When it comes to evaluating football players with an unbiased guy, there’s one guy we always trust – Greg Cosell, the senior producer at NFL Films who spends his days locked away in the film vaults in New Jersey.
“I’m not right on every player, believe me,” he said with humility.
But Cosell, also the executive producer of ESPN’s “NFL Matchup” show, is one of the few people on the planet with access to coaches tape on all 32 teams and the hundreds of college prospects. The man puts in the time, and evaluates players with no agenda other than pinpointing strengths and weaknesses.
We caught up with Cosell on Friday morning to discuss the Patriots’ rookie class. We didn’t discuss every single player, but here after the jump is Cosell’s take on the big-name players:
* He calls OLB Jamie Collins (2nd round, 52nd overall) a “fascinating” yet raw prospect, whom he believes will mostly play as a pass rusher in the Patriots’ sub packages on defense.
“He looks like Tarzan – 6-3 and a half, 250 pounds, and looks the part about as well as you can look,” Cosell said. “But he needs a lot of coaching. He didn’t always play with competitive urgency.”
Collins had 10 sacks and 20 tackles for loss as a senior at Southern Miss, but “he needs to be trained. He’s not a natural pass rusher, and he needs to learn how to use his hands,” Cosell said.
* Cosell is a big fan of the Patriots’ next pick, WR Aaron Dobson (6-3, 203 pounds), taken in the second round (59th overall). Cosell made a comparison that he knows could sound blasphemous, but underscores what he thinks of Dobson.
“This is going to sound crazy, but I thought that his size/hand combination, at times, reminded me of Larry Fitzgerald,” Cosell said. “He’s not Larry Fitzgerald, obviously, but he’s a big kid who can move very well with really good hands.”
Dobson isn’t known as a speedster, but ran a respectable 4.42 in the 40 at his Pro Day, and benefits from having a “long stride,” Cosell said.
“Tall kids end up being faster than you think, regardless of their 40 time, because of their stride length,” he said. “Overall an excellent combination of size, fluid movement and hands.”
* Cosell said he liked both of the Patriots’ third-round defensive backs out of Rutgers – CB Logan Ryan (83rd overall) and S Duron Harmon (91st) – certainly more than most draft pundits.
Cosell said he didn’t understand the label placed on Ryan (5-11, 191), that he is strictly a “zone” cornerback.
“Watching the tape that I did, I thought he had extensive experience playing both off-coverage zone, and press-man, and I think he has really good versatility,” Cosell said. “I thought he was a smooth combination zone-man cover, and when he did play press, I thought he had very quick feet.”
Cosell also noted that Ryan is an “aggressive tackler” and that Rutgers liked to use him intermittently on cornerback blitzes.
As for Harmon (6-1, 200), Cosell said that when he stated on Twitter during the draft that he’s a fan of Harmon’s, several followers ripped his analysis.
“He’s not a great athlete. You don’t watch him like a Kenny Vaccaro and go, ‘Wow, look at how this kid moves,” Cosell said. “But I thought that he played with aggression and competitiveness. I really liked his playing personality. And I thought his play recognition – which is something I guarantee (Bill) Belichick noticed – and his quick, decisive reactions were really a positive.”
Cosell also noted that Harmon played a lot of man-to-man coverage against tight ends in the slot, so he’s not just a center fielder.
* Cosell isn’t as high on WR Josh Boyce (5-11, 206), whom the Patriots took in the fourth round (102nd overall). Boyce ran a 4.38 in the 40 at the Combine, and “has the kind of short-speed quickness that would work very well in the slot,” but Boyce, who caught seven touchdowns last year at TCU, doesn’t get the most out of his ability.
“He doesn’t play to his timed speed,” Cosell said. “He has a tendency to look back for the ball too soon on his vertical routes, and that slows you down and negates your speed. But that can be taught.”
* Cosell also likes Rutgers ILB Steve Beauharnais (6-2, 230), whom the Patriots drafted in the seventh round (235th overall). Cosell likes Beauharnais even more than former Rutgers teammate Khaseem Greene, whom the Bears took in the fourth round.
“Nowhere near as athletic, but I thought he was an efficient mover,” Cosell said of Beauharnais. “Even if you wouldn’t call him a great athlete, he had good size, quick feet, and he ran down the middle hole in Tampa 2, which is something that when you play Tampa 2 – and the Patriots play some of it – that you notice.”
“One of the things I watch when I look at inside linebackers is how they work through traffic to find the football in the run game, and I thought he was very efficient at that.”
* Finally, Cosell gave a quick scouting report on the latest Rutgers product to join the Patriots – undrafted wide receiver Mark Harrison (6-3, 235). Harrison had been training in South Florida all spring with Brandon Marshall, who took Harrison under his wing as a workout buddy and mentor.
Not surprisingly, the Bears initially signed Harrison after the draft, but Harrison suffered a broken bone in his foot the day before his Pro Day in March, and the Bears released him two weeks ago after he failed a physical.
Harrison has tremendous measurables – a 38-inch vertical and 4.46 time in the 40 at the Combine, to go along with his height – but caught just 18 touchdowns in four years at Rutgers.
“There was nothing to me other than his size that stood out,” Cosell said. “You get a lot of these guys that can run fast in a straight line, which is one of the least important traits in the NFL. He’s still not just going to run by NFL corners. He’s not that kind of mover despite his speed.”