"A swing and a miss . . . " Some of my Drafttek brethren refer to me as "Grumpy Ump", as I will get on their case with a "Ste-e-e-e-rike One!" when they are late on their selection comments (heaven forbid if they get to "Ste-e-e-e-rike Two or Three"). But if you haven’t failed then you haven’t played, right? So with bowed head and furrowed brow, here are some Long Ball Misses for you to throw your eggs and tomatoes, accompanied by cat-calls.
I was pretty hard (a politically correct way of saying disgusted) with my evaluation of Phil Loadholdt in the 2009 Big Uglies series . . . but rather than try to justify my stance, let’s just read what I wrote back then:
Residing in the southwest, I had the opportunity to view many Oklahoma games and watched their prolific scoring offense. Against lesser competition, Phil Loadholt was able to overpower his opponents with sheer mass (6’8", 343 lbs) and strength; however, when matched against quality defenses, his weaknesses were exposed, just as they were during the Senior Bowl practices:
Leverage – As with most tall lineman, Loadholt does not utilize his legs and rear-end, too often bending at the waist in an attempt to maintain blocking leverage.
Footwork – Fundamentally unsound, as he does not use short, choppy steps to maintain balance; instead, his long legs get him in trouble, allowing speed rushers to gain an advantage.
Laziness – Loadholt’s ample wingspan is an advantage if he gets a hold within the pad restrictions; however, those long arms are obvious in holding penalties (including many that were not called based on his reputation).
Phil Loadholt has many bad habits that will have to be corrected for him to even succeed as a right tackle – he is not left tackle material. He is the #8 OT in this year’s draft, currently #53 on the Big Board which would require a 2nd or 3rd round draft choice. A team looking for a big right tackle to develop can get more bang for their buck later in the draft in the person of Alex Boone of Ohio State (6’8", 330 lbs). Boone is the #12 OT in this year’s draft, currently #107 on the Big Board which projects to the 4th round, a much better investment.
Well, Loadholt has proved to be a serviceable ROT for the Vikings . . . and Boone, after going undrafted due to concerns about alcohol abuse, was signed, cut, put on the PS before earning a starting position at OG for the 49ers. The only thing I can "hang my hat on" concerning this comment was I had him ranked at #53 overall and Minnesota took him with the 54th pick.
There were 3 centers I liked in 2009: Alex Mack of California (Browns), Max Unger of Oregon (Seattle) and Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas (uh-oh!). Yes, I was smart enough to rank Mack and Unger 1-2, but there was something about Luigs:
Jonathan Luigs of Arkansas may be the most athletic of this year’s center prospects – the explosion generated by his lower body and quickness to get to the second level may make him the best long-term pro. Luigs will have to be "coached up", as he has technique issues, but most can be resolved through drill repetition.
Well, you have to be on an NFL team more than 1 season to be "coached up" . . . Luigs was drafted by Cincinnati in the 4th round and was only active for 8 games as a back-up before being waived. He is out of the league.
Moving forward to 2010, I was once again hard on a Sooner offensive tackle . . . yep, poor old Trent Williams, who was selected #4 overall by the Redskins received criticism from Ol’ Long Ball (I hope he wasn’t permanently scarred by my remarks):
On the other side of the line, Trent Williams (6’5", 308 lbs) of Oklahoma was the only returning starter on the Sooners OL. He was moved to LT to replace Loadholt, but is a RT at best and probably a candidate to move inside. He has serious work to do from a technique perspective at the next level and may only be the 2nd best OG prospect, behind Iupati.
Washington’s starting LOT has performed well and I swung so hard on this one, I fell out of the batter’s box! Part of my disdain for college spread offenses is based on the lack of blocking technique taught to the OL. If you think about it, the OL is in a 2-point stance, a majority of the running plays are to the outside where if you "body" the defender (i.e. just get in their way), the play is already past them. OK, I’ll stop trying to justify my "miss", let’s move on . . .
In 2011, I wrote this analysis of Derek Sherrod in my Big Uglies series:
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.
Well the Packers were high on him as well, drafting him in the 1st round (#32, after their Super Bowl win) and he saw time at both tackle positions in 5 games of his rookie season before suffering a broken leg in Week 15 against Kansas City. He was on the PUP list for the entire 2012 season . . . only time will tell if he can line up opposite Bulaga and provide the Packers the bookends they thought they were drafting.
I also underestimated the impact of the coaching players receive when they are members of the New England Patriots:
Many talent evaluators have Nate Solder of Colorado ranked higher than old Long Ball – but maybe they haven’t watched and graded as many of the Buffalos games as I have. Even though Solder is taller than other LOT prospects (6’8", 319 lbs), his arms are a full inch shorter – but that doesn’t keep him from holding. Colorado ran a spread offense which allowed him to utilize his mass in "shielding" type blocks – Solder is a "waist-bender" and plays too tall, which limits his leverage and balance.
Solder did his high school work at tight end and linebacker, gaining 30 pounds in 2008 and moving from tight end to tackle in spring practice for the Buffaloes. Of all the draft-eligible tackles I've studied this season, Solder has the furthest to go from a technique standpoint. With his frame, he engulfed defenders at the college level without utilizing proper footwork and that won’t cut it at the NFL level. While Solder's footwork puts him in place to succeed -- especially at the second level -- he lurches and chases during pass protection, especially in the back half of a pass rush. He loses the battle to inside moves by edge rushers due to a pronounced outside step. He doesn't always stay engaged while run blocking, as he will slide off defenders when he's trying to get a push inside. He's also going to have a problem with quicker and more talented NFL ends getting under his pads (if it happened in college, it will happen at the next level).
Solder does exhibit agility moving forward – he will probably be more successful in a zone blocking scheme due to his quickness and ability to get to the next level. However, a team that requires pure power (not defined as 21 Combine reps) and advanced technique will find that he needs to be "coached up" and will be a work in progress.
Belichick thumbed his nose at that report, selecting Solder in the 1st round (17th overall) and turning him into a serviceable blind-side protector for Tom Brady.
A couple of Horned Frogs make this list: one due to an illness unknown to me at the time of the Big Uglies series and the other just a plain old head-scratcher. Marcus Cannon, who played LOT for TCU, projected high on my list of ROT prospects before I knew of his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. To Coach Belichick’s credit, he invested a 5th round draft choice on the young man, allowed him to recuperate from his chemotherapy treatment and activated him in Week 10 for the remainder of the season. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the young man.
Jake Kirkpatrick is the head-scratcher . . . I probably graded more TCU games and practices than most scouts, and yes he had short arms and an ugly body . . . but the kid could play football. He dominated Phil Taylor from Baylor to the point Taylor quit in that game . . . let’s read what I wrote that year:
The drop-off at the center position is anywhere from a round to round and a half, as Wisniewski will probably go late in the 1st or early/mid 2nd. Jake Kirkpatrick of TCU was the Rimington Award winner as the nation’s best center in Division I; however, Brandon Fusco of Slippery Rock had an outstanding Combine performance with 34 reps and a sub 5 second forty and was the Gene Upshaw Award winner in Division II. Let’s take a more detailed look at these 2 prospects.
Kirkpatrick explodes quickly off the ball and gets a good push in the run game. He’s a "thinking man’s center" with good awareness and makes quick decisions when making line calls and blocking assignments. He is an effective zone blocker and gets outside quickly to block on sweeps and stretch plays. Jake establishes an anchor, holds his ground and is tough to shed. He is also adept at chipping a down lineman and getting to the second level, which allows him to neutralize targets downfield, staying square and taking on defenders head-up. Maintains leverage with proper knee-bend, keeps his head on a swivel and adjusts to find the most dangerous pass rusher. Great punch, fights and places hands well to keep linemen in front of him and can recover after facing a bull rush.
I just don’t understand it and have no answer for you . . . the Colts signed him as an UDFA then waived him and he is currently not in the league.
It’s hard to determine misses after only one year . . . at least that’s my justification for having to dig to find someone to talk about from the 2012 Draft. Quite frankly, NFL teams have an ego or arrogance about their draft choices, not wanting to admit they were wrong after only 1 year; as a result, most of the prospects I analyzed in the 2012 Big Uglies Series are still with the team that selected them.
I did find one prospect that I did not give a "glowing endorsement" who has so far proved me wrong: Rishaw Johnson from California (PA). He was not drafted, but signed by the Seahawks as an UDFA and is a back-up OG on their depth chart . . . from my Big Uglies series of that year:
That should give you an idea of how difficult it is to come up with "dark horses" out of this class. Rishaw Johnson (6’3", 313 lbs) is at tiny California (PA) but I’m not convinced he’s a player. If we go with the "Name Game", Joe Looney (6’3", 309 lbs) is a smart technician at Wake Forest. Another OT that should kick inside is Memphis’ Ronald Yeary (6’3", 315 lbs) . . . nasty on the field, high character off of it . . . and this young man blitzkrieged the Combine with a 5.36 forty, 4.91 shuttle, 7.87 3-cone, 29" vertical, 8’08" broad jump and 30 bench reps: this gives him an explosion factor of 68 and a lateral agility factor of 0.45. His 34-3/4" arms promote a wingspan of 82-7/8".
LOL, did you notice how I picked out a paragraph to perk up my spirits, describing the attributes of one Ronald Yeary? Yep, I’m just a sneaky old devil who was tired of beating himself up!
OK, let’s rank my Top 5 Misses:
1. Jake Kirkpatrick
2. Jonathan Luigs
3. Trent Williams
4. Nate Solder
5. Phil Loadholt
Well, as Porky is fond of saying, "That’s All, Folks" . . . I now feel sufficiently humbled and hopefully have prepared myself for your comments. I hope you enjoyed this stroll down Memory Lane as much as I enjoyed putting it together for you.