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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Around The Draft: Cedric Ogbuehi

Coming into the year, Cedric Ogbuehi was my favorite lineman (I even said, 12/6/14, there isn't a "such for Luck" equivalent for Ogbuehi).  He came into 2014 a favorite.

Expectations had been high, but gave up 7 sacks last season.  He'd fallen before the injury, then obviously was hurt (ACL in his bowl game).  That's where we are now,

It would be, if Ogbuehi's a Panther, a massive data point that Dave Gettleman mentioned Ogbuehi as a prospect very early on this offseason (granted, it was to lament his injury).   It would also make for a very curious valuation.  Prospects are a process of tape work, workouts, and the mental/discussion portion - with Ogbuehi you literally do not get that middle portion, the workouts.

Carolina's not a team that feels like it's more heavily invested in workout guys.  But, it's a leap to automatically expect that only tape tells you who Ogbuehi currently is.  There's a lot more to it.  If he can mentally show toughness, great, if he can mentally show a lot of smarts, that can't hurt.  Guys have been drafted here in part because they showed that they could do more than just survive on a whiteboard.

But, the fairly smart, level headed James Hurst from last year, was passed on so many times in the draft by Carolina (and everyone else), but ended up being the starting OT he seemed to be.  He only had a broken leg. But he was avoided.

So it's difficult to value Ogbuehi.  He's undoubtedly talented, and able.  He has experience (a year at LT, RT, and RG each). He's definitely athletic, but you have to clean up his technique for him to be as good as he can be.  He's not a great run blocker right now, a thing that can change (he appears to put in effort), and he comes from (a very good) spread scheme that can hide some things.   The last two drafts have starred A&M linemen that have gone very high - Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews.  Matthews moved from RT for Joeckel's absence, Ogbuehi flowed out to RT, then to LT when Matthews left.  So far, Matthews and Joeckel have been awful.

The issue with that heavy learning curve, to go with the injury, is you may not know what he can really provide for a while.   Carolina constantly talks about - whether Don Gregory or Ron Rivera, or Gettleman himself, getting players who are ready.  Consider that linemen don't as often just show up on the field sometimes.

On the other hand, Gettleman has said a lot of these picks are for 2016.  Ogbuehi fits that.  Carolina currently has 9 draft picks, and with heavy lifting done in the last two years by the 2013 and 2014 draft classes, it might be harder to squeeze all 9 onto the field right now.   So, is there a bit of room for this guy?  Sure.
But, ideally, it'll be a later pick.  And I just don't see them going for it right now.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Jonathan Martin Added

Carolina added a second player today, claiming former Dolphins and 9ers tackle Jonathan Martin.

The 2nd round pick from Stanford (2012) was considered one of the top OTs of that draft, falling a bit to the second round but generally had been considered a smart, aggressive, tough prospect with good technique.

Martin started 9 games in 2014, logging about 600 snaps, giving up 6 sacks and 21 pressures.

In 2013, his second year as a pro, he was a part of the bullying scandal in Miami in which he chose to quit.  He was shipped to San Francisco for 2014 in trade.

If you view Martin as a prospect instead of a third-year, and it being that time of year where people drop in measurables, he's a 6'5.5, 312 lb lineman with 34" arms who did 20 reps on the bench, and came from a strong pro style, power running scheme that mirrors what Carolina runs.

It's all that happened since - mostly the struggling play - that skews it.  Absolutely, having 32 starts can't hurt.  Getting a player like this for free, you can't turn that down, I guess.   He'll compete.

The hope is, Carolina still isn't done.  But, if they are, they do have two players with 2 years or more starting experience (Martin and Michael Oher), and two that have at least half a year (Nate Chandler, Mike Remmers).

Around The Draft: Devin Funchess

I often like to throw out a prospect that fits.  Sometimes, Carolina will sign a guy and I'll throw out a guy who no longer does.   With Jarrett Boykin being added to the muddy bit of X receivers behind Kelvin Benjamin, which includes Brenton Bersin and (6'4, 220 lb) Marcus Lucas, and possibly former 2nd rounder Stephen Hill (of which Ron Rivera was tremendously complimentary, when asked about Hill this week), I find a heavy amount of player already.

That's not to say that you can't upgrade the X.  As a backup/special teamer, Boykin himself might be a better fit than Bersin, and hopefully that's an upgrade for the team.   But, Benjamin himself on average is a tough act to follow.   And while they have more 'talent' in the bunch of players who would likely play opposite Benjamin than in the group that would follow him, any complimentary receiver is more likely to be amongst a group that would play around Benjamin.

So, I'll push a player in the top 100 I currently don't believe fits, for that purpose.  I find Breshad Perriman of UCF a continuing possibility, and a guy I'll go over soon; this one's about man-child Devin Funchess.

6'4, 232 lb Funchess, a Michigan junior, is definitely intriguing.  If you wanted to put a lot of the words put on Kelvin Benjamin pre-draft, you'd have Funchess in a lot of ways.  He's a tremendous frame with a large catching radius, tremendous leaping ability,

He's not fast (though he's a tick slower at 4.70), and he has drops in his game tape.  He's moved around a good deal like Benjamin did.  But, I don't see the same player on tape.  KB got a lot of negative press and work in the post season, and while Funchess has had that, his tape hasn't been as good.  He's not quite as blessed physically, he feels more raw.

In a way I see him similar to KB's 2014 expectations, but not his ultimately much greater production.  He could be a redzone threat, and he could provide some ability in base, where he could provide that slot-TE type look, so he'll give you some flexibility.  Do I think you can run your pass O through him the way that the suddenly driven, cocky Benjamin was at times?  I don't know.  I doubt it.

In a more open offense that uses a tremendous amount of spread?  Sure, he could be productive.   If he ends up a Saint, I see a player who could realistically replace some of the roles that Jimmy Graham or Marques Colston provided.  Clearly not to Graham's consistency or power, but certainly if you want to stick a 235 lb player in the slot, this might be the ideal candidate to develop.   That is, if you're willing to expect he might need to develop.  With Benjamin, they got that player developed quickly, and I don't see Funchess being an ideal candidate opposite him.

I see him rated top 70 in a number of places, and I don't see that in him.  100, for me.  And I hate that.  I identified him as a tremendous potential player a while back, but I don't see it having borne fruit yet.

Jarrett Boykin Signed: Alan Ball To Bears

Carolina's getting resolution on some of their feelers;  the signing of Alan Ball with the Bears obviously takes him out of Carolina's hands, and the Panthers' signing of former Packers WR Jarrett Boykin obviously takes Carolina out of the Greg Jennings running.  

It's likely Jennings ended up too expensive.  Boykin showed some big flashes in 2013 and visited March 10. The 6'2, 220 lb Virginia Tech alum was undrafted, after a productive (184 rec, 2884 yd, 18 TD) four years in college.  He'd had a bad time at combine (4.74) followed by a 4.59 at pro day; he had solid numbers in some of the other metrics, as well  Going undrafted meant a short stint with the Jaguars before going to the Packers, where he remained until this offseason as an untendered RFA.

Boykin is also an adept special teamer, playing on all coverage teams.  Since he wasn't offered an RFA tender, he's essentially a free agent, but doesn't count against the compensatory count.

I would expect Boykin to possibly compete at X (split end) receiver with Brenton Bersin.  Jerricho Cotchery has ability to play there as well, and Bersin was the primary backup to Kelvin Benjamin.  Unlike those more versatile receivers, Boykin is more of an X and adds that special teams ability.   If the team did decide to keep more than 4 players active at WR (assuming Benjamin, Cotchery, Corey Brown, and Ted Ginn as definites), Boykin's ability to be a special teamer really matters, and if you can't get a jersey, it's tough to get a roster spot. 

Physically, he's more similar to Brandon Lafell (who played everything except the X, playing the slot and the flanker/Z), with better hands but more inconsistent play over time. 

This is likely one of the last pickups Carolina will make pre-draft; it's closing on 3+ weeks since free agency started, and there's about a month until the draft.  Anything after this, and possibly including this, comes at the potential cost of someone on the 2014 roster.  

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Around The Draft; Randy Gregory

Randy Gregory could be Dave Gettleman’s Blue Goose pass rusher, if he can focus on the right green.

Gregory reportedly worked out for Carolina and impressed, coming off a report that he had tested positive for marijuana at combine.

The 6’5, 235 lb Gregory is a unique fit in Carolina.  Absolutely he falls well outside of the traditional concept of Carolina’s massive rush ends – a pseudo-tradition for almost 15 years now – and might have to start out as a situational rusher and/or 3-4 piece (Carolina has always under Ron Rivera, and will continue to, mix 3-4 looks into the base defense).  He’d likely stand for a year in the nickel rush.  And, he’d probably be asked to gain some weight no matter where he goes, but definitely with Carolina he’d be in need of more weight eventually. 

In the meantime, there are plenty of examples of this type of player starting out as a rush specialist.  Aldon Smith and Bruce Irvin were both brought to building defenses with good rush ability, and both have provided tremendous outside rush ability despite being headcases at times.   Gregory’s own weed issue could underline that he would follow at least that portion of the path – but he could provide you with similar rush rewards.  

The highly productive end doesn't have a ton of weaknesses.  He has many moves, seems to play contain well, has a high motor to go with his athleticism.  The writeups I pulled seemed to suggest he's not that instinctive, that he doesn't see past his man well, and that's interesting.  Since he will probably start off a rush specialist, that makes for an interesting package; he could be exceptional against stationary targets, and mediocre against moving QBs, the draw, screens, and so on. 

He's still, on first look, unlikely to fall.  If he did, it's probably just the pot thing, which is unlikely to be endearing to Panthers brass.  They can definitely use a quick edge rusher, and Gregory is talented, but this seems unlikely to happen for so many reasons. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Around The Draft: Melvin Gordon

We went through Todd Gurley within the week, and an early entrant into the Around The Draft in 100 Prospects listing was Ameer Abdullah.  For a second, after Gurley almost re-valued the running back position into a valid star position again, the college football scene was buzzing with these 250 yard running backs.  Squarely in the middle of that trio?  Melvin Gordon.

If you like what Gurley brings, and don't want the nonsense, Gordon might be your guy.   Is he that potentially once-in-a-lifetime back?  No, but close.  Is ht a more sure thing in a world where missing on a high RB pick could doom you?  Probably.

They're similar backs, really.  Both 6'1, both over 215 (Gordon is  - Gurley's a bit more), and what shows on tape as breakaway speed (Gordon runs a 4.52, which isn't blazing).  Both run in a power, pro style scheme like Carolina employs.  For the uninitiated, you'll be pulling a guard or creating another lead blocker (a fullback, or a tight end playing H-back perhaps), and putting Gurley behind that blocker for a potentially big gain.

Definitely an Emmitt Smith in his game tape - he can gain massive amounts of space before he's touched, and does his absolute best with that space.   Smith was an opposite body type (215 for both, but a more compact 5'9 for Smith), whereas Gordon is a leaner, taller prospect who will have to ensure he can keep pad level to be a similar prospect after contact.

Like Gurley, that power scheme in college and possibly odd fit in a zone scheme might hurt in some fits, but not here.  Carolina will pull a guard and Gurley could be the guy to make you pay for not correctly catching on.  On the inverse, Gurley was caught in the backfield 19% of the time, making the homerun happen too often, in a situation reminiscent of DeAngelo Williams.   There are things that make sense in that comparison - he's a fairly high back, if not also taller; both have great vision, both trust it, almost more than blocking.  With both, if you get a free seam, you could see him make the other team pay. And yet, with both, you could see him guess wrong and gain pedestrian yardage.

He can cut and avoid tacklers without hesitation or change in speed, with exceptional balance and acceleration.   He might not have Chris Johnson's top end speed but he gets to top gear tremendously quickly.  

He seems to get high marks for pass catching ability, but is also somewhat untested there.   The problematic part for me is that he doesn't get great marks by most on his pass blocking, a place where Carolina prefers its backs be competent; it's not catastrophic, but they singled out 2014 pick Tyler Gaffney for his ability to do so, and same for TE/FB Richie Brockel's ability.   Williams, here under Jim Skipper before the rest of the staff was along, didn't play much until his ability to pass block came along.     RBs here have to do it all.

On tape, Gordon is fantastic, but less tested.  He had better blockers, if you're comparing to Gurley, in my opinion, and backs from Wisconsin without elite speed have fooled me before.   I hate comparisons, and I hate Reggie Bush for Melvin Gordon, but there are some things that bother me with that, or the lesser versions of Deangelo Williams.

Carolina can use another RB, and both Dave Gettleman and Ron Rivera underlined that they needed another back, whether it was smart to say out loud or not.   Gordon isn't Gurley, but he bears more short term appeal since he's not rehabilitating his knee.   So, he remains an effective option.

Around The Draft: Henry Anderson

Skipped yesterday, hoping to resume a double today.  First of two comes from Stanford DE Henry Anderson.

6'6, 294 lb Stanford DE/DT Senior, Henry Anderson is an intriguing prospect coming from a 2-gap background.  Stanford seniors are among the last of the Harbaugh recruits, and while Vic Fangio went with him in 2011, the 3-4 defense has continued through the years.   Anderson was a 3-4 end in that defense, so anything other than that becomes a projection for him.

As an athlete, he's intriguing; running between a 4.94 and 5 flat, Anderson has good DT speed and excelled in the 3 cone and 20 yard shuttle, as well as a tremendous 10 yard split.  Those numbers, along with a good first step on tape, can be an asset in a single-gap world where quickness is a valuable asset.

He gets leverage despite his height, has good pad leverage, and he can impact with penetration.   In a way, that might be more beneficial given his better upper body strength, compared to his more slender legs and lower body.  He's a pursuit guy and that fits a one-gap strategy.   He's moved around, playing odd and even fronts, so he's played the one tech, 5 tech, and 3 tech.  At the NFL level, if he had more quickness, he could play the 4-3 end, 7 tech; as a matter of fact, two guys have played edge defender at this level and excelled anyway - former Alabama DT Red Bryant, a stalwart edge defender with the 4-3 Seahawks, and Jarrett Johnson, another former Alabama DT with the 3-4 Ravens and Chargers.   There's something to be said for setting the edge.

Anderson's achilles heel so far is balance.  He's tall but gets leverage, but he ends up on the ground a lot.  He might humiliate the blocker, he might let the blocker get a pancake sometimes.  I don't have a handle on that.  He has to become more consistent.  Would he be better if he was playing the edge in this type of 4-3?  Maybe.  The problem is, Carolina has run-defending ends already.  You have to play both run and pass here.

So, it comes down to this - do you take Anderson, a 3rd or 4th round edge defender, on his potential to round out as a versatile defender?  It's a risk you'd likely be happy to take in the 5th round, but a lot of outlets have him higher.   He had a great Senior Bowl, but he had some inconsistency there, too.  He's probably received solid coaching in his career, and you never really know what he'll be, but he'll be a hard worker, a (dammit I hate the word) grinder, and he'll help you any way he can.

So, I don't know.  I've seen Ron Rivera cobble a #1 defense with guys like this in San Diego, but the guys  that fit Anderson's description (I hate to Thomas Keiser this guy) have come later on.  I don't know.  I feel like his inconsistency puts him in as a 5th.  He's a football player, I have no doubts of that.  He will help you.  But he'll probably go to Oakland and wash out, a guy you  hope to get for the minimum after he plays out his contract.