Friday, 6 February 2009

Take five with Kyle Rota

I was able to catch up with Kyle Rota from College Talent Scout again this week. I managed to ask him a few questions related to the topics we've discussed on the blog recently.
To see the interview, click here.

Q/ Would Andre Smith make a dominant right tackle in the NFL?

A/ Andre Smith could be a very good right tackle in the right situation in the NFL. His only real problem is that he will struggle against good pass rushers in the NFL. While it is true that typically slower athletes play LDE, they also tend to be bigger and have longer arms. For a relatively short (6'4) Andre Smith, that could cause him to struggle a bit, though I think he has the potential to succeed despite that. However, the LDE isn't always slow - Mario Williams played there for a year, and Julius Peppers has spent most of his career on the defensive left. A big, fast player like that would give Smith fits in pass protection (and might be able to use their arms to beat him when he run-blocks as well), which doesn't fit my definition of a dominant tackle.

Would he be much better on the right side? Undoubtedly. But I don't think he would be dominant. Of course, in some schemes the TE pass-blocks much more than Holmgren, and that would help minimize those weaknesses Smith has.

Q/ Knowshon Moreno has been compared to LaDainian Tomlinson this week. Why is Moreno only being projected in the mid-to-lower first round?

A/ I think the comparison is flawed, as Moreno is both lighter and slower than LT. Don't get me wrong, I love Moreno more than most anyone. But to compare Moreno to LT is to compare Crabtree to Calvin Johnson. Moreno and Crabtree are top notch prospects in this draft. LT and Johnson are more once-in-a-generation type prospects, in the sense that both could be considered the prototypes for their position. Now, that doesn't truly explain why Moreno has fallen. I mean, Moreno compares favorably, in many ways, to Cadillac Williams of the 2005 draft (selected by Tampa Bay 5th overall).

However, in recent years more teams have adopted the RB-by-committee approach, which lessens the impact any one RB can have on a team. Teams are hesitant to shell out a high draft pick (not to mention 8-10 million a year) for a guy who is more likely to get 200 carries a year than 300. Lastly, don't be surprised if Moreno climbs the boards. Most every player has a flaw that makes them a risky choice. Moreno is a safe (but exciting) pick. He could rise for that reason.

Q/ What do you make of Malcolm Jenkins (CB, Ohio State)? Are the concerns surrounding his recovery speed legitimate?

A/ While I think he is a first round talent, I would not take him with a top-10 pick. For me, when you select a cornerback in the top-10, you are expecting to get a player who is a shutdown corner. I really don't think you will ever get that from Jenkins. His deep speed is a legitimate concern, and for a cornerback you just can't be outrun deep. But even in college he had trouble sticking with Big Ten receivers (not exactly a conference known for speed) on deep routes, and in the NFL most teams have at least one high 4.3/low 4.4 guy that is simply too fast for Jenkins.

Q/ Can you name one prospect who could dramatically improve his stock during the NFL combine?

A/ Oh, there could be several. I have a hunch that Michael Oher will run a 40-yard dash time that will make a lot of people gasp, though I don't think he'll wow people with the bench press. As insane as it sounds, Joe Thomas saw his stock rise a little after an amazing 40 time. The easiest answer here is Darius Heyward-Bey, who could run a 4.3 flat in Indianapolis a 6'3 200+lbs, but we all expect him to run an insanely fast time like that. For the running backs, this year's "Jonathan Stewart" could be Beanie Wells: a healthy Beanie Wells could weigh 240lbs and run a 4.4 flat while dominating the bench press.

Q/ We saw Larry Fitzgerald put in another excellent performance in the Super Bowl. This week, Mel Kiper compared Crabtree to Fitzgerald. Is that a fair comparison and can Crabtree have a similar impact in the NFL?

A/ I've been comparing Crabtree to Fitzgerald for a while now, and while the comparison isn't perfect, it's a pretty good one. It's probably unrealistic to expect any player to have the success Fitzgerald has had in the league, but in terms of their skill sets they are far more similar than different. Both are about 6'2 1/2. Fitzgerald is listed at 226lbs, Crabtree could end up right around there by the combine, though I suspect he will be closer to his listed weight of 216 (Crabtree looks to have the frame to bulk up, however).

Both have excellent hands. Both are great at using their bodies to block the cornerback from making a play. Both are good route-runners, though Crabtree has an annoying little skip in his initial get-off at the LOS that will need to be fixed. Crabtree has a little more explosion, which is a plus, and Crabtree has better YAC. Fitzgerald might have a better vertical, and does have better body control (though Crabtree is no slouch in either category). I really believe Crabtree could be a top-5 NFL WR after a few years, especially if I am right and his frame does have more room to grow.

So while the comparison is not perfect (no comparison ever is), it is as good of one as exists between Crabtree and a current NFL player. The only thing I expect that could keep Crabtree from being an impact NFL WR is that ankle injury, which needs careful examination by the Seahawks medical staff.


Steve in Spain said...

Rob, thanks for providing excellent draft content on a daily basis. Some questions I've just got to ask:

Re: Jenkins - Ok, what's "recovery speed" and how's it different from any other type of speed?

Re: Crabtree - I always read Crabtree's a good route-runner but that he "doesn't run pro routes." Does his ability to run Texas Tech routes tell us anything about his ability to run WCO routes at the NFL level? How many new routes will he have to master to be a starter for the Hawks?

Also, has Ruskell ever drafted a red-shirt sophomore before? What about juniors?

Rob Staton said...

Hi Steve, thanks for the positive feedback.

Q1 (Jenkins)
Recovery speed is essentially a corner backs ability to react and respond when they aren't perfectly positioned to make a play. The wide receiver will know what route to run from the play call and the QB will be looking for him. A corner back starts in position but isn't 100% sure what will happen (which gives the WR an advantage, and why elite speed isn't always a neccesity to be a great receiver) and the corner will have to respond and react to different situations. A true lockdown corner has the recovery speed to consistently get to the man or the ball to stop the play. This can be tested on a number of plays, from deep routes, deep comebacks, in routes and corner routes. Jenkins is very good at diagnosing plays but he hasn't got the 'recovery speed' to keep up with faster receivers. In the NFL, a team could put a fast receiver on him for a deep route, the WR will often run deep and Jenkins won't be able to react and then keep up with the receiver, leaving him susceptible to getting burned and giving up a big play. If you're picking a CB in the top 10 I think it's something a corner has to have, and as much as it's fun to watch Jenkins pushing up to the LOS and making big tackles, getting sacks - he isn't a ball hawk and he really struggles on deep routes. It's the main reason why I predict he'll eventually switch to safety - a position he is much more suited for.

Q2 (Crabtree)
Michael Crabtree ran a lot of screens and bubble screens for Texas Tech - something you don't see very often with receivers of his size in the NFL. These are probably what they mean by not running pro routes, but from the Texas Tech games I've watched Crabtree does run mainly pro routes. For every bubble screen, there's a basic route along the sidelines or a fade through the middle. The West Coast Offense that Seattle runs should be perfect for Crabtree because he excels in the short-medium passing game. He has great YAC (yards after catch) so could run short routes, get the ball in his hands and let him get to work. He is explosive off the line of scrimmage, so a medium route on the sideline would work. He did go deep at times for TT and he could do as an option for Seattle even as a decoy - he'd still be stretching the field. His learning curve would be the same for any receiver entering the NFL although he might find it easier in the Mora/Knapp regime. Mike Holmgren ran a very complicated play book and terminology but all indications seem to suggest Knapp will simplify the terminology and make it easier for Crabtree to pick up. I think he's NFL ready because of the huge talent he has even if his route running initially wouldn't be 100% polished. I wouldn't be suprised if his ability to adapt compared well to how quickly we saw John Carlson become effective in 2008.

Q3 (Ruskell)

I've done a quick research on this but I'll try and find more information for you later. From what I can see, Chris Spencer (Ruskell's first draft pick in Seattle) skipped his senior year but after that, Ruskell has predominantly stuck with seniors and consistent starters. There's no evidence of any red shirted sophomore's being drafted. I'm not sure it would stop him, for example, considering a prospect like Michael Crabtree who is a red shirted sophomore because Seattle have never picked so early in the Ruskell era previously and that changes the situation slightly.

Steve in Spain said...

Thanks for your answers. I wonder if we can consider the Chris Spencer case to have any value as a precedent. Clare Farnsworth has indicated that the Spencer pick was basically a mistake pick, in that the Hawks were caught with their pants down when there was a run on all the top defensive linesmen just before their pick 23 and they hadn't really gameplanned out a suitable Plan B (See bottom of article I think Ruskell would've liked to have had that pick back. And if anything, Spencer's disappointing play may have made him even more resolved to avoid players who haven't contributed a full four years to a major college program.

Not saying this outright prohibits a Crabtree pick. Just that it wouldn't be anything remotely like Ruskell's standard operating procedure.

Rob Staton said...

Thanks for the link Steve, I hadn't seen that article before.

It's always tempting to compare other prospects from past drafts to try and get an idea of what might happen in 2009, but essentially I would be suprised if the Spencer pick had much impact on whether the Seahawks select Michael Crabtree due to the extent of his college career. Other prospects, maybe it does have an effect. Crabtree had only two years production - but in those two campaigns he became the only receiver in history to win two Biletnikoff Awards, he was named twice an All-American and his production was extremely good (41 TD's). This goes some way to combat the insecurities Ruskell may have about his short time at Texas Tech.

Having said that, I think all this does is put Crabtree into the equation. Whose to say that there's not someone the Seahawks simply rate higher than Crabtree who is a four year starter?

Kurt said...

I'm willing to give Ruskell the benefit of the doubt regarding Crabtree's status as a redshirt sophomore. Rob has said before that Ruskell looks for consistent output more than anything else and Crabtree being a two-time winner of the Biletnikoff award, I think qualifies. What's more, Crabtree basically has nothing left to prove at the collegiate level. If he went back to school next year, nothing would be different. He would still be the best receiver in the country so I don't know if Ruskell needs to see more out of him.

Kyle said...

Re: Steve in Spain about Crabtree (Rob covered the first one completely, the 2nd one I just have a note to add)

Crabtree runs some screens and short hitches. Which many NFL teams run, I might add (Seattle, for some reason, never liked the WR screen. I think it's a brilliant play). However, Crabtree also had ran a lot of comebacks, ins and outs, drags, posts, flys/fades/gos (similarly run routes, just with different timing), and slants. All of those routes are important NFL routes. So while he did get some inflated stats from screen-mania, he also has legitimate routes in his repertoire.

(Also, I believe Lofa Tatupu was a junior at USC. According to wikipedia, he came out with 25 career starts, about what Crabtree, Moreno, etc. have. Of course, Lofa is a special case. But it does show he is willing to consider special cases.)