Now is the time in dynasty leagues when the good owners are trying to find ways to fortify their teams by looking towards the 2015 NFL Draft with prospects like Shaq Thompson and Maxx Williams. One of the best ways to do that is by looking to the college players that might make the move to the NFL this spring. Here are more of the players that stood out with their bowl game play. This is by no means an exhaustive list, rather a starting point for the 2015 NFL Draft and your own rookie fantasy draft! I listed these players alphabetically:
RB-David Cobb, Minnesota
The young back has good vision, quick feet, and seemed very comfortable running pass patterns for a Big ten back. He catches the ball well in stride with soft hands, looking very impressive on a wheel route when he caught the ball with a defender draped all over him. Cobb unfortunately did not get his feet down on that play, but his athleticism shined thru. The runner is not a strapping 30+ carries half back, instead he has a skill set similar to the Patriots Shane Vereen. He needs space to run, has a little wiggle, but takes what the defense gives him. There were a few times Cobb got strung out running east and west showing more hesitation than explosion. The back is decent in pass protection, stepping up to attack defenders, but doesn’t hold up for terribly long. If you want a back that can perform on trick plays, Cobb could be your man as he caught a backwards lateral and then threw it back to his quarterback for a completion.
DE/LB-Dante Fowler, Florida
The defensive playmaker lines up as both a defensive end and an outside linebacker. He has great vision, identifies plays quickly, and crashes down the line of scrimmage to make the play. The first thing that I noticed unique about him is that he sang and swung his body to the music as he lined up on the outside. That looseness shows up in his fluidity as he seemed able to contort himself around any obstacle placed in his way. Fowler flip-flopped coming off the edge on both sides, rushing the any gap between the inside shoulder of the guard and the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. The defender gets great initial penetration using a combination of spin and swim moves, sometimes even uses a bull-rush, to get by blockers. Even when Fowler would get knocked down, he bounced back up quickly. His intensity spiked when the game got closer as the defender became more relentless in his pursuit of the ball carrier. He did struggle against double teams and sometimes tries to tackle a bit high.
Fowler drops back into pass coverage quickly looking like a natural, and occasionally lined up opposite the slot receiver. He could keep up in coverage with the wide out for the first ten yards or so. His fluidity makes me believe he could improve his receiver shadowing skills.
WR-Justin Hardy, East Carolina
This is a feisty receiver with quick, bouncy feet who runs crisp, precise routes. He attacks the ball in the air, fully extending to catch the pigskin, and shields it from defensive backs. Hardy showed that suddenness to take a bubble screen 70 yards screaming down the field, but was unfortunately tackled at the four yard line. Once the wide out is in space, he can make the first, second, and third guy miss weaving down the field, breaking ankles at top speed during pass patterns or when returning punts. He has good leaping ability and usually gets separation within five yards of the line of scrimmage. There are a few times Hardy lets the ball get into his body, letting it bounce around, while making the catch. The receiver understands the timing of plays and will re-route back towards the quarterback if he doesn’t see the ball in the air. Hardy is a willing run blocker, squaring his shoulders and drives the defender back. While he didn’t connect on his only throw of the game (a reverse with a passing option), the young offensive weapon can do whatever it takes to win.
DE/OLB-Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
This pass rushing specialist gets good initial pressure off the line of scrimmage on the outside shoulder of the offensive tackle. He mostly lines up in a two-point stance moving up and down the line in a hurry. His athleticism is quite impressive when Kikaha hurdles over blockers or when he loops around his defensive tackles to attack the two gap. The defender keeps offensive linemen off his body with quick, powerful punches. Kikaha uses a swim move to dip underneath blocks to pressure the quarterback. He sometimes doesn’t wrap up tackle the ball carrier, instead he elects to shoulder block them to the ground. This was effective in college, but might not at the next level.
DE-Shane Ray, Missouri
He is a very violent defender who excels at crashing down the line, but can be reckless missing the ball carrier sweeping his side. Ray smashed a back running a pass pattern in the flat, spun around an offensive tackle, and then kept going until he stripped sacked the quarterback. The defender swatted blockers away from his body with ease. Once Ray injured his ankle on the second series, his lateral agility wasn’t the same. He looked a bit heavy footed dropping back in coverage, but I believe it was more about his injury than his real play.
LB-Junior Slyvestre, Toledo
This linebacker played sideline to sideline lining up in all the inside and outside backer spots. He has good anticipation, seeing plays developing quickly. Slyvestre is a solid wrap up tackler with good lateral movement. The backer occasionally took some bad angles and has issues disengaging from blockers. He might be better suited playing a Will (weak inside backer) or an outside linebacker that drops back in pass coverage. When Slyvestre tried to rush the passer from both the inside and outside, he appeared to get washed up in the line of scrimmage, not getting enough penetration. The linebacker was a force to be reckoned with in goal line and short yardage situations.
LB-Shaq Thompson, Washington
I heard amazing things about this player, but he certainly seemed more limited with a big plastic cast on his arm. It affected his tackling ability, forcing him to target player’s legs, and made it harder to disengage from blockers. Thompson knocked a ball carrier out-of-bounds with a huge hit and he pursued the pigskin from sideline to sideline. When he launched himself, the defender doesn’t always see what he hits. The backer drops back into coverage quickly, but sometimes drifts a little too much out of position. Thompson enjoyed inflicting pain on the quarterback with a delayed blitz. He adds extra fantasy value by also playing running back, so keep that in mind for your dynasty leagues.
TE-Maxx Williams, Minnesota
In a tight end draft class starved for superstars, Mr. Double XX and his soft hands certainly impressed. He got lined up all over the field: sent in motion to the slot, split out wide, at traditional tight end, and at wing back. Williams has a good catch radius, adjusting well to the ball in the air. The offensive weapon is a high effort player who looks for defenders to hit and puts his body at risk fighting for extra yardage. He drags linebackers along like they aren’t even there and busts out a spin move or two to create separation. Williams’ big play of the day was when he caught the ball streaking down the sidelines, hurdling two defenders on the way to the end zone. The tight end was inches away from a second acrobatic touchdown. He battles well against defensive ends in the run game, using good pad level, and kept chopping his feet.
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