Tuesday, 25 August 2015 00:00

Dynasty prospect: Ezekiel Elliott

The running back position requires an athlete to possess several traits for success. One of the crucial ones is competitive drive. The ability to initiate contact with defenders typically much bigger in size, keep your feet churning to break tackles and extend plays is key to turning a five yard gain into eight yards. This trait is even more crucial in short yardage situations where your team needs a few inches on the goal line for a touchdown or first down. One of the most promising prospects in this area is Ohio State junior Ezekiel Elliott, a running back that also possesses the athleticism and durability needed to excel at the pro level.

Elliott was unveiled as the Buckeyes feature back for the first time in 2014, replacing current 49er Carlos Hyde. He flourished in coach Urban Meyer's revamped offense, a scheme that was a departure from his spread days in Florida. The attack focused more on inside zone blocking plays and power runs up the middle. While many hear 'zone blocking' and immediately equate it with running backs avoiding contact and seeking consistent three-to-four yard gains, that wasn't the case with Elliot. He was a physical runner that used his strength after contact to wear down defenses and eventually break big gains in the later stages of the game.

What he did  

The offense involved a lot of cutting off the center up the middle, and Elliot proved very good at this up-the-gut style of running. The sophomore ended up rushing for 1,878 yards, a number that trailed only Melvin Gordon and Tevin Coleman. Elliot finished the season with 20 rushing touchdowns and also added 28 catches for 220 yards (7.9 yards per catch average). He was Top 5 in several rushing categories for the Big Ten, including rushing attempts, rushing yards, touchdowns, and plays from scrimmage.

When looking at Elliott, he's got several characteristics that make him a potentially good runner at the pro level.

Biggest strengths: Functional strength, competitive toughness, finishes runs after contact, mental toughness, vision

Biggest weaknesses: Pass blocking, home run speed, elusiveness

What kind of player is he

At 6'1, Elliott is a little taller than your average running back and has a thick frame at 225 lbs, giving him an NFL-like weight despite being only a junior in college. He shows good quickness when diagnosing a play both physically and mentally, and has the agility to cut off center and between the tackles. His balance is very good and allows him to continue running downhill after contact. A hard-nose runner, Elliot saw his most successful runs come in between the tackle and tight end on inside zone plays with the Buckeyes.

A typical Elliot run

He shows good burst getting to the line of scrimmage with good lateral quickness to cut off inside blocks. He's patient when waiting for his blocks to set up and cuts up field decisively and without losing speed. He has the vision to run off blocks at the second level and stands a good chance to break off a big run if he sheds a tackle or two.

He also has the speed to beat defenders to the edge and get up field. His transition from a 45 degree angle to north-and-south is fluid, and he maintains a good forward lean when running which keeps him from running too tall. He also keeps his feet churning after contact which allows him to pop defenders backward upon contact and gain extra yards in combination with his strength at 225lbs. He struggles when trying to run for long touchdowns as his lack of top-end speed often results in him getting tackled from behind by corners and safeties.

Context

Elliott has only managed to string together a stellar season just once, an obvious thing to write but still important considering teams will be gunning for him more in 2015. Though he'll have a sign on his back, he's already battle-tested when it comes to playing against the best teams in college. He posted four touchdowns and 246 yards rushing against Oregon in the National Championship game. He also ran for 230 yards and two touchdowns against Alabama, a team ranked fourth in points allowed (16.6) in 2014. It's important when any athlete plays his best against the toughest of defenses, and Elliot demonstrated he could do that.

He could also wear defenses down throughout a game, as his biggest runs typically came in the second half when Ohio State needed a breakthrough play to seal a victory.

Elliott accomplished all this despite playing with three different quarterbacks and capped his year off with a 246 yard performance in the National Championship game against Oregon to go along with a season-high four touchdowns. He proved he could remain durable with 273 attempts and no injuries.

Pass blocking woes

Elliott's biggest weakness is his pass blocking. He typically stands too high when engaging defenders which allows him to get driven back by pass rushers. He lacks the desire to pass block and will throw his shoulder in at times instead of squaring up the defender. He does, however, display a desire to run block and relished the opportunity to hit linebackers in the middle of the field on quarterback keepers. That will be something to take notice of if he hopes to elevate his status to potential first-round draft pick either in 2016 or 2017.

Catching the ball

Elliott can definitely make tough catches. He posted a seven catch game against Indiana and three games with at least four receptions. He's not expected to catch the ball a ton in the Buckeyes' offense, but it's a skill he's proven to have.

What type of NFL player can he be

Overall, Elliott is a very good power runner that can move piles with his strength after contact. He has the potential to be a 1,000-yard rusher in an offense that values running the ball up the middle and with the inside zone. A team that runs the inside zone quite a bit is the Philadelphia Eagles. This offense would be ideal for a player like Elliot. He still needs to develop his pass blocking, but he has a good chance of going in the first round based on his running talent alone.

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Link to original photo

 

Published in Waiver Wire
Thursday, 14 May 2015 00:00

Episode 64: Wide receiver guessing game

On Thursday's edition of Treatment, the Helpers play a game where one person reads off the stats of a wide receiver and the other one guesses who the receiver is. They then give fantasy value to that receiver and talk about any potential pitfalls that may inhibit his production.

 

Published in Podcasts
Tuesday, 17 February 2015 00:00

Dynasty Wide Receiver Tier 2.0: Devin Funchess

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Player: Devin Funchess 

School: University of Michigan

Position: Wide Receiver

Height: 6'5"

Weight: 230 lbs

Class: Junior

Position Rank: 5 

After the first tier of wide receivers off the board there are still a lot of talented pass-catcher in the 2015 NFL draft that have the ability to develop into impact wide receivers at the NFL level. Leading off Tier II of our rankings is University of Michigan wide receiver/tight end Devin Funchess. Funchess is perhaps the most versatile wide receiver in this draft having had experience playing multiple positions, as well as showing the ability to line up at multiple places whether it be out wide, in the slot, or in-line as a tight end. 

Funchess is far from a finished prospect but possesses the combination of size, speed, and athletic ability to be lethal down the field in the NFL. I do believe that Funchess could step in and make an impact during his rookie season, but I do feel he has a few holes in his game to fix if he wants to be mentioned in the same conversation as Cooper, White, and DGB. 

Strengths: 

  • Massive Frame
  • Ability to line up multiple positions
  • Physical in open field
  • Able to make plays with contact
  • Hindered by terrible QB play 
  • Massive Catch Radius 
  • Solid run blocker 
  • Able to recognize soft spots in zone-coverage
  • Impressive burst of LOS
  • Immediate Red-Zone Threat

Weaknesses:

  • Does not explode out of breaks
  • Needs to refine route-running ability
  • Inconsistent hands (fights ball)
  • Will need to develop NFL route-tree
  • Will struggle getting off press-coverage
  • Tight end or wide receiver?

Collegiate Career 

The college career of Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess is an interesting. The former 3-star recruit originally signed with the Wolverines as a tight end, and was able to make some impact during his freshman season, totaling 15 catches for 234 yards and 5 touchdowns, good enough to earn him a spot on the freshman All-America team.

As a sophomore Funchess earned a starting position opposite Jeremy Gallon and showed to be one of the premier pass-catchers in the nation, totaling a 49/748/6 line during his sophomore season proving to be a match-up nightmare for linebackers and safeties.  

Despite being labeled on the depth chart as a tight end, Funchess played more of a Jimmy Graham-type role for the Wolverines, lining up in the slot, out wide, and in line as a blocker. This versatility allowed the Wolverines coordinator to scheme up ways to get Funchess matched up against slower linebackers, and smaller defensive backs.

Going into his junior season Funchess made a couple of changes to his game. The first is that he was changing positions from tight end, to now a full-time wide receiver. The second move was changing his jersey number from 87, which he had worn for his first two season, to 1, a number that is synonymous for being worn by great Michigan wide receivers (Edwards, Carter). 

With these changes there was hope that Funchess would finally put his tools together and become the dominant pass catcher that the program has been looking for since Edwards graduated in 2004. Things did not exactly go to plan as the Michigan football program more closely resembled a dumpster fire than a division I football team. 

Funchess finished his junior season with 62 catches for 733 yards, and 4 touchdown receptions. While Funchess did post a career high in receptions during his junior season, he was limited to a lot of quick hitting passes such as stick routes, slants, and curl routes because of the inconsistencies of the Michigan quarterbacks. 

Player Comparison: Braylon Edwards

When I first turned on the Michigan tape I had to make sure that I was watching the right game, because at the naked eye you would not be able to tell a difference between the former Wolverine wide receivers.

Both players possess a massive frame, strong hands, and the speed to stretch defenses vertically. Although Edwards was the more complete receiver coming out of college, I feel that Funchess could be the better professional player. 

Braylon Edwards/Devin Funchess Statistical Comparison

Braylon Edwards

Player

Devin Funchess

252

Receptions

126

3,541

Receiving Yards

1,715

39

Touchdowns

15

14.1

YPC

13.6

 

As you can see by the chart above Edwards was a monster during his four seasons in Ann Arbor, totaling over 1,000 receiving yards and double-digit touchdowns in three of his four seasons. 

During his four years at Michigan, Edwards definitely had the advantage in terms of quarterback play. Chad Henne was a perfect college quarterback for Edwards, as he possessed the big arm and gun-slinger mentality that could take advantage of his elite athletic ability. 

It was a different story for the quarterbacks that Funchess had the misfortune of playing with. The Wolverines offense was held hostage by the the atrocious quarterback play of Devin Gardner far too often. There are plenty of opportunities to make big plays down the field, but instead Gardner panics and tries to make a play with with his legs. 

Even though Funchess was not able to develop the way the Michigan coaching staff had hoped during his first season at wide receiver, there was some good that came from playing with the erratic Devin Gardner. Take the video below for instance, Gardner is throwing a corner route against either Cover-3 or man-coverage. It is a little difficult to differentiate because of the slot CB playing man, while the right side of the defense seems to be playing a deep third responsibility.

With the separation that is created by Funchess on this route this should be an easy pitch and catch for a division I quarterback. However, like a lot of Gardner's throws the ball placement, accuracy, and timing on this throw are all way off, causing Funchess to have to bail his quarterback out once again. 

Braylon Edwards/Devin Funchess Physical Comparison 

Braylon Edwards

Player

Devin Funchess

6’3”

Height

6’5”

220 lbs

Weight

230 lbs

Aside from the physical comparison, there is one more comparison to Edwards that stood out when I was doing my evaluations. Both Edwards and Funchess possess the prototypical size of a vertical receiver at the next level, but have issues catching the ball on a consistent basis. Too many times their were passes thrown his way that Funchess had to double-catch, and even dropped some relatively routine passes. 

The other aspect of Funchess' game that he needs to improve on if he wants to make a major impact at the next level is his route-running ability. While Funchess possesses the athletic ability and lower body flexibility to sink into his breaks rarely does it actually happen. Instead, Funchess relies to heavily on his athletic ability to get away from defenders, or make contested catches. 

Going forward there is no denying that Funchess has all the tools in the world to become a dominating receiver at the next level. However, with the issues surrounding his inconsistent hands and raw route-running ability it may take longer than expected for Funchess to make a major impact. If Funchess can develop the weaker parts of his game, he has the size, speed, and athletic ability to develop into a low-end no. 1 wide receiver for a team, and at worst a great complimentary piece. 

Fantasy Outlook

The first aspect that will determine Funchess’ fantasy value during his rookie season will be which team drafts him, and what position the will ultimately have Funchess play. If a team decides that they would like to develop Funchess as a wide receiver I believe fantasy owners will need to be patient as they wait for consistent fantasy production.

In standard leagues I would not consider Funchess anything more than a late round flier at this point, as he will most likely make his greatest impact towards the red zone his rookie season. Standing at 6'5" and having a vertical around 38", Funchess will be a major asset in jump ball scenarios against slighter-framed defensive backs.

As far as dynasty leagues go, Funchess is currently my number five rated prospect in the upcoming draft. With his size, speed, and ability to make an impact inside the 20's I rank Funchess as a mid-first round pick in dynasty leagues. While Funchess may not step in and make the impact that Cooper, White, or DGB do, there is plenty to like about his fantasy projection in the future. 

Draft Projection 

When projecting where Funchess may land in the draft, the first thing you have to do is look for which teams may have a need at the position. Due to his versatility I am going to leave the possibility that a team could select Funchess as a hybrid tight end, rather than a full-time wide receiver.

Doing a quick overview of the teams that could be targeting a tight end/wide receiver come April:

  • Jacksonville - Blake Bortles struggled during his first full season as the Jaguars starting quarterback. If the Jaguars have any hope that Bortles is the future they need to surround him with talented skill-players. Marcedes Lewis has been serviceable at best during his time in Jacksonville, and Funchess could step in and be the safety net for Bortles immediately. 
  • Oakland - Mychal Rivera was a pleasant surprise last season, but the Raiders offense has limited talented at the wide receiver/tight end position. Funchess could step in and be the primary pass catcher of the Raiders offense, and hopefully give Carr the no. 1 wide receiver he needs going forward.
  • Atlanta - Tony Gonzalez is not walking through the door anytime soon, and with Roddy White getting another year older, the Falcons could stand to add some youth to the tight end position. 
  • Cleveland - When I write about a wide receiver/tight end this offseason more times than not I am going to list the Cleveland Browns as a potential target. With Josh Gordon suspended indefinitely the team needs someone for their quarterback, whomever that will be, to throw the ball too other than Andrew Hawkins. 
  • Miami - Charles Clay could potentially leave this offseason, and with the likely departure of disgruntled wide receiver Mike Wallace, the Dolphins could use some young talent at the wide receiver position. 
  • Houston - The first order of business in Houston is to figure out who will be under center come week 1. As of now I would expect Ryan Mallett to be given the opportunity to win the job 
  •  Arizona - John Carlson would probably be better off retiring this offseason as he has been unable to carve out consistent production during his career. Even if Carlson is around, the Cardinals need someone who can attack defenses up the middle of the field, an area that Funchess specializes in. Just think of a tight end with the athletic ability of Funchess, and the production that he could put up in a Bruce Arians run offense. Scary thoughts.
  • Seattle - I do not get how Russell Wilson can get it done with the options he has at the wide receiver position, but somehow Wilson is able to produce. Paul Richardson is an intriguing young option with big-play potential, but is still raw and will have to get back to full-speed after suffering a torn ACL in the playoffs. Funchess would step in immediately and be the most talented wide receiver/tight end on the Seattle roster
  •  New England - Remember what the Patriots did when they had Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the same offense? Well the addition of Funchess to the Patriots would give Brady yet another weapon at his disposal. 
  • Minnesota - The Vikings desperately need a no. 1 wide receiver for their offense, and standing at 6'5", Funchess has the frame that Norv looks for in his "x" receiver 

As you can see there are multiple teams in this year's draft that could be looking to acquire a tight end with the ability to make an impact as a pass catcher. 

Currently I have Funchess as my number four rated wide receiver in the upcoming draft. While he does not have the experience playing the position like the other players in this draft class, Funchess does possess a versatile skill-set that offensive coordinators crave. I currently have Funchess graded as a round 2 talent due to the questions about which position he will play, and the inconsistencies he displayed with his hands. 

If Funchess can go to the combine and post a 40 time within the 4.5 range, and show some impressive side-to-side agility in the 3-cone drill, I would not be surprised to see him slide into the bottom half of round 1.

Grade: Round 2

 Photo Courtesy of MGoBlog's Flickr Page

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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