NFL1000 Scouting Notebook: The NFL's Next Big Pass-Rusher?

NFL1000 ScoutsFeatured ColumnistDecember 21, 2016

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  David Irving #95 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates after sacking Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

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 league 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'll attempt to preview some of what we are seeing in our film analysis here. 

We'll look at Ty Montgomery's transformation into a legit force in the Green Bay backfield and Tyler Lockett's recent emergence, and scouts answer a few questions on this week's hot topics. But first, let's start with film analysis of David Irving, who has become a feared pass-rusher in Dallas.

      

Can David Irving Be the NFL's Next Big Pass-Rusher?

Written by Justis Mosqueda

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  David Irving #95 and Maliek Collins #96 of the Dallas Cowboys sack Jameis Winston #3 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Get
Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For the first half or so of the Dallas Cowboys' matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the game's star defensive end was Benson Mayowa, who finished with five tackles. If you stuck through the Dallas comeback, though, you would have noticed a different defensive end: Irving.

He took over in the fourth quarter to help keep the Buccaneers scoreless in the frame while the Cowboys put up three Dan Bailey field goals in a 26-20 Sunday Night Football victory.

Early in the matchup, Irving, who has played in a start-less 25 games in his two-year NFL career, was used as a pass-rushing defensive tackle. However, starting in the second half, Dallas employed him more as a rotational defensive end, and he was a borderline every-down player by the fourth quarter.

For whatever reason, defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, a former head coach with the Detroit Lions and Super Bowl-winning defensive line coach with Tampa Bay in the early 2000s, knew he had a mismatch advantage with Irving outside, and it paid off greatly.

Against both ninth-year Gosder Cherilus and undrafted rookie Leonard Wester, who both played right tackle reps in the fourth quarter for the Buccaneers, Irving displayed the strength, power and awareness to work across the face of NFL offensive tackles after setting up an outside rush.

Using an inside counter, he recorded two sacks, directly caused an interception from Jameis Winston and then forced the Bucs quarterback outside of the pocket on Tampa Bay's final offensive snap, which resulted in a fourth-down pick.

An offensive lineman must always protect the inside gap in big-on-big blocking situations, which is why O-linemen always have their inside foot up, so they cut off the inside line, and why in vertical sets bookends drop their outside foot back before their inside foot. Because of this, it's hard to win by attacking inside lanes as an edge defender unless you're a strong, explosive athlete who gets tackles out of position by striking fear in their hearts and having them sell out on protecting the outside lane first.

Luckily for Irving, he's an incredible athlete who can do that, at least against tackles who are as talented as the duo Tampa threw out on its right side Sunday. This should be no surprise, considering NFL Draft Scout listed Irving with a 38" vertical jump at 273 pounds during his 2015 pro day.

Only one first-round pass-rusher in the last decade or so has posted a better vertical at a heavier weight: Mario Williams, who went first overall in the 2006 draft.

To say Irving is an athletic freak would be an understatement. For reference, J.J. Watt, who led the NFL in sacks in 2012 and 2015, had a 37" vertical coming out of college, while Shawne Merriman, who led the NFL in sacks in 2006, recorded a 40" vertical at just a pound less than Irving's pro day weight.

Raw athleticism matters more on the defensive line than at any other position, and Irving flashes elite gifts, both on film and on paper. There were times when it took him just three steps to put the man assigned to him in pass protection behind his shoulder, which gave him a free lane to the quarterback off speed alone—a rare trait for someone listed in the 270s.

It's clear Irving is developing, not only because Marinelli is trusting him with reps in crucial fourth quarters down the stretch of a potential title run, but also because there are moments when he squares up as a pass-rusher instead of playing half a man.

He's savvy enough to get back into a winning position to force an early or off-platform ball from quarterbacks. He's getting to the point where he can clean up his mistakes, and when he phases them out completely, he'll be a headache on a week-to-week basis.

In less than two full seasons, Irving has gone from a Kansas City practice-squad player to a Dallas Sunday Night Football star—an absolute nightmare Tampa Bay had no idea how to deal with. If Irving, a 23-year-old, was still playing college football and displayed the same traits he did on national television last week, he would be discussed as a top-15 selection in any draft class.

Paired with one of the greatest defensive line minds of all time and only a few months older than potential 2017 first-round picks, such as Alabama's Tim Williams, Irving has nothing stopping him from becoming the next Cameron Wake, an undrafted freak who was refined into a top edge defender.

As long as the 6'7" Irving, who missed the 2014 college football season due to suspension after being charged with criminal mischief, disorderly conduct and theft, can keep his head on straight, he should rise up pass-rushing rankings.

       

Is Ty Montgomery the Secret Weapon That Was Missing from Green Bay's Offense?

Written by John Middlekauff

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 18:  Ty Montgomery #88 of the Green Bay Packers jumps over teammate  Richard Rodgers #82 in the second quarter against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on December 18, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

The Packers have been looking for a running back for the last several years, and it turns out he has been on their roster since 2015; he's just been in the wide receiver meeting room. In a limited role this season—only 60 carries—Montgomery is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt and has three rushing touchdowns. It's evident the 6'0", 216-pounder has the body type and natural running instincts to be a good NFL running back for years.

Montgomery has been a playmaker since his days at Stanford, but it always seemed he'd be guy without a position and might struggle to excel in the NFL because he would not find a niche. Well, he found one—he's a running back.

Against the Chicago Bears on Sunday he showed it all—vision, patience, physicality, explosion and the ability to break tackles. On his 61-yard run he displayed everything it takes to be a good runner in the NFL.

A lot of running backs lack the instincts to set up blocks and find a hole when little daylight is available; that is not an issue for Montgomery. Another element on this big run is how he doesn't go out of bounds despite a huge gain. He lowers his shoulder on defenders, carrying them for an extra five yards. You cannot coach toughness.

Not every running back has the ability to make guys miss in space. It's a special attribute that is not necessary to be a good player, but it separates those at the position.

Montgomery has a natural feel for setting up defenders, then the athletic ability, change of direction and explosion to make guys miss. Once he gets by his opponent, Montgomery puts his foot in the ground and get vertical. He finishes every run by lowering his shoulder and taking defenders for a ride.

This run below displays all of this:

Montgomery is a playmaker in the red zone. He is a versatile chess piece that is a threat to run or catch the ball out of the backfield. He has excellent play speed and explosive quickness to beat defenders to the edge, allowing him to score.

This is an impressive play for a guy who has only been a running back for less than half a season.

While he only had two catches for one yard against the Bears, receiving is an area where Green Bay needs to worry about him the least. He already displayed the ability to run routes and catch the ball out of the backfield earlier in the season.

He has the talent to become one of the more complete running backs in the NFL. That may sound crazy for a guy with 63 career carries, but Montgomery has the chance to become a special player. You can't teach or coach what he brings to the table. The Packers found what they were looking for at running back, and they didn't have to go far to find it.

            

Scouting with Schofield: Tyler Lockett

Written by Mark Schofield

Many talent evaluators, myself included, expected a breakout season from Lockett in 2016. The shifty wideout from Kansas State notched 51 receptions for 664 yards and six touchdowns as a rookie in 2015, and when combined with his effectiveness on special teams as a returner, many anticipated Lockett would be a big component of the Seattle offense this season.

However, that breakout campaign might be a year away. Lockett had a slow start in Week 1 against the Dolphins, and while he did have 99 yards receiving in Week 2 against the Rams, the bulk of his season has been quiet.

That is, until Thursday night against those same Rams, when he caught seven passes for 130 yards and his first touchdown of the year. The receptions and yardage numbers were season highs. This raises the question: What has changed? Are the Seahawks using him differently? Is he developing into better form? Or did he take advantage of another game against the Rams?

The verdict, based on the film, is mixed.

         

Ask the Scouts

Question: Tampa's Cameron Brate tied the Chiefs' Travis Kelce for the highest tight end score in Week 15's NFL1000. The second-year player out of Harvard had to beat out Austin-Seferian Jenkins in the offseason and has put together a strong campaign. What have you seen from him so far? And at only 25 years old, do you think he can become one of the league's better tight ends? 

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18:  Cameron Brate #84 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers catches a touchdown pass from Jameis Winston #3 during the third quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Mart
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Answer from Marcus Mosher, TE Scout: Brate isn't an exceptional athlete, and he doesn't possess elite size (6'5", 235 lbs). However, he has a few things going for him that indicate he can become one of the better tight ends in the league.

His greatest strength is he's fearless. Winston often leads Brate into awful situations across the middle, yet Brate isn't afraid. There have been numerous occasions where he's made an unbelievable catch in traffic while absorbing contact. 

To go with that, Brate can catch the ball outside of his body's framework, which is important for a tight end. Winston isn't the most precise quarterback, but Brate can adjust to nearly any pass. Just last week against Dallas, we saw Brate catch a ball above his head while getting drilled in the chest. Then, we saw him make a diving catch in the middle of the field to keep a drive alive. His toughness combined with his range as a receiver fit perfectly with Winston and Tampa Bay's offense.

It wouldn't surprise me if Brate takes another big leap in 2017. He's got the quarterback's trust and will see a lot of favorable matchups with Mike Evans on the outside. His route running has improved nearly every week, and he's a good bet to become one of the premier tight ends in the near future. 

        

Question: We have two newcomers atop the cornerback rankings this week with Jerraud Powers (BAL) and LeShaun Sims (TEN) tying with stars like Stephon Gilmore, Jalen Ramsey and Richard Sherman for the top score. What can you tell us about Powers and Sims? What did you see from those two this week, and do you think either of them has potential to become a top-tier corner, or was this more of an aberration?

Answer from Kyle Posey, CB Scout: More of an aberration because we didn't see a star-like performance from the usual suspects. Teams didn't target guys such as Janoris Jenkins, Chris Harris Jr. or Casey Hayward this week. Most weeks, Powers and Sims would grade in the teens.

That's not to say they didn't perform well, because they did. In Powers' case, he owned his job. He's primarily a slot corner, but that's a tall task in today's NFL; you have to be able to react to routes going in both directions, and they're usually quick-hitters. Securing a tackle is more important than stopping a short completion.

Powers was solid in both aspects. He even beat a couple of blocks in the run game to come up with a pair of stops, with one being a tackle for loss. Of his seven targets, Powers allowed two catches for six yards. He wasn't even allowing his man to get open. Further, Powers was only beaten twice in coverage in 35 cover snaps.

You can't ask for much more.

In Sims' case, he played the most snaps he has all season. The Chiefs have a few speedy receivers, such as Tyreek Hill and Jeremy Maclin, along with arguably the best tight end in football in Kelce. Sims remained patient with Hill and Maclin and never bailed. He matched Kelce's physicality at the line.

Sims has the better chance to be a star based on his performance in coverage.

       

Advanced cornerback stats charted by B/R.

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