Cowboys Draft Prospects: Derek Sherrod

Our series of posts about players in whom the Dallas scouts and/ or coaches have shown some interest returns to that football hotbed, the SEC. We have already looked at Florida's Mike Pouncey and Arkansas' DeMarcus Love; today, we'll see what some leading draft pundits have to say about Mississippi State's resident road-grader, Derek Sherrod. He was an All-SEC selection in 2009 and 2010 who, in '09, helped pave the way for the Bulldogs to lead the SEC and finish ninth nationally in rushing with 227.6 yards per game. Last season, they almost repeated the feat; their 219.3 rushing yards per game ranked 15th nationally.

Sherrod is a high-character guy--he was voted a team captain for the '10 campaign, is a hard, determined worker, and is known as an intelligent player, as evidenced by the fact that he was one of only 16 players in the country to earn the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame Award, given to exceptional scholar athletes. As a business major who graduated with a 3.54 GPA, Sherrod qualified as a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, commonly referred to as the "Academic Heisman." In addition, Sherrod was a four-year member of MSU’s community service club--and even organized a Thanksgiving food drive! 

Perhaps more importantly, he possesses the physical traits of a prototypical NFL tackle: he has excellent size (6-5, 321), with very long arms (35 3/8 inches) and huge hands. Moreover, he's very athletic for such a big man: he has very good balance and change of direction skills. You can see these on display at the Combine here--and a nice preview video here. With tape like this, its no surprise that several teams in the bottom third of the first round have shown interest in Sherrod: the Steelers, Colts and Ravens have all taken second looks at him.

What about Sherrod intrigues these teams? See what shouting types think of his game after the jump...

National Football Post (Wes Bunting) 3rd-rated OT; 25th overall

A tall, long-armed athlete who possesses good overall size and length for the position. Exhibits above-average balance, range and body control on his kick-slide from a two-point stance. Does a nice job reaching the corner, staying somewhat compact with his footwork and is fluid changing directions in space. Possesses good natural flexibility, but struggles to consistently keep his pad level down through the play, has a tendency to get upright at times Has improved his patience and hand placement as a puncher this season, quickly getting in and under opposing defenders and doing a better job sticking though contact. Does a nice job working to stay engaged, is playing with better leverage this season and can get under defenders while keeping his frame clean through pass pro. But, can still be bullied into the backfield at times, gets himself into trouble against physical rushers because of his higher pad level and isn't the most compact of punchers.

Exhibits a good initial burst out of his stance in the run game, understands angles and has the ability to quickly zone step and seal defenders away from the play. Looks natural on the move, is quickly able to get out of the second level, drop his pad level and hit a moving target. But isn't overly dominant on contact. Allows defenders to work their way off his blocks and doesn't have the type of power or mental makeup to simply lock out and drive opposing linebackers into the dirt. Needs to do a better job with his hand placement on contact in the run game as well. Too often keeps his hands too low when asked to engage and can be easily swatted on at the point. However, does exhibit good body control and footwork on the move when trying to mirror on slide-down blocks or get around and reach.

Impression: A smooth, graceful blocker with good range, change of direction skills and quickness in both the run and pass game. Needs to learn to play a little lower, but has the ability to mirror in space and possesses the makeup of a starting left tackle in the NFL.

The Sporting News (Russ Lande) 3rd-rated OT; 23rd overall

Run blocking: Is a productive run blocker who is quick and aggressive off the ball and makes contact immediately to seal his man from the play. Can tie up the defensive end and secure the corner for the running back. Is a good lead blocker on outside runs and can adjust to moving blocks on the inside. Blocks with a good base and always maintains block.

Pass blocking: Has the quickness to cut off explosive edge rushers. Displays great flexibility and technique as a pass blocker, which helps him maintain the block or adjust to cover secondary pass-rush moves. Does not use his hands aggressively enough to jolt pass rushers.

Initial quickness: Has quickness to get out of his stance and set to block fast. Slides out to the corner in time to cut off edge rushers. Is a solid run blocker. Gets to the second level in a flash due to his speed.

Strength: Is not a big, thick-bodied type and must rely on his ability to get into blocking position quickly and with leverage. Often gets jolted upright on straight-ahead blocks due to a lack of strength.

Mobility: Has the quickness to get through the line of scrimmage to the second level fast and does a good job of keeping his knees bent and blocking with good technique out in the open field. Is able to maintain blocks on linebackers.

Bottom line: Sherrod's athleticism and speed is what makes him a desirable early-round selection. However, he had trouble dominating his man while at Mississippi State and will need to work on his strength at the next level.

Pro Football Weekly (Nolan Nawrocki) 5th-rated OT; 30th overall

Positives: Well built with wide shoulders, long arms, huge hands and good overall body length. Plays square to the line of scrimmage and has good lateral agility to shuffle, slide and mirror. Good recovery speed in pass pro. Sound technician in the run game—understands angles and leverage, runs his feet on contact and works to maintain positioning and sustain. Can clear his feet through traffic and plays with good balance—is not on the ground a lot. Tough, competitive and plays through injuries. Outstanding work ethic and preparation. Is smart, assignment-sound and trustworthy. The game is very important to him.

Negatives: Lacks functional lower-body strength. Does not roll off the ball flat-backed with power or generate movement in the run game. Not strong or powerful at the point of attack and relies on finesse. Lacks confidence and plays too soft-tempered with little emotion on the field. Almost plays too nice and does not seek to finish. Passive playing temperament turned off evaluators at the Senior Bowl.

Summary
: A polarizing evaluation for many NFL teams, Sherrod does not fit ideally at any one position on the line. He lacks elite athletic ability for the left side and ideal power for the right, but does have a nice blend of both qualities and enough to function at left tackle in the pros. Could even wind up kicking inside to guard, where some teams have graded him, and versatility is a plus. Has clear starter talent, does not get challenged much and should take over the OLT position readily, warranting first-round attention.

ESPN/ Scouts, Inc. (Gary Horton) 5th-rated OT; 39th overall

Pass Protection: Possesses good length and relatively light on his feet.  Gets good depth with initial set.  Does a nice job of shuffling and mirroring to stay in front of rushers.  Lacks an explosive punch but uses hands well in combat.  Can ride speed rushers past the pocket with long arms.  Lacks an elite anchor though and can be rocked back on heels by explosive power moves.

Run Blocking: More of a positional blocker than a road grader.  Does not possess a great power base and struggles to stay low and generate leverage at the point of attack.   On the other hand, gets into sound position and uses length well to seal defenders and open up running lanes.  Lacks elite balance and can fall off blocks as result.  Moves fairly well in space but struggles when having to adjust to throw on moving targets in the open field.

Awareness: More instinctive as a run blocker than in pass pro at this point.  Does a nice job of identifying and covering up targets when pulling around edge or down the line.  Also displays good timing to come off of combo blocks to cover LB's at second level.  Struggles to quickly recognize defensive line movement and can get out of position as result.  Flashes ability to pick up pressures from the second and third line of defense.

Toughness: More finesse than power and toughness.  There are questions about his mental toughness but the biggest concern is with his lack of power.  Will work to sustain blocks.  Effort is not an issue.  However, does not have a killer mentality and needs to be more aggressive with play.  Do not see much of a mean streak on tape.

Intangibles: Mature and grounded individual.  Excels in the classroom.  Reserved and leads by example.  Not as confident as NFL teams would like to see.

Drafttek (Longball) 3rd-rated OT; 21st overall

The most "ambidextrous" LOT could be Derek Sherrod of Mississippi State – his lower body is a tad more developed at this point than Castonzo (6’5", 321 lbs) and what he may lack in technique (compared to Castonzo), he makes up for in pure athleticism. Depending on what team drafts him, he might start at ROT initially as he was the key to a Mississippi State rushing attack that has been near the top of the SEC in the last two years. He was extremely impressive during Senior Bowl week.

Of all the tackles during Senior Bowl week, Sherrod seemed to stay (and play) most within himself. He stands with a wide base, adjusts well to the blocker in front of him, down-blocks well, and does a great job of getting upfield to take on linebackers -- this may be his best trait. He's outstanding in space and has a specific anatomical advantage (being able to stay low). Although he has the long arms you want in an NFL tackle, his height also allows him to play with a lower base and gain the "explosion advantage" (getting under the defender's pads before he gets under yours) on a regular basis.

Sherrod may be a bit raw, particularly in comparison with some of the other top tackles in this year's draft, but he has superb raw materials for an enterprising NFL O-line coach to work with (perhaps second only to Tyron Smith among the aforementioned group). Once he has some time to polish up his considerable raw materials, his athleticism, balance and length will allow him to develop into a very good--perhaps even elite--starting left tackle in the NFL.

Because of this upside, I'll place him in the second half of the first round--between picks 21-32, and a great choice should the Cowboys trade down into the late teens.

Next up: Colorado OT Nate Solder

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