When it comes to the draft, I find it hilarious when popular media scouts miss on certain players. That might sound cruel, seeming like I am rooting for people to fail, but sometimes it’s just so obvious that a prospect won’t succeed in the NFL. However, media scouts will find a way to fall in love with them. For example, Mel Kiper said he would quit his job if Jimmy Clausen wasn’t a franchise QB 8 years into his career. Well Mel, it’s been 8 year. Where is Mr. Clausen? Oh, he is out of the league. Yet, people are still drinking Kiper’s Kool Aid.
I can’t relate to Mel’s struggles because I am always 100% right about every single prospect. So, I probably should just end this article now….. Okay, I am not right about “every” prospect, and have my fair share of misses. The best way to grow as an evaluator, is to identify where you went wrong in the scouting process, if a player you liked doesn’t pan out. So, I decided to write this piece, to reflect on some rookies that haven’t lived up/down to my expectations in the preseason. I realize that these are just 4 meaningless games and a lot could change, these are just my initial thoughts. With that being said here is a list of rookies, that have proven me wrong, so far.
- James Washington WR, Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Big 12 Conference is the knock off brand of football. Most teams use these wacky spread offenses that simplifies everything. Sometimes, it looks like big 12 teams are playing a different sport. Making it extremely hard to evaluate their talent. Especially Wide Receivers, because they usually only run 3 routes, never play against press coverage, and play against weak competition. It is very difficult to find what a player can do that translates to the NFL (besides athleticism). Which is why they typically have a hard time transitioning to the pros (Corey Coleman, Kendall Wright, Kevin White when on the field, Josh Doctson, Etc.). Which leads me to Oklahoma State legend James Washington.
Washington was considered the best deep threat in college football, and I would agree. He was the best deep threat in “knock off college football.” Where people run wide open every other play, and you are playing against future car salesmen and grade school teachers. Sorry for all of the Big 12 slander, but when I watched Washington’s tape I saw a lot of what I just mentioned. He would just run by people that weren’t as athletic as he was. I never saw him beat press coverage or really win the route. It was more just more just run to a ton of space, and no one could catch him. When he did play against in NFL prospect in Holton Hill, he was held to 4 catches for 32 yards.
My biggest concerns with Washington were his limited route tree, only being able to win one way (vertically), and for being a deep threat he under performed at the combine. He was my WR10 , so I was much lower on him than most people. Than draft day happened, and with the 60th overall pick, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected James Washington. Wait, who selected him? The Steelers? The team that has had a perfect track record drafting Wide Receivers (besides Sammie Coates) in the last 15 or so years? Yup that team. So the moment I heard his named called (to the Steelers), I knew I was about to take an L.
It’s no secret that Pittsburgh has been great at scouting and developing receivers. Don’t believe me? Here are some of the guys that they have drafted over recent years. Emmanuel Sanders (3rd round), Mike Wallace (3rd round), Martavis Bryant (4th round), Juju Smith-Schuster (2nd Round), and oh yeah that Antonio Brown guy (6th round!). They know talent at that position when they see it. Which made me feel very insecure about my evaluation of Washington. I mean they liked him enough to take him with their second pick, and they didn’t even need a receiver!
How has Washington looked in the preseason? Like the best receiver in the class. I know it is just the preseason, but he has looked like an absolute stud. His routes looked refined, his releases are smooth, and he has been winning contested catches (watch Packers game). I never saw any of this in college because he never had to. Meaning, that whacky spread offense limited him. Having him do less when he always could do more. I am not trying to justify my flawed evaluation. He has proven me wrong so far, and I have no problem owning it.
- Ronald Jones RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
I loved Ronald Jones coming out of USC. His burst, vision, and balance were extremely evident when you turned on his tape. He was my RB3, and I had an early day two grade on him. Which is exactly where he went in the draft. I thought he landed in a perfect spot in Tampa. They were a team that didn’t have an established running back, and improved their offensive line in the offseason. Everything was pointing towards Rojo being the guy. Then I heard early reports, that Peyton Barber was going to being the week 1 starter. I dismissed them because I heard this in June, and so much could change till the season opener.
I had no doubts that Rojo was clearly going to be the better than Barber, and I didn’t even have to watch him in NFL action. Well the Bucs’ coaches couldn’t relate because they have stuck by Peyton Barber throughout the preseason and training camp. Starting Barber just didn’t make any sense to me. Until I watched the Bucs in the preseason. To my surprise, Barber has looked like the better back, and Rojo has looked like a complete shell of himself. I didn’t see that 0-100 burst that I saw in college. He looks super indecisive with his reads, which causes him to hesitate. When he hesitates he gets tackled behind the line of scrimmage. The game just looks too fast for him right now. Which is disappointing, because I thought he would translate to the league right away. All hope isn’t lost for Rojo, he just has a lot to prove this season.
- Andrew Brown DT, Cincinnati Bengals.
I wasn’t even planning on putting Brown on the list until recent events. He was my DT8, and I had a 3rd round grade on him. He was super explosive on his college tape, I mean he had some of the best ball get off in the class. His motor was also always running, giving maximum effort on every play. I loved those parts of his game, but every other part of his game needed to be refined. Brown was clueless when it came to using his hands, and his pad level as atrocious. He was typically washed out of the scrum while defending the run, and if you can’t defend the run in the pros. You won’t last long.
Knowing that he wasn’t a finished product, I thought with that explosive first step and ideal NFL frame. He could be molded into a solid pro with the right coaching staff. The tools were there, which was why I gave him a late day 2/early day 3 grade. Well you see, he didn’t really make the Bengals’ 53 man roster. He did make make their practice squad, so there may still be some hope. Yet, it still looks like I am about to take an L. He looked awful in the preseason. Opposing teams ran right at him, and he got bodied. I knew that he needed work, but he looked out of place against NFL competition.
If he doesn’t end up making it in the league, (which he probably won’t). There are two important lessons that I can take away from his evaluation. First, athletic testing matters! I was a big advocate of the idea that tape significantly outweighs the combine. I still feel that way to some extent, but that doesn’t mean I should ignore the combine. Athleticism at every position matters in the NFL, and the combine does show how athletic a prospect is. With Brown, he looked very athletic on tape, but he tested poorly. I did see flashes of that explosive first step in the preseason. Yet, it didn’t look nearly as explosive against NFL competition. Meaning his testing exposed him to some degree.
Lastly, the most important lesson that I learned from Andrew Brown is if a prospect is lacking the required refinement in his technique and isn’t an elite athlete. I am not taking him until day 3. In simple scouting terms it’s all about looking for technical and physical traits. Sometimes I lose sight of that, and see what I want to see if a player flashes in a play or two. I tend to jump the gun on some of the under the radar prospects, to look like the smartest guy in the room (which usually ends up biting me in the behind). When I need to be more thorough in my evaluations, and value specific traits accordingly.
- Isaiah Oliver CB, Atlanta Falcons.
For all of the players that haven’t lived up to my expectations, Isaiah Oliver hurts me the most. You want to talk about a guy I pounded the table for. He was my CB1 in a loaded corner class, and a top 10 player on my board. I thought his skill set would translate perfectly in today’s NFL. Especially with all the teams that are incorporating more man coverage in their defenses. Isaiah is a long press man corner that I thought would be a day 1 starter. His size, tape, and testing checked all of my boxes, so I was very high on him.
My biggest knocks him were he wasn’t a willing tackler in run support, and he was late on his jam too often in press coverage. Not jamming at the correct time caused him to open up his hips too early into the route. Any how, I didn’t understand why the draft media wasn’t nearly as high on him as I was. To find out, that the NFL was even lower on him because he fell to the end of the second round in the draft. My initial thoughts were, boy did the Falcons just get a steal. However, I began to do more research on why teams were so down on him. I didn’t find a definitive reason, but the popular belief was that teams questioned his toughness. Which is a reasonable concern, Isaiah was clearly not the most physical corner in the class, but it wasn’t like he looked super soft either.
This is hard for me to say, (I hate ripping apart players too) but Isaiah has looked soft this preseason. His jam was non existent, constantly letting receivers get a free release off the line of scrimmage. He hasn’t mirrored and matched well either. Donte Moncrief made him do a full 360, with a pretty simple release. Also, Daniel Braverman (who didn’t even make the Chiefs roster) completely fooled him on a double move, that led to a Chiefs touchdown. The confident and aggressive corner that I saw in college was nowhere to be found this preseason. Fortunately for Isaiah, he doesn’t have to play right away. Atlanta is loaded at corner, which gives him time to develop. Hopefully he will improve, but even if he does. I don’t know if he will ever live up to what I thought he would be. Which was a true number one shutdown corner.