Aaron Aloysius of DraftBreakdown.com stopped by to provide us with a scouting report of Nigel Bradham. We frequently talk with Aaron via twitter, and he is one of the better independent draft analysts out there.
After the 2010 season, Nigel Bradham strongly considered turning pro. Just days before the deadline to declare, one website reported that Bradham was leaning towards taking his talents to the NFL. However, a disappointing Advisory Committee draft grade compelled him to stick around Tallahassee for another season.
It's understandable why Bradham expected to receive a positive grade: the FSU linebacker possesses the range and athleticism teams covet at the position. At the same time, his tape shows why Bradham needs to up his game to establish himself as an early round prospect. Despite his straight-line speed, Bradham doesn't consistently show the agility and instincts to make plays all over the field.
Fortunately, the weaknesses in Bradham's game appear to be correctable. There's a very good chance that Bradham will be able to bridge the gap between where scouts value his talents and where the senior sees himself being selected next April.
Bradham is most impressive when he's able to showcase his speed. While not a 4.4 guy, the weakside backer can chase down running backs from behind, as well as return blocked kicks for six. He races to blow up screen plays and often gets to backs before they can get upfield.
In addition, Bradham possesses good (but not great) downhill explosion. That ability shines most when he effectively scrapes, then charges down towards the running back. Though not a highlight reel hitter, the long-armed LB does a nice job of wrapping up and is strong enough to avoid being dragged past the sticks. And with his quick feet, he sidesteps blockers and manages to make plays around the line.
Indeed, Bradham sets himself apart from most linebacker prospects by making plays that many others can't, often extending his good range by diving to take out running backs' legs. For that reason, his modest tackle-for-loss stats are a bit misleading; they don't factor in the many times Bradham trips up runners in the backfield, leading to them tumbling for little or no gain.
With those impressive skills, it's easy to see why Bradham was such a highly prized recruit and has the potential to be a top 50 draft prospect. However, there are also major issues in his game that have prevented him from living up to his five star billing and could drop him down draft boards.
The diehard FSU fans here may have noticed that Bradham can be maddeningly inconsistent. His numbers on the stat sheet don't vary dramatically, but the tape reveals a prospect whose play fluctuates from Saturday to Saturday. After watching him against Boston College, I was convinced that Bradham would be an early round pick. On the other hand, the player I saw in the first half against Maryland looked like he'd struggle to earn a starting job in the NFL.
Initially, the inconsistency can be difficult to process: Bradham plays with a decent motor, and he didn't battle any major injuries that could have hampered his game. In the end, the issues boils down to a his tendency to play too tall and not sink his hips. Because of his quick feet, he's mostly able to compensate for that stiffness, but the deficiency eventually catches up to him, leading to some very disappointing play.
Bradham does need to improve his instincts. He's the kind of player who's much better when has an unobstructed view of the action. When battling in close quarters, he'll dance his way out of the play, making him a better fit on the weakside. He's prone to falling for misdirection and needs to play with more discipline. Also, while not a serious issue, he could up his effort a bit, especially when chasing plays to the other side of the field.
But the issues with Bradham's instincts wouldn't be so troubling if they weren't amplified by his hip stiffness. And it isn't entirely an athletic limitation: he flashes the ability to quickly redirect and use his good closing speed to make plays on the ball. Unfortunately, he more often loses speed in transition, most often when he plays too tall. The same deficiency makes him expose his numbers to linemen who get all up in his grill, as well as struggle to protect his legs on cut blocks.
Unsurprisingly, the issue plagues Bradham when playing in space. When he stays low, he looks like an almost ideal cover LB. More often, though, he looks stiff and a bit lost, particularly with his back to the ball in man coverage. Bigger targets can box him out, and he'll have some mental lapses in zone too. With his speed and long arms, he has the potential to be a very good cover backer, but his struggles could convince teams running a Tampa 2 defense that he isn't an ideal fit for their scheme.
Hopefully, Bradham will manage to play lower so that his draft stock can surge upwards. Ultimately, whether he does so will play a primary role in determining his draft stock. If he manages to improve his change of direction ability, his tape finally will match the excellent workout numbers he's expected to post at the Combine. If not, teams may conclude that Bradham isn't determined to up his game and has plateaued as a player. That may prove be the difference between the Seminole sneaking into the second round and having to wait until the third day of the draft to see his name pop up on TV screens.
We thank Aaron for joining us today. Please do visit his Draft Breakdown!
What are your thoughts on the evaluation?