As the NFL Draft approaches, scouting reports and draft profiles are everywhere. As we will soon learn with this class, and as we have learned with previous classes, not every scout is accurate 100% of the time.
Sometimes, players can come out of nowhere and become stars. Players like Tom Brady, Chris Harris Jr., and Tyreek Hill are perfect examples of gems that flew under the radar.
The Bengals have a few of their own. Some of the best players on the roster were late-round steals.
After 10 years in the league, Geno Atkins has won just about every accolade possible. The two-time All-Pro, eight-time Pro Bowler and one of three defensive tackles of the decade, none have been better since he was a fourth round pick in 2010.
Most of his criticism dealt with his size, since he was only 6’1”, 293 lbs at the combine.
ESPN’s draft profile on Atkins said: “Is obviously not a massive space eater and has limitations due to his below-average size...Lack of size will limit him a bit more in the NFL as a run stopper. He’s too light in the rear to anchor versus massive OLs who can get in position and lock on.”
NFL.com’s profile shared similar concerns.
“He’s undersized as a defensive tackle lacking adequate height and bulk. Doesn’t have the power to consistently hold up at the point of attack against the run and is overpowered by bigger blockers. Must become more consistent with his hand use.”
Dan Kadar of SBNation said: “There were several effort and motor concerns with him at Georgia, and without the top tier physical package, that will be an issue in the NFL.”
Atkins’ size has done nothing to hold him back. Not only does he use his hands and technique, like you would expect an undersized lineman to do, but he has a whole array of tools in his box. He uses his strength and power just as much as his quickness and technique.
Going from a 166th overall pick to highest paid nose tackle in the NFL isn’t easy. D.J. Reader was one of the best defensive players in free agency in 2020, yet he almost dropped to the 6th round of the draft in 2016.
According to Jon Ledyard, Reader’s biggest drawback was that he “often takes a false step or two off the snap, allowing opponents to reach block him without much effort, as you can see above.” Though, to Ledyard’s credit, he said these problems could be fixed with coaching.
Lance Zierlein of NFL.com said: “Gets initial push, but fails to shed blockers in time to make many tackles. Needs more coaching to improve his hands. Once he’s on the move and engaged with a blocker, fails to consistently find the ballcarrier and ball...Reader has the strength and potential to believe that his Senior Bowl flashes could turn into something more in the NFL, even though that might just be as a career backup.”
Reader’s draft profile on Bleacher Report read: “The biggest fix for Reader will be getting off of blocks better with his hands...Reader’s burst off the line won’t draw rave reviews, and teams must know they’re getting a gap-eater and not a penetrator when they see his film.”
Reader uses his strength to win battles, but assists his strength and athleticism with his technique. Some things that impressed the Bengals this offseason was his ability to get off blocks and his explosiveness off the line. Even though these things were absent in his college film, he picked up some new skills while in the NFL in order to secure his $53 million contract.
The best and most consistent offensive lineman for the Bengals over the last three years has been Trey Hopkins. He went undrafted in 2014 and had to start from the practice squad, so scouts all over the league weren’t very excited about him.
Nolan Nawrocki said Hopkins had “marginal pulling ability — gets caught in traffic and is late to reach the block point. Struggles to connect with moving targets and adjust to linebackers at the second level. Plays short-armed and lets defenders into his frame. Raw blocking instincts for a three-and-a-half-year starter. Could stand to improve awareness in pass protection — opens rush lanes with narrow vision.”
Hopkins’ instincts finally caught up with his athletic ability. His “awareness pass protection” has gotten better and turned him into a competent NFL starting center.
With Bengals’ receivers dropping like flies in 2019, Auden Tate might have been the most consistent behind Tyler Boyd. He finished the season with 40 receptions and 575 receiving yards.
The junior receiver out of Florida State got a lot of mixed reviews coming out of college, but most agreed that he would be a Day 3 pick. He ended up being the 35th pick of the seventh round, only three picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant.
“Tate’s speed and quickness limitations could make finding an NFL role for him challenging if he’s unable to create enough separation for quarterbacks to target him,” said Zierlein.
Zierlein also said Tate was “slow getting off the line and into his routes,” said he “can’t sink into breaks and is slow-footed getting in and out of breaks”, and that Tate “won’t be able to create vertical separation”
—Speed is a major concern when his size won’t be enough to compensate in the NFL.
—Slow feet in and out of breaks that telegraph routes at all levels.
—No wiggle to his game and won’t be a viable YAC producer in NFL.
—Separated shoulder in 2017.
—Separation skills are a concern and will be exploited by press corners.
While Tate’s best weapon is his size, just like scouts predicted, he is actually a better route-runner and deep threat than most thought. Many scouts saw him getting jammed at the line of scrimmage, he has actually improved his footwork to help him get off cleanly. He also has great flexibility, which uses in combination with his size to create separation.