The NFL Draft was a week ago today. So we figured it was about time to stop comiendo mierda and break shit down and see just how we did. We asked star commenter/draft expert/beer holster owning/gentleman of leisure Chris Kouffman (ckparrot) to break down each prospect from this year's class and give us either a thumbs up or down on each of them. CK knows his shit. He's been featured on Dave Hyde's column in the Sun-Sentinel and you can get more of his draft expertise over at Bleacher Report as well as his NFL Draft site Universal Draft. But this 2012 Dolphins Draft breakdown is exclusive to FN so all other Dolphins blogs can eat a penis sandwich. It's long reading, but good reading. COMPREHENSIVE! This is part two of two. You can read part one here. Follow CK on twitter. Enjoy. Tits.
#097. RB Lamar Miller, Miami (FL) – Thumbs Up
If I was already sounding like a zombie fan, now I am going to start sounding like a straight up fanboy. I loved this pick by Jeff Ireland. I do not know if I would have had the vision to move up for Miller as he did, but he did and I applaud him for it. It would have been a tough decision because I adore wide receiver Devon Wylie of Fresno State, and the #103 overall pick is where I had been slating the Dolphins to pick him up in the my own fantasy world.
But the truth is, Lamar Miller is probably a better pick. I had him as the third best tailback in the Draft behind Trent Richardson and Doug Martin. I don’t understand how a Lamar Miller goes in the 4th round while a David Wilson goes in the late 1st round. That does not compute with me. Evidently, it did not compute with Jeff Ireland either, because he could not justify ignoring Miller any longer. I believe the Dolphins took Michael Egnew knowing they did not have the same grade on him that they had on Lamar Miller, but a true seam threat was such a strong need for Joe Philbin that they needed to make that pick. The trade down that Ireland executed before he took Egnew was a testament to that. But apparently he and the front office had all night to think about things and they decided trading up for Miller was the best thing they could do and I would not be shocked if they had a high 2nd round grade on Miller
Is he deserving of that grade? I think so. He is a true homerun threat with legitimate 4.37 speed (re-timed) that shows up on the football field. When he gets in the open field, he takes it to the house. Ronnie Brown was an example of a guy that had great timed speed when he came out of Auburn but looked clueless when he got into the open field. Lamar Miller goes straight from 2nd gear to 4th. He hits the B button, and then it’s over.
It is interesting that because of the burst, he is actually a very patient runner that uses his vision to set up his blocks before bursting through the hole. This is sort of like a quarterback that doesn’t mind backing up and creating extra spacing to buffer him against the pass rush, because he knows he has a cannon for an arm and can hit a pass from any distance. Guys that can’t hit the B button are tempted to be more impatient but Miller knows he can turn it on as needed, so he stays patient.
There are a few more things you have to appreciate about Lamar Miller. For one, he actually has very good hands for catching the football. For another, he drags a lot of tacklers and gets a lot of yards after contact for a speed back. If you had to guess which players were among the best in broken tackles per carry in 2010 and 2011, you would probably tend toward bruisers like Michael Turner, Maurice Jones-Drew, Adrian Peterson, etc. You would not be off. However, you would also find guys like Chris Johnson and LeSean McCoy at the top of those lists. You can go as far back as the Virginia Tech game in 2010 to find Lamar Miller dragging players around with brute strength, but a lot of tacklers fall off him because he’s just too fast and trying to make solid contact with him is too difficult.
The final aspect of Miller’s game to appreciate is his instincts for protecting the football, which is what gives him the edge over David Wilson in my opinion. You can see in the games, he is a guy that knows how to change the ball away from contact and cover it up in traffic. He is very diligent about that. It is therefore not surprising that in 381 total touches, he has only lost two fumbles.
There is one significant down side to Lamar Miller as a prospect. Like it or not, he is not yet a significant touchdown maker. He does not spin tight red zone carries into touchdown gold with great efficiency yet, if ever. Also, he has some work to do on his body to get it built better for the NFL game.
Around this point is where Jeff Ireland started to lose me a little. It’s remarkable, especially given past history, that it took him six picks before he finally made one with which I didn’t agree. With guys like Marvin Jones, Juron Criner, George Iloka, Winston Guy and Danny Coale still on the board but destined to be gone by pick #183, I have a tough time with the idea of picking Josh Kaddu. This is especially true when you consider they originally had the #145 pick and got cute, trading down ten spaces, and watching the Bills draft TCU’s Tank Carder because of that trade.
Kaddu is not necessarily a bad player. Some may not agree with this, but I see him tending toward being a physical, two-down player at the next level. He had sack production at Oregon, but as a blitzer rather than a pass rusher. I can absolutely see the temptation for drafting him as he has a good frame, shows closing speed and physicality, and he had a lot of sacks and plays on the quarterback. However, this can often be fool’s gold. Jeff Ireland probably sees another Kevin Burnett in him. He will probably play well on special teams. Where the rubber meets the road with him is how you play him in the scheme. I question his coverage ability and that is where I think the comparison with Burnett ends. I question his instincts for stopping the run. Those are the important aspects of playing the game from that position, not blitzing.
Now that I’ve said all that, he will surely be a perennial All Pro.
Choosing against Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt was interesting at this pick. He was still available on the board, yet the team that boasts former Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe as its wide receivers coach decided against McNutt. One would hope that Jeff Ireland had O’Keefe’s blessing on that non-choice, but I doubt he bothered to ask him specifically. If they had his blessing on it, then I am OK with letting McNutt go, because nobody would know better than O’Keefe whether he has the goods.
However, the Dolphins also let an offensive lineman I liked a lot (Tom Compton) go by choosing. Cunningham here, and the bottom line is I would have been much more tempted to take the receiver the Dolphins got in the 7th round here than Cunningham.
I don’t mean to pick on Cunningham, but he’s just not an explosive guy. I saw him live in East-West Shrine practices and while his savvy could easily be sensed, his physical ability could not. I try not to get too caught up in Combine measures, but his 31.5 inch vertical and 9’8” broad jump were bad, and affirmed what you could see on tape, which is that B.J. Cunningham does not have lower body strength, burst or explosion. He does not excel with comebacks, curls and out patterns, which typically take a significant amount of leg power to come out of crisply with burst. He is a guy that excels more on slants, crossers, and every now and then deep fades and post patterns. His lack of leg strength or burst not only shows on which patterns he tends to do well with, it also shows in contested ball situations where he shows good eyes and good body control, but little explosive burst to help him to own the football in the air.
On the plus side, the very first thing that ever stood out to me about the guy, and this includes live in Shrine practices, was his low strides and quiet pad level which allows him to see the ball in the air and make catches with his hands perfectly without breaking stride. This is a good ability to have in a west coast offense, which calls for a lot of yards after the catch. As I said, you get him on a slant pattern or on crossers running through the catch and he will look fantastic. On other patterns like hitches, outs and comebacks, he shows a tendency to stay balanced and gather his legs under him quickly as the ball is coming in, so that he is ready to turn and run. He gets north-south in a hurry and his natural size at 6’1” and 211 lbs. helps him break some marginal tackle attempts as well as to fall forward for a few extra yards. This run after catch ability is the reason he is a Miami Dolphin. The Dolphins will also like that he is a very smart player and executes well on scramble drills. He is aware of defender leverage and has great instincts for how to modify his route so that the quarterback has the option of throwing him open, an opportunity which Kirk Cousins did not take advantage of nearly often enough due to his poor field vision and processing speed.
Will he get off the press at the next level? That is the pertinent question for most receivers trying to make the transition. I saw him get jammed by some bigger corners in college like Robert Blanton of Notre Dame, and it was not pretty. However, I also saw him get pressed by some smaller guys and he actually did a good job using his hand coordination to get off the jam. The problem is, the guys at the next level most likely to be in press are the more physical type with a little better size and or strength, and I wonder if Cunningham has the leg strength and burst to get through it. Not to mention, his 12 bench reps may show an upper body strength problem in getting off the press.
Speed also helps with the jam, but Cunningham is not a speed guy. Matthews is faster. His “official” 40 time at the Combine was a 4.59, but that is probably inaccurate. I was not able to re-time him because the network feed did not allow for it, however the NFL Network’s unofficial time was a 4.47 and I found in my re-timing that the NFL Network unofficial time was uncanny accurate about 90 percent of the time.
One other negative worth noting is there were plays when the football was not necessarily going his direction where I felt like he represented himself poorly as a football player. I never like to see guys standing around on the field like they’re next to the water cooler while live football is being played. Sometimes he showed this laziness on plays where the football was actually within reach to where his extra effort could have made a difference. His teammates would hustle to the football and attempt to spring blocks or help push the ball forward, but he sometimes sat there like he was waiting for a traffic signal.
After a little bit of a lull with some picks that I did not agree with, Jeff Ireland was back to picking value players that made more sense to me with Kheeston Randall. Many people do not think about the fact that in losing Kendall Langford in free agency, dumping Phil Merling and Igor Olshansky this off season, the Dolphins lost over 850 snaps from their defensive line rotation. I realize the number of big bodies looks pretty crowded with Randy Starks, Paul Soliai, Jared Odrick and Tony McDaniel, however adding another player with the brute strength to be able to play immediately had to be somewhat of a priority.
I thought Randall was good value in the 7th round as he could have been taken a few rounds higher. Once Josh Chapman and Alamaeda Ta’amu were off the board, I thought there was a fairly big jump between the next set of bigger bodied defensive lineman, and Kheeston was at the forefront of that lower group. He shows unusual brute strength for his weight, which came in at the Combine at about 293 lbs.
Watching him in 2011, I strongly suspected he had lost a lot of weight for the Combine in order to get more explosive in his measurement drills. Note that Jeff Ireland referred to him as a 305 lbs player, and it would make a lot of sense to me if that were his playing weight in 2011. He moved better at the Combine and at Texas in 2010 than he did at Texas in 2011, where I felt he had stiff hips and the inability to turn. I like the lighter weight, more explosive version of Kheeston Randall.
When he is playing the gap penetration game, he gets less interesting to me because of his lack of flexibility and agility. When you are penetrating gaps, you have to be able to turn and show strength against blocks from the side. When I have seen Randall go head-up on an offensive lineman and play power technique, he starts to look a lot more interesting as he has the ability to dominate some offensive linemen, especially centers. He shows some anchor against double teams, as well.
Despite a little bit of a lull in the mid to lower sections of this Draft, picking Rishard Matthews in the 7th round just emphasized that this was a Draft where Jeff Ireland and his people picked a lot of players that I like. That does not mean it will actually go down as a good draft class, I never said I was perfect at this and I am just an amateur. But it is a draft class that gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Matthews was a player that I watched a lot in 2010 while evaluating Colin Kaepernick. I thought he fell off the map unfairly in 2011. With Colin Kaepernick gone, the team really struggled at the quarterback position. Yet even so, Matthews increased his production from 56 catches for 879 yards and 5 touchdowns to 91 catches for 1364 yards and 8 touchdowns. He increased his punt return production from 25 returns for 244 yards and a touchdown, to 23 returns for 307 yards and a touchdown.
As opposed to B.J. Cunningham, I believe Rishard Matthews has a lot more lower leg strength and burst. He runs more comebacks, out routes and curls, and pops out of them with better burst. He shows more sideline ability than Cunningham, making difficult hands catches while getting his toes down. Like Cunningham, he shows a strong aptitude for executing scramble drills which he doubtless was forced to learn playing with Colin Kaepernick. He drags defenders with his strength after the catch. His cutting ability makes him electric with the football in his hands. He had a reverse against Boise State in 2010 that was absolutely incredible to watch, one of the top plays I saw in college football that year. He personally made at least five Boise defenders miss on what should have been a loss of yards. This wasn’t a matter of reversing field and letting your blockers do the work for you, this was one guy versus five with clean shots and he dusted them in cartoon fashion. That play, along with his dominant pass catching performance, are the reasons Nevada was able to upset Boise in 2010. He brings that same electric ability to his punt returns, which is how he had a punt return touchdown against a terrific Boise State special teams unit in the 2011 rematch.
He is another guy along with B.J. Cunningham that runs through the catch pretty well, catching the ball with soft hands. Yet, also like B.J. Cunningham, you would wish Rishard would come down with more contested footballs. He shows the explosiveness and leaping ability to get up for the football, and tracks it well enough to get his hands on the ball, but when it comes to securing and tucking those tough catches, he just doesn’t always get there. Part of this is technique. He needs to learn to not drop his hands as he comes out of his break, so that he can be more ready to receive a fast ball. I try to cut the guy a break because when Colin Kaepernick was throwing the football, he put smoke trails on the ball like no college passer I have seen outside of Jamarcus Russell.
Also in the minus column, Rishard Matthews is not really a high effort blocker. Judging by the effort I saw out of B.J. Cunningham, I wonder if the new staff really places a lot of emphasis on this in college players. Matthews didn’t take plays off as blatantly as Cunningham, but he was also not a guy that showed high will or want-to when it came to blocking.
Matthews’ speed may be considered a minus for some, but I don’t agree. There is no avoiding that he came to the Combine and ran slow. The “official” time had him at about a 4.61, whereas I felt 4.57 was closer to the mark. However, he has an excuse. He tore his MCL in the last game of the regular season against Idaho, and re-aggravated the injury during his preparation for the Combine. His agent advised him not to run at the Combine but he did it anyway. Given more time to recover, he ran a 4.44 second 40 yard dash back at his Nevada pro day. I looked for images of that pro day and it appears they ran on a stadium field surface, rather than a track surface. Greg Childs improved his Combine 40 yard dash from an “official” 4.55 to a 4.40 at his pro day, but if you look up pictures of his pro day, it is clear he ran on a fast track surface. The same wasn’t true of Rishard, so his improvement probably had a lot more to do with health as opposed to differences in running surface.
Best Undrafted Free Agent: RB Jonas Gray, Notre Dame
Gray is a guy that toiled in obscurity at Notre Dame prior to 2011. The coaches always knew he had the potential to be very good, but he did not show the focus. He was more of the locker room comedian type. He was set to get his opportunities at the very start of the 2011 season, but quickly botched it. Against South Florida in the first game of the season, he was called to run the ball into the end zone from the 1 yard line. He got stoned by a bunch of defenders, caught trying to do too much. Jerrell Young ripped the ball out of his hands and Kayvon Webster picked it up and returned it 99 yards for a touchdown and a 14 point swing. Notre Dame lost the game.
Things could not have been worse for Gray. Times like those, a guy either buckles and quietly concludes a career that never materialized, or knuckles down and works all the harder to show that he’s not that kind of player. He did the latter. He watched a lot of film, stopped being the locker room comedian, took advice from guys like Jerome Bettis about how he should run, and embraced the details of the position. You could actually see the results of that attitude as the year went on and his fundamentals improved. Lucky for him, the coaching staff was willing to forgive his fumble given and he got the opportunity to carry the football 114 times for 791 yards (near 7 yards per carry!) and 12 touchdowns before blowing out his ACL on Senior Night against Boston College.
He reminds me a lot of guys like Shonn Greene or Thomas Jones in that he is a very big guy at 5’10” and 225-230 lbs, very muscular, but he moves and shows more shake and burst than you would expect at that size. Against Pittsburgh he had a 79 yard touchdown run where he broke tackles, burst behind the secondary, and flat outran some secondary players that are supposed to be fairly fast. One of those secondary players ran a 4.56 to 4.59 at his pro day, and another one is supposed to run in the high 4.4’s. I don’t know what a healthy Jonas Gray runs in a track setting, but I know in a football setting, he shows good burst.
That play actually highlighted the fact that Jonas Gray runs with a high will factor. This shows up most often in touchdowns. There is nothing more elemental than having the goal line right in front of you and having such great will and great football ability, that you can’t be stopped from getting in. The same is true when you break into the open behind the defense. Some players have the competitive mentality to where they are not going to get caught before they hit pay dirt. After that play against South Florida, Gray took 11 more carries inside the 10 yard line, and scored touchdowns on 9 of them. Jonas Gray was rarely prevented from enforcing his will.
Despite his embrace of details, fundamentally he is still a raw player. He shows a natural aptitude for the cutback, some natural if unrefined vision, not to mention the pure change of direction and burst to get to where he needs to go. But, he’s not as clean as Lamar Miller yet. He does not show as much presence of mind as Miller when it comes to best practices for protecting the football in traffic. He does not switch to the outside hand enough, is not as careful in making sure to cover up the ball in traffic. As far as I can tell, that fumble against South Florida was his only of the season, but he still needs to work on this, as well as his roles in the passing game. He needs to keep churning his feet through contact, and to learn to square up and sacrifice his body in blocking. If the Dolphins manage his ACL recovery properly and keep him on the roster, he could be the long term answer to which back complements Lamar Miller.