Now that we are getting closer to the 2013 season the Broncos have a number of players entering their 4th, 5th and 6th seasons. Many of these players are commonly discussed but we too often misunderstand what type of players they are now. While few players make big strides in years 1-3, by a players 4th year they should have progressed overall. Having said that I wanted to approach my study of these players like an NFL scout would a rookie, looking back on the most recent years game film and then write up a scouting report. By doing this I feel the Broncos fan base can create a more up-to-date picture of what these players strengths and weaknesses are instead of relying on what we remember from their early careers.
The players I choose to scout were:
- Knowshon Moreno (4th year) Scout Report Found Here
- Eric Decker (3rd year)
- Demaryius Thomas (3rd year)
- Zane Beadles (3rd year)
- JD Walton (3rd year)
- David Bruton (4th year)
- Robert Ayers (4th year)
- Wesley Woodyard (5th year)
I'm going to be using CBS Sports player profile outline since it's so robust and even used by NFL.com now. They break the players skills into a variety of categories and then give them a grade for that category by looking at every snap they play. For applicable areas I'll include a statistic just for fun. For each draftee I'll try and do my scouting with either a member of the Broncos staff or a member of a reputed scouting site. Our method is straightforward with me watching every game and snap and then while he does this separately separately and then we'd watch 2-3 games together and compare notes. For Wesley Woodyard I was honored to work with Byron Storer, a member of the San Diego Chargers linebacker staff. This is not his scouting report since that would be inappropriate but he did assist me in my film study.
Athletic Ability: Woodyard lacks the size and weight to be a great run stopper in the NFL at only 217 pounds at his lightest last season and 6’1" but plays bigger than he is, trying to make up for his slimmer frame by aggression on the field and big tackles. Wesley does possess fantastic straight line speed and is able to rapidly move to the play anywhere on the field. Actually seems better built for a safety position but plays linebacker well. His small frame did cause him to be removed on some run downs and played a big role in why he didn't start. Woodyard does tend to play like he’s bigger than he is which can lead to see him bouncing off of bigger backs and receivers, but seems to try and compensate with solid tackling form.
- GRADE: 7.8 (Improvement)
Football Sense: While Woodyard does have some athletic ability his biggest natural hindrance is his slow development of the inner workings of football. That's not to say he's slow, just he hasn't developed a sense of how offenses operate on in terms of trick plays and deception. Woodyard has been in the league since 2008 and has been a situational player for years, playing in over 73 games. Over this time he has improved his understanding of football but he still struggles at times leading a team in terms of in-game adjustments and is still not able to read quarterbacks eyes very well. Whether this is just because of his college experience or because he’s just not a quick study, I don't know.
- GRADE: 7.1 (Improvement)
Character: Woodyard is a likeable guy who tends to make people like him. He was a special teams captain for his first five years in the league, first time since Floyd Little a Broncos has been a captain their first five years. Woodyard was also nominated for the NFL Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2010 and ‘11. While he can be a vocal leader he prefers to be the type who leads by example on the field, as his former teammate DJ Williams would often brag about Woodyard being underrated.
- GRADE: 9.3 (Improvement)
Competitiveness: Woodyard is a hard worker but isn’t the most competitive person on or off the field, often slowing down on dual tackles instead of tackling the lead and has the tendency to clam up when others are talking. This doesn’t diminish a strong inner drive to play well but doesn’t naturally step up and command. Woodyard has worked hard to improve his play since joining the league and works hard at everything he does, he is just not competitive and lacks, or doesn’t provide, the drive to really exceed beyond his expectations.
- GRADE: 7.4 (Push)
Work Ethic: A hard worker though not known as a standout worker in the weight room or on the field. A guy who knows his limitations and pushes them to the limit. He is limited by a slight frame that struggles to gain weight but has done his best to get to where he needs to be physically wise and has spent a lot of time with former Bronco linebacker DJ Williams to learn the mental part, and while it has taken a while he’s developed that through very hard work.
- GRADE: 8.7 (Improvement)
Acceleration/Burst: Woodyard shows good burst off the snap and is able to react rapidly when he reads the play correctly and can make the play. While he lacks the balance to adjust rapidly he has the quickness needed to at least try and comeback if he makes slips or takes a bad angle on a tackle or in coverage. He also tends to push his speed to the limit prior to a tackle, nice because it tends to cause big hits but it has led to him missing some tackles by doing this.
- GRADE: 8.1 (Push)
Read and React: The first real flaw we found in Wesley’s game was how he struggled at times to read a play pre-snap and even after the snap. Woodyard is exceptional when he’s given his duty and the play goes as planned but when the quarterback audibles or on play-action Woodyard struggles to adjust. This is the biggest area that separates him from DJ Williams. Williams was incredibly smart on-field and for the most part called the defensive play. He successfully read quarterbacks pre-snap and rarely bit on play-action. Woodyard struggles with both. Now this isn’t as much an issue since he doesn’t play MLB like Williams and isn’t the defensive captain so he doesn’t have to adjust pre-snap but to really set himself apart he can’t bite on play-action and he needs to learn to not be fooled by quarterbacks who can look him off. He does hide this well through quick speed at times though and overall his weaknesses in this area are covered by his skill in other areas.
- GRADE: 7.2 (Improvement)
Run Defense: Woodyard is a very aggressive run defender, attacking the defender physically. He doesn’t shy away from a defender lowering his shoulders. He also has the speed to close a gap or get around the corner to make tackles in the backfield. His issues arise with his tackling form, which will be discussed later. But to sum it up, in run defense where Woodyard is running downhill at a back he usually has horrible form as he seems to be looking for the big play, aiming for the legs or head. This usually leads to missed tackles and he’s forced to make a shoe string tackle after he bounces off due to slighter frame. In run defense we see the only real downside of Woodyard small frame, he seems to attempt to compensate with poor form.
- GRADE: 6.9 (Push)
- STAT: In 2012 Woodyard had 9 tackles for a loss, tied for 2nd on the Broncos but he only averages a tackle for a loss on one out of every eight tackle attempts, in the bottom half of the league’s OLB’s.
Pass Defense: Woodyard is easily the Broncos best tackler in pass coverage and while he did miss three tackles they were largely the exception, his form while tackle was nearly perfect, wrapping up and rarely taking a bad angle. He has the size and strength to successfully cover tight ends and has the speed to at least somewhat keep up with wide receivers. Overall there were few flaws from a physical standpoint and this was his biggest weakness early in his career and why he is the starter now. Pass coverage is one of the areas his size makes him suited to succeed instead of hurting him.
- GRADE: 9.4 (Improvement)
- STAT: In 2012 Woodyard dropped into coverage 401 times and only allowed a reception once every 11 snaps, 7 among all outside linebackers.
Tackling: Woodyard has exceptional form when tackling on most snaps, wrapping up well and going for the waist. He also normally goes at a good angle, rarely missing tackles, even in the open field. But we couldn’t overlook two rare cases in his run tackling, the first is where he has clear tackles lined up and willingly lowers his head and either aims for the knees or head. The other is built around the first, taking horrible angles and form so he can lay the big hit, which in all cases resulted in a touchdown or first down. These are rare but one is going to get him fined and the other is how teams lose close games. To sum it up, very good form but willing risks with little reward hurt him. If it weren’t for these issues he’d likely be the best tackler on the team, especially in coverage.
- GRADE: 8.8 (Improvement)
- STAT: In 2012 Woodyard missed a tackle every 13.1 attempts, 14 in the NFL but the worst among the Broncos linebackers.
Pass Rush: Woodyard is an interesting pass rusher, he’s effective at times but it’s largely situational. For the most part he’s successful because of his good speed and acceleration but there is a downside. Of Woodyard’s pressures most come on delayed blitz’s or on untouched attempts. Woodyard isn’t the smartest pass rusher, bull rushing his assigned gap, rarely adjusting his course to avoid or maneuver around the blocker, instead trying to muscle his way through, usually unsuccessfully. His development here is one reason he saw his snap count rise as his career went on. Though I will say when Woodyard does tend to get his hands on the quarterback he doesn’t let go, never letting the quarterback get away on his 121 pass rushing snaps.
- GRADE: 7.8 (Improvement)
- STAT: In 2012 Woodyard managed to get pressure on 11.3% of his pass rushing snaps, 15 in the NFL, 2 among the Broncos LB’s and 5 among all defenders.
OVERALL GRADE: 8.1(Improvement)
Overall Wesley Woodyard is an undersized outside linebacker who is very successful in coverage but his over aggressiveness in run defense really hurts him. Watching Woodyard truly is the tale of two players, one who is a skilled at following a receiver and wrapping up that guy before he can move an inch but struggles at move off blockers and at getting after backs. Wesley is a solid OLB who is at his peak and is a good starter but lacks the physical and mental tools that his predecessor and friend DJ Williams had to take his game to the All-Pro level. If we could combine Williams’ tools and Woodyard’s work ethic you’d have a Pro Bowl linebacker instead of two flawed but talented players. Woodyard has made due and has developed into a very good starting linebacker and will likely hold that job and even longer if he stops taking unnecessary risks and improves his ability to read offenses.
Woodyard has improved his game in nearly every area. He came into the league nowhere near ready to be a starting linebacker and lucky for him he was successful on special teams, this gave him time to develop his skills and in 2011 and 2012 he took those steps needed to earn the starting job. He's a skilled, but flawed, linebacker who helped form the successful Broncos linebacker group in in 2012 and will likely be successful at his job into the future.
Thanks for those who took the time to read this and if you have any suggestions for players we should scout let me know in the comments section. We won't be scouting and players with two or fewer years of experience since there isn't expected to be much change from college.