NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein had the opportunity to review game film of Alabama players eligible for the forthcoming 2016 NFL Draft, notably O.J. Howard and Derrick Henry. His evaluation is not going to please many 'Bama fans (or players.)
First, Zierlein doesn't think too much of Derrick Henry as an NFL talent.
NFL.com draft analyst 'disappointed' by O.J. Howard's film, shares other Alabama-related observations | AL.com
Running back Derrick Henry Not listed among the 10 players to watch at running back, Henry was in the "others to watch" category. "Henry should put up some numbers this season, but he's more of a grinder than a creator and his long legs make it hard for him to get up to top speed quickly," Zierlein wrote. "Still, he will make defenses feel it when he's getting downhill."
Is Henry the best NFL running back prospect? No. I think Zierlein sees the same things we do when Henry is not playing his best: slow getting to the hole, occasionally stiff footwork, lack of explosion at the line of scrimmage, and he does take a while to reach top speed - during which time he is surprisingly easy to bring down for a man of his size.
But, Henry is an absolute load in the open field, is much faster than his frame would suggest, and he has improved every facet of his game every year at the Capstone. With regards to Henry's long legs, there are other backs in the NFL (notably Adrian Peterson and T.J. Yeldon) who can (or will) make do with their longer frames. Henry is a slow developing talent, but he is growing as a player as he matures. That is fine: not every player arrives at the Capstone nearly pro-ready a la Julio Jones or Trent Richardson.
Still, to say that Henry isn't even Top 10 at his position is just absurd.
Next, Zierlein takes issue with a player that many of us would also like to see some progress from, Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. Zierlein rates Howard No. 6 at his draft position, but that's on the basis of his athleticism and potential only.
Tight end O.J. Howard Howard was ranked as the No. 6 tight end to watch. "I came into my tape study very excited about watching Howard, but came away disappointed," Zierlein wrote. He clearly has the athleticism and seam speed to threaten defenses all over the field, but too often I saw lazy, complacent routes.
But, as we know from watching a few of OJ's lazier moments (West Virginia, Ole Miss) the criticism is probably warranted. This year could be a big one for Howard though, if the A-Day game passing concepts were any indicator. He and Ty Flournoy-Smith saw tons of safe short- and intermediate-routes: hitches, zone hooks and drags underneath the linebackers. Like Henry, Howard is still growing as a player, but it's up to his mental space more than his ability. (Also if you want a horrifying statistic, Howard is Alabama's leading receiver entering the season, tallying 240 yards and 0 TDs last year. on 17 catches.)
Zierlein also shamefully downgrades A'Shawn Robinson (widely considered the best interior defensive tackle/nose tackle in the SEC if not the nation.) He is generally positive about true sophomore LT Cam Robinson, as well as Reggie Ragland.
With respect to Ragland, the knock from Zierlein is his pass coverage skills. But, Ragland is an inside 'backer first of all, and second, Ragland did account for three PBUs last season. That number is better than every other member of the Alabama front seven. And, for comparison, Cyrus Jones tied for the SEC lead in PBUs with 13. Eddie Jackson had 5 PBUs at corner. Maurice Smith, Bradley Sylve, Geno Smith, Jabriel Washington and Tony Brown combined for 5 PBUs. So, Ragland isn't exactly a slouch in coverage (and in any event is leaps and bounds better than the now departed Trey DePriest.)
Anyway, go check it out, then return and let's mock Lance Zierlein together.