Reese’s 2016 Senior Bowl
By Brandon Thorn
The 2016 Senior Bowl for me was first and foremost a business trip that I approached with the fervor to form key relationships, connections, and exposure enroute to my ultimate goal of breaking into the NFL.
Attending the 2015 Senior Bowl taught me to not try and get a grasp on every position group, or the result will be a halfhearted understanding of how individual players performed throughout the entire week. Last year that was the exact result I came away with; being a bit awestruck at the atmosphere, and trying to watch a different player at a different position group each drill and/or practice, while coming away feeling overwhelmed.
Fast-forward to September 2015 when I enrolled in The Scouting Academy. The following 16 weeks of the fall semester turned my perspective of scouting upside down, and equipped me with the wisdom to attack the process of evaluating football players in a concise, consistent, and duplicatable way.
I was fortunate enough to get selected as a standout student in the fall semester, and attend the first ever partnership between The Scouting Academy and the Senior Bowl. My approach to the week down in Mobile was influenced by current and former NFL scouts, GMs, and coaches.
First, I prepped for the trip by picking one position group I would study the entire week. My choice was the position I am most comfortable evaluating; the offensive line.
For the sake of time, I decided to go into the week “blind” by not studying much film of the prospects in order to have a clean slate going in without preconceived notions. Several NFL scouts had told me that a common strategy for teams is to crosscheck a position with a scout who had no previous exposure to the player. This process allows the scout to strictly evaluate the entire week going against top competition from across the country, and add a piece of the puzzle to the prospect’s final report.
This is a valuable piece to the puzzle for me in particular, with my background as a personal trainer, and in kinesiology (study of human movement). After all, I am evaluating a sport in which human movement, body mechanics, and posture play a significant role in determining the success of assignments on any given play. Identifying deficiencies in body structure is a valuable tool to predict injury, and even performance over the long haul.
On the surface, the weigh-ins present a bunch of men in their underwear walking across a stage in front of hundreds of other men who are evaluating their bodies, some with a background in what to look for, others attempting to see if a player is “ripped or flabby.” While the muscularity of a prospect can be telling (mainly to his work ethic) genetics also play a part in how defined a guy is. The main takeaway you want to know about a player’s body is functionality. For example, if a guy has valgus knees, he is a predisposed to an ACL injury (among other things). Certain muscles are weak, and certain muscles are underactive. It’s something pretty easily identifiable from either an anterior (front) or posterior (back) view:
I didn’t pick up on valgus knees this year – mainly because my viewpoint of the stage was at an angle, rather than directly behind – but it is one of many structural deficiencies I am looking for.
As I previously stated my focus was on offensive lineman, but for the weigh-in I had time to evaluate everyone. Many players showed impressive muscular development and efficient posture. Some who stood out most to me were:
Missouri C Evan Boehm
Missouri LB Kentrell Brothers
Duke S Jeremy Cash
Alabama RB Kenyan Drake
TCU RB Aaron Green
BYU DE Bronson Kaufusi
Alabama LB Reggie Ragland
Oklahoma DE Charles Tapper
Arizona State OG Christian Westerman
Kansas State OG Cody Whitehair
Western Michigan OG Willie Beavers
Stanford OG Josh Garnett
Louisiana Tech RB Kenneth Dixon
Penn State DL Austin Johnson
Southern Utah S Miles Killebrew
Penn State DL Carl Nassib
Indiana OT Jason Spriggs
Illinois DL Jihad Ward
Ohio State DL Adolphus Washington
If I had to pick an overall non-OL winner of the weigh-ins it would have to be Reggie Ragland. I was blown away by his weight (259) and how incredibly well he carried it. His lower half is massive, particularly with his glute development. If you want a linebacker with a strong base, this is your guy. Ragland’s build was very reminiscent of Miami LB Denzel Perryman last year, who carried 5105 242 with rivaled thickness in his lower half. Both players possess impressive ability to unlock their hips and explode on film.
My OL winner of the weigh-ins was Arizona State OG Christian Westerman. I noted how impressive his muscular development was throughout his frame, particularly in his lower half. From the ground up he looked efficient. It was apparent to me that his work ethic in the weight room is strong and/or he is blessed genetically. Either one being good. It was also a testament to Westerman being a pupil of LB O-Line Performance founder LeCharles Bentley.
If I had to pick a loser it would have to be Stanford OT Kyle Murphy, who showed an anterior pelvic tilt, which is a very common postural deficiency in the average American, it shouldn’t be in a soon to be professional athlete.
Weak/underactive and tight muscles associated with anterior pelvic tilt:
The body is a kinetic chain, meaning everything is connected, and issues generally will compound on each other up and down the body.
Results of the anterior pelvic tilt on the human body:
When you hear somebody tell you that looking at prospects (who will require a potentially enormous financial investment) at the weigh-in or a similar setting is useless or overblown, consider the ramifications of postural deficiencies on the human body.
Ultimately, evaluators are evaluating human beings conducting complex, multi-plane movements with carcrash-level collisions involved. The way that their bodies are put together is meaningful.
To enhance the depth of my evaluations for the week, I narrowed my focus past offensive line as a whole, and honed in on a certain number of players. This allowed me to watch nearly every single snap of the players listed, which in my view allows for a truly good grasp on performance.
The prospects I watched during the week were:
Cody Whitehair, Christian Westerman, Jack Allen, Austin Blythe, Jason Spriggs, Nick Martin, Sebastian Tretola, and Spencer Drango.
Here is the order of who impressed me most, followed by a few blurbs from my note-taking throughout the week.
1. Cody Whitehair – I was interested to see his move from LT inside to LG and how he would handle the new technique. He moved around early in his career at KSU, starting at RT and LG as a freshman, but hadn’t played there since. I was very impressed by how natural he looked working at LG throughout the week. He showed solid play strength to end things quickly at the LOS in quick/firm sets, and showed good leverage at the POA in 1 on 1s and in the run game, with a consistent base to stay square through contact, and displayed good, tight hand usage all week both in the run and pass game. In the game he showed good mental processing to overtake and release off double teams as well.
2. Nick Martin – His grip strength, leverage, and base all stood out to me throughout the week. He looked stout at the POA in 1 on 1s, ending battles quickly at the POA once locked on, and mirrored really well vs all competition. His 3214 arm length didn’t affect him negatively at all from what I saw.
3. Christian Westerman – The first day of practice he was off with his punch timing and power coming out of his stance, but showed continual improvement each day and in the game. He looked to pick up what the Jaguars coaches were teaching him quickly. His play strength was one of his better traits along with his ability to play with good pad level, particularly in his anchor. He showed good posterior strength and the ability to reposition his hands, and generate strength from his insteps vs bullrushes to negate penetration. I liked his competitive toughness and aggressiveness in team drills/the game, he’s always looking for work when uncovered in pass pro, and had two big knockdowns that I saw during the game.
4. Jack Allen – Much like Nick Martin, Allen possesses very good technique with his feet and hands, ending battles quickly at the LOS. Going against much bigger/athletic guys all week such as Vernon Butler, Austin Johnson, and Adolphus Washington did not faze Allen one bit. His ability to initiate contact first after the snap, keep tight hands and a consistent base slowed down these freak athletes before they could get started more times than not. He showed good lateral movement in zone blocking in half man/team drills, timing on his overtake/releases, as well as good ability to steer and control on drive blocks. A bonus for Allen was that his reps at guard were equally as impressive.
5. Austin Blythe – An Iowa offensive lineman through and through. Technique was outstanding all week long, particularly while at center. Despite clear physical limitations (6022 height, 291 weight, 3014 arm length), Blythe plays with very good leverage/pad level, has very good hand usage, and a consistent base both in the run and pass game. Blythe did get overrun vs the bull rush from guys like Vernon Butler and Austin Johnson in 1 on 1 drills, but that was way overblown to the overall performance throughout the week. One word to describe Blythe is efficient. Don’t be surprised to see him carve out a long career as a quality backup/spot starter.
6. Sebastian Tretola – Watching him in individual drills and stretch periods I saw limited flexibility in his lower half. He was barely able to do a bodyweight squat, lunging forward and getting off balance once below 90 degrees. He is definitely tight, and it also showed in his pad level rising in pass pro when he had to work against good pass rushing 3 techs who stressed his set. Does show good competitive toughness and play strength to generate movement at the POA and finish.
7. Jason Spriggs – The wildcard of the week for me. He certainly looks the part with his size, and impressive build but is inconsistent in his technique. He possesses very good athleticism, and good foot quickness in pass pro to reach landmarks/set points. Showed adequate strike zone recognition/punch timing in pass pro, oftentimes missing his target, lunging off balance. I also noticed him struggling to use his inside hand/power step to counter inside spins/counters. When it clicks for him it’s picture-perfect, the issue is the gap in it clicking and looking lost. Look for a team with an offensive line coach who is a “developer” to want to get his hands on him bad. A team with an OL coach who wants the finished product, not so much.
8. Spencer Drango – A guy who struggled throughout the week adjusting to what the JAX coaches were teaching. Playing in the Baylor system with so much quick game required very little pass pro technique, and it showed. He looked uncomfortable kick sliding to outside shades, he turned his hips too soon, carried his hands low and wide, and it affected his punch causing him to miss his target. His strike zone recognition, punch timing, and base were sloppy most of the week. Some say he should kick inside, but I haven’t seen enough play strength to warrant the move. I will say that he looked better in the game playing alongside Westerman (who helped him several times when he was uncovered). Drango primarily faced off against Utah DE Jason Fanaika, who wasn’t able to stress his pass sets, bull rush, or turn the corner. It was a surprising and encouraging performance, albeit against a rusher who isn’t known for pass rushing prowess.