Wed, Oct 24, 2018
By Jim Nagy
While the proliferation of spread offense has made it tougher and tougher to evaluate certain positions at the college level, one position that remains scheme resistant, so to speak, is wide receiver. This might surprise people that see wide receiver as the quintessential spread position, but there are ways for scouts to project a player’s skill-set even though they might be running a limited route tree or rarely face tight-man coverage.
One of the fun parts of scouting is coming across a player that you feel convicted about becoming a good pro and that’s what happened this week when we put on the tape of Buffalo wideout Anthony Johnson, who is our Week 8 Offensive Senior of the Week.
In last Saturday’s 31-17 win over Toledo, Johnson hauled in only 4 catches for 83 yards but two of his catches were for scores and he is a big reason why the Bulls are sitting atop the Mid-American Conference with a 7-1 record.
It is easy for scouts to gain conviction on player when they see a transferrable skill-set and Johnson definitely has a “pro’s game.” Unlike most college receivers, who need a redshirt year in the NFL before seriously challenging for playing time, Johnson should transition quickly and contribute as a rookie regardless of where he ends up.
First off, he already has an NFL body. We have not seen him yet in a live setting but he looks physically mature, even on tape. Even more importantly, he plays like he has an NFL body. He has three cousins currently playing in the NFL, including Houston Texans All-Pro DE Jadeveon Clowney, and good bloodlines matter.
Tools-wise, one of his best assets is his good functional playing strength. He is strong running thru contact and he is hard for defensive backs to get on the ground without help. One particular play that got us excited during tape study was his game-winning TD against Temple, where he shrugged off a would-be tackler and scored from 29 yards out. That was the type of grown-man play that starting receivers make at the next level.
Along those same lines, another good predictor of success at the next level is a player’s run-after-catch ability. When it comes to Johsnon’s RAC, one thing that consistently shows up is his feel in the open field. He has very good space awareness and feel for pursuit when he gets the ball in his hands. Slot receivers need the ability to avoid and create in a short-area, however, bigger perimeter receivers, at least the good ones, have the ability to avoid on the move and that’s exactly what Johnson showed last week on his 32-yard TD in the third quarter that tied the score at 17-17.
The final redeeming trait that will allow him to break into the WR rotation his first year as a pro is his route running ability, starting with his release. The majority of rookie receivers struggle early on because they cannot beat press coverage but that will not be an issue for Johnson because he has the blend of size, strength, and body quickness to win at the line of scrimmage. During Senior Bowl practices, the majority of coverage in 1-on-1 drills is press-man and Johnson could separate himself from the competition in a tightly packed-in WR group if he does what we think he will do in WR vs. DB periods.
Scouts that I have spoken with that have made the school visit to Buffalo say that Johnson has some grittiness to his makeup and if that’s the case then our conviction about him is strengthened even more.
Louisiana Tech DE/OLB
Last year, UT-San Antonio DE Marcus Davenport came to the Senior Bowl as a late-first to mid-second round pick and after a strong showing all week he left Mobile on an upward trajectory through the rest of the pre-draft process. While Louisiana Tech’s Jaylon Ferguson does not have the same exact skill-set or play style as Davenport, who was taken by the New Orleans Saints with the No. 14 overall pick, there are similarities when it comes to their tools, upside, and mid-major pedigree and he could similarly become a Senior Bowl success story this April.
Ferguson earned our Defensive Senior of the Week honors after recording 6 tackles and 3.5 sacks in Louisiana Tech’s 31-24 win over UTEP and he now leads the nation with 1.36 sacks per game (9.5 total). Unlike Davenport, who most scouts saw as a raw prospect, the same cannot be said for a four-year player like Ferguson, who now has 37.0 career sacks.
As a rusher, most long-bodied edge players have some tightness or are mechanical in their movements but Ferguson is loose and actually has some shake to him. If you had to categorize Ferguson’s all-around game he would fall into more of a power category, however, he has enough cross-face quickness and bend to keep tackles guessing.
Getting back to his natural power, Ferguson has serious load in his hands. When he puts his hands on people it affects them. Last week against UTEP, he was simply overpowering. The Miners slid protection his way and chipped him tight ends and backs and Ferguson showed the ability to beat multiple people on his way to the QB, which requires good natural rush awareness.
When watching him against LSU, he showed that he can go speed-to-power on his pass rush and get legitimate big people on their heels. Very few college rushers can take people down-the-middle like this guy does and the thing that gives him such a high ceiling is that he can also come with lean off the edge. There was one particular snap against LSU where he jumped off tape with his ability to accelerate around the corner. It was one of those “wow” plays that will make scouts rewind the film. He also has a knack for using his length to disrupt whenever he gets around the QB.
On run-downs, Ferguson has all the tools to quickly develop into a starter. He is the type of NFL-ready run defender that position coaches are going to fight for in draft meetings because he is the total package physically and they will like his combativeness. He is quick to shoot his heavy hands and he has knock-back power to set the edge versus tackles, not just tight ends. One thing to always note when evaluating players is how hard they must work to do certain things and Ferguson doesn’t strain to play locked-out at the POA. He looks good shuffling down the LOS, he shows good closing burst in the backfield, and he can really cover ground in long chase situations.
Ferguson contemplated coming out for last year’s draft but he made the smart decision to return to school and focus on the feedback he received from NFL scouts. We had the opportunity to meet with Ferguson and La. Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz when the Bulldogs were in Mobile for their ’18 season-opener against South Alabama and it was clear that day that he was dialed-in on having a big senior season. Fast-forward eight weeks and there are few seniors in this draft class more productive or impressive on tape than Ferguson.
|Jim Nagy is the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl. He spent 18 years in the National Football League. In his time in the NFL, Nagy worked as an area scout in the West, Midwest, and Southeast regions, as well as in a national scouting capacity for four years with the Kansas City Chiefs. He was a part of six Super Bowl teams and four Lombardi Trophy winning clubs (Green Bay Packers XXXI, New England Patriots XXXVIII and XXXIX and Seattle Seahawks XLVIII).|