2015 NFL Draft: 7 Myths About This Year's Draft
There’s nothing perfect about the NFL draft and the tedious process that precedes it. Everybody makes mistakes and gets things wrong. Nevertheless, the constant concern about getting an evaluation wrong deters us from sticking our necks out there on an island.
A safe route would be to regurgitate consensus opinions about prospects so we're not alone in our predictions or in our misses. This article steps out on a limb where few dare to venture to dispel some common misperceptions and myths regarding the 2015 draft class.
Myth: Michigan CB Trae Waynes Is an Elite Physical Specimen
Do I believe Trae Waynes will become a decent NFL starter? I do. I like the way he plays the game with physicality and aggression. He also has great top-end speed, as demonstrated in his blazing 4.31 40 time.
However, a fast 40 time is actually just a small portion of the physical attributes worth considering for NFL prospects. It appears both media analysts and NFL teams can be too consumed with height and 40 times when drawing conclusions about a prospect's physical tools. This, among other things, has led to a myth that Waynes has elite speed and length for an NFL cornerback.
It's fair to say Waynes has some trouble changing directions and with his lateral movements based on his short shuttle (4.19) and three-cone (7.06) times.
When you combine and average his time in the 40-yard dash, three-cone drill and short shuttle, he ranks 15th out of 23 cornerbacks with completed times in those categories from this draft class. Looking at the complete picture of Waynes' speed paints a much different picture than a guy touted as an elite athlete at cornerback.
The notion that he has good size and length is also false. Waynes is on the lighter side for a cornerback at 186 pounds, he has slightly below-average arm length at 31 inches and his 8 ¼-inch hands are tiny for any position. This gives Waynes below-average dimensions for an NFL cornerback, which can be even more worrisome for a guy who plays as physical as he does in press-man coverage.
Myth: Shane Ray and Dante Fowler Jr. Are the Best Edge-Rushers
Sometimes it's hard to explain how two people can look at the same prospect and come away with completely different results with regards to how that player will transition to the NFL. There's a pretty strong camp of respectable draft analysts singing the praises of edge-rushers Shane Ray and Dante Fowler Jr.
NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein has both names ranked in his top two at the position, and if you scour the Internet or Twitter you'll quickly find that Zierlein is not alone in his rankings or his praise for these guys.
Fowler is a natural athlete on tape, but his instincts and football IQ are concerning. He is constantly out of position and making poor choices that often cost his team yardage. Some might say coaching is a quick fix here, but personal experience suggests otherwise.
Fowler also can be seen getting pushed around more than I'd like, drawing questions about his functional strength. Overall, he could turn into a decent NFL starter; drafting him with higher expectations than that is incredibly risky.
Ray is a high-energy player with quick feet and a relentless motor. He is undersized for a defensive end and also lacks power in his game to really hold his own against NFL blockers. However, he can find seams and windows into the opponent's backfield.
My concerns with Ray are his lack of hand usage to beat blockers, no creativity with counter moves and a frame that gets overpowered by bigger linemen, especially in the run.
The other thing about Ray is he that only demonstrated the ability to be productive for one season at Missouri. He could be a one-year wonder. Add that to his subpar pro day, and there should be major doubts about him as an elite prospect. For perspective, Ray has the second-worst measurables of any edge-rusher in this draft class.
Myth: Leonard Williams Isn't Explosive
Watching game tape of USC's dynamic and versatile defensive lineman Leonard Williams reveals one of the most complete prospects in the 2015 draft class. Despite this, he has not been impervious to doubters. Apparently, Greg Cosell of NFL Films believes Williams is not explosive, as relayed by ESPN's Paul Kuharsky.
He is not the only critic of Williams' explosion. It seems to be a fairly common concern, and I can see how that myth could be generated.
Williams has a rather unorthodox strategy for getting off the ball where he pauses before attacking the line of scrimmage. When watching tape, this can look like he's incredibly slow getting off the ball and doesn't explode when the ball is snapped.
In reality, this has nothing to do with Williams' explosive capabilities and more to do with his tendency to read the play based on the flow of the linemen and the players around him in his peripherals. It's this very ability that helps him to beat blockers.
You can also see that even though Williams is late to get off the ball, he is actually quite quick when he decides to make his move. He simply understands the value of timing more than most defensive linemen and plays the game with incredible intelligence. This is not always easy to translate from game tape if you don't know what you're looking for.
Williams was explosive enough to run a sub-five-second 40-yard dash at the combine despite weighing over 300 pounds, a feat only two defensive linemen achieved in this class.
Myth: Hau'oli Kikaha's Incredible College Production Is Misleading
Washington's pass-rush specialist, Hau'oli Kikaha, was one of the most productive college pass-rushers in a long time. I've been tracking career production of college prospects since 2012, and Kikaha is the most productive of all of them, despite suffering two serious knee injuries during that time.
In just his last two seasons with the Huskies, Kikaha amassed 40.5 tackles for loss and 32 sacks.
Many analysts believe college statistics can be deceiving and provide a false perception of a player's true ability, judging by the lack of love Kikaha is getting. To some degree, this is true.
Utah's Nate Orchard would be an example of a pass-rush prospect whose production in college falsely represents his actual ability. However, Orchard generated most of his success in his final season (he posted six sacks in his three seasons at Utah before notching 18.5 sacks in 2014), whereas Kikaha has established an impressive degree of consistency over the course of several years.
Though the jury is still out on what type of athlete Kikaha is until his pro day on April 2 shines some light there, we can see there are better athletes available in this draft class at the edge.
However, few guys coming out of college have the polish and technique that Kikaha has. His martial arts background has helped him to become one of the most creative and effective pass-rushers in terms of hand technique. It's safe to say he is highly advanced in this area, even by NFL standards.
Kikaha is a relentless-effort guy who flashes a similar motor as the Packers' Clay Matthews. He also demonstrates nice body control, fluidity and balance despite having some stiffness and limitations with explosive speed. He uses his physical tools well by mastering leverage and showing good functional strength for an undersized prospect.
When you combine all of this with uncanny hand technique and good instincts, you have a guy who should be able to translate into a productive NFL pass-rusher, even with his perceived physical limitations.
The biggest thing hurting his draft value at this point is injury concerns.
Myth: Kevin White Is Better Than DeVante Parker
Nearly everywhere I look, Kevin White is rated ahead of DeVante Parker. Admittedly, it's very difficult to rank these two receivers, and the gap between them is narrow. But this is the very reason it's a surprise to see such a consensus emerge that White is the superior prospect.
If you ask me, it has less to do with the way these guys play football and more to do with the fact that White is the bigger (6'3", 215) and faster (4.35 40-yard dash) athlete. Parker is lighter and ran one-tenth of a second slower in his 40-yard dash.
Both receivers display impressive traits that should yield highly successful NFL careers, and both are projected to be taken in the first round in Matt Miller's latest mock draft for Bleacher Report. Miller has White going fourth overall to the Raiders as the first receiver taken in the draft.
Parker has more functional strength and better abilities to release off the line, and he's a more dangerous prospect with the ball in his hand. Having the edge in these major categories is enough for me to give Parker the edge as a prospect, especially considering both wideouts don't seem to have worrisome issues with drops.
At the lowest form of my argument, there should not be such a strong consensus of draft analysts ranking White over Parker—their talent is just too close to have that kind of confidence. But if I'm leaning in a direction, it's toward Parker.
Myth: Kansas LB Ben Heeney Doesn't Tackle Well Enough to Play in the NFL
Ben Heeney's player profile on NFL.com includes two references to his poor tackling ability. Under "Weaknesses," it reads: "Was the college football leader in missed tackles in 2014.” Then there is this quote from an NFC area scout: "I'm not saying he doesn't have instincts or work hard, but he guesses way too much. He's always around the ball, but he's also missing too many tackles to play in our league."
This quote is the myth I'd like to address here.
It's true—Heeney does miss an inordinate number of tackles. But that's partly because he is always flying around to the ball and putting himself in position to make a play. He needs to learn how to throttle down some before engaging in the tackle.
Basically, Heeney is so darn fast that he still hasn't completely learned how to control himself in space. But it's that very speed combined with savvy instincts that affords him an unusual number of opportunities to both miss and make tackles.
It's worth noting that Heeney has made far more tackles than he's missed throughout his career. Out of all the FBS prospects from this class, regardless of position, only four players (Eric Kendricks, Denzel Perryman, Clayton Geathers and Derron Smith) had more career solo tackles than Heeney's 218.
Heeney also finished second behind Michigan's Jake Ryan among non-rush linebackers in tackles for loss (35.5) throughout his career. Finally, in terms of solo tackles per game over a career, Heeney finished third among his position group.
All of that production came while having to adjust to different coaches and schemes. "I had three head coaches in my four years here, I had three defensive coordinators, I had three different position coaches," Heeney told Bleacher Report's Dan Hope. "None of the circumstances that I was playing with were beneficial."
Sure, he misses tackles while flying to the ball at incredible speeds, but making the statement that he is such a poor tackler that he can't thrive in the NFL is a complete and utter myth that will be dispelled in time.
Myth: Marcus Peters Is the Best Cornerback in the Draft
Marcus Peters does some good things on a football field. He enters the draft as one of the most productive cornerbacks in this class and is third in career interceptions (11) among the group of FBS prospects.
Peters also has ideal length for the position. But like Waynes, he is not an elite athlete. He has adequate physical tools for an NFL cornerback—this is not really concerning. What is concerning is his apparent allergic reaction to contact.
The former Husky consistently shows hesitation to make tackles and get dirty; however, when the whistle blows, he suddenly gets a ton of courage and is more than willing to get in the opponent's face. Unfortunately, this desire for conflict rarely finds its way between the snap and whistle.
You can routinely find Peters getting swallowed up by blockers, which looks to be a combination of a lack of effort and functional strength.
When scouting cornerbacks, an important trait for me is tenacity. This is an element missing from his game.
With that said, Peters is one of the better man-cover corners in this draft; he has fluidity and a knack for making plays. He should end up being a good pro, perhaps in the mold of an Antonio Cromartie—and we haven't even gotten into the character concerns regarding him being kicked off the team at Washington.
Calling him the best corner in this draft, though, as Matt Miller does in the video above, is a myth perpetuated by some of the best and most respected analysts in the business.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player writing for Bleacher Report.