Rookie Flaws Guaranteed to Drive Coaches Crazy in 2013
Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports
The collaboration between an NFL personnel department and a coaching staff is vital to the success of a team. The coaches have to feel that they can coach a player and get them to improve. Only in rare cases is a college player a finished product.
Coaches can go crazy trying to get a player to improve a particular skill, and some players will lose playing time if they can’t fix an issue. Turnovers are especially troublesome to coaches because they are so closely tied to the success of the team. Coaches also don’t like to see yards or big plays left on the field.
Anything the coaches feel is a flaw that can be corrected will drive them crazy, and the 2013 rookie class certainly has its fair share.
A flaw doesn’t make the prospect a bad player, and several of my favorite prospects at their respective positions are on this list.
Flaw: The Ball Pat
Matt Scott is a developmental quarterback, but most of his flaws appear to be correctable with good coaching. The hardest one for Scott to correct will be when he pats the ball just before he throws it.
This ball pat is instinctive, so it will probably be hard for Scott to correct.
A hitch like this slows down Scott’s delivery and makes it harder for him to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
Since Scott does this instinctively, it doesn’t happen on every throw. When Scott has a predefined read, like a swing pass to the running back, there is no hitch. When Scott is reading the field and trying to push the ball down the field, he’ll pat the ball first before his throw.
It appears this ball pat is a timing mechanism for Scott, as his NFL.com profile also notes. You will see a quarterback pat the ball occasionally at the NFL level intentionally to try to get a defender to bite, but you don't see a player use it like Scott.
Scott’s footwork needs immediate correction and he otherwise has a quick release, but patting the ball before his throw will tip off savvy defenders in the NFL and give pass-rushers an extra split second to close. Quarterback coaches will hate the hitch and may have trouble getting Scott to correct it, as it usually only shows up in game situations.
Flaw: Holding Ball Too Long and Throwing Off Back Foot
There’s a chance that Tyler Wilson will be the first rookie quarterback to play this season. Wilson only needs only to beat out Matt Flynn and Terrelle Pryor for the starting job, but it’s probably better if he doesn’t play immediately because of the flaws in his game.
Wilson is fearless in the pocket, but he also doesn’t fear throwing into tight and double coverage. Those traits aren't necessarily bad unless Wilson can’t deliver the ball accurately and on time. When Wilson throws off his back foot, he often underthrows receivers, which results in missed opportunities and turnovers.
Wilson gives himself the maximum amount of time to throw the ball by hanging tough in the pocket and throwing off his back foot, but that’s not going to work in the NFL. A gunslinger mentality is extremely hard to coach without breaking a player’s confidence, which would be worse.
The good news is that Wilson has proven he can make those throws when he can step into it and when he doesn’t constantly have a defender bearing down on him. At the NFL level, defenders are always coming fast and furious. Wilson will need to learn to anticipate receivers getting open and find checkdowns when nothing is there.
Too much pressure to perform early may result in Wilson’s flaws becoming irreversible. Some quarterbacks shrink under pressure, but Wilson has learned to compensate with toughness.
Hanging in the pocket is good, but Wilson does it to a fault at times and throws off his back foot.
Barkevious Mingo has a very good chance to be the best rookie pass-rusher to come out of this class. Ray Horton’s defense in Cleveland will put Mingo in position to be successful, but he has to learn to finish plays.
Specifically, Mingo has trouble wrapping up ball-carriers in space.
Part of the problem is that Mingo plays too tall and is prone to bouncing off running backs. A lot of people criticized Mingo’s lack of production before the draft, but he was almost always impacting the play.
The bigger issue isn’t a lack of production, but the production that was there for Mingo that he missed. In just about every game, Mingo has a chance to make a tackle for a loss, only for that player to escape his grasp and gain positive yardage.
If Mingo can’t improve his open-field tackling as a rookie, it will likely drive coaches crazy enough to pull him off the field on running downs. It might take Mingo a year to learn to play with better pad level and wrap-up in the run game.
Flaw: Ball Security
Christine Michael may have been the top running back available in the draft if not for two issues: maturity and ball security. Michael often swings his arm up and away from his body in traffic instead of maintaining three points of contact.
For Michael to be able to correct his ball-security issue, he’s going to have to work hard. If Michael doesn’t put forth the effort needed to correct the issue, he’s destined to forever be a very talented reserve.
Putting the ball on the ground just once or twice in practice is enough to put a player in the doghouse. If Michael doesn’t learn to protect the football, he’ll drive coaches crazy enough that they will leave the talented Michael on the bench.
Flaw: Ball Security
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For the first three years of Johnathan Franklin’s college career, he had a severe fumbling problem. Franklin carried the ball 506 times and fumbled an astonishing 18 times.
A fumble every 28 carries is going to drive coaches crazy in a hurry, and it’s a flaw that will derail Franklin’s chances of winning the starting job in Green Bay.
Franklin seemed to correct the issue his senior season by carrying around a football everywhere he went, even sleeping with it, according to Sam Farmer if the Los Angeles Times.
It worked for Franklin and it worked for me; I used this same technique in high school to improve my hands as a wide receiver and worked my way up from the bottom of the depth chart to become the starter. Franklin carried the ball 282 times his senior year and fumbled just once.
The evidence that this unorthodox technique helps is anecdotal, and a leap in competition is going to put the method to the test. If Franklin starts putting the ball on the ground like he did early in his college career, he’s going to drive the coaches crazy enough to bury him on the depth chart.
Justin Hunter has the size, speed and agility of a No. 1 receiver. Hunter’s problem is that he has inconsistent hands. Hunter will pluck a ball from the air on one play and let the ball go right through his hands on another.
Coaches and quarterbacks will go berserk if a wide-open receiver consistently drops the ball. Missed opportunities are second only to turnovers when it comes to things that will drive a coach mad.
The worst thing about Hunter’s drops is that he can be dangerous after the catch, so it’s not just a matter of losing the yards the ball travels in the air.
If Hunter can’t consistently secure the ball, his quarterback will lose confidence in him and he could drive coaches crazy enough to limit his snaps. The Titans have enough problems, and the last thing they need is Hunter dropping passes when Jake Locker manages to get them there.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Mayock of NFL Network put D.J. Hayden over Dee Milliner in his final prospect rankings because of ball skills. Hayden has great ball skills, and Milliner has recorded just six college interceptions despite dozens upon dozens of opportunities.
Milliner defensed 22 passes in 2012 but had just two interceptions. At the combine, Milliner dropped several catchable balls in field work, which sparked some question about his ability to create turnovers in the NFL.
Nepatriotsdraft.com’s scouting report on Milliner noted his struggles pulling down interceptions, citing that he doesn’t make tough catches and both of his interceptions came well away from a receiver.
Ryan Lownes noted that one of Milliner’s weaknesses is his hands and that that he hasn’t pulled down as many interceptions as you would expect considering the number of opportunities.
Milliner’s inability to make the big play will drive coaches in New York crazy, because he could be an elite cornerback if he just made more game-changing plays. Jets fans are accustomed to Darrelle Revis grabbing everything in sight and could go bonkers if Milliner drops a lot of interceptions.
It’s the “almost” about Milliner’s game that will drive a coach insane, but as long as he’s still knocking down passes and locking down opposing receivers, his lack of soft hands will be tolerated.
Flaw: Ball Security
The running backs in this class all seem to have some trouble securing the football, but Knile Davis might be the worst offender. Davis is so known for his fumbling that his new head coach commented about it after he was drafted.
You take the fumbling out of his game that he had this past year and you see a running back that you would put up there with any of the top running backs in the nation.
He knows his problem, the label that he has out on him now, being a fumbler. He’ll work hard to fix that and we think we can help him with that.
Davis had far and away the best speed score in this year’s class (subscription required), running the 40-yard dash in 4.37 seconds at 227 pounds. It’s the second-highest score in Football Outsiders’ database.
But if he doesn’t secure the ball, that size and speed will go to waste.
If Davis can stay healthy, he had off-the-charts ability to run the ball and compares favorably with some of the best running back in the NFL. Think about how crazy it would drive a coach to have to leave a talent like Davis on the bench because he consistently puts the football on the ground.
The risk is probably not worth the reward if Davis can’t figure out his problem. The Chiefs feel like they can help, but failure would leave them with a maddening prospect that has monumental upside that they can't in good conscience put on the field.
The Chiefs badly need a player to complement running back for Jamaal Charles, and Davis can be that guy, but only if he stops fumbling.
Vance McDonald is a big tight end prospect that can do a lot of things for an offense. At 267 pounds and boasting 34.4” arms, McDonald is a very capable blocker in space and should be able to develop into a solid in-line blocker as well.
The 6'4" prospect with long arms is also a big third-down target for a quarterback. Twenty-eight of McDonald's 36 receptions last year were for first downs according to NFL.com.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s upside on third downs is limited because he has hands of stone. McDonald will juggle or drop a pass in just about every game. Third-down targets need to be reliable, and McDonald is anything but a reliable receiver at this point.
McDonald will drive coaches crazy because he’s the type of tight end that wouldn’t need to come off the field if he had better hands. The 49ers will use McDonald to replace Delanie Walker initially, which makes sense because Walker had 11 drops last season according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
For the 49ers, spending a second-round pick on McDonald suggests that they envision more for him than just Walker’s role. If McDonald is going to become an integral part of San Francisco’s offense, he needs to work on securing passes.