When I became an NFL scout in 1995 with the Carolina Panthers, I learned a large amount of the NFL business from some very knowledgeable personnel men. Men like Bill Polian, Mike McCormick, the late Bill Walsh and Dom Anile taught me the art of scouting and how to build a 53-man roster, along with some very close friends (Kevin Colbert, Ozzie Newsome and Rod Graves) from afar and the senior scouts (Milt Davis, Red Cochran Jr. and C.O. Barcato) who helped shape me into an area scout.
Some say “build it up the middle.” Others say start on either offense or defense. But based on what I’ve learned throughout my 15 years in the NFL, 11 of those as a front-office executive, you start with a quarterback first. Without a franchise quarterback, you’re not very good. With a good QB, your chances of winning your division and making it deep into the playoffs increase tenfold.
The other positions of importance when developing a NFL roster are in this order: OT (offensive tackle), specifically a left tackle to protect the quarterback’s blind side; DE (defensive end), to rush and attack the opponent’s quarterback with consistent pressure off the edge; a MLB (middle linebacker) who controls the middle of the defense; a CB (cornerback) with man coverage skills to lock down receivers; and, lastly, a RB (running back) who can carry the load for 16 games (plus postseason) to help grind the clock and shorten the game.
In today’s world of the NFL, the landscape has changed and continues to change. Offenses have moved from a run-first mentality to a pass-happy aerial attack like in years past, when Jim Kelly and the K-Gun earned four straight Super Bowl berths with multiple-receiver sets and formations. College football is developing quarterbacks to thrive in a spread, or one-back offenses with the quarterback in the shotgun formation a high percentage of the game (see 2012 Super Bowl). And, as seen last year, the read option is here to stay as long as the college game keeps producing quarterbacks who have the positional attributes as a combination passer and runner.
With the influx of multiple-receiver formations, the NFL has seen the 3-4 defense come back from extinction. While a few NFL clubs stayed pat, several teams have recently started the transition or migration away from the 4-3 defense in order to apply more pressure on the pocket with athletic outside linebackers who are versatile enough to rush the passer and play in space. They boast awareness of both ball and receiver vs. multiple-receiver formations.
General managers and head coaches, along with offensive coordinators, are making a big push to draft athletic offensive tackles – not only on the left side to protect the quarterback’s blind side, but on the front side as well. I have slotted these tackles in at either RT (right tackle) or LT (left tackle) for placement reasons.
Character: Leader in the locker room, community involvement, off-field issues (arrest, drugs, assaulting women, guns, tickets, etc.).
Football Intelligence: Student of the game, film study, playbook memorization, ability to process and regurgitate information with recall.
Leadership: Natural-born leader, vocal, quiet, leads by example.
Competitiveness: A clutch player with a win-at-all cost attitude, with a high level of intensity. He is at his best under adverse situations. He is confident in himself, and his teammates have confidence in him.
Toughness: A nasty inline blocker to consistently deliver under pressure and refuses to be defeated. He has an ability to play both injured and hurt when the team needs him.
Production: Produce under pressure in critical situations as a blocker in tight or open space.
Arm Length: Length for edge players ranges from 33 ½ to 36 inches.
Athletic Skill Set
Blocking: Attitude and temperament; three points of contact, strength/explosion; aggressiveness; willingness; flat back, runs feet to finish; works well with other offensive linemen on combination and zone blocking schemes, effort; physical toughness; balance; finish, pin and pancake, upright wall to shield, inline thumper.
Inline: Quickness off ball; initial strength and explosion; collision blocker; ability to sustain; foot and hand quickness; balance; cut-off; reach; seal; scoop, drive, fold, wall off.
Second Level: Quickness to linebacker and downfield blocking skills; ability to locate and attack target on the move.
Pass Blocking: Foot quickness to slide and remain frontal of defender; hand punch replace, strike and recoil, quickness to pass set; solid anchor; base/leverage; ensure balance; knee and ankle bend; play lower than defender; finish.
Explosion: Uncoil; pad level; hip sink and snap; ankle flex.
Adjust/Recovery: Position and turn defender; maintain contact; quickness to re-position.
Durability: Stamina; endurance; injury history for position and the ability to play hurt.
Pull/Trap: Short area quickness; body control; long; mobility in space; adjust on the run; ability to attack target in space with production.
Recovery: Regain position to cut off inside charge; inside move; mirror; outside move; foot quickness.
Strong UOH (use of hands): Steer, stab and punch; double arm bar; single arm bar; twist and cork screw.
Football Intelligence: High football IQ; football instincts; awareness; read reaction quickness on the move; recognition of stunts and blitz packages.
Deep Snapper: Point after/field goal and punt snap ability.
Strength: Functional strength and explosion; weight room numbers.
*Luke Joeckel Texas A&M 6’6-306 34 1/4 10 1/8 A tough and competitive plug-and-play LT. Has excellent athletic movement with length, knee bend, body balance and control with hip flexibility. A three-year starter with outstanding performance as a pass blocker. Has very good initial quickness out of stance to set, chop and roll with finish and production. Has great feet to kickslide laterally and defeat edge player on upfield shoulder, and can stick foot in ground with smooth adjustment and movement to cut off counter moves. Gets pulled and jerked off balance in films viewed, with inconsistent slide and finish to defeat inside movement; allows defender into breast plate. Has strong anchor vs. bull rush to drop center of gravity with bent knees and very solid wide base; strong UOH (use of hands) to punch with double arm bar and recoil to stone defender or grab and steer with finish. Joeckel has very good FBI (football instincts) and awareness to pick up blitzes, stunts and games. A run blocker with good movement to sift through traffic to the second level, he locates a defender and attacks target in space. An inline blocker with step, punch and collision production. Good job to pull and release on screens with production in space. Strength and explosion will increase through NFL offseason workouts. Aligns at LT and RT in unbalanced formation. First-round talent/Top-3 pick.
Eric Fisher Central Michigan 6’7-306 34 1/2 10 1/2 An excellent athlete with great length and very good feet for a tall player. A pass blocker with very fluid kick step to slide and defeat pass rusher on upfield shoulder, pushing past quarterback drop zone or mirror; hands are held numbers-high with stab and replace to attack defender’s breast plate. A muscular upper body with good feet to slide and adjust vs. spin move. Has a stout anchor, but will need to drop pad level more consistently as pad level rises on defender contact; plays tall at times and is pulled off balance. Good toughness and nasty attitude. Good movement on pulling to play side; turns up in hole and locates defender on the move with vision, attacking target in space. A strong inline down blocker, he also boasts good feet to skip out of stance to fold block with TE; will get narrow based on recovery, but athletic skill set gets him back in play. Can stock and walk defender off LOS (line of scrimmage) with strong UOH (use of hands) to grab outside cloth and steer defender. Good combo block to second level with production; slight lead head to get off balance but recovers, and his tendency to fall off blocks will get corrected with NFL coaching. Very good FBI (football instincts) and awareness to recognize stunts and blitz with production. Will need to continue to develop in weight room during offseason to get stronger in both upper and lower body. First-round talent/Top 15 pick.
DJ Fluker Alabama 6’5-339 36 3/4 10 1/2 A plug-and-play right tackle with exceptional size, girth and length in arms. Fluker is a dominating run-blocker who possesses the combination of power, explosion and aggressiveness with a nasty temperament and skill set that flows throughout his DNA (tape). It was fun to evaluate this big man on the move. This offensive tackle comes out of stance with a wide base, flat back collision; has long levers and powerful UOH (use of hands) to punch, stab and recoil or grab and steer defenders with good finish; flashed pancake production. Good drive, reach, down blocking skills. Good movement to second level, locating target with tag and blow-‘em-up production; very strong UOH (use of hands) to cork screw defenders into the ground. Pass blocker with quickness out of 2/3 point stance, with click slide to edge; long arms keep him in play. He will need refinement vs. edge play; despite good click slide feet, die once edge defender gets even with upfield shoulder, at which point he resorts to waste bend and chases defender upfield. Has adequate feet in pass protection and will need further development in kick-slide technique to protect upfield shoulder. Allows defender to cross face on inside moves when in 2-point stance. Despite good awareness, recovery is merely adequate. This big man’s DNA (film) revealed no one can run through his numbers; good girth, base and anchor. Works well with TE and OG on both pass and run blocking. Has very good traits for RT. If he fails on the edge, move him inside. First-round talent, first-round pick.
Lane Johnson Oklahoma 6’6-303 35 1/4 10 1/8 Very good athlete to play LT at the next level with huge upside. He has limited experience at the position, though, having been a former quarterback and tight end before moving to starting tackle out of necessity. Excellent size and length for the position. Athletic skill set is off the charts, which was displayed at combine and is seen in his DNA (film). Don’t be fooled, however – despite temperament and flashing “nasty,” this OT needs refinement, finish, technique and more development to become a top-flight option at the position. Pass blocker with good quickness out of stance; effective set and chop production. Plays with natural balance, bent knees and feet to slide laterally. Technique is spotty at times, but athletic ability allows him to defeat edge player with double arm bar punch and finish. Will get beat off edge vs. smaller, quicker defenders. Good FBI (football instincts) and awareness, but gets beat across face; needs work defeating inside movement to slide feet and protect inside. Inline run blocker to collision defender; leads with hat, flat back and hips to flashed snap and fires feet to finish with productive movement. Good combo; sifts through to second level, locating and working to attack target on the move. Aligns in 2/3 point stance and RT unbalanced formation. When I watched this player, I was struck by his possessing the best upside of all OT prospects. But, will he hit those expectations with only one year at the position? Coaches will push their respective GMs to take this player high based solely on his athletic skill set. First-round talent, wild-card pick.
*Menelik Watson Florida State 6’5-310 34 10 3/8 The former basketball player and United Kingdom native is still learning the game of football. His DNA (tape) tells me that there is an exceptionally bright future ahead of him if he continues to work hard and grow into the position. He has a great combination of size, length and athletic ability. Aligns at RT, but the athletic ability in place tells me that he will start out at LT. Watson is a pass blocker who is not consistent in playing with good knee bend; pad level rises for a natural athlete, which tells me more technique is needed. Very good snap to set, and has the feet to slide laterally like a dancing bear; defeats edge player on upfield shoulder, and can redirect and slide to protect inside. Run blocker with very good movement to sift through traffic, locating and attacking defender on the move and in the second level. Has good UOH (use of hands) to punch and steer defender. Watson is competitive, tough and flashes nasty temperament in both run- and pass-blocking. He had the combine buzzing as talk over this “one-year wonder” intensified. Has the upside to develop into one of the best LTs in the 2013 draft class. I worry about this player’s long-term passion for the game, considering his non-football background and the fact that he hails from another country. Limited overall base and knowledge of the full process of the game of football; just a PUP, albeit with very good upside. First-round talent, second-round pick.
Others to Watch:
*Justin Pugh Syracuse LT
Terron Armstead Arkansas – Pine Bluff LT
*David Bakhtiari Colorado LT
Jordan Mills Louisiana Tech RT
Oday Aboushi Virginia RT
Vince Painter Virginia Tech LT
Oscar Johnson Louisiana Tech RT