- Steve Muench, Scouts Inc.
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For NFL teams, hitting or missing on draft picks can be the difference between making the playoffs and playing golf in January, so it should come as no surprise that scouts leave no stone unturned when evaluating players' skill sets. It's a grueling process that involves seemingly endless film sessions, but there are games that can make scouts sit up and pay particular attention.
These are the games that feature a prospect who's lining up against one of the best units or players in the nation and/or playing in a game with substantial implications for his team. Here are the matchups that caught my eye in Week 15, and what I took from the film of each performance:
Alabama LOT Andre Smith vs. Florida MLB Brandon Spikes
The 330-pound Smith has the size, athletic ability and strength of an early-first round pick, but the junior is a bit inconsistent, and speed rushers can give him problems. Florida defensive coordinator Charlie Strong did an excellent job of exploiting these weaknesses by frequently stunting his defensive ends inside and then blitzing off the edge. At times, Smith adjusted well. For example, on second-and-9 from the Florida 32-yard line early in the second quarter Smith keeps his head up, slides outside and stops S Will Hill in his tracks after Hill blitzes off the edge. Other times, Smith appears to guess. On the very next play, Gators RDE Carlos Dunlap lines up opposite Smith and shoots inside at the snap. Smith collapses inside with Dunlap just as Spikes and Hill blitz off the edge, leaving them with a clear path to QB John Parker Wilson. Spikes and Hill close quickly and Wilson cannot step into his throw, leading to an incomplete pass. Smith isn't responsible for both players, but he should have passed Dunlap off to LG Mike Johnson and picked up Spikes, which would have forced Hill to take a wider angle to the quarterback.
Making matters worse for Smith, Spikes' initial quickness and athletic ability clearly gave him problems when the two lined up opposite one another. The notable instance led to Wilson's only interception of the game. On a first-and-10 from the Alabama 32-yard line with less than three minutes remaining, Wilson lines up in the shotgun and Spikes times the snap well, using his quickness to get to Smith's outside shoulder before Smith can get set. Smith does get his hands into Spikes' frame and starts to ride him past the pocket but does not move his feet well enough to stay in front, allowing Spikes to turn the corner and force Wilson to get rid of the ball quickly, leading to an interception by Joe Haden. The only concern with Spikes is his need to control his emotions, as officials flagged him for unnecessary roughness following the interception.
Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias vs. Missouri's pass defense
Iglesias caught nine passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns in the Sooners' 62-12 win over Missouri in the Big 12 championship game. His touchdowns come on consecutive drives in the second quarter and helped Oklahoma turn a three-point lead into a 17-point bulge. The first comes on a third-and-6 play with the ball at the Tigers' 10-yard line and Oklahoma lined up with three receivers to the right. Iglesias lines up wide right opposite CB Tru Vaughns and runs a hitch route. Vaughns does a nice job of sitting on the initial route but Iglesias keeps working, breaking inside and then back outside before spinning upfield. Sooners QB Sam Bradford sees him in the end zone and zips the ball to him, and Iglesias does an excellent job of coming back to the ball and snatching it out of the air. In fairness to Vaughns, though, Missouri's inability to get to Bradford forced him to hold up in man coverage for far too long. And Iglesias is another player who needs to learn to control his emotions, as officials flagged him for a 15-yard penalty following the play.
The second touchdown comes on third-and-goal with the ball at Missouri's 7-yard line and the Sooners lined up in the same formation. Iglesias again lines up opposite Vaughns, but this time the Tigers drop into zone coverage. WR Ryan Broyles lines up between Iglesias and TE Jermaine Gresham and settles over the middle at the snap. SS Justin Garrett sees Broyles and jumps up in an effort to take away the underneath route. Meanwhile, Gresham crosses with Broyles and heads for the right flat, taking Vaughns up with him. This creates a void in the coverage, and Iglesias exploits it by briefly hesitating as if he's going to run another hitch before breaking over the middle and hauling the ball in.
Virginia Tech LOG Nick Marshman vs. Boston College RDT B.J. Raji
The 339-pound Marshman is a blue-collar player who never stops working and plays with an edge. Take a third-and-4 play at Virginia Tech's 45-yard line in the first quarter, for example. The 323-pound Raji lines up over C John Shuman's left shoulder and takes a step to his right at the snap of the ball. Marshman steps down to help Shuman and overextends. Raji quickly gets under Marshman's pads and knocks him off balance, but Marshman recovers and pushes Raji to the ground to give QB Tyrod Taylor a clear passing window that allows for a 14-yard completion over the middle.
Raji's superior quickness clearly gave Marshman problems, however, especially on consecutive plays during Virginia Tech's opening drive of the third quarter. On first-and-10 with the ball at the Hokies' 32-yard line, the Hokies run RB Darren Evans on a stretch play to the left. Marshman tries to reach Raji's outside shoulder, but Raji is too quick. He powers through Marshman's left shoulder and strings the play, leaving Evans no room to turn the corner and giving the pursuit time to drop him for a 2-yard loss. On the very next play Virginia Tech runs inside, and Raji again beats Marshman off the ball and quickly locates the runner, using his left arm to help wrap Evans up after just a 1-yard gain.
Steve Muench has evaluated both NFL and college players for Scouts Inc. since 2002.
Steve Muench's weekly matchup report looks at film of Alabama OT Andre Smith, Oklahoma WR Juaquin Iglesias and Boston College DT B.J. Raji.