If looking to target draft accuracy as a forecaster (which is an effort to be accurate predicting the actual NFL Draft, as compared to projecting player success) a key component is understanding where and how players are being used in new ways. Here’s a scouting tip to understand: the more a team is able to identify a chess piece/mis-match on either offense or defense, the more other teams in the league are going to look for similar skill-sets in an effort to replicate that success.
Looking forward to the 2017 season and the 2018 NFL Draft, a number of prominent trends are already visible, which should assist evaluators across all platforms should be able to zero in on. Understanding these “buzz roles” helps to keep on eye on prospects who gain traction and get hot throughout the process. Here are three hot trends in roster construction and a few candidates that could fill each role:
Big/”Nickel LB” Safeties
Players like Deone Bucannon and Keanu Neal are great examples in recent seasons of booming players in the secondary that fit the mold. Teams are dialed in on defenders that can drop down into the box from the third level and support the run in the nickel package. With the high frequency of 1 back sets and additional skill players in offensive formations, defenses are stressed to find athletes that can compensate for a thinner box.
Some of these players are niche defenders but the truly special ones are players like Virginia’s Quin Blanding; who can cover on the back end as a middle of the field defender but still drop down and have success working in the box. Regardless, a big bodied Safety who can buzz down and lay wood between the tackles is a popular target in recent years.
Potential targets: Marcus Allen, Penn State; Quin Blanding, Virginia
Vertical Tight Ends
The emergence of this position started with names like Antonio Gates and Jimmy Graham in New Orleans in this current life cycle. Now, players like Evan Engram, O.J. Howard and David Njoku are getting their names called early. While each of the three respective tight ends has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, they all have one thing in common: they’re super gifted as athletes and have long speed to burn vertically up the hash.
This year, several candidates are present whom could be next in line. With the space in the middle of the field to work, the size of a special athlete at the tight end position is a glaring hole in the middle of defenses. Very few defenders can lock horns with these players down the field and as a result contested catches and big run after catch opportunities are a weekly constant in the NFL.
Potential targets: Mike Gesicki, Penn State; Dallas Goedert, South Dakota State
This was nearly listed as “LSU Linebackers”. The Falcons appear to have cornered the market on LSU speed at the linebacker corp with Deion Jones and Duke Riley now in place. But Haason Reddick and Jarrad Davis were also top 25 selections this year, boasting notable burst and acceleration skills. Both of these players had additional questions from some pundits (Reddick with size and Davis with finishing as a tackler and durability). Yet they were the top two off ball linebackers selected. Much like with the big safety buzz, getting three down linebackers in today’s NFL is paramount.
Now, neither of our listed targets here are necessarily going to go in the top 25, but getting a bump up to the second day of the Draft thanks to range and burst certainly fits the Duke Riley mold. These two are slightly undersized with speed to burn on the second level. Their range and speed are assets that could, with better all around play (or better health) garner them notable attention throughout the All-Star and pre-Draft circuits.
Potential targets: Azeem Victor, Washington; Skai Moore, South Carolina