NFL Draft Prospect Showdown: Week 15

Derrik Klassen
Rotoworld

Ohio State vs Wisconsin 

Ohio State EDGE Chase Young vs Wisconsin OT Cole Van Lanen

Championship weekend features a slew of re-run prospects. Re-runs aren’t always bad, though, because who doesn’t want to see more of Ohio State EDGE Chase Young? It’s hard to get tired of watching the most talented player in the country. 

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Among a wide array of other skills and traits, Young’s first step is unreal. Being able to fly off the line of scrimmage and threaten the outside shoulder is a major advantage for any pass-rusher. Not only does a fast first step give a constant advantage when working outside, but can coax tackles into setting extra wide toward the edge, which exposes them to being beaten inside. The best pass-rushers understand how to make both of these approaches work together. 

Here is Young beating Michigan State’s left tackle with both approaches. In the first clip, Young shoots off the line of scrimmage and doesn’t even give the tackle a chance. By Young’s third step, which is typically where you can tell if a pass-rusher is going to win the rep or not, he is already turning the corner of the tackle’s outside shoulder and the tackle has completely turned his frame to the sideline. This may not need saying, but when a tackle already has their entire frame turned toward the sideline three steps in, it’s not going to be a good rep for him. 

In the second clip, Young takes the opposite approach. He initially steps outside to allow the tackle to believe he’s going to path toward the outside shoulder, but then shoots back toward the inside. The tackle is overemphasizing his need to gain depth and width, so he gets caught with an awkward lean on his third step trying to reach inside while his momentum drags him the other way. No surprise, Young takes advantage of the lean by straight-arming the tackle on his way to the quarterback. Michigan State’s saving grace on this play was that their quarterback got the ball out at the top of his drop, but had he been forced to go to the next read, this was a sure sack for Young. 

What’s worse for Wisconsin OT Cole Van Lanen is that Young has done exactly this to him before. When Ohio State played Wisconsin during the regular season in late October, Young recorded a season-high four sacks en route to a blowout win. Of course, not all of those sacks and various other pressures were against Van Lanen, but the senior left tackle is not without blame for Young’s incredible performance that day. 

This rep looks eerily similar to the first rep in the Michigan State sample from above. By the third step, Young is already creeping past the outside shoulder and Van Lanen’s body is turned entirely toward the sideline. There is no way for Van Lanen to recover here, not even if he were far more agile than he actually is. Though a weird blitz pickup from the back and a smart slide up in the pocket from the quarterback bail Van Lanen out this time, he won’t be so fortunate every time, just as he wasn’t on that day. 

Van Lanen won’t even have the advantage in the run game that he has over most other edge defenders. In most matchups, Van Lanen has the raw power to win out, but Young can match his power, win with sharp technique, or dance around him with short-area quickness. That’s not to say Young will beat Van Lanen on every single run rep, but this matchup is probably a wash, at best, for Van Lanen, whereas he has a clear advantage almost every other time. 

Expect Young to tear apart the Badgers for a second time this season. It’s tough to imagine he will have another four-sack game, especially against the same team, but Young is going to be a driving force in Ohio State’s crushing championship win. 

Advantage: Young

Ohio State vs Wisconsin

Ohio State OTs vs Wisconsin EDGE Zack Baun 

Ohio State EDGE Chase Young is the obvious star in this game. He is the best player in the draft and may go first-overall in the draft, depending on who has the No.1 pick and how they view this year’s quarterback class. It’s not out of the question that Young could claim the top spot ahead of a number of quarterbacks the way Jadeveon Clowney and Myles Garrett did. 

Young isn’t the only future pro pass-rusher in this match, though. Wisconsin’s Zack Baun, though a completely different caliber of prospect, has enough to work with to vie for a mid-round selection and stick around in the league. 

Baun is a bit light for a pass-rusher, coming in at 6-foot-3, 235-pounds. Per Mockdraftable, only nine listed EDGE players have weighed less than 240 pounds at the NFL Combine since 1999, which Baun will surely attend. Of those nine players, Randy Gregory is really the only player who had any legitimate success, but his time in the league has been so warped by suspensions that it’s tough to even call him a hit. Gregory is also two inches taller than Baun and tested in elite territory as an athlete, which Baun should not be expected to do. 

A key issue for Baun is where is his play strength is at right now. Given he is underweight for the position, it should come as no surprise that he is lacking in strength, but he doesn’t have the elite speed or bend that a smaller player should. Baun needs to have some sort of functional strength, particularly as a pass-rusher, if he wants to get by as more than a depth player. It also hurts Baun that he does not have the natural length to engage early and create an advantage for himself the way someone like, say, Gregory could. Baun has to get up close and personal with offensive tackles to engage his pass-rush moves, and he just doesn’t have the raw speed to power conversion for that in most cases. 

As such, Baun is often at his best when being moved around as a rusher. Blitzes from off-ball spots, twists, stunts, anything in which Baun is rushing without doing the traditional “work around the edge” job, he can be quite effective. His ability to weave through traffic with light feet and a small frame makes it easy for him to get lost in chaotic pressure packages. 

As Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network suggested a few weeks ago, Baun may actually be suited for an off-ball linebacker role, or at least a hybrid role (a la, Lorenzo Alexander). It’s not unusual for college edge players to move to an off-ball position. Anthony Barr is the most notable position convert, but plenty around the league have made the switch, and it probably suits Baun’s pass-rush strengths best if he were to move off the line of scrimmage. 

Baun will be facing off against left tackle Thayer Munford and right tackle Branden Bowen. Neither tackle is a particularly intriguing prospect, but both should get looks as undrafted free agents and 90-man roster types. Even if just for a cup of coffee, they will spend some time in the league. 

Of the two, Munford is the better player. That being said, the junior tackle is still a work in progress as far as, well, everything goes. Munford shows flashes of having the right combination of ample athletic ability, a strong base, and functional technique, but too often one of the three pillars is missing in his play. Though strength and anchor are rarely the issue, it’s quite common for Munford to lose ground quickly around the edge or at the second level. Likewise, Munford can far too often be seen lunging at moving targets or taking on pass-rushers with desynchronized hands and feet, which makes it tough for an offensive lineman to maximize their raw strength. 

Thankfully for Munford, his innate strength and size should be enough to handle Baun. That is not to say Baun will be shut out, but Munford shouldn’t be completely run over, even if he still loses the matchup to some degree. Baun will have to do most of his work off the other side or on stunts, twists, blitzes, etc. Baun is probably the better player of the two, but Munford’s particular skill set may be able to keep the Wisconsin pass-rusher relatively quiet — at least quieter than his 11.5 sacks would suggest he should be. 

Advantage: Baun

Virginia vs Clemson

Virginia QB Bryce Perkins vs Clemson defense

Virginia don’t stand a chance against Clemson. We can “any given Saturday” all we want, but Clemson might be the best team in the country right now, while Virginia is just the “best” team in a weak ACC Coastal division. The game, from a macro sense, is probably going to be awful. 

From a matchup and NFL Draft standpoint, however, we may get some valuable looks at a handful of players. No single player can do more for their NFL Draft stock in this game than Virginia QB Bryce Perkins

Perkins is a fifth-year senior who has started the past two seasons for the Cavaliers. After a strong first year of starting play in 2018, Perkins tapered off a bit during his senior season. His passer rating, yards per attempt, and touchdown rate all dipped during his senior season, in part because of the departure of Olamide Zaccheaus — a RB/WR hybrid who caught 41 more passes than any other Virginia receiver in 2018. 

Despite the decline, Perkins is an intriguing player who will get looks as a camp arm, at the very least. Perkins has some decent passing tools to work with and could be valuable as a practice squad player in a league with an increasing amount of dual-threat quarterbacks. He’d be a heck of a lot better at emulating Lamar Jackson than, say, Andy Dalton

Perkins does a great job of working back to the middle of the field in this example. After finishing the play-action fake, Perkins’ first read is the deep curl just inside the field numbers. While the cornerback over the top of that receiver isn’t close enough to make a play, there is a creeping defender underneath who shuffling that way with their eyes on the quarterback. If thrown immediately, this throw may be able to work, but it would be an unnecessary risk and would force the quarterback to throw the ball on the outside shoulder without much room for error. Perkins opts not to force that throw and instead comes back to the middle of the field, hitting his slot receiver right in chest for a first down. 

On the next drive, Perkins made a mid-play adjustment to counter the defense’s coverage call. 

In this clip, Virginia appear to be running stick-draw. The two slot receivers run stick routes (five-yard out routes with the option to sit depending on the defender’s leverage), while the two outside receivers get vertical to clear out space. Perkins is supposed to decide pre-snap based on box numbers whether he will throw one of the stick routes or take the draw. Florida State show five defenders directly in the box with both slot defenders playing a sort of “apex” position close to the formation. In turn, Perkins looks to throw one of the sticks, specifically to the short side of the field in this example. Upon reaching the top of his drop, however, Perkins sees the outside cornerback squat while maintaining his eyes on the quarterback. Perkins senses the outside cornerback is in trap coverage and bails from the passing concept to tuck the ball for a 10-yard run. Plenty of quarterbacks get caught on that trap coverage, including Tua Tagovailoa in last year’s national championship, but Perkins had the good sense to stay away from it. 

Perkins can also be a devastating designed runner, not just someone who can scramble in a time of need. Though he isn’t a particularly great athlete, Perkins has enough wiggle and toughness to be a plenty effective runner at the college level. The red zone is where he shines most, but he’s also got just enough juice to threaten long touchdown runs if not properly accounted for. 

Both defensive ends crash on the running back on this option play. With how this “arc read” run is designed with the slot receiver motioning into then out of the formation, the play sort of turns into a “counter” run with both lead blockers getting to the second level for free. Perkins follows his blockers, slips through the crease, then breaks a tackle on his way to a 39-yard scoring run. The Virginia senior had a similar run later in the game and ultimately finished the day with a season-high 164 rushing yards. 

Perkins will have no easy task in taking down the Clemson defense, however. Not only is Perkins a shaky prospect in his own right, but Virginia just doesn’t have enough talent around him to match up with Clemson. 

Per ESPN’s SP+ metric, Clemson’s defense only trails Ohio State and Georgia in the race for best in the country. It’s not just that Clemson have four- and five-star prospects across the board, either. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is one of the best in the country, particularly with respect to mixing up pressure packages and underneath coverages. While Perkins proved in a clip above that he can deal with some trickier coverages, few DCs in the country are as versed at keeping QBs guessing as Venables and he won’t take the foot off the gas until the final whistle blows dead. 

Like the last QB highlighted against Clemson — Wake Forest’s Jamie Newman — Perkins will almost certainly struggle. If Perkins can show some flashes and at least be slightly above average compared to what Clemson often allows, then he may be able to earn himself some stock heading into the offseason. 

Advantage: Clemson defense

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