Welcome to Draft Bytes: a weekly roundup of news, thoughts, rumors and impressions related to all things NFL Draft. It will help fill in the gaps from my other weekly column profiling draft-eligible players; Draftwatch.
- It comes up every year at this time so let's get this out of the way now; size is not skill. Please don't confuse the two. Being big doesn't make you good. Being small doesn't make you bad. Examples are everywhere you look. Jason Verrett was too short to play corner... except that his film was awesome, even against much bigger receivers. This year he played very well in San Diego and broke Alex Smith's streak for not throwing interceptions (Smith had gone 312 pass attempts without a pick). Devonta Freeman was the "small" back of FSU's two player tailback lineup a couple of years ago, so folks said he was just a 3rd down back who couldn't run with power. Fast forward two years and Freeman tied for the league lead in rushing TD's this year and is a Pro Bowl Captain, while FSU's "big" back from the same year (James Wilder Jr.) just signed a Reserve/Futures contract with the Bills. So when looking at a player, don't discount them for their size, unless their size automatically discounts them (ex: 190 pound MLB's and 240 pound DT's will not play pro football).
- Theo Epstein who runs the Chicago Cubs, said last week at the team's fan fest "You can really mess up a pick if you get the right player but the wrong person". Although Epstein is choosing athletes for a very different sport, the sentiment is certainly valid in the NFL as well. Many times as fans we see an athlete with a set of skills or accomplishments that we are sure will mesh well with our favorite team's needs, only to see them passed over for another player. A lot of times the reason behind that decision is based in Epstein's comment. NFL teams have a lot of access to the draft-eligible players that we don't and use that information to determine if a player is not going to fit on their team for a multitude of reasons beyond their physical abilities.
- The NFL has an underclassman problem and it is only getting worse. Every year a large number of college underclassmen declare for the draft despite knowing that they have a high chance of not even being selected. Over the last 2 years one third of all underclassmen who declared were not even drafted (62 out 186 players). This leaves those players without many options as they cannot return to college. They have no degree, few chances to play professionally elsewhere and usually very limited prospects for their future. The lure of big money and fame, no matter how statistically unlikely it is to actually occur, continues to lure players on to the rocks of false promises. Whether it's bad advice from family and friends, or simply the natural arrogance of young athletes, the league needs to find a way to reverse this troubling trend.
- Mental Speed vs. Physical Speed: This came up last week in talking about UCLA's linebacker prospect Myles Jack. A lot of fans do not understand that just because a player has physical speed it does not necessarily make them a "fast" player. Players who understand schemes and concepts, align themselves in the best possible spot and read their keys very quickly on a play are the ones who will appear the "fastest" on film. All of those mental skills help put them in a place to succeed, despite them not having the quickest 40 yard dash time. To see an example of a player that is not the fastest against the stopwatch but uses his recognition skills win against the offense, check out this excellent video from chicagobears.com featuring rookie John Timu's play against the running game.
Player's Lounge - Every week I will look at a player who is trending in the draft process
We need to talk about Vernon Adams. The QB from Oregon is a player I've had my eye on since last summer. He suffered a thumb injury early on this year but came back strong and played very well. In fact his accuracy percentage on deep passes this season was 57.9%, which placed him second in the nation (according to PFF College Stats). He lit up the East West Shrine game last Saturday after being arguably the best QB on either side at practice all week. He tossed 6 completions on 9 throws which doesn't sound all that great, until you get to the 3 TD's part of the stat line. Yes, half his completions were touchdowns.
Adams will always have his skeptics because he is small. He measured in at 5'10" and 198 pounds at the Shrine game. He has a slight, wiry-muscled build that I've heard compared to Allen Iverson formerly of the Philadelphia 76er's. Before you start tossing out the Russell Wilson comparisons (because everyone is going to when you mention a short QB), know that Wilson is built like rock and Adams is not. Funny thing is, the next thing people tend to say about Adams (after "Jeez, he's short") is something along the lines of "...but he just makes plays", or "...he throws the prettiest ball here". His frame is nothing to look at but his film is. Even June Jones who coached him at the Shrine Game admitted to being a skeptic before working with Adams. Coach Jones changed his tune after a week of seeing Vernon in action and now believes the small signal caller can indeed find a place in the league.
There is just something special about Adams. Is he a long-term NFL starter? Not likely. But is he worthless in a league where multiple teams started their 3rd stringer in live action this season? Absolutely not. He has value and some team might get an incredible bargain as a backup, if they are willing to risk a 7th round choice or camp invite on the former Duck.
Reader Question of the Week - I'll pick a question from a reader each week and answer it here. If you have a question you'd like to be considered you can either leave it in the comments section below, or send it to me directly on Twitter (@thedraftsmanFB) with the hashtag #askEJ.
This week's question is from WCG user Mike Ditka's Cigar. He asked: "I've seen Vernon Butler (6'3" / 316 DT from Louisiana Tech) getting some love due to the Shrine game.... Have you seen much on him?"
Butler has been on my scouting list since last Fall. I'm pretty sure I picked his name up from a pre-season All-Conference USA list. Vernon is a senior who has good size and racked up some decent stats playing at Louisiana Tech as one of Kenneth Dixon's teammates. Although I haven't done a full work-up on him, a quick glance at his film shows a player with good balance, ample power and pretty solid hand use. He works to keep himself free and has fairly quick feet. He is not fast in a straight line and that makes him a liability for plays outside of the tackle box. It seems a little like the Bulldog's scheme had him reading more often than attacking the o-lineman across from him. It'd be interesting to see what happens if he really gets turned loose. More of an NT than 5-tech. Overall he's a guy worth watching. I've seen him listed potentially as high as the 2nd round. I don't see that off my quick glimpse of him, but keep an eye on him as the process unfolds.
Watch the over-arm swim move from Louisiana Tech DT Vernon Butler, forcing RB into waiting LB. https://t.co/tDtRtcYmm3— Rob Rang (@RobRang) January 27, 2016