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) Scouting Report Found Here
- Eric Decker (3rd year)
- Demaryius Thomas (3rd year)
- Zane Beadles (3rd year) Scouting Report Found Here
- JD Walton (3rd year)
- David Bruton (4th year)
- Robert Ayers (4th year)
- Wesley Woodyard (5th year) Scouting Report Found Here
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. I then assign a grade, for example the average NFL starter at any position will be a 7 so a 9 would be around Pro Bowl level while an 8 is above average. A 6 is an area of concern while a 5 is likely reason to be benched. For David Bruton I was honored to work with Pat Sperduto, a member of the Kansas City Chiefs college scouting staff. This is not his scouting report since that would be inappropriate but he did assist me in my film study. Overall this will look at Bruton as a safety not as a special teams ace and I also used film from the second half of 2011 since his snap count is much lower than the rest of the players graded.
Athletic Ability: Bruton is exceptionally athletic in terms of strength and speed and he is the biggest and fastest defensive back on the roster. His fastest 40 meter dash time was recorded at 4.32 and he benched 225 pounds 19 times at the combine, very good for a defensive back. This helps him to have the skill set to be a successful safety against the run and at playing deep passing defense. But despite these measurables Bruton isn't the most fluid player. While he is much improved over his early years, Bruton is still a bit stiff in the hips and struggles playing tight coverage since he isn't able to turn and adjust rapidly. Despite this slight weakness, Bruton is an exceptional athlete and uses his strengths to compensate for his main weakness.
- GRADE: 8.3 (Improvement)
Football Sense: While always considered an incredibly smart person and player, he wasn't able to quickly pick up the more heady parts of playing safety. Bruton used to play off of his instinct, which was just okay, which worked fine against college quarterbacks but when he entered the NFL he was fairly easily beaten by smart quarterbacks. In 2011 and 2012 Bruton showed his greatest ability so far at reading and reacting to quarterbacks. On almost every one of Bruton's coverage snaps where he dropped into deep coverage he showed solid skill at sitting and watching the quarterback and making his move at the right time, rarely getting looked off by the quarterbacks eyes like he would early in his career. He still isn't perfect but after four years he's developed a strong feel for reading offenses and doesn't bite on play action and trick plays often.
- GRADE: 8.2 (Improvement)
Character: A captain his final year in college and a leader on special teams since joining the Broncos, David is incredibly well liked by his teammates. He is not an outspoken player or leader though, preferring to do his job and support his teammates and if you watch post-play on special teams plays Bruton is always running from where ever he is to congratulate blockers, leg men and the usually under-appreciated players. His quiet demeanor does tend to make him not stand out and isn't a natural leader, though that may have had to do with being around much more hyper leaders like Brian Dawkins and Elvis Dumervil.
- GRADE: 7.7 (Push)
Competitiveness: No one would say Bruton isn't competitive, just that he isn't exceptionally competitive. Bruton is seen as a laid back person who enjoys getting along with others and doing his job. This is one area that's hard to grade him, a 7 is average for a starter in terms of competitiveness, which Bruton is, it's not a bad thing to be averagely competitive as an NFL player, that's still much more competitive than the average normal person. He does show fire on special teams though, flying at full speed down field at times or being a physical blocker at other times.
- GRADE: 7.3 (Push)
Work Ethic: A very hard worker who enjoys spending time and listening to veterans. Has become good friends with many of the vets he played with and works in earnest to improve his game. While naturally physically gifted he's done his best to bulk up his lower body and strengthen his overall muscle tone. Gained a lot in terms of how to train and learn from the veterans he's played with.
- GRADE: 8.1 (Improvement)
Read & React: This was a tough area to grade, David struggled at times reading and reacting to mis-direction by the offense in the run game and it cost him on a number of plays. His indecisiveness was apparent during these plays. On the other hand when he was reading and reacting to the quarterback it was a different story as watching him play in those situations was impressive to scout as you could see his head move and track the quarterback’s eyes and they go through their progression. He rarely was deceived by the quarterback and was almost always near the play unless his zone or man took him to the opposite side of the field. Over the past two years it’s clear Bruton has improved his overall football understand to better be able to, well, read and react in the passing game, but his handicap against the run hurts him overall.
- GRADE: 7.0 (Improvement)
Man Coverage: Bruton struggles in man coverage, pure and simple. He is often put in man coverage as the strong safety against a back or tight end and hasn’t excelled. There a few reasons for this, the main one is he lacks the agility while back pedaling that most corners have that allow them to succeed in man coverage. Against the Steelers Bruton was attacked almost every time when he was in man coverage, Ben Roethlisberger was able to read the man coverage and went after him. In a strange way he does better when he’s behind his man (something you are not supposed to do) because he can keep up or out run most offensive players and break up the play. This is not ideal, especially against fast receivers because he might not have enough time to catch up, but it does help save him at times.
- GRADE: 6.2 (Improvement)
Zone Coverage: An area that Bruton is suited much better is zone coverage, where he’s able to sit back, watch the quarterback and his zone and then when the moment is right he can make his play. This really plays to his strengths of speed and intelligence and he rarely lets a big play happen, only allowing 5.2 yards after the catch, second among the Broncos safeties over those two years. He does have issues at times when his zone gets cluttered up close to the linebackers and can lead him to follow the wrong man, which did result in one big blow play against the Minnesota Vikings in 2011. In the end these are more he exception to the rule, Bruton works when he can sit back, watch the play develop and step in and make the tackle.
- GRADE: 7.3 (Improvement)
Closing/Recovery: This is one area that Bruton can just rely on his speed and make the play. He may also have benefited from years on special teams as well. In terms of closing Bruton can fly to the ball carrier and does it on many plays, the best examples were against Baltimore in the playoffs where Joe Flacco went deep and while Bruton was on the opposite side of the field, by the end of the play he was the closest defender to the receiver, often times closer than the original defensive back. In terms of recover, Bruton is a bit weaker due to an average hip twist which hurt him in man coverage but even that half step he losses there he compensates with quick burst to his top speed.
- GRADE: 8.4 (Push)
Run Support: Does his best run support from the free safety position where he can keep the back in front of him, square his feet and wrap up. Because of his good form he has only missed two tackles in run defense his whole career. Unfortunately he doesn’t always play from the free safety position, sometimes lining up in the box as the strong safety and this is where he struggles in run defense. Should the runner come in his general direction he’s fine, able to put himself in front of the runner and take him down but his lateral agility proves to really hurt his run defense should they run opposite of him. While he has the speed to catch the runner from behind he is unable to get to the gap and stop the runner in the backfield.
- GRADE: 7.2 (Push)
- STAT: The past two years Bruton has stopped the runner for less than 3 yards on 5.6% of his run defense snaps, best among Broncos safeties who saw more than 50 run defense snaps.
Tackling: Bruton has developed into a very good arm tackler, using correct form to wrap up instead of going for the big blows with his shoulder. Rarely misses tackles because of this. For some reason though he seems to think he’s slower than he is, often time going for a legs tackle instead of wrapping up the waist, often diving to get the feet instead of using his fantastic speed to just take the extra second to get to the waist. While not bad form either way, it’s a bit odd but it’s something he seems to have done his whole career and may have to do with his college coaching. He is also very strong but isn’t a physical tackler from the safety position, rarely laying into players with his size and speed, instead preferring to get into his wide stance and wrapping up when they are in front of him or grabbing and getting a strong hold when chasing from behind.
- GRADE: 8.0 (Improvement)
- STAT: Over past two seasons Bruton has only missed 3 tackles on 30 attempts, or once every 10 attempts, second best over that period behind Mike Adams.
OVERALL GRADE: 7.4 (Improvement)
Strangely David Bruton came into this league more of a strong safety who was big and seen as a pounder, and he proved that on special teams, but as a safety he's actually developed into a better deep free safety who can use his speed and range to make plays from way back. He's also improved vastly as a tackler and in his understanding of the game itself, and it shows. He still lacks fluid hips to play very well in man coverage and hasn't mastered the more complex areas of run defense but as a drop deep safety who can sit, watch his zone and then move to the play and make the deflection or tackle, he excels. This dichotomy seems to stem from his use as a strong safety in 2011, where he split his reps at strong and free safety. Had I just graded his free safety play his grade overall would be much higher but his time in the box hurt him a lot since it played against his strengths.
Bruton would make a solid starting free safety, as he proved in 2011 when he and Carter took over for the aging Brian Dawkins and the struggling Rahim Moore, but at this point, he isn't exceptional, especially as a strong safety. He has the tools to succeed and has taken a slow but steady learning curve that if it continues could see him push the veterans in Jammer and Adams for more playing time in rotation.