College football regular season wraps up this weekend. Conference championship week and bowl season lie just ahead.
The coronavirus pandemic continues to have an effect. This weekend, games are being cancelled and rules are being changed. Specific players — even whole teams — are opting out. With so many teams off this week, let’s skip this week’s matchups to watch. Instead — as we did a couple of weeks ago — let’s consider more draft prospect consolation prizes.
This is one of my favorite exercises: looking at early-round draft prospects with a specific skill set and scheme fit — and then finding similar players expected to go in the middle or late rounds. Not only is it a useful for identifying late-round players that may appeal to you, it also helps with expectation management. After all, the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t going to draft someone like Patrick Mahomes every season!
It’s important to remember that these players are consolation prizes. They are not as good as the top players. They may be similar in some areas, but they will be lesser prospects — which is why they may be available later in the NFL Draft. But understanding what skills or traits attract you to a prospect can often lead you to other players you will like.
So let’s go through some mid-to-late round players that mirror some your favorite draft prospects — and see if any of these other players connect with you.
NFL draft consolation prizes
Last month, I asked Chiefs fans for their dream picks in the first round. There were many answers covering different positions — and even players within those positions.
Some of the most popular names were edge rusher Joseph Ossai, wide receiver Rondale Moore and offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker.
Joseph Ossai | EDGE —> Joe Tryon | EDGE
During this season, Ossai — out of Texas — has been one of the fastest-rising names on the defensive side of the football. After playing as a hybrid EDGE/linebacker in 2019, he’s moved to being a full-time EDGE on the line of scrimmage. He’s been exceptional rushing the passer, utilizing fantastic burst, power and an unrelenting motor to get after quarterbacks. While he may not have the ideal body type for a Steve Spagnuolo defensive end, he should be right around — if not surpassing — the physical minimums. The Chiefs may not get an opportunity to draft Ossai — but in the middle rounds, they should have a shot at Washington’s Joe Tryon.
2021 Draft: Joe Tryon EDGE— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) August 6, 2020
+ Initial get off LoS
++ Lateral agility to change gaps
+ Multiple inside counters
++ Active hands; keeps chest clean
+ Hand placement/block control
+ Length, hold leverage
- Lack of density
- Play recognition
- Can drop hips & dip but ankle flexion? pic.twitter.com/KP3KVlUjPY
Two things immediately jump out as similar skills to Ossai: Tryon’s get-off and motor.
Like Ossai, Tryon has a high-end first step, allowing him to eat up an offensive tackle’s cushion and press up the arc with pure speed. Even without elite hand work and spacing, both players are able to get upfield and turn the corner while relying purely on their speed and density.
Both have a big motor, which leads to consistent chase-down and coverage pressures. They rarely quit on plays, doing everything they can to keep working until the whistle blows.
The similarities as rushers go even further than that. Both players have shown the athleticism to drop their hips and dip under a blocker’s hands.
Finally, Ossai and Tryon are both still working on how to develop and fine-tune their pass-rushing plans — and may have to work through some limitations with ankle flexibility.
Whether in his initial punch or his ability to drive blockers backward, Ossai plays with a fair bit more power than Tryon does. Despite being listed at a larger 260 pounds, Tryon plays with a little bit more finesse while rushing the passer. He does, however, have a slightly bigger pass-rushing arsenal — and added lateral agility — allowing him to set up his inside counter moves.
Two areas where Tryon has significant advantages are his instincts and how he reads the field. From the edge, Ossai is still struggling to pick up the game — but he still has elite raw traits that will keep him in that first-round conversation.
Rondale Moore | WR —> Amari Rodgers | WR
As a true freshman for Purdue in 2018, Moore burst onto the scene when he took Ohio State — most notably Shaun Wade — to the woodshed. A short (but well-built) player who does his best work out of the slot and after the catch, Moore was a hot commodity in 2019 before missing most of the season with an injury. He got back on the field in 2020, but the season’s circumstances certainly didn’t help his progress. Clemson’s Amari Rodgers could provide a lot of the same juice.
Moore is known to be a dynamic after-the-catch receiver who is extremely quick and strong, making him hard to bring down. Rodgers falls right into that same category, playing with a similar level of strength — and consistently bouncing off tackle attempts.
Both have done their best work out of the slot, proving to be quality receivers when working horizontally. Putting their quickness inside makes it incredibly hard for defensive backs to cover them — or even bring them down.
Rodgers and Moore do need some technical work to improve their route running and releases from the line of scrimmage.
Rodgers is a somewhat bigger player, listed a couple inches taller than Moore — and with another 30 pounds.
Moore definitely has better change-of-direction ability and looks more slippery in the open field. Rodgers isn’t an easy tackle, but he relies a lot more on one-cut-and-go running — rather than working to turn defenders around.
But Rodgers has proven to be a much more nuanced deep-route runner, showcasing an ability to stack defenders and track the football over his head. Operating as Clemson’s top target this season, Rodgers has really shown an ability to operate on all three levels — while Moore’s limited 2020 play is forcing scouts to rely on two-year-old film.
Alijah Vera-Tucker | OL —> Zion Johnson | OT
This year, USC’s Vera-Tucker made a lot of waves after kicking out to left tackle following a great season playing left guard. His plus movement skills, patient (yet powerful) hands and nasty finishing ability have translated really well — even if he’s still better suited on the inside. Vera-Tucker has risen up draft boards for his versatility — and also because he’s shown better hand technique. But Boston College’s Zion Johnson also played left guard in 2019 before kicking out to left tackle in 2020.
Zion Johnson OL #77— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 11, 2020
+ OG in 19, OT in 20
++ Powerful base carried through blocks
+ Accurate hand placement
++ Feels rusher and mirrors
+ Good puller either direction
+ Good working up from combos
- Can over-reach when engaging
- Doesn't stick to every block
- Better at OG? pic.twitter.com/uY6AyaY139
Outside of the obvious position flexibility, both guys are plus movers — but not elite — as offensive guards; they look really natural in any direction they move. Whether pulling or climbing up the second level, both stay balanced all the way through the target, framing blocks incredibly well while on the move. Both players display very well-executed hand placement, showing a good combination of inside and outside hand usage that gives them hand-generated torque on different levels.
Both Vera-Tucker and Johnson are more impressive run blockers than pass protectors — but are still good at the latter. They tend to win by fitting their hands into a defender’s chest and then using their feet to mirror the defender’s moves. When defenders try to change levels or work over the top, they love to finish them off with their power.
Despite their core strength, both players do sometimes get over-aggressive when trying to shoot their hands; it can result in unbalanced play. This doesn’t happen very frequently, but there have been some instances where both have fallen forward — even all the way down — while reaching for a defender.
The first thing that jumps is the measurables: Vera-Tucker likely meets traditional physical thresholds, while Johnson doesn’t. Johnson also struggles a little more to maximize his length in the same Vera-Tucker does. Part of that boils down to his less-powerful punch. Johnson’s punch doesn’t often jolt a defender and knock him off his path; instead, he’s just getting a grip on them.
But Vera-Tucker is a fair bit more aggressive in shooting his hands into pass rushers. Knowing he has the strength and foot speed to alter the rusher, he doesn’t always make sure his base is set and his feet in the best position. So good rushers can counter his aggression, often forcing him into recovery mode. Even if he has less-ideal physical traits, Johnson does a better job staying patient — especially when playing at tackle — forcing the rusher to play through his body.