Welcome to the DFS Army’s Killshot DFS MMA – Top Plays Podcast! On today’s episode, DFS Army’s Kyle Marley, Kevin “Geek” Alan, and MMA Monk take a look at the top plays for UFC San Antonio Vera vs Sandhagen for DraftKings.
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June 6, 2020; Las Vegas, NV, USA; A general view of the octagon prior to UFC 250 at the UFC APEX. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via USA TODAY Sports
Accurately evaluating defensive performance has always been one of the biggest challenges in football analytics. Not only is it hard to isolate the contribution of individual defenders, there is also a lack of objective defensive measures.
While tackles, interceptions, and clearances are commonly used, adjusted for possession or not, they do not necessarily capture the full extent of a defender’s contribution to the team’s overall defensive performance.
That is why PFF introduced its renowned player grades to the beautiful game, evaluating every player for every event during a game, including for defensive positioning. Positioning grades are given for players that are out of position allowing the opponents to advance the ball or who lose their man while marking.
The grades escalate based on how dangerous the opportunity the positioning allows. Positive grades are rare and are reserved for “active positioning” such as stepping up to catch an opponent offside.
Obviously, playing time has a big impact on the sum of positional grades: you cannot be out of position if you are not on the pitch. It turns out certain positions on the field are more prone to being out of position than others. Full backs have a tendency to be out of position more often than other positions, with center backs, central midfielders, goalkeepers, wingers & attacking midfielders, and center forwards following in that order.
The relationship between positions, minutes played and the total sum of defensive positioning grades also allows us to easily identify the three players at the top and bottom in performance per position.
Top 3: Vicente Guaita (Crystal Palace), Ederson (Manchester City), Robert Sánchez (Brighton & Hove Albion)
Bottom 3: Illan Meslier (Leeds United), José Sá (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Bernd Leno (Fulham)
Full backs (FB)
Top 3: Rico Henry (Brentford), Solly March (Brighton & Hove Albion), Joël Veltman (Brighton & Hove Albion)
The 2022 Dick Butkus Award was awarded to the top linebacker in college for the year, and Iowa’s Jack Campbell answered the bell. He raked in loads of tackles, forced turnovers, and was as disruptive as you could ask for. Campbell now enters the NFL, and he’s slated to be one of the first linebackers off the board.
Weight: 249 lbs.
Age: 22 yrs. (August 20, 2000)
40-Yard Dash: 4.65
Vertical Jump: 37.5”
Broad Jump: 10’8”
3-Cone Drill: 6.74
20-Yard Shuttle: 4.24
Draft Projection: Early Second Day
Campbell was a star basketball player, as well as football, during his time at Cedar Falls High School. He led the basketball team to two Iowa state titles. As a three-star, Campbell wasn’t heavily recruited but had offers from Iowa State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and FCS power North Dakota State. Campbell ultimately decided to take the 90-minute drive down I-380 to attend the University of Iowa.
After little playing time in 2019 and 2020, Campbell put the Big Ten on notice with a massive 2021 season. He collected 140 tackles, a sac, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. His 83 assisted tackles led the NCAA, and his 140 total tackles were second.
He returned to Iowa City for his senior season and had another massive year. He notched 125 tackles, a sack, two interceptions, and another forced fumble. Statistically, he was better in 2021, but he added AP All-American and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year to his 2022 accolades. Campbell also was awarded the 2022 William V. Campbell (no relation, I think) Award, the Academic Heisman.
Perfect Linebacker Size
I think back to the Frankenstein running back graphic a few years back, describing how David Montgomery was a perfect running back. The picture for linebacker would be Campbell. He’s a beast, well-built, and he’s perfect for the middle of an NFL defense. The combine solidified his athletic ability, and while not the fastest cat, Campbell is plenty fast enough to man the middle.
Ability to Process and React
Campbell lurks in the middle, and when he sees a play developing, it’s uncanny how quickly he recognizes it and then blows a play up. His instincts and reaction time are phenomenal.
Watching the play developing, Campbell slowly meanders to the side of the field – then, when it’s apparent the ball is going to the back, Campbell is there in a hurry. I love seeing this play develop and watching his discipline.
This may be my favorite play of his. Campbell knows the run is coming, allows the lineman to get the middle sealed, then sifts over to the gap. Then he closes that hole before the back gets there and drags the poor sap down by his shoulder pads for a safety.
Campbell also makes play through traffic unlike any I have seen in quite some time. He consistently takes perfect paths where he knives through defenders like a hot knife to butter.
He surprises the quarterback on this one. Campbell is in the backfield so quickly; the quarterback does all he can to get the ball away.
This is another example of how Campbell has the timing down perfectly to effortlessly slide through the linemen and get to the quarterback. It’s not only in pass rushing, as we have seen in all these plays above.
Campbell isn’t the soundest tackler, but he is incredibly sure, and ball carriers don’t break free from Campbell often. He takes good angles and plays under control.
In this play, Campbell is engaged by a lineman, and at the right time, Campbell peels off and stymies the back before he can get back to the line of scrimmage. He hits hard and can stop a ball carrier in their tracks when he needs to.
The Iowa defense is consistently one of the stoutest in the nation, and Campbell was their unquestioned leader. That means a lot, and the team followed their leader. It was a blue-collar defense that would smack you in the snout and force turnovers. Campbell is the epitome of the way the defense plays.
Lack of Range on Film
The film shows limitations in his range, and Campbell isn’t a sideline-to-sideline linebacker that the NFL favors. His combine showed the athleticism that I wasn’t quite expecting, and maybe a team in the NFL will unlock more of that part of his game. He tested better than I expected; at times, on tape, Campbell looked like his hips were stiff, and he wasn’t as fluid as he tested.
Man Coverage Skills
Campbell also isn’t going to be the type of linebacker that can shadow a back or athletic tight end. He is really solid in zone coverage, as displayed in this play below.
I love him in zone coverage quite a bit, and we see his instincts on full display here. Campbell reads the quarterback’s eyes and makes an athletic interception. I love this play so much, and I had to get it in the article. But as a man-cover option, Campbell is going to be limited.
The Wrap Up
When looking at his NFL draft options, Campbell is likely an early second-day selection. Teams may covet Trenton Simpson’s athleticism and versatility a bit more. Campbell is a bit more old-school, but he’s not a total liability in pass coverage, as long as a team doesn’t stick him in man often on third downs.
For IDP, Campbell is my LB1 – he’s going to get a boatload of tackles every year, along with big plays for an extra bonus. I could see Campbell getting LB1 numbers quickly with the right team. I want to see him in a landing spot that isn’t going to get cute with him and will let him play to his strengths.
Campbell is a fun one to watch, and I highly recommend watching more films on him. He’s a good mix of an old-school middle linebacker with a splash of the athleticism we love to see in three-down linebackers these days. Campbell is going to be a fun one at the next level, and I think he’s got a high ceiling and a high floor as well.
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Evan Hull is one of this class’s most productive running backs in the passing game. Also, throughout his film, he shows soft hands, elite lateral agility, and a compact running style that causes many broken tackles. Despite this, you likely haven’t heard him brought up with the litany of other talents in this class. Why is that? Stick with me as we tackle his résumé.
Weight: 209 lbs.
Age: 22 yrs. (October 26, 2000)
Year: RS – Junior
Hand Size 9.25″
Arm Length 30.625″
Vertical Jump – 37″
Broad Jump – 10’3″
40-Yard Dash – 4.47
Draft Projection: Day Three – Fourth to Sixth Round
Hull, a product of the 2019 recruiting class out of Osseo, Minnesota, was a three-star player coming out of high school. Due to his status as an honor student, he had many offers from Ivy League schools. However, his only power-five offers came from Kansas State and Northwestern.
He attended a camp for the Wildcats in the summer of 2018, where he fell in love with the program. In this case, the feeling was not mutual, as he was not their first or second choice in the recruiting cycle. Finally, his offer to Northwestern came on the 18th of January in 2019. Of course, he accepted the following day. You can find his stats from his collegiate career below.
Additionally, Hull attended the 2023 Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. Not only did he continue to present outstanding lateral agility against premiere competition, but he also turned heads as a pass blocker. On top of a stellar week of practice, he started the game that Saturday with a 24-yard run.
Natural Pass Catching
As you can tell by his statistics from his final two years as a Wildcat, Hull was heavily used as a receiver. While most of his 88 catches from this span came in the form of screen passes or dump-offs, he was also used confidently from the slot.
To further my point, on tape, Hull rarely drops his attention from the ball before he secures it in his hands. And while he may be focusing on the ball, he also knows where he is on the field in relation to defenders rearing to take him down. Below you can find a clip of one such play where Hull makes a fool out of one of the top defensive prospects in this class, Jack Campbell.
Next, we shall discuss how his compact build makes him effective with the ball in his hands.
Hull may not be the biggest running back you’ve ever seen, but he has adequate size at a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30. Furthermore, Hull is built in the way I like to see running backs built. That is, with most of his power and muscle mass in his lower half. Combine his strength with his high motor and stubbornness to go down; you have yourself one tough runner.
Finally, we come to what I note as his best trait as a ball carrier, his shiftiness.
Hull uses his jump cut move often on tape, often to great success, earning extra yards to keep the chains moving. Another common occurrence throughout his tape is having to make an oncoming defender behind the line of scrimmage. This is partly due to some of the more disciplined run defenses in college football but also partly due to an offensive line that Northwestern’s own reporting graded out as a C+.
In what can only be described as teleportation, the clip below shows an instance of his linemen letting him down. Despite this, Hull still bailed them out for a chunk of play, making three defenders miss.
Taking Wide Angles
As previously mentioned, he likes to run laterally, which often brings him success. However, Hull tends to move more east-to-west when navigating blocks than north/south. This leaves more to be desired on the tape as he wastes precious time and forgoes potential yards. More to my dismay, it can lead him to easy stops for the defense. As shown here.
Instead of going downhill after evading #43, Hull takes an angle much wider than needed. This led him into the arms of an awaiting defender (#1) to take him down.
While he may be able to use a jump cut to move two yards to the left or right, Hull cannot shift his hips quickly enough to shift his momentum. When changing his direction, the movement resembles a player 20 pounds heavier. At times, he must come to a near stop before turning his body in a different direction. This can be seen in the clip against Nebraska, highlighting his lateral agility.
The flaw shows up the most when Hull breaks through the front seven into the second level. It is due to his highest gear is not fast enough to blaze past defensive backs. Combine that with his slow momentum shift, which will lead to very frustrated fans and teams alike.
Hull has an NFL skillset with bellcow upside. He must refine his running style to truly ascend to the next level from anything more than a role-player. He will immediately provide a change of pace skillset for an NFL team with the flexibility to be used as a receiving threat. My low-end comparison for him would be Eno Benjamin. Meanwhile, on the high end, I believe Hull can get to the level of Aaron Jones if things turn out in his favor.
I can see him impact fantasy football in year one like Rachaad White did with the Buccaneers. That is, as a PPR back with the upside to fill in as a handcuff. An ideal spot for Hull would be behind one of the many aging running backs throughout the league. Examples include the Cardinals behind James Conner or the Browns behind Nick Chubb. I recommend targeting this runner in your rookie drafts’ mid to late third round.
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NFL free agency‘s most intense period is in the books, so attention has turned to the NFL draft in late April, but nothing throws a wrench into teams’ draft preparation more than a blockbuster trade, and those can manifest themselves at a moment’s notice.
With teams looking to shed contracts or free up space on the depth chart for rookies, there are several notable names on the market for the right deal. Here are potential landing spots for some of the most obvious.
Hopkins has been the biggest name on the trading block all offseason, and in a year where elite receivers are hard to come by, he is still an option that must be tempting for several teams, even with his contract. That contract, long seen as an outlier by the rest of the NFL, is significantly more palatable now than it was when he first received it, which could tempt some teams into parting with a draft pick to secure a No. 1 option. Hopkins has gained over 2.0 yards per route run for his entire career despite having a rough quarterback situation for much of that time. He caught over 50% of contested catches last season and at 30 years old, he still likely has multiple seasons at the top before decline sets in.
Ekeler may find the market for his services a weak one even if he is an underpaid asset on the Chargers. Potential landing spots have been signing running backs over the last several days, leaving obvious destinations thin on the ground. Any team that does make the move will be getting one of the most dynamic pass-catching backs in the league who can carry his weight rushing as well. Ekeler has recorded over 100 targets twice in his career and more than 50 for the last five seasons. He has gained 1.9 yards per route run over his entire career and is an excellent all-around back for today’s NFL.
Williams is coming off his worst NFL season, as he gave up 12 sacks to tie for the league lead. He also battled through multiple knee injuries and represents a departure from his previous career baseline, which had been solid-if-unspectacular. Williams can step onto a team that needs capable left tackle play, even if that team will then need to decide whether to commit to him long-term. Evidently, he does not want to play right tackle, which may reduce his market.
Byard may be a casualty of a rebuild that the Tennessee Titans seem very close to pulling the trigger on. He has been one of the best safeties in the league since he came into the NFL and is particularly adept in coverage. With a significant contract, he may not have a red-hot market, but if a deal can be done to minimize his cap hit to a new team, Byard could transform a secondary in an instant. He is still on the right side of 30 years old, though this will be the last offseason where that is true.
Trying to find willing trade partners for a 28-year-old running back with almost 2,000 career carries and a salary cap number in excess of $16 million this season is a major challenge, but there are teams out there that could see it as the kind of move that puts them over the top. Henry is the kind of unicorn at the position that changes the rules of everything we know about running the football in the modern NFL, which could well extend to the kind of career lifespan he will have as a running back. In today’s arms race of elite teams looking to win a Super Bowl, there may be a side willing to do what would seem reckless in the past to get over the hump. Henry has averaged 3.7 yards per carry after contact for his entire career.
Rumors have been swirling all offseason that basically the entire Denver receiving corps is on the trading block for the right offer as Sean Payton looks to change tack and craft an offense that Russell Wilson can succeed within. Sutton has looked like the most obvious odd man out from the beginning. Last season, he averaged just 1.55 yards per route run and registered six drops. At 6-foot-4 and over 210 pounds, Sutton has the skill set to be a true X-receiver, something that this free agency class and draft are light on. There are teams that have yet to find that player, or actively lost one, that could be interested.
Jeudy has been an elite separator in the NFL, excelling against man coverage, but has yet to fully realize his potential within a struggling offense. He may be limited to a No. 2 type of role in the NFL, but he can be an exceptionally effective receiver as part of a receiving corps in a more functional passing offense. Several teams would love to have him as a complement to their already established No. 1 option.
Hamler is a prototypical vertical slot receiver — a player who can threaten deep at any time with a free release off the line. He may not be the most well-rounded receiver, but there are several teams in the league crying out for either the injection of speed, the threat deep downfield, or a slot option. His average depth of target was 24.9 yards downfield last season, and he had a career-low in yards per route run (1.06), as he was aligned out wide more often.
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Jan 3, 2023; Salt Lake City, Utah, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes (40) prepares for a free-throw against the Utah Jazz during the first quarter at Vivint Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Creveling-USA TODAY Sports