What rookie CB Martin Emerson brings to the Browns’ defense

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick breaks down cornerback Martin Emerson’s versatility and how he fits in the Cleveland Browns’ defense.

The Cleveland Browns reached an agreement with their rookie defensive back, Martin Emerson. His rookie deal has a total value of $5.75 million with a signing bonus of $1.36 million. The Browns didn’t have a pick in the 2022 draft until the 68th overall pick in the third round — mostly as a result of the Deshaun Watson trade — but they were eager to get Emerson on board as their first selection.

Emerson’s frame is what caught the eye of Browns’ coaching staff. This former Mississippi State cornerback stands 6-foot-2, weighing 201 pounds with a wingspan of nearly 80 inches. He’s taller than both of Cleveland’s starting outside corners, Denzel Ward and Greg Newsome II, and has weight on them both as well.

When asked about the nickel position, head coach Kevin Stefanski said, “I think we have multiple guys who can fill that role and have filled that role. I think that’s why we talk about versatility. If you’re playing corner or you’re playing safety, you’re going to be trained to play in the slot or play our nickel position. I think we have multiple guys who can do that.”

So, the question we have with Emerson is where he fits. His size would immediately label him as a boundary corner, but his skillset and the defensive scheme might say otherwise. Let’s go to the film to see where Emerson fits best!

How the Packers’ defense could get Green Bay to Super Bowl LVII

The Packers have methodically built a new defense over the last few years. Now is the time when it might all come together — perhaps with a Super Bowl berth.

On May 16, the Green Bay Packers made Jaire Alexander the NFL’s highest-paid cornerback with a four-year, $84 million contract extension that included a $30 million signing bonus and keeps Alexander in that defense through the 2026 season if everything works out. This was part of a concerted effort by general manager Brian Gutekunst to give his defense marquee players at every level, whether that shorts Aaron Rodgers of offensive weapons or not.

Alexander missed the last three months of the 2021 regular season with a shoulder injury, returning for Green Bay’s divisional round loss to the San Francisco 49ers, but the Packers had a great plan in place in Alexander’s stead. They signed cornerback Rasul Douglas off the Cardinals’ practice squad in early October, and Douglas managed to define his new secondary as he had never before in his career. 2021 first-round cornerback Eric Stokes played well, safeties Darnell Savage and Adrian Amos held things up pretty well at the safety positions, and free agent signing De’Vondre Campbell had a Rasul Douglas-like impact at the inside linebacker position — something the Packers have lacked for the most part since the days of Ray Nitschke.

The Packers doubled down on their defensive intentions in the first round of the 2022 draft. With the 22nd overall pick, acquired from the Las Vegas Raiders in the Davante Adams trade, Green Bay took linebacker Quay Walker, and went after Walker’s Georgia teammate, defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt, with the 28th overall pick. The Packers did take two receivers for Rodgers later in the draft — North Dakota State’s Christian Watson in the second round, and Nevada’s Romeo Doubs in the fourth — but it’s interesting that the predominant mindset for this team, with one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history in a shorter age window, has been mostly about the defensive side of the ball.

“I would say the expectations we have for our whole football team, but specifically our defense, is really high,” Gutekunst said last month after the draft. “I thought they played really well last year and they ended on a very high note, playing at a very high level. We’ve got some guys coming back who will be here for their second year and be important. I like the way that group is growing together. It’s a new season, and they’ve got to put in the work and the time and the chemistry and all the things that go with that, but I think the expectation level for that group is going to be high.”

The thing is, the Packers’ defense was still more vulnerable than the organization would have liked. Green Bay ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA metric — 16th against the pass, and 28th against the run. Moreover, the Packers had more defensive issues as the season went along; they dropped from 15th to 25th overall from Week 10 through the end of the regular season, 12th to 18th against the pass, and 24th to 28th against the run. Green Bay prevented the San Francisco 49ers from scoring an offensive touchdown in the divisional round in what turned out to be a special teams debacle for the team, but it was clear that more was needed.

If the pieces all come together, it might be defense, not Rodgers and his remaining targets, that could lead the Packers to their sixth Super Bowl, and perhaps their fifth Lombardi Trophy.

Here’s how it could happen, from the front of the defense to the back.

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise indicated).

Rookie TE Greg Dulcich could be the missing piece in the Broncos’ offense

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick goes to the film to see how Greg Dulcich can replace Noah Fant and become TE1 for the Broncos.

The Denver Broncos are quickly being labeled as a top contender in the AFC West after the addition quarterback Russell Wilson. Wilson’s current weapons include Javonte Williams out of the backfield, Jerry Jeudy as the ‘X’ receiver, and Cortland Sutton and Tim Patrick lining up at the boundary.

Right now, tight end Albert Okwuegbunam is the only viable starter, but with his injury history, rookie Greg Dulcich, selected with the 80th overall pick in the third round out of UCLA, should have an opportunity to shine in training camp.

“When you have a guy [like Dulcich] that can stretch the field like he can, it’s really exciting,” said new head coach Nathaniel Hackett during rookie minicamp. “From all of the stuff — it’s not just the intermediate stuff — but the [impact he makes] truly down the field. At the same time, the ability to strain and block in the run game. I think he showed a lot of stuff [in the pre-draft process].”

Since Dulcich seems to have all the tools to be the tight end of the future. Let’s go to the film to see how Dulcich can be productive in the Broncos’ offense!

Why rookie RB Dameon Pierce will be the Texans’ three-down weapon

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick goes to the film to show why Dameon Pierce is the Texans’ future three-down back.

With Jonathan Taylor, James Robinson and Derrick Henry currently dominating defenders in the AFC South, the Houston Texans finally grabbed a bruiser for themselves — former Florida Gator Dameon Pierce — with the second pick in the fourth round.

“He plays with a lot of joy,” Texans general manager Nick Caserio said following the draft. “He plays with a lot of fight. He plays with a lot of toughness, and his personality, I would say, transfers over to the football field.”

Pierce said, “I like to fight for my yards. I like to punish the defense. I don’t like taking hits. I like giving hits.”

In 2021, Pierce ran for 574 yards on only 100 carries.. He had 13 rushing touchdowns and a total of 1,806 yards in his career. According to PFF, he was first among all running backs in college football with a 92.0 PFF grade.

What makes him the best back in the draft is his production. Let’s go to the film to understand why Pierce is the Texans’ three-down back of the future!

What rookie CB Trent McDuffie brings to the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick goes to CB Trent McDuffie’s film to see what he brings to the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense

When the Kansas City Chiefs watched the bottom half of the first round in the 2022 NFL draft go down, they knew they might have to move up to get the guy they wanted. So, they traded up with the New England Patriots for the 21st overall pick, and took Washington cornerback Trent McDuffie to help redefine their defense.

“He moves around well,” head coach Andy Reid said of McDuffie after the pick happened. “Good hips. Good hands. I like the part about being smart when you’re playing that position. Leverages become important. How you do those. Size, different-sized players… we have some big receivers that we go against. How are you going to take care of that?”

Outside of Sauce Gardner and Derek Stingley, McDuffie is one of the top cornerback prospects now in the NFL. It would be a three-way tie between these top selections if it wasn’t for McDuffie’s length. He’s only 5-foot-11 and his arms are in the bottom 7th percentile among all cornerbacks (29.75 inches). Due to this lack of size, there is a good chance that the Chiefs may start him out at the nickel corner position to see how adjusts to the NFL.

Let’s go to the film and examine how his skillsets can contribute to the Chiefs defense.

What Travon Walker’s upside means — and where he needs to improve

Jaguars first overall draft pick Travon Walker is an athletic marvel, but what does that mean for his NFL potential?

Coming into the 2022 NFL draft, one of the primary questions was whether the Jacksonville Jaguars were going to take the “sure thing” in Michigan edge-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, or the athletic projection in Georgia multi-gap defender Travon Walker. Those who are aware of general manager Trent Baalke’s history know that he’s more than fine betting on athletic projects, and in the end, that’s what happened. The Jags turned in their card, and Walker’s name was on it.

“The first time I saw him was early October,” Baalke said of Walker after the pick was made. “From that moment on, I felt he had a lot of talent. Obviously, you don’t make the decision in the middle of October or early October. It’s a process, but he checked the boxes as we went through the process.

“This is a guy who played very consistent football all year long. This isn’t a guy who just jumped on the screen because he ran 4.51 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. He played some very good football through the course of the year.”

“Playing end at the University of Georgia is very different,” Walker said at the scouting combine. “Because at University of Georgia, we play a lot of different defenses, and so therefore you can be scattered all out on the field from playing a five technique, a four I on the front, you play a three. So you’re really doing everything, to just expand your resume. And it’s really a good thing that you can do all of that, play defensive end at University of Georgia. If you can play defensive end at the University of Georgia, it means a lot.”

It was different, and for of all Georgia’s historically great defensive play, they didn’t really have one alpha pass-rusher — Georgia’s pass rush came from a combination of deployment and scheme more than the four-on-the-floor stuff that help to define edge defenders in more obvious ways. Michigan’s defense, run by current Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, is that is you want it. The Wolverines had David Ojabo and Aidan Hutchinson at the edges, and they were more likely to get weird in coverage. With Smart’s defense, as Walker said, you’re dealing with alternate responsibilities.

Walker and interior defensive lineman Jalen Carter tied for the team lead with 34 pressures each, per Pro Football Focus. Walker had six sacks last season; Robert Beal led the team with 6.5, and linebacker Nakobe Dean was the only other player on that defense with more than six sacks (6.0). Dean and fellow linebacker Channing Tindall (26 pressures in 2021, exactly as many as Devonte Wyatt, who the Packers took with the 28th pick. So, it wasn’t one or two guys getting all the pressures, and everyone else taking a back seat. In Kirby Smart’s defense, everybody gets to drive for a little while.

Last season, Hutchinson had 72 pressures, and Ojabo had 42. It’s a different deal, and a different set of defenses. But now, we’re dealing with a first-overall pick who had a total of 60 pressures over three collegiate seasons.

This would seem to be an epic reach.

Where the Jaguars “reached,” if they did, was on Walker’s athletic potential. Walker participated in every Combine drill except the bench press, and the results were ridiculous. When you have a 6-foot-5, 272-pound defensive lineman who runs a 4.51 40-yard dash and a three-cone drill time of 6.89 seconds (which would be pretty good for a receiver or cornerback), that was going to get people sitting up and taking notice.

Continue reading “What Travon Walker’s upside means — and where he needs to improve”

FILM ROOM: Quay Walker, the other Georgia linebacker climbing up draft boards

Touchdown Wire’s Laurie Fitzpatrick pulls the Quay Walker film and breaks down why the Georgia linebacker is a first-round talent.

Right now, there are two linebackers projected to go in the first round in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. Devin Lloyd from Utah, and Nakobe Dean from Georgia. Dean’s dominance was evident on film, but with his size in question, many scouts are looking at another linebacker from Georgia, Quay Walker.

Since declaring for the NFL Draft, Walker has slowly crept up the rankings, but after his performance at the NFL Combine, his skillset piqued many NFL teams. Not only does Walker have the skillset to be a starter in the NFL, but he has the ideal measurables as well. He stands a hair below 6-foot-4, with a 6-foot-8 wingspan and weighing in at 240 pounds. His frame paired with his 4.52 forty time made heads turn.

Walker is an instinctive linebacker when in the trenches, a ferocious tackler in space and he can shed blocks with ease. Let’s go to the film to see why teams are starting to consider Walker as a first-round pick!

NFL player comparisons for the top 50 prospects in the 2022 draft

Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield give their NFL player comparisons for the top 50 prospects in the 2022 NFL draft.

One of the more interesting and instructive things to do when you’re evaluating draft prospects in any class is to try and drill down to the traits that make them most comparable to this or that current or former NFL player. It’s not always a like-as-like comparison; what you’re really trying to do is to estimate how this prospect could be best utilized at the next level, given the current skill set and potential for improvement.

When Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield put together their lists of the top 2022 NFL draft prospects at every position, with detailed scouting reports on well over 120 players, NFL comparisons were part of the mission — again, to give a more clear picture of how these prospects may transition to the NFL, and which NFL teams might favor them the most.

This year, Mark did quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, interior defensive linemen, linebackers, and cornerbacks.

Doug took care of running backs, offensive tackles, interior offensive linemen, edge defenders, and safeties.

Sometimes, regardless of the position, it doesn’t take long for a comparison to come through — you watch some tape, and it’s clear. Other times, you want to get into advanced metrics, testing percentiles, and even more tape. Over time, instructive comparisons can be gleaned, and it’s one more piece of the puzzle.

2022 NFL draft: Touchdown Wire’s scouting reports for all the top prospects

Here are the NFL comparisons for Touchdown Wire’s top 50 prospects in the 2022 class, with amazing graphics for each prospect and player by the great Coley Cleary.

2022 NFL draft: Touchdown Wire’s scouting reports for all the top prospects

Touchdown Wire’s Mark Schofield and Doug Farrar have done over 100 highly-detailed scouting reports on the 2022 NFL draft class. You can find all of them right here.

Each year, Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar and Mark Schofield drill down to discover the top prospects at every position in the upcoming draft class. 2022 was no exception, and all of the top prospect lists are right here.

Using tape examples from copious study, and advanced metrics to fill out the picture, Doug and Mark go through testing data, biographies, player strengths and weaknesses, overviews regarding their NFL value, and comparisons to current NFL players.

This year, Mark did quarterbacks, receivers, tight ends, interior defensive linemen, linebackers, and cornerbacks.

Doug took care of running backs, offensive tackles, interior offensive linemen, edge defenders, and safeties.

You won’t find more detailed scouting reports on the 2022 draft class’ top players at every position — at least 11 for each — so dive in and enjoy!

2022 NFL draft: The top 11 safeties

Touchdown Wire’s Doug Farrar concludes our positional rankings with the top 11 safeties in the 2022 NFL draft.

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What the NFL expects from its safeties has changed drastically over the last decade. There are multiple reasons for this.

Think about the need for a true shutdown post safety in predominantly single-high coverage. A decade ago, when Seattle’s Legion of Boom defense was the desired template, you were playing heavy press underneath with defined box and post safeties. The Seahawks were able to do this because they had a dominant press cornerback (Richard Sherman), a dominant box safety (Kam Chancellor), and the best post safety of his era (Earl Thomas).

That’s not an easy archetype to copy, because you obviously have to hit on multiple generational players at crucial positions that all teams desperately desire. Your hit rate is reduced by the scarcity of human beings who can do what Sherman, Chancellor, and Thomas could do, and it’s then exponentially reduced even more by the fact that so many teams are looking for those same types of players. Factor in the relative lack of scheme versatility in that particular instance, and all of a sudden, the structure for your hit rate goes from the ceiling to the basement.

Now, look at where the NFL has prioritized its defensive resources in the last few years. The Vic Fangio/Brandon Staley template of two-high coverage and lighter boxes works in today’s NFL for a lot of reasons. Teams are throwing more often. Teams are running the ball not only less, but in different ways and with different types of players. In 2021, offenses threw out of more quick-game concepts (zero to three step drops) at a 60% rate, and the ability of the quarterback to have second-reaction ability to keep things alive when the play breaks down is seen as more of a near-necessity than a prominent luxury.

So, that Earl Thomas/Ed Reed-level deep safety, while awesome if you can get him and if he even exists in any draft cycle? I mean, if you know the draft prospect can possibly be that level of player, you move heaven and earth to get him, because you’re talking about a once-in-a-decade player who can define your defense.

More likely, you’re getting safeties who do a lot of things — some very well, some with developmental issues, and some things they probably shouldn’t be doing at all. You’re going to want a guy who can play some free, some slot, some box, maybe even a few snaps of outside corner, and some reps as a blitzer along the defensive line. It’s why teams go less and less for the defined box and free safeties as they used to.

There are far more Tyrann Mathieus than Earl Thomases. And there are far more safeties who work well in two-high shells, whether they stay in two-high or spin to something else post-snap. Player value at the position has turned from athletic to schematic. It’s more about finding the player who works in the concepts you want to run, as opposed to waiting around for the guy who will fill in the nearly impossible blank.

Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, the consensus top safety in the 2022 draft class, had 1.440 defensive snaps over three collegiate seasons, per Pro Football Focus. Hamilton had 644 snaps at free safety, 437 in the slot, 313 in the box, 29 along the defensive line, and 15 at outside cornerback.

Hamilton’s specific value is not in his ability to play that many positions, because nearly every safety coming into the draft over the last few years has a somewhat similar position share. His specific value is in his ability to take the multi-position archetype that is the order of the day, and play those positions at a level that is disproportionately high in comparison to the other safeties in this class. Factor in his height/weight template, and that’s where Kyle Hamilton becomes a potentially generational prospect. It’s not at all that he does one thing very well. It’s entirely that he does 4-5 things, he’s NFL-ready at all of them, and he’s NFL-plus ready with this or that attribute in ways we haven’t seen from other players.

When you see the position snaps for the top 11 safety prospects on our list. you’ll see, over and over, how much the value guide for the position has flipped on its head.

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Here are Touchdown Wire’s top 11 safeties in the 2022 draft class.

(All advanced metrics courtesy of Pro Football Focus and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise indicated. All testing data comes from the 2022 scouting combine, with percentile per position, courtesy of MockDraftable.com. Certain biographical information was gleaned from Dane Brugler’s “The Beast” draft guide over at The Athletic, which is a must-read every year).

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