Every year brings players who take their game to the next level. Some are young players who are stars in the making or veterans who seem to finally put it all together. This season has had no shortage of players who have made the leap, whether from sub-par to excellent, or good to great.
Karl Reitz trains his scouting eye on some of the early season successes, and why they are suddenly emerging as forces.
The league is seeing a more mature Orton who has become extremely comfortable and poised in the pocket. His footwork has been on point this year as well as his ability to stay calm and scan the field for the open receiver. He appears to be understanding defenses better, which in turn has made him cut down on the risky and questionable throws that plagued him earlier in his career. Orton has displayed these improved aspects of his game while playing behind a line that has been questionable at times. He senses the pressure, but still keeps his eyes downfield, a sure sign of his new-found confidence. He’s displayed the arm strength required to make all the throws and has excellent touch on his deep balls. His accuracy is off a bit at times, but he manages to always give his receivers a shot at the ball.
It was truly a mystery to many people as to why Foster went undrafted in 2009 after a standout career in the SEC. At the end of 2009 he started to show flashes of why he should have been chosen, and in 2010 is simply making NFL talent evaluators look bad. Foster has shown that he is a smart runner. He is patient in the backfield, follows his blockers, and lets them develop their blocks. When he does see the lane, he has extremely good acceleration and burst through the hole. He displays very quick feet that allow him to make the sharp lateral cuts when in tight quarters or in the open field. When it comes to speed and power, he isn’t the fastest or biggest, but he turns on a second gear in the open field and will take defenders for a ride. At times Foster will get tripped up a bit and go down too easily. The Texans’ offensive line has been extremely good in run blocking this year so they deserve some of the credit, but Foster’s willingness to let them do their jobs has turned him into a dynamic runner this year.
The first thing that jumps out about Matthews on film is his speed. He is extremely quick off the edge and can blow by blockers before they have time to move their feet (think Jason Taylor in his younger days). The Packers will run delayed blitzes with him because he can wait for lanes to the quarterback to open and then use his speed to get there before the ball is released. The one thing that stalls him at times is when blockers push him to the interior of the line and he gets eaten up by the bigger linemen. Matthews appears to be ahead of his experience in the intelligence department as well — he understands the run game. His eyes are always in the backfield to diagnose the play and he holds the edge so the runner can’t get outside. He does a great job of keeping blockers from locking him up, so that if a runner does get into his area, he releases quickly and makes the tackle. In pass coverage, he has proved capable, but is a little stiff. Although, why wouldn’t he be rushing the passer on most passing plays?
The former first-round pick has bounced around the league and is already on his fifth team in his seventh season. It has never really seemed to click for the Western Michigan grad until this year. So what has changed? Well he appears to be playing with more of a purpose and more focus and doesn’t seem to be lost like in years past. He doesn’t jump out on film, but watching him shows that he’s doing all the little things that make a defense successful. He is by no means a flashy player, but the guy has an extremely high motor that never stops. While he’s not extremely fast or strong, he’s learned to use his allotment of speed and strength together to succeed on the field. Babin is feisty and blockers have a difficult time keeping blocks on him. He fights through them in order to get to the offensive player and always keeps his legs moving. He’s already tallied more sacks this year than any other year’s total. When blockers get put in compromising situations (off balance, moving too fast one way, etc.), Babin recognizes it and uses the proper technique or move to beat the player. The Titans play the type of rough and tough football on defense that Babin has really taken a liking to and that shows his strengths.
Flowers was already good, but he’s become the Revis of 2010. He has become a true shut-down corner to the extent where quarterbacks aren’t really looking his way. A really impressive thing he does is try to bait the quarterbacks. He’ll sit on the underneath routes just watching the quarterback, but will only do it when it doesn’t put his defense in a compromising position. In coverage, he has great change-of-direction speed and loose hips. He stays squared up with the receiver till he make a cut and Flowers’ agility allows him to instantly mimic it and stay on top of him. Most young corners will get caught looking into the backfield at the wrong times, but Flowers stays focused on his receiver and reads them in order to know when the ball is in the air. Not to mention he has developed into a pretty sure tackler on top of it.