2015 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Pre-Combine Scouting Notebook

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2015 NFL Draft: Matt Miller's Pre-Combine Scouting Notebook
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While you're reading this article, I'm packing my bags for the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where I'll be covering the event for the fourth year. Combine week is a flurry of interviews, workouts and late-night talks with agents, scouts, coaches and general managers—for both players and media members. 

Before we get into combine week, here's what I'm hearing around the league and a look at an updated Round 1 mock draft pre-combine.

The Scout's Report

— This is a draft article, but first a very credible rumor that will affect the draft: I'm told the New York Jets plan to roll out the red carpet for Demaryius Thomas if he doesn't receive the franchise tag from the Denver Broncos. 

— After seeing Dorial Green-Beckham in person before the Super Bowl, I started asking NFL scouts what they've heard about his year at Oklahoma. As one Southwest scout assigned to Oklahoma told me, "He's completely turned his life around. Big brother moved in, whipped his ass and took control. He's on the straight-and-narrow since leaving Mizzou."

— As teams get together at headquarters to group-scout players, one director of scouting told me he was "very surprised" by Green-Beckham's speed on tape. "He has a lot more scoot than I saw back in January." 

— Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper was called the "most polished receiver I've seen" by a general manager I spoke with this week. "He's a scheme nightmare because we can line him up anywhere on the field."

— Former Washington cornerback Marcus Peters will get a lot of space in this article, but it's important to note that he'll be working out at the Husky's Pro Day in early April, per a team source. Peters was dismissed from the team midway through the year.

— I asked around this week to get a feel for a player who may "blow up" at the combine. Washington State defensive tackle Xavier Cooper received several votes from scouts. The 6'4", 299-pound tackle moves like a much smaller guy. Athletically, he's comparable to Sheldon Richardson.

— Fans love sleepers, and while talking to scouts this week I heard twice that I'm underrating Texas cornerback Quandre Diggs and Fresno State defensive tackle Tyeler Davison

— I'm continually asked if Shaq Thompson will play linebacker, safety or running back in the NFL. Thompson said it this week in a draft diary he's writing for USA Today: "I'm a linebacker. Outside linebacker. Strong side, that's where I feel most comfortable.

— Florida State cornerback Ronald Darby is planning to compete at the combine, and sources close to his training tell me he could run in the 4.3-range in the 40-yard-dash.

Five Up, Five Down

With the NFL Scouting Combine approaching, here's a look at five players moving up and five players moving down my board after extended film review.

5. T D.J. Humphries, Florida

The Florida left tackle was in this spot last week, too, and for good reason D.J. Humphries finds himself moving up again. 

Thanks to three new games being uploaded to my Hudl account, I was able to see Humphries against LSU, Kentucky and Alabama. Humphries, especially against LSU, looked like a potential first-rounder. He is lean and will need to bulk up in the NFL, but he has a frame that can easily add weight. His speed, vision and patience as a blocker really stand out.

4. CB Jalen Collins, LSU

Jalen Collins is listed at 6'2", 198 pounds. The trouble for cornerbacks of that size is they get typecast as slow, or stiff movers, and teams tend to overlook them. Collins, though, moves very well for his size and has the type of agility and speed to fly through transitions and breaks on the ball.

Collins' technique is a bit raw at times, but his height/weight/speed/length are ideal for today's NFL and he's a physical player working back to the ball. 

3. DT Eddie Goldman, FSU

If you want to watch a 314-pound man dominate an offensive line, watch Eddie Goldman against Louisville. I charted two tackles for a loss, one sack (for a 12-yard loss) and multiple double-teams that opened up pass-rushing lanes for his teammates.

Goldman has the quickness to be a real threat on the defensive line and the versatility to play a couple of different alignments. I like him best as a nose tackle, but he could be a fit for any team and any front.

2. CB Marcus Peters, Washington

Take his off-field concerns away and Marcus Peters is a top-10 player in this draft and the highest cornerback I've graded since Patrick Peterson. He's that good. And those off-field concerns may be going away. 

As I reported this week, Peters went to visit Washington head coach Chris Petersen to apologize again for his role in being dismissed from the team. And in an interview with USA Today, Peters took full responsibility for his actions. 

That accountability will be huge for teams, and with a good round of interviews at the combine, Peters could easily get into the top 10.

1. DE Dante Fowler, Florida

With the NFL Free Agency 100 series complete, I had time this week to refocus on many of the juniors who entered the 2015 class. Dante Fowler was a player I felt comfortable with but wanted to see a few more games to finalize a pre-combine report on him. 

Fowler has unreal burst for a 260-pounder, and he plays with a violence and toughness you want from a defender. He's an attacking player with a nonstop motor and a love for football. And while he's only listed at 6'3", his length is exceptional. He can play in a 4-3 or 3-4 defense.


1. DE Vic Beasley, Clemson 

Vic Beasley was productive and disruptive as a pass-rusher for Clemson over the last two seasons, but does that production carry over to what the NFL wants in an edge player?

Clemson listed Beasley at 235 pounds—a figure every scout I've spoken to doesn't believe, saying he's closer to 225 pounds. Giving him the benefit of the doubt and saying he'll bulk up to 235 pounds for the combine, he's still tiny by NFL standards for a pass-rusher.

A 4-3 edge-rusher is, by a scouting guide ideal, 266 pounds. Say he's a 3-4 outside linebacker, you're still looking at 256 pounds as an ideal for the position. Bruce Irvin weighed 245 pounds at the combine and may be the best hope for the smaller Beasley.

2. DT Jordan Phillips, Oklahoma

I've never been one to buy into the hype of oversize players. I didn't get the Ra'Shede Hageman in Round 1 talk last year and I don't get the Jordan Phillips in Round 1 talk this year.

Phillips is enormous at 6'6", 334 pounds, but he is very inconsistent on film with his pad height and his effort. Yes, he flashes plays where you think he's the best player on the field, but there is little middle ground with him. It's all-or-nothing and too often nothing.

3. WR Sammie Coates, Auburn

Separation is important for wide receivers, but ability to catch is still most important. Sammie Coates is great at one, not the other. 

In games I've charted—four so far—Coates is struggling to catch the ball cleanly more than any player I've seen this year. Of course the same was said of Kelvin Benjamin and Jordan Matthews last year and both improved once in the NFL. But Coates' lack of development as a route-runner and as a hands catcher adds up to a fall down my board.

4. OLB Hau'oli Kikaha, Washington

Two ACL surgeries in the past and a subpar Senior Bowl week for Hau'oli Kikaha—and more film study on my part—have me souring on the Washington star after having him as early as a late-first-round pick at one point.

Going back to re-watch Washington games, I was surprised at how much of Kikaha's production was generated not by him, but by teammates flushing the pocket or freeing him up to make the play. As offenses focused on Danny Shelton and Shaq Thompson, Kikaha made many uncontested plays on the quarterback.

5. RB Jay Ajayi, Boise State

The 2015 running back class is very deep and very talented. Junior Jay Ajayi will have his name included in that list of eight or nine backs with starting talent in the NFL, but the more I focus on his game film, the more I have concerns.

Ajayi loves to bounce runs to the edge, which is surprising given his 6'0", 216-pound frame. He has power and can run over defenders, but he loves to get outside the tackle box to run. I'd prefer he just hit the hole with power consistently. You look at Ajayi and think he'd be a nightmare to block for given his erratic decision-making with the ball.

Scouting Report: Dante Fowler, Florida

Throughout the 2014 draft season, one draft prospect will be highlighted each week with a first-look scouting report.

John Raoux/Associated Press

Defensive End Dante Fowler, Florida (6'3", 260 lbs)

Strengths

  • Shows exceptional length for his 6'3" frame.
  • Has top-tier, elite burst for his size.
  • Attacks the line of scrimmage and is the most aggressive player in the draft.
  • Shows the ability to convert speed to power and vice versa.
  • Fights for positioning and works down the line of scrimmage at high levels.
  • Has enough strength to put on effective bull rush and push back line of scrimmage.
  • Uses hands well to knock away offensive linemen.
  • Projects as an immediate starter and impact pass-rusher.
  • A very physical player who dominates with strength and shows toughness.
  • High-ceiling player with tons of potential ahead of him.

Weaknesses

  • Moved around the Florida defense and doesn't have a developed position.
  • Hasn't been exposed to pass coverage if projecting as a 3-4 outside linebacker.
  • Can get caught trying to use a stutter-step head fake and give up his frame.
  • May be physically maxed out. 
     

Pro Player Comparison: Chandler Jones, New England Patriots

The Big Board

With the NFL Scouting Combine so close, here is one final look at a 2015 Mock Draft before draft season heats up.

Pre-Combine NFL Mock Draft
Pick Team Player
1 TB QB Jameis Winston, FSU
2 TEN OLB Randy Gregory, Nebraska
3 JAX DT Leonard Williams, USC
4 OAK WR Kevin White, West Virginia
5 WSH OLB Dante Fowler, Florida
6 NYJ QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
7 CHI NT Danny Shelton, Washington
8 ATL DE Shane Ray, Missouri
9 NYG OLB Shaq Thompson, Washington
10 STL WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
11 MIN WR DeVante Parker, Louisville
12 CLV OLB Alvin Dupree, Kentucky
13 NO CB Marcus Peters, Washington
14 MIA DT Malcom Brown, Texas
15 SF G Brandon Scherff, Iowa
16 HOU ILB Benardrick McKinney, Miss. State
17 SD T La'el Collins, LSU
18 KC SS Landon Collins, Alabama
19 CLV DE Arik Armstead, Oregon
20 PHI CB Jalen Collins, LSU
21 CIN DT Eddie Goldman, FSU
22 PIT OLB Eli Harold, Virginia
23 DET DT Carl Davis, Iowa
24 ARZ WR Jaelen Strong, Arizona State
25 CAR T Andrus Peat, Stanford
26 BAL WR Devin Funchess, Michigan
27 DAL FS Gerod Holliman, Louisville
28 DEN T Ereck Flowers, Miami (Fla.)
29 IND RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
30 GB ILB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
31 SEA RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
32 NE DE Owa Odighizuwa, UCLA

Matt Miller

David J. Phillip/Associated Press

Parting Shots 

10. Accountability and credibility are very important to me, so I'm not hesitant or afraid to admit when I'm wrong about a player. Each week, I'll post my scouting notes summary and a ranking of a player I feel hasn't or didn't live up to my predraft expectations.

Grade: No. 6 overall

"A nightmare in the open field, (blank) has rare size, speed and change of direction skills. He dominated as a deep threat and return man, showcasing his off-the-charts ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. He has top-tier potential to become a top five wide receiver in the NFL."

Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings

9. And now for a player I hit on. A "hit" can be defined a few ways, but a player ranked/drafted higher than the NFL viewed him is how I categorize one, though.

Grade: No. 73 overall

"(Blank) is a mauler and a physical anchor on the defensive line. He has dominated small school levels and at the Senior Bowl proved his ability as a disruptor and athlete. He has exceptional size, but unreal agility, flexibility and athleticism for his size."

— Brandon Williams, Baltimore Ravens

8. I have to share this great information from Field Yates of ESPN: "32 players NOT invited to 2014 Combine were drafted, while 111 players invited to Indy were not selected."

A combine invite is big but not the final factor in determining which players get drafted.

7. With final draft grades getting close, it looks as though Teddy Bridgewater will hold the title of best quarterback from the 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts. While I like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota a lot, no quarterback in this class ranks as highly as I put Bridgewater (No. 1 overall) in a historic draft class. 

6. The NFL combine can be overblown at times, but one thing that's very important is getting an accurate measurement on players. For quarterback Marcus Mariota, his hand size is particularly important to me. Mariota had 27 fumbles at Oregon and if he's close to the 9" threshold for hand size, it'll make waves.

5. The hashtag "#adviceforyoungjournalists" was trending this week, and since I know many aspiring journalists and scouts read this article, it feels like a good idea to repost my tweets here in case you missed them on Twitter.

A. Never, ever, ever burn a bridge. The media world is a small one.

B. The best thing I did early on was to become the guy willing to do the work no one else wanted.

C. You will be told "no." Learn from it, but don't give up.

D. Someone, or groups of someones, will ultimately hate you. Let them. They're still paying your bills.

E. Making it in this business takes equal parts perseverance and talent.

F. Be prepared to out work your competition now and your potential replacement later.

4. Two bits of scouting advice: Don't try to reinvent the process. Rather, work on perfecting the process that exists. Reinventing the process is how Bryan Anger goes ahead of Russell Wilson; and don't focus too much on one bad play, but look to see if that bad play repeats itself on film. 

3The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hold the first pick in the 2015 NFL draft, and they released quarterback Josh McCown this week. That led Martin Fennelly of the Tampa Bay Tribune to write that the team is "locked in" on a quarterback with the first pick. That's not exactly surprising, but the release of McCown all but secures a quarterback will be drafted first.

2. Two must-read pieces this week, both from USA Today:

Marcus Peters, from dismissal to fresh start

Paul Dawson, fighting negative perceptions

1. This reminder is for me as well as you: Don't buy into the combine hype. Fast times in the 40-yard dash are impressive, but they have to be validated on tape.

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