Tarik Cohen is a special player in the Bears offense

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Chicago Bears made moves this offseason to bring a variety of offensive talent to play alongside young quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Their most exciting weapon, though, might be a player that was already on the roster in Tarik Cohen.

Chicago drafted Cohen in the fourth round in 2017 and he was an instant hit. He made his mark on the league in his first career game and was the key to a Bears offense that almost pulled off a week one upset over the defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. He instantly found his role in Chicago’s offense and was a shining light in what was a dysfunctional Bears team.

Cohen rushed for 370 yards last season on 87 carries, averaging a decent 4.25 yards per carry. The running back also had 53 receptions on 71 targets for 353 yards. He was not the most efficient player but he was one of Chicago’s most dangerous big play threats. The rookie had 6 plays (4 receptions and 2 runs) which gained over 20 yards, leading the team.

The traits that make Cohen most dangerous with the ball in his hands are his speed, acceleration and deceleration. The running back can quickly reach his top speed but also can slow down a stop on a dime without losing balance allowing him to make quick cuts and dodge defenders. Combine his physical tools with his great vision and incredibly fast reaction time and he can scorch defenses.

Cohen’s abilities coming out of the backfield translate to any position on the field. The Bears lined the running back up at multiple positions, including split wide as a receiver or in the slot. His speed and quick twitch skills make him a great route runner and he excelled making catches underneath coverage then making plays with the ball in his hands after.

The same skills that make Cohen such a threat coming out of the backfield also make him a huge threat running after the catch. His great body control and balance allow him to stay on his feet when he has to make awkward adjustments to catch the ball.

Cohen is also incredibly slippery. He is an expert at escaping tackles not only because of his balance but relative size. The rookie is only 5’6, meaning he has a natural advantage when he attempts to get low enough to bounce off of tackles. When defenders approach him up high he is great at getting his body low, becoming small and slipping through their arms.

While his small size does provide some benefits, there are obvious drawbacks. Almost all of Cohen’s receptions come at or around the line of scrimmage, even when split wide. This is expected as he isn’t nearly big enough to win contested catches downfield. No matter how good of a route runner he may be it makes things a lot easier on the defender tasked with covering him when they don’t have much to worry about downfield in man coverage. In zone coverage, if a defense see’s Cohen split out wide then they know to make a quick adjustment on the fly to assign a defender to a shorter zone.

It also hurts him as a runner. While he can deke and dodge his way out of the backfield as well as anyone if the Bears run protection fails and he is left without a cutback lane then he is not strong enough to lower his shoulder and power his way through the pile. He can only bounce around so many tackles, and that led to a large number of carries of under 3 yards for the running back last season.

Holding on to the ball also is an issue for a player of that size. He is great at avoiding big hits but when he does get smacked ball control is an issue.

Durability will also become a concern in the future. Running backs league wide are physically wearing down faster than any other position. At 5’6 185 pounds Cohen’s long-term durability and even his week to week workload are limited. Chicago would obviously love to feed Cohen more often but they also want their versatile weapon to be in their arsenal for as long as possible. Luckily for the Bears, they have another starlet running back in Jordan Howard (who I did a rookie season breakdown on last season) who Cohen provides a perfect compliment to.

Defending the Bears talent rich offense will be an issue for many defenses next season, and Cohen may be the team’s most versatile piece.

 

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Kenyan Drake has finally found his role in the Dolphins offense

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Kenyan Drake became one of the focal points of the Miami Dolphins offense after they dealt Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles mid-way through the 2017 season.  While Miami’s offense could not find much consistency last season, his emergence gave them something to look forward to in the future.

Drake was selected by the Dolphins in the third round of the 2016 draft. He only started one game in his rookie season but saw that number jump up to six in 2017. His workload heavily increased as he had 133 carries in 2017 compared to 33 the year before. He also doubled his touchdown total, scoring a combined 4 in 2017 after scoring two in the previous season. Miami saw promise in Drake and transformed him into a major contributor after dealing away their best running back.

Drake had his coming out party during the Dolphins Monday Night Football upset of the New England Patriots last December. He had 114 rushing yards on 25 carries and added 79 receiving yards on 5 catches.

The running backs greatest trait is his ability to slip through tackles and stay on his feet despite contact. He sheds contact too his upper body with ease. Drake is great at lowering his shoulder and getting underneath tacklers who attempt to take him down up high.

He can keep his feet churning and is great at adjusting his upper body weight to slip by defenders who fail to wrap him up. Drake is not scared to lower his shoulder and crash into defenders. The running back can drag tacklers and carry a pile for extra yardage at times.

While Drake is great at getting through tackles to break into open space what he does after breaking those tackles could be better.

He has the ability to break free from defenders but after that, he usually just ends up stumbling back and forth in any random direction before going down. The Dolphins running back fails to regain his balance after bouncing off of tackles. This means that he does not do a great job of taking advantage of broken and missed tackles, and often ends up running straight sideways instead of upfield.

His vision in the open field seems to struggle at times and while he can spot holes and take advantage of them in the backfield, his frantic hurried running style leads to him getting mentally ahead of himself and lost while on his feet. Once Drake gets into the second level of the defense he seems panicked and more preoccupied with avoiding defenders instead of just gaining yardage.

Despite his ability to slip through tackles and keep his feet churning, Drake has issues keeping his balance. Occasionally he trips over his own feet in the backfield and stumbles down despite little to no contact.

He can’t get out of his own way. While he is great at ripping through tackles on his upper body the slightest touch to his lower body can cause him to lose his balance and go down.

Drake’s footwork really needs some work. He has an off balance running style that generally leads too him leaning heavily forward while stumbling almost. It is very upright and unafraid which allows him to rip away from tacklers, but it also means that he is constantly off balance and is a small touch away from going down.

While the running back has troubles working his way through traffic, he is an extremely dangerous runner in the open field.

Drake has great speed and burst. If he can cleanly get to the second level of the defense than he has a legitimate shot to go the distance. The Alabama product is a big play threat every time he has the ball. He is a very boom or bust runner who can often bust big plays but also is liable to lose yards in the backfield to keep the team behind schedule (which happens to be similar to that of Jay Ajayi).

While Drake does provide some utility in the passing game he is not the special receiving talent some make him out to be. He is an average route runner, and while he is a threat to make big plays in space the same issues that arise with his play when surrounded by defenders in the run game haunt him when he attempts to run after the catch. He often spends to much time dodging back and forth and running sideways instead of turning upfield and fighting for yardage.

With Jarvis Landry out of Miami Drake may be better utilized in the offense, though. Many of the shorter targets and screen passes will be heading his way. He does not often drop passes and they can get him into the flat by himself then his big play potential can really shine.

The Dolphins signed veteran running back Frank Gore this offseason. The former Colt is expected to share carries with Drake in the offense. Gore will most likely take short yardage snaps and give Drake resting time on certain downs.  Last season the Dolphins seemed unsure how to split snaps between him and Damien Williams after the Ajayi trade. He will be used a little less as a bell cow this season and in a more defined role which should help him thrive in what should be a very different looking offense this season.

 

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Micah Hyde is one of the NFL’s best defensive playmakers

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Micah Hyde may have been one of the most underrated signings of the 2017 free agency period. The former Green Bay Packers safety joined the Buffalo Bills on a five year deal worth just over $30 million.  The safety lived up to his billing and was the best player on a Bills defense that carried the franchise to their first playoff appearance in this millennium.

Hyde was a versatile piece on Buffalo’s defense. He took snaps as a nickel corner, box safety and even as a single high safety in some situations. He had a career high five interceptions last season and emerged as an elite playmaker at the second level of the defense.

Whether he is lined up in the box, as a single high or nickel Hyde’s greatest attributes are his ability to quickly identify what the offense is doing, his quick reaction time and quick speed. These skills combined make him very effective against the run as he can quickly read the running back and come flying up field to stop the play.

His playmaking ability also made him a monster in zone coverage. He could drop back into a deeper zone and read the field in front of him. Even when he was playing well off the line of scrimmage he still had the speed and reaction time necessary to come upfield and blow up plays in shallower zones. This allowed his linebackers a greater margin for error and made route concepts that would punish teams by running routes underneath coverage less effective.

Hyde’s reaction time and high football IQ were also responsible for what was the arguably the most impressive play that he made last season.

The safety dominated that game against the Atlanta Falcons, one of the major upsets the team pulled off last season that were crucial to their eventual playoff bid. He was great against both the pass and the run. His excellent processing skills and great decision making mean that the Bills can trust him playing single high like he was in the above play.

2018 NFL Season Preview: Can the Minnesota Vikings separate themselves from the rest of the pack?

2018 Season Preview, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

It was a frisson inducing moment. Fans of the Minnesota Vikings joined together in raucous thunder clapping after having just witnessed an incredible last second Stefon Diggs touchdown that would later be dubbed the “Minneapolis Miracle.” The man leading the chants was Case Keenum, the quarterback who came out of nowhere to somehow win the Teddy Bridgewater vs Sam Bradford quarterback battle. The long time journey man was an unexpected hero in Minnesota and was now only a game away from leading the Vikings to a Super Bowl in their own home stadium.

A week later Keenum and the Vikings would be battered by a Philadelphia Eagles team that had the honor of winning their franchises first Super Bowl at US Bank Stadium.

The 2018 Vikings plan on being right back in the mix of things. They return every major piece of an incredible defense, and much of their offensive cast remains the same. Minnesota did make one key change on offense that they hope will make all the difference this season.

Keenum, Bradford and Bridgewater have all moved on from the Twin Cities and Kirk Cousins, formerly of the Washington Redskins, was handed a massive contract and the responsibility of leading the 2018 Vikings to the success the 2017 version let slip through their fingers.

Now with a star quarterback, one of the best receiving duos in the league in Diggs and Adam Theilen, the return of Dalvin Cook and a defense with pro bowl potential at every single position the Vikings have created a super team. Unfortunately, they play in a tough NFC where teams all around the conference have loaded up and are ready to make Super Bowl runs of their own.

Minnesota will yet again be among the favorites in the NFC, but have they done enough to distance themselves from the pack?

2018 NFL Season Preview: If not now for the Detroit Lions, then when?

2018 Season Preview, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Detroit Lions walked off Ford Field as winners in the final week of 2017 having pulled off a dominating victory against their arch-rival Green Bay Packers. The victory clinched a 9-7 record for Detroit meaning they had put together their first back to back winning seasons since 1995. It wrapped a season sweep of the Packers, the first over their NFC North foes since 1991.

Despite all of this 2017 will go down as a failure in the grand scheme of things.

Head Coach Jim Caldwell was fired and replaced by New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as the Lions ended the season without reaching the playoffs and their division title drought reached 24 years. Another year of Quarterback Matt Stafford’s prime went by without a playoff victory. They failed to produce a 100 yard rusher, marking four years since Reggie Bush completed the feat in 2013. Their retooled, rebuilt, offensive line couldn’t stay healthy and Stafford was sacked 47 times.

The Lions as a whole struggled in 2017. But the fact that they were able to post a winning record despite their struggles shows promise for the future. The future may not last as long as many Lions fans would like to believe, though.

TJ Lang and Rick Wagner, the two key pieces to 2017’s offseason offensive line retool, are 30 and 28 respectively. Lang will be a free agent after 2019, and both are on contracts that have potential outs after this season. Golden Tate, who has been the offenses best weapon since the departure of Calvin Johnson, is a free agent after 2018 and Detroit may not be able to retain him in an inflated receiver market.

For years we have been hearing about how the Detroit Lions only needed a few more years and a few more pieces before they could compete in the NFC. Eventually, the future will have to arrive in Detroit, and if not this year than the future may be further away than we think.

Offense  |  Defense Season Prediction

Don’t let the narratives dictate your opinion of Dak Prescott

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The jury is still out on Dak Prescott. The second year quarterback was oft-maligned towards the end of last season and as the Cowboys derailed towards the end of 2017 much of the blame was put upon his shoulders. While many remember that Prescott was without 2016 rushing champion Ezekiel Elliot, who was suspended for 6 games in the latter half of the season, the narrative surrounding him seems to ignore the absence of future hall of fame offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

The quarterback ranked fourth in the league in passer rating in 2017. His numbers seemed to get worse as the season went on and his play declined without his best two teammates in the lineup.

The Dallas offense is devoid of talent in the skill positions when Elliot is out, leaving Prescott in a situation to fail. His offensive line was awful at times, as I highlighted in a breakdown from late last season.

One of the biggest criticisms regarding Prescott is that he is a “dink and dunk” quarterback. He has a reputation for taking easy check downs instead of taking more aggressive options downfield, similar to that of Alex Smith. His reputation is born out of some truth but the conservative nature of the Cowboys offense can be more attributed to play calling rather than the quarterback himself.

Dallas loved running concepts that would scheme their receivers open on shorter routes such as flats, quick outs, digs and curls.  In the play above, the vertical route the outside receiver runs on the play side is used only to screen out the defensive back in front of him. Prescott got a majority of his completions on shorter routes because that’s what the play calling usually gave him.

The quarterback did seem overly eager to take easy check downs rather than spend an extra second in the pocket and find another man a little more open downfield as things break down. He occasionally will check down a pass ignoring receivers who either are or just are about to break open for a bigger gain.

It’s hard to faults the Cowboys for being so conservative, though. Dallas’s receivers were awful at getting open downfield last season. Dez Bryant, who may not be on an NFL roster in 2018, is an awful route runner. Slot receiver Cole Beasley rarely finds himself more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage and the rest of the Cowboys 2017 receiving corps were a who’s who of the NFL’s bottom feeders.

None of the Cowboys receivers were great route runners, and even when the Cowboys put Prescott in motion to help make a difference it wouldn’t be enough.

Prescott’s accuracy could have helped his receivers make more plays, though. Some of his back shoulder passes, balls used to help free a smothered receiver, could have been much better last season.

He badly missed a lot of shorter, routine, passes as well.

The quarterback’s inconsistency and occasional missed passes became an issue at times. He seemed to lose confidence in himself late in the season. As the team around him seemed to break down Prescott saw his play decline and made mistakes you would rarely expect him to make early in the year.

While he has the occasional bad game, Prescott looks like a star at times. Early on in the season he was one of the better quarterbacks in the league. When the Cowboys had their full supporting cast he was an incredible playmaker and made many of the tight window throws that you’d expect from the best of quarterbacks.

Prescott is also incredibly mobile, and when he is locked into the game can pull off great escape acts to avoid the pocket pressure he was often under late last season.

He is not scared to test defenses downfield and is an exceptional playmaker. Many of the issues he suffered with towards the end of last season can be attributed to the little help around him. Prescott is inconsistent at times, and in certain games last year (Broncos, Falcons, Eagles) he seemed to get off to a slow start and was mentally never able to recover. His confidence seemed to be shot late in 2017 and there were definitely a few mental hurdles he had trouble getting over. With another season of experience and an offseason to put the woes of last year behind him, there is no reason to believe that Prescott can’t bounce back with a strong 2018.

Dallas may not have done enough to help him this offseason, though. They should return a top tier offensive line, but the receiving corps still provides many questions. Allen Hurns was brought it from Jacksonville to replace Bryant. They also added rookie Michael Gallup out of Colorado State, but neither seems to be enough of an upgrade to really fix an awful unit. Long time tight end Jason Witten retired, leaving Prescott and Elliot with the responsibility to carry the offense once again.

 

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Don’t let the distractions distract you from Josh Rosen’s talent

Game Film, NCAA Football, NFL, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

The discussion surrounding UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has been dominated by non-football events so far this draft season.  Whether it’s questioning his love of the game or outrage over some of his college dorm room antics, football has taken the back seat in his draft profile. Even his former college coach Jim Mora got in on the action at the start of April.

With the media circus in full force this spring, it’s easy to forget how great of a player Rosen is. The Bruins quarterback threw for over 3,700 yards, completing 63% of his passes for 26 touchdowns. UCLA football is in a dire state at the moment. The offensive talent surrounding the quarterback was severely underpowered compared to their competition within the Pac 12. This meant that despite the quarterback’s best efforts the Bruins posted a losing season in 2017.

Rosen ranked 17th in the nation with 8.3 yards per attempt. He did throw 10 interceptions last season, though many of them can be credited to poor play by his wide receivers. His four interceptions thrown in the red zone last season may raise concerns.

UCLA runs a pro-style offense. Rosen is forced to make pre-snap reads and he and his receivers must be on the same page. He takes snaps from under center and the offense forces him to have to go through progressions post snap as well to find the open man.

Rosen is very calm and collected in the pocket. He goes through his progressions and will even make it to his fourth or fifth read at times. The quarterback generally avoids forcing passes and is willing to stand in the pocket and keep his eyes downfield for as long as the defense will give him.

The Bruins receivers had a lot of trouble getting open last year and many other college quarterbacks would not let that stop them from just throwing the ball into coverage. Patience was key to any success Rosen had last season, and his ability to spot receivers just as they freed themselves from coverage and quickly get them the ball will translate extremely well to the next level.

While Rosen is great at keeping his eyes downfield and searching for open targets, he may be a little too great at it sometimes. His pocket presence isn’t very good, and he struggles when put under pressure.

He is often late reacting to pressure and takes sacks that he should be able to escape. Getting hit when off guard makes him extremely prone to fumbling. When he does feel the pressure, he panics. At least twice last season he randomly dropped the ball without even being hit after noticing the pass rush getting near him. Rosen backs way too far out of the pocket when the pass rush starts breathing down his neck. When he tries to climb into the pocket he gets himself sacked and his panicked reactions to pressure cause him to make matters worse. He throws errant passes into coverage, which also caused his high number of red zone turnovers in 2017. The Bruins offensive line was bad, but they cannot eat all of the blame. Developing a better feel for what’s happening immediately around him and reacting appropriately will be a much needed skill that he needs to develop at the next level.

Rosen is great at finding open receivers post-snap, but some of the work he does pre-snap helps get the Bruins moving as well. He excelled in the “pitch and catch” game and was able to spot which receivers would have space right off of the snap and hit them on quick outs, ins, and curls.

These quick passes are a simple way to stay ahead of the chains, pick up easy yardage and can occasionally break for huge gains. It also pulls the defense in and forces defenses to play closer to the line of scrimmage. This opens up space further downfield and gives his receivers a better chance at getting separation on their deeper routes.

A lot of what Rosen does well hinges on how smart of a player he is. The Bruin can read defense’s and rarely makes troubling decisions. That does not take away from his incredible arm talent.

Rosen can put passes on a rope. He clearly prefers high velocity bullet passes and his arm strength allows him to get balls quickly to his target before the defense can close in. His arm strength is not on the same level as the likes of Sam Darnold and Josh Allen but it is nothing to scoff at.

The quarterback is extremely comfortable hitting all of the intermediate throws with velocity. He has great command of his accuracy when he’s throwing mid-range passes and has a knack for always putting the ball right where it needs to be.

 

Rosen has the short and medium passing games down. He can find open receivers and perfectly place the ball to them. The Bruin rarely misses those throws and is smart enough reading the field to almost always spot the open man.

He loses some of this control while testing defenses downfield.

Much of the control that Rosen has throwing towards the intermediate levels seems to vanish throwing downfield. His accuracy struggles, as he often underthrows some of his longer passes. The throws are often errant and turnover worthy. The carefulness and precision that he has on shorter throws seem to disappear when testing defenses long. He will have to clean this up and be a little smarter with his passes going downfield when he begins to play at the NFL level.

Rosen is the best quarterback in the 2018 draft class. He is the most accurate, the smartest and has great arm talent. The UCLA product will definitely be selected in the top 5, and if I was in the Cleveland Browns war room on draft night there is no way I would not let him slip through our fingers. His floor is higher than anyone else in the class and he is more bust proof than the strong armed Allen and Darnold. Cleveland has been most closely linked to the other two quarterbacks and unless something changes within the next few weeks he will most likely be playing in New York. The Giants and Jets are two options for him, and the Buffalo Bills may possibly make a move into the top five to grab him as well.

 

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Sam Darnold: The next NFL product out of QBU

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

Sam Darnold fits the old school mold for an ideal college quarterback perfectly. Went to USC, won a Rose Bowl, has a big arm that he uses with confidence and has had absolutely zero off-field incidents during his college career.

But how good is he?

Darnold completed 64% of his passes last season, along with 26 touchdowns and over 4,000 yards. He also threw a whopping 13 interceptions and was a dud in a few high profile games.

While he did have a few flops on the big stage, Darnold’s numbers against some of the top teams in college football are similar to how he performed against some of the bottom teams.

His 8.6 yards per attempt was 11th in the country last season which makes him an exciting prospect for any team looking for a quarterback. He was fourth among power five quarterbacks in interceptions, which may make teams scared to take him on at the next level.

So what can we expect from Darnold?

USC runs one of the more interesting offenses in the country. It is a run first offense where repeated runs between the tackles are used to pull the defense into the box. The defense is forced to account for the run, which opens the horizontal passing game. It is an interesting version of the spread offense that you see so often in college football. Unlike a majority of other college QB’s, though, Darnold had to regularly take snaps from under center rather than just lining up in shotgun.

This offense would not be deemed “pro-style” but it does draw some similarities to how the Philadelphia Eagles ran their offense when Nick Foles replaced an injured Carson Wentz.

Darnold as rarely expected to properly make a read of the defense in front of him, and his decision making when he had to struggled. He made a terrible read on what was arguably his worst play of the 2017 season, throwing a pick 6 against Ohio State.

*Off of an RPO, Darnold’s read is an Ohio State linebacker that shows a blitz on the play. The linebacker leaves an area free behind him, and a safety creeps into it. Darnold keeps the ball to pass and there is a miscommunication between the quarterback and the receiver and the ball is thrown right into the path of the defensive back who snatches it for a pick 6.*

Darnold failing to make a proper read of the defense hindered him all year. Even when the quarterback had a clean pocket he would still throw terrible passes into coverage. He seemed to lock on to a receiver, stare him down, and lob passes to the receiver he was pre-determined to throw to. The coverage or the number of defensive backs draping the receiver did not matter, he was still going to throw the pass he wanted.

This is legitimately troubling. HE doesn’t take care of the ball as well as you’d hope from an NFL quarterback, and has a lot to learn before he is ready to start at the next level.

Darnold had a clean pocket on all of those plays. When he was put under pressure he was even worse.

The quarterback seems to panic at the first sign of pressure. He often walks himself into sacks stepping up into the pocket when he doesn’t need to. When he drops back further, he goes way too far back and puts himself in an inescapable position.  His eyes drop, and he gives up on looking downfield for an open man even when he still has a chance to make a pass before the pressure gets him. He is not willing to stand strong in the pocket and release the ball right before he takes a hit. When he does manage to escape the pressure, some of the issues he has when throwing from a clean pocket show up again. Darnold usually just throws a pass to whichever receiver he see’s first, no matter how well he is covered.

Even when the quarterback does make a proper read, his accuracy can be anywhere. He misses open receivers long and short. Ball placement often fails him when throwing to open teammates.

So why are teams so high on Darnold? Despite some of his failures reading defenses, and occasional missed pass, the passes he does hit are incredible.

He can put touch on balls to float them into a spot right between two defenders. He can put passes on a rope and get them to his receiver before the defense can even react. The quarterback can make throws on the run and can hit passes off balance. The arm talent is there, he just needs to learn how to reign it in. At his peak, Darnold has potential to be one of the best passers in the NFL.

The quarterback is also great on the move. While he does occasionally panic and make bad decisions while under pressure when the defense opens a chasm in front of him he is not scared to take off on his feet.

He isn’t a tree in the pocket and does have a high level of athleticism. Darnold isn’t the fastest guy but he’s fast enough to make plays. The quarterback is a smart runner and knows how to avoid hits and when not to risk his body for an extra yard.

The USC quarterback isn’t the best player today, but his ceiling is extremely high. He has a lot of natural talent and a strong arm. Darnold should not be a starter day one but if he is properly developed he has potential to be a star.

Rumors link him to the Cleveland Browns as the first overall pick, and at worst within the top three. I believe that may be a little high for him as he will need time and a great coaching staff in order to be ready to lead an NFL offense. I would love to see him sit behind Sam Bradford in Arizona for the first half of the season at pick 15, or maybe even a long-term replacement to Tom Brady in New England at pick 31.

No matter where he goes, Darnold will need time and a coaching staff willing to properly develop him in order for him to succeed. They should not just throw him into the fire unprepared (like the Browns did last season to DeShone Kizer) as it could have terrible long-term effects on his play.

*corrected: initial paragraph seemed to absolve blame from the receiver on the play*

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Baker Mayfield: The quarterback with fire, fury and the talent to back it up

Lamar Jackson; the most dynamic QB in the NFL draft

Josh Allen is the most interesting prospect in the 2018 draft

 

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Baker Mayfield: The quarterback with fire, fury and the talent to back it up

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL Draft

Mansur Shaheen

From walk-on at Texas Tech to Heisman winner and potential top 5 draft pick at Oklahoma, the Baker Mayfield story may be one of the best from the 2018 draft. The protagonist of the story also happens to be an incredible football player. The fiery quarterback terrorized the Big 12 last season as he lead his team to a conference title and an appearance in the college football playoff. He threw for over 4,600 yards and 43 touchdowns in his senior year, both career highs, and was only picked off six times, a career low. He was one of the most efficient quarterbacks ever in college football and his huge numbers weren’t just a product of beating up on bad teams either.

Mayfield was just as efficient against some of the best teams in the country as he was against the bottom feeders. He rose up to every challenge in front of him and could be depended on to make huge plays in huge games.

Some of his huge numbers can be attributed to the offense he played in, though. The Sooners deployed a spread offense focused around the incredible athletes they had populating every skill position on the roster. They forced defenses to devote resources towards the outside by running a variety of deep passing concepts and screen passes, then took advantage of the soft spots they left in the middle.

One play Oklahoma loved to run that took advantage of this was a quick toss over the middle off of an RPO.

These holes open for the Sooners offense because of how overwhelming they can be. Opposing defenses are willing to give up an easy first down over the middle if it means they won’t get torched for 60 yards and a touchdown instead.  Mayfield plays “toss and catch” football really well and was comfortable making a quick read and taking the easy pass underneath. Oklahoma forced teams to play bend, don’t break, defense all year and it created an offensive goliath.

This will not be the case for Mayfield at the NFL level, though. NFL corners are just as good as NFL receivers, and middle linebackers aren’t just going to leave gaping holes in the middle of the field on a regular basis.

While these plays inflated his stats a bit, he was still an incredible passer throwing downfield. He can put virtually every pass on a rope, and his quick release combined with the velocity of his passes made them extremely hard to defend.

While Mayfield is not the biggest quarterback, measuring in at 6’1, his ability to get the ball away to quickly and with such speed quells some of the concerns around balls being batted down at the line. Getting the ball over the first level was never an issue for him as a Sooner, and despite his size, he rarely had to sail passes just to get them over people.

When forced out of the pocket, whether it was due to pressure or designed rollouts, Mayfield still managed to deliver great balls. He doesn’t lose much accuracy or power when his feet aren’t set, and still manages to spot open men downfield and make plays.

Mayfield has a Russel Wilson-esque ability to improvise and make plays on the run. He’s slippery in the pocket and always has an escape plan once things start to get dangerous for him. His abilities do come with their faults, though. The quarterback seems over-eager to try to make a play at times and will hold the ball too long. When he was pressured he would usually abandon his progressions and bolt. This would often work out, as his receivers were good enough to usually get open for him to find downfield even when out of the pocket. Needless extension of plays can lead to your team surrendering big gains, though, as receivers are forced to come back towards the ball to get open. Mayfield also hated to throw the ball away and seemed much more willing to take a sack rather than just take the easy way out.

One knock on Mayfield is his willingness to throw off of his back foot. When your base isn’t fully set it is very easy to have passes sail on you, and they can become easy interceptions for a free safety playing center field. An NFL coach will probably work with him to reduce the amount of times he only throws off his back foot, but in his defense, he did throw off of his back foot extremely well in college.

Mayfield is a great passer, but his ability as a runner can truly unlock defenses. As mentioned earlier the Sooners run a lot of RPO plays and the quarterback was not afraid to keep the ball and make plays with his feet. While he is not as fast or athletic as a player like Lamar Jackson he has enough burst to find the edge and take off downfield. He never runs scared but also manages to protect his body and get out of bounds.

He is a smart runner and can beat teams whether the run is designed or not. When looking downfield to pass if he notices there is no spy on the defense he can force them to pay by quickly bolting on his feet. He near perfectly fits the mold of a modern dual-threat quarterback.

While the Sooner is a great runner and an even better passer there are still many questions surrounding him entering the draft. The biggest has to be whether or not he can function in a pro-style offense. Much of Mayfield’s job at Oklahoma was to quickly scan the defense, find which one of his receivers were wide open by nearly ten yards and just get him the ball. He did not have to worry much about hitting his receivers in their hands, leading them or placing the pass in an area where they could avoid danger. He would still have to deliver a pass on target, which he regularly did, but was not the best at hitting them in stride. Completing 71% of your passes in your senior season is incredible, but he was not challenged as much as many of the other quarterbacks in the draft.

Mayfield rarely had to throw into tight windows, and when he did it rarely ended well.

Throws like those are ones he will have to make on a regular basis at the next level and he still hasn’t shown he can make them. While there is no reason to believe that he will not be able to quickly learn a new offense, make reads against a pro defense and complete tight window throws, we have no proof that he can yet and he is less experienced at doing so than the likes of Josh Rosen or Jackson.


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Whichever team drafts Mayfield will be getting a great player with a lot of talent. They will also have to find a way to refine his game without hurting his creativity. Teach him how to play like a disciplined NFL quarterback, while also not extinguishing the fire within him that makes him such a great player. Mayfield’s ceiling may not be as high as Rosen, Josh Allen or Sam Darnold, but he has the tools necessary to be a great NFL quarterback today.

He is definitely going to be selected within the top 20, and he will most likely end up in New York playing for either the Jets or Giants. My favorite landing spot for him is a little later in the draft, going to the Arizona Cardinals at pick 15, where he can spend the early parts of the season sitting behind Sam Bradford before fully taking over the offense later in the year.

 

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Lamar Jackson; the most dynamic QB in the NFL draft

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NCAA Football, NFL, NFL Draft

Lamar Jackson is the most exciting player in college football. The Louisville Cardinals quarterback and 2016 Heisman winner threw for 3660 yards, a career high, and 27 touchdowns in 2017. He added 1600 yards, also a career high, and 18 touchdowns on the ground in his third season. While the Cardinals struggles in 2017 caused Jackson to take a step out of the spotlight, the quarterback may have been even better last year than he was in 2016.

Before we continue I am dispelling any talk the Jackson should switch to wide receiver. No. He is a quarterback and a damn good one.

The most remarkable skill in Lamar Jackson’s toolbox is his incredible speed, agility, athleticism and overall ability as a runner. Read options were a significant part of the Cardinals offense and Jackson’s running prowess may have been the most important aspect of Louisville’s attack last season.


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In last years meeting against the Clemson Tigers, arguably the biggest game of the team’s season, the Cardinals offense was entirely stagnant until Jackson gave them a jump start with his feet.

The second the Tigers defensive end took a step inside Jackson took off. Just that slight bit of space is all he needed, and his explosiveness helped him get to the second level before the defense could react.

Jackson mastered these plays. He rarely ran himself into trouble and did a good job handing the ball off when an opportunity for him to run didn’t open. He is a quick thinker and he is even faster on his feet. If the edge defender even bites a bit on the read, Jackson keeps the ball for himself. Give him even the slightest crease and he’s suddenly gone.

Even when the plays weren’t designed for Jackson to keep the ball for himself he still often made plays on his feet. The Cardinals poor offensive line, combined with Louisville’s receivers having trouble getting open, left the quarterback having to improvise on a regular basis.

Jackson has incredible pocket presence. He manages to avoid pressure with ease while still keeping his eyes downfield. The quarterback does not seem to get spooked by the slightest bit of pressure and goes through his progressions and still manages to make great decisions. Many athletic passers have the tendency to drop all focus on their receivers and bolt when they’re in hot water, Jackson does not. His speed allows him to avoid the rush and turn upfield to make huge gains out of plays that shouldn’t gain anything.

The quarterback doesn’t totally abandon the pass once he takes off, though. He can complete passes on the move and does not fully need to set his feet to deliver a great ball.

Being able to throw on the run keeps the defense honest, and even open more opportunity to take off on your feet. Defenses sprinting forward to contain Jackson when he bolts out of the pocket opens up receivers downfield. If the deeper defenders do not come forward, though, they are susceptible to giving up huge yardage.


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Everyone knows that Jackson can run, though. Majority of the highlights of his you see on the likes of SportsCenter and Twitter are plays the dynamic player makes with his feet. This leads many to believe that he is a run first quarterback.

That notion is false.

Jackson is an incredible pocket passer, and arguably one of the best pocket passers in all of college football.

Louisville runs a pro-style passing offense. Coach Bobby Petrino’s offense focused on quick passes and the receivers ran a variety of quick in, quick out and curl routes. This offense forced Jackson to quickly process the defense, spot the open receiver and make a quick and accurate pass as soon as the receiver breaks on their route. These passes need to be accurate not only to get to the receiver but also to hit his man in stride to maximize the yards run for after the catch.

The quarterback thrived in this offense. He was able to release the ball quickly and safely and rarely threw troublesome passes on these shorter routes.

Throws like these should have offensive coordinators around the league salivating. Quicker shorter passes keep the defenses on their toes and the offense on schedule. These plays punish a team in they drop too far into zone coverage and if the defense is caught off guard occasionally they can bust for a huge gain.

Jackson can do more than just throw these shallow routes, though. He has an amazing arm and is not scared to test defenses downfield. When given a clean pocket and room to step into throws the quarterback can absolutely torch teams downfield.

His arm talent his severely underrated, and occasionally overshadowed by all of the work he does with his legs. Even if Jackson was not an athletic freak of nature, he would still be a great quarterback prospect based on his arm alone.


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The biggest mark against Jackson, though, was his 60% accuracy in his final year at Louisville. Some of his poor accuracy can be attributed to the failures of the talent around him. His offensive line was atrocious last season and his receivers had trouble bringing in routine passes.

Not all of his struggles can be on his team, though. Jackson’s deep ball failed him on occasion and he missed a few throws really badly. Throws would float on him at times, and overthrowing receivers over the middle can be low hanging fruit for an interception to an attentive free safety. Majority of his interceptions last season came on balls that were overthrown.

These types of throws happen often when a quarterback tries to throw off of his backfoot without properly stepping through his passes. This is a coachable flaw, though, and one that many college QBs carry entering the NFL.

Jackson is one of the best quarterbacks in the draft and is definitely a first-round talent. The player he is today is a quality starter in the NFL. His combination of arm talent and his ability as a runner give him an extremely high ceiling. The quarterback is 6’3, but at 205 lbs he will definitely need to learn how to protect his body well when finishing runs, as he tends to fall into hits often when he could instead slide to protect his body, but that is also a coachable skill. He is not the biggest or strongest option at quarterback in the draft, but definitely the most dynamic of the bunch.

The New York Giants provide an ideal fit for Jackson at #2. They already run a similar offense to Louisville. Weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Sheppard could thrive with Jackson at QB and with Eli Manning’s career coming to a close this is probably their best chance to find an adequate long-term replacement.

Other good options for Jackson include the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills. No matter where he lands, the team that drafts Jackson may be getting a special talent that could take over the league.

 

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