5-7, 170 pounds. "He's too small" to be an NFL running back. Lake Erie College. "The Division II school? Division II guys never make it in the NFL" (that's a lie, just ask Danny Woodhead). Anthony Bilal has beat the odds to become an NFL-worthy prospect, after going nearly unscouted as a high school player. Now, he's working hard to beat the odds yet again. Bilal hopes to make the jump from Division II Lake Erie College to the NFL, and he hopes to do it in at 170 pounds, a body size allegedly "too small" for an NFL running back. Why am I talking about him if he's unlikely to be selected before the 6th or 7th round in 2016? Because sometimes good things come in small packages, and with Bilal, the upside is huge. Here's some film.
Anthony Bilal may be a small player. However, he has done some pretty big things on the field in his college career. Rush for six touchdowns in a single game? Check. Rush for 2041 yards with 29 TDs and 8.2 yards per carry in 2014? Check. Remain humble, give his O-line all the credit for his performance, and remain focused solely on winning? Check. Bilal is a player who cares about one thing. Winning. Bilal's dominant 2014 campaign followed a 2013 season in which he rushed for 1542 yards and 24 TDs on 5.8 yards per carry. His freshman season was slightly more modest, with 855 yards and 8 touchdowns on 6.1 yards per carry. He's also a competent receiver out of the backfield, and can return kicks.
If Bilal was playing for a top tier program and was slightly bigger physically, every scout in the league would be drooling over his potential. Since Bilal plays Division II ball and is only 170 pounds, he's wound up largely overlooked at this point. The scouts will say "he's too small" at 5'7, 170 pounds, but how does he compare to other small running backs? Darren Sproles was too small at 5'6, 190 pounds (albeit bulkier than Bilal), but he's had a decent NFL career. Maurice Jones Drew (fun fact about MJD; in Madden 2006, he's named "Maurice Drew-Jones") was too short at 5'7, but weighed in at 210, so again, slightly bulkier. The better known "little guys" in NFL backfield do outweigh Bilal significantly.
If MJD and Darren Sproles aren't ideal comparisons for Bilal from a size perspective, who is? The best answer to that question is probably Dri Archer, who comes in at 5'8, 173 pounds, almost exactly the same size as Bilal. And in fact, Bilal's best projection is as a poor man's Dri Archer in the NFL. Archer was a 3rd round pick in 2014. Bilal will probably drop a bit in 2016 because of the fact that he played for a Division II school; while Archer was a 3rd rounder, Bilal will likely be selected in the 6th or 7th round at best, and could potentially go undrafted.
That being said, there is an emerging role for small guys such as Anthony Bilal in NFL offenses, and a 7th round pick would be a steal for Anthony Bilal. Yes, he played at a relatively low level of competition in college and will have to adjust in the NFL. No, he'll likely never be an every-down bell-cow type of back in the NFL. However, guys with his combination of speed and talent are tough to come by at any level, and Bilal could emerge as a solid situational player and special teams ace in the NFL. He's not a guy that's likely to score 3 TDs a game at the next level, but he can be utilized from time to time in key situations and give a team a strategic advantage. Bilal absolutely has the talent to stick with a team as a speed back in a committee, and should not be overlooked on draft day. I think he will be a steal late on day 3 of the 2016 draft, and will outplay his draft position if selected by a team that can properly utilize his skillset. Get on the bandwagon now, before the rest of the league jumps onboard!
Every season, teams spend inordinate amounts of time and money scouting players and attempting to gain a competitive edge over their opponents. Scouts spend countless hours watching film, attending Pro Days, and examining Combine results in an attempt to gauge how college athletes will fare in the NFL. Sometimes, scouts are accurate, and predictions match a player's NFL performance. At other times, scouts fail, sometimes spectacularly, and a supposedly slam-dunk pick becomes labeled as a bust.
No other position is as visibly volatile as the quarterback position. For every JaMarcus Russell and Akili Smith (players who were drafted highly but never panned out), there's a Tony Romo (who went undrafted) or Tom Brady (6th round pick). Given their NFL success, EVERY NFL front office missed on Romo and Brady. How does this happen, given the huge amount of time spent scouting players? The answer is simple. When it comes to the quarterback position, NFL scouts are doing it wrong.
What if I told you that I could give you an almost perfect picture of a college quarterback's tendencies, his clutch ability, whether he's conservative or takes risks under pressure, and whether he's more error prone in pressure situations? What if I continued to tell you that I can give you that information in an easy-to-read chart that can be easily compared with other QB prospects, a chart that even shows the player's development over the player's college career (if you define your data sets to show such a development)? What if I told you that given the right data specifications, I could force a drastic decline in NFL QB bust rates coming out of the NFL Draft?
I know what you're thinking. Why am I sitting here behind a laptop writing articles for a website and not working for an NFL team if I'm able to do this? The short answer is this. Since I'm not on the inside in an NFL scouting department, I'm not forced to look at scouting through the relatively rigid, socioculturally constructed system used by NFL front offices. "The combine matters." No it doesn't, that's a myth, at least as far as predicting a player's NFL success. "His Pro Day was great, therefore he's going to be great." Wrong again. JaMarcus Russell had a great Pro Day, and did terribly in the NFL. Teddy Bridgewater had a terrible Pro Day (and almost dropped out of the first round in the draft because of it), and he looks like a decent franchise QB. In the scheme of things, unless you have questions about a player's personality or work ethic (at which point, interview opportunities are always important), the Combine and Pro Days are almost entirely useless.
If Pro Days and the Combine are useless, then what am I basing my model on? The only true measure of a player's onfield ability. How can I build such a predictably powerful model? Film. Miles and miles of film. The process is simple, but tedious. In order to create a nearly infallible picture of a player's onfield tendencies, analyze every single college snap, and define your parameters. You can't do this for a single game and expect a complete picture; players get sick sometimes and perform poorly. Sometimes players are pushed to perform extra well because of family at a game or other psychological factors. Some games are just different than others. To gain usable data, one must look at every snap from at least the player's most recent season, but preferably every snap from a player's collegiate career; when looking at data from a player's entire career, you can identify how a prospect has developed/changed over time, which is useful information to have in-hand. This process might be time-consuming, but it can easily bring about a significant decrease in QB busts in the NFL draft. And guess what? A player's statistical numbers are not nearly as important as a player's situational trends.
That's right. I just said that stats aren't the most important thing to look at when analyzing a quarterback. Why? Because some quarterbacks are more fortunate than others when it comes to supporting casts. Can we really expect a college quarterback with no recognizable talent to perform on the same level as a guy with 3 potential first round prospects at WR? No. That's just foolish. Yes, elite players make the players around them better, but by gauging scouting solely on a prospect's numbers, NFL teams miss out on a number of tenable NFL starters every single season (and whiff on guys who aren't equipped to play in an NFL scheme). Can we expect a guy who gets sacked 4 or 5 times a game to perform on the same level as a guy with an elite O-line who gets sacked once a game at most? Nope. Again, situation is important. Define your parameters and collect your data.
What data am I looking for? It depends entirely on the questions you want to ask, but the finished product should read like a well-constructed flow-chart. Do you want to know if a QB prospect's natural tendency is to scramble or if he's scrambling because of lack of open receivers? First, isolate the total number of plays a quarterback prospect ran the ball. Then decide whether it was a designed run play. If it was not a designed run play, did the quarterback have open WRs, or was he forced to scramble due to no open options? Was the pocket collapsing around him, or did he have time to let things play out?
Curious about how clutch a guy is? Look at his performance with open WRs in scoring position. Does a prospect go for the first down instead of a TD even with open WRs in the endzone? Do his tendencies change when the game is on the line (i.e. during 2 minute drills or when playing from behind)? Does the player stay calm in pressure situations and make his reads, or does he rush to try to make things happen, missing reads that would result in a score? Again, a simple flow-chart is enough to give a picture of how a player performs in this situation. Such an approach can accurately and adequately answer any questions about a prospect's tendencies and NFL-readiness.
But how do I read the data? Once you decide exactly what questions you want to ask, break down situations into percentages. Say prospect X chooses not to throw to open WRs in the endzone 12 % of the time. He leaves more potential points on the table than prospect Y, who only misses those opportunities 10% of the time. If all other variables are similar, then Prospect Y gives you a better chance to win than Prospect X, IF Prospect Y is a fit for your system.
We are in the process of defining and outlining this model completely, but at the very least, a few variables are extremely important. Points left on the table (unrealized points), first downs unrealized (does a guy try to force the ball downfield to a WR in coverage and throw a pick or incompletion when there's a WR in first down territory open), and a player's clutch performance. This model, when complete and used properly, can and WILL be a powerful predictive mechanism for teams aiming to pick the best possible quarterback prospect for their roster. Our philosophy differs from that of most NFL front offices. Rather than look at prospective stats, we're looking at prospective points and prospective wins. The player that gives you the best chance at scoring the most points and most first downs gives you the best chance to win. This is not always the player who passes for the most yards. Throwing for 400 yards a game is great, but if you throw interceptions and incompletions in key situations, then you give your team a lesser chance to win than a guy that only throws for 300 yards a game but does not leave potential points on the table. It's counterintuitive, but when seeking a quarterback who gives you the best chance to win, statistical data is not always viable data.
What do I mean? If a quarterback is playing from behind every week, of course he's going to throw for lots of yards (if he's at least capable as a player). Is he playing from behind because of his own imperfections as a passer? Did he leave points on the board, forcing himself to try harder to try to win the game? If a player is playing with a lead, often his statistical numbers will be relatively lower in comparison. Why? Because he's more efficient. He strikes and scores when necessary, and doesn't leave points on the board, and then his coach salts the win away with the running game. Statistics are unimportant. SITUATIONAL statistics are key. How a player performs in key moments and in key game-time situations in college can give a nearly perfect picture of how a player can perform in the NFL. Lots of guys throw for lots of yards in college, but many of these guys never pan out as NFL starters. Lots of front offices miss out on lots of guys who are extremely solid NFL starters. Brady and Romo are two examples of this. Our model can and will make it easier to identify NFL-ready talent at the QB position, and we suggest that NFL teams utilize our model when scouting players. Want help defining your parameters and collecting data? Contact us, we'll gladly help. If you want a competitive edge when scouting quarterbacks, this is absolutely the way to go.
This model will be expanded in future posts.
--Mike B. and Matt K.
If Leonard Floyd had entered the 2015 NFL Draft, he would likely have slipped into the late first round, according to some scouts. Instead, Floyd opted to return to Georgia for one more season. He's young (only a sophomore), but played one year of prep school ball, which made him draft eligible last season. At 6'4, 220 pounds, Floyd is a bit lighter than most scouts like to see in their outside linebackers. That being said, he has enough talent to make scouts drool. How good is he? Take a look.
Leonard Floyd was arguably the best edge linebacker in college football in 2014, and his ceiling is extremely high this season. The talent is there. Floyd is an extremely talented pass rusher who also excels in pass coverage; Floyd has even played some DB in college. He is going to be a huge asset to an NFL team for years to come, especially if he can bulk up a little. He projects as a 3-4 OLB; he's a bit too light for a DE at 220 pounds. I think he stays as an outside linebacker at the next level.
In 2013, Floyd recorded 55 tackles, 6.5 sacks , 9.5 tackles for loss, and 2 forced fumbles. In 2014, he recorded 55 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. These are decent numbers, and if he can improve on them a bit in 2015, Floyd could propel himself higher in the first round. As it is, I think Floyd is a 2015 first round pick, or at worst, an early second round pick?
What's the downside on Floyd? The short answer is not much. He's slightly light-weight, and had shoulder surgery in 2014, missing his team's bowl game, so some scouts will wave the injury banner when discussing him. The "downside" on Floyd is fairly negligible as a whole, and I think he's a better prospect than Vic Beasley was in 2014. Keep him as a 3-4 OLB, and you've got an every down starter who can hold his own at the next level for years to come.
What's Floyd's upside? I view him as a very good, but not elite, outside linebacker in the NFL. That being said, with a strong 2015 season and the right system in the NFL, he could quickly become a household name. As things stand right now, I think that he'll be an every down starter in the NFL, and could make a few Pro Bowls. With a huge 2015 season, who knows? We could be talking about a top 10 2015 draft pick if Floyd dominates this year. He's a defensive prospect to watch closely this season, and he has the physical gifts to succeed in the NFL. Too small? I don't think so.
6-2, 250 pounds. James Conner is a big boy, slightly taller than Jerome Bettis (Bettis was 5'11), and slightly lighter (the Bus weighed in at 255 pounds). In a league where small, fast players are becoming more and more predominant, Pitt running back James Conner is a bit of a throwback. Conner is also a player with immense upside, who could work his way into the first round in 2016.
Conner is quick on his feet for a big guy. The film shows good footwork and nice bursts of speed. However, speed is not what defines Conner. Conner is a strong, scrappy runner who breaks tackles and fights hard for extra yardage. Here are some highlights. Keep in mind that Conner is a sophomore in that film. How good was Conner as a sophomore? James Conner won ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year en route to a 1765 yard, 26 TD (26 tds is a school record), 5.9 Yards-per-carry campaign, a campaign that followed his 799 yard-8 touchdown freshman campaign. Going into his junior year, Conner should become a household name among NFL fans waiting for the NFL draft.
One thing that Conner does not do, at least in college, is catch passes. He has a career total of 8 receptions for 103 yards, so he likely won't play much of a role in the passing game. That being said, especially in short yardage and goal line situations, Conner's physical gifts make him a threat every time he touches the ball.
Where does Conner project as an NFL player? I view him as a bellcow type running back who can carry the load in an NFL offense, especially a run first offense. Conner is tough enough to handle a heavy workload in the NFL, even though he's not a pass-catcher. I think he's easily a first or second round pick. His down-side is a goal line and short yardage back in a committee who could make a huge contribution to an offense early in his career.
Conner is poised for a monster 2015 season, and I expect him to generate a huge amount of buzz heading into the 2016 draft. He might not be the star that Gurley was, but James Conner has the talent and the physical traits to be an every-down starter in the NFL for years to come. Some teams might cycle him out of the lineup in passing situations, but Conner has outstanding vision and strength as a runner, and those traits will secure him a major role in an NFL offense. I project him as a likely 2016 first round pick, barring injury. On thing's for sure. He'll be fun to watch this year.
As a Montana State graduate, it's always tough to hype up a University of Montana player. U of M has generated some great talents in the past, but the rivalry between Montana State and the University of Montana always makes such actions feel like one is sleeping with the enemy. That being said, I enjoy seeing kids from the Big Sky Conference make it to the next level, and the conference has become somewhat of a Division IA powerhouse of late, with some great prospects.
Jamaal Jones is the next in a line of talented players from the Big Sky Conference. A wide receiver who transferred from the University of Washington to pursue more playing time, Jones has a great set of hands. How great are they? Here's a highlight. Jones is a player that not many people outside of the Big Sky Conference have heard of as of yet, but he's poised for what could be a monster senior season, and could turn plenty of heads on draft day.
Jones is one of the best receivers to come out of the conference in a while. Some negatives are visible; he occasionally makes mental errors and drops occasional passes, but when he's on, he's absolutely solid. Big Sky Conference WRs tend to get overlooked, so Jones might struggle to make national headlines. That being said, Jones also has a tendency to come through in big moments, and has turned into a reception machine in Montana. If he can smooth out the mental errors, he could be special, especially for a player from that conference. He seems to be almost perpetually open when you watch him play, and the big plays, when they happen, are enough to make a scout drool with anticipation.
What's his floor? He's probably going to fill a 4th WR or reserve role in the NFL and start on special teams; the guy always hustles to get downfield on kickoffs, and that's something that will secure him a place on a roster in the NFL. He'll probably be a late pick, unless he has a monster year (which is possible considering his career progression. That being said, things will change if he does have a monster year. Will he be under-drafted considering his talent level? I think absolutely. The Big Sky Conference is not known for its WRs, and Jones will be overlooked by many. That being said, his upside is big. I think he could fill a role as a #2 or possession WR with some development. While that might not seem like a big deal, a later round pick with the ability to make big plays when needed is absolutely worth taking a shot on. If nothing else, he gives you solid depth, and will absolutely make a difference on special teams. At best, he gives you much more. I think with the right system, he has an above average chance to start in the NFL.
If I'm a scout, Jamaal Jones is a player that I'm hoping nobody finds out about (sorry guys, secret's out!). If he falls to me late on day 3, I take the selection and run with it. In 2012, he didn't record a catch in Washington. In 2013, as a U of M Grizzly, he recorded 42 receptions for 760 yards and 3 TDs. In 2014, he recorded 67 receptions for 1044 yards and 8 TDs. In 2015, his ceiling is extremely high. If his progression continues, we could be looking at a day two pick with upside. The value is there, it's just a matter of where he falls. He's a player I'm watching early in 2015, and looking forward to watching in the NFL. Don't forget about him when the 2016 Draft begins!
Best of luck to Jamaal and the Grizzlies in 2016, and Go Cats (because I have to).
This scouting report excites me a little bit. I'm actually getting to scout the next Barry Sanders. Barry Sanders III, RB, Stanford, is the son of former Lions hall of fame running back Barry Sanders. While Barry III isn't the dominating athlete his father was, there are certainly some similarities in their games. Take a look. There's a good example of Barry Sanders channeling his inner Barry Sanders. His high school film was also dominant, as shown here. The physical gifts are clearly there for him to become a dominant athlete.
However, Barry Sanders III is still a work in progress. His first two seasons were spent in a backup role. There are some holes in his game; every once in a while he'll break out an explosive play or a great read. Then he'll get swallowed up by tacklers at the line of scrimmage. At this point in his career, he projects as a good committee-type of back. The film from his 2014 Stanford spring game (here) shows him doing some things exceedingly well, but he's raw.
Where does Barry project as a draft prospect? As of right now, he's probably a late round pick or udfa given his current lack of college production. His average YPC has been decent so far, coming in at 5.3 yards per carry. That being said, he's been buried on Stanford's depth chart so far in his career. However, a similar situation did little to stop his father.
Barry Sanders, of Lions fame, spent the early part of his career behind Thurman Thomas in college. It took an injury to Thomas to get Sanders regular playing time (and Thomas' move to the NFL after that season), and Barry Sanders ran away with the job. One season is often all it takes to make or break a player's draft status. If Barry Sanders wins the starting job in Stanford, we're talking about a guy who could be a day 1 or day 2 selection in 2016. If he remains a talented backup, he's destined for a day 3 selection. Either way, he's a player who is absolutely worth watching in college this year.
Besides, how often do we get a chance to scout Barry Sanders?
It's never too early to start covering the 2016 NFL draft. The 2015 season has yet to begin, but scouts are already watching next year's class. We'll start with Joey Bosa, a DE/DT who has been compared to J.J. Watt by Todd McShay. While I don't think Bosa is quite the same player as Watt, he is an extremely dominant player who has a good chance to be the first player drafted in 2016. How good is he? Here's some film.
Bosa plays for Ohio State, and sizes in at 6'6, 275 pounds. As a true freshman in 2013, Bosa delivered with 7.5 sacks, 44 tackles, in 13.5 tackles. In 2009, JJ Watt generated 44 tackles, 15.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. As a sophomore, Bosa delivered 14.5 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and 3 forced fumbles. In Watt's second season (2009), he generated 21 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, and 2 fumble recoveries. The numbers speak for themselves. While Bosa and Watt may not be the same player, Bosa has the talent to be an every-down starter in the NFL for years to come.
How good is Joey Bosa? In 2015, multiple scouts used game tape of offensive linemen facing Joey Bosa to analyze player talent. Bosa is the best defensive lineman in college football, and, I would argue, better than both Leonard Williams and Jadeveon Clowney. Had he been eligible for the 2015 draft, Bosa would likely have been a top ten pick. Why wasn't he eligible? He was only a sophomore. Bosa is still developing and learning the game. The numbers from his first two seasons are virtually identical to Clowney's. Bosa recorded 99 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, and 21 sacks. Clowney recorded 90 tackles, 34.5 tackles for loss, and 21 sacks.
Clowney's rookie season was derailed by injuries following a down year as a junior in college.
Following a sophomore campaign in which he recorded 40 solo tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks, Clowney recorded 28 solo tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, and 3 sacks as a junior in 2013. Bosa has dealt with his share of minor injuries in college, so could also fall victim to the injury trap. However, while the general opinion with Clowney is that he took plays off in college, bringing to mind character concerns and questions about his NFL readiness, there are no such concerns about Bosa. He's a high motor guy that appears to give it his all on every single play. That bodes well for his NFL prospects.
How good is Bosa going to be? While he may or may not surpass J.J. Watt as the best active defensive player in the NFL, I think that Bosa will be a legitimate threat for 2016 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, and will make multiple Pro Bowls as long as he stays healthy. This is a player that a team can build a defense around, and will make some team very happy within the top five picks of 2016. Bosa could be the best player in this year's draft class, and his 2016 college campaign is worth monitoring closely. Get used to seeing him now, because he should light up the highlight films at the next level as well!--Mike B.
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