Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Scouting The NFL Draft - Big Ten Defensive Linemen

Today, I begin a series of breaking down the top defensive prospects in the upcoming NFL Draft. Combining what I saw during the season as well as any game footage I could find on YouTube, I try to break down player's strengths and weaknesses and come up with who are the strongest choices for your team to select this season. Today, I am going to focus on the top defensive linemen from The Big Ten.

Adrian Clayborn - I think this guy will be a steal if selected in the 20s, and I'm not just saying that because of my love for the Hawkeyes. If he came out last year, he's almost definitely a Top-15 pick, but he did have a disappointing season last year so his stock isn't quite as high as it was last year. But the positives are that he went back to school to get better with technique, so he's almost definitely a better football player. The stats weren't there, but he's shown he's capable of dominating a game. I rewatched highlights of him against Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin, and even though he didn't light up the stat sheet, he definitely made a big impact in that game. The way he uses his hands is best described as violent. It's very rare for an offensive lineman to get a hold of him, as he does an excellent job of using his hands to create space. I understand people believing that his conditioning is questionable, but his hustle never is as when he's on the field, he is always getting after it. Even though I think he could be solid, I would be disappointed to see him as a 3-4 end, but if you put him in a 4-3, I think he's going to be a very good player. Probably not an All-Pro, but he'll give you above average play against both the pass and the run.

Cameron Heyward - I don't like much about Ohio State, but I do admire that they recruit players who are the sons of total badasses like Road Warrior Animal and Craig "Ironhead" Heyward. The fun thing about Heyward is that he has tape of a great matchup against Gabe Carimi of Wisconsin. Heyward shows excellent quickness off the snap and also has great strength to help him drive forward. The problem is that he might as well not even have arms, because he does not use them to shed blocks. He simply gets by on strength and athleticism. If he used his hands, he'd be a monster, and I'd probably see him as a Top-10 pick. But because of not even having a basic understanding of how to use his hands, he's really going to struggle at the next level as he got manhandled by Carimi in the Wisconsin game. Good offensive lineman are going to be able to get their hands under his shoulder pads and simply take him wherever they want. He's being projected late-first, early-second, and I think that's fair. It's a risk to take him, but if you believe that you can coach him to use his hands actively and effectively, this guy could be a steal.

Ryan Kerrigan - I looked at his tape against Ohio State to get a good look at him since he was lucky enough to not go against the Hawkeyes these past two years. He does a good job of dipping his shoulder when rushing around the outside. But that seems to be his only move. He rarely even tried to move to the inside. When going up against OSU's right tackle, he looked great, but when he went up against their left tackle, Mike Adams, he got handled fairly easily. Overall, I was disappointed. He's got a great motor, but I don't think his athleticism will be enough for his college moves to transfer to the pro game. This is not a guy I would look at in the first round.

JJ Watt - I watched a decent amount of Wisconsin this year but recently focused on his performance against Ohio State. He's big, slow and has a nonstop motor. It's an interesting combination, and there's a lot of things that don't add up. Despite being big, he can often get completely taken out of a play when the offensive lineman is the aggressor. Despite being slow, he can cause havoc in the backfield with his quickness. And despite his motor, his style of play can sometimes take him so far away from the play that it's impossible for him to make any sort of impact. I know that he was super productive in his last season, but what people overlook, and what really concerns me, is that he primarily played at left end. That means that he was going against the right tackle, which is going to be everybody's second best tackle. In the NFL, there's a significant difference between the two, so in college, it's going to be a huge difference. If I'm running a 4-3, I won't touch him. In a 3-4, I wouldn't look at him until the end of round one. He'll most likely be gone by then, but I don't see a high ceiling, so this isn't something that I see haunting me in the future.


P.S. And for another Big Ten scouting report, here is the National Football Post's breakdown of Iowa Quarterback, Ricky Stanzi.

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