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NFL1000 Notebook: The Best Rookie Defender You've Never Heard Of

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistOctober 26, 2016

Oct 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Jatavis Brown (57) gestures from the field during the second half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego won 21-13. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

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. 

Let's start this week with a film study on a rookie linebacker who has been flying under the national radar this year. 

 

The All-22: Chargers LB Jatavis Brown Looks Like a Draft-Day Steal

Written by Jerod Brown

The San Diego Chargers used their third overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft to select a defensive stud. Joey Bosa has been playing well from the moment he suited up. He’s the talk of the town. Quietly, with Bosa commanding the spotlight, another Chargers rookie defender has quickly become a rising star in a league that increasingly values versatility.

The San Diego Chargers selected linebacker Jatavis Brown (5'11", 221 lbs) with the 175th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Brown played at the University of Akron and was seen as a tweener, lacking the prototypical size to be an immediate starter in the NFL.

With top-notch athleticism and speed, Brown carved a role as the backup to Manti Te'o. When an injury ended Te’o’s season in Week 3, San Diego inserted Brown into the starting lineup. Since becoming the starter alongside Denzel Perryman, Brown has continued to develop as an interior run defender, including posting the highest Week 6 overall grade for inside linebackers for his performance against the Denver Broncos.

Jatavis Brown Week-by-Week NFL1000 Scores
WeekGradeILB Rank
16544
27230
38012
47619
57317
6801
768TBA
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Let’s look at a couple of plays from this week that highlight what Brown does well and why he's likely easing the concerns of the San Diego front office.

Brown’s most difficult task came in Week 7 against the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons have two of the best receiving running backs in the league in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. Brown was primarily responsible for backfield coverage against Freeman and was impressive when challenged.

Take this play with eight minutes, 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Falcons align with three wide receivers on the line of scrimmage and a tight end in the backfield to the right of quarterback Matt Ryan, with Freeman to the left of Ryan. Brown is aligned over Freeman before the play begins.

NFL Gamepass All-22

At the snap, Freeman takes a wide release and pushes vertical through the line of scrimmage before rounding his route toward the sideline. As Ryan takes his drop, his reads are on the left, as Atlanta ran an inward-breaking whip route with receiver Julio Jones behind Freeman. Brown is with Freeman step-for-step as he tries to create separation toward the sideline, forcing Ryan to hold on to the ball.  

NFL Gamepass All-22

After Brown comfortably deals with Freeman’s out to begin the route, Freeman runs an up, a favorite concept of the Atlanta offense and one that gave the Denver Broncos inside linebackers major issues. Brown seamlessly flips his hips and runs the sideline with Freeman, displaying the cover skills and athleticism that stood out before he was drafted.

NFL Gamepass All-22

The result of the play is a completion to Jones—a good throw and catch—but Brown demonstrated excellent speed, athleticism and cover skills to run with one of the best receiving backs in the league.

Brown was known for his ability in coverage, but his aggressiveness and athleticism in the run game have been his greatest improvement early in his rookie season. Just a few plays after covering Freeman, Brown demonstrated his ability to diagnose in a hurry and redirect running backs.

With 7:11 remaining in the first quarter, the Atlanta Falcons have 2nd-and-5 at the San Diego 24-yard line. Brown is stacked over the Atlanta left guard and quickly diagnoses the left zone run from the offense.

NFL Gamepass All-22

As he approaches the line of scrimmage, running back Tevin Coleman recognizes the Chargers end has effectively set the edge and looks to cut back. Brown fills downhill immediately and flashes in the cutback lane that Coleman saw, forcing the Atlanta running back to stretch the play wide.

NFL Gamepass All-22

The result is a tackle for no gain by outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, as Brown forces Coleman directly into Ingram’s waiting arms. The Atlanta Falcons threw an incomplete pass on the next down and settled for a field goal.

NFL Gamepass All-22

Many of the plays Brown makes go unnoticed because of an aggressive and fast front for the San Diego Chargers. The injury to Te’o was unfortunate, but it has paved the way for significant playing time for Brown, and the rookie has done nothing but impress since becoming the full-time starter.

With the athleticism and speed to cover running backs and tight ends comfortably, Brown is learning to diagnose efficiently and fill downhill at the line of scrimmage. Each passing week represents continued development for the fifth-round selection.

While other playerssuch as Bosaare getting attention, Brown is one of the best rookie defenders most people likely have never heard of.

Should Green Bay Move Ty Montgomery to Running Back?

Written by John Middlekauff

GREENBAY, WI - OCTOBER 20: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers hands the ball off to teammate wide receiver Ty Montgomery #88 against the Chicago Bears in the first quarter at Lambeau Field on October 20, 2016 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Ty Montgomery made the transition from wide receiver to running back Thursday night after injuries decimated the Green Bay Packers backfield. With Eddie Lacy (ankle surgery) and James Starks (knee surgery) out for extended time and the newly acquired Knile Davis less than three days into his stint with Green Bay, the Packers started Montgomery at running back. That decision could pay long-term dividends for the Packers.  

Many in the league viewed him as a running back coming out of college. An NFL scout told me "he had a running back body type," so by no means is this transition out of left field. His body type, a very compact 216 pounds, is equipped to handle the rigors of the physical nature that will be required in the backfield.

He also lined up in the backfield in college, operating in specific Wildcat packages for David Shaw at Stanford. 

With Green Bay lining Montgomery up at running back, we decided to grade him there this week. 

Where Does Ty Montgomery Rank Among Week 7 RBs?
RankPlayerTeamScore
1David JohnsonARI85
2Le'Veon BellPIT83
3C.J. AndersonDEN79
4Spencer WareKC78
5DeMarco MurrayTEN77
6LeGarrette BlountNE77
7Jeremy HillCIN76
8Jay AjayiMIA76
9Devonta FreemanATL76
10Tevin ColemanATL75
11Melvin GordonSD75
12Ty MontgomeryGB74
13Devontae BookerDEN74
14Jacquizz RodgersTB74
NFL1000 Week 7

On the first carry of the night against the Bears, Montgomery showed the willingness to lower his shoulder on contact and deliver a blow—something that is always a question when a receiver moves to the backfield. As the old saying goes, "You can't coach toughness."

His running style, as one NFC scout put it, "has some David Johnson to him; obviously not as explosive, but in terms of his upright style and ability to get north and south in a hurry, it does have some similarities."

On his 30-yard run in the third quarter, he displayed patience, vision and the ability to find a small hole and then hit the jets, getting on the second- and third-level defenders quickly. It was an impressive run that will force opposing defensive coordinators to take notice.  

He also brings an added dimension out of the backfield as a pass receiver. His route running and natural receiving instincts reminded me a lot of the two dynamic backs in Detroit (Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah).

Montgomery is a natural running quick outs and wheel routes—getting open on safeties/linebackers with relative ease. By the end of the game, he tallied 10 catches and served as a safety blanket for quarterback Aaron Rodgers—something the Packers have lacked the last couple of years. This could help open up their offense if their downfield passing game continues to be inconsistent. 

The loss of Lacy could prove to be a blessing and a curse. While the Packers do lose a good inside runner, they add a much more dynamic player, who should aid Mike McCarthy in making this offense more multidimensional—a needed shift from the predictable offense that stagnated Green Bay to start the season. 

Scouting with Schofield: Julio Jones

Written by Mark Schofield

Each week, NFL1000 receivers and tight ends scout Mark Schofield will break down a particular aspect of the previous week's NFL action with in-depth play review on video. Here, he explains how Julio Jones has become an unstoppable force within the Falcons offense.

Julio Jones continues to shine for Atlanta, and he had another strong week against the San Diego Chargers, catching nine passes for 174 yards. In only two games this year has the talented wideout been held under 65 yards, and in one of those, he was dealing with a lower-leg injury.

What can defenses do to slow him down, or is Jones simply uncoverable right now? Denver was able to limit Jones a few weeks ago, and some of what the Broncos did can be used to keep him in check, but as the tape shows, even when you have tremendous coverage on Jones, you can't be sure the defense will finish the job.

Ask the Scouts

Question: David Johnson is off to a torrid start (681 yards rushing, 323 yards receiving and eight touchdowns in seven games; a pace of 2,295 yards from scrimmage and 18 touchdowns). The Cardinals have figured out their best chance of winning is to put the ball in his hands (41 touches against Seattle). How talented is he as a player? And where does he rank among the top backs in the league with Le’Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott?

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals rushes the football in front of defensive end Cassius Marsh #91 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first half of the NFL game at University of Phoenix Stadium on October 2
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Answer from John Middlekauff, Running Backs Scout: Besides Le'Veon Bell, there is not a running back I would rather have. In terms of complete players, there really are not many at any position who bring more to the table than Johnson. He has established himself as the Cardinals' best offensive player, taking that label from future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer. He was dominant against Seattle on Sunday night, matching it physically—an element not many offensive players have displayed over the years.

Overall, he is a home run hitter who has elite vision, patience and a natural feel for falling forward on contact. He is an uncoverable receiver; you can throw to him on every play because defenders can't shadow him. The Cardinals can line him up in the slot or outside and have him run routes. That is not normal in the NFL, especially to do it effectively. He is carrying the Arizona Cardinals on offense right now, and it is a blast to watch.

Question: Case Keenum had an abysmal game Sunday, throwing four interceptions, including the game-sealing interception at the end of the contest to lose to the Giants, 17-10. The Rams started 3-1, and the decision to start Keenum looked like a good one. But now the Rams have lost three games in a row, while Keenum has contributed four touchdowns and seven interceptions in that stretch. At 3-4, almost three games out of the division lead, is it time to give Jared Goff a chance as the starting QB? Why, or why not?

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Quarterback Jared Goff #16 of the Los Angeles Rams talks with Case Keenum #17 on the sidelines during the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  The
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Answer from Cian Fahey, Quarterbacks Scout: It really depends on what your motivation is. From Jeff Fisher’s point of view, he doesn’t want to start Goff until he absolutely has to. Goff is his last card to play—the guy he can point to when people wonder where the Rams are going or why he’s still in charge. Once Goff is on the field, he has a chance to be exposed as a bad player, and Fisher will fall if that happens. Goff showed nothing in the preseason to suggest he is a worthy NFL starter, but Keenum has been a disaster for most of the season (even if one or two of the interceptions this week weren’t his fault). The Rams should start Goff, but if they do, they also need to adjust their offense to his skill set, something I doubt they are capable of doing.

Question: Last year, Allen Robinson tied for the NFL lead with 14 touchdown receptions and led the NFL in 20-plus-yard receptions with 31 (six more than second-placed Julio Jones and Antonio Brown). His 80-reception, 1,400-yard, 14-TD season was one of the best ever for a 22-year-old receiver. Now in his third year, Robinson has 26 receptions for 296 yards and three TDs through six games and was held to two catches for nine yards this week against Oakland. Aside from poor QB play, which has been an obvious issue for the Jaguars offense, what have you seen from Allen Robinson this season? Where are his struggles coming from?

Oct 2, 2016; London, United Kingdom; Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson (15) is defended by Indianapolis Colts cornerback Vontae Davis (21) in the third quarter at Wembley Stadium. The Jaguars defeated the Colts 30-27. Mandatory Credit: Kir
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Answer from Alex Kirby, Wide Receivers Scout: It’s true that the quarterback play in Jacksonville leaves something to be desired, but Robinson hasn’t helped himself with his own play either. After he established himself as one of the best deep threats in the game in 2015, he didn’t build on his success and add to his skill set, and defenses appear to have figured him out.

Robinson’s issues come mostly from his limited route tree and his inability to create any uncertainty at the top of a route that requires some finesse and crisp route running. His game mostly involves running vertical routes such as fades, posts and digs, as well as the usual hitches and slants to take advantage of the soft coverage he gets on the single-receiver side of trips when defenses respect his deep-threat ability.

Speaking of the defense, that’s another big part of the problem: The defenses have simply caught up. Opposing defensive coordinators have been very aggressive about bracketing him whenever possible after he showed what he can do last year, and he doesn’t get quite as many single-coverage opportunities as he used to. When you’re defending a guy who can really hurt you with the vertical passing game, and you take those routes away from him that he runs best, it’s up to him to try to beat you another way and the coaching staff to help him do it.

Jaguars offensive coordinator Greg Olson has done a decent job of moving him around to different spots in the formation, trying to create opportunities for him to get the football, but when you have a guy such as Robinson who is so good at the vertical game and average at a lot of other things, there’s only so much you can do with X’s and O's.

Question: Texans' cornerback A.J. Bouye is our no. 4 ranked player overall for week 7, and our no. 2 ranked cornerback. He's been ranked 49th, 36th, and now second over the past three weeks at his position. What have you seen from him in his ascent from week-to-week? And what got him near the top of this week's cornerback board?

Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

Answer from Ian Wharton, AFC Cornerbacks Scout: Bouye's been a player who has made the most of a smaller role until injuries throughout the Texans' secondary forced him into the starting lineup. Bouye has experience as a fourth cornerback, so it was a big test for him to play outside against the likes of Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas. The undrafted free agent out of Central Florida in 2013 showed the same discipline, balanced physicality and smoothness in his coverage against the Broncos as he had flashed in prior weeks. 

Most cornerbacks lacking experience will panic when the ball is in the air or when beaten off the line of scrimmage, but Bouye has the mindset coaches love, as he quickly regains leverage to play the ball. In limiting the fearsome Broncos' duo to three short receptions on six targets, he showed traits of a potential star cornerback, which is atypical of someone who was buried on the depth chart.

 

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