In football, every few years a player comes around that reminds us of a special type of athlete that we've seen before. Whether it's the way they stand in the pocket while it collapses around them, the way they show extraordinary vision cutting behind blocks, or the way they cut on a dime and change direction hitting max speed like few you have seen before.
I generally spot these players and make observations to relative to others that are well versed in football history. Sometimes fans agree on what we are seeing and sometimes they don't see it the way I do. I've decided to open up the conversation to a bigger venue and find out if my eyes deceiving me. Am I hyping these athletes above what they deserve? I'll lay out my case and you can be the judge. I'll give you 3 examples that I'm seeing of players who can become the equivalent of excellence at their position.
Click on the player names for video highlights.....
Arian Foster came to the Houston Texans as an unheralded, undrafted, rookie free agent. Texans head coach, Gary Kubiak liked what Foster could bring to his zone running scheme. Foster brought size to the Texans backfield that Kubiak really wanted. Arian plays at 227 pounds and is 6'1. His size and speed are unique to the NFL running back position. When he was able to get into the game last season, he made his reps count. Heading into the 2010 season, it was obvious that he wouldn't allow anyone to keep him on the sideline. Watching him in camp, I can honestly say that I've never seen anyone that size make the cuts and have the vision he that did. Well, I haven't seen anyone in almost a decade that is.
Terrell Davis played at 210 pounds and 5'11. I'm sure Gary Kubiak remembers how Davis used that 5'11 frame to fight for extra yards but more importantly the vision he used to hit cutback lanes and run for over 2,000 yards when Kubiak was the Offensive Coordinator. Davis was a 6th round pick out of Georgia and was use to the tough SEC competition, like Foster who had a stellar career with Tennessee.
Kubiak couldn't have predicted that Foster would be the next Davis but I'm sure he sees the resemblance in their games now. When it's all said and done, I fully expect that Foster will have the same productive career as Davis. Hopefully it's not cut short as Davis' was because he was forced to retire after 6 short years due to knee issues and migraines. If you get a chance to watch old highlights of TD and compare them to what Foster does in that same system Denver used when Kubiak was the O.C., you'll be amazed at the similarities between the two and how they hit the holes. Neither guy makes the extra move that's not needed, they both have a spin move that looks like something out of a video game and their biggest contribution to the running game comes in when everything is sealed up in front of them and they they'll make the cutback to the complete opposite side of the line and bust off a huge gain. Another interesting thing that jumps off on tape is the fact that both rarely get tackled for a loss. If nothing's open, they drop their pads and take the 1 to 2 yards in front of them.
The size comparison will be the first thing to jump off the page. Both men came into the league with questions about their size. Jacoby Ford out of Clemson, measured 5'9 and 185 pounds. Dante Hall was an inch shorter at 5'8 but two pounds heavier at 187. Hall came across his fame at Texas A&M as a star running back. Ford was an elite track star but excelled on the football field as a return man and a wide receiver.
Both of these players were clocked on the lower end of a 4.2 - 40. Dante had to fight his way into the league by way of NFL Europe. When the Kansas City Chiefs finally gave him a shot as a kick returner, he made it where no one would ever forget him. Hall set records for returns in consecutive games and was one of the first return men to have teams change their whole game plan around his returns. Hall made fans and sports writers argue whether a return man could win a MVP award. He became so dominant, that the Chiefs had to find ways to get him on the field more. Dante worked his way onto the receiving corps and made screen passes into highlights. One such pass won an award as most exciting play of the year and earned him the nickname, the Human Joystick.
Jacoby was part of a duo in college, with CJ Spiller that set a record for 2 teammates with the most combined all purpose yards in history. Jacoby got drafted by a team that loves players with the flashy intangibles. When Ford clocked a 4.28 electronic time at the combine, it made him this year's fastest player in the draft and you just knew Oakland would come calling. Oakland decided to start Jacoby as the kick return man, he quickly made them value the decision he made. He's already put up two 100+ yard kick returns for touchdowns in his rookie season. Oakland was going to ease Ford into the receiving game but was forced to speed up the process due to injuries and lack of talent. Ford made the most of this opportunity but having a 148 yard receiving game and following it up this past week with another 100+ yard receiving game. He's made it to where Oakland has no choice but to keep Ford on the field and he's become their #1 option at 5'9.
When you watch the highlights of Hall and Ford in not just the return game but what they do in the open field, you can't help but feel you're watching Hall reincarnated. Both of these players can straight out embarrass some of the world's best defensive players. There are not too many people that can run full speed, stop in a split second, cut the ball back the other direction and be back at top speed before the defenders can even stop their momentum. The few people on the planet this size, with this speed, couldn't possibly take the punishment that the NFL dishes out. Hall was able to endure it for what should be a Pro Bowl career. If Ford can sustain the brutality of the NFL, he'll have the same, if not better career.
Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning were both standouts in college. They both had that prototypical NFL quarterback frame. Matt Ryan comes in at 6'4 and 220 pounds. Manning barely stands above him at 6'5 230 pounds. Both players came into the league with much acclaim. Peyton was the 1st overall pick in the 1998 draft and exactly 10 years later, Ryan was the 1st quarterback chosen with the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft.
Peyton Manning has become a puppet master over NFL defenses. He comes to the line and eats up every second of the play clock, reading the defense the whole time then makes them audible into exactly what he wants attacking team's weaknesses and exploiting them the whole game. Manning is able to change his game plan at the spur of the moment. Just when the defense thinks they have him figured out and slip into a comfort zone with the slowed down offense, Manning rushes to the line and starts running the hurry up.
Peyton is able to take the team on his back and never seems out of a game. For years he has been the only option without a solid running game to speak of and has single handily made no name receivers household names. The most impressive thing about Manning and also my biggest comparison to Matt Ryan is the way he stands in the pocket as the whole world collapses around him. He'll have a 300 lb lineman bearing down on him knowing that no one can pick him up, but he still stands his ground and delivers a strike to a receiver that only had an open window for a second.
Ryan has this same ice cold mentality. Many times I watch as a defensive end comes free and is about to lay into Ryan. You can tell Ryan either sees are feels the pressure but he keeps his eyes on the target and refuses to bow out. He knows that if he takes the blunt of the punishment, it'll allow him to hit his receiver during that split second that a completion is only possible. Ryan shows no fear of the defenders and is able to read the defense at the line of scrimmage, like only Manning and a few before could. He has pocket presence like Manning at such a young an age.
Ryan also turned around a team that was in dire need as a rookie. His first year, he started all 16 games, just like Peyton. Unlike Peyton however, Ryan went 11-5 and led his team to the playoffs. Ryan has all of the leadership quality and all of the tools that it takes to become a hall of fame quarterback, the caliber of Peyton Manning.
That's my case for these 3 players. Let me know what you think. I'll leave you to enjoy watching greatness in the making! - Jayson Braddock
Jayson appears on Sports Radio 790 AM in Houston, TX, every Thursday morning at 11:19 am CST as the football insider on the Dylan Gwinn show. He's a graduate of the Sports Management World Wide Football GM & Scouting Course and has been mentored by former NFL player / executive John Wooten and Sporting News.com NFL Draft Expert Russ Lande. His work is mostly appreciated by die-hard fans interested in every little detail about their team and not just watered down mainstream talk. - Listeners NOT in the Houston metropolitan area can hear Jayson on iheart radio or sports7910.com.