One Game Can Tell the Story

Sometimes, watching a number of a prospect’s games can still leave you with an imprecise sense for his strengths and weaknesses. You understand the player and where he fits within an offense or defense generally. And you see him execute some things, but not others. But you don’t draw any big conclusions about him.

And then one game will tell you all you need to know.

This post focuses on two games that, for sporsthink, defined the evaluation of the respective players involved. In one case, I saw the player struggle through several games and wondered what the allure was; one game clued me in. For the second player, a single game confirmed a lot of concerns I had about him, but had struggled to articulate.

Marcus Martin, USC v. Notre Dame – Martin didn’t win me over the first few times I watched him. “This guy is projected to be the first center off the board?!” Martin could stand to improve his balance and lateral agility in his pass set, and needs to sustain blocks more effectively in the run game. That much was confirmed many times over on tape.

Nix didn't roam free for much of the day...

Nix didn’t roam free for much of the day…

So what exactly makes Martin a second round pick in some evaluators’ eyes? Look no further than Martin’s body of work against Louis Nix of Notre Dame. No one has pushed Nix around during his college career the way Martin did. Seeing Martin do that against such a powerful defensive tackle made me realize just how dominant he could be in the run game. Draft analysts in the media, and undoubtedly a few NFL insiders, must think that Martin could be a real difference maker in the middle of an offensive line.

Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State v. Air Force — Lawrence has many of the traits that seem to project success for an NFL edge rusher: quick hands, a long frame, accleration up the field on pass plays. I wasn’t overwhelmed by much of his tape: in particular, I didn’t see him consistently translate speed to power. But there were some appealing athletic traits.

Then I saw Lawrence face Air Force. The Falcons’ run-heavy, misdirection offense exploited everything that Lawrence struggles with. Lawrence was consistently washed out of the play on runs his way, even by lighter offensive tackles and tight ends. He fell victim to cut blocks play after play, and never used his hands effectively or recovered afterwards. Even when the play went away from him, Lawrence lacked the top-level burst to track down the ballcarrier.

Lawrence will earn his paycheck on Sundays rushing the quarterback, so some of the Air Force game was a side act. Nevertheless, I thought it highlighted the areas Lawrence desperately needs to improve: play recognition, using his hands to engage and dispatch of blockers, and accelerating from a standstill, whether that be to put pressure on the quarterback or chase down a run the other way. Lawrence may yet transform himself into a star, but it will be a steep learning curve for him. Teams have to factor this into his draft position.

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