An NFL Draft prospect’s resume is his game tape and a defining season looms for the NFL hopefuls. No matter how good we perceive a prospect to be, they still have to deliver on the field to solidify his draft stock.
This time of year, high school recruiting rankings, stats, accolades and remembering splash plays weigh heavily into how prospects are perceived, but the truth is always found in studying the game tape and evaluating traits. Game film is where this analysis is rooted in.
The NFL Draft prospects in the ACC with the most to prove are all highly touted recruits that have flashed but need to emerge in some type of fashion to live up to their billing. Let’s examine which five ACC prospects have the most to prove this season.
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
Perception is far from reality when it comes to Hyatt.
A five-star recruit, Hyatt instantly became Clemson’s starting left tackle and has since been a three-time All-ACC offensive lineman and recipient of the Jacobs Blocking trophy which is awarded to the ACC’s top offensive lineman. His resume says high draft pick but his game tape reveals a player that needs a ton of work.
Hyatt is very poor with his hands. Offensive lineman need to be able to locate and time their punch in pass pro and Hyatt is guilty of routinely giving up his chest and allowing the pass rusher to dictate the rep. To make matters worse, his anchor is soft which compromises the width of the pocket.
As a run blocker, Hyatt’s lack of play strength is apparent and he also has a bad tendency of dropping his head which leads to over-extension and negatively impacting his balance.
Unless Hyatt illustrates major growth this season, he’s far closer to being a developmental project with modest traits than a high draft pick.
Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson
Lawrence is a massive man that is commonly slotted in the top 10 of early mocks. And he is certainly an interesting player that has an NFL role but as it stands, that role isn’t worth a high first round pick.
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 340 pounds, Lawrence plays like his size suggests. He’s a load to move in the run game and has success pushing the pocket as a pass rusher. But Lawrence’s size comes at the expense of mobility. He is slow out of his stance, labors to move laterally and lacks the juice to project as an impact pass rusher in the NFL. Early down run stuffers lack value in today’s NFL.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney revealed this summer that Lawrence battled a foot injury for all of 2017 so that most likely impacted his performance. With that said, proving that he is a more explosive player in 2018 is something we need to see.
Shaq Quarterman, LB, Miami
A day one starter for the now famed turnover chain defense, Quarterman is a popular prospect entering the season. A four star recruit, Quarterman’s tallied 167 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, six sacks and six pass breakups across his two seasons as a starter.
But his production and billing are easily overlooked when spotting his inconsistencies on film.
The most glaring flaw that pops is how poor he is with pursuit angles. He regularly under-pursues plays and is stuck running in circles. His technique to stack and shed blocks fails to get his hands involved and he routinely gets washed out of his gap as a result. His lack of hand usage to beat blocks also shows up when navigating through traffic and Quarterman frequently finds himself stuck.
Quarterman plays with poor leverage, misses his share of tackles and lacks comfort in his coverage drops. And he’s a linear athlete that struggles to work laterally.
I have my doubts on Quarterman but he has the 2018 season to make me a believer.
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
Francois was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 but his sophomore campaign was over in Week 1 after a season-ending knee injury. Now healthy, Francois has been named the starting quarterback after beating out James Blackmon for the job over the summer.
There are components of Francois’ game that I really like. First off, he is as tough as they come. While the hits finally led to a significant injury, Francois’ took blow after blow in 2016 and kept hanging tough and delivering. I also like how Francois sees the field and processes defenses. He offers good mobility and the requisite arm strength to make any throw.
Part of what made Francois so effective as a freshman was his ability to win with his legs both as a runner and extending plays while keeping his eyes down the field. Proving he is healthy and regaining his mobility is critical in 2018.
But the biggest area that I need to see growth from Francois is with his ball placement. He can be erratic with his accuracy and rarely hits throws with touch.
I can see Francois ascending as a prospect but there are items to clean up while proving he is healthy.
Ahmmon Richards, WR, Miami
There’s a ton to like about Richards as a prospect. But is he a top tier guy or one that offers tantalizing tools with critical flaws? That’s what we need to learn in 2018.
Richards is an explosive receiver that accelerates rapidly and showcases excellent ball tracking skills. He’s averaged nearly 20 yards per catch for his career which is a testament to his ability to make big plays.
Mixed in with the dynamic plays are concerns when projecting Richards to the NFL. The most notable issue with Richards is inconsistent hands. His drops are frustrating and often don’t even come in contested situations. There are too many concentration drops from Richards and that must be cleaned up.
Secondly, Richards can get bullied at the line of scrimmage and the catch point. A finesse receiver, Richards is guilty of getting redirected in his release and bumped at the catch point. He must get stronger and become more assertive to more consistently win early in his routes and in contested situations.
Richards has upside but must become a more complete receiver to solidify his status among the best in the class.