After watching film until I had become one with the monitor and clicker, I finally threw in the towel as far as writing full pieces on the draft. As is ever the case, there were a few people I couldn’t get to and several stories that asked to be told, but I lost the race with time and health. Here are some of the players that I still thought were worth writing about:
Datone Jones - UCLA - 6-4, 283 lb.
Living out here in California, I watched a lot of Datone Jones’s work for UCLA. He's a very impressive player, and his physical skills are not in question. He’s got a decent explosion, he’s got good size and strength, and his technique is coming along well. I like him. Some mocks have linked him to Denver, and with good reason, especially following the Dumervil departure debacle.
I also have to acknowledge that Jones drives even his supporters crazy with his tendency to lose concentration at times; he can be dominating, but suddenly put in a lackluster effort. In the NFL - and especially if he’s playing under Jack Del Rio - that's unforgivable.
On the other hand, when his head is in the right place, he's an extremely productive player who brings to the table speed off the edge, a good level of technique for a college player, and the physical gifts to be a starting right defensive end. He is also a vocal leader both on the field and in the locker room.
That's what makes his sudden lapses particularly perplexing - and irritating. Despite that flaw, he’s got the size, strength (his 29 reps on the bench at combine matched what he shows on film) and the speed to be a very good DE. His technique is, as it is with most of them, a work in progress, but there’s a lot to like in his hand use and his cornering - he can drop his hips, and dip and rip with the best of them. He can get to the QB and he can set an edge, as well as being effective in pursuit. I found it interesting that a lot of people have compared him to Robert Ayers - he has tons of potential, but it didn’t come out until his senior season, and even then, he did have some ‘off’ series.
Although Jones has shown himself to be sometimes erratic, I don’t take that too far. He’s also an unusually gifted player - which is one reason that when he isn’t focused, it shows. If he were 15 lb heavier, he’d be ranked highly as a 3-technique pass-rushing DT. As it is, he could roll to the DT in college - he isn’t big enough for that in the NFL at this point, but it could easily happen. He uses his hands well, extends his arms when he can’t get inside the OL’s hand position, has quick feet, and knows how to turn slightly to ‘get skinny’ and cut through (or ‘press’) a gap in the LOS.
His upside is purely predicated on his adherence to his craft: he’s got all the natural gifts and ability he could need. It’s going to up to him to prove that he’s got the head and the heart. If he passes the interviews, he’s an interesting option.
Damontre Moore - Texas A&M - 6-4, 250 lb
Oddly enough, I've had an uncomfortable feeling when watching this player for a long time. With the glow still lingering from Von Miller's time at the same school and Damontre taking over Miller’s joker role, I really wanted to like Moore. I saw him do some very good things, but I was surprised at how often he was stymied.
When he put up only 12 repetitions of the 225 pound bar at the combine, I had part of my answer. He got that up to 19 at his Pro Day, but he tweaked a hamstring in agility drills and couldn’t improve on his lackluster 4.94-second forty-yard dash combine time or finish his workout, and it didn’t help his cause. His tape will still see him drafted highly - I just don’t know that it will be Round 1. He’s slender, but so is Greg Hardy, and that hasn’t stopped him. He could be best as an odd-front LB whose role includes a lot of pass rushing.
I don't think that the bench press is big by itself, and alone, the speed issue doesn’t bother me much. However, his trouble with them fits into what did bug me when watching several games during the season. I saw him having trouble getting the right leverage to move past or through players that he should have been able to handle with ease. There was a lot that he could get away with in college that won’t fly in the pros, where every player is very good.
I'm not saying that he's not a good player - he is. I’d be cautious with him in terms of the role Denver wants to fill, though. He’s not an easy fit in Denver’s scheme. He’s light in weight as well as low in strength for a DE, and Denver’s been moving to a bigger, stronger, versatile line. When you add the scheme point into his speed and strength issues, I’d put him at ‘buyer beware’.
He’d be coming in as a pass-rush specialist and a special teamer - good areas for the team to improve, but also a limited role. That’s common among lower round players drafted into the NFL, but not high-round ones. My issue is whether his weaknesses could be too much for him to be effective in the pro game, especially in a starting role. Working as more of a linebacker in an odd-front defense and having more powerful players in front of him chould help his efforts.
Eric Herman - University of Ohio - 6-4, 320 lb
During the Combine, Mike Mayock made the comment that Eric Herman, a guard out of the University of Ohio, may be the single toughest man in the 2013 Draft. I managed to find some of his film, and I watched him as much as he was shown at the combine, and from the little I could find on him, I'd tentatively agree with Mayock. You may not hear his name called until Saturday, but outstanding athletic talent isn't everything. Last season, a lot of folks called Derek Wolfe ‘just’ an effort guy. This kid has that same kind of attitude, and the size to back it up.
Herman comes from a small school. As such, he doesn't get the attention a Division I player would. If that hypothetical player played the way Herman does, they'd get noticed right away. He has good size for an NFL guard. He still struggles to keep his pad level low enough (a very common issue for players coming out of college) but he's got a mean streak, loves to pancake defenders, finishes to the whistle, is very, very strong, and is coming along fine with his technique.
I think that he’s a fine example of why so many NFL offensive linemen are taken late or come out as college free agents, yet go on to very successful careers. I expect that he will do the same. Denver may be fine in their OL interior, but he’s going to make some team better. I thought that he deserves some press.
Bjoern Werner - Florida State - 6-3, 266 lb
Werner is a very interesting guy. I read that Mel Kiper has predicted that he'll drop to the second round, and I hope that's true - mostly because I think the Broncos are probably going to trade down a little bit (if they can find a trade partner), and I'd love to see them pick this young man up. There are several good early choices for Denver - he is certainly one of them.
He grew up in Germany and he's late in coming to football. If you leave that aside for a moment, you see a highly athletic player who has speed, quickness, plenty of power, and who can put on even more size if desired. He was ranked is a first-team All-American by eight organizations, and added a second-team All-American ranking with two more. When you put on the film, it's easy to see why. Unlike Margus Hunt, he’s been in the game long enough to really have developed his technique. When you add that to his natural skills, you’ve got a very solid player. He’s the kind of ‘won’t disappoint’ choice that a team needs with a late first- or early second-round pick.
He's learned quickly so far, and he's just going to get better. It's interesting - there was a time when the NFL ‘discovered’ the traditionally black colleges, and the draft changed because of it. The same happened with small schools to a different extent. Football is truly becoming international at this point, and several of the top players in the draft including Werner, Margus Hunt, Jesse Williams, Menelik Watson, and Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah all grew up in other countries. I imagine that in the NFL, like the NBA, this will become increasingly common, and it’s a nice trend to see. I hope more young men around the globe are drawn to the sport.
There are literally dozens more players that impressed me who are in this draft. Every year is different, but this crop is unusual in the quality of players who will go in the middle, upper middle, and even late rounds. I’ve seen several who I’d expect to have impressive careers. For a team like Denver, which has the potential to win out and who has a few needs that are certain to be addressed in the draft, that’s a comforting circumstance.
I’ve no doubt that John Elway has his draft team ready and his approaches, given the many variables for a late first round start, worked out. This will be the first year without Brian Xanders, so I’ll be interested in how and whether they move around - with Xanders gone, will they still maintain their ability to move around? It’s going to be fun to find out.