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It’s finally here, the last in my bowl observations series. If you have followed along, this is my seventh and perhaps most important installment. These are exciting times as the NFL playoffs are in full swing and we have a two-time national championship team, The Alabama Crimson Tide. I created these columns to start conversations and encourage reflection throughout the entire draft process. These are my observations based on the bowl games, unless otherwise indicated. I am listing these players by order of importance to your upcoming rookie drafts and start-up dynasty leagues.
Eddie Lacy, RB ALA
Lacy took the fight to Notre Dame under the bright lights. He is a strong, powerful runner who likes nothing better than running over or through people. The running back has excellent vision, as shown during his 20-yard touchdown to open up the scoring in the big game. He showed good patience and used his blockers well. It was still a bit of a surprise that such a big back could show such an excellent jump cut and spin moves. He actually looked like a top on his touchdown reception.
In the passing game, he has his strengths and weaknesses. Lacy had no problems in pass blocking, and was always looking for someone to hit when in protection. He was a willing blocker as he looked for contact on every passing play where he wasn’t running a pass pattern. His hands, however, could be cause for concern, as he fought with the ball at times. Despite that slight issue, I have him and Montee Ball as my top-tier running backs in a weak class.
Manti T’eo, LB ND
T’eo was a beast this year and my heart goes out to him for the losses he has endured throughout the season. Unfortunately for him, this was the worst performance I saw from him. The senior linebacker got caught a few times peering into the backfield when he should have focused on the blockers crashing down on him. He also got caught out of position on Lacy’s 20-yard touchdown run, a play that normally would have seen him stepping into the hole and filling the gap. It wasn’t all bad – he was able to shed blockers and make plays on the ball carriers, but he will need to do this more often while not getting caught looking the wrong way. It didn’t help that his defensive linemen kept getting injured and could not keep him clean. Despite these troubles, T’eo was always around the ball as he seemed to be the second defender to arrive in every pile. He is still a top three IDP rookie to me, even with the warts.
Tyler Eifert, TE ND
Eifert was one of the few bright spots for the Golden Domers this year. He lines up everywhere – in the slot, outside, wingback, or in-line and was set motion often to get in the best coverage matchups. The athletic tight end started off the game matched up against Alabama’s best corner, Dee Milliner, with limited success. As with T’eo above, Eifert has some excellent qualities, but blocking doesn’t seem to be one of them. He did well to get in front of his assignments, but most times they just threw him aside like a rag doll. On the plus side, he attacks the ball at his highest point and fights off physical coverage very well. Once he has the ball in his hands, he isn’t afraid to bust out a spin more and fight for extra yardage with constant leg drive. Eifert projects to be more of a move/joker tight end who should be selected in the first round of all rookie drafts.
Damonte Moore, DE TAM
Moore is one of the more violent defensive ends in college football. He has a great first step which causes havoc in the offensive backfield. Unlike most defenders, he is versatile enough to line up in any defensive line position. When he played defensive end, Moore held his position, but the offense almost always threw another chip blocker at him to help the offensive tackle. He demonstrated brute power and determination in making his way to the ball carrier; however, at times, he over commits and gets washed out of plays. Moore is athletic enough to drop back into coverage or jump over the offensive line to knock down passes. He had two tremendous plays that stood out to me. In the first quarter, a guard and a tackle were both holding him and he managed to break free from both linemen tackling the runner for a loss. Then in the fourth quarter, the defensive playmaker fought through a block by the offensive tackle to reach out and grab the runner throwing both offensive players to the ground. Moore is another one of the outstanding DL options in your 2013 rookie draft.
Ryan Swope, WR TAM
Swope is the new Texas A&M all-time receptions leader and he was quite effective in his bowl game. The wide receiver snags the ball out the air at its highest point despite having a defender in his hip pocket. He is willing to run crossing patterns over the middle and does a good job protecting himself from big hits. Swope will not excite anyone with his measurements, but he takes good angles, has great body control, sees the field well and uses his quickness to gain extra yardage. Even though he plays the slot almost exclusively, Swope has a toughness/determination to him, which he demonstrated breaking a tackle on his 33 yard touchdown catch. I think he can develop into a starting slot receiver in the NFL, but his dynasty upside is probably only a WR4 at best.
Landry Jones, QB OKLA
Jones was one of the quarterbacks who almost left for the NFL last season, but stayed for his senior year to get more experience. The signal caller has leadership and intangibles covered. He plays at a high tempo and does a good job getting the ball out quickly. Jones is very accurate within ten yards of the line of scrimmage and puts a decent zip on the ball on those short passes. His pump fakes and phantom handoffs are effective freezing the defenders for an extra second or two.
Jones comes with some major concerns, though. He is not very mobile and his arm-strength past 20 yards is questionable. He reminds me of former Jet/Dolphin quarterback Chad Pennington in this regard. Even when his team was down by three touchdowns, Jones kept taking safe, short throws as it appeared he did not trust his arm down the field. Most of his long passes floated in the air and were easy to defend, or in one case, resulted in an interception. In the second half, the quarterback suffered several delay of game penalties which seemed to be more of a result of the pressure he was feeling than a communication problem with the sideline. Jones might become a QB1 in time, but I see him as a strong backup for an NFL team for now.
Devin Street, WR PIT
Street was the beneficiary of some garbage time stats, but flashed nonetheless. He was a more physical player than I had thought despite his lanky size (6′ 4″ 190 lbs). He showed good pad level blocking on running plays and isn’t afraid to hand fight with defensive coverage. Street can sky the ball at its highest point and runs crisp routes even though he is more of a long strider. I saw a bit of a wiggle on a crossing pattern, when he shook off two defenders in route to a 20+ yard gain. He did a good job boxing out the cornerback en route to a ten-yard touchdown. Street’s value in a rookie draft is very dependent on where he lands.
Roosevelt Nix, DE/OLB KENT
Nix seems a bit too big to play linebacker at 295 lbs, but crazier moves happen in the NFL. He was very quick out of his stance and got past the line of scrimmage in a hurry. I’m not sure if he will ever become a dominant defender, but he flashed some excellent play by shedding blockers with both swim and spin moves. Nix did not play all out on every play, which is a concern. He projects as a part-time pass rusher, so keep him in mind near the end of your rookie drafts. #MacAction (twitter hashtag for the Mid-American Conference)
Make sure you follow my new series covering the East/West Shrine Game on location next week. I will be on the DLF Podcast next Wednesday (live from St. Petersburg) talking everything Shrine, practices and game, as well as the following Wednesday, talking Senior Bowl. Make sure you follow me on twitter @AndrewMiley.