By: Lorenz Leinweber | @lorenzz14
Every year, more than 250 players are drafted into the NFL via the NFL Draft. Many others get their chance to make rosters as undrafted free agents when Day Three concludes. To make you all more familiar with the prospects and provide a complex outlook, it’s time to put them under the “Lenz”. This week’s edition includes Najee Harris (Alabama), Zach Wilson (BYU) and Mac Jones (Alabama)!
Najee Harris, RB, Alabama
Najee Harris was a very highly touted, universal five-star recruit in the 2017 class, according to every major recruiting outlet. He opted to commit to the Alabama Crimson Tide very early, as a sophomore, over offers from Notre Dame, Georgia, USC and others.
Harris attended Antioch High School, located by California’s bay area. Playing for Nick Saban at Alabama turned out to be the right decision even though he had to wait his turn before he could take over as the lead back, sitting behind players such as Bo Scarbrough (Seahawks), Damien Harris (Patriots) and Las Vegas Raiders star Josh Jacobs. Whenever he did get the ball, he was productive, posting over six yards per carry in his first two seasons.
In 2019, he finally received an opportunity to take over as the lead back for the Crimson Tide and he never looked back, racking up over 1,500 total yards and 20 touchdowns.
In a loaded 2019 running back class, Harris decided to return to Alabama for his senior season in 2020, where he has looked better than ever, while hoping to add a second National Championship to his already impressive resume.
Harris is a power back at heart. He is an extremely difficult player to tackle, with defenders bouncing off him left and right. He shows great contact balance and the ability to disrupt tackle attempts with his offhand, which includes his violent stiff arm. He keeps his legs churning, constantly falls forward to pick up extra yards and will not be denied at the goal line or in other short-yardage situations.
What Harris does beyond being a power back is what makes him so much more exciting. He has the type of soft hands rarely seen by a runner of his size, making him a weapon underneath and downfield on wheel routes, where he can adjust to off-target passes.
Harris owns quick feet, making him elusive in the hole. He can avoid defenders and swiftly cut back into lanes making the defense pay with his solid speed. In the open field, Harris has the innate ability to make defenders miss with finesse or power and his special athleticism shows up when he hurdles defenders trying to tackle him low.
On option routes out of the backfield, he gets open against linebackers, which makes him an asset against man coverage. There are not many areas of concern with his overall game. The biggest knock on Harris is his lack of high-end speed, making him a perfect fit in a gap or power scheme. He also can be successful in an inside zone scheme, which is what he is accustomed to coming out of Alabama. Teams that value power backs will love him, with the ability to be a bell-cow back early on in his career.
His best ability is his power and contact balance. Harris can absorb and anticipate contact at a really high level and is almost impossible to tackle for a single defender. On this play against Tennessee, Harris spins out of a tackle in the backfield and gets to the edge before half of the UT defense swarms to the ball to finally bring him down:
When turning on the film, one thing is clear from the start: Najee Harris is not your dad’s traditional power back. Listed at 230 pounds, Harris demonstrates very quick feet to avoid defenders and make his way through traffic. Watch him here against Georgia, evade a defender at his feet and cut back into the hole:
One of the most important skills to have in today’s NFL is the ability to catch the football out of the backfield and Harris does that and then some. He has reliable hands and can even adjust on back-shoulder passes:
To put the icing on the cake, Najee showed off his athleticism on this play, hurdling an Auburn defender:
Zach Wilson, QB, BYU
It seems like no one has been talked about more in this draft cycle than BYU quarterback Zach Wilson. The former three-star recruit opted to stay in his home state of Utah and play at BYU.
In his freshman season, Wilson became the youngest quarterback to start a game at BYU. He went on to throw for 1,578 yards in nine starts as a freshman, adding 221 yards via the ground. Last year, he tried to build on this success but struggled with turnovers, injuries and inefficiency, seeing nearly all his statistics regress across the board.
In 2020, Wilson has burst back onto the national scene and has played himself into the top ten of many mock drafts, with fanbases excited about drafting Wilson, if they cannot receive the services of Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
While listed at 6-2 and 210 pounds, Wilson possesses a slender frame that could certainly carry more weight to withstand the physicality of the NFL.
Defenses must account for his running ability. The true junior is an exceptional athlete who can avoid rushers in the pocket, extends plays and picks up yardage as a scrambler.
Wilson does a fantastic job using different arm angles to get the ball out between defenders in short range. This translates to screens and RPO’s, as well as his effectiveness in the quick game, making him appealing to teams that run such concepts.
His accuracy, as is the case for many quarterbacks, lives and dies with his feet. If he’s able to set up and have his cleats in the ground, he steps into passes and follows through with superb accuracy. This helps him to throw with outstanding ball placement.
When he throws off-balance, which he does too frequently at the moment, his accuracy and velocity take a big hit and passes are off target. Some of his balls also flutter and do not get to his receivers with enough velocity.
Wilson’s biggest area of concern is his decision-making and ability to read defenses. While still a young player, he’ll need to put in time in the film room and with his coaches to play at a high level in the NFL.
The ability to use different arm angles is shown on this play against Western Kentucky:
In the same game, Wilson flashed his arm strength on an out route to the field. Notice how his feet are set and he can step into the throw:
Against the Houston Cougars, he had a big run early in the game displaying his athleticism and elusiveness in the open field:
BYU is running Yankee on this play, meaning they have a crossing route from the slot receiver to his left and a post from the right side. With the motion from the left side, they get the look they want post-snap: single high.
Now Wilson should be reading the single high safety. If he jumps the crosser, Wilson throws the post in behind. On this particular occasion, the safety plays the post route, the crossing route should come wide open… which it does. Wilson decides to throw the post regardless:
Mac Jones, QB, Alabama
The Heisman Trophy has become a quarterback-driven award with how frequent college teams throw the ball. Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones is one of the frontrunners for the award this season. Jones was a three-star recruit who came to Alabama in the same class as Miami Dolphins quarterback and fifth overall pick of the 2019 NFL Draft, Tua Tagovailoa.
He redshirted his first season in Tuscaloosa and was Tua’s backup in 2018 and 2019. After Tagovailoa’s hip injury, Jones stepped in and took over. While Alabama missed the College Football Playoffs that season, he led them to a 35-16 Citrus Bowl victory over the University of Michigan.
This season, Jones is currently the signal-caller for the number one team in the nation, boasting a high octane offense and making the Tide favorites to win another National Championship, while he remains one of the favorites to win the 2021 Heisman Trophy.
Jones is a smart and aggressive pocket passer. He does well to understand defenses and identifies matchups pre-snap to give his exciting playmakers the chance to do just that.
An anticipatory thrower, Mac does well on timing routes, where he throws the ball before the receivers break and is able to see wide outs running into holes in zone coverage. Jones is willing and able to air it out, despite his middling arm strength, throwing an excellent deep ball on the many chances he takes down the field.
On RPO’s, Jones is useful as well, thanks to his accuracy passing to moving targets over the short and intermediate parts of the field. His arm strength and athleticism, or lack thereof, prevent him from being a consistent creator outside the structure of the offense.
Jones will have to rely on play calling, his offensive line and his weapons, in order to be successful in the NFL. In the right situation, he has the mental capacity and accuracy to play at a high level, making him intriguing to contenders looking for a signal-caller this offseason.
Taking advantage of weapons like wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, Jones shows the ability to consistently connect on the deep ball:
When blitzed, Jones is able to identify matchups he wants to exploit, stands in and delivers the football:
His gunslinger mentality can get the better of him when he is under pressure, forcing deep shots that are easily intercepted as this one should have been: