The word that springs to mind when you watch Damon Webb is “good”. That is, by antithetical definition, not a bad thing but, at the same time, it wouldn’t have me banging down the door to draft him, were I an NFL GM. He is good in coverage, he is a good athlete, he is good in run support – he is not, however, exceptional in any of these areas, which leaves me unsure as to where he fits in the NFL. The corollary from this is that he is probably a fifth or sixth round pick, who can make your team as a third or fourth safety and a special teams player; indeed, his ability to come downhill and fill makes me pretty comfortable with the idea of Webb as a core special teams player. His ball skills are decent but not spectacular, as his career interception tally would indicate. Ultimately, I would probably be happy if my team took Webb in round six; my instinct, however, is that he will be taken a round or two higher than this and that he will only ever be one of those players who is struggling to make the roster at the conclusion of training camp.
Hawkins is a good college football player in the Pac 12. He has considerable versatility as a DB, having started at CB, SS and FS at Southern California. He is instinctive, possesses good recognition and, against athletically limited offenses, he looks like a good prospect. When, however, he is up against more talented players, the flaws in his game shine through with uncomfortably lustrous brightness. He has marginal size at best (5-11, 188) for an NFL safety; he is not big or physical enough to play in the box and, as a free safety, I have concerns about his athleticism; he takes a lot of shallow angles towards the ball and lacks the speed or agility to compensate when those angles are flawed – see the 2016 Alabama game (Q2, 7:55) as an example. His tackling is also very erratic. He can be effective in small spaces but, in the open field, he tends to try to make arm tackles that are only sporadically effective. I also struggle to see how he would match up against big, physical TEs in the NFL. In short, although Hawkins should, justifiably, be highly thought of by Trojans fans, I don’t really see him as a bona fide NFL prospect at this point and I don’t have a draftable grade on him, going into the 2017 season.
The first thing that stands out about White – a JUCO transfer from Lackawanna CC – is his physicality. He absolutely loves contact and will hit ball carriers with an abandon that goes beyond the merely reckless. He has the size (6-2, 215) and speed to do so – as a result, he is an absolute force in the run game, where his closing speed is extremely impressive. He seems to take a block as a personal affront and I love the way he attacks blockers. He times his blitzes very well and is explosive coming off the edge – see, for example, his sack v Texas in 2016 (Q4, 13:08), where he just traumatizes Shane Buechele. He is not used as much in coverage as a conventional strong safety would be. When called upon to cover, he has a tendency to virtually gallop in his back pedal and he looks much more comfortable in zone coverage than in man. He didn’t record an interception in 2016 and that’s no great surprise, as he’s rarely in a position to contend for one. His limitations in coverage will, of course, impact his draft stock but an imaginative defensive co-ordinator could certainly use a player like White – perhaps, even, in a nickel-backer role. If nothing else, he should be an enormous asset on special teams and, if I were a general manager, I would be very happy to see him on the board midway through day three.
Having heard a lot of hype about Gesicki as one of the top TEs in the class, I was looking forward to delving gnomishly into his tape. I must confess, I was disappointed. We should start with the positives; he has really good hands , an outstanding catch radius and the ability to make the contested catch on a regular basis. He gives enough effort as a blocker to make him just about serviceable in the Big Ten; in the NFL, however, he will get destroyed. The thing that stood out most to me about Gesicki, though, is his lack of athleticism. There is so little explosion off the line and so little speed that it is very difficult to envisage him winning on a regular basis in the NFL. In the 2016 Michigan game, when he was up against a host of NFL calibre defenders, he looked utterly lost and outmatched. I could perhaps see Gesicki making a team as a third TE who could be considered a red-zone threat but even that is a reach – I like my number 3 TE to be a factor on special teams and I don’t see Gesicki having the speed or physicality to be an effective special teams player at the next level. I can, I fear, see him as one of the big names in the draft who ends up not hearing his name called.
After an injury-plagued redshirt freshman year, Joseph shone as a sophomore last year, with 124 tackles (13.5 of them for a loss) making him a key component in Clemson’s run to the national championship. On tape, there is a lot to like about Joseph’s play. He is very instinctive and athletic – he plays quicker and makes reads faster than a lot of the other LBs in this class. He is an alert, heady player – see for instance, his forced fumble in the Ohio State game (Q3, 13:22), when he very deliberately pokes the ball out of the RB’s grasp in the act of making the tackle. He is very comfortable in space; he is assured in zone coverage and has the speed and agility to match up well with TEs. He is also a technically sound tackler, albeit not a huge hitter. There is, however, no getting around his lack of size. Clemson list him as 6-0, 225 and I’d be surprised if he were that big. This manifests itself against the run; he can use his hands and explosiveness to shed a TE’s block but, all too often, when an OL gets his hands on Joseph, he gets submerged. Overall, though, I like Joseph’s potential as a WLB in a 4-3 base and I could certainly see a team being interested in him on Day 2 of the 2018 draft, should he decide to declare this year.
Lealao is a big (6-5, 317lb) interior lineman, who is equally comfortable as a 3-tech or lining up over the nose. The thing that intrigues me most about Lealao is his speed off the ball; given his size, he is strikingly quick off the snap. Look, for instance, at the 2016 Florida game (Q4, 11:47 is a good example) where he often leaves his teammates in the dust. He also flashes some pass rush ability – I was struck by the quickness of his hands, when he was able to shed the center and effect the sack in the 2016 Missouri game (Q1, 1:21). His motor, however, is inconsistent and too often on tape I see him play far too high and lose leverage. There are definitely traits that suggest that Lealao could have an NFL future but, in the 2017 season, there needs to be a bit more consistency and productivity. Nevertheless, I have seen enough to suggest that an NFL D-Line coach could be genuinely intrigued by what Lealao has to offer – as such, I think he could be an appealing prospect, midway through day three.
It is inevitably tempting to wheel out the usual clichéd platitudes about Linehan – the son of Scott Linehan, OC of the Dallas Cowboys – being a coach’s son, a cerebral player etc. When you watch him on tape, however, his ability to move through his progressions is one of his least impressive traits – he tends to become fixed on his initial read. In the 2017 season opener for the Vandals, against Sacramento State, it looked to me as if Linehan was trying to address this but, as a result, he held on to the ball far too long and took some hefty hits. There are, however, things to like about Linehan as a prospect. He throws a very catchable ball and shows good touch and awareness. He leads his receivers very well on the deep ball and, in general, his ball placement is good. He will never make anyone mistake him for Mariota or Vick, but he has enough athleticism to buy himself time in the pocket. He is, however, a streaky thrower; when he goes cold, he goes very cold indeed and often misses high in an attempt to over-compensate. His arm strength is probably average, although his mechanics are good. I see Linehan as a developmental prospect, who could well stick as a back-up in the NFL – his ceiling, however, is not particularly high, which is why I have nothing more than a Day 3 grade on him.