Could Derek Rivers Be A Patriots Linebacker?

In the 2013 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots selected an edge rusher from a lesser-known school in the second round that ended up being a fantastic choice.

Jamie Collins.

Jamie Collins came out of Southern Mississippi and was one of the best young players that has come through Foxborough in recent years, being 1/3 of a terrific linebacker trio for the Patriots that helped him win a ring in 2014 and take part in a great season before being traded in 2016. The one thing Collins was most known for was the freakish athleticism he had, and his ability to easily blow up plays. His “freelancing” and willingness to get a big payday was what led to him being sent to Cleveland, and the Patriots were lucky enough to get Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts to play meaningful snaps for a team seemingly devoid of good linebacker talent.

In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Patriots selected an edge rusher from a lesser-known school in the third round that appears to have similar talent. That’s Derek Rivers from Youngstown State.

Rivers is a freak athlete that played the edge in a 3-4 outside linebacker-type position for the Penguins (GREAT team name. Love it.). It’s very similar to what Collins did as a member of the Golden Eagles (another solid name). Their profiles are relatively similar, but it is unclear whether or not Rivers’ story comes out in the same way as Collins’ did (in the playing style and fit sense, not the trading because he was looking for a contract way). Let’s compare them, as well as the other Patriots linebackers in recent years.

Athleticism

lb combines

The Patriots’ benchmarks for linebackers were found by NESN’s Doug Kyed. You can follow him on twitter here. Blanks were unable to be found, whether due to skipping tests or not attending the combine for measurements.

Rivers hits nearly every mark for a Patriots linebacker, save for being an eighth of an inch off on the hand size and .07 seconds off the short shuttle. When compared to Collins they are almost identical. Collins was a bit weaker and had better explosiveness numbers. Rivers and Collins match up very well here, and the Patriots clearly miss athleticism like that.

On-Field Talent

Jamie Collins was a 3-4 outside linebacker for Southern Miss, and he often showed how raw he was as a prospect. It was clearly warranted for him to end up as a second round pick, although he was put in a great position to learn. As a member of the Patriots, Collins spent most of his time in the OLB role, but did his best pass-rushing work as an A gap blitzer (highlight clip here). If the team wants Rivers to do that, they have to rely on his speed and strength to blow back interior linemen. I found some clips of him doing that on the outside and up the middle.

Rivers timed faster in the 40 yard dash compared to Collins, but was slower in the 10 yard split, which is more important in a role like this. While it is clear he has the talent to do that, it is unclear whether the Patriots would like to play him there.

The Patriots are one of the most unpredictable teams in the NFL, and the way they use their personnel in mix-and-match forms is impressive. Rivers clearly has the talent to play as a linebacker, and it’s likely that they’ll at least try him there. His true position lies on the edge, but when the season rolls around we will find out where Matt Patricia and co. want to play him.

The Running Quarterback’s Conundrum

Quarterbacks with enough athletic ability are often some of the most fun to watch. Whether it be college or NFL-level play, “mobile” QBs are able to make plays with their feet and arms, which is exciting for fans, and allows teams to do plenty more than they could with a “regular” passer. This is a relatively new dimension of the game that can be taken advantage of now, and it makes the game better in all cases.

Many people look at the stats of these running quarterbacks and are surprised at what they see. The numbers seem to bare a stark difference in terms of completion percentages, which is regarded as an important stat for QBs. Cam Newton, considered one of the better “running QBs” of this generation of passers, had a frightening 52.9% completion rate. This didn’t give a great look to this group of players, but there may be a reason behind it.

Recently, Derrik Klassen, a former colleague (RIP QB Mecca) and all-around knowledgeable person, posed a question on Twitter.

This question seems to provide a logical answer to the reasoning for such low completion percentages. But we don’t know that is exactly what happens. So let’s look at the data and find out.

We can take a select group of 5 “running” quarterbacks. Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Mike Vick, Marcus Mariota, and Tyrod Taylor. Let’s consider their run/pass ratio, attempts and yards in a season, and then their passing stats in seasons in which they threw at least 200 passes. Then we can compare to a group of “average” quarterbacks, say, Kirk Cousins, Matt Stafford, Derek Carr, Sam Bradford, and Philip Rivers. Look at the tables below to see how they match up.

runqb

regqb

The league average completion percentage for QBs with at least 200 attempts is 63.33%. Completion averages highlighted in red are below that mark.

There is some interesting data to be found here. Running quarterbacks average 100-200 less passing attempts than their peers, while averaging 40-50 more rushing attempts. The pass/run ratios for running quarterbacks is significantly low, with an average around 5.1/1, where a regular quarterback’s hovers around 19.5/1. Running quarterbacks clearly recorded below-average completion percentage numbers, but so did 3 of the 5 regular quarterbacks (who are considered in the top half of the league by most). The yards per attempt numbers are relatively similar, but the yards per completion is very different. Only one running quarterback averaged less than 12 yards per completion, and he (Tyrod Taylor) missed it by .1 yard. On the other hand, just two regular quarterbacks recorded over an average of 12 yards per completion.

This would generally mean that while running quarterbacks are throwing less, they are getting more yards for each time they throw the ball. You could conclude that this means they are throwing less checkdowns than their peers, and instead running the ball. These running quarterbacks are averaging 5 rushes for 33 yards a game, or 6.4 yards per rush. That’s about 2-3 yards more per carry than a running back would get. You could infer that a quarterback running the ball instead of throwing a checkdown will get them more yards, and it will also hurt the defense in that they have to worry about the quarterback running instead of just the passing game and the running backs.

All in all, it’s possible that running quarterbacks are better for an offense, even with the decrease in completion percentage. It makes the offense more multi-dimensional, and with a smart offensive coordinator, it can be lethal. Rushing is an important part of the game, and when your passer can do it, it’s that much better.

Describe in Five: Corey Davis

Now that the NFL Draft Combine has wrapped up, we now have the fullest view we can get of most of the draft’s prospects. This allows us to finalize rankings, or our so called “big boards,” and determine who us experts have ranked in order based on talent. There are plenty of talented prospects across all possible rounds of the draft, and there will surely be steals and busts labeled everywhere. Players will be knocked for random things, and we’ll hear plenty from “an anonymous scout” until the Draft rolls around in late April. One of the guys who may have some news and highlights around him is Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. A lower-level FBS star for a few years with the Broncos, Davis is going to be a premium pick at the wide receiver position with his skill set. The goal of Describe in Five is to try to get the best picture of a prospect in just five .gifs, with an explanation behind each one. While you can see who we’ve already discussed here, we are moving on to one of the top wide receivers in the class with Davis.

1. vs. Wisconsin (2017 Cotton Bowl)

wisco

After an undefeated season playing smaller schools, Western Michigan was able to get a Cotton Bowl bid against Wisconsin. While the Badgers were much tougher than the rest of the Broncos’ opponents, Davis was still able to make this impressive touchdown catch that could’ve been important to a WMU comeback. After his initial route fails and quarterback Zach Terrell needs to find another man, Davis makes a break towards the opposite end of the end zone and is able to reach over the man in coverage to make the catch. This is impressive tracking and catch in traffic skills puts into use. It also shows that Davis understands the hole in the coverage after the play breaks down. This is an important trait, especially when playing against better defenses in the NFL.

2. vs. Eastern Michigan (2016)

emu

Here we see an area that is one of Davis’ strengths, and one that is a weakness of his. The strength is his run after the catch (RAC) ability. He is able to catch  the ball while being hit, and also able to spin off the defender and try to work for more yards before being tackled by more than half the defense. His RAC ability was one of the best in college football last year, and with his size it’s a great thing to have. The area in which he has some struggles is his route running. The Broncos are running a sort of levels concept in which in routes are run at different levels to make the safety bite on one. Davis sort of rounds out his route instead of making a hard cut which can help shake the defender. The man in coverage is able to easily follow with him while playing off coverage, and joins in on the tackle. The cut in a route is one of the most important parts of it, and one aspect that Davis could use work on.

3. vs. Ball State

bstate

This is another area in which Davis struggles at times, but is not always shown: “focus drops.” This is a catch that if made would likely be a home run. While a bit underthrown, there is not enough coverage on Davis that warrants a drop, and he should be able to bring this in and possibly get the touchdown. Davis’ separation is great, especially on deep routes, but he needs to work on finishing the play and bringing balls like this one in.

4. vs. Ball State (2016)

bstate2

A few plays later, Davis goes and does this. His ability to make contested catches is almost unmatched in this class, and he shows it off well here, reaching over a cornerback to snag a 55 yard touchdown pass. A receiver that has a catch radius and ability like Davis is able to mask mistakes made by quarterbacks at times, and he would be a great benefactor for any offense. Davis’ leaping ability is also shown here, and it adds a great aspect to his game when he can reach balls that smaller defenders can’t.

5. vs. Toledo (2016)

toledo

This is one of my personal favorites while watching Davis. His red zone ability is great, and he plays big here. Davis tosses the defender aside while he fakes a fade route, then breaks back to the ball and keeps both feet in bounds while he comes down with it. This play was run in a similar fashion by a certain All-Pro tight end for the Patriots in 2015. It’s what you look for in a big wide receiver in the red zone, and Davis is one of the best there. Bigger receivers need to be able to use their size to their advantage, and there’s two ways of doing that; you can either beat them in the air on a jump ball, or beat them on the ground with physicality. Davis chooses the latter, and it works well for him and the quarterback Terrell here.

In Conclusion

Corey Davis seemed to have a few issues against top competition, but his all around skill set as a wide receiver gives me no pause in his ability to translate to the league. He will likely be a top 15 pick in this year’s draft, and he will likely have a strong career full of 1,000+ yard seasons. Davis needs to work on limiting focus drops and improve the refinement of his route running, but these are common problems that virtually every wide receiver is able to fix when they come to the NFL. His run after the catch ability, especially while being 6-3, is unmatched by the other big bodied receivers in this class, and will be a crucial part to his game at the next level. There is no doubt that Davis will be a great player in the NFL.

Describe in Five: Leonard Fournette

Now that the NFL Draft Combine has wrapped up, we now have the fullest view we can get of most of the draft’s prospects. This allows us to finalize rankings, or our so called “big boards,” and determine who us experts have ranked in order based on talent. There are plenty of talented prospects across all possible rounds of the draft, and there will surely be steals and busts labeled everywhere. Players will be knocked for random things, and we’ll hear plenty from “an anonymous scout” until the Draft rolls around in late April. One player that may be mentioned in the conversations is Leonard Fournette, who is the top running back in this year’s draft. Fournette was a star for LSU’s run-first offense since his freshman year, and he has succeeded for three straight years and will now head to the NFL to be a great player. There are virtually zero scenarios in which Fournette is not picked within the top 10 of the draft. The goal of Describe in Five is to try to get the best picture of a prospect in just five .gifs, with an explanation behind each one. After talking about Deshaun Watson yesterday, we can move on to someone who is considered the best running back in Fournette.

1. vs. Alabama (2016)

alabama

This is a solid example of Fournette’s balance and running ability. Alabama’s defense beat up on the Tigers’ offensive line all night long, and general held the running back to a small amount of yardage. On this play he’s able to pick up just about 9 yards and show off his short jump cuts, vision, and ability to stay on his feet when a defender comes in contact with him. This game was full of bad plays from the offensive line and at times, Fournette himself, but there were points in the game that showcased his abilities and why he is considered such a good running back.

2. vs. Wisconsin (2016)

wisco

In the season opener for the Tigers, Wisconsin’s defense was able to key in Fournette’s run for most of the game.There were points at which he was able to break off some big runs, though, like the one shown above. This play shows Fournette’s vision when reading blocks and running lanes, and his ability to move to the open lane as fast as possible and get outside. After a slow start when the Badgers’ defense was on to him, Fournette was able to collect six yards a carry and finished with almost 140 yards. This is a good example of him being able to make some yards for himself.

3. vs. Mississippi State (2016)

missst1

This shows a time where Fournette misses a chance to create a couple yards for himself and settles for getting stopped just after the line of scrimmage. He tries to lower his shoulder to beat the safety coming down, but the SAM linebacker is able to read the run and help secure the tackle. Fournette has the opportunity to make a cut outside, where there is just a cornerback waiting for him with a receiver able to offer blocking. This is an issue that could possibly be fixed, but vision issues have plagued top running backs before (hey, Trent Richardson).

4. vs. Mississippi State (2016)

missst2

People looking at the stat sheet for Fournette’s game vs. Miss State would probably be impressed: he rushed for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns. What they won’t see is that he also lost the ball twice, and one came on a fourth down play that could’ve been important to the game. This is ball security that you don’t want to see. A running back should be able to hold onto the ball through a rip, especially when he already has two hands on. In 2016, Fournette fumbled 3 times on 129 carries. That turns out to be an average of one fumble every 43 carries. If Fournette ends up being your primary back, that means that he’s going to fumble once every game or two, which is not ideal with a “star” back.

5. vs. Ole Miss (2016)

olemiss

This was an interesting play that shows a few things. First, Fournette is lined up as the offset fullback on this play, and he runs a flare to the flat to catch a pass. Fournette is normally targeted about 2 or 3 times a game as a receiver, so it was good to see him catch the ball and make it work after the catch. The play also shows Fournette’s ability to turn his speed into power, when he crushes a defensive back that tries to tackle low on him. While the DB was using the correct technique, Fournette’s ability to lower himself to that level and deliver a blow like this is impressive. Power backs are important in the NFL, and Fournette has that sort of element to his game while keeping speed in as an option as well.

In Conclusion

Leonard Fournette has been called a generational talent since stepping into Death Valley. I do not believe he is one of those that will be considered an all-time great, but I believe that Fournette will be very successful in his career and end up a Hall of Fame candidate. He is a strong runner and is able to create for himself when he can lower his shoulder on smaller targets. Fournette spends too much time dancing in the backfield at times, and that will lead to issues if he does not have a strong offensive line playing in front of him. He also needs to improve a bit on his ball security, as it could end up being a problem like former LSU back Stevan Ridley. If he has a group of road graders that can create holes for him, he will have an Ezekiel Elliott-type rookie year. If he goes to a team like the New York Jets that is rebuilding their offensive line, he will need time to develop his creation skills. For now he is a great talent that needs to be put in the right place to succeed in the NFL.

Describe in Five: Deshaun Watson

Now that the NFL Draft Combine has wrapped up, we now have the fullest view we can get of most of the draft’s prospects. This allows us to finalize rankings, or our so called “big boards,” and determine who us experts have ranked in order based on talent. There are plenty of talented prospects across all possible rounds of the draft, and there will surely be steals and busts labeled everywhere. Players will be knocked for random things, and we’ll hear plenty from “an anonymous scout” until the Draft rolls around in late April. One player that a lot of these topics will surround is Deshaun Watson, who is arguably the best quarterback in the draft. The former Clemson Tiger capped off his college career with a comeback win in the College Football Playoff Championship, and he will likely be QB1 and a top 10 pick. The goal of Describe in Five is to try to get the best picture of a prospect in just five .gifs, with an explanation behind each one. What better place to start than with the best quarterback in the draft?

1. vs. Alabama (CFP Champ., 2016)

 

This play shows Watson’s ability to understand coverages, and it came during one of the most important plays of the Championship Game. On third down, and just out of field goal range, Watson sends receiver Hunter Renfrow across the formation. Since Alabama’s cornerback (#2) follows him, Watson knows this is man coverage, with a good amount of space between the two.

d read

The cornerback gives Renfrow a solid 7 or 8 yard cushion, which Watson takes advantage of to throw a quick slant pass to give Clemson an important first down and put them into better field goal range.

bama

2. vs. Ohio State (CFP)

ohiost

People have been knocking Watson for his low velocity score at the Combine, but when you watch his play it certainly isn’t noticeable. If he really is throwing the ball slow, he makes up for it with great anticipation, timing, and ball placement. He is able to keep the ball away from defenders like he does, threading a pass between a linebacker and cornerback to Hunter Renfrow for a first down.

3. vs. Florida State

fsu

One thing Deshaun Watson deserves credit for that he doesn’t often get is his toughness. His offensive line played poorly in 2016, and he had to take plenty of hits that many other signal callers around him weren’t faced with. In this play he shows off his ability to stand tall and take a hit while making a throw. One play after a missed facemask penalty by DeMarcus Christmas sacked him, Watson shifts out of the collapsing pocket, plants, and makes a throw to Renfrow for a near first down in the fourth quarter.

4. vs. Auburn

auburn

Plays like these are where the velocity problems will show up with Watson. Outside screen and swing passes are often going to be led by wide receivers blocking, and they cannot be expected to hold their blocks for more than a few seconds. The premise is to create a hole for the screen receiver to be able to get around those defenders and get to the open field. When the ball takes too long to get to the receiver, the blocks will be lost and the receiver is not going to get where he needs to go (in this case, the first down marker). While Mike Williams is one of the best physical pass catchers in college football last year, he should not be expected to beat a linebacker coming right for him and get the extra yard for the first down. If the ball is there sooner from Watson, he has a better chance, but it fails because of the slow delivery.

5. vs. South Carolina

scar

The final play we’ll look at is one against South Carolina. While most teams don’t often continue passing while up by 35 points in the second half, Clemson did, and it worked out for them here. This play shows Watson’s anticipation skills. He has a wheel route run out of the backfield by running back Corey Fuller, which was a common play for the team in 2016. Before Fuller even beats his man, Watson is preparing to throw to him. He uses a pump fake to move the linebacker, which gives the receiver a better chance to use his speed to win the route. Watson then drops a nice, arcing pass over the linebacker to Fuller, who is able to bring it down in the end zone and collecting the 6th touchdown for the Tigers on the day.

Conclusion

While Watson may have some knocks to his game, such a few questionable decisions and a slow velocity, he is the best quarterback in this year’s draft. While he should not be given full credit for beating Alabama in the National Championship game, he is a quarterback that puts his team in the best position to succeed and will not be making mistakes when the game is on the line. Watson may not be the first quarterback picked in this year’s draft, but he certainly has the tools to be the most successful of the bunch.

 

Teams That Could Host The Johnny Manziel Comeback

After a tumultuous two seasons in the NFL, Johnny Manziel was out of the pros in 2016. He has suffered due to a lack of discipline and poor play, including the team around him when he played in Cleveland. While Manziel showed some flashes, he ultimately was not what the Browns were looking for, and after a domestic violence charge came up, he was released in early 2016. After a year off, a stint in rehab, and some personal work, the former Texas A&M star is ready to compete for a job in the NFL again. There are plenty of teams in need of a quarterback, and word is that not many executives are high on this year’s draft class. Now that the first wave of free agency is over and some teams may still be looking for a signal caller, here are a few team names that could be thrown around in the hunt for Manziel, if they believe he is ready to come back and earn his spot.

Cleveland Browns

A sort of homecoming for Manziel, he could return to the team that selected him 22nd overall in the 2014 Draft, but with a whole new and improved executive team and coaching staff above him. Former GM Ray Farmer, who made the choice, is long gone, and has been replaced by Sashi Brown, who is working towards a more analytics-based decision making process. They also removed coach Mike Pettine, and replaced him with former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. The team is slowly improving, and with new coach Hue Jackson at the helm, and no true starting quarterback on the team, Manziel could return to a better roster and make some magic happen for Cleveland as they search for their first playoff birth in forever. The Browns fortified their offensive line this offseason with the signings of Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter, and they have some improved weapons in Isaiah Crowell and Kenny Britt. The team appears to be on the upswing, and with the draft capital they have in 2017, Cleveland could be making moves in the regular season if Manziel was at the helm.

Houston Texans

The Texans are even more of a hometown team of Johnny Football, who grew up a few hours from Houston. With a stellar defense, a good running game, and some new receivers that will improve with time, it appears as though Manziel would be a great fit for the team. Head coach Bill O’Brien recently lost his starter in Brock Osweiler, who was horrid in his one season in Houston, and it seems doubtful that he has full confidence in fellow 2014 Draft mate Tom Savage. Manziel would be a great fit, and his running ability would add a new wrinkle to an offense that could be even more exciting. With a star receiver like DeAndre Hopkins, a burner in Will Fuller, a young up-and-comer in Braxton Miller, and one of the league’s most exciting players in Manziel, the Texans would be back in the playoff hunt in 2017.

New Orleans Saints

Drew Brees isn’t getting any younger, and the Saints will need to look for a replacement in the near future. The 38 year old is still playing at a level as high as he ever has been at, and the “air-raid”-esque play style is still on full display. The Saints have no hope with Garrett Grayson being a future starter, and Luke McCown is nothing special. With an infusion of talent, the offense could keep up its high level of play and bring some exciting new opportunities with it. Although they recently traded Brandin Cooks, they still have a second year #1 wide receiver in Michael Thomas, and Willie Snead has been a great secondary option in recent years. With some additions to the offensive line and the continued slightly-above-average performance of Mark Ingram, Manziel could be an addition to the team that allows the team to stay in contention. The coaching staff has been in place for some time, and will likely be around for a while, which is ideal for a quarterback who could use a stable organization that can put its confidence behind him.

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals are in a positions similar to the Saints’, with a quarterback unlikely to be around much longer and no solid presence behind him. While Larry Fitzgerald is also likely retiring after the 2017 season, there are still exciting players on the offense like John Brown and David Johnson, who can be centerpieces for the team moving forward. Add in a high first round draft pick where they could possibly add a future #1 target in Mike Williams or Corey Davis, and the team is sitting pretty instead of using a first round pick to draft a future QB replacement. Bruce Arians has been a strong coach for the team, leading them to the NFC Championship in 2015 before suffering in a down year from Carson Palmer. The team must take stock at the quarterback position and look towards the future, and the future could be found in Manziel. He would be an exciting fit, with a deep game working with Brown and a reliable check-down and running presence in Johnson.

Pittsburgh Steelers

While it seems very unlikely, the Steelers also fall into the same category as the aforementioned two teams above. Ben Roethlisberger was weary of returning to the game in 2017, and the options behind him are slim. Landry Jones is not a full-time NFL starter, and Zach Mettenberger is ineffective. Imagining an offense with Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Manziel is scary. It would easily be the most exciting in the league, and one of the fastest as well. The team already scores at will, and with a new element in the offense, it would be even better. Mike Tomlin is a great player’s coach who could keep Manziel in the game, and the offense run by Pittsburgh is a fun one. Now that Antonio Brown is locked up and Bell is scheduled to get a great payday, it would be best to invest in a low-priced option that could end up scoring big for the team, and allow them to compete for the throne in the AFC for years to come after Ben’s departure.