Josh Norris, NFL Draft writer for Rotoworld.com, has kindly agreed to join us for a weekly chat once again this year, and we kicked things off this week with a long chat about Jadeveon Clowney, Chaz Sutton and North Carolina quarterback Byrn Renner, among other things.
Like most everyone else in the country, Norris is a fan of Clowney, and he gives us some details on why. He’s also been on Sutton’s bandwagon for a while, and expects the senior defensive end to have a big year opposite Clowney. As for Renner, Norris tells us why his stock has grown in NFL circles during the summer and the trait he has that will help him most Thursday night in Williams-Brice Stadium.
Kendall: It feels like we are into the sixth year of Jadeveon Clowney’s professional evaluation and that we’re so deep into the process, what else can we learn, but this is still a young college player. What does he have to prove this year? Is it effort? Is it more than that?
Norris: I’m not sure there is anything else he has to prove. He just has to make it to next May now that the draft is in May, completely healthy and everything. He admitted being out of shape last season which is kind of scary. I think someone wrote he is up five or seven pounds and has put on more strength. Just being in better shape will help him so much more on the field. I have seen some mentions of a lack of a motor. I didn’t see it when I watched film. I saw him chase down plenty of plays from the backside, work ferociously from the pocket when the quarterback stayed in there and force him outside even so he might not have made or finished every single play he created, but that’s not his job. That happens with every pass rusher.
He’s got the size, he’s got the length, he’s getting even stronger so he can beat you with pressing at the line of scrimmage, getting you off balance, keeping you on skates into the backfield and then shedding once you get there, but one thing that I really like is his ability to loop back inside and that is something that plenty of NFL teams are using now. You look at an Aldon Smith out in San Francisco. You look at Clay Matthews in Green Bay. These guys are really viable options looping back inside with the defensive ends and taking up two blockers so it lets the outside linebacker run in free. I think Clowney can definitely do that. I mentioned pass rushing outside linebacker, defensive end. He’s going to project to either spot. Every team is going to walk on. Right now (whether Clowney is the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s NFL Draft) just depends on whether that decision maker, that general manager, wants a franchise passer, whether it be Teddy Bridgewater from Louisville or Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, or if they want and undeniable, possible rare talent and we haven’t seen many of those. Andrew Luck. Calvin Johnson. On the defensive side, pass rusher.
Kendall: Who else on South Carolina’s roster are NFL talent scouts keeping an eye on as 2013 begins?
Norris: I liked a lot of South Carolina’s talent last year. I tried to harp on D.J. Swearinger’s talent almost every week. I was a big fan of DeVonte Holloman as well, but this year it really is just Chaz Sutton, but there’s something about him I really like. I know Devin Taylor drew a lot of eyes during the draft process last year, but on the field I think Chaz Sutton is a better player. At least he was last year. He showed a lot of versatility. He lined up inside in pass-rushing situations as a three or a five technique, and he showed very well. I am excited to see him line up as a defensive end every snap. He does have some similarities to Devin Taylor in that they both more straight line athletes. I’m not sure if they can both bend, but I would like to see Chaz Sutton use that length I was talking about, that upper body explosion to press, get vision in the backfield and be able to shed. I saw him work inside as well, split gaps. I am really excited to see him. In a full-time role, I think he can really explode and take it to the next level this season.
Kendall: Moving on to North Carolina, I heard Tar Heel quarterback Bryn Renner’s name a lot this summer. What kind of player is he?
Norris: There was a lot of positive buzz this season, mainly from the Manning Passing Academy and some other passing academies in the offseason. At first look, Bryn Renner is kind of just an adequate thrower, but when you look more at it, that UNC offense with Larry Fedora as head coach, last offseason before he coached a game he said that huddles were a waste of time. It was moving offensive linemen 12 extra yards per play and yadda, yadda, yadda. So they do run that up tempo offense. Bryn Renner is someone who slows down the game once the ball is snapped, and that’s a great skill to have when you are working an up-tempo offense. He is very composed. He is very poised. He works through a lot of progressions, which you don’t see out of college passers. His accuracy is very good in the short and intermediate game. His timing and anticipation is as well. A lot of people are going to question that velocity and arm strength down the field, and I’m not sure if that is warranted or not. I certainly think he has to put more into it so I do worry about placement on the edges on those throws, but right now just his ability to slow down the pace when the ball is snapped, work through progressions, look poised with his pocket movement, it’s going to really help him, especially with the pass rush South Carolina has.
Kendall: Who else on the Tar Heels roster is going to catch people’s attention in the NFL?
Norris: The first is their tight end, Eric Ebron. This is a guy who used to play some defensive line, really emerged as a nice tight end talent last season. He’s got the size and speed that every NFL team will want. He is split out wide in the slot sometimes as a Joker tight end. The thing with him is he just has really inconsistent hands. That’s going to really hurt him, especially now that they don’t have their No. 1 focus on offense from last year, Gio Bernard. He might need to emerge in that role on passing downs. He’s got some nice downfield speeds, but he gets a little off balance in his blocking. He seems like a very confident guy reading some of his quotes so hopefully he does work on some of those aspects of his game, but he’s a great talent.
Two guys on the defensive side, one is Kareem Martin, the defensive end. A couple years ago when Quinton Coples was starting, everyone was really high on Dante Paige-Moss, and Martin pushed him to the bench. I think Martin has a bit of an identity crisis. He plays like a smaller pass rusher. He likes to try to dip his shoulder and work around the edge and that’s not his game. He’s got a nice first step, but he’s a bigger pass rusher so he needs to engage more, get some pressure, force the middle of the offensive line of his opponent back into the quarterback. I don’t think he lacks a motor, but he lacks a little bit of toughness throughout the snap.
Finally is senior safety Tre Boston. I think he could be one of the top senior players at his position in the country. He’s an interchangeable piece, plays free safety and strong safety. I like quickness and aggression right when he diagnoses the play, but he lacks a little bit of finish at the tackle point.