Pick 246 (Round 7, Pick 25) – Pittsburgh Steelers select Tyler Matakevich, LB, Temple
Pick analysis: Steelers looking to bring in project Linebackers who they can work out and turn into starters, when their old players retire.
Player analysis: Speaking of players who just make plays, what a four years it has been for the Owls defensive leader. Matakevich became just the seventh player in NCAA history to reach at least 100 tackles in each of his four seasons playing in college. That’s 101 as a true freshman, followed by 137, 117 and 138 this year. It was a historic season for the team as a whole, getting off to an undefeated start to earn them a game of the week billing against the mighty Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, and pushed them deep in the 4th quarter before eventually losing. Much of the success was due to an outstanding defence all round, but led by Matakevich who was omnipresent in space, off the edge, versus the run, versus the pass; it didn’t matter. Along with his standard tackle-machine antics each week, he padded out the rest of the stat sheet this season with 15 TFLs, 4.5 sacks, 5 interceptions and 5 more pass breakups.
The senior’s instincts are sensational, and can translate well to the next level. However, it is absolutely clear the difference in his game this season compared to his previous years. He admitted himself that he let himself get by on those instincts in years past, but really changed his preparation in 2015, with so much more film study off the field, and it showed up with much more consistent play. That sounds strange referring to the consistency given his stats above, but there were times each of the previous two years where he had a tendency to get out of position and leave some big gaps that offenses exploited. The discipline as well as understanding of the opposing offense made that less of an issue this time around. Tyler is another whose frame isn’t quite what scouts are ideally wanting, but you can balance that out somewhat when as talented at what you do as Matakevich is.
Pick 247 (Round 7, Pick 26) – Seattle Seahawks select Zac Brooks, RB, Clemson
Pick analysis: Losing Lynch will affect the Seahawks, they bring in another Running Back to attempt to soften the blow. third back taken, so not all will make the team. Player analysis: Zac Brooks is our 37th-ranked running back in this year’s draft. Grade: B
Pick 248 (Round 7, Pick 27) – Indianapolis Colts select Austin Blythe, C, Iowa
Pick analysis: The Colts were desperate for O linemen this year and they have been picking them at will, hopefully they will be able to make a difference.
Player analysis: Another highly experienced center, Blythe has started all four years, originally switching between both guard spots and center before taking up permanent residence in the middle for his senior year in 2015. Iowa are very well renowned and respected for producing NFL quality offensive lineman under Kirk Ferentz for so many years. He brings them in, redshirts them, develops them in the weight room, then unleashes what seems to be a never ending factory line of consistently technically-proficient lineman; Blythe is the next off the conveyor belt.
First thing first, Blythe certainly isn’t the biggest, with borderline size, not just with his weight on the scales, but also comes with very short arms at just 30.25”, which puts him at a big disadvantage in establishing contact and avoiding being redirected by opposing lineman with superior length. Essentially, this lack of preferred measurables is however the only real reason to have a modest grade for Blythe; he would otherwise be worthy of going earlier. His energy and drive really stand out straight away and make him very enjoyable to watch on film. Something which has and will be mentioned as an ability lacking in one or two others on this list, Blythe is excellent moving forward and targeting a linebacker on the next level beyond the line of scrimmage as a run blocker.
His leverage and positioning are superb, as are his hands. The size may not be ideal but he has power and strength that can catch opposing linemen off guard. Blythe is a former wrestler, a background which has very often been a part of a number of talented and successful starters at the next level. It’s worth mentioning also that he will be 24 years old before the start of his first NFL training camp, which is certainly older than most.
Pick 249 (Round 7, Pick 28) – San Francisco 49ers select Prince Charles Iworah, CB, Western Kentucky
Pick analysis: Another corner for the 49ers, they seem desperate to find something from this draft so just keep picking.
Player analysis: Prince Charles Iworah is our 76th-ranked cornerback in this year’s draft.
Pick 250 (Round 7, Pick 29) – Cleveland Browns select Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
Pick analysis: Highly underrated Linebacker, very good pick from the Browns, will come in and play immediately.
Player analysis: It was a rough year for big name linebackers this season, and Wright was another who went down early, suiting up for just two games before suffering a knee injury as well. Wright was able to return in time for the Wildcats’ bowl game versus New Mexico, to give the Arizona fans one last reminder of the type of performance that saw him snap up just about every defensive award available in 2014. He announced his intention to enter the draft shortly after the bowl win, choosing not the return to play a full season again in 2016. He’s no doubt satisfied by the film scouts can look at from his sophomore season in which he totalled 163 tackles, 29 TFLs, 14 sacks and 6 forced fumbles – crazy numbers.
However, there’s plenty questions on how he projects to the next level: Wright weighs in at a solid 239 lbs, but comes with a lot of upper body build. He is lacking a bit in ideal strength in his lower body and legs which causes notable issues at times with leverage and anchoring, which will lead him to being outmuscled and pushed around quite a bit. He also lacks the athleticism ideal to cover to the sidelines. Crazy as it is given his huge production, but digging into his game film frequently draws attention to rather a lot of missed tackles on plays that should be routine to make. There’s no questioning the instincts though, along with excellent intangibles and toughness, with a very real chip on his shoulder from being called just a two-star prospect coming out of high school. He can be a good player as a pro, but despite being one of the more well-known names in this LB class, I’m not sold on him going before day 3 of the draft.
Pick 251 (Round 7, Pick 30) – Philadelphia Eagles select Joe Walker, LB, Oregon
Pick analysis: The Eagles lost Alonso in a trade and need to replace the production he left, they drafted for future production here.
Player analysis: Joe Walker is our 36th-ranked linebacker in this year’s draft.
Pick 252 (Round 7, Pick 31) – Carolina Panthers select Beau Sandland, TE, Montana State
Pick analysis: Brings production to a place that needs help, also has an elite QB throwing to him.
Player analysis: One prospect who helped himself at the combine was Sandland, a small school prospect who out-performed and looked the part more than many bigger names from more prestigious schools. He’s a bit of an unknown though. After starting out at a junior college for two seasons, he was one of the most sought-after recruits as a JUCO transfer, that saw him join a big-time program with the Miami Hurricanes in 2013. However, despite playing all 13 games, he couldn’t force himself into a productive role, finishing with 9 receptions for 94 yards and one touchdown.
That ended up being his only season at the top tier of college football, moving closer to home with Montana State. He sat out the 2014 season, learned the offense, before playing one final season of football in 2015, and although at a lower level than the one he failed to make an impact at, had a strong year with 37 receptions, 632 yards and 9 scores. The yards per reception were great, but did involve quite a number of wide open catches, busted coverages that were easy to stroll into the end zone for big yardage, and taking advantage of some very poor defenses at times. His aggression as a blocker is good to see, but he’s only effective if it’s a straight-forward block once hand contact is established. He proved beatable time and again initially after the snap, allowing easy pressures as defenders navigated around him with little resistance. Sandland also has a tendency to play too high as a blocker, losing the leverage battle.
As mentioned before though, that can be worked on and coached up. He has a solid build, and is a good athlete. The hands are big and the arms are long. He looks fantastic in eating up yards after the catch, maximising the space in front of him for big gains. He’s ticked off most of the boxes required in the post-season so far, after attending the NFLPA Bowl, then the combine, and looking the part. There’s a lot of unknowns with not just the lower level played at, which plenty prospects in this and every draft often have, but the failed year in Miami will have to be considered. Was it just a bad fit? Or will he struggle to step up again in the pros. One team will likely take a chance and find that out on day 3 of the draft.
Pick 253 (Round 7, Pick 32) – Tennessee Titans select Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Mississippi
Pick analysis: The Titans with Mr. Irrelevant chose a Corner and again he is a depth pick to help out a young defence.
Player analysis: Playing in Conference-USA for the Golden Eagles has led to an exceptional talent being very much off the radar. Reed has played superbly throughout his college career and finished in style with 17 pass breakups and 4 interceptions in 2015, taking two of those picks back for touchdowns for good measure. His all-round game and outstanding awareness saw him add 56 tackles and force two fumbles as part of his polished run support abilities. Reed is smart, instinctive and decisive, who can make a big impact with game changing plays and ball skills.
On film, he is constantly jumping routes, or settling into spots where the QB is throwing, knowing the plays better than the receiver seemingly. He has the athleticism to match as well, something he proved and then some at his recent pro day where he recorded a 4.38 40-yard dash time, and an explosive 41.5” vertical jump. The slight downside is his slightly less-than-ideal frame, but at 5ft 11 and 199 lbs, isn’t exactly under-sized either by any stretch. He’s more likely a day 3 pick, but his skills and production are worthy of day 2 consideration.