Sports Illustrated's definitive NFL draft Big Board opens with an unheralded WR who has the potential to be the best in the class.
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.
The SI 64, which debuts here, uses tape study to define the best prospects in this class, and why they're slotted as such. At the bottom of the hypothetical second round, there are a few big-school prospects who should look to expand their skill sets for the NFL ... and one receiver with the potential to leapfrog over others at his position in the long run.
64. Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
Bio: A 2014 third-team All-ACC selection and '12 ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Darby suited up in every Florida State game during his three college seasons, making 23 starts. QBs completed just 41.9% of the passes thrown his direction last season, per NFL Network, a number that actually rose over Darby’s '13 performance (33% completion rate). He was credited with 16 pass break-ups and 79 tackles during his Florida State career, plus picked off two passes. A topic sure to come up as he speaks with teams: Darby initially was charged with two school code-of-conduct violations, stemming from the incident in which Jameis Winston was accused of rape. Darby was cleared, though he allegedly witnessed the encounter between Winston and his accuser.
Strengths: Has the game of a legit lock-down cornerback in coverage. The 33% completion rate allowed in 2013 came on just 27 passes combined for the season, clear evidence that quarterbacks preferred to hunt for their yardage outside of Darby’s area. Comfortable playing in both man and zone looks. Does just about everything well when he's on the move, from tracking the football to transitioning in and out of breaks. Attacks the ball when it's in the air while trying to beat his receiver to the spot. Instincts might be best displayed when he is set back in zone—very few false steps and doesn't guess at where he should be. Ran an impressive 4.38 40-yard dash at the combine. Shows the closing speed to match up with that 40 time. At least tries to be a scrappy contributor in the run game.
Weaknesses: Ability to turn forced incompletions into interceptions with greater frequency could push Darby from a good CB to a great one. Considering his knack for being in the right place at the right time on passing plays, a two-INT total for his college career is underwhelming. Has active hands in coverage but does not catch well. Strength will dictate how often he can play in press coverage. Right now, physical NFL receivers could overwhelm him, at the line and downfield. Turning to run appears to be his footwork weak spot, which is all the more reason press coverage could be problematic. Run defense is iffy, at best. He's not averse to dueling with blocking receivers but will not offer much more. Tackling could be more technically sound.
Conclusion: There is a boom-or-bust element to Darby's NFL prospects, which makes it difficult to hone in on where he might fall come the draft. In a lot of ways, he has Round 1 talent. The rub lies in that his weaknesses—occasional struggles to remain physical or an inability to turn all those pass break-ups into interceptions—could limit his ceiling. If he ever puts it all together on a consistent basis, Darby can challenge to be this class's top cornerback in the long run. Will that happen? And if so, how long will it take?
63. Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford
Bio: Anderson led the Cardinal in sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (15) in 2014, a pretty impressive feat for a 6'6", 294-pound player. And he's not a one-year wonder—though he missed six games with a knee injury in '13, he amassed 5.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss the year before. Though he's not a dominant player in any facet of his game, Anderson may be drafted slightly higher than expected, due to his ability to bring pressure and stop the run from multiple gaps.
Strengths: Interesting hybrid player who can line up credibly as a run-stopping and pass-rushing end in three- and four-man fronts, as well as a five-tech and three-tech tackle. Shows good speed off the snap and has the ability to move through trash quickly. Gets skinny to shoot through double teams and consistently looks to disrupt—doesn't spend a lot of time wrestling with blockers. Good stack-and-shed player who drops off blocks quickly and moves to the ball. Has developed the ability to get under the pads of blockers and move them with upper-body leverage. Could be dominant in twists and stunts. Played in a variable 3-4 defense and fits the profile of the versatile modern NFL lineman.
Weaknesses: Anderson's tape screams "tweener" at times—he's not dynamic enough to be a pure pass-rushing end, and he lacks the raw strength to be a high-rotation tackle. Limited array of hand movements leaves him to use speed and basic pushes to get past blockers. Needs to be very quick off the snap, because his first-step game is his primary advantage. Loses his place and gets lost in the wash too often. Must establish more lower-body strength and push. Will need to be aligned with a coaching staff who understands and improves upon his viable strengths.
Conclusion: This draft class boasts a long list of defensive linemen and pass-rushers with a frustrating lack of functional hand movement, but Anderson may be at the top of that list. It's clear that he has the potential to be a productive disruptor at multiple positions, but unless he directs his intensity in a more technical direction, he could get lost in the wash. Anderson's best fit would be with an NFL team preferring multiple fronts, with a coaching staff ready and willing to give him the tools to hit the next level.
62. Breshad Perriman, WR, UCF
Bio: The son of Brett Perriman, who caught 525 passes and gained over 6,500 yards for four different NFL teams, Breshad Perriman is a different player than his dad. He's bigger (6'2", 212 to 5'10", 180) and more of an outside receiver. The younger Perriman took a little while to get up to speed, catching 26 passes in 2012 and 39 in '13, but he really broke it open last season with 50 catches for 1,044 yards and nine touchdowns. There's work to be done before Perriman will be able to match UCF alum Brandon Marshall in overall productivity, but the potential is there.
Strengths: As his career 19.5 yards-per-catch average implies, Perriman is an outstanding deep threat. But he's also adept at using his size and cut ability to get under coverage on slants and drags. Has a long wingspan that he knows how to use to beat close coverage for contested catches. Can be really tough to beat on 50/50 balls. Runs out of the snap well and digs his foot in to start a route. Big and physical enough to deal with press coverage, able to gain consistent yards after the catch. Could be a huge upside player for a team patient enough to deal with the raw spots in his palette.
Weaknesses: High-waisted player who gets a bit sluggish in his breaks at times—is not a sudden mover except in a straight line. May not have the pure burst and acceleration needed to be a top-class receiver; could be better cast as a complementary threat in an NFL passing game, though this could be partially countered with technique fixes. Will need to round out his route knowledge in the NFL. Must gain a better sense of concentration in traffic, and he must use his body better to avoid being re-directed too often.
Conclusion: Perriman made his biggest splash in the court of public opinion when he ran a sub-4.3 40 at his pro day, but as they say, it's important to go back to the tape—and he doesn't always play to that speed. That said, there's enough on the tape to make one wonder if, in the right environment and given the proper tools, Perriman might not wind up as the best receiver in this draft class. It's a longshot, but he flashes that potential from time to time.
61. Grady Jarrett, DT, Clemson
Bio: Every draft class has its share of "too small/too slow" players who manage to push past those designations due to their specific and special attributes. Jarrett, who's been the most productive disruptor in Clemson's defense for a good long time, could be one of those players. Debited as a draft prospect due to his size (6'1", 304), Jarrett has discovered a number of techniques that allow him to overcome his shortcomings. In his three years as a starter, Jarrett racked up 144 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 29.5 tackles for loss despite finding himself as the target of many double teams. The first-team All-ACC defender in 2014 could surprise a lot of people at the NFL level—including his prospective opponents.
[daily_cut.nfl]Strengths: Short, wide player who uses his lack of height as a distinct advantage—gets under pads from the snap and burrows through to disrupt from the nose tackle and shade nose positions. Pushes forward with good leverage, consistently moving centers and guards back into the pocket. Shows impressive speed in chasing to the edge of the line. Uses his hands aggressively to stack and shed. Tremendous vision and understanding of how to hop through gaps as they open. Keeps his feet active when in motion, and he's always looking for an angle to get through. Has an excellent burst to the pocket. Elevated understanding of hand movement in comparison to many defensive linemen in this draft, especially with rip-and-hump moves to get blockers out of the way. Tremendous upper-body strength for his size. Has never missed a game due to injury, going back to his high-school days. Has the attributes and potential to line up outside the guard box—looks good as a three-tech pass-rushing tackle and may get snaps at end in some packages.
Weaknesses: Rotational player in college and will likely be just that in the NFL—his size limits him schematically as a nose tackle. Has to burn through on every snap, because if he loses that first-step battle, he'll be absolutely enveloped. When he gets too high in his stance, he has little chance to disrupt at the college level, and that issue will continue in the NFL. Short arms (32 3/8") affect his ability to stab and punch through unless he's in close quarters. Wears down in games because he has to go all-out on every play to make an impact.
Conclusion: Many will project Jarrett as only a nose tackle in a four-man base front because of his size, but this is an era in which defensive coordinators are forced to think outside the box with their personnel, and it's possible that Jarrett could provide extra dividends for such a coach—as a pass-rushing outside tackle, and maybe as an end in certain situations. Like Jarrett, Geno Atkins was an undersized player out of college who some teams didn't know how to project, but he became a superstar with the Bengals because the coaching staff understood how to unleash him on opposing offensive lines with the right complementary players around him. Jarrett appears to have the raw tools to make a similar impact.
Pro Comparison: Geno Atkins, Bengals (4th round, 2010)
60. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M
Bio: Texas A&M did a pretty good job of signing offensive line recruits in 2010, with Luke Joeckel, Jake Matthews and Ogbuehi as part of that class. Ogbuehi is the last to make himself available to the NFL after a collegiate career in which he started multiple games at guard and both tackle spots for the Aggies' highly productive offense. Ogbuehi chose to return to A&M for the '14 season despite the fact that he would likely have been a first-round pick a year ago, and he paid the price for that decision when he suffered a torn ACL last December that will keep him out of all pre-draft events. He's got the skill to follow his former classmates into the league as a first-round talent, though there are a few necessary fixes to be done.
Strengths: Quick and agile athlete for his size (6'5", 306) who gets out into a consistent and fluid kick-step in pass protection and accelerates quickly to the second level. For the most part, plays with good lateral speed and power, and a wide base, to keep defenders at bay. Has a good eye for twists and stunts and other schemes that require him to peel off his original target and scan protections. Has the short-area quickness and flexibility to excel in pulls and traps. Optimal physical prototype for the position, with a solid frame, good musculature and long arms. Has played guard and tackle at a high level, against some of the best pass-rushers and run-stoppers the NCAA has to offer.
Weaknesses: At times, will come off the snap too high and can be pushed back into the pocket—not always a physically dominant player when first attacked. Stronger NFL edge rushers may throw him around for a while. More an engager than a true drive-blocker—more prone to sealing the edge with technique than just ram-rodding an opponent out of the picture. Slight choppiness in kick-step may leave him vulnerable to speed counters. Struggles to redirect quickly and pick up the slack when he's beaten to the edge. Not always a target-hitter in space. Concern about functional strength may be overplayed—sometimes, Ogbuehi simply loses power due to technique issues.
Conclusion: Some will automatically assume that Ogbuehi would be a better fit at guard, but I see him more as a tackle—a technician in training with a few rough spots that could be easily corrected over time. If he were to play with better leverage and a slightly more aggressive countenance, he could end up as the best NFL player in that trio of 2010 recruits.