I'll get round to the D-linemen in a bit.
But first I want to tackle an issue that keeps raising it's head as part of the ongoing labor dispute between the artists formerly known as the NFLPA and the NFL. It's the idea that the NFL is a monopoly.
Now my understanding of Monopoly is that you have complete control over some resource - knowledge or bread for example - or you have complete control over the means of delivery such as a pipeline for oil for example. From this we get the phrase "to monopolise" a commodity.
But here's the thing; we have the Arena Football League and the United Football League currently in operation. Alright so one league only has like four teams and the other is an indoor league, and they're certainly not on the scale of the NFL. But the point is players have a choice coming out of college. If Von Miller wants, there is nothing to stop him ignoring the NFL team that eventually drafts him and signing with a UFL team. If Peyton Manning wanted to, there would be nothing to stop him (as a free agent) from signing with an Arena team.
The only reason that no player will sign for those leagues unless it's a last resort is because they know that the NFL pays much better. That's not a monopoly. It's not exactly the widest of choices, but it's by no means a monopoly.
What is also starting to bug me is this question "Where are all the practice squad and backup players?" Do these guys not understand that any court ruling in favour of the players that threatens the salary cap will leave them absolutely shafted? There is almost no chance that these players - who make up the majority of those affected - will get a good deal out of this. Sure Peyton Manning and Tom Brady will benefit from a player friendly deal such as "true" free agency, but the players at the bottom of the pile won't. The only thing that surprises me more than their lack of understanding is that the league hasn't latched onto this and gone after the little fish, failing to realise that they could be the key to breaking the back of the "union".
Anyway, onto (finally) my take on the D-line class for this years draft. Once you've seen the size of this lot you'll understand why it took so long to watch all the tape;
- Nick Fairley. Let's start with someone controversial shall we. The case with Fairley is simple; he had a great year, but is he a one season wonder? Well, I've watched some of his games and I'm pretty convinced by what I see on the field. I had the same worry as mentioned above about him being a one hit wonder, but then I remembered the lesson of Jason Pierre-Paul from last year. I was also a little worried that it might have just been his size and power compared to college linemen, but then I remembered the lesson of Ndamukong Suh from last year. On that note, I'm backing Fairely to do well. I think...
- Marcel Dareus. Talking of comparisons to Suh, it's Marcel Dareus. Quick feet, quick hands, keeps his head up and is alert to what's happening in front of him. Might not be as strong as someone like Suh, but possibly a little more versatile. I like him.
- Da'Quan Bowers. Plays pretty smart, aware of reverses and things like that, pretty quick and pursues well. He has some nice moves in the open field at times. But here's the thing. Sometimes he seems to get stuck to blockers like he was glued to them. I just worry that Bowers is one of those guys who only makes plays when you let him, as opposed to forcing the issue himself.
- Robert Quinn. Fast, reasonably strong, sometimes can get great leverage positions on linemen. But I'm not sold. He has off the field issues stemming from an incident involving him and some fellow team mates taking jewellery and trips from agents, which he then lied about to investigators, and then tried to dodge around during a public interview at the combine where he claimed he didn't realise what was happening. He's only played two seasons of football and hasn't played at all in the last year. I'm also concerned that he inflated his stats in a game against Virginia, which isn't truly representative of how he'll perform at the next level. Sorry, but wouldn't touch him. Let someone else take the risk.
- Cameron Jordan. Not bad at all. Pretty strong and very relentless in pursuit, but spent a lot of time in college getting double teamed. The fact that he did so well in spite of that tells you a lot, but it's still a little risky. Might fall as a result.
- Aldon Smith. There's going to be a lot of fans who don't follow the college game going "who?". Smith isn't getting much attention which surprises me, because I came away very impressed from watching his tape. quick, very hard working, technically very sound in terms of hands and footwork and tracks well across the field from sideline to sideline. Expect good things for Mr. Smith.
- Adrian Clayborn. Strong, quick, sheds blocks beautifully. I think the term I would use is block destruction. Technique is very sound and he rides the hip of blockers going away from him very well. Sneaking suspicion he may just be the best D-linemen in the draft this year, so odd that he's not getting more attention. Keep an eye out for Clayborn and hope that he's coming to a city near you.
- Ryan Kerrigan. Pretty quick, gets a great burst of speed going at the snap. Has good use of the hands and at times looks like he has the decision making skills of a seasoned pro D-linemen. Very good. Very impressed.
- J.J. Watt. Incredible speed off the snap. Just ridiculous for a man of his size. Has nice moves and chases every play hard. Tackles well and isn't afraid to put his head in harms way for his team. It's that explosive start that sets everything up though. Will likely do well in the league.
- Corey Liuget. Pretty strong and occasionally gets some nice leverage on O-linemen. Sheds one on one blocks pretty well, but not really mobile enough. Keeps getting caught up in the wash around the line of scrimmage.
- Cameron Heyward. Quite strong and occasionally flashes some good technique, but all too often seems to be running around flapping his arms and not contributing much. Too inconsistent I feel.
- Drake Nevis. Great speed for his size. Powerful. Uses his hands very well. A great all round inside linemen. Could be the next B.J. Raji.
- Allen Bailey. Pretty quick kid, but only ever seems to have an impact when he's left unblocked. Otherwise has a tendency to just run around ineffectually.
- Stephen Paea. The strength he displayed at the combine (I think it was 49 reps of 225 lbs) is for real. Sometimes he'll just barely get a hand on a running back and yet bring them crashing to the ground. Quick and has pretty good technique. All that helps him to shed blocks. Might slip down because people think he's just a workout warrior, but that's a big mistake. I'm going to put my neck on the line and say he's a worthy first round talent.
- Muhammad Wilkerson. Was very impressed at the combine with Wilkerson. Less impressed now. All hype, no action. If I wasn't specifically watching him I'd barely notice he was on the field.
- Justin Houston. Not exactly what you would call technically gifted. But has speed to burn. Will likely fit in very well as a 3-4 pass rushing outside linebacker, but will need to work a lot on his run technique.
- Sam Acho. Boring film. Nothing remarkable.
- Christian Ballard. Uses an unconventional four point stance, but whatever works for him I guess (it does!). He gets great leverage on a consistent basis, driving up under the pads of the O-line. Great footwork. Keeps his head up and his eyes on the play, staying aware of everything happening in front of him. Drives hard. Excellent linemen.
- Marvin Austin. One of the fellow team mates of Richard Quinn caught up in the same scandal and was indeed kicked off the team as a result. On film he looks like an excellent inside linemen, but how much will the absence from action affect him? Sorry but wouldn't take the risk. If he goes undrafted then definitely give him a shot in camp.
- Phil Taylor. Demonstrated a lot of strength at times, but that only made what often followed all the more frustrating. He would get caught on a block and just give up. No pursuit. Lacks that relentless drive that is so essential.
- Jurrell Casey. Watched about 30 snaps then got bored of watching him get blocked. Might have gone on to take over the game single handed, but I doubt it.
- Brooks Reed. Had a great combine in the drills by my measure and plays like a classic 4-3 DE. But seems to get sacks more through fortune and not endeavour (when QB steps up for example). Works hard though, so maybe it's simply a case of getting his just rewards? I'll have to have another look later, possibly after the draft. Tentatively going to suggest he might be sneaky bargain.
- Jabaal Sheard. Character question over involvement in a fight, but appears to have eaten humble pie over that issue and put it behind him. Otherwise strong, quick, has fantastic technique, and pursues hard. Might end up slipping quite a way because of the character issue and end up as an absolute bargain. Will make an excellent NFL DE if he pays attention and puts the work in.
- Chris Carter. Very quick and agile. Gets a great body lean "turning the corner" on an offensive tackle. Not the strongest or most technically sound. Reminds me a lot of DeMarcus Ware, but perhaps not quite on that level.
- Cliff Matthews. Pretty quick, technique is not bad, a good tackler and chases plays well. Maybe more of a low round prospect.
- Terrell McClain. For his size has impressive speed and agility. Not a bad late round pick.
- Dontay Moch. Very quick and has plenty of energy for bounding around the field, but not all that strong. Another who will be more suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Right, that's that lot then. Two things though just quickly. I was gonna look at Jeremy Beal, but given that he spent most of his time in an upright stance, I'll cover him in the linebackers post. And then there is Miami Hurricanes running back Damien Berry.
I didn't cover him in my post on running backs, because I've only just stumbled across him. He was pretty darn quick and had some nice open field moves, especially when getting downfield as a receiver so might be one to consider.
Next up for me is the Linebackers, which I hope to have posted by Sunday night. There's quite a few names to look at...