Worth The Reach?

Posted May 6, 2014

In the NFL draft, realizing value is the friend and reaching for a player is the enemy. But every now and then a player with a certain set of traits comes along, and the thought creeps into the minds of NFL scouts that this player just might be worth a slight reach.

Are there any such players in this draft? Surely, there must be. Who they are, we don’t yet know. But let’s take a look at one idea in each round...

1st Round – DE Kony Ealy (Missouri) Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
Ealy is the type of athlete and plays the position that often leads to a surge up draft boards on draft day because he has the potential to provide outstanding production for a long time at a premium position. At 6-4, 273 pounds, Ealy is long and rangy yet he is flexible and explosive, and this combination of traits allows him to be a disruptive presence rushing off the edge of the defense. In his final two seasons at Missouri, Ealy played in 26 games with 24 starts and in those games he totaled 80 tackles, 24.5 tackles for loss, 13.0 sacks, 13 pass breakups, four forced fumbles and one interception. He led all defensive linemen at the Combine with a 6.83-second three-cone drill and he also timed well in the 40-yard dash (4.92) and the 20-yard shuttle (4.45).

2nd Round – QB Tahj Boyd (Clemson) Draft Projection: Rounds 2-3
A lot of quarterbacks have been linked to the Vikings, from projected first-rounders such as Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel to others such as AJ McCarron and Zach Mettenberger. Boyd is a new one to add to the mix. He doesn’t meet size standards for the position and many within the NFL may not like the fact he comes from a pistol/read-option attack at Clemson.  But there’s a lot to like, too. He was a team captain and three-year starter at Clemson and he has good arm talent and mobility. The best part about his mobility is that he doesn’t use it as a crutch and is willing to stand in the pocket to deliver throws, but when he does escape he looks downfield to throw before tucking and running with power. What Boyd lacks in size he makes up for in charisma, and there is no disputing his production as the first quarterback in ACC history with 30 touchdown passes in three seasons.

3rd Round –RB Lache Seastrunk (Baylor) Draft Projection: Rounds 4-5
Seastrunk doesn’t have prototypical NFL running back size (5-9, 201 pounds) and he doesn’t have elite top-end speed or inside running ability. But he does have production (back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons at Baylor) to his credit and he does have elite explosive traits – he was the top performer among running backs in the vertical leap and broad jump at the Combine. While he doesn’t overpower tacklers, he often makes them miss with his elusiveness and he does a good job of churning his legs even after contact to keep the play alive. A big part of being a complementary back in Minnesota is having the ability to produce on passing downs, and Seastrunk’s receiving stats won’t blow you away. But he has skills that a NFL coach can work use to develop him into that kind of player. And hey, let’s remember that Marcus Sherels never returned punts in college, but last year ranked second in the NFL in punt return average. The Vikings developed Sherels into a productive punt returner, so maybe they can develop Seastrunk into a productive player in passing situations.

4th round – LB Jordan Zumwalt (UCLA) Draft Projection:  Rounds 4-5
The UCLA linebacker everyone likes to talk about in this draft is first-round prospect Anthony Barr. But the Bruins have another linebacker in this year’s draft – Zumwalt – and a team can get him at a great value in the middle rounds. Zumwalt was a standout at this year’s Senior Bowl, often times because of his aggressiveness and enthusiasm. But Zumwalt also has experience and production to his credit, with 256 tackles and 22.5 TFLs in 50 games played over four seasons at UCLA. What he lacks in measurables and explosive athletic traits he makes up for with competitiveness, leadership and versatility.

5th round – RB Isaiah Crowell (Alabama State) Draft Projection: Rounds 6-7
It was only a few years ago when Crowell was recognized as the SEC’s Freshman of the Year after he rushed for 850 yards and scored six touchdowns for the Georgia Bulldogs. Off-field issues forced his release from the program and resulted in him transferring to Alabama State, which ultimately has him slotted to go in the middle-to-late stages of this year’s draft. From a talent perspective, though, it’s fair to wonder if Crowell has early-round ability. The closing statement on his scouting profile sums it up appropriately: “An adequate-sized back with the run instincts and perimeter running skills to compete for a job in a situational role if he learns to commit himself to the process and figures out what it means to be a pro.”

6th Round – S Vinnie Sunseri (Alabama) Draft Projection: Rounds 6-7
An experienced contributor for Nick Saban’s defenses at Alabama, Sunseri opened his 2013 season in remarkable fashion with the first two touchdowns of his career on interception returns – one against Virginia Tech in the opener and another against Texas A&M the following week. After starting the first seven games at safety, an ACL injury knocked Sunseri out for the remainder of the season and also precluded him from participating in the Combine. The injury may be dogging his draft stack still, but Sunseri was a gritty and productive player for one of the country’s top programs, and it doesn’t hurt that he’s the son of a coach – Florida State defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri.

7th Round – C Corey Linsley (Ohio State) Draft Projection: Rounds 7-Priority Free Agent
A team captain for Ohio State with 26 games played and started the past two seasons, Linsley was the anchor of a powerful run-blocking offensive line for Urban Meyer. What he lacks in measurables and explosive, timed speed he makes up for with communication, intelligence, strength and toughness. The last line of his scouting profile defines perfectly what many teams look for in a late-round draft pick: “Has athletic limitations, but compensates with strength, smarts and competitiveness. Has the makeup to overachieve, and could increase his value by proving versatile enough to back up at guard.”