Durgin’s Fantasy Sweet 16: Rookie Edition

In addition to covering the draft, I will be covering fantasy as well with (hopefully) weekly Friday posts. Call it #fantasyfridays if you will. Go ahead and get that hashtag trending. For the first piece I wanted to cover the rookies. Lots of upside here but even more uncertainty as to how many will be viable fantasy options for this season. Here I have listed, in order, of the most intriguing fantasy options. Not necessarily the best players, but the ones who you should look at if you want to be a champion in your league especially in the back end of your draft. Don’t forget, the money is in the crumbs. 

P.S. Shoutout to my guy David for the inspiration. I will still beat you in fantasy. 

  1. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, KC

Edwards-Helaire is an easy #1 on this list due to the fact he is in a great position to put up big numbers and also doesn’t have much competition. Last season, Chiefs running backs had 87 catches, despite not having a reliable threat in the backfield. The Chiefs have plenty of receiving threats meaning that Edwards-Helaire will have plenty of room to operate and won’t face stiff coverage. Andy Reid said on tape that his film is better than Brian Westbrook’s and Westbrook was routinely leading running backs in receptions and receiving yards during a time where the league was much more run/pass balance. He’s going to be a three-down player and a big piece of the high-powered Chiefs offense. A good RB2/Flex option that I would expect to be a late second/third-round pick in your fantasy draft. 

88% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round late2/3, top 16 Running Back

  1. Cam Akers, LAR

The Rams currently had no clear-cut starter at running back, so I imagine at worst that Akers will be splitting carries with Darrell Henderson. Henderson was a hot name last preseason as many thought he’d cut into Gurley’s touches, but alas he was mostly used in a reserve role. The team has seen him for a year and still took Akers with their first pick. They aren’t going to bench him much this year and will utilize him on all three downs. This offense has shown to be successful when trying to run, but with a weak offensive line, I would expect to see more passing opportunities for Akers which boosts his value even more. 

64% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 7, Top 30 Running Back

  1. Jonathan Taylor, IND

While Taylor might not have the upside in ppr leagues that Edwards-Helaire has, but no other running back in this class might get the carries Taylor will. He does have to battle with Marlon Mack for carries, but Mack has also been injury prone and never played more than 14 games in a season. He’s never been pushed by another back and all it will take is an injury or rough start to Mack’s season for Taylor to take over. On a team that has one of the best offensive lines in the league and a coach that wants to run the ball, I would guess that Taylor will start with a minimum of 12 touches a game and by years end will be the lead guy getting close to 25 touches a game. He might not be a guy you start week one, but he’s a good value in the middle rounds that will develop into an RB2/flex by year end. The Colts also face four of the five worst rushing defenses from last season (The Jags twice) and also face the Texans twice who had the 8th worst rush defense. 

71% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 7, Top 30 Running Back

  1. CeeDee Lamb, DAL

If Dallas is going to fully give the reins over to Dak Prescott to be the “guy” on offense like his new contract will likely indicate, the Cowboys will look to pass more than past years. Lamb is entrenched as the slot receiver and Mike McCarthy is known to run a lot of three receiver, pass-heavy sets. Kellen Moore also did a sneakily good job last year and ran more spread sets than past years. He got Randall Cobb, an aging player whose best years are well behind him, over 800 yards receiving. Cobb is not nearly as talented as Lamb and still got 83 targets last year. Assuming he stays healthy, I would think Lamb gets close to 100.  If we use that as a similar comparison, I see no reason for Lamb to do just as well as Cobb did a season ago, with Lamb being a better red zone opinion thus increasing his fantasy value. 

62% Owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 10, Top 40 Wide Receiver 

  1. Jerry Jeudy, DEN

Jeudy’s success will be predicated on the emergence of Drew Lock. If Lock is who the Broncos think he is, then Jeudy will be the best rookie fantasy receiver by far. If not, he still has the talent and the playing time that you want to see. I’d assume he’ll see 7-10 targets a game with a lot of big-play possibilities. On an offense where he’s not going to be the focal point at first, he’s going to see a lot of single coverage. Also to note, the Broncos are facing a lot of great offenses this year which means they could get involved in some shoot-outs. Jeudy is as pro-ready as they come at receiver and is already an established starter. Draft him as you WR4 and bank on his consistent production with a chance with steady WR2 production. 

62% Owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 10, Top 40 Wide Receiver

  1. Ke’Shawn Vaughn, TB

Vaughn wasn’t the sexy name for most in this draft, but he lands in one of the most ideal situations in Tampa Bay. He’s battling Ronald Jones and Dare Ogunbowale for playing time and neither of them has proven themselves to be a #1 back so far in their careers. In Bruce Arians vertical offense, a north-south runner like Vaughn will be appealing. However, this offense’s success will depend on Tom Brady, and what Brady loves to do is throw to running backs. No quarterback over the past decade has thrown more to running backs than Brady. So, there’s a very high ceiling with Vaughn to carve out a role as a third-down back or even play on all three downs. Also to note, the Bucs face the easiest schedule in terms of rush defenses from last season, so there’s going to be chances for the team to run the ball successfully. He’s a boom or bust prospect, but I’m willing to take a risk in the later rounds and stash him on the bench until he proves to get consistent playing time. 

52% Owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 9, Top 35 Running Back

  1. D’Andre Swift, DET

Swift’s role on the Lions solely depends on what the team thinks about Kerryon Johnson and also if Johnson can stay healthy. John has been seen as a breakout candidate for two years but has yet to find the consistency needed to be RB1. Also, he’s missed a chunk of the last two seasons with injury. Their skills also align for Swift to see a pass-catching role right off the bat, while Johnson is better in-between the tackles. I personally like Swift, as he’s the most talented back in this class, and will be on a bad team. That means there will be a lot of garbage time points to be had and that’s something Matthew Stafford has flourished fantasy-wise in the past. I think ultimately Swift and Johnson will hurt each other in terms of playing time, but all it takes is an injury or a few big games from Swift to become a 20+ touches a game player.

77% Owned in ESPN:  Where I’d draft him: Round 12, Top 40 Running Back

  1. Denzel Mims, NYJ

The most desirable fantasy value Mims provides is the fact that he’s almost a shoo-in to be a starter. The Jets don’t have a particularly good wide receiver room, so that means for better or worse Mims will be on the field a lion share of the snaps. Jamison Crowder is still likely to be the Jets leader in targets, but Mims has to be the favorite to have the most targets in the red zone. Crowder led the team last year with 16 and he’s a 5-9 slot receiver compared to 6-3 Mims. Another stat to note is that Mims led college football last year in contested catches and Sam Darnold has the accuracy, when given time, to fit passes into tight windows. I would expect Mims to go undrafted or be drafted in one of the last rounds. In the first four games, he faces 3 of the 4 best pass defenses from a season ago. However, from week 10-14 he faces four straight bottom ten pass defenses from last year. He will be valuable during the playoff push. By the end of the season, I fully expect Mims to become Darnold’s favorite target and that gives Mims high value in dynasty leagues. 

9% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 10, Top 45 Wide Receiver

  1. Joe Burrow, QB CIN

I fully expect Burrow to be a bottom third quarterback in fantasy this season, but that doesn’t mean he won’t have value. His skill position supporting cast is actually solid with AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon, and fellow rookie Tee Higgins and I fully expect the Bengals to be trailing in most of their games giving ample opportunities for garbage time points. We all know Burrow is deadly accurate and is willing to push the ball down the field. He’s an option in a two quarterback league and would be a solid option as QB2. I’d expect him to go undrafted or very late in your fantasy draft, but three of his first four games are against suspect defenses so he’s somebody you want to keep an eye on. 

47% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 14, Top 24 Quarterback

  1. Michael Pittman, IND

While the Colts want to be a run-first team, they have a few intriguing receivers but none have the upside of Pittman. He’ll be battling Zach Pascal and Paris Campbell for targets behind top option T.Y. Hilton, but Frank Reich has already come out and said that he believes Pittman can be the starting “X” receiver right away. Two things give me optimism, Campbell and Hilton are more deep threats while Pittman will work the underneath routes and will see a higher volume of looks and also the fact that Phillip Rivers has had some success with rookie receivers. Keenan Allen, who has a similar skillset to Pittman, had over 1,000 yards and over 100 targets as a rookie. I won’t say he won’t duplicate those numbers, but there’s hope he’ll be a fantasy option.

22 % owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 14, Top 60 Wide Receiver 

  1. J.K. Dobbins, BAL

J.K. Dobbins was my favorite running back in this class and has a great chance to have the most long-term success, but he’s just simply not going to get the playing time fantasy owners will want this season. Mark Ingram is firmly established as RB1 in Baltimore and finished 11th in scoring last season for running backs in fantasy. As long as Lamar Jackson is the quarterback, they will be a run-first team and more than likely lead the league in rushing attempts. A season ago, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for less than 200 carries. I would expect Dobbins, barring injury, to get between 120-160 carries which just isn’t enough to take seriously as a fantasy starter. One thing that does work in Dobbins’s favor, the Ravens have the easiest schedule in the league meaning that they should be involved in a decent amount of blowouts. In those games, it’s Dobbins’s chance to see a bulk of the carries in the later portions of the game. Dobbins is the top option out of anyone listed in a fantasy/keeper league and you can take a risk by taking him in the later rounds as he’s an Ingram injury away from being a top-15 fantasy running back, but I would target him at the very end of your draft. 

31 % owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 55 Running Back 

  1. Henry Ruggs III, LVR

Ruggs may have been the first overall receiver taken, but I don’t believe his fantasy value will reflect that in year one. He’ll be used to stretch the field, but unfortunately for him, Derek Carr was towards the bottom of the league in air yards per attempt. Throwing deep isn’t his game and likes to attack on short and intermediate routes. Luckily, Ruggs has the speed to take any touch to the house which will drive fantasy owners crazy with his boom or bust performances. I compare his game to Tyreek Hill, who is one of the league leaders in yards per reception. He’s not as valuable in PPR leagues due to the aforementioned and because Darren Waller will see the most targets, but on any given week he can breakout making him worth a spot on your bench. 

72 % owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 70 Wide Receiver 

  1. Justin Jefferson, MIN

Jefferson will be a popular pick to have a big rookie season due to the fact he will see a lot of playing due with Stefon Diggs being traded to Buffalo. He will see the second or third most targets on this team and that could elevate if Adam Thielen gets injured again. If Thielen stays healthy, there might be a learning curve for Jefferson who lined up in the slot 78% last season, which is where Thielen spent over half his time in 2017-2018. The Vikings will have a relatively balanced offense with Gary Kubiak taking over play-calling duties, so he might not see a ton of targets. I do like him in deeper, non-PPR leagues but the Vikings schedule does feature six of the worst pass defenses in the league from a season ago, leaving the possibility for production to be had. 

45% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 70 Wide Receiver

  1. Zack Moss, BUF

No mistake about it, the Bills want to be a run-first football team. It almost seems like Josh Allen is slowly becoming a Cam Newton-like player (that’s honestly the best-case scenario for Allen) but the Bills will most likely use multiple running backs to keep them fresh throughout the game. Devin Singletary is going to be the lead back (and someone you should draft early this year) but I fully anticipate Moss to be the Bills RB2. Singeltary is a smaller, more elusive option while Moss is a thicker and more in between the tackles runner, which fits more with what the team wants to do. While Moss won’t be highly valued in PPR leagues, he’s someone to track on the waiver wire. He has a clear-cut role it appears to get some playing time and if something were to happen to Singletary, he would become a must-start option. 

26% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Round 14, Top 50 Running Back

  1. Tua Tagovailoa, QB MIA

The biggest unknown on this list could very well be a top fantasy rookie. I would be surprised if he actually started the season as QB1 but by the midseason I fully expect him to be the starter. The Dolphins face the toughest schedule in the league in terms of opposing pass defenses, but things do ease up a bit down the stretch. The first eight opponents had a team pass defense of 9th in the league, while the last eight opponents are an average of 15th in the league which will make Tua someone to look out for on the waiver wire. Also, Chan Gailey’s offense is a spread system that relies a lot on play-action which will give Tua the chance to attack down the field. He’s not a draftable fantasy option quite yet, but when he becomes a starter then he has good upside as your QB2. 

13% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 32 Quarterback 

  1. Brandon Aiyuk, SF

By the midway point of the season (if not sooner) Aiyuk will be starting across from Deebo Samuel as the 49ers starting receiver. Put that in sharpie, it’s happening folks. While the 49ers are still a run-first team that will use that to incorporate play-action looks to Kittle mostly, Aiyuk has value because of his RAC ability. He will be used a lot in motion so that will grant him a free release at the line and since the team lacks a true deep-threat, I anticipate Aiyuk becoming that. He might not light it up for the first few games, but it took half the season for Samuel to get consistent playing time. Shanahan says the Aiyuk was his favorite receiver in the entire draft and an innovative player-caller like Shanahan wouldn’t say that if he didn’t have big plans for the youngster from Arizona State. He will get I suspect most of the targets that went to Emmanuel Sanders, who saw about six targets a game. I wouldn’t draft him, but he’s a guy you’ll want to keep an eye on once bye weeks start. 

11% owned in ESPN: Where I’d draft him: Priority waiver pick-up, Top 70 Wide Receiver

NFL Film Breakdown: The Best Tight End in Philly Isn’t Who You Think

The combination of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert was the lifeblood of the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2019-2020 NFL season. Together they combined for 146 receptions, 1,523 yards, 11 touchdowns, and averaged 10.5 yards per reception. Defensive backs aren’t physical enough to get off their blocks or stay with them in coverage, they present a mismatch in the run game, and both are deadly on play-action. A lot of the time, the Eagles put them both next to each other on the same side of the formation which forced defenses to declare how they’d cover them. If you want to put two DB types over there, they’ll run strong at their tight ends. If you want to stack up defensive ends and linebackers on them, they’ll just run weak. Numerous times Dallas Goedert was able to handle the likes of Jadaveon Clowney and Demarcus Lawrence one-on-one in both the run game and in pass protection. The Eagles have something special in Goedert and while both tight ends can struggle to create separation at times, their physicality, strong hands, and ability to block make the Eagles offense go.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

It all starts in the run game. Both Ertz’s and Goedert’s ability to block set up big plays in play-action and screens. They are legitimate threats blocking and defenses have to respect their ability to do so. While Goedert is the better and more consistent blocker, Ertz is no slouch either. Here Goedert is one-on-one in pass pro against Demarcus Lawrence, the Cowboys best pass-rusher. He washes him down into the interior, moves his feet, and stays engaged.

Goedert also washed down on Jadaveon Clowney multiple times and took him completely out of plays.

Now if you put a safety over him like the Seahawks did in the run game. He’ll just drive him to the sideline. He churns his feet, maintains leverage, and uses his arm length to wash #30 Bradley McDougal all the way to the sideline and open up a hole for Boston Scott.

When the Eagles run a wing set with both tight ends on the same side, it can be tough for defenses to match up. Ertz drives out #30 the strong safety and Goedert climbs to #50 KJ Wright. Both create drive and are able to wall off their defenders, opening up lanes in the run game.

Now that we’ve established their impact in the run game, let’s look at how the Eagles use them off of that in play-action and screens. You can see how below in the play-action out of a two tight end set against the Cowboys, who are running cover 3, the middle linebacker #54 flies to the run game and vacates space over the middle for Goedert who ends up being wide open. Ertz, operating on the backside of the play blocks to a delayed release which keeps the safety down low in the flats to cover him and opens up even more space behind for Goedert. The corner is run off by a deep curl on the outside, the strong safety flat defender comes up on Ertz, and there’s a window open for Goedert as he comes across on a deep drag.

Here’s another example of play-action with Ertz and Goedert, this time when they’re both on the same side. The Eagles had been gashing them out of this formation in the run game all day and here, the defenders fly up to stop it. Ertz sifts right through and is open deep on a corner route while Goedert ends up getting the check-down in the flats. Ertz does a great job of releasing inside like he’s trying to pin a linebacker or get an angle on a block which sells to the defense that it is a run.

Since the Eagles often leave Goedert in on pass protection and even let him go one-on-one against elite pass rushers, now they can also screen to him out of those situations. Below, Goedert pass sets like he’s staying in to block and then “whiffs” and turns around for the screen. While Goedert isn’t thought of as being particularly athletic or a run after catch guy, he looks pretty agile in the screen game.

So they block, play-action, and screen well. Let’s take a look at their actual route running. Goedert may be viewed as more of a generalist and is easily the better blocker, but his route running technique and ball skills are quickly catching up to that of Ertz. Ertz is more polished at this point with good hand fighting through his routes, physical running, and the creation of separation at the top with leaning and creating a chicken wing motion with his arm instead of full extension that would result in OPI. Below, Ertz does a good job of all three. He constantly removes the hand of the defender, gets in close, leans, and extends to create some separation at the top. He’s not going to run away from anyone so he has to be technical in his route technique.

Below he again does a great job with his hands and eating up space until he’s stepping on the defenders toes before snapping his route. Without being able to get hands on him and allowing cushion to be closed, the defender has no chance in sticking with him and preventing the reception.

While, he does sometimes seek out contact unnecessarily which slows down his routes and can cause him to be unable to create separation against stronger defenders, sometimes he can just absolutely bully guys and run right into them and they bounce off.

Whether it’s a linebacker, safety, or corner, Ertz presents a matchup problem. Below he’s one on one with a corner and easily beats him on a slant without even using his physicality.

As mentioned before, Goedert might not be quite as polished of a route runner, but his hands are just as good if not better than Ertz’s.

He’ll high point the ball, isn’t scared of contact, and has great eye discipline.

As the season progressed, his routes became more nuanced with more leaning and exploding off of cuts which helped him create separation.

However, like Ertz, he also creates unnecessary contact at times and doesn’t take advantage of his frame and leverage to create separation and instead just tries to overpower the defender.

That being said, sometimes his length is so much greater than that of the defender that it doesn’t even matter and he can sttill make the catch.

Together, Ertz and Goedert create issues for defenses. Both have the ability to attack the ball in the air, have surprising athleticism, and are capable blockers. The Eagles love to use 12 personnel and attack defenses with their two tight end sets. They mirror Ertz and Goedert off each other with high / low concepts, use them with effectiveness in the run game, scheme them open in play-action, and kill teams with screens that really stretch defenses and their ability to match up. While they have been specializing in different ways – Ertz in the passing game and Goedert as a blocker — Goedert has begun to encroach on the targets and snaps that Ertz typically gets. Goedert adds a little more flexibility in the formations, packages, and plays that the Eagles can call. If you’re looking for a future super star, hop on the Dallas Goedert train right now. If the Eagles get a weapon or two outside at receiver, this tight end pair and offense could be unstoppable with a rising star in Miles Sanders and a franchise QB in Carson Wentz.

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2017 NFL Re-Draft

The 2017 draft will go down as one of the greatest of all time. Seriously, look at how many pro bowlers and all-pro’s there are just after three seasons. But, for every superstar, there was a bust. Fourteen of the thirty-two picks didn’t get their fifth-year options picked and in this exercise thirteen players who were picked in the first round in 2017, weren’t picked here. That’s a relatively high bust rate, especially for a class that has had twenty-three pro bowlers. To note for this, I did not include draft night trades but did include ones that took place before the first-round. Nonetheless, here’s how I would re-draft the 2017 class:

1 Cleveland Browns- Patrick Mahomes, QB Texas Tech

Does this one need an explanation? Mahomes has quickly become the best player in the league and a Super Bowl MVP. Would he be as good as he is now by not being with a great offensive mind like Andy Reid and not having the luxury of sitting out his first season? Probably not, but with that talent alone he’s an all-time talent at the quarterback position. Garrett has been great for the Browns (when not hitting players in the head with a helmet), but he’s not a generational quarterback like Mahomes.

2 San Francisco 49ers- Deshaun Watson, QB Clemson

Watson was a case of over-analyzing a prospect rather than just accepting the fact that they’re a great player. Already a two-time pro bowler, Watson has displayed elite accuracy while being able to create with his legs. Imagine him with a play-calling genius like Kyle Shanahan? He’s already one of the premier quarterbacks in the league and Shanahan would guarantee him reaching his ceiling. Solomon Thomas (whom they drafted at 3 after moving down one spot with the Bears) has been a bust. No other way to describe it at this point and the team feels the same way by not picking up his fifth-year option. 

3 Chicago Bears – Myles Garrett, EDGE Texas A&M

When on the field, Garrett has become one of the most feared pass rushers in no time. After 13.5 sacks in 2018, he had 10 sacks in 10 games in 2019. He was viewed as one of the best defensive end prospects of all time and while he may not have lived up to that hype just yet, he’s young and has a chance to get there. He has the tools to be the best defender in the league, but he just has to stay on the field. The Bears traded up one spot to select Mitch Trubisky, who while a Pro Bowler in 2018, appears to be on very thin ice with his fifth-year option was declined.

4 Jacksonville Jaguars- Christian McCaffrey, RB Stanford

Depending on who you ask, the running back value is tanking. However, a player like McCaffrey is a unicorn, a player who can do it all. An All-Pro in 2019, he became the first player in this class to get a contract extension and became just the third player to have a season of 1,000 yard receiving and 1,000 rushing yards in a season, and that’s with suspect quarterback play. He’s a true game-changer and a legit MVP candidate for years to come. While most running backs have short play careers now, a guy like McCaffrey will age well due to his versatility. The Jags picked Leonard Fournette at this spot who hasn’t been a bust but hasn’t performed like a fourth overall pick. Due to his high price tag, the Jags didn’t pick up his fifth-year option and is a trade candidate. 

5 Tennessee Titans- George Kittle, TE Iowa

The People’s Tight End was an afterthought in the 2017 Draft and didn’t get drafted until the fifth round. Kittle exploded onto the scene in his second season, putting up the most receiving yards in a single season for a tight end. He’s just not a receiving threat though, he’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the league as well and is crucial to the 49ers run game. There’s simply no other tight end currently who is so dynamic in receiving and blocking than Kittle. Add in his energetic personality and he really is the second coming of Rob Gronkowski. Quite simply he’s the best tight-end in the league and was able to break records with Nick Mullens as his quarterback. Kittle is a superstar. The Titans originally went with Corey Davis, who was a late-rising prospect from Western Michigan. He has yet to reach 1,000 yards in a season and while it’s in part to lackluster quarterback play, he simply isn’t the starting receiver they had in mind as his fifth-year option was also declined. 

6 New York Jets- Jamal Adams, S LSU

The Jets hit this pick out of the park and in this re-draft they get their guy again in Jamal Adams. While their relationship has been a soap opera, Adams has become one of the best safeties in the league and a leader in the locker room. A two-time Pro Bowler and an All-Pro, Adams does everything the Jets ask him to do at an extremely high level. While contract talks have been rocky and trade rumors have surrounded him all season, Adams should be paid as the top safety in the league whether the Jets will agree to it or not. His situation with the team will be a fascinating story this upcoming season.

7 Los Angeles Chargers- Tre’Davious White, CB LSU

In a class stacked with top-end cornerback talent, White has been the best so far and has the highest upside. Named an All-Pro this past season, White has been the catalyst for the Bills defense by leading the league in interceptions and not allowing a touchdown against him all season. Outside of Stephon Gilmore, there isn’t a cornerback playing better than White right now. Adding White with the dynamic pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram would give the Chargers a top defense. The team selected Mike Williams who did just have a 1000 yard receiving season after spending the first two seasons as a complementary player. The upside is still there but needs to build off of this season’s success. 

8 Carolina Panthers- TJ Watt, EDGE Wisconsin

The Watt family name has become football royalty. His brother J.J. has been one of the best defensive players over the past decade and T.J. is becoming as good as J.J. His 34.5 sacks are the most for any player in this class and was an All-Pro this past season. It’s tough to dispute that he’s outperformed #1 overall pick Myles Garrett up to this point. Despite all of this, Watt has still been underrated in his career. Hell, I might even be putting him too low on this list. He may not have the flashy athleticism, but when it comes to rushing the passer, not too many are better than Watt at the moment. The Panthers selected Christian McCaffrey at this spot and he’s become the face of their franchise. While he’s already gone in this re-draft, getting a guy like Watt is a great consolation. 

9 Cincinnati Bengals- Marshon Lattimore, CB Ohio State

Another stud corner from this class is Marshon Lattimore, a two-time pro bowler, who’s been a rock in the secondary for the Saints. Coming from Ohio State, also known as DBU, Lattimore has constantly battled the likes of Mike Evans and Julio Jones in the NFC North and for the most part has held his own. A shutdown corner would provide stability to an otherwise shaky position group in Cincinnati. In reality, the Bengals selected John Ross III, a guy whose stock rose because of his all-time great 40 time but lacked the polish. As many expected, Ross hasn’t worked out and has yet to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving in his career. He’s flashed at times, but overall has been a bust and did not get his fifth-year option renewed.  

10 Buffalo Bills- JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR USC

It’s been years since the Bills had a legit #1 receiver (until just recently acquiring Stefon Diggs of course) and Smith-Schuster would have brought credibility and swagger to the Bills locker room. He was also the youngest player drafted in this class and has gone onto becoming the youngest player to reach 2,500 yards receiving. At worst, he’s going to become a fantastic second option. In this spot, the Chiefs changed their franchise forever by moving up to select Patrick Mahomes. I’d say that worked out well for them. It worked out pretty nicely for the Bills either as they got stud corner, Tre’Davious White at 27.

11 New Orleans Saints- Alvin Kamara, RB Tennessee

Three Pro Bowls in three years? Not a bad start for Mr. Kamara, who like McCaffrey has become a dual-threat out of the backfield. He was utilized in his first two seasons alongside Mark Ingram to form the best 1-2 punch in the league. Kamara is a great runner but has honestly been more effective as a pass-catcher, catching 81 passes in every season so far. He’s an explosive athlete yet savvy route-runner that allows him to get open. In this Saints offense, he’s the perfect player. While the Saints lucked out by getting him in the third round in 2017, their first-round pick was Marshon Lattimore who has been a great player for them and figures to be a part of their future plans on defense. 

12 Cleveland Browns- Chris Godwin, WR Penn State

The Browns were able to get their second first-round pick due to the Carson Wentz trade with the Eagles before the 2016 draft. Then, come time for this draft then traded down to the Texans who got their franchise quarterback in Deshaun Watson. So for those keeping track, that’s two stud quarterbacks the Browns passed on at one overall. At 25 they were able to get Jabrill Peppers who was eventually flipped for Odell Beckham, Jr. In this case however, they go get an emerging star receiver in Godwin. He’s had the benefit of being in a pass-first offense but the detriment of having Jameis Winston as his quarterback. Talk about a sticky situation. In this hypothetical, you pair Mahomes with a talented receiver that would grow as pro’s together. Ideal situation.

13 Arizona Cardinals- Budda Baker, S Washington

Another case where a team actually got a player on their own team but not in the first round in this redraft was the Cardinals with Budda Baker. Baker possibly has had great success early in his career and the only rookie named All-Pro in 2017. While he hasn’t yet recorded an interception in his career, he’s been a tackling machine and tough in coverage. The team has been able to line him up anywhere on the field and he excels. As Patrick Peterson reaches the end of his career, Baker replaces him as the heartbeat of the Cardinals defense. 

14 Philadelphia Eagles- Marlon Humphrey, CB Alabama

It seems like every year, particularly the last two, that the Eagles are a team in desperate need of a corner. Luckily in this scenario, they were able to have an All-Pro cornerback in Marlon Humphrey fall right into their laps. While Humphrey didn’t become a full-time starter until this past season, he made the most of it and became the star of the Ravens defense. He led the league with two defensive touchdowns and became the playmaker in the back end this team sorely needs. The Eagles drafted Derek Barnett, who has had some great moments including recovering a huge fumble in the Super Bowl LII. Despite this, he hasn’t performed to his draft slot, but still has the time to become a star. 

15 Indianapolis Colts- Ryan Ramcyzk, OT Wisconsin

The Colts couldn’t protect Andrew Luck for years and injuries seemed to be one of the main reasons why he retired. If they had invested any draft capital in the offensive line, maybe Luck is still playing today. Ramczyk is a two-time All-Pro and didn’t allow a sack this past season. PFF graded him out as the best tackle in the 2019 season. With Anthony Castonzo on the left and Ramczyk on the right, you have one of the best tackle duos in the league. The Colts went with Malik Hooker at this point and he’s been a very good player, just not at a position of the utmost importance as a team. 

16 Baltimore Ravens- Kenny Golladay, WR Northern Illinois

Before Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback, the Ravens offense the previous few seasons was as exciting as watching paint dry. They sorely lacked a playmaker that would strike fear in the opposing defense. In this scenario, they get a big-play receiver in Golladay. In 2019, he was 4th in yards per reception and that was without Stafford for most of the season. For his efforts, he was named to his first Pro Bowl and is now the centerpiece of the Lions offense. That’s the kind of playmaking that any team, especially one that struggled with offense, envies. Marlon Humphrey was the pick here and was well worth it, but alas doesn’t make it to this point now.

17 Washington Redskins- Eddie Jackson, S Alabama

The unsung hero of the Bears defense is Jackson, a two-time Pro Bowler and 2018 All-Pro. Seriously, if you ask the casual fan they might not have heard of him. He gets overshadowed by players like Khalil Mack, but Jackson is almost a carbon-copy of Earl Thomas. A ballhawk who has forced fifteen turnovers (ten interceptions) in three seasons, he’s become the back end player who’s been one of the largest beneficiaries of the Bears pass rush. The Redskins could use a turnover machine on defense like Jackson and while they went with Jonathan Allen here, who’s been a solid player, he doesn’t have the upside or immediate impact Jackson gives you. 

18 Tennessee Titans- Cooper Kupp, WR Eastern Washington
One of the reasons why the Titans may have reached for Corey Davis at 5 was because of the need for a wide receiver. At this point in the draft, they would be getting one of the best route-runners in the league in Cooper Kupp. Kupp has seen his role increase every year and despite tearing his ACL in 2018, he rebounded quite well in 2019 with an 1100 yard receiving season. He might not have the upside as the other receivers already drafted, but he is going to be a starting receiver in this league for a long time. At this spot the Titans went with Adoree Jackson, who many believed was a reach but has become a solid corner who’s still developing. 

19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Malik Hooker, S Ohio State

It’s been years since the Buccaneers had stable safety play and Hooker would be the deep safety to help solidify the secondary. Hooker was off to a hot start early in his career before going down with a torn ACL halfway through his rookie season. Since then, there have been ups and downs in his career, mostly due to more injury problems. When healthy, he’s an obvious talent that can change the game. However, the Colts surprisingly declined his fifth-year option which might just be a sign that I overvalue him. The team went with O.J. Howard at this slot, who while very talented, has been inconsistent. He might have a chance with Brady as his quarterback to reach that potential but the clock is running out on Howard. 

20 Denver Broncos- Dalvin Cook, RB Florida State

Cook himself has had his fair share of injury concerns ranging from shoulder, knee, hamstring, and chest ailments in his early career. Those injuries hampered his first two seasons as a pro before having a Pro Bowl season in 2019. Even with that season, he did most of his damage early in the year and the last eight games (including the postseason), he only averaged three yards a carry. By playing in Denver he would be the featured back but still a part of a rotation that would help keep him fresh and hopefully healthy. The Broncos went with Garrett Bolles, who’s one of the league’s most penalized linemen. The team figures to keep him as the starting left tackle for this upcoming season, but the team declined his fifth-year option. 

21 Detroit Lions- Jonathan Allen, DL Alabama

Allen was seen as a top-ten prospect who saw a bit of a draft-day stumble due to a shoulder injury and landed at 17 to the Redskins. While injuries derailed his first season, the last two he has been very steady. The Lions have shuffled players in and out of the defensive line rotation the past few seasons and haven’t had the consistency needed, especially at defensive tackle. The team tried solving a similar issue at linebacker with Jarrad Davis, who seemed to be a reach at the time, and he’s struggled so far in his career. His fifth year option wasn’t picked up.

22 Miami Dolphins- Evan Engram, TE Clemson

Another case of a talented yet injured player from this class is Evan Engram> he’s listed as a tight end but is essentially a big receiver who lines up at the “Y” position for the Giants. The Dolphins are a team in need of offensive playmakers and while Engrams; injury history, especially with concussions is concerning, he’s too talented of a player to pass up. The Dolphins went with Charles Harris, who was traded for a seventh-round pick in 2021. Safe to say it didn’t work out too well. 

23 New York Giants- Jabrill Peppers, S Michigan

While Peppers in real life is a Giant, he was drafted as a Brown and traded after two seasons to the Big Apple. He was the starter at strong safety this past season but lines up in a few places due to his versatility. While he will probably never become a superstar like he was in college, there’s still plenty of untapped potential there that makes Giants fans excited for the future. The Giants went with Evan Engram here, who was just selected in this exercise by the Dolphins.

24 Las Vegas Raiders- Kevin King, CB Washington

The Oakland native gets to play his first three seasons here and the Raiders get some much-needed help at corner. The team has used plenty of early draft capital on corners over the past decade, but none have quite yet seemed to work out. They have a promising defensive line, above average linebackers and the secondary is the main work in progress. King only played in fifteen total games over his first two seasons, but put together a strong season in 2019 by leading the Packers with five interceptions. He has the desired size and athleticism for a corner and if he can stay healthy, he has the chance to become a Pro Bowler. The Raiders went with another corner here in Gareon Conley, who couldn’t crack the starting lineup and was traded for a third-rounder this past season. 

25 Houston Texans- Leonard Fournette, RB LSU

Fournette maybe hasn’t lived up to the hype as a fourth overall pick, but he’s still a pretty damn good running back. He was the focal point of the offense as a rookie but has struggled with injuries and poor quarterback play the past few seasons. GIving the Texans a legit running back would provide some run/pass balance in their offense. The team did move up to get Watson, a great trade for them and the Browns selected Jabrill Peppers at this spot. 

26 Seattle Seahawks- Shaquill Griffin, CB UCF

There was a five-year stretch where the Seahawks only made one first-round pick, with them often trading down to get more day 2 and 3 picks. However, in this case they have to keep their pick and in return get one of their own in Shaquill Griffin. He’s been an instant starter for the team and was named a pro bowler in 2019. He may never be a flashy player, but is consistent. The Falcons traded up to this spot to get Takkarist McKinley, who has been up and down so far and the team did not pick up his fifth-year option.

27 Kansas City Chiefs- Mike Williams, WR Clemson

Mike Williams was seen as a high ceiling receiver coming out of Clemson despite a few injury concerns. He was drafted seventh overall despite this and for a few seasons, it took until this past season for him to be really featured in the offense. The jury is still out on him, but his potential alone makes him a worthwhile selection. The Chiefs have plenty of speed on offense but could benefit from a possession receiver like Williams and Andy Reid would make sure he’s a focal point of the offense. The Bills traded with the Chiefs (Mahomes trade) and drafted All-Pro Tre’Davious White at this spot, who has become one of the best corners in the league. 

28 Dallas Cowboys- OJ Howard, TE Alabama

I previously mentioned how Howard has been relatively inconsistent so far and every preseason, experts keep anticipating a breakout season. He can develop into one of the games best tight ends but really needs to take a step forward in his progression soon. The Cowboys would love a guy like Howard due to his potential and the chance to learn from Jason Witten for a few seasons. The team drafted Taco Charlton here who was released just two weeks into the 2019 season. He signed with the Dolphins before being released again and recently signed with the Chiefs. 

29 Green Bay Packers- Aaron Jones, RB UTEP

It took a new coach for Aaron Jones to help come into his own. He led the NFL in rushing touchdowns this season and cracked 1000 yards for the first time. The Packers got a steal by drafting the former UTEP running back in the fifth round as he is a perfect fit for the zone scheme the Packers run. The Browns traded up to this spot for David Njoku, a player with so much skill but can’t stay on the field. He’s been the subject of trade but he’s fifth-year option was picked up so it seems the team has big plans for him in the future. 

30 Pittsburgh Steelers- Adoree Jackson, CB USC
Jackson was seen as more athlete than football player coming out of USC so it surprised a few when the Titans took him in the first round. He has become a pretty solid player for Tennessee and became a starter right off the bat. He’s also one of the younger players in the class and still only 23 so has the chance to continue to develop. The Steelers struck gold here by taking T.J. Watt, but he’s long gone at this point and a player with the skill of Jackson you can’t pass up for a corner-needy team like Pittsburgh. 

31 Atlanta Falcons- Derek Barnett, EDGE Tennessee

This pick bounced around a few times from Atlanta to Seattle to finally San Francisco, but Atlanta gets to keep this slot and go with Barnett. They targeted Tak McKinley, who hasn’t worked out too well for them and while Barnett may have not totally lived up to the hype coming out of college, he’s still been a solid pass rusher and is just now getting a chance to get true starter playing time. The 49ers took a risk by trading up for talented yet troubled Linebacker Reuben Foster here and halfway through his second season he was released after a few arrests. He’s now with the Redskins and is coming off of a torn achilles. 

32 New Orleans Saints- Marcus Williams, S Utah

The Saints traded Brandin Cooks a month before the draft to the Patriots and with the pick they take another player who they drafted later on in Marcus Williams. That’s now four players the team drafted now ending up in the first round of this redraft. Very impressive. Williams has ten interceptions in three seasons and is a good starting free safety in this league. He may be best known for missing the tackle on the “Minnesota Miracle” play, but that does not define who he is as a player. The last pick of the first round was Ryan Ramyczk, who as we know is one of the better tackles in the league. 

First Rounders not drafted this time

2. Mitchell Trubisky

3. Solomon Thomas 

5. Corey Davis

9. John Ross

13. Haason Reddick

20. Garrett Bolles

21. Jarrad Davis

22. Charles Harris

24. Gareon Conley

26. Takkarist McKinley

28. Taco Charlton

29. David Njoku

31. Reuben Foster

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NFL Film Breakdown: Is Dak Prescott Worth the Money?

While the Cowboys may have underachieved this past season, Dak Prescott threw for highs in yards (4,902), yards per attempt (8.2), and touchdowns (30) in his contract year. He didn’t get the long-term contract that he wanted, but he did get a one year, $33 million franchise tag while the Cowboys try to figure out a deal for the quarterback. His legs make him dynamic and he thrives in clean pockets with the ability to make all the throws you could ask for. He can throw deep outs from the opposite hash, has a solid deep ball, and when he throws in rhythm he can dice up defenses. While he has all the physical tools, at times he can lock onto receivers, take extra hitches that make him late on throws, and can struggle with over-striding in his throwing mechanics which causes some inaccuracy. Is he worth a big contract from Dallas? Let’s check out the film and find out.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

Dak’s legs definitely add an element to his game that not every quarterback has. He’s a surprisingly powerful runner and can absolutely make defenses pay – especially in man coverage when they turn their backs to him.

Although rare, the Cowboys even call zone reads and trust him to get chunks of yardage off of it. Here he’s reading the defensive end. If he comess straight down the line of scrimmage, Dak will pull it and run around him to the outside. If #90 goes vertical and sits on the edge, Dak will hand the ball off to the running back. The left tackle does a great job of taking his zone steps and getting a piece of the linebacker #55 and Dak is able to take advantage of the space and get an explosive play on the ground.

Combine his ability to run with his arm talent and you’ve got a pretty dynamic quarterback. Whether he’s getting tackled or driving the ball in a clean pocket, he’s capable of making some really impressive plays. He can create both in the passing game and in the run game by using his legs.

Below he shows anticipation and arm strength by throwing the deep out route to the sideline from the opposite hash.

He also does a generally good job of diagnosing coverages and changing the velocity of his balls to fit them into windows. Below he reads Cover 2 and fits the ball into the honey hole down the sideline between the corner in the flats and the Cover 2 safety over the top.

He also does a great job when throwing on rhythm with only one or two hitches. He becomes more accurate, is able to read defenses quickly, and find open areas in zone.

Dak has shown the ability to be a top tier quarterback. The issue is he can struggle with consistency. While in the previous gif of hitting the honey hole, he saw the rotating safety and threw an appropriate ball, in this next gif he does the opposite. He misses the safety rotation into Cover 2 from the Rams (top of the screen) and throws a ball that has too much air under it and really should be intercepted along the sideline.

He also has a huge issue with over-striding on his throws. Over-striding creates a base that is too wide and happens when his lead foot extends out too far when he begins his throwing motion. This really limits his ability to rotate his hips, generate power, and throw accurately. You can try it at home yourself and over extend your non-dominant leg and try to get your hips to point forwards over your toes. You can’t. Now if you tighten your base to just outside shoulder distance, you can get full rotation of your hips and get them pointed forwards. You can see below just how wide his base is on his throw, causing him to be unable to rotate his hips fully and leave his back foot as he throws which causes the ball to die on him and go into ground in front of the receiver.

You can see from behind now what it looks like for him to be unable to get his hips fully into the throw. He can’t bring his back leg all the way through on the follow through and is off balance and falling back onto his right foot after completing his throwing motion. All this causes the ball to be low and behind the receiver.

He can also have a tendency to stick on his first read a lot. I’m all for taking the shot below when you see man coverage on one of your best receivers in Amari Cooper, but the corner plays it well off the line and is in his hip pocket. Then Dak throws the ball out of bounds anyways. If he instead came off that read after Cooper didn’t win the route immediately to find Randall Cobb #18 sitting right over the ball it’s obviously a much more productive play.

You can see it again below. The Eagles ran a ton of man coverage against the Cowboys in this game and Dallas had the perfect play dialed up for it out of a tight bunch formation. It works exactly as it was drawn up. Randall Cobb from the slot has his defender rubbed and he’s open for a huge play down the sideline on a wheel route. That should be the primary read on the play. You’re trying to create that natural rub and force defenders to navigate traffic and stay with their man. Instead, Dak stays on Amari Cooper the whole play on the intermediate crosser and misses both Cobb and Jason Witten wide open to the top of the screen and in the middle of the field.

Dak has all the tools and has shown he can perform at a high level. He can put different velocity on the ball with touch and power, can make reads, has incredible athleticism and power for a QB and can really excel in a clean pocket. While issues pop up with his mechanics and missed reads, it’d be hard to find a free agent quarterback that would be better or even come close to offering the Cowboys what Dak can. With a new offensive system and a coach that helped shape Aaron Rodgers in Mike McCarthy, Dak may end up taking that next step and go from very good quarterback to one of the top tier quarterbacks in the league. Only time will tell but Dak is certainly not the issue in Dallas and has the tools to put the team on his back and push them into contention year after year.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

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2020 Cardinals Draft Review: Heating Up In The Desert

After a terrible 2018 season, the Cardinals embarked on a new journey in 2019 that some would consider to be a major risk. An undersized quarterback and a new head coach that had little success at the college level left the team in uncharted waters. A 5-10-1 record may seem like a bad season, but they were better than their record indicated and have only improved this offseason with now many believing they will be one of the most improved teams this upcoming season. After a strong free agency/trade period, the draft was the cherry on top of a great few months. The Cardinals now have a direction and identity, next up is building a winning culture. 

1.8- Isaiah Simmons, LB/S Clemson

We’ve all heard about Isaiah Simmons at this point. He’s a player that is athletically off the charts for his size who is a true one of a kind type player, as he could be a high-level linebacker or safety. In addition to his freak athleticism, he has an incredibly high IQ and excels against the run and pass both. An incredibly underrated aspect of his game is his ability to use his length to his advantage. In pass defense, he uses his arms to jam up receivers and to defend passes. In the run, he engages with much bigger blockers and disengages them quickly to make the play. He covers so much ground that he may also be a spy against a quarterback, most notably Russell Wilson on the Seahawks. By himself, he eliminates the threat of a quarterback scramble. However, there are natural questions about the fit in this 3-4 defense. Personally, I don’t think Vance Joseph is an elite defensive coordinator and don’t think he’s creative enough to unlock Simmons’ potential. I could be very wrong and even if I am right, that would mean Joseph isn’t there for the long haul. What I think the Cardinals would, and should, do is become a true hybrid defense. Utilize Chandler Jones as an end with his hand in the dirt more often and try to play Simmons in a more traditional weakside linebacker. This would allow him to use his speed and quickness tracking down running backs and then when it comes down to third down, have him guard a tight end or someone out of the backfield. The NFC West has George Kittle, Tyler Higbee, and a zillion tight ends in Seattle, so when it comes to matching up against them, you’ll have the human eraser with Simmons. In this sense, Simmons becomes a safety and you could drop him in zone or creep him up in the box and man up in press coverage. Simmons was one of the most polarizing players in the draft, only because he’s nothing like we’ve seen before which is something that should excite a team. While it could take a season for Simmons to carve out his role, his upside is off the charts and I think he could be at the end of the day one of the two or three best players in this class. 

*2nd rounder for Hopkins

I won’t get too deep into this but just wanted to say… holy crap. What a trade. There’s close to no downside with this trade and if Hopkins continues to play as he has, this Cardinals offense will be one of the NFL’s best. 

3.72- Josh Jones, OT Houston

The Cardinals boasted one of the worst offensive lines a season ago, especially at tackle where they have D.J. Humphries on the left and a question mark on the right side. Kyler Murray can cover up a lot of the line’s deficiencies due to his speed, but we all know that he’s undersized and he’s not going to be able to run on every play. That makes the Josh Jones selection one of the best in the entire draft. Jones for being a fifth-year senior is still raw, his technique and footwork are a work in progress but his athleticism, length, and attitude will make him a starter immediately. In this offensive system which is predicated on speed and spreading the defense out, Jones will be able to play to his strengths and it’ll cover up his issues while he continues to progress. He would presumably become the starter at right tackle right away and then eventually progress to the left side. The Cardinals have a lot of faith in Humphries, but he’s an average tackle, and Jones has the potential to surpass his skill level. In order to get to the top of the division, you’ll have to go through the 49ers, who quite possibly have the best pass rush in the league. Keep beefing up that offensive line Arizona, this is a great first step. 

4.114- Leki Fotu, DL Utah

After a season of being one of the worst defenses across the board, changes had to be made. The first pick was Simmons, then the next two they decided to get some beef on that defensive line, and quite frankly they don’t get much beefier than Leki Fotu. At 6-5, 340 pounds, Fotu is a nose tackle but may not be implemented as a strict 0 technique (lined up over the center). He has shown in college that he has the athleticism to be effective lining up as a 1 or 2 technique (1 is between the guard and tackle and 2 is over the guard). He grew up as a rugby player and you can see it in the way he plays at times. He’s a human bowling ball, just dominating players with his strength and his explosiveness in short areas in special for someone his size. General Manager compared him to Buccaneers DL Vita Vea, which is high praise as Vea was one of the best nose tackles in the league last season. Fotu isn’t a great pass rusher and doesn’t show much technique on that end. However, when you’re bigger and stronger than everyone else, you usually never have to rely on anything else. The Cardinals did just sign nose tackle Jordan Phillips to a three-year deal, but Kliff Kingsbury did say they want to use Phillips all across the line and Vance Joseph has coached Phillips in the past and must trust his versatility across the line. With Seattle and San Francisco having two of the best rushing attacks in the league in your  division, Arizona couldn’t just sit around another season and rely solely on their offense out-scouring them. While Fotu isn’t the dynamic pass rusher so many teams covet now, he’s a space-eater who will carve out a solid role in a suddenly much deeper defensive line. 

4.131- Rashard Lawrence, DL LSU

The second big fella on the defensive line that the Cardinals picked to help their run defense was Rashard Lawrence, one of the team captains from the defending national champion LSU Tigers. Lawrence and Fotu share some similarities as good run-stuffers but go about it in much different ways. While Fotu is just a behemoth of a man and is more suited for a nose tackle role where he can use his sheer strength and athletic ability to bully you, Lawrence relies on his motor and low center of gravity to occupy blockers. He’s a tad short for a defensive lineman (6-2) but as previously mentioned, he uses that to his advantage because he’s able to keep his pad level lower and use his lower body strength to push offensive lineman back. He’s never going to fill up the box score but does the subtle things to be effective. He’s going to take on blockers and blow up blockers forcing the running back or quarterback to redirect. He’ll also never take a play off and give it everything he has on every play. Not many players can genuinely say that they give maximum effort, but Lawrence is one of them. Much like Fotu, he won’t offer you much as a pass rusher. He isn’t quick nor does he have the pass rush moves you’d like to see. Due to this, he might only become a two-down player and rotational piece across the line. He reminds me so much of former LSU Tiger, Ricky Jean-Francois. A positive member of the locker room who may never get the spotlight or attention, but plays for several years and does the dirty work that will go unnoticed in great defenses. I’d line him up as a two-gap tackle and a guy you’ll want to give twenty snaps a game too. Currently, the Cardinals don’t really have a lineman (not counting Chandler Jones) that has had a history of success in the league (Phillips has only had one big season). Because of this, the door is open for Lawrence to get playing time. And as a gambling man, I would never bet against a guy like Lawrence so I would expect him to be a fan favorite in no time. 

6.202- Evan Weaver, LB Cal

Continuing on the theme of needing to strengthen the defense, the Cardinals picked another stud run defender who faces limitations in his all-around game. Ten years ago, Weaver would have been a first-round pick. The Pac 12 Defensive Player of the Year and First Team All-American is a stud against the run, accumulating over 300 tackles in his last two seasons combined. He takes great angles to take down the ball carriers and is able to read blockers as good as any college player. He’s never going to chase down a running back from behind and in many ways is the opposite in terms of athleticism to Simmons. However, he never quits on a play and if he’s not the one making the tackle, he’s going to be close to the ball. His main concern as a player is a lack of coverage ability, both in man and zone. He’s a poor athlete at the NFL level and while he’s a high IQ player, it still doesn’t make up for his slow first step and lack of top-end speed. Often he was beaten in coverage with one simple juke or cut against players who aren’t necessarily premier talents. Having a player of Simmons’s ability however, could make up for Weaver’s deficiencies as a player. Using Weaver as a 3-4 linebacker where he’s playing in tighter areas will allow him to not have to rely on his speed or quickness. Also, Simmons covers as much ground as any linebacker in the entire league possibly so that means Weaver won’t have to be used in coverage much and if he is, it’ll be more so in zone guarding a tighter area. Between Simmons, Jordan Hicks, and De’Vondre Campbell, I would not expect Weaver to see much playing time on defense in year one. Let him develop a bit in practice while he produces on special teams as a rookie. Eventually, you could see Weaver in the middle of a 4-3 defense or, probably the best case for him, add some weight, and utilize his run defending ability as a SAM linebacker. 

6.222- Eno Benjamin, RB Arizona State

When you have a quarterback who can run like Kyler Murray, it doesn’t matter how much you want to pass as a play-caller, you need to get creative on run designs. Because of this, a running back has an opportunity to get a lot of yards while the defense has to respect the other threats in a spread offense. We saw Kenyan Drake’s career take off after being traded to Arizona and averaged 5.2 yards a carry, by far the best he’s done. Despite this, Drake is a free agent after the season and if he performs well again, he could be in line for a bigger contract. Thus the Cardinals will have to explore their options. Chase Edmonds has done well as a backup the past two seasons in limited snaps and the team might want to give him more carries this season to see what they have. Now, they have the local product to round out the running back room in Eno Benjamin. Benjamin for a sixth-round pick is a pretty well-rounded player. He has a lot of success in college and displayed good athleticism and versatility in Tempe. The thing that held him back in college was his lack of patience. Too often he would just run into the backs of offensive lineman rather than let the play develop. This could be a combination of a few things: lack of awareness, poor vision, bad offensive line play, or over-aggressiveness. Whatever it might be, this won’t be a huge problem in the Cardinals scheme. In a shotgun spread system, he will have fewer bodies in the box and athletic lineman in front of him creating holes. Benjamin also has some receiving ability that makes him a three-down playmaker. Drake will undoubtedly be the lead back and primary ball carrier but Benjamin has a chance to carve out a small role that could develop into a starting spot at some point in the future. 

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Reich Has Indy’s Run-Game Rolling

The Indianapolis Colts racked up 2,130 rushing yards on 4.5 yards per attempt and boasted the #3 ranked offensive line according to PFF. Marlon Mack went over 1,000 yards rushing and added 8 touchdowns on the ground. Their guard Quenton Nelson has the best two-year run-blocking grade and what used to be a weakness for the Colts has been totally revamped in the last few years. Nyheim Hines adds speed and a receiving threat out of the backfield with 320 yards receiving and the scheme run by Frank Reich since coming over from Philadelphia has really set the Colts up for success. Reich’s diverse run game creates lanes and different looks similar to the way that Shanahan does in San Francisco and the Ravens have done with Lamar Jackson.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Coming from the Andy Reid and Doug Pederson coaching tree, Reich differs from Shanahan and McVay mainly in his lack of pre-snap motions and shifts and using multiple schemes as the foundation of the run game. There definitely is still some window dressing but Reich largely attacks in the multitude of ways he asks his linemen to block. Many teams subscribe to slight variations of inside zone or outside zone. A few sprinkle in power and pin and pull schemes – Frank Reich does it all. The change in the Eagles run game without him has been the most telling as they have shifted to an almost exclusively outside zone team with Miles Sanders since he left.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

We’ll start with their use of the outside zone and stretch and then progress to the multiple looks that the Colts gave defenses. The big difference between outside zone and stretch is the aiming point and track of the offensive line and running back. In outside zone this is typically off-tackle. In a stretch scheme, the aiming point is the force defender outside – usually an outside linebacker or strong safety. The basic concepts are the same though. The 49ers run it a ton with Raheem Mostert as do the Raiders with Josh Jacobs. The Colts offensive line is impressively athletic and fast though and can really reach and seal on stretch looks to the outside.

Dallas Cowboys strong safety Jeff Heath (38) moves to tackle Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack (25) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Here, the Colts run outside zone weak away from a tight bunch formation with #84, Jack Doyle and two receivers. This causes some alignment issues for the Jaguars as they’re now strapped to maintain a numbers advantage to either side. They have 6 on 5 to the strong side with a corner off the screen and 4 on 4 to the weak side with a middle field safety. Simple math says to run weak and that’s just what the Colts do. Since the defensive end is playing in a wide 9 technique, the play-side tackle doesn’t even try to reach and scoop him and instead drives him up and out of the play. Quenten Nelson #56 does a great job of fighting to get his hips square and keep the defender inside his frame which allows the running back to get outside. Once he’s outside, it’s the running back on the safety 15 yards down the field. This isn’t anything wild or schematically crazy. Reich just set up a formation to put the defense in conflict and then took advantage of the numbers.

When the outside does get walled off and that aiming point outside the tackle or force defender is taken away, all of the Colts’ running backs do a good job of reading and cutting underneath flowing defenders. Since the Colts are so effective at reaching and getting outside, it forces linebackers to scrape over the top more aggressively which then opens up some comeback lanes backside which is exactly why the outside zone scheme can be so effective for backs with good vision.

They’ll also run outside zone out of a split back formation which isn’t something you see a ton. The 49ers will do it with Kyle Jusczyk or Kittle at fullback or H but rarely will they line up in a true split back formation. This again gives the Colts the numbers advantage. There’s 4 defenders on 4 blockers and it’s the backside linebacker that ends up having to scrape across all the traffic and make the play downfield.

Sometimes, the Colts line doesn’t even need the formational help. They can straight up just be more athletic and seal off linebackers and defensive ends.

A small wrinkle to add to the outside zone look is to put in a split flow with the H back coming across to attack the backside defensive end. This allows for more space on cutbacks in case defensive end or outside linebackers stay tight to the line of scrimmage and hold contain.

If defenses are falling asleep on that backside crunch action, the Colts will just hand it off to the H coming across on a jet action.

A less common addition to that outside zone look that I absolutely love is the power pitch underneath it. The track of the running back stays the same but the play-side defensive end is left unblocked now and the backside guard pulls around as if he’s running power. If the unblocked defensive end comes upfield, the guard should go underneath him and lead up the field on the pitch option to the H. If the end stays flat or comes down the line, you give it to the running back. I’m also a big fan of shifting into a split back formation with one of their receivers Pascal to give a different look and to then hand it to him on the outside zone look with Ashton Dulin, another one of their receivers, being the pitch option.

You can also see another shovel option with a normal split back look and Jack Doyle running the shovel track.

The Colts also like to run pin and pull action with their athletic linemen. They’ll even trust smaller receivers like #14 Zach Pascal to wall off and pin defensive ends when they’re in tight splits close to the offensive linemen. This makes it tough for linebackers and defensive tackles to scrape across the pin and allows for bigger guys to get in space and block smaller defensive backs. The rest of the line runs a stretch and seal concept where they sprint to get leverage to the play-side and then wall off defenders almost like a punt return or kick return to one side of the field. They run it both with and without a receiver and it’s just as lethal with the tackle pinning as a wide receiver in a tight split

One of my favorite window dressing plays is a simple down-block concept that has everyone on the line attack and seal the first person to their inside shoulder with the H coming across on a crunch that works almost like a single person counter action. It was super effective and opened up gaping holes. Both times, Reich runs it off of a shift which forces the defense to communicate before quick snapping it and coming back across to the same side the shift came from.

Throw in some jet sweep or orbit motions and now you’ve got defenses totally out of position with linebackers tracking the jet and filling incorrectly which allows for the Colts offensive line to take good angles and open up huge holes for Mack and company to take advantage of. Watch the linebackers and see how many of them track and go with the orbit motion instead of staying play-side with the running back.

So now if you’re a defensive end or linebacker you can get stretched and sealed on outside zone, kicked out by an H on split zone, run underneath on a shovel option, or pinned by a receiver or an offensive tackle. It makes their jobs incredibly tough and gives false read keys for linebackers as well. Add some window dressing and flare on top of it and you’re asking a whole lot of every single one of the defensive players in the run game. Receivers can end up in the backfield, at H, motioned, released on play action, and the list goes on.

Reich has completely transformed the Colts’ running game. The diversity in looks that they give teams every single week make them difficult to prepare for and with a stable of capable backs in Mack, Hines, Wilkins, and now Jonathan Taylor taken in the 3rd round of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Colts are going to be a tough team to stop on the ground. Throw in Philip Rivers to keep defenses honest and the Colts could absolutely win the AFC South. Frank Reich has built that offense to live off the run game. Now that they have a quarterback again, they should give the Ravens and the Chiefs a run for their money to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

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2020 Browns Draft Review: The Joke Is Over In Cleveland

For decades the Cleveland Browns were the laughing stock of the NFL. The 2019 season was supposed to change that, with the addition of Odell Beckham, Jr. and the emergence of Baker Mayfield, they were primed for a playoff appearance. However, like so many great jokes, the set up just helped create laughs when the joke was delivered. Now, with a new GM and head coach, it seems (maybe?) the Browns finally got things figured out. After a strong free agency period, they followed up with one of the best draft classes of the year. Rather than going for the splashy names like the previous regime, they found a middle ground between the best player available and need. They face stiff competition in their division, but Cleveland may soon have a winner, which would be in part to this draft class. 

1.10 Jedrick Wills, OT Alabama

It was no secret that one of the Browns biggest weaknesses on last year’s team was the offensive line, which acted more like swiss cheese than the brick wall it’s supposed to be. So, when one of, if not the best tackle prospect who should have been a top-five pick, dropped to ten it was a sign that the football Gods were smiling on Cleveland. While Wills played on the right side in college, he will more than likely take over the spot vacated by Cheech and Chong Greg Robinson who is no longer with the team and did a poor job last season, forcing Baker to be rushed into many throws or having to take a sack. With established right tackle Jack Conklin on the team, it makes more sense to keep him comfortable there and grow with your tackle of the future on the left side. While you may think it’s an easy transition moving from the right, it’s not as seamless as one would think, particularly in footwork, and with OTA’s not happening, so Wills might show some growing pains early. However, in short order, he will rise to the ranks of best blindside protectors in the league. He’s a physical, no-nonsense tone-setter that has the athletic and technical skills you look for. No other tackle in this year’s class, or the previous year’s class for that matter, has the ability to use his hands and feet better than Wills. Whether he’s exploding off the ball or using his hands to stabilize a bull rush, there’s really nothing he can’t do. Long-term he’s going to become a tackle you can trust in one on ones, no need for a tight end to stay in or help chip. That’s the best quality a team can ask for in a tackle, and the Browns now have that again. The team has quickly turned a weakness into a strength, following the recipe that wins are built in the trenches, and protecting your most valuable asset is of the utmost importance. 

2.44 Grant Delpit, S LSU

Drafting a top-ten player in terms of talent in the second round? That’s an absolute win. I’m a huge Delpit fan and think he’s going to be an impact player for many years. Yes, he wasn’t as good this past season as he was in 2018 but he was still good enough to win the Thorpe Award, given to the nation’s best secondary player. Teams, sometimes rightfully, decide to overanalyze the faults in players rather than the things they do well. Delpit has great size and athleticism that enables him to play either safety spot in most schemes, however, the Browns are likely to play him at free safety which would better utilize his talents. He displays great range and football IQ that allows him to quickly diagnose plays and be in the right position more often than not. The safety position has been the Browns version of a revolving door the past few seasons, having no stability whatsoever. Currently, the team has Andrew Sendejo and Karl Joseph as presumed starters, but neither has shown any promise of being good NFL starters. Thus, Delpit becomes the new favorite to start. Both of the aforementioned veterans are more thumpers, while that’s Delpit’s weakness. His broken collarbone injury in 2018 had seemingly a physiological impact on his game as in 2019, he seemed to shy away from contact more and missed tackles due to poor tackling mechanics. Delpit’s strength though is his coverage ability and versatility in the back end. I would suspect that Delpit starts week one at safety and becomes a good starter immediately. When/if he can fix his tackling problems, he instantly becomes a secondary chess piece. Line him up at either spot, play center field or in the box, blitz, line him up in man against the tight ends, the possibilities are endless. 

3.88 Jordan Elliot, DL Missouri

After going with two accomplished players, Browns decided to get a lottery ticket with their third pick. Elliot has the look you want in a player, tall and muscular, but leaves a lot to be desired in terms of production. Right now he’s as raw as an uncooked steak and needs a lot of coaching up on simple things, all of which are fixable. He’ll get bullied way too often than he should be, which is more than likely because of poor functional strength. A way to improve this would be to keep your pad level lower and be stronger with your hands, both skills that could develop within a few years. The thing that Elliot does well is occupying blockers and keeping gap integrity, a vital quality that a defensive lineman needs. The Browns currently have Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi ahead of him, letting Elliot the ability to develop this season. However, both of the previously mentioned veterans could be gone after the season. Richardson is solid, but expensive, and might not be worth keeping around at eleven million dollars a year. Ogunjobi has been good but is a free agent after the season. Personally, I think Elliot will need more than just one season to become an NFL starter as he’s a project now, but the new regime in Cleveland feels like they can sculpt him into a solid player.

3.97 Jacob Phillips, LB LSU

The Browns linebacking corp is in a bit of transition with the loss of leading tackler and middle linebacker, Joe Schobert, and don’t have a surefire replacement. Mack Wilson started and performed well for a fifth-round rookie a season ago and are scheduled to roll with Sione Takitaki, a third-round pick from a season ago, at middle linebacker but still need some depth and competition at the position. Enter former LSU tiger, Jacob Phillips. He played a bit in Patrick Queen’s shadow but was the leading tackler on the national championship team. While he does struggle in pass coverage, due to the fact he has trouble reading quarterbacks eyes and processing opponents routes, he is a great run defender. Will be aggressive as he flows to the ball and not afraid of getting physical with blockers. His role early might be at SAM, where his focus will be to engage with tight ends and tackles trying to blow up a run play, but his speed and tackling abilities show he has the chance to be a long-term solution in the middle. In a division now where you have to face Lamar Jackson twice a year, you’re going to need athletic linebackers who will move sideline to sideline. This is an upside pick, but if Phillips can speed up his mental processing and become a better overall football player, he has the chance to carve out a role on this defense. At worst, he becomes a special team standout. 

4.115 Harrison Bryant, TE Florida Atlantic 

On paper, this pick was confusing. Yes, Bryant is a very talented player worthy of a fourth-round selection but the Browns already have a great one-two punch with Austin Hooper and David Njoku. One would figure that the Browns would run more two tight end sets, which perfectly suits their style of play. In a two tight end formation, you can’t focus on the run or pass, so a creative offensive mind will be able to keep the defense on their toes. Last season, with Stefanksi calling the plays, went two tight ends with Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith, and Hooper and Njoku are a major upgrade over that duo. There are rumors that Njoku is on the trade block which inserts Bryant into this scenario. If Njoku is moved, Bryant starts to see a lot more snaps. Bryant would be utilized as a more move tight end/h-back, even lining up at fullback at times. He’s not a great blocker and would struggle against defensive linemen and possibly even stronger linebackers. I would like to see him be used frequently moving in motion and as a field stretcher in the play-action game. Hopefully, the Browns keep Njoku for one more season to see that tight end duo play together, but if not then Bryant will see a good amount of playing time. 

5.160 Nick Harris, C Washington

Versatile? Check. Athletic? Check. Smart? Check. If a player has those three qualities, more likely than not they’ll be a pro in this league for a long time. Harris checks all those boxes and while he might not necessarily see the field right off the bat, he can fill in at any spot across the interior offensive line. The Browns are pretty good in the trenches with J.C. Tretter, Wyatt Teller, and Joel Bitonio but every team is always one injury away from a completely different outlook. While Harris may never be a consistent starter, he’s never going to be a detriment to his team. He’s quite small for a lineman, maybe one of the smallest in the league at 6-1 295 pounds, but makes up for it in quickness and IQ. At Washington, he was often used as a puller or in double teams before moving to the second level to block a linebacker. In short-yardage situations and it came to power running, he would get overwhelmed with speed and length of defensive tackles. His length and lack of strength will be the thing that holds him back, but that still doesn’t mean he can’t play. He has a high IQ which is displayed in making line changes and in almost always making the right block. At the worst, the Browns have a pretty cheap, high-level depth player at a position where injuries are unfortunately very common. While the plan may not be for Harris to see a lot of playing time, I’d bet over the next four seasons he will make more than a handful of starts and do a good job at it. 

6.187 Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR Michigan

As I mentioned previously, the Browns do not have a legit third receiver at the moment. Guys like Rashard Higgins, Taywan Taylor, KhaDarel Hodge, and Damion Ratley are in the running for it, but none have proven themselves to be consistent producers. Higgins and Taylor have had flashes of being good receivers, but both probably will never strike fear in the opposing team’s eye. Peoples-Jones, on the other hand, has the chance to have a good pro career. Out of high school, he was a highly-touted prospect and then fell flat at Michigan. The offense wasn’t a pass friendly one and struggled with poor quarterback play over his three seasons. Peoples-Jones does have a lot of things you look for in a receiver: size, athleticism, route running, and an alpha male attitude. He’s going to give full effort whether he’s blocking or showing toughness with the ball in his hands. The general consensus would be his future is working in the slot where he’s going to have a free release off the line then use his athletic ability to get open. I think he will have a relatively small role in the offense as a rookie and contribute on special teams, where he has experience as a punt returner. Let him spend some time learning about how to be a receiver and slowly work his way into getting snaps. The question that will soon be answered though is whether it was Michigan that held back Peoples-Jones from reaching his potential or is it that Peoples-Jones just isn’t a good receiver. The NFL seems to think it’s the latter, I believe it’s the former and that the Browns got a steal in the sixth round. 

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: Juju is Primed for a Big Year

Juju Smith-Schuster’s first year taking over for Antonio Brown didn’t quite go as planned. Ben Roethlisberger went down in week two and it was a carousel of Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph for the rest of the year. Throw in a knee, an ankle, and a head injury and after catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards in 2018, he caught just 42 for 552 yards in 12 games in 2019. Did Juju suffer because of poor quarterback play, or is he not the guy that the Steelers hoped he would be?

Sep 24, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (19) runs the ball during the first half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Smith-Schuster is incredibly strong at the catch, understands how to open himself up in zones, and is aggressive and physical after the catch. While the Steelers made an effort to scheme him open and he was able to find space, he also struggled to create separation at times.

Juju does a great job at attacking the ball in the air. He has an elite ability to maintain focus and strong hands throughout contact. Even if he’s covered, he’s still open. As a result, though he is a little more dependant on good QB play. The absolute best receivers in the league attach their eyes to the ball all the way through the catch. You can watch his eyes and helmet on the catches below and see how they track the ball all the way in. It seems simple, but every week you see guys pulling their eyes off so they can run or because they are getting contacted.

Juju also does a great job of understanding the space around him which fits perfectly with an experienced quarterback that can read and dissect defenses quickly. He sits perfectly in zones and makes himself available to the quarterback – drifting away from defenders to allow room for yards after the catch and easier throws.

The below is a great example of Juju clearing traffic and rubbing off his defender before throttling down in front of the safety to the bottom of the screen to provide a window for Rudolph to throw to. If he continues running, he opens himself up to a big hit and a potential interception or incompletion.

In the below gif, the Dolphins are in man coverage and as he comes out of his break and feels the defender stay with him, he starts to work towards the middle of the field to give a window for the quarterback. Rudolph instead throws it back hip towards where his initial stem is and it results in an incompletion. Plays like this happened all the time to Juju. He may find space and work open, but he and the quarterback just weren’t on the same page or the throw wasn’t good enough.

The Steelers also try to work him open with scheme. They love running him on shallow crossers to get him the ball on the move and allow for yards after the catch.

If all else fails, they’ll find a way to get him the ball in the run game.

While he is physical at the point of the catch, this is sometimes out of necessity because he can struggle to create separation naturally – especially in man. His speed doesn’t really threaten anyone and so many DBs will sit on his routes because they aren’t worried about getting beat over the top. Combine that with inconsistent quarterback play, and corners just did not respect any deep sell by Juju. When contacted during his route, he can be thrown off or slowed down even more. In addition, he really didn’t work to sell any route other than what he was running. This doesn’t mean always doing a double move, but he lacked stems and set-ups to open himself to route space. It’d be great to see him push DBs one way and get them to open their hips before planting and exploding the other way, but it was rare to find on film this year.

This fade is a perfect example. The defensive back expects nothing but the fade and isn’t threatened by any inside move that Juju gives. As a result, he stays in his hip and defends the pass.

You can see below in the first gif how the defensive back over Juju in the slot barely even turns his hips to run even though Juju is up on his toes.

At the top of the screen you can see Juju working on Marcus Peters, a corner known for his aggressiveness in jumping routes. Juju is working a stop and go on him and doesn’t give hip turn or shoulder turn to indicate or sell any part of the stop except for a little foot fire. Peters doesn’t bite on it at all and keeps his vertical cap and the play is dead in the water for Juju. For a 3rd year player, you’d hope to see more developed route technique and understanding.

Juju has a great feel for coverages and the ability to find soft spots despite his struggles defeating man. His knack for high pointing and winning contested balls makes him a little more dependent on QB play than some other receivers that rely on pure speed or athleticism. Juju’s connection with Roethlisberger, the Steelers desire to get him involved in yards after catch scenarios, and his understanding of zones and coverages set him up for a bounce-back year in 2020. In a contract year, he may not hit over 100 receptions, but will be an incredibly reliable target who is fearless over the middle, can break a tackle after the catch, and can give the Steelers offense life.

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2020 Dallas Cowboys Draft Review: Best Class Since 2016

The Dallas Cowboys, the league’s most polarizing team by a mile. Every move they make is overanalyzed and critiqued. So, when you hear the national media rave about something the Cowboys do, you know it was exceptionally good. And by golly, this draft class has to be the possibility of being one of the best in franchise history, full or cornerstone players. Here are my opinions of each pick and how they factor into America’s team.

1.17- CeeDee Lamb, WR Oklahoma

The best pick of the entire draft, regardless of any team, was Lamb. Lamb is easily the third-best receiver, maybe even second, right off the bat. The Cowboys were figured to target a receiver at some point as their current options for a third/slot receiver was Noah Brown, Devin Smith, and Cedrick Wilson, who combined for fifteen catches last season. Not ideal. While Lamb has a long and lanky frame and average speed, his footwork, body control, and hands make him an elite prospect. His college numbers were inflated due to being in a pass-first offense and in a conference with weak defenses that played mostly soft zone (I mean seriously if anyone played defense in the Big 12 they would be a contender), but anyone who’s watched football can tell that Lamb is bound for success at the next level. A reason why he dropped possibly is that he didn’t face much press coverage in college and when he did, he struggled. However because he’s on a team with two established starters, he will wreak havoc in the slot, where he won’t have to deal with much press coverage. New wide receivers coach, Adam Henry, helped develop Odell Beckam, Jr. and Jarvis Landry, so he knows what it takes to teach young receivers the nuances of the craft. Add that in with Mike McCarthy’s play-calling, which tends to favor a pass-first approach, Lamb will be one of the better slot receivers this season. When you have a quarterback like Dak Prescott, who’s due for a big contract, you need to find ways to make his life as easy as possible. And because Dak will soon be the highest-paid quarterback in the league, it will make it tough to pay both Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Both are at a contractual crossroads after the 2021 season, with Gallup being a free agent and Cooper being able to get cut with minimal cap damage. The emergence of Lamb would make it easy for the Cowboys to let one of the two go and still maintain an elite receiving group. 

2.51- Trevon Diggs, CB Alabama

From a physical standpoint, Diggs was the third or fourth-best cornerback in this class, and getting him at 51 was tremendous value. While he’s skilled athletically, the reason why he dropped a bit was because he’s quite raw. There will be times where like many young defenders, he doesn’t turn his head around and locate the ball. He started his career as a receiver but moved to corner and oftentimes he shows his inexperience, which is ok. The most encouraging sign is that he’s performed well in the best collegiate conference despite not being anywhere near his ceiling. More likely than not, he’s going to see significant snaps early and will be forced to learn on the job. Thankfully, the Cowboys defensive line is one of the best in the league and if you ask any defensive coordinator, a good pass rush is a defensive backs best friend. Diggs will be able to get away with his pure athleticism by using a lot of press coverage to cover receivers for three to four seconds, which will be just enough time for the defensive line to apply pressure on the quarterback. The Diggs you see in the preseason, where he should be getting as many snaps as possible, will be completely different than the one you see in week 17. While Diggs didn’t participate at the combine, he favors comparably to former starter Bryon Jones. They share the same height, wingspan, and similar weight while they were both relatively new to playing cornerback. While Jones might be a bit more athletic, Diggs is ahead of the curve on playing time and playing competition which I feel like makes Jones a decent comparison for Diggs. 

3.82- Neville Gallimore, DL Oklahoma

Most teams don’t value the nose tackle position as they did ten years ago as the league is now pass-oriented, thus making the need for a run-stuffing, space-eater in the middle of the defensive line not a necessity. That being said, if you can get a nose tackle type player who can also provide value as a three-technique and play all three downs then you got yourself a player. Gallimore was a wrecking-ball at Oklahoma, disrupting and blowing up plays. Being a nose tackle and fighting off typically two blockers, Gallimore showed no fear and is tougher than a two-dollar steak. He most likely won’t be tasked with too many responsibilities early as veterans Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe are ahead of them on the depth chart. However, both have an out in the contracts after the season and neither are a long-term answer. You spend this season trying to coach up Gallimore as a pass rusher and make him a rotational player, getting roughly twenty snaps a game, especially in short-yardage situations. I see him as an immediate upgrade over Tysten Hill, a Rob Marinelli pick and possibly cut candidate and a starter in year two. He may never be a pro bowler, but he has the potential to be an elite nose tackle, which would be great value for a third-round pick.

4.123- Reggie Robinson, CB Tulsa

The Cowboys biggest weakness was secondary and after picking Diggs in the second, they doubled down and grabbed a player similar to Diggs in style in Robinson. Robinson is also a developmental corner who right now is more athlete than football player. At the combine, he ran a 4.40 at 6-1, 205 pounds, which is great for a player of that size.  At times he can get grabby, which resulted in penalties, and displayed poor footwork in press coverage which immediately puts the corner a step behind the receiver. What Robinson does possess is an alpha male attitude and the desired size for the position. Most great corners have that chip on their shoulder and will talk smack to opposing receivers, which is exactly what Robinson does. He’s not as far along as Diggs which doesn’t make him an immediate Day 1 starter, but both Jourdain Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie have not proven themselves to be legitimate starters. Both of those players could progress into that, but can’t bank on it. Robinson is a developmental piece that I would bet at some point sees meaningful snaps at boundry corner but will make a mark on special teams as a gunner on punt coverage. 

4.146- Tyler Biadasz, C Wisconsin

Now here’s a guy (Chris Collinsworth voice) that I felt like should have been a second-round player, but had some injury concerns that saw his stock tank like it was stuck in quicksand. Biadasz is one nasty mofo on the offensive line and is exactly the kind of guy you want to run behind. He’s not the best athlete and not the strongest guy, but his football IQ is off the charts and he won’t stop blocking his guy until they are on the ground. Every Saturday he brought his hard hat and lunch pale to the stadium and used that blue-collar mindset to make life miserable for whoever lined up in front of him. The big elephant in the room as previously mentioned is the injuries. He has had surgery on his hip and shoulder and both were considered to be relatively serious injuries. But, I’m no doctor so I can’t project how he’s going to be health-wise in five years. I can see that injuries affected his play this year but still played at a pretty high level. No one was better at center in college at calling line audibles and even if physically he wasn’t 100%, mentally he quickly diagnoses what’s going on, which is beneficial to the quarterback. If he were to redshirt this season, Joe Looney is capable of being a short-term starter at center who won’t kill you but won’t be one of the best at the position. At worst, you’re looking at Biadasz starting in year two and Dak handing the ball off to Zeke up the middle with some green grass in front of him. 

5.179- Bradlee Anae, EDGE Utah

Rarely do you see an edge prospect who’s a mature pass rusher and versatile player drop to the fifth round, but Jerry had the luck every gambler at a casino wishes for during draft weekend. Anae inexplicably dropped to the fifth round, when he has a third-round value based on skill. Yes, he did run a 4.9 40 at the combine but responded with a 4.7 40 at his pro day. Also, when you watch the tape, you’ll see that Anae wins based on technique and his motor and never relies on speed. He could probably play standing up in a 3-4 but fits what the Cowboys run which is a 4-3 where he can focus on setting the edge and providing pressure. He’s a very advanced prospect in terms of pass rush moves, specifically being able to disengage tackles by using his hands with a quick chop, rip, or swim move. He’ll be a consistent 6-8 sacks per year guy when given the appropriate playing time and while he could gain some more muscle, he’s ready to play now. The Cowboys are a strong but interesting edge group. You have the star in Demarcus Lawrence and then a few question marks. Tyrone Crawford is coming off of hip surgery and missed most of the last season. Then you have Aldon Smith and Randy Gregory, guys who are currently suspended by the league, but are hopeful and should be eligible for the season. Can you count on these guys though? Absolutely not. I doubt even the front office is relying on these two for the long-term, making the Anae selection even that much more valuable. 

7.231- Ben DiNucci, QB James Madison

Essentially a seventh-round pick is a player you can’t risk becoming an undrafted free agent where he has 32 options and have to get him on your team. That’s why many times fans will never have heard of their team’s seventh round selection because they have a trait or multiple traits that a team values so much that they are confident that another team will value them equally or even could outbid you if they were to go undrafted. DiNucci wasn’t a sexy name in this year’s quarterback class and struggled at the D1 level, but reinvented himself into a pinpoint accurate passer at 1AA James Madison. At the time many figured he’d compete with Cooper Rush for the backup spot. However, the Cowboys picked up veteran Andy Dalton on a one year deal to become the backup (probably the best back up in the league) thus pushing that aforementioned position battle into one that helps DiNucci. Now it looks like DiNucci will be destined for the practice squad and that’s exactly how the Cowboys want it to happen. Have him in the quarterback room all training camp and preseason, get a good amount of snaps, then become the leader in the clubhouse for the future back-up quarterback position. While some might question what’s the value of trying to develop a career back-up, look no further than the Eagles and Nick Foles. It became obvious that Cooper Rush would never be a good back-up, so spend the time working with a guy who has the potential down the line.

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