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.
Check out the players ranked in spots 64-60 here. Our next set of prospects includes a pair of former Miami teammates, an electrifying wide receiver and the first two of many hybrid edge rushers set to be spotlighted in the SI64.
59. Phillip Dorsett, WR, Miami
Bio: Every year since Chris Johnson ran a record 4.24-second 40-yard dash in 2008, the combine seems to feature one player dubbed as the main challenger to Johnson’s throne, and this year, it was Dorsett. The burner from Miami did not get there, but his 4.33 mark did enough to prove that he can fly. So, too, did his 24.2 yards-per-catch average this past season. Dorsett scored 10 TDs on just 36 receptions en route to a first-team All-ACC nod. He averaged 17.2 yards over his three years with the Hurricanes, plus a 19.5-yard clip as a punt returner. An MCL injury sidelined him for five games during the 2013 season.
Strengths: Start with the obvious, which is that Dorsett can go the distance any time he touches the football. Uses his exceptional speed to blow past secondaries and catches most balls thrown his direction. That said, he’s not just a one-note player. Depending on the creativity of his new coordinator, Dorsett could thrive in a variety of ways—out of the slot, split wide, even lined up in the backfield. Puts defenders on his outside hip to find space cutting across the middle, then pulls away with the ball in his hands. Takes hard routes in traffic and fights for the football. Confidence shows when he’s on the field. Not averse to blocking. Past work as a punt returner should give him a path to early NFL contribution.
Weaknesses: On the smaller side (5'10", 185 pounds) and has that knee injury on his resume, so questions about durability will follow him into the league, but his knee has shown no ill-effects of the 2013 issue. Size, on the other hand, can hold him back when defenders are able to pressure him with contact. Scheme may have to keep Dorsett out of those tricky, press-coverage spots by motioning him. Would be encouraging to see him shake a few more tacklers with the ball in his hands, so he doesn’t have to run away from everyone. Had seven carries at Miami for a total of minus-two yards—his big-play success lends itself to a handoff here or there, but there are no proven results to fall back on for examples. Route-running’s a work in progress.
Conclusion: Right now, Dorsett is less a receiver around which teams would build a passing game and more of a receiver who could step in and dominate if a few other pieces are in place. In other words, he will not be drafted as a Calvin Johnson- or A.J. Green-type threat on the outside. Put him with an offensive coordinator willing to be creative—and capable of developing Dorsett's all-around game—and the reward could be immense. Dorsett has the speed to really blow apart defenses deep as well as across the middle. Antonio Brown has been a frontrunner in changing the perception for quick, supposedly undersized receivers, and Dorsett could follow suit in a couple of years, turning from a dangerous slot weapon/returner into a legit top-two option.
58. Eli Harold, DE/OLB, Virginia
Bio: The Cavaliers won a grand total of 11 games in Harold's three years as a player, but he consistently improved over that time, showing a lot of the potential he brought as a top high-school prospect. In 2014, Harold amassed seven sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss, building a resume of consistency after picking up 15 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks in his sophomore season. Playing in a variable-front 3-4 defense, Harold could be featured in several roles for an NFL team, though like most pass-rushers in recent draft classes, he'll need to expand on his palette of pass-rush moves to be truly effective.
Strengths: Can rush effectively from the defensive end and outside linebacker positions. Gets off the snap and into the body of the tackle in a hurry. Upper-body strength transfers to his game—has a legitimate bull-rush he uses to move men 50 pounds heavier. Inside counter is a work in progress, but shows nice swatting move in conjunction when it shows up. When he comes off the snap low in his stance and working with his hands, even top tackles find him tough to deal with. Relentless pursuit player who tries to get around first blocks if he's shut out.
Weaknesses: Few hand moves to speak of—no real rip/swim—and isn't always dynamic with his feet. Needs to push more with his lower body. Engages too often when he should be disrupting and looking to get free of blocks. Needs to hit blockers lower in his stance—loses too much power by playing upright, especially when his hand is off the ground. Could stand to be quicker off the edge, an attribute that may hold him back at the next level. Played inside as a weakside end at times and had real trouble with double teams from a strength perspective. Unspectacular against the run; tends to overrun plays. Not a lot of experience in pass coverage. Wants to bulk up from 247 pounds to 255 at the next level, which may take away a bit of his speed.
Conclusion: Defensive coordinators running a hybrid scheme with multiple fronts may favor Harold in this draft, because he's already shown enough potential in complicated schemes, and many of his less-impressive traits are coachable to a degree. Harold has the speed, strength and effort to be special, and the work ethic is clearly there.
57. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Bio: Johnson leaves Miami as the team's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage, proving over three seasons that he is one of the most impressive and versatile backs in this draft class. Despite injuries throughout his time with the Hurricanes, Johnson averaged an amazing 6.7 yards per carry and scored 32 total touchdowns. While he doesn't fit the profile of an every-down back in the NFL, teams with unique ways of using running backs should be watching his tape very closely.
Strengths: Ideally-sized speed back (5'9", 207 pounds) with outstanding acceleration as his primary attribute. Ran a 4.54 40 at the combine, but is much faster than that on the field. Once he gets past the first point of contact, he hits another gear entirely. True one-cut-and-go runner. Very agile in trash and has the raw power to escape arm tackles. Stronger than his size may indicate. Has speed to the edge and the ability to cut back quickly into other gaps. Good receiver with multi-route awareness; can make plays everywhere from out of the backfield to the slot to out wide. Dynamic return man when given the opportunity, averaging 33 yards per kick return and scoring two touchdowns in 2012.
Weaknesses: Not a downhill runner; limited when facing inside contact and struggles to create in short spaces. Not an outstanding blocker and needs to square up and do the dirty work instead of dithering at times. Injury concerns throughout his career. Not likely to be an every-down back, but a creative coaching staff could bring out his best.
Conclusion: The extent to which Johnson will be seen as valuable to NFL teams is tied to the needs those teams may have. No, he's not scheme-transcendent, and no, he's not an every-down back—unless you're a team that defines "every-down back" as a player who can be used all over the field. The Bush comparison makes sense because Bush was at his best when the Saints used him as a hybrid back/receiver weapon who frequently shifted out of the backfield to the slot, creating major disadvantages for opposing base defenses. And this is not to say that Johnson will dry up and blow away every time a linebacker lays a hit on him—he's strong enough to deal with that. Ideally, Johnson would be both a rotational player and an every-down weapon—rotated around the formation to set defenses up for failure.
Pro Comparison: Reggie Bush, 49ers (Round 1, 2006)
56. Nate Orchard, DE/OLB, Utah
Bio: Orchard was recruited to Utah as a receiver out of high school, but he made the switch to end and situational pass-rushing linebacker as a true freshman in 2011. He was Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 in 2012 and racked up 3.5 sacks and nine tackles for loss in 2013, but he exploded onto the scene in 2014 with 18.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. That put Orchard in the first round most likely, but there are always questions about one-year-wonder pass-rushers, and Orchard's tape presents other concerns.
[daily_cut.nfl]Strengths: Impressively quick player off the edge and off the snap—will occasionally beat a tackle before the tackle can even get his hands up. Potentially force on loops and inside stunts, where he can see gaps and shoot through. Displays high effort even when blocked out of a play and will win some battles by out-lasting his blocker. More dynamic with his hand off the ground, which may determine a future as a pass-rushing linebacker as opposed to end. Could be truly special if he improves his overall technique. Hard worker with a mature personality.
Weaknesses: Can be quick off the edge, but tends to react at times instead of bowling through to the pocket. Will get caught up in blocks because he lacks the hand moves to move blockers and isn't quick enough to re-direct. Very limited counter and foot-fake array—tends to get sacks more by running around and through blockers than by using pure technique. Best move at this point is to push off a block and run around an opponent. Plays lighter than his measured weight at times—can be washed out of the run game and beaten physically more often than you'd like. Needs a lot of space to make an impact. Will require a lot of work before he's a legitimate factor when dropping into coverage.
Conclusion: It's easy to devalue pass-rushers like Orchard for their limited hand moves, until you realize that most collegiate pass-rushers aren't taught the full array of techniques required to beat the level of blockers they'll face in the NFL. Orchard is one player who, given a little time with an NFL coaching staff, could be truly special. At 6'3" and 250 pounds, he'll need to play to his weight with better and more consistent leverage, and he's probably best suited for an outside linebacker spot in a base 3–4 defense than a true end role in a 4–3—unless that 4–3 transforms into hybrid fronts that give Orchard more space to use his speed as it can be used.
Pro Comparison: Aaron Maybin (1st round, 2009)
55. Tyler Lockett, WR, Kansas State
Bio: Tyler Lockett followed in his father Kevin's footsteps to Kansas State in 2011 and promptly began chipping away at receiving records, held by his father, Jordy Nelson and anyone else who's caught passes for the Wildcats. Lockett really picked up steam in 2013 and '14, when he racked up a total of 187 receptions for 2,777 yards and 22 touchdowns in those two seasons. The 5'10", 182-pound speedster opened some eyes at the combine, and he's one of the more intriguing second-level receivers in this class.
Strengths: Displays not only the speed you'd expect, but outstanding route definition—Lockett knows how to stick his foot in the ground and make a decisive cut. Shows top-end velocity no matter what—whether he's selling a deep route or looking for openings in zone pockets. Excels in slants, posts and any route where designed separation is a factor. Dynamite return man who can change a game when he gets into the open field. Great hands-catcher who can make plays along the boundary. In a general sense, if Lockett gets an opening, he's a threat to score a touchdown.
Weaknesses: Lockett will probably be limited to the slot with occasional outside forays due to his size; he's not a physically dominant player by any means. Has trouble with contested catches at times. Tougher defenders can define his routes for him and more physical cornerbacks can make him disappear. Tends to balk in traffic and will need to address his ability to catch in crowds. May be negatively affected by a higher percentage of press coverage in the NFL. Occasional bouts with drops; concentration may be an issue.
Conclusion: With the increasing number of starting slot receivers in the NFL. Lockett will get a lot of looks in the second day of the draft, because he's a very quick player who understands the subtleties of his position in ways that transfer well to the next level. However, he's going to have to become more physically imposing in several different ways before he'll be able to maximize his attributes against smarter, stronger and better defenders. He's a smart, hard-working player who can help as a receiver and returner, so the work is worth the time invested.