One of the keys to a successful NFL draft is understanding the depth of a class. As fans, we often get so enamored with a certain player’s skill set and highlight reel that we really want that guy on our team. It’s understandable. The flashy highlight plays draw us in, and it’s what we want all our teams to have. However, it is important to understand everything you are getting with a player.
High round draft picks are gold in the NFL; it’s difficult to acquire more and you don’t want to miss on a pick. But at the same time, teams don’t want to take a player if someone who is 90% of that player can be had in later rounds. Understanding positional depth in a draft can be the difference between getting one or two starters and getting three or four.
All three of the players discussed below are talented players who can have extremely successful careers at the next level. Saying that there are guys who are better values isn’t a knock on their talent; instead, it’s a strategy to attack the draft better. Let’s look at a few guys who if your team misses out a top pick early, will be able to replicate most of what that other player does.
Malik Hooker vs. Tedric Thompson
Malik Hooker is thought of as an elite top 10 prospect by the consensus of talent evaluators. He is rightfully praised for his incredible ball skills and elite range. He is a true center fielder who covers as much ground as any prospect coming out in a long time. However, there are flaws in his game. He has issues with his tackling angles where he puts himself out of position, leading to big runs by the opposition.
His best angles on tape are thanks to play design that gets him to the right place, but he doesn’t show the instincts to do this outside of play design in the run game. He also has issues with his tackling form, going shoulder first and not wrapping up defenders. He will show flashes of good tackling, but it is far too inconsistent for my liking. He is a true zone center fielder who will struggle to man up with slot receivers or tight ends. While he may improve in these areas, a top 15 pick as Malik Hooker is sure to be shouldn’t have so many glaring weaknesses.
Tedric Thompson is thought of as a third or fourth round pick. He too shares the struggles of Malik Hooker. He is not a physical player, and he struggles when he is near the line of scrimmage. He takes good angles, but often flat out misses ball carriers, appearing as if he is making a business decision. He struggles in man to man coverage, where he can be exposed as a weakness in a defense that quarterbacks will attack with slot receivers.
Where Thompson excels is his deep range and ball skills. Scouting box scores is never a good way to get an understanding of a prospect, but what it does do is show comparable numbers between Hooker and Thompson. Thompson and Hooker had the same number of interceptions (7) while Thompson had 16 pass break ups to Hooker’s 4.
There can be many reasons for this, including Thompson playing in more games and likely getting more opportunities than Hooker in the pass happy Pac-12 instead of the pro style Big-10. However, it does show that Thompson has the ball skills you look for in a center field safety. On tape he shows good range, but his best trait is his ability to track the QBs eyes and take away throws.
Thompson can be a successful NFL starter who thrives in a center field role. He won’t cover as much ground as Hooker does, but at his price tag he is the better investment.
Tedric Thompson Career Stats
|Games||Total Tackles||Loss||Sack||INT||Defensive TDs||PD||FF||FR|
Malik Hooker Career Stats
|Class||Games||Total Tackles||Loss||Sack||INT||Defensive TDs||PD||FF||FR|
Evan Engram vs Gerald Everett
Evan Engram is listed as a tight end, but the best way to describe him is as a weapon. He is a chess piece that can be used all over the field from inline to slot; he can even play on the outside and win in his matchups. Engram tested in the 98th percentile, running a 4.42 40-yard dash at 6’3” 234lbs. Combining his size and speed with his route running will give linebackers and safeties fits. He needs to improve on concentration drops and make more contested catches. He shows strong hands and the ability to high point the football, so he should improve in all forms of catching the ball.
Where Engram struggles is in his blocking. He lacks the functional strength to drive defenders at the next level. He does a good job of fighting, but this will be a struggle for him throughout his career. It has led to analysts suggesting he plays a full-time role out of the slot. He will likely be used inline and in the slot, but he should come out of the game in obvious run situations.
Often, a player can be called a poor man’s version of another player. Well if Engram is a rich man, Everett is still living in the suburbs with a Mercedes. Everett does everything Engram does almost as well. He too is a chess piece that you can move around. He lined up at fullback, tight end, and receiver. He wins with good speed, running a 4.62 40-yard dash, and crisp route running.
His hand size is a concern at measuring at 8 ½”, but it didn’t show up in his play on the field. He showed the ability to use his body in contested catch situations, and to extend for a ball in space.
Like Engram, he lacks the functional strength to be an inline blocker, but his effort isn’t lacking either. He is a good blocker in space, showing the ability take on corners and spring outside runs and screens on the edge. While Engram deserves his high praise as a player, it will likely take a top 40 pick to snag him. Everett can provide the same versatility to your offense that Engram can, but he likely won’t go until the middle of the third round or later. At the price tag, Everett is the better value.
Leonard Fournette vs Samaje Perine
There may not be a more polarizing prospect than Leonard Fournette. His highlight reel runs are a thing of beauty. Once he gets in the open field it’s game over for the defense. He uses his combination of size and speed to run through defensive backs as if they aren’t even there.
While Fournette’s best runs are incredible, his game is not without flaws. His lateral quickness can be an issue, although it isn’t a huge part of his game. His vision can leave something to be desired; at times he will go full speed ahead into blocks. He can struggle in pass protection and his hands are an issue.
Fournette’s good is special, but he will need to be part of a backfield that has a guy to take the third down role. If Fournette is drafted by a team that has a good offensive line that can get him to the second level, he will live up to the hype of his billing; if he doesn’t have a good offensive line, he may struggle to find success. Fournette has been rumored to go as high as number 2 overall, and is almost sure to be a first-round pick. That is a steep price to pay for someone who may only play two thirds of the snaps.
Samaje Perine may best be described as a human bowling ball. He has a strong, compact frame at 5’11” 234lbs that he uses to run over defenders. He uses his strength and balance to plow through defenders, and while he doesn’t have Fournette’s speed he will still cause serious issues for defenders in the secondary.
Like Fournette, Perine’s lateral quickness and vision aren’t a strength of his. He looks to be a hammer and can run directly into a defender assuming he can just through them. Perine has exceptional balance, showing an ability to stay up where others will go down, often putting his hand in the ground to keep himself up. Much like Fournette, Perine relies on his size and strength to pass protect. He goes for blow up blocks, which will cause him to miss some rushers at the next level.
Perine was rarely asked to catch the ball as Oklahoma had Joe Mixon, who was a freak out of the backfield. Perine never caught more than 15 passes in a season, and he will likely maintain a 2-down power-back role in the NFL. Perine is part of a loaded running back class who can each fill different roles extremely well. The depth of the class will likely cause him to fall to the third or fourth round where he will provide a similar skillset to Fournette at a fraction of the cost.