SI 64: Nos. 54-50: Brett Hundley, Preston Smith, Jordan Phillips, more
With the 2015 NFL draft fast approaching, it’s time for all 32 NFL teams to start getting their draft boards in order and ranking players based on their own preferences. At SI, it’s time for us to do that as well. To that end, Doug Farrar and Chris Burke have assembled their own definitive Big Board, consisting of the players they feel deserve to be selected in the first two rounds.
You can see the writeups for the players ranked 64-60 here, and the players ranked 59-55 here. In our third installment of scouting reports, there's a quarterback who may find himself third off the board at his position, the first two guards on our list, and two versatile defensive linemen.
54. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA
Bio: A five-star recruit out of Chandler High in Arizona, Hundley redshirted in Rick Neuheisel's final season with the Bruins and started to show what he could do in 2012, Jim Mora's first season as head coach. Hundley completed 66.5% of his passes for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns, and he's never really let up from there. In his UCLA career, Hundley completed 837 of 1,239 passes (66.7%) for 75 touchdowns and 25 picks. Add in his 1,747 yards and 30 touchdowns on 479 rushing attempts, and you have a legitimate dual-threat quarterback with many traits that could eventually lead to NFL success. The mistake would be in assuming that Hundley can be a legit NFL starter right away.
Strengths: Well-built player at 6'3" and 226 pounds, with all the base attributes you'd want in a mobile quarterback. Has legitimate breakaway speed when on the run. Operates very well out of play-action, and is refining an understanding of the effect his mobility has on opposing defenses. Has the velocity to make any throw without too much effort. When in the pocket to throw, has no issue with delivering the ball and taking a hit. Real ability to succeed under center and in the pocket, though it hasn't been shown much—he took seven snaps under center total in 2014. Mentally tough and a hard worker. Will need serious development in some areas for NFL success, but is worth the time and effort.
Weaknesses: Played in a shotgun offense, and while that isn't a liability in the NFL anymore, Hundley's familiarity with a relatively simple play-calling system will be. Tends to lock on to his first receiver too often, will telegraph his reads, and will struggle further with turnovers in the NFL, when coverage windows are smaller. Drops from passing to running under pressure too often, and needs to default to keeping his eyes on his targets when on the run. Slightly hitchy delivery that leads to inconsistencies in ball placement. Needs to develop as a pure pocket passer. Takes too many sacks and needs to speed up his internal clock. Not an anticipation thrower—needs open pockets to consistently succeed. Runs into trouble when trying to read more complex coverages.
Conclusion: There's a difference between quarterbacks who can transition from "college offenses" to the pros in a hurry, and those who will need time to adapt. The common denominators among those quarterbacks who succeed are functional pocket awareness, an understanding of the system, and the ability to improvise as a passer instead of as a pure runner. Hundley has the potential to become one of those quarterbacks, but he's probably in for a rude awakening if he's thrown onto the field too soon with too much expected of him.
53. Tre Jackson, G, Florida State
Bio: Jackson landed a first-team All-ACC nod in 2013, then kicked his game to the next level in 2014 en route to unanimous All-America honors. As if that weren't enough to crank up his stock, Jackson excelled at the Senior Bowl and was named South team MVP. A 42-game starter over his career, he was instrumental in the Seminoles' 2013 national title. Jackson first joined the starting lineup for Florida State's Champs Sports Bowl appearance in 2011. He was recruited by some schools as a defensive tackle.
Strengths: Incredibly tough to move off his spot. Stays square, managing to stuff defenders at the line of scrimmage and then redirect them. Outstanding size, at 6'3" and 330 pounds, which he puts to good use while helping to push the pile forward. Moves surprisingly well for that weight, at least in short bursts. Does well to get his hands out front to maximize his power. Can get to the second level and be effective. Held up well through back-to-back lengthy Florida State seasons, then still had the energy to churn out an impressive performance at the Senior Bowl. Not a finished product and may never be among the top handful of guards in the league, but he offers plug-and-play capability.
Weaknesses: Had some rough moments this past season, leaving open the debate about his ceiling. Overall quickness is an issue, most noticeably when he is asked to pass block. Athletic interior rushers can get the jump on him, making his limited recovery speed a problem. Not always consistent with his technique—speed-to-power approaches will rock him back on his heels and throw off his balance. Defenses can take him out of his comfort zone and force him to go side-to-side instead of allowing him to do his thing in a tight window near the line. Pulling and zone-blocking would test his limits as an athlete.
Conclusion: As with the Raiders' Gabe Jackson last year or Larry Warford with the Lions in 2013, Tre Jackson could slide into the middle rounds ... then leave 31 teams regretting that they allowed the tumble. Most of the issues that popped up for him are correctable; some should be better simply by going through training camp and the preseason with an NFL coaching staff. Step one will be figuring out what caused Jackson's play to seesaw so much last season. Was it fundamentals? Effort? Scheme? Assuming the answer can be found out quickly, Jackson shapes up as an early contributor and possibly an excellent NFL starter.
Pro Comparison: Gabe Jackson, Raiders (Round 3, 2014)
52. Jordan Phillips, DT, Oklahoma
Bio: Phillips's 2013 season ended after just four games due to a back injury, but he returned to start every game for the Sooners in '14 and notched a career-high seven tackles in Oklahoma's Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Clemson. He had 39 tackles in all last season, with seven for loss and two sacks, and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. Phillips is one of the biggest defensive players available in this draft—among defensive linemen, only Eddie Goldman and Ellis McCarthy topped Phillips' 329 pounds at the combine weigh-ins.
[daily_cut.nfl draft]Strengths: Just a large human being. Stands 10 pounds lighter but three inches taller than Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton, and that combo allows Phillips to cast an imposing shadow without seeming out of shape. Staggers interior linemen when he drives forward, generating a ton of power from his base. Surprises blockers with his agility, as well, and works rather well from hash mark to hash mark in pursuit. Occupies blockers, as one might expect given his size. Complete package of skills will leave him in play for teams running either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme (or relying on hybrid looks). Doesn't appear to mind chewing up territory so his teammates can make plays. If he is first off the snap, forget it—blockers cannot recover if he initiates.
Weaknesses: Pass rush has not caught up to his run-stuffing abilities … and possibly never will. Should be relying more on his power game when trying to pressure the quarterback but is inconsistent in collapsing the pocket. Season-ending back injury from 2013 will give teams pause, perhaps even more so because of Phillips's build. Limited college experience, so he could be something of a slow play for the team that picks him. In other words, the jury is out on whether or not Phillips can handle an NFL workload for 16 games. Even as a blocker-occupying presence, his stats last season were disappointing for someone with his size and athleticism.
Conclusion: Thanks to his versatility, Phillips's list of potential landing spots appears rather lengthy. He could play the two-gap from directly over the center or use his athleticism to disrupt offenses out of the one- or three-techniques. Heck, he might even be able to take on some five-tech defensive end duties in a 3-4 defense. The tricky part is that it remains to be seen whether Phillips can keep his switch flipped on consistently over a long season. Between the 2013 back injury and a limited number of career starts (27) to his name, any projections of Phillips' future success are more speculative than those of most top prospects in this class.
51. A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
Bio: After redshirting to begin his South Carolina career in 2010, Cann started 51 of a possible 52 games over the next four seasons, and his teammates voted him a captain for the last two years of his career. Sports Illustrated named him a preseason first-team All-America prior to his senior year; he finished on the second team. His 51 starts at left guard are the second-most at the position in school history, behind T.J. Johnson’s 53.
Strengths: More or less everything a team could want in an NFL guard: durable, hard-working, solid in his technique. Cann is stocky at 6'3" and 313 pounds, but he carries the weight well and uses it when he’s blocking. Does his best work, by far, in close quarters, standing his ground on passing plays and funneling off his assigned defender when a run comes his way. Leverage is usually very good, as Cann gets low to work his hands into a defender’s body. Generates some movement forward on the ground, driving with his legs to create room. Plays very aware against the blitz. Ability to stay on the field (and handle a full workload of snaps) will be noticed by scouts. Effort level never wanes over the course of a game, and fatigue does not appear to slow him.
Weaknesses: Shorter than the NFL standard, though not by much. Could be more dominant in his blocking, really across the board. That goal starts as a pass blocker, where Cann will have to deliver the first shot, rather than waiting for it. He can struggle against powerful interior linemen, especially those with active hands. Getting the jump on those types of players should be a focus. Not sure the footwork is there for a zone-blocking attack—Cann is least impressive on run plays when he’s asked to cover a lot of ground and/or to get to the second level. Putting him on the move takes away the dominant elements of his game.
Conclusion: Anyone who can start for four years in the SEC is worth a closer look, and Cann does not disappoint. Put him on an NFL team that wants to run downhill, with a line coach that can hone his technique a bit, and Cann could have an immediate impact as a rookie. All of his South Carolina starts came at left guard. He might not need much time to take over that same gig for his new team.
Pro Comparison: Larry Warford, Lions (Round 3, 2013)
50. Preston Smith, DE, Mississippi State
Bio: Smith got his first shot to start full-time for the Bulldogs in 2013, but he had already shown what he could do the year before, when he amassed 35 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss as a sophomore. He hit the national radar in 2014 with nine sacks, 15 tackles for loss and 48 overall tackles—impressive numbers for any player at one position, but Smith is a different breed. There isn't a team in the NFL that wouldn't benefit from the versatility the 6'5", 271-pound Smith can bring to the field.
Strengths: Has the ability to stop and disrupt everywhere, from pass-rushing and run-stopping end, to five-tech tackle, to nose shade on the center's shoulder, to straight over the center's head. Outstanding chase player who will go from snap to whistle and pick up pressures other players may not because of his constant effort. Long 34-inch arms allow him to direct blockers where he wants them to go. Re-directs quickly to the runner away from him. Great upper-body strength and quickness—will occasionally just throw a blocker behind him and move to the ballcarrier. Good ability to drop into coverage for his size. Smart and consistent player; when he sees a vulnerability in an opponent, he'll exploit it again.
Weaknesses: Smith is not especially quick off the snap—he's not going to blow off the ball and past blockers. Needs to be more active and violent with his hands, especially between the tackles. Would be far more effective if he was taught to use his inside and outside leverage with rip moves. Needs to move lower to the blocker and get under his pads more often, as he sometimes loses leverage because he doesn't get low. Lacks a true bull-rush inside.
Conclusion: Players who can excel all the way across the defensive line are more valued than ever. We certainly saw this when former Ravens endbacker Pernell McPhee signed a five-year, $38.5 million contract with the Bears this offseason despite limited experience as a starter. Smith is a different kind of player than McPhee—bigger and less sudden—but his value to any team is similar in overall gap versatility. If you need a strong-side run-stopping end who can kick inside in multiple ways and stay on the field for every snap with no schematic constraint, Smith might be the best talent bargain at his position.