In Eric Dellaratta’s first installment of the 2014 Draft Discussion series, you will find out which draft eligible tight end has strong connections with members of the new Buccaneers coaching staff, how high quarterback Blake Bortles could go, and three players who could be late-round gems.JOLLY RODGERSThe Buccaneers are need of some help at the tight end position and it could be one they address in the draft. With surprise rookie standout Tim Wright already on the roster, Tampa Bay does have one option heading into the season, but the team should at least add another tight end to compete with Wright and the rest of the tight ends on the roster. If Tampa Bay isn’t interested in one early on in the draft, they could look to the later rounds, and one player they might look long and hard at is California tight end Richard Rodgers.
The 6-foot-4, 245 pound tight end is a lethal receiving threat more than capable of exposing the seam and intermediate areas of the field. The junior from California shows nice suddenness in his route-running and has NFL-caliber athleticism from his tight end position. Rodgers is a potential mismatch nightmare for opposing defenses.
One reason Rodgers could be a Buccaneer in 2014 is because of his collegiate experience with new Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who was his coach from 2011-2012. Tedford was part of the recruiting process that brought Rodgers to California, so he knows the tight end very well both on and off of the field.
Tedford made it clear that he liked the way Rodgers played with the Golden Bears. During his final season as California’s head coach in 2012, Tedford publically raved about Rodgers and his potential.
“In my opinion, Richard Rodgers is the best tight end in the country,” Tedford said to John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle. “I know he’s inexperienced. But you have a 270-pound guy who can run and block. He’s got a bright future.”
After Tedford was relieved of his duties as Cal head coach, the Golden Bears brought in new head coach Sonny Dykes, who implemented a spread offense. The Cal tight end dropped from 270 pounds to 245 pounds in order to fit the new offense. Rodgers saw a lot of snaps as a receiver in the slot, but he did line up as inline tight end on running plays and play-action passes in 2013.
The drop in weight as a junior had a significant effect on Rodgers’ blocking ability in terms of power and anchoring ability, but still did a solid job of mirroring and sealing edges in 2013. Lots of his blocking technique errors are correctable, including his lack of refined footwork. Regaining some of the weight he lost would also do wonders for his blocking ability.
The Golden Bears had an abysmal 2013 campaign, a season in which their final record was 1-11. Rodgers wrapped up his junior season with 38 receptions for 608 receiving yards and just one touchdown, after recording 20 catches for 288 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore. His below average production can be linked to California’s poor quarterback play since he joined the Golden Bears in 2011. Under Tedford, Rodgers’ quarterback was Zach Maynard who failed to throw for 3,000 yards in either of his two years as California’s quarterback.
Rodgers has declared for the NFL Draft, forgoing his senior season in hopes of an NFL career. The Buccaneers should be in the market for a tight end when the NFL Draft kicks off in May, and Rodgers’ strong connections to offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford make him a very real possibility for the Buccaneers on day three of the draft.
BORTLES BONANZA The fight for the top quarterback spot in the 2013 draft rages on, and Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles’ has become a hot topic amongst the draft community. Following an excellent junior season where he lead the Knights to a Tostitos Fiesta Bowl win, Bortles decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL Draft. The question now is how high can he go?
Some draft pundits even have Bortles being selected by the Houston Texans, who have the first overall pick. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien coached against Bortles and the Knights in 2013, a game where Bortles threw for 288 yards and three touchdowns. O’Brien spoke highly of Bortles to Houston Chronicle reporter John McClain.
“Blake is a good-sized guy. He’s an athletic guy for his size. He’s an accurate passer. The guys who coached him at Central Florida think highly of him as a young man who really studies the game. He works hard at the game.”
Gifted with a powerful arm and excellent mobility, Bortles is magnificent at extending the play and completing passes on the run. Ball placement is another aspect of the young quarterback’s game that will impress NFL talent evaluators. Bortles’ ability to put the ball in places where only the receiver can make a play is remarkable, and when pressured it only seems to help his accuracy.
While Bortles does have many qualities that will appeal to NFL teams, he does need to improve in several areas. The junior quarterback is a gambler who isn’t afraid to take risks throwing the ball down the field and into tight windows, but he can sometimes be over-aggressive, which lead to turnovers.
Bortles’ decision-making and ability to read defenses will also be scrutinized leading up to the draft. The 6-foot-4, 220 pound quarterback was asked to throw a lot of screen passes and timing routes in UCF’s offense, which might be an issue to some, but it could lead others to believe that he’d be a nice fit in a west coast offense.
Bortles is still far from a finished product, but he certainly has all of the tools necessary to be a successful NFL quarterback. Bortles’ flashes of brilliance may be enough for a team to pull the trigger earlier than some might expect. Quarterbacks come off of the board very quickly, and with many teams needing a quarterback in the top ten picks, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Bortles come off the board early in May. BURIED TREASURESEvery year there are players that are selected on day three, rounds four through seven, of the NFL draft that surprise and contribute early on in their NFL careers. This section will cover three players that PewterReport.com believes could be late-round picks that contribute early on in their NFL careers. Last year, PewterReport.com listed former Vanderbilt and current St. Louis Rams running back Zac Stacy as a potential buried treasure of the 2013 NFL draft. Here are three players that should be on your draft radars heading into day three of the draft. WISCONSIN WR JARED ABBREDERISAbbrederis has been rock solid for the Badgers over the last three years, accumulating 202 receptions, 3,140 receiving yards, 23 touchdowns. The 6-foot, 189 pound receiver had his best year as a senior in 2013, where he racked up 78 catches, 1,081 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns.
The former walk-on had a great week in Mobile, Alabama, where he showed scouts and talent evaluators that he could get separation against the nation’s top cornerbacks. Abbrederis is a well-rounded receiver that has a knack for getting open. He doesn’t have great long-speed or elite quickness, but his route-running skills allow him to gain consistent separation from defensive backs.
His lackluster athletic skill-set will likely keep him from being selected on day one or two of the draft, but the hard-working Abbrederis is the type of player that would make a lot of sense as a day three selection for a team needing a savvy number two receiver.
TULANE WR RYAN GRANTAn underrated wide receiver to keep an eye on heading into the Combine and Pro Days is Tulane’s Ryan Grant, who put together back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons for the Green Wave. After catching 76 passes for 1,149 yards and six touchdowns in 2012, Grant followed up his excellent junior season with 77 catches, 1,039 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns as a senior.
The 6-foot-1, 190 pound senior is another receiver that won’t blow you away with athletic excellence, but like Jared Abbrederis has a knack for getting open and catching the football. Grant quietly had a great week of practice in Mobile, showing off his soft hands and suddenness in route-running on numerous occasions.
The senior receiver isn’t a hot name right now and he likely won’t garner much attention in the pre-draft process, but Grant brings a well-rounded game to the table that should warrant a day three draft selection. BUFFALO RB BRANDEN OLIVERFlying under the radar is Buffalo running back Branden Oliver, who was one of the most productive running backs in college football in 2013. Oliver rolled for 310 carries, 1535 rushing yards, and 15 touchdowns in 2013, and he missed Buffalo’s week three game against Stony Brook with an injury. The Buffalo tailback amassed 866 carries for 4,049 yards and 33 touchdowns over the course of his four year collegiate career, which is the most in school history, passing former Buffalo and current Green Bay Packers running back James Starks.
Oliver offers nice shiftiness and vision, allowing him to find holes efficiently and effectively. The former Bull picks up yards quickly once he hits the hole, but sometimes it takes him too long to get out of his cuts and holes close up before he can get there. That being said, Oliver offers a nice combination of agility and power, capable of making defenders miss in the open field or powering through them to pick up yards.
The senior running back is a very good pass-protector that gets good leverage due to his short stature. Oliver even stood up former Georgia Bulldogs and current Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones in pass protection in when the two teams met in 2012. His ability to stay on the field on third downs should go a long way with NFL teams.
Standing just 5-foot-8, 208 pounds teams will have concerns about Oliver’s size and his ability to hold up physically in the pros. He suffered a leg injury in 2012 that kept him out five games, but he only missed one game in 2013 as a senior. Another concern with Oliver is his lack of involvement in the receiving game, as he only caught 25 passes as a senior and seven as a junior. These concerns along with playing for a smaller school will be playing against Oliver on draft day, but PewterReport.com believes that he can find a spot on an NFL team because of his ability to handle a big workload and his ability in pass protection
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