock Osweiler 61.8% 10 6 246 86.4 Ranked 20th with grade of 71.3 In 6 3/4 games: 20.2
Peyton Manning 59.8% 9 17 225 67.9 Ranked 32nd with grade of 56.8 In 9 1/4 games: 18.9

Now, I know that Osweiler is no Young or Luck, but he had the advantage in pretty much every statistical category over Manning, and it looked like he was going to be Denver’s starting quarterback heading into the playoffs. However, in the final regular season game against San Diego, the offense struggled in the first half under Osweiler, and he was benched for Manning. Manning was able to give the Broncos a spark and help Denver secure a win. 

This spark led the Broncos to choose Manning as the starting quarterback for their playoff run, but this was a bad decision. This move sent a message to Brock Osweiler that the Broncos didn’t believe in him, even though he was clearly a better quarterback than Peyton Manning at the time. Osweiler clearly held a grudge against the Broncos for this decision as evidenced by this tweet from Mike Klis of the Denver Post:

Osweiler ended up signing a deal with Houston that will pay him $18 million per year with $37 million guaranteed, while Denver was in the range of offering $16 million per year with $30 million guaranteed. This was terribly mismanaged by Denver. The Broncos had the heir apparent to Peyton Manning lined up and already playing well in their system. Instead of handing over the reins, they damaged the relationship between themselves and Osweiler, and now he’s gone. 

The contrary argument is that Denver ended up winning the Super Bowl with Manning at quarterback, so was it really a bad decision? And to that I would say yes, it absolutely was, for all the aforementioned reasons about Osweiler and because Manning did nothing in the playoffs. In three  games, Manning put up a bad stat line: 180 yards passing per game, 55.4% completion, two touchdowns, one interception, and a passer rating of 75.4. Manning did very little aside from riding the coattails of his dominant defense, something Brock Osweiler could have easily done just as well or probably better. 

So with their young, promising quarterback of the future now in Houston, the Broncos have traded for former Jets and Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez is primarily known for being part of one of the most embarrassing plays in NFL history: the “butt fumble” against the Patriots on Thanksgiving four years ago. 

Sanchez is already 29 years old, and he has a career 56.7% completion rating, 86 touchdowns, 84 interceptions, and a passer rating of 74.3. Statistically he is a bad quarterback, and it’s not likely he will get any better in eighth year in the league. Now without Osweiler, the Broncos look like they are in no-man’s land at quarterback, with an uninspiring Sanchez filling in for now. 

The only promising option the Broncos could possibly have is chasing Andrew Luck in next year’s free agent class. Sanchez is currently on a one-year deal, so his money will be coming off the books next year, giving the Broncos another opportunity to look for a franchise quarterback. The Colts have done a very bad job surrounding Luck with talent since they drafted him, and if things go badly for them next year, Luck could look to test the market in free agency. Denver would absolutely look to sign Luck if those circumstances came about.  

If those plans don’t work out, though, and the Broncos are stuck with Sanchez or looking desperately for another quarterback, this will make John Elway and company look foolish. The Broncos had their next quarterback already in their organization, in a prime position to keep him, to make a smooth transition from Manning to the future, and they blew it. This is something that may really hurt Denver for time to come, because history shows us that it is very hard to transition from a great quarterback directly to another good one. While Osweiler was still unproven, he certainly displayed a solid skillset that and a winning mentalitiy. And with that unfavorable history, we have no idea when or where Denver will have the chance to get a good quarterback again.  

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Jaylon Smith

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Jaylon Smith out of The University of Notre Dame.

College Career

Jaylon Smith arrived in South Bend

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Jaylon Smith out of The University of Notre Dame.

College Career

Jaylon Smith arrived in South Bend with a lot of hype surrounding him. He won the High School Butkus award and was considered the top linebacker recruit in the country in 2013 by many different media outlets. After three years, we can all agree that Smith was definitely as good as advertised. A starter for all three years at Notre Dame, Smith really began to flourish in his sophomore season when he was moved to the middle linebacker position. 

Since being moved inside, Jaylon Smith has been one of the best defensive players in the country. He was in on over 110 tackles each of the last two seasons. His sophomore season ended in a Second Team All-American selection. His junior season resulted in him being a First Team All-American selection, and the recipient of the collegiate Butkus Award. Smith and fellow former Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o are the only two players to win the award at both the high school and college level.

Smith had many highlights in his amazing college career at Notre Dame, but unfortunately, he had one huge lowlight to end his career when he tore his ACL and MCL against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Pros

When you watch Jaylon Smith on film, you’re watching a player who jumps off the screen. He’s extremely athletic, and has good height and arm length for the position. Although his injury prevented him from running an official 40-yard dash during the draft process, he was an excellent sprinter in high school and his film shows a player who has the speed of an NFL linebacker. This athleticism, size, and speed allow him to make plays all over the field.

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Jaylon Smith’s greatest strength is his versatility. He’s a Swiss Army Knife at the linebacker position who can play any of the linebacker positions in either a 4-3 or a 3-4. His versatility should make the defensive coordinator that gets his hands on him salivate about the thought of playing him all over the field.

While at Notre Dame, Jaylon Smith also demonstrated a valuable ability to play solid man coverage. With the NFL moving to more and more of a passing league, being able to cover is critical for any linebacker who wants to stay on the field for all three downs.

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Also, while he was not asked to rush the passer much at Notre Dame, he has all of the physical tools to be a good pass rusher, and recently put out a video compilation of himself as a pass rusher that shows that he does have some natural pass rushing ability.

Cons

Before we discuss any of his on-field weaknesses, we have to bring up the elephant in the room. Every discussion about Jaylon Smith’s cons as a draft prospect start with the health of his knee. He tore his ACL and MCL in the last game of the season. Although, all indications are that his surgery was successful, that knee is a huge red flag. Some NFL scouts believe that he won’t be able to play in the 2016 season, and are unsure how this injury will impact his game going forward.

Besides the knee, Jaylon Smith needs to improve his ability to diagnose plays. He sometimes would let his athleticism get the best of him and play his way out of position, especially on misdirection plays.

Jaylon Smith also needs to get stronger, and learn how to fight off blocks better in order to succeed in the NFL. With his arm length, he should never let blockers get into his body and take him out of the play. If he can learn to shed blockers quicker, he can be an even more dangerous playmaker than he already is.

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Verdict

I really like Jaylon Smith. He has the potential to be one of the best linebackers for years to come. I love his athleticism, versatility, and ability to make plays all over the field. However, he does need to work on diagnosing plays. Whatever defensive coach gets his hands on Smith would be wise to have him spend his “time off” in the film room to correct some of these issues in his game.

Although I believe Jaylon Smith can play all over the field, his best position is probably an inside linebacker in a 3-4 defense or an outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense. His game reminds me a lot of Navarro Bowman; both players are athletic linebackers who make plays from sideline to sideline.

Projecting where Smith will go is incredibly tough. If it wasn’t for the knee injury, he’d be a potential top five pick. Now, I’m not a doctor and I can’t even pretend like I play one on TV, so I don’t know when that knee is going to be fully healed and I don’t know how it’ll affect his play going forward.

I’ve only heard good things about how Smith’s recovery is going, and (I think) he should be able to make a full recovery. However, I can understand why teams would be wary and not willing to take a gamble on him. I think he’ll still probably go somewhere in the first round, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he falls into Day 2.

Best Fit

Whoever drafts Jaylon Smith has to be willing to be patient with him. Teams that are in win now mode or have coaches/GMs on the hot seat may not be willing to wait a year to get one of their top picks on the field. However, the team that takes him could be getting a game-changing defensive player to anchor their defense for the next decade.

That being said, two teams that would be a good fit for Smith are the Chicago Bears and the Atlanta Falcons. Neither team is a serious contender this upcoming season and both teams could use a defensive playmaker, which a healthy Smith can become.

Both teams also have defensive minded head coaches (John Fox and Dan Quinn) who I think would take the time to help Smith tweak the issues in his game and reach his full potential. I think Fox and Quinn would also be able to use his versatility well and unleash his sideline to sideline playmaking ability.

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Doug Martin: The Most Uncertain Running Back in Football

Tampa Bay's re-signing of Doug Martin almost appears to be a no-brainer considering that he was one of the top running backs in the league last year: The 27-year-old rushed for over 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. Granted, most would argue that his five-year and 35.75 million dollar contract was a bit

Tampa Bay’s re-signing of Doug Martin almost appears to be a no-brainer considering that he was one of the top running backs in the league last year: The 27-year-old rushed for over 1,400 yards and six touchdowns. Granted, most would argue that his five-year and 35.75 million dollar contract was a bit much, yet the Bucs had to ensure that their top running back stayed in Tampa. The signing does circulate questions, however, about truly how effective Martin will be moving forward.

For most of his career, Doug Martin was an enigma. He burst onto the scene as a rookie and rushed for over 1,400 yards and 11 touchdowns, which included a 251-yard game against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9. In addition, he averaged 4.6 yards a carry and had over 400 receiving yards. He appeared to be one of the most promising running backs in the NFL.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The following year resulted in disappointment for Martin. After an outstanding first year, the Tampa Bay running back rushed for a mere 456 yards and one touchdown before tearing his labrum. It wasn’t just the injury that set off alarm bells, it was the fact that Martin’s average yards per carry dropped from 4.6 to 3.6 and he gained only 66 receiving yards.

His third year in the league resulted in yet another disappointing season. After being riddled with injuries week in and week out, Martin rushed for only 494 yards and two touchdowns. In addition, the former Boise State running back averaged only 3.7 yards per carry. After such a promising rookie season and breaking four franchise records, including most touchdowns in a game (four) and most rushing yards in a single game (251), the young running back appeared to be another bright player who would be forever plagued with injuries. 

After back-to-back disappointing seasons and getting bit by the injury bug multiple times, Doug Martin’s name appeared to fade into the background for most NFL fans. The Bucs running back was looking to have a comeback year, but the NFL appeared skeptical and questioned if he could stay healthy for an entire year. The first three games of the season started off disappointing, as he averaged less than 80 yards in each game and didn’t have any rushing touchdowns, and the casual fan began to wonder if this was simply Martin’s swan song. He didn’t let that discouraged him, however, and over the next three games, the running back ran for a total of 365 yards and three touchdowns.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Martin finished the season with stellar numbers and looked a lot like his rookie self. He tallied 1,402 rushing yards and six touchdowns, including a stellar performance against Philadelphia where he ran for 235 yards. In addition, Martin broke nearly 70 tackles last season, which is 10 more than any other running back in the league according to Pro Football Focus. His receiving yards did take a plunge, which is primarily due to Charles Sims taking responsibility for that role where he finished the season with 561 yards receiving. Aside from being relieved from his receiving duties, it would appear that Martin is back to his old ways where he is destined for another solid year, but there is room for skepticism moving forward.

Although the Tampa Bay running back did have a stellar season, it is still a mystery as to whether or not he can stay healthy moving forward.  In two years he has run for over 1,400 yards and averaged nearly 4.5 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the other two years he ran for fewer than 500 yards and averaged about 3.65 yards per carry. Keep in mind that he scored nine rushing touchdowns in three seasons compared to 11 in his rookie year. There is little doubt that Martin is an extremely talented running back, however, you never know what you’re going to get from him going from season to season. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: Myles Jack

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA's Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at UCLA’s Myles Jack.

Collegiate career

Myles Jack made an early impact at UCLA, scoring seven rushing touchdowns as a spot starter at running back in his first season. On defense, Jack finished fourth on the Bruins with 75 tackles and was named Pac-12 Freshman of the Year on offense and defense.

After moving to linebacker full time as a sophomore, Jack recorded 88 tackles and earned Second Team All-Pac 12 honors. Unfortunately, he tore his ACL three games into his junior year. Shortly after sustaining the injury, Jack announced he would forego his senior season to enter the draft.

Pros

What makes Jack a consensus top-10 pick is his ability in the open field. A common issue with linebackers is their inability to perform on passing downs. Jack has no such concerns.

Athletically, few linebackers compare to Jack. His 40 inch vertical at UCLA’s Pro Day would have been tied for the highest at the combine, if he had participated. His 124 inch broad jump would have slated him in the top-5 of combine participating linebackers. Jack has some freakishly long arms, useful for gaining leverage in blocking and reaching to knock down passes.

Jack shows the speed, fluidity, and quickness to cover all offensive skill positions. Here Jack lined up across from a wide receiver (normally a matchup advantage for the receiver), flipped his hips and ran with the receiver step for step in a sequence normally executed by a cornerback.

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The former Bruin linebacker also pairs his man-to-man skills with good instincts as a zone defender, displaying a good closing burst and instincts to track the ball. On the play below, off the snap, Jack locked onto the quarterback’s eyes, mirrored the quarterback when the play broke down, targeted the receiver coming into his zone and located the pass for a game-clinching interception.

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Jack also possesses the type of range that makes him ideal for tracking down ball carriers. On this snap, Jack bit too hard on the play fake and took a few false steps out of position, but still had the speed to reach the receiver on the other side of the field for the tackle.

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There is also mean streak to Jack’s game. He delivers some pop when he engages lineman or hits a ball carrier.

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Some of Jack’s power as a blocker and tackler comes from his short area burst which is outstanding. That burst comes in handy when rushing the passer, or like in the play below, for blowing up the play for a tackle for loss, accumulating 15 in his time with the Bruins. Jack was so fast on the play that he burst past the offensive lineman trying to get set and brought down the ball carrier.

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Cons

Health will be the primary concern for Jack. He didn’t run the 40-yard dash at the Combine and only did some of the drills at the UCLA Pro Day. The fact that Jack can do the drills is a good sign of his recovery, but some teams might be scared off considering the severity of the injury.

While Jack excels in the open field, he struggles when confined to small spaces. Jack isn’t great when it comes to dealing with offensive linemen, and struggles to take good angles when he doesn’t have a clear path to the ball. On this play, Jack had the range to get to the running back but instead of taking a better angle to the play, got caught up navigating through the players between him and the ball carrier and got cut-blocked before he could make the tackle.

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Although Jack plays with an edge, his aggressive style can sometimes put him out of position. Below, Jack is opted to make a big hit rather than the sure tackle, whiffed on the running back, and consequently allowed the back to fall forward for an extra yards.

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Physically Jack has the range and physicality to be an effective run defender, but lacks great instincts to be a great run defender. In this snap, Jack confused the hole opening up near the bottom of the offensive line as the rush lane, when in fact the play went to the opposite direction.

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Verdict

ESPN, CBS Sports, and other draft sites have Jack as one of the top-10 players in this draft. That would be fine if Jack were as complete a run defender as he is a pass defender. Jack is still a first round pick, but should be valued as a mid-first round pick. Jack is certainly one of the best players in this draft with his outstanding athleticism and ability in passing situations, but concerns about his knee and his lack of refinement in the run game hurt his value.

Best Fit

Jack might not be great against the run, but he certainly won’t be a liability either. The team which drafts Jack is getting, if healthy, a player who has the potential to be an impact player on all three downs in a plethora of packages and situations.

It’d be very surprising for any team with a need at linebacker, like the Giants, Falcons and Lions, to pass on the UCLA linebacker.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: OLB Darron Lee

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

College Career

A medical redshirt in

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Darron Lee from the Ohio State University.

College Career

A medical redshirt in his freshman season, Lee only played two years of ball for Coach Urban Meyer, starting in 28 of his 30 games. While Darron Lee’s time at Ohio State was  short lived, it certainly was not short on accomplishments. In 2014 following his redshirt year, Lee started in all 15 games and was a major contributor in helping OSU capture a national championship. As a result, the outside linebacker received national freshman All-American honors. Lee would continue his success this past fall as a sophomore to comprise career numbers of 147 tackles, 27.5 tackles for loss, and 12 sacks. Only one player has had more tackles for losses and sacks on the team the past two seasons, and that player was Joey Bosa. Maybe you have heard of him. Lee was also an AP second-team All-American selection in 2015.

Pros

Lee is an extremely intriguing prospect, and it will be interesting to see how a team plans to utilize him once he is drafted. If you know any preliminary info about this kid, you know that he can flat out fly. At the scouting combine about a month ago, Lee put on a show when he posted a 4.47 40 time that is just unheard of at the linebacker position. On the football field, it is no mystery he can do it in pads as well, and he allows this athleticism to mold into multiple parts of his game. 

Rushing the passer is in my opinion the best attribute Lee possesses, and he can do it off the edge or through interior gaps thanks to the explosion and power he brings. As you can see below, he also excels at eating up space and closing gaps between him and a ballcarrier. This is a testament to the tremendous range and the relentless pursuit he shows on gamedays. An every down, versatile linebacker, Lee logged plenty of coverage snaps (specifically zone ones) as he was on the field a lot on third downs. 

Significantly for a linebacker, the former Buckeye is a solid tackler who can pack a punch if he meets up with you the right way. Setting the edge against the run in his two years was also a plus on tape. A last notable is that he had a knack for forcing fumbles in college, which is not a bad one to have at all. What I can really see this kid being asked to do often at the next level is spy an opposing quarterback. His freakish ways make him a prime candidate to mirror the likes of mobile signal callers like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Tyrod Taylor.

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Cons

Despite all the talent that Darron Lee brings to the table, there are some questions as to how he will translate to the pro level. For an outside linebacker in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 defense (expect him to play in a 4-3 like at OSU), Lee is undersized. His frame more resembles that of a safety’s, and that is why he can get lost from time to time when he has to sort through inside traffic. Often, Lee was easily pushed around by offensive lineman and had a hard time moving them off of their blocks. For a guy who is already at a disadvantage because of his size, this is something that needs to change quick. 

He also needs to work on harnessing his explosion and energy into making smart, consistent football plays. Examples are Lee’s tendencies of biting up on play action passes and overshooting tackles by not breaking down first. A lot of the success he had in college was thanks to his athleticism (as is the case for most). With a small sample size at OSU, general managers and executives have to ask themselves if Darron Lee is more than a workout warrior. To cap it off, Lee needs to work on getting more depth when he is in zone coverage. That can come in time.

Verdict

Lee is a tough prospect to decipher; this is one of the toughest calls I’ve had to make on a player. There is no denying what his ceiling can be; he has clear-cut first round talent with tools that coaching staffs drool over. With that being said, I am not sure Lee is as polished as he should be for the time being. His size is also a real concern for the pros. It should be very compelling to see what role this young man plays on Sundays. To me, he is very similar to Shaq Thompson out of Washington a year ago. Nobody knew how Thompson would be utilized in the NFL, but what makes these two so alike is that they are both very dynamic players at smaller sizes. Lee looks like more of a second round pick in my eyes with perhaps more bust potential than some may anticipate. Yet, it is what Lee may become that can make him a first round pick and have teams excited come April. 

Best Fit

A few places I like for Lee toward the end of the first round are Buffalo and Minnesota. Both of them could use some LB help, specifically on the outside, and both of them have tremendous defensive units and coaches. Head coach Mike Zimmer has done a fine job for the Vikings thus far, and there are not many guys who run a defense like him. He could find a niche for Lee early on and allow him to get comfortable with all the young talent Minnesota has added on that side of the ball. The situation would be exactly the same in Buffalo with Rex Ryan. His defenses are always exotic and Lee would be just another unique chess piece he could deploy to startle offenses. Again, no pressure to perform right from the start, although the Buckeye certainly has the ability to do so if necessary. 

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The NFL Draft Combine is the SAT of the Football World

About halfway through the three-and-a-half hour SAT I took with about 20 other kids in 2012, one girl asked to be excused. She never came back. Most of us test-taking students noticed the minor disruption, and after the time for a verbal section and a writing section was over, we realized she had fled the cramped public high

About halfway through the three-and-a-half hour SAT I took with about 20 other kids in 2012, one girl asked to be excused. She never came back. Most of us test-taking students noticed the minor disruption, and after the time for a verbal section and a writing section was over, we realized she had fled the cramped public high school classroom that College Board wanted us to think would determine our futures.

I’m not sure if an NFL-hopeful has ever ran out of Lucas Oil Stadium in the middle of his Wonderlic, but like the SATs, the annual week-long showcase consists of various mini-tests that fail to efficiently gauge the skills that will lead to professional success.

Just as it’s impossible to conclude that students who know the definition of the words “pellucid” or “obstreperous” or “calumny” are more equipped than their peers to handle a college setting, players’ 40-yard dash times, wingspans, and Cybex scores are insufficient measurements of football intelligence. 

There are countless Word of the Day services and test prep books that high school juniors pore over in Barnes and Nobles all over the country in the months and even years leading up to the SATs. Similarly, athletes can train over time to produce longer jumps and improve their agility to master the three-cone drill (yes, that is a thing). 

But in a reflex-driven sport that necessitates quick thinking, the entire combine system is somewhat paradoxical. One of the most well-known pieces of evidence supporting the fact that combine stats and pro success are not correlated is Mike Mamula‘s NFL career.

Mamula had a legendary combine. The 6’4″, 248-pound defensive end from Boston College trained specifically for each of the included drills, and ended up scoring 49 out of 50 on the Wonderlic, the second-highest score ever recorded by an NFL player, and had a 4.58 second 40-yard dash (the average at the DE position is 4.88 seconds).

This stellar showing led the Philadelphia Eagles to select Mamula seventh overall in the 1995 NFL Draft, trading up from 12th overall in order to secure the player they hoped would replace Hall of Famer Reggie White.  

Mamula ended up having the decently average five-season career that was predicted by his game tapes, recording 209 total tackles and 31.5 sacks across 77 games. 

But while mediocre athletes can have amazing combines, elite players can do poorly. Prior to the 2003 NFL Draft, Florida State’s Anquan Boldin, who was converted into a wide receiver from a quarterback, had a 4.7 40-yard dash time, the lowest out of all of the wide receivers that year. Despite catching 1,780 yards and 21 touchdowns in just 23 games at WR, Boldin fell to the second round of the draft, selected 54th overall by the Arizona Cardinals.

Almost immediately, Boldin showed that on-field performance should outweigh combine performance. In his rookie year, Boldin had 101 receptions for 1,301 yards and eight touchdowns, was the AP NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, and was the lone rookie in the Pro Bowl. He later went on to win Super Bowl XLVIII as a Baltimore Raven, and is considered a future Hall of Famer.

Doing well on the SAT is ultimately something to be proud of, as is having an exceptional combine showing. But considering the copious amount of evidence out there emphasizing the general uselessness of “testing” players and students in a controlled environment, you have to wonder if there is something more nefarious going on.

College applications have a variety of components, including letters of recommendation, transcripts, and personal essays. Evidently, schools are aware that students are more than their standardized test scores. 

Yet the SATs still have enhanced significance in the collective psyches of high school students, and though it may be due to an inherent human desire to live up to arbitrary bench marks (2100 is good, 1800 and below is awful), it has to have some roots in College Board’s own machinations. The abundance of bundled practice tests College Board puts up for sale and the $70 fee required to take the actual test indicate that the company is the one that perpetuates its tests’ importance. 

The NFL is the College Board of the football world. By now, coaches and owners know better than to draft a player based on how fast they run in one 40-yard instance. There are behavioral red flags to pay attention to, medical histories to take note of, and most importantly, lots of film to watch. Yet athletes can only attend if they receive an invitation, which undoubtedly adds to the pressure they already feel to perform well. 

Take into account that the entire week is broadcast on NFL Network and that it takes place only a couple of weeks after the Super Bowl, when withdrawal symptoms are beginning to emerge, it appears that the NFL is actually completely aware of how people perceive the combine. 

But the entertainment value–and thus financial value–of watching talented athletes try their hardest to jump their highest and run their fastest is what maintains the existence of this week of tests. As long as the NFL is able to generate a buzz for the showcase, and as long as fans remain insatiable for all things football-related, especially in the face of a long offseason, the combine will stay. 

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Joshua Perry

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Joshua Perry out of THE Ohio State University.

College Career

Joshua Perry has had a fairly productive career. He assumed a starting linebacker role during his sophomore season in 2013, and since then #37 has started 37 games. He has put up 283 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and eight pass deflections over those three seasons. This past year was his best year when he put up 105 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and four pass deflections while playing inside and outside linebacker. He is well respected as a leader by both his teammates and his coaching staff.

Pros

Perry won’t wow you when you look at the tape, but he does present a skill set that can be very useful for a football team. Partially due to his size, 6’4″ and 254 lbs., Perry is very good at setting the edge and playing his gap well in the run game. He knows where he is supposed to go and makes sure that running backs can’t get outside of him. He forces them back towards help, and his strength makes it so that he can engage with offensive linemen without getting pushed around.

In the passing game, Perry has good instincts and is always looking to make a play, allowing him to be more than competent in a zone defense. This one play best summarizes what Perry can bring to a team in terms of coverage.

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Perry drops back initially, keeps his eyes in the backfield and diagnoses the screen pass. He is able to move laterally, avoid a would-be blocker, cut up down the field, and make a solid tackle on a good running back. These instincts and his ability to tackle will make him an asset to some team.

Cons

Although you can see Perry shed a block in the play above, it’s important to note that he did so against a wide receiver. When Perry gets matched up against offensive linemen and good blocking tight ends, he may not get pushed around, but he also doesn’t shed blocks very often. That means that while he will give others around him an opportunity to make a play, he’s not exhibiting much game changing talent.

Perry, who plays an aggressive and instinctual style of ball, has a tendency to play too aggressively, sometimes taking him out of plays. Here is an example from the same game where Perry bites on a fake and finds himself out of position.

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He should learn to avoid these obvious mistakes as he gains more experience, but the underlying tendency may always be there.

Lastly, Perry is below average in man coverage. He will need to be limited to zone defense and pass rushing on most occasions.

The Verdict

Overall, Perry is a solid backer that should have success depending on what his coaching staff asks him to do. It is still unclear whether he will be listed primarily as an inside or outside linebacker. It depends on who you ask. His limitations in coverage and his setting the edge in the run game makes him look more like an OLB. But his pass rush skills are a bit limited and his instincts would be a bigger asset at the ILB postion. Regardless, he is a good mid-round talent that should probably go sometime between the late second and the middle of the thir round.

Best Fit

A good fit for Perry would be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks are a team with good defensive players that would play around him and a great defensive coaching staff that could best utilize his skill set. In addition, they just lost a player who is very similar to Perry in Bruce Irvin. Irvin played the OLB role for Seattle and just signed a deal with the Oakland Raiders this off-season.

He had some bitter words for his ex-team, saying “I honestly felt if I stayed in [Seattle’s] system, I don’t think I would ever be the player I think I can be in this league, being a pass rusher. SAM outside linebacker is cool, but you can do your job the whole game at SAM linebacker and you have two tackles. I just want to be utilized more and get put in position more to make plays.”

Perry is a perfect player to fill this void. He does the dirty work and sets up his teammates. He is fine rushing or dropping back into coverage. Both parties will be fortunate if Perry falls to them.

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2016 NFL Draft Preview: LB Reggie Ragland

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes

The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series returns! Over the course of the 10 weeks leading up to the 2016 NFL Draft, we will take a look at the top NFL prospects at each position. This week, we dive into the linebacker position. Today we look at Reggie Ragland of Alabama.

Collegiate Career

Former Alabama linebacker Reggie Ragland hopes to join CJ Mosley, Rolando McClain, and Dont’a Hightower as Nick Saban coached linebackers drafted in the first round. Like the three aforementioned players, Ragland ended his Crimson Tide career with at least one SEC Championship, National Championship, All-American Team appearance.

Ragland spent his first two years at Alabama on special teams before starting at linebacker as a junior. He would excel as Alabama’s starting middle linebacker for the next two seasons, being named a Butkus award semifinalist in 2014 and 2015 (The Butkus award honors college football’s best linebacker).

Pros

Not only did Ragland play on special teams, but he also played defensive end in Alabama’s nickel and dime defenses.

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Ragland has great instincts at the middle linebacker position. He seldom takes a false step and quickly sees the play develop him. On the first snap against Clemson, Ragland was not distracted by the ball fake, located the ball carrier, and would have made the tackle had he avoided the Clemson blocker.

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At 247 pounds, Ragland is sound when it comes to dealing with bigger, stronger offensive lineman. Where a smaller linebacker might get washed out of a play, Ragland uses his bulk to prevent the lineman from getting push and then effectively disengages. Notice how quickly Ragland engaged, then disengaged, the lineman on the play below.

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Unlike some bigger linebackers, Ragland is not a slow footed athlete. He has an explosive first few steps that give him great burst to get behind the line and blow up a play. In the snap below, Ragland shows his acceleration in chasing down Deshaun Watson from the backside.

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In the passing game, Ragland has enough range and fluidity to be effective when dropped into coverage. In this play, Ragland didn’t do a great job at preventing the tight end from picking up additional yardage, but still had enough range to reach the tight end and limit the damage.

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Cons

Not only did the previous play highlight that Ragland is only adequate in coverage, it also highlighted a problem with his tackling; he didn’t use good form to bring down the tight end. Although Ragland is generally a good tackler, he can be inconsistent. On the snap below, instead of driving his hips through the running back, Ragland lets the back get into his body and push him backwards for an extra yard.

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To be fair, Ragland went from missing ten tackles in 2014 to three this past season, so it’s an area he is improving in.

Even though Ragland is a solid athlete on tape, supported by how many different positions he played in college, he isn’t a workout warrior. He only had 13 reps on the bench press at Alabama’s Pro Day, a number which would have put him outside the top-15 performers at the combine had he participated in the drill. Of the drills Ragland did perform at the combine, he was only a top-5 performer in the 20-yard shuttle.

Verdict

Ragland has all the makings of an excellent middle linebacker. His instincts, bulk, and burst make him ideal for hunting down running backs between the tackles. He also shows enough ability in the passing game to be able to play all three, or even four, downs (considering his experience as a special teamer).

Baring something unforeseen, Ragland seems like a first round lock. He has very few weaknesses and has the versatility to be deployed at defensive end or on special teams. He might not have the crazy athletic upside of Myles Jack, but Ragland certainly looks the part of a high-caliber, starting middle linebacker.

Best Fit

Ragland would be used best as a middle linebacker in a 3-4 base defense, but could play middle linebacker in a 4-3 if needed. Alabama primarily uses a 3-4 defense and while Ragland could adjust to a 4-3, it’d be foolish to take Ragland out of a system he has already excelled in.

The Ravens, Bears, Saints, Colts and Jets standout as teams which both run a 3-4 defense and are in the need of another middle linebacker.

All video content was provided by DraftBreakdown.com.

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The Best Defensive Free Agents Left This Offseason

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these

The 2016 NFL free agency period has been in full force for over a week now. With many signings already happening, most of the best free agents are already off the board. However, there is still a substantial amount of talent left for teams to sign before the start of the 2016 season. Going through these players, position by position, we can uncover some of the hidden gems left in the free agent market.

Defensive Lineman: 

Possibly the deepest position at the beginning of free agency, the defensive linemen were quick to get signed. Some, such as Malik Jackson and Olivier Vernon, were able to cash in on monumental contracts, while others, like Nick Fairley, are still waiting for the right offer to come their way. While Fairley is a very solid option at defensive tackle, he isn’t the only good option left because there is also Terrance Knighton. Both of these players are very good run stuffers who also possess the ability to go after the quarterback. While Fairley is younger, 28, compared to Knighton, 29, you can count on both of these players to stay healthy for a full season, as they have both shown over the course of their careers. 

As far as defensive ends are concerned, there are not many left that are worth signing in free agency. The only remaining impact player is Greg Hardy and he comes with the baggage of his off-field problems. While he has top ten talent as far as purely physical ability is concerned, he comes with past issues which makes it hard for teams to see him worth the investment and trouble. 

Linebackers: 

Based purely on talent, the best player in free agency that is still unsigned is Aldon Smith. As one of the premier pass rushers in the NFL, Smith has shown he is capable of being one of the best in the league at rushing the quarterback. However, he is also a player that comes with a lot of off-field issues, especially considering his suspension since mid-November. With all of the issues he has off the field, it will be interesting to see if any team is willing to take a risk on him, knowing what he is capable of once he gets onto the field. Another expert in the pass rushing game in free agency is Dwight Freeney. While he is 36 years old, he has proven he is capable of making plays with eight sacks in just eleven games last year with the Cardinals. Although teams are taking a risk in signing a player who has played 15 seasons, there is great potential for Freeney to produce eight or more sacks again in 2016.

Also left for free agent linebackers are specialty options Mike Neal and Courtney Upshaw. While Neal is a highly versatile linebacker who can play any position from an outside linebacker to a defensive tackle, he isn’t the best playmaker, only recording one interception and a career high of just five sacks. That being said, Neal is a solid option for teams in need of a versatile linebacker who they can count on to be out there for 16 games. Another specialty option linebacker available is Courtney Upshaw, a run-stuffing specialist. While he has all the talent in the world, he has not reached his anticipated potential in the NFL, with a career high of just two sacks and 55 tackles. Upshaw is reliable as he has never missed a game in his four year career. He is a player, like Mike Neal, that will be signed by a team simply looking for a linebacker that they can count on being on the field for 16 games.

Cornerbacks: 

Another area of free agency that has yet to be depleted is cornerback, where there are still many talented players yet to be signed. The best two cornerbacks remaining in the free agency market are Patrick Robinson and Brandon Boykin. While Robinson had a resurgence in his career last year in San Diego due to his move to full-time slot corner, Boykin has made a career out of slot corner for the past four seasons. Both of these players deserve to be paid similar to at least the top-30 cornerbacks in the NFL, as they have proven to be over last few seasons. Another solid cornerback left in free agency is Leon Hall. Unlike Robinson and Boykin, Hall has played basic outside cornerback in his nine seasons in the NFL. At 31 years old, Hall is on the downside of his career and could be a risk for teams looking to sign a corner this offseason, not knowing if this will be the year that his production drops off. However, Hall will still be signed in the 2016 season based on his ability to still play top-50 corner and be reliable for the full 16 game season.

Safeties: 

When it comes to playmaking ability left in free agency, safety is definitely the deepest position left. With multiple players who had three or more interceptions last year, this position has a lot of talent left. This class is highlighted by the NFL leader in interceptions a year ago, Reggie Nelson. Along with Nelson, Rashad Johnson is also a ball hawk, tied for sixth in interceptions last year. Both of these players are some of the best playmakers in the secondary in the NFL, both getting at least four interceptions for the past two seasons. While Nelson may be demanding a larger contract, Johnson may be one of the best deals left on the market. One more solid option left at the safety position is recently converted cornerback, Walter Thurmond. In one season of playing at the safety position, Thurmond was able to be very productive, recording three interceptions, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in 16 games. With this impressive ability to make plays, Thurmond will surely be paid by a team looking for a playmaker in the secondary.

While free agency is an essential part of forming any team, overspending during free agency can lead to years of regret for most teams. So, while every player on this list deserves to be on someone’s NFL roster, it takes time for both the players and the teams to come to terms with what each player values. However, in the 2016 season, barring injury, retirement, or suspension, every one of these players will be suited up and ready to play come kick off.

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