There is nothing like it. A gaze locked onto a foreign individual that results in instant admiration. The kind of time-slowing, cliché filled, unbreakable stare that makes you forget everything else clouding your brain. Questions start spinning in your head. “Are they new? Why have I never noticed them before? Should I believe what I am seeing?”
And most importantly, “Did he really take the football right out of the quarterback’s hands on a designed bubble screen, flash excellent balance through the hole while avoiding backfield penetration, accelerate past the second level, and evade a closing safety in the open field after breaking away from the pack on a 48 yard touchdown run?”
I’ll admit it, love at first sight crosses over into football.
When I evaluate, I do my best to spotlight a player, singling them out while focusing on their skills. Sure, when looking at certain positions an entire unit or scheme must be taken into consideration if I am trying to determine if a player did their “job”. But more often than not, I overlook surrounding prospects until it is their turn. That is one reason why I spend the summer predominantly focusing on seniors despite receiving plenty of questions on juniors and sophomores. The prospects who will unequivocally be in the 2013 Draft deserve attention right now.
With that said, I wanted to share a handful of seniors that fit in the “love at first sight” classification. This does not necessarily mean these prospects stand atop my rankings, rather they showed memorable flashes that left me with an excellent first impression. I attempted to look beyond the communal favorites like Tyler Wilson, Matt Barkley, Star Lotulelei, and Manti Te’o, so some familiar names will not appear on this list.
Texas A&M RB Christine Michael (5’11/215/4.49) - Between his balance, frame, vision, and agility, there is a lot to like about Michael and he is my top-rated senior at the position. He certainly has the physical elements of a heftier back, consistently finishing runs to gain extra yards. But Michael also offers the lateral moves of a smaller back to evade tacklers. He is the best of both worlds. The combination of either making tacklers miss in the hole or bulling them over on short runs is certainly coveted at the next level.
Area(s) to improve- The only question I have with Michael is health after tearing his left ACL in early November. Not only does he need to start this season strong, but Michael has to show the same lateral skills and speed that make him an excellent ball carrier. Cuts off of his left foot cannot command extra steps.
Texas A&M OLB Sean Porter (6’1/230/4.62) - I do my best to stay away from comparing prospects that attended the same school, but I swear Porter’s No. 10 jersey looks like a No. 40 at times (Von Miller). Porter does not possess equal size, however, he utilizes the same bend and dip on the edge that Miller made famous. The Aggie takes direct angles at the quarterback, choosing his own path with length, balance, and flexibility rather than reacting to the pocket formed by his opposition. He already flashes a nice bull rush extension to the tackle’s chest with a skinny release to disrupt the backfield in mere moments. The fact that he already wastes very little movement when pass rushing, playing the run, or in coverage makes Porter standout among his competition.
Area(s) to improve- Texas A&M is moving to a more traditional 4-3 defensive scheme, so Porter’s pass rush opportunities may be limited.The switch could be a blessing in disguise, because unlike other four man front backers, Porter has already exhibited excellent skills when getting after the quarterback. This will give him an opportunity to showcase a possible fit at either strong or weakside linebacker.
Alabama G Chance Warmack (6’2/320/5.32) - Barrett Jones and D.J. Fluker get a lot of publicity, but I believe Warmack is the Crimson Tide’s best offensive lineman. Built like a fire hydrant, Warmack has excellent posture to quickly gain control of the opposition and leverage under their pads. He is constantly working to get into proper position, and once he is there Warmack is tough to get off balance or move. Although his agility to get to the second level or pull is severely lacking, Warmack mirrors well laterally in pass protection. Not only is it very difficult to get him moving backwards, but Warmack consistently delivers a devastating pop off the snap to gain control of interior defensive linemen and continues to wear down opponents. He never quits.
Area(s) to improve- It may be impossible, but in order to appeal to all teams, Warmack has to do better when on the move. He leaves the line of scrimmage with correct timing but too often does not get out of the ball carriers way in time. Warmack can contact the nose tackle on a double team, pass him off, then occupy a linebacker after a linear angle, but anything in space just does not have the right timing.
Miami (Ohio) QB Zac Dysert (6’3/214/4.83) - Dysert is the best senior quarterback that no one is talking about. To start, he has experience from under center, the pistol, and from shotgun and exhibits confident footwork from each. He is an excellent timing passer, firing off of his back foot with a well placed pass before the receiver’s head turns. But Dysert should not be limited by the “timing” label. He consistently flashes active vision while resetting his feet after stepping up in the pocket without focusing on the pass rush. It is great to see a quarterback that can quickly question and move on from his first read or decision knowing that a better choice may be available. Dysert’s top to bottom release allows passes to sail over underneath coverage and he is unafraid of testing collapsing windows when facing zone coverage.
Area(s) to improve- Dysert shows a live arm, but for some reason he arches his vertical throws too much. These passes need to be on a tighter line, and he certainly has the arm strength to do it. Also, Dysert needs to do a better job of surveying the entire field. I am certainly not going to claim I watched every single one of his snaps, but from what I saw he seems to favor the right side of the field.
Oregon DE/OLB Dion Jordan (6’6/246/4.74) - It is immediately evident why Jordan has earned the nickname “The Praying Mantis” from his teammates. His functional length is noticeable from the drop-end position, but unlike other lean pass rushers Jordan has strength and uses active hands to keep separation. The amount of power he flashes to force offensive linemen off balance is surprising, and his long steps in operational space allows him to close quickly. It is also obvious that Jordan loves to finish, unloading on ball carriers after chasing from the back side. The Ducks use him all over the field, jamming corners at the line, covering the curls to flats in zone, and changing his pass rush angles from multiple gaps. His combination of physical play and natural gifts make Jordan very intriguing.
Area(s) to improve- Jordan is not as stiff as other long pass rushers, but he does not bend around the edge to finish sacks as much as he should. He has flashed it, but not consistently. Also, Jordan’s rush angles get too wide at times, choosing to loop around tackles rather than planting his outside foot and work back in. I really think he is just scratching the surface.
Tennessee T/G Dallas Thomas (6’5/305/5.08) - Despite his projected move to guard this season, Thomas remains my top senior prospect at left tackle. His athletic lower body sets him apart, with quick footwork to mirror, confident steps to form a pocket and finally the knee bend to absorb and stunt the pass rusher’s momentum. Thomas is not a waist-bender, instead exhibiting correct posture while sitting back in his stance at appropriate times. When asked to get to the second level, Thomas is consistently the first one to hit his target. His move inside may be a waste of talent since he performed so well on an island outside, but I would not be surprised if Thomas draws Brandon Albert comparisons in terms of early-pick guard to tackle projections leading up to the 2013 Draft.
Area(s) to improve- Thomas has to get stronger in the upper body, as his upper half is constantly jolted on first contact. Part of the issue is that Thomas’ hands start too low on his punch to extend. The sooner he utilizes his length, the sooner his lower body gets to take over the heavy lifting.