Welcome to Bleacher Report's NFL1000 Scouting Notebook, a weekly series where we'll use the power of the 16-man NFL1000 scouting department to bring you fresh insights into the game and explain some of the more interesting (and potentially controversial) grades we give players every week.
The full list of NFL1000 grades will be released Thursday, and we will attempt to preview some of what we are seeing in our film analysis here.
This week, we will go through a few hot topics, including Dak Prescott versus Tony Romo and Jamie Collins' transition to outside linebacker in Cleveland. But let's start out with an in-depth look at San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon's big week.
Is Melvin Gordon for Real?
Written by John Middlekauff
Simply put: yes.
|NFL1000: Week 9 Top 5 Running Backs|
|NFL1000 Week 9 Data|
Many considered him a first-round bust as a rookie, yet many view him as a future star as a second-year player. Things change fast in the NFL, and no player has changed the narrative on his career more in the past 12 months than Gordon. He has exploded this season: third in the NFL in rushing yards (768) and tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with nine.
He was dominant Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, a defense that allows fewer than 100 yards a game (96.4)—ranking 10th in the NFL—yet Gordon ran 32 times for 196 yards. He is playing with a consistent physical nature that was missing from his game last year. While his offensive line has been much healthier in 2016, Gordon deserves the majority of the credit for his success this season. One run that captures his rise to stardom came late in the fourth quarter against the Titans:
In 2015, he danced around contact and was very hesitant when it came to hitting the hole. This season, he is not only hitting the hole, but he is breaking tackles and getting downhill with a purpose. He is running with a great low pad level and is excellent in terms of keeping his feet working on contact. This allows him to break a lot of soft arm tackles and create runs that look to be dead before he runs through a defender, resulting in game-changing plays.
After not having a single touchdown in 2015, he has exploded this season with nine. One area he has really excelled in is goal-line carries. While rookie fullback Derek Watt has added a physical run-blocking element to San Diego’s offense, Gordon’s physical running style and willingness to play smashmouth football have ramped up in 2016.
Everyone in the stadium knew what was coming, yet Gordon, led by Watt, would not be denied. I'm not sure there has been a more physical runner in the red zone this season than Gordon. The touchdown play above shows how hard he runs in short-yardage situations and how important Watt has been to the Chargers' resurgent run game.
|Melvin Gordon Week 9 NFL1000 Scores (Sneak Peek)|
|NFL1000 Scouts (John Middlekauff)|
Gordon has also been excellent out of the backfield as a receiver. After making 33 catches as a rookie, he already has 28 through nine games in 2016. He has been excellent in the screen game, an area in which the Chargers have depended on him heavily because of the injury to Danny Woodhead. He also has been very good catching the ball on swing routes out of the backfield. Overall, he has operated as a great security blanket for Rivers when his downfield passing game is all covered up.
There is no reason why Gordon won’t continue to dominate in the second half of the season. It really is amazing what confidence can do for a player, and there is not a more confident young player in the NFL right now than Gordon.
The All-22: Cowboys Should Turn to Romo Despite Big Week from Dak Prescott
Written by Cian Fahey
There was nothing to be learned from Prescott's performance against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Prescott is a rookie quarterback, so you typically want to value every exposure to his skill set you get. However, Prescott has done enough so far this season that we don't need to see him perform in a seven-on-seven drill.
Ray Horton's defense offered no resistance to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. Whether it was pass rush or coverage, the Browns rarely ever got near the Cowboys player who had the ball.
In the above image, you can see Prescott's touchdown pass to Cole Beasley. His pocket was solidified by great protection, and Joe Haden's blown coverage left Beasley wide open.
For one of his other touchdowns, the Browns completely sold out to stop the run on a play fake at the goal line. This gave Prescott time in the pocket to hold the ball while he waited for his tight end to leak out into the flat. Nobody was even close to Gavin Escobar as he waited for the ball to comfortably arrive in his grasp.
Not every play was so easy. Prescott also had a near-touchdown pass against tight coverage to Dez Bryant and hit Beasley with a precise throw for a first down against pressure. An overwhelming majority of what he did was easy, though. An overwhelming majority of his plays looked like those two touchdown throws. For a rookie, he would deserve credit for making plays when there were plays there to be made. Prescott is past the point where we should view him through rookie glasses.
At this point in the season, Prescott has proved to be a very intelligent quarterback who is poised in the pocket and athletic enough to execute elaborate play fakes or scramble when the play breaks down. He doesn't rely on his running ability—far from it. Instead, he makes use of the pass protection he is given to scan through his progressions and find the right receiver. What Prescott has done to this point in the season has been nothing short of spectacular.
The only consistent issue Prescott has had has been ball placement. He struggles to throw into tight coverage. This has limited Bryant when he's been available because he hasn't been given enough 50-50 balls where he could use his athleticism and ball skills against inferior defenders. The inconsistency with Prescott's ball placement hasn't been so problematic that it has hindered the offense as a whole.
|Dak Prescott NFL1000 Week 9 Scores (Sneak Peek)|
|NFL1000 Scouts (Cian Fahey)|
If the Cowboys didn't have a legitimate top-10 quarterback returning, there would be no question about sticking with Prescott through the rest of the season and into next year. However, Romo will be available soon. So that scenario is irrelevant for the Cowboys.
Prescott's performance against the Browns wasn't notable, but his mistakes against the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles were where he threw an interception each game. The Cowboys still won those games, but they relied on their opponents to waste opportunities. Against Philadelphia, Prescott completed under 50 percent of his passes. You can't repeatedly do that and expect to sustain success. Romo has a reputation of being a mistake-prone quarterback, but it's an unfair reputation. If the Cowboys want to maximize their short-term output and pick the best quarterback for this season, they should put Romo back in the starting lineup when he's ready.
That would allow the Cowboys to get the best of both worlds. Prescott would still be the future and in line to be the starter once Romo moves on. The Cowboys would get a veteran and a more precise passer to maximize their chances of winning a Super Bowl this season.
Scouting with Schofield: Antonio Gates
Now in his 14th season, San Diego Chargers’ tight end Antonio Gates just keeps chuggling along. For over the past decade the Kent State product has been a mainstay in the Chargers’ offense, and through seven games he is on pace to turn in another 50-catch season. Gates caught five passes on nine targets for 75 yards and a touchdown in San Diego’s win Sunday over Tennessee, and while the receiving stats are solid, Gates’ ability to contribute both with and without the football in his hands remains impressive at this stage in his career. Here are a few plays that illustrate his ability both as a target - particularly on third down - and as a blocker.
Ask the Scouts
Question: Last week, the New England Patriots made waves around the NFL by trading inside linebacker Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns for a conditional third-round pick. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, Collins was seeking Von Miller money in his next contract, which may have prompted the trade. The Cleveland Browns shifted Collins to outside linebacker this past week. What did you see in his first game as a Brown, and do you think he could command that type of contract this offseason?
Answer from Zach Kruse, OLB Scout: Collins’ first game in Cleveland showed why the Browns were so happy to get him and why the Patriots weren’t prepared to offer him huge money. He was an inconsistent mix of splash plays and blown assignments.
On one run-down in the first half, Collins beat the block attempt of Ronald Leary and brought down Alfred Morris for a short gain. In the same half, Collins lost Jason Witten in zone coverage and allowed an easy touchdown pass. Later, he was able to shed All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith on the edge and stop Ezekiel Elliott for a three-yard loss. But he also lost the edge on a 3rd-and-1 pitch play, which saw Elliott beat him to the corner for an easy first down. His inside penetration on Elliott’s first touchdown forced the rookie running back to bounce the run outside, but he also left the edge wide open for the score.
The Browns signed off on the trade, likely with every intention of making Collins a big part of their future and a highly paid player. They will have to live with both the big plays and the big misses.
Question: Jimmy Graham had an abysmal debut season with the Seattle Seahawks in 2015. This year, he's been a revelation, catching 38 passes for 545 yards and three touchdowns through eight games, and he capped Week 9 off with an eight-catch, 103-yard performance on Monday Night Football. Many thought the nearly 30-year-old tight end was over the hill entering this campaign. What have you seen this season—Monday night specifically? Is Graham completely back to his former self?
Answer from Alex Kirby, WR Scout: One thing you never want to do when scouting a player is take too much from one game, or a small sample size of plays. That said, Jimmy Graham did everything on Monday night to show me and everyone else that he can still make all the plays he used to make.
He stretched the field vertically, he found the openings in zone coverage over the middle, he made the quick cuts to get open against man coverage, and he even contributed up front as a blocker against that tough Buffalo front line. He did everything you expect from a guy touted as an elite player in this league.
It’s hard to imagine a guy so close to 30 and coming off an injury will ever get back to exactly where he was as an athlete, but Graham still has a lot in the tank, and the good news for him is he’s got an offensive coordinator in Darrell Bevell creative enough to maximize his talents as a receiver.