In the past I’ve tried to be sympathetic to the NFL draft’s evaluations of players. I don’t know why I assumed that their evaluation was a gold standard, perhaps because college football conversations on team talent levels are often dictated by how many players a team had drafted and where they went. We should probably abandon that standard, there have been a few Big 12 defenders in particular now that I thought were great, the NFL didn’t regard highly, and then who went on to be very good in the NFL.
Bryce Hager, Andrew Billings, Poona Ford to name a few…I’ve also become increasingly aware of how NFL front offices and pundits see the game and noticed some of the holes in the analysis. College football is well ahead of the NFL in some regards right now and the Air Raid is starting to land some RKO’s out of nowhere.
So before the draft gets going here’s some thoughts on a few of the guys that will be up for the draft:
I wrote on Kyler Murray’s evaluation a month or so ago at SB Nation but have just a few thoughts to add.
-Murray’s leaked wonderlic score (20) is definitely concerning but it’s not really shocking. He’s not a very strong traditional pocket passer because he doesn’t read defenses well enough and he gets jittery when he doesn’t have an escape hatch to get into space and buy time or threaten defenses with the scramble.
But that’s not a disqualifier, just don’t put him in an offense built around standing in the pocket. He needs to be in a system that puts him on the move, involves edge keepers in the option, and emphasizes play-action. If you can stay upright long enough, all coverage becomes man coverage and then Murray’s accuracy and arm strength become truly terrifying.
-Kingsbury, the blessed, notably hired the OL coach that helped build the Steelers’ run game for LeVeon Bell. He’s always been really good at building his offenses around the skills of his QB and I think he has a plan in place here. They’ll try to build an offense similar to Oklahoma’s, that can run the ball from spread sets with Murray boosting the rushing attack with his legs and then fling vertical option routes down the field every fourth play.
-The size doesn’t really worry me unless someone is asking him to execute from the pocket regularly. If he has any space at all it’s nearly impossible to even touch him, much less smash him into the turf. He’s also reasonably thick and strong and on the few occasions that anyone hit him in college while he clearly didn’t like it, he also didn’t seem too fazed. I’d run him around regularly and let him use his legs and space, his smaller frame won’t matter unless he’s getting 250+ pound mean people jumping on him from behind.
The NFL seems to prefer to draft mostly tackles and then convert them to guards, much like many colleges like to do the same from the high school levels. Ford ended up measuring at almost 6-4, 329 pound, and then a wingspan of a man that’s 6-11.
Everyone will talk about him playing guard in the NFL but forget that, this dude dominated last season playing outside and has the reach and quickness that makes for a good tackle. The only reason you want a taller guy at tackle is because the taller guy has good reach, the trick is that the taller guy may or may not be much of an athlete. Ford is a good athlete with a more compact frame and then he has better reach than many a 6-5 offensive tackle.
As you can read about in David Epstein’s “the sports gene,” we white dudes often don’t have the longest arms. Our wingspan more commonly corresponds to our actual height. For instance:
Connor Williams, OT from Texas. Height: 6-5. Wingspan: 6-6
Mike McGlinchey, OT from Notre Dame. Height: 6-8. Wingspan: 6-9
Kolton Miller, OT from UCLA. Height: 6-9. Wingspan: 6-11
Quenton Nelson, OG from Notre Dame. Height: 6-5. Wingspan: 6-11
Kevin Love, PF from the NBA. Height: 6-10. Wingspan: 6-11
Nikola Jokic, C from the NBA. Height: 7-0. Wingspan: 7-3
Other than Nelson, these guys tend to have closely correlating heights and wingspans, sometimes gaining a helpful inch or two. It’s not a universal rule but on average it plays out that way more commonly.
Meanwhile Orlando Brown was 6-8 with a 7-1 wingspan, Bobby Evans was about 6-5 with a 6-9 wingspan, Dru Samia 6-5 and 6-9, and then Ben Powers 6-4 and 6-10. Seems that maybe Oklahoma puts a priority on this, even blonde-haired and blue-eyed Powers had outstanding reach.
The popular opinion about the Kansas City Chiefs is that they need to prioritize defense with this draft. I’d go the other way, teams can BARELY defend Pat Mahomes in that offense right now, what happens if they add Butler to the mix? Who has the players to handle both 6-5/260 pound Travis Kelce AND 6-6/225 pound Hakeem Butler.
This dude could move around to multiple spots, ran well disguised routes, is freakishly big and fast, and knew how to make the most of his size to bully people. Marquise Brown is getting a lot of love but I’d go Butler over him, Hakeem is a warrior with a lot of skill.
The Ringer had a fun piece on how Brown spent some time with his cousin Antonio and learned how that master trains and approaches the game. It was pretty enlightening and helped explain both why Antonio Brown is so good as well as how Marquise Brown made a sizable leap for his junior season. Nice note in there as well on how Baker Mayfield pushed Lincoln Riley to involve Brown in the offense more back in 2017.
Here’s the deal on Brown though, he’s tiny. Texas couldn’t really cover him in the B12 title game but they made it a point to take him down hard at every opportunity and he didn’t finish the game. I understand the argument that it’ll be easier for him to stay healthy running around in space away from the scrum and taking the top off defenses but he was doing that at Oklahoma and still got hurt a few times. It’s hard to stay healthy over a 16 game season when you weigh 166, the guys that are hitting you out wide are still regularly 200+ and exceptionally fast and powerful.
The only thing more predictable than Humphrey running a weak 40 time was the overreaction and inevitable underrating that would occur afterwards. I couldn’t believe when I saw commentary from people before he ran predicting that he’d run fast or afterwards expressing shock that he ran slow. Did anyone watch him last season? Dude wasn’t doing his work by pulling away from people.
His 4.29 shuttle was really good but a little disappointing for a dude that ran a 4.16 there in high school and who slimmed down to 210 for the draft in order to run the best possible 40. My concern drafting Humphrey would be entirely about how he sees his own game and how willing he’d be to embrace my vision for his NFL career. He needs to be doing the same thing in the NFL he did in college, moving around in slot positions and using his elite combination of size, intelligence, quickness, and toughness to serve as a flex TE and chain mover in the middle of the field.
Too many people are regarding him as the wrong kind of tweener, too small to be a true TE and blocker but too slow to be a great WR. Instead, someone needs to regard him as a guy that’s big and tough enough to block some or punish smaller DBs and then too quick and skilled to be covered by a linebacker. When everyone is flexed out in space limitations like that should matter as much, the question isn’t “who can he handle in the box?” it’s “who can handle him in space?” If he goes to the right team and embraces a hybrid role like he did last year at Texas then he’ll be a very productive pro.
A less skilled Lil’Jordan Humphrey, basically. Hurd moved from RB to WR much, much later in life than did the Longhorn star and hasn’t shown the same kind of option-route running savvy. He’s a big, fast, strong matchup problem that can do work in the seams so teams should take a look. Like Humphrey, if someone tries to turn him into a full-time outside WR then I don’t know how well this will go.
The four-year starter at K-State measured 6-4 with a 6-9 wingspan and a nice shuttle for a big man. He’s not getting a lot of love but he was pretty dang effective for a long time for the Wildcats and if he lacks the kick step or pass pro skills there’s not much doubt that he can be a plus contributor inside.
Sometimes people talk about OL as if guard is an afterthought and the key to good pass protection is having super athletes on the perimeter. In reality, the best NFL pressures know how to attack your weakest link.
Monty seems to have a reputation now as a guy that has to break a lot of tackles in part because he isn’t shifty enough to avoid people. I don’t think that’s quite right…
…doesn’t that look exactly like what an NFL running back has to do to be successful? The miles on his body would concern me except that the NFL tends to go through RBs like coffee filters anyways.
Ben Banogu, L.J. Collier, and Ty Summers
Collier tested well at the combine, checking in at 6-2/280 with a crazy 6-10 wingspan. TCU was able to move him around quite a bit, sometimes using him as a traditional DE and other times slanting him inside in their 3-3-5 package. His production was solid, 11.5 TFL and 6.5 sacks, coming off the right side fairly often. Dude didn’t play much until he was a senior though and wasn’t really an overwhelming player on a consistent basis. Texas’ LT Calvin Anderson called him his toughest matchup in the Big 12 but that’s not saying as much as it seems and at like 280 Calvin Anderson always struggled the most with powerful DEs. Collier was bigger, stronger, and had comparable or better reach.
He’ll need to find a similar tweener role in the NFL to really maximize. Ben Banogu was the better player, imo, and he was really versatile in how he could be moved around to attack the pocket either from the edge or with the inside stunt. TCU didn’t have him drop into coverage much but he has the athleticism for it, if I were the sort of program that put an emphasis on development I’d be keen to get him.
Ty Summers, ditto. He played like three different positions regularly for the Frogs and is a plus athlete. You can ask that guy to try and match tricky TEs in coverage and he’s still a good box defender and effective blitzer. A three-down ILB. Lots of linebackers will go ahead of him that don’t offer the same kind of versatility who benefitted from playing weaker offenses in schemes that more narrowly defined their roles.
David Sills and Kris Boyd
The clinic that Boyd put on for how to cover David Sills was pretty concerning for the Mountaineer’s NFL prospects. Boyd measured at 5-11/201 with a 4.45 40, 4.08 shuttle, and 36.5″ vertical. He was always one of the freakiest athletes on the 40 acres, which is obviously saying a lot, and the issues were always with discipline and consistent fundamentals. Against Sills he put it together and used his strength and speed to knock Sills off his spots and prevent him from getting in position to present his big target area for Will Grier.
Of course, West Virginia was able to move Sills around and attack other Longhorn defenders so he still did his damage. The concern is whether Sills’ overpowering size, speed, and skill will translate when he’s more regularly facing topline coverage defenders. Like Jalen Hurd, he’s actually sorta new to his position, but you’re just dealing with a relative unknown. What’s his ceiling? The NFL isn’t always great about developing players, they prefer to leave that to the colleges, so Sills might be a steal for a team that will actually develop. Otherwise it’s on him to figure it out.
The same dimension could be an issue for Boyd, who will need to figure out some details in order to realize his athletic potential.
Omenihu is what some think LJ Collier will be. 6-5/280 with a 36.5″ vertical, 4.36 shuttle, and 9.5 sacks last year despite playing as a 4i-technique DE on all but passing downs. Omenihu can definitely slide inside or out and cause disruption for blocking schemes, he could play as a 3-technique or be a strongside end that can turn the corner in the pass rush. He’s the kind of guy that ends up being better in the NFL than you’d have guessed from college because spread-option and Air Raid offenses had him splitting his time between getting after it on the edge and doing grunt work in the trenches to free off-ball defenders to erase space.
That may hurt his stock a little but I think his experience playing inside at Texas will actually make him a better and more versatile pro.
He’s kinda climbing up in the esteem of some draft guys for his steady work as a possession slot receiver for the Mountaineers. He’s a fantastic athlete who also has toughness and savvy in the middle of the field, but I wonder what his fit will be in the NFL. Will he continue to do work in the slot or will they see that 4.4 40 and try to move him outside?
How will it go for him when he’s facing nickel corners with some twitch and coverage ability that aren’t halfway on him and halfway to the box to help against spread-option plays? Jennings didn’t regularly hold the full attention of defenses who were worried about Sills and Simms outside or the run game behind Trevon Wesco.
I think Humphrey is actually the better prospect for the slot, but Jennings has a lot of proven qualities.
I saw him listed a few places, I don’t quite get it. He’s not a TE that you’ll want to flex out much and work in the passing game. He is a fantastic blocker from a few different alignments, dude was mauling people at times last season. The NFL doesn’t seem to use guys like this quite as much, maybe if the Air Raid catches on they’ll become more valuable though as a means to augment the run game and create opportunities to fling it over the top.
In the more West Coast dominated NFL it’s all about creating matchups to hit rhythm passes and this guy doesn’t do that at all. Maybe Kingsbury should consider him in the later rounds as an escort for Kyler Murray and David Johnson in the run game and ancillary for pass protection when they use play-action.
I’ll add more thoughts throughout the weekend as guys get drafted, probably with an additional post.