2014 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for the Super Bowl

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2014 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Scouting Notebook for the Super Bowl
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The first quarter of the NFL draft season is coming to a close with the Senior Bowl over and Super Bowl week officially here.

After Sunday night's big game, the final draft order will be set. From there, it's on to the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where the whirlwind will be in full swing.

What has been learned in the last week? The Senior Bowl game offered more opportunities to evaluate players, and it has given analysts time to review practice footage in order to see more of the players noticed earlier in the week.

Here's this week's Scouting Notebook.

 

Five Up, Five Down 

 

Five Up

5. OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame

There were concerns that Notre Dame's Zack Martin may end up at offensive guard in the NFL, but he quieted a lot of those issues with his superb Senior Bowl performance. Martin handled himself better than any offensive tackle in Mobile, showing the quickness and agility needed to survive on an island at left tackle. And while he'll never be the biggest guy in the room, his timing and spacial awareness are off the charts. 

Current ranking: No. 23 overall

 

4. OT Morgan Moses, Virginia

Another offensive tackle moving himself up the board is Virginia's Morgan Moses. As one league source told me, "I can't coach 6'6" and 325. I can coach blocking." NFL scouts love Moses thanks to his mammoth size and crazy reach. But how does he play?

The Senior Bowl week didn't show Moses dominating every drill, but what was most encouraging was his development and progression throughout the week. He showed he was coachable. If a team can refine his footwork, his natural strength and athleticism will make him a premier left tackle at the next level.

Current Ranking: No. 34 overall

 

3. OLB Telvin Smith, FSU

The biggest concern with Telvin Smith as a prospect is his size. At almost 6'3", he weighs just 217 pounds. That's a strong safety, not an outside linebacker. Yet turn on the film and Smith is a nightmare for offenses to contend with.

What I saw in Mobile was a player who used his speed and length to get through blockers and traffic. Coming home from the Senior Bowl, I wanted to see if he did the same throughout the season and what gave him fits as a run defender. Smith's film looked just like his Senior Bowl play, and that's why he's moving up the board.

Current Ranking: No. 61 overall

 

2. CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood

The current NFL trend is to find a long, tall cornerback and play him up on the line of scrimmage in press coverage. The Seattle Seahawks do this better than anyone, and their success will lead to many copycats trying to do the same. Finding the players to run that scheme, though, isn't easy.

Teams hoping to emulate the Seahawks' secondary will like Pierre Desir. The Lindenwood product doesn't have eye-popping stats, but that's because opposing teams didn't throw the ball his way. That was the case at the Senior Bowl too, as the quarterbacks ignored him as much as possible in live situations. Desir is moving up more each time I see him play.

Current Ranking: No. 65 overall

 

1. TE Crockett Gillmore, Colorado State

Injuries at tight end during Senior Bowl practices opened a roster spot for Crockett Gillmore, and he hit the ground running. Gillmore's performances in practices and the game were remarkable given his late arrival in the week. He quickly caught my eye as an athletic performer at the position.

Gillmore wasn't on my radar when the season began, but in viewing several Colorado State games after the Senior Bowl, it's obvious every NFL team will be aware of him. 

Current Ranking: No. 138 overall

 

Five Down

5. OG Cyril Richardson, Baylor

The big Baylor guard looked like a potential first-rounder at times during the season, but during practices at the Senior Bowl, I noticed he was too often caught lunging at defenders when asked to pull or trap. Any lateral movement gave him trouble. Was that showing up in game film?

The Baylor scheme asks for a lot of movement, and Richardson didn't have a consistent habit of back-bending to get to defenders, but it's there on film. With less than ideal agility and flexibility, Richardson has limited himself to being an option for teams running a power- or man-blocking scheme. 

Current Ranking: No. 62 overall

 

4. OLB Michael Sam, Missouri

It may seem like Michael Sam is mentioned here a lot, but where do you play him in the NFL? He's built like an outside linebacker, but his lack of fluid movement and agility is a big problem in space. Sam isn't big enough to play every down as a defensive end in the majority of NFL schemes either.

That's the issue I run into when evaluating his play and setting my player rankings. Where do you play him?

Current Ranking: No. 94 overall

 

3. DT Daniel McCullers, Tennessee

Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

Going back through my practice notes from the Senior Bowl has been interesting. Somehow, last week I missed all the terrible things I had noted about Tennessee's Daniel McCullers.

The big man wasn't expected to be a great athlete, but his stiffness and lack of agility was shocking. And when you're 6'7", you have to be able to play low to the ground; otherwise, offensive linemen will have a field day blocking you. It doesn't matter how big and strong you are if you don't win the leverage game.

Current Ranking: No. 112 overall

 

2. WR Cody Hoffman, BYU

Big wide receivers are in vogue right now, but Cody Hoffman doesn't stand to benefit much from that need. The BYU wide receiver is big, but he doesn't play big. Hoffman makes himself a huge target for cornerbacks playing up on the line of scrimmage, and that's where he struggles most. Without the ability to break off press coverage, Hoffman is opening himself up to kill shots to the chest from cornerbacks—and that's before he even releases into his route.

Hoffman looks the part but doesn't play it.

Current Ranking: No. 188 overall

 

1. DT Will Sutton, Arizona State

No player disappointed me more during Senior Bowl week than Will Sutton.

The Arizona State defensive tackle looked like a first-round pick in 2012, but he played at a much heavier weight in 2013, and it showed. Sutton ballooned to 310 pounds, and his play suffered. The quickness he lived off in previous seasons was gone, and in its place wasn't great strength but a heavy-footed approach.

That showed up all week in Mobile, and even with his quarterback sack in the actual game, Sutton's stock still plummeted.

Current Ranking: No. 66 overall

 

The Scout’s Report

 

— I spoke to former Oregon tight end Colt Lyerla this week. He's training at EXOS in Phoenix and has received an invite to the NFL combine.

— What player did the Jacksonville Jaguars fall in love with at the Senior Bowl? Quarterback Derek Carr from Fresno State led the South team all week with the Jaguars' coaches running practices.

— Rumor has it that UCLA's Anthony Barr is up to 260 pounds after playing at 245 pounds in his final year as a Bruin. Barr should be expected to run in the high-4.4 or low-4.5 range at the combine. I'm told he will run his 40-yard dash there.

— Keep an eye on Virginia's Morgan Moses. One team scout told me to expect a run on offensive tackles again this year and that Moses stands to benefit most at the end of the first round.

— While Colorado State center Weston Richburg won't be a first-round pick, one college scouting director I spoke to& after the Senior Bowl called him the "best in this class."

Jimmie Ward impressed scouts in attendance for the Senior Bowl, and word from one AFC West team is that he's the "best coverage safety" in this year's group.

— I continue to hear talk about Brett Hundley, even after he returned to UCLA for one more season. Rumor has it at least two teams communicated to Hundley through back channels that they would take him in the first round if he declared.

— Where will the San Francisco 49ers look to improve in the offseason? I'm told the front office is focused on the wide receiver position as the team's primary need.

 

A Day in the Life of an NFL Scout

 

Each week you’ll get a glimpse inside the life of everyone’s dream job—being an NFL scout.

What's the life of an area scout like right now? For most scouts, they've been called into the team's headquarters for winter meetings. That's where the entire scouting department goes over film and starts stacking up their draft board.

We covered that here last week, but what you might not know is that the entire scouting department will watch film on players together. For example, in Houston, the Texans' staff is likely going over every quarterback prospect together as a group. This is to encourage conversation and begin the process of vetting the player's abilities.

Each team likes to go into the combine with its rankings started, but they won't be finalized until after pro days.

 

Scouting Dictionary

"Tight Hips" 

Talk to any NFL scout about a group of defensive backs and you're sure to hear this phrase. But what does it mean?

"Tight hips" refers to a player's stiffness in his hips when asked to change direction. For example, if a safety is backpedaling and then must flip his hips and run, is his change of direction smooth or stiff? You ideally want athletes who make seamless, fluid movements in space and don't waste time with stiff hips.

 

Scout’s Take  

 

DT Aaron Donald, Pitt

Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Strengths

Quickness. That's the first thing you notice when viewing Aaron Donald. He's the first man off the line of scrimmage, and that's tough for any offensive lineman to handle. Add in the fact that Donald's shorter frame gives him a natural leverage advantage, and you're talking about a nearly impossible assignment.

The stats don't lie when looking at Donald's film. He's a deadly pass-rusher from the 3-technique position and has the speed to give chase once he clears the offensive line. He's strong enough to give a bull rush and drive back any lineman that does manage to wall him off too.

A complete pass-rusher from the inside, Donald is a day-one starter.

 

Weaknesses

Where is he against the run? That's the biggest issue when watching Donald's games at Pitt. He's dynamic and versatile as a pass-rusher, but when teams ran at him, he could get lost in the shuffle. As a young player, he will have to learn to use his quickness to beat blockers but also learn to throttle down and see the run.

Too often he'll imitate Ndamukong Suh and just explode past the ball-carrier or take himself out of his gap assignment and actually create a rushing lane.

 

Pro Player Comparison: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals

 

The Big Board

 

Updated Top 50 Players
Rank Player Rank Player
1 QB Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville 26 DT Louis Nix, Notre Dame
2 DE Jadeveon Clowney, S. Carolina 27 WR Marqise Lee, USC
3 WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson 28 TE Jace Amaro, Texas Tech
4 OT Greg Robinson, Auburn 29 DT Timmy Jernigan, FSU
5 OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M 30 DT Ra'Shede Hageman, Minn.
6 DE Khalil Mack, Buffalo 31 OLB Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
7 OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA 32 OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU
8 QB Blake Bortles, UCF 33 OG David Yankey, Stanford
9 DE Kony Ealy, Missouri 34 OT Morgan Moses, Virginia
10 CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma St. 35 WR Allen Robinson, Penn State
11 QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M 36 DE Trent Murphy, Stanford
12 WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M 37 RB Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
13 QB Derek Carr, Fresno State 38 WR Brandin Cooks, Oregon St.
14 DE Dee Ford, Auburn 39 DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame
15 TE Eric Ebron, North Carolina 40 CB Bradley Roby, Ohio State
16 ILB C.J. Mosley, Alabama 41 OC Travis Swanson, Arkansas
17 FS Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama 42 WR Jarvis Landry, LSU
18 CB Darqueze Dennard, Michigan St. 43 CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
19 FS Calvin Pryor, Louisville 44 DE Scott Crichton, Oregon St.
20 OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan 45 WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt
21 OT Cyrus Kouandjio, Alabama 46 TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Wash.
22 CB Jason Verrett, TCU 47 RB Tre Mason, Auburn
23 OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame 48 DE Jackson Jeffcoat, Texas
24 WR Odell Beckham, LSU 49 OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
25 DT Aaron Donald, Pitt 50 DE Chris Smith, Arkansas

Matt Miller's Big Board

 An updated Top 300 big board will be available following the Super Bowl.

 

Parting Shots

 

10. The expansion of social media use has been great for the football community, but there seems to be a belief that everyone has to agree on every prospect—and if you don't, you're mortal enemies. That's not always the case with pre-draft evaluations. Everything is fluid this time of year—for the media and NFL teams—and with new information, opinions can (and should) change. Deep breaths, Twitter.

9. What the football team at Northwestern is doing is wonderful. If you haven't heard, the NU football team is attempting to unionize. That would open up major question marks about the NCAA's treatment of "student-athletes" and the fact that college athletes are not paid and cannot earn money from self-promotion.

8. On that same note, the NFL will likely be a silent partner with the NCAA in attempting to block any labor union among athletes. The last thing the NFL wants is a world where college players are paid, thus ending its free farm system for talent.

7. There's been a lot of talk about the NY/NJ Super Bowl, but four days in and it doesn't even feel like the Super Bowl is being played here—much unlike the feel in New Orleans last year. New York City is just too big to be overtaken by Big Game Madness.

6. The NFL Scouting Combine needs to grow. That is, if we're going to have 100-plus underclassmen entering the draft each year. The combine doesn't have a set number of invites at its disposal, but with so many more players now available in a given draft class, it's time to expand.

5. The NFL has a real problem on its hands with so many underclassmen entering the draft. The biggest? Players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. The Senior Bowl is a great chance for players to earn their way up draft boards in front of all 32 teams, but juniors aren't allowed that opportunity. If the trend of so many underclassmen entering continues—and it will—some type of showcase needs to be put together so players can try to help themselves.

4. Speaking of the combine, the media spectacle surrounding Johnny Manziel will eclipse the famous crowds for Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III and Manti Te'o. It's going to be insane.

3. One final combine note: Why can fans buy a ticket to watch drills, but the media is stuck in a workroom with TVs on the wall? Access to the workouts wouldn't be a bad thing, NFL. We'll even be quiet so the coaches and scouts can watch in silence.

2. The NFL is a copycat league, and every team will want the next Richard Sherman. That's good news for taller cornerbacks in this year's draft class. Guys like Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Keith McGill and Pierre Desir could stand to benefit.

1. Discussion of Marshawn Lynch and his bare-bones media sessions dominated much of Wednesday's Twitter feed. My take? I don't care. There are 53 players on each roster as well as a handful of coaches and executives to talk to. One player not talking is of no consequence. While some will claim they need quotes from Lynch to file a story, his not talking has given them even more to write about.

 

Twitter Must-Follow of the Week 

 

@danpompei, Dan Pompei

I've always tried to reserve this spot in the article for non-Bleacher Report writers as a way to inform readers about great football follows and to not seem to be a commercial for my co-workers. This week, there is a well-deserved exception.

Dan Pompei was one of my favorite writers back when I only dreamed of being a paid writer. He's been covering the NFL almost as long as I've been alive and is a well-connected, intelligent, talented writer.

Take this piece, where Dan was embedded with Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff for Senior Bowl week. If you haven't read the article yet, you need to. It's a great behind-the-scenes look into an NFL front office and what goes down at the Senior Bowl.

 

Working & Reading

 

Here's a quick look at what I'm working on and reading this week.

Top 10 series: A look at the top 10 players at each position in the 2014 draft class. (Me)

The Daily Snaffler: MMQB's unique look at every day of Super Bowl week. (MMQB)

WR Metrics 2.0: Greg Peshek's breakdown of wide receiver prospect statistics. (Rotoworld)

Saturday Down South: How many 5-star running backs lived up to the hype? (SDS)

PFF: North vs. South, 2014 Senior Bowl analysis (Pro Football Focus)

 

Content schedule

Monday, Feb. 3: Updated seven-round mock draft, plus Highlighting the Top 10 Offensive Linemen.

Tuesday, Feb. 4: Highlighting the Top 10 Tight Ends.

Wednesday, Feb. 5: Highlighting the Top 10 Wide Receivers.

Thursday, Feb. 6: Scouting Notebook, plus Highlighting the Top 10 Running Backs.

Friday, Feb. 7: Highlighting the Top 10 Quarterbacks.

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