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Coach’s Corner: NFL Offensive Players

A look at top offensive players in the Mountain West Conference

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Mountain West Offensive Players

Quarterback

Brett Rypien, #4, Boise State

  • Where he wins:

Brett Rypien throws an accurate ball on pretty much all short to intermediate throws. Throws an accurate ball in inward and outward cuts. When Rypien throws with a strong, wide base, his throws are harder and accurate. He is great at throwing quick routes and leads receivers to open seams and running lanes (especially on bubble screens).

He makes smart decisions with the ball and anticipates pressure and blitzes well. However, he holds onto the ball too long and takes inexplicable sacks. He has a surprisingly strong arm and can throw into tight windows. Ran a pro-friendly offense with a lot of shifts, motions, and pro-concept routes. Great in play-action, allows his receivers to get downfield, he’s fearless in the pocket, and willing to take a shot if it means making a big play.

  • Where he needs to improve:

Rypien throws good at intermediate and short levels. However, he struggles with a deep ball sometimes. I cannot tell if it’s a touch thing or trying to throw too hard thing, but he struggles with throwing an accurate ball over about 30 yards. Deep ball accuracy, seemed to overthrow receivers on deep-to-intermediate throws. He seems a lot more comfortable throwing the ball deep as his career went on but there are times where he floats the ball to try and out throw the safety instead of driving it underneath a safety. When he stays in a rhythm and does not get rattled, he is really accurate with almost any throw.

As mentioned above, holding onto the ball too long could be a blessing or a curse. On one end, you allow receivers to get open but on the other end you are susceptible to getting hit more often. When he holds onto the ball too long he tends to force throws he shouldn’t, causing interceptions to happen.

When throwing on the run, he tends to not attack the line of scrimmage causing balls to flutter or fall short of intended receivers. When he scrambles, however, he does a good job of rotating his shoulders and throwing an accurate ball. He has a tendency to stare down receivers causing safeties and corners to attack certain areas of the field depending on where he is staring. He does a good job of going through his progressions though.

  • Conclusion:

Brett Rypien is a four-year starter who is the all-time leading passer in Mountain West Conference history. During his Boise State tenure, he threw an accurate ball and progressed well over the years. He needs to do a better job at protecting himself or he is going to have a rough go of it in the NFL. He is a decent athlete and with above-average arm strength and quick enough release to get by. There is just nothing about Rypien’s game that is extraordinary, he just does a lot of things well. He’s a smart quarterback that anticipates blitzes well and throws to the correct receiver under pressure. He does get a little rattled and frustrated when trailing or in bad weather (as is expected) but every young quarterback faces those struggles. He has a good arm and is accurate with timing and ball placement. However, he’s a little skinny, but he has decent height.

I have a 6th round grade on Rypien. I think he’ll get drafted but I do not think that he is going to be a long-term starter. I think he’s going to make a great backup quarterback and spot-starter in his time in the NFL. His film shows great intangibles and accuracy, one team is going to be lucky to have a guy like Rypien in their locker room.

Running Back:

Alexander Mattison, #21, Boise State

  • Where he wins:

Alexander Mattison has good vision and anticipation. He makes guys of all sizes miss in the open field. He makes one cut, does not hesitate much, and goes through the hole hard. He runs through arm tackles with ease, it seems like he always gets a yard even on the most broken of plays. His feet are always running and can move big piles with strong legs.

He is a decent pass blocker, he does a good job of finding the correct blitzer or rusher. Taking a good angle is half the battle and he takes the correct angle more often than not. He keeps his feet while blocking and can also lead block for outside, receiver run plays. Being able to block on passing downs is a crucial trait in today’s NFL.

  • Where he needs to improve:

There are not a whole lot of weaknesses in Mattison’s game. He tends to break off passing routes a little too early and does not get into linebacker or safety’s feet while running routes. He has decent hands and is a willing blocker, so he will likely learn more how to run routes at the next level because he is going to be in on third downs.

I would love to see him get a little skinnier through smaller holes in the line so he does not get grabbed by big linemen. He might struggle with breaking arm tackles at the next level, like so many other highly-productive college backs in the NFL.

  • Conclusion:

Alexander Mattison is an agile, explosive back that runs through arm tackles. He has an outstanding leaping ability and can make defenders in the open field miss by going through them, around them, or over them. He has a really good jump cut, something needed in today’s NFL with all the zone blocking teams do. Once he makes his first cut, he hits the hole hard, usually leading to a gain of some sort, he hardly ever gets taken down in the backfield. He has a strong lower body and quick feet. His angles on zone plays, both outside and inside, is a sign for him knowing what he is doing in terms of attacking the line of scrimmage correctly. While he’s not the best receiving back, he has decent hands; they are good enough to keep him in on third downs. He does not take the best routes as a receiver, but if that’s your only bad trait, that’s a good thing.

I have a 4th round grade on Mattison, a team is going to love his physical running style. Also, Boise State has had a tendency to produce decent professional running backs like Doug Martin and Jay Ajayi. Mattison is patient runner that hits the hole hard and runs downhill with a low pad level and can sneak through holes with ease. I would love to see him gain a little bit more speed, but he’s not going to outrun the whole team. He’s fast enough to get him past the second level and he has enough agility to make people miss in the open field.

Wide Receivers

Preston Williams, #11, Colorado State

  • Where he wins:

Preston Williams is an impressive route-runner for a limited route-tree. He ran a lot of curls and comebacks and when the ball was in the air, he attacked it. Despite his limited route-tree, he could still get open.

He has impressive speed for a 6’4” 211 pounder. He excels at off coverage and using speed to get open on deep routes and can even get past press coverage with strong, physical upper body. I would love to see him use his feet more instead of just trying to outrun everyone to get off coverage. He has good feet and hands at the line of scrimmage, just want to see it more. Appears to have long arms and fast hands and can get off jams relatively easily.

He had a big game against Arkansas and did a good job against Mountain West Conference competition as well. He led the conference in catches (96) receiving yards (1345) and touchdown catches (14).

  • Where he needs to improve:

Williams tends to struggle with in-flight adjustments, he seems to have a hard time tracking the ball on corner or outward routes. He has a tendency to turn the wrong way to a ball, which leads to having a hard time adjusting to balls in the air. Colorado State also did not have the best quarterback play his final collegiate season, and his weakness on tracking the ball showed a lot on film.

He has a tendency to body catch a lot, which leads to bobbles and allow defenders to get the ball out of his grasp.

  • Conclusion:

Preston Williams tore his ACL at Tennessee and also was arrested for misdemeanor assault there, causing an absence at the Combine. Williams is a former Four-Star recruit; he has all the physical tools to be a good next level receiver, teams are going to do their due diligence on a guy like Williams because of his off-field problems and his next-level ability. He has a good size to speed ratio that you want in a prospect. At Colorado State’s pro day, he ran a 4.53 (unofficial) 40-yard dash, which tied him for 19th positionally at the Combine and at 6’4” 211 pounds, that could be a scary weapon in the passing game.

He had a great senior season leading the Conference in most receiving categories. He has all the talent in the world, and it showed his final season.

I have a third round grade on him just because of the on-field traits I see. However, I don’t think he gets drafted that high due to his injury history and off-field incident at Tennessee. I think he goes around pick 150-200, which is the 6th-7th rounds. He could end up being a steal for someone that needs a tall, fast receiver.

Keesean Johnson #3, Fresno State

  • Where he wins:

Johnson is good route-runner, he comes back to the ball well against off coverage. He has good spatial awareness in terms of knowing where a defender could be based on alignment. Stems outside defenders well, struggles when playing the slot identifying backers and safeties in zone.

He makes the hard catches look easy and shows strong hands when catching the ball. When he has the ball, he has good vision after the catch, fights for extra yards, and has a quality stiff arm to bully defenders. He shows a willingness to go over the middle and fight with bigger defenders.

Getting skinny routes and not getting touched in the underneath zones is a great quality that Johnson has. Even does a good job as a decoy, gets doubled often. Not getting touched by linebackers allows him to get to safeties at full speed and break off routes. He does a good job of getting to his defenders toes and breaking off routes with precision.

He has a quick, explosive first step and has decent top-end speed. When he runs vertical, he can get past corners with ease. He also shows a willingness to work with a mobile quarterback. He finds the sideline and the correct yardage away from a receiver. He would be a great fit in Seattle or somewhere else where a team has a mobile quarterback that likes to make plays on the run. He’s highly productive in the screen game, intermediate passing game, and can even burn corners and safeties deep.

  • Where he needs to improve:

Johnson has a tendency to not use his hands to get defenders off of him. He struggles to get opponents’ hands off of him while running full speed, which slows him down in the long run. He relies too much on his speed, would love to see him be more aggressive with corners.

Also, he tends to go the easy way on vertical routes, sometimes leaving his quarterback with hardly any room to throw the ball. Once he beats a defender he should then stack back on top of him, giving quarterbacks room to throw the ball between the safety and the sideline. He does not tend to get back to where he started, which can lead to him going out of bounds.

  • Conclusion:

Keesean Johnson is one of the most productive wide receivers ever in the Mountain West Conference; which is saying a lot lately. Johnson is a volume target, volume catcher type of receiver that seems to get better as the game goes on. He took on a lot of double coverages and still led the Conference in receiving yards. Guys like Johnson are rare because he plays with a high intelligence and that leads to his above-average route-running ability. However, he feasts against man coverages and sometimes struggles against zone defenders in recognition as to who to stem to.

I would love to see him be a little bit more athletic, but he’s got enough speed and agility to cause separation. I have a 5th round grade on him and would love to see him work as a versatile receiver that can play both the slot and outside. He does a lot of things really well, but his hands are what stick out. He can make aerobatic catches look easy and tracks the ball well.

Olabisi Johnson #81, Wide Receiver, Colorado State

  • Where he wins:

Olabisi “Bisi” Johnson makes guys miss and fights for extra yards when he gets the ball in his hands. He’s a big-bodied receiver that plays stout and strong.

He works back to the ball well and helps his quarterback on errant throws by laying out for balls that are low and jumping at balls that are high. His hands are strong and he caught multiple, tough, contested touchdowns his final season. He also does a good job of going over the middle.

Again, he has a limited route-tree, but he has good footwork that allows him to get open on short routes. He works back for balls on curls and comebacks and attacks the ball. He did most of his damage in the slot, but he did play a little outside receiver in college. He feasts against linebackers, safeties, and smaller corners. He’s a really smart player and knows how to use his frame well.

  • Where he needs to improve:

His top-end speed does not appear on film, but his forty time, at 4.51, is solid for his frame. He’s a quick strider and that might be why he appears slower on film. He’s quicker than fast, and that tends to lead to being more of a slot receiver than an outside receiver. He also was not the main option in the passing game, which is not his fault, but you would like to see more production from him.

Press coverage can leave him at the line a little longer than he should. I worry about him against tall, long corners on the outside in press coverage. If they are playing off coverage, he can use his quickness and agility to get open, if defenders get hands on, they are most likely going to win.

  • Conclusion:

Bisi Johnson is going to be a productive special teamer/slot receiver at the next level. He needs to go to a team that needs his skillset, not a team that already has an established slot receiver. He is a bit small to play outside consistently and does not have the top-end speed that a guy his size would need to play outside at the next level. In college, he feasted on linebackers and safeties and showed a willingness to go over the middle and catch tough balls. His strong hands and consistent route running are exactly the type of player you want in the slot at the next level. Colorado State did not have its best season last year and quarterback play hurt Johnson’s ability to get the ball in his hands at times. But once he did, you saw a receiver that fought hard for extra yards and has good vision with the ball in his hands. He helped his quarterback out a lot laying out for balls and making difficult catches while diving or jumping. Johnson looks like he has the body to last in the league, he has average height and has below average top-end speed with good quickness and agility. He’s a good, smart player but nothing stands out on tape that really makes him unique. He could stick on a team that has complex routes, he tends to pick up things well and has intangibles on how to adjust routes when things go astray.

I have a 6th round grade on Johnson, he has strong hands, good route-running ability, and works hard on every play—something every team should strive for in a slot receiver. He is a productive college player and that bodes well for him in terms of scout’s eyes. I just worry about his speed, ability to get off press coverages, and ability to play outside at the next level.

Offensive Line

Tyler Roemer, San Diego State, #74, Offensive Tackle

  • Where he wins:

Tyler Roemer, Pope’s offensive line mate, did a good job at left tackle for the Aztecs. He gets good depth on outside zone plays, creating himself a good angle to reach ends on oncoming defenders. He strikes with good strength and leverage at all levels. He buries defenders in the running game and extends his hands and catches defenders well in the passing game.

Roemer has really good feet and hands. His first contact knocks defenders heads backwards and even catches them off guard. The Aztecs do a good job of knowing angles while passing, he plays the “hoop” really well and creates a good pocket for his quarterback. He does a really good job of not over-extending in the passing game.

  • Where he needs to improve:

He has a tendency to play all of his 6’6” frame. He needs to get lower in his stance and stay low while striking. If he stays out that low out of the chute, he is going to have a field day with defensive linemen.

Burying your head in the chest of defenders can lead to holding penalties and missing assignments. Roemer looks like he needs to gain some weight so that he can play lower and not bury his head in defenders.

On normal pass sets, he does a really good job of keeping defenders extended, however, in rollouts and boots, he tends to miss assignments and protect the correct gap. This shows in the running game too; he struggles to find the reacting linebacker on double teams, causing the holes that he initially created to seize up. If he keeps his eyes up he can do stick, if not, he’s going to struggle to stay on the field.

  • Conclusion:

Tyler Roemer is the better offensive line product coming out of San Diego State. That being said, he has a lot of work to do. I do think he has the potential to play on either side of the line because his feet are quick and his hands are always at the ready. I would love for him to play a lot lower than he does, but he does a good job of staying on balance in pass sets and demolishing in run blocks.

I have a 6th round grade on Roemer, which might be higher than most. I just really like his technique and tenacity. He also is quick enough to play in multiple different offenses, he can play in zones, powers/traps, and heavy passing schemes. As long as he can keep adding strength to his upper body, he will stick in the league.

Ryan Pope, San Diego State, #77, Offensive Tackle

  • Where he wins:

Ryan Pope is a strong, physical run blocker. He extends his hands well and strikes with power. He’s an extremely forcible down blocker and will likely be best suited on the right side of the offensive line. He does a good job of keeping his hands inside on both pass blocks and run blocks. He knocks defenders down a lot, he seems to be really strong.

On pass blocks, he does a good job of taking a good angle and keeping his body between his defender and the quarterback. Even though San Diego State ran a lot of bootlegs and rollouts, he tended to know where his quarterback was, and could keep his guy away from him. He does a good job of identifying blitzers off the edge and takes the most dangerous man, a good trait to have.

  • Where he needs to improve:

While Pope has good upper body technique, he has below-average feet. As mentioned before, he is destined for the right side of the offensive line and might even have to move to guard; his strength will translate to both positions well.

He gets a little locked on to his defender on combo blocks and on twists and stunts. I noticed a few times that he was so latched on that he missed a twist, causing the quarterback either to get sacked or make an errant throw. If he can keep his eyes up and look at the field more, he could be a really good pass blocker.

While he’s aggressive, he tends to play a little out of control. He gets a little off-balance off the line of scrimmage and tends to play a little too tall. He’s a big bodied guy, but he needs to stay lower to be stronger. If he can stay at the same height when striking as he does in his stance, he could be a really effective run blocker.

  • Conclusion:

At 6’7” 320, Ryan Pope is a big-framed offensive tackle. He’s got the size that teams want in a tackle but he tends to lost control of his body when he’s tired. He’s a strong, physical player that really is in the zone down blocking and combo blocking to the linebacker. He identifies the most dangerous man in the passing game pretty well, however, in the running game he tends to latch on to defenders, which could lead to holding calls. He plays to the whistle and often punishes defenders with his strike and finishing.

I have a 7th round grade on Pope, he’s got one of the biggest bodies in the draft but sometimes he just does not translate the body into on-the-field performance. If Pope can work on his feet and eyes he could stick around in the league, if not, he might struggle to get playing time and only be a rotational lineman.