Sunday, 15 November 2009

Eric Berry - still not feeling it

Go on any draft site and you'll read about Tennessee safety Eric Berry. Scouts Inc rank him as the #1 prospect for 2010, Mel Kiper has him at number two on his big board and nearly every mock draft has Berry in the top five picks. As far as I'm concerned, that bandwagon can move through my home town, I'm not getting on.

I've seen him a few times now and voiced concerns. Having just watched the tape from yesterday's Tennessee defeat to Ole Miss, I'm positively determined that he's going to be a huge liability against the run in the NFL. It's one thing seeing him getting positively blown away why Ben Tate (RB, Auburn) and Tim Tebow (QB, Florida), but having watched Dexter McCluster dance around to the tune of 282 yards is quite another. If he's going to struggle against bigger guys, so be it. You can work on that. But McCluster is 5'8" and 165lbs. He's quick, but then isn't Berry supposed to be quick too?

For large parts of the game, Berry was anonymous. The Rebels ran the ball with great success and it restricted the need to test the error prone Jevan Snead too much. I was half expecting Berry to have a big game today, just because Snead is usually good for 2-3 big interceptions. Fair play to Ole Miss for their game plan, it's just a shame the coaching staff didn't protect their quarterback this well earlier in the season.

But when questions were asked of Berry, he whiffed. Here's the big problem - he just doesn't wrap up his tackles. He always (and I mean ALWAYS) goes low to make a tackle. This was no more evident than a third quarter play when McCluster took an option to the right. Berry meets the running back in space and dives at his legs. He completely misses the tackle, rolling onto the floor. It allows McCluster to turn a two-yard loss into a ten yard gain and on the very next play, it's a simple touchdown.

It wasn't the only example of poor tackling by Berry on the afternoon. People rate him so highly because of his playmaking ability. Type 'Eric Berry' into YouTube and you'll find out why people compare him to Ed Reed. Coming into 2009, he had 12 interceptions (three returned for six). But I have to question whether those big plays from the past are clouding judgement today. In three games this year, I've had to watch carefully just to pick up Berry on the field. He has just two interceptions, despite lining up all over the field at cornerback and safety.

If you take away that ability to make big plays, you're left with a pretty average football player. I dread the thought of seeing him against big tight ends in coverage, or the prospect of watching him trying to tackle a NFL running back. This year - without the big TD returns or interceptions - it's hard to work out what all the fuss is about.

I'd be very surprised if he goes as early as some people are predicting in the 2010 draft. It's perhaps important to remember that he's not necessarily a shoe-in to declare, having previously expressed a desire to graduate in dentistry. If you put him on a good defense with bigger guys in the secondary, you can get creative with him and perhaps tap into that playmaker that's been missing this year. However, I just can't imagine a bad team (and they tend to be the ones picking early) will invest top money in Eric Berry.


Michael said...

Amen. Draftnik hype has a momentum that is hard to shake.

Anonymous said...

Does Berry have the skill set to make the fulltime switch to corner in the NFL?

Rob Staton said...

He certainly lines up at cornerback on a number of snaps, but I don't think a full time switch is in the offing especially in the NFL. He doesn't possess the sufficient recovery or deep speed. In the college ranks they put him out there I think more to try and get him more involved, knowing if he gets the ball in his hands that's when he's at his best. A lot of the time he's annonymous in these games because he plays the position he does, so it makes sense for Monte Kiffin to get creative with the guy largely known as the best on his team.

Anonymous said...

please no safeties in the first round..please no..


Anonymous said...

Rob, agree completely. Sounds like I've watched the same games you have and drawn similar conclusions. Also, while Kiper and McShay and DraftScout rate players, they don't weight them based on positional value. That's why left tackles, cover corners, QB's and WR's (and more recently DE's) tend to gravitate up in the draft, while RB's, safeties, interior lineman and linebackers tend to gravitate down. I have to believe that NFL scouts are seeing the same thing you are, and Berry will fall, probably to late 1st round, and all the pundits will be shocked. Every year early boards have limited left tackle prospects, and yet we always see 5-6 going in round 1. And with all deference to "best player available", it has to be with positional value considered. When teams put their baords together, I expect that they do consider positional value, which is why there are always some surprised when a DE projected for the second round goes in the 1st, or when Denver trades a future 1st round pick for a cover corner (some might say nickel, we'll see) in the early second.

Before yesterdays games, I told my son that a Denver loss would be almost as enjoyable as a Seattle win, and it was. I fully expect Denver to continue to slide, perhaps winding up with a 9-7 record, or maybe even 8-8 and we should wind up with our second pick at about 18-20. That is premium value territory. Looking forward to the draft with great anticipation.

Rob Staton said...

Annonymous, you make some great points there. I think there's a very real possibility Eric Berry falls to the back-end of round one. I am happy to stand corrected if Berry goes on to become a top pick in the draft and then a perennial all-pro, but for now I remain a big sceptic.

With regard to the Broncos pick, I've just looked at their remaining schedule. If Chris Simms has to start next week, I expect they'll lose to San Diego and go 6-4. They then host the Giants - a game that could be tough to call the way New York's been playing recently.

They face the Chiefs twice and the Raiders at home once. I'd expect three wins there as long as Kyle Orton is good to go. That gives them nine wins right off the bat.

Obviously if Orton misses time, they could easily struggle. They go to Indianapolis in week 14... Philly in week 16. Both could easily go down as a defeat.

They should go at least 9-7, but they're on a bad run right now and as we know in Seattle, they can be tough to get over.

fountaindale said...

Rob... I heard Clayton say it would be huge mistake for the Hawks to convert to a 3-4 because it's based on having the right nose tackle. He also said there are only 10 or 12 quality 3-4 nose tackles in the NFL. Are either Suh or McCoy a 3-4 nose tackle canidate? Do you think the Hawks will have a shot at a viable canidate? Thanks.

Rob Staton said...

Hi fountaindale,

I think more to the point, I don't think Seattle's linebackers are suited to the 3-4. Aaron Curry was judged an ill fit for Kansas City's new 3-4 and that's one of the reasons they didn't take him. He'd have to play ILB like Patrick Willis, but I'm not sure he has that same kind of potential impact at ILB that Willis offers. Neither Hawthorne nor Tatupu are good fits to play alongside him. I don't like Hill at DE/OLB.

If Seattle are to make a permanent switch to a 3-4, it'll take a couple of big drafts and a rebuild of the defense. There are too many other pressing matters than having to start drafting nose tackles and OLB's. Look at Green Bay last year - they spent a first rounder on a NT and a first rounder on a 3-4 OLB last year. Even then they're having teething problems trying to convert - and they're more set on offense than we are.

The Seahawks have to stay with the 4-3 for now, unless we want to be like the Chiefs this year - a transitional mess.

As for Suh or McCoy - Suh for me is suited only to the three technique in the 4-3 and as a 3-4 defensive end. He could be elite at either position, but he isn't a nose tackle. McCoy is less flexible - he's a three technique in the 4-3, but could be one of the best in the business quite quickly when he enters the NFL.

This won't be a good draft for quality nose tackles, which is probably the reason why Green Bay snapped up BJ Raji when they did (although I believe he's played as a 3-4 DE mainly this year).

1stHill said...

It looks like Eric Berry might be in a similar situation as safety William Moore (Missouri) was in last year. Moore had outstanding stats in 2007 but did not put up the same kind of stats in 2008. Moore was one of the top rated players a good portion of the season, but by the end of the year he was considered a 2nd round prospect.

Rob Staton said...

I'd also mention Kenny Phillips here. There was a guy projected to go top ten in some early mock drafts simply because he was well known, had a good reputation and came from a school that had got used to producing top defensive backs. He ended up going 31st overall.

Berry projects as a better prospect than Phillips and certainly a better prospect than William Moore. However, he isn't nearly as good as some are suggesting and projections of him going 1st or 2nd overall (seen, quite astonishingly, with some frequency) are seriously wide of the mark in my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Hopefully you will address how wrong you were when EB is selected in top ten and he makes Pro Bowl 2011! You watch a few games and you can call the EXPERTS wrong! Amazing! You should have your own show where we look to see what you think! He statistics speak volumes, his position was changed this year so not as many interceptions. All opposing teams respect him, coaches and sports writers name him to All American Teams years after year. Luckily only a few more months. Blog after his pick in top ten. Then, blog next year after the season! EB Fanatic

Scott said...

Love the blog, Rob.

I think a reason you are so hard on Berry is you just do not see the value of a safety early in the draft, so you look for flaws in his results and move him to where you would take him. Nothing wrong with that for your mocks, but that is the same flaw Ruskell had. He was a little too dependant on college results and cared too little for future potential. Curry was a departure from that norm for him, but he was a difficult to ignore athletic specimen. Berry will be drafted high, perhaps too high, for those same reasons. He is good enough in man coverage to take away a second wr, slot wr, or te, he is smart, and physical build is such that he can be taught the rest. He is an every down player that offenses potentially have to plan around. Drafting on potential says he is a top ten player.

Rob Staton said...

EB fanatic - in fairness, you're never likely to accept criticisms of Berry with a name like that are you?

Let me explain myself a bit more here. Essentially, I would be prepared to draft a safety early in certain circumstances. I would be prepared to put Eric Berry, Taylor Mays or Earl Thomas in a top ten mock draft. However, I also watch every prospect with an open mind. I don't follow a college team as a 'fan' as I went to University in England. Therefore all my opinions are based without bias. I call things as I see them.

Now - I don't expect to be right every time. I will be wrong, I will be right. All I can do is put my opinion out there and engage in debate.

If Eric Berry lands on a team like Pittsburgh that owns a good defense and a strong safety partner, I think Berry could be very succesful. It'd help cloud some of his issues in his early years and what better team to develop with than one that currently owns Troy Polamalu?

On the other hand, if someone in the top 5-10 takes him - he'll struggle. He's not going to change a defense on his own. He'd be too much of a luxury that high and i think it'd show up some of the issues I have with him - namely his inconsistent tackling, struggles against bigger opponents and tendency to go low when delivering a tackle or hit.

Overall I think he warrants a pick in the 15-25 range on potential. I wouldn't take him higher than that. It doesn't mean I don't think he'll be a success in the NFL. I just think there's enough of a concern there to see a drop on draft day.