All right guys, we have reached the last meaty bite I am going to ask you to take (this draft season, at least). The first round starts in under 24 hours and I think we're all excited to get this business underway. In the meantime, you can check out my report on three players who merit consideration on Saturday: Brandon Lindsey, Darius Fleming and Jacquies Smith.
Brandon Lindsey, Pittsburgh
Projected Round: 4-6
Another player who split time in college standing up and playing with his hand in the dirt, Lindsey has experience rushing the passer from multiple stances. There are a few of these guys in the draft and it's the same story here -- standing up around the line of scrimmage in college will give Lindsey less of a transition to a professional 3-4. However, his draft stock is all over the place, with some predicting he will go as high as the second round. Lindsey was inconsistent on the field, described as being invisible in some games, dominant in others. To go along with this, he has a solid motor but it doesn't always appear to be running.
Lindsey vs. Syracuse
Decent effort here, seems to stay in the play reasonably well even when he's not directly involved in it. Lindsey wins with speed or he doesn't win, appearing helpless when linemen get their hands on him. No apparent pass rush skills, much of his production coming from being in the right place at the right time rather than winning his battles outright.
Even though Lindsey came out of that game with an impressive stat sheet, it convinced me that he projects closer to the end of the draft than the start. You want your OLB's to attack the edge; Lindsey spends more time just hanging out.
Let's give him another chance, shall we?
Holds up a little better at the point of attack in this film, announcing himself in the run game early. Generates some pressure on his own but it's more because he's faster than what these college lineman are able to deal with -- I don't think many of those plays would hold up in the NFL. He also plays defensive end exclusively which makes me think this is actually Junior tape.
I put him in rounds 4-6. If a team falls in love with his quickness getting off the snap, they could take him earlier and try to coach him up. That's where the second-round projections are coming from. Very average film combined with a disappointing outing at the East-West Shrine Game make him a mid-to-late player in my mind. I'm not sure what he'll be able to give you on day one.
Nothing particularly good here, outside of a nice 10 Yard dash which will help him rush the passer. I worry less about Lindsey's timed speeds because he has plenty of film standing up and moving around. If he can do it on film, it doesn't really matter what he runs. Still, being a little too small and a little too stiff does not bode well.
Darius Fleming, Notre Dame
Projected Round: 4-6
Despite being a four-year starter for the Irish, Fleming never seemed to put it all together. This could be attributed to a high rate of turnover amongst the Notre Dame staff while Fleming was a player there but there are still concerns about why an athlete like Fleming was unable to put up better numbers. Still, he is a character guy and has plenty of experience standing up for the Irish, playing both defensive end and outside linebacker for them over the years.
Fleming is #45
Ignore the title, there are enough Darius Fleming snaps to go around. He was really a versatile guy for Notre Dame this year. Rushes the passer from both defensive end spots and moves around as an OLB. Spends plenty of time in shallow zones pretending to be the nickel back, as well. Not much of an impact game for our guy. Both Stanford tackles do a good job with him, moving him at-will at the point-of-attack -- seems like a lack of base strength. He does create some penetration as a defensive end and fights off a block to push a running back out-of-bounds for a loss. Watching him do a little bit of everything here didn't give me a great feel for where Fleming's game is the strongest -- it could be that he's a jack of all trades, master of none-type player.
I get the feeling that this film is actually indicative of Fleming's career -- at the end of it all you're just not sure what you're working with. He has pretty good movement skills and the all the coaching changes make me think there may be some ability there that hasn't been tapped yet, that Fleming is a player who's best days are ahead of him -- but I just can't know for sure. Fleming will enter the league as a special teams stud (having played the unit all four years at Notre Dame) with plentiful, if enigmatic, upside.
Very good numbers all the way across but not quite special. Fleming might be a top 5 athlete in this class. His Broad and Vert were a hair low which probably confirms his questionable strength at the point-of-attack on film.
Jacquies Smith, Missouri
Projected Round: 5-7
Experience rushing from the outside and the inside in college. No questions about his personal or football character. Smith seems pretty average in all areas, though reportedly approaches the game with maturity, commitment and preparedness. Virtues include good take-off and good hand-use (both to fend off blocks and in passing lanes).
Jacquies Smith vs. Kansas State
Average effort. Chases down some plays from behind, lets others slip by him for no apparent reason. Chases down a stretch run for a TFL. Takes a couple snaps at LB. Jumps off-sides on 3rd & Goal. Gets pushed out of the play too often.
I'm going to stick with the 'average in all areas' assessment from before the film. I don't see anything that makes me think Smith will become a dynamic, impact player, but he should be a steady contributor if scouts have correctly gauged his approach to the game. He should be an early contributor to an NFL team coming in with a little more polish and technique than most prospects in this range, but because of this he lacks up-side and whoever takes him will do so knowing Smith will struggle to become more than a rotational player.
Like most of the class, Smith isn't quite what we'd like to see in a pass-rusher but he's not too far off. Lacks base strength. After watching him take a couple plays off on film and seeing these numbers, I wonder if problems with fitness led to him being an under-performer. Could benefit extensively from an NFL weight-room.
Kaelin Burnett, Nevada
Projected Round: 7-Und
Burnett is an inexperienced project with "mentally tough" engraved at the top of his report (his father died in a car accident before he was born). With NFL bloodlines (you know his brother, Miami Dolphin Kevin Burnett) and confirmed visits with the Lions and Raiders, Burnett might just be the developmental guy to take late in the draft. Make no mistake, Burnett defines "project player." A one-year starter at defensive end for Nevada, he's too raw and too light to spend much time on defense his first year but the sky could be the limit for the team willing to invest the time.
Ignore the title, we're looking at DE #12
The nice thing about scouting Burnett is that he played on the same defense as James Michael Johnson and Brandon Marshall, so there's plenty of film on him floating around out there if you know where to look. We get to see him rush the passer standing up and with his hand in the dirt. I saw him drop back once and knowing he started out as a reserve linebacker I would think he is familiar with playing in coverage. This is a long guy, practically scrawny, who played as a reserve, 220-lb. linebacker his Junior year. I watched three games and he gets muscled around in each one. He lacks the upper-body strength and hand-usage to disengage from blockers quickly and effectively. This will come in time. He lacks the core and lower-body strength to be anything other than brutalized when offenses run at him.
There are positives, too. Burnett has a pretty good first step, getting off the snap well. He's an active defender with a pretty good motor, often around the ball though he appears hesitant to commit to pile-on tackles when another defender is already engaged -- sometimes will jump on, other times watches. He is a patient, heads-up defender, alert to contain counters and re-directions. Heady and assignment-conscious, he does a great job on designed blitzes; there are a couple times where we see Burnett stunt at the snap and when he does he has the quickness and agility to get to the guard immediately. Also love to see him driving into pass protectors, clearing them away from extra blitzers. No questioning his work ethic, either; a fractured pelvis in spring training looked to derail his football future for good but Burnett worked his tail off to rehab it and come back strong, not missing a game.
Based on what I've seen, I'd say Burnett is a player with a high football IQ -- knows his job and executes it. The downside lies with his experience and build. Burnett showed steady improvement at Nevada, increasing his bulk as well as his role in the defense, and will have to continue to do so at the next level. As a one-year starter with raw technique, there is immense upside with this kid -- his best football is definitely still ahead of him. He has been a special teams player since 2009 for Nevada and should be able to contribute there while he grows into the defense.
Did I forget to mention this part? Silly me! This little chart right here is what I'm talking about when I say the kid is worth the investment. Elite in all areas but will have to add strength to compete with NFL tackles.
An NFL training regimen will do wonders for all of these guys. A lot of the reports I read for Fleming mentioned his athleticism but I wasn't on the same page until I lined him up next to everyone else (and compared him to the Elite Average). Lindsey's poor numbers are conspiring with his lack of production and potential head-case factor to give him very real bust potential. Smith may not be an ideal athlete but knowing he will come to work with his head in the game makes me feel a lot better about him. Burnett is one of those athletes where it just isn't fair for me to put him side-by-side like this.