I’ll be honest, there really wasn’t much that happened this past week in football. While many of you have been glued to March Madness, I was trying to figure out what on Earth to write about. Then it hit me. There’s the normal stuff in here this week, like AAF updates, trivia, Weekly Awards, etc. My prospect portfolios are hotter than ever, including one player who could be a star in the making. I’m also giving a glimpse into the plans of one of football’s most deprived franchises: the Miami Dolphins. It’s a good column, but I wasn’t satisfied. That’s why in the spirit of March Madness and my strange affinity for brackets, I decided to make one for college football, kind of. Spoiler Alert: Alabama or Clemson doesn’t win. It might not be my 75th Article Extravaganza, but this ‘Deep Route Football Notebook’ is worth the read, especially when you see what’s coming soon…
THINGS I KNOW
I know what the Dolphins are doing. If you’re going for the more simple, boring answer you’d say they were ‘tanking’ or ‘rebuilding’. While not wrong, let me outline the Dolphins’ secretly complex ‘Tank for Tua’ campaign in a little more detail. Miami is doing something that has been attempted by many but to no avail; they’re copying the Patriot Way. Recently, I’ve touched a little on what keeps the Patriots so great and I think the Dolphins are trying to replicate their blueprint. Obviously, a quarterback and a coaching staff help immensely but Miami isn’t there yet. While they wait for their franchise savior and hope that former Patriots’ coach Brian Flores is the answer, the Dolphins have been doing minimal work in free agency. They’ve added a few complementary players on small, flexible deals while letting their big-name players sign elsewhere. That includes the addition of veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Not only does Fitzpatrick’s signing almost ensure that the Dolphins won’t draft a QB early in the draft (the later rounds is a safe bet), but you can expect the most exciting 3-13 season ever. Why? Hope. The Dolphins now have a young, versatile roster that can be torn down again next offseason if they so choose. More importantly, they’ll also have cap space and draft picks. Lots of it. It’s a foregone conclusion that the Dolphins will be among football’s worst this upcoming season, but sacrificing one bad year in favor of one good decade seems like a small price to pay. Fans will dread the 2019 season, but if this roster makeover is carried out successfully by the Miami brain trust, then they could be destined for greatness.
I know Jawaan Taylor will likely be the first offensive lineman drafted. As someone who watched every single Florida game this year, I can tell you Taylor’s post-season ascension has surprised me. He wasn’t even a first-round candidate until a couple months ago. Facing some of the toughest defenses in the country, Taylor used his big, long body (6’5, 334 pounds) effectively, most notably in pass protection. His footwork is surprisingly refined for a guy who suffered greatly the season before, which works well with his mobility. For real, Taylor can move. I can see his movement skills coupled with his experience in different positions persuading coaches to move Taylor along the line. Of course, Taylor isn’t perfect. His hand usage needs work and he needs to keep his pad level down as to give him better standing when facing rushers. A good rusher bends and gets low, so a better offensive lineman gets low with them. These aren’t huge concerns with him and should be an easy fix in the NFL. Expect to hear Taylor’s name early in the draft.
I know Garrett Bradbury could be a future star. That might be a bold thing to say about a center, but it went well when I said it about Quenton Nelson (a guard) last year. For 6’3, 300-pounds, Bradbury moves exceptionally well. His quick feet and ability in space is top-notch. Maybe the best run blocker of the class, Bradbury’s technique could help explain his stock’s post-season rise. His ascension from a TE recruit to one of the most consistent linemen in football could also be a factor. While not as great as his run-blocking ability, Bradbury is good enough in pass protection. Sometimes he’d be late to pick up blitzes so he’ll have to improve on that. Bradbury will have to gain some strength and use it a bit more during plays. Aside from the occasional bad snap, Bradbury’s biggest concern revolves around his zone-blocking run scheme at NC State. Not all teams employ that type of offense and as a result, likely knocked him down their draft boards. Nonetheless, not all teams will write him off and one of them could be rewarded with one of the best overall players in the draft. If it weren’t for his position, Bradbury could have been a top-ten pick.
I know there are many versatile options in this year’s OL class. Numerous top players can play more than one position. That includes Michael Deiter. Hailing from the OL factory of Wisconsin, Deiter certainly lives up to the Badger pedigree. He’s a smart, experienced player with no huge weakness. Deiter moved like he’s smaller than 6’6, 321 pounds and had lots of success as a lead blocker (when the linemen run ahead to block oncoming defenders). As quick as he is, Deiter is equally as strong. He’s not afraid to get physical with rushers and hold his ground. The one thing that could deter Dieter’s hopes of being a first-round pick is his length, or lack thereof. The shorter a lineman is, especially with OTs, the harder it is to adjust to faster rushers. Deiter could have trouble with that in the NFL, so you can expect him to find more success on the inside. Deiter would be a fine addition to any NFL offensive line and I’d be shocked if his name isn’t called within the first two rounds.
I know Yodny Cajuste will be a tackle in the NFL. Unlike most of the other prospects this year, Cajuste has the length to go with his experience playing outside. Standing at 6’5 and 315 pounds, size isn’t an issue either. This alone could push him up the draft boards of tackle-needy teams. Aside from his size, Cajuste plays with a clear strength and was rarely moved by rushers. He moves well enough, both vertically and horizontally, but his technique could use some tweaking. Too often, Cajuste would be caught flat-footed, which is a big no-no for offensive linemen. Despite being the biggest people on the field, linemen are still big athletes and any good athlete stays on their toes. An ACL tear in 2016 might scare some teams but I wouldn’t be too worried about it. The research that teams’ medical staffs do is unbelievable. These prospects are poked and prodded like never before; little issues are blown way out of proportion. Maybe not to the extent of the fictitious Bo Callahan and his strange birthday party, but trust me, if there were even the slightest issue with Cajuste’s knee, teams would fret about it.
THINGS I DON’T KNOW
I don’t know who would win a 64-team college football bracket. Every year, some big sports website releases one and while it’s an interesting read, it’s always Alabama or Clemson who come out on top. Aside from being blatantly unrealistic, the results are boring. I figured I’d have some fun with this year’s college basketball bracket and filled one out (for free, of course) based on the schools’ college football teams. With no Alabama, Clemson nor Georgia, the title was up for grabs. After filling out the bracket, my final four consisted of LSU vs Florida and Oklahoma vs Ohio State. The LSU/Florida matchup was easy because Florida defeated LSU in October and caught fire towards the end of the season. On the other hand, the Oklahoma/Ohio State matchup was a tough one to figure out. Back in my radio appearance in December, I said Ohio State should have made the College Football Playoff over Oklahoma and I still hold firm to that. While Ohio State’s lone loss was by 29 points to Purdue, they also defeated all six ranked teams they faced. Oklahoma played easier teams and lost to two of the four ranked teams they faced. In this match, the Buckeyes get the win against Oklahoma and then against Florida in the 2007 March Madness rematch. (My college football bracket shockingly picked all Day One games correctly… except for Syracuse/Baylor. Thanks for nothing, Syracuse.)
I don’t know where Jonah Williams will be drafted. Once viewed as the consensus top OL and a potential top-five pick, Williams’ stock has slid. He’s still a projected first-rounder, and with good reason. As I said earlier, offensive linemen are actually some of the best athletes. At least, the good ones are. Williams certainly fits that bill. At 6’5, 301 pounds, Williams has top-notch footwork and mobility. His refined technique has been praised as well. Coming from Alabama, Williams also had to face stiff SEC competition. At the next level, some worry how Williams will handle longer, stronger rushers and suggest he move inside. His lack of length contributes to that, most notably his smaller arms. Other than a lack of success against rushers’ counter moves, his arm size has really been the biggest concern. I don’t think it matters all too much because of the success of other OL with smaller arms, like Joe Thomas and Jason Peters, to name a few. When it’s all said and done, I think Williams has a shot at being the best OL from this class.
I don’t know what position Cody Ford will play. Some say he should remain a tackle while others think a move to guard could increase his upside. This talk of ‘upside’ and ‘potential’ is mostly overblown. A player is either good, not good or can be improved. Potential relies so much on the coaching staff of a team and comes more into play in the later rounds when the talent pool drops off. When drafting a player, the most important thing is who the player is, rather than who he could be. Once a team is satisfied with a player’s talent level, deciding if he can improve then becomes a bigger factor into the draft process. In this case, Ford has the physical traits, size (6’4, 346), athleticism and strength to be a stud. Coming from a hot Oklahoma offense, Ford demonstrated sturdy balance and a clean technique, even if he only started one season. That inexperience alone could make teams question just how legit Ford is, while others might drool over the idea of Ford only getting better. Those areas of improvement include pass protection, playing with a proper pad level and footwork, though Ford didn’t struggle too much with anything. That’s why he’s a projected first-round pick who could one day be a solid offensive linemen. What position he’ll play is anyone’s guess right now.
I don’t know what position Dalton Risner will play, either. He’s moved around on the line at Kansas State, so his versatility should be an appealing trait to NFL teams. He started as an OT last season but his lack of size and length (6’5 300) could convince teams to shift him inside. What I like about Risner is his physicality; he’s just a bully. He uses his hands very well and looks pretty natural when pulling blocks. Like Williams, Risner’s technique and football knowledge have also been praised. He’s definitely a better run blocker than pass blocker, though he only needs small adjustments to certain aspects of his pass protection. He might not be the most athletic lineman out there, but Risner could easily be a plug-and-play starter. It just depends on where he’ll be drafted, which looks to be anywhere from the bottom of the first round to the third round. Factored into his uncertain draft stock is his shoulder surgery two seasons ago and his age. While drafting a 24-year old rookie seems fine to me, other teams will shy away due to Risner’s shorter potential shelf-life. If he does fall to Day Two (second and third rounds), Risner could be a steal.
I don’t know how successful Andre Dillard will be. This is the case of a prospect who flashed excellence in some areas and needs help in others. In other words, he’s raw. The good things about Dillard’s game include adequate body size (6’5, 306) length and quick feet. At least Dillard has shown some positive traits to warrant a (absurd) first-round pick in some mock drafts. If I’m being real though, and I always am, Dillard has too much work to do before he becomes a starting tackle. As good as he is in pass protection, Dillard isn’t as good as a run blocker. He struggled against faster rushers and didn’t play as powerfully as he should have. He also needs to relearn how to properly use his hands when blocking. There’s legitimate concern about how the Washington State offense limited Dillard’s knowledge of football concepts, too. In the right situation, Dillard can be a very good OT, which is why it’s important to reevaluate Dillard (like it is with most players) after the draft.
TRIVIA OF THE WEEK
Alabama RB Josh Jacobs, widely viewed as the best RB in the draft, ran an unofficial 4.60 40-yard dash at the Combine. Who is the only other Alabama RB to run a 4.6 or slower and be selected in the first round (per NFL Research)?
Check out the ‘Awards’ section for the answer.
Note that I only included the players talked about in this week’s article and that feelings/projections on a prospect will fluctuate, especially after the draft. Here are my preliminary rankings on this year’s Offensive Line class and a sentence for each.
- Jawaan Taylor – Most polished with minor tweaks to make.
- Jonah Williams – Arm size shouldn’t force Williams to slide out of the top-ten, but it might.
- Garrett Bradbury – Potential star who won’t be picked as high due to low positional value.
- Michael Deiter – Versatile and well-rounded, but lack of length should make him a guard.
- Dalton Risner – Well-rounded but small concerns could drop him lower than he should be.
- Cody Ford – Looks the part but inexperience will have teams bet on his upside or shy away completely.
- Yodny Cajuste – Future NFL tackle who needs to improve footwork.
- Andre Dillard – Great pass blocker but viewed more as a developmental player.
Other Guys Who I Didn’t Have Room For: David Edwards, Erik McCoy, Greg Little
Sleeper: Tytus Howard
Following last year’s tradition, each week I’ll focus on one wide receiver in hopes of finding the next superstar. This week, that player is Andy Isabella.
Stats: In four seasons at Massachusetts, the Senior totaled 231 receptions, 3,526 receiving yards, 30 receiving touchdowns, 40 carries, 342 rushing yards and 2 rushing touchdowns.
- Quick footwork
- Creating separation
- Field vision
- Body catching
- Tracking ball over shoulder
- Size (5’10, 195) limits positional value
- Lack of strength
- Dealing with physical corners
- Contested catches
- No leaping ability
- Average ball skills
- Route running needs refinement
The Unknown: Will Isabella ever be more than a slot receiver?
Bottom-Line: There’s no questioning Isabella’s speed, but his size and skillset might limit him to the slot his whole career. With that said, I think he can have a long, successful career there.
Team Fit: Kansas City Chiefs
Projection: Day Two Pick
Each week I’ll talk a little bit about the Alliance of American Football in hopes of catching you up on the rising young league. This week, I’ll give a quick rundown of the major AAF headlines.
Johnny Football Returns – After securing a deal with the AAF, Johnny Manziel was claimed by the Memphis Express in hopes of taking the starting job from Zach Mettenberger and Christian Hackenberg. I’m glad Manziel is back as people deserve second chances, even if this would be the third football league he’ll play in. Whether Manziel still has talent remains to be seen, but this is a huge win for him and the AAF. Look for revenue and overall popularity to soar.
Apollos Suffer First Loss – The AAF’s lone undefeated team has finally fallen. The Arizona Hotshots defeated Orlando 22-17 in front of Orlando’s home crowd. MVP frontrunner Garrett Gilbert almost pulled off a comeback as time ticked away but it wasn’t enough for the Apollos. Despite the loss, they’re still the best team in the league.
MVP Race Thickens – As I just said, Orlando QB Garrett Gilbert is the favorite to take home the inaugural award. Other candidates have started to emerge, though. Birmingham RB Trent Richardson still leads the league in rushing touchdowns by a steady margin but San Antonio RB Kenneth Farrow has built up a solid case. Keep an eye out for defensive candidates too, such as Orlando LB Terence Garvin and Salt Lake City DE Karter Schult.
Short Leash Award: Vontaze Burfict
Remember when Burfict hit Antonio Brown in the helmet last year, or when he knocked Brown out three years prior? Well, they’re now teammates. The controversial LB signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Raiders and if that “Prove-It” contract wasn’t enough, consider that Burfict has been either fined or suspended nine times in his seven-year career. Needless to say, one slip up and Burfict’s NFL career could be over just like that.
Bed of Rocks Award: Jake Ryan
Like a mattress of hard, jagged stones, don’t sleep on Jake Ryan signing with Jacksonville. In a free agency characterized by big, expensive contracts, I like the small one signed by the former Packers’ linebacker with the Jaguars. After missing all last season with an ACL tear, Ryan signed a two-year, $8 million contract to reunite in Jacksonville with the former Packers defense of coordinator Dom Capers. Ryan has struggled to stay healthy his entire career, but when healthy, he was a promising young player. In 2016 and 2017, Ryan averaged 80 total tackles. This move is a high-reward, low-risk deal that benefits both sides. It might seem irrelevant now, but Ryan’s success could promote more deals like this instead of teams throwing cash at the biggest names in free agency.
Stock Up Award: Hakeem Butler
I’ll admit, I wasn’t as high as I should have been on Butler. Two weeks ago, I wrote Butler is “An absolute freak of nature who needs to be a better route-runner.” After further evaluation, I can tell you that I over-exaggerated Butler’s route-running skills. His lack of elite explosiveness or quickness isn’t an automatically demoting factor for how I view his ability to run routes. The truth is, he’s alright at them. Being so well-rounded with elite ball-tracking skills and contested catch abilities, Butler has potential to be an All-Pro receiver.
Trivia Answer: Mark Ingram
Question: Alabama RB Josh Jacobs, widely viewed as the best RB in the draft, ran an unofficial 4.60 40-yard dash at the Combine. Who is the only other Alabama RB to run a 4.6 or slower and be selected in the first round (per NFL Research)?
The new Ravens’ RB ran a 4.62 40-yard dash at his Combine in 2011. This is not to say that Jacobs and Ingram are the same player at all, but it’s one of the million examples why a player’s 40-time is not an accurate indicator of NFL success. One thing that could be comparable to the Crimson Tide alumni: Being the first RB drafted in their class.
ONE LAST THING
There are some big things on the horizon for the ‘Deep Route Football Notebook’. Per usual, I’ll still talk about all the hottest topics and events in the NFL. As we inch closer to NFL Draft season, I’ll also dedicate each column to a position and highlight some of the top prospects for that position. Then, following in the footsteps of last year, I will release my Second Annual Terrible Mock Draft. In case you forgot, it actually wasn’t terrible last year as I correctly picked eight selections, better than various respected draft analysts like Mel Kiper, Todd McShay, Peter King and Mike Mayock. While you’re waiting for that, however, keep an eye out for a super awesome piece I’ve been working on. I won’t say what it is, but I’ll likely release the marvelous article during the week of the draft… Until then, enjoy the rest of my work, all of which you can check out here.
The Deep Route Football Notebook features recaps and thoughts about the recent action in the NFL, along with weekly awards, draft spotlights, fantasy updates, and more. Unless stated otherwise, all stats are accumulated using Pro Football Reference, ESPN or 4for4.com.
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