Top five special-teams prospects

Posted March 23, 2010 @ 10:30 a.m.
Posted By Nolan Nawrocki

Last in a nine-part series.

The following is PFW draft analyst Nolan Nawrocki’s exclusive ranking of the top five specialists in the 2010 NFL draft, with an in-depth scouting report detailing each prospect’s positives, negatives, summary and projected draft spot. These reports have been excerpted from PFW's 2010 Draft Preview, scheduled for a March 30 release.

"e" after "Sp" means his speed is estimated.

1. RS-WR Brandon Banks
Kansas State senior
Ht: 5-6 3/4 | Wt: 149 | Sp: 4.39 | Arm: 30 | Hand: 8 1/4

Notes: Half-sister, Gabby Mayo, is a member of the Texas A&M track and field team. Brandon, who also played basketball as a prep, was a track and field All-American as a senior, posting best times of 10.42 seconds in the 100 meters and 6.81 in the 60 meters. Was also a North Carolina state champion in the 200 meters (21.42) and long jump as a senior. Attended Bakersfield (Calif.) College in 2006-07. Returned kicks and caught 14 passes in '06. Had an All-America season in '07, racking up 93 catches for 1,397 yards (15.0-yard average) and 15 touchdowns. Also returned nine kickoffs for 171 yards (19.0) and 16 punts for 177 yards (11.1). With the Wildcats in '08, started 9-of-12 games and totaled 67-1,049-9 (15.7) receiving with 18-498 (27.1) on kickoff returns, including a 98-yard touchdown against Nebraska, and 5-58 (11.6) on punt returns. Started 10-of-12 games in '09, catching 56-705-1 (12.6) with 11-110-0 (10.0) rushing. Returned kickoffs 39-1,127-4 (28.9) and punts 17-155 (9.1).

Positives: Has exceptional timed speed and can pull away once he finds the open field. Hides behind blockers and squirts through lanes with outstanding burst and acceleration. Fields the ball cleanly. Fluid changing direction. Extremely elusive in the open field with the dynamic gear change to be effective on screens, reverses and specially designed plays. Outstanding multi-purpose production.

Negatives: Very, very small and small-boned with little room for growth on a body that is not built to withstand contact. Not tough — consistently cowers from contact and runs out of bounds to avoid being hit. Drifts in his routes and provides a very small target. Has small hands and tends to body-catch. Does not attack the ball in the air. Non-factor as a blocker.

Summary: Very diminutive slot receiver and return specialist who could find a home in a kickoff-return role in the pros.

NFL projection: Fourth- to fifth-round pick.

 

2. P Matt Dodge
East Carolina senior
Ht: 6-1 1/2 | Wt: 223 | Sp: 5.2e | Arm: 31 1/2 | Hand: 9 7/8

Notes: Began collegiate career at Appalachian State, where he averaged 39.7 yards on 41 punts with a long of 55 and five inside the 20-yard line as a true freshman for the I-AA national champions in 2005. Homesick and in need of a scholarship, transferred to ECU and sat out '06 per NCAA rules. Won the job in '07, punting 80-41.3-67-24 and 73-43.9-73-20 in '08 while also averaging 59.6 yards on 71 kickoffs with four touchbacks. Ranked second nationally in punting average in '09, punting 67-45.8-73-24 and kicking off 62-61.6-6.

Positives: Looks athletic — well-built with good musculature. Very strong leg and can hang it high. Ball explodes off his foot. Flexible with outstanding leg extension — kicks through the ball. Outstanding production. Offers versatility to kick off in a pinch.

Negatives: Needs to improve get-off times. Needs to learn to hasten his steps and become more consistent with his mechanics.

Summary: Big, flexible punter with a powerful right leg who can unleash some bombs, which makes him draftable. Needs some refinement but could significantly impact a team's field-position game.

NFL projection: Fourth- to fifth-round pick.

 

3. RS Trindon Holliday
LSU senior
Ht: 5-5 1/8 | Wt: 162 | Sp: 4.31 | Arm: 27 3/4 | Hand: 8

Notes: Won seven Louisiana state track championships as a prep, dominating the 200 meters four times and the 100 meters three times. As a running back, piled up more than 4,000 yards and 60 touchdowns over two seasons. Was very lightly recruited before committing to the Tigers. Greyshirted in 2005. Sprained an ankle in the '06 spring game but played 12 games in the fall, returning five kickoffs for 162 yards (32.4-yard average) and one TD. Also rushed 14 times for 172 yards (12.3-yard average) and one TD. Did not play against Auburn. Played in 13 games in '07, returning kickoffs 19-498-1 (26.0) and rushing 53-364-2 (6.9). Also caught two passes for three yards (1.5) and zero TDs. Sprained his ankle against Mississippi and sat out against Arkansas. Played in all 13 games in '08, returning kickoffs 27-609-0 (22.6), rushing 21-114-0 (5.4) and catching 2-33-0 (16.5). Also handled punt-return duties, returning 21 for 279 yards (13.3) and one TD. Was the Southeastern Conference's top punt returner in '09, amassing 22-537-0 (24.4) on kickoff returns, 20-362-1 (18.1) on punt returns, 27-126-1 (4.7) rushing and 3-36-0 (12.0) receiving in 13 games. Was an eight-time track All-American and the reigning NCAA champion in the outdoor 100-meter dash with a time of 10.00 seconds (thought to be the fastest time ever run by a football player). Finished 11th at the '08 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. Named MVP of the Texas vs. the Nation all-star game. Will be a 24-year-old rookie.

Positives: Clocked fastest 40-yard time of anyone at Combine and has world-class speed. Catches cleanly and accelerates in a blink. Has a low center of gravity and natural twitch to make quick cuts — can embarrass tacklers in space. Hides behind blockers and squirts out. Outruns angles and pulls away from the pack like he's shot out of a cannon. Has proven himself against top competition. Smart, tough and durable.

Negatives: Very small and slight-framed. Marginal run strength and tackle-breaking ability. Lacks lower-body power. Is a bit straight-linish and does not string moves together.

Summary: Dangerous, diminutive punt and kickoff returner who only needs a sliver of daylight to take it the distance. Also shows versatility to contribute as a change-of-pace back or work out of the slot.

NFL projection: Fifth- to sixth-round pick.

 

4. RS Brandon James
Florida senior
Ht: 5-7 1/4 | Wt: 183 | Sp: 4.5e | Arm: 29 1/2 | Hand: 8 3/4

Notes: Also ran track as a Florida prep in addition to winning a state championship as a running back-return man. As a true freshman in 2006, missed the season opener against Southern Mississippi after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. In 13 games, returned 21 kickoffs for 383 yards (18.2-yard average) and 33 punts for 363 yards (11.0), including a 77-yard touchdown against Western Carolina. Arrested in June '07 (marijuana possession) and was given six months probation and community service. Was suspended for the season opener against WCU (also did not play against Florida Atlantic because of undisclosed violation of team policy) before playing 11 games (started at running back against Auburn). Set single-season school record for kickoff-return yards by racking up 30-841 (28.0). Added 14-254 (18.1) on punt returns, including an 83-yard TD against Tennessee. Also played on offense, rushing 24 times for 133 yards (5.5) and zero TDs with eight receptions for 69 yards (8.6) and zero TDs. Ran track in '07. Started 3-of-14 games (Hawaii, LSU, Georgia) in '08, returning kickoffs 32-738 (23.1) and punts 37-510-2 (13.8). Added 14-59-2 (4.2) rushing and 11-95-1 (8.6) receiving. Underwent surgery in February '09 to repair a broken metatarsal bone in his right foot. Played 13 games (two starts) in '09, totaling 29-756-1 (26.1) on kickoff returns and 33-244-0 (7.4) on punt returns. Added 20-109-0 (5.4) rushing and 24-215-1 (9.0) receiving. Missed the Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati after breaking a bone in his right foot in the SEC championship game and requiring surgery. Is the SEC's career leader in combined kickoff- and punt-return yardage (4,089).

Positives: Has natural return skills. Good top-end speed. Quick-footed and shifty — routinely evades the first wave of tacklers. Can stop and start and shows outstanding short-area burst to squirt through creases. Good vision to see holes and cut-back lanes opening up. Confident catcher — fields the ball cleanly and makes good decisions. Tough and competitive. Showed game-changing ability against SEC competition.

Negatives: Marginal run strength and contact balance. Limited as a blocker. Overconfident. Durability and character need to be evaluated. Needs to be prodded.

Summary: A short, tough, fast returner who shows a natural feel for it, James possesses the type of burst, agility and elusiveness to change games at the next level. Could be a weapon on screen passes and work as a change-of-pace back.

NFL projection: Late draftable pick.

 

5. PK Leigh Tiffin
Alabama senior
Ht: 6-0 7/8 | Wt: 198 | Sp: 4.9e | Arm: 30 1/2 | Hand: 9 1/4

Notes: Father, Van, kicked for the Crimson Tide then spent 1987 in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins. Leigh was the Tide's backup in 2006, appearing in five games as an injury replacement and converting 8-of-13 FG attempts with a long of 47 yards. Also made 12-of-13 PATs and added three kickoffs for a 57.7-yard average with zero touchbacks. In '07, set the single-season school record for points by a kicker (111) by connecting on 25-of-34 FG attempts with a long of 51 and making all 36 PATs. Also kicked off 70-60.0-4. Hit on 20-of-29 FG attempts and 46-of-47 PATs in '08 and kicked off 75-64.1-2. Was the nation's leading kicker in '09 when he drilled 30-of-35 FG attempts with a long of 50 and made 42-of-46 PATs. Added 94-63.5-14 on kickoffs. Finished career as the school's all-time leading scorer (385 points).

Positives: Good accuracy. Mentally strong. Has extensive experience kicking in pressure-packed games and environments. Outstanding production. Showed steady improvement throughout his career. Has NFL bloodlines.

Negatives: Has a deliberate approach. Average leg strength and extension. Inconsistent trajectory. Marginal touchback percentage — allows too much return yardage. Has not been called upon in the waning moments.

Summary: Rebounded from struggles as a young player to become a reliable contributor for a national-championship team. Can be streaky but was more technically consistent as a senior and has the chops to compete for a job.

NFL projection: Late draftable pick.

 

To read all of Nolan Nawrocki's scouting reports on 395 players, as well as player rankings, team needs and much more, you can now pre-order your copy of the 2010 Draft Preview online at PFWstore.com, or you can purchase your copy of the book at newsstands and bookstores across the country when it goes on sale March 30.

For the most authoritative NFL draft news and free-agency analysis, visit ProFootballWeekly.com.