Tag Archive: Scouting Report


Size: Franklin has very legitimate NFL running back size. I don’t think he is maxed out, but being 5’10”, 200+ is more than big enough to be an every down back in my opinion. He isn’t an ideal fit for a power scheme, but I have no doubt that if he lands in the right scheme he could be the feature back at this size.

Speed: Franklin may not have 4.4 flat speed but his speed is obvious when you watch him. He isn’t a world-class athlete but he has more than enough speed to rip off big chunks of yardage and to get the corner on outside runs. He may not excel in timed drills, but his speed is obvious on the field.

Quickness: Once again, Franklin’s quickness isn’t obvious in timed drills but it definitely shows on the football field. He isn’t elite in this area, but he absolutely has impressive quickness, burst, acceleration and change of direction speed. He isn’t the most elusive back in this draft class, but he can make defenders miss in the open field and win in the open field thanks to his quickness. His elusiveness isn’t his strong suit, but it is there.

Running Inside: I was very pleasantly surprised by Franklin’s ability to run inside. He isn’t a power back, but for a guy that is just over 200 pounds he runs hard, runs  through arm tackles effectively, generates tough yardage after initial contact, and has good leg drive. I have seen some compare him to Maurice Jones-Drew, and I won’t go that far, but Franklin’s lower body strength was definitely a pleasant surprise. Franklin might not be elite as far as quickness but he is more than quick enough to hit the hole, runs patiently and I have no doubt that he can be successful running between the tackles at the next level.

Running Outside: Franklin has the speed to get the corner, the vision to find cut-back lanes on outside runs, the quickness to hit them, and the patience to let it all develop. He is very effective once he gets into the open field where he can hit the gas and outrun some angles. His game isn’t based off of making defenders miss in the open field, but he does have that ability. More than anything he can get defenders off balance and run through their poor arm tackles, and he does that effectively on outside runs. I love that Franklin doesn’t dance in the backfield and doesn’t hesitate once he finds a hole. I was also very happy with how good his balance was. His lower body strength and compact build help with this, but he is very rarely knocked down by a defender lowering a shoulder, and he regularly gains additional yardage when he isn’t wrapped up correctly.

Receiving: Franklin has soft hands and despite not being heavily utilized in the passing game at UCLA I have no doubt that he can be an effective receiver out of the backfield at the next level. He’d be a terrific fit for a team that runs a zone scheme and likes to integrate backs into the passing game. He can catch the ball away from his body and adjust to poorly thrown balls, and he will be very effective in the screen game at the next level. I didn’t see him run a lot of routes, but at the very worst he has shown he can gain significant yardage on underneath throws or swing passes in the flats at UCLA.

Blocking: Franklin’s lack of power-back bulk is evident in pass protection as he just doesn’t have the size or strength to pick up bigger, stronger front 7 defenders most of the time. Based on what I’ve seen he doesn’t have a lot of experience in pass protection and that might keep him off the field early depending on the team he goes to, but I think he can be coached up in this area. He flashes the willingness to step up and meet the defender and he showed that he can mirror and sustain at times. He needs work in this area, but he is such a potential threat in the passing game a smart team wouldn’t be keeping him in the backfield to pass protect constantly anyways.

Vision: I was thoroughly impressed with Franklin’s vision. He doesn’t dance around in the backfield waiting for a hole to open up, he finds cut-back lanes effectively both as an inside and outside runner, he uses his blockers effectively both initially and at the second level of the defense to gain additional yardage. Franklin definitely has NFL back vision and it’s one reason I think he could be a great fit in a zone-heavy running scheme.

Ball Security: This was a concern I’ve seen some voice about Franklin but despite that potential reputation I didn’t see anything that I red-flagged when I watched him. I saw him fumble one time and it was a result of a perfect punch as he was going to the ground from another tackler. From what I was able to see he carries the football with three points of pressure, keeps the ball close to his body through contact, and doesn’t drop it low when he is in the open field. I think a good running back coach could tweak anything that he thinks is wrong with his carrying style, but I didn’t see much that concerned me.

Overall: I’m a big Franklin fan and he is my #2 running back in this draft class. He may not be an elite back, but I think he is a terrific fit for a zone blocking scheme, particularly if the team running it passes the ball a lot and likes to involve their back in the passing game. Franklin has the speed to break off big runs, good vision, quickness, leg drive, balance and hands. He’s a complete back even though he may not be a 5’10”, 220 pound prototype. I think he definitely has the size to be an every down back and I expect that he will grow into that role if he is drafted into the right situation. Franklin does need some work in pass protection based off of what I’ve seen, but rookie running backs regularly need coaching up in that aspect of the game. Franklin looks like a very good zone scheme feature back to me and I would be surprised if he made it to the 3rd round.

Projection: Top 64. I have a 2nd round grade on Franklin and if he fell to the 3rd round I would be very surprised. I think he is a PERFECT fit for the Packers and if they pass on him at the end of the 2nd round then they deserve to have a mediocre running game. If he makes it to the middle of the 3rd I will be surprised.

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Size: Bernard is officially listed at 5’8” but weighs 202 pounds. I would personally like to see him add a little more weight to his frame, but packing 200+ pounds onto a 5’8” frame is no joke. He may not be a prototypical power back, but I personally really like shorter, compact running backs and the NFL has seen a number of those kinds of backs succeed lately. Bernard may not be a giant, but he is definitely big enough to be a successful NFL running back.

Speed: If you’ve been watching Bernard since he burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman last year you know that his speed isn’t what makes him great. He ran an official 4.53 at the combine and that is about what I expected from him. I knew he wasn’t a sub 4.45 guy, but I also didn’t expect him to be any slower than 4.55 or so. He isn’t going to rip off a lot of 50+ yard runs at the next level thanks to his straight line speed. He has enough speed to be an effective back, but it’s not where he excels.

Quickness: This is one of Bernard’s best attributes. He is extremely quick and he demonstrates this via his acceleration, his change of direction speed and when he eludes defenders in the open field. He may not run a sub 4.4, but he accelerates quickly up to his top speed and that is incredibly important at the running back position. He can stop and start on a dime, and regularly uses this quickness and change of direction ability to gain additional yardage when he gets in the open field or when he has a blocker in front of him.

Running Inside: Bernard is at his best when he is running zone plays where he can patiently wait for a hole to open up on the front side or find a cutback lane on the backside, hit the gas and get through it. If you ever talk to a running back or a running back coach you will hear the phrase “slow to the hole, fast through the hole” and Bernard epitomizes that. He runs patiently which makes him a great fit for a zone heavy scheme that relies on patience and good vision from the back. He frequently turns potentially negative plays into no gain or positive plays. By this I mean he can create for himself thanks to his quickness and elusiveness, meaning that even if the play is disrupted he has the skill set to salvage the run and get back to the line of scrimmage or beyond it if he isn’t immediately swallowed up once he gets the hand-off. This has been displayed a number of times when he runs between the tackles, and that has a lot to do with his impressive elusiveness but also with his terrific balance. Because of his size he tends to naturally be running with good pad level, but because of his thick lower body and good pad level he isn’t easy to take down with arm tackles. He may not be a pure power back, but he can run between the tackles very effectively and gain tough yards after contact thanks to his lower body strength.

Running Outside: Running outside isn’t necessarily the strength of Bernard’s game, but it isn’t a weakness either. I don’t think he has the straight line speed to consistently get the edge at the next level, but I don’t think he’s going to be getting caught from behind by defensive linemen either. He does a good job of utilizing his quickness and shiftiness to help make up for it, but running him outside the tackles and attempting to let him outrun the defense to the corner isn’t playing to Bernard’s strengths. He showed that he can run outside at North Carolina, but having a very talented (not to mention athletic) offensive line that could get out in front of him certainly played a role in his success on outside runs. He does have the vision and burst to bounce runs outside if he sees the defense over-pursue though.

Receiving: This is another strength of Bernard’s game. He may not be elite in this area, but he is still very good. He isn’t a terrific route runner at this juncture, but he has more than good enough hands to make an immediate impact in this aspect of the game as a rookie next season. He looks the ball into his hands, can make catches away from his body, and rarely drops catchable passes. He is lethal on screens and when you get him into the open field as a receiver he can be very dangerous. He is one of the more NFL ready running backs in this class when it comes to contributing to the passing game.

Blocking: Bernard may only be a redshirt sophomore, but he has shown significant improvement as a pass blocker since I first watched him as a redshirt freshman. He isn’t great in this area, but he is definitely above average (if not good). He has shown a willingness to meet his man in the hole instead of waiting for the defender to engage him, he has demonstrated the ability to shock and anchor with a solid base, and he has shown he can cut the defender when necessary. He should certainly improve in this area with NFL coaching, but he has demonstrated more than enough ability to project him as a reliable pass protector within the next couple of years.

Vision: This is part of what separates Bernard from other running backs in this class: his vision. As I mentioned earlier he runs patiently, allowing his blocks to set up, and he reads his blocks well and finds running lanes effectively. He does a fantastic job of using his blockers, especially in the open field, and consistently uses them to keep defenders out of the play as long as possible to gain additional yardage. He may not be the fastest back in the draft, but he uses his blocks as well as any of the other backs in this class in my opinion.

Ball Security: Bernard carries the ball high and tight to his body just like you are supposed to when you are carrying the ball. I’m not sure that I have ever watched him fumble after getting a carry or after making a reception, but at the very worst he does it very infrequently. He has had some issues muffing punts at times, but that is an entirely different skill than protecting the ball on a carry to carry basis.

Overall: Bernard is one of my favorite backs in this class and I think he has a chance to thrive in the NFL, particularly if he goes to a pass-happy zone team. Bernard may not be a straight-line burner, but he has more than enough quickness, vision, elusiveness, receiving ability and pass blocking upside to warrant spending a top 40 pick on him in my opinion. Will he be a 1st round pick? I’d be a little surprised, but it’s not impossible. This is an extremely deep and talented running back class, so unless running back is a glaring need for your team I wouldn’t expect them to invest in one in the first two rounds. That might mean a lucky team gets Bernard later than they ordinarily would, but regardless of when he gets selected I expect Bernard to make a positive impact early and often at the next level. However, what you see on the field from Bernard is essentially what you are going to get. There isn’t an incredible amount of upside with him because he is already a pretty polished back despite starting for just two seasons at North Carolina. That will turn some teams off, but a wise team will take advantage of that.

Projection: Top 64. I thought he might have a shot at cracking the 1st round, but this is such a deep and talented class that I think he will likely be a mid 2nd round pick when all is said and done.

Size: Bell has all the size you could want in a NFL running back. He is listed at 6’1”, 230 pounds and runs with surprisingly good pad level for a running back that tall. He is in very good shape and presents a tough frame to bring to the ground when he’s hitting the hole. His size can be a detriment when he runs too upright and when he is fighting for extra yardage, but overall I think it is a strong asset.

Speed: Bell isn’t going to win a lot of foot-races to the corner or when he breaks into the open field at the next level but for his size he is surprisingly fast. He ran a 4.60 at the NFL combine at 230 pounds which is no small feat. He’s not going to be a home-run hitter at the next level, but that’s not his game. I think he has more than enough speed to be an effective NFL starter.

Quickness: This is the part of Bell’s game that was most surprising to me. For being a big, 230 pound back he is shockingly quick. He has good acceleration, impressive burst, and is at his best when he can make one cut and go. He also has very surprising shiftiness in the open field which helps him gain additional yardage by getting defenders off balance. I really did not expect him to be so shifty and to make as many players miss as he did, but his shiftiness and his tight spin move serve him very well. He definitely has more than enough quickness and burst to be a NFL starter which you wouldn’t necessarily assume until you actually sit down and watch him. This is definitely one of the strengths of Bell’s game which I certainly didn’t expect.

Running Inside: This is where Bell is best and I don’t think that will change at the next level. He runs patiently, allows his blocks to set up, and is slow to the hole but quick to get through it thanks to his surprisingly acceleration for his size. You aren’t going to arm tackle him thanks to his sheer size and strength, plus he can get going pretty fast if you let him pick up steam. He doesn’t usually run very upright and that makes him tough to tackle in the hole, but there are times he stops his feet in the backfield and that makes him a sitting duck as he will be upright and have no head of steam. I actually think he could thrive in a zone scheme as he is very good at finding cut-back lanes and does a great job of planting his foot and hitting the hole once he sees it. He is definitely a lot more physical than I gave him credit for coming into the season and I was very pleased to see that. He has impressive leg drive as expected, but he lowered his shoulder and fought for tough yardage a lot more as a junior than I thought I saw as a sophomore. I loved how he was finishing runs this year, and having that mentality in addition to the quickness he possesses makes him a much more intriguing back than I previously gave him credit for.

Running Outside: This is one phase of the game where Bell leaves something to be desired. He simply doesn’t have the pure speed necessary to get the edge and running him outside simply will be playing against his strengths as a runner which lie between the tackles for the most part. Bell has good enough vision that he will likely be able to find cut-back lanes and salvage what carries he does get to the outside, but he’s not going to beat a lot of defenders to the corner at the next level. He doesn’t even do it consistently in college, and he seems to realize that he is better off finding a cut-back lane and getting upfield than trying to win by getting to the sideline.

Receiving: Bell isn’t a great receiver by any means, but he is above-average and should be good enough to catch passes out of the backfield if nothing else. I don’t see a good route runner that can make catches away from his frame or in traffic, but as a check down or screen option he should be reliable at the next level. He’s not a game-breaker in the screen game, but he has solid enough hands that if you don’t keep an eye on him he can make you pay as a receiver.

Blocking: Bell has all the size and strength you could ever want in a pass blocker at running back and while he is reliable in this phase of the game he only figures to get better with NFL coaching. He steps up to engage the defender “in the trees” and has the lateral agility to mirror defenders coming off the edge. The effort and skill set is all there, so I expect him to be a quality pass protector at the next level.

Vision: I was also pleasantly surprised by Bell’s vision. I don’t think he is elite in this area, but he is certainly good enough to be a quality NFL starter and that was encouraging to see. As I mentioned previously I think he would be a very intriguing fit in a zone blocking scheme and you can’t be an effective runner in that scheme without the vision to find cut-back lanes. He runs patiently as he allows his blocks to set up (almost too patiently sometimes, particularly when he’s running outside) and uses his blockers effectively to gain additional yardage at the second level and when he gets into the open field. He may not have blazing speed, but his vision helps him gain additional yardage when he gets into a crease.

Ball Security: From all that I have seen fumbling is absolutely not an issue for Bell. He keeps the ball high and tight even on his patented spin move and I didn’t see him fumble in any of the games I watched while writing this scouting report. I’d be very surprised if ball security is a problem for Bell in the NFL.

Overall: If you follow me on Twitter then you will know that I was not a Le’Veon Bell fan coming into the season and described him as a “finesse back trapped in a power backs body” at one point. However, I’m not afraid to admit when I’m wrong and in this instance I believe I am. Bell showed me a lot more toughness and physicality as a junior and I was very happy to see that. I thought he lowered his shoulder more, fought for the tough yards better and finished runs stronger than he did a year ago. Add on the fact that his quickness and shiftiness serves him very well and he’s a very intriguing running back. I don’t think he’s going to be much more than an average to above-average receiver in the NFL, but I don’t think he needs to be much more than that to be effective in the passing game. Add on the fact that he has good vision and pass protects well (especially considering he was really only “the guy” for one full year) and he’s quite the back. He’s not going to be a big home-run hitter, but he has a very unique and intriguing skill set that I think warrants 2nd-3rd round consideration without a doubt. I never thought I’d say that coming into the season, but like I said, I’ll admit when I’m wrong if I am proven to be so. In this case, I’m pleased to say that I am.

Projection: Top 75. I think Bell could very well end up in the 2nd round, but if he doesn’t I don’t think he gets out of the top half of the 3rd even in a deep running back class. But it’s very realistic that he could come off the board in the late 2nd to team like the Packers or the Falcons. The Steelers also figure to be interested in him as well.

Size: Michael has nearly prototypical size for the running back position, at least in my opinion. He is listed at 5’10”, 220 pounds and essentially looks like a create-a-player on a football video game. He’s got a strong lower body as well as a strong upper body. When you draw up a NFL running back there’s a good chance he has the physique of Michael.

Speed: Michael may not have elite speed, but for his size his speed is more than good enough for the next level. He’s not a 4.4 flat guy, but running a 4.53 40 yard dash at 220 pounds is definitely impressive. He’s faster than you’d expect given his size, and you can see that when you watch him as some defenders expect to be able to take a lazy angle and all of a sudden he is by them. However, I don’t think he has the straight line speed to consistently get the edge at the next level and will have to make his money between the tackles.

Quickness: Michael has plenty of quickness, particularly for his size. He doesn’t stop and start as quickly as I would prefer, and his change of direction speed leaves a little to be desired, but overall his quickness is good and he accelerates quickly. He can make defenders miss or attempt poor tackles thanks to his agility, and that complements his strength and power effectively.

Running Inside: This is where Michael is going to have to thrive at the next level if he is going to be a feature back. Michael seems to be at his best when he can read the hole, plant and go. He runs with good pad level, has good leg drive and can spin off of defenders to gain extra yardage. He can “get small” to fit through holes and seams, and thanks to his burst and strength he is tough to bring down with arm tackles in the hole. He generates good leg drive and will gain tough yards. Seems to have good balance and a low center of gravity.

Running Outside: Michael’s lack of great vision holds him back a bit here, and when there isn’t an obvious hole I feel that he wastes steps and he tries to bounce things outside too quickly at times. Compounding  that is the fact that he doesn’t have the straight line speed to get the corner whenever he wants and I don’t think he’s going to be a great outside runner at the next level.

Receiving: Michael may not have been used very consistently as a receiver, but I think that he can be an effective receiver if given the opportunity. I don’t think he is especially strong in this area, but he has the potential to be a reliable receiver out of the backfield if given the opportunity despite the fact that he catches with his body more than I would like.

Blocking: I personally believe Michael needs some work in this area of his game. He doesn’t consistently give great effort as a blocker and you can tell he would probably prefer to have the ball in his hands. Whoever drafts him is going to have to coach him up in this area, and unless he has a progressive offensive coach this is going to keep him off the field early until the coach trusts him to keep the quarterback upright as a pass protector.

Vision: I am not 100% sold on Michael’s vision. I think he misses seams at times, isn’t as comfortable when an obvious hole isn’t opened up, and too often I just see him run head-first into a crowd in the middle of the field instead of patiently running to the seams the offensive line has created. Perhaps this can be improved upon, but right now I’m not totally comfortable with his vision as a ball-carrier.

Ball Security: This was an issue for Michael in 2011 and there are times when he carries the ball too low which makes him susceptible to letting the ball get punched out or stripped. This is correctable, but it’s certainly a bad habit.

Overall: Michael is a bit of a frustrating player to evaluate because when you watch him you can see how much talent he has. He’s an impressive physical specimen, he runs well, he has good speed and quickness (especially given his size), but despite his physical attributes the tape just doesn’t match up with how much talent he has. Part of that is injuries, but part of that is that I don’t think he does all the small things that good or great running backs do. He hasn’t proven to be an effective receiver out of the backfield (16 receptions the last two years combined), he isn’t a reliable pass protector, he has ball security issues and most importantly I don’t think he has great vision. He certainly has a lot of upside, but given his issues with the new coaching staff this year (essentially didn’t play in the Cotton Bowl) as well as the lack of polish to his all-around game I would be concerned with drafting him early. In the 3rd or 4th round range I think his talent outweighs the concerns surrounding him, but in the 2nd round I would be quite hesitant to draft him. I think there is some bust potential with him because he has largely gotten this far based on his talent, and the only way he’s going to be a feature back is if he commits and works hard to improve as a receiver and as a blocker. Even then he might not live up to his potential because of his unfortunate injury history (season ending broken leg injury in 2010 and torn ACL in 2011). He unquestionably has talent, he’s one of the most naturally talented backs in this draft class, but it concerns me that so much of that potential has yet to be reached. That will intrigue some teams, but more conservative ones will likely knock him for that. If you roll the dice on him you are either going to get a steal that makes everyone who passed on him feel foolish or you are going to get a back who knows exactly how talented he is and either couldn’t stay healthy or never committed to polishing his game.

Projection: Top 100. I think he will likely come off the board in the 3rd round. He’s got too much talent to fall much further than the beginning of the 4th, but if he does it will likely mean teams were turned off by his interviews. If there is a team that loves him I could see him going as early as late 2nd, but I would personally wait until the 3rd.

Size: Lacy has fantastic size for a running back and he combines that with very impressive athleticism. He is listed at 5’11”, 231 pounds and he is an absolute chore to get to the ground. Thanks to his size and speed he is very hard to bring down, particularly if he has you one on one in the open field. His sheer size and strength alone is evident the second you start watching him as he is almost impossible to arm tackle, he displays extremely impressive leg drive and gains a lot of yardage after contact.

Speed: Lacy hasn’t been officially timed in the 40 yard dash at this point but it is evident when you watch him that he has impressive straight line speed for his size. I think he is in the 4.48-4.52 range in the 40, so I am interested to see what he is timed at when he works out later this month. He isn’t going to get the corner whenever he wants at the next level, but he definitely has the speed to break off chunks of yardage and he is extremely tough to bring down once he gets up to top speed. I personally think he is one of the best height/weight/speed backs in the draft and that isn’t often said about power backs as big as Lacy.

Quickness: Lacy’s quickness and agility jumps out at you almost instantly when you watch him. He is shockingly quick and agile for his size and it helps him hit holes quickly and with impressive force. His acceleration is impressive as is his ability to make defenders miss in the open field. Had I not already seen him play live I would have been shocked by his ability to get defenders off balance with his shiftiness. Combining that with his size and strength is a very potent product.

Running Inside: Lacy is fantastic at running between the tackles. This certainly had something to do with him running through some truly massive lanes thanks to his offensive line, but his quickness, ability to run through arm tackles like they are ribbons at the end of a marathon, and leg drive make him a very effective inside runner. He runs with good pad level and packs a punch if he is met in the hole after which he will either drive his legs for tough yards or occasionally spin off the initial hit for more yardage. He can absolutely wear you down by gaining tough yards after contact, then he can get you in the open field and make you miss on the way to a big run up the middle. He’s the complete package as far as running between the tackles.

Running Outside: I didn’t expect Lacy to be as good at running outside as he was, but obviously that’s not going to be his strong suit at the next level. Part of his effectiveness was undeniably the brilliant blocking by his tackles and tight ends on the edges, but his surprising ability to make defenders miss, plant his foot and burst upfield and his obvious strength and power make him a handful out on the edge. It’s possible to string him out and I think that will happen to him more at the next level than it did at Alabama but he has the vision and athleticism to at least get some carries outside at the next level in my opinion. He won’t be as effective as he is between the tackles, but I think he can do it because of how well he uses his blockers when he is in space.

Receiving: Lacy is a reliable receiver but I don’t think he will be anything more than an above-average to good receiver out of the backfield at the next level. He seems to have pretty soft hands, but he has dropped some passes that had a little heat on them (particularly outside of his frame or above his head). He hasn’t caught a lot of passes at Alabama, but he is more than reliable in the flats or in the screen game. Beyond that he won’t have a huge impact, but he likely won’t be asked to do much more anyway.

Blocking: This was one part of Lacy’s game that really disappointed me. He has all the size, strength and athleticism to be a potentially great pass protector but he leaves a lot to be desired in this area of his game. In all of the games I watched of him I only noted two “good” blocks in pass protection and those were both against smaller players. He will occasionally cut block effectively, but the vast majority of the time he shoulder stings the defender he is blocking or helping with and floats out into the flat. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch because he could potentially take the defender he is blocking out of the play completely, but instead he elects to essentially bump into them and that’s it. He needs a running backs coach that will light a fire under him and motivate him to play with better effort while also working on his technique in pass protection. He has all the upside to be a great pass blocker, but at this point virtually none of it has been realized.

Vision: I think Lacy has good but not great vision as a runner. At times he will be almost too patient when he’s running, but I would prefer a runner to err on the side of being patient and letting his blocks set up rather than forcing the issue too early. He does a good job finding the initial hole when running inside, and he finds cut-back lanes effectively in addition to using his blocks well when he runs outside or in the open field. His offensive line was so good that there are times when he attempted to be looking for a big lane to run through or he would try to bounce it outside instead of just taking what was there and moving on to the next down. I think that this will be coachable because he doesn’t try to hit the home run every carry, but it was a tendency I noticed when I was watching him.

Ball Security: This was another part of Lacy’s game that concerned me. He doesn’t have a lot of issues fumbling the ball, but he does carry the ball too low at times (only two points of pressure versus the three you are supposed to have). Additionally, when he spins or fights for extra yardage there are times he lets the ball get too far away from his body which makes him susceptible to getting stripped. Once again, this can be coached up a bit, but it’s still a red flag for me.

Overall: There’s no doubt that Lacy is an intriguing talent. He has all the size, strength, speed, quickness and power that you could want in a running back in my opinion. Combine that with pretty good vision, reliable hands and the potential to be a good pass blocker and it’s no surprise that he is at the top of most running back rankings. Personally I think he is a virtual lock to go in the top 50 picks depending on how his workout goes and if he interviews well. He would be a great fit for a team that likes to pound the ball such as the Steelers or the Falcons, but I don’t think he’s going to be an elite back at the next level. I think he could have a couple very good or even great seasons, but I don’t think he’s going to be “special.” There’s no reason he couldn’t be a very good back though, particularly if he lands on a team with a good offensive line and other weapons around him that will keep teams from stacking the box against him. Backs with his combination of size, 4.5 speed, leg drive, quickness, elusiveness and balance don’t exactly grow on trees.

Projection: Top 50. He gets a top 40 grade from me, and while I’m not sure he ends up in round 1 once in for all I would be shocked if he made it until the end of round 2, much less into round 3.

Size: Montee Ball doesn’t have elite size, but he’s not a small back. At 5’10”, 214 pounds he may not be huge but he does have strong legs, exhibits the strength to stiff arm, and has shown he can run through contact, drive his legs and gain extra yards. Ball definitely has NFL running back size.

Speed: I knew Ball didn’t have elite speed, but timing at 4.66 in the 40 at the combine exhibited some of my concerns about his straight line speed. He ran a much faster time at his pro day (4.46) but that discrepancy is pretty significant. In reality I think he’s a 4.5-4.55 guy, and there’s nothing wrong with that, it just means he’s not an overly explosive home-run threat. I don’t think he has the speed to get the edge whenever he wants at the next level, and that limits some of his upside. However, I certainly don’t think he’s slow and watching him for the past three years I’m confident in that evaluation.

Quickness: A couple years ago I might have given Ball a poor grade in this area, but even if he doesn’t have great quickness today he has substantially more burst and agility than he did before he dropped a lot of weight prior to his junior season. He looked like a completely different back, and I think that is worth noting in an evaluation. Do I think he has elite quickness? No, but I think he has good enough quickness to be an effective NFL back, and he has more elusiveness than some give him credit for. He has shiftiness to him that helps get defenders off balance and he has pretty good acceleration. Once again, this isn’t an elite attribute, but it’s good enough to be a NFL starter at running back in my opinion.

Running Inside: This is where the majority of Ball’s value lies in my opinion. He has an abundance of experience running between the tackles at Wisconsin and I believe that is where his best running will come at the next level as well. He runs patiently, sets up his blockers well, and decisively hits the hole when he finds one. He knows when to just make sure he gets the first down and when to look for additional yardage, he runs through arm tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage effectively, and while he isn’t elite at making defenders miss in close quarters to turn a negative play into a positive one he can provide that at times. Ball’s great balance is regularly on display on runs up the middle as he is able to sustain contact and stay up, run through arm tackles, and spin off of tacklers for additional yardage.

Running Outside: As expected, this is one area where I think Ball is going to be restricted at the next level. He doesn’t have the pure speed to outrun NFL caliber defenders to the corner and will likely be forced to look for cut-back lanes to gain what yardage he can on outside runs. His quickness and vision will help him do an adequate job of that, but at the end of the day running Ball on tosses and asking him to outrun linebackers and safeties to the corner isn’t playing to his strengths.

Receiving: Ball has proven to be a very capable receiver out of the backfield and I think he will be able to step in and contribute immediately in this phase of the game. He isn’t a great route runner and he doesn’t thrive on making contested catches in traffic, but he showed what he can do when he had Russell Wilson at quarterback his junior year. Ball caught 24 passes for 306 yards and 6 touchdowns that year, so despite only catching 10 passes for 72 yards this year it is evident that he can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield. Once again he is not elite in this area, but he is absolutely serviceable.

Blocking: Coming into the year I was giving Ball a lot of credit for being a good pass blocker that was very well rounded in every phase of the game but he underwhelmed me as a pass blocker this year. I definitely think that the effort and “want to” is there, but there were absolutely times when he made a mental mistake that resulted in a pressure or when he simply struggled with technique that ended with a similar result. I think he will improve in this area with NFL coaching, but right now I’m not as sold on him as a pass blocking back as I was coming into his senior year.

Vision: I think this is one of Ball’s strongest assets and it’s what makes me confident that he will have a successful NFL career despite lacking elite athleticism. Ball benefited from having a good offensive line during his sophomore and junior seasons, but the offensive line was very bad at the beginning of this season and his yardage totals suffered as a result. However, as the line gelled and the passing game opened up a bit once Joel Stave was inserted into the starting lineup Ball had some more room to run and “shockingly” his numbers improved. I believe Ball’s vision is very good, he runs patiently, uses his blockers well to gain additional yardage, and finds cutback lanes effectively enough to be a fit in a zone scheme if he was drafted into one.

Ball Security: This is another area where Ball is excellent. He fumbled a couple times as a senior year but before that he did a fantastic job of protecting the ball and avoiding fumbles. That has a lot to do with him carrying the ball exactly the way you’re taught: three points of pressure, high and tight and he doesn’t wave the ball away from his body when he is fighting for extra yardage. One of his only fumbles I’ve ever seen was when he was diving over the pile against Ohio State this season. Had Ryan Shazier not made an amazing play to meet him at the goal line and jar the ball out of his hands it may have been yet another touchdown instead of a game-changing turnover.

Overall: I have been a Montee Ball fan for years, and watching him transition from a 235+ pound power back with limited agility and burst to a 5’10”, 215 pound workhorse has been extremely fun to watch. One of the big questions regarding Ball is the sheer amount of work he has gotten since arriving at Wisconsin, and given the wear and tear a running back takes that is very legitimate. However, Ball has rarely missed time with injuries since arriving at Wisconsin, and if he is cleared medically regarding the concussions he sustained within the last year then I won’t worry about him from an injury or durability standpoint at all. The concussions are concerning, as is the way he sustained one of them (being assaulted in Madison by a group of people), but I don’t think they will cause him to fall down draft boards. As I mentioned above I believe that Ball’s pass protection will improve with NFL caliber coaching, and once it does he will be a very well-rounded running back. He will be an effective runner with quality vision, an effective receiver with above-average hands, and an effective pass protector. He won’t ever be a home-run threat every time he gets a carry, but he will be an effective starting caliber back at the next level and barring injury I think he will provide a NFL team with 7-8 years of quality service as a starter. I don’t think he has a shot to go round 1, but I have a 2nd-3rd round grade on him personally. He’s not a star, but he is definitely a NFL caliber starter in my opinion.

Projection: 3rd round. I wouldn’t be angry if my team picked Ball in round 2, but I think given his heavy college workload, his recent history of concussions and his lack of elite athleticism that round 3 is where he is most likely to come off the board. Anyone who gets him in round 4 or later is getting a nice value.

Size: Johnson has prototypical left tackle size as he weighed in at 6062 (6’6” ¼), 302 pounds with 35 inch arms. He needs to get stronger in the lower body as he is noticeably thin in his lower half, but he has the frame to add more weight.

Athleticism: Johnson is a very athletic player and you can see that when you watch him play. He is more than athletic enough to get to the second level, reach block or get out on screens. It was recently reported that he ran a sub 4.7 40 yard dash while training for the combine, so that helps put into perspective how athletic he is. He is a former tight end and defensive end, so it would not surprise me if he ran in the 4.8 range at the combine.

Technique: I went back and watched some of Lane Johnson’s 2011 games to get a feel for how his technique has developed from his junior to senior season. Based on the games I saw it has improved considerably and Johnson seems to be picking up the position quickly. He played exclusively at right tackle in the games that I saw as a junior before starting at left tackle but moving to right tackle at times during his senior year. He was capable at both positions, but his footwork still needs some improvement in my opinion. I don’t think he gets very good depth in his kick slide, and his hand placement could be improved as well. I think these are both coachable issues, but they showed up consistently when I was watching him. Given that he’s only played the position for two years he has shown consistent improvement from the beginning of his junior season to the end of his senior year, so it is reasonable to expect that he will continue to develop with NFL coaching.

Pass Protection: This is Johnson’s strong suit in my opinion. He is still learning the nuances of pass protection, but he has a lot of potential to be a very good pass blocking left tackle. He’s obviously a very good athlete and possesses impressive size and length for the position. He uses his length well and it often allows him to recover even when beaten initially. I noticed that as a junior he was consistently late off the ball which gave the defender an instant advantage, but thanks to his athleticism and length he was able to recover and force the pass rusher wide. He wasn’t as consistently late off the snap as a senior which is good to see, but it’s still something I saw often enough that I think he needs to continue to work on it. Getting off the snap late and not getting great depth in his kick slide forces him into some bad habits, one of which is abandoning his kick slide and almost running with the defensive end upfield. He got away with this pretty regularly at Oklahoma thanks to his athleticism and length, but every time I saw him do it I thought “if he does this in the NFL against a pass rusher with a good spin move he’s going to get toasted” and sure enough he did it against TCU and a back-up defensive end beat him badly with a spin move back to the inside after he forced Johnson to do this. He ended up meeting Stansly Maponga at Landry Jones, and we all know how Landry Jones handles pressure. He doesn’t do this constantly, but he does it enough that I think it’s worth mentioning, and if he doesn’t work on staying in his kick slide then he’s going to make himself very susceptible to spin moves or other inside counter moves if the pass rusher can get him off balance. It’s also worth mentioning that Johnson has some issues with bull rushes at this point thanks to his relatively thin lower body. He needs to get stronger and until he does he’s going to struggle with defensive ends who can match his length and overpower him. This may have something to do with him being new to the position, but I didn’t think he mirrored pass rushers that well, at least relative to the top offensive tackles in his class. His hand placement still needs some work and there are times he lets his hands get too wide when initiating contact, but he shows a surprisingly good feel for replacing his hands when they get too far outside or when the defender attempts to slap them away. His footwork isn’t quite where I’d like it to be, but his feet looked better just weeks after his season ended at the Senior Bowl than it did when I watched him during the season. He seems to be learning very quickly and that is going to intrigue a lot of NFL teams given his impressive athleticism and length.

Run Blocking: Johnson isn’t going to blow anyone away from a run blocking standpoint but he has plenty of skills to work with in this area. Obviously he doesn’t do a great job drive blocking given his lack of lower body strength, but he is very athletic and when he gets off the ball quickly (he is late off the ball at times on run plays as well) he can gain an instant positional advantage over the man he is blocking thanks to his quickness and speed. He gets to the second level very easily when he is asked to and I liked how he showed some nastiness to finish blocks with pancakes both in games and at the Senior Bowl. There are times that he bends at the waist and overextends in this facet of his game though and that concerns me. I don’t think he’s ever going to be a dominant, mauling run blocker, but he was effective enough at reach blocking and blocking down on defensive tackles to make me believe he wouldn’t be a liability at the next level.

Overall: Johnson is a very intriguing prospect and I understand why a lot of people like him. I don’t necessarily see a franchise left tackle when I watch him right now, but it is important to remember that he is still new to the position and figures to continue to get better once he starts getting NFL coaching. He’s a quality left tackle prospect as it stands, but he has the potential to be much better in a year or two and that is really going to intrigue left tackle needy teams in the top half of the draft order. Unlike Luke Joeckel and Eric Fisher I don’t think you can draft Johnson and immediately plug him in and expect him to play at a high level. He’s still learning the position and while Joeckel and Fisher both need to improve their respective anchoring ability Johnson’s lower body is noticeably thinner than both of theirs and it shows when he is bull rushed. He’s feisty and he seems to have a knack for recovering even when initially beaten, but picturing him trying to block Julius Peppers or DeMarcus Ware when they try to bull rush him scares me. I think the best scenario for Johnson would be going to a team with a stop gap option at left tackle that can use him as a swing tackle early in his career (he can play the right side and has been used as an extra tackle in overload packages at Oklahoma) while he continues to learn, get stronger and develop. However, it wouldn’t surprise me if a team picked him in the top 15 and plugged him in right away either. He’s going to take his lumps like any rookie left tackle will, but I just don’t think he’s on the same level as Joeckel or Fisher as far as polish goes. He certainly has the same lofty upside though, he’s just not as far along in his development. He has some bad habits that make me nervous, sure, but I can’t grade him as anything less than a top 20 pick. He has a very impressive skill set.

Projection: Top 15

Size: Eric Fisher has an ideal left tackle frame. He was officially listed at 6072 (6’7” ¼), 305 pounds at the Senior Bowl weigh-in in January. Playing at that height means he will have some natural issues with pad level, but he’s a natural knee bender so I don’t think it will be a huge problem for him. Fisher has 34” arms which is crucial for playing left tackle as well as huge 10 3/8” hands.

Technique: Fisher’s technique is one of his strong suits. He has a good, smooth kick slide and uses his length effectively. His hand placement is consistently good and he shows good hand replacement when he does let his hands get too far outside. He does bend at the waist occasionally when run blocking, but it’s not a consistent problem in my estimation. He does play a little high at times which negates his strength and effectiveness, but he generally plays with good balance and doesn’t lean too much when run blocking.

Pass Protection: This is the strongest aspect of Fisher’s game. He has the quickness out of his stance, lateral agility, smooth kick slide and impressive length to take away most speed rushes and consistently displayed the ability to recover when beaten to either force the defender wide or to take away a complementary move. He is aware in pass protection and only once in the five games I scouted him in did I see him make what I thought was the wrong block in pass pro. He’s not overly physical in pass protection but he definitely isn’t over-aggressive and that helps him play mistake-free football. He does tend to let the defender dictate the action until he is engaged, but once he engages the defender the play is almost always over for that player. He is somewhat susceptible to bull rushes and power moves thanks to his height, but consistently bending at the knees like he does and continuing to add lower body strength should continue to help him improve in this area. He tends to arch his back when anchoring in pass protection, but he is very difficult to beat with any outside rush. Overall, Fisher is an excellent pass blocker and that should all translate very well to the next level.

Run Blocking: Fisher isn’t a dominant run blocker, but he can generate some push when blocking one on one, blocking down on defensive tackles, and he demonstrated some physicality to finish blocks with pancakes and to take his defender out of the play. He’s not a mauler in the run game, but he is far from a liability in my opinion and should be an above average run blocker in a man scheme at the next level. He is also very quick out of his stance in the run game and that helps him get in position to wall off and seal defenders, get to the second level, or even pull at times. He’s very athletic and moves well when asked to pull and reach linebackers at the next level of the defense. He consistently finds a defender to block when asked to play in space and flashes some pop on contact. Once again, he’s not a mauler, but he has the skill set to be an effective blocker that is far from a liability in this aspect of the game. He does bend at the waist at times as well as lean or overextend which leads to balance issues, but it isn’t a consistent enough problem for me to think he won’t be able to improve on it with coaching at the NFL level.

Overall: Fisher is my number two graded offensive tackle in this class and is second only to Luke Joeckel who I think is a better pass blocker at this juncture while Fisher is the superior run blocker. Joeckel is a better fit in a zone blocking scheme while Fisher fits a man blocking scheme better in my opinion. They are both very good left tackle prospects though, and Fisher is going to be a very good starter at left tackle for the next 10-12 years if he avoids injuries in my opinion. I would not hesitate to draft him in the top 10, and I would be shocked if he made it past Arizona at #7 overall.

Projection: Top 7 lock

Size: Joeckel is listed at 6’6”, 310 pounds but we will have his official measurement in a couple weeks at the NFL Combine at which point I will update this section. I think he will likely be an official 6’5” and about 310 pounds. He has prototypical left tackle size and length even though he could stand to get stronger overall, particularly in his lower body.

Athleticism: Joeckel is one of the most athletic offensive tackles in a class that is seemingly full of them. He is consistently one of the first players off the ball, he is very smooth when getting in position for wall-off blocks and he gets to the second level effortlessly. He has all the athletic ability you could want in a left tackle prospect.

Technique: This is one of Joeckel’s strengths as a player. He generally has good hand placement inside the numbers but there are definitely too many instances where his hands get outside onto the defensive lineman’s shoulder pads which will lead to some holding calls at the next level. Joeckel’s kick slide is gorgeous though. His steps are short and choppy which help him maintain good balance which makes it easier for him to anchor versus a bull rush or recover if beaten to the inside or outside. One of the reasons he lets his hands get outside onto the shoulder pads of defenders at times is because when he comes out of his stance his arms are wide and not tight inside his frame. That’s a coachable technique point and upon watching some of his games from 2011 he did a considerably better job both from a kick slide and hand placement perspective as a junior. He does bend at the waist from time to time while in pass protection, but he leans and bends at the waist very consistently when he is asked to drive block. That leads to balance issues and results in him struggling to sustain those blocks.

Pass Protection: This is obviously the strength of Joeckel’s game and what makes him a likely top 5 pick. I previously mentioned his kick slide which is very impressive, but he is also very quick out of his stance. He is consistently one of the first out of his stance on the Aggies offensive line and actually looked better as a junior in that regard than he did in the games I watched of him as a sophomore. It’s very difficult to beat Joeckel off the edge with a speed rush thanks to his lateral agility, smooth kick slide and long arms. However, he does occasionally get beaten inside, particularly against power moves. Still, Joeckel rarely lunges in pass protection and mirrors pass rushers effectively. He has some “quick-twitch” to him which enables him to react quickly when he is technically sound. Additionally, he is smart and athletic enough to handle stunts and twists by defensive linemen easily, and he has the agility to pick up linebackers and defensive backs who are blitzing off the edge. His weakness in pass protection is power moves, most notably the bull rush. He needs to get stronger in the lower body because his anchor leaves something to be desired at this juncture. That’s not to say he can’t anchor at all, he certainly can, but he also lets his feet get too wide at times when he is trying to recover from a bull rush. The most concerning things about Joeckel’s pass protection are his less than ideal anchor and his occasional issue with waist bending which hurts his balance. Both of those issues are correctable and improvable, so overall Joeckel grades out very high in this department.

Run Blocking: This is where Joeckel leaves something to be desired. He’s never going to be a very effective drive blocker and this has to do with him leaning and bending at the waist pretty consistently when he is asked to do so. This problem isn’t always easily correctable and I usually consider it to be a habit NFL teams are going to struggle to break the player of. Joeckel has shown the mentality to finish blocks when he is asked to block down on a defensive tackle and can generate movement when asked to do so, but when he is head up with a defensive end he is much better at getting out of his stance, beating the player to a spot or reaching him and sealing him off to create a lane for his running back to run through. He struggles to sustain when man blocking because he bends at the waist, and is much more effective when asked to block down or wall off. He’s also a very effective cut blocker, and he reaches the second level easily thanks to his athleticism and consistently locates and blocks defenders when he gets there. He may not be an elite run blocker, particularly when asked to drive block, but he is very, very effective when asked to wall off to create a running lane behind him.

Overall: Joeckel is going to be a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft and he’s going to get consideration for the top overall slot regardless of whether or not Branden Albert is traded. I can understand picking him that high if you have a glaring need at the position, but ideally the player would be a dominant left tackle. They are a rare breed these days though, and Joeckel is a very good pass protector who while not ideal as a run blocker isn’t a slouch either. He has some technical issues he can clean up a bit and if he can get stronger in his lower half (and frankly his upper body as well, as I saw him simply get overpowered by Lerentee McCray, Lavar Edwards and Adrian Hubbard at times) I think he will be a high level starter. Will he be dominant? Not in my opinion, but I think he will be very good. If you’re a tackle needy in the top 7 (the Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals could all potentially be interested) Joeckel has to be near the top of your wish list.

Projection: Top 5

Size: Joeckel is listed at 6’6”, 310 pounds but we will have his official measurement in a couple weeks at the NFL Combine at which point I will update this section. I think he will likely be an official 6’5” and about 310 pounds. He has prototypical left tackle size and length even though he could stand to get stronger overall, particularly in his lower body.

Athleticism: Joeckel is one of the most athletic offensive tackles in a class that is seemingly full of them. He is consistently one of the first players off the ball, he is very smooth when getting in position for wall-off blocks and he gets to the second level effortlessly. He has all the athletic ability you could want in a left tackle prospect.

Technique: This is one of Joeckel’s strengths as a player. He generally has good hand placement inside the numbers but there are definitely too many instances where his hands get outside onto the defensive lineman’s shoulder pads which will lead to some holding calls at the next level. Joeckel’s kick slide is gorgeous though. His steps are short and choppy which help him maintain good balance which makes it easier for him to anchor versus a bull rush or recover if beaten to the inside or outside. One of the reasons he lets his hands get outside onto the shoulder pads of defenders at times is because when he comes out of his stance his arms are wide and not tight inside his frame. That’s a coachable technique point and upon watching some of his games from 2011 he did a considerably better job both from a kick slide and hand placement perspective as a junior. He does bend at the waist from time to time while in pass protection, but he leans and bends at the waist very consistently when he is asked to drive block. That leads to balance issues and results in him struggling to sustain those blocks.

Pass Protection: This is obviously the strength of Joeckel’s game and what makes him a likely top 5 pick. I previously mentioned his kick slide which is very impressive, but he is also very quick out of his stance. He is consistently one of the first out of his stance on the Aggies offensive line and actually looked better as a junior in that regard than he did in the games I watched of him as a sophomore. It’s very difficult to beat Joeckel off the edge with a speed rush thanks to his lateral agility, smooth kick slide and long arms. However, he does occasionally get beaten inside, particularly against power moves. Still, Joeckel rarely lunges in pass protection and mirrors pass rushers effectively. He has some “quick-twitch” to him which enables him to react quickly when he is technically sound. Additionally, he is smart and athletic enough to handle stunts and twists by defensive linemen easily, and he has the agility to pick up linebackers and defensive backs who are blitzing off the edge. His weakness in pass protection is power moves, most notably the bull rush. He needs to get stronger in the lower body because his anchor leaves something to be desired at this juncture. That’s not to say he can’t anchor at all, he certainly can, but he also lets his feet get too wide at times when he is trying to recover from a bull rush. The most concerning things about Joeckel’s pass protection are his less than ideal anchor and his occasional issue with waist bending which hurts his balance. Both of those issues are correctable and improvable, so overall Joeckel grades out very high in this department.

Run Blocking: This is where Joeckel leaves something to be desired. He’s never going to be a very effective drive blocker and this has to do with him leaning and bending at the waist pretty consistently when he is asked to do so. This problem isn’t always easily correctable and I usually consider it to be a habit NFL teams are going to struggle to break the player of. Joeckel has shown the mentality to finish blocks when he is asked to block down on a defensive tackle and can generate movement when asked to do so, but when he is head up with a defensive end he is much better at getting out of his stance, beating the player to a spot or reaching him and sealing him off to create a lane for his running back to run through. He struggles to sustain when man blocking because he bends at the waist, and is much more effective when asked to block down or wall off. He’s also a very effective cut blocker, and he reaches the second level easily thanks to his athleticism and consistently locates and blocks defenders when he gets there. He may not be an elite run blocker, particularly when asked to drive block, but he is very, very effective when asked to wall off to create a running lane behind him.

Overall: Joeckel is going to be a top 5 pick in the NFL Draft and he’s going to get consideration for the top overall slot depending on whether or not Branden Albert is resigned or if the Chiefs can find another serviceable left tackle in free agency. I can understand picking him that high if you have a glaring need at the position, but ideally the player would be a dominant left tackle. They are a rare breed these days though, and Joeckel is a very good pass protector who while not ideal as a run blocker isn’t a slouch either. He has some technical issues he can clean up a bit and if he can get stronger in his lower half (and frankly his upper body as well, as I saw him simply get overpowered by Lerentee McCray, Lavar Edwards and Adrian Hubbard at times) I think he will be a high level starter. Will he be dominant? Not in my opinion, but I think he will be very good. If you’re a tackle needy in the top 7 (the Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals could all potentially be interested) Joeckel has to be near the top of your wish list.

Projection: Top 5