Thursday, May 30, 2013

Draft Profile: Rd 6 - DeVonte Holloman - LB - South Carolina

The following is the 7th in a series of draft profiles for the Dallas Cowboys' selected players from April's draft. These profiles are put together after watching significant amounts of game tape from each player, and is an attempt to examine their resumes and play to get an idea of how they might fit in best with Dallas come training camp in Oxnard this summer.

DeVonte Holloman
South Carolina
Outside Linebacker
6'0, 243
40 time: 4.71, Bench Press: 15
February 12, 1991 (Age 22)

If you read my offerings on a semi-regular basis, you know the nuts and bolts of NFL game theory is of great interest to me.  You have heard me go on and on about how the "Game-day 45" (46) is vitally important to wins and losses and how difficult it is - relative to any other level of football - to make sure that any man who has a uniform on is able to contribute on a very high level for whatever his role may be.

That is because once you get through the heavily used 16-17 offensive players, the 17-18 heavily used defensive players, the dedicated kickers, punters, deep snappers, and Quarterbacks, you are left with roughly 5 guys who make up your special teams core.  These players are almost always either running backs, tight ends, wide receivers, linebackers, or defensive backs.  They will play on all 4 special teams (punt cover, punt return, kick cover, and kick return) which amounts to about 20 plays per game.  You often never know their names unless something goes really wrong or really right, and they often make the league minimum and have 3 years or fewer in service time.

And that is what makes a special teams coach's job very difficult.  He usually has to find these 5-6 guys every season from the leftovers when the offensive coordinator or defensive coordinator are done filling out the depth charts and they generally aren't the same guys he had the season before.

In 2012, on opening night in New York, the 5 players who performed on all 4 special teams for Joe DeCamillis were: Phillip Tanner, Mana Silva, Andre Holmes, Dan Conner, and Alex Albright.  Lawrence Vickers and James Hanna were on 3 of the 4 teams, and that was pretty much the entire crew.  Silva, Holmes, and Conner are gone.  Vickers and Tanner will have to make the team again, and Albright and Hanna have a chance to graduate up the depth chart.

This means that new special teams coach Rich Bisaccia will start carving out his squad with a completely fresh slate.  And that likely had everything to do with what the Cowboys did at pick #185, when they targeted DeVonte Holloman from South Carolina.

Holloman is just the type of guy who goes off the board at this point in the draft because he just might satisfy your needs for now and hopes for down the road.  Now, he should be able to step right in and fill a jersey on game day, without playing defensive snaps (health pending, of course) and contribute on 20 special teams plays.  For the future, he might be able to develop into the type of guy you could see starting at "SAM" linebacker if a vacancy presents itself.

In watching him on the coach's film in the last few weeks, I will tell you that he certainly fits the mold of a converted defensive back who has grown into a bigger build but kept the athleticism that is key at this level to defend against quick slot guys or running backs in the flat.

He has thick and long arms and a wing span that is quite remarkable for his height (79.1 inches) which doesn't help his bench press numbers, but certainly does help him work his way through traffic and find the ball carrier.  He runs quite well and gets his drops in coverage (something that is huge in this new scheme) with ease and confidence.  Then his breaks on the ball will pass most tests as well.

I will say that he did have an issue that jumped out at me on tape that I assume didn't help his draft position, and that would be the dreaded question of motor.  On plays at him, he is fine and engaged.  But, on plays away from him, where football people will watch to see who keeps running to the ball and stays involved in a play until the whistle "just in case", Holloman did not grade well.  He watches and stands and occasionally looks like a guy who was preserving his health for the NFL draft in the spring.

That might not be that uncommon actually, to see a guy play carefully in that final college season. In fact, I imagine it is more profound at South Carolina where the players with Sunday dreams had the Marcus Lattimore dose of reality right in their locker-room, but, still, it should be noted.  It was evident on more than one occasion that he doesn't exactly fly to the ball.

Otherwise, he exhibits the ability to rush the passer, he tries to find the ball and strip it loose (as he did in their bowl game against Michigan on Denard Robinson) and he has the ability to line up against a slot receiver as he did a number of times in their game against Florida.  When you are picking nearly 200 players deep in a draft, it makes plenty of sense to find a guy who exhibits plenty of talent and upside and see if you can develop him in the 4 years that you get with a very reasonable rate of $2.2m for the total rookie contract (just 100k guaranteed).

Here is some video to look at, if you haven't already seen it:

Holloman #21 vs Michigan

Vs Georgia

Summary: This type of pick is a no-brainer on a number of levels.  You find a guy who you are confident can already be one of your special teams spine and it is great to see him already embrace that premise and prepare himself to go out there and be a key part of that crew.

Down the road, there will be chances for him to grow into a spot where you can consider starting him if Bruce Carter cannot maintain his health or perhaps you try to envision a spot where one of the two can flip to the weak side eventually.  But, for now, this is about finding guys who are young and talented and putting them on your roster and seeing what happens.  If you are not filled with guys like this, then you find yourself in November signing guys like Ernie Sims and Brady Poppinga off the street to come in and play for you.  Those players might help you in your base defense, but at that stage of their career, they are not really strong candidates for special teams as they have not played on them, nor embraced the idea in years.  And if guys do not buy in on special teams, then they do not sell out.  And if they do not sell out on their assignment, you give up a return for a TD and likely lose the game.

That is why there is nothing wrong at all with a pick like this - nor the signing of undrafted free agent Brandon MaGee from Arizona State - to step in and fill the spots that are available for guys looking to stick in the NFL by stepping through the open door that special teams provide.

Satisfy all of your duties there and the coaching staff is more inclined to throw more vital spots at you in the future.

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