- Kentucky Edge Defender Alvin 'Bud' Dupree
- Arizona State Quarterback Taylor Kelly
- Washington Linebacker Shaq Thompson
Kentucky Edge Defender Alvin 'Bud' Dupree
One of the more popular defenders of the 2015 class is Clemson's DE Vic Beasley, thanks in part to his explosive first step off the snap. But while Beasley certainly has the natural skill set to be an efficient pass rusher, I personally would take my chances at this point with Bud Dupree instead. Consider this:
Another thing I love about Dupree? Listed at 6'4, 267 lbs compared to Vic Beasley's 6'2, 236 lbs...and just as good a first step.
— NDT Scouting, KMC (@NFLDraftTracker) May 30, 2014
Such a sizable difference in stature makes a great deal of difference when considering a player's ability to consistently see the field in different situations. Dupree isn't prototypical size but he's got great size none the less. And then there's the actual fundamentals he displays. Let's start off with a pass rush that doesn't produce a sack but rather a very effective pressure:
Dupree closes the cushion between himself and his blocker just 2 yards into the backfield. And while the offensive tackle initially is set up in very good position, Dupree shows something that when paired with his speed creates a very dangerous combination: a counter move. Dupree leverages his inside hand on the wrist of his pass blocker's inside arm and presses, swatting both lineman's hands off of his chest and Dupree clears by quickly clearing with his outside hand. This is not a swim move but rather an "arm over" hand technique. This move doesn't win if Dupree doesn't have movement skills to suddenly change directions, but he does and hence Dupree is able to run directly underneath the OT and display relentless pursuit of the Quarterback before a teammate cleans up and finishes the play.
But it shouldn't be mistaken that Dupree is strictly a pass rushing specialist; on the contrary. He frequently flashes good instincts and technique against the run.
Sometimes it is as simple as an angle in pursuit. Dupree's ability (as shown in this still) to get flat and collapse along the line of scrimmage is an important skill not just because he has the speed to impact running plays from the weak side as an unblocked defender but also because it means he's diagnosing the play during live game action. On 2nd and 10, it would be easy to assume Vanderbilt is passing out of a single back set and get 2-3 yards of depth into the backfield. But on his 2nd step Dupree is already flattening out and driving inside. This kind of read can't be made in watching the running back, it's made watching the Left Tackle. Reading keys is a vital part of team defense and plays like this suggest Dupree is active and effective in reading HIS keys. (Defensive ends will normally key on the OT or the TE to his side of the set). Recognizing the tackle is attempting to work across face is a tip that action is going away, while firing off the ball is a tip that the play is a run.
This run on 2nd and 1 is a play in which Dupree has no impact on the end result, but it still displays execution of proper edge fundamentals. Dupree is unblocked on the play initially and gets depth at 2 yards into the backfield before "sitting down" (or stopping his up field progress). This is marked with his original starting point (blue square) to where he stops (blue circle). At this point he recognizes the offensive player pulling to try to kick him out and create an inside crease off the Right Tackle for the ball carrier to pick up the first down. But Dupree maintains square shoulders and squeezes laterally inside (arrow) towards the Center, using functional strength to wall off his blocker and muddle what would otherwise be a gaping hole for the running back. But the most important part of this play is the 2 white lines drawn up field from Dupree's inside shoulder and out towards the sideline. Because he stayed square and kept his outside arm free, Dupree has not only muddled the hole but he's also maintained his outside leverage, which is paramount for edge defenders in the run game. If this running back decides to bounce to the perimeter, Dupree has a massive sphere of influence in which the man blocking him simply doesn't have the leverage to prevent Dupree from making the play.
Overall, Dupree displays the kind of fundamentals and instincts that when paired with his level of explosion and size makes for a very exciting prospect. Certainly a player to pay special attention to as Kentucky kicks off their 2015 season.
Arizona State Quarterback Taylor Kelly
It's obvious watching Taylor Kelly roll and move from outside the pocket that he's a QB with some intriguing tools as an overall athlete. But as a passer, Kelly against Wisconsin in 2013 left something to be desired. Here are two plays that encapsulate what I saw on a consistent play by play basis:
This first play is a rarity, as Kelly actually shows really nice anticipation and timing on this slant pattern. However, this was the first time he displayed anywhere near this level of timing in the game and it's a third of the way through the 2nd Quarter. By and large, Kelly is either throwing on the move on roll outs or he's hitching at the top of his drop to "climb the ladder" (escalate in the pocket) and press the ball down the field. But in doing so, Kelly is consistently forcing passes into coverage instead of simply taking what the defense was willing to concede. This next play perfectly illustrates that.
On 3rd and 8, Kelly hits the top of his 3 step drop out of the shotgun and immediately has a window to hit an inside slant pattern with lots of room to run. However, Kelly is still latched onto his first read, a streak at the bottom of the picture. If Kelly has eyes elsewhere (his WR doesn't win vs. the press coverage he was given and still has yet to get behind his defender. It's time to move on.) he can hit the slant between the blitzing MLB and the slot corner who has yet to plant and drive on the underneath slant (this is a nice illustration of the importance of route combinations, this slot DB eventually does drive and get into the slant's hip pocket, but the slot WR pressing hard off the line of scrimmage before breaking into his out pattern forces the slot CB to get depth and back pedal off the line in case the route goes vertical, which opens up a temporary window for Kelly to go with the ball with big YAC potential). Instead, Kelly hitches off the top of his drop, climbs the pocket (into interior pressure no less) and lets fly a pass to his first read, who never gets a step on his defender for an incomplete pass and a punt.
Kelly excels in moving outside the pocket and making simplified reads, attacking with crossing patterns that fit inside the natural windows that come with a QB moving the pocket towards the sideline. If Kelly is going to take the next step and become a legitimate pro prospect, he's going to need to refine his timing and anticipation as a passer.
Thompson's name has become a popular one in the past few weeks as a favorite of a number of draftniks, so I figured he was well worth an early spotlight. It's easy to see what makes him such a likable prospect, but there is plenty of room for improvement and growth in Thompson's game.
Thompson here is diagnosing action in the backfield, but he doesn't need to be. Stanford's LG (#54) has aggressively collapsed on the DT playing the 3 technique, already leaving a gaping hole in the B gap. This tips off immediately where the football is going. It goes back to what was previously mentioned in discussing Bud Dupree: reading keys is vital. An outside linebacker will at times key the Fullback, or the Guard. So Thompson's eyes either way are in the wrong place, he's watching the QB and the jet motion. (It should be noted: if this ball is given to the jet motion, it's not Thompson's initial responsibility. As an off ball LB in a 4-3 front, he isn't the edge defender and he shouldn't be relied on to cover the B gap AND the perimeter. That responsibility is passed to the CB and the DE to the jet side.) If he's keying on the Guard, Thompson would already be attacking downhill to plug this hole and could meet the Fullback on the wrong side of the line of scrimmage. Instead, Thompson waits and by the time he steps to fill the Fullback is engaging him 3 yards on the defense's side of the line of scrimmage. More assertiveness and eye discipline will go a long way, because Thompson did show a good job on the 2nd level of disengaging against Stanford.
This 3rd and 1 run is a troublesome one as a talent evaluator. Thompson lines up in the hole that Stanford actually runs, you can see Tyler Gaffney inside the purple starting square from the pre-snap alignment. But Thompson shows the kind of resistance you'd typically see in a blocking dummy and gets washed a good 5-6 yards down inside before his blocker loses his feet. Thompson needs to hunker down here and hold at the point of attack. Plays like this one suggest that Thompson is not suited for an on the line role at any point, but rather should be kept in space where his athleticism and hand usage can keep him clean on the 2nd level.
But even off the ball, Thompson has some fine tuning to do. Here, Stanford is running the stretch play on 2nd and 7 and actually picks up the first down on this play. Why? Thompson is too nosey inside. As an outside linebacker on a perimeter run (as compared to the interior run in the previously discussed Thompson play), it has to be played outside in. You can't overrun a play you're already outside of but Thompson allows himself to be out flanked by the Fullback Ryan Hewitt (again, read the proper key and he'll take you to the football) and he doesn't flow with enough width, instead coming down hill as if to shoot the gap. Only there's no gap there, just a TE who proceeds to cut Thompson off just enough to give Tyler Gaffney a first down run around the edge.
It was hardly all bad with Thompson, as is shown here on this zone coverage play just outside the red zone. QB Kevin Hogan wants to hit the perimeter slant pattern and Stanford runs dual slants in hopes of influencing Thompson inside to create a window. They're hoping he collapses towards the middle of the field, but Thompson's eyes are in the right place here: on the Quarterback. He sees where Hogan is eyeing to go and holds firm, the perimeter slant running right into Thompson's area of influence. And because Hogan is so locked onto the outside slant, he actually misses a window (albeit brief) to hit the inside slant and Hogan flushes from the pocket...but not before Thompson closes in space and tackles him for no gain.
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