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) Scouting Report Found Here
- 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.
*I want to note I will not be scouting Ayers intangibles since I didn't have the chance to interview or talk with any players or coaches who know him like I have with players in the past. Rather then purely report on what we see I've decided to leave those areas blank since those are topics the public knows little about*
*On a side note, please excuse some grammatical errors, had to rewrite some of this based on today's events*
Athletic Ability: Robert Ayers lacks the elite physical talent that you see from top tier defensive ends, but that’s not to say he’s lacking in talent. Ayers has good build and the right size to be successful as an end and has actually improved his overall strength and speed since his early career, showing improved ability to speed past lineman or out muscle them. He has above average speed though his initial burst is not excellent, he still possesses adequate burst and above average straight line and lateral speed to make plays. Combined with both a strong upper and lower body, Ayers has the physical tools to start in the NFL.
- GRADE: 7.7 (Improvement)
Football Sense: Last year Ayers proved again to be a smart player who rarely makes mental mistakes. He stays committed to his assignment and only bit on play action and the draw run on rare occasions. He was able to fairly accurately judge and adjust based on what the defensive captain saw and then try and make the play. He showed surprising ability to adjust rapidly, on the fly, as the play developed, almost never far away from the ball.
- GRADE: NA
Character: Unable to grade.
- GRADE: NA
Competitiveness: Unable to grade.
- GRADE: NA
Work Ethic: Unable to grade.
- GRADE: NA
Explosion/Pursuit: Perhaps the weakest part of Robert’s game, his explosion and pursuit are hurt because he only has average burst off the line and straight line speed. That’s not to say he’s bad just that he doesn’t excel when it comes to a fast paced pass rush. When you watch Ayers you see a player who can get off the line fairly quickly and has the move skill set to still beat tackles but you’ll see him succeed more when he stunts inside and attacks guards who have less time to react to the pass rush from defensive ends.
- GRADE: 7.0 (Push)
Use of Hands: In terms of pass rush Ayers punch move and strong arms are his saving grace. When Robert was most successful he was able to drive inside, use his hands to punch the tackle back and then dip between the tackle and guard to get into the backfield. This use of his hands was very impressive and allowed Ayers to be more successful as a pass rusher and run defender than he has been in the past. His biggest struggles tend to come when he’s not able to get his hands on a lineman or if they get control of him first and he’s not able to use his arms as well to break free.
- GRADE: 8.2 (Push)
Lateral Pursuit/Effort: In terms of lateral agility and ability to move side to side on the field Ayers plays fairly consistently, though not exceptionally. He showed solid play against the screen game in 2012 and had a nice assisted tackle against the Chargers in week 11. He also shows the effort throughout the game, an area of weakness early in his career. Overall in this category there just wasn’t a very large sample size of snaps to judge Ayers, but for the most part he did his job, made few mistakes and put in the effort that was lacking from his game his rookie year.
- GRADE: 7.3 (Improvement)
Tackling Ability: Ayers displays prototypical tackling form, using his wide arms and strong upper body to wrap up around the waist or shoulders and bring the ball carrier down. With strong hands and heady decision making, he’s usually in a position to get his hands on players and not let go. He does struggle tackling in pursuit of faster players like receivers, often putting the extra effort in by diving for the legs but it usually ends poorly and most of his missed tackles in 2012 came down field while chasing a receiver. For the most part though Ayers has great form and technique, especially in the run game and pass rush.
- GRADE: 7.6 (Push)
- STAT: In 2012 Ayers missed 3 tackles on 353 snaps or once every 118 snaps.
Run Defense: One of Ayers standout and well known strengths, Ayers would come on mostly on run downs to seal the edge, and was very successful in 2012. With excellent tackling form and smart play Ayers was able to consistently make plays against the run. He did have one bad game against the Patriots where the entire defense was caught off guard by a surprisingly potent run game lead by Steven Ridley. There were a few plays in that game where you could see Ayers (and the entire DL) were so trained in on Tom Brady they lost focus on the run game, and it cost them. His standout game came against Kansas City in week 17 where he was key in shutting down Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles, making some fantastic tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Other strong games include both Baltimore games and Carolina where he and Von Miller were tasked with corralling Cam Newton, and were successful.
- GRADE: 8.3 (Improvement)
- STAT: In 2012 Ayers had 7 run defense tackles, of those 6 were for less 2 yards or less.
Pass Rush: I know this is going to be the area everyone jumps to since it’s what most people think of when they think defensive end. So I’ll just say it, Ayers is actually an above average pass rusher. In 2012 he was surprisingly effective as a pass rusher, even more surprising is how effective he was from the DT position. Ayers wasn’t the most effective edge rusher as he lacked the speed to beat tackles outside, but he was effective, even as a DE, rushing inside and he used his great punch and then dip move to get inside the tackle and get pressure on the quarterback. Ayers is a different pass rusher than Doom was because he uses a strong punch and inside moves instead of speed and spin to get around the tackle outside. Ayers actually spent the majority of his playing time as a pass rusher (239 snaps out of 353 snaps) and was successful on a per snap basis. His biggest struggle came against the Browns and their elite left tackle Joe Thomas who only surrendered one sack the whole day.
His best games came against Cam Newton and the Panthers where Ayers just played lights out, as well against the Ravens in both games, the Kansas City Chief game in week 17 is also a good example.
- GRADE: 7.9 (Improvement)
- STAT: In 2012 Ayers pressured the quarterback on 11.5% of his pass rushing snaps, 3rd best of all linebackers and lineman and 2nd best of all lineman after Elvis Dumervil.
OVERALL GRADE: 7.8 (Improvement)
Robert Ayers is a far more complete defensive end than he was when he entered the league, even more so since he actually played mis-cast as an outside linebacker for two years. Since moving to defensive end he's become more of a rotational player and has seen his production actually increase. Now total numbers might be down but that's not really what matters, what matters is what a player does with each snap they are given and Ayers made the most of his time. Had Ayers played as many snaps as fellow DE/DT Derek Wolfe he'd have totaled 3 sacks, 11 hits, and 30 hurries for a total of 44 pressures. In comparison, Wolfe had 25 total pressures and it's clear to see Ayers' is a good pass rusher. He's no Doom or Miller, but he's proven he can pressure the quarterback. Take his improved pass rush skill and put that with a great ability to seal the edge and shut down the run and you have a solid starter or great rotational player in Robert Ayers.
He will likely never live down where he was drafted but remove that and his struggles as an outside linebacker and just watch him last season and you'd see a player who can be successful. I don't think he deserves to ever go to a Pro Bowl and he may not even start but I know when he gets on the field he'll do a good job.
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.
REDACTION: A previous version of this post indicated we worked with someone from the Blitzology website for help in scouting this piece. That person was not from Blitzology; we regret the error.