As much as I value pre-draft evaluations, the prospect’s landing spot is a pivotal part of the process. Few talents can transcend any scheme and impact their team’s success. In fact, plenty of starters and contributors at the NFL level only fill certain roles and might not be considered a long term starter at that position. It is all about figuring out where a player wins and giving them a chance to succeed in that area. In this series I will take a look at prospects selected on the third day that could offer an immediate impact thanks to their strengths and situations. I will never call myself an expert on the coverages and schemes that are included, but I am working hard to learn, so feel free to (politely) point me in the right direction. With that said, I cannot recommend this defensive write up by Jene Bramel enough.
Plenty has been made about Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 scheme in Dallas. How will the team’s pass rush and personnel transition from a three man front with pass rushing outside linebackers to down defensive ends in a four man front. Pressure on the quarterback will be critical, as is Sean Lee’s health to run the pipe in the middle of the Tampa-2 coverage. With Lee manning the inside linebacker spot, the improving Bruce Carter should see plenty of ball carriers funneled his way from the weakside.
In terms of the linebacker group, the competition for the strong side position appears to be fairly open. With that said, do not sleep on sixth-round pick DeVonte Holloman from South Carolina. When discussing former safety or “spur” prospects who have bulked up, the immediate assumption is they project to the weakside. However, I see Holloman’s best projection as lining up to the strength of the formation and potentially even on the line of scrimmage in a 4-3 under scheme.
Before I go any further, let me admit to being a big fan of Holloman’s. In fact he checked in at No. 65 on my pre-draft top 151. Some might question that listing, since the Gamecock linebacker was selected with pick No. 185, but these things happen.
A consistent pass rush and rangy safeties can be important for any base cover 2 defense, but, against the run, Kiffin and the on-field talent will attempt to funnel ball carriers inside to the downhill linebackers in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. When aligned at the end of the formation at the line of scrimmage, Holloman consistently used his length/leverage to create separation, while keeping his outside arm free, to force runs back inside or even make the tackle. This will have to continue in the NFL, since Holloman should see plenty of tight end and lead blockers on his side of the field. There were obvious times when Holloman led with his shoulder and lost backfield vision, but more often than not he played with good pad level and under control as to not get sealed off. On top of that, Holloman flashed some pass rushing ability with an arm over swim move and willingness to play big when closing on the passer after turning the corner.
When at the second level, Holloman was a bit more lackadaisical, showing less urgency to attack blockers and beat them immediately. That is not to say he was overmatched, but too often he did little other than accomplishing his assignment, which was to take on tight ends and offensive linemen and funnel things inside.
As a former safety, many would immediately surmise Holloman’s strength is in coverage. I wouldn’t go that far and instead evaluate his ability in zone as adequate. He was asked to play plenty of curl to flat coverage in his area of the field, but Holloman struggled to restart his momentum once slowing down on multiple breaking routes. I do like how he attempted to find his assignment through his hands, then turned to find the quarterback’s eyes. That contact to slow his opposition will definitely be necessary, especially if aligned at the line of scrimmage over top or next to tight ends.
Holloman also saw snaps in man coverage over top of detached tight ends. He seemed more comfortable in these situations, keeping that contact downfield and disrupting at the catch point. However, just like the flashes in the running game, Holloman could be caught flat footed or with a passive attitude, and it was apparent on slants crossing over his face.
There are obvious times when the game slows down for Holloman, which is a good thing. Attempting to strip the ball from ball carriers’ hands, locating a tipped pass in coverage to come down with the interception, playing big with his arms extended to cut off a running back’s angles and make the tackle in space. I never saw him get dominated at the point of attack, and outside of a handful of snaps, Holloman was a competitor in a variety of alignments. An understanding of how to shed blocks and never letting the opposition’s hands into your chest is a transcendent trait.
I truly do think Holloman can start on the strong side. Now, that might not happen immediately, since teams’ expectations for sixth-round selections are quite low. And even claiming a player to be a potential starter isn’t a ringing endorsement. However, Holloman can help a team win, which is the base level evaluation you want in every draft selection.