With the 2011 NFL season in the books, it's time to turn our eyes to the NFL draft, and the pre-draft evaluation process. Right up to the draft, we'll be taking a closer look at the 50 players who may be the biggest NFL difference-makers when all is said and done.
We continue this year's series with LSU defensive lineman Michael Brockers, who has an outstanding beard. The beard is a cross between Angry Pharaoh and cough drop mogul, and it changes shape depending on Brockers' mood: sometimes it is neatly trimmed, sometimes it sprouts strange little fronds, and it looked a little lopsided at the Combine, though teams probably did not hold that against him.
Sorry about the beard analysis, but defensive line scouting reports can be a little dry.
Brockers arrived at LSU as a highly-touted rush end, but coaches saw a player with potential at tackle, so Brockers beefed up and worked his way into the starting lineup last season. His numbers were not overwhelming — he has just two career sacks — but the ability to play end and tackle, and his athletic upside, have teams jockeying to draft him. The Cowboys invited Brockers for one of their final player visits, and Brockers worked out for the Eagles coaching staff last week. Brockers grew up a Cowboys fan, and the Cowboys pick before the Eagles, but there is no guarantee that Brockers will last until the middle of the first round.
Pros: Brockers has ideal size, strength, and athleticism. He is quick off the line of scrimmage, but he is also very loose-limbed and fluid for an interior lineman. He looks very natural when moving laterally and can avoid blockers when pursuing a play. While he is not great at anchoring against double teams, Brockers often bends single blockers backward and steers them into the backfield.
Brockers displays great potential as a pass rusher. He wins some first-step battles. He displays quickness on stunts and was sometimes asked to loop to the outside. He keeps working when blocked, and sometimes collapses the pocket or flushes the quarterback after his initial move is stymied.
Brockers is less scheme-dependent than most of the other defensive tackles in this draft class. He lined up on the nose, in three-technique, and at end during the 2011 season. Teams that use a variety of fronts, like the Cowboys and Texans, can insert Brockers into the lineup and know he can handle multiple roles.
Cons: Brockers is raw. His overall technique isn't great, and he becomes blockable when he is not focused on his footwork and weight distribution. He does not react quickly to screens or misdirection. Despite his athleticism, he does not have a wide arsenal of pass-rush moves, and he usually tries to win line battles with pure strength and quickness.
The downside of being a jack of all trades is that Brockers is the master of none. He can get smothered by double teams on the nose, and he is not a pure penetrator as a three-tech. At end, he is a run stuffer who does not do enough as a pass rusher. He can be coached up to a much higher level, which is why teams covet him, but he is not anywhere near as finished as Fletcher Cox.
Conclusion: The buzzword for Brockers is "upside." Cox is more polished. Dontari Poe is stronger. Brandon Thompson is better at his specific task in the middle. Brockers is more of a natural athlete than any of them. The Cowboys love to develop specimens, which is why they are taking a long look at Brockers. Eagles defensive line coach Jim Washburn loves to coach-up raw talent, so it was natural for the Eagles to give Brockers some extra attention.
Brockers must start his career as a wave lineman. Any team that tries to insert him in the lineup for 60 snaps will be disappointed. He fits best as a passing-down tackle or 3-4 end as a rookie: he can use his speed to be disruptive while the rest of his game develops. Given time, and sound coaching, Brockers will develop into either a quick 4-3 tackle or the kind of 3-4 end who wins enough battles to not just occupy blocks, but record a few sacks of his own.
NFL Comparison: Cullen Jenkins, Philadelphia Eagles
More Shutdown 50:
#9: Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State | #10: David CeCastro, OG, Stanford | #11: Stephon Gilmore, OG, Stanford | #12: Kendall Wright, WR, Baylor | #13: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama | #14: Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina| #15: Ryan Tannehill, QB, Texas A & M| #16: Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College | #17: Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame | #18: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama | #19: Mark Barron, S, Alabama | #20: Cordy Glenn, OL, Georgia | #21: Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa | #22: Coby Fleener, TE, Stanford| #23: Devon Still, DT, Penn State| #24: Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama| #25: Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan State| #26: Nick Perry, DE, USC| #27: Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska| #28: Dontari Poe, DT/DE, Memphis | #29: Whitney Mercilus, OLB/DE, Illinois | #30: Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson| #31, Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson| #32: Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford| #33: Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi| #34: Andre Branch, DE/OLB, Clemson | #35: Dont'a Hightower, ILB, Alabama | #36: Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse| #37: Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech| #38: Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall| #39: Doug Martin, RB, Boise State | #40 : Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers| #41: Zach Brown, OLB, North Carolina| #42: Lavonte David, OLB, Nebraska| #43: Jared Crick, DE/DT, Nebraska| #44: Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina | #45: Kirk Cousins, QB, Michigan State| #46: Orson Charles, TE, Georgia| #47: Lamar Miller, RB, Miami| #48: Shea McClellin, OLB/DE, Boise State| #49: Rueben Randle, WR, LSU | #50: Jonathan Massaqoui, OLB/DE, Troy