Tag Archive: Pre-Season Scouting Reports


Here is the 3/4 release that I mentioned on Twitter and in the mechanics section of my scouting report.

Size: He is listed at 6’3”, 237 pounds but he doesn’t look that big on film to me. Would estimate him at 6’2”, 230 pounds just based on how big he looks on film. Looks pretty skinny and doesn’t look that tall to me. He has the size to be a NFL QB, even if he’s a little taller and bigger than he looks to me on film, but he looks more like a smaller, scrambling quarterback than a big, filled out pocket passer.

Arm Strength: Sorensen has a NFL arm, there’s no doubt about that. He has a live arm and can make all the throws with quality velocity. I’ve watched him throw passes from the left hash to the right sideline on a rope, he flashed a deep ball a time or two, and he makes plenty of impressive throws without his feet set both in the pocket and when he scrambles outside of the tackle box. His arm strength is definitely impressive, and it’s one of his best assets. I do have questions about his ability to challenge the deep half of the field, just because I only saw him do it a couple times, but I think he has the arm strength to do it.

Accuracy: Sorensen’s accuracy isn’t elite, but I believe it is NFL caliber without a doubt. He will miss the occasional throw like any quarterback will, but he regularly throws accurate passes both on short and intermediate throws. He very often places the ball on the correct shoulder and leads his receivers correctly so that they can catch the ball and immediately turn up field for RAC opportunities. He rarely challenged the deep half of the field, but when he did the throws weren’t as accurate as his other throws. They weren’t always thrown to the correct shoulder and at times were thrown too far inside, making it difficult for the receiver to make a play on it but easier for the defender. However, I was very impressed with his ability to make accurate, well placed throws without his feet set both inside and outside of the pocket. Sorensen definitely has NFL accuracy.

Mechanics: I’m not wild about Sorensen’s mechanics. This isn’t a significant issue at his listed height of 6’3” or even 6’4” which I have seen, but he has a ¾ release and that may cause some of his passes to get batted down at the LOS. He has a quick release, though too often he throws off balance and at times fades away from throws in the face of pressure. This isn’t a consistent thing, but I’ve seen it. He doesn’t have great footwork and rarely drops back straight from center so it’s hard to evaluate his footwork on his drops from under center. When he scrambles he shows the ability to keep his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, but also throws with inconsistent mechanics when he is scrambling which is why his ball placement in spite of his mechanics is particularly impressive.

Athleticism: Because I saw a listed height and weight for Sorensen at 6’4”, 237 pounds (which is about the same size as me) I did not expect him to be so athletic and mobile, but I was consistently impressed with his ability to avoid the rush, change directions quickly and with burst, and to extend plays/get yardage with his legs. He’s not a great/elite runner, but he is a lot more mobile than I anticipated before I had watched him. He definitely has the mobility to extend plays at the next level and made some very impressive moves evading rushers that almost reminded me of a FCS level Tyrod Taylor.

Here is an example of missing an open receiver. #8 is running a deep in (located near the right hash) and across the field a WR is running the same route. #8 came open even earlier than I took this photo, but as #56 continues to drop he only got more open. However, Sorensen stared down the left side of the field and threw a pass into much tighter coverage (you can see the linebacker underneath the receiver running the other deep in as well as the safety closing from behind him just inside the 40). #8 was WIDE open on this play and would have been even more open had he anticipated his break. This is an example of what I’m talking about.

Pre/Post-Snap Reads: This is one of my big concerns with Sorensen’s game coming into his senior season. He has a solid feel for pre-snap reads and makes checks at the line of scrimmage at times, but he makes a lot of pre-determined throws. He almost always throws to his primary read on the play, and constantly stares down one side of the field or even one receiver. This makes it easier for defensive backs to make plays on the ball, and if FCS defenders are breaking on passes and causing incompletions you have to worry about what will happen when he’s facing powerhouse D-1 athletes or even worse NFL caliber athletes in the secondary. It’s a very bad habit, but he does FLASH (I can’t emphasize that enough) that he can come off his primary read and make a throw, but it is anything but consistent. That is the thing I will be looking for improvement in as much as anything. Far too often he takes the snap (in shotgun on top of that), stares down one side of the field, makes a quick throw if it’s open, holds onto it if it’s not and either forces it or drops his eyes and tries to escape or takes a sack. That’s a serious problem, and I want to see him improve his ability to go through his reads. Because right now his post-snap reads are in their very early development stage, they’re barely there but they exist. He frequently misses open receivers because he stares down one side of the field and ignores the other side. You can’t make those mistakes that consistently and survive at the next level. However, he does show a level of anticipation when he is throwing to his primary read, though he rarely (if ever) showed me that he could throw with anticipation on secondary reads. He regularly delivers throws with good timing and has shown that he can throw his receivers open with his ball placement and timing. That’s very encouraging despite his issues missing open receivers. However, I really want to see him improve his ability to read a Cover-2 defense, because he regularly struggled to attack significant holes between the corner and safety when defenses presented him with these coverages. They were there, he just rarely hit them. That has something to do with his issues staring receivers down, but there were a number of times he had a 10+ yard window between the corner and safety and he didn’t take advantage of it, usually preferring to check down instead of pushing the ball downfield. He could have thrown it a little late and still gotten away with it due to his arm strength but he just never saw it. I’ll be paying close attention to how he progresses in these areas when I get the chance to watch him during his senior year.

Pocket Poise: This is another of my concerns with Brad Sorensen’s game. He doesn’t have much pocket poise currently and that results in him making one read and then dropping his eyes to scramble and run. That’s a very bad habit for a quarterback to have and it does not project well to the NFL in any way, shape or form. He needs to break that habit and go through more of his progressions if he wants to make it as a NFL quarterback. To be fair, his offensive line is not a good unit and he doesn’t always have quality pass protection, and that likely has something to do with his internal clock running out faster than it should. Still, he has good enough protection that it doesn’t excuse him doing this as often as he does, and he doesn’t show me consistent ability to manipulate the pocket without dropping his eyes and scrambling. He FLASHES the ability to step up in the pocket and seems to have a solid feel for the rush at times, but instead of stepping up just enough to force the rush wide he will keep stepping up in the pocket and throw off balance with his chest parallel to the LOS like he was getting ready to scramble. He needs to work on side-stepping the rush, stepping up in the pocket without leaving it prematurely, and not dropping his eyes so often when his primary read isn’t there. This is one of the most concerning parts about his game, because mobile quarterbacks that play in spreads often struggle to kick these bad habits, and if he can’t then his game won’t translate to the NFL.

Decision Making: I was actually relatively satisfied with Sorensen’s decision making. He will force passes against solid or good coverage because of his struggles to make complete reads but doesn’t seem to panic and force bad passes as a result of pressure. He would be a much better decision maker if he could see the whole field instead of just 1/3 of it on any given play. But he will take sacks instead of forcing a throw he shouldn’t, and while that isn’t ideal, I think it reflects some level of understanding that a sack is usually better than a turnover. This part of his game could improve, but if he improves his ability to make reads and progressions post-snap and learns to manipulate the pocket better his decision making will look better and improve naturally.

Intangibles: I can’t speak to Sorensen’s intangibles, but he does make checks at the line of scrimmage regularly and helps get his teammates lined up at times. I also think he has some mental toughness and doesn’t unravel if he makes a mistake or misses a throw. For example, in the game I watched against Northern Arizona it was a tight game and his team was down 17-3 at one point after he turned the ball over on an inaccurate throw and he marched the team down to the opposing red zone. The team ended up in a 3rd and 20 on the opposing 27 yard line and it looked like the drive was going to stall for a field goal or no points, but Sorensen stepped up to avoid the rush, delivered a strike on a deep corner route and while it was a little underthrown (traveling 30 yards downfield from the right hash to the left numbers) it was accurate, his WR caught it, and immediately turned upfield avoiding the defensive back covering him and scored a touchdown. That play changed the game, and it was the pocket manipulation, arm strength, placement and mental toughness from Sorensen that made it possible. NFL quarterbacks make mistakes, but they have to walk back onto the field and walk their team down the field and respond when they do. Sorensen proved to me that he is at least capable of that, and that matters.

Character: I don’t have any insight into Sorensen’s character beyond that I could tell he really hates losing and wants to win. He didn’t show much outward frustration even when his receivers were dropping passes that were bouncing right off their hands after Sorensen made a good throw, he didn’t get mad when he was under consistent pressure as a result of his offensive line, and he didn’t collapse when his team was down two scores and he turned the ball over. He led the team back for a touchdown right before the end of the first half, changing the entire momentum of the game, and ended up winning the game 27-24 in part because he made a gorgeous NFL throw on the move on a 3rd and 10 with 2 minutes left when he was backed up in his own territory. That conversion enabled them to keep the ball, run the ball three times for a first down, and then kneel it twice to seal the win. He’s definitely got the ability to make a key play when his team needs it most, and that is something I never discount when I’m scouting a football player. You can’t teach that, you either have it or you don’t. I think Sorensen does.

Overall: Sorensen has plenty of NFL talent and there are a number of things to like about him. He has enough size to be a NFL quarterback even if he is only 6’2” like I am hypothesizing. He has more than enough mobility to survive in the NFL and I think he can even be a threat to pick up some yardage when a play breaks down, and I would estimate him in the 4.75 range for the 40 yard dash. Not a burner, but agile enough to make you pay if you play man coverage and don’t keep an eye on him. He has a NFL arm without a doubt in my mind, and while he doesn’t have a howitzer I would give him a good grade for his arm strength and velocity, especially because he can make throws with impressive velocity without his feet set or while he is throwing on the move. On top of that he shows consistently good ball placement on short and intermediate throws, whether he is in the pocket or throwing without his feet set. I am also intrigued by his intangibles and I think he is a pretty good decision maker for a player who struggles to or doesn’t make NFL level reads. I was encouraged by his ability to show anticipation on his primary reads, and I want to see him improve on that and start to do that on secondary reads. But his issues staying in the pocket, dropping his eyes to scramble after making a single read, missing open receivers in various coverages (but particularly Cover-2 and Cover-3) and staring down his primary read are all very concerning. He has another year to improve on these flaws, but a couple of them are serious red flags for me when I’m scouting a quarterback prospect. I’ll reserve judgment until he has played his remaining year of football, but I need to see significant progress in those problem areas before I can give him a Day Two grade.

Projection: 5th round. Sorensen has NFL ability and I would be surprised if he didn’t get drafted, but if he were in the draft right now he would be a guy with a NFL arm that, to quote Trent Dilfer from the Elite 11 show, needs to work on being a surgeon instead of a butcher. He has the mobility to get away with his lack of pocket poise and his non-existent progressions, but his athleticism won’t mask his deficiencies in those areas at the NFL level, so he needs to start working to improve in those areas if he wants to be viewed as anything beyond a talented project. I like him and his tools, but he has some serious question marks that I need to see improvement on before I’ll hop on the bandwagon.

Thanks for reading! Logan Thomas and Geno Smith scouting reports are in the pipeline.

–Tom

McNeal emerged and was the unsung hero of USC’s dominant offensive attack over the last half of the season. This year he is the incumbent starter and figures to turn even more heads in 2012.

Size: McNeal is listed at 5’7”, 182 pounds and while he might look like an undersized back, and to an extent he is, he has the leg strength to gain tough yards after contact and he does a good job of keeping his pads low and really packs a punch when he initiates contact because of his low pad level. His size isn’t elite by any means, and it may keep him from being a true feature back, but if he can get up to 190 pounds without losing speed I think he could be a very effective NFL back.

Speed: McNeal has very impressive speed. I think he might be a 4.45 guy or faster, which is impressive and necessary to compensate for his lack of size. He has the speed to consistently get the edge, though USC rarely tested that speed and usually ran him between the tackles. He did show the ability to bounce runs outside and get the corner, and he has the straight-line speed to break off big play touchdown runs. His speed is definitely one of his strongest assets.

Quickness: McNeal also has impressive quickness, especially when making cuts and changing direction. It makes him difficult to tackle for a loss, it makes him a significant threat in the open field, and it helps him hit the hole quickly once it forms. His quickness is impressive, and it makes him a potentially very good fit in a “one cut and run” system that many teams incorporate.

Running Inside: McNeal spent much more time running inside than you might think for a back his size. After Marc Tyler was injured and struggled to be effective USC began to rely on McNeal more and more as the season went on, essentially replacing Tyler with McNeal in his exact role. The difference was, McNeal could get to holes faster than Tyler did, got through them faster than Tyler did, and got chunks of yardage as well as some very big touchdown runs that Tyler couldn’t have made. Tyler was relegated to more of a power-back, short-yardage role because of McNeal’s effectiveness and that had a lot to do with McNeal’s ability to find cut-back lanes inside, set up his blocks patiently, and hit holes once they presented themselves. McNeal was running similar plays to what Tyler was, he was just producing more significant yardage when given those carries. McNeal’s size may make people doubt that he can run inside, but there were only two instances where I didn’t see him fall forward for additional yardage at the end of tough runs. On top of that, he has impressive leg drive that helps him gain tough yardage after initial contact, and regularly gained additional yardage after a defender got his hands on him. His quickness and his leg strength helps him run through arm tackles, but he has also shown the ability to take huge hits and maintain his balance which is very impressive. When he can plant and go he really picks up a head of steam and actually injured a player or two trying to tackle him heads up because he generates such significant pop on contact due to his leg strength, speed and low pad level. McNeal is an effective inside runner, and that should open up the possibility of being the #2 back in a balanced backfield in the NFL, if not being a feature back.

Running Outside: McNeal has the ability to do this, as his patient running style allows his blocks to set and his ability to plant, make one cut and go means defenses can’t overpursue or he will find a cut-back lane and make them pay. It will be interesting to see if USC runs more power, off tackle and toss plays next year, because when they did run power and off-tackle plays McNeal was very successful because of his speed (though, on a couple of his big runs, Matt Kalil essentially blocked two people and sealed off a 3rd when they ran off tackle). McNeal is an effective outside runner but also effective at finding cut-back lanes, so as he gets more carries as a senior he should prove to be an effective outside runner.

Receiving: McNeal hasn’t been used often as a receiver, but I didn’t see him drop a pass in any of the games I watched even as he became an ever more integral cog in the USC offensive attack. He catches the ball with his hands effectively, looks the ball in, and is obviously dangerous after the catch because of his speed, quickness and ability to use his blocks effectively. I don’t think he will ever be split out a lot and probably won’t run a lot of intermediate/deep routes, but he is reliable catching the ball out of the backfield on short passes at least.

Blocking: McNeal’s size is a hindrance to him as a blocker, but he did a surprisingly good job at it considering his limited playing experience at that point. I think his ability to pass block made it easier and easier for Lane Kiffin to trust him as the feature back as the season went on, and likely played as much of a role in him getting the majority of the carries as his ability to gain quality yards running and catching the ball out of the backfield. McNeal isn’t an elite pass blocker, and he probably never will be because of his size, but he consistently made the right blitz pick-up, squared him up and popped him. He doesn’t do a very good job of sustaining since almost all of the defenders he is picking up in pass protection are bigger and sometimes stronger than him, but he slows them up before he releases to the flat or cut-blocks them and takes them out of the play completely. McNeal showed an impressive cut-block multiple times, which is great to see because of his lack of great size. Not only that, he even showed that he could make a cut-block to save Barkley’s skin, and then got up and released and caught a check-down from him. McNeal isn’t a great pass blocker, but he is pretty reliable given his stature.

Vision: McNeal’s vision is pretty good, but I want to see more from him in this area. Now that he is likely to be the feature back all season we should get a better look at this, but at times there were great run lanes for him to run through and those were often his best runs (as you would expect) but he did show the ability to find cut back lanes and showed good enough vision for me to give him a positive grade in this area. But now that he’s the feature back we should get a much better feel for it, though he has consistently shown a patient running style and an impressive ability to use his blockers at the line of scrimmage or downfield.

Carrying: This is one place where McNeal worries me a little bit, but it is correctable obviously. McNeal had a couple key fumbles last year, including one in overtime against Stanford that ultimately lost USC the game. He regularly only has one hand on the ball when contact is imminent, and the safest way to prevent fumbling is to get into the habit of covering up the ball when contact is coming. He doesn’t do that right now, and not surprisingly it has led to a couple of unfortunate fumbles. If he learns to do this (and I would imagine he will, Kiffin has benched multiple backs for fumble issues in the past two years) then it will alleviate many of my fumbling concerns. It isn’t a huge problem, but you’d hate to sully a good or great game with an untimely fumble at the end like McNeal did versus Stanford last season.

Injuries: McNeal got knocked out of the game once or maybe twice because of particularly hard hits last season, but he returned each time and continued to be effective. He has proven to be pretty durable, but carrying the load as one of the only proven backs on USC’s offense for an entire season will be a lot different than emerging as the best back and having a starring role for the last 6 games. His durability will be something to keep an eye on as the season progresses because as the season wore on last year I was wondering if he lost a little bit of his impressive burst and straight-line speed. If he wears down over the course of the season USC’s rushing attack could have similar problems to the beginning of the 2011 season, when McNeal was not getting consistent carries.

Character: McNeal’s emergence was delayed partially because of the coaching staff preferring Marc Tyler’s experience and partially because McNeal was academically ineligible for the 2010 season, delaying his possible emergence to 2011. He was not utilized very much prior to that, so his limited touches did not give Kiffin and the offensive staff any reason to start him over Tyler. That led to an ineffective running game before McNeal seized his chance after Tyler’s injury and eventually became the go-to guy. He has since dedicated himself to his studies and obviously was eligible last year, but it is worth noting that he had an issue with that in the past. Beyond that, I have very little insight into McNeal’s character.

Overall: McNeal definitely has draftable ability, it is only a question of how high he is selected. At this point, I think he is one of the top returning senior running backs and should open even more eyes as his role is expanded during the 2012 season on a very high-octane offense thanks to Matt Barkley, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and two very talented sophomore tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble. McNeal won’t face a lot of defenses that dare to put more than 7 men in the box, and if they do Barkley and company should make them pay. McNeal is set to have a complete break-out season this year, though his true break-out was last season when he carried the ball 24 times for 118 yards against Notre Dame. He would finish only two games with under 100 yards after that, totaling 87 and 94 yards in those two contests. He has possible sub 4.45 speed, impressive quickness, burst and acceleration and enough vision to find cut-back lanes when defenses overpursue. Despite his lack of size, he has strong legs and uses that to run through arm tackles and to gain tough yardage after contact, even injuring a player or two because of the impressive pop he creates after contact. He has flashed the ability to catch the ball effectively out of the backfield as well as pass block despite his lack of size and bulk. He has shown that he has the tools to be a complete back despite his size and figures to be a key cog in USC’s offensive machine again this year, much like he was in the last 6-8 games last year. I think he will open a lot of eyes as the season goes on, but I am a McNeal fan and have been since I was begging Kiffin to give him more carries after I watched him play Syracuse and Arizona last year (he had 5 carries for 79 yards vs. Syracuse and 7 carries for 74 yards vs. Arizona). The next 7 games he had four 100 yard games and 6 touchdowns, with 86, 87 and 94 yards in each of the three games he didn’t exceed 100 yards. He averaged 6.93 yards per carry, among the best of the country, and proved to me that he has the ability to be a complete back at the college and potentially at the NFL level. I look forward to watching him play for a full season as the returning starter.

Projection: 3rd round. It’s tough to project him much higher because he has only had significant work for less than one whole season, and his size, fumbling and durability questions will certainly warrant further consideration. But he’s a complete back than can run effectively, catch effectively, and pass block better than you would expect given his size. He has NFL caliber talent, but he isn’t going to be a 1st round pick.
Thanks for reading, hopefully you have enjoyed these four initial Pre-Season Scouting reports. There is more to come, but first I will be posting an interview with new USC left tackle Aundrey Walker tomorrow, and a Logan Thomas Pre-Season report sometime after that.

–Tom

Holmes is highly touted and regularly ranked as the #1 center in the country, but he has a number of flaws in his game that concern me.

Size: Holmes is listed at 6’3”, 310 pounds, which is very impressive size for a center. Not sure how long his arms are, but he has the frame to add weight to his lower body. His size is the first thing you notice about him. He’s the size of a guard but plays center, which is what every NFL team is looking for. You love to essentially have three guards on the field, except one of them is snapping the ball. Not many teams have that.

Athleticism: Holmes is a pretty good athlete. He doesn’t have a great first step off the line of scrimmage, but he gets to the second level well and does a good job double-teaming initially before getting to the second level where you would engage a linebacker. He is also athletic enough to get out in front of screens, though he rarely does as the center, and does a terrific job cut-blocking for a man his size. Holmes isn’t an elite athlete, but for a man his size he moves pretty well, and shows the ability to quickly maneuver when run blocking to wall off a defender and create a running lane.

Technique: This is where I have a problem with Holmes. I think his technique needs a lot of work, and he has some bad habits that will be hard to correct. First, his hand placement could use improvement. It is good at times initially, but far too many times he lets his hands get outside the numbers which will result in holding calls at the next level. I saw him hold more times than I could count, including many incidences where he should have obviously been called for holding, but he never drew a single holding penalty in any of the games I watched from his junior season (and I watched over half of USC’s games). Second, he leans too much as a blocker, leading to balance issues and problems sustaining blocks. This is especially apparent as a run blocker, as he will bend at the waist at times, lean into blocks either too much to the right or left, and the defender will make a quick move resulting in a block shed while Holmes often ends up on the ground. Third, he regularly takes poor angles when trying to block linebackers at the second level. Time and time again he lets linebackers get by him without being able to engage them, all because he doesn’t approach them correctly. To his credit, he did a better job of this later in the season, so there is hope for him to improve this, but it was a consistent issue throughout the year. Overall, his technique did not impress me in the least, and he has a ways to go before I will give him a good grade in this area. It is very difficult to get a player to stop bending at the waist and leaning into blocks too much, and it’s tough to improve a player’s balance particularly someone as large as a 300 pound offensive lineman. These are all issues that Holmes has, and unfortunately I don’t think they are easily corrected.

Pass Protection: Holmes is a pretty good pass protector considering all the issues I have with his ability as a run blocker. He has a pretty good anchor, though it could be improved, and it is pretty rare to see him get bull-rushed into the quarterback once he is in his pass set. He shows that he can sit down, anchor and stop a defensive tackle’s bull rush and does a solid job mirroring defenders. He is very smart so he rarely, if ever, picks up the wrong defender in pass protection. His size and lower body strength give him an advantage in pass protection as defensive linemen won’t be able to overpower him easily, though shorter, squattier players have a tendency to get into his pads and push him a yard or two before he anchors. Additionally, he will get beat off the ball every once in a while by a defender who has good burst off the ball and beats him with a quick move off either shoulder. This doesn’t happen often, but it does happen, and when it does it leaves Barkley running for his life. Overall, Holmes is an above-average pass protector, but I want to see more from him in this area.

Run Blocking: Run blocking is one of my problems with Holmes. He certainly flashes some impressive play, particularly as a wall-off blocker and as a cut-blocker. However, he struggles to create movement as a drive blocker and struggles to sustain 1 on 1 blocks with defensive tackles quite a bit, and even struggles to keep linebackers blocked at times. There is a popular adage with great offensive lineman that “once they get your hands on you, you’re out of the play.” That is unfortunately not the case with Holmes, at least when run blocking, and frequently when a defensive lineman or linebacker made a play in the backfield against USC it could be traced back to a player Holmes was blocking or trying to block. It was a very alarming trend, particularly for someone who was getting 1st-2nd round pre-season grades and was often ranked the number one center in the 2013 NFL Draft class. Holmes does show a little nastiness to pancake defenders and to knock them down when combo-blocking (multiple times John Martinez, USC’s right guard #59, would be blocking a defensive tackle one on one and Holmes would come in from the side and knock him to the ground and proceed to the second level to find a linebacker). I like that in a lineman, particularly in a lineman that is often considered the quarterback of the offensive line. Holmes shows that he can initiate a block, turn the defender (or himself) and create a lane behind him for the back to run through, or he can make a cut block near the line of scrimmage or in space. That makes me think he projects better to a zone blocking scheme than a man blocking scheme, which is strange considering his impressive size for a center. Overall, Holmes’ run blocking is below-average, and there were plenty of instances where it was poor and even abysmal at times. He was the weak link at times in the running game, and that was with a true freshman starting at left guard. That is a concern for a supposedly good or great center.

Intangibles: This may be Holmes’ strongest area. According to Aundrey Walker, USC’s new starting left tackle, Holmes “knows the whole play-book, he’s like having another coach out on the field.” That’s a glowing recommendation, and it backs up what I have heard, read and observed about Holmes. He regularly makes line calls and points things out to Barkley at the line of scrimmage and he rarely makes a mental mistake in pass protection. He seems to be the leader of the offensive line, and that is definitely something that helps his overall grade. Having a center with Holmes’ level of football IQ is exactly what you want, and it often leads to a long career in the NFL.

Overall: Holmes is a tough guy to figure out, because he flashes impressive run blocking occasionally and he shows above-average pass blocking regularly, but when he makes mistakes in the run game they are extremely costly. He has impressive size for a center, he has above-average strength for the position, as well as pretty good athleticism. He also has the football IQ and starting experience to be able to compete for a starting job right away if it weren’t for his significant flaws as an every-down run blocker. Looking at him on paper, his size and athleticism plus his football IQ make him very attractive. However, his technique needs considerable work and some of his bad habits are not easily coached out of players. On top of that, he doesn’t project well to a man-blocking scheme that would ask him to move a defensive tackle off the ball one on one. He is a better fit in a zone blocking scheme that would take advantage of his mobility, his ability to cut block, and his ability to turn defenders and create cut-back lanes for backs to take advantage of. So while Holmes certainly has some impressive qualities, and some NFL caliber skills, he also has some issues that are serious red flags for me when projecting him to the next level.

Projection: 4th round. He gets a mid-round grade from me for now because he has draftable ability, and NFL teams will not discount his football IQ that is sure to impress in interviews as well as on the field. However, he absolutely needs to improve his technique and try to put an end to his bad habits if he is going to improve his draft stock this year. I’ll certainly be on the look-out for any improvements, but right now I can’t grade him in the top three rounds and he won’t be my #1 overall center the next time I update my center rankings.

Robert Woods is going to be at the top of many WR rankings this year, and for good reason. He’s one of the most NFL ready receivers in the country.

Size: Doesn’t have great size, but he is listed at 6’1”, 184 pounds. He could stand to add some weight, but he doesn’t look skinny to me on film. Adding some size and strength might help him beat more physical corners at the line, and he might struggle less with physicality from the defense in general.

Speed: Woods clearly has impressive speed. I don’t think he’s a 4.4 flat guy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he was timed in the 4.45-4.47 range. He has good burst off the ball and accelerates to his top speed quickly, allowing him to beat defenders in 1 on 1 coverage when he is given the opportunity. He’s not easy to overthrow deep, but it happens at times. Woods is also dangerous after the catch because of his speed, and because of his ability to gain yards after the catch he is used on returns as well as on offense. He often demands a safety over the top, making life easier for the other superstar wide receiver on the Trojans, Marqise Lee.

Quickness: Woods has impressive quickness as well. He changes directions quickly, and his quickness is always on display when he is running his routes. His change of direction speed and his burst make him ideal for quick screens and passes in the flat where he can make a man miss and pick up additional yardage. His quickness certainly informs his route running, and he definitely does a good job getting in and out of his breaks.

Release: Woods has a good release when he is allowed to get off the line of scrimmage without a challenge from the corner, but when he is engaged by a strong, physical corner he can have trouble getting off the line of scrimmage. He needs to get stronger, work on beating the jam and being physical once he is healthy, because it is one of the only things holding him back from being a truly complete, elite receiver prospect. USC moves him around constantly, playing him in the slot, in the backfield, and bringing him in motion frequently to try to help him avoid jams, but to be a top WR prospect he will need to learn how to beat the jam consistently.

Route Running: Woods’ route running has been great since he was a freshman, so it’s no surprise that he continues to run very good routes. This is one of Woods’ strengths without a doubt, and it helps him create consistent separation versus man coverage. He has a good feel for zone coverage as well and knows where to sit to give Barkley a target to throw to, and usually is on the same page with Barkley when running option routes and looking for back shoulder throw opportunities. As he continues to learn more and more about reading coverages pre and post snap I think he will become very dangerous on back-shoulder throws, but he still has room for improvement there.

Hands: Woods hands are very good, but when I was watching him last year he seemed to have one drop a game that he should have come down with. I’m not sure if they were concentration issues or not, but that is my best guess having watched over half of his 2011 games. He clearly has NFL caliber hands and catches the ball very cleanly outside of his frame. He rarely body catches and regularly makes impressive diving catches to bail out a less than stellar throw from Barkley. He can catch passes that are low, high, outside and he holds onto passes once he catches them even if there is contact immediately after he makes the reception. He will be able to go over the middle in the NFL, especially once he puts a little more weight on to help improve his durability. He can make the tough catches look easy, but he needs to make sure he eliminates the easy drops this upcoming season.

Body Control: Woods has pretty good body control, but I’m not ready to say he is good or great in this area yet. He shows the ability to make tough adjustments to the ball in the air, but while he came close to a lot of big plays on underthrown balls or passes thrown too far inside when they should have been outside, he didn’t often come down with them. Also, there were a number of times when he had a chance for a touchdown or a big play on the sideline but he didn’t quite get his feet in-bounds, resulting in an incompletion instead of a game-changing play. He can certainly improve this, he just needs to drill it, but he isn’t there yet in this aspect. I want to see him make those game-changing plays on difficult deep balls and catches near the sideline that he didn’t quite make last season. He has the tools and the ability to do it, he just needs to keep working at it.

In Traffic: Woods is a reliable receiver in traffic and because he can snag passes outside of his frame he gives Barkley a big target radius to throw to even though he isn’t much taller than 6’0”. Like Marqise Lee, he plays bigger than his actual listed size and that has something to do with his catch radius as well as his athleticism to track down poorly thrown balls with a quick adjustment on a ball thrown too far forward or too far behind or a diving catch when he is in full stride. He isn’t afraid to go over the middle and I don’t think I ever saw him make a catch in traffic and drop it as a result of contact, and there were plenty of instances where that could have happened. Once Woods catches that ball the only time it’s going to hit the ground is after he’s tackled and the ball gets placed between the hashes for another snap.

YAC: This is one of Woods’ best characteristics. Woods does a great job setting up and using his blockers both as a return man and as a receiver on screens or just running after the catch in general. He has impressive vision and while it can be risky, he knows when to cut back against the grain and when to forge ahead and get the tough yards. He can be physical as well, fighting for tough yards after contact is made, but is at his best when he can make defenders miss in the open field due to his stop/start ability and his impressive acceleration. It does concern me a little bit that he tends to run out of bounds at the end of plays instead of fighting for additional yardage, but some of that may have been a result of being banged up towards the end of the season. That’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on during his junior campaign.

Blocking: Woods isn’t a great blocker, but the effort is certainly there and once he gets stronger I think he will continue to improve in this area. He never got called for a hold in all of the games I watched, so that is certainly a plus, and there were a number of plays where his block downfield helped spring a big run for Curtis McNeal. He gives good effort and is certainly willing to block, plus he has some nastiness to him and really likes to blindside pursuing defenders, not unlike Hines Ward. I love to see that, and he got a couple really good licks on bigger defenders doing that as a sophomore.

Overall: Woods is at the top of my list of wide receivers right up there with Keenan Allen. I’ve been a huge fan of both since I watched them play as freshman and it’s going to be difficult to pick one over the other at any point. Woods is a complete receiver that catches the ball well, runs impressive routes, is dangerous after the catch, adds value as a return man and shows good effort as a blocker. Not only that, but he is a team player. According to an ESPN broadcast, Kiffin called Woods after a tough game where he was relatively ineffective because of injury and wanted to make sure he wasn’t down on himself. Woods told Kiffin that he didn’t care how many passes he caught because the team won. That’s the kind of receiver you want to have in your locker room. Right now he just needs to get stronger, work on beating jams at the line of scrimmage, clean up some of his easier drops and work on making tough catches deep and along the sideline. Those might seem like small critiques, and that’s because for the most part they are. Woods is a NFL ready receiver and should be a popular player come April if he can overcome some of the durability concerns that have been popping up recently. An injury is the only way Woods will be consistently stopped, though he could stand to improve against more physical defensive play. I’m very high on Woods and I am excited to watch him continue to progress as a junior, and I would be very surprised if he didn’t declare after this season.

Projection: Top 10. I don’t want to go much further than that, but Woods certainly has the skill set and NFL talent to go this high. I don’t think he is a franchise caliber receiver like Calvin Johnson, Randy Moss in his prime or Andre Johnson, but I think he has the potential to be a #1 wide receiver. If not, he is going to be an absolutely lethal #2.

Thanks for reading! Scouting reports on Khaled Holmes and Curtis McNeal will be up soon!

–Tom