We’ve now had a full week to digest what has occured at the NFL Combine. Some players helped themselves, some hurt themselves, but most didn’t change their stock much one way or the other.
At first glance, LSU DT Michael Brockers would seem to be one of those who hurt himself. He ran a 5.38-40, very slow for any position player at this level, and only could muster 19 reps for a 322 lb. man. That’s 225 lbs he’s pushing. That would be equivalent to me bench-pressing 140 lbs 19 times. I don’t even work out, I have an arthritic shoulder and can do at least a few reps and I’m 45 years old! But Brockers is entering the NFL as a redshirt Sophomore so everyone knows he’s raw and he’s probably best as a 4-3 DT. There’s little more than a season of college game tape on him, and that generally raises red flags.
But, Oh, what that game tape shows! Brockers has tremendous leg strength and, despite his poor combine showing overall, is a good athlete. He also has long 35″ arms, a huge frame, and almost no body fat. Combine that with his youth, and it’s likely he simply hasn’t fully developed his potential yet. In college, he dominated in every game, anchoring that stifling LSU defense in the middle. When you take all this into account, it’s easy to see why a lot of teams still like the kid. He has been up and down the boards like an elevator on a busy day, being projected anywhere from in the low-20s all the way up to 6 or 7. He even fell out of the first round, albeit briefly, on a few teams’ big boards I’d be willing to bet.
Now that a little time has passed, I can see how a guy like Brockers might be attractive to a team like the Panthers needing to build a defense. While there are 4 or 5 good DT prospects that could go in the first round, I’m not sure any of them have as much upside as does Michael Brockers. It’s also unlikely that he will dominate at the NFL level from day one, but the day he can may not be all that far off.
The SEC has become the NCAA’s version of a dynasty in football, and that is where the best players compete. Brockers excelled there and shut down Alabama’s running game in their initial meeting during the regular season last year. He also played well in the BCS title rematch game, if not dominant there. Chalk that up to Coach Saban’s scheming. Now, he’ll be going up against grown men who have been blocking guys his size for 8 or 10 years and know all the techniques to use. Brockers is going to have to be well-coached in a lot of the nuances of playing the position if he’s going to grow into a great NFL defensive tackle.
In the end, it all depends on him. He seems to love the game, but he can’t rely on overpowering NFL offensive lineman just because he’s big and has strong legs. That’s fine, because that same game tape shows he has outstanding instincts as to what type of play the offense is running…draws, reverses, screens…he doesn’t get fooled by the shenanigans very often.
After having briefly fallen to the low-first round or even beyond, I think more teams are realizing this kid is for real, and he has the chance to develop into something very special over the next couple of years once he finishes filling out and gets on an NFL weight training program. He has the desire to succeed and he has the intelligence to diagnose plays so he’ll play faster than the 5.4-40 time he displayed. If he’d clocked Rich Eisen’s 6.04, chances are he really would be a middle-round pick. But he didn’t, so he won’t. If he can improve just a little bit on his Pro Day, it’ll help cement his status as a top-15 talent.
As of today, I see him being anywhere from the first to the third DT taken, depending on what the particular franchise wants for their scheme or sees in this kid. I think the Panthers are looking hard at both him and Poe while looking ahead to Free Agency. Michael Brockers has finally risen up my own draft board and shown me he’s another example of the Combine not really changing things much if you’ve got good game tape.
Same thing with Kendall Wright; he was figured to be a late first-rounder and that’s probably where he’ll wind up. I don’t see him getting by San Fran at 30. As for Brockers, the Broncos would love him at 25, but now I don’t think he’ll fall that far. The Panthers would be well-served to take him, with the likely scenario of a learning curve initially but a higher ceiling later. He should make strides once he bulks up his upper body and settles into an NFL training camp to get into NFL-football shape. That factor plays into the Panther’s hands a little bit since Rivera is rebuilding from the rubble defense he inherited and can afford to give a kid a year to get things down there as opposed to a playoff team that’s looking for a rookie to step in and be an instant force. That would play more into Dontari Poe’s hands as he’s a more polished player. There’s Fletcher Cox to consider as well as there are several young men that can play NT in a 3-4 or DT in a 4-3 in this year’s draft. It’s a deep draft for linemen and scarce on top 3-4 pass rushers and corners (beyond Claiborne).
My sense is that the Panthers want a pass-rusher if they can get a really good one at 9. I think Ingram is above Coples on their board, as Ingram’s most natural fit is as a 4-3 DE, but should be able to transit to a 3-4 OLB if asked. However, the Jags may like him at #7. I’d as soon the Panthers take Brockers or Poe over Quentin Coples because I’ve seen too many just take money and lie down like Vernon Gholston did. The rookie wage scale should help keep that to a minimum now, and clubs won’t lose 30+ million in guaranteed money on a player who just looks for a payday without ever playing a down in the NFL, but the character/motor issues around Coples would be enough to scare me off from choosing him in the top 10. Teams in the top 10 in the draft especially can’t afford to whiff their first-round pick, and Brockers is likely as safe a choice as most and way safer a pick than Coples. If Coples and Ingram are both gone at 9, Brockers could make an immediate impact for them at the 3-technique and should only get better with a coach who played on probably the best defense the NFL has ever seen – the 1985 Chicago Bears.