SI 64: Nos. 49-45: Jay Ajayi, Carl Davis, Nelson Agholor, 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 latest breakdowns, on QB Brett Hundley and the others who joined him at spots 54-50, right here. Moving on to Nos. 49-45 on our board, we find a quarter of the offensive side of the football (a RB, WR, OT and guard) plus a defensive lineman who flashes dominant potential.
49. Jay Ajayi, RB, Boise State
Bio: A tremendously productive player, Ajayi is the only person in FBS history to amass 1,800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the same season, which he did in 2014. This wasn't a fluke, either—Ajayi rushed for 1,425 yards and added 222 receiving yards in '13. Boise State players tend to be undervalued for a number of reasons (such as a fallacious belief that the strength of competition is an issue), but he gained 229 yards against Utah State in 2014, and that defense ranked 24th in the nation in defensive efficiency, per Football Outsiders—and gained 86 yards against Mississippi, who ranked third in those same rankings. Ajayi is a top-class back ready for the NFL in many ways.
Strengths: Has outstanding balance and jump-cut ability when bouncing outside—can move between two gaps in the time it takes other backs to hit one. Tough player who runs low to the ground for the most part and fights for extra yards after contact. Excellent vision, especially in the open field—uses agility to break plays open. Hits a different level of speed in the open field. Willing receiver with potential to expand his route tree. Not afraid to take a hit in traffic. Patient runner who has the potential to improve in this area. Could be a three-down franchise back with a few blocking classes.
Weaknesses: Decisive for the most part, but there are times when Ajayi loses yardage because he's looking too hard for bigger gaps. High-cut runner (6'0", 221 pounds) who will take more hits because he's a bigger target. Blocking can be a real adventure for him—he seems to alternate between misdirected and disinterested. Has 11 fumbles over his last 600 carries. Serious workload over the last two seasons is a concern, and he was suspended in 2011 and '12 for an off-campus violation. Serious knee injury in 2011, though he recovered especially well from it.
Conclusion: I've seen some compare Ajayi to Marshawn Lynch, and while Ajayi doesn't have Lynch's ability to create yardage out of nothing (few backs do, really), there's a lot to be said for a back with his balanced profile and extreme production against some top-quality defenses. People tend to forget that when Darren McFadden came out of Arkansas in the 2008 draft, he was also a strong inside runner—not just a speed guy. Ajayi has some of the same special characteristics, and the same possibility that he could get lost on the wrong team. He'll need to learn to run lower in the NFL, and will likely require openings from his offensive line, but in the right system, he could put up some seriously impressive stats.
Pro Comparison: Darren McFadden, Cowboys (Round 1, 2008)
48. D.J. Humphries, OT, Florida
Bio: Humphries made 19 starts over three seasons with Florida, 10 of those coming last season as a junior. On the flip side, he also missed seven games due to injury—five after hurting his knee in 2013 and two more due to an ankle issue last season. He was ranked by Rivals as South Carolina’s top high-school prospect in 2012. Humphries’ dad, also named D.J. Humphries, latched on with the Ravens as an undrafted rookie in 2002 and then played for the Arena Football League’s Carolina Cobras and Columbus Destroyers.
Strengths: Plays with nimble feet, which is perhaps the main reason that NFL teams may envision him as a long-term left tackle. Covers a lot of ground on run plays, both laterally and in getting to the second level. Quickness to stay with just about anyone on the edge, including DE/OLB hybrids that try to win with speed. Posted strong marks in footwork drills at the combine. Never wants to be a bystander during a play and will seek out contact even if defenders have vacated his area. Shows potential to develop into an above-average pass-blocker. Holds his own in the power game and drops in a hurry. The total package is there in spurts—size, agility, aggressiveness. He just needs a little more time to unlock it all consistently.
Weaknesses: Start with the experience and health questions. Humphries surprised a lot of people when he declared for the draft, mainly because he started fewer than 20 games in college. After struggling to stay on the field in both 2013 and ‘14, can he be trusted to make it through an NFL season? Proper technique comes and goes. When all the parts are not moving in sync, Humphries winds up lunging and shooting his hands seemingly at random, hoping to stay in control. Defenders that play low to the ground are problematic because of his blocking posture.
Conclusion: The buzz continues to build for Humphries—The MMQB's Peter King sent him to Cleveland at No. 12 overall in a recent mock draft. Adding 20 plus-pounds from the end of the season, up to 307 at the NFL combine, was a change NFL teams were hoping to see, especially since he still looked pretty nimble. On paper, Humphries shapes up as a long-term answer at left tackle. But he must continue trending upward, as he has of late. Can he clean up his technique, even after adding that weight? Will he stay healthy for an entire NFL season? While Round 1 is very possible for Humphries, the team that takes him might have to hold its breath for a bit.
Pro Comparison: Duane Brown, Texans (Round 1, 2008)
47. Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
Bio: Steady progression over this three years at USC—18 catches and 341 yards receiving as a freshman, 56 catches and 918 yards as a sophomore, and an impressive 104 receptions for 1,313 yards and 12 touchdowns last year. That 2014 performance garnered Agholor a first-team All-Pac-12 nod and third-team All-America. His 104 catches were the seventh-most in the FBS for ‘14, while the dozen touchdowns paced his conference. Agholor nearly hit the 1,000-yard career mark as a return man, too. He landed on 983 yards combined on punt and kick returns, with four punt-return touchdowns.
Strengths: Sees the field well, helping him both as a receiver and return man. His production bringing back punts (19.1 yards-per-attempt average as a sophomore and 14.6 for his career) may be what gets him on the field quickest in the NFL. Has the vision to pick his way through defenses and the footwork to make decisive cuts in the open field. Solid in his route-running, be it on the outside or in traffic. Comfort level with the latter—not to mention his size—could push him inside as a dangerous slot receiver. Not only manages to find gaps in the defense, Agholor makes himself readily available to his quarterback. Catches the ball and gets upfield. Kept getting better and better throughout his USC career, an appealing trend as he heads toward the pros.
Weaknesses: In a nutshell, strength. One of the main reasons teams may view him as a slot receiver is that he can get banged around outside. He’s terrific once he works off the line, but he cannot always do that when he has to face CBs get in his grill. Similar problems arise when Agholor is asked to block or make contested catches. While energy is there to take on any challenge, the physical ability to battle through contact is not overwhelming. Has enough burst to stretch the field, just doesn’t always make the plays once there. Hands are no issue whatsoever when the concentration is there; when it’s not, he’ll drop catchable passes and make fielding punts a bit of an adventure. Between the hash marks-type threat in the red zone—offensive coordinators won’t be calling any jump balls for him.
Conclusion: Robert Woods caught 40 passes in his rookie season out of USC (2013); Marqise Lee made 37 grabs last year, while battling through injuries during his NFL debut campaign. If he stays healthy through 2015, Agholor has a chance to lap the first-year totals of his former teammates. He will have some difficult Sundays when matched up against aggressive, physical cornerbacks. Overall, though, Agholor's game features the polish to transition well into the league. There are more dangerous overall weapons at WR in this draft, like Kevin White and Amari Cooper, but Agholor will be as solid as they come once the top tier has come off the board.
Pro Comparison: Jarvis Landry, Dolphins (Round 2, 2014)
46. Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
Bio: Davis spent five years at Iowa, redshirting in 2010, and worked his way up the depth chart to claim a permanent starting spot for his junior and senior seasons. A second-team All-Big Ten performer in both 2013 and ‘14, Davis compiled a combined 78 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks over that span. He turned in a strong week at the Senior Bowl, which played a significant role in elevating his draft standing.
Strengths: When he is locked in, Davis can be as disruptive as just about any defensive lineman in this draft. Strong, most noticeable against the run when he’s asked to occupy multiple blockers. Transfers that power forward to push into the backfield. Will toss offensive linemen out of his path if he can get his arms extended and his hands locked into the body. Extremely long arms (34 5/8 inches, same as Leonard Williams) and big hands (11 inches, tops among DL at the combine). Beats up his opponents over the course of a game. Should fit in a variety of schemes, at several different spots along the line. Slides his feet well horizontally and vertically, allowing him to stay involved in most plays. High marks for awareness. Features the quickness and counter moves to develop into a legit interior pass-rusher.
Weaknesses: To cut right to the chase, why wasn’t he more dominant? All the traits were there for Davis to take over games, but he finished his college career with just 3.5 sacks. Ability as a space-eater inside contributed some to that low number—Davis freed up his teammates to make plays—but the overall production was lacking. Endurance or effort (possibly both) were problematic, especially when Davis was on the field for extended periods of time. On that note, he may be relegated to a rotational role in the NFL. Will have to show that he wants to be a pass-rusher, as opposed to just a run-down enforcer. Can be handed far too easily when he fails to land his hands where he wants, thereby negating his power.
Conclusion: Davis is one of those drive-you-nuts type of prospects. One play, he'll toss an offensive lineman aside like he's The Hulk and the next he'll react as if he decided to catch a quick nap while in his stance. An NFL team that can keep the motor revved on a permanent basis would be adding a potentially dominant two-down tackle with enough agility and power to develop into a three-down, Pro Bowl-level player. Just don't be surprised if Davis continues to run hot and cold.
45. Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke
Bio: Born in Jamaica, Tomlinson moved to Chicago as a child and didn't play football until his freshman year in high school. He started 52 games at right guard for Duke, gaining multiple Academic All-American honors and All-ACC nods. He's a high-character person with some real potential at the position, but it may take a year or two before he's ready to deal with the realities of the NFL from a talent perspective. He's a projection, but worth the effort.
Strengths: Dominant at times as a run-blocker in a phone booth—when he's in his gap and moving forward, Tomlinson is tough to deal with. Shows the potential for good form in pass-blocking and is very effective in zone-blocking when he keeps everything in front of him. Effective ability to move his man aside when he gets his arms locked in. Tremendous raw strength. Intelligent individual who wants to be a doctor with he's done with football. Looked good at the Senior Bowl against bigger players. Many of his technique flaws seem coachable.
Weaknesses: Has the position's physical characteristics and plays with a wide base, but doesn't take advantage nearly enough. Very inconsistent with his hands and placement—tends to stab instead of locking on, and will lose defenders to either side. Athletic enough to pull effectively, but needs to hit targets across the field and at the second level more often. Not a multi-read blocker at this point—needs to learn to keep his head on a swivel and re-direct with authority. Will occasionally lose power battles even when he's the low man, which is more about technique than strength. Not as much of a finisher as you'd like—once in a while, you want to see a guy this big just destroy inferior competition.
Conclusion: Outside of the possible tackle-to-guard prospects at the top of the 2015 draft board (like Iowa's Brandon Scherff), Tomlinson could be the most appealing guard prospect in this class. He could probably start at right guard in the NFL right away, and with the necessary technique fixes, may wind up as a fixture on the left side. At his best, he's a scheme-transcendent player.