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Monday, March 2, 2015

Around The Draft: Kevin Johnson

Wake Forest CB Kevin Johnson (I don't have the energy to make a Dan Majerle joke today) says he’s the best CB in the draft. The 6’, 190 lb senior isn’t so far off, as he’s generally listed top 5 positionally and almost always in the first or second round. He didn’t lose much in the combine at all, throwing in a 4.52 40, and having been a top performer in each of the vertical (41.5), broad jump, 3 cone, 20 yard shuttles.

He has 3 years’ starting experience in the ACC, 41 starts, and never missing a game due to injury. That’s key, as is his 190 lbs, as it appears he bulked up a bit for workouts. His slight frame is fine for coverage, but he can be more physical downfield. He gets a lower mark for his run defense, where he’s able. I don’t worry that a CB isn’t a heavy hitter or a crushing tackler, but he’s a leg-wrapper and you have to be OK with that.  He's not going to beat blockers at this level.  But, he's willing and that still gets you a certain ways in the NFL.  Most times, you're not going to see a cornerback beat a lead blocker square in the hole.  That's unrealstic.
As well, he does show an acumen for the third phase, possibly being a gunner or core coverage player on special teams. 

In coverage, he can do man, off-man/trail in cover 3, and shows awareness in zone. He can press and stay with his man. He’s a likely day 1 starter for most needy teams. Here in Carolina, he might be a guy who plays the outside in nickel, as I’d prefer Bene Benwikere to start (and I’m fine with him in the slot for nickel).
So, there's a fit and a need - the team can use some help at CB.  It's also not critical - in my mind, once Melvin White regains his confidence, there's a legitimate 3 corners there.  With two starters in place and one backup with a year's experience, it's not so crucial that I'd drop a first if Johnson isn't the best available, but that's the pick no matter what - best available. 
To that end, it's certain that there's been so little stability at CB over Ron Rivera's tenure, and while 2015 looks to be like 2014, I thought that of 2013.  You never know.  And you see what good CB play does for a good defense, it really tightened things up.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Around The Draft: Ben Koyack

Churning along for this Around The Draft in 100 Prospects run, 59 days to go (this is the 40th prospect, since I'm still behind a day).

Koyack, a Notre Dame senior, has spent a lot of time as a lead blocker, at fullback and H-back until this past year.  Consequently, he has experience, but only one real year as a tight end.  So, at this point, he's more of a football player than a tight end yet.

That means two things - one, the projection of him as a tight end is on a somewhat limited sample size, and two, he's got some work to do to develop.

Size?  He's got that. 6'5, 255.  Appears to be athletic enough that he can pull the position off.

He's got obvious flexibility, having played FB at a strong level, having played TE well.  He does well as a run blocker, and looks to be very good as a pass blocker, too - he can block the edge and do a solid job, mirroring and staying engaged.  He has an almost NFL OT level arm length, at 32.5 (Bill Polian says an NFL left tackle's arm length is a big strength, which I suggest to be about 33.5"), which keeps defenders' hands off the blocker.

As a receiver, he remains flexible (with experience from all of the above, plus inline and slot TE), but overall somewhat less experienced.  Blocking the edge well helped cause that, to a point, as well.  Consequently, his 30 catch, 2TD senior year is the bulk of his career as a receiver, which totals 34 receptions for 5TD.

He does show soft hands, good routes (sinking hips, accelerating out of breaks), and solid coordination.  The tools are there.

They say he could use more strength, and certainly he could use more experience.  I don't know if he's a special teamer.  That would matter.

I do know, position flexibility is critical - remember Greg Olsen taking a backseat in stats for a few games because he was pass protecting at FB, with Brockel, Tolbert, and others hurt?  Carolina likes guys who can pull that off.  Brockel, for instance, has made a career out of pass blocking and special teams.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Around The Draft: Cody Prewitt

FS Cody Prewitt - 6'2, 208, Ole Miss - fits the safety narrative.  He's an experienced senior with some size, who had a modestly disappointing 40 time (4.6) and average times in the 3-cone, and so on.  

So he's not great in shorts.  But, if you're looking for a vet single high safety from a good conference, at a good price?  This might be your guy.   He has good instincts (not great) and a good feel for the zone.  He seems to grasp the bigger picture, not just his responsibility.

On tape, he gets to the ball faster than your timed speed suggests.  I see good run defense here.  Some scouts I read say he's not aggressive enough there, and true enough he won't remind you of former Panthers Chris Harris or Mike Minter in his hits.  But he gets there, and does his thing.  A downside in this defense, I guess, is that he doesn't blitz well.

When you start talking toward the end of day 2, maybe early day 3, with a prospect you don't have to expect him to do everything critically well.  That's something that, as someone who looks at the negative more often, I have to watch that myself.  The last few years I've been less hard with players who would roleplay a bit more and not be the full, 100% solution in every respect.   Some DTs, for instance, just stop the run.  Later in the draft, you have to choose your attributes and let those attributes be upgrades.

In this, I see Prewitt.

He doesn't add that incredible team speed they're looking for, no.  He's not a massive hitter who'd play SS, blitz, and wreck the run or send a message about coming across the middle.  He's also not so great that he can be put in man coverage alone.  I don't know why a DB weighs in at 210 and he's expected to be a linebacker.  Absolutely it's nice when it happens.  It doesn't always happen.

But, he plays the pass well, executes, leads his secondary around.  He has enough instinct to get to the right place (I guess I read he gets aggressive and then doesn't have recovery speed - I could see that but didn't here).  

In Carolina, willing to attack the run is enough.  Not a ton will come through Prewitt (in 2014, Thomas Decoud and Tre Boston combined for 75 tackles at FS - Roman Harper, oddly enough playing a lot less box safety, had 62 along with a bizarrely solid game deep in coverage) in tackles.  The LBs get at those.

Prewitt is there to be the last line of defense, and in that, he's good.  The compromise is allright to be just decent at that, with this defense.

Yes, Boston is on board.  A bit smaller, the feeling would almost be, well if Prewitt was the pick why not put him at SS?   To me, I always felt like Boston could be a SS as easily as FS.  But, if nothing else, you have depth and competition.  Yes, Harper probably starts again, barring changes there, for one more year, so this is a 2016 pick.   Then these two fight for FS, and the loser is on Special Teams for a year, learning (Prewitt is, in fact, a good special teamer, too).

Part of my Boston at SS plan this offseason, which I only really use as a possibility when I'm detailing a FS, generally comes with a superior athlete.  Prewitt is, essentially, the same athlete.  Taller, but that's it.  So, could Prewitt be the SS in a year?  Sure, why not.   He's taller and bulkier, he could play the shorter, robber zone and do fine.

Either way, he's a value because he's just a tick less, and that's fine by me.

Around The Draft: Owamagbe Odighizuwa

Around The Draft in 100 Prospects presents Owamagbe Odighizuwa, with an assist from bonded bourbon.  Yes, I'm still a day behind.  Today isn't the day that changes, either.

I've gone on about edge rushers.  Much as I've loved the long line of both left and right ends in Carolina history that did things the right way (since 2001, anyway), being able to both play the run and pass, having both bulk and athleticism, there's something about the concept of a smaller edge rusher just terrorizing you.  A speed guy that can get there, take advantage of that interior rush (when it's there - when it's not, your speed guy is essentially useless).

Enter Odighizuwa. 6'3, 267, UCLA.  Yes, 6'3, is not ideal.  Scouts love an end that's 6'5, 6'6. They might not find a guy this size that can get run leverage and use power there, along with in the pass game, and still have 4.62 speed (obviously, his combine time).  He has a natural bend on the edge, and is able to slip a tackle if he can get into his body.

He's solid at slipping blocks, good in pursuit, and not the liability that a smaller end is, against the run.  

Odighizuwa hasn't been as productive as people seem to expect he will be in the future.  Some say he's a better player than his stats, stating his tape is very good.  And it is.  The negatives here are really not heavy - he's a couple inches short, which I don't mind since he still has solid bulk and density for that size.  He doesn't have a dizzying array of pass rush moves, but still has about 3 or 4.  Right now, I dare you to think of them all yourself without google.

So, he's rated around Carolina's first.  I don't expect that makes him the best player available, but he could fall the way Kony Ealy did.  That makes him ideal at the second pick, if that's also a bit unlikely.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Around The Draft: Steven Nelson

Steven Nelson (5'10, 197), a Senior from Georgia who shipped his game out to Oregon State for college, fits.  He's a nearly ideal Carolina CB.

The only thing he's missing?  Height.  At 5'10, he's not that small.  And Carolina doesn't require 6'3, 215 lb corners like Seattle - yes, it'd be great.  And Ron Rivera's spoken at length about how he likes his corners to have ...well, length.  But Nelson has it - just not that last two inches - and has some bulk, just not that last ten pounds.

He does, however, have a broad frame and slightly above average arms.  He has above average hand size, too - larger than everyone at combine at DB other than the mammoth safety Jaquiski Tartt. Long arms create a large wingspan to get around - and give the reach to go after the ball.   Yes, now that it's deeper into the offseason, and after combine, measurements are going to play a part on all this.

After running a 4.49 40 (team speed, remember?), Nelson provided 19 reps on the bench press (4th strongest at CB).  All of that more than adequate - and his times in the cone/shuttle drills were high, too.

But all that remains secondary to what you see on film.  He's the type you couldn't easily have against Steve Smith in practice, if you get my drift - very competitive.  He plays aggressive football, but a downside can be in his discipline.  He's not necessarily a guy you're dying to have in man coverage for that purpose.  But while a ton of teams played more man last year, Carolina included, I think he can do well enough to clean that up.

Those large (CB-large anyway) hands are well used, in how he redirects receivers and often gets just enough contact.  However, this last year he was penalized a good deal, too.  So it's something to watch.  Depending on who you read, not a big deal, or it's "he should just be a nickel/he should just be in cover 2."  

He can definitely excel in those roles, but it drives me nuts when scouting reports relegate a good player (good enough that the negative stuff they say has to limit him, doesn't keep him from being a top 100 player in the more negative writeups I read) to a specialist role or a 'less important' one because a player isn't completely perfect.

Nelson plays the ball in the air, and he tackles then run like a safety (which definitely gets you on the field quicker here in Carolina).  He can play inside or outside.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Michael Oher Visits

It's gotta be tough to be Michael Oher sometimes.

He overcame so much, and yet he's defined by being unable to play the position that's somewhat his nickname, and he's otherwise defined by Sandra Bullock's bad southern accent.

Anyway, he visited the Panthers after being cut by Tennessee.

Oher, now 29, has started 91 games over 6 seasons, 5 of them with Baltimore and one with Tennessee.  Oher was a draft pick with Baltimre when line coach John Matsko was

Oher was the study of Michael Lewis' book Blindside: Evolution of a Game, which wants to value the LT position and weaves in the story of Oher's empoverished upbringing.  There's a movie, of course, which then sensationalizes a lot - for instance Oher had played football as a freshman at public school, wasn't fully clueless about the game, and coach Hugh Freeze wasn't a bumbling idiot (and has gone from the cush school job he had, to the head coach at their shared alma mater).  Oher had already been an all-conference lineman before he was taken in.

It does, however, gloss over the potential recruiting violations around Oher as fairly trivial, at least in the movie.  Lewis is also known for helping popularize sabermetrics outside sports with the book/movie Moneyball.

Another fact no one ever really seems to remember?

Oher attended both high school and college with Greg Hardy.  Oher was a year ahead.

At any rate, Oher was awful as a Titans RT, which gives a mixed signal (or, I guess, noise?), and was banged up.  In Baltimore, he was a solid RT, who had to move to LT often enough and failed there.

The relationship with Matsko makes sense if Oher was inexpensive enough. Carolina needs a player who can add some veteran ability, but a good veteran LT will be expensive.  Oher is neither of those, so he might not be costly - but, they have Mike Remmers and Nate Chandler at RT for next year, too.

Panthers Into Ginn

The fan community is buzzing about Ted Ginn, and that won’t immediately die down.  When it does, there’ll be a hole left – the one Carolina fans have had a lot lately in early March, the impatience of waiting for prices to drop.   Don’t expect much different here unless Ginn actively wants to return enough to go ahead and drop his rates now.   Logic and the competitive spirit suggest Ginn will want to shop around.  Not only is nothing here a done deal, you never know where the journeyman might want to end up.

Mike Tolbert throws in his support – “All I’m saying is @TedGinnJr_19 back in carolina wld be awesome!!!"

There’s no doubt the need is there.  Carolina put together a lot better WR group than many expected, with Kelvin Benjamin excelling (and still showing he’s got a high ceiling he’s yet to reach),

With that said – I also see a lot of “Well that’s fine, let’s get him, but we still need a high draft pick.”

That seems to miss the point of how Carolina drafts, and how this team works.  

I still don’t fully agree with the Ron Rivera “10 catches per game” ideal – though the team came in at 11 catches per game from WRs this year, and that’s including a midseason stretch where they threw the ball a ton while the run game was awful and they were losing.  The point remains, Carolina’s going to use up the play clock, they’re going to control time of possession, they’re not going to design 55 passing attempts if they can help it, and they’re going to use the TE. 

At any rate, here’s what we know about those receivers.
*Kelvin Benjamin’s gonna get fed.  He’ll have the bulk of the targets, of WRs, and would have about as many as Greg Olsen as well (and did have more last year).
*The team seems to be set to continue with Jerricho Cotchery, who’s a good underneath receiver, a good goal threat that the team failed to use because of Benjamin’s presence, and a good slot WR.  They like his vet presence, tremendously necessary.   But he’s also really reliable, does get open enough with his wily nature.  He’s currently the starter, and no , he doesn’t have a long history ahead.  But he seems likely to be here.
*Corey Brown.  They like him.  Is he a starter?  I don't know. Probably not.  But he's good enough to have a jersey. 

So, adding a vet like Ginn (or Jacoby Jones) makes four guys getting a jersey - and giving out 5 isn't a given.   

Does WR need some upgrade?  Sure.  Could they pick up Ginn and still draft a guy?  It's possible.  They pick up a guy like Ginn so they can attempt to upgrade and not be required to draft, but they can if they need.  

And if they did, great, they have depth and are a little more stocked.  But somebody they like doesn't have a jersey.