Rolland-Jones is one of the most productive edge players in the country. He has a total of 30.5 sacks over his first three seasons with the Red Wolves and it’s easy to see why. The thing that stands out most for me about Rolland-Jones is the way he uses his hands. He has one of the most powerful punches I’ve seen this year on tape; on a consistent basis, he hits OTs – who outweigh him by 60lbs or more – with such force that they look like those cartoon characters who have stars and whistle sounds circling their heads. The UCF game (3Q 5:03) is a good example: he sends the RT tottering backwards in so comic a fashion that any Premier League football fan will be immediately reminded of Paolo di Canio sending referee Paul Alcock flying in 1998 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J9CLiDqYfLc) . He has quick feet, decent bend around the edge and can convert speed to power – in short, he is a really good pass-rush prospect. My concerns about Rolland-Jones are twofold: 1) he has spent very little time in coverage and, at 6-2, 245lbs, he is going to have to be an OLB in the NFL and 2) I think his closing speed is good but not great. I do, though, really like Rolland-Jones as a prospect. He is relentless, powerful, disruptive and incredibly productive. He reminds me of a smaller version of the Cardinals’ Markus Golden and I would like to see a team take a chance on him on Day 2.
Having won 2nd Team All-American and 1st Team All-SEC recognition in 2016, Smith returns to the Plains for his senior year as one of the most heralded linemen in college football. On tape, it’s easy to see why he is so highly regarded. He is a strong, aggressive, technically proficient blocker who very, very seldom loses. In pass protection, his head is always on a swivel and he has a knack of identifying secondary blitzing threats quickly and successfully. In the running game, he is extremely impressive when he comes firing off the ball; he is quick, powerful and athletic and short but heartfelt prayers should be said for linebackers who have to face him, bearing down upon the second level. My only real concern with Smith is when he pulls to his left; in 2015, it was almost comical how far backwards he went before pulling. The 2015 LSU game (3Q 2:26) is a good example; the ball was snapped on the LSU 19 and Smith was virtually back on the 23 as he pulled. It was not quite so pronounced in 2016 but I’d still like to see more economy of movement when he pulls left. When he pulls right, the problem has never been so apparent. Good coaching, however, will help to fix this and there is certainly a lot to like about Smith’s size, power, athleticism and demeanour. I have a high Day 2 grade on him at this point; it will be interesting to see how he handles the shift from RG to RT as a senior.
Joseph is a 6-4, 300lb defensive lineman who most often played, in a rotation, as conventional nose tackle in 2016. He was asked, much of time, to read the center and absorb double teams which didn’t really play to his strengths; too often, he failed to get his hands inside the center and keep his feet moving. As a result, there were too many times when he struggled to anchor or to generate much power. There were, however, moments where you saw what he could do in a more attacking scheme; in the Michigan game, for instance, (1Q, 10:32), I really liked the way he used a quick shake of the hips to fool the center into thinking he was attacking the A gap between C and LG, before exploding to his right to force De’Veon Smith to fumble. Apparently, Rutgers will be using a more attacking defensive front this year, which may well suit Joseph more. He hustles to the football and has a good motor – even when Rutgers were being pounded, there was little discernible drop off in Joseph’s effort. Question marks about his hand placement and ability to maintain leverage mean that I don’t quite have a draftable grade on Joseph at this point in time, but he is a player who may benefit, in 2017, from a scheme change that enables him to demonstrate more of his potential.
Armani Watts is a befuddling prospect. If you watch the Arkansas game from 2016, he looks like a surefire 1st round pick. If you watch the Tennessee game, you would see him as a Day 3/UDFA type. Clearly, he needs to become more consistent (Cue the Stating the Obvious sirens). What are Watt’s strengths? Well, he is fast, rangy, decisive in coverage and closes with speed and explosiveness upon the ball. Athletically, he’s what you’re looking for in a free safety. I really like the way he goes after the ball; in both the games mentioned above, Watts makes a really good – and deliberate – strip of the football; once from Alvin Kamara (1Q: 7:51 v Tennessee) and once from Rawleigh Williams (2Q 8:12 v Arkansas). In both cases, the offence looked to be moving in to score, so those were game-changing plays. My issue with Watts lies with his tackling which is, technically, a car crash. He misses far too many one-on-one tackles for a number of different reasons: he goes either too high or too low; he doesn’t wrap up; he prioritises the big hit with only limited success; he sometimes tries to spin round and drag down tacklers, rather than making a proper tackle. Some people may see this as a coachable thing but, to me, it’s a major red flag if my last line of defence is so shaky in such a crucial part of the game. I suspect the NFL will be more prepared to overlook this than I would be so he will probably go higher than the late 4th round grade I have on him.
There are players in every draft class for whom you develop a sneaking affection when you watch them on tape and, for me, Jeremy Reaves is one. The reason is this: Reaves is one of the most physical CBs I have ever seen. This man loves to hit receivers and comes at them like an exocet missile carrying a grievance. He is 5-11, 185lb but he can hit like a 6-2, 235lb linebacker. I loved the play he made against Nicholls State (1Q, 6:59), when he flies into the hole to destroy a running play and prevent a 3rd down; it’s one of my favourite plays I’ve seen watching film this year. Yes, he can be reckless, yes, he can over-extend and miss tackles (3Q, 9:43, Idaho game) but, in a world in which Akhello Witherspoon and Tarvaris McFadden are either being paid or going to be paid a lot of money to play CB, watching Reaves hit makes a refreshing change. Now the bad news, : Reaves is not a great coverage guy. He does not turn his hips well at all and, as a result, really struggles with quicker, more agile WRs. South Alabama have lined him up as nickel-backer, free safety and boundary corner to enable him to make hits and not get too exposed one-on-one but he doesn’t have the size or range to play safety in the NFL. Ultimately, though, I don’t care if he ever plays a snap in the defensive secondary; this is a guy who is made to play all four phases of special teams in the NFL and do it very, very well. Some people may not see that as a draftable commodity but I disagree. Personally, I would draft Jeremy Reaves in the 6th or 7th round because he is a tone-setter, a tackling machine and someone I would want on my team.
Orlando Brown, the son of former NFL starting OT, Orlando ‘Zeus’ Brown (he of Jeff Triplett/yellow flag/eyeball fame), is a chip off the old, extremely large, block. I love offensive linemen who play with fire and aggression and Brown certainly does that. He plays LT for Oklahoma and, in pass protection, he is technically good. He has excellent length and really quick feet for such a big man, enabling him to mirror and finish very effectively. I thought he put on a bit of a clinic in the Ohio State game last year, when he gave Sam Hubbard a pretty torrid time. In the running game, he seems to view his opposite number through a prism of hatred and rage. Blocking is not enough for Brown; he is set upon humiliating his man and reducing him to a whimpering wreck. Again, I think this is utterly commendable in an OT. So, why do I not have a top 10 grade on Orlando Brown Jr? Primarily because I worry about his agility and flexibility. I think a really good speed rusher could give him problems in the NFL and I think he might ultimately be more comfortable at RT. That transition sounds a lot easier than it actually is, however, and, as a result, Brown might have his struggles in the first year or two. By 2020, however, I believe he will be a good starting OT in the league and, as such, I have a first round grade on him.
Watching Cody O’Connell reminds us of Bill Parcells’ planet theory; there are simply not very men on the planet who have the size (6-7, 350lb), strength and athleticism of Washington State’s #76. If you try to bull rush O’Connell, you would expend as much fruitful energy by sitting on the ground, waving energetically to your friends on the sidelines. He simply engulfs power rushers – he almost absorbs them! It’s difficult to assess O’Connell’s potential in the running game, due to the infrequency with which Wazzou QBs hand the thing off. From a small sample size, however, he looks impressive; he reminds me, at times, of Jaws from the Bond films, in the way in which he disposes of enemy threats. My issue with O’Connell, however, is his agility. He can appear a bit lumbering and slow to pick up stunts, blitzes and twists. A good example comes at 9:19 of the 1st quarter of the 2016 Arizona State game, when he is very slow to react to what the defence is doing. I’d be intrigued to see O’Connell in the Titans’ exotic smash mouth scheme; I think he could wreak havoc in that sort of offence. He is, to me, a boom or bust prospect. If he can adjust to NFL veterans’ wiliness, he certainly has the power and size to excel at the next level. Equally, however, that lack of agility could see him exposed in the NFL. There is enough here, though, for me to give careful consideration to selecting O’Connell on Day2 of the 2018 draft.