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.
Our previous series of scouting reports hit on the prospects ranked Nos. 39-35, with Paul Dawson, Ereck Flowers and Alvin Dupree featured, among others. This group of five prospects includes the best inside linebacker in the 2015 draft class, a couple of freakishly gifted players who will need to match their football acumen to their physical attributes, and a couple of versatile linemen who could contribute right away—one on offense, and one on defense.
The next group of SI 64 prospects:
34. Denzel Perryman, LB, Miami (Fla.)
Bio: After tallying 110 tackles (11.5 for loss) in 2014, Perryman was named a finalist for the Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker. Also on his resume from last season were All-ACC first-team and third-team All-America nods. Perryman was credited with 351 tackles for his four-year career, topping the century mark in that category as both a junior and senior. He saw time at outside linebacker as well as his more familiar MLB role. An ankle injury cost Perryman multiple games as a sophomore but he wound up with 37 starts and 47 games played as a Hurricane.
Strengths: Highlight-reel tackler. Stays square and storms downhill with incredible intensity, clearing his head to drive ball-carriers back with his body. Forced seven fumbles over four season, and it’s surprising that number is not higher just based on how much force Perryman delivers. Powers through blocks in the same way, forcing offensive linemen, fullbacks and tight ends off-center. Picks his spots when attacking, diagnosing plays and quickly finding the gap he needs to hit. Brings a nasty attitude that some teams will like more than others—tape of him blowing up his teammate in practice went viral last year. Better than he’s often given credit for in coverage, at least when playing zone. Same recognition he shows vs. the run helps him get in position when defending the pass.
Weaknesses: Without question, he’ll have to be limited to a two-down role on most teams. Not enough foot speed to anchor the middle of a Tampa-2 and will be picked apart by RBs and TE if he has to cover man-to-man. For as impressive as he is charging toward the line, he’s going to have issues sideline to sideline. Blockers that maintain good position when they catch him can neutralize his abilities, because he relies almost exclusively on delivering the first punch. If an offense can get him backpedaling, it can really take advantage of him. Undersized at 5'10". Nearly hit 4.8 seconds in his 40-yard dash at the combine.
Conclusion: Perryman won't be for everyone, but he has 100-tackle potential for the team that does find a spot for him. His lack of height and issues in coverage likely will limit his draft ceiling—a slide into Round 2 is well within reason. As either a 4–3 weak-side LB or a downhill inside defender in a 3–4, Perryman shows the ability to clean up a lot of plays that slip past the line of scrimmage. He makes running backs (and blockers) pay for entering his zone and absolutely loves to deliver some punishment. While the Miami product is not a complete, three-down linebacker by typical NFL standards, he will thrive as a two-down player.
33. Devin Funchess, WR/TE, Michigan
Bio: Though the 2015 tight end class is considered to be pretty light after Minnesota's Maxx Williams, Funchess—who's listed as a wide receiver because he moved to that position after the '13 season—could change that as a hybrid player. The NFL has been moving for years to "big receivers" listed as tight ends, and Funchess looks the part in several ways. At either position, he can threaten a defense from the slot to the flex to the seam, but he'll have to play to his size before he can take over the NFL. Finished his collegiate career with 126 catches for 1,715 yards and eight touchdowns.
Strengths: Has a big frame (6'4", 232 pounds) with a freakishly defined upper body and a wide lower base -- looks more like a tight end. Long arms and an impressive catch radius. Displays smooth acceleration off the snap and the ability to get downfield quickly, though he's more of a glider than a burner. Could be a credible weapon everywhere from the slot to outside. Can physically overpower cornerbacks at times—if you're going to play press against him, you'd better mean it. Consistency will likely be helped greatly by a more consistent quarterback situation in the NFL. Reasonable consistency on short and intermediate crossing routes with room for improvement.
Weaknesses: Not as smooth in short spaces, and takes too long to transition when working angles as a receiver or as a blocker. Very inconsistent hands and tracking ability—tends to wait too long to bring the ball in, and loses yards-after-catch advantage his size should give him because he fails to accelerate to the ball. Should be a more imposing blocker at his size. Surprisingly inconsistent when asked to high-point the ball; again, he should be better at this given his size. Overall, Funchess needs to streamline his attributes and take better advantage of his physical gifts. NFL team may rate him as a hybrid tight end.
Conclusion: While Funchess will appeal to NFL teams with his size and physical play, he's got undeniable limitations he may not be able to get past. He's a very uncoordinated player at times, and that will show up more in the pros, where the windows to get and stay open are smaller and close more quickly. He may be best utilized as a slot and flex weapon at the start of his NFL career while he figures the rest of his required skill set out, but Funchess really doesn't project as an outside deep receiver at the next level in any way but sheer size and raw physical ability.
Pro Comparison: Kelvin Benjamin, Panthers (1st round, 2014)
32. Arik Armstead, DE, Oregon
Bio: Armstead wasn't a full-time starter until the 2014 season, but he responded with career highs in tackles (46), tackles for loss (5.5) and sacks (2.5)—numbers that may have been higher had an ankle injury not held him back during the middle portions of the season. The nine tackles he had vs. Ohio State in the national championship were a personal-best. Armstead spent two years (2012–13 and 2013–14) as part of Oregon’s basketball team, joining the squad after the football season wrapped; he did not play basketball this year.
Strengths: Combination of body type and athleticism has NFL teams drooling. Chews up tons of space against the run, on account of his size as well as his movement. Usually puts himself in good position with his quick first step. Between his height, long arms and big hands, Armstead can fire into offensive linemen and get them on their heels. Mobile in his pursuit of running backs—won’t go sideline to sideline but can get outside the hash marks to make a tackle. He’s tough to keep blocked if a play gets extended, using those hands to free himself. Did see some snaps in coverage from his end position. Upside is astronomical, in theory.
Weaknesses: Raw traits could be viewed in a negative light by a team hoping to get an instant-impact performer up front. Has to find a way to transition from merely disrupting offenses to dominating them. His stats (16 QB hurries last season but just 2.5 sacks) show the disconnect in that regard. Almost unfathomable given his height and arm length that he did not manage a single pass deflection last season, which speaks to a need to improve his awareness. The way he uses his size right now is like a pitcher with a 100-mph fastball—spectacular starting point, but if that’s all there is in the repertoire hitters will tee off eventually. In other words, Armstead needs to find his second and third moves at the line.
Conclusion: Armstead is, without question, one of the toughest players in this class to evaluate. It's actually a somewhat comparable process to that of his former college quarterback, Marcus Mariota—the skills he has shown are tantalizing, yet the areas of his game that leave scouts guessing will make or break his NFL success. Armstead's build (6'7", 292 pounds) and proficiency against the run are ideal for a 3–4 defensive end. He just has not shown enough as a pass-rusher to guarantee anything beyond that he'll be one to watch come the regular season.
31. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
Bio: Bennett was an instrumental player in Ohio State’s title-winning defense. The Associated Press named him a third-team All-American for his efforts, and he was named All-Big Ten each of the past two seasons. A Centreville, Ohio native, Bennett jumped right into the lineup and played 13 games as a true freshman in 2011. He bounced back from a 2012 limited by injury to start 28 straight games from 2013–14. Chalked up 18.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles as a Buckeye.
Strengths: If an offensive lineman wants to slow down Bennett, he's best be fully engaged at the snap. Explodes off the line with enough energy to cause problems, regardless of what else happens from there. Manages to flip the fact that he won’t tower over anyone by getting low. Will take the straight-line route if he wins it on the initial burst, but otherwise pokes and prods to find space. Most of his production comes by sliding through a gap. Displays an understanding for what’s happening around him—not a pin-his-ears-and-go rusher. Tracks the football and improvises his positioning on the fly to make plays. Won’t miss many tackles when he gets to the running back or quarterback. Features a variety of hand- and arm-related moves at the line (i.e. swim). Production as a pass-rusher should give him a shot at early playing time.
Weaknesses: Much of the Bennett criticism will relate to his size. He will not be able to hold the line if double teamed and needs to have that one-gap in front of him, so his scheme fits will not be extensive. Struggles if an offensive lineman sticks with him off the snap—he’ll keep pressing, but he can be stood up or even driven back when he doesn’t gain an initial edge. Bull rush is rather middling, hence his preference for getting skinny and using his speed to shoot gaps. Projects almost exclusively as a three-tech DT, meaning that the team selecting him will need a big-bodied tackle and help off the edge in place. Versatility is not going to be a selling point for Bennett.
Conclusion: An injury kept Bennett out of action at the Senior Bowl and the combine, then he pulled a hamstring during his pro day, so his draft stock may take a small hit. That's going to be great news for the team that eventually lands him, be it late in Round 1 or somewhere on Day 2. Bennett is versatile enough to work in a 3–4 or 4–3—he played some nose tackle for Ohio State—but he's an ideal fit as a three-technique in the latter. He can play on passing downs early while working to prove, as he did in college, that he is durable enough for more.
30. Jake Fisher, OT, Oregon
Bio: In spite of missing two games during the 2014 season with a knee injury, Fisher landed on the All-America third team and was first-team All-Pac 12. Oregon was clearly better with him in the lineup—Marcus Mariota was sacked 12 times with Fisher sidelined. He opened his Ducks career as a guard, started 22 games at RT between 2012-13, then finished out as a left tackle this past season. In high school, Fisher also played tight end and even punted.
Strengths: Background at tight end shows up in Fisher’s work along the line. Very agile for either tackle position and thrived in an Oregon system that relies on speed. Is a natural moving side to side on run plays, with more than enough quickness to lead the way on a stretch call to his side. Bounces off to the second level with little issue. It’s the footwork again that allowed Fisher to step in on Marcus Mariota’s blindside. Drops in rapid enough fashion to keep edge rushers at bay and pairs that ability with solid length (10 3/8-inch arms). Many expected him to shine at the combine. He came through, posting a 4.33-second short shuttle, 32.5-inch vertical and a 1.75-second 10-yard split on his 40-yard dash. Everything about him screams, “Athletic NFL tackle”.
Weaknesses: Power is still developing—he weighed in the low 200-pound range early in high school, bulked up to 270 by his senior year and now checks in at 306. Figuring out exactly how best to use that size should still be in Fisher’s future. In the meantime, he can be pushed around a bit by really physical defensive linemen. That’s problematic if any team has visions of him as a guard, for whatever reason. Has to be less tight end and more OT when he’s moving as a run blocker. Times when he looks more like the former leave him upright and lacking much punch when he finds his man. Whiffs on some linebackers when reaching the second level, too. Took a lot of penalties last season.
Conclusion: There is a distinct possibility that Fisher hears his name called earlier than most people expect—say, in the latter half of Round 1 or atop Round 2. It is easiest to connect the dots from the nimble Fisher to a zone-blocking scheme. However, with defensive ends and outside linebackers becoming more and more athletic, there is a growing need for offensive tackles to respond in turn. Fisher's footwork gives him a shot to succeed on either side of the line, and to step in from the get-go on the right.
Pro Comparison: Sebastian Vollmer, Patriots (2nd round, 2009)