In this week’s Inside the War Room I take a look at the top senior outside linebackers, give a report on the Minnesota Vikings rookies, name our Player of the Week, and much more.
Top Senior Outside Linebacker
This year’s outside linebacker class is led by players who played different positions in college, and would not be considered your traditional typical outside linebacker. The second tier of this position is where you find your more traditional linebackers led by this week’s Player of the Week Collin Ellis of Northwestern.
1. Vic Beasley Clemson 6-2 235
Beasley plays defensive end for the Tigers, but stands up most of the time so switching to outside linebacker in the NFL should be a smooth transition. One area he needs to improve on is his coverage ability, since he is not asked to drop in coverage very often at Clemson.
2. Norkeithus Otis North Carolina 6-1 235
Otis is not your traditional outside linebacker, having played the Bandit position in North Carolina’s defense last season. In this position he is required to play down as a defensive end at times, and stand up as an outside linebacker at other times. He shows excellent speed, and overall athletic ability which should help earn him a late first round grade.
3. Tony Washington Oregon 6-3 250
Washington is another outside linebackers whose primary responsibility is to rush the passer. In 2013 he led the team in sacks with 7.5, and tackles for loss with 12.5. He has nice versatility as well showing the ability to play defensive end, and he has the frame to add weight and play DE in the NFL.
4. Derrick Malone Oregon 6-2 220
Malone teams up with my number three outside linebacker Tony Washington to form one of the top linebacker units in college football. While Malone plays inside linebacker I project him to outside linebacker due to a lack of bulk. He is an outstanding tackler who led Oregon in tackles last year with 105 tackles, and shows good range which should allow him to hold up well in coverage.
5. James Vaughters Stanford 6-2 254
Vaughters is a player that is ranked as a top five outside linebacker based off of potential instead of production. Last season he only recorded 36 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks. However, he shows good athletic ability, and has outstanding size for an outside linebacker.
Zach Hodges Harvard 6-3 235 #10 OLB
Hodges plays defensive end for the Harvard, and shows a great burst off the line of scrimmage. Unfortunately he lacks the size to play defensive end in the NFL, so he will have to make the switch to outside linebacker. If he can prove he has the athletic ability to make this switch look for him to be the top small school outside linebacker drafted.
Zaire Anderson Nebraska 5-11 220 #15 OLB
Anderson is an undersized outside linebacker who flies around the field. He should have even a stronger year this season now that he is two years removed from his torn ACL he suffered in 2012.
Darius Allen Colorado State-Pueblo 6-3 239 #16 OLB
Allen is yet another defensive end who will have to make the transition to outside linebacker due to a lack of size. He shows a good burst off the line of scrimmage, and is a proven pass rusher recording 15.5 sacks last season.
This week I made my first football road trip of the year when I traveled up to Mankato, Minnesota to watch the Vikings training camp. The primary reason I made this trip was to see how the Vikings rookies were progressing, and to see how the team looked overall.
On the offensive side of the ball the most hyped rookie is first round pick Teddy Bridgewater. The team ran a lot smoother when Bridgewater was under center compared to when Matt Cassel was in charge. He had a good command of the huddle, and showed a presence you don’t normally see from a rookie quarterback. He showed nice accuracy as well, especially on the short to intermediate passes. One concern I have with his play is that he lacks a rocket arm, and under threw several wheel routes when throwing to his running backs. The rookie I came away impressed the most with was third round pick Jerick McKinnon who showed excellent hands coming out of the backfield. He has good explosion and overall quickness. Look for McKinnon to be a good replacement for running back Toby Gerhart who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. One other offensive rookie who should play a factor for the Vikings in the future is offensive lineman David Yankey who looked a lot quicker than he did at Stanford.
On the defensive side of the ball the most impressive rookie was first round draft pick Anthony Barr. Barr showed excellent pass rushing ability when blitzing which the Vikings did with him quite a lot. He did struggle some in coverage, and looked lost at times which is to be expected since he was rarely used in this capacity at UCLA. The only other defensive rookie who caught my eye was defensive end Scott Crichton who showed nice power at the point of attack. The coached were focused mainly on his hand use though which he struggled with at times.
Overall, it should be an interesting year for the Vikings this season. I think one player who should have a tremendous impact this year is second year wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson who looked very impressive. The team got the ball in his hands in several ways including a nice reverse play. One thing I did not come away impressed with was the tempo of practice. The practice moved at a very slow rate, and players were walking from drill to drill on several occasions which is never a good sign. The speed of practice did improve when the team scrimmaged at the end of practice, but that only last for 20 minutes. It should be an interesting season for the Vikings this year, especially if I don’t see more intensity from this team.
Prospect of the Week
This week’s Prospect of the Week is one of the most underrated linebackers in the 2015 NFL Draft Class in Collin Ellis of Northwestern. Ellis’s first year as a full time starter was last season, and he took full advantage of this opportunity. He finished fifth on the team in tackles with 78, recorded three interceptions two which he returned for touchdowns, and also recorded 5.5 tackles for loss. His biggest game of the year came against California where he recorded two of his three interceptions both of which he returned for touchdowns. His effort against California allowed him to be named Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week honors. He also had an impressive effort against Ohio State where he recorded a career high 10 tackles.
When scouting Ellis the first thing that stands out to me is his impressive instincts. His instincts, and overall football intelligence allows him to make plays on a regular bases that he otherwise would not be able to make. Ellis also carries his intelligent play into the classroom being named Academic All-Big Ten for three consecutive years. Another positive with this prospect is his ability to hold up in pass coverage. He has shown the ability to cover college tight ends, and should be able to do this in the NFL as well. One more positive with this prospect is his character as his coaches’ rave about his overall character.
One of the biggest concerns I have with Ellis is his ability to get off blocks. When an offensive lineman gets his hands on him he has a very hard time getting off of the block. If he uses his hands better, and shows better technique overall I think he can significantly improve in this area. Another thing that will concern NFL teams about Ellis is that he has battled injuries throughout his career, and his first year of truly being healthy was last season. One more concern I have with Ellis is that he only has average athletic ability with CBSSports.com currently listing his 40-yard dash time at 4.69 which would put him in the middle of the pack in terms of speed for outside linebackers. This is far from a horrible time for an outside linebacker, and his great instincts allow him to make up for his lack of outstanding speed.
Overall, Ellis is one of the more underrated outside linebackers in this year’s draft. I have seen him rated as low as a player who might not even get drafted. I obviously don’t agree with these rankings, and currently have him rated as the seventh best senior outside linebacker which would earn him a third or fourth round draft grade.
Ten Football Thoughts
1. I think another defensive back from Pitt State to keep an eye on is S Keeston Terry. Terry started his career off at Kansas, but decided to transfer after Charlie Weis took the head coaching job. Weis found out about this and decided to dismiss Terry from the team. Terry has been getting plenty of looks from NFL teams, and currently carries a late round draft grade. Last week, I talked about how much I liked his teammate Devante Bausby who is currently my seventh best senior cornerback, and number one Division II prospect.
2. I think it would be tremendous surprise if Oregon QB Marcus Mariota returns for his senior season. This semester he is taking yoga and golf so he can focus on football. If he declares for the draft he will most likely be the top QB, and a top-10 pick.
3. I think Costal Carolina outside linebacker Quinn Backus will have to move to safety in the NFL. At 5-10 215 pounds he lacks the size, and strength to play linebacker. He has been extremely productive at Coastal Carolina recording 314 tackles and 20 tackles for loss during his college career.
4. I think one player I overlooked in my initial running back rankings is Ball State RB Jahwan Edwards. Edwards is a powerful runner who very rarely goes down on first contact. He is a proficient pass blocker, who can hold up as a blocker in the passing game. The biggest concern I have with him is that he lacks NFL speed, and the fact he doesn’t have the quick burst I would like to see in a running back.
5. I think another player I overlooked in my initial rankings is South Carolina WR Damiere Byrd. Byrd is one of the fastest players in college football posting a 4.30 40-yard dash. This speed allows him to be a deep threat, and last season he averaged 17.4 yards per reception. He needs to prove he can be a complete receiver though, and not just a one-trick pony.
6. I think South Carolina RB Mike Davis will be making the smart choice if he decided to go pro after this season like Steve Spurrier has said he will. Davis is currently not rated as a first round pick on my board, but he plays a position RB that has a short career span in the NFL. I think he will likely be a third round draft pick assuming he has another solid season this year.
7. I think Brian Hoyer will win the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback job over Johnny Manziel. I also think he will remain the starter throughout the season unless an injury happens.
8. I think a player who will turn heads with his amazing speed this season is Purdue RB Raheem Mostert. Mostert has 4.32 40-yard dash speed, and is threat to break off a long run any time he touches the ball. He also is a proven return man averaging 23.5 yards on kickoff returns last season. He needs to prove he can be a threat as a running back as he only rushed for 37 yards with an average of 3.4 yards per rush last season.
9. I think a player ready for a breakout season this year is Washington State WR Vince Mayle. Mayle only has played two years of college football, including one season at Sierra Junior College. He has been making significant gains in the weight room as well dropping twenty pounds this offseason.
10. I think the top NAIA special teams player is St. Ambrose punter Matt Klingler. Last season, he averaged 45.6 yards per punt, and nine of his 22 punts traveled at least 60 yards. He should get strong interest from NFL teams as an undrafted free agent.
Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff did three reps on the hang clean at 443 pounds. … Texas has dismissed senior RB Joe Bergeron from the team, and it looks like he will attend West Texas A&M next season. … Stanford WR Ty Montgomery might miss the UC-Davis, and USC game due to an arm injury that cost him to miss all of spring ball. I currently have Montgomery rated as my number two senior wide receiver. … Look for Auburn DT Gabe Wright to play both defensive end, and defensive tackle this year. … Oregon State junior C Isaac Seumalo could miss the first two weeks of the season due to a broken foot he suffered last season. … Ohio State QB Braxton Miller is down to seven percent body fat. … UCLA junior QB Brett Hundley, and Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will be eligible for the Senior Bowl. … After meeting with Texas head coach Charlie Strong S Josh Turner will get a second chance, and will remain a part of the Texas football team. … Former Alabama RB Dee Hart will transfer to Colorado State. Hart has already graduated so he will be able to play this season. …Former Texas A&M DE Gavin Stansbury will transfer to Houston. Stansbury will be eligible to play this season since he has already graduated. … Bowling Green WR Chris Gallon will miss this season due to injury. …
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